Monday, March 02, 2015

Then Sings My Soul

This week, the
Christian Fiction Blog Alliance
is introducing
Then Sings My Soul
David C. Cook (March 1, 2015)
by
Amy Sorrells


MY THOUGHTS:
Then Sings My Soul is a difficult book to categorize -- it has a bit of everything! History, romance, mystery, tragedy, and the spirit of overcoming. From a historical perspective it covers at time and place not often seen -- Russia during the pogroms of the early 1900's.

The book flips back and forth between those days, when Jakob Stewart was just four years old in Russia, to the 1990's when he is broken by the death of his wife and begins suffering dementia. His daughter, Nel, comes home for her mother's funeral and finds that she needs to stay to care for her father. A lost letter to her mother unveils some mystery about her father's past that she is determined to discover, regardless of his efforts to keep it buried.

I really enjoyed the story line of this book. It was, however, a bit difficult for me to read. There are a lot of extraneous words, sentences, and even paragraphs that don't do much to provide background or move the story forward. I admit I almost gave up reading it in the middle because of this, but I was really intrigued by Jakob's story. I found that his flashbacks were more enjoyable than the other sections, and I scanned the paragraphs instead of devouring every word. I would like to have seen a bit more on the developing relationship between Nel and ...well the character she develops a relationship with (no spoiler here!).

That said, I'm VERY glad I read to the end. The storyline is well crafted and I highly recommend reading it all! This is a good book for the beach or times when you aren't able to read the book in one sitting. The author blurb on the back of the book (different than the one below) indicates that Amy Sorrells "writes about the healing of broken places in the world and the heart". That is very true in Then Sings My Soul.



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

An Indianapolis native and graduate of DePauw University, Amy lives with her husband, three boys and a gaggle of golden retrievers in central Indiana. After writing and editing for her college newspaper, she combined a nursing degree with journalism and creative writing, which led to publishing and editing a wide array of medical and nursing writing and multimedia projects over the past 21 years, a position as director of communications of her church’s children’s ministry, as well as a weekly column for a local newspaper which ran from 2009-2012. She has been a two-time semi-finalist for the ACFW Genesis awards, and was the winner of the 2011 Women of Faith writing contest.

When she’s not reading or writing, Amy loves spending time with her three sons; spicy lunches and art gallery walks with her husband; digging in her garden sans gloves; walking her dogs; up-cycling old furniture and junk; photography; and friends.


ABOUT THE BOOK

When Nel Stewart returns home due to the sudden death of her mother, she realizes her beloved father, Jakob, is struggling with dementia. With the reappearance of a high-school sweetheart, deliveries from Ukraine addressed to her, and the discovery of a mysterious, vintage aquamarine gemstone, Nel senses God is pulling her into the past to restore their faith and their futures. Told partially through Jakob's flashbacks of fleeing genocide-ridden eastern Europe at the turn of the twentieth century, the novel combines elements of mystery, history, faith and romance to reveal how God redeems the broken years ... and our future.

If you would like to read the first chapter of Then Sings My Soul, go HERE.

Thank you to David C Cook for providing a copy of this book for my honest review.


Monday, February 16, 2015

The Crimson Cord

The Crimson Cord
by
Jill Eileen Smith


MY THOUGHTS:
I am amazed at the way Jill Smith can take just a few verses from the Bible and create an amazing story that makes you feel like you are there. This is the story of Rahab -- a woman that we don't really know much about. Smith gives her a backstory, a tragic situation, and hope for a future with the leader of the tribe of Judah!

All we truly know of Rahab is that she was an innkeeper (which in those days often meant prostitute) who willingly hid some Israelite spies in exchange for safety for her family. Some how later in life she ends up marrying a prominent Israelite and gives birth to Boaz! God can take anyone and use them for the good of his plan.

This is a story of survival, forgiveness, and new beginnings. It is set in an amazing time of history, and the characters have real depth. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys historical fiction or who wants the Bible to come to life (in an admittedly fictional way).

ABOUT THE BOOK:
Wife to a gambler who took one too many risks, Rahab finds herself sold as a slave to cover her husband's debt. Forced into prostitution, she despairs of ever regaining her freedom and her self-respect. But when Israelite spies enter Jericho and come to lodge at her house, Rahab sees a glimmer of hope and the opportunity of a lifetime.

