Thursday, June 23, 2016

The Bride(zilla) of Christ


I think everyone's been in a situation where they've either been hurt by another Christian, a particular church, or the church at large. That's why Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin's new book, Bride(zilla) of Christ, is so relevant for today. I was interested in reading it not only to heal from my own past experiences being hurt by other Christians, but also to help others who are troubled by this. No Christian is perfect, so this is something that can apply to just about everyone, and is an important topic to discuss. The book description says:

"Sometimes, Church Hurts

The Church, the Bride of Christ. That description conjures up images of radiant white bride, eyes sparkling with peace and harmony, right? Maybe that’s why it’s such a gut-punch when that Bride behaves more like a grade school bully or a hot tempered drill sergeant.

What do you do with that reality, a reality that sometime hurts? Ted Kluck and Ronnie Martin aren’t interested in 140 characters of tweetable comfort. They’d rather share their own stories of being both the wounded and the wounder. Plus they offer practical, yes-you-can-do-this steps to moving forward in those times not if, but when the Church hurts.

Bride(zilla) of Christ is a verbal I.V. dripping with the mercy found only in Christ. Though you’ve been wronged, or perhaps wronged another, there is cause for great hope. The hurt is not the deepest thing. Grace is deeper still."

I really enjoyed the Bride(zilla) of Christ. Many people are afraid to tackle this issue and Kluck and Martin do so in a sensitive but honest way. With humor and candor, they offer practical tips and advice. It doesn't feel good to be hurt by the church or the people in it, but if we're honest we have to admit we've more than likely hurt others in the church body as well. The authors use their own powerful stories, examples, and illustrations to help us get through either side of this thorny problem. This book is a must-read for all church members. I found myself thinking of the oft-repeated quote while reading this book, "Our idols will always break our hearts". We should always look to Jesus for comfort and hope, and realize that the bride of Christ is made up of sinners, and none of us are perfect.

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

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

School Time Blessings


School Time Blessings is the latest book in the Berenstain Bears Living Lights series. As a child in the late 80s and early 90s, I grew up loving the Berenstain Bears books. I've gotten many of them for my children, and they love all of them. They're their favorite book series, from my 6 year old all the way on up to my 10 year old. They frequently request a Berenstain Bears book as their bedtime story. Sadly, Stan and Jan Berenstain have both passed away now, but their son Mike Berenstain has carried the torch and is continuing on the Berenstain Bears books. Published by Zondervan, the Living Lights series combines the bears we know and love with the Christian faith, bringing biblical truths and encouragement to children through these beloved bears. I hadn't had a chance to read any of the Living Lights series yet (we only have the classics in our library at the moment), so when I had the opportunity to read School Time Blessings, I was super excited. The book description says:

"It’s back-to-school time in Bear Country!

After the long and lazy summer, it’s time for school. Brother and Sister are ready to see their friends and get busy with all of the things they enjoy about school—but are nervous about the more challenging subjects like math and history. And Honey Bear will be going to nursery school for the first time—but how will she handle not being home with Mama and Papa all day?

In this new Berenstain Bear Living Lights book, Mama and Papa Bear remind their cubs that prayer and God’s love are always there to guide them and that they will support them no matter what the challenge."

The first thing I noticed about School Time Blessings is that the illustrations look a bit different than Stan and Jan's did - which, I suppose, is to be expected, since Mike is now drawing them. They don't look quite like they used to, and Mama's apparently got a bit of a makeover and wears a strange vest over her familiar blue-and-white polka dot dress now. However, these minor difference in drawing style weren't noticed by my children. They loved the book. The Berenstain Bears have always taught morals and values, so it seems fitting that those would be blended with Scripture in these Living Lights books. In School Time Blessings, Brother, Sister, and Honey are all nervous about the upcoming school year. Mama and Papa Bear use Bible verses and prayer to help them not be afraid; and Sister and Brother figure out how they can help each other by the end. What I love most about the Berenstain Bears books, other than their clever and interesting way of teaching morals and values and important life lessons is the price - I love that these books are affordably priced, and that has never changed. At a suggested retail price of just $3.99, it's easy to collect all of the books for your children. I recommend School Time Blessings for anyone with school aged children - the timing of its release is perfect to calm those back-to-school jitters many children face in the summertime.

