Sunday, June 29, 2014

A Thousand Sleepless Nights

A Thousand Sleepless Nights

It was the title of this novel that first caught my attention, and then the cover. A horse, walking under the pale and dusky sky, with the stars coming out above his head.

I can recommend it to you for the very engaging plot, a plot that unfolds between the present of the 2000's and the past of the 1970's. 

This is the love story of two kids... a boy from the extremely wrong side of the tracks who needs a job bad, and a beautiful girl whose father owns a spreading, productive horse ranch. 

When Jim left his own abusive home, he was unsure whether he was brave or just a run away coward, and he sure didn't feel like he had a purpose in the world. All he could see was a road that would get him out of there, but he had no idea where it would take him. And he never thought someone as fascinating and magnetic as Nena St. Clair would be waiting for him, and he never imagined she would teach him so much about himself. 

Pan out from their youth... see the struggles and shocks that came with Jim's falling in love and still believing that such a good, fine girl was forever unavailable. See the opposition to their love. 
See the shared commitment to this place and to the horses.

Now see them, decades later, still on the ranch, with their children grown and very much gone. See the dust of dreams sifted around them.... yes they have each other, yes they have the land. But Nena has been given months to live, and she hasn't got peace for dying and she hasn't got her family close. 
Instead, her and her children are all jagged edges and broken hearts and barely civil communication. Their relationships are dead, and now when they are all thinking about real Death, can real Life return to the heart of the family? 

I received my review copy from The Booketeria. 

Michael   King

Michael King is a pen name for Mike Dellosso, author of numerous novels of suspense, including Darkness Follows, Darlington Woods, and Scream. Mike is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and is a popular conference and workshop teacher. He earned his BA degree from Messiah College and his MBS from Master's International School of Divinity. He lives in Hanover, PA, with his wife and daughters. 

Friday, June 27, 2014

The NIV Life Journey Bible

Life Journey Bible-NIV

Why should you consider this Life Journey Bible? 

Well, there are several reasons. The first is the translation. The New International Version may be my favorite translation of all. 
The NIV is straightforward- clear, dignified modern English. You can feel the beauty of the poetry and lamentation in the Psalms and Song of Songs, the urgency of the prophets, and the words of the Gospels- those that ring out victory from the hilltops and those that whisper to aching hearts. 

It's also a translation dedicated to accuracy, and so when you're ready to dig in and study there's plenty to work with. 

This NIV is not a study Bible, per se, like my 1984 NIV is. 
The notes inside are provided by Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend. 
Wait a minute... those names are awfully familiar, aren't they? Mmmmhmm. 
Cloud and Townsend are the team behind many well-known books: Boundaries -for Dating, Marriage, Kids, and Leaders, God Will Make a Way, Safe People, and more. 

Together, these men have applied Scriptural wisdom and common sense to psychological counseling for years. Their approach is spiritually practical, helping people find the help and hope they need to live and love with God and other people. 
They've probably seen every kind of broken family, every addiction, and every sadness you can think of, and they hope that their words in this Bible will comfort and point towards healing. 

For example, in the book of Jeremiah, we have two main Growth Lessons: Honesty with God and Spirit Led Prayer. The InSights include a word about healing post divorce, God's "House Rules," God's desire for us, pulling out all the stops when calling on God, defining ourselves, and accepting hard truth. There's a profile of the Wailing Women that Jeremiah spoke of, and reflections on making grief a communal process with a good support group. 
And there is a two-page spread about overcoming the fear of sharing our faith, with five common fears outlined. 
(1. The Fear of Isolation and Rejection
2. Fear of Assertiveness
3. Fear of Failing Someone's Ideal
4. Fear That God Won't Show Up
5. Fear That We Don't Know Enough)

Quality and Specifications of this Bible: The type size is about eight point, two column format to make it easier on the eyes. 
The text in printed in black ink and the headers and InSight boxes are a slate blue color. 
I have the hardcover version, and it's very nice. It lays flat when you open it, and the pages are thin but seem sturdy- they're not like tissue paper. I can see this Bible lasting for years, standing up to a lot of page turning and lap time. 

Thank you BookLook Bloggers for my review copy of the NIV Life Journey Bible. 

Dr. Henry Cloud and Dr. John Townsend have been bringing hope and healing to millions for well over two decades, helping people discover solutions to life’s most difficult personal and relational challenges. Their material provides solid, practical answers and offers guidance in the areas of parenting, marriage, dating, emotional struggles, leadership, and personal and spiritual growth. They have spoken on a wide variety of issues, and have over one thousand recordings available in their extensive audio and DVD library.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Annie's Stories... An Ellis Island Novel.

