Saturday, December 28, 2013

"The Celtic Stone" by Nick Hawkes

The Celtic Stone
Chris Norman's dreams of being a commercial pilot are shattered when he crashes his light plane in central Australia and is badly wounded. His life hangs in the balance, a balance that is swayed by the intervention of an Aboriginal man. He leaves Chris with a mysterious and incongruous legacy, a Celtic cross made of stone. Partly blinded and in deep grief at no longer being able to fly, Chris finds his way to the inhospitable islands off the West Coast of Scotland where he seeks to unravel the secrets of the Celtic stone. A blind Hebridean woman, shunned by many in the local community, becomes his reluctant ally, along with a seven year old boy who is as wild as the storm tossed seas that surround the islands. But violence remains and Chris must overcome his grief to find answers to his questions. But the threat of murder lingers ...


A really clever, engrossing and surprising book.

Chris Norman is saved from his light plane wreck by a tribal hunter named Raberaba, who attempts to pull him back to white man's domain. After another accident, Chris is left with the strangest thing anyone would expect to find dangling around the neck of a tribal Aboriginal-an ancient Celtic cross.

After inheriting his grandfather's property on the Isle of Skye, Chris gets a chance to live there and research the origin of the cross. At first the mystery of how it turned up in outback Australia seemed pretty easily solved, but I had no idea of what was coming. It was all tied up as evidence in a historical feud, almost getting Chris and his loved-ones murdered by corrupt locals who knew a travesty of justice had been covered up for a century. There was even one extra, potentially scandalous secret thrown in for the reader which the main characters never discovered anything about.

What I loved most about this book is the terrific insight the author, Nick Hawkes, has into characters of all sorts of diverse international backgrounds, allowing us to get deep into their heads. I wish Raberaba could have been in it longer, because his point of view, with such a deep sense of spirit and place, really showed that although his people share Australia with white settlers, neither are on the same wavelength at all.

The attitudes and feelings of the Scottish clans folk are shown by several characters. There is Morag, the beautiful girl with a tragic event in her past which blinded her, Ruan, the independent and recently orphaned little boy, and Alsdair, the son of the local laird who is bright and principled, but a bit too fond of his whiskey. Amongst all these, Chris himself comes across as an accurate representative of a young Aussie bloke. I appreciated that he came from Adelaide, which has always been my home city.

The descriptions of settings are beautiful too, both equally harsh in opposite ways. It begins in the arid Australian outback, but later most of the story takes place on the bleak, cold Isle of Skye. Through it all, you've got to appreciate how the Celtic stone found its way back home to where it started, and how all sorts of events which seemed unrelated were tied together.

Probably the last book I'll read in 2013, but in many ways, one of the best.

4.5 stars

The Celtic Stone available from Amazon

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

"Book of Days" by James L Rubart

Book of Days
… in Your book all my days were recorded, even those which were purposed before they had come into being." —Psalm 139:16 Young Cameron Vaux’s mind is slipping. Memories of his wife, killed two years earlier in a car accident, are vanishing just as his dad predicted they would. Memories he knows he has to remember. His father tells Cameron that to save his mind he must find "the book with all days in it" —the past and future record of every soul on earth. When an obscure clue leads Cameron to a small central Oregon town, he meets enigmatic Taylor Stone, a possible guide to finding the book who seems to carry secrets far deeper than anyone imagines. Local hotshot TV personality Ann Bannister thinks the legend of the book is a farce, but she has her reasons to join Cameron’s search anyway. Finally, there is fanatical New Age guru Jason Judah, who will stop at nothing to find the book of days before Cameron does. 

Psalm 139: 16 tells us that our days were all recorded in God's Book of Days before any of them came to be. The idea of the physical existence of such a book, with past, present and future histories of every man and woman written in it, is fascinating. As the characters in this story search for such a book, I was looking forward to getting stuck into it.

There is an Indiana Jones quest type feeling about it from the very start. The hero, Cameron Vaux, believes his wife and father found it when they young, but both have passed away. Cameron's father was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease at a freakishly young age, and now Cameron feels his own memories slipping away at the tender age of 32. He enlists the help of Ann Banister, the foster sister of his dead wife, Jessie, to help him locate the Book.

Two men in their late fifties were the most intriguing characters. Jason Judah, the town's spiritual leader, has an intense, manic sort of desire to find this Book. Taylor Stone has had a history of a Midas touch since he was a High School boy, leading many to believe he knows more about the Book than he ever lets on. Interestingly, these two, who were childhood best friends, have a long history of enmity.

For the first half of the story, clues were as subtle as mosquitoes landing. Characters were acting as if they were going to reveal something significant, and at the end of each exchange, I wondered how they wriggled out of saying anything at all. I kept reading on, knowing there would be a big reveal at the end, but if I'd been in Cameron's shoes, I probably would have packed up and gone home. Maybe he was used to dealing with elusive people. The flashbacks of his talks with his wife, Jessie, before her death, showed her to be just as slippery.

The part which deals with the Book of Days was worth waiting for. I really liked the way the predestination/free choice conundrum was addressed in this story. And the humorous dialogue and ready dry wit of the characters, particularly Cameron and Taylor, made it fun to read. The red herring was pretty funny too.

4 stars

Book of Days: A Novel

Sunday, December 8, 2013

"Atchison Blue" by Judith Valente

In this meditative spiritual memoir, Judith Valente, celebrated PBS religion journalist and celebrated poet, invites readers along on her transformative pilgrimages to Mount St. Scholastica monastery in Atchison, Kansas. The Benedictine sisters who invited Valente presented her with a view of monastic life and wisdom that brought spiritual healing to her fast-paced life--and promises to do the same for her readers. The first time Judith Valente arrived at Mount St. Scholastica monastery, she came prepared to teach a course on poetry and the soul. Instead, she found herself the student, taking lessons from the Benedictine sisters in the healing nature of silence, how to cultivate habits of mindful living, and the freeing reality that conversion is a lifelong process. With the heart of a poet and the eye of a journalist, she tells how her many visits and interviews with the Benedictine sisters forced her to confront aspects of her own life that needed healing--a journey that will invite readers to healing of their own. A beautiful and heartfelt work that crosses The Cloister Walk with Tuesdays with Morrie, Atchison Blue will resonate with readers of Thomas Merton, Henri Nouwen, Mary Gordon, and Anne Lamott.


Judith Valente is a PBS correspondent with a hectic job of jetsetting around conducting interviews and working with others. She decided to take time out to spend with the sisters of the Mt. St. Scholastica Monastery at a quiet town called Atchison. As I'd often wondered about what happens within the walls of such places, this sounded like an interesting book to read. Did the sisters in "The Sound of Music" romanticise the lifestyle? If so, to what extent?

The book did reveal a bit about how long lives devoted to reflection, routine and acts and mercy do often provide a different perspective to that of those of us who are rushing about, taking everything the twenty-first century has to throw at us. It also raises questions as to whether people can choose to live contemplative lives outside of a monastic setting, and if so, how successfully. Some of the sisters' revelations about moments when they felt closest to God surprised me, challenging our assumptions about what such ladies might be expected to say.

