Tuesday, March 30, 2010

An Absence So Great by Jane Kirkpatrick

Kirkpatrick has been writing what she calls speculative historical fiction for fifteen years. She speculates about the why of things after researching the more factual what and when.
This book is a little different than her usual historical fiction as it is about her own grandmother, Jessie. Aunts and uncles had made audiotapes and her grandmother had been "interviewed" before her death. In writing this book Kirkpatrick was investigating a woman who had shaped her own life, through her mother. This story was written to explore the life of a woman she loved and wished to honor.
While it does not say so on the cover, this is the second book about her grandmother (the first was A Flickering Light). Unfortunately, Kirkpatrick does not do a good job of filling the reader in on the events of the first book. Having not read A Flickering Light, I was puzzled by some references to the earlier experiences that shaped Jessie and her relationship to her future husband.
All in all this is an excellent book. It is well written and gives the reader lots of information about photography and the role of women in business around 1910. I highly recommend it (but read A Flickering Light first).
This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Romans by R. C. Sproul

R. C. has been a theological teacher for decades. In 1997 God called him to pastoring as well. He determined in his ministry to preach verse-by-verse through books of the Bible. This book on Romans is a written record of his preaching. His aim is to appeal to the mind and the heart of the reader. He focuses on key themes and tries to give the broad meaning of the passage.
This is a very readable commentary to supplement reading through Romans. R. C. gives a very good review of Reformed theology as he covers the themes in Romans. I look forward to more in the series.

St. Andrews Expositional Commentary from Crossway Books.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Here Burns My Candle by Liz Curtis Higgs

After four years of silence Higgs returns with a new biblical and historical novel. The time is the mid-eighteenth century and the setting is Edinburgh. Catholic James II of England (and VII of Scotland) had been deposed in 1689 by the Dutch protestant, William III of Orange, and exiled. James II had always wanted to bring England back to the Catholic faith. James’ grandson, Prince Charles was making a final attempt to return rule to the House of Stuart. This was called the “Jacobite cause.”
The characters include Lady Marjory Kerr, her two sons and their wives. The Kerr family has left their estate in Selkirkshire and moved to Edinburgh, living off the late Lord Kerr’s money as well as income from the estate.
News arrives of Prince Charles’ approach to the city and the Kerrs must decide whether to support the King or back the rebel Prince Charles.
Higgs has done her research and creates an accurate and exciting story that parallels that of Ruth and Naomi in the Bible. The book ends at a crucial point that makes the reader long for the conclusion of the story.
Lacking is a short description of the political setting for the time. I’d suggest the reader review the eighteenth century history of Scotland to be able to truly understand and appreciate the novel. The publishers should have included this at the beginning of the novel as a service to the reader.

This book was provided for review by The WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Saturday, March 20, 2010

Flesh-and-Blood Jesus by Dan Russ

What does it mean to be truly human? What does is mean to be Christian and truly human?
Russ uses the life of Jesus to investigate what it means to live in one's humanity to its full potential. It may come as a surprise that Jesus had failures (failure is not a sin). Jesus had to deal with parental desire that went against His desire. Jesus was raised in a dysfunctional family. Jesus had fear and doubt in the Garden. Jesus enjoyed eating and feasts.
Russ helps the reader discover lessons from Jesus' life. For example, Jesus was good and angry. Lessons to learn from Him include learning to live in the tension of frustrated anger toward those closest to us, learning to harness anger as creative energy, and the spiritual disciplines that need to be exercised before the expression of righteous indignation.
There are study questions at the end of each chapter so this would make a great book for small groups interested in what it really means to be Christian and human.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Blue Bottle Club by Penelope Stokes

Four high school girls put their dreams in a blue bottle on Christmas Day in 1929. The bottle is hidden in an attic. The girls promise to support one another as the dreams are pursued.
Sixty-five years later the house is demolished and the blue bottle discovered by a workman. He gives the bottle to the young TV reporter covering the end of the historic landmark.
Intrigued by the messages in the bottle, she tries to locate the women now in their eighties. She uncovers stories of life happening and dreams unfulfilled. She is also confronted with strong belief in God and His plans for the women.
This is a great story. I read it for a reading group. It makes thoughtful discussion possible as we all face unfulfilled dreams and how we have dealt with them.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Start Here by Alex & Brett Harris

The teenaged Harris brothers wrote Do Hard Things two years ago as a challenge to their generation. That book marked the beginning of a movement called the “rebolution.” Start Here is a personal field guide to jumping in and getting involved in rebelling against low expectation for teens.
This book is full of practical ideas for standing up for what you believe, getting going when you feel stuck, understanding God’s will, and many more issues. The many stories of teens that have done the hard thing are very inspiring.
The authors do a great job of helping the reader identify what hard thing God wants him or her to do. They also helpfully explain the challenge of what the readers wants to do as compared to what the reader can do.
The Harris twins view the teen years as a time of preparation for adulthood (not a time to goof off). They don’t discount having fun but they put it in its proper place.
If you were challenged by their first book but just did not know how to get started, this book is for you.
I highly recommend this book to youth pastors. The discussion questions at the back makes this a great book for group study. Be prepared to see your teens challenged and ready to get to work.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Monday, March 8, 2010

