Friday, April 20, 2012


Not sure if you’ve found a great book? If you have, you may find yourself employing rationalization techniques (like these). If the book is really, really good, however, the signs may be far less obvious. Here are some clues.
  1. You bring your book with you while walking the kids to school … even if the school is only three short blocks away.
  2. Your solo lunch break between errands turns into a three-hour afternoon lost in the roaring ’20s.
  3. Your audible gasps attract the attention of people two tables away during your lunch-break-turned-three-hour-afternoon-lost-in-the-roaring-’20s.
  4. Your neck is red from clutching it while reading.
  5. Your husband wakes at 1am to find you wide awake, nestled with you favorite blanket, your book and a healthy mountain of tear-filled tissues.
by Susan May Warren

Author Website:

Available in paperback and Kindle version. Summerside Press, 2012; ISBN: 160936631X; 320 pages.

It’s no secret: Susan May Warren is one of my very, very favorite authors. Her latest series — Daughters of Fortune — tackles a different genre than most of her spunky, chick-lit contemporary romances. I reviewed the first book last fall. Today I’m going to share with you Book 2: Baroness.

This title takes place six years after the first. Heiress followed sisters Esme and Jinx; Baroness follows their daughters, Lilly and Rosie. These girls definitely come from their mothers’ stock. I recognized so much of their mothers in them, yet they had their own mountains to climb, their own lessons to learn. Rather than being in the Gilded Age of Titanic fame, these girls come of age during the roaring 20s. While tangling themselves both in culture and society from Paris to the mob underworld in New York and Chicago and even to the dangerous heights of early aviation, they challenge the roles of women and the fine lines of propriety. As always, Warren’s characters are fabulous. They’re complexities absorb readers, seamlessly investing our hearts in their successes and mistakes.

Throughout all of this, one question resonates: What are the limits of God’s love?

If you read Heiress, you know these girls were born into baggage. They’ve enough drama within their bloodlines to fuel stage and tabloids. Can God’s love reach even them? At what point will He give up and refuse to forgive? Can they be loved and free at the same time? At what cost?

This book hit every one of those clues listed above. I loved it! As with most series, I do recommend starting at the beginning, but I believe one could still thoroughly enjoy both this and its prequel if read out of order.

Final Thoughts: Another fabulous read from an exceptional author. Get it.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

The Wedding Dress

Sometimes a book’s storytelling is so deliciously enchanting that a glance at the back of the book seems scandalous. I can’t risk diminishing the pleasure of discovering the story as it unfolds. I don’t want to be told what the book is about; I want to experience it as the characters do. No preludes. No synopsis. No back cover blurbs or enthusiastic reader reviews. Just the story pure and unspoiled.

Rachel Hauck’s latest novel — The Wedding Dress — is one such book. In fact, loving and trusting Rachel as I do, I signed up for this blog tour knowing absolutely nothing about the book. I knew she wrote it and I wanted to read it. If I were you, I would stop reading this post right now. I would get the book immediately and refuse to read anything else about it, including the back cover. Start with chapter one. You’ll love it. I promise.

If, however, you need a little more than my glowing endorsement and rationalization tips, keep reading.

The Wedding Dress
by Rachel Hauck

Author Website:

Available in paperback, Kindle edition and audio versions. Thomas Nelson, 2012; ISBN: 1595549633; 352 pages.

Four brides, one dress.

Charlotte Malone owns a high-caliber bridal boutique in Birmingham. She has a gift for matching each bride with their perfect gown, but as she approaches her own wedding, perfection seems elusive. After stumbling upon an estate auction, she buys an old, sealed trunk for $1000. What's hidden inside holds the mysteries of three previous brides.

Emily in 1912. Mary in 1939. Hillary in 1968.

As Charlotte investigates the dress's history, what will she discover about the women who wore it and about herself? About love? About where she belongs?

Final Thoughts: Hands down, the best title by Rachel Hauck yet. I cannot recommend it too highly.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

The Life-Ready Woman: Thriving in a Do-It-All World

By Shaunti Felhahn & Robert Lewis

Available in paperback and eBook versions. B&H Books, 2011; ISBN: 1433671123; 272 pages.

(This review was originally written and posted on my main blog 24 February 2011.)

I have to admit: when I started this book, I didn’t like it. The first few pages smelled of feminine empowerment and sexual superiority. While I believe in sexual equality, I do not believe in sexual sameness. Men and women were created differently on purpose and it is to our greatest advantage to invest and rejoice in those differing strengths. So, I was nervous. “Here comes another feminist who wants me to roar and run over my man.” But being familiar with FamilyLife (an organization promoting this book), I kept reading.

