Spotlight on Dr. John Trent: 4 x 30 Ways to Bless

Spotlight on Dr. John Trent: 4 x 30 Ways to Bless

In this season of naming our blessings, I like the idea of also counting how we may bless others–especially our nearest and dearest. Dr. John Trent has four new books to encourage our proactive, intentional blessing of loved ones. Each book is geared toward a specific relationship (wife to husband, father to child, and so on) and filled with biblical truth, down-to-earth advice, and humble stories from the heart that made me pause and reflect on how I can maximize my impact. Some of Dr. Trent’s ideas I already practice (and so I was encouraged); other ideas were new (and so I was challenged).

Does your personal blessing quota needs a boost? Then read on.

30 Ways a Wife Can Bless Her Husband  by Dr. John Trent

About this book: (from the publisher) Easily strengthen your marriage with the affirmation and relationship that your husband needs and desires in 30 easy, affordable, and practical ways. Based on biblical elements, “The Blessing” isn’t just another marriage tip or formula it’s a powerful, yet simple, biblical concept that will strengthen all your relationships.

Your husband’s deepest longing is for you to affirm his value and worth. Find out how you can give your husband the unconditional acceptance the Bible calls The Blessing. With 30 Ways a Wife Can Bless Her Husband, encourage and empower your husband with real and practical ways using the 5 Elements of the Blessing.

Experience the Power of the Biblical Blessing in Your Marriage

Transform your relationship with your spouse with the blessings God intended us all to have. Expert John Trent unpacks the biblical model of the Blessing to help couples create a culture of love, honor, and commitment for one another. No matter what state your marriage is in, this insightful 112-page book will teach you how to

  • Show your spouse love and appreciation in practical ways
  • Express active commitment, encouragement, and support for your mate
  • Value your spouse using your God-given gifts and their love languages
  • Build a lifelong foundation for Christ-centered relationships that honor the Lord

3 Key Features of the Blessing Books

#1. 30 Practical, Affordable, and Easy Ways to Bless Your Spouse

Packed with 30 simple and affordable activities to show your spouse that you love and appreciate them! From creative and easy date night ideas to words of affirmation to praying together, easily turn these basic activities into powerful blessings that will positively impact your marriage for a lifetime!

#2. Discover the 4 Ways that Blessing Your Spouse Will Improve Your Marriage

The Blessing is more than a good idea or a way to convince your spouse that you care for them. The Blessing demonstrates 4 ways that God wants to redeem relationships

    1. The Blessing defies loneliness and disconnection
    2. The Blessing can help open a closed heart
    3. The Blessing can help free your spouse from a wounded past
    4. The Blessing reveals how your spouse is part of your calling

#3. Clear Overview of Biblical Principles of Blessing Your Spouse

This easy-to-read book will help you demonstrate the message that God has for all of us: every man and woman deserves to know that Jesus is crazy about them.

Make this truth a reality for your spouse with the gift of the Blessing so they can be free to serve others, gain personal strength, and grow in responsibility. Help them embrace the truth that with God’s love, they can do and be more than they even dreamed or imagined.


Spotlight on Dr. John Trent: 4 x 30 Ways to BlessSpotlight on Dr. John Trent: 4 x 30 Ways to BlessSpotlight on Dr. John Trent: 4 x 30 Ways to Bless








About the author: John Trent, PhD, serves as the Gary Chapman Chair of Marriage and Family Ministry and Therapy at Moody Spotlight on Dr. John Trent: 4 x 30 Ways to BlessTheological Seminary. Dr. Trent also serves as the President and Founder of and the Center for Strong Families. In addition to his focus on counseling, John is a sought-after teacher, speaker, author, and featured guest on numerous radio and television programs. He leads The Blessing Challenge, a joint partnership with Focus on the Family and John and his wife, Cindy, have two grown children.

After words: How has someone blessed you this week?

God & Churchill by Jonathan Sandys & Wallace Henley

God & Churchill by Jonathan Sandys & Wallace HenleyWhat drove Churchill to greatness?

God & Churchill: How the Great Leader’s Sense of Divine Destiny Changed His Troubled World and Offers Hope for Ours by Jonathan Sandys & Wallace Henley

About this book: When Winston Churchill was a boy of sixteen, he already had a vision for his purpose in life. “This country will be subjected somehow to a tremendous invasion . . . I shall be in command of the defences of London . . . it will fall to me to save the Capital, to save the Empire.”

It was a most unlikely prediction. Perceived as a failure for much of his life, Churchill was the last person anyone would have expected to rise to national prominence as prime minister and influence the fate of the world during World War II. But Churchill persevered, on a mission to achieve his purpose. God and Churchill tells the remarkable story of how one man, armed with belief in his divine destiny, embarked on a course to save Christian civilization when Adolf Hitler and the forces of evil stood opposed. It traces the personal, political, and spiritual path of one of history’s greatest leaders and offers hope for our own violent and troubled times.

