Faith, Media & Culture

Faith, Media & Culture

“Return to the Hiding Place” to open nationwide on Oct. 24

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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A true tale of young heroes. Return to the Hiding Place, the multi award-winning World War II action drama I raved about in May (when it opened in limited release), is now set to open nationwide in theaters on Oct. 24, 2014.  The simultaneously thrilling and thought-provoking film tells the true story of a ragtag group of teenagers who banded to form a Resistance Army to fight the Nazis and rescue of Dutch Jews marked for death during the Holocaust.

Directed and produced by the father daughter team of Peter C. Spencer (Heroes of the Titanic, Justice for the Wounded) and Petra Spencer Pearce (Heroes of the Faith), the terrific cast includes John Rhys-Davies (Indiana Jones, Lord of the Rings), Craig Robert Young (NCIS: LA, Hawaii Five-O), David Thomas Jenkins (CSI: Miami, Bold and the Beautiful), Rachel Spencer Hewitt (Fly by Night, A Civil War Christmas) and Mimi Sagadin (The Dilemma).

With current headlines being what they are, it’s important to never forget just how evil unrestrained evil can be. It’s also important to remember the heroes who have had the courage to fight such evil.  Return to the Hiding Place accomplishes both tasks wrapped in a story that is both cautionary and inspiring. It makes sense then that the film has been recognized by Yad Vashem, Israel’s official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust. Other honors have included “Best Feature Film” awards at the Bel-Air Film Festival, Central Florida Film Festival, San Antonio Christian Film Festival and Life Fest Film Festival.  It has also  recently chosen as the “Official Selection” at both the Projecting Hope Film Festival and Mission Fest Vancouver Film Festival.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

“Heaven is for Real” arrives on Blu-ray/DVD and I’ve got combo packs to give away

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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The recent faith-themed box office hit Heaven is for Real has just hit the home entertainment market.  I’ve got five Blu-ray/DVD combo packs (which includes several bonus features) to give away to the first five folks who request them at john@jwkmedia.com.

Produced by T.D. Jakes and Joe Roth, the Sony Pictures Home Entertainment release tells the true story of Todd Burpo, a small-town minister whose young son Colton miraculously recovers from a near-death experience with vivid memories of his visit to Heaven. The film is based on the No. 1 New York Times best-selling book by Todd Burpo and Lynn Vincent. The movie was directed by Randall Wallace (Secretariat) and stars Greg Kinnear, Kelly Reilly, Thomas Haden Church, Margo Martindale and Connor Corum (as Colton Burpo, the boy upon whose experience the film is centered). The screenplay was written by Wallace and Christopher Parker. The MPAA rates the family/faith-friendly movie as PG for some thematic material and medical situations. For what it’s worth, I really liked the film.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Ricky Skaggs: Reflections on life and faith as the “Kentucky Traveler” turns 60

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

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Ricky Skaggs celebrates 60 years of learning. The legendary bluegrass and country star turned 60 on Friday (7/18).  The Kentucky Traveler (which also happens to be the title of his autobio) grew up in the small town of Cordell, Kentucky where he learned to play the mandolin at five years old.  By the time he was six, his talent was clear enough that his father decided he had to get that boy onstage. The rest, as they say, is music history.  Ricky recently shared with me some of the lessons he’s learned along the way.

JWK: So, you recount your life in Kentucky Traveler. Tell me about the book. What is the message of your life?

RICKY SKAGGS: The book really is an autobiography. So, it starts very early in my life. Actually, the prologue is the story of when I meet (bluegrass legend) Bill Monroe, my childhood hero who ends up being my musical hero and my musical mentor throughout my life. It’s just a great book about family, faith, music, growing up in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, growing up poor and just living off the land — you know, hunting and fishing for food…We could go to the grocery store but it was like thirty minutes away. We loved living off the land. My dad (grew) a garden. Every year we would have fresh corn, green beans, cabbage, onions, tomatoes (and) cucumbers — to make pickles and stuff.

My mother, she was brilliant, absolutely a brilliant woman.  She was a real true believer in Jesus Christ and taught us kids how to trust Him, how to believe Him, how to believe the Bible as truth.

So, it was a great way to grow up. It was very rural. We lived in the mountains of eastern Kentucky, in Lawrence County. It was a great way to know who you were — to grow up to know about the importance of family and trusting people.

JWK: I was watching some of those Moments episodes you did for INSP. I was particularly touched by that segment in which you talk about overhearing you mother praying for you. Can you tell me about that — and how that impacted your perspective on life?

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RS: Whether it’s your mother or it was someone else, if you’ve never heard someone pray for you and call your name out in prayer — specifically call your name — it’s a very, very touching, very somber moment. Very deep. Very spiritual.

I walked in the house looking for her one time and couldn’t find her in house. I walked out onto the back porch and she wasn’t out there. So, finally, I kinda noticed her bedroom door wasn’t closed. It was cracked (open), maybe an inch or so…I remember just kinda sticking my head in and, you know, opening the door a little bit.  I saw her down on her knees and she was praying. She was praying for my dad, praying for brothers and my sister and then I remember hearing her call my name out. Man, it was just so powerful to see the glory on her face, to see the love and the heart for family that she had. It was just something I’ll never forget. It’s like a leaf frozen in the ice. It’s just always gonna be there. I’ll always remember seeing it.

JWK: Has prayer been an important factor in your own life?

RS: Oh, yes! (Our family is) praying constantly — or thanking God just constantly. We’re just trying to keep an attitude of prayer.

Paul tells us to “pray without ceasing.”  How can you do that? How can you pray without ceasing? I mean, you’d be doing it 24/7, you know? But I think that means be conscious of prayer — be in a communication with God always. Always be prayerful. Always be grateful. Always be thankful.

I don’t think you can get to God unless you’re thankful and grateful. The Bible says you “enter His gates with thanksgiving and enter his courts,” that means his presence, “with praise.” So, we can’t even until we become thankful to Him and thankful for His life in us. Then we can get His attention. But I think (when) people just start hollerin’ or screamin’ at God and say “Why don’t You do this?!” or “Why don’t You that?!”, I don’t think He hears that. I mean I think He hears it but I think He doesn’t pay any attention to it until He hears a grateful heart. I think that gets His attention.

JWK: Do you think your wisdom about such things has grown as you’ve matured and gotten older?

RS: I’m 60 years old, so I would hope that I’d have some wisdom. My daddy used to tell me that I wouldn’t have a lick of sense until I turned 40 and then when I got to 50 I might know something. So, I think there is a part of wisdom that comes with age but the things that you do a lot, you get good at. I think to be good at our faith (is to be) faithful.

God calls us to be faithful, not famous. So, I think we become faithful — that means full of faith — that we trust Him, that we have faith in Him, that we have faith that we’re not gonna make the decisions that we used to make, that we’re gonna have faith to walk through those things and the courage to walk through things that maybe before we just say “Nah, I’m not gonna do this…I’m gonna do what I think is right.”

So, it takes time. You don’t just wake up full of faith. It is a process. It’s like a muscle. You have to exercise faith. You really do because you can have flabby muscles by not exercising them — and you can have flabby faith by not exercising it.  I think it’s something that you just really have to be consistent (with) and try to work at. And I don’t mean work for God’s favor or brownie points from God. I don’t think we can do that. I think He loves us unconditionally but I think it is a mindset. It’s where our heart is. It’s where our treasure is.  It’s just practicing the presence of God.

JWK: In another Moments segment, you talk about “earning” the right to take you faith message to the audience. You suggest that by using your God-given talent to give your audience a good show, you earn a certain amount of trust that provides an opening in which they’re open to hearing your thoughts on things like faith.

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RS: I think it does. I think when we go out and really love on them, telling them that we’re so glad to be there and we play music that they’re there to hear, to watch and experience and start getting their trust, then I think somehow it gives us the authority, or gives us the favor. I’m not sure it’s the “right.” I may have misspoken that word. What I mean by that is that I think we earn their trust, we earn something by going out and giving the audience time to warm up to us instead of like a preacher would maybe go out and start preaching as soon as he walks out onto the pulpit. It’s a completely different arena. We’re going out in the marketplace where people are maybe accustomed to going to church. So, it does make a difference.

JWK: You obviously really enjoy using your God-given talent. Personally, I’ve found that talent can be an ego-driven — a way of gaining stature for yourself — but you’ve chosen to your talent as an expression of gratitude driven, a way to praise God while helping and encouraging others. How did you come to choose that path?

RS: I guess I didn’t always view this the way I view it now. When I was young, I used to think that my talent would be something that would make me money — and, hopefully, make a living. I mean when I first started playing I was playing because I really loved it. It was just fun. And then I started seeing the financial aspects of it and thought “Gosh, when I get older maybe I could play music for a living. So, that happened. Then the older I got — and the more I started playing and everything and especially, the more that I got to trusting God and realizing that He was the Giver of these gifts, the One that gave me the talent — once I realized that…it was like a door opener that I used the gift and talent that I have to be able to bring truth to people. I can bring comfort people. I can sing a song that will help someone. You know, in the audience, you never know who it is who might be sitting out there who really just needs healing and help.  To be able to be a carrier of grace, a carrier of love and peace, that’s an awesome calling.

I know I never wanted to be behind a pulpit. I used to have people tell me that I was going to be preacher…Maybe I do (preach) in my own way. Maybe I bring the Gospel or bring Good News to people’s lives but I do it with a mandolin or a guitar, not behind a pulpit.

JWK: While your music, I think, has always been positive, it seems to me that over the past couple of years, in general, has become more hopeful and positive.

RS: Yeah.

JWK: But other media, particularly, I think, television has grown very dark over the past decade or so. Do you have any thoughts on that?

RS: There is a lot of darkness, that’s for sure. But, even as things get darker, it only takes a little light to be seen in the darkness. So, I think people are more afraid of the darkness. Christians, especially, are fearful of the darkness that’s coming down when we need to be celebrating and rejoicing over the Light that’s in us. Greater is He that’s in us, than he that’s in the world. People just don’t read the Bible. They don’t their Bible and claim the Scriptures that Jesus spoke or that the Apostles spoke to us. There’s just so much (that’s) positive, there’s so much goodness in the Word that, to be able to carry that every day in your brain, your spirit will just call something out — like a Scripture.

So, I think the world has definitely gotten more cynical in my lifetime toward Christianity, toward the faith. But that’s just part of what’s coming and what’s happening. It’s supposed to be that way. The Bible talks about darkness over the world and deep darkness (among) people but a light and shine for your life has come. So, I think we need to just take a deep breath and…

JWK: The light will overcome the darkness.

RS: Yeah, absolutely! Every time! You know, the darkness is there for a purpose. I think the world works on opposites. You’ve got positive and negative. You’ve got hot and cold. You’ve got light and dark. You’ve got hard and soft. You’ve got lies and truth. There’s an answer for everything. We have to know what’s what. That’s why it’s so important to read the Bible and to really believe it.

JWK: One final question? To what do you attribute your longevity in an industry in an industry that can be very fickle?

RS: Well, I think God has been very faithful to me.

I haven’t had a physical in about 10 or 12 years until I went about a month ago…I was a little afraid that I was gonna get bad news or something like that but, you know, I didn’t go to the doctor because I  felt good. So, why go to the doctor? But I have no problems, thank God. Cholesterol is up a little bit but that we can work on with diet and exercise.

I think my assignment’s not over. I think every one of us has an assignment from God and we’re called to it. If we’re believers — and we really believe that God has a purpose for every one of us — then He can take me home any time He wants to because I’m ready to go. Vince Gill had that song (asking) “What are you you going to Threaten Me With? Heaven?” That’s such an incredible song when you think about it.

I’m not a (drug addict) or an alcoholic or anything like that that’s very prevalent in the music industry. I’ve always lived clean that way. I try to eat good and take care of myself because I know that there’s a purpose for what I do. Music is something that is still so fresh to me and exciting to me and a part of my life — that I just continue wanting to be a part of. I want to continue making good music and…taking music to the people.

 

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

This weekend: “Persecuted” in theaters; “Rocky Road” on TV

posted by John W. Kennedy

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

At the movies: Persecuted

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The faith-themed political thriller opens nationwide today (7/18).
Synopsis: 
Nationally acclaimed evangelist John Luther is the last obstacle in the way of sweeping religious reform in the States. When a U.S. Senator orders Luther abducted and framed for the murder of an innocent teenage girl, an unprecedented era of persecution is unleashed with Luther running for his life to uncover the deadly plot. As evangelist turned fugitive, Luther vows to expose anyone involved with or profiting from the girl’s murder; a mission that brings him face-to-face with the coming storm of persecution that will threaten the entire Christian community in America.
Principal Cast: James Remar, Fred Dalton Thompson, Gretchen Carlson, Bruce Davison, Brad Stine, Natalie Grant
Producers: Daniel Lusko, Gray Frederickson, Brent Morris
Writer/Director: Daniel Lusko
Rating: PG-13
Film Studio: One Media, LLC

Synopsis: Nationally acclaimed evangelist John Luther (James Remar) is the last obstacle in the way of sweeping religious reform in the States. When a U.S. Senator orders Luther abducted and framed for the murder of an innocent teenage girl, an unprecedented era of persecution is unleashed with Luther running for his life to uncover the deadly plot. As evangelist turned fugitive, Luther vows to expose anyone involved with or profiting from the girl’s murder; a mission that brings him face-to-face with the coming storm of persecution that will threaten the entire Christian community in America.
Review: There was a time when the basic premise of Persecuted, that the United States government would actually move to control the free expression of religion, would have seemed far more far-fetched than it, unfortunately, does today. While the Supreme Court wisely rejected the Obama Administration’s recent effort to coerce privately-held, family-operated businesses like Hobby Lobby to violate their beliefs and consciences by offering certain birth control options (specifically, four types which they equate with abortion), the fact that the government was overreaching to such an extent is cause for concern. (Senate Republicans, BTW, just blocked an attempt by Senate Leader Harry Reid to legislatively nullify the Court’s ruling.)
True, despite recent government actions and (the faith-based films notwithstanding) and often overt hostility to faith (particularly Christianity) in the media, no one can really say Christians are persecuted in America. Certainly, not when you compare our country to places like Egypt and Sudan. Open hostility and resentment may not be nice or tolerant but it is, after all, free speech and not the same as persecution.
But you could say the same situation exists with women and gays. They have to deal with injustices like glass ceilings and hostility by some in the United States. But, like Christians and other believers, what they must put up with hear is a far cry from the persecution that they could face in a place like Iran (where, we’ve been, told gay people don’t even exist). Likewise, the fact that anti-Jewish bigotry is reaching epidemic proportions in some European countries (never mind the Mideast) doesn’t make the fact that it’s less frequent and, generally, less severe in America less of a concern.
The point is there is that there is actual virtually unrestrained hatred and suppression of various people all over the world. As Americans, we don’t any of that — against anyone — taking place in the United States, period. So, we call attention to homegrown instances of bigotry and religious suppression not because things are as bad here as elsewhere but because we don’t want them to become that way. We’re not immune. And, certainly, when you have both the government and the media in seeming alignment against any group’s rights, that is a potential bad omen for the future.
That’s why a movie like Persecuted is important — to call attention to an issue most of the media would very much like to ignore and/or pretend doesn’t exist.
Now, to the film itself. It’s not a bad film. I just wish I liked it more.
While I applaud Daniel Lusko’s overall message and the attention his film brings to the importance of preserving religious freedom, I didn’t feel the movie’s man-on-the-run plot was the best way to illuminate the issue at hand. This, despite the fact that I love the genre. In fact, The Fugitive is in a tie with NYPD Blue as my all-time favorite TV show.
Before I return to what’s right about the movie, let me list my problems with the plot.
1. It’s hard to imagine that a conservative televangelist like John Luther would really hold the key to the passage of the so-called Faith and Fairness Act (which, apparently, would require houses of worship to provide “free speech” for those with opposing views). Would undermining him really be so important that it would cause powerful people in the government to frame him for murder? I would think a more likely (and believable) target of such an elaborate and risky scheme would be a popular Senate committee head who is successfully thwarting the bill.
2. If Luther really wanted the truth to come out, wouldn’t the best approach be to surrender to authorities and let his legal battle play out the American public on cable news. At least then he’d have the support of some kind of legal team and not be left to just wander around hoping to stumble onto the truth. I actually think that a trial would have been more dramatic and would have provided a better theatrical forum for exploring the very issues the film raises.
3. If Lusko wanted to go The Fugitive route (presumably for more action), Luther’s could have escaped after losing at his trial. And, if you’re going for Fugitive-like action, that action needs to be genuinely thrilling (like when Harrison Ford jumped from that dam). Too much of Luther’s ordeal is spent literally stumbling around in the dark and seems sort of aimless. He also comes and go from places where he should be recognized with way too much ease (as if sunglasses and a hoodie would be all it would take to go unnoticed). Finally on the point, the movie aches for a compelling Gerard-like character to be in hot pursuit. You know, someone who is formidable and relentless even as he begins to doubt his quarry’s guilt.
4. In one scene, a Christian charity worker driving a “Helping Hands” van down a rural road, comes upon a meandering Luther. As blood streams down from his temple, she asks him if he’s liked some donuts and/or water. But, unless I missed a line (and I don’t think I did), she doesn’t offer to take him to the hospital. Donuts are nice and all but, when a guy is bleeding from his temple, I personally think it’s more important to get him to the ER. Of course, I’m not a doctor.
5. Fred Thomas of Law & Order and reverse-mortgage fame plays a priest who is also Luther’s father. That bit of information (again, unless I missed something) is first casually dropped into the script at about the 40 minute point. Up until then, I thought his character (identified on IMDB as Dr. Charles Luther) was just a friend of the protagonist who happened to be a clergyman. As it is, I remain confused. Is Thomas’ character a Catholic priest who, perhaps, was a widower and (biological) father before joining the priesthood? Or is he, perhaps, an Episcopal priest. In any event, his past could have been presented with more clarity.
But, despite all that, as a cautionary tale about where American politics may be heading, Persecuted is Recommended. At its core, it’s a courageous film that succeeds in showing how the government and the media can combine to make repression sound like freedom and, in so doing, gain support even among those whose rights it would curtail. These days, not too many movie makers have the guts to go there. And, for that, Lusko deserves a lot of credit.
On TV: Rocky Road
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The sweet family dramedy about a family ice cream business premieres this Sunday night (7/20) @ 8:00 PM (ET) on UP TV.
Synopsis: Harrison Burke (Mark Salling) has the executive apartment, expense account and big office at a prestigious Wall Street investment banker.   He is a handsome, 30-something player with crisp suits and caviar tastes, but it all melts down when a big company merger falls through.  As the firm downsizes, Harrison finds himself out of a job, a home and deeply in debt thanks to his high-flying lifestyle.  One bus ride later, he’s on his parents’ doorstep in a quaint New Hampshire town.  Harrison’s parents Ben (Nicolas Campbell) and Marla (Deborah Tennant) are surprised and thrilled to see him, but suspicious.  So, Harrison pretends that he is taking a long overdue vacation, rather than suddenly stuck in his worst nightmare – living back home, working at his father’s “Rocky Road” ice cream truck business, and competing for his old route with fellow driver, 16-year-old Razor (Jahmil French).  Plus, his local Reverend (Scott Thompson) and neighbor Fiona (Robin Duke) seem to have it out for him.  On the up side, Suzie Barnes (Rebecca Dalton), his old girlfriend, is still in town.  Suzie is now a local artist and dating Rick (Steve Byers), an old rival.  As Harrison settles in, he rediscovers the charm of home, learns how alike fathers and sons can be, and tries to get the girl back.  
Principal Cast:
Mark Salling (Glee), Scott Thompson (Hannibal, Kids in the Hall), Nicholas Campbell (Haven, A Heartland Christmas), Deborah Tennant (Haven, Copper), Steve Byers (Immortals, Alphas), Rebecca Dalton (Spun Out, The L.A. Complex), Jahmil French (Degrassi: The Next Generation), Kenny Robinson (Repo Men, Doc), Chris Gillett (Come Dance With Me, Warehouse 13), Robin Duke (Saturday Night Live, SCTV)
Director: Brian K. Roberts (Spun Out, Everybody Loves Raymond)
Writers:
Tippi and Neal Dobrofsky (Window Wonderland, Goodnight for Justice)
Production Company:
Entertainment One (eOne)
Review: Presumably not-so-coincidentally, UP is debuting its newest original film July 20th which also happens to be National Ice Cream Day. So, score one for some brilliant marketing. But, score another one also for yet another highly-watchable film from the fast-growing young network that has become extreme consistent in delivering solid films to the small screen.
Unlike most of the dark and pretentious crap on television these days, Rocky Road doesn’t arrive with any pretensions of being the most “amazing” or “awesome” program ever to come through your TV screen. You may not spend the next week twittering about its deep nuances — as if analyzing a TV show is supposed to dominate every waking moment of an ordinary person engaged in, you know, real life.
Instead, like good ice cream on a hot summer night, Rocky Road satisfies and is content with merely eliciting smiles from folks who just want to unwind and relax.
Mark Salling is extremely appealing as Harrison Burke, a young and high-living Wall Street hotshot who, finding himself booted from his job with no apartment and no savings, returns to the home of his parents (Nicolas Campbell and Deborah Tennant) in the small town he left behind. While there he, of course, also meets Suzie Barnes (Rebecca Dalton), the high school sweetheart he left behind. She’s now dating his old rival Rick who, stop me if you’ve heard this before, is…
Oh, you’ve heard this before. Well, you’ve probably also had chocolate ice cream before. And, if you’re like me, you never really grow tired of that familiar concoction — at least not if it’s produced with quality ingredients.
So, yes, Rocky Road follows a tried-and-true recipe — but it’s one that, when done well, works every time. It’s mix of likable (slightly nutty) characters and crisp dialogue, along with a sprinkling of plot twists poured creatively over a naturally sweet center doesn’t disappoint. And, yes, this is UP and there is a town reverend (Scott Thompson).There’s also a couple of faith messages — having to with letting go grudges and understanding what’s really important in life. But they go down very smoothly and add a richness to the overall dish.
In other words, Rocky Road is a genuinely cool treat that I, for one, enjoyed. Recommended.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

Previous Posts

"Return to the Hiding Place" to open nationwide on Oct. 24
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8Xl2H4jwVFo[/youtube] A true tale of young heroes. Return to the Hiding Place, the multi award-winning World War II action drama I raved about in May (when it opened in limite

posted 2:55:41pm Jul. 25, 2014 | read full post »

"Heaven is for Real" arrives on Blu-ray/DVD and I've got combo packs to give away
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tbfnHViSCBw[/youtube] The recent faith-themed box office hit Heaven is for Real has just hit the home entertainment market.  I've got five Blu-ray/DVD combo packs (which inclu

posted 9:32:29am Jul. 23, 2014 | read full post »

Ricky Skaggs: Reflections on life and faith as the "Kentucky Traveler" turns 60
Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture. [youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vzHRWc07kTs[/youtube] Ricky Skaggs celebrates 60 years of learning. The legendary bluegrass and country star turned 60 on Friday (7/18).  The Kentucky Traveler (which also hap

posted 1:43:19pm Jul. 21, 2014 | read full post »

This weekend: "Persecuted" in theaters; "Rocky Road" on TV
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posted 2:46:57pm Jul. 18, 2014 | read full post »

Walden and Relativity join forces to bring Alice Ozma’s "The Reading Promise" to the screen
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