As I got past the first few pages, I was delighted to discover this author seeks to uphold God’s truths while affirming the wonderful position women have in our culture and time in history. Even better: She seeks to view our position in this post-modern world through the lens of God’s unchanging Word. We have unrecognizable freedom when compared with our foremothers and oppressed sisters in other countries. It is our privilege to seize that freedom and use it for God’s glory.

But how do we balance that freedom with the call to be wives, mothers, and more? How do we juggle housekeeping with jobs and soccer schedules and piano lessons and personal ambitions? Not to mention marriages and in-laws and neighbors and ministry and a healthy, growing relationship with God? That’s what this book is about.

Sure, we can do it all, but will we do it all well? What sacrifices are made when we spread ourselves so thin? And are those sacrifices worth it?

The Life Ready Woman equips readers to be deliberate with our choices so that we can live the fulfilling lives God intended for us without guilt or regret. The further I got into this book, the more valuable I found it. In fact I plan to enthusiastically recommend it and the accompanying video series for an upcoming study through our church.

Final Thoughts: If you're struggling to balance all that you feel you need to do, you need to read this book. I know you think you don't have time, but trust me. It will help.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Pearl in the Sand
by Tessa Afshar

Author Website:

Available in paperback, Kindle edition and audio versions. Moody Publishers, 2010; ISBN: 0802458815; 320 pages.

A fictionalized account of Rahab from the Bible, Pearl in the Sand is filled with multi-faceted characters and profound truths about God and faith. There are many parts I found absolutely fascinating, sections that challenged me to look deeper into the Scriptural account. Other chapters urged me to evaluate my faith and personal commitment to God. Read some of my reflections here.

This is a romance novel, so it focuses heavily on the characters of Rahab (the prostitute living in the wall of Jericho who hides the Israelite spies) and Salmone (the man who married her after she aligns with the Israelites and ascribes to the true, living God). I absolutely adore the story of Rahab. Her profession of faith in Joshua is nothing less than inspiring! She not only converted from a detestable life to one of great faith, she eventually became the great-great-grandmother of King David. This solidly puts her in the lineage of Jesus the Christ.

So often when studying this part of biblical history, we focus on the details of Joshua's leadership and the battle of Jericho. But these were real people -- all of them -- with flesh and emotion. They had mental hurdles to overcome when embracing one another and faith in God. This book does a tremendous job of revealing exactly that. I loved the cultural elements woven within the story.

Born and raised in Iran for the first fourteen years of her life, Tessa Afshar attended boarding school in the UK before moving permanently to the US. She was voted  "New Author of the Year, 2011" by the Family Fiction sponsored Readers' Choice Awards.

Final Thoughts: This was a great read and an incredible debut novel! I look forward to more from this new author.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Deliver Me From Evil
by Kathi Macias

Author Website:

Available in paperback. New Hope Publishers, 2011; ISBN: 1596693061; 320 pages.

Deliver Me From Evil is the first book in Kathi Macias’s Freedom series. It seeks to expose the truth behind modern day slavery, specifically sexual exploitation both here in the United States and abroad.

I have to stop here. Those of you who know me or have followed my main blog for a while know that my family possesses a history of sexual abuse covering several generations. I praise God every time I look at my daughter that He has enabled us to escape and break this destructive cycle. I mention this here (1) to praise God, but (2) to let you know that I did not want to read this book. The cover description alone made me nervous and nauseous.

But I believe in this cause. I believe that too many people are ignorant of what is going in the shadows much closer than most realize. And so I read the book.

If you are worried about gut-wrenching explicit descriptions of despicable acts, relax. This author does a fantastic job of making people aware of the presence and reality of these truths without glorifying them, without forcing those interested in the cause to rub our noses in the filth. I so very much appreciate this. Readers don’t need to know exactly how bad things are to understand that they've exceeded bad. They have crossed too many lines and we cannot stand for it any more. Action must be taken.

About the book: At the age of seven Mara sold by her poverty-stricken parents to her uncle. They believed he would give her a better life, but he really took her from Mexico to serve as a sex slave in Southern California. Ten years later she is still trapped and quickly outgrowing the tastes of her uncle's clientele. His human trafficking ring includes not only girls purchased, but also some kidnapped.

When one of the girls attempts escape, she runs face-to-face into Jonathan, a high school senior and son of a middle-class Christian family, delivering pizzas to a local motel. The encounter catapults hope for some, awakening for others, and desperation within Jonathan and his family to do something about it. It spells danger for everyone.