I did find it a bit slow-going at times. The reflections are about all sorts of things from birth to death and the coping with the stress in between. There was a little too much focus on death, making it a bit melancholic for my tastes. Still, it was definitely good to read, just for showing me that no matter what lifestyles we may choose, we are all much the same when you think about it.

I received a copy from NetGalley and Ave Maria Press in return for an honest review.

3 stars

Atchison Blue: A Search for Silence, a Spiritual Home, and a Living Faith available from Amazon

"A Million Little Ways" by Emily Freeman

A Million Little Ways: Uncover the Art You Were Made to LiveThe majority of us would not necessarily define ourselves as artists. We're parents, students, businesspeople, friends. We're working hard, trying to make ends meet, and often longing for a little more--more time, more love, more security, more of a sense that there" is" more out there. The truth? We need not look around so much. God is within us and he wants to shine through us in a million little ways.
"A Million Little Ways" uncovers the creative, personal imprint of God on every individual. It invites the discouraged parent, the bored Christian, the exhausted executive to look at their lives differently by approaching their critics, their jobs, and the kids around their table the same way an artist approaches the canvas--with wonder, bravery, and hope. In her gentle, compelling style, Emily Freeman encourages readers to turn down the volume on their inner critic and move into the world with the courage to be who they most deeply are. She invites regular people to see the artistic potential in words, gestures, attitudes, and relationships. Readers will discover the art in a quiet word, a hot dinner, a made bed, a grace-filled glance, and a million other ways of showing God to the world through the simple human acts of listening, waiting, creating, and showing up.


Books which encourage people to continue our art, especially from a Christian perspective, are always welcome on my shelf. This one by Emily Freeman has several aha moments. She talks to all kinds of artists; the type who know what they want to do but are too scared to step out, and the type who launch out, confident in their mastery of their craft, but are disappointed by results.

It begins by explaining how anything at all can be made into an art form - hence the title. Our divine image bearer is reflected through the distinct lives and work of millions of people.

Freeman gives us tips on figuring out which of all the millions of possibilities will suit us. Joy and enthusiasm is the key. She suggests that our heart's deepest desires are imprinted into us. Hints of our passions shine out of us while we are still too young to think about meaning and vocations. They are woven into the fibers of our being.

She talks about the way we get seduced by the human habit of measuring our productivity. We assess our perceived usefulness and the impact we're making by using attention and appreciation as our gauges, which makes us miserable. I loved her statement that 'small is fast becoming my new home.' Working hard to become big is not a wise way to operate. If Jesus came down as a baby and became way less, why is it strange to think humans might be called to do a fraction of the same thing? I think this attitude may be the key in freeing us up in our work, helping us keep the important things forefront.

There's more. She discusses dealing with criticism, getting into comparison mode and considering other people's art a threat to ours. I liked was her admission that sometimes she hates her calling. As a writer, mine is similar enough that I could relate to her. Difficult to summarise, too complicated for an elevator pitch, I get it all. Yes, I admit I've looked at the fine arts and wished I could do some of them. Yet Emily Freeman says that, deep down, we know what makes us tick and brings us joy. She's right, I probably wouldn't really change for the world. It's touching that somebody else gets that we aren't always in love with our craft, though.

I'm sure there's something to get everyone thinking in this book, and I'd recommend it.

I received a copy from NetGalley and Revell in return for an honest review.

4 stars

  Million Little Ways, A: Uncover the Art You Were Made to Live available from Amazon

Friday, December 6, 2013

'Thrashing about with God' by Mandy Steward

Thrashing About with God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything
What if Jesus didn’t die so our lives could look perfect? What if He died so we could stop feeling like our lives have to be perfect to mean something? What if we simply live out our own story, even if it doesn’t look as others say it should? Mandy Steward set out in pursuit of these what-ifs. She didn’t find answers so much as she discovered a messy grace that knows no limits and a God that was and is willing to thrash about with her no matter her questions or struggles or doubts. What she found was abundant life, but it didn’t look like she thought it was going to. It was far different, and much deeper. This is a book without “easy” answers that lets those struggling with faith and searching for more know they are not alone.

Giving a book a ranking at all is something I'm loath to do in most cases but especially in this one, as it has a lot to do with what Mandy Steward addresses, including how she's decided to tackle her reactions to the opinions and labels of others. Given the subject matter, I'd hate to come across as a prime example of the type of person she's talking about within the pages. However, part of the process of writing a book includes inviting feedback from members of the public, so now I'll attempt to explain the great good I got from reading this on the one hand, and the niggling misgivings I had on the other, pulling me in different directions and resulting in a 3 star ranking; a tied vote, so to speak.

First, I've got to applaud her for being brave and honest enough to take a stand, and fight for her right to take time out from her normal life to reflect. A pastor's wife deciding not to attend church until she's worked through the issues in her mind and spirit is surely not a common occurrence. Mandy decided to break from her established pattern of seeking answers from older, wiser, (usually male) figures outside of herself to delve within.

Here are some of the issues she addresses. Jesus has promised us 'life to the full', but what do we really make of this? We keep searching, although we're not sure what it will look like when or if it comes. It's easy to get into a pattern of striving, assuming God must be holding back because we're falling short in some way. Taking time to reflect showed her how often she'd been stuffing genuine feelings of inadequacy deep beneath the web of performance she was trying to weave to make up for it. It took stepping back to help show her how she'd exhausted herself, chasing approval from others through performing and achieving. She has an eloquent way of writing which convinced me that this could be my story too. I'd be willing to guess that almost every reader of this book will come away recognising the benefits they could get from a similar performance detox.

However, as I was reading, I couldn't help wondering if her depression, many times, was tied up to a self-focused digging around where she didn't really need to go. Sometimes it seemed as she had a permanent "How am I feeling today?" thermometer attached to her. We all know that someone who continually takes their own temperature may most likely end up feeling unwell. It would be a shame not to live our lives because we're too busy examining them. I read this memoir on my kindle, but I'd be willing to guess it'd be a pretty thick hard copy book. That's a lot of soul searching.

Her stance to take a fast from Bible reading, as if it's all tied in with people pleasing, seemed a bit shortsighted. She gave the impression that she's fed up with it because she knows it all so well, but she doesn't seem to take into account how multi-layered it is, or to open herself to the possibility of being surprised by a fresh insight.

I think it's the sort of book to delve into one chapter or so at a time, when we're in the mood to feel challenged and have a good discussion. Reading it straight through from start to finish may bog us down a bit. Being inside my own head, grappling with a train of thought, gets tedious over the long term, and so it is with someone else's.

Although it's classified as a memoir, this felt a lot like reading someone's personal journal; a prolific artist/writer's free flowing thoughts. As I said, I felt awkward about reviewing it for this reason, as I wouldn't like somebody to rate mine. Mandy Steward has made herself vulnerable, so in the end, I respect and admire her for that. At one stage she said she came to the point of saying, "So what?" to people's value judgments, accepting that we all have our mixtures lightness and darkness that make us unique. Maybe that's one of the best things to take away from this.

