Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Criticizing ourselves

We are our worst critics. We criticize ourselves constantly and harshly. And in terms of our relationship with others, this causes us to do one of two things to other people: 1) Criticize them just as bad as we do ourselves, or 2) Idolize them because we find them to be everything we are not. Either way, our relationship with our family, friends, and acquaintances is damaged; the image we have of one another is crooked. And it all starts with how we see ourselves. However, I’m not going to start talking about how we need to have high self-esteem. No, because I think that the focus on self esteem might actually be part of the problem.

You see, we focus too much on ourselves, and that is not what God intended for us. God commands us to fix “our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Hebrews 12:2). God wants us to focus on Him, to think less about ourselves, and more about Him and His will. Some of us focus too much on what we don't like about ourselves, the parts of us that we just can't stand, that we want to change. On the other hand, some of us focus too much on what we like about ourselves: how beautiful we are, how smart, how talented, how athletic, how savvy we are. And here's where our high or low self esteem comes into the picture. But that is not what God intended for us to do.

Do you know what is the chief end, the purpose, of men and women? Do you think it's to look ourselves in the mirror and criticize or admire what we see? Do you think it is to constantly think about ourselves and how awful or great we are? No. The chief end of men and women, our purpose, our reason for living is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever. It's that simple. So simple. Too simple for some. We are not called, were not created to focus on ourselves, to compare ourselves to others, to look to others as idols or as people to put down.

It is not a matter of having a better esteem of ourselves. It is a matter of stopping to look for esteem in ourselves. Focus on God, on what God wants you to do. Focus on loving God and loving your neighbor. Focus on your relationship with God. Focus on serving others.

Strive to be like Christ; don't compare yourself to anyone else. Don't waste time looking in the mirror. Look to God, fix your eyes on Jesus, and live according to His Word. If you have your eyes on God and your heart set on serving others, your perception of yourself will change. You'll be able to see yourself as God sees you and you will be freed from criticizing yourself and criticizing or idolizing others. Live for God by His Spirit.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Hoodwinked: Ten Myths Moms Believe & Why We All Need to Knock It Off, by Karen Ehman and Ruth Schwenk

When my son was a toddler I went to one of my friends at church, who had a 7 year old boy, and told her that sometimes (maybe most times) I really had no idea what I was doing. Were my husband and I raising him as we should? Were we doing it right? What were we doing wrong? How could we do it better? She looked at me, nodded and said, "I feel the same way."

Ever since my son was born, I've always asked for advice, I've always sought help, I've always listened and tried to put in practice the sound advice I got. But I still had that nagging voice in my head, that doubting Debbie downer asking, Am I doing it right?; saying, I really have no idea what I'm doing. My son is six years old now, and I still have these doubts. Every time he talks back at me I think, What did I or we do wrong for him to be so disrespectful? I should be a better mom, because a better mom wouldn't have a disrespectful child.

Enter Hoodwinked. I didn't have high expectations when I first began reading this book. The authors sometimes try too hard to be funny and witty. Some of the motherhood myths were not myths for me at all. I thought I wasn't going to be able to relate. But I was wrong. It took me a while to get there, but I did right when I got to chapter 7. Yep, it got me good. Up until that chapter I was going to recommend this book to women thinking about becoming moms, to those who are pregnant and the ones who are just starting now. But Hoodwinked was written with everyone and almost every motherhood problem in mind. The advice given is biblically sound, based strongly on Scripture, always taking us back to God, His mercy, His grace, His plan and purpose for us.

The authors did a great job focusing on what really matters (our relationship with God) and redirecting the readers' attention to our need for God's wisdom and strength when raising our children. Also, exaggerated wittiness aside, the book is written so that you feel as if you were among friends, wise, caring friends. A great book to read before having children or if you're raising your kids right now.

We always have doubts, nagging little voices telling us we don't know what we're doing, or that we are doing it wrong. And it's a good thing, too, because it means we care, it means we want to do our best. But my big take away with this book was this: I am not perfect and I cannot do it all. If that were the case, I wouldn't need God and my son wouldn't need God. Through my imperfections, I pray that my son can see God's grace, mercy, and providence. That gives me peace in this motherhood journey.

