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.


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!

Women of Faith Conference 2011: Seattle

When I first heard that I could get FREE books in exchange for writing an honest review, I could hardly believe it…but it was true, and I’ve definitely taken advantage of that.  I love getting to choose the books I want to review, anticipating their arrival in the mail, reading them, and then posting a review.  Some of my favorite books come from Thomas Nelson and I’ve been so thankful that I just keep getting them again and again.

So, when I received an email from Thomas Nelson’s program, BookSneeze, asking if I wanted to be a blogger at a Women of Faith event in my area.  Sure!  I have to admit that I have always been hesitant of the big Christian conferences.  I don’t know what about it was off-putting, but I am going to conquer my fear of cheesiness and of crying ladies and all that I have pictured that goes on at these Women of Faith conferences.  More than simply “conquering my fear”, I am actually getting excited about going!

The theme of the conference is “Over the Top” and I’m excited to hear the speakers (Patsy Clairmont especially; I hear she’s hilarious) and to hear Mandisa too (I have a secret love for her fueled by my secret love for K-LOVE).  Mostly, I’m excited to journey there with a buddy (I’m planning to ask my sister in law or my best buddy) and to be encouraged and challenged.

I know the conference isn’t until the end of October, but thanks, Thomas Nelson/BookSneeze and Women of Faith for offering this opportunity!  I’m thankful to get to blog about my time there too! 🙂

A great read (Jesus, My Father, the CIA, & Me: A Memoir…of Sorts – Ian Morgan Cron)

I am a blog stalker.  I love to read Rachel Held Evans’ blog and when she posted her book lover’s survey I jumped on it fast.  She said she was excited to read Ian Morgan Cron’s Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts and when I saw it later that day on Thomas Nelson’s BookSneeze, I was stoked.

This book did not disappoint.  I am a sucker for a good story and I was mesmerized by the story Cron told.  Not only was it a fabulous story, it was well written and engaging.  I appreciated Cron’s writing, but more than that, I appreciated his insight into God, alcoholism, and life.

I laughed aloud, I cried (only once), and I have since thought about Cron, his life, his family, his story.  Thanks, Thomas Nelson, for a great read.  I appreciate that you send me books in exchange for my honest review.

Fast paced, action-packed, YA novel (The Final Hour – Andrew Klavan)

I was excited when contacted by Thomas Nelson to review the final novel in Andrew Klavan’s The Homelanders series, The Final Hour.  Even though these are YA novels, I thoroughly enjoyed both The Long Way Home and The Truth of the Matter, as well as the fourth and final book, The Final Hour.

Charlie West has been through a lot lately…he went to bed one night, and a year later, woke up with no recollection of the previous year.  Terrorists are after him, the cops are after him.  He’s not sure if there’s anyone he can trust.  After remembering more and more, Charlie realizes that there’s a terrorist plot in the works and he is the only one who can stop it.

I am amazed at how Klavan wove this complicated plot throughout his series.  I appreciated how the story evolved and all of the loose ends were tied.  Charlie is a hero, truly, and his decision making process would be a great example for young adults.

My only concern was some of the rhetoric.  As a middle school teacher, I am always in awe of how impressionable teenagers are.  Throughout the novel, Klavan paints his characters with a wide brush.  While I think it’s important to delineate between right and wrong, I think it is just as important to remember that not all stereotypes fit all people.  Yes, I’ll give him the skinhead stereotype, but Klavan’s writing seemed to depict all Muslims as terrorists.  As an adult and a Christian, I think it is dangerous for young adult books to use black and white rhetoric to portray inaccurate stereotypes.

All in all, I did really enjoy the fast paced action thriller that was The Final Hour, and I was thankful for a resolution to the series that had captured my imagination.  Thank you, Thomas Nelson, for this book to review.  These are my honest opinions. 🙂

Great book! (The Lightkeeper’s Ball – Colleen Coble)

>I first fell in love with the cover of Colleen Coble’s newest novel The Lightkeeper’s Ball. From there, it only got better!

