Thursday, July 2, 2015

Hiding in the Light


Hiding in the Light: Why I Risked Everything to Leave Islam and Follow Jesus is Rifqa Bary's story of faith, bravery, and hope. Stories by people who have converted from Islam to Christianity have always fascinated me, so I knew this was a must-read book for me. The description reads:

“After four years of hiding my faith from my family, I knew that it was time. I wrote with shaky hands, ‘Jesus Christ is my Lord and Savior. I refuse to deny him….’ There was no turning back now. I had to get out of that house if I wanted to live. Was this worth risking everything for? Yes.”

Rifqa Bary grew up in a devout Muslim home, obediently following her parents’ orders to practice the rituals of Islam. But God was calling her to freedom and love. He was calling her to true faith. He was calling her to give up everything.

Leaving Islam for Christianity cost her more than she imagined
but gave more than she could have dreamed.

Hiding in the Light is the story of Rifqa’s remarkable spiritual journey from Islam to Christianity. It is also the untold story of how she ran from her father’s threats to find refuge with strangers in Florida, only to face a controversial court case that reached national headlines. Most of all, it is the story of a young girl who made life-changing sacrifices to follow Jesus—and who inspires us to do the same."

Now, I'll admit, I hadn't even heard of Rifqa Bary before reading this book - so I started off with a clean slate and no knowledge of her before picking it up. This is a fairly small, brief, 240 page hardcover book. However, it is jam packed with action and really packs a punch. I was riveted by Rifqa's story from page one. I think this is an extremely important book for every Christian to read. We need to better understand and be more sensitive to the plight of Muslims who choose to convert to Christianity, as it can literally mean death by the hands of their own family to them. Rifqa's story is so brave, honest, and inspirational, and it's truly unbelievable that things like this are still going on today. This story is a great reminder that we should be so grateful for the freedoms and privileges we have in regards to freedom of religion in America, and a warning of what would happen if those religious freedoms were encroached upon. I can't recommend this book enough.

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

Center Of Gravity


Center Of Gravity is Laura McNeill's stunning debut novel. Often, I'm nervous about reading an unknown author's debut, because I don't know what to expect, but the description of this one was just too intriguing to pass up! This novel follows Ava Carson, her deranged husband Mitchell, her stepson Jack whom she adopted, and Ava and Mitchell's infant son, Sam. The description reads:

"The truth could cost her everything.

Her whole life, Ava Carson has been sure of one thing: she doesn’t measure up to her mother’s expectations. So when Mitchell Carson sweeps into her life with his adorable son, the ready-made family seems like a dream come true. In the blink of an eye, she’s married, has a new baby, and life is grand.

Or is it?

When her picture-perfect marriage begins unraveling at the seams, Ava convinces herself she can fix it. It's temporary. It’s the stress. It’s Mitchell’s tragic history of loss.

If only Ava could believe her own excuses.

Mitchell is no longer the charming, thoughtful man she married. He grows more controlling by the day, revealing a violent jealous streak. His behavior is recklessly erratic, and the unanswered questions about his past now hint at something far more sinister than Ava can stomach. Before she can fit the pieces together, Mitchell files for divorce and demands full custody of their boys.

Fueled by fierce love for her children and aided by Graham Thomas, a new attorney in town —Ava takes matters into her own hands, digging deep into the past. But will finding the truth be enough to beat Mitchell at his own game? Center of Gravity weaves a chilling tale, revealing the unfailing and dangerous truth that things—and people—are not always what they seem."

The one word I'd use to sum up this book is wow. From the very first page, I was absolutely hooked. Clear your schedule and plan on spending a few hours with this one, because once you pick it up, you won't be putting it down until its stunning, yet satisfying, conclusion. It's written in an alternating first person view - chapters flip between Ava, Mitchell, Jack, Graham (Ava's lawyer), and Lucy (the child psychologist charged with evaluating Jack and Sam for the pending divorce/custody hearing). The way we are able to get inside the head of all the main characters is what truly drives this book. So many times in novels like this, we never are able to really get inside the mind of the "bad guy" - here, we do. I feel like this is the "Gone Girl" of the Christian fiction genre. I highly, highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good psychological thriller.

My only caution with this book is that is does have several instances of bad language, which seems to be a confusing trend lately in the Christian publishing industry. Also, although this book is published by Thomas Nelson/Zondervan, it truly has basically no Christian or religious element to the story. I'm rather confused by it being published by a Christian publishing house - it's rather baffling, really. The author blurb also makes no reference whatsoever to religion, either. Either way, it's an excellent book. I will definitely be eagerly on the lookout for her next book.

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

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Called For Life


I recently received an Advance Reading Copy of Called for Life: How Loving Our Neighbor Led Us into the Heart of the Ebola Epidemic by Kent and Amber Brantly (with David Thomas). I was super excited to read this book - I followed Kent's story when it was in the news and prayed for his recovery. I remember watching live on TV, with tears in my eyes, as Kent walked into the hospital in America. I was anxious to hear the whole story surrounding his life as a medical missionary and the inside view of the ebola epidemic from someone who lived it firsthand. The back cover reads:

"“When I knelt next to Teresa on that rainy June night outside our hospital, I told myself that everything was about to change. I had no idea the extent of that truth. But one thing has not changed: our desire to live faithful to God’s calling.”
—Dr. Kent Brantly, in Called for Life

Just months after Dr. Kent Brantly arrived in Liberia with his wife, Amber, and their two children, the Ebola virus erupted in West Africa. Kent and his colleagues began to fight one of the most horrifying, incurable diseases on earth, only to see patient after patient die. Then, after six weeks of intense battle to help others survive, Kent woke up one July morning with a fever. Three days later his diagnosis was confirmed: Ebola.

Kent knew his life was at stake. He also knew Amber, family members, and friends were praying desperately. What he didn’t know was that his case would make international headlines as he was evacuated to Atlanta, becoming the first person with Ebola ever treated in the United States. He didn’t know he would be the center of a media firestorm of debate, questions, and fears. And he didn’t know that his faith would inspire people around the world to trust in a faithful God.


“Kent, bud. We got your test result. And I’m really sorry to tell you that it is positive for Ebola.”
--From the Prologue, Called for Life


Dr. Kent and Amber Brantly moved with their children to war-torn Liberia in the fall of 2013 to provide medical care for people in great need—to help replace hopelessness with hope. When, less than a year later, Kent contracted the deadly Ebola virus, hope became what he and Amber needed too.

When Kent received the diagnosis, he was already alone and in quarantine in the Brantly home in Liberia. Amber and the children had left just days earlier on a trip to the United States. Kent’s personal battle against the horrific Ebola began, and as thousands of people worldwide prayed for his life, a miraculous series of events unfolded.

Called for Life tells the riveting inside story of Kent and Amber’s call to serve their neighbors, as well as Kent’s fight for life with Ebola and Amber’s’ struggle to support him from half-a-world away. Most significantly, Called for Life reminds us of the risk, the honor, and the joy to be known when God and others are served without reservation."

I sat down and read this book basically in one sitting. It was pretty riveting hearing the firsthand account of what I'd been glued to on the news last summer. Kent and Amber tell their story in the first person, alternating back and forth between them. The book itself was very compelling and interesting. I've always been interested in missionary work, medical missions in particular, so it was great learning more about their medical missions work in Liberia. My only complaint about this book is the way the timeline of the story is presented. It jumps back and forth quite a bit, especially in the beginning, and is kind of disjointed and confusing until the story really gets going. Also, I would have loved a photo section - although I received a paperback ARC, so there may be a photo section in the final print hardcover edition. Otherwise, this was an excellent book. I highly recommend it to anyone who followed the ebola outbreak and wants to learn more about it. Kent and his family's sacrifices and challenges encouraged me. It was wonderful reading about someone who lives their faith out so boldly.

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

Thursday, June 18, 2015

Bedtime Devotions With Jesus


Bedtime Devotions with Jesus: My Daily Devotional for Kids is the first children's devotional in the bestselling MyDaily devotional line by Thomas Nelson. It's a beautiful full color, hardcover devotional book that even includes a ribbon marker so you never lose your spot. It includes an entire years' worth of devotions for children, divided by week. Each weeks' devotion is written by a different pastor or Christian worker. Each devotion includes a Bible verse, brief exposition of the verse/theme, a short prayer, and a takeaway bite size truth. The book description reads:

"Trustworthy devotional moms and dads can use to make bedtime family time, faith time.

After the busyness of the day is done, before your child nods off to sleep, snuggle up to read God’s Word and daily reminders about how much He loves and takes care of us. Bedtime Devotions with Jesus is a collection of prayers and devotions written by pastors, pastor’s wives, children’s ministers, and other church leaders. In this book are valuable lessons on such topics as thankfulness, obedience, trusting God, being kind, loving others, and many more. God’s Word comes alive using simple language, and the devotions are featured with delightful illustrations of teddy bears. This book will teach children ages 4–8 the value and joy of spending time with God every day.

Each devotional includes a scripture, a brief devotional reading, a prayer, and a meaningful takeaway that helps children build a strong foundation of faith. This is the first children’s book in the hugely popular MyDaily™ Devotional line. Devotionals for adults in the MyDaily series have sold more than 173,000 copies.

Trim Size: 5.5 x 7.5"

I can't say enough good things about this wonderful book. The illustrations are gorgeous and engaging, the text is well written and easy for children to follow, and the lessons are perfectly geared toward children. I got this devotional to read with my 9, 7, and 5 year olds and it's easily accessible for each of them. The publisher recommends this book for ages 4-8, but I'd say any child ages 1-9 could benefit from this devotional. It's a sturdy, high quality hardcover and even includes a dedication page - it would make a perfect gift book for a baby dedication or birthday present. I know my children will enjoy using this devotional for the next year.

I only have two complaints about this book. One, the translation used for the devotions is the International Children's Bible (which I have never heard of). We prefer the King James Version, but it's easy to just grab my Bible and read the verse from there instead. I prefer to keep continuity with Bible versions just for ease of memorization and for less confusion. Also, there aren't separate devotions for Saturday and Sunday, just one "weekend" devotion, so I guess you have to read it on Saturday and then again on Sunday (maybe they figure you don't do the devotion on Sunday because you go to church instead? Not sure). Either way, those are two very minor issues and don't detract from the main point and features of the book. I highly recommend this book to all parents looking for a great devotional to share with their young child.

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

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

The Wonder Of You


The Wonder Of You is the latest installment in Susan May Warren's Christiansen family series. I've immensely enjoyed the previous books in the series (four other books, plus two novellas) and was super excited to read Amelia's story, after the previous book ended on a cliffhanger. Every time I finish a Christiansen family book, I don't want to put it down and leave the world of Deep Haven, Minnesota! In this book we find Amelia home from her Prague adventure and brokenhearted:

"Mortified after her semester abroad is cut short, Amelia Christiansen returns to Deep Haven, certain she isn’t brave enough for the adventures she’s dreamed of. The last thing she expects is for the man who broke her heart to cross the Atlantic and beg forgiveness.

Heir to a European hotel dynasty, Roark St. John has trekked from one exotic locale to another, haunted by tragedy and the expectations that accompany his last name. Amelia is the first woman to give him a reason to stop running. He’ll do anything for a second chance ― even contend with Amelia’s old flame, who is intent on sending Roark packing.

While one surprise after another leaves Amelia reeling, Roark’s continued presence only highlights the questions pursuing her. Like him, is she running from the life God has called her to? Could finding her new place mean leaving home behind?"

I was a bit worried when I first started reading this book that it was just going to be the typical "which guy will she choose" love story, but I couldn't have been more wrong. Just like in the other books, there was a touch of mystery and intrigue, culminating in a mystery that will be continued in the final book of the series and has the potential to cause serious ramifications for the entire Christiansen family. I was hooked on the story immediately and just couldn't put the book down. It was everything I'd hoped for and I loved visiting Deep Haven again. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Christian romance with a touch of suspense. I'm anxiously awaiting the release of Owen's story, the conclusion to the series!

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

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Detained


I recently picked up Detained by Don Brown to read. It's slightly out of my normal genre - I don't usually read military type thrillers. However, I do love regular thriller/suspense novels, so I figured I'd give this one a try. It's the first book of his new Navy Jag series, and I figured I might find a new series to enjoy. The story sounded intriguing:

"A man and his son dreamed of America’s freedom, but the dream became a nightmare when they ended up at Guantánamo Bay.

Hasan Makari and his son, Najib, both Lebanese nationals, have dreamed of the day they would experience the shining freedom of America. But when they arrive in the US, they are arrested, accused of terrorism, and incarcerated at the Guantánamo Bay Prison Camp in Cuba, all on false charges. Suddenly, they face the nightmare of death by execution.

Their only hope is Navy JAG Officer Matt Davis, who has been assigned to the case of his life—to defend the Makaris in court at Guantánamo Bay. Matt believes his clients are innocent, but he faces monumental opposition—not only from powerful federal prosecutors with a huge agenda and an unlimited budget, but also from the woman he loves who, as a fellow JAG officer, has been ordered onto the prosecution team to convict the Makaris.

As the drama unfolds in Cuba, Emily Gardner, a top-ranking TSA lawyer, has just received a larger-than-life nomination as General Counsel for the Department of Homeland Security. While preparing for confirmation by the US Senate, she discovers a shocking scheme that will turn her life upside down. Can Emily expose the truth in time to save the lives of those being accused—and escape with her own life? Somewhere between the war-torn plains of Northern Lebanon and the secret torture chamber of Guantánamo Bay lie the keys to justice."

This was a solid book. The writing wasn't the best writing I've ever read in my life, but I was willing to overlook that a bit because the plot was solid. There are a lot of characters to remember and wade through, which was confusing at first (especially with the prologue and then fastforwarding in time quite a bit), but once you figure out who is who and how they fit into the story, it becomes a much easier read. The storyline was exciting, if at times a bit unbelievable, but it definitely kept me turning the pages! I am excited to read the next book in the Navy Jag series. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys military suspense/thrillers.

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

Centralia


I was super, super excited to read Centralia by Mike Dellosso. I've never read any of his books before this one, but I absolutely love thrillers and thrillers in the Christian genre are an extra treat because there aren't too many great Christian thriller authors out there. I saw he'd been compared to Frank Peretti and Ted Dekker. I've read one or two books by each of them and while Frank Peretti is pretty talented, I wasn't too impressed with Ted Dekker. However, I had very high hopes that Mike Dellosso could be another author to add to my "favorites" list. The premise of the book sounded amazing:

"Peter Ryan wakes up on a typical morning only to find his house empty, his wife and daughter nowhere to be found. His world is shattered after a phone call to a friend confirms the impossible: his wife and daughter died in a car accident he does not remember. Haunted by faint memories and flashes of details, Peter becomes convinced that something isn’t right and begins to question reality. When he discovers a note in his daughter’s handwriting, strange memories begin to surface that cause him to second-guess nearly everything he once believed. Suddenly armed men show up at Peter’s home, turning the mysterious puzzle of his past into a dangerous game of cat and mouse. On the run and unsure whom to trust, Peter has to discover what’s real and what isn’t . . . before he loses everything."

I eagerly started reading it the second it arrived. My first thoughts were a bit of disappointment - the writing style was a bit stilted. In fact, it reads like it was written on a Young Adult reading level rather than an adult reading level. Novels I read in high school came to mind as I read it. However, I tried to set that aside and enjoy the storyline regardless. The story was exciting and interesting, but at times I had trouble following what was going on and it got a little confusing. We are given virtually no backstory - the book jumps right in with him waking up and looking for his wife and daughter and doesn't back up and give us much of the history. Due to this, it was a bit difficult at times to keep up with all the characters and the storyline. It did keep me reading to the end to see what would happen, and I liked the book okay, but I had a lingering sense of disappointment that it wasn't quite as good as I'd hoped. I'd give this book 3.5 stars - 3 is a little low, 4 is a little high. However, I think he has great potential as an author, and I will read the next book in the series coming out next summer, because I think he can work out the kinks and turn this into a really good series.

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