Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Review of "Spoken For" by Robin Jones Gunn & Alyssa Joy Bethke

I was very excited to read this book, as Robin Jones Gunn is one of my favorite authors. I'd also just read Alyssa's husband's book and heard all about her from his perspective. Even though my favorites of Robin's are fiction, and this book is definitely not, I was in no way disappointed!  Quite the opposite, in fact, as this is one of the best non-fiction books I've read!

"Spoken For: embracing who you are and whose you are" talks in great depth of learning to see yourself the way God sees you. How His love for us is a great romance, and how He not only loves us but pursues us. With chapters titled "You are Wanted," "You are a Peculiar Treasure," and "You are Promised," Robin and Alyssa share from their own life stories all of the ways God has pursued them, and in the process become very real to them. They are transparent and real. The chapters include discussion questions. This is a wonderful "personal study" book and would also be a great small group or book club choice.

This is a book I will be recommending for a LONG time!

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review of "The Waiting" by Cathy LaGrow

One of the most fascinating books I've read lately, "The Waiting" by Cathy LaGrow is a novelized telling of a true story. Young Minka, or Minnie as she is called, is raped by a stranger while on a special picnic with her sewing club. She is 17 and extremely shy and innocent, still believing that the stork is the deliverer of babies. When she discovers (several months later) what she is facing she is grieved but goes forward with courage. She stays with an Aunt and eventually lives at the House of Mercy, a home for unwed mothers, to deliver her baby. Soon, a little girl she names Betty Jane arrives, and she is instantly in love - although she knows she will have to give her up for adoption.

The years pass and Minnie never ceases to think of her beloved daughter, even though she has had no contact and doesn't know much beyond that she was adopted by a Lutheran Minister and his wife. She goes on to live a full and fulfilling life, not without her share of heartbreak; but she never forgets her first daughter. Finally, decades later on "Betty Jane's" 77th birthday, Minnie prays to see her just once! before she dies. Unbeknownst to her, 'Betty Jane' is still alive - and her son Brian is very interested in learning their health history. He begins, with his mother's permission, to research her adoption and in the process finds Minnie. The joyous reunion begins and continues to this day.

This is such a beautiful book. It is well written, thoroughly researched (the author's note at the end provides incredible detail on what they went through to make sure the details were accurate), and so touching. You will treasure this incredible testament to unending love and God's miracles.

Review of "While the World Watched" by Carolyn Maull McKinstry

The memoir of Carolyn Maull McKinstry's life is centered around her part in the Civil Rights Movement. Carolyn was a survivor of the 1963 Birmingham bombings in which four of her friends died. She also participated in protests with Martin Luther King Jr. as a teen and experienced many different challenges and heartaches. Through it all her faith in Jesus helped to sustain her, although she had years of alcoholism and what we would likely describe today as post-traumatic stress disorder.

This was a very interesting and ultimately inspiring book. So many tragedies in our nation's history of people treating others beyond poorly. Sprinkled throughout the book are different speeches from John F. Kennedy, George Wallace, and Martin Luther King; all of which serve to give great perspective and historical accuracy of what occurred. She also opens each chapter with a Bible verse, quote, or newspaper article excerpt that applies to the topic. All in all this was a well-written and fascinating book, and it is easy to recommend.

Review of "The Trail" by Ed Underwood

A beautifully written yet information-rich allegory about how to discern the will of God, "The Trail" is an interesting and powerful story by pastor Ed Underwood. Matt and Brenda are a younger married couple who are seeking to know what God would have them do in regards to a job change Matt is considering. They embark on a journey through the wilderness (literally) with a retired pastor and fire fighter named Sam, who teaches them eight principles to discovering God's will. Along the way they experience deeper truths than they expected, as secrets are revealed and hidden pains come to light. Will Matt and Brenda find what they seek?

I really enjoyed this book. It was a pleasant and interesting way to communicate some truths about a relationship with God. Matt and Brenda's story is a common one and is certainly relatable, and there are deep truths to be found in the principles and verses applied here.

Review of "Interrupted" by Jen Hatmaker

This book has been recommended to me for some time and I finally took the plunge. The timing could not have been better; as a relatively recent church planter there are so many things I related to and loved about this book. It was super validating and encouraging, and I literally read it in one day. I can't wait to have my husband read it (additionally, our 12 year old daughter ripped it out of my hands as soon as I was finished; after reading 7 and watching "My Big Family Reno" she is a fan of all things Hatmaker) - and although it's pretty deep for 12, I'm eager to hear what she thinks.

"Interrupted" is the dissection of how God wrecked Jen's life in the best way possible, opening her eyes/heart/daily practices etc. to the journey He had for her - one that was rich and incomparable. By the way, if you are avoiding this book because you think it will be convicting, hey, that's all the more reason why you should do it anyways. :)  If you've read 7 this is a must (I wish I had read this prior to reading 7 but hey, truth is truth no matter the order. Also, if you're planning to read 7, wait just a minute and read this first - it will be a richer experience.)

Challenging, thought provoking, interesting; with her trademark humor and transparency throughout, this is an important read for anyone. I think Christ followers who are tired of the status quo or are convinced there is "something more" will be especially pleased. The overwhelming message I received from reading "Interrupted" is this: what God has specifically planned for you and I is certainly better than we can imagine, and when we are operating daily by being obedient to WHATEVER THAT IS, our lives and the lives of those around us will simply be transformed.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review of "Raw Faith" by Kasey Van Norman

Kasey Van Norman is a married mother of two and an author. Her book "Raw Faith" is a combination of a memoir exploring her journey through cancer and chemotherapy and a Bible study/inspirational book. She shares journal entries and Scripture, as well as her thought process in how she handles her fight. She is very transparent with her fear and anger as well as her ultimate choice to have complete faith, what she describes as Raw Faith, in God and what He is doing with her life.

In the end, she decides that Jesus is enough. God is faithful. And that as painful and difficult as her battle with cancer was, she wouldn't change the path He has taken her on today. She is especially thankful for the maturity she received throughout her journey with cancer. If you are struggling with any challenge, difficulty, or heartbreak, you will enjoy this book.

Review of "Echoes of an Angel" by Aquanetta Gordon

Aquanetta Gordon is the mother of five children. Her son Ben was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma at the age of two, and both of his eyes had to be removed. Aquanetta was determined that Ben would not be identified by his blindness, and constantly told him that he could do anything. Ben quickly developed something called echolocation, essentially using sound waves to identify the world around him. His highly developed echolocation skills eventually drew scientific and media attention, and Ben has been featured on numerous news channels and talk shows. Throughout his life a major constant was his relationship with Jesus. He was very intent on sharing who God was in his life. When he was in his teens the cancer returned and he eventually passed away just before his 17th birthday.

This book is essentially a memoir, a telling of both Aqua and Ben's stories. It was interesting and inspirational.

Review of "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" by Kevin & Alex Malarkey

This was a tough one for me. I wanted to buy in...but had a hard time fully doing so, as I believe that some of what is presented here conflicts with what I read in the Bible. Heaven doctrine or your personal beliefs aside, it was certainly (on the surface) an inspiring story about a father and son who are in a terrible car accident. The six year old son, Alex, is in a coma for two months. When he "wakes up" he tells of going to heaven and back to earth numerous times, and what he experienced while there. The book is written "tag team" style - the father Kevin is the primary "voice" with Alex weighing in on what heaven is like at the end of each chapter. There are also testimonials from people who were either at the scene or were involved in praying for Alex throughout this journey that are sprinkled throughout each chapter.

If I could suspend some belief for a bit about certain topics, if I just took it at face value - the stories of how the family's financial and physical needs are met in incredible ways is certainly inspiring. I was sad to hear that the parents are now divorced. And, to be presented as fact (especially as the person in question, Alex, who supposedly experienced all that's written and now at 16 is saying he doesn't agree with what his father has written and had nothing to do with it) is much more difficult. I can't recommend this book.

Review of "Uncommon Marriage" by Tony & Lauren Dungy

Tony Dungy is a well known football coach who has experienced great success. But perhaps his greatest success is in living well. He and his wife, Lauren have been married for more than 30 years, and together have seen and experienced more than most. They are the parents of nine children, several of whom are adopted, and they truly exemplify their relationship with Jesus in their actions. What I especially liked about this book is that simply by reading their story, you are easily absorbing the very insights they are hoping to communicate. It is "teachy" without being preachy.

Written memoir-style, this was definitely their story but they share numerous insights on different obstacles and joys of marriage. There is even a cross-reference section in the back that I found very helpful. I really enjoyed learning about their life and marriage, and had several takeaways that I know would benefit just about anyone.

Review of "Blind Descent" by Brian Dickinson

One of the most interesting books I've read recently! Brian Dickinson is a former Navy Rescue Swimmer, an elite athlete and "mountaineer." In his quest to summit on a number of different continents, in 2011 he took on the (extra) big one, Everest - a staggering 29,000+ feet.

In this memoir of an amazing adventure, he intersperses his military training exercises that assisted him in making this attempt along with present day experiences as he climbs Everest. He also shares a lot about his wife Joanna and their two children, whom he credits with helping to keep him focused on coming home. :)

There is an exceptional amount of preparation and planning that goes into something like this, and it was fascinating to learn about. What makes this story extra incredible is that once he was at the summit, Brian experienced "snow blindness" - and because he had summited alone, was required to descend the mountain alone, unable to see. His faith in God helped him not only to succeed in the first place but to also stay calm as he experienced incredible challenges descending the mountain. A must read for all ages.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review of "His Treasure" by Sheri Rose Shepherd

A beautiful gift-sized book with almost 90 devotionals, "His Treasure" is designed for women who are wanting/needing/longing to feel close to God and truly know the identity we have in Christ. Every day is "His something" - including "His Story," "His Leading," "His Promise," - and much more. Written letter style from God to you, each one includes a supporting verse and a "Treasure of Truth" - a statement about that particular topic.

This book is focused on helping us understand that we are a treasure to God and He wants us to know it! It would be a wonderful and thoughtful gift to yourself and someone else!

Review of "So Long, Insecurity Teen Edition" by Beth Moore

Besides having one of my favorite book titles ever, this teen edition (in a magazine-book format) is great for your pre-teen and teen girl. Beth talks to teen girls in a language that makes sense and tells them to quit comparing themselves to others (focus on seeing yourself how God sees you and learning who He wants you to be) as well as talking about a Godly perspective on media, boys, fashion, social status, your gifts and talents, and much more. Backed up with pictures and thought provoking questions, this book is a great conversational tool that will get your girl to ask questions that go a little deeper than does he like me? am I pretty enough?

She also includes verses, group discussion questions, Real Girl testimonials, and Q & A with Beth. One of my favorite parts was the section on what defines "a secure girl." The entire book is well written and presented in an eye-catching way. Everything is designed to make you think. It's very healthy and I cannot recommend it enough!!!

Review of "Rhinestone Jesus" by Kristen Welsh

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I found that the author and I have much more in common besides the "proper" spelling of our names, :) -we've also been married for about the same amount of time (and to pastors or former pastors) AND have daughters named Madison - who are about the same age! Who knew! :)

Described as a "spiritual adventure story" she writes consistently about how her "YES" to Jesus continues to turn into much more than she had ever bargained for. It is written much like a memoir, and she seems very honest and transparent - telling story after story of her real family that is simply trying to do what they believe that God is calling them to do. Their "path" may not be everyone's; but it is inspiring regardless. She gives practical advice but primarily, it's very much a memoir of her journey to date.

Inspiring and touching, I can easily recommend this book.

Review of "Visible Threat" by Janice Cantore

We catch up with Police Officer Brinna Caruso following the death of her nemesis, and although she is still the "Kid Crusader," in this book she is thrown into the fire surrounding the human trafficking industry. While helping with a rescue that leaves another officer permanently disabled and Brinna herself injured, they discover much more than they bargained for. The funding for Brinna's K-9 partner, Hero, has just been cut and she is concerned.

Happily married and a mother of twins, specialty shop owner Magda Boteva has a secret that not even her husband knows - and she has been living in fear for far too long. She is just about to her breaking point - no matter the cost.

