Thursday, December 18, 2014

Unplanned by Abby Johnson

Abby Johnson's story presents a unique perspective on the pro-life v. pro-choice debate.  She has been on both sides.  Abby was once the director of a Planned Parenthood clinic that performed abortions, until witnessing an ultrasound-guided abortion that opened her eyes.  She has since continued to support women - but this time from a different viewpoint.  This story takes you behind the scenes of Planned Parenthood and the Coalition for Life and will make you evaluate your stand on this important issue.

One thing I appreciated about this book is that it presents a well-rounded view of both sides of the debate.  Abby writes," We all long for a story that shows that our side is right and good, and their side is wrong and bad, don't we?  But I testify that there is good and right and wrong on both sides of the fence.  And even more shocking - we have far more in common with the other side than we might imagine."  Reading about this experience helps me to be more understanding and compassionate.  Both sides have good intentions - they both truly want to help women!  However, beliefs cause us to disagree on how that is best done.

Abby's story demonstrates that love and prayer are powerful.  It took many years for God to change her heart.  But once He did, He used her to make a real impact in the world!  Many people prayed for and patiently loved Abby while she was working at the clinic.  It's really neat to see how those efforts paid off and how God orchestrated her journey.

The only thing I didn't like about the book is that it seemed very repetitive.  I wanted to know her thoughts, feelings, and motivations....but once or twice is enough.  Instead the book consistently reminds the reader of thoughts already written about, which to me was slightly annoying.

Overall - great insight into an important issue.  I know her story has made a difference, and will continue to make a difference, in the lives of women.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World by Joanna Weaver

This book was first published 14 years ago.  Even though I knew it was popular, I am just now getting around to reading it!  The topic is one I believe every Christian woman has struggled to find intimacy with God in the busyness of life.  How do we balance work and worship?  Joanna uses the biblical story of Mary & Martha, as well as her own experiences, to shed light on this difficult question.

My biggest take-away from this book is perspective.  Even though Martha got her priorities mixed up at times, she had something of great value - a teachable heart.  Joanna writes, "Martha thought she had value because she was productive.  Jesus wanted her to learn she had value simply because she was his.  I'm sure Martha's feelings must have smarted at Jesus' rebuke.  After all, no one enjoys the exposure of his or her blunders.  I wouldn't be surprised if there was a moment when Martha was tempted to pack up her bruised ego and stomp out of the room....But instead, Martha stuck around and heard Jesus out.  And if we want to be his disciples, we must be willing to do the same.  Even when his words cross our will."  We are all works in progress. If we maintain a teachable heart, we can learn from our mistakes and slowly be transformed.  I like that Joanna was transparent in sharing her own transformational journey.

The only thing I didn't care for is the overlap of information between this book and the future books written in this series.  I had read Lazarus Awakening previously...which I now know is an expanded form of Chapter 8 from this book. 

The Study Guide included in the back of the book makes it a great choice for a Women's Group.  It is a 12-week study, with 8 discussion questions per chapter.  Discussing in a group would help with life application and accountability.

If you would like to shift your focus away from your busyness, and dwell on some ways to connect with God and find balance in your life - this book is for you!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fearless by Eric Blehm

I didn't grow up in a military family and I don't know many people who serve in the armed forces.  This book gave me a greater appreciation for what our soldiers go through in order for us to be free. 

Adam Brown was a Navy SEAL who paid the ultimate sacrifice for our country and he wanted his story to be shared.  His story isn't just one of a's a story of a man who rose from the pit of drug addiction to become a hero.  Fearless is the perfect name for this book.  Adam was fearless to the point of being reckless....but that trait is what set him apart as a true warrior who persevered through many trials that would have caused others to quit. 

This biography was put together through the memories of Adam's friends, family, and fellow SEALS, as well as journal entries and official documents.  It is very well-written and interesting to read.  I never found myself bored with unnecessary details or background information.  The type of man Adam was during the majority of his life is inspiring.  His faith, priorities, perseverance, and courage are to be admired.  I enjoyed the many pictures shared throughout the book as well.

I highly recommend reading this book about a true American hero, Adam Brown. 

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Thrive:Student Edition by Mark Hall

Do you want to merely survive, or to thrive?  While the content of this book is applicable to anyone, I decided to read the Student Edition specifically to decide how I could use the teaching at home with my boys, or in our youth group at church.  The main message of Thrive comes from Psalm 1 and the picture of the tree you see on the front cover.  The basic idea is that a balanced Christian life has two parts: digging deep into our personal relationship with Jesus (strong roots) and reaching out to others.  In order to thrive we must have both.

This book is great for students because the chapters are short! There are 30 chapters, each 4-8 pages long.  The content is a mixture of story, Scriptural teaching, and application.  At the end of each chapter is the main "Point to Remember" which helps to maintain focus. 

One topic under the reaching out section that spoke to me was about obedience.  Mark Hall writes "We're looking so forward to tomorrow that we're tripping over today....Doing big things for God is not some grand movement to shoot for in the future.  Doing big things for God just means doing the very next thing he says."  And the Point to Remember: "God doesn't want us to live in the future but in his Now."

For those who are impacted by song, you will be pleased to know that several of Casting Crowns' song lyrics are explained and woven into the teaching.  Listening to the songs afterward is great reinforcement and will help to keep the message fresh.

While it is still in the "Coming Soon" stages, it appears that there will be video teachings accessible through Casting Crowns website that will supplement the book.  So youth leaders - be on the lookout for that!

I recommend this book to anyone who has already committed to following Jesus and wants to get a better idea of what that looks like - and desires to thrive.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The One Year Devotions for Active Boys

Active boys are something I am quite familiar with.  At ages 7, 9, & 11, mine keep me on-the-go!  I think this is a good devotional for their age group.  (pre-junior high) Each devotion is one-page long and numbered with a specific day of the year. 

The components of each devotion are:

*A few paragraphs containing a story/lesson.

*Some type of activity: a craft, puzzle, weird facts, experiment, quiz, or jokes related to the topic.

*A prayer prompt.

