Monday, September 2, 2013

Review of "Willing to Walk on Water" by Caroline Barnett

Walking on water, as defined here by Caroline Barnett, is not just a story in the Bible or a perceived impossibility.  It's a way to live your life with passion and purpose.  It does take risk and faith - but the rewards far outweigh everything else.

Broken into three sections, "Discovering", "Conquering", and "Doing", Caroline shares (through personal stories, Bible verses, and testimonials from other leaders and volunteers at the Dream Center) different ways that walking on water has been used in their lives and how it has always brought about incredible, miraculous change.  She gives example after example, both large and small, of ideas that we can begin right now to fight social injustices and impact the world around us.  We simply need to be willing, and look for opportunities to act.

I am familiar with the Dream Center and it's mission, and read "The Cause Within You" by Caroline's husband, Matthew Barnett (also recommended).  I identify with their passion and admire them tremendously.  This book was meaningful as well; I especially liked the chapter "What's Your Trigger?" where Caroline asks, "What injustice grips your heart the most....When you are triggered by a particular injustice, your compassion doesn't end with a few shed tears.  It leads to action."  If you have ever wondered, Is it possible to live in such a way that I regularly impact people for eternity? If there is, what could I do about it?, this is an excellent book to help you figure it out.

Review of "Wrestling With the Devil" by Lex Luger with John D. Hollis

Lawrence Pfohl, aka Lex Luger, has experienced many 'exciting' things in his life.  From growing up with a loving family, an obviously gifted in the world of sports child and teen, to college football, even professional football, and then to the heights of professional wrestling, Luger's life was a study in excess.  Some might say he had it all and eventually threw it away, succumbing to the 'lifestyle' and eventually becoming addicted to adoration, as well as drugs and alcohol.  He had affairs, spent time in prison, is apparently still distanced from his ex-wife and children (although he clearly loves them) and hit rock bottom before admitting that he needed help, spiritually and personally.  In 2006 he chose to follow Jesus and his life has never been the same.

Shortly after making that decision he was paralyzed (in a crazy turn of events), and was diagnosed as a C-5-C6 quadriplegic with very little hope of recovery.  Miraculously, within a year of that diagnoses he was actually able to walk unassisted and even live and drive on his own - just a few of the things doctors said would never happen!  Currently one of his volunteer spots is at the Shepherd Center, the facility he was sent to for his spinal cord injury.  He also works with a non-profit organization called World Wrestling Outreach as well as volunteers to help people with different addictions.

As I was not extremely familiar with the world of professional wrestling, this was a very interesting book for me.  Don't we all love stories of redemption?  He really owns his shortcomings, and there is no sense that he is trying to look good or paint things in a better light.  For that I truly admire his transparency. Reading between the lines however, it appears that there has not been a reconciliation of any kind with his ex-wife and children, as they are not mentioned at all following the divorce section. If you ever paid any attention to wrestling you will definitely be interested in this book, but I truly think it is a great read for just about anyone.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Review of "Frame 232" by Wil Mara

Delving into the mystery shrouding the Kennedy Assassination, this fiction story cleverly entwined with facts begins in 1963 with the real Babushka Lady.  In our story, her name is Margaret Baker and she wants nothing more on that pivotal day than to see the president she admires drive through her city. In a disguise (so she won't be caught playing hooky from work), she brings her 8mm Bolex camera and inadvertently films the tragedy - in hindsight, from an angle no one else has.  Although fearful, she keeps her secret for many years, hiding the film in a safety deposit box that is revealed only after her death.  Her daughter Sheila is her sole surviving relative and is now the bearer of her secret - the one that some will kill many times over to keep from being discovered.

Realizing the dangerous possibilities of what is now in her possession, Sheila decides to contact Jason Hammond, a billionaire adventurer who specializes in researching unsolved mysteries.  She believes he has the power, resources, and knowledge to help her decide what should be done with this new evidence - and the Babushka Lady's film is more explosive than anyone could have guessed.

I've never read a Will Mara book before, and now I can't wait for the next one.  I was hooked almost immediately and didn't want to put it down once I began.  His combination of fact and fiction is woven together seamlessly, the hero characters imperfect and yet very likeable.  I truly can't wait for the next Jason Hammond book.  Great concept, very well done.

Review of "She's Got Issues" by Nicole Unice

Counselor Nicole Unice shares from her heart on several issue-laden topics that seem to especially plague women.  She seems quite transparent, sharing both her own experiences as well as those (by permission) of her clients and friends that illustrate each chapter's topic.  These include: Control, Comparison, Insecurity, Fear, Anger, Unforgiveness - even just plain feeling crazy (issues, everyone's got 'em!) - all covered in a real and non-platitude way.  The companion chapters to the 'problem' topic provide potential, non-textbook solutions.  I was pleasantly surprised.

Each chapter also includes what she calls "Taking a 'Space Bar'" -a little break to really examine and pay attention to a specific issue or incident and therefore be able to process and deal with it; a prayer; a journaling exercise, and Group Discussion questions.  There are even snap tags at the end of every chapter where you can watch a bonus video with Nicole.  Some chapters have a quiz (i.e., "Are You a Control Freak?") that illustrate and illuminate issues.  The end of the book includes a great list of further resources including how to find a counselor along with some recommended reading.

I love the author's obvious genuine love for people, it is clear that she truly wants to help people work through and be released from their issues, by a true heart change from God.  She communicates well and this book is recommended for anyone who is struggling with the above issues list, as well as anyone who would like to communicate more effectively.

Review of "First" by Rich Froning with Davis Thomas

Rich Froning is a fitness champion; the two-time CrossFit Games winner who is known as the "Fittest Man on Earth".  "First" chronicles his journey from the life lessons of learning work ethic from his dad as a small child (that he later translates into workout ethic!), becoming a fire fighter and assistant strength coach at Tennessee Tech, meeting his wife Hillary, starting a Gym (and then a CrossFit Gym), to taking us through what occurred step by step during both of the CrossFit Games he won, claiming the titles back to back.

We learn much about his family, both immediate and extended, and how the impact of a number of his close family members' deaths have greatly changed his life.  Also interspersed throughout the book are different "CrossFit Defined" segments that tell how to execute different CrossFit exercises and techniques.  He also repeatedly asks himself the question of his purpose - and defines it for us in this book.

At 25, Rich Froning has only been involved in CrossFit for a handful of years and his accomplishments to date are truly inspiring.  I can easily recommend this book, especially to any fitness enthusiasts - you will enjoy learning the behind-the-scenes at the CrossFit Games, AND, you will get workout ideas along with your good read!  :)

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Review of "Sticking Points" by Haydn Shaw

For the first time, we have four generations (Traditionalists, Boomers, Xers, and Millenials) working side by side in the workplace.  Mr. Shaw details the 12 main "Sticking Points" - the primary places that each generation parts ways and communication (and therefore productivity and peace) breakdown.  He uses real stories, examples, concrete solutions, and dialogues to illustrate how to create healthy and long-term change. There is humor and logic, explanation and real-life story after story that allows sense to be made of what are very challenging issues.  Personally, I am self employed and have both clients and consultants whom I mentor that are from every generation.  My husband is a pastor (which, from a business perspective is essentially leading a non-profit organization) - and the church we started recently is named Generations Church.  I could not be reading this at a more appropriate and needed time.  :)

It was both interesting and informative....such a tough balance to achieve.  There are a gajillion books on leadership and business out there, but hands down this is one of the best books I've read, in any genre.

