Monday, July 30, 2012

Hot Buttons series by Nicole O'Dell

Do you feel like you just do not have the material you need to help your teens make wise choices? Then these books are for you.
Nicole came to the realization that it would be far better to talk to her children about issues before they were forced to make the choices. She wanted to give them the information they needed to make the choices and understand the consequences when poor choices were made.
So she devised a game called Scenarios. She would give her kids a scenario – as though they were facing that situation right then. They would have to choose between the options she allowed them. She made sure they felt safe, even in making the wrong decision. They would have a talk after the decision was made and the consequences known.
Nicole created the Hot Button series as a way to help you bring the principles and practices of the Scenario game to your own home. The first book deals with Internet activity and the dangers in can bring. The second addresses boy-girl attraction and relationship issues. There will be two more books released in the fall – drugs and sexuality.
Nicole helps you take a preemptive move, even with your tweens. She explains why ten or eleven years old is not too young to start talking with your children about these issues. She details various hot button issues and includes warning signs to watch for and action to take right away.
She also includes actual scenarios. There is a story to tell, options to give, discussion questions to ask, and a Bible verse on the issue. She has even added ways to begin to reverse mistakes and repair damage already done.

This is an excellent series and great help for you in preemptive parenting.

Check out the author's websites at and

Nicole O'Dell is the mother of six, host of Teen Talk Radio and Parent Talk Radio. She is the author of more than a dozen books.

Kregel Publications, 168 pages.  Publisher's product page.

Please visit your local Christian bookstore to purchase these books.

I received complimentary copies of the first two books in this series from the publisher for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

Message in a Body by Joseph Anfuso

Joseph founded Forward Edge International in 1983. The worldwide relief and development organization has mobilized volunteers to construct orphanages, provide health care to thousands, rebuild villages, repair homes, serve the homeless, build permanent homes and help rebuilt communities.
How he got to that point in his life is quite a story. Joseph is the son of a five time congressman. Joseph shares his experiences growing up in New Jersey with his twin brother. Smaller than his brother, he always had a bit of an inferiority complex. Their father died shortly after Joseph graduated from high school. Uncertain, he traveled to Europe, did college, then Europe again. Always searching, he and others drove across the U. S. He lived in Maui, then lived in communes. Still searching, he traveled to Tibet and India, visited a Tibetan Buddhist monastery and trekked to the Mount Everest Base Camp.
When his visa expired his brother flew him home. What a shock to find that his entire family has become Christians while he was gone. At his brother's urging, Joseph began reading the Bible. He eventually got saved and began working with Gospel Outreach. After a time he received a vision for mobilizing volunteers. Forward Edge was born.

Joseph believes in the power of story and his is a good one. He did what so many did in the 70s, searching for life's meaning in all the wrong places. Many baby boomers will identify with his experiences. They will also be introduced to the gospel as Joseph realized and shares his need for Jesus.

You can see more about Joseph's ministry at  

To order copies of this book, go to

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

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Mondays with My Old Pastor by Jose Luis Navajo

Jose Navajo had just celebrated his forty-sixth birthday. As he put the birthday cake leftovers away, he knew he was experiencing something more than mere tiredness. “Deep in some uncertain part of my soul persisted a strange exhaustion that was difficult to explain and hard to endure.” (xi) An evangelical pastor, he heard his doctor's diagnosis: burnout. In the midst of his enduring the tunnel of discouragement, his wife suggested he visit his old pastor.
Thus began regular visits with the pastor of his youth, a seasoned eighty-three years old man who had been in ministry at the same church for fifty-five years.
Many Mondays the wise pastor told a story with a life changing message. There was profound wisdom to be gleaned from these stories. As the weeks went by, Jose could tell his old pastor was declining. He was losing the battle to cancer. Even as he grew weaker, he continued to encourage Jose with stories from his own experiences, from literature, and from legends.
The stories and the wisdom are inspiring. Some of the lessons Jose learned include, “Self-sufficiency is a highly sought after quality on earth, but it's a real hindrance in the things of the kingdom.” (22) “Nothing,” the old pastor tells Jose, “absolutely nothing is as important as taking time to be with God.” (34) “You have two options: serve the Lord or work in the church. They are not the same... Don't work for God, work with God.” (44) “Love those who least deserve it more, because they are the ones who need it most.” (60)