*A scripture

The activity section is what makes this devotional different than others I've seen.  My younger boys enjoy the weird facts and jokes.  My oldest likes the puzzles.  None of them are too fond of the crafts.  So while each activity might not appeal to each child, there is enough variety to appeal to different personalities.

Having a devotional geared toward boys and their need to "do" something is a great idea.  It's an extra incentive to open the book each day and set their mind on God's truth!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible (review)

This reference resource helps the reader answer these 2 questions for each book of the Bible:  "What does it say?" and "Why does it matter?".  Within an average of 3 to 4 pages, the authors describe the setting/background, a summary of the main points/events, and some thoughts as to the significance of each book.

Most study bibles contain summaries to introduce each book.  If you have a study bible, you may not feel that this book is necessary.  However, different authors may add unique thoughts, or word something in a new way.  I like to read various perspectives and ideas on the text I'm studying.  The "significance" section is key for me - what's the point in reading if I can't apply it to my life or understand why it matters? Even though I have a study bible, I want a collection of other resources that I can refer to and glean insight from - which is what I am using this book for.

The language in this resource is easy enough for most people to grasp - no need to get a theology degree first.  I also like how when describing major themes and events presented in a book, the authors provide Scripture references so that it can be easily located.

So if you'd like a good reference book that helps you see the big picture, and is much less detailed than a commentary - this may be what you are looking for!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Revolutionary by Krista McGee

Revolutionary is the final book in the fictional Anomaly trilogy by Krista McGee.  If you enjoy recent movies/books like The Hunger Games and Divergent - this is a series you should check out!  You will find similar themes such as teens breaking the status quo to do what's right.  But you can also be assured that there are no "questionable" scenes in this story that parents might find inappropriate.

I find it difficult to review a fictional book without giving away any of the plot, but I will do my best.  The series as a whole is about a group of scientists who decided the best way to solve the world's problems was to wipe the slate clean and start over with a generation devoid of emotions.  The main character is an anomaly.  She is on a journey of discovery that finally leads her to fight for the freedom of humanity.  That is essentially the focus of this book - how to stop the bad guys and free the world.

Positive Lessons:
  • How to trust in God when He seems distant
  • Overcoming jealousy in order to work together
  • Forgiveness
  • Self-Sacrifice
I did find myself hoping for a little more in the conclusion of this story.  There was a weird love triangle theme that I could have done without.  I was also hoping that the main character would see God come through in a way that only He could. (I can't say any more than that without revealing too much...sigh.)

Bottom Line: The book (and the entire series) is entertaining and appropriate for teenagers.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 11, 2014

If God Is Good by Randy Alcorn

When I received this book in the mail, my eyes got really big...this is a 494 page book with small print!  I feared I was in store for some dry reading.  Thankfully, first impressions are not always accurate.  This book does take a long time to read, but simply because it contains so much thoughtful content that I didn't want to skim through anything!  It really is written in a format that is easy to read and meaningful.

Why spend your time reading so many pages?  Well... have you ever wondered how God can be all-powerful, all-knowing, and completely good, yet still permit evil and suffering?  This question is the reason some people reject God all together.  Others are able to push past it, yet still question why.  This is especially true when suffering arrives on our doorsteps.  Randy Alcorn writes, "We dare not wait for the time of crisis to learn perspective....Studying about evil and suffering doesn't equal facing it, but the study and discussion can go a long way in preparing us for it.  It will provide a reservoir of perspective from which we can draw.  It will minimize disorientation and panic when we plunge into life's turbulence.  This is why I encourage you to meditate on and discuss with others the themes of this book."  This topic is so tough because there are no neat and tidy answers.  However, this book does an excellent job of laying all those questions on the table and providing some answers and perspective through the use of Scripture, analogies, testimonies, and other sources.

One unique text feature that I like is that the author puts all of his main points in bold-face print.  If you want a quick preview (or review) of what is in a chapter, you could flip through and read the main points easily.  There is also a Scripture Index and Topical Index at the back of the book for easy reference.

I highly recommend this book to anyone wanting to strengthen their faith in the midst of suffering and evil. 

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Multnomah Publishing in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Blessed by New Hope

Due to a Championship Swim Meet on Sunday, we decided to join our sister church- New Hope Ashland- for their Saturday night service this weekend.  It is a small church still struggling to survive - they don't even have their own building.  But this little church blessed me in a huge way.  I got to sit with and worship alongside my husband.  I didn't have to wonder what the offering was going to be and if it would affect my husband's job.  I didn't have to volunteer.  I wasn't distracted by various people in the room - I could just be.  And in doing so, I was able to lift my voice again to my God, letting Him know how much I need Him. 

Thank You, New Hope.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

The Whole-Hearted Wife by the Smalleys

How can we have a marriage full of life and vibrant love?  The Smalleys' say "it doesn't come by living on autopilot.  No dream or worthy goal comes easily.  We must intentionally pursue what matters most in our lives and marriages."  That's why I picked up this learn some strategies for being the best wife I can be.

There are a lot of topics covered in these pages: showing honor/respect, understanding gender differences, communication, connecting spiritually, sex, resolving conflict/anger, forgiveness, and perspective.  For someone who does not read much on marriage, this book touches on many important topics and may be very beneficial.  However, I have read many marriage books.  In order to keep my interest I need information to be presented in an engaging way - helping me to look at things from a different angle.  I had a hard time staying focused because this book just seemed to summarize things I'd already read in other sources. 

One theme that can be found throughout the book is that in order to create a better marriage, a woman needs to start with the one thing she can change - herself!  In all of the "keys" mentioned, the authors talk about how a woman can apply the topic to herself, how she can help her husband, and finally how it impacts the marriage as a whole. 

This book is a collaborative effort, written by a married couple (Erin & Greg), and Greg's father, Gary.  The benefit of having multiple authors is being able to present a variety of perspectives.  However, this got to be very confusing for me.  I like to know who is writing.  While the authors tried to indicate which person was writing, there were many times I wasn't sure.  I would have preferred reading a book from Erin alone (seeing as she is the only wife out of the bunch). 

