Monday, May 2, 2016

Hope Heals

I'd never heard of Katherine and Jay Wolf or read their blog before, but as soon as I heard about their new book, Hope Heals: A True Story of Overwhelming Loss and an Overcoming Love, I knew I wanted to read it. I was actually kind of glad that I went into the book fresh, not knowing anything about them or their story beforehand, because it was all new to me. I always love reading memoirs of people who have overcome great obstacles and have gone through great titles, and this certainly qualifies. When Katherine and Jay's new son was just six months old, Katherine suffered a massive stroke. Miraculously, she survived, and has gone on to make incredible strides in her recovery. The book description reads:

"When all seems lost, where can hope be found?

Katherine and Jay married right after college and sought adventure far from home in Los Angeles, CA. As they pursued their dreams, they planted their lives in the city and in their church community. Their son, James, came along unexpectedly in the fall of 2007, and just 6 months later, everything changed in a moment for this young family.

On April 21, 2008, as James slept in the other room, Katherine collapsed, suffering a massive brain stem stroke without warning. Miraculously, Jay came home in time and called for help. Katherine was immediately rushed into micro-brain surgery, though her chance of survival was slim. As the sun rose the next morning, the surgeon proclaimed that Katherine had survived the removal of part of her brain, though her future recovery was completely uncertain. Yet in that moment, there was a spark of hope. Through 40 days on life support in the ICU and nearly 2 years in full-time brain rehab, that spark of hope was fanned into flame.

Defying every prognosis, with grit and grace, Katherine and Jay, side by side, struggled to regain a life for Katherine as she re-learned to talk and eat and walk. Returning home with a severely disabled body but a completely renewed purpose, they committed to celebrate this gift of a second chance by embracing life fully, even though that life looked very different than they could have ever imagined. In the midst of continuing hardships and struggles, both in body and mind, Katherine and Jay found what we all long to find...hope, hope that heals the most broken place, our souls.

An excruciating yet beautiful road to recovery has led the Wolf family to their new normal, in which almost every moment of life is marked with the scars of that fateful April day in 2008. Now, eight years later, Katherine and Jay are stewarding their story of suffering, restoration, and Christ-centered hope in this broken world through their ministry Hope Heals."

Hope Heals begins with a heartfelt introduction by Joni Eareckson Tada, no stranger to suffering herself. The book is divided into four parts: The Dream Broken, The Hope Deferred, The Miracle Continues, and The Healing Found. There are plenty of pictures included, which I always appreciate. This is a small book hardcover, 244 pages long, and it's a very quick read. As soon as I picked it up and read the first page, I just couldn't put it down. I couldn't wait to see what would happen next and how Katherine would be healed, and how their lives would be changed and affected. Jay and Katherine's strong faith is so inspiring, and God truly carried them through their entire ordeal - and continues to do so. I appreciated the raw honesty they displayed in sharing their story. They don't gloss over the trials or try to sugarcoat their story, but at the same time they're still so uplifting and full of faith. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading memoirs, or could use a faith boost of their own.

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

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Chase Away Cancer

Chase Away Cancer: A Powerful True Story of Finding Light in a Dark Diagnosis by Ellie Poole Ewoldt is the heartwarming, yet heart wrenching story of a family dealing with a crushing diagnosis: their two year old son, Chase, is diagnosed with a rare and extremely aggressive form of brain cancer. At first I was a bit reluctant to read this book because I was worried it would be depressing or difficult to read. After all, I can't think of a sadder story than a tiny child having to deal with such a horrible and debilitating disease with such a small chance for survival. However, I couldn't have been more wrong. Chase Away Cancer was, of course, sad, but it was also uplifting and I was so blessed and encouraged by reading it. The book description reads:

"You may think you know how this cancer story goes. The characters: a little boy, a loving family, the team of doctors. The diagnosis: terminal, little hope for a cure. There are two possible outcomes. Will his family be plunged into extreme sorrow or miraculous joy?

