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The Secrets of Paper and Ink–God’s working it out

The Secrets of Paper and Ink

by Lindsay Harrell

The Secrets of Paper and InkThe lives of three women cross in Lindsay Harrell’s novel The Secrets of Paper and Ink. Sophia is a women’s therapist in Arizona who finds herself in the need of therapy. Ginny is a formerly rich American who abandoned that life to follow her husband to Cornwall, England, to open a bookstore. Their lives cross when Sophia, who needs more healing time, answers Ginny’s ad for a vacation rental. They find a notebook with the story of Emily Fairfax, a woman who lived in the mid 1800’s. Sophia becomes obsessed with learning more about Emily.

Each of the three main characters has to deal with a problem particular to women—abuse, abandonment, and discrimination. The author handles all of these issues with respect. The plot pops back and forth with each chapter focusing on one character, but with Ginny and Sophia’s stories overlapping in real time. Both ladies are impacted by Emily’s story, and there is a delightful surprise ending. Readers who delight in all things bookish will particularly relish this book as it includes a wonderful bookstore, journaling, and a female author in a time period when that was unacceptable. Readers who enjoy a good Christian romance will take pleasure in the gentle ways in which the characters’ interest in God is reawakened. Lastly, historical fiction buffs will appreciate the inclusion of Emily’s story.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson through NetGalley. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction

Publication:   February 26, 2019—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

But no matter what she felt, she knew deep down that her story did matter. She had to fight against the lie that it didn’t. And if she didn’t protect her own story or have the courage to write it down, no one else would. No one else could.

My senses rang with the cacophony of the muffin man’s bell, the clamor of the clarinet player on the corner, and the clickety-clack of the pattens on ladies’ feet.

Someone had finally noticed me drowning and offered to point me in the direction of the shore. Now it was up to me to keep stroking through the water until I reached the sandy beach beyond.

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Thunder of Heaven–the power of love

Thunder of Heaven

by Ted Dekker

Thunder of HeavenIn reading Ted Dekker’s Thunder of Heaven, I deviated somewhat from the types of books I usually read. My thirteen year old granddaughter recommended this Christian thriller, and I wanted to gain insight into her reading preferences. Having said that, I should clarify that Thunder of Heaven is not written for the younger reader; it is an adult novel without the inclusion of sex or vulgar language. I do not normally read thrillers; but, although suspenseful, this is not the kind of psychological thriller which will keep me up for nights to come. 

Shannon and Tanya have grown up in the jungles of Venezuela where Shannon’s parents are coffee farmers and Tanya’s parents are missionaries. Their blooming romance and happy lives are interrupted by horrific events in this action packed story that focuses on good versus evil, the sacrifices of love, and God’s bigger plan.

I had some confusion with the identity of the characters, but it eventually surfaces that the confusion is intentional and is resolved in the end. The plot is strong and intricate. The Venezuela jungle setting is interesting, well depicted, and perfect for the tale Dekker weaves.

Thunder of Heaven deals with some of the bigger spiritual questions. Can God use evil for good? Can a person become possessed by satanic powers? Can a Christian have a vision from God? What is the ultimate sacrifice? The exploration of these topics is not simplistic and is woven throughout the book coming to a head in the resolution of the conflict.

I am new to Dekker’s work, but Dekker is not new to suspense aficionados. A best-selling author, he has written over thirty books which have been translated into multiple languages. Two of his works have been made into films. His chosen genres for his storytelling are thriller and suspense, fantasy and speculative, and historical fiction. I’m looking forward to reading more novels by this author.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Thriller, Christian Fiction

Notes: Thunder of Heaven is book 3 of the Heaven Trilogy, but as the publisher says, “Each is a stand alone story that in no way depends on the other.”

Publication:   August 28, 2005—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

“If your life made too much sense to you, you might forget about God altogether. It is man’s most prolific sin—to be full of himself. But your tormenting has left you soft, like a sponge for his words. It’s your greatest blessing.”

“We see only the terrible tragedy; he sees more. He sees the ultimate glory.”

Abdullah was no one to play with. His heart was the color of his eyes, Yuri thought. Black.

Father…dear God, I’m lost down here. Forgive me. I’m lost and lonely and confused. I hate this man and I hate that I hate him. And I don’t even know if that’s possible! What are you doing? What is your purpose here?

We Hope for Better Times–discrimination across the years

We Hope for Better Things

by Erin Bartels

We Hope for Better ThingsThis work of fiction begins in the present day where the story centers on Elizabeth Balsam, an investigative journalist in Detroit, Michigan, always looking for a good story. She thinks she has found it when a stranger asks her to return a camera and some photos of the ’67 Detroit race riots to a relative of hers that she doesn’t actually know. This is interesting timing as she has just lost her job when outed during undercover work. Is it possible that what seems like a devastating blow to her career will be the best thing that could have happened to her?

Suddenly the author drops us into Detroit in 1963, and we are introduced to  an interracial couple. This is a thread that ties right into Elizabeth’s story as she meets Nora. This elderly relative probably has a story to tell if she can just be coaxed into telling it. This new plot thread segues into the story of yet another family member, Mary Balsam. Mary’s home is in Lapeer County in 1861, but it is now Nora’s home.

All three generations involve interracial couples, and author Erin Bartels tries to present the problems each generation encounters. We witness the horrors and sadness of racial issues that run the gamut from slavery to discriminating glances and everything in between.

Each plot thread is strong and as each chapter ended, I couldn’t wait to get to that part of the story again as the chapters cycled through each woman’s tale. As the book draws to a conclusion, the threads become tightly knitted together forming the family’s story.

Although We Hope for Better Things is fiction, it has the feeling of “it could have happened.” The Christian aspects are not prominently featured, but there is an important theme throughout of God’s plan for a person’s life. A sub-theme is the Christian community’s response to runaway slaves in the 1860’s in Mary’s small community during the Civil War.

This is an important work of historical fiction especially for those interested in the Civil War, the riots of the 60’s, or the current progress or lack of it on racial issues. The author presents events in the context of the culture during the specific time period. This novel focuses on the women in each generation and gives a more complete portrayal of them than of the men in the story, and that is probably how this tale needs to be told.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Revell for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publication:   January 1, 2019—Revell

Memorable Lines:

I was getting less twitchy about not having internet access. I didn’t exactly miss hearing the constant beeps notifying me of texts and tweets and status updates. Out here it was just the ambling, quiet life of the country. A comfortable obscurity.

“That’s good money.” 

“What do we need it for? We’re making ends meet.” 

“Barely. We’re not getting ahead.” 

“Ahead of what? If you have enough to live, what do you need more for?”

“There’s no one right path that if you make the wrong choice you’re sunk. Whatever you choose to do, God can use that. Life is always a winding  path. It’s only in retrospect that it appears to be a straight and inevitable one.”

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road: A Biker’s Devotional

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road

by Tim Riter

God, a Motorcycle, and the Open RoadI couldn’t imagine what a devotional with a motorcycle focus would be like. If you are a motorcycle rider or aficionado, then the answer found in Tim Riter’s God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road is fascinating, inspiring, and FUN. It could be read over the course of a year with one chapter per week, allowing the reader to absorb and apply the Biblical truths. One day I may do that, but for this reading I devoured, it not wanting to put it aside.

Having logged more than 240,000 miles on two wheels in 46 states, Tim Riter loves short rides, long rides (including Iron Butt), hot and cold rides, solo and group trips. He loves God and sees a strong connection between motorcycling and his faith. The chapters in God, a Motorcycle, and the Open Road are formatted to begin with personal anecdotes from Riter’s many motorcycle trips. Then he finds lessons in the stories and connects them to spiritual truths. He finishes each section with “Kick-Starting the Application,” encouraging readers to challenge themselves.

Come along with God and Tim on motorcycle adventures, some painfully hilarious stories by a master storyteller, and some life changing lessons. You will be glad you did.

I would like to extend my thanks to netgalley.com and to Harvest House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.

Rating: 5/5

Category: Christian, Religion and Spirituality

Publication:   April 2, 2019—Harvest House Publishers

Memorable Lines:

Why does God sometimes rescue some of his people and not rescue others? I have no clue….But I do trust his love even more than I trust his power. I suspect that’s the key. God’s omniscience trumps our finite knowledge. I’ve seen enough of his love to have faith in it.

Honda’s engineers want to provide the best riding experience. The closer we follow their design, the better we ride. God wants to provide our best life experience. The closer we follow his design, the better we live.

Frankly, leaning on God sometimes makes no more sense to our finite minds than does leaning a bike into a curve at speed. But that lean allows us to get through the curve. And reminding ourselves that God loves us in all of our trials and failures, that he always works for good, allows us to survive the curves of life.

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered

It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way: Finding Unexpected Strength When Disappointments Leave You Shattered

by Lysa Terkeurst

It's Not Supposed to be This WayWe all have had or will have painful, disconcerting times in our lives—times when we feel that life is not supposed to be the way it is. Lysa Terkeurst, in It’s Not Supposed to Be This Way, shares three major struggles she has been through over the course of a three year period. This book was written in the midst of these extremely hard times when the pain, both physical and emotional were still raw. She talks of her profound agony and grief in hopes that others will benefit from what she has learned and from having a friend walk alongside them through dark times. The despair we feel comes from disappointment which Lysa defines as the difference between our expectations of what life should be like and our reality.

Lisa had to face life-shattering, life-altering and potentially life-ending events with all of the usual questions. Why me? Why now? Regardless of the reader’s circumstances, they will be able to identify with the depth of Lysa’s pain even if the source is different.

This book is not a Hollywood style “tell all.” Lisa only shares enough of the details of her trials for the reader to understand that any one of these events could be more than a person could bear, and Lysa experiences three of them in a short timespan. She tells how she struggled against attacks from within and without and how leaning into God’s word and truth and love sustained her.

Lysa’s writing style is honest and accessible. She is a Bible teacher who has applied the truths of the Bible to her unique circumstances but is also able to show how they apply to anyone who feels that life is not supposed to be the way they are experiencing it. With chapter titles like “But How Do I Get Through the Next 86,400 Seconds,” you know that Lysa “gets it.” She understands just how making it through the tiny portions of one day can constitute a huge struggle.

Each chapter concludes with a “Going to the Well” section that summarizes the major points, provides related Scripture references, and offers questions to reflect on. She ends it with a heartfelt, from-the-soul prayer as she continues reaching out to and trusting in God, the source of her strength for the ache in her soul.

Rating:  5/5

Category: Christian, Nonfiction

Notes: Also available, a video teaching series for this book

Publication:   November 13, 2018—Thomas Nelson

Memorable Lines:

Humans are very attached to outcomes. We say we trust God but behind the scenes we work our fingers to the bone and our emotions into a tangled fray trying to control our outcomes.

No, I believe it took every bit of holy restraint within Him to not step in and remove my pain. He loved me too much to do the very thing I was begging Him to do. He knew things I didn’t know. He saw a bigger picture I couldn’t see. His mercy was too great. His love too deep.

The thrashing winds of the storm are gone, but the consequences make it impossible to return to something that feels normal. We make brief visits to normal, but there’s a lot of emotional debris to which we must tend. Little by little, we make progress in the two-steps-forward-one-step-back kind of way.

The Forgiving Jar–the power of forgiveness

The Forgiving Jar

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

The Forgiving JarMysterious prayer jars filled with Bible verses and notes of faith are an inspiration to two young ladies whose paths cross when one, in an act of desperation, assumes the identity of the other. Michelle, who pretends to be Sara, finds a hope jar in the barn of the Amish couple she is deceiving. Sara, their true granddaughter, finds a forgiving jar in the basement of their house. Regardless of who hid the treasure filled canning jars, God uses the messages in the jars to give hope, inspire forgiveness, and lead the women into a relationship with Him.