In one risky moment, she takes a leap of faith, puts her trust in a God she does not know, and vows to protect the spies from the authorities. When the armies of Israel arrive weeks later, Rahab hopes they will keep their promise, but she has no idea what kind of challenges await her outside Jericho's walls--or if she will ever know the meaning of love.

Under Jill Eileen Smith's talented hand, the familiar story of Rahab bursts forth in high definition. Immerse yourself in a world of dark and dusty streets, clandestine meetings, and daring escapes as a mysterious biblical figure claims her full humanity--and a permanent place in your heart.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jill Eileen Smith is the bestselling author of the Wives of King David series, the Wives of the Patriarchs series, and The Desert Princess, first in the Loves of King Solomon series. Her research into the lives of biblical women has taken her from the Bible to Israel, and she particularly enjoys learning how women lived in Old Testament times. Jill lives with her family in southeast Michigan. Learn more at www.jilleileensmith.com.

Monday, February 02, 2015

At Home in Last Chance

At Home in Last Chance
by
Cathleen Armstrong


MY THOUGHTS:
It was wonderful to meet with 'old friends' from previous Last Chance books! This book is the third in the Places To Call Home series, and I'm presuming it's the last, however the ending makes me think there may be more to come. You definitely need to read these books in series -- it would be confusing to pick up one without the background of the others.

I really enjoy the comfortable style of Cathleen Armstrong. The books are easy to read and the characters are fun and consistent from book to book. This book addresses some personality issues that very few do -- those people who have really messed up in their lives and seem to be expected to continue that path. Kaitlyn led a true prodigal's life, leaving her daughter behind in book 2 to be raised by her brother, Chris. She returns to Last Chance in an attempt to reconnect with her daughter (who is quite the character) and hopefully to finally settle down.

Stephen, the cousin of Chris's fiance Sarah (book 2) and brother of Ray (book 1), has always been a self-proclaimed ladies man and had abandoned his brother earlier in the series. Everyone expects him to continue to leave pain in his wake.

Kaitlyn and Stephen find kindred spirits in each other and they learn together how to change the perceptions and expectations of others.  But it is a slow and painful process, so true to real life.

I won't give a spoiler, but I have to say I was a bit disappointed in the ending. I'm hoping that there is yet another book to be written in this series, because it doesn't seem to really close. That said, I would recommend the entire series for it's writing style, emphasis on second chances, and small town charm.

ABOUT THE BOOK (from the back cover):
What happens when the life you're running from won't let go of your heart?
Kaitlyn Reed and Steven Braden have always had a similar philosophy of life: when the going gets tough, they get going--out of town and away from the problem. Now they are both back in Last Chance, New Mexico, and trying to start over.

Kaitlyn is working to reestablish a relationship with the seven-year-old daughter she left behind six months earlier. Steven is trying to prove to his family that he is not the irresponsible charmer they have always known him to be. As Kaitlyn and Steven find themselves drawn to one another, one big question keeps getting in the way: How will they learn to trust each other when they don't even trust themselves?

With emotional depth and characters who leap off the page and into your heart, Cathleen Armstrong invites you to return once more to the dusty and delightful town of Last Chance.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Cathleen Armstrong lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Ed, and their corgi. Though she has been in California for many years now, her roots remain deep in New Mexico where she grew up and where much of her family still lives. She is the author of Welcome to Last Chance, winner of the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for Women's Fiction, and One More Last Chance.
Cathleen Armstrong lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Ed, and their corgi. Though she has been in California for many years now, her roots remain deep in New Mexico where she grew up and where much of her family still lives. She is the author of Welcome to Last Chance, winner of the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for Women's Fiction, and One More Last Chance.
Cathleen Armstrong lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband, Ed, and their corgi. Though she has been in California for many years now, her roots remain deep in New Mexico where she grew up and where much of her family still lives. She is the author of Welcome to Last Chance, winner of the 2009 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for Women's Fiction, and One More Last Chance.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Indoor Water Park

I have been at an amazing retreat for a week. Seven Christian friends and I rented a seven bedroom home in Branson, MO, for the purpose of getting away from the world and writing all week. Of course, I had to bring my trusty sewing machine, since a lot of what I do is based on quilting! It has been an especially great time for those of us who are introverts. After an initial goal setting meeting the first night, we lock ourselves in our bedrooms all day working on our projects. We emerge for dinner, and spend about two hours connecting with each other, discussing projects, and holding each other accountable.

