Sunday, December 15, 2013

Pray the Scriptures - A Book Review

Pray the Scriptures is a book to help guide your prayer life.  If you've found yourself struggling around prayer, this is great book to pick up and try.  Kevin Johnson lays out 40 days of "lessons" around topics as varied as Jesus Your Shepherd (Day 1) to Love God, Love People (Day 11) to Abiding and Bearing Fruit (Days 39 and 40).  Each theme centers around a section of Scripture and Johnson writes a brief intro.  There are brief statements where you can respond to the Scripture in prayer.  Each day/chapter closes with several questions to guide reflection and discussion.  The Scriptures quoted in the book come from multiple translations so you have an opportunity to see different ways God's Word is expressed.

I think this is a great book for someone wanting to build a stronger prayer life.  Each day is fairly straightforward and doesn't take long at all.  It also revolves around some of the strongest themes in the Bible and that's a great intro into studying the Bible.  The book's layout also helps you journal your thoughts as you process what you're reading.  Praying the Scriptures is a great way to build a prayer life that's more than slinging requests at God.  This book sets up a "system" by which you can learn to listen to God's Word and hear His message for your life.  If you keep a notebook, you could easily complete the day's reading and record your answers elsewhere.  That would allow for multiple uses of the book and you would be able to see how your prayer life changes over time.  I also think the book could be easily used by a group as part of a Bible Study.

This is definitely a nice find and I'm glad to add it to my study repertoire.

My Score: 4.5 bookmarks out of 5.

Note: Bethany House gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Made to Last - A Book Review

From the Back: Miranda Woodruff has it all.  At least, that's how it looks when she's starring in her homebuilding television show, From the Ground Up.  So when her network begins to talk about making cuts, she'll do anything to boost ratings and save her show - even if it means pretending to be married to a man who's definitely not the fiance who ran out on her three years ago.  When a handsome reporter starts shadowing Miranda's every move, all his digging into her personal life brings him a little too close to the truth - and to her.  Can the girl whose entire identity is wrapped up in her on-screen persona finally find the nerve to set the record straight?  And if she does, will the life she's built come crashing down just as she's found a love to last?

Synopsis: Miranda Woodruff is the star of a TV home show but the networks are talking about making changes.  To try and save her show, Miranda reluctantly goes along with a scheme her manager cooked up to fake a husband for publicity's sake.  The man they picked for the job, Blaze, is the farthest thing from the fiance Miranda was in love with.  Matthew Knox is a disgraced reporter who is struggling to find a story that will make up for the mistakes in his past.  He takes on a profile piece on Miranda hoping it will lead to something more.  As time moves along, Miranda's secret gets harder and harder for her to keep.  She also finds herself strangely attracted to Matthew.  Once Matthew discovers Miranda's secret, it's only a matter of time before others do.  Miranda struggles to keep her personal and professional lives separate without losing the best things in both.

My Review:  This is Melissa Tagg's debut novel and in some ways, that's obvious.  Some of the storyline is almost too implausible to keep going.  It is also a novel that's harder to get into.  But, I'm glad I stuck with it.  While I think some of the decisions both Matthew and Miranda made and make in the story are mistakes, I like the way Tagg folded them into the story.  Both characters had their flaws but both were easy to like too.  I also liked that there were a couple of simpler plot lines running through the novel that influenced the way Miranda and Matthew acted.  While it's a love story, there was a bigger picture involved as well.  All-in-all, this is a fun read and I'm looking forward to Tagg's next book.

My Score:  3.5 bookmarks out of 5.

Note: Bethany House Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

The Miner's Lady - A Book Review

From the Back: When Chantel Panetta's younger sister claims to be in love with Orlando Calarco, Chantel knows there is no hope.  The Panettas and Calarcos have been sworn enemies for decades, and young love cannot heal the deep wounds between the two iron-mining families.  Yet, unable to resist Isabella's pleas, Chantel agrees to help her sister spend time with Orlando...only to have a run-in with Dante, Orlando's brother.  Chantel can't deny the attraction that flares when she's with Dante.  But when a tragedy occurs at the mine, is there any hope that the hatred has simmered between these two families might be resolved?  Or will Chantel and Isabella's hope for love be buried amidst decades of misunderstanding?

