Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Of Stillness and Storm, by Michele Phoenix

Of Stillness and Storm was an interesting book.  And I say that as the most sincerest compliment.  I tire very quickly of books that unfold too predictably, and Of Stillness and Storm was anything but predictable.

It tells the story of a missionary family - led by father Sam's vision - and the toll it takes on everyone involved, most notably the thirteen year old son, Ryan.  Lauren is the long-suffering and weary mom who tries to hold everything down in a foreign country, with a sullen and angry son, while her husband leaves them for two weeks at a time.  When she gets the chance to reconnect with an old friend on Facebook, their shared messages become her lifeline during a period of time that is becoming more and more intolerable.

When the situation with Ryan reaches a harrowing head, Lauren and Sam must make some seemingly impossible decisions;  decisions that they'd really been avoiding making all along.

Of Stillness and Storm is not a pretty book.  It doesn't necessarily make one feel good when reading it.  But it is gripping and raw and real, all of my favorite characteristics in a good book.  Phoenix is outstanding at writing believable dialogue, and the Facebook messages between the two friends were particularly compelling.  The characters are well-developed and relatable, and while it is fiction, it speaks to a very real issue for some very real families.

I received this book for free from Litfuse Publicity Group, in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

The Candidate, by Lis Wiehl

Mike Ortiz is a charming and charismatic war hero who is favored to win the White House. He, along with his beautiful and seemingly perfect wife, Celeste, is busy campaigning in the final days leading up to the election.

Erica Sparks is a brilliant and accomplished journalist who is covering their story.  As she watches the couple, all smiles and decorum while they are in the public eye, something about them starts to bother her.  Are they really what they seem?  Why does something about Mr Ortiz's behavior seem so "off"?  What really happened in the Al-Qaeda prison where Mike Ortiz was held for nine months?

Erica sets out to discover the truth, even as her relationship with her preteen daughter suffers, her previously faithful boyfriend is cheating on her overseas, and the body count starts to rise around her.  She knows that what she is about to uncover is even more sinister and dangerous than she feared, but she won't stop until she has answers.

Lis Wiehl - herself an impressive Harvard Law School graduate, former federal prosecutor, and current legal analyst and commentator for Fox News - writes a great, page-turning book here.  While I've read books by Wiehl, I hadn't read the first book in this particular series, and I'm afraid I was missing out!  Well-written, likeable (or thoroughly unlikeable!) characters, believable dialogue, and heavy suspense.  Two enthusiastic thumbs up. 

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

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Shaken, by Tim Tebow

Shaken: Discovering Your True Identity In The Midst Of Life's Storms, by Tim Tebow, is an uplifting book that delivers exactly what it promises: both a personal story and a broader encouragement about the staying grounded when life throws us disappointment, heartache, and rejection.

I have always sort of had a soft spot for Tim Tebow, even though I didn't particularly follow his career. What I saw was a man who very publicly lived out his dream, and his faith, and who was subsequently skewered by both the media and the general public when he fell out of favor. The more negative Tebow-related things that popped up on my newsfeed, the more compassion I felt. This honest and refreshing book showed me a real and vulnerable side of Tim Tebow that the media couldn't (and wouldn't!) ever capture.

Tebow isn't perfect, and this book doesn't pretend otherwise.  In fact, it takes us deep into the myriad of ways that he - just like the rest of us - struggles with things like disappointment, and failure, and arrogance, and a too-competitive spirit.  He takes us through both the highest of highs and the lowest of lows, how he handled them, how he wished he handled them, and what he learned.

At its heart, this book is one man's story of how he remembers who he is (and whose he is) even when the rest of the world seems like it is conspiring against him.  It is honest, raw, and relatable to anyone who's ever experienced disappointment of any kind - which is all of us.

Great and inspiring read.

I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, October 29, 2016

The Long Journey To Jake Palmer, by James L Rubart

Jake Palmer is a corporate trainer who coaches professionals to shed their own external labels, see deep within themselves, and live out the life they're meant to be living.  When a catastrophic accident leaves Jake both emotionally and physically scarred, he retreats into a deep depression.  Once an elite athlete, his injuries have left him unable to perform even the simplest of physical activity without pain, and his previously enviable marriage ends in divorce when his wife finds herself unwilling to deal with his disfigurement.  Even as he coaches others to be their best, most authentic self, his own personal life and sense of self-worth is crumbling.  He feels defeated, lost, and as if he is living his professional life as a fraud.