While my husband jokingly refers to this as my annual 'boondoggle' trip, I don't turn the tv on, minimize my facebook time, and I've only read about 5 pages of the novel I brought! I've researched and written a speech about women during the Revolutionary War, outlined a book proposal I'm toying around with, and designed/quilted samples for four classes I'm teaching in the near future.

Today is the last day of the retreat, and I have a list of small projects I've been putting off while the big priorities were completed. I woke up at 5:00 ready to hit the ground running. But the minute I put my feet on the floor my day got reprioritized. While still in the fog of sleep, I was wondering why in the world my feet were wet. Not just damp, squishy soak your socks wet!

Sometime after midnight a pipe broke under the sink in the basement outside my room. I didn't hear the water because I had both a ceiling fan and a portable fan providing white noise so I didn't hear those of us who stay up all night to write. The entire basement was pretty much covered with an inch of water!

Three of us set out to figure out what we could do. We ran around looking for a water shut off valve, tried in vain to reconnect the pipe with our bare hands, and trying to find something to catch the water so there wouldn't be any more on the floor.

We called the owner (with whom we'd been corresponding for a while and have developed a great relationship). They live in Iowa, and it was pretty early in the morning. They thought the shut off valve might be in the furnace room (we looked hard, but couldn't find it), or maybe outside. Two of us put our coats on over our pajamas (rolled up above our knees) and slipped into shoes -- mine were cute black flats with silver stud designs. We were quite fashionable and it's too bad the neighbors didn't see us racing around the house in the dark with our flashlights looking for a valve. It would have made quite the story!

After looking everywhere several times, we gave up and took turns sitting on the step by the sink so we could empty the large bowl we set underneath the pipe whenever it filled up. It was a pretty helpless feeling. The homeowner called the builder, who told us where to look for the shut off valve and we finally got it turned off.

We had hurriedly unplugged everything and grabbed all the stuff off the floor in our rooms and the basement (all my sewing stuff) and piled it on tables or even outside on the patio. We lifted up the pool table and put grocery sacks around the pretty wooden feet in an attempt to protect them. At that point all we could do was wait for the plumber, who was on the way.

He quickly diagnosed the problem and went to his truck for a replacement part. He was still working under the sink as I packed my room closeby when I heard him laugh outloud. Hmmm -- that's not necessarily a good sound! I went out to see what was so funny, and he showed me the part that broke. It still had the label attached that very clearly stated "Flood Free"! I don't think so!

Of course, since we were there to write, I took notes of the things about the morning that were blog-worthy, especially from a devotional perspective. Here are the take-aways I have from the adventure:

1. How often in life do we sleep while the water is rising (figuratively)? I was comfortable in my life and totally oblivious to the disaster impending just outside my door. Since I was doing so much research about the Revolutionary War all week, this was especially interesting to me.  Many colonists could not believe that the British would take the actions that they had, and the new Americans probably sat by and watched for a while before realizing action needed to be taken.

2. It is incredibly frustrating to know that something must exist, but not be able to find it. Every home has a water shut off valve, usually in the basement. We walked around all the walls, inside and out, desperately hoping to quell the flow of water. We found the electrical boxes, sprinkler system controls, sewer connections, but no way of shutting off the water. Just as an aside, the leak was before the water shut off valve under the sink, so shutting that off did not good. The builder insisted it was in the closet with the furnace, but there were no water pipes there at all. We finally found it in the closet with the water heater (which some of us didn't realize existed -- it was hidden around a corner), and even when we originally saw it, it looked more like a gas shut off valve.

There are several times in the Bible where people searched desperately for something. A lost coin, a treasure, or even health. The things we want, and even the things we need, are often not where we first look. But if we seek, we will find!

