Thursday, March 5, 2015

More by Tammie Head GIVEAWAY

Don't we want more? Don't we long for the miraculous in our lives, for God's wonderful plan? Instead, we have messy lives, ones that are not so pretty.

Tammie Head knows about going from a messy life to the miraculous. She shares her own story of sexual abuse when young, dropping out of school, a short marriage, attempt at suicide, being a stripper, a good marriage and finding Jesus. As she says of herself, “I had become a walking miracle.” (31)

Hers is a fresh voice, full of enthusiasm and encouragement. She doesn't write using theological jargon. She speaks right from her heart. She's the kind of woman who encourages us to throw ourselves at Jesus' feet and surrender “our guts out – messiness and all – to the One who promises to fulfill us beyond our imaginations.” (16)

I really liked Tammie's writing style. She gives the raw truth with no sugar coating. She give straight talk about sin, conviction, and repentance. She is candidly honest about her own life, like the time she prayed for a drowned man to come back to life (he did not). She has perceptive teaching on so many issues, like doing ministry to be noticed, or having a critical spirit. She even writes about battling the devil.

There is no study guide or discussion questions included, but the word art at the end of each chapter is great.

This is an encouraging book for women. No matter where you have been or what you have done. God has more for you.

(Be the first to email me at jnienhuis328@gmail.com and I'll send a copy of the book to you - US only, no overseas. I have only one copy to give away.)

Tammie Head loves to help others find the One who rescued her from the trash can of life. She is the author of Duty or Delight? Knowing Where You Stand with God and is the founder of Totally Captivated Ministries. She and her husband live in Cypress, Texas, with their two teen-aged daughters. You can find out more at http://tammiehead.com/.

B&H Publishing Group, 165 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Icon Media for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe by Max Lucado with Candace Lee and Eric Newman

Miracle Higher Grounds Cafe Max Lucado
A novel from Max Lucado? With the help of two co-authors, he has created an entertaining novel.

The novel's main character is Chelsea Chambers. She is on her own after splitting up with her two timing, ex-NFL superstar husband. She has gone back home, taking over the Higher Grounds Cafe. In an old but quaint building in need of much restoration, she plans to carry on her mother's legacy while struggling as a single mom. When she recovers from the shock of the back taxes owed, she knows she needs a miracle.

A curious stranger comes to the cafe door and with him, the miracle she has been seeking. Manny provides an Internet connection to God and soon Chelsea's coffee shop is bursting with people. But her bubble bursts when her estranged husband comes calling and tragedy strikes the cafe.


There are some clever concepts in this novel. Prominent is the idea of being able to ask God one question and get a direct answer. What would you ask and what kind of answer would you want? Another is the lingering force of prayers. One of the rooms in the old coffee shop was a prayer closet and the prayers still reverberate. And then there is Manny, God's gift to the struggling Chelsea.

A major theme in this novel is forgiveness and restoration. Another theme is asking of God and receiving immediate answers. It is an encouraging book, reminding us that God is always near and working all things according to His will and our ultimate good.

I am always a bit leery of novels with angelic being as characters. Creating fiction that accurately portrays angelic beings is a challenge. In this novel we have Manny, an angel who can make a decent latte and, when he sees a Star Wars movie for the first time, falls in love with the series.

This is a cute book, a light and easy read, and very encouraging. Don't we wish getting an answer from God was as easy as logging on to a blog? But that is not always the case. In that respect, I think the novel is just too light. While it does deal with some issues in a good way, the idea of asking God questions is presented with too much ease and simplicity. Communicating with God is a serious and holy task – one we should pursue with awe and reverence.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here. You can watch the book trailer here.

Max Lucado is a prolific author who ministers at the Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas, where he and his wife live. Find out more at http://maxlucado.com/.
Candace Lee and Eric Newman are screenwriters who collaborated with Lucado on the film version of his novel, The Christmas Candle.

Thomas Nelson, 192 pages. You can purchase a copy here.

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

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Anna's Crossing by Suzanne Woods Fisher

This novel is a good historical Christian romance. It is based on actual events. In 1737, a number of Amish families boarded the Charming Nancy, on their way to the New World. Though this book is fiction, Woods used those basic facts and created a story that gives us a good sense of why the families felt they had to leave all they knew in Germany to go to a new land.

Anna is one of those Amish women in this novel. She is the only one in her community who speaks English and agrees to go to help them communicate. Her intention is to return to Germany as soon as she can. But she hadn't counted on meeting Bairn, the ship's carpenter. He has a troubled past. Even though he finds himself attracted to Anna, he wants nothing to do with Anna's God.

This novel deals with various themes. The strength of the people crossing the Atlantic was amazing. The conditions were horrible in the lower areas of the vessel where the passengers remained. Woods paints a graphic picture of the conditions the families had to endure. Greedy captains overloaded the boats with passengers. Illness and death were common. For the ones who survived and had not been able to pay the entire cost of the travel, they were auctioned off upon arriving in America, having to work to pay off their debt. For the Amish, they also experienced persecution for their odd ways. There are also the themes of forgiveness, restoration, and giving of one's self. Anna is willing to sacrifice for the welfare of others, including the man who would take advantage of her.

This is quite a story about families who would endure a great deal for them to be able to worship and live as they pleased. Woods has done a good job of taking us into the experiences of those journeying to new opportunities. She clarifies in her historical note at the end of the book that the conditions were much worse than she portrays in this novel. Only one person dies on this journey while in actuality there were anywhere from scores to half of the people dying en route. In that sense the journey has been made a little easier to take for romance readers.

She has included a list of nautical terms at the beginning of the book which really helps. There is much we learn about the ship and its equipment, thanks to a inquisitive Amish boy. Also included is a list of resources for further study of the Amish and seafaring in the eighteenth century. There is an extensive discussion guide too so this would make a good book for a reading group.

I recommend this book for readers interested in learning more about how and why the Amish came to America in the early eighteenth century. You'll get a good romance too.

Suzanne Woods Fisher is the author of several fictional series and nonfiction books about the Amish. She is a Carol Award winner and a Christy Award finalist. She lives in California. You can find out more at www.suzannewoodsfisher.com.

Revell, 336 pages.

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

Monday, March 2, 2015

After a Fashion by Jen Turano

I laughed until tears ran down my cheeks. Turano has crafted a hilarious Christian romance. What a treat.

It all started when Harriet's boss told her to deliver new hats to a young woman who needed, well, a little extra care. When Harriet arrives with the delivery, she finds a screaming match in progress. And it just gets worse – when she gets involved.

It seems the wealthy Oliver Addleshaw had made an arrangement with the woman to act as his social companion for a few days while he entertained a potential business partner. All he needed was a woman on his arm but she thought she was getting a marriage.

The situation falls apart, totally. Having bungled the delivery, it seems Harriet will be out of a job. And then Oliver gets the idea for Harriet to be his needed visible companion. It will just be for a couple of weeks. She needs the money and he needs an attractive woman. The only thing is, Oliver has no idea what he has just done. Harriet is a strong-willed woman. Oliver is in for an adventure!

But it is not all fun and games. An ugly part of Harriet's past comes into the present and endangers her. Also, Oliver has angered a man he basically fired for being mean and incompetent. Both of these situations add some danger and drama to the plot.

I love the strong women in this novel. As the wealthy Abigail Hart says, she is a force to be reckoned with. Lucetta and Millie are Harriet's faithful and valiant friends. Harriet herself is a forceful and capable heroine. She is a woman who knows her mind and will not take orders from any man – even Oliver. More than once she stands up to him when she is unhappy with something he has done.

Of course, if you have strong women you have to have a (sort of) weak man. Oliver is quite a gentleman but I wondered sometimes if he really had a brain in that head of his. He is all business and gives very little thought as to what his decisions will mean for others. Harriet is good at setting him straight, though.

This is a delightful novel and tons of fun. The characters, both good and bad, are developed well. Some are quirky while others are sensitive and giving. The plot and action are terrific. The combination of strong characters and crazy scenes make for an entertaining novel. I highly recommend it.

Jen Turano is the author of five books. She lives near Denver, Colorado. You can find out more at www.jenturano.com.

Bethany House Publishers, 352 pages.

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

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The Color of Grace by Bethany Haley Williams

This is an amazing book about hurt, healing, redemption, hope and courage.

Williams shares her own story of infidelity, divorce and a very dark time. Counseling and a short term mission trip changed her life. She went to war torn Congo with ALARM to help lead a trauma care conference for recently displaced war survivors. She saw so many orphans and women who had survived rape. She saw their resilience.

She knew she had to do something. But the problem was so big – what could one person do? She did some investigation and found that little was being done to help children find emotional restoration. She knew healing had to be brought to those children before they grew up to be traumatized adults. Also spending time in Sudan and Uganda, she realized that lasting healing required long term rehabilitation programs. She developed Hope Initiative, weekly meetings designed to be led by local African leaders.

