Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Book Review: Mended

Mended: Pieces of a Life Made Whole is the third book by author, speaker, and blogger Angie Smith. It contains 31 devotionals developed from posts on her blog, a blog she started in order to journal her way through the pain of losing a child. Over time, Angie learned how to let God mend her heart. In this book, she gently leads her readers to do the same.

Each devotional starts with a verse or two of Scripture, moves into the text, and concludes with one or two life application ideas. Angie’s devotionals are observations from life that help bring more of God’s truth to light. My favorite was one she called “Sketched.” In this particular devotional Angie shares how she sketches the future in her mind, but is sometimes confused or disappointed when reality doesn’t color it in the way she anticipates or hopes. She is learning to let God complete her sketches His way in His time. She is learning to trust in His outcomes rather than her own.

If your heart is in need of healing and you are looking for a short devotional to nurture your thoughts, I recommend Mended to you. I received a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Book Review: A Season for Tending

A Season for Tending is the first book in a brand new series by Cindy Woodsmall. I loved the story; this may be her best yet! The characters, themselves, though, were my favorite feature:

Rhoda Byler is a young woman with a gift for growing things. She also has a gift for understanding people deeply. And sometimes, when people are in danger, she senses it. Unfortunately for Rhoda, instead of people being grateful for her warnings, they feel threatened by them. In their minds, premonitions plus growing things equals witchcraft.

Samuel King is the oldest of three sons working together to manage the struggling family apple orchard. Samuel not only carries the self-imposed burden for this orchard, but also for the behavior and needs of his younger siblings, girlfriend, and her younger brother.

Jacob King, slightly younger than Samuel, has just returned from a few years of living and working in the Englisch world. Though he seems to be doing well back among the Amish, he carries painful secrets from his time away.

Leah King, the oldest sister of the King family, yet younger than her brothers, struggles with the freedom of her rumschpringe. Determining to make wiser choices than some she has made, she still longs to leave the Amish, but does not know how.

Together, these four and their families must find a way to save two businesses: Rhoda’s Rhode Side Stands and the King Family Orchard. I enjoyed reading of their efforts and am looking forward to the next book in the Amish Vines and Orchards series.

Thank you, Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers, for sending a complimentary copy of this book for this honest review.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Book Review: Borders of the Heart

“Part thrill ride, part love story, Borders of the Heart is a tender yet gripping odyssey of hope.” This synopsis from the back of the book says it perfectly, though the thrill ride part is bigger by far than the love story part. It’s a story of letting go, of trusting God in the midst of sorrow, of doing the right thing, and of letting God and the people He puts in your world work together to heal your heart. Borders of the Heart is a brilliant read.

The main character, J.D. Jessup, is a loner, working on an organic farm in Arizona, more for the education that comes from experience than for a salary. When he finds a woman near death in the desert, he can’t bring himself to turn her in as an illegal. Rather, he determines to help her, even against her wishes, and finds himself running for his life, hunted by a ruthless killer.

As readers follow J.D. and Maria’s story, the mysteries of both Maria’s objective and J.D.’s past will gradually be revealed. I recommend this book to fans of the action/adventure genre and thank Tyndale House Publishers for sending a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.

Author Q & A

Q: Your newest novel, Borders of the Heart, addresses heavy topics such as illegal immigration, the U.S./Mexico drug trade and the cost of compassion. Where did you get your inspiration for the book?

A: Our family moved to Arizona in 2008 and since then I’ve known I wanted to write about this area of the country, a rich, desert existence with problems and possibilities. This book is not as much an “issue” book as it is a book about people who have to deal with lots of those issues as part of their daily lives. I don’t have an ax to grind on the topics, but I did want to show how real people are affected by these contemporary topics.

Q: Several of the characters in Borders of the Heart are dealing with things from their past. What lessons do your characters learn along the way?

A: The past is huge for each of us. I’m convinced many are “stuck” by something in the past that holds us back from being all God wants us to be. A reader will walk through that process with the main character, J.D., and I’m hoping they’ll see an authentic struggle.

Q: J.D. Jessup is faced with a very difficult moral dilemma when he weighs the decision to follow his boss’ very clear direction or his own heart when he discovers Maria near death. What lessons does this story provide for your readers?

A: Every choice we make in life comes with a cost. If we say yes to one thing, we may have to say no to something else. The choice J.D. makes is a good choice, and even good choices can lead to disastrous and deadly results. Can you believe that God is involved in even the difficult circumstances? I think that’s a huge reveal in this story for me. Does everything have to work out perfectly in the end in order for God to be glorified?

Q: How does the concept of redemption figure into your story? Was it gratifying to write about redemption? Why or why not?

A: A lot of people don’t like the word “saved.” It’s old fashioned and not in vogue. I think the term is loaded with truth because if you’re on the verge of death and someone “saves” you, you know exactly what that means and how grateful you would be. Characters in this story get rescued from certain death and when the stakes are that high, I can’t help but get emotionally involved in the story.

Q: How does the concept of grace figure into your story? Was it gratifying to write about grace? Why or why not?

