Friday

Justified by Varina Denman


MY REVIEW

You can always count on David C. Cook to publish great reads. This one is no exception. Justified is Book 2, but you'd never know it if you read it. You don't have to have read Jaded because this one is a complete stand alone. You may be stepping into the middle of a story, but you have a full, satisfying, complete read in Justified.

There are three main characters that are so exquisitely developed you are captivated by the end of the first chapter. I have to admit, I wasn't particularly fond of Fawn in the beginning, then I understood why by the end of the second chapter. After that, I couldn't put the book down. I ached for her hurts, and rejoiced over her small triumphs. I warned her not to trust the rat who had gotten her pregnant, and rejoiced as she grew fond of and fell in love with a very good, Christian man. 

There is a reason why the reader is taken into the head of the antagonist, but I really detest head jumping. That kind of writing is lazy in my opinion. However, Denman does a good job with the transitions so the head jumping isn't such a reading shock. I still think there is no need for the head jumping into the baby's father's head. His motives and his thought processes are quite discernible by his actions. 

Fawn's character is quite poignant. As her faith grows from mere surface platitudes and actions into a deeply felt heart change, she becomes a tender, true-blue Christian rather than a brittle play-like Christian. I really like the way Coach points out her flaws in such a gentle, but firm way. Without believers being held accountable, believers never grow. This story illustrates that adage marvelously. 

Denman also illustrates certain characteristics that Christians are gifted with because we are children of God: Strength of character, willingness to change our attitude so that we align more correctly with God's will, tender mercies, forgiveness, discernment, and other more complicated characteristics. 

Several facets of human behavior are studied in this novel. One that really is not a biblical principle is forgiving one's self. No place in the Bible talks about this, however believers have a tendency to be harder on themselves than on others. They assume they must forgive themselves, when actually it is Satan that is using our past to kill and destroy our present peace and forgiveness from God. Other human behaviors are romance, need for comforting, motherly instincts, strength of character to resist others trying to direct our path. These characteristics are deftly infused into the storyline to make the story flow in river-like grace: smooth and deep, to white water rapids, then back to smooth and deep. It is a wonderful, exciting ride. The book is well worth the money, and is definitely a keeper. Five of five stars.


ABOUT THE BOOK

In a small Texas town ruled by gossip, Fawn Blaylock believes others are justified in condemning her untimely pregnancy. Stifled by guilt, she yearns for grace while the local football coach treats her with gentle respect.

Justified perfectly captures the rhythm and romance of life in a small town, telling the unforgettable story of a woman searching for renewal, a man looking beyond what others see, and a community torn between judgment and love. It is the unforgettable story of broken dreams, second chances, and relentless hope.

Tuesday

Together with You by Victoria Bylin

MY REVIEW

Fascinating study of how a father who determines to be a father travels from point A to final destination of being a father. As Carly says, "It's ... love."

The two main characters have so much in common in that they beat themselves up for what they did in the past. Frankly, this author, Victoria Bylin, seems to think there is merit in "forgiving yourself." I've studied that, and don't believe that is a biblical principle. When you self-recriminate you are buying into one of Satan's guilt tactics and that builds a wall keeping you away from God and His forgiveness. Whoever thinks something you have done is unforgivable is listening to a lie, and is being colossally arrogant thinking that you are better and bigger than God in this forgiveness business.

Setting that aside, I think Bylin did an excellent job with research. I commend her for highlighting the fetal alcohol syndrome to America's women. The lasting effects of it are devastating! Great job in weaving this storyline around a special needs child.

Characters are very well done, While we are subjected to the inside thinking of a 13-year-old boy and a 16-year-old boy along with his girlfriend, Bylin does an excellent job of building their characters through the eyes of their father and the nanny, Carly. Superbly done. Joy to read. Brought back memories of my nephews. We do take a trip or two into the head of Ryan's special needs daughter. Quite interesting to get a view of how a child with FAS thinks and assimilates information. (Like I said, this chick did some excellent research.)