Friends asked how they could help and with the aid of a few dedicated and tireles teammates, Exile International was born. People began to get involved. She began to speak out. In addition to working in Africa, she also helped restore children in Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2010.

I was amazed to find out more people have died in the Congo war since 1996 than all of Word War II (more than five million). Reading the stories of these children is heart breaking. No child should have to experience what they have. The rebels try to kill the spirit of the children. They certainly need restoration. I can also see why she expanded her ministry to include sponsorship of children so they can have an education and continued care.

Williams' story is incredible. Even though she still battles depression and anxiety from time to time, she concentrates on helping others. The survivors of trauma that she saw in the war torn African countries taught her much about resilience and gratitude for life. Many of us might blame God when we experience heartbreak and trauma. We might want to remain in our hurt. Williams' survival of her own trauma ignited a passion to fight for justice and bring healing to child survivors of war. (154)

Hers is an encouraging story. She has included excerpts from her journal throughout the book. They are moving. Coming through clearly in this book are several messages. As Williams realized, each of us is “a walking testimony to His redemption.” (298). Our greatest heartache can be turned into our greatest ministry. We can find strength in our weakness and joy in our suffering.

We can do more, finding our voice, finding our purpose. Some things are worth sacrificing for, worth the possibility of getting sick, worth the time and effort.

This book will capture you. It is amazing.

You can find out more about her ministry at www.exileinternational.org. You can watch a book trailer here.

Bethany Haley Williams is the founder and executive director of Exile International, an organization that exists to restore Africa's former child soldiers and children orphaned by war. With a PhD in counseling psychology and a master's in clinical social work, she is a leader in the specialized field of war-affected children rehabilitation. With more than twenty years of experience in the field, she maintains a small counseling and coaching practice. She and her husband reside in Nashville, Tennessee, and lead the work of Exile International together. You can find out more at www.exileinternational.org, www.bethanyhaley.blogspot.com, and www.bethanyhaleywilliams.com.

Howard Books, 330 pages.

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

Saturday, February 28, 2015

A Glorious Dark by A. J. Swoboda

Swoboda has organized his thoughts around the Easter weekend of Friday, Saturday and Sunday. He says we must enter into all three, embracing the pain of Friday, the silence of Saturday, and the hope of Sunday.

He has included a number of stories, observations, and thoughts. I liked his thoughts on why God doesn't always answer our questions. Discerning God's will is like a Lewis and Clark exploration, he writes. They were able to draw the map of where they had been only after they got home. He also has a good discussion on emotions, entertainment and church.

I am not sure what I think of this book. There are times when the author shows great insight. “God is best understood by those who've experienced the death of their greatest desire.” (85-6) “Faith is working one's heart out yet leaning on grace the whole time for a miracle.” (87) There are other times when I just cannot resonate with his writing. “Everyone is addicted to something. Even God.” (54) “Jesus is pathologically loving.” (54) Speaking of Jesus, “He's got a tough gig.” (64) “In the first century, a little-known Jewish carpenter was executed for building something bigger than a shelving unit.” (121)

Swoboda frequently takes an example from current events or culture and likens God to it. For example, he tells the story of Smailovic, a Serbian cellist who played in the bombed streets of Sarajevo in 1992. “Jesus is like that...” (92) He likens God to Forest Gump in that he never stops chasing. Saying that the fictional character Roquentin reveals a great deal about the author Sartre, he writes, “Similar to Sartre is the God of the Bible...” (176) Later, “Our lives are like Melville characters.” (178)

There were illustrations he used that I just did not understand. “Faith should be an old-timey Polaroid – it should be clearer the more shaken it becomes.” (72) (I've talked with some old time Polaroid camera owners and they don't understand his illustration either.) And, “The Trinity is the world's Chewbacca.” (75)

I am not used to his writing style. Rather than a sustained exploration of a subject, the writing style seems more like stream of consciousness. His jumping from one idea to another was frequently hard for me to follow. That, and his use of more illustrations from modern culture than the Bible, makes me think this book is written for a young generation with a short attention span and a general lack of biblical knowledge. As an older person, I prefer working from the truth of the Bible out to modern culture rather than the other way around.

I recommend this book for young people who don't really have much knowledge of the Bible. Mature (older) Christians may be a bit frustrated as I was. But I give Swoboda the benefit of the doubt. I think younger Christians will like his writing style and content.

A. J. Swoboda teaches theology, biblical studies, and Christian history at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He started and serves as pastor of Theophilus Church in urban Portland. Find out more a http://ajswoboda.com/.

Baker Books, 230 pages.

