Sunday, September 28, 2014

Before Amen:The Power of Simple Prayer by Max Lucado

Before Amen Hi Res coverWe all pray . . . some.
We pray to stay sober, centered, or solvent. When the lump is deemed malignant. When the money runs out before the month does. When the marriage is falling apart. We pray.
But wouldn’t we like to pray more? Better? Stronger? With more fire, faith, and fervency?
Yet we have kids to feed, bills to pay, deadlines to meet. The calendar pounces on our good intentions like a tiger on a rabbit. And what about our checkered history with prayer? Uncertain words. Unmet expectations. Unanswered requests.
We aren’t the first to struggle with prayer. The first followers of Jesus needed prayer guidance too. In fact, prayer is the only tutorial they ever requested.
And Jesus gave them a prayer. Not a lecture on prayer. Not the doctrine of prayer. He gave them a quotable, repeatable, portable prayer. Couldn’t we use the same?
In Before Amen best-selling author Max Lucado joins readers on a journey to the very heart of biblical prayer, offering hope for doubts and confidence even for prayer wimps. Distilling prayers in the Bible down to one pocket-sized prayer, Max reminds readers that prayer is not a privilege for the pious nor the art of a chosen few. Prayer is simply a heartfelt conversation between God and his child. Let the conversation begin.
Max Lucado


More than 120 million readers have found comfort in the writings of Max Lucado. He ministers at the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he lives with his wife, Denalyn, and a sweet but misbehaving mutt, Andy.
Find out more about Max at

MY REVIEW:  Max Lucado has an unequaled ability to use language and images we all encounter daily to bring us closer to Christ and God.  In Before Amen he challenges us to improve our prayer life, not by becoming Biblical scholars or memorizing complicated litanies, but by speaking what is in our hearts.  Lucado gives us the words to a simple prayer, not for us to copy word for word, but to show us that our simple words should praise our Creator, acknowledge our need for Him, recognize the needs of others, and also express our gratitude.  I love his image that we are all children needing to climb into the lap of our loving father, who hears and understands our needs before we utter a comprehensible word.  Like many Lucado books, the simple narrative may read quickly, but the message is powerful, desiring of several re-reads.   I would like to thank Litfuse and Thomas Nelson Publishing for a review copy of this title. 

Saturday, September 27, 2014

From the Top: Brief Transmissions from Tent Show Radio by Michael Perry

"From the Top" PaperbackMusic enthusiasts in Wisconsin recognize the gem that is Bayfield's Big Top Chautauqua.  Every summer the big blue tent hosts dozens of live performances, some telling the history of Wisconsin, Lake Superior, and nearby Minnesota to original music, while other shows highlight the best of America's musicians from a variety of genres.  For the folks who can't make to the blue canvas itself, Wisconsin Public Radio has a weekly show dubbed "Tent Show Radio."  For the past few seasons, author, musician, and sometimes pig farmer/volunteer EMT Michael Perry has hosted the radio program.  As Michael tells in the book, he also sometimes m-cees the actual live tent performances.

As part of both the radio and the tent shows, Michael has a brief monologue time, and he has gathered a series of those monologues into the book From the Top for Wisconsin Historical Society Press (softcover and e-book).  I've read several of Michael's books which are thoughtful reflections on finding his place, not out in the cosmopolitan world, but back in rural Wisconsin --- a life he probably never thought in his twenties would be the life that fit.  My favorite book remains Coop which describes settling on the little farm homestead that had been in his wife's family and beginning to embrace a more self-reliant, sustainable lifestyle.  Building his chicken coop, getting those first chickens, and his wish to pass on his sustainable philosophy to his step-daughter by having her "bale" her own guinea pig food had me laughing out loud.  Much of the same humorous introspection and
reflection on modern life fills the pages of the more recent From the Top.  I could almost hear his rich voice as I read the short pieces.  While this time I did not break out in belly laughs, I kept thinking how fortunate his wife and daughters are to have someone who can articulate how much he cares; and we readers (especially those from Wisconsin) are just as lucky to get an occasional glimpse into their life in the rural hills. For those of you who have never read anything by Michael Perry, have not seen him on Public Television, nor heard him on radio, don't start thinking he is just a farmer boy with a nostalgic bent; Perry can take on some quite philosophical and deep topics just as easily as he tell about plowing the family driveway during snowstorms.  Almost everything he writes will have you thinking for a time.  And since it's late Saturday afternoon, I may just tune the radio to Wisconsin Public Radio so I am ready for tonight's Tent Show program.  Wonder what Michael will have to share?

