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Book Review: “The Curiosity Keeper”

The Curiosity KeeperThe Curiosity Keeper by Sarah Ladd has everything I love in a novel. It’s set in England in the early 1800’s. The heroine, independent yet vulnerable, is in peril. The reluctant hero, truly noble, is being thwarted at every turn. A great mystery must be solved or all will be lost for both—and for the people they love. A sweet romance results from the struggle. And . . . best of all . . . I hope and suspect . . . a new story is subtly introduced, giving me another great book to look forward to. (I really do want to know what will become of . . . I’d better not mention her name and risk spoiling the outcome for you.)

This story opens in London where Camille Iverness runs her father’s curiosity shop while he transacts mysterious business elsewhere. Not located in the best part of London, Camille longs for the countryside where she grew up—and for the love she knew while living on her grandfather’s estate. Her mother has been absent for eleven years, using the excuse that she’s caring for her once-ailing, but now healthy mom in Portugal. Camille feels the abandonment but has learned to take care of herself.

Jonathan Gilchrist knows abandonment of another kind. As the second son, he was free to pursue a satisfying career as the village apothecary with his father’s focus only on the heir. When his brother died, however, Jonathan found himself burdened with expectations he had no interest in and pressured by a father who cared only for the family’s status and wealth.

Camille and Jonathan meet when a stolen jewel becomes a mutual threat. Though strangers, they must rely on each other to solve a crime and save their futures.

Ladd tells an intriguing story that reveals the pitfalls of serving wealth rather than what really matters and the blessings of discerning what is trustworthy and worth holding onto. I recommend this book and thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.

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Book Review: “Women are Scary”

Women are ScaryI think I would enjoy being friends with Melanie Dale. I’ve had a few friends like her. You just never know what they are going to say—something that makes you laugh, something surprising or shocking or just a little bit inappropriate, something totally profound in its simplicity. They have hearts of gold, love people before they even meet them, and don’t hesitate to let you know just where you stand—which is usually in a pretty good place with them.

That’s what makes Melanie the perfect author of her new book, Women are Scary: the Totally Awkward Adventure of Finding New Friends. Melanie twists the familiar analogy of rounding the bases while dating to help readers understand how to deepen friendships—from being general acquaintances at the bus stop to becoming lifelong friends.

I chose this book to review after stumbling across a few of Melanie’s blog posts about motherhood. They were so funny, I wanted to read her book—especially after seeing that title! I’ll admit I wasn’t entirely comfortable with some of the ways she chose to make her points, but I couldn’t help but keep reading to see what she would come up with next. Her advice on building friendships is sound, and the book was full of light-hearted fun. Melanie admits that she’s an introvert pretending to be an extrovert, so her advice will appeal especially to this crowd.

I received a complimentary copy from Zondervan in exchange for this honest review.

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Book Review: “Whenever You Come Around”

Whenever You Come AroundI enjoyed visiting King’s Meadow again with Robin Lee Hatcher this week. Her newest book in that series, Whenever You Come Around, is one of the sweetest I’ve read this year. In this book, readers meet successful author Charity Anderson who has been avoiding King’s Meadow, her hometown, for years, refusing even to visit her parents there. But her house in Boise requires major renovations following a flood. With her parents in Europe for the summer, Charity figures she can hide in their home, write her next book, and avoid contact with anyone for just a few months.

But then her dog accidentally trips the boy next door causing him to break his ankle and wrist. Charity feels obligated to help him out since she’s living right there and, well, his dilemma is her dog’s fault.

Yes. It’s a romance. But it’s also a story of community, of people taking the time to notice another’s pain and to not let that person hide behind it, missing all the good things that life can bring. It’s a story of God gently nudging people away from their self-placed limits on life and toward the gifts He has for them. It’s a story of trusting God to love in order to be able to love.

I liked everything about this story: setting, characters (new and old), message, pace. If you appreciate contemporary Christian romances, you’ll like this book, too.

Thomas Nelson Publishers sent me a complimentary copy in exchange for this review.

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Book Review: “Against the Flow”

Against the FlowIf you’ve ever really wanted to dig deeply into the book of Daniel, Against the Flow: The Inspiration of Daniel in an Age of Relativism is the perfect book for you. It’s intense. It takes time to absorb. But it is worth the work. Author John Lennox will lead you through every chapter Daniel, carefully explaining the culture, the events of the time, research and opinions of other experts, and the book’s application for Christians today.

Lennox’s explanation for the arrangement of the book was especially helpful. His insights into the work God was doing in Nebuchadnezzar’s life, especially as compared to His choice of treatment of other gentile rulers in Bible times, revealed much about God’s gracious character, plan for all humankind, and attention to individual lives. Lennox’s analysis of Daniel’s visions and prophecies is useful and hopeful. His comparison of Daniel’s response to the culture he’d been taken into to what our response can be to some of the issues in our own society makes this book especially relevant.

This is the second book by John Lennox that I have read, and I was greatly impressed by both. This author has a gift for seeing and presenting truth clearly. He knows the Bible and the God Who gave it to us. We live in a world full of confusing ideas. Lennox helps his readers sort them out and, firmly, but respectfully—as Daniel did—stand on truth.

I thank the Litfuse Publicity Group for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for this honest review.

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Book Review: “The Inn at Ocean’s Edge”

The Inn at Ocean's EdgeThe Inn at Ocean’s Edge is the first book in a new romantic suspense series by Colleen Coble. She’s still taking her readers to the coast, but now she leads them downeast to the coast of Maine where they can read about cranberries, blueberries, and killer whales while trying to solve the mystery before the main characters figure things out.

Those main characters are Claire Dellamare and Luke Rocco who meet over the discovery of a wounded baby orca then discover a connection in their pasts. Claire disappeared from her fourth birthday party in 1989 on the same day that Luke’s mom went missing. Luke’s mom was never found, but Claire was returned a year after her disappearance with a note pinned to her dress. Luke wants Claire to help him find her mother, but she has no memory of her life before age five. When she realizes her life is in danger, though, she sets out, with Luke’s help, to find the truth.

The Inn at Ocean's EdgeThis tangled story kept me guessing to the end. I felt sorry for one character, hopeful for another, then found myself surprised by so many revelations toward the end. Mystery fans will love this book.

I received a complimentary copy of The Inn at Ocean’s Edge from Thomas Nelson Publisher in exchange for this honest review.

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Book Review: “A Sparrow in Terezin”

A Sparrow in TerezinA Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron is both a new story and a sequel, contemporary and historical. The contemporary story of William and Sera, including their association with Sophie, is the sequel to what was begun in The Butterfly and the Violin. Arrested at his own wedding, William is facing a decade in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Sera must travel to Europe to learn what he refuses to tell, to find the evidence that will clear his name and a brighter path for their future.

Kaja Makovsky’s story, set in 1942 is new to readers of this book. Sent by her parents from Prague to Palestine and then, through her own efforts, to London at the beginning of World War II, Kaja is desperate for news of her parents’ fate. When she learns through her job of atrocities being committed against Jews, she returns home intending to rescue her parents, only to be caught up in the horror herself.

As in the first book of this Hidden Masterpiece series, the stories are tied together by artifacts present in both. The peril of the characters is intense, leading readers to wonder if all hope is lost. A Sparrow in TerezinYet there is beauty and grace in the midst of it all. I found so much to love about this book in spite of its tragic setting. (And I’d never heard of holocaust ghettos, so I learned something new. Cambron’s note at the end of the book about the historical discoveries she’d made through her research that led to the creation of this book were enlightening.)

I thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending me a complimentary copy of A Sparrow in Terezin for my honest review. I would rate it among the best of historical Christian fiction available now.

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Book Review: “Soul Friends”

Soul Friends“You have been invited into deep-spirited, soul-altering friendship, into a communion with the sisterhood of traveling saints walking the Jesus journey all around you.” –Leslie Parrott

This beautiful sentence from the benediction of her new book, Soul Friends, is the purpose of the book: to invite its readers into this friendship, this communion with the sisterhood of saints. After reading it, I feel as if I’ve been to church again this week. I feel inspired to go forth and get to know some of my sisters much better (aptly timed since I’m moving again this year and need that little bit of extra inspiration to boldly join another new community). This book has encouraged me!

In its pages Leslie explores four phases of our life journey, phases we’ll grow through repeatedly. In fact, we may even be in more than one at a time. Yet her collections of essays in each of these four sections of the book help readers recognize and understand each phase. They also show how friends and family members influence each other, consciously or sub-consciously, through each phase. We’re connected, and God uses those connections, when we let Him, to draw us all closer to Him.

Leslie’s personal stories, Bible references, and quotes and stories from Christian women throughout history all worked together to convey her message. Her choice of The Message version of the Bible was perfect because of the poetic nature of the book. Her frequent references to Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends added an extra touch of fun.

I recommend this book to women of any age who want to grow closer to God while building stronger relationships. This is one I’ll read again soon!

I thank Zondervan for sending me a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.

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Book Review: “Lethal Beauty”

Lethal BeautyLike the first two books in the Mia Quinn Mystery series by Lis Wiehl with April Henry, Lethal Beauty is intense, unpredictable, and a little bit educational. Wiehl has a gift for bringing all sides of societal issues to light. Mia Quinn’s Lethal Beauty cases deal with human trafficking, slavery happening in America—now, and steroid hazards. She also explores the strengths of America’s justice system and weaknesses criminals try to exploit.

If you haven’t met her yet, Seattle prosecutor Mia Quinn is a recently widowed, single mother. She often works with homicide detective Charlie Carlson to solve the mysteries that come her way. She also works with public defender Eli Hall as an adjunct professor at the University of Washington law school, often crossing paths with him on cases, too.

Lethal BeautyIn Lethal Beauty, Mia is prosecuting an American businessman accused of murdering a Chinese prostitute. But everything is going wrong in what should be an open and shut case. As Mia tries to discover why, she learns that a character from Wiehl’s previous book, A Deadly Business, is trying to reach her, seeking her help. When he goes missing, Mia’s life gets really complicated. Getting justice for victims and keeping her family safe start to seem like conflicting goals.

Though the overall mystery is introduced and concludes with this one book, Mia’s personal story has continued from the first. In other words, you can read them out of order, but I recommend starting at the beginning with A Matter of Trust. I thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending me a complimentary copy of Lethal Beauty for this review.

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Loving Just Because

The Four LovesI started reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis this week. I’m still working through the introductory material, but I’ve already gained so much insight into this word, Love. Today’s revelation was so powerful, I’d like to share it, and some of the practical applications that came to my mind as I read, with you.

In the pages I read today, Lewis was discussing what he considers to be the lowest form of love, pleasure. He identified two kinds: Need-Pleasures and Pleasures of Appreciation. We only experience the first kind of pleasure when a need is being met. For example, as a general rule, I don’t enjoy drinking water, but if I’m really, really thirsty, finally being able to drink water will be a pleasurable experience because it meets a need. On the other hand, if I’m walking on the beach with my bare toes in the sand and a cool breeze with a slight smell of salt comes up to touch my face and play with my hair, I will enjoy that, not because I need it but because I appreciate the gift, the existence of the breeze. I like carrots if I’m hungry. I like chocolate because it tastes good. I like air-conditioning in the summer because it keeps me cool. Once the need is met, however, I don’t like it so much. Wildflowers, I like all the time. Just because they exist. They don’t meet a life-need, but they make the world a prettier place.

Lewis goes on to compare this to love. If we love people only because we need them, the love is temporary. It’s real, but not really. It’s not unconditional or forever or true. If we love just because, however, the love is lasting and sincere. Of course, only God can truly love in this way. He has absolutely no need for us, and yet He loves us more than anyone else ever will.

Loving Just BecauseIn a perfect world, that would be our primary reason for loving Him back. A primary reason among countless others: He created us. He redeemed us. He is preparing a home for us in Heaven with Him for eternity. He is with us. He will never leave us. He provides and protects. He is everything; He is love.

But the truth is, we need Him. Every heartbeat, every breath comes because He allows it. We are absolutely dependent on the God Who loves us perfectly. We truly are clay in His hands. That makes me very thankful that He loves me; I can’t imagine what life would be like if He did not.

Two practical applications came from this train of thought:

1. In order to move from a need-love relationship with God to a pleasure of appreciation relationship, we need to spend time praising Him every single day. Yes, it’s important to thank Him for all His gifts, for all He does for us. We must continue to do that, but we also must worship Him sincerely for Who He Is. We need to get to know Him, discovering every aspect of His character we can. We need to grow in our appreciation of His very existence every day.

2. We need to examine our relationships with the people in our lives. If any are based solely on need, these are unhealthy (except in the case of babies, who are born completely dependent and must learn how to love). Genuine love is unconditional. It loves just because the other one exists (which means, perhaps, that one comes closest to being able to love in this way when one becomes a parent). I think this is why Jesus told us to serve one another in love and to reach out with hospitality to people who can’t pay us back. It’s in service, in showing and giving love, that we learn to appreciate just because.

Along these lines, if anyone loves us just for what we can provide, we need to be aware that once the need is gone, the love will probably go, too. (It may even go sooner. Just as addicts come to resent the drugs they depend on, people often come to resent people they depend on.) This doesn’t mean we stop loving, but we hold the relationship loosely, refuse to let people idolize us, point them to the One they truly must depend on, and ask God to help us love wisely and well.

We can’t control how others love. It hurts to be loved only because someone wants something from us. It hurts to be rejected when we no longer have anything to offer that someone wants.

Thankfully, there will always be One Who loves us just because He does. He loves us perfectly. Our value rests in His opinion alone. And if we learn to love like He does, He’ll lead us to others who love well and whom we can also love.

Father, please teach us to love as You love because You do. Amen.

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Book Review: “How to Catch a Prince”

How to Catch a PrinceHow to Catch a Prince, the third book in Rachel Hauck’s Royal Wedding series was a sweet combination of fairy tale romance and practical Christian thought. I was caught up in the unusual storyline right from the start and enjoyed it to the end. But I also loved watching American Heiress Corina del Rey, under the mentorship of two fun, yet mysterious strangers, explore the concept of loving well. As a wife, as a servant/ruler, as a daughter, as a friend, Corina strove to grasp it all.

How to Catch a Prince is the story of a secret discarded by tragedy, of Corina’s attempt to participate in life again after 5 1/2 years of mourning, and of eligible bachelor Prince Stephen of Brighton hiding from royal responsibility as a professional rugby star. When Prince Stephen’s brother uncovers the secret and confronts him, Prince Stephen fears other secrets, long buried, may also come into the light. Thankfully for him, and Corina, someone has determined that’s what needs to happen for healing to begin.

I enjoyed reading this book, meeting the new characters and seeing some from the former stories in action again. I appreciated Hauck’s subtle insights and the simple way she presented significant truths. I’m happy to recommend this book.

Zondervan sent me a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.