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Review: Get Out of Your Head, by Jennie Allen

Get out of Your Head: Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts, by Jennie Allen

Get Out of Your Head, by Jennie Allen (Waterbrook, 2020)

Subtitle: “Stopping the Spiral of Toxic Thoughts”

In Get Out of Your Head, Jennie Allen declares that “The greatest spiritual battle of our generation is being fought between our ears.” [Chapter 1] The thrust of this book is that we have a choice to control out thoughts—even when it’s hard, repetitive work.

She’s quick to warn that we can’t “think our way out of mental illness.” But even there, learning to redirect our thoughts can work with the medication.

The principle of this book is that toxic thought spirals can be interrupted and redirected, and that they begin with wrong beliefs about God or with not internalizing what we know to be true about God. In offering strategies, she lays out some common lies, their opposing truth, a Scripture to hold onto, and a stated choice we can make. These choices make up a number of chapters.

The writing style is candid, informal, and personal, as if the author were speaking to an intimate group of listeners. She uses her own experience as the main source of examples, so readers know she’s lived what she’s teaching.

I came to the book after the Get Out of Your Head teaching series through Right Now Media, which I almost didn’t listen to. The opening anecdotes and peppy delivery were not what I relate to. I’m of a different generation, temperament, and have different interests. However, it didn’t take long to recognize helpful teaching. After listening to the full series, I found the book through my local library’s Hoopla app.

If negative emotions and toxic thoughts are familiar battlegrounds for you, or even if you feel like you’ve lost that fight a long time ago, Get Out of Your Head may be just the resource you need to regain mental ground.

I love how it focuses on truth about who God is and how it equips us to recognize the lie at the root of our feelings and then to choose to focus on the truth instead.

Jennie Allen’s website says she’s a “Bible teacher, author, and the founder and visionary of IF:gathering.” For more about the author and her ministry, and for a free “Get Out of Your Head Toolkit,” visit jennieallen.com.

[Review copy from the public library.]

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Review: Acceptable Risk, by Lynette Eason

Acceptable Risk, by Lynette Eason

Acceptable Risk, by Lynette Eason (Revell, 2020)

Captured in a Taliban raid on a girls’ school, American military journalist Sarah Denning is injured in a nick-of-time rescue mission. Not until she’s flown home to the US against her will does she learn that her high-ranking father has arranged to have her discharged as a suicide risk.

Sarah’s been fighting her father since her mother died, and she’s not about to give up now. But before she can prove herself fit for duty, she must heal from her wounds—and from the devastating loss of her brother.

Former Army Ranger Gavin Black, who led the rescue mission in Afghanistan, runs a security organization based in the US. Now Sarah’s father hires him to guard her—but if she finds out, she’ll refuse the protection out of spite.

And she needs the protection. Threats on her father’s life could extend to his family. Plus, Sarah is pushing for answers about a missing patient she encountered in the hospital—who staff deny was ever there.

Like book 1 in the series, Collateral Damage, this is romantic suspense where the violence and trauma of serving in Afghanistan follows the hero and heroine home to civilian life. Sarah and Gavin are strong people carrying PTSD and other wounds, needing time to heal but finding they’re still in danger in a conflict where they don’t know how to identify the enemy.

I like Sarah and Gavin, and the solid friendships they’ve developed with a small core of people they’ve served with in the past. And I like how Sarah, even when injured or overpowered, keeps her head and plays an active part in her own rescue. Gavin may be there to defend her, but there are times she defends him.

Acceptable Risk is Book 2 in the Danger Never Sleeps series. Book 3, Active Defense, releases in early 2021. For more about award-winning author Lynette Eason, visit lynetteeason.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley. Opinions are my own.]

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Review: Calm Before the Storm, by Janice L. Dick

Calm Before the Storm, by Janice L. Dick (Tansy & Thistle Press, 2020)

Family dynamics, faith, coming-of-age, and gentle romance, all set in the turbulent days leading up to the Russian Revolution.

From a haven-like estate in Crimea to impoverished rooms on the wrong side of town in St. Petersburg, from starving soldiers near the front lines of World War 1 to a private hospital for the mentally ill, and with other settings along the way, Calm Before the Storm evokes 1914-1916 Russia as experienced by the Hildebrandt family and their friends.

The Hildebrandts are Russian Mennonites, people of German heritage whose ties to this land only go back a hundred or so years. As the poorer classes grow more desperate for political reform, hostility also brews toward these “German” Russians.

Katarina Hidebrandt is a young woman who sees the best in everyone, yet she must acknowledge the growing tension and the sense that life is about to change. As her family separates and the young teacher she loves is sent to serve in the hopeless war effort, she learns to rely on her faith and to make what difference she can in her world.

What could be a depressingly heavy tale is instead told with a careful touch, beautiful descriptions, and traces of humour. The characters are honest in their questions and their choices, and somehow despite the pain they find hope (most of them).

As well as providing a fascinating glimpse into this period of history, the novel resonates particularly well with the brooding uncertainty of 2020. Katarina’s struggles in the face of unwanted change and trouble can help readers who are feeling the same concerns even if our situations are different.

It’s not a preachy story, but Katarina’s and others’ examples of living out their faith give us clues we may take to heart. I feel a bit better-equipped to face my own doubts when they sneak up on me again.

Some favourite lines:

The Juschanlee River wandered westward over the Russian steppes, collecting little villages on its meandering way… (Chapter 1)

“The air is so clean and clear, like it’s been washed and left to dry in the sun.” (Johann, in Chapter 5)

“In political crises people cease to view others as people, and instead consider them merely a means toward an end or, in this case, an obstacle to a desired end.” (Heinrich, Chapter 6… timely, no?)

“Yesterday is gone, and tomorrow is in God’s hands. No regrets, no worries. I can put all my energies into this day.” (Katarina, Chapter 8, but this peace was not easily won)

Calm Before the Storm is book 1 in Janice L. Dick’s Storm series. Book 2, Eye of the Storm, is expected to release in December 2020. The series was originally published by Herald Press and is now out of print. I’m glad to see new editions being released in print and ebooks as part of The Mosaic Collection. For more about the author and her work, visit her website.

[Advance review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: Iced Over, by Heather Day Gilbert

Iced Over, Barks & Beans Cafe Mystery Series book 2, by Heather Day Gilbert

Iced Over, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2020)

An accident on an icy road leaves one armoured car driver dead and the other in a coma—and a surprising amount of people looking for money stolen from the scene.

Macy Hatfield, co-owner of Barks & Beans with her brother Bo, discovers the injured man is uncle to one of their employees at the café and brother to one of her friends from church. Macy’s protective streak kicks in, and her curiosity isn’t far behind.

This is a light-hearted series, with no graphic scenes or profanity. The characters attend church, but that’s the only overt faith content you’ll see.

Being light doesn’t mean fluffy, though. While on the one hand we have Waffles, the adorable-but-clueless shelter dog who can’t behave, on the other we have teenaged Ethan (the injured man’s nephew) on regular dialysis and needing a kidney transplant. And we have stolen cash in West Virginia, but also international criminals with a wider agenda.

I enjoy being able to read mystery and suspense without getting tense or worried. The Barks & Beans series fits that bill nicely, and I like the characters—both human and animal. For the cat-lovers among us, Bo has a delightful kitten named Stormy.

Dog-wise, we have Coal, Macy’s Great Dane, and the various shelter dogs delivered to the café each day in hopes of finding a café patron who’ll adopt them. The food and drinks that come out of this café make it a place I’d definitely like to visit, and I’d like to visit with the dogs too.

Favourite lines:

Sometimes, in the empty spaces, it was almost like my heart was beating too loudly, shouting for someone else to hear it. [Macy thinking about living alone in a large house, Kindle location353]

I was about to raise his interest in buzzing off from Barks & Beans for good. “I understand,” I said, offering that honeyed smile of the South that meant you had another thing coming. [Macy again (the whole book is in her point of view), Kindle location 779]

Heather Day Gilbert writes cozy mysteries, romantic suspense, and Viking historical fiction, both clean mainstream and Christian. Iced Over is book 2 in The Barks and Beans Café Mystery Series. Book 3, Fair Trade, releases fall 2020. For more about the author and her work, visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review copy provided by the author. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: Relative Silence, by Carrie Stuart Parks

Relative Silence, by Carrie Stuart Parks

Relative Silence, by Carrie Stuart Parks (Thomas Nelson, 2020)

When Piper Boone survives a shooting, the press label it the latest incident in her family’s curse. It’s true the Boones have seen more than their share of death, but all accidental.

To keep reporters away from the stranger who saved her life, Piper invites him to join her family on their private island. Tucker comes with secrets of his own, a tragic past that has led him to faith.

Piper’s life and losses have crippled her faith and left her broken. But as she begins to look at her family with fresh eyes and to suspect what’s unspoken, her strength surprises them all.

