Monday, June 18, 2018

Broken Silence by Jamieya B-Johnson

B-Johnson had a very painful experience in marriage. She turned to writing poetry as it helped her through the difficult times. She includes a few pages that tell her story by way of introduction and then the next part of the book contains her poems and a few encouraging prose notes with Scripture. The next part of the book contains encouraging short devotionals. The last part contains longer readings of the insights she has gained in her spiritual walk.

She writes generally in the free verse style with some internal rhyming as she expresses her pain, confusion and ultimately her trust in God. Here is a sample of a few lines from various poems:

Unrealistic expectations stuffed in a suitcase with my name on it

I'm saddened at the indulgence of multiplicity in sinful engagement that
left me grieving as if I never existed.

Falsely accused of the nuisance lies try to portray
Against all odds fighting the old and new

I think my favorite poem is title “So Long Dear Friend...” My favorite line from that poem:

I see growth chasing after me with a love unconditional

I am not much of a poetry fan, thanks to a discouraging high school English teacher. I do appreciate, however, B-Johnson expressing her feelings in poems, even if I do not understand some of them. I recommend this book to those who have deep feelings they long to express. This book is a good example of expression with a view to helping others. I really liked the devotional readings in the second half of the book. They were very encouraging.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Jamieya B-Johnson started her writing career in her high school years in a small town in Indiana and is the author of several books. She is a poet and story-teller who uses life experiences to provoke people in thinking and believing. Her passion has always been to help hurting people understand that there is life after pain. She is a wife and mother of four children.

Book Venture Publishing, 86 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Authors, Large and Small. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Formula of Deception by Carrie Stuart Parks

Parks is one of my favorite mystery and suspense authors. That her main character is a forensic artist is a good basis for great plots. Imagine my surprise at a new heroine in this novel. Murphy is not actually a forensic artist although she claims to be one. She is really on Kodiak Island in Alaska to find out what happened to her missing sister who she fears was dating a serial killer.

There were aspects of the plot I really liked and others that left me unsatisfied. I like that Murphy gets to help with the forensic work on a cold case. A fisherman on his death bed reveals he had found several bodies on a small island ten years ago. What Murphy and the state forensic expert find relates to World War II. I learned about the Japanese invading Alaska, trying to distract the Americans from Midway. I also learned about Custer's Cutthroats and their work in thwarting the Japanese army.

The novel also had an intense psychological aspect to it. All is not as it seems nor is everyone who they claim. There were many twists and turns to the plot, many relating to the psychological aspect. At times I felt a little jerked around and definitely deceived. I am just not so sure all of those psychological twists work.

I really like Parks' writing style. She has a way of having tension run continually through the plot. I do recommend this novel to readers who enjoy learning about WW II in Alaska and forensic art while being entertained with a mysterious cold case and a suspenseful current mystery.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy and Carol Award-winning author. She has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband across the US and Canada teaching courses on forensic art to law enforcement professionals. She is also the author and illustrator of several books on drawing and painting. She lives in the mountains of Idaho. You can find out more at http://www.carriestuartparks.com/.

Thomas Nelson, 320 pages. This book releases July 3.

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

Saturday, June 16, 2018

Fearless Faith by Joan Huffman

Huffman has written this short book of devotionals with the aim of helping readers trust God and live in fearless faith. She shares several examples from her own everyday life, relating them to Scripture truths. For example, she learned about seeds and planting and having the faith of a farmer waiting for the harvest. She relates that to the faith we must have when waiting on God in prayer. With similar insight she writes about being obedient, using our talents, having courage, being broken, and more.

These are good, practical devotions. There are only thirteen of them so this book would be a good one to take along on a vacation or use use another time for a two week spiritual emphasis. Huffman has added thought provoking questions after each devotion, good for journaling or small group discussion.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Joan Huffman is a wife, mother and grandmother. She was in education for 39 years, teaching kindergarten – third grade, Curriculum Specialist and University Professor. She lives in Taylorsville, NC.

Book Venture, 66 pages. You can buy the book here and at Amazon.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Authors, Large and Small. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Friday, June 15, 2018

Designed for More by Lucas Ramirez with Mike DeVito

Ramirez says that many churches spend so much energy on their own congregation they miss the larger picture. Churches are like isolated little flocks rather than part of a much larger flock, all moving together. He explores what keeps congregations apart, the importance of unity in God's plan, and then offers a strategy for moving toward working together.

Ramirez had seen a video of starlings as huge flocks move together. Called murmuration, seeing the birds flying together inspired him to develop this book. (You can see a videos of the starlings' flights as well as the book trailer and other videos from Ramirez at https://www.designedformorebook.com/video/.)

I appreciate his looking at what keeps congregations apart, such as competition and cultural issues. He did not address the elephant in the room, doctrine, until much later in the book. When he finally does write about it, he defines unity. It is not when everyone agrees on everything but when the interconnectedness is realized and oneness is pursued for God's glory and expanding the kingdom. (Loc 2002/3320) I think doctrine is a big issue in preventing unity and was disappointed that Ramirez did not offer a good strategy to get beyond that issue.

Ramirez offers a strategy for a community wide movement near the end of the book. He suggests and looks for grassroots, local, organic initiatives. The unity, it would seem, is not something initiated by church leadership but is more the work of the individuals in the pews, working together with other Christians in community projects, etc. I found it interesting that what seems to keep churches apart is found at the leadership level but the work of unity is expected at the layperson level. I have been in a church where the laypeople were more than willing to initiate community action but the senior pastor was too insecure in his own ministry to give encouragement to possible lay ministry. If the problem is at the pastoral level, that is where the cure needs to begin.

