Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Precisely Terminated by Amanda L. Davis

The year is 2873. Sometime in the past “the whole world was starving” and the current system had been set up. Slaves worked below ground and the Nobles above gave them all their necessities in exchange for their work. (55) There are dorms and a complex system of tunnels that allow the slaves to go to their places of work. Hidden panels in the Nobles' rooms provide the slaves access to the rooms from the tunnels.
Twelve years ago Monica had been saved from death, just as the deadly vapors enveloped the underground. (If rebellion is detected, the dome over the above ground city is closed and all the people, Nobles and slaves, are gassed to death.) Raised by people other than her parents, she is the only slave who does not have a microchip embedded at the rear of her skull. All other slaves do have the computer chips, used by the Nobles to control them.
There seems to be an under ground movement (in both senses) to free the slaves. As a person without a microchip, Monica can travel to places outside of her assigned duties. She is successively given chips from people who have just died so she can receive food. There is a group of conspirators (the slave council) who get messages to Monica and give her assignments. Her latest assignment is to find a document that has been hidden for years. It contains the secret – the way to free the slaves.
Her father had had some kind of plan to destroy the computers and thereby make the chips useless. He had figured out the location of the computer and its controls. Unfortunately, he had been terminated – abruptly – but not before he wrote down the means to destroy the computers. That is the hidden document Monica is to find.
Now, years later, it is up to Monica to carry out his plan. If she doesn't succeed, the system will continue to go on for hundreds of years. Millions of slaves would continue to suffer day after day, all because she had failed them. She has to find the paper and carry out her father's plans, before it is too late.

This novel was written by a teen for teens. The writing (sentence construction, etc.) is not very sophisticated but is probably sufficient for teen readers. The “extras” that make a novel great, such as character development or descriptions that grab you, are not present.
I found the first part of the book repetitive and lacking a driving plot. I would have preferred to read more of how the civilization got to where it is, Nobles and slaves. Was there a war? Who built all the tunnels? These kinds of hints could have been added into the action of the first hundred pages, or so, allowing the reader to understand the background to the current story. By the middle of the book the plot was revealed enough that it kept my interest until the end.
There were some technical issues I questioned. The computers that controlled the slaves had run “unassisted” for hundreds of years. What about dust, rust, etc.? Monica deals with high power electrical connections and wires, wet from being in the river, and survives (only being knocked unconscious). The slaves live underground their entire lives. Is their skin white from lack of sunlight? Do they suffer from vitamin D deficiency?
At this point, there is nothing I can identify as specifically “Christian” about the novel. There is reference to the “God of our songs” and there are the sacrificial actions of Monica in the novel. But there is no allegory to Christianity nor reference to faith lost hundreds of years ago. This is just the first novel in the projected trilogy, however, so there may be a Christian element brought in later.

For more (including a video and more about Amanda) go to www.preciselyterminated.com and www.amandaldavis.com.

Amanda L. Davis is a teen author, born and raised in Florida and now lives in Tennessee. This is her first book. She honed her writing craft while attending writers conferences with her father, Bryan Davis, and through years of participating in Cleanplace, an online writers group for teens.

Living Ink Books (AMG Publishers), 464 pages.

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

Monday, November 28, 2011

How to be a Best Friend Forever by John Townsend

How important is a best friend to you? We know deep friendships are important but Townsend says many people do not know how to form them. Many people are isolated and have learned to live with just shallow friendships. Some just don't have the skill and abilities to go deep. Others put their energy into the opposite sex or family members.
Townsend has written this book to help you with friendship in general and particularly those few deep friendships. He wants you to experiences the highest level of good from our friendships.
Townsend clarifies what he means by friend, involving knowing, liking, and presence. They are people with whom you entrust yourself.
You'll need more than one person to provide all of the qualities you need. Different people have different strengths to offer. (He has caution and advice for pursuing friends of the opposite sex.) He explains that friendships need maintenance or will suffer and decline.
Townsend believes that most best friendships are being underutilized, not providing for either what they could. With exploration and effort the friendship can be maximized.
Townsend says your spouse as your only best friend is not enough. “We were not designed to have one person meet our deepest needs. We were designed for community.” (50)
Townsend explains how to “connect” with people, how to deepen the attachment (such as venting, talking about core values). He also gives suggestions with respect to helping your friends, not give them excuses for their behavior. He writes about the social media world (such as Facebook) and its role in friendship. It may be great for updates but not for confrontations or serious dialogue.
Townsend writes about relational honesty. You are first to be truthful about yourself. You are to be truthful about the other person. He writes about fighting – the right way. Of healing, he says, “Time, plus relationship and truth, can heal just about everything.” (114) He has recommendations for creating an honest environment. Time is essential. “Best Friendships require time to grow and produce the great relationships we need.” (121)
Townsend says it is not good to have only family as best friends. “Love your home, love your family, but you were designed to let nonfamily members into the deeper recesses of your heart and life.” (140) Do all you can to befriend those in your family who will be the kind of friends Townsend has described. “But beyond that,” he says, “make sure you are connected to people outside the comfort zone of your family.” (145)
He ends his book with a challenge. Best friends are powerful because you have made yourself vulnerable. They can be life-changing, positively or negatively. The same goes for your influence on them. Choose your words carefully. Pay attention to their care.

