Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

Beyond All Dreams Elizabeth Camden
This novel contains everything I love in a Christian historical romance.

There is a great protagonist. Anna O'Brien is finally living her dreams, as a map librarian for the Library of Congress. She is following in her late father's footsteps, a scientist working on mapping the ocean floor. She is a woman who loves what she does yet is weighed down by a deep sense of her own insecurity.

There is a mystery. Anna is stunned when she sees a new report on the hurricane that supposedly caused the destruction of the ship her father was on fifteen years before. But this report showed the hurricane was nowhere near where the ship was supposed to have gone down.

There is intrigue. Anna is determined to find the truth behind the demise of the ship Culpeper. Sending a letter to the navy, noting the new hurricane information, she is soundly told to drop the issue and let it go or she might find herself in danger. Anna rises to the challenge.

There is a handsome fellow who may just break Anna's heart. Luke Callahan is a congressman who needs some information and it struck when he first sees Anna. Their budding relationship crashes when Luke pursues his congressional advancement. In the process, he tosses Anna to the side, just when she needs his support the most.

There is a great deal of information in this book. I learned much about the Library of Congress and how the congressmen used its resources for their work. Women were just beginning to work in the facility and were, after years, still on “probation.” I learned a little about how congressmen use their power (nothing new there). There was also some background on the events that precipitated the Spanish-American War, like the sinking of the USS Maine. There was intriguing information about the patent office and some of the new inventions of the day (like the ball point pen, the flashlight, and “moving” pictures). And, in general, information about Washington D.C. in the 1880s. (Camden has added a Historical Note that lets readers know what parts of the book are patterned after actual events.) I also learned the technique of painting a fresco.

There is much to think about and discuss in this book (Discussion Questions are included). The role of a father is important in that Luke's father was a man of angry outbursts. Luke has angry outbursts of his own, yet is passionate about peace and keeping America at peace with other nations. At what point does the cost of peace become too great? Does God bless the peacemakers?

This novel has everything that makes a great Christian historical romance. I loved it and highly recommend it. I'm taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

Elizabeth Camden is the award-winning author of six novels, is the winner of the RITA Award, Christy Award, and Daphne du Maurier Award. With masters degrees in both history and library science, she is a research librarian by day while scribbling away on her next novel by night. She and her husband live in Florida. You can find out more at http://elizabethcamden.com.

Bethany House Publishers, 368 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse Publicity for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Deadly Echoes by Nancy Mehl

This novel kept me reading way past my bedtime. With steady plot development and suspense at the end, I really enjoyed it.

About the book:
Sarah's parents were murdered when she was young. The murder was never solved. She and her older sister, Hannah, were put in foster care. Hannah was soon adopted but Sarah remained a foster child.

Now, twenty years later, Sarah has found refuge in Sanctuary, a small town of Mennonites and those who have found safety there. Sarah and Hannah had recently reconnected after sealed adoption records had prevented Sarah from finding her sister. Only God's providence of relationships allowed Hannah to find Sarah and be introduced to a niece she didn't know she had.

Sarah is shocked when she receives the phone call telling her that Hannah has been murdered. She finds out the murder scene is just like that of her parents. Could her parents' murderer have struck again? When the city police ignore Sarah's pleas to keep investigating, she decides to pursue her own investigation, with the help of the local deputy sheriff.

My review:
This novel is well crafted. The setting is interesting, a small town with those who still adhere to Mennonite practices and others who embrace contemporary life. We readers are able experience the strong faith of the Mennonites, including their emphasis on forgiveness. At the same time, others of the community use modern technology to help Sarah pursue the truth of her sister's death. It was heartwarming to see how the community came around Sarah to support her.

The characters in the novel are developed well. Cicely is Sarah's ten year old niece and Mehl did a good job of showing how a young person struggles through the loss of her mother. The pain and periodic rebellion she experienced added tension to the novel. Sarah's character development is great. Having not been adopted when her sister was, Sarah has felt deeply inferior and it was good to see her accept who she is in God's eyes.

Mehl has carefully woven the plot so that I was unsure of the bad guy until near the very end. There was a point where I didn't trust any man from outside of Sanctuary. When the suspenseful end of the novel concluded, I realized Mehl had orchestrated the scene so that it worked out perfectly, yet was not forced.

This is the second in the Finding Sanctuary series and you can find my review of Gathering Shadows here. This book reads well on its own but the first in the series is good too and should not be missed.

Nancy Mehl is the author of seventeen books and received the ACFW Mystery Book of the Year Award in 2009. She has a background in social work. She and her husband live in St. Louis, Missouri. Find out more about her and her books at www.nancymehl.com.

Bethany Fellowship, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary egalleyof this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The Devil's Eyes by Ace Collins

The hard boiled action continues in this episode five of In The President's Service.

About this episode:
The Devil’s Eyes picks up where Fatal Addiction left off, with singer Grace Lupino charming her way into men’s hearts while plunging a knife in the back of anyone who gets in her way.
While Helen Meeker and her team, supposedly dead, hide in the shadows, trying to discover the identity of the mole in the White House as well as uncover the truth of who is behind the evil that snuffs out lives and steals souls without a twinge of conscience, some of the most important and valued documents in American history become a pawn between life and death.

My review:
This series is revealing the brilliant Dr. Bauer, the mastermind evil man behind some very nefarious acts. He is a master manipulator of people. With the possible fountain of youth in their sights, they'll do anything he asks. He longs for the time when he can delude Hitler and bring him under his own power.

I really like Helen. She is one smart FBI style operative. Grace Lupino has hidden the documents both Bauer and Helen are trying to recover. I love it that Helen uses her head rather than the brute force Bauer favors. But Grace is no dummy and Helen may have finally met her intellectual match.

The action continues in this episode, even if at a slower pace. Helen gets a few more clues but we will have to wait until the next episode to see how it plays out.

Go to these links to read reviews of earlier episodes: Date with Death The Dark Pool Blood Brother Fatal Addiction

Ace Collins is the author of several novels, covering everything from value-driven plots to adventures, mysteries, historical stories, sentimental tales and comedy. He has also written several nonfiction books. His work has been made into two network television specials and a CBS movie. Find out more at http://www.acecollins.com/.

Elk Lake Publishing, 102 pages. You can buy the episode here.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this episode from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Divine Applause by Jeff Anderson

We know God sees us all the time, but might there be ways we could live to capture His attention?

Anderson says, “Yes.” He begins his book by helping us “see” as God sees. He relates his own experiences with God, as well as stories he uses to illustrate his relationship with God. He encourages us to ask for moments where we receive more assurance of His presence. He encourages us to be pleasing to God. When we embrace the idea of pleasing God, we will be much closer to experiencing the rewards that come with walking with God, like divine applause.

In the second part of the book, Anderson encourages us to take bold steps to live differently. We can put ourselves in a position to notice God noticing us. He explores hearing God's voice. “Hearing God requires initiative, planning, and action.”

The last part of the book is on living blameless. He writes of rewards but I am not convinced we will have “possessions and positions in heaven.”

Reading this book will not guarantee you will experience God's presence. Anderson shares his own experience of going on a 40 day juice fast. He writes that on day 32 he felt his spirit was empty. At the end of the 40 days, he admits he had not experienced the God encounter he had prayed for. Yet, he was at peace, trusting what he could not see or feel. “We don't always get tangible proof of God's presence.”

This book is a good wake up call for us, reminding us, “Our purpose on life is to please God.” He has great suggestions for ways to do that, all the while being aware of God's attention on us. “God is more engaged with us that we realize,” he says. That is encouragement indeed.

You can find out more about the book and associated resources at www.DivineApplause.com.
You can read chapter one here.

Jeff Anderson speaks and writes about walking with God, combining Scripture and story. He began his career working as a CPA for a Big Six accounting firm then became a day-trader in the stock market. Following that, he joined Crown Financial Ministries as vice president for North American Generosity Initiatives. In 2010 he launched AcceptableGift.org where he speaks, writes, and consults with churches and ministries in the area of financial giving. He blogs about walking with God at www.JeffAndersonWalking.com.

