Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Gotchyaa By Steven Stiles

Dr. Stiles, pastor and seminary teacher, is concerned about wolves in sheep's clothing. He recognizes that Christians are to show compassion to those in need. The Bible clearly requires it. In today's society, he says, “offering help can be complex and on occasion dangerous.” (20) It is difficult to know if the need is genuine or if it is part of a scam.
Stiles reviews the typical responses to benevolence requests and evaluates them. “When it comes to giving, our big challenge is to discern what God wants us to do in an evil world.” (27)
It is important, he says, for churches to follow a carefully made set of rules. There should be an application process in place to discourage “hit and run” people.
“Con artists have countless strategies for exploiting the church...” (43) He identifies The Intentional Con, The Unintentional Con, and The Opportunistic Con, describing the skilled manipulators. It is not possible to spot the competent ones. It is best to stay on guard.
Christians are often targeted because they want to be generous, hospitable, and compassionate. (70) He tells how prisoners scam Christians and how “evangelists” can scam whole congregations.
He gives directions as to how to deal with cons, how to outwit them. He also gives several tips on how to protect yourself, your credit cards, etc.

The writing style is a little different in this book. Stiles interweaves a fictional story of Bud and Teresa, a couple out to scam the church, with reflections and instructions as to how to deal with people like them. I would have preferred to not have had the fiction part of the book. It was odd at times and, I felt, detracted from the overall message.
This was not an encouraging book to read. I would rather believe that every person coming through the church door expressing a need is telling the truth. However, having been a deacon in my church, I came across those who tried to get as much as they could out of the “system.” We found that filling out paper work helped identify those who were not truly in the need they claimed.
I think the best use of this book would be for the pastor or chair of the deacons to read it and then pass on the necessary information on to those who need to know.

Find out more at

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

The Sacred Acre by Mark Tabb

When Ed Thomas arrived in Parkersburg, Iowa in 1975, he saw it as the next step in his coaching career, dreaming of larger schools, then a college. Five years later his team played for the state championship. He decided to stick around a little longer. He came to realize his mission was not in wins and losses but in making his players more successful in life. He stayed there for thirty four years, until his death.
Ed's mother was a Christian, his father an alcoholic. He spent much of his life at his grandparents and his grandmother saw to it he memorized Bible verses.
On Sunday, May 25, 2008, an EF5 tornado destroyed much of Parkersburg, including the Thomas home. Some 250 houses and businesses were lost. The high school was damaged beyond repair. The football field, called The Sacred Acre by the town, was littered with parts of buildings, some buried deep into the soil. Ed was determined to see his team play their first home game there – in 104 days. “For Ed, like everything connected with his work at school, this was not about football. This was about choosing to trust in God's wisdom and plan, even though he did not fully understand how or why God would allow such a devastating storm.” (61) He knew the town needed that kind of encouragement.
Ed told his team, “Real success is measured not only by how much money you have or how many games you win, but by the impact you make on others during your lifetime.” (77)
They made that 2008 game, with electrical cables and water hoses snaking around the sides of the field. At the end of the regular season they were ranked first in the state and had averaged 48 points and five hundred yards of offense per game. (138) They lost in the state quarter finals to the second ranked team on a snowy field a three hour bus ride from home.
On June 24, 2009 tragedy struck. A mentally ill young man who had once played football for Ed tracked him down. As Ed oversaw students working out in the bus barn, the temporary weight room, he was shot in the head several times. Ed's wife, Jan, was an EMT and was in the ambulance responding to the 911 call. Ed died later in the morning.
The shooter was soon caught. His identity was a shock to the police as the individual was supposed to be in the hospital. He had gone on a rampage the previous day and had been admitted for observation and evaluation. Although the police requested to be informed when he was released, they were not.
Ed's wife and sons faced the troubling question of “why.” Jan sensed God telling her, “No act of evil can destroy my purpose and my plan. … I'm still on my throne. I'm still God. This did not take me by surprise. Please trust me.” (196)

This is a compelling story. I didn't want to put the book down. Tabb did extensive interviews with the family and we read through the book as the events unfold. We feel like we are right there, listening to the conversations, watching Ed tease his sons, seeing him try to relax on the family's only vacation. And we are right there on that tragic day and the painful days that follow.

Video links are provided so readers may watch many aspects of Ed's life written bout in the book. Start with this ten minute documentary prepared for the 2010 ESPN Espy awards.

It is Ed's legacy that is our encouragement. As Dungy says in the Foreword, “Teaching these boys how to become real men was how he always viewed his job.” (10)
Ed's wife and sons say in their note, “ sons and I hope that by sharing this humble man's story, you will be inspired to find your own passion
      to use the gifts God has given you,
          to do what's right,
              to lead by example.” (12)

Zondervan, 245 pages.  Publisher information

I received a copy of this book for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Response Able by Matthew Hagee

