Sunday, March 25, 2012

The Yellow Bike Bookstore

 I spent spring break visiting my sister in Grenada,  Mississippi. Grenada is about halfway from Jackson to Memphis, Tennessee. It’s a small town surrounded by beautiful countryside and a great place for hunting and fishing. If you need the stimulus of a big city, Grenada is not the place for you but if you like peace and quiet, long walks through woods, stumbling across old redoubts from the Civil War or just sitting in a swing outside as the sun sets, then you would enjoy Grenada.

This visit my sister took me to a gem she had discovered. For Shawna and me, “gems” are invariably bookstores. Before, we had always traveled to Oxford to get to a bookstore but since my last visit, Grenada has acquired a bookstore of its very own.

And a charming, cozy bookstore it is! It’s called The Yellow Bike and the owner, Debbie, graciously took time to give me an interview.

First question: How did you arrive at the name Yellow Bike?
Debbie: The previous owner had simply named the place, “Books.” A number of things needed changing when I bought the store and the first thing was going to be that name. I randomly played with other names like “The Red Door.” I asked my kids for ideas. What could we do to make this store personal, to make it ours? They started reminiscing about a yellow bike they played with whenever they visited their granny. My kids are grown, so that was years ago. Well, I went to granny’s house and after some searching I found the bike out back covered in Kudzu. I brought it back, refurbished it and stuck it out in front of the store on the sidewalk. And that’s how I came up with the name.

Are you a native of Grenada?
Debbie: I was born in Columbus but moved here when I was five years old. I got married when I was eighteen and my husband and I moved to the Delta where we lived and raised our kids for the next twenty-five years. While I was there I taught pre-school and eventually ran two learning schools for infants and preschoolers. I oversaw around eighty-five kids. We finally moved back here and, after my husband passed away, I worked at an assisted living center.

Why did you decide to run a bookstore?

Debbie: Job burn out. I was on call 24/7 at the assisted living center. One day a friend of mine called me and told me of a bookstore that was fixin’ to close. I’ve always loved books so I thought a book and coffee shop would be a good mix.

Here in Grenada, other than the lake, there’s nowhere to go. No bookstore, no place to just sit and hang out with friends. The closest bookstores and coffee shops are in Oxford or Jackson. I offer a local place for people to come, read, and drink coffee. I even have Wifi.

Let me interject here and say for the record that Debbie makes the best latte I’ve ever had in my life. I asked her how she made it.

Debbie: I bought a Jura Espresso machine but the coffee is my own recipe. I did a lot of research and spent weeks experimenting and finding the combination and grind of beans to get exactly the right consistency. I didn’t sleep for weeks as I drank cup after cup of coffee until I got what I wanted.

                                          This is Debbie's "baby".  Maybe she should have named her store
                                           The Little White Dog.

What is the ultimate goal with your bookstore?
Debbie: Of course all businesses are to make money but I’m not here to get rich. I won’t sell books that conflict with my own conscience. When I acquired the bookstore there were books in here I would call evil. A group came in and wanted to buy a “Satan Bible”. They’ll have to go somewhere else for that. There’s a Christian bookstore across the street. The owner wants me to buy her out, so that’s a future possibility.

Also, too many kids hate to read. I want to change that. I want to provide books that will get kids reading.
Debbie and Stacey

I wish Debbie every success in her endeavor and if you’re ever in Grenada, Mississippi be sure to stop by The Yellow Bike to browse and drink some delicious coffee.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

When Skylarks Fall: The Next Joe Box Mystery by John Robinson

Want to know what I’m currently reading? Tough, I’m going to tell you anyway. I am reading three books on the Vikings, four books on the End Times, two on Jewish history and a romantic fantasy by George Macdonald. That doesn’t include the books I’m reviewing for publishing companies or all the e newsletters I subscribe to online.

So what’s a lady to do when the weekend arrives and she simply wants a fun, entertaining read?

She reads When Skylarks Fall by John Robinson, that’s what she does! When Skylarks Fall is the next in the Joe Box Series. For a review of the first book, Until the Last Dog Dies, go here. Joe Box is a private investigator. A Kentucky native and a Vietnam vet, he currently lives in Cincinatti and, you guessed it, solves mysteries. The particular mystery this time involves, Kitty Clark, a fellow Kentucky native and world famous-legendary even- Country music star who is receiving mysterious letters and phone calls by someone who knows information about her so personal no one in the world could possibly know it. Yet someone does.

As the letters and phone calls become more menacing, Kitty hires Joe to find out who this “mystery person” is. Joe travels down to Kentucky to gather information in hopes of finding clues. With the help of a very rich computer expert and a couple of members of the mafia, Joe goes on a search that turns your normal ‘tough PI’ mystery into a suspenseful story that keeps you turning the pages. Each character introduced is a likely suspect but which one is it? The end is not predictable. Some of it is not entirely believable.

