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Monday, May 22

Books from the Future!

We've been watching the Back to the Future trilogy in the evenings, and I just thought the graphic above was cute!!

Our featured book....

A Day at the Beach (Jedd & Todd Hafer)
Do you yearn for a day at the beach where your mind and soul can wander away from life’s troubles? Do you gaze up at the sun or the nighttime stars and wonder if God is really on your side? Do you long to hear his quiet voice in the roll of a gentle wave? In A Day at the Beach, brothers Todd and Jedd Hafer don’t have the answers to all of life’s troubles, but they’ll help you see that the God who built the universe also wants to help you build a great life. Let these encouraging words bring a ray of warm sunshine to your doorstep as Todd and Jedd offer their joy-filled perspectives on life and faith. So take a deep breath, unplug from life’s daily grind, and follow the call of your heart to Jesus, the ultimate source of life.

As you're packing flip flops, sunscreen, and that floppy hat, don't forget to throw in a good book - like this one!  Hailed as a devotional, this is really more of a book of everyday stories that led to extraordinary moments in life.  (Not like "everyone will remember this" extraordinary, but like "this is a peak experience that I'll look back on fondly" extraordinary.)  The stories are short, and they will help you to remember to find joy in the small moments.  Each page has a different message and a Bible verse.  They're the perfect length for reading a couple, and then laying back in your dark glasses to ponder the messages as you drift off to sleep against a backdrop of continuous waves....
Adult Fiction

Trusting Grace (Maggie Brendan)
All of her life, Grace Bidwell has longed for a loving husband and children, but now the chances of her dreams coming true are looking slim. Widowed and caring for her elderly father, she struggles to maintain her late husband's ranch, until she places an ad for a hired hand.  Robert Frasier arrives in town with three pitiful, bedraggled children who have nothing but the tattered clothes on their backs and a load of hurt, pride, and anger. Believing this is divine intervention in her life, Grace welcomes them with open arms. As feelings grow between her and Robert, Grace will have to convince him that she is a woman who can be trusted with his heart.  Readers will be swept away into 1860s Montana's lush Gallatin Valley, nestled among towering mountains and proud pines, in this emotional conclusion to the Virtues and Vices of the Old West series.

This is the third in a series, following 'The Trouble with Patience' and 'A Sweet Misfortune.'  As I have not read the first two, there was a bit of catching up to do with the backstory, but it did not impede from my being able to follow along with the main story line.  As the title would indicate, the main theme of this book is learning to overcome fears and build trusting relationships with others - be it family, friends, or love.  There are three main characters : Grace, her father Owen, and the love interest Robert.  How these characters interact, and the development and changing dynamics of their relationships unfolds against an Old West setting.  It was one of those books that's easy to get caught up in, especially on a lazy Saturday.  If you like historical westerns, this will be one that you will enjoy!

True to You (Becky Wade)
After a devastating heartbreak three years ago, genealogist and historical village owner Nora Bradford has decided that burying her nose in her work and her books is far safer than romance in the here and now.  Unlike Nora, former Navy SEAL and Medal of Honor recipient John Lawson is a modern-day man, usually 100 percent focused on the present. But when he's diagnosed with an inherited condition, he's forced to dig into the secrets of his past and his adoption as an infant, enlisting Nora to help him uncover the identity of his birth mother.  The more time they spend together, the more this pair of opposites suspects they just might be a perfect match. However, John's already dating someone and Nora's not sure she's ready to trade her crushes on fictional heroes for the risks of a real relationship. Finding the answers they're seeking will test the limits of their identity, their faith, and their devotion to one another.

I must admit that it was the cute dress on the front that drew me into this one...  It was the story, though, that kept me reading.  It's got everything....your love triangle, your opposites who attract, your troubled past, your crazy family in the background, and your moral at the end of the story.  It's easy to relate to the main character, Nora - at least, it was for this bookish girl.  I will say that there's a huge twist at the end - which sets it up for the next book in the trilogy - but it's ok, because you'll want to keep reading the family story and find out how it all plays out.  Speaking of the family story, there's also a prequel (it's free at Amazon) called 'Then Came You,' which will give you the family's backstory.  Although the story does drag in spots, overall it's a really well-written read that left me wanting to know more!

