Sunday, November 17, 2019

A Small Book for the Anxious Heart by Edward T Welch

I have very mixed feelings about this book. As I read through it, I was disappointed in the depth of the first part. It seemed shallow. As I read on, the book did get deeper but I ended up with mixed feelings about it. Welch finally coupled fear and faith on Day 16. That just seemed way too far into the book for me. He got to the importance of prayer on Day 20. Again, way too far into the book for me. He cemented fear and faith in Day 40. Finally.

Welch must be writing for very new Christians or ones not familiar with the Bible. He has a meditation on confession, for example, that seems to be for those who don't know we are commanded to confess our sins nor know the benefits of doing so.

I am a little concerned about the accuracy of the writing. For example, Welch writes, “Anything of values comes through perseverance.” (Loc 195/1710) (Italics in the original.) My goodness. What about grace, mercy, the free gift of salvation? Welch is encouraging, but should also be correct! He updates Psalm 23 “in a way David would certainly have approved.” (Loc 237/1710) Welch knows what David would think about the update? And how about this? “For now, know that there are good reasons to worry.” (Loc 340/1710) I thought for sure Jesus told us not to worry, that there were no good reasons to worry for our heavenly Father takes care of us. (Matt.6:25ff)

Welch writes often from a human viewpoint. For example, fears and anxiety are not necessarily sinful nor a result of sin, he writes. “Fears and anxieties reveal that you are a finite human who can control very little.” (Loc 506/1710) I would rather he said fears and anxieties indicate you do not believe God cares for you nor that God is sovereign. I found it interesting Welch again mentioned fears are not necessarily a result of sin but then has a meditation on the relationship of fears and hidden sin. (Loc 659/1710, 1044/1710) In that later meditation, he directly relates anxiety to hiding sin. (Loc 1044/1710)

Welch is very compassionate in his writing, almost to the point of glossing over sin. We have plans and dreams, he writes, but we might “forget” that “[the] Father is in control.” (Loc 677/1710) He then encourages us to trust the Father and rest in Him.

I was a little shocked at Welch's experience with prayer. He writes that he has spent 30 years on shortening the time between the appearance of anxiety and the onset of prayer, generally getting it down to an hour. (Loc 717/1710) When he prays, the peace of Christ does begin to rule in his heart and mind but it “still takes him by surprise.” (Loc 717/1710) That just made me shake my head. Later he writes about prayer, “confessing my own weaknesses...still feels unnatural.” (Loc 738/1710) This, even though later he writes of the necessity of being transparent before God. (Loc 1059/1710)

Perhaps Welch's book structure mirrors the work of dealing with anxiety. He starts off very slowly but eventually gets to ways of dealing with anxiety like confession, prayer, believing God is greater, living in the present, believing God will take care of needs, etc. But then, on Day 40, he writes, “In this world, getting rid of all your worries is not an option.” And, “The absence of all fear...awaits the age to come.” (Loc 1361/1710, 1388/1710) So I am not sure what the purpose of this book is. It puzzles me. Perhaps Welch wants readers to expect to always have fear and anxiety to battle and turn over to the Lord. I'd rather live in victory, truly believing God is sovereign and is working all things to my ultimate good. I can rest there with no fear nor anxiety.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Edward T Welch is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He has a PhD in counseling from the University of Utah and a MDiv from Biblical Theological Seminary. He has been counseling for over 30 years and has written extensively on depression, fear, and addiction.

New Growth Press, 192 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, November 16, 2019

Bread Bags & Bullies Blog Tour and Giveaway

Bread Bags & Bullies:

Surviving the '80s

by Steven Manchester

on Tour November 1 - December 31, 2019


It’s the winter of 1984. Twelve-year-old Herbie and his two brothers—Wally and Cockroach—are enjoying the mayhem of winter break when a late Nor’easter blows through New England, trapping their quirky family in the house. The power goes out and playing Space Invaders to AC DC’s Back in Black album is suddenly silenced—forcing them to use their twisted imaginations in beating back the boredom. At a time when the brothers must overcome one fear after the next, they learn that courage is the one character trait that guarantees all others. This hysterical coming-of-age tale is jam-packed with enough nostalgia to satisfy anyone who grew up in the ‘80s or at least had the good fortune to travel through them.

Praise for Bread Bags & Bullies

“If you loved the ever popular A Christmas Story, be prepared for another classic. Bread Bags & Bullies is a must read! Funny, poignant, and heartwarming—Steven Manchester is a master storyteller.” – Jamie Farr, Actor, M.A.S.H.
 “Bread Bags & Bullies is a detailed eye-opening experience of the Big Hair decade. Enjoyable whether you were there or not—or just can’t quite remember it.” – Barry Williams, Actor, The Brady Bunch
 “Steven Manchester’s Bread Bags & Bullies captures a simpler time, just before technology began dominating America’s time and attention. This nostalgic story is hilarious, told by a family of characters you won’t soon forget. A must read!” – Ed Asner, Actor, Lou Grant
 “Steve Manchester’s Bread Bags & Bullies is a fantastic blast from the past, evoking all the fun and nostalgia of the ‘80s—even my big hair!” – Audrey Landers, Actress, Dallas
 “An extraordinary recall of 1980s pop cultural, Bread Bags & Bullies will make you laugh out loud as you revisit the pains and pleasures of growing up. The book made me want to pick up the phone, call my brother in Nebraska and reminisce about our own snow day adventures.” – Douglas Barr, Actor, The Fall Guy
 “In Bread Bags & Bullies, the writing is so vivid, the pace and rhythm so quick, that I truly felt I was watching it on screen.” – Joan van Ark, Actress, Knots Landing
 “Steven Manchester’s latest book, Bread Bags & Bullies, made me recall the town I ‘grew up in’— mythical Mayfield. Instantly taking you back to 1984, the characters and situations are so believable that you’ll want to keep turning the pages.” – Tony Dow, Actor, Leave It to Beaver
 “It’s always fun to be a part of history and pop culture. Reading the Waltons’ famous ‘Goodnight, John-boy’ referenced in Bread Bags & Bullies was a special treat—especially since the reply was ‘Night, Erin.’” – Mary McDonough, Actress, The Waltons
 “A determined effort. Bread Bags & Bullies rocks!” – Billy Squier, ‘80s Rock Icon, Stroke Me
 “You can like this book if you want to. You can leave your friends behind. Because if your friends don't like this book…well, they’re no friends of mine.” – Ivan Doroschuk, Lead Singer of Men Without Hats, Safety Dance
 “In Bread Bags & Bullies, Steven Manchester captures the ‘80s to the smallest detail. With each page turned, memories flood back. Using the lightest of touch, he tells his story with tongue firmly planted in cheek. Bread Bags & Bullies is a delight!” – Nick van Eede, Lead Singer of Cutting Crew, Died In Your Arms
 “Steve Manchester’s newest novel, Bread Bags & Bullies, is a well-written love letter to the ‘80s—bringing me home with every page turned.” – Bertie Higgins, ‘80s Recording Artist, Key Largo “Bread Bags & Bullies is so—like, totally—‘84, it makes me want to get out my leg warmers and glow sticks, backcomb my hair, and romp around the room to Footloose. And then I remember, I don’t have any hair.” – Thomas Dolby, ‘80s Recording Artist, She Blinded Me with Science “Manchester’s book, Bread Bags & Bullies, brings to mind many of our techno ditties. ‘How you gonna keep ‘em down on Maggie’s Farm once they’ve seen Devo?’” – Gerald V. Casale of DEVO, Whip It  

