Saturday, June 29, 2013

Stealing The Preacher

by Karen Witemeyer 
Bethany House Publishers

All Joanna Robbins wants is a preacher that will revive the old church in her town and set it to rights. With her mother being  gone, it falls to her to carry on her mother's mission and be a Christian witness to her father, day in and day out. For years, her father stubborn refusal to believe has been a point of constant heartache. But she is determined to bring the Light into his life and show him by example what being saved really means.

So when her father, Silas Robbins, goes and kidnaps a preacher by the name of Crockett Archer for her birthday, she is aghast at what to do with his gift. She isn't about to force the man to stay, but more than anything, she truly believes she needs help with bringing her father towards saving grace. And Crockett Archer is just the man for the mission.

As events unfold at the Lazy R Ranch, Silas continues to resist the evidence of God in his life and in the lives of others. What will it take to bring this stubborn man to God? Will Archer be able to make the difference in Silas's life - and Joanna's as well? Or is it too late to find the Redeeming Grace that is freely given to those who humble themselves?

As with all Christian fiction, there has to be a certain balance between characters, story line and God to be part of the genre. But the deeper I got into this novel, the more I realized that the balance was teetering definitely towards God. At the pivotal turning point of this novel, I was expecting certain things to happen, and a nice little ending to a great story. But instead, I was convicted through the simplest of things from a dis-likable character. I thought this novel would be based on themes I already know by heart. But it was everything I wanted and more. A must-read for anyone who thinks they have it together, and for everyone that doesn't.

This book was provided for free by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The King's Legacy

by Jim Stovall
David C. Cook Publishers

In a land far, far away, in a time long, long ago, lived a king who was good and kind. During his long reign, he brings his kingdom to a time of peace and prosperity. Wanting to leave a legacy behind, he asks his wise men to help him decide what kind of memory he will leave behind. Will he build a statue of grand heights? A building of grandeur and unthinkable beauty? A coin with his image that will be used by the poor and rich alike?

Then one of his wise men advises that he discover the wisdom of the ages, to share with the people of the present and of the future. Some little piece of wisdom that will live on even after they are all gone. So the king invites citizens of every walk of life to share their wisdom, one by one. Will anyone have the one piece of wisdom to rival all others?

This was a charming story set in the distant past, with many examples of good wisdom that are allegorical in nature. The people bring forth the wisdom they have learned through experiences of their trade as well as life itself. We all fancy ourselves as knowledgeable on one thing or another, but Stovall shows us at story's end that some of life's greatest mysteries are truly very simple indeed.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Short-Straw Bride

by Karen Witemeyer
Bethany House Publishers

Meredith Hayes is at spunky as a 10 year old girl in her position can be. Being raised by her aunt and uncle doesn't exactly endear her to her peers at school and in the community. The only friend she has is her cousin, Cassandra. When an accident lands her at the mercy of the infamous Archer brothers, her life is forever changed by Travis, the eldest. Gruff and responsible for the well being of his brothers, he kindly helps Meredith in her time of need and gets her safely home.

Ten years later, Meredith has made Travis quite a hero. In her mind, no matter how intimidating the Archer brothers are, Travis will always hold a special place in her heart. So when she hears their lives and livelihood are in danger, she does the only thing that seems right. She goes to the Archer ranch -alone - to warn them. Once there, things just start to go wrong. The brothers want proof and Meredith has nothing to offer them except her word. Travis detains her, demanding a thorough explanation. Before they know it, she is staying the night. Reputation in tatters, they draw straws to see who will claim her as his bride. Will the brother that picks the short straw actually want her? Or is the straw picking method just giving her as a bride to the loser?

This novel with as funny as it was serious, and the characters will really grow on you. The brothers are each unique in their own way, and Meredith brings a female presence to love-starved boys that became men all on their own. Journey with the Archer boys, Meredith and her crazy escapades, and all the love and laughter in between.

Friday, June 21, 2013

Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me

by Ian Morgan Cron

Thomas Nelson Publishers

When Ian is finally told that his father worked for the CIA, it explains a lot. But not everything. Lost without the compass that is a father's love, Ian struggles to accept and understand a father that became everything he pretended to be while he worked for the CIA. Drowned out by the loud voice of his father's alcoholism and lack of interest in his son's life, Ian grows up to be a man of many questions and no easy answers. 

