Book Reviews, Fiction

Formula of Deception by Carrie Stuart Parks | Book Review

Oh book reviews – sometimes you’re hard to write!

This one wasn’t a hit for me. After thinking on this for a while, I figured out what missed the mark: The book had too many lines cast out. There was the personal drama Murphy was going through, the mysterious prologue, the current crimes she was helping to investigate, and more as the truth was ultimately revealed. While there were some intriguing bits, it started to lose its credibility towards the end. I also thought some developments were rushed and that always makes it hard for me to connect with characters.

I admit, I often compared this to Gwen Marcey’s stories (the main character in Parks’ previous novels), and it didn’t match those reading experiences (which is a hard thing to do because I LOVE those novels and Gwen is hilarious).

So, while the history was interesting, this one didn’t quite live up to my expectations.

(Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

ABOUT THE BOOK: An artist hiding from an escaped killer uncovers one of World War II’s most dangerous secrets—a secret that desperate men will do anything to keep hidden. After the murder of her twin sister, Murphy Anderson changed her name and appearance and moved to Kodiak, Alaska, to avoid the press and publicity. But when local authorities discover she’s an artist and request her help in drawing a dying man’s memories, she unintentionally ends up in the limelight again—and back in the killer’s crosshairs.

The deathbed confessions of an Alaskan hunter have Murphy drawing the five bodies he discovered on remote Ruuwaq Island ten years ago. But what investigators find has them mystified. Evidence suggests that the bodies were deliberately destroyed, and what they uncover in an abandoned Quonset hut from World War II only brings more questions. As one by one the investigators who were at the hut die, Murphy knows there is something much darker at stake. What happened on this island during the war? And who is willing to kill to keep its secrets buried?

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

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Book Reviews, Fiction

A Rumored Fortune by Joanna Davidson Politano | Book Review

“You can tell the quality of a man’s soul with one look at what he creates, for what he’s poured into his creation has come from within.” Notebook of a viticulturist

If you’re a fan of Inspirational historical romance, then you need to have Joanna Davidson Politano on your radar. I absolutely adored her debut novel, Lady Jayne Disappears, and in her sophomore novel, Politano once again brings an intriguing plot to readers.

There were plenty of plot twists throughout and to the very end. With reminders of the way God will work in any situation, readers who relish strong faith themes and romance, will enjoy seeing Tressa’s journey and faith grow throughout the novel.

Who is an author you’ve recently become a fan of?

(Thank you to Revell for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

ABOUT THE BOOK: Tressa Harlowe’s father did not trust banks, but neither did he trust his greedy extended family. He kept his vast fortune hidden somewhere on his estate in the south of England and died suddenly, without telling anyone where he had concealed it. Tressa and her ailing mother are left with a mansion and an immense vineyard and no money to run it. It doesn’t take long for a bevy of opportunists to flock to the estate under the guise of offering condolences. Tressa knows what they’re really up to. She’ll have to work with the rough and rusticated vineyard manager to keep the laborers content without pay and discover the key to finding her father’s fortune–before someone else finds it first.

Award-winning author Joanna Davidson Politano welcomes readers to Trevelyan Castle, home of the poorest heiress in Victorian England, for a treasure hunt they’ll not soon forget.

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

Book Reviews, Fiction, Nonfiction

Some Recent Book Recommendations

While it might take me a minute or two to get to these books, I thought it would be fun to pass along some recent books recommendations sent my way to you guys as well, especially since I sometimes take a while to read them. It happens no?

The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin
As surprising as it is moving, The Storied Life of A. J. Fikry is an unforgettable tale of transformation and second chances, an irresistible affirmation of why we read, and why we love.

We are not quite novels.
We are not quite short stories.
In the end, we are collected works.

