Hard to read, but captivating novel (Dry as Rain – Gina Holmes)

I really struggled while reading Gina Holmes’ latest novel, Dry as Rain.  It’s well-written and interesting, but the content is hard to stomach.  Don’t get me wrong though; that’s what I think made this such a good book.

 

Eric and Kyra have been married for many years, and with their son, Benji, had many happy years.  But the happiness slowly got lost in daily life and before Eric knew it, he was making choices he couldn’t ever take back.  Before he knew it, their marriage was ending and there was nothing he could do to stop it.  But, when Kyra loses pieces of her recent memory in an accident, a window of a second chance seems to loom ahead of Eric.  Their lives are enhanced by their son, Benji, and his world that has also come crashing down.  I appreciated that Eric’s character was revealed more deeply in his interactions with his son.

 

Even though it was a difficult read (reading about infidelity is always difficult, I think, even if it’s not something you’ve personally experienced), I was thankful for the truthful reminder that flowed throughout the book.  The truth that God can redeem all things hit me over and over again as I read about Eric  and Benji, Eric and Kyra, and their lifelong dreams.

Thanks, Tyndale, for the review copy of Dry as Rain by Gina Holmes.  I really appreciate being pointed to God and his truths as I read, and this novel did exactly that.

Best book I’ve read recently (Surprised by Oxford – Carolyn Weber)

As a literature lover (and major), I could not help but fall in love with Surprised by Oxford by Carolyn Weber.  My grandmother-in-law teased me as I read because every few pages I would giggle, or I would sigh, or I would “mmmhmm” in agreement.  Weber’s memoir is well-written (as one would expect from a lit professor), but there’s much more to it than simply its words.

I have always been fascinated with conversion stories of people who grew up completely outside of the (particularly evangelical) church culture (and, yes, I most definitely think that it’s a culture; growing up Catholic, I missed out on a lot of the nuances to which I’ve since grown accustomed).  What does Christianity sound like to someone who has not heard Bible stories at bedtime or on Sunday mornings?  Does it sound just as crazy to that person as it sometimes does to me?  With that said, I loved reading Weber’s memoir.  Her tenacity and her faithfulness to truth (absolute or relative :)) not only intrigued me, but helped me as I encountered doubts and questions within my own faith.

I’ve recently been questioning my job, my career.  Why do we labor the way we do?  I nearly jumped with joy as I felt freedom and heard truth being spoken to my heart as Weber recounted a conversation and her subsequent musing.

“Was any way of trading my time for money, or for that matter, any expenditure of time, for nothing of any true value in the end?

But just as suddenly the darkness receded, the pool of light seemed to take me in, as I thought how anything we do–any job, act, gesture–becomes meaningful if done with a heart for God” (124).

I found myself many moments throughout her memoir gasping with understanding, and feeling my heart alight as she referred to poems and words with whom I’d spent my college years.  Thank you, Ms. Weber, for the delightful retelling of God’s heart in your life.  Thank you, Thomas Nelson, for a review copy of this fabulous text.  My opinions are wholly my own.

Insight into the Cidermaking World (Real Cidermaking on a Small Scale – Michael Pooley & John Lomax)

Today I have a guest post from my favorite person in the world…my fabulous husband!  And in case you’re wondering if you can trust what he has to say about the book below, his beard is proof that he’s awesome:

If you are interested in making your own cider, Real Cidermaking on a Small Scale is a great start (and finish) to get into the process.   They walk you through all the steps and details in the process.  They also provide a detailed set of plans to make your own cider press (very handy in making your own cider), and give you some steps to make pear and other kinds of cider.  Perhaps one of the most enjoyable benefits of this book, that differs from other how to books or technical docs, is that the authors (Michael Pooley and John Lomax) throw a bit of their own personality into the process of cider making ex. a note about the juice pressing process: “Copious quantities of wine, beer, or even some of last year’s cider (if you have any left) will help ensure the wit, repartee, and gossip begin to flow in line with the juice.”  It makes the book much easier to read and keeps the fun in the process as opposed to turning it into a project or a chore.

My wife cannot eat wheat and cider is one great option to beer so this book will definitely get a lot of use in our house, at least until we get the process down well enough to write our own little book.

