Christmas Underdogs: A True Story about Canines, Convicts, and God’s Love for All by Connie Cameron ~Review~

Christmas Underdogs by Connie Cameron

Christmas Underdogs

Whether you are a dog lover, a cat person, neither or both, there is a superb message tucked among the laughs, the tears, the reminiscences and ruminations of this short book. The author sums it all up when she says, “God has compassion for the underdog, and He wants us to have compassion as well.”

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Connie Cameron is candid with her readers when she shares some personal stories about some very special canine companions in her life. You could say this book is a collection of short stories filled with humor, reflection and pathos. But it is so much more as Ms. Cameron’s experiences transcend mere stories to become life lessons in God’s transforming love. She masterfully blends both components into a book that is fascinating to read. It is short enough to be able to peruse in just a few sittings, while we will be reflecting back on it for a long time after finishing the final pages.

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One of the things I like so well about the volume is that all the stories are true. Those things really happened. So many of us will be able to put ourselves in the author’s shoes because we may have had a few gut-wrenching experiences ourselves. The author is open and honest as she shares her past struggles, failures and victories. Our hearts can’t help but be stirred by the events and revelations as God reaches down to her in love. We don’t have to love dogs to love this book.

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The second thing I appreciate about this book is when the author took the time to share some personal “God stories.” Years ago, our church family participated in a program that included an activity call the “God Hunt.” Its purpose was to help us become aware of the little ways we see God interacting with us daily. These are often things we take for granted and overlook in our search for bigger, “more significant” works. Through this exercise the participants become more aware of how close God wants to be with us. I read several of these small treasure hunts in this book, and found the experience very encouraging. I felt a kinship with the author’s family because of some of our shared experiences and discoveries.

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Some of the chapters are devotional in nature–not all the book is about Christmas. However, a few chapters are dedicated to the author’s reflections of the Christmas events, in particular from the viewpoint of the shepherds who were in all practicality the underdogs of the day. I appreciate Ms. Cameron’s fresh perception of a fact we sometimes overlook because of over-familiarity.

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Finally, I related so well to this book because many of the stages of family life paralleled our own family life. As a nearly empty-nester, I especially appreciate the author’s ways of dealing with the changes a family faces when our little ones have grown up and left the nest. The Lord even gave her a new ministry; I got such a chuckle how she initially fought it, unsuccessfully, of course. And dogs played a role in smoothing the way even then.

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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Book Club Network on behalf of the author and Elk Lake 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.”

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Somehow, Christmas Will Come by Peggy Blann Phifer ~Review~

Somehow, Christmas Will Come by Peggy Blann Phifer

Somehow Christmas Will Come

Somehow, Christmas Will Come is a beautifully written family story which has seen so much tragedy in their young lives. The one most impacted by the world gone wrong is a little 6 year old girl by the name of Bethany. At the age of 5, she lost her mother. At the age of 6, she loses her father. How will she survive?

Molly Dugan, Bethany’s aunt is only twenty-one. She has just been laid off and in spite of her foster parents’ plea for her to stay with them as long as she liked, she decided to visit her older brother and his family first. Only the year before, he had lost his wife to a serious boating accident. Molly had not been able to attend the funeral because of her work schedule. Patrick lived in Los Vegas, across the country from where she lived. Once she had arrived in the city of bright lights, she came to know Bethany’s grandmother, Jessie Baker, who lived just a few blocks away. She and Jessie became close friends, sharing in their love for Patrick and the precocious little Bethie.

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It soon became apparent to Molly that her brother Pat was not over grieving the loss of his wife Jaime. It seemed he had taken to drinking to deal with his grief. This hit Molly hard, because Patrick had never used alcohol before. In his teen years he was a rock, and never seemed to be tempted by liquor. But now he was downing straight vodka and had been doing so for at least a year. She wondered if he was putting his job at risk. Later on, she learned that Pat’s best friend, Trace, would cover for him. How long would that last before Pat hit rock bottom?

Months later, when Molly had made the decision to stay with her brother and Jessie and Bethie, the unthinkable happened. Patrick, while drinking, took his motorcycle out and was killed in a collision. His best friend Trace Whitcomb had the unenviable task of conveying the news to the little family.