I felt Ramirez's writing style is somewhat academic and is aimed more at leadership than the layperson, where he expects the work of unity to be initiated. He writes like he is developing a systems theory as he explores the aspects of unity and the dynamics involved. I think this book would be appreciated most by pastors and church leaders. They could use the information in this book to encourage the people in their congregations to engage in unity producing activities in the community.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Lucas Ramirez was born in Argentina and emigrated to the United States with his family at age six. He is the director of The Gathering Place, an innovative student mentoring and Christian leadership development organization. He is a keynote speaker and has spoken at venues such as Catalyst Conference, TEDx, and the Georgia House of Representatives. He is married to his college sweetheart and they have three children.
Mike DeVito is a ministry veteran with over forty years of ministry experience. He frequently speaks at camps, conferences, and youth events. He currently serves as the Southwest regional coordinator for the National Network of Youth Ministries. He also serves as the ministry outreach coordinator at Biola University. He and his wife live in Orange County, California. They have two daughters and three grandchildren.

FaithWords, 272 pages.

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

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Forgiving God by Hilary Yancey

We love to read stories about when someone pleads with God and He comes through with some amazing deed. But what about when God doesn't do something wonderful to fix the situation?

That's what happened to the Yanceys. The excitement of pregnancy was tempered with the news that the child would be deformed: a cleft palate, missing an eye and an ear. Hilary shares with us her experiences and her struggles.

This is a book of raw emotions. Hilary writes in an almost poetic way about her anger at God, being mad at His promises, pleading, begging. She shares her deep feelings of God robbing her of what she most wanted and of developing a faith seasoned with suffering, doubt and anger. She combines her own thoughts with her study of philosophy, developing a theology of disabilities with the ideas of God's providence and provision.

This is an emotional book. At times I was overwhelmed with Hilary's honest account of her pain and suffering. It made me think about how I would maintain my faith in the face of similar struggles.

I do recommend this book to those who are struggling with their faith as they face struggles and suffering. Hilary helps readers work through concepts like God's sovereignty and man's freedom as they related to her own experiences. There are lots of details in the book to the point I thought it too much information. Nonetheless, her writing style helps make a very difficult subject easier to read.

You can read or listen to an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Hilary Yancey is a PhD candidate in philosophy at Baylor University. She lives in Texas with her husband and their two children. You can find out more at http://www.hilaryyancey.com/.

FaithWords, 224 pages.

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

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Burn One Down by Jeffrey A Cooper Blog Tour and Giveaway

Burn One Down

by Jeffrey A. Cooper

on Tour June 11 - July 13, 2018

Synopsis:


Retiring thief Jack Apple is offered a low-­risk, six-­figure payout to heist a medical marijuana dispensary from the feisty and impetuous Diane Thomas after Diane steals the robbery plans from her shady ex-­husband Alvin, hoping to beat him to the score.
Diane promises to stay out of Jack’s way but she can’t help interfering, forcing them to take hostages inside the dispensary when the robbery is interrupted by law enforcement, inciting a media circus that deteriorates into a full-­on urban riot.
To escape, Jack and Diane must negotiate the hostages, their agendas, an army of Sheriff’s deputies, the tenacious local news media, crooked deals, corrupt politicians, rioters, Diane’s shady ex-­husband Alvin, and their growing attraction to each other.
This little ditty about Jack and Diane is a fast-paced read that finds a few new wrinkles in a familiar genre. ~ Kirkus Review


My review:



This is one crazy novel. There were times I laughed out loud. Jack has to be the most inept thief I've seen. But then again, perhaps not. He had some pretty well thought out plans until Diane messed them up. I loved the snippy dialog between the two of them. There were lots of other quirky characters too. Like the sheriff who was more concerned about getting his face on the six o'clock news than he was about getting the hostages rescued. The television news anchors were a riot. There were more twists, turns, and roadblocks in this plot than I've ever seen.

I do recommend this novel to readers who like one filled with quirky characters and a plot that has nonstop action. Jack is a lovable character, even if he just cannot get things to work out his way. It looks like there will be a sequel and I'll be looking for it.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery, Thriller, Crime, Heist
Published by: Indie
Publication Date: June 15, 2018
Number of Pages: 271
ISBN: 978-­0­‐692­‐06952-3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Goodreads
 

Read an excerpt:

