Saturday, August 27, 2011

Amber Grey: Calm Before the Storm by Jennifer Coalwell

Captivating!! Riveting!! Mesmerizing!!

From the Publisher

Tom and Dara Grey knew their baby daughter was special when she entered the world on a hot, muggy morning in June. A delightful child, Amber possessed the ability to brighten any room with her mere presence. But, when her mother began to notice the correlation between unexplainable weather changes and the baby’s moods, she realized it was so much more. Dara observed how lightning flashed at the child’s cry, rain fell with her tears, and the atmosphere seemed to glow when Amber expressed joy. Tom was enchanted with his new daughter, but refused to admit he knows why Amber holds this incredible link with the skies.

Amber Grey bears the burden of this extraordinary connection because she trails a long line of gift possessors who, for generations, have sought to protect the rights and freedoms of the human race. Despite her efforts to control her thoughts and to hide behind a mask of normalcy, her abilities are discovered and she is cruelly betrayed, becoming the victim of a vicious witch hunt. Pulled into a thousand year old conflict between the Protectors and the Misusers, she learns it is the power behind her choices that will lead her friends and family to safety—or to death.

It is inevitable that Amber’s power will be unleashed against dark and elusive enemies, but will she discover the secrets of her nature in time? The storm is coming . . .

My Take

". . . it is never the task of the oppressed to change for the oppressor . . . in other words, we live our lives giving mankind the best we have to offer, and if our best offends another, we cannot change it—nor should we. It is a part of us . . . it is what makes us who we are."  Amber Grey: Calm Before the Storm

Amber Grey: Calm Before the Storm definitely has it all – fantasy, thriller, action & adventure, romance, historical fiction, comedy, and plenty of twists and turns. It’s a fantastic young-adult novel because of its imaginative and exciting story line. You can’t be sure what’s around the next corner for Amber.

When I first picked up this book and saw it had a fantasy themed plot, I was skeptical since that’s not my usual genre. However, after the first chapter, I was hooked! It was hard to put it down—I took my Nook with me everywhere because I was so absorbed in it. Even if I only had 5 minutes to read before an appointment, Amber was with me.

We all have our own “special gifts”—maybe not quite as flamboyant as Amber’s—that are given to us at birth. The challenge, as with Amber, is to use those gifts in a way to better ourselves, others, and possibly the world. Even a simple, small gift as being able to make others smile is a contribution to society. The trick is to find that gift within yourself, grow it, and use it in a positive manner—exactly the way Amber was taught to use her “special gift”.

The ending of the book (read it to find out!!!) was certainly not what I was expecting! But it’s made me want to learn more about Amber and her gifted journey. I’m really looking forward to Book 2—Amber Grey: The Lost City.  Hopefully it comes out soon so I can dive right in!

I’m giving this one a 5 out of 5 stars – it’s definitely a “must read” for young adults (and ahem…older adults….) with active imaginations and a yearning to read.

Brighton Publishing has provided me with a complimentary copy of  Amber Grey: Calm Before the Storm in exchange for my personal, unbiased review.

About the Author

Jennifer Coalwell was born and raised in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, and attended a French immersion school until her high school years. In her education, she focused primarily on language art, and, ultimately, music.

“Writing has always been like breathing, to me,” she says. “In another perspective, I see each sentence mimicking a musical phrase, defined by balance and beauty, carrying with it the power to alter or enhance opinions and ideas.”

She’s built small businesses encompassing piano and music instruction, catering, and co-boutique ownership. Over the years, she and her family have hosted a myriad of foreign students, inviting the Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian, and Japanese cultures and—what she describes as—truly wonderful children and adults to their home.

J. L. Coalwell lives among the Rocky Mountains in Utah with her husband and five children.

Friday, August 26, 2011

 Heartwrenching!! A story of life and faith!

From the Publisher
Jeremiah Williams has been tending the gardens of the Tennessee governor’s mansion for over twenty-five years. And like most first families who have come and gone, this one has stolen his heart.

Mackenzie and her husband, Governor Gray London, have struggled for ten years to have a child and are now enjoying a sweet season of life—anticipating the coming reelection and sending their precious daughter, Maddie, off to kindergarten—when a tragedy tears their world apart. As the entire state mourns, Mackenzie falls into a grief that threatens to swallow her whole.

Though his heart is also broken, Jeremiah realizes that his gift of gardening is about far more than pulling weeds and planting flowers. It’s about tending hearts as well. As he uses the tools that have been placed in his hands, he gently begins to cultivate the hard soil of Mackenzie’s heart, hoping to help her realize what it took him years to discover.

A Southern tale of loss, love, and living, The First Gardner reminds us that all of life is a gift, but our heart is the most valuable gift of all.

Read the first chapter here.

My Take
This is one of those books that you just can’t put down---it’s almost as if you are living with the characters and feeling their pain and heartbreak. The First Gardener was the first book I’ve read by Denise Hildreth Jones but it won’t be the last! She has the gift of story-telling and really draws the reader in to her story.
I felt so sad for Mackenzie and Gray with their attempts at having a family. To lose a child, especially in such a tragic event, must be the worst event in a mother’s life—it’s understandable the emotions  and  reactions she goes through. However, she never could deal with her grief. Her family makes attempts to help her but until Mackenzie wants to help herself, nothing will work.  As in real life, the first step is to admit you have trouble but Mackenzie doesn’t even get that far. Pushing down the grief isn’t healthy but having been in the same circumstance many years ago, it’s the hardest experience to deal with. However, I was frustrated with how her family coddled her. At some point they should have intervened to help her climb out of her depression---her health, emotional and physical, was in jeopardy. Even if it was just to reignite her faith in God and his healing grace. Yes, it’s hard, but she needed that grace.

Mackenzie’s mom is just a hoot! And her friends even more so. They added that little relief of humor so necessary in a book like this. Even though they were an embarrassment at times, you gotta love their spunk during a time of need. And they truly cared about each other. Any negative comments to each other were always forgiven and dismissed as only good friends can do. Their belief in each other really touched my heart.

But my favorite character was the gardener, Jeremiah. His deep faith in God and his garden (through God) is unshakeable. I loved how he used to language of flowers to speak to others when words just weren’t enough. He took such good care of his “family” in the governor’s mansion and became a confidant to those currently living there. Jeremiah is one of the people you meet and remember for the rest of your life. He reminded me of a big hug using only his words and flowers. 

Even with the sadness and grief,  I’d give this book a 4 out of 5 stars. The characters became my friends and I hurt along with them. It’s a story of real life and undeniable faith. I’ll definitely be reading more of Ms Jones’ books in the future!

Tyndale House Publishers has provided me with a complimentary copy of  The First Gardener in exchange for my personal, honest review.

About the Author

If you are looking for a good summer-time fiction novel to read, I recommend The First Gardener  by Denise Hildreth Jones!   It’s a real life story of life . . .  and death, forgiveness, depression and broken dreams.  The story line is that of the Governor of Tennessee, Gary London, and his wife, Mackenzie and their dear little daughter, Maddie, who was very loved and long waited for after going through many years of infertility.   But tragedy hits the family, actually several times that sends them tail-spinning into finding their new normal and recovery.

Another major person in The First Gardener, is the governor’s gardener, whose tender heart reaches out to the family through his gift of flowers and their meanings.  I loved this what he said, in his Southern accent, as he grieved with them:

Maybe this what the last thirty years been for.  Maybe this why I gone through ever’thing I gone through, see ever’thing I see, hear ever’thing I hear. ‘Cause this family need me.  ’Cause there be some way I can make a difference, even if it’s only prayin’ for an ornery ol’ woman.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Dinner with a Perfect Stranger by David Gregory

If Jesus invited you to dinner, what would YOU ask?

From the Publisher
You are Invited to a Dinner with Jesus of Nazareth

The mysterious envelope arrives on Nick Cominsky’s desk amid a stack of credit card applications and business-related junk mail. Although his seventy-hour workweek has already eaten into his limited family time, Nick can’t pass up the opportunity to see what kind of plot his colleagues have hatched.

The normally confident, cynical Nick soon finds himself thrown off-balance, drawn into an intriguing conversation with a baffling man who appears to be more than comfortable discussing everything from world religions to the existence of heaven and hell. And this man who calls himself Jesus also seems to know a disturbing amount about Nick’s personal life.

As the evening progresses, their conversation touches on life, God, meaning, pain, faith, and doubt–and it seems that having Dinner with a Perfect Stranger may change Nick’s life forever.

My Take
This little book isn’t your typical small, quick, superficial read. It’s actually more of the opposite! It may be small but the contents are thought provoking and reflective.  For me, it’s a book that I’m going to have to read more than once to digest it all!

Skepticism abounds in the beginning of the book. From thinking the invitation is a joke from his friends to doubting Jesus at the beginning of dinner---“Tell me (Yesh), can you turn this wine back into water?”. Who can blame Nick? It’s not every day you get invited to dinner by Jesus! But by dessert, Nick is trying to decide if this guy is a nut-case, a great actor, or is it possible he’s the real thing?

