Saturday, December 31, 2011

First Date - by Krista McGee

First Date is a fun, lighthearted book about Addy Davidson, a high-school student at a small Christian school, who is chosen to be one of one hundred girls vying for a chance to win a date to prom with the President's son. Addy resists the idea from the very beginning, not even wanting to participate, but allows her Uncle Mike and principal to convince her to at least get on the plane. Convinced that she still doesn't want to be a part of the reality show, she tries to get kicked off as soon as possible. Being herself without the pretenses and ambitions of the other contestants, however, draws the positive attention of the First Son, and the negative attentions of the producer, as well as the majority of the other contestants who feel she is making a mockery of their chance for stardom. Addy comes to the conclusion that if God has put her in this competition, then she needs to be the light He has made her to be, whether that means being nice to the girls who are out to sabotage her or sharing her faith in a very public forum.

After the last several books that I have read, this was a welcome change. A light, quick read, I enjoyed the characters and found Addy to be easy to relate to. A quiet, hardworking student, who wants to stay out of the spotlight and focus on getting into college, you wanted to root for her. The setting of a reality show was current and enjoyable as a light read, and the ambitious backstabbing of the other contestants felt all too plausible. It was nice that Addy had someone who stuck up for her, though, and I enjoyed watching Addy transition from doing everything she could to escape the situation to doing what she could for God. Not perfect, by even her own admission, but courageous enough to try what she felt called to do. I also enjoyed that even though there were predictable aspects to the story, they felt natural and occurred with reasonable lead-up and follow-through. And the ending was not entirely predictable, but that made it enjoyable. It also looks like there will be a sequel, with Addy's roommate and friend, Kara, as the main story; I look forward to following these characters.

I give this book 3.5 stars - a nice break from heavier reading, but no life-changing depth or revelations.

I received this book for free as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze books for bloggers program. I was not required to give a positive review.

Friday, December 30, 2011

Nearing Home - by Billy Graham

Renowned evangelist Billy Graham was approaching the age of 93 as he wrote Nearing Home. In his own words, he says that "growing old has been the greatest surprise of [his] life." He speaks of how he's been told how to die, but not of how to prepare for death. Mr. Graham writes of both practical and spiritual matters requiring preparation in the "here and now." For the matter of physical realities, he talks of retirement funds, and wills, and living wills. He discusses the reality of watching your friends and family pass on before you, and the necessity of physical assistance as your body continues to age. As to the spiritual matters, the book covers both the present need of continuing to develop your own spiritual health, as well as looking to the next generation's needs for teachers. And then, of course, there is the matter of "home," knowing where you'll go when you die, and being ready to be received thereunto.

My first thought upon reading this book was "I can't believe someone can still be writing books at 93 years old." Impressive as that is, the book itself was also a surprise. Mr. Graham's honesty and vulnerability in speaking of his own aging process was refreshing. His grief over the passing of his wife, Ruth, was sorrowful, and his own admission that he continues to miss her even though he knows that he will join her soon was heartfelt. The use of scriptures sprinkled liberally through the text were seamless, and were contextually appropriate, rather than feeling as if they were there to meet some sort of quota, like I've felt in other Christian life books.

The end of the book is, appropriately enough, a call to Christ. While this feels very real to Mr. Graham's ministry, and the lack of it probably would have made the book incomplete, I did find myself skimming this section instead of reading it thoroughly, feeling as if I "knew" this part. However, his final message of "that was then... this is now" applies to everyone. No matter where you are in your life, what you have done, or what you haven't done, whether you've prepared for death or never gave it a passing thought, it isn't too late. That was then...this is now, and now is the time to think about it all.

I give this book 4 stars.

I received this book for free as part of Thomas Nelson's BookSneeze book review bloggers' program. I was not required to write a positive review.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Shadows on the Sand - by Gayle Roper

Love, suspense, secret pasts, real faith versus falsified faith, Shadows on the Sand has it all. Sisters Carrie and Lindsay have run away from their past and made a decent life for themselves in the small tourist town of Seaside. Carrie is just beginning to see signs of returned interest from Greg, a former cop slowly returning to life after living through an unspeakable tragedy. Andi is a teenager working with Carrie, having also run away from a life that she refuses to speak about. Together the characters work together to forge healing relationships and strengthen each others' faith.

I really enjoyed this book. What I loved most was that the main characters were already Christians who were struggling with very real issues. There was no "aha!" moment, there were just people showing their faith through their lives and struggles. They stretched each other to let go of their pasts and trust God for their futures.

The storyline of the murders and the man behind them was a bit dark for my tastes, but it didn't go as far as I feared, and so it didn't ruin the book for me. The love story was sweet, although perhaps a bit abrupt from the "I've barely noticed you," to the "I've fallen for you" phase. There was still some uncertainty, and they both had to resolve some things in their past to make the relationship work. I liked that they were honest with each other, and that they worked at understanding each other.

