Tuesday, August 23, 2016

(Review) The Things We Knew by Catherine West

Publication Date: July 12, 2016
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Genre: Fiction, family secrets
Pages: 352
Source: Free copy from Thomas Nelson in exchange for a review
Rating: 4 stars for very good


Author Info:
Catherine West writes stories of hope and healing from her island home in Bermuda. When she's not at the computer working on her next story, you can find her taking her Border collie for long walks on the beach or tending to her roses and orchids. She and her husband have two grown children. Visit her online www.catherinejwest.com 
Facebook: CatherineJWest 

Lynette Carlisle still lives in the family home with her aging father. They live in Nantucket. Her older siblings have moved away from the island. Lynette is left to care for their father who is not in good health. The upkeep of the family home is expensive, and she is left to deal with how to pay for its cost. Their mother's death is a mystery. 
Nick Cooper grew up in Nantucket. He has recently returned to work for his father. Nick and Lynette have a connection going back to when they were kids. Nick remembers the events of her mother's death and is hiding them from Lynette. One by one all of Lynette's siblings return to the family home, each with their own current problems to deal with; however, the past must also be reconciled. 

My Thoughts: 
I was drawn to the story because I also took care of my father. We shared the same home for over 11 years. So, any caregiver story attracts me. Further, Lynette is the youngest child in her family of five siblings. I am the youngest child in my family of five siblings. 
It is common, I'm told, for one sibling to become the caregiver or responsible party for aging parents. I have found this to be true in many families, it is a rare exception when all of the siblings take turns caring for parents. There are various reasons for this, but the most common reasons are distance from the parents, career and family duties, and problems with childhood memories. All of these reasons are portrayed in The Things We Knew. It is also common for the caregiver to feel isolated, anxious, and overwhelmed. They can also feel they are being left to carry the load without help from other family members. I feel, The Things We Knew, is excellent in representing a caregiver, both in the feelings a caregiver has and the dynamics of a family. 
Lynette is a young woman, she carries hopes and dreams for the future; however, she has taken on the responsibility as caregiver to her father and managing the home. Through the story I see her maturity, she still has girlish attributes, but the result of her duties have matured her mind and spirit. 
Nick is a young man who is also an evolving character. He left the island but has returned. He has returned a different person; through the story he matures, and learns to defy the things he's been taught.  
Lynette's brother Gray has a strong story-line. I believe his nemesis is the pulling point. 
The Things We Knew has multiple characters who each have their own story inside the main story. 
They are characters who show me where they were in the past, how they deal with present problems, and how they plan to move forward to the future. 
The ending of the story, or the mystery concerning the past is predictable. I did not feel this part of the story is a strong point. It's easy to weed out the possibilities of what happened. This is an element that led me to give The Things We Knew 4 stars instead of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

(Review) The Promise of Jesse Woods by Chris Fabry

Publication Date: July 1, 2016
Publisher: Tyndale
Genre: Fiction, family secrets, coming of age story
Pages: 432
Source: Free paperback copy from Tyndale in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent

Chris Fabry's website


Thirteen year old Matt Plumley and his family relocate to Dogwood, West Virginia. The year is 1972. Matt's older brother, Ben, is college age and does not live at home. Their father is a pastor. Moving from the city of Pittsburgh, to small town Dogwood is a culture shock. Matt befriends two kids his age, Dickie and Jesse. The three kids grow up together sharing hardships, secrets, and promises.
The story moves back and forth in time. When the story begins it is 1984 and Matt finds out information about his childhood friend Jesse. He decides to head back to Dogwood and confront the promises of the past.

