Tuesday, April 26, 2011

So Not Happening (The Charmed Life)

Reviewed by: Shawna
Title: So Not Happening
Author: Jenny B. Jones
Primary Audience/age group: Young Adult, 14+
Genre: Contemporary Christian, Christian Chick Lit
# of pages 336
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Year of Release: 2009
Part of a series Yes, 1 of 3 (The Charmed Life)
Rating: 3 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes

Description: Bella Kirkwood lives the life of privilege with her plastic surgeon dad, a swanky New York apartment and a posh high school where being popular is her priority. But when her dad leaves her mom for a younger woman, things take a turn for the worst. Her mom remarries and moves them to the tiny mid-western town of Truman, Oklahoma where Bella is forced to trade her only-child uptown lifestyle in for a country farmhouse and two weird step-brothers. Settling in to her new life proves harder by the minute. Her new classmates soon discover she’s taken her culture shock out on her high profile blog by degrading most everyone at the school. She is then assigned to the school newspaper to pay her penitence but her reporter’s intuition soon has her realizing there’s something to hide at Truman High.

Review: Bella Kirkwood is completely shallow and is clueless about her shallowness. Her beginning attitude tends to annoy not only the other characters in the book but even you the reader. You can’t help but root for her to “get over herself” and soon. But, that makes the story all the more engaging and fun. The story begins light-hearted and surprisingly takes a more serious twist towards the end making it more than just another typical boy meets girl chick lit novel. Even though it’s a Christian book, the religious undertones are subtle making it a good read for even those who don’t care for Christian fiction. Teen girls ages 14 and up will find this a fun and fast read, and their Moms will probably want to borrow it, too.

Rating: 3 for romantic situations and mild violence

Positive: Bella begins as a shallow, judgmental know-it-all who learns a few good lessons on her trek into her new lifestyle. Even though the move from New York to Oklahoma seems a bit extreme, the change in scenery was what Bella needed to get a better grasp on her selfish attitude.

Spiritual Elements: Bella prays often but generally for selfish reasons at first. She begins going to FCA (Fellowship of Christian Athletes) at school where she befriends two other Christian teens. She and her new family attend church. The Youth Pastor speaks on teens having a purpose through Christ. Bella judges Luke, the editor of the high school newspaper, prematurely. She later finds him to be a Christian who encourages her to pray about her assignments.

Violence: The Tiger football team is derailed by several accidents to the players including a suicide.

Spoiler: The football players participate in several dangerous hazing acts including dodging an oncoming train and drag racing. Bella becomes a target when she discovers what’s really going on with the team. She is held hostage at gunpoint.

Language: none

Sexual Content: Bella and her New York boyfriend kiss. Later, she “makes out” with her editor Luke as a rouse to keep from getting caught spying on the football team. Bella attends a party where others are making out.

Other: There’s one joke about a stripper. Bella and a couple of friends attend a non-chaperoned party with alcohol present. They do not drink out of conviction. Later, one friend is seen drinking, in order to loosen up. This is not his usual character. No drunkenness is mentioned as the point of the parties was not to get drunk.

Bella takes her role as investigator a little too seriously when she flirtatiously tries to pull secrets out of one of the football players. She even ends up snooping in his bedroom while he is in the shower. He surprises her by coming out in a towel. His older brother, one of the football coaches, comes in at that point and the scene is redirected to Bella explaining why she was in the bedroom in the first place. Luke, her editor, finds out about this and harshly warns her not to do it again.

Recommendation: Some parents might have concerns with the couple of drinking scenes, which were mild and did not condone underage drinking, and the one romantic scene when Bella’s editor, Luke, kisses her as a rouse. The scene is mildly passionate, and nothing else happens between them. The scene with Bella and the football player in a towel was tame as well. All in all, I think both moms and daughters will enjoy this chick lit novel. It’s also one you can share with friends who don’t normally read Christian fiction. If you enjoy Christian Chick Lit, you will probably like the Hollywood Nobody series by Lisa Samson as well.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

City of Tranquil Light

By Reviewer: Dianne
Title: City of Tranquil Light
Author: Bo Caldwell
Primary Audience/age group: Adult
Genre: Historical Fiction
# Of pages: 287
Publisher: Henry Holt and Company
Year of Release: 2010
Part of a Series? No
Rating: 4 (View Scale)
Recommend? Yes!