My Review:

This novel certainly took me down memory lane to the mid 1980s. The family story of three boys bickering, farting, playing Atari, and conniving was a bit of a shock for this reader having had all sisters. I wasn't quite ready for the foul language either. At times I felt like I was wandering down the aisles of a store with all the brand names. Pop didn't just watch TV, he watched the Zenith, for example. Ma didn't just smoke a cigarette but a Carlton 100. And the humor? Well, the boys laughed lots at their antics but I think you either had to be there or be a boy to often find the humor.

The strength of this novel was the contemporary reminiscing by Herbie, the middle son in the family. His realization of the lessons learned and character formed during his tumultuous childhood was charming.

This is a good book for readers who want to revisit a winter childhood experience in the 1980s or be introduced to it. Manchester's writing style is a fine one and easy to read. This novel isn't my favorite of his but I do like his work and will be looking for the next one.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details

Genre: Commercial Fiction
Published by: Luna Bella Press
Publication Date: November 19, 2019
Number of Pages: 288 ISBN: 978-0-9841842-7-9
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

FRIDAY It was the afternoon of Friday 13th, the last day before February vacation. A whole week off from stupid middle school, I thought, excitedly. From the moment I stepped onto the bus, the atmosphere felt electric, everyone happy for the much-needed winter break. Nena’s song, 99 Luftballoons, was playing on some concealed boom box in the back. Many of the bus’s green fake leather bench seats were split and duct-taped. As I made my way down the narrow aisle in search of a seat, I heard the usual remarks offered to most eighth graders from the high school kids who’d already claimed their territory. “You can’t sit here, dufus.” “This seat’s taken.” Even on such a joyous afternoon, I was quickly reminded that riding the bus was a hard kick in the teeth. It didn’t matter whether they were wearing black leather vests and chain wallets or Swatch watches and turned-up collars on their pastel IZOD Polo shirts, the high school kids were just plain mean. As I made my way further down the line, the objections got even stronger. “Oh, I don’t think so, dweeb.” “If you even think about sitting, you dink, I’ll beat you to a pulp.” Eat shit and die, I replied in my head, but never out loud. I hated sitting with the nerds or the kids that smelled like spoiled lunchmeat, but after receiving enough rejections I began to wonder, Maybe the older kids see me the same way? Although school had its social order, this mobile environment was even less forgiving. At a time in life when the mind is impressionable—constantly worrying about what others think of you, even about what you think of yourself—the bus’s sadistic hierarchy created scar tissue that would help to define many lives for years to come. It was a cruel testing ground for survival, where the tougher or more popular kids claimed the back of the bus. Those coveted seats were sacred territory that most of us spent years aspiring to. On the big, yellow school bus, physical threats were the least of our worries. This is psychological warfare, I realized early on. Besides having to deal with the pecking order, there was incredible peer pressure to do things most of us would have never dreamed of doing—like distracting the elderly driver, Mr. Gifford. Given that the bus had no seat belts, this daily practice seemed pretty insane to me. I’d never actually seen Mr. Gifford’s eyes; the two narrow slits were usually squinting into the rear-view mirror. “Sit down!” he constantly yelled. There was always the smell of smoke wafting from the back, though I was never really sure it was cigarette smoke. Usually, there were two kids making out—a boy and girl—and it wasn’t always the same couple. The bus had its own sub-culture, a microcosm of the twisted society we were growing up in. It’s amazing Old Man Gifford can keep this giant bus on the road and not in one of the ditches we pass on our way home, I thought. As I claimed my seat beside another outcast Junior High-Schooler, I spotted my brother, Wally, sitting toward the middle of the vessel. Wally had straight brown hair, serious brown eyes and the chunky Bloomfield nose. He looked like my father. Unfortunately, a terrible case of acne was in full bloom, taking away from his rugged handsome looks. Our eyes locked. I nodded toward him. Although he returned the gesture, he was much more subtle in his action. You’re such a butthead, I thought. A cold breeze tapped me on the shoulder. It’s freezing in here, I realized, turning around to see that the windows were open in the back of the yellow torture chamber. As I turned, I caught a whiff of my bus mate. And thank God they’re open, I thought, trying to place the unusual smell. Fried Spam? I guessed, before noticing that the stinky kid was wearing a Smokey the Bear sweatshirt that read, Only You Can Prevent Forest Fires. I had to do a double-take. No way, I thought in disbelief, it looks like Beetlejuice, here, has a death wish…wearing a lame pullover like that. I’m surprised he doesn’t have a Just Say No campaign button pinned to the front of it. I chuckled aloud, drawing a look from my new best friend. I pity the fool, I thought, quoting Mr. T.—one of my favorite TV personalities—in my head. I’d just popped my last Luden’s cherry cough drop into my mouth when I heard it. There was a commotion behind us, much louder than the usual raucous. What the hell? No sooner did I turn in my seat to investigate the ruckus when my heart plummeted past my stone-washed jeans straight into my worn Chuck Taylor high tops. Owen Audet—the most feared enforcer on Bus 6—was standing toe-to-toe with Wally. He was more than a head taller than my poor brother. Oh no, I thought, Wally’s gotta be shittin’ bricks right now. I swallowed hard. I know I would be. Owen was big, dumb and mean—and heavy on the mean. “I need to borrow another book,” the Missing Link barked, looming over my brother. There were a few laughs from the bully’s brain-dead minions. My mouth instantly went dry, while my heart began to race. Although my brother was on the “big-boned” side, built like a Sherman tank, he still looked so small next to Owen. That dude’s a Clydesdale, I