Office Jack O'Reilly is moving past the death of his wife and may be beginning to have feelings for Brinna that are moving past friendship...but does she feel the same way?

This is the second book about Brinna Caruso, written by real-life retired police officer Janice Cantore. You will enjoy the mystery, suspense, and behind the scenes police info you'll find in this book!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review of "All For a Sister" by Allison Pittman

The final book in the "All For A..." series by Allison Pittman, I think this one is my favorite. All are set in the Roaring Twenties with some link to the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and here in "All For a Sister," the author has even provided a mystery.

Celeste DuFrane has grown up in a life of privilege, while Dana Lundgren has been in prison for 20 years. Marguerite DuFrane is wealthy but bitter woman with many secrets, and her husband Arthur is a scientist trying to develop color for the movies - with a sad propensity for affairs.

Told in an interesting format, the author combines several different perspectives - the Confession of Marguerite DuFrane; Celeste (different ages); movie scripts that tell Dana's backstory; and I especially loved the present day Dana stories with titles such as "Dana Goes to Warner Brothers" and "Dana Goes For A Drive And Learns To Hold On To Her Hat." Personally, I found it interesting that although the author bounced around I still easily understood and followed the story. It also contributed to maintaining a high level of interest as the secrets began to unfold. I recommend this entire series as well as this great author!

Review of "Left Behind: The Kids" by Jerry B. Jenkins & Tim LaHaye

Based on the best-selling Left Behind series for adults, this youth fiction book tells the story of four teens (Judd, Vicki, Lionel, & Ryan) in the suburb of Mount Prospect, Illinois. They are connected in ways they won't begin to understand until later in the series, but for this book they are all greatly impacted by the disappearances of millions around the globe. They soon find out their loved ones have been "raptured" - as believers in Jesus, they were taken to heaven in a flash. Judd, Vicki, and Lionel's families are all gone, as they were the only ones who chose a different path; Ryan's parents die as a result of the disappearances, and he is actually orphaned.

This is a strong beginning to the "Young Trib Force" books and I can easily recommend it for your pre-teens and teens.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review of "Overwhelmed" by Perry Noble

Pastor Perry Noble has written a book about overcoming difficulty that is heavily rooted in personal experience, having gone through a lengthy season of depression and despair. Interspersing his own stories with principles that are biblically based (lots of scripture that support the topic) as well as common sense, he presents his points in a friendly and conversational style that many will find appealing. He provides the reader with a number of perspective shifts, and is totally willing to be transparent about his personal struggles. Although I clearly don't know him personally, it doesn't seem like he is holding back.  I found a number of different ways to view challenges and I bet you will, too!

Review of "Claiming Mariah" by Pam Hillman

Set in Wyoming in the late 1800's, Mariah Malone's father has recently passed away and she is struggling to keep the family ranch afloat. Slade Donavan's alcoholic father died years ago, but not before making known that he was the sole owner of the gold that the Malone's ranch was purchased with. He arrives to claim what he believes is rightfully his, and Mariah sadly acquiesces. He has lots of baggage from growing up too soon; she is rocked by the revelations that her father may not be who she always believed; and their attraction to each other is at times inconvenient, but nonetheless real.

This is a sweet romance set in a (somewhat) simpler time. The author also weaves a mystery throughout the story of forgiveness, trust in God, and how family pride can be helpful OR hurtful. I can easily recommend this book.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review of "Saving Casper" by Jim Henderson & Matt Casper

Interesting premise. "Saving Casper" is a follow up to the book "Jim & Casper Go to Church" (which I had not read prior to reading this; it is now on it's way to me. If you have not read the first one, I would suggest doing so before picking up this book; I think your understanding and experience would be a little more enriched that way!)

Jim Henderson is a former pastor, and Matt Casper is "currently" an atheist. They embarked on a journey to visit a number of churches, with Jim asking Casper questions and engaging in dialogue about his observations and thoughts on things that could be improved. This follow up book discusses their next steps as well as further reflection on that experience. The format is a back and forth conversation of sorts between the two (the book uses different fonts for each writer to help you more easily discern who is saying what) and no matter what you think about religion or atheism, it is certainly interesting. What I took as the overarching point was that we should be willing to engage in dialogue and then LISTEN, be open to hearing other perspectives, and be respectful of other's beliefs, even if they are not your own. Relationships will change everything.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review of "Firewall" by DiAnn Mills

Genius software developer Taryn Young marries a man she has only known for three months, and while at the airport getting ready to depart on her honeymoon, the terminal explodes - many are killed and she wakes up in the hospital where her husband's secrets begin to come to light. FBI Agent Grayson Hall is assigned to her case (which has more twists and turns than a rollercoaster.)

The entire book takes place over the course of about a week (which had to have been a really long and awful week for our characters as they go through one catastrophe after another) - and although I was mostly engaged and as a whole enjoyed it, didn't love it. There were a couple of things that just didn't gel for me. First, she's a super genius - but totally misses how much she is being played. Although I can see how her personal life is different, her judgment is way off in a number of ways throughout the book. Second, all of the plot twists were exhausting rather than exciting for me. On the good side, it was an interesting story in a field you don't typically read about (high security software programs) and the main character's repartee/dialogue is good. Also, there is (yet another) plot twist at the end that I personally didn't see coming.

The bottom line is I have mixed emotions; you'll just have to read it and decide for yourself!

Review of "Wild Thing" by Dandi Daley Mackall

12 year old Winnie Willis lost her mother at a young age (and has always believed it is her fault). It's been extra hard as she and her mom had so much in common, primarily their love of horses. She lives with her father and younger sister, Lizzie, who is 11. They've moved many times since her mother's death, and Winnie has finally found a place she wants to stay - especially as her dream horse is in town, and she is desperate to figure out a way she can own it. Winnie is passionate about caring for animals and is willing to defend them no matter the cost.

This first book in the "Winnie the Horse Gentler" series is a great story about healing and hope. The author also includes lots of extra information about horses, including a diagram of the "parts of a horse", "horse talk" (the translation of horse communications), and even a "horse-o-pedia" (terms). It is a wonderful series for your pre-teens and teens, especially those who love animals.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review of "Game On" by Emmitt Smith

Emmitt Smith is a Hall of Fame running back who has long been a fan favorite and philanthropist. He is married to a former beauty queen, Pat, and together they have five children. Emmitt retired from professional football after more than a decade with a plan for the rest of his life; he has always been goal-oriented and possessed VERY big dreams, even as a small child. This book is his "to-date" memoir, focusing on his experiences (his journey to the top in the football world, culminating in his induction into the Hall of Fame in 2010, being a champion on the TV show 'Dancing With the Stars', being featured on NBC's reality series "Who Do You Think You Are?" that researches celebrities' heritage) - and much more!

With chapter topics that range from having a great attitude - and CHOOSING to do so even when circumstances are challenging; surrounding yourself with wise counsel and loving support; planning -rather than hoping- for the best; and much more, this book provides wise counsel from someone who has lived his life by a huge code of excellence. He does not come off as thinking he is perfect, rather, he shares from his heart how others can learn from his mistakes as well as his strong work ethic and faith in God.

Football fans will certainly like this book, but it is really for anyone who wants to be inspired.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Review of "Love Idol" by Jennifer Dukes Lee

Blogger Jennifer Dukes Lee has written a great debrief on many people's concerns about their "approval rating" - the constant (or near constant!) concern of what other people think of you. This book tells her personal story, taking you through the hard-earned journey she continued to be on in her move towards health and wholeness that is based on her relationship with Jesus and the way He sees her, not other's opinions. She shares personal stories about her family, her thought process, and much more. It is clear that she sincerely desires for others to know the freedoms we can experience in life when we filter things through the truth of how God sees us: Preapproved. Chosen. Unconditionally loved. Real.

I will be frank, I began this book thinking that this wasn't a prominent issue in my life personally. (Although I was interested in what she had to say, I did not expect to relate and understand it the way that I did.) Whether this is a concern for you or not, this is good stuff for everyone! And if you are ever worried, concerned, fearful of failure, or find yourself caring "too much" what others think - this will be an especially wonderful book for you. Lots of truth to be found here.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Review of "Robot Wars: Death Trap" by Sigmund Brouwer

It is the year 2039 and teen Tyce Sanders lives on Mars! He live in an experimental colony that hopes to eventually help relieve the overpopulation of Earth. His scientist mother has asked him to tell his story in a journal for the kids on Earth who are following the Mars Project. Tyce loves science, is very smart, is in a wheelchair, and is the only young person there - in fact he's the only person ever born on Mars. This series of books follows Tyce in his Mars adventures and is two stories in one; this is the first in the series.

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book! Totally not my typical demographic, but I liked it so much I'm going to go get the rest of the series. Your pre-teens/teens will (especially) love it!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Review of "All Right Here" by Carre Armstrong Gardner

The first in the Darling Family Series, our heroine Ivy has been married to Nick for six years and has yet to be truly included into his family - or really, into * his* heart, either. Ivy is kindhearted and generous with a little quirky thrown in. Nick is solid and dependable with a bit of the type A. :-)

A turning point in their relationship comes when the three kids next door are abandoned by their mother, and Ivy invites them in without hesitation. What's more surprising is that Nick, although not exactly enthusiastic, is agreeable. As time goes on they officially become foster parents; all the while swirling around them are difficult relationships, God, substance abuse, affairs, racism, heartache, and growth.

One of the best fiction books I've read in a long time, this debut novel by our author is real, funny, touching, moving, didn't have a false ending, and made me think. Perhaps more importantly, it made me feel. The characters are interesting and relatable. The story drew me in so well that I finished it off in only a few hours, and it left me wishing the next one wasn't more than a year out. I can't recommend this book enough!

Review of "Wish" by Jake Smith

James McConnell has had one wish for a very long time, and it's that his son, 9 year old Aaron, didn't have leukemia. Although Aaron has been in remission for some time, when the cancer comes back James is devastated - and angry.

Aaron's wish is to see his dad (who was a college baseball star with solid pro potential before deciding to get married and have a family was more of a priority to him) play in the major leagues. Jake Smith's debut novel, "Wish" is the story of one family's journey to peace no matter the outcome.

Baseball fans will especially enjoy the play-by-play descriptions and Aaron's savant-like stat knowledge. Check it out!

Review of "Haunted Waters" by Jerry B. Jenkins & Chris Fabry

The first book in the Red Rock Mysteries series, 13 year old twins Ashley and Bryce are still missing their father, who died unexpectedly. Four years have passed, and in that time they've moved to Colorado from Illinois, and their mother has recently remarried. Although they like their stepfather Sam well enough, adjustments are still happening. When Sam plans a weekend trip to see a historic "vug," they are excited, until crazy things - including crime and danger!! - begin to happen. And you'll just have to read it to find out what happens next!

An interesting book for your pre-teens and younger teens, Ashley and Bryce are real kids with real problems, handled in a healthy way. I especially liked how Ashley handled disobedience. An unusual premise, I am eager for my pre-teen to enjoy this series and look forward to getting the next one.

Review of "30 Days to a More Beautiful You" by Kylie Bisutti

A devotional book for pre-teen and teen girls, Kylie has given a wonderful tool to teach truth about developing REAL inner beauty. A former Victoria's Secret model, Kylie left modeling (you can read her story in the book "I'm No Angel") because she felt that ultimately the job was compromising her true beliefs.

Every day's reading has a Bible verse, topic, some thought provoking questions, and a True Beauty Tip. She talks about things like your worth and value, your uniqueness, and finding our true identity in Christ - seeing yourself how He sees you.  It is seriously easy to recommend this book as a devotional for your daughter -or a gift for a girl you love!

Monday, July 14, 2014

Review of "In the Secret Service" by Jerry & Carolyn Parr

This was such an interesting book! An autobiography of the Secret Service Agent who was protecting President Reagan when he was shot, Jerry Parry has led a very interesting life. He was born during the Depression and as a child had a dream of working in the protection industry after seeing a movie starring (who else (!) Ronald Reagan as a Secret Service Agent. He was able to watch history unfold literally around the world at a very close up level. He served his country for several decades and saw the Kennedy assassination, Watergate, several presidential elections, protected heads of state and royalty from around the world, working with integrity and along with his accomplished wife, raising a family (three daughters) at the same time. Following his retirement, Jerry & Carolyn began to serve their fellow man as Jerry studied to become a counselor, pastor, and missionary. His wife Carolyn is a federal tax judge and they have dedicated themselves to serving God and others.

I found this book fascinating and well written. I can easily recommend it!

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Review of "The Advocate" by Randy Singer

Author Randy Singer's book, "The Advocate" is a powerful story covering about five decades during the reign of Rome. Mr. Singer is a great storyteller in general (you'll like them all, my personal favorites are "The Judge" and "Dead Lawyers Tell No Tales") but typically bases his novels on present day fiction. This is his first piece of historical fiction.

This novel tells the story of Theophilus, the person referenced in Luke & the book of Acts ("Most Excellent Theophilus"). We begin with a powerful sentence, "I was fourteen years old when I learned what it meant to be crucified" - and the story races off from there. Spanning decades during the time period that include the crucifixion of Christ (Theophilus is portrayed as Pilate's assessore, or advisor during that time), his time as an advocate defending cases he believes in, the reign of numerous Emperors, the rise of the "Way" or what was the early church, to the burning of Rome...this is a novel not to be missed. Full of intrigue, humor, suspense, and emotion, you will definitely want to read this book.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Review of "LEAD...For God's Sake!" by Todd Gongwer

This book was totally not what I expected. I assumed, based on the title and endorsements, that it was a leadership/coaching "how-to" book....and it sort of is...but not exactly. It's actually a story, yes, about leadership, however, the author employs a parable, an inspirational story to get his point across.

Coach Rocker is one of Kentucky's top high school basketball coaches, and he is highly motivated to win. Married with two children under the age of 10, he is in the midst of what was supposed to be a championship season. His team is losing steam and he can't figure out why.

His friend Grant is a highly successful businessman - everything he touches turns to gold - but his personal life is falling apart, and he's drinking too much. Both men desperately want to find out what they must change to be successful, but are they truly willing to examine themselves and find out some of the responsibility lies in their leadership (or lack thereof?) Pick up this book to find out what happens; you'll certainly learn something, too.

Review of "Just 18 Summers" by Rene Gutteridge & Michelle Cox

Friends, family, neighbors are shaken by the recent tragic death of their beloved Jenny. Her sudden absence from their lives leaves a major void that awakens them to the fact that life can be very short and they must figure out a way to make it count. 

Told from the less common "every chapter is told from a different character's view point" style, this touching and still quite humorous book teaches a lesson about what is truly important; people. Not things. The authors manage to make even the most (initially) unlovable characters human without being cliche. I laughed AND got a little teary at times - and I can easily recommend it!! I found it to be both enjoyable and thought provoking without being bossy about its message.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Review of "When I Fall in Love" by Susan May Warren

At first introduction, Grace Christiansen is a homebody who loves to cook - but really, she is much deeper than that. During her brother Darek's wedding, her family gifts her with a three week cooking "vacation" in Hawaii - and when they tell her about the surprise she literally runs from the room having a minor panic attack! But when she thinks about it a little further, she realizes it is time for her to just feel the fear and do it anyway. She is willing to see what's next in the life God has for her.

Max Sharpe is one of her brother Owen's former teammates, and he too is struggling with some serious fears. He longs to be loved and even have a family, but never talks about why he doesn't even date. He is going on the same culinary vacation as Grace, and when teammate (and Grace's future brother in law) Jace tells him to "look out" for her, he has no idea that what's next for both of them could be much bigger than just a few weeks in paradise.

Easily my favorite so far in the Christiansen Family series! I liked this book so much I read it in one sitting (I went to bed way too late, but it was totally worth it!)  ;)

Review of "The Antelope in the Living Room" by Melanie Shankle

Melanie Shankle's first book, "Sparkly Green Earrings" was a memoir on motherhood, and this one (although in a similar style) is about marriage. Both provide the author's humorous and down to earth take on life and family - and both are well done.

In "The Antelope in the Living Room," each of the chapters -with super awesome titles, such as  "We Make Dave Ramsey Sad" and, "That Time I Almost Went on Judge Judy"- tell a different story from Melanie and husband Perry's lives, beginning with the wedding and their lives as newlyweds up to present day. She calls it "the story of a real marriage," and you can easily see their transparency as well as their love for each other. She doesn't sugarcoat, nor is this a cautionary tale; rather, they are simply real stories that make up their lives together for better or for worse.

I had never heard of Melanie, hadn't read her blog prior to reading this, but CLEARLY we would be friends. If we hung out. And that is perhaps the best endorsement I can offer you :)

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Review of "The Fight" by Luke Wordley

The first book from author Luke Wordley, this novel set in England's boxing world is an interesting portrait of how anger can not only consume you, it can literally make you sick inside and out. From our main character Sam's heartbreak over his father's death, to his mom Janet's drinking problem (same root issue), or his boxing trainer's unresolved issues towards his career ending injury - all of our main characters are dealing with a deep seated anger and resentment towards the situations they've experienced.

Sam is just a kid when his father dies, and he responds with extremely aggressive behavior, picking fights and barely speaking to anyone. His mother's response is to begin to drink - to the point she completely checks out. Sam is expelled from one school after another although his caring social worker continues to try and see what makes him tick. When Sam crosses paths with boxing trainer Jerry Ambrose, he begins to see some hope; however, the road to health is a long one for all of them.

I liked this story and was interested to learn about the world of professional boxing. I struggled with Jerry's (seemingly abrupt) flip from faith to despair. Overall, I would recommend that you read it for yourself and see what you think!

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Review of "Mark of Disctinction" by Jessica Dotta

The second book in the "Price of Privilege" series by a favorite new author, our continuation of Julia's story was easily worth the wait.

We again enter the Victorian era and begin immediately where book 1, "Born of Persuasion" left off. (By the way, if you haven't yet read the first book in this series - please don't attempt this one. You'll be very confused. You'll also be quite happy you were able to read them both in succession, rather than having to wait ages for number 2 like the rest of us.)  :)

Julia has "escaped" Mr. Macy and is now living under the protection of her father, Lord Pierson. She is immediately swept up into more intrigue and confusion, as she continues to learn the rules of London society and is forced to be presented as the Emerald Heiress. She finds an ally in Lord Dalry, her father's protégé who is coming into power himself, all as she is trying to discover what she really believes and again, who she can trust.

This beautifully written, suspenseful, interesting, and well-developed story is very worthy of your investment of time and money to have in your collection.

Review of "Life Support" by Candace Calvert

Another book in the author's Grace Medical series (these can be stand alone books, but as they include some of the same characters I believe you'll have a richer experience if you read in order).

Lauren Barclay is a nurse at Grace Medical in Houston, where she has recently returned to be closer to her family. Her younger sister Jessica has been having a tough time and Lauren is unsure of the true cause. Eli Landry is a PA at Grace who has some family struggles of his own, as he is in a long and difficult power struggle with his Father about his older brother, Drew, who suffered a traumatic brain injury years ago. Although Lauren and Eli have had their differences in the past, as they work together they begin to have a better understanding of their shared past and are able to explore the possibility of a new and different future.

This story shows how they navigate some very difficult situations - including illness, misunderstanding, an impending hurricane! - and still find some hope.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Review of "The Auschwitz Escape" by Joel C. Rosenberg

Whew, this one was tough. The writing was excellent and the story compelling, but what a difficult subject. When dealing with historical fiction, I personally find it a wonderful way to get a feel for what the day/culture must have been like while enjoying a great story. This book was no exception on that note; but the topic, simply painful.

Jacob Wiesz is a young Jew growing up in his family's beloved Germany. As the Nazis begin to come into power, he finds it hard to believe that so much hate exists in the world. Through a series of horrifying events, Jacob eventually joins the rebels fighting the terrible tide of insane prejudice. Although he experiences some success, one operation goes terribly wrong and he finds himself being taken to Auschwitz. Navigating the unthinkable, he is determined to escape and tell the world what is actually happening there - these are not work camps, they are death camps; and the Nazis will give anything to keep that quiet. Jacob will do anything to get out.

And even though it is certainly a difficult subject to read about, much less comprehend, it is absolutely worthy of your investment of time and resources. This is truly an important book.

Review of "The Prayer Box" by Lisa Wingate

Author Lisa Wingate never fails to impress me. I think at this point I have read every book she's published, and although they are all very different in their concept and storyline; they are rich in meaning and texture. Not sure how else to explain it.

Out of all of her books, The Prayer Box easily stands out as one of my favorites. Single mom Tandi Reese has been renting a cottage from elderly Iola Anne Poole on Hatteras Island, and after discovering Iola Anne has passed away, she's terrified she will lose any of the precarious stability she's managed to find there. She's hired by the local church to help clean and prepare the "estate", and in doing so discovers 81 carefully preserved prayer boxes, one for each year of Iola Anne's life. Tandi soon finds that each box is a time capsule of sorts and begins to unravel not just Iola's story....but eventually her own, as along the way she is challenged to rediscover her faith and gain some trust in the God who loves her most.

Ms. Wingate weaves humor, heartache, faith, and transparency in a way that is both unique and touching. This book will not leave you unchanged.

Review of "Tattler's Branch" by Jan Watson

We return to Skip Rock in the early 1900's, where we find Lily Corbett Still has grown up, married Tern, and is practicing medicine in her small town. Although she is brilliant, she sometimes possesses more passion and good intentions than sense! And so, she eventually finds herself entangled in a mystery that includes a bad guy, a baby, and mental illness. I especially enjoyed the strong characters and medical references of the time - thanks to the author for her research!

Jan Watson is a wonderful storyteller, and I am so glad she decided to continue Lily's story. I also appreciate that although she has numerous other books that include these characters, they all can essentially be stand alone titles. However, if you have yet to read any I would recommend starting at the beginning, because it will give you a greater perspective and depth! They are all still great on their own - you decide. Enjoy!

Review of "The Sentinels of Andersonville" by Tracy Groot

I am so glad I read this book. It took me quite a while to "settle in" and really enjoy it, but I am thankful I stuck it through!  A story heavily based in the reality of Andersonville Prison in Georgia, which (especially towards the end of the Civil War), was literally hell on earth. Housing close to a total of 50,000 (in and out) prisoners, the number of men who died there are so high that they are almost unfathomable. Most died of starvation or exposure to the outside elements. Disease ran rampant and at Andersonville, the conditions are not something that anyone would describe as livable - war or no.

The author posts a "note to the reader" at the beginning of the book that is a warning of sorts - and truly, the descriptions of what happened there are hard to read. However, they happened. And may we all take a note to ourselves that this should not ever be repeated. For that reason alone I would suggest you read this book. However, her sense of humor is wickedly depicted, and her characters are real and interesting. Please read this book. You, as I, will be glad you did.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Review of "The Midwife" by Jolina Petersheim

Several time periods, lives, and mysteries are woven together masterfully in Jolina Petersheim's second novel, "The Midwife."  This beautifully complex story bounces back and forth between 1996 and present day as we learn about Beth Winslow's deep heartache that stems from her mothers' abandonment. A graduate student hoping to pursue a PhD in bioethics, she agrees to be a surrogate for her professor-and so begins a long and winding path she never expected to take.

I could say so much more about the story and its characters but hesitate to even accidentally give anything away. Please, run to your bookstore or favorite ebook app and get this book (along with "The Outcast", please) right away!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Review of "Born of Persuasion" by Jessica Dotta

A great beginning to the "Price of Privilege" series by a favorite new author, Jessica Dotta's period piece about London society, its rules, and the life of a young woman in the mid- 1800's is rich in description, characterization, and depth of story. I was engaged from page one and she did not disappoint throughout. 

Set in the Regency era, our heroine, Julia, is the daughter of renowned atheist William Elliston. As such she too has (shockingly for the time) scorned God. Both he and now her mother are deceased, so Julia's unknown and untrusted guardian has come into the picture. Julia knows action must be taken to secure her future but does not know whom she can truly trust. Full of suspense and intrigue (they were tricky back then, the English! -everything has more than one meaning), she must discover for herself which course to follow. Can Mr Macy be trusted? Does Edward truly love her? Why did no one tell her William Elliston is not who she thought? Just who is her mysterious guardian?

I can't say enough how much I loved this book. I am eager to get my hands on the next one and anything else by this author, for that matter!

Review of "All For a Story" by Allison Pittman

Monica Bisbaine is a flapper girl and newspaper columnist who wants so much more for her life, yet she continues to settle. Personally, she is scandalously dating a married man (to her credit, she didn't know he was married when he first pursued her; however now that she knows she is unwilling to break it off). Professionally, she skates on the edge of danger with the gossip column she writes anonymously for a local paper, "Monkey Business" -telling all the social hotspots (including speakeasies).

When the paper's owner dies unexpectedly, his distant nephew Maximilian Moore inherits the estate, such as it is, including the newspaper. He moves to DC from California and begins to make some changes. Although Monica is not happy with all of his decisions, she is drawn to him for reasons she struggles to understand.

As always, Ms. Pittman provides great characters and a rich in history story that you will enjoy. Check out her other titles as well; you won't be disappointed!

Review of "What Did Jesus Really Mean When He Said To Follow Me?" by David Platt

'Follow Me' is a quick read that is jam packed with both truth and encouragement. Mr. Platt has a clear and concise way of communicating that will speak to all learning types. This booklet could easily be used as a way to share your faith, or simply as an encouragement to you teaching some basic principles so central to following Christ, yet they are easily ignored or set aside for many. It is convicting in the best way possible. I can easily recommend it - you'll likely want/need more than just one!!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review of "Heart of the Country" by Rene Gutteridge

Although I was fully prepared to love this book and be engaged, as I really enjoy Ms. Gutteridge's writing and sense of humor, I had such a hard time not only getting in to this book, but truly liking it as we went along.

Luke and Faith are madly in love; he from a wealthy family, she, a small town girl. It seems to be a match none the less, and for a while their lives are idyllic. However, Luke is busted for what seems to be his part in a Ponzi scheme, and when Faith finds out she literally hits the road to go back "home"  - not really even listening to his explanation. Her problems are compounded when she arrives, as she finds out her father is very sick and her sister is not terribly interested in having a relationship with her.

A contemporary take on the story of the prodigal, this book was readable but not fully engaging or even especially memorable for me personally.

Review of "Every Waking Moment" by Chris Fabry

Chris Fabry is quickly becoming one of my go-to authors, as I'm pretty sure what I'm going to get when I start one of his books : not only a great read, but a thought-provoking, interesting, and even an unusual-subject-matter-book. Along with some humor. "Every Waking Moment" does not disappoint in any of those regards.

Our four main characters are Treha Langsam, a custodian at a retirement home who has a special gift: she is able to communicate with patients with dementia, to reach them and draw them out, even though she is considered by some to be impaired, or to have her own special needs; Miriam Howard, the facilities director at the home who is on the cusp of retirement herself. She is kind and caring, and unfortunately her replacement does not accept what she cannot understand, and Treha soon finds herself unemployed. Devin Hillis, an aspiring documentary filmmaker who "collects stories" and has just enough belief to keep hanging onto his dreams, but just few enough dollars that it's high risk to continue; and his assistant, the wise cracking and somewhat more realistic Jonah.

The book also includes an interesting element of suspense, as we are shown pieces of why Treha is as special as she is. The many layers of this book make for an excellent story, one that I can highly recommend!

Review of "Bridge to Haven" by Francine Rivers

The long-awaited newest Francine Rivers novel, "Bridge to Haven", is a sweeping saga that takes the reader from a small town in California, to the Korean War, to the big screen in Hollywood, and back again.

When a caring pastor and family man finds an abandoned newborn baby under a bridge while on his morning prayer walk, he soon realizes that things in his family's life are going to change. What he doesn't realize at the time is just how much change is around the corner.

Baby Abra grows up and believes, inaccurately, that she is not loved, and is not even worthy of it anyways. She begins to rebel accordingly, making some extremely bad decisions that have lasting negative impact. Certain that is she can be a "star" she will finally be worthy and important, she does not consider those she's left behind. She also doesn't consider how some of her choices will affect the ones who love her.

Ms. Rivers was reportedly inspired by a story in the Bible from Ezekiel, and it's clear she has done her homework about the era. Although I love all of her books and was definitely prepared to love this one....I just....liked it. I can't rave about it. I felt like there were a few plot points that weren't resolved and I was left hanging, and I eventually became annoyed by Abra's stubbornness, as she was bringing a lot of her heartache upon herself. You can only sympathize with so many bad decisions; then it starts to feel frustrating. All that to say! - I definitely think it is worth reading and forming your own opinion.

Review of "Popular" by Tindell Baldwin

Tindell Baldwin had one focus in her teen years: to be popular by any means possible. She began drinking, smoking, doing drugs, having sex. In her memoir "Popular: Booze, Boys, & Jesus" she tells that although she had an amazing family who loved her unconditionally, although she was pretty, although she knew all about Jesus; she still was trying to fill a perceived emotional void that she ultimately determined could only be filled by God.

She is very transparent in this memoir, sharing very raw and vulnerable parts of her story. In no way is she trying to make herself look good, or downplay any of the choices she made. The book is divided into two parts, "Dark" and "Light" - and she is very open about what her decisions cost her.  I can easily recommend this book for anyone, but especially for a teen going through a tough time and/or a parent of a child who is struggling. This book will give you hope.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Review of "Critical Pursuit" by Janice Cantore

Brinna Caruso is a Long Beach Police Officer with a pretty unique story. She was kidnapped as a small child, abused, and left to die. Found and returned to her now emotionally broken family by a determined police officer, she grew up and dedicated herself not only to the law, but specifically to finding missing children. She is laser focused on child predators and is determined to eliminate them from her "Wall of Slime," one by one. As the 20 year anniversary of her kidnapping draws closer, a seemingly copycat serial predator begins taunting her. She is also forced to work with a new partner on patrol, Jack, who is nursing a serious grudge against the drunk driver who killed his wife and unborn child.

This is the first book in a new series by retired LBPD officer Janice Cantore.

Review of "Passages Volume 1: The Marus Manuscripts" by Paul McCusker

Passages Volume 1: The Marus Manuscripts is a summary of three books in one volume:
Arin’s Judgment:
Wade Mullins is a pretty smart schoolkid in the 1940's just post WWII.  He and his best friend Bobby are fascinated by airplanes, bombers, and bombs.  Bobby's cousin Lee has just sent him some drawings that are top secret, as they are related to the creation of the atomic bomb.  Through a series of events Wade ends up with the drawings and is attempting to burn them when he is transported from his basement in Odyssey to Marus. Interestingly in many ways, Marus is quite technologically advanced, using solar for everything - but it has led them to begin to worship the sun instead of the Unseen One.

Wade is quickly taken as a "guest" of Tyran and Tyran's top sidekick, Dr. Liszt.  He shares with Dr. Liszt the atomic bomb drawings and the information is quickly used for evil and not for good.  Also, the flu Wade had before arriving in Marus has far-reaching consequences....

This is a retelling of the story of Noah, but at times I wondered if Hitler was in there somehow (Tyran was awfully similar in his attempts to take over the world). All in all, I am still enjoying the author's take on Biblical stories through the lens of Odyssey.

Darien’s Rise:
It's the summer of 1958 and Kyle and his sister Anna couldn't be more bored.  They are staying for a month this summer with their grandparents in Odyssey and are looking for a little adventure.  Their uncle tells them of an old house in the woods and they decide to find it.  When they do, what first appears a decaying, abandoned house actually is a portal to another world - the world of Marus, where kings and generals and swords are the norm.  Soon both Anna & Kyle discover their calling - she the 'voice' and he the 'protector'; and their lives, both in Marus and Odyssey, will never be the same.

This retelling of the story of David, Saul, and Samuel was wonderfully done, and I love the author's take on Biblical stories through the lens of Odyssey. In the few books I've read so far, they have done a great job of depicting the truth while telling an interesting and poignant story.  I highly recommend this series, both for children and adults.

Annison’s Risk:
It is the 1920's and 'Dreamy Madina', or Maddy as she is known, has come with her family to America from Russia to escape the Russian Revolution.  She now lives in Odyssey and often has dreams of a fairy tale princess who asks for her help.  She loves to read and has many fanciful ideas.  While playing hide and seek with a neighbor boy she is transported to a palace in Marus - where she sees the princess from her dreams.  She can only jump into this real life fairy tale with her whole heart, and she just might learn something - and help save the kingdom.

This retelling of the story of Esther was wonderfully done, and I am really enjoying the author's take on Biblical stories through the lens of Odyssey.  In the few books I've read so far, they have done a great job of depicting the truth while telling an interesting and poignant story.

Visit for more information about the publisher of this and other great books.

Review of "It Had to be You" by Susan May Warren

The second book in the Christiansen Family series by Susan May Warren, and I think I liked it even better than the first. Eden is one of my favorites from the Christiansen clan. She is everyone's cheerleader, truly believing in their strengths, yet fails to see her own true value. She is struggling to find her place in the world and perceives that everyone else has something special but her. Her younger brother Owen has just earned a contract to play professional hockey and he is edging off the straight and narrow, not seeing how the choices he makes in the moment can have long term consequences.

Owen's teammate, team captain Jace Jacobsen, has a "reputation" - although we very quickly see his real heart. He appears to have everything he could ever want but carries around a huge amount of guilt and loss. He feels things deeply and even after a short period of time realizes Eden just might be the person he could spend his life with.

I love the way the author wove several storylines together seamlessly, not taking the expected way to tie things together but showing how broken things can be made beautiful when you allow God to fulfill His purposes in your life. I wholeheartedly recommend this book!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Review of "A Broken Kind of Beautiful" by Katie Ganshert

So. I really didn't want to keep reading this book, because if I kept reading, that meant I would finish it at some point. I just didn't want it to be over.

Model Ivy Clark is just 24 years old but feels like she's lived enough for many lifetimes. She has been lauded - and now marginalized - by the fashion industry, so when her recently deceased father's widow Marilyn invites her to be the new face of her bridal wear for a photo shoot, she reluctantly agrees.

Although Ivy is the "result" of her husband James' infidelity, Marilyn loves her deeply, and would do just about anything to be a part of her life. The other main characters include Davis Knight, Marilyn's nephew and a mystery to Ivy, as he learns to truly see her; and Sara Knight, his sister.

As an aside, the blurb on the back of this book is one of the most interesting I've ever read. You will see it and be intrigued - and you will absolutely love this book. The characters are rich and layered and interesting; the setting she describes I want to visit; the journey all of our characters take to arrive to a new understanding of themselves and God, beautiful. Many thanks to Katie Ganshert for a moving and gorgeously written book. And thank you for the epilogue, too :)

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

For more information about this fabulous author's great books, please visit

Monday, April 21, 2014

Review of "A Table by the Window" by Hillary Manton Lodge

I love this author; in fact, I'm pretty sure she's one of my new favorites. Although I had previously read and enjoyed her first two books, "Plain Jayne" and it's follow up, "Simply Sara", I didn't immediately realize that they shared a crossover character with "A Table by the Window" - Juliette, our heroine. The books don't necessarily intersect, nor is it required to read those prior to enjoying this one; they simply share some common ground.

Juliette D'Alisa is the youngest in a large and dynamic family of  restaurateurs. She is currently a food writer but has dreams for something more. When her brother Nico invites her to join him in starting a new restaurant venture, she is torn between her safe and somewhat enjoyable job, and the possibilities of succeeding in the restaurant world - for real this time. The author also adds an element of romance (long distance, perhaps?!) and a even mystery, courtesy of her recently deceased and much loved grandmother.

Juliette is extremely likeable and interesting. You'll want to be related to her family or at least become one of their best friends. The travel, foodie tidbits, recipes (written with fun tips), and layered relationships make this one of my favorite books. I can't wait for the next installment!

A Table by the Window

Please check out the Author's Bio here:

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.