Thursday, April 27, 2017

The Actress by Michael Hicks Thompson

This Christian historical mystery takes place in the 1960s in a rural southern town. The heroine is Martha, owner of the town's newspaper. A well known actress comes to town as part of a group making a movie. The actress shoots and kills a local man. She claims he was an intruder but Martha suspects there is something else going on.

This is a somewhat complex mystery with many layers of motives and facts that are uncovered little by little. There are some interesting issues that are dealt with through the plot. One is capital punishment. Martha thinks the crew is making a film of her book as she received payment for it. She finds out the film will actually be about an execution. The film company scripts the execution to appear inhumane. Martha was a witness and knows the script is a lie. She is livid and tries to figure out a way to stop the movie production.

Another issue is a theological one. Martha and the Episcopal priest have a discussion on predestination. The priest has a decidedly conservative Reformed view, something I found surprising, but then, this was the 1960s.

Martha is an interesting heroine. She is relentless in solving the mystery and frequently runs afoul of the local sheriff. The author is male yet did a reasonable job of developing a female lead.

I recommend this novel to readers who would like a small town mystery set in the south several decades ago.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Michael Hicks Thompson was raised on a small farm in Mississippi. He graduated from Ole Miss, served in the military, then received a master's degree in mass communication from the University of South Carolina. He and his wife have three adult sons and four grandchildren. You can find out more at www.michaelthompsonauthor.com.

Shepherd King Publishing, 288 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the author. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

The Chamberlain Key by Timothy P. Smith with Bob Hostetler

Smith had some puzzling dreams and an appearance (or vision) of Moses. He was led to look at the Hebrew text of Genesis. He had six sons and a daughter, as did Jacob and Leah so examined Genesis 30:20-23. He found his name in an equidistant letter sequence (ELS) as well as other significant information. That led him on a journey of pursuing the possibility of other significant equidistant letter words and phrases.

The book is more of a spiritual memoir than a scientific study. Smith writes, “My objective in attempting to decipher hidden information in the Old Testament was not to prove to anyone that the text was encrypted or to attempt to predict any future events but rather to unravel the mystery of my own spiritual experiences.” (185, 186) He has done a good job of recounting his own spiritual journey finding hidden words in the Hebrew text.

However, Smith also writes that his discovery “will dramatically redirect biblical scholarship, Christian theology, and perhaps even the trajectory of history itself.” (1) That is a huge claim and one, I think, that is very over blown.

Finding words in the Hebrew through equidistant letter searches is nothing new. The concept has been been known since the thirteenth century. Smith mentions a paper by Rips, Witztum and Rosenberg published in 1994 in which they claimed to have detected encoded information in the Hebrew text. The concept was popularized in The Bible Code by Michael Drosnin, published in 1997. Many articles critical of the claims were published after that time. Some even went so far as to apply the equidistant letter sequence technique to common literature. Hidden messages were found in Moby Dick and War and Peace. (See note below.) The conclusion was that anecdotal messages could be found everywhere in written works and seemed to be just a phenomenon of language and random chance.

Add that there are no vowels in Hebrew and that increases the subjectivity of the ELS phenomenon. Is it Tim, Tom, tame, time, tome? The identification of the word may be a result of the influence of the one searching.

I am surprised that this topic has arisen again. The concept seemed to be pretty much discounted back in the late 1990s. The publisher of this book, WaterBrook, even published a book in 1999 critical of equidistant letter sequencing called Who Wrote the Bible Code? by Randy Ingermanson. Ingermanson had written several critical articles on the subject. When he transferred his web site to new technology, he didn't transfer those articles because he considered it a “dead subject” and doubted “anyone much cares anymore.” (See note below.)

What is the significance of this book? It is a good account of one person and his spiritual experiences. Smith sees his ELS experience as confirmation of the existence of God. (79) Researchers who have found significant ESL words and phrases in common literature would not agree. Smith says he is going to investigate further. You can watch a book trailer, read an excerpt, and find future articles on his research at http://chamberlainkey.com/. Time will tell the significance of this book.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Timothy P. Smith is a noted appraiser and conservator of artifacts and antiques. He and his wife live in Virginia.
Bob Hostetler is the award winning author of more than thirty books. His books have sold over three million copies.

Waterbrook, 224 pages.

