Thursday, May 31, 2012

After All by Deborah Raney

In this, the last of the Hanover Falls novels, it has been eighteen months since the homeless shelter fire that killed five people. One of those killed was Dave, the husband of Susan, shelter operator. She is struggling to keep the shelter open. Volunteers are becoming harder to find and contributions are on the decline.
Then Davey, their younger son, shows up. He has quit college, quit his job and returned home. It doesn't take long for Susan to be upset with his behavior. When she gives him an ultimatum, he reveals the source of his pain. He had seen his dad and a woman in Springfield, together, all over each other. Susan is shocked as she faces the painful reality that her husband was having an affair.
Susan finds some support from Pete, the fire chief. The two explore getting to know each other a bit better.
But Susan's troubles continue as Zeke, a homeless man living in the shelter at the time of the fire, returns to Hanover Falls. His police record reveals him as a violent man. Is he out to harm Susan? When a fire is spotted on Susan's property, is Zeke to blame?
Susan is bewildered as the local newspaper carries a story making it look like the entire community is against Susan and her homeless shelter. Yet she knows this shelter is what God wants her to do.

This novel is a combination of romance and mild mystery. Susan and Pete begin to feel the spark between them and it is rewarding to see how they explore their feelings in an adult and responsible way. It is also good to see Pete struggle with his anger against God. Pete goes off fishing by himself but soon finds out that God uses that solitary time to get his attention and slowly draw him back.
The mystery aspect of this final novel in the series is mild. One gets the impression there is still something uncovered regarding the months ago fire. And there is a surprising revelation at the end of the book. But, in general, the story is about Susan and Pete and their attempts to move beyond the deadly fire.
It is also good to see Davey, so hurt by his father's traitorous acts, finally get his life straightened out. That Pete would have a hand in that gives one hope for Susan, Davey, and Pete and their future.
While not action packed, this is a fitting conclusion to all the troubles in Hanover Falls. The “bad” person is finally revealed and the “good” guys look forward to a better future.

Deborah Raney is the award winning author of several novels. Her Beneath a Southern Sky won the RITA award. Her A Vow to Cherish was made into a World Wide Pictures film. She is known for her sensitive portrayal of family struggles and relationships. She has also written nonfiction books and articles and is a frequent speaker at women's retreats and writers' conferences. She and her family live in Kansas.

Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), 355 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Real Kosher Jesus by Michael Brown

Jesus is the Jewish Messiah, something we often forget.
Brown was born in a Conservative Jewish home. In 1971 he discovered who Jesus really was. It shook Brown with such a force he got his doctorate in Semitic languages and became a specialist in answering Jewish objections to Jesus.
Brown has cultivated a friendship with Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and much of this book is in answer to the Rabbi's book, Kosher Jesus. For example, he shows that Boteach's image of Jesus, “...a potential Messiah who believed that the moment of liberation had come and who decided that he would inaugurate the Messianic era by force[,]” is false. (58)
He answers the critics who claim Paul introduced false beliefs about and teaching of Jesus, or that Paul wasn't even a Jew.
Brown reveals the two messiahs of ancient Jewish tradition. He shows how a suffering Messiah was written about in rabbinic literature as was the atoning power of the death of a righteous person. He also gives evidence for the Jewish expectation of a priestly Messiah and a great prophet. There is even some tradition indicating the arrival time of the Messiah, coinciding with Jesus' time on earth.
Brown shows that, without a doubt, Jesus is the promised Messiah. “The real kosher Jesus is the Messiah of Israel and the Savior of the world.” (189)

This would be a good book for you to read if you have a Jewish friend who has not accepted that Jesus is the Messiah. You could give them this book but I think you should read it first. Brown has done a great job in showing that Jesus is the Messiah but I am not sure even a book like this will result in acceptance of the fact. Reading this book along with your Jewish friend would be a good way to stimulate discussion toward Jesus as Messiah and Savior.

Michael L. Brown holds a PhD from New York University in Near Eastern languages and literature and is recognized as one of the leading Messianic Jewish scholars in the world today.  He is the founder and president of FIRE School of Ministry, host of a nationally syndicated daily talk show and the author of more than twenty books. 

Front Line (Charisma House Book Group), 249 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Charisma House Book Group for the purpose of this review.

Monday, May 28, 2012

The Jesus Discovery by James Tabor and Simcha Jacobovici

In June of 2010, The Patio tomb in Jerusalem was investigated. It had been exposed during a construction project in the 1980s but its excavation had never been completed before an apartment house was built over it.
When the tomb's location had been identified, permission was acquired and a camera was inserted down into the tomb. Many ossuaries were viewed and inscriptions and drawings observed. One inscription read something like “divine” or “wonderous Jehovah,” “he raised up” or “he will raise up.” One drawing was identified as that of Jonah and the fish.
The authors suggest that the new find at the Patio Tomb offers evidence that the Talpiot Garden Tomb is more likely the burial tomb of Jesus of Nazareth and his family. The authors explore the possibility that Jesus was married to Mary Magdalene and fathered a child. They reach for “hidden” or “secret” or “cryptic” meanings in words and texts. They freely consult texts evangelical Christians have evaluated as fraudulent.

