Category Archives: Reviews

Review: The Dream of You, by Jo Saxton

The Dream of You, by Jo SaxtonThe Dream of You, by Jo Saxton (WaterBrook, 2018)

This book’s subtitle invites women to “let go of broken identities and live the life you were made for” – and if that calls to something inside you, you’ll find practical insights that make it worth the time to read and reflect.

The Dream of You is more than a collection of verses telling women how God sees us, although it does include Scripture. It’s more than a list of self-help steps to empower us. Part memoir, plus examples from present-day and Bible times, it’s an honest, sometimes unsettling, look at the damage done by circumstances and people – and it tracks author Jo Saxton’s personal fight to reclaim her identity as the woman God made her to be, for the purpose He intended.

A Nigerian raised in England and now living in the United States, Jo Saxton has something to say to all of us about the need – and the possibility – of rediscovering our true identities in a world that wants to define and limit us. Reading her story and those of others in the book showed me how sheltered I’ve been. Still, I found key points to sit with and apply.

The title could imply a self-indulgent book, warm and fuzzy. Don’t expect that. Instead, this is a valuable tool that can make a significant difference. It presents truth and hope, and each chapter has simple questions to ponder and act on. If you skim them on a first read, go back and dig into them on a second read. Don’t miss what God wants to say to you.

The book begins with a look at God. Knowing who He is – and thus whose we are – is foundational. In turning from what life has made us believe, we need to know the truth to turn to.

Then it addresses some of the things we may need to turn from. More than other books I’ve seen, it’s very direct about this being a process. A sometimes difficult process, with wilderness times when we expect an easy victory. Because the wilderness times are teaching times that God will use for our ultimate growth.

I love how it illustrates the ongoing battle to wield the truth of God’s Word against the lies we’ve internalized. Again, we look for a one-swing cut, but if the chains are solid-forged and wrapped in layers, it will take time to make them fall. Jo Saxton shows us how to do that.

Another strength of the book is that it doesn’t end with free, happy women basking in fulfilling lives like Disney princesses. It ends with the call to take the stories we’ve lived – and the Good News about Jesus giving us our true identity –to share with the people around us. Like the original disciples, we’re on mission for the rest of our lives.

For more about speaker and author Jo Saxton and her ministry, visit josaxton.com. For more about The Dream of You, including the book trailer and sample first chapter, visit josaxton.com/the-dream-of-you.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: For Us Humans, by Steve Rzasa

For Us Humans, by Steve RzasaFor Us Humans, by Steve Rzasa (Enclave Publishing, 2018)

Fun and fast-paced, with snappy commentary from point-of-view character Caz Fortel, For Us Humans puts a science fiction spin on the classic mismatched detectives story, rife with nods to iconic science fiction shows.

Caz poses as an unprincipled art buyer to help the authorities catch art thieves and reclaim stolen art. Now he’s tapped to find a missing piece of alien art—and failure will not bode well for Earth.

He’s cocky enough to think he can do it on his own, but the powers-that-be pair him with a four-armed alien named Nil.

Fifteen years earlier, the aliens arrived. In Caz’s words, it wasn’t so much an invasion as a corporate takeover. The governments love having access to new technology, but the population resents the alien presence. Caz is no exception.

As well as the action plot of Caz and Nil chasing the missing sculpture and the subplot of their slowly-changing attitudes toward one another, the novel has a faith subplot I don’t remember seeing before.

Proof of alien existence triggered a worldwide crisis of faith. A minority of Christians still worship together, but most—including Caz—can’t reconcile aliens with their beliefs. Ironically, Nil claims his own culture has hints pointing to something special about Earth and God. That’s why he’s here.

Meanwhile, their assignment is about to get a whole lot more complicated.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book. We need more science fiction like this. And the cover’s great.

Steve Rzasa writes both science fiction and fantasy. For more about the author and his books, visit steverzasa.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: Stealthy Steps, by Vikki Kestell

Stealthy Steps, by Vikki Kestell Nanostealth Book 1Stealthy Steps, by Vikki Kestell (Faith-Filled Fiction, 2015)

Gemma Keyes tells readers her story in first person, as she writes an account of what happened one fateful day in her physicist friend’s secret lab. She’s funny, direct, and sometimes speaks directly to the reader.

She’ll tell you why she’s in hiding and who’s chasing her. She’ll explain enough of the nanotechnology (microscopic bits like computer chips, if I understand) but she’ll reassure you it’s okay if you don’t get it. She doesn’t get it, herself. She was simply the scientist’s assistant in the wrong place at the wrong time. Or in the right place at the right time, to keep his creation from being stolen by a corrupt general.

As well as being a fast-paced techno-thriller, delivered with strong, fresh description and the aforementioned humour, this is a story with heart and with a thread of faith. There’s more going on with the 10-year-old neighbour boy than Gemma wants to see and there’s a friendly pastor with a criminal past who could be more than a friend… if he wasn’t a Christian, and if Gemma’s life wasn’t in danger.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and look forward to reading the rest of the series. The mix of heart, faith, and action made the characters real to me. And since the story’s set in present-day Albuquerque, it’s only the science that’s a stretch from the real world. Otherwise, it’s just a corrupt-military-official-out-to-destroy-innocent-civilian-with-a-secret story.

Vikki Kestell writes faith-filled fiction—the 4-book Nanostealth series and a number of historical novels. Stealthy Steps is free in ebook format from most online stores, and if this is your type of story, I heartily recommend it. For more about the author and her work, visit vikkikestell.com.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

Review: When a Secret Kills, by Lynette Eason

When A Secret Kills, by Lynette EasonWhen a Secret Kills, by Lynette Eason (Revell, 2013)

Three friends, separated the night of their high school graduation. Alexia left town as planned, to escape her troubled home life. Serena went on to university. Jillian fled, terrified by something she’d witnessed—a secret that could still kill her ten years later.

In fact, the danger’s mounting. Her enemies have discovered her new identity. She can’t let them find out about her daughter.

Jillian returns to her hometown to find the evidence needed to convict a prominent citizen of murder. Finding that evidence will mean working with Colton Brady, nephew of the murderer. Colton is also her former boyfriend, hurt that she didn’t say goodbye, and unaware that he has a daughter.

This is another fast-paced read to complete the series, and it delivers some satisfying twists.

When a Secret Kills is book 3 in the Deadly Reunions series, and while each one can be read as a stand-alone, there are spoilers for the previous books so they’re best read in order.

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: 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.]