Even though I didn't connect well with this book, it does contain some great information over many topics that impact marriages.  Give it a try - it might be right for you :)

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

God's Heart

My Bible reading plan has me reading through the prophets at the moment.  It all seems so repetitive to me.  The people sinned. They worshipped other Gods, even as far as sacrificing their own children.  There was injustice, selfishness, and pride.  And so God was going to allow them to be conquered by their enemies.  The description of their punishment is so brutal.  It could be easy to see God as some cruel dictator, taking pleasure in the punishment of a people who had turned on Him.

But as I was reading today, a few words stuck out to me.  Isaiah 15:5 starts off by saying "My heart weeps for Moab...".  His heart weeps.  Other versions say his heart cries out, or grieves.  The prophets are warning the people of what will happen and letting them know the reason this punishment will come upon them.  Yet God is not happy about this news or looking forward to vengeance.  Maybe He still hopes repentance will occur.

If God's heart weeps over a nation getting ready to suffer the consequence of their sin, then can't we reason that He feels the same way about us?  Maybe you messed up and are suffering the consequences right now.  Do you think God is taking pleasure in it?  This verse tells me that He is not.  His heart weeps along with yours. 

And if God's heart weeps with those who deserve their punishment, how must he feel towards those who are suffering simply because of the world we live in?  This year suffering has hit many people dear to us.  A young couple who had to bury their child, and another who is facing that possibility soon.  Marriages that are falling apart.   A friend diagnosed with brain cancer who is facing an uncertain future.  Others grieving from the death of loved ones.  Surgeries. Depression.  So much suffering.  Yet many of them will testify to the presence of God being there in their midst...comforting them, strengthening them, and guiding them through.  Their testimonies strengthen my faith, reminding me that God is enough and he does care for us deeply - especially in our suffering.

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Snap Decision by Nathan Whitaker

I am the parent of an 11 year old sports nut!  My oldest son is constantly doing something sports-related whether it's playing the game, watching clips on ESPN, playing sports video games, or reading!  Sports fiction is mostly what he's been reading recently.  As his mother I sometimes get concerned what "additional content" he's getting exposed to in the books he reads.  What are the characters teaching him about values and life?  It is through this lens that I decided to read Snap Decision.

This fictional story centers around an 8th grade boy during a season of football.  The plot is fairly simple, containing issues that many boys will have to face.  It makes them think about balancing schoolwork and sports, maintaining integrity on and off the field, and navigating through tough spots in friendships.  I really like how one of the main characters, the varsity quarterback (who all the boys look up to), demonstrates great values and leadership.  There are boys out there who get good grades, play sports well, and make Godly decisions....these are the types of characters I want my son to aspire to be become.

I think my son will really enjoy this book because it contains so much football!  He can learn about practice techniques, get the play-by-play on several football games, get a glimpse into what scouting as a profession might be like, and learn about some of the dangers of playing the game.  I, as a parent, appreciated the respectful language, good role models, and proper respect for authority shown.   Bottom line: This is a book that boys will find interesting and that parents can feel good about them reading.  It is a book that encourages personal integrity and doing what's right in all areas of life. 

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, June 2, 2014

I Get To

Normally I am not one who likes change, but the summer months are an exception.  My days of substitute teaching are now filled with driving my boys around (keeping them active) and finally getting back into a routine of exercise and cleaning (which has been severely lacking the past several months!)  I get to watch lots of ball games, swim meets, and even some concerts (thanks to my husband's role in the Jimmy Warner Band).

I get to help take care of a garden - resulting in fresh veggies and canned goods for the winter months.  And of course prepare a year's worth of strawberry jam for my family and friends to enjoy (lots of work but totally worth it!).  I also look forward to a trip to Washington D.C. in July to visit my brother.  Lots of activities to enjoy and memories to make!
My prayer is that each day I can wake up with an "I get to" attitude, instead of "I have to".  Those few little words make a huge difference.   Even when I'm doing tasks that I don't enjoy, I want to remember that I "get to" do them.  My free taxi service can be a pain until I remember that because I have children who are healthy and active, I get to take them places to burn off their energy.  The constant need to keep up with housekeeping, laundry, and meal prep can be a chore until I remember that they come as a result of having a family I get to take care of.  Not everyone has that.  Some of you might get to work a job and earn needed income.  Or maybe you get to spend priceless time with loved ones who need your care.  Or maybe you get to volunteer and show God's love to those around you.  I challenge you to be thankful for all you get to do, no matter what your circumstances happen to be.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus. - 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

Friday, May 23, 2014

Snack Girl to the Rescue! by Lisa Cain

I am in a cooking rut!  I picked up this book because I needed some inspiration to eat better, and get some new ideas on what to fix.  Was Snack Girl able to help me?  Read on to find out...

Lisa Cain has a website devoted to sharing the information she has learned and encouraging others to eat healthy while on a budget.  She understands that time and money often limit our cooking choices, and that some people haven't received good culinary training.  That's what the first section of this book is all about.  She explains what a healthy weight is and her experiences with various diets.  She instructs on some easy cooking techniques and warns women of common temptations and emotional eating habits.  She focuses on the impact of exercise.  And she breaks down nutritional labels, explaining how to make good choices at the grocery store. 

This section definitely makes me want to eat better!  I learned some new information and plan to make some small changes in my eating habits.  The only discouraging chapter was about nutritional labels.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss, right?  I am now aware of how much added sugar and salt is in the processed food we regularly eat, but I feel too overwhelmed to make any changes.  Ugh.  Be aware that your eyes will be opened!  I decided that it's most beneficial to focus on one small change (such as increasing portions of fruits and veggies while decreasing portions of meat) than to try to change everything all at once.  And I think Snack Girl would agree.  One step at a time...

The 2nd section in this book contains many recipes to try!  I really like how each recipe starts out with some dialogue.  For example, the recipe for Roasted Brussels Sprouts starts out like this, "This recipe is a game changer for me.  My dad boiled Brussels sprouts into smelly, mushy, ugly blobs.  No wonder I used to hate Brussels sprouts; now I love them..."  This is followed by some tips on how to serve them, a detailed recipe, and nutritional information.  I myself have not had good experiences with this vegetable.  But....I may try cooking them this way once before writing them off for good :)

I enjoyed this book because it was down-to-earth, informative, and encouraging.  The recipes use ingredients that I have actually heard of (at least most of them), and could afford to make.  I won't be making a total 180 in my diet, but I will make some better choices and experiment with some of these recipes to prepare some healthy meals and snacks for my family.

Stay tuned...if I find a really good one, I'll post it on this blog!

*Blogging For Books provided me with a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Lost & Found by Sarah Jakes

Some people may assume that growing up in a Christian home with a well-known preacher as a father would guarantee life is easy.  In her new book, Sarah Jakes reveals that struggles and insecurities hit us all - no matter who your family is.  She is very vulnerable in sharing her own struggles (including a teen pregnancy and poor relationship choices) in order to give other women hope that they too can be found.

What I liked:  Sarah is very open with her struggles and takes responsibility for her choices.  Throughout the book she is continually sharing what she "wished she had known" at the time.  Those words of wisdom may be just what some young woman needs to hear.  Her story also reminded me of how we as the church need to be accepting and show grace to those who mess up.   She found more acceptance and less judgment and condemnation outside the walls of the church...and so that's where she went looking for fulfillment.   Jesus came to save the lost, heal the sick, and free the prisoners.  May our churches become places where the wounded come to for healing instead of running the opposite direction.

What I didn't:  I felt like the majority of the book detailed her dysfunctional relationship with her boyfriend/husband.  Someone in a similar situation may find this helpful.  However, I would have liked to hear less about "Robert" and more about other areas of her life, such as her relationship with her son or her faith journey. 

It takes courage for anyone to share their story, especially when sharing things they are not proud of.  I think it's inspiring that Sarah risked judgment in order to help others.  If you know a young women who appears to be wandering, especially in regards to relationships with men, she may find hope in Sarah's story.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin

The story of Esther has always been one of my favorites.  Whoever thinks the Bible is boring has not read this story!  So when I heard of this fictional book that follows a similar story line, I was intrigued.

 For Such a Time takes place during another historical period when Jews were being targeted for annihilation...during the reign of Hitler.  While the characters and events of this story are fictional, the concentration camp conditions and plight of the Jews was very much real. Once I got into the book it was very hard to put down!  Even though I had a faint idea of how the story would unfold, it was not predictable and kept me guessing. 

The only thing I didn't like was the frequent use of German and Jewish words in the text.  Many times the words could not be defined by context clues alone, so I just learned to skim over them.  There is a glossary of terms in the back of the book, but who wants to keep flipping to the back to look things up?  And then it was frustrating to do so and not find the word listed!  I understand the use of these words for historical value, but it decreased the ease of reading.  I would have preferred words be defined by footnotes or within the text.

This would be a wonderful book to read this summer by the pool or while on vacation.  Not only will you be forced to ponder what the Jews had to endure during the time of Esther and at the concentration camps, but there is also enough excitement and romance to keep the pages turning.  You may even find yourself gaining courage to stand up for what is right in our world today.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

New Life

The past few days we have been out in the flowerbeds preparing them for mulch.  At first glance everything looked dead.  There were brown, limp grasses and a collection of leaves covering the ground.  But once I began to clear away the debris, I found this... life beginning to grow.
This is what I think of when Easter comes to mind.   We see what looks dead...a situation that appears to have no hope. That's what the disciples saw on Good Friday.  But because of the resurrection, we know that nothing is impossible with God.  He can take that which is dead and breathe new life into it.  He can take that which is hopeless and clear away the debris to reveal beauty in the making.
As you see evidence of new life growing around you this spring, remember that God can do the same thing in your life.  Ask him to open your eyes and trust that He is able.
For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. - Isaiah 43:19

Monday, April 14, 2014

Miss Brenda and the Loveladies

Wow...this book captivated me from beginning to end!  Many of us see needs in the world and feel compassion for others.  But few resolve to do something about those needs in the way Brenda Spahn has.  She saw that women being released from prison had no hope and were likely to return to their former way of life.  She knew the system wasn't working - and when God gave her a vision of what "could be" she was obedient to His call. 

I really enjoyed the honesty presented in this book.  Brenda's plans didn't always work out in the way she thought they would - but she persevered and rolled with the punches.  It is clear that she is passionate about what she does and loves these women. 

While most of the chapters are written from Brenda's point of view, a few of the chapters are written from the Loveladies' perspective.  That added a really neat dynamic to the book.  It took a lot of courage for these women to share their stories with the world.  Hearing their stories will make your heart ache, but will also cause you to rejoice in their successes.  I have a new compassion now for woman in these situations and how tough it would be to transition from life in prison to life in the free world.  What began for Brenda as inviting a few ex-cons into her home, has now grown into a large faith-based rehabilitation program in Birmingham, Alabama.  Despite the opposition, the woman graduating from this program have a high success rate!

 I encourage you to read this book.  It may provide you deeper insight and compassion as it has done for me.  Or you may feel led to help out in this ministry.  Or maybe hearing Brenda's story will give you that burst of courage to follow through on whatever God has laid on your heart.  Thank you ladies for being so vulnerable and sharing your stories!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Press in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Just 18 Summers by Gutteridge & Cox

This fictional novel is based around the fact that most parents have only 18 summers to spend with their kids before they are ready to go off on their own.  Are we making the most of those opportunities?  Or will we be left with regrets?

The novel revolves around 4 different families in different stages of life.  We read about a man adjusting to being a single father after the death of his wife.  A couple who is learning that providing things and opportunities for their children does not replace the need for relationship.  There is a pregnant woman who is consumed with created a safe environment for her newborn.  And finally a couple struggling with letting go as their children go off to college and get married.  Each family must ultimately learn to trust God and make the most of the opportunities given.

I really liked the overall message of the story.  I'm glad to be reminded that the 18 summers go by fast and I'd better enjoy them while I can!  That being said, some of the characters in the story were so "over-the-top" that I could not relate to them...and they were somewhat annoying.  For example, the single dad needs to make cupcakes for his daughter.  He thinks the way to do this is to bake a 9x13 cake and then use a cup to "cut out" the cupcakes...really?  My six year old is smart enough to look at the back of the box and know what pan to use.  It's little things like this that disconnected me from the characters.