A good historical novel will take you back through the years and let you remember a time you never experienced. 
Cindy Thomson's Ellis Island series is doing just that.  
A great historical novel won't stop there, though, it will also give you characters to befriend while you're in its pages. 
Cindy Thomson's books do that as well. 

In 2013, I met Grace McCaffrey, Irish immigrant and boarder at Hawkin's House. Grace's story was one of self-discovery and mystery- including a run-in with one of New York's gangs. 
Now, in 2014, I got to go back to Hawkin's House and have tea again with the matron whose keen-eyed compassion earned her the name Hawk. This time she introduced me to another boarder, Annie Gallagher. 

Where Grace fell in love with photography, Annie's passion is stories. Especially because the stories are the last physical gift from her departed father. Smooth, faded pages, carefully treasured manuscripts bearing delightful children's tales. That is her one inheritance. Annie keeps them in her desk, and lets them inspire her heart. They wouldn't mean much to anyone else, but they remind her where she came from. 

Annie is a dreamer, and she strives to live with confidence in herself and her abilities. She has experienced terribly adverse circumstances and she isn't giving in to despair. Instead, she is channeling her energy: Annie wants to build a library and dedicate it to the education and improvement of young girls like herself. 

In the meanwhile though, there are myriad challenges to overcome before that dream can be made of brick and mortar. 
A strange man is investigating Hawkin's House, a new boarder is in grave danger, and a postal worker seems quite smitten with our Annie. 
What's a girl to do? 

Stephen Adams, the postal employee, is a lovable and rather lovestruck character. He's a mailman back when a mailman might deliver three times in one day, and he's proud of his profession. He's also a bibliophile, and it's the shared love of stories that draws them together.
And he's got a few troubles: unpaid bills, a slightly slick opportunist of a landlord, and a terrible case of Tongue-Tie around a certain Miss Gallagher.  
Watching Stephen fumble his way around Annie adds some gentle comedy to this novel. 

Watching Annie stand up for herself and discover her own capability, that makes Annie's Stories an excellent choice for girls to read. We need as many heroines as possible. Annie Gallagher and Grace McCaffrey are fine ones. 

Thank you to Cindy Thomson for the opportunity to be a first reviewer of her new book. I hope it finds an enthusiastic readership! 

 Cindy Thomson's newest historical novel, Annie's Stories, releases July 2014. The series began with Grace's Pictures, June 2013, published by Tyndale House. She is also the author Celtic Wisdom (Lion Hudson),Brigid of Ireland, A Historical Novel, (Monarch Books) and co-author of Three Finger: The Mordecai Brown Story, (University of Nebraska Press.) 

She is also a mentor in the Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild. Her interests include genealogy, history, and baseball. Sharing the legacies of faith left by those who went before us is her passion.

She has spoken to book clubs and other small groups and enjoys appearing at several large Irish festivals across the country. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Wright State University with a degree in Elementary Education and taught in private Christian school settings for nearly 20 years. 

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Holy Longing....

The Holy Longing: The Search for a Christian Spirituality

From the first paragraph of the preface to the final quote by Julian of Norwich, The Holy Longing was both tender hearted and intellectually stimulating. There was something to underline on 99% of it's 257 pages, and I crammed the margins with notes. 

(That great line from the preface was a quote from Tielhard de Chardin, who said that most sincere people who lack belief in God lack Him because they have never heard about Him in a correct way.) 

The Holy Longing compels engaged reading. This book contains the best annotation on The Lord's Prayer that I have ever read, and I love his chapter on participating in the Incarnation. As one person said, half in wonder, half in objection, "It can't be true because it is too good to be true!"

As Ronald Rolheiser quotes from the Goethe poem in the first chapter, we are troubled guests on a dark earth. That is the state of everyone at one point or another, often over and over again. We are born with longings and desires, some that can be satisfied here and some which never seem to be. You can tell me that you don't have a spirituality, but as a human being you do have a spirit, with those desires and fears and hopes, and you are doing something about it. From Mother Theresa to Janis Joplin to Princess Diana, no human being- Religious or Irreligious- gets away from being spiritual. 
The question is, in those three women's lives, did their spirituality make them whole or did it help tear them apart?

This fascinating first part would make great dialogue with any seeker, and once Mr. Rolheiser starts talking about specific Christian spirituality I don't think they would stop reading. He carries us from the general to the particular so gently that we can all make the journey. 

Once he has laid this framework he applies his winsome, conversational tone to the Church as a body of believers, the Paschal Mystery, and social justice and peace…. among other things. 
He writes real and he writes with reverence, just like he explains that the body of Christ contains the delightful and the unpalatable, and we are called to be in communion with both. 

And I'd recommend this book. Get ready to ask questions. Reading a good book is an experience, and not a passive one. 

(Just for example, these are some thoughts that this book inspired: "We live in a grand, detailed, singing world, and it begs us to respond to it. How can we not throw up our arms and embrace the pale blue sky?" 
"Like Ravi Zacharias asks, are we promised exactly what we want from the prayer vending machine, or are we promised the presence of Christ?" 
"If Christianity did not revolve around sacrifice, crucifixion, and stigmata all pointing to redemption, then all people in pain, depression, abandonment and illness, all those hospital bound and divorced and dying, they'd know we were lying about Divine and human nature." ) 

Thank you Blogging for Books for my review copy!

Friday, June 20, 2014

How Sweet the Sound!

How Sweet the Sound

"How Sweet the Sound is a book about the worst things in the world, written in the best way possible." 
That's what I told my friend the night she asked me what I was reading.

I can't summarize the plot- that would ruin the twists and turns that come with souls being revealed.
I can't quote enough passages to show you the full power of the writing- you need to absorb it for yourself. 
(The way Amy Sorrells writes, it doesn't feel like this story is just being told, it feels like it's being unfolded in front of you, word by word.) 

Starting on Thanksgiving Day 1979 and stretching almost two years, this is Anni and Comfort's story. 
Anniston is a Harlan family granddaughter, Comfort is her aunt. Being a Harlan means having a legacy: of hard-earned money, pristine reputations, and a lovely pecan plantation. That's how it looks to the outside. On the inside, it's a legacy of parental disconnection, bitterness, spirit-shattering child abuse, and shame held close to the chest. 
That world, as the Harlan's knew it, is about to fall apart, and Anni and Comfort will need their Abba Father to knit the fractured, crushed pieces together into a pattern of healing.

Amy Sorrells has taken the Biblical story of Tamar and given it new life. 
As she said, she's not satisfied with the ending of Tamar's story, and we shouldn't be either. The idea of Tamar spending the rest of her days as a silent, abandoned woman is not good enough. That's why she dedicated this book to the silent ones, the one's who've yet to recover their voices. 

You will probably have to set this book down from time to time, squeeze it in your hand, and pray that the Light that Amy shines into this story would pour clearly into every darkness. You'll have to pause, and reread sentences that make you feel the weather and smell the air and taste the food. 
You'll long for Comfort to see herself as her God and her beloved Solly see her. You'll want Anni to have a chance to make a true friend. 

May every Comfort/Tamar find real hope and believe the truth about herself, and may every Anni receive the wise guidance that she needs to find her special place in the world.

Last thought... I did *love* Ernestine as a character. She's the kind of lady I want to grown up and be. Intelligent, calm, wise, and ready to reach out her hands and do for those she loves.

Thank you David C Cook for my review copy.

Amy K. Sorrells
An Indianapolis native and graduate of DePauw University, Amy lives with her husband, three boys and a gaggle of golden retrievers in central Indiana. After writing and editing for her college newspaper, she combined a nursing degree with journalism and creative writing, which led to publishing and editing a wide array of medical and nursing writing and multimedia projects over the past 21 years, a position as director of communications of her church’s children’s ministry, as well as a weekly column for a local newspaper which ran from 2009-2012. She has been a two-time semi-finalist for the ACFW Genesis awards, and was the winner of the 2011 Women of Faith writing contest.

When she’s not reading or writing, Amy loves spending time with her three sons; spicy lunches and art gallery walks with her husband; digging in her garden sans gloves; walking her dogs; up-cycling old furniture and junk; photography; and friends.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

The *Truest* Thing About You

The Truest Thing about You: Identity, Desire, and Why It All Matters

There are so many different facts about our lives that inform our self-perception, based on everything from our education and socioeconomic level to our interpersonal relationships and sexuality.

There are so many different labels, some with shame and stigmas attached, that we find ourselves bearing. Whether we want them or not the world has a way of assigning them to us.

When you take those outward facts about what we do or where we've been ("I'm a UNH Alumni from a blue-collar neighborhood and I'm a single mother with two kids") and combine them with the labels we're given  ("I'm divorced" "She was anorexic" "I have PTSD" "He has ADHD" "He's an alcoholic") is that who we really are?  Obviously, the answer is partly Yes. Those all may be true things. But what is the Truest Thing About You? 

Everyone else seems to have us figured out, yet there is so much inner wondering about who we really are. 
Who can tell us who we are? Who really knows us, all our layers and all our questions? Who can give us our true name?

That's what David Lomas' extremely readable book is all about. Where does my foundational identity come from? Is it determined by what I *Have* or what I *Desire* or something else entirely? 

This book was intriguing right from the concept on in. The Truest Thing About You could be a fast read because it draws you right in, but it's the kind of book you'll return to. David tells personal stories, about his own life and the life of his congregation in San Francisco and de always points back to God and what He says about us. 

I put this book on my shortlist for New Christians, and I can't wait to share it with someone. 
(I don't know why I'm surprised by how good thing book is. It was published by David C Cook after all. If you're looking for challenging, gracious, winsome book- apologetics to Christian living- then do check out a David C Cook title.) 

Thank you to the publisher for my review copy! 

Here's an interview with Pastor Lomas...

Calif. Pastor on the 'Truest' Thing About You and Why It Matters

A San Francisco pastor wants to relay the message that a person's identity isn't found in their successes or failures, their career, or even their sexual orientation. A person's true identity is found in who God says they are.
"We subtly believe we can make an identity ... so we try and try and never succeed," Pastor Dave Lomas told The Christian Post. "We don't find an identity, we receive one from God, our Creator."
Lomas makes his point in his newly released book, The Truest Thing About You: Identity, Desire, and Why It All Matters.
"Here's the problem: you're clinging to true things about yourself that simply aren't that true. You're elevating things that are merely true - or half-true, or true some days but not others - to the level of 'truest.' I know you're doing this because I do it too," the Bakersfield, Calif., pastor writes.
His book, he says, "is about the truer things" that "have the power to change everything else, including the merely true things."

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Seagrass Pier.... a Hope Beach Novel

Seagrass Pier (Hope Beach, #3)

Colleen Coble's novels, for me, are marked by three factors. 
The first factor is the setting, a locale that is always carefully described and full of charm. In this case, it's Hope Beach, a place some readers will know from Tidewater Inn and Rosemary Cottage. Beautiful shoreline, peaceful nights... and crime. 

The second is a small "family" of main characters who you really come to love. In Seagrass Pier, we get to meet Elin Summerall. She's the recipient of a new heart... and new memories and new nightmares. Thanks to cellular memory, Elin is having flashbacks to a murder. 
Her experiences and her personality made her a fascinating character. 
Our Coastguard friends from the previous books make some appearances too. 
Josh and Sarah, my favorites, carry their story along a little further with plenty of trips and falls on the way. 

And the third factor is suspense. Colleen stirs a ton of mystery into her tales. 
This novel was engaging with a capital E. Two people, meeting again after years apart, trying to deny their past history, chasing down a criminal based on her borrowed recollections and his devotion to her. Yep. If you're in the market for a character driven who-done-it, with a stay in a lovely old beach house included, then this is your book. 

What a great Summer 2014 Vacation Read this will be.

Thank you Litfuse for my review copy!

Monday, June 16, 2014

Edwin, High King of Britain.

Edwin: High King of Britain (The Northumbrian Thrones #1)

Once I got to the third chapter, you would have had to pry *Edwin: High King of Britain* out of my hands. The reason? It reminded me of The Lord of the Rings. I read this paragraph.... 

"The wind blew harder and Edwin shivered, but it was not from a cold to which he was inured that he shook. 'He made me bow to him. He forced me to my knees in front of his men, in front of mine, and made me do homage.' Edwin turned to Forthred, and his eyes were as grey and cold as the sea. 
'He bought me my kingdom and defeated my enemy, but he ground my knees into the blood soaked mud and forced the homage I would have willingly given. But he is dead now, and no other man will make me kneel.' 
'But I will kneel to you lord,' said Forthred, and he went down on one knee before Edwin. 'Get up, get up.' Edwin hauled Forthred back to his feet. 'We have endured too much together for you to kneel to me, old friend.' " 

And I said to my friend "This is a real-life Middle Earth kind of story." 

I like learning history through novels, and I love the fact that this book is a true-to-history account. However, I was sucked in by the story and the characters, and the factual basis was all an extra benefit. This books reads like Tolkien, and a bit like a Stephen Lawhead novel, with kings and queens and battles and warcraft. 

One thing really struck home to me: Nothing is new under the sun. People still do horribly violent things to one another. Weapons are still formed to take life and spill blood. Power and empires are still sought. And the Gospel still goes out- a very tiny seed that grows greatly in good soil, an insane idea that saves souls, a beautiful word amidst the evil and coarseness. 

Edwin, a man who walked this earth and saw the sun and impacted history, had to choose how to live and whom to serve. This novel imagines how he made those choices. His bride, Æthelburh, another true figure, came to Edwin's house with Christianity and two spiritual counselors, a priest Paulinus, and a deacon James. These men are humble and devout without becoming cliches, just as Edwin is hard-headed and determined.  
Christianity at its most unadulterated, life-giving form is about to enter this pagan land. That's what makes this book so cool... it wrestles with the introduction of Christ into history, and shows how men's hearts changed when they encountered the Gospel, but it is not your typical poorly-written tract style novel. Readers can enter it without fear of anything but accuracy meeting imagination. 

Thank you Lion Fiction for my review copy! 

I am, on paper at least, a surprisingly exotic creature: Italian, Sinhala and Tamil by background, and growing up in London among the polyglot children of immigrants (it was only when I, finally, went to university that I actually got to know any English people). However, it's worth bearing in mind that the work of mine that produced the most extreme reaction in a reader was, in fact, a lonely-hearts ad. The reader, a friend checking the ad for me, was reduced to a wheezing, helpless, tear-stained mess of hicoughing flesh, so uncontrollable was his laughter. This was not quite the reaction I had hoped for. One day, I hope to produce something to match that reaction, but preferably without acquiring a wife, as I later found one by slightly more conventional means.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

A Place in His Heart

A Place in His Heart (The Southold Chronicles, #1)

This novel captures the emotions and experiences of a Pilgrim family on their journey to the New World in the 1630's. 
This is Rebecca DeMarino's debut novel, and it is a fine combination of history and romance. I haven't encountered that many books set in this time period, and so this whole series is an exciting promise of good reading to come. 

I felt so much sympathy for our heroine Mary Langton. As much as she longed for love, and as much as she hoped that Barnabas Horton would provide that love, her life was not easy. She tends to Barnabas's two sons- will they ever fully accept her as Mother?  She adores her husband, and wonders if there is room for her amidst his devotion to his first wife. And then she leaves all that is familiar to her for a land of new dreams and new heartaches.

Rebecca conveys a good, solid sense of place and time in her prose, and I could picture so many of the events. Whether she was writing about Barnabas's bakery in England or the weeks spent at sea or the perils of Colonial American life, the scenes are detailed and rich.

I will most surely be looking for the upcoming volumes of The Southold Chronicles!

 Thank you Revell for my review copy! 

Rebecca DeMarino

When Rebecca DeMarino traveled to Horton Point, Long Island, with her mother, Helen Jean Horton Worley, in 1999, passions collided: her love of faith, family, travel, history, and writing. Rebecca's debut novel, A PLACE IN HIS HEART, is a historical romance based on Mary and Barnabas Horton, Rebecca’s ninth great-grandparents. Set in 1600’s Southold, Long Island, book one of The Southold Chronicles will be released by Revell in June, 2014. She lives in the Pacific Northwest and when not writing, she enjoys family and genealogy, travel, reading, running, baking and gardening. Rebecca is represented by Greg Johnson of WordServe Literary Agency.

Treat Yourself!

Treat Yourself: 70 Classic Snacks You Loved as a Kid (and Still Love Today)

First I have to say that Treat Yourself is loaded with great photography. From the moonpies on the front cover to the thick fig-newtons to the oh-so-fancy samoas and the chewy chocolate caramel Twix bars, almost every recipe has a photo that convinces me to try it. 
I like that the recipes are photographed in various stages of completion... I think I'd be snacking the whole time I was cooking, and I think I'd be in good company! :) 

Treat Yourself is a cookbook with 70 recipes for home-made versions of favorite commercial snacks. 
This book is divided into seven sections. 
1. Classic Cookies, such as Thin Mints, Graham Crackers, Windmills and Chips Ahoy!
2. Sandwhich Cookies, like Nutter Butters (with the right shape!), Oreos, and Oatmeal Cream Pies. 
3. Snack Cakes, such as Zebra Cake and Coffee Cake. Honey buns and Sno-Balls are also included here.
4. Fruity Treats and Filled Things, like Lemon Mini Pies and those awesome looking DIY Fig Newtons. 
5. Savory Snacks, such as Soft Pretzels and Pizza Pockets. 
6. Candy.... think home-made Mounds Joys, and Peanut Paydays. 
7. Frozen Treats, like Ice Cream Sandwich and Orange Creamsicle and Strawberry Shortcake Ice Cream Treats. 

Obviously, this isn't a "health food" cookbook, but it isn't unhealthy either. Think of all the chemical stabilizers, preservatives, and artificial flavors you'll be avoiding by fixing these snacks at home. 

