Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Book Review: Smack-Dab in the Middle of God's Love

I love children’s books! And when I read the title of this one, I knew it would be fun. I wasn’t disappointed! If ever I have grandchildren, I’m buying them this one.

Smack Dab in the Middle of God’s Love tells about a couple named Willie-Juan and Ana who couldn’t have children of their own, “but their house was always filled with children from the neighborhood, and maybe that was the next best thing.”

One day the children gather around Willie Juan, with Ana nearby, and they ask him questions and he asks them questions and together they explore the concept of God’s love—and it’s expressed delightfully! This book will make you smile all over and praise the Lord for loving you so much!

Storytellers Brennan Manning and John Blase weave so many colorful details into this story. The explanation and repeated us of the phrase “smack dab in the middle” is fun. The hummingbirds are sweet, and when they giggle, it’s just too much! The children’s questions are well-thought out and answered perfectly. And Nicole Tadgell’s illustrations are just right for the story.

Thomas Nelson publishers offered me a complimentary copy of the eBook version of this book for my honest review. For children, though, I absolutely recommend the hardcover version they can hold in their hands and savor, turning pages themselves and snuggling next to you.

Book Review: One Call Away

One Call Away is Brenda Warner’s story—thus far. She’s only about my age, so I hope and expect she’s still got a long way to go. But she packed quite a bit into that first half of life. One Call Away tells how she went from being a young girl with a pony to cheerleader to Marine to wife to mother of a special needs child. It tells of her divorce and how she rebuilt her life, eventually becoming a nurse, marrying a pro football player and raising seven children, including a set of twins.

Warner tells her story with much detail. She doesn't seem to try to hide anything; she opens the windows to her life and lets everyone look in. It isn’t the kind of memoir where the author stops often to reflect on events in order to share life lessons learned. Warner just matter-of-factly tells everything that happened.

The theme of the book, introduced in the first chapter, is that all through life one gets sudden phone calls that bring distressing news, that have the power to forever change the course of one’s life. Warner tells us, though, that through it all, our God is always only one call away.

I thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Book Review: The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck

I just finished reading The Inconvenient Marriage of Charlotte Beck and am more than happy to recommend it to you! Charlotte is a surprising and unique character. Her personality keeps the reader turning pages to see just what she’ll come up with next. Alex Hambly, the viscount chosen by her father to be her groom, is the only person on the planet able to keep up with her rather than cower in fear. Of course, this is why her father chose him as Charlotte's perfect match—the question is: will the couple realize that Charlotte’s father is pretty smart or will they find a way to have their inconvenient marriage annulled?

Charlotte and Alex don’t actually marry until the book is well underway. How Charlotte’s father manages to arrange this marriage despite their objections is more than half the fun of the book.

The story is set in Colorado and London in the late 1800’s. Buffalo Bill Cody is a semi-significant character. The traditions of England’s and America’s social elite at the time are subtly explained and explored. Author Kathleen Y’Barbo chose an intriguing setting for this historical fiction novel.

And, though Christianity doesn’t appear in the book until more than halfway through, the message is there. Y’Barbo doesn’t hit readers over the head with it, but weaves it in naturally.

I had fun reading this lighthearted book! Thank you, Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers, for sending a complimentary copy my way in exchange for this honest review.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Book Review: In Between

In Between is the first of three books that tell the story of 16-year-old Katie Parker. As readers meet Katie, she is on her way to her first foster home. Her single-parent mother has been incarcerated for dealing drugs, leaving Katie a ward of the state. Katie is nervous about foster care, fearing rumors she’s heard may be true. She’s certain this will be a temporary situation, so she determines to do all she can to hurry her transition back to the Sunny Haven Home for Girls along. When Katie learns that her foster father not only works at a church, but is the senior pastor, she decides extreme measures are in order.

I loved this story and plan to read the next two. (Book One is self-contained. Readers don’t have to go on to read the next two books—I just want to.) Katie’s character is sassy and sarcastic, but not in a hurtful way. She cares about people, but she fears them, so she’s protecting herself. Gradually Katie comes to see that her perceptions of others and of God need to change, just as she longs for what she assumes are others’ perceptions of her to change, too.

Katie’s foster grandmother, Mad Maxine, is a great supporting character—along with Frances and her family, Sam, Rocky, and more. I recommend this book for teenage girls and not-so-teenage girls alike. Thank you, NavPress, for sending a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Book Review: Stumbling Into Grace

In Stumbling Into Grace, Lisa Harper graciously shares lessons she’s learned about Real Life, Real Gifts, and Real Growth (five lessons of each in that order). She begins each chapter with a statement to tell us just what she’s been thinking about. Then she tells a personal story—sometimes humorous, sometimes serious or sad, and often thought-provoking. From there she moves to a passage from Scripture (usually, but not always, from the NIV) that helps us understand what Jesus had to say about the subject on Lisa’s mind. Next she fleshes it out for us in a section called, “The Heart of His Story.” She wraps things up with a prayer, questions for personal reflection or group discussion, and a journal entry prompt.

I loved reading this book! (And not just because the cover is adorable!) Lisa’s insights are profound—and they are backed first by Scripture, then by authors and scholars such as Henri Nouwen, Richard Foster, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis. Anita Renfroe’s in there, too! In fact, because I kept flipping to the back of the book to see where Harper found all this amazing information, my must-read list grew quite a bit.

I recommend this book as an immediate read to any woman who is looking to be convinced that God loves her absolutely and is waiting eagerly for her to fall right into His arms. I also recommend it for women who are seeking ways to grow in that love. I was most comfortable with it as a personal study book, but it could work for a small group of women who know each other well. Thomas Nelson Publishers sent me a complimentary copy of this book for my review. I’m putting it on one of my keeper shelves!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Book Review: Shadows on the Sand

Shadows on the Sand is a mystery set in Seaside, New Jersey, a small island just off the coast. The dishwasher from Carrie’s CafĂ© has been murdered. No one seems to know why. When a waitress disappears, everyone becomes concerned to find her before she meets the same fate.

This novel has a unique style. The author changes voices from chapter to chapter. In the first, Carrie is telling the story. Next the narrator talks. Then we hear from the mystery villain. And so on throughout the book. It took some getting used to, but it reminded me of a game of popcorn where one person tells part of the story, then another and another until the whole tale is told. But, as I couldn’t see their faces, I had to figure out who was talking at the start of each chapter. Author Gayle Roper quickly made this clear.

Though the story is a mystery, its focus is more on the developing characters than on the suspense. Each has a tragic past to overcome. They must learn to forgive, to trust, to live. Roper skillfully weaves subtle messages about relying on God and obeying His voice throughout the story. She also slips in some beautiful thoughts on what a great marriage looks like.

I enjoyed this story and hope there will be more set in this fun, little tourist town. Thank you, Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers, for sending a complimentary copy of Shadows on the Sand for my honest review.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Book Review: Earthen Vessels

Earthen Vessels by Matthew Lee Anderson was a disappointing and frustrating book for me. I chose it for review because it sounded similar to a previously reviewed book that I truly enjoyed. Anatomy of the Soul taught how our brains and souls interact and was a fascinating read. Earthen Vessels was supposed to tell why our physical bodies matter to our faith.

If I hadn’t made a commitment to read the book for review, I would have closed it right after the preface. Anderson’s tone is arrogant and he makes no attempt to write for the average reader, even joking at one point about how the use of one word he chooses doesn’t even belong in a book you pay less than twenty dollars for. According to the back cover, Earthen Vessels sells for $14.99.

Because I’d promised to read the book, I continued to read—and absolutely loved the first chapter. I underlined all kinds of things and hoped the rest of the book would continue in that way. But it didn’t—not consistently. Anderson devoted the whole first page of the second chapter to telling readers what he believes is wrong with Precious Moments figurines. (I think he was taking them too seriously.)

He also turned his focus away from faith to evangelicalism. I don’t know why. I wasn’t looking for a book that told me how evangelicals consider physical bodies from a different perspective than other Christians might or for a comparison and contrast of evangelicals and Gnostics. This book was to tell why bodies matter to faith.

Though the book made some interesting points and had some value, I don’t think I would have missed much if I’d closed the book after reading the preface. It isn’t one I would choose to recommend.

Bethany House Publishers sent a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review.

Book Review: Indelible

Last year I reviewed Kristen Heitzmann’s book, Indivisible. Indelible is the sequel to this book—and it’s one I’m happy to recommend. Readers don’t have to read Indivisible first, but characters from that book play a prominent, supporting role in this brand new suspense mystery. Heitzmann tells new readers all they need to know, effectively reminding return readers of what’s gone on before.

Like Indivisible, Indelible is full of broken people. Natalie Reeve has an unusual glitch in her brain and is learning to see it as a gift rather than a curse. Trevor MacDaniel suffers under the regrets of his past and carries a burden for the safety of everyone who crosses his path. Fleur is a blind woman who paints what she longs to see.

When a disturbed young man takes notice of Trevor after the dramatic rescue of Natalie’s nephew, the man begins putting innocent children in danger, sending evidence Trevor’s way. Trevor and Natalie must use their gifts to solve the mystery before others are seriously hurt. The ending to this showdown was totally unexpected, but absolutely perfect! Heitzmann leaves her readers full of hope.

My thoughtful parents sent this book as a gift. I’m reviewing it because I want to—it was another amazing read. Fans of intrigue and suspense will love reading Indelible!