Friday, September 22, 2017

Mercy Never Sleeps by Jamie Blaine

Maybe God still moves and speaks in mysterious ways—some even stranger than we might ever expect.

Jamie Blaine’s life isn’t exactly going as planned. When a twist of fate places the late-night psychiatric crisis guy on 24/7 call, his insomnia ramps up to desperate stages as he veers closer to becoming the very kind of person he’s trying to save.

After a well-meaning colleague offers a workbook promising “the divine secret of life,” Blaine throws himself into the stereotypical journey of self-discovery with hilarious and heartbreaking conclusions that are anything but clich├ęd.

Jamie travels time to untangle his own story of God through the wilderness, battling alligators, acrophobia, anaphylactic shock, Christian tricksters, Christmas, insomnia zombies, hymn-singing bridge jumpers, preteen bullies, paranoid ER patients armed with knives, hatchet-wielding housewives, septuagenarian pugilists, locust swarms, and ghosts of the present, future, and past.

If you’ve ever felt lost and stumbling, like you’ll never find your way to purpose, plans, or the promised land, Mercy Never Sleeps is a traveling companion, a field guide to making peace with your own rambling path home.
(excerpt from back of book)

Jaimie's books are filled with things you don't typically find in Christian literature: mental health crisis, spiritual doubts, sad stories with unknown endings and yet the presence of these topics adds a layer of truth and honesty that allows Jaimie to connect with his readers in a way that is so much more satisfying. While Mercy Never Sleeps  lends itself to a darker and jumpier tone that its predecessor Midnight Jesus there are still wonderful nuggets of truth when you look past the tension of the utter chaos and the  overlooked mundane. Jaimie's books reflect life in all its messiness and I love  having the privilege of journeying along on those pages.

As I mentioned  those familiar with Blaine's work may find Mercy Never Sleeps  to have a more jarring tone than his previous work as Blaine's own struggles with insomnia and what feels like compassion fatigue hold  a more central role in  the narrative. In the context of both books it helps illustrate how thin the line between helper and helped can be and just how equal we all are. However, reading Midnight Jesus first may help readers gain a greater understanding of the author (though both books can  be read on their own).

That said, even with the darker and more inward focus of the book, Blaine hasn't lost any of his ability to tell a story. Mercy Never Sleeps still has the power to hold a reader's story as Blaine's ability to share both the heart and detail of a recollection allow readers to enter into  the story and feel like they're in the story themselves. His narratives ebb and flow as the story demands adding in bouts of humour, reflection, and oddity that can only come from "life on a mission".  

4 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Monday, September 11, 2017

The Promise of Dawn by Lauraine Snelling

The Promise of Dawn

Opportunities are scarce in Norway, so when Rune and Signe Carlson receive a letter from Rune's uncle, Einar Strand, offering to loan them money for passage to America, Rune accepts. Signe is reluctant to leave her home, especially as she is pregnant with her fourth child, but Einar promises to give them land of their own, something they could never afford in Norway.

But life in Minnesota is more difficult than Signe imagined. Uncle Einar and Aunt Gerd are hard, demanding people, and Signe and her family soon find themselves worked nearly to the bone to pay off their debt. Afraid they will never have the life they dreamed of, she begins to lose her trust in God. When the dangers of the North Woods strike close to home, will she find the strength she needs to lead her family into the promise of a new dawn?
(excerpt from back of book)

Lauraine Snelling is one of those authors I've always meant to look into but,  given how many of her books seem to center on Blessing, I've  never known exactly where  to start. With Snelling's newest series, Under Northern Skies, it seemed the perfect time to jump in.

  .In many ways I'm not sure how to categorize The Promise of Dawn
On one hand, it's a solid historical fiction. Snelling weaves an engaging picture of both the achievements and the risks facing new immigrants in  the early 1900's. While many recent historical fictions rely on a major historical event  or location to anchor their story, Snelling focuses more on the emotional side of things inviting readers to become anchored in the Carlson family themselves.  

As a result The Promise of Dawn  occasionally feels  like a character study of wife and mother Signe who solidly occupies the central role of the novel. Not that this is a bad thing. Signe's frustrations at her lonely and hard life, her love and concern for her family, her uncertainty of the future are the emotional anchors that draw the  reader in. Signe  is relatable on some level to so many with the honest portrayal of life  Snelling has laid  out on the page.

As a warning, I did find this book to have a slower start.  I'm not sure if that's part of the writer's style, the story itself, or my confusion over  the story's pacing (which made far more sense once I saw it as a character focus). That said, once the characters had  a  chance to develop, the Carlson's proved themselves to easily hold their own and this reader's attention.

For readers looking for a more  character driven piece this is a great option for the upcoming fall afternoons.

4 out of 5 stars.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Thursday, September 7, 2017

GraceLaced​​ by Ruth Chou Simons

GraceLaced: Discovering Timeless Truths Through Seasons of the Heart  -     By: Ruth Chou Simons

Confession time.  
I struggle with  devotionals. After a few years of Bible college, it takes a lot of effort to approach books  without shifting into an academic and purely analytical approach. Which is why I was intrigued by Ruth Chou Simons new release Gracelaced.

Gracelaced is  one-part devotional, one-part journal, and one-part artistic display making for a unique experience. Each devotional is short, approximately 3 pages or less focusing  on a single unifying theme. Simons balancing time restraints by also adding in additional verses for reflection if readers have more time. The devotionals touch upon a range of important subjects while Simons inclusion of pointed reflective questions can leave readers pondering and reflecting on the subject matter throughout the day.Further, her structuring of the devotions under seasonal headings helps bring structure and a sense of the ebb and flow inherent to life.

Adding to this reflective  outlook, Simons  has filled the book  with  her own artwork. 
Personally, I find this to be one of the book's greatest strengths. Not only is Simons a  gifted artist but the artwork serves to support the devotional themes for reflection and certainly aided  this reader in moving out of my "textbook" mentality. 

Ruth Chou Simons has hit a wonderful balance, Her words are truth filled, challenging, and yet never without the grace proclaimed boldly on the cover. Her artworks gives tangible hints at the life that is poured out in each "season" of her text.

5 out of 5 stars

"Book has been provided courtesy of Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Unseen by Sara Hagerty

In a culture that applauds what can be produced and noticed, it’s hard to spend time hidden from others—the long afternoons with a toddler, the fourth-floor cubicle, the laundry room. Aren’t those wasted hours? Wasted gifts?

In Unseen, Sara Hagerty suggests that God created every heart to be seen—and it’s the unseen moments that draw hearts closest to the One who sees them best.

Through an eloquent exploration of both personal and biblical story, Hagerty calls readers to offer every unseen, “wasted” minute to God so that they might find new intimacy with Him. She looks in particular at the story of Mary, who wasted perfume at Jesus’s feet. Mary had such love for Jesus that she was able to pour herself out for Him, though no one applauded. In doing so, with nothing tangible to show for her actions, she changed the world.

God is in the secret place. The beautiful news is that He doesn’t relegate His children to those hidden seasons, those unseen hours. He invites them.
(book description)

I have  been a fan of Sara Hagerty's blog for as long as I can remember. Her writing style, so full of honesty, story, and truth often appeared on my computer screen at opportune times with messages I couldn't help but ponder in subsequent days. When I heard Sara had released a new full length book I was curious to see if the beauty and truth  of  her  messages on line would convey adequately in a different, more drawn out setting.
They did.

I love Sara's honesty because she allows herself to be vulnerable with her readers and go to topics  that aren't often discussed with the perspective Sara brings.
For years I've listened to my generation asking how does one live their faith during the mundane times,the common days when life simply goes on. Sara re-frames  this mundane, unseen reality into a  gift of  being hidden that is  sure  to bring about discussion and reflection for those who read  the book. I  couldn't get over how many times while reading  I considered the practicality of these chapters as a devotional aid or group study,  the message really is that important and potentially transformational. Sara has a way of bringing thoughts and ideas forward that  makes me long for  a group of women  to discuss this with.

I really believe Sara Hagerty has provided  a timely message content wise as well. Sara brings such a wisdom and uniqueness  to her approach. Let's  face it there are hundreds of books out there on self-help or life growth devotionals or how to grow your faith. Sara, however, has  the most clear and concise message  I've read yet, keep turning your focus back to God. I love those simple to understand  yet fundamentally changing to implement lessons.
By focusing in on the story of Mary pouring out the perfumed oil, Hagerty locks readers  into a story that ties her message together with  a strong anchor point. Her provision of further reading at the end  of each chapter allows readers to take  the book further and see just how widespread the message of spending that intimate, hidden time  with God  is spread throughout scripture. Sara really sets up readers to see the contrast between our social media driven society and it's quest for superficial recognition with the desire to know and be known by the creator.

5 out of 5 stars 

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Friday, August 18, 2017

Friends, Partners, and Lovers by: Kevin A. Thompson

Friends, Partners, and Lovers

The number one cause of divorce isn’t adultery or finances or disagreements. It’s apathy–a lack of intentional emotional, physical, and mental investment in the relationship. It’s forgetting that as a husband or wife you have three distinct roles: friend, partner, and lover.

With engaging stories and clear, simple language, pastor Kevin A. Thompson shows how to live out those roles. Using solid biblical principles, he helps you and your spouse grow your friendship, be supportive partners through the good times and the bad, and develop a healthy and satisfying sex life.
(excerpt from back of book)

Friends, Partners  & Lovers is written by  Pastor Kevin Thompson with the intent of passing on the  wisdom he has gathered over years of working with couples through his church. The book is laid out into 4 main sections: Introduction, friend, partner, and lover (hence the title).  True to his intent, the language is conversational and Thompson leans towards providing practical advice. Each chapter includes a section of questions at the end meant to inspire personal reflection and interaction  with the material.

Some of the material  was  interesting as it seemed to be a simplified version of concepts we covered in different counselling classes despite  Thompson's claims that he has no counselling background.  This is also apparent as many of his concepts are overarching ideas.

