A Light on the Hill (Cities of Refuge Book 1) by Connilyn Cossette ~ Review

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A Light on the Hill (Cities of Refuge Book 1) by Connilyn Cossette

Have you ever wondered how the Hebrews coming out of Egypt experienced the takeover of the populated area of Canaan? No, I’m not referring to the bloody battles, but to the families who settled into the land, coaxed the fields to life, set up businesses, and made their living while trying to settle into a land unlike anything they had experienced so far. Unlike the desert terrain and fertile river banks of Egypt, and the semi-desert areas of the wilderness they spent the past 40 years in, this new land was lush and green. How did they accomplish this? They were surrounded by hostile people supported by the Egyptian government who didn’t take kindly to their invasion. What was it like? That is what this book is all about. This was the era of Joshua, fulfilling God’s command to fill the land. This author paints a realistic picture of what this could have been like through the eyes of young Moriyah, her best friend Ora, and her young 9-year-old neighbor Eitan.

This book is incredible. I think I have discovered a new author (for me) of Biblical fiction that delves into details with enthusiasm and accuracy. She has written several series so far that I haven’t read yet. But I love her writing style, the detail she includes, the imagination that puts flesh on the bare bones of sometimes dry history. With this book, I discovered new perspectives I hadn’t considered before. This book was truly a living experience. I actually felt I was there. I will be certain to pick up her other series and read them, I’m that impressed.

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Besides being a piece of historical fiction, this book is filled with action and suspense. Moriyah has been accused of killing two young teens. She must flee to a city set aside by God as a sanctuary for people to plea for a fair trial. The next of kin has the right to avenge the deaths of the boys without retribution. Along the way, the boys’ father prevents them getting to the nearest safe city, so the group traveling with Moriyah must go to the next city, which will take them through dangerous territory controlled by the Canaanites. There are many dangers to face along the way. Additionally, there is an element of romance during their travels. But because of the accusations against her, Moriyah despairs of a future for her and Derek.

The characters are likable, real, and easily related to. I would call the group traveling together highly colorful. I could barely put the book down because of all the twists and turns in the plot. I even enjoyed reading the book a second time. It was just as fresh as reading it the first time through.

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There are also some wonderfully contemplative moments where Moriyah learns more about the God of Israel whom she thought had abandoned her earlier in her life. The book contains some beautiful word pictures of the grace of God as she learns how He provided grace and mercy to his people. I highly recommend this book. This is the first book in a new series. I am certainly looking forward to reading the rest of the books that follow.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers. I was not required to write a review, positive or otherwise. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part255: “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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Book Blast!! God Tells the Sun to Shine by Femi Bolaji

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GOD TELLS THE SUN TO SHINE: An amazing story of love and forgiveness
By Femi Bolaji

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About the Book:

God tells the Sun to Shine is a short story about ambition, love, intrigue and forgiveness. The main character is the second-born of twin boys Esau and Jacob. Jacob struggles to come to terms with the privileges that the natural birth order accords the first-born twin Esau. He becomes so obsessed with the desire to become the alpha male in the family enterprise that he plots with their mum to upstage Esau. Although his plan succeeds, he is forced to flee the homeland after Esau plots to kill him in retaliation. For two decades, his life in exile is marked by turmoil in love, marriage and work. When a business arrangement goes pear shaped and he is faced with bankruptcy and the loss of his family, he decides instead to return to his country and face his nemesis – Esau. How will Jacob manoeuvre his way through the ordeal?

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Femi Bolaji - photoFemi Bolaji is a seasoned writer and commentator on topical Christian themes. He likes to tell Bible-based stories in contemporary language and style that would appeal to all, yet with profound insight and application to the pressures of modern day living. He is an alumnus of the Bartlett, University College London. He lives in London, United Kingdom.

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Where Trust Lies (Return to the Canadian West Bk 2) by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan ~Review~

Where Trust Lies (Return to the Canadian West Bk 2) by Janette Oke and Laurel Oke Logan

Where Trust Lies

Where Trust Lies is the second book in the Return to the Canadian West series. Book 1 is entitled Where Courage Calls. The protagonist of both books is Beth Thatcher who had rejected a life of ease to attend college and then choose to teach in the Canadian West where life was more about a roof over your head and food in your belly than shopping excursions in an upscale store and the latest fashions. That was in book 1. In book 2, Beth has returned home for summer vacation after completing her first year of teaching.

There had always been a gulf between Beth and her mother and youngest sister, Julie. She had hopes she could somehow close that gap over the summer. When she arrived home, she found her family preparing to go on a 6-week cruise from Toronto to the St. Laurence River and on to the east coast, finally moving into the United States before returning. At first she was reluctant to go on the trip, but her father challenged her to get to know her mother as adult to adult, rather than as a daughter to a mother. But Beth had another reason to hesitate. In her year away from home Beth had attracted a suitor–Jarrick “Jack” Thornton, an officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. He was stationed out west and Coal Valley, where Beth taught, was part of his jurisdiction. He requested they keep in touch over the summer to become more acquainted with each other. She agreed to write.

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When Jarrick learned of this opportunity to travel with her family, he urged Beth to go. They could keep in contact with each other through letters, phone calls and telegrams. So it was decided that Beth would go, albeit a little reluctantly. Not only was Beth’s mother and two sisters going, but so were little JW and his nanny, her mother’s best friend, Mrs. Montclair, her daughter and their maid, and their own tour guide Emile Laurant. Close quarters, differing interests, the rapid pace of events, and personality conflicts kept the pot bubbling with tension and interest. At the apex of the story, Julie was abducted, throwing the small circle of family and friends into turmoil and onto their knees in prayer. None of them were ever the same again.

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It was so good to read another of Janette Oke’s books again. I have already read nearly all the books she’s written. Like the first book in this series, her voice is distinct and heart felt. Where the focus is usually historical fiction of the Canadian west, this book explores the historical east. Building community is one of Oke’s writing talents; in this book that legacy continues but within the tight circle of friends and family on the cruise. Writing in tandem with her daughter allows for the sense of contemporary issues as well. The new voice brings with it freshness that nevertheless blends well with the familiar Oke memes. Mother and daughter make a fine writing team.

Another reason I enjoy reading this author’s books is that faith in God is nearly always faith in action. It is the driving force for many of her characters’ actions, yet not portrayed as if these men and women who loved God could do no wrong. It is their inner struggles that brings life to every individual and makes them real to us. The reader can’t help but empathize with people whose faith is neither great nor less than their own. We falter where they falter, and gain courage from the same God these characters draw courage. There’s no preaching here, only life lessons and hope.

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Finally, the authors write with humor, keen observation of various personalities amidst the conflicts and employ some fairly intense suspense. There is an undercurrent of romance, especially when Jarrick rushes to Beth’s side at the height of the frightening events of Julie’s abduction, and a strong sense of more to come at the book’s end. Events do resolve, so there is not a cliff-hanger, although not all threads in this book are settled. It seems that there must be at least one more book in this series to come. The issue of trust, dealt with all throughout the book, is not yet completely finalized. I’m looking forward to reading more.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Bethany House 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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Jessie (Coastal Chronicles Bk 2) by Rebekah Lyn ~Review~

Jessie (Coastal Chronicles Bk 2) by Rebekah Lyn

Jessie

The era was the 1960’s. America found itself in the space race, an extension of the Cold War, with Russia. President Kennedy had issued a challenge to the US to get a man to the moon by the end of the decade. Russia won the first round by getting the first man into orbit. The question was, could any nation get a man to set foot on the moon safely? Patriotic fervor was on the rise, and the nation rose to meet the challenge at a time when the country was also fighting in a senseless war overseas. To some readers, all this may be just a history lesson; but to many baby boomers, this was part of our personal life story. The author, Rebekah Lyn, brings fresh perspective of this exciting era by allowing readers to experience it all through the eyes of Jessie, the youngest of four brothers growing up in the coastal region of Florida within viewing distance of the earliest launch sites at Cape Canaveral (later renamed Cape Kennedy for 10 years).

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Jessie Cole was nine when it occurred to him to become an astronaut. None of his brothers were as obsessed with the space program as he was. Their interests waned over time as they followed other interests, while Jessie never lost his focus. What the boys did have in common was their sense of adventure, enhanced by living on the hunting mecca of Merritt Island. Among other adventures, the boys had built a treehouse just ten miles from the earliest launch sites. They enjoyed ring-side seats for many of the launch events.

Space Coast From Space Station

Eventually the space program bought the island to expand the site, and families were moved to the mainland, including Jessie’s family. Jessie’s father took this move hard; he had kept a still on the island for many years to support his habit. The Coles’ new home was adjacent to a larger area of wilderness, so the brothers didn’t mind the move. Instead of just a treehouse, the boys built a hidden fort in the forest, with several huts inside for their “stash”. But life wasn’t quite the lark it appeared to be on the surface. Eugene Cole was a mean drunk, bitter and disillusioned with his life. Often, Jessie and Max as the youngest and the oldest took the brunt of his rages and beatings. It wasn’t the most supportive environment for a budding astronaut. Nor were Jessie’s grades anything to boast about. With poverty nipping at their heels, Jessie’s prospects for the future looked grim and foreboding. But Jessie possessed grit and tenacity. He eventually realized as soon as he entered High School his grades mattered. Putting pride aside, he asked for help. But would his father drag him down? Would his inner resentment and turmoil short circuit his efforts?

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The author in this coming of age chronicle has managed to capture the three dimensions of an important era in US history by tying it intricately to the obstacles a young boy must overcome to realize his dreams. Jessie faced numerous physical, mental and spiritual hurdles. Symbolically, this reflects obstacles our nation and society has faced from its inception. Many of those struggles are currently ongoing. Jessie’s story reflects the story of the ’60’s…dreams, trials, struggles, wars and betrayal, bullies, friendships, failures, money issues and successes.

Another aspect of this story that I admire is how well the author conveyed the details of the space race with its failures and successes in its various stages, as NASA broke orbit, spent time in space, and finally reached the moon. Learning from the epic fails and accidents were valuable lessons of the consequences of our ambitions and the need to weigh the merits against the drawbacks. Jessie too realized these same factors in his own life. They were important agents needed to help move him forward if he was to ever become an astronaut. Seriously good writing here.

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Finally the author’s creation of family life in the ’60’s (very much similar to my own family growing up), populated with living breathing people we care about and empathize with, is top notch. Jessie’s family is endearing, warts and all. His mother was the strong female figure, the pillar, that kept the family unified and strong, even during the temporary absence of their father. By the conclusion of the book, we see some truly wonderful character development, pithy and heart-warming. I highly recommend this book for you to enjoy. Young adults may enjoy the retro atmosphere, and people my age may like a reflection of the past events we remember. Everyone else, it’s a good story. Go read it.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from Smashwords 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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Love Unexpected (Beacons of Hope Book #1) by Jody Hedlund ~Review~

Love Unexpected (Beacons of Hope Book #1) by Jody Hedlund

Love Unexpected

This book has a lot to offer a reader. There’s adventure when pirates threaten the waters near the Presque Isle lighthouse, a marriage of convenience, a vengeful gossiping neighbor, a man with dark secrets, a family trying to survive deep oppression, and sexual tension. It is a historical fiction set in the mid-1800’s at one of Michigan’s scenic lighthouses. Much of the material has basis in historical facts, including the presence of a circuit riding preacher, a pirate that robbed ships and goods at various docks, the lighthouse keeper himself and his wife, and the setting at Burnham’s Landing.

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Patrick Garraty, the lighthouse keeper at Presque Isle, was a man with numerous secrets and a shady background, yet his story is one of miraculous redemption. But, as so often happens to us, the past rears its ugly head and threatens Patrick and his son’s future.

Emma Chambers and her brother Ryan are all the family they have left. Their mother died during the potato famine, their father leading them to America before drowning his sorrows in alcohol. His death on Mackinaw Island prompted them to take a steamer to Detroit to start their life over again. But on the way, pirates raided their ship, stole their life savings and the ship’s cargo, and set the steamer on fire. Emma and Ryan swam to shore, guided by the nearby lighthouse’s beacon. Reaching Burnham’s Landing, Ryan found a job chopping firewood. But there was no place for Emma to stay. The only females in the area already had seven people living in their tiny cabin.

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When the kindly Reverend William Poyseor, the traveling minister often fondly called “Holy Bill”, arrived to conduct a funeral, he suggested a solution to Emma’s problem; she should marry Patrick Garraty. She agrees and married Patrick the day after her escape from the pirates. She immediately inherits the care of rambunctious 2-year-old Joey. But she sees in Patrick a dedicated, loving father and thoughtful husband. Despite Ryan’s concerns she wants to stay in the remote northeast part of Michigan with Patrick.

I enjoy reading historical fiction and the combination of that with a marriage of convenience is irresistible. In this case, Emma has never kept house, cooked a meal without burning it, or taken charge of a child. She feels woefully inadequate for the task. This leads her to befriend Bertie Burnham for guidance and cooking lessons. But Bertie secretly seeks revenge on Patrick. Emma allows Bertie’s poisonous tongue to color her perception of Patrick, and coupled with the secrets he keeps, disaster nearly overtook the newlyweds before they became better acquainted. The suspense, mystery and revelations as I read this book made it difficult to put this book down at times.

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Not only is the action riveting, but the character development is well done. Several bits of Patrick’s past haunts him so that he has to struggle with his new found faith to find inner peace. Like us many times, he is his own worst enemy when it comes to living under the umbrella of “no condemnation.” (See Romans 8:1)

The third part of this book I like is the author’s use of comic relief through little Josiah, Patrick’s son. His antics keeps the story warm and charming. His legendary temper tantrums tested Emma to her limits, although he is endearing nonetheless. He is essentially the glue keeping Emma and Patrick together while they work their issues out.

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This book is the first book of the Beacons of Hope series by Jody Hedlund. The prequal to the series is an ebook novella, Out of the Storm. I highly recommend these stories for you.

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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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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