Saturday, June 30, 2012

The Guest Book by Marybeth Whalen

Macy and her family vacationed at the beach house on the Carolina coast every summer. When Macy was five, she lost a “find the most beautiful shell” contest to her older brother. In tears, her dad bought Macy colored pencils. A budding artist, she drew a picture in the house's guest book.
When they returned the next year, someone had added a drawing. Over the years, drawing after drawing, a sort of conversation between the two was created. She had left a photo of herself and he had done the same.
Her father died when Macy was in her mid teens. The devastated family went to the beach one more time but the memories were too painful. They didn't go back for ten years.
Five years ago Macy had fallen for a guy who had promised to be with her forever. But he had left right after their daughter Emma was born. Now he was back, wanting to be in her life again.
Seemingly out of nowhere, after ten years, Macy's mother proclaims that this year they are going to vacation on the coast, renting the same house for two weeks. Macy, Emma, and Macy's older brother Max, are all to go along.
As Macy's family returns to the guest house that holds so many memories, she hopes to clear her mind. She needs to understand what her relationship to Emma's father should be. She prays to God – something she has not done in a long time. Could she find out who her childhood artist friend is? Did she want to know who she is? Is he married? Could he be her knight in shining armor?
There are three men who come across Macy's path at the guest house. They all pursue her. She wrestles with her emotions and she tries to figure out how God is answering her prayer.

This is a pretty well written romance novel. One incident aptly describes Macy's life. The family goes to church while on vacation and Emma hears a story in Sunday School. It is about building your house on sand or on the rock. In a moment of insight, Macy realizes she has built her house on sand. Why was she so surprised when it crashed down on her?
Marybeth did a great job in keeping the guest book drawing fellow a surprise until the end.
Macy went to the beach hoping to find her prince charming. In the time she spent there, she found the artist she really needed, the true Artist.

There is a discussion guide at the end so this would be a fine choice for romance reading groups.

Marybeth Whalen is the wife of Curt and mom of six children. The family lives outside Charlotte, NC. Marybeth is the author of the novels "The Mailbox," "She Makes It Look Easy" and the upcoming "The Guest Book". She also serves as director of She Reads, an on line book club focused on spotlighting the best in women's fiction. Marybeth spends most of her time in the grocery store but occasionally escapes long enough to scribble some words. She's always at work on her next novel. You can find her on line at

Zondervan, 336 pages.

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

Friday, June 29, 2012

Living Jesus by Randy Harris with Greg Taylor

Some say the Sermon on the Mount are the most important words Jesus spoke and we should shape our lives by them. Some think the words are too hard to even consider.
Harris suggests, “Yes, they are too hard but by God's blessing and grace we must try to keep them.” (11) He is convinced we must take these words as a rule of life.
He shares his journey of discovery and invites the reader to come alongside. He goes through the Scripture in sections. He notes that, while there are commandments, it starts with blessings. Harris believes, “it's impossible to live out the Sermon on the Mount if we don't first understand that we are loved and blessed by God.” (33) He touches on the various topics addressed: lust, foul language, lying, revenge, wanting to be seen, and judging. He adds personal experiences and stories to illustrate his teaching.
He suggests memorizing the Sermon on the Mount. “...[I]t gets into you, “ he writes, “in ways it doesn't when you just read it.”
He gives the example of a community he created on the college campus where he teaches. The students in the community commit to live out the Sermon on the Mount. Harris also gives ideas for creating such a community, suggesting the use of the DVD series of the book.

This book can stand alone or be used along with the DVD as a field manual for groups and individuals. Each chapter has “Discussing What Jesus Says,” and then “Doing What Jesus Says.” There are some practical suggestions and strategies included in them.
While an individual would be rewarded by reading this book, I think it would best be used in a discussion group setting.

Harris encourages the reader to make a decision. “The sermon is not a body of material to be cognitively mastered. It's a life to be lived.” (20) Jesus offers a different way. What kind of person will you be?

Watch a short video about the DVD series here.

Randy Harris is a professor of theology, ethics, and preaching at Abilene Christian University, author and popular speaker.
Greg Taylor is a writer and pastor in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Leafwood Publishers, 150 pages.

Please visit your local Christian bookstore to buy this book

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

Monday, June 25, 2012

Submerged by Dani Pettrey

Bailey Craig has made a new life in Oregon and she had vowed never to go back to Alaska and the memories of her wild past. But then her aunt is killed as the plane she was in goes down in the waters off her home town. She will have to go back for the funeral and to prepare her aunt's business for sale. She doesn't look forward to facing the reputation she has in that town. Even though she has become a Christian, a new creation, they will still remember her past.
When Bailey is back in Alaska, she finds two surprising revelations. Cole is the man she so horribly betrayed. They had been good friends, close friends. They had dived together. But one night she had gotten drunk and broke his heart. Now he is a rescue and salvage diver. To Bailey's dismay, she still has feelings for him. And it becomes evident that he still loves her. But how can that be when she hurt him so? How can he ever forgive her?
Then the NTSB determines that the plane crash was not an accident. Bailey's aunt was murdered. As Cole's diving siblings and Bailey go deeper into the mystery, their own lives are brought into danger.

This is a very well written debut novel. The characters are well developed and the plot is intriguing. You'll learn a bit about Russian history and how it intertwines with Alaska. You will also be faced with what it means to become a new creation in Christ. Can past sins really be forgiven?
The writing is great. The mixing of mystery, suspense, and the rekindled romance between Bailey and Cole make for a page turning novel. I look forward to more novels in this series.

Dani Pettrey is a wife, a hone-schooling mom, and author. She loves to write suspense, characters with deepening Christian faith, and romance. She and her family live in Maryland. This is her first novel. To learn more, visit

Bethany House, 313 pages.  Publisher product page.

To purchase this novel, please visit your local Christian bookstore.

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

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Hurting with God by Glenn Pemberton

We all suffer and sometimes it doesn't get better. Where there seems to be no end to the pain and loss, how do we express ourselves to God? Pemberton wants to help us live as people of faith, live with God, in less than ideal circumstances.
He believes the time has come to hear and restore the biblical language of lament. Christians are ready for the words to express their pain. “God invites his people to speak the truth of their lives, their pain and their confusion to the One who can do something about it.” (33)
He investigates the concept of lament in the Old Testament, especially the Psalms. He also reviews the near extinction of lament in our modern hymns and songs.
There is a close look at lament, its tone and content. The problems that led the psalmists to lament are uncovered. The psalmists' authentic thanksgiving is noted. The psalmists end in gratitude, even in the midst of their circumstances.
Pemberton concludes that somewhere along the way the church has lost its way regarding lament. He ends his book with possible steps in the right direction, recovering the practice of lament. Ways are considered for individuals and churches to implement the practice.

I was struck by how honest the language is in the psalms. There is no attempt to deny the hardship. I was surprised to find that the largest group of psalms are lament (40%). I was also surprised to find that the language of lament is structured and controlled. Following the contours of lament provides a way to fully express what we were already thinking. Pemberton knows what he is writing about. He has experienced lengthy chronic pain. He writes with his own experience of expressing his his thoughts to God, in whom he has faith.

Pemberton has designed this book for personal reading and for group use (discussion questions are in an Appendix). The work may be a little to academic in style for some. I do think pastors would gain a great deal by reading this book and incorporating lament into the practice of their church.

Glenn Pemberton teaches Old Testament at Abilene Christian University. He has been a preacher for over twenty years.

Abilene Christian University Press, 252 pages.

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

52 Lies Heard in Church Every Sunday by Steve McVey

Sometimes we hear a word from the pulpit that sounds so good but is, oh, so wrong.
Steve says he knows about these lies because he used to preach them himself. That was before he truly understood grace. His desire is, “...that all of us would embrace and express the true grace of God.” (8)
Lie #1 Salvation is giving your life to Christ. No, says Steve. “Grace revolves around what He has given us, not what we give to Him!” (9) “Salvation is God's work. Our response to Him is because He initiated the whole thing.” (10,11)
Other lies include, the abundant life, rededication, how to rightly pray for unbelievers, being out of fellowship with God when we sin, finding God's will for your life, revival, being depressed, Lordship salvation, being disqualified by sin, positional righteousness, and being blessed because you tithe, to name a few.
I really appreciated his comments on the proper rules of biblical interpretation. Some claim that the hearts of all people are evil, even Christians, citing Jeremiah 17:9. Steve notes that this is from the Old Testament. “While the whole Bible is written for us and is profitable for our study, not every word can be accurately applied to new covenant believers.” (158)
Elsewhere he writes about the sayings of Jesus. “Not everything Jesus said it to be applied to you personally. That's because everything changed at the cross.” (192)
One of the lies in this book is that God will not forgive you if you don't forgive others (based on Matt. 6:14,15). Steve writes, “The idea that if you don't forgive others God won't forgive you is an old covenant teaching, even though we hear it from the lips of Jesus.” (195)

I like what Steve says. He has certainly stimulated my theological thinking. In my view, he is pretty much right on! I would encourage you to read this book and compare what you've heard from the pulpit with what the Bible really says.

Steve says there are actually 101 lies he has identified but that was too many for this book. If you would like to see them all, go to You'll also find other resources, like the video series that covers all 101 lies.

Harvest House Publishers, 245 pages.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Nobody by Creston Mapes

Ambrose Hudson is a night beat reporter for a Las Vegas newspaper. He had heard the scanner and got there before the police. He saw the homeless man, dead, blood on his chest. He waited for the police. Waited.
Then he made a decision that changed his life. He checked in the dead man's pockets for some ID. Maybe he could write a story with extra information. Maybe it would make his career.
What Hudson found would lead him on a chase for his own life.

