Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Sue Ellen's Girl Ain't Fat, She Just Weighs Heavy by Shellie Rushing Tomlinson

Tomlinson, the Belle of All Things Southern, is a “born and bread storyteller.” She hears voices, voices telling her stories. Storytelling runs in her veins.
A few quotes might give you an idea of laugh out loud kind of book this is. On gaining weight: “I've now arrived at the point where my body weight can be sustained with three grapes and two peanuts, hence the...thickening waistline.” (6) On men: “Bubbas don't do context clues.” She suspects it's their hearing. Hearing = effort and Bubbas don't see the need to exert the effort when they can just ask their sweethearts to repeat themselves. Or is it that they are not ready to hear us? They need advance warning that communication is about to begin. It's important to get your man's attention before you start talking.
She waxes eloquent on the “Big Boned Theory,” “weighing heavy,” menopause (the Raging Inferno Syndrome), and the Reclining Male Syndrome.
She tells the story of her Uncle Sam falling asleep during church. “...[A]fter church, when everybody was ribbing him pretty good, he told his side of the story. 'It's like this,' Uncle Stan said, 'I know y'all have heard that it's not polite to fall asleep when your wife is talking haven't you? Well, for goodness' sakes, people, a man has to sleep sometime.'” (51)Tomlinson has divided men into the catagories of Stray Bubbas, House Bubbas, and Yard Bubbas. “...[S]tray Bubbas can be domesticated, but their impulsive tendencies should never be underestimated.” (54-55) House Bubbas are around 24/7. Yard Bubbas clean up well and are a quality choice. He can “stay busy with his own interests while exhibiting unwavering loyalty to his sweetheart.” (55)
She tells stories on herself too. She taught herself to sew while her kids were much too young to notice the extra sleeves on their little jumpers. (126)
One of her chapter titles: Self-Cleaning Underwear, an Idea Whose Time Shall Never Come.
Tomlinson is pretty good at keeping up the laugh out loud stories from her family and friends throughout the book. She describes her writing style as “one prolonged state of digression.” The title of her last chapter says it all: If All Else Fails, Laugh.
Tomlinson has included mouth watering Southern recipes at the end of each chapter. So make something Southern (a weekly recipe on her website) and sit down with this quirky guide to Southern life.
As a Northerner (born and raised on an island in Puget Sound, Washington), I loved this book! If you want to check out some of her craziness, go to www.allthingssouthern.com/.

Shellie Rushing Tomlinson and her husband Phil live and farm in the Louisiana Delta. Tomlinson is owner and publisher of All Things Southern and the host of the weekly radio show All Things Southern as well as a weekly video segment by the same name. Listeners also hear Shellie in her All Things Southern radio segments aired across the South. Shellie writes a weekly inspirational feature in Newsstar and a monthly print and online column for Lousiana Road Trips.

Berkley Books, 320 pages. Buy the book.

I received a copy of this book from Berkley Books for the purpose of this review.

Friday, May 27, 2011

The Trigger by Hon Hoh

The year is 2034 and the time is nearing the end. One event remains – preaching the gospel to the last people group. Satan and his workers are out to make sure that does not happen. The Deceiver has given the approval of the unveiling of the last of all the antichrists. The details are left to Apollyon.
Josh is a successful pastor of a large church. A visiting preacher challenged the congregation, one that was spending 90% of the church budget on staff and ministries of the church itself. The church staff has agreed to redistribute the church budget so 50% can go to missions. Josh wants his lay leadership to adopt an unreached city as a mission project. Yangon, the capitol of Myanmar, is chosen.
A major terrorist assault in 2029 against eight U.S. embassies revealed the ineffectiveness of the United Nations. The U.S. Proposes changes, increasing the size of the Security Council and calling the new organization the United Global Foundation. The president of France opposes the change – until he is possessed by Apollyon. When he agrees to the new form, he also accepts being its first head. The new Security Council has ten members. Could the UGF be the beast of Revelation? Could the French leader be the Antichrist? One of his first acts is to ask the UGF to outlaw the declaring of Christ as the only way.
Josh contemplates is own church. If tribulation would come, how many would renounce their faith? Some hope a rapture would take away believers before the tribulation is intense. Is that really what the Bible teaches?
Coordinated terrorist attacks occur in the major cities of the world. The UGF wants every person to be implanted with a chip as part of a universal identification and monitoring system. Josh understands: the mark of the beast.
Mysterious plagues run through the world, painful but not deadly. The virus is a complex structure, with the appearance of a head, neck and tail. Christians are untouched And the UGF President accuses them of being involved. The global persecution of Christians begins.  Will the last people group be reached in time?

I appreciated the lengthy discussions around the biblical nature of the pre-trib rapture, as well as the possibility of interpreting Revelation in a symbolic way (e.g. the locusts of the fifth trumpet being viruses). It was refreshing to read an “end times” book where Christians did not get raptured out before all the trouble begins!
It was disconcerting to read of the angels have a conversation about “what if” the trigger will succeed as planned. Raphael asks Gabriel, "What if the trigger fails?” (80) Hoh does not seem to have a sense of the sovereignty of God with respect to earthly events. The future is determined by the decisions of man, not the plan of God.
It is hard, I think, to predict 25 years from now what the political situation in a nation like China will be. Hoh has the nation very communist and very anti-Christian. Who is to know what China will be like then?
The reader does learn a great deal about people groups and the supposed Christian advances in them by 2034

Author: Hoh has been a pastor in Australia for over ten years and is gifted in preaching, teaching, and visionary leadership. He is a graduate of the University of Melbourne (Psychology), the Swinburne Institute of Technology, the Bible College of Victoria, and the Harvest Bible College (M.A. Ministry). Hoh worked in the field of social welfare prior to entering pastoral ministries.

Author website: www.livingimpact.org/ 

List Price: $19.99
Paperback: 368 pages
Publisher: Living Impact (May 16, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0578071959
ISBN-13: 978-0578071954

I received an egalley from The B&B Media Group on behalf of the author for the purpose of this review.