Hagee wants you to believe that no matter who you are, no matter your circumstances, “You have the ability to respond to the world around you and make a huge impact on your quality of life in the future.” (1) “Your destiny is yours to determine unless you decide to forfeit the privilege.” (2) “The time has come for this generation to take responsibility for tomorrow, and the response begins with you.” (5)
You must live by principle, not passion. (Be passionate about your principles.) Be submitted. “The amount of submission you are willing to live under will determine the level of success you can achieve.” (21) “If your desire is truly to make a difference in this world, you must wage war on mediocrity.” (27) Do “just a little bit more to be a little bit better every day.” (28) Be thankful. “Gratitude is the key that releases the supernatural power of God in your life.” (34) Be patient. “You may be scrubbing someone else's floor today but if you take the right steps, you can be on the throne tomorrow.” (53)
“If you want to make a real difference, you are going to have to work and work hard. There are no set hours; begin early and stop when you are done.” (71)
Get back to the Word of God as a standard of truth. “...[F]ocus on using finances as a tool to be of benefit to as many as possible...” (105)
He encourages parents to be the primary source of their child's education. (153) “The best thing you can do for your children is to put your hands on them and bless them. Pray the promises of God over them.” (174)
On the political scene, he believes it is time for a new party. He encourages the reader to listen to the kind of party he is proposing before you say it won't work. (194) I am not sure what he is proposing as what follows is an encouragement for voters to hold candidates accountable, to write in candidates, and to not follow trends. He suggests this be called The Responsible Party.
He ends with a call for Christians to work together.
The end of each chapter contains bullet points reviewing the major thoughts, and questions to consider.

I was struck by how much Hagee did not write about the sovereignty of God. He would have us believe that we must “get it done.” He would have us think that the future depends on us. I guess I believe too much in the sovereignty of God to be impressed with that kind of thinking.
Matthew Hagee is John Hagee's son and he says of his father's ministry, “...there isn't a place on the planet where Pastor Hagee isn't recognized as a preacher of the gospel.” (57) Wow! I would certainly think that is a bit of an overstatement! I am sure there are villages in Africa or Siberia or China where the inhabitants have never heard of the man.

Charisma House, 227 pages.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Bible in World History by Dr. Stephen Leston

“This book focuses on events that took place in world history while the events of the Bible unfolded.” (5) “...[T]he events of the world are not separate from the events recorded in Scripture.” (9) The author does not intend to solve all the historical mysteries (such as issues of dates) but to connect the events of world history to the events of the Bible.
An underlying assumption is that “God is the God of all history.” (6) “As we study the fullness of history unfolding before us, we can see God at work in the world, carrying out His plan for the ages.” (8)
Abraham's rejection of a polytheistic religion in Ur sets the stage for the creation account. That all mankind was created in the image of God and is descended from one couple has important ramifications. The first sin gives us important insight into the condition of society today. (The murder of Able murder could have been later in Cain's life. There might have been 120,000 people on the earth in 800 years.) Industry, trade, language, writing and the development of religion are addressed. The authors continue with the violent nature of civilization at the time of Noah, then the implications of the Tower of Babel.
The developed culture or Ur, from which Abram came, is shown as is the society in Egypt. Next is the sophisticated culture of Canaan during the Bronze Age, the time of Abraham's migration, and the contemporary Code of Hammurabi.
Archaeological discoveries revealing information about the conquest era are covered, including the religion of the Canaanites. The rule in Egypt during the Israelite enslavement is briefly considered, as are changes in India and Greece.
The shifts in world powers during the existence of the nation of Israel are examined “to see how God interacted in the midst of them with the nation of Israel for His redemptive purpose.” (95) During the time of David was the Mayan civilization in the Americas and the rise of the Zhou dynasty in China. The Assyrians and Babylonians, were influential during the divided kingdom. Sparta, Athens, Pythagoras, the development of Buddhism, the Medes and Persians (with added emphasis on the Persian empire and the story of Esther), Confucius, Sun Tzu, the influence of Greek thought, the transition from Greeks to Romans and the inter-testamental history, and the expansion of the church are all explored.

This is not a scholarly work. Do not expect discussions on details, such as the date of the Exodus. This book records the overall work of God in history. It is aimed, I think, at the relatively new Christian. It will make a nice coffee table book but is not suitable for intense study on any particular aspect of the Bible and world history.
There are lots of full page color pictures, maps, and time lines. (I am not sure of the purpose for some pictures, as a full page spread on The Art of War by SunTzu, or the full page photo of a statue of Aristotle, or the full page photo of the bust of Pericles, or the full page photo of the bronze doors in the Roman senate, or Hannibal.)
At the end of each major section is a reflection as to the relevance of the previous information to Christians and how they live in the world today.

Leston's prayer is that we would have a bigger view of God after reading this book. His encouragement: “Therefore, let us take hope in the power of our God and the promise that history is moving toward the establishment of His King.” (91)

Barbour Publishing, 288 pages.

I received an egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Friday, August 26, 2011

The Opposite of Art by Athol Dickson

Ridler is a painter, a genius. He has an argument with his girlfriend, Suzanna, and she returns to her apartment in Harlem. Ridler goes after her but is knocked off a bridge, drowns, comes up on shore and after a long time, comes back to life.
He is forever changed. He has seen the Glory and will desperately try to paint it. He will always fall short.
Wandering the streets he is picked up by hippies and lives with them for a while. The world thinks Ridler is dead.
He goes to Suzanna's street and misinterprets the hug he sees her receiving from the gallery owner. He believes he has lost her.  He finds that his apartment has been packed up. All his paintings are gone.
Years later Ridler is a story teller in a circus. Through his stories we find he has investigated Buddhism, moved to Thailand and lived on the beach. He did not find the Glory. He worked on steamers. He lived in Istanbul and sold sketches in the market. He studied the Sufi path but did not find the Glory. He moved to Tel Aviv.
It was suggested only Christians could paint the glory so he went to Rome. In the Sistine Chapel he saw “scribbles,” “mere fable, merely flesh for Glory.” In a frenzy he chalks a forty foot image along the sidewalk. Others gasp but for him it was only another failure. As the rain (tears of heaven) begin to wash the pigment, Ridler has another glimpse of the Glory.
An ancient yet timeless woman asks to to come with her, to join the circus. Ridler sends new paintings to those he has hurt. On the opposite side of the canvas, he asks for their forgiveness.
Suzanna receives one and is convinced Ridler is still alive. The daughter he did not know he had begins to trace him down. There is also a murderer trying to find Ridler. Ridler alive would make his paintings worth much less.

