Saturday, December 21, 2013

Governess of Highland Hall

Carrie Turansky has a winner with her book The Governess of Highland Hall. I had not read any of her novels before but the description of this novel enticed me to try it out.

Julia Foster seeks a governess position to help support her family who had been missionaries in India until her father's failing health forced them to return to England. As governess she is charged with the education and training of four children including two young children whose mother has recently passed away and two young ladies preparing for the coming out season. The two young ladies feel they are too old for a governess and resent her presence and her lack of experience with high society. Julia also find herself at odds with the other house staff who resent her being taken into confidence by William, the master of the house, as well as his sister, Sarah.

The Governess of Highland Hall does a wonderful job of portraying the ins and outs of the differences between the various tiers of society in pre-World War I England and how those tiers are beginning to break down. Highland Hall shows not only the titled class but also the titled class without wealth and the servants. Julia finds herself caught in the middle as the educated but penniless governess. As you may imagine, several romantic relationships ensue between various characters in this novel which cross the appropriate social lines. Adding to the plot is the fact that William must find a way to pay the inheritance taxes on Highland Hall or lose the family estate and that a wealthy marriage seems to be the only way to obtain the needed funds.

To tell anymore would give away the ending of this charming novel. While predictable in the outcome, there are multiple twists and turns in the execution which keep the reader guessing until the very end. Downton Abbey fans will enjoy The Governess of Highland Hall as will other fans of clean historical romance.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Blogging for Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Can Jimmy's Christmas be saved?

In Ace Collins' book The Christmas Star, Jimmy Reed doesn't want anything to do with Christmas. This year the community is excited about Christmas since everyone is home from the war--everyone except Jimmy's dad. Jimmy's dad had been killed in action and now his Congressional Medal of Honor was the only star on their Christmas tree. Feeling angry at the world, Jimmy was headed downhill fast. Looking for a quick buck. Jimmy tangles with the wrong crowd and doesn't think he can find a way out. Fortunately for Jimmy several individuals take an interest in him specifically the school bus driver Calvin and Audrey, a cute girl at school.

Calvin becomes an unexpected mentor when he takes Jimmy with him to deliver Christmas presents to the less fortunate. In the process, Jimmy learns more about his father and the impact his father had on their community. As Jimmy discovers the true meaning of Christmas and what kind of person his father would want him to be, he tries to get out of the hot water he is in without causing himself or his mother to be hurt. Several twists and turns result in an unexpected resolution to this issue which the proceeds to precipitate several additional surprises which cause this Christmas to be extra special for Jimmy.

The Christmas Star by Ace Collins is a warm enjoyable tale for the Christmas season. This particular tale appeals to both men and women. Individuals of all ages ranging from young people to the elderly will enjoy this story. My own pre-teen daughter can't wait to read it, and I look forward to passing my copy on to my own father as well. The Christmas Star is a 5 star story but don't take my word for it! Watch the trailer or start reading today!

I received a complementary copy of this book from Abingdon Press in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Not Just Any Quilt

I don't know about you, but Christmas and quilts just seem to go together as do babies and quilts. And when I think of quilts, I think of the Amish who are known for their quilts. So the title The Christmas Quilt jumped out at me. It was particularly excited to find this story revolves around not only a Christmas quilt but also a baby quilt.

When I began reading The Christmas Quilt by Vannetta Chapman, I was excited to find the characters are those first introduced in A Simple Amish Christmas. Thus I felt like I was catching up with old friends when I began reading. While familiarity with the characters was helpful, author Vannetta Chapman provides sufficient details so that readers just meeting these characters will have no problem following the story. Chapman begins the story by introducing Annie and Leah who are sisters-in-law and both expecting. Annie is excited to begin making a special quilt for Leah whose baby is due around Christmas time. Unfortunately, she has difficulty finding the time to sit down and work on it as Annie also is a nurse and assists her community quite often. Her nursing training comes in very handy when Leah experiences complications with her pregnancy and needs to be moved to a high risk unit at the hospital where Annie was previously employed.

Often Amish fiction with very few changes could just easily be historical fiction set on the frontier. An enjoyable twist to this particular work of Amish fiction was the very 21st century issues the characters faced. Too often it seems that characters in these books deal mostly with who is going to be married to whom or whether the young adult child is going to remain Amish or become an Englischer. Although there is tangential hinting of a romance between two minor characters, the main issues in this work are very similar to those non-Amish readers experience.

The Christmas Quilt is a very enjoyable piece of fiction just right for reading during the Christmas holiday or at any other time of the year. Begin reading this book now with this excerpt. The Christmas Quilt is part of the Quilts of Love series published by Abingdon Press. While this particular title is set in Amish country, not all of the books in this series are. I look forward to reading additional titles from this series.

I received a complementary copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Monday, November 25, 2013

Have You Blessed Someone Today?

"Blessed to be a blessing" is a phrase oft repeated in Christian circles. While meant as an encouragement, too often the idea of blessing others becomes another chore to check off a to-do list. In the seasons of Thanksgiving and Christmas, when we often spend more time considering our blessing and how much we have to be thankful, many feel encouraged to bless others, particularly those we term "less-fortunate" in a variety of ways. While always appreciated, the idea of blessing others is not limited to specific times of the year. Gerrit Dawson, in his book The Blessing Life: A Journey to Unexpected Joy published by InterVarsity Press, changes the idea of blessing from something to check off our list or another things to do during the busy Christmas season into a joyful response to God for every day no matter the season.

Dawson's book is divided into three parts which are titled Receiving Blessing from God, Returning Blessing to God, and Reflecting God's Blessing to Others. However, before delving into part one, begin by reading the introduction where Dawson sets the stage for his book. From the first page, Dawson makes it clear that the Blessing Life does not mean "a peachy, everything is all right" existence but "a vibrant relationship with the triune God who loves us utterly" (13). With the relational view in place, Dawson begins to discuss the variety of ways we receive blessing from God. He spends an entire chapter addressing the topic of blessing in the midst of suffering and emphasizes that these concepts are not exclusive of each other.

Part 2 Returning Blessing to God takes a slightly different format. Chapter 5 introduces the concept of blessing God emphasizing that blessing God can be practiced and learned. The subsequent chapters in this section each focuses on a picture of God and leads readers through meditating on that picture. These chapters deserve a slow and careful reading. Turning to part 3 Reflecting God's Blessing to Others, Dawson emphasizes a variety of ways Christians can bless others including those who persecute you and the importance of blessing through forgiveness.

Throughout the book, Dawson provides multiple examples from the lives of Christians showing that The Blessing Life is possible. The book also contains numerous scripture references and other citations. Dawson expertly combines stories of blessing, scripture, artwork, and music references into a book which inspires readers to not only go and bless others but to realize the ability to bless others is rooted in receiving a blessing from God. While reading the book, the children's chorus "the blessings come down as the prayers go up" frequently came to mind.

While a wonderful book by itself, Dawson also has a forty-day companion book titled A Guide to the Blessing Life which contains scripture reading and prayer corresponding to the book. I have not personally seen or used the companion guide to comment on its content yet although I plan to do so. The Blessing Life, with or without the companion guide, would make a wonderful resource for personal or group study. With the companion guide, it is well-suited for a church-wide study.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from InterVarsity Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Not your usual Amish romance

Having previously read and enjoyed the first three books in Barbara Cameron's series Quilts of Lancaster County, I was excited to have the opportunity to read the most recent addition to this series Annie's Christmas Wish. This book picks up with Annie the daughter of Matthew and Jenny the main characters in the previous novels. We are also introduced to Aaron a young man from their community.

The title of this book originates from Annie's wish to see New York City at Christmas time. This dream has been field by a snow globe of the city given to her by Jenny as a child. Her wish comes true as her family has the opportunity to visit New York City. The book focuses on situations that put the anticipated trip in jeopardy and the adventures they have while in the city. As one would suspect, a definite culture clash occurs between Annie's Amish family and the experiences they have in New York City. These clashes open their eyes to benefits from living in their community and also provide unexpected opportunities for Annie.

While definitely Amish "bonnet fiction" the issues with which Annie struggles in this book are similar to those faced by many you adult Christian women but amplified due to her Amish heritage. Specifically, Annie desires to write and to have a "career" like her Mamm Jenny. Yet, she also wants to follow the traditions of her community by being married and having a family. This struggle causes relational difficulties with several other main characters. In particular, Annie's opportunity and the assumptions Aaron makes about what those opportunities will require creates quite a sore spot. Fortunately by the end of the book, the situation has been resolved quite satisfactorily.

I have greatly enjoyed Barbara Cameron's Amish fiction as her characters interact with Englischers frequently and struggle with the same issues as modern readers. The interaction between these different worlds sets these books apart and makes them less predictable than other Amish fiction. Although part of a series, Cameron includes sufficient background on the characters that reading the previous books is not necessary to enjoy Annie's Christmas Wish. Find a copy, a cup of your favorite hot beverage, and a cozy chair by the Christmas tree and enjoy!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Abingdon Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Are you thriving?

Many people are slogging through live when instead they could Thrive: Live Like You Matter. This review is a chapter summary of this book.

Chapter 1 primarily serves as an introduction to the book explaining how the idea for the book and the title came from Proverbs 11:28 which states "Those who trust in their riches will fall but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf." Author Lisa Toney emphasizes the meaning of righteous or righteousness is "right living" and previews the topics that are covered in the remainder of the book.

Chapter 2 focuses on that little bitty three letter word which many people throw around without thought. This little bitty word "yes" is a main reason why many people are not thriving. Toney emphasizes that in order to be people of integrity we must be wise in deciding to what we will say yes. Moving on to Chapter 3, Toney emphasizes that other little bitty two letter word which many people do not use often enough. However, before encouraging readers that saying no is a necessary part of setting boundaries, Toney reminds readers that in order to thrive you must never say no to God and his desires for you. Readers are also reminded that saying no allows you the space to say yes to other opportunities.

Chapter 4 centers on spinters and the damaging effect they have on our relationships. Readers will finish this chapter ready to take some planks out of their eyes so that they can begin forgiving others and themselves. After discussing a somewhat painful and laborious process, Toney encourages readers to celebrate in chapter 5. Yet before you can celebrate, you need to set goals worthy of celebrating when they are completed. This chapter gives excellent, clear, and concise advice on goal setting. I see this as a great chapter to return to in late December.

Chapter 6 focuses on dragon-slaying. You may wonder what dragons you need to slay, but Toney gives wonderful ideas on identifying and slaying several dragons we all meet from time to time. After engaging in dragon-slaying, chapter 7 transitions to swatting flies particularly the flies of injustice. You may ask "What difference will killing flies make?" Toney reminds readers of several ways to swat flies and that numerous people acting together will make a difference.

