Sunday, February 28, 2010

'Once in a Blue Moon' by Leanna Ellis - Book Review

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Leanna Ellis is a prolific author.  ‘Once in a Blue Moon’ is the first book of hers that I have had the pleasure to read.

Here is a book trailer for this entertaining read:

The main character in this wonderfully quirky and entertaining novel is Bryn Seymour.  Her mother died on July 20, 1969, the day that Apollo 11 landed on the moon; her death was under suspicious circumstances.  Bryn was only nine years old at that time.  She never knew the identity of her father.  She was raised by her mother’s mother, Bryn makes her living as an obituary and features writer for the Houston Chronicle.  She has become a cynical woman who is not sure there is a lot of good in the world.  Forty years later, her path crosses that of Howard, who was a friend of her mom’s in high school.  He was also an employee at NASA at the time that Bryn’s mother was employed there.  Bryn thinks Howard may not only shed some light on some of the holes in her life story, but would also be an interesting subject for a feature article.

Howard has an interesting world view.  He has inside information from his time with NASA, and wants to spread his message.  His son, Sam, moved to Howard’s small town in Texas, Marfa, in order to keep an eye on him and help him out when needed.  Sam is a ‘preacher man,’ and the sparks fly when he meets Bryn.  I don’t want to give away the ending of the book, but I do hope Ms. Ellis writes a sequel, so I can see the outcome of a potential relationship!

I found Leanna’s writing style to be very entertaining.  Here is a passage I think is particularly good:

Flying reminds me how I’ve tried to soar above problems which weighed me down, sent me into a tailspin of despair, pulled me to depths from which I never thought I could recover.  I always wanted to dare circumstances.  Maybe that’s why I’ve never been afraid to risk my life.  Only my heart.  When it breaks, I know there is no recovery. (p. 206)

Her descriptions are vivid, and her attention to detail is keen.  She does a wonderful job in transporting the reader into the lives of the characters, and making you care about them.  I was particularly taken with the Bryn character; we have a lot in common, including being from close to the same era, time-wise, and growing up without a father.  I am working on getting rid of my cynicism also!  I really enjoyed ‘Once in a Blue Moon,’ and plan on doubling back to read the other Christian fiction books by Ms. Ellis that I have missed, including: ‘Elvis Takes a Back Seat,’ ‘Lookin’ Back, Texas,’ and ‘Ruby's Slippers.’ 

This book was provided to me by B&H Publishing Group in Nashville TN for review purposes.  

Saturday, February 27, 2010

'Double Trouble' by Susan May Warren - Book Review and Giveaway

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Susan May Warren is a prolific and talented writer.  Her latest book, ‘Double Trouble,’ is the second novel chronicling the life of PJ Sugar.

PJ Sugar is a late-twenty-something lady who finds herself in the middle of all sorts of escapades.  In this novel, she has just returned to her hometown of Kellogg, Minnesota, and is trying her hand at being a private investigator.  She is working under the tutelage of Jeremy Kane, PI.  Jeremy is charmed and fascinated by PJ – as are most people with whom she comes into contact. 

As explained by Susan May Warren in the Author’s Note:

“The PJ Sugar series is all about discovering that God has great plans for even messy girls – like PJ, like me.  He likes them! He made them that way, and He doesn’t expect them to be perfect.” (p. 334)

Other characters in the novel are Detective Boone Buckam, her high school sweetheart, and PJ’s sister Connie, with whom she is living temporarily.  Their mother, Elizabeth, also lives there, along with Connie’s four year old son Davy, her new Russian husband, Sergei, and his parents Boris and Vera.     

PJ left her hometown about ten years prior to the events of this novel – shortly after her high school graduation.  Some events transpired that caused her to want to leave town.  It is not exactly clear what happened (as I interpret events). 

One of PJ’s first cases as a junior PI is to impersonate Dallas (aka Dally) Morrison, a young lady who will be testifying in a big trial in Chicago.  Jeremy is in charge of keeping her in hiding; PJ is to pretend to be Dally.  She lives in Dally’s home (and becomes good friends with Dally’s eighty-plus year old neighbor, Gabby), she works Dally’s job and she even plays catcher on Dally’s softball team. 