NOTE: You can follow links to articles about finding significant ELS events in Moby Dick and War and Peace at http://users.cecs.anu.edu.au/~bdm/dilugim/torah.html. One author found his name, birth date, and place of residence in significant relationship in the Hebrew of War and Peace, much as Smith found in the Hebrew of Genesis. You can find Randy Ingermanson's comments at http://ingermanson.com/mad_science/bible_code. Accessed 4/24/2017.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Monday, April 24, 2017

Big City Heat by David Burnsworth Giveaway

Big City Heat: A Brack Pelton Mystery

by David Burnsworth

on Tour April 24 - May 26, 2017

Synopsis:

Lowcountry bar owner and ex-Marine Brack Pelton heads to Atlanta in the wake of a panicked 3 AM phone call. A woman is missing and Brack’s friend Mutt is in danger. Brack’s old flame, investigative news correspondent Darcy Wells, now lives there and is set to marry another man. If Brack was honest with himself, and he usually wasn’t, he’d realize that the missing woman isn’t the reason for his visit. His Semper Fi buddy Mutt can handle himself just fine.
When Brack and Mutt team up to find the woman, the Atlanta underworld revolts, the two biggest players target them, and people start dying. Most people would size up the situation, call it impossible, and walk away. But most people are not Brack Pelton. Impossible situations are his specialty. He made it through Afghanistan and when the military commanders mistook suicidal tendencies for leadership qualities they promoted him. Can Brack succeed at finding the woman, protecting his friend, and winning the girl without destroying the Capital of the South? Not since Sherman’s march across Georgia has the city of Atlanta been in this much danger.


My review:

This is a shoot 'em up novel. I lost track of how many bad guys Brack killed. There is certainly more action in the novel than there is character development. Brack is a dark hero. I did not find him very likable, although he was very loyal to his friends and relentless in rescuing Cassie's sister. His background was a bit fuzzy for me. How did an ex-Marine and bar owner afford a hundred and twenty-five thousand dollar Porsche (two syllables)? And how can he kill so many people and never get arrested?
This is the third in the series but the only one I've read. There are many references to past events but not so much how all the characters came to know each other and behave the way they do. For example, the restaurants and bars and their owners were inter-related from past novels. It was difficult to keep it all straight and I felt like I was coming into an existing story. I would suggest the previous novels in the series be read before this one.
I recommend this novel to readers who like a dark hero, a man with strong loyalty to his friends but doesn't think twice about shooting a bad guy. You'll get a tour through the dark side of Atlanta, interspersed with gun fights and car chases as the body count increases.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Mystery
Published by: Henery Press
Publication Date: April 25, 2017
Number of Pages: 212
ISBN: 9781635111996
Series: A Brack Pelton Mystery Book, 3
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me...
Psalm 23:4

