Fiction Shelves: The Separatists by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart

Another Gripping, Furious-Paced Thrill Ride with Erica Sparks!

Separatists cover - post

The Separatists
by Lis Wiehl with Sebastian Stuart


Series: Newsmakers (Book 3)
Publication Date: June 27, 2017
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Length: 340pp
ISBN-13: 978-0718037697

Related Links:
Lis Wiehl’s Website

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Publisher Synopsis

Journalist and newscaster Erica Sparks is only planning to report on an explosive story—until she gets caught in the middle of it.

After getting the green light from her network to launch an investigative news show, Erica flies to Bismarck, North Dakota, to investigate Take Back Our Homeland, the largest secessionist group. What she finds is profoundly disturbing – a growing threat to the future of our union.

Back home, her husband Greg is drinking more and talking less—and taking an unusual interest in the glamorous author Leslie Burke Wilson. Erica’s teenage daughter has also begun acting out in troubling ways.

Then she discovers a potential informant murdered in her Bismarck hotel. Take Back Our Homeland might be even more dangerous than she had thought—and she’s unwittingly become one of the key players in the story. Her fear and anxiety escalate – for her marriage, her daughter, and her own life.


My Review

[Click the titles to see my reviews of the first two books in the series,
The Newsmakers and The Candidate.]

The United States is a nice place to visit, but I wouldn’t want to live there. After reading The Separatists, Lis Wiehl’s latest heart-stopper, that would not be a surprising sentiment in a foreign reader. The book is described as a ‘thriller’, and it most certainly is one, but it also ventures into the horror genre. Not the guts-splattering, monster-filled type of terror, but the psychological frightener kind, with a murdering, megalomaniacal, psychopathic terrorist at its helm. One who was duly elected into office through the process of American democracy.

Our heroine, Erica Sparks, news journalist supreme, struggles to get to the bottom of a heinous plot to tear apart America piece by piece, while distracted by a wayward daughter and an estranged husband. Whether she saves the day yet again, I will not say. I will note, however, that this is the last novel in the series, so hold your breath and cross your fingers in those final few chapters!

If you have not read the first two books in the terrific Newsmakers series, please do so before cracking open this one. Many old friends return here, and to fully understand Erica’s relationship problems the reader needs to know the histories of certain characters (including that of Ms. Sparks herself).

If you’ve already read and enjoyed The Newsmakers and The Candidate, then you know you’re in for a treat with Wiehl’s new offering, a fast-paced, scary commentary on the current state of the nation.

— Jennifer Michelle

Verdict

4 of 5 Hearts. Another Gripping, Furious-Paced Thrill Ride with Erica Sparks!

The Separatists, the third novel in Lis Wiehl’s latest series, has all the suspense and excitement of the previous two, with another disturbing cast of villains, and with even higher stakes. And, as in the previous books, it’s flawed Erica Sparks, always dedicated to uncovering the truth, whom we love to watch pit her intellect and courage against those who would unleash a terrible evil upon the country.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank BookLook Bloggers and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of The Separatists in exchange for an honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Christian Chapters: Upon a Spring Breeze by Kelly Irvin

An Honest Walk Through Heartbreak Toward Renewal

Upon a Spring Breeze cover - post sizeUpon a Spring Breeze
by Kelly Irvin


Series: Every Amish Season (Book 1)
Publication Date: March 28, 2017
Publisher: Zondervan
Length: 344pp
ISBN-13: 978-0310348054

Related Links:

Kelly Irvin’s Website


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Publisher Synopsis

After a devastating winter, a spring breeze promises more than new flowers.… It promises a new chance at love.

Bess Weaver, twenty and expecting her first child, is in the kitchen making stew for her beloved mann, Caleb, one minute, and the next she’s burying him after a tragic accident. Facing life as a young widow, Bess finds comfort only in tending the garden at an Englisch-owned bed and breakfast—even as she doubts that new growth could ever come after such a long winter.

Aidan tries to repress his guilt over his best friend Caleb’s death and his long-standing feelings for Bess by working harder than ever. But as he spends time with the young son his friend left behind, he seems to be growing closer to the boy’s beautiful mother as well.

