Saturday, October 20, 2018

The Nowhere Man by Gregg Hurwitz

This is the second in a series featuring Evan, a highly trained black ops assassin. He decided to get out of the work in the first novel, Orphan X. I liked that novel because it had several of Evan's experiences of helping people who were in desperate situations without any resources.

This novel is different and pits Evan against a single foe, a very wealthy man. While there are many exciting and suspenseful scenes in this novel, the overall plot was not very interesting. Evan is held captive and tries to escape...several times. That seemed repetitive to me. There were also a number of odd characters, almost too much so.

The whole plot did not seem to go along with the course set in Orphan X. I liked Evan as a helper of the helpless. In this novel, it is Evan who must be helped. The situation just did not seem to move Evan forward as a character. There is one more novel in this series. Because I liked Orphan X so much, I'll give the next one a try. If this had been the first novel I had read in the series I am not sure I would have read another.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Gregg Hurwitz is the author of twenty thrillers. His novels have won many literary awards and have been published in thirty languages. He has written screenplays and television scripts for many major studios and networks. He lives in Los Angeles.

St. Martin's Press, 432 pages.

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

Friday, October 19, 2018

Orphan X by Gregg Hurwitz

I really liked this over the top thriller. What's not to like? There is a great hero, Evan. He's a super trained secret black ops assassin for the government. But he is a man with a conscious. When he realizes his latest assignment is one that should not be, he wants out. He thinks he's made it safely and takes up doing good for others in desperate need. But soon a betrayal puts his life in danger and he has no idea who is after him or why.

Evan has been highly trained so he has all kinds of high tech gadgets. It's almost like 007 on steroids. There are so many suspenseful scenes I had to stop and take a breath from time to time. And just when I thought Evan was all machine with no emotion, a hint of romance drops into his life.

I recommend this novel to readers who like a high tech, well trained assassin type of thriller. Some of the action might have been over the top but it was a good read.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Gregg Hurwitz is the author of twenty thrillers. His novels have won many literary awards and have been published in thirty languages. He has written screenplays and television scripts for many major studios and networks. He lives in Los Angeles.

St. Martin's Press, 416 pages.

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

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Virgil Wander by Leif Enger

There was some interesting action at the beginning and end of this novel but I found most of it slow moving and rather boring. The novel starts with an auto accident and rescue. Virgil Wander experiences a concussion from the accident. We follow his life as he recuperates and interacts with small town characters.

If I had not agreed to review this novel, I don't think I would have finished it. I will not review a book I have not read so did continue to the end. I asked myself many times what the point of the novel could possibly be. I did find out quite a bit about the possible effects of a concussion, about classic films, and about handmade kites. There were some interesting characters in the book but it was hard to identify any growth or change in them. None of them was developed to the point that I really liked the individual or could empathize with their problem.

Enger's writing style was mostly long passages of prose, such as descriptions or memories of background material. I prefer characters acting and speaking to move the plot forward. There were a few good scenes, some tender moments, and even some humor but the plot overall did not captivate me.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Leif Enger was raised in Osakis, Minnesota, and worked as a reporter and producer for Minnesota Public Radio for nearly twenty years. He lives on a farm in Minnesota with his wife and two sons.

Atlantic Monthly Press, 352 pages.

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

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Once We Were Strangers by Shawn Smucker

Sometimes putting a human experience to an issue clarifies it. Such is the case here. We read of Mohammad, his wife and their sons. They escaped from Syria in 2012. He knew staying in the country would mean their death. They rode a bus part way with other refugees, ultimately walking through the wilderness into Jordan and into a barbed wire enclosed tented refugee camp. All Mohammad wanted was a good life for his family, free from the threat of death. But so did a million other refugees. Four years later Mohammad was in the United States and met Shawn Smucker.

I like how Smucker tells the story, starting with his initially meeting Mohammad. As a friendship develops, he reveals Mohammad's story of being a refugee and coming to America. He writes of the challenges refugees face. Besides learning a new language is finding work, finding a doctor, adjusting to all the new customs, on and on. Through it all Mohammad is full of hope, positive, friendly and so hospitable.

This is a good book for people who are afraid of Muslims and don't understand their need to find a safe place in America. This is a good account of a Syrian family trying to make their way in Jordan and then in the U.S. It is a good example of friendship and of how Christians can show love to others. There are discussion questions included so this would make a good choice for a reading group.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Shawn Smucker is the author of the young adult novels The Day the Angels Fell and The Edge of Over There. He lives with his wife and six children in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. You can find out more at www.shawnsmucker.com.

Revell, 208 pages.

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

Monday, October 15, 2018

Day by Day Through the Gospel of John compiled and edited by Lance Wubbels

Writing styles have changed over the years. Rarely do I read a contemporary Christian book on spiritual growth I would describe as heavy or deep. Books on Christian growth seemed more meaty a few generations ago.

Wubbels has gathered some of that meaty material for the current generation. He has gleaned insights on the Gospel of John from some of the greatest expository teachers and preachers from the past. Names like Charles Spurgeon and Andrew Murray are among them. Wubbels has worked on Spurgeon's material before and it is no surprise devotions by Spurgeon are more frequent than any of the other authors listed in the short biographies of the contributors at the beginning of the collection.

This book is a devotional and not a verse by verse commentary on John. There are many gaps in the Scripture covered. I was surprised, for example, that there were no readings on John 8:13-15, John 8:17-28, John 8:37-38, John 8:56-57 nor John 9:17-19 just to name a few. Some passages have no devotional reading while others have more than one.

As is often the case with a collection of a variety of authors, the readings differ in intensity and insight. Nonetheless, I do appreciate this collection of readings. It is a good devotional and a good way to be introduced to classic biblical scholars. Unfortunately, there is no listing of source material so if you find an author's work of interest, there is no way of knowing from what book the material was gleaned.

I recommend this devotional to readers who don't mind if that one passage you were looking forward to reading about is missing and you don't mind if you cannot easily pursue an author you like. There is much good material included on many passages in John that will be daily inspiration for a year.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Lance Wubbels served as the managing editor of Bethany House Publishers for eighteen years. He then went into literary development for a design firm and now runs his own literary service to publishers and authors. He is the author of many fiction and nonfiction books and has won the Angel Award and two Gold Medallion awards from the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association. He has compiled or edited several book on Charles Spurgeon's writings. He and his wife live in Bloomington, Minnesota.

Bethany House Publishers, 384 pages.

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

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Next Level Thinking by Joel Osteen

If you are looking for a book to encourage you to be the best you can be, to be the person God created you to be, and to break through your self imposed limits, this is the book for you. Osteen encourages you to not settle for less than God has for you. He wants you to quit your excuses and your limited thinking and instead believe what God says is true of you.

Osteen is very positive. He reminds readers that God has provided all we need to accomplish what He has called us to do. (2 Peter 1:3) God has given us talents and we need to use them. We can't pick the talents we want. Instead we trust God's sovereignty. And obstacles? Sometimes God lets them get big so when He moves there is no doubt it was Him. (Think Lazarus.)

I like that Osteen has founded his positive message firmly on Scripture. He uses many biblical passages and stories as the basis for his teachings. He is strong on our knowing who we are in Christ and then living that truth. We are forgiven and loved. We no longer have shame. Our value is not in our achievements but rather in being a child of God. Yes, we'll make mistakes but God is working in us and He is not finished yet.

I recommend this book to Christians who want encouragement to break through wrong thinking and start believing what God says is true of you.

You can watch the book trailer and download the first chapter here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Joel Osteen is the author of ten New York Times bestsellers and the senior pastor of Lakewood Church in Houston. He lives in Houston with his wife and their children. You can find out more at www.joelosteen.com.

FaithWords, 224 pages.

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

Saturday, October 13, 2018

The Sparkle Effect by Kristen Dalton Wolfe

Perhaps you've met a woman who just sparkles. She has a radiance and joy on the inside that shines out. Wolfe says it is the sparkle that comes when a woman has experienced Jesus as an identity transformer. She is a woman who is becoming who God created her to be.

Wolfe helps us understand how that sparkle comes to be. She covers each of 31 qualities in as many chapters. These are qualities of a woman who sparkles. She should know. She was Miss USA in 2009.

Some of the qualities she covers are ones I expected, such as makeup and clothing. But there were several qualities that surprised me. Finding your dream was one. She suggests God will give you a vision of what he wants you to accomplish. She even includes a number of questions to help readers discover their passions and ultimately their dream. Another was having a childlike wonder, something we often lose as we grow older. Other surprising qualities included resilience, confidence, focus, humility, and wisdom. My favorite was being God-centered. Even the chapter on clothing emphasized dressing to express your essence rather than to make an impression.

