Friday, December 18, 2015

Whispers in the Reading Room {A Fantastic Mystery Novel}

About the book: 

Whispers in the Reading Room (Zondervan, November 2015)

Lydia's job at the library is her world---until a mysterious patron catches her eye . . . and perhaps her heart.

Just months after the closure of the Chicago World's Fair, librarian Lydia Bancroft finds herself fascinated by a mysterious dark-haired and dark-eyed patron. He has never given her his name; he actually never speaks to a single person. All she knows about him is that he loves books as much as she does.

Only when he rescues her in the lobby of the Hartman Hotel does she discover that his name is Sebastian Marks. She also discovers that he lives at the top of the prestigious hotel and that most everyone in Chicago is intrigued by him.

Lydia and Sebastian form a fragile friendship, but when she discovers that Mr. Marks isn't merely a very wealthy gentleman, but also the proprietor of an infamous saloon and gambling club, she is shocked.

Lydia insists on visiting the club one fateful night and suddenly is a suspect to a murder. She must determine who she can trust, who is innocent, and if Sebastian Marks-the man so many people fear-is actually everything her heart believes him to be.

Purchase a copy:

About the author: 

Shelley Gray is the author of The Heart of a Hero series. Her Amish novel (written as Shelley Shepard Gray), The Protector, recently made the New York Times best seller list. A native of Texas, she earned her bachelor's and master's degrees in Colorado and taught school for ten years. She and her husband have two children and live in Southern Ohio.

Connect with Shelley: websiteTwitterFacebook


If you enjoy mystery, suspense, and period pieces, Whispers in the Reading Room is a must read. I had not read any books by Shelley Gray prior to this one, and haven't read the other two books in her 'A Chicago World's Fair Mystery' series; I enjoyed the novel very much and plan to read the other books in this series simply based on how much I enjoyed this 3rd novel. The character development is excellent as first impressions and assumptions give way to hidden strengths, secret lives and complex personalities.

The novel revolves around the relationship between Lydia Bancroft and Sebastian Marks. Lydia is a librarian, and Sebastian is an avid reader who spends much time at the library. Even though they don't even talk to each other, a camaraderie between them is clearly apparent in the way they appreciate each other's intellect and routines. As they novel progresses, the reader discovers (long before Lydia) that Sebastian lives a dark life. He is a formidable owner of a saloon & gambling club in the gritty, crime-ridden area of Chicago. Lydia and her mother are revealed to be poor, yet Lydia's desire to remain strong and independent have her struggling with looking forward to life with her fiancé. These two separate worlds collide very literally in the Hartman Hotel, and Sebastian finds himself coming to Lydia's rescue. Connecting outside the library creates a wonderful "Thru the Looking Glass" storyline as they try to right themselves and move on--yet nothing with ever be the same as Lydia & Sebastian and other characters' lives criss-cross, shift, and are disrupted. Humor, anger, sadness, murder, scandal, fear & longing all stay intertwined until the last sentence on the final page brings true resolution. It is rare for an author to be able to maintain such a level of dimension throughout a novel, but Gray does it with excellence. I have no desire to tell you any more info about the plot or the minor characters--because it's so worth your time to discover it all on your own.

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

copyright 2015 LeAnne Klopfenstein

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Book Review for The Amish Christmas Sleigh

The Amish Christmas Sleigh by Molly Jebber, Amy Lillard, and Kelly Long is a 384 page book in the Christian Amish fiction genre.  It is published by Kensignton and was released on September 29, 2015. To purchase your copy, click here.

Book Information:

Kelly Long
For solitary toy-maker Sebastian Christner, hiring Kate Zook as his new housekeeper is simply the right thing to do. Now she can support her special-needs brother. But one taste of her independent spirit is showing him undreamed-of holiday joy—and making him long to give her a home for always.

Amy Lillard
Bernice Yoder has far too much to do to entertain holiday dreams. Even if she can help Jess Schmucker outwit his three mischievous young daughters, it’s impossible to imagine the handsome widower can see her as anything but a scolding schoolteacher. He never guesses how a magical Christmas Eve will open his eyes to love or how Der Herr will awaken their faith and hope.  

Molly Jebber
As much as Charity Lantz’s children need a father, the young widow isn’t sure her new neighbor Luke Fisher can ever be the right choice. They’re having more disagreements than snowflakes in December. Besides, he’s never given a sign he wants to be more than friends. Can Gott show them a way past their misunderstandings to a forever love?

About the Authors

Molly Jebber is an educational, motivational, and Women’s Christian Connection speaker. She was raised in a small town in the Midwest, and insists if you had blinked twice, you would’ve missed it. She loves God, her family and friends, sunshine, swimming and traveling to the Amish communities.  Creating historical Amish characters and throwing them into difficult situations and joyous times has been challenging and fun for her. The greatest reward she’s experienced in becoming an author is meeting wonderful people from all over the world who’ve been encouraging and supportive.