There is a discussion guide at the end of the book although the advance copy egalley I received did not have it included.

This short book is packed with encouragement and ideas for creating and sustaining best friends. Teens and young adults would certainly benefit from this book.

Worthy Publishing, 192 pages. This book releases January 3, 2012.

I received an advanced egalley of this book from Worthy Publishing for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

What Do You Think of Me? Why Do I Care? by Edward T. Welch

Do you care what other people think about you? Does a critical comment get you down?
Welch says we all share a common problem: fear of others' opinions. Every human being has had to manage, tolerate, and struggle with it. We want to fit in. We want to be respected. Perhaps we act differently when we know people are watching. Perhaps we cave into peer pressure.
Welch says the heart of the matter is not other people. “Chances are that the problem is not so much the eyes of other people as it is something in you.” (19)
Much of life, Welch says, comes down to three questions:
  • Who is God?
  • Who am I?
  • Who are these other people?

You have the answers to these questions, he says. They just need to be uncovered. The Bible is the guide. The Bible will get to your heart.
Welch notes that to want to be liked, loved, appreciated, and successful is common. To need these things is a problem. “You will either fear God or other people. There are no alternatives.” (35)
Welch writes about worship and idols. “Even if you worship Jesus Christ and say that he alone is King, you can easily drift to mixed allegiances.” (41) He helps readers see that God is to be relevant all the time (not just when we need Him). He explains how what may be a good thing turns to a bad one (idolatry can masquerade as something innocent).
Welch lays out a path of a lifelong journey. First, turn around – turn back to God. Listen to Him. You will love Him more and want to act like Him, loving others more. “The more you love God, the less you will love the acceptance or recognition of others.” (69)
Welch investigates Bible stories to help describe who God is. He recommends examining some of the prayers of the Bible to identify your deepest needs. To find out who God created you to be, look at Jesus. Remember, you are to live for God, not yourself. (114) That means you love others more than they love who.
In identifying the “other people,” Welch says, “Other people are family. If they are human beings they have met the basic qualifications, and we are called by God to love them like family.” (131) Your goal: to love more than you need love. (133)

Aimed at teens and young adults, this book is of an interactive style, including questions throughout the text for individual and group study. There is a corresponding website where one can dialogue about personal needs and find resources for the journey. www.My-Big-Life-Question.com. (As of 11/27/2011 this website was still described as “coming soon.”)

Edward Welch is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He has counseled for over twenty-five years and is the best-selling author of many books.

New Growth Press, 160 pages.

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

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Simply Jesus by N. T. Wright

Wright says there are some simple questions with not so simple answers. “Who is Jesus?” is one of them. In chapters 1-5 Wright covers what the questions are and why they are hard to answer. In chapters 6-14 we learn what Jesus' public career was all about, what he was trying to accomplish, and how he went about it. In the last chapter, Wright asks, “So What?”
Jesus puzzles us because his world (customs, culture, etc.) is strange to us. Wright notes the “sheer historical complexity of speaking about Jesus.” (20) He invites us to get our minds and imaginations into Jesus' own day. He reminds us of the deeply rooted idea of God himself coming to rule and reign as Israel's king. Yet Jesus did not do what the people expected a victorious king to do.
It is important, Wright says, to take off our Western spectacles and put on first-century Jewish ones. That is essential if we are to understand Jesus and his actions. “If we don't get this straight, we simply squash Jesus into the little boxes of our own imaginations rather than seeing him as he was.” (64)
Wright reviews the parables, saying they are not abstract. “The parables, in fact, are told as kingdom explanations for Jesus' kingdom actions. They are saying: 'Don't be surprised, but this is what it looks like when God's in charge.'” (91)
To help us understand the “King of the Jews” concept, Wright looks at the lives of Judah the Hammer, Simon the Star, Herod the Great, and Simon Bar-Giora.
When Wright comes to the crucifixion, he says of his interpretation, “This way of looking at the climax of Jesus' story is not, to be sure, the standard, traditional, 'orthodox,' 'conservative,' reading... Mt contention is that it enables us to understand the original historical reality for which … dogmas are later, often dehistoricized, abstract summaries.” (176)
What does it mean that Jesus is king now? Wright reminds us that, “God intended to rule the world through human beings.” (212) Jesus works through his followers (rather than doing it all himself). Wright urges a fresh reading of Acts, recognizing “that through Jesus' followers God is establishing his kingdom and the rule of Jesus himself on earth as it is in heaven.” (215) A proper reading of the Beatitudes is to see them as the agenda for kingdom people. “They are about the way in which Jesus wants to rule the world.” (218)
Throughout the book Wright speaks of “the perfect storm;” pressure from the Roman Empire, the thousand-year hope of Israel, and the purposes of God...all converging.

Wright always seems to say something in his book that I find disturbing. Wright looks at the books of Isaiah, Daniel and Zechariah as “three main scriptural passages that seem to have contributed to Jesus' sense of vocation as he undertook [this] final journey.” (165) Wright then adds the Psalms, saying Jesus not only knew them, “but made them the very stuff of his vocation. He found himself in them and determined to act accordingly.” (165-166)
I don't like the idea that Jesus took his directions from the Psalms. I imagine a scene where Jesus remembers a scene from the Psalms, then gets busy making it happen. I would rather have in my mind John 5:19. Jesus said there that he did nothing of his own initiative, “but only what he sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son does likewise.” (NET Bible) That, I think, was the motivation for his actions while on earth.