Favourite lines:

Does the presence of death etch into the face? A tightness around the mouth? Eyes narrowed, or worse, turning cold? [Kindle location 263]

I felt like someone had just dumped a second box of puzzle pieces into my partially finished jigsaw. [Kindle location 2205]

Set in an opulent South Carolina island getaway against the backdrop of an approaching hurricane, Relative Silence is a complexly-plotted novel of romantic suspense, family treachery, and second chances.

Visit carriestuartparks.com to learn about the author and her books.

[I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.]

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Review: Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes

Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes

Set the Stars Alight, by Amanda Dykes (Bethany House, 2020)

Lyrical, beautiful, heart-warming and satisfying, Set the Stars Alight is a must-read.

Page one welcomed me in like I was coming home.

Before I even reached that page, the dedication spoke to me—the part about wonder:

Hang on to it, brave ones.
And more—hang on to the Giver of it.
Though darkness may fall and times grow hard,
hold fast to this given light. [Kindle location 45]

Timely words for a hard year like 2020.

The novel follows two timelines: 1987 – 2020 and the 1800s during the Napoleonic wars, each revealing what’s needed to understand the other. It’s not choppy, switching timelines each chapter; instead, the story flows in segments with time enough to settle in place and care about the people involved.

In the contemporary thread, childhood friends Lucy and Dashel reunite as adults in a quest to locate a legendary shipwreck in the English Channel. The historical thread follows Frederick, a landowner’s son, and the young lovers Juliette and Elias.

Some of the many lines I highlighted in the book are sparks of light to hold close:

Taking note of the good, the true, the just, the miracles hidden at every turn is like…a deliberate act of defiance against the darkness. [Lucy’s father, Kindle location 431]

Such freedom, to know our limits. And to know the God who has none. [Clara, Kindle location 3347]

Others are just beautiful:

The woman had a way of almost gliding—not in the graceful, practiced way of the ladies of gothic novels, but rather more like an apparition gliding over ice. [Kindle location 1625]

Set the Stars Alight is a novel of love and loyalty, friendship and faith, that encourages wonder and affirms the value of everyday actions and individual lives. As an added bonus, readers who loved Amanda Dykes’ debut novel, Whose Waves These Are, will welcome the quiet nod to that book in chapter 25.

For more about author Amanda Dykes, visit amandadykes.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via #NetGalley.]

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Review: When Mountains Sing, by Stacy Monson

Wen Mountains Sing, by Stacy Monson

When Mountains Sing, by Stacy Monson (His Image Publications, 2019)

Mikayla Gordon’s discovery of a family secret sets her on a quest to find answers. In the process she may find herself—and find God. 

Mikayla is the outdoor, adventurous type, thriving from childhood on fishing with her father. Her journey takes her away from her magazine-writer job on a cross-country trek, with a tiny dog as her travel buddy.

From her native Minnesota, Mikayla ends up Colorado, where the mountains capture her heart. Camp director Dawson Dunne, who offers her a temporary job, may claim her heart too, although Mikayla’s committed to returning home in time for her sister’s wedding.

The scenery in this novel makes it a beautiful place to linger, and I enjoyed hanging out with the characters. Mikayla’s anger and hurt takes time to work through, but the kind people she meets are a balm to her and to readers as well.

Favourite lines:

“No use hurrying through life when all we have is what’s here in front of us.” [Kindle edition, page 75]

Layers of jagged mountain peaks surrounded them, from green and detailed in front to a hazy blue in the distance. Thick forests spread like carpeting, a river winding through the valley. [Kindle edition, page 178]

Recommended for nature lovers, this gentle story of self-discovery and romance includes themes of disappointment, family secrets, forgiveness, faith, and relationships. The bond between Mikayla and her two sisters is warm and strong, despite their very different personalities.

When Mountains Sing is book 1 in the My Father’s House Series, and it’s one of the books in The Mosaic Collection. Visit stacymonson.com to learn more about author Stacy Monson and her books.

[Review copy from my personal library.]

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Review: The Traitor’s Pawn, by Lisa Harris

The Traitor's Pawn, by Lisa Harris | #romanticsuspense #Christianfiction

The Traitor’s Pawn, by Lisa Harris (Revell, 2020)

Shootings, abduction, traitors, and national security risks in Corpus Christi, Texas. The danger in The Traitor’s Pawn starts almost immediately and doesn’t let up.

Somehow the abduction of Detective Bree Grayson is linked with FBI agent Jack Shannon’s investigation. The crisis reunites these two former best friends, and as they work together they discover romantic feelings that have lain dormant since college. Bree finds herself again dealing with her father’s abandonment, pain she thought she’d left behind.

The stakes in this novel are high, but the characters’ introspection allows readers chances to breathe. Along with the romance thread, there’s a theme of anger and forgiveness as Bree processes her lack of relationship with her father.

One thing I found a little disappointing was the resolution of the conflict with a particular antagonist. This person will remain nameless, to avoid spoilers, but was introduced as a worthy villain in a way that had me expecting far more involvement in the final crisis.

Overall, though, The Traitor’s Pawn is an enjoyable romantic suspense with a strong thread of faith.

Favourite line:

My father always told me that God is about the long game. That he’s more interested in who you become, even if the actual process is difficult. [Jack speaking about his own father, Kindle location 2933]

Visit lisaharriswrites.com to learn about author Lisa Harris and her books and ministry.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via #NetGalley. My opinions are my own.]

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Review: No Filter, by Heather Day Gilbert

No Filter,by Heather Day Gilbert  Barks & Beans Cafe Mystery Series, Book 1 | #cleanreads #cozymystery

No Filter, by Heather Day Gilbert (WoodHaven Press, 2020)

Mystery readers will love the sister and brother duo—and Coal, the Great Dane—in Heather Day Gilbert’s new Barks & Beans Café Mystery Series.

Newly-single Macy Hatfield is lured home to the West Virginia town of Lewisburg when her brother Bo moves back to open his own business—The Barks & Beans Café. It’s a trendy, upscale coffee shop with a difference: there’s an attached space where patrons can get their pet fix by visiting with dogs from the local shelter.

Bo’s the coffee guy, and Macy’s the dog lover. Together, they run this business in what was their beloved Aunt Athaleen’s home. Bo is ex-military, which will come in handy when the mystery part of the story starts.

Apparently cafés like this do exist, and I think they sound fun (for dogs or for cats). The café staff are an eclectic and interesting group, as are the clientele, and the café treats sound tempting.

When Macy adopts a Great Dane after his owner’s murder, she’s drawn into the mystery surrounding the death.

No Filter is a clean cozy mystery and a fun read, and I’m fond of Coal, the Great Dane. Macy and Bo have a really strong sibling relationship. It’s good to see support instead of bickering. I like their banter and the way each has the other’s back. They need to, since otherwise they’re on their own. Each one carries wounds from previous relationships as well as the longer-standing trauma of their parents’ deaths many years earlier.

Favourite line (Macy talking to Bo):

I rolled my eyes. “I can take care of myself. Case in point, I was at the scene of a murder tonight and I didn’t get killed.” [Kindle location 1834]

No Filter is book 1 in the Barks & Beans Café Mystery Series. The novel is complete on its own, with some suspense and relationship threads that lead into later books. Readers who enjoy No Filter will want to order the sequel, Iced Over, releasing July 2020. For more about author Heather Day Gilbert and her other books (mysteries, suspense, and Viking historicals) visit heatherdaygilbert.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher; opinions are my own.]

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Review: Collateral Damage, by Lynette Eason

Collateral Damage, by Lynette Eason | Danger Never Sleeps, book 1 | #romanticsuspense #Christianfiction

Collateral Damage, by Lynette Eason (Revell, 2020)

From the dusty danger of war-torn Kabul to the relative safety of South Carolina, Lynette Eason weaves a taut tale of greed, intrigue, and secrets worth killing for.

Army psychiatrist Brooke Adams and Special Ops Sergeant First-Class Asher James return from Afghanistan with painful memories and the faint hope of rebuilding normal lives. Instead, they find themselves targets in a deadly, globe-spanning plot.

Amid the flying bullets and PTSD flashbacks, the sprinkles of humour and the developing bond between Brooke and Asher kept it from being too intense for me. This is the sort of romantic suspense I like best. No syrupy thoughts, just two people trying to stay alive and realizing that they somehow understand and complete each other.

I also enjoyed the friendship between Brooke, Heather, Kat, and Sarah, especially in the first part of the book. I’m hoping the other women will have their turns to shine as the series unfolds (although Sarah definitely has a key role here, too.) And I appreciated the faith element as a natural part of the story.

Favourite line:

God may not have blessed her with the kind of family she’d always yearned for growing up, but he’d made up for that in the kind of friends he’d placed in her life. [Kindle location 1708]

Collateral Damage is Book 1 in the Danger Never Sleeps series. Book 2, Acceptable Risk, releases August 2020. For more about author Lynette Eason and her books, visit lynetteeason.com.

[Review copy provided by the publisher via #NetGalley. My opinions are my own.]

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