Listen Up

"Listen Up" is a 13-week study on Jesus's parables - but with a twist. This is specifically written to be used for family devotions. Each chapter contains five nights of Scripture reading, discussion prompts, and insightful questions meant to draw out both parents and children. Occasionally there are suggested activities to enhance your understanding of a particular story, but for the most part each of the nightly topics could be covered in about 10 minutes.

I have enjoyed reading the book and getting a clearer picture on some of the parables myself. For example, in Week 5 Machowski tells us, "The parables are designed to help us examine our own lives." That makes a lot of sense, but I don't think I'd ever heard it put quite that way before!

The truths are written simply and clearly. Chapter 8 opens with: "This week we will learn that God is the most generous giver of all, so we can trust Him to give us what we need and follow His example in sharing what we have with others." This is an important lesson and one we cannot hear too often, even as adults.

There's a solid emphasis on evangelism within the home as well as reaching out to others. The goal really is to have Truth sink deep into the hearts of our young ones, making sure they know this is all about what's inside and not an act that someone can put on. I found this quote from Week 3 to be quite thought-provoking: "Treasuring Jesus is not just about the words we say, or how good we took on Sunday. Treasuring Jesus is about what's inside your heart; do you really love Jesus and want to live for Him?"

I would certainly recommend this for families everywhere who desire to grow closer to Jesus together. The questions and discussion prompts always promote parents sharing from their own life experiences, which is sure to help make these things more real for their children. What a great resource!

I received my copy of the book from the publisher. All thoughts in this review are my own.

As a fan of science fiction and some dystopian, I was interested in trying out this story. The premise is that once upon a time some humans felt the need to escape a worldwide pandemic by introducing pig genes into their own genetic makeup. They then further cut themselves off from the rest of the world by building an electromagnetic aegis, except now the aegis is beginning to collapse and only a few are paying attention to the problem.

Sixteen-year-old Amy grew up outside the aegis, and has been taught all her life that the people of New Lithisle are soulless abominations who deserve the fiery death which will soon rain down upon them. One day when she's scavenging with her father he does something she cannot understand - he pushes her through the aegis, into New Lithisle, and she is trapped.

Uncertain what to do, Amy does her best to figure out why her father has sent her to this place. Especially since she's somewhat of a celebrity there, as she's the missing biological daughter of the woman behind the scientific modifications. Amy is scrappy and determined that no matter who captures her or tries to turn her in to the authorities, she will find a way to make it home.

I wanted to like this story more than I actually did. The plot was extremely scattered. For instance, I couldn't understand how New Lithisle was so huge and travel so inconvenient, yet Amy and company were able to travel all over the place for the whole of the book. Characters did things just for the sake of doing them, not because it was consistent with who they were or pertinent to the story. Sometimes characters who had seemed important disappeared so suddenly that I had to go back later to find their exit because I'd actually missed it on the first pass. There was way too much romance for a teen book, and more violence than I was expecting, though it was not gory. 

I could not see this story being interesting to its intended audience. I have teenage siblings and I teach teenagers every day, and I could not picture very many of them reading this. Nor could I recommend it to them. I feel that if you already like dystopian you'd enjoy it, but in general I would have other recommendations before this one, such as Krista McGee's Anomaly.

All Things Now Living Rondi Bauer Olson

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Atlanta lawyer Kate Sullivan is lead counsel on a case against Mason Pharmaceuticals. The Big Pharma company is accused of releasing a drug that they knew caused deadly brain tumors, and Kate is being thorough and serious in getting ready for the trial. When she's contacted by a woman named Ellie Proctor who says she has additional information, Kate is skeptical but willing to meet. Ellie doesn't make the meeting, however - she is mysteriously murdered in a parking garage. 

Kate hires private investigator Landon James to look into Ellie's death, and meanwhile confers with the defense attorney Ethan Black, who happens to be a former law school classmate and close friend. She's convinced there is more to this more to this, but Ethan insists that Ellie's death is a random act of violence. 

The situation escalates as Kate begins having threats brought against her own safety. Landon becomes increasingly involved in protecting Kate, who wants to keep the police out of things as much as possible. He can't believe she remains grounded, full of faith and purpose, as things keep heating up. 

 don't read many suspense novels because it's not my favorite genre, but I enjoyed this one a lot. The legal side of things did not feel over my head, the pacing was good, and the characters were never predictable. I would definitely read more from this author in the future!

I received my copy of the book from 
LitFuse Publicity. All opinions in this review are my own. If you would like to see what other people are saying about "Deadly Proof," click here.