Wright is always thought provoking. I was challenged by his urging me to understand Jesus within the context of the world at the time he was on earth.

Harper One, 231 pages. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Prayers for Today by Kurt Bjorklund

Bjorklund had been excited about prayer but, slowly, over the years, his excitement waned. As a minister, he knew there should be more to prayer than he was experiencing. His experience had been with extemporaneous prayers and he viewed liturgy and written prayers with suspicion. Then a friend suggested a book of prepared prayers using Scripture. He began to experience renewal in his prayer life.
He found other prayer books and discovered that what others had prayed gave voice to his own feelings, longings and struggles. The structure invited him to pray about things he had never prayed about before. The discipline produced a greater intimacy in his prayers. He found areas in him that still needed surrendering. He found that the struggles of Christians through the centuries were not that different from ours today.
From his personal journey with prayer was born this daily compilation of prayers from classic and contemporary sources.
This book is to be a means of prompting for prayer and reflection. There are 260 days of prayers (five days a week, fifty-two weeks). They are undated so one can begin to use them any time. Each day has a Scripture prayer (his own translation), a written prayer (from a variety of sources), and a prayer meant to be a prompt for continued prayer.
Bjorklund has included ten primary types of prayer: thanksgiving, confession, affirmation, petition, renewal, praise/adoration, Christlike character, wisdom/guidance, intercession, and surrender. The themes rotate systematically so one is prompted to pray in ways that may not be natural for them.
Bjorklund is quick to note that his book is written from a distinctly Christian perspective. The existence of the Christian God is assumed as is Jesus Christ as Redeemer and Savior. The reality, presence and power of the Holy Spirit is also assumed.
These daily prayers are not ones that can be lightly read over and ignored. Bjorklund's unique Scripture translation causes the passage to be one of personal involvement. The cry of the psalmist becomes our own. The promises of Scripture are made to us. The admonitions of Scripture become our personal commitment.
The prayers from Christians throughout the centuries are both challenging and comforting. They challenge us to be all God desires of us. They comfort us as we experience the same struggles as the saints of old.
For those who want to add their own confessions, thanksgiving, and petitions, the last prayer for each day provides for that open-ended experience.

“Through these prayers,” Bjorklund hopes, “your experience of prayer will be enriched, your relationship with God will be deepened, and your desire to serve God and the needs of the world will be expanded.” (17)

Kurt Bjorklund is currently the senior pastor of Orchard Hill Church, a large non-denominational church outside of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

Moody Publishers, 278 pages.  Publisher product details.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Moody Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

The Crossing by Serita Ann Jakes

I was captured by this novel.
Ten years ago a school bus was stopped at a railroad crossing. On board was a Texas football team, cheerleaders and staff returning from a game. A masked gunman entered the waiting bus and murdered the cheerleading coach and wounded a student. The cheerleading coach was young, just out of college. Claudia had become her good friend in the short time the spirited teacher had been there. Claudia held her dear friend as the life seeped out of her.
Go forward ten years. Claudia is married to the assistant DA and has a young daughter. Claudia still gets panic attacks, never having resolved the deadly scene. Her husband decides to help Claudia by reopening the case, as the murderer had never been identified and arrested. As he begins to interview people and poke into some new places, Claudia can't stand it and threatens to leave.
As we experience the investigation into the old murder, we also get glimpses into the thoughts and feelings of the dying teacher. It becomes clear that evidence was suppressed, the autopsy was rigged, and some important people had never been interviewed.

Jakes has created a very good novel. It captured me at the beginning and was a page turner to the end. I read the entire book in a day (retirement is wonderful). The way the truth of that day ten years ago was revealed is clever and very well done. The struggles the survivors were still experiencing were real. Several characters in the book are Christians and the way they lived out their faith, doubts and all, was well done.

For a debut, this is a great novel.

Serita Ann Jakes is the wife of Bishop T. D. Jakes.  She has served alongside him throughout their marriage of nearly thirty years.  She is the executive director of the WoMan to Woman Ministries of The Potter's House of Dallas, where her husband is the senior pastor.

WaterBrook Press, 283 pages.

I received a free copy of this book from WaterBrook Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The House of Hope by Elisabeth Gifford

We know from Scripture that God loves orphans. The Hills have cared for over 1,300 of them.
In the fall of 1998, Rob's four year posting in China with Sandvik, a Swedish engineering company, was coming to an end. The Hills were planning to move from China. Rob was in senior management and there was a good retirement in his future.
The Hills heard God tell them to remain in China and take in the sick, disabled and abandoned children. Rob resigned from the company and he and Joyce decided to stay in China permanently.
They moved to a small village outside Beijing in the spring of 1999. They started caring for orphans with one cot in their dining room. They expanded. They went through the process of being able to adopt children. They expanded, started over again, saw God solve problems, expanded again, met with other organizations also helping children, met Steven Curtis and Mary Beth Chapman and received their support, then expanded again.
They work alongside several Children's Welfare Institutes in China. They have a fostor home in Beijing, and have recently built a 150-bed unit. The Hills work alongside other people and organizations that have the same vision.
Joyce tells of her own troubled childhood, her becoming a doctor, her marriage and three children, her practice in Australia, her divorce, meeting Rob, blending their family of six, then moving to Beijing in 1990.
Gifford shares many heartwarming stories of orphans coming to the attention of the Hills, their care for them and arranging for their subsequent adoption.
The Hills are continually grateful for the support of many, the acts of kindness that help change the lives of many children, one child at a time.