The two main characters' development is also well done. A bit on the whiny side when they keep beating themselves up over the past. I get the panic thing with Carly, and the guilt thing with Ryan's adultery, but seriously--enough already with the rehashing of information. There is just so many ways you can beat yourself up and Bylin did it all those many ways. I was black and blue by the last page. However, I did read to the last page.

Ryan's agnosticism was a good relief to Carly's faith. It was a good study in how a believing woman can touch the heart of an unbeliever setting attraction aside. I have seen men "see the light" just because they were attracted to a woman. But this was different in several ways. However, after reading hundreds of books where women authors try to really get inside their male characters' heads, I never sure they actually ring that bell correctly. Men depict male characters so differently than women do, and women depict women characters differently than men do... It's that Venus and Mars thing, I guess. All that to say that Bylin did a pretty good job inside the head of Ryan.

5 of 5 stars. Worth the money!

ABOUT THE BOOK

Ryan thought hiring Carly Mason as nanny was a key move in reconnecting with his children, but will the attraction between them send his plans into chaos?

Blood of a Stone by Jeanne Gassman


MY REVIEW

This is an excellent walk through some interesting biblical places following a couple of Roman slaves. They suffer quite a bit before one kills the master, and they both run away. [Not a spoiler because this happens early on.]

What happens next is similar to a camel ride. Up and down, round and round as the plot unfolds. People you meet are interesting including their own agendas, and with some key historical facts as well. The character development is very well done. The two main characters develop in different ways. The older slave (the Jew) seems to be one of the Sower's seeds out of Matthew 13. I won't say which one, that would be a spoiler. The younger one is also a seed. His character is so well woven, I almost prayed for him!

The storyline is well done. The flow is good and keeps the pages turning. There is a twist at the end that I should have seen coming, but did not. The book is quite good.

The book gets 5 of 5 stars. Well worth the money.


ABOUT THE BOOK

Set in the first century on the edges of the Roman Empire and the Jesus movement, Blood of a Stone is a sweeping story of murder, betrayal, love, and the search for redemption.
Faced with the brutality of slavery, Demetrios confronts his master and flees by the blood of a stone. Determined to escape his past, he struggles to create a new life and a new identity with his friend and fellow escaped slave, Elazar.
However, freedom has its price. Secrets cannot remain secret forever. A chance for love is lost. Elazar betrays Demetrios to a so-called prophet named Jesus of Nazareth. Fearing the Roman authorities and Jesus, Demetrios risks everything to silence those who would enslave him again. His quest leads him to startling discoveries and dire choices.
Demetrios must answer the question we all ask: Can we ever be free of our past?

Five Days in Skye by Carla Laureano


MY REVIEW

Top notch, A#1 love story. Gripped me from the very first page. There are places, though, that made me want to shake Andrea because of her thought processes. I get the fact that some people get hurt and that makes them put up walls. Sure, lots of people do that especially when they don't know God very well.

The faith factor in this book is interwoven very well, and because of the lack of faith the characters do some wallowing that is very believable. It makes me wonder how people live without God, and that thought makes me shudder.

The development and flow of the story is very good. Just the right amount of tension, humor, and add a few touches of self-recrimination then pour in some of God's redeeming love, and you've got a great recipe for a very good story.

No story flow barricades, no characters acting unbelievably, and that makes a wonderful story. One thing that made me jump for joy was the lack of head hopping. One or two places of head jumping from Andrea to James as very well done transitions from one scene to another. Mostly, however, the characters stayed in their own heads, not much speculation of what the other was thinking--superior writing. The story was from the two main characters point of view, and no head hopping to various supporting characters. Yea!

Very well done. 5 of 5 stars. Well worth the money. This one is a keeper.



ABOUT THE BOOK

Andrea Sullivan is so consumed by her hospitality consultant job that she's forgotten what brings her life. She travels the world yet shields herself from the exotic locales or another chance at love. She dreads her new assignment—a last chance to snag a high-profile client in Scotland. Yet the lush Isle of Skye transcends her preconceptions. As does the man she came to interview—the rugged, blue-eyed Scotsman James McDonald.

James is passionate about cooking but after six restaurants, four cookbooks, and his own television show, he has no desire to be a celebrity chef. Andrea and James begin to sense these five days in Skye may just be God's wild invitation into deeper life ... and truer love.

Monday

Randy Ingermanson's craft advice

Research is one of my ALL-time pet peeves when reading. If the author has not done research, then there are all kinds of story-stopper "facts" that frustrate readers. It seems that Randy seems to agree with me in this article about asking questions...

~~ ~~~ ~~ ~~~ ~~~

 

2) Organization: The Power of Asking for Help

A lot of people go through life afraid to ask for help when they have a question. They’re afraid they’ll look stupid. Nobody wants to look stupid. So they don’t ask. 

But there’s a way to ask for help that won’t make anyone think you’re stupid.

Ask Google. (Or any search engine of your choice. For simplicity in this article, I’m just going to talk about Google, but you can use whichever search engine you like.)

Let's look at a few examples of questions you can ask Google and the kinds of answers you can get.

How do you add more memory to a 2012 MacBook Pro? There’s a YouTube video that will show you how. 

What’s the difference between an S corporation and an LLC? There are many articles on this. Here’s one. 



How do you install a new plugin for your WordPress blog? WordPress has a page that discusses plugins, how to install them, and much more.  

If you’ve got a “how-to” question, Google almost certainly can find you an answer. Probably a whole page full of answers.

If you think about it, that’s pretty amazing. No matter what your question, no matter how stupid you feel, there’s a machine you can ask that will give you answers and will never try to humiliate you.

Some caveats are in order.

Caveat 1: Not All Answers Are Created Equal 

Some answers are better than others. Some of them are right. Some are almost right. Some are dead wrong.

Just because it’s on the internet doesn’t make it automatically true. You have to decide whether you trust the authority of any page you read. Which means you need the critical skills to determine who is trustworthy and who isn’t. But you’ve probably spent a lifetime developing your critical skills already, so this is nothing new for you.  

Caveat 2: You Might Not Understand the Answer

Some questions are hard. That means some answers are going to be complicated. If you don’t understand the answer, then try again with a question about the part you don’t understand. Google doesn’t get tired of answering your questions.

Caveat 3: Not All Answers Are Known

Of course there are plenty of questions that nobody knows how to answer. If you ask Google a hard question, you might get articles that claim to answer the question, but don’t. Or you might get articles that explain why the question is hard to answer. It can be useful to know that nobody knows the answer.

Caveat 4: Not All Questions Have Unique Answers

Which is prettier, red or blue?

How far is up?  

But Some Questions Google Can Answer


Despite the caveats above, Google can answer an amazing number of questions that come up in your writing. Here are a few examples:

What does your setting look like?
 
If your setting is on planet earth, Google Maps can show you a map of how it looks today. It can show you satellite images. It can show you pictures taken from ground level. Even if you’re writing a historical novel, this may be enough. It’s a lot cheaper than flying there.

Who was that company who just called you with an offer that sounds too good to be true? Are they a scam?

Check their Caller ID and enter it into Google along with the word “scam”. If there’ve been any complaints, you’ll find what people have said about them.

Is there anybody on the planet with the same unusual name as your villain?

Maybe you think your villain’s name could never belong to anyone real. Maybe you’re wrong. If it matters, you can find out pretty quickly. 

Is it plausible that your heroine could swim a mile in the open ocean in twenty minutes?

Look up the world record for a woman swimming a mile.

What’s the best way to disable a Ferrari and what tools would you need?

For extra credit: How long would it take? Could you hide the tools in your tuxedo? How quickly could the damage be repaired to make the car drivable?

