Monday, July 28, 2014

The Traitor's Heir

The Traitor's Heir (The Knight of Eldaran #1)

I don't compare books to Tolkien. He is the best. The Lord of the Rings.... often imitated never duplicated. That said, this is the best fantasy novel I've read since then. 

This story takes place in a land called the River Realm. This country is divided into many provinces all around a great and branching river, and those provinces contain both metropolis cities and smaller villages. Our hero Eamon, comes from one of those villages. 
Eamon is 23 years old, and he has one goal: to be a member of the River Realm's elite fighting force, the Gauntlet. When this story begins he is a cadet at a military college, learning to serve his land's Master. His dream is to become one of the Master's official Hands.

Eamon will not be swayed from this course until the night he must help execute a dear friend. This friend's crime was disloyalty to the Master, the friend claimed to serve a truer King.

Now Eamon can feel two forces drawing on his strength, two calls summoning him, two kingdoms vying for his fealty. 
Will he answer to Eamon, or Eben's Son? Will he pursue the power of the Master's red flame, or seek the purity of the Wayfarer's blue light? 

Oh, the tension is high in this story. And it's wonderful and weaves a strong spell. The scenes of nobility stirred my heart and the scenes of horror made my skin crawl. 
The first half was adventure and warfare, the second half explored more of Eamon's internal crises, his ambitions and cravings. 
I loved Eamon and hated him over and over. His hunger and thirst for righteousness were as real as his moral bankruptcy. One moment he remembered who he really was, and the next he listened to the lying whisper. He was clean and brave, and he was wretched and despairing. 
The characters in this story are vulnerable and they break easily, but they also mend. 

Anna Thayer has written a story that authentically wrestles with big themes. They flow naturally through this fantastic story. 

So... is there another book coming? Yes! I'm glad to report there is. The Broken Blade and The King's Hand. Is there enough story here to fill three four hundred page books? Yes! The history of the River Realm, and Eamon's own history, are unfloded in his visions and prove that there is plenty left to reveal. 

Thank you Kregel for my review copy.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Circle of Spies

Circle of Spies (The Culper Ring, #3)

The Culper Ring series got better by the book. 
I enjoyed Ring of Secrets. I liked Whispers from the Shadows. I loved Circle of Spies. 
The mystery ran deeper, the suspense was tenser, the characters felt even more alive to me. The family bonds that carry on from book to book through marriage and children, linking each story, are even more loving by this last volume.

Roseanna White's stories have now carried us from the Revolutionary War where we met the quick-witted Winter, to the War of 1812 where we met the sensitive Gwyneth, to the Civil War where we meet Marietta Hughes of the photographic memory.  
Marietta is existing, but not really living when this book opens. She is full of fears and desires, and she sees no true consolation or fulfillment on the horizon. 
She's lost a husband and a brother in the War between the States, and she lives now with her mother in law. Her dead husband's brother wants to marry her, and part of Marietta wants to give in. He promises a future for them together, and that may be the best she can hope for.  
Renewed joy, purpose, peace.... dare I say redemption?.... that is all beyond her. 

How odd that Marietta would get her first glimpse into hope the day she is introduced to horror. 
Her Grandfather shows her a secret: both her late husband and his brother are members of The Knights of the Golden Circle, and as a Confederate group they want to sabotage Lincoln. They've written it in blood. 

And Marietta must act as if she knows nothing. And she must help Slade Osborne, the Pinkerton Detective who is investigating. 

My favorite part of this story? Marietta's awakening. She had lost pieces of herself so many times that she was sure wholeness was gone forever. God restored her own soul, and her faith in Him. She gained back her passion, and it was no longer squandered on lesser gods.  

Roseanna White's trilogy richened with each installment. 

Thank you Harvest House for my review copies. 

Roseanna White

Roseanna M. White pens her novels under the Betsy Ross flag hanging above her desk, with her Jane Austen action figure watching over her. When she isn’t writing fiction, she’s editing it for WhiteFire Publishing, reviewing it for the Christian Review of Books, both of which she co-founded with her husband, or homeschooling her two small children.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

The Making of a Man

Making of a Man, The: How Men and Boys Honor God and Live with Integrity

The Making of a Man by Tim Brown, former NFL player for the Oakland Raiders, is a wonderfully scripted book with enough football facts to be of interest to me, a so-so NFL fan. 

Tim Brown had ample opportunity to hook-up with many women, many drugs, and much alcohol. It appears that his Faith in God steered him away from all of this and into family life, a sound marriage, and a lengthy career. 

Even if you're not a professional football player (and most of us are not) the book sheds light on this world from a Christian perspective and Tim Brown could serve as an example for young people looking for guidance. 