More than a spiritual biography, God and Churchill is also a deeply personal quest. Written by Jonathan Sandys (Churchill’s great-grandson) and former White House staffer Wallace Henley, God and Churchill explores Sandys’ intense search to discover his great-grandfather―and how it changed his own destiny forever.

About the authorsJonathan Sandys is an international public speaker on the life, times, and leadership of his great-grandfather, Sir Winston Churchill, Britain’s wartime prime minister. Jonathan recently launched a blog—Never Surrender!—that focuses on life lessons from his great-grandfather and draws parallels between the events of yesterday and today. Jonathan and his wife, Sara, host the Churchill’s Britain tours, taking visitors behind the scenes at many locations that were significant in Winston Churchill’s life. They live in Houston, Texas, with their son, Jesse.

Follow Jonathan on social media: Facebook | Blog | Twitter | Linked In

For a daily quote from Sir Winston Churchill, click here.

Wallace Henley, senior associate pastor at Houston’s Second Baptist Church, is coauthor with Jonathan Sandys of God and Churchill. Henley’s career, of more than forty years, has spanned newspaper journalism, politics, academia, and the church. He has also lectured widely on worldview, and served as an adjunct professor in worldview studies at Belhaven University, which presented him its top award for excellence in classroom teaching in 2014. He has spoken about leadership in twenty-two nations. Wallace has authored more than twenty books, some as a collaborator with Dr. Ed Young, his pastor. Almost all of Henley’s books deal with the confluence of culture and biblical revelation.

As an aide to President Nixon, Henley worked on domestic policy and assisted with presidential briefings and other writings. As a journalist, he was a reporter and an editorialist. Today, he continues to comment on contemporary cultural issues through his column in The Christian Post.

Wallace and Irene Henley have been married since 1961. They have two children, six grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.

Genre: Non-fiction/Biography

Why I read this book: To understand the past as well as my own time; to be informed and encouraged.

Will especially appeal to: those with an interest in history, especially WWII history, and those who keep current on current events.

Why I cared: because seeing evidence of God’s sovereign hand in the life of one great man provides both encouragement for today and hope for our future.

My take: God & Churchill isn’t my typical read, nor is this shaping up to be my typical review. Instead it seems to be landing somewhere between a review and an exhortation. To start, let me just say that after reading this book, I’m convinced that lessons learned from and about Churchill, particularly in regard to his faith, are supremely relevant to our generation today.

If when you started reading this post you simply skimmed past the book description, go back and read that first paragraph again. The fact of Churchill’s eerily accurate premonition is both fascinating and well documented. His vision laid the foundation for every substantial decision that followed. Could he have become the great leader he was (arguably the 20th century’s most pivotal one) without a foundation of the Judeo-Christian belief system? After reading the underpinning role of Christian faith in Winston Churchill’s life, I believe not. The Prime Minister was at his core an ethical man. He once said, “…someone told me that Ethics were concerned not merely with the things you ought to do, but with why you ought to do them” (p.13). Christianity is what gave Churchill his why.

Before reading this biography, I knew next to nothing about Winston Churchill’s early years or his private life. Upon learning about several key events in his earlier years, the significance of them cannot be dismissed. “Churchill could not have known at the time how all of these events, high adventures, miraculous unscathings, and even the most dire setbacks and failures were preparing him for the day when his number would be called to step up and lead the free world against the incursions of tyranny” (p.46).

Though it may be stating the obvious, if Churchill was the great hero of the story of World War II, Hitler was the villain. And again, it cannot be denied that these two were pitted against each other, on behalf of nations, in a battle of life or death. The personal parallels between these two men are fascinating. For instance, Hitler, like Churchill, “was sixteen years old when he predicted a grandiose role for himself in the future” (p.49). Even more fascinating–and for us, more troubling–are the parallels between the rise of Nazism and the rise of terrorism–ISIS in particular–in our day.

If there is one overarching theme to Churchill’s life, it is God’s sovereignty. While the first part of this book is an interesting–if, at times a bit dry–analysis of Churchill’s life, leadership, and the study of his faith, the last part is the most relevant. Within its pages, I found hope, and yes, even guidance, for our time. If you read this book (and if you are a serious student of today’s current events, I recommend you do), and you read but one chapter, may it be this one: Churchill and the Character of Leadership. One year from today, we Americans will have elected a new president. In the next twelve months, our responsibility toward that end has never been keener. It’s up to us, today, to educate ourselves on the candidates, the issues, and what’s at stake. It’s up to us to elect a president who will, because of his or her character, rise to meet the unparalleled challenges we face as a nation and on the world stage. I don’t believe I’m using hyperbole to say that the fate of civilization as we know it may depend on our choice. Just as it did for the British people in Churchill’s time.