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

Sea Rose Lane


Sea Rose Lane is Irene Hannon's 50th published novel, and the second book in her new Hope Harbor series. I haven't yet read the first book, Hope Harbor, but these seem to function as stand-alone titles taking place in the same town with cameos by characters in previous books, but each one focusing on a new set of people. The third title in the Hope Harbor series is Sandpiper Cove, due out in Spring 2017. I only know Irene Hannon for her suspense novels - Christian suspense is my favorite genre, so I was only familiar with the novels she's written in that genre. When I had the opportunity to read a contemporary romance by her, I figured it would probably be a good read since I enjoy her other books. The back cover says:

"Three-Time RITA Winner Invites Readers Back to the Captivating Coastal Town of Hope Harbor

After a devastating layoff, attorney Eric Nash heads back to the town where he grew up--only to discover that his childhood home is being transformed into a bed & breakfast. Instead of plotting his next career move in peace, he's constantly distracted by noise, chaos--and BJ Stevens, the attractive but prickly blonde architect and construction chief who's invaded the house with her motley crew.

As for BJ, her client's son might be handsome, but after a disastrous romance, dating isn't high on her agenda. Yet when they join forces to create a program for Hope Harbor seniors, might they also find healing, hope, and a new beginning themselves?

Three-time RITA Award winner Irene Hannon takes readers back to Hope Harbor for a new season of charm, romance, and second chances."

I wavered between giving Sea Rose Lane 3 or 4 stars, but I eventually settled on 3 - although I'd give it a 3.5 if that was an option. I was intrigued by the back cover blurb, but there was really no tension or suspense surrounding the issues described (Eric's childhood home being turned into a bed and breakfast and the Hope Harbor senior's program). In fact, the story plodded along at a snail's pace; often with nothing of import happening for several chapters. Also, it had one of the characters I most hate in novels - a character who seems to have some sort of otherworldly knowledge and makes you wonder if he's real or some sort of heavenly being. In Sea Rose Lane, that character was Charley - a seemingly omniscient artist and taco stand owner who always knows things he shouldn't know, says mysterious things, and seems to have control over a pair of seagulls near his taco stand. I really don't like it when authors include characters such as these because I can't suspend disbelief and it makes me feel like the whole story is unbelievable and unrealistic.

However, there were positive points to this story as well. I enjoyed the side story line of Luis and Eleanor more than I enjoyed the intended main story line of Eric and BJ. I found Luis's plight inspiring and I enjoyed the interesting and unexpected twist that Eleanor discovered her hidden racism and overcame it with the Lord's help to minister to Luis. I was touched by how this unlikely pair teamed up and how Luis brought Eleanor back to life again and helped her open up and enjoy her later years instead of continuing to be lonely. Hope Harbor is a lovely little town and the plodding story line was reminiscent of slow and easy small town life. This is a good read for those who enjoy a small town contemporary romance novel.

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

Sunday, June 19, 2016

All Summer Long


All Summer Long: A San Francisco Romance is the second book in Melody Carlson's Follow Your Heart series, the first book in the series being Once Upon A Summertime: A New York City Romance. Each book in the series is a stand-alone title that just follows the theme of romance in a big city and the main character following her heart. In All Summer Long, we get a typical improbably romance setup: Tia find out she's going to be working with her old teenage crush, who she spent a week with at summer camp nine years ago and immediately falls for him again. But wait ... he's engaged! The book description says:

"Tia Gets a Second Chance at Love When an Old Crush Suddenly Reappears

Tia D'Amico is thrilled to move to San Francisco to help her aunt transform an old luxury yacht into an upscale floating restaurant. What's not to love? Sunset dinner cruises, upscale wedding receptions--the possibilities are endless and far more appetizing than staying in a monotonous job in her Podunk hometown. Besides, some of her best memories are tied to San Francisco--especially the memory of Leo Parker, her crush from a long-ago sailing camp.

When the self same Leo Parker turns out to be the yacht's captain, Tia is floating on air. But will it all come crashing down around her when she discovers his heart belongs to someone else?

