Friday, September 16, 2016

Love Like There’s No Tomorrow: How a Cardiac Arrest Brought My Heart to Life by Ocieanna Fleiss

Usually, I review fiction on this blog, but today I make an exception for an exceptional book.

Let's begin with the summary:

A few years ago, Ocieanna Fleiss—wife and work-at-home mother of four young children—would have described herself as overwhelmed, stressed, and focused on finishing her to-do list. But when at age forty-two, a sudden cardiac arrest stopped her heart, everything changed.

During those quiet months of recovery, as she reflected on her life, a pattern arose. Like a loving father, Christ had always walked with her—through childhood neglect, miscarriages, the death of her parents, and even through her own death!

Amazed by God’s loving hand in her life, Ocieanna overflowed with a desire to love in a new, more profound way. Out of this desire, transforming truths gently came to light: truths that changed her life forever and will show you how God can weave everything in your life into His elaborate plan.

And now, my review:

Open this book to the first page. Let the words flow through your mind. You’ll be hooked by the very first sentence: That day in January, the day my wife died, was the best day our family had experienced in months.
The day his wife died… We begin the book in her husband’s POV (point of view). I liked this aspect because his story made the account immediate and relatable (in so much as I’ve been married twenty-five years, and I would never want to see my husband in such a state as Michael saw his wife).

Ocieanna is my friend. We’ve been writing buddies for over a decade. We’ve gone on retreats and attended conferences together. I remember getting the call about Ocieanna’s cardiac arrest. Our mutual writing buddy, another close friend, had heard the news and wanted to make sure I knew. I couldn’t believe what she shared could be true. I’d just seen her, alive and well, a few days earlier.

Reading this memoir’s opening took me right back to those heart-breaking moments. The narrative is so compelling and heart-wrenching that I could neither stop reading nor stop tearing up. 

But the story, like her miraculous life, doesn’t stop there. Ocieanna opens up that beating-again heart and shares her story—the consuming, life-sucking stress leading up to the event. The way she looked at life before she died (wow, that’s powerful) and how she looks at life now. The way she sees her kids, and how she frames the mundane. But my favorite part is how she now experiences God’s love—in new ways. His acceptance. His peace. 

I’m so grateful for my friendship with Ocie and through her very vulnerable and tender book, you can experience her friendship and wisdom too. I’m grateful God gave her back to us, and I’m thankful she had a chance to share her story. Read this book. You won’t be sorry.

Highly recommended.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal

Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal

I’ve always loved creating art. When the recent adult coloring craze hit, complete with intricate designs, I immediately jumped in. So, I was excited to see/experience this book for review.

Here’s a summary:

Gratitude: A Prayer and Praise Coloring Journal invites you to bring creative journaling and the calming act of coloring into your quiet time with God. This beautifully designed interactive prayer book from Tyndale’s Living Expressions collection helps guide your thoughts as you pray about concerns such as health, overcoming stress, personal relationships, and more. Gratitude gives you a way to celebrate and give thanks to God for the many blessings he provides. Filled with over 100 designs to color, plenty of space for journaling and sketching, and 40 needs-based prayers, Gratitude helps you express your devotion to God with your whole heart!

And now, my review:

The book is more compact than I expected, only measuring 6x8 inches. But that size makes it easier to carry around. The cover is made of cardboard that’s 1/8” thick, so the journal is protected. Some of the pages have more printed color (color provided by the publisher/artist) than others. A few even have a black background already filled in. Others are completely colored in by the publisher. Some images are more intricate than others, and there are many themes—gardens, flames, flowers, ocean waves, cottages, etc. I liked that aspect very much. Something for everyone. 

I also liked the wholesome, upbeat feel of the journal, in general. This book has the potential to bring relaxation and blessing to the user and would make a nice gift.

Here’s the setup: Each double page (left plus right when the book is opened) is themed. These often include a prayer with lines to write your own thoughts, and a Scripture, as well as art for you to color. These elements are varied throughout the book.

I’ve always been a "journaler." I’ve never been a fan of guided journaling—pages that tell me what to think, or what to say to God, or what to pray. The prayers were adapted from an earlier publication from 2014 of prayers for mothers (see title page). They read in a religious and somewhat formal voice, almost as if the author is trying to tell the reader what to think or how to relate with God. They are (as the description explains above) “needs-based” prayers. Perhaps if all of them were instead gratitude based, the general feel of the journal would be more “we’re all on the same level” rather than the hint of condescension and direction (and blanket application).

I like the idea of a creative place to write my thoughts and then express myself in art and colors. The concept of this creative journal is welcome. I’m just looking for something a little less directive. Perhaps a Scripture and then space to write and then space with art to color would be more my taste.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Just a Kiss by Denise Hunter

Just a Kiss by Denise Hunter

Denise is one of my favorite writers!

Here's the summary of her book, releasing today:

Riley Callahan’s plans to reveal his secret feelings for his best friend are ruined when his life is drastically altered in Afghanistan.

Watching the love of his life falling for his brother was enough to send Riley straight to boot camp. But over a year later, he’s officially a marine, and Beau and Paige are no longer an item. When Riley’s tour in Afghanistan is up, he intends to confess his feelings to Paige and win his best friend’s heart once and for all.

But all that changes when an IED takes the life of a comrade and leaves Riley an amputee. Now he’s heading home, injured and troubled. His plans to win Paige are a distant dream. She deserves so much more than the man that’s left. All he can do now is put some healthy distance between them. But upon his return he discovers his family has arranged for him to stay with Paige.

Paige is a nurturer at heart and happy to take care of her best buddy. By all appearances he’s adjusting miraculously well to his disability. But as the days pass, Paige begins to see that the smiles and laughter are just a mask for the pain he’s hiding. He has nightmares and mood swings, and his unwavering independence keeps him from accepting help from anyone, including her. To make matters worse, her job is in serious jeopardy. The animal shelter that she’s poured her heart into has lost its funding, and she has three months to come up the money needed to save it.

As the weeks wear on with the two in such close proximity, Paige’s feelings for Riley begin to shift into uncharted territory. Why is she suddenly noticing his corded arm muscles and the way his lips curl at the corners? Will she be able to deny her feelings for another Callahan brother? And will Riley let his heart heal so he can let Paige in?

And now, my review:

The Summer Harbor series has been such a treat! From the beginning (Book One), we’ve known that Riley had a crush on Paige. Now we’re in Book Three and these two finally get a chance to see what might happen. Denise’s trademark storytelling and romantic threads shine, as usual.

One of the themes was identity. Who is Riley now that he’s missing one leg and suffering PTSD? Can he be the same man he was? Should he? When life gets tough again, should he run? Last time he did there were dire consequences. His lie is believing he’s damaged now, and he’d rather distance himself from the woman he’s always loved rather than burden her with his struggles.

In a mirroring parallel, Paige feels like she’s lacking value as well. For some reason, those she loves always abandon her. Rather than see it’s their issues that causes this pattern, she internalizes and blames herself. She can’t see her own valuable traits—her kind, nurturing heart; her loyalty and beauty. I was thankful the Callahans surrounded her, treating her like family even when Riley couldn’t treat her kindly b/c of all his pain.

I enjoyed this wrap-up of the series. Looking forward to seeing what’s next from Denise, and enjoying cheering her on as some of her books become Hallmark movies!  

Monday, August 22, 2016

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart

The Long Journey to Jake Palmer by James L. Rubart

I’ve long enjoyed reading Jim’s books, so I was excited to see this new one.

Let’s begin with the summary:

What if there was a place where everything wrong in your life could be fixed?

Corporate trainer Jake Palmer coaches people to see deeper into themselves—yet he barely knows himself anymore. Recently divorced and weary of the business life, Jake reluctantly agrees to a lake-house vacation with friends, hoping to escape for ten days.

When he arrives, Jake hears the legend of Willow Lake—about a lost corridor that leads to a place where one’s deepest longings will be fulfilled.

