Monday, August 29, 2016

Book Review: The Things We Knew {Excellent Read}

It has been quite some time since I've sat down and read a book cover to cover in a day before heading to a mom of six, my sleep time is necessary & precious. Yet staying up until 1:30am is exactly what I did with The Things We Knew by Catherine West. Each page, and the end of each chapter, held such a heavy dose of "I can't wait to see what happens next!" that I thoroughly enjoyed settling in to finish it after my kids--and then my husband--went to bed.

So, what makes The Things We Knew such a wonderful read? It holds a great mystery from the past, one that the main character Lynette can't quite shake--does she hold the truth to her mom's death twelve years prior? Lynette was young when her mom died, and several of her older siblings blamed (or suspected) her father was involved. They have all moved away from home, but Lynette stayed and now takes care of her father. A father she doesn't believe had anything to do with her mother's death, but she was the only witness and simply can't remember.

Although Lynette is the baby of the family, she has taken on all the heavy responsibilities. From keeping tabs on her dad (who now appears to have Alzheimer's), to taking care of the large family home in Nantucket, and working two jobs because she doesn't want to lose the house, Lynette is in over her head. Her siblings don't return her phone calls, and she doesn't quite know what to do. But when the neighbor's son Nicholas moves back in next door, Lynette is reminded of her crush on him many years ago. She also begins to wonder again why Nicholas & her brother Gray's relationship as best friends ended so abruptly those many years ago, too.

Lynette has two outlets: she is a very gifted artist, and she trust God regardless of the tough circumstances. Through her paintings, she is making money on some of them (by using a pseudonym), and then trying to recall her mom's final moments in ones she is privately painting when dreams & memories come to her. But will she be able to handle the truth that begins to unfold when she puts the brush to the canvas, when Nicholas seems to know more than he is letting on about her mom's past, and the truths that continue to be revealed when her siblings finally return home to discuss the potential sale of the house?

In addition to being a great mystery novel, The Things We Knew also is fantastic in exploring the relationships between adult siblings. Physical distance, emotional distance, assumptions, past connections & present relationships create many unique dynamics--the more siblings there are (Lynette is the youngest of five), the more complex a great book becomes. The Things We Knew is an excellent read, and I can't recommend it enough.

*I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review.*

The Things We Knew
About the Book: The Things We Knew (Thomas Nelson, July 2016)
A tragedy from the past resurfaces in this tale of family secrets and reignited love.
After her mother’s death twelve years ago, Lynette Carlisle watched her close-knit family unravel. One by one, her four older siblings left their Nantucket home and never returned. All seem to harbor animosity toward their father, silently blaming him for their mother’s death. Nobody will talk about that dreadful day, and Lynette can’t remember a bit of it.
But when next-door neighbor Nicholas Cooper returns to Nantucket, he brings the past with him. Once her brother’s best friend and Lynette’s first crush, Nick seems to hiding things from her. Lynette wonders what he knows about the day her mother died and hopes he might help her remember the things she can’t.
But Nick has no intention of telling Lynette the truth. Besides the damage it might cause his own family, he doesn’t want to risk harming the fragile friendship between him and the woman he once thought of as a kid sister.
As their father’s failing health and financial concerns bring the Carlisle siblings home, secrets begin to surface—secrets that will either restore their shattered relationships or separate the siblings forever. But pulling up anchor on the past propels them into the perfect storm, powerful enough to make them question all they ever believed in.
Learn more and purchase a copy.

About the Author:

Catherine WestCatherine 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.

Monday, August 22, 2016

(un)Natural Mom: Why Your are the Perfect Mom for Your Kids {Book Review}

If you are wanting a parenting book that DOESN'T tell you how to parent, '(un)Natural Mom: Why You are the Perfect Mom for Your Kids' is the book you want! There is something so very refreshing found when an author is willing to tell of her own mishaps as a parent not merely as ways to build teaching moments for the reader, but rather as ways to build connection with the reader.

Hattie Brittz's honesty, authenticity, and observations create a wonderful blend of humor & knowledge. The writing style presented within the book makes it very easy for the reader to see how her own unique parenting style connects her to her kids. All in all, the book is fully meant to be one that encourages & validates moms, recognizing that we each are on our own paths, and don't have to constantly compare ourselves to other moms.

