Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Claiming Noah by Amanda Ortlepp

Book description: 

This riveting debut novel of psychological suspense explores the dilemmas that arise when motherhood and science collide. 

Catriona Sinclair has always had a well-developed sense of independence--in fact the one sore point in her otherwise happy marriage is her husband James's desire to take care of her. As she's often tried to explain to him, she took care of herself before she met him, and did a good job of it. But James has been especially attentive lately as they struggle to have a baby. They succeed at last through in vitro fertilization, but unwilling to risk the heartbreak of another miscarriage, they decide to make their "spare" frozen embryo available to another family. 

Diana and Liam Simmons are desperate for a child. Unable to conceive, they are overjoyed to learn that as the closest genetic match to the Sinclairs they are the recipients of the embryo donation. Diana's only concern is her mother's disapproval of IVF, but any doubts raised are quickly eclipsed by Diana's joy of being pregnant. 

As Diana is finding delight in every aspect of motherhood, Catriona keeps waiting for the rush of adoration she knows she is supposed to feel, but instead slips into a deep depression. Just as Catriona begins to find her way back to normalcy, one of the babies is kidnapped. Suddenly, all of their lives begin to unravel and intertwine, and none of them will ever be the same.

My review:

  I will say up front that I assumed this was Christian fiction, as Center Street does do some Christian fiction. It is not Christian fiction, but I still enjoyed the book other than the curse words scattered throughout, one reason I read mostly Christian fiction. I WAS surprised they allowed a use of the "F-word" in the book, but it was only one use. I was also bothered by the favorable view of a gay relationship in the book.

  That aside, this was a great read. The author took a modern day issue that can be controversial, and spun a great dramatic tale around it. She did a great job of detailing the anguish of two couples trying to have a baby, with the one having no success at all... hence the embryo adoption. I got a glimpse of what that involves, and the decisions that need to be made.

 I liked most of the main characters. I thought the one guy was a jerk, and he did turn out to be exactly that. The muddy issue of what happens when the birth mother wants the baby that came from her embryo played center stage, and I found myself sympathizing with both mothers.

 The kidnapping wasn't a surprise, as it is referenced in the book description. The who and why of the kidnapping WAS a surprise and added a whole new angle to the story.

 This isn't what I would call a mystery/suspense novel, other than the kidnapping. However, it is a very gripping novel that I didn't want to put down. And though the book was not Christian, the theme of forgiveness was in the book.

 If you enjoy secular fiction, you'll like this book. If you usually read Christian fiction but can handle some cursing and a book with a more secular book, you may also enjoy this book. I did.

 And if the issue of adopting embryos and artificial insemination interests you, this is a great way to get a look at the pros and cons.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

About the author:

Amanda Ortlepp's debut novel, Claiming Noah, was published in Australia and New Zealand in 2015. Its ethical dilemmas and emotionally-charged themes struck a chord with mothers and book clubs in particular and it became a bestseller. Claiming Noah will be published in the US and Canada in July 2016. Amanda's second novel, Running Against the Tide, is set on the remote Eyre Peninsula in South Australia where her father grew up. It was published in Australia and New Zealand in 2016. Amanda lives in Sydney

Claiming Noah is available from Center Street Publishing, part of the Hachette Book Group.

Thanks to Center Street for the review copy.

Deep Extraction, an FBI Task Force Novel by DiAnn Mills

Book description:

A pacemaker should have saved oil and gas magnate Nathan Moore's life. Instead, it provided his killer with a seemingly perfect means of execution.A bombing at one of Nathan's oil rigs days earlier indicates his death could be part of a bigger conspiracy, a web Special Agent Tori Templeton must untangle. But her first order of business is separating the personal from the professional--the victim's wife, her best friend, is one of the FBI's prime suspects.Clearing Sally's name may be the biggest challenge of her career, but Tori finds an unexpected ally in the newest member of the task force, recently reinstated Deputy US Marshal Cole Jeffers. As Tori and Cole dig deeper into Nathan's personal and business affairs, they uncover more than they bargained for. And the closer they get to finding the real killer--and to each other--the more intent someone is on silencing them for good.

My review:

  Of all the suspense authors I read, DiAnn Mills is the one I have most likely read the least of. I guess I just discovered her later.

