Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Turbulence by Alana Terry

Terry has crafted another great novel in this series for teens. Each of the novels deals with serious issues and this one is no exception. Kennedy and her roommate, Willow, are flying to Detroit, the first leg of their journey to spend Christmas with Willow's parents in Alaska. A passenger, irate over a situation in Detroit, manages to cause a situation that puts the lives of all of the passengers in danger. Kennedy is suddenly faced with her own mortality and tasks left undone with eternal consequences.

The strength of this series of novels is the issues Terry covers in the books. At first I thought the issue in this story was going to be racial profiling. It was disturbing to read how some people responded to those of different dress and language. Of greater importance was what came later in the flight. With the very real possibility of death looming, Kennedy had to face her witness, or lack of it, toward those for whom she cared. It is a sobering thought when you realize that someone you care for may go to hell because of your lack of witness.

Terry has added some great support characters in this novel. My favorite was the older woman who calls herself Grandma Lucy. She and Kennedy have a great discussion about what it means to have a relationship with the Lord. Even this senior citizen reader was impressed with the wisdom conveyed in that discussion.

This novel is another well crafted one and I highly recommend it to teen readers. Terry has provided discussion questions so this would be a wonderful choice for a teen reading group. Even though it is number five in the series, it reads very well on its own.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

You can read my reviews of the earlier books in the series: Unplanned, Paralyzed, Policed, and Straightened.

Alana Terry is a pastor's wife, homeschooling mom and award winning Christian suspense author. She and her family live in rural Alaska. You can find out more at

Firstfruits Publishing, 204 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the author. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

The Most Misused Stories in the Bible by Eric J. Bargerhuff

We know stories are powerful. They can convey truth but they can also be misunderstood. Bargerhuff says it is important that we learn how to interpret Bible stories in context using all the aids available along with the power of the Holy Spirit. He has chosen some Bible stories to show how they have been misused and misunderstood.

Most of the misunderstandings, it seems to me, are rather innocent and are not harmful. He tells us that the story of David and Goliath is about trusting God to deliver rather than about fear at facing our giants. The real point of the story of Zacchaeus is that Jesus sought him, not the other way around. He clarifies the identity and timing of those from the east who visited a young Jesus, clarifying some Christmas carols.

Bargerhuff retells each Bible story at length. This is something a new Christian will appreciate. Seasoned Christians who have read the stories many times may find the retold stories redundant. Christians who have studied the Bible much at all will have found most of the material Bargerhuff shares from commentaries or other study books they have read.

Bargerhuff really comes down hard on the prosperity gospel preachers. He calls them con artists with hearts full of darkness. (Loc 954/2093) He clarifies their misuse of the parable of sowing seed. This may be the only story Bargerhuff included that I found to be deliberately misused by some teachers.

He argues that Pentecost was a unique and one time transitional event, as was the later similar experience with Gentiles in Acts 8:14-17. It is a mistake, he says, that we should think that what happened then should be happening now. (Loc 1431/2093) The Book of Acts “was not meant to be a prescription for how the church was supposed to operate today.” (Loc 1440/2093) Because of Bargerhuff's viewpoint, charismatic Christians, like me, may find this book less than pleasing.

I felt his best discussion was on the story about Jesus not being able to heal in his home town. Bargerhuff notes that God sometimes does withhold healing because of lack of faith but that is not always the reason. Keeping in mind Paul's experience, Bargerhuff says that healing (or not being healed) may have nothing to do with faith but is rather in accordance with God's sovereign plan. (Loc 802/2093)

This book is a good resource but I would suggest readers keep in mind that Bargerhuff writes from his own viewpoint and does not present other possible interpretations of the stories.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Eric J. Bargerhuff teaches in the Bible and Theology department and directs the Honors Program at Trinity College in Florida. He served in pastoral ministry for more than twenty years. He received his doctorate in biblical and systematic theology from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. He is the author of two previous books. He and his family live in Trinity, Florida.

Bethany House Publishers, 176 pages.

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

Sailing Out of Darkness by Normandie Fischer

Click here to purchase your copy.

About the Book:

Book: Sailing out of Darkness   
Author: Normandie Fischer  
Genre: Women’s Fiction  
Release Date: February 25, 2017 (2nd Edition)  

Love conquers all? Maybe for some people.

When Samantha flies to Italy to gain distance from a disastrous affair with her childhood best friend, the last thing on her mind is romance. But Teo Anderson is nothing like her philandering ex-husband or her sailing buddy, Jack, who, despite his live-in girlfriend, caught her off guard with his flashing black eyes.

Teo has his own scars, both physical and emotional, that he represses by writing mysteries—until one strange and compelling vision comes to life in the person of Sam. Seeking answers, he offers friendship to this obviously hurting woman, a friendship that threatens to upend his fragile peace of mind.

But not even sailing the cobalt waters of the Mediterranean can assuage Sam’s guilt for destroying Jack’s relationship and hurting another woman. Soon the consequences of her behavior escalate, and the fallout threatens them all.  