My Thoughts:
Life is about making good choices, Matt. One after another. They pile up day after day. It's only when you look back that you can see what the choices led to. What you're able to stand on. Page 65. 
My favorite quote from The Promise of Jesse Woods is a strong and wise statement for all times.
As the story unfolds, the characters, primarily Matt, will come to understand these words.
Matt made a promise to a close friend when they were kids. However, life moved on and so did they. He ponders as an adult if he truly loved this person and if the promise still stands?
I love stories where the characters evolve and are thinkers. They ponder the choices made and the results from those choices. Another way of stating this is making peace with choices made.
I love the three kids. They are from different walks of life. Matt, a preacher's kid and a new resident in town. Dickie is bi-racial. In 1972, children of mixed race were not as accepted. Jesse grew up in poverty and abuse. The three kids together form a bond and strengthen one another. They encourage and help each other through the tough years of growing up.
Lastly, Matt as a young man is holding on to past behavior patterns. He is not moving on in romantic relationships. He also carries a certain mind-set that holds him back. Through the story he will come to understand these things.
The Promise of Jesse Woods made me think about my past and present life. The choices I've made and the affects of these choices. A story that resonates is a story that is memorable.

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

(Review) The Power of Presence: A Love Story by Neil T. Anderson

Publication Date: June 27, 2016
Publisher: Monarch Books/Kregel
Genre: Nonfiction, memoir, love story, caregiving
Pages: 160
Source: Free paperback copy from Kregel in exchange for a review
Rating: 5 stars for excellent


A short list of Dr. Neil T. Anderson's books:
The Bondage Breaker
Victory Over Darkness
Who I Am in Christ
The Essential Guide to Spiritual Warfare
The Steps to Freedom in Christ
Freedom From Fear

Dr. Neil T. Anderson is the director of Freedom in Christ Ministries. The blog entries for daily devotionals on this site ended in October 2014. Crosswalk Ministries has current dated devotionals written by Anderson.
A brief bio on Anderson @ Wikipedia.

The YouTube is on another book, Restoring Broken Relationships

Neil Anderson's wife of 50 years is in a skilled nursing facility because of agitated dementia. The Power of Presence is six chapters of reflections and helpful teachings for other caregivers.
1. The Absence of Presence
2. Suffering in His Presence
3. Coming into His Presence
4. Ministering in His Presence
5. Resting in His Presence
6. Fully in His Presence

My Thoughts: 
One of the first comments Anderson makes in chapter one is "sitting in silence."
Marriage makes two people come together in a union. The two become one. The two become a team. The two become entwined in daily living. The two become partners in the battle called life. Marriage is not all moonlight and roses. Marriage is often tough times, and with no end to the tough times in sight.
The Power of Presence is a book I can relate to. My mother had Alzheimer's 18 years. Dad cared for mother with my help. Mother lived in a skilled nursing facility the last six years until she died. She lived with the disease until it robbed her of the involuntary responses: breathing and swallowing. Daddy visited mother every afternoon and most of those years he sat in silence. It meant the world to him to see mother, touch her, and speak soothing words to her. I saw through daddy's actions the definition of love.
The Power of Presence is written to an audience of like people. People who are caring for a sick individual. People who need support, encouragement, and the tender grace and mercy only God gives.
The Power of Presence acknowledges the absence of the sick loved one's companionship, but reminds us of God's constant presence. His presence ministers to us and helps us to cope with loneliness and the hardships of life.
The book length is short. The chapters are brief. I believe this helps to not exhaust what little time a caregiver has to read. It especially helps to not load down a caregiver with information. During a time of care-giving, the caregiver is absorbed with the tasks at hand, and they are overwhelmed much of the time. To have a book that is direct and will minister to them with tenderness helps.
There are several points and teachings I believe are meaningful:

  • To give is to be blessed.
  • The power of belonging. 
  • Most spiritual attacks are at night. 
  • God's presence in our lives is tantamount to loving others. 
  • Worship should be a lifestyle.
  • Walk in God's light.
The book concludes with Scripture helps. 

My favorite quotes:
"It is truly more blessed to give than to receive, because in giving you are blessed." Page 52.
"It is the presence of God in our lives that enables us to love others and expect nothing in return from them." Page 74. 
"When worship becomes a lifestyle, we start to see evidence of His presence everywhere." Page 110. 
"We practice the presence of God when we walk in the light, which means that we live in conscious moral agreement with God." Page 112. 

Thursday, July 14, 2016

(Review) The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg

Publication Date: October 1, 2014
Publisher: Tyndale
Genre: Historical fiction, Holocaust, World War II
Pages: 480
Source: Self purchase
Rating: 5 stars for excellent

Link @ Tyndale for more info on the book. This link includes an excerpt.