Let me start with the negatives:

Without giving away the ending, the “who did it” was within the realm of credibility but there were other developments in the story that I simply couldn’t buy. One part that undoubtedly was intended as a shocking turn of events merely had me rolling my eyes. If you read the book after reading this review, you’ll probably spend most of it wondering what I’m talking about, which, in my opinion, is giving the storyline an added suspense and a good thing. The author should thank me.

Another thing I didn’t like-and I really, really didn’t like it- had to do with Box’ girlfriend. Yes, her again. As shallow and undeveloped as she was in the first book, his attempts to make her more colorful failed on an epic scale. I guess Robinson was trying to make her less perfect and more “real,” but to inform us that a hugely successful architect was a prostitute in her younger days? Really? REALLY? Excuse me while I roll my eyes again.

The following is a sarcastic paraphrase:

“Uh, Joe, I’m sorry to break this to you but years ago I had a boyfriend that insisted I financially support us by having sex with men for money. He also tried to bludgeon me to death.  I’m telling you this because he’s just re entered my life, so excuse me while I go-alone- to the ghetto where he lives and tell him about Jesus.” Insert another eye roll here.

So why did I still enjoy this book and plan on getting the third in the series? Because despite the failings there is one thing that John Robinson succeeds at. Joe Box is an interesting character. I like him. I like reading about him and I want to keep reading to hear what he has to say next, to see what is going to happen to him next. He’s a tough old man who’s had many a hard knock but can keep getting up and giving as good as he gets. He’s dry and sarcastic and I enjoy the repartee he engages in with the other characters. He’s funny and human and the next time I want to take a mental vacation and just enjoy a fun read, I’m going to be reading about Joe and see him solve another mystery.

For more information you can go
John Robinson Books

I bought this book.

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Farenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

The following review is written by my son, Derek.  This past year I have begun homeschooling him to get him ready for college.  One particular concern was his writing skills.  I will be periodically posting papers written by him as an exercise to help him improve these skills.  Feel free to give feedback!

  Fahrenheit 451 is a novel by Ray Bradbury that portrays a nation that has been corrupted by the Government. The message of this novel is shown through the eyes of the protagonist, Guy Montag. Montag is a firefighter in a world where firefighters don’t put out fires but burn books. (Fahrenheit 451 is the temperature at which paper burns.) After meeting a man who reads, he wakes up to the fact that everyone is being kept under control and pacified by laws the government has imposed on its people. It accomplishes this in a couple of ways. First, they outlaw books. Second they keep everything, including education on a shallow entertainment level. As a result, the people can no longer think for themselves and do whatever the government tells them.
Books have been outlawed and are burned by the firemen. This is because, according to the government, books cause people to stop and think which causes division and unhappiness in society. If someone is found with books then firemen are sent to their house. The houses, curiously enough, are fireproof which allows the firemen to burn all the books inside without damaging the building. The person found owning books is considered a threat to the happiness of society and is given the death penalty. This is administered by lethal injection through the mouth of the firemen’s dog. This “firedog” is a machine that has eight legs and always accompanies the firemen on their missions.
Everyone is constantly being entertained. Schools focus mostly on sports rather than education. There’s one room in every house that has huge TV screens built into every wall. Wherever people go they are listening to music on their headphones, paying no attention to the world around them. Because everything is seen as fun and games, no one seems to be able to value life. A group of teenagers hit and kill a young girl with their car and think nothing of it. Neither does anyone else.
The government tells the people that they are happy through entertainment. The people believe this without question. However, since the average person cannot think rationally or judge anything for themselves, everyone is rendered helpless under the government’s control. The country falls apart as the value for life, the earth’s natural beauty and intact families disappear. They are replaced with chaos, injustice, broken homes and a nuclear war but no one cares.
Except Montag. At the end of the story Montag meets an old professor who, it turns out, possesses many books that he has memorized. The story concludes with Montag and the professor traveling to an underground community that has also memorized the books. In this way, Fahrenheit 451 concludes with a glimmer of hope. Fahrenheit 451 is an excellent example of a government controlling its society by robbing it of its ability to think for themselves. It is a warning against a people putting themselves under the government’s power as they mindlessly follow the lies they are fed. Without good literature and education, people’s minds will atrophy as they only dwell on TV shows and music.

 Michael Moore's movie Farenheit 9/11 was a sad irony as it was everything Bradbury had warned against in his novel, i.e. allowing the media to think for you under the guise of "entertainment".  Bradbury fought against Moore using the title in court but unfortunately lost. -S.H.