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Michael R. Emlet draws on his years of experience both as a family physician and counselor to present a tool for people in ministry everywhere. Whether you are a pastor, church leader, or lay person interested in learning more about psychiatric diagnoses and the uses of medication, you will enjoy Emlet's balanced and Biblical perspective on this difficult topic.

In the first half of the book, Emlet discusses the what the DSM is, how it has changed over the years, and what a diagnosis may or may not mean for an individual. In the second half he dives into the issue of medication, and trying to find the wise balance of when to consider using medication to go alongside other areas of treatment. I thought this was a great point in Chapter 14: "It is important to remember that we exist as body-spirit creatures. We are simultaneously body and soul. There's never a time we're not spiritually engaged. And there's never a time we are not bodily engaged. This means that attention to both physical and spiritual aspects of our personhood is mandatory in ministry." 

I liked how Emlet made a point that if a person has a psychiatric diagnosis, that's not so different from a person who may have a physical diagnosis. Someone may be battling cancer, but they themselves are not cancer. It's similar with mental issues, in the fact that someone may suffer from bipolar disorder, but that does not define who they are. They are still a human being in need of a Savior and compassionate interaction with fellow men. "A diagnosis, if present, is one of many starting points for ministry, and certainly not an end point," Emlet encourages in Chapter 8.

As each individual person is different, so will be treatment for any needs in the life of that individual. There is no perfect or universal treatment for any of these things, and one must seek God's guidance. I liked how multi-faceted health and wholeness was presented as the goal. This line in Chapter 13 seemed to sum it up beautifully: "...As believers we hope not only for symptom reduction but also tangible growth in love for God and love for people." As far as the book itself, it is informative and easy to read, with extensive footnotes for people who might like to further investigate this subject. The chapters are short so that a reader will not feel overwhelmed by the information. I would recommend book to anyone interested in better understanding these things and equipping themselves to help those in our paths who have these needs.

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity. All opinions in this review are my own. If you would like to see what other people are saying about "Descriptions and Prescriptions," click here.

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The Ohio-Kentucky frontier was a fierce and often frightening place to be in 1774. Clare Inglesby is reluctantly traveling west with her adventure-seeking husband when tragedy strikes. Philip is killed, their four-year-old son Jacob disappears, and she is left alone in the wilderness with a brand new baby. Determined to find Jacob no matter the odds, Clare is forced to depend on the kindness of one man to escort her into the foreign world of the native Indians.

Jeremiah Ring has a past full of mystery and is now able to fully blend in with either Indian or white man. He can't abandon Clare after he finds her in the middle of the woods, not when he may be the only one who can help her. Especially not once he realizes that his Indian family may be the key to discovering Jacob's whereabouts.

I have heard so many good things about Lori Benton's books! While I love historical fiction, I must admit I'm most drawn to nineteenth and twentieth century tales, so the intense wilderness theme and strong Native American plotline did not engage me as it might other readers. Another thing that detracted from the novel for me was the fact that the author took so long in spelling out the characters' backstories that I felt like I did not know them, and had stopped caring by the time the revelation came. I also could not relate to Clare at all. My favorite relationship within the story was Jeremiah's devotion to baby Pippa, which I felt was sadly under-utilized.

This novel is a deep well of loss, pain, fighting, determination, and learning to trust God and others when everything in life is beyond our control. I can see why its depth would speak to many.  Due to how interested I became in some of the minor characters I will definitely be reading more of this author's work in the future.

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity. All opinions in this review are my own. If you would like to see what other people are saying about "Many Sparrows," click here.

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It's 1914 in England and loyalties are being questioned as Europe braces for war. Peter Holstein is under suspicion of being a spy due to his German heritage and his friendship with the British monarchy. This peaceful man with a stuttering tongue has done nothing to endanger his country, but he does have secrets. He's a novelist publishing under the name Branok Hollow, and he keeps to himself to have plenty of time to write letters and tinker with his current manuscript.

Rosemary Gresham grew up a London street urchin and has done what it takes to survive. Now an accomplished thief, Rosemary delights in the challenge of each new and difficult job she's hired to do. When the mysterious and well-paying Mr. V secures her services to prove Peter Holstein has ties to Germany, Rosemary sets off for his Cornwall estate to pass herself off as a librarian.

While Peter is thrilled to have help putting his family's papers in order, Rosemary is ever mindful of the information she is seeking to uncover for Mr. V. The Holstein family have been book hoarders for years, and Rosemary's task is no small one. Her curiosity grows as she observes Peter locked in his study day after day, where she can hear him using his typewriter for hours at a time. What is he typing? While Rosemary finds Peter a kind and gentle man, he comes under more suspicion every day and pressure mounts for her to produce the evidence of where his allegiance lies.