Interspersed throughout the delectable desserts are Jennifer's very fun and often comic memories about growing up with these snack foods, as well as tips on preparation and presentation. Even if you only make ten recipes out of this book, and you keep it on your cookbook shelf and surprise friends and family every few months with a new version of an old snack, I think Treat Yourself would be a trip down memory lane. 
(I showed it to a 60 year old friend of mine and he recognized almost everything in here!) 

So... here's to treats. Our memories of them, and the hours of the future spent creating them. 

Thank you Blogging for Books for my review copy!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

The Family of Jesus.

I'm thinking this will be my favorite-ever Karen Kingsbury book. Karen has applied her steady-paced, heart-tugging storytelling to Gospel history.
In this book, she focuses on Jesus' earthly family: Joseph, the man who raised him. Mary, the girl who gave birth to the fulfillment of Prophecy. James, his brother who struggled. John the Baptist, his cousin who prepared the way for him. His Aunt Elizabeth and his Uncle Zechariah, who were waiting, and working and hoping. 

Karen's writing sparked my imagination. I could picture the scenes as they unfolded. Zechariah, struck dumb in a temple room saturated with incense and awe. Mary watching an old man cradle her baby and proclaim that he can now die, for he has seen his salvation. John The Baptist's entry into Truest Life by the blade of a decapitating sword. James, finding out that his brother is God. Mary, trying to soothe the wounds on her Son's dead body, preparing Him for burial in a donated tomb. 

It's really amazing to think that family is so important to God that His Son needed to be raised within its cocoon. Jesus had a family and all that comes with it. The laughing and tears and suppers together and quiet early mornings where all the people you most love sleep under this one roof. Arguments between siblings and deep bonds and shared grief and family reunions where the conversation picked up exactly where it has been left off last year, Jesus experienced it all. 

This is really a great little book. It was an uplifting, soothing read for me one afternoon, and I think it would make an excellent gift for a new Christian, male or female. You could say "Here, as you navigate your way around the Gospels, this is novelized six stories to help you meet the main characters." 

Thank you Howard Books for my Review Copy.

Karen Portrait by Dan Davis Photography

When I sit down at my laptop to write a novel, I pray for you, and I pray God will use the words He gives me to touch your hearts. Because of those special moments in prayer, I think of you as friends. If you lived next door, we'd get together and have a cup of coffee, or a cup of tea, my favorite. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

All My Belongings

All My Belongings

All My Belongings, by Cynthia Ruchti. 
This book embodies the essence of redemptive storytelling. It's inspiring. Healing. Captivating. 

After reading Cynthia's non-fiction Ragged Hope, I was excited about trying one of her novels. 
The plot of this one sounded very odd: the daughter of a convicted mercy-killer murderer wants to flee her family past, so she changes her name and assumes a false identity. I just had to read the book to find out how she handles such a complex issue of our time, euthanasia and assisted suicide.

Becca Morrow, previously Jayne Dennagee, was made to be a care-giver. When her world blew apart, her mother died, and her father's deadly work was revealed, she left nursing school and just wanted a fresh, anonymous start. However, she's still designed to give love to the minds and spirits while attending to bodies that are weakened and dying. Unlike some caregivers, Becca understands that these patients are first of all people, and that the sick have lessons to teach the healthy.

Thanks to a dear friend, Becca has the chance to move cross-country, and care for a elderly lady with dementia. Mrs. Hughes' grown son has tried so hard to provide everything she may need, but none of the nurses have been right for her. When his mother met Becca, it was obvious that they clicked. 
Soon, Becca is the brightest spot in both mother and son's lives. Isaac and Aurelia just want to keep her forever. But then the past comes knocking, and its ugly hands pry away their peace.

A strong them in this book, for me, was the fact that you don't have to know someone's past to know them know- and now is what matters. 
Cynthia has offered us such a great cast of characters: Isaac, who will rearrange his life if it will help his mother in any way, Aurelia, who is slowly slipping from this world into the next, Becca, who firmly believes that any time you have with someone is another chance to bless them.

I read this book in one evening. That's how much it spoke to me. We're actually in a rather emotional time with my family. My Grammy is in the hospital with cancer, and it appears that she may be absent with us and present with Christ sooner than we would have imagined. What is sustaining her now is gentle touch and spoken prayers and encouragement, and laughter and memories. In other words, Love. 

That's why this book wrapped right around my heart... because it lays out a vision of loving people to death. Washing them and feeding them and combing their hair and listening to them even if they can't speak, right up to the end. We fear death, we speak of "cheating death."
We think we're "buying time" when time and grace are gifts from a God who gives them freely. In an increasingly suicide/euthanasia culture, we need to reclaim Death. I don't know exactly how, but I know it needs to be done. And I love All My Belongings.

Thank you Litfuse for my review copy.

