Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review: In the Field of Grace

In the Field of Grace
By Tessa Afshar
River North, 2014


Two women. Alone. With no provision. Can a woman who has lost everything, except her beloved mother, find hope in a foreign land?

Ruth leaves her home with a barren womb and an empty future, after losing her husband. She forsakes her abusive parents and follows the woman she has grown to love as a true parent, her husband's mother, Naomi.

Ruth arrives in Israel with nothing to recommend her but Naomi's, love. She is destitute, grief-stricken, and unwanted by the people of God. Her loftiest hope is to provide enough food to save Naomi and herself from starvation. She is reduced to gathering leftovers once the harvesters have finished collecting grain from the field. A job only for the lowest of the low.

But God has other plans for her life.

While everyone considers Ruth an unworthy outsider, Ruth is shocked to find the owner of the field - one of the wealthiest and most honored men of Judah - is showing her favor. Long since a widower and determined to stay that way, Boaz finds himself irresistibly drawn to the foreign woman with the dark, haunted eyes. He tells himself he is only being kind to his Cousin Naomi's chosen daughter when he goes out of his way to protect her from harm, but his heart knows better.

Obstacles. Heartache. Withered dreams. How can God forge love, passion, and new hope between two such different people?

My thoughts

Tessa Afshar is a gifted writer whose stories exemplify what I hope for when I pick up a Christian fiction book, and that is the skillful communication of spiritual truths in a way that entertains while inspiring and encouraging me to grow in my faith. Drawing from what is familiar to many, Tessa fleshes out the Old Testament story of Ruth with rich characterization, emotional romance, historical background, and spiritual depth. The four chapters of Ruth are combined with a moving fictional narrative in a way that doesn't take away or change the biblical account. For an even richer experience, I recommend reading the book of Ruth both before and after reading In the Field of Grace.

There was nothing about the portrayal of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz that felt unrealistic; in fact, the very opposite was true, because they felt real. It was easy to sense the depth of Naomi's despair and anger over her losses, why Ruth was willing to leave her family and religion of idolatry, and the incredible goodness of Boaz - who, as a kinsman redeemer, becomes a picture of Christ.

Failing to be the son her parents hoped for, Ruth grew up unwanted, invisible, and with constant criticism - whereas in Naomi's family, she found extravagant, undeserving approval. Ruth wasn't wildly in love with Mahlon, but "he drew her like a shepherd's fire on a freezing desert night. . . . Being with Naomi's family was like an antidote to the bitterness of her own relations." Watching Ruth respond to the call of God on her heart and cling to her faith is very moving.

I really liked seeing the character of Boaz fleshed out, because I've never had a clear image of what he might have been like. Wealthy, middle aged, highly respected, generous and caring, with a soft spot for those in need - and we see the great insight Boaz has into the human heart in the scene with the crippled boy, Eli, one of my favorite parts.

Our pastor recently took us through a sermon series where we looked at the stories of biblical characters and events (the lower story), then how God's hand could be seen throughout (the upper story). That's exactly what Tessa brings out so clearly with In the Field of Grace. So many spiritual themes spoke to me - important themes I've known all my life, but constantly need to be reminded of. For instance, that God always has a plan for our lives and obedience is key . . . even if we don't receive the desires of our heart, we can find contentment in Him . . . every person has extreme value in God's sight . . . no sorrow is ever wasted in God's hands.

Tessa knows the ways of God and conveys them beautifully through her writing. I'm impressed not only with Tessa's writing skills, but her heart. God looks for those who have a heart for Him, whose hearts beat for Him, and that's what Tessa brings out in Ruth - her love, faithfulness, self sacrifice, and compassion. Ruth questions why the life of one Moabite widow would matter to the Lord of heaven and earth, and I think the book's overarching theme is expressed in these words:  "The Lord uses odd instruments to fulfill His will. The weaker the vessel, the better He likes it. It only proves His strength."

I appreciate a book that challenges or makes me examine my faith. When Boaz is asked to surrender that which is most precious to him, Ruth, I had to in turn ask myself, what have I held back from the Lord? Tessa concludes with a wonderful epilogue that shows how the upper story plays out, and I'll conclude with these words spoken by David to his son, Solomon, that challenge us as well . . .

"There is only one measure of true success. How close you remain by God's side. Does the dust of His feet get on your cloak because you follow so close? Does the sound of His whisper reverberate in your ear because you have drawn so near? Are you obedient to that voice, day after day, hour after hour?"

