What I’m Into ~ October edition

What I'm Into ~ October editionOn one of the last, lovely summer-like days of the season, my family and I found ourselves on Vashon Island. We went there to get into What I'm Into ~ October editionthe Vashon Sheepdog Classic–our new interest in this local, annual event  inspired by Scott’s and my recent trip to the Emerald Isle, where we were delighted to watch Irish sheepdogs in action. On this occasion, we were blessed with a day of truly
gorgeous, Pacific Northwest weather, which for us concluded with a stop for dinner at my aunt and What I'm Into ~ October editionuncle’s home on the island, where I snapped this shot of a sailboat. Hard not to be into that.

I’m also into Becky Harling’s The 30-Day Praise Challenge for Parents, which I meditated on for the entire month of September–coinciding perfectly with my kids’ first month of school. It struck me that filling my What I'm Into ~ October editionsoul with praise for God–for Who He is and all that He is doing in my kiddos’ lives–would be the perfect way to transition into a new school year. And it was. In fact, I’m going to remember this the next time I face a transition or situation with any kind of uncertainty. Because I discovered that praise is the antidote for fear, and how could I not be into that? (For more on this book, you can read my full review here.)

Normally, I’m very into my Friday Date Nights with my husband, but one recent Friday found me so tuckered by the week’s events that all I wanted was to stay in. So we did and watched Witness with Harrison Ford. Though 30 years old this year (!!), it’s aged quite well–with the exception, perhaps, of the soundtrack. :) Watching it, I kept thinking about how masterfully the director told his story. Which made meWhat I'm Into ~ October edition then think of another Amish-ish story I love, The Outcast by Jolina Petersheim. Which prompted me to start reading it again, allowing me to be struck once more by the beautiful way this young author weaves a story. I will always be into a story well-told.

Finally, this month I’m very into those in my community of writer-friends who selflessly help me craft my own stories. A shout out to Paula, who provided early encouragement on my latest manuscript, as well as to Jolina, Heather, and Sherri, who all provided invaluable help on my recent revision, including suggestions for a new working title (which I love). Iron sharpens iron, ladies, and I’m more grateful for you than I can say. And while I’m generally on the subject, a big thanks as well to Tina Ann Forkner, for reading my story and offering a lovely endorsement.

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

P.S. If you’re anywhere near into the Irish literary landscape, check out this beautiful StoryMap highlighting many of the places that inspired some of Ireland’s most famous writers, as well as the locations where they grew up and attended school. Special thanks to Michelle Mangan with the Killarney Hotels Group in Ireland for sending it my way.


The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas

The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas A story of family, community, and the secrets that can destroy and unite them.

The Last Midwife by Sandra Dallas

About this book: It is 1880 and Gracy Brookens is the only midwife in a small Colorado mining town where she has delivered hundreds, maybe thousands, of babies in her lifetime. The women of Swandyke trust and depend on Gracy, and most couldn’t imagine getting through pregnancy and labor without her by their sides.

But everything changes when a baby is found dead…and the evidence points to Gracy as the murderer.

She didn’t commit the crime, but clearing her name isn’t so easy when her innocence is not quite as simple, either. She knows things, and that’s dangerous. Invited into her neighbors’ homes during their most intimate and vulnerable times, she can’t help what she sees and hears. A woman sometimes says things in the birthing bed, when life and death seem suspended within the same moment. Gracy has always tucked those revelations away, even the confessions that have cast shadows on her heart.

With her friends taking sides and a trial looming, Gracy must decide whether it’s worth risking everything to prove her innocence. And she knows that her years of discretion may simply demand too high a price now…especially since she’s been keeping more than a few dark secrets of her own.

About the author: Sandra Dallas is the author of fourteen novels, including A Quilt for Christmas and The Persian Pickle Club. She is a former Denver bureau chief for Business Week magazine and lives in Denver, Colorado.

Genre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

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

Why this story matters to me: Because it celebrates the best in women: their gift for relationship, the bonds that unite them, their selfless and sacrificial love for their children, and their amazing capacity to endure.

My take: I don’t often read pioneer fiction these days, but when I do, I’m reminded me of how tenacious our early-settler ancestors had to be. In contemporary times, it’s easy to lose sight of the faith in God, in themselves, and in each other they had to possess in order to survive. For me, it’s the celebration of these themes, especially as their seen in women, that is the essence of Sandra Dallas’s novels. And the particular, hard beauty of them.

