Friday, December 31, 2010

Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Dummies by Branch & Wilson

Since college I have been interested in reading popular psychology and self-help. Research evidence shows that an effective therapy is CBT. It is a problem-solving approach that allows you to develop skills and enables you to ultimately become your own therapist. CBT focuses on the present. While it may use past experiences to understand current ways of behaving, the focus is on current problems and the ways in which your thinking and acting perpetuate your problems.

The central concept is that you feel the way you think. You can change the way you feel by changing the way you think. The authors help you identify errors in thinking and help you establish a plan to change your thinking. Forms are provided on which you can record your trigger events, your emotions and your thoughts. This helps you to see if your thoughts accurately represent reality. There is a strategy to help you train your mind to think in a healthy manner that allows you to have fewer problems. You are taught how to concentrate and focus. Some common problems such as depression, fear, and anxiety are dealt with specifically.
CBT is goal oriented. You are asked to establish goals and then determine how your thinking relates to them. Recording your progress is encouraged and the long range benefits of healthy thinking are revealed.
While not “Christian,” CBT is based on a principle that parallels Proverbs 23:7 (KJV). CBT also gives you great tools to obey Rom. 12:2, renewing the mind, and 2 Cor. 10:3-4, abolishing strongholds. The strategy the authors outline could be easily and effectively applied to spiritual growth for Christians.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

A Year with God, eds., Foster and Roller

I had been reading about the spiritual disciplines and wanted daily encouragement on how to implement them so turned to this book.  It has been a rewarding read.  Subtitled Living Out the Spiritual Disciplines, it goes through many disciplines providing meditations and practices.  Scripture are given, identifying the biblical mandate for the discipline, and then practical suggestions for living out the practice follow.  Many of the disciplines are well known (prayer, solitude, fasting, etc.) but some took me by surprise (such as celebration).
I plan to read this one again in 2011 and perhaps in years following, wanting these disciplines to be a part of my daily spiritual life.
You can find out more about Renovare, from which this material comes, at
HarperCollins Publishers, 402 pages.

Publisher information: 

One Year with Jesus, eds., Galvin, Chaffee and Veerman

I wanted to go through the life of Christ in 2010 and this book provided a convenient way to do so.  The Scripture readings are from the NLT and chronologically follow through the gospels.
I found the comments lacking in depth.  They might be appropriate for a very new Christian.  There were many comments that were evangelistic in style so this may be a book you could give to a nonbeliever who is willing to look at the life of Christ.
I plan to read through this devotional again in 2011, not for the comments but to keep myself always reading in the gospels.
Tyndale House Publishers, 336 pages.

Publisher information: 

Monday, December 27, 2010

John by R. C. Sproul

Sproul is currently minister of preaching and teaching at St. Andrew's in Sandord, Florida.  This volume is part of the Expositional Commentary series from Sproul's preaching.  As a result, this is not a scholarly nor exhaustive commentary on the gospel.  Some texts are dealt with considerably while others are nearly glossed over.  While the book is over 400 pages long, about a quarter of those consist of the biblical passages being written at the beginning of each chapter and then parts of the passage being again written before Sproul's comments.
This commentary would be suitable for devotional reading but don't expect each passage to be covered with equal intensity.

Reformation Trust Publishing, 407 pages.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Nightshade by Ronie Kendig

A special operations group is formed in secret.  It consists of military veterans and is tasked with covertly rescuing people from evil warlords and rebels. 
Max, an ex-navy sea and suffering from PTSD, becomes part of the group.  His is estranged from his pregnant wife, Sydney, who has withdrawn from him because of his angry outbursts.  Sydney is a reporter and tries to uncover the secret task force, not aware that her husband leads the group.
This is the first in the "Discarded Hero" series by Kendig.  It has lots of action, interesting places, and relationships needing God's healing power. 
Kendig is a decent writer even though she has some quirky writing habits.  I found her descriptions of jungle scenes lacking and hard to picture.  I was bothered by her use of "hustle" or a form of it (six times in this novel), and would black-op forces really "scurry"? 
In the end, a pretty good novel with well portrayed Christians struggling with trusting God in their adverse circumstances.

Barbour Publishing, 367 pages.

Publisher information:,7952.aspx?Tab=Books

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Truth Dare by Laura Greiner

Greiner yearned for a deeper faith and found that experiencing God's stories was a way to inch forward. A self described story teller, she shares the stories of people who have taken God at His word in spite of their circumstances, questions, feelings and fears.

A dying six year old reaches out his arms to Jesus, an elderly woman has divine encounters when she has to change her flights, a woman's healed feelings of guilt after an argument with her sister who is then abducted and disappears, believing God is good when a young mother is taken by cancer, a woman with ALS dying well, and a woman worshiping God in her darkest hour are some of the stories told. She has learned how to wait on God in prayer when there is no quick answer.
At the end of every chapter are questions and thoughts for reflection and space for journaling. The author frequently includes Scripture that relates to the story and reinforces the truth being taught in the chapter in this section.
This would be a great study for a woman's group. The stories would provide good material for discussion.

Kregel Publications, 144 pages.

