Saturday, April 28, 2012

Finally and Forever: A Review

Readers who have "known" Katie for years have come to expect the outrageous from our spunky friend, so Katie's spontaneous decision to go with Eli to Africa came at no surprise. What awaits her in Africa is a beautiful conclusion as one of my favorite characters finally stops chasing whims and finds what she's always wanted--a godly man and a place to belong.

Once Eli and Katie arrive in Africa, Katie is in for a culture shock that translates to some fun adventures: hugging giraffes, eating ostrich meatballs, and getting an African massage. Balancing the fun jokes Katie spouts as a defense mechanism is the great call Katie feels to help bring awareness to the needs in Africa. A call Eli doesn't share. Instead, he feels called to travel from village to village, accessing needs and setting up missionaries who come to help. Will the two be able to realize their dreams without losing each other?

I am just going to bullet point my thoughts:

1. I love Eli. I'm so glad RJD didn't have Katie settle for Rick. A fun, quirky character like Katie needed more adventure than Rick could give her.

2. I love Eli and Katie's relationship. RJG does a great job at balancing their passionate feelings with a determination and a choice to keep their relationship pure. Sometimes Christian fiction makes it look easy to be pure when in fact, it's not.

3. RJG is the master of sharing a Biblical truth without being preachy. She nailed it again in this book.

4. In this book, we as readers finally get to know more about Katie's relationship with her parents. I've read every book with Katie in it, and I always wondered why she felt the need to tell random jokes even at inappropriate times. I know now.

5. I really like the ending!

6. I loved all the African culture in this book--from the people to the customs and places.

7. I hope RJG will write more about Katie's work in Africa. There is a lot of story left to be told.

8. You should definitely check this book out if you are a Christy Miller and Katie Weldon fan. I've been reading these books for over 15 years now, and I still love these two gals.

I've Got Your Number: A Review

I'm a huge Sophie Kinsella fan, and this book doesn't disappoint. I love the premise. When Poppy loses her engagement ring during a hotel fire and then her phone is stolen while she frantically tries to find it, it's a stroke of good luck when she finds an abandoned phone in a trash can...a phone that belongs to the former PA for Sam, a high-profile businessman who keeps everyone at arm's length.

What follows is a fun, text-filled story. The characters are flawed and quirky, and the situations in which they find themselves are amusing. I love Poppy, who makes me laugh with her snooping and I enjoyed reading as grows into a confident yet still bumbling woman.

The mystery of who is trying to sabotage Sam's company adds to the story and gives Poppy and Sam a reason to interact.

My only complaint is that I never saw what Poppy saw in her fiance, Mangus. She didn't even seem to like him, and so the struggle with Poppy wanting/trying to forgive him or to choose him seemed far-stretched.

The ending is satisfying and downright cute.

Fans of chick lit will enjoy this great summer read.

I'm adding this here since I mostly read and review Christian fiction. This is not a Christian book, and there are some curse words. Just a heads up. :)

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Always the Designer, Never the Bride: A Review

Summary: Audrey began her designing career by creating wedding dresses for Barbie. After two years in New York City, Audrey's dreams are on the verge of collapsing. When Audrey heads south to the Tanglewood Inn to be a bridesmaid in her life-long friend's wedding, she's hoping to gain a new client in addition to celebrating a wedding. JR, the groom's brother, rides up in his motorcycle, and Audrey is swept away.

My thoughts: The first half of this book was a frustrating read. As a fan of the first two books in the series, I was eager to hear what was happening with the characters I love, but the constant "catching" up with old characters stifled the development of the new characters. I would have liked to be introduced to the main characters and had the more familiar ones pop in throughout the book. JR and Audrey are great characters. They are quirky and fun, but I felt I didn't get to know them until pretty late in the book.

Overall, it's a fun read. It's not one I will re-read or probably remember vividly six months from now, but it was enjoyable while it lasted.

I received this book in exchange for my review. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Need You Now: Review and Giveaway!

Summary: To the outside world, Darlene's life looks picturesque. Her husband should make partner at a law firm in Houston, the family just moved to a small town, her son is doing better now that they are away from the city, and Darlene has even started working with special needs kids. What lies behind the facade of perfectness may destroy Darlene's life.