Like I said, this is a critical topic that cannot remain hidden. It needs to be addressed. I applaud the book, its author and publisher for those efforts. That said, I struggled with some of the writing. A few sections of dialog seemed too rehearsed, specifically within Jonathan's family. The details of Mara's story were censored, but raw. That contrasted with the stark sterility and perfection of Jonathan's family made his side of the story seem less realistic. A few things aligned too easily for my taste.

Read an interview with the author and view a trailer for this book on my main website

Final Thoughts: Even though the writing did not fully meet my expectations, it was still well-written and I highly recommend this book, simply for the sake of raising awareness.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Too Blessed to Be Stressed: Inspiration for Climbing Out of Life's Stress-Pool
by Debora Coty

Author Website:

Available in paperback and Kindle. Barbour Books, 2011; ISBN: 1616263466; 224 pages.

Too Blessed to Be Stressed is perfect for women today. Everyone has more and more to do and less and less time to breathe. Our schedules are overcrowded and our days never long enough. In fact, you probably are thinking of all the things you should be doing rather than reading this blog! Let me make this quick and simple.

You want Debora Coty’s book because:
  1. It’s cute!
    Okay, so “cute” isn’t a #1 reason to buy a book, but it does make a difference. The small size and colorful pages make me want to pick it up and fill my mind and heart with the great insights held within.
  2. It’s packed with biblically-sound advice, loads of Scripture and fun quotes from all sorts of people.
  3. Short, manageable chapters.
    Always less than five pages. You can read a chapter while cooking dinner or waiting in line at the store. Back to the “cute” point, this book fits nicely in any purse. ;)
  4. Practical tips from someone who knows.
    Think your life is nuts? Check out this author’s bio: speaker, author, piano teacher, orthopedic occupational therapist, writing instructor, tennis enthusiast, wife, mother and pet owner. Yup. She understands stress. Better: she shares in this book how we can deal with it in healthy, God-honoring ways.
  5. It’s very, very funny.
    Funny doesn’t seem to wrap it up. Witty seems too lofty. Just read it. I loved it.
Final Thoughts: This is great little shot-in-the-arm of inspiration. I'll likely read it more than once.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Growing with Purpose: Connecting with God Every Day
by Jon Walker

Available in hardback or Kindle format. Zondervan, 2009; ISBN: 0310292131; 400 pages.

This book is designed similarly to most Christian devotionals. Each page contains a short passage of Scripture followed by a story and prayer or application prompt. If you're a new believer, this is a wonderful tool. It offers a format and simplicity conducive to building strong habits of spiritual discipline. In other words, it helps you be in the Bible every day. It encourages you to think about God, His Word and how that applies to you and your life.

Final Thoughts: There is nothing glaringly wrong with this book. Neither, in my opinion, is there anything obviously extraordinary about this book -- except that the author has worked closely with Rick Warren; however, that says more about his associations than his writing or content. It's a good book! It's just like dozens of other devotionals already on the market.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

A Girl Named Mister
by Nikki Grimes

Author Website:

Available in hardback, paperback and Kindle formats. Zondervan, originally published only in hardback in 2010. The paperback will be released August 2011; ISBN: 0310723132; 220 pages.

Formatted like a poetic diary, this book follows two Marys in very different times, but with one very similar situation.

Mary Rudine, nicknamed Mister, is a sophomore in high school hoping to earn a volleyball scholarship to college. She's active in her church choir and youth group; she can't remember a time without church! Then Trey comes into the picture. His smooth words and long lashes soon make her question what she knows is right. Slowly, almost imperceptibly, she inches toward one big mistake that leaves her with lasting consequences.

It is about that time that her mother gives her a book of poetry. Feeling abandoned and alone, Mister gets lost in the story of another Mary.

This Mary has done everything according to Jewish law and eagerly awaits her coming wedding to Joseph, but an angel's visit leaves her confused and struggling with the consequences of the angel's prophecy. She, a virgin, will give birth?

Together both Marys discover the depth of God's love while facing the mysteries of His plans.
I've never before read a novel written entirely in poetry.

Thanks to her children's picture books, I'm familiar with Nikki Grimes and her great talent for poetry. When I first opened this book, though, I didn't know what to think. I was sure the poetic format would drive me crazy in a novel. But it didn't! Once I got started, I couldn't put it down.

I really like the parallel between Mary (Jesus' mother) and Mister. The link there was quite beautiful. A great emphasis is on the character of God and the abundance of His love and grace.