Publisher information:

This book was provided for review by Kregel Publications.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

The Charlatan's Boy by Jonathan Rogers

This is a novel suggested for young adults and while I am not one, I do enjoy reading them to see what the publishers are providing for our young people.  I found this book disappointing.
The action takes place on an island of the geography and culture of the U. S. southern states.  The time is about 150 years ago, when there were still cow rustlers and wagons as transport.  The main character is a young orphan, found by a traveling charlatan, and put to work in the charlatan's scams. 
After a suitable beginning, the action becomes very slow and very repetitive.  I just cannot see a young person slogging through to the very end.  At the end the action resumes, but, then it is the end of the book!
I didn't like the language as the characters speak in "cowboy" talk ("perfesser" for professor, "naw," "reckon").  The non-dialogue parts of the book are written in the youth's voice ("we seen," "Floyd and me,"), which I didn't like either.  I just cannot see an intelligent young person liking this book. 
The book does not have a Christian theme to it.  In fact, it is almost the opposite, with so much of the story based on deception.
In a sense, the exciting end of the book justifies the novel's existence.  But it was a long way getting there!

WaterBrook Press, 305 pages.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Watch Over Me by Christa Parrish

ECPA's 2010 Book Award winner for fiction is Watch Over Me.  A abandoned newborn is taken in by the deputy who rescued her.  But the deputy and his wife have a troubled marriage.  She has an eating disorder and he suffers from the effects of a devastating military tour.  Throw into the mix an abused teen, deaf, and needing a kidney transplant from his estranged father. 
Will caring for the infant provide healing for the deputy and his wife or will it only stir up more issues?  How will the teen face the deputy when he finally figures out who the infant's parents are?  How can he tell the truth a tear the baby away from the couple he has learned to value? 
This is a good novel about relationships and how they can be healed by God.  Parrish is honest in her portrayal of Christians struggling with what God has allowed in their lives.  She is realistic in her portrayal of the Christian community with some being full of compassion while others are judgmental.
While a satisfying novel, I am not so sure I would put it at the level of the best Christian fiction of the year.

Bethany House, 349 pages.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Two Tickets to the Christmas Ball by Donita K Paul

An odd bookstore on an odd street and when you buy an odd book there, you receive a ticket to an odd Christmas Ball. Such is the beginning of a sweet romance. He is a serious boss at the office. She is one of many underlings working in the same office. He is a committed Christian and has his pastor as his best friend. She grew up in a totally dysfunctional family and is still trying to understand the faith she found later in life.

As the romance between the two begins to blossom, her weird sister enters the scene. Is the sister beyond even God's redeeming reach?
This book could appear on Christian bookshelves only after the Harry Potter phenomenon. The ball is a wizard's Christmas ball. (The characters point out that a wizard is just a wise person, not like a witch or anything evil.) A couple of the characters have an “easy discussion of God mixed with talk of fairies.”
Donita Paul walks a fine line in presenting a romance with a hint of magic. While I thought it all good, clean “magic,” some may be offended by it.
I enjoyed the writing style, the good dialogue, and the quirky characters. It was almost like reading a fairy tale – where the characters were Christians.

WaterBrook Press, 226 pages.  Publisher product information:

This book was provided for review by WaterBrook Press.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson

Some Christians have a prayer life that is one of close communion with God. Fixed hour prayer, or the daily office, is for the rest of us. It has sustained the life of the faithful and been a means of closer communion with God for centuries.

This ancient spiritual practice may be foreign to many so Benson notes its history. The idea of the daily office comes from Psalm 119: “Seven times a day I will rise to praise your name.” The first written form of the daily office dates to four thousand years before Christ.
Benson covers many of the obstacles one may encounter when beginning this discipline. He helps us get over the idea that the daily office is too “Catholic” for Protestants. He gives suggestions as to how to keep at the practice, day after day, and what to do when prayers are missed. He quotes Saint Benedict, “Always we begin again.”
Benson's book is a great encouragement to one who has had difficulty with prayer. Even though I may never be a great prayer warrior, I can be obedient to the daily discipline of prayer and follow the practice as have centuries of believers.
While Benson suggests resources (one of which is of his own creation), he fails to give any online sites with the daily office, of which I have found a few.
Benson's style is open, honest and light hearted. I get the impression that if someone as crazy as he is can do the daily office, so can I.
This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson.

Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow

I always have a biography by my chair and for the last two months it has been this one on Hamilton. Chernow has done an excellent job of giving a detailed yet very readable biographical account, from the illegitimate birth to the place of political power and his tragic death.

I was impressed with Chernow's honest account of all the Founding Fathers. I realize now that biographies I had read about Jefferson and Washington, for example, had ignored some of their personal defects.
It was interesting to read of the political intrigue that took place in those early years of the U. S. In that respect, politics has not changed.
Penguin Books, 731 pages.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards

On a snowy night, Dr. Henry must deliver his wife's baby himself as his associate is stuck in a snow drift.  The first twin is a healthy boy but the second child is a girl with an obviously flattened face, the mark of Down Syndrome.  He asks the attending nurse to secretly take the baby girl away to a home for just such children.  He tells his wife the baby girl died.  The nurse cannot bear to place the baby in such an unsuitable environment and keeps her, making her way in another city. 
The novel investigates the various relationships that result: between the husband with a secret and his wife, the surviving son and his parents, the nurse and her "adopted" daughter, and more.
This is a book made for reading groups and discussion about relationships. 
My only criticism is that the book seemed disjointed to me.  There would be scenes in the characters' lives, rather ordinary daily events,and  then years of inconsequential life, I suppose, until the next scene.  I felt like I missed so much of their lives.  But a novel can be only so long and this one covers some 25 years.
I read this book for the local library reading group.

