Tag Archives: David C Cook

Book Review: Far and Near by Amanda G Stevens

Title: Far and Near
Author: Amanda G Stevens
Publisher: David C Cook
Published: February 2016
Series: Haven Seekers, Book 4
Genre: Christian fiction, Speculative

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

Marcus, Lee, Austin, and Violet are starting over. Texas is supposed to be their sanctuary. But the Constabulary isn’t ready to relinquish their worst offenders, legal jurisdiction or not. They’ve sent agents in undercover, and Marcus is the assigned target of one who has personal reasons to bring him back dead or alive.

Marcus and Lee are ready to be whole again, to secure a home here—together. But wholeness and home might not mean what they thought. Stopping the Constabulary hunters will require more than Marcus knows how to give, and God is about to use him again in a way he doesn’t expect.

Enemies, emotions, the past, the future—everything must be faced in the quest for a true haven.

My Thoughts:

I’ve loved this series from the start, so it’s somewhat bittersweet to reach the end of this final book. I’ll miss Marcus, Lee, Violet, and Austen, and yet I’m happy to see them find some resolution and healing, even as a few things are left realistically open-ended.

If you haven’t been following this series, you really do need to read it in order, so check out my reviews of Books 1, 2, and 3. And suffice it to say that this series really is worth the time investment to read it. Seriously. What are you waiting for? You’ve got some catching up to do! 😉

This installment rejoins our characters in the newly sovereign state of Texas, trying to build a new life for themselves in relative safety, away from the constabulary. Except that the constabulary may not be as far away as our heroes and heroines would like. And wow, have they got a lot of issues to work through. But can you blame them after all they’ve faced up to this point?

Our (already beloved) characters take center stage in this book, as they continue to grow and mature in their faith. And in the process, they have to confront their worst fears and do things they never thought they could, before they can reach the happy ending they so desperately want. There’s more romance in this book than in the earlier ones, but it’s subtle and understated, in just the way you’d expect from Marcus and Lee if you’ve been following this series and getting to know them. Sigh. Let’s just say that the ending is all I could have hoped for them, and leave it at that for now, shall we?

Book clubs will find a lot to discuss here on issues like religious freedom, trust, and building relationships. And readers who enjoy a meaty story with thought-provoking what if scenarios, and relatably flawed characters need to read this series. It’s easily among my favorites.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a complimentary electronic copy of the book for review purposes.

Quick Links: About the Book | About the Series | Author’s Site

Book Review: Take and Give by Amanda G. Stevens

Title: Take and Give
Author: Amanda G Stevens
Publisher: David C Cook
Published: August 2015
Series: Haven Seekers, Book 3
Genre: Speculative Fiction

About the Book: (from the publisher’s Web site)

Austin Delvecchio has tried to use his Constabulary resources to track down his missing girlfriend Violet. He finds a stranger instead, held illegally and mistreated. Rescuing the man will make Austin’s boss an enemy, but ignoring the situation will mean the man’s death.

Lee Vaughn has lost the most important person in her life. She continues his work her way, providing black market medical assistance to Christians and allowing fugitive Violet to live with her. Then she learns what really happened to Marcus, and the danger following him leaves them all with only one option: to flee.

To make it to freedom, all four will have to rely on their traveling companions. But that’s not easy when confronting past hurts, fear, and distrust.

My Thoughts:

As I finish reading Book 3 in this series, I am thrilled that the fourth book will be available soon [edit: yes, it’s already available as I’m posting this review] because I can’t seem to get enough of these characters. The fascinating premise – What if Christianity were illegal? – drew me in to this series initially. But it’s been the characters and their true-to-real-life struggles that have stuck with me and keep drawing me back for more.

This book picks up where the last one left off, continuing the tale from the viewpoints of Lee and Austin, two characters who appeared in previous books, but that we get to know much better over the course of this one. I have to say I was surprised by some of the details we learn of their motivations and backgrounds – Austin’s in particular – but the details fit and give me a whole new perspective on them. That’s one of the beautiful things about this series. As we look at things from different characters’ viewpoints, we get a multifaceted view that broadens and deepens our understanding of the characters and situations.

