Monday, February 28, 2011

Has Christianity Failed You? by Ravi Zacharias

Many Christians struggle in their faith and some find that their faith has failed them. Zacharias' desire for those is that, “ they read this, God will rekindle that flickering light and bring new life where there seems none.” (9)

The author's argument is to have readers look at life without Christianity and what that means. While his premise sounds good, his methods left me unsatisfied. He tells many stories (many of which had me scratching my head as to their relevance). He spends many pages in a critique of Robert Price's The Reason Driven Life (which I had never heard of). He takes great care to have the reader address the issues of thinking Jesus has failed the believer when it was really the church which has done so. He has some seven pages on the possibility of thinking Christianity has failed one because the sexual standards it imposes are difficult to meet. (91-98)
He reminds readers of the good arguments for the existence of God. He covers the possibility of those who think Christianity has failed them because of unanswered prayer. He says, ...prayer remains a mystery to all of us...” (152) Zacharias reminds his readers, “...prayer is about – training one's hungers and longing to correspond with God's will for us – and that is what Christian faith is all about.” (157)
He wants his readers to realize, “...who Jesus is and what it means to be a Christian. … You have realized that Christianity has not failed you; God has not failed you. … Perhaps your expectations of Jesus and Christianity were false.” (179)
It may be that the church has failed you. Zacharias spends some time taking the church to task. While many churches are “demonstrating theological integrity and methodological relevance,” (185) there are all too many who have lost or compromised the message. They are not teaching people how to think correctly. (189)
“If you have struggled with your faith, if you feel that Christianity has failed you, take a deep, personal look at what you are called to as a Christian, according to the Scriptures, and then evaluate once again who has failed.” (202) Giving up on Christianity “...makes all the difference in the world for you and how you life your life...” (207) “It is Christianity that has kept the Western world intact, that has created the environment and the impetus for success the West has known.” (208) Zacharias says, “In any situation when Christianity is evicted, I have absolutely no doubt that a radical form of totalitarian religious belief will take over.” (208) He suggests the reader look at Jesus and trust God to carry you through the struggles to a place of contentment and victory. The alternative is a “freedomless worldview that imposes its belief on all.” (209)
Others have traveled the same road and found their way back to a joyful relationship with God. There may be questions that still haunt you but Jesus Christ will carry you to the solid ground of truth and hope. (210)
I have read many of Zacharias' books and this one has been the least rewarding. Unlike his other books. I found this one very hard to follow. Now that I have finished it, I am not so sure that there are really a couple of books in this one. Too many arguments have been crammed into 210 pages. Too many stories were included. (Such as the one about his daughter's answered prayer regarding a lost suitcase – is that really supposed to make people feel better when their prayers for the life of another were not answered positively?)
I don't feel this book is for the general public. One would need to be willing to wade through much to catch the kernels of relevant material.

Zondervan, 210 pages.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jesus in the Present Tense by Warren Wiersbe

Wiersbe meditates on the “I Am” statements of Jesus. “[Jesus] is alive this very moment and offers us a satisfying spiritual life in the present tense.” (11) Our past may discourage us and the future may frighten us, but life in the present can be enriching and encouraging because Christ lives in us. (Gal. 2:20)
God revealed Himself to Moses as “I Am.” “The name conveys the concept of absolute being.” (20) Jesus made the same kind of statements. “In His I AM statements, Jesus not only tells us who He is, but He also tells us what He can do for us and what we can become through Him.” (25)
To the spiritually hungry, He is the Bread. To those in spiritual darkness, He is the Light. To those seeking entrance into the security of life in God's flock, He is the Door. He is the protecting and leading Shepherd. For those desiring to bear fruit, He is the Vine inviting us into union with Him. Readers are encouraged to trust in the I AM to be our sustenance when spiritually hungry and our light when in spiritual darkness.
Wiersbe draws on his decades of experience as a pastor and teacher to encourage readers to live in the present tense. “When we live in the present tense, we live by faith and are able to welcome each day from God's hand, knowing that He always plans the best for us.” (178) Expect each new day to be an adventure in faith. Abide in Jesus, the I AM.
The only aspect of the book I did not like was Wiersbe's speculation that Jesus quoted all of Psalm 22 (while on the cross), “even though His voice was unheard by the spectators.” (153) Nonetheless, this is a good book for devotional reading.

I received a copy of this book from The B & B Media Group, Inc., on behalf of the publisher, David C. Cook, for the purpose of this review.

David C. Cook, 188 pages.  Publisher information.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Diagnosis Death by Richard Mabry

The third and final book in the Prescription for Trouble series picks up where Code Blue left off. Cathy is pregnant and her doctor has recommended she needs to take time away from her practice for rest. Cathy welcomes Dr. Elena Gardner but soon finds that there are unanswered questions in Elena's past. Who pulled the life support when Elena's husband was in a coma? Elena cannot remember her actions during that time. And what about the patient who died under similar circumstances while under her care?
Cathy's husband Will sets out to help Elena find the truth about the suspicious deaths. But she has other troubles: midnight phones calls threatening her, a peeping Tom frightening her and a deputy sheriff that will not leave her alone.
As with the others in the series, Mabry has done a fine job creating a medical thriller.  While he clears up most of the loose ends, I felt the deputy sheriff's obsession with Elena was left unresolved. 

This book releases in April, 2011. I read an advanced reading egalley provided by the publisher, Abingdon Press, for the purpose of this review.

Abingdon Press, 288 pages.

God's Guest List by Debbie Macomber

We often fail to recognize the gifts God is giving us. These unrecognized gifts are not nicely gift-wrapped. In fact, frequently they are people shaped.

