Book Review | 31 Dates in 31 Days by Tamara Duricka Johnson

31 Dates in 31 Daysis a new book by author Tamara Duricka Johnson that looks at dating from a whole new angle. Unlike the typical how-to dating book, Johnson’s insights are based on her own first-hand accounts from a radical dating experiment in which she embarked on 31 dates in, yes, 31 days!The title alone made me feel exhausted! Dating takes a lot of time, effort, and planning. It generally also requires cute outfits, hair appointments, and other special gestures meant to impress one’s date. I was curious to read on and find out how and why Johnson would embark on such a feat. As it turns out, she was approaching her milestone 31st birthday. Like many single women (and men), she was tired of the dating games and the ups and downs. She wanted to get something more meaningful from the dating experience.

The 31 day project was just the thing to kick-start her personal dating revolution. By setting up dating “rules,” Johnson was able to streamline the dating process, control costs, and focus on learning as much as possible about the men she was dating, and about herself, along the way.

Thankfully,  Johnson decided to share her experiences with the rest of us. Her writing style was funny, yet sincere as she described each new encounter. Some were downright delightful; others were downright forgettable. But, they were all meaningful. In each chapter, we learn more about the men and we learn more about the author. Most importantly, we follow along with the author’s journey and use her dating lessons to reflect on our own experiences.

Are we entering the dating process withe pre-conceived notions that are acting as roadblocks along the path to love? Are we missing out on dates with amazing people due to our “wish lists” and “checklists?” Are some of us looking for love so desperately that we continue to fall for mates that are not actually worthy of our affections? Do we know how to simply enjoy dating without placing a bunch of expectations on ourselves and others?

31 Dates in 31 Days is a good read for both men and women. Although the book seems to lean towards the female perspective, men can learn a lot from reading about the many dates through the eyes of a woman. I was impressed not only by the author’s eloquent writing style, but also by her dedication to writing about each date. I thought that she would surely skip the less interesting dates, but, no, even in those dates there was a lesson to be learned and she made those dates fun to read about as well.

Interestingly, the author became keen on a number of the men that she dated rather quickly! This, too, was inspirational for aspiring daters. Where it may seem like there are no prospects, there can suddenly be plenty! Most of us can take some cues from the project. Instead of doing the same old thing, we can try something new and see where it might take us.

You’re probably curious to know whether or not the project led to love. I won’t spoil it for you, but you can certainly find more information on 31datesin31days.com! I will say that I was truly inspired; shortly after finishing this book, I found myself looking at the men around me in a whole new light. I would definitely recommend this book to all aspiring daters and to all of those who simply want to be inspired to try something different. After you check out the book, let me know what you think!

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Book Review | No Weapon by Audrey McKay

No Weapon is the riveting follow-up novel to Audrey McKay’s first book Enough Good News. It continues a few years after Enough Good News ended. (My review for Enough Good News can be found here. This review may contain spoilers for those who have not read that novel first). Instead of focusing on Sidra’s story, it focuses on the tale of Sidney Lyons and how her life has changed since accepting the Lord. When Enough Good News ended, the reader was left feeling hopeful, but uncertain, about which way Sidney’s story would go. Soon after accepting Christ into her life, she made a big mistake that almost severed her ties with family and her faith in the Lord.

In No Weapons, Sidney seems to have recovered well from the mistakes of her past. Unfortunately, old spirits are waiting to come back and haunt her once again as an unspeakably evil force begins working to bring her down. It only took me about one day to read this book because I was quickly caught up in Sidney’s tale and how a single lie worked to turn so many people against her. The book also had real life connections as it dealt with scandals and corruption within the church which are both, unfortunately, all too common today.

Christians who are interested in learning more about spiritual gifts will find this book intriguing. In McKay’s first book, spiritual gifts are mentioned when Sidney accepts the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ into her life, but in No Weapon, those gifts play a central role in the development of the plot. Until reading this book, I never gave much thought to “spiritual gifts” and what they mean, but this book definitely encouraged me to look into them more.

Along with the consistent action in this story, McKay skillfully weaves in the thoughts and insights of non-Christians who are witnesses to the turmoil taking place among so-called believers. This is an important part of the story because it helps the reader understand why so many people are hesitant to become a part of the Christian faith. Many non-believers have witnessed wrongdoing and hypocrisy among Christians that makes them question the teachings of the Bible and spiritual leaders. The way that McKay uses the true believers to respond to such doubts can serve as a lesson for the rest of us.