Chapter One

We are all thieves and criminals.
Jack Apple had too much pride to let people look down him because he’d been in prison. Most people were hypocrites. Their own lawbreaking might not extend past trivial offenses like unpaid parking tickets or racing past the posted speed limit, but if right was right and wrong was wrong then Jack Apple was someone who believed that everyone breaks the law at one time or another. People justified their behavior based on their own personal sense of morality just like he did. It wasn’t his fault that he aimed higher than they did. But that part of his life was over. Thievery and criminality were all behind him now. Jack Apple was a changed man.
At least he would be after tonight.
***
Jack swung himself over the top of the twelve-foot stone wall surrounding Leo Dorsey’s home and laid flat across the top for a good look at the property. Leo Dorsey was the owner of Ledo Luxury Automobiles, a limousine and hired car service that fronted for a long list of illegal activities including drug trafficking, gun running, extortion, prostitution and probably about six or seven other things. As a rule, Jack didn’t rob people in the trade out of professional courtesy, but Leo had stolen money from a friend of his, so Jack would let that rule slide on this one. If he really was ditching the trade for good, this was something he needed to take care of first. He planned this job before prison and knew there was a decent chance Leo would have the $80,000 he still needed to open his new business. In the trade, they called that a win-win.
The business Jack wanted to open was a gas station, positioned on the lower right-hand corner of a busy “Y” street traffic pattern that fed into two distinct thoroughfares, and was a popular route for locals to access the freeway. In addition to the pumps, a small retail store sold cigarettes, lottery tickets, energy drinks and lousy coffee. A service area hadn’t been operational since the days when they used real steel for bumpers, but it was a space ripe for expansion. The property had just been listed, and Jack knew it wouldn’t be on the market long. It had everything. What was the old adage?
Location, location, location?
The word came this morning that Jack needed to move on the property. Other parties were sniffing around, ready to make an offer, and there would be no time to raise money.
While Jack had money stashed away from his recent ATM fiasco, there was still a lot of heat on that job, and that money would need to stay buried for a while. He needed a quick score no one could trace, no one would report, and that he could do alone. Hitting Leo Dorsey was perfect. It had to be.
A series of motion detectors captured Jack’s movement and flooded the area with bright white light. Jack jumped down off the wall and hid behind tall landscaped shrubbery, waiting for a response. Instead, an automated voice spoke from a speaker sitting on top of the stone wall, giving Jack a terse warning in both English and Spanish.
“You are trespassing on private property. Security cameras are recording your movements. There is an armed response to all trespassers. Leave this property immediately.”
Jack moved toward Leo’s house and saw a large man in an open window staring into the yard. It looked like Leo, but Jack remembered a slighter man, guessing that this version topped out between three hundred fifty and four hundred pounds. Leo had become very successful since Jack had seen him last, but it did nothing for his disposition. Leo was still a miserable shit.
“Idiots! There’s something wrong with that security system!” Leo shouted at two haggard employees who were clearly showing early signs of PTSD. “Why do the lights go on for no reason? There it goes again! What don’t you simpletons understand? Get it fixed!” The employees looked at each other, certain that Leo was talking about the other one.
“Boss, I...,” one hapless employee pleaded.
“Get away from me,” Leo interrupted. “I’ve had enough stupid for one day. I’m going to bed now. Try not to burn the house down before I wake up. And make sure those dogs go out again, too. I don’t want them shitting all over my floors again.”
“Dogs,” Jack whispered to himself, grimacing. “Why is it always dogs?”
Jack slipped through the garden and climbed up to the veranda outside Leo’s bedroom with a backpack full of safecracking tools while he waited for Leo to finish browbeating his employees and go to sleep. Leo’s nightstand confirmed his notorious longtime habits of pills and a three-finger glass of Scotch was still current, telling Jack that sleep probably wasn’t far away.
Jack stretched out his shoulder. His thirty-five-year-old body was sending him reminders that it wasn’t about to put up with the kind of abuse he’d heaped on it all these years for much longer. While he tried to keep in shape in prison, his long, willowy frame strong from years of street running and urban gymnastics, Jack couldn’t do anything about getting older or the damage that twenty-three hours a day of lockdown did to a body. His guilty conscience chimed in, reminding Jack of everything he had risked: his health, his family, his freedom, his youth. All for money. Things. Shit. When would it be enough? Would it ever be enough?
Doubt. Crippling, stifling doubt. This was why he was getting out. He’d already been arrested and sent to prison once, so he obviously wasn’t the master thief he once thought he was. Could he even make it on his own? Jack always worked with partners and recent history would seem to indicate that he couldn’t work without them. He’d nearly been bested by a 70-year-old hermit and his English bulldog two weeks ago.
It was reasonable to ask that maybe his time in the trade had passed. He heard Leo through an open window, talking in drunk guy loudspeak.
“You think I dunno what you think I dunno but I know what you think I dunno ya know?” Leo enunciated every syllable as an almost empty glass of Scotch dangled from his fingertips, then dropped to the floor without breaking. He stumbled to a large double-door safe adjacent to his changing area, his head foggy from drink and drug. Leo focused on the keypad, entering the combination numbers at a slow, deliberate pace, then he pulled open the door with his right hand. Jack watched Leo through a monocular as he wrote the safe combination in pen on his pant leg, thankful that the tools in his backpack would no longer be necessary. It was nice of Leo to save him all that work. Maybe he’d send him a fruit basket later.
“I’ll be right outside if ya need me, Boss,” Leo’s other employee said, assuring him as he shut the bedroom door behind him. Leo said nothing. He wasn’t assured at all.
“Lock th’ door!” Leo barked with a pronounced slur. He took off his Patek Philippe watch and put it in the safe along with the bankroll from his bathrobe pocket. Leo inspected it all with a listless shake of his head then closed the large double doors, pulling on the handle again to make sure the safe was locked. He turned, his beefy feet squeaking along the marble tile as he stumbled back to his bed and fell face down on the mattress, fast asleep before his head even hit the pillow. His snores were deep and guttural. It was no mistake Leo slept alone.
Jack waited through several minutes of uninterrupted snoring next to a window underneath a security camera aimed at the French doors leading to Leo’s bedroom. He picked the lock as he waited, sliding the window open with little effort and easing himself inside. He looked around, wary of alarms or motion detectors. Once he was confident he could move without disruption, Jack stepped forward and immediately set off a motion detector that turned the overhead lights on and lit the space with lighting dimmed for the evening hours. Jack moved back to the window, ready to bail out. He listened. Nothing. No sound. No movement. No one was coming. It was quiet except for Leo, who was fifteen feet away and snoring like a champ.
“Okay, no more surprises,” Jack whispered.
He moved into the large room with caution, gently walking past the bed straining under Leo’s sleeping body and toward the safe, where he zeroed in on the combination keypad and the numbers he’d scribbled in pen on his pant leg. Forty-two. Eight. Thirty-one. Five. Jack pulled the handle to open the safe door, but the door remained locked.
Maybe I entered the numbers wrong?
No. He wrote the numbers down exactly as Leo entered them. Jack tried the series again, re-entering the numbers one at a time and pulling on the handle, but the safe still would not open. This time the repudiation was accompanied by a message on a small LCD screen: BIOMETRIC ACCESS DENIED. Your BioMetric Identification has been declined for the second time. For your protection, the safe will be locked if additional biometric identification is refused.
Jack looked at the handle. At the top was a thumb pad with a painted-on thumbprint he hadn’t noticed during his previous attempts. The numbers he’d entered were correct. The safe didn’t open because it needed a thumbprint, specifically Leo’s thumbprint, to open the door. Jack wondered what the odds were of chopping Leo’s thumb off without waking him up. He sat, considering his options. Technology sure was making it tough for a fella to earn a living.
***
At close to four hundred pounds, getting Leo to the safe over fifty feet away from the bed was a challenge. Jack rolled Leo over on the bed and was startled to discover Leo’s eyes were wide open despite Leo being in a deep, sound sleep. Jack waved his hand in front of Leo’s face. Leo didn’t blink, and the snoring got even louder once there was no mattress to contain it.
Jack mapped out his strategy. An office chair on wheels, probably for Leo’s shell-shocked employees, would suffice for moving Leo across the marble floor. That part was easy. The challenge would be getting Leo into the office chair. It was like moving a Smart Car by hand.
Jack pushed Leo up off the bed and reached his hands around his barrel chest, clenching his hands together the best he could across Leo’s massive sternum. Jack bent his knees, took a deep breath, then pulled Leo to the edge of the bed. Leo greeted the move with a loud snort, then went back to a steady snore, his drugged eyes still open as wide as the sky.
“Pull him up, right into the chair,” Jack coached himself. He used the same strategy as before, which this time pulled Leo off the bed too fast. His momentum landed Leo right on top of Jack, who howled. Leo, for his part, wasn’t disturbed by the fall at all.
“You know, you’ve really let yourself go, Leo!” Jack wailed before pushing Leo off of him. Jack stood up, grabbed Leo’s arms and leaned back, groaning, using the remainder of his strength to hoist Leo into the office chair, which creaked under the strain. Jack backed away, hoping the chair would hold. It would be a long, slow drag to the safe otherwise.
Jack positioned himself behind the chair but struggled across the marble floor. The chair moved slow but steady, gaining momentum once Jack picked Leo’s legs up and pulled him instead of pushing. After a heroic effort from Jack and especially the chair, Leo was positioned in front of the safe. Jack caught his breath, hoping that he didn’t give himself a hernia.
The lock on the outer bedroom door clicked, and the door opened. Leo’s employees, having heard Jack’s howling, came to investigate. Jack swiveled the office chair toward the door, pushed Leo’s head forward and ducked behind Leo’s mammoth frame. The employees looked around until they saw Leo in the chair, his eyes still wide open, staring at them.
“You okay, Boss? I heard something. Everything all right?”
Leo, who was still sound asleep, said nothing. His snoring sounded like a growl, especially to these two. “Just making sure you’re okay, Boss,” the nervous employee said in his awkward rush to get out of the room.
Jack swung the office chair back around and stood up. He entered the series of numbers on the combination pad, then lifted Leo’s stubby hand and placed it on the handle, so Leo’s thumb pressed down on the biometric sensor. This time the lock on the safe clicked and the doors opened. Inside the safe were three $10,000 stacks of hundred dollar bills and the large roll of money from Leo’s bathrobe, which Jack estimated at around $3,000. He could hock the watch, too. It wasn’t a bad haul, even though it was far less than Jack was expecting.
Isn’t it always less than you’re expecting?
Jack took what there was and left Leo on the overworked office chair in front of the open safe. He went back to the window he entered through and got out as easy as he came in, even taking time to re-lock the window behind him. The motion detector lights clicked on and off as Jack climbed down from the second story veranda. That’s when Leo’s dogs, two female German Shepherds outside to do their evening business, saw Jack and started barking in a frenzy.
“Nope,” Jack said once he saw them at the bottom, waiting for him to come down. “No dogs.” He climbed back up to the veranda, content to find another way. The only people in the house were Leo’s employees who, from the sound of it, weren’t nearly as smart as the dogs. Jack slipped back into Leo’s bedroom, where Leo was still snoring heartily in the office chair that would be lucky to last the night. At the bedroom door, Jack heard voices in the hallway.
“Keep those dogs quiet before they wake him up!” The two employees were in a panic, apparently unaware of how deep and sound Leo slept after his bedtime snack of pills and Scotch. Their panic gave Jack an opportunity to get to a stairwell at the end of the hallway that he hoped would lead him outside. Jack listened first then moved quietly, soft-stepping his way down the stairs, peeking his head over the railing as he went. He saw the two employees at the stairwell door window on the first floor, so Jack slipped down another level to avoid them.
The stairwell emptied Jack into nondescript hallways of white concrete and white tile floors. The stairwell door locked behind him, so Jack had a choice of the single steel door ahead of him or a hallway that led off to the right. As Jack approached the hallway, the two German Shepherds sauntered around another corner from a hallway fifty feet away.
There was a moment of silent recognition. They all stood still, sizing each other up. The dogs looked at Jack, then to each other, then back to Jack. Everyone jumped at the same time. The dogs took off after Jack, who sprang into action, running down the hallway toward the door.
“Why is it always dogs?” Jack screamed.
Jack raced through the door and pushed it closed behind him. He didn’t suppose the dogs were smart enough to follow, but they figured it out, jumping up together to push open the door’s exit bar and continue their pursuit down the long hallway. The dogs, whose nails clicked like icy rain on paws that were slipping and sliding across the waxed hallway, were gaining ground. There were several doors along the hallway that Jack tried to open, but each one was locked. When Jack finally found an unlocked door, he got inside and pulled the door shut behind him, half a second before the snapping jaws of the German Shepherds took a sizeable bite out of him.
“Okay. Big dogs. Very big dogs,” Jack wheezed.
His hands felt around in the dark until Jack found the light switch inside the door frame, revealing the janitor closet that was now his safe refuge. “What did I ever do to a dog?” Jack panted, catching his breath. He opened the door slightly and saw a door leading to the outside thirty feet further down the hallway. “All right. I’ve been in worse situations,” Jack said. His voice activated the dogs, who barked as he shut the door. “I’ve never been food...”
The dogs paced back and forth outside the closet door, waiting for Jack to come out. They heard a sound; a scraping, grinding noise coming from deep inside the janitor’s closet. The dogs cocked their heads to the side, confused. The doorknob moved, and their ears perked up. The pin on the door unlatched, and the dogs sat crouched, ready to strike. When the door opened the dogs rushed in, then stopped all at once. From inside the deep janitor closet came the loud, abrasive growl of a stand-up vacuum cleaner that Jack parried out of the closet after them, and now was using to chase the German Shepherds back down the hallway.
“Ha-HA!” Jack jeered, quick on their heels. The dogs reached the exit door and jumped up against the bar to let themselves outside, but Jack wasn’t letting them off that easy. He went out after them, confident and mocking. “Mess with me, and you know what happens?”
The cord for the vacuum cleaner pulled taut and yanked out of the wall. The pitiful motor on the vacuum cleaner died down with a slow, agonizing, mournful wail. The two German Shepherds stopped to listen, then turned their heads around slow. Jack could swear they were licking their lips.
“Idiot,” Jack said. He jumped for the closing exit door, and the dogs were on top of him. One had Jack’s pant leg while the other held the bottom of Jack’s shirt. The shirt ripped when the dog tried to pull back, sending one German Shepherd onto her back, while the other dog tried getting a better grip on Jack’s pant leg. Loose for the split second he needed, Jack took advantage, getting inside and pulling the door closed, with the vacuum cord preventing the door from closing tight.
“Hey! Stop right there!” Leo’s two employees came through the first exit door and saw Jack pulling the exit door closed on the dogs.
Jack ran away. The employees were quick on his heels until they passed the exit door. The tenacious German Shepherds forced open the door at the exact moment the employees ran past, and the dogs sprang into action, jumping into the hallway and biting the first thing they saw.
“No! Him! Get him!” The first employee said as he was being mauled by the first dog.
“That one, girl! That one! Ow!” The second employee shook his free arm, pointing down the hallway. His other arm was firmly planted in the second German Shepherd’s jaw.
Jack’s only option at this end of the hallway was the window straight ahead of him. He pulled opened the window and looked out, craning his neck in both directions, but this was no time to get particular. Jack hoisted himself up and pushed through the window until momentum took over and he dropped ten feet to the ground. The soil was dry and loose, and Jack hit hard, flat on his back, before sliding down the sloped hill head-first and backward. The drop knocked the wind out of him, but Jack shook off the fall, spit dirt from his mouth, then scaled the twelve foot stone wall and jumped down on the other side. His pursuers knew Jack could still hear them.
“We know what you look like, pal! You’re on camera, dumbass! We’re gonna find you, you sonofabitch! You messed up bad, man, you messed up real bad!”
Jack ran for his life down the hill surrounding Leo’s house but couldn’t tell if the sounds he heard, of rustling trees, branches snapping, or running through fallen leaves was the sound of someone following him or the echo of the noise he was making all on his own. Jack turned his head to see the lead he had on his pursuers, but the night was dark, and it was difficult to see. What wasn’t difficult to see was the tree branch that caught Jack above the sternum when he turned back around, the one that clotheslined him flat to the ground. He slid down a steep, sloping hill, twisting and turning his body to avoid the rocks and tree stumps in his path before launching himself off an even larger, brush-covered hill.
Jack landed at the bottom of the hill next to a roadway, right at the feet of Diane Thomas, who stood next to her car like she’d been waiting there for him all along. Diane was dressed in black jeans and a black leather coat with a torn red t-shirt underneath. Her hair was long, with an easy, natural curl that fell over her flawless soft brown skin. Her necklaces and bracelets were tasteful; piled on but not overdone. Black boots were highlighted with metallic studs that covered the backs to the heels. She looked like trouble. Jack liked trouble.
“Something tells me you’re Jack Apple.” Diane stood in front of an idling muscle car, the headlights creating a silhouette that captivated Jack’s attention through his hazy thinking.
Jack asked, “Do I know you?”
“Not yet,” Diane said with a smile. “But you will.”
***
Excerpt from Burn One Down by Jeffrey A Cooper. Copyright © 2018 by Jeffrey A Cooper. Reproduced with permission from Jeffrey A Cooper. All rights reserved.
 

