Saturday, December 31, 2016

Review: Of Stillness and Storm


Of Stillness and Storm
By Michèle Phoenix
Thomas Nelson, 2016


Summary

"I felt torn between two worlds. Each with its own mystery. One more captivating than the other, but the other more real and breathing."

It took Lauren and her husband ten years to achieve their dream---reaching primitive tribes in remote regions of Nepal. But while Sam treks into the Himalayas for weeks at a time, finding passion and purpose in his work among the needy, Lauren and Ryan stay behind, their daily reality more taxing than inspiring. For them, what started as a calling begins to feel like the family's undoing.

At the peak of her isolation and disillusion, a friend from Lauren's past enters her life again. But as her communication with Aidan intensifies, so does the tension of coping with the present while reengaging with the past. It's thirteen-year-old Ryan who most keenly bears the brunt of her distraction.

Intimate and bold, Of Stillness and Storm weaves profound dilemmas into a tale of troubled love and honorable intentions gone awry.

Purchase a copy: http://bit.ly/2gzxgeq


My thoughts

If I had a complaint, it would be that the time span between one Michèle Phoenix story and the next is too long by far. But I guess that’s really a compliment, in a roundabout way. Michèle’s previous novel, In Broken Places, is one of my all-time favorites (please click on title to see my review).

Of Stillness and Storm is a story that continues to linger in my mind. It’s about relationships, physical and spiritual. It is beautifully crafted in a style that skillfully blends exquisite narrative, literary quality, candid themes, and emotional depth. With rawness and honesty, it plumbs the depths of commitment to family and God. This is not a light or easy read – but it’s a haunting and thought-provoking one.

Of Stillness and Storm is the story of Sam, Lauren, and 13-year old Ryan, a missionary family dedicated to reaching the distant villages and tribes of Nepal – and of Aiden, a friend from Lauren’s past that she reconnects with online.  Backstory passages make us privy to all that has led them to this place in time.

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“Though Sam felt called to the Nepali people,
I felt called to protecting our son.”
- Lauren
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I loved the complexity of these characters. Sam had always had a vision of global impact and to him, deprivations were a badge of honor. I understood Sam’s passion and admired his drive to reach the Nepali people, yet I struggled to like him. I so badly wanted to reach out and shake some sense into him, yet I knew such effort would result in failure. Lauren’s heart is for her son, but she is bewildered and at a loss by the changes she sees in Ryan, and it’s not long before we witness a family in crisis.

There’s so much upon which to reflect in this story – for instance, God’s will or man’s desire, blurred lines between ministry and marriage, submission, the unwitting effect of parents’ decisions on children. I loved this quote by Lauren during a conversation with Sam: “I tend to think that who we become because of our faith is more important than what we do to prove it.” I was kind of taken aback by the ending, yet it reflected the gritty realness of this story, and I actually saw it coming.

Of Stillness and Storm speaks of something that Lauren discovered and that I take joy in every day … that out of darkness and loss emerges a “relentless, demanding, trustworthy, benevolent, and healing God.” Oh, for more stories like this in Christian fiction!

Highly recommended.

I was provided a free copy of this book through Litfuse Publicity. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

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Born in France to a Canadian father and an American mother, Michèle Phoenix is a consultant, writer and speaker with a heart for Third Culture Kids. She taught for 20 years at Black Forest Academy (Germany) before launching her own advocacy venture under Global Outreach Mission. Michèle travels globally to consult and teach on topics related to this unique people group. She loves good conversations, mischievous students, Marvel movies and paths to healing.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

http://litfusegroup.com/author/mphoenix

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Review: Waiting for Wonder


Waiting for Wonder
By Marlo Schalesky
Abingdon Press, 2016


Summary

What if, in this waiting, God is calling us to more?

It's easy to believe God when a promise is new. It's hard when the years pass and nothing changes. It's even harder when desperation strikes, your plans backfire, and still God does not fill the emptiness. But what if, in this waiting, God is calling us to more?

Join author Marlo Schalesky on a unique, contemplative journey to reveal the wonder that is often missed when we find ourselves struggling to wait well. Walking through the life of the biblical character Sarah, one who knows what it means to wait, you will discover a glimpse of God's character that will give you strength to keep hoping and praying for the desires of your heart.

Waiting for Wonder is a journey into the heart of God where you will wrestle with personal questions, think deeply about God's true character, and learn to appreciate His divine work as you discover your own path to the promised land. Recapture your hope, restore your soul, and renew your vision of a wondrous Savior when you learn to live on God's time.

Leader guide also available.

Purchase a copy: http://bit.ly/2h7r1zt


My thoughts

I am impressed by Marlo Schalesky’s Waiting for Wonder, a moving and thought provoking study of Sarah and Abraham, with an emphasis on personal application. Each chapter covers a defining moment in Sarah’s life and consists of biblical teaching, personal experiences that were eye opening for the author, and creative vignettes written from Sarah’s perspective.