  This is the second book in the FBI Task Force Series, and the author pulled out all of the stops on this one. I like her writing style anyway, but she just seemed to outdo herself on this one. There was nothing to dislike on this one, and I didn't want to put it down. I started it on my lunch break at work, read some more on my second break, and finished the book when I got home.... and it is just 4 pages shy of 400 pages.

What I liked:

The plot. Some plots are so simple, you can see the guilty party and outcome a mile away. Others are so intricate you get lost. This one was intricate enough that I was kept guessing as to what was going to happen next, and who was guilty, yet not so complicated I got lost. It was never ending suspense and drama.

The characters: I liked the two main characters, and enjoyed the interaction between them. I also liked the family of the murdered man and was drawn into their tragedy as they mourned a man that wasn't who they thought he was.

The Christian content: I have read Christian books where the conversion of a main character seemed contrived and just done to wrap up the book. In this book, Tori struggles with faith in God because of losing her brother who was a Christian to cancer. I thought that sub-plot added a lot to the book, and was not resolved in a contrived or last minute thing.

The romance: I am not big on romance, but don't mind some in a book like this....and I actually enjoyed that part also.

What I didn't like: Well, nothing. This was truly an amazing, suspenseful read that can be held up as an example of what good Christian suspense should be. After I finished this book, I even ordered a book by this author I had not read.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review,

About the author:

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author who believes her readers should expect an adventure. She combines unforgettable characters with unpredictable plots to create action-packed, suspense-filled novels.

Her titles have appeared on the CBA and ECPA bestseller lists; won two Christy Awards; and been finalists for the RITA, Daphne Du Maurier, Inspirational Readers’ Choice, and Carol award contests. Library Journal presented her with a Best Books 2014: Genre Fiction award in the Christian Fiction category for Firewall.

DiAnn is a founding board member of the American Christian Fiction Writers; a member of Advanced Writers and Speakers Association; International Thriller Writers, and the Faith, Hope, and Love chapter of Romance Writers of America. She is co-director of The Author Roadmap with social media specialist Edie Melson where she continues her passion of helping other writers be successful. She speaks to various groups and teaches writing workshops around the country.

DiAnn has been termed a coffee snob and roasts her own coffee beans. She’s an avid reader, loves to cook, and believes her grandchildren are the smartest kids in the universe. She and her husband live in sunny Houston, Texas.

DiAnn is very active online and would love to connect with readers on any of the social media platforms listed at www.diannmills.com.

Deep Extraction is available from Tyndale House Publishing.

Thanks to Tyndale for the review copy.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Home At Last by Deborah Raney, with a giveaway

Book description:

Why did their differences matter so much?

Link Whitman has settled into the role of bachelor without ever intending to. Now he's stuck in a dead-end job and, as the next Whitman wedding fast approaches, he is the last one standing. The pressure from his sisters' efforts to play matchmaker is getting hard to bear as Link pulls extra shifts at work, and helps his parents at the Chicory Inn.

All her life, Shayla Michaels has felt as if she straddled two worlds. Her mother's white family labeled her African American father with names Shayla didn't repeat in polite---well, in any company. Her father's family disapproved as well, though they eventually embraced Shayla as their own. After the death of her mother, and her brother Jerry's incarceration, life has left Shayla's father bitter, her niece, Portia, an orphan, and Shayla responsible for them all. She knows God loves them all, but why couldn't people accept each other for what was on the inside? For their hearts?

Everything changes one icy morning when a child runs into the street and Link nearly hits her with his pickup. Soon he is falling in love with the little girl's aunt, Shayla, the beautiful woman who runs Coffee's On, the bakery in Langhorne. Can Shayla and Link overcome society's view of their differences and find true love? Is there hope of changing the sometimes---ugly world around them into something better for them all?

My review:

  This is a difficult book review for me to write. I am not a big romance reader, but I have thoroughly enjoyed this series. I loved the characters, the interaction between family members, and everything about the books. When this one came up for review, I didn't even read the blurb..... I just requested it.

 Anything can get you labeled a racist today. Just not voting for a black president because you don't like his policies gets you labeled a racist. So to say I am not a fan of interracial relationships will definitely get me labeled by that some..... as if we do not have the freedom to feel that way. Anyway, once I found out what the book was about, I kept an open mind and read it. And I didn't care for it. Maybe it is partly because I am a single guy who will never marry, but I kept thinking Link was nuts for still pursuing a relationship with Shayla with all of the roadblocks and how her dad hated white people. (Yeah, I know it is fiction).

  I know there is still racism, but I also know there are a lot of false accusations of racism and some people see it everywhere. It felt to me like the author was pushing the idea that we must all accept interracial marriages, all the while showing what a bad idea it can be. I honestly didn't care for the book, and was sad to see a great series end on this note. I do feel the subject could have been handled better, but the book was a turn off for me. It didn't help that the author referenced the Michael Brown and Trayvon Martin cases..... I am not sure if she agrees with the liberals on that, as she didn't say, but it bothered me that she used them as examples. I guess the whole book came across as an agenda to me.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

About the author:

Deborah Raney's novels have won numerous awards including the RITA, National Readers' Choice Award, HOLT Medallion, the Carol Award, and have three times been Christy Award finalists. She and her husband, Ken Raney have traded small-town life in Kansas-the setting of many of Deb's novels-for life in the city of Wichita.

Find out more about Deborah at http://deborahraney.com.

Home At Last, and the rest of the Chicory Inn Series is available from Abington Press.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity for the review copy.

Raney1 Raney2

Conclude Deborah Raney's Chicory Inn novels with the final book, Home at Last, a story of acceptance, trying to overcome differences, and love. Everything changes for bachelor Link Whitman one icy morning when a child runs into the street and he nearly hits her with his pickup-and then the girl's aunt Shayla enters Link's life. Can Shayla and Link overcome society's view of their differences and find true love? Is there hope of changing the sometimes-ugly world around them into something better for them all?

Join Deborah on Thursday, March 23, for a live author chat party in her Facebook group with fun prizes to be won! Click the graphic below for more details and to RSVP. Hope to see you there-bring a friend or two who loves to read!

Unchained by Noel Jesse Heikkinen

Book description: 

Most Christians can rattle off a laundry list  of reasons that Jesus came, lived a sinless life,  died, and rose again. Eternal life and forgiveness of sins sit right at the top of the list  in most people’s minds, as do love and reconciliation, but one reason is often conspicuously missing: freedom.

Apostle Paul reminds us in Galatians 5:1, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” Jesus did something that made us free, and the reason he made us free was so that we would actually be free.

If this is true, why don’t we talk about it more in our churches? Why isn’t freedom the center point of our evangelism or even more controversially, our discipleship? Our culture LOVES to talk about freedom and Christians (who have a corner on true freedom) are eerily silent on the issue.

Our pews (and chairs) are filled with people who don’t feel free…not in the slightest. Sinful urges dog them every day, churches and pastors (sometimes unknowingly) shame and guilt them into a standard of living that is utterly unreachable, and just mention prayer to most Christians and they can feel the chains of guilt shackle around their consciences.

My review:

  I had never heard of this author until I got the email with the review opportunity. The book sounded both helpful and good, so I requested it.

  This is something I personally struggle with, knowing I am forgiven, yet not really feeling free. I say that so it is obvious I am reading and reviewing this book as a person who genuinely needs it. And I can honestly say the author came through. I know it takes more than reading a book and having a "aha" moment to truly change old habits and feelings, but I feel I was helped and encouraged by reading it, and anyone else can who struggles in this area.

 The author has an easy to read style, and I didn't feel the urge to skim over any areas. He knows his stuff, and has a lot of practical and Biblical thoughts and advice on how to feel free. Each chapter is followed by several discussion questions, making it a great book to use for a group study or alone.

 I am not a Calvinist, so I do take issue with his declaration that we will still sin as Christians.... it takes away the whole "freedom of sin" and "sin not having dominion" idea away..... but other than that, there is still a lot of good in this book and it could help others in this area of not feeling free.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

About the author:

Noel Jesse Heikkinen is a pastor at Riverview Church, a multi-site church of over 3,000 near Lansing, Michigan. Heikkinen also helps lead the church planting ministry Acts 29 and is the chairman of the board for the mission agency Reliant. He and his wife, Grace, have four children.

Find out more about Noel Jesse at noeljess.com.

Unchained is available from David C Cook.

Thanks to Litfuse Publicity for the review copy.



Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Murder Is No Accident, Hidden Springs Mystery #3 by A.H. Gabhart

Book description:

Young Maggie Greene may be trespassing in the old, empty Victorian mansion on a quiet street in Hidden Springs, but all she wants is some private time in the magnificent tower room to write her stories. Certain she'll be in trouble if caught, she hides when a realtor shows up. But someone else is in the house too, someone even more worried about getting caught. When Maggie finds the realtor's body at the bottom of a flight of stairs and the other person gone, Deputy Sheriff Michael Keane is called in. He assumes the realtor's death is a tragic accident--until a second person is found dead in the house. When Maggie is threatened, Michael must catch the murderer before anyone else dies.

Cozy mystery fans will love this third installment in The Hidden Springs Mysteries series from an author who knows how to make small-town America sweet, sentimental--and a little sinister.

My review:

   A.H.(Ann) Gabhart has quickly become a favorite author of mine with this series. The Christian fiction market is mostly a woman's market, and it is unusual for a female author to write a series of books where the main character is male..... but that is exactly what this author has done in this series. I also like the fact that this isn't your run of the mill "guy meets girl in trouble, falls for girl, proposes or marries at the end of the book". In this series, there is a very slow romance going on, but the couple has known each other since they were kids and have been in love for pretty much all that time.... and they don't live near each other. The romance does not dominate the story, which is cool for this confirmed bachelor. :)

  Onto this book: Murder Is No Accident is #3 in the Hidden Mystery Series, and hopefully not the last..... though the ending may indicate it is the final book. As with the previous two books. the story revolves around Deputy Sheriff Michael Keane as he tries to keep the small town of Hidden Springs safe.

   Two murders are stopping the town from being safe, and the author does a great job of keeping the reader guessing the identity of the murderer and the reason for the murders. I have enjoyed every book in this series, but this one may be the best of the three. There isn't the page turning non-stop drama and suspense of many suspense novels, but rather an even slower paced suspense that still kept me wanting to read on and not put the book down. I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and though I enjoyed the very climatic ending, I hated to see the end come when I had to leave this fictional town I have come to love.

 I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

About the author:

A. H. Gabhart is Ann H. Gabhart, bestselling author of many novels, including Angel Sister, Small Town Girl, and Love Comes Home, several popular Shaker novels such as The Outsider, The Believer, and The Innocent, and The Heart of Hollyhill series. Ann grew up in a small rural town in Kentucky much like Hidden Springs, but Ann is happy to report nobody was ever murdered on her hometown's courthouse steps. Ann and her husband still live on a farm near that same little town in Kentucky. Learn more at www.annhgabhart.com.

Murder Is No Accident and the other two books in the Hidden Springs Mystery Series is available from Revell Publishing, part of the Baker Publishing Group.

Thanks to Revell for the review copy.

The Superheroes Devotional: 60 Inspirational Readings

About the book:

“Can you actually find spiritual truths in comicbooks and superhero movies?”   
Yes, you can!

For more than 75 years of comic book history and dozens of gigantic cinematic releases, Superheros have captivated our imagination--filling our senses with heart-pounding adventures, riveting plots, and spectacular special effects—and sometimes they have profound messages woven into them. Often the underlying themes reveal a Judeo-Christian influence, and even when it isn’t intentional, you can still draw deep lessons from them.  Whether it’s the self-sacrifice and humility of Captain America and the Hulk’s struggles with anger or the parallels between Superman and Jesus or between Black Widow and a ruthless Bible heroine, your favorite heroes and heroines (and even villains) have much to teach.

If you’re a fan of this good vs. evil world, you will love The Superheroes Devotional—featuring 60 interesting, challenging, and encouraging readings. With devotions drawn from dozens of favorite superheroes from both the Marvel and DC Comics universes—well-known names like Captain America and Batman and lesser-known heroes like Shazam and Gambit—each reading includes spiritual lessons relating superheroes to the heroes of the Bible in themes like faith, hope, courage, pride, and power. You’ll also enjoy reading about the history and background of each superhero, shared by author and lifelong fan Ed Strauss.

Read on, True Believer, and may you draw inspiration and encouragement from the characters and stories that you know and love from comicbook pages and big screen movies alike.

My review:

   I'll admit that I was a bit dubious about this one. A superheroes devotional book......But I do like superheroes, and Barbour Books doesn't put out junk, so I requested it.

 First off, one might think that this is a devotional book for kids. That is not the case. This is definitely for adults, and the length of the devotions are even longer than the average devotional book. Most of them go between 4 and 5 pages in length. The topics covered are not necessarily deep  theological topics, yet they are deep enough to bring home a point that is worth considering.

 If you know much about superhero comics and/or movies, there is usually a fight between good and evil, thus it isn't difficult to find Christian themes in the comics and superhero movies..... though the author does an even better job of it than I expected.

 I have been reading a devotion a day from the book, and have not had enough days to read the whole book. However, I like what I have read and have been encouraged by what I have read. Each devotion starts with a reference to something in a comic book and/or movie, and ends with a spiritual application.

 This is a devotional that is geared for people who read comic books and/or watch superhero movies. If you do neither, you most likely won't understand or enjoy the book. However, if you are into superheroes..... this book is definitely for you, or would make a great gift for the superhero fan in your life.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Barbour Publishing and was under no obligation to post a review.

About the author:

Ed Strauss is a freelance writer living in British Columbia, Canada. He has authored or coauthored more than fifty books for children, tweens, and adults. Ed has a passion for Biblical apologetics and besides writing for Barbour, has been published by Zondervan, Tyndale, Moody, and Focus on the Family.

The Superheroes Devotional is available from Barbour Publishing.

Thanks to Barbour for the review copy.

Monday, March 13, 2017

Victor: The Reloaded Edition by Tony Ross

Book review:

Victor: The Reloaded Edition is a fast-paced and thought-provoking thriller, set in a disturbing near-future that is far more possible than one might think.

In Sunlight City anything is possible... literally. One overriding law governs everything: "give the people what they want." All things are legal, all lifestyles welcomed and all belief systems embraced. While the citizens of Sunlight City celebrate their unrestricted freedom, darker things also flourish.

In this city of opportunity, Mona Macheski is running for her life. Her stunning scientific breakthrough has been corrupted by Josef, her former employer; what once promised to redefine human life now threatens to unleash hell on Earth. The critical information Mona holds is the only thing standing in Josef's way, and he will kill to reclaim what is his.

Mona's only hope of survival lies in unlocking the mind of Victor, the assassin pursuing her. Victor is a gifted killer, but the success or failure of his mission depends on his ability to hold together his steadily fraying sanity.

Mona's only ally is David, a streetwise and energetic detective thrust into the role of protector; he is Mona's only defense against a killer he cannot hope to defeat.

The scientist. The assassin. The detective. The choices of these three people will influence the future of our world. 

All three are bound by the darkest of secrets. Only the truth will set them free. 

Victor: The Reloaded Edition is a powerful story of choice and consequence, love and conflict, sacrifice and redemption. It will make you question the choices we make, the future of our world... and the fate of your eternal soul. 

My review:

  The way I got this book to review was unusual: an acquaintance of mine who likes my book reviews, but says she isn't any good at book reviews, messaged me on Facebook and asked me if I would review a book if she bought a copy for me. I agreed, so she bought it on Amazon and had it sent to me. She likes the author's books, and wanted to give him some exposure through my blog and book reviews.

 My friend has read enough of my book reviews to know what kind of books I like to read, and this was definitely one such book. It is suspense, which is my favorite genre'. It also has a lot of action and drama in it, which is pretty much non-stop.

 For a self-published book, the book was well written. I liked the characters, even the assassin - I know that may sound weird, but I did. The plot was a great one, and left enough mystery that I was eager to find out what wasn't being brought out in the open by the main characters.

 The book had a few surprises. I won't give any spoilers away, but at the center of the whole book was something that will present a big moral dilemma if it is ever accomplished, and is not something you find in your average Christian novel. I enjoyed reading about it, and it made me think about what could happen if scientists ever manage to do this thing.

 I like an author who isn't afraid to put Christian content in their books, and this author did exactly that. It isn't preachy, but it is there.

 And I did have a hard time putting the book down. The author can be proud of this novel, and it is one I can recommend.

About the author:

Tony Ross is an author who's not afraid of the dark.

In his first book, The Ugly Duckling's Revenge, he opens the door to his own past struggles with alcoholism and depression. He shares what God did to pull him out and offers a message of hope to readers: "If God can do it for me, He can do it for you!"

His next two books, Victor and Orion, are what Tony defines as "thrillers for thinkers," stories filled with action, adrenalin and deep spiritual meaning, stories that look into the deepest darkness of man to shine a brighter light. Victor won a silver medal for Christian Fiction in the Readers Favorite 2013 International Award Contest.

