Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Book Review: "Stranger Things" by Erin Healy

Photo credit: Erin Healy
In her new novel, Stranger Things (Thomas Nelson Publishers), Erin Healy explores the Celtic concept of thin places, the ever growing sex-trafficking trade in America, and the idea of a person sacrificing their life for a complete stranger.  High School teacher, Serena’s, world gets turned upside down when a student accuses her of the unthinkable.  She retreats to her very own sanctuary to process, only to discover she is not the only one drawn to this secluded spot.  She crosses paths with a sex-trafficker.  Not only is her reputation at risk, but now her life is as well and a complete stranger steps in and sacrifices his life to save hers.  This stranger, Christopher, has a personal mission to save young girls from the underground world of sex-trafficking.  He started by rescuing his sister, Amber, and from there started a non-profit along with two friends.  Christopher and his colleagues suspect Serena to be not only connected, but heavily involved in John Roman's sex trade ring, the man who lured in Amber.  Serena continuously finds herself entangled in a web she did not know was there.  As soon as she finds a truth she seemingly uncovers more lies.  Unsure who to turn to she struggles to find a way to clear her name, then to clear it again, to figure out why a complete stranger would die for her, and the meaning behind the “visions” she sees when at the abandoned fire house where Christopher died.

The lines between chapters become unclear, not because the story is so, but because the plot line is continuously moving at a fast pace.The pages turn without recognition of number, the cover refusing to close.  Unique to this story is the concept of thin places; the Celtic idea of places where the spiritual and physical veil is so thin one can see through it. They blur the line between fact and fiction, when in truth there may be no line at all.  That is something Serena, while not the lone character to experience thin places, is trying to continuously figure out.

While the challenges these characters face are most likely not completely universal, they pry eyes open to a monstrosity that most are unaware exist so close to home.  Sex-trafficking tends to be thought of an oversea trade, but is the third highest growing crime.  The “stranger” concept however is quite universal.  The idea of a stranger sacrificing their life is as old as time.  This novel in itself not only has so many layers that it begs to be read twice, but it is in itself a “thin place.”

Stranger Things is to be released December 31, 2013 and can be preordered here.  It is a story that challenges how deep a strangers actions can change one life; how one action can effect a decision to change the outcome of events.  As Healy says in Stranger Things, “If everyone only cared about one other person, we’d all be okay.”

Learn more about Erin Healy and connect with her on social media sites via the attached link.

*This book was provided for review by the author via NetGalley*

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Interview with author Erin Healy on her upcoming novel "Stranger Things"

I'm so incredibly excited and honored to host the following Erin Healy interview on my blog! (The last three questions are mine, and I'm pretty much jumping up and down right now!)  Psssst...you can read an excerpt of Stranger Things and throw your name in for a chance to win yourself a copy! 

Erin Healy’s latest supernatural thriller, Stranger Things, comes to stores on New Year’s Eve.

 Library Journal says: “Serena Diaz’s teaching career came to an abrupt end when a student falsely accused her of sexual misconduct. Seeking solace in the woods, she discovers that a gang of sex traffickers has taken over a vacant house. Serena is almost captured by one of the criminals but is saved by an unknown man who has been shadowing her. He is shot, and Serena escapes with her life. But she is drawn to know more about this stranger who died for her. What follows is a suspenseful story of danger and pure evil. Whom can Serena trust in a world that seems intent on serving its own self-interests? VERDICT Healy (Afloat; coauthor with Ted Dekker, Burn and Kiss) has written an edgy, fast-paced spiritual thriller that will please Dekker fans.”

How was your idea for Stranger Things born?
Two years ago, during a Good Friday service, my pastor (Kelly Williams of Vanguard Church, Colorado Springs) asked the congregation: “If a complete stranger died while saving your life, wouldn’t you want to know everything you could about that person? Wouldn’t you want your life to honor that person’s death?” He challenged us to consider Jesus Christ in a new light—as a stranger, as a savior we might not know as well as we think we do. This idea has roots in Romans 5:8—“While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Before I ever had the chance to know him, while he was a complete stranger to me, Christ died for me. The Message translation says “when [I was] of no use whatever to him.” Why would he do that? Have I investigated him thoroughly enough to connect my own life with his purposes? This is all background, though. Stranger Things isn’t an overtly Christian tale as my previous novels have been, but it’s a parable about these questions.