I highly recommend In the Field of Grace to all readers. This book can be purchased online at CBD, DeeperShopping, B&N, Amazon, and Booksamillion.

Tessa Afshar

Tessa Afshar was born in a nominally Muslim family in Iran and lived there for the first fourteen years of her life. She survived English boarding school for girls before moving to the United States permanently. Her conversion to Christianity in her mid-twenties changed the course of her life forever. Tessa holds an MDIV from Yale University where she served as co-Chair of the Evangelical Fellowship at the Divinity School. She has spent the last twelve years in full and part-time Christian work and currently serves as the leader of Women's and Prayer ministries at a church in New England.

Meet Tessa online at, Facebook, and Twitter.

Thank you to Tessa Afshar for providing an ARC of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Review: First Blush

First Blush
By Rebeca Seitz
Glass Road Media, 2014


From the author of the Sisters, Ink series comes a fun new novella about finding your way…at the beach.

Elizabeth Bakersfield may live in the gorgeous town of Naples, Florida, but she is not the thirty-year-old she envisioned. Her husband left with a Miami Dolphins cheerleader. Her job prospects are nil. The rent is due. Her best friend is living a thousand miles away, building a career in NYC. And her closest companion is the cockatiel Johnny Carson.

The job front starts looking up when she’s offered the position of caretaker of Ganderley’s – a library, kind of. Elizabeth’s job is to loan out the priceless antiques and cars amassed by the widowed Ganderley sisters. Easy, right? Sign things out, get them back in two weeks. And, if she runs into trouble, there’s the gorgeous Ganderley nephew with the British accent, Nicholas Harrington, waiting in the wings with help.

But Elizabeth is about to learn first-hand that possessions – and gorgeous Brits - bring their own kind of drama. If she doesn’t figure out how to sidestep it, her job (not to mention the start of a new life) might be over before it ever really began.

My thoughts

First Blush is the first book I've read by Rebeca Seitz and I loved everything about it! Contemporary romance, women's fiction, chick lit - no matter the classification, it's an engaging read. Some social drinking is present, but in a way that fits the narrative. From characterization to storyline, dialogue to setting, and laced with humor throughout, Rebeca is a strong writer. First Blush is actually a novella of approximately 100 pages that sets the stage for more stories to follow, and I'm very eager to continue on with these characters.

When it comes to setting, Rebeca made me "feel" Naples - its breathtaking water views, stately mansions, and with keen insight into how the elite of society think and behave. Money doesn't always bring happiness, as we all know, and I felt for the Mrs. Pelser described by Elizabeth:  "Here she sat, day after day, in a beautiful home that she barely saw, married to a husband who barely saw her. It must be lonely. And tiring. And purposeless."

Naples, Florida estate

The main characters were very interesting, real, and easy to connect with. 30 years old and alone after her husband left with a younger woman, Elizabeth hasn't found her purpose or calling in life, struggles to pay the rent, and fails to live up to what a society daughter in the Bakersfield family should be. And then there's the personable and mysterious Nick - I really can't wait to learn more about him.

I've never heard of a place like Ganderley's and while I'd like to think it's a real place, I suspect it's a part of Rebeca's imagination. Ganderley's started when two sisters, Elva and Esther, lost their husbands and found themselves in possession of eight houses, two yachts, several vehicles, and tons of books and antiques. I loved these ladies who decided to share their wealth by letting people borrow whatever they needed, kind of like a fancy lending library. As a musician, I found Elizabeth's thoughts about Ganderley's music room moving:  "I entered the music room and cast a glance toward the baby grand gleaming in the corner of the room. Instruments captivate me. All that potential, just waiting for a skilled and talented person to notice and take action. They look like orphans, waiting to be loved."

There's not a lot of obvious faith elements in this novella, but I suspect we'll see more as the series unfolds. I liked how Elva shared her spiritual wisdom with Elizabeth:  "There's no need to rush about. . . . You'll find your path and then you'll know that everything leading up to it was necessary."  Just another reminder of how, even though we might not understand at the moment, we can trust that God was working for our good all along.

Rebeca is currently working on the next story, Second Glance, and I can't wait! First Blush comes to a satisfactory conclusion, but with the promise of much more to come. Highly recommended.

First Blush can be purchased online at Amazon, DeeperShopping, B&N.