The Divide (Jolina Petersheim)
In this gripping conclusion to The Alliance, nearly six months have passed since Leora Ebersole’s Old Order Mennonite community fled to the mountains for refuge after an attack destroyed the power grid and altered life as they knew it. Since then, Leora has watched and waited for news of Moses Hughes, the young Englischer pilot who held off invading looters long enough for everyone to escape. Unsure Moses even survived, Leora has begun to warm to the affections of Jabil Snyder, who has courted her patiently. But she struggles to see herself as the bishop’s wife, especially when she learns that Moses is alive and has now joined a local militia.  An unexpected encounter in the woods deepens Leora’s crisis, as does a terrifying new threat that brings Moses’ militia into the community’s shaky alliance with the few Englischers left among them. When long-held beliefs are once again put to the test, Leora wrestles with the divide between having faith and taking action. Just how much will her shifting landscape change her?

I read The Alliance a while ago, and when it just dropped off at the end, I was really hoping to get to read the next part soon.  (Read that review here.)  The Divide is that sequel, so now I can breathe a sigh of relief.  It picks right up where the gangs have invaded the Mennonite / Amish community, and they are leaving for safer ground.  There is a lot of violence, especially for this kind of community, but each character must find out what they're made of and how far they'll go in the name of survival.  This is a fast-paced read, and one you'll not want to put down until the very last page as you watch the community reckon their actions with their commitment to a peaceful way of life...

The Road to Paradise (Karen Barnett)

An ideal sanctuary and a dream come true–that’s what Margaret Lane feels as she takes in God’s gorgeous handiwork in Mount Rainer National Park. It’s 1927 and the National Park Service is in its youth when Margie, an avid naturalist, lands a coveted position alongside the park rangers living and working in the unrivaled splendor of Mount Rainier’s long shadow.   But Chief Ranger Ford Brayden is still haunted by his father’s death on the mountain, and the ranger takes his work managing the park and its crowd of visitors seriously. The job of watching over an idealistic senator’s daughter with few practical survival skills seems a waste of resources.  When Margie’s former fiancĂ© sets his mind on developing the Paradise Inn and its surroundings into a tourist playground, the plans might put more than the park’s pristine beauty in danger. What will Margie and Ford sacrifice to preserve the splendor and simplicity of the wilderness they both love?  Karen Barnett’s vintage national parks novels bring to vivid life President Theodore Roosevelt’s vision for protected lands, when he wrote in Outdoor Pastimes of an American Hunter: "There can be nothing in the world more beautiful than the Yosemite, the groves of the giant sequoias and redwoods, the Canyon of the Colorado, the Canyon of the Yellowstone, the Three Tetons; and our people should see to it that they are preserved for their children and their children's children forever, with their majestic beauty all unmarred."

This is the first book I've read by this author, but I really enjoyed it!  It had beautifully described settings that made you feel like you were standing in the National Park.  The characters are relatable, and there was plenty of action and romance.  It's a vintage story - and y'all know I love my vintage stuff! - so that was a plus.  The story is fast-paced, with a lot of danger and a little bit of love....and it's the first in a new series.  Looking forward to seeing where we visit next!

Peace in the Valley (Ruth Logan Herne)
Last month, we told you about Home on the Range - and now this is book 3 of the series.

In spite of their differences, Trey Walker Stafford knows he owes his life to cowboy and legendary rancher Sam Stafford—the uncle who rescued him after his parents’ death. Trey had left the Double S Ranch to pursue music against Sam’s wishes, but returns to central Washington when he learns he’s the best match for a procedure that could save Sam’s life. Although Trey’s found country music fame and success, he’s also endured the tragic loss of his wife. He croons about love, but struggles with a yawning emptiness he can’t explain.  Overwhelmed by a growing list of challenges, but mistrustful of Stafford men, single mother Lucy Carlton reluctantly accepts Trey’s help to revive her crumbling farm when Sam instructs him to repay the overdue debt to her family.  As the two grow closer, Trey slowly begins to open his heart to this beautiful woman and strives to let go of the grief he’s held for years. Lucy has a complicated history of her own. Can Trey accept her as she is, learn to forgive the past, and find the elusive peace he's sought for so long?