3. Helpless is a terrible feeling. We just sat on the steps watching the bowl fill with water, not knowing what to do. We weren't authorized to call a plumber, and at that point we weren't able to reach the homeowner. At least we had kept the damage from getting worse, but there was no shop vac to allow us to start cleaning up, and the amount of water was way beyond what we could sop up with towels. We needed intervention! Unfortunately this is a common feeling for we humans, especially when we are faced with medical situations. We rush to get a wide variety of tests, only to wait -- sometimes for weeks-- for a diagnosis. In the mean time there is nothing we can do. Any treatment at that point would probably be useless, or even dangerous, because it has to be focused in the right direction. Sometimes all we can do is pray and keep the damage from getting worse.

4. While we sat on the stairs, we racked our brains for what we might have done to bring on this disaster. Did we go under the sink and move things around, possibly loosening a connection? We hadn't stored anything there, nor had we pulled anything out.  So why did we still feel so guilty? Why didn't I hear the water earlier and prevent this much damage? So often we take on guilt or stress for something we didn't cause, and probably couldn't have prevented. It's good to do an assessment to ensure we aren't at fault, but once that's determined, we need to just let it go (oh, Disney fans, I feel a song coming on!).

5. Oh the irony of the broken part being called Flood Free! Kind of like the Titanic being unsinkable. Somehow life will always supersede any claims producers make.

6. And finally, no matter how crazy the situation, there is always a way to laugh if we look hard enough for it! I almost wish we'd thought to take a picture of our lovely selves -- hair still askew from sleep, pajamas rolled up above our knees, splashing around in the water like crazy people.

While it will take a while to get the home back to normal, all is well. The right people are on the job and the two of us who were residing in the basement have moved all our stuff out and we'll spend the night with some of our friends on the top floor. But we'll always remember this year's retreat as an adventure!

Monday, January 19, 2015

Hidden Agenda

Hidden Agenda
by
Lisa Harris


MY THOUGHTS:
Hold on to your seat! This book will take you on a crazy ride of suspense and intrigue! From a private island mansion to a backwoods cabin, the settings and activities are nonstop. There are a lot of secrets kept silent for years, and as the main characters try to find the truth they really aren't sure whom they can trust.

This is the third book in the  Southern Crimes series, but you don't really have to read them in order (however they are all great, so if you have the time and opportunity, I'd recommend it). Lisa Harris has a gift for keeping the story moving!

ABOUT THE BOOK:
His cover is blown. Now his enemies are on his heels and closing in.
Presumed dead by friends and family, Michael Hunt is alive--and on the run. Presumed dead by friends and family, the undercover assignment he's been working for the past eight months has just been blown. With a hit out on his life and corruption inside the Atlanta police department, Michael finds himself hunted by both the cartel and the law. His only hope is Olivia Hamilton--the daughter of the man who wants him dead.

This nonstop chase from Christy Award-winning Lisa Harris will leave you breathless.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Lisa Harris is the award-winning author of more than twenty books, including the Christy Award winner Dangerous Passage and Fatal Exchange. Winner of the Best Inspirational Suspense Novel for 2011 from Romantic Times, Harris has spent over ten years living with her family as missionaries in Mozambique, where she leads a women's group and runs a nonprofit organization that works alongside their church-planting ministry. Visit www.lisaharriswrites.com for more.


Monday, December 22, 2014

Once Beyond a Time

Once Beyond a Time
by
Ann Tatlock


MY THOUGHTS:
 Ann Tatlock's books always have a fascinating twist, and Once Beyond a Time is no exception. Ann has created a wide variety of characters with depth and compassion. I don't want to go into too much detail because half the fun on this book is discovering the basic premise.

I didn't want to put this book down. The story races along, and the end of each chapter is so compelling that I just HAD to read the next one to find out what happened. This book links historical and contemporary fiction genres in a masterful way!

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in either genre. It is a wonderful story of love, forgiveness, and self discovery.

ABOUT THE BOOK:
After settling into an old house nearly hidden on the side of a mountain, a broken family discovers that their new home is no ordinary place. The family can see and speak with people who have lived there in the past, and with those who will live there in the future. Are these people apparitions or real? Could the house itself be the stuff of mountain lore, a place where all of time is happening at once?