Author Bio:


Jeffrey A. Cooper lives in Los Angeles, CA. His previous novel, “How to Steal a Truck Full of Nickels” was published in 2015. Jeffrey has optioned several feature film scripts and co-­created two shows executive produced by Emmy-­award winning comedian Louie Anderson.
Jeffrey lives with his wife, daughter, two rescue dogs, a rescue cat and a fish who all get along famously.

Catch Up With Mr. Cooper On: Website, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Tour Participants:

Visit these other great hosts on this tour for more great reviews, interviews, guest posts, and giveaways!
Click here to view the Burn One Down by Jeffrey A. Cooper Participants.
 

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for Jeffrey A. Cooper. There will be 1 winner of one (1) Amazon.com Gift Card. The giveaway begins on June 11, 2018 and runs through July 16, 2018. Open to U.S. addresses only. Void where prohibited.
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I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.

Monday, June 11, 2018

A Vast and Gracious Tide by Lisa Carter

I have read most of Carter's novels and she remains one of my favorite romantic suspense authors. I like that she takes me to new locations where I learn about the history and culture of the area.

The location this time is the Outer Banks. The plot revolves around three issues: PTSD, the history of German submarines during WW II, and the area's current use by nefarious and dangerous characters. Carter has included an Author's Note so we know that U-boats were off the coast during the war and her historical aspects of the novel are a possibility. That the plot dealt with three major issues did mean that it was a bit complex. A more satisfying plot for me would have concentrated on just two issues.

I felt the major characters in the novel were a bit over dramatized. Caden struggled with meaning in life after loosing his leg to an IED. McKenna suffered from deep hurt caused by the death of her fiance. I liked many of McKenna's character traits but, like Caden's, felt they were larger than life. I thought the revealing of obstacles in their relationship and then getting over them was a bit repetitive. And the bad guy, well he was characterized to the point I knew who he was early on.

That being said, I did enjoy the novel and do recommend it to readers of Christian romantic suspense. There is a good presentation of the healing that comes from a relationship with the Lord. You'll learn about the culture and history of the Outer Banks, possible current illegal activities, and you'll be exposed to a good bit of suspense.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Lisa Carter is the best-selling and award-winning author of seven romantic suspense novels, four historical novellas, and a contemporary Coast Guard series. She is a native of North Carolina. You can find out more at http://www.lisacarterauthor.com/.

Gilead Publishing, 320 pages.

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

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Discipled by Jesus by Robert Gelinas

Being discipled is a big deal in the Christian church. Jesus commanded that we make disciples. Living in a community with a naval air station, I was discipled by a representative of the Navigators. For some reason, I never felt that disciple making technique worked. I was glad to find in this book that Gelinas has figured out the problem. We are to be discipled by Jesus, not another person or the church.

Real discipleship, says, Gelinas, is a relationship with Jesus where we are led by, taught by, and loved by Jesus. (Loc 345/2563) Yes, Jesus is alive and still discipling people today. My question was, “How?”

After proving his point of Jesus discipling today, Gelinas did, in fact, help us understand how Jesus does so. We need to be listening to what Jesus is saying, Gelinas writes. We have neglected those practices that create the space for us to listen. He gives us his technique and offers good suggestions regarding prayer, the role of the Holy Spirit, and being “in the spirit.”

I highly recommend this book. Some say being a follower of Jesus is modeling a life after Him, fasting, solitude, etc. But Gelinas wants Christians to go well beyond that, to a personal relationship with the living Jesus, to be called by, led by, filled by, and taught by Jesus Himself. (Loc 1327/2362) This book has given me an insightful and new understanding of what it means to be in a discipling relationship with the greatest teacher of all time.

You can read a PDF excerpt here.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Robert Gelinas is a pastor, writer, and teacher of God's Word. He and his family live in the Denver area. You can find out more at https://robertrgelinas.com/.

NavPress, 208 pages.

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

Saturday, June 9, 2018

He is Enough by Asheritah Ciuciu

This is a good six week study of Colossians for new Christians or those relatively new to Bible study. It is not a comprehensive study of the book but does explore the main ideas for each section. The thrust of the entire study is, “Everything we need we already have in Jesus.” (Loc 30/1729)

There are several aspects of this study I like. One is that there is a brief daily study that can be done in a few minutes by those with time constraints and also a more in depth daily study for those willing to put in more time. Another is that Ciuciu asks readers to rewrite each section of Colossians as it is studied. I have recently begun doing that and really appreciate the benefits of rewriting the biblical text.

Because this study is not comprehensive, it does not extensively cover every verse nor subject in Colossians. One topic Ciuciu does not really look at is in Col. 2:15, that Jesus disarmed powers and authorities and what this means to our daily life. I thought that would have been important as one aspect of Jesus being everything we need.

I like the study method Ciuciu introduces: FEAST (focus on God, engage the text, assess the main idea, spark transformation, turn to God in worship). I really like the final worship part as it helps readers form a habit of worshiping God daily. I like that there are additional resources available on line, such as videos. The links are provided in the book. There are also additional resources at the end of the book, like a very good devotional guide for leaders.

I do recommend this study. Those who do the study will be trained in using Bible study aids and then be encouraged to do one section all on their own, without Ciuciu's questions and suggestions. It is a good way to learn how to do inductive Bible study while being reminded Jesus is everything we need.

You can read an excerpt and download a free coloring packet here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Asheritah Ciuciu is an author, speaker, and blogger. She grew up in Romania as a missionary kid and studied English and Women's Ministry at Cedarville University in Ohio. Her passion is helping women find joy in Jesus through a deeper walk with Him, and she shares personal stories and practical tips on www.OneThingAlone.com. She is also a regular contributor to FortheFamily.org and Ungrind.org. She and her husband raise their spunky children in Ohio.

Moody Publishers, 272 pages.

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

Friday, June 8, 2018

How the Nations Rage by Jonathan Leeman

I had difficulty consistently comprehending this book. I began reading with great interest but soon became bogged down. The author's writing style just did not resonate with my logic encrusted brain. I found he was not concise and I sometimes lost track of what he was trying to communicate. For example, while writing about maintaining unity in the church when we differ on what the Bible says about an issue, he has us go off to think about the pastor's job description. (Loc 1437-1481/4319) Near the end of that section he writes, “I suspect you are beginning to feel how jumbled and complicated this topic is.” (Loc 1492/4319) Yes.

I do have some major concepts from the book. This is an era of testiness in politics. We see confusion and conflict among Christians too. Leeman's first goal for this book is for us to rethink politics from a biblical perspective. He includes other goals as well but I think his first goal is the major one.

Leeman writes that we cannot separate politics and religion. All of life is political and religious. Politics cannot be religiously neutral since every human worships God or a god. “Politics serves worship. Governments serve gods.” (Loc 660/4319) Behind every action is a worldview and behind that worldview is a god. The public square, he writes, “is a battleground of gods.” (Loc 693/4319) We can and must separate church and state, however. They “possess distinct God-given authorities with distinct jurisdictions.” (Loc 887/4319)

We might look to the Bible to inform us on political issues. Leeman writes, “...the Bible does not tell us what to do on trade policy, carbon dioxide emissions, and public education. But it does tell us that whatever we do in these domains will be measured by the principles of righteousness and justice explicitly established in the Bible.” (Loc 1525/4319) We live out those principles through our local congregation. That requires God-given wisdom. Even Leeman notes that different political viewpoints and various Christians have differing views of what justice is. (Loc 3478/4319)

Leeman writes, “...when the Bible isn't explicit and clear, let's leave room for Christian freedom." (Loc 1709/4319) A great, even if often repeated, suggestion. Leeman notes how easy it is to misread the Bible. (Loc 1721/4319) He gives some principles on how to read the Bible politically but notes it is complicated. (Loc 1732/4319)

At one point, Leeman writes that his concern is “to help you know how to have the conversation and think through different topics for yourself.” (Loc 2074/4319) At another point, “The bottom line here is that Christians need good judgment and wisdom.” (Loc 3122/4319) But how do we really help Christians develop that good judgment and wisdom?