Thursday, September 25, 2014

God of Every Story by Laura Story

God of Every Story

The CD GOD OF EVERY STORY is my introduction to Laura Story and her musical ministry. While I have long been a fan of Southern Gospel music, I am quite a newcomer to more contemporary Christian music. If I can find more artists as articulate, upbeat, and hopeful as Story, I will be listening to more. On her website Laura reminds us that it is the love of God and Christ for each of us that enables us to face all our life challenges, including the challenge to love those who seem impossible to love at some moments. The lyrics of GOD OF EVERY STORY stand out to me. We all have a story and those stories may at time seem hopeless, but God is there and He is faithful. This 
CD is going in the car so I can pop it in when my "tween" grandchildren are with me! I received a copy of GOD OF EVERY STORY from Family Christian Bloggers for review purposes.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Dead Lil" Hustler by Victoria Houston

Dead Tease Book CoverI've enjoyed Victoria Houston's Loon Lake mystery series ever since I first discovered it at a Boulder Junction bookstore.  What could be better for an avid reader, Northwoods
lover like me than a mystery series set in the mythical Wisconsin town of Loon Lake.  Loon Lake is close enough to Rhinelander, Minocqua, and Lake Tomahawk to make me think it might just be down the road from our cabin.  And while I love the fishing scenes that pop up in every book, I certainly don't want the "dead bodies" also there to transfer to my real world.  That part of the fiction can stay right there!! In her latest book, Houston takes us to a remote trout stream in the Nicolet National Forest.  Liam, a graduate student and environmental studies intern, has stolen away to try some peaceful fly fishing when he is shot.  Within days, his father Jake is in the Northwoods, seeking help from Police Chief Lew Ferris and her staff in locating his missing son.  When it appears that Liam may have last been in an area known to be wolf territory and is also near the same river where a missing snowmobiler's body was discovered, Lew begins to suspect this is more than a college kid gone astray for a few days.

Retired dentist Paul Osborne makes a major appearance in all Loon Lake mysteries.  With his dental expertise, he often does forensic work for the police department, but it is his personal relationship with Lew that keeps things interesting.  Past losses and a shared love for fly fishing keep the two close.  Providing local color with a smidgen of comic relief is Ray, the fishing guide who lives next to Osborne.  Let's just say that Ray hears the beat of a different drummer, making the Northwoods a great place for him to be!  While both Paul and Ray are again called upon to help Lew in her missing persons cases, Osborne must first give priority to supporting his daughter and son-in-law as their young son is hospitalized with a mysterious illness, one Paul fears is meningitis.

Dead Lil' Hustler breaks the calm of the Northwoods with a marijuana ring, bank fraud, infidelity, and jealous revenge.  Although I really liked the book, I don't like admitting that  within the past year, I've seen actual newspaper headlines for all of these activities in my precious Northwoods.  Knowing that Houston lives in the Rhinelander area, I can be sure that our author has seen the same headlines and that fact may be fueling her fiction endeavors.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers

 Bridge to Haven by Francine Rivers, like all her books, is a finely crafted story which makes matters of faith an integral part of a compelling story.  I've found no other Christian author who can create characters who so quickly draw me into a story and make me want to see them turn their lives around.  Abra's tale is a female version of the Prodigal son set in 1950s California with a powerful twist.  Abra did not leave home, demanding her birthright and forsaking her father.  Instead the young teenager left a town and a family she felt was not truly hers.  Within minutes of her birth beneath a lonely bridge, Abra was abandoned to the cold by a desperate mother who planned to take her own life.  As the morning light first touches the town, Pastor Zeke Freeman on his morning walk feels the need to walk to the park by the bridge.  There he hears the tiny mews of what he believes to be a kitten needing rescuing, but soon finds it is a newborn girl.  Zeke and his wife, parents of one boy, have been told not to have more children because Marianne has a weak heart.
His wife immediately sees Abra as the second child that they cannot have.  Fearing that Marianne is not strong enough to handle two children, Zeke wants the baby to go to another family in the town, but in the end gives in to his wife's wishes.  The young family thrives, but Marianne's heart does not and she dies a few years later.  Deep in mourning, Zeke makes the tough decision to place Abra with another family who formally adopts her.  As Abra grows into her teens, she is blinded to the truth that she has a family that truly loves her, that Pastor Zeke and his son continue to love her, and in fact, the whole town cares for the little girl from the bridge.  Instead she hears and believes her own internal story-- that she is so unworthy that she has been abandoned not once, but twice.  Teenage angst and conflicts with her adopted sister thrust Abra into the arms of a handsome, but secretively abusive stranger who comes to town.  Before anyone can realize how desperate Abra is, she has run away with the man.

