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.