Review: Sins of the Past, by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey, and Lynette Eason

Sins of the Past, by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey, and Lynette EasonSins of the Past, by Dee Henderson, Dani Pettrey and Lynette Eason (Bethany House, 2016)

Three romantic suspense novellas in one book, from three of the top Christian writers in the genre: Sins of the Past delivers shorter, but still satisfying, reads.

Stories feature a cop whose mother has gone missing, a competitive swimmer who may be a killer’s next target, and a paramedic who’s in danger because of an accident she can’t remember. In each case, the present crisis comes from something that happened in the characters’ past (hence the title).

Fans of Dani Pettrey’s Alaskan Courage series will be pleased to step back to the 70s to meet the McKenna clan’s parents. The other two stories take place in the present.

I’m not usually fond of shorter fiction, but these novellas contain enough depth that they feel complete. There’s no sense of being rushed or short-changed on plot or characters.

Readers of Christian romantic suspense will definitely want to grab a copy of Sins of the Past. For more about the book and its authors, and to read an excerpt, see the publisher’s website.

[Book has been provided courtesy of Baker Publishing Group and Graf-Martin Communications, Inc. Available at your favourite bookseller from Bethany House, a division of Baker Publishing Group.]

Finding Courage in God

And David was greatly distressed; for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.
1 Samuel 30:6, RSV*

The King James Version says “David encouraged himself in the Lord his God.” While David (not yet crowned king) and his men were away on a mission, enemies had sacked their town and taken captive all the women and children. No wonder he was “distressed”!

But he found courage – and strength – in the Lord his God.

How can we do that?

Stop, instead of jumping into action or into despair.

Look:

  • at who God is
  • at what He says
  • at what He has done in the past

Listen: to what He says. Then, by faith, we can choose to obey Him, whether that’s in action or in waiting.

God our Refuge and our Strong Tower, help us trust You even when everything has gone wrong. Help us rely on You as our source of courage, strength, and hope. Quiet us to know Your presence. Work in our circumstances and in our hearts, to Your glory.

Our song is from Austin Stone Worship: “You Never Change

*Revised Standard Version (RSV) Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Review: Book of Days, by James L. Rubart

Book of Days, by James L. RubartBook of Days, by James L. Rubart (B&H Publishing Group, 2011)

Cameron is in his early 30s but he’s losing chunks of his memory. His only hope lies in a cryptic mission from his father: to find the Book of Days. If such a thing exists, it holds everyone’s memories – past, present and future.

Supposedly this is God’s Book, based on Psalm 139:16. Cameron doesn’t believe in God, either, so that’s not much help. But his father did, and so did his wife.

Cameron’s quest forces him to turn to his dead wife’s foster-sister Ann for help, and it takes him to his father’s boyhood town, where secrets abound.

I enjoyed James Rubart’s writing style and the characters he created. There were plenty of clues, obstacles, and surprises along the way, as well as a few heart-warming moments. Looking back from the end, the only thing that doesn’t make sense to me is why a certain photo had been so carefully hidden.

The novel includes some well-turned phrases. Here’s my favourite:

…all he’d achieved was exhaustion. And a neck that felt like guitar strings tuned three octaves too high. [Kindle location 5415 in the Rooms/Book of Days/The Chair ebook box set]

Despite some of the New Age townsfolk, this is not an overly mystical novel, and I think it would suit anyone who enjoys a good contemporary story that includes Christianity, mystery and romance.

James L. Rubart is a writer and speaker whose website tag line is “Live free.” His most recent novel is The Five Times I Met Myself. For more about the author and his books, visit jameslrubart.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Writers, Reading, and Comparisons

The books I most love to read are dangerous. Something, in the crafting or in the content, stirs a restlessness, an “I wish I could write like that.”

It’s important for writers to read words that leave us hungry to grow. We can study them for clues about how their author achieves whatever aspect of prose or poetry that we find so effective, to sharpen our own techniques.

That kind of comparison is healthy. It’s not the dangerous part. What trouble me are the whispers of doubt that make me want to hide the evidence that I’ve ever tried to write anything, and just kind of blend into the cushions of my couch.

As a beginning writer, I confronted the fear head-on: “Okay, what if I can’t write well? First, is there anything wrong with simply writing for fun? Second, if God gave me this gift, however rough its present packaging, isn’t it both wise and good manners to accept and use it? How else will I improve?”

Now, the comparisons keep me from being complacent about my words. They remind me that there’s always more to learn, and that there are better ways to apply what we know.

Whichever writer we’re currently admiring hasn’t always written at this level. Talents are developed and honed. We need to read carefully, learn from what we see, and apply it to our own skills.