Stranger Things sounds like a pretty dark read. Why did you choose to write about sex trafficking?
Human trafficking (of which sex trafficking is a subcategory) is the world’s third-fastest growing illegal industry behind drugs and weapons. It is the most horrifying kind of modern captivity I can imagine, and my research proved that even my imagination fell short of reality. I picked it because it’s a real contemporary crisis, but also because it profoundly symbolizes the kind of bondage that Christ came to end (Isaiah 61:1-3). Freeing the captive, physically and spiritually, is a high calling for followers of Jesus who want to express their gratitude for his sacrifice and demonstrate his love through the continuation of his work.

What does all this have to do with the “thin places” that you’re always talking about?
The traditional (Celtic) definition of a thin place is a physical location in the world where the division between physical and spiritual realities falls away, a place where we can see the greater truth of our existence. In my stories I use the term “thin place” to define moments when a person experiences a sharpened spiritual awareness about what’s really going on in his or her life. Stranger Things  is the first novel in which I’ve combined both ideas. The thin place is a physical location, a burned-out house in a sparse terrain, where Serena discovers her purpose. “There are places in the world where you will encounter things so real that you will be surprised others don’t have an identical experience,” Serena’s father tells her. “But then you will realize that the clarity given to you is a gift from God. Perhaps this gift is just for you, maybe also it will touch the lives of others.”

Did anything surprise you while writing the novel?
I started with intentions to write about an Asian-based trafficking ring, but in the course of my research was distressed to learn just how close to home the problem lies. Though it’s impossible to get a precise count of how many people are victims of sex trafficking in the US, most estimates fall between 100,000 and 300,000 (mostly women and children). Since I learned this my own awareness has expanded, and I’m happy to see just how many efforts are already underway—not only in the US—to end this atrocity. The Polaris Project is a great place to begin learning about global human trafficking.

What do you hope readers will take away from Stranger Things?

I hope the novel is layered enough to meet each reader individually. Maybe some will be challenged to investigate Jesus Christ further. Maybe some will use their new awareness of trafficking to do something about it. (I’ve joined the prayer team of a local home for girls rescued from sexual slavery.) To date my favorite response to the book was from the person who found herself looking in a new way at the strangers who surrounded her. She felt unexpectedly protective and concerned, on heightened alert to ways in which she might be able to help them. In other words, ways in which she might be able to do what Christ did for her. So many opportunities! If we all moved through the world with eyes like that, what might change for the better? I love to think of all the possibilities.

What is the most memorable "thin place" you have experienced?
The most memorable--maybe because it was the most sensory--was a small town in England that has an ancient history of druid activity. Today the town plays up this element for the tourists, but I was there as a student. It was only for a lunch stop. My class was passing through en route to another city. I remember the afternoon being foggy and damp, which is usually "comfort weather" for me, but not this day. There was a chill to the place that made me uneasy and even frightened, stranger still in the middle of the day. I ate quickly and returned straight to the bus with a couple of other students who felt the same way. We waited for others to return from a short hike, feeling an urgent need to leave. Nothing significant "happened" that day, but I've never experienced the same sensations of inner discomfort anywhere else, not even in other similar towns

What is the most difficult part of being both an editor and an author?
Learning how to be a book author was like being in therapy to build up half my brain. For me, editing is a pretty left-brained activity, and writing is right-brained. (It seems I'm going to have to come up with a different metaphor. Apparently all this left-right-brained stuff is a myth after all.) Still, I think I went into authorship looking a little bit like a circus freak show, half strong man (editor), half stick insect (author). Today my brain is a little more balanced, and I think of my two functions being complimentary. Writing makes me a better editor, and editing makes me a better writer. Other than that the most difficult part is finding time to do both as much as I really want to!

