Friday, October 17, 2014

Playing Saint

Playing Saint is new author Zachary Bartels' debut novel. Sometimes I'm nervous about reading a new author, but the premise of this book sounded so intriguing that I just had to give it a shot - and I wasn't disappointed. The description of the book reads:

"Yesterday, Parker Saint’s only concern was his swiftly rising star power.

Today, he’s just trying to stay alive.

Parker Saint is living the dream. A cushy job at a thriving megachurch has him on the verge of becoming a bestselling author and broadcast celebrity—until life takes an abrupt turn that lands him on the wrong side of the law. To avoid a public scandal, he agrees to consult with the police on a series of brutal murders linked by strange religious symbols scrawled on each victim.

Parker tries to play the expert, but he is clearly in over his head. Drawn ever deeper into a web of intrigue involving a demanding detective, a trio of secretive Vatican operatives, and a centuries-old conspiracy to conceal a mysterious relic, he realizes for the first time that the battle between good and evil is all too real—and that the killer is coming back . . . this time for him."

I was pulled in just from the Prologue - I instantly wanted to know more. I knew right away this had the potential to be an excellent book, and it was. Bartels has taken the Christian thriller genre (which is my favorite, by the way) and turned it on its head. While he proves that you can write a gritty, scary page turner without bad language and sex and still write a great book, he also proves that just because it's a Christian book, it doesn't have to be cheesy, lame, or cliche. This is one book that you just won't be able to put down - don't start it right before bedtime! There is also liberal humor sprinkled throughout the book, which makes a subject that could be grim and depressing a much more enjoyable subject. It's the perfect balance. I highly recommend this book at anyone who enjoys a good suspense book.

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

Sunday, October 12, 2014


Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured A Marriage by Mary Potter Kenyon is part memoir, part marriage book. I love reading memoirs, although sometimes have trouble reading cancer memoirs because many of them can be scary or depressing. This one, however, is neither scary or depressing, although it is sad since Mary's husband does pass away - not from the cancer (he was cured of his cancer and past his 5-year remission point), but rather of a heart attack.

The description of the book reads:

"When Mary Potter Kenyon’s husband David was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 2006 she searched libraries and bookstores for books on cancer and the caregiving experience. What she discovered was a plethora of technical and medically-oriented books or those written by a caregiver whose loved one had died, a scenario she refused to contemplate. While serving as David’s companion during Wednesday chemotherapy treatments, Mary began journaling about their experience as a couple and parents of young children as they navigated the labyrinth of cancer. It soon dawned on her that she was writing the very book she had searched for upon David’s diagnosis: one that goes beyond the cancer experience to give hope and inspiration to the reader. Chemo-Therapist: How Cancer Cured a Marriage is a moving testimonial of a relationship renewed by the shared experience of a life threatening illness." Initially, after David’s diagnosis, I would cringe when I read books or articles by cancer survivors who stated that cancer had been a gift in their lives. How could all that David endured be viewed as a gift? The invasive surgery, the weeks of chemotherapy and radiation: a gift? Yet, after the cancer, David would often reach for my hand and say, “If it is cancer that is responsible for our new relationship, then it was all worth it.” And I’d reluctantly agree that cancer had been a gift in our lives. We’d both seen the other alternative: patients and survivors who had become bitter and angry, and neither one of us wanted to become that."

At 167 pages, this book was a quick read for me - less than 24 hours. I didn't want to put it down! I definitely could've read it in one sitting if I didn't have kids and housework to do! Mary's writing style is easy and heartfelt, blog post style. It feels like you're sitting across the table from her with a cup of coffee while she shares with you. I was touched by Mary and David's story, from their cozy college days with newborns to their large, 8 child homeschooling family. I can relate a lot to Mary. I have four children (which is by no means as large as Mary's family, but still "large" to society in general), homeschooled for several years, breastfed all my children, and did/do a lot of natural-type parenting as well. I'm also an avid reader, obsessed with books, and a couponer! I know well how lots of little children can affect a marriage - we're still in the thick of it, with our children ranging from 4-12 years old. I'm glad I read this book now, because Mary's insight from an older age is something I'm glad to read now, at a younger age. I hope that I'm able to apply these lessons to my marriage now rather than waiting till it might be too late. Thank you, Mary, for sharing your personal story and being willing to help others. I highly recommend this book to any Christian who is married. Everyone can benefit from this story, even if you're not dealing with cancer or another serious illness.

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

Friday, October 3, 2014

Blue Ribbon Baking From A Redneck Kitchen

Blue Ribbon Baking From A Redneck Kitchen by Francine Bryson immediately caught my eye because it's all about two of my favorite things: old fashioned Southern cooking, and desserts! I'd never heard of Francine Bryson or The American Baking Competition show, so I wasn't sure what exactly to expect, but I wasn't disappointed.