Historical detail of the culture in which Sarah lived brought out things I either didn’t know or had forgotten, and I came to realize how relevant Sarah’s struggles are to all of us. For instance, the first chapter focuses on the somewhat harsh biblical introduction of Sarah that emphasizes her barrenness. I loved this takeaway: “He is the God who calls us at the very place of our deepest shame, our deepest pain, and transforms that place into something with breathtaking beauty.”

Each chapter ends with a “Who Is This God?” section that really spoke to me, and I want to go back and delve into all the examples and Scripture references provided. How many of us could readily testify to vast amounts of time spent waiting for God to move, to deliver, to simply “show up”? Waiting for Wonder reminds us that not only is God in control, but His plans are being carried out in our times of waiting, when we’re in the dark – and that, rather than a place, what we’re really longing for is a Person.

Waiting for Wonder is perfect for personal study, but would also work well in a small group setting.

Recommended.

I was provided a free copy of this book through Litfuse Publicity. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

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Marlo Schalesky is an award-winning author of ten books, including "Wrestling with Wonder: A Transformational Journey Through the Life of Mary." A regular speaker and columnist, she has also published nearly 1,000 articles in various Christian magazines, including "Focus on the Family," "Today's Christian Woman," "In Touch," and "Marriage Partnership."

Marlo lives with her husband, six young children, nine horses, two dogs, five cats, two parakeets, ten rabbits, two chinchillas, three hamsters, and a bunch of fish in a log home in Salinas, California.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

http://litfusegroup.com/author/mschalesky

Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Review: Pray A to Z: A Practical Guide to Pray for Your Community


Pray A to Z
By Amelia Rhodes
Worthy, 2016


Summary

Change the world one prayer at a time.

How would our community change if instead of absently saying, "I'll pray for you," we actually did pray---deeply, intensely, and purposefully?

Pray A to Z: A Practical Guide to Praying for Your Community will help you topically organize your prayer requests and lay the burdens of your community at the feet of our Heavenly Father.

With compassion and encouragement, Amelia Rhodes offers Bible verses and prayer prompts, organized topically for every letter of the alphabet. There are five topics per letter---three prayers of petition asking God to work in a certain area of need, and two more prayers of praise to reflect gratitude for God's presence in the daily issues and relationships of life. Through petition and praise, your specific, focused communion with God will lighten your heart as you place the heaviness of those prayer requests where they belong---on His strong shoulders.

Whether you are praying for a friend's adoption journey, a neighbor's bankruptcy, or a family member's cancer, this book will give you Bible verses, prayer prompts, and prayer starts to guide you through praying for even the most difficult issues that affect the people you know and love. Perfect for either individual or group prayer, Pray A to Z will help you experience the peace that comes from communicating with God.

Purchase a copy: http://bit.ly/2guYoyl


My thoughts

Pray A to Z by Amelia Rhodes is a gem of a book, one that packs a powerful punch and will undoubtedly enrich the prayer life of those who use it. Personally, I like prayer prompts. It’s not so much that I don’t know what to say, but prompts often guide and expand my thoughts. I have already prayed over a few of these topics and found the experience to be spiritually rewarding.

Five topics are ingeniously assigned to each letter of the alphabet – three prayers of petition, followed by two of praise. These topics are practical, relevant, and personal – and many aren’t areas I would normally think of on a daily basis. Many will touch some family member or person you know in the community. A few topical examples are: dementia and Alzheimer’s, law enforcement, infertility, overcoming addictions, refugees, unbelievers.

Pray A to Z is a simple, yet profound prayer guide. It would work well personally or in a small group setting, for the newer Christian as well as mature believer.

Recommended.

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Amelia Rhodes is a speaker and author of Isn't It Time for a Coffee Break: Doing Life Together in an All-About-Me Kind of World. Amelia's writing has also been featured in four Chicken Soup for the Soul titles, devotionals for the OneHope blog Undeterred and the international devotional Upper Room. Amelia has a growing speaking ministry and speaks regularly to women's groups on topics of spiritual growth, friendship, and community, offering practical tools for living our faith in the everyday. She lives in Lowell, Michigan.

Website | Facebook | Twitter | Pinterest | Instagram

I was provided a free copy of this book through Litfuse Publicity. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

http://litfusegroup.com/author/arhodes

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Review (+ Tour Giveaway): The Amish Christmas Kitchen




The Christmas Bakery at Huckleberry Hill
(From The Amish Christmas Kitchen)
By Jennifer Beckstrand
Kensington, 2016


Summary

The Christmas Bakery at Huckleberry Hill

When shy Katie Rose Gingerich’s dat sends her to Huckleberry Hill to secure a marriage proposal, she never expects to long for carefree Titus Helmuth—or to hope that he might want to spend every Christmas with her . . .