For Christians, this book contains positive and negative information. On the negative side are the investigations into Jesus' supposed marriage and child. This includes lots of “ifs” and “supposes” on the part of the authors. Their conclusions are all conjecture, with no evidence for support.
On the positive side, the authors write, “The two major new discoveries in the Patio tomb – the epitaph and the Jonah image – provide for the first time in history tangible archaeological evidence related to the resurrection faith of Jesus' first followers.” (181) This is the earliest pictorial evidence (by 150 years) so far that Christians followed Jesus and believed in his resurrection (the “sign of Jonah”). Historians call this primary evidence, unaffected by later traditions, teachings, etc.
Another positive discussion in this book is that on the meaning of “resurrection.” Paul is clear, the authors remind us, that in Christian resurrection, the body is left behind and the spirit is “reclothed” in a new spiritual body. (193) So the presence of bones, thought to be Jesus', does not contradict faith in Jesus' resurrection. (They refute as legendary the accounts by Luke and John that Jesus appeared in the same body that had been placed in the tomb. (195)) They claim the disciples took Jesus' body and buried it.

It is encouraging to have revealed that Christians, within a generation of Jesus life, there is archaeological evidence for belief in Jesus' resurrection!

James D. Tabor is chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of North Carolina, Charlotte. He is the author of several books. See more at
Simcha Jacobovici is a filmmaker, author and a television host. He has won several awards for journalism.See more at and

Simon & Schuster, 254 pages.

Friday, May 25, 2012

The Road Trip that Changed the World by Mark Sayers

“In 1947 Jack Kerouac set off on a road trip that would reshape the mental landscape of almost everyone born in the West since that date. His cross-country jaunt would change how we viewed the world, processed our lives and interacted with our faiths. It would alter the cultural code of the West, re-orientating our collective psyches around the idea of the road.
“Kerouac recorded his road trips in his classic book On the Road. Even if you have never read the book, you have been influenced by it.” (36) The second time Sayers read through the book, he realized that what he was holding in his hand contained the clues as to how we had gotten to where we are.

It used to be that home gave us a sense of purpose, belonging, and place. You didn't have to discover who you were. Your connection to home gave you a sense of self. Thanks to Jack Kerouac, now we view life through the prism of a journey. We Christians even talk of our spiritual “journey.”
The automobile allowed youth to socialize outside of he family. It allowed space for premarital sex. It changed how we ate. It allowed church shopping and church hopping. We are perpetually “on the road.” It is a state of mind, constantly looking for the next thing, living in incompleteness, engaged in a quest for a sense of significance.
The California Baby Boomers, following on the heels of Kerouac's example, launched the contemporary church movement, changing the Christian culture.

In the second half of the book, Sayers writes of the road Jesus taught about. This road leads to life, to the Cross. It is a different way to get our identity. Like Abraham, we must leave Ur to walk in the land God has given us.
The book ends with the choice: which road?

I was a bit confused during the initial chapters of this book. (I would have started the book differently.) I had heard of Kerouac but had never read any of his work and certainly had no idea of his contribution to our current culture. I am not sure if Sayers' thesis is right or not, that Kerouac had so much influence in generating our current culture. (Perhaps that is why the book's subtitle begins, “The Unlikely Theory...) But reading this book has been very informative. It certainly gave me insights into the “why” of all the talk of our Christian “journey.” This is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in culture, both secular and Christian.

Mary Sayers is a cultural commentator, writer and speaker, noted for his unique and perceptive insights into faith and contemporary culture. He is the author of The Trouble with Paris and the Vertical Self. He is also the Senior Leader of Red Church. He lives in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and children.

Moody Publishers, 288 pages.  Publisher product page.

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

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Encounter by Stephen Arterburn

This book is not your typical novel. The fiction part is short, a novella, really. I read it in one day. There is also a section of the book at the end which is not fiction.
The story is about Jonathan Rush, nicknamed Gold Rush because of his wealth. But he is not happy and, in fact, he recently tried to commit suicide. He has deep anger against his birth mother who turned him over to the state when he was very young. His pastor insists he go back to his birth place in Alaska and find information about his mother. Perhaps if he understands why she abandoned him he can deal with his anger and forgive her. He grudgingly allows a reporter to help him and finds he is falling for her.
The ending of the story part of the book I found unrealistic. Rush's deep seated anger disappears in about two seconds. Also, the relationship with the reporter is odd since he has gone through three wives already.
The strength of the book, I think, is actually the counseling part after the story. Arterburn deals with the issues in the book, giving suggestions on how to deal with them.
This is not the kind of book one would read for the fiction. This would be a great book to give someone who has deep anger or struggles with forgiveness. The story would draw them in and then they would be open to the suggestions at the end of the book.
The work of God in generating the forgiveness is not as clear as I would like it to be. Nonetheless, it is an inspirational book and gives the reader hope in the area of reconciliation.