Link @ Amazon

ECPA 2015 Christian Book Award Finalist!
2014 finalist for the Goodreads Choice Awards!

Joel Rosenberg's website

Links of interest: 
I Escaped from Auschwitz, from The Guardian
Escapes and Reports, from Memorial and Museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Rudolf Vrba, from the Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team
Jerry Bielek, from the Daily Mail
Auschwitz, Wikipedia
Auschwitz, from The United Holocaust Memorial Museum
History and Overview of Auschwitz, from the Jewish Virtual Library

The Auschwitz Escape is a Christian historical fiction story of an escape from the notorious concentration camp Auschwitz.
Auschwitz is located near the town of Oswiecim, Poland, near the border of Germany. It is 37 miles west of Krakow. Auschwitz is generally used to refer to all the camps in this area. However, there was a large network, comprised of 3 main camps and 44 sub-camps. Auschwitz 1 began in 1941 with political prisoners, followed by criminal, resistance, and Jews. Later, homosexuals and gypsies were included. The prisoners died by poisonous gas, diseases, starvation, severe labor, harsh weather conditions, and other methods of extermination at the hands of the Nazis.
Between 2.1 million and 4 million were murdered.
Jacob Weisz is a young man living in Germany. He and his parents are Jews. The Jews know something horrible is happening to their people, yet are filled with a mix of shock and fear. Do they stay or do they leave? Jacob becomes involved in the resistance action. The Auschwitz Escape is essentially his story, yet it demonstrates the plight of all Jews during this period.

My Thoughts:
This is the first book I've read by Joel C. Rosenberg. The book has gained high marks/reviews from readers. I've been anxious to read this book!
I've read a long list of Holocaust stories and memoirs. I am not an expert. I am not a history harpie. However, this genre of books causes me to "pick at" a little more for accuracy.
The first note-worthy element of The Auschwitz Escape is we know from history very few people escaped. We know from reading books and watching films the horrors of Auschwitz, as well as the perilous and (near) impenetrable prison. As a curious reader, I had to know how an escape was carried out? This questions led me to continue reading till the last page.
There are a few situations in the book where Jacob gets a pass. He is in the right place at the right time and among the right kind of people who can help. I am okay with this. Sometimes life is like this. We are in the right place to be helped and by the right kind of people. However, another reader may find this far-fetched and not real enough.
The previous thought is balanced by the horrors of Auschwitz, and the way in which Jacob came to be there. This place is NOT the right place, nor the right kind of people to be under their control.
The Auschwitz Escape creates a strong emotional response. Auschwitz was hell. This was hell on earth. It is the place where Hollywood productions seems minuscule and insignificant. Rosenberg portrayed Auschwitz to the point of causing me physical discomfort. No human can adequately share in words the horrors of Auschwitz, because words are just not enough. I feel Rosenberg has accomplished his mission of describing Auschwitz and the story of Jacob.
Some stories use a place as a character. I know this seems like a false statement, but Auschwitz was its own organism. It was a character. It was a monster.
Lastly, this is a Christian fiction story. This means Christianity is referred to. I have read books where the Christian theme is on every page. I have read books where I had to hunt for the Christian theme. Where I saw this element the most is in the later half of the book, and I did not think it was pasted into the story as a filler.
Reading Holocaust stories, whether fictional or biographic, is important in educating modern society of where we can never repeat. It gives a voice to honor all of those who suffered in the Holocaust.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

(Review) All But Normal: Life on Victory Road by Shawn Thornton with Joel Kilpatrick

Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Publisher: Tyndale
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Pages: 320
Source: Free paperback copy from Tyndale in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Link for the book @ Tyndale: All But Normal. Excerpt is available @ the link.

Website for All But Normal. A free preview is available @ this link.

Website of Shawn's: Pastor Shawn. 


