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A Review: "Pilgrimage" by Lynn Austin

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"I've decided to accept the churning waves as an invitation from God to draw closer to Him, to dig deeper into His Word, to seek Him with all my heart and soul and strength. Most of all, to begin to pray to Him in a better way. Perhaps I will find a compass or a book of sailing instructions, or at least a life preserver. Maybe, just maybe, this pilgrimage to Israel will get me started on that new journey." (p. 14)
Historical fiction author Lynn Austin embarks on her first non-fiction work, "Pilgrimage", where she documents her experiences on a two-week trip to Israel. Austin traveled with a tour group starting in the southern end of Israel and eventually worked their way toward the north. She shares historical information about the places they visited combined with relevant Scripture passages and her own personal insights as to what those things meant to her.

The book gripped me from the start. Austin candidly explained that some recent personal changes result…

A Review: "The Prodigal" by Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett

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"The Prodigal:  A Ragamuffin Story" by Brennan Manning and Greg Garrett is Manning's final work. A fictional companion to his previous work, "The Ragamuffin Gospel", this novel is a contemporary retelling to the story of the prodigal son featured in Luke 15. Jack Chisholm is the lead pastor of a megachurch who spectacularly and very publicly falls from grace. With his marriage in shambles, his job gone, and no money left to his name, his estranged father tracks him down and welcomes him back home with open arms. Jack heads home to the small town of Mayfield, Texas, in order to pick up the pieces of his life. What he unexpectedly finds is the love of his father, reconciliation with his family, and the love of God.

The story draws the reader right in from the beginning. The characters are realistic and engaging. Father Frank is based on Manning himself, and there are elements of Manning's teachings shining through in Frank's dialogue. It's a wonderful…

A Review: "The Wall Around Your Heart" by Mary DeMuth

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When others hurt us, it's so easy to put up walls to keep from getting hurt. But those walls do more than just keep others out; it keeps our pain and hurt inside, allowing it to poison our own souls. In "The Wall Around Your Heart", author Mary DeMuth breaks down the Lord's Prayer and explores how each statement can be used as a prayer for healing from hurt and broken relationships. A fabulous mix of personal insights and solid Scriptural teaching, DeMuth leads us on a profound and challenging journey to healing and wholeness.

She examines how the walls we build affect other people, as well as our relationship with God. She invites us to ask God in to these broken places in our lives and urges us to allow Him to do His work in our lives to bring about the healing that we just can't do on our own.

As I was reading this book, I was struck by the simplicity of some of the ideas (example:  God loves me, but He also loves the ones who hurt me) and just how impactful t…

A Review: "The Secret Keeper" by Beverly Lewis

"The Secret Keeper" by Beverly Lewis features the story of Jenny Burns, a young woman from a wealthy family in Connecticut who has always felt a bit out of place. Ever since she was a child, she always had a deep respect for Amish culture and heritage. Now that she is an adult, a friendship with Amishwoman Marnie Lapp along with her desire to live a Plain life leads to Jenny giving up everything, including her family, to settle in Hickory Hollow. She finds a mentor in Rebecca Lapp as she enters her time of Proving, the time for Jenny to decide to commit to living the Amish life. But when Jenny finds out a secret of Rebecca's, it puts her whole Proving in jeopardy.

The entire story was engaging and enjoyable. I thought Lewis did a fine job with illustrating the difficulties that an outsider would have with adapting to a Plain lifestyle, even one who longed for it with every fiber of her being. It was nice to see character tie-ins from previous novels. I enjoyed this fourt…

A Review: "The Miner's Lady" by Tracie Peterson

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"The Miner's Lady" by Tracie Peterson tells the tale of two families, the Panettas and the Calarcos. Residing in the mining community of Ely, Minnesota, the families carry on a decades-old feud bought over from their native Italy. When Isabella Panetta and Orlando Calarco announce their love for one another and their intention to marry, it leads to a story of how forgiveness can overcome any obstacle. In their individual quests to save their siblings from falling into harm as a result of their love for one another, Chantel Panetta and Dante Calarco embark on their own journey of love and forgiveness overcoming all.