I am impressed with level of insight and maturity Wolfe evidences in this book. I thought maybe this book would reflect the shallow thoughts of a beauty queen. I was happily surprised to find the author is a thoughtful, well read committed Christian who is more concerned about our inner spiritual condition than outward appearance. And she is practical. She includes great questions for reflection and suggestions for action. She also provides a prayer at the end of each chapter as well as Scripture passages relating to the topic.

I recommend this book to teens and career age women who desire to sparkle with inner beauty, expressing their true identity in Christ. You'll find good inspiration and a practical strategy for transforming growth. This is a book you can read time and again along your journey.

Food for thought: “There is nothing more sparkle-infusing than spending time with God and basking in His love.” (Loc 1794/3835)

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Kristen Dalton Wolfe is a former Miss USA and the founder of SheIsMore.com, an inspirational online magazine that impacts more than 400,000 readers every month. She is a television host, personal coach, motivational speaker, and appears in global advertising campaigns. She and her husband live in Los Angeles with their daughter. You can find out more at http://sheismore.com/.

FaithWords, 320 pages.

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

All That's Good by Hannah R Anderson

Discernment, seeing clearly and knowing what is good, seems to be missing today. I really value the enlightening teaching about discernment contained in this book. I appreciate Anderson exploring what discernment is and is not. I like her teaching that making good choices necessitates becoming good people, evidencing virtues. She spends some time exploring Philippians 4:8-9, helping us to understand the virtues and their expression in our lives. When we pursue the things listed there, she writes, we pursue the character of God. (Loc 563/2301)

I like that Anderson spends time teaching on right thinking. “You develop discernment by becoming a person who knows how, not simply what, to think.” (Loc 544/2301) We can develop habits helping us to become discerning people, people who know how think.

I like her teaching on “stuff.” God wants us to embrace and enjoy the good stuff. What surprised me was her insight that stuff is designed to lead us to God, to draw us closer to Him. Our enjoyment of stuff is not to be an end in itself, for our own pleasure. We are to see God as the source.

Those are just a few of the teachings in this book. There is a great deal of thought provoking and stimulating teaching included. I found a level of wisdom and insight from Anderson that is rare.

Her writing style took me a while to get used to. She tells a story or shares an experience and then draws lessons in discernment from it. I had to practice a little patience waiting for the teaching. I appreciated it more once I got the rhythm of her writing.

I think this is a very timely and necessary book. Discernment is a heart issue, Anderson says. Our hearts need some work done on them and this book is a good place to help stimulate that process.

An added feature in this book is at its end. Anderson provides a short review of the major points of the book and some Scripture references and then has questions for reflection. That would make this book a good one for personal or group study.

You can read an excerpt here.

Food for thought: “...cultivating discernment prepares us to face whatever life may bring.” (Loc 1627/2301)

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Hannah R. Anderson lives in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. She spends her days working beside her husband in rural ministry, caring for three children and writing. She contributes to a variety of Christian publications and is the author of Made for More (Moody, 2014) and Humble Roots (Moody, 2016). You can connect with her at her blog www.sometimesalight.com and on Twitter @sometimesalight.

Moody Publishers, 224 pages.

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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

White Picket Fences by Amy Julia Becker

This book was enlightening and challenging. Having grown up in a lower middle class farming family, I would not have considered myself privileged. I had no idea. Reading Becker's memoir and thoughts on privilege made me realize I grew up privileged and still am.

Like Becker, I cannot change my ethnicity nor social status. But, like her, I should also realize that this privilege did not come because of my effort nor is it a sign of God's favor. (1748/2807) But it does come with responsibility. Like her, I must see privilege as an opportunity and responsibility to pass on the blessings God has so graciously given me.

Becker shares much of her life. Part of it is to show the transition in her thinking, moving to understanding privilege and its influence. She shares where her life has not been all roses to show that, even in the midst of hardship, she was still privileged. She and her husband have a child with Down syndrome, for example, yet have access to special education programs and doctors.

Becker reminded me I have been given much I have not deserved. (1905/2807) She challenged me to explore how I can value every person, seeing each one as a gift, made in the image of God. Yes, there is sin and brokenness but Becker reminded me we are all broken in some way.

