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Archive for the ‘The Weekly Read’ Category

rare birdRare Bird is the kind of book I usually try to avoid. Books are an escape for me, and stories of tragedy are ones I don’t often want to consider because they’re just too hard to read.

How incredibly selfish of me. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher through the Blogging for Books program.)

While I wish no one ever needed to read this kind of book much less write it, I’m so grateful that Anna Whiston-Donaldson poured out her grief journey on the pages of this book. Losing her son Jack at 12 years old in a freak neighborhood accident–unthinkable. I related to her thoughts about doing enough right things to keep her family safe and feeling like a failure when it wasn’t enough. Whiston-Donaldson is real and raw about the stages of grief, about unexpected losses of friendship after a tragedy, and how hard it can be to go on. And yet, her story is inspiring. It does not gloss over the reality of pain and suffering, but it doesn’t leave it as hopeless either.

This book made me cry real tears for a boy I never knew. I laughed at family stories so vivid I felt like I was there. And I felt the edges of terror creep into my soul as the depths of grief sought to overtake this family. A couple of times I even uttered, “no way,” at the visions, dreams and messages she received about Jack after his death. (I am not one to quickly believe in messages from beyond, but I also haven’t experienced that kind of loss yet, so what do I know?)

Rare Bird is a beautiful story. And a terrible one. And I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book quite like it. You don’t have to have experienced loss to read this book but if you have had a loss like hers, it’s a must read. Whiston-Donaldson’s words are tender and poetic at the same time they’re jarring and harsh. It’s a glimpse into grief that few of us see firsthand.

A word of caution to those sensitive to language: Whiston-Donaldson uses words that some people might find offensive. But in the context of grief and loss, they are entirely appropriate.

An unforgettable memoir about an unimaginable tragedy and an incomprehensible faith that sustains.

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It’s quite a feat to write an Amish novel that doesn’t read like your typical Amish novel but Elizabeth Byler Younts has done it and I couldn’t put this book down. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for my review.)

promise to cherishThe story takes place during World War II, when Eli, an Amish man is sent to work in a camp as a conscientious objector and is later transferred to the Hudson River State Hospital to assist the nurses in caring for those with disabilities. There, he meets Christine, a nurse, and though they aren’t friendly at first, their common work brings them together. When Christine faces trouble she can’t escape, Eli offers her refuge in his Amish community. But their friendship brings more trouble and invites a visit from Christine’s past that almost destroys their relationship.

Yes, it’s partially set in an Amish community. Yes, it’s a romance. But the story was so well-written and so captivating that I forgot it was an Amish book. That is what I love about Younts’ stories. They draw on her Amish history and experiences but they are not the typical worn-out stories like some in the genre.

I look forward to more of Younts’ work and appreciate the blend of family history and American history she takes in this series. A great follow-up to her debut novel, Promise to Return. Though they’re part of a series, you don’t necessarily have to read them in order. I actually liked this second book better than the first (and that’s no insult to the first book!)

If you’re less than thrilled with the Amish fiction offerings out there, then I recommend this book. I read every Beverly Lewis book I could get my hands on when we first moved to Amish country but quickly grew bored. That’s not a problem for me with Younts’ books.

Visit the author’s website to learn more about her and her Amish heritage.

What do you like or not like about Amish fiction?

If you’ve never read it, would you ever consider it?

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The-Mason-Jar-cover-e1412111942122I just don’t know what to think about this book. It had a lot of potential, but I didn’t feel it lived up to it. The premise was interesting, but there were some major flaws in the writing. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

I was confused about some scenes and dialogue exchanges where the person I thought was talking wasn’t the person talking. There was a lot of backstory dumping where readers are given loads of information about what happened in the past. And in the early chapters, the lead character is informed that the book her ex-boyfriend wrote is about her except he changed her name, but we have no evidence of a name change. She is called “Eden” throughout the story. And on the back cover, she’s called Savannah, but I never saw that name in the book.

The author compares the story to a Nicholas Sparks tale. I’ve not read any Sparks; I’ve only seen The Notebook. And the only real comparison I saw was the inclusion of a scene between the two leads that takes place in a downpour. From what I know of Sparks, this is classic.

I just couldn’t get into the story. I cared just enough to see how it turned out. And the cover is gorgeous, which is really the highlight for me. I’m sorry I didn’t like it more. I think it could have been great, but for me, it fell way, way short.

Read on for the official launch celebration information.

James Russell Lingerfelt‘s debut novel, The Mason Jar, is hot-off-the-press and causing quite the buzz. It’s even been optioned for a feature film and is in pre-production.

Catch the spark by entering James’ Kindle Fire giveaway!

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One grand prize winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire
  • The Mason Jar by James Russell Lingerfelt

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on October 19th. Winner will be announced October 20th at James Russell’s blog, Love Story from the Male Perspective.