This was a fun and captivating novel! I enjoyed the glimpse into this particular time in history and the real historical figures who make appearances. Roseanna M. White's new Shadows Over England series is off to a promising start. Book 2 releases in January!

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity. All opinions in this review are my own. If you would like to see what other people are saying about "A Name Unknown," click here.

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The idea behind this book drew me in right away. Life requires bravery, and sometimes an immense amount of it! I was hoping to find encouragement and wisdom within these pages, and it came through above and beyond my expectations.

Lee Wolfe Blum shares many stories from her own life and the lives of women who have faced many of the hard things we fear. Abuse. Husbands with addictions. Family members with personalty disorders. Health crises. Loss of dreams. Loss of loved ones. Heartbreaking stories of things we wish did not exist in our world. Yet we face them every day, in our own lives or the lives of those around us. These things often don't make for polite conversation and they certainly aren't seen on social media. How can you live bravely and honestly when you feel the world doesn't have a place for your story?

One can start by recognizing that your story is valuable and you are not alone. We need each other, and we do not win by keeping these things to ourselves. As the author says in chapter 12: "When [the Enemy] makes us feel like we can't share the most broken parts of ourselves with one another, he wins. If I'm afraid of what you might say or think about my choices or decisions, if I believe that you can't understand, I stay alone in my pain." Please don't stay alone. Share with someone trustworthy and you will immediately begin to feel a difference in the weight of these things. I loved the wisdom from this quote on page 58: "Telling our stories is only the beginning of the healing process, but as the first step, it's often the hardest."

I felt the author did an excellent job being real and focusing on healing while not glorifying pain and tragedy. These things are hard, but they are not all there is, and we need to remember that. It's part of being brave and making the best choices we can even if we don't like the options. We don't stay stuck. We reach for Jesus, we reach for our community, and we be brave. I found something thought-provoking in every chapter, but I especially loved the last two where the author explored the importance of realizing God is not through with our stories and that we need to be cheering one another along the way. This is so important, and it's where we can find the courage to go on one step at a time. "To think we don't face this choice between life and death every day is denial. We need to talk about this. This is why we need a Savior and why we need one another. Real life is hard stuff." (page 202)

I would recommend this to all the brave, beautiful women in my life who need to know they are seen, loved, and appreciated. We are in this together.

I received my copy of the book from
LitFuse Publicity. All opinions in this review are my own. If you would like to see what other people are saying about "Brave is the New Beautiful," click here.

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Regency stories always catch my eye, as I've been a fan of Jane Austen since I was 13. This is the debut novel of an Australian author, with more works soon to follow in her Legacy of Grace series.

Miss Lavinia Ellison lost her mother as a young child, and having been raised by her reverend father and society-spurning aunt, is more interested in helping her poor neighbors than trying to find a mate. The new Lord Hawkesbury arrives to settle in to his country estate, and while some local lasses hope to catch his eye, the only thing Lavinia desires is that their paths never cross again.

When I picked up this book I was hoping to find something I would truly enjoy, but I was put off very early on. Miss Ellison is meant to come across as refreshingly spirited and candid, but to me she appeared contentious and even mean. She didn't care if her words hurt people, which seemed at odds with the fact that she was supposed to have such a big heart. I finally began understanding her character about 200 pages in to the story, but that's when the plot began going the way of the trope and it became difficult to read once again.

From my point of view, the author did a good job with the spiritual side of the story, with imperfect characters who come to know more of God in a natural way and begin seeking to grow in Him. I think I personally would have enjoyed the novel more if perhaps the characters hadn't been quite so imperfect at the start.

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity. All opinions in this review are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "The Elusive Miss Ellison," click here.

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The Elusive Miss Ellison Carolyn Miller

This was my first novel by Jocelyn Green, but I was intrigued the moment I read its premise. A young midwife, after being falsely convicted for the death of a client, is able to have her prison sentence commuted if she will join a convoy of those going to help populate Louisiana in 1719. Leaving her native France and everything she knows in the hope that she might be able to find her brother who disappeared in Lousiana two years earlier, Julianne sets out on a lifelong journey which will be much more than she could have imagined.

From the very beginning, John Law and the Company of the Indies has more planned for the immigrants, who are mostly orphans and prisoners, than they were aware. Before they set sail, Julianne and the rest of the women are forced to choose husbands from among the men. The goal of the Company is to have as many French babies born in Louisiana as possible, bolstering the population and their claim on the colony. Julianne is wed to Simon, a kind man but also a firebrand willing to stand up to the oppression they find themselves under.

Life is hard during the journey and as they settle in to their new home. Julianne can't find anyone who knows anything about her brother, but she begs Simon to be on the lookout as he ventures farther from New Orleans with the employment he's found. Meanwhile Julianne tries to start up a midwifery practice and face the memories of the last birth she attended and all the pain that has stemmed from that day.

