Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Review: The Spark and the Drive by Wayne Harrison


By an award-winning writer of short fiction, a devastatingly powerful debut novel of hero-worship, first love, and betrayal.

Justin Bailey is seventeen when he arrives at the shop of legendary muscle car mechanic Nick Campbell. Anguished and out of place among the students at his rural Connecticut high school, Justin finds in Nick, his captivating wife Mary Ann, and their world of miraculous machines the sense of family he has struggled to find at home.

But when Nick and Mary Ann’s lives are struck by tragedy, Justin’s own world is upended. Suddenly Nick, once celebrated for his mechanical genius, has lost his touch. Mary Ann, once tender and compassionate to her husband, has turned distant. As Justin tries to support his suffering mentor, he finds himself drawn toward the man’s grieving wife. Torn apart by feelings of betrayal, Justin must choose between the man he admires more than his own father and the woman he yearns for.

A poignant and fiercely original debut, with moments of fast-paced suspense, Wayne Harrison's The Spark and The Drive is the unforgettable story of a young man forced to make an impossible decision—no matter the consequences.


Published July 15th 2014 by St. Martin's Press

Available: Amazon | The Book Depository (affiliate links)


This novel is set in the 80s, after the revered time of the old muscle cars of the 60s and 70s. The story begins with Justin gaining employment with Nick Campbell. While working for him, he is struggling with many issues in his life and, as a consequence of becoming involved in his mentor's problems, unwisely pursues a relationship of sorts with Nick's grieving wife. Nick and Mary Ann have problems that are not easy for any couple to deal with, and Justin, though immature and unequipped at his young age, attempts to be the man that Nick cannot as he grieves silently in his shop.

Throughout the novel, I had a sense of how these characters and their situation would be quite interesting portrayed in movie format. It is perfect for car afficionados who will enjoy all of the detailed references to the type of repair and restoration that Justin and Nick are involved in. The novel is balanced between being very focused on the process of car restoration and between the subtle restoration that the characters themselves are undergoing in the process, though that process is extremely messy.

Despite the strange and uncomfortable love triangle and all of the violations it causes to each of the characters, they somehow learn from the experience and are stronger as a result in the midst of the mess of their own mistakes. This world is a broken, messy place, and these characters show that through their actions.

I think of this book as being something that men or car lovers would particularly enjoy because of all of the descriptions of Justin and Nick working on cars. Some of the references were lost on me, but I was able to grasp the overall storyline and enjoy it.

Young Adult Notes:

As a book in the adult age category, this book contains mature themes involving death and sexual experimentation. Explicit sexual description and language; strong language; substance use and abuse.

Source: Thanks to the author for providing a copy of this title in exchange for a fair review.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Author Interview: Connor Boyack (The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil)

Today I'm happy to have Connor Boyack here on the blog to answer a few questions about his new book THE TUTTLE TWINS AND THE MIRACULOUS PENCIL (with illustrator Elijah Stanfield). Connor Boyack is president of Libertas Institute, a public policy think tank in Utah. He is the author of several books along with hundreds of columns and articles championing individual liberty. Connor's work has been publicly praised by national figures such as Ron Paul, Judge Andrew Napolitano, Tom Woods, and many others.

Why did you decide to help introduce children to the concept of liberty in a fresh way?

I have two young children, and I was looking for books I could provide them to teach them what liberty is and what it actually looks like. There was nothing! There's material to teach kids about some history, or about the Constitution, but the foundational principles were missing. Being an entrepreneur I decided to take advantage of the opportunity and fill the need myself.

What are the most important principles of liberty you are trying to teach?

Our first book, The Tuttle Twins Learn About the Law, goes to the basics—what are rights, why are they important, why we organize into a government to protect them, and why that government should not violate our rights. This second book, The Tuttle Twins and the Miraculous Pencil, teaches children about the free market. Over time we'll end up with 8-10 books in the series, each touching on a different aspect or idea so that parents will, when we're done, be able to provide their children a comprehensive (though simplified) overview of these issues.

How can parents or educators use this book to help kids understand the economy?

Economics can get really complex, but the basic idea is that you and I and everybody else buy and sell goods and services to improve others' lives while trying to improve our own. The key takeaway is that we should be free to do so—able to interact with others, exchange with who we want, and find opportunities and relationships that facilitate mutually beneficial agreements. The story in the book shows how this happens on a global scale for creating something as simple as a pencil, and really exposes the kids to thinking about everything around them in a much different light.

Why did you choose twins as the protagonists of the series?

I wanted there to be both a boy and girl character so any kid could relate, and since I have a boy and girl, I modeled the characters after the personality traits of my own children.

What inspired the idea of a miraculous pencil?

We knew that we wanted to do a book about the free market for our second book, and quickly settled on the pencil story because of an essay called "I, Pencil" by Leonard Read, who founded the Foundation for Economic Education. It's a short read and tells the same idea that we're telling the kids about through a fun story of a field trip to a factory.