Abra's years away from the family are not spent in a farmer's field, eating pig food.  Some would say she becomes a Hollywood Cinderella, but readers know otherwise.  We see behind the scenes and witness the cruelty her boyfriend bestows on her.  When she is turned over to an agent, we get a taste of old 50s Hollywood when an agent and a film company are all controlling.  Gone is every aspect of Abra, replaced by the Hollywood creation called Lena Scott.  I liked this book as well as I liked the Marta Legacy series ( Her Mother's Hope and Her Daugther's Dream).  I read so many books, and while I enjoy most while I read them, the majority soon leave my memory.  Not Francine Rivers' books.  The stories, the characters, and the lessons remain, long after I've closed the cover.  And finishing one of her books is always met with mixed emotions, satisfied with the ending, but wishing there was more to read.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Grave Conseqences and Glittering Promises by Lisa T. Bergren

Glittering PromisesGrave Consequences and Glittering Promises are books two and three in Bergren's GRAND TOUR
series.  All three books in the series follow Cora Keningston as she takes the grand tour of Europe with her newly discovered family of siblings. Book one Glamorous Illusions tells how Cora learns she is the illegitimate daughter of one of America's richest copper barrons and is then swept off to
Europe with her siblings to take the Grand Tour.  All three books are rich with details about Europe in the early 1900s, perfect backdrops for the romantic triangle that builds throughout the trip.
Cora is sure she has fallen in love with Will, a solid American who serves as their tour guide.  But, why then, can she not quit being attracted to all the attention Lord Richalieau is bestowing on her?

I listened to this entire series on my mp3 player(obtained from WPLC, our library consortium) and that was a lot of hours of listening.  I am sure reading the books would have gone much faster, and perhaps in print, the story would not seem to be so repetitive.  In audio, I felt like I was hearing Cora's same romantic "doubts" and longings for home OVER and OVER!!  The book series neatly ends in thirds -- the first book ends as the groups leaves England, the second book covers their time in France, and the third book has an Italian setting.
Despite those natural breaks, I wish Bergren had wielded her editing pen more severely to write either one longer book or perhaps a two book series.  I've seen the series promoted to fans of Downton Abbey and I think that would be a good target audience.  If you do decide to read Bergren's Grand Tour, I suggest you get all three books at once so you can move from one to the next quickly.
That will help keep up your interest.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Walking on Water by Richard Paul Evans

I am sure that fans of Richard Paul Evans already finished his 5 book series THE WALK.  Despite the last book Walking on Water being published in spring, I did not get a chance to read it until last week.  For those unfamiliar with the series, it tells of fictional Alan Christoffersen's walk from Washington state to Key West, Florida after his young wife's death.  As Alan relays in the first book, he needed to get as far away from their life together and his grief as possible, and he believed the walk was a way he could escape.  What he discovers along his journey is a chance to feel again through the people he meets.  It is a slow journey, often interrupted by crisis and illness, but in the end Alan knows he will be able to face life just as he has faced every length of the trip --- one step at a time.  

What I enjoyed most about the series were the little quips, some of them pithy and some of them humorous, that begin each chapter.  These quotes are supposedly lifted from the journal that Alan keeps as he travels.  I also liked the short chapters of each book; only a few pages long, reading them reminded me of eating potato chips.  You hardly noticed that you'd just finished another one, and of course, you just had to dip in for another one! Can't read just one!  What I didn't like about this particular book is that at times it almost read like a Florida map with motel/restaurant advertisements down the side.  While the first half of the book had a very serious story line about Alan's father, the second half just seemed to list where Alan walked, ate, and slept.  The previous books provided lots of local color filled with interesting people with their own side stories.  This volume seemed to alternate between rushing to the big Key West finale and crawling there.  Now that the series has finished, I will give a highly recommended rating to new readers. I think any reader who starts now will easily move through all five books, getting much more out of Alan's story than those of us who had to wait months between each book.  I was able to get all five books at my local library and I am sure that most libraries have purchased THE WALK series.  

