Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Women of Easter by Liz Curtis Higgs

The Women of EasterThe full title to Liz Curtis Higgs's latest book is THE WOMEN OF EASTER: Encounter the Savior with Mary of Bethany, Mary of Nazareth, and Mary Magdalene.  And that is exactly what the book delivers.  We first see Jesus at Mary and Martha's home, an encounter that showcases the opposite reactions of the two sisters.  While Martha frets over the earthly obligations of being the perfect hostess, Mary seeks a spot at the Lord's feet, taking in his every word.  Then we see the pair of sisters again, when Jesus arrives after receiving word of Lazarus's illness.  Again, we are familiar with this passage and its outcome, but our author sheds insight on its importance in Christ's ministry and as a fore teller of Christ's own resurrection -- the power over death that only comes from God.  And Higgs's explanation of Mary's washing of Jesus's feet with oil again points to the cross and days ahead.

From these chapters, we travel ahead with Jesus and the disciples to Jerusalem and its outlying areas.  We experience Palm Sunday, the business of the temple, and the plot  against Jesus.  While the disciples' reactions are explained, much emphasis is given to those times when the women were present, especially the crucifixion and the discovery of the empty tomb. First we see and feel the pain that Mary, Christ's mother, felt.  It reminds us of those times our days and nights have been darkened by grief and pain that won't diminish.  Her time beneath the cross is yet another sign of the significance of what Christ did for us.  And then the empty tomb! A time to rejoice and shout.  You would expect the full clutch of disciples to be there to discover the empty grave.  But no, it is the women who have gathered the necessary spices and oils (after the Sabbath) and leave as early as possible to show their pure love for the Master by tending to the body. Remember, this was a time when women had few rights, yet God chose Mary Magdalene to be the bearer of news that Christ's body was gone, and that an angel had proclaimed he had risen. 

As Liz Curtis Higgs retells the details of Holy Week and Easter, she often quotes scripture, often citing different translations of the same verse or partial verse.  This is a technique that broadens the scope of our understanding, and it is a technique that she's used before in her nonfiction books, as have other Christian writers. Even so, it is a style that can be difficult to read and follow.  I wish I had taken the time to reread one translation in its entirety before starting this book; perhaps, that would have helped minimize the scattered feeling I sometimes felt at the verse-by-verse narration and commentary moved through multiple translations of key phrases.  Perhaps the most insightful part of THE WOMEN OF EASTER are the discussion questions which follow the book.  I made the mistake of not reading those questions during the reading process.  I highly recommend that any future reader read the accompanying discussion questions immediately after reading a chapter.  Hopefully, most readers of this book will have the opportunity to read the book as part of a study/discussion group. That, I believe, will give you the greatest results.  I received a copy of this prepublication from Blogging for Books. All opinions are mine.

Friday, March 17, 2017

Home At Last by Deborah Raney

Most of us would rank spending time with family as one of our highest priorities, but recognize that life's responsibilities and stresses often rush in and prevent quality time with loved ones.  In Deborah Raney's Chicory Inn series, readers meet an extended family who are able to honor that promise to make family first.  Their success centers around matriarch Audrey Whitman's decision to make Tuesday nights family dinner night; everyone gathers at the family home, now a B and B called Chicory Inn.  Grandchildren are spoiled, silly games are played, and occasionally problems are aired.
I've enjoyed the early books of this series, so I was delighted to revisit Chicory Inn  in book four CLOSE TO HOME and in book five HOME AT LAST.  Author Raney again dishes up some memorable Tuesday nights, but more importantly gives readers windows to heartfelt, realistic stories of second chances, challenges, and acceptance.  In CLOSE TO HOME, young widow Bree Whitman knows she must move on with her life as the five year anniversary of her soldier husband's death arrives and passes.  But she fears any new life she chooses will mean leaving behind the large Whitman family, her late husband's parents, siblings, and nieces and nephews she has come to love so much.  While we have not all experienced death of a young spouse, we've all experienced loss and can relate to Bree's inability to move on.  As always Deborah Raney's "take" is sensitive and beautiful.

HOME AT LAST, Raney's most recent novel, ends the series.  A secondary story thread about great-mother Cee-Cee failing health continues in HOME AT LAST, while the primary focus in on family bachelor Link.  Tired of his dead-end job and his single status, Link takes a risk and asks out beautiful Shayla, who runs a bakery and coffee shop with her father.  While Shayla is mutually attracted, she sees too many barriers -- her need to care for her young niece, her father's dependence on her, and not least, her bi-racial heritage.  Shayla's life is complicated and falling in love with Link isn't the smooth, easy road to a happy ending that one would expect.  Author Raney tackles prejudice, race, and past mistakes, showing us that God can handle all of that and with patience, we can all find HOME AT LAST.

I received copies of these two novels from Litfuse.  All opinions are mine. Close to Home: A Chicory Inn Novel - Book 4

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Cold Light of Mourning: A Penny Brannigan mystery by Elizabeth J. Duncan

The Cold Light of Mourning: A Mystery (A Penny Brannigan Mystery) by [Duncan, Elizabeth J.]Our local bookclub read the Agatha Christie novel MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS in January as a salute to the 100th anniversary to Christie's first publication.  While we had a great discussion including comparisons to the various movie interpretations of the novel, most of us came to the conclusion that we are drawn to the more complex character development in more modern mysteries. We also wonder just what the upcoming release of a brand new MURDER ON THE ORIENT EXPRESS, starring Johnny Depp, will do to the original plot and characters.  We ended the evening by sharing names of "cozy mystery" series that we have enjoyed.  I recommended Diane Mott Davidson's series featuring Goldie the caterer, but since there haven't been any new titles recently, I was eager to hear the recommendations of others.

That's how I came to read my first Penny Brannigan novel.  Set in Wales (first book set in Wales for me, too), Penny is a transplanted Canadian who makes her living as a manicurist in a small village.
As the book opens, Penny's long time friend, former school teacher Emma Teasdale has just died and Penny tells the funeral director that she would like to do the friend's nails one last time as a tribute to their friendship.  Then Penny must prepare for a busy weekend as she is going to the do the nails for a bridal party.  Meg Wynne Thompson, the bride, is new to the community, and her upcoming marriage to the most eligible bachelor in Lianelen has everyone gossiping, especially after her drunken father has an outburst at the rehearsal dinner.  The next day, when the bride fails to show up for the ceremony, it becomes apparent that Penny may have been the last person to see the missing bride.  When Penny figures out that the person who came to get a manicure WAS NOT really Meg Wynne Thompson, the police suspect foul play.

I liked Duncan's writing and especially the development of the kind, quiet and observant Penny, but I felt that the mystery really took a back seat to Penny and her life in the village. That made it necessary for much of the mystery plot to be revealed at the very end.  I guess I prefer mysteries which reveal more clues as you read along and which include both the victim and the villain in more of the plot.  I've got lots on my to-read pile, but I think I can make time to try another Penny Brannigan story when I'm in the mood for a quiet mystery and a trip to Wales.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering

Murder on the MoorThe covers of Julianna Deering's Drew Farthering Mysteries all have a distinctive look - to me, they are reminiscent of Art Deco, the 1920's and 30's classic look while still projecting a British feeling, all which perfectly replicate the settings and tones of Deering's books.  Drew Farthering, himself, graces the cover of MURDER ON THE MOOR but the eye is also drawn to images of a dark, brooding country estate.  Note the foggy moor in the background, as its wildness, isolation and  abandoned structures and ruins is as much a character in this tale of murder and secrets as are the residents of the small Yorkshire town Bunting Nest. 

Drew Farthering and his wife are called to Bloodworth Park Lodge by Drew's childhood friend Beaky Bloodworth.  Newly married and recent heir to the Yorkshire estate of his uncle, Beaky (nicknamed for his nose), is unsettled by the apparent murder of the village vicar and his wife's obsessive worry over strange noises and sightings near the estate.  Within days of arriving at Park Lodge, Drew and Madeline learn of a second murder, hear the ancient tales of a wandering wild beast, and find gigantic canine-like footprints in a crumbling, unused section of the estate's home.  Suspects and red herrings abound in this delightful tale.  Is it Beaky's beautiful new wife, unhappy with leaving her glamorous London life for this remote, worn out estate?  Has she found a new love in the dark, rugged Welsh groundskeeper Rys Delwyn or the neighbor Morris Gray, whose own marriage seems stalled in mediocrity?  A dead body on the church steps, a tampered sports car, strange noises in the night, and then there is that isolated, dark moor -- all this adds up to a mystery Agatha Christy would smile to read!  Add in the dynamics between the charming Drew and Madeline, and you have another successful Drew Fathering mystery.  I received a copy of this title from CELEBRATE LIT fpr review purposes. All opinions are mine.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Down and out with a nasty cold

