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God Will Help You–overcoming the hard times

God Will Help You

by Max Lucado

Even in the best of times, we all have troubles, difficulties to face. In this pandemic, many are overwhelmed by the chaos, the darkness, the isolation of lockdowns. For some, the depths of despair have led to suicide, but Max Lucado has a better answer for this “winter of our discontent”….God. In God Will Help You, Lucado says “No matter the challenge or the question, by God’s grace you can face it. He is up to the task. And he will help you.”

Lucado is, by nature, a storyteller, and he uses stories, both from the Bible and from encounters he has had with others, to demonstrate some of the ways God can intervene in our stories. In each chapter, he addresses a different issue and then provides questions for reflection and Bible verses to remind you of God’s help. He closes each chapter with a prayer that you can pray in those circumstances, because sometimes we are so overwhelmed that we just don’t even know how to frame our petitions. Lucado has a way with words. In talking, for example, about God’s grace, he says we have been “doused” with it. What a perfect description!

So, if you’re feeling anxious, fearful, stuck in your circumstances, lonely, sick, or filled with grief, Max Lucado can’t fix those problems, but he can direct you to Jesus. You see, God already knows about your unsolved problems and your struggles to negotiate everyday life. He sees your heart and understands your needs. He is there to give you guidance. In his book God Will Help You, Lucado shows how God will come alongside you each and every day.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Self-Help, Inspirational

Notes: Having gone through a lot of changes in my life, especially in the last twelve years, I found this statement particularly meaningful: “So make friends with whatever’s next. Embrace it. Accept it. Don’t resist it. Change is not only a part of life; change is a necessary part of God’s strategy. To use us to change the world, he alters our assignments.”

Publication: December 29, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

The presence of anxiety is unavoidable, but the prison of anxiety is optional. Anxiety is not a sin; it is an emotion. (So don’t be anxious about feeling anxious.)

…celebrate his goodness, faithfulness, and forgiveness. These characteristics of God remain true no matter what you are going through.

But if you see your troubles as opportunities to trust God and his ability to multiply what you give him, then even the smallest incidents take on significance.

Had Jesus chosen to do so, he could have proclaimed a cloud of healing blessings to fall upon the crowd. But he is not a one size-fits-all Savior. He placed his hands on each one, individually, personally. Perceiving unique needs, he issued unique blessings.

Autumn Skies–sweet romance with action included

Autumn Skies

by Denise Hunter

Survivor’s guilt is a difficult subject, but it is a theme in Denise Hunter’s Autumn Skies, a touching romance. When Molly finds a buyer for the family business and home, it turns everyone’s world upside down at the Bluebell Inn, but that is nothing compared to the effect of her sister Gracie’s attraction to the mysterious guest, Wyatt. Both have secrets and neither wants to let the other get close.

Gracie and Wyatt are likable characters. Gracie is young, independent, and determined to show her brother and sister that she is an adult. Wyatt, a Secret Service agent, was shot in the line of duty. If he wants to prove he has psychologically recovered from the event, he has to reach back into his past and recover from an even worse childhood trauma. He comes to Bluebell Inn for that sole purpose. I recommend this excellent read. It’s a clean page-turner with some adventure and action. The characters are trying so hard that you will want things to work out for them despite what seems like insurmountable problems.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Christian

Notes: This is the final book in the Bluebell Inn Novels, a trilogy. It is perfect as a standalone, but you will find yourself wanting to read the other novels in the series.

Publication: October 20, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Molly loved this about her man. While her first thought was worry, his was prayer. He offered a quiet, fervent prayer that hit all the points she was fretting over.

For a man with a poker face, he was wearing regret this morning like a neon suit.

Whereas Grace was like a balmy summer evening, her sister was like a whirlwind. And her brother a sudden storm front.

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader–magical sea voyage

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader

by C.S. Lewis

I absolutely love C.S. Lewis’ The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. It is full of fantastically magical creatures and exciting adventures for Lucy, Edmund, and their cousin Eustace. Although this is not the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia, the reader, whether returning or new to the series, is immediately drawn into the story by the first three paragraphs which describe Eustace, a new and quite unlikable character. As I read, I gradually realized the strong influence of classical literature in this book. The sailing from one unforgettable place to another, sometimes with an escape necessary, is reminiscent of Homer’s The Odyssey, although these interesting characters are clearly Lewis’ own ingenious creations. Royal mermaids and mermen hold a hunt for fish like one might hunt small game in England, but with a trained hawk. The Dawn Treader, belonging to King Caspian and carrying the children and a full crew, is attacked by a sea serpent capable of crushing the ship. There are invisible creatures, the Dufflepuds, who move by jumping wildly from one place to another. With another nod to classical literature, there is a Chief Voice among the Invisibles; his followers echo and affirm him just like a Greek chorus. C.S. Lewis’ literary background and expertise shine brightly in this book.

