Beyond All Dreams: A Novel by Elizabeth Camden ~Review~

Beyond All Dreams by Elizabeth Camden

Beyond All Dreams

A peek into the history of the Library of Congress, a mysteriously inaccurate naval document that no one would discuss, a particularly persistent librarian, timid but with fire in her blood, an annoyingly arrogant congressman from Maine, and the circumstances that precipitated the Spanish American War are all ingredients that make this book a fascinating read. Add a generous amount of romance and the book becomes irresistible.

Anna O’Brian was one of only a handful of female librarians allowed to work at the Washington D.C. location of the Library of Congress in the late nineteenth century. For her, it was a dream come true. Anna’s responsibilities were to care for the library’s maps and to conduct research for congressmen. Occasionally librarians even provided expert advice and testimony for congressional committees as well as for individuals. It was her attention to detail and her persistence that made her an excellent researcher. It also got her into trouble with the US Navy when she noticed an error in the reports of an incident that occurred 15 years ago. It also happened to be the same incident in which her father, a cartographer, disappeared with the ship he was sailing on. There was a definite mystery and she wanted it solved.

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Anna’s retiring yet understated fire also caught the eye of Lucas Callahan, a fairly new congressman from Maine. His youth, energy and brashness were all the talk of the town. His rivalry with the Speaker of the House got him removed from the US Budget Committee and reassigned to the committee on Fisheries. Their former war of words had hiked up a notch. But under all his fuss and blunder was a man with principles, who understood the hard-working laborers, the every day man, because his own roots were from the lumber industry. His family’s newly gained wealth was only a thin veneer that barely covered a darkness he wanted very much to escape. When he met Anna, he discovered her naturally placid nature brought a peace and calm to his turbulent one. But getting Anna to accept his suit was a challenge. It was not until he became entangled in her mystery document and the affairs of the Navy that she realized how serious he was. The truth behind the mystery had the potential to either drive them apart forever or weld them together.

What I enjoyed most about this charming historical fiction was the author’s use of wit and humor. Because of her nature, Anna just could not refrain from delivering a not-so-gentle reprimand to the presumptuous congressman who attempted to summon her services and expertise by snapping his fingers. Later, when he began to pursue her with the idea of courtship, she couldn’t imagine why. She described herself as a “short, ordinary girl who had a voice like sandpaper and the habits of a hermit crab.” Luke himself described her as his opposite. “She never did anything impulsively and liked the safety of her map room in the attic of the Capitol. She hid up in that room like a princess in a castle tower, surrounded by a fortress of books and maps.”

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Some of the historical events in the book are based on actual occurrences. The author created a personal link to the tragic loss of life in the event that eventually helped to fuel the flame of American sentiment against Spain–the link that lead to the Spanish American War. Anna’s father lost his life in that tragic event, creating an inner conflict between her desires to avoid war and the loss of more lives and revenge for such a loss in her young life. I was touched by the author’s empathetic writing. Many readers today will be able to relate to such a conflict.

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The author wasn’t heavy-handed with spiritual lessons learned during a character’s development, but it was there, nevertheless. One doesn’t have to talk about God’s work to know His Presence is evident through their thoughts and actions. Each of the people we grow to love in this book had to face basic personal challenges. Not only did God meet them in their growing pains, He used other characters to assist in bringing them to maturity faster, much like a jeweler chips away the dross to find the diamond inside. I enjoyed how the author made this happen with every interaction between Luke and Anna.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. 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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Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace by Timothy Lane ~Review~

Living Without Worry by Timothy Lane

Living Without Worry

Living Without Worry by Timothy Lane is a 140-page book published by the Good Book Company, a young up-and-coming book publisher who focuses on providing short, pithy materials for the young people of today. You should see my copy of the book! Its pages are so relevant and applicable that I have sentences underlined everywhere, brackets and braces, arrows, stars and notes in the margins and spaces. This one is destined to be one of my favorite go-to books that I will return to repeatedly.

