Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Book Review: Afloat

I think I look forward to each of Erin Healy’s new releases more than any other author's. Her books are unique curiosities—totally unpredictable, full of supernatural elements, unclassifiable. They also contain clear, but not blatantly presented Christian Truth. Healy leads her readers along to who knows where, but once they arrive, they say, “Oh—I get it! Wow!”

This was perfectly true of Healy’s recent release, Afloat. Though the story started slowly and had me a little worried, it picked up pace quickly. As the characters’ dilemma worsened, Healy revealed their backstories, relevant to the plot, at a steady rate. Though I became totally engrossed in the story, I also found myself underlining well-worded statements that I found to be true.

Afloat is the story of a group of people stranded on a peninsula turned island after a bizarre series of unusual events. As they struggle to survive, they disagree about how to do so. What’s worse, they have reason to distrust each other—where loyalties lie is unclear. The result is an intense story about truth, love, self-sacrifice, and making choices that put eternity over right now. I’m happy to recommend this book!

Thomas Nelson Publishers sent me a complimentary copy of Afloat in exchange for this honest review. Fans of supernatural thrillers, suspense, and conspiracy novels will enjoy reading this book.

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Book Review: Take a Chance on Me

Take a Chance on Me is a spin-off of the Deep Haven Novels by Susan May Warren. It’s set in Deep Haven where we encounter familiar characters from the original series, but this new series focuses on members of the Christiansen Family. How fun is that?!

In this first story, we meet Darek Christiansen and his son, Tiger. Darek is the oldest of the Christiansen siblings, a former firefighter, now a widower, helping his parents run their Evergreen Lake Resort.

We also meet Ivy Madison, the new assistant county attorney, a former foster child, hoping to claim Deep Haven as a permanent, small town home. That hope quickly dims when she learns that Jenson Atwood also lives in Deep Haven. Responsible for Darek’s wife’s death, Jenson is the town pariah—and Ivy was the one who anonymously crafted the plea bargain which kept him out of jail.

Claire Gibson is one more significant character in this story. She grew up as a missionary kid, but moved to Deep Haven to live with her grandparents following a traumatic event. Ten years later, her parents are pressuring her to get on with her life, to train to do something big for God. But Claire wants to stay right where she is.

I enjoyed reading this story, watching characters develop, overcome their issues, and learn to trust God. Warren is gifted at fleshing out deep themes—asking for and receiving forgiveness, learning to forgive, looking deeply inside oneself to discover motivations, showing kindness and mercy, trusting God and believing that His character really is what the Bible says even when events tempt one to believe differently.

I am happy to recommend this novel by Susan May Warren and thank Tyndale House Publishers for sending a complimentary copy for this honest review.

Author Q & A: Susan May Warren on Take a Chance on Me

1. This is the first installment in a brand new six-book series. Can you give us a bit of background on this series?

I love stories about families – watching the members interact and grow together through challenges and victories – and I conceived this series as I watched my own children begin to grow up and deal with romance and career and futures. I love Deep Haven, and it’s the perfect setting for a resort, so I crafted a family, much like the families I know, who run a resort. They want to pass on their legacy to their children…but their children don’t know if they want it. It’s sort of a parallel theme to the legacy of faith we instill in our children. As they grow older, they need to decide whether it is their faith too. It’s a saga about family and faith and what happens when those collide with real life.

2. This Christiansen Family series is set in Deep Haven, Minnesota. Tell us about this setting.

Deep Haven, Minnesota is based in a small vacation town in northern Minnesota where I spent my childhood. It’s located on Lake Superior, surrounded by pine and birch and the sense of small town and home. Populated by everyone from artists to lumberjacks, it’s Mitford, or perhaps Northern Exposure gone Minnesotan. Quaint, quirky and beautiful, it’s the perfect place to escape for a vacation.

3. What was your inspiration for this particular book and the main character Darek Christiansen?

As I started to put together this series, I began to think about our culture and our children today. I started to take a look at the big questions we are faced with as parents – and as young people; the issues that affect us as a culture, as well as personally. I wanted these books to go beyond family drama, beyond a great romance to raise bigger questions and stir truths that we might pass along to others. This story is about our propensity in our culture to blame others for what goes wrong in our lives – and how this alienates us from each other, and ultimately, God. Darek is the oldest brother in the family; the leader and a real hero. He’s a wildland firefighter and a widower who’s had to give up his job to come home and run the resort and care for his young son. Darek doesn’t realize he has a problem – he lives with anger on his shoulder, hating the man who killed his wife (his best friend). His real problem is that he can’t forgive himself. In this first story, readers meet the family, hang out at the resort and discover that God can redeem even a heart of stone, if we take a chance on Him.

4. What lessons or truths will your readers find in the pages of this novel?

This book is for the person who feels they just can’t get past the anger they have for someone else to live in joy again. It’s for parents who see their children making bad choices and don’t know where to turn. It’s for people who believe that no one will ever really love them because of who they are, or the things they’ve done. It’s for people who need the courage to take a second chance on love and faith and family. I’m hoping readers walk away with a sense of how much God loves them, and that yes, He can heal the angry and broken-hearted.