Years later when he faces his many personal demons, he comes to a realization that the truth of who he has become is found in his past. A father that drank and ignored him. A nanny that had nothing but the family's best interest in mind. The catholic church that introduced him to a God that held him up when standing was impossible. A mother who's long-suffering patience with all of them may have been the only thing that redeemed his childhood in the end. Will Ian's questions finally be answered? Or is he doomed to a life of broken fragments with no hope of redemption?

Having read this author before, I was already familiar with the voice of Cron's writing. But reading this memoir was an entirely different journey altogether. It showed the heart of a young boy that desperately wants to find his way in this life, a young man that wants to make all the right choices, and then the adult that has to look to the past to put it all together. Sometimes looking at the past makes things harder. But Cron pushes past the pain to come out a better man for it. A recommended read for anyone that needs encouragement to resolve the past for a better future. 

This book was provided for free from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Prize of My Heart

by Lisa Norato

Bethany House Publishers

It is 1815 in Duxboro, Massachusetts, and Captain Brogan Talvis  is one of the youngest privateer captains to sail the seas. Orphaned at a young age, family means everything to him. So when his wife Abigail coldly informs him that she gave up their son because she can no longer care for him, Brogan is furious and heartbroken all at once. How could she do this to him? 

After three long years, Brogan finally locates his son. Benjamin Talvis, now five years old and re-named Andrew Benjamin Huntley by his guardian, Nathaniel Huntley and his daughter, Lorena. Drew is the light of her eyes, and a delight to them both. When Captain Talvis is mysteriously very good with Drew, Lorena is disquieted and unsettled about the whole matter. Something doesn't feel right, and yet, how can she blame her young charge for admiring the same man that has captivated her own heart? Will she finally be able to confess her own secret concerning Drew? Or is Brogan going to have to find out the ugly truth for himself? 

I was somewhat determined not to fall for this story. I mean, how much High Seas adventure can you realistically portray in a novel of 300 pages? But Norato surprised me and won me over from the first chapter. Drew is a charming little boy, Brogan is intimidating yet big-hearted, and Lorena is cautious yet loves with all her heart. Nathaniel is seemingly impervious to everything until he stands to loose the ones he loves the most. A very enjoyable story with just the right amount of romance and adventure. 

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Seasons of Grace Trilogy

by Beverly Lewis

Bethany House Publishers

The Secret

Grace Byler lives in Lancaster County, and her life is that of a typical Amish young woman. Yes, she's a little older than most girls to be still at home, but she has her mind set on a specific young man, and she's waiting patiently for him to ask her the big question. In the meantime, there have been some strange going-ons in the household. Her mother, Lettie, has taken to weeping into the stillness of the night, and going off on walks under the light of the moon after the family is asleep. After a month of strange behavior and growing aloofness, Grace's mother disappears into the night. The entire family is left reeling from the sudden departure of their mother, and nothing can be done to get her back. 

A young Englisher named Heather Nelson comes to stay for the summer at the neighbor's home, desperately trying to put her cancer diagnosis behind her. Terrified because her adoptive mother died pf cancer, she escapes to Amish country to clear her mind and her heart. Truly convinced she can beat her cancer naturally instead of doing chemo, she meets and befriends Grace at the local health food store. What kind of plans does God have for these two brokenhearted young women? Will Lettie ever return to her family? And will Heather find the healing for her body and soul? 

The Missing

Lettie Byler is still absent from her family, but she is no closer to finding what she seeks on her journey. Grace is convinced that her father Judah's uncommunicative, silent manner is what drove her Mamma away. Breaking things off with her now-serious beau, Grace seeks to find the answers to her mother's disappearance. Grace's grandparents are mysteriously mum about what could have caused their daughter to leave, and while Judah's heart breaks every day for his missing wife, Grace pulls the family together during the busiest time of the year, lambing season. 

Heather Nelson strikes up a quick friendship with Grace, and finally tells her of her grave diagnosis. Grace is supportive of Heather seeking natural, alternative methods before seeking conventional medicine. While Heather has lost her adoptive mother to death, Grace has lost hers to an unknown reason that she has yet to discover. The girls seek solace from each other's company, all the while seeking answers to their big questions. Is Lettie ever truly planning to return? Or has she run away for good? 