Each chapter is identified by the name of the character whose point of view is being presented.  While it was interesting hearing a story from many different viewpoints, this was a bit confusing during the first half of the book.  At the beginning of each chapter I'd have to stop and think...Hmmm...Now which family does he/she belong to?  The last half of the book was smoother reading because I was more familiar with the character names and relationships.

Again, the overall concept and message of the book are wonderful.  I just wasn't crazy about the character development.  For those who read the book and want to take action to make the most of their remaining 18 summers, the authors have created a website with articles and resources at

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Gods at War: Student Edition - Kyle Idleman

It may be a little early, but I'm starting to collect a library of books for my boys, the oldest of which will be a teenager in 2 years. ('s strange to even write that!) I'm on the lookout for books that will keep his interest while at the same time teaching him truths that I want him to learn.  It is with this task in mind that I began reading the student edition of Gods at War. 

The first few chapters explain what idolatry looks like in society today.  We are no longer bowing to idols made of wood or stone, but we do worship idols when we "look to something or someone to do for us what God was meant to do for us".  For example, "Instead of looking to God as a source of comfort, we turn to mindless entertainment.  Instead of looking to God as our source of significance, we turn to our accomplishments... Instead of looking to God as our source of joy, we look to our family, friends, or a boyfriend or girlfriend."  You get the picture.  These idols, or "gods", are at war for our hearts.

The rest of the book looks at specific "gods" that many youth (and adults as well!) tend to worship.  Topics include drugs/alcohol, food, sex, romance, entertainment, appearance, materialism, achievement, relationships, and ourselves.  I think that Kyle Idleman does a great job of explaining the dangers of trusting in these things to meet our needs, and he presents it in a simple and humorous way that teenagers can relate to.  I wish I would have read this book as a teenager!  At the end of each chapter is an "Idol ID" section which asks questions to help the reader identify whether that idol is a problem for him/her.  There is also a short section explaining how Jesus is the answer.  After all, "Idols are defeated not by being removed, but by being replaced."

Talking about all these issues as "gods" took a little time to get used to for me, but I understood the message and it's given me a lot to think about.  I hope that in the years to come it will resonate with my boys as well. 

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for an honest review.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick

"The voice you believe will determine the future you experience"
 - Steven Furtick

In my opinion, Crash the Chatterbox is Steven Furtick's best book to date.  Why?  It's very transparent and something everyone can relate to.  The four main issues discussed are insecurity, fear, condemnation, and discouragement.  I think we all struggle with these issues from time to time, if not daily.  Pastor Steven courageously shares his struggles with these issues and the mindsets and strategies he has found useful in overcoming them. 

As someone who faithfully tunes in to listen to Pastor Steven's sermons, I would compare this book to a Greatest Hits album.  I have marked up this book, underlining ideas that I have heard in past sermons and have put into practice.  What's more - they really do make a difference!  It encourages me to hear that I'm not alone in the battles I face inside my head every day.  I like having a resource that I can go back to and re-read whenever I need to gain a better perspective and remember what's true. 

Pastor Steven admits that reading this book and putting these strategies into practice "doesn't mean the chatter will end.  It just means that we'll have something stronger - and louder - to override it every time it starts."  We live in the middle of a spiritual battle and there is no way to escape getting involved.  In fact, "the more you grow in Christ and the closer you get to fulfilling the things He put you on the earth to do, the more intense the battle with your chatter becomes."  Haven't you found this to be true?  If there's gonna be chatter, I want to be as prepared as possible to handle it.

I highly recommend reading this book.  But don't forget to grab a pen or highlighter when you sit down to read will find truths and encouragement that you'll want to remember in the days ahead! 

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

My Latest Download

I recently heard the song "I Will Look Up" by Elevation Worship.  I fell in love with the chorus because it is so visual.  As I envision myself standing and looking in all directions, the lyrics remind me how to set my focus.

I WILL LOOK UP, for there is none above you.

He alone is God.  Looking up makes me aware that there is more to this life than what I can see or understand.  It reminds me to thank God for who He is. 

I WILL BOW DOWN, to tell you that I need you.

Bowing down is an act of submission.  Admitting to God that I can't do it alone, but that I believe His grace will be sufficient for me.

I WILL LOOK BACK, and see that you are faithful.

We're told not to look back in the same way Lot's wife did - yearning for our former way of life.  But we do need to look back to remember God's faithfulness.  He has brought me thus far, and therefore I can trust him with my future.

I LOOK AHEAD, believing you are able.

Walking forward, head held high, confidently believing that God is able to use me to accomplish something great. (easier said than done!) Looking ahead makes me more aware of other people and recognize opportunities I have to bless them.

The only other direction I would add is to LOOK BESIDE.  Standing beside me are my friends and family - the ones who support and encourage me on this journey. 

So now that I've given you a peek at the song, why not listen to it for yourself?

Friday, March 7, 2014

Tribute to Bella

A few summers ago, my husband found this little stray kitten in our neighborhood.  Normally not being fond of cats, I was surprised when he asked if we should take her in.  Of course once my boys laid eyes on her the decision was made... Bella became ours.

She was covered in fleas, yet too young for flea meds.  The first few weeks were very interesting trying to keep a kitten isolated to the kitchen (she was a great climber) and brushing fleas out of her fur multiple times a day.  But we managed and Bella was soon given freedom to explore her new home.

As she grew, it became clear that Bella was not a lap cat.  She liked to be in the room, but usually stayed at a distance.  The main exception was with our oldest son, Jacob.  She would sleep in his room and every morning would jump on his chest and purr when he pet her.  She also liked to lick our legs when we got out of the shower (weird, I know).

Bella's favorite toys were the plastic rings that come off of milk jugs.  She would bat those around until they got lost under a door or under our appliances. (I'm sure there is quite the collection under our stove!) She would chase balls like a dog in the backyard, but of course could never return them.  When our boys would lay on the ground and make "snow angels" on the carpet, she would pounce on their arms and legs, making them squeal with delight (and sometimes pain!)
Christmas was Bella's favorite season.  That first year she liked to pretend she was an ornament on the tree.  The next year she just decided to see how many ornaments she could knock off!

Our time with Bella was cut short due to her swallowing a string and having complications.  She did not live long after the surgery, which was what we had been told to expect.

Yesterday I had to tell my boys that their kitty was not coming home. That to me is the worst part of losing a pet...watching my boys grieve.  I had put together a slideshow of the pictures we had with Bella, and we watched home videos and talked about the good memories we had made. 

In many ways I am glad not to have a cat anymore.  No more litter box, scratched up doorposts, or fur to clean up.  Yet she was a part of our family, and her presence will be missed.

(And yes, I know that the formatting is off, but Blogger has frustrated me enough for the day...I give up trying to fix it!)

Thursday, March 6, 2014

It's a God Thing by Don Jacobson and K-Love

This book is exactly what it proclaims to be...a collection of stories from everyday people sharing how they have seen God work in their lives.  There is no teaching concerning what the Bible has to say about miracles, or reference to biblical stories.  It is simply people sharing their personal experience....witnessing to the fact that miracles still happen today.

Some of the miracles in this book are small.  They are events that some may look at and say "oh, that's just a coincidence".  It could be a coincidence that when someone goes to pull a gun from a safe with the intent of suicide that the safe gets jammed.  It could be a coincidence that a check shows up in the mail at just the right time or that someone gets the urge to pray for a friend who is in danger at that exact moment.  However, when you think about all these occurrences one after the other, it becomes easier to believe that maybe "it's a god thing."

Other miracles in this book are not so easy to deny.  When a baby is given a 1 to 2 percent chance of survival, and 4 years later is thriving.  When a woman scheduled for a D&C is suddenly found to have a healthy baby growing inside her womb.  When a blood clot in a baby's brain suddenly disappears.  These miracles have medical documentation to back them up! 

The beauty of this book is its simplicity.  If we can all share ways that we have seen God moving in our lives, then it becomes easier to see how God is still actively at work in our world...sometimes through big miracles and sometimes in the small details.  Reading these stories may open a person's eyes to recognize the ways in which God still works.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Calling Me Higher

Recently I was asked to be on team for the upcoming Emmaus Walk this spring.  I had my usual initial reaction to being asked to spend a weekend away from my family..."Lord, please give me a good reason to say No."  Well, that's what was in my head anyway. But I pleasantly agreed to pray about it.  I checked the calendar for conflicts on meeting dates or the retreat weekend....none.  No kids sporting events.  No reason my husband could not be home to watch them.  No easy out. 

It's not that I dislike Emmaus, quite the opposite in fact.  The ministry that happens on these weekends is amazing.  I just prefer that someone else do it!  I'm not that great at connecting with women and I don't like getting up in front of a group to speak (which would be required in my role). The easy road then is to not go.  But as I prayed, I realized that while I may not feel like making the commitment, I would be forfeiting an opportunity for God to use me.

Soon after I accepted, I came across this song that confirmed I had made the right decision.  It describes how it's easier and safer to stay where we are, but how God calls us higher.  He has something greater waiting ahead.

The past few days I've been working on my talk. There is a basic outline to follow, but I get to fill it out and add in my insight and experiences.  I love this part...creating something relevant and personal.  Now that I'm this far, I can start to see that maybe I do have something worth sharing.  Maybe my words can make a difference for one of the women there.  My earlier dread is being replaced with excitement.  I'm so glad I said "yes".

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reclaiming Your Heart by Denise Hildreth Jones

Reclaiming Your Heart is one of those books that, had I picked it up from the library, I probably would have returned it after Chapter 1 because it didn't seem to fit my situation.  Sure, I have my struggles...but I couldn't relate to being so shut down that I didn't even know who I was.   But since I had agreed to review the book, I pushed through and read to the end.  I was pleasantly surprised that from Chapter 3 on the insights shared can be beneficial for all women - so I'm glad I kept reading!

I love a good analogy that takes everyday experiences and weaves spiritual insight into them.  Chapter 3 was by far my favorite because Denise relates our lives to the game of golf.  She writes "Imagine that life is a golf game.  We each have one course to play.  In the process of playing that course, we will encounter all kinds of situations, positive and negative.  Sometimes we'll find ourselves on velvety greens...and sometimes we'll find ourselves wildly off course...Life is happening to us, and we've got to respond one way or the other."   Just as you respond on the golf course by choosing which club to use, we respond to life's situations by choosing how we react.  And just as a golfer depends on a caddy to give helpful advice, we choose to either listen to the Holy Spirit or fall for the lies of the enemy.

The remaining chapters focus on different responses (or "clubs") we sometimes use that are damaging to ourselves and those around us.  Denise teaches what each of these responses looks like, what lie is at the root of it, and how we can overcome and reclaim our hearts.  The heart issues discussed are performance, disappointment, control, criticism, shame, anger, fear, and weariness.  It would have been nice to have some discussion questions to go along with these chapters (for small group use), but none were given.

One example that stood out to me concerned the disappointed heart and how we miss many of God's blessings.  "It is the enemy of our souls who still gets in our heads and hearts and convinces us that if life isn't working out the way we pictured it, that means God doesn't care about us. What a sneaky lie.  First he convinces us that we are entitled to something, that our life is supposed to go a certain way.  Then, when it doesn't happen, we are left with a disappointed heart."  I don't know about you, but that's a lie I've fallen for.

Overall this is a relevant book with good insight in how to overcome some of our struggles.  I do think that some women will relate to it better than others, depending on where they are on life's journey. However, there is something in it for everyone.

*I received a complimentary copy of the book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Comparison Kills Contentment

My son, Jacob, turned 11 years old this week.  He proudly proclaims to others that he is a sports nut.  So it was no surprise when he decided that he wanted tickets to a Cleveland Cavaliers game for his birthday.  Using this as a learning opportunity, we explained to him what an expensive gift this is.  It's more than just buying him a ticket.  First of all, it requires buying two tickets since someone needs to go with him.  Then there are handling fees, money for gas, parking, food, etc...  When we announced that we would make it happen anyway (provided he chip in a small amount of his birthday money), he was overjoyed.  He didn't care if we got the cheapest tickets that were up in the nosebleed section...he just wanted to go!