The loss in this book is heartbreaking and yet realistic. Everyone in the story faces so much grief and hurt as they try to forge a life in this untamed land. Green does an amazing job with the sights, sounds, and smells of eighteenth century Louisiana, as well as the range of emotions our characters experience. This is a thick book, but I never wanted to put it down. I will certainly be looking to read more stories from this author in the future!

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity. All opinions in this review are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "The Mark of the King," click here.

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As a fan of Regency fiction, I was drawn to this book not only by the setting but also by the first line of the back cover. "Since her assault, Miss Annette Chetwynd has been plagued by nightmares and worries about an arranged marriage." This was definitely a unique concept - I have never read anything from this period that dealt with a woman's physical assault or how it might affect her. If handled with grace, what a great story that could be! My expectations were almost immediately dashed, however, when I discovered that this is not actually what the story is about. From the beginning Annette has no fears of an arranged marriage or even meeting men; in fact, she is plotting how to escape from her chaperon to have one-on-one conversations with gentlemen at a party in the very first chapter.

I was also dismayed at the inconsistent behavior of our main characters. For example, when we first hear of the chaperon it seems as though Lucy is one of the biggest annoyances in Annette's life and we are set up to dislike her, yet a few scenes later we find Annette actually views Lucy as a close friend. This kind of thing happened multiple times throughout the novel and made the characters seem unresolved and waffling.

I found a few historical inaccuracies in the text, and more than a few grammatical errors. It bothered me that the Lord's name was taken in vain, and that a minor character prayed by name to a voodoo god. I did read the book all the way through, and I can say it was full of twists and turns. It was clear that the author is a dedicated Christian who desires to use her writing to glorify God. I wish her well as she grows in craft and experience.

Starving Hearts Janine Mendenhall

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "Starving Hearts," click here.

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The margrave of Thornbeck finds himself ordered by the king to find a bride, and preferably one who will strengthen his allies with neighboring noblemen. Deciding the most expedient way to do so would be to hold a two-week house party with carefully designed tests for ten young women to pass, he opens his home and invites them in. Lord Thornbeck has a past shrouded with some mystery and pain, and his goals for leading a quiet and unobtrusive life are challenged with the thought of taking a wife.

When the earl of Plimmwald's daughter cannot take part in Lord Thornbeck's quest to find a bride, he orders her servant Avelina to take up Lady Dorothea's identity and go in her place. He needs to keep his alliance with Thornbeck strong due to threats of invation. He has two edicts for Avelina: don't let anyone find out she's masquerading, and don't attract Lord Thornbeck's attention because of course it would be treacherous and impossible for him to marry a servant.

Avelina only wants to obey her lord and get through these two weeks so she will be able to take care of her crippled father and younger siblings who are relying on her. She finds herself unable to imitate Lady Dorothea's forward and proud ways and decides that being herself will be the best option. Surely Lord Thornbeck isn't interested in someone who is opinionated and believes that servants should be treated with respect and that marriage should involve being loved and cherished. While she can't help noticing that Lord Thornbeck is very handsome and that there's a tender heart underneath his gruff and imposing exterior, she knows he must not choose her and tries in every way to promote kind Lady Magdalen, a young woman who has become a fast friend.

Lord Thornbeck was positive he did not want an opinionated wife, but Lady Dorothea captures his attention immediately with her straightforward and humble ways. As she and Lady Magdalen continue passing each test to find a compassionate and worthy wife, his admiration for both of them grows and he seeks them out more and more.

Danger is lurking in the old castle. One of the guests is part of a plot to kill Lord Thornbeck and overthrow his realm. As the crucial night for Lord Thornbeck to choose a wife draws near, who will he pick? Will any of them survive the planned attack?

I thought Melanie Dickerson outdid herself with this book. I loved the characters, their personalities, and the fast-paced excitement. The tension was extremely well-written and everyone's motivations were clear and easily understood. I was quite uncertain about how the book would end until the last pages. This book is a sequel to The Huntress of Thornbeck Forest but also works as a stand alone title. If you enjoy medieval stories or fairy tales, I can't recommend this author enough. This particular story seemed to be part Beauty and the Beast, part the Biblical story of Esther, with distinct nods to ABC's The Bachelor and Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre. Intriguing and delightful!

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "The Beautiful Pretender," click here.

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Inheriting the new title of margrave means Reinhart has two weeks to find a noble bride. What will happen when he learns he has fallen for a lovely servant girl in disguise? Find out in the new medieval fairy tale, The Beautiful Pretender, by Melanie Dickerson. Despite Avelina’s best attempts at diverting attention from herself, the margrave has taken notice. And try as she might, she can’t deny her own growing feelings. But something else is afoot in the castle. Something sinister that could have far worse—far deadlier—consequences. Will Avelina be able to stop the evil plot? And at what cost?