The Telling

When word arrives in Bird-In-Hand that Lettie Byler was spotted in Kidron, Ohio, Grace Byler makes a bargain with her father Judah, to go seek her mother and bring her back. His only stipulation was that she had to go with somebody, preferably not a sibling, so he could have help during the tail end of his lambing season. Heather Nelson graciously offers to drive Grace to Ohio and see if they can't find Lettie and bring her back to her family. 

In the meantime, Lettie is desperately trying to find answers to her own personal quest, and coming up woefully short. Every time she thinks she is closer to the truth, another door slams in her face. Finally spent and missing her family, Lettie makes plans to return home. But how will the brethren react to her mysterious disappearance and subsequent re-appearance? Will her family be able to forgive her and understand why she had to leave them for a time?

My Thoughts

While I found this story to be enjoyable and thoroughly entertaining, my only gripe was that it was somewhat repetitive. Yes, we know Heather is sick, yes, we know Lettie up and disappeared, and yes, we know it's not typical for Amish mothers to do that. We've also read multiple times that Judah is not a man of many words, and I understand the concept.

But all trivial things aside, this series kept me up all hours, reading way into the night, wondering what would happen to everyone in the end. I was actually taken by surprise at one point, because I didn't see a plot twist  coming and got completely blindsided by a major element in the story. While it wasn't the best of the best, it was a solid read, and well worth it. 

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Chasing Francis

by Ian Morgan Cron

Zondervan Publishers

Chase Falson has lost everything he has ever believed in; his faith, the Bible, his church, and his God. Being the pastor to a mega church in the heart of New England that he started is just not doing it for him, and he has lost all the hope he had in his beliefs as an evangelical Christian. When he falls apart during a sermon, the elders immediately ask him to take an extended leave of absence, while they decide what to do. Disillusioned, Chase leaves the States behind to visit his uncle, a Franciscan friar in Italy. Expecting the trip to simply be some time away and a chance to clear his head of whatever is bothering him, Chase embarks on a journey that will forever change his life. 

His uncle introduces him to Francis of Assisi, a man dead for over eight hundred years. Francis's revolutionary way of following Jesus changed the history of the church forever, and pulled Christianity out of the Dark Ages. After spending weeks in Italy learning about Francis and the things he did to revolutionize the church, Chase begins to pose the question, "what if"? What if we all followed Jesus exactly the way He wants us to - not the way we have commercialized it today? Will Chase find the answers he is looking for? Is  there really more to the Christian life than going to church every Sunday? 

While I am not of the Catholic persuasion, this book made me realize anew something I have wondered for many years. As a Baptist, I have always been of the mindset that "I've got it right." Everyone else, in my mind, is just short of the mark, and simply doesn't have it together. But Cron's novel made me realize that no matter the denomination of church, if you believe in saving grace and follow Jesus then that's all you need. The details just don't matter. What matters is a heart for God, for others, and following His commands. A splendid novel that will make you realize what is truly important. 

This book was provided by Zondervan for free in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 10, 2013


based on the movie by Alex Kendrick and Stephen Kendrick
novelization by Eric Wilson

Thomas Nelson Publishers

Jay Austin has all his ducks in a row, and thinks he's got it all together. A beautiful wife, a young son, and another one on the way. His own business at a used car lot, employees that follow his example to a tee, and he even tithes on Sunday. Nothing can stop him from becoming the greatest husband and father a family can ever want or have. 

But then little details about his life start to seep out. His empty tithe envelope in church. His dishonest dealings with his business. His short fuse with the people he loves the most, Judy and Todd. And suddenly, his life isn't so put-together and worthy of envy. When Jay is forced to look at the man in the mirror, will he rescue the man he's become and become the man he knows he can be? Or is he in too deep? 

This story was very intriguing to me, with a title of Flywheel. I got the connection between him and cars, obviously, but the final triumph comes when you realize for yourself what it really means. This novel comes full circle, and will teach you that the true meaning of love and family is in the One who gave them to us in the first place. 

Sweet Mercy

by Ann Tatlock

Bethany House Publishers

Eve Marryat has life all figured out. She knows who she wants to be in life (not like her sister, Cassandra,) and she knows what she believes (Prohibition means exactly that. Prohibited.) It is 1931, and when her father gets laid off from his job he packs up the family and relocates them to Mercy, Ohio where his brothers are. Eve's uncle, Cy Marryat provides a place for the family at Marryat Island Ballroom and Lodge, and in return, they help him run the place. 