Get ready for a romantic summer in San Francisco, where the future glistens brighter than the bay at sunset."

I'd give All Summer Long 3.5 stars - I kept wavering between 3 and 4 when writing this review. On one hand, the plot is completely predictable and totally far-fetched. On the other hand, it delivers on what it promises to be: a lighthearted, easy-to-read romance novel that's absolutely perfect for the summer. This is the perfect book to toss in your beach bag and bring with you on vacation or to the pool. The cover is very pretty and appealing, the story is easy to put down and pick back up again, it's interesting enough to keep turning the pages, and it's fun and romantic. It's not earth-shattering or life-changing and the characters are a bit one-dimensional, but it's a good cute and clean romance novel. This is a "Christian" book, but the only Christian elements are a few mentions of praying for a sick relative and attending church a couple of Sunday mornings. Faith doesn't seem to drive any of the character's actions in any way. I did enjoy reading this book while sitting with my kids at the park on a sunny afternoon. Good clean romance that I'd recommend to anyone who likes a light romance novel.

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

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Anchor In The Storm


Anchor In The Storm is the second book in Sarah Sundin's Waves of Freedom series, set in the World War II era. I haven't read the first book, Through Waters Deep, yet, but it told the story of our protagonist's brother Jim and friend Mary. In book two, the focus shifts to Jim's sister Lillian and his best friend Arch. I love books set in the WWII time period, so I was eager to read Anchor In The Storm. The book description says:

"One Plucky Female Pharmacist + One High-Society Naval Officer = Romance--and Danger

For plucky Lillian Avery, America's entry into World War Ii means a chance to prove herself as a pharmacist in Boston. The challenges of her new job energize her. But society boy Ensign Archer Vandenberg's attentions only annoy--even if he is her brother's best friend.

During the darkest days of the war, Arch's destroyer hunts German U-boats in vain as the submarines sink dozens of merchant ships along the East Coast. Still shaken by battles at sea, Arch notices his men also struggle with their nerves--and with drowsiness. Could there be a link to the large prescriptions for sedatives Lillian has filled? The two work together to answer that question, but can Arch ever earn Lillian's trust and affection?

Sarah Sundin brings World War II to life, offering readers an intense experience they won't soon forget."

I was a little worried that Anchor In The Storm would focus too much on the romance and the suspense would an aside, or just thrown in to try to make the story more interesting, but Sarah has found the formula for the absolute perfect blend of suspense and romance. I'm not one to really tend to read plain romance novels, but I love a touch of suspense in my books. This story had so much suspense and intrigue that I couldn't put it down, while weaving in the love story between Lillian and Arch in a way that wasn't cheesy or predictable at all. The main characters in this book were so interesting that I felt like I knew them. I liked that they were human, not perfect like characters in novels such as this can tend to be. And the plot was imaginative and fresh, not predictable at all. Sarah Sundin has hit it out of the park with this one. I'll definitely be picking up the first book in the series so I can catch up, and eagerly awaiting the third book in the series, due out in Spring 2017 (please publish it sooner!!!), which will be focusing on Lillian's brother Dan and her friend Quintessa. After the cameo we saw of Quintessa in Anchor In The Storm, I'm looking forward to seeing how Sarah will tell her story and grow her character. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Christian suspense, historical, or romance novels.

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

Friday, June 17, 2016

Delilah


I've truly been enjoying the Dangerous Beauty series by Angela Hunt (previous titles included Esther: Royal Beauty and Bathsheba: Reluctant Beauty). The third and final book in Hunt's Dangerous Beauty series is Delilah: Treacherous Beauty. These books are all historical recreations, and Angela does her best to stay true to the biblical account while fleshing out the story enough to write a novel based on it. I really love biblical historical fiction, and this series did not disappoint. I have appreciated her ability to not be so harsh on the women of these stories, as some people are, but to show them as human, not evil. Delilah: Treacherous Beauty has, like the previous two books, an absolutely stunning cover. The story is told alternating from two viewpoints: Delilah's and Samson's. The back cover reads:

"Life is not easy in Philistia, especially not for a woman and child alone. When beautiful, wounded Delilah finds herself begging for food to survive, she resolves that she will find a way to defeat all the men who have taken advantage of her. She will overcome the roadblocks life has set before her, and she will find riches and victory for herself.