There is plenty of action and suspense in this novel. We enter the world of the homeless in Las Vegas and those who minister to them. We learn that every homeless person, every “nobody,” has a story.
There are several of issues that are brought up in this novel. Hudson is angry at God for allowing his mother to die when he was young and his father to end up in prison. And Hudson is angry at his father for waiting too long to get medical help, when that help could have saved her.
Ambrose meets a young woman helping the homeless. She is a Christian and he is forced to deal with his anger toward God. She is also being beaten by her boyfriend so readers are introduced to that issue of abuse as well.
Two churches are contrasted in the novel. One is headed by a man who wants glory for himself. The other is a ministry that focuses on helping others and bringing them to the saving knowledge of Jesus. The motives for ministry in these two churches is very clear.

There is a discussion guide at the end of the novel which will give a reading group much to think about. Our motives for doing ministry would certainly be one of the discussion points. Another would be those spur of the moment decisions that get us into trouble later on. How do we hear and obey the warnings?
The only aspect of this novel I did not like was the ending. I felt like I was reading one of those westerns where all seems lost and the calvary comes riding over the hill at the last moment. While not unforeseen, the rescue was too quick, too convenient.

Creston Mapes has a degree in magazine journalism and has written for major corporations, colleges, and ministries. His stories have been featured in many magazines.

Learn more at

I received an egalley of this book from the Litfuse Publicity Group for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Full Tilt by Creston Mapes

Full Tilt is the second in the Rock Star Chronicles. Everett is a new Christian and newly married to Karen. He is planning a new band tour. This time, the message will be one of life instead of death.
Everett's older brother, Eddie, is in trouble with the mob. He is addicted to gambling and has gotten in way over his head. Everett helps by paying off a couple of debts but angers the mob boss in the process. It soon becomes apparent that Everett and Karen are in danger.
Add to the mix Everett's nephew Wesley. He is still angry over his brother's death, a death he blames on his uncle Everett. Wesley is heavily into meth and runs with a member of the mob family. He hears voices telling him to avenge his brother's death.

As with the first in the series, this is an intense book. We get a look into the world of methamphetamines, probably the number one rural drug in America. We see other addictions, too – alcohol and gambling.
The novel deals with other issues, as well. Everett has some of his tattoos removed and in the Reader's Guide, readers are asked to share their thoughts on a Christian's appearance. There is the question of God allowing loved people to die when young. In fact, Eddie refuses to believe in a God who would let his son die.
There are the issues of guilt and forgiveness. Everett has difficulty believing God has forgiven all he had done when he was with his ungodly rock band. Does he have to pay for those deeds somehow?

This would be a great novel for a teen reading group. The Reader's Guide included would stimulate some serious discussion. The Christianity in the book is clear, with the gospel is presented several times.
As is the case with the first in this series, I thought the writing was a bit uneven. For example, Mapes ends one chapter on Christmas Eve with Everett and Karen fearing the impending harm from the mob. The next chapter opens a week later, on New Year's Eve. I felt like the anxiety had been ramped up, then a week has gone by with ease!
Nonetheless, this is an exciting and hard hitting novel.

Creston Mapes has a degree in magazine journalism and has written for major corporations, colleges, and ministries. His stories have been featured in many magazines.

Learn more at

I received an egalley of this book from the Litfuse Publicity Group for the purpose of this review.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Dark Star by Creston Mapes

Everett Lester looked like he had it all. His rock band was riding the wave of popularity. He had money. He had fame. He had drugs and alcohol running through his veins.
Everett Lester had trouble. Along the way to stardom he had begun to associate with a medium. He became more and more tied to his personal psychic as she drew him into darkness.
A continuous glimmer of light in Everett's life was communication from a young woman, Karen. It started with notes, “I'm praying for you.” Karen believed God had something redeeming planned for Everett. She continued to pray for him and send him reminders of God's love.
But the psychic senses she is losing Everett and she intensifies her demonic influence. The spiritual battle is harsh. There are attacks on Karen's life. Everett becomes more self destructive, even to the point of almost killing a fan at one of his concerts. Seeing that fan in a coma wakes him up to his need for Christ.
His psychic makes one last attempt to destroy Everett. She arranges for her own murder and for Everett to be charged with the crime.

This novel is rather well written. There is plenty of excitement and the danger to Karen at the end is a great finish. The mixed up life of a rock star is presented in all its tragedy. Everett was an immoral, drug using, mixed up man. There are no graphic scenes so this novel would be suitable for teens through adults.
I felt the novel was too long. There was “filler” that didn't need to be there to carry the story. And sometimes there was just too much description. (Did we really need to know that she reached up and got a white coffee filter?)
Nonetheless, this is a great story of a young man getting into the horrors of evil yet never being beyond the grace of God.

Creston Mapes has a degree in magazine journalism and has written for major corporations, colleges, and ministries. His stories have been featured in many magazines. Dark Star, released in 2005, was his first novel.