Note that 100% of the proceeds of this book go to fund the work at Hope Foster Home. See more about their work: http://www.hopefosterhome.com.

Elizabeth Gifford lives in Kingston and teaches children with dyslexia.

Monarch Books, distributed by Kregel Publications, 217 pages.

Buy this book from CBD.

I am participating in a blog tour of this book. To see other reviews go to : http://litfusegroup.com/blogtours/text/13438821  

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

Monday, November 21, 2011

Attracted to Fire by DiAnn Mills

Threats have been made to the vice-president's rebellious daughter, Lindsay. She is taken to the secluded Texas ranch owned by a long time friend of the VP, Burnette. Meghan, a woman on the Secret Service detail, is assigned to Lindsay's protection. She immediately bucks heads with her superior, Ash, a noted woman hater.
Lindsay's father becomes President when his predecessor's illness worsens. The threats on Lindsay's life become more severe. And then the safety of the ranch is compromised as an agent is killed.
Meghan and Ash are forced to overcome their differences and work together to protect Lindsay. Lindsay is hiding a secret but is afraid to tell the truth.
When Lindsay's father appoints Burnette as Vice-President, the drama intensifies. It seems someone on the ranch is part of the group out to get Lindsay. Ash and Meghan are not sure who they can trust.

This is a character driven novel. I had been expecting an action driven one. Because of that, the pace of this novel seemed slow to me. I am not sure what it was, but the plot of the novel did not drive me to continue to read. I did finish the book but felt I could have skipped pages and not missed much of the essential aspects of the novel.
There is a subplot of romance between Meghan and Ash. It seemed to me that Ash, originally portrayed as a “by the rule” guy (hence the nickname, A2Z), acted out of character when he fell for Meghan. I would have rather had him still be very much the perfectionist while becoming enamored with his co-worker.
The end resolved very quickly (five pages out of 400). In the previous pages, even when action happened (for example, the agent being killed), the emotional intensity was low key. The five pages near the end have intense emotions attached. To me, it was too little too late for a rewarding read.
One satisfying aspect of the novel was the Christianity of the characters involved. It was very real.
There are questions for discussion included.

Tyndale House Publishers, 400 pages.

See more at www.diannmills.com

I received a copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

And Man Created God by Robert Banks

Atheists are becoming more vocal in their claim there is no God. “Man created God” say T-shirts and billboards.
Banks reviews several of the current atheist writers and their explanations for religion and belief in God. He next looks at the history of the “man created God” idea. That humans created gods was recognized by Old Testament prophets, beginning in the eight century BC. The Greek critics were next. Apologists of the early Christian era spoke of gods being invented by people, adding the idea of demons initiating such inventions. There was a revival of critiquing the origin of gods in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The necessity of religion was seen as something mankind would grow out of as he developed. Hume, for example, that the creation of a deity was in response to human hopes and fears. The rationalist movement took the final step into a fully rationalistic and anti-religious position with Paul-Henry d'Holbach. “...[T[he initial rejection of false gods as human creations has been turned completely on its head. It has become a rejection of the very God from whom the original critique was said to have come.” (59)
Banks next addresses the four main modern approaches that God is of human creation. He reviews the works of Feuerbach and evaluates them. Next, Marx's theories are critiqued. Freud's analysis of religion is analyzed. Finally, Fromm's works are discussed.
Banks suggests in the last section of his book that we should pay attention to these critiques of religion, “since even committed, self-aware, and knowledgeable believers tend to infuse their personal preferences into their ideas of God...” (134) His final chapter explores how the secular critiques can help us identify and discard any elements that reduces God to a means of achieving our own human purposes. He also has suggestions for believers who want to avoid imagining God in their own image.

Lion Books, distributed by Kregel Publications, 147 pages.

