How to Tell Toledo from the Sky, book review

How to Tell Toledo From the Sky, book review & giveawayA mind-bending, heart-shattering love story that asks, “Can true love exist if it’s been planned from birth?”

How to Tell Toledo From the Sky by Lydia Netzer

About this book: Like a jewel shimmering in a Midwest skyline, the Toledo Institute of Astronomy is the nation’s premier center of astronomical discovery and a beacon of scientific learning for astronomers far and wide. Here, dreamy cosmologist George Dermont mines the stars to prove the existence of God. Here, Irene Sparks, an unsentimental scientist, creates black holes in captivity.

George and Irene are on a collision course with love, destiny and fate. They have everything in common: both are ambitious, both passionate about science, both lonely and yearning for connection. The air seems to hum when they’re together. But George and Irene’s attraction was not written in the stars. In fact their mothers, friends since childhood, raised them separately to become each other’s soulmates.
When that long-secret plan triggers unintended consequences, the two astronomers must discover the truth about their destinies, and unravel the mystery of what Toledo holds for them—together or, perhaps, apart.

About the author: (from the author herselfI was born in Detroit and raised by two public school teachers. We lived in Michigan during the school year, and at an old farm in the hills of western Pennsylvania during school vacations. My world revolved around horses, music, and books. I went to college and grad school in the midwest, met my husband and got married in Chicago, and then moved to Norfolk when we decided to have kids. We have two: a boy and a girl. I homeschool them and taxi them to orchestra rehearsal, the karate dojo, the pony farm, and many music lessons. At our homeschool co-op I teach literature, and I love to travel, knit, play my electric guitar, and of course read.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary

Judging this cover: A great match for the story: colorful and off-kilter.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R. And then some. For all the reasons you might suppose.

Reminds me of… Joshilyn Jackson’s Someone Else’s Love Story, with shades of Herman Wouk’s A Hole in Texas. Go figure. 

You’ll want to buy this book if … you enjoy a novel with an utterly original premise, offbeat main characters and colorful prose.

Why did I read this book? For St. Martins Press for review

Would I read another by this author? I am curious about her debut, Shine, Shine, Shine, though if it’s as racy as this one, I wouldn’t be able to read it. 

Why this story matters: It explores the notion of soul mates and true-and-only love

My take: This off-beat novel with its eccentric main characters was a lot racier than I expected. I wish it wasn’t so. I didn’t feel the explicitness was necessary, and I would have enjoyed this highly original concept more if it were a little more PG. Obviously it was written with a particular audience in mind. Unfortunately, that audience wasn’t me. 

So, seeing where it was heading, I took a detour and caught up with the characters at the end–where they seemed a lot happier, by the way, and a lot less maladjusted.

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

After words: Lydia Netzer on soulmates, arranged marriages, and How to Tell Toledo from the Sky

Lydia Netzer on Toledo and How to Tell Toledo from the Sky


3 Ways Africa Changed Me

3 Ways Africa Changed Me

With our kids from New Life Homes in Swaziland

I posted a while back that my family and I recently traveled to Africa, where we spent the majority of our time at New Life Homes in Swaziland because we sponsor two beautiful children there and wanted to meet them.

We were also fortunate to be able to spend another week in South Africa, where my family frolicked in the Indian Ocean, toured a Zulu village, fed elephants, pet cheetahs and lion cubs, ate impala and water buffalo and garlic snails (okay, only my kids on this last one…I’m afraid I can’t get myself to like escargot), and safari’d our hearts out.

3 Ways Africa Changed Me

Our two kids with our New Life Homes kids

We loved it. The landscapes, the animals, the people… especially the people. Though the continent is riddled by poverty and disease and dark spiritual forces, the people must be among the warmest and most generous we’ve had the pleasure to meet.

Before I left, when I told my agent of our travel plans, she remarked that our trip was sure to be a before-after event. “Before we went to Africa, . . . .” “After we got back from Africa . . . .”

She was right.