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Rarely do I advise people to NOT read a book. I’m a believer in reading, whatever your preferred genre, however long it takes you. But for this book, The Sacred Year by  Michael Yankoski, I feel compelled to caution you before you begin reading. It’s one of those dangerous books that will force you to ask hard questions about your life and will make you responsible for your decisions. If you’re not prepared to consider a different way of living, then don’t even think about reading this book. TSY-cover-small

That said, The Sacred Year is one of my favorite reads so far this year. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

Yankoski, who gained fame as the author of Under the Overpass, recounts his search for meaning and purpose in his faith. As a sought-after Christian speaker, Yankoski comes to a point of seeing himself as a person spread too thin with very little depth. He commits to exploring spiritual practices that act counter-culturally to the way he currently lives.

He focuses on practices like solitude, simplicity, confession, pilgrimage, gratitude and justice. There are 18 in all, and his experiences are as challenging as they are fascinating. This is not a book to rush through or read carelessly, and while it can be overwhelming to consider the kind of life Yankoski presents, he encourages readers to consider one or two of the practices for starters and begin living a life of more depth.

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I’ve enjoyed Yankoski’s writing in the past. He is an honest and captivating storyteller who doesn’t paint perfect pictures of his journey but acknowledges the hard parts and the failings. My copy of the book is already well-worn and dog-eared from the many places his words hit home. An entire section on creativity has become an agent for change in my writing life.

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Despite my earlier warning, there’s nothing to fear about this book. It hits at the heart of a longing I think many are feeling about living a life of faith, purpose and meaning. Not an easy book to read but a necessary one. Definitely among my top books for the year.

Since my words feel inadequate, check out this video for the book to help you decide if it’s for you. Then read on for more information about the author and the launch of this book.

Michael Yankoski is a writer, aspiring theologian, and urban homesteader who dreams of becoming a competent woodworker, musician, and sailor. He received his MA in theological studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia, is a (novitate) Oblate of St. Benedict, and has authored four books. Michael grew up in Colorado, feels at home on the Pacific Coast, and currently resides in Indiana, where he and his wife are pursuing PhDs at the University of Notre Dame. Michael2-small

Yankoski became jaded and disillusioned with his life as a Christian motivational speaker, feeling as though he was another act in the “Christian Carnival.” Religion started to become a façade instead of a deep, nourished, lived experience of faith. He knew he needed to stop talking about his faith and begin living and practicing it. In a sort of desperation, Michael dedicated the next year to engaging various spiritual practices, and The Sacred Year is a firsthand account of the downs and ups, the failures and successes of an honest search for answers to the human yearning for life, love, and God.

It’s time to stop talking about your faith and begin living and experiencing it.

Join Michael and #EmbraceTheSacred—seek out God at work in the mundane and attend to what God is doing in your life. Share those moments on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram and make sure to use the tag #EmbraceTheSacred.

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As a thank-you for ordering The Sacred Year, Michael is giving away a free ebook! Email your proof of purchase of The Sacred Year to TheSacredYear@gmail.com, and you will receive A Straightforward Guide to Three Essential Spiritual Practices ebook for FREE! Learn more here.

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Generally, when I read a book, I want it make me feel better. To escape or offer a solution to a problem. But lately, the books I’ve been reading haven’t lived up to that need.

They haven’t made me feel better but they have made me feel.

tables in wildernessAnd that’s where I am with Tables in the Wilderness: A Memoir of God Found, Lost and Found Again by Preston Yancey. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through the Booklook Bloggers program.)

I love Yancey’s writing. His blog is one that I read whenever he posts something new. And it’s always challenging, often poetic, and downright refreshing. The book is all of that, too, in its own way. I will admit to stumbling a little in the beginning because Yancey’s writing is different than most. It’s good, just not easy. As he talks about his spiritual journey from a know-it-all Southern Baptist entering college to a questioning Anglican on the other side of college, the stories and observations roll out, sometimes chronologically, sometimes not. The first time I read Annie Dillard and Anne Lamott, I felt this sort of disconnectedness in the flow but realized as I was reading that it was all connected and related after all. This book has a similar feel.

But it’s a journey worth taking, and I found myself silently screaming “yes” to passages that reflected my own journey.

I’m telling you to notice, because at a certain point I stopped. At a certain point, I stopped  noticing that God was moving all around me, and I believe it was this lack of attention on my part, this willingness to treat common the awe of the Almighty, that would eventually arrive me to a place where God withdrew. (39)

For me, reading this book was like drinking a glass of wine. On first taste, I am startled by the taste and I almost forget that I like it. Then I drink a little more and taste the flavors buried in the glass. And by the time I finish a glass, I am satisfied by the experience and not at all sorry.

Tables in the Wilderness is a book for pilgrims and seekers, for those who don’t have faith figured out, who wonder if anyone else feels the same way. For those who question the tradition in which they were raised, who have more questions than answers. It’s one man’s spiritual journey but it contains valuable truths for those of us on our own journeys. You might not like everything he has to say, but his story is worth the telling.