Description: (From the book jacket) Will Kiehn is an “ordinary man,” seemingly destined for a life as a humble farmer in the Midwest, when having felt a call from God, he moves to the vast North China Plain in 1906. There he is surprised by love and weds a strong and determined fellow missionary, Katherine, who is also a dedicated nurse.

Early in their marriage Will and Katherine find themselves witnesses to the crumbling of a more than two-thousand year old dynasty, which plunges the country into years of civil war. As they work to improve the lives of the people of Kuang P’ing Ch’eng – City of Tranquil Light, a place they come to love – they face hardships they could not have imagined: a personal loss that shakes them both to the core, the constant threat of bandits, the physical dangers and tragedies of warlord China. But while they are continually tested both spiritually and physically, they are also rewarded in ways that leave them forever changed.

Told through Will and Katherine’s alternating viewpoints – and inspired by the lives of the author’s maternal grandparents – City of Tranquil Light is a tender and elegiac portrait of a young marriage set against the backdrop of a beautiful but torn nation. A deeply spiritual book, it shows how those who work to teach others often have the most to learn and is further evidence that Bo Caldwell writes “vividly and with great historical perspective”.

Review: Will and Katherine Kiehn have dedicated their lives to serving the people of China. Although they endure poverty and danger, they clearly feel that they are rich beyond words and blessed with God’s protection. I was encouraged by Bo Caldwell’s masterful writing that translates their faith into something palpable that goes beyond the words on a page. I was challenged to re-evaluate my own life in terms of faith and obedience to the Lord, and was strengthened by this story of a couple who lived their lives to the glory of God.

The story gives us a detailed picture of the conditions and culture of early twentieth century China, making it come alive. Caldwell’s writing revealed the emotions that the Kiehns experienced in such a way to stir an empathetic response. Especially intriguing is the fact that Willand Katherine’s characters are based on an actual missionary coupleand their experiences in China.

Rating: 4 for violence as described below.

Positive: There are so many positive elements in this book that it is hard to know where to start. Will and Katherine’s relationship with the Lord is deep and their dependence on Him is very evident throughout the book. Their strong spiritual life and faith sustain them through difficult (and sometimes impossible) circumstances, even during times of despair and depression. God demonstrates His power in protecting them time and again, which provides encouragement to trust Him in all situations.

Will and Katherine share a love and commitment to each other that stands the test of time and provides a strong basis for their marriage. They are also committed to the Chinese people whom they serve, and show an enduring affection and generosity toward them, sharing food, clothing, shelter and medical care whenever there was a need.

Spiritual Elements: This is a deeply spiritual book, describing the God’s call on a young missionary couple. It describes their conversion experiences and their passion to minister to the people of China. God’s abiding presence and direction in their lives makes this an inspirational and uplifting book.

Violence: Will inadvertently gets caught up in a crowd of villagers who are on their way to watch an execution and can’t escape because of the press of people. He witnesses three prisoners beheaded and is sickened to the point of being physically ill for several weeks afterward. There is very little description of the scene. Roving hordes of Chinese bandits showed little regard for human life and thought nothing of robbing and torturing their unfortunate victims. There is some description of the violence that might make some readers squeamish.

Language: None

Sexual Content: None

Other: A young wife, suffering from depression, takes an overdose of opium trying to end her life. Quick action on the part of Katherine and Will saved her life and though she fought them, she later was thankful to them and was converted to Christ. Katherine treats some of her dying patients with opium to dull their pain when there is no hope for their recovery. She makes it clear that she does not approve of opium use.

