Friday, May 31, 2019

How the Body of Christ Talks by C Christopher Smith

Smith begins with his own church's experience of Sunday evening conversations. It was a bumpy ride, he says, but ultimately grew to a place of trust and maturing conversation. He argues the need for conversation and that the church is the best place in which to learn the skill. His desire is that this book be a sort of a field guide to the path.

His focus for the book is this question: “How do we learn to talk together in our churches when we have been formed by a culture that goes to great lengths to avoid conversation?” (164/2922)

Smith gives a theology of conversation using the Trinity, for example, as a model. He explores three conversational techniques, giving examples of their use, and provides additional resources in an appendix. He gives examples of ground rules or agreements and covers other factors, such a group size, facilitators, and kinds of topics to begin with and what kinds for later conversation. He helps us understand the spirituality that will draw us deeper into conversation, drawing on the Quaker and other traditions. He also gives good information for dealing with conflict.

Smith says that ultimately every community will have to decide how conversation will take place. There are no universal rules to follow. He provides resources and suggestions but each church will need to work out the process for themselves.

This is a book suitable for church leaders. Smith's writing style is academic in nature and I doubt laypeople would persevere through the text. The best use of the book, I think, would be for pastors or church leaders who desire to see conversation developed in their church with a view to expanding it to include the community in general. The material in the book would be a good resource for a sermon series.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

C Christopher Smith is a writer, community developer, and editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is coauthor of the Award-winning book Slow Church: Cultivating Community in the Patient Way of Jesus and the author of Reading for the Common Good: How Books Help Our Churches and Neighborhoods Flourish. His work has been featured in several publications. He and his wife have three teenage children and live in the urban Eastside of Indianapolis, Indiana. You can find out more at .

Brazos Press, 222 pages.

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

Thursday, May 30, 2019

On a Summer Tide by Suzanne Woods Fisher Blog Tour

About the Book

Book: On a Summer Tide
Author: Suzanne Woods Fisher  
Genre: Christian Fiction Romance  
Release Date: April 30, 2019

Sometimes love hurts—and sometimes it can heal in the most unexpected way. Camden Grayson loves her challenging career, but the rest of her life could use some improvement. “Moving on” is Cam’s mantra. But there’s a difference, her two sisters insist, between one who moves on . . . and one who keeps moving. Cam’s full-throttle life skids to a stop when her father buys a remote island off the coast of Maine. Paul Grayson has a dream to breathe new life into the island—a dream that includes reuniting his estranged daughters. Certain Dad has lost his mind, the three sisters rush to the island. To Cam’s surprise, the slow pace of island life appeals to her, along with the locals—and one in particular. Seth Walker, the scruffy island schoolteacher harbors more than a few surprises. With On a Summer Tide, bestselling author Suzanne Woods Fisher begins a brand-new contemporary romance series that is sure to delight her fans and draw new ones.

Click here to purchase your copy.

My Review

I enjoyed this delightful novel about family relationships. Fisher did a good job of developing the personalities of the three sisters. They are women of strong character with lots of hurts between them. I sometimes wondered if it would ever be possible to resolve the tension among the sisters. Being with their father as he tries to restore a decrepit Maine camp turns out to be life changing for all of them. Blaine, for example, finds joy in cooking again, something she had not done since their mother had died.

Fisher deals with several serious themes in the story. A big one is honesty and telling the truth. Another major issue is forgiveness. It is explored within the context of a sensitive and well presented Christian message from the Bible.

The location of the Maine camp, on a small island near Acadia National Park, was fun. I really got a sense of the wonder of nature in the area. I enjoyed the snippets of humor here and there and there is even delicious recipe included.

This novel is a good beginning to a new series. I enjoyed being involved in the lives of the Grayson sisters and will be looking out for the next story. 

My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author

Suzanne Woods Fisher is an award-winning, bestselling author of more than thirty books, including Mending Fences, as well as the Nantucket Legacy, Amish Beginnings, The Bishop’s Family, and The Inn at Eagle Hill series, among other novels. She is also the author of several nonfiction books about the Amish, including Amish Peace and The Heart of the Amish. She lives in California. Learn more at and follow Suzanne on Facebook @SuzanneWoodsFisherAuthor and Twitter @suzannewfisher.  

More from Suzanne

Oh-So-Maine Blueberry Buckle    

Summer in Maine means plump, tart blueberries are everywhere. Here’s a family recipe that is nearly fool-proof….and so delicious! Especially with a scoop or two with vanilla ice cream.   Ever wonder how it got the name Blueberry Buckle?

While the batter rises as it bakes, the blueberries and crumb topping weigh it down. This causes the surface of the cake to buckle…hence the name.  

¾ cup sugar
¼ cup soft butter
1 egg
½ cup milk
2 cups sifted flour
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups drained blueberries

Crumb Topping:
½ cup sugar
½ cup flour
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ cup softened butter

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.   Mix sugar and butter with egg. Stir in milk Sift together and stir in flour, baking powder and salt. Carefully blend in blueberries. Put on topping before baking. Pour in a greased and floured 9” square pan.   Bake 45-50 minutes.

Blog Stops

Carpe Diem, May 24
Mary Hake, May 25
C Jane Read, May 26
Empower Moms, May 27
Remembrancy, May 27
Hallie Reads, May 29
Quiet Quilter, June 3
By The Book, June 3

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

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Here Now by Kate Merrick

The question of what matters most hits right between the eyes when we are confronted with the possibility of loss...,” Merrick writes. She shares her thoughts as she was faced with the possible death of her daughter due to cancer and later, the possible of loss of their home to California forest fires. While we may not be able to choose the circumstances, we can choose how we will face life. We can invest in the here and now, not what we had wished for.

Merrick reflects on how we choose to spend our time and where we choose to set our focus. Asking herself what mattered most in such situations caused her to evaluate her habits and interactions. She writes about social media and bringing it into submission. “...[W]e should never choose a screen over a real live person.” (859/2343)

She writes about presence and contentment. She writes about practices like keeping the Sabbath. She shares many stories from their time in Israel while seeking alternative treatment for their daughter. She shares insights from stories in the Bible.

Circumstances formed the catalyst for Merrick to think about being present, about engaging God and people. We can think about these things too and about being right here right now. Reading this book will help us reflect on what matters most right now.

Merrick tells lots of stories about herself. She spends quite some time on the edits she received on her fist book. While she relates it to the edits in life, I wondered if that story and others were really necessary. This would be a good book for readers who like to read much about the author's experiences in self examination and don't mind the lack of practical strategies to incorporate insights into life. The book includes no penetrating questions for discussion nor thought provoking journal prompts.

You can download a chapter and watch the book trailer here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Kate Merrick writes, speaks, and helps plant churches. Although she turned away from social media at one time, you can now find out more and follow her blog at .

Thomas Nelson, 224 pages.

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

Overcoming Fear by Dawna De Silva

Many Christians live in fear, harming their relationships with others and with God. De Silva wants to help readers with proven biblical tactics to break free from fear. She is a firm believer in the spirit world and the spiritual battle Christians are in. Much of her book relates to that spiritual battle and how she helps people stand above demonic attacks.

De Silva has a counseling ministry using prayer to ask God for insights into situations. She tells a number of stories about people she has helped. Praying for insights from Jesus and asking for visual representations of the issues are common. People experience release and freedom through her spiritual processes.

De Silva realizes that sometimes God works instantaneously during a prayer session. Sometimes healing takes hard work and time. Even if release is immediate, it may take time for habits to be changed. She also realizes that her prayer counseling is not a cure all. Nonetheless, she has seen her formula produce much fruit. (164)

This book is full of good teaching, powerful examples, and practical strategies. I like her concept of fear as our focusing on what we perceive as lacking rather than on God's abundance. I like De Silva reminding us that being fear free takes work. She emphasizes God's truth, meditating on it and memorizing promises. She helps us discover unhealthy mindsets from childhood too. Group discussion questions, prayers and affirmations are included at the end of each chapter.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Dawna De Silva is founder and co-leader of the International Bethel Sozo Ministry in Redding, California. Dawna and her husband have two sons and live in Redding, California. You can find out more at .

Chosen Books, 192 pages.

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

Monday, May 27, 2019

Don't Blame the Mud by Marty Machowski

About the Book:

Marty Machowski helps parents talk to their children about temptations, choices and consequences
For young readers and families, Don’t Blame the Mud paints a vivid and accurate picture of sin and God’s plan of redemption. Written by best-selling children’s author Marty Machowski, this beautifully illustrated picture book teaches children how to recognize the lure of temptation and the truth that bad choices lead to bad consequences.
One day, Max takes the muddy path along the creek home, disregarding his mother’s reminder to keep his school clothes clean. After crashing into a mud puddle, he tries to hide his mistake and discovers the stain of his sin goes deeper than the mud he can wash away. In this lovable, relatable, and heartwarming tale, Max learns his heart needs to be cleaned, and Jesus is the only one who can wash away his sin.
By clearly articulating the gospel, Don’t Blame the Mud helps parents create an environment of confession so kids can own up to their own mistakes—in the freedom of Christ—rather than place the blame elsewhere. Parents, teachers, and caretakers can help children identify with the real-life draw of temptation and the real-life consequences of sin, understanding the value of God’s salvation through the cross. Instead of teaching kids how to deal with a problem, Machowski uncovers the real issue of sin and provides a gospel answer.

