A New Release, A Compelling Read

Cleansed by Death (A Jo Oliver Thriller, #1)Cleansed by Death by Catherine Finger

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Let me start by saying I like this book. I’m new to Catherine Finger’s writing, but I appreciate her willingness to put herself on the line with this story. Cleansed By Death is uncomfortable, edgy, eye-opening and even an expose in some degree. It doesn’t glorify domestic abuse, but rather shows the weakness that can plague even a strong woman.

One might assume that a woman carrying a badge and a gun would never be a victim. Meet Josie Oliver, the Chief of Police in a village precinct in Illinois, recognized for her investigative abilities by an old school friend who is now a state governor; and an abused wife.

In the general spirit of an abuser, her husband Del, also a police officer, justifies his hatred and abuse with whatever he finds convenient. Like many victims, she buys into that for a while. The primary mistake – failure to report his actions, until he takes it too far. We witness Jo’s fear and inability to report what is taking place in her life to her fellow officers. After all, she’s the Chief. And she’s ashamed. Then he leaves her for another woman, taking pretty much everything; even threatening her in his divorce actions. But really, that’s not the focus of the story.

The focus is on need. First, the task force’s need to apprehend the Mentor Sister Serial Killer, a man with a horrific agenda to ravage and destroy women. He’s evil, he’s focused, and he appears to be drawing closer to Jo. When the governor’s wife, another of her high school friends, becomes his latest victim, Jo is called into the inner investigation circle. This puts her in daily contact with her best friend and first love, FBI Special Agent Nick Vitallero. I can suppose that some readers will have issues with a Christian themed book portraying characters that are faced with temptations, etc. Jo’s a married woman, and so forth.

Temptations are a part of the Christian life, and we overcome by the Blood of the Lamb. But Jo is not yet a Christian. That’s the primary need in the story. This case brings her into contemplation of the God she’s not sure she believes in. She’s searching, yet demonstrates remarkable restraint in her relationship with Nick. He offers comfort and flirtatious care, yes; but she also experiences the healing balm of God’s love through him and a few other characters.

Imagine feeling battered, ashamed and unworthy, and an amazing man calls you beautiful. Imagine feeling unloved, and another of God’s servants calls you my daughter. It’s God’s kindness that leads to repentance, and that holds true in this story.

Do they catch the killer? Of course. Are there additional elements to the story? Yes. It absolutely has to have a sequel, because the reader comes away with a sense of outrage and cry for God’s justice on Jo’s behalf. We’re not satisfied with the ending. Del just can’t get away like this. There has to be more. I love a story that engages my interest to the point that I’m demanding that the writer give me more. More strength, more fight, more victory for Jo. Not a happy ending, a God victorious one. I believe we’ll get our chance to see that. After all, this is book number one.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the Publisher in exchange for my honest review.

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A Sweet and Spicy Read

Although I have posts other than book reviews, I did want to share this one with you. Debbie Macomber’s  latest book is the story of two women in the aftermath of divorce. In the next post, we’ll have a little chat about some of the topics in the book: fidelity, divorce, forgiveness and love.

A Girl's Guide to Moving On (New Beginnings, #2)A Girl’s Guide to Moving On by Debbie Macomber
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

There is a lot of goodwill in the purchase of a book by Debbie Macomber. Her name alone generates sales and the expectation of a good, clean read. There are homespun, likable characters, some of the older ones have a bit of vinegar and spice, and occasionally there is a precocious child or two.

A Girl’s Guide to Moving On has the flavor of some of her previous works, but the outcome is probably more true to life. Who knew a book about the aftermath of divorce and rediscovery could be so much fun? It reads like a good drama, with pathos, heartbreak, romance, conflict and humor. There were moments when I found myself laughing aloud and reading parts of the dialogue to my daughter.

Nichole was married to Jake, the son of Leanne. When Leanne discovered that her son was following in his father’s footsteps by cheating on his wife, she tells her beloved daughter-in-law. Nichole files for divorce, takes their toddler Owen and leaves Jake. This is the catalyst Leanne needs to finally leave her serially unfaithful husband Sean.

Together, Leanne and Nichole decide to make and keep an ever growing list of things necessary to successfully move on.

While the former husbands create old drama, new love prospects appear with more complications for both women. Nichole meets down-to-earth Rocco and his daughter Kaylene. Leanne receives gifts of baked bread from immigrant Nikolai, one of her night school students.

The dialogue is edgy, thought provoking, realistic and a bit shocking at times. I could not put this book down.

If you prefer your Debbie Macomber to be soft and sweet, this read is not for you. But if you like vinegar and spice and not everything nice, I highly recommend it.

A Girl’s Guide to Moving On

I received a complimentary advanced reader’s copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

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An Anytime Summer Read

The 12 Brides of Summer - Novella Collection #2The 12 Brides of Summer – Novella Collection #2 by Mary Connealy

Authors Mary Connealy, Amanda Cabot and Maureen Lang provide three old-fashioned romances filled with faith, adversity, hardship, humor and quaint expressions of love.

Mary Connealy’s “A Bride Rides Herd” is set in 1894 Montana. Matt Reeves and Betsy Harden (both introduced in earlier books) are the uncle and aunt of three little Reeve girls, courtesy of Matt’s brother who is married to Betsy’s sister. What do you get when you mix a storm, a cattle stampede, the death-defying antics of their nieces and Betsy’s rifle toting parents Silas and Belle Tanner Harden (The Husband Tree)? An entertaining, sweet read.

Amanda Cabot’s “The Fourth of July Bride,” takes us to the Wyoming Territory in 1886 where cattle baron Gideon Carlisle is in need of a temporary fiancée to appease his beloved mother. Learning that baker Naomi Towson needs money to pay for her mother’s eye surgery, he offers a possible solution. He’ll pay for the procedure if she will take on the pretense during his mother’s summer visit. While Mrs. Towson has a successful surgery, it is Gideon that ultimately gets his vision and faith restored.

Maureen Lange tells the story of The Summer Harvest Bride, in which Miss Sally Hobson meets Mr. Lukas Daughton, his father and four brothers, traveling grist mill builders that arrive in Finchville, Illinois in the spring of 1851. However, Willis Pollit, the son of the town mayor believes that she belongs to him. This story shows how hope and trust, once given, overcome treachery and fear to make room for truth and love.

Summer light and refreshing reads, good for any time of the year.

I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book from Net Galley in exchange for my honest review.

The 12 Brides of Summer – Novella Collection #2

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Merchant of Alyss – An Emotional Roller Coaster

Merchant of Alyss (Legends of the Realm, #2)Merchant of Alyss by Thomas Locke
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Thomas Locke (aka Davis Bunn) is a master at crafting opening scenes. Merchant of Alyss, the second book in the Legends of the Realm series tells of victory, restoration, loss, loyalty, love and duty. It begins with a battle between another crimson mage and a fighting forest.
Once again Hyam, Joelle, the Wizard Trace, Captain Meda and various royalty, wizards and elves are facing the rage of the crimson mages. They are joined by Shona, Corporal Alembord and other new, interesting characters.

I compare this story to that of a really good roller coaster ride. Hyam is still mourning the loss of his powers, sacrificed in order to destroy the evil crimson mage and save the lives of others. Now he discovers Milantian scrolls of war that only he can read, and must embark with his comrades upon a mission to find the Merchant of Alyss and obtain the others.

Destiny requires more offerings from him. They are costly, forcing a goodbye to a beloved companion, resisting an unwanted love, historical secrets unveiled, and a devastating attack that leads to twists and turns and heartbreak. It’s both sweet and bitter. Then onto the next upward climb of attacks and twists and turns. Hope is gained, then lost. Alliances are formed, treachery is exposed. Again we descend into a fast loop and another slow descent. It’s kind of emotional if you get into stories like I do, but it is necessary as great destinies are revealed.

I went on this adventure, not realizing it was a sophomore coming of age story. I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but I experienced sadness, anger and indignation and the occasional laugh. If you know the secret of The Neverending Story, then you can rest assured that I did a lot of vocal engaging in the story as I went.

Some readers will find this book series controversial and not to their taste. That’s understandable, because there is a great amount of wizardry and spells. I admit, that’s not my favorite scenario either, but there is a story being told here. Hyam’s attitude and actions to the contrary, magic is the vehicle, not the principal thing. It’s a battle between the deceptive thirst for power at any cost versus the strength of truth and humility of love. Lessons are learned. Personal sacrifice is required to attain greatness, and you have to show up for the fight even when you don’t want to. I don’t mean to sound like Yoda. It’s a truth that is greater than fiction.

I did not like everyone in this book, but I grew to respect them. I did not like everything that occurred, but I was compelled to keep reading. Did I like the book? Overall, yes, but I was mad. It ended with unresolved issues, and I have to wait for book three.

I anticipate resolutions in the third book. I expect thrills, heroic actions and powerful retaliation. The roller coaster once again begins to ascend, but we will have to wait, hearts beating rapidly as we go. And sometime before the next book comes out, I will read this one again.

I received a complimentary advanced reader’s copy of this book from Revell in exchange for my honest review. Merchant of Alyss

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The Monday After Valentine’s Day

Well, Valentine’s Day 2015 has taken its place in the annals of history. Let’s move on to 50% off chocolate, a movie and a book shout out. I spent my February 14th in the company of some really fun people. We had great appetizers, witty conversation, and we watched a fun film: Christian Mingle: The Movie. Have you seen it? I think it could become a habit.
Watch the trailer, you’ll get the premise.

Christian Mingle_The MovieGwyneth Haden is a successful, pretty young woman who wants to meet a sincere kind of guy. What’s a girl to do? Well, the answer is NOT lie about her commitment on a Christian dating site, and then take on a crash course in Bible and Christian talk. Yes, she tries to fake a relationship with God so she can get a good guy. I can understand how she might try it. There are some hypocrites and phonies out there. Some of them even attend church for the wrong reasons. So I guess some people might think it would be easy to fake being a Christian. Although I’ve not gone the route of online dating, I do know a few people that are pretty savvy about this kind of communication. Most of the people I know aren’t so much looking for mates as they are new friends.

I liked the movie. It kind of reminded me of a two-part book I read last year, I Met Him in The Ladie’s Room, by Michelle Stimpson. The book introduces us to Kerri Dalee, a young woman with a pain-filled past, who is trying to become a success at something. She is so desperate for a job in her field that she applies for a position at a mega-church. She does lack one of the primary qualifications in the job description, she isn’t Born-again. So she makes a decision for Christ just before her job interview. The title tells you where that happens.(Amazon let’s you get a listen to their Audible.com version of the book.)

Talk about your Christianity 101 crash course! Kerri is really trying to learn how to do the ‘”Christian thing”.The book is  engaging, heartfelt and laugh out loud funny. It addresses the questions many Christians ask about the “acceptable” lifestyle. Do Christians drink, date, go to clubs and bars? It seems that everyone has an opinion about the proper way to conduct a successful Christian lifestyle. Most of those opinions are voiced by people outside of the church life.

I wonder sometimes if the  reason so many people are so wrong about what a true life in Christ is about is because, life Gwyneth and Kerri, they believe it is a religious pursuit, instead of a relationship. I question how many of the people that faithfully attend church every week, month or year pursue the relationship available. I see a lot of stress and desperation on a number of faces on any given Sunday. Although they claim a relationship with the Lord, it doesn’t seem to provide a lot of joy. If it’s real, where’s the joy?

Is it possible to fake a Christian life? Yes. My question is why do it? Is it for a mate, a job, a list of goods and services available through God’s people? Why go for the fakery, when Jesus Himself is available to give you the real thing? Why would you choose to fake it?

Although I’m curious, you don’t have to answer to me. After allI’m just asking.

Exiting the Comfort Zone

There will be occasions in my writings when I will reference an experience or two from the 2014 Mount Hermon Christian Writers Conference…such as now. This being my first time attending, my expectations consisted primarily of questions to God. I knew He had a purpose for me to be there. He knew. I had to discover it.

I attend Astounding Love Church in San Jose, California. We have a destiny statement, which speaks to people gathering locally “to be equipped and inspired to Experience God, Discover Purpose, Unleash Potential and Achieve their Destiny.”

During those five days in April, I could hear the gentle laughter of my Heavenly Father as He embraced and led me to experience Him anew. It was so lovely; I’m smiling as I type this. I was in the company of artistic individuals. Many were the kind of folks that exploit their own personal experiences, emotions and relationships in order to convey a meaningful sentence, paragraph or story to a reader. My heart recognized them. Writers: my kind of people!

Through various conversations and listening to Glenna Salsbury, our Divinely appointed keynote, the Father’s purpose for this time in my life unfolded. Ms. Salsbury reminds me of my own amazing mother Dr. Baker (who is also my mentor, pastor and hero). As she dispensed anecdotal wisdom and encouragement, my inner self was stirring. I sat at meal tables, walked up and down hills and interacted with others; and at every encounter I responded to the instructions of the still, small Voice inside. Listen. Ask. Listen again. Answer. Ask. Listen some more. Move away from what you have been. Learn who I want you to be.

So I did. I made a few intentional life decisions. 1) Be and live transparently, 2) increase in humility and love, and 3) eliminate all comfort zones.  Like the Bible talks about in Hebrews 12:1, these comfort zones were my “easily besetting sin,” a horrible justification of mediocrity and stagnated creativity. I’m referring to the moments when I caved to the panicky voice that said: don’t rock the boat, don’t push, don’t bother, don’t say anything, it will be better if you just don’t take the risk. That kind of panic fosters a weird concept of being safe, secure, and in control; it does not promote great adventures. I wasn’t safe. I wasn’t secure. I was not in control. Really I was being untrue to myself and counterproductive to my dreams. The first steps away from comfortable at the conference involved talking to people that I ordinarily would not approach (agents and editors and publishers, oh my!)

I dared to share with others what I have written and what I plan to write. I perfected my first 10 second elevator pitch for my work in progress, a fantasy novel. And I discovered that I spoke to people that were just as interested in hearing me as I was in hearing them. I received feedback, invitations to stay in touch, and I was encouraged to make the pudding and prepare to share it.

Yeah, I took off the mask, opened my ears and heart and bid adieu to the façade of false humility that was my comfort zone. By doing so, I moved into the realization that my potential is now unleashed. I’ve got vivid new paint colors for my future, no more same-shame-same for me. Whoo hoo!  

I’ve discovered that I’m truly committed to make my own destiny statement. My destiny is NOT a yellow brick road sing along with a picnic basket, a little dog, and the rest of the characters in the story. I don’t think it’s on the other side of a rainbow either. No, it’s an intentional choice in this time to follow the path created for me by my Heavenly Father. Daily I choose to reinforce my decision to impact the lives of others for good. It’s the little things that I do that provide the substance for greatness. I can see that now.

This little sharing raises a few questions. Do you experience God in the still, small moments of your life? He hugs us a lot more than we think that He does. He leads us more often than we actually acknowledge. Has it ever occurred to you that your purpose is not a big high resolution picture, but it’s the little pixels or moments in each season of your life that contributes to the completion of our Creator’s great vision? Think about it. We make choices all the time – either to engage or disengage from people, places and life as we know it. I wonder if we have theme music playing in the background as our show unfolds for the cloud of witnesses…yeah, that’s definitely a random thought. Anyway…I want my life to matter, don’t you?

“I’m glad that you’re here.”  Don’t you like it when people say that to you?

“I wish I had never met you.”  I’m so happy that no one has ever said that to me!

Here’s the point: the impact is felt from both statements.  Both contribute to a fulfilled series of events, a culmination of choices either intentional or stemming from careless living. Many talk about living a life of purpose. That’s cool. Let’s turn that over to the other side. Are you living in such a way that you will fulfill God’s destiny for you? What’s your destiny statement? Do you know? It’s your choice to impact others or to stay comfortable until you fade out. My intentional commentary is done for now. You already know that you don’t owe me an answer, although you might want to get one for yourself. I’ve said it more than once, and sometime soon I’ll be saying it again…I’m just asking!

The Most Significant Davis Bunn Novel to Date!

Well, writing this blog review took a bit longer than I anticipated. You get the long playing version that includes my commentary and usual closing here. I posted the straight reviews on Amazon and Goodreads.
Here’s what I like about reading a Davis Bunn novel. It takes less than one minute to get pulled into the story. His characters are well-drawn. He really knows how to capture the voice of people (the gender, the ethnicity and the generation); and he provides more than one perspective.
The Turning, his latest book, is significant, gripping, heraldic, hopeful and intentional. I’ll just tell you point blank, you need to read this book!
There are so many directions I can go with this review, but I’m going to go the way of my heart.
Imagine being inspired to perpetuate a viral mindset that revolves around the death of all hope. It is an invitation to entertain all that is dark, fearful, evil and devastating to the psyche and life of mankind. At heart, you are launching an attack against God, His Word and His people.
Now imagine being invited by God Himself to be part of a team of individuals gathered to confront that viral message.
You are caught up in the fast pace of one man’s unsavory ambition to take down the church and then you are called to a front row seat to watch the Almighty’s strategy unfold. John, Alisha, Jenny, Ruth and Yussuf, the five men and women central to the story respond to God’s voice inviting them to “take the turning, and walk the unlikely road…and you will find Me there.” Each individual knew precisely what He wanted them to do, and they obeyed.
The scripture speaks of those without God being without hope. It also speaks to the hope that is ours in Jesus Christ. The story revolves around those two positions, with the adversarial camp seeking to capitalize on the hopelessness of this generation. It may seem like a small thing, but I believe it captures the essence of our current day societal mindset.
Mr. Bunn heralds the message to those who choose to listen to get ready, for this same confrontation is being played out in social media today. Because that is so, I found it inescapable that I would also have to make a turning of my own before I finished the book. And I did.
Some may find this book “preachy.” It isn’t, it’s simply that it confronts the reader and challenges the comfort zone, even as it shows the love of God and the delineation between His Light and darkness. This is uncomfortable for some, outrageous and pushy for others. Why? It is because God is intentional and He wants His people to make His position clear to all. He desires that none should perish, so everyone gets a chance to accept or reject His love and His message of hope.
Even Trent, the ambitious young man in the story gets a chance to turn toward hope. In this book, there is no happy ending, just a deep breath between one accomplished victory and the next onslaught. The adversary is not vanquished for good…yet. Hopefully this means a sequel.
Do you ever experience a moment within yourself where you have to choose between despair and determination? It is the intent of the Father that you are victorious. When God talks, do you want to hear what He has to say or do you want Him to say what you want to hear? That is the difference between moving toward a hope filled life and moving away from it.
I think that is the cornerstone of our ability or lack thereof in being able to hear Him. It’s how we choose to listen, and how we choose to hear. It’s that choice either to listen to Him or to tell Him what you want Him to say to you. In that same vein, a great many of the supporting characters had turnings of their own to make.
What if God asked you, “Who will go for Me”? What if you then responded like the prophet Isaiah: “Here am I Lord, send me.” And then God said to you, “Take the turning, and walk the unlikely road. Take the turning, and you will find Me there.” Would you do it? Are you ready to take the turning?
When He asks you, what will you say? You already know that you don’t have to respond to my questions. After all …I’m just asking.
I received a complimentary copy of The Turning from River North Fiction in exchange for my honest review.
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To check out Video trailer for THE TURNING, by best-selling author, Davis Bunn. http://youtu.be/oIP6FhBjgOI
Davis Bunn talks about his  novel, THE TURNING. http://youtu.be/e3dodFsx9WI
You can also download the free devotional or read the first three chapters by clicking here: theturningbook.com/