Because it is written in first person, this book feels very intimate, like as a reader you've jumped into Mister's skin. The author did a tremendous job of character development, which is crucial when dealing with a hot topic like teen pregnancy. Raw and realistic, the book shows how easily people can be drawn away from their convictions. The book shows the true struggle that comes with teen pregnancy, the difficulty in making life-altering decisions at such a young age.

There are two instances of cursing. While I agree these words add grit and authenticity to the characters, I would have preferred their absence, especially since this book is targeted for young teens. Also, some parts of the text are extremely sensual in nature. As an adult, I didn't have a problem with them, but I did question at what age I would allow my daughter to read this. Portions may be too explicit for immature readers.

Final Thoughts: I thought this was a tremendous book. I wouldn't recommend it for everyone and I would expect parents to take careful note of the content and evaluate their child's readiness before allowing them to read it. But this title definitely serves as a get-lost-in-the-characters book.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Scouting the Divine: My Search for God in Wine, Wool and Wild Honey
by Margaret Feinberg

Author Website:

Available in hardback and Kindle format. Zondervan, 2009; ISBN: 0310291224; 224 pages.
The author also has a 6-week DVD series and coordinating workbooks for small group discussions.

You've likely heard of Margaret Feinberg before. She has been named in a few prominent lists: "30 Emerging Voices" that will shape the next generation of Christians and "40 Under 40" who will shape Christian publishing, among others, I'm sure. She is the author of Organic God and The Sacred Echo.

Scouting the Divine is her most recently published book. It records her journey to discover the depths of meaning behind specific visuals in Scripture. We all know Jesus is the Great Shepherd, but what does that really mean? If we've never been around sheep or their caregivers, how can we fully understand? The author spent time with actual sheep and their shepherdess. She learned hands-on about wine and honey and farms. In this book she shares what she learned and how that tangible knowledge affects her understanding of Scripture.

When I first started reading this book, I felt it was redundant. How many pastors have stood behind pulpits and told us why the shepherd analogy makes sense or how Jesus' parables would have been received in His day? But the more I read, the more engrossed I became with these too-often simplified concepts. The author used every one of the five senses to put flesh on these parallels. Culturally we can be so far removed, but with her research and well-written help, we can see, touch, feel even taste and smell what the Scriptures really mean.

In the end, I enjoyed the book and do recommend it. Yes, parts may feel like she's stating the obvious, but most of it offers gems of comprehension sparkling with personal application.

One complaint (which has more to do with the publisher than the author or content): I didn't like the layout. The publisher chose block formatting rather than the traditional indented paragraph. This made me feel rushed, as if I were scanning an email rather than melting into a book. Also, the publisher often employed digits to section off the chapters rather than subtitles. It looked and felt like newly released software (2.3, etc.). Again, this made me feel rushed and disconnected to the content.

Final Thoughts: An interesting, insightful read, but not a must-have.

Friday, March 4, 2011

Trying to Come Back

Last year I initiated a Bible-reading challenge on my main website. We called it Read with Me. The goal was to read the entire Bible, front to back, within one year. About forty readers joined in the fun with weekly accountability check-ins. It all went along swimmingly until my husband and I decided to sell our house. That was the beginning of the end.

As we entered the stress of selling a house, buying a new one and moving to a new community, I got further and further behind my goals in the challenge. Prioritizing the Bible over all other writings, I decided to stop reading anything else until I caught up. I also stopped doing book blog tours and posting reviews. Well, then my mom had a stroke and the 90-year-old house we bought required way more immediate attention than we had planned. The kids struggled with their transition to a new school and I ... well, I never caught up.

I wasn't the only one.

Not only did I not catch up, I realized that I wasn't myself in trying to catch up. I found myself feeling burdened by the challenge and the Bible because I really wanted to be reading other things, too, and I couldn't and all these self-imposed regulations were stripping my joy. They stripped by joy of God's Word and they stripped my joy of simply reading.

This year I've initiated The Sequel. It's for those of us who simply couldn't do it in one year, but who want to stick to the goal of consistently reading the Bible. We are a smaller, but faithful crew. Feel free to join us, if you want some accountability!

And this time I've given myself permission to read other stuff, too, and to reignite my love of reading. It's so refreshing! I've found that when I allow myself "pleasure reading" I am far more consistent in my "edification reading." I enjoy reading my Bible more when it is something I want to do rather than something I have to do! I know. Profound - right? (Please note the sarcasm here.)

So, all that said, I'm trying to come back. I'll begin (again) to post reviews next week. Some of the upcoming posts are for brand new books, and some of them will be for books I read last year, but never posted. Remember, if you're looking for reviews of Christian children's books (Age Range: 0-18), you can find me and friends offering just that at CCBR. You can also check out my reviews on