The characters are engaging and believable, although I did find some of the dialogue to be a bit over-the-top for the time period the story is set in. Being originally from Minnesota, I've really enjoyed this entire series since it's based in my home state. Peterson is one of my favorite authors who rarely fails to disappoint. This whole series has bee…

A Review: "Unglued" by Lysa TerKeurst

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"Unglued" by Lysa TerKeurst is a phenomenal book that helps women learn to make wise choices when confronted with their own raw emotions. Drawing on her own personal experience and biblical teaching, she shares what she has learned (and is learning) about submitting her emotions to the power of Jesus.

She addresses the fact that our emotions are God-given; our emotions help us to feel, connect, and experience life. But so often, women in particular are vulnerable to allow our emotions to run our lives. One truth that TerKeurst draws out in this book is that "God gave [us] emotions so [we] could experience life, not destroy it" (p. 16). This book is a fantastic manual to help women of all ages and stages experience "imperfect progress", which she defines as "slow steps of progress wrapped in grace" (p. 14).

Of especial importance are the chapters that help the reader define what kind of unglued you are. She explores four different types, two tha…

A Review: "The Prayer Box" by Lisa Wingate

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"The Prayer Box" by Lisa Wingate tells the story of Tandi Reese who is escaping from her abusive husband. In an attempt to disappear, she heads to the tiny community of Fairhope on Hattaras Island in the Outer Banks of North Carolina. After finding her elderly landlady, Iola Anne Poole, deceased in her home, Tandi finds herself commissioned with the task of cleaning out Iola Anne's beautiful old Victorian home. In the midst of her cleaning, Tandi stumbles upon the first of many prayer boxes, each box containing prayers written by Iola Anne, starting from the time she was a young girl. Reading the prayers helps Tandi piece together fragments of Iola Anne's life and helps bring healing to her own troubled past and present.

This book was the second Lisa Wingate novel that I have read and I thoroughly enjoyed it. The main characters had great depth and I loved the slow transformation of Tandi throughout the story. Overall, it was a great story. Faith themes were more sub…

A Review: "What Once Was Lost" by Kim Vogel Sawyer

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"What Once Was Lost" by Kim Vogel Sawyer shares the story of Christina Willems. After her father passes away, she assumes the directorship of a poor farm in Brambleville, Kansas. Fire strikes the poor farm one night, displacing the residents whom Christina has come to view as her family. While most residents are easy to find new placements for, the most challenging is Tommy, a young blind boy. He eventually is taken in by the mill owner, Levi Jonnson. The rest of the book details the challenges that ensue with rebuilding the poor farm, as well as the mystery surrounding why the farm house caught fire in the first place.

Overall, this was just an okay book. The characters felt a little two-dimensional; they didn't really come to life. The dialogue and interaction between the characters felt a bit stilted at times. The story was somewhat enjoyable, but definitely predictable. While there will be many who truly enjoy this book, I was not one of them. This won't be a rep…

A Review: "The Quarryman's Bride" by Tracie Peterson

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Set in St. Cloud, Minnesota, "The Quarryman's Bride" by Tracie Peterson features the story of Emmalyne Knox and Tavin MacLachlan. Emmalyne's father rules his family with an iron fist, showing very little love and compassion. After her younger sisters are killed in a tornado, she is torn apart from her fiancee, Tavin, when her father declares she can no longer marry but will be required to care for her parents, as is tradition for the youngest unmarried daughter. Tavin attempts to convince Emmalyne to elope, but she refuses out of a desire to honor her parents.

Eleven long years have passed. Emmalyne has faithfully served her parents and Tavin has performed a number of different jobs, traveling to different parts of the country, in an attempt to forget his love for Emmalyne. When Emmalyne's father returns to the quarry business he left eleven years ago, circumstances reunite the couple and they rediscover their love for one another.

Mental illness is a side pl…

A Review: "Chasing Francis" by Ian Morgan Cron

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"Chasing Francis:  A Pilgrim's Tale" by Ian Morgan Cron is a contemporary fictional novel following Pastor Chase Falson and his search for a renewed faith. Falson planted a large seeker-friendly church in Connecticut, but publicly declared questions regarding his faith in a Sunday sermon. The elders request he take some time off and he ends up in Italy at the request of his uncle, a Franciscan friar. Uncle Kenny urges him to explore the life and faith of Saint Francis.