If your hero breaks a leg in Chapter 1, how long will it be until he can run again? 

Sure he's tough, but he's not immortal. 

How far away can you plausibly kill your bad guy with a rifle if you’re a good shot?

For extra credit: What about with a 9-mm handgun? What about with a shotgun? 

If you’re trapped in a cave without water, what’s your best option while you wait for rescue?

For extra credit: Is it true you should drink your own urine, or is that a horrible mistake? How long can you survive in the absolute best case without water?

Build a New Habit

For the next 24 hours, keep track of the number of times you have a question. Don’t walk away from the question, even if it’s trivial. 

Ask the question. Ask Google and see what kind of answer you get. 

Get in the habit of asking Google whenever you have a question. It’ll make you a better writer. 

And you won’t feel dumb when you ask. You’ll feel smart when you learn the answer.
 
 
This article is reprinted by permission of the author.
 
Award-winning novelist Randy Ingermanson, "the Snowflake Guy," publishes the free monthly Advanced Fiction Writing E-zine, with more than 12,000 readers. If you want to learn the craft and marketing of fiction, AND make your writing more valuable to editors, AND have FUN doing it, visit www.AdvancedFictionWriting.com.

Saturday

Review: From the Start


From the Start
From the Start by Melissa Tagg

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



This is a great premise, and nicely done novel. I admire the editing, too.

Great character development. We've got a somewhat backslidden Christian and a Christian who wants to believe she's gungho Christian, but there are some questionable motivations. Put that together with a bit of romantic tension, and you've got a truly good premise.

Next layer in some excellent writing, and insightful observations from the heart, and you've got a truly good read.

I highly recommend this book.



View all my reviews

Wednesday

April 1 - April 15 free book for review!



For the next 2 weeks, I am offering my new book for free to anyone who would review it and post to their social network. If you are a member of Netgalley, and even if you have not found this wonderful place for free books to review, you can find my book there.
https://www.netgalley.com/widget/open?widget_id=62781_81874_1427903508551c1414504df_9781500203818_US

Please help me get the word out about my book :) Thank you!!!

Monday

You Are More Than You Know by Patsy Clairmont

Patsy Clairmont has a marvelous gift of making challenges
molehills instead of mountains... she helps you see that God is mightier than any problem or trouble. This is a great book of inspiration. I highly recommend it to anyone who realizes her own strength is not enough to overcome life's challenges.

From the first page to the last, Patsy makes you laugh and cry and realize that life is always full of bumps and pitfalls, but God overcomes them all.

ABOUT THE BOOK

While suffering agoraphobia, Patsy just wanted to make it to her neighborhood grocery store and safely home again. Instead, for the past 35 years she has been speaking to millions of women (and men) offering the encouraging message of this book. In You Are More Than You Know, Patsy answers the question she is most often asked — how she overcame her fears. Patsy’s trademark humor spills out along the way as she helps readers face their own fears such as: personal safety; rejection; health issues; the unknown; pain; etc.

Wednesday

Dauntless by Dina Sleiman

MY REVIEW...

The book starts out really good. It's attention-keeping so you keep turning those pages. You would think that's the main thing, right?

Well, I believe that an author should do deep research when writing in a different period than modern day. An author should immerse in the language of the day, the customs of the day, and make the reader step into that world... and stay there until the last page is read. Sleiman does an okay job with this technique, but...

Modernisms keep creeping into the story line. Not necessarily in language, but more in mindsets. The freedoms that we Americans and others of the free world take for granted are just that--taken for granted. So much so that we don't even realize how the feminist movement, the freedoms from slavery, the educations we have will bleed into anything we write. An author needs to peel off all that, and step into the mindset of the period he or she is writing about. I strongly suggest all authors who want to write about times gone by read the book A Cast of Stones to see how this is done. 

Setting that aside because that kind of thing may not bother you like it does me, I do recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a good Christian-values read. It has enough plot twists to keep the pages turning.

4 of 5 stars


ABOUT THE BOOK...
Timothy Grey plans to earn a title by capturing "Lady" Merry and her band of orphan thieves. But will he carry out his mission when he meets their dauntless leader face to face?

The Last Heiress by Mary Ellis

MY REVIEW ...

This novel is very intriguing. Mary Ellis has woven an interesting storyline with definitely interesting characters. She develops the characters in a slow-cooker kind of way so that the reader can savor every nuance. Not too slow, not too fast. Just right. It will keep you turning pages.

There are quite a few characters to keep up with, and the two sisters get a bit tangled up at times, but their characters are quite different so it is not hard to keep them separate. I won't talk about the ending, though, because it wasn't very satisfying for me. You may like it. Although not a main character, the husband of Amanda's sister did the most "growing up" in the book. That should have been the main character to do that. Ah, well, times are changing...

I definitely liked how Ellis incorporated some free Negros into her story. There were many more free than people have been taught. She did a very good job with that.

However, there were some things that were hard to swallow. Some situations were very heavy-handed such as without any indication whatsoever on the part of Amanda's sister having a mean streak, she ordered a couple of slaves to kneel in salt for hours upon end while she napped. That was over the top. It is something I could believe the husband would do, not the wife. I just did not get the feel throughout the story that Ellis had really done her research well. It felt like she had taken all the stereotypical scenarios  and pasted them into her story. Another thing is how modernisms were sprinkled throughout.

I made note of a few of them, but I can't find that paper I wrote them on now. Sigh... I do remember one. Women were not allowed to enter eating establishments without escort, nor were they allowed to eat by themselves. The sisters went to a hotel restaurant by themselves. That would not have happened, especially since one of them was unmarried. Another thing is shrimp was caught, cooked and served within about a two hour time limit as shrimp spoils quickly in hot, Southern summers. Those are the only two I remember.

One very good thing was the similarities and the differences between the Brits and the Southerners view of slavery and servanthood. Good research alignment there.


ABOUT THE BOOK...

Bestselling author Mary Ellis (A Widow’s Hope) presents The Last Heiress, a new romantic standalone that intertwines the lives of a British manufacturing heiress and an American merchant caught in the turbulent time of the War Between the States.
When Amanda Dunn sets sail from England for Wilmington, North Carolina, she hopes to somehow restore shipments of raw materials for her family’s textile mills, which have been severely disrupted by the American Civil War. Though there is not much one individual can do, the wealthy young woman feels she must try, as her mother and hundreds of employees at Dunn Textiles are dependent on Southern cotton.
When Amanda meets Nathaniel Cooper, her desire to conduct business and quickly return to England changes. Though captivated by one another, neither is fully aware of the other’s true nature.
Nathanial, who on the outside appears to be a poor but hardworking merchant, is actually a secret Yankee sympathizer who will stop at almost nothing to bring about freedom for those who live under subjugation, even when that involves questionable judgment. And Amanda’s wealth is made possible by underpaid workers living in slums around the mills, not much different than American slavery.
Can these two earnest souls find the best in one another rather than focus on what could tear them apart? And though they both believe they are on God’s path, how will their decisions affect those around them?

What Every Christian Needs to Know about Passover - Rabbi Even Moffic

MY REVIEW

I think almost every Christian should absolutely study the rituals involved in Passover. I plan to celebrate Passover with my Bible study group. However...

If you are looking for a book that delves deeply into all the signs that Passover illustrates about Jesus, then this book probably is not for you. While Rabbi Moffic does point out some of those illustrations, this is more about the Jewish mindset in Passover celebration. I was disappointed, actually.

It is clear that Moffic has a deeper understanding of the Catholic religion than Evangelical Christian beliefs. That is not necessarily a bad thing, but I was hoping to get insights from an Evangelical point of view. Moffic even says he does not recommend conducting a sedar from a Christian viewpoint haggadah.