A. J. Fikry’s life is not at all what he expected it to be. His wife has died; his bookstore is experiencing the worst sales in its history; and now his prized possession, a rare collection of Poe poems, has been stolen. Slowly but surely, he is isolating himself from all the people of Alice Island—from Chief Lambiase, the well-intentioned police officer who’s always felt kindly toward him; from Ismay, his sister-in-law, who is hell-bent on saving A.J. from his dreary self; from Amelia, the lovely and idealistic (if eccentric) Knightley Press sales rep who persists in taking the ferry to Alice Island, refusing to be deterred by A.J.’s bad attitude. Even the books in his store have stopped holding pleasure for him. These days, he can only see them as a sign of a world that is changing too rapidly.

And then a mysterious package appears at the bookstore. It’s a small package, though large in weight—an unexpected arrival that gives A.J. the opportunity to make his life over, the ability to see everything anew. It doesn’t take long for the locals to notice the change overcoming A.J., for the determined sales rep Amelia to see her curmudgeonly client in a new light, for the wisdom of all those books to become again the lifeblood of A.J.’s world. Or for everything to twist again into a version of his life that he didn’t see coming.

The Day the Angels Fell by Shawn Smucker
It was the summer of storms and strays and strangers. The summer that lightning struck the big oak tree in the front yard. The summer his mother died in a tragic accident. As he recalls the tumultuous events that launched a surprising journey, Samuel can still hardly believe it all happened.

After his mother’s death, twelve-year-old Samuel Chambers would do anything to turn back time. Prompted by three strange carnival fortune-tellers and the surfacing of his mysterious and reclusive neighbor, Samuel begins his search for the Tree of Life–the only thing that could possibly bring his mother back. His quest to defeat death entangles him and his best friend Abra in an ancient conflict and forces Samuel to grapple with an unwelcome question: could it be possible that death is a gift?
Haunting and hypnotic, The Day the Angels Fell is a story that explores the difficult questions of life in a voice that is fresh, friendly, and unafraid. With this powerful debut, Shawn Smucker has carved out a spot for himself in the tradition of authors Madeleine L’Engle and Lois Lowry.

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett
A deliciously funny novella that celebrates the pleasure of reading. When the Queen in pursuit of her wandering corgis stumbles upon a mobile library she feels duty bound to borrow a book. Aided by Norman, a young man from the palace kitchen who frequents the library, the Queen is transformed as she discovers the liberating pleasures of the written word.

The author of the Tony Award winner The History Boys, Alan Bennett is one of Britain’s best-loved literary voices. With The Uncommon Reader, he brings us a playful homage to the written word, imagining a world in which literature becomes a subversive bridge between powerbrokers and commoners. By turns cheeky and charming, the novella features the Queen herself as its protagonist. When her yapping corgis lead her to a mobile library, Her Majesty develops a new obsession with reading. She finds herself devouring works by a tantalizing range of authors, from the Brontë sisters to Jean Genet. With a young member of the palace kitchen staff guiding her choices, it’s not long before the Queen begins to develop a new perspective on the world – one that alarms her closest advisers and tempts her to make bold new decisions. Brimming with the mischievous wit that has garnered acclaim for Bennett on both sides of the Atlantic, The Uncommon Reader is a delightful celebration of books and writers, and the readers who sustain them.

Creativity, Inc.: Overcoming the Unseen Forces That Stand in the Way of True Inspiration by Ed Catmull
“What does it mean to manage well?”
From Ed Catmull, co-founder (with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter) of Pixar Animation Studios, comes an incisive book about creativity in business—sure to appeal to readers of Daniel Pink, Tom Peters, and Chip and Dan Heath. Creativity, Inc. is a book for managers who want to lead their employees to new heights, a manual for anyone who strives for originality, and the first-ever, all-access trip into the nerve center of Pixar Animation—into the meetings, postmortems, and “Braintrust” sessions where some of the most successful films in history are made. It is, at heart, a book about how to build a creative culture—but it is also, as Pixar co-founder and president Ed Catmull writes, “an expression of the ideas that I believe make the best in us possible.” For nearly twenty years, Pixar has dominated the world of animation, producing such beloved films as the Toy Story trilogy, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo, The Incredibles, Up, and WALL-E, which have gone on to set box-office records and garner thirty Academy Awards. The joyousness of the storytelling, the inventive plots, the emotional authenticity: In some ways, Pixar movies are an object lesson in what creativity really is. Here, in this book, Catmull reveals the ideals and techniques that have made Pixar so widely admired—and so profitable.

As a young man, Ed Catmull had a dream: to make the first computer-animated movie. He nurtured that dream as a Ph.D. student at the University of Utah, where many computer science pioneers got their start, and then forged a partnership with George Lucas that led, indirectly, to his founding Pixar with Steve Jobs and John Lasseter in 1986. Nine years later, Toy Story was released, changing animation forever. The essential ingredient in that movie’s success—and in the thirteen movies that followed—was the unique environment that Catmull and his colleagues built at Pixar, based on philosophies that protect the creative process and defy convention, such as:

• Give a good idea to a mediocre team, and they will screw it up. But give a mediocre idea to a great team, and they will either fix it or come up with something better.
• If you don’t strive to uncover what is unseen and understand its nature, you will be ill prepared to lead.
• It’s not the manager’s job to prevent risks. It’s the manager’s job to make it safe for others to take them.
• The cost of preventing errors is often far greater than the cost of fixing them.
• A company’s communication structure should not mirror its organizational structure. Everybody should be able to talk to anybody.
• Do not assume that general agreement will lead to change—it takes substantial energy to move a group, even when all are on board.

What’s a book you recommend?

Love and Faith

What a Toro Can Teach Us

I absolutely love the movie Coco. It’s delightful, charming, and such a beautiful message. I love what it says about the importance of family and following your dreams. If you haven’t seen it yet, I highly recommend. After chatting about my love of the movie, a good friend recommended I watch The Book of Life. I did and y’all, loved it just as much. It’s a love story, a story of friendship, and standing for what you believe it.

Without giving away everything (because you should definitely watch it), Manolo comes from a long line of matadors, but his heart is with music (plus he refused to kill the bulls). As the story goes on, Manolo finds himself is a hard situation. In order to get back to his love before Dia de Muertos is over, he must first beat all the toros that his ancestors bested and killed (who have combined to make one massive bull). Here’s what happens:

(I also recommend listening to the Spanish version of the song. It’s beautiful)

Not only does he stand his ground against killing the bull, Manolo choses another route – one of asking for forgiveness. These lyrics get me everytime:

Toro, I am humbled, for tonight I understand.
Your royal blood was never meant to decorate this sand.
You have suffered great injustice, so have thousands before you.
I offer an apology, and one long overdue..
I am sorry, Toro, I am sorry, hear my song and know I sing the truth.
Although we were bred to fight, I reach for kindness in your heart tonight.
Oh and if you can forgive and if you can forgive, love can truly live…

This is by far one of my favorite scenes in the movie. It is such beautiful imagery of what forgiveness can do, both for the one asking and for the one receiving. Both the bull and Manolo get peace they have longed for.

Forgiveness is a powerful gift. Maybe there’s someone you need to ask forgiveness for, maybe you need to forgive someone, or maybe it’s yourself you need to forgive. Whatever the case may be, may you take the same steps as Manolo. I promise something beautiful will come from it.

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.” Ephesians 4:32

Book Reviews, Fiction

Fawkes by Nadine Brandes | Book Review

“But perhaps bravery meant entering into a storm you already knew would destroy you.”

Y’all know I can’t resist historical pieces – throw in some fantasy and I’m 100% in. Fawkes by Nadine Brandes was creative, engaging and kudos to trying something not often seen with historical events in novels. Geared towards the YA audience, I still enjoyed the characters, the pacing and how she would work in the fantasy elements.

It also made me want to do a deep dive research into King James and the entire Guy Fawkes history. That’s one of my favorite things about reading historically based stories – it opens up a piece of history I might not have thought about before.

“It is those who dream of the impossible who end up defying the very word.”

If you enjoy history or fantasy (or both, like me!), then be sure to check out Brandes’ latest release. Also, that cover? LOVE IT!

Is there a historical event you’d like to see retold?