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Called to Controversy: the Unlikely Story of Moishe Rosen and the Founding of Jews for Jesus by Ruth Rosen

  Moishe Rosen died last year so his daughter, Ruth,  had the wisdom and insight to understand that this unique and Godly man’s life was one that needed to be recorded. Her father’s desire to reach people with the gospel even after death has certainly been fulfilled thanks to this biography.

Ms. Rosen begins with her father’s family. The Rosens were a typical Jewish family during the depression. They worked hard, not letting hard times prevent them from succeeding and making a decent living. They stayed inside their Jewish neighborhood and, even though their religious beliefs were mainly secular as most of their fellow Jews were, their identity in being Jewish was very strong, their sense of community intact. Moishe grew up living a normal life with the expectation that he would join his dad’s business, settle down, meet a nice Jewish girl etc...

Things were going on pretty much according to plan until he met the nice Jewish girl. Ceil came from an orthodox Jewish family that was so harsh and legalistic that she had become a firm atheist. They married while still teenagers but Moishe worked extremely hard at first his dad’s then another company’s business. Little did Moishe know it, but Ceil was going to turn his life in a way that was going to have dramatic repercussions.

It all started when Moishe struck up a friendship with a Christian couple, Orville and Juanita, that engaged Moishe and Ceil in serious discussions about their faith and comparing it to the gospel that claimed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and, in fact, was God. This led to Ceil sneaking a Christian bible into the home where she began reading the New Testament for herself.

Ceil started reading:

Now she would find out who those Christmas carols were really about and why Jesus was described as the one in whom “the hopes and fears of all the years” resided. She began with the first verse of the first book of the New Testament: “The generation of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham.” What’s wrong with that? She thought. It’s saying that Jesus was Jewish!....

…..The more she read, the more impressed she was that this was a Jewish book about a Jewish person who claimed to be the Jewish Messiah. (pg. 57)

Meanwhile, Moishe was having revelations of his own. It started when he met a man on a streetcar as he was returning home from Yom Kippur. Moishe had explained to the man, Orville, that he was fasting to atone for his sins. Orville asked Moishe if he now knew his sins were forgiven. After receiving a shrug and a “who knows” from Moishe, Orville began to explain the gospel and having full assurance for the forgiveness of sins.

The strangest thing was that as he explained the Christian religion, it sounded as though the whole thing was a Jewish idea. The part about Jesus dying to take the punishment for people’s sins, Orville said, was pictured in the original observances of Yom Kippur in Bible times when the Jewish high priest placed his hands on the scapegoat and recited the sins of the people. That goat was then led out into the wilderness, far from the camp of the Israelites. Another goat was sacrificed and its blood sprinkled on the altar as an atonement (covering) for sin. It all sounded weird and spooky to Moishe, but he couldn’t dismiss it as Christian mumbo-jumbo because clearly Orville was describing things from the Torah. (pg 52)

The turning point for Moishe was when he was shocked to find that Ceil had decided that Jesus was the Messiah. In a panic he ran to his Rabbi and presented him with all the arguments Ceil had given him in favor of Jesus fulfilling the prophecies in Isaiah and Jeremiah. What happened was completely unexpected. Each argument the Rabbi gave against Jesus being the Messiah only served to reinforce that Jesus was in fact the Messiah after all. The deal breaker was the argument over the Virgin birth. After going back and forth for a while:

The rabbi smiled mischievously… “well, think on this. It takes two to tango.”… The rabbi explained that when it came to the virgin birth, it simply was not possible.
Moishe later recalled, “What Rabbi Bryks didn’t know was that in that one statement, he completely undermined the case-not only for Christianity- but for Judaism and any kind of theism.”
….If God could not manage this one miracle, how did he mange to create the world, part the Red Sea, or do any other miracle? And if God couldn’t perform miracles, then the Bible must be wrong, in which case being Jewish meant no more or less than being Italian or Greek or African or Mexican- so why should it matter whether or not Jews believed in Jesus? (pg. 65)

The rest, as they say, is history. Moishe became a Christian, went on to seminary, and became involved in missions that specifically reached out to the Jewish community. This eventually led to his organizing the Jews for Jesus movement. The rest of the book describes the evolvement of the organization, the strategies Moishe and the staff learned to reach out to Jewish people and how to buffet “anti-missionaries”. This was a group of Jews that shadowed all the meetings and did their best to sabotage their ministry. Some of these anti-missionaries could get violent. It seems as far as Jewish people are concerned you can be an atheist Jew, a Buddhist Jew, a new age Jew… but you better not ever be a Christian Jew. Moishe and Ceil’s own family members received their conversions with such hostility that they disowned them. Ceil’s family even moved away to an undisclosed location without informing her. On her death bed, Moishe’s own mother told him that if he was going to try to talk about Jesus he could “go to hell!” (Introduction). Moishe dealt with every challenge with a strength and “chutzpah” that could only have come from God.