After God's prodding, Debbie made a guest list, empty lines to see who God would bring her way. She expected the list to fill with names of people who had changed her or would do so in the future. (6) She knew it would take a lifetime to fill that list.
As she began to place names on the list she came to appreciate people in a whole new way. Her sense of anticipation heightened at the possibility of meeting new people.
Debbie shares what she has learned. She tells stories of people who have impacted her and opportunities she missed in being the friend another needed. She knows that God brings some by to increase joy. Others come into our lives to cause us to remember to keep things in perspective, offering “us the gift of a fresh opportunity to develop patience.” (63)
Debbie says the purpose of her book “is to help us identify and welcome those special people God sends into our lives” and realize that God will “have us on the guest list for others' lives.” (11) She has shared her experiences so others can see how God works. She wants her readers to begin to look for God's fingerprints in their lives.
I have to admit, some of the vignettes seemed rather meaningless to the overarching purpose of the book. Nonetheless, it was a very rewarding and I felt I got to know Debbie a little better. She has provided some great ideas for the role of being guests in other peoples' lives. She also has an invitation to salvation at the very end.

Howard Books, 188 pages.

A Billion Reasons Why by Kristin Billerbeck

Katie is an accomplished teacher of students with special needs, most of them on the severe end of the autism spectrum. Her life is under control. She is almost engaged to Dexter, a very practical man. She really didn't love him. But, “Love was a decision. A choice. All the leading experts said so, and she'd decided she would love Dexter in a way that honored and respected him.” (61)
One day, without warning, her high school flame appears at her classroom door. They have a past and a relationship that ended abruptly. It had been eight years. And now, there he was.
Luc has come to ask Katie to sing at his brother's wedding. His real goal, however, is to save Katie from a dull marriage, one where she could not possibly be her true self. He is convinced she is headed towards a “lifeless future.” (63)
Along with Luc comes all the hurt from those years ago. There were actions that Luc had done right before Katie's father suddenly died that caused pain for Katie's mother. Luc has secrets he feels he must keep or Katie would be hurt even more.
Katie faces a dilemma. She is committed to Dexter. But she really is still in love with Luc, even after all those years. Should she pursue what Luc says would be a “loveless practical marriage”? Or should she follow her passionate heart?
Can all of the issues that separate Katie and Luc ever be resolved? Does God want her to have her heart filled with love? The passions of her youth led to mistakes. Can she trust herself to follow her passions now?
Billerbeck has written over 30 novels and this is another good one. It is definitely a book for women who like romance stories with the grounding of God's will in the forefront. The action takes place in New Orleans and it was fun to learn about “society” in that city.

A copy of this book was provided by The B & B Media Group, Inc., on behalf of the publishers for the purpose of this review.

Thomas Nelson/February 2011/ISBN: 978-1-59554-791-0/320 pages/softcover/$14.99 ~ 

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Why God Won't Go Away by Alister McGrath

Recently the rise of New Atheism has changed the long time relationship of atheism and religion existing side by side. Since 9/11 atheists have been arguing that religion is irrational and dangerous. Many bestsellers have been written in the last decade promoting an aggressive form of atheism. While the “old atheism” had a sense of “let's exist side by side,” the New Atheism has an intense anger against religion, which is held to poison everything. (31)
Yet belief in God will just not go away! “Numerically, far more people believe in God today than ever did in the past.” (86) It is a dilema to atheists (who comprise about four percent of Americans, a 2007 survey found). (36)
McGrath addresses the arguments promoted in the works of Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens. He reviews their popular works, revealing their faults.
Harris set the tone and ridiculed religion. Dawkins added a more aggressive critique, declaring faith to be fundamentally irrational. Of Dawkins McGrath says, “It's easy to argue that atheism is better than Christianity: you only need to ignore the good side of christianity and the bad side of atheism...” (14) Dennett tried to offer evidence that would destroy faith. Hitchens added his passionate anger toward religion.
McGrath addresses in detail the arguments of the New Atheists. The three core themes of New Atheism include its critique of religious violence, its appeals to reason and to science as the foundations of rational belief.
The author reminds his readers of the heritage of the Soviet Union, “the world's first officially atheistic state.” (65) Accountability to no higher authority than the secular state resulted in violence. New Atheists ignore or try to explain away the atrocities.
McGrath takes the atheists' arguments to their (unintended) end. If there is no God, we have no one to blame for human evil except ourselves. (81) The result is that “humanity appears to be rather less rational and moral than the New Atheist worldview allows.” (84)
The author also addresses science and the fact that science doesn't “prove” anything. Science deals in probabilities. “We can give ... good answers that we believe can be justified from the best evidence at our disposal. But we can't give a final answer because we know that what scientists believe today may not be what scientists believe in the future.” (101) Science is so successful because “it's willing to change its mind in response to new evidence.” (102) (As a scientist, with a BS in physics, I heartily agree with McGrath regarding science. Finally, a philosopher who understands what science can and can't do.)
It would seem, says McGrath, that religion is a characteristic of human nature. It is not going away.
The author knows atheism, having grown up atheist in Northern Ireland in the 1960s. Now he is convinced Christianity makes more sense.
McGrath has done an excellent job in answering the new Atheists and their arguments. His work is the best I've read on the subject to date. It is short and concise and would make a great book to give to your atheist friends. For those who would like to investigate the subject further, McGrath has provided three pages of suggested further reading.

This book is being released May 17, 2011 so mark your calendar to get a copy. I read an advanced reading egalley provided by Thomas Nelson Publishers, for the purpose of this review.

