Wednesday, September 11, 2019

On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness

From Amazon:
Once, in a cottage above the cliffs on the Dark Sea of Darkness, there lived three children and their trusty dog Nugget. Janner Igiby, his brother Tink, their crippled sister Leeli are gifted children as all children are, loved well by a noble mother and ex-pirate grandfather. But they will need all their gifts and all that love to survive the evil pursuit of the venomous Fangs of Dang who have crossed the dark sea to rule the land with malice and pursue the Igibys who hold the secret to the lost legend and jewels of good King Wingfeather of the Shining Isle of Anniera.

Andrew Peterson spins a quirky and riveting tale of the Igibys’ extraordinary journey from Glipwood’s Dragon Day Festival and a secret hidden in the Books and Crannies Bookstore, past the terrifying Black Carriage, clutches of the horned hounds and loathsome toothy cows surrounding AnkleJelly Manor, through the Glipwood Forest and mysterious treehouse of Peet the Sock Man (known for a little softshoe and wearing tattered socks on his hands and arms), to the very edge of the Ice Prairies.

Full of characters rich in heart, smarts, and courage, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness presents a world of wonder and a tale children of all ages will cherish, families can read aloud, and readers’ groups are sure to discuss for its layers of meaning about life’s true treasure and tangle of the beautiful and horrible, temporal and eternal, and good and bad.

This series has been on my to-read list for a long time. While I first fell in love with the music of Andrew Peterson, this first book also brings out another side of his art life. Though primarily a story for children, Andrew Peterson writes in a way that delights readers of all ages. I love the creativeness in his fantasy elements. Things like real-life treehouses, toothy cows (which are actually quite dreadful), Fangs, clever names for places, socks for hands, and an annual festival that carries more adventure than meets the eye.

Andrew Peterson clearly marks good from bad. This is a key element that seems to be missing from many books today, and I'm grateful for the clarity in even a children's book. The Black Carriage carries a nameless fear with it. The Fangs of Dang represent a wicked authority in the land of Glipwood, and the untold family pain also holds sadness of its own. Good comes in the form of a little dog named Nugget, a wise grandfather's counsel, and the humor that perhaps only adults would pick up on.

I love how Peet the Sock Man's story is woven into the Igiby family's history. While reading it, I was reminded of the people who suffer from disabilities/special needs or mental health struggles. Peet and Leeli share a special connection (one which isn't always seen as a good thing by other family members) because of their physical limitations.

I think it's amazing how Peterson's talent for writing songs comes across in his characters, descriptions, and story-telling. He writes truth inside the funny, and lessons come from places least expected. There are so many secrets and the edge of danger is always present in the Igiby's travels, yet they grow together as a family and also as individuals. I really want to keep reading this series!

*I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review; all opinions are my own. 

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Seventh City by Emily Hayse

About the Book:

Let me tell you a story that happened so long ago that only the hills and rivers can remember the time . . . .”

All her life, thirteen-year-old Maki has heard tales of the legendary city of gold, buried deep in the northern frontier. But when her village is burned and her brother captured by cruel invaders, the legend becomes desperately real.

Armed with a wolf-dog and a heart of courage, Maki sets out on a journey that will demand all her strength and cunning. She is determined to bring her brother home at all costs. Yet as her quest leads her deep into a wilderness of ancient dangers, Maki realizes that even for her, some prices are too high to pay. 

From the author of Crowning Heaven comes a new and beautiful story! Emily Hayse's newest release, Seventh City, has filled some special places in my heart. As one who loves the rugged beauty of the outdoors, the one-on-one connection with a horse, and the soft warm fur of the wolf-dog breeds, this book satisfies in more ways than one. 

Maki is forced to grow up quickly as she and her brother are left to fend for themselves among the Invaders. When danger finds  her brother, she whispers "courage" to herself and follows along not realizing she will find more than she expects. I love Maki's loyalty to her brother and her feisty character. Yet among her very strong female role, she is tender and caring. She's clever and discerning when life is threatening and learns to give to her enemies even when she believes they don't deserve it. I think Emily did well creating her as a character and writing Maki in the first person POV. 

Willow Tam is my other favorite character. He is gentle and pursues Maki in friendliness even though she is so very wary of outsiders in her life. He recognizes loss and longing and is able to reach Maki's heart in ways even she isn't aware of. 

I love how Emily writes from her knowledge of horses and mushers. It is unique to see both in one story, let alone combined with a quest for treasure and and unknown city. From some of the previous blog tour posts, Emily mentioned that she herself didn't know whether the legend land of Inik Katsuk was real. I could sense that while reading, and I think it made for an amazing ending. I think all the characters end up finding things (whether physically or emotionally or mentally) that they didn't expect and it either grows them into a stronger person or reveals that flaws that will consume them. 

I love the heart that Emily put into this story--the same heart that is in Crowning Heaven, and I love both stories for it. The ending of Seventh City is bittersweet, but perfect. It ties up loose ends, but leaves the future to the imagination. Thank you for sharing this story with the world, Emily. <3

About the Author:

EMILY HAYSE is a lover of log cabins, strong coffee, and the smell of old books. Her writing is fueled by good characters and a lifelong passion for storytelling. When she is not busy turning words into worlds, she can often be found baking, singing, or caring for one of the many dogs and horses in her life. She lives with her family in Michigan.

Where to find Emily:

Website/Social Media handles:

Instagram: @songsofheroes
Twitter: @theherosinger
Facebook: /theherosinger

Buy Links: 

*I received a free copy for review from the author and publisher in exchange for my honest review. 

Monday, August 19, 2019

King's Shadow by Angela Hunt

From Amazon:
Two women occupy a place in Herod's court. The first, Salome, is the king's only sister, a resentful woman who has been told she is from an inferior race, a people God will never accept or approve.

The second woman, Zara, is a lowly handmaid who serves Salome, but where Salome spies conspiracies and treachery, Zara sees hurting people in need of understanding and compassion.

Powerful and powerless, Idumean and Jew, selfish and selfless--both women struggle to reach their goals and survive in Herod the Great's tumultuous court, where no one is trustworthy and no one is safe.

This possibly the hardest book of Hunt's to review. If you've read my previous reviews of her books set during the 400 Silent Years, you know they are packed with truth of the Messiah and history (and fiction) of the culture and times of the Jews and the countries around them. This book is no different, except that it is more complex in political and relational ways. Salome is King Herod's sister, and the person he trusts the most. Herod is placed on a precarious throne: under Rome, but in command of the Jews. Herod must appease both culture, nations, and religions in order to survive. His sister is perhaps the most important person helping him do just that. She and her servants are his eyes and ears, and no matter what she remains loyal to him. I found this special to see in a sister. Usually we read stories about wives or husbands or friends showing that kind of selfless loyalty, but not often do you see a woman who is hated by many, but clever, diplomatic, and able to serve the interests of the palace and Jews.

This is a time of turmoil and chaos. There is constant death even in the palace, as families vie for the throne and murder each other in order to gain it. Relations with Antony and Cleopatra are also a large part of this story, at least from a distance. The weight of ruling a nation weighs on Herod and Salome also bears that weight with loyalty and grace. Though neither would be considered believers in the God of Israel, Herod is half Jew, and therefore performs sacrifices and celebrations as the Jews do, but without heart.

Zara begins the story as an innocent girl growing up in a typical Jewish home. Soon Herod and Rome's men bring disaster and pain to her family and she matures quickly as she faces death and uncertainty. At a young age, she is betrothed to a sandal-maker's son: the best option to make sure she was at least provided for if anything should happen to her family. However, she is clever with her hands, and God has another purpose for her life. Soon she is brought to Herod's court as Salome's servant. She has freedom of movement within the palace, and performs important work for her mistress.

