Wednesday, May 13, 2015

What Keeps You Up At Night?


I decided to read What Keeps You Up At Night: How to Find Peace While Chasing Your Dreams by Pete Wilson because I'm going through a lot of transition in my life right now and am trying to discern what exactly God wants me to do with my life - and along with that process comes a lot of anxiety, confusion, worry, questioning, and the desire to make right decisions while not holding back from chasing your God-given dreams. This book sounded like the perfect read for me:

“I just can’t ever seem to shut off my brain and rest.”

It's easy to feel paralyzed by uncertainty. We want our questions answered, our decisions affirmed, and our plans applauded. But life doesn't come with an instruction manual and rarely follows a straight path. How would your life change if you learned to lean into uncertainty instead of waiting on the sidelines for just the right moment or opportunity?

The paradox of faith is that you can't activate it until you act on it. Trust compels us to move forward. If you don't, then you'll be left with a laundry list of unrealized expectations. You were meant to experience a life of abundance and blessing, not frustration and failure.

Clarity only comes when we look back. So if you wait until you have clarity, you'll never find it. Instead, you must move forward even when you feel scared to death. That is when you'll be able to turn the fears that keep you up at night into fuel for your journey.

If you want to experience a breakthrough in your life, then you must find a new cadence that will provide the strength you need to move forward in spite of your doubts, questions, and fears. The rhythm of faith is not hinged upon our circumstances but our willingness to surrender.

In his most insightful work since the debut bestseller, Plan B, Pete Wilson provides a plan for living that will lead you to a place of peace that you've only dreamed about and a life filled with meaning, significance, and satisfaction."

I've not read any other of Pete Wilson's books, and I knew next to nothing about him before picking up this book. I was pleasantly surprised at how well-written and engaging this book was. Pete sprinkles in a lot of modern/trendy/secular type things into the book, like throwing Switchfoot lyrics in the first chapter (okay, okay, they started off as "Christian rock" band, but technically are a secular rock band currently) which helps it appeal to a broader variety of Christians. However, he never backs down from the truth and uses a lot of Scripture throughout the book. Each chapter ends with a review, including key ideas, reflection questions, and "your next step", which is an action you can take based on the chapter. This book is perfectly set up to use in a group study at church or with friends. The cover is perfect and really sells the book. I recommend this one to any Christian who is dealing with life changes or struggling with making their (God-given) dreams come true.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Art of Losing Yourself


The Art of Losing Yourself by Katie Ganshert is the first book of hers I've read. It sounded like a Karen Kingsbury-esqe type book, which are kind of hit-or-miss for me (some I love, some are just meh), but the plot sounded so intriguing, and the reviews were great, so I decided to give it a try. The back cover reads:

"Every morning, Carmen Hart pastes on her made-for-TV smile and broadcasts the weather. She’s the Florida panhandle’s favorite meteorologist, married to everyone’s favorite high school football coach. They’re the perfect-looking couple, live in a nice house, and attend church on Sundays. From the outside, she’s a woman who has it all together. But on the inside, Carmen Hart struggles with doubt. She wonders if she made a mistake when she married her husband. She wonders if God is as powerful as she once believed. Sometimes she wonders if He exists at all. After years of secret losses and empty arms, she’s not so sure anymore.

Until Carmen’s sister—seventeen year old runaway, Gracie Fisher—steps in and changes everything. Gracie is caught squatting at a boarded-up motel that belongs to Carmen’s aunt, and their mother is off on another one of her benders, which means Carmen has no other option but to take Gracie in. Is it possible for God to use a broken teenager and an abandoned motel to bring a woman’s faith and marriage back to life? Can two half-sisters make each other whole?"