The Last Midwife has all these things, as well as resonant notes of justice, truth, forgiveness, and endurance. Of the value of community, friendship, and loyalty. In Gracy Brookens we find a character who is tough, yet kind, selfless, and forbearing. Every character, in fact, is clearly defined, laid out in Dallas’ trademark clean prose. Though the story gets off to a rather slow start, with more backstory in its early chapters than I prefer, it soon settles into a steady pace that draws the reader relentlessly toward not just one but several surprises at the end.

Speaking of surprises, I’ve learned that despite their unassuming appearances, novels by Sandra Dallas are full of them. Take this one. As you might expect from its title, it contains plenty of interesting details about frontier midwifery in the late 19th century. But the unexpected comes in the form of a murder mystery, which segues into a courtroom drama. Who knew?

Thanks to St. Martin’s Press for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: Reading The Last Midwife (or anything by Sandra Dallas) reminds me of a writer I once met at a writers conference. Melissa K. Norris blogs at Return to Simple: Inspiring Your Faith and Pioneer Roots. On her site you’ll find lots of recipes, tips, and good, common-sense advice for living more simply and healthfully–more like our ancestors. Melissa does podcasts too! Check it out, here.

What is your best advice for living simply?

Where Christ Is Present, book review + giveaway

Where Christ Is Present, book review + giveawayWhere Christ Is Present: A Theology of All Seasons on the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation edited by John Warwick Montgomery and Gene Edward Veith

About this book: (from the publisher) Five hundred years ago, the church of Jesus Christ underwent a Reformation.

A lot happened after Martin Luther posted his 95 theses on the castle church door in Wittenberg. But the fallout was not simply the start of Protestantism. The Roman Catholic Church also recast itself in response to Luther’s call for reforms. And contrary to common belief, Martin Luther did not set out to start a new church. Rather, he was trying to reform the church that already existed by reemphasizing its essence—namely, the “good news” (the gospel) that Jesus forgives and saves sinners.

The unity of the church was broken when the pope rejected this call for reform and excommunicated Luther, starting a chain of events that did lead to the institutional fracturing of Christendom and to a plethora of alternative Christian theologies. But, as many – including conservative Catholics – now admit, the church did in fact need reforming. Today, the church – including its Protestant branches – also needs reforming. Some of the issues in contemporary Christianity are very similar to those in the late Middle Ages, though others are new. But if Luther’s theology can be blamed – however unfairly – for fragmenting Christianity, perhaps today it can help us recover the wholeness of Christianity.

In the hope of that wholeness, Dr. Montgomery and Dr. Veith commissioned these essays celebrating the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, gathering some of the best contemporary voices the Lutheran church has to offer.

And we need these voices! The religious climate in the early 21st-century is simultaneously highly religious and highly secularized. It is a time of extraordinary spiritual and theological diversity. This book will propose the kind of Christianity that is best suited for our day. The remedies offered here are available by way of the same theology that was the catalyst for reforming the church five hundred years ago.

About the authorsJohn Warwick Montgomery is the author of more than sixty books in six languages. He holds eleven earned degrees, including a Master of Philosophy in Law from the University of Essex, England, a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, a Doctorate of the University in Protestant Theology from the University of Strasbourg, France, and the higher doctorate in law (LL.D.) from the University of Cardiff, Wales. He is a Lutheran clergyman, an English barrister, and is admitted to practice as a lawyer before the Supreme Court of the United States and is a practicing avocat, Barreau de Paris, France. Dr. Montgomery currently serves as Distinguished Research Professor of Philosophy at Concordia University Wisconsin.

Gene Edward Veith is the Provost and Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

Connect with the authors:   Website  ~   Facebook   ~  Twitter

Genre: Non-fiction/Religion/Christianity/Anthology

My take: An explanation as to why I chose to read this book in the first place might provide a helpful foundation before I launch into my review. Quite simply, I was curious. For someone who has grown up in the Christian church, and who has attended churches of a wide variety of denominations over the years, I realized that I know very little about Lutheranism. I realized too that I know surprisingly little about the man who began the whole “protesting” movement of which I am a part. My curiosity was heightened by some recent dissatisfaction with the Protestant church at which I now worship, as well as my increasing dismay at some changes taking place in the Christian church at large. What, if anything, sets Lutheranism apart?

Quite a bit, as it turns out.

Curious laypeople like me will find Where Christ Is Present a helpful, timely resource that covers a wide range of topics within this very specific subject. Its appeal will be fairly limited, however, to those who are seeking information and understanding into the Lutheran denomination and willing to wade through a lot of rather arcane terminology. And who are either coming at this book from other denominations, Protestant as well as Catholic or Orthodox, or who are already Lutheran and wish to strengthen the apologetics of their faith.