Written in the first person, this novel reads like a memoir. Many times, I had to remind myself that I was reading fiction and not a biography. Cron did a decent job of creating a fictional account that weaves in details of Francis' life and faith, as well as his theology. I did find it a bit preachy at times, but it did make me a bit more interested in learning more about Saint Francis. For those that are inspired in that direction, there is an extensive bibliography and study guide at the back of the…

A Review: "A Dream So Big" by Steve Peifer

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"A Dream So Big:  Our Unlikely Journey to End the Tears of Hunger" by Steve Peifer (with Gregg Lewis) is a moving look at how one family's journey through grief led them across the world to Kenya, Africa and how God has used them mightily in that nation.

Steve and Nancy Peifer were not planning on having a third child, but God had other plans for them. Their son, Stephen, was born with Trisomy 13 and died eight days later. As they grieved for their son, they began to feel a need for a change of scenery to escape the all-consuming grief. They met with friends who had worked as teachers at Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school for missionary kids in Kijabe, Kenya. Though that meeting, they found out that there was a need for dorm parents. They signed up through African Inland Mission for a one-year stint, packed up their belongings and their two older sons, and headed for Africa. One year turned into over 14 years.

Over the course of their work there, they have each serve…

A Review: "Bread and Wine" by Shauna Niequist

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"Bread and Wine:  A Love Letter to Life Around the Table" by Shauna Niequist is a collection of essays about life, food, hospitality, and experiencing those sacred moments that can only be found around a table. The book includes not only recipes to try, but there are discussion questions at the end for a book club or a cooking club. She also includes tips for hosting a dinner party, as well as ideas for easy weeknight meals that can be thrown together quickly.

I appreciated Niequist's heart that celebrates the union of food and the hearts of people, creating a unique fellowship around a table. Faith themes run strong through this book, especially as she dives into how gathering around a shared meal creates a special sense of community. "And I believe that Jesus asked for us to remember him during the breaking of bread and the drinking of the wine every time, every meal, every day--no matter where we are, who we are, what we've done" (p. 252).

She shares …

A Review: "Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist" by Amanda Jenkins

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Amanda Jenkins, author of “Confessions of a Raging Perfectionist:Learning to Be Free” blew me away. I knew it was a book I was going to thoroughly enjoy when she referenced my favorite movie, “Bridget Jones’s Diary” in the fourth paragraph of the introduction. She absolutely kept me coming back for more with this book!

In each of the 12 chapters, she takes a look at different areas, such as vanity, parenthood, and her testimony, where perfectionism has a stranglehold.Displaying a great amount of vulnerability, she shares her struggles openly and candidly. Various Scripture passages are carefully woven throughout each chapter to help the reader engage with the God who can help us overcome our perfectionist tendencies.
Amanda’s writing style and the subject matter left me feeling like I’d known her for years. I loved reading this book and hope to go through it with a small group to really dig deep into this subject matter. Whether a perfectionist or not, there are some great truths to be…

A Review: "The Passionate Mom" by Susan Merrill

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Using the book of Nehemiah as inspiration for the material in this book, I was definitely excited to pick up this book. "The Passionate Mom:  Dare to Parent in Today's World" by Susan Merrill did not disappoint! The entire book is a treasure trove of fabulous principles that moms at all stages can implement to help parent confidently.

I loved the idea of creating a parenting book using the example of Nehemiah, a former cupbearer to the king of Babylon turned wall-builder for the city of Jerusalem. Just as Nehemiah's focus was on rebuilding the wall around Jerusalem for the protection of his people, Merrill likens the role of moms to be a wall builder for our families and our children. There are ten different "bricks" that we can use to build the wall for our kids, including perception, passion, prayer, planning, and preparation. She discusses each brick at length and includes some ideas for "mortar" that we can use to help hold those bricks firmly…

A Review: "Humble Orthodoxy" by Joshua Harris

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The final chapter of Joshua Harris's last book, "Dug Down Deep", was entitled "Humble Orthodoxy". People loved that particular chapter so much that they expressed their desire that he write an entire book about the concept. Thus, the book "Humble Orthodoxy" was born. Taking the main points from the chapter of the same name and expanding on them, this short book (only 61 pages plus a study guide) is full of necessary and relevant truths that deserve to be discussed and wrestled with.

