Saturday, August 31, 2013

Whispers on the Dock by Evangeline Kelley

This is the third in the Postcards from Misty Harbor Inn series. See my review of Seaside Harmony here and Sunflower Summer here. You would really need
to read those books to appreciate this volume. For example, the historical mystery solved in this book is set up in the earlier two.

In the fist book we met the Marris sisters who bought the run down Misty Harbor Inn on Nantucket. That book focused on Caroline. In the second volume the sisters almost have the Inn ready for the summer business but do allow a honeymooning couple to stay. Gracie was the focus of that book.

In this book, the story focuses on Sam. She retired early from teaching elementary school and has found her joy in baking for guests at the Inn. Her baking becomes a serious issue, however, when she decides to enter her blackberry cobbler in a baking contest. The competition is stiff and when Sam has an opportunity to foil the chances of the repeated champion, the temptation is too much.

The Inn has a quirky guest, a romance writer who thinks a little too highly of herself. There is also an older woman who visits, one who adds a little more knowledge to the history of the Inn. Through her the Marris sisters find out that their mother lived at the Inn when young. Yet she claimed she had never stayed their until her honeymoon. The sisters can't believe their mother lied – until they find out why. Another secret room is discovered in the Inn as the mystery of what happened to Hannah is finally solved.

This is a low key, gentle novel. There is no exciting action nor suspense. The story befits the fifty plus year old Marris sisters and the elderly people they talk to in solving the mystery of the Inn. It was interesting to see how the historical research progressed and the serendipitous nature of it. I was also reminded of the lesson Sam learned, that something so much fun can lose its joy when there is competition involved. 

Finishing the novel, I was happy for the sisters. Some of them had struggled with buying an Inn so late in life and what that would mean to the rest of their families. But the end is very satisfying and you rest assured they will continue to help their guests be better and happier when they leave the Inn than when they came.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can find more reviews here.

Evangeline Kelley is the pen name for the writing team of Patti Berg, Pam Andrews & Barbara Hanson, and Camy Tang. Each of them has published novels individually, but this is their first series together. Patti and her husband live in southwestern Idaho and you can find out more about her at http://pattiberg.com/ Pam & Barbara are a mother-daughter writing team, having written nearly thirty books together. Pam taught at the university level for fifteen years. She and her college professor husband have two sons. Follow her blog at http://pamshanson.blogspot.com. Barbara had already written twenty-one novels before she began writing with her daughter. She is the mother of four and grandmother of eight. She lives with Pam and her family in Nebraska. Camy graduated from Stanford University and worked as a biologist researcher for nine years before turning to writing full time. She and her engineer husband live in San Jose, California. Find out more at http://camytang.com/.

Guideposts, 280 pages. Please visit your local Christian bookstore to purchase this book.

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

Friday, August 30, 2013

Stranded by Dani Pettrey

This is the third in the Alaska Courage series. See my review of Submerged here and Shattered here. It would be best to read the first two novels in the series to really gain the full enjoyment of this one.

Darcy is the focus of this novel as she returns to Alaska. She had been asked to help her friend Abby investigating dark happenings on an Alaska cruise line. Before Abby can tell Darcy what she is investigating Abby goes missing. That happens the day someone is reported as having fallen overboard. The cruise personnel say Abby quit and left the boat but Darcy wonders if there has been foul play. And how can she find out what she is supposed to be investigating?

Old relationships are renewed when Gage McKenna comes on board to direct the off boat kayak and camping excursions his family has been contracted to supply. There is some tension between Gage and Darcy that keeps coming to the surface as the two combine forces to find out what happened to Abby. But there is a growing attraction between the two also.

This is another good novel from Pettrey. The story of the McKenna family continues but this time in a different setting of a cruise ship. It is fun to see the interaction of the family members as their personalities continue to be developed. We learn more about the puzzling Jake too. And there is loads of action in this novel. (I had no idea how many people are lost off of cruise ships each year!) The ending is very suspenseful.

A couple of things I felt made this less than a perfect novel. I knew who one of the bad guys was early on (Pettrey did a good job of making me dislike this person right away) and I was disappointed that Gage and Darcy did not figure that out. While it heightened the suspense at the end, even Gage admits how stupid he and Darcy were to trust this person. Also, I missed descriptions of the majestic scenery of Alaska, since most of the action takes place inside the cruise ship.

Dani Pettrey and her husband live in Maryland with their teenage daughters. You can find out more about her at www.DaniPettrey.com.

Bethany House Publishers, 352 pages.

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

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Winter in Full Bloom by Anita Higman

This book captured me in the first paragraph and never let go. It is so well crafted I didn't want it to end. The characters are so well developed I wanted to sit down and talk with them. The themes in the novel are so well presented I felt I wanted to be a part of the family.

Lily Winter is on her way to Australia to find a twin sister she never knew she had until just a few weeks ago. Her mother - how could her mother have given away her twin sister when they were just a year old? Why? Lily is also recovering from the sudden heart-attack death of her husband a year ago. A sudden death that prevented the two of them from talking about the affair she had discovered he was having.

In Melbourne, Lilly is sitting on a bench wondering how she is ever going to find her sister when a man begins to talk to her. He's a bit odd but there is something attractive about him. But the
last thing Lily needs is a stranger trying to help.