My Thoughts: This is the first book I've read by Beth Wiseman. I found the beginning to be pretty slow and a little unfocused....too many story lines started. Chad has a no-good girlfriend who is tempting him to return to his old ways, Grace is dealing with her problems in an unhealthy way, the neighbor is a celebrity, a student's dad is hitting on Darlene. It seemed too many plots with too little time for development.
However, a third of the way through, the story focuses on Grace's problem and Darlene's marriage and the pace increases. I became more engaged in the story, especially since I Grace was my favorite character in the book. Because the pace was slow in the beginning, the ending seemed rush.
I know that sounds kind of negative, but I enjoyed the book.
I loved Grace and her struggle. I think it's a topic that should be explored, especially in the Christian market, where many feel they have to appear perfectly to others.
The minor characters really made this book shine, and I would love to hear more about them.

I noticed Beth writes Amish fiction, and while I don't read  much Amish fiction, I will check out any other contemporary books she writes as I enjoyed the tough topics and the quirky minor characters.

I received this book in exchange for my review. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

The publisher gave me a second copy of the book to giveaway! I am always eager to share books with others, but it's nice when I can keep a copy to read and give away one as well. :)

To enter to win, leave a comment about the book, the author, or whatever.
To get a second entry, follow the blog and leave a comment that you follow.
Please leave your email address.
I can only ship to the US.
I'll pick a winner next Tuesday.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Stand By Me: A Review

Stand By Me

Summary: When Kat Davies accepts Jesus into her heart at a music festival, her life changes. Switching from a pre-med major to education and moving from a public university to a Christian one are two choices her parents just can't accept. When Kat finds SouledOut Community Church, the headstrong young woman feels like she may have found a place to belong, despite the coldness she feels from worship leader, Avis Douglass.

Avis doesn't know quite why, but the outspoken Kat drives her crazy. With a possible closure to the school where she is principal, race issues in the church, and a daughter who she hasn't seen in four months, Avis has too much on her plate to deal with Kat, who just happened to have moved into the condo next door for the summer. Can the two women get over their differences to be just what the other needs?

My Thoughts: I read most of the Yada Yada series, and it was nice to pick up with some of the characters from that series. The addition and viewpoint of Kat is a nice break from the familiar characters. Kat is a great representative of a new Christian: full of zeal and eager to do just about anything to serve, even if it steps on other's toes. Her character is raw, not developed, and downright annoying, but since this seems to be a series in the making, that's okay for book one since she'll mature as the books continue.

The issue of race and the church is woven throughout the novel, and sometimes it seems the author goes out of her way to bring up race. I attend a multi-cultural church and feel although race is a part of a person and a church's make-up, it's not the whole person or the central focus of a church. The continual emphasis on race is one reason I didn't finish the Yada Yada series even though I do agree it's an important topic for discussion.

Overall, the book seems to be the same mold as the Yada Yada series, and fans of that series will enjoy this spin off. I will  check out the second book to find out how Kat develops as a character and a Christian and how Nick grows too....and perhaps what happens between them.

I received this book in exchange for my review. My thoughts and opinions are my own.

Thursday, April 19, 2012


In March of 2010, I took the Dave Ramsey Financial Peace class through my church. It was life-changing. If you don't know his plan, it is basically to pay cash for everything.
Step One: Get 1,000 in the bank for emergencies.
Step Two: Pay off debt, starting with smallest to largest. Put all extra money towards the smallest bill, and when it's paid off, you apply all that money as the extra towards the next one.

There are more steps, but I'm still on step two. The problem for me was that after paying my bills, I only had about 75 extra a month to put on my smallest debt even working extra jobs.
In December, I moved in with my mom to help me get out of debt and into a house sooner and to give her company after my dad's death. Even with paying her rent, I now have 550 EXTRA a month to pile on to my debt. I am finally seeing some real momentum with my debt snowball, and it's so encouraging.

As of today, I've paid off 16,971.20. I still have a LONG way to go.

I still need to make some changes to my lifestyle. I eat out too much. I have gotten out of the habit of using my cash envelopes to limit my spending. I still emotionally shop some days. But, I've paid off almost 17,000 dollars, and the debt baggage that keeps me from doing things I want to do (like short mission trips, traveling, giving more to charities, adopting, buying a house, etc) is getting smaller. Freedom is coming!

Proverbs 22:7 is one of the verses Dave uses in the class. "The rich rule over the poor, and the borrower is slave to the lender." It struck me profoundly. I don't want to be a slave or servant to anyone or anything but Jesus. After all, we can't serve two masters.

I want to encourage you if you are struggling with debt. It is so hard to change our habits. I hear stories of people who paid off 50,000 in a year, and I wish that could be me. But, I'm doing this slowly but steadily....a hard lesson in patience.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Her Family Wish: A Review

When Hannah Hart agreed to be a guest speaker for her friend's photography class at the local junior high, she never expected be attracted to the assistant principal, Jude Bradley, who is is also the overprotective father of one of the students in the photography class. Will the memories of their pasts keep them from finding the future God has for them?