This is the first novel I have read by Dickson. It is a pleasant mix between reality, fantasy, symbolism, spiritual vision, imagery, and what else? It is a novel with a story yet it is an adventure into the meaning of life. It is a book with characters yet the characters are principles or desires. There is seamless movement from reality on the planet to reality in the spirit. There is the interweaving of the present and the past.
I don't know how to describe it other than to say I thoroughly enjoyed it and will certainly read more from him. Evangelical Christians may be disappointed that the gospel is not clearly presented but it is present in a sort of hovering way.

See the author's blog:

I received an egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Heart of Memory by Alison Strobel

Successful Christian author and speaker Savannah Trover becomes very ill. She needs a heart transplant. Facing death, she realizes her own faith has been shallow and she renews her commitment to and relationship with Jesus.
But then comes the heart transplant and the awful realization that her faith in God is entirely gone. In its place is an intense hatred for God.
Savannah's husband and daughter struggle through the personality change. Savannah no longer has the desire to speak at conferences – she has nothing to say. The ministry that has supported the family falls apart. Then Savannah learns her husband has been taking money from the ministry and hiding it. The ministry is gone. The money is gone.
Savannah turns to an old friend running a support home for hurting Christians. Will Savannah be able to return to faith in God? Will she be able to restore the relationships in her family?

I was at first skeptical of Strobel's plot. However, a Google® search revealed some work reported on the San Francisco Medical Society web site. The article is about investigating the theories of emotions or memories being stored in the tissues of the body.1 Takeuchi there notes “the numerous reports of organ transplant recipients who later experienced changed in personality traits, tastes for food...”2 So it may be that memories are not stored in the brain alone. The world of medicine in general has not embraced the concept of cellular memory but at least one doctor is practicing as if it is true.

Strobel has progressed a great deal in her writing skills since her debut novel. She has crafted a pretty good story about a controversial topic. I'm glad I read the book and feel like I have learned something in the process.

Author website:

Zondervan, 296 pages.


Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Mugabe and the White African by Ben Freeth

We love David and Goliath stories and this is one that is set in our lifetime in Zimbabwe.
Mike Campbell owned a farm in the Chegutu district of Zimbabwe. This was a farm he had legally bought from the Zimbabwe government. Then, in the name of supposed land reform, Mugabe demolished property rights and began confiscating land. Those benefiting were a chosen few in high office. Most Zimbabweans have been forced into poverty.
Freeth has written his book because, “It is time for Mugabe to answer for his crimes against humanity...” (12)
Ben Freeth recounts his growing up in (then) Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe) during the unrest of the bush wars of the 60s and 70s. “People were just murdered and nobody counted the bodies.” (26) Mugabe wanted the white people out and by 1983 the white population was a third of what it had been a decade before. Mugabe said of the whites, “We will kill those snakes among us.” (29)
Ben married Mike Campbell's, Laura, in 1994. They spent some time in Zambia but returned to Zimbabwe in 1996. He worked for the Commercial Farmer's Union. They built a home on the corner of the Campbell farm.
In November of 1997 the farm was listed for acquisition by the government (along with 1,471 other farms). But it was delisted in 1998 and the family breathed a sigh of relief.
Mugabe pushed for a constitutional change that would allow farm land owned by whites to be taken without payment. The 2000 vote was “no.” While only twenty percent of the land was owned by white farmers, many lived on the farmland and relied on the white owners for their livelihood.
Mugabe incited unrest and men invaded farms. The police refused to protect the farmers. Farmers were beaten and later, killed. Many packed up and left. While high courts ruled the invasion illegal, nothing was done.
The Campbell's farm had its first of many invasions in 2000. In the years following, cattle were stolen, trees cut down, irrigation systems broken, the house burned... Both Ben and Mike were beaten when they tried to help protect other farmers. The laws protecting farm ownership were changed in 2002. Army personnel began evicting white farmers.
The Campbells decided to challenge Mugabe in the courts. Even when the decision at the Tribunal was in the farmers' favor, Mugabe ignored it. Mike, his wife, and Ben were kidnapped and beaten, again, then dumped at the side of the road. Thugs continued to invade their farm, eventually burning the house and outbuildings.
Now, they live in town. The 40,000 fruit trees are dead. No irrigation is working. No crops were planted.
The Zimbabwe government has been judged in contempt of court three times by the SADC Tribunal. Yet Ben has hope for justice.

