Saturday, November 2, 2013

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes, by T Neal Tarver


Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes, by T Neal Tarver is the best book of its kind (sort of a spiritually-themed science fiction) since the Left Behind series.  I ordinarily approach this type of book with a little bit of caution, as I never know quite what to expect, but I couldn't have been more pleasantly surprised.  I could not put it down!  I read the whole thing nearly in one sitting.

Dark Eyes, Deep Eyes tells two parallel - and eventually intertwining - stories..... one of a pastor who dies of a heart attack and finds himself in heaven, and another of a young man who's in a tragic car accident and ends up descending into hell.  Both of these stories are told in an alternating fashion, switching back and forth from each point of view with every other chapter.  This was a great plan on Tarver's part, as it keeps the suspense building and pages turning, from chapter to chapter.

T Neal Tarver is a master story teller.  His vivid descriptions of hell in particular are unlike anything I've ever read.  The imagery he uses invokes all the senses, leaving you feeling like you're actually experiencing the pain and the agony and the stench of hell right along with the character of Nick.  And just when you think you can't take it anymore, you're in heaven with Wayne... full of beauty, laughter, and love.

This was truly a great book, both for its thought-provoking message, and for its thrill-ride of a story.  Two very enthusiastic thumbs up.


I received this book for free from the BookSneeze program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.  

Monday, October 7, 2013

A Plain Disappearance, by Amanda Flower

A Plain Disappearance, by Amanda Flower, is the third book in the Appleseed Creek Mystery Series. It is set in an Amish community, although its two main characters, Timothy Troyer and Chloe Humphrey have chosen not to live the Amish lifestyle. The story begins with Timothy taking Chloe out on their first real date, where they happen upon the body of a young Amish girl in the snow. They call the police, and an investigation begins, with much assistance from Chloe (despite the fact that she is not in any way employed in any type of law enforcement.)

The story was well-written and well paced, and the characters were likeable. I enjoyed reading about the Amish way of life, and it was obvious that the author was well-versed in this area. She really made the community come to life. There was an interesting dynamic between the Amish, and those in their families who'd decided to leave the way of life and become "Englischers", which added a certain richness to the story.

My only real complaint about the book - which isn't technically a complaint at all - is that being the 3rd book in the series, I did feel like I was missing a bit of back story. The story itself did stand on its own, but there were certain characters and events referenced from previous books that would have felt more relevant had I read those books. This is not a problem with the book, or the writing, of course... more a matter of preference.

I'd definitely recommend this book if you enjoy 1) any sort of book set in the Amish community, and 2) sort of sweet, light-hearted mysteries. You probably just want to start with book one.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

How We Love Our Kids, by Milan and Kay Yerkovich

How We Love Our Kids:  The 5 Love Styles of Parenting is a must-read if you are a parent... whether you are a brand-new parent, or have been a parent for decades.  In a refreshing change of pace from far too many parenting books today, it takes the focus off  what the kids may be doing "wrong",  and puts the responsibility for good parenting on the shoulders of the parents, exactly where it belongs.  

Milan and Kay Yerkovich give us an in-depth look into understanding WHY we parent the way we do, what our individual triggers may be, and how best to work with our strengths.  They explain the pivotal that role our past experiences, and particularly our own nuclear family growing up, play in shaping the parents that we eventually become.

This was truly one of the most eye-opening books on parenting that I have ever read.  It was the impetus for much self-reflection.  While it was somewhat painful to delve so deeply into my own issues, as well as their causes, it was also an immense relief.  The book doesn't just identify what type of parent you are, and why.  It gives you the specific tools, resources, and encouragement to make changes and do better.... starting right now.

The one part of the book that I disagreed with (a small section on time-outs as punishment) was fairly easily overlooked, as the overall message and delivery of the rest of the book was such an important one.

This should be on every parent's book shelf.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Afloat, by Erin Healy

Afloat, by Erin Healy, is a fictional story that combines faith, suspense, and the supernatural for what amounts to an overall fascinating book and interesting read.

Eagle's Talon is an architectural wonder: A series of beautiful condominiums floating on the Rondeau River. The project is still under construction, although some of the units are already complete and occupied. Danielle Clemente, a young single mother and the girlfriend of the owner, lives in one of those units with her five year old son. They both narrowly escape major injury in the beginning of the book, when what is presumed to be a sinkhole causes a piece of construction machinery to topple, tearing off the balcony to her apartment.