Sailing out of Darkness is the haunting story of mistakes and loss…and the grace that abounds through forgiveness. Awarded: Aspen Gold, Selah, and Maggie Finalist 2014 (1st edition)

My Review:

I appreciated this extended character study of a troubled woman, hurt by divorce. It reminded me again that people should not make major decisions until they have distanced themselves from the hurtful experience. We see that Sam had made a huge mistake because she was in a vulnerable situation after her divorce and ripe for an affair.

Sam's guilt is a major aspect of this novel. Because of it, she does not feel she deserves to have a loving relationship again. Much of the book is about Sam and her feelings in this area. I felt some of it was repetitive. I was disappointed that Sam did not really confess her sin to God and experience His forgiveness. There was a great opportunity for that in the book and it would have made Sam a fresh person in her own eyes too, and open to a new life with a loving spouse.

I was a bit troubled by Teo's character. I did not like his pursuit of Sam so quickly after her ending her affair. He managed to refrain from causing harm to Sam but I do wish he would have given Sam time to truly heal from her previous hurts and come out of being in another vulnerable situation.

The message of the first part of the book seemed to be to not get into a romantic situation soon after a troubling experience. Yet the message of the last part of the book seemed to be that doing so could end up with a good result. I felt the plot yielded mixed messages.

While God is mentioned in the book, Christianity is not a vital aspect of the character's lives.

Those who enjoy sailing would appreciate the many water adventures included. There is a good amount of well described travel in Italy that readers will enjoy as well.

My rating: 4/5 stars. 

About the Author:

Normandie Fischer is a sailor who writes and a writer who sails. After studying sculpture in Italy, she returned to the States, graduated suma cum laude, and went to work in the publishing field as an editor. She and her husband retired from cruising Pacific Mexico on their 50-foot ketch, Sea Venture, to care of her aging mother and enjoy her two grown children and her grandchildren. She is the author of six books: Becalmed (2013), Heavy Weather (2015), Twilight Christmas (2016), Two from Isaac’s House (2015), From Fire into Fire (2016), and Sailing out of Darkness (2013 and 2017).

Guest Post from Normandie Fischer

In Sailing out of Darkness, the female protagonist longs for something, anything that will validate her after her husband leaves. She’s propelled into such an emotional wasteland that she becomes vulnerable to what seems a safe friendship.

It isn’t. And so she flees to Italy, but the repercussions of her actions continue to affect her and others—as consequences are wont to do.

After my divorce, hurting women seemed to flock to my vicinity. (Either that, or suddenly husbands in the church were leaving in droves.) These were abandoned women, angry women, women searching for love in the wrong places. I wasn’t in any shape to minister to them as I too was struggling at the cross, but that period helped me understand how woefully ignorant and unprepared many church goers are when it comes to hearing the cries of the hurting. I know of two women (to whom I dedicated the book) who actually killed themselves because no one listened or reached out a hand when they needed it.

The process of divorce and healing taught me about grace in a way that I’d never fully internalized. I’d ministered and counseled for years about the Love of God. I’d preached and written about it, but part of me, the part that needed healing, still held on to the idea that I had to be perfect to be loved by God and by man. I knew better, but the heart and the head weren’t working well together, especially during my years of living with an alcoholic husband and during divorce recovery after he left. As I wrote about Sam’s guilt and helped her find peace, I think new pieces slid into place for me as well. Nothing, absolutely nothing, can separate us from the love of God. And that’s probably the most powerful message we have to share with this hurting world.

Blog Stops

June 1: Genesis 5020
June 5: By The Book
June 6: Book by Book
June 7: Carpe Diem
June 11: Bigreadersite
June 11: The Power of Words (spotlight)

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

Monday, May 29, 2017

Questioning Evangelism by Randy Newman

Culture is not the same as it was a generation ago and our evangelistic methods should not be either. Firing off arguments and facts no longer works. Newman proposes doing more listening than talking, more asking than telling. He convincingly argues that this was the method used by Jesus and Paul.

I really like Newman's exploration of how we might pave the way for belief through the use of questions. He includes how we can demolish strongholds of belief, such as that all people are basically good. I like that he encourages us to not water down the gospel to make it less objectionable.

Newman provides many examples of how this process works and includes information on topics people are interested in, such as homosexuality, hypocrisy and anger. He also goes over the skills required, such as presenting the gospel clearly. He does note that we must also be able to defend the gospel, being familiar with evidence. His concentration is still on discussion, however. He gives some good tips on reading the other person's emotional state, perhaps leading to understanding where that person is coming from.

I really like Newman's honesty when it comes to the sticky issue of the problem of evil. “Apparently, God doesn't want us to know why bad things happen to good people because He doesn't tell us.” (109) In the course of discussion, one can always ask the other person of they have a reasonable explanation or one that is satisfying. Questions might progress to the point of trusting God for comfort, hope, and salvation.

