Friday, December 29, 2017

Grace For Amateurs by Lilly Burana

I was so excited to read this book. It honestly checked a lot of my  interests: mental health, people in fringe communities, faith. . . this should have been a no-brainer must read for me. That said, Grace for Amateurs holds  the  place as the only book in 2017 I did not finish despite my best efforts and I do not see that changing in the near future.

Let me say, I love memoirs. I love the strength people show in allowing us to come alongside and peek into their stories. I also  enjoy books that make me think and grow by presenting information to be processed and tested. Grace for Amateurs, though a memoir by genre, felt more like an agenda wrapped in a story. Rather than entering into a dialogue of sorts with the author, as I plowed  through the pages I felt sure I'd be reprimanded for having a question or ideal  that is more in line with my more cautious fact gathering over the author's seemingly passionate left leaning ideology.

Now admittedly this may change in the second half of the book but I had hit the point where I dreaded picking up this book.
 I am, most likely, not the author's target audience. Again, while this  is a personal memoir the material came across as attempting to be informative but  without the non-bias or at least bias aware tone I prefer in my reading. Because of this lack of tone awareness the material felt confrontational at times,  angry at others. The material is definitely more focused on Burana's emotional skepticism in the sections I read than on her experiences,  which helped support her  position  without  needing to acknowledge her personal biases

I know others have enjoyed Burana's work and this was my first introduction to her  writing, that said I doubt I'll be back again.

2 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.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

The House on Foster Hill by Jaime Jo Wright

The House on Foster Hill

Kaine Prescott is no stranger to death. When her husband died two years ago, her pleas for further investigation into his suspicious death fell on deaf ears. In desperate need of a fresh start, Kaine purchases an old house sight unseen in her grandfather's Wisconsin hometown. But one look at the eerie, abandoned house immediately leaves her questioning her rash decision. And when the house's dark history comes back with a vengeance, Kaine is forced to face the terrifying realization she has nowhere left to hide. 

A century earlier, the house on Foster Hill holds nothing but painful memories for Ivy Thorpe. When an unidentified woman is found dead on the property, Ivy is compelled to discover her identity. Ivy's search leads her into dangerous waters and, even as she works together with a man from her past, can she unravel the mystery before any other lives--
including her own--are lost?

Wow, Wow, Wow! 
Considering this is Jaime Wright's first foray into the world of solo novels (she has published before in romance collections)  she has quickly shot her way into one of my favourite books of the year.
This woman is a skilled storyteller. First off, the plot. I  was on the edge of my seat (okay technically pillow but still) the whole time. Wright masterfully brings readers back and forth in  time between Ivy and Joel's turn of the century mystery and Kaine and Grant's modern day suspense. Honestly, most dual timeline stories leave me dazed and confused with  transitions that seem jarring. Wright manages to make her transitions feel natural and free flowing allowing the story to maintain its flow throughout.

This was absolutely necessary to maintain the suspense and drama of her plot and she packs in a lot of both. 
Wright is not one to shy away from serious topics.
 I was impressed with the honest approach she took in weaving in topics such  as human trafficking, abuse, death, grief.  I love novels that take the time to shine light on topics that can be uncomfortable but necessary. Given the sensitivity with which Wright explores such big topics I was curious to see how she would incorporate a faith element into her plot and was pleased to see that she maintains the same quality and realism that she brings to her other subjects. Kaine and Ivy's individual struggles with faith given their losses as well as Gabriella's steadfast faith in light of her trials were believable and thought provoking without coming across as a sermon surrounded by a novel.

Of course, the bulk of the story relies on it's characters and Wright has given some amazing characters. Ivy was an early favourite of mine but Grant and Joy soon became favourites as well.
Wright doesn't give picture perfect characters, they come scarred and with walls and I appreciate how Wright  allows readers to discover their secrets over time rather than reading right through them.