The description on the back reads:

"National pie champion, mom, homemaker, and self-proclaimed redneck, Francine Bryson won the hearts of bakers everywhere when she appeared on CBS’s The American Baking Competition and went on to become a finalist on the show. Known for her down-home Southern charm and sass (and for successfully pairing chocolate and peanut butter with bacon), Francine now shares her sought-after recipes and tips in her very first baking book.

“Here are the recipes and tricks I was taught by my Great-Granny, Granny, Nana, and Mama—the women who schooled me on the ways a Southern woman keeps a kitchen—and that I learned from twenty-plus years of competing on the baking circuit. Now you can bake up award-winning pies such as Upside-Down Apple Pie, fluffy Biscuits Like Nana Made, and irresistible treats like Soda Pop Cake and Classic Southern Lemon Bars—all so good they have made the rounds with the ladies at church, the bridge clubs, supper clubs, and mom groups for generations.”"

I grew up being raised by my grandparents, and my grandma did old fashioned cooking like this, so I was super excited to see these types of recipes. I have a thing for old recipes - I love cooking "vintage" food. It's fun and feels like a connection to the past. In fact, that's the best part about this book. Francine shares recipes from her grandparents that have been passed down for generations and generations. It's like getting back to your roots, in the kitchen. This book is just chock full of amazing dessert and baking recipes. The sections include: Pies; Cookies & Bars; Cakes Like Granny Made; Cheesecakes; Sunday Go-To-Meeting; Baked Goods To Show Off; Biscuits & Breads; and Candy & Truffles. I've already got a list a mile long of recipes that I can't wait to try! My favorite part of this book is that Francine includes a paragraph about each and every recipe, explaining where it came from, who she learned it from, memories about it, or how she created it. I love the personal touch it gives this book. My only complaint is that it doesn't have nearly enough pictures. It's very light on pictures, and I'm spoiled and I like to see a picture of every or nearly every recipe in a cookbook. Other than that, it's great! Highly recommended.

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

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Tell Me About Prayer

Tell Me About Prayer by Stephen Elkins is the latest title in the Train 'Em Up series for kids. Other titles in the series include: Baptism, Bible, Church, Faith, Grace, Praise & Worship, and Salvation. The description reads:

"Train ’Em Up is an interactive, fun-filled, and affordable series that uses a train locomotive theme for teaching kids core Christian beliefs and principles. In Tell Me about Prayer, a friendly train conductor, Mr. Steve, teaches kids what prayer is all about, how we should talk to God, and why our conversations are so important to Him. Through bold graphics and interactive songs and stories, Train ’Em Up makes it easy for parents and teachers to explain biblical concepts like prayer in a way that helps with attention, memorization, and recall while building a solid faith foundation. Each book in the series includes a CD with sing-along songs and narrated stories with sound effects, plus a colorful sticker sheet!"

This is the first book of the series I've read so far, but I'm definitely interested in reading the rest of the books in the series with my children now. At just $4.99, these softcover books are an excellent value - they're a great length (this one is 24 pages), and also include stickers and a CD including kids Bible songs that go with the theme. I got this book for my 4 year old son and he loved it. He enjoyed decorating the pages with the included sticker sheet and was super excited about the CD full of songs. It's a full length, 14 song CD and the songs included are: Get on Board, Little Children; The Lord's Prayer; Train Up a Child; Father, We Thank Thee; Whisper a Prayer; Standing in the Need of Prayer; Ask, Seek, and Knock; O Give Thanks; Come to Me; Pray in the Spirit; We Should Pray; Never Give Up; If My People Pray; and Ask Anything. He thoroughly enjoyed me reading this book to him and looking at the beautiful pictures. I am also going to read this to my 6 year old daughter - it is good for her age as well. This book explains the concept and purpose of prayer, as well as how to pray, in simple terms any child can understand and process. There are Bible verses included throughout the text. The end of the book has questions to ask your child to reinforce the concepts and a prayer you can pray with your child at the end. I was a little surprised that the term "Yahweh" was used a couple times in the book - it's a bit different for a very young child who has always referred to God and Jesus - but it's a great teaching moment as well to share all the different names of God and what they mean. I highly recommend this high quality, inexpensive book to any Christian parent looking to share basic truths of the faith with their young children. Probably best for ages 3-6.

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

Move On

Move On: When Mercy Meets Your Mess by Vickie Courtney was one of those books that, by the description, sounded like it would either be amazing or a flop, so I opened it up not sure what to expect. Well, it was amazing! The description reads:

"You can say good-bye to the person you've been pretending to be!

Life is often messy. God makes provision to help us move beyond our messes.