Though informative, thoughtful, and articulate, it is–as books like these tend to be–on the dry side, and therefore only serious students will be interested in reading every essay. I found the most helpful ones to be those written by editors. Their overviews informed and intrigued me. All essays, however, are set forth in the Table of Contents, and so readers can easily decide which ones might interest them the most.

I was surprised to learn of the very specific differences between traditional Lutheranism  and other Protestant denominations (as well as some of the more liberal branches within Lutheranism). It certainly made me look more thoughtfully at this denomination and greatly increased my appreciation for the work begun nearly 500 years ago by its founder, Martin Luther.

Thanks to iRead Book Tours for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: For your chance to win a copy of this book, click here: a Rafflecopter giveaway

And to see what other reviewers are saying, check out the tour schedule:

Aug 31 –  The Autistic Gamer – review
Sept 1 –    Essentially Italian – book spotlight
Sept 2 –   Deal Sharing Aunt – review / giveaway
Sept 3 –   Adventures in The Kingdom – review
Sept 4 –   Book Stop Corner – review / author interview / giveaway
Sept 6 –   Writers and Authors – book spotlight / giveaway
Sept 7 –   Rockin’ Book Reviews – review / author interview / giveaway
Sept 8 –   Hanna Marie Lei – review / giveaway
Sept 9 –   Dr. Johnson C. Philip – Top Amazon Reviewer – review
Sept 10 – Bless Their Hearts Mom – review / giveaway
Sept 11 – Chicas Love to Read – book spotlight / giveaway
Sept 14 – Caffeinated Christian Raves-N-Reviews – review
Sept 15 – Vic’s Media Room – review
Sept 16 – Blooming with Books – review / giveaway
Sept 17 – Bluerose’s Heart – book spotlight / giveaway
Sept 18 – A Simple Life, Really?! – book spotlight
Sept 21 – Room With Books – review / giveaway
Sept 22 – I Am Believing God – review
Sept 23 – New Horizons Review – review
Sept 24 – Library of Clean Reads – review / giveaway
Sept 25 – Seeking With All Yur Heart – review
Sept 28 – More of Him – review
Sept 29 – Story Matters – review
Sept 30 – Pursuing Splendor – review
Oct 1 –     I’d Rather Be at the Beach – review / giveaway
Oct 2 –     Create With Joy – review / giveaway
Oct 2 –     Reading to Know – review

The Last September by Nina de Gramont

The Last September by Nina de Gramont“When I look back now, it hurtles toward us like a meteor. But at the time we were too wrapped up in our day-to-day life to see it. Charlie and I lived in a borrowed house by the ocean. Our daughter, Sarah, was fifteen months old. September had just arrived, emptying the beaches at the very moment they became most spectacular.”

The Last September by Nina de Gramont

About this book: (from the publisher) Brett has been in love with Charlie ever since he took her skiing on a lovely Colorado night fourteen years ago. And now, living in a seaside cottage on Cape Cod with their young daughter, it looks as if they have settled into the life they desired. However, Brett and Charlie’s marriage has been tenuous for quite some time. When Charlie’s unstable younger brother plans to move in with them, the tension simmering under the surface of their marriage boils over.

But what happened to Charlie next was unfathomable. Charlie was the golden boy so charismatic that he charmed everyone who crossed his path; who never shied away from a challenge; who saw life as one big adventure; who could always rescue his troubled brother, no matter how unpredictable the situation.

So who is to blame for the tragic turn of events? And why does Brett feel responsible?

Set against the desolate autumn beauty of Cape Cod, The Last September is a riveting emotional puzzle that takes readers inside the psyche of a woman facing the meaning of love and loyalty.

About the author: (from the publisher) Nina de Gramont is the author of the acclaimed Meet Me at the River and Every Little Thing in the World as well as the story collection Of Cats and Men and the adult novel The Gossip of Starlings. Her work has appeared in Redbook, Harvard Review, Nerve, and Seventeen. Nina lives with her husband and daughter in coastal North Carolina. You can visit her at NinadeGramont.com.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Suspense

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13+. Some profanity and mature themes.

Why I read this book: As a She Reads reviewer. The Last September is one of their Books of Fall. See what other reviewers are saying here.

Why this story matters to me: It reminds me that our choices always carry consequences, often reaching far beyond ourselves.

My take: So clever, the way this story starts in the middle and then works its way out, before and after. Which heightens the suspense and makes for a gripping tale, from first page to last. Interestingly, the conclusion isn’t much of a shock, but it is satisfying. Which explains why this murder mystery is much more a suspense than an actual mystery. The whole process of climbing into Brett’s mind, the effort to understand her choices, fascinated me and kept me enthralled. Even if I never could completely comprehend her taste in men, and ultimately, the choices she made.