Having enjoyed The Hope Jar, I looked forward to continuing the tale in The Forgiving Jar and was not disappointed. Unanswered questions in the first book were mostly answered in the second, and closure was brought to all of the relationship issues. The characters in the first book continue into the second like meeting up again with old friends. I especially like the loving and patient spirit of Sara’s Amish grandparents, Will and Mary Ruth Lapp, who, according to Amish tradition, do not evangelize but “tried by their actions and deeds to be an example of what it meant to be a Christian.” The characters are realistically portrayed as they struggle to overcome old, deep-seated hurts through forgiveness which is not depicted lightly as an easy thing to do.

I recommend The Hope Jar and The Forgiving Jar as a pair. Readers will smile, root for the characters at various times in the story, be saddened over events past and present, and be happy that, as promised, God works out even the bad in their pasts for good.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: General Fiction (Adult), Christian

Notes: 1. The Prayer Jars #2. I strongly recommend reading The Hope Jar first.

  2. There are recipes and discussion questions at the end of the book.

Publication:   February 1, 2019—Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

Michelle took a deep breath, enjoying the scents of the season. The fragrance of dried leaves still lingered from autumn, and the tang of wood smoke drifting out of chimneys from nearby homes permeated the air.

“The problem with guilt is until we let go, our thoughts can be consumed with it—sometimes to the point of it making us sick or affecting our relationships with others.”

She wished she could shut the door on her memories as easily as she closed the door on the winter’s cold.

Woman of Courage–a glimpse of Quakers in 1837

Woman of Courage

by Wanda E. Brunstetter

woman of courageAuthor Wanda E. Brunstetter is best known for her fiction books about the Amish. In Woman of Courage, she departs from that focus to write a work of historical fiction whose main character is a Quaker. Amanda Pearson, rejected by her fiancé in New York in 1837, decides to move across the continent to join a missionary couple ministering to the Nez Percé Indians in the Oregon Territory. The first part of her journey is by steamboats and then wagon. At Fort Laramie, she and her father meet up with the guide who is hired to take them the rest of the way by horseback.

Amanda is unprepared for the adventures to come, but she proves to be resilient, courageous, and of strong faith. On her journey she faces the deaths of those she depends on, wild animals, rough mountain men, and Indians from several tribes. Will she make it all the way to Oregon Territory? Can she be dissuaded from her faith in God by the devastations in her life? Will she ever be able to love again?

Brunstetter has researched the time period. She doesn’t fall back on stereotypes for the Quakers, mountain men, or Indians, but portrays them as individuals. This is a Christian book, but it doesn’t play out as a tale where everything works out with magical perfection for the characters who are Christians. They experience internal turmoil and external dangers like nonbelievers, but they have a strong God to rely on during the good times and the bad.

Several times I found myself reading on past my intended stopping place—always a good sign for a book. There are a number of occurrences that I just didn’t predict which keep the book moving at a brisk pace. The characters are well developed and interesting. The various settings are described in detail, appropriate to the action in the book and with language that lets the reader visualize the grandeur of nature. A novel with a Christian theme, it contains history, romance, and action along with thought-provoking concerns about evangelizing other cultures.

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

Rating: 4/5

Category: Christian, Historical Fiction

Notes: There are discussion questions at the end of the book. My version also contained a novella, Woman of Hope, based on a characters from Woman of Courage. It is a quick, interesting bonus read, and as expected, because of the brevity of the work, does not hold much character development.

Publication:  December 1, 2018— Barbour Publishing (Shiloh Run Press)

Memorable Lines:

Gray Eagle didn’t mind them teaching his people from the Bible, but it wasn’t right that they expected the Nez Percé to give up many of their customs in favor of the white man’s way of doing things.

She remembered her father saying once that it was important to forgive someone who had wronged you, but that forgiving didn’t mean you had to be in a relationship with them. Sometimes it was best to keep a safe distance from the person who had done you wrong.

“…God, who I believe is the same as the Great Spirit we have worshiped for so many years. I believe it was God who kept me alive when I was taken from my people. He got me through times when I didn’t think I would survive, and it was Him who brought me home again.”

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