Oftentimes our first instincts are to hide, deny, ignore, or run. In Move On best-selling author Vicki Courtney helps readers come clean with their muddy messes, revealing the deeper issues they must face, including:

-the need for approval
-struggles and broken dreams
-Christian snobbery

It is in the middle of our messes, Vicki says, that Mercy shows up and offers us a safe place to process our struggles, imperfections, doubts, and fears. Once we face our messes, God, with his sweet mercy, can help us to get real, deal, and truly move on. Then with Mercy by our side, we are able to break free and experience the grace and freedom God intends."

First of all, the cover of this book is absolutely stunning. The cover is truly what drew me to the book in the first place. It's vibrant, engaging, and compelling. Once I opened up the book, I found that the contents were wonderful as well. Vickie starts off the book by telling the story of her Christian college-age engaged son confessing that his fiancee is pregnant. I, like Vickie, did not become a Christian until my early 20s, so I've had a lot of messes in my life as well (both before and after I got saved - just like Vickie!) so I appreciated the upfront honestly throughout the entire book. She confesses her own mistakes, messes, and mishaps. This is one of the most "real", honest Christian books I've ever read. I appreciate Vickie's transparency and willingness to share her struggles, and how she encourages all of us to share our struggles as well. This was a quick read and something you'll have trouble putting down - at just 191 pages, I read it in one afternoon. As soon as I read the Preface describing her son's confession, I was drawn in and hooked. Vickie points us over and over again to the grace and mercy of the Saviour, which is something I need a daily (and sometimes moment by moment) reminder of. I especially liked her emphasis on tearing down judgmental, Pharisaical behavior in the church - which, if we're honest, we all can succumb to at times. This is a very important book and one that every Christian today should read. Highly recommended.

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Never Ever Give Up

Never Ever Give Up: The Inspiring Story of Jessie and Her JoyJars is the story of Jessica Joy Rees and her family after she is diagnosed with a rare, inoperable brain tumor at just eleven years old. The book chronicles the fight Jessie goes through in an attempt to beat the odds of her grim prognosis, and how she focused not on her illness but how she might bless and help others. She immediately came up with the idea of JoyJars - clear jars stuffed with toys and goodies that were distributed throughout hospitals to children fighting cancers and life threatening illnesses. Told from the viewpoint of her father, which was unique because most (if not all) childhood cancer memoirs I've read have been written from the mother's viewpoint, you will be taken through the diagnosis, illness, Jessie's ultimate and unfortunate death, and the aftermath and impact her brief life has left on the world.

Never Ever Give Up is an inspiring, heartwarming, yet sad story. It was a very quick read - the book wasn't very long and it was definitely a page turner. I read it in just one day. I was a little hesitant to read this book at first due to the sadness of the subject matter, but I was definitely glad I chose to read it once I opened it up. While the story was so heartbreaking, it was also very inspiring and challenges everyone to life by Jessie's motto - "Never Ever Give Up", no matter what challenges you are facing. I had never heard of Jessica Rees or the JoyJars movement before this book, so I think this is a great opportunity to spread awareness about childhood cancers and the Jessica Rees/JoyJar charity. I'd definitely recommend this book. The family's faith is very inspiring.

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Where Treetops Glisten

Where Treetops Glisten is a charming collection of three heartwarming Christmas romances set during World War II. The back cover copy immediately caught my eye - "The crunch of newly fallen snow, the weight of wartime. Siblings forging new paths and finding love in three stories, filled with the wonder of Christmas". The first story is White Christmas by Cara Putnam. Abigail Turner loses her beau to the war, and she's nervous about becoming romantically involved again. A young man comes into her life and challenges her to learn to love again.

The second story is I'll Be Home For Christmas by Sarah Sundin. She introduces us to Abigail's brother, Pete. He's a fighter pilot home from the war just in time for Christmas. While home, he meets a sweet child and has to convince her widowed mother that he's not the childhood bully she remembers ... and tries to win her heart.

The third offering, Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas by Tricia Goyer, Merry Turner is working as a combat nurse overseas in the Netherlands to help the war effort. She's faced with a betrayal and God's plans to redeem her broken heart. Merry must trust in the Lord to heal her and plan for her future.

I loved this sweet set of stories. Each story is a short story, but with an overall length of 356 pages, each story has enough meat and depth to it and hold your interest and really develop the characters. Also, the stories overlap and intertwine, so you still get to "see" the characters continue to develop as you read on. The cover is beautiful and this is the perfect book to read at Christmastime, with a mug of hot chocolate by the fire! I highly recommend this book as the Christmas season approaches. I felt transported back to another time as I read and the simple joys of Christmas intertwined with the heaviness of World War II were the perfect combination. There are also recipes included in the back that were mentioned in the story, so that is a fun addition to the book! Looking forward to trying them. I'd recommend this book to anyone who loves Christian or historical fiction.

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