I love Christian fiction that isn't afraid to tackle big, difficult issues. This one touches on many: infertility, miscarriage, alcoholism, runaway teenagers, and more. Katie deals with all of these real life issues sensitively, but unflinchingly. This is a slow and steady book that winds along to a satisfying conclusion. It isn't a gripping thriller, but you'll fall in love with the characters along the way and want to know how everything turns out in the end. I'll admit, this one is a bit of a tearjerker. Bring the kleenex! I wanted to stay with Carmen's family after the last page was turned. This book is a true joy to read and will bring hope to the hurting.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Sunday, May 3, 2015

Savor


Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are, As You Are by Shauna Niequist sounded like a great devotional. I love food and recipes and although I've never read any of Shauna's books, she sounded very relatable, so I thought I'd give it a shot. This book is a year-long devotional, containing 365 individual chapters. Each devotional contains a Bible verse, a few paragraphs from Shauna, and then a thought at the end to ponder/journal/pray about. There are also recipes sprinkled throughout. The book description reads:

"Sink deep into the everyday goodness of God and savor every moment!


In this daily devotional, Shauna Niequist becomes a friend across the pages, sharing her heart with yours, keeping you company, and inviting you into the abundant life God offers.


And there are recipes, too, because spiritual living happens not just when we read and pray, but also when we gather with family and friends over dinners and breakfasts and late-night snacks. These recipes are Shauna’s staples, and each one should be enjoyed around a table with people you love.


So read and learn and pray and cook and share. Remember to savor each day, whatever it holds: work and play, coffee and kids, meals and prayers and the good stuff and the hard stuff. Life is all about relationships, and your daily relationship with God is worth savoring in every moment."

Sounds great, right? Well, I have to say that I was kind of let down by this one. Maybe part of the problem was that I've never read any of Shauna's books and know nothing about her (although on the opposite side, most of this devotional is recycled from her prior books and blogs, so that might not be much better), maybe part of it was reading it on the Kindle instead of a paper book. I tried picking up on the devotionals in May, but it seemed like they were a continuation of prior entries, so they made no sense. I had to go to January 1st and start there instead - so if you're picking this up in the middle of the year, be prepared to not be able to synch with the dates. The devotional content for each day is very short - 3 paragraphs or so, and doesn't always have much to do with the selected verse. What she has to say is nice, but this feels more like a collection of extremely short stories rather than a devotional, as what she has to say is largely about her life and personal experiences rather than God specifically. Also, the recipes were difficult to find in the Kindle edition. I think this devotional is more geared toward people who already know Shauna's story and might do better in the paper edition rather than the Kindle edition.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

What You Left Behind


What You Left Behind is Samantha Hayes' followup book to Until You're Mine. I read and reviewed Until You're Mine last year and absolutely loved it, so I knew I'd want to snatch up any book she put out next. I was pleasantly surprised to see that she was tying her second book into her first by continuing to follow DI Lorraine Fisher. In this installment, Lorraine is vacationing in the countryside at her sister Jo's house with her daughter, Stella. The book description reads:

"A mesmerizing new thriller from the author of Until You’re Mine

Two years after a terrifying spate of teenage suicides, the remote village of Radcote has just begun to heal. Then a young man is killed in a freak motorcycle accident and a suicide note is found among his belongings. When a second boy is found dead shortly thereafter, the nightmare of repeat suicides once again threatens the community.

Desperate for a vacation, Detective Inspector Lorraine Fisher has just come to Radcote for a stay with her sister, Jo, but the atmosphere of the country house is unusually tense. Freddie, Jo's son, seems troubled and uncommunicative, and Jo is struggling to reach out to him. Meanwhile, Lorraine becomes determined to discover the truth behind these deaths. Are they suicides, or is there something more sinister at work? Finding answers might help Freddie, but they'll also lead to a shocking truth: whatever it is--or whoever it is--that's killing these young people is far more disturbing than she ever could have imagined, and unraveling the secret is just as dangerous as the secret itself.

Wicked, intense, and utterly compulsive, What You Left Behind confirms Samantha Hayes as a top thriller writer."