4 stars out of 5

Friday, January 29, 2016

Dear Daphne

Before I (unintentionally) took two years off from reviewing books, I had requested a copy of Lock, Stock and Over a Barrel, by Melody Carlson, from the publisher through NetGalley. I, however, didn't read it at the time because, to be completely honest, Carlson is not an author I 'click' with. So imagine my surprise when I finally signed into my NetGalley account and saw that book waiting there. Reluctantly, I downloaded it and read it.

And I found myself, not only liking it but also looking forward to the next book of the series, Dating, Dining and Desperation, because, yes, unbeknownst to me, this is a series, the Dear Daphne series. And, of course, once I finished reading that one, I didn't waste any time buying the third installment, Home, Hearth and Holidays, because, you see, this may not be a 5 star series, but it's addicting. Once you start reading, you just have to know what's going to happen to Daphne.

In true Carlson style, the Dear Daphne series is narrated in a way that feels as if a friend was telling you the story. I like that. What I usually dislike about her books is the way Christianity is portrayed, superficially, and as an afterthought, basically saying that the character did this, said that, felt this way and, oh, by the way, she also prayed. So, when reading a Carlson book, I have to somewhat put my expectations of Christian fiction aside and read them as just contemporary fiction with a sort of Christian vibe, which is sad to me but still manageable.

Daphne Ballinger is a 34 year old woman who moves from New York to Appleton, her hometown, when she inherits her favorite aunt's house, along with everything else in her estate. However, that inheritance comes with strings attached in the form of a few conditions Daphne has one year to comply with or she looses the inheritance to an animal shelter. One condition is that she has to continue writing her aunt's advice column, Dear Daphne. Another condition, and the most implausible and baffling one, is that she has to get married. I know it sounds silly and it is. But, somehow, it works.

Daphne comes off as immature and boy crazy, mainly because she knows she is in a race against time, but it is still irritating. Every time she meets a guy she thinks maybe that's the one, and it doesn't help that every guy seems to fall for her or at least really, really like her. From the beginning, it's pretty obvious who is the guy she will choose (well, it better be Jake!), but she second guesses herself, and the guy, all the time. She also second guesses her own intentions, her talents, and her abilities, which is very frustrating. However, as annoying as Daphne can be, one can also identify with her, and her struggles and insecurities.

The secondary characters —her love interests, her family, and friends— are mostly well written, even though a few of them feel a bit cartoonish, especially the guys interested in Daphne. There's also the addition of a little girl in the middle of the series that sort of confused me at first, and I thought it would hinder the story, but it turned out to be surprisingly sweet and endearing.

Finally, the theology here is good in some parts, terrible in others. For instance, the experience Daphne has in a singles group at church in the first book is very good and enlightening. But what she writes as Dear Daphne in book 2 saying "But you cannot control other people. Not even God can do that!" was terrible and far from true (see Proverbs 19:21; Proverbs 21:1; Daniel 4:35). And the mention of karma really bummed me out. When you have such good, biblically sound teachings such as "You reap what you sow" (Galatians 6:7), using the word 'karma' is unnecessary, at least in a Christian fiction book.

Lock, Stock and Over a Barrel —3.5 stars
Dating, Dining and Desperation —3 stars
Home, Hearth and Holidays —4 stars (Here, Daphne was very irritating, but Jake was great. Loved him!)

All in all, I give the series (although I have not read the last book, which is set to come out in April 2016) 3.5 stars out of 5.

Friday, January 8, 2016

New Year, new purpose, new books!

Happy New Year! Yes, I know I'm a little late, but in Puerto Rico we still say "¡Felicidades!" to one another until next week, more or less. We are definitely party people, with our Christmas starting in early November and ending in the middle on January.

Today is my first day at work, after a great Christmas vacation. And this year is my "No Procrastination" year at work, and in my direct sales business. But I have named this year "The Year Of God" for all areas of my life, meaning that my focus will be on God, and His purpose will be my purpose from this year forward. In the past, I have sought God, I have aimed to follow Him faithfully, but I have failed many times because my mind has wandered, because I have let my mind wandered, because no matter how hard we try, as R.C. Sproul would say, we fail miserably in complying with the most precious commandment of loving God above all things with all our strength and minds and hearts. Because, in my case, I like to waste my time on Facebook, and Instagram, and reading the comments sections on polemic articles, and watching mediocre TV or bad movies just to pass the time, when I could be doing something much more productive and edifying.

So in this year of reforming my faith and myself, with the help and guidance of the Holy Spirit, I will focus on God, I will seek Him first and everything else will fall into place. Thus, there will be no procrastination at work or in my business. Of course, I know I will need to remind myself this; I will need to read this a few times during the following months. But I pray, I hope God will give the strength and diligence to follow through and I pray He uses me to bless others, inspire others, counsel others. This is His Year, not mine. He will do great things through me, for me. My focus is on Him for this year and the rest of my life... So I think that instead of calling it The Year of God, I will call it The Time of God. Yes. This is His time.

And a little heads up on what's coming next: reviews! "Joshua's Mission", "Lock, Stock and Over a Barrel", "Renovating the Richardsons", and "Dating, Dining and Desperation" are next, just to name a few. Also, I'm reading "Competent to Counsel" and will review it, as well as a new cookbook, so stay tuned!

Monday, December 21, 2015

A blog post two years in the making...

There's a saying in Puerto Rico (where I'm from and where I live) that goes "El que mucho abarca, poco aprieta", basically saying that if you try to carry too many things at once you will not be able to hold them tight. This is what that means: if you juggle too many things at once, nothing will get done as it should. And it happened to me. Family, church, work, direct sales business, book reviews, and a few side jobs, among other things, proved to be too much to handle and in the end, few things were done correctly and most things fell apart. Because this is what happens with me: when I have too many things at once my mind feels like an opened file cabinet. Too many files to handle at once, so I shut down. And it has been this way for the past two years.

No more.

I want to go back to basics, back to focusing on God, my family, my church and my work. Back to reading and enjoying it. Back to my books and good times.

During this time (two years!) in which I have not posted anything, I have read quite a few books, novels, and series that I have enjoyed. For instance, if you haven't had the chance to read The Matchmakers of Huckleberry Hill series by Jennifer Beckstrand you don't know what you're missing. It's funny, very romantic, entertaining and full of Amish wisdom.

Another good series is the Cormoran Strike series, by Robert Galbraith (a pseudonym for J.K. Rowling). This is not a Christian series, and the first book is full of f words and c words and just plain old bad words, but it's a very entertaining series all the same. So far I have read the first two, and liked the second (The Silkworm) better than the first (The Cuckoo's Calling).

I also recommend the Alaskan Courage series, by Dani Pettrey. I have yet to read the last book of this series (book 5 "Sabotaged") but the first 4 were great, full of suspense, mystery, romance...

Not a book, but still a great find for me, Lauren Daigle's CD "How can it be". Great lyrics, great music, very talented young woman.

For other books and novels I have read, you can visit my Goodreads account.

So relax, spend quality time with God, enjoy good times with family and friends, enjoy a good book, make great memories and live life! Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

The Christmas Quilt, by Vannetta Chapman

Two years after being married, Annie and Samuel are expecting their first child. They love each other, support each other and enjoy each other. Life is almost perfect. However, Annie’s best friend Leah is struggling in her marriage to Annie’s brother, Adam. She is also pregnant —with twins—, but her pregnancy is not going as smooth as Annie’s. Morning sickness, feeling tired, stressed and being uncomfortable, Leah has inadvertently distanced herself from Adam, and Adam has pulled away from her, too. Then, Leah’s pregnancy takes an unexpected turn, and she is taken to the hospital where she most likely may have to spend the rest of her pregnancy. But Annie will be by her side, and with some time in her hands, Annie may finally get to finish the crib quilt she is making for the twins. And little does she know that making the quilt will be a great blessing in the life of her friend, and that the quilt will have a profound meaning of growth in the Lord.

There’s a nice line in 'The Christmas Quilt' that describes the book perfectly: “[Stories] involve you in another’s life, but our road only intersects theirs for a time.” The story is a sweet peek into the characters’ lives at a slow pace, like taking the panoramic route on a road trip. It makes you stop and think about the details we miss in our daily lives, giving us a lesson in appreciating every small blessing. The author, as always, writes a tender story with a great attention to detail, each scene blending into the next, each situation serving a purpose, adding richly to the story.

As well as in Mrs. Chapman’s other novels, you can immediately see the sweetness of each character, even of those who appear rude and unlikable in the beginning. Annie is so level headed and mature; Samuel is incredibly sweet to her. Leah and Adam, on the other hand, are quick to react, and on the defensive, very much like teenagers in the beginning. But their spiritual and emotional growth throughout the book is fantastic. Although they are all main characters, the book really belongs to Leah and Adam. You see them change, mature and give a wonderful about face in their relationship.