What story that you have published was the most difficult for you to let go and let others into? Why?
I've never thought about this before. Each story is difficult to let go of for different reasons. I wrote Never Let You Go about specific people I know and was worried they'd see themselves in it (they didn't). The antagonist of The Baker's Wife is a horrible Christian man, and I thought my portrayal of him might offend (if he did, no one told me). House of Mercy is my favorite story to date--it's my most personal story about the spiritual question that is hardest for me to answer. I didn't want to be so transparent. Also, there's more of the story to tell, and I don't know when I'll have the chance. I worried people wouldn't "get it." Some didn't. But many did, and that's very rewarding. So I guess that fear is what makes a thing hard to let go of, which is funny, because in my experience God always turns out to be greater than the fear.

Find Erin:
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SNEAK A PEEK at the first two chapters

Thanks for reading! Comment with your most memorable experience with a stranger!

Monday, November 4, 2013

"Oulaw" by Ted Dekker

This review will be a little unlike the others seeing as I was able to attend one of the tour stops.  I'll talk about that first and then my review of the book will follow.  Now, the tour stop was a little different from the rest being that there was no church to house the full event so it was just a signing and a mini talk with Ted standing on a chair
Something that really resonated with me was (and I maybe paraphrasing a little but I'm pretty sure I'm pretty close)
"When we forget about what others can do for us we are able to truly appreciate them as the wonderful gifts they are."-Ted Dekker
That is SO how God loves us!  Not for what we can do for Him; we can do NOTHING for Him, but just because we are us and we are precious.  How beautiful if that was the Love we showed one another, seeking nothing, just pure.
The other thing that stood out was a direct quote from John 5:22
"the Father judges no one."
And then Ted said "Did you know that?" You know what, I didn't! I have continuously breezed right over that. God the FATHER judges NO ONE!  So why are we so hard on one another?  Why are we so hard on ourselves?  Why do the temporary things take such a priority?

So then we take a quick trip to the yogurt place a couple doors down to use the restroom.  Those girls were SUPER nice!  And chatted about Dekker, Duck Dynasty, and Veggie Tales with the couple in front of us.  When we got close the staff wanted quick pics with Ted and I took the opportunity to ask for a pic with Kevin Kaiser (Ted's manager), because it's tradition and I'm really truly that much of a book nerd.  He seemed pretty excited that someone wanted their picture with him and knew who he was.  Then, as last time, he told us how his wife is from Green Bay (my sister was wearing a GB cap) and how his daughter is a huge cheese head! Go Pack Go!  He also thought we were friends with the couple in front of us.
Then it was Ted time and he is my absolute favorite author.  To have had this opportunity once was crazy enough, to have it twice is just beyond.  I told him this (Outlaw) had become my favorite of his books.  And his response was "Really? How old are you?" (Pretty random, but so needed as so from God!)  I responded and it was clear that's not the best topic with me. He asked me if people think I'm younger than I am.  And I responded that yes, it happens ALL the time. And he said "That bothers you?" "It does." And he said "Don't do that to yourself, you are making yourself suffer.  God gave you a beautiful costume and you should embrace it."  I could have cried, right to my heart and something that's been driving me nuts lately.  He gave me a hug and told me again that I am beautiful and to embrace it.
Everything I had understood from this story and found beautiful I didn't take to heart, not until tonight when I was pierced with it.  Why would I be so bothered by how God made me?  Why was I finding it so difficult to separate not only my costume but what others perceived it as from who I really am?  I could not be more grateful for those words Ted spoke to me tonight.
He also noticed that my little sister looks older than me and that's probably where it stems from.  He told us and the people behind us about a Ted talks video he had watched that day about monkey's that relates to the sibling situation.
Book Review
Outlaw, by Ted Dekker, is probably the book I've been most excited to read in some time!  I am a huge Dekker fan and I knew that this book was based off of the jungles that he grew up in as a kid.  That made it especially interesting wondering where the truth and imaginations began and ended as I read.  I can tell you this is also my favorite book of his that I've read in some time.  The writing style is SO completely different than anything else he's written.  (In my opinion).
This is the story of Julian Carter.  The lack of love that she faces as a child, as a wife, and her clawing at a hope in religion.  When she has a son, Stephen, through a marriage of convenience she starts having a persisting dream about a jungle and a beautiful song.  The dream does not leave her and when her husband dies she longs to chase it. 
Being a missionary is not something that is not recommended for a single woman and a toddler, but she sets off on a journey of her own to see if her dream is something that is reasonable, if it is not just something in her head.  She is lost at sea and taken slave by a savage tribe.  She fights for her life, and against the "life" she has known to the one she is now forced to lead.  The only way out of the jungle is in fact death, which many times is the foreseeable  outcome. 
You will be astounded by who in fact was born to change the world.  The lines between worlds are both black and gray.  You will question how you view the world, how you view yourself, and your costume.  The novel has almost two tones, being the first half deals mostly with Julian and the second with Stephen.  The stories are real, the are about us, no matter what world we are living it.  It is all just one isn't it?  Love will never look the same.  I am Outlaw.  Are you?
I had tears on the edge of my eyes the WHOLE time.  There is SO much, SO much to learn from this story.  The story itself is page-turning and raw.   