4.5 stars out of 5

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

Friday, December 22, 2017

A Dangerous Legacy by Elizabeth Camden

A Dangerous Legacy

Oh the feelings.
 Elizabeth Camden is one of those writers that keeps me coming back time and time again. Her historical research is always in depth and adds  a dimension and life to her books that cannot be improvised and her plots always leave this reader feeling satisfied (if not a little exhausted from reading all night).

A Dangerous Legacy is no exception in this regard. Camden plunges readers into a decades old family battle that draws it's inspiration from Jacob and Esau. While solidly a historical fiction, deftly exploring New York in the early 1900s Camden build her layers of interest and intrigue by wrapping  her characters  in undercover work, assassination plots, and unsavoury doctors.

Lucy was a heroine that was easy to root for. Her plucky spirit didn't seem forced as Camden allowed Lucy to ebb and flow as the situation needed. Her romantic element had a great sarcastic  edge and humour that just seemed appropriate to both parties and added another layer to two already delightful  characters.

As someone who's taken counselling classes it was also interesting and painful to peek into the  more corrupt corners of early psychiatric care. Again, this element picks up on Camden's ready skills with research and her ability to add elements that feel organic and not mere plot devices.

In case you can't tell I loved this book but I hesitate to classify it as Christian fiction which is worth noting for fans of the genre. While the family patriarchs draw inspiration from Jacob and Esau there is not a strong Christian message within the plot. The characters do mention faith (they go to church, pray on occasion,treat their plumbing skill as a God given gift ) but it feel more culturally appropriate given their time and social situation than a nod to the genre. For purists of the genre or those looking for a strongly influenced Christian book the lack of these elements could detract from the overall appeal of the book.

4 out of 5 stars

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

Thursday, December 14, 2017

Blessed are the Misfits by Brant Hansen

Blessed are the Misfits is one of those books that has two clear audiences: anyone who has ever felt like a misfit in the church and anyone who has ever known someone who has felt like a misfit in the church. 

While Brant may be known to some thanks to his radio work, Misfits  was my introduction and what an introduction. Brant brings a straightforward, dry humour to his material that is both engaging and readable. He doesn't dumb down his material but chooses to lose pretense for the sake of openness and vulnerability. While I suspect this is more an authenticity of the author rather than a crafted stance it lends gravity to a topic that is so overlooked.

Let's face it, admitting the church is full of misfits, and boy is it ever, is  generally something the church doesn't like to regularly  take a look at. So, the misfits continue on not realizing that they  aren't alone and believe me, by the time you're done this book the fact that no one is alone should be abundantly clear.

Brant explores a variety of topics and personalities from within the church: skeptics, doubters, the lonely, the  mentally ill, the wounded. Everyone's invited to this party and Brant strikes a careful  balance between exploring the issue while constantly reminding readers of the  hope  there  is in Christ and the necessity of welcoming all these parts of the church into the body. At times, the book almost feels as though it could be too heavy if not for the wise use of reinforcing personal stories, external quotes, and Brant's trademark humour.

That said, there were some things I felt the need to push back on. In the chapters regarding woundedness and mental illness, I felt that Brant may have glossed  over the need and acceptability for some people to seek psychological and medical intervention when dealing with the  ramifications of trauma and mental illness.Considering this can be  a sticking point in  the  church community I was sad to see this didn't get the same attention as some of the other chapters in the book.

Overall, this is  a book I highly recommend.
4.4 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.

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


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


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 <> 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.

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 <> 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, 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 <> 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.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Fiercehearted by Holley Gerth

Fiercehearted: Live Fully, Love Bravely

Have you ever met with a friend at a coffee shop? You know, the kind of visit where the conversation ebbs and flows between fond reminiscing, thoughtful silence, fulfilling laughter, and hard truths of life. They are those rare occasions where you can be vulnerable with someone who's on your side, even when it's hard. Fiercehearted is like one of those coffee shop packages wrapped up in between two covers.