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Trace became a tower of strength and comfort to the grieving women and little girl. He spent as much time as possible helping them deal with this final blow. Trace was also the key to helping Bethany through her denial that her daddy was finally gone, since he had been a part of their little family long before Molly came to live in Nevada. Trace was single and had no family of his own. How this family survives so much turmoil is what makes this book such a great story.

There are several aspects about this author’s writing I really enjoyed. The first is how well she penned the dynamics of Patrick Dugan’s family. She uses wit and humor to flesh out Patrick’s character, how he lovingly fathered his daughter, handled his job professionally, and grieved his wife quietly. In spite of the emotional toll of so many problems the family faced, there were lighter moments that caused me to laugh out loud and tugged at my heart.

The second aspect I liked is the development of a new face in the story after Patrick was gone, that of Trace Whitcomb. His place in the family dynamics is crucial to their survival. He quickly became a key player. It was exciting to read how a grandmother, an aunt, a first grader and a best friend became a new family unit for Bethany’s sake. Of course, it was not perfect. There were the usual issues to deal with and even a bit of a surprise at the end. But all that put together is what makes this book a joy to read.

Trust in Jesus He handles it

Finally, there is a romantic element that develops between Molly and Trace. The author makes this part of the story seem natural rather than unrealistic or obtrusive, as it may very well have become. Kudos to the author for making it all fit together so well.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Book Club Network on behalf of 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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The Littlest Christmas Kitten by Leona Novy Jackson Illustrated by Kelly Dupre ~Review~

The Littlest Christmas Kitten by Leona Novy Jackson Illustrated by Kelly Dupre

Littlest Christmas Kitten

The Littlest Christmas Kitten is a child’s picture book which emphasizes the brief moments in a stable where something special happened–a baby was born–and only the animals were there to witness the event.

The illustrations done by Kelly Dupre reminded me of other picture books I’ve seen with a wood cut motif. Black is used as a contrasting outline color to the watercolor earth tones of the scenes. The cartoon-like drawings are light-hearted enough to catch a child’s eye. They are simple yet convey a great deal of emotion as the events unfold. The children reading this book would easily identify with the mother cat while she hunts for her missing kitten. In the meantime, the book successfully communicates the cozy atmosphere of the humble stable into which the Christ child was born. Without expressing the idea in words, the reader senses the anticipation of a few moments frozen in time: the tableau of the first Christmas.

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The most interesting part of the book for the adults is the section after the story which tell the story of the meaning of Christmas symbols, including the tradition of Christmas cats. This part is a great reminder to parents and grandparents and other caregivers to teach our children the true message of Christmas, that Jesus came to earth for a reason.

I highly recommend this picture book for your collection of Christmas related stories.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a copy of this book from Book Crash on behalf of 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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Torn Asunder by Alana Terry ~Review~

Torn Asunder by Alana Terry

Torn Asunder

In the book, Torn Asunder by Alana Terry, we are faced with the hard facts of life in North Korea. To be a believer in Jesus Christ is a death sentence, or a sentence of condemnation to life in a labor camp or torture, or at the very least, living a secret life filled with the fear of discovery. In the book, Slave Again, the reader is introduced to an American businessman and his wife, Roger and Juliette Stern. They run a Secret Seminary where they train North Korean refugees who want to return to their country with the gospel of Christ as missionaries. It is the most dangerous mission field in the world. Slave Again tells us a little about the men and women who volunteered to return to their homeland.

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Even with the references to the Sterns and their training program, Torn Asunder still stands on its own very well. Rather than being a sequel to Slave Again, the reverse is more true; Slave Again is better described as a pre-quel to Torn Asunder. In this suspenseful story, we follow Simon and Hannah, two of the Sterns’ pupils, as they enter North Korea, their first missions and subsequent capture. The story is gritty and sometimes difficult to read. But it is also inspiring.

Simon had fallen in love with Hannah the first day he met her at the Stern’s home in Sanji. His love for her grew during their year of training together, learning to become secret missionaries in their homeland. When the Sterns attempts to disuade Hannah from re-entering North Korea failed, he tried to convince her to do something safer. But she remained adamant. It was the Sterns’ policy to send out each missionary out alone. They were not to work together as partners because of the dangers of betraying each other under duress. Simon knew this but he was determined to follow Hannah once she crossed the river. It wasn’t long before he regretted this decision. Only two days into her mission, Hannah was captured and taken to the local jail where she was interrogated. Broken-hearted, Simon completed Hannah’s mission and warned the recipients of the Bibles of her fate. Just as he was about to begin his own assignment, he was taken and placed in the same jail. After their grueling experience, they were separated. Simon was taken to Camp 22, while Hannah was somehow placed in a safe house where her wounds would heal. Hannah had been chosen by the mysterious and legendary “Moses” for work in the underground church.

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This is an exciting and chilling tale of native North Koreans and how God used them to encourage other members of the underground church. I just couldn’t put this book down once I started reading it. The nail-biting suspense kept me glued to the pages. It isn’t a pretty story, although the love between Simon and Hannah is endearing and uplifting. Their love for God and for each other sustains them through many painful encounters and long days of solitary confinement. Hannah often repeated hymns and Scripture to herself to keep her morale up, while Simon had vast reserves of Bible verses hidden away in his heart. But what kept Simon sane most were his dreams of a life with Hannah some time in the future.

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While this book may be tough to read because of the realistic descriptions of their suffering, it is well worth reading. The reader gets to view the ugly underbelly of a nation’s efforts to squelch Christian voices. We see through Hannah and Simon’s eyes what happens to people whose only guilt is to be discovered loving God and their fellow believers. For me, this was an eye-opener. It has given me a closer look at the way many people bear unfair treatment for Jesus. I have a newly formed empathy and love for these believers. This book has played a part in reforming my prayer life.

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The third thing I like about this book is the author’s writing style. The subject matter Ms. Terry has chosen to write about isn’t an easy one to convey without crossing over the invisible line of what is acceptable to put into a book of the Christian genre. But I feel that lines need to be crossed if we readers are to be shaken out of our safe, secure, and unfortunately complacent worlds. In my opinion the author has accomplished this fragile balance. I can only hope many people will read her books, feel the pain of empathy, and be compelled to reach out to help. There are many ways available. In addition, I hope many will become prayer warriors in earnest for those suffering for Christ. May we also display more gratitude for the blessings in life that already surround us every day.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book 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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Blog Tour! Torn Asunder by Alana Terry

Torn Asunder by Alana Terry

Torn Asunder is the newest suspense novel from award-winning author Alana Terry. Torn Asunder is the story of Hannah and Simon, two North Korean refugees who sneak back into their country to serve as underground missionaries. In this world of spies, secret police, and informants, Simon and Hannah learn that staying together won’t just compromise their ministry. It could cost them both their lives.
 
Torn Asunder launches today for just 99 cents, and all book sale proceeds today support the work of Liberty in North Korea, an organization that runs an underground railroad for North Korean refugees. You can get the paperback or the ebook for 99 cents for a limited time only. And remember the best news ~ Your purchase will help save a North Korean refugee!

Excerpt from Torn Asunder:



Simon gritted his teeth. His head felt like it was sinking. The general kept his voice level and pleasant as he slipped the device over Simon’s pinky. “Now, you just tell me who you delivered your Bibles to, and I’ll let you leave here with everything intact.”Simon tried to swallow. His whole jaw was swollen from his scuffle in the woods. He shut his eyes and hoped the general couldn’t feel him tremble.

General Sin chuckled to himself. “Silly me. I forgot.” He slid the device off Simon’s finger. “This kind of tool won’t work on a big, strong man like you.” He strode over to Hannah and yanked her hand before Simon could even cry out. He jammed her ring finger into the opening.

Simon struggled against his iron restraints. “Let her go!”

Hannah sucked in her breath. General Sin still glared at Simon. “This is your last chance. Give me the names, and I’ll release her unharmed.”

Simon’s field of vision blurred over. He wanted to scream. The metal from his handcuffs sliced open his wrists. He pictured himself breaking free and tackling the general to the ground.

“Better talk.” General Sin yawned. “I hate getting my uniform messy.”

Hannah’s hand trembled, but she didn’t make a noise.

“Three …”

Simon clenched his jaw, unable to tear his face away from Hannah’s wide, terrified eyes.