Obviously Nick has a lot of questions and much doubt about this whole thing but he’s not afraid to ask the hard questions. As expected, the answers are not always specific or clear cut. They are meant for the reader to ponder and reflect about their own beliefs and values. On the flip side, sometimes the answers touched upon by Jesus are “lessons” that we need to learn.

Dinner with a Perfect Stranger is a splendid read for a book club or bible group. There are several different sets of study guides for group discussions (located here)—discussions for one meeting, 4 meetings, or 8 meetings. For a 100=page book, 8 weeks of discussion shows the inspiration of the book.

I would give this a 5 out of 5 star rating. The story is very well written, easy to read and understand, as well as a way to discover your own beliefs and views. I’m going to give this to a family member who has quite a bit of “alone time” due to his job. I’m not trying to convert someone with the book but just allowing them explore their own principles and convictions. I’m sure we all could use a little of that.

I received this book for free from Waterbrook Multnomah’s Blogging for Books and have given my honest opinion of this book.

About the Author
David Gregory’s life has come full circle. Despite a love for writing and liberal arts in high school and college, David opted for a “more practical” business degree that launched him into a successful ten-year career in compensation management with three consulting firms and Texas Instruments. After a decade of spreadsheets, however, he was ready to look for a career offering more personal meaning. 

David returned to graduate school, earning a master’s degree from the University of North Texas with concentrations in communication and sociology. During that time, he began creative writing in the form of two short screenplays, one dramatic and one science fiction. He also started a periodic newsletter before joining a Christian ministry as staff writer and editor. While there, he coauthored two nonfiction books, The Marvelous Exchange and The Rest of the Gospel: When the Partial Gospel Has Worn You Out.

While earning another master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary, David entertained a new craft: writing fiction. He decided that in a culture dominated by sound bites, reality TV, and the Internet, communicating through story could reach otherwise untapped audience. Taking some material on worldviews that he had planned to put into nonfiction form, he began writing Dinner with a Perfect Stranger. 

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Hand of Grace by Dianne Greco

When you least expect it, strength is just around the corner

From the Publisher

In the Hands of Grace tells the story of Susan Appleton, a woman who married well, lived the life of plenty, and lost most of it when her husband was killed in a car accident. She managed to walk away from the lap of luxury and her husband's greedy family with some insurance money, a summer house on eastern Long Island and her well paying, highly stressful job as an assistant gem broker in Manhattan's Diamond District. Then, she gets fired. Once again she is forced to cope with a sudden, unwelcome change. 

During the weeks that follow, she constantly worries about her son, her finances and if she will ever find another job. She also faces the long unanswered questions she has avoided since her husband's death about whom he was with at the "business meeting" the night he was killed. She meets up with her neighbor, Grace Burton on the day she is fired and is amazed at how safe she feels around her. With Grace's friendship and clairvoyant gifts, Susan learns the value of simple pleasures.

My Take

Sometimes we think things can’t get any worse…….until they do. You feel like you’ve hit rock bottom and the “pity party” begins. But like any party, there comes a time when you have to move on. That’s what happened to Susan after her husband was killed, she lost her home and then her job. She wasn’t sure what to do with herself so she decided to start connecting with people again, including her son. Susan knew that events of the last several years had taken its toll on her son but because of her schedule, she didn’t know how he was coping. Now was the time to find out.

I’ve found in most Christian novels, there is a “grand-motherly” character---the kind that you want to just want crawl into her hug and have her say it will all get better.  The kind who gives love and comfort along with words of wisdom. In Hands of Grace, that character is Grace, Susan’s next-door neighbor.  Grace sees the good in everyone and even sees a little bit of the future. She is full of insight about her friends and doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind. We would all love to have a Grace in our life to help guide us to being the best we can be.

I really enjoyed Hands of Grace as a “good read”. Yes, the characters had some depth but the book itself was a light read, almost predictable. It seemed as soon as Susan began her journey to know herself and her son, good things happened. There really wasn’t a “bad guy” to stir up controversy or challenge the main characters, but that’s what made it such a light and easy read.  I’d give Hands of Grace a 4 out of 5 stars. 

I received a free copy of In the Hands of Grace from the publisher through Library Thing in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

About the Author

Dianne Greco lives in beautiful Port Jefferson on Long Island, NY with her husband, son, dog and two cats. When she isn’t working in her gardens, she works at the lovely Emma S. Clark Memorial Library which gives her countless good reads and the inspiration to write.