My Review:

This book is a great way to explain the gospel to children. It does a good job of showing the dirt on the outside and relating that to guilt in the inside. There is an excellent couple of pages at the end of the book to help parents explain sin and the gospel to their children. The only aspect of the book I felt was less than perfect was the small print. It is not always so easy to hold a book so children can see the illustrations while reading the text. I can see Sunday School teachers using this book in such a way. Larger print would have been better for a broader use.
My rating: 4/5 stars.

About the Author:

Marty Machowski is a Family Life Pastor at Covenant Fellowship Church in Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, where he has served on the pastoral staff for thirty years. Machowski leads Promise Kingdom, the gospel-centered children’s ministry of Covenant Fellowship.
He is the author of numerous resources for churches and families, including The Gospel Story for Kids series, The Ology, and Parenting First Aid. His latest release is the children’s picture book, Don’t Blame the Mud.
Machowski and his wife, Lois reside in West Chester, Pennsylvania. They have six children and two grandchildren. He is also the Executive Editor for Children’s Resources at New Growth Press.
Learn more at He can also be found on Twitter (@MartyMachowski).

Craig MacIntosh is the illustrator of Don’t Blame the Mud. MacIntosh was a newspaper political cartoonist and illustrator for 22 years and the artist for the widely published comic strip Sally Forth. He and his wife, Linda, live in Minnesota and have two grown children.

New Growth Press, 32 pages.

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

Murder in the City of Liberty by Rachel McMillan

I had difficulty reading this novel. I was confused by the beginning, starting with Luca. I remember wondering who Luca was when this novel was about deLuca. That chapter would have better been placed later, after identifying the relationship between those cousins.

Then there was an immediate introduction of a number of characters from the previous novel. The back story of their involvement in that novel was reviewed but I was at a loss until about a third of the way into the book as to how they figured in this one.

I did not find the main characters engaging. Someone mentions to Hamish about traveling from Boston to Cincinnati, for example. “Hamish knew nothing about American geography. 'Is that far?'” (1319/3875) I don't mind a bumbling hero but I don't like a stupid one. I just never found anything engaging about Hamish. Reggie seemed like a foolhardy woman to me. I did not find her decisions to pursue a vague sense of adventure endearing. The relationship between the two of them seemed to be the focus of the novel. I would have rather had the focus be the cases Hamish was working on with the romance/friendship tension a side issue.

I did appreciate learning a bit about minor league baseball in the 1930s as well as the housing situation in Boston.

This is not a stand alone novel. One must have read the first in the series and I would suggest having read it very recently. Potential readers would need to be satisfied with a plot heavy on relationship issues rather than sleuthing.

You can read an excerpt here.

You can read my three star review of the first book in the series, Murder at the Flamingo, here.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Rachel McMillan is a history enthusiast, lifelong bibliophile, and author of the Herringford and Watts series. When not reading (or writing), she can be found at the theater, traveling near and far, and watching far too many British mysteries. She lives in Toronto where she works in educational publishing and is always planning her next trip to Boston.

Thomas Nelson, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review. I read an ARC and the quote I noted in my review may have changed in the final edition of the book.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Swann's Down By Charles Salzberg Blog Tour

Swann's Down

by Charles Salzberg

on Tour May 1 - June 30, 2019


When Henry Swann is asked by his quirky partner, Goldblatt, to find a missing psychic who's swindled his ex-wife out of a small fortune, he just can't say no. Although he doesn't actually expect to get paid, he figures it might give him a chance to finally learn more about his partner's mysterious past. His search takes him into the controversial, arcane world of psychics, fortune tellers, and charlatans, while raising questions in his own mind about whether or not there is an after-life.

While working his partner's case, he's approached by a former employer, attorney Paul Rudder, to track down a missing witness who might be able to provide an alibi for his client, Nicky Diamond, a notorious mob hitman who's scheduled to go on trial for murder he claims he didn't commit in a week. Swann's search for the missing witness, who happens to be the defendant's girlfriend, takes him from Brooklyn to a small beach town across the Bay from Mobile, Ala. But what does she really know and will she even come back with him to testify for her boyfriend?