Interesting story & storytelling format (Worlds Collide – Alison Strobel)

While I’m not really a close follower of the Hollywood world, I always find myself getting sucked into the tabloids as I wait in line at the grocery store.  For some reason, the lives of the celebrities are interesting and engaging and just so weird.  They seem to do the strangest things that leave me to wonder, aren’t they just normal people?   Why don’t they act that way?  So when I saw the synopsis of Alison Strobel’s Worlds Collide, I was intrigued.  What would it be like for the world of a celebrity and a “normal person” to collide?  I was brought back to 7th grade and dreaming about Leo. 🙂

Jack and Grace are worlds apart, but when they literally collide, they are drawn into a strange friendship and relationship that grows as they continue to get to know each other.  Strobel chose an interesting way to tell Jack and Grace’s story, via proxy, as the story is seen through the eyes of Jada Eastman, celebrity biographer, hired to write the couple’s life story.

I was intrigued by Jack and Grace’s story, and also their faith journeys.  Although a tad cheesy, I did enjoy this book.  I fell right into the couple’s story, Grace’s particularly, and felt like her conversion was well-written and not too preachy.  Overall, this was a quick read, funny and interesting.

Thanks, Waterbrook Multnomah, for the review copy of Worlds Collide in exchange for my honest opinion.  Just a heads up, the ARC is riddled with typos!!

Insightful look into gluten/wheat sensitivity (Wheat Belly – William Davis, MD)

As a person living with Celiac disease, I am always intrigued to find out more about gluten sensitivity and intolerance.  Wheat Belly by Dr. William Davis is an interesting book that provides a lot of good information regarding wheat free diets and how they can be beneficial to the average American’s health.  My diet is gluten free so my autoimmune disease does not continue to hurt my body, but many people these days are interested in the gluten free diet as a way to lose weight.

Some points that stuck out to me from Wheat Belly (no pun intended, ha):

  • The connection between eating wheat and behavior in schizophrenics (shocking, seriously)
  • The glycemic index of wheat and how eating a piece of wheat bread affects our blood sugar
  • The amount of weight Davis’ patients lost on average from modifying their diets to exclude wheat
  • How wheat has changed over the many years and how its modifications have affected our ability to digest it
I have known since December that wheat was not good for me due to my autoimmune disease; however, I did not know how harmful it can be to others.

Thank you, Dr. Davis, for your research and insight into gluten’s effect on our bodies.  Please keep it up and continue sharing your message with our land of processed foods!

Gluten free foods are all the rage, but what do you think?  Wheat?  No wheat?  Just a hype?

Captivating historical fiction (Stealing Jake – Pam Hillman)

Let me first off say that I rarely read historical fiction.  It’s not that I don’t like it (because I often do), but more that for some reason it just doesn’t end up on my radar.  So, when I come across some good historical fiction, I really appreciate it.  Case in point: Stealing Jake by Pam Hillman.  I really enjoyed the story and the writing.  Not all Christian fiction is the quality I would expect a publisher would actually publish, so I’m pleasantly surprised when I read a well-written and well-edited Christian fiction novel.  And with Stealing Jake, I was pleasantly surprised.

It was a well-written, interesting, engaging story.  Hillman’s characters were captivating, as was her plot.  While there were definitely some cheesy moments, Livy and Jake’s store captured me from the beginning.  Livy loves on and works with orphans at an orphanage with Mrs. Brooks.  Beyond that though, she is working hard to try and gain the trust of the local homeless children.  Her desire to make amends is revealed throughout the novel, and helps to push the plot along as mystery ensues.  I enjoyed Livy’s faith journey as well, not too overt, but still an important part of the novel.

I really enjoyed reading Stealing Jake.  The characters were interesting, and the plot really kept me engaged.  I was proud of my deduction as I read…I figured out the thief/problem right from the get go, although that didn’t detract from my experience reading the novel.  Overall, a great historical fiction read!

Thanks, Tyndale, for the complimentary copy of Stealing Jake in exchange for an honest review.

Heartbreaking novel (Waiting for Morning – Karen Kingsbury)

When confronted with the idea of forgiving someone for killing my family, I faltered.  Could I really do that?  I can imagine my anger (along with the pain) would be crippling and would limit me to living in the prison of unforgiveness.  As much as I would hope that I could forgive, I know it would be a difficult journey, only possible with God’s help.  With all of that said, I loved reading Karen Kingsbury’s novel Waiting for Morning.  It was hard to read–heartbreaking and painful–but it was well worth it.

Hannah Ryan waits for her husband and two daughters to arrive home after their annual camping trip.  Instead, police officers arrive at her door with bad news.  As she fights to understand what happened, she loses her faith, living in bitterness.  Her heart changes as she pursues justice for her loved ones.  And in the midst of it all, God continues to work.