This book thought provoking wisdom that will challenge every Christian. Those in ministry needing inspiration to continue on will find treasure in this book. Each chapter is a simple lesson on deepening one's walk with Jesus. Yet the wisdom shared is profound.
The book is well written in a style of fictional prose that compels one to continue. While some of the stories are fables and legends, each one illustrates a thought provoking truth.
And the final lesson, even after the old pastor had gone to be with the Lord, was, “Everything is by grace.”

Jose Luis Navajo is part of the pastoral team of the Salem Evangelical Church in Madrid, Spain. While the pastoral ministry is his calling and vision, he loves literature and is the author of several books. He and his wife have two daughters.

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 207 pages.

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

Friday, July 27, 2012

Real Church in a Social Network World by Leonard Sweet

In this ebook, Sweet does an analysis of church and today's individual, looks at the changing culture and gleans lessons the church needs to learn.
The rediscovery of a relation-based spirituality, Sweet writes, is crucial to ministry in the twenty first century. The number one source of stress is life is the feeling of isolation. The number one problem in the world is people living disconnected lives. What people are searching for most desperately is connectedness. This is an opportunity for the church to reevaluate its approach to relationship.
Today's individual does not lack for Christian teaching. No other generation has had as much access to Christian teaching as this one. Our society is less enamored with Christian theology than ever before. “What's missing is the right relationship, a deepening relationship with God.”
He speaks to participating in the divine life, being “missional” by participating in the mission of Jesus. Sweet encourages us to make others the focus of our relationship with God. Jesus was an equal opportunity relationship builder.

This little ebook packs a punch. As a doctrine oriented Christian, it certainly challenged me to love that an individual, rather than making sure they have all their doctrine right. I can see his point that the church has defended correct doctrine and belief with such intensity that it has forgotten to love its neighbor.
Something Sweet does not do is give suggestions on concentrating on relation-based spirituality. Is it small groups? Is it embracing the homeless? Perhaps each church needs to find out for itself how relationships will blossom.
Sweet's message to the church is clear. “At the core of who we are as humans is an inner drive for relationships with God and with one another.”

Consistent Sweet readers will recognize some of this material as previously published in some of his books. They will also be treated to an excerpt of Sweet's forthcoming book, Viral.

For more about Sweet, go to

Publisher's product page.

WaterBrook Press.

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

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Inescapable by Nancy Mehl

Lizzie left her Old Order Amish home in Kingdom, Kansas, when she was eighteen - and pregnant.  Her father had been harsh, showing no compassion.
She had carved out a new life for herself in Kansas City but now it was falling apart. She had been accused of theft at her place of employment and there was no way she could prove her innocence. And there was that fellow she kept seeing on the street, watching her apartment. She knew she had to leave and the only place she knew to go was back to Kingdom. Perhaps there she would be safe.

When she and her daughter arrive back in Kingdom, things have changed. Some of the buildings in the town have been painted. A woman is operating a restaurant. And Lizzie meets some old friends who don't hold her past against her. She even has a place to stay in town, away from her parents.

She has hope for her future but she is shocked to see the stalker again. He has found her. And then she comes in contact with her father and he is as unforgiving and angry as was before.

This is a pretty well written novel. I generally don't like novels about the Amish but this one was a little different. Lizzie had been on her own for five years before she returns to the secluded community. The community is struggling with technological advance. There are some who want telephones and even own an automobile. There are others, including Lizzie's father, who think all of the modern advances are evil. Reading the novel really gave me an appreciation of the clashes in the cultures the Amish must deal with.
There is a bit of mystery and a little romance in the novel as well. It is all nicely done.
This is the first in a new series and I look forward to reading the next book about Kingdom.