What if the answer was both?

Ellie Poole Ewoldt debuts with a memoir of desperate hope and fierce love; of a family who refused to give up even when they heard the worst possible news for their two-year-old son, Chase. Moment by moment, the Ewoldts faced brain surgery and chemo, spinal taps and transfusions. And yet, the true miracle lay not in the medicine or Chase’s prognosis―rather, Chase’s life shows us the miracle of hope, even through the darkest nights. If there is anything he and the Ewoldts have learned, it is that God is always good and will stay at your side through every moment, no matter what it holds.

You’ll fall in love with Chase through his story and be inspired to help chase away cancer―for this headstrong boy, his fighting friends, and all those in your own life who need hope for whatever tomorrow may bring."

I was so touched by this book. Once I picked it up and read the first page, I just couldn't put it down until I was finished. In fact, I didn't want it to end! I ended up finishing it in just one day. This is the type of book that you can pick up and read in an afternoon. I was so anxious to find out how Chase was doing and what happened in the end. After putting this book down, I immediately looked up Ellie's blog and subscribed to it so that I can keep up with Chase and his current health. Ellie has such a way with words and I was so encouraged and blessed by her faith. I loved how she ended each chapter with a bit of hope and some words of wisdom. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys reading memoirs. It's one of the best memoirs I've read in a long time.

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

How To Live In Fear

How to Live in Fear: Mastering the Art of Freaking Out by Lance Hahn is a refreshing look at panic disorder, fear, and anxiety by a senior pastor of a thriving church. As soon as I saw this book, I knew I had to read it. As a nearly lifelong sufferer of panic attacks and anxiety, it's rare to find a good Christian book about these types of issues - and even rarer for it to be by a pastor. I am so grateful that Lance Hahn was willing to be so open and transparent about his struggles in order to help fellow Christians and sufferers. The book description reads:

"Find freedom in an age of anxiety.

Let’s face it: we are afraid. Our world is riddled with fear-inducing headlines, financial meltdowns, family crises, and phobias of every stripe. No wonder the New York Times now reports one in ten Americans is now taking antidepressant or anxiety medication. So how do we cope or even succeed in a world spinning out of control? As someone who has battled panic attacks and anxiety most of his life, Lance Hahn can relate.

In How to Live in Fear, Lance tackles the pervasive problem of fear and panic head-on by inviting readers into his world. In this genuine and practical book, he invites readers into the life of a pastor living with anxiety disorder. Through humorous personal stories—like losing it on an airplane or collapsing onstage as he is about to preach—Lance will win over readers with his transparency. He will also share the remedies that have helped him recover and overcome throughout the years.

How to Live in Fear is a public intervention of sorts. We need to talk about this issue, especially the church-at-large. Millions of people suffer from anxiety disorders, and the church has done little to make them feel normal. Many Christians now take medication privately but keep it a secret under the shame of being viewed as a failure. Lance willingly bares his soul in order to get the conversation started. He firmly believes the church should not only recognize the issue, but also help believers reconcile the guilt of being a Christian while dealing with dread and anxiety

Filled with practical tips and advice, and full of relevant scriptures, How to Live in Fear gives readers the tools to relax in the face of fear—real or imagined. Lance will show readers that while he may still encounter bouts of panic, he has never let his disorder stop him from living a full life."

This book's divided into three sections: Part One (Living In Fear: My Story) in which he describes his lifelong path through panic disorder, Part Two (Living In Fear: Our Journey Together) where he gives a lot of background on anxiety disorders, explores causes, triggers, and more, and gives some helpful tips. Part Three (Living In Fear: The Journey With Our Father) where he explores relying on our faith in the Lord to help us through our fears and anxieties and spiritual warfare. I absolutely loved Pastor Hahn's open, honest, funny, and witty writing style. I flew through this book with highlighter in hand. I know this is a book that I will refer to over and over again. It's such a relief to find another Christian who's dealt with basically the exact same thing I've dealt with as well. I also appreciated that he doesn't decry medications, which I believe to be an essential and necessary part of treatment for many people. This is an absolute must-read for any Christian suffering with these issues. I highly recommend it to anyone suffering from panic and anxiety or the loved ones of those suffering, so they can understand what their loved one is going through.

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

Friday, April 22, 2016

Spiritual Sobriety

Spiritual Sobriety: Stumbling Back To Faith When Good Religion Goes Bad is Elizabeth Esther's second book. I read her first book, Girl At The End Of The World, and enjoyed reading her story (although I had mixed feelings about that book as well, but I did like it). So I knew I'd want to read her second book so hear what Elizabeth's been up to since her first book was released. I don't follow her blog or social media accounts,so all I know about her is what I read previously in Girl At The End Of The World. This book is less about Elizabeth's personal story and more of a self help book. The title is intriguing, obviously, and I wasn't sure what to expect. The book description reads:

"It’s easy to get high on God in America.
But is this good religion?

In a compelling follow-up to her memoir, Girl at the End of the World, Elizabeth Esther explores how religious fervor can become religious addiction.

The evidence is everywhere. In families who inexplicably choose to harm their children in order to abide by cultic church doctrine. But in ordinary believers too who use God the same way addicts use drugs or alcohol—to numb pain, alter their mood, or simply to escape the realities of this messy, unpredictable thing called life.

If you’ve ever wondered how a religion that preaches freedom and love can produce judgmental and unkind followers; if you’ve ever felt captive to the demanding God of your own childhood; if you’ve struggled to find contentment without needing another emotional hit from a “life-changing” conference or “mountain-top” experience, then Spiritual Sobriety is for you. The author, who grew up in a hyper-controlling church cult, will help you find hope and rebirth in the ruins of disillusioned faith.

Filled with stories and warm, practical advice, Spiritual Sobriety offers a gentle path out of the desperate cycles of craving-euphoria-hangover and into a freer, clean-and-sober faith practice."

I have major mixed feelings about this book. To start with a positive, I did quickly read this book (in less than a day) because it was interesting. It's also a very short read, the bulk of the book being just 170 pages. I loved reading Elizabeth's stories and experiences. I can relate to some of her experiences. While I would never class myself a "religious addict" (a term and concept that I find highly debateable, but that's another story), I did relate to her description of being a "habit addict". I really could relate to many of the behaviors and stories about being a habit addict. This book gives some great tips and advice for breaking bad habits and addictions.

On the other hand, I cringed at many of the things said in this book. It was full of New-Agey and non-Orthodox concepts and ideas, bordering on heresy, ie, along the lines of "find your version of God and religion and that's the right version for you". I'm sorry, but I just can't agree with that. The Bible is our guide for the Christian faith and it's got some very concrete concepts, truths, and practices that we are to follow. I'd tread cautiously while reading this book, especially if you are weak in your faith. However, there are some good ideas, stories, and helps in here. I'm giving this one three stars: some good things in here, but proceed with caution.

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

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

They Say We Are Infidels

I was interested in reading They Say We Are Infidels:On the run from ISIS with persecuted Christians in the Middle East by Mindy Belz because it's such a timely book and subject. Tensions around the world are rising between Christians and Muslims, and the increasing terrorist attacks around the world signal an impending crisis. Having an insider such as Belz is incredibly rare, and I was eager to read what she's learned through her extensive travels in the Middle East and unparallelled access to the Christians in Syria and Iraq. I've heard reports that ISIS is targeting, attacking, and killing Christians, but the mainstream media tends to gloss over or shy away from these stories. Therefore, I was anxious to learn the "inside scoop". The book description reads:

""Everywhere militants were blowing up Christians, their churches, their shops. They threatened them with kidnapping. They promised to take their children. The message to these 'infidels' You have no place in Iraq. Pay a penalty to stay, leave, or be killed."Sweeping from Syria into Iraq, Islamic State fighters (ISIS) have been brutalizing and annihilating Christians. How? Why? Where did the terrorists come from, and what can be done to stop them? For more than a decade, journalist Mindy Belz has reported on the ground from the Middle East, giving her unparalleled access to the story no one wants to believe. In "They Say We Are Infidels," she brings the stark reality of this escalating genocide to light, tracking the stories of real-life Christians who refuse to abandon their faith--even in the face of losing everything, including their lives.As "Reading Lolita in Tehran" did for Iran and "We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed with Our Families" did for Rwanda, "They Say We Are Infidels" shines light into the Middle East through the stories of everyday heroes and heroines who will not be silenced. A must-read for anyone seeking a firmer grasp on the complex dynamics at play in war-torn Iraq and Syria, "They Say We Are Infidels" is the eye-opening and revelatory testimony of a journalist who heads into a war zone--and is forever changed by the people she encounters there."

Now, when I opened this book to the first page, I was expecting to be swept up in a complete page-turner, and unable to put it down until I was finished. I mean, how could a book that is subtitled "On the run from ISIS with persecuted Christians in the Middle East" possibly be boring? Well, I'm not sure how it's possible, but unfortunately, this one just wasn't the page-turner I expected. We are immediately dropped into the middle of the story in the prologue, which makes little sense and it's very difficult to figure out how, if, or when this will figure into the story later. We then wind back a few years to 2003. Mindy is inexplicably meeting a woman who asks her to carry money through customs. I think the main problem with this book is that we are given no explanations, no backstory, no reason why she is where she is or why she's meeting with the particular people she's meeting with. The story is rather disjointed and hard to follow at times, which adds to the difficulty of reading it.

Now, my review isn't all negative. About halfway through the book it does pick up a bit and becomes more interesting. I enjoyed getting a peek into the lives of Christians in Iraq and Syria. It's a rare glimpse into a world that we don't get to see much of here in America. It's easy to forget that we have brothers and sisters in Christ who are, at times quite literally, fighting for their lives against ISIS. The hardships and difficulties they are suffering should be put under a much bigger spotlight, and this book does give them that spotlight. I'm very glad Mindy has written this book, because hopefully it will open people's eyes to the persecution and danger that Middle Eastern Christians are facing. I do recommend this book to every Christian, but don't expect a thriller. It's a slower read that will educate you on the plight of Christians around the world.

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

Country Cooking From A Redneck Kitchen

I previously read and reviewed Francine Bryson's first cookbook, Blue Ribbon Baking from a Redneck Kitchen, and loved it. It's now my go-to dessert and baking cookbook. So when I saw that Francine was coming out with another cookbook, Country Cooking from a Redneck Kitchen, I knew that I had to have it and that it would probably become my favorite, go-to "regular food" cookbook. I definitely wasn't disappointed! Her second offering is a paperback like the first (I was hoping they'd give her a hardcover this time because I prefer hardcover cookbooks, but it's okay), and is full of tons of glossy color pictures that will have you drooling over the recipes and dying to get into the kitchen to try them out. The book description reads:

"Few people know that national pie champion Francine Bryson got her start on the cooking contest circuit at age sixteen with a savory stuffed pork loin—that won first place. In Country Cooking from a Redneck Kitchen, Francine invites you into her home to share recipes for everything that graces her Southern table: chicken dinners, savory pies, Sunday suppers to serve the preacher, make-and-take casseroles, dips and other redneck whatnots, backyard barbecue favorites—and, of course, three chapters devoted to her celebrated baked goods, including her most-requested holiday sweets. Feeding people is what Francine loves to do, and here are simple instructions for 125 dishes with 60 color photographs to help you to bring her Southern charm to your table."

