Posts Tagged With: Christian Fiction

The Yada Yada Prayer Group – Chick Lit at Its Best

I extend an apology to my blog readers of the male gender, but this post blatantly promotes a book series that is squarely in the “chick lit” genre; one which I think has been given a”bad rap”:

“Chick lit is smart, fun fiction for and/or about women of all ages. Many of these books are written from a first-person viewpoint, making them a bit more personal and realistic. The plots can range from being very light and fast-paced to being extraordinarily deep, thought-provoking and/or moving.” (www.chicklitbooks.com)

As a woman, my favorite stories, written or visual, deal with the push and pull of intimacy versus isolation. Personal relationships are messy; they are full of conflict, misunderstanding, and hurt and yet, we are fascinated by them and are pulled in almost against our will.

Contemporary author Neta Jackson’s Yada Yada Prayer Group stories, set in the city of Chicago, focus on this relational theme. The women’s group is named “yada yada” from the Biblical Hebrew word that means “to know and be known intimately”. A motley crew of twelve diverse women overcomes distrust and learns to support one another when it really counts. The first title in the series of seven novels, The Yada Yada Prayer Group, was published in 2003 and introduces the reader to Jodi Baxter who is married, white, and an elementary school teacher in an urban Chicago school. Jodi’s façade is firmly in place – she seems in control and confident, yet she soon faces a crisis that reveals her true fragility and she finds out just how much she needs the Yada Yada sisters to help her navigate through it. Neta Jackson writes very authentically about women from varying backgrounds: Asian, African-American, Jewish, Hispanic, Filipino, etc., but chooses to tell all the stories through the voice of white, middle-class Jodi whom the author resembles and understands the most. Throughout this series, Jackson successfully shows how people are very similar despite differences in outer appearance – race or ethnic heritage, age, economic status, or occupation. I personally resonate with this theme because I want others to believe that there’s more than meets the eye when they meet me, and to take time to get to know me. I hope I pursue friendships in this same manner, offering genuine interest. In my opinion, the spiritual themes in this series are never heavy-handed or shallow and would be a good first foray into Christian fiction for someone who has yet to read this genre. Another four book series by Neta Jackson, also set in present day Chicago, focuses on the wide gap between wealthy and poor as an elderly bag lady and lonely socialite develop an unlikely friendship. This series deals sensitively with dysfunctional marriage and the cycle of urban poverty. The House of Hope books in publication order are Where Do I Go?, Who Do I Talk To?, Who Do I Lean On?, and Where is My Shelter? More about the author can be found on: http://www.daveneta.com P.S. Many years ago, Neta Jackson teamed up with her husband Dave to co-author forty award-winning historical fiction novels for children. Each of the books portrays a significant period in a hero or heroine’s life as seen through the eyes of a young protagonist. Many of these titles have gone out of print as paperbacks, but are available as e-books at www.trailblazerbooks.com

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Categories: Chick lit, Christian Fiction, Inspiration | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Return to Me: The Bible Comes Alive

I am a Bible reader. The Book of Books amazes and delights me with its inspiring psalms, challenging prophesies, and historical tales. It is a wonderful anthology of literature. Last year, I bought a One Year Chronological Bible (Tyndale House). It groups Bible books by their historical context and gave me a better understanding of how it all fits together.

Another tool to bring the Bible to life is reading well-researched historical fiction set in Biblical time periods. I read about Christian author Lynn Austin’s most recent novel Return to Me (published in September 2013 by Bethany House) from a literary blog I followed, “By the Book”: http://rbclibrary.wordpress.com/2013/10/07/book-review-return-to-me/
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In this first installment of “The Restoration Chronicles”, Austin takes the events of the Biblical books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai, and Zechariah and develops a detailed, authentic story of the return of the Jews to Jerusalem after a seventy-year captivity in Babylon (539 B.C.) Iddo is a survivor of the siege of Jerusalem and has terrible nightmares of his ordeal as a young child watching his loved ones die of starvation or by the sword.

After seventy years in Babylon, Iddo takes the opportunity offered by Cyrus the Persian, the new tolerant ruler of the Empire, to return with his wife and grandson, Zechariah to Israel to rebuild the Jewish temple and settle once more in his homeland. What follows is a pilgrimage of faith and restoration for Iddo and his family that is fraught with resistance from within and without.