Happy to escape the haven for criminals St. Paul has become, Eve settles on life on Marryat Island like she's lived there forever. She becomes friends with the some of the local young people, and life that summer is just one happy day after another. But when she accidentally discovers something that was never meant for her to find, will living on the island may turn out to be exactly what she was trying to get away from in St. Paul? And what will happen with the new friendships she has made - especially with one young man called Link? 

There was a lot of surprises for me in this book. I try to open each novel with an open mind and the knowledge that it is just a story, woven from the mind of the author. But Tatlock wrote a tale that mirrors the hopes and dreams that will always be constant themes for humanity. The hope of a fresh start. The dream for a better life. Things we all want at some point in our life. This novel speaks of the things that are important; family, moral choices, and most of all - love. A wonderful place to escape for a few hours, and a story you will regret having to finish. 

This book was provided by Bethany House Publishers for free in exchange for an honest review. 

Thursday, June 6, 2013

When Mockingbirds Sing

by Billy Coffey

Thomas Nelson Publishers

Leah Norcross is the nine year old daughter of the town psychologist in the small town of Mattingly. Seemingly inhibited by a stutter, she lives in a world all her own. Drawing pictures that are breathtaking in detail, and talking to an invisible man she calls the "Rainbow Man", she is not exactly the most popular kid in town. While some of the townspeople seem amused by Tom and Ellen's daughter, others are leery of someone so unlike themselves. 

Barney and Mabel Moore are part of the accepting group. Explaining that the small town does not easily accept strangers from Away, Barney tries to smooth things over for everyone. When he wins the lottery from numbers that Leah painted, the lines are drawn. The minister refuses to believe a child can hear from God even more clearly than he can. Leah father, Tom, is equally as confused, but sticks with his daughter, even though he cannot understand what is happening to her. Can he save his daughter from the clutches of her own mind? Or is there really more to this Rainbow Man than he is willing to admit? 

This is definitely an ambitious novel. But more than that, it hit the mark. I was expecting a quaint little town with a quaint, backwoods feel to the story. I got so much more than a nice story with a feel-good ending. Coffey takes you on an adventure that leaves you pondering the tale even when you're not reading it. He sometimes raises more questions than he answers, and then in a breathtaking, effortless sweep brings you to understanding without even trying. It is very different than what I've ever read, but it was worth every word. If you don't read a lot, make the time for this novel. You won't regret the remarkable journey. 

This book was provided by Thomas Nelson Publishers for free in exchange for an honest review. 

Grace's Pictures

by Cindy Thompson

Tyndale House Publishers

Grace McCaffery has all her eggs in one basket - America. Torn away from her mother  at a young age, then forced to labor at a workhouse, Grace has had everything but an easy life in Ireland. Her mother married an Irish peeler, (also known as a policeman), and S.P. Feeny sponsors Grace to America. Excited to have an opportunity to begin an independent life and make enough money to bring her mother over from Ireland, Grace sees the future as an adventure waiting to happen. 

But of course, nothing ever works out the way she plans. Even after she gets a job as a nanny for a middle-class family, Grace buys a brownie camera to take snapshots and earn extra money. But it seems that no matter where she aims her lens, she is always capturing images that endanger her life and those of her charges. When her camera inadvertently takes a picture of a gang boss and she is being pursued for the portrait, will she be able to trust a policeman to keep her out of harms's way? Will she learn the courage and forgiveness in the faith her mother has tried to pass down to her? 

While I love Christian fiction, I was a little unsure of this novel at first. The setting was the all too familiar Ellis island, with an Irish immigrant as the main character of the story. But Thompson quickly won me over with the introduction to "The Hawk", and the many quirky saying of her deceased husband, Mr. Hawkins. Then, the children came along, and I was instantly in love. Between the struggling rich boy turned cop, Officer McNulty, the historically accurate gang called the "Dusters" and the day-to-day struggles and fears faced by a young woman alone in a new country, this book will appeal to not only history buffs but Christian fiction readers alike. A wonderful read, and one I hope turns into a series. 

This book was provided for free by Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.