Here are some ways I mark the differences:

I embrace a more relaxed pace. You’ve probably heard of it, maybe even experienced it for yourself–if so, probably outside what is considered the Western world. In Swaziland, this beautiful phenomenon of a relaxed life-pace is fondly called Swazi-time. It says: Slow down….savor life a little…everything will happen in its own good time. It’s a lovely way to live, though I will admit it takes some getting used to if you’re not accustomed to it. And of course, it’s easier to do when you’re on vacation than when you return to pressures of “real” life.” But I find myself making conscious efforts to retain the spirit of Swazi-time today. For example, when a few weeks ago I traveled a half-hour to another town to purchase new dance shoes for my daughter, the store had the right ballet and jazz shoes in stock, but not tap. Which meant I’d have to schedule another trip to pick those up. Before Africa, this would have exasperated me because it wasn’t efficient. It would have seemed to waste my time. After Africa, I was much better equipped to accept the imperfection of the situation, to know that it wasn’t a big deal, and to believe it would work out just fine. (Of course it did.)

3 Ways Africa Changed Me

Meet Rambo the bull elephant

I’m more present to the moment. When I was in Africa, I had a troubling awareness that I wasn’t truly appreciating my moments to the fullest. Part of this is a natural consequence to being thrust into sensory-overload situations. When everything is new and different, there is just no possible way to absorb and savor it all. Still, I had a wish to enjoy things more deeply. Now that I’m back inside the familiar, I find I’ve retained the desire to fully experience life and–because I was stretched–am more capable of doing so. Even when I’m doing mundane things like folding laundry and preparing dinner. Maybe especially then.

I worry a little bit less. Before we left, I worried most about our family staying healthy on our trip. Aside from my prayer that Africa would be a life-changing experience for all of us–especially our kids–this was my biggest request. Guess what? We stayed healthy. No colds, no stomach issues. Yes, my son did come home with a single dot of ringworm on his forearm, but he considers this more of a souvenir than a problem. Beyond health issues, there were other things I worried about prior to our departure. That all the logistical details would work out (on a trip this size, they were myriad). Guess what? We got everywhere we needed to go on time and in one piece. In fact, so many things worked out so much better than I could even have imagined I wondered, Why do I always expect the worst when I might instead hope for the best?

Lest you think I’m implying that one trip to Africa and hey, presto! I’m a changed woman, let me clarify: I am a changing womanThe process began before I left (books like Bread and Wine and blogs like Sober Boots helping me along), and it continues now that I am home.

What I’m trying to articulate here is that I believe travel–especially the stretching kind that takes you outside your comfort zone–is something like parenting. Both are sanctifying–that is, crucibles that refine you, molding your character into a finer version than the one you had before.

3 Ways Africa Changed Me

Behind us, a family of elephants

Not that sanctification can’t happen otherwise. But what I’ve found is that travel (like parenting) has the tendency to speed the process along.

After words: I’m not the only thing changing around here. In the months ahead, expect to see some differences on Story Matters too. While I’ll still be doing book reviews, there won’t be quite so many of them in order to make room for stories that matter: about people and groups who are making a difference.

Speaking of people making a difference, when you have 15 minutes, I’d encourage you to watch this award-winning documentary short that tells you more about New Life Homes.

Finally, I’ve shared what two of my crucible experiences are. What about you? What takes you through the refining fire faster than you might normally go?


The Story Keeper, book review

The Story Keeper, book review

The Story Keeper by Lisa Wingate

About this book: (from the publisher) Successful New York editor, Jen Gibbs, is at the top of her game with her new position at Vida House Publishing — until a mysterious manuscript from an old slush pile appears on her desk. Turning the pages, Jen finds herself drawn into the life of Sarra, a mixed-race Melungeon girl trapped by dangerous men in the turn of the century Appalachia. A risky hunch may lead to The Story Keeper‘s hidden origins and its unknown author, but when the trail turns toward the heart of the Blue Ridge Mountains, a place Jen thought she’d left behind forever, the price of a blockbuster next book deal may be higher than she’s willing to pay.

About the author: (excerpted from Tyndale Media Center) Lisa Wingate is a magazine columnist, speaker, and the author of nineteen mainstream novels, including the national bestseller, Tending Roses, now in its eighteenth printing.  She is a seven-time ACFW Carol award nominee, a Christy Award nominee, and a two-time Carol Award winner. When not dreaming up stories, Lisa spends time on the road as a motivational speaker. Via internet, she shares with readers as far away as India, where her book, Tending Roses, has been used to promote women’s literacy, and as close to home as Tulsa, Oklahoma, where the county library system has used Tending Roses to help volunteers teach adults to read.

Lisa lives on a ranch in Texas, where she spoils the livestock, raises boys, and teaches Sunday school to high school seniors. Of all the things she loves about her job, she loves connecting with people, both real and imaginary, the most.  More information about Lisa’s novels can be found at www.Lisawingate.com.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary

Judging this cover: 5 out of 5 stars. Full marks for this one. Love the bridge imagery, with the shrouded mountains in the distance, and the attractive female figure in the foreground–all of which match the story. 

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: G. Wholly grown-up yet perfectly clean. Bravo. 

Reminds me of… Because of its Appalachian themes with notes of hope and redemption, Catherine Marshall’s classic Christy.

You’ll want to buy this book if … you’re curious about who the Melungeon people are and their role in Appalachian history.

Why did I read this book? For Tyndale for review

Would I read another by this author? Anytime. This prolific author astonishes me for the depth and variety of her stories. I honestly have no idea how she does it, except by the gift of God.

Why this story matters: Because it speaks of hope for the seemingly hopeless and redemption for the apparently un-redeemable.

My take: I’ve had an interest in Appalachia ever since my high school years, when I lived in Virginia and my friends and I went on two separate summer trips to that region to work among the people there. I’m fascinated by this American subculture, and all the ways they’ve retained their unique identity for hundreds of years. So I was interested to see what one of my favorite authors would do with the subject.

In The Story Keeper, you’ll find two stories in one, and the way they tie together is a feat I imagine only Lisa Wingate can pull off. I’d actually like to go back and reread The Story Keeper to pick out more of the connections, now that I’ve seen the whole story unfold. My favorite parts were the descriptions of Jen’s interactions with her family, especially her sisters. The high tension of these felt spot-on, and I’ve never seen Lisa Wingate write with such a unique and powerful voice.

Jen’s interaction with Evan seemed a bit slow to get off the ground, but their ending rang true. Speaking of endings, this is one of the most interesting I’ve seen in recent reads, with all the myriad threads tied into satisfying knots.

Altogether, The Story Keeper is another winsome, enriching and entertaining read from Lisa Wingate.

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

After words: I especially resonated with these lines from The Story Keeper, which were given to Evan Hall :

“Our stories are powerful. They teach, they speak, they inspire. They bring about change. But they are also fragile. Their threads are so easily broken by time, by lack of interest, by failure to understand the value that comes of knowing where we have been and who we have been. In this speed-of-light culture, our histories are fading more quickly than ever. Yet when we lose our stories, we lose ourselves…”

Yes and amen.


Welcome Gina Holmes, author of Driftwood Tides

Welcome Gina Holmes, author of Driftwood TidesI’ve been a fan of novelist Gina Holmes ever since reading her breakout debut, Crossing Oceans. I was impressed then, as now, by her originality and heart, which she reveals through her lovely storytelling. Gina is the founder of popular literary site, novelrocket.com. She is a two-time Christy and ECPA Book of the Year finalist and winner of the INSPY, Inspirational Reader’s Choice, and Carol Award. Her books regularly appear on Christian bestseller lists.

Gina, welcome. Please tell us a little bit about your newest release, Driftwood Tides.

Driftwood Tides tells the story of an aging, alcoholic driftwood artist turned beach bum, Holton Creary, and young Libby Slater. Libby grew up with an absent father and a loving but cold, socialite mother. Leading up to her wedding, Libby and her groom-to-be go through genetic testing and she learns her blood type doesn’t match either of her parents. She confronts her mother and is reluctantly told that she’s adopted. She goes searching for her mother, Adele, only to find her husband, Holton Creary lying face down on the carpet of his Nags Head beach shack.

She lies about her real identity until she is finally found out. Holton does not welcome the news. He never knew the wife he had given saint status too had given up a daughter for adoption. Together the two search to find the truth about Adele, Libby’s father and themselves.

What do you hope readers will take away from this book?