Penguin, 401 pages, with discussion guide.

Dead Reckoning by Ronie Kendig

Terrorism and intrigue mark this novel set in India and the Middle East.  Shiloh blames her mother's death on her father's career as a spy.  She has committed her life to one of ocean diving.  Off the coast of India, however, her team of divers is attacked and she becomes involved in the very kind of espionage for which she hates her father.  Enter a handsome U. S. spy and the sparks of romance fly, in and through outwitting those bent on terror.  Not a bad debut novel.  I plan to read more from Kendig.
This was a free download for the Kindle (no longer so).  It was a good read but took a little longer than usual for this size novel as I am still getting used to e-reading.

Abingdon Press, 400 pages.

Publisher information:

Monday, December 13, 2010

The Topkapi Secret by Terry Kelhawk

The plot sounded so good. A group of Koran scholars are attempting to prove variations in the texts that would destroy Muslim belief in the book's perfection. As one character observes, “If what you say is true, how can we believe in the Koran or Mohammed?” (339)

And the first half of the book is pretty good. It is well written and contains lots of action.
About halfway through the book, however, the writing deteriorates. Character dialogue is used communicate (the author's) political opinions about the war in Iraq (see page 209). Scenes with heightened suspense are interrupted with paragraphs of descriptions and other commentary, as if the characters were sightseeing rather than running for their lives.
While the action is taking place in Arab countries the descriptions are sometimes so American: “Mohammed crashed in his room but couldn't sleep.” (223), “Hamzeh wanted to cut Mohammed off at the pass, if possible.” (386, in a Morocco city setting).
Sometimes the writing is just corny (the main characters see something “shocking,” the author says, as they watch a man electrocuted, p. 326).
The redeeming aspect of the novel is that one does learn a great deal about the Koran, its origin and possible problems with its validity. A very good synopsis of the issues are reviewed, almost lecture style, by one of the characters on pages 333-337. Unfortunately, the information comes at a cost to the novel's construction and flow: “First, let's review the basics,” a character suggests. (329)
It you can put up with uneven writing, corny dialogue, and paragraphs of the author's political commentary and sightseeing descriptions in the midst of intense action, you will learn much about the Koran and the Muslim faith. An effective editor could have eliminated the novel's pesky defects. Then it would have been a page turner.
The author has done her research but the question she posed in the novel is still unanswered. A postscript notes that the texts are still under study.

Prometheus Books, 402 pages.

This book was provided for review by Glass Road Public Relations.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

It's Your Call by Gary Barkalow

Do you know the particular purpose of your life? Do you know who you are, what really gives you fulfillment and your life meaning?

You are more than you have imagined. “You know you're created to be something, to do something, to contribute something, but it's so hard to figure out what that something is.”
It is hard to find purpose or place in this world. Barkalow suggests the key is finding your calling (a weighty purpose in life). This book helps you travel that path leading to knowing what you are doing here.
Barkalow understands that God's calling involves mystery. “Mystery is an invitation to intimacy with God.” You must continue to ask, seek, and knock to find the deep things of God.
Finding your calling is a journey. Although the calling is within you (it relates to the essence of who you are), it must be developed. This journey of development and discovery is “the overlooked but crucial truth...that we will have to fight for every square inch of our calling.” Barkalow gives a strategy to succeed in the battle.
Your calling is related to your deepest desire. The author says, “The realization of your calling is the fulfillment of your truest desires.” Not every desire is good, however, and part of the journey is the maturity and experience required to identify the desires God has placed in your hearts. Knowing and living your calling will not come as an epiphany but through a long process of trying and finding. Barkalow quotes Publilius Syrus: “It takes a long time to bring excellence to maturity.” In the end you will find, “You were created to do what you most want to do.”
How are we to know when you are living in your calling? “When the world experiences the effect of our lives, then we are walking in our calling.” It will be said you, as it was of David (Acts 13:36), that you served the purposes of God in your generation.
While the concept of calling is rather personal, this would be a great book for a discipleship study. Unfortunately, there are no study nor discussion questions included in the book.

David C Cook, 197 pages.

This book was provided for review by The B & B Media Group, Inc.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

A Place for Truth, Edited by Dallas Willard

The popular opinion today is that truth is relative. It depends upon the interpretation, the perspective. Not so, Os Guinness argues. Truth is fundamental, “without which we cannot negotiate reality and handle life.” (40)

Harvard's motto, Veritas (truth), inspired a group of Christians to host a weekend of lectures and discussions at the university exploring life's most important questions. In the two decades since that first forum more than a hundred universities have hosted their own forums.
This book presents a sampling of the best of the Veritas Forums over the years. Included are “the most lasting questions and the most compelling responses.” There are questions about truth itself and about particular truths, such as the existence of God (of the Judeo-Christian variety).
Timothy Keller explores why so many people believe in God when evolutionists explained Him away, when dictators outlawed belief in Him and atheists argue for His nonexistence. (His methodical, logical dissection of their views alone makes the book valuable.) Francis Collins (human genome project) reminds us the study of nature is not all there is. McGrath and Hefland agree in their dialogue that they “don't believe it's possible for science to prove anything.” (115) Hugh Ross speaks about the reliability of the Bible (especially compared to other sacred texts). Singer and Hare discuss whether there is morality, right and wrong, without God.
Several other issues are discussed, such as whether robots will ever be human, whether there can be true human rights without religion, Mother Teresa and finding your Calcutta, and one sided Christianity (evangelism or social justice).
This book encouraged me.  Being a Christian does not mean you have thrown your intellect aside as current atheist authors would have us believe.  This work is a refreshing defense of the validity of Christianity from intelligent individuals in a university setting and would be great reading for every student.  
Find out more about the Veritas Forum at  

Intervarsity Press, 317 pages.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Drops Like Stars by Rob Bell

Bell is noted for his visual productions (live talks and DVDs). This book, I think, is an attempt to produce on paper what one would experience listening to Bell in person on his Drops Like Stars speaking tour.

Bell covers the topic of suffering, how it shapes us and how we can respond. Suffering disrupts our lives. Life is no longer what it used to be. Pain makes us honest. Suffering takes from us but can also reveal the beautiful within us. Pain causes us to share with others. We take possession of the pain, knowing it will shape us.
I think I would have rather seen him present this material than read it in a book. For me, it just didn't work. I'm old school: a page is meant for text, not one or two words with lots of colorful space. This book was an experiment, I think. It would be very meaningful for someone who had heard Bell give the talk but lacks impact just being read cold.
Zondervan, 128 frequently nearly empty pages.

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Saturday, December 4, 2010

Flight of Shadows by Sigmund Brouwer

Flight of Shadows is the sequel to Broken Angel (although it nowhere says it on the cover). The prequel dealt with an enclosed religious theocracy ruled by extremists. This sequel deals with life on the outside as people manage to escape .

The time is the future when genetic experimentation has progressed to the point of combining the DNA of two species. While much of the research was destroyed, one young woman has survived.
Caitlyn has wings and can fly. Her blood has extraordinary healing powers. She is being tracked by a ruthless bounty hunter. She is being pursued by government officials. She is being hunted by a twisted scientist who wants her DNA.
Add to this a couple of escapee misfits who want to help Caitlyn survive. Throw in a young man who is fast, sharp and dangerous. He has survived so far and is willing to help Caitlyn.
Brouwer has created a potential world of the future where genetic engineering has gone far beyond what is safe. The Water War has changed the political landscape of America. Cities are walled and checkpoints guard those inside. Descendents of illegals do menial work while others live in luxury.
This novel contains much violence. The bounty hunter is ruthless and loves to inflict pain.  There are other evil people Caitlyn and her friends must survive. 
There are plenty of twists in the plot so that my interest was held until the surprising end.
Don't look for much Christianity in this book.  There are some general references to it but none of the characters is a Christian (as far as I could tell).
While this is a sequel to Broken Angel there is enough information given through the story that one who has not read the previous book will not be totally lost.

WaterBrook Press, 305 pages.

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This book was provided for review by WaterBrook Press.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Flight Plan by Lee Burns and Braxton Brady

Boys embark on a mission – the mission to become men. Flight Plan was written to help boys navigate that difficult journey.

Burns and Brady are chaplain and headmaster (respectively) of a Presbyterian boys day school with over 630 students. They know that boys are sometimes left to navigate the transition from boyhood to manhood on their own. They had developed a curriculum for their school and from many requests have penned this book.
This flight plan is primarily for boys to read right before entering adolescence (around 12 years old) and then again in their mid teens. Parents (or mentors) are encouraged to read the book alongside the boys for an ongoing dialogue about the journey to manhood.
The Bible is the foundation for finding out what God says about being the man He desires. Additional insights have come from various professionals and interviews of teenagers and parents. The book has a definite Christian worldview, helping boys deepen their relationship with God as they mature.
The example of flight is used throughout the book – pilot preparation, making a flight plan, staying on course, finding your wing man, etc.
The authors identify the myths of manhood we frequently see in modern culture and highlight the virtues needed to be a godly man. They cover peer pressure and potential crashes (such as alcohol, drugs, and sex).
Our society gives a message different from the Bible as to what it means to be a real man. I think this book is necessary reading for every boy to understand who God wants him to be. The questions at the end of every chapter are great for discussion with parents or other adult.

You can find out more about this book and order it at

PDS Publishing, 194 pages, $14.99.

This book was provided for review by The B & B Media Group, Inc.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Coming Back Stronger by Drew Brees and Chris Fabry

Brees is the quarterback who led the New Orleans Saints to the Super Bowl championship in Feb of 2010. He was also named the MVP.

Brees earned that honor by hard work and commitment. He had been a successful quarterback in high school until he tore his ACL. It was a defining moment as he decided to come back and come back stronger.
He was a second round draft choice with the San Diego Chargers. He faced adversity and suffered being benched. During a New Year's Eve game in 2003, Brees fumbled and grabbed for the ball. He dislocated his shoulder and an MRI showed that basically everything that held his shoulder together was shredded. He knew that might mean the end of his NFL career.
A lesson he learned during that dark period of his injury and rehab was, “if God leads you to it, he will lead you through it. Everything happens for a reason, and everything is part of his master plan. If you let adversity do its work in you, it will make you stronger.” (90)
While recovering he signed with the New Orleans Saints. The history of that franchise had not been pretty. While the city had hosted seven Super Bowls in twenty-one years, the team had never been close to being in one.
The 2007 and 2008 seasons were tough but Brees kept working harder. Then came the magic of the 2009 season and the Super Bowl win.
The authors have done a great job weaving football into and through Brees' personal life. We read about crucial plays along with Brees' strained relationship with his mother. We read about the excitement on the football field along with his commitment to his marriage. Brees is a Christian and well understands the challenge of being a Christian athlete on and off the field.
Brees' goal in writing this book was not to get the reader excited about the Saints. He knows his readers will face challenges. He wants us to remember, “adversity is not your enemy. It can unleash a power in your life that will make you stronger and help you achieve amazing things...” (300)
You don't have to be a football fan to appreciate this book. It is a well written account of one man facing adversity and coming back stronger. What an inspiration!