Multnomah Books, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Miracles by Eric Metaxas

The idea that there is a God who loves us and intervenes in our lives is a staggering concept, Metaxas reminds us. Miracles do happen today, he says, and he provides a number of stories to support his claim. The stories are anecdotal. You'll not find any doctor's certified statements in this book. No photographs of limbs missing and then restored. What you will find are personal stories, encouraging to Christians but probably discounted by atheists.

Many think we live in a purely materialistic universe. Christians believe a supernatural being exists and that He, on occasion, invades our materialistic existence. Miracles are possible.

Metaxas argues that potential miracles must be examined with the greatest possible rigor. He recognizes the issue that a miracle may happen to one person yet not to another in the same situation. He admits he doesn't know how prayers for miracles really work.

He reviews and defends miracles in the Bible. He then looks at contemporary miracles, beginning with his own conversion and that of others. He recounts stories of people who had visions and angelic encounters. Some stories are as simple as finding lost keys while others are as life changing as visiting heaven.

This book is a great encouragement for those who believe in miracles. All of the stories Metaxas tells are ones he personally guarantees as true. For Christians, this is a faith building book.

For those who do not already believe in miracles, this book may be seen as just another collection of stories to be explained away as coincidence, fatigue, or something else. With the recent recanting of a visit to heaven story, these personal anecdotes have practically no value in “proving” miracles happen. Since Metaxas has included no footnotes, there is no way to further investigate quoted material, restricting attempts to validate stories.

Eric Metaxas is the New York Times bestselling author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and the acclaimed Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. After graduating from Yale with an English degree, he wrote humor in the New York Times and The Atlantic and was a writer for Rabbit Ears Productions and Veggie Tales. He is founder and host of Socrates in the City, and a senior fellow and lecturer at large at the King's College in New York City, where he lives with his wife and daughter. You can find out more at www.ericmetaxas.com.

Dutton, 336 pages.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Stitch in Crime by Cathy Elliott

About the book:
Thea's first quilt show is literally coming apart at the seams!

Thea James has accepted an assignment as co-chairperson for Larkindale's first
quilt show extravaganza. Juggling the new assignment with running her antique business, she's already feeling frayed when things start to unravel.

Mary-Alice Wentworth, a much loved town matriarch, respected quilt judge, and Thea's dear friend, is covertly conked on the head during the kick-off Quilt Show Soiree, throwing suspicion on her guests. It also appears that a valuable diamond brooch has been stolen during the attack.

When a renowned textile expert is missing and the famous Wentworth heritage quilt disappears, Larkindale's reputation as a tourist haven is at risk. Thea attempts to piece the mystery together and save the town's investment in the quilt show.

My review:
This is the latest in the Quilts of Love series, number twenty five. Each novel is by a different author so one will notice a difference in quality.

This novel is not my favorite in the series. I really had difficulty identifying with the characters. The quilting women seemed to be crabby individuals. Even Thea was a bit grouchy. To me, it seemed like she acted like an elderly woman, yet was much younger than that. Her favorite phrase was “Rats.” Mary-Alice was the sweet one. She was the quintessential Christian, loving and forgiving.

The “crime” in this novel seemed a bit unusual to me. Others in the series have had murders so this one seemed sort of light weight. Finally, when an heirloom quilt goes missing, I felt that was a bit more serious. The strength of this novel may be its word play and humor. One of my favorites is a musing by a fellow: “If we all drove white cars, would we be a white car nation?” A new word to me was introduced – nefandous.

In other books of the series I have learned about a style of quilt. The heirloom quilt was described a little but I would have liked to learn more about it. Some of the items sewn onto the quilt were mentioned but there could have been much more about the meaning of the quilt and how it was constructed.

This is a very cozy mystery. No blood or suspense to speak of. It is very calm and low key. If you like that kind of novel, this is the one for you. I myself like a little more suspense.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.
Learn more about this book and read the first chapter at the Quilts of Love website.

Cathy Elliott is an author and speaker who likes to create cozy mysteries. She is an avid quilter, antique hunter, and lives in Anderson, California. Find out more at http://cathyelliottbooks.wordpress.com/.