Rebeca Seitz

An award-winning novelist and President of the first public relations firm dedicated to representing entertainment created from a Christian worldview, Rebeca has worked with various national media outlets, including The Today Show, USA Today, National Public Radio, Southern Living, Good Housekeeping, Real Simple, and Good Morning America. She is recognized for her groundbreaking research into the behaviors of Christian consumers as well as development of public relations standards specific to creators of values-driven, entertainment-oriented products. She also co-chairs the non-profit SON: Spirit Of Naples, which equips and encourages Christians creating mainstream, commercially-viable media content.

Meet Rebeca online at, Goodreads, Facebook, and Twitter

Thank you to BookFun for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Author Spotlight + GIVEAWAY: Vannetta Chapman

I am so glad to again welcome Vannetta Chapman to The Power of Words because not only is she a talented writer, but she loves to interact with her readers. Besides that, I've really enjoyed getting to know her. There's just something about Vannetta's writing that clicks with me, so I hope you'll try one of her books if you haven't already. And Vannetta's fans will be thrilled to learn all that she has in the works for us!

Vannetta is graciously giving away an ebook or print book to one of The Power of Words' readers, simply by answering the entry question she suggests in her interview. Giveaway details are at the bottom of this post.

Now let's enjoy what Vannetta has to share about Murder Simply Brewed and the Amish Village mystery series - and maybe learn something new about Vannetta!

Q:  What is your favorite genre in which to write? to read?

I was an English teacher/professor for 15 years, so I read absolutely everything. And I also like to write in different genres. For me, it's all about the characters, and I can put them in any "frame" a publisher wants. Romance, mystery, suspense, women's fiction--they're all wonderful genres to explore.

Q:  Is quilting something you've enjoyed learning?

Yes! Funny story, I wasn't much of a quilter before the last year. Then I started attending quilt shows to promote my book, The Christmas Quilt. At the Tyler quilt show I met a wonderful woman who owns a quilt shop in East Texas. She encouraged me to attend a quilting retreat - from that moment on I've been hooked!

Q:  Tell us about the Amish Village Mystery series and the book we are featuring today, Murder Simply Brewed.

For this book I visited the Essenhaus in Middlebury, Indiana and interviewed as many people as I could, including the general manager. It's a lovely setting where Amish and Englich work side bv side. Of course the murder and the mystery are pure fiction!

Q:  Please share a little about the main characters, Amber and Hannah.

They're rather polar opposites who do not expect to become close friends. Amber is the manager of the Village, Hannah is an hourly employee. Amber is older and unmarried. Hannah is young and being courted by several boys. The death of Ethan Grey pulls them together, and then God uses their friendship to restore peace and harmony to the Village (after some rather exciting events of course).

Q:  Is there anything we can learn about death based on the way the Amish view or accept death?

I think so. In Englich society, we keep aging and death at arm's length. We see both as something to be avoided at all costs. But the Amish embrace the later phase of life as well as our rebirth into our heavenly home. Of course people still mourn loved ones, but they also trust that God has a purpose for each of our lives, and sometimes that purpose is going home to be with our Father.

Q:  What faith elements did you weave into Murder Simply Brewed?

I try to emphasize God's grace in every story that I write. Without it, where would we be? I fall on that grace daily, and I want to show my readers that God is waiting, arms open, ready to give them the comfort and rest they need.

Q:  Do you enjoy reading in your spare time? Any favorite authors?

I have been on a reading frenzy this summer! I recently discovered Richard Paul Evans, and I read his 5 books of The Walk in 4 days. Isn't that fun? They're not necessarily mysteries but they are a good read.

Q:  What other stories can we look forward to in the near future?

I'm so glad you asked! My first romantic suspense, Hidden, will release in September. Murder Tightly Knit (book 2 in my Amish Village series) will release in December. And I'll participate in another Amish collection--An Amish Cradle, which will release in February.

Q:  How can we support and/or pray for you, Vannetta?

If you enjoy reading my books, please tell someone. The #1 way people find new authors is someone tells them about a book!

I'm happy to give away an ebook or print book to one of your readers. How about we discuss summertime. Comment below with your fav summertime activity.

Thanks for having me!



To enter the drawing for Murder Simply Brewed or your choice of books (ebook or print), simply answer Vannetta's question and leave your e-mail in a safe format. I'll contact the winner for book title and format. Here is a complete list of Vannetta's books:  Vannetta Chapman book list.