Join Melanie in celebrating the release of The Beautiful Pretender by entering to win her Once Upon a Kindle giveaway!

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One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A copy of The Beautiful Pretender

  • A Kindle Fire tablet

  • A $25 Amazon gift card

  • The choice between a Funko POP Disney Beauty or Beast doll

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Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry! The giveaway ends on June 7th. The winner will be announced June 8th on Melanie's blog.

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If you are looking for something on the lighter side to read as we are getting ready for summer, Victoria Bylin's latest novel might be for you. Set at a struggling resort in California, "Someone Like You" is the story of general manager Zeke as he tries to put some life into the place he loves, and how he reconnects with his college girlfriend, who is now an event planner. The years since college have changed both Zeke and Julia a lot. Zeke has lost his faith in God and puts his whole purpose into his work, while Julia has become a Christian after a string of bad decisions left her at the end of herself.

When the owners of Caliente Springs ask Zeke to pull off a wedding for 500 guests on only 30 days' notice, he immediately hires Julia to help him. Knowing that the future of the resort could be riding on how well they handle this task, the two join forces with determination to save Caliente Springs and to stave off their returning feelings for one another.

This is the first time I've read this author, and in order to be honest I have to tell you that I was not impressed with her writing style. It was cliche and over-the-top to be point of being nauseating. There was not much subtlety and a whole lot of telling instead of showing. "Her breath synchronized with his in a moment so raw her cheeks burned," and "She was so beautiful in white that the earth itself seemed to hold its breath" were two especially bad descriptive sentences. They don't even make sense, and unfortunately there were many others like them throughout the book. I also strongly disliked the heavy use of generalizations that the author used when describing Zeke, such as, "He didn't want to go to war with anyone, but when an enemy showed up in the camp, a dedicated leader stood up to him." Zeke self-reflected in those kinds of terms constantly, weighing what "a real man" would do, and it was quite annoying.

I will say that this book was not as predictable as I thought it would be. It managed to surprise me a few times. I also liked how Zeke's love for geodes turned out to be a metaphor for his spiritual life. That was probably my favorite aspect of the story.

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "Someone Like You," click here.

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Lucy Tuttle has proudly carried on her father's legacy as a music teacher, finding every ounce of fulfillment from living out her passion. When her school decides that music education will go the way of the RIF (Reduction In Force), Lucy is devastated to be shuffled ingloriously off to early retirement. It doesn't help that her husband has suddenly decided that his passion is starting an earthworm farm - in their basement!

While struggling with depression from the loss of her job, Lucy's adult children shake things up by requesting to move back home. Lucy sees a counselor to help with the many ongoing adjustments, and gets connected with a book club that turns out to be a unique group of life-affirming women who are just what Lucy needs.

For most of this story I found myself thinking that this was not a book really suited for where I am in my life. Different stories resonate louder with some people or during some seasons of life than others, and there's nothing wrong with that. I couldn't relate very well to Lucy just because I hadn't experienced a lot of the things that were bothering her, and I felt like our personalities were very different so I didn't always understand the choices she made. The story is well-written and I did find myself taking note of several quotes, such as when Lucy's deaf daughter-in-law tells her, "When God gives us no other option, He also gives exceptional grace." Cynthia Ruchti is known as a writer of hope, and while I might not have completely related to Lucy, I felt the tug of that hope because hope is universal.

Lucy finds she is never safe from challenges and adjustments, and when an accident forces her into a time of personal silence she learns much about the passion of her soul. I thought the last portion of this book really shone as Lucy goes through a time of reflection and growth.

Cynthia Ruchti is one of those writers whose works I never want to miss. There's a richness to what she writes, a depth that calls out to the deeper parts in the reader. This title might not have connected quite as well with me, but I'd still recommend both her fiction and non-fiction any day.

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "Song of Silence," click here.

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As the music fades and a chasm separates her from the passion of her heart, will Lucy's faith song go silent, too? Find out in Cynthia Ruchti's new book, Song of Silence. The musical score of her life seems to be missing all the notes. When a simple misstep threatens to silence Lucy forever, a young boy and his soundless mother change the way she sees—and hears—everything.

Celebrate the release of Song of Silence with a blog tour and giveaway. Two winners will be chosen!

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One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A copy of Song of Silence

  • A $150 Visa cash card

One second place winner will receive:

  • A copy of Song of Silence

  • A music-themed prize pack filled with goodies hand-picked by Cynthia

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry! The giveaway ends on May 9th. The winners will be announced May 10th on Cynthia's blog.


