Review for The Wishing Well Curse by Lynn Donovan

The Wishing Well Curse by Lynn Donovan

Zeke Clay couldn’t have had a worse day. He lost his job, his girlfriend was unfaithful, he had fallen behind in his studies as an EMT and had to quit. A person driving in front of him left the road, submerged in a slimy pit of mud. Zeke dove into the sludge, pulled the unconscious driver out, and performed CPR when he couldn’t find a pulse. Once rescue units arrived, he discovered the guy was the man with whom his ex had cheated. He packed his bags to leave town, not really certain where he was going.

On his way, he stopped at the post office to retrieve a letter. It was from a lawyer’s office in Colorado. He was invited to attend the reading of a will for someone he had never heard of. At least it gave him a place to go. The will revealed that he had some family after all. And if he believed what the lawyer told him, he may possibly inherit the estate…IF he accepted the bizarre conditions listed in the will.

First, he was to lift a curse that had been placed on his family. Before he could do that, he had to live in his uncle’s house for a week. He had to somehow restore love to the family. At first he thought the entire situation was too strange to be true. He wasn’t even sure he believed in curses. But clues kept coming to him until he thought this could only be an elaborate scavenger hunt of some sort…or perhaps he was being punked. But events turned mystifying and he was unsure of his ability to handle what was happening. Who could he trust to help him?

As he read more of the family history and experienced a glimmer of understanding how his parents fit into the scheme of things, he asked himself if he really could solve this mystery, lift a curse that seemed to be real? Fortunately, the deceased uncle had wisely placed advisers along the path of discovery for Zeke to turn to when he didn’t know where else to get help. I appreciated the Biblical counsel from the biker pastor, as he listened intently and non-judgmentally to Zeke’s struggles and queries. He wasn’t one to push, but allowed Zeke to make his own discoveries on his own time. He was a friend who made his time available, just the type of person Zeke needed.

The author employs a unique blend of fantasy, Native American legend, and Christian beliefs to create an intriguing light mystery. The first time I read the book through, I was mystified right along with Zeke. Turn of events were surprising and not as predictable as I expected them they to be. I enjoyed reading this and appreciate the originality the author exercised when she crafted the plot lines. Zeke was a likable young person, and I soon found myself cheering for his success. As a work of fiction, this is an enjoyable experience.

Spoiler: don’t read if you just want to enjoy a piece of fiction with paranormal elements.

While I enjoyed the story itself, I hesitate to recommend it without a bit of a warning. I personally feel that the belief in ghosts is a cultural thing. The Bible makes it clear there is a spirit world with angels and demons, the good and the bad. I respect the things involved in the spirit world; I don’t believe we should treat any aspects of it lightly. To me, the belief in ghosts is trivializing belief in the spirit world–a compromise. Any time spirits are mentioned or appear in the Bible, there are warnings against calling them up. Angels were always sent by God and/or doing His business. In addition, I don’t believe that ghosts can accept the Lord Jesus Christ as their Savior. That is a privilege that is given to living, breathing human beings.

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A complimentary review copy was provided to me by the author and Pauline Creeden, editor at AltWitPress. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Review of Witness Men: True Stories of God at Work in Papua, Indonesia by Rebecca Davis

English: Today's sunset, Raja Ampat, West Papu...

English: Today’s sunset, Raja Ampat, West Papua, Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Witness Men: True Stories of God at Work in Papua, Indonesia by Rebecca Davis

“While some of the missionaries studied in language school, an old Dani chief in his clan’s man hut reminded his sons that one day someone would come, a pale man, over the mountains, one who had discovered the secret of nabelan kabelan–forever life.”

This is a short 143-page chapter book written for children. It is Book 3 of the Hidden Heroes series. Each of the 15 chapters is only about 3-4 pages long, the perfect length for reading out loud to children. The reading level appears to me to be about fourth grade, although I think many third graders could read this as well. As a read aloud book, it would appeal to 7-year-olds on up. I know some adults would love to read this book as well. Having taught in Christian school, led devotions for children’s church, children’s choir, and done a few children’s moment devotions during church services, I know this book will be wonderful as a series to be read aloud at home or in children’s ministries. The chapters do build on each other, but not so much that one has to be read before others could be understood. A group of 3 or 4 stories could be read together. I mentioned to my husband a few days ago that I wish we had had this series of books available to us when we were working in children’s church together.