This is an updated edition of a book that came out in 2004. Many of his resources are decades old. I would have preferred more recent sources, especially in the chapter on homosexuality. While I felt the message in that chapter was compassionate as well as truthful, more recent sources would give his comments greater weight in our present culture.

I like this book and I recommend it to those who want a good way to engage their friends in discussion about faith. Newman shows how you can share God's message of hope and grace through asking questions. You'll find out more about your friend and perhaps pave the way for salvation.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Randy Newman is the senior teaching fellow for evangelism and apologetics at The C. S. Lewis Institute in Washington, D.C. He is also an adjunct faculty member at several seminaries. After serving with Campus Crusade for over thirty years, he established Connection Points, a ministry to help Christians present the gospel well.

Kregel Publications 280 pages.

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

Sunday, May 28, 2017

A Day at the Beach by Jedd and Todd Hafer

The Hafer brothers love to go to the beach. They see the beach as a place where people relax and get away from troubles. They have written these devotions to help readers experience renewal and relaxation.

They cover many topics in their devotions, from picking up litter to how Lincoln handled anger to people the Hafers have met on the beach. Some of the devotions are informative, giving some interesting facts about beaches or what is on them. The devotions are generally encouraging, relating a biblical truth. They are not probing nor demanding much of a response from the reader. I did not find them very deep nor inspiring.

I recommend this book to those looking for interesting but undemanding devotions. You'll learn about beaches and receive some biblical encouragement too.

You can find out more about the book and read an excerpt here.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Jedd Hafer is an expert on teens, having made it his work for more than twenty years. He has co-written eleven books with his brother Todd. He can be heard on many Love and Logic audio recordings and broadcasts.
Todd Hafer is an award-winning author whose fifty-plus books have sold more than two million copies. He lives on the plains of eastern Kansas with his wife and children.

Tyndale House Publications, 192 pages.

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

Hello Stars by Alena Pitts with Wynter Pitts

This is a delightful youth fiction for girls 8-12 years old. It's a debut novel by a mother daughter team and introduces Lena Daniels. When Lena unexpectedly lands a movie role, the spirited eleven year old must find a way to balance stardom with “real” life. Suddenly Lena wishes she had time for her three younger sisters and her friends.

I like Lena as a character. She keeps on getting into crazy situations so there is a good bit of humor in the book. She is a loyal friend and a good sister. She struggles with making the right decisions yet endeavors to be obedient to God. I like Lena's family too. I was really impressed with how prayer is such a natural part of their lives.

This little book has many good lessons for tween girls. Lena learns the meaning of responsibility and what it means to be a person of your word. She also learns that one does not have to be an adult to be used by God. And I love this lessons on prayer from Lena's mom: “Praying is a way that you put God in charge of giving you what He wants for you. It's also a way to let Him know that you trust Him.” (82)

I recommend this book to young readers, especially ones interested in what it is like to be in a movie. You'll be entertained but also learn many good lessons to help you in your Christian life.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Alena Pitts is a young actress and model from Dallas, Texas. The Kendrick Brothers' War Room marked Alena's professional acting debut. In addition to school and acting, Alena models and is a frequent contributor for the magazine For Girls Like You.
Wynter Pitts is the founder of For Girls Like You Magazine and the author of two previous books. The mother of four girls, her mission is to empower and equip girls to become who God has created them to be and provide parents with the resources and support needed to raise strong Christ followers. She is a frequent blogger and public speaker. She, her husband, and their four daughters live in Dallas, Texas.

Zonderkidz, 176 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Handlebar. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Dream a Little Death by Susan Kandel

Dream A Little Death

by Susan Kandel

on Tour May 23 - June 23, 2017


From critically acclaimed author Susan Kandel comes a charming new mystery featuring Dreama Black and a cast of zany LA-based characters.

The first time I set eyes on Miles McCoy, I worried he might try to eat me. He was the size and girth of a North American grizzly, with long, silver-tipped hair, a long silver-tipped beard, and small dark eyes that bore into me like I was a particularly fine specimen of Chinook salmon. It couldn't have helped that I'd used a honey scrub the morning we met. I should've known better. Not just about the scrub, but about a lot of things.
Like braving the freeway during rush hour.
Like thinking you can't get a ticket for parking at a broken meter.
Like racing up to his penthouse in gladiator sandals, and expecting not to twist an ankle.
Like watching his fiancée shoot herself, and assuming it was suicide, instead of murder.

Meet Dreama Black. A 28 year-old, third-generation groupie trying to figure out who she is after being publicly dumped by the rock god whose mega-hit, "Dreama, Little Dreama" made the name and the girl world-famous. Now Dreama supports herself by running custom-designed, themed tours of her hometown of L.A. When she is hired by a Raymond Chandler-obsessed rap producer to create a "L.A. noir" tour as his present to his soon-to-be bride, Dreama gets pulled into the middle of a possible murder, corrupt cops, and an unforgettable pair of femme fatales.