Atlanta, Georgia, Wednesday night, Mid-May
Brack Pelton waited in his Porsche by a no-parking zone in a very bad part of the city and watched someone he thought he knew well climb out of an old Eldorado convertible. The man entered a ramshackle building with a neon beer mug shining through its one dirty window.
Easing away from the red-marked bus stop, Brack found a better location down the block and pulled in. Before getting out of the Porsche, he woke Shelby, his tan mixed-breed dog slumbering in the backseat, and pulled a forty-five from the glovebox. He verified a round was chambered.
Shelby licked his lips and gave a quick bark as Brack slid the pistol down the back waistband of his cargo shorts.
Patting his dog on the head, Brack asked, “Ready?” A needless question. Another bark affirmed Shelby’s stand on things.
“When we get inside, your job is to find Mutt. Okay?” Shelby licked his face. Brack knew that as long as their target hadn’t escaped out some back door, Shelby would find him. Mutt was one of his favorite people. Brack’s too. That was why tracking him like this went against everything he believed in doing.
Mutt was the one who often rode shotgun with Brack as they’d right Charleston’s wrongs. Now Mutt was the one in the crosshairs. Thanks to an early morning phone call from Cassie, Mutt’s girlfriend, a life depended on answers his friend would give. The forty-five wouldn’t come out unless trouble came up.
The barroom’s rusty screen door screeched open. Shelby darted ahead, already focused on his objective. Brack entered a time warp. Uncanny how even the sour bar wash fragrance and cigarette smoke were the same. Through the old familiar haze, he imagined Mutt standing behind a peeling Formica counter pouring drinks to patrons who could barely afford their rent. Somehow, Mutt had managed to replicate his termite-infested watering hole three hundred miles west of where his original joint stood before some spoiled neighborhood brat burned it down.
“You lost?” A very large African-American man wearing a soiled wife-beater chalking a pool cue confronted the white newcomer.
Meeting his gaze, Brack said, “No. I’m looking for a loudmouth Marine named Mutt. If he’s here drinking, the rounds are on me. If he owns this place, I’m going to beat the life out of him.”
“Big talk coming from someone in yo’ shoes,” he said. Four other men flanked him, two on each side, all with arms folded across their meaty chests. Five soiled wife-beaters in a row. A worn-out AC unit clicked and sputtered, failing to condition the polluted air in the establishment.
Shelby seemed to take longer than usual to find Mutt. Only one thing could sidetrack him. But no women had ever been present in the original Mutt’s Bar in Charleston. They’d been afraid to enter the place.
Maybe Atlanta women were different. Casually Brack removed the half-smoked cigar he’d been saving in his pocket and lit it. The only faithful friend he had left at the moment was his own adrenaline. Brack was angry at Mutt and wouldn’t mind working it out of his system on these five gentlemen facing him.
Three more joined them. Okay, these eight gentlemen.
Brack felt more gather behind him. His wayward dog better have a real good excuse for not warning him.
Taking a drag on the stogie, he exhaled a cloud of smoke to add to the carcinogenic fog. “It’s going to be a bad day for some of you.”
Chuckles echoed around the room, undoubtedly at his expense.
Mutt pushed his way through the gathering mob. A few inches over six feet, he’d replaced his boxed Afro with a close trim since the last time Brack had seen him. His clothes were of a more recent vintage, another change, and to Brack’s untrained eye, quite stylish.
“Opie, you always got to do things the hard way, don’t ’cha?” Brack couldn’t decide if he wanted to punch him or shake his hand. The fact that his friend sported a bridge that replaced his missing front teeth also caught him off guard.
Shelby was not with Mutt. From behind, Brack heard the gruff words, “You want us to take this cracker out back, Mutt?”
Mutt knew as well as Brack did that they were greatly outnumbered. But Brack figured Mutt also knew that a few of his patrons would spend the next few weeks in the hospital if things went south.
Before either of them could say anything, a husky female voice came from somewhere in the crowd. “You got the prettiest dog.”
All the men turned in the direction of the voice. Through a break in the undershirt line, Brack observed a heavyset black woman in a way-too-tight purple body suit. Clearly she’d fallen in love with his dog. Her extra-long orange day-glo fingernails scratched behind his ears.
Sitting on his haunches with closed eyes, Shelby flapped his tongue and panted in what Brack recognized as pure bliss. Two other women wearing similar attire also gave Shelby their full attention. Brack was about to get pummeled by eight or more hulks itching to right the wrongs of their world, yet his dog had managed to pick up what looked like all the women in the establishment.
The spokesman for the wife-beater ensemble said, “We ain’t finished wit you, white boy.”
Brack turned back to him. Mutt got between them. “Easy, Charlie. He’s my brother.” The men looked at each other as if Mutt and Brack could possibly be related. Of course, they weren’t in the traditional sense.
“Summertime” by Billy Stewart began to play somewhere in the room. A real classic.
Circling Shelby, the women moved their ample hips to the beat. The dog, in plus-sized heaven, spun around, not sure which lady to kiss first.
A fourth woman Brack hadn’t noticed until now came from behind the bar to stand beside Mutt. Almost as tall as Brack, with dark brown skin, a buzzed haircut, and toned figure bordering on muscular. Her inked-up arms momentarily distracted Brack.
The man Mutt called Charlie said, “I don’t care who you think he is. He ain’t got the juice to come in here talking about beatin’ you up.”
Mutt turned to his old friend. “You said you was gonna beat me up?”
“Something like that.” Brack cocked his head. “I get a call begging me to drive here from Charleston. It’s Cassie. She’s scared half to death because some men threatened her, and she doesn’t know what you do when you leave her house late at night. Put yourself in her shoes.”
The woman bartender looked at him. “You must be Brack.” Mutt interrupted. “Opie, I’ma tell you like I tol’ Cassie. What I do is my bidness. She ain’t got no right to ask.”
Charlie moved in like he was about to throw a punch. Before Brack could react, the toned female bartender grabbed Charlie by the shirt collar and said, “You really don’t want to do that.”
Mutt said, “Easy there, Tara. We all friends here.” She didn’t let go. Charlie backed off. Brack dropped what was left of his cigar on the floor, crushed it with his foot, and turned back to Mutt. “You better tell me what’s going on, or I will beat the ever-living daylights out of you.”
***
Excerpt from Big City Heat: A Brack Pelton Mystery by David Burnsworth. Copyright © 2017 by David Burnsworth. Reproduced with permission from David Burnsworth. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

David Burnsworth became fascinated with the Deep South at a young age. After a degree in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Tennessee and fifteen years in the corporate world, he made the decision to write a novel. He is the author of both the Brack Pelton and the Blu Carraway Mystery Series. Having lived in Charleston on Sullivan’s Island for five years, the setting was a foregone conclusion. He and his wife call South Carolina home.

