Thursday, October 13, 2016

A Mile Wide Trading A Shallow Religion For A Deeper Faith By Brandon Hatmaker

As a host and guest judge for HGTV and DIY Network (My Big Family Renovation, Brother v.s. Brother, Tiny House Arrest), Brandon Hatmaker understands what it takes to rehab a home. But after twenty-plus years of working with the local church (and as husband to bestselling author Jen Hatmaker), he has an even greater understanding of what it takes to rehab an everyday faith. In A Mile Wide, he helps readers see more clearly how the gospel works in us and eventually through us to transform an anemic spiritual life into a deeper, fuller, and more effective faith.

Offering fresh perspective on eight essentials of Christianity—the gospel, identity, scripture, discipleship, kingdom, mission, community, and justice—Hatmaker provides biblical insight and practical applications that tap into the richer life Christ promised his people, individually and as a community. God wants more than simply to save us; he’s also determined to transform us, restore us, and use us to reveal the coming of his kingdom right here, right now.
(excerpt from back of book)

Confession time! I totally and completely only noticed this book due to the HGTV  in the title. However, even though my motives for choosing this book were a little hazy and magpieish, Brandon Hatmaker's A Mile Wide stands to be one of the most impacting and powerful books of 2016 for this reader.

Brandon's style is honest, straightforward, and backed with scripture first then practical experience. His story-telling style with the openness he so easily displays when talking  about his love of people digging in deep to community, and areas he's personally wrestled with  on his own journey make this book engaging. I love how this book takes readers through new perspectives and, I think, that's something important to Brandon. Throughout the book assumptions are being challenged, mainly through stories be they of soccer skills, homeless encounters, or his children's reactions to television. Each story has a purpose and a lesson to share. 

Brandon openly acknowledges some readers may have issue with his views due to the tension that exists in some congregations regarding social justice vs. evangelism. I loved how Brandon built a solid foundation regarding faith in general before launching into this particularly outworking allowing it to become a natural next step and one that was defined by scripture rather than just defended.  

I would highly recommend this book 5 out 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.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

A Lady Unrivaled by Roaeanna M. White

A Lady Unrivaled

Lady Ella Myerston can always find a reason to smile--even if it's just in hope that tomorrow will be better than today. All her life everyone has tried to protect her from the realities of the world, but Ella knows very well how the dangerous Fire Eyes diamonds have haunted her brother and their friends, and she won't wait for peril to strike again. She intends to take action . . . and if that happens to involve an adventurous trip to the Cotswolds, then so much the better.

Lord James Cayton has already broken two hearts, including that of his first wife, who died before he could convince himself to love her. Now he's determined to live a better life . . . but that proves complicated when old acquaintances pull Cayton into their desperate attempt to seize the jewels. He does his best to remove the intriguing Lady Ella from danger, but the stubborn girl won't budge. How else can he redeem himself, though, but by saving her--and his daughter--from those intent on destroying them all?

(excerpt from back of book)

So once again I've found myself entering a trilogy as it's reaching its final act. Unlike other books, however,  this time I'm highly recommending finding the first  two books and reading them prior to starting the wonder that is  A Lady Unrivaled. Roseanna M White is a gifted author, her worlds are crafted with depth and her characters have the nuances and spark that make them leap off the page. T

That said, in my opinion, one of White's great strengths is her ability to write an intriguing plot. A Lady Unrivaled  takes readers on twists and turns from love and life to murder and intrigue and that's why I highly recommend finding The Lost Heiress and The Reluctant Duchess. White's plot builds upon itself, referencing back and recalling that  which has come before; it makes a more interesting, depth-filled story but also one which could leave readers a tad confused if the jump into the middle.

Ella and Cayton's interactions are a definite book highlight. Their actions are witty, caring, and break away from some of the usual standards seen in this genre (a refreshing change just like their  first kiss, what a moment!).I loved the balance between them and how White wasn't afraid to have both of her main characters asking difficult questions when it came to faith and life. Faith plays a key role in White's story and I'm guessing this is one  of the areas I was unable to fully grasp the importance of due  to missing the first two books. 

Another wonderful point of this work was the contrast of the high English  society (now so much more familiar thanks to Downton Abbey) and the many strong female roles White's including in this work. With the Duchess and Ella representing the aristocracy and Kira and Felicity representing the working class, the book is filled with moments of strength both traditional and unexpected. 

Grounding all of these elements together is the curse of the fire  eyes diamonds. Honestly,  this is  was a well thought out story line and was the  source of most of the intrigue and danger, driving the  story forward and separating it from other historical fiction which seem to rely more on the romance for forward motion. I loved the mystery (and stayed up far too late waiting on the resolution) but found myself  laughing at the perfection of how White  chose  to wrap up  such a central plot. Given Ella's cheerful and delighted  personality I couldn't have dreamed a better ending to such a dire circumstance.

5 out of 5 stars.

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

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Hillsong: Let Hope Rise

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For most people who have musical gifts, visited sporadically, or participated regularly in the evangelical church since the turn of the millennium the name Hillsong  is one that  has become quickly familiar as  a leading provider of worship materials and music.

With their rock star quality and trailblazing position, admirers and protesters equally acknowledge the effect Hillsong has had on the church's expression of worship and use of music over the last decade and a half. Let Hope Rise follows Hillsong  United- giving them a platform to express their views on faith, social justice, brokenness and a variety of topics within the context of normal people caught up in an extraordinary scale of events.

Watching the film feels like sitting half way between a Hillsong blu-ray and a documentary. With that  in mind, I often felt like the film was produced in response to those  critics and protesters who dog  Hillsong's movement rather than a simple behind the scenes look (something I felt came across much more naturally when Switchfoot released there documentary a few years  ago). 
As a result, different sections of the film feel specifically crafted to address how  leaders attempt to find balance between a venue that  can very easily slip into a performance based around  fame and money and their responsibility to be mindful of those they are supposed to be serving through their musical gifts. This was a recurring theme throughout the film and in  many ways almost served as  a thesis for the film.

With a few momentary exceptions the leaders came across as genuine. 
The guys on the bus made me roll my eyes  as I  remembered the antics I encountered as a sound gal for different bands over the years (that was  way too familiar, to be honest, I'm guessing it's more of a band thing) and to see the families coming together after tour felt very honest as the level of self-reflection and standards to which the band holds themselves too really came across during these family segments. I'm going to take a  wild guess and say that a few perfectionists may find a lot to relate too with those portions. The  band also spoke of their work with Compassion International which came as a  surprise to me though I was glad to see such an amazing organization getting a shout out. It was really encouraging to see the band members out on the streets getting the info themselves and I know from friends that Compassion is very thorough.

The editing of the film was very intentional with the interview segments feeling very produced, almost to the point of overproduction. That said, I also felt this issue was balanced out, at least in part, by the concert sections which through timing, follow along lyrics, and a polished presentation will allow viewers to become immersed in those moments. 
The one segment which used viewer compilations as a music video was brilliant and the little  girl on the piano totally  stole the show for me (you have to keep your eyes open as it's a  short clip but that  girl has spunk!) 

As someone more familiar with the music and the controversy behind the band, Let Hope Rise served as a new voice and insight into the group which has had such major influence into the lives of so many. I found it to be well produced, with high quality sound and video  (not much of a surprise but still good to see), and answered many questions. I do wish that the interview segments had come across as less scripted as that did make me question the sincerity at times.

3.5 stars out of 5. 

"Movie has been provided courtesy of Pure Flix Entertainment and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc."

Monday, October 3, 2016

Everything Is Possible: Finding the Faith and Courage to Follow Your Dreams by Jen Bricker

Everything is Possible

When Jen Bricker was born without legs, her shocked biological parents were uncertain they could care for her and gave her up for adoption. In her loving adoptive home, there was just one simple rule: “Never say ‘can’t.'” And pretty soon there was nothing this small but mighty powerhouse set her sights on that she couldn’t conquer, including roller-skating, volleyball, power tumbling, and spinning from silk fabric thirty feet in the air.

Everything Is Possible is her incredible story–a story of God working out his plan for her life frombefore day one. Let Jen show you what you can accomplish when you remove the words coincidence and can’t from your vocabulary.
(excerpt from back of book)

Jen's personality shines through the pages as she lays out her life thus far. In fact, most of her  book reads more as a conversation - bubbly, reflective, and sometimes a bit rambling. 

Everything is Possible covers a wide  variety of topics from adoption and finding one's birth family (this was the reason I was familiar with the author it is quite the story), overcoming adversity, and the transitions which accompany every teen moving into adulthood. Jen's story reads like a tv movie  between her adventures in gymnastics to working at Disney and eventually joining Britney Spears Circus tour. Supported by her adoptive and biological family, Jen steadily reads as a  strong female role model who incorporates faith and optimism into every moment of her life. 
At times I felt a bit conflicted regarding the tone of the book. The author mentions some serious topics but rarely, if ever, loses her optimistic, bubbly tone. This could very well be her personality as it's hard to tell from a biography but, at times, it also felt as if those harder moments weren't given the gravity they  deserved.

I felt this book would be best received by those who enjoy biographies, stories of people overcoming  the odds,  and pre-teen/teen girls who are trying to find their own direction in life.
3.5 out of 5  stars

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

Saturday, October 1, 2016

The Devoted by Suzanne Woods Fisher


Bright, curious, and restless, Ruthie Stoltzfus loves her family but is stuck in a sea of indecision about her future: Should she stay Amish? Or should she leave? She’s done all she can to prepare to go–passed the GED, saved her money–but she can’t quite set her journey into motion.

Patrick Kelly is a young man on a journey of his own. He’s come to Stoney Ridge to convert to the Amish and has given himself thirty days to learn the language, drive a buggy, and adapt to “everything Plain.” Time, to Patrick, is of the essence. Every moment is to be cherished, especially the hours he spends with Ruthie, his Penn Dutch tutor.

Ruthie’s next-door neighbor and cunning ex-boyfriend, Luke Schrock, is drawn to trouble like a moth to a flame. Rebellious, headstrong, defiant, Luke will do anything to win Ruthie back–anything–and Patrick Kelly is getting in his way.
(excerpt from back of book)

It's official. While I may not be a fan of Amish fiction as a genre, I am an enormous fan of Suzanne Woods Fisher! 
Honestly, her series The Bishop's Family  has completely won me over between the solid and endearing characters, the plot line with teachable moments that make me feel as though I'm at the Stoltzfus table rather than being preached at, and the absolutely wonderful Stoney Creek providing the perfect setting.

One of Fisher's strengths is her characters. I jumped for joy when I realized that, unlike it's predecessors, The Devoted showed a heavier emphasis on Ruthie and Jesse.  Jesse has been my series underdog and I adore watching his growth as he navigated life with apprentices and finally addressed his situation with Mim. Ruthie also came  into her own in this book, I really appreciated th honest wrestling Ruthie undergoes when she considers her future,  Fisher may have her family written firmly within the Amish genre but Ruthie's struggle to find her place is one anyone who's wrestled with where their life is going can relate with.  
While the 2 year gap in plot between The Quieting  and The Devoted was jarring at first it really did make good sense story wise as the younger siblings had to develop properly before they could take center stage and the quick summery and reminiscing was more than enough to make up the gap.

Once again I found myself caught up in Fisher's story line. This is another one of her strengths and one that I feel more secure in pointing out as I see the story unfolding throughout the series and not just within a self contained novel. I love how Fisher's stories don't feel like a story and a sermon, While she incorporates so many teachable moments, I often felt like a friend or family member sitting around the table and joining in on one of David's discussions. I love that! I've read so many stories where the flow and immersion into a story are disrupted in order to add a sermon or some sort of biblical teaching, Fisher's ability to weave these together so beautifully just adds to the experience. In fact, this entire book was a beautiful example of weaving and balance, Between Ruthie considering of life outside and Patrick's exploration of Amish life, Dok's life  in and out of Stoney Ridge, and David's tension over community life  there was more than enough to keep this reader hooked until well after midnight.