One great thing about this book is that you are given all you need to know about a Passover Sedar so you can celebrate it, too. There is a complete Haggadah (script, if you will) in the back of the book. You also receive many blessings from understanding the Jewish mindset. This will help any Christian to talk to a Jewish friend or acquaintance about Jesus. That is invaluable!

All in all I give this 4 stars out of 5.

ABOUT THE BOOK ...
Understand the Last Supper Jesus shared with his disciples and its ancient roots in the Jewish Passover, and discover what it can mean to a Christian celebration of Communion and Easter today.
The Passover was celebrated by Jesus and the disciples the last time they were together. Now popular speaker and writer Rabbi Evan Moffic brings an understanding to the Last Supper that will forever change how Christians celebrate Communion and prepare for Easter. Beginning with the Hebrew Bible and Jewish history, Rabbi Moffic shows how these inform the roots of Christianity as he weaves together history, theology, Jewish practice and observances. Then he provides the background and resources for Christians seeking to experience an authentic Jewish Passover Seder and integrate it into their own preparation for Easter. Rabbi Moffic brings an informed and ancient perspective, explaining and bringing to life the source of so many of our modern Christian practices.
By exploring and explaining the ritual and story surrounding the Jewish Passover, Rabbi Moffic shares with Christians the wisdom and inspiration of the Hebrew Bible—what Christians call the Old Testament—in a way that increases appreciation and understanding of the culture in which Jesus lived and taught. For contemporary Christians desiring to enrich their understanding of the faith they practice today, this book offers deeper understanding of their spiritual heritage shared with Judaism.

Thursday

MY REVIEW

I've been reading Lori Copeland for many years. I think she is a fine writer and has plenty of experience. This novel illustrates her story telling ability very well. The story premise is unique, but just a bit unbelievable.

Story flow is good. Nothing bogs down the rhythm and pace of the story except when a character steps out of character. I'll explain that in a moment. The setting is great. The period of history is not explained until well into the story, but that doesn't matter until the plot twists, and the reader needs to know why the gold is so important to Creed. That is actually done very well. You get the feel for the period right off when the girls are rescued from a wagon by men on horseback.

We have a con artist white girl (believable), and a stoic Indian (believable). Creed, the Indian, is a man of very few words (believable). But then the Indian goes in shops and saloons and other places where Indians were not usually allowed without anyone raising an eyebrow. That isn't so believable.

There are several places in this story that feel contrived and forced, such as the time Annie-Marie goes out into a blizzard. She shows a lot more sense than that early on in the novel. She grew up in the region, so she knows blizzards and their hazards. She knows better. There is no real reason why she does this except for her pique at the Indian girl, Berry Woman. It would be different if she were running a fever, or had drunk some loco juice. Women do silly things sometimes, but this is one thing I take great exception to, why have a character do something out of character in order to contrive a sudden caring in the heart of the Indian for the silly woman? That isn't believable to me.
 
The dialogue in this book leaves a LOT to be desired. It is stilted, and reads like not-very-good-actors on a stage. I have not read a Lori Copeland book that had this problem. So this was an unexpected surprise.

All things added together thought, the story and the character development mean more to a story that a few stilted lines of dialogue, and there are some very cute situations, so I give this 3 of 5 stars.

ABOUT THE BOOK...

From bestselling author Lori Copeland (more than 3 million books in print) comes the inspiring sequel to Sisters of Mercy Flats.

The three wily and beautiful McDougal sisters can swindle a man faster than it takes to lasso a calf. But their luck is running out, and they’re about to be hauled off to jail. When the wagon carrying them falls under attack, each sister is picked up by a different man.

Anne-Marie, the middle sister, is saved by Creed Walker, a Crow warrior. It’s loathing at first sight, but with bandits on their tail and a cache of gold to hide, Creed and Anne-Marie need each other. Will they learn to put aside their differences and trust each other—and God? And can their growing faith turn their lives around?
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