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I made the mistake of starting this book while watching my kids at the pool. Right away in the first chapter the main character, Alicen McCaffrey, goes to answer her mother’s phone call only to return to find her daughter face down in their swimming pool. A parent’s worst nightmare has come true. Alicen’s world is turned upside down.

She escapes the haunting reminders of failure in California to return to  where she grew up in Montana with her childhood best friend. But in getting help from a retreat center, Alicen’s life becomes even more muddled as she begins to hear voices and see children. The staff and her family thinks she’s crazy. To top it off, her grandma suffered from similar “delusions.”

But are things what they seem? Is Alicen crazy or is there more to what’s going on than meets the eye? Memories of her grandmother from her childhood come flooding back to her. Her grandmother insisted that she wasn’t crazy, but that God was sending messengers to help her find the right path in life.

The book reminded me of a cross between The Shack and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. I recommend this book to most anyone who enjoys a good fiction tale woven with intrigue.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

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This is not my typical book choice as it came across in the initial description as a bit of a romance. However, I was pulled in by it being a part of a vintage national parks series. Specifically, this story takes place in Yosemite National Park in 1929. It focuses on the stories of two individuals whose stories join together in the park (so, yes, there is a love story element involved).

Olivia Rutherford is an up-and-coming artist whose image is a facade designed to get her places as well as to escape her past. An offer by a national magazine for her watercolor landscapes takes her to Yosemite where a man named Clark Johnson is assigned to be her guide. Clark has a past of his own. A disgraced pastor, he now works in the national park, seeking direction for his life while trying to avoid the entanglements of women. Faith is a front-and-center part of the story, but it flows more naturally and isn’t force.

The story drew me in as two people learned to be real with themselves and God. I appreciated the national park setting and learning about the historical Yosemite.

The publisher provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an unbiased review.

People can dispute the facts of Christianity or that Jesus is the Messiah, but it is hard to dispute personal stories. In The Rescue Jim Cymbala and Ann Spangler share the stories of seven different people. Actually, it is more like the people are sharing their own stories, as they were shared with the authors originally. The seven people come from different backgrounds and walks of life. Their stories are different and unique. They are also quite dramatic. Many share stories of abuse to themselves or abuse by themselves of drugs, sex, or alcohol. Some involve homelessness or depression. But all have one thing in common: the tale of their rescue from their depths of darkness. And every story points to Jesus as being the only One who could rescue them.

I found the stories compelling. It felt as if the individuals were telling me the stories themselves. This is a great book to share with people who are in tough times, or know of people in tough times, or have been through tough times, and would benefit to hear of others being rescued.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

The New York Botanical Garden has created the Gardener’s Log Book: A 5 Year Planner.  It is a handy resource for the beginning or experienced gardener. It’s waterproof pages let you record what you plant and when you harvest it without worry of of having it outside with you. It contains a season-by-season journal for noting the signs of spring to building a catalog wish list. The log also has grid pages for planning your bed.

For large space gardeners to container or raised bed gardeners, The Gardener’s Log Book is a useful resource for anyone who enjoys raising their own plants. It also contains a few pages of resources for composting, pest control, pruning, and disease control.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

The Empowered is a high energy novel that takes ex-attorney Trevor Black from his home on Ocracocke Island (NC), to Louisiana, to Washington, DC., as he gets drawn into a string of murders, a web of sex-trafficking, and a voodoo connection to it all. I’ll confess that the mention of voodoo in the summary of the book almost made me pass it over as it seemed too forced–trying to make a story into a spiritual story for the sake of its readers. This, however, was not the case. Well, not entirely. The voodoo plot definitely is connected to a spiritualization of the events in the story, but then, the who story itself is focused on the spiritual realm and its connection to the physical.

In addition to a compelling story around spiritual battles manifested in the physical realm, The Empowered also develops a father’s relationship with an estranged daughter who joins him in his investigation. Both father and daughter are drawn into an investigation riddled with danger and peril–not only for themselves but for many innocent girls as well.

I found Craig Parshall to be part Frank Peretti, part John Grisham, and part Robert Ludlum (the book cover references Stephen King and Dean Koontz as well). I found the book hard to put down, and I would definitely read more books by Craig Parshall.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased book review.