This book was provided for review by Tyndale House Publishers.

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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christmas Odyssey by Anne Perry

Anne Perry write mysteries taking place in nineteenth century London.  I have read all of her Thomas and Charlotte Pitt series and am working my way through her Monk novels.  For the last several years Perry has come out with a Christmas novella centering on one of the minor characters in her series.
The novella for this season is the darkest one she has written.  Granted, since she is a mystery writer, one expects a murder or two in the story.  In this novel, however, one travels to the very depths of the dark part of London to opium dens and prostitution houses.  Most of the novel centers there with only a bit of light at the end. 
Maybe I want Christmas to be all goodness and light and not about a father's request to find his son lost in the dark underground of London.  Maybe I don't want to be reminded that it took a friend and a small band of misfits to find the son and offer him freedom from his bondage.  This story was a good reminder that Christmas is not just tinsel and trees but really is about rescuing the lost trapped in their own desires for pleasure.

Ballantine Books, 194 pages.

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Monday, November 29, 2010

Her Daughter's Dream by Francine Rivers

This is the second half of the somewhat biographical story Rivers has written about her family, begun in Her Mother's Hope.  The strained mother daughter relationships continue down to the next generations.  The misunderstandings and hurt fester as sins and life-changing events are not shared openly.  It is not until the last daughter takes a drastic chance does reconciliation come to her mother and grandmother.
Rivers is a great writer and the story captured my interest.  As with any epic tale covering several generations, there are times when conversations are detailed while at other times years go by without even a mention.  I found that a little disturbing in this novel as it seemed to me that some of the detail recorded was not nearly as important as some of the events that were just noted as having happened.
The events in this book are within my generation so I did not learn as much about past times and different places, as I did in the first book.  I know one theme Rivers works in her novels is each generation repeating the sins of the previous one.  I got a little tired of that happening in this book. 
Nonetheless, it is a good read.  For those who like to curl up with a good book for a few days, at nearly 600 pages, this will do fine.

Tyndale House Publishers, 564 pages.

Publisher's information:'s-Dream/9781414334097

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Under the Cajun Moon by Mindy Starns Clark

I like the way Clark writes.  I consistently read her books because her characters are real Christians.  They struggle and have doubts while they are in troubling life situations.
I also like her writing because the reader learns something about the people of the area or its history.  This novel takes place in Cajun country and you end up learning quite a bit about their history, character and customs and well as some about the early history of New Orleans. 
I also like her books because they are just good mysteries.  This one involves the early efforts of the French to get people to settle in this relatively unknown territory in the new world through deception involving gold statues.  The current story is woven through the older one.  The two stories collide in danger and intrigue .  And then there is also the hint of romance.  Just enough to make it interesting but not too much so that it dominates the mystery.

Harvest House Publishers, 332 pages.

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Saturday, November 27, 2010

What Good is God? by Philip Yancey

Regardless of how Yancey begins his book, this is not a book you would give a nonbeliever to encourage him to understand that belief in God is a good thing for society.  (There are other books that do a much better job in that area.)
Yancey's book contains stories of his travels and the texts of talks he has recently given.  "I go in search of faith that matters," he says in his afterthoughts.  (284)  While he does give some great examples of faith that is making a difference, he also gives many glaring failures.  "Admittedly," he writes, "the church has at times contributed more to the problem than to the my writing I bend over backwards to acknowledge rather than deny the historical flaws of the broader church."  (284)
Atheists don't need any more reminders of how the church and Christians have failed to live out the gospel! 
I think Yancey truly wants to encourage Christians to live out their faith.  He concludes that God has called us (believers) "to demonstrate a faith that matters to a watching world."  (287)  There are books that do a much better job at that, however.  The Hole in Our Gospel (Richard Stearns) and Radical (David Platt) are two that come to mind.
Perhaps Yancey should have titled his book, "What good are Christians today?"  And I would have to answer, based on Yancey's book, not much.  While he does give some great examples of Christians living out the gospel he also reminds his readers of so many failures to do so (his Bible college experience, apartheid, the civil rights movement).  He even asks the quesion he admits atheists must delight in, "...for what will the church be apologizing 150 years from now?"  (177)
I puzzle as to why Yancey wrote this book.  I've like his earlier books.  But the message this book conveys is certainly mixed.  I'd skip it.  If the title suggests to you that you give it to someone, please read it first!  You may very well change your mind.

FaithWords (Hachette Book Group), 287 pages.

