Tuesday, September 30, 2014

A Julianna Deering Mystery...

Murder at the Mikado (Drew Farthing Mystery, #3)

I did jump into the third book in a series with Murder in the Mikado, but the plot was easy enough to follow without the backstory.)

This is the third Drew Farthing mystery, and when this one begins Drew is madly in love with his fiancee Madeline and buried in wedding plans.  

While Madeline dreams of choosing china patterns and wearing heirloom lace, Drew dreams of a future with this girl who understands him so well. She loves his home, appreciates his friends, and even solved two crimes with him! Drew hopes for domestic bliss in the years to come, and perhaps a few more detective cases. 

Of course, Drew doesn't want a case to land in his lap during pre-nuptial planing! And when the suspect is a woman Drew was once involved with, how is he to clear her name and keep Madeline happy? 

This mystery is just English enough to have that particular flavor. Drew talks about "traveling the Continent," and teatime is a fixture every day. Murder in the Mikado reminds me a bit of a Josephine Tey mystery. 
The extra characters are just difficult enough to peg that you will probably have multiple suspects. 

Drew and his friends Nick and Madeline make a fine and funny trio. They've still got a lot of growing-up to do, as they try to clear the suspect's name and prepare for their own futures. I heard that Julianna Deering is contracted with Bethany House for three more mysteries in this series, and we surely need further installments after this. The case may be solved, but we have to know more about the characters!

Thank you Bethany House for my review copy!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Be Rebellious.

Be Rebellious: Fight Back Against A Culture That Doesn't Care About You

In two days time, I have reviewed two books for teenage girls. One was Serita Ann Jakes' The Princess Within, and one was Megan Clinton's Be Rebellious. 

Both of them are written by women who love God passionately, women who have experienced His love and received His living hope. 
Both women also know the pressures and struggles and pain that young women experience in the world today. 

Megan and Serita Ann deal in straight-talk, because there is not use pretending. Girls don't have it easy in America today. 
America has the best medical care, the most access to nutritious food, and finest opportunities for education. 
American teens today should be the healthiest, most content, most stable generation we've ever raised. 
Yet they're not. 

We have enough money to provide out fourteen year old with an iPhone, but we haven't figured out how to keep the online predators away. 
A sixteen year old lives in a "land of plenty," yet she develops an eating disorder because your weight determines your worth in our culture. 
An eighteen year old could enter any college she chose, but she never gets to graduate high school because years of hidden bullying drive her to take her own life. 

This book, Be Rebellious, deals with issues that our girls should never even have to know about. But they already do. The topics that make us adults shudder and hope we can keep the kids innocent for a little while longer, those topics are daily life for your child. 

I love the subtitle here: Be Rebellious. Fight back against a culture that doesn't care about you. 
It's the truth. 

So how do we help? I think Megan's got some good ideas. Let's get this book into some girls' hands. Let's introduce them to a God who cares about them personally, who made them girls for a reason and who has work for them to do right now. 

Thank you Worthy Publishing for my review copy. 


I was reading my local paper this morning. (It was accidental, I swear.)

I happened to end up in a tribute written for somebody, and in that tribute were the words "I believe in a warm, loving Higher Power, whom I call God....."

The rest of it really didn't matter. I was paused right there, wondering

"How does this even work?"

 You believe in a general Niceness hovering over the world. An amorphous Indeterminably-High being with Some Power, and you choose to call it God.
(As opposed to the monikers of Tomato or Toe-Jam.) How interesting.

I would have thought it worked the other way. I would have thought that God- the Original Cause, the Unmade Maker, the Love from whom all other Loves flow- that He would have revealed Himself and His attributes, and we would have believed in what He said He is, and called Him God because that's what He was... but lets leave that for now...

I'm just thinking how useless that would be. A nice, sloppy, shapeless, well-intentioned Higher Power.

Telling me that God-as-a-Concept is watching over me is as pointless as telling a child in a dark, empty room will be comforted by Nurturing-Female.

A frightened child needs its Mother, a particular individual woman bound to him with ties of love, who has a beating heart and skin and bones, who can lift that child from his bed and speak to him with a distinct and soothing voice, and sing a song he recognizes.

He needs a Real Live Being, one with a Particular Identity and a Familiar Form, one who is in Relationship with him. A Being who meets him in specific times of need.
Mother-as-a-Concept is useless to a sick child in the middle of the night.

God-as-a-Concept is useless to a broken world of real deaths and real pain.

When are we going to call Him by Name?

Friday, September 26, 2014

The Princess Within

The Princess Within for Teens: Discovering Your Royal Inheritance

Let me admit something. I put off reviewing this book because I rarely enjoyed anything marketed specifically to Teen Girls. 
So many books for teen females were shallow. They paid lip-service to a few select Bible verses and used anecdotes of high-school drama that I couldn't relate to. After a while, I gave up on almost all Young Adult books.