Gabby is a very Godly woman who gives PJ, who has her doubts about her place in this world and in God’s love for her, a lot of good advice:

“Sweetie, of course you’re going to make mistakes.  But don’t you know that God has a plan for each of them?  The truth is, every time you fail, it’s an opportunity for God to show you how much He loves you.  You go read Psalm 18, verse 19.  It says, ‘He rescued me because he delighted in me.’  Delighted.  That means He likes you.  He takes pleasure in you…. And every time you do something that just makes you want to scream in frustration, you have two options: to curl into a ball and hide or let God pick you up and dust you off and nudge you forward.  Let go of your fear of being judged, and draw with confidence to the throne of grace, because I promise you’ll find mercy.”  (pp. 248-249)

Despite missing a few details on what happened to PJ prior to the events of this novel, I still think 'Double Trouble' is a standalone novel; I had not read the first PJ Sugar novel, ‘Nothing but Trouble.’  However, this one was so much fun that I think I’d like to double back!  The third PJ Sugar novel, tentatively titled ‘Licensed for Trouble,’ will be out later this year.  It will be fun to follow the adventures of Miss Sugar – and see which gentleman she may end up with!


I would love to pass this book along to one of you!  It is gently read, and covered with clear contact paper – a great way to keep a paperback in brand-new condition!

There are several ways to gain entry:

1) Leave a comment here on the blog, telling me how much you’d love to read this fun tome!  Please make sure to leave your email address in this format – sample[at]gmail[dot]com.

2) Follow me on Twitter; I will more than likely follow you back!  If you are already a Twitter follower, that counts, too!  Please leave an additional comment to that effect.

3) Follow me as a Google Friend on this blog; if you are already a Friend, that counts, too!  Please leave an additional comment to that effect.

4) Become my Facebook friend.  Please leave a comment to that effect.

5) Follow this blog as a NetWorked Blog Follower after you’ve become my Facebook friend.  Please leave a comment to that effect.

So there are five chances to enter!  Please limit one entry per option.

This give away is for U.S. residents only.  The deadline for entry is Saturday, March 6, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. EST.  A winner will be chosen via the Random Number Generator on Sunday, March 7, 2010 and will be contacted via email.  The best to all of you!

This book was provided to me by Tyndale House Publishers in association with the LitFuse Publicity firm.  I am proud to be participating in the Double Trouble Blog Tour.

Friday, February 26, 2010

‘Life Lessons from a Horse Whisperer’ by Dr. Lew Sterrett with Bob Smietana – Book Review

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Dr. Lew Sterrett has an interesting combination of skills.  Dr. Sterrett has a ministry called Sermon on the Mount.  He also runs the Miracle Mountain Ranch Missions, which is in Spring Creek, PA, in northwestern Pennsylvania.  This ranch hosts summer camps, retreats, and apprenticeship programs for all ages.  In addition, Dr. Sterrett also runs Leaders by H.E.A.R.T..  Its tagline is ‘Human Equine Analogies in Relational Training.'  He has also promoted safety in public riding programs, serving as President of the Certified Horse Association for 7 years. licensed pastor, certified Youth, Marriage and Family Counselor, he earned his PhD from North Tennessee Seminary in 2007.

Here is a video of Dr. Sterrett talking about his Sermon on the Mount Ministry:

This is my first exposure to Dr. Sterrett and his various ministries.  I am so impressed!  I am seriously considering visiting the Miracle Mountain Ranch this 

Dr. Sterrett, along with Bob Smietana, has written his first book, entitled ‘Life Lessons from a Horse Whisperer.’ 

I was intrigued how a champion horse trainer would parallel horse training techniques to our relationship with God – but he pulls it off!  I have never seen such a powerful illustration.  I would have never compared the two, but it makes sense that there are comparisons between these two creatures that the Lord has created! 

Early on in his life, Lew made some observations about behaviors that motivate (and demoralize) people.  He came up with these simply truths for how to properly deal with people:

1.   Communicate clearly
2.   Prepare people for change, don’t spring it on them.
3.   Correct people in private, not in public.
4.   Deal with conflict immediately
(p. 210)

It seems apparent from this book that Dr. Sterrett is a wonderful boss.  I think some of my previous bosses could learn some things from these simple guidelines!

