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Archive for the ‘The Weekly Read’ Category

“What’s it like when the man you married is married to God?

pastors wivesThat’s the central theme author Lisa Takeuchi Cullen explores in her debut novel, Pastors’ Wives. In it, she tells the stories of three pastors’ wives whose lives come together within the ministry of an evangelical megachurch in Atlanta.

I’ll admit to being unsure what to expect from this book. I won a copy from a website where the book had been reviewed but it sat on my shelf for months. In the midst of my own doubts about being a pastor’s wife and the loss of vision for what I thought that would look like, I avoided it, afraid that it might add to my overall negative attitude. Now I’m sorry I didn’t read it sooner!

Far from a glossed-over, perfect portrayal of the women married to men with a call to ministry, Pastors’ Wives is an honest glimpse of the doubts, fears, complications, expectations and survival mechanisms of these women. I loved every page, and I’d happily hand out copies of this book to most pastors’ wives I know. (I say “most” because the book contains language that some people might find offensive. I didn’t feel it detracted from the story at all.)

One of the strengths of the novel is the author’s research. Pastors’ Wives is based on research Cullen did for a magazine article, including time spent with actual pastors’ wives from a variety of denominations. (You can read more about that on her website.) Those experiences bring to life the three fictional wives–Ruthie, Candace and Ginger.

A little bit about each of them: Ruthie, a nominal Catholic, is in the midst of a crisis of faith when her husband hears a call to leave his job on Wall Street to join the ministry of a suburban Atlanta megachurch. Candace is the church’s “first lady,” wife of the senior pastor and basically the Wizard of Oz. She runs the show for, and sometimes in spite of, her husband. Ginger is married to Candace’s son and struggles to maintain the proper image of wife and mother while hiding her past.

I was surprised to find that I identified with something in each of these women. While each character represents a particular kind of pastor’s wife, none of them felt stereotypical or exaggerated. Cullen seems to have a talent for realism in characters. I hope she decides to write more of them.

Some of my favorite lines from the novel:

  • The story opens with Ruthie in an airport newstand buying a Star magazine. “I would have to call it a $3.99 act of defiance. … Funny thing about becoming a pastor’s wife: You felt watched. Not by God, exactly. Just … watched.” Can I get an “amen” for that?
  • From Candace, in reflecting on friendships: “For such a public role, being a pastor’s wife can be the loneliest job in the world. No member of a congregation wants to befriend the bedmate of their spiritual leader, lest news of their base humanity filter back to him and handicap their shot at heaven.”
  • And Ginger, when her carefully covered up past begins to emerge, wonders: “What was better–living an ugly truth or a comfortable lie?

So many more, but I don’t want to spoil the book for you. I’m passing this on to another pastor’s wife, and I’d recommend it to others, especially those who struggle with their husband’s call or their role in ministry. Definitely, it’ll be among the best books I read in the second quarter of this year.

And if  you’re not a pastor’s wife, maybe it will offer insights into the life of the woman behind the man in the pulpit at your church.

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Whenever I pick up a Tracy Higley book, I feel smarter after I’ve read it, and it was no different with her latest, The Queen’s Handmaid. As a non-student of ancient history, I had never considered that Cleopatra lived only decades before Jesus was born. Shows what I know. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book through Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.) queen's handmaid

So, with that new knowledge, I was eager to read this story of Lydia, who is handmaid to Cleopatra in Alexandria at the time of Herod’s visit to the queen of Egypt. During his visit, Lydia is given a seemingly impossible mission by her aging mentor who is murdered not long after he reveals a secret to her. Lydia then embarks on a journey that eventually takes her to Jerusalem as lady’s maid to Herod’s wife, with the mission burdening her at every turn. What she carries with her is the hope of the Jewish people in a Messianic King, a hope Lydia, herself, will struggle with.

In typical Higley fashion, this is a suspenseful and entertaining read. But it’s also hard to follow at times, which is not necessarily the fault of the author but the scope of the story and timeframe. The book covers a lot of years, though the story is not bogged down by irrelevant events. And because the historical characters play a part in the plot, I often found myself confused by which Herod was which and who was connected and related to whom. Again, that’s information for a history book, not necessarily a novel, and I appreciate the way Higley is able to write a story using the historical context without it feeling like a textbook. I wish I knew the history of this time period better so I didn’t have to keep flipping back to the family tree at the beginning of the book.

But let me be clear: those are not reasons to not read this book. By the end, all of the connections and relationships made sense and I was excited about the possibility of another book to come that follows up the events in this one.

Higley is one of those rare authors who makes history lifelike to me, and I can see the events as they happen. Her stories enrich my understanding of Bible stories and events. For those reasons, her books are a must-read for me.

If you want to know more about the author, read the back cover synopsis or see what other people have to say, click here.

And if you want a chance to win a prize as part of the book’s release, keep reading!

Tracy L. Higley is celebrating the release of The Queen’s Handmaid with a fun giveaway.



Retailers + Resources gave it this glowing review: “Rich in historic detail, Higley’s vivid writing brings to life the plots and intrigues that swirled through the ancient world as alliances were built and broken on the calculated schemes of power-mad monarchs.” 

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  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • The Queen’s Handmaid by Tracy L. Higley

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 19th. Winner will be announced April 21st on Tracy’s blog.

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Tracy’s blog on April 21st to see if you won.

 

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Last year, I tried to sum up the best books I’d read all year at the halfway point of the year. This year, I’m not sure I can wait that long. Maybe I’m getting soft or maybe I’m just finding better books to read, but in the first three months of this year, I’ve already read some books I won’t soon forget and would read again tomorrow if my to-read list wasn’t out of control.

I’ll try to keep it to five, but honestly, trying to pick my favorite books is like trying to pick a favorite child. I like them for different reasons! Anyway, here goes. (And they’re not ranked in order of favorite.) These five stand out because of their lasting effect on me.

QUIET_paperback_High-Res_Jacket1. Quiet by Susan Cain. You can read my full review here, but I learned so much about myself from reading this book. And I found within its pages permission to lead and influence, not in spite of being an introvert but because of it.

2. Outlaw by Ted Dekker. My first Ted Dekker book but not my last. The overall theme of this book is one I’m applying almost daily. With a unique setting and a powerful message, this is a life-changing novel. (It’s true, novels aren’t just entertaining!)  Here’s my full review.

3. A Fall of Marigolds by Susan Meissner. You really can’t go wrong with anything by Susan Meissner but there’s something special about this one. Intertwined storylines set 100 years apart in New York City, it was everything I love about a historical and a contemporary all rolled into one. I not only enjoyed this as a fall of marigoldsreader but as a writer striving to blend contemporary and historical storylines into one. For me, this was for fun and research. Read the full review here.

4. Notes from a Blue Bike by Tsh Oxenreider. I’m sometimes suspicious of books that offer a path to simpler living. That’s a me problem because living simply takes work and effort and I’m not always good at either. But this book by Txh Oxenreider is a helpful guide for discovering what it is each person or family values and how they can move toward a life focused on those values. She doesn’t offer one plan that must be followed to the letter but recognizes that every person and family is different. Her family’s story is just one among many. You can read the full review here.

pirate queen5. The Pirate Queen by Patricia Hickman. This was a surprising favorite, and I still can’t narrow down what exactly I liked about it. But it features a theme I’m drawn to: that of hurt and forgiveness and sacrifice and restoration. And it’s unique in that the characters are older than those I usually read about. My full review is here.

Ugh. That was hard! Stay tuned for another installment at the end of June. I’ve got some more good ones in the to-be-read pile/queue so I have no doubts I’ll have an equally hard time picking the next five best books.

What have you read so far this year that you would recommend?

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The first time I read a book by Katie Ganshert, I had a strong dislike for her main character. As I followed the author on Facebook and Twitter during the writing of her latest release, I feared I’d have the same problem with this one.

Because Ivy Clark is a lost soul who doesn’t give off the appearance that she wants to be found.

broken kind of beautifulBut it’s her feelings of being unlovable–and the people who love her anyway–that make A Broken Kind of Beautiful a beautiful picture of grace and redemption. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for my review.)

Ivy is a 24-year-old fashion model in New York City. With a decade in the business, her heart is hardened and her soul is empty. All she’s ever had to do is smile for the cameras and do what she’s told, nevermind her heart. But the only life she’s ever known begins to fall apart, and she has one last chance to save her career with a modeling gig linked to her broken past. In the island town of Greenbrier, South Carolina, Ivy finds herself confronted with people who see beyond her outward appearance.

One of those people is Davis Knight, who has his own demons to battle. Once a photographer in the high-powered fashion industry, Davis now lives in Greenbrier and is the maintenance man of a local church. At the request of his aunt, who owns a bridal shop, Davis picks up the camera he hasn’t held for two years to shoot a magazine spread featuring Ivy. Both of them wrestle with faith, forgiveness and calling.

Ivy is hardened by life, and she knows how to get what she wants by using her looks. Davis is living with guilt but feels a strong leading to treat Ivy unlike any man has ever treated her: as a treasure. Despite her prickly exterior, I felt sympathy for Ivy and desperately wanted her to realize her worth. And Davis … well, let’s just say he’s one of my favorite heroes ever.

As I read, I thought of Francine Rivers’ classic Redeeming Love, a book I absolutely love that leaves me sobbing. That’s a must-read in Christian fiction. A Broken Kind of Beautiful carries similar themes in a contemporary setting. If you like Redeeming Love, give Ganshert’s latest a try.

Need a sneak peek? Find Chapter One here.

And find out more about the author at her website or on Facebook.

This was a quick read for me, and I’m almost sorry I didn’t savor it. For me, it’s worth a rare re-read.

 

 

 

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One of my reading goals for this year is to branch out from my usual reading habits and try some new-to-me books and authors.

devil mattinglyThe Devil Walks in Mattingly by Billy Coffey fits that criteria, and though I was afraid I’d have to only read this book during the day or when my husband was home, it turns out I had nothing to fear. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.)

In the sleepy town of Mattingly, Virginia, where nothing much out of the ordinary happens, three of its residents go about their lives but are haunted by an event 20 years in the past. It was the day teenager Philip McBride died. His death was ruled a suicide but these three know the truth: he was killed. Jake Barnett carries shame for what happened that day and how he’ll never be the man anyone else wants him to be. His wife, Kate, spends her days logging good deeds done for the poor and unfortunate of Mattingly, hoping it will outweigh the guilt she feels for her part in Philip’s death. And Taylor Hathcock, a mountain recluse, believes in his madness the time has come to make it all right.

Plagued by dreams and visions and events that don’t make sense, the three are drawn together to reveal the truth that will surprise them all.

And I can’t say anymore because I’ll give too much away!

What I can say is that Coffey’s writing is some of the best I’ve ever read. He creates deep character points-of-view using a blend of first- and third-person. It was like seeing inside their minds. And he crafts some of the most beautiful sentences I’ve had the pleasure of reading. He brings to the page the unique pace and wording of the Virginia dialect–philosophical, observational, straightforward, and down-to-earth. It can’t be easy to create such believable prose. It was not limited to dialogue. The whole book was full of these gently rolling sentences full of truth.

Consider these words from the opening page:

I come to this place of darkness because it is where the light of heaven once touched. I come here for the ones who were saved on a night long ago and for the ones lost. I come because heaven is not without the past.

Even as I re-read the first pages, which are titled “The End,” I noticed clues to the story I hadn’t picked up on at first. The Devil Walks in Mattingly is layered, and I think reading it through once won’t be enough.

While I was waiting for the book to arrive, I visited Billy Coffey’s website to get a feel for this new-to-me author. Check it out. He had me at “hello,” basically, with his talk of front porches and hospitality. I’m planning another trip to Mattingly in the near future. (A note in the book said that all his novels take place in Mattingly.)

Will this book give you nightmares? No. Will it make you uncomfortable at times? Yes. Will it leave you with hope? Definitely.

Intrigued? Find out more about the book, the author and what other readers think here.

And don’t miss your chance to win a prize to celebrate the book’s release!

Billy Coffey is celebrating his new book, The Devil Walks in Mattingly, with a Kindle Fire HDX giveaway.

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One winner will receive:

  • A Kindle Fire HDX
  • The Devil Walks in Mattingly by Billy Coffey

Enter today by clicking one of the icons below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 5th. Winner will be announced April  7th on Billy’s blog. Watch Billy give the backstory of the book here.

 

Don’t miss a moment of the fun; enter today and be sure to stop by Billy’s blog on April 7th to see if you won.

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Secrets. And surprises.

Those two words sum up everything I love about MaryLu Tyndall’s new release, The Ransom, the fourth in her Legacy of the King’s Pirates series. (Disclaimer: I was given a free e-copy of the book by the author in exchange for my review.)

ransomSet in the Caribbean–Port Royal, Jamaica–in the late 17th Century, The Ransom is a story of identities and the roles we play to survive in whatever society we find ourselves in.

After the death of her mother, Juliana Dutton is left to run her family’s shipping business when her father becomes ill and her brother turns to gambling and drinking. With the help of the family’s butler, she’s got the town convinced all is well with the business. For now.

Alexander Hyde, on the other hand, has the town convinced he’s the dandy Lord Munthrope while he lives a pirate’s life by night. The son of the infamous Captain Merrick Hyde has turned his back on his parents’ faith as he seeks a release from others’ expectations for his life.

But when Lord Munthrope offers Juliana a pact that could help them both, their carefully constructed schemes begin to unravel as they discover who they truly are meant to be.

The Ransom is a fun tale laced with adventure and romance, bringing to mind the antics of Westley in The Princess Bride or any of the Johnny Depp Pirates of the Caribbean movies, all of which I now want to watch again.

When I first started reading Tyndall’s books just over a year ago, her seafaring adventures intrigued me because I hadn’t read anything like that in inspirational fiction. But I convinced myself that I wasn’t really all that into pirates. After much consideration, and plenty of reading, I can safely say that has all changed. I’m firmly rooted in the pirate camp, and what I love about Tyndall’s stories, including this one, are the elements of faith worked in. Everyone is struggling with their beliefs and has made mistakes they regret. But none are exempt from redemption.

Though technically book four in the series, The Ransom can be read as a standalone novel. But trust me when I say you’ll also want to read the other books in the series: The Redemption, The Reliance and The Restitution.

 

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Reading a book by Susan Meissner is like treating yourself to fine chocolate. Her last work was a masterpiece that left me aching to return to Italy. She is a masterful storyteller.

So, when I knew she had a new book releasing, I didn’t hesitate to enter a Goodreads giveaway for a copy, even though I knew next to nothing about the story. And I won!

fall of marigolds A Fall of Marigolds has been sitting on my shelf for a few months while I tackled other reviews, but I recently finished it and can easily say this book makes my top whatever list of best books I’ve ever read.

The book opens in Manhattan 2011 with Taryn, a woman whose husband died in the Twin Towers on 9/11. She works in a specialty fabric store and lives above it with her 9-year-old daughter. A picture of her from the day of the tragedy surfaces suddenly and the quiet life she thought she’d gotten on with is disturbed.

Intertwined with her story is that of Clara, a nurse working on Ellis Island in 1911. She was a witness to the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire and has come to the island to escape the memories of her loss that day.

Both stories are steeped in heavy sadness, and honestly, I’ve been avoiding stories, documentaries and movies about 9/11 since the day it happened because I can sometimes still feel the weight of the national despair. I don’t often lean in to pain, and I might have been more hesitant to read this story if I’d known that was part of it.

And I won’t lie. This story is not all feel-good. There are heart-wrenching scenes as these two women, separated by a century of time, allow themselves to grieve the past and open their lives to the present and future. I had to set it down a few times and let the feelings sink in and pass before starting again.

The beauty of this story, though, is the thread of hope woven through the tragedies. Meissner does not avoid the reality of how these women were affected nor does she let them stay in their comfortable grief. When the story was finished, I felt full in my soul. I may have even released a satisfied sigh. This is one of those books that is not so much an escape as it is examination, helping readers to see that whatever hardship seems to be at the forefront, a larger, stronger force is at work.

After reading A Fall of Marigolds, I feel ready to explore other 9/11 literature, and I’d certainly read this book again.

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Brenda Spahn was so eager to share hope with women inmates she once broke into a prison.

Sound crazy?

It was. But it’s not even half the story of how a successful businesswoman in Alabama redirected her passion for making money to rehabilitating broken lives.

miss brendaMiss Brenda and the Loveladies is the story of how it all started. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers through the Blogging for Books program  in exchange for my review.)

Brenda Spahn has spunk, and she won’t take no for an answer, even when she has no idea what she’s getting herself into. When her tax preparation business came under scrutiny for some alleged improper practices, Brenda and her daughter, an employee of the company, faced possible jail time if found guilty. When they were spared serving even a brief sentence, Brenda realized she wanted to minister to women in prison because she could have been one.

The road was rocky at first, and she admits she was in over her head. She wanted to share a message of hope and thought she could just walk into a prison and do that. Eventually, seeing the need for a place for recently released women to turn their lives around, Brenda opened her lavish home to seven female ex-cons from the roughest women’s prison in the country.

Everyone expected her to fail: the state, her family, the women themselves. But Brenda didn’t give up, even at personal cost to herself and her family. She now runs the largest transitional center for women in the country.

Her story is eye-opening and sad. I cried reading about how prisoners are treated in the Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women. Their humanity and dignity are stripped from them, and they are often given no hope to ever change. Brenda challenged that idea and opened what she called a “whole-way” house, as opposed to a halfway house, to aid their restoration.

It’s also funny and inspiring. I laughed picturing some of the ridiculous situations Brenda and the women often found themselves in, and I cheered for victory over each obstacle Brenda faced.

This is a book that will challenge readers to reform their own way of thinking, especially when it comes to the idea of God changing hearts. The work Brenda is doing is proof that He can restore and redeem even the worst of life’s trials. It was a reminder to me of the very real horrors people face and that even those who have committed crimes are people with hurts and hopes.

Brenda describes her own change of attitude this way:

Hearing their stories changed me. Yes, most of them had done bad things. But, oh my, most of them never had a fighting chance. … Truth was, I believed that these women had deserved what they were getting. Now I knew their stories. What so many of them “got” was not anything anyone should ever get … They were survivors, and many were trying to live on, even though they barely had a chance. (32)

The stories told are gritty and raw at times, including “colorful” language. I appreciated that it was left in for the tone and topic of this book. Though that may bother some people, I think it’s appropriate for accuracy and reality.

I’m not sure I could do what Miss Brenda did, but man, am I challenged to live the Gospel in a radical way. Almost no one thought her idea was any good, and now the good she has done is immeasurable.

Click here to find out more about The Lovelady Center and the work they do. And you can read the authors’ bios here.

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After reading a book about simple living, my thoughts are anything but simple.

notes blue bikeIn her memoirish book Notes from a Blue Bike: The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World, Tsh Oxenreider lays out a blueprint for living a life with purpose. Because, honestly, aren’t most of us just drifting wherever the current takes us? (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the book from Thomas Nelson through the BookLook Blogger Program in exchange for my review.)

Oxenreider and her family have lived overseas and in the States. They’ve homeschooled and public schooled. They’ve worked “regular” jobs and started their own business. They’ve traveled extensively. They’ve paid off debt. And though all of that is part of their journey to live a more simple and more intentional life, none of it was, or is, easy.

And that’s a major plus to this book. I’ve read other books on simple living that are more legalistic manifesto than guided invitation. Notes from a Blue Bike is the latter. Oxenreider doesn’t pretend that what has worked for their family will work for every family, but she encourages families to make a plan for intentional living. Because being intentional won’t just happen.

The book is divided into sections–food, work, education, travel, and entertainment–and in each one, the author draws from her family’s experiences and how they arrived at the current stage of their journey. After the food section, I was so inspired that I was ready to make sweeping changes to our family’s eating habits and food purchases. Now that I’m finished with the book, I’m taking seriously her encouragement to identify our family’s core values so we can make decisions based on those values.

I’ve dog-eared as many pages as not during my reading, and I’d encourage any who has dreamed of living a more intentional life but can’t figure out how to do it, to get a copy of this book. But be warned: it won’t be easy. Oxenreider confesses that living more slowly, more simply and more intentionally was easier when they lived overseas. American culture is not always conducive to this type of life and making changes will seem like swimming upstream at times.

That doesn’t scare me. It excites me.

Notes from a Blue Bike is in the top tier of the best nonfiction books I’ve read this year and would make my list for most influential books I’ve ever read.

You can read more about the author at her Website here or at The Art of Simple, a blog she directs on this topic.

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Biblical fiction is one of my favorite genres, and Stephanie Landsem is fast establishing herself as a talented re-teller of familiar stories. The Thief, her second novel, is the story of a Jewish woman, Nissa, who is caring for her blind brother, and Longinus, a Roman centurion, who witness a miracle by the mysterious Nazarene, Jesus. (Disclaimer: I received a free copy of the ebook from Litfuse Publicity Group in exchange for my review.) the thief

Nissa is hiding a secret that could kill her, and Longinus is holding on to bitterness over a friend’s death, and The Thief follows them both on a journey that will change their lives. When I read The Well, Landsem’s first novel, last year, I was impressed with the way the story caused me to rethink the characters in John 4. In The Thief, Landsem zooms in on Jerusalem and the events leading up to Jesus’ final Passover, culminating in his crucifixion and setting up the story for her third book, The Tomb. I feel like reading this story drew me in to the events I often skim over in the Bible. I could see, hear and feel, and because the focus was on ordinary people in Jerusalem, I got a better understanding of what it was like to live in that time.

The Thief is captivating and emotional, a story I couldn’t put down. And it whetted my appetite for the next book. thiefbloggerbutton

Don’t miss Stephanie Landsem‘s outstanding sophomore effort, The Thief.

Best-selling author Tosca Lee had this to say of the book: Filled with memorable characters, The Thief is a tale of hopelessness turned to hope, of high stakes made higher, and ultimate love. What happens when a character at the lowest rung of society crosses paths with the most well-known figure in history? The story of The Thief. I couldn’t stop reading.

Stephanie is hosting a Kindle Fire HDX and book giveaway at her website.

CLICK THE BUTTON to find out more and enter to win. Find out what readers are saying HERE. (Click the REVIEWS bar.)

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