Non-Fiction Review: Jerry Herships’ “Last Call”

I may never look at peanut butter and jelly sandwiches the same way again.

Let me back up.

Church, noun. – “assembly of believers”

Interesting. I don’t see “fancy building” or “latest contemporary program” in that definition. Neither did Mr. Herships, who took that fundamental definition and ran with it. His path ended up outside the lines of most people’s comfort zones – meeting believers in a bar to worship.

While I know many people who would do a swift double-take on that sentence, I must admit, it’s not as far-fetched an idea as one might think. Bars are, by nature, gathering places. I’ve known girls nights, gatherings to watch any number of sports, and many more events to take place there. Why not a time of worship?
To that point, I know of many churches who exist within borrowed spaces. Many a church uses, for example, a school, or a community center, to meet. The locations vary greatly, but the action of gathering and lifting each other up is the same.

And that’s Mr. Herships’ point – it’s not about the building.

It’s easy to lose sight of how to truly be the hands and feet of Jesus. We get caught up in all the programs and statistics we can generate within the walls of our buildings, we forget to get outside and actually serve. Don’t misunderstand me, good solid teaching is necessary for solid growth, and I have a great love for a massive, beautiful pipe organ. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about Jesus. And it’s about being Him to those around us. This book is a great call to action, stirring readers from their comfortable seats and preconceived notions.

Go and meet them where they are. That’s what Jesus did, and that was Mr. Herships’ major premise. Take all that energy, those resources, and go. Not to add another tally in the attendance column, but to create relationships, to share the Good News we are all to be ambassadors of.

So where do peanut butter and jelly sandwiches fit in? The members of Mr. Herships’ church, the one he has had many people look at him in doubt about, end every meeting making sandwiches for the homeless community that they go visit every week. That is very humbling to see – this church of people, who those in conventional pews might scoff at, are the ones reaching out to others. If that doesn’t stir those in pews to action, to get in the game and join with their brothers and sisters, I’m not sure what will.

Again, let me be clear. I love conventional churches. I love the teaching, the community, the fellowship. But I’ve often seen them becoming more and more focused inward, and this book is a great call to readjusting our focus back to Jesus’ call.

Be forewarned, Mr. Herships does include a bit of rough language throughout, as he uses a very informal conversational style of writing. But beyond that, this book, releasing at the beginning of November 2015, is a good read.

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley

Fiction Review: Susan Russo Anderson’s “The Brooklyn Drop”

Today’s review is a stop on the Great Escapes blog tour for The Brooklyn Drop. Extra special bonuses include an interview with the author, and the chance to win your own e-copy of the book!
This is a very fast-paced work! You can’t slow down for a minute, or you might get left behind. The pacing rides the line of almost being rushed, but doesn’t cross it, creating a great atmosphere. There’s an urgency that you more often see in mystery cinema than you see in mystery books.
In addition, the story-telling style Ms. Anderson uses in this work felt more like a memoir than the glossy sheen of “fiction novel”. It is very true-to-life, the characters feel like real people, and the struggles they face have weight. This is not a “30 minutes and everything is tied up with a bow” crime story that you would see on TV. The characters slog forward and fight for every inch, and the reader is right there cheering them on the whole way.
I recommend this work to those who enjoy intricate plots, fast-paced action, and cheering on the underdog.
To the interview!
 StudentofOpinons(SO): I am new to this series, but am glad to have been introduced! Fina is a PI who also runs a cleaning service. That’s…not something I would have expected. Where did that idea come from?
 Susan Anderson(SA): First of all, thanks for having me, and thanks for these great questions. So, a very perceptive question! You know, Fina is a survivor. She’s so full of energy, and thank goodness for that because she’s been through a lot. When she was in her teens, her father abandoned the family. In order to help financially, she started to clean apartments after school, and even that was not enough, so after high school, she interned at Brown’s Detective Agency, and picked up her PI license. But Lucy’s Cleaning Service grew and now Minnie, her office manager runs it, and it is used as a device in some of Fina’s mysteries to enable backstory as well as to move plot.