At its heart, Driftwood Tides is really about discovering who we are, whose we are, where we belong and the need to accept and bestow forgiveness.Welcome Gina Holmes, author of Driftwood Tides

You seem to have a recurring theme in your novels about absent fathers, if it’s not too personal, why do you think that is?

It is too personal, but I don’t mind answering (wink!) When I was 6 years old, I was packed up by my stepfather and driven to my father’s house. Overnight I had a new Mom, new sisters and brother, house and life. It was as traumatic an experience as I can imagine. There were few explanations that made sense to me and I missed my other family desperately. I think ever since I’ve been trying to settle some pretty deep-seated questions. Writing books is wonderful for that.

The novel you’ve written that seems to be a fan-favorite is Crossing Oceans, do you ever see yourself writing a sequel?

I love that book too. Makes me cry just thinking about certain scenes. I would love to write a sequel, prequel or off shoot stories. I love those characters dearly. I’m under contract for three different novels, so I’m not sure when I’ll have the time, but I’d love to explore Craig’s story and of course, Bella’s. I miss Mama Peg very much!

You’ve said that your favorite novel you’ve written is Wings of Glass. Why is that your favorite?

Well, for storyline, I think Crossing Oceans is the strongest. I think my writing in Wings of Glass was my best, plus when I was very young I watched my mother in one abusive relationship after another, and then two of my sisters. I had been there too, despite thinking I was better than that. I know the mindset that keeps a woman (or man) in a relationship like that and I wanted to give insight to those who don’t understand. I’ve received enough letters to know I did what I set out to do.

You’re originally from NJ but write all your novels from the South, why do you set your novels down South if you’re from up North?

Ha, you found me out! Yes, I was born and raised in NJ. As much as I love my friends and family, I am definitely more suited for the slower pace of the South. I’ve lived in Southern VA for half of my life and I plan to spend the rest of my life here if I can help it. I try to write books from settings that make me happy. So I write where I want to be. (Although, I’ve got to say, NJ food is amazing and you’ve got to love a boisterous NJ laugh!)

What do you like most about being a writer? Least?

Most, I like being able to have a platform to share lessons I’ve learned in my life that I know others would benefit from. And more than that, I just love to tell a good story.

Least, would be the unpredictability of the business. Sometimes it seems so random and the lack of control makes me uncomfortable sometimes. (Which is probably right where God wants me!)

If you could go back to the pre-published writer you were, knowing what you do now, what advice would you give her? 

Well, I wouldn’t have told myself how many novels I’d write that would never see the light of day, because I would have given up. I wouldn’t have told myself how little money there is actually to be made or how lonely writing can sometimes be. I wouldn’t have told myself that I’d still have a day job with 4 novels out in stores, including 3 bestselling novels… okay, but that wasn’t your question… I would tell myself to relax. Some of this, most of this is, is out of your hands, and that’s okay. It’s not going to be at all what you think it is, but it’s going to be so much more. You won’t get rich, but you will touch lives. At the end of the day, that’s going to be exactly what will fulfill you.

Where can readers find your books and more about you?

Thanks for asking. My books are in B&N, BooksaMillion, Amazon, Lifeway, Parable, Family Christian and hopefully a good number of independent bookstores. You can find me at Ginaholmes.com. Thanks so much for hosting me!

 


Tangled Lives, book review

Tangled Lives, book reviewEvery family hides its secrets, especially from outsiders…

Tangled Lives by Hilary Boyd

About this book: (from the publisher) Annie Delancey is happily married, in her early 50s, with three grown children. But Annie guards a secret. At age nineteen she had a baby boy and gave him up for adoption. She still thinks of him every day.

One day she receives a letter from Kent Social Services; her son Daniel wants to make contact. A part of her is overjoyed–she longs to meet him. But another part fears what this revelation will do to her family, none of whom know about her past.When Daniel is introduced to Annie’s family, a few small tears in the family fabric suddenly gape wide, and the impact of is greater than she could have ever imagined.

About the author: Hilary Boyd is a former health journalist. She has published six nonfiction books on health-related subjects such as step-parenting, depression and pregnancy. This is her second novel. She lives in London.

Genre: Fiction/Contemporary/Women’s Fiction

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: R. For language and adult themes.