The book includes information to a profile link where you can discover your parenting style--the link to the website test is an invaluable resource, and the book will not make a much sense or have as much of an impact if you choose to ignore the test (I wrote my profile descriptions in the front of my book so I'd always have them as a handy reference while reading each chapter).

*I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review.*

Book Information: un)Natural Mom: Why You Are the Perfect Mom for Your Kids (David C Cook, August 2016)
Do you feel like you’re the only mom who serves store-bought birthday treats, dreads school plays, and misses the days of going to the bathroom by herself?
Unnatural Mom gives you permission to say that mothering doesn’t always come naturally to you. Parenting expert and self-proclaimed unnatural mom Hettie Brittz helps you…
—Recognize how unrealistic our culture’s standards of mothering are
—Move beyond the myths of “supermom”
—Complete a profile to determine your own parenting style
—Understand and forgive the mothers who hurt you
—Embrace your capabilities as well as your challenges
Come find new hope in discovering that every mother has unique gifts. In Christ, the “unnatural” mom becomes the supernatural mom who is just right for her family!

Hettie BrittzHettie Brittz is an author, international speaker, and one of South Africa’s foremost voices on parenting advice. She is the developer of the Evergreen Parenting Course and Tall Trees Profiles. Hettie and her husband, Gospel singer Louis Brittz, live in South Africa with their three children.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Giveaway! Carrie Stuart Parks’ Undercover Artist Starter Set {And Book Review}

Plunge into forensic artist Gwen Marcey's world, full of cold-case murders, shady politics, and a den of venomous suspects. Add Carrie Stuart Parks' new Gwen Marcey novel, When Death Draws Near, to the top of your must-read list. Gwen accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky—a small town facing big-city crime. But before she can finish her first drawing of the serial rapist who is on the loose, the latest witness vanishes. Just like all the others. Can Gwen uncover the truth—and convince anyone to believe her—before she becomes a victim herself?

Join Carrie in celebrating the release of When Death Draws Near by entering to win an Undercover Artist Starter Set.

when death draws near - 400 

One grand prize winner will receive:
when death draws near - collage 

Enter today by clicking the icon below, but hurry! The giveaway ends on August 22. The winner will be announced August 23 on the Litfuse blog.

when death draws near - enterbanner

Personal Review of When Death Draws Near:

Of all the genre's available to read, murder mysteries have always been my favorite...and because of that, I can sometimes find myself disappointed when I finish a book by an author that is new to me. I can honestly say that When Death Draws Near by Carrie Stuart Parks is absolutely fantastic. It's the third Gwen Marcey Novel, but I didn't remotely feel I had missed out on any storylines as the plot & character development within this novel are so well done. I plan to read the first two novels because I throughly enjoyed When Death Draws Near and protagonist Gwen Marcey.

If you are looking for a murder mystery novel that holds the thrill and suspense of author Patricia Cromwell's Kay Scarpetta series, but want a novel that doesn't contain strong language or sex, When Death Draws Near will meet all your expectations. Protagonist Gwen Marcey is a forensic artist who finds herself taking a temporary job in a small Kentucky town. It becomes clear immediately to both Gwen and the reader that things aren't quite what they seem. The novel begins at a quick pace as Gwen views a dead body and then meets the town's most recent rape victim within moments of each other. Throw in a sheriff who doesn't seem to want Gwen around (despite being the one who asked her to come), a phone call telling Gwen her cancer has returned, and what appears to be an attempt on her life, and the reader quickly gets a sense of the strong, smart & tenacious forensic artist that is Gwen Marcey. Want more suspense? Deadly snakes and a secretive serpent-handling church are key elements of the novel, too.

I don't want to say anything else about the storylines or additional characters, as I myself dislike when people spoil a book for me because they shared too much. But it is an excellent novel, full of twists and turns and many interesting characters, and highly recommend it.

*I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review.*

About the book: 

When Death Draws Near (Thomas Nelson, August 2016)

Death has always been part of Gwen Marcey's job. But when faced with her own mortality, everything takes on a different hue.