Dr. Sterrett provides numerous examples of problem behavior in horses and how he dealt with those problems, and how they applied to our interactions as humans.  As a young man, he incorrectly dealt with the bad behavior of a three year old mare named Nava Rose.  He lost his temper and threw this 1,000 pound horse to the ground.  He later apologized to her and realized the error of his ways:

“That day was a breakthrough for me.  Nava Rose didn’t have a problem.  I had a problem.  I’d asked her to do too much, too fast, and punished her when she couldn’t keep up.  That’s a problem many of us face – when someone won’t do what we say, we try to force them to comply.  Nava Rose made me look bad, and I couldn’t handle it.” (p. 22)

In this chapter on trust, he goes on to say:

“Nava Rose helped me learn how to capture the “want to.”  I had to re-earn her trust and rebuild her confidence.  She was afraid to fail because she knew that if she failed, I would punish her.  So I stopped trying to lead by fear and intimidation, and looked for ways to build her confidence.” (p. 23)

In the chapter entitled ‘Responsible Choice,’ Dr. Sterrett made this observation about how Jesus chooses to treat people:

“I had a need and I couldn’t meet it, and so I needed help, just like a horse who can’t do it on his own.  I realized that Jesus came into my arena, like a trainer comes in to work with a horse, so that I would come to know and trust him.  He didn’t make me come to him, and require that I clean myself up and make myself worthy of his attention.  He came into my life, as messy and unruly as it was, and embraced me just as I was.  Just as I want a horse to take the initiative and move towards me, God wanted me to move towards him, and trust him.” (p. 201)

Dr. Sterrett chooses to follow the example of Jesus.  Here are a last few passages to that effect:

“For more than thirty years, I’ve been preaching and practicing what’s known as servant leadership.  Rather than barking orders and expecting people to jump at my commands, I try to understand the needs of my staff first.  Knowing their needs and personalities allows me to better serve them.” (p. 205)

“Join me on my journey of knowing the greatest trainer of all time – Jesus Christ.” (p. 218)

I found 'Life Lessons from a Horse Whisperer' to be a very valuable book.  Although I have only had a few encounters with horses in my life (city slicker that I am!), I was able to relate to Lew’s examples, and believe they will be helpful in the home and in the workplace.  Dr. Sterrett uses a lot of common sense and Godly wisdom.  I will be referencing this book often.

This book was published by Monarch Books/Kregel Publications and provided to me for review purposes by the Litfuse Publicity Group.  I am proud to be a part of their blog tour

Thursday, February 25, 2010

'All Things Hidden' by Tricia Goyer - Book Review and Giveaway

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I have heard many wonderful things about the writing of Tricia Goyer; ‘All Things Hidden’ is the first book of hers I have read, and her 21st overall. 

Tricia currently resides in Arkansas with her husband and three children, where she homeschools, leads children’s church and mentors teenage mothers. 

This story involves the Stevenson Family of Heather Creek Farm in Bedford, Nebraska.   Charlotte and Bob Stevenson are raising the three children of their daughter, Denise (who perished in a car accident in California): Sam, Emily, and Christopher Slater.   

This book offers a sweet story about a Godly and loving family.  Charlotte is a wonderfully selfless woman who is caring and nurturing toward both her family and her friends.

A main theme in this story is the friendship between Sam, who is 18 and getting ready to graduate from high school, and Kendall, a new girl in town who is quite unconventional in both her dress and her demeanor (not to mention her name!).  Many of the characters in the story – loving Charlotte included – are concerned about the amount of time that Sam is spending with Kendall.  They are judging the book by the cover before reading the book.  Charlotte is reminded of the value of giving people the benefit of the doubt.

Another interesting side story is Charlotte’s investigation into her great-great-grandfather, Elijah Coleman, who was convicted in 1879 of the theft of money earmarked to build the new Bedford Community Church.  Charlotte is intent on clearing his name, and her family’s reputation as well.  The ending of the book handles that aspect very well and very neatly.