What a great novel. It's the best I've read in a while. The major theme of taking care of others runs through the entire story. Is a mother supposed to take care of her children instead of giving one away and shoving the other to a nanny? In an older brother supposed to take care of his much younger sister and keep her from harm? And what happens when there is terrible failure with those responsibilities? Can there be forgiveness and reconciliation?

This novel is very well crafted. The theme of caring for others is presented on different levels in the responsibilities of the various characters. The novel is a multi-level story, weaving in and out and through the characters' lives. They help each other as healing action moves from one to another.

The writing is tight. There is not an unneeded scene nor unnecessary word. And there is a bit of humor interspersed throughout the serious nature of the story. What a delightful book. I am amazed that I think this is the first novel I have read by Higman. I won't miss another.

A great novel of difficulty, forgiveness and restoration.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can find other reviews here.

Anita Higman is a best-selling and award-winning author with over thirty books published. She has a BS degree combining speech communication, psychology and art. Learn more at http://anitahigman.com.

River North (Moody), 304 pages.

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

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

A Reasonable Response by William Lane Craig and Joseph E. Gorra

This is not the kind of book on apologetics I was expecting. I was expecting, based on the promotion of the book, answers to questions non-Christians ask.

But that is not the case. Many, if not most, of the questions included here are from Christians. Many questions refer to arguments Craig has made, either in print (books or articles), debates, or something like that. Many of the questions originate from a misunderstanding of something previously published by Craig. Many of the answers given clarify and defend the soundness of arguments found elsewhere in Craig's works. Some of the questions asked are two pages long, one is nearly three pages long (138-141) and another four (242-246), so these are not simple questions. Some of Craig's answers are seven or eight pages long so, again, not simple issues.

In order to appreciate this book, the reader must be familiar with apologetic methods, the rules of logic, the arguments of Plantinga (such as his theory of religious knowledge), positivism, metaphysical necessity, different theories of ethics, and so on.

This is a book for people who do apologetics, study apologetics, write about apologetics, compare apologetic methods, and want to understand the nuances of apologetics. It is for people who want to understand how Craig answers questions and his use of logic. It is not a book for the average layman who wants to know how to talk across the fence to the unsaved neighbor next door.

That being said, there are some questions that would be beneficial for the general layman, such as the question dealing with how we can know the gospels are reliable. (99) Another concerns the extra-biblical sources support Jesus' death, burial and resurrection. (110) The best way to approach the book is to skim the questions and stop at ones that are of particular interest.

The questions are divided into six sections: questions about knowing and believing what is real, about God, about origins and meaning of life, about afterlife and evil, about Jesus and being His disciple, and about issues of Christian practice. In the introductory comments to each section is a list of resources divided into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels. There is also an Appendix at the end with helps for using the book in a small group setting.

You can find out more about William Lane Craig and his ministry at www.reasonablefaith.org.

Moody, 432 pages. The publisher's product page.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book for the purpose of this review.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Unveiling Grace by Lynn Wilder

When young marrieds, Mormon missionaries came to the Wilder home. Michael and Lynn did not know the Bible well enough to even know what questions to ask. Mormons know how to do relationships well, Lynn says, and that was effective in drawing them in. They came to Mormon faith in 1977.

Lynn shares the culture and society of a Mormon community, such as people having status based on their church calling. They experienced the attitude of being second class Mormons since they were not born into the church. She talks about her reaction to male blacks no longer being excluded from the priesthood in 1978 due to a revelation from a changing God. She records her dismay at finding out the reality of modern polygamy. She writes about her teaching position at BYU and how she and her husband were dedicated to their Mormon faith.

Lynn then reveals how she began seeing discrepancies in Mormon faith and practice. Events began to crack the Mormon facade, especially involving their sons. One son, while on his mission, challenged them to read the New Testament. He had found a Savior different from that of Mormonism. The truth began to build to the point they knew they must leave Mormonism.

Wilder shares the difficulty of sorting out the lies, absorbing the truth, and finding solid ground. It took her nearly five years. She also writes about the difficulty of leaving the church, the church that had been their life and their culture for thirty years.

What comes across clearly is that Mormons do not follow the same Jesus that Christians do, as the most recent LDS prophet, Gordon B. Hinckley stated. (315) Wilder writes, “So what Mormon scripture says and what the Bible says are polar opposites.” (315) She outlines many significant inconsistencies and problems with the Mormon faith in her last chapter.

This is a very “chatty” book in that Lynn tells scores of stories about her own experiences and those of her children. While this may not be the most succinct book on a family leaving Mormonism, it does tell the complete story, event by event.

This book is significant because the Wilders were very active LDS and Lynn was tenured faculty at BYU. They know the doctrine and church culture well. Theirs was a profound change in belief.

Resources are listed at the end of the book, as is a comparison of biblical and Mormon doctrine.

Lynn K. Wilder has a doctorate in education. She was a public school teacher for 20 years and a professor for more than ten. Once a tenured faculty at Mormon Church owned Brigham Young University, she resigned from BYU and then from the LDS Church in 2008. She currently teaches at Florida Gulf Coast University, speaks, writes, and enjoys time with her 7 grandchildren. You can find out more about the Wilder's current ministry at www.unveilingmormonism.com. You can watch interviews of Michael and Lynn Wilder, their sons, and others at http://www.unveilinggrace.com/about.htm, the website for the movie. Watch a trailer and find out more about the book at http://www.unveilinggracethebook.com/.

Zondervan, 368 pages.