The plot of this book was a real page-turner. The way people came together to work against Sidney was fascinating. Not only that, but the use of technology to aid in their endeavor made the work more interesting and believable. I would highly suggest this book, even if you haven’t read the first book in the series. The author provides enough background information to make it easy to follow all of the characters. For more information about No Weapon, or to learn more about the author, visit her website here.

Book Review | Enough Good News by Audrey McKay

In Enough Good News by Audrey McKay, readers are introduced to a rather dynamic character, Sidra Lyons. Many young professionals will be able to relate to Sidra. She is living the life of a young, talented attorney and reaping the benefits of years of education and hard work, while at the same time working to grow even closer to God. From Sidra’s story, we learn that becoming a Christian does not mean that one will no longer have problems; it simply means that the Lord will be there to assist us as we face those problems, if only we pray and look to Him for guidance. All is calm in Sidra’s world when things began to rapidly change in both her work and her personal life.

First, Sidra gets a new boss at work, Jensen, who manages to work her nerves on a daily basis. Next, Sidra’s family undergoes some changes when a one of her father’s secrets is uncovered. Then, Sidra’s work life is interrupted as she faces the biggest and most personal case of her entire life. Little does Sidra know, she will end up needing Jensen in more ways than one and her family will never, ever be the same.

Sidra’s strength as a Christian helps her endure the many difficulties that she faces. She continually goes back to the Lord for strength and her story is one that will encourage many Christians. Although Sidra is strong in the faith, others in the story are not. Sidra’s newfound family member is struggling to learn more about Christianity and the questions that she poses are the same questions that many new Christians ponder. McKay uses Sidra, Jensen, and the other characters that become intertwined in Sidra’s life to address themes dealing with Christianity as it relates to love and relationships, family and friendship, as well as career decisions.

McKay addresses spiritual gifts, hypocritical Christians, betrayal, and the strength of holding on to the faith in the face of doubt. There are elements of mystery, thrill, and more in this rather complex story. This work was rather intriguing as I continually wondered how Sidra’s story would evolve and what would happen between she and Jensen.

Often, readers are left wondering, what happens next?! Luckily, McKay plans to follow up this story with more works, such as the sequel to Enough Good News, entitled No Weapon,  as well as the third book in the series, Blind Justice. Stay posted for my review of No Weapon, and check out Audrey McKay’s website for more information about her writing and how to purchase her works.

Book Review | The Bride Experiment by Mimi Jefferson

The Bride Experiment by Mimi Jefferson asks the reader to ponder: “What happens when single women get fed up?” The novel picks up where The Single Sister Experiment left off. In The Single Sister Experiment, a group of single women have been inspired to give up clubbing, partying, drinking, and having sex out-of-wedlock in order to more fully devote themselves to the Lord. Through the process, they are forced to face the demons of their pasts and come to terms with the many mistakes that they have made. In The Bride Experiment, some time has passed and the ladies have been blessed for their faithfulness to the Lord.

Despite their progress, the women are not immune from the setbacks that any Christian faces when trying to give up the ways of the world. In addition, The Bride Experiment introduces James, a single man who has a strong distrust from Christians. Readers may remember James from Mimi Jefferson’s first book. He was introduced as the man who Joan was desperately in love with and who also happened to be the father of her son. Male and female readers will be able to relate to James’ story. He comes from a troubled past and has dealt with many of his issues by using women. In The Bride Experiment, readers learn more about what it’s like to a single man to face obstacles while trying to change his life, raise his children, and date, all while figuring out his relationship with the Lord.

I enjoyed reading this book because it had many twists and turns. Besides learning more about James, the reader also learns more about Raquel, the woman who James chose over Joan in the first novel. It becomes evident that Raquel is dealing with pain from a troubled past. All of the characters come together to deal with a tragedy that threatens to change all of their lives. The author also further develops Tisha, Lila, and Janet’s characters and catches the readers up on their triumphs and struggles in trying to maintain an existence as Godly women. The author explores struggle to remain celibate, the difficulty letting go of an ex, and the way that Christians are often viewed as hypocritical. Throughout the 270-page novel, I believe every reader will find an element that he or she can relate to.

I really enjoyed the book and I would highly suggest it to any single Christian looking for stories of other Christian singles to relate to. Married Christians and those who are curious about the faith will enjoy the book as well. It can help those wishing to minister to singles better understand the challenges that singles face. Instead of making it seem easy to remain celibate and resist the temptation to party, Mimi Jefferson presents realistic characters who sometimes fail.