My Review:

I enjoyed this mystery and the journey through the film noir of Los Angeles. Dreama is a well crafted character. I like how she accidentally gets caught up in a possible murder investigation and pursues the truth in her own bumbling way. Many of the characters lie to Dreama so she has to uncover layers of deceit. Her amateur investigation takes readers through the shady part of Los Angeles, visiting sophisticated strip clubs and encountering a number of thugs.
There are many references in the book to film noir, including quotes from the movies and places where action was filmed. People who love that genre of the film industry will find that aspect of the plot very interesting.
I found the promiscuity in the novel disconcerting. While there were no graphic descriptions of sexual encounters, I didn't like the frequent casual sex and references to previous encounters, Dreama's mother and grandmother included.
I recommend this novel to readers who would like a complex plot involving layers of lies and deceit and who don't mind a romp through the seedier part of Los Angeles. You'll learn quite a bit about film noir along the way.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Published by: Witness Impulse
Publication Date: May 23rd 2017
Number of Pages: 304
ISBN: 0062674994 (ISBN13: 9780062674999)
Series: A Dreama Black Mystery, 1
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Chapter 1
The first time I set eyes on Miles McCoy, I worried he might try to eat me. He was the size and girth of a North American grizzly bear, with long silver-tipped hair, a long silver-tipped beard, and small dark eyes that bore into me like I was a particularly fine specimen of Chinook salmon. It couldn’t have helped that I’d used a honey scrub the morning we met. I should’ve known better. Not just about the scrub, but about a lot of things.
Like braving the freeway during rush hour.
Like thinking you can’t get a ticket for parking at a broken meter.
Like racing up to his penthouse in Balenciaga gladiator sandals, and expecting not to twist an ankle.
Like watching his fiancée shoot herself, and assuming it was suicide, instead of murder.
But I’m getting ahead of myself, which is another thing I should know better about. Because if I’ve learned anything at all from my study of film noir (which got me into the whole sordid Miles McCoy mess to begin with), it is to tell the story in the precise order in which it happened.
The trouble started the day before, which was Valentine’s Day, a pagan holiday named after the Roman priest who defied Claudius II by marrying Christian couples. After being hauled off in shackles, the soft-hearted cleric was beaten with clubs, stoned, and when that didn’t finish him off, publicly beheaded. Makes you think.
It had poured rain for eight days running, which isn’t what you sign on for when you live in Los Angeles. But that morning, as I stepped outside for a run, the sun was blinding—so blinding, in fact, that I didn’t see the fragrant valentine my neighbor’s dog, Engelbart, had left on the stoop for me. Not that I minded spending the next twenty minutes cleaning the grooves of my running shoe with a chopstick. It was a beautiful day. The rollerbladers were cruising the Venice boardwalk. The scent of medical marijuana was wafting through the air. Engelbart’s gastrointestinal tract was sound.
An hour later, I hopped into my mint green 1975 Mercedes convertible, and made my way up Lincoln to the freeway. I was headed to Larchmont, an incongruous stretch of Main Street, USA, sandwiched between Hollywood and Koreatown. This was where studio executives’ wives and their private school daughters came for green juice, yoga pants, and the occasional wrench from the general store that had served Hancock Park since the 1930s. It was also where my mother and grandmother ran Cellar Door, known for its chia seed porridge and life-positive service. I helped out whenever my coffers were running low. Which was most of the time.
You are probably frowning right about now. Surely a young woman who owns a classic convertible—as well as Balenciaga gladiators—should not be perennially low on funds. But it’s true.
The car came from my grandmother, who received it as part of her third (fourth?) divorce settlement and gave it to me as a gift when I strong-armed my mother into rehab for the fourth (fifth?) time. The sandals I purchased online in a frenzy of self-loathing shortly after watching my ex-boyfriend the rock god serenading his current girlfriend the supermodel on an otherwise uneventful episode of Ellen. I’d tried to return the sandals, but one of the studs had fallen off, making them damaged goods. Like their owner. Not that I’m hard on myself. It’s just that my career—I take clients on custom-designed, private tours of my hometown of L.A.—wasn’t exactly thriving, which is why I was easy prey for the likes of Miles McCoy. But I’m getting ahead of myself again. Here comes the good part. The part where I’m driving like the wind and almost don’t notice the flashing lights in my mirror. I knew I should have fixed that taillight.
I pulled over, cut the motor, handed the cop my license and registration. He looked down, then did a double take. “Dreama Black?”
That would be me.
“The Dreama Black?” he continued. “As in ‘Dreama, Little Dreama’?”
Perhaps I should explain.
I am a twenty-eight-year-old, third-generation rock ’n’ roll groupie—or “muse,” as the women in my family like to put it.
My grandmother, a fine-boned blonde who never met a gossamer shawl or Victorian boot she didn’t like, spent the sixties sleeping her way through Laurel Canyon, winding up in a house on Rothdell Trail (a.k.a. “Love Street”) purchased for her by a certain lead singer of a certain iconic band whose name is the plural of the thing that hits you on the way out.
My mother, blessed with thick, dark tresses and a way with mousse, was consort to many of the pseudo-androgynous alpha males of American hair metal, her chief claim to fame an MTV video in which she writhed across the hood of a Porsche wearing a white leotard and black, thigh-high boots. She also bought Axl Rose his first kilt.
As for me, well, I was on my way to freshman orientation when this guy I’d been seeing, who’d played a couple of no-name clubs with some friends from summer camp, intercepted me at LAX, put his lips to my ear, and hummed the opening bars of a new song I’d apparently inspired. Instead of boarding the plane for Berkeley, I boarded the tour bus with Luke Cutt and the other skinny, pimply members of Rocket Science. Four world tours, three hit albums, two Grammys, and one breakup later, “Dreama, Little Dreama”—an emo pop anthem that went gold in seven days and has sold eleven million copies to date—had made me almost famous forever.
“Step out of the car, please.”
The cop removed his sunglasses. Peach fuzz. Straight out of the academy. “So.”
He wanted to get a picture with me.
“I’d love to get a picture with you,” he said.
I smoothed down my cut-offs and striped T-shirt, removed my red Ray-Bans, ran my fingers through my long, straight, freshly balayaged auburn hair. The cop put his arm around me, leaned in close, took a couple of snaps on his phone. Let me guess. He’d had a crush on me since tenth grade, when he saw me in a white tank and no bra on the cover of Rocket Science’s debut C.D., and now he was going to post the pictures on Instagram to show all his buddies.
“Awesome.” He gave me a brotherly punch on the arm. “No way is my wife going to believe this. She’s crazy about Luke Cutt. Hey, is he really dating that Victoria’s Secret Angel? She is smoking hot.”
At least I didn’t get the ticket.