When he reluctantly joins a few of his friends for an extended stay at a lake house, Jake learns about the Legend of Willow Lake.  The story, passed down from generation to generation, tells of a secret corridor that leads whoever follows it into a path of total healing and fulfillment of his soul's deepest desires.  Skeptical at first, Jake finds himself obsessed with finding the corridor, and fixing his broken life - and heart - once and for all.

James Rubart tells a really good story here.  Not my typical choice of book (I tend to stay away from books with a strong element of the supernatural), he won me over with the honest story, and well-written characters.  I rooted for Jake, and so badly wanted him to experience the healing he just wasn't able to find.  The second half of the book in particular kept me turning the pages, as Jake embarks on the often treacherous journey to see if he can discover a relief from his pain, an answer to his questions, and ultimately a truer version of himself.

This book touches on a really lovely and important message, one that I was especially needing to hear right now.  I highly recommend it for anyone who is struggling in any area of their life, particularly when it comes to self-acceptance, as well as for anyone who just enjoys a good, well-told story.

Two enthusiastic thumbs up. 

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

I Take You, by Eliza Kennedy

Oof.  I had trouble with this book.  Billed as a light beach read type of story, the main premise is the will-they or won't-they relationship of Lily (an accomplished lawyer, but a train wreck in her personal life) and Will (a straight-laced and brilliant archaeologist).  When we are introduced to the couple, they are a few days away from their wedding... a wedding that Lily isn't sure she is ready for.  Dealing with cold feet and uncertainty, Lily drinks her way through the wedding preparations, cheats on Will with a number of different men, and generally behaves like an self-entitled, single young girl, instead of a mature adult who is about to be married.

I wanted to like this book.  But Lily gave me very little reason to root for her, or even like her.  She was an unapologetic alcoholic who also dabbled in drugs, she slept around (days before her own wedding), and was spoiled and bratty and emotionally unavailable to everyone around her.  There is definitely such a thing as characters that you love to hate, but that wasn't the case her.  I didn't just dislike Lily.  I didn't even care that I disliked her. 

I almost put the book down midway through, but I made myself finish it to see if my opinion of Lily might change. Sadly it did not.  She did eventually grow up a little (A little.  Sort of.), but by that point, she'd behaved so horribly, I really didn't care.  I couldn't emotionally connect with her at all, and by the end of the book I just wanted her to go away.  Will was a bit more likeable than Lily, but I couldn't take him seriously.  I was torn between feeling pity for him, and just finding him incredibly stupid for staying with someone who treated their relationship like such a joke.

Kennedy's writing style and skill were fine, and the book would have actually been a quick read (which to me, is always a huge plus.  It means I wanted to keep turning the pages) if I'd genuinely connected to the characters.  Others might find Lily and company fun and light-hearted.  These just weren't the characters, or the book, for me. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

The Seven Laws of Love: Essential Principles For Building Stronger Relationships, by Dave Willis

The Seven Laws of Love, by Dave Willis, makes a strong case for the importance of love, and walks the reader through the seven principles that will help us get there.  Drawing from biblical references, Willis essentially outlines a blueprint for love that is intended to strengthen all of our relationships.  While the primary focus is on marriage (and other long-term commitments), the same principles apply whether one is addressing a relationship with their spouse, their children, their friends, or their coworkers.

Initially, I was not all that excited to read this book.  A book about love seemed like it might be dry and even tedious.  I was pleasantly surprised to find that this was not the case.  In fact the opposite was true.  Willis takes a serious topic and makes it light, readable, and practical without veering into an area of making it all fluff and no substance.  His writing style is conversational and down to earth, and he uses both humor and plenty of personal stories to make his point.  He delivers solid information without talking down to the reader, and has crafted a book that is well organized and easy to read.  I brought my copy on a recent road trip, and read it in its entirety in one day in the car.

Love is something that all of us could learn to understand - and execute - better.  This book helps you do exactly that.  It is a worthy addition to the bookshelf of anyone who wants their relationships to grow deeper, stronger, and more authentic.

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

How to Live in Fear: Mastering the Art of Freaking Out, by Lance Hahn

Part memoir, and part inspirational instruction, How to Live in Fear by Lance Hahn is a refreshingly candid and transparent look at one pastor's struggle with panic and anxiety. With honesty, humility, and humor, Hahn takes the reader deep inside his personal story, sharing his individual journey with a panic disorder, as well as the steps he took (and continues to take) to manage it.