EVERY manager/coach/employee/employer/leader/person-from-any-generation, in any business, of any kind......should read this.  Yes.  It is that good.

Review of "Renegade" by Mel Odom

The second in the Called to Serve trilogy, this book focuses on Pike Morgan, a former foster child with enough baggage to open a store.  He is currently in the Witness Protection Program due to a run in with the Diablo biker gang that resulted in the death of his best (only?) friend from foster care, Petey.

Pike is also affected by his relationship with Hector, a young neighborhood boy he mentors & helps with his homework - and whom to his chagrin, he is starting to be concerned about.  This is a huge stressor for Pike, as he prides himself on needing nothing and no one.

As a Marine Reservist, this time Pike is called up to go to Kandahar, where a very bad man, Yaqub is planning numerous attacks in the name of 'god', and the Marines must deal with his actions.  Everyone is on high alert and a mini-war begins.

What I truly appreciated about this book is that Mr. Odom doesn't provide an "easy wrap up" to any of the individual stories begun in book one- we don't know if Bekah & Heath's relationship will go any further: Pike doesn't see the problem of a life without God - yet; not everyone lives, this is a war after all....rather, we see development of each character in a real and interesting way.  I am looking forward to the third book in this trilogy.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Review of "Courageous Grace" by Gayle Haggard

Not just grace, but *Courageous* Grace.  Gayle Haggard's insight into this topic is hard won to be sure....this book focuses on the depth of courage that is truly necessary for people to give grace to each other, rather than the typical book on the grace of God and how amazing it is.

Gayle intersperses personal stories from her own trials - and triumphs - along with Bible verses, other's stories and more.  She discusses sin and judgment, being slow to forgive, holding different people to different standards, and having the idea that once we come to know Christ, sin stops. It doesn't - and some people's failings are more public than others - but God still responds graciously in forgiveness and love, and so should we. He sets the example for us to follow.

One of the main takeaways I got from this book (and my thoughts have been coming back to it again and again, as some of the concepts she presents are very intriguing to me) is on the subject of restoration in the church.  It's probably my favorite chapter, and I believe she is well-equipped to have a strong viewpoint.  Please run don't walk to pick up this book. ;)

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Review of "the Outcast" by Jolina Petersheim

"the Outcast" is a modern retelling of The Scarlet Letter, set in an Old Order Mennonite community.

Rachel Stoltzfus and her twin sister Leah are extremely close yet possess very different personalities; Leah is quieter and more reserved - Rachel, fiery.  In their late teens, Leah moves away to marry widower Tobias King, 12 years her senior.  Tobias has recently become the Bishop of the community following the sudden passing of his father, Amos.  Although they hadn't lived nearby in years, Rachel and Leah actually grew up around the King family (including Tobias' much younger brother, Judah, who has loved Rachel practically forever.)

Parts of the book are told from Rachel's perspective, and others, from Amos' - certainly a concept done before, but rarely done so well as here.  The turns of phrase, pacing, revealing of the father of Rachel's baby, several health related twists....all masterfully written.  Discovering that this is Jolina Petersheim's first novel was very surprising.

I have read lots and lots of "Amish fiction".  Many of those books I enjoyed, and then haven't thought about their characters or storyline much - if ever.  This book is going to stay with me for a long time; one of the best compliments I can give.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Review of "Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist (learning to be free)" by Amanda Jenkins

One of the best books I've read all year, if not likely to join my lifetime top 10.  Amanda Jenkins's 'Confessions' is honest, witty, and compelling.  It helps that her voice as well as her issues are similar to mine, however, I can only guess that there are others out there dealing with similar challenges too.

Presented in a fun and transparent way, this book discusses topics on everything from Vanity to Obedience, Parenthood to Diet Coke (yes Diet Coke) and she is unflinchingly honest in her self assessments - her real-ness is refreshing.  She shares personal stories and verses and heart thoughts; other's stories and life lessons; all in a way that was illuminating to me and encouraging at the same time.  We are after all, works in progress - and this book does not claim to show you how to get it all together and be free from perfectionism (or whatever plagues you) - but it does give a great deal of hope.

I can't recommend it enough.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Review of "Avenged" by Janice Cantore

The third (and final) book in the Pacific Coast Justice series featuring Officer Carly Edwards.  In this installment, gang relations take on a new look in Las Playas, as the mystery surrounding three gangbangers who were shot execution style may not be as straightforward as it appears.

Carly is also facing the possibility of a shift in her career - she has been offered a Fed job and is torn between the city that she loves and the possibility of making a different impact with the task force.  She and husband Nick continue to grow closer and learn how to communicate better, avoiding some of the problems they faced before, and Carly grows closer to God.

This was an enjoyable series, written by retired Police Officer Janice Cantore.  I liked all three books, but the similar titles and time between reading each installment affected my memory in tying them together a bit more, I think.  If you can read them in order - without a large time lapse!- I believe you will get much more out of them!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Review of "Grace's Pictures" by Cindy Thomson

Grace McCaffery is a recent immigrant to New York from Ireland in 1900.  She had an abusive father and was torn from her loving mother to live in a workhouse and was recently sponsored to come to the United States to have a better life.  She struggles with the unfamiliarity of her new life, has some serious trust issues, and struggles to believe that she is special in any way.  In New York she meets a cast of characters ranging from mostly trustworthy to some dangerous crooks who think her new photography hobby is infringing on their crimes (they are correct).

I was very torn in writing this review.  I know there are many who will love it, so I'm certainly not wanting to discourage anyone from reading it.  I was eager to read this book; however, I just couldn't fall in love with Grace or the writing style no matter how hard I tried. I did appreciate the historical detail, especially on several different topics that I haven't typically seen in previous historical fiction I've read....Ultimately I just personally found Grace unlikeable -until the very end- and since this book is primarily about her, it was challenging.  I also thought it strange that her mantra of "You are smart. You are important. You are able." was SO similar to the one in 'The Help' (written in 2009 by Kathryn Stockett), "You is kind, You is smart, You is important."

Again, I know there are many who will love this book so please read it and decide for yourself......totally my two cents.

Review of "If You Have a Craving, I Have a Cure" by Sheri Rose Shepherd

A quick and seemingly breezy read, author and speaker Sheri Rose Shepherd gives great tips and recipes that have allowed her to focus on health and life instead of food.

