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.