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 132 pages.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Original Sin: a Sally Sin Adventure by Beth McMullen

I am a fan of Janet Evanovich and have been looking for another author that is as fun to read.  While Sally Sin is no Stephanie Plum, she does get into crazy adventures.
Earlier in her life Sally was an agent for the USWMD.  Now called Lucy, she is happily married with a three year old son.  Both husband and son know nothing about her espionage years.  Her life gets very complicated when the head of USWMD wants her to help capture a bad guy.  Blackford is an agent turned bad and he has crossed paths with Sally before.  He is supposed to be dead but Sally finds out soon he is all too alive. 
McMullen does a great job of combining the currect action with reflections back to Sally's agent days.  And there is a good deal of humor, too.  People who might find Evanovich a little too risque wil be happy with Sally Sin.  I hope this is just the first of a long running series.
This novel does not release until July 12, 2011, so mark your calendar.  I read an advanced reading copy in an egalley form provided by the publisher, Hyperion, for the purpose of this review.

12th Imam by Joel Rosenberg

The 12th Imam was a "real, flesh-and-blood person who had lived in the ninth century and would some day reemerge to change the course of history."  (84)  He was a direct descendant of Muhammad and vanished when he was still a child.  Some believe he is hidden until the end of days when Allah will reveal him.  Much about his return is unknown, but it is said "he is coming with great power and glory and with terrible judgment..."  (85)
Rosenberg has woven a very good novel around the future revelation of the 12th Imam.  Part of the plot centers around Iran having developed a nuclear bomb.  Another aspect of the novel is the CIA agent the U.S. has in Tehran. 
As followers prepare for the appearance of the long anticipated 12th Imam, Jesus appears to some in Iran who have been contemplating the truth of Christianity.
Rosenberg has crafted a good novel.  My only criticism is that the book seems at times a little "preachy" as some of the characters read Bible passages.  Nonetheless, it is a good way to learn about the possibilities of the  future expectations of Muslims.

Tyndale House Publishers, 512 pages.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Life Ready Woman by Shaunti Feldhahn & Robert Lewis

It's a great era for women. The possibilities are amazing. But how does today's modern woman manage life from a biblical perspective? Actually being a Life Ready Woman means that you are clear about your life, bold in your faith, and able to find God's best for you.” (4)

Our society tells us women can have it all – career, marriage, family. The authors think that is a myth. If you try to have it all, someone is going to suffer, your husband, your children, or yourself.
The authors believe that the Bible is the model for life. They have written this book to show that the Bible can be your compass, to show you the way “to get God's best...and you will discover clear action steps you need to be able to get there.” (30)
Women are encouraged to live by their biblical callings: core callings (purposes of God shared by every human being), feminine callings (gifts unique to women), and personal callings (individual, unique gifts and callings). The core callings, the authors argue, come from Gen. 1:28 and 2:24, revolving around marriage. Leaving and cleaving is what it's all about for a woman.

It was here that the authors and I parted company. First of all, Gen. 2:24 speaks to the man. It explains why the man leaves his parents and joins his wife. It says nothing about the woman doing so.
It gets worse.
I found the section on a woman fulfilling her husbands sexual needs way overdone. The authors note that a survey result listed favorite leisure activities: for men, sex. For women, first was reading. Sex was way down the list, next to sewing. (160) The authors say, “What fulfills a husband the most? It's his wife's satisfaction that satisfies him the most. When your husband knows he has performed in a way that succeeds with you and gives you pleasure, life could not be better.” (162)
Really? Life could not be better? Worshiping his Savior, leading someone to Christ, helping a suffering human, cuddling his child...none of that is more fulfilling that sexually pleasing his wife? Not only does this leave one's relationship with God out of the physical aspect of the marriage relationship, but it places tremendous pressure upon the wife to “perform.” I mean, if the wife's pleasure trumps any experience the husband has with God, wow – what a responsibility that woman has!
But there is more. “...[N]othing builds a man up more than seeing his wife or girlfriend support him in public.” (167) Nothing? Not hearing God's voice of approval? Not knowing he was used by God in a crucial situation? Again – that is shocking! Are these men the authors describe even Christians?
The authors say, “...the most important gift any of us will ever receive from God to steward is children.” (179) Really? I was thinking perhaps salvation would have been the greatest gift God has given each of us to steward!
As an unmarried woman, I find the emphasis on marriage, sexual fulfillment, and children as God's core callings for women very shallow. The authors ignore the possibility that God may be calling a single woman to a life of devotion to God and ministry to His people. They suggest the single time in a woman's life is all about finding the right man. Singleness is a temporary “season. (Pp. 108, 163) While the single years allow “plenty of time to focus on your spiritual life,” the single woman needs to live out her Core Calling to be “'fruitful and multiply” by investing in the lives of young people.” “The single years are also the time to investigate and understand men in a very purposeful way – not just so you'll be 'ready for marriage' but so you'll understand what men look for and need to begin with.” (All from p. 111)
The authors gloss over Paul's admonition to stay single if at all possible as this allows one to concentrate on the higher calling (than marriage) of ministry to God Himself. (Read 1 Cor. 7:29-40 to get Paul's take on marriage. For example, “...a woman who is no longer married or has never been married can be devoted to the Lord and holy in body and in spirit.” “I want you to do whatever will help you serve the Lord best, with as few distractions as possible.” TLB I could go on, but I think you get what Paul is saying. It is definitely not that marriage of a woman's highest calling!)
A recent book by Ravi Zacharias (Has Christianity Failed You?) puts marriage in its proper perspective. He notes, “This amazing gift to experience sexual love is built-in only as a transitory expression.” (92) He is realistic about marriage because of the Fall of man. “But the price of rejecting God's law is that marriage is no longer the beautiful thing it had been intended to be.” (96) And with respect to the relationship of marriage and worship of God, Zacharias says, “If marital consummation is an act of worship, and if the ultimate seduction is false worship, I would dare suggest that those who are longing for a relationship of touch and intimacy – that lesser act of worship which is marriage – seek the greater form of worship until the day they can legitimately participate in sexual love.” (97)
We live in a culture that is very sexually oriented. Shouldn't Christians be different? I live in a navy community where spouses leaves for six to eight months at a time. If “life could not be better” for a man than when he sees he has sexually pleased his wife (162), how would the author's suggest the men on a six month military cruise life their lives in a fulfilling way? And what about Exodus 19:15 where, as preparation for meeting God, the people were to abstain from sex for three days? That should certainly put the place of sex with respect to the worship of God in perspective.

