Sunday, June 26, 2016

Book Review: MESSENGER BY Moonlight by Stephanie Grace Whitson

The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. Psalm 23:1(KJV)

Publisher's Description

Bestselling author Stephanie Grace Whitson's latest historical novel features an adventurous young heroine who works for the Pony Express.

Orphaned Annie Paxton and her brothers may have lost the only home they've ever known, but they're determined to make a better future in St. Joseph, Missouri. Annie dreams of a pretty house with window boxes, and having friends, and attending church every week. But then her brothers spot the ad for a new venture called the Pony Express. "Wanted," it reads, "Young, skinny fellows not over eighteen. Must be expert riders and willing to risk death daily. Orphans preferred." Sure enough, both her brothers land jobs as Express messengers, and Annie puts her dreams on hold to work as a cook at Clearwater Ranch, a station along the Pony Express route.

Annie struggles to adapt to her new job--work made all the more challenging when she has so many to feed and few ingredients. The gruff station owner, George, doesn't seem inclined to make her life any easier, or at least not at first. But slowly a friendship builds between them. When Annie attracts the attention of a refined, dashing lieutenant from the nearby fort, she'll have to learn how to trust her instincts and follow her heart, even if she's conflicted about which way it's leading her.

Editorial Reviews

"Whitson's fascinating look at the Pony Express and those who lived in the Midwest during that time is entertaining and intriguing. The romance is unexpected, beautifully developed and well-balanced with action and family drama. The faith message is touching and relevant."―RT Book Reviews on Messenger by Moonlight

"Messenger by Moonlight is a well-researched tribute to the strong and courageous men and women of the Pony Express."―Historical Novel Society

My Personal Review

MESSENGER BY Moonlight by Stephanie Grace Whitson is an exceptionally entertaining, well written and engaging book! From the first page, right up until the last, I found myself thoroughly absorbed in the action and completely transported back in time to the days of the Pony Express. 

The story circles around the main character, Annie Paxton, who is surrounded by two loving brothers who make it their mission to provide for her after the loss of their parents. From the very beginning of the novel there is a strong message of the importance of family connection.  The theme of perseverance during difficult times and leaning on the Lord in the face of adversity is effectively communicated  throughout the book, as well. 

As the Paxton brothers carry out their new jobs as Pony Express messengers, Annie accepts a job as a cook at a large ranch on the route. She has very little experience and not a great deal of supplies, but she learns how to manage with the help of the station manager, George Morgan. The interactions and relationships that develop at the ranch are fun and authentic and evoke many emotions from the reader.

The trials and harsh times that were a part of this era in history are narrated so vividly, that  I found a whole new appreciation for the modern comforts of air-conditioning, heat, cars, medicine, communication, and easily accessible food! It's amazing what we take for granted. I also had no idea what the Pony Express riders had to endure as they navigated their treacherous routes, nor was I aware of the speed at which they were required to run them. Not only were they having to deal with the elements, but the dangers of predators, illness, horse injuries and much more.

Pony Express route covering 1900 miles
MESSENGER BY Moonlight has everything a good Christian Historical Fiction book should have. It informs, causes reflection, brings a spirit of worship, entertains, and provides a clear vision of a loving Savior in Christ. Perhaps the only thing missing is a map illustrating the 1900 mile Pony Express Route and a few approximate station locations to serve as a point of reference. Maybe it's because I am such a visual learner, but I found myself wanting to see their path and the location of the Clearwater Ranch. At one point while reading the novel, I went on a search to see a map of their journey. I have provided that here from the National Park Service website. 

I would like to thank FaithWords and Hachette Book Group Inc for this complimentary review copy of MESSENGER BY Moonlight by Stephanie Grace Whitson. I was not required to give a favorable review, but only to read the work in it's entirety and give an honest opinion. 

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Book Review: Making Disciples~Applying Truth In Daily Living by Carla Maclachlan

“Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Matthew 28:19-20

Praise for Making Disciples

Making Disciples is both challenging and life-changing. My awareness of the power of Scripture to influence daily life has greatly increased. I now live life with a heavenly, rather than worldly, perspective. - J. Elfrink

God is using Making Disciples to transform my life! When I began to embrace discipleship and disciple making, my walk with Christ deepened. I better understand now that God is working in the moments of my days to bring Himself glory. - B. Williams
An excellent book filled with the truths
of God and a challenge to grow in
those truths on a daily basis.