Toney uses the familiar symbol of a rainbow to remind readers that thriving requires hope in chapter 8. A discussion explores what hope is and is not. I enjoyed her reminder that engaging in self-care demonstrates hope in tomorrow. Equally important to the concept of thriving is peace but unfortunately, peace is in short-supply when our pace of life is so harried. Chapter 9 encourages readers to reconsider their pace from the perspective of relationships and balance. In conclusion, if you are thriving on all of your cylinders, excellence is the end-product. Toney sums up her book by encouraging readers to pursue excellence in chapter 10.

Each chapter includes wonderful discussion questions. Author Lisa Toney strikes just the right balance between citing enough resources to be credible and also being forthright enough to be engaging. This book would be a great, encouraging resource for a small group study. Although women may be drawn to the book, the content is equally applicable to men and women. Toney's website indicates an eight week video-based curriculum is being produced to accompany this book. Go and Thrive!

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Abingdon Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, October 28, 2013

Bridging the Generations

The back cover of Letters From Ruby states “Not everything a young pastor needs to now can be taught in school” which sums up the first novel by Episcopal priest Adam Thomas quite well. As I work with many young ministers during my day job, I can attest to the truth of this statement and that much of what happens in ministry as well as any job must be experienced in real life. The main character, Calvin, quickly steps on toes and identifies the congregation’s official and unofficial leaders. Shortly after his arrival, Calvin experiences both the death of a parishioner as well as the birth and baptism of a new generation. Throughout his experiences in Victory, Calvin can count on his Morning Prayer ladies to guide him.

Thomas uses a variety of techniques to share Calvin’s adventures as a young priest as well as the story of Ruby and her husband. Calvin’s story begins in the present and then via flashback tells the story of his time in Victory, West Virginia when he first meets Ruby. His flashback is prompted by a letter from Ruby which, as the title indicates, appears regularly throughout the book. The juxtaposition of Calvin’s story and the letters give the reader almost the feeling of reading two stories at once yet the two techniques work together to tell an integrated story.

Some readers may be unfamiliar with various terms used in Letters from Ruby as it is set in an Episcopal church. Author, Adam Thomas, explains some unfamiliar terms and practices in passing, yet also expects readers to have some familiarity. Reading this book just may entice you to seek out a local Episcopal congregation to visit. Letters from Ruby shows how much different generations can learn from each other. As such, this book will appeal to individuals who enjoy a warm WWII romance and those who are looking for a more contemporary story as well. I hope to see more books from Adam Thomas in the future and perhaps even more about Calvin as he continues to grow in his ministry.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Abingdon Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, October 20, 2013

What I Learned While in the Hospital

Several weeks ago, I had the experience of spending five days in our local hospital. As hospital visits usually are, this was quite unplanned and unexpected. I had worked late on a Friday evening finishing up a presentation I was to give the next day. As I was finally leaving the office at 8:00 p.m., I called my husband to let him know I was driving to the local E.R. as I was having chest pains. I wanted to have it checked out as I have had previous issues.

Arriving at the hospital, I anticipated having an EKG and other standard tests completed and then being sent home with instructions to follow up with my primary care doctor and perhaps cardiologist the following week. Soon after arriving however, I found this was not a typical visit as the nurses began an IV and informed me I was going to be admitted. My blood work showed I had rhabdomyolysis. My first reaction was "Rhabdo what? I soon learned that I had elevated CPK levels due to a combination of the statin I was taking and an overly strenuous session in the weight room earlier that week. I soon found myself texting numerous people to obtain the appropriate contact information for the individuals in charge of the faculty development day to let them know I was out of commission. I was very thankful that my student workers had their phones with them and willingly responded to random text messages from the boss on a Friday evening and had the number I needed.

After being admitted late on the Friday evening, I wasn't released until Wednesday when my blood tests showed that my CPK levels and other enzymes being monitored had dropped enough to go home but were not quite normal yet. Spending several days in the hospital gave me plenty of time for reflection and the opportunity to learn a variety of things.

1. To begin with I spent a great deal of time being thankful. I'm thankful that we have a wonderful hospital facility in our community. Being at our local hospital rather than a larger hospital in a nearby city allowed my family to visit me every day. I'm also thankful that I have access to health care and have health insurance, although I'm still not looking forward to seeing the bill.

2. I'm thankful for my husband who kept everything going in my absence. My kids were fed, had clean clothes, and arrived at church and school on time. They even attended their regular after-school activities. He also with my instruction and the promise to shred my passwords was able to load the video I had completed and send the URL to the appropriate dean so at least part of my morning presentation could take place.

3. I'm thankful for friends who looked in on me while I was in the hospital and have continued to check to make sure I'm doing fine since coming home. I purposefully only alerted people on a "need to know" basis but am very thankful for all who prayed for me, looked in on my family, and visited me. One particular friend actually visited me while doing her rounds and drawing my blood each morning. We even arranged an after-school pickup and play date.

4. I learned not to take my privacy for granted. As a mom, I'm used to a lack of privacy, but privacy was non-existent my first few days in the hospital. I even had the experience of having a student who attended an information literacy session earlier that week serve as the CNA and help me change my clothes. I'd really rather not be top less in front of a student again.

5. The above situation and needing to be waited on by all of the various staff members increased my willingness to let others serve me. I'm typically an "I'll do it myself" type of gal but being in the hospital quickly brought that to a halt.

6. I greatly enjoyed the opportunity to rest and read while being in the hospital and for the next couple of days as I continued recuperating. I really needed the reminder of the importance to focus on what is most important and to cut back on non-essential activities.

7. This experience was also a wonderful reminder of my need to depend on God and draw strength from Him.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Think You're Busy?

How many times have you heard someone say or even described your own life as "crazy busy"? I know I have used that term so Kevin DeYoung's book Crazy Busy: A (Mercifully) Short Book About a (Really) Big Problem caught my attention right away! In ten brief chapters DeYoung describes the problem of busyness, three dangers, seven diagnoses, and one prescription.

I really enjoyed how DeYoung did not downplay the problem of busyness in our lives, make readers feel like they only need to manage their time better or be involved in fewer activities, or otherwise place a guilt-trip on readers. His tone was simply matter of fact that life is busy for adults in between work, parenting, keeping up with household chores, exercise, a few hobbies, some community service, and of course church work too. Instead, DeYoung describes our world as a combination of unprecedented opportunity combined with complexity(24). Although this problem is widespread, DeYoung does not hesitate to call out that all this busyness can be detrimental to our physical life but particularly to our spiritual lives. He points out "busyness does not mean you are a faithful or fruitful Christian. It only means you are busy, just like everyone else"(32).

After assuring readers that being busy is a normal state of affairs, DeYoung then explores a variety of diagnoses which contribute to this sickness which effects society. In doing so, he does not hesitate to ask hard questions to help readers work through this issue. For example, in the chapter "The Killer P's," DeYoung boils the issue down to this single question: is it about you or about them? In subsequent chapters, the questions begin to focus a bit more on the shoulds and oughts that individuals place on themselves. He specifically calls ministers and church leaders to stop preaching a gospel of "do more" but reminds us that we are not Christ(45-49). As someone who is concerned about numerous world issues and frequently feels the siren call of needing to do more for this or that issue, I greatly enjoyed DeYoung's reminder that as Christians we are all called to care about world issues, but we each have different gifts, callings, and passions(49-51).

As the book progresses, DeYoung raises further questions on issues relating to priorities, parenting, the ubiquitous screens we stare at all day, and our need for rest. The final issue addressed is the concept of suffering or actually the lack of this concept in modern day life. DeYoung indicts Western Christians for not expecting to suffer or bear burdens of any kind. He emphasizes that "busyness isn't always bad and can't always be avoided"(105).

So after describing all of these diagnoses about why we are busy and that to some extent busyness is to be expected, readers may be asking "so, what do we do about this?" DeYoung has an answer to that question as well. He wraps up by reminding readers that although prone to be squeezed out of our crazy busy lives, the one thing that will help us as we combat the previously mentioned diagnoses is to spend time in the Word and prayer. While it may seem to be the pat answer you expect from a minister, DeYoung emphasizes how this choice will help us to re-order our lives and is the only thing that can help us choose to be less busy.

Crazy Busy is highly recommended for everyone and as a brief book is one that even the busiest person has time to read. Ministers will enjoy it as DeYoung is a busy pastor of a large church. At the same time, the message of this book applies to all Christian employed in any field. The free study guide available at makes this resource appropriate for Sunday School and small group study as well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Crossway. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Is this the end for Gideon and Lonnie?

My Hope Is Found,the third book in Joanne Bischof's series The Cadence of Grace, did not disappoint. Continuing with the story of Gideon and Lonnie, a love triangle emerges in the Appalachian mountains which is not resolved until the end.

Picking up at the end of Though My Heart Is Torn, Gideon is heading back to his beloved Lonnie and Jacob. Unfortunately, several setbacks keep him from arriving at his destination quickly and even once he has arrived the paperwork indicating his freedom to marry Lonnie has not been completed. While Gideon is gone, Lonnie struggles to begin a new life for herself, her son Jacob, and young sister Addie. An eligible bachelor introduced in the previous book finds himself smitten with Lonnie and declares his intentions. When Gideon re-appears, the two young men find themselves both vying for Lonnie's hand and tangling with each other as well. Fortunately , Jedediah Bennett intervenes forcing them to resolve their differences.

Bischof does a good job of developing all three of characters in this triangle. Each one struggles with a variety of self-doubts and concerns over past choices and future decisions as they seek to both follow God and find everlasting love. Gideon in particular experiences difficulty resolving his feelings of love for Lonnie and his knowledge of the respectability and good name her other suitor would provide for his young family.

My Hope Is Found is highly recommended for anyone who enjoys gentle frontier romances. Libraries will definitely want to stock this series and the included reader's guide makes it perfect for book groups. I would highly recommend reading all three of these books in sequence as the story line develops in each book. I hope that Bischof continues this story. I would be interested in knowing what the future holds in store for Cassie and Toby as well as enjoying more tales of Lonnie and Gideon's sure to be growing family. Readers may learn more about this book and others in the series by listening to a podcast with author Joanne Bischof and by reading the first chapter of each title.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Blogging for Books ( I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, October 3, 2013

When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together

Undone: When Coming Apart Puts You Back Together, as the title indicates, focuses on stripping ourselves of masks and facades, or literally becoming undone, in order to allow ourselves to be what God wants us to be. Laura Sumner Truax, pastor at Chicago's LaSalle Street Church, opens by sharing the experience when she became undone and continues with complete transparency. So often, regardless of how long someone has been a Christian, individuals have broken relationships and unfulfilled expectations, a list of "shoulds" that need to be completed in order to present the image of having life all together, hide behind a variety of masks, and fear having their true self discovered. By combining a variety of anecdotes from her own life, as well as from literature and movies, with insightful depictions from a variety of Bible characters, Truax encourages readers to remove these masks of being good and busy we use to deceive ourselves and others. She then reminds readers we do not have to earn God's love and it is okay to be ordinary rather than perfect. The first step of accepting ourselves as ordinary begins by acknowledging our reality and fears.