I found this to be a sweet story which brought to the surface many of the truths found in God’s Word- grace, redemption and forgiveness, among others.  This series would be especially enjoyable to young people in their pre-teen and teenage years.  The Slater children are learning many valuable lessons through their very Godly grandparents, including the value of kindness and forgiveness.  Although this is the only book in the ‘Home to Heather Creek’ series that I have read, it is not necessary to have read the preceding books in the series; it stands alone.

I am pleased to be participating in the ‘All Things Hidden’ blog tour with these other bloggers in association with the LitFuse Publicity Group.

This book was provided to me for review purposes by Guideposts in association with the blog tour supervised by the LitFuse Publicity Group. 

I would like to pass this hardcover book along to one of you! 

You can receive entries in several ways; please use a new comment for each entry, if you don’t mind!:

1)  Leave a comment on this post; please make sure to include your email address in this format (to combat scammers) – sample[at]gmail[dot]com.

2)  Become a Follower on this blog – please make me aware of that ‘follow’ in your blog comment!  You can also receive this additional entry if you are already a follower (thanks for that!).

3)  Follow me on Twitter; I will probably follow you back!  Please make me aware of your ‘follow’ in a new blog comment.

4)  Become my friend on Facebook.  Please make me aware of your ‘friendship’ in a new blog comment.  You can also receive this additional entry if you are already a Friend (thanks again!).

5)  Follow my blog via NetworkedBlogs on Facebook (after we become Facebook Friends).  You can follow on my Facebook page or on the blog (in the right column).  Please make me aware of that follow in a new blog comment.  You can also receive this additional entry if you’re already a NetworkedBlogs follower. 

Or any combination of the five!  Please limit one entry per option; thanks!

Please limit entries to U.S. residents.  The deadline for entry is Thursday, March 4, 2010 at 11:50 p.m. Eastern Time.  The winner will be chosen by the Random Number Generator.  The winner will be notified on Friday, March 5, 2010 via email.  So please be sure to make sure your email address is in included in your comment.  Thanks for participating!  

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

'Abigail: A Novel' by Jill Eileen Smith - Book Review

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The Bible is a wonderful book which provides us with many details about the lives of many people.  Jill Eileen Smith is a wonderful author who is providing us a fictional glimpse into several of these people in her ‘The Wives of King David’ series.  The first book in this series is entitled ‘Michal: A Novel.’  Jill’s second novel in this series is entitled ‘Abigail:A Novel.’  Her life is chronicled in the Bible primarily in 1 Samuel 25.  Jill fleshed out her story using a lot of research.  She studied the Bible and visited Israel for her research, and I would assume she also used some extrabiblical resources.  As a seminary student, I was very impressed with the detail in this book.  She uses details that are found in the Bible, such as the Urim and Chummin (see 1 Samuel 14:41), and a parapet (see Deuteronomy 22:8), as well as providing details such as the fact that unleavened bread was cooked on a heated rock.  She did a wonderful job of transporting me back to the period one thousand years prior to the birth of Jesus Christ.   

Jill paints a wonderful and solid portrait of a faithful, honorable, beautiful and intelligent woman.  Abigail had the displeasure, prior to her marriage to David, of being married to a dishonorable man by the name of Nabal.  He was a selfish and wicked man, and he treated her with malice and unkindness.  Despite that, she took action to protect Nabal from harm.  Ultimately, the Lord protected her from this man by striking him down, and allowed her to be favored by David, the future king of Israel.

David is portrayed in a very complimentary light.  He is definitely ‘a man after God’s own heart’ (Samuel 13:14).  His decisions are made with Adonai as his main focus.  And he comes across as handsome and charismatic – just as I am sure he was! 

I appreciate Jill helping to bring the people from the Bible into more vivid life and light.  It is always helpful to flesh out the stories so that they are more available for the current readers who may have little knowledge of daily life in the period of the Old Testament.  The characters in the book are three dimensional.  In addition to Abigail’s beauty and intelligence, Jill is not afraid to show her as being selfish and jealous at time.  And David, in addition to his charisma and battle acumen, has bouts of pride and lack of faith.  I am grateful that Jill adds dimension to Abigail and to David, while not adding to or detracting from Scripture.

I look forward to reading ‘Michal,’ which is in my collection.  The next book in the series will be entitled ‘Bathsheba,’ and will be released around February 2011.  There has been so much speculation on the motives of that wife of David; that will definitely be an interesting story!  The next series which Jill is working on will be the wives of the Patriarchs.

