Where Courage Calls (A When Calls the Heart Novel) by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan ~ Review

Where Courage Calls

Where Courage Calls (A When Calls the Heart Novel) by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan

Coming from a home in the East with all the advantages of wealth, Elizabeth Thatcher had determinedly set a course to follow. Not content to be society’s darling, she wanted to make her life amount to something. After taking courses in college to learn to teach, Beth accepted a teaching job out West among mining families. She reminded her tearful family as she boarded the train that it was only for a year. She would return.

Upon arrival in Leathbridge things started to go wrong. Her luggage was stolen and she wasn’t given enough time to replace her belongings before she moved to the last leg of the journey. Also lost was a special compass that her father had passed on to her, her violin, and books for her classroom. It was not a promising beginning. Edward, her traveling companion, was beside himself. He had newly signed up to join the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and had to admit on the first day reporting to his post that he had been duped and robbed. Her luggage had been his responsibility.

Beth’s final destination was Coal Valley, where she would teach. Edward accompanied her on this part of her journey to the isolated mountain town in a car owned by the mining company. As an acquaintance of her family, Edward was well
aware of what she was used to. He was dismayed at the primitive living conditions, the ramshackle houses with outside privies, the lack of stores, surrounded by deep forestation. He did his best to convince her to return with him to Leathbridge, but Beth was determined to see it through, her father’s encouraging words and Bible verses in her ears and a prayer on her lips. She would live in the boarding house and teach in a former saloon, and trust God to honor her efforts.

1872 rules for teachers

I found the adventures Beth experienced heartwarming and exciting. She kept seeing needs and with a loving heart jumped in head first to help, sometimes getting herself into a bit of trouble. Janette Oke’s writing style makes each person Beth comes into contact with a close friend, and the entire town into a community that feels like family. Those are the traits that make Ms. Okes’ stories eagerly read and re-read.

I’ve read nearly every book Janette Oke has written. Some of them were read to my children when they were young and learning about the West. This book is filled with the same heart and charm we found so special for so many years. Reading When Courage Calls is like becoming re-acquainted with an old friend.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley, on behalf of Bethany House. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Merry Christmas to my Christian readers, and to everyone else, joyous holidays!

Some of my readers may not realize that I have only been blogging for the past 14 months. In all that time BethlehemI have never posted a personal note of any kind except for the “about” page. I’m breaking new ground with this greeting.

For those of you who are following my blog, your kindness touches my heart. I started this blog with a few goals in mind.

1. First and foremost was to be a testimony that I love the Lord Jesus with all my heart. I don’t have many ways to demonstrate this considering the many health problems I have.

2. Second is to do something I like to do, which is read books and to stretch that into writing about them. I have a huge amount of growing to do in that area! But it is coming.

3. Third is to keep my mind occupied with something other than watching television while stuck in my hospital bed here at home. I have numerous health problems including some nasty ulcers on my legs that won’t heal. I have to keep them raised
to encourage the sores to close. This past year, I have experienced cellulitis in one of the legs twice. One of those times it went from the leg into my foot. I could barely put my weight on it. I ended up in the hospital while the doctors checked it out to be certain it wasn’t MRSA. I was more concerned it was a blood clot considering the pain. Fortunately it was neither. They are healing, but other problems abound.

I also ended up in the hospital on another occasion (early this year)with very high blood pressure (top number goes over 200 and the lower number about 180), a problem that has plagued me for the past twelve years or so. So I’ve had to do something constructive with all this down time. It’s been an interesting year.

greatest Christmas gift on the tree

4. My fourth goal was to work out the bipolar issues I have in a positive manner. Christians especially need to know that a person can love the Lord and still have mental health issues. That is because “mental health” can translate as another physical health problem especially bipolar, schizophrenia and clinical depression. I take medications for bipolar 2 for the same reason I take medications for gout, for diabetes, for high blood pressure, treatments for my allergies, my asthma, and sleep apnea. I have glasses for my vision troubles. They are all physical problems. They manifest themselves in different ways, but for the most part, a balance can be achieved as long as you work hard enough at it.