This is not the first effort to recreate Biblical stories for the eight-time Christy award-winning author. Austin’s twin interests in history and archaeology launched her on a five-book series in 2005 that begins during the reign of Judah’s Kings Ahaz and Hezekiah as the Assyrian Empire is rampaging through the Middle East (732 B.C.). (“Chronicles of the Kings”: Gods and Kings, Strength of His Hands, Song of Redemption, Faith of My Fathers, and Among the Gods). In my opinion, the author’s graduate studies in Biblical Backgrounds and Archaeology and her travels to Israel lend authenticity to her novels. For more about the author, explore her website: http://www.lynnaustin.org

My research for this blog post lead me to some new options for biblical historical fiction: Sons of Encouragement by Francine Rivers, 2011, Tyndale House. In this all-in-one collection, Rivers illuminates the lives of Aaron, Caleb, Jonathan, Amos, and Silas—and shows how they acted in the shadow of God’s chosen leaders.” (christianbook.com). Another new novel, When Jesus Wept by Bodie Thoene, 2013, Zondervan Publishing looks at the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ through the eyes of his friend Lazarus of Bethany.

Through historical fiction, ancient characters take on flesh and blood and move off the pages and into our imagination, all with the result of inspiring us to know God more personally. How has the Bible come alive for you?

The Bible for Children:
Although many authors seek to expose young children to the Bible with wonderful editions complete with illustrations and easily understood prose, my personal favorite is The Children’s Bible in 365 Stories by Mary Batchelor. This book, published in 1995 by David C. Cook Publishers, offers much more than the handful of stories retold in Sunday School of Jonah and the Whale and David and Goliath.

Categories: Classics, Historical Fiction, Inspiration, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

The Yada Yada Prayer Group

“I solve problems in my life by sharing in the lives of others.  I grow spiritually by encountering the wisdom of people who have thought through issues that still cause me to struggle.” Gladys Hunt, Honey for a Woman’s Heart

Sometimes I avoid Christian fiction because I am held back by my personal bias that their plots are superficial or formulaic; i.e. too much romance, problems solved too easily.  But I also crave hope and strength from the books I read.  I certainly don’t want a “gray” book, which offers only hopeless tragedy or no answers to life’s problems!

The Yada Yada Prayer Group by Neta Jackson (Integrity Publishers, 2003) may have a bright neon-colored cover but what lies between the pages is not a “light” read.  The main character, suburban elementary school teacher Jodi Baxter, encounters real-life issues and problems when she gets assigned to a “random” prayer group at an urban Christian Women’s Conference.  Her reluctance and naiveté are not enough to keep her from becoming sucked into the vortex of the lives of eleven other women who are culturally diverse, but in need of the genuine caring of one another.   In Jodi’s own words: “We were a drawer of mismatched socks if ever there was one –I wasn’t sure we even liked each other.  But we were Prayer Group Twenty-Six and we had the chance… to give God a sacrifice of praise and love a young woman who was fresh out of prison.”

What results is an amazing journey of true heart connections.  As the reader I related to many of the book’s characters; even those who were so different from me.  The author describes two women in the prayer group: Avis (the classy principal of the elementary school): “she had a kind of authority — not bossy, just firm, confident — that gathered up the loose ends and knotted them so they wouldn’t fray any further.” (p. 27) and Florida (5 years saved, 5 years sober) : “Our lives were about as different as two people’s could be, but I liked her.   Really like her.  I could only imagine everything she’d been through, but she was so upbeat.  So close to God.  Where did that come from?” (p. 84)

Jodi’s spiritual journey drew me right in.  Her connection with God and the prayer group women keep her from drowning when faced with a horrific personal crisis.  I truly learned from this story: to pray more in faith, to leave assumptions of others at the door, to persevere in friendship when others are in trouble.  I don’t know how autobiographical this story is, but the dedication page may indicate that author Neta Jackson learned some of these lessons herself:  “To my sisters in the women’s Bible studywho loved me anyway and stretched my faith.

If the story and the characters grab hold of you, six more Yada Yada Prayer Group books await.  My friend Heidi, a die-hard non-fiction reader, succumbed to the book series’ appeal and is currently reading book #4.  Learn more about the author: http://daveneta.com/index.htm.

I had the fun experience of hearing back from Neta Jackson by email, thanking me for my positive blog post about the Yada Yada Prayer Group series.  She has written another wonderful series – the first title  is Where Do I Go?

Categories: Chick lit, Humorous, Inspiration, Romantic Fiction | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment