Skin in the Game by Rick Lawrence

Book description:

“Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it.” —Matthew 10:39

Christians are longing for more life in their lives, a sense that they’re more present to Jesus and to their own story in the everyday. They’re looking for the answer to the deepest question of human experience: “How do I find the freedom I crave, and become the person I long to be?” Too often, though, they’re scared to risk too much to find the answer—so they simply continue to lead lives of “quiet desperation.”

Rick Lawrence says that’s exactly the problem. We’ve seen too much. We know too much. And so we manage our risk so well that we choke off the very fuel that our soul needs to stay alive. In fact, risk should be a primary aspect of our relationship with Jesus, not the thing we avoid.

In this book, Lawrence argues that if we pay attention to the way Jesus related to people, we discover that he asked every person he ever met to put their “skin in the game”—invest part of themselves. Only then did they find the life they always longed for.

Lawrence asks eight key questions, including:
• Will you embrace your shame?
• Will you receive grace?
• Will you confront your fears?
• Will you wait, even when all hope is lost?

With a vigorous, fast-paced, and conversational style, he uses these questions plus stories straight from Scripture and pop-culture corollaries to explore the kinds of risks we find in our lives today and how to stop waiting and start going all in for Jesus.

My review:

This was an easy to read and understand book.  It was a fast read, with a lot of interesting stories to keep it moving along.  Sometimes non-fiction books become a little dry for me, especially when they are bogged down with information.  Lawrence guards against boredom with his fresh writing and honest look at taking risks and the impediments to taking risks.

Although this book was an easy read, I can’t say that it offered a lot of new information.  That not to say that there isn’t value in this book, just that I don’t think there is anything revolutionary about it.  The most important thing that I look for when reading a non-fiction book is a moment where I think, “Wow, I’m going to try that” or when I am close the book and can’t stop thinking about the ideas the author shared.  Even when writing this review, I find myself referring back to the book to recall specifics from it.  I usually don’t have to do that, especially when the book is super engaging.

Overall, this was an ok book for me.  I think a lot of readers would find it enjoyable, but I wanted more from it.  I was looking for it to inspire me to live on the edge and step out from my comfort zone.  This book talked about risks, but didn’t cross over into making me take any.

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

Posted in Adult | Leave a comment

What If by Rebecca Donovan

Book description:

Cal Logan is shocked to see Nicole Bentley sitting across from him at a coffee shop thousands of miles from their hometown. After all, no one has seen or heard from her since they graduated over a year ago.

Except this girl isn’t Nicole.

She looks exactly like Cal’s shy childhood crush, but her name is Nyelle Preston and she has no idea who he is. This girl is impulsive and daring, her passion for life infectious. The complete opposite of Nicole. Cal finds himself utterly fascinated-and falling hard. But Nyelle is also extremely secretive. And the closer he comes to finding out what she’s hiding, the less he wants to know.

When the secrets from the past and present collide, one thing becomes clear: Nothing is what it seems.

My review:

I have to confess that this is the first book I have ever read in my life solely based on a book review.  The review that I read of the book wasn’t a positive review, but the review was so thoughtful and well-written that I had to read the book and see if I had similar thoughts.

The description of this book does a really good job in enticing readers to enter into the mysterious world of Cal/Nicole/Nyelle.  I wanted to read the book just to figure things out.  Unfortunately, the mystery of the description is the most mysterious thing about the book.

It is the character of Cal that carries this book.  I thought Donovan did a good job making him interesting to readers and depicting him in a way that made me care about what happened to him.  I didn’t have that same kind of emotional attachment to the other characters.  However, the characters are what make this book readable.

The plot is not great in my opinion.  It is a little frustrating because it could have been so much better with just some small changes.  Some parts were too detailed and dragged on, while other parts weren’t detailed enough.  It made the book seem even more disjointed than it already is.  There was a sense of having an elephant in the room, where everyone is aware of it, but doesn’t simply ask the question.  It would have been nice if at any point in the book Cal simply said to Nyelle, “You remind me so much of someone I used to know.”

Overall, it was an ok book.  Good characters, good setting, but It isn’t one that I will rave about to my friends, but I finished it easily without having to force myself to read it all simply to review it.  I would be interested to read another book by Donovan, because I did enjoy the character of Cal so much.  I do think that young adults would probably enjoy this book more than I did, mostly because of the age of the characters.

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

Posted in Adult | Leave a comment

Remember the Lilies by Liz Tolsma

Book description:

In 1941 Rand Sterling was a wealthy, womanizing club owner and an American of note among ex-pats and locals alike. Now two years later, Rand is just another civilian prisoner of war—one whose planned escape from the Santo Tomas Internment Camp could put him and others in grave danger.

Irene Reynolds grew up as a missionary kid in the Philippine jungle. Now she works for the paranoid Japanese authorities, delivering censored messages to the other American prisoners in Santo Tomas.

When Irene’s negligence leads to Rand’s failed escape attempt, Rand is sent to the torture chambers of Fort Santiago—and Irene suffers under the weight of her guilt. Yet when she crosses paths with Rand again after his unexpected return to the camp, something more than mere survival draws the unlikely pair together.

As life in Manila becomes more and more desperate, and another threatening letter finds its way from Irene’s hands to Rand’s, the reluctant couple struggles to find a way to stay alive . . . and to keep their growing feelings for each other from compromising the safety of everyone around them.

My review:

I loved the two previous books in this series, so I was super excited to read the latest installment of Tolsma’s WWII novels.  I was particularly interested to read this because I had never read a book set in a Japanese internment camp in the Philippines.  I looked forward to learning a little bit about this facet of WWII.

Tolsma delivered a lot of details about life in an internment camp that I found very interesting, such as prisoners hiring people to construct their huts for them and the economic system of the camp.  Readers can benefit from the historical value of the book and the extensive research that Tolsma obviously completed before writing the book.

I thought the plot of the book was very interesting as well.  There were a couple of twists that took me by surprise, which isn’t always the case with “twists”.  Sometimes you can see them coming a mile away, but I was surprised.  I also always appreciate it when authors don’t feel the need to make everything turn out happily for every character.  I like realistic conclusions, even when it is sad for a character sometimes.

However, despite all the wonderful things this novel has to offer, I have to honestly say that it is my least favorite of the “flower” books by Tolsma.  I didn’t click with the characters like I did with Cornelia and Gerrit in Snow on the Tulips and Gisela and Mitch in Daisies Are Forever.  I never felt emotionally invested in their survival, with the sole exception of Anita, Irene’s aunt.  In my opinion, she was the strongest character.

If you are a fan of Tolsma, like I am, you will probably want to read this book.  If you have read the other books in the series or are a fan of WWII fiction, you might not be able to resist.  It is a very nice book, just not a favorite for me.  I would recommend reading the other two books in the series first.  They aren’t connected in any way other than the theme, but they are excellent books, where this one was just ok for me.

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

Posted in Adult | Leave a comment

Mercy’s Rain by Cindy K. Sproles

Book description:

Mercy Roller knows her name is a lie: there has never been any mercy in her young life. Raised by a twisted and abusive father who called himself the Pastor, she was abandoned by the church community that should have stood together to protect her from his evil. Her mother, consumed by her own fear and hate, won’t stand her ground to save Mercy either.

The Pastor has robbed Mercy of innocence and love, a husband and her child. Not a single person seems capable of standing up to the Pastor’s unrestrained evil. So Mercy takes matters into her own hands.

Her heart was hardened to love long before she took on the role of judge, jury, and executioner of the Pastor. She just didn’t realize the retribution she thought would save her, might turn her into the very thing she hated most.

Sent away by her angry and grieving mother, Mercy’s path is unclear until she meets a young preacher headed to counsel a pregnant couple. Sure that her calling is to protect the family, Mercy is drawn into a different life on the other side of the mountain where she slowly discovers true righteousness has nothing evil about it–and that there might be room for her own stained and shattered soul to find shelter. . . and even love.

Mercy’s Rain is a remarkable historical novel set in 19th century Appalachia that traces the thorny path from bitterness to forgiveness and reveals the victory and strength that comes from simple faith.

My review:

This is one of the best novels I’ve read in the last couple of months.  I couldn’t put it down and finished it within four hours of when it arrived in the mail.  It isn’t always the case that the book lives up to the description on the back, but this is one that does.

It is a rare book that keeps me guessing to the end and equally as rare to find one where the subplots and secondary characters are as interesting as the main ones.  Again, Sproles delivers.  I also think she does a great job of describing life in the mountains.  I could easily imagine the setting, the challenges of survival, as well as the sense of community among the people of the Wadalow Mountain.

The message and lessons in the book is also rewarding.  I loved the testimony of Samuel, Terrance, and Isabella as they loved Melody with their actions and demonstrated how to love and care for people, as well and being a living testimony for God’s love in the face of Melody’s despair and pain.  It is a reminder of how we should all minister to the least of us.

This book delivers it all.  I think this book would appeal to many people, but be aware that some scenes of the abuse Mercy suffered or witnessed at the hands of her father are difficult to read.  I can’t wait to read another book by Sproles.

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

Posted in Adult | Leave a comment

Against the Grain by Nancy Cain

Book description:

Nancy Cain came to gluten-free cooking simply enough: Her teenage son was diagnosed with celiac disease. After trying ready-made baking mixes and finding the results rubbery and tasteless, she pioneered gluten-free foods made entirely from natural ingredients–no xanthan or guar gums or other mystery chemical additives allowed. That led her to adapt many of her family’s favorite recipes, including their beloved pizzas, pastas, and more, to this real food technique. In Against the Grain, Nancy finally shares 200 groundbreaking recipes for achieving airy, crisp breads, delicious baked goods, and gluten-free main dishes.
For any of these cookies, cakes, pies, sandwiches, and casseroles, you use only natural ingredients such as buckwheat flour, brown rice flour, and ripe fruits and vegetables. Whether you’re making Potato Rosemary Bread, iced Red Velvet Cupcakes, Lemon-Thyme-Summer Squash Ravioli, or Rainbow Chard and Kalamata Olive Pizza, you’ll be able to use ingredients already in your pantry or easily found at your local supermarket.
With ample information for gluten-free beginners and 100 colorful photographs, this book is a game changer for gluten-free households everywhere.

My review:

I couldn’t wait to read this book!  We recently became a gluten-free family by necessity, much like the authors family.  Gluten-free cooking and baking is a lifestyle change.  Fortunately, there are a variety of gluten-free commercial products available.  Unfortunately, they are usually twice the price of their counterparts.  My husband and I realized very early that it would be much more economical to prepare as much as we could from scratch.

This book delivers everything that it promises, excellent gluten-free recipes made from real ingredients.  The best part is that the recipes call for ingredients that are readily available at the neighborhood health food store!  The recipes are a breeze to follow and the sidebars contain a lot of information, too.

Far and away the section I liked the best was the beginning.  Cain spends the first 50 pages discussing the ins-and-outs of gluten-free baking.  I learned a lot about the role of gluten in baking and why different techniques and textures are necessary.  I also learned about different kinds of flour that I had never heard of before and certainly had never cooked with before!

I think it would be great if all doctors’ offices had a copy of this book to hand out to their patients when they deliver the news that gluten can no longer be a part of their diets.  It is difficult to leave the doctor’s office and understand that you need to make a change, but have no idea where to start.  This book provides a solid foundation for making those changes.

This is one cookbook that won’t leave my kitchen shelves any time soon!

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

Posted in Adult | Leave a comment

Blindsided by God by Peter Chin

Book description:

When Peter Chin moved his family into an inner-city neighborhood to plant a church, he was sure he was doing what God wanted. But in the span of a few months his family experienced a heartbreaking miscarriage, a break-in at their home, a breast cancer diagnosis, and the termination of their health insurance. Why would God allow these things to happen?

But God had one more surprise prepared for the Chins: a child, conceived in the most unlikely and dangerous of circumstances, through whom Peter would realize that although God’s ways were wild and strange, they were always good.

Filled with twists and turns, deep insights, and surprising humor, Blindsided by God explores the reality of suffering, the mystery of God’s ways, and why, even in the darkest times, there’s always reason for hope.

My review:

There isn’t anything not to like about this book.  Right from the first chapter Chin pulls readers in with his humor and humility.  Then he holds our attention with the many trials he and his family face.  It is an uncommon book that can you want to cry one minute and then laugh out loud the next.

What makes this book so great is that Chin’s story could be anyone’s story.  We all face trials and tests.  It isn’t even that uncommon for our trials and tests to compound upon one another, just as Chin’s did.  The reminder in the book is that no matter what happens, whether we understand it or not, God is in control and He is good.  We don’t have to lose hope.

I loved the stories of surprising sources of support and encouragement, especially from the driver that Chin rear-ended on his wife’s first day of chemo.  It served as a reminder to me to try and offer grace and mercy to others in all circumstances because we really don’t know what they are going through.

This is a great book for anyone to read, whether you or someone you know is going through a trial related to cancer, or just trials of life.  It offers encouragement and reassurance that even in the darkest of days, we are not alone.

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

Posted in Adult | Leave a comment

Lift the Flap Bible by Candle Tiny Tots

Book description:

What’s under the flaps? Find out in this collection of eight very simple Bible stories in a large cased board book format. Each story is told across a double-page spread and there are flaps on every page. Bright, quirky illustrations full of wit and color from Louise Anglicas are perfect for this engaging introduction to Bible stories.

Stories are: Noah and the Ark, Moses and the Bulrushes, Daniel and the Lions, Jonah and the Great Fish, Born in a Stable, Boy with Loaves and Fishes, The Lost Sheep, and Man Lowered Through the Roof.

My review:

This is such a fun book to read with young children.  The illustrations are bright, colorful, and hold the interest of youngsters.  Each page has several flaps to open and discover what is hiding underneath.  It is nice that the flaps open at different angles and are different sizes, to help develop fine motor skills while the prose develops listening skills.  This book is perfect to instill a love of books from a very young age.

I also like the sturdiness of the book.  The book and pages are as thick as a board book, and the flaps will hold up to a lot of opening and closing.  All in all, this book is great for little hands to explore.

The stories included in the book will introduce children to people from the Bible and help them become acquainted with their stories and settings.  The language is simple and easy to understand.

If you are looking for a book for very young children, this is the one for you.  It will hold up to many years of being read and loved.

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

Posted in Adult | Leave a comment

The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden, by Karen Newcomb

Book description:

To accommodate today’s lifestyles, a garden needs to fit easily into a very small plot, take as little time as possible to maintain, require a minimum amount of water, and still produce prolifically. That’s exactly what a postage stamp garden does. Postage stamp gardens are as little as 4 by 4 feet, and, after the initial soil preparation, they require very little extra work to produce a tremendous amount of vegetables–for instance, a 5-by-5-foot bed will produce a minimum of 200 pounds of vegetables.

When first published 40 years ago, the postage stamp techniques, including closely planted beds rather than rows, vines and trailing plants grown vertically to free up space, and intercropping, were groundbreaking. Now, in an ever busier world, the postage stamp intensive gardening method continues to be invaluable for gardeners who wish to weed, water, and work a whole lot less yet produce so much more.

My review:

There is a lot of information in this book that can be found in other gardening books, especially in the first third of the book.  The garden plans are nice to look at and imagine the possibilities in relationship to my backyard area, but I wouldn’t say it was anything revolutionary.  Newcomb shares information with readers about seeds versus seedlings and heirloom versus hybrid seeds that anyone that has planted a garden before is probably already familiar with.

However, in the middle to latter part of the book, I did learn new techniques for increasing the yield of a smaller garden and most importantly, pest control.  I loved the diagrams for growing vertical melons and cucumbers.  I can’t wait to try some of Newcomb’s recipes for deterring pests, especially gophers!  But the best information for me was the crop stretching techniques she shared.  I was already familiar with the idea of reseeding immediately after one plant was done, but was always a little leery because I didn’t know what to plant.  Other gardening books encourage the practice, but warn against reseeding from the same family because it attracts pests that are drawn to certain families of vegetables.  Newcomb suggests specific crops that do well after particular plants in a very user-friendly way.

Newcomb also explains very easy ways to compost that are a little different from other gardening books that I’ve read.  I loved her barrel idea!  It makes composting easy for anyone.

Overall, this is a great book for anyone new to gardening, but I think that any gardener can glean some useful information from this book.  If you are looking to get the most bang for your garden space, check out The Postage Stamp Vegetable Garden.

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

Posted in Adult | Leave a comment

If Jesus Had a Child by Dr. B. Glenn Wilkerson

Book description:

As a parent who wants to do the best job possible guiding your child through the social and emotional minefield that characterizes today’s world, do you struggle with the following issues? • How do I bully-proof my child? • Is it normal for my children to fight with one another? • How involved should I be in my child’s homework? • Why is my child “parent-deaf”? • What causes my child’s misbehavior, and what can I do about it? If Jesus Had a Child uses illustrations, story-telling, and humor to explore Jesus’ answers to questions that concern the minds and occupy the hearts of parents.

My review:

Every parent knows what a difficult job raising children can be.  We want the best for our children and we want to do the best by our children to raise them to be the best people they can be.  Sometimes, despite our best efforts, our children fight with their siblings or blatantly disobey.  Wilkerson offers a wonderful book to help parents navigate potential landmines and offers realistic advice on how to turn around behavior.

From the very beginning chapters of this book, Wilkerson gave me strategies that I could implement immediately to make my parenting skills better.  Sometimes parenting books spend so much time talking about problems that I find myself asking, “But what should I do to avoid the problems?” and they never offer any instruction on how to make changes.  This book offers tangible strategies (as well as a helpful chart) on what to do to be a better parent by modeling our parenting after the actions of Jesus.

At the end of the book, Wilkerson lists a short checklist of only six points that parents can do daily to be great parents.  It was so helpful that I copied it so that I can refer to it daily and remind myself of things I should do.

This is a great for parents of all stages, whether of toddlers, tweens, teens, or any age in between.  It would make a great gift for new parents or anyone struggling with the daily pressures of child-rearing.  It has my highest recommendation.

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

Posted in Adult | Leave a comment

Sabotaged by Dani Pettrey

Book description:

Growing up, goody-two-shoes Kirra Jacobs and troublemaker Reef McKenna were always at odds. Now, working together as search-and-rescue for Alaska’s arduous Iditarod race, a growing attraction seems to be forcing aside old arguments. Then Reef catches Kirra sneaking from camp in the middle of the night.

Kirra’s uncle, a musher in the race, has disappeared. Kirra and Reef quickly track the man, but what they discover is harrowing: Frank’s daughter has been kidnapped. Kirra and Reef, along with the entire McKenna family, are thrown into a race to stop a shadowy villain who is not only threatening a girl’s life–but appears willing to unleash one of the largest disasters Alaska has ever seen.

My review:

I was hooked by this book from the start.  I thought the setting of the Iditarod race was really interesting and I looked forward to learning a little bit about life in Alaska.  Kirra and Reef were interesting characters and I was pulled in to the story right off the bat.

There were several things I liked about the plot, too.  Pettrey did a great job alluding to Kirra’s secret without giving it away and then revealing it at just the right time.  Sometimes authors build up character secrets too much and I start to think, “I get it, they have a secret” and it becomes a distraction from the plot.  I also think the way it was revealed was excellently crafted.

However, despite all of the positives going for this book, at some point it fell flat for me.  I had to force myself to continue reading it for the purpose of reviewing it.  As I thought about why it lost my interest, I realized that I didn’t really have an emotional investment in Meg.  Obviously I wanted Kirra to find her cousin, but it was pretty low-stakes for me.

If you are a fan of mysteries, you will probably enjoy this book.  Obviously if you have read the other books in the series, you will want to read this final installment.  However, if you haven’t read the other books in the Alaskan Courage series, another one might be a better place to start.

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

Posted in Adult | 1 Comment