All that aside, the thing that really stands out about this series so far, and that I’d love to see accomplished more often in Christian fiction, is the way it grapples with challenging theological and relational issues. There are no straw-man arguments or easy answers. Nothing feels preachy or clichéd. Rather, some very difficult questions are addressed, gradually, within the fabric of the story and arising from who the characters are. It’s really quite elegantly done.

I want to read more books like this one.

Highly recommended. Just be sure to read this series in order. First is Seek and Hide, followed by Found and Lost, Take and Give and the recently released Far and Near.

Thank you to the publisher for providing a complimentary copy of the book for review purposes.

Quick Links: About the Book | About the Series | Author’s Site

Book Review: Found and Lost by Amanda G Stevens

Title: Found and Lost
Author: Amanda G. Stevens
Published: February 2015 by David C Cook
Series: Haven Seekers, #2
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Inspirational

About the Book (from the author’s site):

When Violet DuBay’s friend Khloe confides that her dad is a Christian, it’s the one secret Violet can’t keep. Turning in Khloe’s dad to the Constabulary is her duty. Her decision becomes an opportunity to infiltrate the Christian resistance; but as she gets to know Marcus, Lee, and the others, she’s compelled to question the things her society has taught her about God and His followers.

Clay Hansen persuades his family to join him at an underground church meeting and brings Violet, his teen daughter Khloe’s best friend. That night, the church is raided. He and his wife escape, but in the chaos, he loses Violet and Khloe. How can he find them with the Constabulary monitoring his every move? If the God who once spared Khloe won’t intervene, Clay will have to save her himself.

My Thoughts on the Book:

Found and Lost (Book 2 in the Haven Seekers series) is just as amazing as Seek and Hide (Book 1) was, and together they’ve left me eager to read more from this series. Thankfully, Take and Give (Book 3) has recently released, with a fourth book (Far and Near) on the way!

So what’s to love? For starters, the series has a fascinating (and chilling) premise. The books take place in a near-future society in which there’s a government sanctioned church and a revised Bible, but Christianity as we know it is illegal, as are traditional Bibles. Citizens are led to believe that Christians are extremists in need of re-education. And that’s exactly what they get, if they’re caught. It’s the kind of premise that grips you and really makes you think.

Then there are the characters. While Book 1 focused on Marcus, Aubrey, and Lee, Book 2 focuses more on Clay, Violet, and Khloe who bring along a whole new set of personalities and challenges. Clay’s desperation to restore his family and Violet’s journey of discovery both feel so real, it’s easy to get caught up in their stories. I found myself marveling at the unique perspectives each character brings to the series and how their viewpoints complement each other, giving a clearer picture of their society as a whole.

I think my favorite part of this book is the scene where a character reads a black market Bible and discovers that “This Jesus was different.” (Chapter 36) That scene in particular is so well done. The details, the emotion, the truth. It’s powerful.

I highly recommend this book. You’ll want to start with the first in the series though, since they build on each other. Oh, and fair warning, loose ends are not all tied up by the end of this one, and you will be left wanting more. Which is a good thing, considering there’s more to come!

Thank you to publisher David C Cook for providing an electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Quick Links: Goodreads | Author’s Site

Book Review: Seek and Hide by Amanda G Stevens

Title: Seek and Hide
Author: Amanda G Stevens
Publisher: David C Cook
Genre: Speculative Fiction, Thriller, Inspirational
Series: Haven Seekers, #1
Publication Date: September 2014

About the Book (from publisher David C Cook):

Six years ago, the government took control of the church.  Only re-translated Bibles are legal, and a specialized agency called the Constabulary enforces this and other regulations.  Marcus Brenner, a new Christian, will do anything to protect his church family from imprisonment – including risk his own freedom to gain the trust of a government agent.

Aubrey Weston recanted her faith when the Constabulary threatened her baby.  Now released, she just wants to provide for her son and avoid government notice.  But she’s targeted again, and this time, her baby is taken into custody.  If only she’d never denied Him, maybe God would hear her pleas for help.

When Aubrey and Marcus’s lives collide, they are forced to confront the lies they believe about themselves.   And God is about to grab hold of Marcus’s life in a way he’d never expect, turning a loner into a leader.

My Thoughts on the Book:

I love this book!  It makes me want to go bury a Bible in a time capsule out in the woods somewhere, just in case.  And then bury my nose in another copy of the Bible and soak up as much of God’s word as I can while I still can.  Because, seriously, what if this kind of thing actually happened?

Amanda G Stevens has dreamed up a dystopian future that feels a little too plausible for comfort.  And that’s the beauty of it.  This story reminds us not to take our freedoms for granted.  The details and “history” of the story’s present situation are revealed gradually, a tantalizing sliver at a time in such a way that the story world doesn’t overshadow the story itself.

Rather, the focus of this book is on the small scale.  It’s the story of one small church group that meets secretly in a back room, one pair of friends wordlessly supporting each other, one woman fighting to reclaim her baby and avoid trouble with the law, and one man determined to do his part to help one member of his Christian family at a time even if that means putting his own freedom on the line.

The characters are complex, and they’re dealing with some pretty significant issues.  One character is dealing with the emotional and spiritual fallout of having been raped years ago.  Another is an alcoholic, nearly nine years sober, and still struggling.  While these thematic elements put this book on the edgier side of things as Christian fiction goes, I thought these subjects were handled tastefully, from a Christian perspective.  On top of that, they provide a vehicle for worthwhile spiritual discussions on the nature of God, temptation, guilt, mercy, and how God uses His people for good, despite our weaknesses.

Oh, and there’s a twist, near the end, that I did not see coming AT ALL.  But I can’t tell you.  You’ll have to read it for yourself.  Fair warning though, you may want tissues.

On a more up-beat note, I really admire some of the lovely, creative descriptions found in this book.  Here are a few I highlighted as I read:

“God had put some beautiful things in the world, but nothing beat the sky.  Especially when it rolled with storm clouds the color of Lee’s eyes.” (from Chapter 4)

“She’d thought his voice deep at first, but it wasn’t very.  More like … solid, each word an arrow that knew where it headed.  And clipped.  The syllables never lingered.” (from Chapter 14)

I can’t wait to continue reading this series to find out where the story will go from here.  I highly recommend Seek and Hide, and I’m planning to track down a copy of the next book in the series, Found and Lost in the very near future.

Thank you to publisher David C Cook for providing a free electronic copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Book Review: Fear Has a Name by Creston Mapes

Title: Fear Has a Name
Author: Creston Mapes
Series: The Crittendon Files, Book 1
Publisher: David C Cook
Genre: Contemporary Christian fiction, Mystery / Thriller
Published: June 2013

About the Book (from Publisher David C Cook):

From popular suspense author Creston Mapes comes another faith-building thriller, a tale that follows journalist Jack Crittendon as he fights to protect his family from a stalker’s terrifying schemes, investigates a pastor’s mysterious disappearance, and struggles to keep his faith amidst unthinkable fear.

With his family’s safety on the line, Crittendon realizes there are secrets behind “Christian” walls – secrets with painful, deadly implications. He must find the faith to trust a God who allows inconceivable trials, and the courage to guard his family, with danger exploding at every turn.

Through it all, the sharp, character-driven writing for which Mapes is known takes fans and new readers on an edge-of-your-seat journey that explores the harsh, far-reaching consequences of bullying and the Christian response to fear.

My Thoughts on the Book:

At first I thought this would be a really easy review to write.  The books I enjoy the most usually are.  But as I thought about what to write about Fear Has a Name, I realized that with all the plot twists in this book, many of the things I wanted to discuss would be very challenging to say without revealing spoilers, and I’m determined NOT to reveal spoilers here, so I’m just going to have to watch what I say.  :)

In a nutshell, the three things about this book that made the biggest impression on me were the complex characters, the suspenseful and tightly woven plot, and the significant faith element embedded within the story.