Forensic artist Gwen Marcey is between jobs and homes when she accepts temporary work in Pikeville, Kentucky. The Eastern Kentucky town, located deep in the heart of the Appalachian Mountains, has been plagued by a serial rapist and a series of unexplained deaths. Before Gwen can develop a composite drawing, the latest witness vanishes, just like all the previous victims.

Turning her attention to sketching the face of an unidentified body, she discovers a link between his death and a Pentecostal serpent-handling church. Serpent-handling is illegal in Kentucky, and the churches have gone underground to avoid the authorities and continue to worship as they believe. Gwen is offered a handsome reward to infiltrate the renegade members, a reward she desperately needs as it seems her breast cancer has returned.

Joined by her digitally-obsessed, Generation Z daughter, Gwen goes undercover to a nineteenth century revival, planning to draw the faces of the snake handlers so they can be identified and arrested. Instead she uncovers a murderous plot and a festering evil.

Purchase a copy:
About the author:

Carrie Stuart Parks
 is a Christy finalist as well as a Carol award-winning author. She has won numerous awards for her fine art as well. An internationally known forensic artist, she travels with her husband, Rick, across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement professionals. The author/illustrator of numerous books on drawing and painting, Carrie continues to create dramatic watercolors from her studio in the mountains of Idaho.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Book Review for 'If My Husband Would Change I'd Be Happy' by Rhonda Stoppe

If My Husband Would Change I'd Be Happy is a good book to read at any stage of marriage if you feel discouraged, unfulfilled, or 'empty'. Rhonda Stoppe takes great care in focusing on the Biblical aspects of marriage--and, even more to the point, the makes clear the critical importance how one's personal relationship with Christ needs to come above all else. Each chapter takes on a specific topic, which means that some chapters will hit home more than others and make the personal in different ways based upon each individual reader. Stoppe uses insight from her own marriage (both problems and solutions), and also brings examples of healthy and weak marriages from others with whom she has friendships. Having the opportunity to view the struggles followed by the progress made within other marriages is encouraging & realistic.

Each chapter ends with insight from Rhonda's husband, Steve, as well as questions that reflect back on what you gained from each chapter. Having Steve's perspective is a great addition to the book, and is probably the aspect of the book that was most helpful to me.

If I had to choose a person I would buy this book for, I would first buy it for someone getting ready to get married or hoping to soon be engaged--especially someone with insecurities or thoughts that life will be 'perfect' once she is married. The next person I would buy it for would be friends who are married but seem to struggle with how to respect their husbands and are fairly critical of them because they haven't fulfilled what the wife expected when she got married. The book is specifically written for Christian women, but I do think it's a good book that presents the Gospel and the need for Christ as our personal Savior to non-Christian women--giving them the opportunity to come to know Christ and have a powerful impact on her role in her marriage!

*I received a complimentary copy per my honest review*

If My Husband Would Change, I’d Be HappyIf My Husband Would Change, I’d Be Happy: And Other Myths Wives Believe (Harvest House, August 2015)
Like most brides on their wedding day, you no doubt were filled with love for your husband and the hope of a happy life together.
But perhaps today, as the realities of life together have settled in, those happy expectations are going unfulfilled. And it’s tempting to think, “If only my husband would change, I’d be happy.”
That myth is but one of many that Rhonda Stoppe dispels in her easy-to-read exploration of what it takes to experience a truly happy marriage. In the process, she addresses such important topics as
—understanding your husband’s need for your unconditional respect
—rekindling the love that drew you to your husband in the first place
—refusing to believe the lie that you’d be happier married to someone else
—learning to be content in the midst of financial struggles
—thinking about sex from a biblical worldview
If you desire to rekindle the love and hope you felt on your wedding day, this book will go a long way toward making that dream come true.
Contains discussion questions and personal reflections at the end of each chapter.
Rhonda StoppeRhonda Stoppe is the No Regrets Woman. She is an author and speaker dedicated to helping women live life with no regrets. With more than 20 years’ experience as a mom, mentor, and pastor’s wife, Rhonda’s wisdom and experience helps women discover significance in God and His specific purpose for their lives, connect biblical principles to everyday decisions, develop a loving marriage that others dream about, and influence the next generation by raising children with integrity.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Review of Like a River from Its Course

One of my favorite genres of literature is historical fiction, and Kelli Stuart's Like a River From Its Course did not disappoint. The historical facts upon which the storylines are based are accurate, the lives of the characters are described with such detail it creates deep empathy within the reader, and the vivid imagery brings the entire book to life. Because each element is handled so well by Stuart, this book will haunt you--and because of that, I could not turn away. We need to remember the pain, oppression, separation, fear, destruction & devastation that occurred during WWII...all of which are captured beautifully within the pages of Like a River from Its Course.