This is a book that takes a very, very honest look at pain and redemption and asks: What does redemption look like? Can everything be redeemed? There are so many horrors in the world, and whether they are atrocities on the other side of the world or the private horrors that lurk within our own homes, where is God?

I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone who wasn't ready for the honesty. A lot of people aren't. But if you know what it's like to look at life's ruins and wonder what it's all about, this could be a book that would help you. I found a lot of good things here, but I also disagreed with a good portion of the theology, so I can't really give it a full endorsement anyway. Use your own discernment about this and all reading choices.

It is so hard to wait for redemption for life's circumstances. "Sometimes it feels as if God has invited Himself into my pain, when I had hoped to be invited in His healing," Matt Bays says on page 133. I'm so glad we can know God is with us in the pain, but it certainly is a journey to keep believing in the hard moments. We'd like our lives to be beautiful and free of hard things, like glitter-coated rainbows that children might draw. I thought this was an interesting quote from Chapter 5: "I think God has grown weary of our drawings of rainbows... "Let's put these away for now," I can imagine God saying as He takes our brightly colored crayons and places them high on a shelf where we can no longer get at them. "This picture of your life isn't really accurate anyway, is it?" He asks, dumping our bowl of glitter into the trash. "I'd really love to see what you can do with these." He is holding out some of the drabbest crayons we've ever seen, a fist filled with the colors of alone."

Often we don't get to choose the circumstances which cause our pain. Abuse doesn't ask permission, tragedy comes uninvited, and the world is harsh. The ruins of our lives could very well be not of our own making, and balancing that with the belief that God allows these terrible things is more than some can take. This author almost decided to throw God out, but his quest for the redemption of his pain kept leading him back to God. "Each of us has a calling that comes from the core ache within us - a calling to write with our lives the beautiful stories of God's redemption," he shares in Chapter 17. Just like we don't get to choose our pain, we also don't get to choose our redemption. Our redemption may come not by a miraculous resolution of our problems - although God is capable and may provide that. It may come by allowing our pain and the fact that we survived it by His grace to be a beacon to others, a lighthouse of glory showing that even in the ruins His love is there.

My favorite chapter was the one called "Someone Else's Story," because it talks about how telling our stories honestly can bring healing. I really cheered through that chapter. Unfortunately I could not cheer throughout the whole book, but I will be taking the highlights with me on my own healing journey.

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I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "Finding God in the Ruins," click here.

I think you could say that Kara Tippetts has become one of my heroes. This courageous woman faced aggressive metastasized cancer in her late 30s, and although it did claim her life in 2015, she never stopped seeking to glorify God and exhort others through their own times of hard. This book is a collection of Kara's blog posts over the final years of her life, the years she was fighting cancer. It is a beautiful look into the heart of a woman who loved God and her family well even through such awful devastation. I first met Kara in her book The Hardest Peace, and I would recommend both that book and this one to all who are struggling with what life has brought them.

"In our many different ways, we're all living in the desperation of life that hasn't turned out like we'd planned," Kara says on page 155. Kara never focused solely on the shattered dreams of her own life. She recognized that there are hard things for each of us in this world, and the way she wrote allows us to connect our pain and difficulty with her words of encouragement. That's what makes these books such precious gifts, because these words meet us in our deep needs and fears. "We are all desperately afraid of what's hard, but once we face it, it's possible we find a new joy we hadn't known before." (Page 131)

Kara speaks emphatically on the importance of love, specifically loving well. "Love matters, always." That simple sentence from page 236 makes a great motto. Our relationships should always be marked by love, even when they are difficult and it has to be tough love. Hopefully most of our relationships are positive, life-giving ones that build each other up. That is important for when hard times arrive, as I agree with Kara's point on page 171: "The investment in love you make today will affect your tomorrows. Suffering will come, I promise. Work at building the foundation so when the storms come, you can stand, together."

My favorite chapter was the one called Five Thoughts on Dying Well. They're five really good thoughts for those of us who want to live well, too. Kara's perspective on "the long goodbye" of cancer makes you stop and think about your own priorities and goals. What is important? Am I doing those things? Am I living well so that one day, may God be gracious that it be many years from now, I can die well?

None of us are guaranteed more than today. We do take it for granted that we'll have more, and it's not wrong to have hopes, dreams, and goals for the future. But don't let those stand in the way of intentional living today. We have today. What are we going to do with it? "A bucket list? No, I don't need one. I'm so rich. It's relationships that matter. And for me, paying attention to the precious gift of today is the only thing on my list." (Page 113)

Kara bravely faced death and leaves behind a legacy of love for her husband, her four young children, her friends, and those who only know her through her written words. She lived well. May our own lives be marked by such grace and beauty even amidst the hard.

