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.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sweet Sanctuary - A Book Review

From the Back: Lydia Eldredge longs to provide sanctuary for her young son, Nicky.  But a constant threat comes from Nicky's drug-addicted father, who wants the boy and seems willing to do whatever it takes to get him.  Dr. Micah Hatcher faithfully serves the immigrant population of Queens, New York.  But under cover of darkness, he has a secret mission that challenges everything he thought he wanted out of life.  When Lydia and Micah's paths cross, they are suddenly wrapped up in each other's callings.  Together, they seek a refuge of safety - for Nicky, for themselves, and for the needy people God puts in their lives.  Amid turmoil and discord, can hope and love prevail.

Synopsis: Lydia is raising her best friend's son Nicky after the friend tragically dies in childbirth.  Micah is a physician in NY who is summoned to Boston at Lydia's father's request.  This strange request thrusts these past acquaintances into a new relationship - one they aren't sure exactly how to make work.  Lydia is concerned that Nicky's dad Nic will find them and try to take Nicky.  Micah is convinced to try and help Lydia come up with a plan to prevent that from happening.  A friendship/romance begins to blossom over Micah and Lydia's shared desire to help Nicky and other hurting souls.  Nic does manage to find Lydia and Nicky and has plans of his own for his son.  Lydia and Micah must work together to ensure Nicky's safety and safe Nic's life.  Drug treatment, a tragic work-related accident, a new daughter, and more complicate the issues even further.  Can Lydia and Micah build a relationship out of the craziness?

My Review:  I usually like Kim Vogel Sawyer's work a little more than I liked this one.  While I loved the story line, there were a couple of things that rubbed me the wrong way.  There were several passages where I thought the book came across as preachy. While I love Christian fiction and don't mind the references to faith, God's help, etc., there were times in this novel where it just seemed to go overboard.  Secondly, there were just too many subplots running through the novel.  Sawyer could have easily left out Nic's plans for Nicky (or just left out the scenes with prospective parents) and still had a compelling story.  I also wasn't a fan of how the story wrapped up - it just seemed contrived to me. All that being said, I'm still happy I chose to review it.  I liked the time period setting, post WWII.  I hope Sawyer continues to write in this time period.  Like her other works, this is well-researched and an enjoyable look into this time period. This is a quick, fun read with characters that you want to see be successful (well, most of the characters).

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.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Icecutter's Daughter - A Book Review

From the Back: As the lone female in a houseful of men, Merrill Krause dedicates her life to caring for her family and their business, as her dying mother asked.  Besides, it suits her; she's never felt like she fits what most people expect in a girl - she'd rather work with her father's horses and assist with the ice harvest.  And though she's been mostly content up to this point, a part of her wonders if there will ever be anyone who will notice her amid the bevy of brothers determined to protect her from any possible suitors.  When Rurik Jorgenson arrives in their small Minnesota town to join his uncle's carpentry business, he soon crosses paths with Merrill.  But unlike other men, who are often frightened away by her older brothers, Rurik isn't itimidated by them or by Merrill's strength and lack of femininity.  The attraction between them begins to build...until Rurik's former fiancee shows up with wild claims that bring serious consequences to Rurik.

Synopsis: Merrill Krause lives with her father and brother in Minnesota.  She's not your typical turn-of-the-century female with her eyes set on marriage.  She works alongside her brothers harvesting ice and taking care of their horses.  However, when Rurik Jorgenson moves to town to help his uncle, Merrill begins to think there might be something to the idea of courtship and marriage.  After learning Merrill is a talented artist, Rurik comes up with a plan to have Merrill join him at his uncle's carpentry business painting pieces he and his men create.  Life is going well until Rurik's former fiancee Svea and her brother Nils show up claiming Svea and Rurik are still engaged and must be married.  Rurik has no romantic feelings for Svea and spends his time trying to re-break off the engagement.  Svea and Nils won't take no for an answer and appear to be harboring secrets of their own.  The story concludes with an ending full of twists and turns.