Publisher's information: 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

City of Tranquil Light by Bo Caldwell

When China became open again to visitors from the West, we were glad to hear that the church had survived the severe communist years. But we may have forgotten the sacrifice that many early missionaries made establishing the church in China.
Bo Caldwell has given us a tender novel about her maternal grandparents, missionaries who went to China in 1909. As young Mennonites, Will and Katherine independently realized God had called them to China missions.
After being on the mission field for a time, they discovered their love for each other and married. They ventured three day's journey from their home base to establish a new mission compound. Ministering to people who were suspicious of them, they began to see converts and make trusted friends. They survived the emotionally painful death of their infant daughter, the turbulent time of rebellion against the Manchu regime and the rise of Sun Yat-sen. They provided medical help and encouraged hygiene and prompted their women converts to not wrap their daughter's feet.
Six years after they had arrived in the village they had fifty six members in their congregation. They were plagued by bandits and suffered illness. Yet they persevered.
The 1930s saw the rise of communism and it became evident that there was increasing hostility toward foreigners. Where their presence had at one time provided protection for the city, now they realized they must leave to keep their friends from harm.
They gave up their dream to live the rest of their lives in China and returned to the U. S. after 27 years in China. The culture shock upon their return was much greater than when they had gone to China.  And their adventure was not over as more trials awaited them in their latter years.

Caldwell has written a wonderful novel. I highly recommend it to anyone who would like to know what missionaries endured to establish the gospel in China a century ago.

Henry Holt & Co., 304 pages.

For a conversation with the author, go to:

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This book was provided for review by The B & B Media Group.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead

Ley lines provide the way to travel the Neolithic pathways between worlds.  The visible universe occupies only one dimension of our common reality.  There are other dimensions and where these dimensions impinge on one another, lines of intersection form.  Humans can move from one dimension to another along those lines.
Kit, late in meeting his girlfriend, hastens down an old London alley and finds himself transported to a London of generations ago.  His great grandfather encourages Kit to help find the skin map.  This was a map tattooed on the man who had investigated the lines of intersection.  Adventure follows
We find that it is possible to travel into the past and it is possible for someone from the past to travel to this time.  Where we readers live is the Home World and all other worlds and histories are in the past.  No one can travel to the future of this world as it has not happened yet.
In general I am critical of fantasy but I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  The plot and action are well done.  The only miss-step was at the very end where a rescue happens "out of the blue," so to speak.  This series will continue but we have to wait nearly a year for the next installment.

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 400 pages.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Surprised by Worship by Travis Cottrell

Surprises. We love the good ones, like a surprise birthday party with friends. Yet there are surprises no one wants, like the unexpected late night phone call. There is also the anticipated surprise, waiting for the results of the medical test. Travis knows, “God is into surprises. Huge, life-altering surprises.” (30)

Travis is all about worship. He has been the worship leader for Beth Moore for 13 years and is the worship pastor at a Baptist church in Jackson, TN. He shares his insights about God's surprises in this slim book.
We want God as long as He is safe. How do we feel when His unexpected surprises turn our thoughts and theology upside down? Do we still worship Him when facing pain and loss?
Travis writes about a variety of worship issues. What place does feeling have in worship? How can we worship when we are in pain, when we are waiting? Is there form and order to worship? Do our personal preferences about worship prevent us from receiving God's surprises? Can we worship God through the arts? How does worship heal hurts?
Travis says, “...worship rightly entails all of who we are.” (73) “We know God with our minds; we experience Him in our spirits; and we express the joy of His presence through our voices and bodies.” (47) Worship is more than what we do on Sunday morning. “Worship consists of submitting to God and His will in every facet of your life, and then loving and praising Him whatever the outcome.” (131)
Through telling the events of his own life and those of biblical characters, Travis encourages us to long to worship God even when we are in placed we never wanted to be. Travis knows God will meet us there.
This book is not an in depth look at worship. It might be appropriate for a new believer but a seasoned believer will find nothing of significance here.

Zondervan, 158 pages.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Tandem by Tracey Bateman

Vampires in a Christian novel? With the success of the Twilight series of vampire novels, Bateman has given Christians an alternative reading experience.

Tandem is the sequel to her earlier vampire adventure, Thirsty. Bateman has created a world where some vampires give in to the craving for human blood while others take a higher moral road and only hunt animals. Vampires with the differing views clash and it appears for a time that the evil ones will win.
An interesting aspect of this novel is that Bateman addresses the issue of God and redemption. Can a vampire be redeemed? One of the vampires is convinced hunting for blood is morally wrong and the only way to God is to withdraw from doing so. Without the nourishing blood, he dies. It is left to the reader to contemplate his eternal destination.
Bateman's vampire novel, would be an alternative to the Twilight series for older teens. I can see them being discussed in Christian youth groups or teen reading groups. There is plenty of meat in here (no pun intended) for discussion regarding God, redemption and vampires.

Waterbrook Press, 312 pages.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Secrets of Harmony Grove by Mindy Starns Clark

Sienna had made a B & B with the property she inherited in Lancaster County. Now she finds out she is under investigation by the government. Could it involve the B & B and the man she hired to manage it?

So begins Sienna's troubles. She discovers her old boyfriend dead on the B & B property and two employees near death. There are claims of a beast spitting fire. What could possibly be going on?
I like the way Clark writes. Her main characters are Christians and they are so believable. They seem real with the same kinds of spiritual struggles we face. On top of that, Clark is just a good writer. Her plots are well thought out and you always learn something – in this case, about the Amish and WW II.
If you like thoughtful fiction with intelligent characters you'll like anything by Mindy Starns Clark.
Harvest House, 364 pages.