Join the Flock! Litfuse Publicity Group blogger

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "And It Was Beautifu," click here.

Miranda Wimplegate's family runs a discreet and prestigious auction house in Boston, but when they accidentally auction off the wrong painting they must brave a trip to Missouri to recover it in this second book of the Ozark Mountain Romance Series. Miranda decides to accompany her grandfather on the journey, as his ability to think and reason has been slipping recently, and she's also anxious to avoid Cousin Cornelius and his recent talk of marriage.

The Wimplegates have traced the mistakenly sold painting to its destination in Hart County, and when they find out the local auction house is for sale, they purchase it sight unseen and ask that nothing is sold until their arrival. Nothing could have prepared Miranda and Elmer to arrive and find that Hart County's action house doesn't deal in antiques and art, but rather noisy, smelly, dirty livestock.

The Ballentine family has managed the livestock auction for years, and Wyatt has been attempting to save up enough money to buy it, although his skirt-chasing brother Isaac has found ways to sabotage his dreams. Now Wyatt is frustrated to have a fragile elderly man and his quietly stubborn and highly cultured granddaughter trying to step in to something they know nothing about. Especially since it's clear they are concealing the real reason they are in Missouri, and that they are subtly searching for something specific.

With Elmer's mental troubles causing more problems by the day, mysterious men creeping around the neighborhood, and the distinct lack of the painting they are trying to find, Miranda slowly begins to accept help from the rugged and hardworking Wyatt. But Isaac has told her things about Wyatt that make her uncertain that he is who he presents himself to be. Which brother is trustworthy in this strange backwood country she's found herself in? And where in the world is the missing painting?

This book reminded me so much of the work of the favorite author of my childhood, Stephen Bly. The mix-ups in the plot, the relationship between the main characters, the delightful scene-stealing minor characters, and the humor all brought happy associations to my mind. This was one of the most enjoyable books I've read this year and it thoroughly drew me in and captured my senses. Although it's the second book in a series it works as a stand alone, as it is set 8 years after the first one and only gives a few mentions to the main characters from "A Most Inconvenient Marriage." I'm very much looking forward to the third book in this series!

Join the Flock! Litfuse Publicity Group blogger

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "At Love's Bidding," click here.

At Love's Bidding Regina Jennings

What would you tell your younger self if you could travel back in time and change your biggest regrets? In this new release by James L. Rubart, main character Brock Matthews gets that chance. Brock is experimenting with lucid dreaming when he realizes that each encounter with himself in his dreams has changed his reality. Sometimes for the better, but sometimes his choices have far-reaching negative consequences.

Brock's biggest regrets are never bridging the gap in his relationship with his father, allowing competitive natures to come between himself and his brother even though they own a business together, and failing to cherish his wife and help her pursue her dreams. In the present his business is failing and his wife wants a separation. Is it possible he can change these things by convincing his younger self to make different choices?

This is an intriguing story with shades of "It's a Wonderful Life" woven in. The plot is constantly changing, as Brock's dreams affect everything from where he lives, to the woman he is married to, even to what he does for a living. It's quite a ride, and Brock often feels like he's flying blind, awaking to a new reality almost every day. He believes that these dreams are a gift from God to allow healing from this past and give him a second chance in the present, but what about when the changes he's made bring destruction to everyone around him? Maybe the key to living well in the present isn't about changing the past after all.

Several years ago I started a tradition during the Summer Olympic Games of writing a letter to the woman I was during the previous Summer Games. I've already been thinking about the upcoming Rio Olympics and the letter I want to write to the me who watched the 2012 Games in London. Of course I know that writing the letter doesn't change anything, but it is a nice way to think about each four-year period and what I've learned, how I've grown, and things that have changed. In some ways it allows me to release pain that has accrued and accept life as it is. Since "interacting" with myself in the past is something I already do, that made this novel that much more enjoyable and touching.

Join the Flock! Litfuse Publicity Group blogger

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "The Five Times I Met Myself," click here.

In 1870 acting was not considered a proper form of employment for women, but India Hartley was raised in the theatre by her father. Famous but now alone after her father's death, India's tour of the southern states is cut short when the leading man in her play dies on stage - and India is arrested for his murder!

A kind patron pays for handsome attorney Philip Sinclair to take on India's case, and Philip is kind enough to take India out of the spotlight in Savannah and to his family's home on St. Simons Island. India is thankful for every breath of free air, but is met with suspicion and condescension everywhere she goes. She soon discovers that Philip's home is not without secrets and mysteries of its own - and somehow they may connect back to her own impending trial!

This book caught my attention because a 19th century murder investigation sounded like interesting reading material. Sure enough, everything is much different than what you would see today. I felt like the book was very historically accurate and highlighted issues that Georgia faced in the Reconstruction Era. Even though the story was centered around a mystery and had moments of suspenseful tension, the plot seemed more character-driven or even pastoral. I'm not a huge fan of suspense so it was a nice balance for me, making this quite an enjoyable read.

Join the Flock! Litfuse Publicity Group blogger

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "A Respectable Actress," click here.

Jim Burns and Jeremy Lee have a sincere desire to help parents find practical, intentional ways to promote faith and faithfulness in their children. As they say on page 139, "Parenting does not have to be about survival." With wisdom and experience that comes from raising their own children and shepherding other parents along the way, these authors share specific things you can do with your child for every year they are in school to point the way towards developing a personal faith of their own.

Using Biblical-based themes of ceremonies and symbols, Burns and Lee believe that kindergarten is a good age to get started on the various rites of passage which they lay out. "Your child may only be in kindergarten," they posit in Chapter 1, "but he was created to make a difference in the world around him." Beginning with lessons about generosity and responsibility, each year's themes grow to include topics like identity, friendship, and finances. Each chapter not only talks about the age-appropriate rite of passage, but also spells out what to expect from your child physically, emotionally, relationally, and spiritually at each grade level. The chapters are fairly brief and very easy to read, and they leave lots of room for you to incorporate their suggestions according to the unique needs of your child and family, as well as the leading of the Holy Spirit.

I liked the encouragement on page 66 to "...strive to parent in such a way that will cause the 35-year-old version of your child to say, 'Thank you.'" Other highlights included the focus on intentionally making memories as a family, and talking about how to help your child discover who they want to be rather than what they want to do when they grow up. Those are such good points!

I am not a parent, but I take seriously my role to influence young people as a sister, aunt, teacher, and friend. I feel like this book would be an excellent resource for parents, as it is full of good ideas and information. I know no parent desires for their children to fall away from the faith, but true relational parenting is not seen much these days. By exhorting parents to take full responsibility of passing on their faith to their children, Burns and Lee set the pattern for you to have a home where love and communication reign. Every childhood and adolescence is bound to have some turbulent times, but a solid foundation can go a long way toward surviving it with grace.

Join the Flock! Litfuse Publicity Group blogger

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "Pass It On," click here.

Last year Kara Tippetts wrote an amazing book, "The Hardest Peace," which shared beautiful truths about living a life of grace in the midst of hard realities. Her diagnosis with cancer completely changed her life, but what a gift she gave the world as she shared how Jesus walked beside her. Kara lost her battle with cancer in March of this year, but before her death she was able to coauthor this book about relationships with her friend Jill. From their own personal experience, Kara and Jill share about how to help our brothers and sisters in Christ as they walk through intense seasons of suffering.

This is a wonderful resource for those who are wanting to come alongside someone in the midst of a deep trial. As Kara says, "Life can be numbing when the story is flailing along in suffering" (page 10). Those in the hard time desperately need community to help them, but so often we don't know how to offer our support or even what to say at all. That's where "Just Show Up" can help us out, with practical advice and examples of things that worked as well as things that didn't. Jill is vulnerable to share about some of her biggest 'foot in mouth' moments, letting readers know they aren't alone in feelings of inadequacy.

I really liked how these friends shared openly about the spiritual component of walking through suffering together. It changes both the person in the trial and the one called to support them. Both must look to God and lean upon Him. As they say on page 93, "Walking with someone through suffering is going to stretch your faith. You may have to give up pieces of your faith, assumptions you may have grown up with or cultural ideas as to how faith is supposed to work. Remember, stay soft." Not everyone is going to be open to having their perceptions changed, but no one's lives or trials are of the cookie-cutter variety. Each one is unique, and in each one Jesus will be there.

Something that may be even harder than showing up for a friend is when the friend must show up for herself - and that comes by asking and receiving help. Independence may be highly valued, but God designed us for loving community. It's a brave kind of willingness to open your arms and let other people into your suffering. Learning to let others love you through tangible actions brings new beauty and grace to a situation.

While I felt like this book was mostly for those who are dealing with very specific kinds of trials, I think there is a wealth of wisdom for those who have a heart for walking with others. Learning to give and receive, to balance relationships with personal responsibilities, and how to extend grace towards others are all authentically modeled within these pages. The Body of Christ would find much strength if we all walked with each other in such a way!

I received my copy of the book from LitFuse Publicity in exchange for this honest review. All opinions are my own. If you would like to read what other people are saying about "Just Show Up," click here.

Just Show Up Tippetts Buteyn

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