A: Grace is when we’re treated better than we deserve. Yes, characters discover that in the book as well. I love the concept of grace in such a gritty, tough story because you’re not expecting it. You’re expecting A+B=C and when grace invades, it catches you by surprise.

Q: Borders of the Heart clearly demonstrates that sometimes there is a cost to compassion. What made this an important story element for you? Why was it important for you to show that sometimes there is a cost for us when we behave compassionately?

A: You’ve heard the saying, “Freedom isn’t free.” The one who acts with compassion usually absorbs the pain of someone else. This is a picture of the cross, of the sacrifice made for us in Christ. This is another thread you’ll discover throughout the story.

Q: Have you ever been faced with a real-life hard choice or ethical dilemma like your main character J.D.? If so, what was your dilemma and did you feel like you made the right choice?

A: I’ve never had to decide whether to leave a person for dead or not, but I think every day we have a chance to sacrifice. Sometimes it’s a small thing, like taking time for your children when you have something REALLY important, like writing a few more paragraphs. I haven’t always passed those tests. My contention is, the details of everyday life will show what we’ll do with the big decisions. If you choose well in the small moments, the moments when no one is looking, you’ll choose well when a huge decision comes your way. Conversely, if you don’t see the little things as important, you might not make a good decision with the big decision.

Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from reading Borders of the Heart?

A: Borders of the Heart is at its core a love story. You will root for J.D. and Maria to survive and solve the mystery of what’s really going on in Tucson. And I hope readers will take away the truth that what looks impossible to people is possible with God’s power. Even if something looks hopeless, it’s really not when God is involved.

To view the trailer for this book at the author's website, click here.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Book Review: When to Speak Up and When to Shut Up

As you might have guessed from the title, When to Speak Up & When to Shut Up by Dr. Michael D. Sedler, is a book about improving one’s communication skills—especially in conflict situations. There are times to speak up, even when one would rather bite one’s tongue, and there are times to be silent, even if one is dying to shout. Sedler helps his readers to discern these times. Along with each type of situation discussed, Sedler uses personal experience, the experiences of people he’s worked with or known,the experiences of historical figures, and examples from the Bible to help readers more clearly understand. Each chapter contains lists of things to consider or steps to take to handle situations more wisely. The books closes with Sedler’s personal testimony.

The book is short and easy to understand. It covers a good variety of communication circumstances: family and work and society situations, checking motives, asking questions, and handling anger well. It covers the advantages and disadvantages of speaking up and remaining silent and, in the end, shows how to use either effectively when one must take a stand.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Chosen Books. I thank the publisher for sending it in exchange for this honest review.

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Book Review: Starring Me

It’s not often that I like a sequel better than a first book, but, in the case of Starring Me, this is the case. I enjoyed reading First Date, a contemporary story with elements from the stories of Esther and Daniel, but Starring Me was even more fun to read.

Also a contemporary story with recognizable similarities to a biblical one, Starring Me moves Kara McKormick from supporting role to lead. In this story, she’s auditioning for a role as a co-star on a brand new TV show for teens. She knows the show’s male counterpart has already been chosen, but his identity is being kept secret. Also unknown to her is the fact that his parents set up the auditions in a way that would allow them to choose his co-star. Knowing he’ll be working with her closely and over a long period of time, they want their son to find a co-star who shares his faith in God.

In addition to the fun story, this book offers some great insights into setting priorities, showing kindness, putting others above self, why Jesus matters, how God works in our lives, caring for those in need, maintaining strong family relationships, being a friend, and getting a good education.

I’m happy to recommend this sweet story, especially to junior high or early high school age girls. Thank you, Thomas Nelson Publishers, for sending a complimentary eCopy for this honest review.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review: Darkness Rising

Darkness Rising, Lis Wiehl’s sequel to Waking Hours, is a fascinating read. A supernatural thriller set in East Salem, it picks up where Waking Hours left off. Though the main characters, Dani and Tommy, solved the mystery of the first book, they quickly discover there is a mystery behind the mystery yet unsolved. Further, the fate of the world may depend on them, with the help of friends and relatives unwittingly drawn into the quest, stopping events being put into motion by the forces of darkness rising. As Darkness Rising is Book Two of a trilogy, this book also concludes at a satisfying moment, while leaving the reader eager to get hold of the final book, Final Tide, due out in September of 2013.

Oh, dear! That’s a long way away!

In case you can’t tell, I am really enjoying this series. The characters, both new and old, are fascinating and unexpected. I liked how Wiehl and her co-author, Pete Nelson, chose to have them come together and how they related in positive ways under extreme circumstances. Discussions between Dani and Quinn about how people’s brains work and how chemicals can affect them and how these relate to autism, teenage hormones, and brain tumors were intriguing and clearly explained. I also appreciated the subtle historical thread--with an obvious fictional bent. Wiehl and Nelson researched quite a variety of non-fiction topics to enhance this great fictional book.

I thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending a complimentary copy for this honest review. I recommend this book to fans of supernatural mysteries.