I would have appreciated a deeper exploration of Eli’s issue. It appears so suddenly. Is this how it typically presents? What about hereditary factors? Did its onset catch his family completely by surprise? And why was the dad so checked-out? I never got a clear sense for any of this, and I wanted more.

However–probably the reason I didn’t get more was because this isn’t Eli’s story–it’s Brett’s. And her story is masterfully told with seemingly effortless fluidity, vivid descriptions, and characters unlike any I’ve seen before. This novel is not just a suspense; it’s a literary suspense–my favorite kind, where as much care is given to the crafting of its prose as to the building of the plot. It is the work of a gifted storyteller. I’ve not read any of Nina de Gramont’s previous novels, but I’m inclined to do so now.

Not a happy story but an enthralling one, The Last September is the sort of story you’ll want to read all in one long, stormy autumn weekend.

Thanks to She Reads and Algonquin Books for Chapel Hill for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: What other books would you recommend, especially for fall reading?

Why I Write ~ by author Yolanda Tonette Sanders

Why I Write ~ by author Yolanda Tonette Sanders

Today I’m pleased to welcome novelist Yolonda Tonette Sanders to Story Matters. Yolanda is the owner of a Yo Productions, a Christian-based company that provides literary services as well as theatrical entertainment. A working wife and mother, Yolonda strives to live a purposeful life and uplift art from all walks of life with her company.

Her latest novel, Shadow of Death, is the third in the protective detective series that started with Wages of Sin and Day of Atonement. It explores what happens when homicide detective Troy Evans is framed for the murder of his ex.


Why I Write
by Yolonda Tonette Sanders

When I started Yo Productions, my goal was to create an extraordinary company that would “uplift, encourage, and inspire individuals from all walks of life.” The motto for my company is “Performance with Purpose.” I don’t write only to entertain. Sure, I like to make people laugh and I’m grateful that they enjoy my stories. Ultimately, I want people to walk away from my productions or finish one of my books with a renewed sense of hope about whatever situation they may be facing.

One thing that’s certain about life is that it’s often unpredictable. Even when we have our best plans all perfectly laid out, life comes in and interrupts things. The interruption can come in many forms. Death, illness, betrayal, and unemployment are a few examples. What I aim to do through my writings is to create stories that relate to real life circumstances.

My latest book, Shadow of Death, centers around a cop who has falsely been accused of murder. One of the reasons he gets into this predicament is because of his failure to be honest about some things in his past. Consequently, his reputation, his freedom, and his family all come under fire.

I create imperfect characters with a variety of issues. My characters are flawed because they reflect the marred men and women who exist in reality. We all struggle with something. We have all hurt and been hurt. No matter what race, gender, or socioeconomic status, pain is something that doesn’t feel good. Yo Productions seeks to reach people no matter where they are in life.

People in our world are hurting. It’s evident by the depressing news stories we see each day. Faith is an essential element to my writing. My characters find that it’s easier to work through their issues with God than without Him. Like people, the characters in my books don’t always embrace God at first. Some of them struggle with believing in Him just as many people in the world do. It is my desire that, after reading one of my books or seeing a Yo Productions stage performance, people’s lives will be impacted. For those who believe in God, I want to help build upon the faith they already have. For those who don’t, I’m hoping that they will at least give Him a second thought.

Why I Write ~ by author Yolanda Tonette SandersAbout this book: The third in the new detective series that started with Wages of Sin and Day of Atonement, this thrilling page-turner explores what happens when homicide detective Troy Evans is framed for the murder of his ex—and the secrets that got him there.

A devoted husband, father, and detective, Troy will do anything to protect his family…including kill. In a fit of rage, he threatens the life of an ex-girlfriend when she attempts to cause trouble in his marriage. Little does Troy know, his words are caught on tape and will eventually come back to haunt him.

When Troy’s ex mysteriously disappears, he is convinced that she staged her disappearance to get back at him for his rejection, and his assessment seems plausible—until her body is discovered. Soon, Troy becomes the prime suspect in the murder investigation. And as secrets of the past begin to surface, they threaten to destroy more than his reputation; his marriage is at risk too, and ignoring the problem won’t make it go away.

Now on the opposite side of the law, Troy works diligently to find out who has gone to such great lengths to set him up. With a cloud of suspicion hanging over his head, Troy must prove that he’s neither a cheater nor a murderer. If he fails, he could permanently lose his badge, his freedom, and his family.

After words: Have you read any of Yolanda’s other novels? Can you pick a favorite?

Hiding Places by Erin Healy

Hiding Places by Erin HealyThe Harrison lodge is full of hiding places where young Kate can discover all the secrets no one wants her to know.

Hiding Places by Erin Healy

About this book: (from the publisher) Eleven-year-old Kate keeps her knowledge to herself—one sister’s stash of marijuana, the other’s petty cash pilfering, her grandfather’s contraband candy bars. She protects her mother and Gran, too, screening out critical comments from the hotel suggestions box. But suddenly the stakes are raised; her grandfather’s best friend is murdered the day after Kate heard the two men arguing.

At the same time, far from the quiet mountain resort, a homeless man sees a robbery gone wrong . . . a gang member seeks revenge for the death of his son . . . and a boy chooses the worst time to wield spray paint on a store window. In a strange and spiraling sequence of events, their disparate worlds collide at Harrison Lodge.

Kate offers shelter to one of them, unaware of the terrible consequences to the family she loves. But people can hide in all kinds of ways, sometimes even in plain sight . . . and some secrets are just waiting to be exposed.

About the author: (from her website) Erin Healy is the bestselling co-author of Burn and Kiss (with Ted Dekker) and an award-winning fiction editor for numerous bestselling authors. Erin is the owner of WordWright Editorial Services, a consulting firm specializing in fiction book development, and she is a member of the American Christian Fiction Writers and the Academy of Christian Editors. Her novels include such thrilling stories as Never Let You GoThe Baker’s Wife, and Stranger Things. She lives with her family in Colorado.

Genre: Fiction/General

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG for references to violence (none explicit)

Why this story mattered to me: for its celebration of family, redemption, and the hope of second chances

My take: Whenever I start a new Erin Healy novel, I know I’m in for a very smart read, and in that regard, Hiding Places met every expectation. Per usual, this one is filled with detailed plotting, descriptions that are a mind-boggling in their complexity, and highly complicated characters. As a writer myself, I’m awed by in-depth understanding of the human psyche needed to construct characters like these.

Hiding Places is like another of Healy’s novels, Stranger Things, in that it contains no overt “God” messages–which is interesting considering that Thomas Nelson, a Christian publishing house, published it. (You’ll note, in fact, that in defining its genre, I did not include “Christian” or “Inspirational,” because while it contains these underlying themes, they are subtle to non-existent.) Unlike Healy’s previous novels, this one does not include supernatural elements–other than, of course, the application of grace and redemption, which are inherently supernatural.

For all that it has going for it–and from a literary standpoint, that is a lot–I can’t say I loved this one. Which has nothing to do with the quality of this story (let me be clear on that point), but rather its content. The two main viewpoint characters are an eleven-year-old girl making her way among a highly dysfunctional family, and a hardened-but-with-a-heart gang member–neither of which I found easy to relate to. The story itself also had a bit more grit than I enjoy, which made it tough at times to stick with it. However, I will say it was worth it in the end as the conclusion is poignantly hope-filled and satisfying without being saccharine. This, I liked.

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

After words: Have you read any of Erin Healy’s novels? Any favorites?

Intersect, DVD & study guide review

Intersect, DVD & study guide reviewWhere your story and God’s story converge

Intersect by Rob Peabody and Cris Rogers

About this DVD and study guide: Follow the journey of five individuals as they tell authentic stories of circumstances that have forced them to examine how God might fit into their lives.

This five-week small group resource helps spark spiritual conversations. Starting spiritual conversations with those outside of the church is a worthy, yet often difficult and intimidating task. Intersect was designed to help overcome those barriers. It is an easy-to-use resource, perfect for sharing with co-workers, friends, neighbors, and family to enter into meaningful conversations.

Each film is accompanied by thought-provoking questions designed to encourage participants to examine the world in which they live and the life they are pursuing, always ending with a conversation on how Jesus intersects the current topic. Allow this powerful new film resource to engage those you are in relationship with and then propel them forward in their next step with Jesus.

To purchase this study, or to learn more about Awaken, click here.

About the authorsRob Peabody is the cofounder and international director of Awaken, a nonprofit that exists to resource the church for action. Awaken creates resources that inspire, educate, and equip local churches to live as Kingdom-bringers in their communities. In 2011, Rob and his wife, Medea, along with their two boys left his position as a lead campus pastor at a megachurch in Texas to pioneer and lead a church seeking to engage unreached 20s and 30s in northeast London. He is the author of Citizen: Your Role in the Alternative Kingdom.

