Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Orphan, by John Weber

OrphanAt the age of 13, Homer finds out that everything he thought about his life was false.  The truth was, he was an orphan, living on a farm in Iowa with his adoptive parents in the 1930's.  Determined to find his birth parents, Homer decides to go to New York City, it seems his history originated.  Determined to watch over him, his best friend Jamie goes with him.  The boys jump on a train, and begin their journey of weeks riding the rails, making friends with the hobos under the guidance of Smiling Jack, and escaping danger at several points.  Will Homer find what it is he is looking for?

A lovely coming of age story, for the most part, Orphan is a classic journey story.  The boys are not only journeying through the countryside, the are making their way through adolescence, and finding the true meanings of family and friendship.  I really like the premise of this book, and parts of the book were nothing short of beautiful.  The character development of Homer, Jamie, and Smiling Jack was quite robust, and I felt as though I really got to know these characters, and understood their feelings.  The story flowed well, and definitely was engaging for the reader.  The setting of the 1930's could spark some historical interest in young readers.  So, the book has a lot of redeeming qualities, but I also had some concerns over a few pieces of content.

This is a young adult book.  It states on the cover that is is for readers age 14+, and the two main characters are around that same age.  Given that fact, a couple of pieces of content I found inappropriate, and unnecessary within the context of the book.  At one point, there is a mention of the danger of the boys falling prey to molestation and sodomy.  It is never expressed outright, but an astute adult reader would easily pick up on it.  This might be confusing for young readers, and served little purpose to the storyline.  The boys were in danger already for beatings, and that would have been sufficient I feel.  Also, at one point, the boys stay at and work in a house of prostitution, but the book actually uses the word whorehouse.  Again, I think that this is unnecessary, and a better alternative could have been presented.  I am all for realism in books, and being honest with kids, but it must be age appropriate.  Yes, the book takes place in the 1930's, and I know things were different then, but I still feel that these things could have been left out or altered and the book could have still been very true to the plot and setting.

As an adult reader, I very much enjoyed the book, and I think many other adult readers would enjoy.  However, if you are considering this book for a young adult reader, I caution you about the content I mentioned, and suggest you read it yourself first, to see if you are comfortable with giving it to a young adult to read.  It may be more appropriate for older teens, such as 17+.

This book is being released July 28, 2010.  An advanced readers copy was provided for review courtesy of Traveling ARC Tours

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jason Dark, Ghost Hunter: Volume IV, Heavens on Fire, by Guido Henkel

We once again follow the adventures of Jason Dark and Siu Lin.  This time, we watch as demonic forces take over Heaven in an attempt to destroy creation and creator.  How do Jason and Siu Lin factor into this fight, and what will happen to mankind?

In some ways I think this has been my favorite Jason Dark novella so far, and that is saying a lot, because I am pretty enamored with the whole series.  We continue to watch Jason and Siu Lin's characters and relationship develop, and see more to them then just warriors.  I think this story contains so much beauty in its themes of good versus evil and the necessary balance provided by the existence of both forces.

Clearly, there are nods to the great works of Dante and Milton in the concept of this book.  I love that Henkel tackles a topic that, in the scope of horror writing, is not addressed as clearly as other types of evil monsters.  Sure we read books about demons, but rarely do we read stories about demons and angels fighting written in so bold a manner.  This story causes the reader to take pause, and ponder the forces greater than ourselves.  These are very traditional horror themes at play here, written in a style that is at once both classic and modern.  I especially loved the fact that the glory was not just belonging to Dark in this one, in fact, the character seemed to be humbled by the role he played in the battle.  I also liked the fact that this volume tied in so well with volume I, yet would have been perfectly understandable without ever having read volume I.

With each volume of this series, I am equal parts impressed with Henkel's abilities and saddened that I will soon run out of volumes to read.

An electronic copy of this book was provided for review purposes courtesy of the author.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Learn Me Good, by John Pearson

Learn Me GoodJack Woodson was an engineer for almost 4 years, before getting laid off.  Pondering his future, Jack decided to go back to school to become a teacher.  The book is a series of emails to a former engineering coworker chronicling Jack's first year as a 3rd grade math and science teacher in inner city Dallas.

Hands down, this is the funniest book I have read all year.  I was choking on my Cheez Its before I was even finished with the introduction.  This book is autobiographical, as John Pearson actually left engineering and became a grade school teacher in Dallas.  The names of the all the students, and probably the adults too, has been changed, but the situations are exactly what John experienced.

As I read this book, I kept reading excerpts to my husband, saying, oh honey, listen to this.... until finally he told me to shut up because he himself wanted to read the book, and I was totally ruining it for him!  This book made me laugh out loud with almost every email.  The structure of the book is that we get to read "Jack"'s half of a two way email conversation.  The funny thing is, one half of the conversation is all you need, as Pearson cleverly writes in such an easy, conversational style that the reader can easily infer the other side of the conversation.  I love that each email has a theme, and "Jack" uses different pen name to sign each email depending on that day's theme or story.