5. How do you expect this new series to resonate with your audience? How do you want your books to make them feel?

Great question! I love a story that brings me on an emotional journey from anger to laughter to hope. But most of all, I want readers to be wrapped up in joy, that feeling we get when watch our football team win, or when we’re hands up in a convertible on a hot summer day, or digging our feet into a sandy beach, or hugging our loved one when they return home. Ah. The sense that, just for a moment, all is right in the world and everything tastes and feels delicious. I write romances, and in the end it’s worth the journey to the happily ever after.

To read an excerpt from Chapter 1, click here.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Book Review: What's Your Mark?

What’s Your Mark? compiled by professional photographer Jeremy Cowart is an inspirational gift book, a work of art to encourage those who view its pages. Inside, the 16 chapters of the Gospel of Mark taken from the New International Version are interspersed with the stories of 16 people who are making a difference in our world, people who are making a mark. A question for the reader follows each of these stories, helping the reader to brainstorm similar ways to make a mark. The message is clear: followers of Jesus follow His example, loving other people in His name however they can. What’s Your Mark? presents a great variety of ways.

Some of the people in the book were familiar to me, but how they are making a mark right now was fairly new information. I found that interesting. Others, I’d heard of, but didn’t know their story. Some were introduced to me through this book. Quotes from Donald Collins were especially inspirational to me, personally. Katie Davis’s story prompted me to go right out and find her book at the library.

Reading the book on an eReader, I’m not sure I was able to get the most out of the photography. Each biographical entry includes a picture of its subject holding a picture representing what he or she does. On my eReader, the pictures were too small to clearly see. To get the most out of this book, I’d recommend getting the real book one can hold. Still, I greatly enjoyed reading the Gospel of Mark presented in this unique way with stories of people who are following Jesus’ lead. I thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending a complimentary copy for this honest review.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Book Review: The Icecutter's Daughter

If it’s true that the reason people read novels is to worry, then The Icecutter’s Daughter fulfills its mission well. This story made me anxious! Actually, it was Svea, Rurik’s ex-fiance’, who made me anxious. Beware of petite and pretty, prissy things who desperately want their own way!

The story isn’t about Svea, though. Merrill Krause is The Icecutter’s Daughter for whom the book is named. Merrill is the youngest child of seven, and the only daughter. When her mother dies, Merrill dedicates her life to caring for all the men in her household. She cooks, she cleans, she helps with the ice harvest, she cares for the horses and delivers their babies. And in her spare time (?), she paints. (I’m still trying to figure out how she had enough spare time to bake and deliver treats to neighbors in town. Merrill puts the legendary Proverbs 31 Woman to shame!)

But Merrill is approaching age 21, and her father and adopted grandmother have begun to despair that she will ever marry and start a family of her own—especially with a bunch of older brothers effectively chasing all would be suitors away.

I enjoyed reading Merrill’s story and loved how everything worked out in the end—even for Svea. Readers who like Christian fiction in historical settings will enjoy this book, too. I received a complimentary copy of The Icecutter's Daughter from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for this honest review.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Book Review: Prayer Warrior Mom

Marla Alupoaicei obviously cares very deeply about the women she is writing to in her new book, Prayer Warrior Mom: Covering your kids with God's blessings and protection. It is evident that she has read through many books on the topics she wants to share with her readers in order to offer as many helpful ideas as she can. In her new book, she opens up her brain and lets all that she’s taken in spill out. (Readers who don’t recognize ideas from these books within the text itself will find the books listed as resources in the back of Marla’s book.) Marla wants women to learn how to pray.

Prayer Warrior Mom wasn’t exactly what I expected, though. First of all, because of the subtitle, I expected a book full of ideas on how moms can pray for their children. Instead, the book tells women, in great detail, what they “should” or “must” do in order to become Marla’s definition of a woman qualified to pray effectively. Instead of focusing on the children, Marla's book focuses on fixing their moms.

Second, I expected this book to be a small group Bible study. A few times in the book, including in the introduction, Marla recommends it as such. Though the book does, in fact, have Scripture scattered throughout, this is not presented as a Bible study. In a true Bible study, one reads the Bible to learn what God has to say. In this book, Marla uses, and sometimes misuses, Scripture to make her own points.

Overall, I was disappointed in this book. Marla’s writing style is hard to follow. She jumps very quickly and randomly from one idea to another. Trying to keep track of them all was exhausting. Trying to accomplish all she suggests would be exhausting, too. Women need encouragement to go to God just as they are, right now, to build a loving Father-child relationship with Him that will naturally include fervent prayer for their children. The more time we spend in His Presence, the more He will make us into the mothers He’s meant for us to be. It’s His work, not ours, that turns us into prayer warriors.

Thomas Nelson Publishers sent a complimentary eCopy of this book for my honest review.