Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Loved Back To Life

Loved Back to Live: How I Found the Courage to Live Free is a courageous, honest memoir/self help book by former 700 Club host Sheila Walsh. She's now currently a Women of Faith speaker and author of several other books. To be honest, I'd never heard of Sheila or her story before picking up this book, but after reading the description, knew it was a book I needed to read. The description reads:

"Join Sheila Walsh on her journey from despair to joy

Beautiful and talented, Sheila Walsh was at the pinnacle of her career, appearing daily on television as co host of The 700 Club. One day she found herself walking away from it all and checking in to a psychiatric hospital, where she stayed for a month.

From the outside everything seemed fine, but on the inside Sheila was in trouble. In her journal she wrote, “Lord, please hold me. I’m falling into a dark well. I feel as if I am disappearing a little more every day. I am so angry inside that I am afraid of myself. I feel so alone.” How did this happen? What brought her to her knees?

Loved Back to Life takes readers on Sheila’s journey of the soul from hopelessness to joy as she finds that although the road was scary, at every turn God beckoned her to follow and trust Him. And He did not let her down."

Now, I feel this is such an important book for Christians today. Depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders are nearly taboo in Christian culture at large. Many, many Christians believe that mental illness is not real, a purely spiritual problem, caused by sin, or any number of other reasons. I have personally suffered from depression and anxiety. I have sat in meetings to train Christian counselors where the speaker stated she refuses to counsel anyone who takes antidepressant/anxiety medication and won't go off of the medications. Considering how many Americans take these types of medications, I doubt I was the only one sitting in that room currently taking an antidepressant and feeling like they were inferior to everyone else in the room.

Frankly, I think this is not just a travesty, but dangerous. A counselor is not a doctor, and good Christians are being made to feel like they are "less than" or that there is something inherently wrong or sinful about them if they suffer from any type of mental illness and seek medical treatment for it. Recently there's been more of a pushback and people are finally starting to realize that mental illness is a real illness that needs real treatment. I think that the more books that are written like this, the better, because people are finally starting to sit up and listen and become open to changing their minds and attitudes about these important issues.

Now onto the book itself, it was excellent. Sheila's story is compelling, raw, and honest. I picked it up and was hooked from the first page. I read this book in less than a day, and honestly it's one you could read in one sitting if you were so inclined. This is a rewrite/update to her previous book, Honestly. Sheila takes us through those dark days 20 years ago and then updates her story to include where she is today, how her journey has gone, and includes updated information in the field of mental health. I highly recommend this book not only to Christians who have suffered from mental illness, but to every Christian. Christianity needs much more understanding and compassion for the issue of mental illness and how to deal with it in the members of its churches. I commend Sheila for putting herself out there and being willing to share her story and journey.

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

Friday, March 13, 2015

The Pharaoh's Daughter

I was immediately intrigued by the cover of The Pharaoh's Daughter by Mesu Andrews. I've never read any books by Andrews before, but I've enjoyed reading biblical historical fiction in the past, mainly by Francine Rivers (her Mark of the Lion series is excellent, for example). I've also read some very enjoyable biblical historical fiction by other authors as well. That said, I wasn't sure what to expect from Andrews, but was hoping for the best. I wasn't disappointed. Please note that I received an uncorrected advance copy for review and the final copy may have changes when published. The book description reads:

"“Fear is the most fertile ground for faith.”

“You will be called Anippe, daughter of the Nile. Do you like it?” Without waiting for a reply, she pulls me into her squishy, round tummy for a hug.
I’m trying not to cry. Pharaoh’s daughters don’t cry.
When we make our way down the tiled hall, I try to stop at ummi Kiya’s chamber. I know her spirit has flown yet I long for one more moment. Amenia pushes me past so I keep walking and don’t look back.
Like the waters of the Nile, I will flow.

Anippe has grown up in the shadows of Egypt’s good god Pharaoh, aware that Anubis, god of the afterlife, may take her or her siblings at any moment. She watched him snatch her mother and infant brother during childbirth, a moment which awakens in her a terrible dread of ever bearing a child. Now she is to be become the bride of Sebak, a kind but quick-tempered Captain of Pharaoh Tut’s army. In order to provide Sebak the heir he deserves and yet protect herself from the underworld gods, Anippe must launch a series of deceptions, even involving the Hebrew midwives—women ordered by Tut to drown the sons of their own people in the Nile.
When she finds a baby floating in a basket on the great river, Anippe believes Egypt’s gods have answered her pleas, entrenching her more deeply in deception and placing her and her son Mehy, whom handmaiden Miriam calls Moses, in mortal danger.
As bloodshed and savage politics shift the balance of power in Egypt, the gods reveal their fickle natures and Anippe wonders if her son, a boy of Hebrew blood, could one day become king. Or does the god of her Hebrew servants, the one they call El Shaddai, have a different plan—for them all?"

This was an absolutely excellent book. It was compelling and interesting from the first page, and difficult to put down. I love how historical fiction writers can breathe new life into biblical stories we've read hundred and times and make us feel like we are truly there inside the story. It really helps me visualize and connect with the story and gives me a deeper desire to go back to the Bible and study the story even more. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys biblical fiction.

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

Friday, March 6, 2015

Breaker's Reef

Breaker's Reef is book four in Terri Blackstock's exciting Cape Refuge series. I was excited to read the conclusion that wraps up this suspenseful series. I love this series and book four definitely didn't disappoint!

The book description reads:

"Murder and mystery continue in Book Four of the Cape Refuge series A famous mystery writer has just moved to Cape Refuge when a teenage girl is found murdered. Sheila Caruso–ex-con, mother to Sadie and Caleb, and resident of Hanover House–is working for the writer when she discovers that a scene in one of his novels matches the crime scene. When Police Chief Cade and Blair Owens discover a second dead teenager–mirroring a murder in another of the eccentric writer’s books–Cade is drawn into a web of trickery and deceit. Evidence turns up in Cade’s own truck, and suddenly he becomes the number-one suspect. Cade tries to clear his name, but when eighteen-year-old Sadie Caruso disappears, tensions mount to a fever pitch. Can Cade find the real killer before Sadie winds up dead? Is the novelist a demented killer, or a hapless victim? And what does Sadie’s own mother have to do with the crimes? Secrets are uncovered, while lessons are learned about the sins of the father being visited upon his children. Will the consequences of Sheila’s life be fatal, or is there redemption and mercy for her and her children? “Chief Matthew Cade rarely considered another line of work, but news of the dead teenage girl made him long for a job as an accountant or electrician—some benign vocation that didn’t require him to look into the eyes of grieving parents.”

I highly recommend reading books 1-3 before picking up this book. You will have much more enjoyment from the conclusion if you've read all the previous stories. Terri weaves the threads of each story together and brings everything to a very satisfying conclusion. This book is one of the best in the Cape Refuge series! It's packed with suspense, twists and turns, and action. But best of all, Terri brings in a big dose of redemption for her characters. I love that she makes redemption a major theme in all of her books. She has the unique ability to thread Christian themes throughout the story without seeming forced or awkward. I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys Christian suspense!

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

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Visits to Heaven and Back: Are They Real?

I was immediately intrigued when I saw the book Visits to Heaven and Back: Are They Real? by Mark Hitchcock. I have followed the explosion of books on personal visits to Heaven and have been somewhat leery of the sudden boom in the publishing industry of people claiming to have visited Heaven and returned to Earth. I, admittedly, have even been caught up in reading a few such books and found them intriguing, but also in parts lacking or even heretical. Therefore, I was anxious to read this book, which promises to take a closer look at such experiences. The book description reads:

"What will heaven really be like?
Today’s bestseller lists are filled with stories of those who have claimed to experienced heaven firsthand. Curiosity about what will happen after we die is as strong as ever in the twenty-first century. Yet, each book contains a different story about what we will experience in heaven.

What are we to believe? What is true?
In Visits to Heaven and Back: Are They Real? Mark Hitchcock, a respected Bible teacher, sorts out the facts. He chronicles the recent phenomenon of “heaven” books, comparing and contrasting the ideas presented in these books and revealing the discrepancies and contradictions. Then, Mark turns to the Bible, laying out clearly the teachings about heaven and experiences in this life of another world. The Bible does reveal that there is a world beyond this one, but it also contains clear warnings and amazing promises.

Discover today God’s clear and certain promises concerning heaven."

This book is a short, quick, accessible read that I finished in just a few hours. It's definitely something that can be read in one sitting. I was so intrigued by the subject that I didn't want to put it down. This book is divided into topical chapters: Heaven Can't Wait, The ABCs of NDEs, "I Thought I'd Died and Gone to Heaven", Your Best Afterlife Now, Dead Wrong, Heaven Is for Real - Is It for Real?, Trouble in Paradise, To Hell and Back, What Is Heaven Like?, and How to Be Dead Right (a gospel presentation). There's also several Appendices, including answers to common questions about death and Heaven, in a Q&A format.

I really appreciated Hitchcock's easy, understandable format. He lays out different "experiences" people have had, and then compares them to God's Word to see if they stand up to the test. In some areas, I thought the differences he pointed out were a bit nitpicky or splitting hairs, but overall he gives fair treatment to these books and testimonies. I feel like this is an extremely important book that every Christian should read in light of the current booming trend of heavenly experiences being published. I hate to discount people's experiences, but on the other hand we need to measure every "experience" against the Word of God to make sure it adds up. As Hitchcock points out, we'd be naive to assume no one makes up stories to ride the wave of the latest trend in order to obtain financial gain, status, or popularity. I highly recommend this book to every Christian.

What do you think? Have you every had a "heavenly" experience, or do you know anyone who has? What's your take on NDEs and visits to Heaven and back? I'd love to hear from you!

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

Monday, February 23, 2015

Lighten Up, Y'all!

Lighten Up, Y'all: Classic Southern Recipes Made Healthy and Wholesome by Virginia Willis promises that amazing Southern cooking taste we all love, but instead of deep fried, soaked in grease, whole sticks of butter, and pounds of sugar; healthy and wholesome. The book description reads:

"A collection of classic Southern comfort food recipes--including seven-layer dip, chicken and gravy, and mudslide cookies--made lighter, healthier, and completely guilt-free.

Virginia Willis is not only an authority on Southern cooking, a French-trained chef, and a veteran cookbook author; she is also a proud Southerner who adores eating and cooking for family and friends. So when she needed to drop a few pounds and generally lighten up her diet, the most important criterion for her new lifestyle was that all the food had to taste delicious.

The result is Lighten Up, Y’all, a soul-satisfying and deeply personal collection of Virginia’s new favorite recipes. All the classics are covered—from a comforting Southern Style Shepherd’s Pie with Grits to warm, melting Broccoli Mac and Cheese to Old-Fashioned Buttermilk Pie. Each dish is packed with real Southern flavor, but made with healthier, more wholesome ingredients and techniques. Wherever you are on your health and wellness journey, Lighten Up, Y’all has the recipes, tools, and inspiration you need to make the nourishing, down-home Southern food you love."

I was super excited to receive this book, because I love Southern food and cooking, but am also always counting my calories and trying to make healthier choices. This cookbook didn't completely measure up to my expectations, but I did like it quite a bit and am looking forward to trying out many of the recipes. My main complaint about this book is that I wish it included some more pictures. I like to see a picture of every recipe before I make it, but I understand this isn't always possible due to size limits of the book. The pictures that were included were appealing and appetizing, though, so that was a plus.

Some recipes included are: Sinless Seven-Layer Dip, Hot Mess Spinach and Feta Dip, Barbecue Meatballs, Summer Squash Casserole, Red Beans and Greens, Southern Style Shepherd's Pie with Grits, Makeover Broccoli Mac and Cheese, Gulf Coast Seafood Stew, Smothered and Covered Chicken and Gravy, Slow-Cooked Barbecue Pulled Chicken, Chunky Chicken Noodle Soup, Buttermilk Biscuits with Turkey Sausage Gravy, Baked Apple Hand Pies with Salted Caramel Sauce, and Big Rich Texas Sheet Cake.