Herod's decline begins with his execution of the wife he adored (but couldn't trust). His mother-in-law is ever-scheming for ways to have her line on the throne. Zara is forced away from her family to work in the palace, and Salome is loyal to a fault to her brother and his work. Yet in the fear, uncertainty, and broken dreams of them all, God is preparing His nation for the Son he will send. Herod, too, is an instrument in God's hands, whether he realizes it or not, and Zara begins to search and find out who this HaShem is to her personally. And in the end we see the hope of the Son of God come to us: Immanuel.

I feel like this book didn't have much hope in it. It was a time of turmoil and death and scheming royal families. It's heartbreaking, but I think Hunt did well with what she had. Under the shadow of the King's court, God placed His Son. Here's to the fourth and final book of the Silent Years series!

*I received this book free from the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own and I was not required to write a positive review. 

Monday, July 22, 2019

Sex, Purity, and the Longings of a Girl's Heart by Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal

Back Cover:
"This message of God-defined sexuality is one every woman needs."--Dannah Gresh, author of And the Bride Wore White

For the modern Christian woman, embracing God's design for sexuality can often feel like an impossible pursuit. As the culture around us seeks to normalize things such as lust, pornography, erotica, and casual sex, you may be feeling immense pressure to conform. In this relatable and encouraging book, Kristen Clark and Bethany Beal share honestly about their own struggles and victories and dig into topics such as

· how your longings for intimacy point to a deeper need
· why God's original design for love, passion, and sex is good
· how to deal with secret sexual struggles
· and much more

Kristen and Bethany invite you on a personal journey to discover and reclaim a biblical vision for your sexuality--one that is good and relevant and will lead you toward true hope and lasting freedom.

"In a world riddled with sexual confusion, brokenness, and pain, I rejoice that voices like Kristen's and Bethany's are helping young women find their way--His way--and pointing them to the redeeming love and grace of Christ."--Nancy DeMoss Wolgemuth, author; teacher/host of Revive Our Hearts

This is Kristen and Bethany's newest (and third) book. Their first book, Girl Defined, dealt with God's design for women and topics such as beauty, self-worth, and femininity. I haven't read their second book, Love Defined, yet, but I hope to soon! I remember seeing the contents page from a couple people who were on this books release team and wondering how Kristen and Bethany would tackle these topics. I also remember hearing a few people shocked just from reading the table of contents. However, fear not. There is nothing too explicit or too detailed, and younger to older teens can safely read this. 

I appreciated the beginning chapters on our broken sexuality and our design especially. Both girls write honestly about their childhood upbringing and how that influenced their thought processes. They begin with the foundation that we are all sexually broken and discuss how they first began to understand the longings of their own hearts. They describe why they wrote this book and how we need to embrace sexuality as it is given by God with passion and purity. 

Society, and especially Christian circles, it seems, tend to view lust as a guy's problem. But it's not just that. Women also struggle with it just as much. It's just not talked about. But Kristen and Bethany bring that to light and share testimonies of women who decided to break that stronghold sin pattern in their life and seek help. They also bring to light what sex is, who it's meant for, and how it's a beautiful picture of what God intends for a husband and wife to enjoy. 

While this book is detailed regarding the biblical ways that sex should be viewed, I did find that it didn't define many of the struggles that girls face. There were topics discussed that I felt should have been defined rather than assuming that everyone knows what they are. However, Kristen and Bethany also provide many quotes from well-known speakers and authors which I found helpful and beautiful to read. Sometimes paraphrasing and citing just doesn't convey the same thought as another's words. 

This book includes discussion questions, helpful thoughts for singles, and an appendix regarding healing from sexual abuse. I believe this book is a gentle introduction to topics that need to be discussed, but not completely helpful in that many terms and issues aren't defined, but just generally talked about. It's a book of encouragement and testimony to those who have found victory over sin and healing in the present. Kristen and Bethany present the glory of our sexuality as our Creator intends it to be. 

*I was given this book free from the publisher. All opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review. 