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 176 pages.

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Praying With the Grain by Dr. Pablo Martinez

Do you struggle with prayer? Dr. Martinez says many struggle with their prayer life not realizing that such a struggle is often a result of their own emotional make-up. Our basic personality type strongly affects both how we pray and what we pray about. Dr. Martinez has written this book because he wants to help Christians develop their prayer lives by understanding how temperaments and personalities affect our praying.
Martinez does not minimize the work of the Holy Spirit in prayer. But he also wants to draw our attention to the influence our psychological make-up has on our prayer life.
I found his description of the prayers each kind of personality preferred to pray to be right on (at least for my personality). No wonder I don't pray like my sister.
His help in dealing with the problems of each personality is very practical and helpful. He also covers the essentials of prayer” dynamics, content, and balance.
Martinez also wants to make clear the therapeutic nature of prayer. One aspect of this part I found very interesting was the section on confession and on not “feeling” forgiven. He says that is probably an issue more related to self-esteem than to faith. Confessing to God in the presence of another person may bring an objectivity that is lacking when we confess alone.
He has a good section on questions and answers about prayer and ends with an apologetic on prayer, answering the scientific materialistic critics. He also addresses the claim that all prayer is alike, regardless of religion, establishing the uniqueness of Christian prayer. He lastly clarifies the differences between eastern and Christian meditation, giving directions for the healthy practice of Christian meditation.

His is a freeing book for anyone who struggles with prayer. I now understand my own prayer life much better. I realize I don't pray like others I hear and that is okay. I do have some practical ideas from this book on how to make my prayer life better too.
Food for thought: “The most mature Christian is not the one who sins less, but the one who has a greater awareness of his sin and confesses it.” (119)

Monarch Books, Kregel Publications, 175 pages.

Pablo Martinez was trained as a medical doctor and psychiatrist, and works at a Christian hospital in Barcelona. He has also developed a wide ministry as lecturer and counselor. He is a former Professor of Pastoral Theology at the Spanish Theological Seminary.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Crazy Dangerous by Andrew Klavan

Sam is a preacher's kid, a sixteen year old who doesn't fit into the “in” crowd at school. When he has the opportunity to be a part of a bad guy gang, the temptation is too great and he agrees. Then his troubles begin.
Sam befriends Jennifer, a girl who has visions of terrible things that she believes are going to happen soon. Sam is the only person who thinks there might be something to her “demon” visions. As he figures out what Jennifer's visions might represent, he begins to wonder if can fight the battle he knows is before him. While Sam is in his father's office, he sees a statue with the inscription, Recte age nil time. He is especially drawn to the statue and Googles the Latin: “Do right; fear nothing.” It is this saying he repeats to himself as he battles the evil that would destroy and kill.

This is an exciting novel. It is well written with continuous action. It really portrays how quickly evil can come into a situation. It also shows how we are often oblivious to that evil as it grows in influence. Sam often fights the inaction of adults as he battles those under demonic influence.
The novel is obviously aimed at teens. A teen is the hero and it is teens to whom the demons turn to destroy and kill. It is written from the viewpoint of Sam so I think teens would really like the book.
There is lots demonic influence that is described, although nothing I found offensive. Because of the demonic aspect, I would think the book may not be appropriate for all teens, especially young ones. The plot include the possibility of a mass murder at a high school and that might be a difficult topic for some young teen readers.
Also, schizophrenia is introduced as Jennifer is diagnosed with it. I would suggest that parents be available to discuss that topic with their teen readers as I am sure there will be some questions in that area.
The Christianity of Sam and others is well represented. While Sam believes Jennifer is having visions from God his father (a preacher) tries to convince him there is a rational explanation for what is happening. I am glad Sam persevered in his belief that there really was something spiritual and truthful about Jennifer's visions.
I think there will be a reading guide (there was not one in the egalley I read) which would make this a good choice for Christian teen reading groups. There is much to discuss.

Andrew Klavan is the recipient of two Edgar Awards and the author of such bestsellers as True Crime and Don't Say a Word. His books have sold over 1.5 million copies.

ThomasNelson Publishers, 336 pages.