In the final episode of the Double S Ranch trilogy, the author neatly ties up loose ends and leaves you wishing for the 'happily ever after' for the characters!  We see some previous main characters as the supports to our new mains, Trey and Lucy.  They each carry their own burdens, and a chance meeting turns out to be fortuitous for their futures.  Both characters must learn forgiveness, and how to forgive self, to move forward.  If you're a fan of western romance, this is a lovely, one-sitting read.  It is the third of the trilogy, but completely capable of being a stand alone read as well.

Children's Books

It Started with Goodbye (Christina June)
Sixteen-year-old Tatum Elsea is bracing for the worst summer of her life. After being falsely accused of a crime, she's stuck under stepmother-imposed house arrest and her BFF's gone ghost. Tatum fills her newfound free time with community service by day and working at her covert graphic design business at night (which includes trading emails with a cute cello-playing client).  When Tatum discovers she's not the only one in the house keeping secrets, she finds she has the chance to make amends with her family and friends. Equipped with a new perspective, and assisted by her feisty step-abuela/fairy-godmother, Tatum is ready to start fresh and maybe even get her happy ending along the way.  A modern play on the Cinderella story arc, IT STARTED WITH GOODBYE shows us that sometimes going after what you want means breaking the rules. 

It seems that modern-day fairy tales are pretty popular right now, and this one falls into that category.  It's not religious, per se, but is definitely a nice, clean fiction book with good morals.  The characters are believable and realistic, and the scenarios are ones that many teens face at some point.  (Although I'm not sure how many teens have OCD about valedictorians...)  There is a lot of parent-teen struggling going on (heaven help us all!), but the author does a good job of presenting both points of view in these situations.  This is a fast-paced read, where the main characters grows through her struggles to become a young lady.  I don't think there will be a sequel, because the author wrapped it up with a big bow at the end - which, let's be honest, is nothing like real life, but may appeal to the short attention span of a teenaged girl.  

5-Minute Inspirational Stories (Stan & Jan Berenstain)
The Berenstain Bears 5-Minute Read-Along Stories is the perfect companion for young readers at bedtime or anytime. With classic stories from the Berenstain Bears Living Lights series, join the Bear family and all their friends in Bear Country as they learn how to be good friends, how to play fairly, where to find courage, and much more. This oversize padded storybook is sure to become a lap time favorite for Berenstain fans, both young and old, as they read these stories in 5 minutes.  Stories included are:  The Berenstain Bears and the Forgiving Tree, The Berenstain Bears God Loves You, The Berenstain Bears Say Their Prayers, The Berenstain Bears Love Their Neighbors, The Berenstain Bears’ Faithful Friends, The Berenstain Bears’ Biggest Brag, The Berenstain Bears and the Gift of Courage, The Berenstain Bears Blessed are the Peacemakers, The Berenstain Bears Get Involved, The Berenstain Bears’ Gossip Gang, The Berenstain Bears God Bless Our Home, and The Berenstain Bears Here’s the Church, Here’s the Steeple.
First off - if your family already collects the Berenstain Bears books, you'll want to check the table of contents before purchasing this one.  It is a compilation of twelve stories that have previously been released as singles.  Then again, maybe you'd rather have just one book with all the stories in it...  These are short stories that each have a separate faith-based message delivered within them.  (If you've never read Berenstain Bears, think modern day Aesop's fables - or that's what my kids say.)  There are issues with bullies, badmouthing, fighting, friendship, family struggles, and pretty much the basic character issues that children encounter on a regular basis.  The Bear Family helps them to see the issue from the outside, understand it, and learn a way to overcome it through good character and life choices.  The stories took longer than five minutes each, by the time we threw in some conversation, but it's still a good collection!