Thanks to Tyndale House for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: I’d like to start reading more biographies of great leaders. Do you have any to recommend?

Why God Calls Us to Dangerous Places by Kate McCord

Why God Calls Us to Dangerous Places by Kate McCord“Perhaps that’s the greatest reason why He calls us to dangerous places: so that we will know His astonishing, sacrificial, life-restoring love.”

Why God Calls Us to Dangerous Places by Kate McCord

About this book: (from the publisher) Why God Calls Us to Dangerous Places is about what is lost and what is gained when we follow God at any cost.

Soon after 9/11, Kate McCord left the corporate world and followed God to Afghanistan—sometimes into the reach of death. Alive but not unscathed, she has suffered the loss of many things: comfort, safety, even dear friends and fellow sojourners.

But Kate realizes that those who go are not the only ones who suffer. Those who love those who go also suffer. This book is for them, too.

Weaving together Scripture, her story, and stories of both those who go and those who send, Kate considers why God calls us to dangerous places and what it means for all involved.

It means dependence. It means loss. It means a firmer hold on hope. It can mean death, trauma, and heavy sorrow. But it can also mean joy unimaginable. Through suffering, we come closer to the heart of God.

Written with the weight of glory in the shadow of loss, Why God Calls Us to Dangerous Places will inspire Christians to count the cost—and pay it.

About the author: Kate McCord (a protective pseudonym) worked in Afghanistan for nearly a decade after the fall of the Taliban as a humanitarian aid worker. After evacuating Afghanistan, she transitioned into a mentoring and consulting role to other workers serving in the region. Currently, Kate serves Christ through writing, speaking, mentoring, and conducting workshops and seminars. She is the author of In the Land of Blue Burquas and Farewell, Four Waters.

Genre: Non-fiction/Christian Living/Personal Growth/Missions

Will especially appeal to: those who answer God’s call to minister in dangerous places, and those who send them there.

Why I read this book: To invite better understanding of my own time, others, and  myself. To be challenged, encouraged, and equipped.

Why I cared: For the way it opened my heart to the possibility of finding joy in the midst of hardship and sorrow–wherever God calls me to serve.

My take: Don’t let its modest size deceive you: this gem of a book delivers a big punch. I read every page of it, enthralled. I’ve already gifted a copy to one friend engaged in challenging ministry, and I intend to deliver more copies to several others. It has swiftly become one of my most recommended books of 2015. In fact, I consider it a must-read for anyone with a serious heart for ministry–whether that leads you to physically dangerous places or not. Because many kinds of ministry involve personal risk, which means that many kinds of Christ-followers would benefit from Kate McCord’s deeply personal insights and encouragement.

McCord deftly weaves together stories and Scripture with a liberal dose of hard-won wisdom. For me, she illuminated familiar biblical passages in fresh ways. The story of Zebedee, for instance–the father of Jesus’ disciples James and John. Time and again, McCord returns to this short passage, and every time, her examination brought to me new and relevant insight, compassion, and understanding. She did the same many times in reference to Jesus Himself–regarding who He was, how He came to be, and what He means to His followers today.

As the book description states, Why God Calls Us to Dangerous Places is first and foremost for those who feel called to serve Christ where danger exists. But it will, I think, find an even wider audience with those who must watch those loved ones go. (It’s to these, actually, that she brings the Zebedee story home so poignantly.) Kate McCord has the gift of storytelling, which I daresay is a reflection of her cultivated living among a storytelling people. While she speaks broadly to those called to any kind of dangerous place, she draws heavily on her own particular experience in Afghanistan–rendering the welcome side effect of inviting a greater compassion and understanding for a largely misunderstood and often-maligned people group.

Owing to my intense interest, the author’s skill, and this book’s concise length, I sped through Why God Calls Us to Dangerous Places in a matter of days. Fascinating. Hard. Lovely. Frightening. Inspiring. I highly recommend it.

Thanks to Moody Publishers for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Are any of your loved ones called to serve in a dangerous place? Are you? I would love to hear your story.

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams + giveaway

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams + giveawayAn epic story of star-crossed lovers in pre-war Europe collides with a woman on the run in the swinging ’60s

Along the Infinite Sea by Beatriz Williams

About this book: (from the publisher) Each of the three Schuyler sisters has her own world-class problems, but in the autumn of 1966, Pepper Schuyler’s problems are in a class of their own. When Pepper fixes up a beautiful and rare vintage Mercedes and sells it at auction, she thinks she’s finally found a way to take care of herself and the baby she carries, the result of an affair with a married, legendary politician.