Country Cooking is divided into sections including Redneck Whatnots (appetizers), Yardbird (chicken), Burgers & Bryson BBQ Favorites, Meat, Meat & A Li'l Meat, Sunday Suppers, Enough To Feed A Crowd, Sides, 'Taters, & 'Maters, Sweets & Treats (yes, Francine gives us more desserts in this one! Yay!), Holiday Baked Goods, and Breads & Rolls. There are 125 new recipes in here, no repeats from her first book, and many are old/vintage recipes (which I love) and her "secret" family recipes. What makes Francine's cookbooks so unique is her treasure trove of vintage recipes that she draws from and her willingness to share her parent's and grandparent's super special secret recipes. My other favorite part about Francine's recipes is the fact that it's real, down-home cooking. Most cookbooks nowadays are full of gluten-free, vegan, vegetarian, fusion, etc. recipes that just aren't practical for my life - I'm an old fashioned cook with four small children and I don't have a limitless budget, let alone the ability to find a million specialty ingredients I've never heard of. If they don't stock it at Costco, Walmart, or the local grocery store, I'm just not making it. Plus, my kids want "regular" good old home cooked food, and so does my husband. Francine delivers. I will definitely be referring to this cookbook and making many recipes from it in the day to come. My favorite part of this book are the little stories Francine writes about each recipe. I love knowing the background and the history and little fun facts and tips about each one.

Some recipes that I'm particularly excited to try are Most-Requested Spinach Dip, The Best Fried Chicken You'll Ever Eat, Faked-Out Fried Chicken, Lemon-Herb Chicken, her homemade Cream of Chicken, Celery, and Mushroom soups, Chicken and Dumplings Like Mama Made, Slow-Cooked Hawaiian Redneck Chicken, Sweet Heat BBQ Sauce, Bacon BBQ'd Baked Beans, Pork Chop Casserole, Meatloaf To Stop A Man In His Tracks, Cheeseburger Pie, Beef Crunch Bake, Chicken Pot Pie, Sunday Supper Pie, Daddy's Church Gathering Chili, Chicken Casserole, Mama's Tuna Casserole, Corn Pudding, Beans Cooked With Ham Hocks, Mashed 'Taters, Fried Okra, Chocolate Pound Cake, Buttermilk Pecan Skillet Cake, Buttermilk Rolls, Lemonade Rolls, 1940s batter bread, and more. In fact, the only thing that's missing here is a recipe for Sweet Tea!

I highly, highly recommend Country Cooking from a Redneck Kitchen to every down-home cook out there. Don't miss out on this gem!

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

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Code 13

Code 13 is the second book in Don Brown's Navy JAG series (the first being Detained). I really enjoyed Detained, so I was excited to read the next installment in the series. This series is a collection of military thrillers, focused particularly on the Navy JAG unit. The book description reads:


Caroline is just getting her feet wet at the prestigious Code 13, but is thankful for at least one familiar face—her old flame, P.J. MacDonald. He loops her into the assignment he is currently working on—the legality of a proposed drone-sharing contract with Homeland Security that would allow the sale of drones for domestic surveillance. The contractor wants a legal opinion clearing the contract for congressional approval. But the mob wants the proposal dead-on-arrival.

When P.J. is gunned down in cold blood and a second JAG officer is killed, one thing becomes clear: whoever is ordered to write the legal opinion on the drones becomes a target. Which is exactly why Caroline goes to her commanding officer and volunteers to write the legal opinion herself. She is determined to avenge P.J.’s death and trap the killer, even if that means making herself a target.

It is a deadly game of Russian roulette for the sake of justice, but Caroline is determined to see it through, even if it costs her life."

After loving the first book in the series, I couldn't wait to read this one. Unfortunately, I didn't enjoy the second book quite as much as the first one, but it still was a good book. The story got off to a bit of a slow start, but once it got going it was a page turner. The storyline delivered a good amount of excitement and intrigue, but the plot was a bit predictable. I do appreciate the way he weaves the Christian themes seamlessly into the story. I am looking forward to reading the next book in this series. I recommend this book (and series) to anyone who enjoys military thrillers.

I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.