Judging this cover: 4.5 stars out of 5. The colors are pleasing and appealing to women, perhaps especially women in their 30′s and above, which I would peg as the targeted audience. I like how the birds allude to motion and change, while the tree symbolizes family. All in all, the cover art nicely captures the tone and content of the story.

Reminds me of… Gil McNeil, minus the over-the-top humor.

You’ll want to buy this book if … you enjoy edgy women’s fiction that explores the complexities of family relationships.

Why did I read this book? For Querus for review

Would I read another by this author? Definitely.

My take: I’m impressed. Sophomore novel…really? Those aren’t easy to pull off. I’ve not read Hilary Boyd’s fiction debut (Thursdays in the Park), but now I’m inclined to. As well as whatever comes next. This writer is gifted. Her prose is uncomplicated yet lovely, her character real, her pacing absolutely spot-on. 

I really enjoyed how there’s something to like and not-like about each of her main characters. (Except Aunt Best–her, you can only love.) I was also completely drawn into this story and relished the way it unfolded so believably. Really, for a while you’re wondering when the shoe is going to drop as the author lets out just enough line to keep you on the hook, keeping you guessing as to whether and when this family’s lives will get as tangled as the title promises. And then…it happens. And it happens so gradually, so credibly–it’s like the frog on boiling water scenario. So easy to imagine something similar happening to any one of us, where we look back and question how we got into such a pickle. And more, how on earth we’re going to get ourselves out of it.

I was a bit bummed at the nature of one of the bigger reveals about Daniel, the son given away at birth. I could see it coming, and hoped I would be wrong about it, but I wasn’t. It’s a twist that I feel has been so overdone in contemporary fiction that it now seems cliché. And there is a bit of language I could have done without. (Are all Brits inordinately fond of the f-bomb, or just the ones showing up in novels I’m reading?)

That said, I still found this to be a relatively light and easy read. I dashed through it in just a few days–and all this while packing for our trip to Africa. So that says something.

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


The Fortune Hunter, book review

The Fortune Hunter, book reviewA lush, irresistible story of the public lives and private longings of grand historical figures.

The Fortune Hunter by Daisy Goodwin

About this book: (from the publisher) Empress Elizabeth of Austria, known as Sisi, is the Princess Diana of nineteenth-century Europe. Famously beautiful, as captured in a portrait with diamond stars in her hair, she is unfulfilled in her marriage to the older Emperor Franz Joseph. Sisi has spent years evading the stifling formality of royal life on her private train or yacht or, whenever she can, on the back of a horse.

Captain Bay Middleton is dashing, young, and the finest horseman in England. He is also impoverished, with no hope of buying the horse needed to win the Grand National—until he meets Charlotte Baird. A clever, plainspoken heiress whose money gives her a choice among suitors, Charlotte falls in love with Bay, the first man to really notice her, for his vulnerability as well as his glamour. When Sisi joins the legendary hunt organized by Earl Spencer in England, Bay is asked to guide her on the treacherous course. Their shared passion for riding leads to an infatuation that jeopardizes the growing bond between Bay and Charlotte, and threatens all of their futures.

About the author: Daisy Goodwin, a Harkness scholar who attended Columbia University’s film school after earning a history degree at Cambridge University, is now a leading television producer in the UK. She is also a book reviewer for the London Times and was Chair of the judging panel of the 2010 Orange Prize for Fiction. Daisy and her husband, an ABC TV executive, have two daughters and live in London. Visit www.DaisyGoodwin.co.uk

Genre: Fiction/Historical

Does the cover suit the story? Nicely, with its suggestions of elegant sophistication. 

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13. Hardly any language, but includes mature subject matter, including adultery. 

You’ll want to buy this book if … you love historical fiction based on real historical figures–in this case, not only Austria’s Empress Elizabeth, but also distant relations of the late Princess Diana and today’s Duchess of Cambridge.

Why did I read this book? For St. Martin’s Press for review.         

Would I read another by this author? Yes, I like her natural, easy-to-read style and the way she brings a far-distant society into sharp focus. 

My take: When I traveled in Austria years ago, the Empress Elizabeth, “Sisi,” was still all the rage. Her lovely profile or cameo appeared on almost every box of Viennese chocolate or souvenir or t-shirt. Her beauty was being used to sell products a century after her death.