Kelly Long is the author of the acclaimed Amish Patch of Heaven series and has been a finalist for the coveted Carol Award from the American Christian Fiction Writers. Her novel Lily’s Wedding Quilt was a 2011 Goodreads Favorite Book of the Year.  Born and raised in the mountains of Northern Pennsylvania, she’s been married for nearly twenty-five years and has five children. Please visit her at  

Amy Lillard won the 2013 Carol Award for her first Amish romance Saving Gideon. She was also a Maggie Awards finalist. Born and bred in Mississippi, she now lives with her husband and son in Oklahoma. Visit her at


Click here for a giveaway via rafflecopter!! One copy of The Amish Christmas Sleigh, One copy of Change of Heart, One Amish doll, One tote bag, One Barnes & Noble Gift card, One ink pen.

My Thoughts about the Book:

The Amish Christmas Sleigh is a very delightful book in that it consists of three independent novellas, which I found to be a neat way to experience three authors whose works I haven't read before! I also hadn't read Amish fiction before, so having the chance to expand my awareness of more variety within the Christian fiction genre was a great opportunity.

The first novella I read was A Sleigh Ride on Ice Mountain by Kelly Long. Unfortunately, my review of this novella is pretty mixed, as sexual content kept getting in the way of the piece having a rich storyline. So, while I enjoyed the main plot of the book, the various times that sexual desire interrupted the plot make this first novella a little difficult for me to recommend. The main storyline is clever--Kait, who cares for her disabled brother & becomes the housekeeper for Sebastian, a toymaker--is a good one as the reader waits to see if Kate and Sebastian will fall in love; I just wish the sexual content hadn't detracted from the novella's potential.

The next novella, A Mamm for Christmas by Amy Lillard is a very sweet & tender story, and I very much recommend reading it! Jess is a widower who is struggling to raise three young girls while caring for the family farm, all while still grieving the loss of his wife the year before. His daughters are precious in a very spunky way, and is the character development area of author Amy Lillard's that I enjoyed the most. While I began the novella feeling sad that Constance, Hope, & Lily Ruth don't have a mother, the girls' relationship with their dad, the way they say what's on their minds in a truthful (sometimes frank) manner, and the scheme they put together to try and have their school teacher come to their house and color and depth to the book. When Bernice Yoder, the girls' school teacher, makes her entrance into the book--by confronting Jess no less--the novella becomes even more well-rounded. It's clear immediately that Jess and Bernice are the "will they get together or won't they?" couple within the book, but Lillard adds other characters and situations that make the novella extremely enjoyable.

The final novella, An Unexpected Christmas Blessing by Molly Jebber is another wonderful read. The story begins by the reader meeting Charity Lantz, who became a widow a year prior. Charity has two children, Josiah & Beth, and her mother lives next door. It is clear that her family means a lot to her, and Charity has a very neat relationship with her children. When she gains a new neighbor, Luke Fisher, on the other side of her, Josiah & Beth take to him immediately. The relationship between Charity and Luke is genuine, pure, and comes very naturally--it is a solid friendship with no hidden agendas. The main thing they have in common is how much they each love the children. Several events occur that cause Luke & Charity to rely on one another, which deepens their friendship while making them each find it harder to not fall in love with the other person. But a secret in Luke's past has potential to disrupt the relationship between Luke & Charity. The weaving of the "will they marry or won't they?" storyline is an excellent one, and makes An Unexpected Christmas Blessing a must-read!

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

copyright 2015 LeAnne Klopfenstein

Monday, November 30, 2015

A Most Delightful Holiday Read! {An Endless Christmas}

I have officially added a name to my favorite author list:  Cynthia Ruchti. I didn't expect it to occur by reading a 'novella'. An Endless Christmas is the second work of Ruchti's I have read; the first, Tattered and Mended, is the absolute opposite of wistful, Christian fiction (for that book review, click here). Ruchti clearly excels at both fiction & nonfiction, and provides light-hearted reads as well as soul-searching, dig-in-deep nonfiction. One word sums up both and will keep me as part of Ruchti's audience for a very long time: therapy.

An Endless Christmas is therapy for the mind & heart. It's the equivalent of sitting by a fire, sipping hot chocolate, and having your entire schedule completely open and quiet for three hours. This sweet little work of fiction draws you in and desires your attention. So, if you have the book, hot chocolate, a fire and three hours, I know you will have the most perfect afternoon!

The novella's main storyline hits immediately and leaves the reader saying, "Oh wow". Katie has gone to Minnesota with her boyfriend Micah and says no to his wedding proposal. A wedding proposal done in front of his large extended family. A proposal done the moment they walked in the door. At Christmas time. In a small house that Katie will be sharing with the Binder family for an entire week. If I expected a sleepy beginning, those thoughts disappeared the moment I read the first sentence of the novel--what a hook!

It's interesting the way Ruchti weaves the main storyline (the rejected proposal and the relationship of Katie and Micah) with other storylines and characters within the book. From grandparents Wilson & Dodie Binder, to Micah's parents, to hilarious aunts and uncles, to young cousins, Katie begins to see the many layers of this seemingly happy-go-lucky clan. Katie is convinced she is not worthy of Micah or his perfect family, but as Ruchti adds depth to the other characters, both the reader and Katie get a better sense of what it means to live a life of joy even in the midst (or even as a result of) tough times.