It is not necessary to have read Mimi Jefferson’s first book, The Single Sister Experiment, to enjoy this one. However, if you are just starting out on your journey, I would suggest that book as well. The Single Sister Experiment was the first Christian Fiction book that I read and it lead me on a journey that allowed me to better understand my relationship with God through the characters presented in various Christian novels. I also had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Jefferson a few years ago and experiencing her teaching first-hand. (I did, however, pay for this book and was not asked to provide a review.) You can read more about Mimi Jefferson’s ministry and learn how to purchase the book by visiting her website. If you check it out, please come back and let me know what you thought of it.

Christian Book Review | Right Package, Wrong Baggage by Wanda B. Campbell

This book was a selection suggested to me by Amazon due to my history of reading and reviewing Urban Christian Fiction novels. It was pretty reasonably priced (at the time), and had good reviews. I purchased and downloaded it to my Kindle to read and I’m glad that I did! This book is a Christian-based complex love story that artfully tackles some major themes dealing with sexuality and celibacy. These themes are intricately woven into the storyline and the reader will find him or herself caught up in the the story of a young couple, Pamela and Micah.

When I first started reading the book, it opened with a family scene that seemed a bit far-fetched. Things just seemed too good to be true for Pamela. As a young single mother (widowed), she was swept off of her feet when a man from her church named Micah begins to court her and help her care for her son. However, it quickly became clear that the author was setting the scene for a sequence of events that would take the couple through a number of emotional ups and downs. Just when it seems like Pamela, Micah, and Pamela’s son Matthew are about to get their story-book ending, the past catches up with Micah and things begin to fall apart.

Often, Christian-based story lines are flat. They go something like this – pray enough and God changes things. While this is true, our human emotions often get in the way of us receiving our blessings. What Campbell successfully does in this novel  is contrast Pamela and Micah’s attempt to live by Christian principles with their difficulty overcoming their pasts. The two of them are deeply in love, but their issues are catching up with them quickly.

For Christians struggling to stay focused on God’s principles while being involved in relationships, this is an excellent read. It also speaks to single mothers and individuals struggling to over come drug abuse or issues that arise from being victims of molestation and sexual exploitation. These topics sound serious, but the book is really an enjoyable, well-written work that and is an awesome love story at its core. I rarely outright suggest that my readers purchase a book, but if Christian Romance is your genre, this is definitely the book for you. If you’d like to hear more about the book or the author, check out the summary below from the publisher and click the link  to visit Ms. Campbell’s website.

From the publisher:

For five years, Pamela Roberts, has balanced the demands of being a single mother and a devoted Christian. She unselfishly places the needs of her son, Matthew, above her own. Although she tries to convince everyone that she’s happy with Jesus alone, Matthew handpicks the perfect present for her—a husband. Everything about the man her son chooses is perfect, except for his past. Micah Stevenson is excited when he learns the son of the woman he has been praying about wants him to join their family permanently. Believing Pamela Roberts is his soul mate sent from God, Micah pursues her. Once he is certain of her love for him, Micah reveals his dark history, shaking the foundation of the once loving and stable relationship. Trust is broken as judgments and prejudices threaten to deny the couple’s destiny. Will the man he used to be prevent Pamela from loving Micah for the man he is now?

Book Review | Become Your Own Matchmaker by Patti Stanger

Patti Stanger is the popular, controversial force behind The Millionaire’s Club, an international dating service that caters to, well, millionaires. Her club spawned the hit show Millionaire Matchmaker, which aired on Bravo.

I was drawn into reading this book because of Patti’s sassy attitude and no-nonsense advice. She seemed to know what she was talking about on the show and often bragged that her track record was impeccable. As far as dating books go, it was pretty good. I purchased it myself and read it on my Kindle about a year ago, then re-read it for this review.  Here’s a breakdown of what you can expect from Patti’s dating guide.

Audience: This book is geared toward female daters who are seeking a man to marry. The man does not have to be a millionaire, but if you’ve ever watched Patti’s show, she encourages men and women to embrace traditional roles. Therefore, future hubby should be a provider who displays desirable male traits (no “coffee shop” men, whatever that means). This is a secular dating guide, so if you’re looking for something focused strictly on Christian principles, this isn’t the book for you. Lastly, you’ll have to be willing to make some changes to yourself. If you’re already perfect as-is, you don’t need Patti.

Goal: The goal of the book is to lay out a step-by-step plan from dating to the alter. As a caveat, I should mention that Patti is not married and never has been (she’s 50). So, take all marriage advice with a grain of salt. Patti gives a lot of background information about how she got to where she is in her career, as well as the dating woes that she’s been through.