So a month ago I received Serita Ann Jakes' book *The Princess Within* and I thought I knew what to expect. 
I was very surprised. Yes, this book has a tiara and sparkly pink tennis shoes on the front. 
Yes, it addresses popularity, the dating game, and social media. 
And yes, it is worth the read. 

Why am I so glad that I have a copy of this book? 
Because Mrs. Jakes writes in a way that makes sense to a girl's heart. 
She dispenses wisdom without sounding preaching, she reveals bits about her own faith journey as a young woman, she includes a lot of stories from modern young girls, and there is a ton of Scripture in here. 
And not just the nice, soft verses that we put on inspirational desk-calendars. Nope. 
Mrs. Jakes takes girls to verses like Isaiah 53. 
She introduces us to the women of the Gospels, the women with the issue of blood and the woman caught in adultery. She helps the beautiful, time tested words of Scripture make sense in real life, and she shows how human needs and the character of God are still the same. 

I think that girls will be drawn in by the straight-talk about their world. Mrs. Jakes starts with the relatable (a party we're not invited to, money spent on beauty products) and moves to the serious (a God who holds our hurting hearts and the pain caused by our body image culture.)
She takes the discussion and moves it right to God- what does he say, how much does He care, and what does that mean for the way we live? 

Whether it's a fun quiz about clothes and friends and parents or a heart-to-heart about living fearlessly in a violent world, this book belongs in many girl's backpacks and on their bedside tables. 

Thank you Bethany House for my review copy.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Buried Beneath the Words

Buried Beneath the Words

Have you ever slammed on the figurative brakes in the middle of your day and asked yourself why you were thinking such draining thoughts? 
Have you ever asked "Why do I treat myself this way? Why am I so convinced of my own worthlessness?"  (Even a child of God catches herself thinking like this!)
And if you've ever examined the defeated, discouraged soundtrack in your head, did you trace it back to the source? 
Did you recognize all the lies you had been told, that you accepted for yourself, that you still believe?

Some lies are obvious and deadly if you hear them- "You're useless. You ruin everyone's life." 
Other's are far more subtle- "You're just like your father," and you know nothing good is intended. 
Still others are never expressly delineated, but they still creep in. 
"My mistakes define me. I'm helpless. I'm hopeless. I can't keep up with all the better people."

When we claim a lie for ourselves, and weave it into the very fabric of our daily lives, repeating it like a mantra, we become buried beneath the words. 

And that's what Betel Arnold's book is all about. It's about getting brave enough to grab a shovel and dig out from underneath the rubble of lies, and start building a wall of truth around your heart instead.  
This concept is simple and revolutionary at the same time- start declaring God's words over your world. Every time you find yourself clutching a bad thought, replace it. 

Betel is a fine guide for us. She shares many personal experiences of times when she believed lies, and times when she let them go.  
It's a scary thing, evaluating your thoughts, and it's an uphill road to change them. Yet it will set you free. 

I especially enjoyed Betel's stories from her own life, and then I enjoyed making use of the "journaling spaces," to record your own negative thoughts and your new declarations. I think this would be a fine book for teenage girls, to help them learn how to fill their minds with God's goodness instead of the depressing thoughts we tend towards. This book could very well begin our journey to reclaiming our own minds! 

Thank you Litfuse for a review copy. 

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Abraham- One Nomad's Journey of Faith

Abraham: One Nomad's Amazing Journey of Faith

Pastor Charles Swindoll is widely beloved for his radio sermons and his writing, and if you've ever listened to him you'll recognize his "voice" in his books. This is no exception. He brings his iconic teaching style to the story of Abraham, the father of our faith. 

I like that Pastor Swindoll wrote this as a semi-biography, imagining Abraham's character and personal faith journey from what Scripture tells us *and* what archeology and anthropology reveal. 
The beautiful thing is that this is Abraham's life, lived specifically in his time and place and culture, but it relates to our lives because his God is our God, and so there is much that we can learn from this man. 

This book is full of spiritual insights, gentle humor, practical application, and historical research. It will satisfy a reader who wants some meat to chew on, while still being perfectly accessible to a young believer. 

If the early chapters of Genesis have been feeling dry lately, then it's time to read "Abraham." 
The color, texture and flavor of the original events will be recovered as you dive into this book that is both story and Bible study. 

Thank you to Tyndale Publishing for my review copy. 

Charles R. SwindollCharles Swindoll has devoted over four decades to two passions: an unwavering commitment to the practical communication and application of God's Word, and an untiring devotion to seeing lives transformed by God's grace. Chuck graduated magna cum laude from Dallas Theological Seminary and has since been honored with four doctorates. For his teaching on Insight for Living, he has received the Program of the Year award and the Hall of Fame award from the National Religious Broadcasters as well as multiple book awards.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Every Bitter Thing is Sweet....

Every Bitter Thing Is Sweet: Tasting the Goodness of God in All Things

"Every Bitter Thing is Sweet." This provocative title comes from Proverbs, where we are told that a full man will turn away from even honey, but for a hungry soul every bitter thing is sweet. 
I read that title and I thought to myself "How can this be?" 

Throughout the Scriptures, God comes to us with food. He prepares a table for us in the sight of our enemies. He feeds us with marrow and fatness. 
And Jesus' sacrament was bread and wine, eaten together. It seems like God would be most present in the nourishment and abundance, yet what worth is food without a hunger to satisfy? 

Could God be in the hunger, as much as in the manna falling from heaven?
That is one of the questions that Sara's book will encourage us to ask. 

This is her story, and she tells it with grace and truth and awe and a sense of what is sacred and lasting.

Her awareness of God began when she was fifteen, when a rather pedestrian youth retreat led to an encounter with her Savior underneath a canopy of stars. It was a summer of falling in love, of dipping into prayer and Scripture and letting His tenderness fill her heart. 
And then, because she loved God so much and she wanted to work hard for the Kingdom, she emptied herself out in ministry. 
And along the way, she lost pieces of herself- until she could hardly find them again, even to share with her new husband.

(Sara's words about marriage make this book a must read for an engaged/newly wed woman. Sara talks about how two married people learn to "hold each other's wounds," letting them know that their pain will not lead to our rejection. And she talks about how we now have a unique role of healing towards our spouse speaking God's words of life to them. Her own insights said more to me than some nonfiction books on marriage have.) 

And then, in the middle of learning to share their hearts and work through their hurt, Sara and Nate entered a decade of infertility. And she watched as woman after woman around her gave birth to multiple children, attending the baby shower where a mom-to-be rejoices that she got pregnant after one month. For Sara, it left her wondering- God is surely good, yet why isn't He being good to me? It was a season where she struggled not to identify herself as "Overlooked. Unseen. Unremembered." 

One thing she said jumped out at me as I read. (I'll paraphrase here.) It wasn't so much the dream deferred that confused her, it was the knowledge that our God could have given the gift and He was choosing not to. 

Another thing I loved was when she described re-learning to pray. Instead of praying with hands clasped as a beggar, she began to pray with her hand palm-to-palm in God's, daring to hope the answer would be yes, knowing that it could still be no. That kind of praying, she says, made her incredibly vulnerable, and she reassures us that God loves our vulnerability. 

This book is the kind you'll return to, to meditate on passages like that.

And if all this isn't enough, Every Bitter Thing is Sweet contains the story of how the Hagerty family gained four children through adoptions from Africa.
If you know an adoptive family, if you know a couple that chose to reach into the fields of the fatherless and scoop up a child and bring them home, then you'll want them to have this book. The last half is all about the journey God led them on, that brought them to the children He meant for them to have. 

It is a praise hymn to the God who finds homes for the lonely, who is near to the broken hearted, who adopts us and gives us the desire to adopt others, and who is fully present in both the hunger and satisfaction of daily family life. 

Thank you so very much to Booklook for my review copy.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Twice a Slave: The Joseph Willis Story

Twice a Slave

Being part Native American- Cherokee and Cheyenne if the family lore can be trusted- I was raised on Indian tales.

Every time we went to the library, or the used bookstore, my mother scoured the shelves for Indian books.

My favorites were the vivid ones, tales woven around core of truth with real history that teaches us something.
The very best were written with finely imagined characters and attention to detail as their heartbeat, separating living stories from fleshless nonfiction.

When I saw the cover of Twice a Slave, I knew I wanted to read this one too.
This book is the story of one man, the twists and turns that his life took, and the legacy he left. Joseph Willis was a real person, and one of his relatives has written this "biographical novel" to preserve the essence of his life.

This was a well paced read, the kind that carries you along in the telling. There are a great deal of genuine historical people and places to read about, and this history lesson is made memorable because of the human actors living it out.

There is Joseph himself, the badly mistreated child who was neither white nor Indian. There was his dearest friend Ezekiel, who fought beside him as a Patriot in the Revolutionary War. There was love Joseph found in his wife and children, and the mourning he experienced when he lost those dearest to him.

I think the person I loved best in this book was Joseph's own mother. Since the day colonists arrived the Indians were considered filthy and pagan, sometimes even called soulless. Yet it was Joseph's Cherokee mother who lived her faith so truly, so gently, that she sowed the seeds in her son's heart and their growth was slow but sure.

After finishing this book, I ended up reading Lisa Wingate's The Storykeeper, and then Ruth's Redemption by Marlene Banks, and then A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick. If you're looking for some solid history (Native American and African-American and Melungeon history) then you should try these four novels.

Thank you very much to Bookfun.org, Fred and Nora St. Laurent, for my review copy.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Rare Bird~ A memoir

Rare Bird: A Memoir of Loss and Love

"It's as if our brains are operating on two separate tracks. On is the here and now of living and loving. The second is what could or should have been, yet will not be. Most days I can keep the second track hidden. Other days I don't have a prayer." ~ Anna Donaldson, Rare Bird. 

This is one of those memoirs that pulls you in and holds you fast. 

This is a book about the death of a child. The grief of a family. And the Love that held them together. 
Through this memoir, Anna gives us little pieces of herself and her son. She shares her Jack with us, and lets us love him through her words. 