Learn more at

I received an egalley of this book from the Litfuse Publicity Group for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

The Searchers by Joseph Loconte

What an unusual book. I don't think I've read anything quite like it. Loconte has taken the experience of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35) and related it to the experiences of mankind.
He goes through the story, paragraph by paragraph, and contemplates what the two disciples were thinking and feeling. He adds stories and experiences from ancient civilizations, novels, history, movies, sports, philosophers, authors – all aspects of human experience.
One section that might serve as an example is that about when dreams die. The disciples had hoped Jesus would be the one to redeem Israel. Instead, the chief priests and rulers had killed him. Loconte helps us understand what we are to do when we feel betrayed. His is not some “trust Jesus and everything will be OK” kind of answer. He deals with humility and facing the reality that we were clinging to falsehoods about life and God. He reminds us, “ matter where we are on the road to Emmaus, we all nurture illusions about God.” He suggests, “A little more humility in matters of faith would be a good thing for most of us.” He also points out that though the two on the road to Emmaus had realized that some of their deeply help beliefs had been mistaken, they still desired to know God more.
That was just Loconte's exposition on one part of the story. At another point in the book he talks about when religion does harm (clearly distinguishing Jesus' teaching from “religion”). I was fascinated with Loconte's commentary on the part of the story where Jesus explains all that was in the Old Testament concerning Him. Loconte relates that to conspiracy theories. What a great piece of writing.

I was really impressed with this book. I had no idea so much could be gathered from and related to a passage of Scripture. This book is an excellent resource for anyone contemplating preaching on this passage. I would certainly recommend it to anyone wanting to understand more of how people of biblical times felt shortly after the crucifixion. That Loconte pointed out how those feelings have been experienced across civilization was amazing.

Joseph Loconte is an Associate Professor of History at King's College in New York City, where he teaches Western Civilization and American Foreign Policy. His writings have appeared in the nation's leading media outlets. He serves as a senior fellow at the Trinity Forum and an affiliated scholar at the John Jay Institute. He divides his time between New York City and the Washington, D. C. area.

Thomas Nelson, 240 pages. Publisher product page.

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

Monday, June 18, 2012

Torn by Jud Wilhite

Have you ever felt like your world was being torn apart? Did you wonder where God was in that mess of life?
Jud proposes that the most important question we can ask at such a time is not Why? But Who? After that comes How?
Jud spends the first part of the book on our expectations of God and life from a biblical perspective. He shows that God is worthy of our trust. God is good and loves us.
He then looks at how to put life back together again. He gives practical suggestions in fighting for joy, showing forgiveness, and reclaiming hope.
No matter how much we want to trust in our own abilities, we must submit our situation to God and let Him take it. We move beyond the why questions to answering who with trust and faith. We must come to the point where we love God for who He is, not what He gives. Jud covers the importance of worship in our trials and surrendering our pain and our questions to God. He then gives some practical ways to face the challenges and move forward, including those in community and in solitude. He also helps us in waiting, in having hope and finding comfort. He relates a number of stories, including that of Job from the Bible.
He reminds us to check our assumptions about God and suffering. Bad assumptions yield wrong conclusions. He has great encouragement and practical ideas for the battle of depression. He also reminds us of the importance of forgiveness.
A good study guide is included that could be used by an individual or a group.
“The security we have in our darkest times comes not only from knowing that God is in control but also from knowing that God loves us.” (68)

Jud Wilhite is the senior pastor of Central Christian Church in Las Vegas. More than nineteen thousand people attend its multiple campuses. He is the author of several books. Jud, his wife, children and a slobbery bulldog live in Las Vegas.

Multnomah, 210 pages.  Publisher's product page.
Please visit your local Christian bookstore to buy this book.

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

Saturday, June 16, 2012

The Work of Christ by R. C. Sproul

R. C. reminds us that there is much more to the word of Christ than dying on the cross. That would have only paid for our sins and left us at level ground. We have righteousness to bring to God only because of the life Jesus lived.
R. C. shows that the work of Jesus began long before His birth. It began in eternity past with the covenant of redemption among the Godhead. Jesus' baptism identified Him as the Messiah, proclaiming Him to be the Lamb of God. His baptism fulfilled all righteousness and R. C. spends quit a bit of time on that subject.
He continues with the temptation, accomplishing what Adam failed to do, and the transfiguration revealing His true glory. He continues with the significance of the triumphal entry, Passover, and the crucifixion, the apex of Christ's redemptive work.
R. C. also covers the resurrection, ascension and His return.
The righteousness we receive from Jesus would not be possible had not Jesus kept the law. “The bottom line is that Jesus' life of perfect obedience was just as necessary for our salvation as His perfect atonement on the cross.” (76)

The most important content of this book is the material at the end of each chapter. There is a study guide with learning objectives, quotations, an outline of the chapter, a Bible study, a discussion guide, an application section, and suggested reading for further study.
This is an excellent resource for anyone wanting to make a brief study of the life of Christ. All of the materials needed by teachers and small group leaders is right there.

David C. Cook, 220 pages. Go here for the publisher's product page and to watch a video about the book.

R. C. Sproul is the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries, an international Christian education ministry based near Orlando, Florida. He also serves as senior minister of preaching and teaching at Saint Andrew's, a Reformed congregation in Sanford, Florida, and as president of Reformed Bible College. He is the author of more than seventy books. He and his wife make their home in Longwood, Florida.

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

Friday, June 15, 2012

Treasures of Healthy Living by Annette Reeder & Dr. Richard Couey

Do you want to live a healthy lifestyle? We are to honor God and one way to do that is through healthy living.
Several years ago Annette wanted to provide her family with better meals. Over the years God has placed strategic people in her life. She was taught how to search the Scriptures with a focus on health. Once the Bible formed the foundation, the food and nutrition aspects fell into place.
She started making changes in her family's diet. The food tasted great and health started returning to her family. Since changing their diet in 2003, Annette and her husband have come off all their prescriptions, lowered triglycerides from over 900 to 140, lowered cholesterol from 300 to 160, and lowered their blood pressure to normal.

This book is a twelve week Bible study for people desiring biblical answers to healthy living. Each week day has a reading assignment and Scriptures to review. Plenty of space is given for recording thoughts. Fridays are “foodie” days with creative and practical ideas to spice up your healthy eating.
You will discover how God designed the body to glorify Him. Scriptures and scientific studies are provided to encourage you to make healthier choices. You will find out which foods to purchase and how to prepare them. Theirs is a balanced approach, with understanding God's Word, applying scientific studies, and preparing satisfying meals.
Included are the basics of nutrition, information on the harmful effects of some altered foods, and healthy alternatives to unwholesome foods. You will also learn how diet, exercise and your spiritual life go hand in hand.

Companion products include a Nutrition Manual, a Cookbook, and DVDs and CDs. These additional products would allow for a more in depth study in a group setting.

Annette Reeder is a Biblical Nutrition Consultant. She is a graduate of Liberty University and Huntington College health Sciences and the founder of Designed healthy Living, a nutrition consulting ministry.
Dr. Richard Couey is Professor Emeritus of Health Sciences at Baylor University.  

You can find this book at your local Christian bookstore or through and

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Glass Road P. R. for the purpose of this review.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Lucy Come Home by Dave & Neta Jackson

Every homeless person has a story and this novel lets us in on the story of crotchety Lucy Tucker, from the Yada Yada House of Hope series. Her family lost their farm in the Dust Bowl era and were now migrant workers. Fifteen year old Lucinda meets a “carnie,” Bo, who works for a traveling carnival. Bo saves Cindy when she was sexually attacked by the farm owner. One defensive blow and the man is dead. Bo and Cindy run off.
The story alternates between the present and the 1940s. In the 40s, we follow Bo and Cindy as they try to find employment and carve out a life, all the while hiding from the law. In the current time, we observe Lucy as she finally encounters an old woman and a dog who need her.
With subtle weaving of the story, we see how Cindy became Lucy, how she found and lost love, and how she came to the place she is as an old woman.

This novel is long and slow moving. As we follow Bo and Cindy, they have the same kinds of experiences over and over again. I felt the novel could have been about a hundred pages shorter without losing any essential aspects of the story.
I didn't like Lucy. Saying she is crotchety is putting it mildly. She is argumentative and crabby. Underneath it all she has a good heart but I was puzzled as to why she kept hiding it all the time. People kept on being nice to her which was amazing to me.
I got tired of the “down home” language of Lucy. Even as an eighty year old residing in Chicago for sixty years, she still spoke as if she had just arrived from Arkansas.
Lucy fought God's invitation time after time. Her feeling she was just too unworthy to be loved by Him was very realistic. The issue is unresolved in the end. I would have rather seen Lucy finally be reconciled to God, but it doesn't always happen that way.

Dave and Neta Jackson are award-winning authors living in the Chicago area where Lucy's story takes place. Together they have authored or coauthored over 100 books. Visit for more information.

Castle Rock Creative, 424 pages. Please visit your local Christian bookstore to buy this book.

I am participating in a blog tour of this book.  To see what others are saying about Lucy Come Home, go here.