The Plan  (I’m putting Patti’s plans in to my own words to provide the summary below):

(1) “You” Time. The plan is simple – first take some time and get to know yourself. Heal from your past relationships and pamper yourself. Get your physical appearance in order and learn how to dress for your shape. Get your hair done professionally. Spend some time with the girls or whatever it is that you need to do to feel your personal best and gain your confidence back.This is an essential step to prevent you from dragging old baggage into new relationships.

(2) Meet Men. This is where Patti gets a little radical. Basically, she encourages women to do whatever it is that they need to do to meet men. If you have to go online, go online. If you have to move to a city with a better male-to-female ratio, then move. Put yourself out there. Smile at and talk to men. Let people know that you’re looking. People love to play matchmaker and if you’re really interested in finding a mate, you’ll be open to suggestions.

(3) Evaluate Potential Mates & Present Your Best Assets. A lot of women want a great man, but they don’t bring much to the table themselves. Patti provides tips for how you can present yourself as a great potential wife, while evaluating your potential husband. If he’s not marriage material and you are looking for marriage, you are wasting each other’s time. Patti talks about ways you can tell whether a man is looking for a future wife, just dating, or just playing around. It’s also essential that you make a (short!) list of non-negotiable characteristics that you desire in a husband. This will keep you focused on your core needs without becoming too nit-picky about every man you meet.

(4). No Sex Before Monogamy. Patti is a stickler on this point. She talks in detail about how females produce oxytocin during intercourse. This is a bonding hormone that women produce in much greater quantities than men. It’s what makes it difficult for women to walk away from a man once they have taken that step in their relationship. Her points on this topic are pretty much scientific and common sense; she’s not a religious person (although she doesn’t downplay religion’s role in evaluating compatibility).

(5) Set a Timeline.  This is a another key factor. Patti believes that a man who is looking for marriage will not string a woman along in a relationship for years at a time. So, set a timeline and stick firmly to it. If he’s not talking marriage in a year – as in ring-on-finger, date set, then walk away. This point sets Patti’s plan apart from other dating books. Many books say to give a man two years or longer. Patti says that women don’t have that kind of time to waste. As we grow older, our marriage prospects only diminish further.

I think this is a valuable guide for women who are a little lost in the dating game and really ready to get married. It’s packed with information and Patti gives reasons for each point in her plan. It’s not for the faint-at-heart, since it requires diligent effort on the part of the woman. If you’re just dating “for fun,” then this is probably not the book for you. If you’re interested in finding a hubby worth having, then give it a read.

The Huffington Post Jumps on the Natural Hair Bandwagon

One of the country’s favorite liberal news websites has wasted little time jumping on the Natural Hair bandwagon. It was only a matter of time, considering the fact that they recently introduced a “Black Voices” section. This section includes all of the usual predictable banter – HIV rates, gay black men, and now, hair care (yawn).

A recent article, entitled YouTube’s Top 5 Natural Hair Care Vlogs, showcases 5 black women who have channels focused on natural (relaxer-free) hair care for black women. Like any and everything related to natural hair, this article has been emailed around and praised by many black women. While I was happy to see these women getting positive attention, which will  inevitably increase the value of their individual brands, I get the sinking feeling that this is one more step towards the commercialization and, to some extent, exploitation, of the natural hair movement.

I won’t get into a detailed discussion of the individual women who were profiled. I have watched videos by all of them, and I am probably subscribed to all of them. I am curious about how they chose these particular women, considering the fact that there are other natural hair vloggers with more subscribers and page views, but nevertheless, these ladies were chosen. They all make pretty good videos and, if you’re interested, you should check them out.

I’ve been watching hair care videos on YouTube since 2008. I’ve seen at least several hundred of them. I’ve learned a thing or two here and there, but what I have found is that the way YouTube works, there is a continual need to provide new content in order to make money (yes, YouTube partners make money). At some point, there is only so much that one can say about hair. What happens is that, once a hair vlogger has covered her basic hair routine, along with a few hair tutorials, she has to look elsewhere to provide new content. She also usually begins receiving product endorsement deals. She will either endorse those products or start pushing her own product lines, neither of which actually contributed to her hair’s health and/or growth. Now, I’m not knocking capitalism. I’m just explaining how it works and why I’m careful about doting too much praise on hair vloggers. Many of the ones that are most highly praised are making a lot of money. Some who just as or more dedicated to healthy hair practices and not so into making money and “branding” themselves, get little to no credit for their contributions.

