Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Pillars of Barabbas by M. D. House REVIEWED


About the Book:

The man they called Barabbas has come a long way from the wretched prisoner released by Pontius Pilate in lieu of Jesus of Nazareth. He and his wife Chanah are growing in regard among the leadership of Christ's fledgling church, which is expanding and thriving.

But increasing Christian influence breeds jealousy among several Roman governors and senators. How will Emperor Nero react? Can the apostle Paul soothe the moody young ruler and help the valiant Roman saints continue to spread the Word?

The Parthian Empire also poses threats, including in Eastern Africa, where the former centurion Cornelius has become a prominent Christian leader. Will the Christians need to flee, or must they fight both the Romans and the Parthians?

My Thoughts:  (I'm a tad late posting this, but this is a fabulous book!)

"We must keep striving to do our best - our very best - to learn, understand and apply the Savior's teachings, trusting that he will make up for what we lack, often in miraculous ways we could never have predicted."  (p. 243)

I reviewed the first book in this series and never imagined that the character of Barabbas could be such a rich window through which to watch the early church develop.  The Bible doesn't really tell us much about the man whose life was spared when Jesus was crucified, but M. D. House builds an entire story around what he could have contributed to the early church.

I never really considered the means that would be necessary to accomplish things like the building of early temples of worship, the calling of leaders for early churches facing persecution, the price those called to ministry had to face as they traveled great distances....so many details I never really thought about.  M.D. House not only thought about them, but skillfully weaves a plausible story around Biblical characters who served in the beginning of the spread of the gospel.

Paul is one of several apostles that appear in the course of the story, and he becomes a relatable character that  God uses to direct the lives of others considering the next steps of their spiritual journey.  Barabbas and his family feel unworthy to serve alongside him, but grow to be powerful leaders in their own right as they faithfully serve those they are called to serve.

This is a wonderful sequel that gives the reader an intriguing world to immerse themselves in, but also find scenes that will convict your heart to listen to God's call in your own life.  I look forward to reading more from this author!


 
About the Author:

M.D. House enjoyed a successful first career in the mysterious world of Corporate Finance, but creating and telling stories (and NOT about Finance) was his true love. His first full-length novel was a sci-fi work called "Patriot Star." His second was historical fiction about the life of Barabbas, titled "I Was Called Barabbas." Sequels to both are coming soon.

Writing isn't just fun for him, it's an important way to share his passion, beliefs and vision with family, friends, and anyone else who loves great storytelling with powerful human perspective and emotion.







 

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Miriam's Song by Jill Eileen Smith REVIEWED


About the Book:

She has prayed for deliverance from Egypt.

But perhaps the greatest liberation happens within the heart.

From the very beginning, Miriam has lived in her younger brother's shadow. Thrust into the role of protective older sister before Moses was even born, she will grow up into a woman who not only keeps her family's secret but bears the burden of leading a new nation.

In her mind, she knows that she is serving both her God and her people. But in her heart, Miriam yearns for more. She longs to experience the privileges Moses has--to talk with God face-to-face. But when God finally does speak directly to her, the outcome is not at all what she expects.

With her impeccable research and keen eye for detail, bestselling author Jill Eileen Smith offers this epic novel to fill in the gaps in Miriam's story, following her from childhood to motherhood, obscurity to notoriety, and yearning to fulfillment as she learns that what God promises He provides--in His own perfect timing.

My Thoughts:
"Oh Adonai, help me to trust You more."  (p. 271)

This is the opening to a prayer Miriam prays later in the novel, but it represents the heart of the character throughout this novel.  Jill Eileen Smith has a fabulous way of bringing Biblical characters to life in a very realistic way!  She has many decades to cover, but from the time Moses is placed in a basket in the Nile, to end of life experiences on the other side of Exile, Miriam's story is filled with realistic challenges from beginning to end.

I was intrigued by the way she depicted life as an Egyptian slave - the daily challenges and how Moses' presence was always felt even from a distance.  When the plagues came, it was the first time I was aware of the correlation between the plagues and the Egyptian gods. Before it was clear that manna would be their daily sustenance, the fear of starving was palpable.  Throughout, Miriam remains a strong foundation of faith for her community, and often prays for understanding and wisdom when things appear impossible.

I also enjoyed the depiction of the close family ties and the challenges that such extended family groups presented during such a long arduous exile.  I'm glad to have an opportunity to consider that these people had no idea where they were going, much less that it would take decades to get there!  I forget that reality when I read scriptures.  Moses kept admonishing them that God was purifying their hearts through this process.  This makes me keenly aware that the redemptive process is a lifelong journey!  

Oh that I will trust God like Miriam!  Daily asking for wisdom and direction!  Can you tell I'm a HUGE fan of Jill Eileen Smith's work?  Her biblical fiction is superb!!  Enjoy!!


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 King and Star of Persia: Esther's Story. 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.

Saturday, March 13, 2021

facing the dawn by Cynthia Ruchti REVIEWED


 About the Book:

While her humanitarian husband Liam has been digging wells in Africa, Mara Jacobs has been struggling. She knows she's supposed to feel a warm glow that her husband is eight time zones away, caring for widows and orphans. But she is exhausted, working a demanding yet unrewarding job, trying to manage their three detention-prone and needy kids, failing at her to-repair list, and fading like a garment left too long in the sun.

Then Liam's three-year absence turns into something more, changing everything and plunging her into a sunless grief. As Mara struggles to find her footing, she discovers that even when hope is tenuous, faith is fragile, and the future is unknown, we can be sure we are not forgotten . . . or unloved.


My Thoughts:

"Sun can fade the fabric of life, but it can also make art." (p. 310)

Mara Jacobs, and her children share a home devoid of their father/husband.  The reality that her husband, Liam is doing a type of mission work doesn't make up for the stress of her everyday life with three teens that seem to be totally off the chain.  The financial strain, the emotional anxiety, the exhausting work hours seem to build into an overwhelming tidal wave.

When the tidal wave breaks over this family, it will steal your breath and break your heart.  There is a darkness that threatens to engulf them all.  God's grace lights a candle of hope when Mara's lifelong friend, Ashlee resurfaces in her life, and begins to gently coax life back into the family.  The changes that happen during the course of this novel are so realistic that your heart and emotions become truly vested in the lives of each character.

This novel will transform your life if you will open your heart to receive the gift that it offers. I was not prepared for the many things that happened between the pages of this story, but I will be forever grateful to Cynthia Rushti for writing it down.  Take your time, and savor this novel.  It is a rare gift.

About the Author:


Cynthia Ruchti is the award-winning author of more than 30 books, including the novels Miles from Where We Started, A Fragile Hope, Song of Silence, When the Morning Glory Blooms, and They Almost Always Come Home. Her books have been honored with more than 40 awards, including Romantic Times' Inspirational Novel of the Year, two Selah Awards, and three Christian Retailing's BEST Awards, and she has been a finalist for many others, including the Carol and the Christy. Former president of and current professional relations liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW), Cynthia lives in Wisconsin and can be found online at www.cynthiaruchti.com.

Sunday, February 21, 2021

Network of Deceit by Tom Threadgill REVEIWED


About the Book: 

She's following her instincts. They're following her every move.

After her rescue of nearly fifty kidnapped children made international headlines, Amara Alvarez gets what she's worked for: a transfer to San Antonio's Homicide Division. But reality sets in quickly when her first case, the suspicious death of a teenager at a crowded local water park, plunges her life into chaos.

As the investigation moves forward, Amara finds herself stalked online by cybercriminals who uncover her personal life in frightening detail. With few leads, she's forced to resort to unconventional methods to find the killer and prevent her first murder investigation from ending up in the cold case files.

My Thoughts:

"Are you in any danger?"  (p. 182)

Detective Amara Alvarez' mom asks the question everyone reading the novel is asking!  And, at the point the question is asked, there is no clear answer.  Amara is working her first homicide case, open and shut suicide, right?  Oh no!  Her instincts kick in immediately, and she begins to uncover a multi-layer cyber crime ring that is holding data hostage till the ransom is paid!  

Amara is a really great character, and she is devoted to her job.  While she begins digging into her first case, her personal life takes quite a few twists and turns as well.  She is also devoted to her large and very intertwined family, and is forced to learn to lean on their strength when her case threatens their safety.  Someone gains way too much information about her life and Amara has to take drastic action!

This is the first novel I've ever read by Tom Threadgill, but it won't be the last!  I really enjoyed getting to know the characters, and became invested in the outcome of the story almost immediately.  The story is paced in such a way that you can enjoy the ride, but remain on edge because the outcome is never clear.  I can honestly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a solid story!  I am a Threadgill fan for certain!


About the Author:

Tom Threadgill is a full-time author and a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the International Thriller Writers (ITW). The author of Collision of Lies, Tom lives with his wife near Dallas, Texas. Learn more at www.tomthreadgill.com.

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

All That We Carried by Erin Bartels - REVIEWED


About the Book:

The most treacherous terrain is found within

Ten years ago, sisters Olivia and Melanie Greene were on a hiking trip when their parents were in a fatal car accident. They haven't seen each other since the funeral. Olivia coped with the loss by plunging herself into law school, work, and a materialist view of the world--what you see is what you get, and that's all you get. Melanie dropped out of college and developed an online life coaching business around her DIY spirituality--a little of this, a little of that, whatever makes you happy.