Cynthia Ruchti
Cynthia spends her days diving into words, worship, and wonder and celebrating 41-plus years of marriage, three grown children, and five outrageously adorable grandchildren. One of her greatest joys is helping other writers grow in their craft. To that end, she served as the assistant director and a faculty member of the Quad Cities Christian Writers Conference, has served as worship and devotions staff for the Write-to-Publish conference, and teaches at other conferences as opportunities arise. She speaks frequently for women’s groups, at mother-daughter banquets, and for women’s refresher days and retreats. It is her delight to serve on her church’s worship team and Creative Arts team. Rather than “busy,” she likes the term “active.”

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Finding Spiritual Whitespace....

We we live in a world that says busier is better, multi-tasking equals maturity, and you can rest when you're dead.
We're also told to leave the past behind, sponge away our bad memories, and be decorously positive even if it's fake. 

Imagine Bonnie Gray, a Christ-follower, wife, mother, and blogger at FaithBarista . com. Imagine beginning a book about the need for whitespace in our lives, about making room for spiritual beauty, rest and peace. You would think that writing such a book would be a restful experience right there, but it wasn't. When Bonnie began writing, the worst panic attacks she had never even thought of came along with the words, and along with the attacks came old memories. 

When this book came from Revell for review, I gave it to my Mother first. She has had panic attacks, and when she (rarely) reveals her experience implicit question linger: "Why would YOU have panic attacks? You're all grown up, you've got your own family. You're not a returned soldier, you're a Stay at Home Mom. You don't deserve to have PTSD. So you had a bad childhood? Too bad! Focus on the happy memories. Parental alcoholism and feelings of abandonment, well, that's just how it was done Back Then. That's no reason to wig-out on us now." 

It has taken Mom years to come to this conclusion: If you tell me to forget the past, you're telling me that God wasn't there with me in those times. And you're telling me that some part's of me and my life are too broken for God to repair. 

That's kind of what Bonnie learned... It's Ok to admit you are wounded, as long as you give the wounds to Jesus and let Him carry you when the journey to healing is hard. 

Mom loved following Bonnie's story, because this isn't a self-help book, it's a book of personal sharing. This story is inspiring because Bonnie is honest, and it deeply impacted my mother. When she gave me back a much-dogeared volume and a glowing endorsement, I knew we had acquired a keeper.

What if what we all really need is rest, right now, in the present? What if we need to learn how to rest right in the middle of our grateful and messy and laughing and aching and broken and hopeful lives, right here in whatever this is?

I think I'm going to give copies of Finding Spiritual Whitespace to family members. 

Thank you Revell Reads Blog Program for giving me my copy.


Friday, June 6, 2014

Out of the Ruins...

Out of the Ruins (Golden Gate Chronicles #1)

Out of the Ruins... 
This is the story of two sisters, an earthquake that shook up American history, and a Love that will not take "No" for an answer.

Written with much emotion and great sensitivity, Karen unfolds this novel of sister-love, and weaves in the life of a doctor trying to live out faith and pursue scientific discovery. 

Abby Fischer is determined to find a cure for best friend and sister, Cecelia. Giving in to the disease and letting go of her dearest comrade is not an option. Abby's second-cousin Gerald in a physician, and he has a new assistant with radical ideas. Between Dr. Robert King and Abby, surely their resolve and efforts will be honored, won't they? 

Cecelia's tenuous health allows them to move to San Francisco, away from the family orchard and into the unknown city. 
And they begin to put down slender roots just in time for the earthquake of 1906. Karen's descriptions let you feel some of the terror that Abby would have felt, seeing the destruction and the fire and the families separated. 

As you read, your heart will wrench for Abby. You'll long for her to understand Cecelia's faith, which is placed higher than this earth. Cecelia loves her life and her family, and she's entrusted them both to the hands of God. 
You may find yourself praying for the Fischer family as you read. 

Ultimately, this is a story about The Hound of Heaven, the pursuing God who chases down His children and continues to appear in their lives no matter how often He is rebuked. Abby and God's relationship takes center stage in this historical novel, and Karen brings it all to life for us readers. 

Thank you Litfuse for my review copy. 

Karen   Barnett

Karen Barnett is the author of OUT OF THE RUINS and MISTAKEN. She lives in Oregon with her husband, two kids, and a bevy of furry friends. You can learn more about Karen's writing journey at

Potluck cookbook... hearty and flavorful!

The Third Thursday Community Potluck Cookbook: Recipes and Stories to Celebrate the Bounty of the Moment

Potluck. What do you think of when I say that? Do you think cheap, disgusting, luke-warm food served in the rec hall basement?
Maybe it's time to reboot your definition. For the men and women behind this cookbook, Potluck is all about growing community, nourishing their neighbor by serving great food. 