Each chapter has a topic with introduction, a 'Soul Food' section, recipes for Life with corresponding verses, and a prayer and 'Food Truth'.  Then, there are approximately 7 recipes per chapter/category that go along with the chapter topic

Although this book was much different that what I had initially thought, I really enjoyed it.  The recipes look delicious and healthy, but not restrictive, and they also look simple (I have looked a great deal at healthier eating recently, and many of the recipes out there call for unusual ingredients and seem quite complicated; these do not).

If you are looking to find some new ways of cooking as well as looking at life topics from a biblical perspective, this would be a great book for you!

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Review of "When God Intervenes" by Dabney Hedegard

Dabney Hedegard married her husband Jason at a (relatively) young age and they experienced some typical struggles through their first years of marriage; financial, relational, etc.; but very little could prepare them for the long battle of severe illness Dabney was about to experience.  She simultaneously discovered she was pregnant and had Hodgkin's lymphoma, presented in a football-sized mass in her chest.  Because she was pregnant, she decided to postpone treatment to give her daughter a best case chance for survival.  This first disease was only the beginning of a number of severe illnesses that Dabney would soon endure - including 10 years of cancer, serious heart disease/issues, pulmonary embolism, at one point she had acute pneumonia....the list literally goes on and on.  Most people don't even experience one of these serious health problems, let alone all of them. Numerous times Dabney's family was told to come say their goodbyes, and she was amazed to find out later of all the miraculous ways God intervened.

Her husband Jason's faith and words from God gave her increased faith and her hearts desire, to be a healthy mom, is now happening.  She wrote this book as part of her promise to God to tell her story in book form.  Today Dabney is a (healthy!) speaker and writer and wife and mother...with a miraculous story of healing and God's intervention.

I read "When God Intervenes" straight through in less than a day - inspiring and life-giving, I am grateful she wrote this book.

Friday, August 9, 2013

Review of "Prototype" by Jonathan Martin

"What happens when you discover you're more like Jesus than you think?" is one of the main questions that Jonathan Martin asks in this book.  Because the subject matter is of interest to me, I was prepared to enjoy this book - and was definitely not disappointed.  Nor will you be.

What would it look like to live in your true identity as God's creation, his sons and daughters? To be completely free to be who He created you to be, to have your identity defined in and by Him, not your stuff, your job, or what others say you should be and do?  These questions and many more are discussed and answered in this book.

I find it's usually a bit of a challenge to review and fully do justice in describing a non-fiction book, as they typically combine so many factors - stories, real-life examples and illustrations, practical application - this book certainly does that and more - and I find that what I might share with you now can't communicate the richness and flavor found here.  What I can tell you is that a) Mr. Martin's style of writing appeals to my sense of humor and communication style....broad enough that I bet it will speak to you as well; and b) if you have ever attended a church, any church, and found yourself a tiny bit or wholly dissatisfied, left wanting, will especially enjoy "Letter to a Ravaged Bride" at the end.

Get it. Read it. Chew on it for a while.  I for one am glad I didn't check this one out of the library but have it on my iPad to re-read and share.  :)

Review of "Heaven Hears" by Lindy Boone Michaelis with Susy Flory

In June of 2001 Ryan Corbin was a young man just beginning his adult life.  Newly engaged and excited about his relationship with Jesus, his family, and his career, he was going up to the roof of his apartment building with a friend to sit in the sun.  He accidentally stepped on a skylight and was catapulted to the ground, three stories below.  He should have died - and nearly did - and this is his story of recovery and the power of prayer.

What an incredible journey Lindy Boone Michaelis shares with us.  This book contains their family's story (from the beginning of her dad Pat Boone's career, to present day); her thoughts and experiences as they navigate this new reality of Ryan's injury; and the incredible response from around the world, an absolute outpouring of prayer and support.

This book is both tragic and uplifting, heart wrenching and life giving, and I can easily recommend it.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Review of "Fresh Air" by Chris Hodges

"Fresh Air" by Chris Hodges was exactly that for me - a burst of fresh air into my mind and heart.  I think it's normal to have a blah period of life or even serious or situational depression - and if you are in that circumstance or have ever been there, you will get a lot out of this book.

We are taken through three stages: 1) Searching For a Breath of Fresh Air, 2) Bringing Fresh Air Into Your Life, and 3) Finding the Source of Breath.  From his personal experience of 'the doldrums', each chapter begins with relevant quotes, has great content in the middle, and ends with 'breathing lessons' - practical direction, and Bible verses that are relevant to the chapter.

There is quite a bit of Biblical content and it never feels forced or dry - just breaths of Fresh Air that so many of us desperately need.  This book is a great encouragement for anyone who asks the question, "Is this all there is?" (Nope. There's more.)  :)

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Review of "Misery Loves Company" by Rene Gutteridge

Rene Gutteridge's newest book, "Misery Loves Company", is a combination of possible murder, mystery, some humor, and most definitely love.

Widow Juliet "Jules" Belleno is a writer whose primary contact with the outside world is through her blog. Since her police officer husband Jason's untimely death, she rarely leaves her home.  On a rare trip out to the grocery store, she unexpectedly sees her favorite author (who lives locally) - and her entire life takes a very unexpected turn.  We are not sure if the turn will eventually be a good one, or something that Jules and those who love her will regret deeply.

Jason's partner, Chris Downey, was supposed to look after Jules.  In her grief, she pushed him away....but he has thought about her regularly.  Her disappearance sends him on a mission to find out not only her whereabouts but ultimately leads him to the truth about Jason's death, and it will be life changing.

I truly enjoy Rene Gutteridge's style of writing.  She always mixes humor and unexpected situations in with her mystery, and will keep her readers guessing details even up until the end.  She provides a great ending for my personal tastes :) and I appreciate the conflict she created within Jules and author Patrick Reagan.  It is easy to recommend this book.

Monday, August 5, 2013

Review of "Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales" by Randy Singer

Randy Singer always provides a great read and this book is no exception.  In "Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales", he weaves several stories, all with strong and multi-layered characters together for a very satisfying ending.

Landon Reed was in prison for two years as the consequence for his role in a point-shaving scheme when he was a college quarterback.  Three years after his release, Landon, his wife Kerri. and their young daughter, Maddie are trying to restructure their lives.  Landon has become a lawyer and Kerri is a local news personality.

Colorful lawyer Harry McNaughten hires Landon as an associate and they begin to work on a high-profile murder case...which leads to a number of consequences no one could have dreamed of.

Interesting characters, love, loyalty, murder, mystery, intrigue...all found here in one great book.  Check it out for yourself!

Review of "Road Trip to Redemption" by Brad Mathias

In "Road Trip to Redemption", Brad Mathias tells the story of his family and unfortunately it wasn't always a pretty picture.  A successful doctor, Brad and his wife Paige had three children - Jessica, Bethany, and Caleb.  Sadly, through a series of events they were actually on the verge of divorce, when Brad experienced a Divine Intervention and came to a personal relationship with Jesus.

