Tuesday, September 01, 2020

The Haunting at Bonaventure Circus by Jaime Jo Wright

Amazon description:
The Bonaventure Circus is a refuge for many, but Pippa Ripley was rejected from its inner circle as a baby. When she receives mysterious messages from someone called the "Watchman," she is determined to find him and the connection to her birth. As Pippa's search leads her to a man seeking justice for his murdered sister and evidence that a serial killer has been haunting the circus train, she must decide if uncovering her roots is worth putting herself directly in the path of the killer.

Present Day
The old circus train depot will either be torn down or preserved for historical importance, and its future rests on real estate project manager Chandler Faulk's shoulders. As she dives deep into the depot's history, she's also balancing a newly diagnosed autoimmune disease and the pressures of single motherhood. When she discovers clues to the unsolved murders of the past, Chandler is pulled into a story far darker and more haunting than even an abandoned train depot could portend.

It seems like I've been reading Jaime Jo Wright's books all the time, but really I've been trying to read more and reviews and blog posts have fallen to the wayside. However, I was super thrilled to join the launch team for her newest book, even if my social media book presence has slowed. 

Wright has the ability to take you into the minds and souls of her characters while using using suspense and mystery in a tasteful way. Pippa and Chandler's story both resonated with me in different ways. I appreciated how the physical limitations of a deformed leg and disease along with the mental limitations of anxiety brought out different relational connections between Pippa and Chandler. And Pippa finds comfort in a dog while Chandler places her hopes and dreams in her son, Peter. 

After recently seeing The Greatest Showman again, this book circus setting came alive for me in a new way. While I've never personally attended a circus, the movie gave me the mental images and lifestyle, and Jaime's book created a story within a story. Circuses are like any other scenario where the outward lifestyle is a scene which may not accurately reflect the characters lives until you get to know them, and even then, Jaime's characters learn much about each other--some good, some bad. 

A strange theme in this book was the hierarchy of power in victims lives. I think too often I wonder why victims don't stand up for themselves or run away or find help. But the mental limitations and abuse they endure leads them into a life that is much more complicated. Often the risks of moving outside the "group" lead to more danger than remaining--at least for the present. 

Once again, I love Wright's ability to create lives, scenes, characters, hopes and dreams, wins and losses, and tackle the hard topics in her novels. Thank you for letting me join your launch team, Jaime!! 

*I received this book free from the author in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Echoes Among the Stones by Jaime Jo Wright

From Amazon:
After Aggie Dunkirk's career is unceremoniously ended by her own mistakes, she finds herself traveling to Wisconsin, where her grandmother, Mumsie, lives alone in her rambling old home. She didn't plan for how eccentric Mumsie has become, obsessing over an old, unsolved crime scene--even going so far as to re-create it in the dollhouse.

Mystery seems to follow her when she finds work as a secretary helping to restore the flooded historical part of the cemetery. Forced to work with the cemetery's puzzling, yet attractive archeologist, she exhumes the past's secrets and unwittingly uncovers a crime that some will go to any length to keep quiet--even if it means silencing Aggie.

In 1946, Imogene Grayson works in a local factory and has eyes on owning her own beauty salon. But coming home to discover her younger sister's body in the attic changes everything. Unfamiliar with the newly burgeoning world of criminal forensics and not particularly welcomed as a woman, Imogene is nonetheless determined to stay involved. As her sister's case grows cold, Imogene vows to find justice . . . even if it costs her everything.

This story is a hard one to read for anyone who has traveled through the journey of grief. People mourn and grieve in different ways, and Jaime does an amazing job showing different levels of the healing process through her characters.

Aggie's past career has left her searching for purpose and wondering if she is capable of responsibility. After receiving a letter from her Mumsie, she attempts to bond with her grandmother while also grieving the loss of her mother. Skeletons and bone fragments initiate a rough beginning for the estranged granddaughter and grandmother, but the two soon realize they may have more in common than they know.

