Wednesday, November 8, 2017

The Proving by Beverly Lewis

Cover Art

After five years as an Englisher, Amanda Dienner is shocked to learn her mother has passed away and left her Lancaster County’s most popular Amish bed-and-breakfast. What’s more, the inn will only truly be hers if Mandy can successfully run it for twelve months. Reluctantly, Mandy accepts the challenge, no matter that it means facing the family she left behind–or that the inn’s clientele expect an Amish hostess! Can Mandy fulfill the terms of her inheritance? Or will this prove a dreadful mistake?
(excerpt from back of book)

I'm always a  little confused after reading a  Beverly Lewis novel and this one is no  exception. Although Lewis, undeniably, has talent as a writer crafting beautiful landscapes tapping  into simpler lives and the Amish way, I find many of her story lines predictable to the point that pacing  feels unbalanced and  the characters seem underutilized.

Case in point, Trina and Arie Mae had the potential for  wonderful counterbalances to  Mandy's wrestling with both past, present, and future. Given the backstory I was eager  to see how the sister's relationship would play out  amid the  larger family and community. However, Lewis rarely brought  in the family as more than plot opportunities and sisters interactions didn't seem to  have the emotional impact their history would imply.

The Proving  had  many characters that just seemed underutilized and therefore less than satisfying, perhaps due to my unfamiliarity with aspects of Amish culture? However, even that felt like a bit of  a missed opportunity as Trina's obvious lack of familiarity with the Amish could have served as an easy inroad for reader instruction and was rarely seen either.

For  fans of Lewis The Proving  should prove to be a pleasant  enough read, for those unfamiliar with the genre, there are too many unexplained nuances and missed developments for this to be  a satisfying introduction into the genre.

3 out of 5 stars


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

Monday, November 6, 2017

These Healing Hills by Ann H. Gabhart

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Historical fiction, WWII era, frontier nurses. Check, check, check. I knew with all of these elements, the odds of my enjoying These  Healing Hills by Ann Gabhart was fairly high. What I didn't realize is what a gem I'd find in this new to me author and the Appalachian Mountains she wove into life.

One review on the back cover calls this a "beautifully crafted story" and that is a wonderful description of what Gabhart has achieved. Gabhart has used her research to invite readers into a small section of mountain life in 1945.

As anyone who's poked around here before knows, I need a good character to connect with a story and Gabhart provides a mountain full. The Locke family are real, I love how Gabhart has captured the dynamics of life on the mountain among such a diverse family of characters who are relearning how to be in the same space after so many  changes. Equally captivating is Francine, our intrepid nurse. Again, I really came to appreciate  Gabhart's  attention to detail in her characters. Fran's wrestling with  her insecurities were well established and her confusion about how to proceed in life feels relatable.
Oh, and can we talk about the amazing Granny Em? What a character, I love how Gabhart  showed the transition of eras with Granny Em's wisdom and knowledge of the old ways. Honestly, I would be crushed if this book found a sequel without Granny Em's ever present wisdom.

Stylistically, I found Gabhart to have a blend that was quick to draw me in  as a reader and hold my attention. Using actual  historical records to base her frontier nurses on lent interest and credibility for the geek in me, but the earnestness with  which she  conveyed the humour, hardworking nature, and love of the mountains inherent to her characters lent a richness to the novel that made me wish I was doing rounds with Fran (although I can guarantee we'd still need Ben or Woody to rescue us from our own sense of direction).

Fans  of historical fiction will probably not find any major surprises in the overall plotlines, whether it's Fran's coming into her own, Ben's readjustment to life post-war, or Woody's brink of manhood adventures and yet the charm of this book and it's characters draws me like the mountains  draw in Fran.

4.5 out of 5 stars.

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

Monday, October 30, 2017

Be the Gift by Ann Voskamp

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Ann Voskamp's new book Be the Gift is not an easy read, I think, however, it is one with an important message for those who are able to read it.

Ann's style appears to be a collaboration of story and parable, honest vulnerability and hard truth. It's this hard truth that makes this book so very valuable.  
I loved Ann's honest look at brokenness,  her passionate pointing back to Christ, communion, and the church when it comes to  the hard and the messy in life. This message of hard and messy things needs to be paired with the beauty of giving, koinonia, and eucharisteo to be real in our messy,human lives.  In light of Ann's gift in storytelling and parable this message comes across in a way that blends this truth with everyday experience and emotion in a venue that makes her words seem tangible.

That said, I know  some will (and do) struggle with Voskamp's writing style.With her unconventional presentation, wordy vocabulary, and unusual transitions some readers may find Voskamp's work difficult to track with which is okay, not everyone learns from a storytelling perspective. Voskamp's work requires patience and alertness (this is definitely not a midnight binge read) to absorb the full impact of her words, not to mention the possibility of a second read through.

The book, itself, seems to be aware of the weightiness of its words and the time required to process their meaning. As a result, the text is inter-spaced with beautifully shot pictures of life and light that give balance to the message which surrounds them.

Overall, I appreciated Be the Gift   and found its message to be one that I will return to again.
4 out of 5 stars


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> 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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Indescribable 100 devotions about God and Science by Louie Giglio



Discover the Wonders of the Universe with the Creator

It’s impossible to out-imagine God. He orchestrates time, creates light, and speaks things into existence—from the largest stars to the smallest starfish. God is a powerful, purposeful, personal, unparalleled Creator.