Woven into the recounting of their escapades, the book has serious themes that are addressed in a distinctly unpreachy way. A major one is greed as Eustace becomes like a dragon hoarding his treasure. Later the group finds pond with water that turns everything it contacts into gold. It also brings out bad character traits, and in the end they all disassociate themselves from the location which they name Deathwater Island. Not surprisingly, greed is also an important theme in The Odyssey.

Although there is not one to one symbolism comparisons between people and ideas found in Christianity and characters and concepts in The Chronicles of Narnia, there are certainly important similar themes. When the travelers need to make important choices, they often find that Aslan has appeared and is staring at them just as Jesus gives his followers wisdom when needed. Chapter 12, “The Dark Island,” is a metaphor for God rescuing us when we are going through dark times. In the last chapter, there is a depiction of going to Aslan’s country (i.e. heaven) and references to the Lion and the Lamb, important symbols in Christianity. These passages are so beautiful; I don’t want to spoil the experience with my own words. You need to read it for yourself as only C.S. Lewis, the inimitable storyteller, can convey the meaning and the feeling with his exquisite word pictures.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Fantasy

Notes: I read the 50th anniversary edition of the book. The backline illustrations were by Pauline Baynes who was the first illustrator for The Chronicles of Narnia, and the cover art was by Chris Van Allsburg.

Publication: 1952—Harper Trophy (Harper Collins)

Memorable Lines:

Up went the ring, flashing in the sunlight, and caught, and hung, as neatly as a well-thrown quoit, on a little projection on the rock. No one could climb up to get it from below and no one could climb down to get it from above. And there, for all I know, it is hanging still and may hang till that world ends.

“Use, Captain? If by use you mean filling our bellies or our purses, I confess it will be no use at all. So far as I know we did not set sail to look for things useful but to seek honor and adventure. And here is as great an adventure as ever I heard of, and here, if we turn back, no little impeachment of all our honors.”

“I might as well have behaved decently for all the good I did with my temper and swagger.”

Prince Caspian–the return to Narnia

Prince Caspian

by C. S. Lewis

A year after the events of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis returns Peter, Susan, Edmund, and Lucy to Narnia. In Prince Caspian, pulled there by a magical force as they are waiting for their trains to take them to boarding school, they suddenly find themselves in the ruins of their old castle Cair Paravel, hundreds of years later in Narnian time. 

Through many adventures, the children meet Prince Caspian, the rightful king of Narnia, and enthrone him, replacing his usurper, his Uncle Miraz. There is a wonderful cast of characters in this novel. Prince Caspian’s tutor, Dr. Cornelius, is instrumental in helping him escape certain death. The creatures of Narnia range from mythical, such as Bacchus, Dryads, Dwarfs, and Centaurs, to talking animals of a larger size than normal. Reepicheep is a valiant and honorable leader of mice. Trufflehunter is a kind and friendly badger. The mighty lion Aslan appears to Lucy first and the other children don’t believe her. What follows is each one of them coming to believe in Aslan in their own way and a great battle between the Narnians and the Telmarines. 

As the fantasy continues, so do the fun and adventure. I am excited to read another tale by the master storyteller C. S. Lewis. He excels in creation of characters, setting, and plot, and most especially in weaving adventure and theology seamlessly leaving the reader with much to contemplate. 

Rating: 5/5

Category: Children’s Fiction, Christian

Notes: This book is a part of The Chronicles of Narnia. There is debate even today over the order one should read these books in as the series contains a prequel and a book that relates to Narnia but does not include the children as major characters. Having not read the whole series yet, I can not chime in on that debate, but I do strongly encourage the reading of The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, which I suspect will be my favorite, prior to reading Prince Caspian.

This series is often listed as Children’s Fiction, but is really appropriate for all ages with adults reading it on a different level from children.

Publication:  1951—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“Where do you think you saw him?” asked Susan.  “Don’t talk like a grown-up,” said Lucy, stamping her foot. “I didn’t think I saw him. I saw him.”

“Aslan,” said Lucy, “you’re bigger.”  “That is because you are older, little one,” answered he.  “Not because you are?”  “I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

The sort of “History” that was taught in Narnia under Miraz’s rule was duller than the truest history you ever read and less true than the most exciting adventure story.

Two Reasons to Run–fast-paced thriller

Two Reasons to Run

by Colleen Coble

I have to admit that in the middle of a complicated transition (i.e. I moved), I had forgotten that One Little Lie was Colleen Coble’s first book in The Pelican Harbor Series, and I had read it. Going into the second book of the series, Two Reasons to Run, was indeed like reading it as a standalone. I had a few confused moments along the way, but the plot is compelling and Coble is a good storyteller. I was able and motivated to push through my mental rough spots.

Jane Hardy, Pelican Harbor’s police chief, has reunited with her teenage son Will. Will’s father Reid had escaped from a cult with him many years ago, but Jane had been told her son was dead. The plot involves Jane’s and Reid’s efforts to overcome the past and re-establish relationships with various family members. Meanwhile, Jane is asked by a grieving mother to investigate her son’s death on an oil rig. Can Jane avert a terrorist plot without losing her life or risking the safety of those she loves?

The pace is quick, the characters are believable, and the oil rig setting in the Gulf is interesting. The cult background and a hired killer make the intrigue even more complicated. The questions center around who is behind the plot, what motivates the terrorist, and how he tries to achieve his goal. The answers rest in Jane’s strength and determination and Reid’s love for Will and Jane and his faith in God.

I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Mystery & Thriller, Christian

Notes: #2 in The Pelican Harbor Series, but can be read as a standalone.

Publication:   September 8, 2020—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

No excuses, no rationalizations. His naked sorrow over his behavior touched the sore places of her heart with a soothing balm.

White pickups were as plentiful as shrimp here…

“I know, I know. I’m struggling with it too. But God doesn’t want us to live in fear, honey. At some point you have to have some faith in God’s provision.”

At Home in Mitford–welcome to Mitford

At Home in Mitford

by Jan Karon

You’ll want to start the Mitford Years series at the beginning with At Home in Mitford. This character-driven novel introduces you to the fictional, small,  North Carolina town of Mitford inhabited by people you will want to know—flaws and all. Father Tim is a devoted and hard working bachelor rector whom everyone loves. He is caring and lives out his Christian faith in his interactions with others from Barnabas, the huge dog that adopts him, settling down only at the quotation of Scripture, to Dooley, a young boy who has had a hard life and needs stability and love.

If you are tired of the endless news cycle, reading At Home in Mitford will give you the break you need. It is a peaceful story spiked with humorous characters and situations, gentle romance, some mysterious happenings, and a little action. Although it has a definite Christian bent, this novel is never “preachy.”  One of the themes of the book is found on the first page as Father Tim stops at his office door to pray: “Father, make me a blessing to someone today, through Christ our Lord. Amen.” Overall, you will enjoy the time you spend in Mitford and look forward to returning for another visit.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fiction, Christian

Notes: This is the first of 14 books, which may seem like a daunting number, but I encourage you to give it a try. Even if you don’t plan on reading the whole series, I think you will enjoy At Home in Mitford. I have read the series, some as a group when I discovered this author and many others as they were published over the years. I just reread this first novel with my book club, and I enjoyed it thoroughly all over again.

Publication:  1994—Penguin Books

Memorable Lines:

“You don’t ramble at all, you get right to the point, and it’s always God’s point, as far as I can see. But, do you know what I appreciate more than your sermons?”  “What’s that?”  “The fact that you love us. Yes, that’s enough for me, that you love us.”

Good heavens, thought the rector. No wonder he had never felt the need to devour mystery and suspense stories. Nearly every day he encountered mysteries and suspense galore.

How could he have considered taking Monday off? Monday was the diving board poised over the rest of the week. One walked out on the board, reviewed the situation, planned one’s strategy, bounced a few times to get the feel of things, and then made a clean dive. Without Monday, one simply bombed into the water, belly first, and hoped for the best.

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe–a classic

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

by C.S. Lewis

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is the book most people think of when there is mention of C. S. Lewis’ The Chronicles of Narnia.  It is, in fact, the first book he wrote in this popular series, although later he wrote a prequel. I had read the fantasy many years ago. Reading it again was an absolute delight. The erudite medieval literature professor (at Oxford and later at Cambridge) and Christian theologian was a premier storyteller. He engages the reader regardless of age, in the plot, characters, and setting from the first page where he explains that air-raids during the war send four children out of London to live with an old Professor. While playing hide-and-seek, the youngest discovers a magical world accessed through a wardrobe.

From there proceeds an enjoyable story centered around the forces of good and evil. The White Witch is the epitome of evil—beautiful, but cold and cruel. She is a mistress of trickery ensnaring Edmund, the next to the youngest, in a web of deceit, captivating him with delicious Turkish Delight. Aslan is a lion, and he stands for good, rescuing those turned into statues by the White Witch and sacrificing himself.

Part of the beauty of this masterpiece is that it can be read on several levels. C.S. Lewis says in his dedication of the book that “some day you will be old enough to start reading fairy tales again.” That is where I found myself during this reading, but I also read it for its theological underpinnings. Whatever your purpose in reading, you will find The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe both entertaining and fulfilling.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Fantasy, Christian

Notes: I read the 50th anniversary edition of the book. The backline illustrations were by Pauline Baynes who was the first illustrator for The Chronicles of Narnia, and the cover art was by Chris Van Allsburg.

Publication: 1950—Harper Collins

Memorable Lines:

“And she has made a magic so that it is always winter in Narnia—always winter, but it never gets to Christmas.”

“…if, I say, she had got into another world, I should not be at all surprised to find that the other world had a separate time of its own; so that however long you stayed there it would never take up any of our  time.”

I hope no one who reads this book has been quite as miserable as Susan and Lucy were that night; but if you have been—if you’ve been up all night and cried till you have no more tears left in you—you will know that there comes in the end a sort of quietness. You feel as if nothing was ever going to happen again.

The Mockingbird’s Song–love rises from the ashes

The Mockingbird’s Song

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The saga of the King family, an Amish family that suffers the tragic loss of three males in the family in an accident, continues in The Mockingbird’s Song, the second book in Wanda Brunstetter’s trilogy called the Amish Greenhouse Mysteries. The women in the family are the focus as they try to work through their grief and decide when it is time to move on. Amish men are important to the story as well in their interactions with these women. 

Most of the characters are likable and the book is a pleasant relief from more intense genres. Several characters are a puzzle. Maude is a homeless woman who goes a step too far in taking things that don’t belong to her. Monroe held a romantic interest as a teenager in Belinda, the recently widowed matriarch of the King family. Now he reappears in her life with renewed attentions, but she is unsure of his motivations. Virginia is a non-Amish character. She seems to have had a rough life, but she is currently self-centered and prejudiced. Could any of these characters be behind the vandalism, destruction, and threats the King family is enduring in what seems to be a plot to destroy their greenhouse business? The answers will be found in the third and final book in the series, released March 2021.

I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press) for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Mystery

Notes: #2 in the Amish Greenhouse Mysteries, but the author does a good job of reviewing the main points in the previous book.

Publication:   August 1, 2020—Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

Belinda felt the emptiness in her house, all the way to her bones.

Getting the first month’s rent and giving Dennis a key to the home she used to share with Toby made his death seem so final—like coming to the end of a novel. Only, Sylvia didn’t feel the satisfaction that came from reaching the end of a book. Her heart ached more than ever.

Thought all I needed was a happy life with the woman I love. I’m beginning to realize I can never find true happiness until I’ve learned to forgive.

A Severe Mercy–love and the struggles of life

A Severe Mercy

by Sheldon Vanauken

Sometimes good books, even nonfiction, can be a rollercoaster ride, and A Severe Mercy falls into that category for me. Sheldon Vanauken is a very good writer with a special devotion to words. His subject in this work is actually two-fold—marriage and Christianity. In the first part of the book, he focuses on the “pagan” love he and his wife Davy share and the commitment they make to be completely and solely taken up with each other. He tells of their conversion to Christianity and how their new relationship to God affects their lives and their union as a couple. They are both adventurous and intellectual. In their pursuit of God they begin a friendship with C.S. Lewis that proves to be very important in their daily walk with Christ, especially during a health crisis that confronts them.

My opinion of Vanauken as a person changes several times in the course of the events recounted in A Severe Mercy  as he changes and grows as a person. It is not light nor easy reading as it mines the depths of their efforts to achieve a perfect union, to talk everything through, and to glory in Beauty. In making decisions, they always choose based on what would be best for their love. Vanauken describes their two different paths to Christianity: Davy through her need for absolution from sin and Sheldon through a yearning for the Jesus he learned about as he studied the New Testament. Vanauken has lengthy discussions on believing despite doubts, the “Oxford experience” of intellectual friendships, and the difficulties of readjusting to life in the United States. He devotes a chapter to Davy’s illness and another to his grief at her death. It is in these chapters that his love for her shines most clearly and that his writing takes the more theological bent as he tries to reconcile his devastation with his belief in God. He examines these events in the light of human views on time and eternity. Included are eighteen letters from C.S. Lewis with whom he shared a special bond as Lewis also suffered through the illness and death of his wife Joy. The letters from Lewis are clear, straightforward and understandable, mincing no words. 

I needed a tissue during the chapter recounting Davy’s struggles with her sickness. I didn’t always like Sheldon. It was, however, his story to tell, and he told it from his viewpoint with soul searching honesty. I am glad that I read A Severe Mercy. It is the love story of Sheldon and Davy, and also of their love for Christ.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Memoir, Christian, Nonfiction

Publication:  May 26, 2009—Harper One (first published January 1, 1977)

Memorable Lines:

He stood there in the stillness, looking. A tiny breeze touched his face like a brief caress. He closed his eyes for a second or two, fancying as always that she was in the wind. “Davy?” he murmured. “Dearling?”

If one of us likes anything, there must be something to like in it—and the other one must find it. Every single thing that either of us likes. That way we shall create a thousand strands, great and small, that will link us together. Then we shall be so close that it would be impossible—unthinkable—for either of us to suppose that we could ever recreate such closeness with anyone else.

The grim and almost fierce will to do all and be all for Davy that I had held before me like a sword for half a year became now, upon her death, tired though I was, a no less resolute will to face the whole meaning of loss, to drink the cup of grief to the lees.

Green Leaf in Drought–a missionary story

Green Leaf in Drought

by Isobel Kuhn

Arthur and Wilda Mathews and their baby spent a frustrating two years trying to discern and follow God’s will as missionaries for the China Inland Mission, a group spread widely over mainland China. Under the Communist regime, they were not allowed to witness to people about Jesus  or to help people in need. They were eventually confined to their meager and uncomfortable quarters and socially isolated. Their living situation was desperate as the authorities tried to starve them and forced them to live in unhealthy conditions. Why had God brought them to this place? Why wouldn’t the authorities allow them to leave? Having arrived with enthusiasm, they eventually suffered through round after round of seeking God’s will in the midst of despair. Their little girl was a bright note as she absorbed and repeated the songs and Scriptures that sustained her parents during the difficult times.

If you are inspired by missionary stories or want to read about God working in the hearts of His children when times are hard, then you would probably find Green Leaf in Drought to your liking. The content is very interesting. Stylistically speaking, this book is not in the excellent category. Author Isobel Kuhn had very difficult resource materials to work with, mainly the writings of Arthur and Wilda Mathews. Their compositions were letters intended for family and recordings on paper of their thoughts, prayers, and poetry, which we would refer to today as journaling, often written in tiny script on thin airmail paper. Others were involved in deciphering and organizing the events which Kuhn then transformed into a readable narrative. As Kuhn tries to translate the couple’s thoughts into dialogue, the result is somewhat stilted. The descriptions, however, are well executed. Kuhn maintains the integrity of a biography. She does not veer off into historical fiction and is to be commended for that. Readers who want a more in depth character study will not find that because it was not  provided in the source materials.

Rating: 4/5 (3/5 for writing style, 4/5 for interest and historical veracity)

Category: Christian, Biography

Publication:   January 1, 2007—OMF International (first published in 1957)

Memorable Lines:

The bamboo curtain shouts and bellows as it descends, boasts and preens itself. The Feather Curtain of God falls silently. It is soft and comforting to the sheltered one; but intangible, mysterious and baffling to the outsider.

Amazing how we plan everything so carefully and then God walks sovereignly right across the lot with something far better.

The slow wearing down of the human spirit is a species of torture which the communists delight to use and have found very productive for their purposes.

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