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Assured by Greg Gilbert

From Amazon:

Despite our professions of belief, our baptisms, and our membership in the church, many of us secretly wonder, Am I truly saved? We worry that our love for Jesus isn't fervent enough (or isn't as fervent as someone else's). We worry that our faith isn't strong enough. We struggle through the continuing presence of sin in our lives. All this steals the joy of our salvation and can lead us into a life characterized by legalism, perfectionism, and works righteousness--the very life Jesus freed us from at the cross!

But Greg Gilbert has a message for the anxious believer--be assured. Assured that your salvation experience was real. Assured that your sins--past, present, and future--are forgiven. Assured that everyone stumbles. Assured that Jesus is not your judge but your advocate. With deep compassion, Gilbert comforts readers, encouraging them to release their guilt, shame, and anxiety to rejoice in and follow hard after the One who set them free.

Most believers will struggle with assurance during their journey as a Christian. Whether that doubt is self-inflicted or forced on them by circumstances or others' opinions, it's important that we know how to combat that doubt with the words of Scripture. Gilbert subtitles this book "Discover grace, let go of guilt, and rest in your salvation", and his first three chapters deal with the three main sources of assurance. These three sources don't save us, but if we are trusting in the cross of Christ, then we will find confidence in our salvation or conviction of our sin (if we are not saved).

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the first source: because of Jesus, we have assurance and confidence that we are permitted to stand before God's throne. Because of a works' based society and mindset, we tend to believe that we must prove our righteousness or make ourselves sinless for the moment that we enter God's presence. But not so..."our confidence that we belong in the presence of God is not self-confidence; it's Christ-confidence." Interestingly, Gilbert also notes that we must understand the complete bleakness and hopelessness of our own lives because of our sin. Knowing this leads us to realize that there is absolutely nothing we could do to even pretend to be righteous for a small amount of time and "earn" entrance to God. However, in Jesus, we have complete, unhindered, unlimited, access to the throne of God because He never failed. That is where our assurance and rest comes from. "...what the Bible actually teaches is that true assurance grows from an abject realization of our hopelessness. Why? Because that hopelessness drives us to Jesus, who is infinitely trustworthy and therefore a solid foundation for assurance."

The second driving source of assurance is the promises of Christ. Sometimes we tend to make salvation and belief something harder than what Jesus offers to us. We believe our faith isn't strong enough, or our doubt is too strong. But that ends up turning faith into something that we muster up on our own, something that we ultimately make and provide. That's not the faith God gives. His promises of assurance in His word span eternity past and future. We will never have faith that is good enough or worthy enough. We will never bring something to the table that is more than what God expects, and despite the fact that we're broken people, God promises rest to the unfailing, unfaithful, and hurting and holds His promises as sure and steadfast because of His perfect Son.

The third supernatural assurance of salvation is that of the Spirit's witness in us. I appreciate how Gilbert talks about this. Sometimes people can mention the Spirit and His work in us as something abstract or something we can't grasp. Or just something silly altogether. But Gilbert takes us to Scripture, showing us that during our silent whispers of fear and dread, the Spirit inside us flashes the "Abba! Father!" into our hearts taking hold and reminding us that He stands before God and claims us as a child of God. Gilbert mentions that the Spirit isn't something special given more to some than others at the time of salvation. It's something each Christian has at the moment of salvation, and you have it all. Every bit and completely whole. If you don't have His Spirit, you are not of the kingdom of God. I loved how Gilbert also mentioned the times when it seems like the Spirit is silent or gone, and in those times it should spur us to seek the promises of God in Scripture for purposeful gospel study. He also says that these three sources of assurance, are on an equal level. They work together to provide an unconditional foundation for the believer.

Gilbert uses the last half of this book to discuss the lies of assurance, fruits of obedience, good works (and how people misuse them), besetting sins, and the perseverance of the saints in seeking assurance. I found the chapters on obedience and good works most helpful because people tend to teach and believe that our good works demonstrate our salvation. They do, but not in the sense that they keep us saved (or save us in, the first place). Our good works flow from a grateful heart for salvation. He also talks about the passages in Scripture which lists many grievous sins and how those are meant to assure us that we are not continually walking in them which confirms our salvation. His explanation of 1 John and how to read that book with the eyes of a believer was very encouraging as well. It is not meant to make Christians doubt their salvation. It is meant to help us know that we are already saved--that was John's purpose in writing.

"Besides, the very mark of a Christian with regard to sin is that they will keep fighting, keep wrestling and striving, keep running the race set before them. And that's exactly what you're doing. Listen, your battle with sin will not last forever, and the Bible's promise is that you will outlast your sin. You will live to see it pulled from your heart by the roots and vanquished. It will take its last breath as you take your first in the bright air of eternity. Live and fight and trust Christ for that day." -Greg Gilbert, Assured, pg. 135

*I was given this book free from the publisher. All opinions are my own; I was not required to write a positive review. 

Friday, May 24, 2019

Romanov by Nadine Brandes

From Goodreads:
The history books say I died.

They don’t know the half of it.

Anastasia “Nastya” Romanov was given a single mission: to smuggle an ancient spell into her suitcase on her way to exile in Siberia. It might be her family’s only salvation. But the leader of the Bolshevik army is after them . . . and he’s hunted Romanov before.

Nastya’s only chances of survival are to either release the spell, and deal with the consequences, or enlist help from Zash, the handsome soldier who doesn’t act like the average Bolshevik. Nastya’s never dabbled in magic before, but it doesn’t frighten her as much as her growing attraction for Zash. She likes him. She thinks he might even like her . . .

That is, until she’s on one side of a firing squad . . . and he’s on the other.

I love this book. While Nadine wrote a compelling first few lines (lines I think she's quite proud of, and rightly so), it was the Dedication that made me stop and think and remember. I think all people have experience hurt, and some have dared to hope, many have forgiven, but I think few have lived or thrived after. Maybe this story will help those few, too.

Nastya deals with pain from the very start of the Bolshevik Revolution. Those opposed to her family were not kind necessarily or gentle. Even the slower social media of that time period was successful in promoting lies or rumors about the Romanov family.

I really enjoyed the history woven into Nastya's story. I had only heard glimpses of the lost Russian princess story and listen to a few songs from a soundtrack, but it was intriguing and I wanted to research it more. I recalled the disease of hemophilia in the royal family, and I liked how Nadine incorporated it into the story, along with the fantasy element of spell writing. The wiggling spells were unique and the relief that an activated spell brought to Alexei was relief to the reader too.  Being a rider, I loved any part that included horses and riding. :D

I think perhaps the Romanov kindness to everyone and anyone, including the harsh soldiers, was a sweet character trait among them all. The ex-tsar won many hearts to him by living a life of kindness and demonstrating that not all rumors or propaganda is true, and Nastya also lived her life with the same desire to be kind to all (though it didn't come as naturally to her).

Soon Nastya is entrusted with the final spells that are left in the country, hoping they will be a means for the family's salvation when necessary. The adrenaline and anxiety that accompanies that responsibility wears on Nastya, but her father's wisdom and her own learned patience teaches her to wait and trust even in the darkest moments. I loved how the family lived in exile yet hoped for changed hearts and smiles even when they knew deep down rescue was not certain at all. They made birthdays something even when there weren't any presents. They allowed themselves to love, even when they knew love could be taken from them. They remained a family when the Bolshevik army threatened to tear them apart.

My only wish for this story is that it was longer. I felt at the end that it was short, or maybe ended quickly, but maybe that was just my love for the characters and the story. I think the fantasy element of the spells was well done (not creepy at all, for those who are wondering), and it added in what was missing or unknown from the historical parts. For those who have experienced hurt in their lives, Nastya is given many choices that we all face: whether to forgive or remember, to heal or hurt, to erase or save memories. Read Romanov to see how Nastya and her family battle the hearts, minds, and danger of the Bolshevik Revolution, and see that though miles, memory, and time may divide, the bond of hearts endures.