I received an egalley of this book through LitFuse Publicity for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Soul Detox by Craig Groeschel

Craig is convinced many Christians are living in a dangerous environment with their spiritual health. We sense that something is not right in our spiritual life. We know we are not growing closer to Christ nor following Him as we would like. Perhaps we can't put our finger on it.
Craig believes the enemy is blinding us with a smokescreen of poisonous distractions, like living with a heavy smoker. We are not aware of what is stunting our spiritual growth. We think the way we live is fine, normal. Years ago we didn't realize the dangers of breathing second hand smoke. Now we don't realize the harm of our toxic culture. Like a frog in a warming kettle, we have become acclimated to our poisonous environment. Craig reminds us that everything we allow into our minds has an impact on how we grow spiritually.
If you want to detoxify your soul of the impurities that pollute your relationship with God, this book is for you.
He examines the pollutants that corrupt our spiritual desire to know and serve God. Some can be removed, some must be managed. We are asked to take an honest look at ourselves and to understand the battle in the mind. He looks at the power of words. He deals with toxic emotions like bitterness and fear. He looks at the toxic influences of our media and gives a plan for discernment. He also addresses toxic relationships and how to deal with people. And lastly, he exposes toxic religion.
He leaves the reader with these questions: What does God want different in your life? Why?

Craig takes the Bible seriously. Peter wrote that we should keep away from worldly desires (1 Peter 2:11) and Craig is convinced we are falling short of that command. Reading his book helped me see how accustomed I have become to our godless culture. This book is not only an eye opener but a call to detoxify my environment.

Craig Groeschel is the pastor of, a church launched in 1996 and now having many campuses.

Zondervan, 240 pages. Go here to see the publisher's product page, inlcuding the DVD series and other resources.

Watch videos from Life Church here.

Go here for an interview with Craig about Soul Detox.

To listen to the first chapter of the book here.  

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

Monday, June 11, 2012

Angel Eyes by Shannon Dittemore

Brielle is back home in a rural town in Oregon to finish her senior year of high school. Her mom having died when Brielle was a child, she lives with her father, a logger. She is a talented dancer and two years earlier had been spotted and taken to the big city. Rather than finding a glorious career, Brielle found tragedy when her good friend was murdered.
Brielle returns to her old high school chilled, always chilled. She meets a new guy, Jake. Jake is friendly and his gentle touch is warm.
So begins this novel that reminded me so much of Peretti's first two. It is not long before we enter into the world of angels and demons. Along with Brielle, who is given the ability to look into the celestial realm, we see the forces others are unaware of. There are strong, protective angels watching over their charges, receiving their instruction from the very throne of God. We see hideous, evil demons bent on destroying what God has set in motion. We see fear, like black tar, flowing from terrified children.
The descriptions and scenes are captivating. I felt like I was being allowed to see behind the curtain, watching the spiritual forces of good and evil battle as events play out on earth. The plot was, perhaps, a little complex. The start of the novel was a little rough. I was a bit confused at the opening. I felt the background, the reason Brielle was back from the city, could have been laid out a little clearer. If you get into the novel around 50 pages or so, it becomes clear and the plot takes off.

This is a great novel for teens. They will be introduced to the spirit realm and the battles going on there. They will also see Brielle struggle with her concept of God. How can she believe in God when He allowed her mother to die way too early and her good friend be murdered? They will also see the necessity of being a part of the spiritual battle for their friend's lives. As Jake says, “Eventually evil everywhere will burn, but until it does, the kingdom of light, God's kingdom needs warriors.”

Shannon Dittemore has an overactive imagination and a passion for truth. The daughter of one preacher and the wife of another, she spends her days imagining things unseen and chasing her two children around their home in Northern California. This is her first novel.

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 336 pages.

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

I am participating in a blog tour of this book.  Find out what readers are saying here.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

The Anniversary Waltz by Darrel Nelson

This is a love story. But it has a twist. We know from the Prologue that they have been married for sixty years and are still madly in love with each other. Rather than detracting from the romance, it only adds to the story.
It is the summer of 1946 and Adam has just returned from the war. His Montana hometown is a small one and at a celebration, he meets and falls for Elizabeth. But she is taken, sort of, as she is going steady with an influential banker who just happens to be Adam's former high school rival.
While Adam is a hero to his hometown, Adam's father is bitter over Adam's leaving the farm four years ago. Times have been hard and Adam's father has tried to maintain the farm all on his own. It has fallen into disrepair and Adam sets to work at getting it back into shape.
As Adam gently pursues Elizabeth, he finds out that the farm is in financial difficulty and Elizabeth's beau, Adam's old rival, is in control of the mortgage. Just when Adam thinks his life is looking up, tragedy strikes.

This is a great romance. Knowing the outcome at the beginning made me think this might be a boring romance. Boy, was I wrong. The anticipation in the novel is not wondering whether the guy gets the gal. We know he does. The excitement is how the couple overcomes difficulties to get to that wedding day. The force of the story is about relationships. It is about people overcoming bitterness and reestablishing love. It is about trusting the love of another, even when the situation is ugly and looks hopeless.
A good story with well crafted characters makes this a novel well worth reading.

Darrel Nelson is a school teacher by profession. He and his wife live in Raymond, Alberta, and are proud grandparents. This is Darrel's debut novel. Find out more about him at

Realms (a division of Charisma House Book Group), 293 pages.  Publisher product page.