This hefty 300 page cookbook boasts a variety of dinner dishes that I can imagine serving up at a Potluck or at the family table, perhaps dividing a recipe if needed.  And believe me, it's Southern to the bone. Sweet potato biscuits with ham on 'em, anybody? How about a slice of four layer Mango-Tango cake? I thought you'd say yes! Add some Crowder Pea Salad and a sticky-sweet Wendy's Friendship roll, and you've got it. 

Don't let the down home simplicity fool you though... there are plenty of elegant dishes: Flourless Chocolate Cayenne Cake with Cinnamon Whipped Cream, for example. Gigi's Pavlova Meringue with Passion Fruit. Bacon Leek Tart in Puff Pastry. Crispy Herbed Goat Cheese Croquettes. Silky Butternut Squash Bisque. 
Heartiness and flavor are the must-haves, whether cooking with local or exotic ingredients, and the dishes have already been Delicious Factor tested by the Potlucker Crowd, so all you have to do is see if you agree with them.

As the back cover assures us, "No rules. It's Potluck!" 
I could joke that "No rules!" will probably get easier if you serve one of the recipes with gin in it. Or bourbon. Or tequila. 
Just kidding. :)  There ARE several liquor related recipes, but that probably won't be a problem for many cooks. 
(I would prefer my Potlucks to be temperate and perhaps that's my bad experience talking, from this week with a family get together and a cooler full of cold beer.  Alcohol has never improved a party I've attended. Sigh.)
So, just modify the refreshing beverages like the Spring Tonic.
Keep the cucumbers and the lime, skip the liquor, and let a drink actually bless your liver for once! 

There are many food photographs in this book, and every cook knows that's half the enjoyment.... looking at the finished dish and savoring the idea of  completing the recipe yourself. There's not a photo for each recipe, but there are enough that you can have fun flipping through and getting ideas. 
That's exactly what my sister-Chef did when I gave her The Third Thursday Potluck Cookbook. She sat down and savored the reading. Along with the recipes, other foodie stories are included. There's a story about the incredible fig tree that produced enough fruit for one hundred pints of preserves, a recollection about The Peach Truck that drove through Georgia, thoughts on the allure of burgers, and as essay on how to make your own ketchup. 

This is a cookbook that will compel you to, well, cook! 

Thank you BookLook for my review copy! 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Ruth's Redemption

Ruth's Redemption

   Part historical novel centered around the "Nat Turner rebellion," part retelling of the Biblical narratives of Ruth/Boaz and Hosea/Gomer, Ruth's Redemption is entirely engrossing. For me, this was a five star novel.
Marlene Banks tells this story with the large events of history in the background and the personal details of character's lives in the foreground. Seen together you get not only the facts but the feelings of this story.

Bodine Peace is still seen by most people as a slave, thought he's reluctantly acknowledged to be a "free slave." And a hard working, prosperous one at that. Bo is blessed by God, that's for sure. And he's determined to be a channel of grace to others. That's why he redeems slaves, buying their freedom.

That's why he buys Ruth, to set her free. Only beautiful Ruth, who had been used as a breeding slave, has no concept of freedom. (I am very glad that Marlene Banks retained the horrors of historical fact in Ruth's story. Even in this fictionalized story, the terror of being a young Ruth bleeds through the pages, and the brutality of slavery is obvious.)
It's going to take much gentleness and love to restore sweetness to Ruth's soul, and Bo is the first person Ruth has ever wanted to trust.

Into their burgeoning harmony rides Nat Turner, a man distraught over the pain of his people's bondage, determined to fight against it... even if it means spilling blood and losing his own life. To souls thirsting for freedom who have been stripped of human dignity and worked like animals, Nat Turner's words are a promise of hope and a rallying cry.

This is a great stand-alone novel, but I'm delighted to see that there are two more books composing a series of sorts.
I recommend this book to high school students, home-schoolers, and avid readers. 

Thank you MPNewsroom for my review copy! 

Marlene Banks

I am a hardwired storyteller inspired by the Holy Spirit. Jesus The Christ is author and finisher of my faith and my fiction. The anointing to write is a spiritual thing. Kingdom based writing is my humble tribute to Father God. A passion for good stories determines my reading choices and fuels my writing goals. I write different genres about things that inspire, inform and entertain, but always point to God in some way. I’m an avid reader and prolific writer but my other interests are varied. Topping the list are biblical application, interesting historical nuggets, music (all kinds), gardening, farms and animals (highlight on large breed dogs).