I just cannot recommend this book. The authors emphasize in some places that we readers should concentrate on what has eternal value. Yet the majority of their book deals with marriage and sex, both of which will not be experienced in heaven (Matt. 22:30; Mark 12:25; Luke 20:35) and therefor have no “eternal” value.

All that being said, I received two copies of this book from the publisher, B & H Publishing Group, for the purpose of this review. I am more than happy to give them away, one each to the first two who request them by commenting on this blog.
There is also a contest to enter:

Monday, February 21, 2011

Medical Error by Richard Mabry, M.D.

Dr. Anna McIntyre is a successful surgeon at a teaching hospital when her life suddenly begins to go very wrong.  A patient upon whom she performed emergency surgery dies from a severe reaction to medication when the records show that the medication had been prescribed to him before with no adverse reaction.  Then she finds out her credit cards have been maxed out.  Next the police come for her as they have found she has prescribed drugs - illegally.  And then she receives the results of a blood test she never had. 
Someone has stolen her identity.  Will she be able to find out who it is before her reputation and future in medicine is totally ruined.
This novel, the second in the Prescription for Trouble series, is pretty good.  The action really moved along in the second half of the book.  The excitement mounts until the very end.  At first I thought I had figured out the bad guy and there were even a few pages near the end where the author let me believe I was right.  Dr. McIntyre is a Christian and her spiritual character development was done well. 
It is a good read and you get to learn a little about the medical profession along the way.  A discussion guide at the end makes this a great book for reading groups.

Abingdon, 262 pages.  Publisher information.

While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry

Fourteen year old Carolyn Maull had just talked with her friends in the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church's restroom. She was rushing to finish her Sunday School records work of that day in September of 1963 when the bomb exploded. Her four friends were dead and Carolyn's life was changed forever.

In the days following the bombing, no one spoke about the tragedy. Just like when Pres. Kennedy was assassinated a few months later, “ one talked. Black folk had been conditioned to look the other way when tragedy struck, especially of the victim was one of their own.” (177) She was left to deal with the tragedy on her own.
No one was ever convicted for the bombing although FBI records would show that the men had been identified. Hoover did not think there was enough evidence for a conviction.
In May, M. L. King had been to Birmingham and organized student marches. Carolyn had skipped school to participate. Bull Connor had responded with tanks and ordered water hoses turned on the marchers, many of whom were children. Carolyn was one of those hit with water shot out at a hundred pounds of pressure a second.
Birmingham's nickname was “Bombingham.” (182) Many homes in the black neighborhood were bombed. In April of 1964 the house across the street was bombed. Carolyn woke to a shattered window and her brothers were thrown from their beds by the blast.
As a black child in the south, Carolyn had little contact with white people. She had her first interaction and conversation with a white person in college. “Blacks and whites lived together in the same city, but we truly lived in separate worlds.” (35)
After college Carolyn married and began a family. Her memories plagued her and she turned to alcohol to deaden them. When one of her children was almost killed because of her inattention, she committed to end that dependence and shares her struggles to do so.
Her husband's job brought them back to Birmingham and she found that the “integrated” south still had problems. While some wanted to move forward there were those who desired the old status quo.
She felt God calling her to speak out about her experiences, moved to restore the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, seeing it become a national historic landmark. Her passion “is to see people learn to work together and appreciate the diversity God created among us.” (269)
Carolyn still struggles with the memories of that event nearly fifty years ago. Even now she says she “must go back to God in prayer and ask him to keep unforgiveness from my heart...” (274) God has helped her through the long process of forgiveness, seeing people as God sees them. She desires to live by Rom. 13:10, “Love does no harm to its neighbor.” Carolyn reminds her readers that it is time to quit watching and start acting.

This book was provided for review by Tyndale House Publishers.

Tyndale House Publishers, 293 pages.  Publisher information.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Strange Man by Greg Mitchell

The faith of the forebears of Old Greenesboro had bound the Strange Man to the North Woods for over a century.  But now the faith of that bygone era has faded.  The people have stopped believing in demons and God.  The Strange Man is free to roam.
A terrifying storm approaches the town.  The turbulent clouds darken the sky as approaching evil darkens the community.  There is a creature from the North Woods stalking - a spiritual being with only evil intent.  As the terrible storm passes over the town some can sense a feeling of spiritual darkness settling upon them.
Many of the inhabitants remember their parents telling them of the bogeyman.  For generations the tales were told to the children.  The bogeyman was said to live in the North Woods.  Has the evilness of the bogeyman been released from the North Woods to haunt the town?
People begin to feel and see a being that causes pure terror.  Could the taloned creature be the devil come to claim those he thinks are his?  Is this the bogeyman?
The novel centers around Dras, a twenty-two year old unemployed man who drinks too much and scorns the faith of his brother and parents.  When the evil creature says he is after Dras' friend Rosalyn, the prodigal Dras knows he has to protect his friend.  But how?  Even his preacher brother refuses to help.  Is there any way Dras can keep the evil away from Rosalyn?
This book is not for the weak at heart. I usually read fiction right before bed but I had to read this earlier in the day.  Frank Peretti step aside.  This novel brings spiritual warfare to a new level of visualization and excitement.  And the story does not resolve at the end of this book.  "...[T]he battle is just beginning..."  (266)
There is also a short story at the end of the book, a sort of prequel to the novel.  (The action takes place ten years before the novel.)  I would have placed it at the beginning and suggest you might read it before the novel.
I am not so patiently waiting for the sequel.
This book was provided for review by Realms, A Strang Company.

