Once an Arafat Man by Tass Saada

Once an Arafat Man is the amazing story of a Palestinian sniper, well located within the PLO – he was even a chauffeur for Yasser Arafat – turned chef in the US, who then converted to Christianity and returned to his homeland to help those he once hated.

Likes: illuminating insight into the perspective of the Palestinian’s plight from refugees from their homes to unwelcome residents of neighboring Arab states. This story takes you deeper than the typical world news headlines to understand the the hatred and perspectives of the people of the Holy Land and offers hope into what the power of love and faith can achieve.

Dislikes: conversational tone/style of the book is abrupt and sometimes lacks smooth transitions between topics and events. Recommended for anyone interested in the middle east conflict on a personal level or the issues surrounding converting from Islam to Christianity.


Joel Freyenhagan is the husband of a wonderful wife and is the father of three children. His wife blogs at BooyaBooks.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Buried Alive by Roy Hallums

Roy Hallums is a retired U.S. Navy Commander working as a civilian in Iraq. His company, Saudi Arabia Trading, provides food for the American Army in Baghdad. With the collapse of Saddam Husein’s regime, kidnapping becomes the growth industry in Iraq for anyone with a car and friends with AK-47s. Anyone is a target: foreign correspondents, wealthy Iraqis, foreign diplomats. In 2004 Roy Hallums is kidnapped by such terrorists and this book is his story told with his own words.

His family was not notified of his kidnapping for several months and only learn of the incident by seeing the video that aired on the Internet and Al Jazeera television. The family goes into denial – he is suppose to be in Saudia Arabia; not Baghdad. Since the US government does not negotiate with or pay ransom to terrorists, the government agencies, expecially the FBI, were not very helpful to the family, always citing national security.

One must read the book to learn how Hallums survives the beatings, starvation, filth, moves from safe house to safe house, the threat of being killed, promises of being released, all the while forced to make videos surrounded by hooded men with AK-47s, and always having his face covered so he couldn’t see his kidnappers. For months Hallums is in total darkness, literally buried alive in a hole in the ground, covered over by concrete. And as Hallums see other captives come and go, some he is sure has been ransomed, others he is not sure if they were executed or freed, he is sure he will die any day, he thinks no one is really looking for him and he is doomed. He survives as he forces his mind to take mental trips, praying and asking God for his rescue.

The book clearly depicts the cruelty of one human being to another. The book keeps you turning pages to learn how he survives day to day, and how he survives the drama of when or if he will he be rescued, ransomed by his company, or be executed.

Recommended book for all readers, especially those interested in the Iraq war. As you read Hallums’ ordeal, you will become sad, find tears steaming down your face, and most of all, you’ll find yourself praying for his rescue.


Mary Asher, the Golden Reviewer, is a founding book blogger for BookGateway.com. She describes herself as “An 80 year old avid reader reviews the newest in Christian fiction and non-fiction with a sprinkle of the secular on top.”.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver

Samantha Kingston is having a bad day.  A VERY bad day.  One she gets to relive seven times.  In her debut novel, Lauren Oliver takes us into the very shallow world of high school. She brings us the story of four girls who live each day by their own whims.  Oliver makes a statement in her statement to the First Look Book Club.  She states that her first hope for the novel is that you won’t like Sam or her friends very much.  And, rest assured Ms. Oliver, I don’t.   They are vapid and self-centered.   They treat others around them abominably and are only interested in doing what they want to do. 
Even with that, you get glimpses of a group of girls who are doing what they think is expected.  Sam states several times that there are things she doesn’t like about what they do and even that she doesn’t like her boyfriend all that much; and yet, she acts just like a 17-year-old would be expected to act around her friends.  She shows that the desire to fit in can often override good judgement and even simple consideration for someone’s fellow human beings.
In grand Groundhog Day fashion (to which Oliver even refers in the novel), Sam tries seven different ways to  bring the day to an end.  The events of each day play out differently, depending on how Sam uses her knowledge of the day’s events to change their outcome.  
Having been on the opposite side of popularity while in high school, Oliver’s novel gives me a different view of  the students whose lives I thought were perfect.  At the time, I was very envious of the girls who seemed to have perfect everything.  I was of the opinion that it was effortless for them.  Oliver gives you a glimpse into a life that is not so black and white; one that makes you realize that very few people who walk this earth, young or old, have it all together.
Mid-way through the first chapter, I wanted to put it down and not pick it back up.  I was so irritated by the main characters that I wasn’t sure I could actually finish the book.  I kept going, hoping it would get better.  I am SO glad I chose to stick it out. Before I Fall is a beautiful novel by Lauren Oliver.  It is an amazing debut, and I expect we will see more great work from Oliver in the future. 
This book was provided free of charge as a review copy. The publisher had no editorial rights or claims over the content or the conclusions made in this review. No payment was provided in return for this review. 