But the car’s new owner turns out to have secrets of her own, and as the glamorous and mysterious Annabelle Dommerich takes pregnant Pepper under her wing, the startling provenance of this car comes to light: a Nazi husband, a Jewish lover, a flight from Europe, and a love so profound it transcends decades. As the many threads of Annabelle’s life from World War II stretch out to entangle Pepper in 1960s America, and the father of her unborn baby tracks her down to a remote town in coastal Georgia, the two women must come together to face down the shadows of their complicated pasts.

Indomitable heroines, a dazzling world of secrets, champagne at the Paris Ritz, and a sweeping love story for the ages, in New York Times bestselling author Beatriz William’s final book about the Schuyler sisters.

About the author: (from her website) A graduate of Stanford University with an MBA from Columbia, Beatriz spent several years in New York and London hiding her early attempts at fiction, first on company laptops as a corporate and communications strategy consultant, and then as an at-home producer of small persons.

She now lives with her husband and four children near the Connecticut shore, where she divides her time between writing and laundry.

Genre: Fiction/Historical

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R for language and sexual situations

Why I read this book: to invite greater understanding of the past and others; to get lost in a story.

Content advisory: (fairly) non-explicit premarital and extramarital sex; some wartime violence

Reminds me of: Letters to the Lost by Iona Grey

Why I cared: for its exploration of selfless love and sacrifice.

My take: One thing I’ve come to recognize about the novels of Beatriz Williams: she doesn’t shy away from big. Big story. Big characters. Big book. With her latest, in which she continues the saga of the inimitable Schuyler sisters, she delivers all of the above and then some.

Along the Infinite Sea is told variously by Pepper (how can you not embrace a character named Pepper?) and Annabelle. Though lived decades apart, their individual stories eventually become joined; it’s the anticipation of this joining that, in part, propels the reader forward. The double narratives offer very different voices. Pepper’s was rather my favorite, and is perhaps the only time I’ve ever seen narration in the second point of view (“you”–speaking directly to the reader) work. This masterful author nails it.

If anything, the story was a shade too big. There were times I wanted to speed things along a bit. At the same time, I was nicely surprised by several plot twists–that really, in hindsight I should have seen coming, but such is Ms. Williams’s skill, I did not.

I do feel conflicted because normally I shy away from stories that glamorize affairs, and it’s hard to deny that this one does. So that’s out there. But, from a story perspective, it also shows how beautiful sacrificial love can be. I also appreciated the characters’ recognition of the hand of God in their lives (or apparently not) and how they wrestled with the morality of their choices.

As I neared the novel’s conclusion, I did sense that it didn’t contain quite the same pop and sizzle that its predecessor (Tiny Little Thing) did, and I rather wondered about that–especially as it showcased Pepper’s story, and you can hardly find a character with more pop and sizzle than Pepper. But then, after all was said and done, I turned the last page and read a bit of the author’s own story, in which she relates that during the creation of this novel, under tight deadline, she lost 250 pages of work and had to write them all over again. From scratch. Let the horror of that wash over you. And then look again at Beatriz Williams with renewed admiration. Because what she pulled off is still a witty and engaging read. If it lacks her usual maxed-out sparkle, I think it may be forgiven. I’ll certainly be standing in line, eager to get my hands on her next one.

Thanks to G.P. Putnam’s Sons for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Have you read any of Beatriz Williams’s other novels? Do you have a favorite?

Bonus! Thanks to the generosity of the publisher, click here for your chance to win a copy of Along the Infinite Sea: a Rafflecopter giveaway

War for the Waking World by Wayne Thomas Batson

War for the Waking World by Wayne Thomas Batson

Snot rockets! Am I ever excited to have my son, Jack, helping me review the latest in The Dreamtreaders Series…

War for the Waking World by Wayne Thomas Batson

About this book: (from the publisher) Would you be willing to fight for your dreams?

Fifteen-year-old Archer Keaton has the ability to enter and explore his dreams. He is a Dreamtreader, one of three selected from each generation. Their mission: to protect the waking world from the Nightmare Lord who dwells beyond the Slumber Gate. But as Archer’s dreams become more dangerous and threatening, so too does his waking life.

In this fast-paced conclusion to the exciting fantasy trilogy, the dream world and the waking world bleed into each other when a rift is formed between the two. People in the real world suddenly find their waking lives resemble their wildest dreams. Now it’s up to Archer and his fellow Dreamtreaders to race to reverse the rift before too much damage is done and to battle Archer’s ex-best friend, Kara, who sits on the throne of the Nightmare Lord. Kara is building an army of her own. Will Archer be strong enough to stand against her?

About the author: Wayne Thomas Batson is an American writer. He has been married to his wife, Mary Lu, for seventeen years and has four children. He currently works as a teacher at Folly Quarter Middle School teaching sixth grade English language arts and is the youngest of four children. His most recent series, Dreamtreaders published by Thomas Nelson Inc (2014), is a modern-day paranormal YA adventure dealing with the subject of dreams.