thought, and Wally’s road pizza. “Sor…sorry, but I can’t do it,” Wally refused, his voice three octaves higher than normal. Even though he sounded like a yipping dog, he somehow stood his ground. Owen’s face turned beet red. He obviously didn’t appreciate being challenged in front of the crowd. It’s Friday the 13th, I remembered, and Jason’s back. Owen grabbed for Wally’s backpack, who pulled away violently. “Ooooh,” the crowd groaned. “You must be out of your damn mind, loser,” the aggressor hissed. “I…I would be if…” Wally stuttered, looking like a terrified Kindergartner, “…if I let you take another book.” I didn’t blame him. After the way Pop reacted the last time this same nightmare happened, I thought, Wally has no choice. My find quickly flashed back. ~~~ A month earlier, Owen had snatched one of Wally’s school books, opened the bus window and tossed it out—while everyone laughed nervously, hoping they weren’t next. This could never happen to me, I realized, priding myself on the fact that I never took a book home. This wasn’t because I wasn’t supposed to, or didn’t need to. I’d simply decided early on that if the material couldn’t be learned in the classroom, there was no way I was going to “get it” at home. When we got home, Wally explained that he’d been “bullied on the bus.” Our father’s reaction was even worst than the crime Wally had reported. “Bullied?” Pop roared, addressing Wally, me and our little brother in the living room, “there’s no such thing as being bullied unless you allow it, right?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “Lions are not bullied by sheep,” he barked, “and I hope to God I’m not raising sheep!” “Okay, Pop,” Wally mumbled at a little more than a whisper, “I get it.” “There’s only one way to set a bully straight,” Pop added, staring my older brother in the eye. Any one of us could have recited his next words by heart. “Punch him square in the nose as hard as you can.” “Walt!” my mother yelled from the kitchen, clearly opposed to the tough lesson. Pop peered even harder into Wally’s eyes. “As hard as you can,” he repeated through gritted teeth. Three heads nodded. Message received, I thought, loud and clear. When teaching us, Pop never gently peeled back the onion. He always sliced it right down the middle, cutting straight to the bitter tears. As if that wasn’t bad enough, Wally had heard two earfuls over the missing book—not just from our father but from his teacher, as well. My brother had reported that his book was missing; that he’d lost it. It was better than the alternative. If he’d told the truth, it would have been so much worse. Owen would have been enraged and Wally’s classmates would have labeled him a stool pigeon. And Pop, well, Pop would have thought he was a coward—a fate worse than death itself. Yup, it’s so much better to lie sometimes, I decided. ~~~ Back on the bus, the crowd grew louder. “Oooooh…” they sang in chorus; everyone was now up on their knees to witness the inevitable pummeling. I’d always looked up to my brother. Now, I just felt bad for him. As Owen’s jaw muscles flexed violently, his beady eyes darted back and forth—his baby brain clearly considering his options. He looked toward Mr. Gifford, whose squinted eyes were looking into the giant rear view mirror positioned directly above his head. “You’re lucky, you little queer,” Owen spat at my brother. Wally kept his ground. “Why don’t you pick on…on someone your own size?” he stammered. I couldn’t believe my ears. It was like experiencing a scene from Karate Kid. Wally’s sticking up for himself, even though Magilla Gorilla’s threatening to bash his squash in. Although my brother had found the courage to stare the predator down, I knew he wasn’t crazy enough to accept the giant’s invitation to tussle. Owen laughed, cynically. “Oh, you’re my bitch now,” he said, “and I’m gonna take care of you good when we get back from vacation. You got it, bitch?” The crowd didn’t laugh this time; everyone feeling bad for Wally. It could be any one of us at any time, I thought. Owen was an equal opportunity bully who didn’t discriminate. “I’m gonna beat you down,” Owen promised Wally, “and it’s gonna be like that for the rest of the year.” He chuckled. “And next year, too.” By now, his putrid breath was inches from my brother’s crimson face, spittle flying with every terrifying word he spouted. I’d never felt so freaked out, and the scumbag wasn’t even talking to me. I don’t know how Wally’s staying on his feet, I thought, proud that my brother’s eyes never left Owen’s. As the bus screeched to a stop in front of our house, Wally turned to leave. The brakes weren’t done squealing when Owen pushed him in the back, collapsing him to the filthy floor. Eyes wide, Wally looked up from his prone position. “Say one word,” Owen growled, “and I’ll kick your friggin’ teeth in right here.” Wally scrambled to his feet and glared at him again before marching off the bus, hyperventilating from either fear or anger. Most likely both, I figured. As the bus’s folding door closed and the air brakes belched out a sigh, I turned to Wally. “Do you think the Sleestak will actually…” I began to ask. “Shut your damn mouth before I kick your teeth in!” he barked. “Well, okay then,” I mumbled. My big brother was a master of wedgies and Indian sunburns, with years of experience under his belt. I hope you get yours after vacation, I thought. As we entered the house, Ma was at the stove, making a vat of hot dog stew. “How was everyone’s day?” the short woman asked. She had the kindest eyes and most loving smile—except on those moody days when she’d eaten a bowl of spiders for breakfast. “Just great,” Wally said, storming toward our bedroom. “Better than his,” I said, pointing at my brother. Wally stopped at our bedroom’s plastic accordion door, spinning on his heels to stare me into silence. The menacing look worked. “I had a good day,” I told my mother, prepared to quell any questions she might have. “Mr. Timmons, my science teacher, nearly choked to death on an apple in class today,” I told her, laughing. “And you think that’s funny, Herbie?” she asked, disgustedly. I shrugged. “You would have too, Ma, if you’d been there,” I told her. “He was just starting to turn blue when he coughed it out.” “Dear God,” she said, “that’s enough. I don’t want to hear another word about it.” I smiled. Mission accomplished, I thought, knowing there was no way she’d remember my comment about Wally. “Oh, and we’re on vacation all next week,” I reminded her. “I know, I know,” she said, her face incapable of concealing her disappointment. “When Alphonse gets home, I want the three of you to clean up that pig sty you call a bedroom.” “Why would we clean it now, before vacation week?” I asked. “It doesn’t make sense, Ma. We’re only going to mess it up all week.” “Because I said so, that’s why.” She stared at me for a moment. “If you want, I can have your father…” “Fine,” I quickly surrendered, “we’ll get started when Cockroach gets home from school.” My younger brother was still in elementary school and took a later bus. I have a half hour to play Atari, I thought, and that new Donkey Kong game is mint. The Atari gaming system was the best Christmas gift my brothers and I had ever received. Although I’d begged for Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots, Ma adamantly refused. “Not on your life,” she told me, “the last thing you guys need is more encouragement to fight.” Instead, we received a much better—and completely unexpected—Christmas present. The Atari 2600 came with two joystick controllers with red buttons, a conjoined pair of paddle controllers, and black game cartridges that looked a lot like Pop’s 8-track tapes. Wally stormed out of the room just as I was entering. “Where are you heading?” I asked. “To do my paper route.” “Can I come with you?” “No.” “Come on, Wally,” I said. “I can help you and…” “I said no,” he barked. “Besides, I need to hurry today and get it done quick.” “Why?” “None of your business.” He stepped through the kitchen, heading for the front door. “Be back for supper,” my mother told him. “I will, Ma,” he said, walking out of the house and slamming the door behind him. “What’s wrong with Wally today?” my mother called out, just as I was starting to control the block-headed ape on the black-and-white TV screen. Nice try, Ma, I thought, confident that I’d never make the same mistake twice. “He’s just wiggin’ to get his paper route done, so he can veg out tonight,” I told her. “The Dukes of Hazzard are on and he’s in love with Daisy.” I smiled, thinking, We all are. “Well, there’ll be no Dukes of Hazzard, if you boys don’t get that room cleaned up.” “We’ll get it done, Ma,” I yelled from the bedroom. “Me and Cockroach will tackle it when the space cadet gets home.” I returned my attention to the TV screen, and began jumping barrels with my two-dimensional video ape. Our bedroom door opened and closed like a cheap accordion, catching Cockroach’s fingers within its folds. “Ouch!” he yelled out. I laughed. I couldn’t help it. In fact, each time my little brother screamed out in pain, Wally and I laughed like it was the first time he’d ever hurt himself. Cockroach’s injuries never get old, I thought. As soon as he stopped his belly-aching, Cockroach and I went straight to work. “Either that,” I told him, “or Ma won’t let us watch Dukes of Hazzard.” “She wouldn’t do that,” he said. I shrugged. “You wanna risk it?” “What about Wally?” he asked. “Isn’t he gonna help us?” “He’s on his paper route.” I thought about it, surprised that I still felt bad for my older brother. “Let’s just get it done, you little cabbage patch kid.” He flipped me the bird. Our bedroom consisted of single bed and a set of bunkbeds that was also used as a fort, a spaceship, or anything our cross-wired brains could conjure up—with a bed sheet draped down from the top bunk. There were two bureaus, Cockroach’s padlocked toy box and a small black-and-white TV that sat on a rickety fake wooden stand, the Atari console and joysticks lying in front on the shag carpeted floor. Three beanbag chairs helped to complete the cluttered room. Cleaning was not as simple as it sounded. Not long ago, Ma had insisted, “You guys are gross and, from now on, you’ll be doing your own laundry and making your own beds.” I had KISS bedding that once belonged to Wally. Although Cockroach liked to pretend he was sleeping on Star Wars bedding, he enjoyed my hand-me-down astronaut set. It wasn’t easy changing the bedding on a bunkbed, but we finally got it done. For the next hour, while we put away clothes and moved things around—mostly kicking everything under the beds—Steven Tyler from Aerosmith wailed away on Cockroach’s massive silver boom box. Although we each owned a portable stereo system, Cockroach’s was in the best shape. He takes good care of his stuff, I thought, in case he ever wants to unload it to the highest bidder. It was in pristine condition, with no stickers or corroded battery compartment,. He barely used it, so this was a treat. When we were done straightening up, I turned to Cockroach. “Looks schweet, huh?” He nodded in agreement. Without a proper inspection, the place looked immaculate—or at least as clean as it had been in a very long time. “Schweet,” he repeated. It was amazing to me how different my brothers were. Being stuck in the middle of them, I usually played the family diplomat. Cockroach’s real name was Alphonse, after our Pepere—but we always called him Cockroach. I wasn’t sure if it was because of the way he scurried about, or because no matter how badly Wally and I beat on him we couldn’t seem to kill him. I learned later on that he’d actually been nicknamed after a character on one of Pop’s favorite TV shows, Hogan’s Heroes. Cockroach was more like a skeleton wrapped in olive skin, while I was built on the sturdy side like my older brother. Although we also shared the small potato-shaped nose, I had blue eyes with curly blonde hair, which made more than a few people confuse me for a girl when I was young. Cockroach had darker eyes and a nose as slender as his build, making him appear like the one piece that didn’t quite fit into the family portrait. “What do you want to play?” he asked me once we’d finished cleaning. His deep dimples framed a grin that was sure to make most females crane their necks. “We could play with your Stretch Armstrong doll,” I teased. His handsome face went white. I laughed, remembering that ridiculously violent day. ~~~ My brothers and I had enjoyed a few rare days of peace, until turning into our usual slugfest. During the melee, Wally grabbed Cockroach’s Stretch Armstrong doll, who ended up getting the worst of it. Wearing blue bikini underwear, the bare-chested, blonde-haired rubber doll could take a real thrashing. We could stretch him and even tie him into a knot before he went back to his original bulky form. Whether catapulted high into the air or used as the rope in a heated tug of war match, the action figure was reputed to be indestructible. Screaming for mercy, Cockroach watched on in horror, while Wally and I put that poor doll to the test. We pulled and pulled, both of us ending up on our backsides, digging in our heels to create more distance between us. As the first break in the skin revealed itself, Cockroach cried out, “You’re hurting him!” That’s when something came over me and Wally—who was also known as the Mangler. We pulled harder, mutilating Mr. Armstrong beyond recognition and dispelling the fact that he couldn’t be destroyed. As Wally and I finished ripping the arms off of old Stretch, a clear gel that looked a lot like Crazy Glue oozed out. “No!” Cockroach wailed. “That’s weird,” Wally commented, nonchalantly, “the jelly doesn’t have any smell.” Inconsolable, Cockroach went down on all fours to mourn the death of his favorite playmate. ~~~ “You guys suck,” Cockroach said, back in the present. I couldn’t argue with him. Our job as big brothers is to toughen you up, I thought, justifying the cruel act. I then realized that Wally the Mangler destroyed everything in his path. The new Merlin six-in-one hand-held electronic game I’d gotten for Christmas a couple of years ago, the table-top motorcycle game he unwrapped last year…everything. “You want to play Operation?” Cockroach asked me. “Nah.” “Perfection?” “Half the pieces are missing,” I reminded him. “Battleship?” I shook my head. “Can’t, the batteries are dead.” I smiled. “What about Twister?” “No way,” he said, “it just turns into a pig pile with me on the bottom.” I laughed. That’s right. His eyes went wide with excitement. “What about G.I. Joe’s, Herbie?” he asked. “We haven’t played war in a long time.” I was well beyond the cusp of being too old to play soldier, but making Cockroach happy was the perfect excuse for me to play. It’s the least I can do after helping to murder Stretch Armstrong, I thought. Besides, war is not an individual sport. Wally and I had received the entire G.I. Joe Command Center a few years earlier when we’d both gotten our tonsils removed. “It’s for all three of you to share,” our mother had announced, referring to the large gift. In recent months, Cockroach claimed the cool play set as his own, and we were good with it. It didn’t take long for my little brother to set up everything on the floor we’d just cleared. The grey G.I. Joe Headquarters Command Center was walled in the front and wide open in the back, allowing for the tank to drive in and out of its bay, and the Jeep to enter the Motor Pool. Multiple G.I. Joe action figures manned the communication tactical station with colorful stickers illustrating the security monitors. An armory, filled with weapons, was located directly beneath the Heli-Pad—home to the awesome Dragonfly Helicopter. A holding cell for captured enemies was normally empty—as Cockroach and I rarely took enemies—while machine guns and canons defended strategic positions on top of the spot-lit wall. For the next hour or so, we fought—and defeated—battalions of imaginary enemies. “Come in, Flying Squirrel,” I called into a damaged walkie-talkie, “this is Swamp Yankee. How copy, over?” “I read you, Swamp Yankee,” Cockroach called back on his matching broken walkie-talkie. “The enemy has been neutralized.” I laughed. Cockroach is too smart for his age, I thought. It must be from all the TV he watches. It didn’t really matter that our walkie talkies had been broken since we’d gotten them. We were kneeling side-by-side only a few feet apart. “So you really like this girl, Donna Torres, huh?” Cockroach commented, parking the Jeep in front of our perimeter. I wheeled the tank through the Headquarters compound. “Like totally,” I said, never looking up. Donna’s different, I thought, she’s beautiful. Most girls aren’t too hard to look at, but Donna’s in a class all her own. “Help, I’ve fallen and I can’t get up,” Cockroach joked, mimicking the funny commercial of an elderly woman pushing a panic button on her necklace. That’s clever, bro, I thought. After a few moments of tank patrol, I blurted, “I think she’s the one.” Chuckling, my little brother took the plastic helicopter into the air. “Sure she is, Herbie. You said the same thing about Abby Gerwitz last summer.” He’s right, I thought. For as long as I could remember, I had a huge crush on Abby Gerwitz. But who hasn’t? I thought. “She likes Richard Giles and everyone knows it,” I told him, and because of that my feelings for her had died a very cruel death. “Donna’s the one,” I repeated, hammering my point home. Cockroach stopped playing. “Have you told her?” he asked, giving me his undivided attention. “Sort of.” “Sort of?” For weeks, I couldn’t stop thinking about exchanging valentines with Donna; giving her those small chalk hearts that said everything I didn’t have the courage to tell her: Be Mine and I Love You. I decided that these colorful messages of affection were much safer to give than a greeting card or a box of chocolates. But what if she doesn’t like me? I kept thinking, torturing myself. I’ll be a laughing stock at school. I began getting heated, picturing Paul Roberts laughing at me, and then me punching his smug face over-and-over-and-over again. Even young, I sensed that love never went unpunished. On Valentine’s Day, I got to homeroom early and left a box of the chalk hearts in Donna’s desk. I signed the gift, From Herbie. While my heart pounded out of my chest, I watched from the back of the room as she found the candy. She looked back at me and smiled. “Thank you,” she said, and I nodded—my face feeling like it was on fire. The more I thought about it, the more I realized that Donna had never gotten the real message I was trying to send. “I gave her a Valentine’s,” I explained to Cockroach, “but I’m not sure if she thinks I gave it to her as a friend.” “Oh…” He thought for a moment. “That’s pretty lame.” “What do you know?” I snapped back. Cockroach was still too young to understand the risk and devastation associated with being rejected by a girl—especially a girl as perfect as Donna. It was like being picked for teams in gym class; no big deal unless you were picked last. And you only have so many shots in Middle School, I thought. If you’re rejected by more than one girl, then you’re destined to be stuck in Loserville for life. “So what are you going to do?” he asked, bringing me back into the moment. “I think I’m going to write her a letter.” “Really?” “No question.” While we played, I began to daydream about my crush. I could picture Donna as plain as the bearded G.I. Joe doll I was holding. Donna’s so choice, I thought. She had the prettiest chocolate-colored eyes and a smile that made me feel like I was the only eighth-grade boy walking the earth. Every day at school, she either wore Jordache or Sergio Valente jeans; these were skin-tight right down to a pair of jelly shoes or clogs. Unlike most of the other girls who wore big hair with bangs—mall hair, as we called it— or tied up in a scrunchy, Donna’s dirty blonde hair was parted in the middle and feathered back. Just like Farah Fawcett on Charlie’s Angels, I thought. She usually wore a shirt with shoulder pads and her jewelry was simple; gel bracelets and friendship beads. I’d only seen her in leg warmers and a colorful headband once, realizing she’d look good no matter what she wore. Yup, I thought, I definitely have to write her a letter. It’s the only way she’ll ever know that I… “Herbie!” I heard someone scream. I looked up. Cockroach was gone and I was sitting on the floor alone. Wow, that’s weird, I thought. “Herbie!” I heard again, struggling to register reality. It’s Ma, I realized. “Sorry, Ma, I didn’t hear you.” “How could you not hear me? I’ve been yelling for you for ten minutes.” Now there’s an exaggeration, I thought. “Sorry, Ma,” I repeated. “Your father’s home from work. Go get cleaned up for supper.” “Okay.” “Now,” she said. When I pulled my chair out from the kitchen table, Pop was already sitting at the head of it—wearing his faded dungarees and graying crew-neck t-shirt. Thankfully, his same-colored handkerchief—used to blow his nose and then yank out our loose teeth, sometimes one right after the other—remained in his back pocket. Wally was also there, his face ruddy from the cold. “How was school today?” Pop asked, blowing on his hot bowl of stew. “Fine,” Wally mumbled, his eyes on his steaming meal. “Good,” I added, “we’re on vacation next week.” The old man looked across the table at Ma. “Lucky Mom,” he said, grinning. “And we cleaned our room,” Cockroach reported. “Well, what do you know,” he said, “it’s a winter miracle.” For the next half hour, besides the occasional grunt or groan, we ate in silence. “Lots of hot dogs tonight,” Pop commented, dunking a slice of buttered bread into his bowl. “Did we hit the lottery or something?” Ma grinned. “They were on sale, Walt.” As they discussed the expensive price of groceries, my mind drifted off again. I couldn’t help it. I don’t even care that Donna has a crush on Kevin Bacon, I thought, shrugging to myself. All those hearts on her Trapper Keeper, with his initials written inside each one—who cares. I inhaled deeply. I love it when she wears that Luvs Baby Soft perfume. I could actually smell the liquid baby powder when I closed my eyes. Ahhhh… “I’m done,” Wally announced loudly, bringing me back to the table. After placing the plastic bowl into the sink, my brother grabbed his heavy winter jacket and put it on. “Where are you going now?” Ma asked him. “The cellar,” he said. “Good,” she said, getting up. “Why don’t you throw a load of towels into the wash while you’re down there?” Although Wally’s face contorted, he nodded in surrender. “Fine, Ma.” Within seconds, she was back in the kitchen with an overflowing laundry basket of mismatched towels. “Bo and Luke Duke are on tonight,” Cockroach reminded him. “I’ll be back by then,” Wally said, wrestling the bulky basket out the front door. My father was finishing his second bowl of soup when he asked, “What the hell’s he do down there, anyway?” “Laundry,” Ma said, standing to fetch him another bowl of stew. At eight o’clock, Wally, Cockroach and I watched our favorite show—the Dukes of Hazzard. While we sat entranced by Bo and Luke’s unrealistic car jumps in the General Lee—as well as Daisy’s really short cut-off jeans—Ma treated us to our favorite Friday treat: hand-cut French fries, salted and shaken in a brown paper bag. There’s no better snack on a Friday night, I thought. Hold the vinegar, please. Once the show was done, the TV belonged to Ma—who watched Dallas at nine o’clock, immediately followed by Falcon Crest. For two full hours, she snubbed out one cigarette butt after the next into a giant ashtray that rested atop its decorative wrought iron stand right beside the couch. In no time, the living room was engulfed in smoke, a low-clinging fog that had quietly crept in. While Pop snored on and off in his worn recliner—a half-empty beer can in hand—my brothers and I decided to call it a night. We’d already second-hand smoked a full pack that day. My brothers and I wrapped up the night with a lively game of Atari Pong. Cockroach preferred the longer paddles, while I was a bit more skilled and liked the shorter rectangles. I loved it. With virtual reality, there was much less need for actual reality. Once Cockroach turned out the light and we retired to our beds, I called out to Wally, “Goodnight, John-boy…” My big brother normally responded like we were part of the Walton Family, but there was no reply tonight. There was no laughter—just silence. It suddenly hit me. Wally’s still buggn’ out, I thought, realizing that my brother’s fear was so great that it was swallowing him whole. All because of that bullshit on the bus today. I shook my head. He just needs to take a chill pill. I mean, we’re off for an entire week. --- Excerpt from Bread Bags & Bullies: Surviving the '80s by Steven Manchester. Copyright © 2019 by Steven Manchester. Reproduced with permission from Steven Manchester. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Steven Manchester is the author of the #1 bestsellers Twelve Months, The Rockin' Chair, Pressed Pennies and Gooseberry Island; the national bestsellers, Ashes, The Changing Season and Three Shoeboxes; and the multi-award winning novels, Goodnight Brian and The Thursday Night Club. His work has appeared on NBC's Today Show, CBS's The Early Show, CNN's American Morning and BET's Nightly News. Three of Steven's short stories were selected “101 Best” for Chicken Soup for the Soul series. He is a multi-produced playwright, as well as the winner of the 2017 Los Angeles Book Festival and the 2018 New York Book Festival. When not spending time with his beautiful wife, Paula, or their four children, this Massachusetts author is promoting his works or writing.