I'll be honest--I hate to give too many details within a book review, because why would a potential reader want to grab a copy and dive in when the review has told the whole story? So here is my final insight--I read An Endless Christmas as I traveled to my parents house for Thanksgiving. Shy of having to turn around and pass out snacks to my kids, answer their questions of how much longer to grandma's, and a couple other 'mom' duties, the book had my full attention. I consumed it in one sitting, loved the entire thing, and am certain additional readers will enjoy it and desire more tales of Katie and the Binder family, too.

*I received a complimentary copy from Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my honest review*

An Endless Christmas (Worthy Inspired, October 2015)
Too many people, too much snow, and too little room should be a recipe for disaster.
Christmas takes a very different turn when the guests of honor break up instead of announcing their engagement. Trapped with his family, they learn that love looks different than either imagined. Both in their eighties, Dodie and Wilson Binder celebrate every Christmas as if it were their last. This year, their grandson Micah is planning to ask his girlfriend, Katie, to marry him so they can celebrate with the whole family. But things go very wrong when she says, “no.” Now they are stuck. Too many people, too much snow, and too little room should be a recipe for disaster. But sometimes too much is just enough. Especially when it’s Christmas.

Drawing from 33 years of on-air radio ministry, Cynthia Ruchti tells stories of hope-that-glows-in-the-dark
through her novels and novellas, nonfiction books and devotionals, and speaking for women's and writers' events. Her books have been recognized by Romantic Times Reviewers' Choice Awards, Selah Awards, the Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Christian Retailing's BEST Awards, and Carol Award nominations, among other honors, including a Family Fiction Readers' Choice Award. She and her plot-tweaking husband live in Pittsville, Wisconsin, not far from their three children and five grandchildren.

copyright 2015 LeAnne Klopfenstein

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Another Way Home {Third in a Series by Deborah Raney}

I did something unintentional when I received my copy of Another Way Home by Deborah Raney--I gave it to my friend Tiffany to read before I read it. Tiffany is a very fast reader, returns books promptly, and has needed something to do a night before going to sleep. She and I had both read the first two books in The Chicory Inn series, so we've both been looking forward to the release of this third book! What I had forgotten about--until Tiffany reminded me when she returned it--was that Another Way Home focuses on Whitman daughter Danae and her struggles with infertility. The reader witnesses Danae's frustration over not getting pregnant while continuing to pay for fertility treatments, the stress it puts on her marriage with Dallas, and the tension it creates among the Whitman family clan when they don't know how to ask Danae if she's gotten pregnant yet. The family then walk on eggshells when her oldest sister, Corinne, discovers she is pregnant with her fourth child.

My friend Tiffany experienced 10 years of infertility. She and her husband have longed for a baby of their own, be it naturally, through foster care, or through private adoption. They've continually desired to wait and rest in God's plan and timing, even though things haven't always been easy in the waiting. Tiffany is an amazing aunt, a wonderful friend to her friends' children, and she was a fabulous foster mom. But, I know within those times there has been a deep longing to be a mom herself. As much as I enjoyed reading Another Way Home, Tiffany expressing that it was a very relatable novel and captured the emotions accurately was a huge endorsement for me! And just like God leading Danae down a path to His plan and His timing, God has done the same in sweet Tiffany's life--she gives birth to her first child TOMORROW!!!! I'm so excited, and I'm glad she and I have been reading The Chicory Inn series together.

Another Way Home is my favorite novel in the series! When I read the first two novels, I felt you could read Two Roads Home (the second book) without having read the very first book, Home to Chicory Lane. While Another Way Home does indeed stand on its own, I do not recommend reading it without reading the other two novels, because the reader will miss out on the rich background stories of the Whitman family that is revealed in books 1 and 2.

The emotions shared regarding Danae's infertility are extremely realistic, as are her husband Dallas' lack of interest in adopting, the stress put upon a couple who is struggling to have a baby, and the way that family approaches conversations with the couple. Most amazing in the book though, is how Danae puts her hope in Christ--not totally in that He will give her a child, but in the actions she takes as she moves her focus off of herself, looks outward, and begins to help battered women. Danae matures in her faith, matures in serving others, and draws closer to Dallas. As the novel progresses, God brings His plan for Danae and Dallas together in an incredible way that does not disappoint.

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

About the book: 
Another Way Home
 (Abingdon Press, October 2015)

Sometimes God's ways are not at all what we expect . . . and exactly what we need.

Grant and Audrey are adding grandchildren to their family left and right, but middle daughter, Danae, and her husband, Dallas Brooks, have been trying for years with no baby in sight.

Though Danae is ready to consider adoption, Dallas will not even discuss it. Despairing of ever having a family of her own, Danae decides to pour her passion and energies into volunteer work with a newly opened women's shelter in town. Looking for a good cause to fill her lonely days, she never expects to give her heart to the hurting women she meets there. She's finally learning to live her life with gratitude, but then heart-wrenching events on Thanksgiving weekend threaten to pull the entire Whitman clan into turmoil-and leave them all forever changed.

Purchase a copy:

 About the author: 

Deborah Raney's books have won numerous awards, including the RITA, National Readers Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, and the Carol Award, and have twice been Christy Award finalists. She and her husband, Ken, recently traded small-town life in Kansas-the setting of many of Deborah's novels---for life in the (relatively) big city of Wichita, where they enjoy gardening, antiquing, movies, and traveling to visit four children and a growing brood of grandchildren who all live much too far away.