This book had me smiling so much, but there is a tenderness in the storytelling as well.  One can just tell that Pearson himself is a phenomenal teacher, with a real love for his field, but also with a wicked sense of humor.  The whole time I read this, I thought in my head, this is like what would happen if Jim Halpert (from The Office) became a teacher.

This is a hilarious book that every teacher, new and experienced, should read, as I am sure they can relate.  However, I believe that anyone who like humorous stories, and who doesn't, would love this book.  I will sing Pearson's praises to anyone who will listen.

Pearson also has a blog located here.  And as an extra special treat, in honor of his upcoming wedding and honeymood, Pearson is offering a special where you can purchase the Kindle version Learn Me Good for only 99 cents until July 12th!  What a deal.  This is way more fulfilling than a dollar menu!  And if you do not have a Kindle, never fear, you can download the Kindle for PC application to your computer for FREE, then get this book for less than a buck, delivered immediately to your computer.  So, you most definitely should check out this book.  Less cholesterol than a McDouble, and way more entertaining.

An electronic version of this book was provided for review courtesy of the author.

Jason Dark, Ghost Hunter: Volume III, Ghosts Templar, by Guido Henkel

Ghosts Templar (Jason Dark - Ghost Hunter)Jason Dark and Siu Lin return in the third installment of the Jason Dark series.  In this novella, Jason is called to a small town to investigate the disappearance of the Chief Constable.  When he arrives, the town is being terrorized by the ghosts of the Knights Templar, returning to inflict vengeance on the descendants of their betrayers.  Who called them back from the dead, and will Jason be able to send them back to the grave?

 Once again, Henkel entertains readers with this new brand of gothic horror that I am quickly learning to love.  Jason and Siu Lin make an interesting team, and I love watching their relationship as partners develop.  Not only does Henkel do some serious homework on Victorian England and the history of the Knights Templar, the increased action on the part of Siu Lin displays good research on Asian magic and and Asian view of the supernatural.

As I read this novella, I detected an element that reminded me very much of Indiana Jones, mostly because the evil being hunted was one of historical significance.  There was a lot of development done on the Templar mythology, in order to make a rich plot.  I was once again impressed with Henkel's ability to captivate.  The trend I notice in his work is that is writes an opening scene that is so engrossing, you can not help but keep reading, to figure out where this is going.

As with its predecessors, volume III of the Jason Dark series will appear to fans of horror literature, both classic and contemporary.  However, the historical element and a lot of good action will appeal to an even wider audience, those who typically like historical or action based novels.  I greatly look forward to the next volume.

An electronic copy of this book was provided for review courtesy of the author.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Sarah's Garden, by Kelly Long

Sarah's Garden (A Patch of Heaven Novel)Sarah is a young Amish girl who, until now, has primarily stuck to tending her garden, and doing her work on the farm.  With the pregnancy of her sister, however, Sarah is now in charge of running the family's roadside stand, and is petrified at the thought of interacting with the English world.  Grant is a English veterinarian who moves next door to Sarah's family.  With a heart to serve the Amish community, Grant quickly makes meaningful friendships with Sarah's whole family, as well as many other Amish community members.  But it becomes clear that Sarah and Grant have feelings for each other beyond friendship.  Knowing a marriage between an Amish girl and an English man is impossible, both trust in the Lord to lead them in the right direction.

It has been my experience, this being the third Amish book that I have read, that novels about the Amish and their way of life are so peaceful to read.  Kelly Long's writing is graceful, soothing, simple yet elegant.  Her characters have real depth, you can feel their emotions pouring from the page.

I most appreciate that Kelly shows the Amish way of life and how it makes the Amish feel when English people treat them as spectacles or novelties, while providing examples of how the English can have more meaningful relationships with Amish community members.  I think, for me, that is what made the book so realistic, when the characters feel awkward interacting with my English world.  While my faith and way of life are different, that discomfort is a feeling to which I can fully relate, as will many other readers.

In fact I think that one of the greatest things about this book is showing how the Amish and English can be so similar.  The book is excellent for readers who appreciate a good romance, and because this is a Christian book, it is appropriate for mature teenage readers.  I believe this to be the first in a new series of novels termed the Patch of Heaven novels.  I look forward to reading the next in the series when it is released.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, June 25, 2010

Jason Dark, Ghost Hunter: Volume II, Theater of Vampires, by Guido Henkel

Theater of Vampires (Jason Dark - Ghost Hunter)Jason Dark returns in the second installment of this series.  Once again aided by Siu Lin, he is after a new menace this time- vampires.  When his old friend Max comes to visit, Jason is treated to a theater show depicting vampiric activity.  After some post theater mingling with the cast, Jason determines these are not mere theatrics, but actual vampires hunting for prey.  When Max is abducted by one of the cast members, Jason and Siu Lin quickly devise plans to rescue him.  Will they be successful?

Once again, Guido Henkel delivers a wonderful gothic horror novella.  The characters of Jason Dark and Siu Lin are revealed a little more in this second volume, but the reader can tell there is a whole lot more the their stories to come.  One of the things I most appreciated about this sequel is that it works exceedingly well as a stand alone story, while still being enriched by having read the first volume.  This is a rarity among series books sometimes.

Henkel also reveals snippits of his personality as a writer.  If I may be so bold, I sensed a bit of homage to Anne Rice in the plot, not to mention a small homage to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.  It was like a literary easter egg, and I loved it! 

I am absolutely fascinated with Henkel's choice to set these novellas in Victorian London.  It is like what would happen if Charles Dickens teamed up with Stephen King.  It is the perfect choice, and one of the many reasons these books stand out from countless others trying to make it in the horror genre.

The action played out well, and I was happy that the ending left the reader wondering if there was more to this story, allowing me to make my own fictional suppositions.  Another fine showing by Henkel, and I look forward to the next volume!

An e-book copy of this work was provided for review courtesy of the author.

Deeply, Desperately: A Lucy Valentine Novel, by Heather Webber

Deeply, Desperately: A Lucy Valentine NovelLucy Juliet Valentine.  With a name like that, you know love must be what she is all about!  Lucy works for Valentine Inc, her family's matchmaking company.  The secret to the company's success is that all the Valentines can see people's auras, and match people up with others whose aura is the same color.  However, as a teenager, Lucy received an electrical jolt that sapped her of her ability to see auras, but gave her psychic ability to find lost objects.  She has since converted this into the ability to find Lost Loves.  She also used her talent to help with missing persons cases.  The biggest downfall to being a Valentine is Cupid's Curse, which prevents all the Valentines from ever being able to find their true love, as they can not see the auras of any Valentine family members.  Despite this, Lucy feels herself attracted to Sean,a  fellow Lost Love investigator, and struggles with how to handle it.  As Lucy follows up on a lost love, a missing person, and a family secret, she must decide whether or not to tempt fate, or Cupid.

This is the second book starring Lucy Valentine.  I had not read the first book, and was worried I would be missing some of the back story, but not to fear.  This is a fantastic little stand alone romance book.  With a name like Lucy Valentine, a psychic Lost Love locator, I wanted to dislike this book for being too cute, but I just could not, because it was more than just cute.  The book includes lots of sweetly cute elements, but the plot is actually pretty complex, with a lot of surprise twists.  The book was not difficult to read, I did it in a few hours, but I also did not want to put it down, which is unsual for a romance novel.

Some romance novels tend to be trite regurgitations of the same stale story lines.  Heather Webber does an outstanding job of creating fresh, new characters, as well as unusual plot, while maintaining the allure of romance for traditional romance lovers.  This is obviously a great book for dyed in the wool romance readers, but also a wonderful book for readers who, like me, tend to steer clear of the romance genre.  Let me assure you, this is no grocery store checkout dime romance novel.  This is a well written novel with good balance of romance, mystery, and humor.  The language is really quite clean, and the sex scenes are written to be sweet, not graphic (no throbbing love rods here) so this would be a safe summer read for mature teens as well.

The book is being released in August, and I strongly recommend that anyone looking for a little romance, or just a fun summer read, check it out.  This may be your last chance for a summer fling!

An Advanced Readers Copy of this book was provided for review courtesy of Romance Book Tours.  Follow the tour to see what other readers thought!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Jason Dark, Ghost Hunter: Volume I, Demon's Night, by Guido Henkel

Demon's Night (Jason Dark - Ghost Hunter)Jason Dark comes from a long line of ghost hunters.  His knowledge and skill are unsurpassed.  So when mysterious deaths start occurring in London, complete with dried and shriveled bodies, Jason knows that evil is afoot.  With the help of a young Asian woman named Sui Lin, Jason tracks down the demon that is stalking the foggy streets, and attempts to send it back to hell.  Jason learns that the demon is on a mission; will he be able to thwart this evil plan?

Guido Henkel draws his inspiration for his modern horror pulp fiction from monster movies of old, and does so quite successfully.  As I read this novella, I could draw from the same movies to allow myself to picture the story's action in my mind.  The scenes are well developed, with the action and mystery drawing you in right from the first page.

I personally liked the fact that not too much was revealed about Jason Dark's backstory, as this is to be a series.  I hope we learn about him little by little along the way.  Even with that air of mystery, Dark is a formidable character right from the get go.  I am anxious to read more of the volumes to see where Henkel takes Dark next.

I was impressed with the way this story captivated me.  As a seasoned reader of horror film and fiction, I can often anticipate plot lines in the horror genre, but this one was a fresh take on an old monster, a trend I hope to see continue in Henkel's work.  With the recent resurgence in certain aspects of horror fiction, I like an author who sets himself apart from the pack, and Henkel appears to be just such an author.

I would highly recommend this to any fan of the horror genre.  Because of it's relatively short length and lack of gratuitous violence, I would even say this is appropriate for young adult fans of the horror genre.  In short, if you like short stories by Stephen King, I think you will love this novella by Guido Henkel.  I am excited to read more of this series.
A copy of this e-book was provided for review courtesy of the author.

Three Devotionals- Reviews and Giveaway

 Contemplating God the Father: A DevotionalContemplating God the Father: A Devotional
By Lawrence Kimbrough

This devotional takes a look at the familiar aspect of God as Father, comparing and and contrasting His qualities with our human Father.  Topics covered include discipline, obedience, and God's overwhelming love for all His children.