I’ve had this particular diagnosis for twenty years. I’ve prayed about it, contemplated its effects on me, thought about its effects on others, read as much as possible about it, joined groups to observe how others deal with it, taken and read surveys from others with bipolar. In addition, I suspect my mother had bipolar type 2 as well, so I grew up with it.

I have another blog set up, but haven’t worked on it lately. I want to do that in 2014. It will be about my thoughts on bipolar from a biblical perspective. I would like to invite my readers to that blog. But I will write more on that later.

live with all your heart Christmas theme

In the meantime, MERRY CHRISTMAS! from my home to your home.

21 Stories of Generosity: Real Stories to Inspire a Full Life by CJ Hitz ~ Review

21 Stories of Generosity: Real Stories to Inspire a Full Life by CJ Hitz

“Jesus knew a little something about generosity. Generosity oozed out of every pore in Jesus’ body. He gave sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, attention to the outcast, cleansing to the leper, food for the hungry, and even new life to the dead.

And in one final Act of Generosity that trumps all others, He gave Himself completely in death so that mankind could be restored and freed from the curse of sin.”

21 stories of generosity

In the present culture, generosity seems to be linked only to the Christmas spirit, but is rarely thought about the other eleven months of the year. Yet generosity is talked about as a signpost for the early Christian church. It was said in the New Testament that the early believers were known for their love for each other. Their generosity radiated out of Jerusalem to the spreading communities of Christ’s followers. From there it spread on to non-believers and was one way the new Christians were known.

As a culture, we’ve all but forgotten how to be generous. The emphasis on self help, self improvement, self aggrandizement is rampant and has to some extent curbed incidences of generosity with growing emphasis of distrust, whether one deserves the generosity given or not. That is one reason I find this book such a refreshing draught in a desert of self emphasis. Among these stories are incidences where generosity was completely unearned, unsought and unexpected–given to the individual or family telling the tale.

Many of the stories were reflections on such a case of generosity that it inspired the teller to live by its example. Some individuals began spreading generosity around quietly while others created ministries of giving. These are not stories of people crowing about their own achievements or worth. So many are tales of joy, meant to bless the reader with inspiration and hope. Human kindness is not dead yet.

be a blessing to others

One of my favorite stories was about a person who obeyed the impulse to purchase someone’s groceries while she was waiting in line. She recognized the person as one who had come to her church asking for some financial help. What made the incident special for me was the writer’s reflections about this later. The person she saw in the store hadn’t made a very good impression on her. In spite of that, she felt compelled to demonstrate generosity anyway. Her conclusion was about obedience. God doesn’t ask us to judge whether a person is worthy of our generosity. He just asks us to obey Him when He prods us to action. It reminded me of a conversation I had decades ago with a loving godly woman; we were discussing the term “used.” Her point to me was that in the world, the term means to be taken advantage of or despoiled somehow. But in God’s eyes, to be “used” is a blessing. It’s our choice how we view being used. That short conversation changed my point of view and from that moment on I was determined to be obedient to God’s prompts.

I hope you will take the time to read this little book. Many of the stories are endearing, motivational, and heart-warming.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of the print book from the author CJ Hitz and Body and Soul Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Be Still My Soul (Book #1 of the Cadence of Grace series) by Joanne Bischof

Be Still My Soul (Book #1 of the Cadence of Grace series) by Joanne Bischof

This is the first book of the Cadence of Grace series. My review of the second book in this series, Though My Heart is Torn, can be read here and the review for the third book in the series, My Hope is Found, can be read here.Be Still My Soul

Lonnie Sawyer walks home after a local dance one night with talented mandolin player, Gideon O’Riley. Gideon was only doing her brother a favor, but when he tries to kiss the shy seventeen-year-old girl, her pa catches them and assumes the worst. The next day he forces Gideon to marry Lonnie. Gideon does not want to be married to her, so now Lonnie has gone from the fire, living with abusive “crazy Joel” Sawyer into the frying pan, living with a man who doesn’t love her, who does what he wants without regard to his responsibility as her husband, and has a mean temper to boot. Both can only see entrapment in their future.

Gideon decides to walk to Stuart, a growing town, to look for work. The only thing that keeps Lonnie sane during the arduous and punishing trek through the cold, the rain and the mud of the hills and valleys of the Appalachians, was her faith in God. Bringing to mind the Psalms she and her Aunt Sarah had read through together, she tried to keep up with Gideon’s rapid pace. They got turned around and in a temper, Gideon turned on Lonnie after she falls. Fortunately, the couple was rescued by an older man and taken to his home so that Lonnie could get some rest and food.

Joanne Bischof fleshes out each character so well that we feel the painful relationship the young couple is struggling with. When aging Jebediah and Elsie invite Lonnie and Gideon to stay with them in exchange for assistance with the homestead, Gideon reluctantly agrees although Lonnie is relieved. But Gideon feels the world and maybe even God is against him. He chafes at the injustice of it all. He resents the work Jebediah asks him to do on the farm. Eventually he leaves Lonnie, falls into temptation, and the reader wonders if any good can be salvaged in him in time to save their marriage.

I often felt as if I were there with Lonnie and Gideon, hurting with them, and sometimes wanting to reach in and give Gideon a good shake to snap him out of his funk. I felt with Lonnie when she decides not to become like her abused mother; she decides not to accept the mistreatment dished out to her. She struggles to decide when it’s time to forgive and when it’s time to stay strong. Many of us can identify with her efforts to find a balance she can live with.

Lord near broken hearted

If you like to read books with such powerful storytelling that you feel you have just stepped into the story yourself and are experiencing it, then I recommend this book and series to you. Great character development is what makes this book come alive.

My Hope is Found (Book #3 of The Cadence of Grace series) by Joanne Bischof ~ Review

My Hope is Found (Book #3 of The Cadence of Grace series) by Joanne Bischof

My Hope is Found is the third book in the Cadence of Grace trilogy. My review of the second book in this series, Though My Heart is Torn, can be read here.. This book is best read after reading the first two books in the series, or at least the second book where Gideon and Lonnie have become close.

My Hope is Found

In book one, Gideon is a mountain man with musical talent. He is also a man who lives by his desires without restraint. He meets Lonnie Sawyer to whom he is eventually forced to marry. He does not appreciate the jewel she is until she gives birth to his son.

In book two, unforeseen circumstances tear Lonnie and Gideon apart just as their relationship is blossoming and growing. Gideon finds himself married to another woman and Lonnie is now a single mom with an infant. She returns to live with Jebediah and Elsie, an elderly couple who own a farm. In the ensuing months, she forces herself to move on at least outwardly. A young Scottish pastor comes visiting and they become good friends. But he wants to be more than friends.

In book three, Gideon returns to Lonnie after his wife releases him. However, because of legal entanglements, he is still married and not free to win Lonnie back. Instead, he is forced to watch as Lonnie is courted by another man, one whom he considers to be better for her than himself. Gideon has much more to learn about life, loving, and forgiveness, however. Can he learn to accept his limitations, place Lonnie’s welfare before his own, and lean on God for the peace he so desperately needs?

Author Joanne Bischof is one of the best authors I have read this year for writing soul stirring character-driven Christian fiction. Her ability to grasp deep inner conflict and flesh it out to grab the reader’s heart and shake it up amazes me. The reader can’t help but be touched by the depths of such conflicts and even apply the lessons learned to their own struggles.

The author writes in such a way as to draw our respect for Gideon in his turmoil. I have read many books where the author fails to rally their readers around a character while they quake in their weaknesses. Too often, the character loses the reader’s empathy at that point. But in this series, I saw the author present a truly unlikeable person and redeem him until he becomes personable–even a good man. Then she shoves him into the fire and demonstrates how, by the Grace of God, he is transformed into a great man. There are no surprises or abrupt unexplained changes of heart. The reader can follow this transformation step by step. In a sense, I felt as if I were a friend accompanying Gideon on his journey. I didn’t have to be told that he was making good; I could see it for myself. That is talented writing.