Find Deborah online: websiteTwitterFacebook

Friday, November 13, 2015

Get Your Story Straight {A Devotional for Teens}

Get Your Story Straight by Kristen Hatton is a 52 week devotional for teens that is designed to help walk them through the entire Bible. It provides opportunity to gain a deeper understanding of the Word and also grasp the importance of Christ. The stories provided along with the devotion are very relevant to teen readers. And, the breakdown of the study questions causes teens to stop, read the passage again, and see how it applies to their lives.

My freshman in high school is going through Get Your Story Straight. Overall, she enjoys it, but she has said that sometimes the questions are 'hard'. While she is going through this book alone, I think she would benefit from having a friend or her small group reading it, too. I do not recommend this book to preteens or teens not yet in high school, just based on my personal thoughts about some of the relevant topics. But, those subjects (often found in "The Word Applied" section) are good for high school teens to stop and think about and then connect it back to the Bible lesson for the week. And Day Three("Straight to my Heart') is great for teens to stop, reread the passage, and then answer questions.

I really do appreciate how the 52 week study is separated into five days of lessons to do weekly. The layout gets the teen into a good rhythm of reading the Word, applying the Word to her life, answering questions that have her look at how it affects her heart, going back and reading the Word again, and ending on Day 5 with Journaling and Prayer. The focus on our teen's story intertwining with Christ's story is definitely what I desire for her to truly grasp, and Get Your Story Straight is a good start & resource as she grows her own faith.

**I received a complimentary copy in exchange for my honest review**
About the book: 
Get Your Story Straight
 (New Growth Press, October 2015)

What's your story?

We all tell stories to each other---stories about what happened when we were kids, stories about last night, and stories where we dream about the future. Some stories are funny, some are amazing, others are sad, but they all have something in common---each of us is the hero of our own story. Our thoughts, feelings, hopes, and dreams take center stage. But when it's all about you, it's also all up to you. You have to make life work, find meaning, and hope for the best even when you mess up or things go badly wrong.

But what if we were made for something different? What if the main character in our life story isn't us, but it is the God who became like us and is now with us? What if being fully human means knowing him and growing to be like him? What if the way to be fully alive is to be caught up in Jesus's story?

This 52-week devotional book and small group resource is designed to help you live with Jesus in his gospel story---the good news that your sins are forgiven, your future is assured, and following him is the only meaningful way to live. No matter your age, where you live, who your family is, or what your past, God wants you to experience the freedom that comes in being secure in his love.

Divided into three parts, starting with creation, each section progressively explores the idea that the whole Bible is the unfolding story of Jesus. Through this grid, who Jesus is and why we need him will shape your understanding of freedom and grace and how you grow to be like him. This yearlong study for teenagers and young adults is designed for individual devotional times, but a small group discussion guided by a mentor would help participants to absorb and live out the truths of each week's teaching.

Purchase a copy:
About the author: 
Kristen Hatton is a native Texan now putting roots down in Edmond, OK with her church-planter/pastor husband and their three children. With a public relations background from Southern Methodist University, Kristen has a wide array of professional experiences, none of which she counts as important as the job of being a "present" mom. Through leading a small group Bible study of teenagers, she has discovered her passion for teaching and writing about God's grace.

Find Kristen online: 

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

The Ology {A Book Review}

The Ology by Marty Machowski is a storybook designed to share Biblical Theology with children in a clear way. The book is in no way 'babyish", but it is written perfectly for 1st-6th graders. Jr. High, Senior High, and even adult-aged readers can gain quite a bit of knowledge and insight from TheOlogy. Younger grade schoolers will benefit from an adult reading to them, while an older grade school student will enjoy learning and reading on his or her own. My younger children (ages 1 & 3) are enjoying it too, but I'm teaching them more based on the pictures provided with each truth. "Think Theology, Talk Theology" is a section located at the end of the book and lists discussion questions for each segment (an answer key is included, too). All in all, the book is over 250 pages and will be a great family resource for many years.

Kolbie running her hand across the picture for "Breaking One Law Breaks the Whole Law"

Would I recommend this book? Absolutely!

  • It is Biblically sound. Before I even looked at the book, I gave it to my husband to view. He is an Adult Ministries Pastor and has a Bible degree with a Theology minor from Moody Bible Institute. I wanted his insight and perspective. My husband was very pleased with the people who endorse The Ology on the first page within the book. While their names didn't mean much to me, Mike said they are very well respected and wouldn't endorse anything that strayed from the truth of God's Word. Mike also looked through the book, enjoyed it, and is considering adding it to our church's bookstore.
  • It is beautiful. I have always loved 'coffee table' books. I enjoy reading them, running my hand across the words and pictures, and turning the thick pages. The Ology holds the same quality; nice hardback book, the illustrations are wonderful, the layout is terrific, and it holds a timeless element not just with its content but also within its presentation. 

