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Heartwrenchingly Beautiful

The First Gardener by Denise Hildreth Jones

Jeremiah Williams has been taking care of the gardens at the Tennessee governors mansion for the past 25 years.  He has cared and prayed for its residents as well.  There is something special though about the current family.  Jeremiah wonders if all the hurt and unjust treatment he’s gone through in life have been so that he could be with this family at this specific time.

Governor Gray London and his wife Mackenzie, struggled with infertility and miscarriages for years.  Now it seems that all their dreams have come true.  Their miracle baby, Maddie, is heading off to kindergarten, and Gray is making a real difference as governor.

When tragedy strikes again and again, the London’s are thrust into circumstances they don’t know if they can survive, and they’re not sure they even want to.

What is God doing in their life?  Is he really even there?  How could he love them let these kinds of things happen?

This book is worth the read, but be prepared for uncontrollable sobs and keep a box of tissues nearby.  I was completely unprepared for the depth of this novel. Though the main plot is heavy, there are lighter sub-plots to take the edge off.  The southern voice throughout is authentic and beautiful.  The First Gardener is masterfully writt

5 Stars

This book was provided to me through the Tyndale Bloggers Network.  All opinions rendered are my own.

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Spectacular Series: The O’Malley Family by Dee Henderson

Dee HendersonDee HendersonThe O’Malleys are a  family.  They made themselves one as they grew up in a foster home together.  Taking on the same last name just made it official.  Now all grown up the seven siblings all share another thing in common.  They Dee HendersonDee Hendersonwork to help people.

Kate is a hostage negotiator

Marcus is a U.S. Marshal

Lisa is a forensic pathologist

Dee HendersonDee HendersonJack fights fires

Rachel works disasters for the Red Cross

Stephen is a paramedic

Jennifer is a doctor                                Dee Henderson

They watch each others backs and support each other through the hard times, but as one of their own faces life’s final battle will their bonds hold them together or will they be shattered and scattered.

This Spectacular Series was  re-released by Tyndale in 2005.

For those of you who have read this series, you can find an unpublished extra Jennifer’s story at Dee Henderson’s website.

Jeanette Windle

A daughter of American missionaries, Jeanette Windle grew up in the jungles and small towns of Colombia, now guerrilla hot zones.  Jeanette graduated from Prairie Bible College in Three Hills, Alberta.  In 1985, Jeanette and her husband Martin moved to Bolivia to work with a nondenominational Christian mission organization. While her husband served as director, Jeanette worked with women and children at risk in varied regions of Bolivia.

Jeanette Windle

Jeanette WindleJeanette’s first book, Kathy and the Readhead,  was a group of stories based on her life growing up at a Missionary Kid Boarding School.  This was followed by the six books of the Parker Twins Adventure Series, a young adult mystery-suspense series set in a multi-cultural background, and a teen novel Jana’s Journal.

Her first major adult political/suspense novel, CrossFire Jeanette Windle(2000), was set against background of the counter-narcotics Jeanette Windlewar in Bolivia she was witnessing firsthand, This was followed by The DMZ (2004), set in the guerrilla zones of Colombia where she grew up, and FireStorm (2004) the sequel to Crossfire.  These were published all by Kregel Publications.

Betrayed (2008), set in the background of Guatemala’s fifty year civil conflict, was released by Tyndale House Publishers.   Veiled Freedom (2009), set in Afghanistan, was a 2010 Christy Award finalist and 2010 Christian Book Award finalist.  Her newest book, Jeanette WindleFreedom’s Stand (2011), is the sequel to Veiled Freedom.  It was released in  June, and Jeanette Windlewas nominated AWSA (Advanced Writer Speaker Association) 2011 Golden Scroll Novel of the Year.

Jeanette and her husband Marty moved to Miami in 2000, and to Lancaster, PA, in 2006.  Jeanette  speaks and travels extensively both in the U.S. and internationally, and serves as consulting editor and mentor to developing writers  in the U.S. and abroad.  She is currently president of Lancaster Christian Writers.

I had a chance recently to ask Jeanette a few questions.

Kristen:  You have been to many countries over the years. If you could visit one country you haven’t been to before where would you go?

Jeanette Actually, I have many countries on my ‘bucket list’ to visit someday, so it is hard to nail it down to one. If you’d asked a few months ago, I’d have said Israel, a country I never expected in my lifetime to have opportunity for visiting since I usually only travel for ministry. But God opened the doors beyond all my expectations to spend 12 days in Israel just this last spring. So I would have to narrow it down to my current top five: Greece, Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Indonesia and Democratic Republic of Congo. The last two are because of ministry partnerships there, so it is NOT a coincidence that the others are all beautiful tropical islands. Growing up in Colombia and Venezuela, I was privileged to vacation on the Caribbean, which gave me a taste for tropical beaches.

Kristen: Your books contain Americans getting into some pretty scary and dangerous situations overseas. What is the scariest or most dangerous situation you have been in yourself while in another country?

Jeanette:   The scariest situations are truly ones on which I’d rather not dwell. Racing along an Andes mountain cliff in a bus with my four small children and a drunk driver behind the wheel. Thieves coming over the wall at night in Sucre, Bolivia, while my husband was on a trip, leaving myself and kids barricaded in the main house and a single female missionary barricaded in her apartment at the rear of the property. I LOVE heavy steel doors and thick bars on windows. A knife being held to my six month old son’s throat. Accidentally finding myself witnessing a drug deal while on a walk–and having to get out before being noticed. The usual pickpockets, riots, strikes, road blocks where local law enforcement are far more frightening than any guerrillas could be.

 So I’ll share the scariest one that was my own fault. My husband was again on a trip to mountain and jungle churches in Bolivia, leaving me with our three preschoolers (my life in our early ministry days) when a column easily ten feet wide of army ants headed up our short, concrete driveway towards our tiny, colonial-style house (600 square feet built around an unroofed central courtyard). With no husband to call and three small children to protect, I had to think fast. My five year old eldest son helped me as I splashed the column thoroughly with kerosene. I did make sure he went inside the house before tossing a match. I had no idea kerosene could explode so thoroughly! It did incinerate the ant column along with my bangs and eyelashes. It was truly a miracle I didn’t kill myself and leave three babies stranded until my husband came home.

Kristen Do you have a work currently in progress?

Jeanette I am currently writing what will be my next political/suspense novel set in the Ituri rainforest of northeast Democratic Republic of Congo, tentatively titled Congo Dawn.

KristenWhat kind of books do you like to read yourself, and who is your favorite author?

 Jeanette Perhaps as consequence of a life spent in so many countries and cultures, I can honestly say I have no favorites, whether foods, colors, countries, cultures, etc. I hugely enjoy the fabulous variety with which God has endowed this planet, and that includes literature as well. I will read anything of any genre as long as it is superbly written. Much depends what I’m currently writing. A few months ago my nightstand was filled with books related to Afghanistan, where my last two novels, Veiled Freedom and Freedom’s Stand, take place. Now for the same reason, it is filled with non-fiction and fiction related to the Congo, setting of my current WIP.  I read several books a week and enjoy all the most recent best-sellers as well as re-reading or discovering classics. Because I read so quickly and am constantly out of reading material, I LOVE having other readers inform me of a book they have loved and which I’ve yet to read—so feel free to send me recommendations.

 But here are a few of my top choices: When it comes to inspirational reading, the beautiful prose of Max Lucado and Philip Keller and the meditative profundity of A. W. Tozer, Andrew Murray, Brother Lawrence. Chaim Potok (The Chosen, The Promise) is a novelist who impacted me in sharing his passion for El Shaddai, Torah and his Jewish heritage in mainstream fiction as Christians so often hesitate to do. Fredrick Forsyth (Hunt for the Jackal, Odessa Files) and Leon Uris (Exodus, Armageddon) whetted my appetite for tight suspense interwoven with thorough political research. In other areas, I’m an eclectic reader, so have enjoyed the gamut of great writers in every genre:

1)      historical fiction: M. M. Kaye, Kenneth Roberts, Leon Uris; Elizabeth Goudge: The Dean’s Watch and her Pilgrim’s Inn series.

2)      political/suspense: Frederick Forsyth, Tom Clancy, John Grisham, Alistair McClain, Robin Cook;

3)      science fiction: J.R.R. Tolkien, Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinley, C.S. Lewis;

4)      mystery: Agatha Christie, Mary Higgins Clark,  Mary Stewart, Madelaine Brent, Georgette Heyer;

5)      romance: I must say I’m still a sucker for a good Georgette Heyer, though all mine were tattered years ago;

6)      westerns: Louis L’Amour is the only one I read, but he is good enough to convert even a non-Western fan.

And so much more!

I have enjoyed getting to know Jeanette through her books and through Lancaster Christian Writers.  Having Read Veiled Freedom and Freedom’s Stand, I have begun to go back and read her earlier works.  I just finished Crossfire and am anxious to start it’s sequel Firestorm.  Having several friends who are missionaries in Bolivia, it has been interesting to get a feel for the culture through these well written stories.  Only an author who has been there is going to be able to so visibly bring across images like this one from Crossfire:

And the smell!  It settled over the car in an overpowering wave as Doug ushered the new passengers into the back seat.  Sara had never been at close quarters with the particular odor of the Bolivian campesino–a combination of infrequent washing, hand woven wool, no deodorant, and hours spent walking under a tropical sun–and she had to bite her lip to keep her nose from wrinkling with distaste.

God has definitely brought Jeanette through many life experiences that make her uniquely able to bring us the so many wonderful stories she writes.  I hope you will consider picking up one of her titles for your next read.

Miss Foolish Heart

Susan May WarrenEveryone in Deep Haven knows Isadora Presley is the town recluse.  What they don’t know is that she’s also Miss Foolish Heart, the popular syndicated talk radio show host.   Listeners to her show love taking her relationship advice but what they don’t know as they’re  is that Miss Foolish Heart has never even been on a date.

Isadora, known as Issy to her friends, has barely left her neighborhood since the accident that took her mother’s life and left her father a quadriplegic.  The world just seems so dangerous–why anything could happen.  Just look at all that has happened since the handsome new neighbor moved in next door.  That dog of his has been causing constant trouble not to mention that he insists on parking his huge truck right on top of her flowers.

Things have been going a bit crazy on the Miss Foolish Heart show too.  First the Governor of California’s daughter decides to settle for an imperfect man because she’s tired of waiting for Mr. Right, and she calls in to invite Miss Foolish Heart to the wedding.  If Issy can’t even make it  to  her best friend Lucy’s World’s Best Donuts’ shop right in town, how could she ever get on a plane.

Then a sweet young man calls the show trying to get advice for wooing his neighbor.  The listeners love this young man, and her ratings skyrocket.  Issy finds herself falling for this sweet young man even as she gives him advice on how to win another girls heart.  Oh, why can’t Issy find someone that perfect?

My Foolish Heart is the third installment in Susan May Warren’s Deep Haven series.  It is a perfectly delightful  read.  The pace keeps you moving right along, and you grow to love the characters more and more throughout the story.  As with all of Susan’s books, the descriptions and settings have the ability to transport you right into the scene.  I hope she plans to bring us more stories about the endearing people of Deep Haven.

I enthusiastically give this book 5 Stars.

Can the Afghan People Ever Know True Freedom?

Freedom’s Stand                                                            by J.M. Windle

Aid worker Amy Mallory returns from a trip stateside to find overwhelming and seemingly negative changes to the New Hope Compound.  The rescued women have been put to work doing the backbreaking job of carpet-making,  the area she secured to give them more living space has been turned into a business, and most troubling to Amy, several of the women have been married off to strangers.

Jamil has found peace traveling the countryside, using his medical skills as a healer and sharing the teachings of Isa Masih (Jesus Christ).   When he is unknowingly  filmed by a journalist and his faith is broadcast on YouTube for all the world to see, he finds himself behind bars in one of the most notorious prisons in all of Afghanistan.  He is accused of apostasy, and all Afghans know the penalty for apostasy is death.

Condor Security operative Steve Wilson thought he had seen the last of Afghanistan and is busy planning an extended tropical beach vacation.  When the young son of the friend who took over his assignment is diagnosed with Leukemia and needs a bone marrow transplant Steve insists on filling in so the family can be together at this crucial time.  If only Steve could find something to do that would fill his life with purpose…

The Afghan people still live without freedom ten years after the ousting of the Taliban.  Regardless of outside intervention the country seems bent on destroying and imprisoning itself from within.  Is there any real hope of freedom?  Of love?  Can anyone make a difference?

Freedom’s Stand is the completion of the tale begun in Veiled Freedom.  While it’s possible to read the story alone, you will miss the depth of the story if you try to do so.  This story is both riveting any meaningful.  Many times you will find yourself on the edge of your seat, and yet you will also find your heart aching for the lives and love of the Afghan people.  This is an important story that tells what life is like behind the news headlines.

The author, Jeanette Windle,  has done her research well, including an under the radar trip to Afghanistan.  In fact, her research is so detailed that it has prompted government agencies to question whether she has seen classified information.   She brings this world of to life through her understanding of  what it is like to work and live as a missionary in the “Hot Zones” of the world.

This book, and actually both books in this series, are five-star quality.  I would highly recommend picking up a copy of both Veiled Freedom and Freedom’s stand to add to your collection of fine literature.

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