I believe this book would be a great one for high school English teachers to add to their students' reading list. The format is unique and worthy of literary acknowledgement all on its own; the chapters 'rotate' through separate characters living life in Ukraine (and each storyline is rich enough to have been its own book). The discussions that could take place within the classroom as the students discuss the perspective of a father, his beloved daughter, a Nazi soldier, and a young lady hold hours of potential, as does the opportunity to write papers that could deal with the overall themes that come from within the book, to very specific topics of racism, rape, genocide, oppression, poverty, and many others.

This book is a heavy yet excellent read, and one I highly recommend.

*I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review*

Like a River from Its Course (Kregel, June 2016)
Like a River from Its CourseAn epic novel exposing the ugliness of war and the beauty of hope
The city of Kiev was bombed in Hitler’s blitzkrieg across the Soviet Union, but the constant siege was only the beginning for her citizens. In this sweeping historical saga, Kelli Stuart takes the reader on a captivating journey into the little—known history of Ukraine’s tragedies through the eyes of four compelling characters who experience the same story from different perspectives.
Maria Ivanovna is only fourteen when the bombing begins and not much older when she is forced into work at a German labor camp. She must fight to survive and to make her way back to her beloved Ukraine.
Ivan Kyrilovich is falsely mistaken for a Jew and lined up with 34,000 other men, women, and children who are to be shot at the edge of Babi Yar, the “killing ditch.” He survives, but not without devastating consequences.
Luda is sixteen when German soldiers rape her. Now pregnant with the child of the enemy, she is abandoned by her father, alone, and in pain. She must learn to trust family and friends again and find her own strength in order to discover the redemption that awaits.
Frederick Hermann is sure in his knowledge that the F├╝hrer’s plans for domination are right and just. He is driven to succeed by a desire to please a demanding father and by his own blind faith in the ideals of Nazism. Based on true stories gathered from fifteen years of research and interviews with Ukrainian World War II survivors, Like a River from Its Course is a story of love, war, heartache, forgiveness, and redemption.
Kelli StuartKelli Stuart is the coauthor of Dare 2B Wise and has written for several brands including Disney, American Girl, and Short Fiction Break. She has served as editor-in-chief for the St. Louis Bloggers Guild and as a board member for the St. Louis Women in Media. In addition to her writing, Kelli has spent twenty years studying Ukranian culture. Kelli lives in Florida.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Buy Two Copies & Go Through with Your Spouse {Excellent Resource for Your Marriage}

I was drawn to get this book because my husband & I are in ministry and often find ourselves building friendships and mentoring younger couples (we have been married 19 years and are in our 40's). Don't Go to Bed Angry: Stay Up and Fight is truly, truly a must read for couples who have difficulty navigating marriage or find they just don't connect in the way they hoped or desired. And, while I got this book as a resource, it is certainly a book which provided me with some great ideas and reminders within my own marriage!

Here are the best suggestions I can possibly give for getting the most out of Don't Go to Bed Angry: Stay Up and Fight:
1. Buy two copies.
2. Buy two notebooks or journals (with each spouse getting one that works best for them).
3. Read through the book a chapter at a time, with the plan to work through the questions at the end of each chapter as a couple, after you have each read the chapter and have answered the questions that our found at the end of each chapter.
4. Create a time to get together as a couple and work through the steps listed in #3 together. Repeat process for each chapter.

This book is meant to be a resource for couples--so, two active participants. It may lead to the couple reaching out for Biblical counseling within their church, or finding a mentor couple who can help them work through any areas of hurt or conflict they can't quite navigate on their own. I do believe that if only one spouse is willing to read this book it can still be a good resource--but please remember to take away what YOU need to do to improve your relationship, and not look for areas that just point our your spouse's flaws (I guess that's also important if you both read it, but especially necessary in the situation of one person reading it). I have already encouraged some friends of ours to purchase and two copies and walk through the book together, and I do consider it a tremendous resource.