All But Normal is the story of Shawn Thornton's family; principally his mother's mood swings, and it's results on the family. The story begins in the early 1960's and the car accident that left his mother in a coma. After awakening from the coma, her personality was vastly different. She recovered enough to return home. Her walking was hindered by a stiff awkward gait. She was unable to return to the life she'd once lived. Shawn's parents married young. Shawn and his brother, Troy, lived a chaotic home life. From a cluttered home to a fiery tempered mother, everyday was lived in fear of another episode.
Shawn Thornton examines his childhood through the lens of his boyhood and development to manhood. The affects on his personality, emotions, and spiritual life are explored.

My Thoughts:
Joni Eareckson Tada, wrote the foreword. Her name will be mentioned in All But Normal as a book Shawn's mother read and re-read. One of my favorite quotes from the book is written in the foreword.
...the leaders God chooses are often more broken than strong, more damaged than whole, more troubled than secure. God's most effective leaders don't rise to power in spite of their weakness; they lead with power because of their weakness. By the last page of this book, you'll be convinced that God's greatest leaders seem to rise up from beds of nails, not roses. Page ix. 
Several reasons led me to give All But Normal, 5 stars for excellent:
  • A transparent view of a dysfunctional family across five decades, including the long-term after effects. 
  • A first time Christian work on the effects of a brain injury and a mental health disorder. 
  • A coming of age story. 
  • God at work in the individuals even during a chaotic period. 
  • I felt Shawn Thornton is honest and does not downplay the incidents, but he is loving and respectful to his parents. 
  • All But Normal shows how God prepared the author for service in ministry despite the hard life situations growing up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

(Review) Like A River From Its Course by Kelli Stuart

Publication Date: June 27, 2016
Publisher: Kregel
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 363
Source: Free copy from Kregel in exchange for a review
Rating: 5 stars for excellent

Link for book @ Kregel. 


Kelli Stuart's blog

Kindle Fire Giveaway from June 27 through July 18.

Article from the Huffington Post: 75 Years Later: What the Past Teaches Us Today.

Kelli Stuart's Blog post: Addressing the Question of Faith.  

Like A River From Its Course begins in 1941, Ukraine. Four main characters are introduced, each sharing their story and voice. These characters are Maria (Masha) Ivanovna, Ivan Kyrilovich, Frederick Herrmann, and Ludmilla (Luda) Michaelevna. They solidly represent four types of people affected by World War II and the Holocaust. From a civilian aspect, to a Nazi officer, to a Ukraine swept up in the roundup and murder of Jews.

My Thoughts:
Like A River From It's Course is a work of historical fiction.
The author explains:
The characters in this book are composites of the hundreds of men and women I met while touring Ukraine. They don't tell one single person's story, but rather hundreds of stories combined. While the characters are fictional, the circumstances and horrors they faced were very real. Page 361. 
1. My first reason for giving Like A River From It's Course 5 stars for excellent, is the historical research and the telling of so many stories. It is a compilation, representing many individuals; in a sense all those who suffered during WWII and the Holocaust have a voice.

2. A German officer is one of the characters. He is the enemy. However, I am shown the thoughts and feelings he struggles against. I understand his background, education, and reasons for ideology. I also see his nemesis. These are not excusable for his demented murderous behavior, but it does show a strong dimensional view.

3. Like A River From It's Course is a character study and sketch of the Ukraine. The various main characters give the story a panoramic view of World War II. They are in the Ukraine, but they represent different aspects of society. Each of them have internal conflicts. The external conflicts is the war, Holocaust, and possible death. Each of them have a desire to carry out what they feel drawn to and what they must do. The characters are often polar in personality from one another. A Nazi officer who is intent on torture and murder, versus a teenage girl who is orphaned and in despair.

4. Baba Mysa is a secondary character. Her wisdom is shown in body language and on point sage words. Her wisdom transcends for all time.
Life is full of heartache and hardship. Very rarely will life make sense, and it will almost never seem fair. But if you remember that pain and heartache aren't unique to only you, that you're not the only one mired in circumstances that seem too great to bear, you'll do much better in life. Page 213.
5. While reading the story, and because I understand the ending may not be positive for all the characters, this was a strong reason to continue reading. I became apart of the story, both because of the characters, and the serious nature of the entire story.