Usually, I'm not the one in our family to get laid low by a cold, but this time I confess that I am laid low and miserable.  I am not sleeping well and the stuffy sinuses are making it difficult to even read.  Luckily, I do not have any deadline reading for a few days, and by then I hope the cold is long gone.  I do feel badly about how the cold is affecting my reading enjoyment because I have just started MURDER ON THE MOOR by Julianna Deering, the fifth mystery novel featuring Drew Fathering, a British mystery author, and his elegant American wife Madeline.  Billed as a return to the Golden Age of Mystery, I think Deering's series would make a perfect television show.  The settings in old British estates and countryside villages rival Downton Abbey, the dynamics between Drew,  Madeline, and the antics of Drew's sidekick Nick would transfer to the small screen brilliantly.
To me, their antics have a bit of 1920's Fitzgerald flair.

For now, I am going to post a link to the Celebrate Lit website and their kickoff information for
a blog tour featuring Deering's new novel MURDER ON THE MOOR.  Hope you can grab yourself a copy and enjoy.  At least, stop back when it is my time on the tour!! And stay well.  Me, I'm making a cuppa (tea, that is) and then I'll see if Drew, Madeline, and Nick can take me away from my stuffy head miseries.
 Murder on the Moor

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Door to Freedom by Jana Kelley

Jana Kelley has written a pair of contemporary novels that draw upon her years living in Africa and the Middle East, resulting in a look into a world few Western Christians have experienced.  In SIDE BY SIDE, readers are introduced to Mia, a young Texas housewife, who has moved to Northern Sudan with her husband and three children when Michael accepts a position with a health care foundation.  Slowly, Mia finds her footing and even begins to make friends with the local family next door.  Young children do not understand barriers and their desire to play together gives Mia and  neighbor Hanaan a chance to share their cultures with each other. Readers get honest peeks into shared family time, women's get-togethers, celebrations, and special foods. While Mia would like to share her faith, she knows the laws in Sudan, and so she waits.  Meanwhile, across the city, a young Muslim college student, faces an uncertain future.  Knowing that her education will soon end and then her father will seek a spouse from among the family's cousins, Haliman feels drawn to the small New Testament a professor had given her months before.  In stolen moments of alone time, she reads and re-reads the book, knowing that Jesus's words call to her.  When her new faith is discovered, Haliman is beaten by her father and disowned.  Before her father has time to send her away, or worse kill her, Haliman flees.  Friends find a place for her to heal -in the home of Mia and Michael. Side by side, Mia and Haliman learn much about life and God.
In the second book, DOOR TO FREEDOM, Mia adjusts to life after Haliman has been smuggled out of Sudan for a new life.  While having read the first book made the start of this book a smooth transition, I don't think a reader would have much trouble jumping into the second book without the first.  Just like the first book, DOOR TO FREEDOM is told from two viewpoints, one being Christian Mia and the other, a young Muslim woman.  Mia and Michael have found other Sudanese friends, including a couple who want to know more about Jesus.  But then it seems that the government is threatening to shut down the medical foundation where Michael works, and the couple begins to fear that they are being watched.  Beth, an American nurse, who had been Mia's first friend in Sudan warns Mia and Michael that they should not be so bold.  Meanwhile at Haliman's home, her younger sister is experiencing the aftermath of her sister's flight.  Now held up at the only daughter, Rania, is held almost captive in the family compound. Her father, fearing any influences that might corrupt this daughter, he quickly searches for a suitable husband, not caring that Rania hopes to study art.  Feeling hopeless, Rania remembers the tiny book of scripture Haliman gave her to hide, begging her to read someday.  Will fear rule over Mia and Rania, or will they see God's hand in what lies ahead?

Author Jana Kelley's style reads like nonfiction.  These tales of persecution are powerful and truthful, yet Kelley is respectful of the Muslim women and their lives.  She beautifully explains many of their customs, foods, and everyday life.  I learned much from reading these two novels.  Both are published by publisher New Hope whose mission is bringing to print books that challenge Christians in their beliefs  and their roles in God's mission.  I received copies from Litfuse and all opinions are my own.