I enjoyed reading Virginia's stories and insights, and the recipes are carefully and thoughtfully written and easy to follow. I recommend this cookbook to anyone who enjoys Southern food!

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

Friday, February 20, 2015

The Unveiled Wife

The Unveiled Wife: Embracing Intimacy with God and Your Husband by Jennifer Smith is a gem of a book. I'd never heard of Jennifer before seeing this book, so I was a bit hesitant to pick it up, not knowing what to expect, but it was far above my expectations. The description so intrigued me that I just had to read it:

"As a young bride, Jennifer Smith couldn't wait to build her life with the man she adored. She dreamed of closeness, of being fully known and loved by her husband. But the first years of marriage were nothing like she'd imagined. Instead, they were marked by disappointment and pain, as Jennifer and her husband struggled to become physically intimate. Trapped by fear and insecurity, and feeling totally alone, Jennifer cried out to God: "What am I doing wrong? Why is this happening to us?" It was as if a veil had descended between her and her husband, and between her and God--one that kept her from experiencing the fullness of love.How did Jennifer and her husband survive the painful times? What did they do when they were tempted to call it quits? How did God miraculously step in during the darkest hour to rescue and redeem them, tearing down the veil once and for all? "The Unveiled Wife" is a real-life love story; one couple's refreshingly raw, transparent journey touching the deep places in a marriage that only God can reach. If you are feeling disappointment or even despair about your marriage, the heart-cry of this book is: "You are not alone." Discover through Jennifer's story how God can bring you through it all to a place of transformation."

This is probably one of the most honest books I've ever read. Jennifer doesn't shy away from any topic, no matter how sensitive. That's the biggest thing I loved about this book. So many marriage and relationship books skirt around the edges of issues rather than just addressing them directly and head on. The Unveiled Wife is written in a chatty, blog style feel with reflection questions at the end of each chapter. It was a very easy read and difficult to put down - I wanted to see how the story would end! I think every woman can relate to this book, because no one has "the perfect marriage". I highly recommend this to every Christian woman. You don't have to be teetering on the edge of divorce to glean important truths from this book! Excellent and highly recommended.

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

Twisted Innocence

Twisted Innocence is the third (and I believe final) book in Terri Blackstock's new Moonlighters series. I've loved the first two books in the series, and book three was no exception! It did not disappoint. The book description reads:

"Holly Cramer’s past choices have finally caught up to her, but she never expected them to endanger her baby.

Though Holly’s stumbled through most of her adult life as a party girl, she longs to live a more stable life for her daughter. Then police show up to question her about the whereabouts of Creed Kershaw, Lily’s father. She has kept his identity a secret from friends and family—she never even told him about the pregnancy. Now he’s a person of interest in a drug-related murder case.

Determined to keep him out of their lives and turn him over to police, Holly uses her private investigating skills to search for him. But her bravado backfires when he turns the tables and takes her and the baby hostage. As desperate hours tick by, Holly realizes his connection to Leonard Miller—the man who has gunned down several members of her family. Creed claims he’s innocent and that Miller is after him too. His gentleness with Lily moves her, but she can’t trust a man who has held her at gunpoint . . . even if he reminds her so much of herself.

Dangers old and new threaten Holly and her baby, and lives are demanded as sacrifices for love. Through a complex web of mistakes and regret, redemption is the one hope Holly has left to hold on to."

Twisted Innocence was everything the first two books were - suspenseful page turners. I couldn't put this one down, and I really enjoyed getting a closer look into Holly's life (the previous books followed Cathy and Juliet more closely). I enjoyed the blend of seeing Holly's redemption mixed with finally getting closure on Leonard Miller's terrorism of their family. This was a quick and easy read that I picked up and read in about 24 hours, but it was still very satisfying. I absolutely love Terri Blackstock's writing, and I can't wait to see what she comes up with next!

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