Excerpt from Dream A Little Death by Susan Kandel. Copyright © 2017 by Susan Kandel. Reproduced with permission from HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

An Agatha, Edgar, and SCIBA nominee, Susan Kandel is the author of the nationally best-selling and critically acclaimed Cece Caruso series, the most recent of which, Dial H for Hitchcock (Morrow), was named by NPR as one of the five best mysteries of the year. A Los Angeles native, she was trained as an art historian, taught at NYU and UCLA, and spent a decade as an art critic at the Los Angeles Times. When not writing, she volunteers as a court-appointed advocate for foster children, and loves to explore secret, forgotten, and kitschy L.A. She lives with her husband in West Hollywood.

Catch Up With Our Author On: Website, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!


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  I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson

This is the kind of book I wish no one had to write. I wish this book were fiction. I wish all the injustices documented in this book hadn't happened and were figments of some author's imagination.

After graduating from law school, Stevenson went back to the Deep South to represent the poor, the incarcerated, and the condemned. The stories he tells about a criminal justice system that needs to be reformed are heart breaking.

For example, he writes of a teen girl sentenced to life in prison for a second degree murder. The system was inflexible and did not consider her age, mental illness, poverty, etc. She was raped by a correctional officer. It became known when her pregnancy was evident. The officer was fired but not prosecuted. The teen gave birth while handcuffed to a bed. The baby was taken and put in foster care. (150-151)

Stevenson also tells of successes through his nonprofit law office over the last 30 years. He helped prove some innocent of the crimes of which they had been convicted. He brought cases before the Supreme Court, resulting in more reasonable and compassionate sentences for teens.

Reading this book is a necessary but unpleasant experience. Readers will find that the U.S. has the highest rate of incarceration in the world, with 2.3 million in prison and another nearly six million on probation. The prison system has given up on rehabilitation, education, and services for the imprisoned. (15) It is a system in need of reform.

I highly recommend this book. It will break your heart but also encourage you in knowing that there are people who do come to the aid of the many needing it so badly.

Food for thought: “The true measure of our character is how we treat the poor, the disfavored, the accused, the incarcerated, and the condemned.” (18)

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Bryan Stevenson was a young attorney when he founded the Equal Justice Initiative, a legal practice dedicated to defending the poor, the wrongly condemned, and those trapped in the criminal justice system. He is the executive director of EJI and a professor of law at New York University Law School. He has argued five times before the Supreme Court and has won national acclaim, receiving numerous awards.

Speigel & Grau (an imprint of Random House), 368 pages.

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

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Under a Desert Sky by Lynne Hartke

Cancer redefined life for Hartke. It started with her own diagnosis of breast cancer. Then her dad and soon after her mom were diagnosed with cancer – both incurable. Cancer redefined her concepts of strength and courage. It made her reevaluate her understanding of beauty and what it means to belong.

This is a well written and captivating memoir of struggling with unanswered questions, of being in hard places, of having more than she could handle. Hartke crafts a great parallel between her experiences and being in the desert.