Location of Province of Papua in Indonesia

Location of Province of Papua in Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The focus for this book is a portion of the small island above Australia known as the Dutch New Guinea in the past and today as Papua, Indonesia. Many tribes lived there, speaking many languages and dialects. It wasn’t until a group of explorers flew over the area in 1938 and saw the huts in the valleys between mountain ranges that we even knew about the people. They were so isolated that the hundreds of thousands of people living in an area the size of Nebraska thought they were the only people in the world.

These are stories of a handful of missionaries and their first efforts to learn the language and speak to the people of the many tribes from the Bible to introduce them to Jesus and to free them from the fear that caused so much war between the tribes. As men and women accepted Jesus as their Savior, Witness Schools were established to teach the new believers how to share the gospel with their fellow tribesmen. The reader will find these stories fascinating as the gospel was shared using the culture’s own customs to help them understand how much God loves them.

Provincial flag of Papua province, Indonesia

Provincial flag of Papua province, Indonesia (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

At the back of the book, the author takes a moment to explain how she got started on her “treasure hunt” research project. The following chapter gives us the resources and books she used so the reader can also search for more information. The final section contains a scripture verse and a couple of discussion questions for each of the chapters of the book.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book! I think you and your children will too!

A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC) and Christian Focus Publications (www.ChristianFocus.com). I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

English: Papua Indonesia Flag

English: Papua Indonesia Flag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Review for: The Winnowing Season [Amish Vines and Orchards series Book2] by Cindy Woodsmall

Amish couple in a horse-drawn buggy in rural H...

Amish couple in a horse-drawn buggy in rural Holmes County (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Winnowing Season [Amish Vines and Orchards series Book 2] by Cindy Woodsmall

A written review of the first book can be found here.

After a tornado ripped through King’s Orchards, owners and business partners Samuel, Jacob and Eli King and Rhoda Byler decide to purchase an abandoned orchard in Maine to restore, and give the damaged orchard time to recover. To do that, a new Amish community needed be established around the orchard. There were no other Amish in Maine. Several families purchased the orchard together and prepare to move to Maine. Samuel and Jacob King have gone with their sister Leah, along with Rhoda and her brother Steven’s family, and Rhoda’s business assistant Landon. They began restoring the farmhouse and the orchards while waiting for two other families to join them later.

English: An old apple orchard in Ottawa, Canada.

English: An old apple orchard in Ottawa, Canada. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

However, before they even arrived in Maine, complications overtook them. Jacob, who was courting Rhoda, was called away suddenly, and was unable to explain why because he was still keeping secrets from her. Samuel was being unbearably rude to Rhoda to keep his distance, although Rhoda didn’t know why he was treating her so coldly. Landon was attracted to Leah, but felt conflicted because even though he knew Leah wanted to leave the Amish, she hadn’t told her brothers yet and Landon did not want to get into trouble with Rhoda, his boss. Once they arrived in Maine, they had no heat in the house or cooking fuel. Delivery of the cattle that were in Steven’s care was delayed. So on the first night in the farmhouse, the children and women were alone and the men were absent.

Only a few weeks later Rhoda found some teenage girls camping in one of the greenhouses. She gave them a firm but kind warning to leave and she would not report them to the police. But a short time later police arrived at the farmhouse and informed Rhoda she was being investigated for possession of drugs, thanks to accusations from one of the girls’ parents, the wife of a US senator. With police trudging in and out of her greenhouses, confiscating her seedlings and new plants, their containers and things in her room, orchard and garden development was delayed. And Jacob, who had finally arrived after the first personal crisis had to leave again, to stay away from the press and the police again, due to secrets he was harboring. Tensions were high at the new settlement.

In addition to the disturbing circumstances, Rhoda realized that the problems she had in the community where she grew up weren’t left behind as she had hoped. When she befriended an older couple who lived nearby, a non-Amish couple, she began receiving flashes of insight, voices and intuition that something was wrong or unresolved. But unlike her previous experiences, she did not tell anyone about her insights, even when she realized in a flash of intuition that Jacob had been with another woman when he was away.

Orchard in winter

Orchard in winter (Photo credit: Arlette)

With all the trials besetting the residents of the new Maine Amish community, came spiritual growth. Many of the residents searched within themselves, turning to God and each other for the comfort, renewal and strength they needed to meet so many challenges. There’s room for a multitude of small victories in the private lives of our characters, but the final scenes leave the reader in suspense. The police investigation ended well, but resulted in the loss of the two investing families when they decided not to join the small group in Maine. Jacob returned home but broke his courtship with Rhoda, who has decided to stay with her friends nearby to recover from the loss. The future of the orchard hangs in the balance. We must wait for book three in the series to find what will become of the new Amish community.

The draw for me in this series is the personal journeys each character has embarked. The setbacks they experienced were merely surface problems compared to the inner struggles suffered by ones I, as a reader, had come to care about. The author skillfully crafted a world where I’ve felt comfortable, and people I empathize with. When reading this story, I feel as if I were coming along side of a friend, to listen to their fears and indecision, or to be the sounding board when they question decisions they had already made. Some were disheartened and discouraged. Relationships were strained, especially between Samuel and Rhoda. Landon felt conflicted about keeping his relationships with Leah and Rhoda balanced. Rhoda even wondered if she attracted trouble wherever she went. Without Rhoda’s expertise in horticultural arts, the new orchard was doomed to fail if she didn’t help the Kings. But was all the strain worth it?

A complimentary review copy was provided to me by the Edelweiss website which services WaterBrook Press . I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Review for Threads of Love [Book 3 Fabric of Time Series] by Andrea Boeshaar

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Threads of Love [Book 3 Fabric of Time Series] by Andrea Boeshaar

Emily had always hoped her youthful friend Jake would come back to her as a serious suitor. But when she hadn’t heard from him in the past decade, she put him out of her mind and set her sights on another man to share her life with. That is, until Jake literally bowled her over. Jake was a US Deputy Marshall now, living in Montana. He had come back to Wisconsin to care for his ailing grandfather and settle the estate. He enjoyed seeing Emily Sundberg again.

Emily loved her sprawling extended family, yet growing up midst so much protection left her feeling a little stifled. She had already chosen to live in a boarding house in town with her friend Iris. The two were both teachers, had gotten their education and studied for their certificates together. When Iris suggested a summer trip by train to see the Pacific Ocean, Emily thought it was a hair-brained idea, but was secretly excited for something new to demonstrate her independence. And if she happened to see Jake on her way out West, that would be fine too.

The author creates a warm atmosphere of caring among family members that draws us into their circle and encourages us to feel part of the community where they live. Members of this family live their faith as naturally and non-contrived as breathing…exactly as it should be. When Emily experiences the challenges of young adulthood, she draws on the strength this family life has to offer and the wisdom she learned from a loving Lord. The reader can’t help but be enveloped into this world and given a shot of confidence and peace as well. If you enjoy a cozy read, with a world populated by real persons of faith who, rather than preach it, live it, breathe it and share it with each other, then you will enjoy this book as much as I have.

A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Charisma House Book Group (Realms Publishing) by The Booketeria.com. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

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Review for The Maze: The Lost Labyrinth by Jason Brannon

Minotaur in Labyrinth—a Roman mosaic at Conímb...

Minotaur in Labyrinth—a Roman mosaic at Conímbriga, Portugal. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Maze: The Lost Labyrinth by Jason Brannon

It is a rare thriller suspense novel that attracts my attention and keeps it all the way through. The Maze has done exactly that for me; not once but three times I’ve read through the book before writing this review. There is so much layered in what appears to be a simple tale that it leaves me pondering the subtleties and nuances of a unique modern allegory long after I have finished. Kudos to the author. This story is masterfully crafted.

From the beginning, we are aware of a physical maze being constructed somewhere. Demons and angels are present as well as the Minotaur, the element of the maze that reminds us of ancient tales of Greek mythology. We get the impression that a stage is being set up and that something will trigger this trap into action. “The doorway to this labyrinth is opened with sinful intent, and you walked in brazenly.” Who walked in?

The first third of the book introduces us to the main characters and establishes the circumstances that make the maze relevant. Jamie Burrough’s family is vulnerable and temptations are all around them. From most points of view, Jamie hasn’t done anything wrong to deserve the distress his wife feels. Most of his story is told in the first person, so we see only his perspective on the incidents that eventually land him in the maze. If up to this point the story seems to move along too slowly, be patient. It picks up the pace after the twelveth chapter when Jamie finds himself in the maze.

Also important to the plot is another character who acts as the catalyst that drives the disaster within Jamie’s marriage. His name is Darrell Gene, a loner who just doesn’t seem to fit in anywhere–a perfect villain/victim just waiting to be controlled by someone offering him what he wants most in life. When wooden carved angels begin talking to him, we realize this character is troubled, dangerous and seriously creepy. And he lives across the street from Jamie and his family.