In what eventually becomes the perfect storm, torrential downpours flood the only way in and out of the cove, and Danielle and her son are trapped, adrift, along with a handful of other builders, investors, and residents. What follows is the story of their fight to survive, and the conflicts that arise when multiple personalities, opinions, and egos are thrown together in a crisis situation. Should they wait for rescue? Should they chance going out by boat?

Woven throughout the story are various pieces of back-story, particularly about Vance Nolan, the architect who designed the buildings. He's struggling with demons from his past, all of which he's forced to face as the group makes decisions about their survival. People's true characters come to light, in ways that are both shocking and poignant. More than anything else, I think this was a book about human nature, and about our relationships with ourselves, with our faith, and with others, especially during times of trial.

This was a gripping story, with plenty of unexpected plot twists to keep it interesting. The characters were real and well-drawn, and the element of wondering if they would survive kept me turning the pages. I did get a little bogged down in some of the details occasionally, and found myself skimming in certain sections, but it didn't detract from what was an overall enjoyable and fast-paced read.

I received this book for free from the BookSneeze program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own. 

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Fearless, by Eric Blehm

Fearless, by Eric Blehm, tells the inspiring true story of Adam Brown, an elite Navy SEAL, devoted husband, and father, who was killed on duty as a member of Team SIX.  While the book does discuss both his training, and to a lesser extent some of his missions as a SEAL, what this really is is a story about Adam the man... from the carefree recklessness of his youth, to the drug addiction that threatened to consume him over and over, to the charming but exasperating young man that his wife fell in love with, to the faith that ultimately led him to choose a life of honor, compassion, and courage.

Adam's story, largely told through the words of those who knew and loved him best, both inspired me and broke my heart.  What struck me the most about him was his undeniable passion, in everything he did.  Adam Brown was a man who lived life at 150%, all the time.  The word, "can't" just wasn't in his vocabulary.  This was evident again and again, from the time he was a small child jumping off the roof of his house, to his fighting his way back through the grips of drugs, to the numerous injuries that should have ended his Naval career, right up until what would be his final mission.  He was a man who literally gave it all.  He was by all accounts a hands-on and fun-loving father, and a devoted and loyal husband.  His family and his faith were far and away the most important things in his life.

The thing that transformed this book from great to outstanding was the inclusion of all the little personal (and often hysterical) stories about what made Adam who he was:  a crazy, passionate, fearless, accident-prone goof ball who loved God, his family, his country, and his work.  Not only did I feel like I got more than a glimpse into who he was, I felt like I genuinely would have liked him.  I rooted for him and cheered him on as I read, and found myself dreading reaching the end of the book.

Even though I knew how it was going to end, a part of me was hoping and praying that somehow it would end differently... that somehow the past could be altered, and this time he would live.

It's a word that I don't use lightly, but Adam Brown was a hero.  I feel significantly touched having read this book, and am grateful to those who instinctively knew that his was a story that had to be told.

*WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group provided this book to me for free in exchange for this honest review as part of their Blogging for Books program.*

Sunday, June 30, 2013

I've Got Your Back, by James Galvin

I've Got Your Back, by James Galvin is part parable, part theological discourse.  The first section of the book tells the story of a group of four twenty somethings who are struggling with bad bosses and other situations of poor leadership.  The group is mentored by Jack Hendrickson, a former missionary and retired Special Forces Army Sergeant.  He works with them weekly, and ultimately helps them come to understand the nuances of both leading and following in an effective and biblical manner.  The second part of the book breaks down the biblical principles that were discussed and backs them up with scripture.

I have to admit, I approached this book with a little bit of trepidation.  For one thing, I have not worked for someone else for almost two decades, and I am not currently in any positions of leadership, other than being a mom.  Additionally, I've always been somewhat hard-wired to question authority, not blindly follow it.

I was pleasantly surprised then to find that the information this book contained was applicable and sound advice for anyone, regardless of who you do or do not work for.  It was also refreshing to learn that the biblical instruction for both leading and following with discernment and grace is NOT about following blindly at all, but a mutual and respectful partnership between both parties.  The book delves deeply into what it means to both lead and follow well;  the meaning and signs of follower abuse;  different types of authority in our lives, and whose direction we are and are not commanded to follow.

