Saturday, May 31, 2014

Dee Henderson's *Undetected*


Undetected grabbed me from the first scene. 

Commander Mark Bishop was overseeing his crew at 450 feet deep as they guided the submarine back towards the base. At the end of a 90 day patrol, the USS Nevada just wanted to follow the whales and head home. 

I had never thought I would find submarine life/warfare at all interesting, but I did when I was seeing it through the eyes of Mark Bishop. You can feel his weariness that comes with 90 days on alert, you understand his desire to see the sky and the surface of the ocean again after living underwater, and the responsibility that comes with this work weighs on your mind as you read. 

Same with Gina Gray. Gina's oceanography and sonar research give her a tangible way to help keep her brother safe. Jeff Gray is stationed somewhere out there on the USS Seawolf, and his sister can best help him by applying her intellect to his field. Gina appreciates science because it challenges her. What she's coming to realize is that her discoveries soon challenge everyone. That's why the Navy has kept close track of her since she was a college student. In this case, her sonar research is shaking up Mark Bishop's world.

I love that Dee Henderson develops three things about her characters: their work, their relationships, and their theology. 

Dee's character's always have something they're passionate about. They've got big dreams and grand goals. Whether it's Marcus O'Malley working in the Witness Security program or Mark Bishop commanding a nuclear armed submarine, we are treated to a few details of their chosen career. Dee's books are like a praise hymn to work at it's best and most fulfilling. 
Whether it's a paragraph about the acoustical lab where Gina does her sonar comparison or a dialogue between Bishop and his XO, it expanded my mind a little bit. There are a lot of cool careers out there. 

It's the same with the relationships. For these men and women, people come first. If Gina needs to pack up her Colorado apartment and doesn't want to go back there ever again, Jeff goes for her. If Mark see's one of his men having family trouble when they get back to shore, he assists in any way he can. Life is better when I know there's somebody I can call on, and somebody can call on me. I need that reminder. 

And their theology... wrestling is the objective word here. Mark and Gina are both applying the knowledge of God to their chosen work and personal dilemmas, and it leads to a lot of good conversations. 
How does a Christian who follows the Prince of Peace stand ready to deploy nuclear weapons? 
How should Gina proceed with her science, when a new discovery could be used for evil purposes?

So... dive in to Undetected. I think you'll enjoy it. I did. So did a teenage friend I read it aloud with. 
Thank you Bethany House for my review copy! 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Vibrant Food: A Colorful, Seasonal Cookbook!

Vibrant Food: Celebrating the Ingredients, Recipes, and Colors of Each Season

Man, I was so happy to receive this book! I requested it for review from Blogging for Books, and it seemed to take forEVER to arrive. 
But it was worth it. Solid at 215 pages with a smooth hardcover, it's heavy but not imposing. It cracked when I opened it and had that smell like it had just come home from the bookstore. The cover image, plum slices and sunflower seeds on a nasturtium salad, drew my eye right in. 
It's got sewn binding, and whichever page you open to it stays open and almost flat so you can cook with the book lying on the counter or propped up.

When I started flipping pages, I got my first shock: fresh, non-dried chick peas are edible- on toast in this recipe-and they're green! Uh-huh. I didn't even know you could eat them that way. :) 

What's my cooking background, so you'll know where this review is coming from?
Basically, I'm an New England American who aims toward natural, whole foods as much as possible. (I don't shop at specialty stores, unless you count Market Basket. And I love mac and cheese and meatloaf.) A dozen different vegetables, two at a time and home grown in the summer, complement dinner each night and salads are main lunches. Cherries and blueberries have been known to appear at breakfast. Nuts are eaten raw or roasted every day.

Vibrant Food goes way beyond common vegetables and basic salads. That's why I wanted this book... to have available for when I wanted to shake things up and take seasonal cooking a step farther. Kimberley's book is inspired by the colors of produce, and the rhythms of growth through the year. It's all here- the orange melt in your mouth sweet potato and the intense green of snap pea, the flavor of a tomato soup and the cool sweetness of a blackberry ice pop. I think this book came to me at the perfect time... we've just planted our garden!

Sure, some of it sounds terribly exotic- Poached Apricots in Rosewater and Chocolate Truffles rolled in Bee Pollen, for example. Yes, it sounds far-out, but it looks absolutely beautiful. (The rose water gives a touch of elegance and the bee pollen benefits allergy sufferers.) 
As far as I can tell, the ingredients used here fall into the "I can find it, but I don't typically buy it" category, not the "Do they even sell this in the Continental USA?" category. Most of the recipes really look very simple. Even the most complicated sounding ones are described in easy to understand steps. 