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

Saturday, November 19, 2011

fathermothergod by Lucia Greenhouse

Lucia grew up in a Christian Science family and this is her memoir of life in a suburb of Minneapolis.
Lucia's book is not a primer on Christian Science but a view of the journey one family took mid-century. Lucia tells of the struggle she had with her parents when, as a teen, the writing on the school bulletin board became fuzzy. She fought for and was allowed to be fitted for glasses. Later in life she noted the irony of her father using reading glasses himself.
The majority of the memoir centers around her mother's illness. Lucia and her siblings discover that their mother is seriously ill in December of 1985. By then they were adults and realized their parents had hidden the fact from their children for some time. Believing that reality is in the spiritual and not the material, her father did not take her ailing mother to a traditional hospital but to Tenacre, a facility for Christian Science healing.
Heff had become a teacher in the church and was adamant that his wife would be, or was, fine. Lucia's parents concentrated on reading The Lesson and confessing health.
Lucia was not a gentle woman (by her own admission) and she details the turbulent relationship she had with her father as her mother deteriorated. When her mother appeared near death, she and her siblings finally convinced Heff to take their mother to a traditional, medical hospital.
The hospital staff began to work on the malnourished woman. They discovered a tumor. There was abdominal blockage and other medical complications. Lucia's mother gained strength after the first operation but the second one showed that the destruction within her body has gone too far for further medical help.
Many of Lucia's relatives were not Christian Science. When word got to them of her mother's condition, there was a great deal of anger and hurt that come out. Her uncle, a doctor, threatened a lawsuit, accusing Lucia and her siblings of intentional neglect of their mother.
While their father initially kept her away, Lucia was able to spend time at her dying mother's bedside. “I know that, according to Christian Science, it isn't the religion that has failed. It is my mother who has, and probably my father.” (205) “Soon, the shunning will be felt.” (206)
Her mother died in September of 1986. A year later her father married Heather, a Christian Science nurse her mother had known in London. Lucia's father became ill with what she thinks might have been ALS. She noticed the decline in his motor ability in 1997, the last time they had lunch together, at a diner. When her father's illness could no longer be hidden, Heather moved him to a country house. The one time Lucia forced a visit, her father stayed in his wheelchair. He never used his hands. Heff was placed in a medical center and the one time Lucia managed to visit him there, she was asked to leave. Hearing nothing for several months, Lucia received a change of address. Heather had taken Heff to Colorado where he died in 2001.
Lucia, married and with four children of her own, decided she needed to write her memoir. She talked to relatives, trying to understand why her parents became Christian Science. “Why, I wonder all over again, did my parents convert to a religion founded in Victorian New England by a thrice-married woman who dabbled in hypnotism and mesmerism (whatever that is, I still don't know) and came to believe her life was prophesied in the Book of Revelation?” (252) She realized that when Mary Baker Eddy founded Christian Science in the late 1860s, there was no penicillin, no aspirin, no X-rays, no chemotherapy. Surgery was dangerous. One probably stood a better chance of of being healed through belief than being entrusted to medical doctors of the day. (252)
Lucia today finds no difficulty living with ambiguity in her spiritual life and attends a nondogmatic style of church.

To find out more about Christian Science: http://christianscience.com/ 

Crown Publishers, 300 pages.

Friday, November 18, 2011

In Visible Fellowship by Jon Walker

Walker provides a contemporary view of Bonhoeffer's work, Life Together.
We were never meant to live life alone. God designed us to need the help of others to be who He wants us to be. “God created us to live together in community, so thoroughly and unconditionally interdependent on each other that we operate as if we are parts of a Body moving together for one purpose.” (15)
It is God's love that makes genuine community possible. It is a community based solely and wholly on our relationship to Jesus. It is a spiritual community, not a social or human one.
In this fellowship, we help each other mature into Christians full of truth and grace. We strengthen and challenge each other. We learn to unconditionally love one another through commitment.
Following Bonhoeffer's direction, Walker says our day should begin with morning praise, communal prayer and reading God's Word. Then there is to be fellowship at the table.
The daytime work is used by God to strip away our self-centeredness, forcing us to focus on tasks beyond ourselves. In the midst of the day we pause and remember the day belongs to God.
The day is ended as it began, praying the Psalms, singing hymns, and sharing common prayer. As Walker notes, “Jesus isn't just part of our lives; he is our Life...” (81) Jesus should get the last word.
We are to be in community not to avoid loneliness but to be in deep relationship with God and in deep commitment to one another.
Bonhoeffer also said Christians needed to set aside some time every morning in solitude and silence, for Scripture meditation, prayer, and intercession. “We need to spend time with God in order to remain intimate with God.” (90) We will be tested during the day, to see if our time with God sticks or slips away.
Walker explores the ministry to be experienced in community, such as speaking the truth to one another, meekness, service, and listening, for example. “We must allow one another the freedom to be sinners, rather than hiding behind masks of piety.” (143)
Walker has included an emphasis on Jesus at the end of each chapter, a Scripture and questions for pondering.

This book would be great for a small group and for congregational study. Walker has created a book that takes Bonhoeffer's concepts and presents them in bite size chunks. As one who has read Bonhoeffer and gotten a bit bogged down, I really appreciate Walker's work.

Jon Walker worked closely with Rick Warren for many years, eventually pastor at Saddleback Church. He has also served as editor-in-chief of LifeWay's HomeLife magazine and founding editor of Rick Warren's Ministry Toolbox. He is the author of Costly Grace: A Contemporary View of Bonhoeffer's The Cost of Discipleship (2010). He lives in Nashville, Tennessee. Learn more about his ministry at www.gracecreates.com.

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Let Our Children Go by Rebecca Greenwood

We tend to forget about the unseen reality of the spirit world and the influence it has on our well-being. Greenwood believes demons want to harm your child. She gives biblical examples of evil acts directed at children (such as Pharaoh and Herod). She shares her own experience with a spirit of fear.
She relates how children often see spiritual realities we would dismiss, frequently having nightmares or seeing something in the dark. Greenwood suggests asking what the child is seeing, whether it is “good” or “bad.” The spiritual influence can then be dealt with accordingly. She suggests parents help their children exercise spiritual authority.
Greenwood wants the reader to be sure there are no demonic influences within the home, either from current possessions, from actions of previous owners, soul ties, or from generational curses. She has suggested prayers to deal with these issues. She also helps readers identify the evil influences of this world and how to counter them. She speaks to the issue of sexual abuse and providing for healing. She addresses childhood trauma and which spiritual issues are involved. She covers troublesome behavior of teens and how to break the power of those acts. She encourages parents to build a godly image in their children.
Greenwood has been involved in deliverance ministry for some time. In the latter part of her book she gives the techniques for ministering freedom, speaking truth, praying.