At first Jamie thinks the Maze is a prison, a place of punishment. But eventually he realizes it has merit. “Think of this as a place where you can discover who you truly are. Angels and demons abound in the depths of the labyrinth if only you know where to look. Some will be out to kill you and delight in the damnation of your soul. Others will try to help you and bask in the light of your spirit. The choices, however, are yours to make. You will own the triumphs–and the mistakes. A man shapes the course of his life by the decisions he makes, and you will write your destiny inside the walls of this maze.” [a note Jamie finds in a room in the maze]

While Jamie was facing his foes inside the maze, his family was facing trouble outside the maze. Darrell Gene, the puppet willing to do anything to gain approval and acceptance, was threatening them, first by leaving incriminating pictures and notes in their mailbox. While Jamie was inside the maze, Darrell holds the family in their home at knife point. Those inside the maze with Jamie made him aware that how he performed his tasks inside would affect his family outside. How would Jamie get out of the maze and save his family?

If you like suspense, thrillers, and a touch of the bizarre, I would recommend this book to you.

dying to self

A complimentary review copy was provided to me by the author and Christian Ebooks Today. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Review: John Newton by John Crotts

John Newton, slave trader, abolitionist, minis...

John Newton, slave trader, abolitionist, minister, and author of the hymn “Amazing Grace” (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Review of John Newton by John Crotts

Newton wrote the epitaph that appears on his grave,

“John Newton
Once an infidel and libertine
A servant of slaves in Africa was
By the rich Mercy of our Lord and Saviour
Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned
and appointed to preach the faith
He had long laboured to destroy.”

This book is part of the Bitesize Biographies series. There are 7 short chapters and only about 140 pages altogether. In spite of its brevity, there is a powerful story packed into these pages.

As a former teacher in a Christian academy, a children’s church worker and a homeschool parent/teacher, the life of John Newton has always been one of my favorite stories for making a strong positive impression on its readers. Because of his dramatic conversion experience, it’s an attention grabbing tale for storytellers; for older young people and adults, a compelling story that points us to the grace of God in an emphatic manner. Books written for children tend to emphasize the manner in which God attempted to get John Newton’s attention from his days of rebellion raising havoc on ships, being enslaved in Africa, his rescue and later captaincy of his own ship.

This book moves through those early events briefly in the first few chapters, and then concentrates primarily on Newton’s spiritual development, growth and personal ministry from the point when he finally acknowledged that God loved him. His early days as a follower of Christ flickered and sputtered like a candle blown in the wind, almost going out, but eventually reviving to burn brightly. Ship voyages in his day often took 18 months to two years and sometimes even five years, so that he didn’t get to fellowship with other Christians in those early days. But he did read the Bible and some great Christian books so that he did mature modestly until he was able to get home. During the months on a voyage, he honed his writing skills by writing volumes of letters to Polly. When he had a large enough stack, he posted them and she would get them all at one time. She would write to him in the same manner, and he would receive them eagerly. They were life’s breath to him.

On his third and final voyage as captain, after he had married Polly, he made acquaintance with a mature Christian and fellow ship’s captain, Alexander Clunie. They became close friends and spent a month waiting for ship repairs fellowshiping together. This friendship helped Newton to mature in his understanding of the Bible, clear up many misconceptions and doubts about his salvation, and paved the way for many wonderful friendships with other men of God. One of Clunie’s friends introduced him to George Whitefield, a famous evangelist of the day, just a few years after the Great Awakening. John Newton enjoyed listening to Whitefield preach so much that he extended his stay in the area, even time away from his beloved wife Polly, to hear more.

The life of the Rev. George Whitefield,

The life of the Rev. George Whitefield, (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This was a time when the Church of England was the established church. There were groups of people working from the inside, such as John and Charles Wesley and George Whitefield, to call people to repentance and renew or place their faith in Jesus Christ. There were also reformers from without the church, often called Dissenters. Among these two groups, Newton made many friends and acquaintances. If a person loved the Lord and preached the gospel, he wanted that person as a friend. William Grimshaw of Haworth encouraged Newton to pursue the ministry. Henry Venn Huddersfield was a godly mentor; his fervor for preaching the gospel, sometimes thirty times a week, became a model for Newton. He became friends with the Baptist John Fawcett, an independent James Scott, the Presbyterian John Edwards, and Moravian Benjamin Ingham. He felt God guiding him to preach about the Grace God extended to him while he was still a wretched sinner, but didn’t know if he should work within the church, or among the Dissenters. Eventually he chose to pastor in the established church out of deference to Polly’s family, who were staunch supporters of the church.

Because John Newton was for the most part self-taught, and the Anglican church desired educated ministers, the best he could hope for was a position of curate, similar to being an assistant pastor. But he needed someone to ordain him. It took years before someone was willing to do so. During his wait, he would write letters detailing his conversion story to friends. One friend encouraged Newton to turn these letters into a book for publication. As a result his autobiography, An Authentic Narrative, was published and eventually read by many, including the Earl of Dartmouth. He had offered a curacy of a small parish in Olney to a friend of Newton’s, who in turn recommended Newton. Lord Dartmouth, an evangelical himself, saw to it that Newton was ordained.

Newton served in Olney for the next sixteen years. He loved the ministry, and people loved to hear him preach with such warmth and caring. He started children’s ministries, and often cooperated with other churches when special meetings were held for the purpose of evangelization. Some of the meetings were even held in Newton’s and William Cowper’s homes. He knew the men who formed a society that eventually sent out William Carey as missionary to India.

English: Engraving of the vicarage at Olney wh...

English: Engraving of the vicarage at Olney where John Newton spent his first years as a minister. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Newton met William Cowper a few years into his ministry when William left a hectic London to live in the relative peace of the countryside. The two became fast friends. Cowper was skilled in poetry and lyrics, while Newton was both musically talented and able to write lyrics. They collaborated together to write many hymns, a new form of music at the time, for the people in Newton’s parish. People in the area were often employed as lace makers. As they performed their repetitive tasks, they would sing little ditties to themselves that helped keep the patterns consistent and to pass the time. Cowper wanted to create a set of new songs for them to sing, based on the Gospel. The hymn form was especially appropriate for this task, so the two created over 348 hymns with 67 coming from Cowper’s pen. It was published in 1779 as Olney’s Hymns and became a great help to many churches over time. The book sold nearly half a million copies over the next few decades. Among the songs in this book are “Amazing Grace,” “There is a Fountain,” and “Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken.”

English: William Cowper's summer house He refe...

English: William Cowper’s summer house He referred to this as his “verse manufactory”. Much of his poetry, prose and hymns was written here. William Cowper and John Newton collaborated on producing Olney Hymns http://www.churchsociety.org/issues_new/history/newton/iss_history_newton_parsons-chap4.asp . (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

My favorite incidence in the book tells of Newton’s relationship with a fellow curate, but an unbeliever, Thomas Scott. He believed in rationalism rather than the Bible. Scott realized what a poor minister he really was when he learned that Newton was visiting his own sick and dying parishioners. Once when he visited Newton’s church to hear him preach, he did not understand him at all. So he used his wry wit to poke fun and mock Newton’s sermon. They maintained a correspondence, and Newton sent Scott one of his books, but everything Newton said seemed like foolishness to Scott. Eventually the Holy Spirit convicted Scott when he realized that gospel men like Newton spoke out of their spiritual experiences while he had no spiritual experience at all. Scott turned his heart over to Jesus.

The Newtons moved to London and continued the work of hospitality, Bible teaching, mentorship, and sponsorship as they had done in Olney. In their home were always some guests with either short or extended stays. John Newton saw the importance of creating friendships with all types of Christian leaders whether they were inside the Anglican church or outside it. They formed a network of gospel preaching men, sponsoring many projects that made London a better place to live. One project they established was a journal called the Christian Observer. Training opportunities for those outside the church among the Dissenters was very limited. In this network, John Newton served as advisor, helping to create a curriculum of Biblical training for young people with potential to be leaders in their churches, communities and missions. This academy served many for decades to come.

One of the young men Newton mentored was William Wilberforce. After his father’s death, his mother sent him to live with his aunt Hannah, an evangelical friend of the Newtons’ in both Olney and London. Young William looked up to Newton as a father figure, and Newton mentored him and prayed for his salvation. After years of correspondence and mentoring, William became a Member of Parliament. Eventually he opened his heart to Jesus and became a believer. Their father-son relationship continued to grow and Newton encouraged Willberforce to serve the Lord in his political life. Together, Newton and Wilberforce eventually turned the tide of opinion of all England against the practice of slavery by revealing the horrors of the conditions where the African people became slaves and were delivered to plantations to labor in.

John Newton’s life can be summed up in the book title by Jonathan Aitken, “From disgrace to Amazing Grace.” Before his mother died when he was eight, she prayed that her son

Cross Focused Reviews

Cross Focused Reviews

would serve God by going into the ministry. It took quite a few years, but God answered her prayers. Even when young John didn’t realize it, God showed amazing grace to him repeated until he got John’s full and undivided attention. John was so amazed by this grace that his penned words to the title of the song Amazing Grace lives long after the end of Newton’s mortal life.

A complimentary review copy was provided to me by Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC) and EP Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.