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

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Wake the Dawn by Lauraine Snelling

People deal with grief in different ways. In this novel, Ben lost his pregnant wife in a one car automobile accident two years ago. He turned his back on God and sought relief in the bottle. Esther had a traumatic automobile accident when a teen that she hid from her parents. Afterwards dreams and flashbacks turned into PTSD.

As the novel opens, there is an intense storm hitting the northern border town of Pineville. Ben is a border patrol agent and in the midst of the storm his dog finds an abandoned baby. Ben takes her in to the town clinic where Esther is the PA and the only source of medical aid. The clinic is full of people hurt in the storm. Ben, with his EMT training, stays to help. They save lives but lose others. Esther saves the baby's life and Ben is committed to taking care of her. Only if Ben stays away from the bottle, Esther declares.

Such is the action packed beginning of a story of struggle against the demons of the past. Ben sees the marks of PTSD in Esther but she will not let him help her. And Ben knows he needs to get his own life straightened out before he could help anyone else anyway. His commitment to the rescued baby may be the key.

Supporting these two well developed major characters are a whole host of quirky townspeople. They are so indicative of rural America. When needed, they rally around to help their community make it through the storm.

This is a good story of two flawed people who are trying to find their way to wholeness. Their faith in God plays a prominent role in their lives, Ben because he is so mad at God and Esther because she needs Him so desperately.

I do question the action with the rescued baby. That action and how it ultimately works out just did not seem realistic to me. Other than that, a fine novel.

Lauraine Snelling is the award-winning author of over fifty books. She and her husband live in Tehachapi, California.

FaithWords, 268 pages.

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

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Faithprints by Rebekah Binkley Montgomery

What are you doing for the Lord?”, Rebekah asks. “What Faithprints are you leaving on the world?”

Through your hands, Jesus can make Faithprints on those He wants to touch. Rebekah has written this book to inspire you to let Jesus use your hands.

She has divided her book into three sections. The first explores what individuals can do, such as visit prisoners, carrying the stretcher for someone else, and praying. Section two looks at getting others involved. She suggests starting a book discussion group, helping a family experiencing tragedy, and mobilizing a community response to disaster. The last section deals with the church. She writes about being welcoming, building a prayer team, and ministering to those who can be hard to help.

Rebekah gives many examples from her own life as to how Faithprints are left. She then gives you the tools you need to determine of that Faithprint is an activity for you. She includes ideas on how you can leave your own Faithprints, giving practical suggestions on how to get going. She also has great advice for leaving Faithprints on hard-to-help people. She lists resources in each area.

Rebekah is not naive. She reminds us that it can be messy and we are to go into it with our eyes open. She tells a couple of stories that make you laugh but also make you realize that without forethought, a dream of helping might turn into a nightmare.

It is easy to see that for a church to help the truly needy requires the wisdom of Solomon, the investigative skills of Sherlock Holmes, and a cohesive, well-thought-out policy by the benevolence committee.” (25)

This is a really practical book. Rebekah has done a great job of illustrating the various ways you can leave Faithprints and then helps you identify which one fits you. Her suggestions to help you get going are very good and she identifies possible areas of trouble too.

Rebekah shares lots of her own stories – too many, I think. At the end she says she didn't mean for this book to be so autobiographical. But, she adds, you can read about her and realize that if God could use a mess like Rebekah, God can use you.

If you have a dream of making a difference for Jesus and want to help people, this is a great book to get you on your way.

Rebekah Binkley Montgomery spearheads numerous public and private outreaches in the U.S. from hurricane relief to housing rehab to emergency food baskets. She was awarded the Kewanee Business and Professional Women's “2009 Woman of the Year.” She is also involved with Clamor de la Barrio (Argentina), Canaan Orphanage, Pierre Payen Hospital and Clinic (Haiti), and is establishing Haiti's first ever cancer clinic. She and her husband of forty years live in Illinois and have three grown children and three wonderful grandchildren. You can find out more at http://rebekahmontgomery.com/home.

Leafwood Publishers, 214 pages.

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

Friday, August 23, 2013

Total Church by Tim Chester and Steve Timmis

Chester and Timmis are part of a Christian community in northern England
attempting to do church differently – a serious exercise in doing Christian mission in a postmodern world. They argue that two key principles should shape the way we do church: gospel (word-centered, mission-centered) and community (relationship-centered). We need to be enthusiastic about truth, mission, and relationships.

Their Crowded House is a network of missionary congregations, mostly meeting in homes. On evangelism, “Most gospel ministry involves ordinary people doing ordinary things with gospel intentionality.” (63) Church planting is the best way to be a missionary. (87) “There cannot be mission apart from the local church. The local church is the agent of mission.” (88)

They are not big on the sermon, saying there is little New Testament evidence for it. (114) Most character formation happens in informal conversations with lives being transformed in the messy relationships of daily life. They are so adamant on community that they say contemplation, silence and solitude is the “exact opposite of biblical spirituality.” (141) They describe that tradition as “spirituality for the elite.” (143) They argue for a spirituality that is communal. (149) They also argue that the best way to do apologetics is not by reason or rational proof. The problem of unbelief is not intellectual but of the heart. The evidence of living in community is the best technique.

Their conclusion speaks to a passion for God. “Christianity is not a strategy or a set of principles. It is a relationship of love with a Triune God.” (203)

I certainly do not agree with everything Chester and Timmis have written but they do give the reader much to think about with respect to how we are doing church. This would be a good book for pastors and church boards to read. There would certainly be much to discuss.