On a practical level, I did find the narrative a little bit difficult to get into at first.  But it ultimately didn't matter, because the subject matter grabbed me, and taught me to look at the topic of leading and following in a way that I honestly never have before.  I feel like I understand it for the first time in my life, and that is no small thing.  My only wish is that this book had been around years ago, when I was working for one difficult boss after another.  It was a good book, with an important lesson for everyone... especially for anyone struggling in the area of leading and/or following.   This book will surely help.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

A Matter of Trust, by Lis Wiehl

The description of A Matter of Trust painted it as a page-turner, and that's exactly what it was.  I brought it with me on a four-day camping trip, thinking it would last until we headed home.  I ended up devouring it so quickly it barely made it till day two.

Mia Quinn is a prosecutor who, at very beginning of the story, is on the phone with a friend and colleague when she suddenly hears her friend getting shot and ultimately killed.  The story that follows is her journey to solve the murder, while simultaneously trying to keep her own family afloat.  She's recently widowed, and the mother to both a teen and a four year old, who are dealing with problems of their own.

This was a tough book to put down.  The characters are real and likeable, the plot twists are well-timed, and the whole thing just unfolds like an edge-of-your seat thriller.  My only complaint, if I was forced to come up with one, was that it ended rather abruptly.  I wasn't ready to stop reading.  But I guess that's also a positive, as it's always the best books that leave you wanting more, more, more. 

I really enjoyed this book, and look forward to reading other titles by this author.

I received this book for free from the BookSneeze program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Dirty God, by Johnnie Moore

"Jesus didn't just send a message to man through yet another prophet.  Instead, he dropped a staircase from heaven so that he can walk with us, touch us, talk to us, feel like we feel, hurt as we hurt, struggle as we struggle, and eventually help us get to where we ought to be - in the presence of God again."  ~ Johnnie Moore
Dirty God, by Johnnie Moore, strives to introduce its readers to the human side of Jesus.  No longer just a holy man to be viewed and worshipped from a distance,  Jesus becomes the man of the people... someone who walked the walk, got down in the trenches, and got his hands dirty.  A man who mingled and loved and befriended the lowest members of society, and a man who modeled exactly the sort of behavior he expected from us as his followers.

With a casual and conversational style, Moore talks to us about the meaning of grace, in a way that I don't think I've ever seen before.  He strips down the gospel to its core, and reminds us of its simple and profound truth:  Jesus was a man who brought grace for His people, who wants us to let go of our own hindrances, pick up our own crosses, and follow him... no matter where He may lead.

I really enjoyed this book, and found its message both relatable and inspiring.  While the biblical information it contained was not exactly anything new, it was presented in a fresh and unique way, making it perfect to reach new and seeking believers, or just those who are feeling stagnant in their faith.    Dirty God takes you beyond mere Christianity, into what it really means to follow Christ.

"God expects us to get our own hands dirty just as he dirtied his own.  He wants to meet us - not in the sacntuary but in the slums.  Where hopelessness resides is where the rivers of grace are meant to flow most freely.  God doesn't save us so that we can soak in religion but so that we can go out and spread his love to the masses.... He wants us out in the world, determined to bring change to it."

I received this book for free from the BookSneeze program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

North of Hope, by Shannon Huffman Polson

"I wasn't sure whether I'd come to this wild space to find myself or lose myself, or whether I had the capacity for either."  ~ Shannon Huffman Polson

North of Hope tells the true story of Shannon Huffman Polson, whose father and step mother were tragically killed by bears while rafting and camping in the remote Alaskan Arctic.  Ms Polson decides to undergo a life-changing journey, both figuratively and literally, by leaving her home in Seattle and traveling to the Arctic to re-trace her father's steps.  She writes in great detail about both the trip and her emotional experiences in coming to terms with the loss while she's there, as well as weaving in back story all throughout the book.

The author has a lovely, almost poetic, style of writing, and the book is very rich in vivid imagery.   I truly felt like I was experiencing the journey with her, as her descriptions of both the Alaskan wilderness and her mental state at the time were clear, specific, and painstakingly transcribed.  The emotional anguish of the trip was palpable, especially in the latter quarter of the book, as she gets closer and closer to the spot where her father camped and ultimately died.

Unfortunately, the book's strength proved to be a weakness as well.  At times the detail was so great and so lengthy that it bogged the book down, and made certain sections drag unnecessarily.  I found myself reading with great interest on minute, and then skimming the next. 