6. Several themes are at work besides the war and Holocaust: coming of age tale, sexual abuse, family saga, romance, sibling rivalry, orphaned, and domestic abuse. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

(Review)The Uncommon Woman: Making an Ordinary Life Extraordinary by Susie Larson

Publication Date: July 1, 2008
Publisher: Moody
Genre: Nonfiction, Christian Women, Christian Growth
Pages: 200
Source: Self purchase
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Amazon link for the book

Susie Larson Website

Live The Promise radio site



"The uncommon woman refuses to let her mistakes or weaknesses define her because she is defined by His strengths alone." Page 26.
The word uncommon refers to ordinary. The book is written to a female audience. No matter the life we are living we can be called by God and live exceptional lives.

Three sections covering twelve chapters.
"The Uncommon Woman Understands the Paradox That She is Nothing and Everything." 
"The Uncommon Woman Embraces a Different Perspective
"The Uncommon Woman Changes the World" 

My Thoughts:
Before reading The Uncommon Woman,  I'd heard of Susie Larson. After reading this book, I began listening to some of the broadcasts from her radio station. I enjoy listening to some of the topics.
The Uncommon Woman covers a variety of subjects, from choosing the right battles, to praying instead of becoming influenced by other people's bad attitudes.
Chapter seven held important lessons for me. I feel the title does not explain the depth of the topic. In brief, do not let the world tell us how we are to respond and act. Further, don't let the wounds of life make us bitter and become like the world.
When we are wounded or attacked, we must remember Christ's example of humility. But in our remembering we do not lose sight of who we are and whose we are...To be transformable is to give the Lord (along with trusted godly people) easy access to the things of our character that Jesus might make us more like Him. But opening our souls up to anyone who wants to say a cross word to us is not wise. Not to say we should keep difficult people out of our lives. They are usually the ones God uses to refine our character. But we must not give more weight to their words than those of our godly friends and wonderful Savior. Page 110-111.
 Chapter nine explores fears.
"We all have a story to tell." 
The longer we live, the more stories we will have to tell.
"If we live by faith instead of being bullied by our fears, those stories will be ones of victory, inspiration, and triumph. Our stories will inspire others to put their fears under their feet." Page 143. 
From painful past experiences to fear of the future, fear feels like a dog chasing us in our waking moments and in our sleep. 
Larson defines fear and explores decisions "we've made out of fear." My favorite point, "We have to love God more than our fears." Page 150. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

(Review) Crazy Love: Overwhelmed By A Relentless God by Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski

Publication Date: May 1, 2008
Publisher: David C. Cook
Genre: Nonfiction, Christian Growth
Pages: 205
Source: Self purchase
Rating: 4 stars for very good



Crazy Love propels the reader to have an passionate oriented love towards God. Going through the motions or habit, does not define love. Loving God, truly loving God, spills over into other people's lives; and we become an effective testimony of God's love living in us and toward others.

One: "Stop Praying"
Two: "You Might Not Finish This Chapter"
Three: "Crazy Love"
Four: "Profile of the Lukewarm"
Five: "Serving Leftovers to a Holy God"
Six: "When You're in Love"
Seven: "Your Best Life...Later"
Eight: "Profile of the Obsessed"
Nine: "Who Really Lives That Way?"
Ten: "The Crux of the Matter"

My Thoughts:
I love love love chapters with a title that demand a second look or response: "Chapter Two: You Might Not Finish This Chapter." If this chapter were all that was in the book, I would be satisfied.
"All that matters is the reality of who we are before God." Page 50.
A quote like this needs to sink in a bit. Turn over in my mind. Prick my heart.
His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.                       1 Corinthians 3:13-15. 
Chapters four and five explore, "lukewarm Christians."
"As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there's no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are 'lukewarm' are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven." Page 83-84.
After reading all of the Gospels, Chan believes Jesus Christ asks us to give our "all or nothing."
Chan goes on to teach we live under God's grace and mercy. We mess up, but God forgives us. However, just because a person goes to church or does something "churchy," does not mean this person is saved. There is a clear distinction.