Rare Bird by Anna Whiston-Donaldson

Book description:

On an ordinary September day, twelve-year-old Jack is swept away in a freak neighborhood flood. His parents and younger sister are left to wrestle with the awful questions: How could God let this happen? And, Can we ever be happy again? They each fall into the abyss of grief in different ways. And in the days and months to come, they each find their faltering way toward peace.

In Rare Bird, Anna Whiston-Donaldson unfolds a mother’s story of loss that leads, in time, to enduring hope. “Anna’s storytelling,” says Glennon Doyle Melton, “is raw and real and intense and funny.”

With this unforgettable account of a family’s love and longing, Anna will draw you deeper into a divine goodness that keeps us—beyond all earthly circumstances—safe.

This is a book about facing impossible circumstances and wanting to turn back the clock. It is about the flicker of hope in realizing that in times of heartbreak, God is closer than your own skin. It is about discovering that you’re braver than you think.

My review:

I had never heard of Whiston-Donaldson or read her blog before reading this book, but I instantly felt a connection with her from the very first page of this book. Thankfully I have never experienced the devastating loss that she has, but as a mother, I could certainly imagine her heartbreak.

I don’t mind books that make me cry and actually enjoy the tears occasionally. This is one of those books that made me cry. However, in spite of the sorrow, it shares a message of hope. Readers are reassured that God is faithful and is always with us, especially when we need Him the most.

I could completely identify with the dreams that people shared with Whiston-Donaldson where they saw Jack. I lost my mom several years ago and occasionally dream of her. It is always so comforting and I always enjoy them.

There are elements of this book that anyone who has ever loved or lost someone will identify with. There are a lot of good reminders that readers should always remember as we go about our lives. If you are looking for a book filled with life, love and hope, this is the one for you!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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Your Best Destiny by Wintley Phipps

Book description:

When you imagine what it would take for your life to be truly great―for you to become your best, most fulfilled self―do you dream of something more than what you have now? More money . . . more attention . . . more significance? What you may be missing is the one thing that actually gives your life ultimate value, meaning, and purpose.

Your Best Destiny helps you find it through a highly insightful personal assessment tool that will reveal eight keys God has placed deep within you to unlock your true character and help you become who you were born to be.

In this rich and encouraging book, Wintley Phipps―pastor, recording artist, and founder of the U.S. Dream Academy, the organization Oprah Winfrey honored with the Oprah Winfrey Angel Network “Use Your Life” Award―shares what he has learned (sometimes the hard way) about what it takes to become “the best me I can be.” Join him as he leads you on a path to change your focus from what you have and do to who you are. Start today on the path to a truly great life, and step into your God-given destiny. (Includes an access code to the Your Best Destiny Personal Assessment Tool to reveal your personal strengths and areas for growth.)

My review:

I really loved this book. I thought the message was really easy to understand and very timely. Phipps breaks down his ideas into eight different pillars or secrets to achieve God’s best for our lives. Ranging from belief and virtue to kindness and love, each section is broken down and interspersed with interesting vignettes that illustrate the importance of each pillar.

I really can’t remember the last time I read a book that immediately changed the way that I looked at myself and others. For example, I loved the way that Phipps explained how we are all made in God’s image. It is one thing to read it in the Bible and another thing to internalize what that means and should look like in the way we relate to others and how we view ourselves. The entire book is filled with thought-provoking ideas to internalize lessons straight from the Bible.

If you are looking for a book to change your life, this one has that potential. With non-fiction books, you can never be sure if you are going to click with the ideas or if it will be too dry or filled with ideas that are not that useful. This one far surpassed what I hope for in a non-fiction book. I think a lot of people could be positively impacted by this book.

The highest compliment I can give to a book is for me to put it on my bookshelf that I don’t lend out from. This book made the cut!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher as part of a book launch team in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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Forgiven: The Amish School Shooting, a Mother’s Love, and a Story of Remarkable Grace by Terri Roberts

Book description:

Mother of Amish Schoolhouse Shooter Gives Message of Hope and Healing

Who would have believed all the beauty God would create over the nine years since that awful day. On October 2, 2006, a gunman entered an Amish one-room schoolhouse, shooting ten girls, killing five, then finally taking his own life. This is his mother’s story. Not only did she lose her precious son through suicide, but she also lost her understanding of him as an honorable man. Her community and the world experienced trauma that no family or community should ever have to face.