Greenwood relates many stories of her own experiences, and those of others, dealing with spiritual warfare. She includes many first person accounts. What is lacking is scriptural support for many aspects of her book, such as soul ties.

Those who are willing to deal with the unseen spiritual world and its influence on our lives will find valuable resources in this book. Those who need to have “proof” on this subject will be disappointed as the book is almost totally anecdotal. A scriptural defense of Greenwood's ministry of deliverance will have to be found elsewhere.

Greenwood lost my respect when she gave credence to Masaru Emoto's claims that the molecular structure of water is affected by our words and thoughts. (144-145) A quick search of Emoto showed that his work is considered “pseudoscience” by reputable scientists. That Greenwood would even include Emoto's pseudoscience in her book is disappointing. It might give readers the impression that other parts of her book are not to be trusted. The inclusion of Emoto's claims really served no purpose and is a glaring defect in an otherwise great book.

See more about Rebecca Greenwood and her deliverance ministry at http://www.christianharvestintl.org/

Charisma House, 240.

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Paper Angels by Jimmy Wayne with Travis Thrasher

Make sure you have a box of tissues handy!
Lynn Brandt decided it was time to leave her husband. The bruises on her face gave the reason. She took fifteen year old Thomas and younger Sara to a new town and a new life. But life was hard and the work she found was not enough to provide more than the essentials. Thomas was having a hard time fitting in at the new school. The bullying and making fun of his well worn clothes really hurt. When it gets close to Christmas, Lynn decides to work through her embarrassment and sign the kids up for Angel Tree presents.
Kevin's wife talks him into taking a paper angel off the tree at the mall. It is hard for him to even think of giving to someone else as his world is falling apart. The design company he started just a few years ago may be coming to an end as his major contract was not renewed. His wife is pregnant with twins and Baby B is not growing like he should. Kevin grudgingly takes the angel. It has the name Thomas on it.
While Thomas and Kevin never meet, their lives are forever changed by the paper angel on the tree. Both struggle to trust God in the midst of changes in their lives. Both come to the realization that giving is by far a greater joy than receiving.
You'll need those tissues at the end of the book when the hope for new life becomes evident. No, there are no great miracles. There is just taking each day as it comes and trusting God for the future.

I think this book could have been a great Christmas novella. It bogs down a bit here and there and could have had a number of pages trimmed. Nonetheless, keep reading. The realistic, yet inspiring ending, is worth it.

Jimmy Wayne is an American country music singer and songwriter. He survived a turbulent, abusive childhood being shuttled through a series of foster homes. He was himself a recipient of The Salvation Army Angel Tree program.

Travis Thrasher is the author of more than a dozen works including love stories, suspense, drama, and supernatural thrillers.

For more information about The Salvation Army Angel Tree program, visit: www.salvationarmyusa.org.

Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc.). 291 pages.

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The Song of Unmaking by D. Barkley Briggs

The Song of Unmaking is the third in the Legends of Karac Tor series.
In the first book, The Book of Names, brothers Hadyn and Ewan Barlow are clearing the briar patch at their new, rural Missouri home. Ravens fly over and drop scrolls that the boys find invite them to a life of great purpose in hidden lands. The brothers find a stone arch that is a portal to another land.
In the second book, Corus the Champion, Hadyn and Ewan foil the plans of Kr'Nunos to ruin the youth of Karac Tor. But Kr'Nunos has plans to destroy Corus, the great champion Kr'Nunos has imprisoned in Hel. More Barlow boys, Garrett and Gabe, join Hadyn and Ewan to unite the people and defeat Kr.Nunos.
Now, in the third of the projected five volumes, the Goths are on the verge of invading Rockval.
An even greater threat is the terrible machine being built atop Mount Vishgar, above Rockval, where the raging wind never ceases. A music machine with a deadly song, built from an old wizard's long guarded plans. It plays a terrible song. Nemesia is preparing to play the song, the song that will release the revenge of Kr'Nunos over the whole land.
The brothers' father is trapped in Rockval and then the Goths attack. They are a monolithic wall of rock and clay, with eyeless faces and steel-spiked hands. Their frightening size is twice that of a man. They were painless, bloodless, untiring brutes. They came for the soil.
The Barlow children join forces in their attempt to save the people in the hidden lands. Gabe and Garret are discovering their own special powers, such as Garret controlling the wind and Gabe joining reality with an eagle But Nemesia is not stopped and the Song of Unmaking begins to ring out in the land. Only Ewan can produce the better song. Will he be able to stop the destruction?

I came in on the series, reading the third book, not having read the first two. I was immediately lost with the variety of names and places. This book contained no synopsis of the first two titles in the series. Also, there is not enough information within the plot of The Song of Unmaking to understand what has gone one before. If you have not read the first two, you should do so before trying this one. There is not enough continuity provided, nor is the story in this book of sufficient independence, to be read it on its own.