Realms, A Strang Company, 266 pages.

Publisher information, reviews.

Friday, February 18, 2011

The Kennedy Detail by Gerald Blaine with Lisa McCubbin

I was in sophomore biology, sitting next to Walter M., when it came over the school speaker - Kennedy had been shot.
Nearly fifty years later the men responsible for the protection of President Kennedy speak out.  Blaine makes use of his own memory and notes as well as those of the others in the detail.  He takes the reader through the years leading up to that fateful day and how the Secret Service organized their protection.
Blaine has done a phenomenal job.  I felt like I was right there, again experiencing the events.  Blaine has written in the third person (the reason for which he explains) and it adds a great deal to the flow of the book.
Blaine hopes to put to rest many of the conspiracy theories still floating around.  He also wants readers to know that the detail did all they could.  Some tragedies happen regardless of the preparation made to prevent it.
Gallery, 448 pages.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Clouds Roll Away by Sibella Giorello

FBI agent Raleigh Harmon is back in Richmond. Rapper RPM has experienced a hate crime and Harmon is brought in on the case. She also gets involved in an undercover operation aimed at thugs selling drugs.

Throw into the mix Raleigh's mother who is showing increasing signs of dementia. Back in Raleigh's life is DeMott, who has known Raleigh since childhood and is now setting his sights on her. And there is Raleigh's antagonistic sister Helen who makes life more difficult, especially when dealing with their mother.
Among the quirky characters is Victoria Phaup, Raleigh's immediate superior and initiator of the disciplinary action that sent Raleigh to Seattle. There's Flynn who is intent on preventing rapper RPM from ruining the historical flavor of the mansion he owns. And Beezus Jackson who keeps life interesting while she and Raleigh listen to wire tapped phones.
Giorello has done it again. The action kept my interest and some of the characters were just quirky enough to give added interest and occasional humor. I feel like I am getting to know Raleigh well as she struggles to take the right path in her job, in her faith, and with her declining mother.
The only weak part in the plot, I felt, was the initial hate crime. At the end of the book, I couldn't help but wonder why the crime was committed in the first place, as it seemed to make everything go bad for the one who commissioned it.
Now, if Giorello would just get Raleigh permanently stationed in the Pacific Northwest...
See the author's website:
Thomas Nelson Publishers, 325 pages.  Publisher's information and additional reviews.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Digitalis by Ronie Kendig

In this novel, the second of the Discarded Heroes series, Kendig keeps up her high standard of page turning action.
One of the Nightshade team, Colton "Cowboy" Neeley is having severe flashbacks.  At the same time he is becoming very interested in one of the sales clerks at a department store.  Piper is attracted to him too.  But like him, she has secrets and her life is in danger.
Nightshade takes on the task of a rescue in the Middle East and Piper is right in the middle of it.  Colton might put the entire team in jeopardy when he has more flashbacks.  And he is distracted by his feeling for Piper.  Then the mission is taken up a notch when the team finds out that there is an immediate threat to the nation of Israel.
Kendig does a great job keeping the action going.  She also shows the struggle Colton has with his faith in God and his struggle with the mission and his task to kill terrorists.
I am always fascinated when an author of one sex has a hero of the other.  At times I wonder if Kendig has given Colton too much emotion and makes too much of his emotional struggles.  Nonetheless, it is a good read for those who like military action type novels.
Check out her website:

Barbour Publishing, 320 pages.

This book was provided for review by Barbour Publishing in an egalley form.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Living in the Overlap by Steve Schaefer

Christians live in the tension of the “already but not yet” of the kingdom of God.

The author shows how this end-times kingdom of God's sovereign rule was predicted by Old Testament prophets. People of Jesus' day were confused when Jesus said the kingdom had arrived. “The key, “ says Schaefer, “is to recognize Jesus was revealing a new truth about the kingdom, a truth not foretold by the prophets.” (16)
The kingdom would come in two stages (first and second comings). While this present age continues, the age of the kingdom has begun. They overlap. Even now we can experience some of the blessings of the age to come. “Living in the overlap means appropriating and enjoying the 'already' blessings, while being motivated and encouraged by those that belong to the 'not yet.'” (44)
We can proclaim the character of the kingdom to which we belong by the acts we do. Schaefer takes the reader through various characteristics of the kingdom activities such as praying for others, being used by God, and loving others. He says living in the overlap involves spiritual warfare in “every situation,” (51) and means routinely having to take leaps of faith.
He ends his book with a lengthy synopsis of the life of Christ (25 pages) with extrabiblical background added.
Schaefer wrote his book because he believes the concept of living in the overlap, the “already/not yet” of the kingdom, is well known in seminaries but not known to the average layman. (36, 37) The problem with this is that the books Schaefer uses to “prove” his idea were published 25 years ago! (See the footnotes from pages 36 and 37.) There have been many sermons preached and books written on this “overlap” in the last decade or so.
What does Schaefer bring to the subject? There is not much in his book I haven't read or heard over the last few years. For a seasoned Christian, Schaefer's book may be a mere review of information already known. For a new Christian, Schaefer's book would be an adequate introduction to the subject.