My thoughts: I love the premise for this book---Hannah's past keeps her from really living, choosing instead to capture others' precious memories instead of making her own. Jude's past has caused him to disdain photography, fashion, and all the other reasons his wife chose fame over him and his daughter. This part of the storyline is well-developed and intriguing, but I just didn't feel a connection to the characters and found them both annoying at times.

I also liked the school aspect of the book. Having worked in public school education for ten years now, I thought the choice that Jude had to make between cutting the art program and the sports program was relevant and a nice twist (although I haven't heard of a school that only had two electives, but I do work in a large city). This added conflict made the book much stronger than just a love story.

Overall, I enjoyed the book. Usually I am a character-driven reader, but I enjoyed the storylines much more than the actual characters experiencing them.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

The Last Plea Bargain: A Review and Giveaway!

This is a busy blog post! First is my review, then an interview with the author. At the end, you'll find out how to win a copy of The Last Plea Bargain.

Summary: In Jamie Brock's three years as an attorney, she has never plea-bargained a case and is determined never to compromise her standards. However, when a well-known defense attorney is charged with killing his wife, he advises his fellow prisoners to refuse plea bargains and therefore backing up the court system until prisoners begin to walk as the justice system becomes overwhelmed with cases. Desperate to bring a conviction to the man who defended her mother's killer, Jamie just might have to make a deal with the devil.

My thoughts: Many advise writers to write what they know, and it's evident that Randy Singer knows about law and the justice system because the several story lines are woven together tightly, creating an exciting ride to the surprising finish.

In addition to telling a fast-paced court-room thriller, The Last Plea Bargain brings up the moral and political issue of the death penalty as Jamie's mother's killer makes a last ditch effort to delay his execution. The death penalty is a controversial topic, and Singer handles is gracefully, allowing the reader to come to his or her own conclusion.

Fans of suspense will enjoy this legal thriller that not only entertains but also gives the reader some food for thought.
I was given this book in exchange for my review. My thoughts are my own.
7 Questions with Randy Singer
Randy Singer, The Last Plea Bargain

  1. Randy, you bring a unique perspective to your writing because you are also an attorney and a pastor. How do you juggle these three things and still have a life?
Who said I had a life?

But seriously, it helps that these three things all draw on common skill sets. For example, principles of powerful story-telling are important for a pastor, lawyer and (obviously) writer. I’m a little ADHD and like being able to go from one thing to another. It’s like crop rotation—keeps things fresh. And, to be honest, writing is more like relaxation for me than a job. It gives me a break from the pressures of the other “real life” jobs and lets me go into a world where I get to control things! (aka “God complex”)

On the practical side, there are three principles that help me juggle. One, I try to stay focused on the big stuff. It’s not that I do the little stuff second, I try not to do the little stuff at all. Second, I stay focused on what I can do well and let others worry about the stuff that is out of my control. And third, I’ve learned to get comfortable with the fact that I will always have stuff in each of these areas that does not get done. As long as the ball is moving forward, I’m satisfied with that.

Ultimately, I thank God that, in His grace, He allows me to do three separate things that I love. My prayer is that I might bring glory to Him in all three arenas.  

2.    The Last Plea Bargain is loosely based on a case you tried. Can you briefly share with us some of the details of that case and why it is special to you?

In 2002, Donna Somerville was indicted for the murder of her husband, Hamilton Somerville, Jr., in Orange County, Virginia. Hamilton Somerville was heir to the DuPont fortune. The prosecution alleged that Donna Somerville had poisoned her husband with a lethal cocktail of hospice drugs and the case drew national media attention, including a front-page story in Vanity Fair and a Lifetime movie, Widow on the Hill. Donna Somerville was found not guilty in the criminal case in 2004, but I represented the daughters of Hamilton Somerville in a wrongful death civil case against their step-mother which had a very different outcome. That litigation, and the tension between seeking justice and extending forgiveness, played a large role in the writing of The Last Plea Bargain.

3.    Your main character, Jamie Brock, originally appeared in your novel, False Witness. Why did you decide to bring her back, and will we see more of Jamie in the future?

Readers will often ask me whether I’m going to bring back one character or another. I make a mental list of the characters mentioned the most often, realizing that those characters must have resonated with the readers in some way. Jamie is mentioned a lot. In addition, in False Witness, we saw her as an idealistic and persistent law student. Given her intriguing backstory and motivation for going to law school (her mother was killed in a home invasion and Jamie wanted to become a prosecutor), I thought it would be fun to follow her as she matured into a tenacious but conflicted prosecutor.  

4.    Jamie takes a pretty hard stance against plea bargaining. How rampant is plea bargaining in the legal system and is it necessary?
Most people don’t realize that about 90% of the criminal cases in our country are disposed of by plea bargains. A plea bargain is when the defendant pleads guilty to a crime, frequently in exchange for a lighter penalty.

This book asks the question: What if the defendants in a certain jurisdiction banded together and decided not to plea bargain, insisting on a full jury trial for every case? It would overwhelm the system. There wouldn’t be enough prosecutors or public defenders or available court dates. Even the defendants who lost would be able to claim ineffective assistance of counsel or the lack of a speedy trial on appeal. The system would be thrown into chaos.
That’s what happens in The Last Plea Bargain. Jamie Brock is staring down defendants who have found a way to wreak havoc with the system. Who is willing to compromise? Who will blink first?   

5.    While plea bargaining is part of the overall plot, at the heart of the book are the issues of justice and mercy. How does Jamie learn to balance those two?
Justice without mercy is legalism. Mercy without justice is license. Only when we realize the need for justice tempered with mercy do we have a fair and equitable result.

It takes courage to pursue justice. You have to stare evil in the face and demand accountability. It is easier to let evil have its day. So, if we cling only to mercy, then there is nothing to stop the advance of true evil. We live in a constant state of spiritual warfare. And God is a God of justice. We should be irate at injustice in the world and willing to risk our own lives to stop it.

But passionately seeking justice is just one step away from vengeance. And Scripture tells us not to take revenge into our own hands. Romans 12:19. Instead, we should leave room for God’s wrath, not trying to overcome evil with evil but overcoming evil with good. Romans 12:20-21.

How do we draw this line? I believe a lot of it has to do with motivation. Are we mad because somebody hurt us or disrespected us? Chances are, that’s vengeance. On the other hand, are we striving for justice for others, or devoting ourselves to a just cause? Chances are, that’s seeking justice.

6.    What do you hope readers walk away with after reading this book?
 First, I want readers to be entertained. If the story isn’t compelling, nothing else matters. So my primary goal is that readers will find it impossible to put the book down and, when they turn the last page, shoot me an email asking how long it will be until I finish another.

Second, I want to present readers, in the context of story, with compelling characters on both sides of the death penalty debate, so that readers might draw their own conclusions. And third, I want readers to walk with my characters down that thin line that separates the lust for revenge from the hunger for justice. And…hopefully, to learn which side of the line they might be walking on.

  1. Okay, Randy, what’s next?
I’m working on my next book tentatively entitled Rule of Law. It will come out next spring. It’s the story of another flawed protagonist. He is a former college quarterback who got caught up in a point-shaving scandal, served time in prison, and then went to law school and became a lawyer. He finally gets his first job but ends up at a firm where somebody is killing off all the firm’s lawyers, one-by-one (even lawyers who try to leave the firm). It’s a story about loyalty and trust, honor and betrayal.

At the same time, I’m working on a longer-term project (one that’s been on my desk for a long time) which will give readers a front-row seat to the two most important trials ever—the trial of Christ and the trial of Paul in front of Nero. The story is told from the perspective of Theophilus, Paul’s court-appointed advocate, and may be the most important book I’ve ever attempted.

Check out the Book Trailer: Book Trailer

Finally, the publisher has generously offered a giveaway with this review. The prize is a certificate valid for one copy of The Last Plea Bargain AND a signed book plate from Randy.  The certificate can be redeemed at the winner’s local Christian bookstore (US only) or through Tyndale (if there is no local store).

To enter to win, leave a comment about something in the review or interview that peaked your curisosity. For me, it's the long-term project Randy is working on. I'd love to read about the trial of Christ from an expert opinion like Singer's.
To get a second entry, follow this blog and leave a second comment letting me know you follow.
I'll choose a winner next Sunday, the 15th.
This giveaway is open to the US only.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Gods & Kings: A Review

Summary from Amazon: Gods and Kings is the story of King Hezekiah, heir to the throne of King David. When his evil father plots to sacrifice him, Hezekiah's mother, Abijah, searches frantically for a way to save him. But only two men can help her, and neither of them seems trustworthy. In a time and place engulfed by violence, treachery, and infidelity to Yahweh, Abijah and her son must discover the one true Source of strength if they are to save themselves and their country.

My Thoughts: I first picked up this book because it was free on kindle. I was pleasantly surprised at how much I enjoyed it. Austin brought the characters from the Old Testament alive. I have read the Old Testament stories  but rarely thought about the feelings or the humanity behind the words. These people went through the same struggles and temptations as I do. Reading this book made me want to reread the chapters about Ahaz and Hezekiah, seeing them in a new light.

The action is steady and exciting. Even though I knew what was going to happen since I have read the books of Kings, it was still a fast-paced adventure. The events line up with scripture and are evidence of Austin's research. Fans of Christian fiction with Biblical truth will love this book.

After reading this one, I eagerly downloaded book two!

Thursday, April 5, 2012

The Wedding Dress: A Review

Charlotte makes a living helping brides find the perfect wedding dress, but she can't seem to find her own even though her wedding is just a couple months away. On a whim, she buys an old chest at an auction and finds a wedding dress inside...a dress from 1912. Determined to find out the story behind the dress and why it was welded shut inside a chest, Charlotte begins to uncover the stories of the three women who wore it before. Although all different, the four women's common thread is the courage and faith it takes to wear the dress and find true love.

There's something about Rachel Hauck's books that speak to me on a deeper level than just an entertaining read. While the book centers on a dress, the story of love carries the book. Love for the men the women would marry and, more importantly, love for the eternal bridegroom, Jesus.

The characters are well-developed and unique. Although the point of view switches back and forth between Charlotte in present day and Emily in 1912, the plot flows along smoothly at a quick pace. In fact, I finished the book in one sitting because although I knew basically where the story was heading, I had to find out exactly how it happened.

Fans of Christian fiction who enjoy an engaging read with a reminder of Jesus' love for His bride (Christians) will love this latest book by Rachel Hauck.

I was given this book in exchange for my thoughts, and my opinion is solely mine.

Monday, April 2, 2012

So Over It: A Review

In the final book in the Skylar Hoyt series, Skylar is finished with high school and ready to move on with her life even if it takes moving to Hawaii to do it. Convinced a move will help from her past, Skylar takes off to make a new life for herself. When her family needs her back home, will she finally confront her past and deal with it, or will she continue to ignore the memories that still haunt her?

This book is my favorite in the series because Skylar finally finds herself, the woman God created her to be. While still not preachy, Morrill delivers a poignant truth of God's forgiveness. Readers will still be able to relate to the honest portrayal of a young woman trying to find her way. The conclusion the series still has a lot of drama as Skylar makes peace with her "frienemies" and finally puts the past behind her so that she can embrace the future God has planned for.

My only problem was that it was over too quickly. I would enjoy reading what happens next with Skylar and Connor, but even more, I would love to see what how Abbie, Skylar's sister, handles being a teen mom.

I recommend these books to teens, especially Christian teens who struggle with wanting to be popular and fit in without compromising their values. Be sure to read them in order though.

Out with the In Crowd: A Review

Summary: Skylar is juggling too many things: parents on the verge of divorce, a sister who will soon be a teen mom, a boyfriend who wants more time. To top it off, she can no longer count on her old friends, who don't seem to understand why she doesn't want to party any more. When her past comes back to haunt her, will she be able to keep it all together?

My Thoughts: What I liked most about this book was the authentic portrayal of Skylar's struggle between her past and what she wants her future to be. Too many times Christian fiction makes life out to be perfect once someone has accepted Christ, but that's when the true battle begins. The battle between our sinful nature and our desire to be more like Jesus. Morrill handles this transformation perfectly: no preaching and a lot of action in the form of teen angst, the flutter of first love, and real family issues.

Teens will relate to this book, and adult readers will be taken back to high school. Great book.

Me, Just Different: A Review

Summary: Skylar Hoyt's life changed the night she was almost raped. Vowing to be different, she stops partying and goes back to the youth group she had abandoned when she became popular. Her wild past continues to pull her back as she struggles with a jealous boyfriend, fighting parents, and a sister with a big secret. Will Skylar be able to find herself in the midst of all this chaos?

My thoughts: Although the book starts off shaky as the plot jumps around and the author tries to establish the main character, this book finds its ground about halfway through and becomes a great read. Many readers may not be able to relate to the world in which Skylar lives: pretty, popular, wealthy, but they will definitely identify with her struggle to find herself, her inability to trust, and the family pressure. The plot reads like a TV show with all the drama of boyfriend swapping, which will keep a teen reader's attention.

What I liked best was the author's way of sharing spiritual truth without being preachy. When Connor's family takes Skylar under their wings, Skylar (and the reader) get a glimpse of the Christian walk without lecturing or scripture quoting.

Overall, this book is an entertaining read and a solid first novel.