Crossway, 224 pages. Find out more about the book and the authors at the publisher's product page.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Sunflower Summer by Evangeline Kelley


In this sequel to Seaside Harmony (see my review here), the Marris sisters have the Misty Harbor Inn almost ready for the season. When a couple ask to come early for their honeymoon week, the women are happy to oblige.

But all is not well at the Inn. The honeymoon couple have a tiff and are off to a rocky start in their marriage. Gracie overhears the couple and debates her involvement. She finds that God has given her the gift of empathy that allows her to make a difference in the young couple's lives.

Caroline is distraught, having turned down George's proposal. Did she make a mistake? A British stage and movie star comes to the Inn, needing a quiet place to write her memoirs. Older and never having married, the star and Caroline have a life changing interaction.

And Sam is happy with her baking. She is a retired elementary school teacher and when an artist comes to give summer art classes in town, she is able to help him be the best he can be.

This is a slow and gentle novel. There is no heart stopping action nor sweat producing suspense. It is just a nice novel about an Inn where people leave better and happier than when they arrived.

This novel will appeal to older female readers, retirement age or so. It is a delightful book that is gently encouraging.

Evangeline Kelley is the pen name for the writing team of Patti Berg, Pam Andrews & Barbara Hanson, and Camy Tang. Each of them has published novels individually, but this is their first series together. Patti and her husband live in southwestern Idaho and you can find out more about her athttp://pattiberg.com/ Pam & Barbara are a mother-daughter writing team, having written nearly thirty books together. Pam taught at the university level for fifteen years. She and her college professor husband have two sons. Follow her blog at http://pamshanson.blogspot.com. Barbara had already written twenty-one novels before she began writing with her daughter. She is the mother of four anf grandmother of eight. She lives with Pam and her family in Nebraska. Camy graduated from Stanford University and worked as a biologist researcher for nine years before turning to writing full time. She and her engineer husband live in San Jose, California. Find out more at http://camytang.com/.

Guideposts, 272 pages.

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

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Memory's Door by James L. Rubart

This is the second novel in the Well Spring series, sequel to Soul's Gate (see my review here). The four, called Warriors Riding, continue to battle the enemy for the freedom and well being of believers. (You'll want to read the first book to receive the full impact of this one.)

The spiritual warfare in this novel concentrates on a few fronts. One is memories. Marcus is tormented by the memory of when he distractedly allowed his young son to ride his bicycle with others to a store down the street and out of his sight. Soon he heard sirens and found that his son was dead – struck by a car. Marcus must make the right choice at memory's door if he and his family are to be freed from the guilt of the past.

Another front is the spirit of religion in the form of legalism. It is personified
in the person of a popular Christian talk show host. He attacks the Warriors Riding, accusing them of occult practices with their spirit travel, etc.

Brandon and Dana both face the issues of success. For Dana, it is the distraction of getting a promotion. She must choose whether her success is more important than her spiritual calling. And for Brandon, he is confronted with the possibility of his career being in decline.

As in the first of the series, Rubart imagines scenes portraying spiritual growth and warfare. We might think of spiritual warfare as, for example, interceding for another. Rubart visualizes that spiritual battle as one entering into the soul of another and experiencing demonic confrontation and the ensuing battle. My understanding is that Rubart is not promoting the possibility of astral projection or anything like that, but is merely giving us an opportunity to visually imagine the spirit realm.

There are a couple aspects of the book that really impressed me. One was how deceiving the enemy can be. At one point even Reese is deceived by a demon masquerading as the Lord. At another point Marcus experiences a similar kind of deception concerning possible futures (even though the past was forgiven). Wow. Those were very powerful scenes.

Another section that impressed me was a discussion over a card trick. It was one of those tricks where you choose a card, shuffle, and the dealer picks it out. It was a simple card trick, the fellow said. The lesson it taught was the important thing: “[God] doesn't play fair and every choice is his choice, no matter how much it seems like it is yours.” (236) Again, wow. I have read essays on “free will” and the sovereignty of God yet have never seen it so simply explained as in that statement about a card trick.

There is plenty of action in this novel. The battle between Christians and demons never slows down. If you would like your imagination stimulated by a visual representation of what spiritual warfare might look like, read this book. It is entertaining and challenges your spiritual thinking. There is a discussion guide included and I can almost imagine the lively discussions reading groups will have.

Watch Rubart talk about his book here.

James L. Rubart is a professional marketer, speaker and writer. His passion for writing shows as he is an ECPA best-selling author and has won several awards. He is also a photographer, guitarist, professional speaker, golfer and semi-pro magician. He and his family live in the Pacific Northwest. You can find out more at www.jimrubart.com.

I am participating in a blog tour of this book. You can find other reviews here.

Thomas Nelson, 368 pages. Please visit your local Christian bookstore to purchase this book.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through a publicity group for the purpose of this review.

Monday, August 19, 2013

This Means Love Bible Study with Service Projects

Like me, you’ve probably been in lots of Bible studies. You get together, have a good social time, study the Bible, and then go home with the nagging feeling that there is something more you should be doing. Group has come to your rescue.
 

This Means Love is a different kind of Bible study. Yes, this is a study on 1 Corinthians 13 and yes, you do look at a different aspect of loving your neighbor in each of the six sessions. But where this study differs from many others is that you actually have opportunities to put that serving love into action.