Synopsis:  Chantel Panetta has just returned from visiting family in Italy and discovers her sister Isabella is in love with a young man named Orlando.  The only problem with this relationship is that Isabella's family and Orlando's family have been fighting for three generations.  Chantel reluctantly agrees to help Isabella.  In the midst of their meetings, Chantel meets Dante, Orlando's brother, who is quite disapproving of the budding relationship.  Chantel finds herself attracted to Dante and does what she can to quash those feelings.  A tragic accident at the mine in their town harms the girls' father and the accident ends up driving the two couples closer together.  The Calarco patriarch sees the growing attraction and supports resolving the family feud though her son does not.  As the novel progresses and love grows, Orlando's father only grows stronger in his resistance to their relationships.

My Review:  This was a fun read even though it was quite predictable.  It's the classic love story with a family feud backdrop.  However, Tracie Peterson writes in such a way you enjoy the characters and find yourself wanting the relationships to work out.  There were times I could feel the frustration of the characters as they wanted to resolve a silly disagreement but were torn between breaking off a relationship and following their heart.  While it's a simple romance story, it was quite an enjoyable read and just what I've come to expect from Peterson's work.  I definitely recommend picking it up if you're in the mood for a good love story.

My Score:  3.5 bookmarks out of 5.

Note: Bethany House Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

A Simple Change

From the Back:  When her parents decide to sell their home and move to the Amana Colonies, Jancey Rhoder must make a difficult decision.  Should she give up her beloved teaching job and her carefree life in Kansas City to go with them?  Her suitor, Nathan Woodward doesn't want her to go, but Jancey feels she must give the new life a try.  Her mother is sick, and these next few months may be the last Jancey gets to spend with her.  But will this move spell the end of her relationship with Nathan?  And while life in Amana is far more mysterious and challenging than Jancey expected, will she choose to return to the city, or will she make this unique place her forever home?

Synopsis:  Jancey Rhoder is living a happy life in Kansas City spending her days a volunteer teacher. She lives with her parents and is somewhat surprised when her parents tell her they are moving to the Amana colonies.  Jancey makes the tough decision to leave behind her teaching and her boyfriend Nathan Woodward to follow her parents.  Life in the colonies is strict - jobs are assigned, families eat together with other families, and all decisions are made by the elders.  Jancey settles in to a routine, cleaning the men's quarters each day and care for her ailing mother in the evenings.  She nurtures her love of teaching by tutoring the young daughter of their neighbors.  Through tutoring Madelyn, Jancey meets Ritt, Madelyn's older brother and begins to fall for him.  During her cleaning routine, Jancey finds money and evidence linking the money to a crime in Kansas City.  She agonizes over what to do.  As her assimilation into the Amana way of life continues, how will Jancey reconcile her future?

My Review:  I wasn't overly familiar with Judith Miller when I chose this book to review but I think I've found a new author to enjoy.  I also wasn't familiar with the Amana Colonies but did some research after reading and the book provides excellent insight into their way of life.  The story-line was a little different since the Amana lifestyle is different - it wasn't your typical love story.  This novel is more storytelling around Jancey and a love story springs up.  I liked Jancey's character and her struggle between the strict way of life and her love for her family was relatable.  Miller was able to make me dislike Nathan all the way through the novel and cheer at the end when he ends up out of Jancey's life.  The developing love story between Jancey and Ritt is tender and simple and doesn't feel rushed.  All in all, this is a sweet story and a fun read for a lazy weekend.

Score:  4.5 bookmarks out of 5.

Note:  Bethany House Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Three Things About Poverty

So this week's assignment from Compassion is to write three things about one word, either hope, poverty, silence, or sacrifice.  I think because Compassion is all about releasing children from poverty in Jesus' name, I'm going with poverty. :-) 

There are three things that stick out to me about poverty...1. it's a loaded word with lots of opinions on either side.  2.  Poverty can be generational. 3.  Poverty means something different on the other side of the world.  First and foremost, poverty is a loaded word with lots of meaning and opinions related to it.  The most common opinions I hear are that people who live in poverty are lazy, do-nothings who deserve the situation they are in.  In some cases that might be true but the VAST majority of the people I meet living in poverty are single moms, families who are struggling, or children who are living in this environment through no fault of their own.  The overarching question we have to ask, and one that cuts through the rhetoric, is how would Jesus look at those living in poverty?  If we claim to be Christ-followers, how should we look at the person in poverty?  How can we walk alongside the person in poverty helping them meet real needs in a way that builds them up as a person instead of marginalizing them even further?  How can we use our time and talents to help the young mom discover her talents and gifts and then get her connected with educational or job opportunities that we in our lack of poverty have access to?  What real needs can we meet through relationship-building as opposed to meeting needs by throwing money at the problem (that solution doesn't work by the way).