As a result, I feel that this book is more suited  to healthy couples looking for ideas and concepts to help strengthen their marriage but have the foundation, wisdom, and communication to look at which concepts apply best to their situation, which need modifying, and which may not be acceptable at that time.

For example, the  chapter on lovers has some great wisdom to share on the sexual side of marriage and I appreciated his insight into how each side interacts with the other. However, some of his suggestions such as the 24 hour rule is  simply impractical in families with more complicated needs such as special needs.

I do wish Thompson had brought more attention to the  limits of his book and the acceptability of couples visiting trained professionals at any point in their marriage if the should so decide.

3.5 out of 5 stars.

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Thursday, August 10, 2017

The Return by Suzanne Woods Fisher

The Return

Beautiful and winsome, Betsy Zook never questioned her family's rigid expectations, nor those of devoted Hans--but then she never had to. Not until the night she's taken captive in a surprise Indian raid. Facing brutality and hardship, Betsy finds herself torn between her pious upbringing and the feelings she's developing for a native man who encourages her to see God in all circumstances. 

Greatly anguished by Betsy's captivity, Hans turns to Tessa Bauer for comfort. She responds eagerly, overlooking troubling signs of Hans's hunger for revenge. But if Betsy is ever restored to the Amish, will things between Hans and Tessa have gone too far? 

Inspired by true events, this deeply layered novel gives a glimpse into the tumultuous days of prerevolutionary Pennsylvania through the eyes of two young, determined, and faith-filled women.
(excerpt from back of book)

I am not a natural fan of  Amish fiction. That's why it takes a very special author to draw  me back into that world. Suzanne Woods  Fisher is just such an author and The Return is the latest of her books to bring me in.

One of the things I appreciate most about Fisher's books  is her characters. Without fail she brings forward characters  with hopes, dreams, and emotions  that  transcend the genre and are simply human. In The Return she offers multiple characters, most  notably Tessa and Betsy. I really enjoyed Tessa's character and I have a feeling Fisher remembers that age well as she  writes it with such accuracy.  Tessa's hopes and dreams regarding  Hans, her  envy of Betsy, her own wrestling with her own maturing made for great  reading and held the story solidly together.

Betsy also shone in both in her own way  as she wrestled through grief and forgiveness as well  as  a contrast to both Tessa and Hans. While I found Tessa more engaging it's Betsy that  begs reflection and shows her strength in that manner.

The plot was also interesting. I appreciated Fisher's use of Bairn to advocate for both the settlers and the aboriginals in the story.  While I am unfamiliar with the events the story was based around, Fisher includes lots of fun details including the Conestoga wagons and horses as well as people  like Benjamin Franklin helped anchor the story within its setting helping and richness and depth to the events. I love  when a story adds enough history to inspire me to do further research and I've definitely been inspired to read up on the real life accounts.

Overall, Fisher has brought another solid book that serves to add to its series or act as an enjoyable stand alone.
4 out 5  stars

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Friday, August 4, 2017

A Name Unknown by Rosanna M. White

A Name Unknown

Rosemary Gresham has no family beyond the band of former urchins who helped her survive as a girl in the mean streets of London. Grown now, they are no longer pickpockets–instead they focus on high value items and have learned how to blend into upper-class society. Rosemary is beginning to question whether she can continue in this life when she’s offered the challenge of a lifetime–determine whether a certain wealthy gentleman is loyal to Britain or to Germany. After all how does one steal a family’s history, their very name?  
(excerpt from back of book)

Roseanna M. White is one of those authors that  makes my eyes light up when I see a new release. While I'm still relatively new to her works, they have yet to disappoint and in the case of A Name Unknown   continue to reach new heights.

First and foremost  plot (we'll get to characters later). I love how White builds and weaves her plot lines. This book has spunk and managed to keep me guessing until the very end (the plot twist, oh the wonderful plot twists). White doesn't skip on the adventure in this novel as readers  are taken through spies and intrigue, village distrust, and spiritual questioning as her characters attempt to navigate a world on the brink of change and war. White's ability to bring trivia to life in her plots is a wonderful  device that certainly helped  bring this reader along  as the plot does establish itself rather slowly in the early chapters. In hindsight, for those  who push through the slower chapters, they'll find themselves  rewarded with a  well paced novel the speed reflecting the slow build and wait of the political events surrounding our characters  with very personal trials.

Which brings us to our characters, I loved the main duo White brings to life here. Peter is an amazing hero in his unassuming ways. The fact that White  chooses to highlight a character with a speech impediment was pretty exciting  as representation  is awesome. That said, I just loved how instead of the swashbuckling hero we find in Peter's imagination readers see the less often championed strength of quiet courage and moral strength.

Adding to this delightful change, instead of  a whimsical or demure heroine we get spunky Rosemary, a  thief  on the  road to a  different life either through the next score or spiritual journeying. Her  honest frustrations, willingness to throw a punch, and genuine love for those who  were granted entrance into her heart made for a refreshing and energizing counterbalance to Peter.  

It goes without saying  Shadows of England is definitely a series to be  watching and A Name Unknown  brings a solid foundation and high expectations for book 2.

4.5 out of 5 stars

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."