This fantasy series involves travel between dimensional realities. At times we are in the world as we know it while at others, we are in the hidden lands. The Barlows go from our world to the hidden one, as does King Arthur. They're Outlanders.
There are characters and analogies to Christian themes are very strong. Olfadr had created nine worlds and gave Aion nine ways in which to reveal himself. So Aion was charged with dominion across many spheres of influence. Kronos, Keeper of Time, began to covet the rank of High Prince. Kronos sought to undermine Aion through subverting his greatest achievement, man. Kronos wove insurrection into the fabric of every generation to come. Even Kronos heard the judgment: the race of man would cost Aion everything.
Such is the power of Kronos, the Devourer, now Kr'Nunos.

See more about Karac Tor at www.hiddenlands.net

Briggs grew up reading Tolkein, Lewis, L'Engle and a host of others. When he lost his wife of sixteen years, he decided to write a tale his four sons could relate to in their journey through loss. Thus began The Legends of Karac Tor. Briggs later married a widow with four children. Briggs has worked in radio, public relations, and new product development. He has also pastored for eleven years. He, with his wife and their four children, live in the Midwest.

Living Ink Books (AMG Publishers), 395 pages.

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

Monday, November 14, 2011

The Christmas Shoppe by Melody Carlson

The city had put the old Barton Building up for a sealed envelope auction. Matilda Honeycutt's bid had won the run down building. No one in Parrish Springs was happy about it.
Matilda began to clean up the old building. She had a sign put out front: Christmas Shoppe.
Newcomer to the city, Susanna was trying to make her way as city manager. Now she was right in the midst of the turmoil caused by the new business.
Tommy was the third generation to own the local paper. But he is getting disgruntled and is contemplating selling out.
When someone sees the boxes of shoddy merchandise Matilda has yet to place on the shelves, the feelings against are even stronger. No one wants a thrift shop right on main street.
There is something different about the items Matilda offers for sale, however. Every time a customer comes in and looks around, a particular item grabs them – and brings them healing.
Tommy didn't understand what was going on in the town. People who had been against her shop were now singing her praises. Maybe it was something in the water, or in the air. Maybe the entire town was possessed by some weird force. Then Tommy visited the shop himself.
Nobody knew exactly when Matilda left Parish Springs. They just knew the town was never the same.

What a sweet Christmas story! Hurts healed. People changed. The best gifts of Christmas. Carlson has created a wonderful story.

Revell, 168 pages.

See more at www.melodycarlson.com.  

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Amazing Grace as Christ Walks By by Carol Cline

Carol grew up in a home where her parents fought and her mother spent time in a mental institution. Her parents separated when Carol was twelve. When Carol was a sophomore in high school her mother was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor. The couple across the street took in Carol and her sister. Her mother died in 1969.
Carol was a junior in college and was recuperating from a tonsillectomy when she opened her apartment door to a man. He was a recently released convict and he raped her. The Holy Spirit helped her handle the violent man so that he left her without doing additional physical harm. She was traumatized and suffered from the memories for years. It would be decades before she really understood who she was in Christ and felt grounded in His unconditional love.
Carol eventually returned to group social activities and met Jeff. They began to date and fell in love. Jeff was not a believer but would accept Christ later. Carol graduated and went to work in a bank. Jeff returned to college to work on a degree he had begun years earlier. They married after Jeff's graduation and had a storybook honeymoon.
Carol fell into depression after a time, never having been counseled after her rape. While she had talked to Jeff about it, she now went through months of counseling.
She experienced God watching over her as she became pregnant. She and Jeff would eventually have two sons. She decided to become a stay-at-home mom and gave up her senior management position at the bank.
A change in Jeff's work brought the family to California. They became involved in a church and grew spiritually. Another change in Jeff's work brought them back to Cincinnati.
Carol nursed her dying father and experienced healing in their relationship. She also came to realize that the hurt from the rape had finally become a scar.
She ends her brief book with a review of her spiritual growth and healing and how the reader can accept Christ as Savior.

This slim biography would be a great encouragement for someone suffering from guilt or shame over an experience like rape. It verifies that God can bring you to a life of freedom if you are willing to allow Jesus to work in and through your life.

The narrative suffers from lack of professional editing but is still a rewarding book to read.

OutskirtsPress, 90 pages.

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

40 Days to Better Living - Depression by Church Health Center

Dr. Morris arrived in Memphis in 1986. Wanting to provide health care for the poor, he opened the Church Health Center. Its mission is healing the whole person, body and spirit. Dr. Morris realized that many illnesses could be prevented or at least controlled. The Center has developed material to provide opportunities to improve health for optimal wellness.
This book is a forty day journey on the way to health, specifically, mental health. Each day we are given ways to make our life healthier. Each daily reading contains tips on the topics of Faith Life, Medical, Movement, Work, Emotional, Family and Friends, and Nutrition. Each day begins with a morning reflection. Then follows the topics listed above. There may be questions to answer, tips to think about or journal entries to make. A sample of one day includes questions about your faith community, your family history, treats at the workplace, someone willing to check in with you once a week, suggestions to balance TV watching with bicep curls, to cook a meal that has many colors, and to journal an inventory of your emotions.
The daily reading ends with an evening wrap-up, including a prayer. Inspiring illustrations and Bible verses grace the books pages.
The readings are encouraging yet realistic. The daily practices move the reader slowly but deliberately along the path to better mental health.
Each week a story from the Health Center is included, giving the read a real example of success on the road to optimum wellness.
Managing depression is about learning to accept the feelings that we have without those feelings getting the final word.” (51) “Managing depression and the overall journey toward wellness are lifelong journeys.” (156)

This material is not to be used instead of seeing a doctor. Readers are encouraged to speak to their physician about their physical condition and to a counselor to find help in managing mild or temporary depression.
Dr. Morris understands that wellness is a journey with many aspects to it. Working through this book will probably not instantly cure you of depression. However, it is a valuable tool to be used alongside other efforts to approach optimum wellness.