SO: What authors or stories inspire you?
SA: Golly, I read a lot and everything I read goes into a grist mill in my mind. Sometimes I like the way an author handles plot or character and their story becomes an inspiration triggering my imagination.  I think poetry especially does that for me. But I love Agatha Christie and Anne Perry, Dylan Thomas and James Joyce and T.S. Eliot to name a very few.

SO: What is your favorite part of writing?
SA: Creating characters, because that just happens like magic for me. And I take on their skin and go to different places.

SO: Do you feel someone would  be able to know you simply through your characters’ behaviors, quirks, and actions?
SA: Good question, but I have to say no. I am me, although sometimes I wish I had the patience of Lorraine, the energy of Fina.

SO: What is the first thing you notice about people?
SA: Their appearance. I studied drawing for many years and I love how the Impressionists changed drawing. They taught us to use our eyes and to mass in a scene by studying the edges of objects and drawing them. (The line goes ever on.) And that’s true of humans. You can tell a lot by looking at the edges of a person. Are they neat and crisp? Sharp? Inviting? Sloppy? What about the edges of their eyes, the set of their mouth, the lines of their face, their primary gesture?

SO: What cues do you use to tell what kind of person they are going to be?
SA: Usually their physical description, their unique gesture: it reveals character.

SO: One item you couldn’t do without?
SA: My laptop.

SO: Favorite Dessert?
SA: Ice cream.

Many thanks to Ms. Anderson for taking the time for this interview!
Giveaway Contest!
You have the chance to win your own copy of The Brooklyn Drop!
Comment below or tweet me @KSRPearson with the title of your favorite mystery book/series, and the top three reasons why it’s your favorite. Entries must be received by October 1, 2015.
Good Luck!

Fiction Review: Le French Book – “Monmartre Mysteries”

A new Winemaker Detective Series book!

Good series keep things fresh and interesting with each book. GREAT series leave the reader clamoring for the next installment upon completion of the last. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this is a great series!

Monmartre Mysteries is a step away from what readers have experienced in previous works, as Benjamin and Virgile solve the mystery, but they are not the main sleuths on the case. They come upon the crime by happenstance, as they were only in the area in answer to a call for the expert winemaker’s consultation. In fact, the initial crime isn’t even really the central theme of the book – it is more about understanding Benjamin’s friend Arthur, Arthur’s turbulent past, and why he was attacked.

As the plot focuses on Arthur’s past, we get a lot of musing from the characters on their own histories, so the book has a very reflective tone. There is a greater focus on the individual people in this work than previously in the series. I found all of this to be an interesting way to tell the tale, and thought the way the authors wrapped up the story, with an epilogue that briefly covered what became of each character, to be a very cool ending.

I’ve read my fair share of “small-town kid in the big city” works written here in the U.S. While they may be set in different locale across the world, they all had similar flavor to them. In another broadening of my world-view, until now I had never thought about that trope showing up in works written by authors in other countries, as we often tend to think of other cultures as one homogeneous label of “French” or “German”, etc. It was a highlight to me to see firsthand how, even across distance and culture, we still share the same stories, ideas, and nuances, with our own unique cultural twists.

I really enjoyed this book, and I know you will as well!

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.

Non-Fiction Review: from Brother Andrew, with John and Elizabeth Sherrill, “God’s Smuggler” – Expanded Edition

This is an updated edition of a book that I grew up with! I remember finding it on my parent’s large set of bookshelves, curling up into our large recliner to read, and being fascinated by the story of Brother Andrew. It became one of those books that stuck with me over the years, foundational in how I viewed the world, and understood my faith.  

And now, to have the opportunity to read the expanded edition, to know more of the story, was indeed a highlight of my  reading this year!

If I ever need a reminder of just how faithful God is, and how securely He holds and guides the lives of those who trust in Him, all I need do is read about Brother Andrew, or George Müller – another great man of faith and obedience to God whose stories I grew up with, and have recently been reading about again. I love the way Brother Andrew’s friend put it, when he brought word of supernatural provision, and was met by human logic and doubt about how things would work out.

