Monday, June 30, 2014

June 2014 Movie Wrap-Up

By Andrea Renee Cox

This month has been a busy one for me. The San Antonio Spurs won the NBA championship. So proud of them. This makes five championships for Coach Gregg Popovich and player Tim Duncan. The summer session of tutoring has begun. I’m not as busy there as I usually am, but I’m enjoying the break. Last school year was crazy-hectic for me, and being able to breathe properly again is quite nice. The extra time I have due to the lack of students in my area of expertise I’ve been putting to good use. Editing one story while writing another is a challenge that I’m trying to balance out. Plus, I’ve been able to squeeze in a proofreading job.

Even with all these things piling up, I’ve managed to get several movies in this month. Each movie falls in the political thriller genre, except one (The Monuments Men), although the political part might still be correct; it’s more of a political adventure that’s based on real events. Not sure why I was drawn to that genre this month, especially because I dislike politics, but each film is wonderful in its own right. All four movies I’ve chosen to tell you about this month contain some rough language and are rated PG-13, so viewer discretion is advised.


Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit

When an injured military man is recruited by the CIA, his life spins out of control. Will he have what it takes to sort through the chaos and discover the enemy’s secrets before it’s too late?

This story captured me from the beginning when Jack Ryan decided to join the military because of the attack on the Towers on 9/11. Once he’s recruited by the CIA, he’s blindsided by a live or die mission. This action packed thriller kept me on the edge of my seat until the end credits rolled up the screen. Nice humor sprinkled throughout brought an extra depth—and brief reprieves!—to the storyline.

The cast of Jack Ryan: Shadow Recruit is top notch. Chris Pine gives his best performance yet as Jack Ryan. Keira Knightley dons an American accent and also brings stellar talent to the screen in my favorite role of hers. Then you have Kevin Costner in a role of leadership, which is nothing new for him, yet he finds a way to make us think he’s never been better than in this film.

The Monuments Men

When artwork goes missing or gets destroyed during World War II, a group of men (who each specialize in some form of art) band together to steal back the stolen art. Even though they’re unlikely heroes, they dig deep and find they’ve got what it takes to become the soldiers the Allies need them to be. Will they find all the pieces before Hitler’s men destroy them? Will they all make it home alive, once their mission is completed and the war is over?

Shadowed by Grace
by Cara C. Putman
Another fabulous cast lights up the screen. George Clooney, Matt Damon, Bill Murray, Cate Blanchett, and John Goodman, among others. Do you see the comedic moments waiting to happen? You’ll laugh, you might cry. I found myself doing both at once a couple times. The emotional journey of the Monuments Men is even greater than normal because it’s based on real events. Those types always grip my heart a bit stronger.

There’s a Christian fiction novel by Cara Putman that was inspired by the Monuments Men’s story (though it was written before the movie came to theaters). It’s called Shadowed by Grace, and I hope you have an opportunity to read it. You can read the first chapter of this book here. The Kindle version of this book is on sale through Tuesday (that’s tomorrow, folks!) for only 99 cents. Be sure to grab your copy before this sale runs out!


The Bourne Legacy

When the United States’s intelligence community decides to erase all evidence of the programs compromised by Jason Bourne and Pamela Landy, the agents’ and even the scientists’ lives are at risk. Rogue agent Aaron Cross not only uses his genetically-engineered skills to survive the program shutdown, but he also saves scientist Marta Shearing’s life for reasons you wouldn’t expect. Thrust together in the midst of a crazy cat-and-mouse chase, will Aaron and Marta escape their demise long enough to accomplish their goals? Or will the next generation of agents be able to take them out?

This movie is my newest obsession. I can’t watch it enough times. The original Bourne trilogy (Identity, Supremacy, and Ultimatum; all starring Matt Damon) were awesome films themselves. When the Bourne Legacy came to theaters, I wasn’t sure if the filmmakers would be able to capture the essence of the original three films and yet make it their own. With Jeremy Renner as the rogue agent and Rachel Weisz as the scientist, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Legacy is an amazing story. I’m planning on watching all four Bourne films as part of a movie marathon weekend sometime in July. I’ve already seen Legacy four times this month, and I’m still not tired of it. I understand a new piece of it every time I watch it. I can’t recommend it enough.

