Jason M. Reynolds

Simplify / CrossWords

Jason M. Reynolds, staff writer for the Times-Gazette, wants to hear your stories of good and bad behavior you have noticed for a possible mention in this column. Email him at jreynolds@t-g.com. Reynolds has observed a plethora of both good and bad behaviors over the years, and tries to rise above the bad to be a better person, with mixed results.

Books make great last-minute gifts

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Looking for a last-minute Christmas gift for the book lover in your life? Never fear: I have a few suggestions from books I have received this year for my media review column.

"The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs."

I have not reviewed this book yet because I am exchanging emails with the author, Andrew Gant, who lives in Oxford, England -- the process is slower but much cheaper than making a phone call across the Pond, as some in the U.K. refer to the Atlantic.

Gant's book tells you why there are so many variations in some of the most popular carols, beyond the tendency of the music industry to reinvent the wheel to sell more albums, of course. One reason is that each community had its own slightly different version of a carol back in the days before mass media.

The book is full of surprises and nuggets that make you think hard about the carols. One such revelation is that the word carol started off referring not necessarily to holiday tunes. Instead, a carol was "a celebratory song, with dancing. There is no exclusive connection to Christmas."

Another surprise is J.R.R. Tolkien's connection to carols. The man who is most famous, at least in the United States, for the Lord of the Rings story translated the 1400-era tale of "Sir Gawain and the Green Knight," a medieval story I vaguely remember from high school literature. Tolkien's translation distinguishes between "songs of delight, such as canticles of Christmas" and "carol-dances," Gant writes.

Thomas Nelson is the publisher.

"52 Little Lessons From A Christmas Carol."

Oregon journalism professor Bob Welch has specialized in applying life lessons to classic tales. His first "Lessons" books were on "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Les Misérables." His newest title examines the life of Ebenezer Scrooge from the immortal Charles Dickens story.

Each of the 52 lessons is about three or four pages in length, making them very readable. Welch acknowledges that there are "a fair share of how-not-to-live lessons" in addition to how-to-live lessons. "We learn from both. Scripture is filled with both," he writes. "We read about the good Samaritan helping a man who's been beaten in order to learn from someone who does the right thing. We read about a Pharisee who lauds his self-perceived righteousness and snubs a lowly tax collector in order to learn from someone who does the wrong thing."

One of Welch's favorite lessons is No. 39: "Grace Changes Everything." Welch told me, "That's the catalyst to everything. People who don't realize God's grace don't realize ... God can empower them to change. The sins of our past are forgiven, if we are willing to accept it."

Thomas Nelson is the publisher.

"Country Faith Christmas."

Have you ever wondered what your favorite country music artists' most cherished Christmas traditions are? Chances are, the answer is in "Country Faith Christmas," a beautifully illustrated new book that would make a perfect gift for the country music lover in your family.

"Country Faith Christmas" is compiled by Deborah Evans Price. She is a Country Music Association award-winning journalist who has spent 20 years writing for Billboard magazine and contributing to other publications.

The 37 featured artists include such icons as Dolly Parton, Brenda Lee, Alan Jackson and Charlie Daniels, to newer names such as Scotty McCreery of American Idol fame. My personal favorite among the younger artists is Jimmy Wayne. I recently reviewed his memoir, "Walk to Beautiful." His story of having been a foster child hits home because I recently adopted a foster child.

"It was fun to talk to people about their holiday traditions, their favorite memories," Price said.

Those memories include Reba McEntire's family singing "Happy Birthday" to Jesus on Christmas morning before opening gifts. "What a great way to remind little kids the reason we celebrate." Or Luke Bryan's childhood family tradition where his mother made chili dogs for family gatherings.

Regnery Faith is the publisher.

"Walk to Beautiful: The Power of Love and a Homeless Kid Who Found the Way"

Speaking of Jimmy Wayne, I recommend his auto-biography for Christmas.

It's not a touchy-feely book. Instead, the story takes you through Wayne's dark, broken childhood. It becomes an uplifting tale as he survives hell on Earth as he gives his life to Christ, learns what love is and chases his dream to become a country singer.

Wayne is one of the many thousands of teens who aged out of the foster care system. While his childhood may bear striking resemblance to many foster children's backgrounds, Wayne's current position in life is far, far from typical for foster children, especially those who age out. His story strikes home to me because I am a former foster parent and now the adopted father of that child.

After he made it in the music business, Wayne felt convicted one cold day in December 2009 while drinking expensive coffee in his posh Nashville town home. He had just come off a whirlwind music tour. He began to think about all the foster kids who become homeless, addicted to drugs and imprisoned. He suddenly came up with the idea of walking from a foster care home in the Green Hills section of Nashville to another facility in Phoenix, Arizona, both of which he had done some work with. He started out on his walk on New Year's Day 2010 to raise awareness of foster children's plights.

Wayne is credited as the primary author of the book. Ken Abraham is the co-author; he specializes in collaborating on books with public figures. Thomas Nelson is the publisher of the New York Times best-seller. Through a promotion with Coca-Cola, the book is available not only from booksellers but at special displays in some supermarkets.

"Jed Cartwright and the Comanche Raiders."

The newest title in the Jed Cartwright series by Ed Dunlop takes children on a Wild West adventure.

In the book, Jed and his sister Mandy are kidnapped in St. Louis by Comanche raiders. They are taken out west and must trust in the Lord for help in their escape. They manage to sneak away from the Comanche's village on Jed's black stallion, but will they ever see home again? You'll have to read the book to find out.

Dunlop is a children's evangelist whose numerous books are popular with young people and adults alike, according to his profile on Amazon.com. "Comanche Raiders" is illustrated in both color and black and white by Keith Neely.

Sword of the Lord in Murfreesboro is the publisher.

-- Jason Reynolds is a staff writer for the Times-Gazette. His email is jreynolds@t-g.com.

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