Here is how it works. Each session begin with a discussion time, “Connecting With Each Other.” Questions are provided to help women deepen their friendships. Next is a “Connecting With God” time.  This is when you study the Bible, gaining new perspectives in serving and loving others. The last part of the time is spent in evaluating how you are going to put what you’ve learned into action. “Connecting To Life” will challenge you to make a positive impact on others. A section called “Random Acts of Service” gives ideas to inspire you to serve others in creative ways.
 
Included in the This Means Love kit are suggested service projects. For example, there is a “Help the homeless” project where you package up hotel size or sample size toiletries. In “Serving the elderly,” meals are made (recipes included) and delivered. Another project focuses on encouraging teachers and another is a prayer time against sex trafficking. There are twelve suggested service projects in all so you can choose the ones your group would like to do.
 
The kit includes a CDROM with publicity flyers and posters (on which you can add your particular meeting information), bookmarks, recipe cards, and more.
 
You can go here to see more information on the This Means Love kit, retailing for $29.99.
Go here to see the information on the participant’s book, retailing for $9.99.

While each woman in your study should have a participant’s book, you’ll need only one kit for your study.
 
If you are a woman who has wanted to make a difference in your community but just did not know how, this is a great study for you. Gather your friends around for a time of fellowship, Bible study, and then service to those around you in need.
 
I received a complimentary This Means Love kit through a publicity group for the purpose of this review. I’m passing it on to the women’s study group at church.


Sunday, August 18, 2013

Misery Loves Company by Rene Gutteridge

It is every book reviewer's nightmare.

Jules Belleno had read Patrick Reagan's latest book and it was just not as good as his previous ones. She wrote a critical review. “Everything from the plot to the dialogue seemed to fall flat. I felt like grabbing the book by its jacket cover, shaking it, and saying, 'Don't tell me it's terrifying. Terrify me!'” (9)

The day after the review is blogged, Jules goes missing. She has been kidnapped and drugged by Patrick. When she awakens, her eyes drift to the ceiling. She gasps as she reads, DON'T TELL ME IT'S TERRIFYING. TERRIFY ME.

This is another great novel from Gutteridge. The action is constant, the characters are well developed, and the scenes are done so well I felt like I was there, waiting to be terrified. I was especially impressed at the dual development of the plot lines. Jules begins to understand why she is where she is at the same time Chris Downey, policeman and best friend of Jules' murdered husband, uncovers the same information. It is a clever way to reveal the plot.

A great novel, well written and full of suspense.


Rene Gutteridge is the author of nineteen novels. She and her husband have two children and live in Oklahoma. Find out more at www.renegutteridge.com.

Tyndale, 354 pages.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Grace in the Maybe by Katie Savage

Katie has written a variety of reflections on faith. She writes with humor and an honesty that is sometimes amazing (especially for a pastor's wife).
 
In the midst of comments about her life and culture, she has some penetrating zingers. In writing about consumerism, she notes that we trust in what is newest, what is next, what has yet to be invented. “...[W]e look for ways to avoid waiting on God.” (157) We don't need a pillar of smoke – we have GPS. We don't need daily manna –we have frozen dinners and coupons for fast food.
 
On being a “nice” Christian, she writes that it basically means, “Don't piss anyone off.” (186) Being nice is a facade, she writes, “a way to avoid rudeness and unpleasant encounters.” (194) She reminds us “that things of substance do not come easily – and niceness comes easily.” (194)
 
Many of her essays are on topics about which we are troubled, such as miracles and why some are healed and not others. She has an interesting critique of the shoebox ministry. (39-40) She has a serious reflection on the meaning of communions and koinonia. She writes about her childhood memories, activities with friends, events at church, retail therapy, and gardening.
 
And she has humor. About being a sub-par housekeeper she writes, “...and if a sheet is untucked in a forest with no one to see it, is it really untucked?” (113) On hairstyles in high school: “One girl decided that big bangs should be more than a theory, and everyone else went along with it.” (69) Who else could write about a chin hair with such honesty?
 
This is definitely a book for women. I mean, would a guy really want to read about a breast pump? And I think this book would be best received by the twenty or thirty something year old crowd. They're used to the language and honesty with which Katie writes. They would appreciate the last acknowledgment – to God. “Thank You for being so utterly worthy. You are pretty cool.” (221)

A Reading Group Guide is included at the end of the book.

Note: this book was previous published as Whirlybirds and Ordinary Times.
 
Katie Savage was born into Protestant Evangelical Christianity and has been writing about it ever since. After receiving her BA in Creative Writing and English Education at Point Loma Nazarene University (where she met her husband, Scott), she taught high school and junior high. She and Scott now live in Kansas City, where Scott is the associate pastor of Redemption Church. They have two children. This is her first book. You can find out more about her at the publisher's author page.
 
Howard Books (a division of Simon and Schuster, Inc.), 256 pages.

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

Friday, August 16, 2013

Finding God in the Bible by Darren Wilson

Have you ever wondered why all those stories are in the Bible? A friend of God asked to murder his own son. A man after God's own heart arranges the death of his lover's husband.

Darren is himself a story teller and approaches the stories of the Bible a little differently. He suggests God reveals Himself through His interactions with the characters He created. Darren spent the last six years on a personal journey of discovering the living God revealed in biblical stories, resulting in this book.

The implications Darren gathers from the creation story are amazing. God reveals Himself as Friend. His first interaction with humans is a kiss. He gives man the command to produce, to be creative. We are reminded our words carry weight with God.