Holley's heart for the message she's sharing and its intended audience shines through on each page. With honesty and vulnerability, Holley bridges the gap between readers and author to share the lessons about leaning in and living a full  life of love and kindness (which certainly isn't always nice) she has gleaned through her own journey.

Holley's vulnerability in sharing her own past and struggles helps lend depth and credibility to her message.  While the call to live fiercely can feel  almost sermonized when shared  in the wrong ways, Holley comes across as walking alongside. You get the impression that maybe, at times, both author and reader are sharing some tears.

Yes, this book may invoke some tears. Holley lives out her message in the text going into topics that require some bravery and wrestling with hard emotions. Honestly, this is not a quick read if you want to get  the full impact, this is a  book to be read thoughtfully. 

5 out of 5 stars.

I received this book as part of the Revell book tour. The opinions expressed are my own and uninfluenced. 

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 clichéd.

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."

Sunday, July 16, 2017

High as the Heavens by Kate Breslin

Cover Art

A British nurse in WWI German-occupied Brussels, Evelyn Marche spends her days at the hospital and her nights working at a café . . . or so it seems. Eve’s most carefully guarded secret is that she also spends her nights carrying out dangerous missions as a spy for a Belgian resistance group.

When a plane crashes as she’s en route to a rendezvous, Eve is the first to reach the downed plane and she risks her life to conceal the pilot from the Germans, but as the secrets between them grow and the danger mounts, can they still hope to make it out of Belgium alive?
(excerpt from back of book)

With so many historical fictions based during WWII I had to go back and read the description again when I realized Kate Breslin's newest novel is actually based in WWI. Once I cleared up my generational confusion I found myself plunged into a world with intrigue, romance, and wartime redemption.

I confess, WWI is not in my wheelhouse of studies so  for those readers looking for historically accurate details I cannot confirm or deny anything. For readers looking for an engaging page turning I can heartily confirm this book is worth looking into.

I loved the complexity of Evelyn in this novel. While she bares many of the normal traits I'd expect in a heroine she had layers of complexity as she works through her regrets stemming from wartime decisions and her connection to the downed pilot. I enjoyed the realism  Breslin works into her characters dreams and fears as well as the timeline (though most of it is pre-story).

Speaking of story, I loved  the story and found Breslin's decision to include a back and forth between the main story and three years earlier was one that both heightens  character development and interest as well as the intrigue of the stories. Thanks to the slow unfolding of Marche's reasons for guilt just feels natural and shows Breslin's skill as an author.

One thing I did notice about Breslin's work is that, while her main characters are delightful and complex, I found the secondary characters to be less dynamic in their own stories. I had no problem viewing this book as a one-shot as there wasn't enough interest in the other characters to draw the story further.

Overall, High as the Heavens was an exciting page turner  that soared above my expectations.

4 out of 5 stars  

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

Friday, July 14, 2017

Night Night, Train by Amy Parker

Night Night, Train is a unique children's tale following a family of dogs taking a trip to Sleepytown and all the things they see and do along the way.

At first, I was a little confused by the structure of the page. Each set of pages has two sections of text. One is in simple rhyming pairs of to the side of the  page. The other is a large block of text giving a more detail account of the dog's train based adventures. I was a little confused as the differing structures and rhyme schemes do not lend themselves to easily move from one segment to the next. However, separately they are brilliant. The easier rhyming section is perfect for my two year old's love of rhythm and shorter attention span while the larger story section fits my older child's skill and interest. While I'm not sure if that was the intended purpose it makes this book far more interesting for our whole family (especially as Mama and Daddy aren't reading the identical text every time, hurrah for variety)

The pictures really set the stage no matter how the story is read. With bright, inviting colours Night Night, Train welcomes kids into the story. I especially enjoyed how there were multiple pictures highlighting the exterior and showing kids exactly how the train looks. As Mom to a train obsessed kiddo it's surprising how often train books don't include good pictures of the train itself and as my 4 year old will tell you that's kind of the point.