He immediately took steps to restore his marriage and family, and in time, believed they were on a strong and healthy path. Their children seemed to be moving in a good direction also, behaving as typical teens/pre-teens do.  However, in 2009 Brad & Paige began to notice unusual changes in Bethany, and initially thought she was simply experiencing teenage angst.  Then one night while praying, Brad & Paige felt nudged by God to 'ask Bethany what she is hiding from you.'  They did....and their world was changed instantly.

What they discovered during that conversation and in the days and weeks following changed the entire course of their family and led them to take the Road Trip detailed here. A combination between parenting how-to and the story of the Mathias family's journey to health and healing, this is an interesting book.  I highly recommend it.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Review of "Rescue Team" by Candace Calvert

Kate Callison is on the run - essentially from herself.  Currently she is serving as the Interim Emergency Department Director for Austin Grace ER, but feels burdened to live up to the standards her predecessor, Sunni Sprague, set.  Sunni was beloved by all but disappeared and is suspected to be a victim of foul play.

Kate has her own personal history to deal with and a number of situations, both personal and professional, seem to exacerbate her stress.  Wes Tanner, an engineer/search-and-rescue specialist wants to break through Kate's tough exterior, but her secret just may be the one factor he can't handle.  Will forgiveness be possible?

I've enjoyed all of Candace Calvert's books and this one is no exception.  I especially enjoy how they can be read independently of one another, but if you read them in order there are little "nods" to the other books or characters in them.  Read them and enjoy!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Review of "Impact Player" by Bobby Richardson with David Thomas

This was such an interesting autobiography.  I come from a family of huge baseball enthusiasts and I just know that if you have any level of interest in the sport, you would absolutely love this book.  It was extra fun to hear all of his behind-the-scenes stories about that era of baseball - and as he was good friends with Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford, Yogi Berra, and more, there are some great stories!  We also learn about his journey from a small town boy to the top of the major leagues.

Bobby Richardson invested his entire career in the New York Yankees, and eventually retired -some would say early- primarily to spend more time with his growing family.  He attributes both his success in sports as well as his family, including almost 60 years of marriage to his wife, Betsy as coming from a relationship with Jesus, thus the title "Impact Player".  Bobby's very clearly stated goal is to have an impact for Christ, and he has not wavered in that, even from the very beginning.  He is also seemingly quite transparent about things he wishes he could change, or ways he's failed.

All in all, Bobby Richardson & David Thomas give us a well-written, engaging memoir that is great for non baseball fans, and (especially!) baseball fans alike.  I recommend it!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Review of "I Still Believe" by Jeremy Camp with David Thomas

Singer-Songwriter Jeremy Camp's songs are fairly well-known in the Christian music industry (and even outside of it), and his autobiography shares the backstory behind the music and songs.  Jeremy has lived a varied and interesting life to date, some would certainly say with more than his fair share of tragedy.  His journey is a great example of God working through even some very difficult times and how they have been used to encourage others.

Jeremy begins the book with the story of his parents' journey to faith.  Although his parents were former drug users and truly had a miraculous experience to meet Jesus, he grew up in a Christian home.  For a number of reasons they lived not only paycheck to paycheck and many times (almost) went without, yet God always provided - cars, food, clothing, etc.  This certainly shaped Jeremy and contributed to his spiritual growth as well, as he saw some very specific miracles!  I won't retell the entire book here, but you can easily see that God was strengthening his faith even then which prepared him for some of the difficult things to come.

Much has been told about Jeremy's first wife, Melissa, dying of cancer shortly after their wedding, and it is a challenging and yet inspiring story.  Jeremy gives a great deal of insight to this part of his journey as well as shares how some of his hit songs were written.  He also details his meeting, courtship, and marriage to Adrienne and their family as it is today.  On a personal note, I thought it was fun to see someone who I knew from church camp mentioned in the book (a rep from his record label).

I read this very quickly - it was engaging and easy to read.  You too will be inspired and touched by this story.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Review of "The Invested Life" by Joel Rosenberg & T.E. Koshy

If you are a follower of Jesus, then this book is for you.
If you are interested in going deeper in your relationship with God and others, then this book is for you.
If you want to create major impact for Jesus on the world around you, this book is for you.

Joel Rosenberg and Dr. T.E. Koshy help us to understand and identify both the importance of investing in people as well as how to answer the questions, "Who is investing in me?" and, "Who am I investing in?"  The writers wisely chose to intersperse the Bible basis and instruction along with personal stories, and it truly helps to wrap your head around the depth of this subject.  It was great to hear firsthand experience from both of their wives (and others) as well.

Well written and engaging, I highly recommend this book.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Review of Yikes!!!" by Bill Myers

The 6th and final book in the "TJ and the Time Stumblers" series, Yikes!!! is a fun ending to this great series. Set mostly in the African jungle (three guesses how they got there), Tuna and Herby almost have everything they need to get back to the 23rd century.  TJ is finally seeing some truth to her future as a great world leader, stepping up to lead the way for her science class to get out of the jungle and rescue Hesper Breakahart as well.

Full of the typical catastrophes that happen when you hang out with Tuna and Herby, TJ realizes that strength of character might be one of the most important factors in a friendship....and that she just might miss Tuna and Herby after all.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Review of "Switched!" by Bill Myers

The topic of this, our fifth book in the 'TJ and the Time Stumblers' series, is Forgiveness.  Continuing on her journey to becoming a great world leader (and bringing back the hula hoop!), 13 year old TJ Finkelstein learns how to put herself in someone else's shoes - literally, as there is yet another malfunction of one of Tuna and Herby's special tools.  We discover TJ REALLY can't sing, and Hester Breakahart's life just isn't all that awesome behind the scenes.

This book teaches a great lesson on the importance of forgiveness, and that a little understanding goes a long way.  Especially if you have to go to school with Hester Breakahart. :)

This is an excellent series for your pre-teens and early teens.

Review of "24/6" by Matthew Sleeth

Making sure you have a "Sabbath", or day of rest once per week.  Sounds simple, doesn't it?

Matthew Sleeth's book, "24/6", talks of the reasons why the fourth commandment is so important to our lives.  As a doctor, he gives many valid physical concerns for unplugging regularly from our over-connected world - taking time to physically and mentally 'break' can be critical to our health.  Spiritually, since is it something that God commanded it only makes sense that we would embrace this opportunity to connect with God AND rest.  I know, in our modern society this seems to fly in the face of typical American wisdom.....but we have to remember to be a human being not a human doing.  :)

This was a super easy read, his stories are interesting, his points valid, his communication style straightforward.  I appreciated this reminder that more work is not always better and rest is crucial to well-being - physically, emotionally, spiritually.  I recommend this book - once you start you will be hard pressed to put it down, and you will be glad you started!