Psalm 19:1 says, “The heavens tell the glory of God. And the skies announce what his hands have made.”

Indescribable displays the majesty of creation with scientific findings, photography, and original illustrations. These 100 devotions encourage awe at God’s creativity with an in-depth look at

• Space, Galaxies, Planets, and Stars
• Earth, Geology, Oceans, and Weather
• Animals—from Hummingbirds to Dinosaurs
• Our Minds, Bodies, and Imaginations
(excerpt from back of book)

As a fair warning, I did not run this book by my kids, so this review is all from my perspective this time. Not that they won't love this book. Giglio has done a wonderful job which I'll explain as we go on, but, this book is probably most strongly suited for kiddos in grades 1-4 (with obvious wiggle room given your own kids interests and abilities). Since our oldest is just old enough to start homeschooling it's still a little too advanced for now.

When he is old enough I can see this being  a great  part of our morning routine as Giglio works to inspire a child's interest in both creation and creator. The pages themselves are laid out with bright, engaging colours, pictures, and page inserts full of fun facts for kids. The content is equally well balance with each devotional beginning with a verse, ending with a prayer, and featuring a 2 page devotional that presents a point of scientific interest before bringing it back to a scriptural truth.
For those of us with kids who just love reading the same thing over and over, there is a useful table of contents at the beginning for quick referencing.

My kids are busy kids, they love exploration and adventure. As a mom, I'm thrilled to find a devotional that taps into that aspect of childhood while pointing them back to the one who inspires that love and passion and the world that they explore.

4 out of 5 stars


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> 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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.

Friday, October 13, 2017

Hurt Road by Mark Lee of Third Day

Hurt Road


As a long-time Third Day fan, I couldn't  resist taking a peak into Mark Lee's new book Hurt Road. As a reader, I was pleased to find that this is a book that can be appreciated regardless of your musical tastes.

Mark Lee may be Third Day's guitarist but with Hurt Road he also proves himself to be a gifted storyteller. Mark has that special ability to share life and lessons by weaving them into the retelling of past events, not shying away  from the painful or the struggle but recognizing the value within those moments. 

Mark's writing style felt very laid back and conversational making the book an easy read technically. However, he did not hold back from conveying emotions that could  be more difficult to share as he walked through his time recovering  from a vehicle accident and his father's death in high school.

For those who are fans of Third Day,  there is the extra treat of backstage insight into the band's earliest days as Nuclear Hoedown and the slow journey of God's transforming work in the band and in Mark's own life.

4 out of 5 stars

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

Friday, October 6, 2017

Eyes to See Reflecting God's Love to a World in Need


Eyes to See

Out of all the books I've read  this year, Eyes to See is one that will stay with me. 
From Compassion Canada, Eyes to See  is one part devotional and one part exploration of the roots of poverty and Compassion's work to address this global  issue.

The structure, while relatively standard for a devotional, provided excellent organization making each aspect of the daily reading easily referable (especially nice for those of us who take some time to process) and maintained a good balance between the different points the author was trying to convey.  One extra addition I found particularly interesting was the "action" portion of each daily reading. Considering the heavy nature of the theme, I loved how this particular section assists readers in bringing the material and themes into their homes and backyards with an achievable response, something that can be challenging with  difficult  topics.

The material covered was also impressive. It was no surprise, given Compassion's wholistic approach to care, that they would utilize a similar approach in their written material. Rather than simply looking at financial realities, Eyes to See  explores the brokenness that accompanies poverty: in community, in oneself ,  in our environment, and with God all using a solid Biblical approach to ground their presentation.  I loved this thorough approach as it seeks to help readers not only gain a solid understanding of the issues but seeks to start conversations and steps towards long term change and humanizing people who are far too often classified as "them"  or "other" 

Overall this is an accessible study on a hard topic.  Versatile in its ability for individual or group study, it could also easily be accessible for youth groups onward in age while  still feeling applicable.

5 out of  5 stars

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

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Really Woolly Christmas Blessing by Bonnie Rickner Jensen


As those of us in Canada are getting ready for Thanksgiving this weekend, it seems the perfect time to start exploring this year's Christmas books. In all honesty, Christmas is my favourite holiday so it doesn't take much  encouragement for me to start breaking out the music and books, especially now that my kids are 2 and 4. I'm excited for a chance to talk about book content with our oldest instead of explaining why his younger brother was trying to eat the book ;)

That said, Really Woolly Christmas Blessings is a great book for all  the younger kids  in your family. Each set of pages focuses on a different blessing associated with the holiday season. This is achieved with a thematic picture, bible verse paraphrase, rhyming verse regarding the blessing, and suggested prayer. This two page  format is one that will be familiar to anyone with small children but is a great length for younger family members  while still functioning as a conversation starter for slightly older ones (I would say preschool through kindergarten).
As a mama, I appreciated that the topics ranged from the familiar elements of the Christmas story straight through to Christmas traditions our kids encounter including trees,  songs, and even snow for those of us  who get  that element of winter.

As  far as  the illustrations go, Donna Chapman has  done an excellent job capturing the engaging characters on paper while still keeping a style that is both memorable and soft enough to be appropriate  for pre-bedtime quieting routines.

4.5/5 stars


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers <http://booklookbloggers.com> 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 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.