For readers looking for a strong biblical lesson, this won't be your book.  Although a Tommy Nelson book, Biblical matters are mentioned in only two places choosing to focus more on the train adventure than anything more consequential.

That said, once you get over the differing structure schemes of the text Night Night Train proves to be a charming bedtime adventure that will help your kids get ready for bed.

Mama gives 3.5 stars while my little one gives it 4.5 stars out of 5 because, well, trains :)

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, July 10, 2017

On Love's Gentle Shore by Liz Johnson

On Love's Gentle Shore by Liz Johnson

Fifteen years after she left Prince Edward Island, Natalie O’Ryan had no plans to return. But when her fiancé, music producer Russell Jacobs, books their wedding in her hometown and schedules a summer at Rose’s Red Door Inn, she sets out to put the finishing touches on the perfect wedding. But she can’t possibly prepare for a run-in with Justin Kane–the best friend she left behind all those years ago after promising to stay.

Justin’s never forgotten Natalie or the music career he always dreamed of pursuing. He’d been prepared to follow her off the island until his dad died and he was left to run the family dairy farm. He’s done the best he can with the life that was thrust upon him–but with Natalie back in the picture, he begins to realize just how much joy he’s been missing.

After Natalie’s reception venue falls through, she must scramble to find an alternative, and the only option seems to be a barn on Justin’s property. As they work together to get the dilapidated building ready for the party, Natalie and Justin discover the groundwork for forgiveness–and that there may be more than an old friendship between them.
(excerpt from back of book)

I started reading On Love's Gentle Shore with mixed feelings. By all accounts, this appears to be the last installment in the Prince Edward Island Dreams series and I am not sure I'm ready to say goodbye to the characters and world of North Rustico. Keeping that in mind, On Love's Gentle Shore was a great read and easily suitable for new and old fans of the series (although I highly recommend new fans find books 1 and 2 so that they can get a full appreciation of the little details Johnson resolves).

For older fans of the series, Johnson has beautifully woven in the characters we love with Marie, Caden, and Aretha all making strong appearances in the third novel, each adding to Natalie's story without taking away from her central focus. I love how Johnson is able to stay true to her characters and world while extending the story outwards as each of these ladies still shine in their roles. For Marie, On Love's Gentle Shore brings so much change, I love how her story line is brought to a resolution that seems so fitting. Aretha really shone for me, however. Although earlier books have talked about her past, Natalie's reappearance in North Rustico allows readers to see more of Aretha's character during the past. While it had direct impact on the plot it also felt like a bit of a shout out for Aretha lovers and I was so grateful to see this lady have her moment in the closing pages of the novel.

For newcomers, Natalie O'Ryan and Justin Kane provide a rollercoaster of emotions as they work out forgiveness, redemption, and relationships. Natalie is a fiery character who Liz has softened with realistic vulnerabilities. Natalie's backstory is painfully realistic and adds a sharper edge than some readers may expect from a Christian romance. That said, I think Johnson handles each issue and dimension she adds into her story with care and the mess her characters find themselves in make the second chance all the sweeter.

Speaking of which, the love story. Natalie O'Ryan finds herself in an odd love triangle throughout most of the book and I loved every minute of it. I normally hate triangles but it this case it really helps highlight the dimensions and choices in Natalie's life. This  definitely isn't a flowery romance novel but I loved the realism of it from flying potatoes to late nights at the lighthouse. This realism made the themes of forgiveness and second chances all the more powerful as readers were invited into flawed characters trying to make sense of big concepts and messy scenarios. 

Prince Edward Island Dreams is a series that only disappoints in it's lack of a 4th book ;) I highly recommend to fans of Christian fiction or P.E.I.

4.5 out of 5 stars

"Book has been provided courtesy of Revell and Baker Publishing Group in exchange for an honest opinion."