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Review of "Ho-Ho-Nooo!" by Bill Myers

TJ Finkelstein and her friends are back for more in the fourth book of the 'TJ and the Time Stumblers' series.  "Ho-Ho-Nooo!" focuses on the true meaning of Christmas, and it isn't something you can buy in a store.  23rd century time travelers Tuna & Herby are still with us (nope, no fuel for their time-travel pod yet) and they are causing as many hijinks as before.
In this installment, TJ works and works to make money for a special Christmas gift for her dad (she is partly motivated to beat out her sister, Violet, and partly wants to help with the household finances as her Dad has just been laid off).

TJ learns that just maybe, even in the possession-focused city she lives in, that gifts for Christmas aren't always tangible.  I recommend this book and entire series.

Review of "Oops!" by Bill Myers

This is our third book in the 'TJ and the Time Stumblers' series.  "Oops!" focuses again on our heroine, 13 year old TJ Finkelstein.  TJ is being observed by Tuna & Herby, two characters from the future (23rd century!), who have chosen her as a case-study for their history project.  Eventually, TJ will become a great world leader, but at the moment she is facing some life and character decisions.

In this book, TJ gets a part on her fake frenemy Hesper Breakahart's TV show, and struggles to understand that underneath it all, Hesper just might be a real person who is extremely insecure.  (Knowing people's thoughts is soooo inconvenient sometimes!!)

This book teaches a great lesson on how your thoughts can become your actions.....

Monday, July 8, 2013

Review of "AAAArgh!!!" by Bill Myers

The second book in the series TJ and the Time Stumblers, "AAAArgh!!!" focuses again on 13 year old TJ Finkelstein, who is being observed by two characters from the future (23rd century!), who have chosen her as a case-study for their history project.

In this episode, TJ's decision to use the well-meaning Tuna & Herby's book report on Treasure Island (written by Robert Louis Stevenson himself, time-ported in!) has long reaching decisions from her cheating.....will she finally do the right thing?

Meanwhile, next door neighbor Chad has his own problems, as Doug Cloudlouper is pressuring him to use his special jet-engine surfboard in the upcoming competition.  Chad thinks it's like cheating, but Doug repeatedly tells him, "It's only cheating if you get caught!"

A great life lesson on consequences of cheating told in an enjoyable and non-preachy way - I recommend this book!

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Review of "Captive in Iran" by Maryam Rostampour & Marziyeh Amirizadeh with John Perry

After reading this book, I have never been so grateful to be a US citizen.

Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh were arrested and held for 259 days in one of the world's most terrible prisons - Evin Prison in Iran.  They were arrested for "advertising and promoting Christianity" as well as the more serious charge of apostasy, which can result in a sentence of death by hanging.  Because the justice system (if you can call it that) in Iran is very subjective and quite corrupt, there was much confusion and a roller coaster of emotion for the women that they suffered throughout their entire experience.  Their own experiences are difficult enough to comprehend, and they also tell story after heartbreaking story of other women inside the prison, many of whom should not have even been there in the first place.  The conditions were so deplorable that they spent essentially the entire time dealing with varying illnesses; malnourished, as the food was laced with formaldehyde and most was contaminated or inedible; not enough beds, bathrooms, showers, etc. and more.  However, because they were able to share the very thing they had been imprisoned for - Jesus - the lives of just about everyone they came into contact with during this time period are now forever changed, and Maryam and Marziyeh will tell you that it was worth it all.

Maryam and Marziyeh's love for Jesus, and their commitment to their faith even under such adversity are certainly remarkable.  I feel sure they would tell you it was only by God's grace that they were able to be strong, never changing their commitment to the truth.  This book was extremely compelling - I am so grateful to have heard their story, and I will recommend this book to everyone I know.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Review of "C.S. Lewis: A Life" by Alister McGrath

This is an extensive, thoroughly-researched book on the life of C.S. Lewis.  Published in honor of the 50th anniversary year of his passing, Alister McGrath's book takes a chronological view.  Combining known information, personal correspondence, literary works, and more, Mr. McGrath provides an extremely detail-oriented book that seems light on speculation and heavy on documented research.

My opinion?  I'm a fiction girl - light on the details, give me a story!  This was truthfully a challenging book for me to "get into" and finish.  However, in the end I am glad I started and did complete it, as I now have a much better understanding of this author as well as the time period and geography that are discussed.  I have long enjoyed the Chronicles of Narnia books and was excited to pass them on to my daughter this past year.  It was so interesting to learn more about the background and thought process behind that series, as well as his other works.

I recommend this book.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Review of "The Four Seasons of Marriage" by Gary Chapman

Gary Chapman has long been a favorite - he's a smart guy and an excellent communicator.

This book compares stages in marriage to seasons, and gives strategies to move from tough places into 'seasons' of health - and additionally, gives you the tools and tips you  need to stay there.  There is a "Marital Seasons Profile" you can take, Q&A's with lots of real-life stories, and an in-depth study guide.  He provides a great deal of both theory as well as practical information, presented in an easily understood way.

It is a pleasure to recommend this book to anyone who is looking to strengthen their marriage, make some changes, learn new skills, become a better communicator....the list goes on and on.  You will enjoy it and learn a lot, too!

Review of "Unleash!" by Perry Noble

Founding and Sr. Pastor of NewSpring Church in South Carolina, Perry Noble was unfamiliar to me before I picked up this book.  I'm really glad I was able to read it because his writing style is easy to follow, mixing in personal story, bible verses, instruction, ideas, points...all coming together to make a great (and super helpful) book.

Many of the Bible references he uses revolve around the story of David, who was a "man after God's heart" yet made mistakes and was redeemed.  He definitely didn't live life on the quiet, or subdued side and was a man who had been unleashed.  Do you feel complacent, or like you are in a rut you can't seem to find your way out of no matter how hard you try?  I definitely recommend this book for anyone who wants to go a little deeper and find some richness to the quality of their life - living in freedom and being truly Unleashed!

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review of "All in Good Time" by Maureen Lang

Dessa Caldwell is an orphan with what she feels is a sketchy past.  Henry Hawkins is a well-respected but reclusive banker, who works with his Uncle Tobias.  When Dessa comes to the bank for a loan -she wants to purchase a home in which local prostitutes can have another safe option to live and pursue a (healthy) trade- Uncle Tobias grants the loan, against Henry's wishes.  And so, their connection continues and develops.  There is some intrigue, danger, romance, and social issues.  Although this novel is set in the "Gilded Age" in Colorado, it's themes (prostitution, sex slavery, secrets) are certainly still relevant today.

Redemption is also a key theme; for Henry for his past choices, for Dessa understanding she too can have the forgiveness and understanding she so willingly gives others, etc., and there is a lovely bow tied on to the ending!  This seems to be a well-researched and thoughtful novel and I can easily recommend it as well as the other titles by Maureen Lang.

