Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister

We modern Protestants don’t do the liturgical year. Perhaps we should. Chittister says, “The liturgical year is an adventure in bringing the Christian to fullness…” It is an immersion into the life of Christ. Chittister desires that we grow wiser and holier as we embrace the essentials of life by living in the annual celebrations and disciplines. “We live a liturgical life in order to become like the One whom we follow from manger to the Mount of Olives.”
One might think that revisiting the life of Jesus year after year would not yield fruit. But the idea is that of a spiral. Each year one goes deeper into the experience of the life of Christ.

In living the liturgical year, the Christian approaches the life of Christ from a variety of perspectives. Advent is about learning to wait. Lent reminds us, “We must be prepared to give up some things if we intend to get things that are even more important.” Ordinary time lets us pause for contemplation.
Chittister does a great job in explaining the history and meaning of each part of the year. She got me excited about the adventure of living the liturgical year. I expected some ideas on how to do so but was disappointed. Chittister says, “Liturgical spirituality is about learning to live an ordinary life extraordinarily well.” I just wish she would have told me how to get started!
This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Touched by a Vampire by Beth Felkner Jones

Stories are powerful. Christians worried about the influence of Harry Potter. Now there is the Twilight Saga to worry us. Love, romance, marriage and the meaning of life are all seen from a girl’s perspective, through Bella’s eyes.
Some say the Twilight Saga should be embraced by Christians because there are good moral themes in the book. The universe is a moral one. The couple waits for marriage to have sex.
Yet Jones has found disturbing messages in the Twilight books. Violence, for example, is seen as a natural response to any threat. On occasion, the Mormon religion of the author comes through. Jones compares these troubling themes of the book with God’s intention for life.
Jones has included questions for reflection after every chapter. These are great for discussion as to what concepts can be taken from the Twilight Saga and which ones should be left there. She has also included a book-by-book discussion guide to address the themes and messages each book portrays.
This would be a great book for parents and youth workers who want to discuss the Twilight Saga with readers of the series. With the synopses Jones provides, it is not necessary to have read the books to be able to use Touched by a Vampire in discussing and evaluating the Twilight Saga.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Monday, November 16, 2009

Thirsty by Tracey Bateman

A vampire novel in the Christian genre?
Batemen, in her afterward, says she questioned how she was going to write a vampire novel that glorified God. She came up with the idea of a metaphor, relating the vampire’s thirst to that of an alcoholic’s. I am not so sure the novel glorifies God but the book is a good read.
Nina is an alcoholic. She’s lost her marriage, her business and the respect of her daughter. After rehab, she tries to make a new start in her hometown – staying with her sister, the sheriff. The next door neighbor appears to be a nice man but is actually a vampire. Yet he is a vampire with a conscience. He only kills and drinks the blood of “bad” people, unlike the female vampire in town who kills for sport and vengeance.
Dead bodies drained of blood, both animals and humans, set the stage for Nina in danger. She faces the demon of alcoholism and the deadly threat of a jealous vampire.
Nina is close to middle age so I doubt teens would find this novel of interest.
Glorifying to God? I can’t say. But it is a good story and is well written. If you would like an alternative to current vampire novels, this may be the one for you. Discussion questions make this book suitable for a group read.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Saturday, November 14, 2009

Let Them Eat Fruitcake by Melody Carlson

Four young women live together at 86 Bloomberg Place in Portland, OR. One has inherited the house and the other three rent rooms from her.
The owner of the home has a one night stand with a movie star up from LA. She thinks he’ll leave his wife for her and she ends up going after him in LA and the attempt is a disaster.
The other women of the household are all having romance problems too. Only one of the women is a Christian and she does evidence some concern about the morality of the others at times.
This novel must be for a younger generation who sees one night stands as rather inconvenient and probably leading nowhere. My generation (60+) is different. I am appalled that the immorality does not bother the one Christian in residence. Yes, she is to love her roommate but still…
This book bothers me. It treats immorality as nothing too devastating.
In the end, there are some redeeming factors. Some of the nonChristian characters might actually come to look to God. But no mention of Jesus. And the novel ends on Christmas Day.
This is the second in this Bloomberg Place series. I read it for a book group. I don’t plan to read any others in the series.
Let Them Eat Fruitcake, David C. Cook, 302 pages.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Jesus Machine by Dan Gilgoff

Gilgoff's book came out in 2007 so is not up to date but I wanted to read another account of the political influence of the religious right after having read Blumenthal's Republican Gomorrah (see my earlier review). Gilgoff comes off critical of James Dobson and his influence on the religious right and its interaction with politics, but it is mild compared to Blumenthal.
Gilgoff takes the reader through Dobson's rise in popularity and how it was used to sway politicians and their votes on legislation. He shows how religion became a central issue in the presidential elections of 2000 and 2004. He also reveals how the Democrats were correcting their image and, in fact, made some elective inroads in the 2006 election.
Gilgoff notes that Dobson's social agenda was narrow: same sex marriage, abortion, and the removal of religion from the public square. Dobson used his influence to keep Christians from being involved in "Creation Care" and has been noticeably absent when it comes to issues of human rights.
With Dobson leaving the scene, it is hard to imagine another person with as much influence and control over the Right's political agenda as Dobson had. Gilgoff does speculate that in Dobson's absence the Christian Right may find itself awakened to a more humanitarian agenda. What a thought.