The Boy Who Came Back from Heaven By Kevin & Alex Malarkey

What if there was a person who had been to heaven and stayed long enough to learn about it?
In November of 2004 William Alexander Malarkey and his father were in an auto accident. Alex, six at the time, was not expected to live. He was in a coma for two months. He was in heaven during that time.
The narrative of the accident alternates between Kevin and Alex (with periodic additions by others). Kevin struggled with guilt, knowing that he was responsible for the accident (there had been an oncoming car in a blind spot at an intersection). Alex had had his first and second vertebra separated. They were at a forty five degree angle. He had suffered an internal decapitation. Only skin, muscle and ligaments were holding his head on his body.
He was not expected to live, and, if he did, was expected to be severely brain damaged. He was being kept alive by machines.
A Christian paramedic had prayed for Alex. He encouraged Beth to believe Alex would live and be restored. She had to keep faith.
Kevin notes the large number of those visiting Alex. A prayer vigil was organized for his room. On the third day the medical staff was convinced Alex would survive. A web site was created for people praying with updates and feedback opportunities. The pressure put a strain on their marriage.
While people were praying for Alex to survive, he was in the presence of God. He had a body like a human body but a lot bigger. Alex could only see up to His neck because no one could see His face or they would die. He didn't see any people, only God, Jesus, and angels. He was inside the gate. (Alex suggests that when people say they have been to heaven and seen people they know, they are outside the gate, an “outer” heaven. There is a hole in the outer heaven that goes to hell.)
Everything is more intense in the “inner” heaven, where Alex was. It is the place God has prepared for us. When asked about other things in the inner heaven, Alex said he was not allowed to talk about some of it - God said.
“Perfect” is Alex's favorite word to describe heaven. Even the most beautiful thing we see here is warped compared to heaven.
Angels are neither boys or girls. They are white and have wings. Some are as tall as adults while others were as short as children. And the devil, well, you'll just have to read the book for his unusual description.
In the midst of this trial, an ice storm struck the area. Many trees fell on their property, including one on their home. They had to sleep at Beth's sister's house for a week.
Kevin shares his thoughts on trials in general. He takes the reader through Alex's operations, the unexpected healings, eye movement after almost two months, then a smile, the move to a rehab center, the possibility of no further recovery, his slow but sure progress, then a spoken word, then more and finally Alex began to talk about his experience.
No, Alex has not been completely healed. He is in a motorized wheel chair and uses his mouth to control a mouse for computer work. As Kevin writes, “Alex's body is not where we wish it were, but his spirit is far beyond where we could have ever imagined when we prayed, at his birth, that our son would walk closely with God.”
Even without Alex's experiences of heaven, this is an encouraging book. It is encouraging to read about the many people who helped, who prayed, who supported the family in so many ways. It is also encouraging to read about the angelic visitors (independent people verifying). Kevin is honest about the pressure that was put on their marriage and their daily lives. He knows it was not his own strength that carried them through the ordeal.
To see current information, go to: http://www.prayforalex.com/home.php

Tyndale House Publishers, 248 pages.

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

Global Climate Change by Orrin and Keith Pilkey

Pilkey and son wrote this book as a primer on global change. It is intended for the layperson.
They begin with a general explanation of the greenhouse effect, including the relevant gases in the atmosphere. Where the gases originate and the impact of each is covered. While there is debate as to the amount of carbon dioxide that should be allowed in the atmosphere, its reduction is essential.
The authors go through the evidence that the earth is warming. The effect is seen more in the higher latitudes (in Alaska the overall average temperature has risen 3.1 degrees F since the beginning of the twentieth century) than the tropical zones. Local effects will be variable. Each continent will have its own temperature curve because of other factors in addition to greenhouse gases. Eighty percent of earth's heat gain over the last fifty years has been stored in the oceans.
The impact of global warming is hard to predict. In general, wet regions will become wetter and dry regions dryer. Warm air can contain more water vapor (about 7% more for every 1.8 degrees F – 1 degree C) so there will be more rainfall globally. Undoubtedly there will be more flooding, caused by more extreme rainfall events. Sea levels will rise.
Desert areas are expected to increase in the American West, Australia, China, and Africa. In the past desertification was caused by human activity but climate change will also be a cause.
“There is considerable speculation over whether global change, especially the warming ocean, will lead to more frequent and more intense storms.” While North Atlantic hurricanes have increased in number and intensity over the last century, globally there has been no such trend.
The authors investigate the roots of the doubts cast on global change, identifying the major players. “Between 1998 and 2005 ExxonMobile gave almost $16 million dollars [sic] to anti-global warming advocacy organizations.” Koch Industries is another big spender, even outspending ExxonMobile. Other main sources of funding are pro-business and fossil fuel industries.
They note, “Among those who do research in any aspect of climate change there is essentially no controversy concerning whether global warming is upon us or whether humans are at least partly the cause of the problem. “...[T]he scientific debate is about details...”
Ice sheets are a major driver in the predicted rise in sea levels. “At present...the ice sheets are losing mass and melting at an ever-increasing rate.” Based on satellite observations, Greenland is loosing 247 billion metric tons of ice a year while West Antarctica is losing 120 billion metric tons. The Antarctic ice sheet in the east was seen to have a net loss for the first time in 2009. The melting of alpine glaciers is noted as well as shrinking ice caps in the Arctic. “Arctic lands are warming at five times the global average...” They report on the rising sea level as well as its acidification. Geoengineering, the large-scale manipulation of the environment, is investigated.
Each section has “myths” that are corrected. The authors have included an extensive bibliography.
“Global change is a certainty and the direction of change is well understood. But rates, volumes, and levels remain uncertain.”
Authors: Orrin Pilkey is the James B. Duke Professor Emeritus of Earth and Ocean Science at the Nichols School of the Environment at Duke University. Keith Pilkey is an attorney.
Artist: Mary Edna Fraser is a batik artist employing ancient fabric-dying techniques.

Duke University Press, 160 pages.  Publisher information.