When a close-knit group of widows in her Amish community step in to help Bess find her way back to hope, she begins to wonder if Gott has a future for her after all. Will she ever believe that life can still hold joy and the possibility of love?


My Review

Upon a Spring Breeze is the first in a new series (Every Amish Season) by Kelly Irvin. Kelly, one of my favorite writers of Amish Fiction, tends to come at her stories from a unique angle and never shies away from difficult topics.

Kelly’s no stranger to pain – she is living with two chronic, incurable conditions – and her personal life certainly helps to inform this novel. Readers are given a glimpse into the suddenly tragic life of young newlywed Bess Weaver who becomes a widow and a new mother in a few weeks’ span. Her baby looks just like his late daddy and he’s colicky. Bess can barely look at him for the pain and sinks into post-partum depression. While neighbors, family, and friends offer platitudes and epithets of faith, they seem to carry expectations and a timetable for Bess’ grief. They all talk about “Gott’s will” and “Gott’s plan” but Bess can’t begin to comprehend how so much heartache could be part of God’s plan for her life.

“Stiff upper lip and all that nonsense. It’s easy to say what we believe, but living what we believe, well, that’s another pot of potatoes.” (p. 79)

Like the character Mary Katherine says above, it’s easy to carry our faith around like a pair of unworn shoes, but it’s hard to actively walk in those shoes when they are worn and tattered. When life tosses us headlong into hardship and suffering, how do we hold on to hope?

The strength of Kelly’s writing takes what begins as a very sad circumstance and brings it to a hopeful conclusion. Just as God makes beauty out of ashes. And that’s the very heart of Upon a Spring Breeze.

— Dawn Teresa

Verdict

4.5 Hearts - Final

4.5 of 5 Hearts. An Honest Walk Through Heartbreak Toward Renewal.

Irvin’s beautifully touching novel unflinchingly deals with loss, guilt, despair, family relational dynamics, and other challenges of life, while showing that no matter how dark things may get, help and hope are never too distant, and joy and love can still be found.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Fiction Guild, Thomas Nelson, and BookLook Bloggers for providing me with a copy of Upon a Spring Breeze in exchange for a fair and honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Interview with Amy Clipston (Plus Giveaway!)

A Mother’s Day Q&A with Author Amy Clipston

Amy and sons

Amy Clipston with sons Matt and Zac

What was your favorite Mother’s Day? 

My favorite was after Matt was born because I had my two wonderful boys.

What was your most favorite book to read to your boys when they were little?

Zac absolutely loved Big Joe’s Trailer Truck by Joe Mathieu! He knew it by heart! It’s the cutest book, and I read it to Matt also. We kept it and will pass it on if they have children.

Do you get any book ideas from your sons’ shenanigans?

I haven’t really included any of their shenanigans, but I did model a character after Zac. In my young adult book Roadside Assistance, Logan, who is Whitney’s younger brother, was inspired by Zac. Logan likes Star Wars and video games, and his room is decorated similarly to how Zac’s room used to look.

What’s one of your favorite memories/stories of your boys with your books?

For the past four years I’ve spoken to the 6th grade at my boys’ middle school. I don’t think I embarrassed them too badly when they were members of the audience. One of my sons doesn’t tell many people that I write books, but my other son proudly shares it with friends and teachers. He frequently comes home from school and tells me that the girls in his classes are reading my books. I’m thankful he’s not embarrassed by me or my books.

As a mother, what is your prayer for your boys?

My prayer is that they stay healthy and they find a profession they love. I also pray that if they chose to marry, they find someone who is nice and who will treat them with love and respect. I tell them repeatedly that love should never make them feel bad about themselves. I pray with all of my heart that they will be happy.

About Amy

Amy

Amy Clipston is the award-winning and bestselling author of the Kauffman Amish Bakery series. Her novels have hit multiple bestseller lists including CBD, CBA, and ECPA. Amy holds a degree in communication from Virginia Wesleyan College and works full-time for the City of Charlotte, NC. Amy lives in North Carolina with her husband, two sons, and three spoiled rotten cats.

