Monday, July 21, 2014

Heart Of The Country

I was introduced to Rene Gutteridge as a suspense author, so it's a bit of a change that she's been writing movie novelizations lately. I gave Heart Of The Country a try because I like her other books and it seemed like a decent story. Note: I haven't seen the movie. Book description: "Faith and Luke Carraday have it all. Faith is a beautiful singer turned socialite while Luke is an up-and-coming businessman. After taking his inheritance from his father’s stable, lucrative business to invest in a successful hedge fund with the Michov Brothers, he’s on the fast track as a rising young executive, and Faith is settling comfortably into her role as his wife.

When rumors of the Michovs’ involvement in a Ponzi scheme reach Faith, she turns to Luke for confirmation, and he assures her that all is well. But when Luke is arrested, Faith can’t understand why he would lie to her, and she runs home to the farm and the family she turned her back on years ago. Meanwhile, Luke is forced to turn to his own family for help as he desperately tries to untangle himself from his mistakes. Can two prodigals return to families they abandoned, and will those families find the grace to forgive and forget? Will a marriage survive betrayal when there is nowhere to run but home?"

I did enjoy this book. It was a decent Christian romance novel with a bit of suspense woven in. I felt like Rene did a good job turning a movie script into a book (I know that can be difficult). It was a pretty predictable story, but solid. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes a good Christian romance novel.

The Antelope In The Living Room

The Antelope In The Living Room by Melanie Shankle is, as the title suggests, laugh out loud hilarious! It's a breezy, easy read that is written almost blog-post style. Melanie explores the hilariousness, reality, struggle, and ultimate holiness of two people living together as husband and wife. This book had me in tears laughing. It's such a realistic portrayal of marriage.

By the end of this book, you'll feel like Melanie is a friend. There are great spiritual truths and nuggets about marriage sprinkled throughout. You'll leave this book refreshed and challenged in your marriage and you'll realize that EVERYONE has struggles within their marriage relationship and the best way to get through many of them is to have a healthy sense of humor. I highly recommend this book to all married couples.

The Prayer Box

I couldn't believe my luck when they put The Prayer Box by Lisa Wingate up for free for a limited time in the Kindle store! I grabbed it immediately and started reading it right away. I'd wanted to read it, but hadn't gotten around to purchasing it yet. The Prayer Box follows the story of Tandi Jo, a woman on the run with her children from an abusive husband. She takes refuge in the luscious setting of Hatteras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Her life becomes intertwined with elderly Iola Anne Poole and she discovers the prayer boxes Iola kept throughout her life.

This book captivated me from the first page. Lisa used a dreamlike, prose style of writing that sucked me in right away. There was enough suspense to keep me reading till the last page. The prayer boxes weren't as much of a part of the story as I'd expected, but it made me interested enough in the idea to look them up and find more information about them. I really like the concept of the prayer box. This is a great, easy summer read. I highly recommend it as a beach read to anyone who loves Christian fiction.

The Auschwitz Escape

I picked up The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg from my local library. I'd read one of his books previously and really enjoyed it, so was looking forward to reading his newest work. I wasn't disappointed. The story follows Luc and his wife, Claire, as they become unwitting organizers of a network helping Jews hide from the Nazis.

This book is a fast paced thriller and definitely a page turner. I'm always interested in reading stories (fiction and nonfiction) about the Holocaust and this one didn't disappoint. Rosenberg admits he took some liberties with the time frame of certain people and events to fit with the story, but overall his facts are extremely well researched and the story reads like nonfiction. He bases much of it off of actual events. You get the feeling you are living the story. It's extremely realistic. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good thriller with Christian themes.

Bridge To Haven

Bridge To Haven is Francine Rivers' latest book. I was so excited she was finally releasing a new book and couldn't wait to read it! The story is (very, very) loosely based on the book of Ezekiel. Abra was abandoned as a newborn and adopted by Pastor Zeke and his wife, Marianne. They also have a 5 year old son, Joshua. When Marianne dies from a heart condition, Abra is given up at the age of 5 to another family. The book follows her tumultuous life and eventual return and redemption.

I really, really loved this book. I literally just could not put it down. I read the whole thing in less than two days. The story was captivating and I kept wanting to turn the pages to see what would happen next. At times I just wanted to shake Abra and make her wake up and act right, but that frustration kept the storyline going. There was a rather surprising plot twist right at the end of the book that I didn't see coming. I always kind of roll my eyes when someone says a work of fiction "healed their heart", but that's exactly what this book did for me. I could relate with a lot of Abra's struggles, and the reminder of God's relentless, pursuing love was wonderful.

One complaint I have about the book is that a major plot point was not resolved and literally just left hanging on the last page. I'm hoping this means that Francine is writing a sequel to this book, or that it's the beginning of a series! I'd love to take another peek back in Abra and Joshua's world. Also, (spoiler alert) I overlooked it because I understood what Francine was trying to do, but I thought it was a bit weird and gross that Abra and Joshua ended up getting married seeing as though they were adoptive siblings and raised together like full blood brother and sister for five years. But if you can get past that, it's a great book. I highly recommend it!