Steve holds a Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studies from Regent University's School of Divinity. He has traveled the globe as a Managing Producer in the International Programming Department of CBN WorldReach, and is a popular speaker and teacher.

WinePress Publishing, 185 pages.
This book was provided for review by Glass Road Public Relations on behalf of the author.

Monday, February 14, 2011

An Unlikely Blessing by Judy Baer

A bachelor at the age of forty-two and a tenured professor, Alex decides to move to a new profession – the ministry. His first assignment is a small two-church parish in rural North Dakota. For a lifelong city dweller, life was getting very interesting.

His reception at one church is very warm while down the road his decidedly cool. Something divides these churches. Can the breach be healed.
As Alex meets his parishioners he is faced with serious problems. What can be done for the family on the brink of losing their farm? It would be the first farm in this ethnic community passed on to unknown owners.
How can Alex approach Alf who may have accidentally started the fire that took the lives of his first wife and young son? Alf practically runs the “other” church. Can Alex get beyond Alf's antagonistic shell and minister to the hurting man within?
And then there are all the single women bringing him meals and potential affection. Alex truly believes God has called him to this rural community but has he come into a situation that is beyond his abilities?
Alex begins to see God's grace in action. Sometimes it is just small things like flowers and kittens. At other times he sees lives changed in a way only God could do. While his faith is being tested in ways he never expected, he soon realizes he is learning and changing too.
If you like Jan Karon's Father Tim, you'll like Alex. Bear (author of over 75 books) has created one of those novels that cause you to say with pleasure when you finish, “Oh, that was good.”

Judy was born and grew up on a farm on the prairies of North Dakota. She is the author of over seventy-five books for adults and teens. She has won the Romance Writer of America Bronze Medallion and has been a RITA finalist twice. She lives in Elk River, Minnesota with her husband. To find out more about her, visit her website:

 This book was provided for review by Guidposts.

In celebration of the release of An Unlikely Blessing, Judy is giving away a KINDLE prize package worth over $175.

One lucky winner will receive:

  •  Brand New KINDLE with Wi-Fi
  • A $25 gift certificate to

To enter just click HERE  and then tell your friends! Winner will be announced on February 21st on Judy's blog,

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Thicker than Blood by C. J. Darlington

C. J. Darlington won the 2008 Jerry B. Jenkins Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel contest with this novel.  I can see why.  It is a great novel about relationships, forgiveness and new beginnings.
Sisters May and Christy lost their parents to an automobile accident.  Christy ran away and eventually began working in an antiquarian bookstore.  May found her way to working on a farm, then becoming a co-owner of the operation.  When Christy's life falls apart, she has no place to turn but to her sister.  Will "sinner" Christy be received by her "godly" sister?  Will the scorned boyfriend who threatened Christy's life follow her?
Darlington has written a well plotted novel with believable characters and realistic action.  Her skill kept me turning pages through the excitement at the very end.
I'm waiting for her next one!
For you Pacific Northwest readers, this book is in the Sno-Isle Library system.

You might want to go to the publisher's website to see a video trailer and read the first chapter of the book.  Tyndale House Publishers, 372 pages.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Heretics by Jonathan Wright

Wright suggests that if we want to know why Christianity turned out the way it did, look at its heretics.
“Heresy” derives from the Greek phrase meaning “to choose.” In ancient times it was applied to members of rival philosophical schools. With Christianity it acquired a darker meaning.
He quotes a medieval theologian: “Heresy, he wrote, is 'an opinion chosen by human perception, contrary to Holy Scripture, publicly avowed and obstinately defended.'” (3) “To be a heretic was to dissent publicly and repeatedly from genuine Christianity.” (4) Heretics were worse than pagans for they had been shown the right way but chose to go another way.
There was no single, authentic version of Christianity to which all true Christians subscribed in the early church. Divergent Christian identities emerged in various geographical areas. Christians struggled through disputes in the early centuries. Perhaps heresy served to cause theological battles so that certain themes emerged victorious, guaranteeing the name of orthodoxy and providing power and authority for the winners.
Wright takes the reader through the teachings of a number of heretics, through the Reformation and into the New World, America. He admits that he has concentrated on the Western Church, leaving the other geographical areas for other scholars.
The keystone of Wright's analysis is that “a specific culture's moral and philosophical postures are fleeting, contingent, and historically determined, and that this has profound consequences for how we interpret the history of Christian heresy...” (294) He understands “that it is entirely possible to construct a narrative of heresy in which everything looks different.” (295)
He concludes, “The history of Christian heresy should make us think long and hard about how human beings construct their belief systems and how they react to those with whom they disagree.” (295) His fondest hope “is that someone will disagree violently with my musings and let me know.” (295)

This book releases April 27, 2011.  I read an advanced reader's copy in an egalley form provided by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Press.

You can order a copy from Amazon here. 

Friday, February 11, 2011

Hell's Corner by David Baldacci

I have read all of the Camel Club novels by Baldacci.  This is my least favorite.  There are layers upon layers of deception and I just got tired of it.  Each time a new deception was revealed I felt like yelling, "Enough already."  This much deception layering intrigue spanning from the highest levels of the U. S. and British government to the Mexican and Russian drug lords, could only happen in a novel.
One does learn about nanobots, the next generation of nanorobotics.  And, as always, Baldacci has woven a good story, as complex as it is.  He is a master of intrigue, pushing you on to the next page.  I did read through all 438 pages but at times did think that if this had been the first of the Camel Club books I had read, I may not have ventured to read the others.