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Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield

Oak Harbor Library book group. Revealing the childhood of a very successful British novelist is so deftly done in this story that I was captured. Vida Winters hires Margaret Lea to listen as the dying weaver of tales recounts her childhood. Lea is to then write a biography of the famous author.

I would not classify this book as a “mystery” yet it was full of mystery. Is Miss Winters telling the truth or merely creating another compelling story? And what of Margaret? How will her own secrets survive the ones she hears?
It has been a while since I have been “lost” in a book. The story is so well written I was drawn into the characters' lives.
Well done, Sno-Isle, to pick such a good book for the library's book group. The book is 400 pages long but you'll be finished before you know it!
You'll be able to find or request this book at any Sno-Isle Library.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Follow by Floyd McClung

“[I]f Jesus is indeed God, then to truly follow Him is to pattern everything in our lives after His Life.” (12) This is the backdrop for McClung's book. He believes that following Jesus, “should invade every area of our lives and transform everything about us.” (12)

McClung is not bullish on the church. “I have written this book, “ he writes, “ with the underlying belief that any hierarchy and all institutionalization of the church lead us directly away from Jesus Himself.” (13) “Most churches are boring!” (186) He questions “the purpose of any form of church that does not call people to radical obedience.” (186) “Church buildings and paid church leaders are the greatest hindrance to the growth of a movement.” (208)
At first his attitude put me off but as I read on, I realized he had a point. The early disciples did not squeeze church in before going fishing or shopping. The gospel was their life. The Christian community was at the center of their life.
McClung found he had inherited a Christian culture that he had mistaken for the teachings and practices of Jesus. “We must study His teachings, look deeply at His example, and ask hard questions of ourselves and others about what it means to follow Jesus.” (15)
This is exactly what McClung does in his book. He looks at three basic truths of followers of Jesus: worship – love Jesus, mission – love the world, and community – love one another.
McClung suggests D-groups (discipleship groups) be formed to empower believers to share their faith. “We teach that a D-group becomes a church when they baptize their own converts and share the Lord's Supper together.” (232) This seems to me to go against his earlier criticism of churches, that they were not, in fact churches unless they met certain criteria. He also says that being connected to a network of small discipleship groups is important. How does that happen unless there is some organization involved (and he does not like “organized” church)?
McClung's “simple church” ideas are simply a bit of a twist on the house church movement. If you do feel called to get out of your comfort zone you can contact his ministry in South Africa. McClung and his wife are permanent residents there as he is convinced a massive discipleship movement that will touch all of Africa and beyond is going to happen there.

This book was provided for review by The B & B Media Group, Inc.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Almost Heaven by Chris Fabry

Free Kindle download.  Billy is sort of an ordinary fellow in West Virginia.  He ends up building a radio station and therein lies the tale.
The first half of the book (200 pages) was slow going.  I had to almost force myself to read it.  The second half, however, really caught my attention.  The story comes together in that second half so don't give up on the book too soon.
There are various issues dealt with in the book: teen molestation and pornography, dealing with hurts and disappointments in life, the meaning of music in one's life, and trusting another person with the deep things of the heart.
There is an angel involved with short chapters from his perspective from time to time.  I think those detract from the book.  The angel's experiences seem to be a little "off" to me.
All in all a pretty good read. 
Tyndale House Publishers, 400 pages. 

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The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking & Leonard Mlodinow

Only science has the answers to the great philosophical questions of life, the authors say. Philosophy is dead, they declare. “Philosophy has not kept up with modern developments in science, particularly physics.” (5) The purpose of their book is to give the answers suggested by recent discoveries and theoretical advances.