I received an egalley of this book from Duke University Press for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Corruptible by Mark Mynheir

If you like the good old hard boiled detective novels, you'll like The Corruptible.
Ray Quinn is an ex-cop turned PI. He has a bum leg from his police days (a result of being shot in the hip) and walks with a cane. And he drinks too much. He uses the alcohol to numb the pain in his leg. Usually he has it under control. His friend Pam, for whom he found a murderer in the first Quinn novel, is a Christian and keeps bugging him about his drinking.
Quinn is hired by a huge financial company to find a hard drive with stolen information and the fellow whole stole it. The thief is another ex-cop, Logan, who had been hired by the company for security. When the fellow turns up murdered, the plot thickens.
Quinn is a tough character. He does not always abide by the rules. He is well liked within the police force and now “consults” for them so he can get into a lot of areas other Pis could not. Quinn finds out that Logan had contacted the FBI before he was murdered. Then it seems that someone is out to murder Quinn too.
This is not a “cozy” mystery. Quinn is a likable character (he has his soft side) but he has lots of rough edges. One does find that by the end of the novel Quinn realizes he needs to get sober. I would think that in future novels Quinn will see his need for salvation too. He grows in this novel and I am sure there is more to come. (There is no swearing or anything like that.)
Mynheir is a violent crimes investigator and knows how to write a good detective mystery. Quinn and his novice side kick, Crevis, have a good working relationship. Quinn is helping Crevis pass the policeman's exam (an evidence of Quinn's soft heart). And Quinn thinks he might have found a gal who likes him...except...

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

Sunday, May 22, 2011

When Life is Hard by James MacDonald

Why does life have to be so hard?
MacDonald was a successful pastor in the Chicago suburbs when it started crashing down. Their oldest son broke his neck in a car accident. The church building project for the 10,000 attendees went bad. Bankruptcy loomed. Staff left. And then he was diagnosed with prostate cancer.
MacDonald went to southern California for treatment, physical for his cancer and biblical for his spirit. He agreed to preach at Greg Laurie's church in Riverside. Those six messages became this book.
Tribulation comes into every life. It is not what we're going through that makes the difference. “The great divider is how we handle the times when life is hard.” (15)
MacDonald looks at key biblical passages dealing with hard times. There are things God wants us to know and do when life is hard.
“When life is hard, it is for a reason.” (24) MacDonald says, “A trial is a painful circumstance allowed by God to change my conduct and my character.” (26) God spanks His children. We are in training and experience God's discipline. God is getting us to a better place. God never disciplines out of anger. (MacDonald notes that a trial is not a consequence of sin. 33) We are disciplined for our good and to share His holiness.
MacDonald has suggestions on how to make the best of a trial. He helps the reader have insight as to why God has allowed the trial to happen, what God is seeking to accomplish, how to have the joy James commands, how to recognize the benefits of a trial, and how to ask the right “why.” He has a great section on what to do during trials based on 1 Peter 4. He also speaks to the issue of not responding the right way to trials. He helps us understand the “thorn,” the trial that never ends and gives helpful suggestions to successfully endure them.
“Following Jesus means suffering is the norm, not the exception!” (76) “God is far more interested in your holiness than in your temporary happiness.” (97) “This trial could be the best thing that has ever happened to you.” (197)
To help the reader internalize the message MacDonald has included at the end of each chapter a prayer, appropriate Scripture passages, and questions for reflection. The last chapter reviews the sixteens lessons discovered through this book. Those lessons are great!
Visit www.whenlifeishard.com to download a discussion guide for the book as well as other resources.

I highly recommend this book. It may be the best I have read on trials. It would make an excellent small group study.

Moody Press, 200 pages.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

The Rhythm of Secrets by Patti Lacy

Sheila Franklin is living a secret. Now the wife of a Chicago pastor, she was talented pianist when young and had enjoyed the colorful jazz of New Orleans in the 1940s.
Her life had changed when she became pregnant at eighteen. She was sent off to a home run by nuns and when her baby boy was born she was forced to give him up for adoption.
She went to Moody Bible Institute, met the handsome Edward Franklin and married.
Edward is a successful conservative pastor when Sheila's past crashes into the present. Sheila's son has tracked her down. They meet and hesitantly get to know each other. Samuel asks for his mother's help in rescuing Mali, a woman he met while on duty in Vietnam. She is a young woman forced into prostitution and Samuel loves her.
Sheila agrees to go to Thailand and they manage to fly there on a C-130. Things do not go well for them there as Mali is owned by a very powerful underworld figure. While attempting to get Mali out of the country they are kidnapped by Mali's owner and held. They are rescued by a retired American general who throws his weight around.
Edward, initially having a great deal of difficulty with Sheila's hidden past, suddenly has a change of heart, appears in Bangkok to help her, and in the end loves her dearly.

The story took a long time to develop. Lacy uses the technique of alternating between the present situation and the past, a technique that dragged at times. I had a great deal of difficulty with the “live happily ever after” ending. I live in a military community and I am not convinced a retired general would have the power Lacy gives him to rescue Sheila, Samuel and Mali. I know how difficult it is for a civilian to get on base (without paperwork), let alone on a military transport, so I doubt getting on a C-130 to fly to Thailand was realistic. Also, the turn about by Edward seems a bit abrupt.
In the end, I would recommend the book as Lacy has done a good job bringing Sheila through the growth she needed to experience in dealing with her past and the hurts it caused. The defects in the book are outweighed by the overall story.  There are discussion questions at the end of the book.
This book is based on a true story, prompted by a newspaper article Lacy read.

Kregel Publications, 332 pages.

