Saturday, April 14, 2018

A Borrowed Dream by Amanda Cabot (Cimarron Creek book 2)

A Borrowed Dream

Oh Cimarron Creek. It has been awhile.

When I left Cimarron Creek last year, I had some concerns that the story may fade into memory due to the strength of its main duo. So, I'm thrilled to report  that book 2 addressed almost all of my concerns providing satisfying characters, an intriguing plot, and more insight into the little Texas town.

For all my concerns about Lydia carrying a book,  Catherine steps into a lead role with ease. Cabot wastes no time establishing Catherine as a relatable lead. I appreciated the  depth of her struggles wrestling with both her future and her grief over the events in book 1, not to mention the wonderful connections this made between the book. Lydia flourishes in the role of best friend and I feel Cabot used Catherine's leading role to draw more depth out of her secondary characters giving the whole cast a deeper feel.

Catherine's wrestling to find healing from the emotional injuries of book 1 make for a wonderful plot line that is sure to draw readers in. Again, I appreciated  the continuity as it not only provides a strong plot but actually strengthens book 1 through its efforts. Cabot also manages to provide a nice balance of life growth elements through Catherine's journey, adventure through Austin Goddard's past, and emotional drama through the struggles of the children Seth and Hannah. There really was something for everyone. Personally, I was excited to see that the story of Joan (my favourite character Aunt Bertha's daughter) was, indeed, continued in a satisfying manner, showing that Cabot truly does have the ability to plan out a overarching plot and nail down her elements throughout the story. I'm excited to see where Joan's story leads in book 3 A Tender Hope at its release next year.

My only downside to the story was the use of dreams  to drive the plot along. Catherine, Grace, and Austin all had pivotal moments resolved by the content of someone's dreams. This element felt a bit too contrived (perhaps since it's not in my experience?) and tended to throw me out of the story momentarily due to incredulity. 

That said, A Borrowed Dream is a strong addition to the Cimarron Creek series  and provides the memorable punch to bring readers back.
4 out of 5 stars.

I received this book as part of the Revell Reads book tour in exchange for my honest opinion.

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Way of Abundance by Ann Voskamp

The Way of Abundance by Ann Voskamp is a 60 day devotional that highlights Ann's unique style of  storied teaching underscored by timeless truth.

The format and delivery is familiar. 
I appreciated the hard cover and sewn in bookmark. This not only saves me from utilizing whatever's closest as a bookmark, but the hardcover definitely adds a sturdiness and longevity to the book (which is lovely if your toddler decides the book needs to play with him). 
The delivery itself was standard for a multiweek devotional.  The sixty days were divided into 6 subsections with each daily reading consisting of: a main verse, 3-4 pages of teaching, and a section of reflective questions.

For readers familiar with Voskamp's work, The Way of Abundance will be familiar territory with familiar topics. For those unfamiliar, Voskamp's method of teaching through story may take some adjusting. While I love Voskamp's skill at weaving a story with gospel truth at the center, like a modern day parable, my husband's analytic mind prefers a more straightforward approach. Ann's work cannot simply be skimmed, you miss the essence of the message. In my opinion, this is part of the strength of the message, topics such as brokenness, sorrow, struggle, community, sacrifice,  love these need to be sat with, thought through, and processed. 

As I read more of Voskamp's work I am always struck by her heart and her willingness to lay her passion and vulnerability out on her pages. She doesn't shy away from pain but  instead gently urges the church through her stories into discussion which should be happening in our homes and congregations.  

4.5 stars out of 5

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. 

Saturday, March 24, 2018

The Ultimate Exodus Finding Freedom from What Enslaves You by Danielle Strickland

The Ultimate Exodus

God didn’t just say to Pharaoh, “Let my people go!” He also said to the Israelites—and He says to us—“Let go of what enslaves you, and follow me to freedom.” The Ultimate Exodus opens our eyes to the things that enslave us, and it sets us on the path of our own exodus. Danielle Strickland revisits the story of the Exodus to see what we can learn from a people who were slaves and who learned from God what it means to be free. We discover as we go that deliverance goes much deeper than our circumstances. God uproots us from the things we have become slaves to, and He takes us on a long walk to the freedom He created us to enjoy.
(press description)

Danielle Strickland provides a text with a timely subject. Utilizing her experience as an ambassador for Compassion International and Stop the Traffik as well as her personal research Strickland lays out a stark picture concerning the realities of modern day slavery. Strickland's passion is  unquestionable as she lays out her information regarding passive and active participation in the modern slave trade providing valuable facts and realistic conversation starters to bring readers actively into the  issue. 

I appreciate the clear delivery method Strickland favourites as well as her ability to weave facts back to historical  anchors  (both secular and Biblical). This anchoring become more noticeable as a literary technique through the usage of Moses and the Exodus as the book's  overarching Biblical theme. It gave great structure and a sense of time to the books's argument.

That said, I don't think this book is for everyone. Strickland is sure of her argument, viewpoint, and methods throughout the book even using personal stories to highlight how a point has been tested in her own life. I found this gave the book a very "black or white" tone on how to approach problems when I could easily see alternates or shades of grey. I also found Strickland to come across very "top-down" in her teaching. For  those already struggling this could come across as accusatory and isolating rather than inviting someone into the church's solution.

3.5 out of 5 stars

"Book has been provided courtesy of NavPress and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Saturday, March 17, 2018

I Will Not Fear by Melba Pattillo Beals

I Will Not Fear

I will not Fear by Melba Beals recounts the author's experiences as one of the Little Rock nine, a single mother, and as a ground breaking journalist. 

The narrative is open, honest, and heart wrenching as Beals invites readers into the life and realities of the girl behind the news reports. At heart,  Beals is a storyteller who infuses humanity back into the headlines. I was already familiar with the nine students in Little Rock who were chosen to desegregate the student population but the wisdom and care Beals takes to tell her story and highlight the memories she's chosen to share takes the events  and places them back into their human context with all the emotion, doubt, and reality that was facing the students  and families  that lived through that time.

As a reader, I also appreciated Beals way of summarizing each story, each lesson, into a truth she learned about faith and/or God at the end of each chapter. The statement served to  add another layer to the  previous story and allows readers to assume the viewpoint the author held  when conveying her message. 

This is definitely a book I could see being worked into a homeschooling curriculum as Beals story covers such a wide array of topics from the historical events at Little Rock and the fallout of that first year to  her career in journalism, to the lessons of faith she has developed over a lifetime, to the experiences of racism both overt and subtle she has faced with grace over the years.

While at times the material may feel repetitive, I felt that adds credibility as the story feels like someone sharing and processing their memories,  a process that is rarely clean and straightforward.

4 out of 5 stars 

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Friday, March 9, 2018

Here Am I, Lord . . . Send Somebody Else by Jill Briscoe

Here Am I, Lord . . . Send Somebody Else  by Jill Briscoe has been re-released for new audiences. Although I was familiar with Mrs. Briscoe's daughter-in-law (a gifted speaker in her own right), I hadn't yet become acquainted with Mrs,  Briscoe herself.

Overall, the book is based on a solid premise. Briscoe anchors her book within the story of Moses while branching  out to speak  on different spiritual truths and elements she finds necessary for people to move forward in their faith. I highly appreciated Mrs. Briscoe's use of scripture and the way she  continually anchors her work back within Moses' life. It's obvious this is where her passion lies and an area with which she has well  studied. 

For those who also love studying, Briscoe provides a study section at the end of every section. Consisting of reflection, questions,  prayer guides, additional reading, etc. . . Each chapter offers a strong option of taking the material  further while tying in the chapter focus to scriptural references outside of the Moses' narrative.

