Monday, August 3, 2015

Sacred Marriage~


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The first Gary Thomas book that I read was "Sacred Search," a book for the not-yet-married. While he gave a ton of practical advice to those wanting-to-be-wed, he was mostly concerned with what God does inside of us when we're singles. 

It turns out that "Sacred Search" was a companion of sorts to his more well-known work, "Sacred Marriage." I've been keeping my eye out for a copy of "Sacred Marriage" for a while now, and when this newly repackaged edition was released, it seemed like an ideal time to give it a read. 

I now know why so many people consider this book a very unique look at marriage. 
It isn't a better-your-marriage book, per se, though Gary tells us that he hopes your relationship will grow deeper and richer because of what you may learn. Instead, it's a how-is-Christ-being-formed-in-me book. 

Gary works his way through eleven aspects of a marriage relationship, looking to reclaim the "spiritual purpose and significance" of each one. It all comes down to "How can God work in you as you try to live well with your spouse?" What is so refreshing about the book is that it's nothing new. 
And we need more books like this, where the author draws from the deep wells of Christian wisdom and reintroduces us to truth we may have lost. 

Truths such as... 
Struggles are an opportunity to form your character- Love is possible even when you're dealing with an unlovable behavior- It's your intertwined history that matters, that reminds you why you're better together- Every day that you're married, you'll have to "fall forward," to lean into each other, trust each other, and reconcile with each other. 

Now, that stuff may all seem painfully obvious, but Gary has a way of making it all seem like a beautiful challenge. He may seem to take a hard stance- "Holiness above Happiness!"- but really, he's convinced that a long, loving, life-giving marriage is a real possibility, and what would that be other than a source of holy happiness? 

Please, do your self a favor and try to read this book for you. God knows that I read a lot of books for other people- "Hphm. This is so her. If she would get this, her life would totally change." And from what I hear, it's even more tempting to "read" for an other person when you're married to them. You know them so well, you can't help but know exactly what lessons they need to learn! "This chapter- he needs this. This would straighten him right out. I'm underlining all my favorite parts so he can't miss them." 

Of course, some parts of the book make sense only in terms of a marriage, but most of this applies to every relationship. The section about learning to "fall forward" may have been my favorite part. By nature, Gary reminds us, fallen humans are runners and hiders, grasping for fig-leaves and retreating into shame. Those maneuvers won't do a marriage any favors. We've got to become good at meeting one another, hearing one another, assisting each other over obstacles that can be surmounted, and bearing together all the burdens that can't be changed.

So yes, I recommend this book. In an ordinary (mostly-healthy-but-definitely-flawed relationship) the wisdom of "Sacred Marriage" could help you set a new course towards greater Christian maturity and remind you why you want to love your people well. 

If you really want a full picture of marriage, ala Gary Thomas, grab a copy of his "Lifelong Love" too. 

I thank Zondervan through Booklook Bloggers for providing my review copy. 

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Together with You~



Together with You



"Together with You" is a strong story that hits all the right notes of hope and reality. 
The hope comes when the characters realize that they can build a very good life, even when their reality will include hard choices and perpetual struggles. 

Carly Jo comes from a tight-knit Kentucky community, and her beloved father is the town's preacher-man. From him, she learned the truths of her faith, and he modeled care and kindness and fidelity. It's no wonder that she would end up working with children. 

It is a wonder that all the steps and stops of her life would take her so far from her roots. We meet her in California, living in a doctors home, as a nanny/caregiver for his motherless daughter. 

This story may remind you of "The Sound of Music" in all the right ways. 
There's a serious man, a decent man, who's lost touch with his children's hearts. 
There's a handful of kids who need both guidance *and* some good times with their dad. 
And there's a gentle woman, strong enough in the strength that comes from God to give her all in the name of healing a family. 

This is a romance, most definitely, but the author remembers a critical point- that there are many kinds of love in the world- and she weaves them all into her story.  There are moments of innocent humor, and moments of familial goodness, and moments of tenderness between two people who are better together than apart. 
I'll be on the lookout for another book by Victoria Bylin. I thank Bethany House for providing me with a review copy.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Onward: Engaging the Culture Because of the Gospel.

Onward: Engaging the Culture without Losing the Gospel




I got a letter in the mail today, from a "Christian organization." They were offering me a CD of a new talk that their founder had delivered. The subject was emblazoned on the envelope- "Addressing Today's Moral Slide." 
I tossed it directly in the trash, annoyed by yet another America-is-riding-towards-hell-in-a-hybrid-car screed. Truth be told, I was annoyed because I've owned that mindset for myself. 

As an American Christian, I see two main scripts when it comes to addressing my world. One: "Depravity surrounds us! We've lost the youth. The people in power are trying to get rid of God! We've got to take our country back!" 
And the other: "Just don't look Out There. Just carry on as a nice Christian, and don't let culture wars and politics distract you from shining your tiny light."

While one book cannot be a cure-all for an unhealthy worldview, Russell Moore's "Onward" can be a strong first dose of medicinal tonic. 
And trust me, this is bracing stuff. 
The subtitle gives you a decent hint- "Engaging the culture without losing the Gospel"- but I think it could have been phrased even better than that. I'd say something like "Engaging the culture because of the Gospel." 

See, Dr. Moore's book isn't a "Hang onto Jesus while you navigate the alligator-infested waters of modern America" book. It's a "Your Lord is alive forevermore, and your life is hidden in Him. You'e also a citizen in a particular country, American, so the Gospel must work through you in your place and time. As walk in Christ's way, how can you understand your world in order to speak His word into it?"

The more I read, the more I found myself feeling like I'd been turned right-side up after a period of being hung up-side down. 

There's a lot of voices out there crying "Christian persecution in America!" and some of them are very well-informed individuals making important points. There *are* changes in the way our nation, collectively, relates to religion.

Remember the Bible Belt- made up of Southern communities where it was assumed that every citizen was a Christian, where Church attendance was a foregone conclusion, and where personal Biblical literacy remained a strong possibility, that place some see as the last bastion of American Christianity? It's probably on it's way to collapsing. 
Dr. Moore makes this observation within his first few pages. 

That was his introduction to the faith- a Southern Baptist community where the local culture revolved around the church and the citizens respected Christian teaching. He loves the church he came from. But he loves the Christ who founded the Church even more. 

So instead of finding somebody to blame, or talking more about how we've taken-God-out-of-schools and provided such poor Hollywood role models, or seeing this as a reversal of God's plans, Dr. Moore believes there are good reasons why we could welcome the changes. 

WHY? 
Think about this, for a minute. 
What if the Gospel was (again) considered strange when it hit the average American's ears? 
What if its strangeness required a response? 
Might this actually lead to more born-again, converted Christians? 

What if we Christians have been misusing America (and misidentifying ourselves) for quite a while? 
By this I mean, what if we've been using the basically good American people that surround us and the morality-based laws that govern us to reassure ourselves that we're doing all right, as a Church and as a country? 

What if we've been counting on "traditional American family values" to give us safe streets and stable families? 
(And now, we're getting the uncomfortable feeling that American values ain't what they used to be.) 
What if we've tried with law and rule to get results that only the Gospel can give? (And now, it seems that same power of law could be used to pinch our Christian style.) 
What if we've drawn false comfort from the way people still rally around the "God and Country" narrative? (And all along, it was never meant to be about God and country. Our message was "Christ is risen!")

Yes. America is a great country, with a fine and honorable history. I am grateful to live here, and we should be both proud and humbled by the stories that our national history contains. 

My Christianity is neither "under attack" here, nor do I despair of my country's future. Instead, I want to live well in the life of Christ, with my feet planted on American soil. 


So, what are we to do with all of these thoughts? 
Step one: Read this book. 
Just kidding. No, I'm actually not. "Onward" would be a fine place to begin, to point you back to the Gospel, to help you gaze at that Life-giving mystery, and then to think well about the world the Gospel came to. 

Dr. Moore has so much to say, and I can't do it justice by listing his topics, but I have to give you a general idea. 
What is the Kingdom? What is our Mission? What is the Church within the culture? What are the roles and limits of the State and what is the reach and limits of the Church? 
What about human dignity, family stability, and religious liberty? 
What is convictional kindness, and what does it mean for our witness? 

This isn't a book of dogmatic pronouncements- "Engage this much and not that much, protest this thing and vote for this man." 
Rather, over and over, Dr. Moore uses his words to show us the Gospel, grounding his observations about the visible world (America, politics, evangelism, liberty, marriage, justice) in the truth we have about the invisible Reality. 

I'll have to read this book again, slowly, more than once to really grasp the arguments here. For this time, let my best review be this: I want to read this book again. There was challenge and conviction and Gospel clarification all over the pages. 


I thank B&H Publishing for providing me with a copy of "Onward." I wasn't  obligated to provide a book review, but I wanted to. And here it is. 

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tattered and Mended


Tattered and Mended: The Art of Healing the Wounded Soul



Battered. Broken. Frayed. Cast-off. Shattered. Torn. Tarnished. 
Those words describe the way that human hearts and souls can sometimes feel. Painful to read it, isn't it? But who hasn't lived this list in one way or another? Who doesn't know their own tattered edges?

Now, another list.
Rescued. Pieced-together. Reclaimed. Healed. Restored. 
These words describe what God can do, if He is offered our raw and ragged materials to work with. 

The past cannot be changed. Some scars do not fade. 
Some devastating choices will echo on in your ears over decades. 
Yes, there are things beyond fixing.... if what you mean by "fixing" would requires a time machine, putting things back the way they were.

Yet there's nothing beyond mending, because mending operates out of the truth of being torn. 
What tattered soul wouldn't be drawn to the offer of mending? 

Cynthia Ruchti cups her two hands and dips into the well of Hope, drawing from the deep heart of Jesus, and she holds them out to you in these pages. "Come," says, "and believe in the mending, because here's where I'm mended. See where he restored my soul? Where are you torn? " 
Cynthia is talking about the hardest, grittiest circumstances. Prison sentences and battles with metal illness are not brushed under the rug. She is convinced that God can take on all tears, all tatters. Even if you've been ripped in half, she dares you to believe that He can close your wound. 

"Tattered and Mended" is a delight to read. It's rich, oh-so-rich with Scripture and tender wisdom. You could read it in a gulp if your heart is hungry, or you can nibble it slice by slice for a bit of goodness every day. 

Every page whispers "Look, the Glory of God." Because that's where we see his glory, just as it was in the Gospel- when Christ touches human suffering, and mends it.  

Friday, July 24, 2015

The Lost Garden~



The Lost Garden


"The Lost Garden" is a very dear story, told with fine attention to detail. It's a story broad enough to contain the troubles of life and to show the tenderness of love. It may wrench your heart a bit, but it will put it back in place stronger than it was before. 

Two sets of sisters, living in the same place, but one hundred years apart. Eleanor and Katherine right after the Armistice in 1919, and Marin and Rebecca in modern times. Both pairs are dealing with loss, trying to feel their way back to something good and safe and lasting. 

Their stories connect when Marin finds a lost garden and feels an urge to restore it. It was a similar urge- to work with her hands and her imagination to create a sanctuary space- that led Eleanor to establish the garden in the first place. 

The first half of this book moves deliberately and without a wasted moment, much the way you begin a garden. You work carefully, with a goal in mind, and every step you take matters later in the season. 
Then, mid-way through, the story gains sudden intensity (everything begins to flower and fruit, as it were) and the final half had me riveted. 

Both lives- Eleanor's and Marin's- were drawn so carefully. I could see their hearts, and in one or two spots I could feel their emotions. I recognized myself in them as they looked at the world and wondered how they could make a good life. 

I'm delighted to add this book to my shelf beside Swartz's earlier novel, "The Vicar's Wife." 
I thank Kregel for providing me with a review copy.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Untangled~

Untangled: Let God Loosen the Knots of Insecurity in Your Life



Every woman has a tangle or two in her life- a knot in her heart that keeps her from living fully free. Sometimes the knots are made of tiny threads, and sometimes they seem to be chains forged from steel. 

Some knots can be untied quickly, a words of guidance or encouragement amid a hard day will suffice.
The harder knots may require bolt-cutters: God's grace and much human wisdom. 

Whatever knot is wrapped around your heart, whatever sort of tangle is cutting off your flow of life, Carey Scott believes that it can be undone. 

Now, she doesn't have a five-step process for taking the scissors to your knots. And she doesn't pretend that we can change the past or remove all traces of its troubles. She has, however, seen what can happen when a woman decides to deal with her tangles. There can be remarkable, good change in her life. 

Carey addresses some of the specific strings that can trip us up, drawing from her own experiences. 
We can get tangled in all manner of expectations. We can get tied up in performance. We can get tied up in presenting our appearance. 

Oh, how we need a sisterly guide to help us find ourselves safe in Jesus, and to encourage us to share our hearts with others. You may find moments of such guidance in "Untangled."

I thank Revell Publishing for providing me with a review copy.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Reasonable Response~


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First, I have to apologize for not giving this book the reading it deserved. I was far out of my depth in this material, and I didn't know that when I requested this book for review. I had experienced Professor Craig's writing only as quotes in other people's books, and I wanted an entire volume by him. 

I am glad that I have "A Reasonable Response" as a reference book, but I won't be able to appreciate it without more study. My main trouble was that I'm not conversant with the terminology used. That is s not to say that Dr. Craig doesn't define his terms- he does, quite well. It's just that I haven't immersed myself in these ideas enough so that I could understand how it all fit together. 

At some point, I hope to return to this book and re-encounter the concepts of "metaphysical necessity," or the difference between a premise being true and being warranted, or what it means for a belief to be "properly basic." 

At this point, I'll say that Part Five was the one I spent the most time in, "Questions about Jesus Christ and being His disciple." I was able to access the arguments in this section with a bit more success. 

Section Six, on personal and moral issues, may provide a few moments of disagreement when he discusses the practical implications of his views. Read, as always, with an eye for unity amid differing opinions. 

I thank Moody Press Newsroom for providing me with a review copy, and I'm sorry my "review" was so anemic.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Letters from my Father's Murderer~


Letters from My Father's Murderer: A Journey of Forgiveness



My most succinct review and my highest praise would be one and the same for Laurie Coombs' book: "Letters from my Father's Murderer" is a picture of the Gospel in action. 

We could speak at length about justice and mercy and redemption and forgiveness, and it would be fascinating conversation. The ways of God are always worth meditating upon. Yet what happens when you desperately want to walk in God's ways, and your world has been ripped apart by your father's murder? 

Laurie Coombs and her family found themselves living the life behind that horrible headline. Once the trial ended, and "justice" was done, their beloved Dad was gone, their questions were still unanswered.

Laurie was a relatively new Christian, in a young marriage, and a mom of small children, and she'd never felt worse. Her health was falling apart, her mind was fogged, her spirit was continually troubled. She begged God to give her peace and soundness of mind again, but she felt only fears, anxieties, grief, and bitterness. (Exactly what you would expect to feel, mere years after burying your Dad!) 

Laurie knew one thing- God was not content to leave her in a pit of bitterness. 
The power of Christ inside her could surely make something good and beautiful out of all of this.

In the wake of such harm, Laurie dared to believe God for healing.

And thus begins this true story. If you had the chance to write letters to your father's murderer, what would you say? What would you want from him? What if your deepest desire was to see the Gospel in all of this.... even if it meant letting God lead you through the unknown and the painful?

And as if the story of a Laurie forgiving her father's murderer isn't enough, this isn't only Laurie's journey. God had never given up on the man she was forgiving. The grace found in Christ is strong enough, and His love is wide enough, for murderers as well as for "the rest of us." 
Could you call your father's murderer your brother in Christ? 

"Scripture was being played out in my life's story, and I just couldn't seem to get over the beauty of what God was doing right before my eyes. The thought of God using me to help bring forgiveness and healing to the very one who had harmed me was a beautiful thing. I saw it as a picture of the Gospel itself." ~Laurie Coombs, on her relationship with the man who murdered her father. 

I thank Laurie and Tony for sharing their story, Kregel for publishing it, and Litfuse Publicity for providing me with a copy. 

Friday, July 17, 2015

Thriving in Babylon~




Thriving in Babylon: Why Hope, Humility, and Wisdom Matter in a Godless Culture


Hope, Humility, and Wisdom. 
They matter if you're trying to live well in a troubled world. 

For Daniel, his troubled world was Babylon. For you and I, it's probably some corner of America. 
(I've actually heard serious discussion about whether America is the "Babylon" of prophecy. We won't quibble about that.)

Let's take the comparison between those places this far: when we look around our world we too see a lot of not-gods being exalted and leaving their worshippers empty. 
We see violence and destruction in our cities- fear stalks our children. 
We find sexuality being presented without the protection of reverence. 
Our leaders are politicians, and we expect them to lie- and in turn we begin slandering them as soon as they announce a bid for office. 
We Christians supposed to be "salt" and "light" in a dark and flavorless world, but if it's not an outside circumstance tripping us up, our own pride and tempers keep us from the ways of God.

How shall we then live? 

Larry Osborne takes you to the story of Daniel, highlighting the way God taught him how to live. Frankly, it's hard to imagine a country more hostile to the God of Scripture than Babylon, yet the leaders of Babylon came to deeply respect this devoted Hebrew. How? 
Daniel was taken from his home as a captive, yet he came to a position of influence. 
His viewpoints would have been very controversial, yet the reputation of his integrity won him a hearing. 
He lived peaceably amidst the pagans, while practicing fidelity to his God. 
Oh, the lessons we can learn from Daniel! 

And "Thriving in Babylon" is an upbeat-and-yet-serious, challenging and pastoral look at these lessons. As with every title I've read from David C Cook publishers, a lot is said in 199 pages. Expect to underline and make notes. 

"When we obey the light we have, God shows up. And every time he does, our hope grows stronger. We begin to experience Biblical hope: the deep-seated optimism and confidence that comes from knowing that God can be trusted even when we have no idea what he's up to." ~Larry Osborne 

Marriage on the Mend~

Marriage on the Mend



No matter what stage of life we're in, at some point we all start craving guidance. We long to hear "This is the way, walk in it." And we need this guidance to come from a heart of understanding. We don't just need a sermon or advice, we need compassion from someone who's been there. 

When it comes to marriages breaking and marriage mending, Clint and Penny Bragg have most definitely been there. 
In this slim, accessible book, they're willing to be honest about both halves of the story: the falling-apart relationship they suffered through and the carefully-rebuilt love that they have now. 

They unpack their emotions and discuss their fears and reveal their failures, and they point to their source of hope and strength. 

An quietly honest book like this one, that doesn't offer easy answers but does tell what steps they personally took, could be of use to various people. If you want to strengthen a relationship now, you could read this to hunt for a little wisdom. If you're one of two willing parties trying to restore a relationship, you can read this to remind yourself that it can be done. 

I thank Kregel Publications for my review copy, provided through Fred St. Laurent's Book Club Network.


Monday, July 13, 2015

A Trip Around the Sun~


A Trip Around the Sun: Turning Your Everyday Life Into the Adventure of a Lifetime


I had heard so much about Mark Batterson's books, but I'd never gotten around to reading one of them. I decided to change that when "A Trip Around the Sun" came up for review from Baker books.

In this book, Mark introduces us to his dear friend and mentor, Richard Foth. Together, these men lay out their visions for what abundant, adventurous life looks like. Both men find God to be the source of all goodness, so worship of Him and service for Him provides their daily purpose, and inspires their work.

In a series of short dual-perspective chapters, Mark and Dick engage with various personal-growth themes. You can tell from the way their thoughts complement each other that they have a bond of deep respect and affection. This comes through in their writing, and each thought they present comes with stories from their own lives.

The last sentence of each chapter gives you a peek into the heart of their message.
"Don't Accumulate Possessions, Accumulate Experiences."
"Goals are Dreams with Deadlines."
"Catch People Doing Things Right."
"Happiness is a by-product of Holiness."
"Never Lose a Holy Curiosity."
"The Greatest Freedom is Having Nothing to Prove."
"The Closest Thing to Christ-Likeness is Child-Likeness."
And finally, "It's Never Too Late to Be Who You Might Have Been."

Clearly, this is a book by men who believe that God isn't going to run short of glory or mercy, and that we all can live with grace and enthusiasm.
If that sounds good to you, or if you feel like you're stuck in a rut, grab a copy of "A Trip Around the Sun."

Meanwhile, I'll be on the lookout for other Batterson books. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

The Broad Fork, a cookbook.

The Broad Fork: Recipes for the Wide World of Vegetables and Fruits



I'm grateful to have a sunny piece of land to plant a garden in, and I'm delighted by the arrival of ready crops: multiple kinds of summer squash, crisp cucumbers, heavy tomatoes, home-grown potatoes, red radishes, tiny eggplants, beets and their greens, basil in pots, cabbages and Brussels sprouts, bush and pole beans, even a pepper or two. And if these cultivated plants aren't enough, we can forage the wild for blueberries and blackberries in their season. 

Indeed, Summer is a time of abundance, with almost infinite sweet and savory possibilities. 
So that's why I was so happy to get a copy of "The Broad Fork." Hugh Acheson is a two-time James Beard Award winning chef, who has a serious love for fresh produce, and his new book releases right in the middle of garden season? Count me in. 

"The Broad Fork" provides ideas for every one of the vegetables and fruits I mentioned, as well as almost three dozen more varieties of produce- from tatsoi to garlic to asparagus to morels to melons to corn. 
The best part of this book for me was Hugh's evident delight in his topic. (The guy has a radish tattooed on his arm to remind him of the first thing he ever grew, his introduction to the farm/food/table cycle.) 

He has a profound respect and admiration for the men and women who till the earth and bring us its bounty. That's why his cookbook includes profiles of his favorite local farms, and encouragement for you and I to find out what's growing in our own area. "Making friends with farmers" would have been an apt subtitle for this volume, and I mean that in the very best of ways.

I'm blessed with a garden, but if you don't have that then Hugh points to the opportunities found at farmer's markets and CSAs. 

Now, about the recipes themselves. 
On rare occasions I'll follow a recipe exactly, but I typically use cookbooks for inspiration. I get the basic idea, and then I take off in my own direction.
(Yeah... I know what you're thinking. Sometimes my results *are* admittedly interesting.) I've been marking all the recipes I plan to follow. One of them is "duxelle," a mushroom paste that sounds like a delicious complement for roast. Another is corn spoonbread... sounds great. Another is roasted beet soup with hard-boiled eggs. Then there's fried okra with remoulade. Or creamy cauliflower gratin. Or eggplant with tahini and yogurt. 

Doesn't this all sound so good? 

Now, some of the ingredients I have never seen before. (This is a restaurant chef's book, after all!) I don't have fresh thyme, sherry vinegar, pancetta, or speck- just found out that the latter is an Italian ham. BUT- I do think that these recipes can be a fabulous jumping-off point for the home cook. I hate to use the dreaded word "substitution," but I'm sure there's a way to make this work. I will use cream cheese in place of fromage blanc on my radish cucumber sandwich, and I think it will be fine. :-D 

In short, I was sitting here reading this cookbook, and another family member came along and grabbed it, looked at the pictures, and began making requests. This is a cookbook worth studying and learning from. And reading it is a pleasure, too. 

Thank you to Clarkson Potter Publishers for providing my review copy through Blogging for Books.




Saturday, July 11, 2015

Dare to Answer~

Dare to Answer: 8 Questions that Awaken Your Faith


"Dare to Answer" by John Busaker is one of those books that immediately sets you off in the wrong direction. 
You read something it in and you think "This would be great for so-and-so, she really needs this." 

The author describes two doors. Behind the first one are fifteen things that are not pretty, and we can easily fool ourselves into thinking "Nope, that's not me." Door number two hides nine aspects, all God-inspired, which we could all enjoy more of with some time and care. 

This could be considered a self-help book. It's easy going and at the end of each question/chapter there are a couple of Scriptures to examine and a couple personal challenges to address. 

It is designed to deepen your faith, with the author realizing that this takes time and patience. I liked it, and now am going to look through it again for the referenced Scriptures. 

It's a hardcover book, small in size, and would make a good travel companion. 
Thank you to Worthy Publishing for providing me with a review copy.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Love Arrives in Pieces~


Love Arrives in Pieces


 Mosaic: disparate, broken pieces, some of them literal trash, selected by an artist and then brought together into a new whole that is so right and true that you almost forget the material's past existence- but not quite. 

 When you look at a mosaic, you're aware that the current beauty was formed out of sheer brokenness. The past is renewed and reformed in the present, and we recognize the art of that. 

 The idea of a mosaic as a metaphor for our spiritual transformation is not a new one, but it is incarnated in a fresh and satisfying way in Betsy St. Amant's latest novel. 

 At first I thought, "Well, this is like a decent Hallmark movie. Guy and girl have A History Together, and both of them are All Grown Up Now and Trying to Move On, but they end up in the Same Small Town and all the old patterns are still in place. Sparks Fly, Etc. That's nice. This will be an entertaining little read." 

 And then by the end I was saying "Whoa. That went deeper than I'd thought it would." 

 If you want a love story, you'll find one here. If you also want a touch of grace, a reminder that our pieces can come back together in surprising, healing, and lovely ways.... then you'll find that here too. 

 I thank Booklook for providing me with a copy of Love Arrives in Pieces in exchange for my opinion. :-)

Monday, July 6, 2015

Summer's List~



Summer's List


"Summer's List" is a warm-hearted story filled with characters who are just-this-side-of-fanciful yet real enough that you'll root for them. 

After caring for her parents during a long post-accident recovery, and then losing them to their injuries, Summer Snow formed a very tight bond with her Granny. She learned every lesson of life from Granny, finding love in Granny's arms and hope in Granny's faith, and she formed her early adulthood around Granny and the bookshop they ran together. 

And now, she's about to lose Granny too. Heart failure is slowly sapping her strength, but Summer's grandmother knows that she can't leave this earth without giving Summer one final gift. The "gift" is an odd one- it's a list of things that Summer has to do, most of them whimsical and beautiful. 
The clincher is, Granny wants Summer to complete this list in the company of a childhood best friend, Martin.

Contacting and reuniting with Martin is step one on Summer's list, and their old camaraderie may just the healing balm Summer needs in this painful hour. If only Martin didn't have so many troubles in his own family! 

As Summer executes her Granny's wishes, engaging in the activities Granny chose, something becomes increasingly clear. This wasn't about the list. It was about a new mindset, a new way of looking at the world. The list was only the beginning. 

Maybe the true adventure is found right in our daily lives, when we open ourselves up to love, when we keep an eye out for wonderful possibilities, when we listen to someone else's story. That, for me, was the heart of "Summer's List."  I thank Litfuse Publicity and River North Fiction for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my opinion. 

Sunday, July 5, 2015

The Mapmaker's Children


The Mapmaker's Children




When I began "The Mapmaker's Children," I was only passingly familiar with the man named John Brown. 
In case you don't remember him either, he was the radical abolitionist and insurrectionist who was executed in 1859 for seizing a government building in the Harper's Ferry raid. With deep, Scripture-centered convictions about the evil of slavery, Mr. Brown determined to lead a rebellion and set the slaves free. The tragedy is the blood he shed in the process. I'm sure volumes have been written about the man and his mind and motivations, because his acts are considered one of the catalysts that began the War Between the States.

"The Mapmaker's Children" is not a John Brown biography. It's not a historical biography of anybody, as the author tells us in her endnotes. It is the story of two women, one from today and one from a hundred and fifty years ago. The lady from the past, though, is based on John Brown's daughter- Sarah. 

By the end of this book, I was both intrigued and troubled by John Brown's role in history, and I cared about the fate of his family as the author imagined it. 

Sarah is fiercely loyal to her father, even when she wishes that he'd trust her with his plans. The fight for abolition is men's work, yet Sarah has a skill that her father needs. She is a deft and talented artist, with a memory for natural scenes and a hand that captures their likeness keenly. Sarah has what is needed to be a mapmaker for the Underground Railroad. 

This is her story- of her grief over her father, her choices of how to live and who to love, and her heart full of devotion in a torn world. And it may become your new favorite historical novel. 

Of course, there is the modern storyline too. That story, and its links to Sarah's, comes together with similar power. Eden and Jack Anderson have spent years trying to "start a family." That innocent little phrase masks the regret, frustration, and fear that came along with infertility. And Eden feels so alone. 

Over the course of Eden's chapters, we watch her slowly come back to life again in all the best ways. We feel little stabs of her pain, and we taste the small pleasures that sneak into her dark days. The supporting characters are gems, too, with their own struggles and moments of growth. 

"The Mapmaker's Children" is a great example of a dual-perspective novel. It marries the modern and historical voices, and keeps both individual stories moving along while engaging the reader.
I thank Crown Publishing through Blogging for Books for my review copy. 

Saturday, July 4, 2015

The Wonder of You~



The Wonder of You (Christiansen Family, #5)

So, we've been loving the Christiansen family for the last two years now.
We've followed their adventures, gotten misty over their heartaches, and delighted in their personal renewals.
Darek, Eden, Grace, and Casper have revealed their secrets through the pages.
But little Amelia, the baby of the family- she's stayed a mystery.
Oh sure, we saw her in the background- camera around her neck, lending a hand at the family's resort, and encouraging everyone else to expect wonderful things.

Now, this is Amelia's turn to tell her story.
She's not sure whether it was a reach for independence or a desire to make her own mark in the world, but she went further away from home than any of her siblings. She went all the way to Prague. And then she came back.
What happened in the middle is unknown to most of her clan. She only shared bits and pieces. They know that her heart got broken- some guy named Roark. And they know that Roark came to Deep Haven, showed up at their door just as bold as you please.
And Amelia's brothers send him home- all the way back across The Pond. Good riddance, it's over.

Well, what if Roark and Amelia weren't as over as it seemed? What if he came back again- risking the wrath of the Christiansen men to win the lady's hand? As you can imagine with a set-up like that, there'd plenty of drama in Deep Haven. (There'd also be plenty of small town charm, as Roark tried to enter Amelia's world.)

The sub-plot is a continuation of Max and Grace's story, and I found it to be a worthy follow-up to their own "When I Fall in Love." If you've been wondering when/where/and how those two tie the knot, expect to laugh at the answer. And if you've been wondering how Max and Grace can make a life of love together while expecting a painful future, you'll be touched by their decisions.

I'm glad to have "The Wonder of You" on my shelf. I'll be returning to it as a comfort read when I need a pick-me-up some day.
It's hard to believe that our time in Deep Haven with a Christiansen tour guide is almost over. Owen's story is the last one left to tell, and I'm eager to hear it. In the meanwhile, open this book and find yourself at Evergreen Resort- where the food is delicious, the campfire is merry, and the door is open to many new friends.

I thank Tyndale Publishers for my review copy.

Friday, July 3, 2015

Seeing in the Dark~

Seeing in the Dark: Finding God's Light in the Most Unexpected Places



I never try to stare at the noonday sun, yet I'll feast eyes on its reflected light in a rising moon. 
Electricity is a wonderful convenience, yet some of my favorite evenings come from power outages when my world is lit only by candles. 

I can conjure up those images right now: the moon, like a burnished pearl in the Eastern sky, and the candle flames flickering in every air current. Why do they make such an impression on me? 
Because in both cases, I was seeing pure light in the darkness. 

Now this is a statement from Captain Obvious, but I'll make it anyway: In the darkness, light is necessary and precious. And as Nancy Ortberg admits in this book, some parts of life defy any other description than "dark." Yet at the same time, our Savior called Himself the Light of the World. 

This new book by Nancy came to me at just the right time. The past few weeks have been a reminder that it is good *and* hard to be human. A book about "finding God's light in the most unexpected places" was just what I needed. 

Nancy's writing style is neither cozy nor is it stark. Her words are borne from living, and from meditating on what life does to us as we live it. I felt as if she knew me at times.  
I love the Dallas Willard wisdom that she shares here- "God only meets us in one place, and that's reality."
She takes that basic heartbeat, and traces out what that means. When reality is dark and God is our Light, what has that meant to her? To people she's talked to? How has it changed the way they walk in a time of darkness? 

Each chapter is connected, because they're all about the same theme- Light in the dark. Yet they're each self-contained, almost like a collection of essays. I skipped around, reading one at a time and stopping often to re-read and consider and then underline or make a note. There's gems of truth in here.

I'll be filing this book on my keeper shelf, and I'll be looking for Nancy's other book, "Looking for God." 

I thank Tyndale for providing me with a review copy in exchange for my honest opinion.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Weak, yet Strong in Christ.

Stronger: How Hard Times Reveal God's Greatest Power




All right, I'll admit it. I judged this book by it's cover. I figured it was another "Rah, rah, rah" book about staying strong in life, probably filled with sports analogies to hammer the points home. Needless to say, I wasn't too eager to read any of that. 

I'm so glad that I requested this book to review anyway. It's a thoughtful, personal, Christ-focused revelation of Clayton King's own life and loss and love. Only after he bares his heart does he ask us to tip our own chins up and look for God's ways in our individual hard times. 

Each chapter speaks of a different way that God may come to us during those hard times. He speaks of Presence, Testimony, Brokenness, Humility, Regret, Worship, Vulnerability, Understanding, and Glory. As you can see, he doesn't shy away from the difficult things, and he doesn't promise ease or even answers. Instead, he sets the hard things in the context of your life as a whole, a life lived in Christ for Christ and by the strength of Christ.

And that is why, despite the fact that hard times make us feel so weak and frightened, we can rest assured that God is stronger, and His strength is working mightily in us. 

I'm adding this book to my Short List for Young Christians. It would join "Flesh" by Hugh Halter, "Look and Live" by Matt Papa, "Simply Open" by Greg Paul, "Life with a Capital L" by Matt Heard, and "Home Behind the Sun" by Tim Willard and Jason Locy. I thank Baker Publishing for providing me with a review copy.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

A Friend in Me~

A Friend in Me: Building Trust with the Next Generation of Women




First off, I'm reading and reviewing (and enjoying) this book as one of The Next Generation.
(No, not the Star Trek fandom, the young Christians growing up today.) 

And I have to say, I love the ideas behind this book and I want to be a part of putting these concepts into practice. 

The longing for somebody to listen to us without getting upset or thinking they need to be our savior, to share their life lessons without being heavy handed or negative and to give the precious gift of their time and affection- I think those are universal desires. 

Some say it's mentoring, some say it's making disciples, some just call it friendship, whatever word you use it all comes down to intentional investment in another's life. I can do that, you can do that, and somebody can do that for us. 

Frankly, if an older woman came alongside me and began listening to me and talking with me following the approach outlined in this book, I'd probably soak it right up. Pamela encourages women to gain one main quality- that of being a safe haven. 

If you expect to speak frankly about "vocation" and "sexuality" and other charged topics, then you'd better be an open-hearted listener. We'd better know that our secrets are safe and our struggles aren't turn-offs. You'd better be able to bear with issues that may have no resolution, and to encourage our frail little dreams. 

There is a place- a big place- for guidance and even correction. 
It just has to be planted in the good soil of Trust, Comfort, Understanding, and Compassion. 
"A Friend in Me" makes this abundantly clear. And it also makes clear the wonderful weight of a well-spoken word. Kind words, inspiring words, dream-giving words, they can feed a heart and change a whole life. 

So let's all be a safe haven for somebody. Let's all speak worthy words. Let's be friends. 

Thank you David C Cook publishers through Litfuse Publicity for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.