In short, this book is inspiring with a capital I. Foodies and home cooks will get a kick out of the evocative photography and Kimberley's writing. "Summer's produce comes in big and loud and fun and full of boisterous color. It is the season of not holding back. There is an urgency to it; so much is available and so much of it is so briefly available. I want to eat every tomato, every berry, all the melons, and the corn, and the peaches, and the cherries, until there is none left. Which is what I do, for a few months every year." 

If you're ready to get cooking with some beautiful vegetables and fruit, and are willing to track down some extra ingredients, then Vibrant Food will be a perfect kitchen sidekick. I would say the print size for the actual recipes is kind of on the small size, but that's my only complaint about this book. 

Thank you Blogging for Books for my review copy!

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Fly a Little Higher

Fly a little higher

I read this book on Wednesday, May 28th 2014. 
My Grammy died on Sunday, May 25th. She had been dealing with a sarcoma cancer for two years. I was blessed to be there beside her, touching her arm and rearranging her red Rosary beads as she breathed her last earthly breath. When Fly A Little Higher came, I wasn't sure if I should/could read this book right now. This was an intimate story that Laura Sobiech was sharing about her son Zach, and I wondered if maybe reading this book would be cathartic for my family. 

20 pages into this book, I could feel panic rising in my chest. Cancer.... cancer... I couldn't stand reading about cancer. 
But then, the gentle heartfelt words from Zach's Mom began to seep into my heart, and I saw that this wasn't a book about cancer, not entirely. 
This was a book about a boy who lived like my Grammy did: fully, passionately, with abandon. Zach loved people fiercely, reached out to those who were hurting or lonely, loved the Catholic faith, and didn't let thoughts of death cheat him of life. Neither did he hide or pretend that he wasn't afraid. 
He experienced the pain and suffering and he became a channel of God's grace flowing through him to the world. 

I just realized something else, about five minutes after finishing this book: my Grammy now knows Zach. They're together now, JB and Zach. That's a weird and beautiful thing to think about, God gathering all of His people to Him. They never met on earth, and I don't know if she ever heard the song Clouds, but I can picture her talking with this incredible young man whose soul was refined through his journey. 

This is a book about life, seen through the eyes of a Mom who watched her beloved boy grow, change, suffer patiently, keep trying to have fun, seek God, and write some very profound words in songs that spoke to the world. 

I'm glad I read it now. I think I will pass it along to my younger sister, and perhaps an Aunt or two when they seem ready. 

Thank you Booklook bloggers for my review copy.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Here to Stay...

Here to Stay (Where Love Begins #2)

In 2013, I was blessed to be an influencer for Made to Last, Melissa Tagg's debut novel. 
In April 2014, I was surprised and excited to get a copy of Here to Stay.

I had a few other books due first, so I set Melissa's latest novel on the shelf.... until I saw a friend's Goodreads status. (Waving at you, Andrea!) She said that it was making her laugh until her stomach hurt. Now *that's* a recommendation I can't ignore.

So... I picked up Here to Stay... and my friend was right!
I did laugh out loud. I did say "Oh, my word!" compulsively while reading several hilarious scenes. 
I did turn pages really quickly, captivated by life around Kingsley Inn. I did love watching the characters grow.

This is Blaze -er, Blake- Hunziker's story. You'll remember him if you read Made to Last. He is the guy that, frankly, I wish Miranda had married. :) He was that comic, and than kindhearted. In a way, Blake did marry her, but that was all a media stunt that you'll have to read about for yourself.
There's no way I can explain it adequately. 

Suffice it to say that the least of Blaze's worries was his fake celebrity marriage. He's got real problems waiting for him in his hometown, and it's time to confront the past. Time to come back to Whisper Shore, to his family. He's returning to his role as "the leftover son," the one who's never been sure of his place in life. This time it's going to be different. He's going to confront the heartache and make this place his settle-down, forever Home. 

And he's going to run right smack into Autumn Kingsley.
Autumn knows Whisper Shore. She knows its charm and its flaws. She loves Kingsley Inn, too, but she's drawn to Paris- a fresh start, a beautiful place, a job she know's she'll enjoy. All she's got to do is tie up a few loose ends and she's free to go, leaving Kingsley Inn in good hands. 

Of course... it ain't that easy. Now with Blaze back in town. Between his sincere desire to help her, his enthusiasm for all things fun, his adventuresome spirit that nothing can tamp down, and his penchant for setting fires... Autumn just can't avoid him.

This is a fantastic romantic comedy that also carries some serious meanings. I love the inner dialogue that Blake and Autumn are both carrying on, and it was so cool to see them finding their way through life. 

This story reminds me of the quote: "We're all just walking each other home," by Ram Dass.