Genre: Juvenile Fiction/Action & Adventure/General

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG

Why Jack read this book: to invite better understanding of himself and others; to get lost in a story; to be encouraged by eternal truths.

Reminds him of: The Hunter Brown series by the Miller Brothers

Why you might care: In the words of the author, “Anchor first. Anchor deep. It means you have to keep certain truths as sacred. Do all your homework to scrutinize these truths and make sure they are sturdy. But once you know, don’t let anything violate those truths. They are your anchors, and they will keep you on solid ground, even in the midst of life’s storms.”

Jack’s take: When I first started to read this book, I was immediately interested because it gave minimal but enough background information about what was going on. At first, I did not quite understand who the characters were, but that was soon clarified. After about ten pages in, I was able to tell what the basic storyline/plot was. I thought that I would definitely not lose interest in this book; I would for sure read it all the way through.

I liked how it did now just tell you what was happening or what was going to happen. It would show you, at a good pace–not too fast but not too slow either. I think that this book is great and I would definitely recommend it to kids or even some adults if they’re interested.

War for the Waking World by Wayne Thomas BatsonThanks to Litfuse Publicity and Thomas Nelson for providing a free copy to review. All opinions are ours.

See what other reviewers are saying here.

About my co-reviewer: Jack is a middle-schooler who loves good jazz, playing drums, working out, spending time with his dog, Remy, and teasing his little sister…not necessarily in that order.

After words: Have you read any of Wayne Thomas Batson’s other novels for teens? Which would you recommend?


The Girl From the Train by Irma Joubert

The Girl From the Train by Irma JoubertSix-year-old Gretl Schmidt is on a train bound for Auschwitz. Jakób Kowalski is planting a bomb on the tracks.

The Girl from the Train by Irma Joubert

About this book: (from the publisher) As World War II draws to a close, Jakób fights with the Polish resistance against the crushing forces of Germany and Russia. They intend to destroy a German troop transport, but Gretl’s unscheduled train reaches the bomb first.

Gretl is the only survivor. Though spared from the concentration camp, the orphaned German Jew finds herself lost in a country hostile to her people. When Jakób discovers her, guilt and fatherly compassion prompt him to take her in. For three years, the young man and little girl form a bond over the secrets they must hide from his Catholic family.

But she can’t stay with him forever. Jakób sends Gretl to South Africa, where German war orphans are promised bright futures with adoptive Protestant families—so long as Gretl’s Jewish roots, Catholic education, and connections to communist Poland are never discovered.

Separated by continents, politics, religion, language, and years, Jakób and Gretl will likely never see each other again. But the events they have both survived and their belief that the human spirit can triumph over the ravages of war have formed a bond of love that no circumstances can overcome.

About the author: International bestselling author Irma Joubert lives and works in South Africa and writes in her native Afrikaans. A teacher for thirty-five years, Irma began to write after her retirement. She is the author of eight novels and is a regular fixture on bestseller lists in both South Africa and The Netherlands. Irma and her husband, Jan, have been married for forty-five years, and they have three sons and a daughter, two daughters-in-law, a son-in-law, and three grandchildren. The Girl from the Train is Irma’s first novel to be translated into English.

Genre: Fiction/Historical/General

Why I read this book: …to invite a greater understanding of the past and the far-reaching impact of World War II. Also, having traveled to South Africa, I was intrigued by that connection.

First impressions: From the first time I held it in my hands, I was captivated by its evocative cover and title. I quickly discovered, however, that the image doesn’t completely match the story. Not a deal-breaker, but a cover/story mismatch always niggles at me because it makes me think the artistic team that created the cover hasn’t read the story.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG

Reminds me of… for its scope on the global stage, the WWII-era novels of Brock & Bodie Thoene

Why I cared: For its exploration of Catholic and Protestant faith, their similarities and differences–and why they may or may not matter. 

My take: You know how indie movies have a different feel to them than Hollywood movies? Even more so, foreign films with subtitles? That’s how I felt as I read this novel–as if I were watching a foreign film. Perhaps it has to do with the pacing. There’s much ground to cover–two continents and nearly two decades’ worth–which results in, quite frankly, far more telling on these pages than showing. Much of this is necessary to move the story along, but I consequently experienced the story far differently than if its events were shown more rather than told. Though it’s beautifully translated (as far as I could tell!), I felt the story skimmed along the surface, never really letting me experience it from the inside out as the characters did.

I was intrigued by the glimpse into a new (to me) angle of the oft-examined WWII European stage. In this case, it starts with the Polish resistance, and then moves on to the exportation of German kinder to South Africa at the war’s end, which I’d never heard of. (Had you?? How could I not have known about this?) Curiously, however, even though most of The Girl from the Train takes place in South Africa in the 1940s and ’50s, there is no mention whatsoever (except for one completely passing reference) of Apartheid (which was birthed in South Africa in 1948). This seems such a glaring omission–especially as in this novel it’s preceded by the German/Jew context–that it affected my enjoyment of the story. It would be like an American author setting a story in the 1960s South and ignoring the shadow of racial tensions and the Civil Rights movement.