 

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Annie Downs doesn’t consider herself brave, but she’s done the next right thing in her life, even if it’s scary. Her latest book, Let’s All Be Brave, is a call to all of us to be courageous in whatever our lives require. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

braveDowns doesn’t demand that everyone pack up and move across the world. Bravery doesn’t require everyone to do the same thing, and what looks brave in one person’s life will look different in someone else’s. That’s one of the highlights of this book for me: that the brave thing is individual. Downs doesn’t offer specifics for being brave but principles and stories of what bravery has looked like in her life.

She tells great stories about the leaps she’s made in her life and encourages readers to take those kinds of leaps in their own lives. Her brave moments have included a move to Nashville when she knew no one, a move to Edinburgh, Scotland after she’d found community in Nashville, accepting her singleness in this stage of life. I was challenged by the idea that bravery isn’t always saying “yes” to something but sometimes it’s saying “no.” I hadn’t considered that before.

I appreciate the overall message of this book, but on complaint I have is that the chapters felt disconnected from each other. I didn’t get a sense of one flowing into the next. It was easy to read a chapter and walk away for a while, which meant it took me longer than I expected to read this book.

That said, if you’re feeling stuck or like you don’t know what’s next (or you do but you’re too afraid to say it or do something about it), then this book might be the nudge you need to go for it.

HOW TO WIN YOUR OWN COPY

And in case you need another nudge, I have a copy to give away! Leave a comment here on the blog about why you want to read this book, what bravery means to you or anything else you’d like to say, and I’ll enter you in a drawing. I’ll pick a winner on Monday, Sept. 22, so you have through the weekend to enter.

Want to know more about the author? Check out her website and blog:  http://www.anniefdowns.com/

And you can preview two chapters here.

 

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Once a faithful fan of Food Network shows, I’m in a bit of a drought. I got a little burnt out on the drama. Or maybe I just needed a break. Lucky for me, though, there are novels that take the idea of cooking competitions and give you a backstage look at the people participating.

All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes is one such book. (Disclaimer: I received a free e-copy of the book in exchange for my review.)

The book’s author, Betsy St. Amant, is a woman I’ve heard a lot about from other authors of her genre, and her writing is just as fun and witty and romantic as the hype. All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes is a sweet (ha ha!) story of two friends, Kat Varland and Lucas Brennan, who have so much more between them than friendship but who are afraid to risk losing what they have for finding something more.

Kat dreams of opening her own bakery. Meanwhile, she’s stuck working at her aunt’s bakery making the same cupcakes day after day: chocolate, vanilla, strawberry. Kat likes to experiment with flavors, and it seems her baking is riskier than her life. Her best friend Lucas is the high school football coach and a willing participant in Kat’s baking escapades. Because he believes in her abilities, Lucas signs Kat up for a spot on a cupcake competition reality show. When she wins a spot on the show, Kat convinces Lucas to come with her to Los Angeles. And the baking isn’t the only thing that heats up.

As their feelings for each other deepen and blossom, each of them must decide what it is they really want from life, and they’re each faced with a decision about their dreams.

I loved this story. Maybe because I like to cook and bake with my husband. Maybe because we were friends before we were more. Maybe because it was just a good story about love and sacrifice and dreams.

I’m adding Betsy St. Amant to my list of must-read authors. And I’ve got another foodie favorite novel to add to my growing list.

Here’s more about the author: BStAmant-257

Betsy St. Amant lives in Louisiana with her young daughter and has a heart for sharing the amazing news of God’s grace through her novels. A freelance journalist, Betsy is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers. When she’s not reading, writing, or singing along to a Disney soundtrack with her daughter, Betsy enjoys inspirational speaking and teaching on the craft of writing.

Find out more about Betsy at http://www.betsystamant.com/

And here’s how she’s celebrating the release of her book!

Don’t miss Betsy St. Amant’s latest fiction release, All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes. A “sweet” tale of two best friends and the choices they make between dreams and a possible “sure thing,” St. Amant’s novel is sure to satisfy your romantic-fiction craving.

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Betsy is celebrating with a fun Kindle giveaway and a Love & Cupcakes Facebook party!
One winner will receive:

  • A brand new Kindle
  • All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes by Betsy St. Amant

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 18th. Winner will be announced at the Love & Cupcakes” Author Chat Party on 9/18. Betsy will be hosting a “sweet” book chat, giving away prizes, and answering questions from readers. She will also share an exclusive sneak peek at her next book project!

 
So grab your copy of All’s Fair in Love and Cupcakes and join Betsy on the evening of September 18th for a chance to connect and make some new friends. (If you haven’t read the book, don’t let that stop you from coming!)

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; RSVP todayTell your friends via FACEBOOK or TWITTER and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 18th!

 

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