Freeth notes, “According to Genocide Watch's 2010 statistics, more than twelve million people have died in genocides and politicides in Africa since 1945. This is double the number of Jews who died during the holocaust.” (126) He addresses why Africa has been known as the “Dark Continent.” He says the problem lies with the spiritual forces behind the individuals in Africa. (88) He believes “that with strong, godly leadership the fortunes of the country can be turned around.” (241)

Ben Freeth, MBE, is a British-born Zimbabwean farmer. He has lived in Zimbabwe most of his life and is raising his three young children there, together with his wife Laura. Ben's story has already been the subject of an award-winning documentary which won Best Documentary 2009 (British Independent Film Awards), was nominated for the BAFTA Outstanding Debut Film 2010, and shortlisted for an Oscar in 2010.

To win a possible Amazon gift certificate and see other reviews of this book go here:

There is also a very good documentary movie by the same name. You can see more about it here: and here: .
Go to to see the trailer and get more information.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Hell, Rob Bell, and What Happens When People Die by Bobby Conway

Rob Bell raised concern for many evangelicals in his book Love Wins. (See my review:
Conway wants us to know “Hell is a real place.” Hell is the fate of much of humanity, he says. “The most unloving thing I could do is hold out false hope or go mute about this awful, endless reality.”
Conway reminds us that for two thousand years “Christians have understood eternity in terms of heaven and hell.” “Bell's book challenged the traditional, orthodox view of what happens when people die.” Bell held out the promise of postmortem salvation. Bell's message is “fatally flawed,” Conway says.
Hell was not a theologian's idea. “We learn more about hell from Jesus than from any other source in the Bible.” Jesus said more about hell than He did heaven. If we are going to take Jesus at His word, how can we not accept the reality of hell? Hell is God's idea, Conway says.
He admits that hell is a topic that makes people uncomfortable. He reminds us, “When something in Scripture is distasteful to us, we must realize that we, not God, are the problem.” He realizes the truth is hard to digest. “We must take it by faith that one day we will see as God sees.”
Conway critiques many of the statements Bell made about hell in his book, showing how they differ from what is found in the Bible. He suggest Bell commits the interpretive fallacy known as eisegesis (reading into the Bible one's own ideas). He identifies the themes that seem to emerge in Bell's book (postmortem salvation, nuanced purgatory, inclusivism) and how they contradict Scripture.
“But Love Wins, because of its confusing and sometimes dangerous message, will potentially deceive countless thousands who would have been much better off just hearing what the Bible actually has to say.”
After emphasizing the reality of hell, Conway reminds his readers that it need not be their fate. He presents the gospel and the opportunity to escape that judgment of God.
At the end of each chapter are additional video resources.
This book is in ebook form only.

I received an egalley of this ebook from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Hell is Real by Brian Jones

Would you be willing to run into a burning building to save lives? On a vacation, Brian Jones did exactly that. Then he faced the reality of the question: if you were willing to do that, why aren't you concerned about hell and people going there?
Jones was a seminary graduate, becoming a pastor. He was sure hell was a myth. He knew the objections to hell (and he covers them). He went through the New Testament and what he found shocked him. He thought he'd find a few scattered references to hell. “I was wrong;” he says, “hell is taught everywhere.” (24)
Jones wants his readers to face that fact. He wants you to understand why hell makes sense. He wants you to believe in the Bible – all of it. He wants you to be confident in defending what you believe. And he wants you to know how to have an authentic conversation with your friends about it.
At the heart of Jones' book is what he calls apocalyptic urgency, “the all-consuming conviction that overtakes you when you realize hell is real, and that it is within your power to help people avoid going there.” (34) If you don't have that urgency, “You either don't believe in hell, or you don't care that your friends will go there when they die.” (37)
Jones reviews the various reasons Christians stop believing in hell. He then takes you through the biblical accounts of God's wrath, including the New Testament. Understanding the wrath of God is necessary, Jones says, to appreciate the urgency of the gospel. He admits that the concept of propitiation seems barbaric. (146) He reminds us that it results not because God is angry but because God is holy. (148)
Jones asks you to “repent of caring more about what non-Christian friends and family members think of you than what God says is going to happen when they die.” (174-5)
He does want you to have balance, however. Work in your yard and meet your neighbors. “The challenge is learning to do evangelism in the context of our normal, everyday lives...” (185) He gives sample ideas to do just that. He encourages you to build authentic relationships before you say anything about Jesus. “The art of sharing your faith is knowing when to open your mouth and when to shut it.” (237)
Early on Jones says, “My prayer is for God to so disturb you by what you read in the following pages that it will be impossible for your life to go back to the way you lived it before.” (39) Reading this book will do that.

Additional resources, such as a small group discussion guide, can be found at See more from Jones at

David C Cook, 272 pages.

I received a copy of this book from The B & B Media Group for the purpose of this review.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

The time is five centuries in the future. The age of chaos, before man evolved out of his slavery to emotions, is past. The world narrowly avoided apocalyptic destruction. Now there are seven governments with the supreme in Byzantine (Rome) ruler of them all.
Rom, son of Elias, has thrust upon him a vial of blood and a piece of vellum with strange writing. As the novel progresses we learn that the eradication of all emotion except fear was accomplished by a virus crafted to change humanity's DNA. The pathogen was named Legion and altered the genetic code, dulling all emotions except fear.
The blood is a serum that allows a person to feel emotions again, to truly be human. It is a remnant from the chaos era and has been kept all this time by a clandestine group called the order of Keepers.
There are only five doses of blood in the vial. Rom and four others drink the blood and begin a harried journey to protect the world from disaster and bring its people back to true humanity. The sovereign to be helps Rom translate the vellum. It predicts a boy would be born who would be a ruler bringing the people back to their true humanity. Rom and his friends search for the boy to protect him and arrange for his being brought to rule. The boy is “alive.” The virus will fight to eradicate the pure blood in his body.
And we are set up for the next book in what looks like will be a trilogy.