(Thank you to Thomas Nelson for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

ABOUT THE BOOK: Thomas Fawkes is turning to stone, and the only cure to the Stone Plague is to join his father’s plot to assassinate the king of England.

Silent wars leave the most carnage. The wars that are never declared but are carried out in dark alleys with masks and hidden knives. Wars where color power alters the natural rhythm of 17th-century London. And when the king calls for peace, no one listens until he finally calls for death.

But what if death finds him first?

Keepers think the Igniters caused the plague. Igniters think the Keepers did it. But all Thomas knows is that the Stone Plague infecting his eye is spreading. And if he doesn’t do something soon, he’ll be a lifeless statue. So when his Keeper father, Guy Fawkes, invites him to join the Gunpowder Plot—claiming it will put an end to the plague—Thomas is in.

The plan: use 36 barrels of gunpowder to blow up the Igniter King.

The problem: Doing so will destroy the family of the girl Thomas loves. But backing out of the plot will send his father and the other plotters to the gallows. To save one, Thomas will lose the other.

No matter Thomas’s choice, one thing is clear: once the decision is made and the color masks have been put on, there’s no turning back.

Book Reviews, Fiction

Thirst of Steel by Ronie Kendig | Feature

I’m so excited to share about Ronie Kendig’s latest Thirst of Steel! It just released yesterday, so be sure to grab your copy! I’m a bit behind on all the things, so more to come on the book, but didn’t want to miss the chance to give a shout out to the fabulous Ronie and Tox!

ABOUT THE BOOK: Dismantled centuries ago, the sword of Goliath is still rumored to thirst for its enemies’ blood. Cole “Tox” Russell only wants to begin his life with Haven Cortes, but he must first complete a final mission: retrieve that sword and destroy the deadly Arrow & Flame Order.

The AFO, however, is determined to claim the sword. Wielding their father’s life over Tzivia and Ram Khalon, they threaten to expose Ram’s long-held and dangerous secret while demanding Tzivia locate the sword. With the Wraith team slowly being torn apart, things only worsen when Mercy Maddox, a new operative, emerges with the stunning news that the sword is tied to both Ram’s secret and a string of unsolved serial murders.

Tox, Ram, and the others are forced to set aside fear and anger to focus only on the enemy. No matter the cost, Wraith must stop or take the enemy down with them.

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

Book Reviews, Nonfiction

10 Minutes in the Word: Psalms | Book Review

I’m always curious about devotionals with time promises. I remember when I first became a Christian almost 20 years ago, my first devotional was called 15 MInutes With God and greatly impacted my faith and developing a devotional time. (Sidenote: I wonder what my thoughts would be on that devotional now. I don’t recall anything too controversial, but two decades is plenty of time to change thoughts and views on theology. I’ll keep y’all posted if I do :)).

This pocket-ish size devotional takes a look through Psalms and the devotionals are encouraging. Going through the themes the author of the Psalm wrestled with in a short devo, including a prayer for the reader and ending with questions for the reader to think on in their personal life, this makes for an engaging devotional. One minor thing I wish would have been done differently is to include the full scripture reading along with the devotional. It’s not a major thing (since Bible apps and access to Bibles are in abundance), but more of a preference.

Overall, if you’re looking for a gift book or a devotional for yourself, this one is worth checking out.

(Thank you to BookLook Bloggers for a copy of the book. All views expressed are my own.)

ABOUT THE BOOK Embrace your time with the Lord, no matter how busy you are! 10 Minutes in the Word: Psalms offers encouraging insights and meaningful reflections in just 10 minutes. For the days when you most need the presence of God, 10 Minutes in the Word: Psalms is the perfect way to grow in your faith that fits into your busy schedule.

This devotional invites you into the Psalms, a place of praise and reflection. Realign your heart with God’s as you read through the Scripture and spend just a few minutes with Him. Whether you’re on a quick lunch break, between classes, or relishing some peace and quiet during nap time, 10 Minutes in the Word: Psalms gives you what you need to keep going. Just 10 minutes a day will guide you into Psalms, helping you feel closer to God and His Word.