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

Monday, May 21, 2012

Beckon by Tom Pawlik

Three visitors end up in Beckon, Wyoming and the first we read of is Jack. The last time he had seen his father was when Jack was only nine years old. An anthropologist at the University of Chicago, Jack's father had gone out west to do some field research on an old Indian legend. He had never returned nor been heard of again. Twelve years later Jack is going through his father's things, preparing for the estate sale. He finds some notes and the drawing of an artifact, dated just four months before his father had left. Jack convinces his best friend to go with him to Wyoming, to solve the mystery of his father's disappearance.
Jack finds much more than he had ever anticipated. Caves in the Wyoming foothills with flesh eating monsters and eventually, Beckon, Wyoming.
But he's a prisoner. Also a prisoner is police officer Elina who trailed a van to the hidden town. It was a van that had once picked up her cousin. Promised work, the cousin had never been seen again and she was determined to find him.
The third visitor to Beckon is a wealthy business man, lured to the town by the promise of a cure for his wife's dementia.
What each of them has found in Beckon is a nightmare. Vale, the boss of the town, had discovered the nearby cave in 1878 while gold prospecting. And yes, he's still alive. But the price he pays for life is the death of others. And Jack and Elina are next.

Wow. This is an exciting book. The action is intense and continuous. The monsters and other underground beings are so creepy I didn't want to read the book to late into the evening. In addition to the high action, there are also questions of what is right and how one fights evil. This is a well written and very entertaining book. It will keep you reading to the last page.

Tom Pawlik is the author of Vanish, a Christy Award winner, and Valley of the Shadow, a Christy Award finalist. He and his wife have five children and live in Ohio. Visit his website at Follow his blog: Follow him on Facebook: or Twitter:!/TomPawlik

Tyndale House Publishers, 399 pages. Go here to buy this book.

I am taking part in a Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog Tour of this book.  You can read other reviews at the links below:

Noah Arsenault Julie Bihn Thomas Clayton Booher Thomas Fletcher Booher Beckie Burnham Brenda Castro Theresa Dunlap Nikole Hahn Ryan Heart Bruce Hennigan Janeen Ippolito Becky Jesse Jason Joyner Carol Keen Leighton Rebekah Loper Katie McCurdy Shannon McDermott Karen McSpadden Rebecca LuElla Miller Nissa Faye Oygard Crista Richey Kathleen Smith Jessica Thomas Steve Trower Fred Warren Shane Werlinger

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

My Stubborn Heart by Becky Wade

When Kate's grandmother asked her help in restoring the old house she grew up in, Kate jumps at the opportunity. Her life in Dallas was depressing. Her dating relationships were not working out and the stress of her social work was getting to her. Kate took a six month leave from her work and headed north to Redbud, Pennsylvania.
When she arrived at the stately old house she met Matt, the man hired to renovate the house. He was a “hottie,” one of her grandmother's friends said, and Kate can't help but be attracted to him. At times she thinks the feeling is mutual yet at other times, Matt is cold and distant. She can tell he has been hurt and is hiding from people and God. Eventually Kate learns from others that Matt was a hockey star but quit playing when wife died from cancer only a few years after they were married.
Kate tries to break through the shell Matt has established around himself. She is determined to help him come out of his darkness and come back to God. Will Matt again find God's love and perhaps the love for another woman?

This is a great Christian romance from this debut author. The Kate and Matt are well developed characters. We feel the hurt Matt has experienced and we cheer along Kate as she really tries to have Matt once again live life as it was meant to be. And I loved the quirky characters who are grandmothers Friday night poker playing friends.
The dialogue between Kate and Matt is snappy and well written. And the dialogue between the old codgers cracked me up. I really liked the parallel stories of romance – Kate and Matt and one of the old fellows who enlists Kate to help him get a date with one of the old ladies.
There were many lessons we could learn from the parallel romance stories. When is it really time to quit hanging on to that old hurt and trust God again? When is it time to take that vintage Cadillac out of the shed, give the old gal a ride, and quit hanging on to life as it once was?

A book club discussion guide at the back of the book makes this a good choice for reading groups. There will be much to discuss and laugh about.

Becky Wade is a mom with three young children. She and her family live in Dallas, Texas. Visit to find out more about her writing and the creation of this book.

Bethany House Publishers, 346 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Wish You Were Here by Beth K. Vogt

Instead of ending with a wedding, this novel begins with one. Except that, as Allison walks down the aisle, she realizes she just cannot marry Seth. Sure, they had been dating for six years, since high school. Yes, she was comfortable with him. She felt safe with him. But Seth was the only man she had ever dated. What if... Allison bolted and left Seth at the altar.