This is a captivating novel. As with the Circle Trilogy, the entire aspect of gospel symbolism may not be understood until the series is completed. But already we have the blood, the evil virus named Legion, sacrificial dying, the Maker, and the impending war of good and evil. The emphasis of this novel is the essential nature of emotions to being human. “Without that suffering, there would be no true pleasure. Without tears, no joy. … This is the secret of the human heart...”
Dekker says he wanted to write something like he has never done before so collaborated with Lee. The two have crafted an exciting novel.
Be aware that the novel contains some gruesome aspects, graphic and violent death, for example. But then, the battle between good and evil has never been tidy.

Center Street (Hachette Book Group), 432 pages. This book releases Sept. 13, 2011.

I received an egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Too Blessed to be Stressed by Debora M. Coty

We all crave peace in our stressed out life. Debora has written this book “to help you rejuvenate your desperate heart by discovering simple-to-implement, practical ways to attain that peace we all crave.” (Intro.) The book is divided into four sections: time management, sense of humor, relationships, and faith.
Debora has a sense of humor and it shows as she delivers short meditations, making you laugh and then making you think, especially with the questions at the end of each meditation.
Housework? “Cleaning an occupied house is like combing your hair in a hurricane.” (18) Your calendar too full? She recommends an activities enema! (42)
She suggests you develop a sense of humor because “if you don't have humor, you probably don't have much sense.” (63)
Don't you think it was a woman on her way to the bathroom in the middle of the night who coined the phrase “wee hours”? (65)
How could I possibly give justice to her section on menopause and her way to thaw chicken in time for dinner?
She gives suggestions on how to deal with difficult people, the NIBs (Nuts In Batter). “Remember, even nutty lumps in the batter add flavor.” (122)
But her book is not all fun and laughs. “I've learned that real, honest-to-goodness peace is entirely dependent on our trust in God's sovereignty. That means believing He's in control of all the details of our lives, even if it doesn't feel like it. ...[W]e must realize that only when our trust is anchored in Him can we find peace.” (161)
Deborah has been an occupational therapist specializing in upper extremity rehabilitation for over thirty years. She has seen how women are vulnerable to specific maladies related to a stressful lifestyle. She gives a few simple stretching exercises to help women deal with the tension stress produces. She also suggests deep breathing.

Debora knows pain. She suffered two years of depression following six heart-wrenching miscarriages. (194) Reading the psalms was, for a time, the only way she could communicate with God. She has written several other books, devotions, on prayer, and fiction.

This is a great collection of short meditations based on humorous stories from life, her own as well as others. Yet each stories contains a truth to help the reader deal with stress. This book is a delightful read.

Debora M. Coty is a humorist, columnist, speaker, writing workshop instructor and award-winning author of over 100 internationally published articles and ten inspirational books. She has also contributed short stories and devotionals to numerous anthologies. Debora's passion is sharing her offbeat blend of humor and hope, wit and near-wisdom with of all ages. As a piano teacher for twenty years, she acquired the skill of auditory long-suffering and has helped countless people as an occupational therapist specializing in orthopedics for over three decades. Mother of two grown children, Debora currently lives and loves in central Florida with her husband and desperately wicked pooch, Fenway. Visit with Debora online at

Check out her personal blog,
To see other reviews on this LitFuse tour go here.

Barbour Publishing, 217 pages.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

The Seraph Seal by Leonard Sweet and Lori Wagner

In this apocalyptic novel, the year is 2048. Eight people were born at the same moment on December 21, 2012. Now, thirty six years later, four of these individuals must gather together to prevent the destruction of the earth. Paul Binder, a history professor in Virginia, is the individual who is called to gather them.
We find in the course of the novel that Paul thinks the earth as it is will cease to exist in a few months. Referring to M Theory, he thinks a portal will open at a certain place and time for those ready. The portal will open to a new world (not at all heaven, as Christians would think of it).
As the time progresses to the “end,” disasters happen. Part of southern California falls into the sea. There are huge tsunamis. Sea life is killed. There are intense solar flares and communication ceases (yet, miraculously, Paul can use his communication devise at a crucial moment). Radiation burns people yet Paul and his group miraculously have a benefactor who provides gold suits for them. The stock markets are inoperable as there is no electrical power. The dollar is predicted to collapse in days. The Goddard Space Center predicts the magnetic poles will reverse in a couple of days (which happens). Earthquakes rip the earth apart. The planets will align at that moment, something that has not happened in millions of years.
In other words, just about everything predicted for the last days happens. Sometimes I saw a correlation with the seals of Revelation but mostly not. It almost seems as if Sweet and Wagner wanted to stuff in as many secret symbols, esoteric theories, etc. into the book as possible. At times it was a bit much.
There are so many parts of the novel that are odd. The President of the “new” United States wants to rule the world. Near the end of the novel, the east and west parts of the nation are in a second civil war. Yet, there are no declarations of disaster areas, or anything like that. Instead, he quietly contemplates the future, at one point having tea with Paul Binder (while the world is falling apart around them).
It is the same way with Paul and the others. The world is falling apart, people are being burned by radiation yet Paul and his friends are sitting in a monastery or something similar, drinking coffee, so to speak.
Another odd part of the novel is the six hour train ride Paul takes from London to Wales (in 2048?).
And then there are the science issues. One that comes to mind is when there are lights in the sky (result of solar flares) and it is said they “just sucked the energy out of the entire atmosphere.” As a person who studied physics (B.S. '70) I know if the energy was sucked out of all the atmosphere would mean it went to absolute zero – not possible. It bothers me also that at times earthquakes “split the earth,” and other such hyped disaster statements.