I recommend this book to readers who want to understand more about privilege and the responsibility it carries. Becker doesn't have the answers but she does know it involves sacrificial love. She gives some encouraging illustrations of people living out that sacrificial love and invites us to do the same. There are discussion questions included so this would be a good book for a reading group.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Amy Julia Becker is the author of Small Talk, A Good and Perfect Gift (named one of the Top Ten Religion Books of 2011 by Publishers Weekly), and Penelope Ayers. Becker is a graduate of Princeton University and Princeton Theological Seminary. Her essays about faith, family, and disability have appeared on the Motherlode blog of the New York Times, USA Today, ABCNews.com, TheAtlantic.com, the Washington Post online, the Christian Century, Christianity Today, and the Huffington Post. She is a big fan of frozen yogurt, hiking in the nearby woods, and asking her children to be introspective about their lives. Amy Julia lives with her husband and three children in western CT. You can find out more at https://amyjuliabecker.com/.

NavPress, 240 pages.

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

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Swimming in the Deep End by Christina Suzann Nelson

It took a while for the story to grab me but about a third of the way into the book, I was hooked. This is an emotionally packed novel. Nelson's writing style is such that I felt the turmoil and pain of each of the four main characters, such as the “perfect” Christian mother devastated by her unwed teen daughter's pregnancy.

There are many issues covered in this book, including destroyed dreams, teen pregnancy, abortion, miscarriage, adoption, estranged family members, marital discord, and tragic death. All of that in one novel may seem overwhelming. Yet Nelson pulls it off, weaving together all of those issues as the novel progresses. I was amazed at how Nelson developed the plot to include healing in all of those areas through God's grace and peoples' love. And there was a surprise at the end I did not see coming but made perfect sense, even though it was emotionally hard to accept.

I highly recommend this novel to readers who enjoy emotionally packed character driven stories. I feel I must offer a caution, however. I have never experienced any of the issues included in the book first hand and yet the novel had a great emotional effect on me. I can't imagine how a reader who has experienced a failed adoption or a teen pregnancy or any of the other issues included would be impacted by this novel. I think you would find healing in these pages but first your heart might hurt deeply.

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Christina Suzann Nelson is a member of Oregon Christian Writers and ACFW. Her essays have been published in the Cup of Comfort series. Her first novel is If We Make It Home. She lives in Oregon's Willamette Valley with her husband and four children.

Kregel Publications, 288 pages.

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

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Gathering of Sisters by Darla Weaver Blog Tour


About the Book:

Spend a day with sisters.
Once a week Darla Weaver bundles her children into the buggy, hitches up her spirited mare, and drives six miles to the farm where she grew up. There she gathers with her four sisters and their children for a day with their mother. In Gathering of Sisters, Weavers writes about her horse-and-buggy Mennonite family and the weekly women's gatherings that keep them connected. On warm days, the children play and fish and build houses of hay in the barn. In the winter, everyone stays close to the woodstove, with puzzles and games and crocheting. No matter the weather, the Tuesday get-togethers of this Old Order Mennonite family keep them grounded and centered in their love for God and for each other, even when raising an occasional loving but knowing eyebrow at each other.
The rest of the week is full of laundry, and errands, and work that never ends. But Tuesday is about being sisters, daughters, and mothers.

My review:

Weaver shares her Tuesday conversations and activities with her sisters. They reflect a slower life and strong family ties. In Weaver's own words, the conversations were not of any momentous importance. (1553/2671) They were sharing daily thoughts, what they were reading, and comments about the children. Most of the conversations are of the ordinary things sisters talk about when together. Most of the activities are the ordinary things sisters do when they spend a day together, such as crafting, cooking, and washing dishes. (I hope I never have to wash silicone cupcake papers.) Many delicious (and not so delicious) foods are mentioned and a few recipes are included.

I was a little surprised at the children's behavior Weaver recorded. They consistently had trouble playing together and frequently damaged flowering plants, such as those in the greenhouses. They even made soup out of mud and grass and succulent leaves, stripping the plants in their grandmother's front garden. Discipline was never mentioned. And there was a noted lack of “please” and “thank you” kind of words from the children.