Let’s talk about the plot first (in vague-ish terms to avoid those spoilers).  This book features two storylines, running in parallel, that eventually converge for a dramatic and emotionally moving conclusion.  Each storyline features mystery, danger, and the kind of urgency that keeps those pages turning.  I was hooked from the nightmarishly realistic opening scene straight through to the conclusion.

As entertaining as this story is, there’s a lot of substance here too.  Fear Has a Name is a thought provoking book that goes well beyond surface Christianity.  It grapples with some challenging theological issues like why bad things happen to good people, finding the faith to get through terrifying circumstances, and the idea that offering mercy to those who hurt us can be a way of pointing to what Jesus did on the cross.  Powerful stuff that, and well integrated into the tale.

I think that part of the reason the deeper stuff fits so well in this story is because many of the characters and relationships in this story have a depth and complexity.  The lead characters aren’t perfect.  Jack and Pam (and others) display real human flaws that make them easy to relate to.  As a married couple, they have their disagreements, but they’re both working to make it work.  (And, as an aside, can I just say that in a genre dominated by boy-meets-girl romance and courtship, it’s refreshing to see some lead characters in an established marriage.)  I was also impressed by the fact that even some of the… um… less admirable characters come across sympathetically.  I was totally rooting for some of the more messed up characters to rise above their past hurts, find redemption, and get their act together.

I’m kind of late to the game, reviewing this book a full two and a half years after it released.  But if you enjoy a suspenseful read, I can highly recommend this one.  And, FYI, the following two books in this series have already been released, so if you’re starting now, you’ll be able to read straight through.  :)

Thank you to author, Creston Mapes for providing a complimentary copy of this book for review purposes.  To learn more about this author check out his Web site / blog, where you’ll also find links to connect with him on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Review: Blowing on Dandelions by Miralee Ferrell

Title: Blowing on Dandelions
Author: Miralee Ferrell
Publisher: David C Cook
Genre(s): Historical Romance (1880’s Oregon), Women’s Fiction
Published: 2013

A treat for fans of historical romance and of Christian women’s fiction, Blowing on Dandelions makes a great start for Miralee Ferrell’s Love Blossoms in Oregon series.

Book Description (From Publisher, David C Cook’s Web site):

Do Dandelion Wishes Actually Come True?

Katherine Galloway knew this moment of calm wouldn’t last, blown away like the dandelion seeds she scattered as a girl. In 1880, three years after her husband’s death, she struggles to run an Oregon boardinghouse and raise two girls alone. Things don’t get easier when her critical, domineering mother moves in. Katherine must make the situation work, but standing up for herself and her family while honoring her mother isn’t easy. And with a daughter entering the teenage years, the pressure on Katherine becomes close to overwhelming. Then she crosses paths with Micah Jacobs, a widower who could reignite her heart, but she fears a relationship with him might send things over the edge. She must find the strength, wisdom, hope, and faith to remake her life, for everything is about to change.

My Thoughts:

I’m getting a late start on reading the Love Blossoms in Oregon series, having only just now finished reading the first book, a year after its publication.  But with Book 2 (Wishing on Buttercups) released this past February, a complementary novella (Forget Me Not) released in March, and Book 3 (Dreaming on Daisies) coming in October, this seemed as good a time as any to start reading the series.  I’m glad that I did because Blowing on Dandelions made for a very enjoyable read, and I look forward to the chance to learn more about some familiar characters in other books in this series.

The author does a great job balancing the need to stay true to the time period (1880s Oregon) with telling a tale that appeals to present day readers.  We get interesting historical details in a way that doesn’t take us out of the story.  In fact, the story feels almost timeless, perhaps because of its focus on relationships and the emotions, both good and bad, accompanying them.

Besides fulfilling the expectations of a good romance (lots of obstacles, both internal and external, on the way to a satisfying happily ever after ending) this book also delves deeply into relationships beyond that between the hero and heroine.  And it does so from LOTS of different viewpoints, for a multi-faceted look at those relationships.  Viewpoint characters include not just Katherine Galloway (heroine) and Micah Jacobs (hero), but also the heroine’s mother, daughter, and some of the boarding house guests.  While using more than a few viewpoints can risk putting distance between a reader and a story, I think in this case it adds depth to the story, sheds light on some significant misunderstandings between characters, and allows some of the less sympathetic characters to be viewed with more understanding.

Relationships dealt with in this book include those between a mother and daughter (Katherine and her domineering mother, as well as Katherine and her young daughters), between friends (relationships within Katherine’s quilting group, as well as between her mother and another strong-willed woman determined to befriend her), and … oh yeah … between a man and a woman who are each dealing with the deaths of their respective spouses and falling in love again.

It’s a complex tapestry of relationships, this author weaves, and she does a beautiful job of it.  With her experience as an accredited counselor and minister to women it’s no wonder she’s able to show both helpful and challenging relationships in such a believable and realistic light.  As I read and got to know the characters and their relationships better, I was drawn more and more into the story, and was pleased by the changes that took place as time went on.

Recommended reading for fans of historical romance and women’s fiction, but particularly for anyone who might be dealing with difficult family relationships, because this book takes a very hopeful look at just that kind of relationship.

Thank you to the publisher, David C Cook, for providing me with an electronic copy through NetGalley for review purposes.  Opinions expressed are my own.

Readers can learn more about author Miralee Ferrell on her Web site, and can connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.

Book Review: Lip Reading by Harry Kraus

Title: Lip Reading
Author: Harry Kraus
Publisher: David C Cook
Genre(s): Medical Suspense, Christian Fiction
Published: March 2014

About Lip Reading (From Publisher, David C Cook):

She Could Save Millions, or Save Herself.

She just needs a little longer. She’s really close. Dr. Rebecca Jackson, a medical researcher, stands on the verge of a breakthrough that will transform medicine. But she soon discovers the reason behind the miraculous progress in her research, and it leaves her with a nearly impossible choice . . . and little time to decide. More than her research is at stake. And more threatens it than this latest revelation. Something she’s tried hard to cover up. There is a high cost to some things in medicine and it’s not always the patient who pays. Can Rebecca find the faith and wisdom she needs to make the right call? The clock is ticking and the pressure is on.

My Reaction:

Lip Reading offers a fascinating glimpse into the world of pharmaceutical research, while keeping the reader turning the pages to find out what happens next.  Its lifelike characters face moral dilemmas and unexpected plot twists along the road to a bittersweet, yet satisfying ending.  Fans of medical suspense won’t want to miss this one, and I’d also recommend it to anyone seeking a thought-provoking read.

Book group participants take note, as well.  There’s plenty of fodder here for a good discussion.  There’s the question of whether Becca or Mel is the more suitable match for Noah.  There are several discussable instances in the book where characters act against the wishes of another character… with that person’s best interests in mind.  With characters facing difficult choices with multiple right answers, it would be interesting to see members of a book group debate how different choices might have led to different endings to the story.  I know I spent more time than I should have trying to come up with alternative endings.  :-)  You’ll also find a set of discussion questions in the final book, though it didn’t appear in my advance reader copy.

I think that the part of this book I admired the most was the way its message about God’s grace was intrinsic to the characters’ personal growth and the situations they faced, rather than tacked on as an afterthought.  For example, Becca’s ah-hah moment near the end of the book seems realistically presented as a culmination of past influences throughout her life, and not just a spur of the moment decision in a moment of fear.  I enjoyed seeing how interactions in her past that seemed to have no impact at the time did have a major impact down the road.

The medical details included in the book were explained in such a way as to make sense to a non-medical reader, without the explanations intruding on the flow of the story.  I was thoroughly intrigued by the research problems involved in creating artificial blood, and wound up doing a Web search to find that researchers really are close to a solution.  How cool is that?  (Disclaimer: I did major in biology as an undergrad, so maybe my inner nerd is showing?)

Anyway, I found Lip Reading to be a thoroughly enjoyable story and gladly recommend it.  Thank you to the publisher, David C Cook, for providing me with an electronic copy through NetGalley for review purposes.  Opinions expressed are my own honest opinions.

Besides writing, author Harry Kraus is also a surgeon and medical missionary to Kenya.  To learn more about the author and his other books, check out his Web site at harrykraus.com.