My larger thought is that this is not a “Christian” novel. I say that because Sweet and Wagner have included all kinds of prophecies into their story, not just the biblical book of Revelation. Much hinges on the Mayan calendar and 12/21/2012. It is supposedly at that time when the seals of Revelation were opened. Prophecies from other cultures are mentioned as well.
In a more narrow view, this is a “Christian” novel because the gospel is clearly presented on more than one occasion. The four that need to gather must “turn toward God and the Lamb,” whatever that means.
It is almost like Sweet and Wagner wanted to write a DaVinci Code kind of novel. I don't think they pulled it off.

I listened to this book on CD and I do not recommend that at all. At the beginning of the recording, I was notified I could go to the web site and see the journal entries, diagrams, etc., but that is not possible when I am hiking along the bluffs of Puget Sound.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Red Ink by Kathi Macias

This is the third in the Extreme Devotion Series, books by Macias about Christians with overcoming faith in the face of persecution.
Zhen-Li is in prison because of her faith. She was raised to adhere to the part line but fell in love with a Christian and married him. When she was pregnant with her second child, she refused the ordered abortion. It happened anyway when her father had her kidnapped and the baby was forcibly aborted. Trained as a teacher, she spoke of Yesu with children. Now she was paying the price. Ten years of hard labor and “reeducation.”
Tai Tong is a guard in the prison. He is a mean man and is determined to break Zhen-Li. He will make her deny her Yesu by beating her and then taking her for himself. He will stop at nothing, even killing her husband and son if that is what it takes. Will Zhen-Li have the strength to be faithful to her Savior?
Interspersed with Zhen-Li's story is that of Julia Crockett, in an assisted living home in California. She and her husband has made a mission trip to China and she had hoped to go back again. But her husband has been dead for twenty years. Yet she still felt the burden of China and prayed for the Christians there. Her prayer partner is her good friend Laura.
A new resident in the home is cranky Margaret. Julia tries to befriend her but Margaret is so full of hurt, Julia is put off.
Julia and Laura pray faithfully for China and frequently feel a burden for someone in immediate need of strength. It is at those times Zhen-Li is facing Tong's wrath. When the women meet Margaret's granddaughter, they know she needs prayer too. She is heading for danger with her rebellious lifestyle. Will she be rescued before she is sold into sex slavery?

This is a rewarding read. Macias kept my interest throughout the novel as the various stories are woven together. The story is based loosely on the life of Christian magazine editor Li Ying, currently serving a ten year sentence in China.
My only disappointment was the ending to Zhen-Li's story. Even though it appeared positive, the future is uncertain. Nonetheless, the novel helps the reader understand the situation for Christians in China.

New Hope Publishers, 313 pages.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Proof of the Afterlife by Br. Gary Joseph

It was 1:15 in the morning, September 27, 2005 and Gary Joseph could not sleep. He had a vision of God. “He communicated not in linear thoughts, but by instant absorption, transmitting millions of messages that flooded my soul in a brief moment.” (12) “...[A] cascade of spiritual meetings began to take place...” (15) He began keeping a journal.
Joseph has written this book so that others can share in the dialogue “with the other side.” (15) He thinks each of us has “the ability to hear the voice of God speaking in our lives today.” (15)
For me, an evangelical Christian, Protestant, many of his visions and visitations are problematic. He says, “...[C]onversation does indeed continue with loved ones, dead or alive.” (25) He had a visitation from his brother, after he had died. (37) God was preparing his brother for heaven. When his brother went to heaven, God revealed that it was “because there was one time in his life he was merciful to someone.” (39) This was after twenty years of Purgatory.
He had a visit to his father in Purgatory. There was darkness and isolation. (57) His father spent only five years in Purgatory before going to heaven.
He has a chapter honoring Mary, receiving the knowledge that she was to be called “Consultant of Grace.” (135) “I take this to mean that Mary is the person for each of us to go to, who like a doctor, to ask for her advice about how to prepare ourselves to live holy lives and to receive special graces from God to make that happen.” (135, sic)
Other people appeared to him, One was a friend of his mother's, a woman who had been dead nine years yet was “a wandering soul, still drifting without an eternal home.” (143) She said the angels would not let her into heaven unless she gave her life to Jesus. He convinced her to do so. (144)
Gary Joseph ends his book with a prayer that is said to release 1,000 from Purgatory each time it is said. (185)

Again, as an evangelical Protestant, I have a great deal of difficulty with most of his visions and visitations. Gary Joseph is Catholic and many of his visions concur with Catholic teaching but not with what is revealed in the Bible.
Also, the title of the book is a bit presumptive. I am not sure many would accept one person's accounts of interaction with those in the afterlife as “proof” that there is in fact, an afterlife.
This is a self-published book and certainly shows the lack of editing.
Br. Gary Joseph is involved in ministry to the homeless in the Los Angeles area. You can visit for more information and for copies of the book.