Catch Up With Our Author On: Website, Goodreads, Twitter, & Facebook!

 

Tour Participants:

Click here to view the Big City Heat by David Burnsworth Book Tour Participants
 

Giveaway:

This is a rafflecopter giveaway hosted by Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours for David Burnsworth and Henery Press. There will be 1 winner of one (1) $15 Amazon.com Gift Card and 5 winners of one (1) eBook copy of Big City Heat by David Burnsworth. The giveaway begins on April 22, 2017 and runs through May 29, 2017. This giveaway is for US residents only. Void where prohibited by law.
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 I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review..

Sunday, April 23, 2017

How to Break Growth Barriers by Carl F. George and Warren Bird

The authors report that eighty-five percent of churches in the U.S. have fewer than 200 members. There are some growing churches, some stable churches, and many dying churches. This book helps us understand why.

George and Bird have updated the book that originally came out in 1993. The principles of church growth included are ones they have seen work for decades. Those core ideas remain the same.

I like the book. I like the idea of a team approach, training leaders, empowering them, trusting the Holy Spirit to enable lay people to do the work of ministry. I like the emphasis on the necessity of prayer. I like their reminding us of the need for small groups or cells. I like that the authors say church growth is more a matter of the heart than a certain technique.

It came as no surprise that the attitude of the pastor is the major determining factor for growth. The days of the pastor doing all the care should be long over. There should be a change of paradigm in church leadership. But it may be terrifying for a pastor to relinquish the ministry most pastors traditionally do themselves. Change first has to happen in ministers, the authors argue. They set the stage for permitting growth or hindering it. Ministry coaching, developing a team of care giving individuals is key.

The authors have done a great job presenting a book containing many practical ideas. Church leaders can evaluate their church structure, vision and leadership style. They receive instruction on evaluating motives, developing a vision for growth, and training lay ministry leaders and workers. Questions for further thought have been included at the end of each chapter so this book could be used for study by a church board or other leadership group.

I recommend this book to those who truly believe there is a potential spiritual harvest in store for their church. You'll find out what is hindering growth. You'll also find out how to implement the heart attitudes and behaviors necessary to break growth barriers. Ministers, you'll need to step aside and let lay people be used of God but the spiritual rewards will be worth it.

You can download an excerpt here.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Carl F. George is an experienced pastor, church growth consultant, and author of previous books on church life. He is former director of the Charles E. Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth and former president of the American Society for Church Growth. He and his wife live near Greenville, South Carolina.
Warren Bird is research director for Leadership Network. He is an ordained minister and teaches at Alliance Theological Seminary. He is the author or coauthor of twenty eight books. He and his wife live in a suburb of New York City.

Baker Books, 256 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

I Am Number 8 by John W. Gray III

I like Gray's idea. David was son number eight. He was a nobody out in the fields when his brothers were being inspected for a potential anointing as king. Nonetheless, David was chosen by God, transformed, and played a big part in God's story.

Gray's book is for those of us who feel like we are nobody. Hang in there, Gray encourages. Just like with David, God is training us and cultivating leadership and ministry skills. We might feel hidden away but Gray says that is for a purpose. We are not hiding from but are being hidden for a future, being kept for something to come.

Gray shares his own story as an example of this principle. He combines it with lessons from David's life. We learn about fighting giants, worship, and how we don't always get it right. Gray provides good encouragement for when we fill like we don't fit in or that we are just sitting on the sidelines. He has some good teaching on how to have the strength to carry on.

There is one area where I think Gray projected his own life experience on to David. Gray's father was absent. He says of David, “I believe that everything in David's life, good and bad, can be traced to his relationship with his father.” (113) That is a bit much, I think.

This book is good encouragement for those of us who don't think much of ourselves. We might feel we are just unknown and ordinary people who could never be used by God in an extraordinary way. But then, so was David.