Darren looks at Moses, God's friend who started out a hot-headed murderer. “Moses' story shows God's disregard for who you are now and His belief in whom you will become through friendship with Him.” (73)

Other stories Darren investigates include Abraham, Joseph, Gideon, King Saul, David, and all the weirdos in the Old Testament (a talking animal, a bald prophet, a prophet making clay models, a prophet going naked for three years while he preached). He also includes the absurd way God chose to usher His Son into the physical world.

The lessons he brings out of the stories are encouraging. For example, from David, “God always sees our potential, whereas we usually only see someone's past.” (154) And, “Friendship with God does not rid us of our flaws.” (175)

Some of the insights are very challenging! How about this one on being friends with God? “Basically we are acquainted with God. We go to His house once a week. We eat with Him occasionally. Once and a while we actually talk to Him, and we know other people who are really good friends with Him. We've had just enough interaction with Him over the years that we can confidently say that we know Him and that He knows us.” (45) But there is a big difference between an acquaintance and a friend.

And this one about how we do church: “In an era where we worry so much about whether or not our church services are appealing or if we're doing evangelism 'right,' God has His Old Testament prophets do things that would land anyone in our society in an insane asylum.” (196)

I liked his insight about Lazarus, that “very good friends of God are forced to endure incredible hardships for 'the ultimate glory of God.'” (220) He adds good reasons as to why. That will make the “God always wants you well and prospering” Christians think a bit!

Darren says God might have included all these stories in the Bible so we will know that God is willing to use people like us to accomplish His tasks – and to remind us God might also be using that other person we think is so strange.

This is a great book, looking at the stories in the Bible and finding the revelation of God's character and nature. It is also a great book about friendship with God. Read it and wonder again that God would invite us to be His friends.

Darren Wilson is the founder of Wanderlust Productions, a film/television production company in Chicago that focuses on creating media and creatively and powerfully advances the Kingdom of God around the world. He created the non-profit Wanderlust Foundation, which is dedicated to bringing hope, dignity and a voice to the voiceless. Before going into film full time, Darren taught at Judson University in Elgin, Illinois. Darren, his wife and their three children live in the Chicago area. His films include Finger of God, Furious Love, and Father of Lights. His first book is Filming God. You can find out more about him at www.wpfilm.com.

Chosen Books, 240 pages. Publisher's product page.

I received a complimentary egalley from Chosen Books for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Thrive by Lisa Toney

God wants us to thrive, Toney writes. God wants us to live up to our potential. Using Proverbs 11:28 as a basis, she helps us understand how to find and use the unique gifting God has given us.

The righteous thrive. Toney helps us understand what it means to be righteous, concentrating on the aspect of intentional right living. “Righteousness can be understood most simply as right relationships.” (11)

She looks at integrity and the importance of even small decisions and actions. She explores boundaries, giving some practical advice on how and when to say “no.” When boundaries are not kept, wounds result. She writes about forgiveness and the healing of those wounds.

Moving on she addresses the ideas of focus and goals, with suggestions on setting realistic goals and using time management. That requires living with courage, making it past our fears. She helps us understand the role of thoughts and the importance of what we think on. She gives tools for fighting fear.

That makes possible the next step, fighting the injustice around us. “...God is always acting for justice and righteousness – and God has invited us to participate in that action.” (113) She then encourages us to pursue hope. To make sure we use our resources wisely she also addresses the issue of pacing ourselves.

She ends her book with a call to excellence, reminding us that every choice we make defines who we are. (162) We were made for excellence, for a life well lived.

There are discussion questions at the end of each chapter for group or personal use.

This is an inspiring book. It is full of suggestions and tools for living up to our God-given potential. Toney shares experiences from her own life to illustrate her ideas and encourage us in our journey.

Today, choose to pursue excellence. Reading this book is a good place to start. It is an excellent resource for taking those steps toward living life to the fullest.

Lisa H. Toney (M.Div. Fuller Theological Seminary) is Associate Executive Pastor and a member of the preaching team of a large church in Pomona, California. She leads their spiritual formation ministry and is a regular speaker at universities, churches and seminars. Lisa, her husband, and three children make their home in southern California.

Abingdon Press, 192 pages. Publisher's product page.

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

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Death Be Not Proud by C. F. Dunn

This is a sequel to Mortal Fire (see my review here). If you have not read that book, you will be utterly lost in this one. This is not a stand alone novel.

In this novel, Emma has returned to heal from the vicious attack. She is troubled and her parents think she needs psychiatric help. Emma is determined to try and understand who Matthew is and where he has come from. She pursues her idea until she finally arrives at a run down cottage where an old woman has some clues for her. Emma also has the journal her grandfather so desired and that gives her clues as well. What she finds out is nearly beyond her own understanding.

I was disappointed in this novel. It does not seem to move the story along very much. Granted, we find out the most unusual characteristic about Matthew, but its significance is left for the next novel, I guess. Having read the first novel in the series, this one is not nearly as good as it is.

Emma is not the most attractive of heroines. She is just not smart or wise in her decisions and actions. And Matthew, well, I don't feel like anything really positive about Matthew came out in this novel. He has consistently lied to Emma. And with his unusual characteristics, he could really be a force for good, yet he does not appear to be one. Like Emma, he has his own demons to battle. So I am disappointed in him too.

On the positive side, this is classic British fiction. There are pages of characters thinking. There are great locations that are well described. And you do learn some history too.