And so begins the journey of Allison trying to find herself in the aftermath of having run out of the wedding so elaborately planned. She had grown into adulthood as the girlfriend of Seth. Who was she really? He had always planned their dates, ordered the meals for her, took her to the movies he wanted to see. Who would she be if she went where she wanted to go, order the food she really wanted to eat, and went to the movies she liked?
There was also Daniel, Seth's older adventurous brother. There had been an attraction between Allison and Daniel before the wedding day. What did that mean?
Seth is convinced he can persuade Allison to come back to the altar. Daniel struggles with his feelings for Allison and tries to handle it by setting up date for her with his guy friends. The situation gets tense when Seth becomes pushy and Daniel becomes protective.

I was pleasantly surprised with this novel. I didn't know how the plot would go, starting out with a runaway bride. But Vogt held my interest throughout the novel. She added some back story to Allison and her relationship to her estranged father. The characters are well developed. I felt like I was on the journey along with Allison as she tried to understand who she was and what she should do. I loved her best friend Meghan and the snappy dialogue she and Allison have. I also appreciated the spiritual struggles the characters go through and their maturing in faith and character.
All in all, a good Christian romance from a debut fiction author.
A reading group guide makes this novel a fine choice for groups reading Christian romances.

I am taking part in a blog tour and you can read other reviews here.

Beth K. Vogt earned her journalism degree from San Jose State University and met her husband Rob when he knocked her down at a karate studio. They have been married for 31 years and have four children, ranging in ages 28 to …10. She is the author of Baby Changes Everything: Embracing and Preparing for Motherhood after 35. She is a consulting editor for MomSense, Mothers of Preschoolers International's magazine for moms, as well as a columnist for their e-zine for moms of school-age children. She has been published in a variety of magazines. She and her family enjoy hiking and camping in Colorado. Find out more at

Howard Books (a division of Simon and Schuster), 316 pages.  To buy this book, please visit your local Christian bookstore.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Word VS Deed by Duane Liftin

The goal of this book is simple enough,” Liftin writes, “to offer thoughtful Christians some help in thinking biblically about the enduring question of word verses deed in their christian calling.” (11)
He states his own preference early on. “If you believe the gospel can be preached without words, this book is for you. I hope to challenge your thinking and lay out a more fully biblical way of thinking about the issue. On the other hand, if you believe the gospel cannot be preached without words, this book is for you also. My goal is to support you in that conviction and explore with you the implications of your claim.” (14)
A basic assumption of Liftin is that the Bible is, in its entirety, is God's inscripturated Word and is authoritative. The Bible is our only rule for faith and practice. He adds guidelines regarding “interpreting” the Bible.
He notes that we may be hesitant to use words as it might be an offense. So we find comfort in the idea that our deeds matter more than words or that our deeds can substitute words. He says this is misleading. One cannot preach the gospel without words.
To prove this, he looks at communication, verbal and nonverbal, and the relationships between the two. He concludes, “The notion of preaching the gospel with our deeds is foreign to the Bible.” (45)
He investigates the claim that the spoken gospel must have accompanying action for it to be true evangelism. He suggests that deeds “adorn” the gospel. Our behavior has a profound influence on what others will think when we communicate the gospel. He looks at “gospel-worthy” deeds and reminds his readers that “believers bear a heightened obligation to care for their fellow Christians.”
He concludes that our marching orders are “focused first and foremost not on improving society per se but on offering Jesus and his kingdom promises to all who will receive them.” (181) He gives a three-step approach to do justice to both biblical priorities and the unique needs of the human beings with whom we deal.
He says answering the question of which is more important, words or deeds, cannot be answered in the abstract. It must be evaluated on a case by case basis.

Crossway, 224 pages.

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

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Everybody's Daughter by Michael John Sullivan

Michael Stewart travels back in time through a mysterious tunnel in an old church. He again finds himself in biblical times. His teenage daughter soon follows him through the tunnel where she must fight a cruel Roman soldier. She does not know her father has safely returned to the present. Michael must fight his own battles as blood found in his car makes him a suspect in his daughter's disappearance.