Needless to say this was a woman who fascinated the people of her day, and many long thereafter.

Which makes her a worthy subject for a novel, and when you add to the cast of characters distant relations of the late Princess Diana and the charming Kate Middleton–well, it’s hard to imagine many female readers of historical fiction who won’t want to take a peek.

Daisy Goodwin does an imaginative job in spinning her tale, taking a slightly higher narrative view than is typical in much of today’s fiction so that she may give the proper historical context. Her prose is effortless–to read, that is. I’m sure it took her some fair amount of work to get it that way.

All in all, I liked this story but didn’t love it. I enjoyed the intrigue of the times and the various twists of plot, but I felt the story faltered a bit with the introduction of a certain flamboyant American. Perhaps his personality was too over-the-top for my taste, but I kind of wanted him to go away. He did serve a useful purpose–if maybe just a shade contrived–in bringing about the eventual conclusion. Which is not about Elizabeth, by the way, though you might expect it. Rather, this story belongs to Bay Middleton, supposed fortune hunter and equestrian extraordinaire.

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

After words: Author Daisy Goodwin enjoys connecting with her readers online, where you can find her on Facebook and Twitter


What Else I Read This Summer

What Else I Read This SummerAs you read this, my family and I have just arrived home from Africa, where we spent time in Swaziland at New Life Homes, and then on the South African coast, where we did a bit of safari-ing.

During this time, I’ve taken a break from reading books for review, and from social media too. (If you’ve noticed a certain silence from my end these last few weeks…well, now you know.)

As summer winds to an end and I prepare to resume where I left off, thought I’d fill you in on the other titles in my reading pile.

One Thousand Gifts: A Dare to Live Fully Right Where You Are by Ann Voskamp. I know, everyone else on the planet has already read it and raved, so now my turn. Surprisingly profound, sometimes shockingly intimate–this book has changed the way I count my blessings, every day.

Jesus Calling: Enjoying Peace in His Presence by Sarah Young. I’m amazed, almost daily, at the mystical way each reading seems to speak to me and me alone in that particular moment in time. Beautiful and healing.

How Am I Smart? A Parent’s Guide to Multiple Intelligences by Kathy Koch. In some ways my kids learn the way I do. In many ways, they don’t. This book is helping me to understand where they are gifted, and to better appreciate their unique kinds of smarts. The author’s website, CelebrateKids.com, also provides excellent, practical resources and perspectives for parents.

The Mystery at Lilac Inn: A Nancy Drew Mystery by Carolyn Keene. Wait–what? Yes, I know…but one day I was feeling low and needed some comfort, and the thought of immersing myself in a childhood favorite sounded enormously appealing. Lovely for a trip down memory lane…and quite funny too. Oh, how writing styles have changed! And I do love the illustrations.

Bread & Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table with Recipes by Shauna Niequist. Love this book. LOVE. For its vision, its heart, its recipes. My new go-to book for hospitality and warmhearted, down-to-earth, chummy wisdom.

Your turn: Have you read any of these titles? Which books have you been reading that I should add to my list?


Spotlight on The Trail by Ed Underwood

Spotlight on The Trail by Ed Underwood“God’s good and perfect will is not a destination on the horizon of life where everything makes sense, but a place where life is exposed to God’s power.”

The Trail: A Tale about Discovering God’s Will by Ed Underwood

About this book: (from the publisher) Matt and Brenda feel trapped because they look for God’s guidance about major life decisions in completely opposite ways. Their friends Brian and Lindsey try to help by introducing them to a person who had helped them gain an unshakable confidence in God’s will.

After meeting Sam Lewis in the stunning High Sierras, the three hike together, Matt and Brenda learn that God’s good and perfect will is not a destination on the horizon of life where everything makes sense, but a place where your life is exposed to God’s power. One by one, Sam’s eight principles illuminate the path ahead. As the story builds to its stunning conclusion, all three characters desperately seek and experience God’s redemptive guidance.

You will treasure this timeless tale about discovering God’s will.