My Review:  I really like Tracie Peterson's work and this was a good book but it almost had too many twist and subplots for my taste.  Peterson just appeared to be trying to do too much with the book.  There's the romance between Merrill and Rurik, Rurik's former engagement, Uncle Carl's health, Nils' problems, gossip around town, etc..  I just felt like one or two of the story lines could have been left out and the book would have been better.  That being said, this is a sweet romance with a great underlying message about truth and consequences.  It is definitely a Christian fiction novel and that comes through but it doesn't come across as preachy necessarily.  One thing I like about Peterson's writing...the characters make you have a reaction to them and this book was no different.  I couldn't stand Svea from the very beginning (she reminded me of Nellie Olson from Little House on the Prairie) and disliked her even at the end. :-)  This appears to be the beginning of another series from Peterson and I'm eagerly awaiting new books in the series.  You'll definitely want to add this one to a summer reading list.

Score:  4.0 bookmarks out of 5.

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

Truth Stained Lies - A Book Review

From the Back: Cathy Cramer is a former lawyer and investigative blogger who writes commentary on high-profile homcides.  When she finds a threatening note warning her that she's about to experience the same kind of judgment and speculation that she dishes out in her blog, Cathy writes it off as mischief...until her brother's wife is murdered and all the "facts" point to him.  The killer has staged the crime to make the truth too far-fetched to believe.  Working to solve the murder and clear her brother's name, Cathy and her two sisters, Holly and Juliet, moonlight as part-time private investigators.  Juliet, a stay-at-home mom of two boys, and Holly, a scattered ne'er-do-well who drives a taxi, put aside their fear to hunt down the real killer.  Stakes rise when their brother's grieving five year-old son is kidnapped.  As police focus on the wrong set of clues, the three sisters and their battered detective friend are the only hope for solving this bizarre crime, saving the child, and freeing their brother.

Synopsis: Cathy Cramer is a former lawyer who's turned her investigative skills into a successful blogging career.  She's shocked when her brother Jay tells her his wife has been killed and that a clown did it.  She's even more dumbfounded when all the evidence points to Jay as the killer.  At the same time, she's being taunted my a mysterious "new friend."  As the case continues, Cathy teams with her sisters, Holly and Juliet and their friend Michael to try to prove Jay's innocence.  Things get even stranger as Jay's son Jackson becomes critically ill.  The four have their suspicions about who could be at fault but the truth is stranger than fiction.

My Review: This is the first in what appears to be another great series by Terri Blackstock.  While a little slow (and hard to believe at first), the storyline picks up quite nicely.  There's a sense of urgency at the end of most chapters that make you want to keep reading.  There is a tendency for "preachiness" in parts of the book but the story was so good, I overlooked that.  Blackstock writes a complex storyline and threw in lots of nice twists and turns to keep you guessing.  I did have the criminal identified by the end of the book but was pleased with how Blackstock tied the ending together.  I debated putting this one down at first but I'm glad I stuck with it.  I'm already looking forward to the next book in the series.

My Score:  4.5 bookmarks out of 5

Zondervan/Thomas Nelson Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Firefly Island - A Book Review

From the Back:  Mallory Hale's life quickly veers off course when she falls hopelessly in love.  After a whirlwind romance, Mallory finds herself leaving the bustle and action of Capitol Hill for the remove town of Moses Lake, TX - with husband, stepson and U-Haul in tow.  A sweet, mishap filled journey into marriage, motherhood, and ranch living ensues, and Mallory is filled with both the wonderment of love and the insecurities of change. But what she can't shake is the unease she feels around her husband's new boss, Jack West.  Jack's presence - and his mysterious past - set her on edge and when hints of a scandal emerge, Mallory finds herself seeking answers...and comes to realize that the middle-of-nowhere home she wasn't sure she wanted is the very place she'll risk everything to save.

Synopsis: Mallory Hale is a legislative assistant in DC trying to step out of her father's influence.  On a random day, she runs into Daniel Everson - quite literally - and falls in love with his eyes.  She brushes off the encounter to her friends until she runs into him again.  After a crazy, short romance, Mallory finds herself stepping into the role of wife and mother.  The new family moves to Texas for Daniel's new job working for Jack West.  Moses Lake, TX is in the middle of nowhere and the house they'll be living in has seen better days.  Mallory isn't sure how she's going to survive in this out-of-the-way place.  She takes up blogging to try and keep her sanity and ends up developing quite a following.  As time goes on, Mallory finds herself falling in love with Moses Lake but at the same time questioning her husband's new boss.  What is he (or his son) planning and how will it impact Moses Lake for years to come?  Once Mallory finds out, can she stop it?

My Review:  Lisa Wingate is rapidly becoming one of my favorite authors.  Her books always have believable characters and Firefly Island is no different.  Even though I can't see myself marrying someone in such a short time, it works here.  The storyline moves quite rapidly once you get started.  There's enough intrigue set within the romance to satisfy most readers.  Even though this is the third in the Moses Lake series, there's no more than a passing mention of previous characters.  You can easily pick this one up without having read the previous novels.  However, picking up all three would be a great idea. ;-)  Overall, I loved this book and it makes perfect poolside or beach side reading.

My 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.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

A Home in Drayton Valley - A Book Review

From the Back: Hoping to escape the poor conditions of 1880 New York, Tarsie Raines and her friends Joss and Mary Brubacher and their two children set off for Kansas aboard an unusual wagon train.  But when tragedy strikes on the trip across the prairie, Tarsie is thrown into a partnership with Joss that leaves them both questioning God and their plans for the future.  As their funds dwindle and nothing goes as planned, will they give up and go their separate ways? Or will God use their time in Drayton Valley in a way they never expected?

Synopsis:  Tarsie Raines boards a wagon train with her friends Joss and Mary Brubacher and their two children.  The train is heading west towards Kansas with the hope of a healthier life for Mary.  Unfortunately, tragedy strikes during the journey leaving Joss and Tarsie responsible for the children once they arrive in Kansas.  Joss isn't sure what he wants and Tarsie is forced to take care of the children while dealing with Joss's varying moods.  Over time they settle into a fragile routine until theft and misunderstandings force their next moves.

My Review: This is another sweet historical romance.  I love the historical novels Kim Vogel Sawyer writes.  Each book I've read has multiple layers and this one is no different. This novel chronicles a move into a new area, race relations, and the desperation that drives us toward God.  The characters are easy to relate to and I found myself wishing Joss and Tarsie would put their grievances and hurts aside and realize they are in love.  The book had enough intrigue to keep me interested and a storyline that tugged at my heartstrings.  This is also a quick read - perfect for a day by the pool.

Score:  4 bookmarks out of 5.

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

Be Still My Soul - A Book Review

From the Back: Pretty Lonnie Sawyer is shy and innocent, used to fading into the background within her family, and among the creeks and hollows of the Appalachian hills.  Though her family is poor and her father abusive, she clings to a quiet faith.  But when handsome ladies' man and bluegrass musician Gideon O'Riley steals and kiss, that one action seals her fate.  Her father forces her into a hasty marriage with Gideon - a man she barely knows and does not love.  Equally frustrated and confused by his new responsibilities, Gideon years for a fresh start, forcing Lonnie on an arduous journey away from her home in Rocky Knob.  Her distant groom can't seem to surrender his rage at the injustice of the forced matrimony or give Lonnie any claim in his life.  What will it take for Gideon to give up his past, embrace Lonnie's God, and discover a hope that can heal their two fractured hearts?  Gideon only ever cared about himself.  Now that Lonnie is his wife, will he ever be worthy of her heart?

Synopsis:  Lonnie Sawyer is a 17 year-old girl in Appalachia who is growing up in a home with an abusive father.  Her only solace is her Aunt Sarah's house where she plans to move when she turns 18.  Gideon O'Riley is a young musician who steals a kiss from Lonnie on a walk home one night.  Lonnie's father sees and misconstrues the event.  He forces Lonnie and Gideon into a marriage neither of them want.  Leaving town to start a new life, Gideon and Lonnie set out on foot hoping to reach a town with job opportunities.  The journey proves difficult at best and at their weakest point, God steps in and provides a way out in Jebediah Bennett.  Jebediah stops Gideon before he can do something he'll regret.  Jebediah invites Gideon and Lonnie back to his home and invites them to stay a while.  They agree and settle into a tenuous relationship and routine.

My Review:  It took a little bit of time to get into this book but I'm so glad I did.  It's a sweet tale of grace and redemption.  I took an intense dislike to Gideon - he's an immature, insensitive clod who doesn't deserve someone as sweet as Lonnie.  That dislike lasted most of the book and in my opinion, that's the mark of a good author with good character development!  The Bennetts are a nice addition to the book, providing parental guidance to both Lonnie and Gideon.  The dialogue between characters seems more three-dimensional than most books - almost like watching a movie instead of reading a book.  The storyline moves along quite nicely with a healthy mix of drama and tragedy.  Bischof wraps the story nicely at the end.  This is a perfect book to lose yourself in on a rainy afternoon.

Score:  4.0 bookmarks out of 5.

Note 1:  Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review. 