Review of "Today We Are Rich" by Tim Sanders

I typically read a great deal of fiction, so self-help/motivational books aren't always at the top of my list.  But after reading "Now We Are Rich", I am a Tim Sanders fan - and am grateful I took the time to read this book.

Tim, a former executive at Yahoo, was raised by his grandmother Billye.  She took him in at an early age and was (still is) instrumental in teaching Tim some priceless principles that have shaped his life as well as the lives of others as he shares. The title of this book comes from Billye, who made the statement after giving away time, shoes, and what was some serious cash for her at the time to a virtual stranger who did some work on their farm.  This opening story was very touching, and it's easy to see that although Tim has not always been "successful" (what he calls the sideways years), he has always been rich.  The book moves at a great pace and flow, combining those stories along with directives and principles - step by step instruction, really - for confidence.

I truly appreciate the principles I gained from reading this book and I know you will as well.  I highly recommend it!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Review of "New Kid Catastrophes" by Bill Myers

The first book in the series TJ and the Time Stumblers, "New Kid Catastrophes" focuses on 13 year old TJ Finkelstein and her recent move to Malibu, California.  She moves in, starts a new school, and quickly (through mostly no fault of her own) makes an enemy of the most popular girl in school, Hester Breakahart.  She is being studied by two characters from the future (23rd century!), who have chosen her as a case-study for their history project.  Time 'stumblers' Tuna and Herby cause many of her troubles, however, they are also instrumental in TJ's growth to begin to look past the superficial surfaces and see what people are really like on the inside.  As she is ignored by most at her new school, but pursued by two "class nerds", Naomi Simpletwirp and Doug Claudlooper....will she pursue popularity? Or determine that character matters?

I enjoyed the quirkiness of this book and think that the 8-12 year old set will enjoy it greatly!  I recommend it!

Review of "Deployed" by Mel Odom

USMC Lance Corporal Bekah Shaw has seen a lot in her 25 years.  She is the mother of 6 year old Travis, a marine reservist, abandoned by her philandering ex-husband Billy Roy (who was uninterested in being a dad, and who also has an extreme amount of animosity towards her.)

Rageh Daud's wife and son were killed by al-Shabaab faction in Somalia, and he is now bent on revenge.  He will do whatever it takes, even going back to the mercenary life he knew before his business career and his family, to avenge their honor.

Lawyer (and USMC Lieutanant Reservist) Heath Bridger is tired of trying to live up to his father's expectations, and they are not close.  It colors many aspects of his life.

This book caught me from the very beginning and I ended up reading it non-stop in just a few hours.  I loved how the author bounced back and forth between several seemingly different story lines but seamlessly wove them together in the end.  There are other compelling characters, and it appears this book is the first of a new series.  I am excited to read the next one!

Review of "Sparkly Green Earrings" by Melanie Shankle

I had not heard of Melanie Shankle or her blog prior to reading 'Sparkly Green Earrings', so this book and her writing style were unfamiliar to me. However, this memoir on motherhood was a breezy, easy read and enjoyable as well.

Here are my thoughts:
I didn't have super intense LOL moments as some of my fellow reviewers have enjoyed, but think that is just personal taste.  Read it - you will probably laugh.  Possibly out loud.
I felt that the chapters were somewhat disconnected - they were all complete in themselves, but the flow was confusing to me.
I did relate to her parenting style;
I enjoyed her tales of friendship with her BFF Gulley and admire their relationship;
She seems like a fun and 'real' person.

I appreciated this book and am glad I read it, *and* I would recommend it.

Review of "I'm No Angel" by Kylie Bisutti

Kylie Bisutti is in her early 20's but has already lived a lot of life - and has discovered what is truly important to her.  From an early age Kylie wanted to be a model and worked intently towards that goal.  Her parents and eventually her husband, Mike, all supported her dream and encouraged her to put in the effort to "make it".  Kylie eventually wins the prestigious Victoria's Secret Runway Angel competition but soon realizes that the lifestyle required of her is not one she is willing to lead.  And so, she gives up the title and gains her life back as well as her self-respect.

What an interesting story; I loved the behind-the-scenes look at the modeling world, and Kylie is graceful in her telling of her life so far.  I am blown away that even in today's day and age, there are still industry people telling 5'10 girls that 115 lbs is "too fat".  Unbelievable.  I also especially appreciated her husband's perspective - he didn't pressure or even ask her to quit; he just prayed that she would hear from God and make the decision God wanted her to make.  That is not an easy thing to do and for that he deserves a great deal of respect.  I can easily recommend this book.  You will also enjoy the "30-Day True Beauty" Makeover at the end.

Review of "Undaunted" by Josh McDowell

Josh McDowell ('Joslin' is his given name) has led a life that most people would crumble under - or at the very least be bitter and unproductive in life.  Born in Michigan in the late 30's -with much older siblings, and during wartime- Jos quickly realizes that his dad is an alcoholic and his mom is abused.  His animosity towards his dad quickly turns to hatred and he dreams of ways to make him suffer and perhaps hasten his departure from the earth

Another major factor in Jos' young life is the years of sexual abuse he suffers at the hands of their family's hired "house help", Wayne.  All of these atrocities create a hurting and angry young man that becomes a very high achiever, a hard worker.  He graduates high school, has a brief time in the military, and goes to college where one of the pivotal moments of his life occurs.  He is running for class president, and while seeking to gain votes has a conversation where he is challenged by the "Christian clique", as he calls it, to disprove the resurrection of Jesus.  He takes this challenge extremely seriously, doing major research and even traveling to Europe in his quest to prove them wrong.  What he discovers shocks him to his core and his life (and the lives of countless others) will never be the same.

What a powerful story - I read it straight through with hardly a break!  I wholeheartedly recommend this book.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Review of "Damascus Countdown" by Joel Rosenberg

The conclusion to "The Twelfth Imam" and "The Tehran Initiative", "Damascus Countdown" is the last book in this trilogy and I for one am sad to see it come to an end.  CIA operative David Shirazi, aka Reza Tabrizi is still undercover in Iran immediately following Israel's air strike.  The strike takes out much of the threat, but when you are dealing with nuclear weapons, "we got almost all of the nuclear bombs" is certainly not enough.  David and his team are directed to use all means necessary to find the last nuclear warheads and thwart the Mahdi's attempt at genocide of the Israeli nation.

Joel Rosenberg is an excellent author, and this was definitely a page turner.  I also appreciated that the locations were identified throughout the book as this is a multi-layered plot with many characters and it helped me stay on track.

I recommend this entire series.  You won't be disappointed.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Review of "Congo Dawn" by Jeanette Windle

This book was SO detailed -and quite frankly, felt really complicated - that at first I had a hard time "getting in to it".  However, I kept going and am very glad I did.

Christina Robin Duncan, aka Lt. Chris Robin Duncan (she goes by Robin) is a former Marine in a long family line of Marines - all male.  She feels she has a lot to prove in general, but after her brother tragically dies in Afghanistan while they are both on a tour of duty, her life takes several unexpected turns.  She blames his best friend and the man she loved for his death, and has been carrying a grudge for the past five years.