How did you connect with your illustrator?

Elijah and I have known each other for several years, and a couple years ago we were at a conference together when he mentioned that we should work together on a project some time. Later that year I got the idea for our first book, approached Elijah, and he was totally on board—we have both been very inspired by The Law, a book written by Frédéric Bastiat, and so it became the basis for our first book in the series. He's amazing at his craft, and we get tons of positive comments from kids and parents alike about the quality and detail of the illustrations.

What degree of collaboration do the two of you have on this project?

I work on the story with input from Elijah, then he begins the drawings with input from me. He proceeds to refine the drawings, color them, etc., and then I deal with typesetting, layout, printing the book, distribution, marketing, and sales. It's a ton of work, but we are really motivated by the reviews and notes of appreciation we get from parents who (like myself) have been looking for material like this, but hadn't been able to find it anywhere.

What can we expect to see next from the Tuttle twins.

We're going to produce one or two books a year until we end up with 8-10 books. We haven't yet decided on which book we'll do next, but we have several options. Of course, we're always open to input from our readers!


Thanks so much for visiting my blog!

Don't forget to check out the Tuttle Twins official website!!!

The Miraculous Pencil can be purchased at Amazon!

Friday, December 26, 2014

Review: The Way of Tea and Justice by Becca Stevens


What started as an impossible dream-to build a café that employs women recovering from prostitution and addiction-is helping to fuel an astonishing movement to bring freedom and fair wages to women producers worldwide where tea and trafficking are linked by oppression and the opiate wars. 

Becca Stevens started the Thistle Stop Café to empower women survivors. But when she discovered a connection between café workers and tea laborers overseas, she embarked on a global mission called "Shared Trade" to increase the value of women survivors and producers across the globe. 

As she recounts the victories and unexpected challenges of building the café, Becca also sweeps the reader into the world of tea, where timeless rituals transport to an era of beauty and the challenging truths about tea's darker, more violent history. She offers moving reflections of the meaning of tea in our lives, plus recipes for tea blends that readers can make themselves. 

In this journey of triumph for impoverished tea laborers, hope for café workers, and insight into the history of tea, Becca sets out to defy the odds and prove that love is the most powerful force for transformation on earth. 


Published November 4th 2014 by Jericho Books

Available: Amazon | The Book Depository (affiliate links)

My Review:

In the stress of the holiday season, this has been a perfect read for me. Almost every sentence feels like something I should quote or stitch onto the proverbial pillow to review again and again. Becca Stevens uses the human rights violations in the history of tea to represent the former violence and victimization in the lives of the women that are being restored at the Magdalene rehabilitation center. Her dream is to create the Thistle Cafe to be both a symbol and physical living proof of the restoration in the lives of the women she is helping.

The book reads as warm and cozy as any cup of rich, aromatic tea, and descriptions of various world teas along with recipes for properly preparing at serving them are woven into the fabric of the book, telling the story of the oppression and struggle for power that seem to be inherent in the preparation and selling of tea. The observant reader will appreciate the irony that Stevens has both symbolically and literally taken a stand against that history by using tea as a vehicle of healing for the victimized and marginalized prostitutes and addicts she reaches out to.

As I learned in this beautifully poetic book, tea does have a violent history that is often overlooked as a force within itself. From the Boston Tea Party revolt to the abuses of England toward the tea producers in India, tea has literally rocked the world with its power. I'd like to say it's the addiction of  the caffeine, but I can't be sure. It is obvious, however, that men have been addicted to the power and allure of tea for almost as long as the earth has existed.

This book is both a deep and a comforting read. The perfectly chosen words that Stevens chooses are like a warm blanket on a cold day. At the same time, the reader is encouraged to think deeply about how they, the consumer, have a measure of power in what products they choose to buy, what production processes they are willing to accept. The average person feels little ability (or often doesn't see the need) to challenge the abuses of humanity by powerful corporations motivated solely by greed.

I admire Stevens's idealism in the pursuit of truth and love in the way she is trying to harvest a lovely crop of women that have been to hell and are on the way back, healing others even as they are healed. It's a beautiful picture of how Christians are called to minister. I hope and pray that I can use my own story in such a powerful way.

Young Adult Notes:

References to prostitution, rape, drug abuse, etc. No direct depictions whatsoever.

Source: Thanks to the Hachette Book Group for providing a copy of this title in exchange for a fair review.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Holiday Preview: Little Black Lies by Sandra A. Block

LITTLE BLACK LIES will hit shelves in February 2015, but don’t wait until then:

An extended preview of the book, featuring the first five chapters of the book, is available for FREE! 

The preview is available as a free ebook at all major online book retailers including Amazon.com, B&N.com, IndieBound.com, and more. 