Amy Clipston’s Website
Amy Clipston at Zondervan

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Don’t Miss Amy Clipston’s May Giveaway!

Click through on the photo to enter for a chance to win the prizes shown below, including Amish doll clothes that fit American Girls size dolls!

Amy Clipston May Giveaway

Christian Chapters: The Beloved Hope Chest by Amy Clipston

A Perfect Conclusion to a Heartwarming and Inspiring Series!

Beloved Hope Chest - postThe Beloved Hope Chest
by Amy Clipston


Series: Amish Heirloom (Book 4)
Publication Date: May 9, 2017
Publisher: Zondervan
Length: 320pp
ISBN-13: 978-0310341970

Related Links:
Amy Clipston’s Website
Amy Clipston at Zondervan

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Publisher Synopsis

In the final installment of the Amish Heirloom series, the Fisher sisters learn the mystery behind their parents’ marriage—and about the sibling who has never been spoken of.

Mattie Fisher’s three daughters know that she’s been keeping a secret from them. With each item pulled from the beloved family hope chest, they’ve discovered a new clue about their mother’s past.

But there’s a reason Mattie has been keeping her history hidden, and she’s not sure she’s ready to reopen old wounds. Will dredging up the past change the way her children view her? Or her marriage to their father? And can she handle the pain of revisiting the memories that preceded the last few happy decades?

Mattie’s story is one of grief and learning to love again. But like the best things preserved in a hope chest, it’s a story of love and redemption born out of heartache—and it’s past time to share it.


My Review

This morning, immediately after I finished The Cherished Quilt, book three in Amy Clipston’s Amish Heirloom Series, I dove into the final installment, The Beloved Hope Chest. Yes, I started and finished the book in the same day. And what a bittersweet feeling it is to be done!

With each novel in the series, Clipston has given another glimpse into the Fisher family. The first three books focus on one of the Fisher sisters: Veronica, Rachel, and Emily.  We get to know them at a trying but ultimately happy time in their lives, and with each of their stories, we get a peak into their mother’s past, which she keeps safely locked up in her hope chest.

Now, in The Beloved Hope Chest, we’ve come full circle as mother Mattie recounts her painful past that she has, until now, left largely unspoken. Having come to know the family so well through her daughters, it was neat to take a trip back in time to see the early days of Mattie’s marriage to Leroy. Rather than getting to see the genesis of a relationship and then having to guess at their future, we know this couple’s happy ending and instead see their rocky beginnings. And although you know it will all turn out, their futures don’t feel any less precarious as you witness Mattie’s losses and the Fisher couple’s individual anxieties and heartaches.

The Beloved Hope Chest is a story of deep loss navigated through faith, followed by healing and renewal. Above all, though, it’s a story of love. But before you tuck that thought into a tidy little box, hear this: it’s not another sappy love story. The Beloved Hope Chest is a thoughtful exploration of what love really means — it shows love in action, the kind of love we promise to one another when we take our wedding vows. The kind of connection between two people that only God can forge and that no human being can sever.

— Dawn Teresa

Verdict

5 Hearts - Final

5 of 5 Hearts. A Perfect Conclusion to a Heartwarming and Inspiring Series!

Amy Clipston has created a host of lovable characters in her Bird-in-Hand community, and her readers will be fully invested in the outcome as they watch the early days of the Fishers’ marriage unfold.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Amy Clipston and Zondervan for providing me with a copy of this title. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Book Tour, Giveaway, and Review: Unsinkable Faith by Tracie Miles

A Valuable Guidebook to Transforming Your Mind and Strengthening Your Faith

Unsinkable Faith - post sizeUnsinkable Faith
by Tracie Miles


Publication Date: April 1, 2017
Publisher: David C. Cook
Length: 224pp
ISBN-13: 978-0781414364

Related Links:
Tracie Miles’ Website
Blog Tour Landing Page


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Publisher Synopsis

For many people, remaining optimistic and feeling positive about themselves and their lives is a constant battle — especially when circumstances are difficult and life is hard.