Sunday, September 14, 2014

The Butterfly and the Violin: A Hidden Masterpiece Novel by Kristy Cambron

The Butterfly and the Violin, Kristy CambronThe German concentration camps sent millions to their deaths. For those who weren't killed immediately upon arrival, each day at the camp destroyed a little more of their souls.  The Butterfly and the Violin tells a powerful story of how music and art kept a few of those souls strong despite the horror around them.  For Adelle, a young Christian Austrian the war brought prestige to her father who embraced the Nazi world.  But his daughter, a talented violinist, nicknamed the Butterfly by another in the Austrian Orchestra, sees that world for what it is and she sacrifices everything to help a Jewish friend.  Found out, Adelle is abandoned by her parents to a sentence of "re-education," in reality a trip to Auschwitz.  There she is set aside with other women prisoners who know music to form an orchestra.  While the Nazis want the music to entertain themselves and to calm the lines moving to the gas chambers, If they refuse to cooperate, they will most certainly die themselves, but each woman struggles with their decisions to comply to the Nazi orders.  With help from others, Adelle sees that the violin music she plays is not done to please the Nazis, but is her way to search for  God amid what appears to be the devil's playground.

The Butterfly and the Violin is skillfully told with a modern day search for information about a missing painting of a young violinist alternating with snippets of Adelle's story.  Both story lines will keep readers fascinated as each new page mixes beauty, pain, and acknowledgment that God can be found anywhere.   I received an ecopy of this title from NetGalley for my honest review.

Special note:  When I get an ecopy of a book from Netgalley, I only have access to the files for 45 days.  I had many books to read this summer and somehow this book got overlooked.  I knew I had downloaded it and needed to get it read, so a few weeks ago I started the book.  I got hooked right away and within a few hours I was almost half done.  As I sat at the service station getting four new tires on the van, totally engulfed in the book, I accidentally shut down my Nook.  When I tried to reopen the book, I got the message that the "lending period" was over!!  I could not leave this story unread, so we actually stopped to see if perchance Walmart had the book in their Christian book section.  No such luck.  I ordered a copy online and my Amazon prime account took over a week and a half to get the book.  It was worth the wait and I now have a hard copy to share with the library.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Nowhere to Turn by Lynette Eason

As always Eason has supplied a heart racing, suspenseful read in her latest title Nowhere to Turn. As the book opens, Danielle Harding has finally found the courage to flee her abusive husband, taking her 11 year old deaf son and the contents of her husband's home safe.  Having contacted a safe organization, Danielle is ready to assume a new identity, but within hours of leaving, she learns that her husband, a FBI agent, has been killed along with another agent under suspicious circumstances.

Believing that she is finally safe, Dani and son Simon return home, ready to embrace their hometown and to enjoy life as they never could before.  When her brother-in-law's concern for her welfare starts to take a romantic edge and quickly appears obsessive, Dani realizes he is as much a danger as her husband ever was.  Then someone's breaks into the house, trashing everything.  As bits and pieces fall together, it is clear that her husband Kurt was a dirty agent and that someone dangerous wants something he had.  Feeling even more hopeless than she did the day she first ran, Dani again contacts Operation Refuge and Adam Buchanan once again makes keeping mother and son safe his top priority.

Nowhere to Turn is book two in the Hidden Identity series and does follow No One to Trust but can easily be read as a stand-alone.  You won't have all the details of Adam's life, but the essential backstory is provided.   Fast paced and well developed, Nowhere to Turn starts with an unbelievable chase scene that will have you gasping for breath and you will never feel Dani is safe until the last page.  I received a copy of this book for review purposes from Revell.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

FaithGirlz Big Book of Quizzes: Fun, Quirky questions for you and your friends

9780310746041Big Book of Quizzes is put together by the Editors of Faithgirlz!  When I saw this title was available for review from BookLook, I was curious.  Could it hold its own against magazines,  books, games, and apps from the pop culture, or would this be a "preachy" publication with the guise of entertainment?  I'm delighted to say that Faithgirlz has done a good job and I look forward to passing the book onto my preteen granddaughter.  First off the graphics are young and vibrant.  The first set of quizzes and activities focus on the reader -- her personality, how she judges herself, her take on technology, etc.  The second chapter looks at school, learning style, gossiping and money habits all wrapped in some fun quizzes.  Of course, there is a chapter on best friends, boys, and other "bafflers." I especially liked the quiz on being a good friend -- give too many C answers and you'll end up with the Little Miss Meanie rating, along with some sound advice on how to change.  The last section is for faith and family.  With realistic reminders that it isn't always easy being part of a family, the authors put together quizzes on family closeness, gratefulness, and being a good sister.  All have the right mixture of light-hearted tone and seriousness.  The last two quizzes Got Spiritual Stumpers? and How do U Connect With God? ask questions and give responses that may just help preteen girls as those tough questions about God and faith begin to pop up among their peers.  Some of the questions in this book would make fun "sleep over" talk, while others are probably meant to done alone and pondered.  Altogether I think this is a fun book and Faithgirlz should keep up the effort to provide alternatives to the pop culture.