However, as it was by all accounts a very intimate and personal story, it doesn't seem too fair to nitpick its delivery.   This was her journey, and I admire her strength and tenacity in both choosing to take it at all, and then so beautifully sharing it with others.

*I received this book from Zondervon and Handlebar Publishing in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Saturday, April 6, 2013

Life In Spite of Me, by Kristen Anderson

A few days before I started the book, Life, In Spite of Me: Extraordinary Hope After a Fatal Choice, I watched a cheesy low budget movie in which a character is hit by a train, amputating both of his legs, and survives.  I remember rolling my eyes at my husband, and saying something to the effect of, "Oh that's realistic.  Like you could live through getting run over by a train."

And then I picked up Life, In Spite of Me:  the raw, unflinching, and painfully honest story of hope and recovery lived by Kristen Jane Anderson after she chose to lay down on a railroad track, ready to end it all.

The book was incredibly difficult to read, especially as someone who has dealt with depression myself, but that relatability was also what made it so great.  Ms Anderson takes the reader fully inside her journey, and doesn't gloss over the agonizing, heart-wrenching moments of despair.  We feel it with her as we read, which makes the ultimate story of survival and renewed faith all the more inspiring.   What could have easily been a depressing and dreary book is instead one that's incredibly uplifting and joy-filled.  She skillfully weaves her back story with her physical recovery and her path to finding strength, encouragement and new hope through Jesus.  I could not put the book down, and even after I finished it I wanted more, more, more.

This book is a must-read for anyone wanting to understand what it means to have true faith in God and a desire to share it with others, and especially for those who know what it's like to be in the grips of anxiety and depression.  A truly beautiful and hopeful story.

On a personal note, I tweeted the author when I was finished (@KristenJaneLife), to let her know how much I liked it.  She responded to me personally within the hour.  Simply a lovely soul, inside and out.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Multnomah Books, in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.

Monday, January 14, 2013

The Choice, by Robert Whitlow

The Choice, by Robert Whitlow, is a story that explores both the legal and social aspects of teen pregnancy, abortion, and adoption.  Sandy Lincoln is a happy and well-adjusted teenager whose life is forever altered when she finds herself pregnant.  The first part of her story deals with the decisions she makes as a pregnant teen in 1974, and it continues in the present day where she is a high school teacher who befriends and counsels a young student who's faced with the same problem.  While dealing with the student's issue, she simultaneously finds herself confronting head-on the choice she made about her own pregnancy as a teen.

Whitlow is a good story teller, and he's created a page-turning book here.  The characters are well-written and likeable, and there are plenty of twists and tension to keep you reading and wondering. 

My only issue with the book is that it is fairly heavy-handed with its anti-abortion stance.  While the message is good, and it delves into the topic relatively fairly, it comes off as a bit "preachy" at times.  It's a shame too, because it makes certain sections of the book feel a little clunky, which is in stark contrast to the otherwise smooth and enjoyable reading of the rest of the story.

Overall though, this was an enjoyable and heartwarming read about an important issue, one that will be relatable to many. 

 I received this book for free from Booksneeze. All opinions are my own.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Unstoppable, by Nick Vujicic

Unstoppable:  The Incredible Power of Faith in Action is the second book by Nick Vujicic, a young man born without arms and legs who inspires millions through his stories of faith, perseverance, and triumph over adversity.  In this book, he gives a glimpse into both his personal and professional life, as well as at the lives of others he's encountered along the way, and shows us the power that comes from stepping out in true faith.

I had the pleasure of listening to Nick speak at my church a few years ago, and he is a wonderful speaker.... touching, funny, engaging, and full of expression.   While some of that didn't seem to come through as strongly in his book, his heart did.  Two stories in particular that made an enormous impact on me were the story he told about the time that he was sidelined with depression and how he came out of it, and the story of how he met his wife.

One of the things that this book does so well is illustrates what it means not to never fall down, but how to pick yourself up when you do.  His story of the time he basically shut-down, depressed over circumstances beyond his control, was a very real and powerful testimony of a flawed human being who admitted weakness and ultimately re-gained his strength through his faith in God.

And the story of meeting, dating, and ultimately marrying his wife?  It's worth reading the entire book for that one story alone.  Beautiful.

This was a quick and inspiring read, with an overall positive message of believing in yourself, stepping out in faith, and trusting that "with God, all things are possible."

You can read more about Nick on his website, follow him on Facebook, and read Chapter One here.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.