Contemplating God the Son

Contemplating God the Son: A Devotional
By Lawrence Kimbrough

In this devotional, we explore the person of God in Jesus Christ.  We learn what it meant for Jesus to be the Son of God, and how this impacts our lives as God's children as well.  Topics include Jesus as fulfillment of law and prophecy, Jesus came to the lost and not the righteous, and Jesus as foundation of the Church.

Contemplating God the Holy Spirit
Contemplating God the Holy Spirit: A Devotional
By Lawrence Kimbrough

In this devotional, we explore the most mysterious aspect of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit.  We learn to experience the Spirit as a gift from God, and how to make ourselves truly open to the movements of the Holy Spirit.  Topics include empowerment through the Holy Spirit, God's use of the Spirit to reposition people, and the Spirit as insight into God's plan.

I truly adored all three of these devotional books.  In fact, I felt as though I was devouring them with my eyes.  They were written in a way that was so easily understood for me.  At times, I struggle with theological talk, but these books were written with heart and touched my heart.  All three books are organized the same way, each with 14 topical sections.  Each section contains a scripture reading, as well as other suggested readings, and discussion.  Then there are questions for contemplation, as well as suggested prayer topics.  Overall, I felt these books were very well written, and appropriate for people in all stages of spiritual development.

I would most definitely recommend these books for small Bible study or discussion groups.  The language used and easy to follow structure would lend themselves perfectly for group study; however, they are also fantastic for personal study as well, and appropriate for many Christian denominations.  All in all, some of the best devotionals I have ever found!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Witch Child, by Celia Rees

Witch Child

Mary Newbury was a young girl living in England in the late 1650's.  After the guardian, a woman she considered her grandmother, was accused and convicted of witchcraft, Mary was whisked away to the new world along with a group of Puritans seeking to join a previously established settlement.  In the new world, Mary realizes that she must be quite careful to hide her abilities.  She befriends one of the natives, and learns about the forest near the Puritanical town of Beulah.  When hardships befall the townspeople, and strange behaviors are manifested in some of the young girls, witchcraft is suspected.  What will happen to Mary in this strange new world?

Once again, I am reading a young adult novel to expand my repertoire a bit.  This book was extraordinarily well written, and from the moment I picked it up, I forgot it was written for a strictly young adult audience.  As far as historical fiction goes, this was more well researched than many adult novels, and while the language was  not terribly difficult, there was a certain sophistication in the manner of writing.

Celia Rees captivates the reader by transporting them back in time.  I could see the scenes play out in my mind, because they were well and richly written.  The characters were robust and yet mysterious.  We are never completely told what power Mary possesses, nor the true evil that lurks among the townspeople.

It is good historical fiction like this that can ignite a passion for learning in young adults.  I praise Celia Rees for her wonderful work.  I am excited to learn that there is a sequel to this book, and hope to read it, as well as other works by Rees.

The Blue Mirror, by Kathe Koja

The Blue Mirror

Maggy is a teenager from a troubled home.  Her parents split up when she was young, with her dad moving to another state, and her mom getting lost in a world full of booze.  Maggy's favorite escape is a local coffee shop called The Blue Mirror.  Here, she sits at her favorite table, and draws the world around her.  Slowly, she transforms this into a whole new world within her sketch book, a world she also calls the Blue Mirror.  One evening, she meets Cole, a boy living on the streets.  Maggy falls under his spell quickly, feeling loved for the first time in ages.  As time moves along, however, Maggy starts to see things about Cole that she finds troubling.  Will she be able to escape his influence in time?

One of my goals is to expand my reading genres, so I decided to dive into this young adult novella.  I was surprised to find this young adult book to be so dark.  I guess that speaks to the challenges and influences young adults face today.  Within these few short pages, we deal with broken families, alcoholism, teenage homelessness, abuse, theft, and casual sex.  In some ways, I think it may be a bit much for some young adult readers to handle.  Yet there is power and hope to be found in the story.  Maggy fights the good fight, and there is a theme of redemption for several of the characters.

The characters were well developed for such a short book, and I liked that the reader got to interpret for themselves if Cole was actually some evil supernatural force or just a highly manipulative young man.  At times, the plot was a little difficult to determine, but I got the impression that this was intentional, to represent life as seen through the life of a teenager.  I loved the descriptions of Maggy's artistic ability, and the fact that this was so supported by various characters in the book.  It served as a great source of healing for her, and I think more kids need to see that type of encouragement.

Overall, this book was gripping and well written, and I would be interested in reading more by Kathe Koja.  I would recommend this book for more mature young adults, particularly those with artistic talents themselves.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Life, In Spite of Me. Extraordinary Hope After a Fatal Choice, by Kristen Jane Anderson, with Tricia Goyer

Life, In Spite of Me: Extraordinary Hope After a Fatal Choice

At the tender age of 17, Kristen felt hopeless.  In the past several years, she had struggled with depression, death of loved ones, and rape.  She felt as if life was no longer worth living, so she decided to end it all.  In the middle of a cold night, she lay down on some train tracks, in an attempt to live her life.  Miraculously, she lived, but lost both of her legs.  This book details what led up to her making that choice, how the choice impacted her life,  and the journey God had always intended her to walk

I honestly cannot praise this book enough.  I knew going into it that this was a book about a girl who had attempted suicide, and that was pretty much it.  I had no idea what was in store.  Kristen writes her story with amazing and graceful honesty.  Hers is a story that we all can relate to, and it served as a blessing to me as I read it.