As someone who struggles with panic and anxiety, particularly as of late, this book was a balm to my exhausted and weary soul.  Mr Hahn's willingness to so openly share his experiences not only provided the much needed relief of knowing that someone else gets it, but also an overwhelming feeling of hope and inspiration along with the motivation I needed to more proactively seek help and healing myself.  Hahn never once condescends or speaks down to the reader, instead choosing to take an understanding approach;  one built on partnership and encouragement, from someone who is in the same boat.

Lance Hahn comes across as a gentle friend and cheerleader, giving the reader many good points to consider in their management of their own panic and anxiety.  When it comes to the topic of treatment, therapy, and medication, he employs a balanced approach.  True to his established style, he is very open about what avenues have worked for him, but offers no judgment on those who choose different paths.  Instead he encourages staying open-minded, and not being afraid to explore all modalities of treatment to find what works best for you. He also spends a great deal of time talking about additional steps to take when it comes to self-care, from adjusting your lifestyle, to learning tips to control your mind, to evaluating your spiritual journey (and what an important role that spirituality plays when it comes to your mental health).

This was a beautiful and hopeful book, and one that should be read by any believer who has or is experiencing any form or panic or anxiety.

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

How To Weep In Public, By Jacqueline Novak

I have to start by saying that this book left me a little confused.  To be fair, Ms Novak was very clear from the start about what the book was, and what it was not:  Her little disclaimer in the beginning states:

What This Book Will Not Provide:

Useful exercises
Insights of lasting value
Relief from depression
Help of any kind

And indeed, it did not provide any of those things.

What the book was meant to be was a funny, irreverent look at depression from someone who was deep within its trenches.  It was meant to offer a sort of camaraderie from someone who understands.  And it was those things.... kind of... but for much of the book it left me feeling more depressed than when I started.  

As someone who's struggled with depression for most of my adult life, I'm definitely not above looking at it through a lighthearted lens.  Jenny Lawson's book, Furiously Happy, was one of the funniest things I've ever read.  This book though, didn't leave me with the same reaction, and I'm not sure why.  Jacqueline Novak is a great writer, and describes the depths and complexities and layers of depression well.  It's entirely possible that it just took me awhile to really "get" her sense of humor, and that by the time I had, the book was nearly over. Perhaps if your sense of humor is different than mine, you might love this book.  

One word of caution is that it's one to skip if you are offended/bothered by profanity and sexual references, both of which Novak uses liberally.  Otherwise, check it out to see if it's your style, but definitely heed the author's own disclaimer at the beginning.  

*I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.*

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

This Is Awkward, by Sammy Rhodes

In This Is Awkward, Sammy Rhodes talks directly, honestly, and hilariously about the most painfully uncomfortable subjects in our lives. In chapter like "Parents Are a Gift (You Can't Return Them)" and "D is for Depression," he boldly goes where most of us fear to tread, revealing that we can be liberated by the embrace of a God who knows the most shameful things about us and loves us all the same. Because nothing is too awkward for God. (from the back cover)
Depression, divorce, porn, social media, introversion, and.... donuts?  These are just a few of the weird and randomly awkward chapter topics in This Is Awkward.   If that's not enough, Rhodes starts each chapter with a little behind-the-scenes venture into his meandering, neurotic mind (and I say that with total respect... and as a person who also has a meandering, neurotic mind) as he writes... or tries to write... or thinks about writing... mostly at places like Starbucks.  I would have honestly read the book just for these little excerpts alone.  To say that I could relate would be a gross understatement. They met me in the most vulnerable, darkest, awkwardest, weirdest corners of my psyche.  I'm not a husband, or a father, or a male, but I get Sammy Rhodes.

I started reading this book in the waiting room at the dentist, and found myself praying that he'd be running late so I could keep reading.  I felt like a little kid, plotting to beg her parents, "Just five more minutes!" when they came in to find me reading in bed and told me it was time for lights out.   Sammy Rhodes writes in a wonderfully relatable and conversational style that made me want to keep turning the pages.  He writes about the things that so many of us think about, but are afraid to say. Plus, he's hysterical.

The truly great thing about this book though isn't so much the camaraderie you feel reading about someone who's just as weird and awkward as you are (though that's certainly a part of it).  What makes it great is the overall hopeful message that God accepts and loves even at our most embarrassingly awkward.  Something that I think I can never hear enough.

Read it.