I did notice some repetition in the questions and suggestions in the book (such as suggesting twice that you ask for a “to go” box at the beginning of your meal at a restaurant). However, these repeats may become just good reminders over the course of the forty days.

Find out more and sign up for newsletters at www.chreader.org.

Barbour Publishing, Inc., 176 pages

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

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Highland Sanctuary by Jennifer Hudson Taylor

It is the mid-fifteenth century and Evelina just gave birth to a daughter, much to the dismay of her husband, Devlin Broderwick. When the newborn has some kind of seizure, Devlin is convinced the child is possessed and takes her away.
Twenty years later Gavin, on his way to restore Braigh Castle and protect the new laird, comes across Evelina Boyd and her daughter Serena, who had just had another fit. The Boyds lived in a poor village nearby, known as the Village of Outcasts - the blind, the lame, those unfit for life with others not of their kind. Serena wakes to the view of the handsome Gavin before her eyes, the MacKenzie heir.
Something strange is going on in the village. A cow of one of the village people is found murdered. Then a burning hay wagon is run up against the church doors during the Sunday morning worship. And Cara, a blind lass, is attacked. It appears that someone is out to do harm to the villagers.
The laird of the castle has eyes for Serena, but then, so does Gavin. Neither of them know her secret. It seems Serena's heart is toward Gavin but her mother is more for Ian, laird of the castle. She knows Gavin will return to his own lands a some daynd she wants Serena to stay close by.
It looks as if everything might fall apart when Serena has a fit at the market. Others see her fall and writhe and begin to spread the accusation that she is demon possessed. Will the kirk condemn her and burn her at the stake? Will she and her mother lose all they managed to make of their lives?

Jennifer has done a great job writing about a misunderstood medical condition (epilepsy) in the fifteenth century. Her writing kept my interest, even thought I am a reluctant historical romance reader. I'd be willing to read her next book – it was that good.
This book is the sequel to Highland Blessing but I had not read that book and I thoroughly enjoyed this one. This book is really a complete story unto itself and can be read on its own with great satisfaction.

Keep up with Jennifer at: www.jenniferswriting.blogspot.com

Abingdon Press, 341 pages.

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

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Setting Boundaries with Difficult People by Allison Bottke

People probably don't set out to make us life virtually unbearable, but they do. “For that reason, we can and should set healthy boundaries with the difficult people in our lives.” Our focus cannot be on changing them but on changing the way we respond to them. Could God be using difficult people to help us be the people He wants us to be?
Bottke's goal in this book is to identify the role we play in the relationship with the difficult person and then empower us to make new choices.
We need to have a goal: to achieve freedom from the bondage that often accompanies challenging relationships. Dealing with her own boundary issues, she came up with her “Six Steps to SANITY”:
S – stop your own negative behavior
A – assemble a support group
N – nip excuses in the bud
I – implement rules and boundaries
T – trust your instincts
Y – yield everything to God
“Without necessary boundaries, our lives become unmanageable.” (29) She defines “boundaries” and explains why we need them. She addresses the impact of emotions. “Personal boundaries are limits or borders that define where you end and others begin.” (34)
There are physical and psychological boundaries.
She helps us know whether our boundaries are healthy or not. Setting healthy boundaries requires a foundation of faith. We must love our neighbors as ourselves (this does not mean we let them abuse). She reminds us that this is going to be a process. One doesn't set healthy boundaries over night.
We are helped to identify difficult people. We are also helped to identify our own issues such as, where we enable (as opposed to help), are codependent, or have a history of abuse.
Bottke has us identify our difficult people and rate their severity. We explore emotional triggers and are helped to understand emotions. We are taught about the four temperaments. She reports on the necessity of change and that we always have a choice. She advises prayer and journaling.
In Part Two we move forward, using the SANITY technique. We focus on changing our own attitudes and behaviors, starting with the heart. “Our ultimate goal in achieving SANITY is to guard our hearts and to enjoy right relationships with God and with others in our lives.” (113)
The first step, stop your own negative behavior, may be the hardest but is essential. Bottke encourages getting support around us (assemble a support group), giving several suggestions.
In Part Three, Bottke helps us with great practical suggestions on confrontations and dealing with consequences. She includes some sample letters of confrontation.

Those who are very familiar with the concept of boundaries or have read much of Cloud and Townsend may find the first part of the book a review of their material with Bottke's twist. The second half of the book, however, is packed full of practical ideas. If you feel you need to, skim the first half, but glean the great ideas in the second half.
Bottke is well read and quotes from many sources. Reading this book is like reading a small library and getting the best points out of each book.
We all have difficult people in our lives. Some may be in a close circle, such as a spouse or relative. Others may be more distant, such as a store clerk. We've all got them so we can all benefit from this book.

Harvest House Publishers, 241 pages.

See more from Bottke at www.AllisonBottke.com or www.SanitySupport.com.

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