About the author: (from Tyndale Media Center) Ed Underwood is a pastor, author, and speaker. In addition to leading Church of the Open Door, Ed has taught Bible school students, seminarians, spoken to packed conferences, and written numerous articles and books. When Ed is not studying, leading, discipling, writing, or speaking, he loves spending time with his wife, Judy, their children, and grandchildren. He enjoys backpacking, and still tries to surf some.

Genre: Non-Fiction/Christian Life/General

Spotlight on The Trail by Ed UnderwoodAuthor Q&A:

Ed, thank you for being here today on Story Matters and sharing a bit about the story behind the story of The Trail. Please tell us why you chose to deliver your message by way of a parable. Wouldn’t a non-fiction how-to have been an easier book to write?

There’s no question it would have been easier to write a non-fiction how-to book from the series I’ve been teaching for over 30 years. I wrote by way of parable or allegory because I’m intrigued by the power of story and I wanted to not only teach the principles but to illustrate it through the characters.

Plus, I love the High Sierras and I’ve written quite a lot of fiction from my years as a firefighter for a Hotshot crew. None of it is published, but I felt I could use fiction to not only teach the principles of the Trail, but also to introduce people to the High Sierras, the culture of wildland fire fighting, and the dynamic of discipleship or mentoring.

Has anyone suggested that The Trail is something like William P. Young’s 2008 bestseller The Shack? Do you agree or disagree with the comparison, and why?

Wow, I never thought of that. I enjoyed The Shack, and I do see some similarities. The one immediate difference I would point out is that The Trail is a story that teaches more specific biblical truth than The Shack did. The Trail seems more intentional about helping people in maybe a more specific way.

After reading The Trail, what is the one truth you want your readers to take away?

I want them to live expectantly, knowing that the God who cherishes them wants to reveal His guidance to them. I don’t want them to be afraid of God’s will for their lives or feel enslaved to some formula. I want them to feel as if they were on the journey with Sam and he helped them find their way in some life decision.

Thanks to Tyndale for providing me a free copy for this post. All opinions are mine.


Misery Loves Company, book review

Misery Loves Company, book reviewDon’t tell me it’s terrifying. Terrify me.

Misery Loves Company by Rene Gutteridge

About this book: Grieving Jules Belleno, far too young to be a widow, rarely leaves the house since Jason, her police-officer husband, was killed in the line of duty. Aside from her social media connections, including the book reviews she writes on her blog, she barely makes contact with the world beyond her door.

Until one day she awakens in a darkened bedroom that is not her own. Terrified, she realizes she’s been kidnapped—by her favorite author, whose latest book she reviewed none-too-favorably on her blog.

Meanwhile, Chris Downey, Jason’s former colleague on the small-town, Maine police force, is one of the few who sees anything sinister in Jules’s disappearance. With the help of Jules’s alcoholic father, he determines to find her. And the truths he discovers along the way will change everything—both for him and for the one he seeks.

About the author: Rene Gutteridge is the author of seventeen novels. She’s married to Sean, a musician and worship leader. They live in Oklahoma with their two children, and she can be found online at ReneGutteridge.com.

Genre: Fiction/Suspense/Christian

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? Hard not to be intrigued by creative covers like this one, which–as it turns out–captures this story perfectly.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: G. Clean as a whistle.

Reminds me of… Friend Me by John Faubion

You’ll want to buy this book if… you enjoy suspense novels written with a light touch and inspirational themes.

Why did I read this book? As a Novel Crossing reviewer         

Would I read another by this author? Quite possibly. Years ago, I enjoyed her lighthearted Boo

My take: With her latest mystery/suspense, Misery Loves Company, versatile, veteran author Rene Gutteridge offers her readers a spiritually uplifting, G-rated take on Stephen King’s famous horror novel-cum-movie, Misery. The twist? Instead of the author being held captive by his fan, it’s the other way around.

With her usual smooth prose and clean storylines, Gutteridge develops relatable characters and a well-drawn mystery. But I thought the pace lagged a bit, and although an unanticipated turn or two caught me off-guard, most of the story moved in a predictable sequence.

That said, I did appreciate how the spiritual message was delivered in a way unusual for a Christian novel: none of the main characters were believers. Instead all were influenced in their spiritual journeys by a deceased Christian, whose legacy of faith ultimately changed their lives.

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

End notes: A variation of this post first appeared on Novel Crossing as a featured review.