The last part of the story spends quite a bit of time exploring the Catholic/Protestant question, setting these two forms of the Christian faith up as different religions (as they were, indeed, nearly universally regarded in that era). In particular, the story examines if and how these can be joined in a marriage union. Here too, I wanted more. Again, I felt like I was skimming the surface, never really diving deep to understand what was perceived to set these two forms of Christianity apart.

On the plus side, I did find Gretl a charming heroine, and Jakób her courageous and kind counterpart. Because I liked these characters, I wanted to like their story more than I actually did. My conclusion? If readers approach the novel with the right expectations–as they might a foreign film–they will likely find it an original and ultimately uplifting story.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson and the TNZ Fiction Guild for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Have you read many books translated from another language into English? Any you would recommend?

What I’m Into ~ November edition

What I'm Into ~ November editionSometimes it’s all about the little things, you know? I love fall for many reasons, but one of my favorite reasons has got to be the pumpkins. What I'm Into ~ November editionPumpkin picking…pumpkin carving…okay, maybe I’m not so much into the carving as I’m into watching my family carve. My job is to roast the seeds. My favorite recipe for these is as follows:

Roasted Pumpkin Seeds
Heat oven to 375.
Place pumpkin seeds (rinsed, de-gooped, and patted dry), in a thin layer on a greased baking sheet.
Sprinkle with onion powder, garlic salt, and paprika, to taste.
Roast 20 minutes or so, stirring once.

Then of course there’s pumpkin eating. Imagine my delight when, during my most recent foray into Trader Joe’s, I discovered that they are into pumpkin too! I went just a little bit crazy there, finally walking away with Pumpkin O’s, Pumpkin Ravioli, Pumpkin-Butternut Pasta Sauce, Pumpkin Scones, Pumpkin Spice Cookie Butter, Pumpkin Spice Cream-Cheese Muffins, Pumpkin
Bread mix, and Pumpkin Spice Salted Caramels.

So yeah. I’m kinda into pumpkin these days.

I’m also into free books, even when my TBR pile reaches to the ceiling. If you can relate, you may want to know about this sweet deal from LifeVerse Books, where you can subscribe to learn about free (or almost free) inspirational fiction and non-fiction e-books What I'm Into ~ November editionevery day. Special thanks to Bev, fellow book-lover and Bible-study leader extraordinaire, for making sure I knew about it.

And then there’s this whimsical family portrait, which we siblings gave my parents in celebration of their 50th anniversary. Isn’t it fun? It’s the inspired work of illustrator and storyteller Gracie Klumpp, whom you may remember meeting on my blog earlier this year. Working with Gracie was a complete joy. Her can-do attitude, not to mention the finished result, knocked our socks clean off.

So that’s it for me. What are you into these days?

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

Secrets She Kept by Cathy GohlkeSecrets a mother could never share…consequences a daughter could not redeem

Secrets She Kept by Cathy Gohlke

About this book: (from the publisher) All her life, Hannah Sterling longed for a close relationship with her estranged mother. Following Lieselotte’s death, Hannah determines to unlock the secrets of her mother’s mysterious past and is shocked to discover a grandfather living in Germany.

Thirty years earlier, Lieselotte’s father is quickly ascending the ranks of the Nazi party, and a proper marriage for his daughter could help advance his career. Lieselotte is in love―but her beloved Lukas is far from an ideal match, as he secretly works against the Reich. Yet Lieselotte never imagined how far her father would go to ensure her cooperation.

Both Hannah’s and Lieselotte’s stories unfold as Hannah travels to Germany to meet her grandfather, who is hiding wartimes secrets of his own. Longing for connection, yet shaken by all she uncovers, Hannah must decide if she can atone for her family’s tragic past and how their legacy will shape her future.

About the author: (from her website) Cathy Gohlke is the two-time Christy Award–winning author of the critically acclaimed novels Secrets She Kept, Saving Amelie, Band of Sisters,Promise Me This (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2012), William Henry Is a Fine Name, and I Have Seen Him in the Watchfires (listed by Library Journal as one of the best books of 2008), which also won the American Christian Fiction Writers’ Book of the Year Award.

Cathy has worked as a school librarian, drama director, and director of children’s and education ministries. When not traipsing the hills and dales of historic sites, she, her husband, and their dog, Reilly, divide their time between Northern Virginia and their home on the Jersey Shore.

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Historical

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for war-related themes

Why I read this book: To understand the past and its connection to my time; to better understand others.

Content advisory: references to torture and violence related to war and the Holocaust

Reminds me of: It’s  You by Jane Porter

This story matters to me…for its wrenching reminder that everyone has a story, honorable or not, and that we can’t truly know people until we understand the stories that make them who they are.

My take: This novel’s first chapter completely wowed me. I was impressed by how immediately and concisely the author dropped me into conflict, provided a compelling problem that not only revealed a great deal about the character’s strengths and weaknesses, but also hinted at the story arch and provided a clearly defined goal. Bravo. As beginnings go, this one was rendered by a masterful hand.

After which, the story ramped up at a steady pace, revealing one by one mysteries that needed solving. The story soon split into two story lines: Hannah’s more contemporary one (which is not actually contemporary at all but set in the 1970s–an intriguing choice by the author) and the WWII-era one involving Hannah’s mother, Lieselotte. Somewhere in here, the story lost its tight emotional grip on me. I sensed a distance between myself and the characters, feeling I was watching the story unfold rather than living it from the inside out. I admit this is a purely subjective reaction. Most reviewers I’ve read have had a different experience. Of the two narratives, I did find Hannah’s the more compelling, perhaps I think it’s difficult to find fresh angles of the oft-explored European war scenario.

One thing I especially appreciated: though she didn’t dwell there, the author did not shy away from the horrors of WWII. Mostly these are woven, if not tastefully (how can they be?) than appropriately into the story, acknowledged as real and horrific, and then moved past. In doing so, Gohlke reflects, better than most of this genre, the depth of brokenness caused by trauma and war. As we are now living a few generations removed from this era, it’s easy to underestimate what these people endured.

While ultimately uplifting, Secrets She Kept opened my eyes once more to the unfathomable price of war and the devastating truth that some haunted souls are never able to leave its consequences behind this side of eternity.

Thanks to Tyndale House for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: What inspiring story from WWII has left its mark on you?

The Story Behind the Story ~ by Deanna Nowadnick

The Story Behind the Story ~ by Deanna Nowadnick

When I wrote my first book, Fruit of My Spirit, I just wanted my boys to know how I met their father. Up until that point, my adult sons knew there was more to the story than what they’d pieced together; they knew I hadn’t been studying in the library that fateful night. Before speculation could digress into too many tee-hee moments, I began writing. I wanted our family’s story to be part of a bigger story. I wanted our family’s story to be shaped by God’s love and faithfulness, not the misplaced priorities of a young eighteen-year old.

One very short story on love became two, the second one about joy. Then came a story on peace. Soon a fruit-ful theme developed and I was exclaiming to anyone within earshot, “I wrote a book!”

I never expected to write a book. My mom had asked me to write one, butThe Story Behind the Story ~ by Deanna Nowadnick at that time my boys were little, and I couldn’t even put a grocery list together. Later when the boys were in high school, Mom asked me again, and again I deferred. “Writers write books,” I said. After Mom’s death, Dad reminded me that Mom had wanted me to write a book. With no more excuses and time to reflect, I wrote a book. And then I wrote a second one.

At an early signing for that first book, a church friend approached me, and with a shy smile, her eyes sparkling, Irene said, “I have a story to tell…” She went on to talk about her family who emigrated from Norway, first to Canada and then to the United States. Her father died just after their arrival. With five children in tow, the youngest only a year old, her mother embraced a new life in the land of promised opportunity. Irene said her own father had been their Moses, leading them from the old country to the new. She added that her mother had been their Joshua. Then she looked away and said, “I could never write a book.”

Perhaps not, but her story still matters. As does yours. Our stories don’t have to be found somewhere between Genesis and The Story Behind the Story ~ by Deanna NowadnickRevelation to matter. They don’t have to appear on Amazon’s best-seller list to count. Our stories are more important than that, because they’re chapters in God’s great story. Richard Rohr, a Franciscan friar, said, “The genius of the biblical story is that, instead of simply giving us ‘seven habits for highly effective people,’ it gives us permission and even direction to take conscious ownership of our own story at every level, every part of life and experience. God will use all of this material, even the negative parts, to bring life and love.

Now that’s a story that matters!

About the author: Deanna Nowadnick is the author of two books, Fruit of My Spirit: Reframing Life in God’s Grace and Signs in Life: Finding Direction in Our Travels with God. Both are inspirational memoirs. When not writing, Deanna provides administrative support for The Planner’s Edge, an investment advisory firm in Washington state. She’s active in her church, playing the violin Sunday mornings and serving on the leadership team. She loves Bible study and delights in meetings with various women’s groups. Deanna’s a Pacific Northwest native who’s been blessed with a wonderful marriage to Kurt. Deanna’s books are available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can connect with Deanna at She’s also on Facebook (Fruit of My Spirit), Twitter, and LinkedIn.