Overall, I give this book 4 stars. It had enjoyable characters and a sense of real faith; I would recommend it to fiction fans!

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Friday, December 23, 2011

A Sound Among the Trees - Susan Meissner

A Sound Among the Trees is a fictional story that spans multiple generations of women who live, or have lived, at Holly Oak House in Fredericksburg, Virginia. The history of the house encompasses the Civil War, the physical battles that raged around it, and the battles, both mental and relational, that waged within it. The current lady of the house, Adelaide, is convinced that the house is trying to absolve itself of the sins of the house by taking out its angst on the women of the family line. People in the town are convinced that Adelaide's great grandmother, Susannah, haunts the house to absolve herself of her crimes. Are either of these true? You'll need to read the book to find out. :)

I am not a fan of ghost stories, and while the book focused on the idea of Susannah as a ghost, I had trouble getting interested in the story. There were two story lines that did pull me in, though: the story of Susannah herself - told through stories to her cousin Eleanor, and the story of Caroline, Adelaide's daughter, who ran away from home and returned only periodically, once bearing an infant daughter whom she left for Adelaide to raise.

Caroline, the prodigal daughter, leaves home to experience the world in every way she can. She doesn't know who her daughter's father is, and she has an eclectic resume of odd jobs from her travels. However, her travels eventually lead her to a convent where, in her words, the nuns teach her that "people who fall against the last door on earth, find out how to crawl through it." She is changed by God, she has found peace, and she returns to Holly Oak to share that peace and to be the daughter and grandmother that she should have been before.

Susannah's letters tell the story of the civil war and her family's involvement in it, living in the South, but having ties to the north. As a reader, I felt Susannah's conflict, her confusion over the war itself and what her role within it should be. She became more than the "ghost of Holly Oak" through her own voice in the letters, and she became part of the reinstatement of peace to the surviving generations of Holly Oak Women.

Overall, I would give this book 2.5 stars. I was solidly in the 2-star category until I got to Susannah's letters and the conclusions. While those finally got me engaged in the story, it wasn't really enough for me to rank the book much higher.

You can read an excerpt from the book HERE.

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I received this e-book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Indelible - by Kristen Heitzmann

Indelible begins with a daring rescue of a small child by a man driven to save those in danger. Trevor MacDaniel is attempting to overcome what he sees as the sins of his past by the good deeds of his present. Natalie Reeve, an amazing sculptor with an astonishing gift that she once considered a disability, tries to understand what she sees in Trevor, what pulls him towards these perilous situations. And, somewhere, someone lives in darkness who feels the need to challenge Trevor's light. The small Colorado town once again deals with danger and uncertainty as its people work together to restore peace.

Kristen Heitzmann is one of my favorite authors, and I am always excited to see a new release from her. Indelible appears to be a companion book to Indivisible, although there is no indication on the book itself or on the description on retailers' websites. However, the characters are the same, and there is enough reference to their past that I found myself wishing I had re-read Indivisible before starting this book. Indelible could likely stand on its own for most readers, but I would recommend reading them together.

For the most part, the characters in the book are well-written and engaging. I did find myself not really caring about the mysterious dark character for most of the book because a) there wasn't enough written about him to give me something to care about, and b) the quotations that began each of his segments appear to be from Paradise Lost, a book I probably should have read at some point, but haven't, thus nullifying the connection of quotes to character.

Part of what made the dark character's segments confusing was that the formatting in the e-book seemed to have been lost in transition. The change from named characters to the mysterious character was only marked by a page break, and an unattributed quote. As the story begins to fill in, there are several references to Paradise Lost, which is what makes me think that is where the quotes are from. I have not looked at a print copy of this book, so I do not know if that was merely an e-book issue or not.

Overall, I would give Indelible 4 stars. I do hope that there is a third book in what seems to be a series in this town, because many of the characters' side stories were left incomplete. When characters are that well-written, it makes me want to know what happens to them!

You can read an excerpt from Chapter 1 HERE.

I received this e-book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

The Canary List - by Sigmund Brouwer

The Canary List is a fiction book about the connection between the spiritual forces, the physical world, and the humans that straddle the two. Do demons exist? Do our beliefs about them - whether belief or skepticism - affect us, or them? At the opening of the book, C.S. Lewis is quoted as saying:
"There are two equal and opposite errors into which our race can fall about the devils. One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them. They themselves are equally pleased by both errors and hail a materialist or a magician with the same delight."

