Category Archives: Reviews

Review: Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade, by Deborah Barr, Edward G. Shaw, and Gary Chapman

Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade, by Deborah Barr, Edward G. Shaw, and Gary Chapman
Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade, by Deborah Barr, Edward G. Shaw, and Gary Chapman (Northfield Publishing, 2016)

This book includes personal stories, practical information, and candid responses from people walking this “unchosen journey” with loved ones. It relies on input from studies and other key books on the subject of dementia and caregiving.

Don’t stop half-way through, daunted by the prospect of what Alzheimer’s can bring. Once the authors have given that grounding, they move on to share strategies, stories, and hope.

And don’t say we could never do what these care partners have chosen to do. Maybe we couldn’t, but we never truly know what we can do until we’re in a situation and we rely on God.

The authors contend that, like coma patients, persons with dementia hear more than they can respond to. Also, studies show their emotional reaction to a stimulus lasts after they’ve forgotten the cause. So do visit, do show love in ways they can receive.

In the call to choose to love unconditionally, I heard the same thing I hear from parents of handicapped children, about the role of loving becoming a gift.

Among the many books on the topic of Alzheimer’s and other dementias, this one focuses on applying the 5 Love Languages® for both the patient and the care partner. It includes a simple self-assessment of the reader’s own love languages, plus suggestions on how to assess the person with dementia if they’ve progressed to the point of being unable to comprehend it themselves.

The authors say, “We believe that the love languages are tools for gently lifting a corner of the dark curtain of dementia, making it possible to sustain an emotional connection with a memory-impaired person.” [p. 41]

Then they provide practical tips and examples of how to show love as cognitive ability fades, including ways to help the person with dementia feel useful. The authors also advise that in the mid- to advanced stages of the disease, care partners should use all five love languages because the person’s languages will change.

This is not a book advocating keeping Alzheimer’s sufferers home in the later stages, nor does it push putting them into care facilities. It’s an honest look at different case studies that recognize the uniqueness of each situation and the people in it.

The authors warn care partners not to do this alone, due to the health risks. It’s important to form a team—and the members who’ll choose to step up to help may not be those you’d expect.

They suggest early testing for dementia because some forms are treatable (eg. depression, brain tumours) and also because the testing can take time to reach a true diagnosis. This is especially true if more than one type of dementia is involved or if it’s one of the less common varieties. They note that personality change can be an early sign.

Keeping Love Alive as Memories Fade is an excellent resource equipping care partners to not only demonstrate love to persons with dementia but to also identify how to keep their own “love tank” filled. In that sense, I think it would be helpful for all types of caregivers as well.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: When a Heart Stops, by Lynette Eason

When a Heart Stops, by Lynette Eason. Deadly Reunions book 2. #Christianfiction #romanticsuspenseWhen a Heart Stops, by Lynette Eason (Revell, 2012)

Work becomes personal for Medical Examiner Serena Hopkins when she realizes the victims of a copycat serial killer are all members of her high school graduating class. Tension grows as the killer (or killers) seem to be stalking Serena herself.

Meanwhile, she’s also being targeted by someone who wants documents she’s been entrusted with by her friend Jillian, who vanished at graduation after witnessing something too terrifying to share with her friends.

Serena must work with the local police—and with high school crush, FBI agent Dominic Allen—to find clues to end this new string of deaths.

When a Heart Stops is book 2 in the Deadly Reunions series, and it’s another strong read. Because the crimes in this book are more disturbing (although not graphic), I found parts of it harder to read. As in book 1, When the Smoke Clears, this is a stand-alone novel that also points toward the mystery of why Jillian disappeared.

Lynette Eason is a multi-published author and a trusted name in Christian suspense. For more about the author and her books, visit lynetteeason.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

Review: Worlds Unseen, by Rachel Starr Thomson

Worlds Unseen, by Rachel Starr Thomson #Christianfiction #fantasyWorlds Unseen, by Rachel Starr Thomson (Little Dozen Press, 2007)

A richly-imagined fantasy set in a vaguely British Isles world, in a time where the weapons are sword and spears, and transportation is by horse, boat, or train.

Maggie Sheffield’s world is upended when she takes on a simple quest that makes her a target for evil beyond her imagination. Along the way, she befriends a boy who can hear what animals say, meets Gypsies and revolutionaries, and learns that there’s more to see than the world around her.

Maggie’s world is the Seventh World, and the other worlds seem to be spiritual realms. There are various types of spirits, some good, some evil. Ruler of all is the King, who loves humans greatly and who left the Seventh World when human rebellion broke His heart. But promise and prophecy say He will return.

Framing Maggie’s adventures are occasional entries from an ancient book written by one who calls himself the Poet, the Prophet. He remained behind when the other spiritual beings left, to leave a record for those whose hearts would one day seek the truth.

On one level, this is a classic fantasy with an oppressive regime and a handful of humans who want a better way. On another, it’s a spiritual allegory I found encouraging for living in my own world, where the key to courage is to remember the King and trust Him.

Worlds Unseen is a clean read with a bit of a C.S. Lewis feel, and although the evil beings and deeds are dark, the author doesn’t stray from fantasy into horror. This is a book both adults and young adults can enjoy. Highly recommended!

The novel is book 1 in the Seventh World series. It’s free in ebook form (also available in print), and well worth reading. I look forward to the rest of the series.

Rachel Starr Thomson writes both fiction and non-fiction, both from a Christian perspective. She’s also a speaker. For more about the author and her work, visit rachelstarrthomson.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Dying to Remember, by Karin Kaufman

Dying to Remember, A Smithwell Fairies Cozy Mystery by Karen KaufmanDying to Remember (Smithwell Fairies Cozy Mystery #1), by Karin Kaufman (2018)

Smithwell, Maine. An ordinary town in an ordinary New England state. On her 50th birthday, newly-widowed Kate Brewer is feeling her ordinariness and wishing there was something – just a little bit – more to life.

But when she encounters a fairy, she’s terrified. Fairies don’t exist outside of folklore. Is she losing her mind?

When a neighbour is killed, Kate and her best friend, Emily, are sure it’s linked to a previous murder in the town. Not trusting the police, they start investigating on their own. The fairy, Minette, insists on helping Kate while keeping her presence hidden from everyone else.

I enjoyed the mystery, the characters, and the descriptions of the people – including the fairy – and their small town. I also thought it was a neat touch that Minette sees herself as created by God (years ago) and sent by Him (now) to help Kate with this investigation. Kate, a church-goer, rejects the idea that God would send anyone – especially a fairy – to do anything in her life. I’m curious to see how Kate and Minette’s relationship will develop over the series, and if Emily will ever meet Minette.

Tea and chocolate aficionados will find other details to appreciate in the book. It’s a quick read, at 129 pages. Book 2, A Fatal Fall, is coming soon.

Karin Kaufman is the author of the Juniper Grove mystery series and the Anna Denning mysteries. Dying to Remember is book 1 in her new Smithwell Fairies Cozy Mystery series. I’m looking forward to reading more. For more about the author and her books, visit karinkaufman.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Should You Try Harder? (Guest Post)

Do you need to try harder?

Photo credit: Pixabay

Should You Try Harder?

by Steph Beth Nickel

I’ve never written a book review for Janet’s blog. But today I’d like to share one I wrote for HopeStreamRadio.

Before I purchased the e-version of You Don’t Have to Try Harder by Kathi Lipp and Cheri Gregory, I debated whether I needed one more book. I have hundreds, if not thousands, of physical and ebooks awaiting my attention, more than I’ll likely ever read. However, this was a purchase well worth making.

Below is my invitation for you to read this book along with me. You see … I just got started.

You Don’t Have to Try So Hard is the newest book by Kathi Lip and Cheri Gregory. And it looks like it’s going to be perfect … well, not perfect exactly, but we’ll get to that.

I read the introduction this morning and can’t wait to dig in.

Kathi Lipp opens the book like this: “No one would ever label me a perfectionist. You can’t eat off my floor. (Well, you could, but I wouldn’t suggest it.)”

I can relate already.

Further into the intro, Kathi gives three insightful examples of what she calls “the bully of perfectionism.”

“I will pick up the check … because I feel that I’ve taken up the other person’s time.”

“I will run out the night before an event and spend too much on clothes so that I appear to fit in.”

“I spend ten times more time worrying about how other people feel … than being concerned about my own health in these relationships.”

Do you see yourself in any of these statements?

She ends by saying, “Perfectionism isn’t Christian. It’s just crazy.”

Although Cheri Gregory’s mother apologized to her daughter’s husband when she saw the state of their home, Cheri’s perfectionism surfaced in other ways.

She was …

“A student who argued for the extra point when she got 99 percent …”

“A teacher who skipped family gatherings because she couldn’t face her students until her lesson plans were just right.”

“A wife who tried to overhaul her husband so she could finally have a happy marriage.”

When she realized it wasn’t simply a matter of trying harder, she went to the other extreme.

She became …

“An employee who didn’t speak up during staff meetings so her input couldn’t get shot down.”

“A friend who let a call from a BFF in crisis go to voice mail because she felt too inadequate to answer.”

“A pastor’s wife who skipped church because her own family drama had left her too drained to put on her game face for the day.”

Both authors realized the “try harder” motto simply didn’t work.