*I received a complimentary copy per my honest review.*

Don’t Go to Bed AngryDon’t Go to Bed Angry: Stay Up and Fight (Abingdon Press, June 2016)
A practical handbook on how to fight better—together—for your marriage.
In every marriage, there is conflict. And with every conflict, there is a choice for resolution. Will you ignore the issue until it seemingly goes away? Or will you work together to find peace?
In Don’t Go to Bed Angry, Deb and Ron DeArmond give you permission to fight. Conflict isn’t the problem, after all; the real issue is how we deal with the conflict. Deb and Ron demonstrate how communication through conflict can safeguard—and even strengthen—your relationship. Immensely practical features including worksheets and discussion questions make this a definitive go-to resource to help you start fighting—together—for your marriage.

Deb DeArmondDeb DeArmond is an author, speaker, and coach with a focus on communication, relationships, and conflict resolution. Her writing explores marriage, parenting, in-law and extended family relationships. She is the author of "Related By Chance, Family By Choice" and "I Choose You Today: 31 Choices to Make Love Last." Deb is the founder of Living-Write, where she coaches aspiring authors. She's monthly columnist and feature writer for Lifeway's "Mature Living" Magazine, and has published more than 120 articles online and in print publications. ||**|| Ron DeArmond has a hungry heart for the Word, and has studied the Bible for 45+ years. Ron's call to serve men is evident in his previous ministry positions with Christian Men's Network under Dr. Edwin Lewis Cole and Faithful Men Ministry. Ron is currently the Associate Pastor of men's ministry at Catch the Fire/ DFW and has ministered around the world. The DeArmonds live in the Dallas/Fort Worth area.

Friday, July 1, 2016

Book Review of Jilted {Great Fiction Novel}

'Jilted' is the first book by Varna Denman I have read, but it certainly won't be my last. Although this is book 3 of her Mended Heart series, Denman has provided enough description, care, and intrigue regarding the characters that I was able to follow along quite well. I do, however, have books 1 & 2 and they are next on my reading list because I want "the full picture" of the other lives that Denman puts her focus on within Trapp, Texas. I know the outcomes of those two women because their stories are continuing on within Jilted, but I know it will be totally worth it to go back and read their stories, too.

My favorite genre within  Christian fiction is mystery novels, and I'll read Christian romance on occasion. What I love about Jilted is that romance and mystery flow hand in hand throughout the entire novel. So if you enjoy romance it's for you, and if you like to sit down with a great "who done it", this is the book for you as well. Throw in the authenticity that Denman brings to the main character, Lynda, who battles pretty severe depression and seeks to just maintain a normalcy to her everyday, and Jilted now becomes an amazing read.

When the same people have lived in the same town their entire lives, it means their lives are continually an intertwining mix of the past and the present. Lynda sits center stage of this mix within Jilted, as she still awaits a husband who left and never returned, an ex-boyfreind from her teen years who still affects her life, and a potential 'new love' who used to be a very close friend. These relationships have ripple affects that bring more characters into the picture, from Lynda's daughter Ruthie, to Ruthie's friend Fawn & her husband and son, and even to the sheriff who Lynda has known since kindergarten. Above all the fantastic weavings of present & past within the characters, Denman takes a great look at: depression, first love, love later in life, losing people you love, and how God has a love for all of us that He longs for us to accept. This is a fantastic novel, and I highly recommend it.

*I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review*

Jilted (David C. Cook, June 2016)
Lynda Turner has struggled with depression since her husband abandoned her and their young daughter fifteen years ago.
Yet unexpected hope awakens when a local ex-convict shows interest. As long-hidden secrets resurface, Lynda must fight for her emotional stability and for a life where the shadow of shame is replaced by the light of love.
Jilted tells of a woman who has lost the joy of living, a man determined to draw her back toward happiness, and a town that must—once and for all—leave the past where it belongs. It is a gentle reminder that all things can work together for good.
About the Author:
Varina Denman is author of the Mended Hearts series and a native Texan. She spent her high school years in a rural town and now writes stories about the struggles women face in similar small town settings. She and her husband live near Fort Worth, where they enjoy spending time with their five mostly grown children