Melody's Memory is a departure from thrillers; it's a novella focusing less on suspense and action and more on the condition of the heart. Tony invites readers to open the long-locked doors of their own hearts, shine the light on what may be hidden there, and allow healing to come.

Tony is now revisiting the world he created in Victor and Orion in The Black Cat Chronicles, a series of short novellas set before Victor. He is also in the process of editing Brimstone, the third book following Victor and Orion.

When he's not writing, Tony enjoys country living, backyard campfires, recreational reading and outdoor sports. He has been a member of the ministry team at Calvary Apostolic Church in Clintonville, WI since 2004. Tony is happily married and has five children.

Open Hands CD by Laura Story, with a giveaway

About the CD:
(my review after this section, giveaway at the end)

 Throughout the Bible, there are countless stories of ordinary people whole-heartedly attempting to live a life fully surrendered to God’s unique calling on their lives. More than once, God asks people of faith to relinquish control and simply trust Him. These days, singer/songwriter Laura Story is discovering the beauty found in letting go. It’s this posture of surrender that she’s striving for on her fifth studio album, Open Hands (Fair Trade Services).

  “We have this picture all the way through the Scriptures of all these great leaders in this process of surrendering everything. What the Lord is asking them is not, ‘You need to hold on tighter. You need to manage this better.’ What the Lord asks us is to surrender,” she offers, “It’s about learning to live with open hands, learning to live life in this constant state of saying, ‘Lord, my life is Yours. My time is Yours.My resources are Yours. All of this is Yours. Do what You will.’”

   Story has built a life—and a career—around submission to her calling. She’s led worship at Atlanta’s Perimeter Church for the past 12 years. In addition to penning songs recorded by artists like Chris Tomlin, Story has found success as a recording artist in her own right. Since the release of her solo debut in 2008, Story has amassed a GRAMMY® Award, a Billboard Music Award, multiple GMA Dove Awards and an RIAA Gold certification for her massive No. 1 hit “Blessings.” In addition, she’s also the author of two books, including the latest "When God Doesn't Fix It - Lessons You Never Wanted to Learn, Truths You Can't Live Without."

   Open Hands is the follow-up to 2013’s critically-acclaimed God of Every Story, and in the years that have passed since her last release, Story has given birth to twins, making their brood a family of five. Now, as a mom to three kids—Josie, Benjamin and Griffin—the posture of “open hands” feels more necessary than ever before as she juggles ministry and motherhood.

  “We never get to a point where we can do life apart from complete and total daily dependence on Jesus,” Story admits. “The irony is the less control we have, the more peace we have and the more, I would even say, success and joy we find. It’s a contrary picture to what the world tells us, but it’s gaining through letting go.”

  Open Hands’ fresh collection of originals blends Story’s signature congregational worship with intimate moments. “I wanted to make an album so that each song I write would be just that seed of hope or that lifeline that someone listens to during that tough moment and thinks, ‘I’m going to choose to trust God, even during this,’” Story shares. “I pray that God would speak through me in the midst of the music.”

   A parade of A-list songwriters, including Matt Redman, Matt Maher, Mia Fieldes, Hank Bentley, Sarah Hart and Seth Mosley, among others, pepper the album’s 11 tracks. Through writing sessions both alone and with others, Story began to gradually see this common thread of surrender emerge.

  “Rather than picking a theme and writing around it, a lot of times, it takes me writing to be able to step back and see what the themes are, not just of the record but of my life,” she says of her creative process. “It was neat to step back and see that ‘open hands’ is a theme that ended up presenting itself rather than me choosing it.”

  The title track—already a chart-topper prior to the album’s release—features guest vocals from Third Day’s Mac Powell, a fellow Atlanta-native and Story’s longtime friend. “You Came Running” borrows imagery from the biblical narrative of the Prodigal Son. In true Story fashion, several selections (“AwakeMy Soul (1000 Tongues),” “For The Love of My King”) reimagine timeless hymns, which she refreshes with an original chorus.

   “I’m pretty sure that the theology that I learned as a kid was from old hymns. It’s amazing, even now as an adult, how those hymns come back and really provide that sturdy foundation for life. It reminds me ofhow important it is for me to teach my kids those old hymns,” Story reflects, adding, “As long as I am singing, I will be singing hymns.”

   Poignant piano ballad “Give You Faith” finds the singer pondering the legacy she wants to leave her children. “The song is about releasing your kids into the hands of God,” she explains. “The most important thing that we could possibly give our children is to not just tell them about the faith that we have but to live out that faith as a family. Sometimes that means not giving them everything they want but showing them that the most important thing in my life isn’t even them—it’s actually my faith in Jesus Christ—and just point them to Jesus.”

  To that end, Story readily admits motherhood has impacted her songwriting on all levels. Thinking specifically about her daughter, she says, “I’ve realized that these songs form people’s theology, and they affect how this little girl is going to think about herself in the future. They might affect decisions that she makes in the future because of what she believes about God and what she believes about His Word. I’ve changed as a songwriter with kids.”

    Reflecting on the world her kids are growing up in, Story wrote the album’s sparse closer, “Grace Abounds,” after weeks of turning on the television only to continue to watch stories of terror attacks, extreme injustice and racial tension make headlines day after day. “It’s easy to lose heart, and the song is about just acknowledging the brokenness. First of all, we can’t just pretend like it doesn’t exist,” she advises. “When it seemingly doesn’t make sense, I’m choosing to believe that God’s grace is enough. God’s grace is enough for any social injustice. God’s grace is enough for any loss that we go through. God’s grace is enough for any loneliness that we experience, for any relational strain and for any relational rejection.

   “When it feels like hope can’t be found, when we don’t even know how we’re going to put one foot in front of the other,” she continues, “Scripture teaches us that’s when grace abounds.”

  Story isn’t afraid to write about grace at work in the middle of unexpected, unexplainable situations. She can only write from experience and how she’s seen God redeem the darkest chapters of her own life. “My greatest goal is always for my story to encourage listeners to believe that they, too, can live out their faith in the midst of hard circumstances,” she says. “I truly believe that the songs we sing and the songs we write act as the soundtrack for people’s faith. So I want to give people the most substantial tools that give them the clearest picture of who God is and who they are in Christ.”

   The life of a songwriter is a sacred calling and one Story doesn’t take lightly whether she’s writing songs for her church, for a new record or simply for herself as a cathartic release. “It’s not about my songs or my story or even my artistry,” she asserts. “It really is about Him getting the glory for the work that I believe He has chosen to do through songwriters and through songs. It’s a unique work that He’s chosen to do there.”She may lead others in worship through song on stages both big and small, but on a daily basis, Story is intent on loosening her grip and choosing to live with open hands as an ultimate act of praise.

“Worship at the very core of what it is is ‘worth-ship.’ It’s the easiest definition I’ve ever heard of worship. It’s giving God worth, and sometimes that means verbal adoration and praise. Sometimes that’s showing Him worth with our calendars and our checking accounts. No matter what it is, it always begins with open hands. It always begins with a willingness to say, ‘You are worth whatever cost you call me to give,’” she maintains. “Worship in its very core begins with surrender. That’s how we really show God that He’s worth it all.”

My review:

  I mostly listen to Southern Gospel music, but after hearing the song "Blessings" by Laura Story, I bought the CD with that song on. I liked it so well, I bought her other CDs over the period of a few months.

 This CD seems a bit different than her others, in my opinion. Her other CDs lean more towards the Praise and Worship genre', where this one seems to lean more contemporary. I still liked the CD, and have been listening to it since it came in the mail.

Song listing:
1) Death Was Arrested
2) Open Hands
3) You Came Running
4) Give You Faith
5) For The Love of My King
6) Awake My Soul (a 1000 Tongues)
7) Whisper
8) Every Word You Breathe
9) Majesty
10) Extraordinary
11) Grace Abounds

  My favorites: Death Was Arrested (great Easter song), Open Hands, You Came Running, and Grace Abounds. There is some quality song writing on this CD, and all 11 songs have great lyrics and truth in them.... there are no tracks I felt like skipping.

 It is a becoming rare to buy a CD that has the lyrics printed inside, but this disc does, a plus in my book.

 This is a CD that I think will appeal more to CCM fans more than Praise & Worship fans, but anyone who enjoys Laura's music should like it.

 I was given a copy of this CD in exchange for my honest review.

About Laura Story

GRAMMY® award winning artist, speaker, songwriter, author and worship leader Laura Story has a gift for penning songs that connect with people all around the world. Among her successes as a solo artist with her smash hits “Mighty to Save” and “Blessings,” Laura has also penned hit songs for other renowned artists including Chris Tomlin’s “Indescribable.” Her solo artist music debut in 2008 with Great God Who Saves led to four Dove nominations and the award for “Inspirational Album of the Year.” In 2011, Laura released her sophomore project Blessings. The album and the emotionally powerful title was inspired by her real life trials and adversities, primarily her husband Martin's diagnosis of a brain tumor. The album resonated with a huge audience and led to whirlwind career highlights for Laura, peaking at the No. 1 album spot for three consecutive weeks on Billboard’s Contemporary Christian Overall chart, topping the iTunes® Christian/Gospel Top Songs chart and holding the No. 1 spot for an impressive 28 consecutive weeks on the Christian charts. The success of the single “Blessings,” which was certified RIAA Gold, includes the GRAMMY® Award for Best Contemporary Christian Song, the Billboard Music Award for Top Christian Song and the Dove Awards for Song of the Year, Pop/Contemporary Song of the Year, Pop/Contemporary Album of the Year and Songwriter of the Year. The song inspired Laura's first book, “What If Your Blessings Come Through Raindrops?” in 2012. God Of Every Story released in 2013 to much acclaim, and her first ever Christmas project God With Us, released in October of 2015. Laura recently released a new book and bible study curriculum When God Doesn’t Fix It; Lessons You Never Wanted to Learn, Truths You Can’t Live Without.  She has a graduate degree from Covenant Theological Seminary and has served as a worship leader at Perimeter Church in Atlanta since 2005, but her greatest joy is being a wife to Martin and the mother to Ben, Griffin and Josie.

Web and Social Links:





 I have one Open Hands CD to give away. To enter, just comment on this blog post. I will use random.org and pick a winner on March 23.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Grace Is Greater by Kyle Idleman

Book description:

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews said, "See to it that no one misses the grace of God." Over the centuries much ink has been spilled on the subject of grace. Yet perhaps nothing is as hard to explain as God's grace. It doesn't make sense. It's not fair. It can't possibly cover over what I've done. The best way--perhaps the only real way--to understand it is to experience it. But too often in our churches we're not getting grace across and grace is not experienced. 

Bestselling author and pastor Kyle Idleman wants everyone to experience the grace of God. Through the powerful medium of story, Grace Is Greater leads readers past their hang-ups toward an understanding of grace that is bigger than our mistakes, our failures, our desire for revenge, and our seemingly impossible situations. No sin is so great, no bitterness so deep that God's grace cannot transform the heart and rewrite the story. 

Perfect for individuals and also for small groups and church-wide studies, Grace Is Greater will help readers truly grasp God's grace, even if the Christians around them have failed to live it.

My review:

  Kyle Idleman is most likely my favorite non-fiction author. When I saw a post about being in the launch team for his new book, I immediately filled out the application and waited with fingers crossed......and was happy to get in on it.

   I have read, enjoyed, been convicted, and encouraged by all of Kyle's books. Grace Is Greater may be his best yet. Grace is a big subject to tackle, but Kyle does a great job of doing so in this book.

 He first emphasizes the grace that is available to us, no matter how bad we are or have been. He then goes on to address how we need to show the same grace we have received to others....even those who have wronged us. I found that part of the book very convicting, especially as I read examples of people who had forgiven much and showed grace to those who had severely wronged them.

  Often books of this type are stuffy volumes that are difficult to wade through. Grace Is Greater is far from stuffy or boring. Kyle writes of grace in a way that is interesting and entertaining as he tells his own faults in a self deprecating manner.

 Obviously it is going to take more than reading a book like this to change, but it is a great start. There is a lot of good and Biblical advice in here how to accept God's grace, how to show it, and how to forgive the unforgiveable. There are no quick and easy formulas, yet Bible-based instructions on how to get where we need to be.

 I highly recommend this book. It has the potential to be a life-changing book.

I was given a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

About the author:

Kyle Idleman is teaching pastor at Southeast Christian Church in Louisville, Kentucky, the fifth largest church in America, where he speaks to more than twenty thousand people each weekend. He is the bestselling and award-winning author of Not a Fan as well as Gods at War and The End of Me. He is a frequent speaker for national conventions and in influential churches across the country. Kyle and his wife, DesiRae, have four children and live on a farm.

Grace Is Greater is available from Baker Publishing.

Thanks to Baker for the review copy.