The topic of this book is not an easy one and I felt this book is not an easy one to read and digest. In the end, all I know for sure that this is a complex topic. Progress would require thinking through issues, something very hard to get politically adamant Christians to do.

Food for thought: “If there is hope for the nation, it's through the witness and work of churches.” (Loc 4075/4319)

You can watch the book trailer here.
You can watch an interview with Leeman about the book here.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Jonathan Leeman is the editorial director at 9Marks, a ministry that helps church leaders build healthy churches. He teaches theology at several seminaries and has written a number of books on the church. He is also a research fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission. He has degrees in political science and English, a master of science in political theory, a master of divinity, and a doctorate in political theology. He lives in the DC area with his wife and their daughters.

Thomas Nelson, 272 pages.

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

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Dangerous Places by Susan Hunter Blog Tour


Dangerous Places

by Susan Hunter

on Tour June 4 - 15, 2018

Synopsis:



When teenager Heather Young disappeared from the small town of Himmel, Wisconsin everyone believed her boyfriend had killed her—though her body was never found. Twenty years later, his little sister Sammy returns to town. She begs her old friend, true crime writer Leah Nash, to prove her brother Eric isn’t a murderer.
But Sammy has no new evidence, and her brother doesn’t want Leah’s help. Leah says no—but she can’t help feeling guilty about it. That feeling gets much worse when Sammy is killed in a suspicious car accident. That’s when the independent, irreverent, unstoppable Leah takes up her cause. Her investigation takes her to some dark and dangerous places, and the truth she finds has an unexpected and shattering impact on her own life.


My review:



I am enjoying this series. I really like Leah. When she is on the trail of a killer, she won't let go. Even when she makes mistakes or fingers the wrong guy, she just keeps on. I like that I am learning more about her family and their history with each novel. Hunter has done a good job of making reference to a previous family tragedy in one novel and then revealing more about it in the next. I feel like I am getting to know Leah as each novel reveals additional parts of Leah's private life while the plot progresses. This novel had several emotional crises for Leah, revealing even more about her character.

Even though this novel is into the series, it does stand alone. There is enough back story that one could start with this book but the previous ones are good too and should not be missed. This one contained plenty of twists and red herrings and I found it engaging to the very end, where there is a nice bit of suspense.

I recommend this mystery to readers who like a good balance of character revelation and development combined with a journalist's tenacious investigation into a cold case.

You can read my reviews of the previous novels, Dangerous Habits and Dangerous Mistakes.

My rating: 4/5 stars.


Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Himmel River Press
Publication Date: November 2016
Number of Pages: 348
ISBN: 1540356477 (ISBN13: 9781540356475)
Series: Leah Nash Mysteries #3 (Each is a Stand Alone Mystery)
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Google Play | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1

So, Leah, good to see you. I almost missed your book readin’ there. But what I heard, you did real good. I’m late because the stop ’n’ go light on Main is on the blink, caused a little fender-bender. But that’s OK, eh? Because we put the—”
“I know, Marty, you ‘put the sure in inSUREance.’ ”
Marty Angstrom beamed, thrilled at the evidence that his painstakingly-crafted slogan for the A-1 Independent Insurance Agency had achieved market penetration.
“Noreen was gonna come too, but she’s at her mother’s over to Waukesha tonight. But she bought your book anyway. Gonna give it to her sister for her birthday. I got it right here. Could you sign somethin’ personal? You know, make it special for her to give to Arlene?”
“Sure.” I took the book he handed to me and sat down to autograph it.
Unholy Alliances is the true story of the death of my younger sister Lacey at a residential school run by Catholic nuns. Years after the fact, I got a tip that her death wasn’t accidental as we’d all believed. The investigation I did for my small-town paper, The Himmel Times Weekly, brought the truth to light and also generated some national interest. I wound up with a book deal and a career switch from reporter to true crime writer.
My book reading at the annual Himmel Public Library Wine and Cheese Fundraiser was my first official “celebrity” appearance in town. Although I’d spent the past few months promoting my book across the country on every radio show, television interview program, and podcast that would have me, I’d been a little nervous no one would show up on my home turf. But there was a respectable crowd.
As I signed the book, Marty kept talking.
“So, you’re a big deal now, aren’t you? I saw you on the TV the other day, everybody at McClain’s was watchin’. Gettin’ real famous and all. Leah Nash, big-time author, eh? But I can still say I knew you when.” He smiled with the kind of hometown pride that was usually reserved for a Packers player. I was very touched. He really is a nice man.
“I don’t know about that. The book’s doing well, but that promotional tour stuff is pretty wearing. I’m glad to be home.”
“Speakin’ of home there, Leah, how you set for insurance on that new loft apartment you moved into? Renters need insurance too.”
“I hadn’t really thought about it, Marty. I’ll call your office and—” As I handed him the book, my response was cut off by a jolt to my arm from a woman carrying a full glass of burgundy. The slosh from it instantly made my pale-yellow blazer look as though I’d been a casualty in a shootout.
“Oh! I’m so sorry. I’m sorry.” She began dabbing ineffectively with her hand at the spreading deep red stain on the front of my blazer.
“It’s OK, don’t worry about it.” I stood and stepped away from the table, slipping out of my jacket. Fortunately, the wine hadn’t penetrated through to my shirt. I snagged a bottle of water and a napkin from a circulating waiter. As I liberally doused the front of my jacket, the woman apologized again, her voice high and tense.
“Hey, c’mon. It’s not a big deal,” I said. Several people began to glance our way. “I’ll just run to the bathroom and run some cold water on it.” I smiled to ease her embarrassment and hurried off to the restroom. I pushed through the door and narrowly missed slamming it into the bent head of a man who had just started to rise from kneeling under the sink. Startled, I took a half-step back to check the sign on the door. “Ladies.” Nope, I hadn’t barged into the men’s room by mistake.
As he stood I realized he was wearing workman’s clothes and held a wrench in his hand.
“Had a leaky pipe emergency. All done except the moppin’ up.” He indicated a puddle of water that nearly reached the two stalls on the opposite wall.
“Oh, well, sorry to bang in here. Is it OK if I just run some water on this stain so it doesn’t set?”
“Sure, sure. Workin’ fine now. I got to say, Leah, your daddy would sure be proud of you tonight.”
I stopped cold. Nothing brings me up short like mention of the father who abandoned us. “Excuse me?”
“Now, don’t get all huffy, there. You ’member me, don’t ya? It’s Dorsey. Dorsey Cowdrey. I knowed your dad. Knowed you too. We both did a little work for Anthony Dunn, back when he wasn’t so hoity-toity and his name was Tony. Likes to be called Anthony now. Mr. Dunn is even better.” He started a laugh that ended in a smoker’s cough before he went on. “I’m still Tony’s go-to guy. What my daddy used to call a jack-of-all-trades. Little plumbin’, little carpentry, little electrical, little this ‘n’ that. Not much I can’t handle.”
I stared at him without recognition. He had a foxy face, long and sharp-featured with weathered skin. His build was lean, his hair ginger-colored and streaked with gray. Even his ears were fox-like, high and almost pointed. I guessed him to be in his late fifties or early sixties.
“I’m sorry, I don’t remember you, Mr. Cowdrey.” I had turned my back and was running water over the spot on my blazer.
“Oh now, darlin’, don’t say that. You can’t forget the man what used to give you them Baby Ruth candy bars you was so crazy about. I used to call you ‘little Ruthie’ ’cause you liked ’em so much.”
As I squeezed the excess water from my jacket, I closed my eyes and saw my five-year-old-self and a much younger version of this man leaning toward me. “Here you go, little Ruthie. You sit right there on your swing and chew on this. I’m goin’ in to talk to your daddy fer a minute.” I hadn’t liked him very well—he smelled like stale sweat and tobacco—but I had indeed been crazy about the Baby Ruths, and at five, I was easily won over. Actually, even now, the right candy bar can take you pretty far with me. I faced him and said, “Yes, you’re right. I do remember you, Mr. Cowdrey.”
He smiled, revealing small, sharp yellow teeth that made him look more vulpine than ever. “I heard your little presentation there. You did a real nice job. I’m not much of a reader myself. My boy Cole, though, seems like he read your whole book. I guess he likes bein’ famous, even if he don’t come out lookin’ too good.”
Again I was puzzled. “Cole Granger? He’s your son?”
Cole had been a low-level drug dealer involved with my youngest sister Lacey in her lost days. The last time I saw him, he was a pretty scared loser, on the run out of town from some criminals who were a lot more dangerous than he was.
“By marriage, yeah. He’s my stepson. We don’t get along too good. Still, kin is kin, right?”
The door swung inward then as two laughing women came through. They stopped at the unexpected duo who greeted them. I gave them that funny little half-smile you offer to strangers, and I stepped to their left.
“Excuse me, please. Bye, Mr. Cowdrey.” I didn’t say it was nice seeing him, because it really hadn’t been. Something about that guy gave me the willies. He was picking up his tools as I left.
I hurried back to the reception room, lest Dorsey Cowdrey decide to escort me, and found an empty chair to drape my damp blazer on. As I did so, someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned and saw the woman who’d spilled my drink. My expression must have conveyed a not-very-friendly “Enough, all ready. Let it go,” because she started talking quickly.
“No, but wait, please. What an idiot I am. I’m just nervous, I guess. You know, you think something through in your head, and you imagine what you’ll say and how it will go, and then it doesn’t.” She was speaking so quickly that it was hard to follow her, and what I did catch I didn’t understand. Her obvious nervousness was all out of proportion to the slight accident she’d caused.
“I have to talk to you. I need you to—please.” She gulped, emitting a sound between a gasp and a hiccup. She continued a little desperately, “Leah, don’t you remember me?”
Two in one night. What were the odds? I had no idea who she was, and she saw the lack of recognition on my face.
“It’s me, Samantha. Sammy. You have to remember. You were my best friend!” Her voice was stronger now, but still pleading. And then I saw it, as I looked straight into her face. I flashed back to a big, sunny room, with two little girls sitting on a bed, repeating in unison: “We’re best friends. We’ll always be, ’cause I’m for you, and you’re for me.” Then high fives and waves of laughter.
“Sam? Sammy.” I repeated the name with growing certainty. The eyes had it. They were Samantha’s—big and wide set, a little wary now, as though the world were an unfriendly place, but still an amazing shade of aquamarine. Her fine flaxen hair was darker, and instead of hanging like a shining curtain down her back, was cut short and blunt-edged. But it was Sam.
***
Excerpt from Dangerous Places by Susan Hunter. Copyright © 2018 by Susan Hunter. Reproduced with permission from Susan Hunter. All rights reserved.


Author Bio:


Susan Hunter is a charter member of Introverts International (which meets the 12th of Never at an undisclosed location). She has worked as a reporter and managing editor, during which time she received a first-place UPI award for investigative reporting and a Michigan Press Association first place award for enterprise/feature reporting.
Susan has also taught composition at the college level, written advertising copy, newsletters, press releases, speeches, web copy, academic papers and memos. Lots and lots of memos. She lives in rural Michigan with her husband Gary, who is a man of action, not words.
During certain times of the day, she can be found wandering the mean streets of small-town Himmel, Wisconsin, dropping off a story lead at the Himmel Times Weekly, or meeting friends for a drink at McClain's Bar and Grill.

Catch Up With Susan Hunter On: Website, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Tour Participants:

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I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours.