Wednesday, May 11, 2022

The Master Cratsman by Kelli Stuart REVIEWED

About the Book:

In 1917, Alma Pihl, a master craftsman in the House of Fabergé, was charged to protect one of the greatest secrets in Russian history--an unknown Fabergé Egg that Peter Karl Fabergé secretly created to honor his divided allegiance to both the people of Russia and the Imperial tsar's family. When Alma and her husband escaped Russia for their native Finland in 1921, she took the secret with her, guarding her past connection to the Romanov family. 

Three generations later, world-renowned treasure hunter Nick Laine is sick and fears the secret of the missing egg will die with him. With time running out, he entrusts the mission of retrieving the egg to his estranged daughter, Ava, who has little idea of the dangers she is about to face. As the stakes are raised, Ava is forced to declare her own allegiance--and the consequences are greater than she could have imagined.

My Thoughts:
"Mrs, Andrews,....I believe you just made your first big breakthrough."  (p.265)

It's hard for me to believe that there are folks who thrive, chase and even capture the lifestyle of a treasure hunter, but I've watched enough reality television to know that such people do exist.  Kelli Stuart builds an entire novel on the premise that all of us seek treasure in this lifetime...and some are fortunate to realize what that treasure is, long before others.  Stuart weaves present day and history into a very realistic, and somewhat tragic tale of a family caught up in a treasure hunt that takes them far beyond the goal they thought they were headed toward.

Ava and Carol have built a life without including Nick Lavine - father to Ava and husband to Carol.  The life of a treasure hunter didn't allow the luxury of a family.  Although world renowned, Nick's fame and fortune do little in the face of terminal disease.  What begins as an attempt at a final reconciliation turns into the adventure of a lifetime for this estranged family.  As they look across time into the lives of the Faberge family of royal jewelry fame, they begin to seek a jeweled egg that may or may not exist.

Existing or not, this unlikely team sets out on one last treasure hunt that spans the globe in search of a jeweled egg with a history they couldn't begin to imagine.  Stuart masterfully weaves the past with present-day and tells the tale of two families seeking much the same thing - relationships that ground them in truth, love and meaning.  The journey is both dangerous and rewarding, but in ways the reader cannot possibly anticipate!

This was not an easy book to lay aside!  I encourage anyone who likes a healthy mix of history and mystery to pick up a copy of this book today!!  You will be well satisfied in all the ways that matter!! Enjoy the search!!

About the Author:
Kelli Stuart is the author of the Carol Award-winning Like a River from Its Course, as well as A Silver Willow by the Shore and Life Creative: Inspiration for Today's Renaissance Mom (with Wendy Speake). Stuart has written for The Huffington Post, 5 Minutes for Mom, Tonic.com, Disney, American Girl, The MOB Society, Extraordinary Mommy, God Size Dreams, Short Fiction Break, and (in)courage. Kelli is a storyteller at heart, fluent in the Russian language, and has spent the last two decades studying the Russian and Ukrainian culture. Kelli lives in Tampa, Florida, with her husband and five children.


 

Thursday, March 10, 2022

The Prince and the Prodigal by Jill Eileen Smith - REVEIWED


 About the Book:

Two brothers. One betrayal.

The patriarch Jacob has made it no secret that young Joseph is his favorite son. Growing up as the pampered heir to his father's legacy, Joseph thrives under the praise of his father but struggles with the disdain of his older brothers, especially Judah. When a chance comes along to rid themselves of Joseph, his brothers sell him to slave traders and deceive their father about his fate.

Joseph, now serving the captain of Pharaoh's palace guard, is imprisoned after being falsely accused of rape. Back home, Judah leaves his father and builds a new life in Canaan, attempting to flee the memory of his complicity in the betrayal of his younger brother.

Decades later, the brothers will come face-to-face, and this time Joseph has the upper hand. Will forgiveness or vengeance win the day?

My Thoughts:

 "They had no idea how great was the God they denied and did not know.  Perhaps one day they would see." (p, 170)

Jill Eilleen Smith brings biblical characters to life so realistically, so naturally, that any time I see her name on the cover of a book, I don't hesitate to read it!  Joseph is the main character in her latest novel, and although he is both prince and prodigal in this story, she writes another layer that echoes this same theme in the life of other characters in the story. 

Joseph's character struggles mightily with his faith throughout most of the story, but he remains faithful to God, because he has received God's grace and mercy in such a personal way, he cannot help but follow wherever He leads.  I love the way Jill makes his emotional response so heartbreakingly realistic.  I realize the struggle he faced on so many levels!  The social restraints placed upon different classes and genders plays a mighty role in Joseph's circumstances!  I'd never considered that before!

There is another character who fulfills both prince and prodigal in the story -Judah.  The time and story line runs between the two brothers in a way that will make your heart very aware of the duplicity that lies within it.  Judah wrestles with his own demons in this novel, and his is a heartbreaking tale.  Jill doesn't stray from the biblical narrative, and the way she fleshes out this character alongside Joseph is convicting and very poignant!

I daresay you will read the story of Joseph in the Bible in a new and deeper way.  I know I did! Don't hesitate to read this story!  It will be a story you can share in a book club or just among friends! Thank you, Jill Eileen Smith for reminding me that I, too, have been both prince and prodigal in my own life story!!  What an amazing journey!! 

I


About the Author:


Jill Eileen Smith
 is the bestselling and award-winning author of the biblical fiction series The Wives of King David, Wives of the Patriarchs, and Daughters of the Promised Land, as well as The Heart of a KingStar of Persia: Esther's Story, and Miriam's Song. She is also the author of the nonfiction books When Life Doesn't Match Your Dreams and She Walked Before Us. Her research into the lives of biblical women has taken her from the Bible to Israel, and she particularly enjoys learning how women lived in Old Testament times. Jill lives with her family in southeast Michigan. Learn more at www.jilleileensmith.com.

Monday, January 31, 2022

The Girl Who Could Breathe Under Water by Erin Bartels REVIEWED




 About the Book:

The best fiction simply tells the truth.

But the truth is never simple.

When novelist Kendra Brennan moves into her grandfather's old cabin on Hidden Lake, she has a problem and a plan. The problem? An inflammatory letter from A Very Disappointed Reader. The plan? To confront Tyler, her childhood best friend's brother--and the man who inspired the antagonist in her first book. If she can prove that she told the truth about what happened during those long-ago summers, perhaps she can put the letter's claims to rest and meet the swiftly approaching deadline for her next book.

But what she discovers as she delves into the murky past is not what she expected. While facing Tyler isn't easy, facing the consequences of her failed friendship with his sister, Cami, may be the hardest thing she's ever had to do.

Plumb the depths of the human heart with this emotional exploration of how a friendship dies, how we can face the unforgivable, and how even those who have been hurt can learn to love with abandon.

Review:

But novels are about looking through someone else's eyes, seeing what someone else sees when they look at the world and realizing, perhaps for the first time, that other people are jest as real and alive and hurt as you are.  (p. 277)

This novel is a wrestling match between people who are successful and well-loved on the surface - in the lives the world around them observes - and the real, heart-felt woundedness that lives on the inside.  In this story Kendra Brennan returns to a familiar childhood homeplace after a decade that has brought her great success as a first-time author.  She retreats to a place from her childhood that holds precious memories and anchors her to her truest self.

What she did not expect to find in the deepest part of her heart was a terror that is keeping her heart frozen in place.  As Kendra faces her own difficult journey through an impossible writer's block, she discovers that those people that are such a part of her DNA from childhood are also wrestling with their own terrifying demons.  Life on the surface is often a placid lake while a churning river of emotional trauma lies underneath the surface.

This book turned out to be deeply personal and provided a mirror to my own soul's wrestling matches. I was deeply moved by the bravery of this story and found healing within its pages.  I highly recommend this journey.  It will change your life!!  

About the Author:

Erin Bartels is the award-winning author of All That We Carried, 2020 Christy finalist The Words between Us, and We Hope for Better Things, a 2020 Michigan Notable Book, 2020 WFWA Star Award-winner, and 2019 Christy finalist. A publishing professional for nearly twenty years, she lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son. Find her online at www.erinbartels.com.
 

 


 

Monday, January 24, 2022

A Heart Adrift by Laura Frantz REVIEWED


 About the Book:

It is 1755, and the threat of war with France looms over colonial York, Virginia. Chocolatier Esmée Shaw is fighting her own battle of the heart. Having reached her twenty-eighth birthday, she is reconciled to life alone after a decade-old failed love affair from which she's never quite recovered. But she longs to find something worthwhile to do with her life.

Captain Henri Lennox has returned to port after a lengthy absence, intent on completing the lighthouse in the dangerous Chesapeake Bay, a dream he once shared with Esmée. But when the colonial government asks him to lead a secret naval expedition against the French, his future is plunged into uncertainty.

Can Esmée and Henri's shared vision and dedication to the colonial cause heal the wounds of the past and reunite them?

Review:

"Her fervent prayers went the way of her hopes and dreams and became floating wreckage." (p, 69)

Esmee Shaw's inner dialogue regarding her failed relationship of the past collide with a reality that takes she and her family to the brink of war.  This is a story that draws your heart in and refuses to let go.  Laura Frantz drops breadcrumbs all along the path to lead the reader into a story that far surpasses what they could ever imagine!  Romance, history and intrigue combine in the most unexpected ways, and you will be hard pressed to lay the book aside!

As I write this, it's been a few days since I finished the book, and, as I thumb through its pages, I recall the characters and their relationships vividly!  Esmee's family became dear to me as did Captain Lennox and his lighthouse.  There are elements of relational conflict that work themselves out in sometimes painful ways.  The point is, that they work out as they need to, and not without consequences.  This book wove a close family dynamic into the story in a way that really appealed to me, and it worked to make the historical context all the more poignant.

I don't want to give away the plot, but I will say that I was thrilled over and over again with the personal integrity of the main characters and their selfless love for one another.  Their relationship had far reaching effects on everyone else in the story!

This is a beautiful, exciting, historically intriguing novel that will appeal to a large audience!  I am happy to recommend it to you!!


About the Author:


Laura Frantz
 is a Christy Award winner and the ECPA bestselling author of a dozen novels, including An Uncommon WomanTidewater Bride, The Frontiersman's DaughterCourting Morrow LittleThe Colonel's LadyThe Lacemaker, and A Bound Heart. She is a proud mom to an American soldier and a career firefighter. When not at home in Kentucky, she and her husband live in Washington State. Learn more at www.laurafrantz.net.






Thursday, November 18, 2021

The Saving I Need by David Tensen and Friends - REVIEWED


About the Book:  From the bestselling author of The Wrestle comes another memorable poetry collection. 

The Saving I Need brings readers over forty new poems penned by David Tensen, accompanied by a generous selection of carefully crafted poems from fourteen emerging poets chosen and mentored by David himself. From its breathtaking opening piece 'Birthing God' through to its end, this anthology invites readers into a poetic meditation through beauty, tragedy, hope and spirituality.  

Acclaimed by theologians as a prophetic Psalter of these times, Tensen continues to write with expanding wisdom, love and empathy, echoing the silent cries of his lifetime and the Christian tradition. 

This book also features poetry from: Andrew Adair. Abigail Bucks. Brian Bucks. Carly Caprio. Kara Chidlow. Nicole Fisher. Matthew Hardy. Kaelan Kiernan. Victoria Kuttainen. Franki Maglaras. Jessica Mussro. Jessica Stevens Nicole Walker. Tineke Ziemer.

From the collection:

'Cracks'
by David Tensen

it's the cracks 
on the road to wholeness
you have to watch for

the novice avoids them,
scuttling with speed 
across the bitumen

hoping to reach
a promised land 
without tripping

but the wise slow down
knowing the road
has no end

the wise have learnt
the cracks are 
the way forward

going down 
into the narrows
where seeds fall



My Thoughts:


I discovered David Tensen's work last year, and I have been touched deeply by his poems.  When I heard there was to be a collection of work by a group of poets, I became curious.  I'm SO GLAD I did!!  This book has served as a healing touch to my soul, and I encourage everyone to be open to receive its words!  You'll meet folks from around the globe from a variety of backgrounds, and you will gain a book that you will be able to revisit again and again!


I am grateful for the collection and look forward to reading it for years to come!


BRAVO!!!


Avaiable EVERYWHERE!!

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Unlikely Yarn of the Dragon Lady by Sharon J. Mondragon REVIEWED


 About the Book:

A knitting group’s change of scenery changes lives in unexpected ways 

Margaret, Rose, Jane, and Fran had a good thing going: meet every week in the quiet of their peaceful chapel and knit prayer shawls. No muss, just ministry. That is, until their pastor boots them out of the church in his last-ditch effort to revive the dwindling congregation. 

Uptight Margaret isn’t having it. Knitting prayer shawls where people can watch is the most ridiculous idea she’s ever heard of, and she’s heard plenty. Prayer belongs in the church, not out among the heathen masses. How are they supposed to knit holiness into these shawls if they’re constantly distracted by the public? But with no choice, the others embrace the challenge. They pack their knitting bags and drag Margaret—grumbling the whole way—to the mall with them. She can’t wait to prove them all wrong when it fails miserably, and show the pastor that she always knows best. 

Without the familiar mold the group has been stuck in, their own losses, pain, and struggles rise to the surface. And the people and situations they encounter every time they try to sit quietly and knit are taking them a lot further out of their comfort zone than they ever imagined. Can they find the courage to tackle the increasing number of knotty issues they learn about in the community--or will the tangle be too much to unravel? 

Sharon J. Mondragon’s debut is warm and delightful, full of real laughter, grief, and personality. It beautifully illustrates the power of women across generations to reach people for Christ. 

To read an excerpt of The Unlikely Yarn of the Dragon Lady click here.

WIN A COPY OF THE BOOK!!!  CLICK HERE!!

My Thoughts:

"You're right, God is orderly.  But people are messy.  They have problems and wounds and fears and besetting sins.  Isn't that what prayer shawls are all about, though?  Trying to give people the comfort and strength they need to face and get through those things?"  (p. 64)

These words, spoken by Father Pete to Margaret as he tries to tell her that the prayer chapel will, indeed, be unavailable to the prayer shawl knitting group while being painted, did nothing to calm her anxiety.  Sharon Mondragon's book, The Unlikely Yarn of the Dragon Lady, spins quite the tale as she follows the four ladies that meet in the prayer chapel to knit prayer shawls as they go out into the community to knit while the chapel is undergoing renovations.  You would never BELIEVE that a group of knitting ladies could be so blessedly used of God, but let me tell you this story will convict a heart to open up to the most unexpected circumstance!

From the moment the women enter the bookstore café in the mall, it seems to attract the attention of everyone.  When they get kicked out by the manager and settle on the couches outside Macy's, they not attract attention, but they begin to gather people and prayer requests in droves.  Life does get messy, and the ladies of the Heavenly Hugs Prayer Shawl Ministry go to the gates of heaven with the most unlikely and unusual prayer requests you can imagine!  They learn, albeit reluctantly, that their own lives are not devoid of messes, and that when they join hearts and hands in prayer, God not only hears but answers in very amazing ways!

I could not put this book down!! It seemed as though every chapter the hearts of the characters broke open a little more toward all that God was doing in the lives of the people they interacted with in the mall, and in their own hearts as well!  Talk about transformation!  God is in the business of reaching people where they are, even if He has to kick you out of your comfort zone to do it!  You will come to love all of the characters in the book, and it will be a bittersweet but satisfying ending when you reach the last page. Please, bless yourself by reading this book, and then, find a way to reach others right where you are!  BRAVO!!!  This is a fantastic book!!