Raven's Ladder by Jeffrey Overstreet

In my mind, writing fantasy must be about the hardest of all the fiction genres. Writing Christian fantasy must be harder yet. Unfortunately, this book just does not come up to my standard of great Christian fantasy.
There is no Christian allegory to the book that I can identify. Just when I thought the Keeper was representing God, it did something totally out of God’s character. There is lots of drinking of beer and ale and smoking a pipe releases one character’s tension. This is not exactly the kind of literature I would want my teen to read.
There is an odd mixture of this world and the world Overstreet created. There are eye-glasses and rail-train cars on metal tracks (pulled by animals) which seem to be a transfer from the world we know. There are characters that can manipulate and pass through stone and roots that come up through the ground and attack living beings, creatures of the fantasy world.
Overstreet has not done a good job of creating the fantasy world the reader can enter. Action there is plenty but the setting is lacking. Usually I could not “picture” the scene because a description of the context of the action was missing.
While it does not say it prominently on the book, this is the third in a series. Overstreet has not included an adequate review of the previous novels so characters and plot lack the background needed to enjoy this book.
As Tabor Jan says to the story teller Krawg, “…make it short. Too many characters…-an audience won’t have patience for that.” The Guide to Characters at the back of the book lists 44 characters one is supposed to keep straight. Overstreet should have followed his own character’s advice for this 370 page book.

This book was provided for review by The WaterBrook Multnomah Publighing Group.
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Lady Carliss and the Waters of Moorue by Chuck Black

In this fourth book of the Knights of Arrethtrae series, Sir Dalton is attacked by an esca lizard. He lies at death’s door. Lady Carliss finds out that the only cure must be administered within ten days and can only be found several days’ journey away. She sets off for the distant city of Moorue where she finds fellow believers and a great deal of evil.
This is an exciting tale for teens. Included in the story are allegorical aspects of the gospel and the practice of discipleship. Lady Carliss faces serious issues like the temptation to try the drugging waters of Moorue. She struggles with friendships including the betrayal of one she trusted.
Lady Carliss fights the evil Dark Warriors as she tries to free captured believers and find the elusive plant with the cure for Sir Dalton. She plunges into the nesting area of the esca lizards and it seems all may be lost. Can she save her friends and get the cure to her beloved Sir Dalton in time?
An exciting story with well presented examples of spiritual truths in a fiction setting.

This book was provided for review By The WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Thursday, March 4, 2010

Saint Patrick by Jonathan Rogers

Patrick was a Roman Briton born sometime around AD 400. His father was a landowner, a local official and a deacon in the Roman Catholic church so Patrick had a privileged childhood. He was kidnapped by Irish pirates when he was about sixteen and sold into slavery. He managed to escape after six years. He had a vision only a short time after he had returned home convincing him God desired he take the gospel to Ireland. He resumed his interrupted education and subsequently took holy orders. He eventually made it to Ireland, becoming the first missionary to go beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire and take the gospel to barbarians.
There are scores of legends surrounding Patrick's life. Rogers tries to make sense of the legends and Patrick's own account of his life. (Patrick's writings are included in an appendix so one can compare Roger's thoughts with Patrick's own work.)
Why did God use Patrick to take the gospel to barbarians? Rogers says Patrick was humble enough to serve the very barbarians whom the more sophisticated churchmen wanted nothing to do with yet he was rustic enough to relate to them. Patrick was pious in character and yet was very human. To a culture of violence Patrick brought a message of peace. Instead of boasting he lived humility. To a land of pagan gods he brought Christianity.
This book is a part of the Christian Encounter series from Thomas Nelson Publishers. These little biographies highlight important lives from all ages and areas of the church. If the others are as well done as this one, the series will be a great addition to the Christian community. I highly recommend this book and the discussion guide that is available at the publisher's web site.

This book was provided for review by Thomas Nelson Publishers.

Monday, March 1, 2010

Dancing with My Father by Sally Clarkson

David danced because of his joy in the Lord. Is it possible for us to do the same today as we live in a fallen world full of stress and disappointment? How can a woman today walk in the power of the Holy Spirit, finding joy in the midst of circumstances?
Clarkson admits that life is so much harder than she ever thought it would be (she has had three miscarriages, for example). Yet she is convinced that passing through trials yields an abiding joy. She has chosen to hold God’s hand “through the dance of suffering.”
Essential to successfully living each experience through to the resulting joy is the need to relinquish one’s self and trust in God. This requires the resolve and the discipline to turn over to God what would normally cause anxiety.
Clarkson is convinced that God wants us to enjoy the good things he has created. “We must choose to stop and experience and enjoy God’s personality.” She uses experiences from her own life to show how this can be done.
The strength of this book is in the journaling questions at the end of each chapter. This is not a book to read and put on the shelf. This is a book that is to be used in transformation. The result is a realization that God loves us – not for what we do but because of who we are. Joy is found not in doing but in being.

This book was provided for review by The WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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Mother-Daughter Duet by Cheri Fuller and Ali Plum

Cheri and daughter Ali come from a dysfunctional family. Cheri lived in denial of the reality of her alcoholic husband. Daughter Ali eventually became an alcoholic herself. In the midst of this troubled family festered severe relational problems. Cheri and Ali walk you through their experience of restoring the mother-daughter relationship.
The initial part of cure is the recognition that there is a problem. Mothers must admit they invade their adult daughter’s lives with over protectiveness, want to make decisions for their daughters and are generally irritating. The daughter must admit she feels disempowered as the mother goes beyond appropriate boundaries in the relationship.
The authors relate their own experience and the experiences of others they interviewed. These stories give the reader hope that mother-daughter relationships can be restored. There are no specific steps or guidelines as to how this may happen, however. I found this disappointing.
The book is not overtly Christian. There is very little made of the spiritual condition of the people involved. The strength of the book is probably the discussion questions included. I would suggest this book be used in a group setting of several women with adult daughters. The sharing of experiences and encouragement may be the redeeming use of the book when reading it alone will leave one at a loss as to what to do.

This book was provided for review by The Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing Group.
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