About these books: (from the publisher) In a memoir of missteps and misdeeds, Deanna Nowadnick writes of the hugeness of God’s love and faithfulness. Reframing life in God’s grace, she discovers an indescribable, indefinable, inexplicable love that has encircled her without fail through joyous, sad, cringe-worthy, heartwarming, forgettable, memorable moments in life. Fruit of My Spirit is for anyone who’s ever questioned God’s ability to love and forgive, who’s ever wondered about their place in God’s family or God’s place in theirs. Nowadnick offers hope for those who dare to question, who secretly wonder, and who fear to ask. Through stories of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control, you will experience the enormity of God, too.

Signs in Life begins with a late night encounter with law enforcement. In the harsh glare of a flashlight, author Deanna Nowadnick learns the consequences of speeding through a stop sign. Other incidents follow. All are linked to the divine signs she’s encountered in that bigger journey through life. Join Deanna as she shares humorous anecdotes and inspirational lessons from her travels with God. See the signs in life. She might be speeding through a stop sign–yet again!–while you’re carefully navigating a busy street, but together we’re all part of a bigger journey, a greater purpose. We’re all part of God’s great story.

After words: Which member of your family would you encourage to tell her (or his) story? Why?

Never Said by Carol Lynch Williams

Never Said by Carol Lynch Williams“For years I wanted to share the spotlight. Not be the only star of the family. To shine the attention on my sister, who has been lost from sight all this time. Getting what you wish for, hope for, want, always comes with a price, doesn’t it?”

Never Said by Carol Lynch Williams

About this book: (from the publisher) For as long as she can remember, Sarah’s family life has revolved around her twin sister, Annie—the pretty one, the social one, the girl who can do anything. The person everyone seems to wish Sarah—with her crippling shyness—could simply become.

When Annie suddenly chops off her hair, quits beauty pageants, and gains weight, the focus changes—Annie is still the star of the family, but for all the wrong reasons. Sarah knows something has happened, but she too is caught in her own spiral after her boyfriend breaks up with her and starts hanging out with one of Annie’s old friends.

Annie is intent on keeping her painful secret safe. But when she and Sarah start spending time together again for the first time in years, walls start to break on both sides … and words that had been left unsaid could change everything.

About the author: (from her website) Carol Lynch Williams, who grew up in Florida and now lives in Utah, is an award-winning novelist with seven children of her own, including six daughters.  She has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College, and won the prestigious PEN/Phyllis Naylor Working Writer Fellowship. The Chosen One was named one of the ALA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers and Best Books for Young Adult Readers; it won the Whitney and the Association of Mormon Letters awards for the best young adult novel of the year; and was featured on numerous lists of recommended YA fiction. Carol’s other novels include Glimpse, Miles From Ordinary, The Haven, WaitingSigned, Skye Harper, and the Just in Time series.

Genre: Fiction/YA/Contemporary

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13 for mature themes

Why I read this book: to better understand my own time, myself, and others

Content includes: bullying, social anxiety, (and one other, which to reveal would be to spoil)

Will especially appeal to: teenage girls who grapple with issues of identity and belonging.

First Impressions: The cover? I like the image of these two girls, which conveys both hiddenness and resolution. The story? Hooked me from page one.

This story matters to me…for its exploration of the bond between sisters, as well as its themes of unconditional love and belonging.

My take: The sister relationship is what drew me to this story. I don’t have a sister, and to be honest, never really wanted one, being perfectly content with my two brothers as siblings. But I’ve always been fascinated by the idea of sisters, not sure why. Maybe because there seems, to me, so much potential for drama there. I could be wrong, but that’s my perception.

In this case, I was happy to land as a fly on the wall to observe the gradually transformed relationship between Annie and Sarah. Their extreme differences, and how they overcame personal weaknesses, provided a compelling foundation for the rest of the story to unfold.

The ending, which includes the reveal as to why Annie has put on so much weight, won’t come as a great surprise, although some of the details might not be guessed much earlier. I felt it was a tasteful handling of a distasteful subject, although some readers may find the resolution a bit too pat. From an adult’s perspective–perhaps from a teen’s as well–it is hard to understand the parents’ self-absorption, which might strain credibility for some of their choices, both good and bad.

Published by Christian publisher Zondervan (Blink is their YA imprint), this book has far more of a mainstream feel than an inspirational one. It’s perfectly clean, and the themes are conveyed appropriately for the intended audience. But readers (and their parents) should not expect a strong faith message. “Christ” is mentioned once–the single overt reference to Christianity.

That said, this writer’s style completely wowed me. Her pithy lyricism more than once stole my breath. Her alternating narratives–Annie’s poetic bursts and Sarah’s prosy narrative–managed to be spare yet fluid at the same time. This combination kept me compulsively turning pages. One more…just one more…

All in all, I found Never Said an engaging read from first page to last and look forward to more from this author.

Thanks to BookLook Bloggers and Blink for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

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