More about the book.

Door to Freedom by Jana Kelley

Can you imagine the struggles that Christians face when living under Islamic law? Jana Kelley explores modern-day persecution and the life of Muslims in Sudan in her new book, Door to Freedom. In the Islamic country of Sudan, Mia has learned to boldly share her faith. Rania, the daughter of a wealthy Sudanese Arab, seeks to find the reason for her sister’s sudden disappearance. Mia holds some of the answers, but both women quickly discover they must each walk through their own doors to freedom, the freedom that only comes when you trust God’s sovereignty more than manmade security.

{More about Door to Freedom}

Door to Freedom (New Hope, February 2017)
It’s rough and it’s smooth. It’s dark and it’s light. It’s a masterpiece. It’s us. Here in Sudan. We are scared of it and drawn to it. There is an open door, and there is much opposition.
In the dusty, Islamic country of Sudan, Mia, who is raising her family in a Muslim country, has learned to boldly share her faith. Rania, the daughter of a wealthy Sudanese Arab, seeks to find the reason for her sister’s sudden disappearance. Mia holds some of the answers, but both women quickly discover they must each walk through their own doors to freedom, the freedom that only comes when you trust God’s sovereignty more than manmade security.
Part of New Hope Publishers’ line of contemporary missional fiction, Door to Freedom, the sequel to Side by Side, opens the reader’s eyes to modern-day persecution and the life of Muslims in Sudan. Based on real-life events, Door to Freedom also reveals some of the struggles that Christians face when living under Islamic law. The reader will be inspired to pray for those who are persecuted for their faith as well as for the salvation of the persecutors.
Learn more and purchase a copy.
Jana Kelley

{More About Jana Kelley}

Author of the captivating novel “Side by Side,” Jana Kelley is a Texan who hardly ever lives in Texas. Raised in Southeast Asia, Jana developed a love for cross-cultural living early in life. Her love for writing came soon after. Jana returned to Texas to attend East Texas Baptist University. She and her husband married a month after she graduated, and by their second anniversary, they were living in a remote African town. After 13 years living in Africa and the Middle East, Jana, her husband, and their three boys moved to Southeast Asia where they currently live.
Find out more about Jana at

Sunday, February 19, 2017

JUSTICE DELAYED: A Memphis Cold Case Novel by Patricia Bradley

Justice Delayed (Memphis Cold Case #1)Andi Hollister has overcome much in her young life to become a rising star on Memphis news television.  Eighteen years earlier, at age 13, heart surgery saved her life.  But that surgery could never mend the heartache left by her sister's murder just days before Andi's surgery.  Even though Stephanie's sometime boyfriend confessed to the murder and sits on death row, the family still has unanswered questions.  So when a former roommate of Stephanie's contacts Andi and requests a meeting just 3 days before Jimmy's execution, Andi consents.  When the roommate fails to arrive, Andi soon finds herself pulled into a police investigation that leads to the possibility of opening Stephanie's murder case. 

Whenever a cold case is solved in real life, it makes headlines and gets plenty of television coverage; that coverage has translated to cold cases being popular fodder for movies, series television, and now fiction.  I've read other crime novels by Patricia Bradley and she does excel at mixing romance, police drama, and suspense.  In this novel, she reaches back to the real-life 90's headlines and the  scandals of the African blood diamonds and makes diamond smuggling the base for this thriller.
What I liked most about the book is that we the readers have significant knowledge of Stephanie and her activities that would clarify what really happened to her, but it is information that no one in the family or law enforcement have discovered, even 18 years later.  But someone else, someone dangerous, knows the facts and will do whatever is necessary to keep the case "cold."  Bradley plays the romance key in this romantic suspense in a subdued manner, and I appreciate that.   Andi finds herself reconnecting with Will, a family friend, who now works on Memphis cold cases.  At one time, Andi was just a pesky younger sister of Will's best friend, and Will was the older teen who always hung out at Andi's home because his own home life was lacking.  Now both successful adults, Andi and Will are attracted to each other, but finding the answers to Stephanie's death is what gets priority.  Be prepared for lots of twists and turns, and a finale that would play out successfully on the big screen.  I was given a copy of this title from Revell Reads.  All opinions are mine.