I have a 12 year old in my family, so much like Jack. 
He lives in a cul-de-sac neighborhood, where no deadly threats should ever lurk. 
His friends are two houses down, but his sister is really his best buddy. 
He and his sister voluntarily share a room, and apparently their nighttime hijinks can keep the whole house awake! 
He attends a private Catholic school, and he reads voraciously. 
He can carry on a conversation that is engaging, funny, and thoughtful. 

While I was reading, somebody noticed the beautiful book cover. It's two children, clearly vibrantly alive, flinging their arms up to embrace a pair of soaring birds. "What's that about?" they asked. "Is it good?" And I replied "Yes. It is good." 
And then I quickly explained what I meant. 
"Good" seems like the cruelest word possible to use about a book like this. 
Yet somehow, I think the very act of telling Jack's story is an intrinsically good thing. 
Rare Bird bares a mother's heart and shares a child who was gone from earth too soon. 

And this memoir will meet many readers in their own time of loss. 
Anna is clearly writing her own story, and she never tries to speak on "grief in general." That's what makes her book so powerful. She doesn't outline 12 steps of mourning, she just tells us honestly how she felt. And as she tells us, we recognize the truth.

That's why I want to give this book to two family members at least. In my family, we're missing a Mom/Grandmother/Auntie. And I think we would cling to portions of Rare Bird. At one point Anna says, "But in my grief everything seems meaningless if it doesn't deal with life and death and the promise of heaven." That's a statement that we made, too. 

So thank you Random House for my review copy. I too suggest that almost everybody read Rare Bird. 


Thursday, September 18, 2014

Rebels... the end of the Safelands trilogy,

Rebels (The Safe Lands, #3)

Jill Williamson's Safelands Trilogy is now complete. Rebels, the final episode, is here. 

If you've followed this series, then you have vicariously experienced the adventures of Mason, Levi, and Omar. 
These three brothers are coming of age in a futuristic Colorado, where plague a has devastated the people, entertainment is everything, and radicals are punished (or is it rewarded?) by "liberation." 

You've watched Omar betray his village and wrestle with the guilt, his choice reverberates through many lives. 
You've seen Mason pursue his dream of becoming a healer... as well as pursuing an enigmatic girl named Ciddah. 
And now it is Levi's turn to try to rescue his captive family, at great cost to himself.

Oh yes. Buckle up, readers, you're about to take a wild dystopian ride. 

As usual, I dove into this book right away when it arrived. (Haven't we all be holding our breath since the end of Book Two, wondering what becomes of the Liberated? Are they euthanized? Is it all a positive spin on execution? Are the Liberated being blasted into the outer stratosphere? 
What's happening?!!) 

And, as usual, I returned to this book eagerly over a two day period, inhaling the story as it raced along. There is danger, drama, and clandestine missions to save people. There's a wee smidgen of romance. And there is resolution to some of the questions we all asked about The Safelands. 

Throughout the series, Shaylinn has been my favorite leading lady. She's tenderhearted, and she slowly gains self confidence. 
And Omar was my favorite of the brothers. Both his fall *and* his redemption make his character stronger.

In some ways, the saga is now complete. In another way, the story has hardly ended here. 
There could be much more told about The Safelands and its people. I imagine there will be readers begging for more books. 

Thank you to Booklook for my review copy. Now all three books sit upon my shelf: Captives, Outcasts, and Rebels. They're waiting for a re-read, or for a new dystopia fan to be introduced.

Jill Williamson

Jill Williamson is a chocolate loving, daydreaming, creator of kingdoms and the award-winning author of several young adult books including By Darkness Hid, Replication, The New Recruit, and Captives. She got into writing one day when someone was complaining about teen books and she thought, “I could do that! How hard could it be?” Very, she soon learned. But she worked hard, and four years later, her first book, By Darkness Hid, was published and won several awards. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Lost in Translation... words!

Lost in Translation: An Illustrated Compendium of Untranslatable Words from Around the World

If you've ever felt like you were at a loss for words, then this volume may help. 
It's 52 words from other languages that capture in a couple syllables emotions and moments that whole English sentences can't grapple with. 

I would have devoured this book as a 12 year old. Words to say the seemingly unsayable are right up my alley, then and now. 

Let's say somebody asks you how long it takes to eat a banana. A few moments ago that was a difficult concept to capture. 
But now you have the Malay word "pisan zapra." That's how long it takes to eat a banana. 

And next time you cup your hand under a cold stream running with snowmelt, the word for how much water your palm holds is "gurfa." 
That one's German. 

And when somebody says something, and you think of a clever response after they're gone? The Yiddish call those "trepverter," or stair-case words. 

Hows about the Hungarian word "szimpatikus?" That word means a person you immediately feel good about, by your intuition and soul. 
And when you see that special person coming, you probably get "tiam." That's a sparkle in your eye. 

Or how about the word Brazilian word "cafune," which is the gentle stroking of a loved one's hair? 