But this is, surprisingly, a story of hope and joy–of God revealing his grace in unexpected places. Today Terri lives in harmony with the Amish and has built lasting relationships that go beyond what anyone could have thought possible. From the grace that the Amish showed Terri’s family from day one, to the visits and ongoing care Terri has given to the victims and their families, no one could have foreseen the love and community that have been forged from the fires of tragedy.

Let Terri’s story inspire and encourage you as you discover the wonder of forgiveness and the power of God to bring beauty from ashes.

My review:

I enjoy reading these kind of books of the story behind the story. Sometimes I wonder about the people that tragedies impact after the story has been replaced in the headlines by the next big story. Roberts offers a unique perspective, not only of the story behind the story, but also the story of the family of the perpetrator and the struggles they face as they move forward in their lives.

This entire book is a lesson of faith and grace in action, especially by the Amish community. Other than the police and the extended family members, the Roberts family’s Amish neighbors were the first to come to offer support to them. If that isn’t God’s grace in action, I don’t know what is!

We don’t get answers to why the shootings happened, but this book isn’t about that. It is about forgiveness. We can all learn a lesson from Roberts and her neighbors as they forgave her son for his crime, immediately after the fact!

It is an inspiring book that offers encouragement for everyone, especially if forgiveness is an area you struggle with. I know I do!

This book is such a compelling read, right from the beginning that I had one of my studio families pick it up to browse over during their grandchild’s music lesson and couldn’t put it down. I ended up letting them take it home with them so they could finish it! It is that good of a book, right from the start.

If you are looking for an inspirational read about the power of forgiveness, this is a great choice!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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A Cup of Dust by Susie Finkbeiner

Book description:

Where you come from isn’t who you are
Ten-year-old Pearl Spence is a daydreamer, playing make-believe to escape life in Oklahoma’s Dust Bowl in 1935. The Spences have their share of misfortune, but as the sheriff’s family, they’ve got more than most in this dry, desolate place. They’re who the town turns to when there’s a crisis or a need―and during these desperate times, there are plenty of both, even if half the town stands empty as people have packed up and moved on.
Pearl is proud of her loving, strong family, though she often wearies of tracking down her mentally impaired older sister or wrestling with her grandmother’s unshakable belief in a God who Pearl just isn’t sure she likes.
Then a mysterious man bent on revenge tramps into her town of Red River. Eddie is dangerous and he seems fixated on Pearl. When he reveals why he’s really there and shares a shocking secret involving the whole town, dust won’t be the only thing darkening Pearl’s world.
While the tone is suspenseful and often poignant, the subtle humor of Pearl’s voice keeps A Cup of Dust from becoming heavy-handed. Finkbeiner deftly paints a story of a family unit coming together despite fractures of distress threatening to pull them apart.

My review:

This story unfolds little by little in a perfectly paced way.  Finkbeiner pulls readers in with lovely characters and an unusual setting.  I haven’t read a book set in the dustbowl since The Grapes of Wrath by Steinbeck.  I really enjoyed reading Finkbeiner’s take on life during the dust storms.  She did a wonderful job describing the struggles of life and the poverty that the people were faced with during that time.  She packed in a lot of historical information between the pages of a story about a young girl.  I also liked the way Finkbeiner pulled in other causes of the dust bowl, more than just the drought, such as over-farming the land with machines.

I love the pacing of this story.  We get to know Pearl’s family and neighbors and then the clues start coming about where the story will go.  I can’t say that there was a big, shocking twist in the story, but there are a couple of surprises.  I love stories that explore sacrificial love, especially the love of parents for their children.

This is a great story!  I was pulled in right from the start into the story and didn’t stop until the end.  If you enjoy reading historical fiction, this is a great story.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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52 Original Wisdom Stories by Penelope Wilcock

Book description:

Positive and life-affirming stories for church leaders
These 52 loosely related fictional stories about the large themes of life, nature, and faith follow the liturgical year and are an ideal resource for public worship.
Sid and Rosie are an older married couple with several children and grandchildren. Through a series of short, engaging narratives, we learn about their faith, their feelings for one another, their hopes and dreams, and their perception of how God speaks to them through the events of their lives.
Each story stands on its own; their sequence follows the rhythm of the church s year from Advent through Christmas, Easter, Pentecost, and Harvest Thanksgiving. With an open tone of wonder and reflection, author Penelope Wilcock explores the ordinary and extraordinary topics of daily life: falling in love, marriage, birth, education, illness, farming, adversity, hospitality, homemaking, and work.
This beautiful large-format paperback is suitable for personal reflection or as a refreshing resource for church and small group discussions.

My review:

I was really excited to read this book and travel through the year with different readings.  I anticipated a book that I could read with my children to share wisdom from the perspective from an older couple.  However, there were several things I found disappointing about this book.

First, I was disappointed when I realized that Sid and Rosie were not actual people, but fictionalized characters.  I was able to overlook it, but it colored the interactions they had with each other, knowing that it was not ideas shared by real people, but by the author.

The biggest hurdle for me to overcome was when Wilcock equated the celebration of Christmas with other religions celebrating the birthdays of Buddha or their leaders.  In fact, I found the definition of Christmas given in the book to be a little sickening.  Although the exact birthday of Jesus is unknown, the fact remains that Christmas is when we recognize His birthday, not “the harmonizing the light of the gospel with the old pagan religion that followed the Earth’s heartbeat, the rhythm of the seasons” (page 31 from the book).  WHAT!?!

After I read that, I read the information on the back cover about the author to discover that she is a Methodist minister in the UK.  It seems that Christianity is understood differently in the UK.

The most positive thing I can say about the book is that I appreciated the depiction of Sid’s devotion to Rosie in the face of her mental illness.  Unfortunately, it would have been more meaningful if they had been actual people.

I’m not sure that I could recommend this book to anyone.  It was disappointing and disturbing on so many levels.  This is one I definitely will not share with my friends.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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The Tears of Dark Water by Corban Addison

Book description:

Daniel and Vanessa Parker are an American success story. He is a Washington, DC, power broker, and she is a physician with a thriving practice. But behind the gilded façade, their marriage is a shambles, and their teenage son, Quentin, is self-destructing. In desperation, Daniel dusts off a long-delayed dream – a sailing trip around the world. Little does he know, the voyage he hopes will save them may destroy them instead. Half a world away on the lawless coast of Somalia, Ismail Adan Ibrahim is living a life of crime in violation of everything he was raised to believe – except for the love and loyalty driving him to hijack ships for ransom and plot the rescue of his sister, Yasmin, from the man who murdered their father. There is nothing he will not do to save her, even if it means taking innocent lives. Paul Derrick is the FBI’s top hostage negotiator. His twin sister, Megan, is a celebrated defense attorney. They have reached the summit of their careers by savvy, grit, and a secret determination to escape the memory of the day their family died. When Paul is dispatched to handle a hostage crisis at sea, he has no idea how far it will take him and Megan into the past – or the chance it will give them to redeem the future. Across continents and oceans, through storms and civil wars, the paths of these individuals converge in a single, explosive moment. It is a moment that will test them and break them, but it will also leave behind an unexpected glimmer of hope – that out of the ashes of tragedy and misfortune, the seeds of justice and reconciliation can grow.

My review:

I enjoyed this book very much. It is the most descriptive book I have read in a long time. In fact, it is so descriptive that when I had a couple of moments to read, I thought to myself, “What was the name of that show I was watching?” because I thought that I had been watching a show from DVR and forgot that it was a book. The descriptions were that good!

It was clear a lot of research went into this book. I learned a lot about the culture in Somalia and the geography in the area as well. I always enjoy reading a book that I learn something from.

The characters were nicely written, but I would have appreciated a little bit more backstory to further the connection before the story took off. I wanted Daniel and Quentin to survive, but didn’t have a huge emotional investment in whether they did or not.

I was a little surprised to read a couple of curse words in the book. I never expected to read curse words in a Thomas Nelson book. I also anticipated a little more of a message of Christianity in the book. However, I enjoyed the book despite it.

Overall, this was a good book. I think fans of suspense novels would enjoy it a lot. I would love to read another book by Addison.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Fiction Guild in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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An Amish Christmas Gift by Amy Clipston, Ruth Reid, and Kelly Irvin

Book description:

Naomi’s Gift by Amy Clipston

Naomi has begun to believe that she isn’t meant to find love, but she might receive more than she has ever hoped for this Christmas.

Twenty-four-year-old Naomi King has all but given up on marriage and children. As Christmas approaches, Naomi is certain that her life will be spent as an old maid, helping with the family’s quilting business and taking care of her eight siblings. Then she meets Caleb, a young widower with a 7-year-old daughter, and her world is once again turned upside-down.

An Unexpected Joy by Ruth Reid

Abigail has driven other suitors away, but can Micah find a way to show her he cares?

Being a caregiver for Micah Zook’s grandmother is the answer to Abigail’s prayers. In fact, the elderly lady keeps finding ways to set Abigail up with her grandson. Despite Abigail’s constant chatter, Micah realizes he’s beginning to care for her—until he makes a decision that leaves her feeling betrayed. With Christmas in their midst, can Micah find a way to reconcile with Abigail and to reveal the true feelings of his heart?

A Christmas Visitor by Kelly Irvin

Frannie Mast returns to Bee County for Christmas, but her heart stays back in Missouri with an Englisch farm boy.

Frannie knows her parents have the best of intentions when they send her back to Bee County, Texas, to live with her aunt and her aunt’s new husband Mordecai. After all, Frannie knows nothing can come of a relationship with Rocky, the handsome Englisch farm boy back in Missouri. But all bets are off when Rocky follows Frannie to Texas to plead his case. Could he be the Christmas gift to end all gifts?

My review:

This book offers three lovely stories to get readers ready for Christmas to come.

In Naomi’s Gift, Naomi and Caleb are two characters in a typical Christian romance. They are wounded from the past and a little hesitant to risk their hearts again. Readers are reminded that all things are possible with faith. The best character is Caleb’s daughter, who loves Naomi even before Caleb does.

It was entertaining to read about the family struggles that occur even in Amish families over the holidays, especially with Caleb’s matchmaking sister. Any single person approaching the holiday season can relate to the inevitable matchmaking that seems to go hand in hand with family dinners!

My favorite of the three books was An Unexpected Joy. Abigail was such a lovable character, with a charming flaw. I enjoyed reading about Micah’s gradual thawing of his reticence over her chatter. I also appreciated the attention that the author gave to PTSD and that it can even impact Amish communities. It was interesting to read about the struggles of Abigail’s cousins as they were coping with the realities of being shunned and her courage in providing for them.

A Christmas Visitor was a nice was to end the collection. I’ve never read a book where an English man was contemplating joining the Amish community to be with the girl he loved. This book had the added charm of not knowing what would happen at the end. I wasn’t quite sure whether Frannie and Rocky would end up together. That is very rare in a romance story!

If you are looking for a light, easy read to get you ready for the Christmas season, this is a great choice. They stories are quick to read, and filled with lovable characters. Plus, they are short enough that you can fit them in between shopping trips or waiting for Christmas recital practices to end!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Fiction Guild in exchange for my honest review. All opinions are my own.

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A Respectable Actress by Dorothy Love

Book description:

India Hartley, a famous and beautiful actress, is now alone after her father’s death and embarks upon a tour of theaters across the South. Her first stop is Savannah’s Southern Palace. On the eve of the second night’s performance, something goes horribly wrong. Her co-star, Arthur Sterling, is shot dead on stage in front of a packed house, and India is arrested and accused of the crime.

A benefactor hires Philip Sinclair, the best—and handsomest—lawyer in Savannah to defend India. A widower, Philip is struggling to reinvent his worn-out plantation on St. Simons Island. He needs to increase his income from his law practice in order to restore Indigo Point, and hardly anything will bring him more new clients than successfully defending a famous actress on a murder charge.

Because India can’t go anywhere in town without being mobbed, Philip persuades the judge handling her case to let him take her to Indigo Point until her trial date. India is charmed by the beauty of the Georgia lowcountry and is increasingly drawn to Philip. But a locked room that appears to be a shrine to Philip’s dead wife and the unsolved disappearance of a former slave girl raise troubling questions. Piecing together clues in an abandoned boat and a burned-out chapel, India discovers a trail of dark secrets that lead back to Philip, secrets that ultimately may hold the key to her freedom. If only he will believe her.

My review:

This was a nice book with an interesting premise.  I thought the idea of a murder mystery set in post-Civil War era was an unusual plot, especially one involving a woman as the accused.  Although I was a fan of the plot idea from the beginning, the execution was a little uneven.

The beginning was a little slow for me.  I kept forging ahead, thinking that at some point I would click with the characters.  Eventually it started moving ahead and I became curious about what would happen.  The thing that bothered me were the hints about India’s romantic interest in Philip.  It seemed a little unnecessary and broke up the flow of the writing.  I was relieved when Love stopped hinting about their romantic interest and left it to develop naturally.

Although the writing was a little contrived at the beginning, in my opinion, once the story took off it got much smoother.  There were some surprises and plot twists that are always enjoyable in a novel.  I enjoyed the book at the end and found myself to be a fan of Love’s writing.  This book was truly an example of why it pays to keep reading past a rough beginning.

The aspect of the book that I enjoyed the most was the research that went into it.  Love paints a picture of life post-Cival War in the South that is accurate and detailed.  I loved reading about the real-life people that inspired some of the characters.

Overall, this turned out to be a nice story.  I enjoyed it once the story got underway, even though there were a few bumps in the beginning.  The historical details and plot twists make the whole book worth reading.  I am looking forward to reading another book by Dorothy Love.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review as part of the Thomas Nelson Fiction Guild.  All opinions are my own.

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99 Prayers for Children by Juliet David and Elina Ellis

Book description:

A companion prayer book to 99 Stories from the Bible with delightful illustrations in a strong vibrant style and prayers for all occasions. The prayers are a combination of traditional and modern and provide an introduction to family prayer time with young children, bringing talking to God to life in the heart of every child.

My review:

I am a fan of everything I have ever read by Candle Books.  The illustrations are always so bright, vibrant, and naturally appealing to children.  This one is a pretty lengthy for a children’s book of prayers.  It even has a table of contents to help readers find the section they are looking for.

I really enjoyed the diverse assortment of prayers offered in this book.  Some are poems by well-known authors such as Robert Louis Stevenson, others are prayers by ministers from the past, and others are directly from Scripture.  I was very pleasantly surprised to see the assortment of prayers.  Children’s prayer books typically offer morning prayers, mealtime prayers, and bedtime prayers.  I was pleasantly surprised to find prayers for family members, prayers for help, and also prayers of thankfulness.  What a wonderful way for children to learn that they can approach God in every circumstance.

If you are a parent or grandparent looking for a book to help guide the children in your life to approach the Lord no matter what they are experiencing in their lives, look no further than this one.  This book gives the words to children as they are learning about the process of prayer in their lives.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from KregelPublications in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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A Reluctant Bride by Kathleen Fuller

Book description:

She never wanted to marry. He hopes to make amends for past wrongs. Can love find a way to heal both of their hearts?

Sadie Schrock swore she would never marry. All of her other Amish friends could court and marry—she was content to manage the family business and eventually take it over when her parents are ready to retire. But all of that changes when a reckless driver kills both of her parents and seriously injures her younger sister. With mounting hospital bills adding to the pile of debt her parents left behind, Sadie is left with no choice: she must marry. And not just any man—the man who saw her at her weakest and walked away.

Aden knows what his brother did to Sadie years ago was inexcusable. And every day since that incident, Aden has lived with the guilt for not intervening sooner. When he is faced with the chance to protect Sadie once again, he can’t let her down—even if it means living with the scorn of the woman he loves for the rest of his life.

Working alongside Aden at the store, Sadie realizes he isn’t the same boy who once betrayed her. Just when Sadie starts to let her guard down and perhaps develop feelings for her new husband, dangerous secrets are revealed. Now everything Sadie has worked so hard to protect is threatened, and she must find a way to save her family—and herself.

My review:

This is a very unusual Amish fiction book.  Fuller’s book explores greed, abuse, and deception in the context of an Amish community.  I found it to be a refreshing change from the typical Amish fiction.  Most Amish fiction paints the Amish lifestyle in an idyllic fashion where everyone lives together in peace and cooperation.  I’m not sure which one is the most realistic, but it was very interesting to read this different style of Amish fiction.

The best part of this book is the realistic aspect of the situation in which Sadie finds herself.  I lived in a rural community where there was a large Amish population, so I am well aware of the realities of car versus buggy accidents and how catastrophic they are for the buggy occupants.

In romantic fiction, it is usually pretty obvious who will couple up and live happily ever after, so I always look at the journey of how they get from point A to point B.  Fuller does a great job in pacing the book so that it isn’t too obvious or gives away too much too soon.  Aden and Sadie are lovable characters that struggle with real-life problems.  Readers can’t help but root for them to find happiness.

If you are a fan of Amish fiction, you will probably enjoy this one, especially since it is different from other Amish fiction out there.  I really enjoyed it!

I received a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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