Be prepared to be puzzled. Much of the science the authors talk about appears to violate common sense. (7) For two thousand years or so scientific thought followed general observation and intuition. With recent increase in technology, scientific experiments showed phenomena that was not what we observed in everyday life nor followed human intuition (such as particles acting like waves or appearing and disappearing in “empty” space).
To deal with such paradoxes, the authors use what they call “model-dependent realism.” “If two such physical theories or models accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; we are free to use whichever model is most convenient.” (7) We make models in everyday life to interpret and understand our everyday world. The closer the model represents what we observe and the more simple it is, the more highly it is held. “These mental concepts are the only reality we can know. There is no model-independent test of reality.” (172)
Scientists seek the ultimate theory of the universe that would include all forces and predict every observation. While scientists aren't sure one even exists, there is a candidate the authors discuss, called the M-theory (which is actually a whole family of different theories). Each theory in the M-theory is good at describing its area and where the areas overlap, the various theories agree.
The M-theory includes a universe with eleven dimensions. It can also contain vibrating strings, “point particles, two-dimensions membranes, three-dimensional blobs, and other objects that are more difficult to picture...” (118) “The laws of M-theory … allow for different universes with different apparent laws … 10500 different universes...” (118)
According to the M-theory, ours is not the only universe but is one of many created out of nothing. Their creation does not require a supernatural being but arise naturally from physical law. Each universe has many possible histories and many possible states in the future. We see only those universes that are compatible with our existence. (This is an extension of Feynman's “all possible histories” concept from the subatomic level to the universe level.)
The authors break up the serious nature of the subject with humor along the way such as in this explanation of symmetry. “In physics a system is said to have symmetry if its properties are unaffected by a certain transformation such as rotating it in space or taking its mirror image. For example, if you flip a donut over, it looks exactly the same (unless it has a chocolate topping, in which case it is better just to eat it).” (114)
The authors point out that, “the initial state of the universe had to be set up in a very special and highly improbably way.” (135) The properties of the solar system that allow life are “lucky.” (149) They note that the fundamental forces of nature and their interplay had to be just right in order for us to exist. (156) The fundamental constants in the theories are “fine tune,” (160) and the laws of nature are “extremely fine tuned.” (161)
The authors describe this as “serendipity” and “coincidence.” (159, 161) “...[T]he fine-tunings in the laws of nature can be explained by the existence of multiple universes.” (165) Ours is only one universe among many and happens to be the one we inhabit because it is habitable.
The authors suggest we are at a critical point in the history of science. The idea of goals and what makes a physical theory acceptable must be altered. A “self-consistent mathematical theory” is essential.
Since quantum physics is often at odds with our limited human sense observations, scientific theories can also seem to contradict our daily experience. According to M-theory, “Spontaneous creation is the reason there is something rather than nothing, why the universe exists, why we exist.” (180) If the M-theory “is finite – and this has yet to be proved – it will be a model of a universe that creates itself.” (181)
This book is a good overview of current thought in physics. While it is aimed at the lay person, it will be easier to understand if you have had high school physics. The authors use physics terms at times without explanation. And no, you won't understand it all. Even I, with my B.S. In physics from 1970, was puzzled at times. But we are in good company. Richard Feynman once wrote, “I think I can safely say that nobody understands quantum mechanics.” (74)
The authors want to answer the great philosophical question, “Is there a God?” Their answer is that based on their theoretical constructs, one is not needed. But then, the authors note that there is no test for reality outside of the model. According to them, “If two such physical theories or models accurately predict the same events, one cannot be said to be more real than the other; we are free to use whichever model is most convenient.” (7) Then I am free to choose that God exists, and I do!
Publisher information: Bantam, 208 pages.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent

I am a little leery of reported trips to heaven.  The apostle Paul didn't talk about his trip to heaven so why should I pay attention to someone who so freely tells his heavenly trip now?  But what about when the individual is under four years old? 
Colton Burpo had a ruptured appendix that was misdiagnosed.  After another doctor finally figured out what was wrong and operated, Colton had almost died.
Months later Colton began saying odd things about heaven or seeing Jesus.  His parents hesitantly realized Colton had been to heaven.  Not wanting to bias the child's statements, they were very careful to elicit more information.
Colton's father, Todd, is a pastor.  As Colton told more of his experience Todd was amazed to find that it agreed with Scripture time after time.  Many of these biblical truths Colton would have had no way of knowing, except that he had been to heaven and seen sights right out of the book of Revelation.  Colton was recognized by his grandfather who had died years before Colton was born.  He met a sister he never knew he had (a miscarriage before Colton was born).
I was intrigued by Colton's description of Jesus and the painting by another child (reproduced in the book) that Colton said was right on.  Still, Todd Colton admits, "We do not have all the answers-not even close."  (149-50) 
Even if you have been skeptical of near death accounts I would recommend you read this one.  It will build your faith to hear about heaven from this young boy's account.
This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Nelson, #9780849946158, $16.99, 154 pages.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Advent of a Mystery by Marilyn Leach

Berdie was an investigative reporter but now finds herself in a small village in England with her husband who is the new vicar in the parish.  An elderly woman is murdered and Berdie can't help but get involved to solve the mystery.
There are problems with this book, starting at the back cover.  The copy wrongly says a man dies at a Christmas celebration.  It's a woman who dies and she is murdered in her home.  And then there is this strange use of a pronoun after a preposition, "I mean, with he and his boys littered about."  (Page 228, first line.)
Perhaps the most disconcerting problem is the lack if British style.  I read Anne Perry, Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George, etc. and this novel lacks the descriptions so necessary to the style.  The author lives in Colorado and it shows.
The good things about the novel are that the story is pretty good, there is some cute humor, and the print is nice and large for older readers (who would probably appreciate the novel the most).
The novel is over priced at $10.99.

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The Questions Christians Hope No One Will Ask by Mark Mittelberg

This is the best book on Christian apologetics I've read. Challenges to the Christian faith are coming fast and furious. The Bible tells us we are to have a defense for our faith. Mittelberg has given us a great tool to do exactly that.

Christians were asked in a survey which questions about faith would make them most uncomfortable when asked. The top ten responses form the outline for this book.
Some of the questions include those about God's existence, evolution, supposed biblical contradictions, the problem of evil, abortion, homosexuality, and the existence of heaven and hell. 
Mittelberg first identifies the question or criticism so the reader is well prepared for the issue. Then he gives detailed answers to issue or question. He frequently suggests other resources to fill out the readers' knowledge of apologetics. A bibliography at the back gives further resources.
At the end of each chapter is a summary of the answer, tips for talking about the issue and great questions for group discussion.
Lastly, Mittelberg reminds his readers that the world would like for Christians to always be on the defensive. He suggests, “the defense can and should naturally flow into an appropriate and effective offense (without being offensive).” (292) He shows how to take each of the critical questions and turn them around to challenge the skeptic.
This is the most well done apologetic book I've read, and I've read many. If you want to know how to dialogue with your atheist neighbor, this is the book for you.

Product information:

This book was provided for review by Tyndale House Publishers.