Beaded Hope by Cathy Liggett

At the beginning of Beaded Hope, we meet four very different wormen, each with her own reason for taking a mission trip to help women in South Africa.  Cassandra’s motives are purely selfish, Gabby is running away from her grief, and Heidi and Katie (mother and daughter) are both searching for a way to find each other.  What these four women encounter in a small South African town will change them all forever. Cathy Liggett’s beautifully written tale has the power to change the reader as well. 
Liggett weaves the tale of hope and despair, loss and redemption, and ultimately, the power that our Savior has to both heal and change. As the four women grow closer to the women they are helping (all of whom are either infected or affected by HIV/AIDS) and to each other, we see their lives genuinely changed.  Liggett’s adeptness at descriptive language serves to transport you to a land of poverty, sickness, and above all, faith and beauty.
The women of this village possess indomitable spirits.  They live in harsh conditions and watch those they love become ravaged by a fierce disease.  If anyone has a right to complain about the lot in life delivered, it would be these women.  And yet, they humble me (and the other American women) by continuing to praise God for all He has given them instead of focusing on what they do not have or what they are losing each day. They never question His outcome for their lives; they merely continue to serve Him.
Be forewarned, you WILL need a box of tissues.  Liggett’s characters face hard choices and circumstances head-on.  She does not shy away from thought provoking subject matter; rather, she leaves you wondering what you would do if you were in the place of any of these women.  Would you give unconditionally?  Put yourself aside to put others first?  Would you step out of your comfort zone to do His will and live as He commands?  
This is a novel that I will read again and again.  It touches my heart specifically, as my husband is from Kenya and the people of his country remain strong in the face of adversity.  I would urge you to visit www.beadedhope.com to learn more about these women and how you can help them.
This book was provided free of charge by the publisher as a review copy. The publisher had no editorial rights or claims over the content or the conclusions made in this review. Visit www.tyndalefiction.com for more information on this book. No payment was provided in return for this review. 

The Clouds Roll Away by Sibella Giroello

The third in series about a forensic geologist turned FBI agent, The Clouds Roll Away finds Raleigh Harmon making her way back to her hometown of Richmond, Virginia after a forced assignment in Washington.   Soon after her arrival home, Raleigh begins to investigate an apparent hate crime with ties to the KKK.  She quickly (in my opinion) gets in over her head.  As with most mystery/crime novels, not all is as it seems and problems arise.  
I have to preface that I prefer to read crime novels through and let the story play itself out.  I do not spend any time as I read trying to figure out the “whodunit.”  I like to see where the author takes me.  I allow the author to take me on the journey of twists and turns, lead me astray, only to be caught off guard by the actual culprit.  There should be an ultimate AH-HA moment.  The ultimate twist should catch you by surprise.  The twist in this novel was not quite so dramatic.  I think the AH-HA moment was a little bit of a stretch, and it didn’t leave me with a desire to go back and read to see where I missed it. Also, there are parts of the novel that are more like a history or geography book as opposed to a novel.  Some of these passages are very helpful in making connections.  Others are not.  They seem to be inserted because they were learned during the research of the novel.
Having not read the first two books in the series, I will tell you that I am a little lost.  While the story itself regarding Raleigh’s investigation could stand alone, the interaction between the characters left me a little in the dark.  I needed to know more about the history between Raleigh and the other characters in the book, from her boss, to her mother, to her sister, and then her boyfriend.  There is apparently behind these relationships than you get in this book.  And, as a lead character, Raleigh isn’t particularly dynamic.  She seems to fall into most of what happens to her (good or bad). I will still give the benefit of the doubt and say that maybe I am missing something by not having read the first two installments.  
All in all, The Clouds Roll Away is an okay read.  There’s not much in the way of character development, but I am assuming that a lot of this is done in the first two novels.  Even so, I have picked up other novels that were not the first in a series and was so drawn into the story line that I absolutely HAD to read the first installments.  Such is not the case with this one.  I might go back and pick up the first two but doing so is not really a priority.  
This book was provided free of charge by the publisher as a review copy. The publisher had no editorial rights or claims over the content or the conclusions made in this review. Visit www.thomasnelson.com for more information on this book. No payment was provided in return for this review. 