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Timothy Lane gives his readers practical suggestions “how to replace anxiety with peace” within the eleven chapters of this book. With chapter titles such as “Why Not Worry?”, “Worry and Your Past (Parts 1 and 2)”, “How to Begin to Change”, and “How to Cast All Your Anxieties on Him”, it is easy to return to favorite sections you find most useful. Each chapter ends with “Questions for Reflection” where the author asks probing questions that can help you personalize your journey to conquer your anxieties. Best of all, you can immediately put the steps to practical use without wading through hundreds of pages of theoretical discussions (not that there isn’t a place for that elsewhere) about worry. The information conveyed is clear, easy to understand, and easily applicable.

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What I especially appreciate about the author’s writing is that in the brief opening chapters, he has convinced me that it is truly possible to set my worries aside. This is such an important part of writing a book on a topic like this. I get the impression that many of today’s young adults believe their emotions are uncontrollable, inevitable, and unpreventable. Many have no idea that emotions such as worry are often a result of unfiltered and poorly controlled thoughts. The biblical concept of taking our thoughts in hand is one of the first the author deals with in this book. His bold, practical, Christ-centered approach is completely doable; the way he presents his reasons is approachable and convincing.

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The second aspect I like about this book is the author’s candid and personable writing style. In an empathetic voice, he lets his readers know he is right down in the trench with us, slugging away at the temptation to give in to his worries and anxieties. He shares his successes with us. Not only does he commiserate with his readers, he has counseling experience which he draws upon for his guidelines. He has seen what works and gives us the benefit of others’ victories. The book not only teaches, but encourages. It’s not theory, but practical.

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One final point impressed me greatly. Mr. Lane points out that worry has a positive side to it. It’s like the flashing red lights on a vehicle’s dashboard. You can ignore the warnings and face the consequences (isn’t that why they are called “idiot lights”?) or heed the warnings and benefit. It’s your choice. If you want to understand the warning signs of worry, then read the book. I can’t recommend it highly enough!

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About the author: Timothy S. Lane, MDiv, DMin, is the President of the Institute For Pastoral Care (www.instituteforpastoralcare.com) and a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) since 1991. Tim is the author of Living Without Worry: How to Replace Anxiety with Peace. He is also the coauthor of the books How People Change and Relationships: A Mess Worth Making; coauthor of the curriculums Change and Your Relationships and How People Change; and author of the minibooks PTSD, Conflict, Family Feuds, Forgiving Others, and Freedom from Guilt.

Tim has thirty years of experience in pastoral ministry, counseling, teaching, and executive leadership. Tim is also adjunct professor of practical theology at several seminaries.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC)on behalf of the Good Book Company. 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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Unplanned (A Kennedy Stern Christian Suspense Novel Book 1) by Alana Terry ~Review~

Unplanned by Alana Terry

Unplanned

Unplanned is one of three books by Alana Terry that are loosely tied together by references to an American couple, Roger and Juliette Stern, living in China near the North Korean border. There, they take in refugees from North Korea who express a desire to return to their home country with the gospel of Christ. The Sterns train them for a year in their secret seminary. The book Slave Again has more of their story and acts as a pre-quel for the book Torn Asunder, which focuses on three of the Stern’s students once they return to North Korea: Simon, Levi, and Hannah.

The main character in Unplanned is Kennedy Stern, Roger and Juliette’s daughter. She lives in Massachusetts, acclimating to American culture after ten years living in China. She attends Harvard University as a pre-med first year student. Rather than a sequel, this book is to begin a new series while occurring in the same time frame as Torn Asunder. From time to time, Kennedy reflects back to some of her parents’ students and wonders how they are faring in their missionary calling. At the opening of this book, she has just met with her childhood pastor, the first familiar face she has seen since her return to the States. Pastor Carl is married to Sandy, Kennedy’s childhood Sunday School teacher. The Lindgrens were also family friends of the Sterns, so from this point on the couple practically adopts Kennedy and looks after her.

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Pastor Carl and Sandy, along with their church, St. Margaret’s, had just opened a crisis pregnancy center and were searching for volunteers. Before she could think twice, Kennedy was given the hotline phone to answer over the weekend. Thinking this was the least time-consuming, low-impact help she could offer, she accepted. But her first…and second…and third calls were anything but ordinary. By the end of the weekend, she was embroiled in a sinister mystery that grew bleaker by the hour. A short, cursory investigation online placed her on someone’s radar. She and her unknown caller were both abducted and found themselves fighting for their lives.

Based on the three books I have recently read by this author, I enjoy the way she writes suspense thrillers. The issue she uses in her works are relevant, up-to-date and pertinent, especially for Christian readers. She is willing to push the envelope a bit and challenge her readers to really ponder things we are complacent about. In this particular case, she uses abortion, not as the issue, but as an issue that pushes the action and tension forward and challenges the readers to examine their own perceptions and beliefs.

The second aspect of the book I like is how well the author intertwines the suspense with character introspection. Kennedy is one person whom many of us may readily relate with. She all too easily gets caught in the pressing details of her life: lost in test preparation, lab assignments and reports, and assigned readings, barely communicating with her roommate, her parents and her friends. Finally faced with crushing seclusion, fear, and the threat of death, she realized how shallow she had become. What bothered her most during her darkest hours were thoughts of the Secret Seminary Students. Why couldn’t she be more like them in contrast to the plastic world in which she currently existed?

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Reading this story reminded me of reading one of Jesus’ parables. Let’s call this one the parable of the rock and the rowboat. The rock is what was solid and stable in Kennedy’s world. She has lived on the rock all her life until now. Suddenly, in spite of her knowledge of the perils of the sea, she finds herself out in a rowboat, seeking adventure and excitement. She is aware that the rock is still there while she allows the gentle waves to ease her further away. Reading this story, we find her in choppy waters she is barely aware of until they become turbulent. The adventure is exciting to read, although there is not yet a conclusion. There seem to be more adventures ahead for our boater. Will she head back toward the rock? Will she continue to drift outward or choose an entirely different option? To be continued. I recommend all the works by this author, including this most recent fiction, to read.

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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The One O’ Clock Miracle by Alison Mitchell and Catalina Echeverri ~Review~

The One O’ Clock Miracle by Alison Mitchell and Catalina Echeverri

The One O' Clock Miracle

“At The Good Book Company, we are dedicated to helping individual Christians and local churches grow. We believe that God’s growth process always starts with hearing clearly what He has said to us through His timeless word — the Bible.”

This is the third book I have read and reviewed by Catalina Echeverri and the second written by Alison Mitchell. One of the basic reasons I like these books by this team is because of my view of teaching young children, based on my experience as a children’s ministry worker. It seems we are seeing children at younger and younger ages willing to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior. They are more jaded at younger ages…less receptive to God’s truth. For young parents, these books are wonderful for introducing key biblical concepts at an early age.

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An example of the simple concepts needed is expressed in A Christmas Promise. God keeps His promises. Many stories in the New and Old Testament illustrate this truth. We all need to be reminded that this is proof of God’s loving and just nature. In the book, Alby’s Amazing Book, these authors introduce young children to the exciting variety of stories you can find in the Bible. It’s only a dry book if we make it a dry book. The One O’ Clock Miracle follows this tradition by allowing children to understand that we can trust Jesus’ words. The story is based on John 4:46-54. “It is one of seven miracles that John writes about. At the end of his book, John tells us that the miracles are like signposts pointing to Jesus. They show us who Jesus is–that he is the Son of God, and God’s promised Rescuer King (the Christ). You can read this in John 20:30-31.”

The Good Book Company is a growing book publisher. I have read many of their books and been impressed with their desire to reach a young world in a fresh manner. You can view their statement of faith here. I hope they are considering stories of the other miracles of Jesus in the future. I highly recommend you check out the books they offer now, including The One O’ Clock Miracle.

The One O' Clock Miracle pic1All the comments I have made for the other books by these authors is true for this one. The illustrations are simple and whimsical. The story is told in all its simplicity and earnestness in a way that will delight your children. When the man returns, the children won’t be able to miss the joy he feels when his son is healed. Children remember best how a story makes them feel. So the result of a man who trusts in Jesus’ words is unforgettable. It is the same way in life when we see God working right in front of us, around us and within us.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Cross Focused Reviews (A Service of Cross Focused Media, LLC) on behalf of The Good Book Company. 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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Double Cross (FBI: Houston series) by DiAnn Mills ~Review~

Double Cross by DiAnn Mills

Double Cross

Double Cross is the second book of three in the FBI: Houston series. I have read and reviewed both the first and second books; they are both able to stand on their own as independent novels. The third book, Deadlock, is scheduled to come out in the Spring of 2016. You can read my review of Firewall by DiAnn Mills here.

Houston Police Officer Daniel Hilton loved his grandparents. Together, the three of them loved the Lord and lived for Him. When his Gramps, a respected former accountant, was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, they were all affected deeply. During the day, Gramps and Gran stayed at a high security memory facility six days a week. Daniel brought them home every evening after work. When Gramps mentioned some of his friends at the facility had bought life insurance, Daniel was concerned. When a large sum of money was missing from one of their accounts, he felt it was time to investigate. He had the complete cooperation of the facility’s manager. But when some of the patients who had bought the insurance began to die, Gramps demanded they take the case to the FBI. Daniel stubbornly disagreed, but took them anyway.

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Special Agent Laurel Evertson was in her office when Daniel and his grandparents arrived. She and her partner handled cases like white collar crimes, including elderly fraud. Laurel took charge of the meeting while two other agents asked questions. Theirs was not the first scam they had heard about. The FBI was investigating what appeared to be an organized attempt at targeting dementia patients. Millions of dollars were at stake. If lives were also threatened, this upped the ante for the Bureau. Laurel thought of an angle of investigation involving a former case of hers where her undercover work sent a man to prison. She wondered what he knew of these fraud cases. She decided going against FBI policy by visiting him in prison without another agent present. Her reasoning was personal. A couple days later, she was sent undercover again, this time making it appear she had betrayed the FBI and was fired. The object was to gain the confidence of the possible ring leader perpetrating the scams. Twists and turns in the plot keep the reader guessing with each new development.

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When I read the first book in this series, the complexity of the plot was amazing; it riveted me to the book from start to finish. The same occurred to me with this book. DiAnn Mills writes more than just fast-paced mysteries and thrillers. She holds the readers enthralled, with questions around every corner. At one point, she had me guessing who could be trusted, who was on which side, who was the double crosser, and who was being double-crossed. While she is doing this, she is adding layers of character development while the major players race against time to prevent more elderly deaths. If you’re not careful, this book will have you looking over your shoulder.

I love it when an author feeds you anticipation, in this case through the title. Because of this, the book feels a little bit like a “who-done-it” on steroids. But my favorite aspect in discovering the who, why, and how of the plot was the surprise (or should I say both surprises) at the end. At least one of them completely caught me off guard. I know this book will be placed with my favorite reads because I will want to read it over several times.

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Finally, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention how important the element of faith is in this book. There is no preaching here. Daniel and his grandparents’ faith is expressed through action. They live it, 24/7. It is not compartmentalized and separated from the rest of their lives. It’s this faith-in-action that speaks loudest to Laurel, who can’t quite grasp the concept and personhood of God. In addition, there is one more person of faith I can’t tell you about; it would spoil the plot. It is a part of the surprise at the conclusion of the investigation, the end of the book, and the turning point for Laurel. Now quit pestering me for more details and go read the book! You’ll love it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers for their blogging program. 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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Keepers of the Covenant (The Restoration Chronicles) by Lynn Austin

Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin

Keepers of the Covenant

Have you ever read parts of the Bible and then tried to imagine the events as they occurred in the day to day moments? I used to wish there were more books written that way. This book is one that accomplishes that feat completely. It opens the windows and doors and allows us to live with friends and family of some well-known characters of biblical events. In this case, it’s about Ezra, family man, scholar, Rebbe, husband, brother, friend, son, leader, and teacher. He struggled with daily life justlike you and I do.