Hachette Book Group, 438 pages.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Transformational Church by Stetzeer and Rainer

Stetzer and Rainer love the church and are excited about it. Their latest research has given them hope.
We know Christians should always be transforming (2 Cor. 3:18). This book is the first part of the initiative led by LifeWay Research. It is only the beginning of the plan to help churches on their way to becoming a Transformational Church. “The goal of a Transformation Church is to make disciples and nothing will deter them from this task.” (6)
To find out what makes a successful TC seven thousand churches were contacted and surveyed. Certain practices and values rose to the surface. The authors turned these into a blueprint called the Transformational Loop.
It includes: discern (missionary mentality), embrace (vibrant leadership, relational intentionality, prayerful dependence), and engage (worship, community, mission).
Discern: actively seeking to understand their community, to minister appropriately to that community.
Embrace: leaders with passion (happy to give away their ministry), Christians deliberately connecting with each other (outwardly focused), need to engage in prayer (the vehicle by which God changes people and the world).
Engage: expecting transformation to happen in worship (encountering God), systems putting people in community with one another (ministry is not left to the professionals), understanding the mission of evangelism and discipleship.
LifeWay Research has developed an assessment tool to help churches see how they are doing in each of these areas.
The authors explain each of these aspects, giving biblical principles and examples of actual churches excelling in the area.
The authors do pray that churches will go on the Transitional Church journey. They realize this will require a cathartic moment. There must be A) an awareness that something needs to change, B) belief that God will change the church, and C) the crisis that comes with such a change.
With the predicted decline in church attendance coming – this book is essential.
This book does not release until June, 2011.  If you are a leader in your church, mark your calendar to buy this book in June.

I read an advanced reading copy of this book in an egalley form, provided by Broadman and Holman Publishing Group.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

eye of the god by Ariel Allison

The Hope Diamond, is it really cursed?
Art pieces around the world have been stolen with an efficiency that has Interpol baffled. Thieves plan to steal the diamond from The Smithsonian and curator Dr. Abigail Mitchell is in the thick of it.
Abigail has another struggle, her father. He had abandoned her and values his work much more highly than he does his daughter. She desires his love but suspects his character is not what she wants in a father.
Who is the handsome man posing as a reporter who wines and dines her? Can she trust him?
Allison has woven a great art theft mystery with the history of the Hope Diamond. She alternates history with the current attempt to steal the jewel. The way she had done it works well and kept my interest in both stories.
I was disappointed just a little bit in the ending. It was just a little to neat in the romance aspect. Nonetheless, I highly recommend this novel for a good read. You get a mystery and learn about the Hope Diamond as well.
The discussion questions at the end make this a great choice for book groups.

Abingdon Press, 348 pages.

The Confirmation by Ralph Reed

Bob Long is a newly elected U. S. President. He owes evangelicals a great debt for putting him in office. When one of the Supreme Court Justices has a stroke and appears near death, Long knows he may have the opportunity to nominate a conservative replacement.

There are those who would prevent a conservative appointment at almost any cost. There are others who are praying that the right man may be the extra vote to overturn Roe vs Wade.
Reed has woven a story that reveals the intricate workings of the power structures of U. S. politics. Sleazy people making deals. Politicians, lobbyists, and advisers manipulating others to gain more power. Dark secrets are revealed and lives are ruined. Unfortunately, it seems to be all in a days work for some in Washington.
I think Reed's book pretty much portrays what life is like for powerful people in U. S. politics. Reed has had enough experience in the political realm to know what he is writing about. It is embarrassing to think that this is how our country's leaders function.
The book is long and I think some parts could have been left out without harming the plot. There is also a great deal of drinking alcohol – so much that it seemed a bit put on.
Nonetheless, this is a worthwhile read, even if it is depressing. Is there any hope of integrity for our country's leadership?
Broadman & Holman, 408 pages.

This book was provided for review by Broadman & Holman Publishers in an egalley form.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

The Omega Theory by Mark Alpert

Iran has completed an underground test of a nuclear bomb. The U. S. President sends a carrier group to the area. The world appears to be on the brink of war.
David, a history of science professor at Columbia and a member of Physicists for Peace, and his physicist wife had unearthed the unified field theory of Einstein. Knowing the danger it presented, they hid it. But now it appears that Iran experimented with more than just a nuclear device. There are indications that the very fabric of the universe was momentarily disturbed.  They may have the dangerous unified field theory formula.
A religious guru, Brother Cyrus, is ready to forcefully usher in a new spiritual era.  He is actually a high up U. S. official in charge of millions of dollars in government contracts.  He is able to send some of the "black money" to his followers.  He believes the entire universe is a computer program and he wants to disrupt the program and end the world as we know it. He believes the world would reboot (so to speak) as a different universe, ushering in a new spiritual reality. Devices from the Reagan Star Wars era have been reconfigured to cause the destruction. Can the end of the world be prevented?
There is lots of physics in this novel.  I found it intriguing.  There is also a religious cult leader (based loosely on Christian beliefs) who thinks he can usher in the end time.  It gives one pause to think about what might happen when one man believes he can determine the future of all mankind.

This book was provided for review in the form of an egalley from Simon & Schuster.

Passport Through Darkness by Kimberly Smith

Into her second marriage, Smith realized something was not working. The pursuit of the American Dream was eating her alive. Realizing she needed to be part of something bigger, she longed for God's “well done.”