Note 2:  I finished this book a couple months back but inadvertently neglected to post my review in a timely manner.

To Love and Cherish - A Book Review

From the Back: Melinda Colson has been waiting months for Evan, the assistant gamekeeper at the Bridal Veil Island resort, to propose.  Without an offer of marriage, she must return to Cleveland with the family she works for as a lady's maid.  Evan isn't afraid of hard work, and he hopes to be promoted soon.  He wants to marry Melinda - but not until he's sure he can support her and a family.  Letters strengthen their romance until a devastating storm strikes the island.  With no word from Evan, Melinda knows she must journey back to Bridal Veil in search of her beloved.  But the hurricane isn't the last calamity to shake up Bridal Veil.  Melinda finds a new job on the island, but still no offer of marriage comes her way.  has she given he heart to the wrong person?  Will she ever find a man to love and cherish?

Synopsis:  Melinda Colson is a lady's maid for a wealthy woman who winters on Bridal Veil Island.  Over time she has fallen in love with Evan, one of the gamekeepers on the island.  Disappointed with the lack of a marriage proposal, Melinda returns to Cleveland with the family.  A long-distance romance grows until a hurricane ravages the island.  After being lied to by her employers, Melinda quits her position and convinces her brother to with her back to Bridal Veil.  When they arrive, they find the island devastated but Evan and Melinda's other friends have survived.  Melinda decides to take a job with the resort to wait until Evan is ready to propose.  She proves to be good at her job and is soon promoted to a new position creating activities for the guests.  New characters come on the scene and complicate life for both Melinda and Evan.  An assassination attempt leads to the climactic ending of the book.

My Review:  This is a very sweet historical romance.  I was intrigued when I discovered it was set off the coast of Georgia.  Even though the island is fictional, the storyline could easily have taken place on one of GA's barrier islands.  I do have to admit there were a couple of times I wanted to reach into the pages of the book and shake Melinda.  She comes across more "whiny" than I like in my characters. :-)  I did enjoy the storyline though and there were enough twists and turns (including an assassination plot of all things) to keep the story moving and keep my attention.  I've read dual-author stories before that seemed disjointed so I was a little concerned picking this one up.  However, my fears were relieved - this is a book that provides no noticeable differences in the writing.  This book is a well-written romance that drew me in quickly.  It was a fun read and I'm looking forward to more stories from Bridal Veil.

Score:  4.0 bookmarks out of 5.

Note 1:  Bethany House Publishers provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Note 2:  I finished this book months ago but inadvertently did not post my review in a timely manner.

Abducted - A Book Review

From the Back:  After solving the mayor's murder and exposing the corruption among the top brass in Las Playas, Carly Edwards is happy to be back on patrol with her partner, Joe, putting bad guys behind bars.  For once, everything in life seems to be going right.  But then everything starts going wrong.  Slow to recover from an injury, her ex-husband, Nick, begins pulling away just as they were starting to get close again.  Meanwhile, when Joe's wife lands in the hospital with a mysterious illness, their baby is kidnapped.  As Carly chases down every lead in a desperate search to find the baby, her newfound faith is pushed to its limits.

Synopsis:  Carly Edwards is a police officer back on the job and enjoying police work.  She enjoys working with her partner Joe and is rebuilding her relationship with her ex-husband Nick.  Without warning, Joe's wife ends up in the hospital critically ill.  While he's occupied worrying about his wife, Joe's baby is kidnapped from the hospital.  Carly manages to convince her supervisors to let her in on the investigation even though she has close ties to the victim.  Twists and turns abound in both the kidnapping investigation and Carly's relationship with Nick.  Can Carly find the baby and the kidnapper before it's too late?

Review:  This is the second book in the Pacific Coast Justice series.  It's helpful to have read the first book, Accused, but it's not critical.  Janice Cantore, the author, is a former cop so there's an element of authenticity to the book.  I like Carly's character; she's a good cop with a heart for people.  Her faith is new and she doesn't always understand how God works.  The book is a little slow in parts but it's fairly simple to plow through those sections.  There are plenty of twists and turns to keep you interested.  If you like police procedurals mixed with romance, you'll like this book.  I definitely plan on checking out the other books in the series.

My Score:  3.5 bookmarks out of 5.