Anonymity is the cloak God uses to develop, foster, prune, and then ultimately produce greatness.” (23)

My rating: 4/5 stars.

John W. Gray III is the associate pastor of America's largest church, Lakewood Church in Houston, Texas. He preaches at Lakewood's midweek service, where attendance has quadrupled over the last several years. He is also a popular speaker, emcee, and comedian for “Acquire the Fire” youth rallies held all over the United States. He lives in Houston with his wife and their children.

FaithWords, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Friday, April 21, 2017

Invitation by Myers, Peretti, Hunt and Gansky

This book contains four stories, each written by a different author. The authors are friends and wanted to do something different and this book is the result. They established a couple of rules. First, each author would write as if a character. Myers writes as a tattoo artist who sees images of the future. Peretti writes as a professor, an atheist ruled by logic. Hunt writes as Andi, the professor's geeky assistant who can see inexplicable patterns. Gansky writes as Tank, a big-hearted jock with healing power. The other rule was that these stories should read like a TV series with an overarching story line, with each individual story fitting in.

Myer's novella sets the stage. We learn about the major characters, are introduced to the strange training center in the desert, and experience some suspense. Peretti's novella takes us to a house in the Pacific Northwest that tells the truth and where we experience some eerie suspense. Hunt's novella finds the group on a Florida shore facing the mystery of birds and fish dying in vast numbers. Gansky's novella finds the group in Oregon, on the trail of a mysterious young girl who can walk through fences and over barns.

I enjoyed this collection of stories, following the ongoing adventures of the motley collection of characters. Each novella reveals a little more about the characters, their back grounds, etc. There is a prominent spiritual aspect to these stories, on both the good side and the dark side. There is a bit of spiritual warfare that goes on. Tank is the godly character while the professor is an avowed atheist. There are some good theological points made through the dialog between the characters.

Various authors sometimes means difference in writing quality but I was happy to find that the writing was quite consistent. It was a little disconcerting to change points of view with each novella. And I felt like it was all unfinished business when I got to the end. The stories are entertaining but there is no resolution at the end of this collection. I sensed that the evil forces, what ever they are, were getting stronger. One would need to read the next collections, two releasing later this year, to get the ultimate message. I trust the battle of good and evil will continue. (Doing a little research, this looks like the first in a previously published multi-volume series.)

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Bill Myers is an award winning film maker and best selling author. He is the co-creator of MeGee and Me. He lives in California. You can find out more at www.billmyers.com.
Frank E. Peretti is a best selling author with more than 10 million of his books in print. He lives in Idaho. You can find out more at www.frankperetti.com.
Angela Hunt is a bestselling author, having written more than 100 books. She lives in Florida. You can find out more at www.angelahuntbooks.com.
Alton Gansky has written more than 20 novels and has won several awards. He lives in California. You can find out more at www.altongansky.com.

Bethany House Publishers, 352 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Think Again by Jared Mellinger

We sometimes get caught up in self-examination, false guilt, and discouragement. We might be overly sensitive to the criticism of others. We get trapped in the swirling thoughts of unhealthy introspection.

Mellinger has written this book to help those caught under that burden. Self inspection is commended in the Bible but for a purpose, not to the extreme some get trapped into doing. Using the example of his own life, he helps us understand what it means to truly know our self and how we are to think of our self. He offers practical suggestions for biblical evaluation and great strategies for breaking free of false guilt.

I was impressed with Mellinger reminding us that the Bible tells us more about ourselves than we could ever learn looking within. He helps us learn how to evaluate ourselves correctly, realizing the purpose God intended for the discipline.

This is a practical book. Mellinger gives good suggestions as to how to control our thoughts and where we are to set them. I really like his emphasis on thinking away from ourselves, such as to worship and the beauty of God's creation. We are to look outside ourselves, to others and to Christ.

I highly recommend this book to those burdened with too much introspection. One of Satan's strategies for keeping us in sin is to get us to think excessively about our sin. Mellinger's book is a great resource to getting out of that situation. He includes questions for discussion in each chapter so this would be a good book to read with a trusted friend or group.

You can find out more about the book and read an excerpt here.

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

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Jared Mellinger joined the Covenant Fellowship Church pastoral team in 2006, upon graduating from Pastors College of Sovereign Grace Churches. He became senior pastor in 2008. Mellinger graduated from Kutztown University in 2001 with a B.S. in Art Education. He and his wife and their six children live in Glen Mills, PA.

New Growth Press, 192 pages.