Hartke draws great spiritual lessons from her experiences. I really like her analogy of the desert. It contains a beauty that can be discovered only through difficulty. There are lessons from God that can be learned only in the desert.

I also like her insight and honesty. She notes that people will sometimes say that God will not give you more than you can handle. “It's blatantly untrue,” she writes, “because if I never had more than I could handle, when would I ever need God?” (Loc. 1043/3717)

I highly recommend this book to those interested in an honest and insightful memoir of facing cancer. It would be of particular interest to hikers as Hartke shares many hiking stories. The book would be an encouragement to anyone waylaid by cancer. There are questions for discussion and personal reflection included. Hartke has also added a list of Scriptures for desert sojourners, arranged by need.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Lynne Hartke is a breast cancer survivor who celebrates the difficult and the beautiful with her husband in Chandler, Arizona where they have pastored a church for over thirty years. When not out on the desert trails avoiding rattlesnakes, she is blogging, speaking and volunteering with several cancer organizations, and keeping up with their four grown children and three grandchildren. Hartke is currently training to hike from the South Rim of the Grand Canyon to the North Rim (a distance of 23 miles) in one day – because cancer has taught her to grab onto life with both hands.

Revell, 256 pages.

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

Driver Confessional by David L. Winters


Ride-share driver Antonio winds through the streets of Washington, D.C. in search of his next fare to support his young family and pay law school expenses. He has an unusual gift for relaxing his customers and stimulating their desire to reveal more than they planned. By the completion of their ride, many feel so comfortable that they confess their sins great and small. Antonio's faith guides his discussions and points him in new directions. Suddenly, his peaceful world is turned upside down by a mysterious business woman. As she heads to a midnight rendezvous, she confesses more than Antonio can handle. Her story sends him and his police detective brother into a world of international espionage, the Russian mob and corporate excess. Clues add up to danger and car chases pile up on ethical dilemmas.

My review:

This is an interesting novel about the ride-share program. I've often wondered how they work and this book was very informative. Antonio's ability to get riders to talk means that there are many revealing conversations in the course of the novel. The topics (and author opinion) vary from abortion to crooked politicians. Antonio is a faithful Christian and presents the gospel well to riders as he feels led.

The character and plot development is about average for a debut novelist. I did not feel Antonio was developed well. I would have appreciated reading more of his thinking about his faith. I did enjoy the suspenseful car chase and other action in the novel. I did not note any clever dialogue nor memorable prose.

This might be a good novel for male readers who like a novel without a complex plot structure or complex character development.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

David L. Winters is an award-winning author, humorist and speaker. Originally from Ohio, he lives in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. His first book, Sabbatical of the Mind: The Journey from Anxiety to Peace, won several awards, including a Silver Illumination Award from the Jenkins Group and two Finalist Medals from the Next Generation Indies Book Awards. You can find out more at

Carpenter's Son Publishing, 208 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Martin Luther in His Own Words, edited by Jack D. Kilcrease and Erwin W. Lutzer

This year, 2017, marks the 500 year anniversary of the Reformation. Luther was instrumental in initiating the movement but many may not be aware of his contribution. Kilcrease and Lutzer have accumulated selections from Luther's writings and lectures to help modern readers appreciate his works.

The editors have organized the works around the topics of the five solas. They have added an introduction to each reading and updated the translations, clarifying what might not be understood by modern readers.

I appreciated the selections included in this volume. There are portions from Luther's commentary on Galatians taken from notes on his lectures. There is his introduction to Romans, including a summary of the main topics of the epistle. It was this work that moved John Wesley as he heard it read. Additional readings are from Luther's Large Catechism. My favorite reading is from The Bondage of the Will. In it, Luther explains how Christ and His saving death on the cross is the central teaching of the Bible.

Luther rediscovered the doctrine of justification by faith. He translated the Bible into the vernacular and believed preaching should be in the language of the people (not Latin). His work is an essential part of the foundation of contemporary evangelical Christian belief. I recommend this book to those who want to be familiar with Luther's works. Reading works from 500 years ago is not an easy task. The editors have done a good job, however, in helping contemporary readers tackle it.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Jack D. Kilcrease is professor of historical and systematic theology at the Institute of Lutheran Theology and a church elder at Our Savior Lutheran Church in Grand Rapids.
Erwin W. Lutzer is pastor emeritus of Moody Church in Chicago. He and his wife live in the Chicago area.

Baker Books, 176 pages.

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

Monday, May 22, 2017

The 100 Year Miracle by Ashley Ream

I was excited to read this novel chosen as the Whidbey Reads for 2017. While the novel takes place on a fictional island in the San Juans, the author notes that she borrowed heavily from Whidbey Island of which I am a resident and native.

The plot revolves around an event that happens once every hundred years. For six nights a bay on a small island glows, tiny creatures giving off light. The event has been a part of native lore, passed down from generation to generation. Researchers descend on the bay. One of them has an ulterior motive and that will change the destiny of many.

