A good book is an event in my life. — Stendhal

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On the State of Christian Fiction

Aug 2, 2013

Those of you who have followed me from the beginning may have noticed that the number of CBA fiction titles I review has proportionately diminished over the last couple of years. Christian publishers—which are usually more blogger-friendly than general market pubs—helped me navigate the waters of the book blogging world when I was still a newbie. Once I was more established I started to distance myself from the CBA community and focus more on nonfiction and classic literature. I still enjoy some CBA nonfiction (and I will forever be addicted to spiritual memoirs), but I rarely pick up a Christian novel unless I’m being paid to write about it. The reason I backed off from Christian fiction is this: It simply didn’t satisfy my desire for original, intellectually stimulating, high quality literature.

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Review: Stand by me by Neta Jackson

Apr 9, 2012

Release Date: March 13, 2012
Website | Facebook
Thomas Nelson
SouledOut Sisters, Book 1
400 (Paperback)
Contemporary Christian Fiction
My Rating:
A- (View Scale)
Buy from Amazon | Add to Goodreads

Kathryn Davies is a bright young woman from a prominent Phoenix family. But after making a leap of faith at a Christian music fest, dropping out of med school, and moving to inner city Chicago, her family all but disowns her.

When Kat discovers SouledOut Community Church, she longs to become a part of the multicultural church family. Bur her tendency to immediately say whatever she’s thinking steps on the toes of nearly everyone she meets–especially Avis Douglass.

Avis has a strong faith, is the principal of one of Chicago’s highest performing elementary schools, and is a founding member of SouledOut. But the country’s economic downturn has thrown both her and her husband’s jobs in question. And Avis hasn’t heard from her youngest daughter in months–an estrangement that gnaws at her every day. Where is God in this?

Kat’s flamboyant zeal for living a “radical” Christian life is a stark contrast to Avis’s more reserved faith. But in God’s timing, the two women discover they need each other in ways neither of them expected.

One Sentence Review: Stand by Me moves a bit slowly, but the characters are engaging and accurately reflect the racial and cultural diversity in the church.

In-Depth Review

Stand by Me is the first novel in the new SouledOut Sisters series, which follows the Yada Yada Prayer Group Series and the Yada Yada House of Hope series–neither of which I have read.   While it can easily be read as a stand-alone novel, there are a number of recurring characters from those series and it would have been nice to have some backstory on them–especially Avis.

I’ve heard plenty of accolades for Jackson’s emphasis on celebrating racial and cultural diversity in her fiction, and Stand by Me does not disappoint in this regard. Amy and other CBA bloggers have noted the lack of diversity in Christian fiction and it’s refreshing to read a book that truly reflects “the diversity within the body of Christ.” (p. 242)

Jackson is a gifted writer and her characters are dynamic and well fleshed-out. There is an easy sense of humor woven through a story which deals with some heavy issues. The plot moves a bit sluggishly for my taste, but not enough for me to give up. It just took me a little longer to get through it.

Something that I took particular enjoyment in was Kat’s passion for environmental stewardship. I am extremely passionate about sustainable and organic living, so passages like this one made me smile and hope that readers will stop and think about where their food comes from.

Food. Nothing got Kat’s dander up like the thoughtless way people just bought “whatever” at the store, never thinking about the horrific way chickens were caged to maximize egg production, or the chemicals used to make those tomatoes red. And the waste! All that plastic packaging. And now this! Dumping good food! {Page 31}

Jackson handles this subject very well, also addressing Kat’s enthusiasm for educating poor people about proper nutrition with a gentle reminder that buying organic isn’t high on the priority list of those struggling to put food on the table. (This is something I addressed in my review of Every Body Matters as well.)

One thing I want to note briefly is how much I love the cover design of this book. I usually dislike covers with photos that show the faces of people who represent the main characters, but in this case I think it worked very well. The two women on the cover are pretty much exactly how I pictured Avis and Kat in the book and overall I think the whole thing is aesthetically pleasing.

I really enjoyed Stand by Me and I’m looking forward to the release of the next book in the series this December and going back and reading the two preceding series.

About Neta Jackson:

Neta Jackson’s Yada books have sold more than 600,000 copies and are spawning prayer groups across the country. She and her husband, Dave, are an award-winning writing team, best known for the Trailblazer Books–a forty-volume series of historical fiction about great Christian heroes. They live in the Chicago area, where the Yada stories are set.

Other Reviews: Title Trakk

If you reviewed this book, leave a link to the review in a comment and I will add it to the list above. In return, I ask that you link back to my review as well.

Also check out my Q&A with Neta Jackson.

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Q&A with Neta Jackson, Author of Stand by Me

Apr 7, 2012

Neta Jackson is the award-winning author of the Yada Yada Prayer Group and Yada Yada House of Hope Series. She recently published book one in the new SouledOut Sisters series.

I asked Neta a few questions about her latest novel and the writing life . . .

When did you start writing and how did you break into the publishing world?

I started writing stories just for myself as a teenager–and my English teacher sent one of my stories to a Scholastic Writing Contest, and it won 1st place! Lightbulbs went on in my head. Maybe people would actually like to read what I write! That’s when I decided to become a writer. (That story was published in a Scholastic magazine, then later in a collection.) After college I worked for many years as an editor, writing articles on the side, and only later did my husband (also a writer/editor) and I start writing books.

Why do you write? What keeps you motivated during creative slumps?

I write because this is the gift and calling that God has given to me, and I write to bring glory to God. Having a husband who also writes is a great blessing, because we can pray about those “creative slumps,” brainstorm together, encourage each other.

Do you outline books ahead of time or are you a seat-of-your-pants writer?

Both. I need to have the basic storyline in mind, but “things keep happening” when I’m actually writing that I didn’t forsee, so within my rough storyline, it becomes seat-of-the-pants!

What does a typical work day look like for you?

Up between 6 & 6:30, a quiet time for Bible reading & prayer (easier now that the kids are grown and out of the nest!), then an hour at the fitness center (I walk 2 miles a day plus some “strength training” ha ha), back home for breakfast and chores–and try to be at my computer by 10 a.m. Then it’s writing and writing related business until about 6 p.m., when one of us makes supper (we take turns). Our evenings include:

  1. Mon–ballroom dance lessons–a Christmas present from my hubby!
  2. Tues–women’s Bible study meets in my home (the group that inspired the Yada Yada series);
  3. Wed–free night! but we usually just crash;
  4. Thurs–a neighborhood Bible study we just started with another couple;
  5. Fri–the grandboys come for a sleepover!

Weekends–if I don’t get enough writing done during the week (my goal is two chapters per week), I have to work Saturday, groan. Sunday, though, is a day of rest! (Well, at least no writing.)

What does your writing space look like?

Tell us about one of the most rewarding experiences you have had as an author.

Hearing from readers, how God has used my books to speak to them or encourage them. Reader letters/emails are the greatest reward of all!

What types of books do you enjoy reading during your down time? What are some books you’ve enjoyed lately?

I love to read, wish I had more time for reading . . . but I’m currently reading The Resurrection of Nat Turner by Sharon Ewell Foster (2 books), a fav Christian author. Just finished a John Grisham novel, The Confession. Also recently read Radical by David Platt (wow). And . . . more. :-)

If Stand by Me were being made into a movie, who would you pick to play Kat, Avis, and Nick?

Great question–but I have no idea if you mean actual actors/actresses. Hmmm, fun to think about . . .

What is the main thing you want readers to take away from Stand by me?

That even mature believers (like Avis) can have a crisis of faith, but God is patient and walks us through, step by step. AND, sometimes the person God wants to use in our life might be a person so different from us that we think we have nothing in common. But as 1 Corinthian 12 says about the Body of Christ, we not only have different gifts, and different life situations, but we actually NEED each other. We need to be open to the different parts of Christ’s body here on earth, because God might just use the least likely among them to encourage/help/teach us something.

When will we see the next installment of the SouledOut Sisters series?

Book #2, Come to the Table, is coming out before Christmas! (And would you believe a romantic triangle between Kat, Nick, and ??????) Stay tuned!

No fair to leave us hanging like that! ;)

To learn more about Neta visit DaveNeta.com. You can also read my review of Stand by Me and purchase a copy here.

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