After experiencing Making Disciples, I sense the urgency to know and teach God's Word. I've learned to listen beyond the normal conversations to seek God's opportunity. - B. Porter

Publishers Description

Jesus tells His followers to “go and make disciples”. You understand what it looks like to "go" (consider all the places you’ve been in the past few days.) But what does it look like to make disciples? Are you prepared to invest in the lives of others? 
Making Disciples is a practical book that will help you:
  • Understand God’s purpose for disciple-making 
  • Recognize and prepare for evangelistic opportunities 
  • Practically apply biblical truth in daily living 
  • Communicate and demonstrate living by faith 
  • Engage others in formal and informal discipleship

My Personal Review

Making Disciples creates a path leading straight to the the thrown of grace where you find reflection, repentance, reconciliation and relationship! Making Disciples~Applying Truth In Daily Living by Carla Maclachlan is a beautiful call to apply the truths of the Bible directly to our lives and to cultivate a greater awareness and responsiveness to the leading of the Holy Spirit.

This book challenges the reader to take a deeper look at the principles of becoming a disciple of Christ, and further still, abiding with Christ and thereby communicating this love with others as we transform into His likeness day by day. The author defines a disciple of Jesus as “someone who chooses to believe in, learn from, and follow Him. Discipleship is a process by which believers are taught biblical principles and how to apply them in practical ways.” Maclachlan exhorts the reader to allow the Holy Spirit to speak into our individual circumstances and make changes as He directs. By increasing our sensitivity and opening our hearts to the will of God, we will experience the abundant life that He has for us.

The need to study God’s word and use it as our “discipleship instruction manual” is emphasized frequently within the chapters of Making Disciples. With scripture references on nearly every page, the author earnestly expresses that without the “infallible Word of God”, we will be ill equipped and unprepared to handle the daily divine appointments that the Lord has designed for each one of us. I enjoyed the analogy Maclachlan gives, as it relates to this subject, when she explains that just as nursing education is to be applied at a later date to help patients with their physical needs, we also should “anticipate using what God is teaching us to enhance the spiritual well-being of others.” Great thought!

The point that it is God’s ultimate goal for us to “reproduce His truth in the lives of others” is clearly conveyed throughout the writing. It is asserted that “receiving the gospel is merely the starting point of salvation and discipleship, not the end goal.” Because it is our aim to share the truth of Christ with those who don’t know Him, it is important for us to have many tools in our tool belt so that we can be messengers of the gospel in it’s entirety. Found within the pages is a very in-depth section covering the details of introducing an individual to Christ and presenting the full plan of redemption for their life.

The idea that spiritual growth is the catalyst to becoming an effective disciple of Christ is given a great deal of attention. This growth will only happen when we allow the Holy Spirit to train us. We must also consider forming mentoring “relationships that are intentional and purposeful in teaching, guiding, and training others to walk daily by faith in the truth of our Lord Jesus Christ.” This mentoring process will help to promote spiritual maturity in others as well as in ourselves. The author even provides a helpful outline for beginning a mentoring connection. She is careful to explain that because of the uniquely created individuals that God places in our lives, we need to be acutely in tune with the leading of His Spirit and every discipleship opportunity that the Lord presents to us, adjusting our plans accordingly.

The subjects of surrender, sanctification, and faith are discussed at length. These daily decisions of obedience are paramount to moving forward in an abundant life with Christ; they are not a one time event, but rather a moment by moment choice to relinquish your right to self will and give that over to the will of God. Galatians 2:20 is used as a reference to this conclusion.

The final chapters discuss issues of our identity in Christ, the consequences of sin, learning from the past, adversity and more. I especially enjoyed the author’s sensitive approach to the matter of facing difficulties when it is not a direct result to personal sin. The point that our perspective will change, but perhaps not our circumstances, when we apply the truths of God in the trials of life is something that I have experienced in my own life. The scripture reference given here is John 16:33 where Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” Recognizing and accepting God’s enormous purpose in the trials of life will give us spiritual victory over our situation.

Visit Carla at www.carlamaclachlan
My overwhelming impression of Making Disciples is very positive. It is written for a wide audience in that a person who is not familiar with the Bible, Christ, or God’s plan of salvation will read this book and quite possibly be drawn into a saving faith and a consistent scripture intake along with application of His Word. On the opposite side of the pendulum, the plethora of valuable and applicable information on discipleship that is contained within this book will certainly draw the spiritually mature Christian to pursue a more intimate and fruitful walk with Christ as they apply the truths of God on a daily basis through prayer, communion and the mentoring process.

Making Disciples is an excellent book. Unless I completely missed the point, however, it should be read slowly, prayerfully, and with a heart that is open to the voice of the Lord. It is not a book to scurry through and put up on your shelf to check off as “read.” No, in actuality, it should be marked “to be read again”. The rationale for this advice is simply that in a continually changing world, you will always be in a different circumstance. Yes, it might be similar, but NEVER the same and therefore, you will be able to reach for your Bible and this little gem of a book and prayerfully proceed. The Biblical  truths and discipleship process will provide you with just the right direction for the new situations that you most certainly will find yourself in.

Thank you to Bound By Faith Publishers for this paperback review copy of Making Disciples~Applying Truth In Daily Living by Carla Maclachlan. I was not required to give a favorable review, but simply to read the book and give a summary with my personal opinion of it’s content. I also was not required to purchase an E-copy, but I did so because I want to have an easily accessible copy for frequent referencing. I would highly recommend this book to non-Christians and Christians alike. I am confident that your life will certainly be changed by Carla’s passionate love for God and her clear communication of His truths.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Book Review: Unstuffed~Decluttering Your Home, Mind & Soul by Ruth Soukup

2 Corinthians 2:9(NIV)
But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.

Praise for Unstuffed

"As women, we have the tendency to overstuff our lives, our schedules, and our homes with things that really aren't beneficial. And our souls suffer because of our unwillingness to let go. Ruth Soukup tackles this issue head-on and gives practical steps to be purposeful with the stuff we let in our sacred spaces. You'll be thankful you chose this book!" -Lysa TerKeurst, New York Times Bestselling Author of The Best Yes

"A warm, easy-to-follow guide that offers actionable steps to creating a calm, prayerful, stress-free life." -Simple Grace Magazine

Author's Description

Great tool to help identify areas of our
lives where clutter congregates!
STUFF. It's everywhere. Lurking in corners and closets, spilling onto counters and coffee tables, creating havoc everywhere we look. And it's not just the physical clutter that weighs us down. Oh no, it is the stress of overbooked schedules, and the weight of life that sometimes feels oppressive and totally out of whack.

New York Times bestselling author Ruth Soukup feels your pain--she has been there too. Through personal stories, Biblical truth, and practical action plans, she will inspire and empower each of us to finally declutter not just our home, but our mind and soul as well. Unstuffed is real, honest, and gets right down to the question we are all facing--how can we take back our lives from the stuff that is weighing us down?

In this book, together we will:

• Create a comprehensive vision for our homes, and make instant changes to improve its overall function.

• Discover that more closet space is not the solution, and instead learn how to set strict limits for the stuff we bring in

• Overcome the frustration of dealing with our kids' influx of stuff and implement practical solutions for keeping the chaos at bay.

• Recognize the pitfalls of an overstuffed schedule BEFORE it gets out of hand, and instead learn to combat the culture of busy that keeps us running from one thing to the next.

• Finally conquer that mountain of paperwork that threatens to tumble down around us at any moment.

• Let go of the guilt that gets attached to gifts and instead learn to separate our loved ones from their stuff.

• Begin to cultivate our real friendships while eliminating the toxic relationships that weigh us down.

Personal Review:

Unstuffed~Decluttering Your Home, Mind, & Soul by Ruth Soukup is a well written book that addresses physical clutter, mental traps, and spiritual truths. This is a great read that is descriptively “stuffed” full of practical advice and tangible application!

Unstuffed is not only a great tool to have in your arsenal of weapons to help fight the clutter monster, but it’s also a transparently thoughtful work that serves to assist the reader on a deeper level by uncovering potential issues in our minds and hearts that may be hindering our ability to live “clutter free” lives. The author begins the book by acknowledging her own love for material things and our western culture's propensity to collect and hoard too much stuff. This genuine spirit of authenticity is felt throughout the reading of this book, as Soukup tears down walls of shame, embarrassment and guilt that often accompany the accumulation of unnecessary and unwanted stuff.

Not only does the author give a systematic plan of attack to take back our homes and win the war against the perpetual cycle of things piling up in them, but she also helps us to reformat our thinking to prevent a returning problem in our homes. In addition, the book could also double as a "practical parenting guide", as it covers many great strategies for raising well balanced children and modeling a healthy lifestyle as it relates to our belongings and spirituality. 

Ruth Soukup does a great job of communicating the chaotic feel that our high tech world has created with the constant influx of information and little to no margin in our schedules. She reveals that her desire to be constantly busy is a struggle she has to guard against to maintain a peace of mind and a less scheduled home. I love the "Red Flag" section where she gives a list of "warning signs" to help the reader identify if they are in trouble. 

Finally, and most importantly, Ruth ends with the source of all freedom as she identifies our need to allow the gift of Christ as the ultimate answer to all of our needs. She candidly shares of some desperate times in her life and the grace that she has come to know as she walked through this period of darkness. Her conviction to lean on the Lord and remain in a prayerful state are refreshing and extremely encouraging. This is an excellent read!!

Thank you to Zondervan Publishing for this review copy of Unstuffed by Ruth Soukup. I was not required to write a favorable review, only to read the work in it's entirety and give an honest opinion of it's contents. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Book Review: Uneven Exchange by S.K. Derban

"Thus says the Lord to you; 'Do not be afraid nor dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours, but God's.'" 2 Chronicles 20:15


This is a great summer read!!
Grab some ice tea and curl up for some
action & suspense!
Like fire and ice, Alexandra Callet’s life runs hot and cold. At the age of thirty-three, Alexandra owns a stunning home and a successful interior design company. But she is in love with her business partner, Jake Taylor, and he doesn’t even seem to realize she’s a woman. She should be on top of the world, but instead she feels dragged down by the void in her heart. Hoping for answers, she decides a trip to Mexico might soothe her soul.

Jake Taylor only pretends to be a confirmed bachelor. Jake has been entranced by Alexandra’s determination and exotic beauty since the moment they met, but she has no idea how he feels. He considers confessing his love, but fears jeopardizing their friendship and business. He’s caught in a web of pretending he doesn’t care, and doesn’t see a way out of it. Alexandra is recruited for a dangerous mission. Following her trip to Mexico, her resemblance to a member of an assassin’s family leads Alexandra to be recruited by the DEA. Her training leaves her distracted, and her business begins to suffer. Jake notices her sudden change, and feels her slipping both personally and professionally beyond his reach. Should he finally take the chance…before it’s too late? After all, he has nothing to lose. However, when Alexandra returns to Mexico for her mission, things go terribly wrong. Will she be able find the strength to fight and escape the peaceful haven that has now become her prison? Or will Jake lose Alexandra forever....

My Personal Review

Uneven Exchange by S.K. Derban is the perfect combination of intrigue, suspense and romance...a perfect read for a weekend get-away!

This book captures the reader's attention from the first chapter and spins a tale of love, strength and perseverance from that point forward. The main character, Alexandra Callet is an independent business woman who, due to her resemblance to an assassin's sister, is asked by the Drug Enforcement Agency to help with a case. As the story unfolds, additional vibrant characters emerge to sufficiently entertain and engage the reader. The training that Alexandra goes through to go undercover is actually very informative, as I had no idea of the involvement behind the scenes of such an assignment. While I am sure this only touched the surface of what it would really be like to take on such work, there is enough detail to seem realistic and hold your attention.  

What I like most about this book is the continual line-up of interesting and unique characters with enough development of each one to feel a level of connection that goes beyond the surface. That is difficult to pull off in a short novel like this, but Derban does it. The sense of "what will happen next" is a dominating feeling throughout the read and therefore another excellent job by the author.

Finally, while this is not officially labeled a "Christian" genre book, the author has definitely utilized her platform to point to Christ through some of the thoughts and actions of the main characters. There are several times in the book where they pray, read the Bible and reference their reliance on Christ for strength and wisdom. It's not overbearing...just a hint of grace and wisdom poking through...I loved that.

Uneven Exchange by S.K. Derban is a wonderful book to throw in your suitcase and read on a weekend get-away or.....simply step outside into the shade of your own backyard and travel with the crew to Mexico! You will definitely enjoy this read!!