Adult Non-Fiction
Friends, Partners & Lovers (Kevin A. Thomspon)
Great marriages don't just happen--they're made, intentionally, day by day. Yet most of us enter the covenant of marriage thinking that the role of spouse will be easy, natural, effortless. Rarely is this true. In fact, the number one cause of divorce isn't adultery or finances or disagreements. It's apathy--a lack of intentional emotional, physical, and mental investment in the relationship.  With engaging stories and clear, simple language, pastor Kevin A. Thompson explains the three critical roles of a spouse--friend, partner, and lover--and shows how to nurture those roles in order to keep a marriage healthy and strong. Using solid biblical principles, he helps couples understand how to grow their friendship, be a supportive partner through the good times and the bad, and develop a healthy and satisfying sex life.  Friends, Partners, and Lovers offers essential insight for couples at any stage of marriage but will be especially helpful to those who are struggling and those who are engaged or newly married and looking to start their marriage on strong footing.

It's true - we've reviewed a lot of marriage books lately.  No, don't worry, there's nothing wrong.  Actually, I think that married couples should read marriage books, and continue to work on their marriages, because just like your garden, your marriage needs attention, too!  The books that Kevin Thompson writes are some of the ones we pick up often, for a few simple reasons :  they're practical, they're applicable, and there's no fluff to wade through.  We're busy people - 'ain't nobody got time for' wading through fluff.  This book did not disappoint - he breaks marriage down into three distinct roles, and talks about how all three roles must be filled for a marriage to be healthy and reach its full potential.  People change as they grow, and as life throws new things at you, and your marriage has to change, too.  At some point, if you don't remember to put the focus back on your marriage, you just become business partners living together.  And sometimes, even if you do work on your marriage, you can fall into that routine...but admitting you need to work on it is the first step....and this book isn't condemning, condescending, or anything along those lines - it offers straightforward advice, like your friend might give you.

The Book of Greens (Jenn Louis)
For any home cook who is stuck in a “three-green rut”—who wants to cook healthy, delicious, vegetable-focused meals, but is tired of predictable salads with kale, lettuce, cabbage, and the other usual suspects—The Book of Greens has the solution. Chef Jenn Louis has compiled more than 175 recipes for simple, show-stopping fare, from snacks to soups to mains (and even breakfast and dessert) that will inspire you to reach for new greens at the farmers’ market, or use your old standbys in totally fresh ways. Organized alphabetically by green, each entry features information on seasonality, nutrition, and prep and storage tips, along with recipes like Grilled Cabbage with Miso and Lime, Radish Greens and Mango Smoothie, and Pasta Dough with Tomato Leaves.

There are a few things that I really love about this book - first off, the ingredients are not that hard to find.  The vast majority of the greens used are common ones.  There are a few unusual ones (or at least ones I'd never seen), but they look interesting!  Also, unlike most 'greens' books, this one doesn't assume a vegetarian diet.  This is a big source of contention in our home, so it's nice to see the greens worked in with meats and other main dishes for a nice, healthy meal that everyone will at least try.  There is 'scrap cooking' information, such as using carrot tops in a dish, which is good information to have when you're trying to stretch your food.  There are charts and tables to help you visually understand and compartmentalize the information, and there are full-color-page pictures of the various greens and most of the recipes offered.  This is a good one to add to your collection!

Radical Spirit (Joan Chittister)
Feeling burnt-out from life, strung-out from social media, and put out by a society that always wants more from you? Beloved nun and social activist Joan Chittister, who appeared on Oprah's Super Soul Sunday, offers a practical, character-building, and inspirational guide to help you take control of your emotional life and redirect your spiritual destiny. Joan Chittister, whom Publishers Weekly calls "one of the most well-known and trusted contemporary spiritual authors," is a rabble-rousing force of nature for social justice, and a passionate proponent of personal faith and spiritual fulfillment. Drawing on little known, ancient teachings of the saints, Sister Joan offers a practical program to help transform our thinking and rebel against our fears, judgments and insecurities. "Freedom from anxiety, worry, and tensions at home and work, comes when we give ourselves to something greater," she argues. "We need to seek wisdom rather than simply facts, to think before speaking, and in turn create respectful communities." With a series of twelve simple rules for healthy spiritual living, Chittister not only reminds us, but pleads with us, to develop enduring values by shifting our attention to how God wants us to live. This book will teach you how to accomplish this.