Note 1:  Tyndale House Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Note 2:  I actually finished this book months ago.  I somehow neglected to post this review in a timely manner.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Holy Cow It's Been A While

Wow, I had no idea it had been so long since there was any sort of update.  I'm going to TRY and get back to more regular blogging.  Expect a flood of book reviews in the next few days.  I somehow  lost track of the fact I had written some out and I forgot to type them up and hit post.  Oops!  I think I have four that are back-logged and then one that I've just recently finished.

I also hope to have pictures of my still new-to-me place.  I'm planning a do-nothing weekend so hopefully I can sit on my couch and post reviews and my thoughts on life in general.  I've composed a number of posts in my head about recent events but just haven't found the time to post.  More later....

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Threads of Grace - A Book Review

From the Back: When Grace Beiler was only a girl, she was married off to an older Amish man in order to save her family's farm.  Years later, she finds herself newly widowed and a mother to a young son.  She has finally fled her sad past and plans to settle into a quite life in Pennsylvania.  As soon as she arrives, she captures the attention of Seth Wyse, the most eligible bachelor in Pine Creek.  Seth is candid about his feelings for her, and for her son Abel, but Grace is determined to protect her heart.  her determination falters when her brother-in-law reveals the troubling contents of her late husband's will.  Seth offers Grace his hand in marriage, and thus a means of escape.  But despite his having saved her from another loveless marriage, Grace is slow to trust her new husband.  And as the months wear on, Seth wonders if he has made a mistake.  But God is quietly at work in their hearts, and Seth and Grace soon discover that threads of grace bind them together in a tapestry rich in hope and love.

Synopsis:  The book opens with Grace being married off to Silas Beiler, a smarmy man who is at best a loveless man and at worst an abusive man.  Grace is left little choice in the matter and gives in and marries Silas.  By Chapter 2, the story has progressed nine years and Grace is now a widow with a young son.  She has fled to Pine Creek to hide from her husband's brother and hopes to quietly raise her young, autistic son.  She meets Seth Wyse, an eligible suitor who is quite attracted to Grace.  Grace, however, has no intentions of falling in love again.  She's not even sure she remembers what true love really is.  Through a variety of circumstances, Grace is forced into a situation where Seth offers to marry her.  In order to save herself from another potentially abusive relationship, Grace marries Seth but is resigned to a relationship that is a marriage in paperwork only.  Over time, Grace's heart begins to soften and she sees that Seth is quite different from her first husband.

My Review:  This is the first book I've read by Kelly Long.  I'm still figuring out Amish fiction and still trying to figure out whether or not I really like it.  This book was a quick read - easily finished in a weekend.  The plot isn't all that complex and the story moves pretty quickly.  While it's a sweet story, the characters don't have a lot of development behind them and Grace actually comes off as annoying in several places.  I was also disappointed that the ending just sort of happened.  It was almost like Long got tired of writing and just wrapped up the story lines.  The final chapter or two were too tidy - the abusive brother changes his tune quickly, the marriage between Grace and Seth is suddenly wonderful and everything is nicely wrapped up in a bow.  It just wasn't believable and left me wanting more.  Overall, it's a nice, quick read but didn't leave me wanting to find more of Long's work to read.

Score:  3.0 bookmarks out of 5.

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

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Grace - A Book Review

So, I've had "Grace - More Than We Deserve, Greater Than We Imagine" by Max Lucado on my reading list for a while now.  Somehow it kept getting pushed back by other books.  I'm glad I finally got around to finishing it and putting my thoughts on paper.  This is an interesting book.  It's not a deep, theological read on grace. Rather, it shows grace as the free gift it really is.  And that's what makes it such a good book.  Lucado does a really solid job of presenting grace as God presents it...a free gift that we don't deserve but is so much better than we could possibly imagine.  Through a mix of Scriptural references and stories of "real people", Lucado weaves a story that almost anyone can relate to.

There are two other things that I appreciate in how this book sets up.  First, Lucado is quick to point out that grace alone is all that's needed.  Works come out of our appreciation for the grace we've been given as Christians but our works don't do anything to save us.  It's a reminder that we can never do enough or be "good enough" for God but Lucado reminds us grace means we don't have to do anything else. I loved how he equated his merit badges from Boy Scouts to the erroneous concept of grace we sometimes have.  As someone who can struggle with doing more, I can really relate to his struggles and realized anew that grace means I don't have to do anything.