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Win "Outlaw" by Ted Dekker

Want to win Ted Dekker's new book "Outlaw" that was just released yesterday? Click the link to throw your name in? http://apps.shelf-awareness.com/signup/98/75400

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review: "House of Mercy" by Erin Healy

Erin Healy’s House of Mercy (Thomas Nelson Publishers) follows a young lady named Bethesda (Beth) whose family lives on a generationally ran cattle-ranch turned sanctuary to rehab troubled men.  She dreams of becoming a vet, due to her easy intuition at healing animals, and is about to go off to vet school.  One night she makes a quick decision that turns into a very foolish mistake. This mistake put’s her dream at stake as well as her family’s livelihood causing Beth’s relationships with her family to take quite the toll. As she tries to right each wrong she continuously finds herself in more trouble and her decisions continue to have a domino effect.  Mercy becomes personified and Beth discovers a spiritual gift.  She starts to believe in this gift that she cannot control and follows Mercy to once again try to right her wrongs.

House of Mercy turns even more tragic and the magnitude of consequence is made clear.  While not all the tragedies that ensue are clearly due to Beth, it is argued that she is the cause.  Her family ties continue to sever as she fights for control to fix her wrongs and she is given a task to complete that may fix almost everything.  This request unravels a family secret and sets her directly on a journey toward mercy.   She is given an ultimatum and flees the situation to begin her journey and attempt to fix her problems. 

Healy does a great job at keeping the reader on the edge of their seat; suspensefully relaying Beth’s journey.  The story is heartbreakingly universal.  Beth is constantly trying to fix things herself without relying on anyone else, including God.  As she journeys to fulfill the request set out for her, and find her grandfather she is forced to learn to rely on Mercy or suffer even more consequences. 

The constant challenges that Healy’s character’s face and the extreme abruptness that it takes until they listen to God makes them incredibly relatable.  House of Mercy exemplifies through Beth how decisions that may seem harmless sometimes carry negative consequences, but are not always a death sentence.  Healy also quite realistically describes through Beth’s journey that the plan God lays out for us is not always easy; human pride often gets in the way of His Mercy.  Beth must learn to relinquish control and let God use not only her but the people around her to turn her situation back on track.  Healy also relates to the reader in the truth that these other vessels also may take some work before they are willing vessels, and that is sometimes quite the fight.  Healy keeps it real; not all of the characters accept God’s mercy.  The story ends on a suspenseful note, leaving room for some of the characters to change their minds.

House of Mercy, released August 2012, is a riveting, fast-paced read with a redemptive lesson on what mercy truly means.   It is available in paperback or e-book form and Healy includes at the end of the novel the story of when she met a real life wolf that inspired her story of Mercy.
Find out more about Erin Healy here: http://www.erinhealy.com/

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

"Unsinkable: A Young Woman's Courageous Battle on the High Seas" by Abby Sunderland, Lynn Vincent

This was a quick read about a girl who grew up sailing and decided to follow her dream of solo-circumnavigating the world at just sixteen years old, an endeavor that is unimaginably near impossible.  She is fearless, and strong willed, but level headed enough to know when to ask for help (even if she stretches it out to the very last second in true teenage style).  Her world is so different than mine has ever been, or will be, yet her story kept me interested.  To me, someone that would be lucky to stay afloat in water, the idea of being in a tiny sailboat surfing ginormous waves is awe inspiring.  Her courage that was steady in circumstances where fear is most natural, is something that could only be born of faith.  The narrative switched from her point of view, her teams', and later the rescuers.  This gave the story a more full circle feel.  I'm disappointed I didn't know about her journey sooner so I could have followed along!  I hope she get's another shot, and make's it full circle!