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shame Interrupted by Edward T. Welch

We've all experienced shame, that deep sense of being unacceptable because of something we did, or something done to us, or something associated with us. We feel naked, exposed, unclean. Shame, Welch writes, requires more than superficial treatments. It has to be named, brought out in the open. Then God's words to the shamed are heard. Acceptance is assured. It might sound too good to be true at first. But accept it.
The Bible is all about shame and its remedy. Welsh takes the reader through a great deal of Scripture. He shows how we are now clean through what Christ has done.

Welch's premise, I think, is correct. It is only through understanding, believing, and living out what Christ has done for us that shame will truly be done away with. I do have some issues, however, with how the book is written.
It seems that Welch assumes one reading through a Scripture passage will change an individual. For example, he takes us through Jesus' crucifixion, emphasizing the shame Jesus experienced. Then he writes, “No matter how stubbornly resistant to change your shame might be, witnessing extreme shame like this will move your shame to second place in your thoughts.” (180) If it were only that easy.  Welch does note at the end of his book that it is a long process. “When you read a passage of Scripture once, it can soon blend into the background. But if you read it for a few months, it changes your life.” (315) So it does take time, lots of time.
Sometimes Welch is confusing, in a clever sort of way. He writes of Jesus, “If you are reluctant to come to this Priest, remember that he is one of us.” The next paragraph begins, “If you think your High Priest couldn't wash you well enough, remember that he is not one of us” (190) His clever way of writing, for me, obscures the important truth.
Here is another example of his confusing writing. After writing about the Beatitudes, he predicts, “There is a difficult task at hand.” (153) The very next paragraph reads, “Think the opposite of how you normally think. That will most likely keep you on the right path. For example, while everyone around you is jockeying for power and prestige, set your sights on the opposite. It's easy. Just become like a child.” (153) So is living the life of the Beatitudes difficult or easy?
Welch writes as if the healing automatically follows when steps are taken. “First, you listen. Then you believe in Jesus, who invited you into his honor. Then you discover an entirely new life in which you feel like you are starting with a clean slate.” (219) If it were only that quick.
Sometimes Welch writes as if a monumental task is simple: “Your task, then, is to adopt God's retelling of reality...” (153) That task has been taking me a lifetime to accomplish.
What I did not like about the book the most was Welch's use of the language of shame. It took me a while to recognize the frequent use of “should.” In writing about the life of Christ, he concludes, “You should hear in all this that the King identifies with outcasts. The message couldn't be clearer.” (114) And if I don't hear that? I feel ashamed because I “should,” and I feel dumb because it couldn't be clearer!
Here are some more examples of the “should” language Welch uses. “This is just a sample of the things the Spirit does, but it should be enough to persuade you that you are clean in Christ.” (235) “Every person who knows shame should be captured by this story.” (132) “So if you are familiar with shame, you should be hearing good news and expecting even more.” (119) I caught myself thinking, time after time, but how is the reader going to feel if he really isn't persuaded, isn't captured, isn't hearing good news, isn't expecting more? Would he feel shame?
I could add several more but I hope those few give the flavor of the writing.  As to the writing style, I felt like I was reading a textbook. The language is clinical and not personal. He gave many examples of people yet none of them, except a few, had names – they were “the lady” or “he” or “she” or “the young man.” Even the stories felt impersonal. I didn't feel like Welch was talking to me, but rather that he was giving a lecture.
I think it would be very hard for a person with deep seated shame to read this book. Welch makes it look too simple, too easy, too quick. I think this book would need to be read with a counselor or a close friend over a long period of time. There are discussion questions at the end of each chapter that would help.
Or this book might be suitable for counselors. It certainly gives lots of good material a counselor could use when working with clients.

Edward Welch, MDiv, PhD, is a licensed psychologist and faculty member at the Christian Counseling & Educational Foundation. He has counseled for over thirty years and is the best-selling author of many books.

New Growth Press, 337 pages.

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

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Winning Balance by Shawn Johnson

Shawn has written this book as a way to reflect on the lessons she has learned from her training and competitive experiences. She shares her childhood, climbing and jumping. She was so full of energy her mother signed her up at a gym.
Her early accomplishments are amazing – on the junior national team in Belgium and taking first place in the all-around, vault and floor. She came in first at the Visa championships (2006). She won the all-around title at the 2007 Tyson American Cup, at the 2007 Pan American Games, and the 2007 Visa Championships (this time as a senior competitor), and at the World Championships. She writes, “I had gone from an up-and-coming junior to the best gymnast in the world in one year.” (59)
Beijing was in her sights but she experienced a stress fracture and the future looked uncertain. Then the gym was flooded one week before the Trials.
Shawn shares her experiences at the Olympics – the fear of defeat, the moment she realized she would not win the all-around gold, and being away from her parents for a month.
Back in the U. S., as life was returning to normal, she was invited to be on Dancing With the Stars, the youngest contestant to compete. She shares how the glitz of Hollywood affected her. After DWTS, she thought she needed to find a new identity for herself. She realized that her identity came from something other than her accomplishments. She knew that lasting happiness would never be found in another medal. Her faith in Christ was what mattered.
Shawn loved to ski and tells of the accident wrecking her knee. The injury gave her time to think about her future. She decided to try for the 2012 Olympics. However, just Sunday, June 3, Shawn announced her retirement because of trouble with her left knee. She reminds us at the end of her book that a gymnastic career is short. She looks forward to college, marriage and kids.
The message she wants her readers to embrace is that God will walk you through the tough times. She knows God has done that for her.