"Little Black Lies is a darkly intriguing mystery with a feisty young doctor as its protagonist. Sandra Block pulls you in deep and doesn't let go."--- Meg Gardiner, Edgar Award-winning author 

She helps people conquer their demons. But she has a few of her own...

In the halls of the psychiatric ward, Dr. Zoe Goldman is a resident in training, dedicated to helping troubled patients. However, she has plenty of baggage of her own. When her newest patient arrives - a beautiful sociopath who murdered her mother - Zoe becomes obsessed with questions about her own mother's death. But the truth remains tauntingly out of reach, locked away within her nightmares of an uncontrollable fire. And as her adoptive mother loses her memory to dementia, the time to find the answers is running out.

As Zoe digs deeper, she realizes that the danger is not just in her dreams but is now close at hand. And she has no choice but to face what terrifies her the most. Because what she can't remember just might kill her.

Little Black Lies is about madness and memory - and the dangerous, little lies we tell ourselves just to survive.

About the Author
Sandra A. Block graduated from college at Harvard, then returned to her native land of Buffalo, New York for medical training and never left. She is a practicing neurologist and proud Sabres fan, and lives at home with her husband, two children, and impetuous yellow lab Delilah. She has been published in both medical and poetry journals. LITTLE BLACK LIES (Grand Central Publishing; February 17, 2015) is her first novel.

Visit Sandra’s website , Facebook, and Twitter!

  Read the first 5 chapters at:
Bookshout | Amazon | Google Play | Librify

I have not yet been able to read this title, but I am excited because of the protagonist being a psychiatrist with ADHD who is searching into her dark family history. I hope I have some time to sit down with this book after it comes out because I think it promises to be both a complex and a rewarding read.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Winner of Jesus Daily Devotional and T-shirt!

And the winner of Jesus Daily: 365 Interactive Devotions and a T-shirt is.....

  a Rafflecopter giveaway Thank you to Faith Words, Aaron Tabor, and everyone who participated in this giveaway. Hopefully there will be more to come! :)

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Update: Change in Review Policy

I have made some slight changes in my review policy, which can be found here. I look forward to being able to work with a tiny selection of self-published authors in addition to what I have already been doing.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Review + Giveaway: Jesus Daily: 365 Interactive Devotions by Aaron Tabor, MD

Based on the major themes found on the most active Facebook page in history, JESUS DAILY is a 365-day interactive devotional that goes beyond even the fan page to create a deeper experience and cultural movement that celebrates your redemption in Christ. JESUS DAILY presents a devotional thought but also challenges you to respond to each daily reflection using a variety of social media tools.  
JESUS DAILY is a worldwide revolution in how you can connect, share, and worship the Father personally and with other believers.

Published October 21st 2014 by FaithWords

Available: Amazon | The Book Depository (affiliate links)

My Review:

With so much media coverage of social media influences gone wrong, some in the Christian community find themselves boycotting those outlets for various reasons. The internet in general and social media specifically can be very addictive and an easy outlet to vent frustrations and negativity. This devotional book is a guide for those who want to use social media for a higher purpose - connecting to others to share the gospel, bring encouragement, and learn more about the Bible.

There is a different theme for each month, and each day contains a short but thought-provoking devotional based on a scripture. In this regard, it is much like the classic devotionals that we enjoy, but the daily interaction suggested each day is what sets this one apart. Every day brings an opportunity to connect to others online in some meaningful, positive way. Sometimes that is telling a personal story via a social media outlet, other days it involves engaging others on Facebook with intriguing questions, or even occasionally taking a break from the internet altogether.

This devotional is great for anyone looking to reflect on a scripture each day and find a practical way to apply that online. While nothing can substitute for face-to-face engagement with those around us, this can help us redeem our time online for something useful in the kingdom of God. I found that the daily interactions helped me to think of different topics for my personal blog where I typically share my thoughts of various verses of scripture. I also plan to implement some of the ideas provided to use social media to physically bring people together for different events, such as prayer and worship.

In New Testament times, the Roman roads, unparalleled at that point, were used by missionaries carrying the gospel across the Roman Empire. I liked the point brought up in the introduction that the internet is the Roman Road of our time, providing us with an extraordinary way of sharing our faith and witness across geographic boundaries. 

As Christians we are called to be in but not of the world. The world is ultimately looking for something different and something genuine. For Christians, our online life is a facet of our personal story and should reflect the reality of the truth by being ... different. This book is a great way to begin to reach others in this way.

Source: Thanks to @FaithWords for providing a copy of this book and a T-shirt in exchange for a fair review as well as giveaway copies.

Sample Devotion:

Available for purchase:Barnes & Noble | ChristianBook.com | Walmart

Win a copy of Jesus Daily and a T-shirt!

Open to anywhere in the United States.

Use the Rafflecopter widget below to enter.

a Rafflecopter giveaway