Want to purchase The Ology? You can find it here:
**I received a complimentary copy per my honest review.**

About the book: 
The Ology: Ancient Truths Ever New
 (New Growth Press, October 2015) 

A page-turning storybook of theology for kids 

In the cellar of the old stone cathedral, Carla and Timothy uncover a life-changing treasure, a carefully wrapped ancient book known as The Ology. What adults might describe as a beautifully illustrated storybook of systematic theology, the kids discover to be a story of adventure, mystery, and wonder that leads them to the truth about God, themselves, and the world around them.

Truth is for kids, not just for adults! So The Ology gives kids of all ages a beginner's theology book to help them understand who God is and how we, as his children, relate to him. Arranged within a traditional systematic theological framework, each truth in The Ology is also connected to the larger redemptive story of Scripture. The doctrine of God, for example, is presented in the larger framework of creation, where the attributes of God are more clearly on display. The Ology takes abstract theological concepts and makes them easier to understand with the use of creative examples, illustrations, and analogies. The goal is not to say everything that could be said about a theological topic, but rather to share the key thoughts behind a theological concept. The Ology is a starting point to learning theology and aims to create a hunger and desire in children to learn more as they grow older.

Designed for six-year-olds through preteens, this flexible resource includes built-in adaptations for use with younger or older children, so that entire families can enjoy it together. Read The Ology to preschoolers, read it with grade-school kids, and let older kids discover the "hidden" truths by reading the corresponding Scripture passages for each section. However you read it, The Ology will give your children a gift that will last a lifetime---a solid foundation of life-changing biblical truth that will point them to the God who loves them and gave himself for them.

A companion The Ology CD from Bob Kauflin and Sovereign Music will also be available.

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 over twenty years. He is the author of the Gospel Story for Kids series, which includes The Gospel Story BibleLong Story ShortOld Story New, and the Gospel Story Curriculum, as well as the Advent devotional and curriculum Prepare Him Room. He and his wife, Lois, and their six children reside in West Chester, Pennsylvania.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Miracle Drug by Richard Mabry, M.D. {Excellent Murder Mystery & Political Thriller}

If you enjoy murder mysteries and political thrillers, Miracle Drug is a great choice! I've always enjoyed this genre, but as I've gotten older I'm appreciating more books where language and sexual content don't overwhelm the novel--part of my reasoning is I want to read things I can then recommend  and share with my teenage son & daughter. Miracle Drug fits my desires for my reading, as well as being able to give it to my kids to read.

The novel begins immediately with a murder, followed by suspense and the reader's desire to know more. I appreciate the medical details and depth within the novel, but I especially enjoyed how I was left guessing for the entire novel as to who were the "good guys" and the "bad guys" as a former President of the United States' life is in jeopardy. It's clear that Dr. Josh Pearson is the main protagonist, but the majority of the characters remain in a 'gray area' throughout the novel--and those unknowns make it hard to stop reading! I enjoyed this novel, and I now plan to read more of Richard Mabry's works.

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

Miracle Drug (Abingdon, September 2015)
Overcoming these odds will take more than a miracle drug—it will take a miracle.
The infection wasn’t supposed to happen, but it did. The treatment was supposed to take care of it, but it didn’t. Then Dr. Josh Pearson discovers why—his patients, including the former President of the United States, have been dosed with a different strain of the original virus, one that is universally fatal. The only chance for survival is treatment with an experimental drug, but the manufacturer might already have discarded its supply.
As if treating the President of the United States isn’t stressful enough, the situation goes from bad to worse when Rachel Moore, a nurse Josh is falling in love with, falls ill. With the nation’s eyes on him, Josh must pull off a miracle to save a man who holds a good deal of power and the woman who holds his heart.

Dr. Richard Mabry is a retired physician who writes “medical suspense with heart.” His novels have won multiple awards: a semifinalist for International Thriller Writers’ debut novel; finalists for the Carol Award, Inspirational Reader’s Choice Award, and Romantic Times’ Reader’s Choice Award; and both finalist and winner of the Selah Award. "Miracle Drug" is his ninth published novel. He and his wife live in Frisco, Texas.

Friday, October 30, 2015

'Halo Found Hope. ~A Memoir' by Helo Matzelle {Book Review}

Helo Matzelle has never written a book prior to Halo Found Hope, nor had she grown up having aspirations to become a writer. Those two things make her book all the more real. More authentic. It's a diary from the heart that shares her process of learning she had a brain tumor, the surgery required to remove the tumor, the long hospital stay that followed, and the rehabilitation journey to her 'new normal.' Helo was not alone in her journey--the sweet relationships she has with her husband, children, brother, parents, and doctors is ever-apparent within her writings. But above all other relationships, in the times she is struggling, scared and frustrated, HOPE is present. Helo's personal relationship with Christ and the way she relies on a trusts Him through everything is at the heart of her narrative. My desire is that others will read this book and gain a deeper understanding of the beauty that occurs within us when we allow God to be part of our everything.