What a treasure of a book! It is well written and compelling. Shawn kept a journal and has done a wonderful job creating a very readable and inspiring book.
At her young age, Shawn is mature beyond her years sharing the lessons she has learned at the end of each chapter. What a privilege to get to know the young woman we've seen in the spotlight. And I promise, if I see her at the mall and happen to be next to her in the bathroom, I won't reach under the divider with a piece of paper and ask for her autograph (you have to read the book).

Find out more about Shawn at

Tyndale House Publishers, 253 pages. Go here for the publisher's product page and a video.

Check out the Winning Balance book site or watch video here.

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

Monday, June 4, 2012

Son of the Underground by Isaac Liu with Albrecht Kaul

Liu is the son of Brother Yun whose story was told in The Heavenly Man. Being born in a Christian family in China in the early 80s was dangerous. Your family was considered an enemy of the state. Brother Yun was already in prison and Liu's mother had been scheduled for a forced abortion.
But God had other plans. The night before the scheduled abortion, Liu was born. He survived his premature birth – without medical help. It wouldn't be until he was four that Liu would see his father.
Liu shares his memories of childhood, the influence of his godly grandmother, his mother working to support the family. He describes the local house churches and explains the hatred of the Chinese toward Christians. He shares confrontations with demons and secret house meetings. He attended Bible School and was preaching – at age eleven. There was a time when he lived with others as both of his parents were in prison.
He tells of their escape to Burma then to Thailand, finally being able to join his father in Germany. There Liu struggled with his call to preach. He is currently a pastor in Germany.

For those who have read The Heavenly Man, this is “the rest of the story.” We read of the struggles of the family while Brother Yun was in prison and then in Germany. While not as exciting as The Heavenly Man, it is a very good account of what it was like to be a Christian in China. Liu's explanation of the differences in the churches, the Three-Self Church and the house churches, is very enlightening. It is simply written yet worth reading.

To read the first two chapters, go here.

To see a press release, go here.

Monarch Books (Kregel Publications), 141 pages.  Publisher product page.
To buy this book, please visit your local Christian bookstore.

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

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Five Miles South of Peculiar by Angela Hunt

Three sisters are reunited at the family estate, five miles south of the town called Peculiar. But it is not a smooth reunion. Darley has spent all her life at the aging mansion. She lived her married life there and raised her family there. She is an important person in the community, a member of every committee, and known by every one in the town.
Her twin sister Carley has been away for decades. Carley was somewhat of a Broadway star but now that is all changed. A throat operation gone bad means her career is over. When the mayor of Peculiar invites Carley to come back to her hometown to help celebrate Darley's (and her own) fiftieth birthday, she jumps at the opportunity. Perhaps she will be able to create a new life in her old town.
Their younger sister Nolie has always lived in the family mansion with Darley. Nolie has never recovered from being left at the altar - the man she thought loved her ran off with another woman. Nolie always wears white. And she sews. She sews aprons, scores of aprons, for everyone, for every occasion. And she has a couple of very big dogs.
Into this odd mix comes Erik. Erik was a pastor in a nearby town but was forced to leave his church when his wife left him. With no ministry prospects in the immediate future, he appeals to Darley's generous nature. Finding out that a friend of hers sent Erik her way, she accepts his help in maintaining and repairing the estate.
Life has been pretty good for Darley and Nolie. Erik's arrival brings a mild ripple but when Carley comes on the scene, storm clouds gather. Darley's control is challenged by Carley's suggestions while Nolie just wants her sisters to get along. But there are broken hearts and secrets getting in the way. Will they be able to overcome those obstacles to find the joy and love they had known as children?

Being one of four sisters, I really liked this novel. We had a similar situation when two of my sisters went over seas for decades. When one of them moved back to our home town, it was a bit of an adjustment, to say the least. I can really identify with the struggles the sisters experienced with their reunion.
Angela Hunt is an expert in taking us through growing relationships. This novel will give readers much to think about as they journey with the sisters in their attempts to love when it is not always so easy to do so.
There are recipes and a wonderful discussion guide at the end. Reading groups will have fun making the cupcakes they read about and discussing the book.

Angela Hunt has nearly four million books in print. She and her youth pastor husband live in Florida and have mastiffs, now that the kids are out of the house. You can find out more about her at

Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), 384 pages.

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