I’ve heard there’s going to be another new Bourne film in 2016. I haven’t heard the title yet, but Jeremy Renner is supposed to be bringing Aaron Cross back to the big screen. Can’t believe we have to wait so long to see it, but I guarantee you it will be worth the wait.

Mission: Impossible – Ghost Protocol

When the bombing of the Kremlin implicates the IMF as international terrorists, Ethan Hunt and his elite team must go underground yet still work to clear the agency’s name and stop the real terrorists before they set off a nuclear war. This may be their most dangerous, most impossible mission yet!

Guess who joins the cast in this one? Jeremy Renner. Yep, the Avengers (Hawkeye) and Bourne Legacy (Aaron Cross) actor joins Tom Cruise’s crew as they use every new gadget in the book. The stunts are out-of-this-world crazy, keeping you glued to the screen. I recommend watching the previous three films to catch up on the missions before watching this one, but you wouldn’t have to. Ghost Protocol stands on its own two feet very well. The cast is a bit different than in the previous films, but you’ll notice a couple have stuck around. There might even be a little cameo appearance by one of my favorite agents near the end of the movie. (Can you guess who?)

Soon there will be a fifth Mission: Impossible movie, and I’ve heard Jeremy Renner is returning to reprise his role. I’m pretty sure the summers of 2015 and 2016 will have me practically living at the movie theater. How could they not with so many Jeremy Renner flicks coming out? (Have you figured out yet that he’s my current favorite actor?)

Readers, what are your favorite political thriller movies? Is there a movie that you’re obsessed with and can’t watch often enough? Do you like to read books inspired by the same events that inspired movies?

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Monday, June 23, 2014


By Andrea Renee Cox

It was an ordinary Friday afternoon. My dad and I were running an errand when my mom called. She had peeked out the house window and seen something crazy down the street. Out of the ordinary doesn’t begin to describe the event of Friday, June 20, 2014.

Four train cars derailed.

As in, came off the tracks.

Yep. The train that had gone by our house just before Dad and I left apparently had trouble of some kind, and four of the rock-carrying cars toppled over, leaving a fifth car leaning precariously. The weird thing was, with the air conditioners going, my mom hadn’t heard the crash from inside our house.

When Dad and I returned after completing our errand, sure enough, there was a sea of rock splattered across the grass down the road from our house. Four large, black train cars lay on their sides, rock still half filling them. The fifth car worried me, as I was certain it would fall and crush someone, especially once workers arrived to clean up the huge mess.

It took all day Saturday, but the crews were able to get the cars righted once more. First, they emptied out the rest of the rock. To make sure they got it all, they used two cranes and a backhoe type machine to turn the cars upside down. Then they turned them right side up and suspended them in the air above part of the track that was still intact. The men on the ground then came in and assisted the crane operators in attaching new sets of wheels to the bottom of the cars. Once that task was completed, one of the cranes pulled the fixed cars farther down the track so they could repeat the process with the other cars that needed to be put back on tracks that hadn’t been destroyed in the derailment.

They brought in an engine to pull the rear of the train back away from the messed-up section of track. Once all the toppled cars were moved down the other side of the broken section, the engine hooked up to the remaining cars. When the engineer tried to pull the train cars, the engine’s wheels spun and spun, flinging orange sparks against the ground. With the leaning car still attached, the other cars wouldn’t budge, even though a couple of crew members put some tool in front of the wheels to help right the leaning car, which was still filled to the brim with rock. After several unsuccessful attempts, they decided to uncouple the leaning car from the rest of the train. The engine was then able to pull the upright cars to the other side of the highway that sits in front of my house, so it would be out of the way of fixing the tracks.