Secondly, poverty can be generational - this is true here in the US and around the world.  We, through the relationship building I mentioned earlier, can break this generational cycle.  If we as Christ-followers committed to walking alongside the families in our neighborhoods and churches, met needs and made sure people didn't fall through the "cracks" in the system, I'm convinced we could drastically reduce the poverty rates in our communities.  We working alongside other people could make sure needs were met, educational goals were met and people saw the value in themselves as children of God.  Some may call me utopian but in reality, it's the New Testament Church way of doing things.  It's actually what we as believers are called and commanded to do.  Why aren't we doing it?

That being said, poverty looks entirely different in many areas overseas. Here in the US, you are considered in poverty if you as a family of four make $23,283/year.  In Uganda and Burkina Faso (where my sponsored kids live), that's a fortune.  Here in the US, we don't have to worry about the water that we drink - we eliminated waterborne illnesses almost a century ago.  Not true elsewhere.  In the US, if you live in poverty, there are numerous programs (flawed as they may be), not to mention churches that can assist families who are struggling.  Where do you find that in most developing nations?  Answer, you don't.  Sure, we have more people living in poverty than we should and we have a responsibility to address that but the reality is, poverty in other parts of the world is much more severe and needs as much attention (if not more) from the American Church as poverty here does. 

One more thing (I knew I couldn't stick to 3):  a major issue for many people is spiritual poverty.  That can range from not knowing Christ to knowing Christ but being "stuck" for a variety of reasons.  If you are not a Christ-follower but want more info on how you could be, please reach out to me or to someone else to get your questions answered.  Those who are already Christ-followers but struggling through a dry season, I encourage you to seek fellowship with other believers who can walk alongside you, encourage you, and spur you on.  We all go through times where we struggle with our faith - that's what other believers are for - to help us in our spiritual poverty.  If you're local to ATL, check out Renovation Church as a place to get connected.

If you're curious about Compassion and want to learn more, I encourage you to check out their website ( and check out sponsorship.  It's the best decision I ever made.  If you know you want to sponsor a child, you can follow this link: 

Friday, September 6, 2013

Blogging For Compassion

So anyone that knows me knows that Compassion International is one of my favorite organizations on the planet.  I've been a sponsor for years and an Advocate with them for the past three-plus years.  I value their commitment to the gospel and meeting needs of "the least of these" through local churches in the countries where they work.  This year, I'm taking things one step further and participating in their Blogging for Compassion campaign. 

The topic for the week was to write a blog post to your childhood self.  I have to admit, I've been thinking on this since the topic was assigned on Tuesday.  There is SO MUCH I would choose to tell myself (and subsequently do differently) but I think there are four broad areas my advice would fall under: you are more than your appearance, try new/different things, appreciate people who aren't like you, and your parents aren't idiots.

First, and probably most importantly, you are more than your appearance.  I struggled with (and still struggle with) finding my identity in how I looked.  I was the kid who was overweight, had crazy hair and didn't wear the trendiest clothes.  As I've gotten older, I've discovered most people who truly matter in life don't give a thought to my weight, hair or clothes.  They care about ME as a person and see past the superficial.  I would remind my younger self that God created me exactly how He wanted me to be and as long as I was treating my body in a healthy manner, I was fine.  It's not an easy lesson to learn but oh the heartache learning that lesson could have prevented.

Second, I would tell myself to try new and different things.  I was fortunate in that parents supported me doing different things but there were lots of experiences I was "afraid" to try.  In some respects it wasn't fear in the usual sense - I'm not talking daredevil activities - it was a fear of failing at something.  I'm a perfectionist by nature and trying stuff outside my comfort zone means I might not be good at it.  I wish I'd taken an art class or a speech class or attempted to do some sort of foreign exchange program in college.  Sure, I might not have been successful but there are so many lessons learned in failures. 

Third, gain an early appreciation for people who aren't like you.  This can take SO MANY forms.  I attended a private school and the education was excellent but all the people were just like me.  The trend continued somewhat through college.  I've had to force myself out of my comfort zone to meet people from different backgrounds, ethnic groups, belief systems, etc.  I've learned so much about myself and others from interacting with people who challenge my beliefs and worldview.  Sometimes my opinions have changed, other times, my opinions have been strengthened.  The important thing is that I wish I had come to this realization earlier - there's a big world out there and the more we can appreciate each other, the better we'll all be. 