I enjoyed this novel, mostly because it takes place nearby. The characters were not developed as well as I would have liked. The character driving the plot is Rachel, an organic chemist who is obsessed, hoping to find an answer to her physical pain in the luminescent animals. She is probably the best developed character although it took nearly half the book to find out the source of her physical pain. Other characters help provide a subplot that I thought was a little far fetched.

I was disappointed in the ending of the novel – not what happened to whom but how it all came to be. I felt the plot was moving forward but then it all seemed to spread out and just end.

I recommend this novel to those who would like to get a flavor of life in the Pacific Northwest and the San Juan Islands. You'll learn some about sailing and boat repair too.

My rating: 3/5/stars.

Ashley Ream got her first job writing for a newspaper when she was sixteen. This is her second book. She and her husband live in Seattle. You can find out more at

Flatiron Books, 320 pages.

Author photo by Eric Stone.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Whispers of Rest by Bonnie Gray

I am impressed with the depth and honesty of these 40 devotions. They were initiated during a time when Gray was on a three year journey navigating the mysteries of her soul. She collected whispers from God as He healed her and restored her joy. She invites readers along on what has become her daily practice to listen to God and be refreshed. The devotions are not light nor fluffy but are opportunities for readers to investigate and express heart feelings. She suggests finding a quiet place and using a journal. She provides plenty of journal prompts.

The format of these devotions is unique and provides several ways for readers to respond. Gray has comments and then a related Bible passage. Next is an imagined message from God, a written prayer to Jesus and a few more comments from the author. Questions for reflection follow, then prompts for personal prayer on the topic. Last is a challenge for an activity related to the topic. I like those challenges. They provide a combination of spiritual practices and practical living ideas. We are encouraged to read Scripture slowly and then eat slowly as well. After instruction on listening to God we are encouraged to listen to the sounds of nature.

These are good devotions for people who are ready to grow and are willing to think about issues in their lives. Gray writes about the choices we make, about hurts and healing, about when our life doesn't match the dreams God has put in our hearts, and much more. She is honest in writing about her feelings and asks the same of us. These are not light devotions. They are probing, revealing and healing.

There are a few aspects of these devotionals with which I am uncomfortable. Gray includes whispers from God, imagined statements He makes to us. I get a little nervous when people presume to verbalize messages from God and that is the case here. Another area of concern is the use of Scripture passages. Can we take something God specifically said to Israel, for example, Isaiah 62:4-5 where God would name Israel “delight," and apply it to us today? Another example is applying Mark 1:11 to us when God was specifically speaking of Jesus.

With those reservations, I do recommend this devotional. The devotions are good and I really like the areas where Gray asks readers to respond. Working through the book would be a journey in self discovery and healing. There are additional resources available and you can find out more about the book at .

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Bonnie Gray is an inspirational speaker, retreat leader, and the author of Finding Spiritual Whitespace. Her writing is featured on Relevant Magazine, Dayspring (in)courage, and Christianity Today. She lives in California with her husband and their two sons. You can find out more at

FaithWords, 400 pages.

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

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Killing Room by Richard Montanari

The Killing Room

by Richard Montanari

on Tour May 15-26, 2017

Publisher Synopsis:

Nothing will ever be the same again...

In the heart of Philadelphia’s badlands, Homicide Detectives Byrne and Balzano are called out to a particularly chilling crime scene. Once the pillar of the neighborhood, an abandoned church has become a killing room. At first it looks like a random act of violence. But then a second body is found, and a third. Each crime scene more disturbing than the last, each murder more brutal. And it soon becomes horrifyingly clear that a cold, calculating and terrifyingly precise mind is at work. With very few leads, and a mastermind who always seems to be one step ahead, Byrne and Balzano are faced with challenges they could never have imagined as they race against time to hunt down their killer, before it’s too late...

Discover what readers around the world already know: Richard Montanari’s novels are “relentlessly suspenseful” (Tess Gerritsen)

My Review:

I enjoyed reading this novel. It is a good combination of detective work and character thought and information.

This mystery has a definite religious bent to it. Someone seems to be arranging murders that represent the seven churches in Revelation. I liked that aspect of the plot. I learned about how the Catholic Church closes up church buildings and what happens to them afterward. The plot itself is complex. The motivation for the murders is kept hidden until the end. That kept the plot going and kept me guessing who the actual murderer was.

I found a couple of aspects of the novel that puzzled me. Balzano is married with two children. Her husband is also a policeman. I want to know how she juggles two children with her many hours of police work. There is mention of taking the children to school and daycare, but what happens when she is called out at night or has a long surveillance shift? That missing aspect of her life made her character seem flat to me. The other issue is with Byrne. He did one action that seemed fuel for dismissal yet came through unscathed. And at the end, he did some things that I just didn't understand. Again, actions that I would think would lead to dismissal. That made his character seem larger than life and a bit unrealistic.

I recommend this novel to those who enjoy a good mystery with a complex plot and plenty of character involvement. Some of the murders are a bit gruesome so beware.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery/Thriller
Published by: Witness Impulse
Publication Date: May 9th 2017
Number of Pages: 328
ISBN: 0062467441 (ISBN13: 9780062467447)
Series: Jessica Balzano & Kevin Byrne #6
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

When she was a young girl, before the night embraced her with its great black wings, and blood became her sacramental wine, she was, in every way, a child of light. To those who knew her in those years she seemed a studious girl, quiet and polite, given to watching clouds for hours on end, oblivious, as only the very young can be, to the crushing poverty that surrounded her, the chains that had enslaved her kind for five generations.
She was six years old before she wore a pair of shoes she did not share. She was eight before she buttoned a dress someone had not stained before her.
For the longest time she lived inside the high stone walls of her mind, a place where there were no shadows, no demons.
In her thirteenth year, on a night when the candles fell cold and the moon was not to be found, she met the darkness for the first time. Not the darkness that follows day, descending upon the earth in a deep violet blush, but rather that which dwells within men, men who travel the hardpan roads, gathering to them the mad, the fallen, the corrupt of heart, their deeds the silt of backwater lore. On that night a seed was sown in her body, her spirit.
Now, these many years later, in this place of misery and wretchedness, in this house of seven churches, she knows she belongs.
There are no angels here.
The devil walks these streets. She knows him well – his face, his touch, his scent – because in her thirteenth year, when God turned his head, it was to the devil she was given.
She had watched the young man for more than a week, having first spotted him on Market Street near the Eleventh Street station, a gaunt figure etched on a granite wall. He was not an aggressive panhandler – indeed, his nearly skeletal body and spectral presence would not have presented much of a threat to anyone – but was instead a man reduced to mumbling incoherently to passersby, commuters rushing to and from the station. Twice he had been moved along by police officers, offering no resistance or response. His spirit, it seemed, had long ago been purloined by his addictions, the siren call of the streets.
On most nights, after the evening rush hour, he would walk Market Street toward the Delaware River, toward Old City, stopping those who looked like an easy mark, cadging the occasional handful of coins, grubbing the infrequent cigarette.
She always followed him at a safe distance. Like most of his breed he went unnoticed, except to those like him, or those who would use him. On those rare occasions when he found a homeless shelter with room, he would stay the night, but would always take up position outside the Eleventh Street station by 6:30 a.m., beginning his cycle of despair and degradation all over again.
Once she followed him into a convenience store on Third Street, and watched as he pocketed high-sugar foods – honey buns, Ding Dongs, TastyKakes – all with one yellowed eye on the convex mirrors at the end of the aisle. She watched him wolf down the food in a nearby alley, only to throw it all up moments later.
On this day, when temperatures are predicted to drop below zero, she knows it is time.
Bundled in four thin sweaters and a pea coat ripped at both shoulder seams, the young man stands shivering in a doorway on Eighth Street near Walnut.
She approaches him, stopping a few feet away, still mostly in shadow. He looks up. In his watery eyes she sees herself, and knows the spirit is stirring.
‘Spare change?’ he asks.
It is as if she can hear the bones clattering in his chest.
He is in his twenties, but the skin around his eyes is purplish and sallow, the stubble on his face already gray. His hair is greasy beneath his watch cap. His fingernails are bitten raw. Blisters bubble on the back of his hands.
She remains in shadow, holds out a gloved hand. At first the young man is skeptical, but when she steps into the light, and he sees her eyes for the first time, he knows. He takes her hand as a hungry man would accept a crust of bread.
‘Do you remember your promise?’ she asks.
He hesitates before answering. They always do. In this moment she can all but hear the wheels turning, the fevered reasoning in his mind. In the end they remember, because this is the one vow they all know will one day be recalled. A single tear rivers down his scalded cheek.
She glances down, notices a dark stain blossoming on the front of his trousers. He is wetting himself. She has seen this before, too. The release.
‘Come with me,’ she says. ‘I will show you what you need to do.’
The young man steps forward on unsteady legs. She helps him. He seems to possess no weight at all, as if he were sculpted of steam.
At the mouth of the alley she stops, turns the young man to face her fully. ‘He will need to hear your words. Your exact words.’
His lips begin to tremble. ‘Can’t I tell just you instead?’
‘No,’ she says. ‘Your contract was with him, not me.’
The young man wipes his eyes with the back of his hand. ‘Then he is real after all.’
‘Oh, my, yes.’ She points to the dark niche at the end of the alley. ‘Would you meet him now?
Excerpt from The Killing Room by Richard Montanari. Copyright © 2017 by Richard Montanari. Reproduced with permission from WitnessImpulse. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Richard Montanari is the internationally bestselling author of numerous novels, including the nine titles in the Byrne & Balzano series.
He lives in Cleveland, Ohio.

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 I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review.