Stranger Things, book review

Stranger Things, book reviewIn the burnt-out hollow, a house of dark secrets and an eerie beauty beckon.

Stranger Things by Erin Healy

About this book: When a student wrongly accuses biology teacher Serena of sexual misconduct, she finds herself thrust into a world of lust-filled men propagating an evil trade. Then, after she visits the site of a ruined house overrun by criminals, she starts having mysterious, haunting visions. Even more disturbing, she witnesses an act of senseless, apparently random violence, prompting her to seek the answer to the question: Why would a stranger sacrifice his life for hers?

Editor-turned-novelist Erin Healy understands fiction from the inside out. She began as an award-winning fiction editor working with renowned suspense writers, including rock-star novelist of the supernatural, Ted Dekker. She co-authored two books with him before launching a fiction career of her own.

In her sixth novel, Stranger Things, she explores the question: what would you do if a stranger died for you? The story is all about the power of self-sacrifice and humankind’s eternal hope for salvation. It takes a hard, head-on look at prostitution and the human trafficking crisis spreading like a virus across the U.S. and around the world.

As in all of her novels, Healy’s characters inhabit the so-called thin places, those locations where, according to the author, “the veil between physical and spiritual realities is so delicate that a person can see through it.”

Healy’s trademark exploration of God’s mysterious side swiftly drew me into this story. That plus her unerring knack for crafting edge-of-your-seat suspense featuring complex characters facing fantastic problems. I find the author particularly adept at creating sympathetic yet flawed characters, and of all her novels, this one is perhaps her most intricately plotted to date.

Like the Old Testament book of Esther in which there is no outright mention of God, Stranger Things does not feature God Himself as a character, yet His fingerprints can be found all over the story. Which means that mainstream fiction fans may enjoy this novel as much as Christian ones.

In Stranger Things, Healy weaves a story in which the supernatural is made natural, and the implausible becomes very possible indeed. Best of all, these mysterious elements are woven so believably into the story that they encourage readers to look for thin places—those inimitable touches of God’s hand—in their own lives.

About the author: (from her websiteErin 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/Christian/Suspense

Would I read this book, judged on its cover alone? I’d read this book for the author’s name alone.

If this book were a movie, I would rate it: PG-13, not for language but for its exploration of mature themes (which is tasteful but honest).

Reminds me of… Ted Dekker with a softer touch

You’ll want to buy this book if … you enjoy tight suspense centering around real-life issues with themes of the supernatural.

Why did I read this book? As a Novel Crossing reviewer

Would I read another by this author? That’s me, standing at the head of the line, eagerly awaiting her next release.

My take: Editor-turned-novelist Erin Healy understands fiction from the inside out. She began as an award-winning fiction editor working with renowned suspense writers, including rock-star novelist of the supernatural, Ted Dekker. She co-authored two books with him before launching a fiction career of her own.

In her sixth novel, Stranger Things, she explores the question: what would you do if a stranger died for you? The story is all about the power of self-sacrifice and humankind’s eternal hope for salvation. It takes a hard, head-on look at prostitution and the human trafficking crisis spreading like a virus across the U.S. and around the world.

As in all of her novels, Healy’s characters inhabit the so-called thin places, those locations where, according to the author, “the veil between physical and spiritual realities is so delicate that a person can see through it.”

Healy’s trademark exploration of God’s mysterious side swiftly drew me into this story. That plus her unerring knack for crafting edge-of-your-seat suspense featuring complex characters facing fantastic problems. I find the author particularly adept at creating sympathetic yet flawed characters, and of all her novels, this one is perhaps her most intricately plotted to date.

Like the Old Testament book of Esther in which there is no outright mention of God, Stranger Things does not feature God Himself as a character, yet His fingerprints can be found all over the story. Which means that mainstream fiction fans may enjoy this novel as much as Christian ones.

In Stranger Things, Healy weaves a story in which the supernatural is made natural, and the implausible becomes very possible indeed. Best of all, these mysterious elements are woven so believably into the story that they encourage readers to look for thin places—those inimitable touches of God’s hand—in their own lives.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for providing me a free copy to review. All opinions are mine.

End notes: A variation of this post first appeared as a featured review on NovelCrossing.com