To purchase your own copy, click here.


My thoughts

This review is for the second of three delightful novellas in The Amish Christmas Kitchen, “The Christmas Bakery at Huckleberry Hill” . . .

      “Our Christmas goat. It’s a family tradition.”
      “Family tradition?” Titus said, scratching his head. “I don’t remember that tradition.”
      “We’re starting a new one. There’s nothing like a goat to perk up the Christmas season.”
      “But, Mammi, you don’t have a goat.”
      “We will buy one. That’s why it’s called a Christmas goat, because we get it at Christmastime to fill our hearts with cheer.”
      Titus looked excessively concerned and even more confused. “I’ve never heard of a goat filling hearts with cheer.”
      “That’s why it’s important that we start this new tradition. You’ve been missing out on half the fun of Christmas for far too long.”
      “I had no idea,” Titus said.

A book by Jennifer Beckstrand keeps me reading with a smile on my face, and when that story involves Anna and Felty … well, that’s just icing on the cake! I also dare any reader not to fall in love with the two precious “Christmas” goats, Bethlehem and Judea (Beth and Judy for short).

This is a precious story, full of family caring and sweet romance. Katie starts out as shy, never having been appreciated for the talented and giving person that she is … until Titus, with his encouraging and selfless nature, brings out the best in Katie by helping her forget herself and turn her heart outward. I’ve always heard that it’s important to look at how a man treats his parents (or grandparents, in this case) – and if that’s true, then Titus is a keeper.

Jennifer Beckstrand’s story is Amish fiction, but it is also excellent storytelling that should appeal to any reader. Highly recommended.


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Jennifer Beckstrand is the bestselling Amish romance author of The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series for Kensington Books. Huckleberry Summer was nominated for the RT Book Reviews Reviewer’s Choice Award and the 2015 RITA® Award, and Huckleberry Hill won the 2014 LIME Award for Inspirational fiction. Both Huckleberry Hill and Huckleberry Christmas appeared in Examiner.com list of top ten inspirational books for 2014.

Jennifer has always been drawn to the strong faith and the enduring family ties of the Plain people and loves writing about the antics of Anna and Felty Helmuth. Jennifer has a degree in mathematics and a background in editing. She and her husband have been married for thirty years, and she has four daughters, two sons, and four adorable grandchildren, whom she spoils rotten.

I was provided a free copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.


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GIVEAWAY

To celebrate her tour, Jennifer is giving away three copies of Huckleberry Christmas. Click below to enter. Be sure to comment on this post to earn 9 extra entries in the giveaway!





Thursday, December 15, 2016

Review: Getaway with God


Getaway with God
By Letitia Suk
Kregel, 2016


Summary

What if a simple day away could transform your life?

Does spending time with God sound like just one more thing to check off an ever-increasing to-do list? How are you supposed to fit in anything that threatens to be more time-consuming? Too often there's simply no room to experience the intimacy, grace, and peace that God offers us.

Getaway with God does more than invite you to step away from life's pressures to take a personal retreat. It shows you exactly why you must---for your sake and for your family's.

With grace and warmth, Letitia Suk provides step-by-step guidance and the necessary tools to enable any woman on any budget to plan time away, whether it's a quick, half-day break or a weeklong time of restoration. You'll find detailed steps for preparation, including descriptions of different kinds of retreats and how to choose the best one for you, and you'll learn ways to bring the renewal you experience home with you. Practical appendixes identify retreat centers nationwide and provide exercises and prayers to kick-start your getaway with God.

No matter what your season in life, the time for retreat is now!

Purchase a copy: http://bit.ly/2gCczSG


My thoughts

I really like this book … but more than simply liking it, I found it to be an excellent resource for strengthening our relationship with God, growing closer to Him, and finding spiritual renewal.

Many Christians make time for daily quiet times with God, but Letitia Suk introduces us to something more. The word “getaway” is key here, for it involves removing ourselves from all that would distract us and spending one-on-one time with God. Easy to accomplish? Not really. Necessary and rewarding? Definitely! My church used to encourage its ministers to regularly take a personal retreat day. I don’t know if it still does, but I certainly hope so. This getaway would benefit every Christian, however, not just ministers.

Letitia starts off by asking, “What if you could plug your soul in for a long recharge like you do you phone every night?” Now that’s something that I suspect all of us can relate to. Letitia provides tons of encouragement and practical resources. There’s no “one size fits all” plan for a personal retreat; it can be for a few hours, overnight, or even longer. There’s even a chapter filled with Sabbath retreat ideas.


_________________________

“Most of us don’t need convincing that God speaks to people.
We just aren’t sure he will speak to us.”
_________________________

My favorite chapter is where Letitia talks about the types of personal retreats, giving specific information. For instance, their purpose can be restorative, listening, or goal-setting. I would love to get away for eight hours or so and do a “listening” retreat using the Lectio Divina form of meditation that she describes.

Getaway with God is an important book for everyone. If you want to plan a personal retreat, this is a wonderful resource. If the idea of a personal retreat isn’t even on your radar, reading it just might change your mind.

Highly recommended.


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Letitia invites women to chase the Intentional life. She writes and speaks of God's renewal and restoration and offers platters of hope to women in each season of life. Tish is also a personal retreat guide and life coach in the Chicago area and moonlights as a hospital chaplain. You might run into her walking by Lake Michigan, browsing resale shops, or making up a new tradition. She blogs at hopeforthebest.org and is also the author of Rhythms of Renewal.

Website | Facebook | Twitter

I was provided a free copy of this book through Litfuse Publicity. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.

http://litfusegroup.com/author/lsuk

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Review (+ Tour Giveaway): A Royal Christmas Wedding




A Royal Christmas Wedding
By Rachel Hauck
Royal Wedding Series conclusion
Zondervan, 2016


Summary

Avery Truitt aches for true love—the kind she once shared with Prince Colin. Can she dare to hope for happily ever after, or is a fairy-tale ending beyond reach?

College volleyball star Avery Truitt has not seen her former flame, Prince Colin of Brighton Kingdom, since he suddenly pushed her away five years ago. But now, the sadness of losing her father and the joy of her sister Susanna’s pregnancy have brought Avery back to Brighton just in time for Cathedral City’s enchanting Christmas season.

Avery knows she can’t avoid seeing Colin—now the Kingdom’s most eligible bachelor—whether or not her heart is ready to relive the pain. But seeing him again might bring her the closure she needs after all this time.

When Colin finds himself at the center of a centuries-old Brighton tradition, he must decide whether to follow the path laid out before him or follow his heart to the only woman for whom he would ring the Pembroke Chapel Bell.

Can Colin convince Avery to meet him at the chapel on Christmas morning—as tradition dictates—or will Avery run back to her St. Simons home and pursue a coaching career as planned?

In the fourth installment of the Royal Wedding Series, New York Times bestselling novelist, Rachel Hauck, weaves a charming story of holiday romance as two broken hearts seek the love they once knew.

To purchase your copy, click here.


My thoughts

Magical. The stuff of which fairy tales are made. Captivating. And with timeless spiritual themes that speak to all of us. A Royal Christmas Wedding is a perfect blend of enchantment, charm, and reality.

This is the story of Avery, sister of Susanna from Once Upon a Prince, and Prince Colin of Brighton. Many readers, me included, have longed for their story and its telling couldn’t be a more beautiful series conclusion. This is a story of second chances, of love lost and found, of family relationships and respect.

It was so much fun to be caught up in the sights and sounds of Cathedral City, as well as the lives of these characters, especially seeing Susanna and Nathaniel again. I loved the “Earn-A-Pound-Buy-A-Gift” event, a program that taught children how to make crafts to sell and then use their earnings to purchase gifts for family and friends.

As with all the books in the Royal Wedding series, Rachel Hauck places a touch of the supernatural that reflects God’s miraculous involvement in our lives – which, indeed, is something that the world doesn’t understand and that cannot be explained. The story of the Pembroke Bell, both past and present, added such richness to the story. Reflecting on the unexpectedness in life – her sister falling for and marrying a prince turned king – “Avery knew then the impossible was only hindered by doubt and fear.”

The epilogue, only two pages in length, is one of the most touching parts of this story – a beautiful conclusion that is so very moving. A Royal Christmas Wedding a wonderful Christmas read or anytime of the year.

Recommended.

I was provided a free copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. The opinions expressed in this review are entirely my own.


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Rachel Hauck is a New York Times, USA Today and Wall Street Journal Bestselling, and award-winning author.

A graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in Journalism, Rachel worked in the corporate software world before planting her backside in an uncomfortable chair to write full-time in 2004.

She serves on the Executive Board for American Christian Fiction Writers and leads worship at their annual conference. She is a mentor and book therapist at My Book Therapy, and conference speaker.

Rachel lives in central Florida with her husband and pets, and writes from her two-story tower in an exceedingly more comfy chair. She is a huge Buckeyes football fan.


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GIVEAWAY

To celebrate her tour, Rachel is giving away a $25 Amazon gift card plus a copy of A Royal Christmas Wedding and a copy of The Wedding ShopPlease click on this link, share my Facebook post, then enter the contest below. Be sure to comment on this post to earn 9 extra entries in the giveaway!