Melissa TaggMelissa Tagg is a former reporter turned author who loves all things funny and romancey. Her debut novel, a romantic comedy titled Made to Last, released from Bethany House in September 2013. Her second book, Here to Stay, releases May 2014. In addition to her nonprofit day job, she is also the marketing/events coordinator for My Book Therapy, a craft and coaching community for writers founded by award-winning author Susan May Warren.

During her reporting days, Melissa interviewed presidential candidates and llama farmers, rode a hot air balloon and flew a plane, and once found herself face to face with a buffalo. But today she gets her kicks by letting her characters have their own fun. She's passionate about humor, grace and happy endings.

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Miting

The Miting

The Miting is a emotionally moving, tension filled novel set in an Old Order Amish community and the local English town.
Dee Yoder, the author, is a mentor at MAP- Mission to Amish People. Her experiences volunteering with youth who are leaving the Amish life provide true-to-live ideas for her writing. 

This is the story of Leah, an Amish girl whose one rebellion is a hunger for the word of God. She would love to have the Bible in English, available to read in morning devotions or a group study. Under the control of a very strict Bishop, all those desires are forbidden. 
Leah will hear the Bible in German, and all interpretations will be made my the Bishop. 

Leah is everygirl, in a sense. She's glad to have her family and it hurts her when they disagree, she's torn between loving her home and wanting just a little bit more, she makes friends quickly, and she hopes that someone will love her. 

Leah's friends look into the English world and see freedom: modern dating practices, access to contraband substances, and space for risky behavior.
Leah also sees freedom- to know God. Her hunger for Him is growing by leaps and bounds. The chapter when Leah first encounters a NIV Bible was sweet reading for me. That was my first Bible, a 1984 NIV. I understood Leah's delight as she drank up the Words that so clearly speak of eternal life.

Yes, you could read this book for an Amish drama. There are all the classic ingredients- a shunning, a buggy ride courtship, a friend who goes English. But there's something very authentic and uncontrived about this Amish novel. It's a story about people, who happen to be Amish. The Amish world is not a haven of complete peace and all that is good, nor is it a collection of narrow minded bigots. They're just men women and children, made to seek the Lord.

Dee Yoder describes the Plain life with tenderness, and not sugar-coating. Leah did have tight family bonds. There was a simplicity and natural rhythm to her hard working, good-earth based life. There was industry and wholesome virtue in her Amish community. There was also vice: ugliness and abuse and exploitation. I can see why she wanted to stay, and I can she why she wanted to go.

One thing in specific jumped out at me as I read... a lesson I think we Christians can learn from the Amish. The Amish religion encompasses every area of life. There politics or lack there of, their dress, their lifestyle choices, they're all wrapped up in the religion. When the children grow and begin questioning the buggies and the long dark dresses, they think they're questioning God. When they leave the farm and the Ordung, they're told they're leaving God. May we not do the same. When our kids question our conservatism, or abandon our stance on a non-Gospel issue, or get tattooed or bare their knees in Church or maybe dare to worship in old jean shorts, or try out communal living or Catholicism or whatever, may we not act like they've abandoned Christ. May we not wrap Christ up in so many layers of human choices that to get free of the oppression they think they've got to leave Him. 

The Miting hits all the high and low notes of Leah's experiences. Slowly, she learns that whether she abides with the Amish or ventures into the English, God is her one constant.

Thank you Kregel for my review copy!

[Dee+Yoder.jpg] Dee Yoder's fiction is based on the lives of her former-Amish friends. She is actively involved in the Mission to Amish People ministry as a mentor, volunteer, and author. In addition to writing over eighty short stories, her coming-of-age novel, The Powerful Odor of Mendacity, won the FaithWriters Page Turner contest in 2011. Dee lives in central Ohio.

Meant to Be Mine...

Meant to be Mine (A Porter Family Novel, #2)

If you know a reader who appreciate chemistry and character development, points them towards Meant to Be Mine! 

Predicated upon a Las Vegas marriage and a next-day abandonment, this is a "Do I give you another chance?" story. 

In one part of her heart, Celia is content to never see Ty Porter again whether he's her legal husband or not. Obviously, the wedding meant nothing to him. The only thing that marriage-measured-in-hours did for her was break her heart, and give her a child. That's right, she should say their child.
Not that Ty cares about his daughter Addie either... until he reappears in Celia's life and begins acting like he does.

And that's when the comedy, drama, and fireworks begin! :) Who knew that a smallish Texas town could handle such a situation? 

Becky Wade did a great job making me react to her character's stories. I was like "No, Celia. Do not believe him. He's already proven himself. He's never clarified his intentions toward you, or to this Other Woman." And with him I was like "No fast moves here, you immature, irresponsible creature." 
But then... then Ty started trying to be different, and trying their be there for Celia and Addie. And I thought, "Well, if he could become what they need, then this could still be a good thing." 

I haven't read any other Becky Wade books, but I can say that this one is a strong story of transformation. I also thought that Ty's bad behavior and Celia's reactions were portrayed accurately... he was totally unlikeable and she was rightfully angry, and then you could feel his remorse and see her heart changing towards him. 

Thank you Litfuse for my review copy!

Becky WadeDuring her childhood in California, Becky frequently produced homemade plays starring her sisters, friends, and cousins. These plays almost always featured a heroine, a prince, and a love story with a happy ending. She's been a fan of all things romantic ever since.
Becky and her husband lived overseas in the Caribbean and Australia before settling in Dallas, Texas. It was during her years abroad that Becky's passion for reading turned into a passion for writing. She published three historical romances with Avon Books, then put her career on hold for several years to care for her three kids, then recently returned to writing sheerly for the love of it. She felt led to move to the genre of contemporary Christian romance and couldn’t be more thrilled with it. 

These days Becky can be found failing but trying to keep up with her housework, sweating at the gym, carting her kids around town, playing tennis, hunched over her computer, eating chocolate, or collapsed on the sofa watching TV with her husband.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Heart's Pursuit

The Heart's Pursuit

Pewter skies, weary miles.
Crisp mornings, trail dust. 
Starlit nights, chilling streams.
Campfires and the aroma of bacon cooking. 
Hot coffee made to sustain a weary traveler. 
Big skies and wide horizons.
It's all here in The Heart's Pursuit. 

My all time favorite Robin Lee Hatcher novel will probably be A Promise Kept- the story of a woman and her family being reunited and her joy being restored- but I was sure eager to read this new one as well! The Heart's Pursuit is a Western, with a twist. 
Bounty Hunter Jared Newman, meet Miss Silver Matlock. Time for the two of you to hit the trail. 

She's looking for a betrayer and a thief, the man who jilted her and robbed her family. He's seeking a face that he pictures in his nightmares. 
At surface level, they're hunting for stolen money and revenge, but that may not be what they really desire. Could a long journey and unexpected encounters along the way show them something else entirely? Something that's in their hearts and only reached by moving forward, not back?

This story opens up a Pandora's share of questions! What is justice, what is vengeance? What are we really thirsting for- closure on the past or proof of hope for tomorrow? Where is that Love that makes all things new? 

Thank you Litfuse for my review copy!

Robin Lee Hatcher
 Robin Lee Hatcher discovered her vocation as a novelist after many years of reading everything she could put her hands on, including the backs of cereal boxes and ketchup bottles. The winner of the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, the RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance, the Romance Writers of America's Lifetime Achievement Award and numerous other awards and recognitions, Robin is the author of 70 novels/novellas. Her books have been translated into Dutch, French, and Chinese (to name a few).

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Home Behind the Sun.

Home Behind the Sun: Connect with God in the Brilliance of the Everyday

Here I go again. Attempting to review a book that was really, really good. I can't exactly describe what the book is about- basically the Glory of God and what that means for us earth dwelling humans. If that sounds narrow or difficult to understand, be assured that it isn't. Home Behind the Sun is not a stuffy book at all, even when it's sober. It's not heavy handed admonishments to worship the Lord more, it's a praise hymn that can be sung at any moment, and it's so moving that you can't help but join in. 

There's no way I will capture all the reasons why you should read it, but by the time I was halfway through, I was already plotting how to get it into the hands of as many friends as possible. I'm thinking that many beauty-focused artists, wordsmiths, and truth seekers will love this book.

You could have a dozen stimulating discussions based off what you'll read in Home Behind the Sun. The way the book is written prompts underlining, reading aloud, writing Rich Mullins lyrics in the margin, and saying Yes, those words capture that experience.  
Just for an attempt at showing the range of this book, here's a few chapter subtitles: True Christian Freedom is Found in the Willingness to Be Life Givers, On What's Needed to Endure the Seasons of Life, We are Brilliance Makers and Shadow Chasers. 

This is a theology book in the best way possible, a dialogue about communion with God that is, in the writing and the reading of it, communion itself.
There's even a section about that: looking at God or being in God, and how we need both. 

Thanks to chapter ten, Glorifying God in All We Do, I'm no longer sorry about my overuse of the word "delight." When I stand in a hot Walmart parking lot swaying to a beautiful song that a stranger has playing in his pickup truck, or when I soak in the light infused green of a summer morning, or when I encounter a great story or hug a dear person... those are occasions of Delight. Timothy and Jason define Delight as something that originates outside ourselves, and is deeper and truer than pleasure alone because Delight draws us into the beauty of Christ Himself. 

So consider this my whole-hearted endorsement of this book. I'm putting it on my shelf along with Dwight Longenecker's Romance of Religion, Eileen Mitson's The Innermost Room,  and N. D Wilson's Death by Living.  And thank you BookLook Bloggers for my review copy!   

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Blue Hole Back Home.

Blue Hole Back Home

This is the story of a Turtle in a swimming hole. Except Turtle is a girl, and the swimming hole is The Blue Hole. 
   The Blue Hole was the center of Shelby Lenoir's life that summer, in 1979.

    This is one of those books... like Karl Marlantes' Matterhorn... that I have a love/hate relationship with. I love it because the redemptive storytelling is just so right, and I hate it because what happens in the story is just so wrong. Be prepared to mourn if you read either book, to mourn innocence lost and pain endured and eyes opened to this strange world where beauty and beloved people and heart-beating, breathing life coexist with cruelty and emptiness and various forms of death. 

    Oh what a fine book this is. Strong, bold writing and a passel of teenage characters that I quickly loved for their heart, honesty, awkwardness, and uncertainties. I think stories about teenagers have a great advantage- kids just are what they are. Maybe it's because they're allowed to openly try to find themselves, maybe it's because they have less practice building false selves. 

They were just kids, a Mangy Pack at that, spending the long Carolina days doing hard work at their Big Dog Lawn and Garden company. They sweated under the Appalachian sun, serenaded by eight-tracks of Marvin Gaye and Diana Ross, then they headed for the Blue Hole.

 There was Turtle, who often didn't feel like a girl and who had all boys for friends. Boys like her brother Emerson, who hid John Donne and Julian of Norwich in his Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition. Boy's like James Beauregard Riggs, whose grin and creative use of language lit up the whole Ridge. Boys like her cousin L.J who was convinced that his superior intelligence precluded his actually belonging to his own parents. Even boys like Bobby Welper, with a home life that made him the focus of prayer lists and gossips, a boy will would drift with whichever tide is strongest.

   And then there's Sanna. The new girl, who will make them all ask questions that never before entered their minds, and who will turn their most familiar places and faces into something completely different from what they'd ever seen before. Sanna, with the brown skin and black eyes and tentative English, whose hands form a map to show where she came from, Sri Lanka. 

   So read this book, and laugh at the start, at the humor and fun and games that a Mangy Pack of kids can dream up, and learn in the middle, as they begin to accept Sanna, and hurt at the end when you find yourself saying "No, No, No...."

Because the good is so good and the bad is so bad and like the opening pages tell us, "My home is a beautiful place, a terribly beautiful place, that gives birth to traitors and cowards and heroes, sometimes all in one skin. And I never say why- because I don't know- I long like I do to go back." 

About the Author, Joy Jordan Lake...
If you’re someone who loves words—whether reader or author, songwriter or screenwriter, teacher or picture book illustrator or playwright or just plain a fan of any story well told—a special WELCOME to you. The longer I live and the longer I write, the more I’m astonished—and humbled—at how little I know about this thing that I’m—we’re— trying to do: Tell stories. Craft words. Learn from the past. Hold onto hope. And I’m every day grateful for chances to learn from the people around me. 

And if your'e someone who's busy with work and family and a thousand concerns pulling at you, then we're part of the same crazy club. For me, and perhaps for you, too, the writing and reading I love to do doesn't happen in some lovely mountain cabin with no Internet access and a mercifully dead cell phone. It happens between wrestling matches at all-day tournaments, or painfully early in the mornings, in the bleachers of track meets, just before teaching a Southern Lit class, or just after taking a Realtor's licensing test. Real Life: probably where you live, too. 

Which is why we lovers of stories need each other. To share ideas, favorite books and movies and plays, to pass along interviews with creative souls we admire. To encourage, enlighten, instruct, inspire. I'd love to hear from you.

Meanwhile, here's lifting a glass of iced tea to you, to us, to the Writing (and Reading) in the Midst of Real Life. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Chateau of Secrets...

Chateau of Secrets

I really don't want to admit this, but I put off reading Chateau of Secrets. I looked at the cover and the plot and I thought, Nope. Don't ask me why, I just didn't think I'd connect with this story. I was very wrong. 

I ended up soaking in this book over a period of time that was quite sad, with my Grammy in the hospital. I really needed a reminder that no matter how broken, tough, and dark the day might be, our own Author delights in good endings. (Not easy, bloodless, tearless, painless, but GOOD.) 
This novel reminded me of that.

Basic Plot: Chloe Sauver is nine weeks away from marrying the man she's given her whole heart to. Other than a few small blips on the radar, everything seems just right. Then the offer/request comes out of the blue: Chloe, come to France, to your ancestral home, and tell us about your grandmother Gisele's involvement in WWII. Come to the Chateau L'Epines, and help us film a documentary. 

Through circumstances you'll just have to read about, Chloe ends up on that plane, with bags packed and life in a whirlwind.

Her co-adventurer is Riley Holtz, the documentary filmmaker. He's a guy who looks like the last thing Chloe needs. When she looked him up online, she saw photos that suggested an inflated ego and a devotion only to partying. The Riley she meets has a whole different aura. 

Melanie, Riley's story tied so well into Chloe's, and you brought them both into a lovely resolution. It had me teary. His life story, and the way he revealed it, added so much more depth and transformation. Riley and Chloe are bound for a spot on my Favorite Characters 2014 List. 

Grandmother Gisele's life also comes into sharp focus- a brother in the French Resistance, a baby that needs loving arms and a new last name, and circumstances that force you to decide what you can lose and still live. I mean literally keep alive, and also live with yourself. 
As in all good past-meets-present novels, Chloe finds perspective and fresh courage when she encounters Gisele's life. Gisele was truly devoted to protecting her loved ones, and keeping true to God and country. 

Gisele and for Chloe both worked on something bigger than themselves, learning to make choices that will give tomorrow a chance for hope and as much healing as possible for themselves and others. 

I also loved the presence of the Church in this novel, both the old chapel and those who sought sanctuary there. Well done in crafting a story that handles faith in the best way possible. I'm proud of Howard Books for publishing novels that touch the ragged edges of life, and the ragged edges of Jesus robe, and reach for both reverently.

Reading this story was like seeing a puzzle put together. At first, it was all tumbled in front of me, offering glimpses of beauty and lots of unanswered questions. As more of the picture developed I found myself leaning into the story, eagerly watching it come together.

Thank you Howard Books for my review copy!

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Just One More Last Chance...


I adore this series.
Cathleen Armstrong's books are delectable. Sometimes bittersweet, very down-to-earth and always uplifting, they've got a perfect tagline: Grace with a side of Green Chile.

How could I not love last Chance, New Mexico? The folk of this town are salt of the earth, from Juanita who ends every piece of advice with "Just a word to the wise," to Ben, the Sheriff's Deputy who's right there when you need him. 
They appreciate their humble roots, retain their rural ranching heritage, and are active about establishing community. 

This second novel, One More Last Chance, is a fine complement to Welcome to Last Chance, and while it can stand alone, I don't think you'd want to miss the whole series. 

This is the story of a girl- Sarah Cooley- who loves her hometown, and a guy- Chris Reed- who seems determined to change it. 
Well, to be honest, he's not interested in big changes, he just wants to shake up the menu at the Dip 'N Dine. 
But that's not the point. The point is that he shouldn't change anything about Last Chance, even if he's the new owner of the cafe! 
All Sarah's best memories are wrapped up in this place, and she needs it to stay stable and sane and the same.
But then it seems like Chris needs Last Chance to become his home too, and it seems to Sarah like he could use a friend.

So, why do I love these characters? 
Sarah is a school teacher, who genuinely enjoys teaching and working with kids. It's not just thrown in there to make her "maternal," it's a real part of her nature. She values laughter and family and time-tested traditions. 

Chris... he reminded me of an uncle of mine, who's also extremely caring, has a great sense of humor, and would drop anything and come help you. 
It makes sense that Chris is Uncle Chris before the story is over... no spoilers, but a wonderful part of the story is his niece coming to live with him.
Olivia is a wonderful little person, all by her seven year old self. She's had some tough times in life, and she alternates between being love-hungry and stand-offish, innocent and tough. 

Watching Sarah and Chris come together, naturally, out of love for Olivia was my favorite part. It makes the story so rich.

Yep. I'm packing up and moving to Last Chance, and I'm gonna live right next to Sarah's Grandma Elizabeth. We'll crochet away the evenings, and we'll have waffles on Sunday nights. Time to take a chance on Last Chance. 
A Place To Call Home is one of the most satisfying contemporary series I've read, and I'd recommend it heartily.

Cathleen ArmstrongI grew up in New Mexico knowing two things were true:  Any time you could spend reading was time well spent, and that one day I, too, wanted to write books. Both certainties presented problems. In the first instance, my parents and teachers felt that while reading was good, even wonderful, time must also be allotted to chores, homework, and even social interaction. Psssh. They never did convince me on that one.
The second difficulty was harder to get around. I knew I was supposed to write what I was familiar with, but my family had not cooperated in placing us someplace interesting. I thought if they had tried just a little harder, if my granddad had homesteaded in, oh, New York City, or my parents had taught school in, say, China, I would be loaded with fascinating things to write about. 

But as it was, we all lived in ordinary New Mexico, with its ordinary hundred mile vistas, ordinary thunderstorms boiling up on a hot summer afternoon and pounding the earth before they rumbled away at sunset. And ordinary people with names like Baca and Begay whose roots reached from hundreds to thousands of years into the pale, gravely soil. You can see my predicament.
The reading never stopped, but the writing was put on hold as I married my high school sweetheart, and moved with him first to Arizona and then to California. Our three children came, grew up, married and began families of their own with a speed that still makes my head spin.
Finally it is time to write, and I have long since realized that the last word that describes my home state is ordinary. Long ago it began to be known as The Land of Enchantment.  I can’t wait to show you why.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Beautiful On the Mountains

Beautiful on the Mountain: An Inspiring True Story

Church and Community, two things that are really one, and every human being craves the substance of them.
Community: the care and help and camaraderie of other people. 
Church: the Word and sacraments to remind us of the Love and Presence of God. 

This is Jeannie Light's story of getting deeply involved in a Church and community in the Virginia hills. When you decide to invest yourself in a small town, there is no end of big issues and complexities to deal with, any bucolic appearances aside.  
Thats how it was for Jeannie in Graves Mill.
She found her self involved in everything from community Thanksgiving to logging operations to local Bible study and a family's loss of a child. 

She met friends there, some who came and ministered and departed like Heaven's angels, and some who stayed on and became kindred spirits. All gave of themselves to make communion out of isolation. 

The descriptions of these hills- the great trees, the blackberries, the rough roads, the rushing streams- are so well drawn that I can almost breathe the clear air. 

There's danger there too, and adventure, rattlesnakes and timber rustlers and hunters and poachers. It was the 1970's, and the back-to-nature movement was in full swing. There were people trying to find peace through lives of self sufficiency and people trying to make a profit, all on the same Good Earth.

Jeannie writes with an eye for the little incidents, the scraps of conversation, the first meetings with new friends. All those things that we call small, but they make up our dearest memories and when we look back we see their significance in shaping us. 

Thank you Tyndale for my review copy of Beautiful on the Mountains.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Heart of a Woman

In The Heart of a Woman, Shaneka McClarty writes as if she's talking to dear girlfriends, counseling them, explaining the Three R's of relationships. What are those Three R's?

Reclaim Your Power: You are a woman, the Queen of the chessboard, and when you realize your own value you won't let any man play his games with you.
Release the Pain: A broken heart hurts... how do you possibly let go of the relationship and ever forgive the person that hurt you? How do you get your own life back?
And Renew Your Mind: You've gotta learn to think and talk differently about yourself, right now, if you want your environment to change in the future. You've got to break the fear cycle with a dose of faith.

Just from that very brief outline, I hope you can see that there are hours of material here in this book. So who is this book for? Well, have you ever fallen in love? Yes? Has it ever broken your heart? Then you probably have some unhealed heart defects, and you probably need to set up some healthy boundaries.
Shaneka makes some excellent points about whole-person health, and self love before we can love anyone else.
I we beat ourselves up mentally and abuse ourselves verbally, then we'll tolerate even worse from others.

Shaneka emphasizes that when someone hurts us, we've got to despise the act, not the actor. If we hate the person, we wrap a chain around our heart. If we learn to spot a wrong action, we protect ourselves.

In fact, like Shaneka says, you may have picked this book up with romantic relationships in mind, but as you read you may see that every relationship needs repair! And as you begin emotionally investing in yourself, you'll see changes in all of them.
The wisdom in The Heart of a Woman can revolutionize your friendships and your dating life, if you apply it.

And if you're single, then it's time to get your SWAG on- Single Woman and God. Run to the One who's always stable, ready, loving and kind. Run to the One who calls you Mine. Listen to Shaneka explain it- "God is really into you because He already knows the depths of your heart, the number of hairs on your head, and what you're thinking about. He will support you and love you as well as be patient with you."

Thank you very much to Shaneka... I intend to re-read this book! And to Pump Up Your Book Publicity Tours for my review copy.

Grace in Ordinary Days

Glimpsing Grace in Ordinary Days

This book is a pleasure to read. If you have a friend who needs a "pick me up" to bring a bit of cheer to their days, then this slim devotional is at the top of my list.

There's no preaching or pretension in the way Christine writes. She's just telling small stories that point to what is true, lovely, and lasting about life.

Glimpsing Grace in Ordinary Days is made up of several dozen article-length essays, inspired by the author's life.
They run the gamut in subject and tone from a bittersweet story of a beloved dog's golden years, to a comic tale of an Uncle trying to take his nieces and nephews fishing, to groan-worthy accounts of home renovations and heart warming yarns about life in a close-knit family that wraps its members in Love.

Some of my favorites include the one about the baby turtles, the one about vinyl albums becoming cool again and the one about Christine's summer memories at the family camp, and those are just three out of the whole book. There are many more to read and enjoy. Whether she's writing about something joyous and light, or something that breaks our hearts, Christine writes tenderly and with ultimate hope.