Approximately 7 decades earlier, Imogene relives the day she found her sister's body in her attic bedroom. While her deputy brother attempts to relieve her concerns and follow the clues, he's handcuffed by work politics and his impulsive younger sister.

Each of these young ladies finds themselves intertwined with one another in ways they didn't imagine. Their faith, families, and friendships are tested as they try to unravel the mystery of Imogene's sister's murderer.

I especially love Collin's part in this story. While not a main character, he's an important support and friend to Aggie, and basically everything one would wish for in a solid friendship. Mumsie too begins to hold a large place in Aggie's life and the transition is beautiful to watch. I wish I had the words to unpack the depth of this story, but it's a hard one to describe or feel. I admire Wright for her willingness to unpack such deep topics and yet bring healing out of horrible tragedies. She allows characters to grapple with loss and the pain of sorrow, but yet keeps the hope of Jesus at the forefront. Jaime Jo Wright captures emotion, friendship, love, and sorrow in this story, and reminds us that those who have gone before leave their memories and love for us to share.

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

Monday, October 21, 2019

Breaking Anxiety's Grip by Dr. Michelle Bengtson

Back Cover:
Discover true peace in an age of anxiety.

No question, we have a lot to worry about. Children, jobs, homes, health, finances, and more. The solution isn't to rid ourselves of the sources of anxiety--as if we could. Instead, we need to recognize that anxiety originates from a spiritual influence and that we can fight back using the God-given weapons of power, love, and a sound mind.

Sharing her own story of emerging from the battle with anxiety as well as the stories of others, Dr. Michelle Bengtson reminds you of your identity as a follower of Christ and of the peace he promises you in spite of everything. She provides tools to cope with the crushing emotional burden of anxiety now and, more importantly, shows you how to reclaim God's peace as a way of life so that you can break anxiety's 


I first met Dr. Michelle through Hope Prevails when she wrote about her challenges and victories with depression. Her writing style is clear and focused, and she liberally scatters Scripture through it all. Her second book about anxiety is very similar. 

Anxiety and depression often go hand-in-hand (though not always), and I found this book very helpful in defining anxiety. While I don't face the challenge of anxiety on a daily basis, I come in contact with people all the time who do, and sometimes it can be hard to relate if you don't know what someone's going through. Dr. Michelle gives examples from other people who describe how anxiety makes them think and feel which is helpful in defining anxiety in your own life and observing it in others. 

Dr. Michelle's foundation for anxiety is that it stems from a lack of trust in God. She defines anxiety in the first chapter and then goes on to explore some of the medical science behind anxiety. Her pages are filled with hope and a constant reminder to trust God. Fear, worry, and anxiety tend to spiral when crisis hits (not to mention the daily thoughts about what could happen but never do), and Bengtson writes from personal examples with cancer in her family. She guides the reader with helpful suggestion at the end of each chapter and often encourages verse memorization or placing verses on sticky notes all over your house. Her Recommended Playlists (first seen in Hope Prevails) also find their corner in this book too. 

Anxiety likes to use the questions of "what if" to bring us concern, worry, and fear, which ultimately lead to our lack of faith and unhealthy introspection. Dr. Michelle write about reclaiming the power that is all ours from the moment of salvation, and how, in Jesus' name and with Christ's blood, we can have freedom and victory over worry, anxiety, and fear. Bengtson also discussing living in God's love and how we can live in the moment of pain and still realize that God is good and His love is perfect. Her last chapter details how we must use the power of a sound mind in dealing with mental struggles. We do get to choose how we respond to trials or fears, and we have the choice to talk back words of Scripture to ourselves or give into the numbing, panic-inducing terror of anxiety. Changing our thoughts takes practice and time, but it does get easier with time, and Dr. Michelle reminds us that negative thoughts come from the reign of darkness and not of the Light of Christ. We can conquer through prayer against Satan and Scripture verses that turn our minds to the freedom in trusting God. 

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

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
Website: emilyhayse.com 
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.