Praise for Swann's Down:

"Psychics, double-crosses, missing persons--Charles Salzberg's latest Henry Swann book has it all. Swann's Down is a gritty, no-frills PI novel that brings to mind greats like Reed Farrel Coleman's Moe Prager and Michael Harvey's Michael Kelly. Whether this is your first Swann adventure or the latest, you won't want to miss the brass-knuckle punch that is Swann's Down. Trust me."
~ Alex Segura, author of Blackout and Dangerous Ends

"From Manhattan to Coney Island to the steamy shores of Alabama, Charles Salzberg delivers a top-flight mystery with his latest Henry Swann outing. Highly recommended."
~ Tom Straw, New York Times bestselling author as Richard Castle

Swann's Down gives readers two intriguing mysteries for the price of one, as skip tracer Henry Swann pursues a woman who might alibi a murderer and a psychic who swindled the ex-wife of Swann's partner. Shamus Award-nominated Salzberg does a superb job cutting between the two investigations. I kept turning pages to stay with both chases as the suspense increased to the very end. Whatever is going on, Swann is at the center of this story. His wry wit, quotes from authors and philosophers, genius for questioning suspects, and dark past make him a character readers will follow anywhere as he seeks his quarry. This is another thrilling addition to this excellent series.
~ Rich Zahradnik, Lights Out Summer, winner of the 2018 Shamus Award for Best Paperback Private Eye Novel

Henry Swann dives in where others fear to tread in Swann's Down: Fast. Funny. And Smart. This time out, Swann crosses paths with a psycho hitman, a phony psychic and Swann's mysterious partner, a disbarred lawyer. Who could ask for more? I hope we'll see a lot more of Swann in the future and that this isn't Swann's swan song.
~ Paul D. Marks, Shamus Award-winning Author of White Heat and Broken Windows.

My Review:

I enjoyed this character driven mystery. And Swann is quite a character. He's a tough guy, reminding me of the hard boiled PI novels I read decades ago. But Swann is also a smart character, quoting Sartre and Epictetus and reciting Shakespeare. In addition to a very interesting lead character, Salzberg provides some great dialogue. When criticized, Swan responded, “I've put in for a personality transplant but evidently I'm way down on the list.” (831/3834) He also has some intriguing descriptions, such as a character's eyes were “steely black pellets that sucked you into a dark abyss.” (912/3834) I like to learn something when I read a novel and this one contains much about fake psychics and how they can fool people.

I liked this entertaining novel even if I did feel the ending was just not quite satisfying. I didn't appreciate the crude language but I it did fit the characters. All in all a good character driven novel.

My rating: 4.5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Detective/Noir/Mystery
Published by: Down & Out Books
Publication Date: May 14, 2019
Number of Pages: 300
ISBN: 978-1-64396011-1
Series:Henry Swann
Purchase Links: Amazon | | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

