Monday, August 20, 2018

The Crescent Stone by Matt Mikalatos

Mikalatos gives readers a thought provoking fantasy adventure in the style of C. S. Lewis. There are allusions to Christian truths in the story and the plot contains many ethical decisions. There are unusual creatures inhabiting many kingdoms. There are intense battles and life and death situations. There are complex loyalties and underlying motives that made me wonder who the good guys really were. Perhaps like reality, the good and evil motives in beings were often hidden.

The characters are well developed and very interesting. One character, for example, is the King of Mirrors. He is always looking into one, when he is not fighting, that is. My favorite character was Jason. His truth telling and sarcasm brought humor to the narrative.

Mikalatos has included a number of moral issues in the plot. We learn about Angel Island and the historical woes of immigrants coming to the west coast of the U.S. We are informed about privatized prisons in the U.S. and the profitability of filling them, even if it requires made up charges. Most glaringly, we readers are faced with living our comfortable middle class lives at the expense of others.

This novel is in the young adult genre. I enjoyed it as an older adult too. The prevalence of social justice issues contained in the book makes me suggest the novel would be good for older teens. It would be a good choice for a teen reading group as there would be much to discuss.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy an allegory with hints of the gospel and other spiritual truths as well as many social justice issues.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Matt Mikalatos began a life-long love of fantasy novels in the third grade. For the last two decades he has been working in a nonprofit organization. He has lived in Asia and served all over the world. His science fiction and fantasy stories have been published in a variety of places. His nonfiction has appeared in various places. He also cohosts the StoryMen podcast. He lives in Portland, Oregon with his wife and daughters. You can find out more at www.mikalatos.com.

Tyndale House, 448 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, August 18, 2018

Ties That Blind by Chautona Havig Blog Tour and Giveaway

About the Book


Title: Ties that Blind
Author: Chautona Havig
Release date: August, 2018
Genre: Suspense

He may not be the only person in the Rockland area to wake up without a memory, but he might be the only killer… Simon Prescott, the latest victim of spontaneous amnesia in Rockland, is under suspicion of murder. The evidence, though weak and circumstantial, points only to him. He’s confident he didn’t do it, but there’s no way to prove it. Grieving for a wife he doesn’t remember, Simon refuses to allow his family in, refuses to cooperate with police, and is heading straight for the pokey if he doesn’t figure out something and fast. Enter: Ella Weeks and Vikki Jeffries. The previous two victims are determined to help him, and with jail time looming, Simon capitulates. But what Vikki and Ella find as they work through Simon’s life reveals astounding and rather chilling evidence of a bigger scheme than any of them could have imagined. They’re on the verge of total discovery, but the closer they get, the less confident they are that they want to know.

Click here to purchase your copy!

My Review

This is the third in a series but the first I have read. While I did enjoy the novel, I do recommend that the previous ones be read first. The plot in this book is good and entertaining. Characters from the previous novels do come into the story, however, and have a major influence. I thought there was not enough back story for those characters and I had trouble fully understanding their part in this narrative.

The amnesia plot is not unique but this novel had some interesting additional elements. Simon wakes up to find the police at his door. They are investigating the death of his wife. Simon is shaken. He thinks he is dreaming as he has no memories. He doesn't know who he is. He doesn't know he is married. He is sure he didn't kill his wife but how can he possibly prove it? The element of a homicide brought added depth to the plot.

I appreciated the information Havig included at the end of the novel about the possibility of eliminating unwanted memories. Havig has taken current scientific work on that topic and woven it well into the plot.

I recommend this book to readers who enjoy an informative novel about current experimentation on memories. There is a strong Christian influence included. But do read the earlier novels in the series to really enjoy this one.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author


The author of dozens of books in a variety of genres, Chautona Havig lives and writes in California’s Mojave Desert where she uses story to nudge her readers to the feet of the Master Storyteller. You can find out more at https://chautona.com/

Guest Post from Chautona


What Does It All Mean, Anyway?

“So why is this series called ‘Sight Unseen’ if it’s about people who lose their memories? Why the vision references?” I can’t pretend I wanted to answer her question. She isn’t the first to ask, and I doubt she’ll be the last. I tried to explain. Look, it’s a valid question. Originally, the first book was called From the Cinders, and if it had remained a stand-alone book, it still would be. But when I finished with another person waking up to no memories and a hint that something sinister might be behind it all, I had to change it to fit two books—no, three! Recall. Rewind. Refresh. I liked those titles. But that still didn’t give me the name of a series. I kept studying. Tried again. I read what would become None So Blind three times in a row, if I recall correctly. And as I read it, a theme emerged. Ella Weeks hadn’t been blind to her faults even before her memory loss. Even her husband hadn’t been, despite his obvious love for her. But those around her had been blind to her awareness of those faults—to her silent cries for help in overcoming them.

Will Not See emerged with a similar theme.

Vikki had a past that she hid from and refused to acknowledge. And even as those around her drew closer to provide support, she still managed to block out all that she found frightening—even physically shutting down and shutting out life. So, when it came time to plan the final book in the series, the one that would now tie together everything that had happened, I knew I wanted something that also fit with the other titles. And one night it came to me. Ties That Blind. So often our ties to people blind us to their faults—to the destructive influences they have in our lives. And Simon Prescott will learn that lesson in a rather lonely, horrible way.

The Sight Unseen series reminds us of what Paul said in Corinthians.

Now we see through dark glasses… we can’t really make it all out. But with the Lord, when we’re truly with Him in eternity, we’ll see things as clearly as we do when we are face to face. And that’s what faith is all about, right? It’s the “substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” When we “buy in” to the Lord Jesus, we’re taking it all in faith. We’re trusting in Him, “Sight Unseen,” just as the characters in this series do with every element of their lives. I hope their journeys bless you as they have me as I wrote them.


Blog Stops

Live. Love. Read. , August 18
Fiction AficionadoAugust 20
Among the ReadsAugust 20
Blogging With CarolAugust 21
Lots of HelpersAugust 22
Cordially BarbaraAugust 23
All-of-a-kind MomAugust 23
MultifariousAugust 24
Bibliophile ReviewsAugust 25
Texas Book-aholicAugust 26
A Reader’s BrainAugust 27
Maureen’s MusingsAugust 28
Carpe DiemAugust 28
BigreadersiteAugust 30
Mary HakeAugust 30
Pause for TalesAugust 31
Readers cozy cornerAugust 31

Giveaway



To celebrate her tour, Chautona is giving away a grand prize of the entire Sight Unseen series in paperback!!
Be sure to comment on the blog stops for nine extra entries into the giveaway! Click the link below to enter.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Celebrate Lit.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Out of North Korea by Alana Terry Blog Tour and Giveaway


About the Book


Book Title: Out of North Korea  
Author: Alana Terry  
Genre: Christian Thriller/Suspense  
Release date: June 25, 2018

A single photograph could cost his life …
Ian McAllister has searched the world over, hunting for that all-elusive perfect photograph.
He finds it on a tourist trip to North Korea when he stumbles upon a young street kid foraging for roots.
Unaware that this single act will brand him a spy and cost his freedom, Ian takes the shot.
Now he must pay the penalty.
A true-to-life novel about an American imprisoned behind North Korea’s closed borders.
A gripping tale of courage, faith, and hope from award-winning Christian novelist Alana Terry.

Click here to purchase your copy.


My Review


Terry has given readers a character driven short novel concentrating on the thoughts of an atheist in a difficult situation. There is essentially no suspenseful action. The major content of the narrative is not so much what is happening but what Ian is thinking about his experiences.

There are a few interesting issues contained in the story. One is what happens when an American tries to be a smart aleck in a foreign country. Sarcasm does not work well in such situations and only leads to more trouble. Right along with that is Americans doing dumb things in foreign countries. We might think it harmless but our actions might be causing others great distress.

The most interesting issue for me was that of social justice. Ian, the atheist, contemplates American Christians wearing clothes made in slave shops, thinking nothing of it. Or Christians who are so concerned about their own children remaining sexually pure while ignoring the horrible sex trade.

Most of the books I have read by Terry were full of action. This one is different in that it is mostly Ian's thoughts. I do recommend it to readers who would like narratives consisting mostly of musings. There is a clear presentation of the gospel included.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author


Alana is a pastor’s wife, homeschooling mom, self-diagnosed chicken lady, and Christian suspense author. Her novels have won awards from Women of Faith, Book Club Network, Grace Awards, Readers’ Favorite, and more. Alana’s passion for social justice, human rights, and religious freedom shines through her writing, and her books are known for raising tough questions without preaching. She and her family live in rural Alaska where the northern lights in the winter and midnight sun in the summer make hauling water, surviving the annual mosquito apocalypse, and cleaning goat stalls in negative forty degrees worth every second.

Guest Post from Alana Terry


Have you seen in the news that the leaders of North and South Korea have both publicly stated their willingness to promote peace on the Korean peninsula? It was certainly a historic moment, and this part of the world has earned its place in global headlines.
My interest in North Korea, however, goes back over a decade, when as a young mother I received a prayer burden for the people of North Korea. Fast-forward to five years ago when my debut novel was released. The Beloved Daughter follows the life of a young girl who is sent to prison camp because of her father’s Christian faith. In addition to winning several awards, The Beloved Daughter gave an expression to my prayer burden to see North Korea free to worship the one true God.
Out of North Korea is unique among my other titles because it’s the first story that focuses on an American in North Korea. Ian McAllister is captured and held in a Pyongyang prison because of a photograph he took of a young homeless boy. I hope the message leaves you as inspired and encouraged as I was when I was writing it.

Blog Stops

All of a kind MomAugust 16
Multifarious, August 17
Mary HakeAugust 17
Bibliophile ReviewsAugust 18
Genesis 5020August 20
Purposeful LearningAugust 20
Blogging With CarolAugust 22
Maureen’s MusingsAugust 23
Carpe DiemAugust 24
Texas Book-aholicAugust 26
A Reader’s BrainAugust 27
Henry HappensAugust 29
BigreadersiteAugust 29

Giveaway



To celebrate her tour, Alana is giving away a grand prize of a $30 Amazon gift card!!
Click below to enter. Be sure to comment on this post before you enter to claim 9 extra entries!

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Celebrate Lit. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Celebrate Lit.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Think, Learn, Succeed by Dr. Caroline Leaf

Leaf offers scientific information on the mind, learning and memory. Much is from her own research but she includes insights from the work of others as well. The quality of her information is evidenced by the number of footnotes and suggested reading list, about forty percent of the ARC I read.

Leaf also provides tools to help readers develop successful thinking habits. She writes about the power of mindsets, the unique way each of us thinks, and her Switch Your Brain 5-Step Learning Process.

I liked her exploration of mindsets, the way we see life. She certainly encourages useful mindsets, such as one seeing life as full of possibilities. I liked her comments as to how relying on the internet is changing our thought processes. I was surprised to find that spending more time on social media and other screen activities correlates to lower levels of happiness and higher levels of depression. (Loc 427/5555)

Leaf also helps readers determine what she describes as their own unique, or customized, mode of thinking. This is a complex section and I felt confused by it most of the time. Leaf mentions a theorized arrangement of seven modules across the brain. “It is theorized,” she writes, “that our customized way of thinking is shaped by the way these seven modules of thinking interact.” (Loc 1459/5555) Questions help readers determine how information theoretically goes through these seven areas, producing theoretical insight into how thoughts are uniquely incorporated into the mind. It seems this is still theorized and I am not sure of the benefit of it, although Leaf does claim she has helped others with this theory.

It takes time to incorporate all the information in this book. It takes time for thoughts to become part of of the unconscious mind. (Loc 3255/555) Leaf mentions 21 day practice routines that need to be repeated three times for a total of 63 days. I did not come across any suggested practice routines. The Appendixes were not included in the ARC I read so I have no idea if they were included in them or how such routines might work. Leaf includes Activation Tips at the end of each chapter. “Choose to develop a mindset that...” (Loc 953/555) “Train yourself to...” (Loc 962/5555) Great suggestions but lacking in practical strategies to accomplish them.

I think there might be a caveat to this whole book. Leaf writes, “It is important to note that despite centuries of research, encoding in the brain has remained quite mysterious.” (Loc 3031/5555) Perhaps we should look at Dr. Leaf's work as one theory still needing independent study.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Dr. Caroline Leaf is the author of Switch On Your Brain, Think and Eat Yourself Smart, and The Perfect You, among other books and articles. She and her husband live with their four children in Dallas and Los Angeles. You can find out more at https://drleaf.com/.

Baker Books, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

For Us Humans by Steve Rzasa

I grew up reading science fiction and love to return to it from time to time. Imagine, a good science fiction novel from a Christian perspective!

Rzasa imagines a world where aliens orchestrated a corporate takeover of the earth some fifteen years previously. Our hero is Caz, a fellow who is good at orchestrating stings for the FBI, retrieving stolen items. He's called into service when a microscopic alien piece of art is stolen from a display on earth. He's happy to do it until part of the deal is that he works with a four armed alien.

While there are lots of amazing space ships, phasers, and other technical stuff, the character of Caz makes the novel. I had a little trouble liking him at first but I grew to appreciate him as the novel progressed. He's cocky and a smart aleck. He's also a lapsed Christian.

And that makes for an interesting novel from a Christian perspective. When the aliens took over the earth, many so-called Christians lost their faith. Beings from other worlds just did not fit into their theology. Caz reluctantly learns from his four armed partner that some aliens have a similar belief in God and a means of salvation through the death of One.

I liked Rzasa's writing style. The narrative was easy to follow. The dialogue was sort of a combination of sarcasm, humor, and tough guy talk. It really added to my enjoyment of the novel. There were times when I would have liked a little more description, especially of some of the alien equipment.

I recommend this novel to readers who like science fiction and would appreciate the thought provoking concept of aliens embracing a saving faith. You'll have a good adventure and have some issues to think about. I'll be looking for more from this author.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Steve Rzasa is the author of several novels of science fiction, steampunk, and fantasy. His third novel, Broken Sight, received the 2012 Award for Speculative Fiction from the American Christian Fiction Writers. Two of his novels have been nominated for the Realm Award. He received his bachelor's degree from Boston University and worked for eight years in newspapers. He's been a librarian since 2008. He is the technical services librarian in Buffalo, Wyoming, where he lives with his wife and two boys. You can find out more at www.steverzasa.com.

Enclave Publishing, 384 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Monday, August 13, 2018

Laughing All the Way by Karen O'Connor

This book was a surprise. It wasn't what I had expected, based on the title and cover. It is an encouraging and instructive book but it is not funny. It made me think but it did not make me laugh.

O'Connor shares her insights to help readers live life well in the latter years. She offers challenges like knowing one's self. She explores the four personality types and discusses introverts and extroverts. She encourages creativity, noting that the latter half of life is the perfect time to be creative. She helps us get through setbacks, noting that God may be directing us to a new path in life.

The most surprising part of her book was also the most informative for me. It was on creating personal boundaries. She writes of offering to help another person but then being overwhelmed by the intensity of need. She also writes about her decision to quit meddling. I really liked her example of taking care of what's in our own boat and leaving others to take care of what's in their boat.

O'Connor shares great stories to illustrate her wisdom offerings. She is a good example of seeing older life as a gift to be enjoyed.

If you are looking for general wisdom and insight into living your latter years, such as breathing deeply and getting rid of clutter, this book is for you. If you were looking for humor, you will need to look elsewhere.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Karen O'Connor has authored many magazine articles and more than 70 books. Her numerous awards include the Paul A. Witty Award for short story writing and the 2002 Special Recognition Award at the Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference. She speaks at schools, churches, and community organizations, and has been a guest on national radio and television programs. You can find out more at www.karenoconnor.com.

Harvest House Publishers, 192 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.