Recommendation: Although the targeted audience is adult, it wouldalso be appropriate for older teens. Younger teens might also enjoy it, keeping in mind the violent scenes. Most are not extremely graphic. I heartily recommend this book for ages 15+.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Groundwire Spiritual Coaching Opportunity

Are you compassionate and caring?
Are you a good listener?
Do you want to share the message of hope with others?

Groundwire NEEDS YOU!

Teens today can be overwhelmed searching for meaning amidst depressing hopelessness, negative self-image, and the pressure to be perfect. Groundwire, a current and innovative outreach, has become a ministry where teens find comfort, guidance, and answers delivered through multi-media communication. Groundwire leverages media and technology to meet teens exactly where they are — viewing, listening, texting, or chatting — and to invite them to voice their questions and struggles so they can find answers in the message of the Gospel.

The ministry builds its impact through broadcasting that strategically places television and radio spots on secular stations. Teens listening to popular radio broadcasts or viewing favorite shows on networks like MTV, VH1, Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim programming, and Comedy Central are interrupted by direct spots. These spots catch their attention, resonating with where they are today. Teens responding to the broadcast messages are invited to visit Groundwire’s website where they can chat with a live spiritual coach available day and night, as well as find a collection of resources such as podcasts by Groundwire’s founder and executive director, Sean Dunn, and daily devotionals.

To meet the needs of hurting teenagers across the country, Groundwire is looking for additional online coaches. Are you interested?

FAQ’s regarding volunteer spiritual coaches:

What is Groundwire?
Groundwire is an international ministry aimed at broadcasting hope to students all over the world by leveraging the most effective media formats. Their radio spots are heard on both mainstream and Christian stations and their TV commercials are aired on MTV, VH1 and the Cartoon Network among others. Each spot points their audience to the Groundwire website where spiritual coaches are available to answer questions, encourage with biblical hope and pray for chatters.

What is the Coaching Line?
http://www.grounwire.net/ does not simply offer content, but conversation. The coaching line is an instant message platform that connects chatters with trained coaches in order to provide one-to-one real time conversation. Volunteers all over the world offer their time and talents in order to meet the needs of those searching.

Who is capable of being a spiritual coach?
Spiritual coaches are sold-out Believers who are committed to the Great Commission and love people. They realize that although they are not perfect, God can and desires to speak through them and they realize that technology offers amazing opportunities to minister to people all over the world. Coaches need to be over eighteen and willing to submit to a background check and go through the necessary training.

What are some of the needed qualities of a coach?
Compassionate, teachable, good listener, sensitive to the Holy Spirit’s leading, patient, resilient and authentic.

What type of commitment are you looking for?
The typical coach offers two to four hours weekly on line, however some offer up to ten. Coaches set their own schedule on a monthly basis and coordinate with team leaders to offer the line sufficient coverage.

Can I coach from home?
Once a coach has been trained and given their log in information they can offer support from any location with internet connectivity.

Who would I be talking to?
Although Groundwire media buys are aimed at youth and young adults, and the majority of chats are in that age range, chatters have ranged from eleven to sixty-seven years of age and from over one hundred countries. The issues are very diverse ranging from the extremely depressed and suicidal person to the fifteen year old who is struggling with relationships.

What does the training look like?
Training begins when an application is completed and returned to the Director of Coaching. From that point the majority of training is done online and consists of learning how to deal with the different types of conversations that might take place. There are a series of written responses that take place in email format and then an online mock chat as well.

What type of oversight is offered?
In order to protect the integrity of the Groundwire mission and message, layers of organization and accountability are built into our procedures. Coaches are encouraged and offered additional training on an ongoing basis. Each chat is read to protect volunteers from accusations of inappropriate behavior as well as to ensure a consistent message is being presented. Each coach is assigned a team lead that will act as a mentor in an ongoing manner.

How will this benefit me as a person?
Seeing God speak through you to comfort someone who is struggling builds your confidence. On top of that the skills and discernment you will discover as you serve the Lord in this type of face to face ministry translate into your everyday life and the other areas where you serve.

For more information on how to become a Groundwire Spiritual Coach download an application here: www.groundwire.net/coaching.