I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Litfuse. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Deep Extraction by DiAnn Mills

This is the second in the FBI series by Mills. It is a stand alone as the characters in this book are different than those in the first in the series.

I found the plot a little difficult to follow. It did not seem clearly presented and motives were a bit obscure. Part of that might be due to the relationships of the characters. The FBI agent, Tori, knew the murdered man from her college years. Tori remained friends with him and was, in fact, a very good friend of his wife. Cole, the U.S. Marshall investigating the case, was a current but good friend of the murder victim and his family. That means there is much background information that comes out as the plot progresses. Both Tori and Cole have experiences from their past that affect their current work so that made the plot all the more complex.

This novel is a good mystery. There is no suspense. It is the second I've recently read where a murder was committed by controlling a pace maker from a distance. The strength of the novel may well be the character development by Tori and Cole. They both had internal issues that could be made right only through God.

You can watch the book trailer here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

DiAnn Mills is a bestselling author with more than fifty-five books published. She has won two Christy Awards and has been a finalist for several other awards. She and her husband live in Houston, Texas. You can find out more at www.diannmills.com. You can find her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and GoodReads.

Tyndale House Publishers, 416 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Stay the Path by Bobbie Houston

Houston has written this book to encourage women along the journey and stay the path. Her idea is to lead by example so she relates many of her own experiences in the book. They are good examples and will give courage and hope to readers.

Houston shares the experiences that shaped her as she served alongside her husband for over four decades in the multi-faceted ministry of Hillsong. She helps us understand what kept them on course and focused, even during adverse circumstances. She writes of the necessity of conviction in the complexities of life. She writes of doing spiritual battle, reminding us that we Christians will have situations designed to mature us. She encourages us to have strength, to rely on the Holy Spirit, our Helper and Companion. She notes the necessity of our calling and understanding the responsibility that goes with it, choosing to work hard. She also encourages us to have clean hands and a pure heart.

This is a good general book of encouragement for women. It will be especially meaningful for women who have been blessed through the ministry of Hillsong. It is a refreshing account of giving glory to God for being the Shepherd throughout her journey in life.

You can find out more about the book, read an excerpt, and follow her blog at http://hillsong.com/bobbiehouston/.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Bobbie Houston together with her husband founded Hillsong and is co-senior pastor. She is the founder of Colour Conference and the Colour Sisterhood, a worldwide movement of women untied to make a difference in the world. She and her husband have three grown children and seven grandchildren.

FaithWords, 192 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Monday, April 17, 2017

Welcome to College by Jonathan Morrow

Morrow suggests that the college years may well be the most influential years of your life in determining who you will be in the future. Choosing which college to attend is a serious decision. When you get there, how can you make sure that as a Christian, you flourish?

Morrow's book has stood the test of time. This is an updated edition of the book that was released nearly a decade ago. He has included a wealth of information to help young people as they leave their comfort zone and experience new situations, ideas, and people.

Each chapter has been kept short yet includes bullet points of big ideas, additional reading resources, and helpful websites and online resources. There is also an extensive section of Discussion Questions so this would make a good choice for a teen reading group or Sunday School class.

I am impressed with Morrow's book. It contains a great deal of information. He covers topics to help students spiritually thrive in an academic environment, like developing a Christian worldview, growing in discipleship, how we know truth, origins, evidences for our faith, and much more. There is good instruction to help face relationship challenges, addressing moral issues like dating, sex, and gender issues. He even includes some tips for studying and succeeding academically.

Morrow admits he does not have all the answers to the issues he includes in this book. Nonetheless, the book is a good resource. Potential readers need to know that this book is big and probably not something a teen will read cover to cover. It may best be used as a resource by parents and youth leaders. When a questions arises, the appropriate chapter and associated discussion questions could be read.

You can find out more about the book and find additional resources at http://welcometocollege.tv/. You can read articles and watch videos by Morrow at http://impact360institute.org/.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Jonathan Morrow (DMin, MDiv) is the author of several books and speaks nationally on biblical worldview, apologetics, and culture. He is adjunct professor of apologetics at Biola University and director of cultural engagement at Inpact360 Institute where he teaches high school and college students. You can find out more about him and follow his blog at http://www.jonathanmorrow.org/. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

Kregel Publications, 416 pages. You can buy the book here.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Never Unfriended by Lisa-Jo Baker

In this era of social media “friends,” Baker calls us back to biblical friendship, to being a neighbor like the Samaritan. She encourages us to concentrate on being a friend rather than trying to get friends.