Reading this book was a difficult exercise for me. First of all, it is a sequel. It was not identified as such or I would not have offered to read it. The author is not skilled in weaving enough of the first book into this one so that I could easily understand what was going on. There were many allusions to events in the first book, but not in a way that helped me to understand what had happened in that book.
Secondly, it is just not that well written. The dialogue is stilted, repetitive, and not very interesting. Action starts off going somewhere and then abruptly halts or goes backward. The writing is not polished. For example: “He whacked her so hard...” (130) (Really? Whacked?) The main character, Michael, is not a very quick thinking man, is full of anger, is rude, drinks way too much wine, and in general is just not very likable. The book lacks good editing. For example: “There was answer.” (142)
Thirdly, I have theological issues with this book. Starting on page 97, Jesus begins to talk, saying things not recorded in the Bible. Now, that might be acceptable, except that Jesus says things in this book that are the opposite of what is recorded in the Bible. For example: “My father's Kingdom awaits everyone.” (98) “...[M]y Father's Kingdom grants eternal life to all.” (172) Jesus actually said few would find the way. Jesus gives a cloth to Michael that is to be used to “cleanse your soul from the troubles of the past and invigorate your heart.” (102) A dove rises from a Roman soldier's spear. (98) When Michael talks to his wife who died many years ago, they share their regrets. When they want to hold each other, Jesus makes it happen. (117)
And lastly, the twist at the end, I mean on the very last page, is unsatisfactory. It is almost as if the author thought he needed to make a lead into a third novel in the series, so totally reversed the situation in a matter of a few sentences.
These books Sullivan is writing are somewhat biographical, based on his childhood and adult memories. I am sure it must be cathartic to write about one's troubled childhood. I just did not find reading the book to be a positive experience.

Michael John Sullivan graduated from St. John's University with a communications degree. He was homeless at the age of 23 after watching his mother, his protector in a dysfunctional family, die from cancer. His father asked him to leave a year later. He road the New York subway at night. During those bleak days he began writing about his childhood and adult memories. He was eventually rescued by an aunt and uncle. After spending the last two decades raising their daughters while working at home, he returned to his notes in 2007 and began writing his first book. Necessary Heartbreak was published by Simon & Schuster. Sullivan lives with his family in New York. Find out more at

Fiction Studio Books, 326 pages.

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Loving Well by William P. Smith

Has it been your experience that you (and others) don't love well? Perhaps you find yourself undermining the very relationship you value. Maybe you have difficulty expressing love because you were not loved well by your family or your church.
You are not alone. But, Smith says, loving well is a skill you can learn. It is not through a list of techniques that you will learn to love well. It is not by reading stories of others who love well. It is through a Person. You must experience love and know what it is before you can give it to others.
In this book, Smith investigates fifteen facets of the love we experience from God. He breaks the study into three sections: “Love that responds to a broken world,” “Love that reaches out to build others up,” and “Love that enjoys heaven now.”
Smith has included reflective questions at the end of each chapter. He has also included many examples of loving well (or failure to do so) from his own life and the lives of others.

I found some of the chapters to be great. For example, the chapter on longsuffering love has a section giving practical suggestions on how to bear well with others (79ff)
I wish there had been that same kind of practical advice in other chapters. For example, on the chapter on communication, that we should communicate is made very clear. Smith also gives examples of good and bad communication. However, practical ideas on how to restore communication where there is a rift is missing.
Sometimes it seems as if Smith thinks the biblical mandate to love is enough. In his chapter on sympathetic love, he notes that there are pictures in Scripture showing that God is touched by your grief. (23) He writes, however, “If you have been deeply hurt in your life, you may struggle to believe that your grief actually affects God.” (24) He suggests reading a passage from Hebrews 4, then tells a story, then moves on. Smith gives no suggestions as to how to work on that struggle so that you come to the point of accepting that God feels your grief.

Because of the sections like the one above on sympathetic love, I would recommend this book to relatively healthy Christians. If you have worked through any issues you have with God and are ready to show the love of God to others, this book will be a great encouragement to you. If, however, you have some issues with accepting God and his love toward you, you may find this book frustrating.

William P. Smith, M.Div., Ph.D., is the director of counseling at Chelten Baptist Church, Dresher, Pa., the author of the book Caught Off Guard: Encounters with the Unexpected God; and the minibooks How Do I Stop Losing It with My Children?; How to Love Difficult People?; Should We Get Married?; Starting Over; When Bad Things Happen; and Who Should I Date?. Bill is regularly invited to speak at other churches and lead weekend retreats. He and his wife, Sally, are the parents of three very active children.

Author's website:

New Growth Press, 304 pages.

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

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Turning Guilt Trips Into Joy Rides

The authors have provided inspirational thoughts based on Scripture. The book is organized around the acronym,
G – God
R – Relationships
A – Acceptance
C – Challenge
E – Emotions
Grace is what makes it all possible. In this book the authors share stories of how God has made a way by his grace. Their prayer is that we will accept that grace to meet our own needs as well.
They have provided 183 daily readings, enough to last six months. Each reading has a Guilt Trip to avoid, a Scripture verse, a story, and a way to Take a Joy Ride. Each reading is short so even busy women can stay connected with God and grow spiritually – every day.
The readings and suggestions are simple yet practical.
For example, just as a squirrel builds a secret place high in a tree to hide from the perceptive hawk, so do we need to build a hiding place for our souls. “The Word of God forms its foundations. Prayer builds its walls.” (6)
In another example, Shirley writes about how welcoming her yard is to birds, thanks to her husband's flower beds, pond, and bird feeders. “So, too, we need to create an atmosphere that will attract God's Spirit.” (23) The guilt trip to avoid is failing to sense God's presence. The joy ride is determining how to conduct a spiritual checkup on your self.
The lessons comes from nature, from life, from emails. Choosing a tea bag becomes a lesson on daily devotions (missing a blessing because we're stuck in a rut). A drooping plant becomes a lesson in ministering to others. A toaster oven manual is a lesson on the importance of the Bible as our instruction manual. Billboards advertising cars becomes a lesson on self-worth. A groundhog dining on automobile wires becomes a lesson on sin. A wagon load of hay bales becomes a lesson in emotions. A bush in need of clipping is a lesson on what obscures our view of God. A perfectly made bed is a lesson on going the extra mile as a response for what God has done for us. Taking the elevator to the cruise ship's exercise room (instead of the stairs) is a lesson in being a phoney. The view of the Dominican Republic from an elaborate cruise ship is a reminder that God asks us to act on behalf of the poor.

These devotions are aimed at young married women (I think). I mean, they must know what Vera Wang heels are. These devotions are not calls to radical discipleship or to even give up any part of a comfortable lifestyle. They are the thoughts of the women as they go about their daily life, seeing God in it.

Shirley Brosius, Janine Boyer, and Kim Messinger speak together as friends of the heart. Their passion is to help women open their hearts and find joy in Christ. All three are married with children and live in Millersburg, Pennsylvania.
Shirley is a former business education teacher and director of Christian education. She has written several books and numerous magazine articles.
Janine works with her husband in a family business and serves as a youth and prayer ministry leader.
Kim is an elementary teacher and volunteer youth leader at her church.

Christ drew these three women together for their first small group meeting in 1998. Since then they have drawn closer through life's joys and struggles and found God to be sufficient for their every need. They call themselves "Friends of the Heart" because their passion is to help women open their hearts and find joy in Christ.

Westbow Press (a division of Thomas Nelson),195 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from LitFuse Publicity for the purpose of this review.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Wildflowers from Winter by Katie Ganshert

Bethany might look like a successful architect on the outside, but on the inside she has a past that plagues her. Bethany receives a phone call from her mother, her mother she'd rather not talk to at all. But Bethany's best friend from childhood, Robin, needs her. Robin's husband collapsed and is near death. Bethany knows she should go be with her old friend, but it has been ten years since she has even talked to her. And if she goes back to her hometown, there are all the memories she will have to deal with. She will have to face again the death of her father and why she hates God so much.
Bethany does decide to help Robin, and stays at her grandfather's house – the grandfather she dearly loves but hasn't visited in years. He is recovering from a heart attack and has a handsome man keeping the farm running. Bethany and Evan got off on the wrong foot, even though feelings for each other take root.
When Bethany can't take her home town and the memories any longer, she heads back to Chicago and her high class architect firm – only to find that the firm is downsizing and she is being let go. Then her boyfriend of three years tells her he is moving away.
All Bethany can do is go back home, staying with Robin. She is determined to make the best of it, no matter how work it will take. She'll fave Evan. She will deal with the memories. She'll fill out resumes. She'll stay just as long as it takes.

This is a great debut novel. The theme of big city girl going back to the country and the farm is well done. There is the theme of Bethany mad at God, the result of a self righteous preacher and the death of her father. There is the theme of reconnecting after estrangement and making it work. There's more too.
The novel is very well written. I was captivated from the very beginning when we read of Bethany trying to kill her self by holding her breath at the bottom of a swimming pool. (We finally find out at the very wend what she was trying to accomplish.) The characters were consistent and well crafted. The best part, I think, was Bethany coming to grips with her attitude toward God. Loving people surrounded her as she worked through the process.

This is a great read. I think you'll like it as much as I did.

Katie Ganshert was born and raised in the Midwest. When she is not busy plotting her next novel, she enjoys watching romantic movies with her husband, playing make-believe with her wild-child of a son, and chatting with her girlfriends over bagels and coffee.

WaterBrook Press, 316 pages.

I received a complimentary advanced reading copy of this book for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Four Views on Christian Spirituality

Over the centuries, four main Christian traditions have developed. They have been shaped by historical, cultural, and political factors. Certain spiritual practices developed within these traditions as well.
Many of us are unfamiliar with Christian spirituality other than our own experience. This book gives an introduction to the essential practices of Catholic, Orthodox, evangelical, and mainline (progressive) Protestant spiritualities.
The Orthodox Church is located primarily in the eastern Mediterranean, eastern Europe, and the Middle East. It was separated from the church in the west in 1054. Their distinctives include the incomprehensibility of the divine essence to the human mind, the authority of tradition, veneration of icons as portals to the divine, elaborate liturgical worship, and veneration of saints and relics. The incarnation of the Word is emphasized. “...[T]he definition and destiny of the human person is to become divine.” (53) This is known as deification or Christification (Greek, theosis). It is the mystical union between Christ and the believer and a personal indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
The Catholic church is diverse, consisting of many philosophical traditions and theological schools. The Roman pontiff is seen as the successor of Peter and infallible in matters of doctrine and morals. Tradition is on par with Scripture. There are meritorious works in salvation, the seven sacraments convey saving grace, prayers for the departed, etc.
Progressive Protestantism includes many historic denominations and is a diverse movement stimulated by the Enlightenment. They typically affirm God as love, Jesus as a moral teacher, uphold human goodness and moral progress and the primacy of human reason and religious experience. The Bible is interpreted more figuratively than literally. There is an emphasis on social justice actions.
Evangelicalism adheres to believe in primary revelation through Scripture, justification by faith, the atoning death of Jesus and his resurrection. There are two sacraments, God-centered worship, Bible study, prayer, anticipation of Christ's return, rewards and punishments.
Perhaps Evan Howard says it best in his response to the progressive Protestants. While all the traditions mention the importance of the Bible, interpretation is a key factor. “Orthodox and Roman Catholic writers tend to emphasize interpretations affirmed through hierarchical process. … Evangelicals tend to emphasize the ability of the ordinary individual believer to receive from the text. ...[P]rogressive Protestantism emphasizes the role of scholarly inquiry in biblical interpretation.” (153-4)

As is frequently the case in compilations, the writing is uneven. Some share their personal experiences while others take a more objective route. I was disappointed in that much of the text for each tradition was not about the nuts and bolts of spiritual formation. History of that tradition of Christianity was often given, doctrinal issues not necessarily essential to spiritual formation were often discussed, and the defining elements of the tradition were related. Having taught a spiritual formation class within an evangelical setting a few years ago, I was very interested in how the other traditions facilitated spiritual growth.
Being told that the sacraments were a means of grace (such as in Catholicism) was not enough for me. I want to know how the sacraments facilitate spiritual growth. What does an individual experience during a sacrament that facilitates Christlikeness?
I was told that Luther wrote music for worship, Watts pioneered hymn writing in England, and Wesley published thousands of hymns. I know the impact of Maranatha and Vineyard music. But I was never told why I should sing a hymn or a Scripture song. I was never told what to expect when I sing or what happens on the inside of me when words and tunes are combined as I sing.
I know a great deal more about the traditions, their distinctive aspects, having read this book. I know progressives do social justice works. I know Catholics celebrate the sacraments and practice contemplative prayer. I know the Orthodox fast and expect to become deified. I know evangelicals emphasize conversion and go to Bible studies. Yet I am still unclear as to how each tradition explains the actual spiritual formation process – what really happens to the individuals participating in the events or practicing the disciplines. How are the individuals transformed? What are the actual “mechanics,” so to speak, of the transformation in each tradition? What does each tradition teach about what actually happens within a person during a worship service, attending mass, fasting for a day, or doing social service? Those are the kinds of questions I wanted answered in this volume but were not.

If you are looking for a book revealing the spiritual practices of each of the traditions, this is the book for you. If you want to know what each tradition teaches as to how the practices affect a spiritual transformation, you might be disappointed in this book.

Zondervan, 240 pages.

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

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Relentless Pursuit by Kathy Herman

Herman brings the Secrets of the Roux River Bayou series to a close in this novel.
Les Barbes, Louisiana, is rocked by murders. Someone has injected cyanide into water bottles sold at a local market. Several people have died, including a young boy. When others become ill it is discovered that cyanide was also added to a buffet line. Authorities suspect a terrorist attack although no group has claimed responsibility.
Into Les Barbes comes Sax Henry. He's following the trail of his long lost sister. They were part of a terribly dysfunctional and abusive family. Sax is trying to find forgiveness as he abandoned his sister when he left the family the night he turned seventeen. Would she forgive him, now, thirty years later?

Herman has done a great job, closing out this series. Running through this novel is the strong theme of forgiveness. When we have been forgiven much, can we forgive those who have hurt us so deeply? Other themes include family relationships and responsibilities. There is the overarching theme of relying on the Lord for strength.
A couple of areas were, perhaps, less than perfect. I knew who the murderer was early on. That did not stem my interest, though, as there was always the thought that a main character in the novel, close to the murderer, might be the final victim. And that leads to the second less than perfect aspect of the novel – the ending. I was ready for a suspenseful rescue but that was not to be.
Nonetheless, I think I have read all of Herman's books and like them enough to continue reading them. I'll be looking for her next series, in which, she says, will appear some characters from this one.

David C. Cook, 400 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this review.