And hopefully you have some "naz" people in your life, those who would follow you anywhere and love you all the way. That's an Urdu word. 

I also like the German word "waldeinsamkeit." That is the word for time spent peacefully in the woods, releasing our cares and breathing free.

And the Japanese word "komorebi," which describes the green fire of sunshine through leaves. 

Or the Swedish word "mangata," the silver-road that the moon spreads over the water. 

Yes. There are some gems that we'd never know about if we stuck exclusively with our own tongue! 

So if you have a language student in your house, or your friend is a world traveler, or your beloved is a word-lover, then Lost in Translation will bring a smile to their face. This book won't end up as a "tsundoku"- the Japanese word for an unread tome.

Thank you to 10 Speed Press through Blogging for Books for my review copy. 

Book Three in the Restoration Series...

The Desire (The Restoration Series, #3)

I have now read all three of the Walsh and Smalley Restoration saga, and this is the one that truly made me cry.

The Desire is all about the hopes and fears of the heart. Alan and Michele are a young married couple, torn between her longing to bear a child and his intention to build an African orphanage. How can two dreams be so right, but so incompatible?

Michele wants Alan's intensity directed toward their infertility, and he wants her to care about the children in Korah.
Will it destroy them, or teach them how to communicate and to share their visions?

One thing stood out to me about Michele's story.
She was convinced that she couldn't be fulfilled and happy until she had a child, and in the "meantime" she was understandably miserable.
As I read, I imagined that Michele probably had been searching for the pinnacle of purpose and peace all her life, like most of us do.

I imagined that at once point she would have thought catching Alan's eye was her greatest goal.
Then dating him, seeing him often and being with him- that was her longing.
Then marriage became the mountaintop for her, and now her hopes are bound up in starting a family. And all of those are right things, and good dreams. They are holy desires.

Watching Michele come to a place of acceptance- not resignation, but acceptance- is a good reading journey. We see her preparing her heart for a blessing that she hopes will come.

So... on to my next favorite storyline- Christina, a young woman expecting a child.
This plot gave us an opportunity to model a holistic pro-life lifestyle, the kind that embraces the mother and the child.
Being pro-life can't end with sidewalk counseling, and in this story it doesn't.
Marilyn brought Christina home and installed her in the garage apartment, helped her find employment, and began treating her like family.
This is exactly what we need more of. In a crisis pregnancy we need to help remove the crisis instead of the unborn child. Marilyn put her money and time and heart where her mouth was.

These books are quiet. And steady. And I like that. A series of novels like these is a great way to introduce a vision of marriage and family where loving commitment and honest communication are the glue. I love the way faith was woven in, and there was much truth here.
I do wish the characters had been a little more broken, at times.

I guess I think they needed some desperation. In Scripture, Rachel told Jacob that without children she would die. I somehow doubt she dropped that bomb during a quiet chat over coffee. I imagine more of a ragged cry. (And a husband bowed by the weight if being unable to heal her.)
And I don't know if a neglected kid like Christina- who must have known something about longing and frustration- would settle down so smoothly.

I needed to feel Christina's struggle to decide what to do (because I think she would have struggled like a drowning woman.)
I needed to feel her heart break when she realized that she was nurturing another human inside her own skin.
I needed to feel her emptiness when she delivered her baby girl and then gave her to the loving couple.
Because even the knowledge that she had done the right thing wouldn't soothe empty arms and full breasts, calling out to both cradle and feed the child that she couldn't keep.

Sometimes a story has to be painful for the reader. And I'm not talking about the child-birth scene. It's like in the Love Comes Softly movies. By law each episode had to include five minutes of screaming labor, just to remind the kids why abstinence is always the best choice. :)

This series has been inspiring. Tender. Gentle. And at times, very real. I do think a few more ragged edges, a few more exposed nerves, could have made it even more powerful.

I am eager for volume four in the Restoration Series.

Thank you Revell for my review copy.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Before Amen

Before Amen (International Edition): The Power of a Simple Prayer

There are some beautiful ways to pray~ 
We can pray through the Valley of Vision book.
We can pray through Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, Supplication.
We can pray by just talking and thinking towards God all day. 
And Max Lucado has offered us another way... the Pocket Prayer. 
It's quiet, simple, and direct. From our lips to His ear, our heart to His hand. 

I am wary of books on prayer. I hate the idea that we'll distort prayer somehow, and make faith more difficult for people. 
I'm afraid we'll make prayer seem like a formula or a machine.... something that "works" or "fails" or is "reliable." 
I don't know if prayer "works." That's kind of like saying a Mother's love for her baby "works." I think that is the wrong concept for it. 
I don't know if prayer "fails." I know Love never fails, and God is love. 
And I don't like the idea of prayer being "reliable" either... Do you mean you always get God's ear and His care, or that you always get the answer you thought you wanted? 
I'm frankly unsure what to make of my own Lord Jesus's promise that if we ask we will receive. I know that He is Love, and He is Good, and He always does the Right thing, so if we're asking for goodness, love, and righteousness we receive it. We are encouraged to pray for our dear ones, our dreams, and our desires. And He delights in protecting, providing, and preserving. 
Yet I also know that sometimes death, disease, and destruction come to us as well. 
Prayer doesn't ward those things off like an incantation. Prayer brings us close to God, and takes out cares before Him. 
And He acts for us. That's all I know. 

So I was eager to get this book, but cautious about it as well. 
I really like Max Lucado. His writing is calm and steady and not fearful. It's good for the soul.
This book isn't an extensive how-to-pray manual. (Do we even need those anyway?)
This is a very thin book that introduces us to The Pocket Prayer, and reminds us that when we pray our posture or phraseology ain't that important. 
It's all about the fact that God loves His kids, and we are the kids, and we can tell Him anything and He waits to listen. 

Thank you Litfuse for my review copy. 

Friday, September 12, 2014

All's Fair in Love... and Cupcakes.

All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes

When I saw that this was a story about a baker and a cooking contest, I knew my sister would want to read it. (She loves cooking, and I love eating her creations. Her latest was a dark chocolate cake with a raspberry compote on top of it, and it was the perfect marrying of flavors.)
So consider this a two-perspective review from both of us.

Kat is a baker, and she loves the craft with a passion. It  is her one and only interest, and at times she wonders if that makes her weird. Can you build your whole life around baking?
Kat wants to believe she can. Especially because she works hard to be extraordinary. She balances "order and creativity," and the results make you glad to have tastebuds.

But personally, Kat feels stuck. She needs something more... she needs a specific platform for her work, beyond her Aunt's bakeshop. She needs new people and new challenges and a horizon to aim for.

And what's a best friend for except to launch you toward your dreams? Enter Lucas, Kat's best friend. And his plan to help Kat involves Cupcake Combat.

Picture one baker with big dreams leaving her smallish town and heading for an LA Tv studio. See her coming out of her shell and surprising her whole family. "Kat, Miss Predictable, about to participate in a Food Network show?!" And as her assistant, picture Lucas. A man who takes himself far too serious. A man who has a good heart.... but no kitchen intuition.

Combat indeed. Did somebody mention Love and War? This book is one comedy/fiasco after another, all with a layer of bantering-friendship-turning-into-something-more on top.
Lucas and Kat may be dear friends, but that doesn't mean they know how to navigate romance!

This is a Rom-Com with all the tension of friends falling in love, cooking triumphs and disasters, and a woman trying to chase her dreams. Sometimes it's dramatic, sometimes it's tender... but it's always a delight to read. 

Thank you Litfuse for our copy of All's Fair in Love and Cupcakes!

Betsy St. AmantBetsy St. Amant lives in Louisiana and is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers group. Betsy is multi-published through Steeple Hill and has been published in Christian Communicator magazine and Praise Reports: Inspiring Real Life Stories of How God Answers Prayer. One of her short stories, ‘Kickboxing or Chocolate’, appears in a Tyndale compilation book, and she is also multi-published through The Wild Rose Press. She has a BA in Christian Communications and regularly freelances for her local newspaper. Betsy is a fireman’s wife, a mommy to a busy toddler, a chocolate-loving author and an avid reader who enjoys sharing the wonders of God’s grace through her stories.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

It's not too early to think about Christmas....


Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old

    Now, I devoured this delightful Christmas treasury in July and August and I thought that was a perfect time to read it. But you may not have been ready for Christmas in mid-Summer. 

So I'm sharing my review with you now in September, because Fall is definitely in the air. 
I don't know if this is just a feature of New England or not, but seasons here don't come when the calendar dictates. I've had Spring arrive on Valentine's Day, and Spring sail in on April 9th.

I've seen Winter start on a bone-cold October night with a billion stars, and I've seen it wait until almost Christmas. 

In 2014, I think I'm seeing Fall outside now. My maple tree is putting on a reddish chocolate color, and the tansy is crisply brown. We passed a small yellow house the other night in the curve of the road, with their woodstove going and the smoke was Fall's sharpest perfume. 

So I'm thinking Christmas. And without further ado, let's here about Home for Christmas. 

Home for Christmas is a thick book packed with lovely stories.
Some of them are slightly comic, some of them have a clear moral lesson, some of them will make your heart swell with happiness, and all of them celebrate truth, goodness, and beauty.

Brother Robber~ When St. Francis hears that robbers have threatened one of his brothers, he is grieved. He is grieved because the brother sent the robbers away empty handed! Can you call a robber a brother at Christmas? 

Three Young Kings~ Every Christmas, it happens the same way. Three boys from the local school ride through the streets of this Cuban town, dressed in finery and riding cream colored stallions. To the children they visit, they are The Three Kings, and they give out gifts. 
Except this year, the boys are Lazaro, Ramoncito, and Eduardo. Their nicknames are Macaroon, Monkey, and Elephant... and they can't give out gifts to the rich kids when the beggar children are crying so hard! 

