In Radical Spirit Joan Chittister looks at twelve ways to live a free and authentic life (as the subtitle says) using the Rule of Benedict as a springboard for her steps. Chittister is a sister in the Order of St. Benedict. From the time she first became a nun as a young adult, her life has been guided by the Rule of Benedict in which St. Benedict laid out his guidelines for monastic life over a millennia and a half ago. Benedict focused heavily on humility as being central to a life of freedom and authenticity in a community.

While Chittister comes from a Catholic system, she writes for all people regardless of religious beliefs (or lack of); she wants to offer her thoughts on living a radical, free life to all people. She quotes Buddha as well as the Bible.

I appreciate her stories of struggle and questioning the steps as she encountered them throughout her life as well as her reflections on how to make 1500 year-old guidelines for a monastic community practical for ordinary people in everyday life.

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

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Part travel memoir, part reflections on life and parenting, part inspirational thoughts, We Stood upon Stars tells of entrepreneur and adventurer Roger Thompson’s travels through the western United States. As he takes the reader through Yosemite National Park, he also talks about the life lessons he learned from his grandfather. In Yellowstone he recounts trying to teach his own sons how to be men. And through many other cities, national parks and places Thompson shares his own journey through being a man and following God.

I enjoyed “travelling” with Thompson to his favorite places and new discoveries. Each short chapter was illustrated with a map identifying favorite things in the area such as fishing spots, coffee houses, and restaurants. His insightful reflections often hit home personally as well, and his faith connections were not too pointed or over-the-top.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review.5128icjhhxl-_sx309_bo1204203200_

FBI agent Tori Templeton finds herself on one of her most difficult cases when her best friend’s husband is murdered and her best friend is one of the prime suspects. Oil and gas tycoon Nathan Moore’s life is ended when someone hacks into his pacemaker days after an explosion at one of his oil sites. As the investigation into his murder proceeds, facts come to light about the double-life he was living. Agent Templeton gets thrown into the case with an unsuspecting US Marshal who brings with him charm, good looks, and faith. He also is one of the victim’s good friends.

DiAnn Mill’s FBI Task Force Novel Deep Extraction kept me reading as the federal agents faced threats and dangers while trying to solve the case. I wasn’t expecting it to be a romance novel, though the romance part was fairly light. Overall I enjoyed the story and would recommend it to those who enjoy crime investigation and action stories.

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

Life After is not the normal book that I would pick up. It has a bit of a bent toward the romantic side–though not in a harlequin romance novel sort of way. While there is a bit of a love story within the pages of the book, the novel itself tends to explore the question of “Why?”

In Life After author Katie Ganshert tells the story of Autumn Manning, the inexplicably lone survivor of a bombing aboard a train in Chicago. She is tormented by grief, guilt, and plenty of questions. A year later, while the victims of the bombing haunt her sleep and waking moments, Autumn’s life becomes intertwined with a family who’s mother/wife died in the bombing. Amidst heightened emotions, those involved must look at questions of truth, goodness and purpose in life.

While answers to “Why?” are not given, the story provocatively looks at discovering where God’s path for us can lead. Despite not being my typical type of story, I enjoyed Life After. There were many times it was hard to put down the book as the authentic characters pulled me in to their lives.

In exchange for an unbiased review, the publisher sent me a free copy of this book.

The Returning is author Rachelle Dekker’s third installment in her Seer Novels. I read the second book and not the first book. This book takes place 20 years after the second book. It took a while to connect with the characters, as many of them were children in the first book, if introduced at all. There was a bit of connection to the second book–which I had gotten into without knowledge of the first book.

Set in the future where the government controls everything–even the obedience and will of the people. A few have managed to escape and have found freedom–spiritually as much as politically. The time has come to rescue a member who was kidnapped as an infant 20 years ago. But her rescue will also trigger the awakening of the city where she has been kept.

The Returning deals with themes of faith, identity, and the choices we make. Throughout the book characters examine the reasons they make in choosing good and evil. Suspense and intrigue are strong in the story. Even without reading the first two books, the story is an enjoyable read.

 

Q&A from Rachelle Dekker:

Set the scene for The Returning. What has happened since The Calling ended?

Well, it’s been nearly 20 years, and the world has changed. I don’t want to give too much away for those who haven’t read the first two, so I’ll just say the world is very different and much more dangerous than it once was. But something is brewing under the surface. Change is coming, and people know it.

 

What themes are explored in this book?

Identity is something I am always exploring, so that’s no different in The Returning. But in this novel I took a really hard look at forgiveness and how that relates to our journey of discovering who we really are.

 

The theme of identity is explored in all three Seer books. How does forgiveness relate to identity?

For me, forgiveness is more about the one who feels wronged than the one who committed the wrong. What if, for a moment, you believed that nothing could harm you? That you, as a believer, are seated at the Father’s table and standing with him? Can anything harm the Father? If you believe no, then can anything harm you—the true you, the true spirited self? So then, forgiveness becomes more about letting go of false belief and stepping into the true identity that the Father gave to you. I know it’s radical, but belief like that could change the world, don’t you think?

I was excited for the opportunity to read Nadia Bolz-Weber’s new book Accidental Saints: Finding God in all the Wrong People. I first encountered her name in the talk of friends and on NPR. A tattooed woman pastoring a church sounded intriguing, and she is far from conventional. Those who are prudish over a little usage of crass language may need to stay clear of Bolz-Weber (as may those who are overly conservative in their religious practice). She is as unapologetic in the language she uses as in her faith. She speaks candidly of her humanness and how God broke into it.

Accidental Saints progresses through the liturgical year as Bolz-Weber looks at the people God keeps putting in her life. Their presence is not always welcome, as she honestly shares, but God teaches her things about Himself and herself through them.

This is a great book for those searching for God, but wary of the church, as well as for those looking for deeper insight into their faith through the people around them in their everyday lives.

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

Though it sounds like a mystery, The Missing Matisse is a memoir by the grandson of famous artist, Henri Matisse. Pierre Matisse came to age in Nazi occupied France. His family was constantly on the move to stay out of danger. His father was involved with secret resistance activities in which young Pierre grew up becoming a part of. His story gave a fascinating look at life in Nazi occupied France leading up to and during World War II. His story is gripping.

Matisse’s story also centers heavily around the theme of identity. He spent much of his childhood (and adulthood) wondering who his real father was and who he was at the center of his being. Eventually, after moving to Canada and later the United States, and after a string of marriages, Matisse answered the call of God which he realized had been in his life all along.

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

The Fir Tree by Hans Christian Andersen illustrated by Sanna Annukka ISBN#978-0-399-57848-9

The Fir Tree is a classic Hans Christian Andersen story written in 1845. It chronicles the life of a young fir tree growing up in the woods to its service as a family’s Christmas tree to being chopped up as firewood. As with any great Andersen story, there is more to it than just a great story–there’s a good lesson about enjoying life as well.

Finnish artist Sanna Annukka adds to the splendor of the story with superb pictures that make the story sparkle even more. With the pictures and the hard cover binding, this is a great gift book for a favorite child (or adult) in your life.

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

Amidst the backdrop of the construction of the Panama Canal, a South Dakota rancher is invited down as a personal favor to the President himself. There James Holt finds himself helping a mysterious young woman search for her missing mother amidst the political unrest of the Panamanian citizens in a zone occupied by American canal builders. Holt quickly finds that everything is not as it appears and danger lurks around every corner.

Though Saffire is a love story in some ways, it is much more of a historical mystery. Panama in 1909 comes to life throughout the story with all of its complexities of politics and cultures coming head to head in a buffered Zone. I enjoyed the story–both for its entertainment as well as the historical information it imparted.

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

I’ve been a bicycle owner and user for years, but I confess I’m not overly knowledgeable in the things I need to need to do to take care of my bike or make optimum use of it. I found Anna Brones’ book, Hello, Bicycle: An Inspired Guide to the Two-Wheeled Life, to be a good resource to keep around.

While simple and straightforward, Brones gives a comprehensive overview of bicycle ownership and use. She addresses picking out a new or used bicycle, fixing a tire, and touring and camping with your bike. She even includes ideas for reusing a bicycle tube, recipes for camping with your bike, and bike shop vocabulary.

I recommend this book for anyone who owns a bike or is thinking of buying one.

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