Cris Rogers is a writer, pastor, speaker, and church visionary. In 2010, he planted a church in the poorest area of London with a dream for it to be an explosion of joy within the tower block estate in which he works.

Genre: Non-fiction/Christian/Bible study/Evangelism

My take: The first thing that captured me about this DVD and study guide–and why I agreed to review it–was its tagline: “where your story and God’s story converge.” I am so thankful for this trend in “big picture” thinking among Christian leaders. It’s one thing I believe the church is doing right these days, showing people how our individual life stories fit into God’s very big one. There’s nothing like understanding this truth to lend purpose to our day-to-day living. Viewed through this lens, our ordinary can become quite extraordinary.

One’s appreciation for this study will be greatly determined by one’s expectations. So on that score, let me be clear: This is not a study for mature believers. Nor is it an in-depth Bible study. It is geared for non-believers–or, perhaps more specifically, for believers who want to use it as a tool for starting meaningful conversation with non-believers. My guess is that the format would work best for small groups, and for younger people…teenagers and twentysomethings. It is a starting point, a scratching of the surface, and leaders will want to be prepared to go deeper with questions and responses not provided by this very concise study guide. The video segments themselves are very short–I don’t think one of them was longer than ten minutes–and they don’t provide a lot of depth. But I liked the contemporary, urban feel to them, which I imagine millenials would find quite appealing. And they address real life issues in a very non-threatening, relatable way.

To see what other reviewers are saying, click here.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity and Awaken for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

After words: If you are a Christian, what have you found to be the best way to talk about your faith with those who don’t share your belief system? If you are not a Christian, when you talk to people who are, what kind of conversation is most meaningful to you?

More Books in My Mailbox ~ Fall edition

More Books in My Mailbox ~ Fall editionI can’t always anticipate the books that arrive in my mailbox. Some I’ve requested, but others find their way to me unannounced. With a plethora to choose from, I have to be choosy. At the same time, I love giving a chance to books I might not otherwise consider–because they’re outside my preferred genre, perhaps, or by a debut or new-to-me author. Sometimes the gamble pays off, sometimes it doesn’t. In any case, what does or doesn’t work for me might hit you entirely differently. So for that reason, I wanted to give you a glimpse into several books that have recently arrived in my mailbox but which, based on a variety of factors, I won’t be giving a full review.

More Books in My Mailbox ~ Fall editionThe Untold by Courtney Collins. Now available in paperback, this novel released last year to wide critical acclaim. Part of its hook is its unusual narrator–a dead newborn (not unlike the murdered girl in Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones). Another hook is its unique setting–the 1920s Australian Outback. Despite its originality, I wasn’t able to get into this story. Too dark and gritty for me, and I found it difficult to latch onto its hardened protagonist. But for those who enjoy literary experimentation, you might like to give it a try.

Fishbowl by Bradley Somer is another literary experimentation that didn’t quite click for me. Its narrator is, of More Books in My Mailbox ~ Fall editionall things, a goldfish. As described by its publicist, Fishbowl is a novel “that tells the story of how Ian the goldfish jumps out of his bowl on the 27th floor balcony of his apartment building because he longs for something different. While plummeting toward the street below, Ian watches as the different residents—a diverse cast of characters—are each faced with a decision that will affect the course of their lives.” I read the first few chapters, but it was too angst-filled to engage me. I do believe, however, that there is a certain kind of humor and (I hope) a redemptive ending to be found here.

More Books in My Mailbox ~ Fall editionWeightless by Sarah Bannan is yet another experiment in literary form (are you sensing a theme?). Weightless tells the all-too-familiar story of the new girl arriving at at a small high school and her subsequent tumble from golden girl to social pariah as orchestrated by the school’s in-crowd. What takes this story from the ordinary to the extraordinary is the means by which it is told, through a first-person plural narrator–that’s right, we. It’s an intriguing idea, but in the end, I found it cumbersome and hard to relate to. Still–hats off for originality.

More Books in My Mailbox ~ Fall editionCold Feet by Amy Fitzhenry is written for the woman who has asked herself, what if? And really, who hasn’t? I was intrigued by the author–a lawyer for the Movember Foundation who found time to write this novel amidst an 80-hour work week–and ready to be charmed by what has been touted as a “heartwarming” and “witty” debut. And while, yes, I see the humor and the lightheartedness, I couldn’t seem to buy into the protagonist’s problems. They weren’t weighty enough. In the end, it was too frothy of a read to hold me, but I can see its appeal for the woman who’s in the mood for something frivolous and fun.