**I received this book free from the publisher for review.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own:**

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

"Unbroken" by Laura Hillenbrand

I'm having a major book hangover with this one, to my surprise.  A friend recommended it to me, telling me how good it was, so I looked up what it was about and was extremely skeptical.  To my delight I was wrong, this story is SO GOOD! During the early pages I was laughing, and when reading the final few I was tearing.  This true story follows Olympic runner Louis Zamperini from childhood, to Olympic competition, to war.  He get's lost at see and becomes a Pacific POW, once free his nightmare follows him and he becomes lost in it.  The immense amount of hope and resilience is inspiring.  All that the body can be put through is astounding.  How God uses the dark parts of life and shines his light through even those darkest places is beautiful.  I cannot highly recommend  that you read this book NOW.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Win Jason F. Wright

Click here: The JFW facebook page

Today Jason F. Wright put out a contest on his Facebook page.  You can win one of three of his books just by sharing a specific post that he's posted! If you win might I suggest either choosing The Wednesday Letters (if you are a book nerd like I am, you will probably think the end is the coolest thing ever) or Recovering Charles simply because it's one of my all time favorites. Good luck and may the odds be ever in your favor ;)

Monday, March 11, 2013

"Iscariot: A Novel of Judas" by Tosca Lee

   I started reading Iscariot: A Novel of Judas, by Tosca Lee, very hesitantly to my dismay. I had just finished reading a book that was the first to surprise me with the ending in such a long time, that I was in a bit of a book-hangover.  I've read Lee's previous works and I knew that I had to be all in when reading her novels, but I had waited for it's release for so long that I just couldn't wait anymore.
    Iscariot is a bit of speculative spiritual fiction.  I happen to like Lee's work so much because she stays completely true to what the Bible says and with lots of research attempts to read between the lines.  I've heard and read the same stories over and over that sometimes they become monotonous; she challenges me to really think about what I'm reading...to consider what it would have been like to be that person, to live in that time, how the circumstances would have felt.
     We start off reading about Judas's childhood.  It broke my heart to read about the very realistic possible circumstances that  formed the way Judas reacted to situations, the way he thought, the way he was raised, and the way he was effected by things.  There was a certain sadness that I connected with.  Little Judas broke my heart, and made me realize that we all are Judas.  Most of us, if in his position probably would have made the same choice; many of us, I don't think would ever be brave enough to have been in his position at all.
    The middle of the book felt more like a familiar friend, it's the part of the story we all know so well, this is where the lines are written a little bit closer together.  It is where we have to keep reminding ourselves that Judas was the one Jesus called fried.  It is where we have to remind ourselves how the story ends, and it made me feel sick to my stomach.
   The end of the book I put off....for DAYS.  I would read at a crawling pace and kept setting it down to  do anything but accept how it was going to end.  Sometimes we do things out of love that we really truly do with the best of intentions but they turn out not so good.  Many times we are so close to a situation that we are overcome by the severity of it and we can't see the big picture, we are too overcome to hope.  Is it possible that Judas thought he was doing what was best?  Is it possible that any of us could have so easily been Judas? I think the answer is yes.   think the end of Judas's story is quite sad, he had to have an intense love for Jesus to so whole-heartily follow Him.  Did this love change?  Was it fear, because that had to have been a pretty scary time?  Was it supposed to be out of love, and that part is just burried?   Tosca (I know I should say Lee, but it just feels too informal for her ok?) challenged me to consider Judas's story in an entirely knew way...even to the point of how he died.
    I know that I have rambled on a lot here, but what it comes down to is that you really need to read this book.  Let me warn you it will brake you.  I finished it about two weeks ago and I still am trying to recover.  I can't help but wonder how I would have been.  I am left with so many questions, that in the same answer so many more.  I mean seriously, someone else please read this so we can talk about it together?