Now, at Melanie's insistence (and against Olivia's better judgment), they are embarking on a hike in the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. In this remote wilderness they'll face their deepest fears, question their most dearly held beliefs, and begin to see that perhaps the best way to move forward is the one way they had never considered.

My Thoughts:
"No one had been left to fend for themselves amid the flames."  (p. 328)

When the hiking adventure begins between Olivia and Melanie Greene in this novel, there is enough unforgiveness and pent up bitterness to fuel the flames of another ten year separation.  There was more than one time during this journey that I was ready for the two of them to just give up and go home.  The reality of the loss faced by these two sisters is palpable!  I know people who have had less to work through that never came close to the transparency these two long for.

Erin Bartels is a gifted story teller, and draws the reader into a storyline that seems rather insurmountable.  If you've ever been camping even one night, you know right away that these two sisters picked the worst possible way to try and reconnect!  But God....doesn't He always work through all of our seemingly impossible circumstances?  Both Olivia and Melanie face some ugly truths on their journey, but they discover a quiet, solid presence at work amid the wreckage of their relationship.

There are those who will come to this story with an open mind, but leave shaking their head at how God is present in the smallest details of the story - always for the greater good.  I will tell you with unshakable certainty that Erin Bartels has experienced this unexpected grace in her own life to be able to write about it in such a believable way!  I found myself saying, "amen!" right out loud throughout the last couple of chapters!  

This story will challenge your faith, your relationships and your very heart to reach deep inside and ask God to show you where He is working in your own life!  Look for Him!  He's walking around in the midst of the flames!

About the Author:

Erin Bartels is the award-winning author of We Hope for Better Things (2020 Michigan Notable Book, 2020 WFWA Star Award-winner, 2019 Christy Award finalist) and The Words between Us (2020 Christy Award finalist, 2015 WFWA Rising Star Award finalist). Her short story, "This Elegant Ruin," was a finalist in the Saturday Evening Post Great American Fiction Contest in 2014, and her poetry has been published by The Lyric. A publishing professional for 18 years, she is the director of WFWA's annual writers retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico. She lives in Lansing, Michigan, with her husband, Zachary, and their son. Find her online at www.erinbartels.com.

 

Thursday, December 17, 2020

I Was Called Barabbas by M.D. House - REVIEWED

About the Book:  

We know precious little of the man called Barabbas, a contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth. He is variously described in the historical record as thief, murderer, rebel, and notable Roman prisoner. His release by the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate was part of the supernal plan for the Christ to offer himself as the ultimate blood sacrifice, but it’s doubtful Barabbas understood any of that at the time.Many have wondered what became of him, or rather, who he became after that fateful day. Someday we will know the answer, but in the meantime we can imagine that, like all of us, he too sought a path of personal redemption, imperfectly.

My Thoughts:

I am guilty.  If this Jesus that my wife believes in can truly forgive sins, he won’t forgive mine.  Not all of them, anyway.  I have earned my just reward in the deepest pit of Sheol.”  (p.87) 

Barabbas is a man few have considered over time.  He received his freedom as Christ took his place on the cross, but how his life played out for the rest of his days -who knows?  M.D. House uses this man’s life as a jumping off place for his imagination, and, after blending it with historical details, produces a story that will touch and challenge a believer’s heart. 

I was captivated by all of the twists and turns of the story.  This author really thinks of every practical challenge that Barabbas would face as a man trying to rebuild a life after being set free from prison. The placement of a believing wife walking by his side was a stroke of genius, because the faith of the early believers seemed almost contagious!  Yet Barabbas, even after witnessing many miraculous things, struggles with his own ability to receive the gift of grace that Jesus’ life offers him.

 Barabbas’ struggle was convicting to me, because I’ve struggled mightily in this same area.  Like Barabbas, no matter how many times God blesses me throughout my life, there is a part of me that is always waiting for justice to come calling.  I’ve had spiritual directors and counselors leading me out of those lies and toward God’s truth, and, like Barabbas, it is not an easy journey. 

I applaud M.D House for such an amazing story, and I am thrilled that I will be able to follow Barabbas on his journey as he continues to walk out his faith.  The early Church was a very challenging place to grow your faith, and not everyone survived the challenge. I’m thrilled to discover this author and eagerly await his next work!

About the Author:

M.D. House enjoyed a successful first career in the mysterious world of Corporate Finance, but creating and telling stories (and NOT about Finance) was his true love. His first full-length novel was a sci-fi work called "Patriot Star." His second was historical fiction about the life of Barabbas, titled "I Was Called Barabbas." Sequels to both are coming soon.

Writing isn't just fun for him, it's an important way to share his passion, beliefs and vision with family, friends, and anyone else who loves great storytelling with powerful human perspective and emotion.


 

Monday, November 30, 2020

A View from Amy Willoughby-Burle's window! a year of thorns and honey.....


 Having never read your novels, I was immediately caught up in the lives of Nina and her family.  Can you tell me what inspired this set of characters?

This novel actually started as a short story that appears in my collection, Out Across the Nowhere. I most often get an image or a line of dialogue pop into my head and the story forms around it. It's like seeing something shiny poking out from the dirt and then brushing, digging, pulling until you get the whole thing up.  The spark for this one was actually a memory inside a memory wrapped around something fictional. Nina appeared to me as me, inside a Texaco bathroom while on a trip to Disney world with her family, only she wasn't a child and her father had died. I thought, wait, that's not me. Who is that? What happened? And it grew from there. I started to "hear the voices in my head," which my mother thought sounded like I might be crazy, but writers know what I mean. The voices were Lola and Ray, her brother and sister. I also have one brother and one sister, so the dynamic was familiar, but Lola and Ray are not my brother and sister. I started writing to find out the story for myself. That's the fun part for a writer. We don't know what's going to happen either.

What character are you most drawn to in this novel, and why?

I think my favorite character is Oliver--Father Finley. I love that he's so human and at the same time so much a source of peace and comfort representing the church and Christ. I think he's  funny and real and he reminds me how approachable Christ is to us. I like that he represents the ability to have a very personal relationship with God.

Will there be more stories built around this same set of characters in the future?  Are you already at work on another story?

Well, actually, this is a stand-alone follow-up to The Lemonade Year where we first meet all these characters. You can totally read The Year of Thorns and Honey by itself, but it's actually the second in a series. And yes, I am already working on book 3! It will likely be a stand-alone as well, but totally the continuation of this book.  I think of them as season on a show--back in the day before you could binge watch the whole thing on Netflix. You might come to something in season 2 and be able to follow right along.

Can you share a bit about your own writing process?  Do you outline? Do you let your characters tell the story? 

Yes and yes. But the other way around. I let the characters tell me  quite a bit about the story in their own order and time and then once I think I have a handle on what's happening, then I start outlining and piecing things together, filling in the gaps.

How long have you been writing?  Tell readers a bit about your journey to publication.

I have always known I wanted to be a writer. When I was a child, my grandmother used to tell me the continued stories of Hansel and Gretel. They were elaborate and wonderful. I asked her one day what book they were in because I wanted to read them again. She said. "Oh, sweetie, I'm just making these up as I go along."  That blew my world wide open. As an eight-year-old, it hadn't occurred to me that anyone could write a story. I already loved to read. Books were my jam. I just didn't know that anyone could write one. I started writing right away. I would get a diary and number all the pages and "write a book." 

I wrote all through middle school and then in high school I discovered boys and forgot about writing for a while. (Ladies, boys are nice and all, but don't forget who you are.) I came back to it full force in college when I "sneaked" and took a writing class instead of something more practical. I was hooked all over again. I started writing short fiction. I took more and more of those writing classes and after I graduated, I kept working on the craft. Life moved forward and there were seasons where I wrote more and wrote less. After my first child was born in late 2001 I really got serious about publishing. I published my first story in 2006. (This is not a fast industry.) I published about a dozen more in various journals. In 2012, I had a collection published. By that time, I was also working on novel length stories. Most things come to me as short pieces and some of them keep nudging at me to dig deeper.  That shiny object is sometimes bigger than I think it is. I got an agent in Dec of 2015, Julie Gwinn of The Seymour Agency, and she has been my champion since then.  The Lemonade Year came out in 2018. Now, this one in 2020. She has about four other novels of mine that she's shopping around and there are more in the works even.

What words of encouragement would you like to share with your readers?

When you feel drawn to something, when you're naturally "good" at it or inclined toward it--I believe that thing is a gift from God. I believe that he gave you that thing--whatever it is-- singing, writing, crafting, organizing, dancing, teaching, even math(ing) to be used to lead people to Him. So don't let mom (or dad!) guilt, laundry, the opinions of others or whatever it is, keep you from exploring and using that gift. It's not about being great at it, it's about doing and dealt her another blow--but she keeps on looking up. Keep looking up. This--mess we're all in it with a passion for people and for Christ. Also, life is wonky right now to say the least. My mom said of the title of my new book as it applies to 2020, "enough of the thorns, let's see the honey." Then life went together-- it too shall pass. God is in control and He is ever with us. I love that we're headed into the Christmas season. Boy do we need to be reminded of the gift of Christ right now. He is ours and we are His.


Please visit Amy's website to learn more about her books!  You will be so glad you did!!