They came to this conclusion: “There is no nice, polite way to do this. There’s no easy way to leave the life that’s been expected of us and to start living the brave, not-so-neatly-tied-up life God is calling us to.”

If you’re ready to learn how to live the life God is calling you to and abandon the idea that you can do so simply by making more of an effort, by trying harder, then you may want to add You Don’t Have to Try So Hard to your To Be Read pile of books.

Chapters include …

Meet the Bullies of Try-Harder Living, Take Your First Brave Steps, Perfect is for Pinterest, Give Yourself a Time Out, No More Last Minute, Enough Really is Enough, and others.

The authors have several lofty goals for this book, ones many—if not most—of us are in the process of learning.

Kathi and Cheri invite us to …

“Exchange outdated views of who [we] ‘should be’ for a clear vision of who [we] are in Christ.”

“Take control of that too long to-do list …”

“Stop striving to maintain an image and live with more freedom …”

“Overcome the tyranny of ‘more’ and live radically with the abundance of ‘enough.’”

“Stop trying to earn others’ approval and learn to rest in God’s lavish, unconditional love.”

Does any of this sound good to you?

Yeah, me too!

So, today I invite you to pick up your own copy of You Don’t Have to Try So Hard and learn how to overcome the bully of perfectionism—whether we can eat off your floor or not.

~~~

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.

Review: The Lord’s My Shepherd and I Shall Not Want, by Debbie Viguié

The Lord's My Shepherd and I Shall Not Want, two mysteries by Debbie Viguie | Psalm 23 Mysteries book 1 and 2 #cleanreads
The Lord’s My Shepherd and I Shall Not Want, by Debbie Viguié (Abingdon Press, 2013)

The Psalm 23 Mysteries series has 15 books, including one that released this year, and I expect there’ll be more. The titles haven’t finished the psalm yet.

These are cozy mysteries featuring church secretary Cindy Preston and her unlikely partner in amateur sleuthing, Rabbi Jeremiah Silverman from the synagogue next door to the church.

I found the first two as an ebook bundle. They’re clean reads, and treat both the Christian and Jewish faiths with respect. One of the neat side-lights in book 1 was learning more about Passover preparations from Jeremiah.

Thanks to her mother and to the loss of her sister as a child, Cindy’s strongest motivators as the series opens seem to be safety and appearances. Of the two characters, Jeremiah is more in touch with his spiritual side and more likely to think about how God might relate to his circumstances.

By book 2 Cindy is beginning to discover glimpses of her own strength and identity, and Jeremiah’s letting readers know he has dubious skill sets from his past that aren’t what his congregation would expect.

Seeing these progressions motivates me to read further into the series. I confess at first I wasn’t sure. When there are Christians in a novel, I like them to share with me on a spiritual level. Not necessarily anything deeply theological or sermon-like, but a connection that encourages my own faith walk. Cindy, though, is a Christian who doesn’t think much about her faith, so there’s not much connection there—at least yet.

In The Lord’s My Shepherd, a serial killer arranges his victims in parodies of various scenes from the week leading up to Easter. In I Shall Not Want, someone’s killing people and stealing their dogs—even from homeless people. I appreciated the advice—and the challenge—one of the homeless characters gives about treating the homeless with respect.

It does take a stretch of the imagination to accept all the details involved in the first book’s plot, especially that the killer could find the appropriate situations with characters whose names also match his plan.

But both stories flow quickly, with action and banter and a surprisingly light touch, given the high body count.

Debbie Viguié is a New York Times bestselling author, and while most of the other books on her website look like fairly dark mainstream fantasies, the Psalm 23 series does come from a Christian publisher. For more about the author and her books, visit debbieviguie.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Hidden Currents, by Christy Barritt

Hidden Currents, by Christy Barritt | Lantern Beach mysteries book 1 #cleanreadsHidden Currents, by Christy Barritt (River Heights, 2018)

Alias: Cassidy Livingston.
Occupation: operating a mobile ice cream truck.
Goal: stay incognito.

A detective with a price on her head must hide out in the small seacoast community of Lantern Beach until the gang leaders who want her dead go to trial.

The problem is, when a body washes up on shore Cassidy’s not at all convinced the local police will arrest the right person. She should stay out of it, but somehow she can’t.

Then there’s her antagonistic-yet-handsome neighbour, Ty Chambers, who she shouldn’t be noticing because she has a boyfriend at home.

As well as the murder mystery, which is solved by the end of the book, there are other undercurrents of trouble in Lantern Beach, plus Cassidy’s ongoing fear of being found by the gang. Vignettes of her past suggest some of the people in her life are not who she thinks they are—or maybe I’m just imagining trouble.

This is a clean read, not specifically Christian fiction, although Ty and his friends met through a Bible study. Cassidy doesn’t seem to be a person of faith, but she often quotes inspirational lines to herself and eventually notices that the ones she likes best come from the Bible. So, who knows how this will develop as the series progresses?

Christy Barritt is a prolific author of romantic suspense, often with quirky characters. Hidden Currents is book 1 in her six-book Lantern Beach Mysteries series. For more about the author and her books, visit christybarritt.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon

Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon | Christian fiction, Australia, Bible storytelling, cancer, family
Grace in the Shadows, by Christine Dillon (2018)

Author Christine Dillon’s fiction tackles some of the hard issues that Christians face in the real world. In Grace in Strange Disguise, the challenge was “what happens when the prayer of faith doesn’t heal?” In Grace in the Shadows, it’s “how—and why—would God love me, after what I’ve done?”

Book one’s Esther believed her faith wasn’t good enough, and book two’s Rachel believes she isn’t good enough. They both must overcome negative father influences and false ideas of who God really is.

Readers of book one will be glad to see Esther and her family again. Grace in the Shadows is Rachel’s story, but Esther has plenty of point-of-view time as well.

Rachel is resisting God’s call, while Esther, who’s been growing in faith, comes face-to-face with the realization that she needs to re-learn some of the lessons He’s already walked her through. Isn’t that typical of most Christians in our spiritual lives?

What keeps the Grace books from feeling preachy is that the conversations about God and faith are natural to the characters and their struggles. It’s kind of like eavesdropping on real people who are working these things through in their lives. Here are some of the lines that resonated with me:

“God loves to take the worst things and bring good out of them.” [Naomi, Kindle location 202]

Esther always wanted to rush in and explain, but Joy kept saying, “Use questions, not explanations.” [Kindle location 856]

“Your mistakes can’t derail God’s plans. You and I aren’t big enough to do that.” [Naomi, Kindle location 1801]

I didn’t engage as fully in this story as in the previous one, but I attribute that to the different subject and to having already encountered the Bible storytelling theme in book one. There is perhaps a storyteller voice to the narrative, instead of the deeper point of view that’s common these days, and this can make it easier to maintain a bit of reader distance. Yet the novel is well-executed, and the characters’ experiences are worthy of our time and can encourage us in our own daily lives.

And the ending is beautiful.

Christine Dillon is a missionary whose tag-line is “multiplying disciples one story at a time,” and the author of the Grace fiction series. She has also written non-fiction books about the Bible storytelling approach. For more about the author, visit storytellerchristine.com.

[Review copy provided by the author.]

Review: Asrian Skies, by Anne Wheeler

Asrian Skies, by Anne WheelerAsrian Skies, by Anne Wheeler (2017)

Avery Rendon needed special permission to leave her home planet, Asria, to join the interplanetary Commonwealth forces as a pilot. Asria’s government has many restrictions, especially for a member of the royal family. Add to that her doubts about her culture’s faith, and she’s happier elsewhere.

Naturally she finds herself back on Asria, embroiled in all she wanted to escape—and then things get worse. When Asria is invaded, she must do her part to fight the oppressors without pushing them far enough to kill her.

Interacting with those she trusts—and those she doesn’t—not only shapes her as a leader but it makes her take a second look at faith.

Asrian Skies is well-crafted, with unexpected twists and reversals. It’s a bit heavier in places than I’m used to (the planet is under occupation by a brutal enemy after all) but it’s not graphic.

Anne Wheeler writes character-driven Christian science fiction. The sequel to Asrian Skies, Unbroken Fire, is now out. For more about the author and her books, visit anne-wheeler.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Firewall, by DiAnn Mills

Firewall, by DiAnn Mills | Christian suspenseFirewall, by DiAnn Mills (Tyndale, 2014)

An explosive start, and the pace accelerates from there.

Taryn expected to be on her honeymoon. Instead she’s wanted by the FBI, and the man she married may not be who she thinks he is.

Meanwhile, someone wants to hijack the software project she headed—if they succeed, they can cause mass destruction on a global scale.

FBI Special Agent Grayson Hall must convince her to trust him—if he can keep up with her. And if he can keep them both alive.

I liked Taryn and Grayson, and Grayson’s Uncle Joe. I enjoyed the fast pace, and the way the story wasn’t too dark despite the danger. It did get a little heavy at the end, but not extremely so.

Taryn has a lot to deal with: physical injury, her supposed husband’s deception, danger and death on all sides. The crisis draws her to risk trusting not only Grayson but God.

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author of Christian romantic suspense. Firewall is Book 1 in her FBI: Houston series. For more about the author and her books, visit diannmills.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]