The Empowered

I’ve always viewed The Babylon Bee as The Onion of Christianity. It’s website gives satirical news of Christendom. Their new book, How to Be a Perfect Christian, takes a satirical look at being a follower of Jesus. In today’s age of churches that sometimes entertain more than inspire and Christians who like to talk the talk more than walk the walk, How to Be a Perfect Christian addresses the areas where we are often missing the point. Much like C.S. Lewis’s classic book The Screwtape Letters, this book encourages real faith by humorously showing where we’re missing the mark.

I enjoyed the humorous look at being a Christian. It was a lighthearted reminder that perfection is not our goal–nor is trying to show others that we are. The book is a reminder that faith is about following Jesus and living like Him as best we can. That being said, this is definitely a satire. You should only read this if you can take the tongue-in-cheek style.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

How to Be a Perfect Christian  -     By: The Babylon Bee LLC

High Treason is DiAnn Mills’ latest FBI Task Force novel. In it an unlikely  pairing of FBI agent Kord Davidson and CIA operative Monica Alden must overcome differences (and pride) to work together to prevent a Saudi prince from being assassinated. Several attempts are made with heightened suspense and intrigue. During the assignment, the two agents fall in love. This would be my one fault with the book (and admittedly, as a male, I’m not in the target audience and may read this part differently). I dislike how (as in her previous book) a Christian and non-Christian fall in love unexpectedly, and the non-Christian becomes a believer though the process. I get that this sometimes happens, but it makes the story–as well as the characters’ faith–a little shaky.

That being said, the plot is gripping. I wanted to keep reading, wondering what would happen next and if they would find the assassin. For those who like a little suspense and action in a criminal story, this is a good read.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

I’ve often felt that the Holy Spirit is the most overlooked member of the Trinity by most Christians. Some feel that Pentecostals focus too much on the Holy Spirit, but most other Christians seem to almost neglect the Holy Ghost all together. However, Jesus Himself spoke much about the Holy Spirit as a gift to us and presence in our lives. It seems important that most of us should try to learn more about the Holy Spirit and how to live more by the Spirit.

Professor Scot McKnight gives a fairly comprehensive overview of our need for the Holy Spirit in his new book, Open to the Spirit. While being academic in his own study of the Holy Spirit, McKnight makes his writing accessible to all–it is very down-to-earth with stories of his own and others’ interaction and growth with the Holy Spirit. His main argument is that we must be open to the Spirit. If we are, the Spirit becomes a mighty power in our lives. If you are open to being open, I would recommend this book if you desire a greater presence of the Spirit in your life.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased book review.

 

Open to the Spirit: God in Us, God with Us, God Transforming Us  -     By: Scot McKnight

I first heard of Dr. Daniel Amen because of his work with brain studies and his specials on PBS. I was surprised to see him write a book about memorizing scripture, but it makes sense. Stones of Remembrance is a Memory Rescue Resources. It is subtitled “Healing Scriptures for Your Mind, Body, and Soul.”

Dr. Amen begins with reminding us that God designed our brains to remember. He gives 12 keys for healthy living and building a strong memory, each accompanied with memorizable Bible verses for the key. He follows with a section of verses to memorize when…(you are angry, happy, depressed, grateful, lonely, tired, etc.). Also included are twelve verses every Christian should know and an appendix with tips for memorizing, eating healthy, and exercises for improving memory.

My one criticism of the book is that it’s mostly a list of verses to memorize. Still, I know that can be helpful to some, and the other information is helpful, useful, and a strong encouragement to memorize. I can see the verses being helpful to focus on for my family as a whole.

I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.

Leigh Bardugo initiates a series of DC Icons books with a Wonder Woman story. My first caveat is that if you’re looking for the story to connect with the recent movies and comics, it doesn’t. In Wonder Woman: Warbringer, Diana is a teenage-ish (since her age is never mentioned and aging seems different for the Amazons, but she comes across as peer to other teens) Amazonian princess living on the island of Themyscira. Her adventure takes her into the world which seems to be set in current times. She is not Diana Prince nor is she truly yet Wonder Woman. And perhaps because of this discontinuity with other Wonder Woman stories, it took me a while to get into this one.

Still, once I did, the story was compelling and hard to put down. It’s not perfect, but it’s enjoyable. There is a little language and violence, so you may want to preview it before giving the book to young readers, but for teenagers and older it is suitable.

I received a copy of the book in exchange for an honest review.

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