The numbers that Tim Brown put up player will someday put him in the football Hall of Fame, but he feels that the number of people he leads to God's Kingdom will be a far greater accomplishment. 

I agree. 

Thank you to Booklook Bloggers for my review copy!

Friday, July 25, 2014

Henri Nouwen, The Prodigal Son

Returning: Reflections on The Return of the Prodigal Son

"As I look from God's welcoming love into the world, I discover that God loves with a divine love, a love that cedes to all woman and men their uniqueness without ever comparing."

"The leap of faith always means loving without expecting to be loved in return, giving without wanting to receive, inviting without hoping to be invited, holding without asking to be held. And every time I make a little leap, I catch a glimpse of the One who runs out to me and invites me into his joy...." 

"In the context of a compassionate embrace, our brokenness may appear beautiful, but brokenness has not other beauty but the beauty that comes from the compassion that surrounds it." 

~ Henri Nouwen, The Return of the The Prodigal Son.

This is my first Henri Nouwen book. I looked at it and thought "This is a slim book, I'll have it finished in a day."  Wrong. Five days later, I am still reading. The the truth in this book is falling on my mind like rain... it is refreshing and life-giving, but I must stand still to let it soak me all the way through.
And I want to soak this stuff in. 

Henri Nouwen was deeply moved by Rembrandt's painting, The Prodigal Son. Most of us have probably glanced at a Rembrandt work, and we think we know the prodigal son story, but Henri pored over this painting, and as he looked he meditated on the parable as it is found in Luke 15. 

His own experiences, what he had learned about life and God, found their center in this parable and this painting, and he shares his story in this book. 

By the end of this book I can see parts of the beauty in this painting thanks to Henri's words. 
And not only the obvious aesthetics either, but the truth expressed in art. 
Rembrandt's own lasciviousness, his own heartbreak and losses, his own spiral of darkness, all influenced his work. Henri suggests that there is a change in Rembrandt's paintings as he grows older, one that culminates in The Prodigal Son.
When he was young he painted himself, drunk and carousing in a brothel, with the light glinting off of his sneering eyes and flashing finery. 
When he was old, he painted himself as a tender, blind old man, welcoming his son home, with light shining out of his face and hands. Is it possible that Rembrandt realized that the only light that lasts is the one that shines out of you, not the one that momentarily reflects off your earthly glory?

It is seamless, Henri's own transparency and humility, his thoughts on the painting, and his meditations on the parable. It all comes together. He returns the parable to what it should be, not a mere dusty metaphor died up and dead a few thousand years ago, or a simplistic tale, but the real story of every man and woman looking for their Home. 

Henri Nouwen appears to be one of those rare people of faith whose words are actually accessible to seekers. I would feel comfortable giving this book to anyone. 
You know how some Christians talk about this certain book that they re-read every year? 
It could certainly be this one. 

Another thing I liked? The front cover folds out and there is a little copy of the painting, so you can look at it from time to time. 

"I will discover the joys of the second childhood: comfort, mercy, and an ever-clearer vision of God. And as I reach home and feel the embrace of my Father, I will realize that not only heaven will be mine to claim, but that earth as well will become my inheritance, a place where I can live in freedom without obsessions or compulsions." ~ Henri Nouwen 

Thursday, July 24, 2014

"Teachable Moments"

Teachable Moments: Using Everyday Encounters with Media and Culture to Instill Conscience, Character, and Faith

Books about parenting are a lot like books about dating: there is a steady stream of new ones coming all the time, and they tend to miss the larger picture. 

With dating books, they focus on sex -not having it-  and they forget all about wholesome relationships in general. They don't talk about conversation, communion, and closeness, the intimacy that we are designed to have with multiple people of both genders and all ages. 
They boil it all down to sex, and fail to guide us into a fuller relationship reality. 
With parenting books, we hear about returning to the old days of obedient children and a nice clean world to raise them in. (Without music videos, Instagram, and same-sex marriage.) 

It's a rare parenting book that sets your relationship with your kids in the context of your relationship with God, and their relationship with God, and points to a child and parent's roles in the world today as it is. 

The premise of Teachable Moments is a great one. Wouldn't you love to use "everyday encounters with media and culture to instill conscience, character, and faith?" 

I read this book with a mixture of feelings. 
Some of it is extremely helpful, and exemplifies "sanctified common sense." 
Other parts of it never would have worked on me as a child. Certain explanations parents give children for why we do this or why we don't left me cold even now, reading them. They probably would have just piqued my curiosity and sent me to the dictionary to try and figure it out myself! And maybe that's the point... there is no human guidebook, no perfect plan, no two-step process for parenting. And the author tells us that right up front. 

Yet something about this book rubbed me wrong. Three hours after finishing it, I think I've hit upon it.
There seemed to be very little grace in this book. And by grace I don't mean no-consequences-la-di-da-parents-with-their-eyes closed. This book seemed less about leading your children into the full-bodied Gospel of life than it did about using Biblical principles to make your kids "be good."  

Like somebody said, we drive our kids away from Christ when we tell them that He came to make them good, instead of He came to give them Love. 

At one point, there is a sentence suggesting that shame and guilt need to be reintroduced in our children. I know this is semantics, but shame is not equivalent to healthy Biblical conviction. Shame is a chronic state of mind, a feeling of unworthiness that no amount of good behavior can scrub away. Ironically, in a world that has cast off so many moral ties, shame still exists, and it's not leading to repentance in the sinners-it casting them further down. It's not keeping the righteous on the straight and narrow, it's intruding in their peace.

A lot of parents seem more concerned with having tidy, presentable, un-troubled kids to show off than they do with getting their hands dirty to help their kid wrestle with life. That kind of parent wants the book that tells them what not to allow. They make actions, outfits, words, and websites the enemy.
We think that we have to protect our preteen from makeup and high-heels, when we really need to guard her against the heart-breaking hookup culture.
We think if we can keep our son off of Facebook that he will never cave in to peer pressure or use foul language, but we need to address his desire to fit in. 

So many parents seem to give their kids access to all the bad stuff and then punish the child for getting sucked into it. 
They spend 18 years worrying about weaning their kids off of the world's evil influence, instead of loading the kid up on so much good music and good stories and good times that they won't want to seek out much else. And if they do taste lesser food, it won't appeal to them. My own parents never forbid a single song or book or movie- they gave me access to so much quality, pleasurable, fun stuff that I hardly regretted missing the alternatives. 

I also wonder if maybe we can spend *too* much time trying to explain situations, behaviors, and other people's choices, when we could be just living well and falling in love with our Savior, and inviting our kids to join us. I don't know where the balance is on this between explaining everything over and over vs. confusing our kids with silence, but there must be one. 

If you already like Marybeth Hick's earlier books, then this is probably one to add to your shelves. 

Thank you Howard Books for my review copy.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Love Letters from the Edge

Love Letters from the Edge

Love Letters from the Edge, by Shelly Beach and Wanda Sanchez.

This book is worthy of its title. It is one long, lovely letter from the Heart of God to your heart. 
And unlike some "letters from God" this one isn't fluffy, or New-Agey, or written for happy people with tiny problems.
No. Every word here is written in light of His Word, and the situations Shelly and Wanda speak to are the raw ones. 
As the subtitle states, these are meditations for those struggling with the pain of life. 

There are 12 "weeks" worth of meditations, but you read them any way you want. 
Each week has one foundation. I see you and know you. I cradle you in My arms. I comfort you. I remember you. I restore you.
I bless you with the power to forgive. I secure you in my love. I accept you. I send gifts and renew you. I bless you with power to release the past. I promise to love you forever. I promise you a hope and a future. 

If we believed those foundational truths, our world would change right here. 
And yet how many people have never even heard this stuff from God, never mind dared to believe it was meant for them so fully? 

This book should be given out by the basketful, in every infertility clinic, every crisis pregnancy center, every PTSD and grief support group, any addiction recovery group, each at-risk-kids group, every domestic/sexual abuse healing group, and every patient-caregiver situation. Add anybody who has lost a loved one, anyone who has been ill and gone through a traumatic situation, and anyone who has been homeless. 

Anywhere that anybody is hurting, they need the healing that this book holds out. They need the love of God, and they need some good human help. Give them both. Take their hand, hug them, listen to them, press this book into their arms, and write your phone humber in the front cover. It is a start. 

The other great thing about this book is the information on PTSD itself. Post Traumatic Stress is a perfectly natural reaction to the terrible things that happen in life. Obviously, time in combat will cause PTSD in veterans, but so will an attempted rape on a 16 year old girl. So will a car accident in a 50 year old woman, a bout with cancer in a 30 year old man, a hard childbirth with a medical error in a new mom. There is no shame in suffering with post-traumatic stress, and there *is* hope... for your mind, body, and emotions. 

There are many websites listed in the back, including,, and 

Thank you Kregel for my review copy. I already shared this book with a friend, who is navigating loss of a parents and difficult family circumstances. She greatly appreciated Love Letters from the Edge. 

Wanda Sanchez Wanda Sanchezis the executive producer of one of the nation’s top talk shows in a highly-ranked California market. She has worked with the world’s top political leaders, as well as Hollywood personalities, New York Times best-selling authors, and top-ranked cultural analysts. She has also worked as a television producer and is the founder and president of her own publicity firm, representing authors and speakers. A sexual abuse survivor who has experienced a journey of dramatic healing from post-traumatic stress disorder, Wanda speaks to medical and mental health professionals in conferences, seminars, as well as to women in the nation’s prisons. She can be reached at
Shelly BeachShelly Beach is an award-winning author of eight books, including The Silent Seduction of Self Talk. She has written with a Pulitzer Prize Finalist and New York Times best-selling authors, as well as providing writing and consulting services for a producer of a recently-launched Lifetime television reality series. Shelly is the co-founder of two writers’ conferences and an adjunct professor at Cornerstone University. She is also a sexual abuse survivor who speaks to medical and mental health professionals at conferences, seminars, and in the nation’s prisons. Shelly is also an “expert” consultant for, the Internet’s most frequently consulted site on caregiving issues, receiving approximately 2 million hits per month. Shelly can be reached at

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Miracle in a Dry Season

Miracle in a Dry Season (Appalachian Blessings, #1)

In 1954, a young woman arriving somewhere alone was suspicious. 
If she came with a child it was scandalous indeed, and it got even worse if she was pretty. 
Perla Long was all three... lovely, very alone, and with her past spelled out in bold letters by the presence of her five year-old Sadie.

She was hoping to be anonymous when she came to this close-knit Appalachia town, but there was no chance of that. 
Soon everyone would think they knew *what* she was, and perhaps nobody would know *who* she was.                                          

Casewell Phillips was born and bred in that place, and the music of the hills ran in his blood. He was equally at home playing the mandolin or crafting furniture, and he was known for both. At 35, he was almost resigned to living life spouseless. He had his work, and his mother and father close by. Until he laid eyes on Perla. 

This seems like a simple tale of second chances and love blooming. It is, at the heart, but it is far more than that alone. 
It is a story of drought, and longing for the rain that we humans cannot call down from the sky. 
It is a story of judgement, punishment and shunning, and a story of innocence leading the way. 
It is a story of great love coming through terrible circumstances. 

This book reminded me of a fairy-tale. What I mean is the story seems magical at times, and mystical, and the dark circumstances let the final light shine brightly. 

The cast of characters also belong to a uniquely Appalachian fairy tale.
The sweetly impish child Sadie. 
The elvish elderly ladies/ who want Casewell to build them a new potato bin. 
The wild-haired town drunk/prophet who broke hearts back in 1902. 
Perla, the princess-in-disguise, whose gift may save the Kingdom.
Casewell, the one who finds that strength isn't always shown best by proud opposition, sometimes we are strongest when we are accepting another. 

I'm am delighted to know that this is the start of a series. I think you will be too. :-) 

Thank you to the author, Sarah Loudin Thomas, for a chance to be one of her first reviewers. I received my copy in exchange for sharing my thoughts. 

Sarah Loudin ThomasI’m a Christian, wife, fundraiser and writer living near Asheville, NC. I grew up on a 100-acre farm in French Creek, WV. I used to say “rural WV,” but realized that’s largely redundant. I LOVE my home state and the fact that I’m the seventh generation to grow up on the family farm. My love of the Appalachian Mountains informs my writing. I want you to be as wild about these hazy, blue mountains and the wonderful people who live in them as I am.

I’ve been married for eighteen years and I not only love my husband, I really, really like him. We started our journey together with three big dogs–Crockett, Precious and Sammy. We now have one small dog that requires more energy than the first three did together.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

All for a Sister

All for a Sister, All For a Song Series #3   -     By: Allison Pittman

(This is a book I'm going to have trouble giving a star rating to. I mean, do we really need those light-up yellow things to tell us whether a book is worth reading?) 

Anyway, I've had my eye on Allison Pittman's books for a while, and I finally read All for a Sister. 

What do I think? I think this is a dark story, with all seven deadly sins splayed upon the pages. 
I think it is a raw story, and because of that you begin to care for the characters. Both Dana and Celeste have experienced damage at the hands of the world, in different ways. And both need a genuine friend, an opportunity for a brighter future.

Some people have objected to this book, protesting the content. My answer for all such protest is that no topic is ever wrong, the only wrong is in how you address it. Somebody said they only like "uplifting" books. Of course, we all should... but mustn't we be honest about the rock-bottom depths before anyone will believe our testimony about the heavenly heights? 
I don't like fluff novels. A good book must bump up against actual life in the actual world, or else it is just lies. 
This book repeatedly encounters life, and the author also pours in a cup or two of Grace.

That is far closer to true "Christian fiction" than a sugary and naive novel where nobody sins, nobody kills, nobody misuses their body or anyone else's, and nobody is converted by the straight-up mercy of God. 