See more at: www.pattilacy.com

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

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Next Decade by George Friedman

Friedman is a global strategist. He thinks recent Presidents have lost sight of the strategy that served the U.S. well for most of the last century. “The overriding necessity for American policy in the decade to come is a return to the balanced, global strategy that the United States learned from the example of ancient Rome and from the Britain of a hundred years ago.” (3) Rather than using force, regional players were set against each other. A balance of powers was maintained.
The U.S. became disoriented after 9/11, losing sight of its long-term strategic principles. Attempting to win a war on terror would require overwhelming resources.
Recovering from this distraction will consume the U.S. for the next decade. The U.S. must return to a policy of maintaining regional balances of power. Recent U.S. policy in the Middle East has upset the balance that had been there for half a century. The Israelis are no longer constrained by their neighbors, Pakistan has been greatly weakened and is no longer a counter balance to India. The collapse of the Iraqi state leaves the Iranians as the most powerful military force in the area.
Friedman says decisions to restore balance will be controversial. He suggests the U.S. must distance itself from Israel and must strengthen Pakistan. Some distasteful accommodations must be made toward Iran.
The Russians have begun to reassert themselves while Americans were distracted. He U.S. must block relationships between Germany and Russia while cultivating a relationship with Poland. China's economic performance will slow and the U.S. should shift its interest to Japan, the real economic power.
The U.S. has become an empire, Friedman says. The President must formulate policies “that will allow us to properly manage the world we find ourselves in charge of.” (21) Alliances may need to be created with countries that had previously been regarded as strategic and moral threats.
Friedman predicts “the emergence of a very different sort of Europe in the next decade...” (143) Europe was left exhausted after the World Wars. A federation of countries tried to restore European influence, dwarfed by the U.S. and U.S.S.R. during the Cold War. “The EU remains an elective relationship, created for the convenience of its members, and if it becomes inconvenient, nations can leave.” (151) There are still unresolved issues after the 2008 financial crisis. The EU will not disappear but it will not be “a major player on the world stage.” (154) The next decade will see Germany allied more closely with France and Russia while Britain will move closer to the U.S.
Chinese economy will face harsh tests in the next ten years while Japan will begin to recover from its failures. India will not be a significant player in the next decade. Bringing Cuba back under American influence is a rational policy for the long term. Bolivia is the only South American country with the potential to rival the U.S.
Regarding Mexico, the U.S. should appear to do everything to stop illegal immigration and drugs while making sure such efforts fail. The relationship with Canada will remain stable. Africa should be left alone, allowing countries to sort themselves out.
Whew, Friedman says much about the future of U.S. policy. It will be interesting to see how accurate he was as the years pass.

This is definitely a book worth reading. I may not agree with Friedman all the time but his historical information and reasons for his suggested policies were very insightful. The next time the President makes a policy statement regarding Iran, for example, I will understand a great deal more about the reasons behind it than I did previously.

Doubleday, 243 pages.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

The Judas Gospel by Bill Myers

Bill Myers is an author who likes to stir things up in his novels and he certainly does so in this one.
Judas thought Jesus had done it all wrong. He has a plan to market the gospel. He petitions God for another chance. What would happen if Judas came back?
Rachel is a Black nineteen year old girl who was traumatized when her mother and sister were killed in a house fire. She doesn't talk, except to those she trusts. She lives with her father, an accountant and the preacher of a small inner city church.
Rachel used to see things. She had dreams but they stopped after the fire. Then Mr. Jude Miller shows up at church and Rachel has the power again. A young child is healed by Rachel's touch.
She dreams, seeing the murder of the assistant chief of police. She writes a letter to the police department but will not talk to the officers who want to question her. The police suspect her. And then she has another dream and there has been another murder.
Jude Miller is busy promoting Rachel's gift and people flock to the small church. He knows how to draw in the people desperate for a touch from God. He's slick. He is good at marketing the gospel. He is good at convincing Rachel she must use the gifts God has given her. He gets her on a glitzy Christian TV show. She heals people. She is a sensation. She hardly notices that she no longer has any sense or feeling of God's presence.
Then things aren't going to well for Rachel. The healings don't “work.” Her dad has a stroke and she is powerless to help him. And then she has another dream. There will be another murder. Can she convince anyone who is really behind the murders?
And there is evil out there. Someone wants Rachel dead. The evil controls him and has formed a plan.

This book got my emotions going. When Rachel is taken in by the glitzy Christian TV host, the phoniness of it, the marketing of Jesus...it made me angry. But then I realized it was nothing that we do not see on TV today! Myers says much of the televangelist sections are based on interviews and personal behind-the-scene observations.
A book discussion group would have much to discuss with this novel (discussion questions are provided at the end of the book). Is God active in the world today, healing, revealing, etc? Is it right to use the ways of the world to promote the gospel?  Those are just a couple of the issues from this book.

Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster, 298 pages.

I received an egalley from Simon and Schuster, the publisher, for the purpose of this review.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Pressing Into Thin Places by Margaret Wills

We all have difficulties in our spiritual lives, the fears, disappointments, and trials. Wills encourages our hearts and minds toward God by pointing to the wisdom, hope, and faithfulness of the Scriptures and the Holy Spirit. (xvii)
Every once and a while God helps our faith by lifting the veil. “He lets us experience the 'thin place.'” (7) These are the places where the veil that separates heaven and earth is nearly transparent. We experience a deep sense of God's presence. We feel the divine breaking into our world. Through her stories and poems, Wills shares some of her “thin places.”
In 1 Sam. 30:6 David “strengthened himself in the Lord.” Wills suggests we can do the same, “...by going into His presence and letting Him guide our thinking.” (32) We can meditate on Scripture as David did. “David poured out his heart to God in worship, meditation, and prayer.” (33) It was a choice he made despite his feelings.
Wills speaks of her own hard times and that the resulting forced dependence upon God is a good thing. (41) We pray, “deliver me” prayers. What we really want is a guarantee of the future. Sometimes we get to the “whether or not” prayers – faith.
Wills knows we'd all like an easy life. “We don't want to need to trust God.” (130) But, “It is when we choose to depend on Him for our demands of everyday life that we experience His faithfulness.” (129-130)
Wills book is a good encouragement for difficult times. Those hurting will find hope in its pages.

A writer and a poet, Dr. Wills is dedicated to the ministry of encouragement andhelping people experience hope, wisdom, and faith in their spiritual journey. She has written for a number of publications including The Journal of the Fort Smith Historical Society. She previously served on the board of the Arkansas Community Foundation. Dr. Wills makes her home in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains in Fort Smith, Arkansas.

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

A portion of the the sales of Pressing into Thin Places will go to the John Brown University Center for Relationship Enrichment.

Brown Christian Press – April 2011, ISBN 978-1-934812-99-0/208 pages

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Point of No Return by Susan May Warren

Josh Lund, college student, went to work for a month in Georgia (the country, not the state), at a mission. While the rest of the team returns, Josh decides to stay. And then word comes through to his family that he has run off with a woman. The problem is that the woman is the daughter of a rebel, Akif Bashim, who had already arranged her marriage – with great financial gain to him.
Mae, Josh's aunt, promises his mom she will find him and bring him back. Mae has been in the military and can fly anything that gets into the air.
Chet Stryker (these two have a past) tries to talk her out of going. The two love each other, but there is too much hurt and misunderstanding for them to agree.
Mae takes off for Eastern Europe and is surprised to find Chet joining her. Government officials have convinced him to find the girl so the intended marriage can take place. The marriage would help provide political stability.
Chet has had a run in with Akif Bashim before. He had fallen in love with Bashim's daughter Carissa and when Bashim found out about it, beat them both. Chet had escaped but was convinced his lack of control had gotten Carissa killed. Now there is a bounty on his head. He is going into the country at his own peril. Is it really because he loves Mae and wants to protect her?   
The Christian faith of Chet and Mae come into play as they both must trust God, not only for their physical safety but for their emotional well being too.
I can tell from reading this book that Chet and Mae have a previous history. Apparently there are some “Russian” books Warren has written about these two. Nonetheless, even without the prior history, this is a good read. I did think the ending was good and bad. It was good because not every one lived happily ever after, just like life. It was bad because I felt the author cheated a bit in having the cavalry come to the rescue, so to speak, at the last minute.

Steeple Hill Books, a division of Harlequin, 216 pages.

See more of Warren's work: www.susanmaywarren.com

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Alarmists by Don Hoesel

It is December of 2012. A special Pentagon task force headed by Colonel Richards has noticed an increase in man-made and natural disasters. Brent Michaels is a sociologist whose specialty is seeing order in chaos. He is pulled on to the team in an attempt to understand what is going on.
Arthur Van Camp might just be the richest man in the world. But he wants more. He owns a number of companies, companies that would benefit from unrest in the world. So he has been causing it. An oil refinery bombed. A terrorist attack. And the events accelerate as the time gets closer to December 21, the day the Mayan calendar ends.
Captain Amy Madigan has been assigned as Michael's right hand assistant. As the two pursue the analysis of the troubling events, they also begin to get to know each other. The excitement grows as they go with a team to investigate a terrorist attack and are attacked themselves.
Van Camp's right had man is Alan Canield. He is given the money and power to cause the necessary havoc. His grand plan is to plant explosives on an ice shelf in eastern Antarctica and blow the shelf on December 21. The resulting tsunami would hit the coast of China with a vengeance, killing millions. And who would the Chinese blame but the U.S. Canfield has a plan and it is progressing right on schedule.
Only Richards' team can stop the planned devastation.

Hoesel has crafted an exciting novel. The action is believable and the characters are well developed. I recommend this book for a great read.

Bethany House, 314 pages.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

True Courage by Steve Farrar

Farrar uses the life of Daniel to show that God gives true courage in the midst of life's troubles. Daniel found strength in God's assurance of hope for the future. That hope is the basis for courage. “True Courage is found in a heart that believes and trusts in the living God – period.” (14) Daniel found his world turned upside down. Yet he became a man of remarkable influence for some seventy years.
Daniel had three traits: humility, trust, and hope. They were woven into his character and decision making. Daniel knew God and His ways and had maturity and faith beyond his years. Daniel counted on the sovereignty of God and it was his confidence in God that gave him True Courage.
Farrar uses Nebuchadnezzar as an example of our pride causing us to learn our lessons the hard way. Farrar encourages us to have a teachable spirit.
God delivered Daniel and his friends and Farrar says, “Know this: It is a slight thing for the Lord to deliver you.” (183)
Even late in Daniel's life, at around age eighty, he was still razor sharp, interpreting the writing on the wall. Farrar notes, “God always has a leader prepared and ready for the day of crisis.” (197) “God always has a plan in place to replace human failure.” (199)
Farrar ends his by showing Daniel as a man of prayer, waiting on God's deliverance.

I have mixed feelings about this book. I can foresee that his statement, “It is a slight thing for the Lord to deliver you,” (183) could be devastating to someone who has not been “delivered.” If it is such a “slight” thing for the Lord... I think Farrar has taken something very complicated – God's plans for each person's life – and made “slight” of it.
Another aspect of Farrar's writing that I found very distracting is his strange sense of humor. He calls Nebuchadnezzar “Neb.” He likens Belshazzar's feast to an Academy Award night. He writes of the “SAT scores” of Belshazzar's wise men. (194) He speaks of the Medo-Persian “Navy SEALs.” (210)  Here is a totally unnecessary attempt to be humorous: “So you've got to pay attention here. Ugbaru and Gubaru were not Saddam Hussein's two sons.” (210) Here is another attempt, Farrar writing of Judah fearing the Assyrians: “So they cashed in their IRAs and 401(k)s and went down to Egypt...” (223)
I found Farrar's writing so quirky, with attempts at lightheartedness in the midst of serious topics, it detracted from the message. I would have preferred an editor to have encouraged Farrar to keep his writing at a higher level, one equal to the weight of his message.

David C Cook, 226 pages.

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

See: www.stevefarrar.com 

Publisher information.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Health, Wealth & Happiness by David Jones and Russell Woodbridge

Christianity is a world view that impacts all aspects of life, including finances. Jones contends that “prosperity theology is a corruption of [God's] self-revelation, a distortion of His plan of redemption, and an idea that can ultimately lead to a reckless view of the material world.” (8) Woodbridge realized “that the purpose of life is not about accumulated money, health, or a great career – it's about knowing God.” (9) Hence, their writing this book.
The prosperity gospel is growing. Fifty of the largest churches in the U.S. promote it. (15) A recent survey found 46 percent of self-proclaimed Christians agree that God will give material riches to believers who have enough faith. (16)
The authors give a survey of the historical foundations of the movement and its relation to New Thought, a movement that began in the late nineteenth century. The teachings of New Thought are reviewed, including that the mind creates and controls reality, that God is an impersonal force, people are essentially gods, and a focus on health and wealth.
Then they give a summary of the teachings of the prosperity gospel. E. W. Kenyon was it's father. “Kenyon believed that positive confession is the key to prosperous living.” (52) Kenneth Hagin was it's greatest evangelist and the father of the Word Faith movement. The authors review the problematic teachings of these and other prosperity teachers and preachers.
The authors then move to the doctrinal errors of the prosperity gospel, comparing it to the message of the biblical gospel. Areas compared include faith, the atonement (supposedly including physical healing), and the Abrahamic covenant.
They look at the important biblical teachings on suffering as a correction to the prosperity gospel. They show that suffering is a “normative part of the biblical record and everyday life...” (110) “Much personal suffering is the result of natural evil... ...[T]he purpose of such suffering is ultimately to foster a person's relationship with the Lord.” (113) Some suffering is the result of moral evil, willful breaking of the law of God, sometimes by someone else.
The authors then build a theology of wealth and poverty. They admit that it is challenging to establish an ethic of wealth and poverty from the example of Christ. “...He gave no systematic, detailed economic plan to His followers.” (133) Their synthesis of O. T., gospels, and epistles yields: labor is good, the Lord's followers are to minister to the poor, and wealth can be a spiritual stumbling block. (138) The authors go over the four possible ways to connect material wealth/poverty and spiritual wealth/poverty. They conclude, “A study of the biblical teaching on wealth and poverty makes clear that the prosperity gospel is not the biblical gospel.” (140)
Finally, they look at giving, being a faithful steward. They note that, “...generosity is one of the best indicators of the condition of the heart.” (146) O. T. law required Jews to give “more than 25 percent in annual income tax to the theocratic government of Israel.” (151, quoting John MacArthur) While the N. T. is relatively silent n tithing (153), it does provide several principles of giving. Giving is to be periodic, personal, planned, proportionate, and plentiful. The authors review principles of choosing recipients.
The authors conclude by helping the readers discern if a false gospel is being taught in their church. They also have suggestions on helping you minister to those you know caught up in the prosperity gospel.
The authors provide a summary at the end of each chapter, great for review.
This is a slim (165 pages) but powerful book. The Scripture and subject indices at the end of the book are great. Every evangelical Christian needs to read a book like this one to be aware of what is currently being taught in churches. I highly recommend it.

David W. Jones (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) serves as associate professor of Christian Ethics and coordinator of ThM and Thesis Studies at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. The coauthor of God, Marriage and Family, David is a frequent speaker at churches, ministries, and conferences. He lives in North Carolina with his wife and four children.

Russell S. Woodbridge (PhD, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is currently serving in Eastern Europe with the International Mission Board. He has lectured on the prosperity gospel both in the seminary classroom and the church, and published articles on Christian stewardship. Russell currently resides in Kiev, Ukraine, with his wife and four children.

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

Friday, May 13, 2011

Died in the Wool by Elizabeth Ludwig and Janelle Mowery

There is money to be had from the city and librarian Monah wants it for much needed upgrades of the library computers. Wayne is trying to sell the community on a sports complex. Ken wants the money for the fire department. And Miss Tait thinks the school district is in dire need of the funds.
It has been a cold day in the library. The air conditioner won't quit and library patrons are shivering. And then comes in dour Miss Tait with teenagers. Trying to ease Miss Tait's complaining about the cold, Monah gives her the wool sweater on the back of her chair.
As Monah is ready to close the library for the day, she notices a light in the bathroom and finds the summer school teacher dead. It turns out she has been poisoned. Was it in the water Monah gave Miss Tait?
Monah and Detective Mike are sweet on each other but the situation becomes difficult when it appears Monah might be a suspect in the murder case. A few days later an outdoor street fair is held and Monah is there, selling extra books to make some money for the library. Wayne dies shortly after having been given a bottle of water by Monah.
It doesn't look good for Monah or the relationship she has with Detective Mike. She only way she can prove her innocence is the find the killer herself. Just when she thinks she has found the culprit, the situation becomes more complex and she finds she might be next on the killer's list.
This is one of the HomeTown Mysteries from Barbour Publishing and it was delightful. The authors have done a good job with plot and characters. Monah and Mike are Christians and their faith comes through well. There is a good combination of mystery and humor. For a light mystery, this fits the bill.

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

Barbour Publishing, 256 pages.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The DMZ by Jeanette Windle

It's the end of the Cold War and most of the Marxists have faded into the woodwork. But there is still the issue of drugs and rebels in Columbia. It is a nation at war with itself.
The U. S. suspects other countries have influence in the country. The decision: “Whether we go into Columbia and end up with another Vietnam on our hands or stay back and watch the entire hemisphere south of our borders go up in flames, the mess is going to be ours to clean up.” (52)
The U. S. loses a surveillance plane and then a Black Hawk. Something serious is going on in the DMZ. The aircraft had been destroyed by weapons better than just surface to air missiles.
Julie Baker and other reporters fly into rebel territory to have a staged interview with rebel leaders. Canadian medical personnel are along to determine the cause of death of three western people, bodies held by the rebels. Julie had grown up in the area – her parents missionaries. She cannot resist an attempt to get out of the guarded area to see her childhood home and her parent's graves. She, along with a missionary who followed her, are “caught stupidly wandering out of bounds...” (210) They are captured by rebels and arrested as spies. (I found this a weak part of the plot, that one who grew up in the area would do something so dumb.)
Julie, with the help of a local who remembered her from childhood, manages to escape. She and an undercover U. S. soldier, Rick, manage to survive in the jungle and eventually come in contact with more of the I'paa from her childhood. They tell a tale of foreigners, “white ghosts,” and death. Rick and Julie investigate and find that Arab terrorists had chosen a site deep in the Columbian rain forest, nearly impenetrable. A deadly weapon is being readied for great destruction – and it is directed toward the U. S.
This is a long book (over 500 pages). The author is herself the daughter of missionary parents and grew up in the mountains of Columbia. She has much to say about the country. Because of this, there is fleeting action interwoven with pages of prose. There is lots of thinking by the characters, lots of Columbian history, and lots of philosophy.
Windle has several messages to convey. There is the defense of missionaries. There is the assurance that Americans would not achieve peace with any meaning or any length. (353) There is the dismay that the lure of discovered oil made the preservation of the rain forest secondary in the government's eyes. (105)
The beginning of the book is a little confusing. We do not meet the main character, Julie, until page 71. Windle has one of her characters saying, “...it'll be a whole lot easier if we can just brief you from the beginning.” (48) I wish she would have taken her character's advice. Jumping around at the beginning of the book, introducing characters we never see again or don't see for hundreds of pages – I found that a literary technique that detracted from the overall book.
This book was initially published in 2001 and was recently reissued. But much has changed on the world scene in a decade. Iraq is a major terrorist player in this novel and a viable power in the Middle East. That certainly dates the book.
This is definitely not a “page turner.” I found I had to plod through the book, so to speak. If one is interested in Columbia and what was going on there around a decade ago, this would be a fine book to read. But don't read it for riveting action – it's not there until about the last thirty pages.

Jeanette Windle: As the child of missionary parents, Windle, an award-winning author and journalist, grew up in the rural villages, jungles, and mountains of Colombia, now guerrilla hot zones. Currently based in Lancaster, PA, Windle has lived in six countries and traveled in more than thirty on five continents. She has fifteen books in print, including political/suspense best-seller CrossFire, The Parker Twins series and Tyndale House Publishers releases: Betrayed, Veiled Freedom, and Freedom's Stand.

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

Publisher information.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Fall to Grace by Jay Bakker

Bakker believes grace has the power to change lives. It is revolutionary in our understanding of God, ourselves, and our relationships with others.
Bakker is the son of Jim and Tammy Faye and gives s short account of his early life. He started partying at age thirteen and quit school while in the tenth grade. A friend stayed by him and he eventually became a grace convert. He is now the co-pastor of Revolution Church NYC.
One area where Bakker got me thinking was his section on “gossiping about God.” He says “we play fast and loose with God's reputation” when we say a disaster was God's response to sin (as some preachers did with Hurricane Katrina, 9/11, etc.). (68)
Bakker says we need to stand up for grace, as Paul did. If “works” is not a mean to salvation, it is not a means of losing salvation, either.
It was here that Bakker's book began to take a turn that was out of left field. If no deeds can determine our salvation (earn or lose) then we have freedom. “...[F]reedom to indulge our sinful side,” (131) and freedom to let the Holy Spirit control our lives. (132)
As I continued reading the book, I began to realize that rather than a book on grace in general, this is Bakker's defense of gay participation in church life.
Bakker does not like “church discipline.” He says that Jesus' command to the woman caught in adultery (go and sin no more), “has always given me trouble.” (140) Of Paul's instruction in 1 Cor. 5:5, to make the unrepentant sinner leave the church, Bakker says, “This Scripture is so easily abused that, frankly, I wish Paul had never said it.” “It shows that even Paul, the Apostle of Love, let his anger get the better of him from time to time.” (142)
He notes only “six or seven [verses] appear to condemn same-sex behavior in any way; meanwhile, there are literally thousands of references to love and compassion.” (168) He argues that, sure, the OT condemns homosexuality but condemns eating shellfish and women wearing pants. “You can't pick and choose the laws you want to enforce.” (170) Regarding OT laws, “...[I]t's all or nothing...” (170)
He explains NT prohibitions by exploring the Greek and saying the passages are actually condemning male prostitution, ritual sex, etc. Bakker says, “There is simply no biblical equivalent to the modern conception of consensual, same-sex, monogamous love between adults.” (170) He applauds the third edition of the NRSV that leaves out the term “homosexual” from the NT altogether.
Bakker says, “Just to be clear; I am not saying that homosexuality is a sin that should be accepted because of grace. I don't believe that being gay is a sin.” (163)
I am not exactly clear what Bakker does consider sin, or if it really matters to him. He says, “Because no man is innocent, no man is guilty. We're all pardoned. We're all saved.” (152) In the context it was a bit difficult to figure out if Bakker is a universalist or if he was talking about “believers.” He does not offer the “plan of salvation,” so to speak, so I am not sure.

In my estimation, Bakker has ignored some serious aspects of the question. He does not address Paul's lengthy passage in Romans one. Since he does not consider homosexuality a sin, he does not go into the concept of loving the sinner yet hating the sin. He also does not touch on the concept of accepting celibate gays into church life while not accepting practicing gays.

Faith Words, a division of Hachette Book Group, 194 pages.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Nick of Time by Tim Downs

I really like Nick Polchack the Bug Man novels and I think this is the best one yet!
In a previous story Nick met Alena, Dog Woman. She trains dogs, including a cadaver dog that helped Nick solve a mystery. She is as odd as Nick is, living in an isolated area with all her dogs.
As this novel begins, Nick and Alena are getting married in a week. Except that Nick has received a letter from a good friend, asking Nick to attend the monthly meeting of forensic professionals who work on cold cases. He promises Alena he'll call her every evening.
He is to meet his friend at the meeting but he never shows. Nick goes to his friend's house but it is locked. Then he sees flies hitting the inside of the windows.
One thing leads to another and Nick is obsessed by a murder. His attempts to solve the mystery takes him to a small town where the deputy sheriff died in a hunting accident (or was it murder).
Nick continues to follow the evidence. Nick never calls Alena – one night he's in jail and another he is out in the woods, far from cell coverage.
Alena finally decides to take three of her dogs and find Nick! She gets mixed up in the mystery and instead of finding Nick, ends up with a murder's gun to her head.
Will Nick finally come to his senses and realize he loves Alena more than he does his bugs? Will he find Alena before the murderer kills her? And even is she is rescued, will she forgive Nick and go through with the wedding?
The characteristic humor is there. And Nick is as strange as ever. The story line is good with a great twist near the end.
This book can stand alone, if you have never read another Bug Man novel. But who would want to miss even one of them?

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

Thursday, May 5, 2011

Holy Guacamole by Dan & Denise Harmer

Bonnie Miller is the queen of Southwestern cuisine with a popular southern California restaurant and a very successful television show. She also has an attitude.
Trace Domingo is a washed up sports writer who manages to get invited to Miller's culinary boot camp. When the two are in the same room, sparks fly – as well as pots and pans.
Trace comes face to face with quirky characters in his dormitory. He meets Kelp, Bonnie's gardener/protector with a surfing goat.
When Trace investigates strange sounds coming from under his bed he discovers a hidden cave that opens to the beach. When Trace convinces Bonnie to check it out, they discover a chest with a Zorro costume, an old journal, and get chased by the high tide.
On what seems like a whim, Bonnie decides to go to Mexico. She asks Trace to drive her. Adopted, Bonnie is on a journey to find her mother. She and Trace find trouble instead. They are kidnapped by one of the meanest outlaws there is and are held for a multimillion dollar ransom.
They manage to escape and Bonnie is able to find the orphanage that housed her. Bonnie had been born with a large facial defect and had been left to die. Her rescue had been a miracle. Bonnie finds more of her history than she would like as she is told who her real father is. Just when she has the opportunity to adopt a couple of the children in the orphanage, her evil kidnapper shows up with a vengeance.
Through all of these adventures, Bonnie finally realizes, “I fed my ego, but my soul was famished.” (260) When she finally returns to her home, her staff is shocked. She is a new person. The “ice queen” is gone. Bonnie has found love, both God's and, well, Trace's.

Not a bad book from debut authors Dan & Denise Harmer. The only thing that's missing from this book is recipes!

I received a copy of this book from Glass Road Public Relations on behalf of the authors for the purpose of this review.

Lamp Post Inc., 284 pages.

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book go to support the ministry of Outside the Bowl. http://www.outsidethebowl.org/

Amazon product page.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Fully Engaged by John Busacker

“We have a deep desire to live a life of significance and meaning – a life where we're fully engaged and satisfied.” (111)

Busacker wants you to be fully engaged in life. He wants you to do less and be more.
He invites you to ask yourself one question: “What should I do with my life?” (18) If your answer is what you are doing right now, great. You are part of the one percent of people who are fulfilled by what you are doing. You are fully engaged. But if you are in the other 99 percent, this book is for you. “God uses ordinary people like you and me to do astonishing things if, and only if, we are fully engaged.” (24)
His book is divided into three sections: awareness, alignment, and action.
Busacker wants you to be aware of your life worth: “the investment you make into and the return you receive from all life dimensions.” (31) Your life worth reflects your spiritual wealth and engagement. It is a realization that relationships, health, work, hobbies, learning and faith are all related to your life worth. (He has an assessment you can complete.) Busacker has a section of questions for the reader to answer to discover and articulate one's life story. That includes attitude, experience, important lessons, outlook and understanding.
He helps readers understand their values which, in turn, determine choices. Clarity of values empowers one to say “yes” to what matters and “no” to what is unimportant. He provides the process to discover values.
In the second section, Busaker wants the reader to align values to what you are doing with your life. A sense of calling is when you know you are doing with your life exactly what you should be doing. “Calling is the powerful intersection of passion and motivated abilities.” (73) He again provides an exercise to determine the intersection of your passion and your giftedness. He has an exercise to help you identify your life dreams.
Busacker is ruthless when it comes to our idolatrous attachment to technology (such as email). He reveals the detriment of excessive business. Again, he has an exercise to help you determine which activities to drop (pace, presence, promise).
“Adversity introduces us to ourselves.” (112) “...[T]he seeds of consistent full engagement are forged in the moments that test us to the depth of our being.” (113) Failure may be a defining moment setting you on the course to full engagement. He provides an exercise to determine your defining moments.
Busacker reminds us that we need to quiet our mind from the distraction of worry. We should start each day with the quiet conversation with ourselves and with God. We need “to seek out God's wisdom and counsel first before we step into the fray.” (124) He encourages us to seek out the wise counsel of others, a support team.
Busacker says we should be generous. We should look at generosity as a natural response to being richly blessed. He helps determine how and where to give generously and provides an exercise.
Busacker encourages us not to wait. Live boldly, “choosing to make good on all the talents and promise you were born with...[it] empowers you to enjoy the satisfaction, success, and excitement that comes with a fully engaged life.” (147)

I received an egalley of this book from The B&B Media Group on behalf of the publishers for the purpose of this review.

Summerside Press, ISBN: 978-1-609361150/Paperback/147 pages/$14.99

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? by John Fea

Fea admits at the very beginning, this is a complex subject. Just what does “Christian nation” mean?
Those who oppose the concept frequently quote the beginning of Article II of the Treaty of Tripoli, a 1797 agreement between the U.S. And Tripoli: “The Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion.” (3) The treat was signed by President John Adams and ratified unanimously be the senate.
On the other hand, “The idea that the United States was a 'Christian nation' was central to American identity in the years between the Revolution and the Civil War,” (4) Prior and during the Civil War, Fea says both the North and South considered themselves “Christian.” “The people of the Confederate States of America believed that they were citizens of a Christian nation precisely because they upheld the institution of slavery.” (20)
Fea notes that there are some who see the U.S. As God ordained, second in place only to Israel. As D. James Kennedy said, “God established this land of America, a nation in His providence, a nation unique in the history of the world.” (62) God has a purpose for America, Christian nationalists say.
Fea looks at the early colonists to explore the religious values they had. He investigates the events and comments around the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.
Fea also reviews the life and writings of John Adams. He “could not accept the historic belief that Jesus Christ was God or that his death atoned for the sins of the world...” (193) He also cast “aside the traditional Christian belief in the Trinity.” (193)
Jefferson was an avid follower of Jesus' moral teachings but “rejected any doctrines that could not be explained by reason...” (204) Yet, he thought “that it was rational to believe in a God who created the world.” (204) Franklin believed in God and viewed religion as useful in promoting virtuous behavior. Witherspoon was the only minister to sign the Declaration of Independence and “was indeed a man of deep Christian piety and orthodox Christian faith.” (228) John Jay “affirmed the idea that America was a Christian nation. He believed that the United States should privilege Christianity...” (235)
Fea's conclusion: “History in complex.” (244) He never offers a definitive answer. There is no simple yes or no. He hopes he has given his readers much to think and talk about.
He says, “it is my hope that this book might help Americans to think deeply about the role that Christianity played in the American founding. We owe it to ourselves to be informed citizens who can speak intelligently and thoughtfully about our nation's past.” (246)

Westminster John Knox Press, 246 pages.