If anyone's looking for a great autumn read or maybe getting a jump start on Christmas shopping. The Bishop's Family  is a solid series full of characters who leap off the page as they wrestle with life in a way that will be identifiable to so many.
4 out of 5 stars

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

Friday, September 23, 2016

One Small Donkey by Dandi Daisy Mackall Illustrated by Marta Alvarez Miguens

Christmas stories come in many forms. 
Some follow Mary and Joseph, others look through the eyes of a  human storyteller, while still others explore the animals point of view. 

In One Small Donkey, Dandi Mackall chooses a  humble donkey to be her storyteller. 
I really enjoyed the narrative itself. The nativity story was well portrayed while still weaving in an equally strong message regarding the importance of each person (or in this case, donkey) in God's greater story. 
The story itself would be easily welcomed by kids ages 4-8.

Readers may find (and it was my only complaint) that the actual flow of the story feels choppy and jarring, especially when read aloud. 
While the content is great (and  even taught me something through some quick google confirmation, who knew it snowed in Israel? I definitely need to brush up on my geography) the rhyme and meter fell short. 

On the flip side, the artwork in  this book is some of the most stunning I've seen in a children's book this year. In fact, I found myself needing to reread the story after  I realized  I had become so engrossed in the pictures I had missed  parts of the  narrative.  This artwork is a huge bonus for a family like ours as our pre-verbal kidlet is as equally drawn into the story as his older sibling.

While the rhyme and flow may be a deterrent for some, One Small Donkey still provides a solid Christmas story with  illustrations that go above and beyond in their beauty and attention to details.
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.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A Heart Most Certain by Melissa Jaegars

A Heart Most Certain

Lydia King knows what it's like to be in need, so she joins the Teaville Moral Society hoping to help the town's poor. But with her father's debts increasing by the day and her mother growing sicker by the week, she wonders how long it will be until she ends up in the poorhouse herself. Her best chance at a financially secure future is to impress the politician courting her, and it certainly doesn't hurt that his mother is the moral society's president. Lydia's first task as a moral society member--to obtain a donation from Nicholas Lowe, the wealthiest man in town--seems easy . . . until the man flat-out refuses.

Despite appearances, Nicholas wants to help others but prefers to do it his own way, keeping his charity private. When Lydia proves persistent, they agree to a bargain, though Nicholas has a few surprises up his sleeve. Neither foresees the harrowing complications that will arise from working together, and when town secrets are brought to light, this unlikely pair must decide where their beliefs--and hearts--truly align.
(excerpt from back of book)

Melissa Jagears is one of those writers I'm beginning to rely on. If  I'm looking for a solid read, enjoyable character growth, and a well-thought out setting I know Melissa will deliver.

I was surprised to find so many serious topics wrapped up in a fascinating love story (honestly, the literary nerd in me giggled with glee over Lydia's comparisons between her own life and  one of her favourite reads Pride and Prejudice). I love the diversity and breadth of topics in this novel. Larger themes of redemption, hypocrisy, self sacrifice, and the church find life with the comings and goings of Teaville, If book 1 is any indication this series is going to be a  "stay up 'til it's done" type  of series.

Jagears characters  are so real I found myself wishing for the opportunity
to chat about books with Lydia, give the pastor's wife a hug, and cry over the three sisters who impacted each of the few pages they were featured on. Actually, to be honest, when I look back on this novel it isn't Lydia or  Nicholas  that will jump out, it's the kids. Jagears hits upon historical events that have present day significance with a skill and truthfulness that is hard to deny. Part of Jagears appeal is her willingness to write harder scenes that other authors may shy away from in the genre. Sadie's introduction and the eldest sisters wrestling with Lowe's offers shone light onto the very tip of a heartbreaking and global issue.

My only concern with the book was the epilogue. Although this is usually my favourite part due to story lines wrapping up and the satisfaction of a story well lived, I had some concerns about the characters. Lydia undergoes a noticeable and not overly enjoyable personality change for this reader. Now, I'll give some wiggle  room here, sometimes personalities can undergo changes during different periods of life and Lydia's life had certainly undergone some changes. I'll reserve judgment to see whether Lydia regains her passion in the next installment.
I also had a few questions over the introduction of characters in the epilogue. I'm going to take a  guess they'll feature more heavily in the sequel but it did give the book more of an incomplete feel than the book felt like it was going to have.

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