I received a copy from Net Galley and David C Cook in return for an honest review.

3 stars

Thrashing About with God: Finding Faith on the Other Side of Everything available from Amazon

Friday, November 29, 2013

"The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society" by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
“ I wonder how the book got to Guernsey? Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” January 1946: London is emerging from the shadow of the Second World War, and writer Juliet Ashton is looking for her next book subject. Who could imagine that she would find it in a letter from a man she’s never met, a native of the island of Guernsey, who has come across her name written inside a book by Charles Lamb….

As Juliet and her new correspondent exchange letters, Juliet is drawn into the world of this man and his friends—and what a wonderfully eccentric world it is. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society—born as a spur-of-the-moment alibi when its members were discovered breaking curfew by the Germans occupying their island—boasts a charming, funny, deeply human cast of characters, from pig farmers to phrenologists, literature lovers all.

Juliet begins a remarkable correspondence with the society’s members, learning about their island, their taste in books, and the impact the recent German occupation has had on their lives. Captivated by their stories, she sets sail for Guernsey, and what she finds will change her forever.

Written with warmth and humor as a series of letters, this novel is a celebration of the written word in all its guises, and of finding connection in the most surprising ways.

For some time near the beginning, I'd considered abandoning this book, and later on, found myself wondering whether or not to give it five stars. That was how drastically my opinion changed while I was reading it.

The story is entirely made up of letters between the characters. The time period is 1946, just after the second World War, and the setting is Guernsey, an island in the English Channel. It's almost impossible to give a quick plot summary, but I'll try. Juliet Ashton, a London based writer, is urged by her publisher to begin a new project but she's having trouble coming up with anything. She begins corresponding with members of a literary society in Guernsey. It turns out not many of them were really interested in reading books at the start, but they were caught by the Germans after a clandestine pork roast dinner, which could have had them in big trouble, and made up a lie that they'd been having a literary society meeting. Then, they decided they'd better form an actual book club, just to be on the safe side, to give substance to their ruse. From then on, they were each amazed by the pleasure they derived from books, and wrote to Juliet all about it.

My initial impression was that it plodded on too slowly at first, and a whole lot of characters were introduced too thick and fast to keep track of and keep up the interest level at the same time. It really grew on me as I decided the anecdotes about living during the time of German occupation make a fantastic legacy for present day readers. I'm a member of Gen X, and felt as if I was right there, sharing the experiences which were sometimes hilarious and sometimes heartbreaking.

There are two heroines. Apart from the witty, feisty Juliet, there's Elizabeth McKenna. She's an unusual character in that she only appears in reminiscences and never in person, yet in many ways the book is all about her. We can learn a lot from her attitude of kindness and the impression her simple gestures made on others. I liked how their stories came together, and Juliet's decision that they had a lot in common, because they were both 'noticers' of simple, beautiful things that others might have just passed by.

Good characters soon begin to stand out from the rest of the huge cast. There's Dawsey Adams, the shy, stuttering pig farmer with highbrow literary tastes (he was gorgeous), Mrs Amelia Maugery, who probably looked more beautiful at 60 than she did at 20, Isola Priddy, the eccentric herbalist who developed a taste for the Brontes and Jane Austen, Sidney Stark, Juliet's generous editor, and John Booker, the servant who got away with impersonating his employer, who'd flown the coop. This is just scratching the surface. It's easy to see why this book became something of an obsessive life work for Mary Ann Shaffer, before her death.

It left me with a lot to think about. These days, we expend such a lot of angst wondering how to make an impact and achieve something notable. Back then, people were too busy simply trying to get by from day to day, keeping food on their tables and clothes on their backs, an achievement in itself. It's clear that love, loyalty and friendship really are the most important things. This is just as true now, but we can easily overlook that in the easier times we live in.

The book is full of quotable wisdom, and I'll finish this review with a good one. "That's what I love about reading: one tiny thing will interest you in a book, and that tiny thing will lead you on to another book, and another bit there will lead you onto a third book. It's geometrically progressive-all with no end in sight, and for no other reason than sheer enjoyment."

4 stars

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society available from Amazon

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"Heaven's Prey" by Janet Sketchley

Heaven's Prey (Redemption's Edge, #1)
Despite her husband's objections, 40-something Ruth Warner finds healing through prayer for Harry Silver, the racing star turned serial killer who brutally raped and murdered her niece. When a kidnapping-gone-wrong pegs her as his next victim, Harry claims that by destroying the one person who d pray for him, he proves God can't--or won't--look after His own. Can Ruth's faith sustain her to the end--whatever the cost? HEAVEN'S PREY received third place in Risen Books 2011 publishing contest and was short-listed for the 2008 Best New Canadian Christian Author Award.


Ruth Warner accepts a challenge to pray for Harry Silver, the man who viciously raped and murdered her beloved niece, Susan. While this helps ease her torturous fury and grief, Ruth's husband, Tony, cannot understand why she would pray for such a monster. One evening, circumstances force Ruth face to face with Harry, as his next intended victim.
Whoa, as a fellow contemporary fiction author, I like to think I write books that deal with challenging subjects, but Janet Sketchley has raised the bar further than I thought it could possibly move! I would never have dreamed of trying to get into the head of a character like Harry Silver, a serial rapist and murderer. Many people would nod their assent that God would willingly forgive the most depraved criminal, yet this book shows it in a very powerful way.
Any readers who feel that forgiveness will always elude them must surely come to the end of this book knowing that they may accept it as much as this main character, for you certainly can't call him a hero. Even when you consider the heartache in Harry's past which is revealed by flashbacks, it's clear that many other young men with similar losses never choose his path. Yet he is a man pursued by a loving God who doesn't want to lose him. It's radical, in-your-face forgiveness.
Another thing we can take away from this book is the power of prayer.
Not only is God shown to move through our prayers, but we need to be careful before we commit ourselves. As Ruth's harrowing experience shows, we have no idea how they may be answered!

Thanks to the author and ChooseNOW Publishing for giving me a copy in return for an honest review.

4 stars

Heaven's Prey (Redemption's Edge) available from Amazon

Saturday, November 16, 2013

"The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry" by Rachel Joyce

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry
Harold Fry is convinced that he must deliver a letter to an old love in order to save her, meeting various characters along the way and reminiscing about the events of his past and people he has known, as he tries to find peace and acceptance.

Recently retired, sweet, emotionally numb Harold Fry is jolted out of his passivity by a letter from Queenie Hennessy, an old friend, who he hasn't heard from in twenty years. She has written to say she is in hospice and wanted to say goodbye. Leaving his tense, bitter wife Maureen to her chores, Harold intends a quick walk to the corner mailbox to post his reply but instead, inspired by a chance encounter, he becomes convinced he must deliver his message in person to Queenie--who is 600 miles away--because as long as he keeps walking, Harold believes that Queenie will not die.

So without hiking boots, rain gear, map or cell phone, one of the most endearing characters in current fiction begins his unlikely pilgrimage across the English countryside. Along the way, strangers stir up memories--flashbacks, often painful, from when his marriage was filled with promise and then not, of his inadequacy as a father, and of his shortcomings as a husband.