I had the pleasure of meeting Mrs. Smith recently (as we both live in southeast Michigan) at a book signing for ‘Abigail.’  Here’s a photo of the two of us, taken by her husband, Randy.  She is a sweet and interesting lady!

This book was provided to me by Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, for review purposes.

Monday, February 22, 2010

The Two Winners of 'Pure Pleasure' are.....

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The Random Number Generator has chosen the two winner of 'Pure Pleasure' by Gary Thomas.  

They are:




Congratulations, ladies!  I will be in touch to get your mailing addresses.

If you would like to read and order 'Pure Pleasure,' you can do so here!

There will be more giveaways very soon, so please stay tuned!

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Bardin Marsee’s NIV Waterproof Bible - Review

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Have you ever been in situation where you wished you had a waterproof Bible?  I have been hiking on the Appalachian Trail with Fred, and the rainy weather did not permit me to pull out my paper Bible (not without it sustaining some damage, anyway).  There are innumerable other instances where a waterproof Bible would be so useful.

Michael Marsee and his friends Bobby and Anna Bardin have had the same experiences.  They decided to take some action and find an answer.  The result is Bardin and Marsee Publishing’s Waterproof Bible.  The company’s tagline is ‘Be Inspired Anywhere.’

I saw the Waterproof Bible recently on and was amazed at the concept.  I made contact with Michael Marsee, to see if he would be willing to send me a copy for review purposes.  I provided my blog address.  When I did receive the Waterproof Bible, it was obvious to me that he had taken a look at my blog; he sent me the Pink Floral version!

Please take a look at this video of the Waterproof Bible on the top of Mount Washington, then people’s reaction at a display at Catalyst:

The Waterproof Bible is incredible!  It is 100% waterproof inside and out.  The pages are made of a thin plastic; its cover is plastic as well.  One can underline in it with a ballpoint pen or highlight with a dry highlighter.   It is waterproof, rugged, and tear resistant.  The binding appears as though it will withstand many years of use.  It is as solid in construction as it is in content (the Word of God, after all!).  The Bible is no heavier than a Study Bible – 2.8 pounds.  The Waterproof Bible is currently available in the following translations: New International Version, New American Standard Version and the King James Version.

I have spent the last couple weeks checking it out.  I have put the Waterproof Bible through the wringer – literally!  I did something that I don’t ordinarily do for testing purposes; I took a bubble bath.  The Bible came through perfectly.  I also took it with me when Fred and I headed out to Lakeshore Park with our two English cocker spaniels, Toby and Shelby.  Not surprisingly, in Michigan in February, it was a snowy day.  I intentionally dropped the Bible in the snow; I was able to wipe it off with no adverse effects.

This is taken from the Barden Marsee website FAQs page:

What are your future plans for your company?
We plan on learning and growing in our ability to operate a publishing company that brings glory to God and encouragement to the world. God has given both of us a heart for experiencing God in his natural creation and we want to continue to publish inspirational writings and scripture that are waterproof, durable, and tear-resistant, as well as keep our eyes, heart, and minds open for God's directing.
And this is from their Mission page:
The Waterproof Bible and THE OUTDOOR BIBLE originate from our desire to take God's word into all of His creation, regardless of the weather or circumstances. That is why they are completely waterproof and lightweight, dry quickly, are much stronger than paper, and adapts well to all extremes or reading environments (on a rainy campout, in a coffee shop, even in a hot tub). Just as a frog lives on land and in water, the Waterproof Bible and THE OUTDOOR BIBLE thrive in any situation or climate.
Wherever life takes you - carry the Waterproof Bible or THE OUTDOOR BIBLE and Be Inspired. Anywhere.
Their hearts are definitely geared toward getting the Gospel to all creation.  In fact, for every Waterproof Bible purchased on their website, a Waterproof Bible will be given to a person who is without.

I am so grateful for these folks to have taken the initiative to design and produce this amazing product.  The more that God’s Word is shared in the world – land, air, and sea – the better this world will be!