About the Author:

Sharon J. Mondragón writes about the place where kindness and courage meet. Her debut novel, The Unlikely Yarn of the Dragon Lady (originally titled The Heavenly Hugs Prayer Shawl Ministry) was the 2017 winner of the American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis award in the Short Novel Category, and she has also been recognized by The Saturday Evening Post where her short story, “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” was an Honorable Mention Awardee in the 2014 their Great American Fiction Contest.
 
Mondragón has been active in prayer shawl ministry since 2008 and currently serves as facilitator for the prayer shawl ministry at her church, St. Paul Episcopal in Waxahachie, TX. She also knits with the Circle of Healing at Red Oak United Methodist Church. She is a Level 2 Certified Knitting Instructor through the Craft Yarn Council and teaches beginning knitting at a local yarn store.
 
Mondragón is the mother of five grown children and has four grandchildren. After 26 years as an Army wife, she has settled in Midlothian, TX with her hero/husband, her laptop, and her yarn stash.
 
Visit Sharon Mondragón’s website and blog at www.sharonjmondragon.com and follow her on Facebook (Sherry Mondragón) and Twitter (@SJ_Mondragón).

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Secret Keepers of the Old Depot Grocery by Amanda Cox REVIEWED

About the Book:

Present Day. Sarah Ashby returns to her childhood home, determined to finally follow her dream of running the family business alongside her mother and grandmother. So when her mother, Rosemary, announces to her that Old Depot Grocery is closing, Sarah and her grandmother, Glory Ann, make a plan to save the store. But Rosemary has worked her entire life to make sure her daughter never follows in her footsteps. She has her reasons--but she'll certainly never reveal the real one.

1965. Glory Ann confesses to her family that she's pregnant with her deceased fiancé's baby. Pressured into a marriage of convenience with a shopkeeper to preserve her family's reputation, Glory Ann vows never to love again. But some promises are not as easily kept as she imagined.

This dual-time story from Amanda Cox deftly explores the complexity of the mother-daughter relationship, the way the secrets we keep shape our lives and the lives of others, and the healing power of telling the truth.

My Thoughts:

"Maybe all their paths were lettered with mistakes and secrets that never should have been kept, but Sarah had faith that in the end, the truth would set them free."  (p. 293)

Amanda Cox weaves a multigenerational tale in her latest novel, The Secret Keepers of Old Depot Grocery.  For me, the generational nature of the secrets kept made sense, because I grew up in a generation that kept those same secrets.  Familial appearance was everything in a small, rural setting, and moral failings of any kind were kept shut away, when possible, in very dramatic ways.

This story tells the outcome of generations of secrets kept, and the residual fallout that naturally occurred over time.  I couldn't help but be struck by the fact that one's own perception of any given circumstance shapes how we interpret life changes in our future.  Glory Ann, Rosemary and Sarah's life intersect during a perfect storm of circumstances that could have very well destroyed them all.  There are moments in the story where I saw no way around certain annellation!  

God's grace is the only explanation I can give for the way these women find the truth about themselves and their "secret" circumstances that sets them free in ways they never imagined possible!  I was totally captivated by this story, and was a bit heartbroken when it came to an end.  I encourage everyone to take a dive into this story!  There is room for growth and transformation all along the way!!  


About the Author:

Amanda Cox is the author of The Edge of Belonging. A blogger and a curriculum developer for a national nonprofit youth leadership organization, she holds a bachelor's degree in Bible and theology and a master's degree in professional counseling, but her first love is communicating through story. Her studies and her interactions with hurting families over a decade have allowed her to create multidimensional characters that connect emotionally with readers. She lives in Chattanooga, Tennessee, with her husband and their three children. Learn more at AmandaCoxWrites.com.