Ironically, his wife Maureen, shocked by her husband's sudden absence, begins to long for his presence. Is it possible for Harold and Maureen to bridge the distance between them? And will Queenie be alive to see Harold arrive at her door?


Wow, how can a book be so happy and so sad at the same time?

Harold and Maureen are senior citizens whose marriage cooled off several years ago, and they are really only housemates. One morning, a goodbye letter arrives from Queenie Hennessy, a former work friend Harold hasn't seen for twenty years. She tells him that she's dying and all sorts of memories are stirred up for Harold.

He sets off to post a condolence letter but it doesn't seem adequate. He intends to walk to the next letter box, and then to the next town, but finishes hiking all the way up the centre of Britain to deliver it in person. His quest is all tied in with a challenge from a shop girl to never give up but cling to faith that things might change.

As he walks, he processes all sorts of buried memories about his earlier life with Maureen and their son, David. Harold feels as if he's failed everybody. We know that he let Queenie take the blame for something he did, although it isn't clear what. We also know that he feels he let David down, although we aren't sure why. This makes his journey all the more interesting, as we expect all will be revealed at the end.

When it came, I wasn't prepared for the shock and emotion of it all. Whoa, it definitely explains such a lot about all four main characters, Harold, Maureen, David and Queenie. How heart-wrenching. Until I got near the end, I was wondering what other reviewers meant, as it seemed like a whimsical, happy book.

There was a lot to like about it. There should be more heroes like Harold. His story shows that we should never underestimate the quiet, self-effacing type who never seem to have much to contribute.

I like Maureen, and the fact that Harold's walk helped her work through many issues, to realise all that he really meant to her. I hope people who are considering making David's decision may stop to ponder the repercussions in the lives of their loved-ones, which may go on and on for years.

I think it's a book that reveals significance in the most seemingly bland memories, and that so often, the apparently small things turn out to be the big things.

4 stars

The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry: A Novel available from Amazon

Friday, November 8, 2013

"Eat, Move, Sleep" by Tom Rath

Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes
The latest  New York Times bestseller from the author of StrengthsFinder 2.0, How Full Is Your Bucket?, Strengths Based Leadership, and Wellbeing. Tom Rath delivers a "well written and scrupulously researched...approach to improving one's lifestyle" (Kirkus) accompanied by an online application for readers to create a personalized 30 day plan. While Tom's books have inspired more than 5 million people in the last decade, Eat Move Sleep reveals his greatest passion and expertise.

Quietly managing a serious illness for more than 20 years, Tom has assembled a wide range of information on the impact of eating, moving, and sleeping. Written in his classic conversational style, Eat Move Sleep features the most proven and practical ideas from his research. This remarkably quick read offers advice that is comprehensive yet simple and often counterintuitive but always credible.

Eat Move Sleep will help you make good decisions automatic -- in all three of these interconnected areas. With every bite you take, you will make better choices. You will move a lot more than you do today. And you will sleep better than you have in years. More than a book, Eat Move Sleep is a new way to live.


I read one of Tom Rath's earlier books, "How full is your bucket?", so I was aware of some of his background. He has a genetic disorder which makes him several times more prone to the growth of malignant tumours than most people. He dealt with this with such a great, optimistic attitude in that book, I thought it made him a man well worth listening to when it comes to dealing out health advice.

While that other title was mostly about mental and spiritual attitudes, this one turns out to be far more practical. In each chapter, there is a wealth of advice on how we can dramatically improve our wellbeing by looking at things as elementary as our diet, exercise and sleep patterns.

I was surprised by how easily we may fall into bad habits without even knowing it. I kept nodding, "Hey, I do that." As a person who thought I had a reasonably healthy approach to life, I was flabbergasted to find out how much room for improvement there really is. I knew about the ones I've let slip. It's the other habits, which I never considered, that blew me away.

It has the scope for you to move at your own pace, making one small change at a time. In fact, this is probably the most sensible way of approaching it, as there are hundreds of different suggestions. I'll think I'll work on one until it becomes second nature, and then tackle another.

I might start by getting a few extra hours of sleep each night and moving more at regular intervals throughout the day. I might even forego that crusty bread roll at restaurants, while I'm waiting for the main course to arrive.

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley and Missionday in return for an honest review.

3.5 stars
Eat Move Sleep: How Small Choices Lead to Big Changes available from Amazon

Sunday, November 3, 2013

"Nutmeg" by Maria Goodin

Beautiful novel, exploring the boundaries between fantasy and reality ultimately asking the reader, which is better. Heart-warming and endearing, the author handles ugly truths in a delicate and thought-provoking way.
Meg is growing up in a world of food filled fantasy; where her first tooth was so sharp her mother used her as a can opener, and eating too many apples once left her spitting pips. Then, age five, she is humiliated in front of the other children at school and turns her back on the world of fiction, deciding to let logic rule her everyday thoughts and deeds.
Years later, Meg’s mother falls ill, and as she struggles to deal with the situation in an orderly fashion, her mother remains cocooned in her obsession with cookery, refusing to face up to her illness.
Slowly, Meg uncovers the truth about her childhood and is now faced with a humbling decision: to live in a cold harsh reality, or envelop herself in a wonderful world of make-believe.
Maybe life isn’t defined as fact or fiction – perhaps it can include truth, lies, and everything in between.


This is quirky fiction which could easily be made into a movie. It's a bit like an adult version of something like Roald Dahl's "Matilda". All the tall stories in this book would be wonderful incorporated into a film version.

Meg May is a science graduate who can't remember the first six years of her life, but her mother, Valerie, has filled her head with all sorts of weird and wonderful tales concerning her birth, all centered around food. Meg believed them as fact until other school kids teased her. Now for years, she has rejected anything remotely fanciful or fictional.

Valerie is an eccentric character, full of colour. She is very sick, and as her final days approach, she insists on doing her favourite thing, cooking in her kitchen for as long as she can. When Meg follows a tenuous lead to try to find out about their mysterious past, she discovers why Valerie felt the need to cloak their past in a lot of made-up stories, and also why she latched onto such a frenzied life of cooking in the first place.

There are four main characters. The two men are overstated, hilarious opposites of each other. Meg's boyfriend, Mark, is a pompous Uni professor who value facts and provable things even more than she does. Her mother's gardener, Ewan, is a scruffy free-spirit full of myths and stories. I was impressed that someone as young as him could be comfortable enough in his own skin not to let the attitudes of Mark and Meg make him feel remotely awkward.

I enjoyed the cameo appearances of others, especially the tipsy, washed-up members of the band, "Chlorine".

This book left me with a lot to think about. I've long believed that rather than being a pack of lies, fiction is a medium of presenting deeper truths, and this book supports that. Valerie May clearly used fiction to the point where it blended with actual truth for her, and it's left for readers to decide whether we think this is a good or a bad thing.

One of my favourite parts was toward the end, when Meg was surprised by how many people attended her elusive mother's funeral, and finding out the reasons why. It's a great lesson about how little it takes to live a worthwhile life.

Overall, I think this story itself is a prime example of how helpful stories can be to help us re-think our own habits and attitudes.

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley and Legend Press in return for an honest review.

4.5 stars

Friday, October 25, 2013

Raspberries and Vinegar by Valerie Comer

Raspberries and Vinegar (A Farm Fresh Romance, #1)

Josephine Shaw: complex, yet singleminded. A tiny woman with big ideas and, some would say, a mouth to match. But what does she really know about sustainable living as it relates to the real world? After all, she and her two friends are new to farming.

Zachary Nemesek is back only until his dad recovers enough to work his own land again. When Zach discovers three helpless females have taken up residence at the old farm next door, he expects trouble. But a mouse invasion proves Jo has everything under control. Is there anything she can't handle? And surely there's something sweet beneath all that tart.


Josephine Shaw, a young nutritionist, and her two friends have embarked on their dream of setting up a sustainable lifestyle farm in a country town, but it will be a long process. The mouse plague in their temporary portable trailer home is just the start.

Jo is so passionate about treading lightly on the planet that she tends to do just the opposite with people, coming across as overbearing and pushy in her zeal to convince others to live as healthily and thoughtfully as she does.

Zach Nemesek is the next door neighbours' handsome son. He's a fully qualified vet anxious to secure himself a city job, yet he's helping his parents out with the running of their farm until his dad is back on his feet from a long illness. Zach appreciates the convenience of the occasional take-away meal and junk food.

I really liked the romance. Zach is a lovely fellow and I looked forward to the parts from his point of view. It might be easy to wonder whether he could find himself a more easygoing match than Jo, but he'd find it hard to discover somebody who would adore him as much as she does. She keeps trying to convince herself that she has no future with him, yet I almost wanted to start counting the number of times she sees him passing the time of day with other women, jumps to the wrong conclusion and storms off, devastated. Gotta love her.

Along with the lightheartedness and humour in this book are some tear-jerking moments of touching sadness. The ethical considerations the story raises are thought-provoking too.

I'd been looking forward to getting stuck into this book, as I enjoy novels with 'foody' themes. They add a good dimension. Although this one didn't end up with the huge town feast they were planning, I'm hoping it will take place in one of the sequels, which I expect will be about Claire and Sierra and their romances. I love Valerie Comer's warm, easy and humorous style of writing, so I'll grab those for sure.

Meanwhile, I'll definitely try the raspberry vinegar recipe.

4 stars

  Raspberries and Vinegar (A Farm Fresh Romance) available from Amazon

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

A Heart Deceived by Michelle Griep

A Heart Deceived
 MIRI BRAYDEN teeters on a razor’s edge between placating and enraging her brother, whom she depends upon for support. Yet if his anger is unleashed, so is his madness. Miri must keep his descent into lunacy a secret, or he’ll be committed to an asylum—and she’ll be sent to the poor house.

ETHAN GOODWIN’s been on the run all of his life—from family, from the law...from God. After a heart-changing encounter with the gritty Reverend John Newton, Ethan would like nothing more than to become a man of integrity—an impossible feat for an opium addict charged with murder. When Ethan Goodwin shows up on Miri’s doorstep, her balancing act falls to pieces.

Both Ethan and Miri are caught in a web of lies and deceit—fallacies that land Ethan in prison and Miri in the asylum with her brother. Only the truth will set them free.


It's around the turn of the nineteenth century and Miri Brayden is trying to prevent people from noticing that her brother, Roland, is steadily losing his grip on sanity. He would be committed to a lunatic asylum and she would be homeless. It's getting to be a hard act to keep up, especially since the local vicar has recently disappeared and Roland probably has something to do with it.

Her only unlikely ally seems to be Ethan Goodwin, the hopeless tramp and opium addict who turns up saying he was the best friend of her other brother, Will, now deceased.

This book plunges us into the most squalid parts of this era, and as some of the action takes places behind the doors of Newgate Prison and 'Sheltering Arms' Mental Asylum, that's a lot of in-your-face description. It really makes you shudder to have to consider the question of where sanity may blend into madness, and who has the right to make that decision on behalf of others.

It reminds me of a novel Thomas Hardy might have written, with a hopeful, Christian-based world view. One of the key positive characters is Reverend John Newton, who wrote 'Amazing Grace.'

There's quite a bit of black comedy woven into the story.

I was wondering whether Ethan might have got over his opium addiction too easily. Granted, he had a lot of other things on his mind, but from what I've heard about people going cold turkey, he didn't seem to have too rough a time. However, I'm not complaining at all! With everything else that happened in this story, I was quite happy not to have to wade through that on top.

It's presented as a romance and that's quite true. Romance lovers, you're getting a wonderfully tender and touching story between a man and a woman, but if you're a bit squeamish, I have to warn you, read it if you dare.

I received a copy from Net Galley and David C Cook in return for an honest review.

3.5 stars

  A Heart Deceived available from Amazon

Sunday, October 20, 2013

A Home for My Heart by Anne Mateer

A Home for My Heart

Sadie Sillsby works as the assistant to the matron at the Raystown Home for Orphan and Friendless Children and dreams of the day she’ll marry her beau, Blaine. But when the matron surprises everyone by announcing her own engagement, Sadie is suddenly next in line for the job. For a young woman who was once an orphan herself, a shot at such an esteemed position is a wish come true.
But the matron of the Home cannot be married. Is Sadie willing to give up her dreams of a life with Blaine and a family of her own? Is she prepared to forego daily involvement with the children as she manages the finances and logistics of the ministry? And when it’s revealed that the Home is spending a lot more money than it’s taking in, can Sadie turn things around before the place is forced to close forever?


As I loved the way Anne Mateer wrote her child characters in Wings of a Dream, I was looking forward to this new book, which is set in a home for destitute children, in the same time period, 1910.

Sadie Sillsby is a young woman happily working as assistant to the matron and looking forward to the time she can marry her sweetheart, Blaine Wellsmith. Hazel, the matron, announces her engagement and Sadie is offered the promotion. The matron is supposed to be a single woman, yet it seems unthinkable to turn down this prestigious offer.

It's cleverly written from Sadie's point of view in such a way that her glaring blind spots are clear to the reader but not to herself. She often behaves in reactive, defensive ways, even when she's floundering over her head. She tends to be too proud to ask for help and has her fair share of unteachable moments. As her personal history is revealed, we get to understand why. And her redeeming feature is her genuine affection for each child under their roof.

This blinkered outlook of hers even extends to other characters. Young Carter, for example, irritated me at first, because we were told he was an innocent, dear boy deep down, but only ever saw the defiant rebel. Finally, Sadie comes to see what she refused to admit all along. And boy, was she rough on poor old Blaine, even toward the very end when her eyes were opened. I think he and Miranda were my favourite characters.

One thing I love about this story is the way the orphanage staff got along together. It's a good object lesson about how much smoother things will run if the proper person is chosen for the job - any job. Lots of square pegs were trying to be forced into round holes. This was the case with Viola, Miranda, Sadie herself, everyone, in fact, except for Mrs Fore.

I appreciated the glimpse behind the scenes of running such a place. The financial pressure was ever-present and very real, as was Sadie's affection for each child and the way it tore her up to say goodbye.

The two main men were well done. Blaine was always the honest, dignified battler who had conquered a difficult past, but Earl Glazier was a complex enough character to save the story from becoming a predictable triangle, as he wasn't quite the shallow dandy you'd expect.

By the end, I applauded Sadie's finest moments. We see it's all about assessing our personal motivation, how much prestige and accolades may influence our decisions, whether or not stepping down may not be as honourable as rising up, and how somebody's calling may be nothing more than a huge strain for another person trying to fill the spot.

I received a copy from Net Galley and Bethany House in return for an honest review.

4 stars

  Home for My Heart, A available from Amazon

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Pilgrimage by Lynn Austin

Pilgrimage: My Journey to a Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus Walked

We all encounter times when our spirit feels dry, when doubt looms.

The opportunity to tour Israel came at a good time. For months, my life has been a mindless plodding through necessary routine, as monotonous as an all-night shift on an assembly line. Life gets that way sometimes, when nothing specific is wrong but the world around us seems drained of color. Even my weekly worship experiences and daily quiet times with God have felt as dry and stale as last year's crackers. I'm ashamed to confess the malaise I've felt. I have been given so much. Shouldn't a Christian's life be an abundant one, as exciting as Christmas morning, as joyful as Easter Sunday?With gripping honesty, Lynn Austin pens her struggles with spiritual dryness in a season of loss and unwanted change. Tracing her travels throughout Israel, Austin seamlessly weaves events and insights from the Word . . . and in doing so finds a renewed passion for prayer and encouragement for her spirit, now full of life and hope.


This is an excellent book about the author's recent visit to Israel.

Lynn Austin is one of my favourite fiction authors and this is her first non-fiction work. Facing pressure and sadness from the home front, she and her husband embarked on a tour of Israel. It's impossible to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and other heroes of faith without getting an attitude overhaul and fresh perspective. I knew I was in for a treat from the start, when they arrived at Ben Gurion Airport.

In the Desert of Zin, she developed a greater understanding for the children of Israel, who we're often so quick to denounce as thankless grumblers. As they explored the craggy caves where David hid from Saul, she got me thinking about waiting patiently for promises. Hiking up the steep road to Jerusalem, she realised how fit Jesus, his disciples and all the pilgrims must have been. She walked through King Hezekiah's ancient aqueduct, the desperate engineering feat which impressed everyone except God. At the seaport of Joppa, she thought about Jonah's and Peter's unique experiences there, and what they show us about making a complete turn-around in our lives. She witnessed a sudden violent storm over the Sea of Galilee, showing her firsthand how brave Peter's attempt at walking on water really was. This is just scratching the surface of all the places Lynn and her husband visited in the Holy Land.

The descriptions were vivid and beautiful. I'm glad Lynn Austin didn't keep her experiences and reflections to herself. This book is as much of a virtual tour of Israel as anything I've come across.

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley and Bethany House in return for an honest review.

4.5 stars

 Pilgrimage: My Journey to a Deeper Faith in the Land Where Jesus Walked available from Amazon

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Inspiring Generosity by Barbara Bonner

Inspiring Generosity In a mere moment a story, quotation, poem, passing remark or mere gesture can be enough for generosity to move into our hearts and minds and become central to our lives. Inspiring Generosity is a rich offering of such moments.

The desire to act generously arrives like uninvited guest, unexpectedly, like a lightning bolt, in a mere moment. A gesture, a news story, a quotation in a book, a passing remark can change everything. For many, that moment is enough for generosity to move into their hearts and minds and become central to their lives.
Inspiring Generosity is an offering of such moments. Inspiring Generosity offers an invitation to savor a sampling of the very best inspirations on the subject of generosity. It includes fifteen contemporary stories of “generosity heroes” whose lives have been transformed by the power of generosity. Sprinkled throughout these stories are writings and quotes from Shakespeare, Hafiz, Emily Dickinson, George Eliot, Wendell Berry, Sharon Olds, A.R. Ammons, Naomi Shibab Nye, Donald Justice, Winston Churchill, Mother Teresa, Maya Angelou, Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., John Steinbeck, James Joyce, Leo Tolstoy, Walt Whitman, Henry David Thoreau, Goethe, Seneca, Albert Schweitzer, and Anne Frank—to name only a few of more than a hundred collected here.
This book will help readers open their hearts to the power of their own innate generosity, their desire to make a difference in the world, to help make someone’s day a little brighter or their world a bit more secure. it will kindle a spark in readers’ hearts that moves them into the sunshine of a more generous life.
And if one life is more generous, we all prosper. That is one of generosity’s most wonderful qualities: It is utterly contagious.


Barbara Bonner has put together an easy-to-read anthology about generosity. It's full of poems and quotes from famous people such as Dr Seuss, Anne Frank, Shakespeare, Mother Teresa and many more. And there are fourteen stories, each featuring a person who decided to take the path of generosity in his or her own way.

They range from Sasha Dichter, who had a flash on his daily commute to work that he needed to stop saying no to people who asked him for help, and Mary Donnelly, who became a local legend in her district as she spent a lifetime as a healthcare worker, to the Salwen family, who radically gave away half their possessions. I think my favourite was the one about Samuel Stone, who was so careful to protect his identity as a philanthropist that nobody ever found out until 75 years after his death, when his grandson, Ted, was amazed to discover an old suitcase full of records and cancelled cheques.

It's not the sort of book that actually aims to equip us with specific methods of being generous, but one of those spirit-boosting little books for a low mood, which just might get our own imaginations ticking.

I was given an ARC copy from Net Galley in return for an honest review.

3 stars
  Inspiring Generosity available from Amazon

"Sisters of Lazarus: Beauty Unveiled" by Paula Parker

"Sisters of Lazarus: Beauty Unveiled" is about Mary and Martha and their struggles with issues of self-worth. The author often wondered why the sisters were at odds and the book opens with Mary tiptoeing into the house as she returns from market with a hand-mirror for herself instead of saffron for Martha. Beyond re-telling the Bible story, the book also shows that a woman's value to God does not lie in appearance or the value which we place on skills, accomplishments, possessions, or intellect.


This is an authentic tale by a lady who obviously loves Bible history and story telling. It's not the sort of book that keeps you riveted with twists and turns, as it's based on the familiar Bible stories featuring Lazarus and his two sisters, so therefore we know what to expect. For example, when we see the girls begging Jesus to come and heal their sick brother, we already know he's going to tarry until Lazarus is actually dead, so we don't have to stay glued to the pages. Writing this in the first paragraph isn't even a plot spoiler.

Having said that, there are a few nice little, surprising embellishments. Mary's wager with her friend, Leah, about finding a husband, and the history between Martha and her betrothed, Simon, was entirely made-up, as was their relationship to Nicodemus, but it's fun to imagine that it might have been this way.