St. Martin's Press, 282 pages.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Speechless by Matt Latimer

Latimer was the senior speech writer for Secretary Rumsfeld and then a speech writer for President Bush from March 2007 to October 2008.
Working in the White House was his dream job. By the end, however, it was more of a nightmare.
I had no real concept of the speech writing process for presidential speeches. What a disappointment! It is not the president who comes up with all those great sounding lines but someone hired to do so.
Perhaps the most interesting part of the book (for me) was Latimer's record of the events of summer and fall 2008. When Bush was ready to make the initial speech about the bailout, a staff member said, "The president is misunderstanding this proposal..." Latimer comments, "The real problem wasn't that the president didn't understand what his administration wanted to do. It was that the treasury secretary didn't seem to know, changed his mind, had misled the president, or some combination of the three." (Page 260) As Bush practiced his speech, Latimer says, "...the president was clearly confused about how the government would buy these securities." (Page 260)
In the late summer months of 2008 Latimer says he faced "some hard truths about the party and movement I loved..." His conclusion, "It was all about being close to power for the sake of power." (Page 276)
Latimer's story is disturbing. Bickering and jealousy among Republicans. Inept leaders. Is this what our politics has come to?

Crown Publishers, 280 pages.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

White Picket Fences by Susan Meissner

This book gets off to a confusing start. There is a great deal of background information that is necessary to ultimately understand the story line. This information is inserted from time to time as the characters are attending a funeral. I found the insertions intrusive and not adding to the flow of the story. There must be a better way to get this book through to the story line.
Once you make it through the first twenty pages or so, the book is much better. The story then flows relatively well.
There are many social issues dealt with in this book – too many, I think. The holocaust is a major theme with a great deal of background material needed to see its relationship to the descendants’ current family situation.
Another theme concerns a deadly fire from which one of the characters was rescued when he was four. Now he is a teen and is trying to deal with the memories and the possibility of his responsibility in the origin of the fire. Woven into this theme are the father of the family who does not want to discuss the past event and the mother who does.
Mixed in with the family situation is marital strife between the husband and wife. He spends every spare hour with his hobby and she is tempted to form a relationship with a fellow teacher.
And then, to add another theme, there is the niece of the wife who comes to live with the family. Her dad is off in Europe and she was left with her grandma who then died a few days later (hence the opening funeral). Her dad’s quest in Europe has to do with the holocaust and possible valuable but hidden heirlooms.
While some of the themes intertwine, there are just too many of them. I would have rather had one theme dealt with in detail.
I did find the book an interesting read and did learn about Warsaw during WW II. To do the entire story line justice, however, there should have been as much
time and effort given to the other themes as well.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook
Multnomah Publishing Group. I'll pass it along to you if you are the first to comment on this blog.
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Friday, November 6, 2009

You Were Born for This by Bruce Wilkinson

Wilkinson thinks nearly all people have had an experience when they feel they have been touched by God. He calls this a miracle. He says such experiences need not be rare. "The truth is, you were born to live a supernatural life doing God's work by God's power." The aim of Wilkinson's book is to show the reader how to participate with God in experiencing daily miracles.
Wilkinson argues that doing good deeds will not be enough to meet the desperate needs of our time. Christians need to reclaim the miraculous as a normal way of life. God wants to use Christians in an everyday cooperation with the Holy Spirit.
If you love lists or how-tos, you'll love this book. If you have ever asked, "Can someone show me the steps to be used by God?", this is the book for you. There are four keys to a life of miracles, five signals that guide a miracle delivery, and more.
After you've read this book, you'll have no excuse. You will know how to place yourself in a position to receive the nudges from God that lead to a life of being used by Him.