God puts things togeher

Ms. Bischof also increases the tension by allowing Lonnie’s new suitor to be a believable and attractive person whom the reader believes could be a wonderful father for Jason, Lonnie’s son, a great brother-in-law for Addie, and a help to Jebediah and Elsie.

Be sure to have a box of tissues with you as you read this book. And if you are anything like me, you are going to love the ending scenes of this series. I highly recommend not only the book, but the entire series to those who enjoy great storytelling and character development.

Author’s website

Author’s podcast interview

For more information

Read Chapter 1

Author’s bio

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Blogging for Books, a service of Waterbrook Multnomah Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Double Trouble by Chris Well ~ Reviews

Double Trouble consists of two books, Too Good to be Truman and Too Bad to be Truman by Chris Well

Double Trouble

I grew up at the tail end of the slapstick comedy era. I loved the Jerry Lewis movies  in all their silliness. Maxwell Smart of the TV series “Get Smart” was the epitome of the loveable bumbler who was somehow successful in fighting against the agents of “Chaos” and their devious plans. Similarly it was the age of the Pink Panther series of movies with another bumbling law enforcer, Inspector Clouseau who was smarter than he first appeared. Watching these now is a nostalgic trip down memory lane. My husband had always enjoyed the Three Stooges although I always thought their comedy routine included too much “slap” and not enough “schtick” to be funny. Abbot and Costello was more my style, especially with their “Who’s on First?” episode. It’s no wonder, then, that I enjoy Chris Well’s Harry Truman books.

Too Good to be Truman

In Too Good to Be Truman, the main character, Harry, takes full advantage of his presidential name while investigating news stories and criminal cases. He adopts several personas and disguises while “undercover”. But even as the consummate bumbler, he somehow manages to pull off his deceptions and gain insightful information, often accidentally. He slips and slides from scene to scene, getting himself into trouble with the IRS, the FBI and the local police. How he stumbles into each situation and manages to extricate himself is what makes this character so loveable and at the same time make the readers cringe in discomfort at his cluelessness. There are times when you can’t help but empathize with Harry’s ex-wives.

In this case of mishaps and slip-ups, a prank call from Harry’s arch enemy reporter Carlin to the IRS begins the series of domino events. They discover a large deposit of money in his account and want an explanation. Harry is baffled because the money came and went without his knowledge until the IRS agent shows up at his door. Harry launches into an investigation that eventually involves the kidnapping of a young country music starlet, a rescue shelter for the homeless, some of Harry’s past contacts with the criminal element of society, the theft of a valuable artifact, a record recording label scam and and an FBI agent who assumes Harry is guilt before being proven innocent.

My hat is off in respect for author Chris Well’s ability to create a hilarious tangle of events that keeps the reader in stitches and suspense at the same time. If you enjoy a light-hearted treatment of crime investigation, tongue-in-cheek humor and a hapless bumbling lead character who somehow manages to come out on top of a situation ahead of other investigators, then I recommend reading the Harry Truman stories by Chris Well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this ebook from the author. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Too Bad to Be Truman by Chris Well

Too Bad to be Truman

Be prepared to laugh. This book reminds me of an adult version of the Amelia Bedelia books I used to read to my children when they were young. Not everyone will enjoy the type of slapstick, zany humor employed by this author. But in spite of the light-hearted (and may I perhaps add, tongue-in-cheek, ‘lightheaded’) dry humored persona Chris Well has given to the main character, Harry Truman, Harry is a bit sharper than he first appears.

Harry Truman is a former crime reporter for a local newspaper. He’s making attempts to write the great American novel, perhaps with the intent to try to show the newspaper just what type of talented writer they had replaced. Curiously, he was not overly surprised when a couple of mobster like goons showed up at his door with the news that “the boss wants to see you.” While the readers roll their eyes with thoughts that this is going to be another ho-hum stereotypical read, the “boss” explains to Truman that he wants his biography–a memoir–written before he dies. Harry is less than enthused at the prospect. He’s not really given much of a choice, and on the way home he wonders how he is going to accomplish this task and write his own great novel.

Harry realizes he is being followed by someone he didn’t recognize. The man approaches him and Truman realizes the man thinks he is associated with the “boss.” The man wants Harry to kill his wife–for hire. Harry is not up to committing a crime, but instead of doing the right thing and reporting this to the police, he decides to investigate the situation for himself.

What follows is the strangest series of happenstances I’ve ever read in a mystery. The author presents some unexpected twists and turns that I did not see coming in addition to some good old-fashioned chase scenes. I give this zany adventure mystery a thumbs up for those who enjoy this type of light reading. It is quick paced and has some genuinely funny moments. If I were to rate this book, I would give it a PG-13 rating with a warning about the presence of some drinking, hangovers, smoking, a shooting, and some hints of sexual temptation. There is no crude language.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this ebook from the author through The Story Cartel. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sanctuary by Pauline Creeden ~ Review

Sanctuary by Pauline Creeden

Sanctuary

Right from the first chapter my attention was riveted and propelled forward by the fast paced story. The suspense didn’t allow me to rest until I had finished the book a few hours later, with few interruptions, all in one sitting.

It was a little difficult for me to discern which genre this story fits most into, categorically. The opening event, an alien invasion, qualifies it as a science fiction tale with apocalyptic overtones when one third of the world’s population is destroyed by the poisoned water supply and the darkening of the sun. Since it is fast paced and filled with suspense, I would also call this a thriller or suspense thriller.

When vicious lion-like dog creatures are released from the alien ships and began attacking people worldwide, the book ups the ante to the horror genre as these victims were infected with either parasites or a virus that removed their humanity turning them into zombie creatures that wouldn’t die. For me, this part of the book was most disturbing with vivid scenes and some gore, since I try to avoid reading anything of this genre. The author’s descriptive language is so effective it raised the hairs on my arms and sent a chill down my back while reading about the victims. However, for readers who enjoy the presence of zombies in their books, this could be appealing. The “wailers” become a major element of danger that drives the suspenseful action forward since it seems to be their goal to attack the uninfected and spread the disease.

One of the main characters central to this story is Jennie Ransom, a college student living at home between semesters. She was just about to return to school when her mother was attacked by the alien creatures, the event that set in motion the heart-pounding events to follow. Arriving at the hospital with her five-year-old brother Mickey in tow, Jennie witnessed horrors as the patients became violent before her eyes. She teamed up with Pastor Billy Crawford at the hospital to search for her parents, but eventually lost them both. She and Mickey found themselves in a struggle to survive. The pastor had already set up his church as a well-provisioned sanctuary for survivors; once she and Mickey arrived, Jennie found time for some soul searching. The young adult genre and spirituality can be added to the mix.

Another main character is high school biology teacher Hugh Harris, a scientist working on his PhD in animal behavior and psychology. During the televised coverage of the creature attacks, Hugh made several observations he wanted to share with authorities. When he learned that some military bases were opening to uninfected refugees, he was determined to leave the protection of his locked-down apartment complex to make his way to the nearest base. He encountered Jennie and Mickey on the way to join other survivors at the church sanctuary. In spite of the lack of electric power and fuel, a small group eventually made it to the military base nearby.

wings_as_eagles

Even with military protection, the bases were still susceptible to attacks from marauding bands of creatures. At one point, the base where Pastor Crawford’s group had found refuge was invaded; Hugh and the pastor were attacked and infected. Hugh survived but Pastor Crawford did not. It was then that Jennie realized she had feelings for Hugh, and likewise Hugh was attracted to the strong person Jennie was becoming in the face of all this tragedy. And what had seemed a completely hopeless situation before the scientist’s arrival became hopeful. His observations may help some survive.

In spite of crossing a multitude of genre boundaries, including a little light romance, the author somehow makes it all work. There is a blend that makes this an exciting tale for many demographics. Since the story ended without a definite conclusion, I hope there are plans for a part two some time in the near future.

View the Trailer

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from the author, Pauline Creeden and AltWit Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”