The frame of the book includes the death of an infant, a young woman sent to prison, sexual carousing that eats away at the heart of a family, and an unrelieved rage that destroys lives. 
There is also confession and renewal, learning to see with God's eyes, and ceasing to identify yourself with your past history.

So if you're ready for a meaty novel set in the 1920's, with a complex storyline, then All for a Sister is the one.
And then if you get stuck on a 1920's kick, you can add Carla Stewart's The Hatmaker's Heart and Karen Halvorsen Schreck's Sing for Me. 

(Ps. I intend to read Allison Pittman's Lilies in Moonlight next!)  

Thank you to Fred and Nora St. Laurent of the Book Club Network for my review copy. 

Allison Pittman

Allison Pittman is the author of For Time and Eternity, Stealing Home, the Crossroads of Grace series, and her nonfiction debut, Saturdays With Stella. A high-school English teacher, she serves as director of the theater arts group at her church. She is also the co-president of a dynamic Christian writers group in the San Antonio, Texas area, where she makes her home with her husband and their three boys.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Astonished: Life with God


"Are there bushes burning all around us all the time, but we are too distracted to notice? Am I asleep to the God who is right here, right now?" 
~ Mike Erre  

This is one disturbing book. And I mean that in the best of ways. It shook me a little, and it made me look at things again that I had been ignoring.

Mike Erre is pointing us to the God who spoke about Holy Ground and the Gates of Heaven, where the humans thought that it was all just "plain" earth and sky. The God who told us we must worship in spirit and in truth, who definitively moved the debate right away from what we could control- our outsides and appearances and locations.

The God who told us that citizenship in the Kingdom is a free gift that costs us everything. 
And who described that Kingdom in terms of "smallness and hiddenness" and yet established it to over turn all the orders of the world. 
A God who says that His strength lies in our own weakness, and when we are frail he is mighty to save. 
A God who allows desperation, instead of shielding us from it, and who draws faith out of that. 

A God who is reliable- we can trust Him with everything, but who is never predictable. 
A God who is everywhere present and always with you, but who allows lengthy stretches where you will feel nothing but empty and dry. 

He is a God of truth and paradox and mystery and whimsy. And we need Him desperately. 

Thank you David C Cook for my review copy of this book. It is well worth your time. 

"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed." 2 Cor. 4:7 

Mike Erre is senior pastor of First Evangelical Free Church of Fullerton, California. He has previously served at both Mariners Church and Rock Harbor Church in Orange County. A graduate of Talbot School of Theology, Mike speaks at universities and conferences around the country. This is his fifth book.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Flesh: Learning to be Human Like Jesus.

Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth

"If we bear the artistic, altruistic image of Jesus, something remarkably natural and yet miraculous will become the new norm. It may take a little time to get used to, but Jesus's life can have a nice, snug fit in the natural rhythms and cadence of living here on planet earth." ~ Quote from Flesh: Bringing the Incarnation Down to Earth.

The Incarnation has been on my mind a lot lately, and so this was the perfect time to encounter Flesh. 

I did my first reading of this book in one four hour sitting, in the dentists office. I was making notes (always a sign of engagement) underlining (capturing my favorite quotes) and laughing (yes... laughing out loud.) 

This book really gave me a lot to think about. It is a flesh-and-blood centered look at imparting the good news of the Gospel, living in the full-bodied peace of Shalom, and walking in the reality of the our place in the Incarnation. 

Hugh Halter talks all about Jesus... how he arrived in the world, how he moved into a town, how he knew names and faces and cared about people, how he presented himself and offered us himself when he entered a scene. 

Several things jumped out at me, including the parable of planting seeds and the Kingdom growing while we sleep, and our call to be whimsically holy, rather than religious. How accurate! People think they know what to do with a "religious person." 
We religious people are common enough that we can be ignored, like the coffeemaker that you see each morning. 
Religious people can quickly be put in a box, unexamined, packed away in the bubble wrap of preconceived notions. 
We can be categorized: "Right wing conservative fundamentalist... gun rights and America as a superpower," "Cafeteria Catholic who's skipped confession since Reagan was in office."

But a person who lives by Truth and Whimsy? One who has a sense of humor and dirt on their hands because they work hard and play easily on earth? 
One who walks in the light of a Holy God and talks about Him all the time? A person who is joyful and calls you to Christ because He is calling everyone as children to come and be adopted? Someone who invites you to celebrate, and then tells you "By the way, that was worship." Who eats with you and says "That was communion."   

That's a person who you can't overlook, can't silence, and can't dismiss. They're too compelling, too real, too honest, and too obsessed with Grace. And frankly, their message actually sounds like Good News, and you don't want them to shut up. 

That's a good start for envisioning whimsical holiness. And I like it a lot. I see that in various saints, people such as Rich Mullins and Gladys Hunt and Ravi Zacharias and my own uncle who can morph from spiritual counselor to comedian in 30 seconds flat... and remind us that it is often one and the same role. 

"The people of God are to be a stabilizing presence among all the swirling opinions...."
"Remember, if you let grace ooze out of your life, people will eventually seek the truth in your life." 

Thank you David C Cook for my review copy. 

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Secret Flower

The Secret Flower: And Other Stories

"And so I travel homeward, though I have never seen that city- yet I will know it, and its fair meadows are even now green with winter wheat before my eyes, and I hear its children singing in the streets, and its quiet bell proclaiming God's love."  
~The Secret Flower

Jane Tyson Clement's volume of poetry "No One Can Stem the Tide" overflows with both reflection and contentment. 
Her verse convinced me to read her prose, as collected in "The Secret Flower: And other Short Stories." 

This book is made of six tales, five short and one lengthy. The first five are beautifully mythic, according to the old definition of myth... a fable that seems to be from an imagined world, but tells us truth about our world. 

One tells of three brothers who each take shelter during a night of terrible storms, stoking their fire and supping alone.
Each brother locks out the weather and the cold, only to hear a child's cry through the wind and rain. 
And each man must decide whether he will risk his life and venture out into the wild darkness to rescue the child. 

One tells of a King who rules a land where there is always abundance and never rebellion, where a sophomoric peace lies over everyone. He and his people never feel pain or suffer, but they never feel joy or celebrate either. Work has no satisfying meaning, and there is no true need to serve anyone. 
All is lukewarm and acceptable each day... there is no variation to make you more glad or more regretful. 
The veil is torn away from the King's eyes the day a young traveler arrives, coming from a land in famine, and the King burns himself on his coffee. 

One tells of a troop of schoolboys who love a robin that is pure white but tease a boy whose skin is deep black. When a fire rages through the village, will the test of heart bind them together as brothers?

The final tale, The Secret Flower itself, is the longest, and it is a story that sings and grows and overflows in joy. 
Her writing is so pure and precise in her descriptions of the created world and the converted heart. Whether she's telling us about a great beech tree losing its leaves in a wind, or describing the tears of a man who realizes that love is all around him, her word pictures remind us what language gives us when we use it right. The Secret Flower is like a small version of the Narnia stories. In a way, it is the story of every soul that God ever entered. 

I am... "fit for nothing but to serve the beggars or be one. But over the years I have found it a grace to serve the poor for I count no man, neither myself, better than they, and we are all poor in God's sight, those who sleep on silk or on the cobbles of the street. And I will help thee all I can, if thou wilt send back to me, if thou findest that city, God's city, for such there must be! Surely Christ came to earth to change this miserable earth, as well as promise the hereafter!" 

I hope more people discover this book. Unlike so much "moral literature" that used to be produced for children, these are not short stories with a lesson hidden in them. They are little snippets of fable and tale, that say something genuine and real. 
They remind me to look at everyone the way Jesus did, and he often told people they were "not far from the Kingdom of Heaven," and then he bid them follow to him there.

Thank you to The Plough publishing for giving me a review copy. 

Jane Tyson ClementPoet and writer Jane Tyson Clement (1917 – 2000) grew up on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. But she always preferred Bay Head, New Jersey where her family owned a summer house. “There was something eternal about it that was always a rock and an anchor for me.” Jane earn an English degree at Smith College and married Robert Clement, a Quaker attorney. Together they sought for meaning in life and an answer to social injustice. They eventually joined the Bruderhof, a Christian community. Jane taught school and raised a family, but her unquenchable thirst for justice, and for the wonders and mysteries that lie hidden in nature, kept her restless. Her poetry and short stories mirror this lifelong quest for truth and wholeness.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A New Resolution

A New Resolution

I really like Rose Dee's books. I've read two so far, both of them in the Resolution series. 
Rose does not shy away from gritty situations, terrible legacies, or realistic reactions. Her characters sometimes hit rock bottom before they ever look up, and I think that's why they seem to grow so authentically. 

In A New Resolution, Anika is a woman scarred by betrayal in her past... betrayal over and over, neglect and abuse. 
All she wants or hopes for herself is to be in the best mother possible for her own son Kye, and she's convinced that she cannot even do that right.
In Ani's mind, this out-of-wedlock child proves that she is a repeat of her mother, and her son doesn't deserve that anymore than she did. 

How is one girl like herself going to give a good life to a precious child? 

So go to Resolution Island in Australian, and meet Ani and Kye. Now add a man who hasn't lived the best life up to this point, yet who is beginning to change. Nate in his former life is exactly what Ani doesn't need, but with his heart growing soft, could he be a blessing in disguise?
Now it's time we encounter a mystery, one that adds danger and murder. 

This book will make a great summer read.

Thank you to Nora and Fred St. Laurent at for my review copy!

Rose Dee

Rose Dee was born in Ingham, North Queensland, Australia. Her childhood experiences growing up in a small beach community would later provide inspiration for her first novel, 'Back to Resolution'. 

Rose, who holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree, is inspired by the love of her coastal home and desire to produce exciting and contemporary stories of faith for women.

Beyond Resolution, and A New Resolution are the second and third books in the 'Resolution' series. 

Rose’s debut novel 'Back to Resolution' won Bookseller’s Choice at the Caleb Awards 2012.

She has also released 'The Greenfield Legacy', a collaborative novel, written in conjunction with three other outstanding Australian authors. 

Rose resides in Mackay, North Queensland with her husband, young son, and mischievous pup, Noodle.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Bridge to Haven

Bridge to Haven

Bridge to Haven is not a repacked Redeeming Love. First, because there will only ever be one book like that, and second because Abra's story is her own. 

Redeeming Love took us to the California gold rush days and introduced us to a woman who had been forced into prostitution as a child. 
Bridge to Haven takes us to a small California town in the 1950's, and we meet a girl who is much loved but doesn't know it yet. Human imperfections all around her and a lack of answers about her own past send her seeking a future far away from everyone who really knows her. 

There is a battle here for Abra's life, love, and loyalty. 
She's a girl who thinks nobody wants her. 
Her biological mother left her to die. Her first father, Pastor Ezekiel, gave her up to another family because he thought they would be able to offer her more. That couple already had a daughter, and the girls at 16 have grown to be rivals, not comrades. 

The only person she truly trusts is Pastor Ezekiel's son. And even Joshua, barely in his twenties and just back from the Korean war, can't seem to convince her that he cares anymore. The brotherly teasing and hiking trips and cheeseburgers that used to connect them when she was a child no longer work. She craves love, and she's not recognizing it right in front of her, wrapped as it is in plain packaging. 

Abra is a girl who is uncertain about her own value. And all it takes to steal her heart is a little attention, somebody who desires her company and who makes that desire known. She's too young to tell when a romance is tainted. And so Abra disappears from her home town. 

This is the story of her leaving and her return. Slowly, painfully, step by step, she loses everything including her own sense of identity. Hollywood made her promises that it could never keep, and there is nothing left that she recognizes as the real Abra. 
And she doesn't dare imagine that anybody is out there, longing for her to come home. 

Yet that is exactly the case. The God who formed her, the man who found her naked and newborn, the boy who grew up with her and wants her to come back. They are all calling/whispering/waiting/seeking and urging her to come Home. Grace itself is beckoning to her broken heart, but does she dare to trust it? 

Again, this is not Redeeming Love. Don't ever go into one book expecting it to be the same as the author's others. This is a fine story all by its self. The first moments to the final scene, even the dark times in the middle.... it all comes together eventually. 

Great storytelling reminds us why we need to be comfortable in our own stories, because our Author too knows just when to introduce a character, never wastes a scene, and knows how to carry us through a terrible chapter. 

(Item of note: I really appreciated Joshua's character. I liked the fact that he had been a brother/friend to her for years. It makes their deep bond and growing romance real. It was their foundation, built out of childhood purity and tested by fire. I admire his continual belief in Abra as a human being, and the way he constantly reminded her that she did not need to save herself. That work had already been done. 
Another element I really like is the quotes above each chapter. Some were from Scripture, some from poetry, others from great men and women of the past.) 

Thank you Tyndale Summer Reading Program for my review copy of this book. 

Francine Rivers

Francine Rivers began her literary career at the University of Nevada, Reno, where she graduated with a bachelor of arts degree in English and journalism.  Although raised in a religious home, Francine did not truly encounter Christ until later in life, when she was already a wife, a mother of three, and an established romance novelist.
Shortly after becoming a born-again Christian in 1986, Francine wrote Redeeming Love as her statement of faith. First published by Bantam Books and then rereleased by Multnomah Publishers in the mid-1990s, this retelling of the biblical story of Gomer and Hosea, set during the time of the California Gold Rush, is now considered a classic work of Christian fiction.

Friday, July 11, 2014

First Comes Love

First Comes Love

(First, can I thank Rich Mullins and Brennan Manning for preparing my heart to ponder on Biblical wisdom wherever it is found, also in Catholicism? Thank you, both of you!) 

First Come Love is a really rich look at the communion of perfect love within Trinity, and how God brings us into His own family. 
That summary is as shallow as a puddle, by the way. That's what this book did for me, it convinced me that I can swim in this truth my whole life, diving deeper and deeper, and never see the bottom of it. Any attempt to explain it will be mere splashes at the surface, but once you've gotten a bit wet you'll want to get in and experience it for yourself. And you can. That's the miracle.
We can be part of God's actual family. 

Now slam on the brakes. Because I know what you're thinking: "That's nice." 
You're thinking "I've heard that before, and I believe it. God is my Father and He has a Son and we're all His children, etc. Got anything more stimulating/profound?"  Uh, guys, this may be the Main Mystery. 
After all, the whole point of our existence is communion with Him, and the problem with sin is that it made us slaves instead of sons, and the point of redemption was to restore us into His family. 
We've probably heard about being God's family so many times that the magnitude of it is bouncing off our eardrums, now all but unheard. 

Scott Hahn is urging us to hear it again, and to learn who we are. 
I can't break the many parts of this book down into a systematic review, but I can tell you one I love about it to whet your appetite.

I love what he says about the Holy Spirit, and how this Third Person is like our mother. The Holy Spirit nurtures us- on spiritual milk, and teaches us to walk- in the faith, and to talk- in prayer. 

As Hahn writes, "How fitting it is, too, that one of the first words the Spirit teaches God's little ones is 'Abba,' as Paul explains: 'When we cry Abba! Father! it is the Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God.' A bishop of the fifth century, Diadochus of Photike, said that the Spirit acts 'like a mother teaching her own little baby to say daddy, repeating that word along with the baby until it becomes so much the baby's habit that calls its daddy even in its sleep.'" 

I also think this is a beautiful definition of the heart of family: Looking upon someone who looks back in love.

Thank you Blogging for Books for my review copy. 

Scott Hahn

Dr. Scott Hahn was born in 1957, and has been married to Kimberly since 1979. He and Kimberly have six children and are expecting their fifth grandchild. An exceptionally popular speaker and teacher, Dr. Hahn has delivered numerous talks nationally and internationally on a wide variety of topics related to Scripture and the Catholic faith. 

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Adventures under the Mango Tree


By Lillian Ann Klepp of Harvesters Reaching the Nations 

Sometimes the people we are called to care for live half a world away from us. 
Sometimes they speak a language we don't know, and come from a culture that we don't understand. 
Sometimes a place we never dreamed of living is exactly where we are meant to be. 

Adventures Under the Mango Tree is a book about service, sacrifice and family. 
Lillian and Dennis moved to Africa to help orphans, and ended up going through more trials and joys than they ever thought possible. They worked with boys and girls both young and old, in the middle of a war zone. 
They taught children about the love of God and they dealt with disease and trauma. 
They experienced times of peace and times of fear. 
They questioned why they had come, and then they praised God for how He revealed His heart. 

It is always fascinating to see what God is doing in our world. I like books like this because they remind us that God sheds His light through us, at home or abroad, and that there is a purpose to every life and work to be done by every person.

I have never needed to worry about experiencing thirst without access to cold clean water, hunger without plentiful food, or sickness without medicine. It is hard to imagine human beings trying to survive and thrive in a place like the Sudan.  
Here in American, we talk about God in a culture of dreams and desires. There, you talk about God while meeting basic needs. 

There are times that I wish every country could experience some of America's "problems." I wish every nation's young people had to fight their way to faith in a current of college choices and casual dating. (Not really, but you'll see my point.) 
We worry endlessly about how to present the real Gospel in our entertainment/virtual reality driven society. Then we read about these kids, and perhaps the good news is more obviously good to them because they are surrounded by need... the broken world is evident. A God who cares about them seems too good to be true, but if suffering is this real then a suffering Savior must be too. 
Perhaps to them death and burial and bread and wine make sense, because they live in a world of starvation and war.   
America's issues all seems so doable and solvable compared to the poverty found in Africa.... and yet where did Jesus promise to be? Among the poor in spirit. 
So I should not be surprised. 

Thank you B&B Media Group for my review copy!

In sharing their story, Lillian explains not only the early motivation that prompted the couple to make such a massive life change, but also shares how their faith and trust was strengthened prior to the move by numerous situations in which they had nowhere else to turn but God. Recalling one day in particular when one of their children was suffering from a severe asthma attack, Lillian details her thoughts and fears, writing, “I immediately prayed to God asking, ‘What do I do?’ I then proceeded to pray over Lance the words of Mark 10:14, ‘Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’ And while I read this, I realized in that moment that I needed to trust God for healing, medicine or no medicine. I needed to have full trust in the Lord.”
It was during times such as those, Lillian writes, that she realized “God was working in our lives to help us come to trust and rely on Him for everything. And as it turned out, He was preparing us for what was to come.”