I loved the insight found within Halo Found Hope. A few years ago, I left the job that will always hold a dear place in my heart. I LOVED my job, my coworkers, and all the craziness the job entailed. My title? Patient Care Liaison. And I worked on the Neurological Intermediate floor OSF St. Francis, and the floor is part of the Illinois Neurological Institute. My training took place on the Intensive Care and General floors as they prepared to open the new Intermediate floor. I answered phones, prepped charts, talked to and comforted families, watched patients' vital signs via monitors at my desk, and grabbed the crash cart if a Code Blue were to occur. Some patients would be admitted and discharged very quickly. Others would find themselves staying much longer than was ever anticipated. Some days swung back & forth between thinking a patient wasn't going to make it through the night, to them opening their eyes and communicating a few days later. What Helo describes in her book, both from her own personal awareness and experience, to relaying things her family and medical staff shared with her provide a very clear, accurate picture of her hospital stay and the difficult process of physical therapy and rehab.

To my neuro friends: thank you for all you do. From neurosurgeons to surgical nurses, to the nurses, techs, liaisons and other staff on the floors, you are incredible. The brain is amazing, and the task of removing a tumor and then helping patients and families recover from that is not an easy road. May Helo's book help you realize how much you are appreciated. 

Helo also is blessed with an amazing family, and her gratitude for getting to spend more time with them has caused me to assess my life and realize I can't take special relationships for granted! I've lost family members due to brain tumors, have watched just within the past couple years as a friend has had a tumor removed not once but twice, and I continue to watch a family walk the road of their young son having an inoperable brain tumor. Even now, my sister-in-law's sister is in the initial stages of recovering from brain tumor surgery and is beginning her treatments. I know Helo's book will resonate with many specifically because of brain tumors, and it may hit those readers in ways that bring sobs. But all struggles are real, authentic "felt-needs". Regardless of the family support system in place or the type of struggle, Helo does a wonderful job of writing in a way that will touch any reader.

Lord, I pray you can use this book of Helo's to help others find or renew their hope in you. No one can take your place, and I can't imagine the helplessness that comes from going through the toughest times in our lives without you. Thank you for being present in my life, and may I begin to share of you  more & more!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from CelebrateLit in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, October 23, 2015

{More than simply a} Book Review for 'Just Show Up'

Every so often, you read a biographical work that completely draws you in because you can picture you and the author being friends. Whether it's your personalities, shared life experiences, similar beliefs, or even your approach to life, you are drawn in by the comfort of a kindred spirit.

The epitome of an author with whom I'm certain I could share a friendship is Jen Hatmaker.

But now, through the process of reading Just Show Up, I feel that same connection and desire with its authors Kara Tippetts and Jill Lynn Buteyn. Kara is no longer here on earth; this book was her final writing as she faced the end stages of her terminal cancer diagnosis. But her personality and brightness come through in such a sweet, sweet way that the tears you wipe from your eyes while reading Just Show Up is due to your heart saying, "Goodness, she was a wonderful friend." As for Jill? Well, her honesty about her more reserved nature, her hesitations of when should she pour into someone else, and the times in which she second guesses how she could best walk alongside Kara resonated with me and my personality on nearly every single page. When Jill states that taking meals to others is a weak area for her (insert my word, which is 'stressful'), I truly said aloud, "THANK YOU!" because I have always felt weak and incompetent through the fact that--for me--taking meals is not my natural area for showing up for others (I have a hard time coming up with and planning ahead for meals for my own family). There's just something about ladies vulnerably sharing their own weaknesses that can help you no longer feel like an island; it's a very comforting and rewarding connection.

The book in and of itself is not a listed "how to walk alongside someone who is suffering". Rather, it reveals the shared experiences of two friends who had to learn to allow others to show up for them and also how to best show up for others. Great insight is found through their examples that make you stop and ponder:

  • Where is my place in the circle for showing up for a person going through a difficult time? (We are NOT always called to be the inner circle! And many times, we are called to be the person who is available to the close friends and family who are supporting the person going through the main struggle.)
  • Could the words I desire to say come across as empty or even hurtful? (Often, it's just our mere presence that will bring comfort to the person who is hurting.)
  • Is God challenging me to step forward and help meet someone's needs? Am I seeking Him as I desire to care for those around me?
  • Do I need to give others permission to show up and fill needs within my own life and circumstances?
Beyond the relationship Kara & Jill share, the book reminded me of the various ways I do show up for others (even when I feel like a 'meal-taker' failure). I love to make my friend Mari laugh. Mari, who is going to nursing school full-time, raising 6 kids, and had her house burn down last year. Our lives and our crazy schedules that come from each of us raising 6 kids doesn't allow us many coffee shop moments. But a sideways glance at church, or a comment I know will make both she & I chuckle, or a quip I text her when I know she's at school studying is my way of letting her know I'm thinking about her. My friend Tiffany, who is in the 3rd trimester of her pregnancy and has a demanding full-time job, loves reading Christian fiction at night to help her unwind--when I realized how much she enjoyed me loaning her one book, I began making it more of a priority to loan her anything I own that I think she'd like to read. It's such a small, insignificant act on my end, but it allows her to relax and sleep better at night. I love that we can show up for friends in unique ways!

Full confession: When I received Just Show Up from David C Cook publishing with the sole purpose to read and review it via Litfuse Publicity Group, I was excited yet slightly nervous. I had contacted my friend Sue, who is first and foremost a decades-long friend of my mom's, because I was fairly certain she and Kara had been friends. Sue's response, "Yes! And Jill is a friend of mine, too!",  added a little more pressure to my desire to write a detailed and honest review. At that moment I sincerely prayed, "Dear God, let me like this book." 