Jake scoffs at the idea, but can’t shake a sliver of hope that the corridor is real. And when he meets a man who mutters cryptic speculations about the corridor, Jake is determined to find the path, find himself, and fix his crumbling life.

But the journey will become more treacherous with each step Jake takes.

And now, my review:

I savored this book. I was hooked from the opening pages and by the middle of chapter two I was enthralled. Jim didn’t save the “good stuff”—revelations for readersuntil the end, but peppered takeaway throughout.

One of the themes in the story is the ability to be objective about ourselves and see our identity through the haze of lies or fears we believe about ourselves.

Jake Palmer is a corporate trainer. He holds seminars on “reading each other’s labels” and finding out “what’s in your bottle.” But what the author did was address the universal hunt for our own identities. Who are we, as individuals? And what stands in our way from seeing ourselves as we truly are and then living in that reality? Occasionally others see us better that we see ourselves. They see our strengths and abilities more clearly than we do.

Sometimes toxic shame gets in the way. (Toxic shame is shame for who you are; basic shame is feeling badly about what you’ve done.) Jake grew up being told from authority figures, whom children tend to believe without question, that he wasn’t enough. This story is about him coming to grips with that lie because ironically the whole time he’s been coaxing people out of their hiding places into being who they truly are, he’s been hiding.

Another universal theme: people can get tangled up in regrets. These paralyze us and hold us in one place, preoccupying our time and energy. We sometimes want to go back to a certain moment and change it, and the fact that that’s impossible doesn’t keep us from ruminating on what we’d do differently or berating ourselves for not doing something differently in that moment. Those regrets and ruminations can be based in something we did, or something others did to us. That entanglement can hold us captive for years, even our whole lives, keeping us from living out our destinies or seeing our worth. The hook in this story is the promise of a place where Jake could go where what was wrong in his life could be made right. He could get back what he’d lost.  

The author, like life, presents readers with a choice: keep hiding or face our stuff and learn to move forward without shame. But there will be a fight, and the choice to do battle is only the first difficult thing to overcome.

I’ve come to expect Jim’s work to include the supernatural, which this novel does around the mysterious corridor and person he finds there. I also loved the Superman references; the NW lake setting; the Narnian references, the friendship group; the affirmation-based story; the psychological study; the battle to choose hope; and the call to discover, embrace, and walk in our true identities.

This was one of my favorite reads this year. A life-changing novel that will stick with readers long after they finish.

Highly recommended.  

Sunday, August 7, 2016

If Ever I Would Leave You by Susan May Warren

If Ever I Would Leave You by Susan May Warren

This is the prequel (and it's a novella) to Susan May Warren's Montana Rescue Series, which launches with book one, Montana Skies, in October, 2016. Read on for information on how to get this prequel/novella FREE.

What a fun, bite-sized story! But I’m getting ahead of myself.  

Let’s begin with the summary:

In this book, you’ll meet billionaire Ian Shaw and his lovely assistant, Sierra and experience the event that threads through the entire series…the disappearance of a young woman in the middle of the massive mountainous forest and the start of PEAK Rescue.

And now, my review:

I’m always up for a new SMW series! She paints such strong descriptions I felt like I’d been dropped into the story. One of the things I’ve noticed with Susie’s book is she presents believable characters, each with his/her own distinctive voice. Her teen girls sounds like teen girls, and her boys, like boys. Same with the main M/F characters. I also easily (naturally) believe their motives as they walk out the story. (Even if I don’t always like what they do. :))

I wanted to follow these characters further, and we'll get to do that in the first book in the Montana Rescue series, Montana Skies, releasing October, 2016.

One of the themes in this story of searching for a lost person was that of hope and how hope can be cruel, especially when it doesn’t deliver. I think readers who’ve been waiting on and hoping for something in their own lives will relate with this. I certainly did.

I’ll post my review for Montana Skies closer to release day. Until then, read on, friends.

To get a FREE copy of Susan’s prequel—If Ever I Would Leave You, see her website:
(The e-book was free at the time of this writing.)