After laying this groundwork, Truax reminds readers to have a child-like trust that God is working for us. Each success is precipitated by a failure which urges us to begin again to love others and show God's love as a community of believers. This love begins with the small, daily choices we make to show God's love to others. Truax emphasizes the importance of surrounding yourself with a community of believers who will both encourage and sharpen you. Reflecting on Undone by Laura Sumner Truax, two items which stand out in my mind is her complete transparency and the skillful manner in which she interweaves a variety of Bible stories into this book. I particularly enjoyed her reminder that while we are all called to be activists, we "are not all called to meet all the needs and pray all the prayers, but we are called to meet and pray for some" (p. 189). We are all called to champion different issues and need not feel badly that we are not as passionate about some issues as other people. The larger Christian community needs and benefits from the multitude of prayers and concerns.

Undone has a great discussion guide making it ideal for use in a Sunday School class or small group for a weekly study or as a one time book club discussion. It is a book to be read slowly and to mull over the concepts rather than to gobble quickly. While the target audience seems to be college age and young professionals, any one who has ever wondered if this is all there is to life will benefit from reading this book. I hope to visit LaSalle Street Church on my next jaunt to Chicago.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from InterVarsity Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, September 20, 2013

Sequel is better.

Though My Heart Is Torn (The Cadence of Grace #2)Though My Heart Is Torn by Joanne Bischof
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had previously read and reviewed Be Still My Soul which I had enjoyed so I was excited to find book two in this series. Be Still My Soul was good but Though My Heart Is Torn was "I can't put this down" good. Lonnie and Gideon have developed a warm, loving marriage only to have the life they have built torn apart. They both independently work on putting their broken lives back together and yearning to follow God as best they can. Very well written! The third book in The Cadence of Grace series, My Hope is Found, will be released on October 15. Watch for a review to be posted soon.

View all my reviews

Needing Some Inner Happy? Read Renewed

Some time ago I received a copy of Lucille Zimmerman's recent release Renewed: Finding Your Inner Happy in an Overwhelmed World. I was apparently very overwhelmed as it took quite a while for be to have the time to actually sit down and read this book. Once I was able to read it, I was very glad I did and I'm certain you will be too.

Lucille Zimmerman is a licensed counselor as well as a professor and sought after speaker. The wealth of her experiences comes through in her book Renewed. Her writing style is very personal, yet includes enough citations and a biblbligraphy for readers to know there is solid evidence behind her words of wisdom. While reading, I felt like Zimmerman understood the issues I and other women face but did not talk down or belittle us for dealing with them. She also avoids the dualistic debate between working moms and stay-at-home moms.

After an introduction discussing why self-care is important, Renewed delves into a different self care topic in each of the 14 chapters. While many of the types of self-care mentioned aren't new, Zimmerman reminds readers that they are important and worth the time needed to pursue them. I particularly enjoyed the examples and tips given at the end of each chapter which provide examples of how to put more of that specific type of self-care into your life. Feeling in need of a little solitude but needing some new ideas? Turn to page 79-80.

This book would be an excellent choice for a ladies' book group to read and discuss the entire book in one sitting or for a study group to read and discuss one chapter per week. A one chapter per week format would definitely encourage readers to put the strategies into practice. Counselors may find this a useful resource to have available as suggested reading for clients or as a reference for the great self-care suggestions. Recommended for women of all ages but particularly for younger women who are learning to balance multiple demands.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Abingdon Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Life Changing Resource

When I first picked up the book Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain, I was hooked from the second sentence on the back cover referencing those “who innovate and create but dislike self-promotion” and thought to myself “I’m not alone in the world!” As I began reading the book, I found myself repeating this response frequently. Being a book lover, I typically abhor writing in books, but I found myself underlining and starring many important points Cain makes throughout this work. I can honestly say I loved this book and it has impacted me more than many other books I have read recently.

Cain begins by describing the temperaments of introversion and the “extroverted ideal.” While not putting down this ideal, she describes how the extroverted ideal and the culture of personality were not always seen as ideal and how society has shifted from valuing the characteristics of quieter introverts to the current emphasis on loud extroverts. For example, in today’s culture individuals who talk more are seem as leaders and are more likely to have their ideas accepted even if the idea isn’t that great. I imagine many introverts related to the examples of being passed over for jobs or promotions because they were quiet rather than loud. Cain researched Quiet very thoroughly and includes 271 endnotes. While including many examples and anecdotes, every concept is backed up by research as well.

Since receiving a copy of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain to review, I have heard references to this ground-breaking work in a variety of conference presentations and in conversation with others. Originally published in 2012 in hardback, the copy I received was published in 2013 as a paperback and includes a reader’s guide. Quiet is a book that needs to be read by teachers, leaders, professors, and anyone who interacts with others in any manner. After reading Quiet, introverts will understand themselves much better and realize they are not inferior or less of a person for being introverted. Extroverts will have a better understanding of their introverted colleagues and be better able to work with them.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Blogging for Books ( I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Murder Past Due (Cat in the Stacks Mystery, #1)Murder Past Due by Miranda James

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I recently discovered the Cat in the Stacks mystery series.  I picked up book 3 first but was hooked from the first page and quickly read the others in the series.  I enjoyed the main character Charlie.  I loved how Diesel, his cat, is allowed to accompany him so many different places.  The characters are enjoyable and I love the southern charm.  A great series to read when you need something lighter that still makes you think.

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Miss Dimple Disappears (Miss Dimple Kilpatrick #1)Miss Dimple Disappears by Mignon F. Ballard
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

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Sunday, May 19, 2013

A Faith and Fiction Bible Study

Recently, I was very excited to receive a complimentary copy of Her Restless Heart: A Woman’s Longing for Love and Acceptance by Barbara Cameron the second study in A Faith and Fiction Bible Study series from Abingdon Press. This six week Bible study revolves around characters in Barbara Cameron's novel of the same name. Although reading the novel is not required to complete the study, I promptly read the novel which I enjoyed immensely. This novel is the first in Barbara Cameron’s Stitches in Time series. I had previously read Cameron’s Quilts of Lancaster County series and was pleasantly surprised to find some overlap in the characters and setting.

Her Restless Heart Bible study intertwines excerpts from the novel, scripture, and discussion questions to address the study contents. The excerpts from the novel set the stage for the concepts covered. This construct allows the topics to be addressed first in the character's life and then to apply the topic to the individual as well. For example, questions frequently follow the pattern of “Why did Mary Katherine (the main character) feel?” followed by “Have you ever felt this way?” This format allows the study to delve deeper into the participant’s emotional life although individual participants may or may not choose to be forthright in answering the questions. Scripture from throughout the Bible is utilized throughout the study. Scriptures have been chosen by topic as opposed to a straight through a biblical book study. Some scriptures are printed in the book while others must be looked up by the participant.

As mentioned previously, the Her Restless Heart study can be completed with or without reading the novel. As previously mentioned, I chose to read the novel and found it greatly enhanced my use of the study. Some questions in the study would have been difficult to answer without having read the novel as they referred to items not included in the excerpts. I read the novel straight through (I couldn’t put it down!), but I would recommend reading it chapter by chapter in conjunction with the study as well.

This study is appropriate for both new Christians and those who are a bit more seasoned. The issues of self-doubt, self-worth, and feeling loved and accepted, which nearly everyone struggles with at some time, feature prominently in the study. Counselors may find this to be an excellent study to use with an individual or group of women. As Amish fiction is quite popular with many readers, many individuals will be drawn to participate. As a six-week study, the study is short enough that it does not tie up a group for an entire semester, but is long enough to bond as a group and to really delve into the content. The study format includes a small portion to complete every day which helps group members to build good devotional habits. However, having only five portions per week allows some flexibility if participants miss a day. In addition the entire lesson is short enough that it could be completed in one or two long sessions if needed. An accompanying leader’s guide and DVD containing interviews with the author are available as well and provide an added dimension to the study.

I enjoyed using Her Restless Heart in my own study and look forward to sharing this study with other ladies in a group format. If you are looking for Bible studies for your fall programming or for something for the summer months, Her Restless Heart is perfect. I eagerly anticipate using other Bible studies which correlate to Barbara Cameron's Stitches in Time series. If you haven't read this series yet, you need to run to your local bookstore or library and get it.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Learn to Kneel with Giants

Does your prayer life need a boost? Does the ACTS prayer acrostic just not seem like enough? Do you feel like you are a prayer neophyte instead of a prayer giant? Gary Neal Hansen’s book Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s Best Teachers published by InterVarsity Press introduces readers to ten prayer practices as taught by several prayer giants.

Kneeling with Giants is divided into four sections each focusing on a particular type of prayer including written prayers, using the Bible in prayer, communing with God, and asking God for help. Within each section, several different prayer types are described. Hansen succinctly introduces the spiritual giant associated with each prayer type and then describes how to practice that prayer model. I found it interesting that several of the prayer models mentioned are ones I had been exposed to previously but I was not familiar with the prayer giant associated with the practice. Hansen frequently references various primary sources related to each prayer type and encourages readers to investigate for themselves. In fact, the e-copy of Kneeling with the Giants includes a companion volume titled Kneeling with the Giants Reader which contains primary sources related to each of the prayer giants discussed. Although I had the printed copy, the primary sources contained in the companion reader enticed me to purchase the e-copy as well. I truly wish the companion reader was available in a printed option as well and hope InterVarsity Press and the author will reconsider this decision.

Hansen emphasizes that each type of prayer or prayer style is not for everyone. Some people will resonate with one type of prayer rather than another. Some seasons of life may lend to a particular giant’s prayer practices. Hansen’s approach was quite encouraging as some prayer books tend to emphasize one prayer model to the exclusion of others or insinuate that truly spiritual people follow a particular prayer practice. However, Hansen does encourage readers to spend a few weeks practicing each type of prayer rather than dismissing it out of hand. As prayer must be practiced rather than simply read about, readers will wish to dip in and out of this book rather than read it straight through. Hansen provides an appendix describing possible ways to use this book in classes or small group studies. Due to the emphasis that prayer must be practiced, he suggests selecting a few of the prayer giants to study and practice at a time rather than tackling the entire book in 12 weeks. To assist with this, a second appendix provides suggestions for how to begin each prayer practice.

Kneeling with Giants is recommended for multiple venues. Hansen’s book would make a marvelous addition to a college or seminary course on prayer or the spiritual disciplines. However, even in such a class it would be difficult to adequately explore all ten practices in a sixteen week course. A small group may find this a wonderful resource to dip into from time to time. For example, a group could select one prayer practice to read and discuss as a group and then to practice individually for a determined amount of time such as a month. An individual would find Kneeling with Giants a useful resource for jump starting a prayer life that has become stale or to focus on a particular prayer practice for a period of time such as during Lent.

If you enjoy Kneeling with Giants, you may enjoy following Gary Neal Hansen's blog as well and watch for future books by this author. Disclaimer: I received a complementary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review and feedback. Quite honestly, my library had already purchased a copy and I had this on my "to-read stack" prior to receiving a review copy.

Mean Girls Aren't Just in High School

Sometimes, even though high school and the associated cliques are long ago memories, you feel like you are fighting the same battles about what is the right thing to do or wear based on others in your sphere of influence. In her insightful book Mean Girls Grown Up, Dr. Cheryl Dellasega describes how these same relational agression (RA) issue still confound adult women. Using the imagery of queen bees, middle bees, and afraid-to-bees, Dellasega share real life stories from women across the country who have dealt with these situations as adults. The scenarios depict a variety of situations ranging from the office, the playground or play group, and even religious institutions. For example, the bees depicted range from bullying bosses, the office mate who tells stories about everyone but always edited to present herself in the best light, and the mean moms who exclude moms who don't fit their social club. There is some discussion on how mean moms may use the children as pawns to hurt other mothers as well.

In addition to the wealth of stories which will have you nodding in agreement and identifying various bees in your own life, Dellasega utilizes a variety of quizzes to help you decide if you are a bee and what kind. But she does not stop there. Over half of the book focuses on helping readers build the necessary skills to deal with the queen bees and middle bees in their own lives in a relationally healthy manner. She also encourages women to take the higher road and not fit into any of the bee roles but focus on mentoring and encouraging other women. Many readers will find they resonate with many of the stories shared and that some hit awfully close to home.

Although published in 2005, Mean Girls Grown Up is highly recommended to all women. Readers will find the real-life examples included allow you to read the book quickly. This book would be an excellent choice for book clubs and for young women to read. This book is not from a religious publisher and the stories included have not been sanitized for a specific audience. However, I can not recall any objectionable content. Someone who is wishing for a Christian perspective on this issue may wish to consider Hayley DiMarco's published in 2005 by Revell/Fleming. I am unable to comment specifically on this book as I have not read it. Regardless, I wish Mean Girls Grown Up had been available to me about 20 years ago when first entering the work force.

Disclaimer: I am writing a review on this book because I happened across it and thought it sounded interesting. After reading it, I felt others might enjoy and benefit from this book as well.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Are you a mean mom?

I came across a reference to the book Mean Moms Rule by Denise Schipani in a book or another blog within the last month or two. As an oft heard phrase at our house is "You're the meanest mom/dad/parents ever," I decided I really ought to read this book. It did not disappoint and while I may not be the "meanest ever," it is reassuring to know that we seem to be doing OK.

The premise of Schipani's book is that parents today are too soft and not mean enough. Along the way she lambasts helicopter parents and parents who desire to be their child's friend rather than parent. Schipani outlines 10 Mean Mom Manifesto's. Several of these are geared more towards new parents or at least those whose children are still fairly young. As my children are both in elementary school, I'm a bit past her target audience but was still able to enjoy her book. As I read the book, I found myself nodding along that yes, these were statements I could agree with and my husband and I are doing alright. There were a few times where I found myself thinking we need to shore up that particular area and be meaner. Not all of these manifesto's will be popular with everyone, yet not everyone's cut out to be a mean mom either.

My children were not excited to see this particular book on the top of my stack from the library. They frequently exclaimed "Oh no, she's going to be meaner!" and threatened to dispose of the book. All in all they probably aren't going to see a huge change in our parenting style but it was fun to tease them. I would recommend this book to anyone who is beginning their parenting journey or still has little ones in the pre-K set. Young mothers (and fathers) may find this book useful to read and discuss together.

Saturday, February 2, 2013

Reaching Across Borders

I Shall Not Hate by Izzeldin Abuelaish is one of those rare books that grabs you from the very beginning, will not let you put it down, and stays with you after you are finished. This heart-rending memoir shares the story of a Palestinian doctor from Gaza. Sadly to many Americans, Gaza is little more than a strip of land that the Israelis and Palestinians fight over which is mentioned on the nightly news regularly. After reading I Shall Not Hate, the people of Gaza and their issues are real.

Abuelaish's story depicts his childhood growing up in incredible poverty and the necessity of working even as a young child to simply eat. As he matures, readers follow his growing interest in the field of medicine and his journey to college and then medical school. His ambitions and desire to succeed provide the opportunity for Abuelaish to partner with Israeli doctors in an Israeli hospital. This partnership is very rare due to his background as a Muslim Palestinian from Gaza. Throughout his story Abuelaish emphasizes that medicine does not see race or creed but only a human being who needs medical care.

As his medical practice and reputation grows, so does Abuelaish's family. His family eventually numbers 8 children. On several occasions in order to seek out further education or work opportunities, he endures lengthy separations from his family. Yet, his love and commitment to them shows clearly throughout the book. A family tragedy requires Abuelaish return to Gaza and his partnership with the Israeli hospital. However, politics soon keeps him from practicing the medicine he loves and he endures another family tragedy. Rather than wallowing in grief as most individuals would be prone to do, Abuelaish instead utilizes his Israeli contacts to share his heart-wrenching story with others. Even as the book draws to an end, Abuelaish is seeking to use his tragedy for good.

I Shall Not Hate is highly recommended for a variety of readers. Individuals who are interested in current world affairs and politics will find it very interesting. Students of modern religion will also find this work very readable. While Abuelaish does not dwell on his religious faith, his faith and ethnic heritage are crucial to his story. Book clubs and reading groups would have a great deal to discuss after reading this memoir. I Shall Not Hate will simultaneously cause you to marvel at the tenacity of this particular individual and wonder how there can be such cruelty in the world. This book also serves to remind readers that every story, particularly news stories, have multiple viewpoints and all views must be considered. Readers in high school up will appreciate this work. Motivated junior high students may also benefit from reading this with guidance.

Disclaimer: I reviewed this book because I found it to be an engaging and totally engrossing story that others will enjoy and benefit from reading. I did not receive an advance copy. I'm pretty sure this title was a free or very low cost Kindle download.

Monday, January 28, 2013

Claiming Mariah

Pam Hillman's most recent novel Claiming Mariah did not disappoint. From page one, the story pulls readers in to discover what is going to happen to Mariah, her grandmother,and their beloved ranch. In addition, Slade, one of the antagonists and the leading man in this novel, makes readers wonder what is causing him to be so demanding. As the story progresses, Slade's background is disclosed bit by bit which allows a deeper understanding of why he makes the choices he does.

Throughout the story, a definite tension exists between Slade and Mariah. Beyond the expected and growing romantic tension, the larger tension exists over their differing approaches to faith. Mariah and her grandmother are devout Christians and prayer warriors who draw strength from prayer in every situation. Slade does not share their religious viewpoints and is portrayed as hostile to Christianity for a large part of the book. As expected in a novel from a Christian publishing house, Slade and another character both choose to become Christ-followers by the end of the book.

While reading Claiming Mariah, information on Mariah's sister Amanda is witheld until much later in the story. In the beginning, Amanda is mentioned only as the sister who is away at school. A great deal of assumptions are made concerning Amanda's purpose and motives for being away and the time is never right for Mariah to explain the true situation. However, not being able to inform Slade of the truth also keeps this important piece of information a secret from the reader although a few hints are provided.

While the story primarily focuses on Mariah and Slade, another aspect is some shady business that has been going on with the ranch. This mysterious undercurrent involves a variety of individuals close to Mariah who are not quite as they seem. This mystery ends up in a dangerous situation which forces the hand of the main characters.

Being a western themed novel, there is some gun violence, but it is not glorified or grotesque. I would not have issues with my middle school daughter reading Claiming Mariah, although it certainly holds the interest of adult readers. As expected everything is wrapped up neatly by the end of the novel. I would enjoy reading more of Mariah's story as I feel her story has been completely told.

Keep in mind Claiming Mariah, available via Tyndale House, is only available as an e-book via Amazon, Christian Book Distributors, and Barnes and Noble. As such it will unfortunately not be available to borrow at your local library anytime soon as a print book or as a downloadable ebook via a platform available to libraries. I would encourage authors and publishers to keep in mind that not everyone has access to or is choosing to use e-readers at this point in time. I have several individuals to whom I would give this book as a gift, but since they do not use e-readers of any type I am unable to do so.

Disclaimer: Tyndale House provided me with a free copy of this ebook via NetGalleys. I was not required to give a positive review.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Sobering Book on the Church and Modern Culture

Last evening, I finished reading Dr. James Emery White's most recent book The Church in an Age of Crisis: 25 New Realities Facing Christianity published by BakerBooks. The 25 realities White addresses are organized under the topics of faith, mindset, marriage and family, media and technology, and mission. Having read several of Dr. White's books previously, I expected the book to be well-referenced with information plucked right out of the news and a variety of stories illustrating the points made and was not disappointed. I could find myself relating to many of the realities discussed. Frequent readers of White's Church and Culture blog will find many of the chapters have a familiarity.

As indicated the quality of The Church in an Age of Crisis and the information presented completely lived up to my expectations. However, I was not prepared for how overwhelmed I felt while reading about these 25 realities, and the heightened concern I felt for the world in which my children are growing up. Due to these feelings, I found I needed to read this book in short doses rather than reading it straight through. In fact, I would recommend the book be read in short doses so that individuals can thoroughly process the content that White presents. As I reached the end of the book, I would have liked a bit more content focused on what the church should do to counter these realities, particularly as the last sentence states "And there is so much we can do." However, I think that content was intentionally left out as the "what" may vary significantly from church to church and locale to locale.

I recommend The Church in an Age of Crisis for a variety of audiences. Undergraduate or beginning seminary students who are studying worldviews or reaching contemporary minds would find this book very engaging as a textbook or recommended reading. Every minister, church leader, elder needs to read this book. This book needs to not only be read but also should be the impetus for an action plan laying out what the church needs to do in the face of these realities. While it was somewhat depressing to have these stark realities laid out in succession, as believers we know that the Lord is in control of all things and these realities are not insurmountable. Read The Church in an Age of Crisis and then resolve to do something to help your church engage our culture concerning these realities.

Disclaimer I received a complimentary copy of The Church in an Age of Crisis in exchange for a fair and honest review.