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

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

It Was Me All Along, by Andie Mitchell

It was Me All Along is a memoir about a young woman's life, loves, and relationships, particularly when it comes to food.  All her life, Andie Mitchell turned to food for comfort, companionship, and as a refuge from the turmoil in her fractured family life.  This story chronicles that disordered relationship, and the toil it took on both her body and her sense of self of self, as she navigates the ups and downs of growing up, going to college, and eventually finding where she does - and does not - fit in the world.  Reaching an all time high weight of 268, Andie does the hard work to discover why she's always turned to food, what she can do about, and ultimately the path she needs to take to find health and healing.

I really connected with this book.  Ms Mitchell is a wonderful descriptive writer and story-teller, and she makes you both root for her all while wincing at the stops and starts along the way.  It did take me a little longer to finish than it normally takes me.... not because the book wasn't great (it was), but because it was a heavy and at times heart-wrenching read.  Her story was a messy one, but it was also filled with hope.  It left me feeling inspired, and proud of this woman I have never met.  Her weight loss (of over a hundred pounds!) was amazing, but it was almost secondary to the realizations about self-love she made along the way, as well as the healthy and balanced relationship she had with food by the end.  As someone who really appreciates good food, in what I'd like to think is a healthy way, her triumphs made me happy, especially after learning that she actually went into food blogging and writing as a career.  It was as if her disordered eating - which could have chewed her up and spit her out - instead refined her, made her stronger, and forced her to find the tools she needed to turn her love for food into something beautiful and healthy and life-affirming.

Very inspiring.

For me, the mark of a great book versus a good one is what I do when I'm done.  When I finished this book, I immediately looked up Andie Mitchell to follow her all over social media (which, by the way, I suggest you do too.... if for no other reason to find out what became of her relationship with Daniel)

Beautiful book, and beautiful human.  Inside and out.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Prison, by Toni V Lee

I really wanted to like this book.  The plot sounded so interesting:  Sonja Grey and Max Trent are narcotics detectives who are chosen to go undercover to capture a "thug" who is dealing drugs at Sonja's church.  Promising mystery, suspense, and romance, it was indeed the makings of a good book.

Unfortunately, this kernel of a good story was completely lost in a bunch of cliches, overly stereotypical characters, and unbelievable dialogue.  Sonja and Max go from acting like immature grade schoolers - dealing with their attraction for each other by picking fights - to becoming the stuff of a Christian version of a Harlequin romance.  I lost track of how many times Sonja admired Max's "bulging, rippling muscles," and at one pointed she deemed him "looking good enough to eat."  For his part, Max struggled with controlling his fleshly desires, allowing himself only to "kiss her senseless"  (more than once), and delivered lines like, "Don't you know my heart beats in time with yours?"

The secondary characters, including the young man they were trying to capture, were basically caricatures, rather than believable, three dimensional characters.   We're also led to believe that the bad guys are going to be covered in tattoos and wear dreadlocks, because obviously, tattoos and dreadlocks equal a thug.

Ultimately, I was disappointed and frustrated while trying to read this all the way through.  I did finish the book, but found myself skimming at times, because it was just too difficult to take seriously.

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

Monday, February 1, 2016

The Mountain Midwife, by Laurie Alice Eakes

Ashley Tolliver is a third generation midwife living and working in the Appalachian Mountains in Virginia. She is devoted to her work and to her clients, but is also feeling a pull to leave her small hometown to go to medical school. When a mysterious couple arrives at her door late one night, she finds herself unexpectedly delivering a baby only to have the driver, baby, and mother (who is dangerously bleeding) vanish out into the night without a trace.

Hunter McDermott is a successful engineer from the DC area who is begrudgingly experiencing his fifteen minutes of fame after rescuing a young girl.  He returns home after working overseas hoping to rest and catch his breath for awhile.  Instead he finds a cryptic phone message from someone claiming to be his birth mother. After confronting his parents, he learns that he was in fact adopted, and goes on a quest to research this new-found piece of his personal history.  His journey brings him to the mountains of southwestern Virginia, where he crosses paths with Ashley Tolliver.

Eakes tells an interesting and fast-moving story here.  The mystery of the young missing mother, and Hunter's personal quest to find his parents are intertwined as Ashley and Hunter meet and forge a tentative relationship. There are plenty of twists and turns that kept me turning the pages, and the characters are well-developed.  The mountains and landscape of the area are described beautifully, and almost serve as a character in their own right.

Unfortunately I did have a few gripes that kept me from giving the book a higher rating. There were some confusing plot lines and continuity issues, and the ending was extremely abrupt, leaving many secondary stories completely unresolved.  It is a shame too, because Eakes is a great writer, and I enjoyed her overall descriptive style.

This is the first book I've read by this author, and little quibbles aside, I would definitely give another of her books a try.

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