“Two …”





Want more? Buy Torn Asunder on amazon now. And remember, all book sales today will be donated directly to Liberty in North Korea, a group committed to seeing North Koreans achieve their freedom in THIS GENERATION.

Want to help spread the word? See below to click and tweet, or share this image on your timeline. Then be sure to scroll down to enter the giveaway for a chance to win a $100 gift card, surprise grab bag ($60 retail), great CD from Cherie Norquay, and free prizes to everyone who enters! And don’t forget to leave a comment and tell us what you think of Hannah and Simon and those like them who sneak into hostile mission fields to share the gospel.

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A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick ~Review~

A Light in the Wilderness by Jane Kirkpatrick

A Light in the Wilderness

A Light in the Wilderness is a historical fiction that is based on fact. The main character, Letitia, actually existed. The principle points of history and her part in them actually happened although the minute details have been lost over time. However, official records contain enough information that along with the well-researched facts of events of that time period, the author’s fictionalization makes this character and other main players in the story, come alive. The book is well worth the time to read. I highly recommend it.

Letitia was a former slave for the Bowman family in Kentucky. Before the senior Bowman passed on, he freed her and provided her papers to prove her status. Later, when the younger Bowman and his wife moved to Missouri, she went with them. They bartered with her, trading her care of their children for a place to live. During her years in Missouri, she obtained a job at a local hotel doing the laundry, making up the rooms and occasionally serving drinks in the evenings. She also possessed the skills of a midwife. With her savings she bought her own milk cow and earned a little more income selling the milk. For a person with such a tiny stature, she had a big heart and a strong, determined, enterprising personality. In the pre-civil war days, life was especially hard for free blacks. They were often despised by slaves and whites alike. But Letitia was proud of her status as a free woman. She valued and carefully guarded her papers at all times.

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After leaving the Bowman family Letitia boarded with an Irish cattleman. He allowed her cow, Charity, to pasture on his land in exchange for meals, some light housekeeping and milk from time to time. Davey Carson was a former trapper and trader. He and his family settled in the North Carolina area after they emigrated from Ireland. Most of his family stayed there while Davey, because of a bit of restlessness in his nature, headed further west. At the opening of this book, he was a cattleman in Missouri and middle-aged. He had settled down but had never married. Many Irish immigrants suffered the same treatment as slaves and free blacks, so when Davey met Letitia, he felt a kinmanship with her. However, still feeling the urge to move west, he began to think of going on to Oregon with some of the families that were continually passing through their area on the way. After a time boarding with him, the two grew to care for each other. Davey wanted Tish to go with him as his wife. The local laws made it impossible for him to legally marry her, so they conducted their own ceremony, read some words from the Bible, and committed themselves to each other as husband and wife before God. They even jumped a broom, a remnant of an old African custom.

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Davey and Tish’s trip to Oregon was filled with peril, danger and conflict. They didn’t always agree how things should be done; they were both strong-willed and set in their ways. But they made it to Oregon Territory and established a farm. That wasn’t the end of their adventures and troubles. The territory had some contradicting and troublesome laws on the books that made life difficult for Tish and her children…especially the exclusion laws. Some of their troubles came with them over the Oregon Trail; an antagonist by the name of G.B. Smith was one of the worst.

In the purest sense of the term, this book is not really a romance. There are romantic elements in the story, but my opinion is that Davey and Tish stayed together because he was kind, generous and needed a partner, while Tish needed his protection and security and was fond of him. She didn’t mind providing him with children. I consider this tale more of a historical fiction than a romance. Still, their relationship provided a catalyst for change toward maturity in their lives. Letitia grew in confidence about her place in life, while Davey settled down a bit more to be a responsible husband and father. However, that restlessness of his got him into trouble one last time and cost him his life.

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The author, Jane Kirkpatrick, is a true storyteller. She created characters that were easy for me to empathize with. I felt fear and anger and sadness for all the unfairness Letitia faced in her life. I rejoiced when she discovered true friendship with neighbors with whom they traveled to Oregon. I felt the pain she went through when people turned their backs on her because of her skin color, and after Davey died. I could understand Davey’s wanderlust, and yet felt Tish’s frustration when he left her and their children a couple months at a time when it hit him. I could feel justified anger and frustration with Tish in her fight to keep her home after Davey had passed on. I was completely wrapped up in the story. Those are the signs of a good storyteller.

I read a lot of historical fiction works, and yet there were several facts revealed in this book I had never heard before–some things about living in Missouri in that time period, some new information about the trip to Oregon over the mountains and through dangerous territory, and definitely about Oregon itself during its formation years. One way the author shares tidbits of history and viewpoints is through the narration. But what stood out most to me was how the author shared perspectives through her characters’ thoughts. I admire how the author accomplished this; she even pushed the envelope a bit using this method. By sharing a person’s point of view about the harsh realities they faced, the author presented conflict and resolution while still remaining within the confines of compassionate Christian fiction.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from The Book Club Network on behalf of Revel, a division of Baker Publishing Group. 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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Slave Again by Alana Terry ~Review~

Slave Again by Alana Terry

Slave Again

This novella is an in-between book, almost like a pre-quel. Though each of Ms. Terry’s books can be read alone, they lend support for each other, beginning with Beloved Daughter, then Slave Again, and finally Torn Asunder. The novella is short enough to be read quickly. Since I am already reading Torn Asunder, I noticed that what is introduced in this book is continued in that one. So if the story seems a little disjointed, there are several threads being introduced that will continue later in subsequent books.

The suspense and action in this book is tough as nails and somewhat graphic. The worst of it is implied, but our imaginations can easily fill in the details. This is not meant to be a feel good, tender read. The events portray the horrors of living in North Korea, how some try to cross the river into China out of desperation just to earn some money to send back to their starving families. The major thread follows Pang and Mee-Kyong after they have escaped Camp 22. They are about to cross over the border, guided by a sleazy, greedy border broker. Before crossing, Mee-Kyong gives birth to a dead baby; she is considerably weakened by the bleeding but crosses anyway. The broker sells her and another girl into a hotel that prostitutes them. Mee-Kyong adopts the young girl, Sun, and tries to protect her as best as she can.

Eventually she escapes and finds the home of an American couple operating a business in the area. But they also operate a secret seminary for refugees who desire to return to North Korea and offer hope to their friends, neighbors and families. The work is very dangerous, and only a few pass over the border at a time to minimize the risk. Mee-Kyong arrives at the house after the last group has already departed. This is where we become acquainted with Roger and Juliette Stern, the American couple who reach out to North Korean refugees as much as they are able. At first, Mee-Kyong doesn’t know how to react to the couple. The cultural differences are great, and being a fighter, she finds it hard to lower her guard and trust them. Eventually she decides to stay with them for awhile.

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This book is filled with danger, suspense, and gritty reality. The author’s talents are crystal clear, as she keeps her readers on the edge all the way through. Our emotions are all over the place as we feel alternately repulsed and heart-broken by the ugly life the North Koreans face, the slavery they sometimes enter when reaching China, the indulgences of the Americans living in China, and the futility of everyone’s efforts to right the wrongs, in contrast to the little bit of hope as we see Mee- Kyon’s life transformed. There are plenty of surprises in this story, including the identity of a spy for the North Korean government in the Stern’s home. Finding the identity of the agent only intensifies the suspense because it impacts the characters in the next story, Torn Asunder.

What I like most about the author’s writing style is that she writes in a brutally honest manner, not pulling her punches in the way she confidently displays the ugly reality of refugee life and the blatant trafficking that goes along with it. While this is written from a Christian viewpoint, you don’t have to be a Christian to be swept in the poignancy of the story and tragic realities. I am looking forward to reading more books from this author.

Alana Terry loves homeschooling. She loves it so much that in addition to teaching her three boys at home, she also leads clubs and day camps for homeschoolers in her community. An eclectic homeschooler at heart, Alana enjoys the freedom of family-directed learning and also plans interdisciplinary unit studies for homeschoolers of various ages.

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In addition to the “My Solar-Powered History” series, Alana has published “A Boy Named Silas: The First Five Years”, the true story of her tube-fed son’s complicated medical history. She also writes Christian fiction. Her debut novel, “The Beloved Daughter”, won second place in the 2012 Women of Faith’s writing contest.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book 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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