The other thing I appreciated so much was the easy style in the writing.  I would have no qualms about giving this book to a new believer struggling with the concept of grace or even a nonbeliever who doesn't grasp how a God could give grace.  There's even a Reader's Guide at the end that provides a Bible study approach to walking through grace.  Even the long-time believer will find pearls of truth to be reminded of or walk away pondering.  Lucado uses stories of even the worst of biblical sinners (David, anyone?) to show how God's grace is free for the asking.

The final thing that stuck with me is the requirement that those who have received grace must give grace.  He likens it to Jesus taking the role of a servant and washing the disciples feet.  It's easy to celebrate the grace we've been given but much harder to give grace to those who've wronged us.  Even though this isn't a deep book and doesn't take a great deal of time to master, it's a great book that will be a valuable re-read in the future.

My Score:  4.5 bookmarks out of 5.

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

Compassion Mobile Experience

I've been a sponsor with Compassion International since October of 2008 and an advocate with them for the past 2.5 years.  I educated myself about the organization before getting involved with them and can honestly say I have had no misgivings about the relationship.  What I experienced yesterday only furthered my resolve to advocate on behalf of this organization.  Having the opportunity to serve at the Mobile Experience was an honor.  Getting to help people have their own encounters with world poverty and the difference Compassion makes was a blessing to me.  Seeing 30+ sweet children from some of the poorest parts of the world have their lives changed was icing on the cake.  I almost can't explain what it was like - words just aren't enough.  To be surrounded by other people who were like-minded in their dedication to the "least of these" was inspiring.  Seeing people make life-changing decisions reminded me of the life-changing decision God offers us through salvation.  While the money Compassion provides to these local children provides a level of salvation on the temporal level, they also work to present salvation on the eternal level, sharing Christ with each child who comes through their doors.  The whole premise of this Mobile Experience is to "change the story."  The idea is that sponsorship changes the story for the sponsored child.  But it's so much more than that.  It also changes the story of the sponsor.  There's a child in Uganda whose life is changed because of my love, support, prayers and Compassion's intervention.  That's a weighty proposition when you think about it.

I think the angels were crying out in praise yesterday for the 30+ people who took a stand against poverty, injustice and Satan himself.  Praise the Lord for those people who changed the story for 30+ children.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Final 2012 Update

So, it's been six weeks since I updated this blog!  LOTS has happened since I updated last.  Most importantly, I closed on my new house and moved in the next day.  Between packing to move, finishing the paperwork, moving and unpacking, the blog was the last thing on my mind.  But, now that the boxes are mostly unpacked, I can get back in the swing of things with the old blog.

The new place is wonderful.  I'm really, really happy with my purchase.  It's the perfect size for me - has a spare bedroom for company - but isn't so big that it's overwhelming to clean.  I love having everything on the inside brand new.  And stainless steel appliances in the kitchen don't hurt!  It's quite nice having an oven that works properly and a refrigerator that doesn't make noises like it's trying to die.  I've successfully broken all the appliances in - had a wonderful time doing my holiday baking.  Managed to get somewhere around 10 dozen cookies made quite efficiently. :-)  I hope to have pictures posted to the blog closer to the weekend.

The job was a little crazy toward the end of the year.  We are busy planning how we are going to reach some pretty extreme goals related to training.  We didn't get to set the goals but we're responsible for meeting the goals.  Gotta love when that happens. ;-)  I have all confidence that my team will work hard to try and meet the goals.  Most of the rest of the craziness was the usual stuff that comes with the end of a calendar that must be spent, reports that must be written, etc..  I did enjoy having a few days off last week for Christmas but am looking forward to getting back into my daily routine.  I'm still loving working for Children's - it's just a great place to work (the bonus I received last week didn't hurt!).

My plans for 2013 are to try and live a more healthy lifestyle.  I'm going to start by working through the book Made to Crave to focus my efforts on craving more of Christ instead of more of whatever unhealthy food is around.  I'm also hoping to cook more often on the weekends, making healthy options that I can quickly add veggies to for a complete, healthy meal each night.  I'm also planning to use the exercise center at my townhouse complex.  I figure if I add exercise and change my eating habits for the better, the weight loss will take care of itself.  I want to focus more on healthy, God-honoring decisions with my body as opposed to numbers on a scale.

I guess that's all I've got for now.  I'm not sure what I'm planning to do schedule-wise for the blog in 2013.  I haven't decided how to update - I know I will update with a good bit of regularity, I just don't know that it will be weekly.  I do have several book reviews to post - I've read quite a few and have written the reviews, I just haven't gotten them posted.  Hope to accomplish that sometime this week.  More next time...