I really enjoyed reading Waiting for Morning.  It was, as with all Karen Kingsbury novels, well-written and interesting.  But it was more than just that.  It confronted hard questions about forgiveness, moving on, and pain.  And at the heart of it, trusting in God when it feels like he has abandoned you.  As I read, I cried, I rejoiced, and I cried some more.  I felt the freedom in forgiveness, and I felt the pain in the bitterness.

As Hannah grapples with hard questions (Why does God “let” bad things happen to good people, people who love him?  And more importantly, how do those “good people” respond to God when their understanding of the world collapses?), I found myself living in Hannah’s pain.  More than Hannah’s pain though, SPOILER ALERT!, I found myself profoundly feeling Jenny’s pain.  Every slight from her mom, every terse word between the two, and I found myself crying.  Maybe it’s the middle school teacher in me that feels middle school pain so well.

This was a heartbreaking novel, yes, but it was also life-giving as God redeems as only he can do.  Thanks to WaterbookMultnomah for the review copy of Waiting for Morning.  These ramblings are my honest opinions.

Fast paced and entertaining novel (Falls Like Lightning – Shawn Grady)

Silas is a smokejumper with only one regret…the way he left Elle all those years ago.  And now, in the direst of circumstances, they meet again.  This time though, he might not have the chance to apologize, as they might now survive what they find in the Desolation Wilderness.
What a story!  I really enjoyed reading Shawn Grady’s Falls Like Lightning.  It was fast paced, intriguing, and well-written.
While the cover made me skeptical (kind of cheesy, in my opinion), I was impressed with Grady’s storytelling.  His characters popped from the page as they fought for their lives in the wilds of the Sierra Nevada.  As a former California girl and Desolation hiker, I loved imagining Silas and Elle hiking through the terrain with which I’m familiar.  From my favorite lunch spot on the top of Mt. Tallac, you can see way out into the Desolation Wilderness.  
Grady did an incredible job describing the area and the terrain, as well as captivating the reader with a thrilling plot line.  I would recommend this book to a reader looking for fast paced action with a hint of Christian themes.  I am thankful for the complimentary review copy from Bethany House.  My opinions are my own honest ramblings.

Sweet, simple story (Sweet Sanctuary – Sheila Walsh & Cindy Martinusen Coloma)

I recently finished reading Sweet Sanctuary by Sheila Walsh and Cindy Martinusen-Coloma.  Wren is a single mom raising a sweet 10 year old son, Charlie.  She is happy in her small town and glad to be in a safe place to hide from her past.  But when her grandmother shows up unexpectedly and asks her to plan a party (that includes her siblings with whom she has tenuous relationships), Wren’s world is thrown for a loop.  She finds herself growing and changing as she finally accepts truth within her relationships…with her siblings, her son, and her new man friend.

I was expecting the book to be slightly cheesy (it is a Women of Faith novel, after all), and it was, but I appreciated that it wasn’t overly cheesy.  Wren’s faith journey and her growth were believable, and her freedom from guilt really resonated with me.  I appreciated that this novel had a well-rounded feel to it.  It wasn’t simply a Christian romance fiction story, it had an air of mystery (family drama) and some action (just wait until the end), and because of that, the story had more depth.  And really, who doesn’t want to be a small town librarian?!

Thank you, Thomas Nelson, for the review copy of Sweet Sanctuary.  My opinions are my own, honest ramblings.

A new favorite (Softly & Tenderly – Sara Evans & Rachel Hauck)

There are few books that keep me up reading until after midnight, and even fewer that keep me up until 2am thinking about the characters!  I loved Softly & Tenderly, the latest novel by Sara Evans and Rachel Hauck.  I hadn’t read the first in the series, The Sweet By & By, that shared the first part of Jade’s story, but it didn’t matter.  I was able to quickly get into the story and figure out who everyone was as I began the novel.

Jade is overwhelmed and feels as if her life is just falling apart as some really hard stuff happens.  I felt the pain as Jade’s heart broke and her world shattered.  How does one recover from the pain of an affair?  Especially when that affair has produced a tangible being, and that tangible being is what you’ve been dreaming of and waiting for since you married?

I appreciated the supporting cast of characters and felt connected to Beryl and June as they both hurt and grieved and loved and felt.  I felt righteous anger at Max and Reb and was disappointed as I continued to invest in their lives.  I was torn as Jade was torn between her first love and her commitment.  And mostly, I was affirmed in the importance of our maintaining our integrity in our commitments.

The characters were so real and so, at 2am, when I was finally drifting off, my last thoughts were of Jade, Max, Asa, Beryl, and June.  Thank you, Thomas Nelson, for providing this e-book to review.  I truly enjoyed the story and look forward to (hopefully) another collaboration between Sara Evans and the talented Rachel Hauck!