I received a copy of the book from the author for the purpose of this review.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Across the Wide River by Stephanie Reed

Reed has created a novel for teens based on a real family that participated in the Ohio underground railroad during the early 1800s. The Rankin family is real and current descendants helped with background for the story. You can go to and search for “Rankin” to see family names and a photograph of the parents.

As the novel opens, the Rankins live in Kentucky. They had been on their way to Ohio, a free state, once before but stopped in Carlisle as they needed John's preaching skills. Young Lowry Rankin's best friend is Sherwood, the young slave of a benevolent owner. Lowrly is disappointed when Sherwood has to leave after being beaten by a stranger.
The Rankins finally make the move to Ripley, Ohio in 1826. The family immediately becomes involved in the underground railroad. Even young Lowry helps by riding along with a fugitive slave to the next house, on the way to Canada and freedom.
John wants his son to be a preacher but Lowry has other ideas. He ends up going to his uncle's to apprentice as a draftsman. He is able to see more of Amanda, a girl he liked from the first time he saw her.
One day Lowry goes on a new ship and investigating how the stairs were built, ends up in the hold. There he sees fifty slaves, chained to each other. One is a light colored girl being severely mistreated. Overwhelmed with the cruelty, he decides to go into the ministry.
He enters Lane Seminary and meets Dr. Beecher, Professor Stowe and Stowe's wife, Beecher's daughter Harriet, a writer.
Lowry continues to help in the underground railroad and becomes very ill from the pressures of study and lack of sleep. He ends up going back to the farm, facing those who hate abolitionists. Lowry is amazed when one of the slaves he helps transport is Sherwood, who finally escaped from his owner.

This is not an action novel. At times there are pages of background material (as many as eight) without dialogue or action. This would be a great novel for a teen with a desire to know about slavery and the underground railroad. A teen who did not already have the desire to learn about the topic may find the book slow going. The fact that the novel is based on real people definitely adds to the drama of the story.

Find out more about the author at
Find out about the sequel to this book at The Light Across the River trailer.

Kregel Publications, 176 pages.

I received a copy of the book from Kregel for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

The Believing Brain by Michael Shermer

Do you ever wonder why people believe such strange things? So does Shermer. Because I am a Christian, he would include me as one of those people who believes strange things.
Shermer is a materialist. According to him, there are no such things as a “mind” (41) or God. (45) “Mind,” he says, “is just a word we use to describe neural activity in the brain.” (111) (Interestingly enough, I am now reading a book titled You are Not Your Brain so I guess not everyone agrees with him!)
Shermer addresses why in the world anyone would believe in a God. He suggests only two reasons: intellectual and emotional. He notes that often an emotional trigger (say, in childhood) sends one down a different intellectual path.
Is there any meaning in life with no God? Shermer says, “the meaning of life is here. It is now. It is within us and without us...” (35)
He clarifies the myth that there is a negative correlation between intelligence and belief. Smart people belief weird things because they are better at defending those beliefs. (36)
Our brains are wired to find meaningful patterns (associated learning). “...[F]inding new and useful patterns is good, finding new patterns everywhere and being unable to discriminate between them is bad. … In a way, there's a fine line between the creative genius of finding novel patterns that change the world and the madness or paranoia of seeing patterns everywhere and being unable to pick out the important ones.” (124)
He notes that oxygen deprivation and exhaustion often produce the same characteristics as near death experiences. (152)
Why do people believe in weird things such as conspiracies? Their “pattern-detection filters are wide open... Conspiracy theorists connect the dots of random events into meaningful patterns...” (209)

This book is a result of Shermer's thirty years of research, devoting his career “to understanding how beliefs are born, formed, nourished, reinforced, challenged, changed, and extinguished.” (5) “Beliefs come first,” he says, “explanations for beliefs follow.” (5)
He recounts personal belief narratives (including his own), then how belief systems are formed, nourished etc., then the cognitive processes involved, then how belief systems operate in various realms (religion, politics, etc.), and finally how to determine if belief patterns are true or not.

Shermer notes near the end of the book that science begins with what he calls the null hypothesis. One assumes the hypothesis under investigation is not true. Then the burden of proof is to provide the convincing experimental data to reject the null hypothesis. (334) Ideally, there needs to be controlled experiments with 95 to 99 percent confidence. (334-5)
Unfortunately, Shermer does not always employ the scientific process himself. He says early on in his book, “The universe really did begin with a big bang, the earth really is billions of years old, and evolution really did happen.” (7)

He has forgotten in his materialistic exuberance that the scientific method cannot “prove” a past event. The method requires posing a hypothesis then performing controlled experiments to prove the hypothesis. This cannot be done for a past event. The big bang and evolution can never be “proven.” If Shermer had said those models best fit the evidence we have today, or something similar, that would have been intellectually honest.