The characters tend to be larger than life, and maybe a little overstated, which may also add a bit of fun to the story. For example, the trio's Uncle Joktan and his son, Abel, are typical pompous Pharisees. Judas might not have come across quite so sleazy in reality, but we're willing to go with it. The sisters themselves are presented like chalk and cheese. Mary is very beautiful, but a bit vain and coquettish, while Martha is plain and very domestic. For all we know, that first glimpse of them we have in the Bible may have been a particularly hectic, off-day for Martha, but this story has the girls at cross-purposes like that often. Still, that's exactly how it might have been for all we know.

I think the point is well made that, for all their apparent differences, the sisters are pretty much the same where it counts. Both are driven by low-self esteem and pride over what they see as their best assets.

Having Jesus as a character in a novel is a pretty bold move, when you think about it. In this story, it's interesting to see him from the point of view of people who start off not realising who he really is. I liked the way he came across. And it's great to see, first hand as it were, the wonderful impact his healings make on the loved-ones of those who were sick. That's one of the great things about writing stories as a novel. These are people like us, and not just ancient folk in the pages of scripture.

It's a book to convict in an amusing way, peppered with a bit of comedy. I liked it when Nicodemus and Lazarus were testing out the chairs which Lazarus bought on his merchant journeys, and they decided that being seated so high off the ground would take a bit of getting used to.

The way the household customs of women were woven within the story was also something I appreciated. For example, the baking of bread, with all its fiddliness and trickery. These household chores are made to sound like works of art, and it may good for us modern readers to see how our, "Let's get it out of the way" attitude may leave a bit to be desired. It's a very spicy, fragrant sort of story as we get the benefit of the exotic spices and fruit, such as cumin, saffron, dates, raisons and honey.

I received this book from Net Galley and Authentic Media in return for an honest review.

3 stars

  Sisters of Lazarus: Beauty Unveiled available from Amazon

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Consider the Birds by Debbie Blue

Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to the Birds of the Bible

From biblical times to today, humans have found meaning and significance in the actions and symbolism of birds. We admire their mystery and manners, their strength and fragility, their beauty and their ugliness and perhaps compare these very characteristics to their own lives in the process. Though admired today, the birds of Scripture are largely unseen and underappreciated. From the well-known image of the dove to the birds that gorge on the flesh of the defeated beast in Revelation, birds play a dynamic part in Scripture. They bring bread to the prophets. They are food for the wanderers. As sacrifices, they are the currency of mercy. Highlighting 10 birds throughout Scripture, author Debbie Blue explores their significance in both familiar and unfamiliar biblical stories and illustrates how and why they have represented humanity across culture, Christian tradition, art, and contemporary psyche. With these (usually) minor characters at the forefront of human imaginations, poignant life lessons illuminate such qualities as desire and gratitude, power and vulnerability, insignificance and importance even as readers gain a better understanding that God s mysterious grace is sometimes most evident in His simplest of creatures.


It took me a little time to figure out whether or not I liked this unusual book, and I decided I like it a lot.

To begin with, the illustrations are lovely. Debbie Blue has believed for a long time that birds represent far more than what we see. Their amazing link to dinosaurs, being able to defy gravity and fly, and migrate for miles without reading maps and compasses is just the start. She's carefully examined a selection of birds in the light of history, mythology, science, symbolism and art and written a very enlightening book that often turns our preconceptions on their heads.

Did you know that the vulture, for example, may challenge western commercial culture's narrow definition of what is beautiful? Like me, you might have thought of them as repulsive opportunists with suitably creepy looks, yet we're challenged to see them as hovering mothers and purifying cleansers of the world. Similarly, ostriches give us lessons in self-discernment and grandiosity, while the common house sparrow may challenge us to think differently about common notions of personal significance. If God's eye is on the sparrow, why are ours always roaming around, searching for something with more prestige?

I found it quite moving to see that, despite their ancient ancestry, birds can be so vulnerable to thoughtless human activity. This in seen in the examples of pelicans, sparrows, eagles and vultures in the pages of this book. Only when they are driven to the verge of extinction in certain areas does it become evident what important ecological roles they serve.

I'd have to warn anyone who just wants a field guide about birds that this isn't what you're getting. It has just as much to say about humanity and the way we choose to live. In fact, sometimes I lost the thread, found myself deep in some philosophical observation and thought, 'How did I get here?' (For example, the chapter about quail ends up making us think about making hypocrites of our children by dictating how they ought to pray.) However, you can always trace it back to the birds. Just be prepared for lots of interesting segues you wouldn't normally expect.

Overall, even though I don't entirely agree with every point Debbie Blue makes, it's a fascinating book and I'll be reading it over again. In fact, I've ordered a copy for a family member who's a keen bird watcher and also interested in philosophy.

I received a copy of this book from Net Galley and Abingdon Press in return for an honest review.

4 stars

  Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible Available at Amazon

Monday, October 7, 2013

Return to Me by Lynn Austin

Return to Me (The Restoration Chronicles #1)

After years of watching his children and grandchildren wander from their faith, Iddo's prayers are answered: King Cyrus is allowing God's chosen people to return to Jerusalem. Jubilant, he joyfully prepares for their departure, only to learn that his family, grown comfortable in the pagan culture of Babylon, wants to remain.
Zechariah, Iddo's oldest grandson, feels torn between his grandfather's ancient beliefs and the comfort and success his father enjoys in Babylon. But he soon begins to hear the voice of God, encouraging him to return to the land given to his forefathers.
Bringing to life the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah, "Return to Me" tells the compelling story of Iddo and Zechariah, the women who love them, and the faithful followers who struggle to rebuild their lives in obedience to the God who beckons them home.


This story begins after the invasion of Babylon, when Persian King Cyrus decreed that the exiled Jews living there could return to Jerusalem and rebuild their holy temple. Lynn Austin's way of drawing us straight to the ancient middle east is wonderful. The story focuses on four main characters, and although their motivations and agendas are often at cross purposes with each other, it is so easy to understand each of them.

There is Iddo, the grandfather. He has horrendous memories of being forced to leave Babylon when he was a child, which still cause nightmares. Now that such a miraculous opportunity is available after all these years, he's going to grab it with both hands. Enjoying God's fellowship again means the world to him, to the point where he comes across as bossy and autocratic to those who don't share the enormity of his vision. He's easy to understand.

Dinah, the grandmother, was born in Babylon and is happy living there, with her extended family beneath her roof. How heartbreaking, to be drawn away from her grown children and beloved grandchildren in a time when there was no reliable postal service to keep in touch, and all to settle down in a pile of rubble in the desert. How easy to let a festering resentment of her husband take root, especially when homesickness and hostility from surrounding pagan nations gets hard to bear. Oh boy, can I understand her!

Yael, the headstrong young girl next door, has lost her mother. Swayed by a smooth-talking Babylonian sorceress, she believes that turning to the stars and studying astrology and the positions of celestial bodies will help her control the rest of her future. Nothing wrong with telling people's fortunes, is there? Her mother was open to sorcery anyway, and Yael is doing what she wants to do, refusing to bow to the whims of a God who would let her mother die. I admit, my patience with her wore thin at one crucial point of the story, and you'll know when you get there. How could she be so willfully stubborn and defiant, let alone not notice the lovely young guy who was devoted to her? I was on the point of shouting, "He's too good for you anyway," when I realised that my annoyance shows just what a well drawn character Yael is. And yes, in spite of everything, I could understand her.

Finally there's Zechariah, the grandson. At the start of the story he's a 12-year-old boy, the only family member willing to accompany his grandparents to Jerusalem, thinking his parents will be coming soon. As I kept reading, it dawned on me who his character is based on, and I grabbed my Bible to confirm it. Now, when I read the book of Zechariah, I'll think of the sensitive young man, Zaki, torn between what various members of his family wanted for him and protective of his wild best friend with her tomboyish ways. And I'll think of the humble young priest who had flashes of messages from God about the temple, but couldn't find them in the Torah whenever he went to check. What a great way of presenting his story, as we see him try to balance following the duty he was born into and making his own decisions.

Not only does this novel entertain but gets us thinking about God's provision, how getting to know him through his written word is so vital, and how easily we can get sidetracked from his plans by our own decisions and attitudes, which may even look as if they are based on expediency and common-sense.

I received a copy from NetGalley and Bethany House in return for an honest review.

5 stars
  Return to Me Available at Amazon

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Happy Women Live Better by Valorie Burton

 Happy Women Live Better by Valorie Burton

Women have more education, more money, and more choices than ever before. Yet, research shows we are less happy than women 40 years ago. Today, we can "have it all." So why is happiness declining?

In Happy Women Live Better, bestselling author Valorie Burton unlocks the secret to your personal happiness. She reveals 13 happiness triggers-choices that can boost your joy right now, even in the midst of deadlines, children, marriage, dating, and squeezing in a workout or girls' night out. Through these happiness triggers, you will learn to

bounce back from stress and adversity faster. enjoy deeper satisfaction in your marriage and friendships. maximize career opportunities and increase your income. fight off depression, colds and other illnesses live longer!
Valorie talks about the cultural shifts and modern challenges that threaten women's happiness, such as increased stress from increased demands, earning more money than men, constant comparisons brought on by social media and reality television, and many more. Learn to navigate these issues and join thousands of women in a modern movement that empowers you to take control of your happiness.

Valorie Burton gets to the crux of why women aren't as happy as we could be. The book delves into the question of why women forty years ago scored statistically higher on measured happiness charts. The answer she puts forth, after interviewing ladies from all walks of life, is revealing and very touching. It's simply the feminist 'happy' myth that we can have it all.

She quotes statistics which show that feminine happiness has been declining since the early 1970s, which is about the last time in history it was socially acceptable to focus solely on either your family or career without experiencing guilt or shame from society. Most women, no matter what their life choices, gave similar responses to her questions. 'I feel I should be doing more... This isn't what I thought I was signing up for... I feel like I've missed something and put myself behind... Yet I'm exhausted'

It seems to me, reading this, that we're like frogs in a pot of water that gradually gets boiled. The changes in expectations about the role of women has increased our stress load without our conscious awareness. Although early feminists did our gender a favour by getting us out of one type of prison, the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction, making us prisoners again without even knowing it. Seeing my own experiences and attitudes written down made me a bit emotional. Family and career are two separate wells, and of course focusing intently on one must draw deeply from the other.

Having established this, Valorie outlines 13 simple happiness triggers, along with a questionnaire to determine which are our strongest and weakest. None of them are really new and some are simpler than others. For example, smiling, keeping a gratitude list, getting adequate rest and moving our bodies don't seem too profound, but reading her take on them was fun. I definitely appreciate her advice to set up simple little treats, to give us something to keep looking forward to.

I appreciate this book mostly for helping me recognise that a lot of unhappiness we suffer isn't our fault, and for giving us skills to deal with it.

I received this book as a free ARC from NetGalley.

3.5 stars
  Happy Women Live Better Available at Amazon

Monday, June 17, 2013

Boondaburra by Natalie Lonsdale

by Natalie Lonsdale

About the Author

Natalie Lonsdale is a former Early Childhood Educator who is currently studying to be a Library Technician. Natalie loves children's literature, photography, travelling, history, and eucalyptus trees. Boondaburra is Natalie's first book, and she is working on several more. Natalie has a heart to write stories that encourage children to delight in God's word and in His love.

About the Book:
Boondaburra is sad. Why do the other animals make fun of him just because he is different?When tragedy strikes in the Australian bush, Boondaburra learns that being unique has its advantages. Boondaburra is the story of a platypus' journey from rejection to accepting and understanding his uniqueness, and the friends who come to accept and admire those differences.

My Thoughts:

I love this book.

Boondaburra is a gentle-natured little platypus who loves swimming in the billabong. Many of the other animals make mean and cutting remarks about his physical appearance and he can't help shedding a few tears. But Boondaburra has a wise mother who explains that the Creator surely made them unique for a special purpose. One day, during a raging bushfire, he finds himself in the position where he needs to use his features to be a hero.

I've come across many other stories aimed to help children cope with the effects of teasing and this is one of my favourites. The illustrations are so poignant, cute and accurate. I love how the sensitive theme is all tied in with some excellent background knowledge about Australian flora and fauna. Great teamwork by Natalie Lonsdale and Shannon Melville. I hope Kindy and Junior Primary School teachers all across the country use it for story times. 


Thursday, May 9, 2013

Ellenvale Gold

Ellenvale Gold
by Amanda Deed

About the Author

Amanda Deed grew up in the South Eastern suburbs of Melbourne in a Christian home, and found faith at an early age. She has followed her passion to serve the Lord through music and literature since her teen years. Now married, with three children, Amanda enjoys the variety of being a mother, finance administrator, musician and historical romance writer. Her debut novel, The Game, won the 2010 CALEB Prize for fiction, and Ellenvale Gold was a finalist for the same prize in 2012. For more information go to

Website is

About the Book:
It is the time of Australia’s harsh rogue-filled goldrush of the 1850’s when Miss Penelope Worthington suddenly finds herself orphaned, isolated and alone. With a large sheep station to run single-handedly, she has little option but to enlist the aid of a mysterious, but sinister stranger.
But who is the more treacherous? Gus—the scruffy, trespassing, ex-convict who co-incidentally shows up looking for work just when she desperately needs a farmhand or Rupert—the handsome, wealthy neighbour who would willingly marry her at the drop of a hat and solve her apparent dilemma?
Repeatedly, her faith is tested as she faces the unforgiving elements, deceit, lies and uncertainty. But where and how will it all end? But…is it the end? Will vengeance return or
will Penny’s faith prevail?

My thoughts:

What I loved about this book is that it was more than just a good romance novel. The hardships faced by brave pioneers living in the goldrush era were a highlight for me. Miss Penny Worthington couldn't sit back and daydream about her two suitors. She had to use all her fitness and intelligence just to stay alive. Yet, as you'll see in the story, the Australian bush is more than just a harsh, hot place settlers found themselves. It was full of beauty and surprises for those with courage and determination to stick it out. I like seeing books set in this time period in Australia. The heroine's gradual softening and change of heart gives a nice dimension of character development.   

Ellenvale Gold Available at Amazon