When she meets a legendary man called Samson, she senses that in him lies the means for her victory. By winning, seducing, and betraying the hero of the Hebrews, she will attain a position of national prominence. After all, she is beautiful, she is charming, and she is smart. No man, not even a supernaturally gifted strongman, can best her in a war of wits."

Although I've enjoyed the entire series, unfortunately Delilah was my least favorite in the series. Esther and Bathsheba were both on my "favorite books of all time" list, but I just had trouble mustering up much sympathy for Delilah, even though Angela tried to portray her as sympathetically as possible in light of the Bible story she had to work with. Even with this effort, though, I had a lot of trouble feeling sorry for her. As such, I just really couldn't connect with her character on a deep enough level to make this book excellent for me. However, don't get me wrong - I did enjoy the book itself. It was fast-paced and well-written, and it kept me turning the pages. However, I kept wanting to shake Delilah and make her act right! We all know how this story ends, but I kept hoping somehow it would end differently, even though I knew it wouldn't. I felt sorry for Samson and the ending was extremely sad. All in all, this was a good finish to the Dangerous Beauty series and I do recommend the entire series. Definitely check it out if you enjoy biblical fiction, like I do.

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

Becoming A Woman Of Excellence


Tyndale has just released a revised and updated 30th Anniversary Edition of Cynthia Heald's classic, Becoming a Woman of Excellence. I don't know why, but I was expecting this to be a big, weighty tome of a book. However, it's just a small, slim paperback, and very accessible. It's got a beautifully redesigned cover that's very peaceful and soothing. Becoming a Woman of Excellence is a Bible study stemming from Ruth 3:11 - "All my people in the city know that you are a woman of excellence.". This 11-part series is perfect for personal or group study. It's divided into four sections (The Goal, The Cost, The Prize, The Praise) and the topics included are Excellence: A Goal Worth Pursuing, Excellence: God's Character, Excellence: Becoming Like Christ, Excellence: Rooted In Surrender, Excellence: Exemplified By Obedience, Excellence: Molded By Discipline, Excellence: Guarded By Discretion, Excellence: Made Precious By A Gentle And Quiet Spirit, Excellence: Perfected By Purity, Excellence: Proclaimed By Wisdom, and Excellence: Portrayed In The Life Of A Godly Woman. The back cover reads:

"Society beckons us to succeed―to achieve excellence in our appearance, our earning power, our family life. God Himself also beckons us to be women of excellence. But what exactly is He asking? If you’re hungry for God’s perspective on success in a society that bombards you with conflicting demands, feed on the truths of God’s Word that you’ll discover in these pages. You will not only learn to “approve the things that are excellent” but will also experience the joy of becoming God’s woman of excellence. This bestselling topical Bible study has helped over one million women over the past 30 years, and is newly revised and updated so today’s women can discover who God designed them to be in this day and age. Written by Navigator author and Bible teacher Cynthia Heald, the 11 sessions in this Bible study explore what your identity in Christ is and how you can best serve Him."

I'm working through Becoming A Woman Of Excellence on my own. I've been enjoying and appreciating learning about excellence through the wise words of Cynthia Heald. Each chapter includes a brief opening statement about the topic, questions to answer, Scriptures to look up and then answer questions about, a "Thoughts And Reflections From An Older Woman" exposition from Cynthia's point of view for the 30th anniversary edition, an area of personal thoughts and reflections to fill out, and a Scripture verse to memorize. There are also some great quotes sprinkled throughout. This is a really great in-depth study about becoming a virtuous woman, or a woman of excellence. I also really like the emphasis on Scripture memorization. Cynthia rightly writes that one of the most important things we can do for our Christian walk is to memorize the Scriptures. I also enjoyed her simple challenge to constantly keep this question in the front of your mind: "What would a woman of excellence do?" or, "How would a woman of excellence respond?". I have been meditating on this challenge and it's truly helped me. I highly recommend this Bible study to every Christian woman - it's appropriate for both married and single women alike. I'm also planning to check out her other Bible studies as well, because I've enjoyed this one so much.

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