Find Steven Manchester Online: | Goodreads | BookBub | Twitter | Facebook

Tour Host Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
Click here to view Bread Bags & Bullies: Surviving the '80s by Steven Manchester Participants.


This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Providence Book Promotions for Steven Manchester. There will be 7 winners. Two (2) winners will each receive an Amazon GC and five (5) winners will each win one (1) copy of Bread Bags & Bullies: Surviving the '80s by Steven Manchester (eBook). The giveaway begins on November 1, 2019 and runs through January 2, 2020. Void where prohibited.
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I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Providence Book Promotions. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Providence Book Promotions.

Friday, November 15, 2019

Don't Lose Heart by Jason Meyer

We do get discouraged when life isn't the way we think it should be. We question what God is doing and why He is allowing this to happen.

Meyer wants us to see the bigger picture. He doesn't ask us to pretend the problems are not there. Rather, he wants us to embrace what is truly real - the One for us is greater than the one against us. Meyer knows the reasons to take heart are harder to see than the reasons to lose heart. Even though the tangible is before us, we must by faith believe what is unseen, the greatness of God and the truth of the Bible.

I like that Meyer encourages us to have the right perspective, to see our problems in relation to God's greatness. I like his enlightening point about projection, assuming that God feels about us the same way we feel about ourselves. I like his teaching on the tenses of discouragement, shame (past), disappointment (present), and anxiety (future). I like his teaching on identity. “As Christians, we are not living for an identity but from an identity.” (Loc 832/527)

Meyer is quick to point out that this book is no replacement for counseling if one is experiencing depression. This is a good book for those who are facing disappointment or experiencing some discouragement. This short book will encourage readers to think of the larger picture, to concentrate on God's greatness and what he is ultimately doing in our lives.

You can read an excerpt here and watch the book trailer here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Jason Meyer is pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church and associate professor of New Testament at Bethlehem College and Seminary. He and his wife have four children and live in Roseville, Minnesota. Photo Credit: © Rick Busch

Baker Books. 160 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Considering Others Blog Tour and Giveaway

About the Book

Book: Considering Others
Author: Jungu Olobia
Genre: RELIGION / Christian Living / Personal Growth
Release Date: March 4, 2019  

Good manners and etiquette begin in the home, or wherever a child is taught or mentored. From an early age, children learn how to behave, and as they grow, how to interact in their relationships at school, church, and in their communities. Though etiquette varies between cultures, practicing good manners is a kindness that extends across cultures, because the way we treat one another matters. 

We want to raise and train our children in safe, healthy environments, but the daily encounters of a fallen world make it challenging. Much has been written on good etiquette, but this practical, captivating book points readers to Jesus Christ as the Lord and the Holy Spirit as the Teacher of good manners, clearly illustrating that the Bible is the Life Manual for good behavior that comes from God’s heart. 

From biblical examples to personal examples, reflection verses and practical steps, and prayers and Scriptures to pray over children, Considering Others: Good Manners to Glorify God will help parents, teachers, and mentors shape and develop godly character and good manners in children so they may lead healthy, successful adult lives in their sphere of influence around the world. And there’s plenty of takeaways for adults too! 

Click here to get your copy!

My Review

This book is an interesting and somewhat unique combination of memoir and etiquette instruction. She writes about growing up in Kenya, attending a Catholic school, and colonialism and its effects. Her mother practiced Transcendental Meditation and Olobia includes quite a bit about it. I am not sure of the significance of the memoir aspect of the book on manners and etiquette. There are chapters on manners and etiquette, often containing lists of appropriate behavior.

Olobia writes that the Word of God is the manual for etiquette and good manners. She uses several stories from the Bible to illustrate appropriate and inappropriate behavior. Much of her teaching on manners must come from nonbiblical sources, however. I don't recall anything in the Bible about how children are to answer the phone (don't unless it is your grandparents) or how to shake hands (palm to palm, thumb up, do not squeeze fingers) or how to tip (don't in Japan).

This is a book for parents to use in training their children in manners and etiquette and setting a good example themselves. I like how Olobia emphasizes the impact parents' behavior has as an example to children. This book would be especially useful for families unaware of western traditions of manners and etiquette.

My rating: 4/5 stars. 

About the Author

Jungu Olobia is a wife and mother, with two degrees in business and informational technology. A Sunday school teacher for over sixteen years, she teaches children ages three to twelve. She enjoys volunteering in her children’s school and in her community. She and her pediatrician husband live with their two sons in Keller, Texas.  

More from Jungu

As parents and guardians, we want to raise and train our children in safe, healthy environments, but the daily encounters of a fallen world make it very challenging. Much has been written on good etiquette, but how many books point to Jesus Christ as the Lord and the Holy Spirit as the Teacher of good manners? After almost two decades serving and teaching as a Sunday school teacher, about a decade working in an IT position at a College, and with much encouragement from my beloved pastors and family, I wrote Considering Others: Good Manners to Glorify God.  Thank you so much for joining me today! It has been such a privilege and honor to be with you. We all love and care for our children very much, so thank you for allowing me to talk about my book, Considering Others: Good Manners to Glorify God. Writing my first book has been a walk of faith that has been both painful and joyous as I found out a lot more about my family history and how much I needed to pray!  Thank God, however, for His love and gift of His son, our Lord Jesus.
 Here is a question for us: What legacy do we want to leave our children?  Proverbs 13:22 tells us that good people leave an inheritance to their descendants. That scripture speaks to more than a financial or natural inheritance. It also speaks to passing on virtues that build character.