Tuesday, April 09, 2019

The Curse of Misty Wayfair by Jaime Jo Wright

From Amazon:
Left at an orphanage as a child, Thea Reed vowed to find her mother someday. Now grown, her search takes her to Pleasant Valley, Wisconsin, in 1908. When clues lead her to a mental asylum, Thea uses her experience as a post-mortem photographer to gain access and assist groundskeeper Simeon Coyle in photographing the patients and uncovering the secrets within. However, she never expected her personal quest would reawaken the legend of Misty Wayfair, a murdered woman who allegedly haunts the area and whose appearance portends death.

A century later, Heidi Lane receives a troubling letter from her mother--who is battling dementia--compelling her to travel to Pleasant Valley for answers to her own questions of identity. When she catches sight of a ghostly woman who haunts the asylum ruins in the woods, the long-standing story of Misty Wayfair returns--and with it, Heidi's fear for her own life.

As two women across time seek answers about their identities and heritage, can they overcome the threat of the mysterious curse that has them inextricably intertwined?

I hesitated long and hard before ordering a review copy of this book. I loved Jaime's previous book The House on Foster Hill and I didn't want to be disappointed. I saw that it included the idea of a ghost and used the setting of an asylum. Put those two things together and normally you'd have a book or genre that I'd tend to stay away from. But I kept seeing it on social media when it came out, and so I read up on the book and the history of it. Then a while later, I went and read reviews from others who read it. Like one review said, the ghost idea has a "perfectly logical explanation" and indeed it does. 

I've been slowly and informally learning about mental illnesses over the past couple years. I see and hear of people just pushing the idea aside or of medical practices that just try to drug the problem away. I think it's an uncomfortable topic for most people because we aren't taught how to deal with it. Or sometimes people just don't think it exists. But those who suffer from even the more "minor" mental struggles such as anxiety or depression could tell you just how crippling it can be in the best of moments. Jaime Jo Wright explores the challenges of anxiety in her character Heidi. While Heidi doesn't know she has a story of her own that she's not aware of, she knows her mother's failing health (dementia) is bringing some things to light. Her new journey will teach her what true faith is--finding identity in her Designer and allowing others to help her when her efforts can go no further. 

Thea has her own challenges as well. While not necessarily the added burden of a mental illness, she indeed is harassed with questions of her past, since she was abandoned by her mother as a young child. As a photographer, she finds security and a sense of direction in an unexpected person, Simeon Coyle. Thea has a rough start finding business, requiring her to take unconventional methods to develop her photographs, but Simeon shows her a better way to capture the souls of the asylum--to remember those who are sometimes intentionally unremembered. Mr. and Mrs. Amos show her the gentleness and caring of true faith. 

Pleasant Valley is where Heidi's and Thea's story collide. While not pleasant in most aspects, I loved how Wright incorporated so many aspects of life's struggles in one story. She touches on mental illness, autism, child abuse, trauma, anxiety, dementia, murder, legalistic Christianity, and family division based on Protestant and Catholic beliefs. It's a complex story with a simple faith outlined through it all. Heidi and Thea are providentially given the right people in their lives to encourage and redirect them to Jesus. Usually it comes from unexpected people in unexpected ways. Each woman comes to find healing through their challenges and pain, even when answers don't make their life easier. 

I think for some, this could be an intense and somewhat scary read. While I believe that spirits do exist (both good and bad), I don't believe that they unintentionally walk the earth haunting people, so the moments that could have been unnerving were not so for me. And like the review I read previously, the ghost-like appearance has a very logical explanation. I so appreciated reading about a character struggling with anxiety because it's a common struggle today and few have the people or resources to help them walk through it. And I'm so glad another author is bringing the life of those in an asylum to life. 

There were so many themes I loved in this book, but one of them was that human love and help comes from unexpected people. That faith means fixing your eyes on Jesus and the rest follows. That it's okay to find people you can trust again. It's okay to be broken and realize that you can't fix your life. But that healing comes through pushing through the pain and fear. That's it's okay to know that strength usually comes from a point of great weakness. And to never find your identity in your circumstances, but in the Creator who makes all things new. 

*I was given a copy of this book from Nuts About Books for free. All opinions are my own and I was not required to write a positive review.