He takes a chapter at the end of the book to look at cosmological models (why there is a universe), the latest of which is in The Grand Design by Hawking and Mlodinow: M Theory. They write “that when more than one model makes accurate predictions, 'we are free to use whichever model is most convenient.' Employing this method, the authors explain, 'it is pointless to ask whether a model is real, only whether it agrees with observation.'” (331) Shermer notes, “At present there is no positive evidence for the multiuniverse hypothesis, but neither is there positive evidence for the traditional answer to the question: God.” (333)
“If there is one lesson that the history of science has taught us, it is that it is arrogant to think that we now know enough to know that we cannot know. So, for the time being it comes down to cognitive and emotional preference... God, multiuniverse, or unknown. Which one you choose depends on your own belief journey and how much you want to believe.” (333) That sounds a bit different than his categorical statements on page 7!

He also admits, while “The scientific method is the best tool ever devised to discriminate between true and false patterns...we must always remember that we could be wrong.” (336) “We must keep an open mind, but not so open that our brains fall out. Provisional truths are the best we can do.” (337) That also sounds a bit different than his categorical statements on page 7!
He notes that the scientific method cannot be used for every problem. In such cases “scientists employ the method to deduce the likeliest explanation for a particular phenomenon.” (338) Note that, “the likeliest explanation.” And that is all honest scientists can say. For Shermer to make the dogmatic statement he did is not science, it is belief.

This book was interesting, but, as with all such books, one needs to be a thinking reader. It was enlightening to understand the “meaningful pattern” explanation for learning and belief.
Just as some things can never be “proven” by science, so I can never “prove” God exists. Just as science advances a model because it best fits the evidence, I believe God exists because it best fits my evidence.

Henry Holt and Co., 344 pages.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Delivery by Diana Prusik

When Jack Wilson retired from working at the Chrysler plant, he bought a florist shop. His married daughters Gretta (Margaret) and Livi (Olivia) help Jack and his wife Ida provide flowers for those special events in their town.
The novel flashes back to some twenty years ago, the 60s, as the Wilson children are growing up Catholic. Their older brother, Buddy, gets drafted right out of high school. When the visitors come to the door delivering the news of Buddy's death, Livi loses any faith she had in God. How could He have done this to their family? She believes God has turned His back on her.
Twenty years later Livi struggles with alcoholism as she slyly nips from the beer hiding in the florist shop's cooler. Her anger toward God grows as a baby in the community dies of SIDS. And Gretta is no help as the sisters bicker.
Then their mother, Ida, begins to show signs of Alzheimer's.

Prusik has created a pleasing read. The florist shop is a sort of community gathering place and we get to see the events of the town as flowers are needed for each event. The flashbacks to growing up Catholic in the 60s are a riot. Who can forget Aqua Net?
I learned lots about the florist business too. Who wants to pull an “all nighter” before Mother's Day or Easter to get all the bouquets finished?
Prusik has also represented the dilemma Christians must work through in the face of personal tragedy. Yet, as is the case, there were seasoned Christians who helped Livi finally come to the place of trusting God again.

This is part of a new project from Tyndale House. This book is only available as an ebook.

Author: Diana Prusik has been English instructor on the middle school, high school and community college levels. She left teaching in 2005 to create art, photography, and fiction. Delivery, her debut novel, placed three times in the Christian Writers Guild Operation First Novel Award. Learn more about Diana at:

I received an egalley of this book from Tyndale House for the purpose of this review.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Homeward by Melody Carlson

Meg Lancaster is return to her Oregon coast home. She'd left twenty years ago after the death of her grandfather and a squabble. She'd become a successful corporate executive, all on her own. She'd even been engaged to the owner's son – until she found out he was sleeping with another woman.
Meg wasn't sure why she was going back home after all those years. The relationship with her mother, Sunny, had never been all that good. And she was returning to a farm of cranberry bogs. From San Francisco to cranberry bogs. But she needed her family. A month's leave of absence to get her life back together at the cranberry bogs.
Much to Meg's surprise, she is welcomed by her sister, even after her abrupt escape from home and lengthy absence. Seeing her mother again made Meg nervous. But the reunion was better than she had expected.
Meg goes to the family farm where her grandmother still lives. She is saddened to see her grandmother bedridden, perhaps near death. As she walks out to the bogs, she is shocked to see that they have been left unattended for years.
With cranberry juice “flowing in her veins', Meg is determined to get at least a couple of the bogs cleaned out and producing again. She enlists the help of Cal, an old cranberry farmer himself now feed and seed store owner. Along with Cal comes his son Matt and granddaughter Clive. It takes a while for Meg to learn that Matt lost his wife years ago...
But opposed to Meg's plans for the bog is cousin Abner. A wife beating alcoholic, her is determined to see to it that the land is developed. He can only see future houses where the cranberry plants now lie buried in weeds.

Carlson has woven a good story of a “lost” woman returning home to find herself and the God she once loved. In the process, Meg discovers her long lost love of cranberry farming and reunites with her family. Not all of the relationships go well, however, as her mother dies before Meg can re-establish a close relationship. Meg senses her ailing grandmother is hiding a dark secret. As the story progresses and all the family secrets come out, Meg finds out how active God has been in her life. She returns to faith in Him, trusting Him for her future and that of the farm.

This Melody Carlson novel is a RITA Award winner.  It is a well crafted story and, as a bonus, you learn about farming cranberries on the side.

WaterBrookMultnomah Publishers, 450 pages.  This book is currently available as a Kindle ebook for only $2.99 or used paperback.

I received an egalley of this book for the purpose of this review.