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

Love and Faith

Truth From a Priestly Blessing

A call to something greater.

Isn’t that what so many people desire? That at the core of who we are, we want to leave a legacy that greatly impacts on the world?

How easy it is to think we have to have a big enough platform to do this, but greater doesn’t automatically translate into something along the lines of “famous.” God calls some to that, but not the majority of us.

If we were to wait for the right size platform/popularity, etc, nothing would ever really get done would it?

I’ve been going through the Old Testament again (and yep, Leviticus is just as exciting as it always is) and while reading in Numbers 6, I came across this priestly blessing that Aaron and his sons were given from the Lord to share. It reads:

“The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” ‭Numbers‬ ‭6:24-26‬ ‭NIV‬‬

It got me thinking how I could bless more people. What if I meant these words to both those who followed Jesus and those who didn’t? What if I prayed this truth over others? What the Lord could do with that kind of prayer!

I was reading up on some commentary (from the Life Application Bible Commentary) of this blessing and I love what it revealed.

  • To “bless and keep” meant to ask for favor and protection.
  • To ask for a “face to shine” meant that God would be pleased.
  • Asking for graciousness meant that the person would receive God’s mercy and compassion.
  • Asking for the Lord’s face towards someone? That meant you were asking that God would give them His approval (which I’m so thankful we get through Jesus!).

And peace. I know we can all use peace more than ever.

So I leave you, dear reader, with this blessing and praying that you truly would see it in your life today!

Book Reviews, Fiction

The Wounded Shadow by Patrick W. Carr | Book Spotlight

The kings and queens of the northern continent lay siege to the Darkwater Forest, desperate to contain its evil. But rumors of gold and aurium have lured deserters and the desperate into its shadow, creating a growing army held in its sway. Desperate after the death and dissolution of their greatest ally, Willet and the Vigil seek the truth of what lies at the heart of the evil they face. They delve the mind of an old enemy and find an answer far worse than they could have imagined.

Danger stalks the cities of the north, striking at the rulers of the kingdoms. As Willet and the rest of the Vigil seek to find answers, the group is scattered with an ever-growing darkness around them. Will they discover a path to keep their land safe, or will an ancient evil reclaim the world it once called its own?

Where to Buy: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | CBD | Goodreads

Women of the Bible

Shiphrah and Puah | Women of the Bible

(If interested in more Women of the Bible posts, check them out here!)

The story starts like this: Two women were given a command from a king. The command was to take newborn babies from their mothers and kill them.

But that’s not how this story played out. These two women, Shiphrah and Puah, heard the unjust law and refused to obey it, because it went against what their God commanded.

Here’s from the NIV translation:

“The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, “When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.” The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Then the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and asked them, “Why have you done this? Why have you let the boys live?” The midwives answered Pharaoh, “Hebrew women are not like Egyptian women; they are vigorous and give birth before the midwives arrive.” So God was kind to the midwives and the people increased and became even more numerous. And because the midwives feared God, He gave them families of their own.” Exodus‬ ‭1:15-21‬‬

What a story no? These women were committed to life. Committed enough to defy the most powerful man in the world.

They were courageous. They were brave.

Would any of us have been brave enough to do the same? Would we have trusted God more than an earthly authority? And here’s what makes the story even more extraordinary. Neither Shiphrah nor Puah knew what the consequences would be for disobeying Pharaoh’s command. Would they get caught? If they did, would they be put to death? It didn’t matter.

And how did their earthly stories end? They are not only remembered forever in Scripture, but God blessed them and they had their own families.

God does not ask us to obey authority when it goes against His commands and His Word. He asks us to follow Him. Christ calls us to something far greater and something much more. To love others. To see Imago Dei in all people.

I wonder if Peter quietly thought of these women, when centuries later, he reminded us, that as believers our call is to God and Him alone:

“And when they had brought them, they set them before the council. And the high priest questioned them, saying, “We strictly charged you not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men.” Acts‬ ‭5:27-29‬ ‭ESV‬‬