Then he got on the internet and started looking at the arena and seating options.  He began to think of how cool it would be to sit closer up.  He found a website that showed you a camera view of what it would be like to view the game from different seats.  All of a sudden he was no longer satisfied with simply being at the game...he wanted better seats.  He began to negotiate.  Could he use more of his birthday money to buy a better seat?  When we put a limit on it, he actually got upset!  He only sees the here and now.

Are we any better as adults? Valentines Day is tomorrow.  I don't really like this holiday because comparison is so hard to avoid.  Sometimes women ask "So what did your husband do for you on Valentines Day?".  I am usually quite content with whatever gesture he makes, but I hate this question.  Why?  Because someone always has a better story.  On Facebook you will see pictures of someone who got a bigger bouquet of flowers or a more creative display of affection.  Or for some women it is just a reminder that no one is pursuing them in that way.  We compare, we envy, and we can become discontent.

It would be good for us to remember then that all things come with a cost.  If you want better seats or a bigger bouquet - you will also end up with a bigger credit card bill.  You may want a more romantic husband - but I'm willing to bet that those husbands have other weaknesses their wives have to live with on a daily basis that we don't see.  If you are single, you may be so focused on what you don't have that you miss out on the ways God is trying to show you His love. 

How do we get rid of comparison?  With thankfulness.  May we focus on what we have and rejoice in that.  May we turn our eyes away from ourselves and think about ways that we can bless others, celebrating their joys without becoming envious.  Scripture tells us love does not envy, it does not boast, and it is not self-seeking.  Seems to me that a holiday celebrating love has missed the mark.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Redeeming a Song

Being married to a worship pastor, I am used to hearing music blasting from the upstairs room where my husband works.  On my day off this week I was in the kitchen cleaning up and listening to an unfamiliar tune floating down the steps.  The music was slow and sad, beautiful enough to stir my soul.  But then I heard the lyrics being sung:

If there are any words that I don't want to hear coming from my husband's lips, it's these.  Thankfully, he was not rehearsing a way to end our marriage...whew!  Instead  he was chording a song that is being sung at church this Sunday to illustrate a point in the sermon.  My first reaction was to resolve not to listen to him practice or perform it.  Being someone who struggles with insecurity, these are NOT the words I want ingrained in my head!  And then I started seeing faces of my friends who I know are having marital difficulties and would be sitting in the chairs listening.  These are not the words I want in their heads either! 

So there I was...stewing over this issue and trying to forget that I'd heard the stupid song.  But then the lyrics in my head changed.  God redeemed them with His truth to say:

Know that I'll never give up on you
I will keep trying to get to you
Anywhere, I will follow you
Know that I'll never give up on you.
Now those are words my soul yearns to hear my husband sing.  Those are words that give life.
I knew my husband was in a programming meeting at the time, so I emailed him an idea.  The sermon was on the idea of Oneness.  What if we paint a picture of what is broken (using the original song) and then after the message, redeem the chorus by singing words that would honor God and our relationships.  Leave the people with a better song to sing.  I ended up being accused of placing a bug in the office, because little did I know they were discussing the SAME IDEA at that moment! 
This song, Say Something by A Great Big World, has been #1 on iTunes charts.  We live in a society that is quick to give up on each other.  But 1 Corinthians 13:7 says that true love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.  It doesn't give up. 

Jeremy and Laura did such an awesome job (oh - and the band too!), I just had to share. (If the video won't play from the blog, click here.)

Sunday, February 2, 2014

The Passion Principles by Shannon Ethridge

It's no secret that long-lasting marriages are hard to come by these days.  And what's one of the most common reasons for marital tension? Sex. It's a topic that is sensitive and sometimes hard to talk about.  Most of the information we do get is from the media, which is often very misleading.  That's why this book is so needed.  The Passion Principles is the most well-rounded, straight-forward book about sex that I've read.  Written in a Q & A format, Shannon answers 40 frequently asked questions about sex from a Christian worldview.  The questions are divided into 4 sections which explore all aspects of sexuality: Spiritual, Mental, Emotional, and Physical.

Shannon Ethridge has been researching, teaching, and coaching couples on the topic of sexuality for years.  She knows the issues and questions that often come up in marriage that are hard to discuss and overcome.  She shares many real-life scenarios in the text, letting the readers know that they are not alone in their struggles.  She is also very open about her own experiences.  Yes, the straight-forward talk may make you blush at times, but it's also very refreshing hearing the truth shared so openly.

If you decide to read this book as a couple, there are discussion questions and prayers following many of the answers.  Every couple is unique, so using these questions and applying the information to your marriage would be very beneficial.

Valentines Day is just around the corner.  This would make a great gift to give your spouse and begin reading together! (Oh, and be sure not to skip over the forward by Gary Thomas...he presents an analogy that will not be easily forgotten!)

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Job Opportunities

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine... - Ephesians 3:20

God has given me a testimony to share this month!  But before I get to the good part, I need to catch you up on what's been happening with my job.

I have been substitute teaching 3-4 days a week for a while now.  Then in December I was asked to fill-in for a 4th Grade Instructional Coach (a friend of mine) who was going on maternity leave for 6 weeks.  This position has a strong focus on math (my favorite subject)...helping kids before/after school and assisting in the classroom.  While working full-time didn't appeal to me, the job itself and the higher pay certainly did!  Not only that, but I still get paid for calamity days.  So all these delays and snow days we've had lately?  Yep, I'm getting paid to clean my house and spend time with my family.  Totally unexpected and wonderful.

Then came time for a decision.  My friend decided not to come back to work.  I was honored to be asked to stay on the job for the remainder of the school year.  My initial thought was to take the job.  It just made sense.  I enjoyed the position and the money would have been nice.  But during the day that I had to ponder the decision, God reminded me of the reasons a full-time job did not fit my goals.  I would have no time to re-charge.  The time I did have with my family would be spent doing the chores that I usually did on my day off during the week.  I would not be able to sub in the other elementary building where my other boys go to school. (They love when mommy is in the building).  I would end up more overwhelmed and stressed as time went on.  Is that what is best for my family?  So I made the tough decision and turned the job down.  It didn't make sense to some people, but I knew it was right for me and I felt complete peace.

Now for the "immeasurably more than I could ask for" part. A few days after turning down the job, the principal approached me and asked how I would feel about staying on in the position, but only 3 days a week!  WHAT?! Seriously?! I could have the best of both worlds?  He was able to arrange it for me to work 3 days a week and someone else to cover the other 2.  They were pleased with my job performance and wanted me to stay. I was/am completely in awe of the way God rewarded my faithfulness. I now have 3 days a week continuing in the position I enjoy, 1 day a week that I can pick up a sub job elsewhere if I choose, and 1 day to myself.  His plans are certainly better than mine~

Sunday, January 26, 2014

And Life Comes Back by Tricia Lott Williford

I find there are many similarities between Tricia Williford and I.  We are both in our 30's, mothers to young boys, enjoy reading and writing, and like Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream.  But one big difference is that she has lived through something that I fear - she lost her husband.  Well, I guess I shouldn't say that she lost him....he died suddenly.  This book is her story - her testimony to what life has been like in the aftermath.

Life is a collection of memories and moments.  We can record them in journals and blog posts to help us remember and share with others.  That is what this book presents...snapshots of memories and experiences.  Some serious, some funny - but all authentic.  Tricia tells her story in a way that allows others into her world so they can get a glimpse of what heartache and healing look like.  I found myself tearing up at times, and at others laughing out loud.  While I would never want to go through this experience, I find comfort in knowing that women DO get through it, as tough as it may be. 

Whether you are a widow searching for common ground and hope, or someone who wonders what it's like to walk down this path, this book is wonderfully written and I highly recommend it.  Thank you, Tricia, for sharing your personal experiences and telling it like it is.  May God bless your family richly.

Click here to read Tricia's blog.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Press in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Prepared for a Purpose by Antoinette Tuff

Since I work in the schools, I've often wondered what I would do if I were confronted with a gunman.  Would I panic?  Would I stay calm?  Would I be brave?  Stories are becoming all too common of a student or an adult waving a gun in our schools and threatening our students.  Antoinette Tuff was confronted with this situation a few months ago while working in the office of an elementary school in Atlanta.  This is her story.

The book alternates between details of that potentially tragic day on August 20, 2013 and Antoinette's life story.  The majority of the text focuses on the events of her life and how God used it all to shape and prepare her for this moment.  I found it to be an honest and inspiring testimony - one that gives the glory to God.  She writes, "There is nothing special about me that enabled me to be a vessel for God.  The truth is, God uses us all to accomplish His work.  He can turn any one of us into an instrument of good.  What happened to me that day can happen to each and every one of us, at any moment, in any situation.  We just never know when that moment is coming, or what that situation will be. But we are all capable of being God's vessel - of fulfilling the purpose God has chosen for us."

Antoinette has had many struggles in her life, but she has also learned to anchor to God's truth and find her hope in Him.  When faced with a crisis she was able to draw strength, wisdom, and compassion from God.  May we all learn to do the same.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Praying For Your Husband From Head to Toe

In this unique book, Sharon Jaynes gives us a blueprint for how to pray for every area of our husband's lives using Scripture.  She creatively matches up different parts of the body with crucial areas of a person's life, so that it is easy to visualize and remember what to pray for.  While this book is written specifically for wives praying for their husbands, this method could easily be adapted to pray for anyone.

The first chapter explores the power and purpose of prayer - how we as wives are given the role of ezer, or helper - and are equipped to fight for our man through prayer.  Sharon writes, "Prayer is not a means of gaining control over your husband, to whip him into shape and make him the man you want him to be.  Prayer is a means of relinquishing control of your husband and asking God to shape him into the man that He wants him to be.  Prayer involves turning the finger that points out your man's faults and folding it along with the other in prayer."

Next we are introduced to the 16 landmarks of prayer and their meanings.  For example, his eyes represent what he sees.  His mouth - what he says.  His shoulders - his burdens.  His back - his protection (because God's got his back!). His feet - his walk with God.  From head to toe, each area makes sense and is easy to remember.

Most of the book is a 30-day guide to praying Scripture over your husband.  Each day has a Scripture and short prayer for each of the 16 landmarks.  While this is a great way to cover your man completely, be aware that each day takes about 10-15 minutes if you pray through what is written.  The prayers are great examples of how to "pray Scripture".  There is also an appendix at the back that includes special Scriptures you can pray if your husband is not a Christian, is a father, or is sick.

I can see myself using this book on a regular basis and I highly recommend it for all wives!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Luminary by Krista McGee

Luminary is the 2nd book in the Anomaly Trilogy by Krista McGee.  You can read my review of the first book here.  This is a fictional story which takes place in the future, after our world has nearly destroyed itself by a nuclear war.

In this book, Thalli encounters two groups of people who have survived the war and effects of radiation.  Each of the groups choose different ways to set up society and start again.  We are led to ponder questions similar to those that Thalli does in this excerpt..."What kind of world would I like, were I given the choice?  How much power would I give people?  How much power would I give the rulers?  I think of the Designer and I know that no matter what, if his ways are not considered, no State or city or government will be truly successful."  Amen to that.

I enjoyed this book even more than the first one!  There is enough action, adventure, and hints of romance to keep the story interesting and hard to put down.  Yet there is also a spiritual component to get the reader contemplating "the Designer" and his role in our lives.  For example, when Thalli begins to feel jealousy for the first time, John gives her this advice - "You need a change in perspective, Thalli, not a change in circumstance.  Joy comes from the Designer alone.  Humans, even the best humans, are flawed.  We cannot meet each other's needs completely.  We were not designed for that.  We were created to be in relationship with the Designer...When we look to others to fill that hole, we find ourselves empty."  Don't we all need to be reminded of that every now and then?

This series is an entertaining, thought-provoking work of fiction that I highly recommend to readers of all ages.  And as in many trilogies, the story ends on a cliff-hanger.  Now I have to wait until summer to read the ending!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookSneeze in exchange for an honest review.