Multnomah Books, 9781601421821, 221 pages.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Green by Ted Dekker

It is 2,000 years in the future. Thomas and the Circle serve Elyon and await his return. They have drowned in the healing red waters and are cleansed of the disease that visibly marks the evil Horde. The way of Elyon is to love the enemy but the son of Thomas wants to wage war as Elyon has been silent for so long. Thomas comes back to the present to change the course of the other world. There is evil in this world that will definitely affect that future.
The essentials of history are being replayed in that future world. Everything spiritual here has become physical there. Blood and the Books of History form a bridge between the two worlds.
This fourth book in the series by Dekker completes a circle. This book can be read after Black, Red, and White (as I did), or read first, with the others following. Nonetheless, Green has many references to the events in the previous books. The background information generally comes in the form of characters musing.
I can’t help but think that to read Green as the first in this series would be very confusing. There were times when I was confused and I’ve read the others. I would suggest beginning with Black.
Green makes a smashing finish to The Circle Series.
This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Limelight by Melody Carlson

The story line is somewhat familiar. The older woman has had a pampered life with cooks and maids and plenty of money. But now her famous husband has died and the Beverly Hills home has been sold for unpaid taxes. All she has left is a few household possessions and a bungalow she inherited from her mother. And the bungalow is in the hometown she was so anxious to leave.
Claudette’s gay stepson flies in to help her move. He arranges a great deal with movers and painters but then returns to Hawaii and his partner. Can Claudette survive? She doesn’t know how to shop, how to clean house, or how to do laundry. She has never had to live on a budget. She doesn’t even know how to be a decent neighbor. She certainly doesn’t want to accept help from anyone, especially her sister. Nonetheless, kind and helpful people, many of whom are Christians, intrude in her life with humorous results.
As Claudette faces her own needs she must also face secrets from her childhood.
Carlson’s book gets off to a slow start. The real action does not get going until Claudette is left to herself and tries to make a go of it, about page 200. But from then on, the action is quick and the laughs frequent. If you persevere through the slow beginning the story is well worth reading. I would recommend it to elderly female readers. There is a reader’s guide at the end of the book which would make it suitable for reading group.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Leaving Carolina by Tamara Leigh

What a fun book. I smiled. I laughed. I liked this book. I've read two others by Leigh and I think this is her best.
Piper Pickwick left her home town of Pickwick twelve years ago amidst questionable circumstances. She'd like to leave her hometown in the past even changing her name to Piper Wick. But she must go back to keep her elderly uncle from revealing all the skeletons in the family closet.
From the moment of her arrival, things go wrong. A handsome man, crazy relatives, and an obstinate uncle maker her life a comedy of errors. As Piper faces her past she must decide whether she will come clean in the present. She's a high power PR person back in LA. Certainly she can control this situation...or can she?
There's great humor and just enough romance to make this book fun. A reader's guide at the end of the book makes this a good choice for reading groups. I look forward to the next one in the series.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.

Monday, November 2, 2009

What Matters Most by Melody Carlson

Maya is sixteen years old. Her dad is a musician who left years ago and gave up all parental rights. Her mom is an addict who has been in jail. Maya lives with her uncle and has been doing well, active in school and the church youth group. She even has part time jobs so she can support herself.
Maya is working toward emancipation when her mother is released from prison. Her mother seems to want to reconnect with Maya. Is it just for money? Should Maya stay and work out a relationship with her mother or should she go on tour with a girl's band? Maya is a pretty new Christian. How is she going to deal with these issues?
Maya writes a "green" article for a newspaper and the author has added green tips at the end of each chapter in the book. A reader's guide is included which would make this book great for a teen reading group.
What Matters Most is book three in the Maya series of a Diary of a Teenage Girl. If the story line sounds interesting, I would suggest starting with the first title in the Maya series, A Not-so-simple Life.
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Sunday, November 1, 2009

God's Battalions by Rodney Stark

The recent thinking about the Crusades is that Christendom wanted to expand, was imperialistic and "brutalized, looted, and colonized tolerant and peaceful Islam." (P. 20)
No so, says Stark. The Crusades arose as a result of centuries of Islamic provocations. There had been bloody Islamic attempts to colonize the West and there had been new attacks on Christian pilgrims and holy places.
Stark argues that family heads spent much more than could ever hope to be gained in the effort. The crusader kingdoms established in the Holy Land required subsidies from Europe and were not sources of revenue.
In opposition to what some would have us believe, Stark says the Muslims have not been harboring resentment about the Crusades for centuries. Such feelings did not arise until around 1900 as a reaction to the decline of the Ottoman Empire and the beginning of actual European colonialism in the Middle East.
Stark reviews history beginning with the seventh century and the rise of Islam. He reminds his readers of the many massacres of Jews and Christians at the hands of Muslims. His conclusion, "...efforts to portray Muslims as enlightened supporters of multiculturalism are at best ignorant." (P. 29)
Start does not claim that the Crusaders were pure and selfless. Pope Urban's call for a Crusade included the proposal "that participating in the Crusade was the moral equivalent of serving in a monastic order... Certainly salvation would be gained by those who took part." (P. 107) Thus a knight could keep his violent lifestyle yet obtain God's grace.
This is not a politically correct book. Stark uses many sources, however, as he builds his case. His argument should certainly be received as worthy of study.