I received a copy of this book form BookLook for my honest opinion.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

The Bookseller: (Hugo Marston Mystery #1) by Mark Pryor

Ever request, borrow, or buy a book and then not remember who recommended it or how you decided to put it on your "to read" list?  It happens to me quite frequently and The Bookseller by Mark Pryor is one of those titles.  It was there waiting for me at the library a few weeks ago and I honestly don't know if I saw the book on Bookpage, another blog, or a Nook list.  Set in Paris, this mystery follows U.S. Embassy Security head Hugo Marston as he tries to ascertain why his bookseller friend has disappeared.  "Disappear" isn't quite the right word because Marston actually saw the old man being forced onto a boat.  When another man takes over Max's bookstall the next day, claiming to have no knowledge of Max and when the police dismiss Hugo's concerns, saying that others along the river say that Max left of his own accord; Hugo knows he is on his own to find answers.  His quest is further hampered when the U.S. Ambassador reminds Marston that they have no jurisdiction here and Marston should step away (although I am sure the Ambassador knew just as readers know that there is no stopping the former FBI agent turned security head).
Despite Hugo's mysterious love interest, a missing rare book, and another that Hugo purchases without knowing its true value, this contemporary mystery moved slowly for me.  Even finding out that Max had a connection to a group of Nazi hunters does little to add excitement. I thought the Paris setting, especially the historic bookseller district would be fresh and interesting, but mostly the book read like a typical television crime show.

Most mysteries and suspense novels I've been reading lately would be classified as cozy or Christian. Pryor's book is neither and was definitely written for the general crime book audience.  It is not as violent as a Patrica Cornwell or Michael Connelly novel but it would bear a PG 13 rating for language.  I have some reading friends who may really latch onto this series which now numbers four books, but it may be awhile before I see Hugo Marston in action again.  I do see that Pryor has written a nonfiction title about a 25 year old cold case he prosecuted, and while I don't normally read true crime, it might be interesting.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Spymistress by Jennifer Chiaverini

The SpymistressJennifer Chiaverini is best known for her quilting fiction series, Elm Creek Quilts.  The varied characters, changing settings, and quilts, the "thread" that connected them all is what kept me coming back for each new book. Somewhere along the way, I did miss a few, but I always liked Chiaverini's work, possibly because she is a Wisconsin author.  So when she veered into historical fiction with her book Mrs. Lincoln's Dressmaker, I was delighted that our bookclub chose it.  While fascinated by the relationship between Mrs. Lincoln and her black dressmaker Elizabeth Keckley, I thought the book itself lacked something.  That same "something" is missing in her next Civil War novel, The Spymistress.  Again, Chiaverini has selected a relatively unknown woman, someone whose impact has slipped through the cracks of history.  This time the heroine is Elizabeth Van Lew, a Virginian who sided with the Union and became a Union spy, often risking her safety and spending her own money to care for Union prisoners of war.  Again, Chiaverini has done impeccable research and that shows in the writing. Then what is lacking?  Perhaps I am being too picky, but I have to admit my book club friends agree.  While Elizabeth is a fascinating person, this narrative doesn't capture her.  Others commented that they felt like they were reading a history book, not historical fiction.  Now, I actually like reading nonfiction and especially history, so I would have prefered IF the author had chosen to write this as nonfiction, sticking to the facts and letting the readers in on her lengthy research.  There are some controversies over Elizabeth's activities, her demeanor and habits.  In good quality nonfiction, the author shares that.  If there are disputes over events, all of that is shared, too.  Those variance of opinion can be interesting and I would have been more drawn to that than the novelization of her life.

I guess my bottom line is, if I am reading historical fiction, even with real people in it, I want to be taken to that place.  I want to be a witness to everything that is happening.  I want to "feel" the people and the voice given to them by the author should ring solidly true.  The story, the characters, and the history need to share importance.  The consensus of our book club was that in The Spymistress, the character voice was weak and the history was a little too heavy laden.  Obviously, well researched, much of it done right at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madison, The Spymistress may be a successful read for some, but  for me, I wish Chiaverini had tried her hand at nonfiction, trying a style similar to that of Killing Lincoln or The Assassin's Accomplice.  While one book club member (this was her first Chiaverini book) said she would not read another, I know that I will because I have been entertained by her writing many times in the past and I hope to be again.