She takes a new assignment working as an interpreter for a private international security firm, journeying back to the Congo, where a conspiracy begins to materialize.  Many lives are at stake and Robin is confronted with major decisions that change the way she views the world.  Also, Dr. Michael Stewart is there and as they reconnect through the course of this story, her entire world shifts as she comes to terms with the God who loves her and the man she thought abandoned her all those years ago.

This taut thriller certainly delivers and you will be glad you picked it up!

Review of "Sinner's Creed" by Scott Stapp with David Ritz

Whether you are a fan of Creed, their music, Scott Stapp himself - or not; this is very much a moving memoir and provides great insight into the lifestyle and background of this musician.

Scott Stapp begins his memoir with his account of the (highly publicized as a suicide attempt) fall from a hotel balcony in Miami, 2006 - where he very nearly dies.  He shares about his childhood, both physical and mental abuse from a stepdad, abandonment, and speaks freely of his battle with depression.  It ends with great hope, telling of his beautiful family (specifically wife, children, in-laws) and his move towards redemption.

Obviously, I don't personally know Scott, but ended this book feeling as if he had been very honest in his assessment of his life to date. I found him to be likeable and transparent.  I am familiar with Creed, although they hadn't been heavily in rotation on my playlist; but was especially intrigued by the record label information and band interactions.

This book is well written and easy to read.  I recommend it.

Friday, June 7, 2013

Review of "Still LoLo" by Lauren Scruggs & the Scruggs Family with Marcus Brotherton

Fashion Journalist and entrepreneur Lauren (LoLo) Scruggs feels her life is just taking off when a tragic accident changes her forever.  The story of their lives both pre- and post-accident is told from the different perspectives of Lauren, her mother, father, and fraternal twin sister, Brittany.  This style of writing presents a unique "voice" that still is very cohesive, and overall gives a pretty clear picture of their family.

The family's faith in Jesus, even in the midst of severe challenge and trauma is a truly beautiful picture.  They are very real about their feelings and struggles, yet they still choose to cling to God, and trust that He is good.  All the time.

I had no idea I would begin this book only to put it down a few hours later - finished. I could not stop reading - well written, interesting, heartbreaking, and uplifting all at the same time, please get this book right now.  You will be glad you did.


Review of "A Heart for Freedom" by Chai Ling

An unflinchingly honest portrayal of situations that still have worldwide impact, Chai Ling seems to hold nothing back as she tells the story of her life.  Raised in a culture where the value of a girl is quite low, and education and loyalty to country (i.e. government) is everything - she had a mind of her own and the courage to speak out.  She rose to leadership in the movement towards democracy in China, becoming the "commander" at the Defend Tiananmen Square Headquarters, and after the massacre living (barely) on the run.  She escaped as a refugee to the United States where she worked very hard to move away from her past and into a preferable future.  She soon discovers that knowledge, passion, and hard work are not enough for her until she finally finds healing from the pain of her past by discovering and accepting God's grace and forgiveness.

What an interesting, moving, and powerful story.  Chai Ling has lived an incredible life to be sure - and I am grateful she chose to share her story with the world.  This book is a must read.

Review of "Band of Sisters" by Cathy Gohlke

In "Band of Sisters", Maureen and Katie O'Reilly leave their troubles in Ireland for America, hoping to claim a Civil War promise that the wealthy Colonel Wakefield made to their deceased father - that he would care for them as a benefactor.  Their journey simply to make it to America isn't an easy one, so it is devastating, to say the least, to arrive only to find out that Colonel Wakefield is dead and his family have no knowledge or intention to follow through on his word.

Older sister Maureen takes some less than honest steps to secure employment and shelter for she and her sister, and her pride coupled with sincere fear prevents her from receiving help from kind strangers as well as a long time friend from Ireland.  Katie begins to be rebellious (I had a hard time wanting to read about her activities because she frustrated me; I found her quite unlikeable) and this complicates Maureen's efforts to keep her safe.  Maureen soon discovers that the well respected store she works for is a front for human trafficking and no one is safe.  Colonel Wakefield's daughter Olivia is a strong and in my opinion, a very likeable character and she plays a major role in this story as well.

This book is a wonderful commentary - not only on the culture and temperature of the times it is set in (New York in the early 1900's I believe) but has lasting current impact today.  There are still women in slavery in present day America and around the world, and I believe this book only contributes to positive awareness.  This is not my first book of Cathy Gohlke's and it will not be my last.  I can easily give this book a strong positive review (perhaps not complete raves in every aspect but definitely positive!)

Review of "Man in the Blue Moon" by Michael Morris

This book is set in Florida during WWI and the focuses on the Wallace family.  Husband Harlan has abandoned his wife Ella and their three boys, Samuel, 16 (almost but not quite a man, who is in dire need of a dad-in-his-right-mind), Keaton, 13 (on the cusp of manhood who desperately wants to do the right thing), and Macon, 6.  They are all dealing with the fallout of not only his absence but his opium addiction and ensuing bad decisions that have left them with a very precarious financial situation.

There are so many major characters and detailed sub-stories but this book has everything from base human behaviors to strong friendships to generational curses to forgiveness.  While there is not a pretty bow-tied ending, personally I was still satisfied with how he ended this story.  There is an interesting personal story from the author at the end as well.

This was my first Michael Morris book and initially I was unsure how I would describe it and if I could say I enjoyed it; however, as I continued to read, it definitely grew on me.  I can positively recommend "Man in the Blue Moon".

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Review of "The Judge" by Randy Singer (formerly "The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney")

Sometimes referred to as the "Christian John Grisham", Randy Singer is one of my faves - and this book did not disappoint.

"The Judge", (formerly published as "The Cross Examination of Oliver Finney") is a very interesting study in human nature and the lengths some will go to attain information.  Judge Oliver Finney is selected by a terminally ill very wealthy man, along with a panel of other "contestants"-all experts from different religions- to take part in a Survivor-like reality show.  They must defend why their religion is correct; and Judge Finney quickly realizes there is more at stake than just bragging rights.  His law clerk, Nikki Moreno and a computer genius named Wellington Farnsworth secretly assist him in solving the mystery by decoding messages from the Bible and a book on apologetics that Judge Finney has written.  As a very important side note, Nikki is led towards faith through her research and the life she has already seen Judge Finney lead.

I really enjoyed this book and can easily recommend it to readers of all genres.

Review of "Wings of Glass" by Gina Holmes

What a beautiful book.  Gina Holmes' novel, "Wings of Glass" is a must read for women everywhere.  If it isn't 'your' story, bet you know someone....

Penny's marriage to Trent at first seems like a dream come true for the small town girl, but it quickly turns to a nightmare when he becomes abusive.  She can do nothing right and soon learns to walk on eggshells and not rock the boat.  When Trent is injured at work and must take time off, he 'permits' her to get a job; her co-workers become her friends and stick by her through it all.

The entire book is written as a letter to their son, in hopes that he will understand when he is older, not only why his dad is not around but how much his mother went through.  This is one of the first books I've read on this topic where I truly understood how conflicting the abused person must be...Applause to Gina Holmes for such a powerful and poignant novel.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Review of "The Breakthrough" by Jerry B. Jenkins

How many bad things can happen to Boone?

This is the third and final book in a cop-based series by Jerry B. Jenkins, a writer whose books I typically enjoy tremendously.  I did actually appreciate this book...but have some questions....isn't enough ever just plain enough?  How many actual truly serious life-shattering traumas can one person stand?? (and what are the odds?!?)

Boone Drake is now married to Haeley and has adopted her son.  He is working for the Major Case Squad of the Chicago Police Department and is the youngest Bureau Chief when yet another tragedy occurs -several, actually - and Boone's faith as well as his strength is greatly challenged.

In reading this novel, I felt like tragedy number one (Haeley) was primarily there to get her "out of the way" so her presence wouldn't be distracting from the crux of the story.  I'm not sure how else to explain it...that was confusing to me.  However, tragedy number two (Max) is so timely, and I applaud Mr. Jenkins for including such an important subject matter in this book.  Lastly, if I were to be picky :) I also thought the ending was a tiny bit anti-climactic.  All of that said, I do recommend this entire series.....I just can't rave about this last one.

Review of "Take a Chance on Me" by Susan May Warren

Another Deep Haven novel.  This is one of my favorites.

The Christiansen family has owned the Evergreen Lake Resort for decades, and their oldest son Darek ("Dare" for short) loves the land, the resort, and his family, that includes his son, passionately.  He has been deeply wounded and angry since his wife died - and is at odds not only with her family, but himself as well.

Ivy Madison is the new assistant county attorney, a former foster child who has a deep need to belong somewhere.  She is elated to be living in Deep Haven, but experiences some trauma/drawbacks to everyone knowing not only each other's names - but their business as well.  It makes her job much more challenging;  she finds it increasingly more difficult to be objective about matters of the law, when her heart comes into play.

Darek and Ivy fall in love but through a series of misunderstandings and conflicts of interest are torn apart.

Susan May Warren is a favorite author.  She crafts a wonderful story that those who are trapped in pain from their past, can find redemption through grace and forgiveness.  I definitely recommend this book.

Review of "You Don't Know Me" by Susan May Warren

A Deep Harbor novel, "You Don't Know Me" is also a stand-alone book.  (Personally I love that Susan May Warren does this, that all of the Deep Harbor books can be read without reading the others and you won't be lost - although I think it does add to the experience to have read the rest.)

Annalise Decker is a pillar in the community, a well-respected wife and involved mother who harbors a seriously deep secret - she used to be Diedre O'Reilly, a key witness whose testimony put a dangerous criminal in prison.  She has been "relocated" in Deep Harbor for more than 20 years.  Even her husband doesn't know her real name or anything about her past!  Now, the criminal is out on bail, and is seeking revenge on the woman who put him away.

I enjoyed this book.  Secrets have such painful potential, and the author illustrates well "what a tangled web we weave..."  I did find myself at points saying, "Tell them already!!" because it seemed that although she was well-intentioned and wanted to protect her loved ones, in the end it caused increasing harm and confusion.  I also appreciated the redemption aspect of this story.  I recommend this book to all readers.

Review of "Tangled Ashes" by Michele Phoenix

Marshall Becker is an alcoholic.  A gifted artist who is in charge of renovating Lamorlaye Castle in France, his alcoholism impairs his relationships and occasionally his work.  His employer's nanny Jade provides Marshall's meals during his stay in the chateau and although he is drawn to her, I didn't feel as if either of the characters ever fully developed.  Alternate chapters in the book take you back to WWII times when the Germans occupied the chateau.  (That part of the story did tie together at the end in a satisfactory way for my taste.)

The bottom line for me is that I didn't find any of the main characters extremely likeable or even a tiny bit relatable.  I'm not sure exactly why; it could be me, but although I think I would describe it as well-written, I simply had a hard time finishing this book.

I was previously unacquainted with Michele Phoenix. Even though I can't say this book was my favorite, I am willing to read more and look forward to getting "In Broken Places".

Review of "Secrets Over Sweet Tea" by Denise Hildreth

I've said it before and I will say it again: Denise Hildreth speaks my language. :)  I'm willing to bet she speaks yours, you'd better hurry up and get this book to find out.  "Secrets Over Sweet Tea" managed to make me laugh out loud numerous times - and cry, too.  I cannot recommend it enough.  While you're at it, get one for you and your bestie, too.

Unconventional Pastor's wife Scarlett Jo Newbury is gifted in that she can sense hurt in others that they may think they have covered well; and she is willing to love them where they are.  Her new neighbor, news reporter Grace Shepherd is deep in grief over a long-time-coming divorce and isn't sure what her life should look like next.  Divorce Attorney Zach Craig seems like he has it all together - but his secrets run so deep, even he doesn't have it all figured out.  These three main characters come together in the town of Franklin, Tennessee and share a story with us that is life changing.

One of the things I love best about Denise's writing is that nothing is sugar coated and very little is sacred...her characters are just plain real.   The choices they are faced with are more common in conventional "Christian circles" than one might think. Her characters don't always make the "right decision"....but grace shines through.

Please read this book.

Review of "Borders of the Heart" by Chris Fabry

Really enjoying Chris Fabry's work these days.  His books are compelling and always make me think.

J.D. Jessup has been working as a farmhand in Arizona, where he moved to escape some terrible memories - he is essentially 'running' from himself.  His employer's one immovable rule is "if you see an illegal, call Border Patrol immediately".  However, when the situation actually arises J.D. is hard pressed to be obedient, because his heart tells him otherwise.  He hides the beautiful Maria, but soon learns that she is not all she seems to be (and it could be a deadly decision).  This decision sets off a series of events that seem out of control, but all in all serve to bring J.D. full circle to the man he is supposed to be.

Although this wasn't my all-time favorite Chris Fabry book, I definitely enjoyed it and can wholeheartedly recommend it.

Review of "All For a Song" by Allison Pittman

Allison Pittman is quickly becoming one of my favorite authors.  Her stories are rich in history and character, and "All For a Song" is no exception.

Dorothy Lynn Dunbar is a country girl who has grown up in a small town....but she dreams of more.  Not the big city necessarily but the feeling that she is destined to do more with her life.  She is engaged to the local preacher and her married with kids sister lives in the city.  When Dorothy visits her sister to create a wedding dress, she happens on a revival led by evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and connects with those associated with this movement....From that moment on her life changes - and she will never be the same.

Set in the Roaring Twenties, this book will not disappoint...I highly recommend it.