Thankfully & truthfully, I did enjoy Just Show Up. It is a wonderful testimony and challenge of what friendship should look like. It was a precious book for me to personally read, too, as I began my marriage in Colorado Springs and could picture many areas described in the book. And maybe someday, when I return to visit our family who still lives in Colorado Springs, I'll have the chance to attend one of Jill's book signings and tell her, "thanks for hitting 'publish'".

Friday, October 16, 2015

Thank You, Mr. Vernon {the act of a hero}

"Mom, something is going on at the library!"

It was Tuesday afternoon, and we were driving home from the grocery store. I looked to my left, and Kaitlin was right--something was going on as police cars, ambulances, and a fire truck all sat right in front of the building.

Heart attack?
Child hit by car?
Electrical issue?

Whatever it was, it did seem like it was big. And then Connor hollered, "Those guys look like they are in tactical formation! I wonder if someone is attacking--it would be easy to get into one of the small rooms and take over."

Of course, Kaitlin told Connor that couldn't be the case, as moms and kids were coming out of the building. And I didn't want to jump to any conclusions myself--but the way people were exiting the building had me thinking something didn't look quite right.

The next morning, after the kids headed off to school, I opened my Facebook page and saw an article. "Oh my goodness, Mike, look at this!"

Connor was right.

A 19 year old man had gone into the library and entered the room where a homeschool group was participating in chess club. He held hunting knives and hollered that he was going to kill some people. Instead, the 75 year old chess instructor got everyone out of the room and suffered cuts to his own hand as he stopped the teen. With the exception of the instructor and the assailant, no one else in the room or in the library was physically harmed.

When I picked the kids up from school, they entered the van with the words, "I know what happened at the library!"

And this is where we--as parents--have the chance to properly pour into the raising, training, and releasing our kids.

  • My discussion with Kaitlin & Connor was not based on fear. Fear has no place in raising up our kids.
  • Our thoughts were with the families who had directly experienced this attack, as well as for the others within the library that afternoon. Praying for others puts a good focus on our concern for them and not ourselves.
  • We discussed the heroic actions of the chess instructor. Examples of selflessness are what I want my kids to remember as they become adults.
  • And we talked briefly about the teen who had been intent on harming others. Gossip and hatred don't have a place in raising up my kids. But recognizing a life that is completely lost and dark? It opened up the door to mature conversation about mental health as well as what it means to live in a broken world.
But the best part of the conversation--the whole point of me even putting this into a blog--was based on a simple exchange between Connor & me that I truly think will affect his entire life:

"Mom, if I had been one of those officers, I'd have gone right in and taken care of things!" ~Connor.
"Connor, I want you to be the 75 year old man." ~Me.

You see, Connor wants to grow up and join the Armed Forces. He is "only" 13, but we have already researched a little about the National Guard, ROTC, and wondering what he could accomplish before graduating high school. More specifically, Connor has shared his desire to be a nurse within the Army or National Guard. The fact he can attend nursing school while being a part of the ROTC is exciting to him. He has plenty of time to change his mind, desire and dreams, but a few things are certain:
  • Connor is an excellent shot. There is a giftedness that is revealed when he shoots clays that can't be ignored.
  • Connor is agile. He can scamper rocks and swing his body to places like no one's business.
  • Connor excels in math & science (the 2 reasons his mama isn't a nurse and instead wound up as an English Major).
  • Connor loves helping others, and justice has always been something he seeks within situations.
But I want Connor to gain more--to transition from a child who is protected to the adult who is the protector. The adult who sees an eternal perspective to life, which opens up the richest, BIG PICTURE perspective he could ever have. And it's my job to instill that within him and help mold what is already ingrained in his makeup. Be it as a soldier, an EMT, a nurse in the Reserves, or a retired Chess Instructor.

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good; and what does the LORD require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?

The initial article published about the library situation didn't give the hero's name or background--in fact, it said he was 76. But when the hero--James Vernon--was interviewed, it was revealed that he is an Army veteran. He used the knife-fight training he'd learned in the army 50 years prior to protect the children and  stop the assailant.

Do you know the light that entered my thirteen year old's face when he discovered the hero, the "old man" his mom wants him to become, is an Army Veteran? 

Mr. Vernon, we don't know you at all, but your actions this week did so much more than save and protect those within your care; they sparked admiration and desire within my 8th grader. And for that, I am very, very grateful.

Here is the link to the Journal Star story published about Mr. James Vernon, which you most definitely want to read:

Great, Practical Resource {book review for Pass It On}

Pass it On is a good book in helping you gain some "hows" in passing on a Christian legacy to your kids. I specifically liked the "Rites of Passage" that each chapter provides starting with kindergarten and finishing in 12th Grade. This isn't the first book of its kind, but it is a great resource within this genre. It incorporates Biblical examples, as well as step by step ideas and guides that ultimately lead to you releasing your kids into the world with a foundation laid so they are trusting their own faith and not just standing in the shadow of their parents' faith.

This would be a great book for adult believers who didn't grow up in Christian homes themselves and want a good guide for how they can train up their own kids.

