Fiction Review: Jim and Joyce Lavene’s “A Dickens of a Murder”

Today’s review is a stop on the Great Escapes blog tour for A Dickens of A Murder. Also, a rafflecopter giveaway!

cover   joyce and jim

“Then the ghost of Charles Dickens shows up–“
When I was browsing and read that on the cover, how could I NOT read this book? A great hook, for a great book.

The book is fast paced, extremely so, and very short, a one-sitting read by its very nature, in addition to the fact that I didn’t want to put it down! Engaging characters, witty banter, and lots of humor keep the reader engaged from the first page to the last!

I greatly enjoyed how we got to know the characters through their interactions, a great way of doing characterization, made even better by stellar writing. It is obvious how much the authors love writing, and how hard they have worked to hone their style and voice.

All I can say is I wish I could have that great house and plethora of books for my own – minus the murderous intentions of the villain, of course!

Enter the Great Escapes Giveaway here:

In memory of Joyce Lavene

Non-Fiction Review: Bee Wilson’s “First Bite”

“The best children’s food is a result of adults controlling the nutrition, but children controlling what they put in their mouths.”

I love that quote, and I must admit, I had to stop myself from quoting the book over and over in this review. It is incredible, with so many parts worth sharing and talking over with those around you. I stopped nearly every other page to look at my husband and say “listen to this!”

And that is saying something, as this is a hefty book, almost textbook-esque in its scope and content. But the author’s writing style pulls you in, making the information very understandable and fun to read! There is so much amazing information and history, that I loved reading the work, but had to take a break in between chapters to process everything I’d just finished reading.

Through it all though, the work inspires you. Ms. Wilson is very factual, not deriding or preaching about better or lesser food habits, but allowing the reader to learn and internalize the food truths she lays out. I came away with new ways to look at my own eating and my family’s eating, and a new appreciation and understanding for why I like the things I do, and the way I want to bring up my children when it comes to food.

This book releases December 1, 2015, and I HIGHLY recommend a copy!

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

Non-Fiction Review: Rob Burkhart’s “Five Questions of Christmas”

I must confess, the title initially confused me, and I was expecting a different book. Once I got into reading, however, it was so much more than I was expecting! The questions asked are those which were asked AT the first Christmas, not questions ABOUT Christmas. It makes a large difference.

This book is small, but I happened to read it slowly, one chapter at a time, while going about other tasks in my life. So it happened that each chapter hit and spoke deeply to different life events I was going through at that exact moment. I was very encouraged by Mr. Burkhart’s words and the truths he spoke about in a very clear and understandable way. His writing style is very easy for anyone to relate to, and this would be a great book to read through with older children.

Mr. Burkhart doesn’t rehash the “love, joy, peace to all” message that most Christmas-themed books will do. He looks deeper, helping the reader see how Christmas, and the events surrounding it relate directly to our search for identity, purpose, and meaning, and really brings those truths to light in a great way. I was encouraged and challenged with each page. And the questions at the end of each chapter helped me pause and dig deeper into the thoughts and understanding I was gaining.

I highly recommend this work!

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

Fiction Review: Max Wirestone’s “The Unfortunate Decisions of Dahlia Moss”

As someone who grew up in St. Louis, to find a book based there, (that is not historical in nature,) was a cool and rare find to come upon. I enjoyed the author highlighting Ted Drews and the Loop, but felt there was more he could have done with the setting. Granted, St. Louis is a sprawling city, with a lot to take in, and as the main character has an intermittently working car, maybe it was for the best she didn’t venture out and about too far!

This book is HILARIOUS. I was laughing out loud so many times while reading, stopping my husband to share the latest one liner that had me rolling. As we both play MMOs, there were many points that were funny because they were so true.

On that point, I really enjoyed the author’s treatment of MMOs, the community within them, and just general nerdiness overall. It was a loving, but realistic look at the highs and lows within the community, with plenty for readers from within that world to identify with and chuckle at. Even if you don’t play MMOs, the overall world of fandoms was well represented, making this a great book to recommend to anyone who enjoys the genre.

MMO characters, or avatars, are all about the customization you put onto the outside – the scars, the hair, the gear and outfits, etc. They are usually brightly colored, and distinctive. The same description can be said for the characters in the book – diverse and distinctive. Not in the same way as the two-foot high pink hair of an avatar, but in the fleshing out of nuances, of well rounded characters that really stand out. This allows them to hold their own through a convoluted and fast-paced plot, which ultimately reaches a satisfying conclusion.

The friends I have told about this book can’t wait to get their own copy!

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

Non-Fiction Review: Paul Rock and Bill Tammeus’ “Jesus, Pope Francis, and a Protestant Walk into a Bar”

It would seem I have a lot of bar-themed book titles this month. One of those funny coincidences that happen when you pick up a lot of books to read!

This is a book that sticks with you, that you ruminate on over and over, and that inspires conversation with those around you. The points the authors make drive deeply home, in a caring and real tone that resonates with readers from any point on the spectrum they are addressing. In short, this is a great book!

And in addition to all these points, the book also starts with the best water-into-wine joke I’ve ever heard. You have to check it out!

There were a couple of points that really spoke to me specifically. The first was about realizing and obeying our true calling. As the authors put it, “If we can’t trace what we’re doing back to love, then we’ve lost our way. We’re in the wrong boat and are fishing with faulty nets.” They pointed out that the disciples, while originally fishermen, were called to something different, and greater. And so after the crucifixion when they tried returning to fishing, their comfort zone, they didn’t catch any fish. But as the authors remind us, “God didn’t go to such great lengths to be near us in order to condemn us or shame us, but to love us.” So Jesus, when he found the disciples off-track in their calling he didn’t chastise, but teach.
Turn completely around, throw in again.
Get our of your comfort zone, get into the hard stuff of living with and for people.

That brings me to the next point that I took away from this work: “We are always blessed in order to be a blessing.” This is God’s promise to Abram in Genesis 12, that I have to admit, I had completely overlooked. This truth made me sit back in wonder, looking at all the parts of my life – all the times I’ve wanted, yet hesitated, to get involved with those around me, and seeing with clarity how much I’ve gotten in my own way. The authors say it very succinctly.
“The thing that keeps invite lists from growing and circles of inclusion from expanding is not the pressure encountered from without but the reticence, insecurities and fears from within.”

While all these points in the work are framed in the premise of Catholics and Protestants understanding one another and working together to reach the world for Christ, the ideas can be applied to other themes as well. This book is well worth a second or third read, to dig out all the truths and application therein.

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

Fiction Review: Janet Evanovich and Goldberg Lee’s “The Scam”

I love mysteries. I also love witty police procedural TV shows. It should come as no surprise then, that two of my favorite to watch and rewatch are “Castle” and “White Collar.” “The Scam” is the perfect blend of the styles of both those shows. The humor, the great character chemistry, and the lightening-fast banter are all spot on for fans of those shows looking for a good book. I am hooked, and will now have to go back and start at the beginning of the series!

The pacing is spot on, never dragging or rushing, but keeps the reader turning the pages in anticipation. The great descriptions of the locations and characters in the story create a vivid atmosphere that sucks the reader in from page one. This all combines into a book I couldn’t put down, finishing in one sitting!

One of my favorite parts was the main character Kate’s interactions with her dad. In a book filled with tons of humor, these scenes were most often the reason for laugh-out-loud moments. 

Another point I found interesting was the authors every once in a while show the action from the point of view of other characters, without losing the Kate-centric tale. It was a neat way to get fully rounded character development, without a lot of exposition, and the transitions between points of view was seamless, so it never felt like an interruption to the story.

Only two things in the whole book made me question the authors. The first is the fact that several times Kate states she wishes to keep a professional distance and not get involved with Nick, even though she is attracted. I really liked that side of her, but then suddenly she starts crossing lines she (up to this point in the series) held firm on. It seemed, even in the short span of this book, somewhat out of character and not the happy conclusion of a “will-they or won’t-they” relationship that has been built.
The second thing was the EPIC cliffhanger! I will freely admit I was very saddened to see the blank pages awaiting me at the end of the work. I didn’t want the story to end! But, alas, I will just have to wait with everyone else for the next installment of a series I am highly recommending!

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

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