Monday, June 12, 2017

Between Heaven and the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman


Between Heaven and the Real World by Steven Curtis Chapman


Today I'm thrilled to share my review for Steven Curtis Chapman's autobiography. Have you read it? Check out the info below:


Let’s begin with the description:

For decades, Steven Curtis Chapman's music and message have brought hope and inspiration to millions around the world. Now, for the first time, Steven openly shares the experiences that have shaped him, his faith, and his music in a life that has included incredible highs and faith-shaking lows.

Readers will be captivated by this exclusive look into Steven's childhood and challenging family dynamic growing up, how that led to music and early days on the road, his wild ride to the top of the charts, his relationship with wife Mary Beth, and the growth of their family through births and adoptions. In addition to inside stories from his days of youth to his notable career, including the background to some of his best-loved songs, readers will walk with Steven down the devastating road of loss after the tragic death of five-year-old daughter Maria. And they'll experience his return to the stage after doubting he could ever sing again.

Poignant, gut-wrenchingly honest, yet always hopeful, Steven offers no sugary solutions to life's toughest questions. Yet out of the brokenness, he continues to trust God to one day fix what is unfixable in this life. This backstage look at the down-to-earth superstar they've come to love will touch fans' lives and fill their hearts with hope. Includes black-and-white photos throughout.

And now, my review:

My fiancé and I began hearing about SCC around the time we got engaged, perhaps just before. His song I Will Be Here inspired us so much we chose to use it in our wedding twenty-six years ago. (I’m sure many couples did the same—great commitment lyrics.) Later we were attending a young married couples’ home group with folks from our church and the leader played the intro of The Great Adventure to us because it inspired him as a musician. As singer-songwriters ourselves, my husband and I were inspired by his music, especially in those early years.

Fast-forward to spring, 2008. I was driving home from running errands when the Christian music radio station DJ shared the heart-breaking news about the Chapman’s dear daughter, Maria, and their son, Will. My heart broke! As a mother, I couldn’t imagine the anguish for everyone in their family. I prayed for them a lot after the death by accident of their daughter/sister. I’ve prayed for them over the years, especially as late May rolled around, because the timing stuck with me; their pain and journey stuck with me.

When I learned this book had come out earlier this year (Revell, March, 2017), I was curious about Steven’s perspective—about his life story and his account of that horrific day.

The book reads like a first-hand account, though author Ken Abraham did the actual writing. Humility and honesty take center stage throughout. You find yourself relating and moved. If you’re a musician, you can relate with some of his story. (He’s won something like 60 Dove Awards, so at some point the relatability becomes an exercise in imagination for the rest of us. 😉 Well done, SCC!) If you're a parent, you'll relate in other heartfelt ways. Readers get to know his precious family, and learn about their journey to adoption. (They adopted three daughters from China and now help others adopt children as well.)

I learned that SCC is a wordy type of guy, which makes sense of the book’s tiny font and the expansive page count, but I was still hooked throughout. Though it’s an emotional read, at times, it’s also a hopeful one. Anyone who has suffered a tragedy will see ribbons of truth in the fight to hold on to faith, the battle to keep one’s head above water when every force seems determined to drown you and those who’ve also been affected. I so appreciated Steven’s honesty. He and his family absolutely honor Maria and her life by sharing their story and portraying an overcoming attitude which leans on God, hope, and the love of family.

I hadn’t yet read his wife’s book, (Choosing to SEE by Mary Beth Chapman, also Revell, 2010), so I picked up a copy of her story too.  

If you’re looking for real-life accounts that bring honesty, with hope, add these books to your TBR pile.  

Highly recommended!

Monday, June 5, 2017

The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck




The Writing Desk by Rachel Hauck

Rachel Hauck is one of my favorite authors, and I appreciate the style of her latest novels. So I was glad to have the opportunity to read this book for review.

Let’s begin with the summary:

From the New York Times best-selling author of  The Wedding Dress comes a new captivating novel of secrets, romance, and two women bound together across time by a shared dream.

Tenley Roth’s first book was a runaway best seller. Now that her second book is due, she’s locked in fear. Can she repeat her earlier success or is she a fraud who has run out of inspiration?

With pressure mounting from her publisher, Tenley is weighted with writer’s block. But when her estranged mother calls asking Tenley to help her through chemotherapy, she packs up for Florida where she meets handsome furniture designer Jonas Sullivan and discovers the story her heart’s been missing.

A century earlier, another woman wrote at the same desk with hopes and fears of her own. Born during the Gilded Age, Birdie Shehorn is the daughter of the old money Knickerbockers. Under the strict control of her mother, her every move is decided ahead of time, even whom she’ll marry. But Birdie has dreams she doesn’t know how to realize. She wants to tell stories, write novels, make an impact on the world. When she discovers her mother has taken extreme measures to manipulate her future, she must choose between submission and security or forging a brand new way all on her own.

Tenley and Birdie are from two very different worlds, but fate has bound them together in a way time cannot erase.

And now, my review:

As I mentioned, Rachel’s style is unique and enjoyable.

First off, the modern-day storyline follows a writer. That’s a fun perspective! (As a writer, I love reading about other writers, even fictional ones.) Because I’m friends with Rachel, it’s always fun for me to search her novels for folks I know. She’s included people from her worship team, etc. This time, though she changed his name, she included her literary agent, Chip MacGregor as Charlie McGuire. It was fun to see her fictionalize his role in her writing career, in meetings, etc. I found it to be a respectful and interesting hat tip.

Like her more recent books, she takes readers back and forth in time, developing two stories simultaneously. And she does a fantastic job. I loved watching both romances play out.

Our heroine is a mess. She doubts her competence. She’s finding that lightning may not strike twice. Through her first book went to the NYT best-seller list (was that a fluke, given her family line?) doesn’t mean she can whip up another best seller just because she’s on deadline. Because she has so many doubts, she goes into sort of a hibernation mode, dressing in a bathrobe and even going out in public dressed like that. For several chapters I wondered if she’d ever change, or even shower. The perfect symbolism, and an unusual quirk that kept me reading.

One of the themes with all the lovable characters was identity. The story centers around a desk, which is a tie between the past and present and contains its own symbolism for our present-day heroine.

As a writer, I loved that the present-day characters’ nicknames for each other were the why-nots of the story, at least in part. Brava, Rachel!

In my opinion, this is Rachel’s strongest book to date. I loved it, and I highly recommend it!

Monday, May 1, 2017

The Vicar’s Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack


The Vicar's Daughter by Josi S. Kilpack

I really enjoy reading books from the Proper Romance imprint by Shadow Mountain Publishing. They’re regency romances and often very well written.

Let’s begin with this novel’s summary:

Cassie, the youngest of six daughters in the Wilton family, is bold, bright, and ready to enter society. There’s only one problem: her older sister Lenora, whose extreme shyness prevents her from attending many social events. Lenora is now entering her third season, and Cassie has no choice except to wait her turn.

Evan Glenside, a soft-spoken, East London clerk, has just been named his great-uncle’s heir and, though he is eager to learn all that will be required of him, he struggles to feel accepted.

A chance meeting between Evan and Lenora promises to change everything. When Lenora proves too shy to pursue the relationship, Cassie begins to write Mr. Glenside letters in her sister’s name. Will her good intentions lead to disaster?

As secrets are revealed, the hearts of Cassie, Evan, and Lenora are tested. Will the final letter sent by the vicar’s daughter be able to reunite the sisters as well as unite Evan with his true love?

And now, my review:

What a great novel! The book held my interest the entire time, and I thought about it when I wasn’t reading.

I liked this heroine. She was strong and confident, if a little misguided. She’s motivated to outsmart a system that is holding her back. She’s conflicted within herself, which offered interesting layers. Her parents were mysterious (we stayed in the heroine’s POV), overbearing, and judgmental. They withheld love when they disagreed with her. While this may have been true for the era, it wasn’t fun to read, but it made me cheer harder for the heroine. 

The letter-writing premise (see summary above) was great and the romantic arc, very strong. 

The story’s hero is a “fish out of water.” He’s trying to find his way and may have blundered by exchanging these letters. I enjoyed watching him humbly try to find his way.
 
Although some of the theology didn’t seem entirely biblically sound, overall this novel is very enjoyable. This is one of my favorite reads so far this year. Highly recommended!