The book has several parts and they do not have to be read in order. The first part of the book deals with our fears, like the fear of being hurt (again). She helps us understand our relationship baggage and the need for forgiveness. The second part deals with aspects of a friendship over which we have no control and cannot fix. The next part relates what we can do about friendships and lastly, how to initiate them.

Baker includes great examples and stories to illustrate her principles. One that comes to mind was when she started a Bible study after being in a new church for a while. The women who came? Some had no close friends, even though they had been attending the church for years. Others felt useless and lonely. Baker was shocked. Wow, what a lesson on the opportunities we might be missing in facilitating friendships.

This is an encouraging book but it is also very realistic. Baker reminds us that we cannot successfully establish friendships in our image, exactly as we'd like them to be. We must accept others as they are, not trying to make them into our preconceived idea of a friend. Baker also tells us that we are not going to get all our needs met by our friends and disaster may result if we try. I really liked the sections on being willing to be imperfect and the importance of just being there in times of need.

I recommend this book to those who are ready to embrace the cost of true friendship. As Baker reminds us, the reward can be priceless.

Food for thought: “...the act of offering yourself and your faith to a friend who's lost hers is an act of heroism, plain and simple.” (119)

You can find out more about the book and sign up for free chapters at http://neverunfriended.com/.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Lisa-Jo Baker has been the community manager for www.incourage.me, an online home for women all over the world, for nearly a decade. She is also the author of Surprised by Motherhood, and her writings have been syndicated from New Zealand to New York. She lives just outside Washington, DC, with her husband and their three children. You can find out more at http://lisajobaker.com/.

B & H Publishing, 208 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Icon Media. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, April 15, 2017

You Are Free by Rebekah Lyons

Scripture says we Christians are free but our everyday lives may seem anything but free. That was the case for Lyons who fought anxiety and had panic attacks. She takes us through her own journey to freedom. This is a personal account of her being healed from anxiety, finding her calling, believing and declaring she was free, thirsting for God's presence, asking God for anything, realizing God is her true home, resting, abiding, writing, grieving, being weak, celebrating, journaling, and sharing her freedom with others.

This is not a Bible study but rather a very personal account. Lyons has included thought provoking questions at the end of each chapter. The idea is that readers would read about Lyons' experience and then work though the questions with, perhaps, a similar journey to freedom. Lyons journaled and she recommends readers do the same and the questions would help stimulate thought for writing.

I found it interesting that Lyons mentions The Artist's Way by Julia Cameron. Cameron recommends writing Morning Pages, three hand written pages every morning. Lyons found the discipline to be very rewarding and recommends it. I've gone through Cameron's book and also found the discipline to be very beneficial.

I recommend this book to those who respond well to personal accounts of transformation rather than a Bible study on the subject. The questions included are good ones and will yield much material for thought and writing.

You can find out more about the book and watch a video at http://rebekahlyons.com/.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Rebekah Lyons is an author, mother, and wife. She and her husband co-founded Q Ideas, a nonprofit that equips Christians to influence culture. She founded Q Women, helping women engage faith, relationships, and their community. She and her family live in Nashville. You can find out more at http://rebekahlyons.com/about/#bio.

Zondervan, 240 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Friday, April 14, 2017

Life After by Katie Ganshert

This is a well crafted novel centering on surviving tragedy. Autumn was the only survivor of a commuter train bombing. How she deals with surviving and how so many others deal with their loss is the meaty subject of the plot.

This moving novel highlights many issues. One is guilt. There is survival guilt. There is the guilt surrounding the death of a loved one, including the “what if” and “if only I'd” questions. How do we deal with the guilt when another dies because they were doing an errand for us? Another issue is the sovereignty of God. Why are some spared and other not? How does our view of God relate to our feelings of responsibility or guilt?

Another issue in the book is how one learns to live with loss and the hurt. Some never lose their trust in God and find comfort in Him, even when there was no miracle. Others, like Autumn, must deal with recurring terror and nightmares. How will she ever get on a commuter train again?

Perhaps the issue that fascinated me the most was memories. We want to remember people better than they were. Can we change our memories? Do we keep the bad parts secret? Is there a right time to be brutally honest?

I appreciate learning something when I read a novel. Besides learning about the issues surrounding loss, I also was introduced to petrichor and how it relates to that smell of rain.