But the secondary characters also grab the spotlight if even for a split second, and here lies my one and only frustration with the story: these characters are so well written, their backstories so intriguing, that they each deserved at least a more satisfying side story. Rachel, uncle Eli, and Reba would have added much more to the story had their stories been explored more. Rachel, in particular, was a wonderfully complex character in her relationship with her children and the people around her. I count her as a great missed opportunity in the book. Each of these characters had great stories of their own that could have made the story and its slow pace much more interesting.

As an Amish fiction, Amish wisdom is expected, and sometimes that predictability can be tiresome, mostly because authors tend to overuse Amish proverbs or make their characters so wise that they seem unreal. But Mrs. Chapman does a great job of showing us wisdom in almost every character in a very organic way. It’s the way they live, the way they face difficult situations, the way they see struggles and God’s hand in everything. Not every book of fiction can say this, but 'The Christmas Quilt' is a great lesson in finding wisdom through our spiritual journey, growing in the fruit of the Spirit.

Also, there are instances of beautiful emotional and spiritual intimacy, such as an incredibly touching moment between Leah and Adam when the two of them became of one mind and heart over the Word of God, that left me speechless. It’s a great story about growing up spiritually and emotionally, showing grace to one another, and trusting God’s timing.

Although this is the second book of the series, the author does a great job of weaving the story interlacing past details with new ones so that you don’t feel lost of left out. But, nevertheless, I highly recommend reading the first book, 'A Simple Amish Christmas'.

4 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book from the publishers through The Christian manifesto in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

In her eyes

(Many years ago, I wrote a simple article about my grandmother who suffered from Alzheimer's disease. I had written a poem in Spanish, my native language, but somehow I got it into my head that I wanted to be published in Guideposts, so I wrote the following article in English for that. I never sent it I have no idea why... maybe laziness... I don't know. Probably I didn't think it was good enough. But I thought today was a good day for it to finally see the light, mostly because I want to make sure that if you have a loved one suffering from this disease you realize that they still have much to offer, that you still have a chance to connect with them, to get to know them in a very different way, to enjoy their quirks, their wit, even their crankiness. Under your relative's thin veil of confusion there lies the person he/she was, without inhibitions.)

As my best friend dialed her grandmother’s telephone number, I stood still, amazed that she knew the number by heart. Suddenly, I felt a rush of guilt overflowing me, "How come I don’t know grandma’s phone number?"

I thought we were a very close family. We visited our grandmother every week and she would give my sisters and me a glass of Pepsi and a plate of Social Tea cookies. We talked, we watched television, shared a few memories together and then, off we went to our house until another week had passed and we would do it all over again. I never felt the need to call my grandmother, Tata, on the phone. Whatever it was we had to say, I figured, it could wait until our next visit. So my guilt found a justification and I was relieved.

However, although we may plan visits and trips and rationalizations, we can never fully plan for our unknown future, God does it for us. And His plan for our next step in life took me by surprise: Tata had Alzheimer’s and she could not live alone any longer. She misplaced her keys, she believed that she was being robbed, she argued that she wasn't receiving her retirement checks, she wasn't eating right, dressing right or behaving normally. She was sick.

So my family’s next move was for her to move in with us. "Well", I thought, "at least I will know her phone number now." But it felt strange. Pretty soon I realized that a few cookies and sodas, a few visits and talks did not provide for an understanding of who this woman sleeping in the bed next to mine really was. I did not know her.

What bothered me the most was that it was too late to start getting to know her. She had lost sight of who I was, who my mother was, where she was, what year it was, if she had eaten, if she took a shower, if the dress she had on was hers (and most of the time it was mine). Sometimes she didn't even recognize herself and had conversations with her mirror image! To me, it was funny and endearing, but, at the same time, I sadly realized that it was impossible to get to know someone that didn't even know herself anymore. The more her mind escaped her, the more irrational and erratic she acted.