The Age of Aquarius

"We're partners, right?"
Nothing good can come from that question when it comes from the mouth of Goldblatt.
"I mean, all for one and one for all, am I right?" he quickly added in an attempt, I was sure, to seal the deal.
"I think you're confusing us with the three musketeers. May I point out there are only two of us, and I'm afraid that's not the only fallacy in your declaration. But you might as well finish what you've started."
We were having our weekly Friday lunchtime sit-down to discuss what Goldblatt likes to refer to as "business." I have another name for it: waste of time.
Our venue changes from week to week but the concept is always pretty much the same: a cheap diner-slash-coffee shop somewhere on the island of Manhattan. Today's eatery of choice (Goldblatt's choice, my destiny) is the Utopia Diner, on Amsterdam, near 72nd Street. And as for the business we'd just finished discussing, well, to be honest, there never is very much actual business to discuss and today was no exception.
At this particular moment in time, we were going through a bit of a dry spell, which always makes me a little nervous because no matter how much I banish it from my mind, the rent is due the first of every month and at least three times a day I seem to develop a hunger that must be quenched. Still, a good fifteen, twenty years away from Social Security, and with precious little dough in the bank--okay, let's be honest, no dough in the bank--and no 401-K to fall back on, I need to keep working. And, as much as I don't like to admit it, lately it's been my "partner," as he likes to refer to himself, as opposed to my preferred albatross, who's brought in the bulk of our clients.
We'd already finished eating--though technically, Goldblatt never actually finishes eating which means a meal can easily turn into an all-day affair, if I don't apply the brakes--and we were just waiting for the check to arrive. This is a crucial point of any meal with Goldblatt because it is the opening gambit in what has become our weekly routine of watching the check sit there in no-man's land somewhere between us until I inevitably give in, pick it up, and pay. Otherwise, I risk one of two things: either we'd be there all afternoon or, worst case scenario, Goldblatt will decide he's still hungry and threaten to order something else. Neither one of these options is the least bit appealing.
"I'll get right to the point," he said.
Just then, out of the corner of my eye I spotted the waiter, like a white knight, approaching with our check in hand. If I acted quick enough I might be able to get out of there before I can be sucked into something I don't want to have anything to do with.
"That would be nice," I said, reaching for my wallet. "What is your point?"
"I need to hire you."
I was stopped in my tracks before I got my wallet halfway out of my back pocket.
"Really? To do what?"
"I want you to find someone for me. Well, to be more precise it's not really for me. It's for my ex-wife."
Wait a minute! Goldblatt married? Goldblatt with a wife? Goldblatt a husband? This was a new one on me, something I'd never even considered.
"You…you've been married?" I stammered.
Truth is, I never pictured Goldblatt being in any relationship other than with, yes, as irritating as it might be, me. I mean the guy isn't exactly anyone's idea of Don Juan, although I suppose in theory there are women who might find him if not attractive in the conventional way at least interesting in a specimen-under-glass way. Or maybe as a project. Women love a project. They love a challenge. They love the idea that they have the opportunity to remake a man in their image. Maybe that was it. But whatever it was, my world was shaken to the core. And what would shake it even more would be to find that he was actually a father, too. But one shock per meal is more than enough, so there was no chance I was going to pursue that line of questioning.
"Unfortunately, the answer is yes. More than once, in fact."
"Holy Cow," I blurted out, channeling the Scooter. "You're kidding me?"
At this point the same bald, squat waiter who seems to serve us in every diner we patronize, reached our table and dropped the check right in front of me.
"This is not something a man usually kids about."
"How many times?"
He held up three fingers.
"Three times! You've been married three times?"
I gulped.
"Are you married now?"
He shook his head. "Nah. I'm kinda between wives. Giving it a rest, if you know what I mean.
But chances are I'll be back in the saddle again soon enough."
"Okay, so let me get this straight. You've been married three times and now you're single but you would consider getting married again?"
"Man is not meant to be alone, Swannie. You might consider the possibility that your life would be enriched if you found your soulmate."
You're fortunate if you find one soul mate in life and I'd already had mine. She was yanked from my life as a result of a freak accident, a matter of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I didn't know if Goldblatt knew the circumstances of her bizarre accidental death, but I wouldn't have been surprised because he seems to know a lot of things he has no business knowing.
"Some men are meant to be alone, Goldblatt. I'm one of them and after three failed marriages maybe you should consider the possibility you are, too."
He smiled and puffed out his chest. "What can I say, Swann? I'm a friggin' babe magnet."
I would have laughed, should have laughed, but I was still processing the scary fact that he'd been married three times. That meant there were three women in the world who not only were willing to marry him but did marry him. I wanted to know more. Much more. Everything, in fact. But this was not the time and certainly not the place to delve into Goldblatt's mysterious, sordid past. Nevertheless, I promised myself I would revisit this topic in the not too distant future.
Still in shock, I avoided our weekly "who's paying for this meal" tango, grabbed the check and reached for my wallet...again.
"So, wanna know the story?" he asked.
"Which story would that be?"
"The story of why I want to hire you?"
Excerpt from Swann's Down by Charles Salzberg. Copyright 2019 by Charles Salzberg. Reproduced with permission from Charles Salzberg. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Charles Salzberg is a freelance writer whose work has appeared in New York magazine, Esquire, GQ, Redbook, The New York Times Book Review and other periodicals. He has written over 20 non-fiction books, including From Set Shot to Slam Dunk, an oral history of the NBA, and Soupy Sez: My Zany Life and Times. He is author of the Shamus Award nominated Swann's Last Song, Swann Dives In, Swann's Lake of Despair, nominated for two Silver Falchions, Swann's Way Out, Devil in the Hole, named one of the best crime novels of the year by Suspense Magazine. He was a Visiting Professor of Magazine at the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications at Syracuse University and he teaches writing the New York Writers Workshop where he is a Founding Member. He is a member of the MWA-NY Board.

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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.