If you're willing, it's also helpful to share about this giveaway on Facebook. Also, please "like" my Facebook page, The Power of Words Book Reviews, if you haven't already. And new followers of this blog are always welcome!

  • E-mail required, one entry per person. Odds of winning are based on number of entries.
  • Contest ends at midnight PST on Sunday, August 3. No purchase necessary.
  • Winner will be chosen by and contacted by e-mail on Tuesday, August 5. Respond within 48 hours of notification or another winner will be chosen.
  • Eligibility: US residents, 18 and older

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: Joseph, Beyond the Coat of Many Colors

Joseph, Beyond the Coat of Many Colors
By Mary Englund Murphy
Following God Bible Study Series
AMG Publishers, 2011


Perhaps more than any other biblical narrative, Joseph's life is a down-to-earth model for everyday relationships. Joseph was a lonely little boy--ignored by his brothers yet coddled by his parents. Feel his fear in the pit; follow his caravan to Egypt; stand with him on the slave auction block. You will experience his struggle for sexual purity, go with him to the dungeons of Egypt, rejoice in his rise to power, weep as he forgives the hurt and betrayal of his brothers.

This interactive workbook study will detail each aspect of Joseph's life and show readers how to relate it to their own temptations and struggles with envy, disappointment, betrayal, purity, power, and forgiveness--for to one degree or another, each of us is living a Joseph life.

Go beyond the Sunday school story and see Joseph as never before: the lonely little boy ignored by his brothers, yet coddled by his parents; feel his fear in the pit; follow his caravan to Egypt; experience his struggle for sexual purity; go with him to the dungeons of Egypt; rejoice in his rise to power; weep as he forgives the hurt and betrayal of his brothers.

Joseph is an eight week interactive Bible study offering hope, encouragement, and practical answers to life’s problems. It is a blueprint for understanding blended families with broken and betrayed relationships; serves as a leadership manual for churches and businesses; a handbook for employees and employers; a guidebook for resisting negative peer pressure and instituting moral purity, grace and forgiveness.

My thoughts

Joseph, Beyond the Coat of Many Colors, part of the Following God series by AMG Publishers, is an eight-week Bible study that takes an in-depth look at the life of Joseph, beginning with his ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. Each week's study is divided into five days and follows a specific time period or event in Joseph's life. All that is needed for the study is this workbook and your Bible. It also works well for either personal or group study. The Following God series is excellent, and Mary Englund Murphy's Joseph is no exception.

Numerous books and studies have been written on the life of Joseph - so why this particular one? That's easy . . . Mary is a good teacher and communicator; she sends you straight to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. But one thing I particularly like about this study, as well as all of the Following God series, is that it works well for both the mature believer and new Christian alike. These studies point us to God's Word so that we can apply its truths to our own lives.

For someone who has grown up in the church, like me, the story of Joseph is very familiar. But through his humility, wisdom, willingness to extend forgiveness to those who harmed him, and acceptance of his small part in God's big picture, there is so much richness to be reminded of and continually apply to my daily life. This is something at which Mary excels. We all have to deal with life's trials, and this study gives a deeper understanding of how important my attitude is and how I can grow personally through these trials.

Quotes really speak to me - they are quick to get my attention, make me think, and are easily remembered. These are just a few of my favorites from the workbook:

"A half-truth is a whole lie."

"Where would you be if God lost His patience with you?"

"Becoming a good leader first requires becoming a good servant."

"We don't always need to know God's purpose; we only need to know He has a purpose."

"Let go of the past, walk in the present, let God hold the future."

"When you say you can't forgive, you're saying your standard for forgiveness is higher than God's."

Joseph, Beyond the Coat of Many Colors is a Bible study which will increase your understanding of a familiar story and from which you will grow spiritually. Highly recommended for personal or group use.

Joseph Beyond the Coat of Many Colors can be purchased online at CBD, DeeperShopping, B&N, and Amazon.

Mary Englund Murphy

        Mary Englund Murphy was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota into a blended, broken, and dysfunctional family. Born with a rare form cancer, she underwent major surgery at only four months. At the age of nine (after her parents divorced and both married new partners), Mary moved to the Florida Keys but spent summers in Minnesota with her father and his new family. During her teen years, her parents both divorced and married yet again.
        Mary now lives in Tulsa, Oklahoma with her husband Bill and travels throughout the U.S. sharing her unique story of survival.

Meet Mary online at Looking Glass Ministries, Facebook, and Twitter.

Thank you to for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.