Topically, however, I had mixed feelings on Briscoe's work. The variety was wonderful. Between spiritual gifts, prayer, overcoming trials, and so on there was wide breadth of knowledge being shared increasing the likelihood that a reader will find helpful material. The tone at times was frustrating though. 
I found, in the reading, that Briscoe tended towards a one-size-fits all faith. There wasn't a lot of room for grace for those going through hard seasons just an unrelenting call to measure up. As a result, I wouldn't feel comfortable giving this book to some of my friends who are newer to faith and still working out the basics.

3.5 stars out of 5

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. 

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Little Critter Little Blessings Collection by Mercer Mayer

Some stories, some characters are so familiar you cannot wait to introduce them to your children. In our home, Little Critter is just such a character. I have so many memories of snuggling up with these books as a child it just made sense to share them with my boys. Sadly, our oldest is getting to the  stage where he wants a little more story development, which is why I loved the idea of the Little Blessing Collection.

These stories are filled with the same characters I love but still have a story that keeps my oldest engaged and learning solid lessons.

Overall, I was impressed with this collection. The characters brought about enough nostalgia for  this Mama while still appearing fresh and relatable enough for my children. The stories varied in their topics covering the importance of telling the  truth, thankfulness, letting others go first, and forgiveness.

I was impressed at how Mayer's laying out of Little Critter's dilemmas naturally prompted my kiddo to ask questions and think through how he would feel in similar situations. I love a book that inspires good dialogue and these stories certainly delivered on that front.

I also felt that the variety of topics still flowed well with one another. Thankfulness could easily be linked  to letting others go first. Telling the  truth tied to thankfulness. This allowed us to really build onto topics and the concepts of building a strong foundation with our kids, rather than bouncing around through unrelated issues.

My only downfall was the story on forgiveness. While the other stories were age appropriate, well-rounded stories, the forgiveness story is very self-centered with  no mention of making amends (despite the story  allowing for such a conversation), a limited talking about reconciliation (which felt minimized), and no broaching of the  scope of issues which may need forgiveness and the importance of acknowledging the damage. My little guy was so confused by this story and was really concerned that "forgiveness" was just a free pass to getting away with things.

4 out of 5 stars

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers  book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255  : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising. 

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Oath of Honor by Lynette Eason

In her new novel Oath of Honor, Lynette Eason has offered a drama/mystery that would easily fit into any Friday night  television lineup.

Eason excels in placing her readers at the  heart of the action. I appreciate how she can weave her plot and truly make her main characters the readers eyes. I did not feel  the plot was overtly obvious and  never felt like I was moving too far ahead of Izzy and Ryan's discoveries. Eason really strives to lay her story out not without twists but still in a way that feels logically as Izzy and Ryan uncover their trail of clues.

As a main character, Izzy strikes me as your typical heroine. Easily likable thanks to her hard work ethic, her kind heart, and her appropriate mix of vulnerability and police smarts she easily holds this book together. I appreciate how relatable Eason makes her heroine, spiritual elements are not overly heavy but pop up in natural flowing ways given the high stress/short time frame of the narrative.

That said, those looking for a  book with a sermon should probably look elsewhere. Throughout the story I was constantly struck by how easily this could be turned into a series screenplay, bringing the strengths and weakness of that genre. 
The action and adventure kept me pressing on to discover Kevin's killer, the budding romance felt a little rushed but tempered thanks to the author's skillful use of established character history. 
Eason keeps her pace tight and fast which helps build the tension and convey the stress Izzy and Ryan were under in tangible ways. 
That said, some areas struggled though in the written format.

I felt that  the scenes with the family whether at home or during heavy emotional moments struggled to convey the nonverbal emotion that is so present in those moments. As a result, those scenes lost impact and  even felt awkward at times.

I was also unsure  how to interpret the mental health  aspect of the story line. I wish more emphasis had been placed on the differences between  illness and where the story eventually went (seriously don't want to give away spoilers).

3.75 stars out of 5

"Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."