Since the word "orthodoxy" tends to be misunderstood, Harris starts off with a definition:  "The word orthodoxy refers to right thinking about God. It's about teaching and belief based on the established, proven, cherished truths of the faith. These are the truths that don't budge. They are the plumb line that shows us how to think straight in a crooked world" (p. 1-2). He then goes on to define humble orthodoxy as "we must care deeply abou…

A Review: "The Icecutter's Daughter" by Tracie Peterson

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Tracie Peterson is my favorite Christian fiction author, and her latest historical novel, "The Icecutter's Daughter" does not disappoint. Set in Waseca, Minnesota in the winter of 1895-1896, the story focuses on Merrill Krause and Rurik Jorgenson. Merrill lives on a Belgian horse farm with her father and four brothers where they earn a living harvesting ice, logging, and freighting. Rurik moved to Minnesota from Kansas to assist his uncle with his furniture business.

Prior to moving, Rurik and his fiancee dissolve their engagement. Their fathers arranged the match, and while Rurik desires to honor his deceased father's wishes, he can no longer hide that he simply does not love Svea Olsson the way that a husband should love his wife. A chance encounter brings Rurik and Merrill together and over the course of the next several months, they fall in love and begin to make tentative plans. The future is quickly put on hold when Svea and her older brother (and Rurik's b…

A Review: "Organic Outreach for Families" by Kevin and Sherry Harney

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"Organic Outreach for Families:  Turning Your Home Into a Lighthouse" by Kevin and Sherry Harney is the third book in the "Organic Outreach" series. The Harneys offer this definition:  "Organic outreach is not a program that every person follows the same way. It is an understanding of faith and life that releases every believer to share the love and message of Jesus in a way that feels right for them" (p. 11).

Consisting of three sections (Reaching your own family, Raising children of light in a dark world, and Turning your home into a lighthouse), each section offers practical information on how to become a light in your family (immediate and extended) and neighborhood. Kevin and Sherry take turns with authoring the different chapters, and their three sons also include brief stories and reflections throughout the book. Each chapter concludes with a "Becoming a Lighthouse" section with several ways to implement the principles discussed in the ch…

A Review: "Firefly Island" by Lisa Wingate

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"Firefly Island" by Lisa Wingate is the third book in the "Moses Lake" series. Mallory Hale was working as a legislative assistant on Capitol Hill when a chance encounter allowed her to meet Daniel Everson, a biochemist working for the USDA. A whirlwind courtship culminates is a quick marriage and move to Moses Lake, Texas, where Daniel begins a unique job opportunity. Daniel is immediately immersed in his work, leaving Mallory to adjust to life as stepmom to three-year-old Nick and figure out a way to fit in rural Texas.

Questions are immediately raised about Daniel's new boss, who comes across as mysterious, demanding, and intimidating. As Daniel spends more and more time away from home, Mallory immerses herself in settling in. She starts a blog about her transition from city girl to cow girl. As she gets to know the people in her new town, she begins to see great needs there for things like education and making healthier foods available to all. The last few …

A Review: "The Tutor's Daughter" by Julie Klassen

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Emma Smallwood is the daughter of a tutor from Devonshire. Her father runs a small school for young men, Smallwood Academy. A young woman with a great love for books and education, she assists her father with the running of the school after her mother's death. Her father has sunk into a depression following the death of his wife, which has affected their prospects of keeping the school open. They are invited to move to Cornwall and provide a private education for twin boys, Julian and Rowan, younger brothers of two previous pupils, Henry and Philip Weston. Soon after their arrival, strange things begin to happen at night which lead to many questions surrounding what the Weston's could be hiding.

I have read and enjoyed every one of Klassen's novels. I believe this one is her best yet. Laden with intrigue, the story keeps you guessing at what kind of plot twist will come next. The characters are well developed and come across with great depth. There is plenty of complexity …

A Review: "Deperate" by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson

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"Desperate:  Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe" by Sarah Mae and Sally Clarkson addresses the often overwhelming nature of motherhood. Mae is a mother of three young children who is in the trenches and barely on the other side of that common desperate feeling of moms with small children. Clarkson is an experienced mom with four grown children. Mae writes out of her current experience; Clarkson writes from the years of experience she has garnered.

There are 14 chapters, each one addressing a different aspect of motherhood. Topics include sin, selfishness, housework, purpose, and needing a mentor. Each chapter is introduced by a brief correspondence between the two authors. Then each of them write a portion of each chapter. There are discussion questions and an activity to do on your own at the end of each chapter to further allow the message of the chapter to sink in. There are also brief videos that correspond to each chapter for further depth.

Overall, this book was abs…