It's 1968, and Sheldon and Meg Crane have just moved their family from suburban Philadelphia to the town of Black Mountain, NC. Sheldon has resigned in disgrace from the ministry after an affair. He will now sell used cars for his brother-in-law's auto dealership. Sheldon is burdened by his wife's unwillingness to forgive and his daughter's anger over the move. The oldest son is in Vietnam. The only happy member of the family is his eight-year-old son, Digger. But then, Digger suddenly disappears. Has he been kidnapped or has he wandered off into the mountains? How does the "house beyond time" show one family the healing power of forgiveness and the loving sovereignty of God?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ann Tatlock writes historical and contemporary Christian fiction. You can find more of her books and a great interview here: http://anntatlock.com/

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

GIVEAWAY - An Amish Second Christmas

An Amish Second Christmas
by
Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, Ruth Reid, and Tricia Goyer

MY THOUGHTS:
With all the Amish novels I've read, I never remember reading about the tradition of Second Christmas. I've learned that this is a traditional day of friendship -- after the worshipful Christmas day, on December 26 the Amish get together with family and friends just for the purpose of having fun and rekindling friendships. What a wonderful concept!

This book is four novellas that related to Second Christmas in some way. The stories aren't connected, and therefore stand alone. Each has a very different plot, and all involve Christian growth and romance. I loved the various stories -- they were unlike any Amish novel I've read to date!

It would be hard for me to pick a favorite, but I especially enjoyed the twist on family history in When Christmas Comes Again, and I was most fond of the characters in The Christmas Aprons.

This is a great holiday read for anyone who loves Amish fiction and wants a great insight into Amish life around the holidays.

Oh, and I forgot to mention there are some fabulous recipes included in the back!

If you would like a chance to win a copy, just leave a comment (and your email address) and tell us about your favorite Christmas cookie or dessert!

You can get a copy of the book HERE.

ABOUT THE BOOK:
Celebrate Second Christmas, a treasured, lighthearted time of community, with four Amish romances. 
“When Christmas Comes Again” by Beth Wiseman
Katherine knows the first Christmas without Elias will be hard for her and the children. But when a mysterious Englischer appears with photographs of her late husband, Katherine  begins to wonder what other blessings Christmas could have in store.
“Her Christmas Pen Pal” by Ruth Reid
Joy was expecting a wedding proposal from Henry; what she got instead was news of another woman. But when her heartfelt letter to a cousin ends up in the hands of a young cabinetmaker, an unexpected correspondence between two strangers gets interesting fast.
“A Gift for Anne Marie” by Kathleen Fuller
Anne Marie and Nathaniel have been best friends since they were kids. Now things are evolving . . . in ways everyone else predicted long ago. But when her mother suddenly decides to remarry in another state, Anne Marie’s new chapter with Nathaniel looks doomed to end before it begins.
“The Christmas Aprons” by Tricia Goyer
Vanilla crumb pie has been Esther’s mem’s calling card for decades. But when Esther finally gets her hands on the secret recipe, she discovers that vanilla crumb pie is more than just dessert . . . it’s bachelor bait.

About the Authors

Award-winning, bestselling author Beth Wiseman is best known for her Amish novels, but she has also written several successful contemporary novels, set primarily in her beloved Texas, including Need You Now and The House that Love Built. Both have received glowing reviews. Beth's The Promise is inspired by a true story. Website: www.bethwiseman.com Twitter: @bethwiseman Facebook: Fans-of-Beth-Wiseman

Kathleen Fuller is the author of several bestselling novels, including A Man of His Word and Treasuring Emma, as well as a middle-grade Amish series, The Mysteries of Middlefield. Website: www.kathleenfuller.com Twitter: @TheKatJam Facebook: Author Kathleen Fuller

Ruth Reid is a CBA and ECPA best-selling author of the Heaven on Earth series. She's a full-time pharmacist who resides in Florida with her husband and three children. Facebook: Author-Ruth-Reid Twitter: @authorruthreid

USA Today best-selling author Tricia Goyer is the author of 35 books, including the three-book Seven Brides for Seven Bachelors series. She has written over 500 articles for national publications and blogs for high traffic sites like TheBetterMom.com and MomLifeToday.com. Tricia and her husband John live in Little Rock, Arkansas where John works for FamilyLife. They have six children. Twitter: @triciagoyer Facebook: authortriciagoyer