One area where the ministry was most effective was with the hippie movement in the early seventies. Because hippies had already bucked the system and rejected the established norms, Jewish hippies were much more receptive to hearing the gospel of Christ. In fact, they were responsible for a lot of the growth in Jews for Jesus at that time.

Ruth Rosen gives an honest portrayal of her father. She shows his strengths and also his weaknesses. Her book is a fascinating step by step account of one of the most controversial movements inside Christianity and also its leader. I highly recommend all Christians read this book and I hope they will be convicted as I was by Ms. Rosen’s final words in Appendix A, “Why Witness to the Jewish Peoples?”

Until recently...evangelical churches understood that (presenting the gospel) to all people included Jewish people.
Now there is considerable deviation….some question whether or not the Jewish people need the gospel at all. Others …challenge any method of evangelism that doesn’t begin with a Jewish person approaching a Christian…
Why has Jewish evangelism become so controversial? …(because) it’s easy to go with the flow-to evangelize those who are down and out. Jewish people are among the people groups described as ‘gospel resistant.’
…The other reason is Christians, whether or not they realize or admit it-want to be ‘politically correct.’
….Christians need to recognize that it takes courage to witness to someone who might be offended, angry, or argumentative. It takes courage to broach the subject to someone who may not only reject your message, but reject you…
…I have said it before and I will continue to say it: Bringing the gospel to the Jewish people is perhaps the most significant issue on which the church will prove its character, conviction, and commitment to evangelism.

I received this book for free from Thomas Nelson.

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Sunday, March 4, 2012

When I Lay My Isaac Down by Carol Kent

Carol Kent was only able to have one son, J.P. whom she and her husband, Gene, loved and cherished. J.P. was a wonderful child, grew up loving the Lord, was involved in church youth groups, made great grades at school and had high plans afterward. He graduated from the Naval academy and trained as a Navy Seal. He met a young divorced woman named April and after a whirlwind romance, married her and became a devoted husband and loving father to her four and six year old daughters.

Carol loved her new grand daughters and her new daughter. At one point she told her husband, “Life doesn't get any better than this.”

The only dark cloud was April's ex-husband. April and her young daughters suffered physical and sexual abuse at his hands. For the first couple of years after their divorce he was only allowed supervised visits with his daughters but he soon took legal action in order to obtain visits with his daughters without supervision. April and J.P. fought this but were told by their lawyer that unsupervised visits were imminent. This possibility seemed to haunt J.P.

One late night Carol and Gene were awakened by a phone call.

Who would be calling at this hour? Listening to my husband, I instantly knew he was receiving dreadful news.
Gene pulled the receiver back and choked out the words, “J.P. has been arrested for the first degree murder of Douglas Miller Jr.”

The book chronicles Carol and her family's descent into the sort of nightmare that the rest of us could never imagine for ourselves or our children. The title is the theme of the book. How does one relinquish control of their child and trust God? How does one respond when your son calls you from prison crying that he'd been jumped on by fellow prisoners that beat and kicked him so hard in his head he could no longer see straight and his front teeth had been knocked out? How does God allow all this?

Carol describes her grief, her doubts, her wrestling with God, and how despite living through hell, she came to the place where she could hand J.P. over to God. To lay her Isaac down.

She shares personal stories of others who came to the same place: a young girl with an eating disorder, a woman whose husband abandoned her to live an unthinkable lifestyle. Men who, because of emotional deprivation when very young, spent years of their adult life seeking worth through one adulterous affair after another. People with alcohol addictions or terminal cancer. Parents with suffering children. The stories conclude with how each of them finally arrived at the place where they could lay their Isaac down and trust God.

The book is written in a Bible study format so each part of J.P.'s story is given in small portions in each chapter while the rest of the chapter discusses biblical principals that author has learned and ends with discussion questions.

Personally I only bought the book because I heard Ms. Kent sharing her story on the radio but wanted more information. Why did J.P. do it? What ultimately happened to him? While the book does bring the reader up to date on the outcome of J.P. I was somewhat dissatisfied because-while she relates her own spiritual journey as well as excerpts from her husbands diary- the people who I was most interested in never got a voice.

I would liked to have heard from April and more detail as to what she actually went through with her ex-husband and what went on personally between her and J.P. I wanted to read a testimony from J.P.-something that might give an inkling as to why he did what he did. It's all still very much a mystery.

Still, if anyone has had to go through the unthinkable with loved ones or suffered personal trauma, this is a good book to read. It could help you as you wrestle with God and perhaps bring you to the point where you can lay your own Isaac down.

I bought this book.