I was disappointed that there was not more information about how the Old Order Mennonites actually live. There was mention of refrigerators and freezers but not whether they were electric or gas or powered some other way. The oven, I found out, did have a pilot light so was propane. There was also mention of a lawn mower that needed to be primed. (838/2671) Does that mean it was gas powered? I was curious, since they use horses or bicycles for transportation. I would have also liked to know more about her parents' greenhouses, growing plants, and the selling of them.

Readers who would enjoy the everyday conversations and events the sisters experience will enjoy this book. Readers looking for more insights into the Old Order Mennonite lifestyle may have to look elsewhere.

You can read the author's introduction to the book here.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

About the author:

Darla Weaver is a homemaker, gardener, writer, and Old Order Mennonite living in the hills of southern Ohio. She is the author of Water My Soul and Many Lighted Windows, and she has written for Family Life, Ladies Journal, Young Companion, and other magazines for Amish and Old Order Mennonite groups. Before her three children were born she also taught school. Her hobbies are gardening and writing.

Herald Press, 272 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through I Read With Audra. My comments are an independent and honest review. The rest of the copy of this post was provided by I Read With Audra.

Monday, October 8, 2018

Hidden Peril by Irene Hannon

I enjoyed this romantic suspense. Hannon gives readers a good balance of character development mixed with episodes of action.

I really appreciate the international aspect of the plot. Kristen operates a fair trade shop, helping support people in third world countries. Little does she know that some of her products contain hidden items used by a domestic terrorist cell to fund their operations.

The emphasis of the novel, however, seems to be romance. The periodic action does well to propel the romance along. The first, a murder in Kristen's shop, brings a handsome man into the story. Luke is an able St. Louis police detective but finds himself seriously attracted to Kristen. I like how Hannon gave Luke enough sense to temper his feelings toward Kristen until the case is closed. But the case is not closed until there is a good bit of page turning suspense at the end.

I recommend this novel to readers who enjoy a well plotted character driven romantic suspense.

You can download an excerpt here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Irene Hannon is the bestselling author of more than fifty novels. Her books have won three RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America, and she is a member of that organization's Hall of Fame. Her other awards include National Readers' Choice, Daphne du Maurier, Retailers' Choice, Booksellers' Best, Carols, and Reviewers' Choice. She is also a two time Christy Award finalist. You can find out more at www.irenehannon.com

Revell, 416 pages.                Photo Credit: © DeWeesePhotography.com

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

Sunday, October 7, 2018

How to Grow by Darryl Dash

We know we are to grow spiritually. We've read the books, gone to the seminars, yet are still frustrated. This book just might have some answers.

So what is different about this book on spiritual growth? Habits. Dash has developed what he calls a habit-based approach to discipleship and spiritual growth. Changing our habits changes our desires. Habits are formative. He has a good strategy for developing the habits that help our being transformed to Christ's image. Another emphasis is that spiritual growth is more than just gaining information or changed behavior. It is a renewing of the whole person, becoming the humans God intended. Dash also reminds us that the foundation for the growth is the gospel. He clarifies why self help books don't work. We can't do it on our own. We need and have the very power of God working in us.

Much of the book is what we would expect to find in a book on spiritual growth. Dash writes of the three core habits of Bible reading and meditation, prayer, and worship, something one would expect. He does take those a bit deeper than I've seen before. He adds six supporting habits we would expect, such as keeping Sabbath, giving, serving, sharing the gospel, and maintaining physical health.

What was new to me was the sixth supporting habit of creating a Rule of Life, “a set of healthy habits that provide direction and growth in our lives.” (p. 142) He has good tips on developing that Rule. (This Rule does not mean a law but rather is from the Latin and means something done regularly.) Samples are provided in an Appendix so we get an idea of what they are like.

There are bullet summaries at the end of each chapter as well as questions for personal reflection or group discussion and some suggestions to help readers think, pray, and get going. Those features would make this a good book to use with a group of trusted friends.

I do recommend this book to Christians who desire a strategy for spiritual growth. There is valuable material in here for new Christians and seasoned ones.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Darryl Dash is pastor of Liberty Grace Church in Toronto. He is also cofounder of Gospel for Life and director of Advance Church Planting Institute. He has a D.Min. from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and has over twenty five years of ministry experience. He and his wife have two adult children. You can find out more at https://dashhouse.com/.

Moody Publishers, 192 pages.

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