More Books in My Mailbox ~ Fall editionSeason of Salt and Honey by Hannah Tunnicliffe is a lovely looking novel that hooked me with its premise: “After a tragic loss, Frankie Caputo escapes into Washington State’s Cascade Mountain range to flee her overbearing Italian family and uptight in-laws.  Alone in the forest and able to grieve, Frankie learns she can’t hide from her family and past—and that the familiar comfort of her aunts’ polpette or a taste of affogato may be just what she needs after all.” In the end, however–despite some beautifully written prose–the story didn’t capture me. The first chapter was slow to take off, but even beyond that, I found it hard to like Frankie because she was so unbendingly hostile to her sister. It’s tricky to write complex characters–to give them depth and flaws while still making them likable–and this one, despite its potential, didn’t quite hit the mark for me.

After words: I’d love to know what’s on  your TBR pile. Anything I need to add to mine?

Spotlight on 3 Books for Christian Parents

Spotlight on 3 Books for Christian Parents

It happens nearly every year: With the seasons shifting and school back in session, something prompts me to brush up on my parenting skills. Maybe it’s because I can now anticipate a few more hours to each week to devote to self-help reading. More likely it’s because, having just spent the better part of the last two-and-a-half months with my kiddos, I’m hyper-aware of the gaps in my parenting.

Can you relate? If so, you may want to consider these titles to help you along your parenting journey:

Motivate Your Child: A Christian Parent’s Guide to Raising Kids Who Do What They Need to Do Without Being Told by Dr. Scott Turansky & Joanne Miller

About this book: (from the publisher) We need a parenting revolution!

Most parenting approaches end up encouraging children to ask the wrong questions about life: What’s in it for me? Are you going to pay me for that? What’s the minimum I need to do to get by?

But God’s Word gives us a better way to parent, one that builds strong internal motivation in children. When parents change the way they parent, kids change the way they live. This practical book explores a theology of internal motivation and then gives parents real-life solutions to equip their kids for life.

You’ll learn . . .
•          how to parent in ways that build internal motivation so that kids don’t have to rely on you to get things done.
•          the four promptings of the conscience and how to coordinate your parenting to take advantage of them.
•          ways to energize your spiritual training with fun and creativity.
•          how to help children respond to mistakes instead of blaming, defending, or justifying.

The greatest gift you can give your child is strong moral and spiritual development―this book shows you how. Every chapter includes practical examples of families applying the Bible to their current issues.

Join the revolution!

Spotlight on 3 Books for Christian Parents

Be the Best Mom  You Can Be: A Practical Guide to Raising Whole Children in a Broken Generation by Marina Slayton & Gregory W. Slayton

About this book: (from the publisher) What if you could sit down with a wise, experienced mom–someone who has dealt with her child being bullied, who has seen the impact of permissiveness, who has been forced to depend on God for every single day, and still talks with grace and compassion?

Through many years of tested faith, and her close walk with God, Marina Slayton has written this amazing book to help guide mothers through today’s often times impossible expectations. In her book, Marina will help you to write a life-changing family vision statement, break the cycle of generational sin, and explain why you don’t have to measure up to many of the difficult expectations society has created. With every move across the country, every illness she’s struggled through, Marina knows more in heart, as to what it truly means to rely on the only trustworthy source of life. What is the source to being a good mother, and the strength to go through life’s hardships? Quite simply, Jesus Christ.

In an age when brokenness abounds and cultural voices only add to the confusion, Godly mothers have never been more crucial. Many parents–and children–feel lost amidst the decaying family values in the culture, and the ever-increasing amount of “best” parenting practices in the market place of ideas. With all of these issues and struggles being raised in today’s modern family, some questions are raised by many mothers:

How can we avoid the pitfalls of a secular culture?
How do we raise children who are healthy emotionally and spiritually?
What if we’re doing it wrong?

Many mothers can agree, that wise counsel from a friendly corner is desperately needed. And Marina Slayton is here to do just that, sharing her experiences, her struggles, and her faith as she walked with God through it all.

Marina has spent the past thirty years as a mother raising four kids. From California to Bermuda, from public school to homeschool, Marina has been there, and she’s not afraid to share her mistakes, epiphanies, and practical ideas. But she doesn’t stop there. In this incredible book that Marina authored together with her husband Gregory, Marina demonstrates how the power of God’s Word, and the work of the Holy Spirit can give direction and freedom to parents who need it most. In this practical book for mothers, you will gain a deeper understanding of what it really means to Be The Best Mom You Can Be.