Olivia Stewart’s sister is killed under mysterious circumstances while out west. Olivia has to get to the bottom of it and along the way gets to know the suspected murderer. With lots of twists and turns, this book kept me on my toes and guessing the whole time. I was sure I had it figured out toward the end (and I was close :)) but I was surprised when the truth was revealed.

It took me a few chapters to get into the story, but I really enjoyed this novel. Coble is a great writer: I enjoyed her descriptions and her character development. I have not read either of the two other books in the series, but The Lightkeeper’s Ball was a good stand alone novel. I could tell that there were references to the other two books but the story wasn’t lost on me due to that. Overall, an interesting read!
Thanks, Thomas Nelson, for a review copy. The opinions above are my honest opinions.

Hilarious! (Save the Date – Jenny B. Jones)

>The last book I read by Jenny B. Jones (Just Between You and Me) had me, like my ten year old self, huddling with a flashlight and hoping no one would notice. And while this time it was an iPad and I was hoping my husband wouldn’t notice, it felt the same to be so engrossed in a good book that I couldn’t put it down. Reading Save the Date felt the same. I could NOT put it down.

Lucy needs money. Alex has money. Alex needs popularity for his election, and Lucy seems to provide it when she’s near him. Let the mayhem begin. While I was a little put off by Clare and her continued presence, by the end of the book I was rooting for her and her hilarious companion.
Funny, heartwarming, and engaging…everything I hope for in Christian chick lit. I laughed aloud more times than I can remember and, at the end of it all, I really appreciated the deeper themes of trusting and abiding. Way to go, Jenny B. Jones. And, most impressive, she is a teacher! AMAZING! I can barely manage sleeping and eating, not to mention just thinking about thinking about maybe writing a chapter or a sentence. Or thinking about writing a blog post/book review for this book that I loved reading OVER two weeks ago. 🙂
Thank you to Thomas Nelson BookSneeze for providing a complimentary review copy of Save the Date by Jenny B. Jones. I really enjoyed it and, although I was not asked to write a good review, I can’t say enough about how much I loved this book.

Finding Our Way Again – Brian McLaren & Phyllis Tickle

>I’ve enjoyed other books by Brian McLaren (A New Kind of Christian in particular) and was excited to see a new book by him. I’ve always liked his writing style and the stories he tells. Phyllis Tickle, leader in the emerging church, is a youtube favorite of mine. Her words are hard to hear sometimes, but they are always truth that is completely necessary.

So, with that masterful combo, I was excited to read Finding Our Way Again. And I was impressed. I did not necessarily agree with everything I read, but I was pleased to learn new things and be challenged in ways I never am challenged in: the “lost” spiritual disciplines. My husband is all about spiritual disciplines and so he really enjoyed reading this book too. This book will be a good read for you if you are interested in growing in your relationship with God in unique ways.

I received this book free from the Thomas Nelson Publishers “Booksneeze” book review program. I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.

Fast paced, action packed YA thriller (The Truth of the Matter – Andrew Klavan)

>Wow. I waited anxiously for this book after reading the second in the series, The Only Road Home. When I first saw that The Truth of the Matter by Andrew Klavan was up for review on BookSneeze, I practically squealed with joy. I really enjoyed the second book and was curious as to the truth of what really had happened to poor Charlie West. He awoke one day to find himself wanted for the murder of his best friend, on the run from a terrorist group he had once been a member of, and confused as to who the good guys were.

The Truth of the Matter begins and ends with suspense and the middle of the book is fraught with it. I read this book quickly, gobbling up the mystery and intrigue of Charlie’s life. I was pleased to find out more about what had happened to Charlie and to get some answers! Finally!
Klavan writes suspense so well. While some of the plot devices seemed somewhat ridiculous (Milton 2?), this was a great read. My only issue was that I was not expecting another cliffhanger!!
Thank you to Thomas Nelson for providing this lovely reading to me for free. This is my honest opinion about the book.