Thank you Bookcrash for my review copy!

Christine Litavsky is a wife and mother of three. Her belief is that God is always good, even when life doesn't quite go as it should. Writing about that is her passion. Her work has been featured in numerous publications including American Family Magazine, a Christianity Today website. She's a monthly contributor for Glancer Magazine. You can reach her via email at

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Somebody Like You

Somebody Like You

Somebody like You is a novel about true love and the way it grows. It's a tale the dives into a family's past. 
It's the story of a woman with a choice ahead of her. And it reminds us of magic of tree houses. 

Fact: There's nothing casual about being the mirror twin of a woman's deceased husband. 

Stephen Ames spent his childhood years being defined as a twin instead of his own person.
It was only when he lost touch with his brother Sam that he found his confidence and role in life. And while he grieved the separation from his best buddy, he was glad to be his own person without the "and" on the end of his name. 

It was Sam's death that shocked Stephen, shook him up, and sent him back into the past. 
Of course, he couldn't access the past and find Sam alive again, but he could find Sam's widow and try to regain his brother through her memories. 
Call it regret. Call it unfinished business. Sam needs to find Mrs. Ames. 

Between her brothers and their constant coaching "No tears, keep up!" and her marriage to a military man, Haley Ames is used to taking care of business, often without a buddy to have her back. 
After a long day working at the gun range and a drive home contemplating Life Without Sam, she's not ready for unexpected company waiting at her door in the dark. 
Drawing her handgun on this stranger on her porch is all par for the course. 

Stephen and Haley. What can I say? A woman whose marriage ended before the love could really find it's footing, confronted with a man who's so much like her husband one moment and nothing at all like him the next. A man reaching for what had slipped away, and finding that so much new goodness came with it. 

This is quite a romance, the kind that grows naturally. Stephen really impressed me with the way he cared for Haley. He continued trying to help her, to lend a hand, to lend an ear, to devote some time, even when he got nothing in return. That's what makes me smile, seeing two people become friends, giving from the heart with nothing expected, and then suddenly become more. 

Somebody Like You belongs on my shelf right next to Catch a Falling Star. If you loved Kendall and Griffin and Ian, then you'll want to meet Stephen and Sam. This story has a more serious overtone because of themes of estrangement and widowhood, but both novels have depth that makes them memorable, and humor worked in neatly. 

**SPOILER** I have to say that my favorite scene in this story when was Stephen had a final conversation with his brother. That scene had me tearing up. It's beautiful. You'll know it when you read it. 

Thank you to the author and to Howard Books for my review copy!

God’s best is often found behind the doors marked “Never.”
So many times I approached life with with a virtual roll of yellow duct tape emblazoned with the word NEVER. Over and over again I sealed off certain opportunities.
I would never marry a doctor or anyone in the military.
I would never have children.
I would never write fiction.
And don’t you know God stripped off the duct tape and walked me through each of those NEVER doors?
Have you ever marked a door NEVER … only to discover his best waited where you said you’d never go?
Following God through that door doesn’t mean we’re on “easy street,”‘even though we’re where he wants us to be.
” Show me your ways, Lord,
teach me your paths.
Guide me in your truth and teach me,
for you are God my Savior,
and my hope is in you all day long.”
- Psalm 25:4-5 (NIV)
There’s more to happily ever after than the fairy tales tell us. We’re living real life — and relationships are messy, even when you believe in God. Even when you anchor your life to his promises.
I live my life acknowledging these realities … And I weave these truths into the stories I write.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Candle Bible Handbook

Candle Bible Handbook

This is one cool Bible handbook.

It is arranged in 66 main sections, one for each book of the Bible in order from Genesis to Revelation. Within each book's section (two to six pages long) is a whole bunch of information to read and colored images to look at. It is concise but meaty.

For example in the section on Jonah, we have an outline of the book and a note on an important theological point: Jonah was the first Jewish prophet set on a mission to a non-Jewish country. He learned that God's salvation is for all who turn to him. There's also a fascinating tidbit I hadn't know before, "This is the only book of prophecy that tells more about the prophet than about the prophet's message." There is a map of Jonah's journeys, a spotlight on the city of Nineveh, a Look Out For section telling us to watch for Jonah's pride and Jonah's prayers and a Frequently Asked Questions: Why didn't Jonah want to preach to Nineveh? and How did he end up inside a fish???

And thats just one example. Each other Biblical book gets a chapter.
There are photos of the ancient ruins of Jericho, maps of the Persia Esther would have know, a modern day view of Bethlehem at night, and Damascus gate leading into the Old City.

This book embodies the best of fun and fact filled. I think it would be enjoyable to just sit with a small child and flip through and talk about it all.

Thank you Kregel for my review copy!