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

Friday, February 27, 2015

Unbound by J. B. Simmons

I am generally not a fan of end times fiction but I really liked this novel. There are enough unique plot lines, characters and action that it kept me reading to the end, and looking forward to the next in the series.

The year is 2066. The story centers on eighteen year old Elijah Goldsmith. As the novel opens, he is part of a group of those being introduced to the highly selective International Security Agency. He is attracted to another of the inductees. He finds out Naomi is a member of a sect of Christianity, one that has strange beliefs about Jesus and the future. Elijah has been having nightmares of earthquakes and destruction, including a horrifying dragon. When he tells Naomi about his dreams, she asks him to meet with people from her group. They just may have insight into what his dreams mean.

Simmons has done a great job in crafting our world fifty years in the future. The change in world governments is realistic. I liked the technological enhancements to thinking and moving. The haunting ability to inhabit a dead body is certainly a precursor to fulfilled prophecy.

Unlike other end times novels I have read, this one seems very plausible. It does not concentrate so much on the precise fulfillment of end times prophecy as some interpret Revelation. It combines technology, espionage and a budding romantic relationship in a way that makes the novel a compelling read. It includes much about friendship and loyalty so there is the emotional aspect of the story too.

The concept of the events of 1066 initiating a millennium time table was new to me. I liked that different approach. Elijah is a reluctant participant so we encounter many conversations revealing what true Christians of the day believe about possible future events. That was a great way to inform readers about prophecy, especially those not steeped in the book of Revelation.

I would have liked to have seen a little more in the way of character development. I feel like I have not really come to know Elijah and Naomi. Perhaps that will happen in future novels.

I don't often recommend end times fiction as I am very critical of it. This novel, however, has gained my approval. I am looking forward to reading the rest in the series.

J. B. Simmons writes thrillers with an apocalyptic twist. His first series, the Gloaming books, he created an underground city with an exiled prince. The characters in the series champion the philosophies of history's great thinkers and bring them to battle. Simmons lives outside Washington, DC, with his wife and children. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina and the University of Virginia. You can find out more at http://jbsimmons.com.

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 312 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through The Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Betting on Hope by Debra Clopton

Betting Hope Debra Clopton
Are you ready for some romance between a cowboy champion and a spitfire columnist with a little humor thrown in?

Maggie Hope got the job of interviewing Tru Monahan by default, since her good friend Amanda was sick. But Maggie was a newspaper advice column writer, not a television personality. In her flustered state of speaking to the most handsome cowboy around, Maggie off handedly says she bets Tru could never teach her to ride a horse and compete. But her newspaper and Tru's corporate sponsors have other ideas. Before she can protest, her column is on the line. She goes through with training from Tru and then competing in an amateur contest, or her column is a thing of the past.

This novel is great fun. Tru is a sweet guy who has become famous for his horsemanship. He's one of three brothers trying to keep the ranch their father ran into the ground. His part was to go on the competition circuit. He's been a great success. He was even in the tabloids when he dated a media star. Burned by the notoriety, he has sworn off women...until Maggie comes to the ranch. Sparks fly as he teaches her to ride the very animal that scares her. Both Tru and Maggie have secrets that might just sabotage the budding romance. Both struggle with their mixed up feelings.

Also in the novel's plot is a pregnant teen. The young woman has run from an abusive family situation and is planning to give up her baby for adoption. Maggie befriends her and the relationship brings to the forefront Maggie's troubled past. And when that past catches up with her, Maggie just may not have much a future.

Another issue in the novel is the pain of a loved one with dementia. Tru's grandfather, Pops, has good days and bad days. Tru and his brothers are devoted to him and the strength of a close family comes through clearly.

This fun novel takes place in a small town (no stoplights) that is full of quirky characters. I loved the ladies who owned the beauty parlor. What a kick. There is the old editor of the local newspaper. A sometimes drunk, he is trying to woo now the woman he fell in love with as a teen but lost because of his own stupidity.

If you like a good romance that is full of relationship turmoil, you'll really like this one. You'll see the pain Tru endures when he thinks the best thing for Maggie is a life with him not in it. Your heart will go out to Jenna, the pregnant teen. You'll cheer for Maggie as she gets in the saddle. Besides a great romance, you'll learn some about ranching and horse riding and cutting competition too. An all around good Christian romance novel. I'll be looking for the next in the series.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

Debra Clopton is an award-winning author with more than 22 novels. She and her husband teach the youth at their local Cowboy Church. You can find out more about her and her books at http://debraclopton.com/.

Thomas Nelson, 320 pages. You can purchase a copy here.

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