Until You're Mine was a new author breakout hit for me, so I entered What You Left Behind with pretty high expectations. While What You Left Behind was definitely a great book, it didn't quite live up to her first book to me. I'm guessing this book was inspired by the intriguing, mysterious, and sad Bridgend suicides - it really parallels that story almost entirely. This was exciting to me because I'd recently watched the Bridgend documentary, so I felt that that was a really fresh and interesting idea for a story. The book starts off with a bang in the prologue, but then drags a bit at the beginning. Some parts are confusing as we jump around meeting the different characters, but it comes together and the pace picks up a few chapters in. It was definitely suspenseful and kept me turning the pages. I don't want to say too much about the plot, but it was satisfying and ended well. My only complaint about this book is that it didn't have that stay-up-all-night nailbiter feel to it that her first book did. However, I highly recommend this book to anyone who loves a good psychological thriller - but read Until You're Mine first.

I received a copy of this book from Blogging For Books in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, May 2, 2015

One Last Thing


One Last Thing by Rebecca St. James and Nancy Rue is a very brave novel in today's world. It explores how pornography addiction and its related tentacles (strip clubs, prostitutes) can affect, and even destroy, a relationship. This book isn't afraid to take a hard stand against all of the above, which is really unpopular in today's culture. I admire and appreciate the bravery of basing an entire novel on this topic, which in Christian circles can be a "hush-hush/sweep it under the rug" type of topic. The book description reads:

"Tara had always imagined her happily ever after. But her fiancĂ©’s secrets are changing this story into one she doesn’t even recognize.

Tara Faulkner and Seth Grissom grew up next door to each other in Savannah’s historic district. Their parents are best friends. They finish each other’s sentences all the time. Their fairy-tale wedding is a foregone conclusion . . . until Tara discovers another side to Seth three weeks before the wedding.

Reality has crashed in on Tara’s fairy tale—but hope will lead her to a future she couldn’t have planned for herself."

So, first the good: I really liked this book. I read it on my Kindle and couldn't put it down. I kept flipping the pages wanting to know what would happen next, whether Seth and Tara would still get married, and how all the other subplots would resolve. The story was really engaging and was skillfully written, unfolding one layer at a time, till what you thought was a simple book about Seth's struggle with pornography turned out to be so much deeper and so much more. For that, I'd give the book four stars.

However ... next, the bad. I almost had trouble pushing through the first few pages because the characters in this book don't tend to be very likeable (at least at first). They're all incredibly rich, the "young adults" (aka people in their mid 20s) are all spoiled by "Mama and Daddy", except for the token dirt poor friend on a scholarship. Tara and Seth are physical perfection. The book goes into a lot of lavish detail about how rich they are, how much money they have, etc etc. Also, a lot of the characters are extremely unlikeable. Seth's mom is supposedly Tara's mom's best friend, but she's a ballbuster attorney and treats Tara like a piece of dirt throughout the entire book, even before Seth's problem is revealed. Seth's dad is a megachurch pastor, but he certainly doesn't behave like one. And on and on. If you can get past the eyeroll-worthy filthy rich nonsense, this is a really good book.

My other big problem with this book (which is kind of spoiler-y, consider this your spoiler alert) is that there is no real resolution with Seth and Tara at the end of the book. We never get to find out if they ever get married or even if they get back/stay together, which is what kept me turning the pages to find out. Also, near the end a twist is thrown in with Tara having a new potential romantic interest, which honestly I would love to see her get married to instead of Seth, but we never get to find out if that relationship goes anywhere, either. We're basically left at the end with certain things resolved. but the main basis of the story (ie, Seth and Tara's marriage) completely unresolved. It felt kind of unsatisfying - almost like it's open for a sequel, except as far as I know, there isn't one. Based on all these issues, my true rating for this book would be a 3.5. I do recommend this book for anyone looking for a good read that's a bit on the darker side.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Friday, May 1, 2015

We Carried The Mat


I tend to enjoy memoirs (although reading ones about loss and death can get depressing after awhile), so I thought We Carried the Mat by Katie Jordan would be an enjoyable read, although potentially a bit of a downer. We Carried the Mat details Katie's journey through her husband's terminal ALS diagnosis. The description reads:

"Months before Jay’s first symptoms appeared, I felt compelled to start keeping a journal. Looking back on those fledgling entries, I recognize now that my decision to begin journaling at that particular time was prophetic.