I would love to see the day when “natural hair” or “black hair” is not really a topic that needs to be discussed. I would love to see “black beauty” simply labeled “beauty.” It would be great if women didn’t get pushed into buying hair products they don’t need in order to support a YouTuber’s part time income. In the meantime, these ladies are helping (some) women gain insight on how to achieve healthy hair. I just hope that viewers don’t get too caught up in buying what these ladies are selling.

Book Review | Sliding Into Home by Kendra Wilkinson

As a huge fan of the show The Girls Next Door that ran on E! for a few seasons, I was looking forward to reading Sliding Into Home by Kendra Wilkinson. It was a great memoir from an interesting TV personality, but I learned a lot more about the woman behind the image. Kendra was a troubled teen, turned girlfriend to Hugh Hefner. She is now a wife and mother who successfully nabbed her own spin-off show entitled Kendra after The Girls Next Door ended.

Although Kendra has settled into a pretty calm existence, it was a long and bumpy road to get there. The book chronicles her story, beginning with her younger years growing up as a rebellious child in San Diego. Her parents broke-up when she was very young and she struggled to overcome her daddy issues. Those issues, along with a lack of supervision, allowed her to get into a world of trouble. She began partying, sleeping around, and drinking at a very early age. Despite her mother and grandmother’s efforts to keep her grounded in sports and other worthwhile activities, Kendra drifted away from school and into a world of drug use and promiscuity. I won’t give away everything, but her story was very interesting. I think it was key that she tackle the roots of her insecurities and issues because that helps the reader to understand how she ended up at the Playboy Mansion.

Kendra is candid about her time there, yet she is very respectful of Hugh Hefner and the other girls. She talks about the things we all want to know about life as Hugh Hefner’s girlfriend – she discusses the crazy rumors about wild parties and bedroom romps, the many do’s and don’ts, as well as the fighting between she and the other girls. All in all, it was her experience at the Playboy Mansion that prepared her for her life today. She broke a lot of the rules to spend time with Hank Baskett, the NFL player whom she would eventually wed. Although Kendra only shared tidbits of Hank’s story, I would love to hear more about it. He seems like a genuinely interesting person who has been through a lot. His own background is what allowed him to care for Kendra and overlook her past.

For all of its great parts, there were one or two disappointments about the book. Namely, it’s not gritty enough. If you’ve seen any episodes of Kendra’s show, you know that Hank likes to keep the past in the past. Kendra was known as a party girl and he wasn’t happy about her writing such a candid book about her past exploits and drug use. I think it is because of this that she leaves out some key details about life at the Mansion as well as the truth about about an explicit tape of her and an old boyfriend that was released before the book came out. On the show she implicated that the whole issue would be discussed in the book, but it was not.

All in all, I think this is a great read for anyone who is a fan of either of her shows. There were a few surprises as far as life at the Mansion and even a few insights into the lives of Bridget and Holly, Kendra’s co-stars on The Girls Next Door. I have more respect now for Hugh Hefner, even if I don’t completely understand or agree with his lifestyle. It sure makes for great entertainment. Check out the book and let me know what you think!

Reading THROWBACK | The Sunday Paper

For many Americans, the Sunday paper was a part of a weekly family ritual. I remember my dad reading the Sunday paper from cover-to-cover. He would always save the “funnies” for me. I devoured the silly colored comics, blissfully reading the jokes and looking at the classic illustrations.

My mom would grab the “sales papers” looking for bargains and coupons. My sister and I would help her clip coupons, especially if we saw something we liked. If we found a coupon for a snack or treat, my mom was much more likely to purchase it for us during our next shopping trip.

The whole family shared the television programming guide. My sister would look at her favorite sections, which varied from week to week. As I got older, I started looking at the political sections of the paper. My dad spent a good deal of time ranting about what was written in this section and I wanted to understand what he was talking about.

When I got older and moved out, I subscribed to the weekend edition of the paper and continued this family reading tradition on my own. Eventually, I canceled my subscription. My paper kept disappearing from the porch of my apartment, which was annoying. I also found it hard to justify the costs once I acquired home internet services. All of the information I needed was online. I still purchase a Sunday paper occasionally, especially around Christmas time when retailers increafe their paper sales ads. But, even those are moving online…

Every now and then, I pine for this ritual. New technology is helping newspapers and magazines re-invent themselves. As much as I love technology, an LCD screen can never replace that newspaper smell and the sound of the thin gray paper crinkling as the reader unfolds and turns a page. I hold on to hope that the newspaper as we know it will never disappear. For today, I’ll do my part by picking up a Sunday paper.