Her husband was having similar thoughts. They sols everything and moved to Spain. They became aware of a home in Portugal that housed African immigrant children who were being horribly abused. The battle for the welfare of the children created a concern in Smith for human trafficking.
They returned to the U. S. and founded a ministry. She traveled to Sudan (her husband;s health prevented his going with her). She found horror. The war and genocide had left “more widows and orphans than [in] any other people group.” (97) She did fund raising in the States to build an orphanage in Sudan.
Smith tells stories of persecuted Christians that are at the same time horrifying and an encouragement. She says of the stories, “I'd never known such evil existed...” (140)
Smith went back to Africa many times, sometimes leading short mission groups. Her life was frequently threatened and she ultimately paid the price at the hands of a gang of raping men. Her absence from her husband put a strain on her marriage. She finally revealed her experience to him and she experienced the true comfort of a loving husband. She is currently leading an effort to build an anti-trafficking network in Africa.
Smith's story is one of encouragement and inspiration. The last few chapters has a bit much of herself, but even so, this is a book very much worth reading. Readers are encouraged to participate in supporting ministries listed at the end of the book, including Smith's own,
Watch Passport Through Darkness book trailer.
Watch an interview with Kimberly Smith.

Publisher information:

This book was provided for review by The B & B Media Group, Inc., on behalf of the publisher, David C. Cook.

Friday, February 4, 2011

The Rivers Run Dry by Sibella Giorello

Finally a great FBI character and story set in the Seattle area!
Special Agent Raleigh Harmon is transferred to Seattle because she doesn't play the bureau politics game.  A female hiker goes missing and Raleigh is in the middle of it.
Giorello has done a great job with the development of Raleigh as a character with quirky relatives.  Giorello has the setting right.  Now living in Washington State, Giorello describes the state's western and eastern areas well. 
This was a rewarding read for a Pacific Northwest reader. 
It's available at Sno-Isle Library.  I've already requested the sequel.

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 321 pages.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Defiant Joy by Kevin Belmonte

I read Defiant Joy because I wanted to know who Chesterton was. Unfortunately, this book is almost entirely about Chesterton's works and little about the man who wrote them.

Little is known of his early life. He began his formal education when he was about nine. He was “adequate” in his studies. He was involved in a Junior Debating Club. The twelve gifted young men talked about everything and they were Chesterton's lifelong friends.
Having just turned twenty one (1895), he was invited to write for the magazine Academy. He then worked for publishers, reading unsolicited manuscripts. He began to do some prose writing in the evenings (he was already composing poetry). He published two books in 1900, a book of nonsense verse and another of “unremarkable” verse. Neither launched his literary career.
In the autumn of 1896 he was smitten by Frances Blogg, who would become his wife in 1901.
His book reviews were noted and he emerged as a talented critic. He delighted in playing with language and was an artist in words.
He began writing for the Daily News in 1901. That same year he was invited to write a critical biography of Robert Browning. It was well received although he was criticized for “almost studied indifference regarding the use of dates.” (50) He seemed to quote from memory and was frequently sloppy in that memory. But he had “keen analysis and brilliant prose.” Where he had been known only as a journalist before, now he was a writer, a “man of letters.”
Belmonte goes historically through all of Chesterton's literary creations. There are long quotes from Chesterton's own biography and long quote from those who wrote about him, including biographers and critics.
Of particular interest to me was his Orthodoxy, published when Chesterton was only thirty-four (1908). Chesterton said, “It is the purpose of the writer to attempt an explanation, not of whether the Christian Faith can be believed, but of how he has personally come to believe it.'” (112) “As an account of one man's journey to faith, its power to move, challenge, and inspire remains undimmed.” (112)
The Man Who Was Thursday was published two years later. One reviewer called it “'a satirical skit'” about anarchists who set out to restore chaos and take up the bomb. (133) It contained “'wit and paradox'” and was either fantasy or a sermon. (134) (Belmonte spends 16 pages on this title.)
In The Everlasting Man (1925) Chesterton set out to give an intellectual case for Christianity. C. S. Lewis read this book and it became a catalyst for his conversion.
Chesterton's lat literary achievement was his Autobiography, published shortly after his death (1936).
Those wanting to know of Chesterton's personal life (as I did) will be disappointed. Those looking for an extensive commentary on the evaluations and impact of Chesterton's writing will find this to their liking. Belmonte did tons of research (603 footnotes, the list being 28 pages long). His quotes from other authors are frequent and long, often a page or more in length.
If you want to teach a high school literature course on Chesterton, this would make a good text book. If you want to know Chesterton, I'd look elsewhere. Of Chesterton, John Kennedy (a New York Times Correspondent) said, “The man was a paradox personified.” (271) It's too bad Belmonte didn't capture that person.
This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Idols of the Heart by Elyse Fitzpatrick

Idols are not only statues. Since God asks for our undivided love and worship, anything preventing such devotion can be an idol.

Fitzpatrick helps readers discover sinful patterns that reveal sinful thinking. A worksheet in Appendix A can be used to complete that process. Sample questions include: What do I want more than I want to be holy? What specific commandments have I ignored or disobeyed?
Fitzpatrick suggests a threefold process of sanctification: putting off, renewing the attitude, putting on. She speaks to the role of emotions, noting that we do not need more willpower – we need new thoughts.
She suggests that as we seek to put off idolatry, we concentrate on God's kindness, holiness and majesty. “A heart that is crammed with thoughts of God's beauty, kindness, holiness, majesty, greatness, and glory has no room for feeble counterfeits and will inevitably burst forth with fervent praises.” (202)
There are reflection questions at the end of each chapter. While this study could be completed alone, I think it would be best done in a discipleship group, with lively discussion.

P & R Publishing, 205 pages.