For others, negativity is something that only sneaks up from time to time, yet still wreaks havoc in their hearts. Regardless of the root causes, once pessimistic thoughts permeate our minds, our feelings and emotions begin to control us instead of us controlling them. Eventually it doesn’t seem possible to stay positive, happy, and full of joy, and negative thought patterns shake our faith, causing us to sink emotionally, mentally, and spiritually over time. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Despite what storms roll in, hearts anchored in God don’t sink. When we change the way we think, we can change the way we feel and live, even if our circumstances remain the same. Intentionally embracing the opportunity to experience a transformed heart and a renewed mind opens the door for a changed life, because a positive mind will always lead to a more positive life.

In Unsinkable Faith, author and Proverbs 31 Ministries speaker Tracie Miles offers hope for women who struggle with negativity. Each chapter explores Tracie’s and other women’s personal stories, showing how they rose above their circumstances by transforming and renewing their minds.

Unsinkable Faith is a breath of fresh air for anyone longing for a heart full of joy, an unbreakable smile, and a new, more optimistic perspective on life. This book will equip you to:

-Replace pessimism with positive thinking by becoming the captain of your thoughts;
-Learn how true joy and happiness are based on choice, not circumstances;
-Overcome unhealthy habits of negative thinking by intentionally implementing three easy mind-renewing steps;
-Stop feeling hopeless and pitiful, and start feeling hope-filled and powerful instead; and
-Discover that when you change the way you think, you change the way feel, and in turn you can change your life completely.


About the Author
Tracie Miles - sm
Tracie Miles is a national speaker with Proverbs 31 Ministries and a bestselling author who’s spent the last twelve years inspiring women to become who God called them to be. She’s the author of Your Life Still Counts and Stressed-Less Living, and a contributor to Proverbs 31 Ministries daily devotions.

 My Review

I’ll be the first to admit it — I don’t have unsinkable faith. Though I’d like to think I’m tough, when the waters of life start to rise, I start flailing. Like Peter trying to walk to Jesus over the sea, my attention is focused on anything and everything that could go wrong. Consumed with negative thoughts and worse-case scenarios, my own doubts, fears, and insecurities weigh me down like a sack of rocks tied to my feet. It’s only when I’m gasping for breath and nearly gone under that I finally remember to look to where my help is — Jesus.

Words have the power to heal or the power to harm. Similarly, our thoughts — essentially words we speak to ourselves (or sometimes words we’ve heard from others that we’ve internalized) — have the power to weaken or strengthen us. We can’t change our circumstances, but we can change how we think and respond. In fact, Miles uses support from neuropyschology to show us that science and God’s word are in agreement:

Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)

Our minds can be reshaped and remade! With Unsinkable Faith, Tracie Miles shows us that we already have the tools we need to change our thinking and renew our minds and live more peaceful lives. With work, we can find that unsinkable faith. Fortunately, all we need is already at our disposal. What are the two main tools to defeat negative thinking? Scripture and prayer.

Miles makes the process clear through conversational language and repetition through various examples and scenarios. It’s a three step process – 3 R’s: recognize, reject, and replace. First, be aware of the negative/false thought or belief when it occurs. Next, compare what you’ve been telling yourself is “true” to what God’s word says is true. Reject the lie as contrary to God’s truth and, finally, replace it with words from scripture that will buoy you rather than pull you down. And by all means, pray for help releasing what you need to let go of.

Miles is part of the Proverbs 31 ministry, and if you’ve read other books from Proverbs 31 authors, some of what you find in Unsinkable Faith will be familiar. And that’s okay, because it takes repetition to break down fallacies in our mindset and start to rewire our thinking. I believe Miles had this in mind when she structured her book. She uses three stories from different women to help illustrate her points with each chapter.

At the end of each chapter, Miles hands over the oars and lets your “row your boat” and do the work. She includes prompts for “mind transforming reflections”, “mind renewing memory verses” from scripture for you to write down and commit to memory, and “chapter challenges” that ask you to take action or find practical applications for the skills you’ve been learning.