Comparisons also remind me that we don’t all write for the same audience. One person’s delivery and style won’t work for another. We need to be true to our individual voices and not try to copy anyone else.

A symphony or a kazoo, crystal vase or clay jug, are equally useful in God’s hand to serve the people He designed them to serve. Mark Twain once said, “My books are water; those of the great geniuses are wine — everybody drinks water.”

My writing friends, when we encounter excellent reads, let’s choose to learn and grow, instead of giving in to comparison’s dark side. Perseverance, it seems, is won in the mind.

Writers: Perseverance is won in the mind.

[A previous version of this post appeared under the title of “Comparison” in the September 2015 edition of FineTuned, the newsletter of author/editor Carolyn Wilker]

Whose Kingdom?

So when the apostles were with Jesus, they kept asking him, “Lord, has the time come for you to free Israel and restore our kingdom?”
Acts 1:6, NLT*

The resurrected Jesus had been appearing to the disciples, proving He was alive, and continuing to speak of the Kingdom of God (Acts 1:3).

The disciples were still looking for the restoration of their kingdom: for the nation of Israel to be powerful again as it had been in the past.

God had much bigger – and longer-term – plans.

What are we asking Him for that’s too small, even if it seems huge to us? What are we asking for that’s a return to what was, instead of an expansion to what He promises?

As we pray and listen to God, as He reveals glimpses of His purposes, let’s resist the tendency to fit them into our own understanding and experience. Into the framework of the past.

Holy and omnipotent God, Your ways and plans are much bigger than we can grasp. We praise You for what You will do, and for how You will reveal Your glory. In this as in the rest of our lives, help us to trust You wholeheartedly and not to cling to our own understanding. Lead, guide and direct us, and make us useful for Your Kingdom.

Our song this week is Matt Maher’s “A Future Not My Own

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero

Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter ScazzeroEmotionally Healthy Spirituality, by Peter Scazzero (Zondervan, 2006; paperback version 2014)

The subtitle says, “It’s impossible to be spiritually mature while remaining emotionally immature.” The book implies that this may be the key reason for lack of growth in our churches, and for people drifting away from church. While I think there’s more to the issue than that, there’s no denying that emotional immaturity will be the root of the problem for some or many believers.

In alerting readers to areas of our lives that haven’t grown well, the author offers the chance to allow God to “re-parent” us so we develop according to the ways of His Kingdom instead of perpetuating the behaviours and attitudes we learned in our formative years.

The first three chapters reveal “The Problem of Emotionally Unhealthy Spirituality,” and the rest of the book addresses “The Pathway to Emotionally Healthy Spirituality.” Part of that pathway is recognizing the impact of our family history, choosing what we want to keep, and choosing to grow away from what’s unhealthy.

The author advises adopting more of a contemplative approach to faith, listening to God and to our emotions, and establishing daily rhythms of prayer and devotional times. He encourages us to “practice the presence of God and to practice the presence of people” [page 180].

We do come into Christianity with assumptions and attitudes formed by our families and by the world around us – and we don’t often apply our spiritual regeneration to these areas because we don’t even see them. It makes sense that we need to discover and grow into our true identity in Christ, and I found some helpful insights in the book.

For more about Peter and Geri Scazzero’s ministry, visit emotionallyhealthy.org.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Without Proof Short-listed for Award

Without Proof [Redemption's Edge 3]The Word Awards short-list is out, for work published in 2015. I’m excited that Without Proof is one of the three novels in the Suspense category.

I’ve read the other two novels in that category, and they’re excellent reads: Shadow of a Butterfly, by J.A. Menzies, and Desperate Measures, by Sandra Orchard.

You can see the full list of books, articles, songs etc here: The Word Awards short-list. Results will be announced in June.

To Depend on God

So now, come back to your God.
Act with love and justice,
and always depend on him.
Hosea 12:6, NLT*

What does it mean to depend on God?

First, it’s an active reliance. We don’t sit and wait for Him to do what needs doing while we channel-surf.

We depend on His strength in us to equip us to serve. We depend on His Spirit in us to replace our natural reactions with the “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” that He wants us to display. (Galatians 5:22-23, NLT*)

When we’re mistreated, instead of taking revenge, we depend on “Him who judges justly” (1Peter 2:23, NIV) and we dare by His Spirit to forgive the offender and to pray that instead of staying hard and receiving what he or she deserves, that person will surrender to God and receive mercy.

We read the Bible and learn about God’s character, His ways, and His will. And about His promises. We choose to depend on who He is and what He says, not on what we feel and see.

We learn to recognize how He speaks to us as individuals, and we step out in faith to obey Him.

We overcome our fears by choosing to depend on God’s care and His power – and on the assurance that His presence will be with us no matter what.

God of Abraham, of Isaac, of me: because You don’t change, we can know and depend on You. Draw us who love You nearer to Your heart, and grow us in our faith. Draw those who don’t yet know You. Help them see their need of You, and how ignoring and defying You diminishes their lives. Because of Your great mercy, don’t give up on them.

To depend on God, we need to remind ourselves of who He is. Brian Doerksen’s song, “Faithful One,” reminds us (sung here by Robin Mark).

*New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Review: Submerged, by Dani Pettrey

Submerged, by Dani PettreySubmerged, by Dani Pettrey (Bethany House, 2012)

A small plane crashes in the water near small-town Yancey, Alaska, and rescue diver Cole McKenna and his family are drawn into the investigation. When another body is found, the police suspect foul play.

For Cole, the hardest part is working with Bailey Craig, niece of one of the dead passengers. Bailey is back for the funeral, and the townsfolk all remember her high school reputation. She and Cole were sweethearts, before she went wild.

Submerged is suspense with heart: both romantic and family. Cole feels a burden for his younger siblings, and for a troubled teen in the church youth group. He also sees Bailey’s struggle with self-worth. Despite the faith that turned her life around, she feels like she’ll never measure up.

As the two of them search her aunt’s belongings for clues to the mystery, danger mounts, and old feelings come back to life.

This is book one in the Alaskan Courage series, and the ebook version is free on most platforms. I’m looking forward to reading more about the McKenna family. For more about this five-book series, or about author Dani Pettrey, visit danipettrey.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

The Importance of Downtime

The Importance of Downtime

by Steph Beth Nickel

I’m filling in for our church administrator while she’s on maternity leave. For 30 hours each week, I can’t work uninterrupted on writing or editing. I can’t tend to my volunteer responsibilities. I can’t work around the house—Wait! Scratch that. That wouldn’t be how I spent the majority of those 30 hours anyway.

Since coming to work at the church mid-February—which, for the most part, I really enjoy, by the way—I’ve been somewhat overwhelmed by my To Do list. Granted, the Lord had previously been teaching me how to focus on the Now (this very moment), but until recently, it hadn’t been an undeniable necessity for my mental wellbeing.

MAKE A LIST … AND CHECK IT TWICE

I’ve been a list-maker for as long as I can remember, but these days, I guarantee if I don’t write something down, it’s highly unlikely that it’s going to happen. In the past I haven’t cared if I put too much on my list. I would just move it to the next day. But no more! I have to be realistic about what I can accomplish, especially between 3:00 and 11:00/12:00 at night.

It didn’t take me long to realize there was no way I could keep up the frantic pace without paying a high price. In fact, I became short-tempered with friends and family members if they even suggested I take on something else—even something simple. Beyond that, I found myself annoyed for no apparent reason. Not good.

GIVE YOURSELF PERMISSION TO TAKE DOWNTIME

Give yourself permission to take downtime. It's indispensable.

Image: Pixabay

Slowly, I began to give myself permission to take time away from my responsibilities to regroup. I would watch a movie with my hubby, play a game of Scrabble (which I won, by the way), even go away for a sisters’ weekend with NO computer access. Woohoo!

And beyond any of that, I was so busy doing good things that I was neglecting the best thing: time with God. I have slowly begun to again study the Word for the exclusive purpose of drawing closer to the Lord. I still need to devote more time to prayer, but that will come.

And while I was driving the two-and-a-half hours to my sister’s, I popped in a couple of new contemporary Christian music worship CDs, refused to watch the clock, and simply worshiped all the way there. It was glorious.

PLAN A GETAWAY

This weekend, my writers’ group, which has been meeting for over a decade, is going on our first ever writers’ retreat. That designation is valid because we are all writers. However, from what I’ve heard from the other ladies, it would be better to call it a writing-reading-crafting-napping-walking on the beach retreat. In other words, we all need downtime. I’m sure we will accomplish a lot of writing, but I don’t think that will be the most important aspect of the weekend.

As some of you know, I am an extrovert—on steroids (figuratively speaking). I have found myself desperately needing uninterrupted alone / quiet time. So not me! I am actually hoping we have a No Chat policy for certain hours of the day while on our retreat. I just want to focus on my reading and my writing. I know if I’m not deliberate about this, I’ll chat far too much.

So how about you? What do you do to get refreshed? [Scroll down to join the conversation.]

Steph Beth Nickel

Steph Beth Nickel (Photo by Stephen G. Woo Photography)

Stephanie (Steph Beth) Nickel is an award-winning co-author, a freelance editor and writer, a labour doula, and a former personal trainer. She also loves to speak, teach, and take slice-of-life photos. She would love to connect with you on Facebook or Twitter, on her website or blog.