Finally, realize earlier than your parents aren't idiots.  I didn't think this very often but in the teenage years, there were times.  I realize now the wisdom I've gained from listening to my parents' advice over the years.  I love that they are and always have been willing to give advice.  I'm just smart enough now to listen and follow that advice. :-)

So there you have it, four lessons I would tell my younger self.  There's probably a lot more I could explore but I don't want an overwhelmingly long post.

Monday, July 29, 2013

A Most Peculiar Circumstance - A Book Review

From the Back: Miss Arabella Beckett, defender of the downtrodden women of America, is returning from her travels in support of the women's suffrage movement when she suddenly finds herself in a spot of trouble.  Arabella, always loath to accept help, is particularly reluctant to receive assistance from the arrogant, narrow-minded knight in shining armor who shows up just in time.  Private investigator extraordinaire Mr. Theodore Wilder is on an assignment that began as a favor to his good friend Hamilton Beckett but swiftly evolved into a merry chase across the country.  When he finally locates Hamilton's sister, and she turns out to have radical ideas and a fiercely independent streak, he's at his wit's end.  Much to their chagrin, Theodore and Arabella's paths continue to cross when they return to New York.  When the trouble Arabella accidentally stirred up in her travels follows her home and threatens her very life, the unlikely couple must face the possibility that they have landed in the most peculiar circumstance of all: love.

Synopsis: Arabella Beckett is an independent woman out to change the world - or at least women's place in the world.  Her travels take her all across the country and in one stop she finds herself in jail - arrested in a bit of a misunderstanding while trying to rescue another woman from two traffickers.  Theodore Wilder is a private investigator who's been hired to find Arabella and bring her home in time for her brother's wedding.   Theodore manages to show up in time to bail Arabella out of jail and they make their way back to New York City.  Once back in New York, Arabella continues her women's suffrage work, getting into even more sensitive situations and requiring Theodore's help to disentangle her from trouble.  Arabella's risk-taking ends with her kidnapped and Theodore leading the way to find her and bring her home safely.

My Review:  I wasn't familiar with Jen Turano's work but I was intrigued by the subject matter and I could see a little of myself in Arabella's character.  The story is your standard girl-meets-boy fare but with the added twists of women's suffrage and female trafficking (back before that's what it was labeled).  It was refreshing to have a character in the late 1800's who spouted such progressive ideals in a novel.  I hated that she still ended up "needing to be rescued" but that's typical for that time period.  This is a cute story and you could see Arabella's character growing and changing as the novel progressed.  I liked Theodore's character too - he was your typical hero but at least tried to understand Arabella's point of view.  Turano has written a simple love story with a bit of mystery twist to it.  The book moves along quite quickly - I think I finished it in a single day (I was on vacation though).  This is definitely an author I'll be checking out again.

Score:  3.5 bookmarks out of 5.

Note: Bethany House Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Sweet Mercy - A Book Review

From the Back: When Eve Marryat's father is laid off from the Ford Motor Company in 1931, he is forced to support his family by leaving St. Paul, Minnesota, and moving back to his Ohio roots.  Eve's uncle Cyrus has invited the family to live and work at his Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge.  Eve can't wait to leave St. Paul, a notorious haven for gangsters.  At seventeen, she considers her family to be "good people," not lawbreakers like so many in her neighborhood.  Thrilled to be moving to a "safe haven," Eve soon forms an unlikely friendship with a strange young man named Link, blissfully unaware that her uncle's lodge is anything but what it seems.  When the reality of the situation finally becomes clear, Eve is faced with a dilemma.  Does she dare risk everything by exposing the man whose love and generosity is keeping her family from ruin?  And when things turn dangerous, can she trust Link in spite of appearances?

Synopsis: Eve Marryat and her family are being forced to leave St. Paul Minnesota and for Eve, it can't come quickly enough.  She views St. Paul as a hotbed of sin - plagued by gangsters who are violating the Prohibition laws of the land.  She is eagerly looking forward to life in Ohio at the lodge her uncle Cyrus owns and operates.  As her family settles in, Eve begins to form friendships with those around her including Jones, the strange step-son of her uncle and Link, a bum who lives in a camp by the river.  Life is wonderful until one night when Eve discovers the man running the service station across from the lodge is actually running liquor from Cincinnati.  She turns to her father and they go together to report the legal violation.  This report leads to a raid that finds nothing but in turn, shatters the fragile relationship Cyrus and Eve's father had.  As time goes on, Eve discovers her uncle not only knew about the service station, he was a willing participant.  A climactic ending follows and changes Eve's life forever.

My Review:  I'm a fan of Ann Tatlock's work and had eagerly been waiting on this book.  I have to say, on the surface, I was a bit disappointed and I can't really put my finger on why.  The book isn't bad by a long-shot, I'm just used to more from Tatlock.  I thought Eve was a holier-than-thou teenager who couldn't see past the sin in people.  She just didn't strike me as likable through most of the book.  I know it's a coming of age story and I see the growth that happened in Eve's character - I just wanted something more.  The story itself is really enjoyable; there was enough intrigue to keep me turning the pages and there was a nice twist at the end that I didn't see coming.  One thing I do like about Tatlock's writing, and it's evident here, is that her stories are a bit more complex.  They are true fiction, not romance and I enjoy the way she intersperses back story with the telling of her character's story.  I also learned a little about gangsters and gained insight into the silliness of the Prohibition laws this country used to have.  Even though I was disappointed in this one compared to other work by Tatlock, it was still a good book and I would recommend that you put it on your  "to be read" list.

Score:  3.75 out of 5 bookmarks.

Note:  Bethany House Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Though My Heart is Torn - A Book Review

From the Back: Settling into a simple life in the majestic Blue Ridge mountains, Lonnie and Gideon O'Riley have finally found happiness after the rocky start to their marriage.  The roguish bluegrass musician has fallen in love with his gentle wife and the God she serves, and Lonnie rests secure in his tenderness for her and their young son.  Then a heartless ruse interrupts their peace, bringing them back to Rocky Knob - and forces them to face the claims of Cassie Allan, a woman who says she is Gideon's rightful wife.  As Gideon wades into the depths of his past choices, Lonnie is stunned by the revelations.  She has no choice but to navigate this new path, knowing that surviving the devastating blow will take every ounce of strength she has.  While Gideon's guilt and his bitterness toward Cassie threaten to burn up his fledgling faith, Lonnie wrestles to find the courage to trust the God who brought them together in the first place.  Will their hard-earned love be able to conquer all?

Synopsis:  This book starts where the first book in the series (Be Still My Soul) ends.  Lonnie and Gideon have settled into life with Jebidiah and Elsie, the lovely couple who took them in and helped them learn to be husband and wife.  Life is simple and sweet for Lonnie, Gideon and baby Jacob.  That simplicity and sweetness is shattered when Lonnie and Gideon are summoned back to Rocky Knob under the pretense that Lonnie's mother is ill.  While in Rocky Knob, they are confronted by the family of Cassie Allan and the local ministers who produce paperwork showing Gideon and Cassie are legally married.  Unbeknownst to Gideon, Cassie never followed through with the annulment paperwork and now is marriage to Lonnie is invalid.  Left with no other option, Gideon and Lonnie's marriage is annulled, Gideon moves in with Cassie and Lonnie moves back to live with Jebidiah and Elsie.  Gideon cannot stand Cassie and lives with her in name only.  Lonnie is devastated and is trying to figure out how to live without the man she's fallen in love with.

My Review:  I really enjoyed Be Still My Soul so I jumped at the chance to review the second book in the series.  While I loved this book just as much, I will warn you, there were times I wanted to throw it up against the wall because I didn't like where the storyline was headed.  Of course, that's the mark of a good book in my opinion so there's that. :-)  I thought Lonnie and Gideon's characters have both come a long way in this book.  Lonnie is more strong-willed, standing up to her family instead of cowering in fear, and that's a good thing.  Gideon is calmer and more likable in this book than in book one.  I found myself feeling sorry for him several times throughout the book.  This book definitely shows the long-term impact that foolish decisions can play in our lives.  Joanne Bischof also introduces a new character or two in this novel that pave the way for book three.  I still wanted the story to end differently here so I'm holding out hope for book three!  This is an enjoyable read with a sweet story and contains characters you'll find yourself drawn too.

Score: 4.0 bookmarks out of 5.

Extras: Author's WebsiteMore Info/Buy the BookRead Chapter OneAuthor's Bio

Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.