Crockett Grey is not looking for an adventure, he's not looking for a cause; he's not even looking to leave his house on the night Jaimie Piper comes to him for help. He's looking to get drunk and to grieve the anniversary of his daughter's death. Jaimie is looking to escape the Evil she believes is hunting her, and she cannot reach the person who has promised to help her, her psychiatrist Madelyne Mackenzie. Crockett, instead, gets swept up into a whirlwind of scheming, and plotting, and politics of the Catholic Church, not to mention the question of supernatural forces of evil.

I don't normally read suspenseful books, mostly because I can't afford the lack of sleep due to the intense need to read "one more chapter" to find out what happens. This book definitely kept me up later than I should have been. I was intrigued by the characters, and the action kept moving at a pace that made it hard to put down. I do not like heavy foreshadowing, or predictable plots, and this had neither. There were several reveals that, while logical based on the story, had not been the obvious outcome.

Until the conclusion of the book, I probably would have come away fairly satisfied with a good read. There were sections of the book where I felt a bit too in-the-dark about what was going on, but it seemed true to the character's point-of-view from which I was experiencing the story. However, some loose ends and an unnecessarily complicated ending left me displeased. I wanted to know what became of the other characters, I wanted to know how the remaining question was answered, and I wanted something deeper - something to spark the reader to question their own beliefs in the spiritual realm.

I would give this book 3 stars - it was well-written, but it left me wanting just a bit more.

Want to see if this book grabs your interest? Try the first chapter HERE.
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I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Restless in Carolina - by Tamara Leigh

Restless in Carolina is the third book in a series about the Pickwick family from North Carolina. This installment focuses on Bridget Pickwick Buchanan, a woman widowed before she turned 30, who is trying to let go of her "widow's weeds" and move on with her life. She is passionate about the environment, and wants to find a solution for her Uncle Obadiah's estate that is both respectful of the land and will enable the family to settle old debts and give Uncle Obe peace.

Although a bit on the predictable side, the story of Bridget and her family gives the reader lovable characters (and a few not-quite-so-lovable characters) to invest in. Bridget's struggles are real and will be familiar to many. She is afraid to let go of her past and trust God for the future, mainly because she can't get past the question that everybody thinks at some point: if God loves us, how can He let terrible things happen to "good" people? Having lost her husband so early and tragically, she struggles to love again. She finds herself turning to God in unexpected moments, even as she argues with Him that she's not really on speakin' terms.

The book was an enjoyable read for me. I wanted Bridget to be happy. I wanted things to work out for her and for her to find love. I wanted her prayers to be answered, and I wanted her to get her "happily ever after," (A phrase she struggles to even complete as she reads fairy tales to her 5-year-old niece early in the book.) Even with its colorful characters (or, perhaps "because" of its colorful characters), I like the Pickwick family. I like watching the relationships change and develop as they fight their past together and try to get past the "sins of the fathers" to set new courses for the new generations.

There's a quote near the end of the book that struck me when I read it and gives more depth to the book than just a cute story. In considering their motives for their previous actions, a character asks:
"Do you know how hard it is to be right with God when you aren't right with people? When you can't forgive as you should? When you're holding the past tighter than it's holding you? When you think you're better at being God than God Himself?" Those questions would be good for us all to consider.

You can read an excerpt of the book HERE.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Same Kind of Different As Me - by Ron Hall & Denver Moore

Same Kind of Different as Me is a non-fiction book that shows us both the relationship of the three main characters and their individual journeys of faith.

Ron Hall is a wealthy white man who grew up in the lower middle class, helping his grandfather on a cotton farm and observing that, even while his grandfather treated the black workers better than most, there was a distinct difference to being a white worker versus a black worker. His journey takes him from those days as a child observer to a life of privilege and wealth, through marriage struggles into a vibrant marriage, from casual Sunday Christian to a man passionate about God's work, from working at a mission out of duty to wanting to help those less fortunate to actually caring and loving the people whom he came to know.

Denver is a poor black man who grew up living a slave's life in a "free" world in rural Louisiana. His early life was marked by tragedy, and he was shuffled from home to home. His journey in the book takes him from his poor childhood to a poor adulthood to a life of homelessness, which leads him to a life of crime, and eventually back to homelessness. But along the way, he also journeys from feeling worthless and unloved to being cared for and prayed over.

Deborah Hall is the wife of Ron, but she is also the impetus for the odd relationship between Ron and Denver. Her journey is her own, but it carries others along in her passion. She grows from a rich sorority girl to a compassionate woman, from a stranger in her marriage to a wife who fights for her husband, from a casual Christian to a woman of faith who dreams big dreams from God and prays to see them come to fruition.

The characters' life journeys are unvarnished and authentic. Their struggles, their growth, and their love for each other cannot help but touch the reader. Although at times the book can make one uncomfortable, that is also one of its strengths. It will make the reader question his own prejudices, his own lifestyle, and his own passion, or lack thereof, for God and His people. It will make him wish to do more, help more, and BE more for God.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <>