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The Power of Words

Everything related to books, music and life - with a Christian focus

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Dan Walsh, Gary Smalley
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Review: In Perfect Time by Sarah Sundin



Simply stated, I enjoyed everything about In Perfect Time - and the whole Wings of the Nightingale series, for that matter. World War II fiction is a genre I've only started reading recently, and Sarah Sundin deserves a lot of the credit. While In Perfect Time can stand alone, characters and setting continue throughout and reading the whole series will give a much deeper reading experience. The previous books are With Every Letter and On Distant Shores.


This is an especially appealing series because World War II flight nurses were courageous pioneers - and while they didn't receive badges and medals, they risked their lives in dangerous operations. Sarah's writing exhibits extensive knowledge of historical events and locations, yet this never slows or overpowers the narrative.


Set in the Mediterranean Theater of Operations, with a focus on war-torn Italy and southern France, Sarah has the ability to make readers feel like they are actually in the scenes with the way she blends the serious and fun times. We experience everything from an emergency landing behind enemy lines and the courage of partisans, to the big bands and U.S. war bond tour. Opening in March 1944, In Perfect Time reunites us with Mellie, Tom, Georgie and John from the first two books, but the focus is on Lt. Kay Jobson and Lt. Roger Cooper.


Something I especially appreciate about Sarah's writing is the depth she gives her characters. "For Lt. Kay Jobson, flight nursing . . . meant reconnecting a broken soldier with the shards of his humanity." With these opening words, we get a glimpse of Kay's heart for the wounded, a sharp contrast to the surface image she creates with her flirtatious dating of several men at the same time. She's bold and confident, driven to stay in control no matter what - but her bold façade masks deep hurts. Roger, a C-47 pilot who ferries supplies and paratroopers throughout the Mediterranean, is biding his time until he can become a big band drummer. Both Kay and Roger are appealing and vulnerable characters who have bought into the lies and put-downs received from their families through the years - Kay, that she was irredeemable, and Roger, that he would never amount to anything. Just like in real life, these inner beliefs had a disastrous effect on their personal relationships and job performance, and this really drew me to Roger and Kay.


Christian fiction should inspire readers, and that is exactly what In Perfect Time did for me. One of my favorite parts was when Roger followed God's prompting and gave his Bible filled with personal notes to Kay. Being so attuned to God that we can sense His prompting and then be willing to follow it - that's something I think many of us strive for. And being open enough to share a painful past because it just might be what someone needs to hear. Readers will find the spiritual journeys of Roger and Kay very moving.


Romance fans will not be disappointed, for while Roger and Kay's story is tender and sweet, the chemistry between them is great. In Perfect Time brings the storylines of Mellie & Tom, Georgie & John, Kay & Roger to a beautiful conclusion - and while many authors tend to rush their endings, Sarah gives one of the most satisfying conclusions I've ever read. Highly recommended.


Thank you to Revell for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Source: http://booksmusicandlife.blogspot.com/2014/08/review-in-perfect-time.html

Thoroughly engaging contemporary romance



First Blush is the first book I've read by Rebeca Seitz and I loved everything about it! Contemporary romance, women's fiction, chick lit - no matter the classification, it's an engaging read. Some social drinking is present, but not in a way that stands out. From characterization to storyline, dialogue to setting, and laced with humor throughout, Rebeca is a strong writer. First Blush is actually a novella of approximately 100 pages that sets the stage for more stories to follow, and I'm very eager to continue on with these characters.


When it comes to setting, Rebeca made me "feel" Naples - its breathtaking water views, stately mansions, and with keen insight into how the elite of society think and behave. Money doesn't always bring happiness, as we all know, and I felt for the Mrs. Pelser described by Elizabeth:  "Here she sat, day after day, in a beautiful home that she barely saw, married to a husband who barely saw her. It must be lonely. And tiring. And purposeless."


The main characters were very interesting, real, and easy to connect with. 30 years old and alone after her husband left with a younger woman, Elizabeth hasn't found her purpose or calling in life, struggles to pay the rent, and fails to live up to what a society daughter in the Bakersfield family should be. And then there's the personable and mysterious Nick - I really can't wait to learn more about him.


I've never heard of a place like Ganderley's and while I'd like to think it's a real place, I suspect it's a part of Rebeca's imagination. Ganderley's started when two sisters, Elva and Esther, lost their husbands and found themselves in possession of eight houses, two yachts, several vehicles, and tons of books and antiques. I loved these ladies who decided to share their wealth by letting people borrow whatever they needed, kind of like a fancy lending library. As a musician, I found Elizabeth's thoughts about Ganderley's music room moving:  "I entered the music room and cast a glance toward the baby grand gleaming in the corner of the room. Instruments captivate me. All that potential, just waiting for a skilled and talented person to notice and take action. They look like orphans, waiting to be loved."


There's not a lot of obvious faith elements in this novella, but I suspect we'll see more as the series unfolds. I liked how Elva shared her spiritual wisdom with Elizabeth:  "There's no need to rush about. . . . You'll find your path and then you'll know that everything leading up to it was necessary."  Just another reminder of how, even though we might not understand at the moment, we can trust that God was working for our good all along.


Rebeca is currently working on the next story, Second Glance, and I can't wait! First Blush comes to a satisfactory conclusion, but with the promise of much more to come. Highly recommended. 5-star rating given in comparison to other novellas that I've read.


Thank you to BookFun for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Source: http://booksmusicandlife.blogspot.com/2014/07/review-first-blush.html

Review: Joseph, Beyond the Coat of Many Colors


Joseph, Beyond the Coat of Many Colors, part of the Following God series by AMG Publishers, is an eight-week Bible study that takes an in-depth look at the life of Joseph, beginning with his ancestors, Abraham and Sarah. Each week's study is divided into five days and follows a specific time period or event in Joseph's life. All that is needed for the study is this workbook and your Bible. It also works well for either personal or group study. The Following God series is excellent, and Mary Englund Murphy's Joseph is no exception.


Numerous books and studies have been written on the life of Joseph - so why this particular one? That's easy . . . Mary is a good teacher and communicator; she sends you straight to the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. But one thing I particularly like about this study, as well as all of the Following God series, is that it works well for both the mature believer and new Christian alike. These studies point us to God's Word so that we can apply its truths to our own lives.


For someone who has grown up in the church, like me, the story of Joseph is very familiar. But through his humility, wisdom, willingness to extend forgiveness to those who harmed him, and acceptance of his small part in God's big picture, there is so much richness to be reminded of and continually apply to my daily life. This is something at which Mary excels. We all have to deal with life's trials, and this study gives a deeper understanding of how important my attitude is and how I can grow personally through these trials.


Quotes really speak to me - they are quick to get my attention, make me think, and are easily remembered. These are just a few of my favorites from the workbook:


"A half-truth is a whole lie."


"Where would you be if God lost His patience with you?"


"Becoming a good leader first requires becoming a good servant."


"We don't always need to know God's purpose; we only need to know He has a purpose."


"Let go of the past, walk in the present, let God hold the future."


"When you say you can't forgive, you're saying your standard for forgiveness is higher than God's."


Joseph, Beyond the Coat of Many Colors is a Bible study which will increase your understanding of a familiar story and from which you will grow spiritually. Highly recommended for personal or group use.


Thank you to BookFun for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. 

Source: http://booksmusicandlife.blogspot.com/2014/07/review-joseph-beyond-coat-of-many-colors.html

Review: An Amish Garden

An Amish Garden is a collection of stories from four talented and popular authors:  Beth Wiseman, Vannetta Chapman, Kathleen Fuller, and Tricia Goyer. Uplifting and encouraging, these stories emphasize aspects of faith and simple living.


I started reading this book in the middle of an extremely busy time in my life, and found it so relaxing and enjoyable, peaceful and inspiring. Each story is well written, with characters and plot that left me wanting more. This is one of the best collections I've read in a long time.


Vannetta writes:  "Gardens are a place of comfort for many of us. For Amish families, they are also a source of nourishment, a family gathering place, and sometimes a place where healing can be found." And she is exactly right, because when I reflect on the word garden, this is what comes to mind:  beauty, sustenance, new life, God's provision, sanctuary.


Let me first confess that I am not a gardener in any sense of the word, yet I love to gaze on the beauty of a simple daffodil that my husband picked for me. And vegetable gardens remind me of the years when my Dad came home from a long day's work and delayed his supper until he had spent several hours tilling and planting our family garden. Or working beside my mother and grandmother in the canning/freezing process. So while An Amish Garden entertained and inspired, it also brought back treasured memories with loved ones I look forward to seeing in heaven someday.


Rooted in Love Beth Wiseman - I was drawn to Saul and Rosemary, loved the chemistry between them. Many readers will identify with Rosemary's spiritual growth as she comes to realize that she can't have it all, but that's okay. Contentment only comes from a close relationship with God and finding that what He provides is more fulfilling than anything we could desire.


Flowers for Rachael Kathleen Fuller - This sweet story has a delightful twist toward the end. I also loved the way Kathleen began each chapter with a quote. This one by Martin Luther was a favorite:  "God writes the Gospel not in the Bible alone, but also on trees, and in the flowers and clouds and stars."


Seeds of Love Tricia Goyer - An enchanting bachelor scribe character, heirloom tomato seeds passed down through generations, Amish proverbs - there's so much to learn and enjoy in Tricia's story! How true this proverb is:  "A garden is a way of showing that you believe in tomorrow." This story also has a surprising twist at the end, and a lesson that we often find difficult to accept in Sadie's words:  "What I tried to hold on to, I lost. What was given up - shared - is the only thing that was saved."


Where Healing Blooms Vannetta Chapman - I can't put my finger on how she does it, but Vannetta has a unique way of writing that makes me care about the characters on the page and feel their emotions. And she injects a subtle humor that kept me smiling as I turned each page.


I love it when an author uses an older couple as leading characters, and I don't see how anyone can help but be drawn to Emma and Danny. The relationship between Emma and her mom, Mary Ann, is touching, almost hitting a little close to home for me at times - but in a good way.


Of all the things that spoke to me in this story, I think it's the idea that no matter our age, God isn't through with us. If we can just be completely open, we might be shocked at how God blesses and uses our surrendered lives!


An Amish Garden is a thoroughly enjoyable read, one that I highly recommend.


Thank you to Vannetta Chapman and Thomas Nelson Publishing for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Source: http://booksmusicandlife.blogspot.com/2014/03/review-amish-garden.html

Review: The Christmas Quilt

The Christmas Quilt - Vannetta Chapman

Each stand-alone novel in the Quilts of Love series features a quilt with a meaningful story behind it. This delightful series has a cozy, down-home feel to it, but with a surprising amount of emotion and depth. While I have enjoyed several Quilts of Love stories, The Christmas Quilt is one of my favorites.


This novel captures a lot of what I look for in a Christian fiction novel: a well-written story with characters who are real and that I care about, who face struggles and doubts honestly, and who grow spiritually as they live out a faith that is genuine. Vannetta takes us on a return visit to Annie and Samuel from 2010's A Simple Amish Christmas, but this story easily stands alone.


I loved how this story involves two married couples who are both expecting their first child. At first, Leah and Adam struggle with foolish misconceptions as Leah feels unloved, while Adam fears that he won't measure up as a father.  But Annie and Samuel's deep love is beautifully expressed by Samuel in a conversation about the bond of a long marriage:  "I think each year that passes, two hearts become more entwined, like two vines growing side by side. Eventually it must become difficult to know where the beat of one stops and the beat of the other begins."


I am unashamedly a fan of Amish fiction for three simple reasons:  faith, family and community - and Vannetta has done a masterful job focusing on these elements in The Christmas Quilt.


The nine-patch crib quilt that Annie is making for Leah - featuring Sunbonnet Sue and Overall Sam - becomes a major character. Readers will be moved by the touching way that Annie and Leah, inspired by the fruit of the Spirit qualities from Galatians 5, tell stories as they quilt of people in their lives who reflect each of these nine qualities. I also applaud the way prayer was shown to be of such primary importance in the characters' lives, as easy and natural as God intended it to be.


The Amish believe in taking care of their own when needs arise, and they are amazingly successful at it. To support Leah and Adam when they are faced with high medical costs, the community puts together a benefit auction, for "It is biblical for all of the community to minister to our children - and to us - in our time of need" (Adam). And the essential role of family is beautifully summed up in Jacob's words: "Each of you are responsible for praying for these precious kinner, and also for helping raise them, for children need an entire family, not merely a mamm and dat."


The Christmas Quilt is a feel-good read that both entertains and inspires, perfect for Christmas or any time. Highly recommended to those who enjoy inspirational fiction.


This book was provided by Litfuse Publicity in exchange for my honest review.

Shadows of the Past

Shadows of the Past by debut author Patricia Bradley has it all - sharp prose, intriguing setting, well-developed characters, and a fast-moving plot that will grab and hold your attention from the beginning. As much as I love a good murder mystery, I'm not a fan of suspense, but I was drawn to Shadows of the Past because of its southern setting and interesting description. And once I started reading, it was hard to put down!


While the suspense element was strong, I enjoyed this story so much because it seemed more character-driven than other suspense novels I've read. Taylor Martin's specialty is victimology - figuring out how and why the victim was chosen, and creating a profile of the victim as well as the offender. Because of a case in which she was involved, Taylor comes back to home and family in Logan Point, Mississippi - a place with an unsolved mystery in her personal life and a place where she never felt good enough.


I was immediately drawn to Nick Sinclair, popular mystery writer who is still grieving the loss of his wife, Angie, in a senseless robbery/murder. "Grieving had become familiar, almost comfortable" to him. Yet Taylor sensed that he was a good, caring man who would never fail to stand by those he loved.


But it's Aunt Kate, with her genuine faith and willingness to open her home to whoever God might send, that is at the heart of this narrative. Kate is a potter who works out of a transformed carriage house behind her home, a true southern setting:  "As Taylor drove the winding, tree-lined drive to the hundred-year-old house . . . the two-story Victorian looked like a bed and breakfast with its three-gabled roof and wraparound porch."


Patricia also created a beautiful and fascinating setting in the Martin family home place. With its tunnels connecting to caves in a nearby river bluff, Oak Grove was once used to aid slaves escaping to the North as part of the Underground Railroad. Its basement is also the source of terrifying "shadows of the past" memories for Taylor.


The romance between Nick and Taylor is believable and sparkles with good chemistry. The mystery is developed very nicely, with good clues scattered throughout - and I didn't have to skim through too many scary parts!


I also liked how spiritual elements seemed a natural part of the narrative. While Taylor believes in God, she struggles with unanswered prayers in her life, and that's something to which many Christians can relate.  And I think it's Nick's honest words that speak to all of us:  "I struggled with my faith when Angie died. . . . But in the end, my faith is what sustained me."


I look forward to whatever Patricia has in store for us next - hoping, of course, to see more of these characters. Shadows of the Past is a wonderful debut that I highly recommended to fans of mystery and suspense.


Thank you to Revell for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Source: http://booksmusicandlife.blogspot.com/2014/02/review-shadows-of-past.html

Review: Huckleberry Hill

Huckleberry Hill - Jennifer Beckstrand

Huckleberry Hill, book #1 in The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series, is a delightful Amish romance about an elderly couple who decide to meddle in their grandchildren's lives in order to help them find suitable mates. Jennifer's voice is different from anything I've read in Amish fiction, and I found it very refreshing. Huckleberry Hill has a beautiful sense of place in the Wisconsin Amish country, endearing lead characters in Moses and Lia, plenty of conflict, sweet romance, humor - and the most adorable, scheming grandparents I've ever seen. This is such an enjoyable read!


There's good character depth here, something I always look for in a book, and character weaknesses are exposed, as well as strengths. It is so much fun to watch the growing attraction between Moses and Lia, but it is the conflict introduced by Lia's sister around which everything revolves. Rachel and her father don't seem to fit our image of believers committed to the Amish faith, yet it is this conflict that drives the story and captured my attention throughout.


Rachel is an extremely irritating character who just grinds on your nerves - blessed with a beauty that didn't go beneath the surface. She was pampered, spoiled, lazy, conniving - the complete opposite of Lia. "Rachel wanted for nothing, while Lia's charge was to watch out for her delicate younger sister." There's even an allusion to the story of Rachel and Leah in the Old Testament, on which Moses reflects:  "It seemed her dat moved his daughters around like pieces on a chessboard. Lia was the expendable one, and Rachel played the queen. Well, Moses refused to be the pawn."


But it is the grandparents, Felty and Anna, who captured my heart and wouldn't let go. They could get away with throwing two young people together to see if sparks might ignite because no one would ever suspect this seemingly guileless couple of such mischief. Anna loves to experiment with new recipes, often with disastrous results - and one of my favorite scenes is her meatball supper. Felty, the perfect husband for Anna, could pop scorching hot meatballs into his mouth because a childhood accident had impaired his sense of taste and smell.


On a spiritual level, we see much personal growth in Moses and Lia, and comforting Scriptures are often quoted in a way that easily flows with the narrative. Felty and Anna are filled with spiritual wisdom, and I enjoyed one particular conversation between Felty and Lia. I would have liked to see some sign of transformation or redemption in Rachel's character, so I will keep hoping for that.


Huckleberry Hill is a story you can relax with and enjoy your time spent in its pages. In fact, it was hard to read without a smile on my face! Readers of Amish fiction will enjoy this story that is different from many others on the market. Book #2, Huckleberry Summer, releases in June 2014.


Thank you to Jane Nutter and Kensington Books for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Source: http://booksmusicandlife.blogspot.com/2014/04/review-huckleberry-hill.html

Review: Healer of Carthage

Authentic from a historical perspective, realistic from an emotional standpoint, challenging and relevant for us today are just a few ways to describe Lynne Gentry's debut novel, Healer of Carthage, book one in the Carthage Chronicles. Although I rarely read a novel where time travel is involved, I enjoyed this story to the point of barely being able to put it down. So I will say that if you're a fan of early Roman history, you will love this story; and if you're not a fan of early Roman history, you will love this story!


I can't begin to imagine the hours of research involved, because Lynne's writing incorporates some actual historical characters and shows impeccable knowledge of Ancient Rome and its medical practices. The story is primarily plot driven, yet characterization is strong. Lisbeth is a bright, driven, 28-year-old medical intern whose god is science. Cyprian is a handsome Roman noble who is struggling to abandon his pagan beliefs for his newfound faith. With his hard edges but kind heart and generosity, he is such an appealing figure! There is strong chemistry between Cyprian and Lisbeth, and this element is done very well. The supporting characters of Magdalena and her Down-syndrome child, Laurentius, also add much depth to the story.


One of the most gripping scenes was when Cyprian and Lisbeth attended a day of games at the Carthage sports complex, a colossal structure built by Rome to intimidate their conquered provinces. As thousands of spectators beheld unimaginable cruelty and death with something akin to apathy, I felt like I was reading words of warning to us today.

"No one in the stands moved. Screams of innocent women and children would echo from this place for generations, and yet not one spectator in the seats would lift a finger to stop the barbarism. Deaf ears. Blind eyes. . . . Good people doing nothing. The fall of every civilization playing out before her very eyes."


I also felt Lynne's words often presented a challenge, conviction in their very essence as I was forced to examine the strength of my faith. For with the edict to bow the knee to Rome's Emperor and the rise of persecution, Ancient Rome was not a comfortable place for Christians. Caecilianus, bishop of the church in Carthage, speaks these words to a gathering of Christians:  "Because Christ suffered for me, I will do what I can for him. . . . Brothers and sisters, stay the course. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you, even to the point of death."


As the story progresses, Lisbeth learns more about Cyprian's God and wonders if He could have sent her there for a purpose - with this conclusion:  "Shame on her if she stood by and did nothing." And that's something that every reader will have to ask and decide.


The narrative comes to a satisfactory conclusion, but readers may have a hard time waiting for book two in the series. Healer of Carthage is a strong debut by Lynne Gentry and I highly recommend it to all readers.


Thank you to Howard Books and NetGalley for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Source: http://booksmusicandlife.blogspot.com/2014/03/review-healer-of-carthage.html

Review: Blowing on Dandelions

Blowing on Dandelions, set in Baker City, Oregon in 1880, is the first book in Miralee Ferrell's Love Blossoms in Oregon series. Like other books I've read of Miralee's, this story deals with life/family issues - namely, long-running conflict between a mother and daughter.  Both narrative and plot are strong, and we are introduced to some very interesting characters.


Katherine is a character I sympathized with and admired from the beginning - a daughter who felt unwanted, unable to measure up to her domineering mother's  expectations. "Always her memory returned to those times when the dandelion fluff had carried her away to a place where mothers were loving and kind, and little girls didn't need to be afraid of cutting words or sharp voices." The quiet, rugged strength of Micah Jacobs is exactly what Katherine needs, and while the mother/daughter conflict takes center stage, their romance is sweet and enjoyable.


Miralee very effectively uses the vehicle of a boardinghouse to place an unusual assortment of characters in close vicinity, and even more conflict is introduced with the arrival of guest Wilma Roberts, who I grew to love. Wilma is an imposing and proud woman, yet she senses that Katherine's mother is lonely and determines to become her friend. And then there's the mysterious Jeffery Tucker, who I suspect we will see much more of.


Katherine's mother, Frances, is an extremely abrasive character who made me even more thankful than I already am for the wonderful mother I was blessed with. Anyone who has experienced family conflict can relate to this story and be inspired by the hope that it offers. I like the slow, but steady spiritual growth that several characters experience.


One of the best things about a series is getting to continue on with certain characters, and I look forward to what Miralee has in store for us in Wishing on Buttercups, which releases on February 1, 2014.  Recommended to those who enjoy historical romance and relationship drama.


Rating is based on personal criteria explained on blog sidebar at:


Source: http://booksmusicandlife.blogspot.com/2014/01/review-blowing-on-dandelions.html

Review: Grace Given



Grace Given by Beth Shriver is book 2 in the Touch of Grace trilogy, a series is about three faithful women who, when faced with three separate hardships, are torn between the men they love and staying true to themselves. Lead characters from the first book appear only as minor characters here, so this story can really stand alone. I enjoyed Grace Given and am glad to recommend it.


I have read the first two books in this series and enjoyed both. Beth's writing differs from a lot of Amish fiction that I've read in that she deals with difficult, sensitive themes and she does it well.


In Grace Given, many Amish families have migrated to Texas in order to build new lives where land was available. "The land was cheaper here, and when a man had three or more sons to parcel his land off, it wasn't enough in their former community." Problems often arose because these families represented both the Old Order and New Order faiths, so these beliefs had to be reconciled.



Full review can be read here:


Source: http://booksmusicandlife.blogspot.com/2013/10/review-grace-given.html

Review: Every Waking Moment

Every Waking Moment - Chris Fabry

Every Waking Moment by Chris Fabry is an uplifting, human tale of an ordinary woman with an extraordinary gift, and this novel goes on my top inspirational fiction list. All the elements that elevate it to that rank are present:  lyrical prose, rich characterization, emotionally gripping themes, compelling message, and the power to effect change in how one thinks. Highly recommended.


This is a difficult review to write because it will be hard for me to do justice to this wonderful novel. The engaging writing style held my interest from the beginning and the themes are both vital and compelling. I wish there were more
novels like this in the Christian fiction genre.


See full review at http://booksmusicandlife.blogspot.com/2013/09/review-every-waking-moment.html

Review: Worship Walk

Worship Walk: where worship and life intersect - Gareth J Goossen

"Worship changes who we are as we pursue who God is."


This opening sentence is a descriptive prelude to all that Gareth shares from his heart in this compelling book on worship. Many people confine worship to what they experience on Sunday morning, specifically the music. But this book's subtitle - "where worship and life intersect" - expresses an important truth.


I have been involved in local church worship ministry for over 50 years, and I initially thought that Worship Walk would just be another book among many written on the topic of worship. However, I was pleasantly surprised to be quickly caught up in the various aspects of our daily lives that Gareth spotlights "through the lens of worship," as Kevin Boese wrote in his endorsement. And that's exactly how it should be, as worship encompasses all of life - not just music and not just worship services. Someone once said that if worship doesn't take place Monday through Friday, then it will never happen on Sunday.


The rest of my review can be read at http://booksmusicandlife.blogspot.com/2013/09/review-worship-walk-by-gareth-j-goossen.html