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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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