The Christianity of the characters is there but it is more of a cultural aspect rather than a “born again” experience we think about in the US. Emma has had a commitment of her faith but that doesn't seem to stop her, at times, from being willing to go too far in her relationship with Matthew. He is the strong one there. There is some language, so just be aware of that.

If you like British fiction, want a little mystery, some (almost) steamy romance, and a hint of the paranormal (or something else odd going on), than this novel may be for you. But be sure you read the first in the series or you will undoubtedly be lost and unable to appreciate the story in this one.

C. F. Dunn runs a specialist dyslexia and autism school in South-East England.

Lion Fiction, distributed in the U. S. by Kregel Books, 384 pages.



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

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Carolina Reckoning by Lisa Carter

I love a good mystery and this is a good one.

It opens with Alison Monaghan finding a photo in her husband's jacket pocket – a photo of Frank with another woman. She'd often suspected and now she had proof of a liaison while on one of his long trips as an airline pilot. She would confront him when he came home that evening from yet another of his flights. But he never comes home and the next morning the police are on her door step. Frank has been murdered.

That sets the pace for the novel. The bad news continues as Alison finds out that all their money is gone. Life will certainly have to change for her and her teen-aged son and daughter. She is determined to find out who killed her husband and why, much to the dismay of the detective assigned to the case, Mike Barefoot.

This novel takes place in Raleigh, North Carolina, a place foreign to my Pacific Northwest locale. I like to learn about a topic when I read a novel and learn I did. Frank was on the board of directors of an antebellum plantation historic park and Alison was a volunteer garden docent there. Lisa did a great job of revealing the society structure and character of the southerners associated with that park. They were high society and didn't tolerate imperfection, like having your husband murdered. Even Alison's children were made fun of by their classmates.

I also got a peek into some of the unsavory history of the area too. Who your great grandfather was might determine your place in the ranks of society. Some of the cat fights these women had! That brings up the well developed characters. You could just feel the venom dripping off some of the women.

My favorite aspect of the book was the Christian witness. Alison is not on speaking terms with God as the novel opens but she has a saving experience mid-novel. Sometimes authors add a little Christianity in a novel to make it “Christian.” Not so in this one. Christianity is central to the story line, especially at its suspenseful end.

There is romance too. The detective has feelings for Alison and it is entertaining to see them butt heads as the investigation proceeds.

A good mystery, well developed characters, a little romance, learning about a part of the U.S., twists and turns and red herrings, Christianity essential to the story...this novel has all the aspects I want in a good novel. I highly recommend it.

Go here to see the book trailer.

Lisa Carter is a speaker, vocalist, teacher and writer. Carolina Reckoning is her debut novel. She and her husband and two daughters make their home in North Carolina.

Abingdon Press, 336 pages.

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

Monday, August 12, 2013

Captives by Jill Williamson

This novel for teens takes place near the end of the twenty-first century. Society in this part of the U. S. is divided between a rural area lacking modern technology and a walled and high tech city called Safe Lands.

The novel centers around three brothers from Glenrock, a rural village. Omar has always felt like he didn't measure up to his father's expectations. He meets some “enforcers” from Safe Lands and is convinced he can be someone important there. All he has to do is provide some people from his village to go with him. When the opportunity arises, Omar sends his older brother, Levi, on a wild goose chase. While Levi is gone, the Safe Lands enforcers come to the village to take whom they need. To Omar's horror, the older villagers are killed and the young men and women are taken captive. Levi returns to find his village destroyed. It is up to him to rescue those he loves, including his fiancĂ©e. Middle brother Mason, who was also taken into Safe Lands and is being trained in medicine, helps his older brother in the rescue attempts.

The themes in this novel are mature and of the nature that I would recommend this novel for older teens. The reason Safe Lands needs young women from the outside is for surrogate motherhood. Because of a plague, Safe Lands people cannot reproduce viable offspring. The city is a place of high tech pleasure. Its culture centers on entertainment and gratification. “The Safe Lands is all about pleasure and comfort...” (145) There is frequent pairing for sexual pleasure and frequent drug use for pleasure (through an inhaler). A positive point is that the narrative is not overly descriptive of these behaviors.

Another theme in this book is teens' perceptions of themselves. “We all believe lies about ourselves,” Mason tells one of the female captives. (280) This theme could generate some great discussion among teens. There is also the overall theme of self-indulgence. Some of the rural captives succumb to the temptations in Safe Lands while others remain more faithful to their rural standards. There is a great price the Safe Lands people must pay for their self-indulgence and teens may want to discuss this lesson in living. There is a discussion guide at the end of the book.

I did not find the writing compelling. I had some difficulty picturing some of the scenes. Teen readers are probably much more interested in the action than in the setting, however. And there is plenty of action. There is also lots of high tech equipment while some of the tasks, like painting over graffiti and cleaning the sewers, seem to be done the old fashioned way. Also, changing the point of view so frequently means the readers must routinely leave other characters out of mind. For someone like me who spreads out my reading (I am always reading several books, based on assigned blogging dates), the narrative ended up being disjointed.

I also had difficulty believing some of the action, such as Levi's ease in getting into the walled city, with a rifle, no less. There was also the use of the hand held radios that did not seem to be consistent with the control exercised by high tech authority. There were times when “big brother” was watching everything and others times when Levi and friends seemed to act without observation. I felt that was a bit inconsistent. Also, I can't see how impregnating a few plague-free women will save Safe Lands. And, we don't know how Safe Lands sustains itself economically, although that may not be an issue with teens.