One terrific part of Pass It On would make it an excellent resource for Children's Ministry training, childcare workers, and others who spend time with children (in addition to parents) is that each chapter contains a "What you need to know about {that specific grade for each chapter}". Here you find information that states where this age of child most likely lands physically, emotionally, relationally & spiritually. While I really appreciate the insight and milestone/rites of passage moments for every age, I definitely will continue to look at the book to see that I'm truly meeting my kids at their individual stages of development.

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

About the book:Pass It On (David C. Cook, September 2015)

Parents often experience a "freak out" moment when they realize their children's view of God will primarily come from what they learn at home.
Most parents spend more time helping their kids succeed at academics or athletics than infusing shared spiritual experiences into the rhythm of everyday family life.

While the idea of strategically passing down our faith can seem intimidating, the annual Rites of Passage Experiences contained in Pass It On make it easy for your family to celebrate milestones from kindergarten through high school graduation. Forever change the direction of your family's spiritual legacy . . . starting now!

Purchase a copy:
About the authors:

Jim Burns is president of HomeWord and executive director of the HomeWord Center for Youth and Family at Azusa Pacific University. He has more than 1.5 million resources in print and a radio broadcast heard on 800 stations a day. Jim resides in Southern California with his wife Cathy and their three daughters.

Connect with Jim onlinewebsiteTwitterFacebook

Jeremy Lee is the founder of ParentMinistry.Net, a subscription-based service for children and youth ministry workers. He was on the writing team for the Simple Truth Bible from Group Publishing and the Ignite Study Bible from Thomas Nelson Publishers. Jeremy lives in Nashville with his wife and children.

Connect with Jeremy online: 

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Review of Rick Barry's 'The Methuselah Project'

I recently finished reading The Methuselah Project by Rick Barry, and I enjoyed it! It is a great combination of historical fiction and science fiction. I'm not typically a science fiction reader, but our family loves the storylines found in Marvel comics; from the description of the novel, it looked like The Methuselah Project would have a Captain America feel to the plot and dialogue. Thankfully, the novel remained very original even though the hero Roger underwent experiments during WWII and cannot age--which is very similar to the experience of Captain America in the Marvel Comics.

The chapters within the novel jump back and forth between two story lines; the first is Roger Greene's, which begins in 1943 as he flies a fighter plane over Hitler's Germany. His plane is shot down, and Roger becomes a POW. As this storyline progresses, Roger discovers he isn't a 'regular' POW and is part of a secretive experiment & plan of Hitler's and Roger is now a key component of the Methuselah Project. The second storyline belongs to Katherine Mueller, a young woman living in Georgia in 2014. She is receiving military-type training from her Uncle Kurt and they are both part of the Heritage Organization--Kurt having been part of the organization for a very long time, and Katherine still in the early stages of her training and knowledge. While you know there must be something that will connect the Heritage Organization back to Roger's imprisonment, you are left wondering throughout most of the novel exactly how they connect and if your various guesses will be correct. The anticipation made it hard to put the novel down to do other things!

Ingrained within both storylines you will find strong character development & mystery, experience empathy, and anxiously await the collision of the two storylines. When is does occur--in March 2015--you get drawn into a whole new level of action & suspense.

The Methuselah Project ended in the best way I can convey as possible--my desire for Rick Barry to write a sequel! I really don't want to give any other details about this novel, because it's so much more fun to read a book and discover things for yourself.

* I received a complimentary copy of The Methuselah Project in exchange for my honest review*

Book info

About the book: The Methuselah Project (Kregel, September 2015)

Nazi scientists started many experiments. One never ended.

Roger Greene is a war hero. Raised in an orphanage, the only birthright he knows is the feeling that he was born to fly. Flying against the Axis Powers in World War II is everything he always dreamed---until the day he's shot down and lands in the hands of the enemy.

When Allied bombs destroy both his prison and the mad genius experimenting on POWs, Roger survives. Within hours, his wounds miraculously heal, thanks to those experiments. The Methuselah Project is a success---but this ace is still not free. Seventy years later, Roger hasn't aged a day, but he has nearly gone insane. This isn't Captain America---just a lousy existence only made passable by a newfound faith. The Bible provides the only reliable anchor for Roger's sanity and his soul. When he finally escapes, there's no angelic promise or personal prophecy of deliverance, just confusion. It's 2015---and the world has become an unrecognizable place.
Katherine Mueller---crack shot, genius, and real Southern Belle---offers to help him find his way home. Can he convince her of the truth of his crazy story? Can he continue to trust her when he finds out she works for the very organization he's trying to flee?

Thrown right into pulse-pounding action from the first page, readers will find themselves transported back in time to a believable, full-colored past, and then catapulted into the present once more. The historical back-and-forth adds a constantly moving element of suspense to keep readers on the edge of their seats.

Purchase a copy:
About the author:
Rick Barry is the author of Gunner's Run, another World War II novel, Kiriath's Quest, and over 200 articles and fiction stories. In addition to being a World War II buff, he is the director of church planting ministries at BIEM, a Christian ministry operating in Eastern Europe. He holds a degree in foreign languages, speaks Russian, and has visited Europe more than fifty times. Rick lives in Indianapolis, Indiana.

Connect with Rick online: