Friday, April 29, 2011

Cherry Beach Express by R. D. Cain

Every once and a while I like to read a good police mystery and this one fit the bill.

Det. Nastos has been arrested for the brutal murder of a dentist who specialized in child pornography. Nastos has been known for his rough treatment of suspects while on the Sexual Assault unit. And Nastos took his own daughter to this dentist. He saw the video. It seems like a clear case of a cop bent on personal revenge.
Nastos has a recovering alcoholic for a lawyer. The prosecuting attorney is a woman with whom he previously had a relationship. There is a rogue cop who is out to nail Nastos, using just about any means to see the accused detective put away. It doesn't look good.
Out on bail, Nastos tries to find the real murderer. The situation becomes tense as the offices of both lawyers are invaded and Nastos' wife is attacked. The prosecuting attorney had the dentist's full client list and now it has been stolen. What was she hiding? Who is on that list?

This is a well written murder mystery for a first time author (from what I can tell). The characters are well developed, the plot is very reasonable, and the action is great. And the murderer? At the end of the book I said, “Of course! I should have seen that coming.”
If you like the hard boiled police mystery, you'll like this book.

I received an advanced reading egalley from ECW Press for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

The Lightkeeper's Ball by Colleen Coble

The New York Stewarts have fallen on hard times. News recently came to the prominent family that Mr. Stewart was killed in a diamond mine collapse. Her husband's business partner, Mr. Bennett, says the mine is not producing well. The only way out of financial difficulty is a union of the Stewart and Bennett families.
There was to have been a marriage between Eleanor Stewart and Bennett's son, Harrison, out in California. But now Eleanor is dead under suspicious circumstances. Mrs. Stewart presses Olivia to take her sister's place in the arranged marriage.
Olivia agrees to go to Mercy Falls, CA but uses her titled name, Lady Devonworth. She plans to investigate her sister's death before she reveals her true identity.
There is an attempt on her life before she even reaches the town. She is rescued by Harrison Bennett whom she believes was involved in her sister's death. As she attempts to find out what really happened to her sister she begins to fall for Harrison, and he for her. The situation is complicated as he does not know her true identity. She is dismayed when she hears him say he would never marry a Stewart.
Harrison loves to fly his new aeroplane and Olivia goes for a ride with him. The plane has been sabotaged and it crashes. While the two survive relatively unharmed, it becomes apparent that someone is out to kill Olivia. Is Harrison at the root of all the trouble?
This is a great historical romance and mystery. I was kept wondering until the very end. While this is the third in a series, characters from the earlier books are only minor in this story so this book easily stands on its own. I enjoyed the book and recommend it.

I received an egalley of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 304 pages

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Hidden Gifts of Helping by Stephen G. Post

Rx: help others, Post says. It has healing powers. It will make you healthier. It will help you survive and thrive despite life's troubles.

Post uses his own experience of being uprooted in the midst of his career as an example. He also add inspiring stories, supporting scientific research, and spiritual understanding.
Post has been involved in research on spirituality and health for two decades. He has found that “centering on others rather than on self provides the altruistic orientation to life that is genuinely healthy.” (17)
Post gives many examples and testimonies of people who have found value and fulfillment in serving others. People who know the pain of life share their lives with others going through difficulties. He helps readers find our own hidden gifts and gives ideas on how to find the needful group wanting our creative abilities. Whether it is tutoring, serving in a soup kitchen, knitting caps for cancer patients – each of us has a place where we can share our passions and our skills.
Post shares his formula for deep happiness. He also suggests we be open to God winks, those “coincidences” when God provides a touch of His care and love for us. Post ends his book with the role of hope in our well being.
“Hardships do not have to mean the end of hope, but rather can mean the beginning, especially if we can discover the power of self-giving as a way of defying despair.” (164)
Post is a Christian but his use of insights from other spiritual traditions may make some evangelical Christians uncomfortable. This is a hardcover book and is overpriced.

I received a copy of this book from The B & B Media Group on behalf of the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Jossey-Bass, 224 pages, $19.95.

Stephen Post is Professor of Preventive Medicine, Head of the Division of Medicine in Society, and Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Sisterchicks in Wooden Shoes by Robin Jones Gunn

Summer Finley has just received the disturbing news that there is an abnormality in her recent mammogram.  Her thoughts go to her mother who died of breast cancer.  Needing a diversion from her worry, she decides to spend a week with her pen pal from childhood. 
Noelle had been raised in the U. S. but after high school went to Europe, married a Dutchman, and now lives in The Netherlands. 
While the two had never met before, they had formed a meaningful bond through the years.  Often their letters contained thoughts not shared with anyone else.
Summer has a great time as Noelle takes her to The Hague, Amsterdam, and Delft.  They see paintings by the masters, wander tulip fields, and visit the ten Boom clock shop.
Over the days the two women begin to share even deeper parts of their lives.  Both experience spiritual renewal and a need to deal with issues from which they are hiding.
I wanted to read this Sisterchick novel because I have Dutch roots.  I recognized lots of the words was was familiar with the typical Dutch behavior.  Perhaps for that reason, this novel did not capture me as have some of the other Sisterchick books.  One does get a flavor of The Netherlands and how the Dutch live.  The gals did have some funny adventures but I never really laughed as I did with the visit to Finland.  The story line just did not seem "natural" to me.  There is a reader's discussion guide at the back of the book.

I received a copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Multnomah Publishers, 276 pages.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Bonhoeffer by Eric Mataxas

Metaxas has done a superb job in presenting the life of Bonhoeffer. I appreciated the section on the German church as Hitler became more powerful. We were partakers of the theological struggle as Bonhoeffer tried to maintain theological integrity.
Metaxas tries to keep Bonhoeffer's theology intact. Concerning the letters the imprisoned Bonhoeffer wrote to Bethge, “The strange theological climate after World War II and the interest in the martyred Bonhoeffer were such that the few bone fragments in these private letters were set upon as by famished kites and the less noble birds, many of whose descendants gnaw them still. All of which has led to a terrific misunderstanding of Bonhoeffer's theology and which lamentable washed backward over his earlier thinking and writing.” (466)
Metaxas speaks to the “ethical impossibilities” of the time. “In light of the monstrous evils being committed all around, what could one do and what should one do?” (470) I am not sure I understand why Bonhoeffer made the choices he did. Metaxas did a very good job, however, of explaining Bonhoeffer's actions and the consequences.
It is heartbreaking to know that he was hung only a couple of weeks before the places was liberated. The Germans knew they were losing the war, knew it was over, yet still executed Bonhoeffer.
Metaxas' biography will certainly be known as the definitive work on Bonhoeffer.

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 542 pages.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Jolt! by Phil Cooke

Cooke wants his readers to stay ahead in this constantly changing world. Our lives have been invaded by technology that is continually changing. We live in a culture of disruption. “...[W]e're living in the midst of the greatest shift in our culture since the invention of the printing press.” Cooke believes we can take control of the change, make it work for us, and not lose our soul.
Cooke says, “This book is about one central theme: how to live your life successfully against the backdrop of dramatic change and disruption.”
Cooke's first jolt was being fired. Such an event is good as taking that first step of needed change is the hardest. Being forced to change gets you moving. He gives four keys to the process.
Knowing your goal is essential. Cooke helps the reader at goal setting: dream, write, narrow your focus, then think about goals in the light of your gifts and abilities.
Determine your priorities by deciding what is important to you and then manage your time. Cooke gives great tips on making good choices.
He encourages his readers to define their boundaries. He advocates focus – doing one task at a time and doing it well. He has a good section on breaking bad habits and forming new ones.
Personal growth is not an option. One must keep learning. Cooke identifies the attitudes that inhibit creativity and explains how to brainstorm.
He argues that we can get more out of life by being generous. He explains self-confidence and how to overcome security.
He has great suggestions about how we perceive and how perception can be used as a tool. He covers the importance of our thoughts and how to direct them to our advantage. He speaks about the importance of faith. He encourages his readers to have a legacy, leaving the world a better place because we were in it.
Cooke has added a great review at the end of each major section.
This is a good book for anyone needing encouragement for living a meaningful life in this time of change.

I received an egalley of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Nelson product information and a video.

Phil Cooke website.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Love Wins by Rob Bell

Bell wonders who will go to be with God when they die. Traditionally Christians say “people go to be with God if they have said or done or believed the 'right' things.” (4) Bell says this raises a number of questions – and he raises them all.
Talking about heaven, Bell says much of the confusion about heaven, “...comes from the idea that in the blink of an eye we will automatically become totally different people... But our heart, our character, our desires, our longings – those things take time.” (51) We are to be growing, progressing, “ that as these take over our lives we are taking part more and more and more in life in the age to come, now.” (51) “According to Jesus, then, heaven is as far away as that day when heaven and earth become one again and as close as a few hours.” (55) Heaven is present as well as the age to come.” (58-59)
It is almost like Bell is deliberately vague when he writes. For example, on pages 154-155, Bell first speaks to the exclusivity of Jesus, “Jesus is the only way.” “Then, there is inclusivity.” Bell concludes, I think (it is hard to tell if this is a conclusion or not, the way he writes),
“What Jesus does is declare that he,
and he alone,
is saving everybody.
And then he leaves the door way, way open. Creating all sorts of possibilities. He is as narrow as himself and as wide as the universe.”
Bell admits Jesus is the only way but then adds that Jesus is big and wide. (156)
Bell notes, “People come to Jesus in all sorts of ways.” (158)
“Sometimes people use his name;
other times they don't.” (159)
On heaven and hell, Bell uses the story of the prodigal son. He concludes that, rather than thinking of heaven and hell as separate places, he says of this story,
“It's not an image of separation,
but one of integration.
In this story, heaven and hell are within each other, intertwined, interwoven, bumping up against each other.” (170)
Bell says,
“There is hell now,
and there is hell later,
and Jesus teaches us to take both seriously.” (79)
The word hell, Bell says, is a very good word “to describe the very real consequences we experience when we reject the good and true and beautiful life God has for us. ...[T]he massive, society-wide collapse and chaos that comes when we fail to live in God's world God's way.” (93)
He defines hell, “Hell is refusing to trust God's retelling of our story.” (170) (We are to believe God's version of our story.) Elsewhere he says rejecting and resisting the love God has for us “...creates what we call hell.” (177)
Bell notes that God wants all to be saved (1 Tim. 2) and asks, “Does God get what God wants?” He says the "writers of the scriptures consistently affirm that we're all part of the same family.” (99) “The insistence that God will be united and reconciled with all people is a theme the writers and prophets return to again and again.” (100) Bell says, “There is a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody...” (107) The idea is, “Restoration brings God glory; eternal torment doesn't.” (108)
“At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God.” (109)
That loving, fatherly God would “punish people forever in a conscious torment in hell,” means that God “would, in the blink of an eye, become a cruel, mean, vicious tormenter...” (173) That's why so many Christians do not love God, Bell says. “That kind of God is simply devastating.” (176)

After reading Bell's book, I am really confused as to what he is actually advocating. Sometimes he sounds so orthodox. Then his next statement is so unorthodox. And his writing style is so confusing. He makes a statement and then his next statement is practically the opposite. (I think much is tongue in cheek or sarcastic. It's hard to tell in print, however.)
And then there are all the questions. (There are 91 questions in the first chapter of 19 pages.) He does something like, Could a loving God do this? Is that kind of God the God we could believe in? On and on and pretty soon he's made his point by asking questions. No, he didn't actually make a statement, as such. He can always say, hey, I was just asking questions! But he has cleverly drawn the reader to make a conclusion, nonetheless.
And then there is this strange behavior of giving the biblical book and chapter only when quoting a verse, not the verse number. What is with this? Why give the book and chapter but not the verse?

So, does Bell believe that all will be saved? Does Bell teach that hell is only for a limited time and those temporarily in hell eventually are overwhelmed by God's love for them? Does Bell declare that heaven and hell are now? Is Bell convinced that we create our own hell? Does Bell believe that a loving God could not possibly eternally punish anyone?

Welcome to the writing style and non-theology of Rob Bell.

HarperOne, 198 pages.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Love Finds You in Lahaina Hawaii by Bodie Thoene

In this historical novel, Thoene takes us through the last years of the Hawaiian kingdom.  The grandchildren of missionaries have become powerful plantation owners and work to take control of the islands.  We follow Princess Kaiulani and her best friend Hannah as they travel to England for safety.  After being away from their beloved country for years, they return to a dangerous situation.
Interwoven with the story of Hawaii's history is that of Sandi Smith.  It is 1973 and her husband has been missing in Viet Nam for over four years.  A research trip to Hawaii to interview "Auntie Hannah" and explore Hawaii's history is the diversion she needs.
This is certainly not the best historical novel I have read.  The action is slow and plodding.  At times I wanted less of the complicated relationships between Princess Kaiulani and her suitors and more of the historical information around which the book is woven.  Having the Princess away from the crucial action as the island changes hands was disappointing.  Also, the actual result of the "romance" between the Princess and Andrew culminates outside of the book which, again, was a disappointment.  While Thoene was good at describing the inside of a room (all of page 27) I felt like I was never really in Hawaii.  The captivating descriptions of the locations (shoreline, vegetation, volcanoes, etc.) were missing.
This book is part of a series from Summerside Press.  They aim to have such a novel for every state in the U.S.  I look forward to trying another in this series, especially my own state.
Summerside Press, 355 pages.
Publisher information.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

May Cooler Heads Prevail by Teri Dunnegan

Dixie is part of the crazy Tanner family. She had it all worked out by the time she was eight. She daydreamed she was adopted. Her real parents had fallen on hard times... However, her birth certificate said Tanner. No getting around it.
So when Uncle Rudd called about the murder and hiding the body and that it wasn't Aunt Connie who had killed the man who had jilted her at the altar forty years ago, well, Dr. Dixie J. Tanner, clinical psychologist, drove to her hometown to help “catch the killer.”
What a fun book to read. There are quirky characters, snappy dialogue, and a mystery thrown in.
Unfortunately, we will have no further great books from Teri as she passed away in 2006.

I received an egalley of this book from Barbour Publishing for the purpose of this review.

Barbour Publishing information on this book.

The Reason Why by Mark Mittelberg

Have you ever had “spiritual vertigo,” that dizzy feeling you get when someone else's arguments knock you off your spiritual moorings? You wonder is you'll ever be sure again about what you believe.

Examining your beliefs can be unsettling. Mittelberg wants you to know there are reasons for belief. He has updated The Reason Why, written a century ago by Robert Laidlaw. Mittelberg read that book at a crucial time in his life and recognized its value. He presents the same important truths as the original book, mixing some of the original stories with his own.
Mittelberg starts with reasons for believing God exists. “...[T]he evidence for God is strong and getting stronger.” (27) He correctly identifies the reason people do not want to believe in God: accountability.
He then addresses the authority of the Bible, that humans are accountable to God, who Jesus is, and His role as the substitution payment for our sins.
In the final section of his book, Mittelberg shows how we can access forgiveness from God. He includes an opportunity for the reader to accept Jesus as savior.
This is not a scholarly work. It is short and has a rather “friendly” style to it. This book might work well to give to someone who has shown an initial interest in the reasons for Christian belief but it would merely be an introduction to the topic. One would need to follow up with more rigorous books on the topic.

I received a copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Tyndale House, 127 pages.

Tyndale House product information

See more about Mark Mittelberg and choosing your faith:

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Revise Us Again by Frank Viola

We live by the script we have been given.  Where the script does not match the heart and mind of Jesus, it needs to be revised.  "Transformation (spiritual formation) can be described as editing out that which is not Christ and revising that which is."  (10)  Viola describes ten specific areas where many of us need revising.
We need to revise how we recognize the Lord's voice.  We need to revise our claims of "God told me..."  Viola notes that such language was used only following supernatural events.
Similarly, we need to revise our use of "Let me pray about it."  We really mean "No."  Our "spiritual conversation style" needs to be revised.
Viola says we need to revise our gospel message and put back in what is missing (he names five elements).  Viola addresses the semantics of expressing the felt-presence of God.  "The secret to spiritual formation," he says, "is to be conscious of God's presence as much as possible."  (78)
He shares his observations on the phenomenon of being "captured by the same spirit you oppose."  He talks about God;s role in unexpected endings.  He shares his experiences and thoughts about the gifts of the Spirit and the needed restoration of His pure and undefiled work.  He suggests that Christ will come to us in a way we do not expect.  We cannot cling to the Lord we know now, that has been revealed to us today.  "Jesus is richer larger, and more glorious than any of us could ever imagine."  (138)

This book seemed a bit disjointed to me.  It is almost as if Viola has collected essays on various issues of concern to him and placed them together in this book.  The book is in hardcover and I think it would have been more appropriate to have been a less expensive paperback.

See Viola's website:

I received a copy of this book from David C Cook for the purpose of this review.

David C Cook, 175 pages, hardcover, $16.99:

Monday, April 18, 2011

Max on Life by Max Lucado

We all have questions. Max, after more than twenty-five years in ministry, has received thousands of them. He takes 176 of these questions and gives his thoughtful answers.
He reminds his readers that God's love is different from human love. He gives a synopsis of what God and sin are like. He talks about why we are here, why God doesn't answer prayer the way we want, and our responsibility to those in poverty. He gives encouragement to those experiencing hurt, and to those who want to get rid of bad habits. He writes about questions on prayer, temptation, relationships in marriage, dating, divorce, work, money, heaven and hell, and many, many other topics.

Some of the questions seen rather irrelevant ( like #130, about being a “lousy” cook and hospitality). While many of the questions are on those themes that always seem to turn up, there were some that seemed rather limited in their appeal.

Offering this much advice, there is bound to be at least one area of controversy. In this book, I think some may disagree with Max's answer to #167, asking about people who have never heard of God. “Heaven's population includes throngs of people who learned the name of their Savior when they awoke in their eternal home.” … “He does not send the gospel message to all individuals in the same manner, to the same extent, and with the same force.” At a minimum all “have the testimony of creation and conscience.” … “If this is all a person has, it is all the person needs."

There is an extensive index of topics at the end of the book. This will certainly be the book's strength as I cannot really see one reading the book from cover to cover.

I received an egalley of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Fatal Judgment by Irene Hannon

Judge Liz Michaels returns home to find that her visiting sister has been shot. U. S. Marshal Jake Taylor is brought in to help protect the judge as the shooting may have been intended for her. Jake finds the assignment troubling as Liz was married to Jake's college roommate,Doug, who committed suicide five years ago.
Jake's assignment becomes more complicated as he begins to see Liz as much nicer than Doug would have had him believe. And Jake faces his own feelings as he still misses the wife he lost several years ago, still mad at God because of it.
Then, right under the protective care of the marshals, Liz is kidnapped. This time the man convinced judges are stealing his rights is determined not to fail. Will Jake be able to find Liz in time to save her? Will his growing feelings for her distract him too much?

The first two thirds of this book I found a little slow going. The last third, however, is of page turning excitement.

Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 328 pages.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Turn of Mind by Alice LaPlante

What a disturbing novel!  It is so well written, I sometimes felt part of it.  Because of the book's plot, that was very disturbing.
Dr. Jennifer White is an accomplished surgeon, specializing in hands.  But she is experiencing the early symptoms of Alzheimer's so "retires" herself.  And then her friend turns up dead, murdered and with several fingers surgically removed.  The police suspect Jennifer but do not have conclusive evidence.
Through a mixture of current experiences, journal entries, fleeting memories and dreams, we live along with Jennifer.  We experience her lapses of being in the present.  We relive the memories that haunt her.  All along we wonder if she really did commit the murder.
I was much more involved in this book than in Still Alice (also about Alzheimer's).  LaPlante has accomplished something with this novel - bringing the reader into the disturbing world of one losing one's hold on life. 
And the ending, to know the truth, but to not remember, so, no, not really knowing the truth.
The writing is superb.  At one point Jennifer says, "I'm inclined to pretend I'm normal today."  (17)  At another point her troubled son says to his mother (who has kept her maiden name), “Why didn't you give me your name, Mom? The shoes would have been just as large but of a different shape altogether.” (20)
This is a must read novel.

This book does not release until July 5, 2011.
Alice LaPlante teaches creative writing at San Francisco State University and Stanford University.  This is her first novel.

I received an advanced reading egalley of this book from Atlantic Monthly Press for the purpose of this review.

The Long Walk by Slavomir Rawicz

Polish soldier Rawicz was condemned by the Russians and sent to Siberia. He traveled first by train, then by foot, through blizzards, to Camp 303. At one point nomadic Ostyaks, the primitive herdsmen of the Siberian steppes, came by, reindeer pulling sledges. One of them called the captive men Unfortunates. “Traditionally, from the time of the Czars we were, to his people, the Unfortunates, the prisoners of a regime which always sought to wrest the riches of Siberia by the use of unpaid labourers, the political prisoners who could not fit in the framework of successive tyrannies.” (57) The old Ostyak spoke of putting food out for those who escaped from the Siberian work camps. Escape. The thought was placed in Rawicz's mind.
In the midst of winter they built their own barracks. He became part of a group creating pairs of skis from birch trees. He volunteered to repair the Commandant's radio and befriended the Colonel's wife.
He gathered a group willing to attempt escape. They stole pelts and made clothing. The Commandant's wife helped with provisions. In mid-April, 1941, seven escaped.
With well written descriptions, Rawicz recounts their journey. Snow covered their early tracks and there was never signs of pursuit. They crossed the Lena River. They had meat from a stag caught by its antlers. They picked up a young Polish girl fleeing from another work camp. The only time they raided a village, they stole a pig. They helped a family thresh grain and were rewarded with supplies.
Then entered the Gobi Desert and after days of thirst happened upon an oasis. Five days after leaving the oasis, they faced death. Then, infrequent muddy water and snakes sustained the living.
In Tibet a night was spent with a herdsman and his family. They went into the Himalayan foothills in winter. They made it through the mountains and as they began to descend in early spring, they saw strange creatures. They were around eight feet tall and walked on their hind legs. “There was something both of the bear and the ape about their general shape but they could not be mistaken for either.” (228-229) Rawicz believes they were Abominable Snowmen. (229)
They finally came in contact with a British Lieutenant and six marching natives, India. They were deloused, cleaned up, given first aid at the British base. They were safe. Their journey had taken a year.
Rawicz went through a month of mental disturbance at a hospital in Calcutta. After his recovery he was determined to rejoin the Polish army, ending up in the Polish wing of the British Air Force. After the war, with his home and family gone, he started a new life in England.

This is certainly an inspiring story of the will to be free. Originally published in 1956, it has been reprinted several times. This 1997 edition contained an afterward by Rawicz, bringing the reader up to date on his life. He died in 2004.

There has been some controversy over the reality of Rawicz's account. Some historians say documents show that Rawicz was freed by Stalin under the terms of a Russian amnesty. ( The BBC did an investigation a few years ago that questions the validity of Rawicz's story:

The Lyons Press, 242 pages.

Friday, April 15, 2011

No He Can't by Kevin McCullough

Years ago, McCullough, a talk radio host in Chicago, labeled Barack Obama as “one of the most dangerous politicians our generation will see.” Accurately predicting the rise and election of President Obama, McCullough “genuinely began to dread the future.” He realized the high expectation of “Yes, we can!” would soon turn to “No, he can't.” (As a talk show host, McCullough knows how to use inflammatory language. He describes Pres. Obama as a “ruthless charmer” and a “ruthless pragmatist.”)
He shows his allegiance early on. “Palin was a clear-thinking and clear-speaking evangelical.” “Naming Palin as VP was perhaps the only right thing the McCain campaign did.” McCullough “is not interested in championing the “Republican message,' for the GOP has disappointed nearly as greatly on some of the issues – particularly economics – as the current administration.”
“...[O]ne thing is clear,” McCullough says, “regardless of the causes, the United States is now facing one of the greatest crises of her history.” McCullough examines where we were told we would be by now and how we could perhaps get there in spite of the crisis we face.
McCullough says Pres. Obama was dishonest, saying that the country had been economically damaged by the prior administration. (So...the economic crisis that began in the fall of 2008, before Pres. Obama was elected, was not caused by the prior administration? It seems to me McCullough became dishonest at this point.) McCullough says that at the time of the 2008 election, “the bottom 45 percent of earners in the American economy had a 0 percent federal tax burden to pay.” (Wow! Can I have my 1040 back for the year 2008? I must have made a mistake!)
On Pres. Obama's spending, “...the amount of federal money spent during his first six months in office was more than what we'd spent in the entirety of America's history in terms of gross numbers of dollars allocated.” (Was some of that the bailout that was approved by Congress while Bush was still president?)
I think one needs to read McCullough's book critically. For example, McCullough says, “[Obama] appointed more czars (32) in oversight position than the number of weeks he'd been in office (22). Had he maintained that pace, by the end of his term, he'd have appointed roughly a grand total of 256 czars.” (12) Now, first of all, it is very normal, I think, for a president to appoint many positions the first weeks in office and then not appoint very many as his term progresses. So McCullough's statement about 256 czars is really an exaggeration and borders on purposefully inciting angry feelings toward Obama. Secondly, the czar numbers is an issue MediaMatters has dealt with. They note that the Washington Post reported on 9/16/09, “By one count, Bush had 36 czar positions filled by 46 people during his eight years as president.” (, accessed 4/6/2011) If McCullough's writing about the czars is typical of his style in this book, then one should investigate his every claim. Many of McCullough's critical comments deal with the first months of Obama's administration. It seems to me that much of the economic decline during that period was still the fallout from the fall of 2008. The economy was still responding from eight years of Bush, not fifty days of Obama, as McCullough claims.

Here are a few interesting quotes from McCullough: “...companies never pay taxes. Yes, you read that right.” “Democrats in the House...commanded the gerbil-operated printing press in the White House...” Of Obama's team, “economics is not the only places their lips curl.” “The administration has seemed especially hostile toward the working poor.” “Even with all the problems of the uninsured walking into emergency rooms, America provides health services to everyone within its borders.” “President Obama and his team did not intend to solve the economic crisis as quickly as they possibly could... Instead, his intention was to let us bleed...” “Instead of countering violent terrorists, he has permitted them to commit attacks against U. S. citizens on American soil six times since the inauguration.” “Instead of combating the false claims of the global warming propagandists...” “...[President Obama] cannot simply come out and say what he wishes he could, for if he did, he would be impeached.” “...this president rarely grasps the obvious...” “...Obama is ruthlessly pragmatic about transforming Western culture.”
“If you're the leader of the free world, there may be a few things that take you by surprise from time to time. Big things, like planes flying into buildings of your largest city. … One thing is for sure – these surprises will often tell everyone watching a little bit about who you really are.” (While McCullough anticipates an example critical of Pres. Obama, I thought of Bush's, “Go shopping” comment after 9/11, or his, “Heck of a job, Brownie” when New Orleans was still in great need of timely help from FEMA. Yes, that did tell us about Bush.)
At the end of chapter 16 he makes a distinction between the right and left: those on the right believe in the biblical God and to those on the left “God is someone who might not exist. … may even be able to be squelched altogether...generally speaking, he is unwanted, unneeded...” This is the kind of political division I detest. McCullough would have us believe all people on the right are Bible, God believing people while those on the left are not. That is forcing an alienation between the two parties on a “Christian” basis that ought not to be. There are Bible believing, sovereign God honoring people on the left.
McCullough brings up ACORN (yes, again) and Obama opposing the Arizona immigration laws. (Interestingly enough, the day I read this, another U. S court said what Arizona did was illegal...) McCullough says, “When the president allowed his Justice Department to take on Governor Jan Brewer and the voters of the state of Arizona, he believed he was assisting his administration in winning over minority Hispanic voters for the cause of the Democratic Party in the elections of 2010.” This is exactly what irritates me about McCullough. He assumes he knows Pres. Obama's motives. He does not consider that the action was taken because it was the law (as recent judges have confirmed).
What about this: “In his mind President Obama considers himself a citizen of the world first, and a citizen of America second. … Because of this, voters cannot be confident that President Obama - … - is viewing the potential viable solutions from a viewpoint of what benefits America first."
I say, finally! Finally we have a president who thinks what is best for the whole world is more important than what is best only for America! Help me out here, do we really want America to run the world and not care how our actions affect other nations and peoples? (How arrogant and ungodly!) Yes, our President is to be loyal to the U. S. but with an attitude of screw every other nation? I hope not!
He reminds us more than once that during Pres. Obama's term, so far, “no fewer than seven terror attacks have been unleashed against us on our own turf.” Help me out here, didn't more people die from terrorist attacks during Bush's presidency than Obama's? How soon we forget!
McCullough refers to “highly rated fellow Fox broadcaster, Glenn Beck...” Sorry, McCullough, Beck's ratings have fallen and he's gone from Fox at the end of this year.

Here is an example of the hype a book written by a radio talk show host can contain. The chapter titled, “Obama's Belief That 'America's Exceptionalism' is a Myth” contains the following: “...if [Obama] did not believe America was good enough to lead without apologizing for itself, he likely felt she was rather unexceptional as well.” (Italics added.) Since no other statement in that chapter supports the chapter title I find it not acceptable that the author has taken what he states is likely and made it into a fact in the chapter title. This makes me distrust everything else he has written in this book.
As Christians, we are to speak the truth with grace. McCullough has (some) truth, but no grace!
I suggest this book be read with a very wide open critical eye.

I was provided with an egalley of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Think by John Piper

Piper argues that, “careful thinking is integral to a full apprehension of the gospel.” (11) Yet, “against the prideful use of the intellect, he argues that clear thinking following biblical patterns will lead away from self to a full delight in God's grace as the key to every aspect of existence.” (12)
Piper's book “is a plea to embrace serious thinking as a means of loving God and people. … It is a plea to see thinking as a necessary, God-ordained means of knowing God.” (15) It is different from other Christian books on the topic in that there is more biblical exposition. Piper is a Bible expositor, figuring out what the Bible means and how it applies to life. That is what he does in this book.
Piper is not an intellectual elite. He merely wants Christians to use thinking as one of the means to know God, love Him and serve people. “I would like to encourage you to think, but not to be too impressed with yourself when you do.” (17)
Piper shares his own story of being awakened to the life of the mind. He writes about the impact Jonathan Edwards has had on thinkers and how thinking and feeling relate to each other. He looks at reading and how it relates to thinking. Then he investigates how thinking functions in the process of coming to faith and sustaining faith in Jesus. He relates thinking to loving God. He speaks to the failure of relativism. He looks at the anti-intellectualism that has been the mark of recent Christian history. He warns against being prideful with a “knowledge that puffs up.”
Piper suggests, “that loving God with the mind means that our thinking is wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.” (80) Loving God with all your mind Piper takes to mean “that we direct our thinking in a certain way; namely, our thinking should be wholly engaged to do all it can to awaken and express the heartfelt fullness of treasuring God above all things.”
He shows that having zeal is not enough. One can have zeal but not be saved. (Rom.10:1-2) The knowledge has to be there too.
“The aim of this book,” he says, “is to encourage serious, faithful, humble thinking that leads to the true knowledge of God, which leads to loving him, which overflows into loving others.” (154) Piper says the Scripture passage, together with the use of our minds, alongside the power of the Holy Spirit, will actually change our lives.
He ends his book with the conviction that all knowledge, all learning, all education, all schooling, exists for the love of God and the love of man.

Piper's is not the easiest book to read. There were several places where I got bogged down. Unfortunately, thinkers will be attracted to this book (they already think) but I doubt non thinkers (who really need it) will find the book attractive.

Crossway, 184 pages.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

A Cowboy's Touch by Denise Hunter

Abigail Jones is a crack investigative reporter for her mother's magazine. She is also a twenty eight year old obsessive workaholic. Her sister doctor has seen stress and recommends rest. Much to Abigail's dismay, her mother insists Abigail spend three months in Montana visiting her odd Aunt Lucy. Montana is a very long way from Chicago, and Aunt Lucy talks to her dolls, but affection for her aunt wins out. Moose Creek, here she comes.
Aunt Lucy lives in a tenant house at Stillwater Ranch. There was no wi-fi but at least Abigail was losing her perpetual headache. While helping in her aunt's doll store, Abigail meets tearful young Maddy whose bike has been stolen and Abigail volunteers to help.
Maddy's mom died some time ago and her dad...her dad was a rodeo star and voted Sexiest Man Alive by a celebrity magazine (really). When Maddy's summer nanny backs out at the last minute, Maddy insists Abigail take her place. Handsome Wade realizes his daughter likes Abigail and gives her the job. Abigail is thrilled. Besides, the spare bed in the ranch house is much more comfortable than Aunt Lucy's couch.
Abigail finds out there are some questions about the death of Maddy's mother. Wade was questioned by the police. Then he left the rodeo scene and moved to Moose Creek. Why is he hiding out? Should she trust him?
Abigail has the idea of writing an expose on the “missing” rodeo star, an article that would save her mother's declining magazine. The only problem is that Abigail is falling in love with Wade. When Wade accidentally finds out about the magazine article, anger and distrust toward Abigail causes him to send her on her way. It looks like their blossoming romance is over.

The ending of the book was a disappointment to me. I am always pleased with a “they lived happily every after” kind of ending but this one was just not satisfying. Abigail did not have to work through issues to be reunited with Wade (someone else did that for her). Wade, amazingly, worked through all his issues, I guess, “off camera,” so to speak. And, Maddy was not present at the end. That should not have been the case. Maddy's love for Abigail was a major part of the story and to leave her out at the end, in my mind, made the romance less than suitable.
The typical romance plot is: 1) boy and girl love each other, 2) an insurmountable obstacle to the love appears, 3) boy and girl manage to overcome the obstacle and then live happily ever after. Hunter did great setting up the first two aspects of the plot but then fell short on the third. Part of a successful romance is seeing how the characters worked through the obstacle. We readers were robbed of that satisfying part of a romance.

I received an egalley of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Thomas Nelson, 320 pages.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

When They Turn Away by Rob Rienow

“There is no greater sorrow for Christian parents,” Rienow says, “than to know our children are not faithfully following Christ. … But there is hope, because God is still on His throne.” (9) While not a parent of adult children, Rienow has spent years in ministry and writes from that experience. He believes, “God has given parents specific guidance and direction so that we might encourage faith in the hearts of our children – no matter how old they are.” (11)
Recent surveys show that three out of four unchurched young adults were connected to a church as teens but had drifted away. “We are losing more of our own children to the world than we are winning adult converts to faith in Christ.” (18)
Children grow up in a culture steeped in moral pluralism and relativism. Based on Deut. 6:5-7, parents can pass their faith on to their children by talking “about the things of God...when we sit at home.” (36) “It is never too late for God to use us to impress the hearts of our children with a love for Jesus.” (39)
Parents assuming all responsibility for their wayward child are consumed with guilt. Parents assuming no responsibility become passive. Rienow deals with both extremes.
Rienow has spent countless hours with young adults and he believes none have rejected Christ on purely intellectual grounds. They may say that but Rienow believes there are always deeper reasons – hurt, pain, rejection, etc.
He writes about forgiveness, its necessity and the steps involved. He urges readers to apologize to their children for the things they believe they did wrong – things they would have done differently. Don't make excuses. Ask your child to forgive you.
Rienow gives an action plan for rebuilding the relationship-bridge with your child. You want honest. Be extra gentle. Seek to understand (practice biting your tongue).
He ends his book suggesting how parents can turn their child's heart to Christ, with truth and grace.
This is the best book I've read on this subject. If your adult child is not following Christ, I highly recommend you read this book. The discussion questions at the end of each chapter are great for applying the material to your personal experience.

I received a copy of this book from Kregel Publications for the purpose of this review.

Kregel Publications, 160 pages.

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Final Summit by Andy Andrews

David is a Traveler we met in The Traveler's Gift. He had used the Seven Decisions he learned (in that book) and became very wealthy then lost it all. Realizing the stupid mistakes he had made, he began over, refused debt and became wealthy again. Then he created foundations and charitable trusts to give it all away.
Now, at 74, his wife has died. As he reviews the Seven Decisions Gabriel appears and calls him to a summit, a meeting of all the Travelers. The future of the human race is at stake. As the only traveler living in the current age, David has been chosen to lead the summit.
The people assemble. There is Churchill, Washington, Eleanor Roosevelt, kings and queens, Columbus and many others.
The archangel announces the assembly so that humanity might have a final opportunity to right its ship. Time is already racing by. The summit to arrive at the answer to this question Gabriel asks, “What does humanity need to do, individually and collectively, to restore itself to the pathway toward successful civilization?” The answer, the angel says, is just two words.
Joan of Arc suggests “restore hope.” Abraham Lincoln offers “seek wisdom” as the consensus of those near him. A WW II hero says those around him are sure it is “show courage” or “be courageous.” King David suggests “self-discipline.” George Washington Carver brings what is thought to be the final answer, “building character.” None is correct. Until... (I won't spoil it for you.)
We hear stories of various Travelers as the answers are proposed. We also sit in on discussions around the meaning and value of the proposed answers. (The section on self-discipline, spoken by Lincoln and Churchill, makes the book worthwhile in itself.)
As is often the case with Andy's books, he notes at the end that while he wrote most of it, some of it consists of words actually spoken by the historical characters in reality. The historical background about the characters is true. There is a great reader's guide at the end of the book. The questions help cement the book's principles into one's life.

The journey does not have to end at the end of the book:

See Andy's website: 
I received an ebook from Thomas Nelson Publishers for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Chasm by Randy Alcorn

Allegories are tricky things.  I just don't think Alcorn pulled this one off.
I think this book is supposed to be a Pilgrim's Progress type of book.  But it falls short, both in length and in quality.  Alcorn has some great spots, such as. "I saw in his eyes the explosions of thunderstorms, the collisions of galaxies."  (58)  That quality of writing is sparse. 
Here is an example of more the consistent style, "The beast raised his fearsome battle-ax above my head.  Trembling, I looked into the shark eyes of my gloating executioner.  The ax fell.  But just as it came upon me, Shark Eyes disappeared.  The Shining Warrior disappeared.  All the combatants from both sides disappeared.  All the people on the plain popped back into normal view, as solid as the warriors had been the moment before."  (32)  Just when I was getting into the action, the characters disappeared!  What is that all about?
As I said, allegories are very tricky.  It takes particular writing skill to pull off an allegory, I think.  I found this book very disappointing.
Apparently this book is a sort of synopsis of Edge of Eternity.  At the end of the book, Alcorn does say if you want to know more about the character's life, see that book.
there is a discussion guide, chapter by chapter, at the end of this book.

Multnomah, 110 pages.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Bound by Guilt by C. J. Darlington

Christy (Thicker Than Blood) is working at Dawson's Book Barn and is engaged to the owner, Hunter Dawson. 
Roxie is a sixteen year old, abandoned by her mother, then moved through a number of foster homes.  When kids in the last one ganged up on her, she ran and is now in the care of her relative, Irene.  Irene and her son Diego steal valuable books from antequarian bookstores.  Roxie is forced to join in on the scheme.
The trio hits Dawson's Book Barn.  When Roxie fails to distract Christy long enough for Irene and Diego to steal all they wanted, they go back at night and break in.  Hunter surprises the thieves and is shot dead.
Abby is a cop on suspension for being too rough on the mayor's wife when she was arrested for DWI.  She is Hunter's sister and determined to find his killer.  She convinces Christy to join her in the hunt.

Darlington has written another very good novel.  The characters are well crafted.  Roxie struggles with love, acceptance and forgiveness when a ranch couple take her in.  Abby struggles with desires for revenge, as well as anger toward her father.  She also has issues with her ex-husband who keeps distance between Abby and their daughter.  Christy knows the grace she has experienced from God and wants to share it with others, even her fiance's murderer.
Darlington is a very talented writer.  Her second book is well worth reading.  There are  discussion questions at the end so this would make a god selection for reading groups.
See more about C. J. Darlington: 

Tyndale House Publishers, 390 pages (every one of them good).

Friday, April 8, 2011

Mission: Out of Control by Susan May Warren

Brody Wickham is a former Green Beret now with the international security firm of Stryker International.  While on forced leave Brody is hired by a U. S. Senator to protect his daughter turned rock star while she tours Europe.  Sparks fly as Veronica "Vonya" Wagner butts heads with Brody.  Vonya is making secret arrangements to rescue a boy she met on an African tour now being forced into being a boy soldier.  Brody is desperately trying to protect her.  And there is someone on the tour who seems to be involved in diamond smuggling.
Will Brody be able to protect Vonya as she sneaks away to make the final arrangements?  Will Brody and Vonya come to realize that their hearts are the same?
Warren has crafted a pretty good combination of mystery and romance.  Christianity and God's forgiveness are essential parts of the story.  I was impressed with this short novel.
The discussion guide at the end would make this a good book for reading groups.

See her website:

Steeple Hill (the inspirational imprint of Harlequin), 218 pages. 

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Tales of the Dim Knight by Adam & Andrea Graham

Dave, an evening janitor in a Pacific Northwest FBI office, loves Superhero comic books. Through Zolgron, an extraterrestrial being penalized for trying to rule his home world, he acquires super powers and decides to become a Superhero himself. After cleaning the FBI office, he cleans up on crime. He bumbles through various crime scenes, calling himself Powerhouse.
His wife, Naomi, notices Dave is losing weight and is gaining muscle. She misses him and thinks he is having an affair. She has thoughts of divorcing him.
Dave saves an inner city pastor from assassination and vows to protect him. Sidetracked by drug dealers, Dave is away when the pastor is murdered. He is devastated.
Dave has irritated the mob and his life is in jeopardy. He quits his Powerhouse persona. He begins to win back his wife and sons. He finds out the family is in deep debt. He still retains his super powers so he tries cage wrestling, only to irritate more gangsters.
He decides to stay home and rebuild his family life. But then the pastor's little friend is murdered. Powerhouse had said he would protect him too. He knows he must make things right. Someone darker is needed and he becomes The Emerald Avenger. As the Emerald Avenger he becomes judge, jury, and executioner, only Zolgren (who gave him his powers) stops him from killing.
Islamic terrorists threaten Megalopolis. Powerhouse goes to help and meets other Superheroes.
Powerhouse gets abducted to an intergalactic zoo but manages to escape.
His wife leaves him, hiring a big time divorce lawyer. Home alone, Dave doesn't want to fight a bad guy because he is playing with Legos.
On and on it goes. This book is an odd mixture of silly humor and serious situations. One of the more serious aspects of the novel is Naomi recounting the curse her father placed on her. (94)
The writing style of the authors is certainly strange. It is almost as if this is to be a comic book but without the comics. The sentence structure and vocabulary might appeal to young teens, but some of the subject matter is aimed at adults. The action seemed, well, ho-hum. But then, I gave up comics 55 years ago.
I have to say that his is the strangest book I've read in a long time. It is not one I particularly enjoyed. In my mind, it was too long. A comic book style novel should be short and snappy. This one seemed to go on forever.

Other reviewers seem to like it so to see their reviews, go to

Read the first chapter here:

Buy the book from Amazon:

Would this be a good book for my kids?

Adam and Andrea live with their cat, Joybell, in Boise, Idaho. They are members of several writers groups. Both have had published articles and short fiction. This is their first book.

I received an egalley of this book from the authors for the purpose of this review.

Splashdown Books, November 2010, 325 pages.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Code of Justice by Liz Johnson

FBI Agent Heather Sloan and her sister Kit were on a sight seeing helicopter ride to Mt. Saint Helens when disaster strikes.  The helicopter crashes and only Heather survives.  As Heather recovers in the hospital she recalls her sister's last words, "Follow the drugs."  Heather vows to finish the case her sister, with the District Attorney's office, must have been following.  Heather's boss forbids her to work, however, until she has healed.
Multnomah Country Sheriff Deputy Jeremy Latham is on the case of the crash which has been found to be deliberate.  Heather convinces him to let her help in the investigation.  Sparks fly as Jeremy tries to protect Heather from further harm and Heather wants to pursue every lead.  Then evidence of drugs are found at the crash site.  It soon becomes apparent that someone wants Heather dead too.
When the investigation stalls, Heather makes plans to draw out the murderer.  Jeremy is frantic when he learns that the murderer will certainly catch Heather off guard.  Will he find out where unsuspecting Heather is before it is too late?
Johnson has crafted another fast paced plot with believable characters.  It was a satisfying late night read.
There is a discussion guide at the end of the book so it would be suitable for reading groups.

Steeple Hill (the inspirational division of Harelquin), 218 pages.


Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Mending Her Heart by Judy Baer

Catherine Stanhope has quit her lucrative and prestigious job at a big law firm.  She had won a crucial custody case but is distressed that her hard work may not have resulted in the best situation for the child.
She plans to go to a small town in Minnesota, to her grandmother who raised her.  She knows her grandmother will help her make the decisions about her future in law. 
But by the time she has made all the arrangements, her grandmother has died.  When Catherine arrives she finds Will Tanner had been hired by her grandmother and is the midst of restoring the family home.  This causes a problem with her plans to sell the historic house and move on with her life.  And then there is her growing attraction to Will.
There is a discussion guide at the end so this would make a suitable book for a reading group.
It's a simple plot but Baer manages to make it last over 200 pages.  The action and characters are well done.  It was a nice and relaxing late night read.

Steeple Hill (the inspirational series from Harlequin), 215 pages.


Monday, April 4, 2011

Why? by Adam Hamilton

It is a persistent topic, “...the attempt to reconcile belief in a loving and powerful God with the suffering in our world.” (2) Hamilton admits he is not going to solve the issue but wants to give his readers help as we ask questions.

Part of our disappointment with God rise from our assumptions as to how God is supposed to work in our world. We also assume that if we are good God will not allow us to suffer. We assume (or are told) that what happened is part of God's plan, or that God willed it to happen.
Hamilton encourages his readers to investigate an alternative way to make sense between God and suffering. (9) We must consider three foundational ideas. First, God has placed humans in charge of the planet, making them responsible for what happens here. Second, God has given us the ability to choose good from evil. Third, humans struggle with the innate tendency to choose those things that are not God's will.
Hamilton then looks at the categories of suffering: natural disasters (God's intervening to stop them would destroy the planet), suffering caused by human decisions (God-given freedom to choose), and suffering caused by sickness (the result of having flesh and blood bodies in our world).
Hamilton suggests we have disappointment in prayer because of our expectations. We look at a passage like Matt. 21:21-22 and expect Jesus to answer our every prayer. When that doesn't happen, we are told it is our fault, that we lack faith. Hamilton says Jesus often spoke in hyperbole and we should not take a passage like that one literally. Hamilton speaks to the disaster it would be if Jesus answered “yes” to every prayer.
He gives examples of unanswered prayer in the New Testament. They teach us that God does not always answer our prayers as we want but God does not abandon us. He works through the situation for His power to be displayed. God intends us to be the answer to the prayers of others, yet He will not force someone to be the answer to prayer.
Hamilton then addresses how to discern God's will. He suggests we write our own story, with or without God. Ours is part of a much larger story. We need to remember “that the difficult chapters are never the final chapters in our story.” (71)
Hamilton summarizes how he believes “God works in the world and how our faith in God sustains and gives us hope.” (77) He suggests “that God walks with us, that God works through us, that God forces evil and suffering to serve us, and that God ultimately will deliver us.” (77)

This is not a theological work. This is a small book that can be given to someone who feels God has disappointed them. It will not solve all of their theological issues but will give them a basis from which to begin to understand how God works. I am not sure Hamilton is correct in the section about God's sovereignty and man's free will, but it is a difficult subject and perhaps we will never know on this earth how those two truths work together.

I received an egalley from Abingdon Press for the purpose of this review.

Abingdon Press, 97 pages.