The Christianity in rural Glenrock is primitive. Levi and others know some Christian principles and even a few Bible verses but, in general, their actions are based on morality, not on Christian belief.

The end of the novel definitely leaves us waiting for the sequel. There is much about Safe Lands that could yet be revealed, in addition to furthering the plot.

Go to http://thesafelands.com/ to see a promotional video and some awesome Safe Lands content.

Jill Williamson is an award-winning novelist. Her debut novel, By Darkness Hid, won the 2010 Christy Award. Williamson hosts blog tours for other YA authors, and conducts writing workshops at libraries, schools, camps, and churches. She lives in John Jay, Oregon, with her husband and two children. You can find out more at www.jillwilliamson.com.

I am participating in the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour of this book. See the reviews from other participants:

Julie Bihn Thomas Fletcher Booher Keanan Brand Beckie Burnham Morgan L. Busse Jeff Chapman Pauline Creeden Emma or Audrey Engel Victor Gentile Timothy Hicks Jason Joyner Carol Keen Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Rebecca LuElla Miller Asha Marie Pena Nathan Reimer Chawna Schroeder Jojo Sutis Jessica Thomas Steve Trower Phyllis Wheeler Rachel Wyant

Zondervan, 404 pages. Please visit your local Christian bookstore to purchase this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Into the Whirlwind by Elizabeth Camden

I've read about the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, but reading a novel that walks you through it is something totally different.

The novel opens on October 8, 1871. The fire is roaring through the city. Mollie, owner of a fine watch manufacturing company, and Zack, the lawyer with the department store that is the major buyer of her watches, are trying to stay ahead of the flames.

That is the exciting beginning to a well written and well researched novel. The devastation of the fire is overwhelming. People lose everything, yet there are strong relationships formed as hope perseveres. But the goodwill soon evaporates as the danger from crime increases.

Mollie is a tenacious heroine as she works hard to keep the legacy of her father alive by getting the business going again – all against nearly impossible odds. Zack has loved Mollie for years but has kept it hidden. His feelings come out as he protects her and helps her escape the pursuing fire. But their budding romance soon seems doomed by misunderstandings about business dealings. The situation becomes more complex as men from her father's Civil War unit come to help rebuild. One of them, Colonel Lowe developes affection for Mollie too.

I love learning when I read novels and I learned much in this one. Camden has done a great job of taking the reader into the midst of the Chicago fire. I felt the desperation Mollie had to save her equipment. And Camden has done a great job taking us through the aftermath of the fire. We share in the goodwill but then share in the results of the crime that all to quickly follows.

The romance aspect of the novel was well done too. I had no idea who Mollie would pick in the end, although I did have my preference!

In the Historical Note, Camden shares some of the facts about the fire. When the city's waterworks collapsed onto the pumping station below, all hope of saving the city was lost. It is estimated some 330,000 tried to escape the flames. By the next morning around 18,000 buildings had been lost, including all of the central business district. Just like in her novel, the railroads survived, only about 40 percent of the insurance money owed was paid out, and the city was rebuilt with amazing speed.

This is a very well done historical novel. It is entertaining and informative. A good read.

Elizabeth Camden has a master's in history from the University of Virginia and a master's in library science from Indiana University. She is a research librarian by day and scribbles away on her next by night. Her awards include a RITA Award, Christy Award,and Daphne du Maurier Award. She and her husband live in Florida. Find out more at www.elizabethcamden.com.

Bethany House Publishers, 384 pages.

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

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Why God Why? by Karen Jensen

Awful things happen. Haven't you cried out, “Why, God, why?”

Karen has written this book from her own experience to help those in painful situations. She knows that God will bring you through the hard times. He wants to heal your broken heart and help you embrace a bright future.

Karen's husband died suddenly at age thirty-seven. She asked God serious questions and encourages you to do the same. Be honest with God, she advises.

What is crucial, Karen writes, is what you do after you've asked the questions. That is the main purpose of her book – to help you find out what to do after you've asked the questions.

She helps you understand how to control and replace your thoughts, to relax in God's hold on you, to trust God's plan for your life, to know that others are praying for you, to trust in an unchanging God, to understand the reason evil things happen, to walk in the vision the Bible has for your life, be assured your place in heaven is secure, and that God's love will never fail.

She uses biblical stories and those from people she knows to illustrate the truths she promotes. At the end of each chapter Karen has included a “Now Engage” section with Scripture and affirmations related to the truth in it. These are great for meditation and memorization.

Karen writes from a charismatic viewpoint that includes the following: “It is never His will for people to be sick. It is always His will to heal us.” “God doesn't cause sickness or any other trial or trouble.” (89) She fails to address Paul's so called thorn in the flesh, nor does she write about God disciplining those He loves and how He might do that. Because of those omissions, I rate the book four stars, not five.

Watch a promotional video here.

Karen Jensen has been in ministry for almost thirty years and has been writing for almost forty. She and her husband traveled as itinerant ministers and pioneered two churches. Her husband died unexpectedly in 1997 and she became senior pastor of their church in Boise, Idaho. She raised her two teenage sons to be on fire for the Lord. She is now an instructor at Rhema Bible Training College in Oklahoma. She also travels internationally to share her message. Find out more about her and her ministry at www.karenjensen.org.

Charisma House, 226 pages.

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