Latter-Day Cipher by Latayne C.Scott

Journalist Solonnah Zee is assigned to cover the murder of Kristen Young, a young Utah heiress. The murder is not a ordinary murder, but one with strange carvings on the body and a note written in the weird symbols of the Deseret Alphabet of the early Mormon Church. This alphabet was designed by Joseph Smith with the writing of’ ‘The Book of Mormon’. The crimes soon escalate with the mutilated body of a long dead prostitute, the death of a hunter, a nameless man, a homeless old lady and the kidnapping of three men from a nursing home. Messages written in the Deseret Alphabet were left at each crime scene.

Who is behind these crimes? Are these incidents occurring to embarrass the LDS (Latter Day Saints) Church? What ties these crimes to the recent bombings of the Masonic Temples in Salt Lake City, Utah? Publicity like this is the last thing the LDS Church needs and it will do almost anything to protect themselves.

The author, an ex-Mormon, goes to great lengths to point out the differences between modern LDS doctrine, the Book of Mormon, and Joseph Smith and Brigham Young’s Mormonism. She has first hand knowledge of workings of the Mormon Church, but it is clear she had never been a worker in the temple. The book can be very confusing and hard to understand as it is sometimes difficult for Christians to comprehend the acts and rites of the LSD members and their doctrines.

Fundamental and practicing Mormons will be offended by the book, no doubt. However, it is recommended for those considering joining the LDS Church or have questions or doubts about their faith. It is a true eye-opener.

This book was supplied as a review copy by the publisher.

Secrets by Robin Jones Gunn

-Review by Scott Asher of AshertopiA.

Book one in the Glenbrooke Series, Secrets is the tale of Jessica Morgan a mid-twenties well educated woman looking to get away from her past with a clean break in a small town. The problem is that in a small town secrets are hard to keep – especially if you want a paycheck and the false identity she adopts to stay hidden doesn’t exist. To further complicate things, she finds herself on the receiving end of the affections of a stud fireman when she is trying to keep to herself.

Holding everyone at arms length, Jessica goes through her trials on her own, until she is drawn to a bright young high schooler, Dawn, who she has quite a bit in common with, but can’t express it. When Dawn talks Jessica into going on a mission trip to Mexico – with the fireman – her secrets and lies start to unravel.

This is a romantic fiction reprint from the mid-nineties – something that only becomes apparent in the clothing choices worn by the characters -white t-shirt and vest ladies? As is typical of the genre everyone is attractive, everyone is perfectly who they are – not conflicted – and the script doesn’t go off track for a second. You know what you are getting into as soon as you start reading. Strike that – you know as soon as you walk into the romance section of the Christian bookstore. For fans of the genre this is a good choice at this value price point as it starts the Glenbrooke Series. For readers who aren’t normally fans of romantic fiction, there isn’t much to entice you to pick this up. For me, the secret was the only reason to finish. Even then, as I said, I saw what was coming a long way off.

This book was supplied by the publisher as a review copy.

The Golden Cross by Angela Elwell Hunt

-Review by Scott Asher of AshertopiA.

The Golden Cross is the second of four novels in the Heirs of Cahira O’Conner. The matriarch of the Irish clan promised that her heirs would “restore right in the world.” The heirs all share one thing with each other, other than their genes, their vibrant red hair with a solitary streak of white just above one ear. This book tells the tale of Aidan O’Connor who grows up on a Dutch colony in Indonesia in 1642. Her father died on the trip over from England leaving her mother and Aidan without any money or source of income and stranded on the island. The only way they can live is to turn to a life far below anything they ever thought they would endure.

As Aidan grows up she recognizes that she enjoys art but doesn’t have any hope that anyone would train her or help her out of her poverty. Until, that is, a famous artist comes to the colony to draw charts on an upcoming voyage. When the artist sees the raw talent latent in Aidan he reaches his hands out to pull her up so that she can see the beauty that she has inside and create the beauty of God’s creation through her art.

Though this book was written more than a decade ago (this is a reprint, which is why it costs less than a normal new fiction title) it holds up well as an exciting look into the past and as a romantic historical fiction novel. Though I don’t usually enjoy romance I found myself looking forward to continuing the story. The author does a good job of weaving together the action and adventure of a sea-going vessel riding storms and fighting natives with the requisite romance. I recommend it to fans of the genre.

This book was supplied by the publisher as a review copy.

Keeping The Feast by Paula Butturini

Paula Butturini and John Tagliabue, both foreign correspondents, met in Italy, fell in love, and married several years later. Shortly after their wedding they were given assignments in Communist Warsaw Poland. The time is at the beginning of the Polish revolution. John is critically wounded by a sniper’s bullet and their happy carefree life they had known in Rome no longer existed plunging them into a horrible nightmare of events.

Paula, in her own words, tells of her struggles to overcome John’s many surgeries, his bouts of clinical depression, his treatments by numerous psychiatrists,and the birth of their daughter. She is not only trying to survive John’s illness, but also the death of her mother by her own hands. Love, food and Italy is the sustaining factor throughout the entire book. One must read the book to see how the simple daily selection of food, preparing the meals, her memories of family dinners and the ritual of eating three meals together each day at the kitchen table played such an important role in the healing of two people and stabilized their very existence. The love of Italy’s countryside, good friends and good food healed a hurting family.

An enjoyable read, but lacked substance. One learns a lot about ‘old world’ Italian cooking and the role food plays in the lives of Italian families. The story clearly points how the simple ritual of selecting, preparing and eating food can become an important step in the healing process.


Mary Asher, the Golden Reviewer, is a founding book blogger for BookGateway.com. She describes herself as “An 80 year old avid reader reviews the newest in Christian fiction and non-fiction with a sprinkle of the secular on top.”.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Sense and Sensibility, Insight Edition by Jane Austen

The story centers around two sisters – Elinor and Marianne Daswood. The love and loyalty between the sisters is astounding, but they do not understand each other. Elinor is a quiet, sensible and sensitive young lady cheerful and putting others first. Marianne is just the opposite. She has a quick temper, speaks before thinking, is often rude and is full of herself. Her wishes and desires come first regardless of who is hurt.

The family lives in late 18 century England where a person is judged by breeding and wealth, looking down on the working class. Circumstances change in the sisters lives and they are forced to move from the family homer to the country. Their half-brother has good intentions as to their welfare, but is overruled by his wife. Through the goodness of a distant cousins and friends, the sisters remain in polite society. Both have feelings for two gentlemen of the upper class, but whose feelings do not appear to be in their favor or any chance of marriage. What transpires in the lives of Elinor and Marianne along with their friends leads to some interesting conclusions.

Jane Austen has always been a favorite author of many. However, this is a reprint of the original book first published around 1811. The trivia and notes that highlight this “Insight Edition” in the right margin is very distracting, and at times I found the story rambling without anything worthwhile being said.

Jane Austen fans who want to reread the book will, no doubt, purchase the reprint for the interesting trivia, but I found it very hard to follow, due to the inserts in the margin, and to only hold my attention for short periods of time.

This book was provided by the publisher for review.

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