This isn't your average spirituality and inspirational read. The author is funny and anecdotal, and downright snarky at times. There is a lot of focus on the digital revolution, and how the internet, though intended for good, has fostered a lot of negative communication and dangerous relationships. The 'twelve degrees of humility' are offered up as a way to navigate through the digital world (remembering to keep yourself in focus and in check) and the snapshots that this world offers. There were things that I didn't like about this book, and it definitely comes from a liberal stance, but I think that the author's heart is in the right place.

Shattered (Jonathan Allen)
It was never supposed to be this close. And of course she was supposed to win. How Hillary Clinton lost the 2016 election to Donald Trump is the tragic story of a sure thing gone off the rails. For every Comey revelation or hindsight acknowledgment about the electorate, no explanation of defeat can begin with anything other than the core problem of Hillary's campaign--the candidate herself.  Through deep access to insiders from the top to the bottom of the campaign, political writers Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes have reconstructed the key decisions and unseized opportunities, the well-intentioned misfires and the hidden thorns that turned a winnable contest into a devastating loss. Drawing on the authors' deep knowledge of Hillary from their previous book, the acclaimed biography HRCShattered will offer an object lesson in how Hillary herself made victory an uphill battle, how her difficulty articulating a vision irreparably hobbled her impact with voters, and how the campaign failed to internalize the lessons of populist fury from the hard-fought primary against Bernie Sanders.  Moving blow-by-blow from the campaign's difficult birth through the bewildering terror of election night, Shattered tells an unforgettable story with urgent lessons both political and personal, filled with revelations that will change the way readers understand just what happened to America on November 8, 2016.

I've made no bones about the fact that I've never been an HRC fan...not even in the 90s...but this book intrigued me, if only for the sheer fact that she did seem like a shoo-in for the presidency.  The book is written by folks who were close to the campaign and seem to really love the candidate.  The authors try to keep it unbiased and present purely factual information, though it's clear where their politics fall.  They present the DNC and HRC as a bunch of entitled, arrogant princesses who thought that the presidency should simply be handed to them for (her gender / her history / she wasn't Trump / pick your favorite reason here).  We all know by now that there was a clusterf*ck going on behind the scenes - from potentially rigged elections (coin flip, anyone?) to the robbing of Sanders, to the strained relationship as she tried to both include and exclude her husband, past-president, from the campaign.  I honestly feel that the authors went a little easy on her, but maybe just losing what should have been an easy win was punishment enough.  And God willing, we won't have to see her run again in a few years...please.

Devotions for a Sacred Marriage (Gary Thomas)

What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy? By popular demand the author of Sacred Marriage returns to the topic of how God uses marriage to expand our souls and make us holy.  Devotions for a Sacred Marriage explores how God can reveal Himself to you through your marriage and help you grow closer to Him as well as to your spouse. Fifty-two weekly devotions encourage couples to build a marriage around God’s priorities. From learning to live with a fellow sinner, to the process of two becoming one, to sharing lives as brothers and sisters in Christ, Devotions for a Sacred Marriage will continue to challenge couples to embrace the profound and soul-stretching reality of Christian marriage.

Done together with your spouse, this could be an enlightening and encouraging book.  Done alone, it takes on more of a 'lie in the bed you made' tone.  Which is not to say that it's a bad book, just that it's definitely more of a couple activity.  I do wish that it had some discussion questions or follow-ups for each devotion, for if the couple wants to take it a bit further.  One thing I like about this is that it's weekly, rather than daily, so it's not overwhelming.

**I received some of these books in exchange for an honest review.**
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