Spotlight on 3 Books for Christian ParentsParenting Unchained: Overcoming the Ten Deceptions that Shackle Christian Parents by Dr. James D. Dempsey

About this book: (from the publisher) In this book, the author reveals the ten most destructive lies about parenting. He writes from the heart about the way these lies infected his own parenting, and illuminates the Bible’s powerful truths that counter each lie. Both Biblical and practical, each section ends with home activities to help parents take immediate steps to develop their kids’ character–character that lasts when they leave home. The last chapters focus on the most important adjustments parents must make with teenagers to prepare them for independence. Weaving humor into strong warnings, Parenting Unchained points out the hazards that derail the parenting journey.

After words: What other parenting books have helped you on your journey?

The Sea Keeper’s Daughters, book review

The Sea Keeper's Daughters, book reviewFrom modern-day Roanoke Island to the sweeping backdrop of North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains and Roosevelt’s WPA folklore writers, past and present intertwine to create an unexpected destiny.

The Sea Keeper’s Daughters by Lisa Wingate

About this book: (from the publisher) Restaurant owner Whitney Monroe is desperate to save her business from a hostile takeover. The inheritance of a decaying Gilded Age hotel on North Carolina’s Outer Banks may provide just the ray of hope she needs. But things at the Excelsior are more complicated than they seem. Whitney’s estranged stepfather is entrenched on the third floor, and the downstairs tenants are determined to save the historic building. Searching through years of stored family heirlooms may be Whitney’s only hope of quick cash, but will the discovery of an old necklace and a Depression-era love story change everything?

About the author: (from her website) Selected among Booklist’s Top 10 for two consecutive years, Lisa Wingate skillfully weaves lyrical writing and unforgettable settings with elements of traditional Southern storytelling, history, and mystery to create novels that Publisher’s Weekly calls “Masterful” and Library Journal refers to as “A good option for fans of Nicholas Sparks and Mary Alice Monroe.”

Lisa is a journalist, an inspirational speaker, and the author of twenty-five novels. She is a seven-time ACFW Carol Award nominee, a multiple Christy Award nominee, a two-time Carol Award winner, and a 2015 RT Booklovers Magazine Reviewer’s Choice Award Winner for mystery/suspense. Recently, the group Americans for More Civility, a kindness watchdog organization, selected Lisa along with Bill Ford, Camille Cosby, and six others as recipients of the National Civies Award, which celebrates public figures who work to promote greater kindness and civility in American life. Booklist summed up her work by saying, “Lisa Wingate is, quite simply, a master storyteller.” More information about her novels can be found at www.lisawingate.com.

Genre: Fiction/Christian/Women’s Fiction/Book Club

Why I read this book: for Tyndale for review

First impressions: Cover foretells an emotional, sweeping tale of women’s fiction; first pages promise a story I can settle into.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG. For adults but perfectly clean.

Reminds me of… the southern-set novels of Karen White

Will especially appeal to… women who enjoy stories that intertwine past and present in one compelling package of relational drama.

This story matters because… it reminds us that, yes, our stories really do matter.

My take: Like her previous Carolina Heirlooms novels (The Prayer Box, The Story Keeper), The Sea Keeper’s Daughters combines two stories into one, bound together in such a way that only the deeply talented Lisa Wingate can manage. Though this novel is a stand-alone, it includes characters from previous novels–a technique in other books I sometimes find distracting; here, however, it adds texture and dimension.

The more I got into Whitney’s story, the more I warmed to her. Wingate does an especially masterful job revealing Whitney’s character–and enabling her to grow–through her unpredictable interactions with Mark, Casey, and Clyde. The only downside to Whitney’s contemporary story line was that it so engaged me, I was tempted to rush through Alice’s historical story, as told through a series of detailed letters.

Aside from memorable characters and original plot lines, the best part of a Lisa Wingate novel is her enriching exploration of the human spirit–the kind that resonates so deeply within my own soul that I feel I’ve been given the gift of fresh understanding and compassion. I found The Sea Keeper’s Daughters to be a stunningly perceptive tale, with meaningful examinations of eternal matters. All of which crescendos to an unexpected and soul-satisfying conclusion.

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

After words: Did you catch that mention of Roosevelt’s WPA folklore writers? And wonder who they were? You might be surprised to learn, as I was, that they played a significant role in the recording of America’s “voice” during our Depression Era. These folklore writers feature prominently in The Sea Keeper’s Daughters.  You can discover a bit more about them here and here. Or, best yet, for a learning experience that’s far more fun, pick up The Sea Keeper’s Daughters. I love a novel that teaches me a part of history I might not have otherwise known.

Which book last did that for you?