So, they brought the cranes back over to lift the super-heavy leaning train car. They slowly took it down to a part of the track that was still lined up right. There the ruined wheels were exchanged for new ones. With that job finished, the guys stopped work for the day.

As I’m writing this article in my living room on Sunday afternoon, a crew is outside cleaning up the carnage that used to be railroad ties and train tracks. I’m not sure if they’ll get around to scooping up the spilled rock today or if that will be done tomorrow, when you’re reading this. It’s such a huge mess, the cleanup process takes multiple days. Each step gets its turn, with each crew member pitching in at the right time. It’s quite the orchestrated chaos, if you ask me, but the job is getting done.

I’m thankful that no one was hurt, either in the original crash or during the cleanup. It did concern me when I first saw the disaster, because there have recently been several children riding their bikes up and down the two roads parallel to the tracks. Praise God they’re all safe and weren’t injured in this catastrophe. This might have been a much more somber event, but I’m so glad it wasn’t.

Seeing the process of cleaning up the derailed train reminded me of how God takes my brokenness and cleans me up and fixes me one little piece at a time. It’s the reminder and encouragement I needed this weekend. I’ve been struggling because promises take so long to be fulfilled sometimes. The more years that go by, the harder hope is to cling onto. But through this weekend’s craziness and Sidewalk Prophets’ CD Live Like That, God showed me that He hasn’t forgotten me. He’s the God who is more than all I’ve ever wanted. He’s saving me every day, through every pain and doubt and struggle I face. He’s scooping me up and hugging me tight, whispering words of comfort into my heart. Though I may struggle to find the courage to stand firm in my faith at times, I will never lose sight that God is still God and God is still good. He’s got me in His hands, and He’s leading me into the future He has designed for me. I trust Him with my life and my dreams, because He is my Everything.

Readers, what exciting things happened during your weekend? What lessons have you learned from the weekend that you can apply to your life? Are you holding onto the hope God is giving you?

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Monday, June 16, 2014

Be My Guest: Mary Albers Felkins

It is my great pleasure to introduce to you a new friend of mine, Mary Albers Felkins. Her unique voice lends a pretty cool point of view in the article she's written for us today. I hope you feel inspired by the end of it. I certainly did!

Just Breathe.
By Mary Albers Felkins
Inspire.  I’ve become drawn to this word.  It means to breathe into, to fill with an exalting influence, to animate, arouse, galvanize, awaken, ignite (someone) with the urge or ability to do or feel something, especially to do something creative.

A similar word, respiration, comes to mind.  Medically it refers to the inhalation and exhalation of air.

Yes, I breathe.  Everyday.  Twenty-four/seven.  The genius of my autonomic nervous system tends to that.  But do I consider the breath of the Holy Spirit in the process of writing?  

I invite you to take a deep breath and check out these verses.

In Genesis 2:7 it states that “God formed man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and the man became a living being.”  God breathed life into something lifeless.  Hmmm.  Sounds an awful lot like the process of crafting story characters to me.

And in John 20:22 it says, “He (Jesus) breathed on them (disciples) and said, “Receive the spirit.”  That’s powerful!

Beyond the mere fact that breathing keeps me alive it seems there’s greater power in a breath.

Typically I face my computer each day with an agenda.  My agenda.  That blog idea that awakened in my head while on the elliptical at the gym?  Got to record it.  A scene change?  Got to record that, too.  A plot structure flaw?  Must be corrected.  And that’s all fine.  But if I want my writing to fulfill God’s purpose I must breathe in His Spirit before I begin, let Him pour life onto the screen (or the paper), in order to bring characters and words to life.  He’s the one from Whom the ideas came in the first place.

Ah, but then there are those other times.  You’ve seen it; I’ve seen it.  And stared at the thing for several agonizing minutes.  That daunting blank screen with its annoying, on-off cursor (like a ticking time bomb).  I sigh heavily, releasing a boatload of air from my lungs, sometimes with clenched fists.  And inhale the Sprit of the living God?  Honestly, no.  Not always.  Which gives birth to my classic whine, “Just what am I supposed to write here?”