Nearly 500 years before Jesus of Nazareth arrived in Galilee, Ezra lived in a world of danger, secular influence, hatred and enemies. About 100 years before his time, a group of Jews were allowed to return to Jerusalem and the country of Judah. What were they returning from? Their country had been decimated by enemies over 70 years before that. Their people were taken away or scattered throughout the land. Many lived in Babylon itself. Judah was then filled with neighboring peoples such as Edomites and Amalakites. The first wave of returning refugees helped to rebuild the walls and established businesses and families again. They made efforts to live in peaceful co-existence with the inhabitants. Sayfah and Amina were Edomites living near Bethlehem in a village of their own. Amina was crippled from her younger years. Now she was treated like a servant in her own home and scorned by most of the men. One day she met an older woman who also suffered from a weak, twisted leg. But she was a Jewess, a talented weaver who brought her goods to Bethlehem to sell in the market. They became friends. It was a friendship that would save Amina and Sayfah’s lives years later.

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In Casiphia, another province of the Persian Empire and near Babylon, Reuben was apprenticed to his father, David of the tribe of Levi. David was a blacksmith, since the Levites had no temple to serve in. Reuben was twelve when he learned that through his second in command, Haman, King Xerxes had pronounced a death sentence for all the Jews living in all his 127 provinces, on the thirteenth of the month of Adar. They were to be killed and plundered. Reuben’s father was angry at his peoples’ helplessness and began to secretly stockpile weapons he made at his forge. Reuben watched in concern as people began to buy the supplies for their protection. When the day finally arrived, the fighting was fierce. Greed motivated some of the hatred against the sons of Jacob. Their enemies wanted the plunder. While most of God’s people survived, some were injured or killed. Reuben’s father was one who never returned from battle alive leaving Reuben at thirteen in charge
of caring for his mother and family. Since he was too young to operate his father’s business, his uncle sold it to another blacksmith who would continue Reuben’s apprenticeship. But Reuben was filled with rage and hatred. He took to the streets at night, and eventually became adept at thievery. He was then taken in by a gang of Babylonian robbers. He turned his back on God.

Ezra’s brother, Jude was also killed in the conflict in the city of Babylon itself. Ezra grew up in a potter’s family although early on, they discovered he had a gift for reading, understanding and interpreting the Torah. So when his brother died, Ezra married his brother’s wife, according to the law, to help provide for her and their family. Eventually he was responsible to provide a son to carry on Jude’s name. Some time later, God laid on Ezra’s heart to petition the King of Persia to allow him to lead a group from his community back to the Promised Land, Israel, to build up the city of Jerusalem. Once the petition was granted, Ezra was appointed governor over the province. This wasn’t the end of the story, however, but the beginning. Somehow Ezra, his family and friends, Reuben and his band of Babylonian robbers, Amina and Sayfah and their adoptive Jewish family all intersect in a powerful way.

This may not be important for everyone, but for me living history is vital for our sense of identity and perspective on life. This book is artistically written to help the reader put faces and heart into people and events we may already have at least a nodding acquaintance with. It deepened my perspective and gave me a greater appreciation of the scope of God’s love and protection. It also heightened my awareness of the types of difficult situations many have faced when putting God’s justice into practice. This is a tremendous object lesson, carried out in the story line, how God tempers His justice with mercy and expects His followers to do likewise.

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This message couldn’t have been conveyed so aptly if the author hadn’t written with authenticity and well-researched detail. Such a writing style drew me into the scenes and into the very hearts and minds of the characters. I was right there, experiencing the events unfold and feeling their pain and joys. Excellent writing. It was all there: the pain of loss, feelings of helplessness, moments where hope had fled, funny vignettes that often accompany child rearing, the bond of marriage when it transcends the mechanics of every day life, the struggle to belong, and the joy of victories big and little.

The third element I enjoyed about this book was the complexity of the plot. You can’t say that Keepers of the Covenant is all fast-paced adventure and action, nor is it completely character-driven. The author takes the best of both genres and seamlessly blends them. They are well-balanced. Readers may already know the basic story, but the draw is how the author pulls it all together and includes us in the ride. The book is filled with sensitivity and flair–adrenaline and contemplation. I’m definitely going to read other books by Lynn Austin.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from bookfun.org on behalf of Bethany House Publishers. 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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