Heart Wide Open

Heart Wide Open: Trading Mundane Faith For An Exuberant Life With Jesus by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson wasn't on my list of top picks for books. In fact, I'd been seeing it for weeks, but always selected a different book that interested me more. I figured it was probably more of the same usual "be a better Christian" books: read your Bible, pray, and go to church. Then one day I felt led to choose this book. In fact, I felt like God was telling me I NEEDED to read this book. So ... I obeyed. Reluctantly. Grudgingly. I am so glad I did.

The description reads: "You believe in God. You’re trying to serve Him.
But do you know how to truly love Him—and let Him love you?

As a Bible-believing churchgoer, author Shellie Tomlinson harbored a secret in her good-girl heart. She longed for something more than routine faith; she wanted to love God with a genuine, all-consuming passion. So she got honest with Him: “I admit it. I don’t love you like I should, but I want to love you. Help me!”

In Heart Wide Open, Shellie invites you to answer the call of your restless heart and refuse to settle for anything less than the intimate friendship of God. Through her heartfelt and honest words, you’ll find practical inspiration to help you…
· exchange your “just enough Jesus” mindset for an all-out pursuit of Him
· put sizzle in your Bible study by asking God to show you the wonder of His Word
· trade formulaic devotions for a devoted life

Are you ready to stop struggling to make time for God and instead live every moment with God? Discover how to live with your heart wide open."

I immediately identified with Shellie's struggle as I began to read this book. She describes herself as being a "Church Lady" hypocrite - going through the motions, but not with a real heart of love for God. I think many people can struggle with this as they get into the "routine" of being a Christian - the newness of salvation wears off, and you can become lukewarm. I loved this quote from the book: "This sobering realization about the lameness of my own faith stared me down without blinking and prompted some serious soul searching. Why wasn't my faith satisfying? Why was it that my God and I were friendly acquaintances at best? Why didn't I know this One I called my Savior? Worse yet, why didn't I love him? Oh, I liked him well enough. I appreciated the gospel, and I was grateful for the promise of a secure eternity, but love this Jesus in the here and now? Not really. In light of all of my years of churching and being churched, I wondered how on earth that could be true."

There are so many wonderful quotes and thoughts in this book, I'd suggest reading it with a highlighter in hand. Grab your Bible, a notebook, and a pen, too, because there's a Study Guide and Discussion Questions (that you can answer by yourself or in a group) in the back, as well. I'd recommend reading this book slowly and meditating on each chapter. Let the verses and truths sink into your heart. This is such an important book and can be life changing if you allow it to be. I can't recommend it enough. You won't be disappointed! I have to add that the cover is absolutely beautiful as well. It makes the book even more appealing.

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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Summer House With Swimming Pool

Summer House With Swimming Pool by Herman Koch is billed as a "blistering, compulsively readable new novel". The description reads: "When a medical procedure goes horribly wrong and famous actor Ralph Meier winds up dead, Dr. Marc Schlosser needs to come up with some answers. After all, reputation is everything in this business. Personally, he’s not exactly upset that Ralph is gone, but as a high profile doctor to the stars, Marc can't hide from the truth forever.

It all started the previous summer. Marc, his wife, and their two beautiful teenage daughters agreed to spend a week at the Meier’s extravagant summer home on the Mediterranean. Joined by Ralph and his striking wife Judith, her mother, and film director Stanley Forbes and his much younger girlfriend, the large group settles in for days of sunshine, wine tasting, and trips to the beach. But when a violent incident disrupts the idyll, darker motivations are revealed, and suddenly no one can be trusted. As the ultimate holiday soon turns into a nightmare, the circumstances surrounding Ralph’s later death begin to reveal the disturbing reality behind that summer’s tragedy.". Note that almost nothing in the description is an accurate description of what actually ends up happening in the book.

I chose Summer House With Swimming Pool because I thought it would be a great summer read. The description looked like it would be a guilty pleasure medical thriller. I love thrillers, I love medical books, and in the summertime I like to read a guilty pleasure book or two, so what could go wrong? Well ... in a nutshell, almost everything. First of all, the writing style of this book is very abrupt and choppy. I'm not sure if that is Koch's writing style or if it's because it's been translated from Dutch, so I gave that a pass. However, this is the type of book where you will hate every character. They're all vile creatures with almost no redeeming characteristics. Dr. Marc Schlosser, the narrator of this book, is despicable. We're forced to listen to all his rambling, disgusting thoughts throughout the entire book, which was rather unpleasant. All I could think was how much I hated him.

Then, there's the fact that we start off at the "final event" in the first chapter and then kind of work our way backwards through all the events leading up to it. The story jumps around constantly and the narrator is very unreliable in the retelling of the tale. He leaves out important information and then will randomly throw it in (for example, we don't find out he's married until chapter 7). You know something isn't quite right, and you eventually find out what, but it takes a long time to get there you you take the (extremely) scenic route. There are almost no redeeming qualities to this one - you walk away from it feeling dirty and disgusted by the awful characters and their ridiculous actions.

I did enjoy learning a bit more about Dutch culture, medical care, their medical system, and how people there live, and I did keep turning the pages because I wanted to find out what would happen. 2.5 stars. I don't really recommend this one, unless you like dark, depressing books. Also had quite a bit of language (I can overlook some, but don't like too much). Just not my style.

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