Writing in that “safe place” reconnected me to my heavenly Father
during the most turbulent time of my life. As Jay was losing his
battle with ALS, I found myself groping for the journal and pen.

At my lowest times, I found God speaking encouragement to me
through others. Countless times I recorded something in my journals
spoken from the lips of strangers, friends, mentors, and pastors.
These were bits of light and wisdom that I tried to implement in
my hectic life as Jay’s wife and caregiver. Now I’m very grateful
they are preserved as a resource during times of trouble.

As you juggle the physical and emotional challenges of being a caregiver or
caring supporter, it is my prayer that this book will provide encouragement,
compassion, affirmation and hope. God will meet you right were you
are, and remain beside you every step of the way. Join Him where He is
already at work. He will equip you to do all that you need to accomplish,
just as He led me through my journey to completion, one step at a time."

This book is part memoir and part "how to be a good caregiver/support person to a caregiver". Katie's story was poignant and touching, but also extremely sad. It wasn't quite the book for me because I'm not currently a caregiver to an ill person (or support person to a caregiver), but it was nice to file away the tips for the future. The main problem with this book was a lack of quality editing. It could use a bit more editing and then it might be a four star book. I recommend this book to anyone caring for an ill person.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

The Inn At Ocean's Edge


I've heard so many wonderful things about Colleen Coble, but I've yet to have the chance to pick up any of her books. When I read the description for The Inn At Ocean's Edge, I decided to remedy this because it just sounded so intriguing and mysterious. I wasn't sure what to expect since this was my first book of hers, but I had super high hopes based on the genre, other reviews I've read of her books, and the way this one sounded. The back cover reads:

"Claire’s visit to a luxury hotel in Maine awakens repressed memories, threatening all she holds dear.

In 1989, Claire Dellamare disappeared from her own fourth birthday party at the Hotel Tourmaline on the island of Folly Shoals, Maine. She showed up a year later at the same hotel, with a note pinned to her dress but no explanation. Nobody knows where Claire spent that year—and until now, Claire didn’t even know she had ever been missing.

But when Claire returns to the Hotel Tourmaline for a business meeting with her CEO father, disturbing memories begin to surface . . . despite her parents’ best efforts to keep them forgotten.

Luke Rocco lost his mother under equally mysterious circumstances—at the same time Claire disappeared. After a chance encounter reveals the unlikely link between them, Claire and Luke set out together to uncover the truth about what happened that fateful year.

With flashbacks swimming just beneath her consciousness and a murderer threatening her safety, Claire’s very life depends on unscrambling her past . . . even if her family refuses to acknowledge it. Someone—maybe everyone—is hiding something from Claire Dellamare, and it will cost her everything to drag the truth out into the light."

I am sad to say that this book just didn't live up to my expectations, even though I really wanted to love it. My main problem was that just two chapters in, I felt an extreme lack of connection to the characters and parts felt confusing. It was like we jumped into the middle of the book with no lead-in. The writing was almost amateurish and the dialogue was so stilted and unbelievable. It lacked depth - the characters felt like two dimensional cardboard cutouts. The plot itself held so much promise, and indeed, was suspenseful and intriguing. However, the execution of the plot was just lacking something important that I couldn't quite put my finger on. I'm not going to give up on Colleen Coble - I'll give another one of her books a shot, and look forward to the sequel to The Inn At Ocean's Edge in the hopes that she works the kinks out and follows up with a better book for the next installment.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.