So, before I write, I’ve challenged myself to…

-Quiet myself and pray (Oh yeah, that).  I ask God to breathe into the page/screen and give life to my (ahem, His) characters or ideas. 

-Listen to what God, the Author of life, is saying.  Then create from that launching pad. 

-Receive rescue breaths from others who can encourage me when my spiritual lungs ache.  A check of my pulse might suggest I am hindering forward progress with worry, angst.  Or working inefficiently from relying on my own effort.


I desire void, shapeless, and lifeless writing to become animated, galvanized, awakened, and ignited to empower another with the ability to say or do something significant.  I want to produce writing that is teeming with life.  God’s spiritual breath can accomplish that.

I’ve asked God to breathe His breath of life onto the pages/screen each time I begin.  How about you?  Maybe you just need to breathe.

Mary Albers Felkins is currently constructing her first manuscript using principles taught through My Book Therapy.  (  She considers scripture the most alluring romance ever written.  She is married to Bruce Felkins.  They have four arrows in their quiver: Anthony, Alexandra, Jonathan, and Caroline.  She is learning to breathe before (and while) she writes…

Upcoming/Current releases
First novel, Christian contemporary romance.  Inspired by Revelation 19:11, the image seen by John when the heavens stood open, a Rider on a white horse.  What if protective love means marrying the kind of man you said you’d never marry?  Is it worth the cost?

Link to website

Mary, I am intrigued by that story question and can hardly wait to read your debut novel! Thanks for sharing your take on inspiration and reminding us to breathe deeply in our Lord. I think I won't be the only one to consider taking up your challenge of "quiet, listen, receive." Great idea!

Now it's your turn: When have you realized you've forgotten to ask God to breathe in your ministry? Do you notice any differences in your impact on the world when you stop and ask God to bless your work beforehand? What happens when you try to do things in your own power?

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Monday, June 9, 2014

Summer Has Arrived!

By Andrea Renee Cox

Well, it’s official. Summer has arrived. Maybe not by the calendar, but the temperatures reveal the truth. With temps nearing closer to triple digits by the day, north Texas is warming quite nicely. Which means air conditioning, ice in my water, and sunglasses at all times when outdoors. Sunblock, lighter meals, bug spray, and sand volleyball.

The thing I’m looking forward to most this summer is my family’s Fourth of July barbecue. It might be a small affair with only one other family in attendance, but we make fun memories every year and share lots of food and conversation, squeezing in a cool movie of some sort. And, of course, there’s fireworks. Not my favorite part of the night, never has been, but we can usually see two or three different sets of fireworks from our front yard. Since we live in town, that’s a nice little luxury that comes as a surprise.

Since fireworks isn’t my favorite part of the Fourth of July, would you like to know what is?

Trying new recipes.

Not just any recipes, either. Typically, I test out new dessert recipes around this time of year. This year is no exception.

One I tried just last week, in preparation for the Fourth, is Root Beer Float Cookies. Talk about melt-in-your-mouth delicious! My dad said these cookies bumped up into his top five cookies of all time. I’ll take that compliment. Everyone who’s tried them so far has absolutely loved them. Not only are they great for family barbecues, but they also make great tips for furniture movers, a great barter for a ride (especially if you’re broke and can’t afford gas money), treats for children’s birthday parties, and so many more events. These cookies have been such a great hit, I thought I’d share my recipe with you. Trust me, if you make these cookies once, you better be prepared to make them often… and in large batches!

Root Beer Float Cookies

Cookie Ingredients:
½ cup butter, softened
1 cup packed brown sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon root beer concentrate
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking soda

Filling Ingredients:
¼ cup butter, softened
1 ⅓ cups confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon water
1 teaspoon root beer concentrate

1. In a large bowl, cream butter and brown sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in egg and root beer concentrate. (I used my standing mixer, and it worked great, especially during step two.)