Talking about the emotional pain she suffered could not have been easy, but Kristen showed so much faith by writing this book.  She talked about her journey with such frankness that she was more than an author of this book; by the end, she was a friend.  She prays for and with the reader throughout the book, and one cannot help but be filled with joy.  Even the picture of her on the cover is so....joyful.

I love the fact that Kristen talked about how mental health treatment fit in to the plan that God had for her, and that at one time she needed it, but with His grace and the help of her treatment team, she received real healing.  There is so much  proof in this story of God's mercy, love, and grace.

At times, it was surreal hearing Kristen talk so bluntly about not having her legs, not being able to walk, and the anger, guilt, and fear that it provoked.  But what a blessing, to watch her grow into the wonderful woman of God that she became as a result of her accident.

I would highly recommend this book for all teen youth groups, because I think so many teen suffer the same way Kristen did, and it would benefit them to hear her story.  Her story is so full of hope.  I really love this book, and I applaud Kristen for trusting that sharing her story was part of God's plan.  So much good can be done with this book.  If you are hurting, and lonely, read this, it will help.

Savage Nights, by W,D. Gagliani

Savage Nights

Kit is a college co-ed from a dysfunctional family.  While shopping at the mall with her polar opposite room mate, she is abducted, and thrown into the world of human sex slave trafficking.  Her uncle, Rich Brandt,  a Viet Nam vet with a quasi-psychic ability, is determined to find Kit alive, and take down the evil people who put her in danger.  Along the way, unlikely enemies are uncovered, and even unlikelier allies are gained.  Will Rich find her in time?

When he asked to review this book, the author, W.D. Gagliani cautioned me the there was a lot of sex and violence in the novel.  I wondered if it would serve a purpose, and as I read the book, I knew that it did.  The book focuses on the seedy world of the sex trade, specifically human trafficking.  To delve into this world with out expressing sex and violence would be like talking about candy without mentioning sugar.  It just would not taste right.  True to the caution, there is a lot of sex and violence in the book, but it is not overly gratuitous, and let's face it, there is a lot of sex and violence in the world.

The action in this book is incredible.  As I got closer to the pinnacle of the plot, it was as if I could not read fast enough.  My eyes flew across the words, hungry for what would happen next.  I was surprised at some of the twists and turns, and when the story was over, I was exhausted.  It was that intense.

Make no mistake, this book is gritty, and hard core.  Not something I would normally read.  This is way beyond your normal thriller, because you not only have the crisis situation of Kit's abduction, you are dealing with combat induced PTSD, dirty cops, and backstabbing friends.  At times, I felt really ill prepared, from a knowledge standpoint, about the weapons and military strategy discussed, but I the story was so compelling, I pushed through the parts that lacked context for a simple housewife like me. 

I think that male readers especially will devour this book, with vigor.  I also think there is a good market for other female thriller fans who, like me, will appreciate the book in a much different way than men.

All in all, I really enjoyed this book and would definitely recommend it.  Keep in mind there are adult themes at work here, so prepare yourself for that, but as I mention, they are not overly graphic, and do serve a purpose in the storyline.

I am looking forward to reading more from this author, and am glad I got a chance to read outside my element a bit!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner: The Transforming Power of God's Story, by Wendy Blight

Hidden Joy in a Dark Corner: The Transforming Power of God's Story

Wendy Blight was just in college when she was brutally raped.  For years, she lived in fear, and anger regarding her situation.  While she was what many would consider wildly successful, a young lawyer, and married to a wonderful man, she felt as if she was not fully living.  It was only when she discovered the healing power of God that she was able to reclaim her life, and dedicate it to the Lord.

This book was a bit difficult for me to read, as I have never gone through something so traumatic, and was not able to fully relate to Wendy's ordeal.  I found it very brave that she was able to write so honestly about what happened, and bare some parts of her heart that many might find less than beautiful; to me, there was beauty in that.  I can imagine this book would be a tremendous tool to facilitate healing for anyone who has suffered any sexual abuse.

Wendy offered a lot of words of wisdom, but I was mildly troubled over the way some of her advice appeared, though perhaps it was my interpretation of them, and not her true intent.  Wendy stresses, and rightly so, that anyone suffering will not have true healing without faith.  However, at one point, it almost seemed as if she was indicating that medication, like antidepressants, and therapy were not worthwhile, that you simply should pray harder.  Because I have a masters degree in counseling, with a certification in Christian counseling, I find that view troubling.  There is real value to therapy and medication, and they can be used in conjunction with faith, to help someone heal.  It bothers me to think that people are suffering without medication and therapy, thinking that they just need to pray harder and all will be well, then when healing does not come, they feel as if God finds them unworthy.  Certainly God can heal without therapy and medication, but He can also heal through therapy and medication, who is to say they are not gifts from God?

Overall, I found the book to be well written, and uplifting, and there certainly were lessons for me to learn from it, although I never experienced anything like Wendy experienced.  Later in the book she talks about committing to prayer, and new ways to pray, and I found that most helpful.  I would recommend this book to any Christian reader seeking to learn more about healing, but would be unlikely to recommend it to a non-Christian, as it could appear a bit heavy handed.  To the Christians who do read the book, I would recommend you approach it with a spirit of discernment, and it would be good to discuss your thoughts on it with a peer, again, perhaps my concerns with it were mere interpretation.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

A Summer Secret, by Kathleen Fuller

A Summer Secret (The Mysteries of Middlefield Series)

A Summer Secret is the first book of the Mysteries of Middlefield series.

Mary Beth Mullet is an Amish teenage girl living with her parents and brothers, struggling with having a little privacy during her last summer of freedom, before she will have to get a job.  She spends hours in an abandoned barn that is near her home, against the wishes of her parents, to reflect on life, and write in her journal.  But when Mary Beth's secret place is discovered by her brother Johnny, an mystery unfolds.  Someone has been staying in the barn.  Who is he, why is he there, and what will happen now?

This is a young adult fiction book, and although written for a juvenile audience, the book was extremely well written, and captivated me.  The beginning of the book contains a glossary of Amish terms, which I found extremely helpful, as this vocabulary is used throughout the book.  Kathleen Fuller created very relatable characters in the book, and even though these were Amish children, for the most part they seem quite like typical English or Yankee children.  The fact that they are Amish does serve to establish a message of faith, hope, and willingness to help ones neighbor which I found very refreshing.

The plot contained just the right amount of action and mystery.  While this was an easy book for me to read, it was one that I did not want to put down until it was finished.  I think that Mary Beth's character is one that many young girls will connect with, and they will enjoy seeing her story unfold in this book.  As an adult reading this book, I found the story charming, uplifting, and entertaining.  I would certainly recommend this book to any parent looking for good quality reading for their young adult children.  I also think that this book would be fantastic for a young adult book club discussion, as many plot points and themes could open up discussions about faith, obedience, safety, respect for others' property, and respect for siblings.

Overall, a truly excellent book, and I look forward to the other books in the series.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Friday, June 11, 2010

A winner, a review (Silent Scream by Lynda La Plante), and some hops

First of all, I want to congratulate Kelly from the Book Sanctuary Blog, she was the winner of The Devil's Diaries!

Opinion dear readers....would people be interested in winning used books?  Sometimes I review a book that I know I will probably never read again, but would love to pass it on.  Would people think it tacky if I gave away my copy that I reviewed?  These would be released books only, no ARCs.  Leave me your thoughts in the comments.

Silent Scream

Amanda Delany was a young starlet.  Talented, sexy, scandalous.  All the makings of a big name star.  So when she ends up brutally murdered, no one can make heads or tails of the situation.  As the investigation goes on, Detective Inspector Anna Travis begins unraveling a lifetime's worth of secrets and lies, showing the truth behind who Amanda was, and why someone would have wanted her dead.  Was this a crime of passion, of revenge, or covering up some treachery?  Anna is determined to find out.

This is my first time reading one of La Plante's thriller mysteries, and I can tell you this, it will not be my last.  Apparently, other Anna Travis stories have been published, and I now want to read them all.  La Plante kept me on the edge of my seat, and though the book was lengthy, I finished it in 24 hours, because I simply had to!  I needed to know, who killed Amanda, and how was this going to play out.

La Plante puts plenty of plot twists in this book, so that you are compelled to keep reading, but you are never confused with where the action was, is, and is headed.  The characters are real, and memorable.  Although other Anna Travis stories exist, this is a great stand alone novel.  You need not have read any other stories to fully appreciate this book for the masterful work that it is.  I could literally hear the characters' voices in my mind, which is fantastic, because I get to imagine them with British accents.

This is the first modern novel set in England that I have read since the Bridget Jones books hit the stands, and I have to say, very rarely did I run across anything that was confusing or vastly different from American cultural references, which I found refreshing as a reader.  You are always aware that the setting is in England, but it rarely seems odd, and you can equally imagine the plot playing out in Hollywood.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who likes thrillers, mysteries, dramas, and due to the storyline anyone who likes celebrity gossip, because although these are fictional characters, there is a lot of juicy gossip to be found in the book!

I received a copy of this book for review purposes courtesy of the publisher.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Book Blogger Appreciation Week- My nomination

Book Blogger Appreciation Week

I learned about this from one of my fellow book bloggers, and decided to give it a shot, and nominated my blog for Best Eclectic Book Blog, since I review across all genres, and also Best New Book Blog.

In order to be considered I have to choose 5 past reviews for them to look at for both categories, that I think best show my skills as a reviewer.  I have chosen the following reviews:
For Best Eclectic Book Blog
A Stray Drop of Blood, by Roseanna M. White (Christian fiction)
Four Perfect Pebbles, by  Lila Perl and Marion Blumenthal Lazan (YA nonfiction)
Smashed: A Story of a Drunken Girlhood, by Koren Zailckas (nonfiction, memoir)
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, by Seth Graham-Smith (historical horror fiction)
Everything is Wrong With Me, by Jason Mulgrew (non-fiction, memoir)

For Best New Book Blog:
The Good, The Bad, and Me, in My Anecdotage, by Eli Walach (nonfiction, memoir)
Pregnant Pause, by Carrie Friedman (non-fiction, memoir)
Thin Places: A Memoir, by Mary DeMuth (Christian nonfiction, memoir)
Return Policy, by Michael Snyder (Christian fiction)
Jane Slayre, by Charlotte Bronte and Sherri Browning Erwin (fiction)

To any of my new readers who may not have read any of these past review, please take a few moments to read them, they are some of my favorites!

I am very excited to be participating in this!

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Swiss Courier, by Tricia Goyer and Mike Yorkey

Swiss Courier, The: A Novel

Gabi Mueller is a young girl living in Switzerland, with a Swiss mother and and American father, secretly working for the Office of Strategic Services.  After realizing that no one can be trusted, and nothing is as it seems, she is given a very dangerous mission, to act as a courier to transport precious cargo in the form of Joseph Engel.  Engel is a German scientist who was born to Jewish parents, and is now wanted by the Gestapo.  Gabi must make sure she gets him out of enemy territory, but will she be able to save him?  And how will she know who to trust along the way?

I tend to be fascinated by anything set during World War II, so I was excited when I started reading this book.  Unfortunately, it was not really what I expected.  I found the plot to be slow, and hard to follow in the beginning.  A lot of time what used setting up the situation with Gabi, showing who she could and could not trust, and while I understood that, at times it plodded along.  Also, the dialogue often slipped into German, with no translation.  As a reader who does not speak German, I found this frustrating, and was not sure what purpose it served other than to show off the foreign language skills of the author.

Once the story really got rolling, I was more interested in the book.  However, I felt that some of the information at the end was just thrown away.  For example, Gabi is following the orders of two higher agents, Pascal and Jean-Pierre.  When their identities were revealed, it was very anticlimactic.  I did enjoy the substory of Gabi's romantic interests, and watching her grow in that aspect. 

I think that this book would be very appealing to readers who enjoy stories of espionage.  Fans of authors like Ian Flemming would love this, especially fans looking for something with more action and less sexuality.  Since this is a Christian book, that is exactly what you get, lots of action in the espionage arena.  If you enjoy books set in this era with more character driven or romantic story lines, I am not sure this would be a good fit for you, and would instead recommend Queen of Hearts by K Dawn Byrd.

Addict at 10, by Derek Steele

Addict at Ten: How I Overcame Addiction, Poverty, and Homelessness to Become a Millionaire by 35
Note: The full title of this book is Addict at 10: How I Overcame Addiction, Poverty, and Homelessness to Become a Millionaire by 35.

Derek Steele details a childhood where he was virtually invisible to his parents.  The first time he got drunk was at age 8, and his parents thought it funny.  Seeing that this got their attention, he continued drinking, then moving on to drugs, and by the time he was 10, he was addicted to marijuana, and moving on to harder substances.  By age 16, he was a full blown addict, and was dealing drugs.  He eventually dropped out of school, and ended up homeless, living in his truck.  At the age of 20, after 10 years of using drugs and alcohol daily, Derek had a moment of truth, and realized this was not the life he wanted.  He checked into rehab, and devoted all his energy to turning his life around.  His journey took him through the hard work of sober living, marriage, business ventures, financial success, fatherhood, and eventually he became a millionaire.  And it was all because of his faith in God to help him stay sober.

Derek's story is nothing short of amazing, and immeasurably inspirational.  He stresses throughout the book that he got where he got, both the highs and the lows, because of his choices, his actions, and God's will.  Derek is the type of person who pours all of his essence into whatever he is pursuing, and is determined to succeed.  When he was pursuing a life of drugs, his entire life was just that.  But when he began pursuing a life of sobriety and success, he handed his life over to God, and dedicated himself to hard work for positive purposes.  I love that Derek does not engage in pop psychology self help psycho babble.  He does not have a magic bullet, or a secret to his success.  He had faith, he worked hard, and he became successful.  And it was not a completely smooth path.  There were problems along the way, with his relationships, with failed businesses.  He just never gave up.  I think so many people want an easy fix, and may pick this book up trying to find one, and I am happy to say they will not find it.

While it broke my heart to read the details of Derek's sad childhood, I loved reading about his decision to enter rehab and begin sober living.  I would love to see more writing from Derek in more detail about his 90 days in rehab and one year in the halfway house, because I know there are stories to be told and lessons to be learned from that time.  But I do realize in the overall scheme of this book, only a certain about of time could be devoted to that.  I do hope he considers writing another book just about that experience.

This book is a fantastic tool for anyone struggling with any problem really.  It is a great example of someone having faith, even when they are unsure.  Derek was not sure he fully believed in God, and yet he trusted, and doors began to open.  Throughout the course of the book, Derek goes through a lot of spiritual development, as well as the 12 steps of sobriety.  I think this book is a valuable resource for anyone struggling with addiction, or who has a loved one struggling with addiction.  I also think it is fantastic for parents to read, to be aware of what dangers are out there.  However, pretty much everyone could benefit from reading this book, as there is so much positivity in it, and good lessons that can be applied to any type of struggle one is enduring.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Leilani Loves Books Birthday Bash

So, I stumbled upon a huge blogger contest today from a cool blogger named Leilani (such a gorgeous name).

She is having a big contest to celebrate her birthday and achieving over 100 followers. Congrats Leilani! I can only hope to get 100 followers someday soon!

You can check out her deliciously designed blog by clicking the button above. She does some very interesting reviews.

I love connecting with other book bloggers, because we all love books, and have a common goal of sharing great books with other people.

Live well, laugh loud, and read often!

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Great Finds- Many Books and Kindle for PC

One of my Twitter friends just directed me to a wonderful website called Many Books that has, literally, thousands of free e-books in different languages. I strongly encourage you to check it out.

Along the same lines, Amazon offers the Kindle for PC application, and there are a lot of free e-books that can be downloaded from Kindle as well. I just got 3 new books last week, several more today, and often there are past best sellers available.

So, no one can say they cannot afford to read a good book!

The Devil's Diaries- Review and Giveaway

The full title of the book is as follows:
The Devil's Diaries
By Nicholas D. Satan
As Transcribed by Professor M.J. Weeks

This book is a bit of kitschy fun that I picked up yesterday because, as we all know, I love snark. And this book is chock full of it. A lot of tongue in cheek humor, The Devil's Diaries is broken down into five sections, labeled volumes in the book, detailing five different eras in the Devil's lifetime, starting with the beginning of his life and his fall, all the way up through modern times.

Many things are humorously attributed to devilish influence, but there are also some surprising historical and theological facts mixed in (I will not tell you what, as I do not want to spoil the fun). The book is a quick, fun read, I think it took me a couple of hours, and some of the spin put on it was actually quite witty. I enjoyed it, but I can see where some people might be a little bothered by some of the satirical indications made in it.

I have a copy of this book as a giveaway starting now, and this one will be very simple. The only rules are this: You must be a public follower of this blog on Google Friend Connect, and you must leave a comment on this entry that includes your email address in a non spam form of course, i.e. tiffanyniekro at gmail dot com. ANY COMMENTS WITHOUT EMAIL ADDRESSES WILL NOT BE ELIGIBLE. The giveaway will end at 12:01 am EST on June 10th, so hurry and get those comments in now!

A Touch of Deceit, by Gary Ponzo

Nick Bracco is an FBI agent who specializes in investigating terrorists. When Kurdish rebel forces crop up in the United States seeking vengeance for the American assistance in Turkey, it is clear that Nick and his partner Matt will be a part of the operation to bring the rebels down. But, when the Kurds start to get personal, and target members of Nick’s family, as well as families in all 50 states, the lines of legality and morality start to blur. Nick is Sicilian, with mafia connections, and, well, desperate times call for desperate measures. But the question is, how desperate?

This book hooks you from the very first chapter. The action starts right away, with the character development woven in as the story progresses. Gary Ponzo does an absolutely flawless job of telling the back story without sacrificing any forward motion of the plot. You are never left wondering who a character is, or how they fit into the big picture, which is saying a lot, as this story has a lot of players.

I was concerned that I would get confused with the action in this book; as a reader, action and thriller books tend to move too quickly for me, or I get so anxious I read quickly and miss important details. However, this book moved at a smooth yet still rapid pace. There was a definite sense of urgency, but Gary made me so invested in his characters, there was no way I was skipping a single word. Even though the government and mafia worlds are somewhat alien to me, this book made me feel at home in them. I really was in the war room, and I understood every moment of it. I really felt this book was pertinent to the current state of affairs, and at times, it frightened me that something like this could actually happen. But, if the bad guys could be real, then so could the good guys.

I think the thing that made this book so much more appealing to me than many others like it was the underlying story of Nick Bracco. Nick is a great character, and getting to meet him in this book, and learn about his family, really took it from a good book to a great book. Nick’s situation in this book is complicated, to say the least, and he is flawed, which makes him relatable. But it does not take long to figure out that he wants what is best for this country, and his family. How can you not love a guy like that?

I look forward to the possibility of more books with the Nick Bracco character in them, and I certainly look forward to seeing what else Gary Ponzo has to offer. He has a fresh voice that can appeal to readers across many genres, and I imagine we will continue to see great works from him.

This book was provided for review by the author.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

And the winner is....

First off, thank you to everyone who entered my For the Love of All Things Vampire Giveaway!

So, without further ado, the winner is:
Karen at Finding My Muse!

Karen has been notified, and her prize pack will get shipped this week!
Karen's blog is wonderful, you should check it out sometime!

Once again, thank you to everyone who entered.

So my next question is this, which would you prefer, having less frequent giveaways with larger, themed prize packs, or more frequent giveaways that may just be a book? Or a mix of the two?

As always, thank you for reading and following. Please feel free to add any of my reviewed books to your "to read" list, that is why I write this blog, to introduce readers to great books! Also, feel free to make suggestions to me, the best source of good reads are fellow book lovers!