Blog Stops

Mary Hake, November 15
Vicky Sluiter, November 16 (Author Interview)
Creating Relationship, November 19
Artistic Nobody, November 20 (Author Interview)
Texas Book-aholic, November 22
By The Book, November 23 (Author Interview)
janicesbookreviews, November 24
A Reader's Brain, November 25
All 4 and About Books, November 26 (Author Interview)
Inklings and notions, November 27


To celebrate her tour, Jungu is giving away a copy of Considering Others to two winners!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Celebrate Lit.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Unexplainable Jesus by Erica Wiggenhorn

This is a good study of the majority of the gospel of Luke. Wiggenhorn has done lots of research and adds supplementary historical and cultural information throughout the study. There are a few journeys into the Greek text but not many. The writing style is pleasant to read and this would make a good study for someone wanting to study the life of Jesus as shown through Luke, whether for the first time or as a reacquainting experience. Wiggenhorn provides many opportunities to relate the information in the gospel to everyday life.

Unfortunately, some passages of Luke are not covered. Luke 12:49-59 is an example. There, Jesus talked about bringing division, a topic Wiggenhorn did not cover. The last half of Luke chapter 11 is also ignored. Potential Bible study leaders should know which passages are ignored and be prepared to answers questions on those passages from their own independent research.

Each of the 40 lessons (8 weeks) is designed to take about twenty to thirty minutes to complete. It begins with a Bible passage and a theme title. Questions help readers contemplate the Scripture verses and apply the principles to life. Space is given for drawing or otherwise responding to time spent in relationship with God. Some of the questions are also suitable for group discussion and additional free resources are available at a website given in the text.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

ERICA WIGGENHORN is the founder of Every Life Ministries, bringing the truths of Scripture to transform lives. She teaches in various local and national venues and serves on the women's ministry leadership team for her church. She's also taught women in the Arizona State Prison system, and overseas. She loves to bring God's Word through Bible teaching, conferences, seminars and retreats. A graduate of Azusa Pacific University, Erica lives in Phoenix with her husband, Jonathan, and their two children, Eliana and Nathan. For more information about Erica, her Bible studies, and writing/speaking ministry, visit

Moody Publishers, 256 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Lake Season by Denise Hunter Blog Tour

About the Book

Book: Lake Season
Author: Denise Hunter
Genre:  Contemporary Romance
Release Date: November 12, 2019

A lost letter, a new love, and old secrets beckon this summer at the Bluebell Inn.

When their parents die in a tragic accident, Molly Bennett and her siblings pull together to fulfill their parents’ dream: turning their historic Bluebell, North Carolina home back into an inn. The situation would just be temporary—three years at the most—then they would sell the inn and Molly could get back to chasing her own dreams.

Adam Bradford (aka bestselling author Nathanial Grey) is a reclusive novelist with a bad case of writer’s block. Desperate for inspiration as his deadline approaches, he travels to the setting of his next book, a North Carolina lake town. There he immediately meets his muse, a young innkeeper who fancies herself in love with his alter ego.

Molly and Adam strike up an instant friendship. When Molly finds a long-lost letter in the walls of her inn she embarks on a mission with Adam to find the star-crossed lovers and bring them the closure they deserve. But Adam has secrets of his own. Past and present collide as truths are revealed, and Molly and Adam will have to decide if love is worth trusting.

Click here to get your copy.

My Review

I enjoyed Hunter's delightful romance. She has a way of crafting characters I love, dialogue that makes me smile and a plot that requires a box of tissues be handy. I really like how Hunter intertwined historical and contemporary romance stories so well. They both tugged at my emotions. I liked how the main characters had self worth and guilt issues that needed to be overcome. I liked the romantic tension and the danger of romance being lost. I like how the plot included a good example of the work needed to be healed of past betrayal. I liked the setting of a small town and the family rallying to restore and run the inn.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. If you like engaging characters with real flaws that are overcome, clever dialogue that keeps you smiling, an historical romance mystery that tugs at your emotions, and a contemporary romance where you'll want to cheer the couple on through their obstacles, you like this novel.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

About the Author

Denise Hunter is the internationally published bestselling author of more than 25 books, including A December Bride and The Convenient Groom, which have been adapted into original Hallmark Channel movies. She has won The Holt Medallion Award, The Reader’s Choice Award, The Carol Award, The Foreword Book of the Year Award, and is a RITA finalist. When Denise isn’t orchestrating love lives on the written page, she enjoys traveling with her family, drinking green tea, and playing drums. Denise makes her home in Indiana where she and her husband are rapidly approaching an empty nest. To learn more about Denise, visit her website; Facebook: AuthorDeniseHunter; Twitter: @DeniseAHunter; Instagram: deniseahunter.  

Read a premium Excerpt

You can read a premium excerpt of Denise’s Lake Season here.

Blog Stops

The Power of Words, November 12
Mia Reads, November 13
Back Porch Reads, November 13
Carla Loves To Read, November 14
All-of-a-kind Mom, November 14
Among the Reads, November 14
Genesis 5020, November 14
Wishful Endings, November 15
CarpeDiem, November 15
Older & Smarter?, November 16
Cultivating Us, November 16
Inside the Wong Mind, November 16
Sara Jane Jacobs, November 17
Avid Reader Nurse, November 17
For Him and My Family, November 18
Jeanette's Thoughts, November 18
Splashes of Joy, November 18
Robin's Nest, November 19
Mary Hake, November 19
Baker Kella, November 19
Simple Harvest Reads, November 20 (Guest Review from Mindy Houng)
SusanLovesBooks, November 20
Vicky Sluiter, November 21
Quiet Quilter, November 22
Andrea Christenson, November 22
Pause for Tales, November 22
Hallie Reads, November 23
Texas Book-aholic, November 24
janicesbookreviews, November 24
A Reader's Brain, November 24
Inklings and notions, November 24
Batya's Bits, November 25
Livin’ Lit, November 25
Remembrancy, November 25

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest odf the copy of this post was provided by Celebrate Lit.