Miles acknowledges that renewing our minds is hard work. Habits take time to break and we must recognize that embracing positivity is a lifestyle, a continued effort, rather than a destination goal that, once reached, blankets you with uninterrupted peace of mind. You’ll slip, you’ll slide, and you’ll fall. But remember to get back up, dust yourself off, and keep looking up.

Ready to banish negative thoughts? What are you waiting for? Think you’ll fail? Miles knows we’re going to mess up. So in what is perhaps the most valuable section of Unsinkable Faith, she aims to help us avoid common traps she calls “whirlpools”. She lists ten of these hazards giving examples and explanations, then provides a lifeline from scripture we can use to stay afloat should we encounter any of these dangers. So, with a little reflection, you can close the book already equipped with some weapons with which to slay your own personal dragons!

— Dawn Teresa

Verdict

5 of 5 Hearts. A Valuable Guidebook to Transforming Your Mind and Strengthening Your Faith.

In Unsinkable Faith, Tracie Miles shows us that God’s word can help us overcome negative thinking and strengthen our faith even in the roughest waters.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank LitFuse Publicity Group for providing me with a copy of Unsinkable Faith in exchange for a fair and honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”


Tracie Miles’ Unsinkable Faith Prize Pack Giveaway!

Have negative thought patterns overtaken your life and shaken your faith? Learn how to anchor your heart in God despite what storms roll in in Tracie Miles’ new book, Unsinkable Faith. Each chapter explores Tracie’s and other women’s personal stories, showing how they rose above their circumstances by transforming and renewing their minds. Unsinkable Faith is a breath of fresh air for anyone longing for a heart full of joy, an unbreakable smile, and a new, more optimistic perspective on life.

Join Tracie and other readers on April 25th for a fun Facebook Live event and the Anchored in Faith Prize Pack Giveaway (details below)!

One grand prize winner will receive:

Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on April 25. The winner will be announced at the Unsinkable Faith Facebook Live event. RSVP for a chance to connect with Tracie and others searching for unsinkable faith, as well as for a chance to win other prizes!

RSVP today and spread the word-tell your friends about the giveaway via social media and increase your chances of winning. Hope to see you on the 25th!

 

Fiction Shelves: The Illusionist’s Apprentice by Kristy Cambron

A Pleasant Historical Romance That Stumbles as a Mystery

The Illusionist’s ApprenticeIllusionist - posting size
by Kristy Cambron


Publication Date: March 7, 2017
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Length: 356pp
ISBN-13: 978-0718041502

Starred Reviews:
Publisher’s Weekly

Related Links:

Kristy Cambron’s Website

Publisher’s Website


Buy the Book:

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Publisher Synopsis

Not all illusions happen on the stage.

Wren Lockhart, apprentice to master illusionist Harry Houdini, uses life on a vaudeville stage to escape the pain of her past. She continues her career of illusion after her mentor’s death, intent on burying her true identity.

But when a rival performer’s act goes tragically wrong, the newly formed FBI calls on Wren to speak the truth—and reveal her real name to the world. She transfers her skills for misdirection from the stage to the back halls of vaudeville, as she finds herself the unlikely partner in the FBI’s investigation. All the while Houdini’s words echo in her mind: Whatever occurs, the crowd must believe it’s what you meant to happen. She knows that if anyone digs too deep, secrets long kept hidden may find their way to the surface—and shatter her carefully controlled world.

Set during one of the richest, most vibrant eras in American history, this Jazz Age novel of illusion, suspense, and forgotten pasts is perfect for fans of The Magician’s Lie, challenging all to find the underpinnings of faith on their own life’s stage.


My Review

WARNING:

At ReadLove we try hard not to include spoilers in our reviews. But in order to explain the low rating this book receives, spoilers are unfortunately a necessity. So if you haven’t read the book yet and wish to make up your own mind about it, then please do not read below the line!

——————–

There is no way to say it but bluntly: For all its good points, The Illusionist’s Apprentice begins and ends problematically, and abounds in inconsistencies throughout. It’s a shame, too, because Cambron writes clearly, has a talent for characterization and chronicling a budding romance, and is certainly skilled at bringing to life an historic era, in this case the Jazz Age. In fact, her easy-to-read prose kept me turning the pages long after my disappointment urged me to abandon the book. I won’t list every troublesome moment in the novel, but I will present a sample.

A quick summary before moving on: On New Year’s Eve in 1926, a resurrection is staged in a Massachusetts cemetery by a famed illusionist. The dead man is revived (supposedly), says a few halting words, then dies. The illusionist is arrested for murder and the FBI investigates.

The first problem is that the mystery should be in ruins by page 14. The corpse to be revived has been buried for twenty-three years. A doctor, not involved with the deception, is asked to attest that the corpse shows “no signs of life”. He solemnly states that it doesn’t. And yet, he does not find it significant that the body — before being recalled to life — is not the least bit putrefied or decomposed, a sure sign of either life or a very recent burial. Even the author comments that it should be “a decayed corpse” with “rotting flesh”.  (Additionally, the man’s clothing and his simple “wooden box” had apparently undergone no deterioration after a quarter of a century underground, which surprises no one, not even the inquisitive press.)

Skipping ahead to the end: The solution to the resurrection trick is given casually, with a vague reference to a tunnel and a “piping system” for air. The reader is left with gaping jaw when she considers the myriad difficulties such a feat of engineering would encounter in 1926. The logistics of digging a long tunnel, especially in secret, are staggering. How do you precisely locate the coffin you’re aiming for? How do you remove hundreds of cubic feet worth of dirt, and where do you put it? How long would the project take — days, weeks? And all this occurs while the ground, we are told, is so frozen that a hole can’t be dug to plant a tree!

As regards the “piping system”, it would be interesting to know what air recycling technology was installed that prevented an unconscious man confined for hours in a narrow box from suffocating on his own CO2. How did evidence of that system vanish when the box was exhumed? And, given that the weather above ground was “frigid”, how did a man whose heartbeat had been artificially slowed to the point where a pulse was undetectable not freeze to death lying all those hours in thin clothes six feet below the surface?

Occasionally, the reader runs into oddities such as these:

— Even after being shot, Wren, our heroine, adamantly refuses to help the FBI, saying, “I can’t continue with the investigation, not if it means giving up my privacy.” A few chapters later, when Amberley Dover does the same thing for the same reason, Wren expresses her disbelief that her one-time friend won’t help the agents: “When people were dying, matters of reluctance should be the first to fly out the window.”

— While discussing details of the case, agent Elliot remarks on how the name of the revived-then-dead man matches that of the original occupant of the grave: “Stapleton wants us to think they were one and the same, but it has to be two men going by the same name. It’s the only possible explanation…” Three pages later, Wren mentions that the man who died had no identification (and therefore, no verifiable name at all).

— On page 158, Elliot states that the original toxicology report “showed nothing of substance”. Later, on 261, he tells Wren that “the original report named the foxglove plant as the probable culprit…”

Elsewhere, while the Jazz Age generally comes across well, all its glitter can’t hide an anachronism or two. But as with Shakespeare’s mechanical clock, we can read over small lapses without a blink. Harder to ignore is the fact that the FBI, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, for whom our hero works, did not operate under that name until 1935, years after the events in the book. Before then, it was known as the Bureau of Investigation, or the BOI. What an excellent opportunity was missed to add realism and color to the novel, and to educate the reader!

In her Acknowledgments, the author mentions that a circle of Suspense/Mystery writer friends laid out the early framework for her plot. Continued assistance from them would have been helpful. Rightly or wrongly, my impression is that while she excels at writing Romance and can maintain a suspenseful plot, Ms. Cambron has yet to master the intricacies involved in creating a seamless mystery.

— Jennifer Michelle

Verdict

2 Hearts - Final

2 of 5 Hearts. A Pleasant Historical Romance That Stumbles as a Mystery.

It hurts my heart to have to say negative things about a writer who’s so obviously earnest about her craft and her faith. But the fact is, The Illusionist’s Apprentice lacks cohesion and believability. It has style, occasional wit, smooth prose, and a strong Christian element, but only the romantic storyline is fully worth the reader’s investment of time.

*Disclosure of Material Connection: I would like to thank Fiction Guild and Thomas Nelson for providing me with a copy of The Illusionist’s Apprentice in exchange for an honest review. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

CD Review: Open Hands by Laura Story

Laura Story’s Latest: An Outstanding Album about the Beauty of Letting Go

Laura Story - Open Hands - posting sizeOpen Hands

by Laura Story


Release Date: March 3, 2017

Label: Fair Trade Services

Artist Links:

Laura Story’s Website

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Tracks

1. Death Was Arrested

2. Open Hands

3. You Came Running

4. Give You Faith

5. For the Love of My King

6. Awake My Soul (A 1000 Tongues)

7. Whisper

8. Every Word You Breathe

9. Majesty

10. Extraordinary

11. Grace Abounds


My Review

The first thing to catch my attention about Laura Story’s newest project, Open Hands — an album filled with songs she’s written or co-written —  is that she chose to lead off with the one song she didn’t write. I’d like to know the story behind her discovery and adoption of “Death Was Arrested”. Thematically, the focus is on Jesus’ victory over death in His resurrection that followed the crucifixion. His sacrifice as Messiah and Savior gave new meaning to life and death and brings us the freedom to live fully. 

When asked about Open Hands,  songwriter and worship leader Story attests that “worship begins with surrender”. So immediately after establishing our reason for hope with “Death Was Arrested,” she sings of surrender with “Open Hands”. Together with Third Day’s Mac Powell, Story entreats God to “take it all, every  weight, all the shame…take it all, ’til all I have is open hands”. Powell’s voice blends well with Story’s and lends extra depth and interest, taking what starts as an introspective moment and bursting it wide open into mega worship. Together, these two opening songs form a solid base upon which the rest of the album builds.

The only real downside to Open Hands is its brevity — the eleven track album clocks in at just under 43 minutes. On the upside, the album is beautifully produced, thematically tight, and nearly flawlessly sequenced. Quieter instances alternate with big corporate worship singalongs. Even when things get more amplified, Story’s gentle, thoughtful spirit remains. This is particularly evidenced on tracks 5 and 6 where Story refashions classic hymns. On “For the Love of My King,” she revisits “My Jesus, I Love Thee” adding her own chorus. Next, “Awake My Soul (A 1000 Tongues)”, written with Matt Maher, Matt Redman, and Jonas Myrin, borrows the first verse of the Wesley hymn “O’ For a Thousand Tongues,” using Wesley’s words as a launching pad into their own words of praise. The blending of classic and modern is successful in each case, and I’d dare to say that even Charles Wesley himself would approve!

I love the lush yet measured production of “Whisper” where Story’s poignant piano-base is given just enough accompanying bells and whistles to lend the necessary mystery and majesty as her waiting heart listens for the Holy Spirit’s whispered voice. Strong album sequencing continues,  with “Every Word You Breathe” carrying on the message of waiting and trusting. Meanwhile, on “Majesty”, Story has crafted a stunning melody around which to sing of God’s grace.

Just as Open Hands began with two big songs, it closes in similar fashion. “Extraordinary” is a gem of a pop-worship song, and though I usually try to avoid comparisons, here I can’t help but recall Amy Grant at the height of her success. Giving pause to contemplate the pain and suffering with which we are surrounded, the quietly gorgeous “Grace Abounds” will strike a welcome chord with listeners who loved Story’s hit song “Blessings”. As Open Hands comes to a close, the message Story leaves her listener with is this: “When it feels like hope cannot be found, grace abounds.” Now that’s a reason for hope!

— Dawn Teresa

Verdict

4.5 Hearts - CD - DVD

4.5 of 5 Hearts. Laura Story’s Latest: An Outstanding Album about the Beauty of Letting Go.

On Open Hands, Laura Story has written about surrender, faith, and trust, while leaving plenty of space for worship. After all, when we stop holding onto our worries, burdens, and struggles, and approach the Lord with empty hands, He rewards us by filling those open hands with blessings.

“Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing me with a copy of Open Hands in exchange for this review and post.”

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