Abingdon Press, 240 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse Publicity for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Hidden Agenda by Lisa Harris

About the book:
Presumed dead by friends and family, Michael Hunt is alive – and on the run. With a hit out on his life and corruption inside the Atlanta police department, Michael finds himself hunted by both the cartel and the law. His only hope is Olivia Hamilton – the daughter of the man who wants him dead.

My review:
This is the third in the Southern Crimes series. It can be read on its own but I would really recommend reading the others before this one. You can read my reviews of Dangerous Passage and Fatal Exchange to get an idea of what they are like.

This novel did not have as much suspense as I remember from the earlier ones in the series. There are long pauses between suspense scenes. This novel seems to be more about character interaction than suspenseful action. There is definitely a trust issue, as Michael must trust the daughter of the man who wants him dead. He seems to do that very easily, however. And he falls for the girl easily and quickly too.

I was a little disappointed in the lack of astute moves by Michael when he and Olivia were on the run. The bad guys got to them a couple of times because, it seemed to me, he just wasn't thinking of all the possible ways he could be followed or spotted. As an uncover agent, I would have thought he would focus more on the issues at hand rather than being so distracted by his romance with Olivia. Overall, I would say this is the weakest of the three novels.

That being said, I have really enjoyed this series. It has concentrated on three siblings with a policeman as a father. Two follow in his footsteps while a third is a teacher. Each has had a suspenseful novel and I assume this will finish the series. The Christian message has been strong. I liked the series well enough that I will be watching for the next book from Harris.

Lisa Harris won the Christ Award for the first book in this series, Dangerous Passage. She Is also the winner of the Best International Suspense Novel for 2011 from Romantic Times. She has written over thirty novels and novellas. She and her family have been in Africa as missionaries for over a decade. She leads a women's group and runs a non-profit organization. Find out more at www.LisaHarrisWrites.com.

Revell, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this novel from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

The Evangelism Study Bible

We Christians have been charged with sharing the Good News – evangelism. For some, that is a difficult task. EvanTell and Kregel Publications have teamed up to provide a new tool to aid in evangelism.

EvanTell is an evangelism training and outreach ministry in Dallas, Texas. Founded by Dr. R. Larry Moyer, the ministry has been providing material, training and events for over forty years. Now that material has been included in a Bible as a comprehensive tool for sharing the gospel. It has been designed to be a study and training resource to help equip believers to share the gospel.

About the Bible:
Here are the features of the Bible:
  • a brief introduction to each book in the Bible, focusing on its contribution to evangelism
  • more than 2,600 study notes pertaining to evangelism
  • over 260 tips on practical issues in evangelism
  • 125 in-depth articles on crucial issues
  • 85 how-to features that provide hands-on advice
  • 45 inspirational devotions
  • double column format with cross references in the center
  • concordance
  • a three page presentation of the gospel
  • full-color maps
  • the New King James Version
  • black letter (words of Christ are not in red).

My review:
I am impressed with the evangelism material in this Bible. The articles and tips are very helpful. Many deal with issues that Christians find difficult when sharing the gospel. For example, an article on Amos 7:7-17 helps us witness to those who have been hurt by someone in the church. The article is well done, with compassion, insight and good suggestions. Other articles include suggestions for sharing with people who do not believe in life after death, who question how God can allow injustice or who say there are many ways to God.

I would have preferred a translation other than the NKJV as it is not my favorite. That only slightly detracts from my appreciation of The Evangelism Study Bible. This Bible contains a wealth of tools for anyone wanting to learn how to share the gospel clearly.

Potential readers do need to remember that the notes are pretty much the work of one man, Dr. Moyer, the founder of EvanTell. The works cited are all by him or EvanTell. I would have preferred that a number of evangelistic works be consulted, from a variety of Christian disciplines. I am sure there will be those who feel the work is lacking in some area. Nonetheless, there is a great deal of worthwhile information contained in this Bible and I do recommend it to anyone desiring to witness more effectively. A solid four out of five stars for this work.

You can find out more about EvanTell at www.evantell.org/ and specifically about The Evangelism Study Bible at www.evantell.org/bible.

Kregel Publications, 1564 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this Bible from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.