This Waterproof Bible was generously provided to me by Michael Marsee of Bardin Marsee Publishing for review purposes.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

‘Congo Vignettes: Stories of God's Faithfulness to Three Generations in the Heart of Africa’ by Shawn Lantz – Book Review

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I have been familiar with the Smith family for many years.  My first exposure to them was when I discovered two of the three members of the singing group Selah, Todd and Nicol Smith, were brother and sister.  Their soaring vocals and wonderful harmonies touch my heart – so much so that I played one of their songs at my mom’s memorial service in January 2005.  Nicol – now known as Nicol Sponberg after her marriage to Greg in 2003 – now has a successful solo career.  Nicol’s song, ‘Resurrection,’ is one of my all-time favorites!  I learned that Todd and Nicol had spent many of their formative years in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where their parents, Jim and Nancy Smith, serve as missionaries with Laban Ministries International.  Jim’s parents, Laban and Marcella, had founded that ministry in 1947.

The oldest child in the family, Shawn Lantz, currently resides in Nashville, TN with her husband Rob and their three children.  She has a ministry by the name of Esengo Ministries.  ‘Esengo’ is the  Lingala word for ‘glory;’ Lingala is the national language of the Congo.  Her passion is to encourage women to develop a love for the Scriptures.  She has written a book, ‘Congo Vignettes: Stories of God’s Faithfulness to Three Generations in the Heart of Africa,’ in which she shares her family’s legacy – both the triumphs and the struggles.  She provides an insider’s glimpse into life as a missionary kid (MK) in a culture so different from the one in which she was born. 

The family first moved to the Congo in 1979.  The children were all preadolescents; Jack would be born six months later.  There was a time of adjustment to living in Africa after having grown up in Michigan, but they all knew they were in the will of God.  Shawn is very aware that God is there with us in the good times and the bad.  She details a thunderstorm that raged as her father was traveling away from the family.  She compares that time to her life as an adult living through the storms of life:

“My ears, once so busy listening to the many distractions of life before the storm, are now able to hear Christ’s voice in a way I was not able to hear during my days of ease and sunshine.  A profound truth has been my realization of this paradox: It is when my world is most in turmoil and I have called out to Him to rescue me in the middle of the raging wind that I have heard Him in the secret place of my thunder.  Only after I have acknowledged my state of helplessness and fear am I able to trust that my God is with me in the midst of the lightning and thunderstorms of life.  I can watch the tempest safely, unshaken by the terror that cannot stand when my soul is still in His presence.  I am safe in my heavenly Father’s protection.” (p. 10)

Shawn goes on to tell us that God wants us to experience amazing grace and joy in this life:

“Did I always recognize God’s amazing grace as I was experiencing my life?  No.  Now as an adult, my heart wells up in love that my God is not a taskmaster who wants me to feel as though life is a drudgerous duty.  He delights in giving me the joy to serve Him.  If I miss the joy, I have come to realize, the problem lies in my perspective of the situation, not because the joy is not there.  He promises that in His presence there is fullness of joy.  I must give thanks to my Savior who allowed me to grow up in an adopted country, which allowed me to be the beneficiary of blessing after blessing as the result of His amazing grace in my life.” (p. 106)

I truly enjoyed reading this book that, time and time again, glorifies God and shows His faithfulness to a family that has given their lives for his work.  It was also fun to see photos of the Smith family throughout the years! 

In addition to ‘Congo Vignettes,’ Shawn is also the author of a women’s bible study called ‘Living with Unmet Desires: Exposing the Many Faces of Jealousy,’ in which she explores the life of Israel’s first king, Saul.  I will be reviewing that book soon – please stay tuned!

I had the privilege to meet Shawn in person at a fundraising event – a Ladies’ Tea - in January for Laban Ministries’ Women’s Literacy Center; she served as the keynote speaker (my blog post about the event can be found here).  She was as sweet as I expected her to be!  Her youngest brother, Jack, and his wife, Molly, who are worship leaders of a church here in the Detroit area, shared their musical gifts with us.  In addition, Shawn's parents, Jim and Nancy, were also in attendance.  It was a lovely afternoon!  I look forward to seeing how the Lord continues to lead and bless the Smith family!

You can order this book here.

This book was generously provided to me by Shawn Lantz for review purposes.

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