Friday, June 30, 2017

The Beautiful Word Adult Coloring Book

The Beautiful Word  is one of the latest offerings in Zondervan's line of colouring books. Combining the more intricate pictures customary of adult colouring books with scripture verses for a fuller and more versatile experience.  

As far as colouring books  go, The Beautiful Word is a solid option for enthusiasts. 
The paper has a great feel for colouring. I was nervous to try markers due to bleed through potential but found pencil crayons worked well (I couldn't get the crayons away from my 2 year old long enough to test those). The pictures themselves have a great selection of images flowing from simple to detailed and with varying levels of difficulty. 
I really appreciate a book with selection as it allows me to find pictures that will draw me in regardless of my mood.

The variety also allows users to find the right level of difficulty to help them focus on the accompanying Scripture. This  book really tries to facilitate time for reflection and contemplation and,in my case, I found them to be fairly successful. 

The one area I didn't feel was quite as developed was the hand lettering section. Now, admittedly, hand lettering is not an area I have much experience in. That said, the tutorial read more as an introduction with tips rather than an explanation and seemed better suited for people who were interested enough to google further or had more exposure than just having heard the term like myself. 

The Beautiful Word is definitely filled with beauty, be it pictorial or words,  and would be a welcome addition to any creative or reflective time.

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.

Friday, June 23, 2017

One Dominion by Paul Richardson and Bob Beasley

One Dominion

One Dominion: Celebrating Canada, Prepared for a Purpose invites readers into an exploratory journey through Canada’s history, highlighting key moments of faith and Christian influence, from the founding of educational institutions and hospitals, to the creation of countless charitable organizations and architectural masterpieces. With inspiring accounts of individuals who founded our country upon the Living Word of God, One Dominion helps readers uncover a deeper understanding of Canada’s foundations and futures, through Scripture and the tests of faith passed by those who have gone before.
(Press description)

With the upcoming celebration of Canada's 150th birthday, there has  been a flurry of Canadian pride and  celebration.  When I heard that the Bible League of Canada had released their own book chronically key points and people from Canada's history of faith I was curious to learn more about this often overlooked aspect of Canadian history.

One of the biggest strengths of this book is the pictures. The gorgeous photo layouts and pictorial timeline give a "coffee table" feel to this book. The bright colours and smart layout make it so easy to pick up and flip through casually when you're short on time. My kids loved seeing the "Canada pictures"and it served as a great conversation starter. That said, I do wish the pictures had been labelled. There were some pictures I would have loved to look up the area or history but couldn't as there was no identifying marks.

It also seemed as though One Dominion suffers from a slight identity crisis. At different points in the book I felt like I was reading a  publicity promo for Canada, others felt  like a history book, still others felt like a Bible League promotional. In the end, it just felt like the book had too many voices and not enough central foundation pulling it together. It was far too  easy to loose track of what the point was being made. In all honesty, I wish there had been more historical stories, especially of the style they used in the inserts. These sections were the textual highlight filled with interesting, personal stories of Canadians of faith and the impact  they had on their communities  as  a result.

While Canada may pride itself on being a mosaic, trying to replicate it within the book just felt too rushed and chaotic. The book needed to be more narrowed down and, perhaps, a few pages longer.

3  out of 5 stars

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

The Captain's Daughter by Jennifer Delamere

The Captain's Daughter

When a series of circumstances beyond her control leaves Rosalyn Bernay alone and penniless in London, she chances upon a job backstage at a theater putting on the most popular show in the city. A talented musician and singer, she feels immediately at home and soon becomes enthralled with the idea of pursuing a career on the stage. That is, as long as the shadows from her past don’t catch up with her.
(excerpt from press release)

Jennifer Delamere's newest series brings adventure, romance, fun historical tidbits and yet, I found myself not loving this story as much as I wanted too.

First the good. 
I enjoyed the concept of the plot and  for anyone who enjoys theater, Delamere has included fun little details that help bring the world of the stage alive. Using Gilbert and Sullivan as an anchoring point was so much fun (although I've had Modern Major General stuck in my head since I finished reading the book). Having done some amateur stage work I loved the backstage details, the tech work, and the way Delamere captures the  life and hard work behind the scenes.

I also found the many plot lines to be engaging and varied enough to give the series enough interest for a healthy start. Although the love triangle is often overused within historical romance, Delamere adds a few twists and turns along the way to make Rosalyn's suitors stand out from other contemporaries.   

That said, I did find myself struggling with a few issues. 

The pacing. The first day takes a full third of the book. The issue that drove Rosalyn to run through the early chapters? Resolved in mere paragraphs without warning or preamble. This seemed  to be a common styling leaving the book feeling too brief and rushed in some areas while simultaneously too slow regarding alternate plot points throughout the course of the book.

I also found the title confusing. While each Bernay girl is a "Captain's daughter" there was very little mention of the  absent sailor, nor did the Captain factor in significantly to the plot. In fact, many of those mentions actually focused on the youngest sister's grief   at his unknown fate not Rosalyn, the title character.

While not the strongest novel I've read this year, there is definitely promise for the remainder of the series.

3.5  stars

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

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

With you Always by Jody Hedlund

With You Always

Jody Hedlund is one of those authors who sits on my to read list without ever getting off. With the release of her newest novel With You Always it seemed the perfect time to rectify that oversight.

While there are some plot points that were left frustratingly open for this completionist, if the following books match the interest and skill of With You Always Hedlund has gained another fan.

I really enjoyed the attention Hedlund gives to her plot lines. This could be a weakness if the author doesn't follow through in subsequent novels, however, I found the hints and lead ups for upcoming plots  to be tantalizing in their leading and encouraging in helping me as a reader question and explore how the characters world could expand following the covered events. Characters like Isaiah, Elise's sisters, and the alternate Mr. Quincy all have the potential to hold their own story lines in later books. I appreciate the forethought that these lead ups hint.

I also appreciated Hedlund's skill in research. While I was familiar with the history of orphan trains, I was unfamiliar with the stories of women such as Elise and Fanny during this era and the way Hedlund has fictionalized their realities sparks interest while giving voice to what seems an overlooked aspect of history.

As for the central story, I loved Elise. Honestly, her care and concern for her sisters, the allowance for a slow building relationship over months rather than days, and the inclusion of some friendly sarcasm gave Elise a fuller character. This really helps her to stand out amidst the events she faces in ways that feel true to character rather than mere plot devise.
Yes, the ending does feel a bit rushed but I'm curious how that pacing will play out in light of the sequel.

4 out of 5 stars (with potential to go higher if some loose ends are wrapped up later in the series)

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

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Imperfect Disciple by Jared C. Wilson

The Imperfect Disciple

Too many discipleship books are written for perfect people who know all the right Sunday school answers.

This book is for the rest of us–people who screw up, people who are weary, people who are wondering if it’s safe to say what they’re really thinking. With incisive wit, warm humor, and moving stories, Jared Wilson shows us how the gospel actually works through us and in us, even when we can’t get our act together. The result is a faith that weathers storms, lifts burdens, and deepens our friendship with God.
(excerpt from the back of book)

The Imperfect  Disciple takes what  most  readers expect in a book on Christian discipleship and turns it on its head in all the right ways. I have read many books in the last few years and most books on discipleship and life growth are at best engaging and at worst exhausting in their never-ending list of things to do. Wilson strikes a fascinating balance in his simplicity - keep pointing back  to the gospel while sharing what you know best. The result is a book that is not only engaging but eye-opening, encouraging, and unflinchingly honest in it's message.

I loved Wilson's method of delivery. 
He's not one to pull punches, stating his case without pretense. However, this directness is tempered  by the  ever present infusing of grace, openness, and vulnerability as Wilson invites readers into the gospel as it  interacts with every day life.

Wilson's background in preaching definitely comes through within his writing as the book is less a to do list (as many books on this topic are likely to fall  back on) and more teaching intermixed and conveyed through story. This allows the teaching not only to feel more personal but also more achievable. Wilson makes the concept of discipleship  not only a possibility but impractical and harder  to not involve in daily life as a Christian.

I really feel this is one of those  books that can be reread multiple times with different gleanings each time one goes through it just due to the  scope of material and the practicality of how life changes as we journey on.

5 out of 5 stars

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

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Chapel Car Bride by Judith Miller

After a sheltered life in Pittsburgh, Hope Irvine is ready for a new adventure. When her father takes a position as a preacher in a railroad car converted into a traveling church, she’s thrilled at the chance to accompany him. While accommodations in their new chapel car home are tight, Hope couldn’t be happier putting her musical skills to good use and ministering to the people of West Virginia alongside her father. But when their chapel car arrives in Finch, West Virginia, they find a coal mining community that has hit hard times and is suspicious of outsiders
(excerpt from back of book)

The Good:
One thing I know I can count on from Miller is at least one character who will grab my attention. The Chapel Car Bride  is no exception. The character of Luke is so refreshing as Miller chooses to have him visibly wrestling with how to live out his faith in real life scenarios. Luke's imperfections are so relatable (jealousy, family concerns, love) that his character leaps off the page to the point of overshadowing the rest of the cast.

I also appreciated the details Miller put into  the town of Finch to help it find it's foundation. While I am unfamiliar with the realities of coal mining and the towns that sprang up from the workers, Miller walked a careful line to bring her characters realities to life without exiting the narrative. While I appreciate a good world-builders it is so much sweeter when you don't have to exit your immersion in the story to get the details and Miller captures this wonderfully.

The Interesting:

The character of Nellie fascinated me. Although a secondary character, Miller easily allowed Nellie the most character growth and a sequel featuring Nellie would certainly not be outside the realm of possibility. 

The Frustrating:

While I found the plot interesting with  the  mining safety, the love triangle, and the illegal activity threatening the main characters. I found Hope and her father became overshadowed by  Luke and their own story line. This made  them  forgettable at times and left feeling more like plot devices at others rather than the central characters they should have been.

Overall I enjoyed this read. There was ample plot line and world building for an enjoyable afternoon read, however, thanks to the main  character getting overwhelmed by her own plot line, this is probably a one time read for me.

3 out of 5 stars

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

Friday, May 26, 2017

Indescribable By Laura Story and Jesse Reeves

Confession time, I'm a  life long fan of colouring books. Whether it was at Grandma's house as a child or curled up with dormmates in college, there is something relaxing and inspiring at bringing pictures to life with vibrant colours. This also means I'm always on the hunt for a good colouring book to add to my collection.

Indescribable by Laura Story and Jesse Reeves tries hard to live up to  its name but I'm going to do my best anyway :)

First Impressions.
 For the sake of full disclosure, I squealed when this book arrived. It is a paper cover but still weighted and feels like solid quality. The  colours are vibrant and shiny (which my two little ones immediately spotted and were drawn to like magpies). The pages are durable with the wonderful added bonus of perforated pages for easy detachment or simple laying flat which can make a world of difference for colouring in small spaces.

Closer Inspection.

One of my annoyances with adult colouring books is their extremes. Either a book is so detailed it takes forever or it's so simplistic there isn't any challenge. Indescribable has pictures on both ends resulting in variety. I love that I can find a picture regardless of my time frame, tiredness, or attention span.  There is also a strong variety in the themes of the pictures. Indescribable takes its cues  from Chris Tomlin's hit song. This means that each page brings to life different lyrics  and elements of the beloved song adding interest and selection that is an unusual highlight for the genre.


I'm not convinced the paper is thick enough to keep some of my darker markers from bleeding through (although pencil crayons colour like a dream). You may also be at risk for humming  Indescribable after colouring for too long ;)

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.