This is a well written novel and I highly recommend it. Potential readers should be aware that it mostly deals with the after effects of tragic loss and survival. Readers who have recently experienced such a loss may find this well written novel difficult, so intense are the issues involved.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Katie Ganshert is the author of several novels and works of short fiction, including the Christy Award winning A Broken Kind of Beautiful and the Carol Award winner, The Art of Losing Yourself. She lives in eastern Iowa with her family. You can find out more at www.katirganshert.com. You can follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Pinterest.

WaterBrook Multnomah, 352 pages. (Available April 18, 2017)

I received a complimentary galley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Thursday, April 13, 2017

A Fragile Hope by Cynthia Ruchti Giveaway

A Fragile Hope Cynthia Ruchti
Ruchti has created an interesting novel that is a sort of adult coming of age story. Josiah, the main character, is a successful marriage counselor whose career skyrocketed. He is a popular seminar leader and bestselling author. He has been totally oblivious to the fact that his own marriage has been in trouble. When his wife is in an automobile accident, we are along with Josiah as he spends time in the hospital waiting room. His wife is unresponsive but he has interactions with others that shed light on his own marriage, especially how he has treated his wife.

I find it interesting when an author writes a novel with the main character of the opposite sex, as is the case here. I have no idea if the thoughts and actions of Josiah truly represent those of a male in this situation or if they are what we women desire a male would think and do.

I felt the novel got off to a rough start. The first chapter focuses on the jumbled thoughts of the wife before the accident. It seemed so jumbled and cryptic it was hard to follow. Facts come to light as the novel progresses that help explain that first chapter but I would have rather had it initially clearer. Otherwise, the first chapter could have been skipped all together and we readers find out the truth along with Josiah. Either way, I think I would have enjoyed the rest of the novel more.

Most of the novel consists of Josiah's thoughts and the transformation that results. Sometimes I felt the material was repetitive while at other times I was captivated. I found myself skimming paragraphs at times to see if his thoughts moved the plot forward or not.

I recommend this novel to those who like reading about the character transformation a husband goes through when he is forced to face the reality of his attitude toward his marriage and his wife. I am not sure it is a novel men would enjoy but I think women would find it a different yet satisfying romance. We women like to see this kind of transformation in a man who initially had his wife as part of a successful career, not as a friend and lover. There is a strong Christian message in the novel as faith becomes an important element in Josiah's transformation. Discussion questions are included so this novel would be a good choice for a reading group.

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

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Cynthia Ruchti has written more than twenty award winning novels, novellas, nonfiction books and devotionals. She finds great joy in helping other writers and has been on staff and faculty for the Write-to-Publish conference and teaches at other writers' conferences across the country and internationally as opportunity arises. She also serves as the professional relations liaison for American Christian Fiction Writers. She and her husband live in the heart of Wisconsin, not far from their three children and five grandchildren. You can find out more at http://www.cynthiaruchti.com

Abingdon Press, 320 pages. You can find out more about the novel and buy a copy here.


Celebrate the release of A Fragile Hope by entering to win Cynthia's Sign of Hope Giveaway!

One grand prize winner will receive:
Enter today by clicking here, but hurry! The giveaway ends on May 3. The winner will be announced May 4 on the Litfuse blog.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Litfuse. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Pursued by Lisa Harris

This is the third in the Nikki Boyd series. She is an agent with the missing persons division of the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation. While this book reads well on its own, I suggest reading the earlier books in the series to understand Nikki's passion for finding missing persons.

This novel has a good combination of action and investigative techniques. Nikki is a capable investigator but she is plagued with disrupting thoughts. I did get a bit tired of Nikki thinking of something in the past, then someone saying something jerking her back to the present. Nikki is not quite the effective policewoman I am used to having in novels with female leads. Readers who like extended accounts of character thoughts that interrupt the flow of the action will like this novel. Interestingly enough, when Nikki does come out of her thoughts, she rises to the occasion as a good and forceful agent.

This is a good investigative procedural novel. There is also a bit of romance. There is a little Christian influence but it is not strong. I recommend it to readers who do enjoy suspense with a good dose of troubled character thinking as well.

You can find out more about the book and the author here. You can read the first chapter here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Lisa Harris has won the Christy Award and the Best Inspirational Suspense Novel award for 2011 and 2015. She has written more than thirty novels or novella collections. She and her family have spent over twelve years living as missionaries in Africa. You can find out more about her and her life in Africa at www.lisaharriswrites.com and at her blog http://myblogintheheartofafrica.blogspot.com/.

Revell, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.