2. In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, and baking soda. Gradually add this dry mixture to the creamed mixture and mix well. (The batter will get pretty thick. That’s why I recommend using a standing mixer. It seems to be able to handle the thickness better than a handheld mixer.)

3. Shape dough into ¾-inch balls. Place 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake at 375 degrees for 6-8 minutes or until lightly browned. Remove to wire racks and cool completely.

4. In a medium bowl, beat the filling ingredients until smooth. Spread on the bottoms of half of the cookies; top with remaining cookies. (I spread a bit of filling on the bottom of one cookie, then immediately topped it with another cookie. This method worked well for me. You could also put filling on ten or so cookies, then top them, continuing this pattern until all the cookies are used. Feel free to try different methods until you find one that works best for you.)

This recipe yields about 2 ½ dozen cookies. When I made it, I doubled all the ingredients, which worked really well. Since it’s so popular, I might even consider tripling it next time.

Now it’s your turn: What summer plans does your family have? Are you planning anything special for the Fourth of July? What recipes do you especially enjoy making during the summer months?

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Monday, June 2, 2014

Somebody Like You

By Andrea Renee Cox

Is it possible for a widow to fall in love with her husband’s reflection?

Newly released!
Haley Ames struggles against that question in Beth K. Vogt’s newest release, Somebody Like You. The young widow grieves her late husband, Sam, even as she prepares to give birth to their child. Her heartache multiplies when Stephen Ames, Sam’s mirror twin, shows up on her doorstep. Will Haley be able to look beyond the image of her husband to the fluttering feelings the only living Ames brother stirs within her? Or will she push him away for fear of desecrating her vows to the brother in the grave?

Ever since I heard Beth was working on a story about a young widow, I’ve wanted to get my hands on this book. She wowed me with her first two novels, so I knew this one would deliver what I’ve come to expect from her. But she still managed to surprise me many times over. That’s the signature of a great author.

“Getting lost hadn’t been part of the plan.” That line from the brief prologue seems to be a common theme of Vogt’s books. Life very often doesn’t go as we plan. Beth allows her experience of going with the flow to shine through in her fiction. The journeys her characters go through reveal ways in which we can adapt when life doesn’t go as planned. Sometimes you find solutions to the problems that pop up. Other times you don’t, but other opportunities arise. In every moment, if we seek God, He will guide us in the ways He’s prepared for us. I like how Beth weaves that bit of truth into her stories.

I’ve never been married, let alone widowed, but Beth captured the theme of widowhood so well, my heart ached for Haley Ames and her baby. Not long into the book, it dawned on me just how gut-wrenching it would be to lose a husband, only to be faced with his identical twin months later. I’m not sure how I would have handled it besides crying my brains out all over again. I’d be just as shocked as Haley was, for certain.

Somebody Like You swept into my heart and left me thinking about the relationships in my life. Each one is important for unique reasons, and I cherish every one. Only God knows how long each person will be in my life, so I’ll treasure every moment I’m given.

On another note, a sweet surprise awaits Marvel fans (comics or movies) in this one. The first glimpse is in chapter three, but there are a few other places along the way, as well. Of course I can’t tell you what they are because that would spoil it for you. I’d be interested to know, though, what you thought about them. They made me smile and laugh out loud at times. I love the Marvel movies, and the extra tidbits in Somebody Like You were great tributes to them and the comics.

Thank you to Beth Vogt and her publisher, Howard Books, for a complimentary copy of Somebody Like You in exchange for my honest review. Beth, it’s a pleasure to be included in your group of influencers. This sweet story very nearly pushed Wish You Were Here out of its coveted favorite-Beth-Vogt-book spot. It’s a virtual tie, which makes my job as an influencer that much easier. Thanks for writing such beautiful prose.

Readers, the themes of widowhood and estrangement are prevalent in this book. Have you been touched by either? How did you cope with it? What advice would you give to someone facing it for the first time?

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