Transfiguration~ Sister Egg, a nun, is walking home to the Convent on a cold New York street when she meets two homeless people. 
What does a harsh world- desperation and crucifixion- teach us about God, at Christmas or anytime? This story is by Madeline L'Engle. 

Willibald's Trip to Heaven~ Surely a man who has devoted his life and talent to carving Manger scenes would be escorted straight into heaven and given a banquet, right? His ego, arrogance, ill-temper and narrow mind back on earth are all just part of the artistic temperament, aren't they? 

The Guest~ Set in Siberia, where the men and women are prisoners of exile. This is a story of forgiveness with a surprise ending that is wonderful, and so fitting. 

Christmas Day in the Morning~ Pearl Buck's wonderful story about the boy who milked the cows on Christmas morning. 
Weaving past and present together, this is one to share with a father or grandfather in your life.

The Other Wise Man~ Oh, how I love this tale. Again, the ending is precious and true, and the way it is brought together reminds you why God told stories around his sermons. Artaban sets out with three treasures to give, and spends his life working and searching and serving.

The Miraculous Staircase~ It is almost Christmas, and the Sisters in the Loretto Chapel of New Mexico need a staircase. The traveling carpenter who arrives is very kind and good-hearted, but surely he can't build stairs where such construction is impossible! 

No Room in the Inn~ A teenage boy has just been sentenced to a terrible fate: he's "home alone" for Christmas at a ski-lodge, with food aplenty! 
It all suits his self-centered plans just fine, until a guy drives a junker of a car up to the door and asks for shelter. Katherine Paterson's stories are always memorable because they combine "real-life" with a "what if we saw the true significance of this?" 

The Chess Player~ "God comes. He brings something new into life. Love!" 

The Christmas Lie~ This story is saturated with family love in every scene. 
A quiet little girl tells her family that their closest neighbor has invited them over for Christmas dinner. Starved for human companionship after months on the Canadian prairie, her mother and father immediately begin making plans to attend. Oh, the guilt in this child's heart as Christmas approaches, and her many siblings anticipate a surprise that isn't really coming! 

The Riders of St. Nicholas~ From the author of the classic Western "Shane" comes the story of three cowboys left to tend the ranch while the rest of the crew goes off to have Christmas fun. Monte Walsh, Chet Rollins, and Sunfish Perkins are all set to be miserable... until they discover that a feast has been left behind for them! Now they just have to wile away the day. But their peace can't last long... a stretch of fence is down! 
Every Christmas, we read a similar story by this same author, about a cowboy named Stubby Pringle. Now we have two cowboy Christmas tales. 

Grandfather's Stories~ Grandfather tells two stories about the Child who was born at Christmas, whose voice alone can change a lying, hard heart.

The Vexation of Barney Hatch~ Barney, a panhandler, is dreaming of a Christmas to remember. He has visions of a glowing Christmas, packaged in a bottle with a gold seal, his to drink up for only $3.49.
Now how can he get rid of the kid who's convinced that Barney is Santa Claus?

The Empty Cup~ This is a story about a young couple and their son who is born at the same time as Jesus. 
When the edict goes out that all boys under two be killed, Rachel weeps for her slaughtered child and then descends into depression so deep that her husband cannot help her. 

The Well of the Star~ This story treats the whole of Christmas night as if it were Really Real. 
The mighty angels in the fields right with the common shepherds, the poor and dirty town of Bethlehem full of tired people waiting to be taxed. 
The star that lit the way and moved to rest over a plain building, where kings found the Baby.
And after reading this, I realized that the Holy Spirit who orchestrated that Night now lives in me, and I must remember that I am never alone.

A Certain Small Shepherd~ Jamie is the small boy from Pine Mountain, who cannot talk with his lips and who desperately wants to be a shepherd at Christmas. When a wild storm snows in Hurricane Gap, and two strangers shelter in the stable... what will Christmas morning bring?

What the Kings Brought~ A young boy with the ethics of a man makes his way to the city to buy a burro for his father. Two tourists see the boy's pride and diligence and wish to help him earn the money. The Three Kings are coming for Epiphany, will they bring a boy a burro?

The Carpenter's Christmas~ The story of a man who worked (and swore!) while his neighbors went to Mass. 
Can a gentle and wise priest explain that in this instance, working was praying? 

The Christmas Rose~ Ah, this one is a sad one. A family of robbers stumbles into a Convent, and a lay brother tries to chase Robber Mother out of their herb garden. She says she is not impressed with their garden, they should see the garden that blooms on Christmas Eve in the forest. The descriptions of the Christmas Eve paradise here are beautiful... words used well! 

This is truly a fine collection, and if you read-aloud from this book you will touch hearts and make memories. Start with any story, snuggle in on the couch with some children, and prepare to have your heart readied for Christmas.

Thank you Plough Publishing for my review copy.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A Light in the Wilderness

A Light in the Wilderness

Jane Kirkpatrick knows how to spin a yarn! 

Her leading ladies are strong and courageous, they make sacrifices and are confronted by hard choices in troubled times. Often the heroine deals with personal pain as well as larger conflicts in her world, and over the course of the novel she is refined by the fires. 