“I’m not arguing the logic of the case. I’m just passing on the message.”

How many times do I read the promises of the Bible, or hear words of encouragement and promise in prayer, and because they don’t seem logical to me, or I forget just how much bigger God is than the momentary things I am dealing with – and I doubt? Many, I’m sorry to say. This simple statement of faith and truth really resonated with me, helping me to regain a true focus in my life.

Having clarity of purpose does not always mean having full scope of the path ahead. But that’s where faith and obedience lead the way, and you get to see the fantastic things God will do through you in His plan. Again, a friend of Brother Andrew summed it up so clearly:

“That’s the excitement in obedience,” he said. “Finding out later what God had in mind.”

Many times, I have seen myself and those around me get so caught up in looking ahead and trying to map everything out, that we forget we are not called to make sure everything works out today, tomorrow, and five years from now. That’s not our job, only God is big enough to handle that. We are only to follow our calling and purpose today; and then tomorrow, follow it again, wherever God leads. What a great relief it is to remember that I’m not in charge, that I don’t have to take on the whole load! It’s a reminder that I feel many in the Church community need to hear again today.

The extra chapters and the annotated pictures at the end of the new book were amazing! I loved getting to know how the story continues up to present day – and it was comforting to see that it does continue to present day. Often we can think of great works of God as “back then”, but here is a clear reminder of how active and faithful the work is even into the 21st century.

This book is so encouraging, and it definitely is a call to action, stirring up passion within the reader. I highly, fully, recommend it!

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley

Fiction Review: Mary Mark’s “Gone But Knot Forgotten”

Something extra special today – an interview with the author herself! And the chance to enter a giveaway! I don’t know that I can be any more excited about this review, which is a stop on the Great Escapes blog tour for Gone But Knot Forgotten.

GBKF cover download

Make sure you get a copy of this book! A page-turning read that I finished in one sitting, it keeps you on your toes, and in stitches, by turn.

The victim’s death in this mystery is neither “fresh”, nor “cold case”, as audiences will most often find in this genre. I thought the choice of having the death be some time past, but not a great amount, made this work quite interesting – a refreshing, unique spin on an oft told tale.

I seem to have a penchant for finding a new series and inadvertently starting a few books in. This is the third title in the Quilting Mysteries series, and I’m definitely going to have to go back and read the others! Ms. Marks does a wonderful job of referencing previous events, but with just enough extra explanation that the reader doesn’t feel on the edge of the “in the know” group, and can enjoy the fullness of the story.

I love these characters! They feel like real people, not caricatures of a certain type of person. Everyone I’ve met has a group of characters they wish could step off the page, and hang out with them. Martha, Lucy and Birdie are on my list! They are so funny, and experiencing their antics throughout the near-perfect pacing of this work makes the story so much fun to read.

As a history nut, the historical, and historical fiction aspects woven into the tale really set this book apart for me. I found the attention to detail in creating the items throughout the house for the reader was incredible, and really showed just how much care Ms. Marks has for her craft. 

In all, it looks like I will have to make a new space on my shelves for this and other works by Ms. Mary Marks!

Now, to the interview!

StudentofOpinions (SO): Of all the places you have lived throughout your life, which one do you feel had the best stories?

Mary Marks (MM): I’d have to say Los Angeles, since that’s where I’ve lived most of my life. But I’ve also had some amazing experiences in places I’ve traveled: Israel, Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Niger. I think the secret to gathering stories, no matter where you are, is the ability to be a keen observer of details and to connect with other people. 

SO: What authors or stories inspire you?

MM: Is this a trick question? There are so many talented writers to choose from! I love the gentleness of Rumer Godden, the intellect of Elizabeth George, and the humor of Brad Parks. 

SO: What is your favorite part of writing?

MM: I don’t like to do a lot of plotting before sitting down to write. I just let my characters tell me what they want to say and do next. The story that comes out of this process never fails to surprise and delight me. In this way, I discover the story as I go along, much in the same way the reader does.

SO:  What similarities and differences to yourself did you write into Martha? Do you feel someone would be able to know you simply through your characters’ behaviors, quirks and actions?

MM: Are you serious? Martha is totally me, and then some. I am a zaftig, divorced Jewish quilter who spent 39 years living in the San Fernando Valley. I speak my mind, am fiercely loyal, and own an orange cat. However, I am (ahem) closer to Birdie’s age.

SO:  What is the first thing you notice about people? What cues do you use to tell what kind of person they are going to be?

MM: I think I first notice the way they carry themselves. Body language can tell you a lot about a person’s state of mind. The next thing I notice is the eyes. Do they look directly at you? If not, what do they focus on? Eyes and facial expressions can speak volumes about a person’s character and intent.

SO: What is your favorite quilt pattern? What do you find to be the best part about quilting?

MM: I greatly admire appliqued quilts and the artistry and skill that goes into making them. But my very favorites are traditional quilts made with geometric block patterns. I especially love scrap quilts that include dozens of different fabrics. The possible combinations of pattern and color are infinite, and that intrigues me.

SO: What is the highest moment of your life so far?

MM: Aside from my children and grandchildren? I’d have to say finding this late-in-life career of writing cozy mysteries and having them published. I used to be a horrible warning, but now I’m a role model. Who knew?

SO: One item you couldn’t do without?

MM: My computer. Hands down.

SO:  What is your favorite game?

MM: Okay, so you’re going to make me reveal my dirty little secret? I LOVE playing hidden object games on my computer.

SO: Favorite Dessert?

MM: Coconut vanilla cake from Ralph’s supermarket. Or key lime cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. Or anything made with chocolate. But hold the whipped cream. You have to draw the calorie line somewhere.

Many, many thanks to Ms. Marks for taking the time for this interview!

With the release of Gone But Knot Forgotten, Kensington Books has an amazing giveaway they will be drawing for.
GBKF giveaway Be sure to enter via this link:

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley

Non-Fiction Review: Scott Dannemiller’s “The Year Without A Purchase”

I loved this book! And as I laughed – out loud – no less than three times just in the Introduction, you can believe me when I say this book is hilarious. Mr. Dannemiller recounts his family’s experiment with honesty and humor, weaving together a great read.

Reading through the Dannemiller’s experiences stirred strong feelings of thankfulness. The book is not written as a scathing chastisement of consumerism, but as a priority and reality check for our lives. I am now newly aware, and immensely grateful for the abundance of things I possess, and how much more I can share with those around me.

I am also extra grateful for the family and friends I have. While I prize spending time with the people in my life, The Year Without a Purchase gave me many ideas for making that time more meaningful in the immediate, and fostering cherished memories. 

This is a book that sparks conversation. Previously I had never heard of the “Wise Men Gifts” tradition, of only giving three gifts at Christmas. That concept, and many others prompted some cool conversations for me and my family. We may not implement everything the Dannemiller’s did, but the discussions their ideas sparked will bring us our own family traditions, values, and memories.

Highly Recommended!

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley

Non-Fiction Review: Timothy Dailey’s “The Paranormal Conspiracy”

This book is a definitive example of 1 Peter 3:15, one of the best I have come across. There is a fine line between articulating what you believe and clearly explaining why you hold those convictions, opposed to screaming your view at whoever is listening and walking away with a self-righteous sniff. This book is definitely the former.

Mr. Dailey is a professor, and I would love the chance to sit in his classes, as his writing style is that of a great teacher, clear and concise, with a well-researched, documented foundation. I learned a great deal about the history behind different movements and ideologies, but was never overwhelmed. The topic of “The Paranormal Conspiracy” is weighty, and takes time to work through, but is completely worth the time. I came away with greater understanding and clarity of the world around me, and how to relate to it through my faith.

I was reminded of Frank Peretti’s “This Present Darkness” and “Piercing the Darkness”, two of my favorite books to recommend. I see this as a great compliment to add to the stack the next time I loan them!

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.

Non-Fiction Review: Elizabeth George’s “15 Verses to Pray for Your Husband”

This book isn’t released until September 1 of this year, and I’ve already personally recommended it to someone! I’m also planning to make this book my go-to for any wedding gift I will need in the future. It is amazing.

Personal fact, I am newly married. I’m so thankful I came across this work now, early on in my own marriage, as the fundamentals within are, and will be, so impactful for my husband and myself. It felt like long-standing blinders were coming off with each page, a deeper understanding of my husband in his roles, and a new clarity as to how I can best support him as his wife.

The work is not very long overall, but each page is packed with insights that explain and round-out the portions of a husband’s life to pray for, and the verses Mrs. George chose. It took a few days for me to work my way through the whole book, but I was completely refreshed and energized by the end!

I appreciated that Mrs. George often quoted her husband, his books, and his research, so that the reader could be assured that what the author was sharing was not assuming what a husband needs, but responding out of real experience and conversation.

You can hear the echoes of the strong bond of the author’s marriage in the way she writes, as well as the love she has for her husband, and for her readers. I loved Mrs. George’s encouraging and conversational style, it will make you eager to move mountains! I can’t wait to read more of her work.

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley

Non-Fiction Review: Brandon D. Crowe’s “The Message of the General Epistles in the History of Redemption”

P&R Publishing’s mission is “to serve Christ and his church by producing clear, engaging, fresh, and insightful applications of Reformed theology to life.” In that endeavor, they have hit the mark every time! I am now in the habit of picking up their latest releases, to see what new insights I may learn and wrestle with from the pages of the excellent works they produce.

There, in short, is how I came to be reading “Message of the General Epistles”. This book is incredible. Over and over I experience the rush of new understanding, of the “ah-ha!” moment. I have a feeling, as I work through these pages, and reflect upon the questions at the end of each chapter, that as I read through this book again later down the road (for it is MOST DEFINITELY going on my permanent shelf), that I will still learn more the next time, and the time after that.

This book takes an investment of time and focus. While written so anyone can read and understand, it still requires a methodical approach to fully comprehend.

I particularly like the fact that the author takes many of the ten-dollar words we hear in the church, and breaks it down for those who didn’t go to seminary, and don’t happen to have a dictionary nearby. And even beyond that, he then illustrates the concepts through specific Biblical text, and provides clear daily application. Mr. Crowe’s writing style has a great teaching quality to it, flowing from one point to the next seamlessly. I find myself journaling many notes, writing down quotes to mull over later and explore more fully.

This is a book to be shared. As I’ve read through, I’ve peppered my family and friends with “did you know…” and “what do you think about…”. While the application is firstly very personal and inward looking, the conversations and discussion it will bring with others help to fully round the experience.

I cannot recommend this book enough!

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley

Fiction Review: Marty Wingate’s “Between a Rock and a Hard Place”

Just released today – Between a Rock and a Hard Place!

I had a lot of fun reading this book. When I received it, I didn’t know it was part of a series, so it took a me a second reading of the first chapter to really understand the characters and how they all fit together. But it was worth the time, as these are characters you definitely want to meet!

It’s probably against some rule to giggle your way through a murder mystery, but I couldn’t help it – Pru is such a fun, real character, and the situations Ms. Wingate wrote her into were so funny. I couldn’t put the story down!

Ms. Wingate’s love for, and knowledge of, gardens comes through from the first page to the last. Yet she doesn’t talk over the head of her reader, but shares her enthusiasm for the beautiful outdoors in such a clear way, I could almost smell the flowers Pru walked through in the book. It definitely made me want to get out and take a walk, once I finished reading! 

The mystery had many layers, and kept me guessing until the end, with surprises I didn’t see coming. I definitely want to go back and check out the first few books in the series, to know these characters better!

I received a review copy of this work from the publisher through NetGalley.