On the days we went to church, however, she was on her best behavior. A woman raised with strict rules, she knew how to behave in public and she never forgot that. She was extremely ladylike and very well mannered, unlike me, and, she would say, unlike my sisters, too. To her, we had no social skills whatsoever. She knew how to sit properly, how to address someone in public, how to talk to strangers. She valued appearances, so she would put on makeup up to her ears, she would brush her hair, and always, always, pose. She would pose when talking to someone, she would pose for the camera, she would pose when laughing, she would pose when having a headache or when inventing a headache, she would pose when she wanted to dance or even when she thought no one was looking. She had class. I never knew that before.

At home, she would sit in the rocking chair, staring at herself 70 years before. She was a teenager in her eyes. She would ask to see her mother, her deceased sister Maria, her brother Milan, and her father. She wanted to be sure the cows were taken care of and the errands had been run. Then, suddenly, it was 30 years later and she was asking to see her daughters, her husband, and Juanchon, her driver. She wanted to cook dinner, tend to the pets, and make sure the clothes were washed. A very hands-on and caring person, she always wanted to be certain her family was well and taken care of.

When she came back to our reality, she would call me by name but did not recall she was my grandmother; she thought she was my aunt, that my mother was her sister, and that she was in charge of all of us. She was the matron of the house, capable of making decisions, the woman in charge who would kick visitors out if she thought it was too late or that it was the wrong time to visit. Every single time we had to explain her situation and ask our friends to please forgive her. But she was offended if her authority was questioned. In her eyes, she was responsible enough, old enough, intelligent enough, healthy enough to be respected and to be seen as the leader, as the chief. She was tough, and strong, and stern.

Tata was never more real to me than in those last years of her life. In the beginning, I was frustrated and afraid that I wouldn't know how to deal with her because I didn't know her. In the end, I realized that God really does work in unexpected ways. When I thought it was too late to get to know the woman lying in the bed next to mine, God opened a beautiful window through her eyes and I got to meet my grandmother as a child, as a teenager, as a newlywed, as a mother, as a grandmother, and as a friend. God knew it was not too late to get to know the funny, classy, caring and strong woman Tata was, and so He made sure I would meet her when I was old enough to know how important and valuable she really was.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Fear has a Name, by Creston Mapes

Jack and Pamela Crittendon live an ideal life: great marriage, beautiful daughters, a Christian household, nice home in a nice neighborhood… But when a dangerous stalker zeros in on them, their idyllic life begins to fall apart. While little by little the stalker seems to rob them of their peace, their security and their trust in God, Jack tries to keep his family safe and protected. Meanwhile, he is investigating the disappearance of a local pastor who has gone missing after leaving a suicide note in his office. As a journalist, Jack is committed to uncovering the truth behind the pastor’s mysterious disappearance to bring closure to his family. But nothing is what it seems, people are not who they say they are, no one knows what really happened and others prefer that it stays that way. With a pastor missing, his family in danger, a stalker on the loose and a double murder, everything is out of control and Jack’s world is upside down. Learning to trust God has never been more difficult… or more crucial.

As the story opens, the first scene was so great and scary it made me think twice about reading the book. The details and descriptions, together with our own imagination made for a very entertaining and frightful beginning. But 'Fear has a Name' is more of a drama than a thriller. Although there’s action and suspense, the story is more an unraveling of the characters’ inadequacies, fears, sins, pasts, tragedies, psychological issues, greed, hypocrisies and lies. It’s more of a good look into depression, its roots and consequences.

As we learn about the stalker, we can’t help but feel sorry for him and at the same time despise him. His depression has its roots in his parents, their Christian hypocrisy and their hate towards him. He feels unloved, unwanted and alone. He has his reasons for being who he is, for becoming that person, but nothing can justify his behavior. On the other hand, we have Pastor Evan. He has clinical depression and we can’t help but feel for him and at the same time be irritated by him. He is a great pastor, a great counselor who loves people and is genuinely interested in them. But the selfishness of his decisions, the disregard for his family and his self-centeredness was almost shocking.

The parallelisms between these two stories were nicely written: one with a good Christian home, the other from a hypocritical Christian household; both battling with depression, both on the run trying to escape their problems and their futures. A kidnapping of a person and a kidnapping of a soul.

However, as conflicted and as full of contradictions as these two characters are, Jack and Pamela are, well, bland. They are the main characters, but they just don’t grab our attention and interest as the others. Their actions are expected and their decisions, predictable.

Although the first few pages set the stage for what promised to be a great suspenseful ride, the drama overcomes the thriller and suspense and the story became more of an introspective look into the characters’ lives, their thoughts and feelings. We are privy to how they analyze their circumstances and to their internal reactions to everything, and it’s not good. Since most of the main characters are Christian, the story turns into a semi-sermon at almost every page, becoming too preachy and sometimes boring. Talking about God, his faithfulness, salvation, mercy, love and grace is wonderful; these are good news. But in a work of fiction, the repetition is unnecessary and makes the story monotonous.

We can still see glimpses of the author’s great ability to create tension and suspense, but they are fleeting. In a suspense/thriller the not knowing and guessing and discovering are the best parts, but here the stalker’s identity is revealed too soon and in an almost prosaic way. The same thing happens with Pastor Evan’s story, which made the story feel like running out of steam too early.

A wonderful beginning that gave way to an introspective drama that ended with a less than remarkable ending, 'Fear has a Name' does one thing very, very right: it gets to the core of our fears and the real solution for them: God. Through each struggle and problem, the characters, much like us, questioned God, His will and His reasoning. And as they learn and see God’s reassuring hand in everything, the reader ends up doing the same.

3 (or maybe 2.5) stars out of 5

*I received a copy of this book from the publisher, David C. Cook, in exchange of an honest review.

Monday, November 4, 2013

A Plain Disappearance, by Amanda Flower

On her first date with Timothy Troyer, Chloe Humphrey couldn’t be happier. A beautiful place, a romantic setting, soft snow, a sweet gift, and… a dead girl? And not just any girl: she’s a beautiful Amish teenager. Chloe is, once again, in the middle of a mystery: was she murdered? If she was murdered, by whom? How? Why? And when the evidence starts to point towards Timothy’s friend, Billy Thorpe, he joins forces with Chloe to try to prove his friend’s innocence. But Billy is nowhere to be found and when they discover that he is not who he says he is and that he is far more dangerous than he has let on, Chloe and Timothy set out to find him to confront him and bring him to justice, or prove his innocence.

This is a very entertaining book; a very light read with really well developed characters that make the book fun and interesting. Chloe is bright, bold and a risk taker. Her roommate (and Timothy’s sister) Becky is vivacious, fun but conflicted. Chief Rose is very unique in her own way, tough, brash and strong. Tanisha, Chloe’s best friend, is funny and smart. Grandpa Zook (Timothy’s grandfather) is a wonderfully colorful character, as well as most of the family. Chloe as the lead and these secondary characters make the series and this book in particular a great read.

However, Timothy, the male lead, stands in contrast with the rest: he is calmer, a little bit of a pushover and somewhat bland. He is very romantic and sweet, but with so many interesting characters in the book, Timothy stands apart lacking the depth and intriguing factor that the rest have. Even the troublemaker, Brock, who in the past and along with his best friend has made Chloe’s and Becky’s life miserable, has a great side story that was a nice, unexpected twist in the story.

As well as in the first two books of this series, we have a murder and Chloe in the right place at the right time for the murder’s discovery. The way the author writes, the mystery is always fun to unravel and intriguing. It does have some slight suspense, but this is not a book that will keep you on the edge of your seat. However, that does not take away from the book and your enjoyment of it. The fact that the action develops too slowly is what can frustrate you. Since it is a simple murder mystery, with a couple of red herrings, a few side stories are to be expected and welcomed. And here we have a very endearing one, very unexpected and surprisingly sweet showing God’s mercy in using us to impact others with our example even with the people we least expect it. That side story alone is worth reading through parts that just seem to drag the main story. But, even though some of the narration reads as if the author was just trying to lengthen the story, no side story here is a filler. Each one complements the main story nicely.

Also nice, at least in the beginning, is the romance between Chloe and Timothy and the charming attraction between Becky and Aaron. It is very evident that Timothy is very much in love with Chloe, and he is so sweet to her. But that relationship has been developing since the first book and by now it’s just moving painfully slow. The attraction between Becky and Aaron, Timothy’s best friend, is much more interesting and would make a great main story for another book.

Although the author follows the same line as before, casting a dark shadow over some Amish characters, this time around the Amish are presented in a better, more flattering light. It is not common to find an author willing to explore the unfriendly side of the Amish, at least not to the extend author Amanda Flower has, so it is a different, interesting take.

This is the third book in the Appleseed Creek Mystery series, and it is pretty evident, but it can be read alone. However, I would highly recommend to read them all and in order, not only because they are quite good, but also because the reader can best appreciate the characters’ growth and development that way.

'A Plain Disappearance' is a very enjoyable murder mystery, with a very nice message of God’s work in us and through us.

3.5 stars out of 5

*I received a copy of this book from B&H Books through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Critical Pursuit, by Janice Cantore

Officer Brinna Caruso is a woman on a mission: rescue missing children at any cost, personal or otherwise. Driven by her own experience as a child, Brinna does whatever it takes to find missing children with the help of her rescue dog, Hero. But this time, it hits closer to home than expected when a predator appears with the same MO as the one who abducted Brinna when she was a child. Brinna has to rely on her instincts and learn to trust her new partner, detective Jack O’Reilly, who’s struggling with feelings of revenge, anger and frustration after his wife was killed by a drunk driver. Jack seems to have a death wish at every turn, putting his life at risk and the life of others in danger. But with a kidnapper on the loose threatening to do more harm Jack knows he has to be someone Brinna can rely on. Together they will learn to trust each other and do whatever it takes to catch the kidnapper and put Brinna’s past to rest once and for all.

Although I knew that the story was about a kidnapper and the police officer trying to catch him, I was completely caught off guard by how heavy the issues were, how hard it was to read, not because it was badly written, but because it is so well written that it does not need to go into details to stir up your emotions. It strikes a chord… hard. And this is just in the beginning. As the story progresses, it’s difficult not to care, not to get desperate and start yelling, “Get him! Get him!” Almost like watching a movie.

The characters, especially Brinna, are developed nicely, with enough backstory to understand where they are coming from. In Brinna’s case, I would have liked to have a little more information about her father, but nevertheless she is a great character; very believable. She has faced a terrible situation as a child that has mold her into who she is now. Her situation is complex and hard and her reaction to it is what you would expect, very normal, which gives her character credibility and depth. Jack, on the other hand, is difficult to like and hard to identify with. Having lost his wife, he is understandably shaken and angry. But the way he dwells on his anger is a little too much. I cannot sympathize with him as I wanted to because his reaction towards everything frustrated me, even more so when he has a Christian background. I understand that losing a loved one in a senseless tragedy must be horrible, but Jack’s character comes across as little bit irrational at times. As much as I wanted to like him and feel empathy, I ended up not caring too much for him until a little before the end.

I really liked, though, the way the relationship between the main characters is developed, how it changes and grows throughout the story and as a result of it. It is not a romantic relationship, which surprised me in a good way because the book does a few twists and turns that are not expected in a fictional story. Of course, there’s more to this story since this is the first book in a series, but it is refreshing to have a story end with no romance in sight and still feel that you have closure, that there are no loose ends.

But the relationship between Brinna and Jack is one of a few relationships explored in 'Critical Pursuit'. As hard as it is to say and to read about, the relationship in the kidnapper’s mind between him and his victims is also examined and it is gut-wrenchingly twisted and sick, which speaks volumes of what a talented writer Mrs. Cantore is. Also explored is the relationship between us and God, its reciprocity, how sometimes it just doesn’t make sense. However, it was Brinna’s relationship with her mentor, the man who saved her when she was abducted as a child, that affected me most; how much she depended on him, how much she needed him, clinging to him as if she was still a little lost child, as the father figure she so desired. It’s in that relationship that becomes very clear how much Brinna needs God, his strength and faithfulness, even if she doesn’t realize it.

The author also does a very nice job of introducing police work without overwhelming the reader with police jargon. As a well written police drama, there are no details of police work or codes. The story flows from one action to the next giving the information needed to understand the situation at hand without having to explain excessively the intricacies of the work of the officers and detectives.

But as well written as the book is, the author does seem to forget dialogues between some of the characters. For instance, a conversation between Brinna and her friend Tony Di Santo where they talk about a situation they’ve discussed before as if they haven’t seen or talk to each other about it. Also, the resolution of the story’s central theme seemed anticlimactic, not at all what I expected having had so much anticipation built up until that moment.

Heavy issues, both spiritual and human, written with sensibility make for a very touching drama and a very hard to put down suspense.

3.5 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book from the publishers through The Christian Manifesto in exchange of an honest review.