In A Light in the Wilderness, we have the chance to befriend Letitia. This woman's keen mind is ignored due to the shade of her skin, and her opinion does not matter, yet Letitia knows what is most important about her identity- she is free. She has the papers that prove it. 

People may still walk around her as if she's garbage and talk over her as if she is a fence post, but she is not a slave. 
When Letitia serves somebody now, she does it because she has a kind and giving heart, not because she is property.  

And she even has a few dreams that her freedom should allow her to reach. She wants her own bit of land, some seeds to grow her own vegetables. She wants her own cow, and her own sewing things to make her clothes. It will be a quiet, industrious life, and it will be a free life.

Letitia never imagined the battles she would have to fight, the trouble she would face, and the inner reserve of faith and hope that she would gain.

Once you begin this book, it will absorb you. Letitia's story combines with several other women's stories, including an aged Indian grandmother and a white woman who accepts Letitia as a human being and a friend.  

The basic striving for dignity, the gain of love and the experience of loss, the birth of a child and the death of a child, all these come into the stories. 
There is harshness that makes you wonder how these women kept their head up, and then there are spots of tenderness and you think "Yes, we still feel this way today." 
In pioneer times and in our times, the real stuff lasts: our grit, our persistence, our ability to take a stand for goodness and human rights. 

Thank you Revell for my review copy. 

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Dancing on the Head of Pen

Dancing on the Head of a Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life

"With my elbows on the old table, my chin in my hands, my pencil in my fingers, the lights of the city below and beyond... I fell in love with the craft of writing. I learned not to chase the words but to listen for them." 
~ Robert Benson, Dancing on the Head of a Pen 

This book is a pleasure to read. Once I got started, I completed my first leisurely reading in a single evening. 

As a lover of stories, I'm fascinated by what goes into telling them and the making of the books that come into my hands. 
This book is replete with quotable lines from Mr. Benson, personal vignettes, and quotes from fellow writers. 
Mr. Benson talks about the craft of writing without ever reducing it to mechanics or formula, and he talks about the business of writing without ever forgetting that word work is "fragile magic at best." 

Mr. Benson is a wanderer when he writes, and not in an aimless or unfocused way. He wanders in a "Don't cheat yourself out of a beautiful dirt road" kind of way. As he points out, the moments you never expected may be exactly what the journey was all about after all. 

I like the bits about the actual way he writes... fountain pen, sketchbook, six hundred words a day, lots of colored markers in the editing. 
He talks about the times you pretend to write a book when you're really planting four new flower beds, and he talks about how writers need to remember the world they live in when they're so deep inside the world in their head. 
He talks about the three hats that writers wear... the Beret, old Gamer, and the Fedora... and how each hat corresponds to the work of the moment. (Passionate artistry, dogged editing, and smooth marketing of the finished book.)

This book is ultimately a celebration of writing: the thing that lets us tell out stories, the thing that lets us save pieces of ourselves we would otherwise forget, the thing that lets us give ourselves away to dozens of people we may never meet. 
Writing. It is something as down-to-earth as bursitis from typing and as other-worldly as the power of paragraphs that shape our spirits. 

There's a reason God gave us a book of literature to begin revealing His heart. 

Thank you Waterbrook's Blogging for Books program for my review copy.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Making Marion


I have loved Sherwood Forest ever since I read my first children's Robin Hood when I was small. 
I was eager to revisit the paths and glens in all their lore, and I needed a good guide, somebody with a sense of humor and a sparkle in her eye. I found her in Making Marion. 

This is a quietly hilarious and subtly romantic tale of a modern Irish girl in search of something more.
Marion has lived her whole life within a predictable circle of less than helpful relationships. 
Some were flat out abusive, and these have left her with panic-attack battles to fight to this day.
Many of them were habitually damaging, often using words to cut the deepest wounds.
Despite everything, Marion had one cheerleader who encouraged her to spread her wings and be unconventional. 
That's how she ends up in Nottinghamshire England, chasing down her father's past based on one photograph of him dressed as Robin Hood. 

Prepare to love this girl... this girl who sometimes loses her very voice, yet always has a heart full of feelings and thoughts. 
This girl who needs some time to be herself, without her mother who seemed to hate her or her "maybe-fiancee" who tried to love her. Prepare to sigh with her and be confused with her. Marion is about to learn to let go and live... fully. Messily. Beautifully. Boldly. Alive unlike never before. And Marion will be making friends, the kind who make life worthwhile and who help us shed the lies we've been told and learn the truth. 

These friends are all characters, but none of them felt too-zany-to-be-real. Scarlett- indomitable spirit and Southern accent, whose "life lessons" are solid gold. Valerie and Grace, the younger girls who both annoy and bless Marion. 
Rueben... who is hard to categorize, and who accepts Marion without questions or demands.
The writing in this book really carries the day. The descriptions of Sherwood Forest and the Village, the storytelling inside Marion's head... it lets us hear her voice. 

Thank you Kregel and Lion Fiction for my review copy!