Go here to watch a trailer about the book.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book. Go here to see reviews from others participating in the tour.

Nancy Mehl is the author of twelve books and received the ACFW Mystery Nook of the Year Award in 2009. She and her husband live in Wichita, Kansas.

Please visit your local Christian bookstore to buy a copy of this book.

Bethany House Publishers, 326 pages.

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

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Could I Vote for a Mormon for President? by Ryan Cragun & Rick Phillips

The authors have written this book “to demystify Mitt Romney's religion and address the major concerns – raised by both liberals and conservatives – about Mormonism. [They] aim to make the weird familiar.” (12) They should know. They were raised Mormon and are sociologists who study Mormonism. Both went on missions, married Mormon women in the temple and participated in the secret rites. But now both men no longer believe the truth claims of the LDS. But they don't want the Mormons misrepresented either.
“Polls show Americans generally have negative views towards Mormons. Among religious groups, only atheists and Muslims are less popular.” (12) They think calling Mormons cultists is dumb. They say that most Christian scholars who study Christianity accept Mormons as Christians. They attack those who say Mormonism is not Christians, calling them “religious bigots.” (31) “Unless you've got a theological axe to grind, Mormons are Christians.” (31)
They review the ceremonies, including endowment. “As with baptism, no one can enjoy true salvation without receiving endowment.” (54) They write about the underwear but note that other religions require specific clothing. They review the church's racist past and write that the church is working feverishly to expunge that past. They note other shifts in Mormon belief, at least as it is publicly stated. “These days, many church authorities prefer to say that exalted Mormons will become 'like God' rather than baldly proclaiming that they will be gods. This shift is designed to deflect the criticism of outspoken opponents of Mormonism...” (83)
Jesus and Satan are brothers, spirit children of Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother. Actually, the Mormons teach that every person that has ever lived on earth is also a spirit child of Heavenly Father and therefore siblings of Jesus and Satan. (89)
There are a few things I learned from this book (as I have studied Mormon belief). Mitt's great-grandfather was a polygamist. His ancestors fled to Mexico in the late 1800s to avoid arrest under the laws prohibiting polygamy. Mitt's father was born in Colonia Dublan in Chihuahua, Mexico, an expatriate polygamist outpost.

I disagree with the authors' defending Mormonism as Christian. From what I have read about the history and beliefs of the LDS, I would not classify them as Christian. The authors write, “...[A]ccording to LDS theology, no person can achieve complete salvation without being married in the temple.” (51) That is not orthodox Christian belief. Elsewhere they note that Mormons are technically henotheists, recognizing many gods but worshiping only one. (82) That is definitely not Christian belief.

This book is a reasonable introduction to Mormon belief for those who know relatively little about them. Just be mindful that these authors evaluate Christians believing in Noah and his ark to be on the same level as Mormons believing God lives on planet Kolob.

Could the authors vote for a Mormon? You'll just have to read the book to find out.

Ryan Cragun is an Assistant Ptofessor of Sociology at the University of Tampa. His research interests include Mormonism and the nonreligious. His research has been published in numerous journals and featured in numerous local and national newspapers. He is a past president of the Mormon Social Science Association.
Rick Phillips is an Assosiate Professor of Sociology at the University of North Florida. He is the author of one book and has had articles published in several journals. He is a former president of the Mormon Social Science Association, a scholarly association of social scientists interested in the study of Mormonism.

Strange Violin Editions, 134 pages.

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

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Relentless Pursuit by Ken Gire

Gire says the Bible, from start to finish, is about God's pursuit of the outsider. God doesn't stop the pursuit when he brings us into the fold. He continues to watch over us to see when a part of us wanders from him.
“This book is about the heart of God and the lengths to which his heart goes to find ours, to bundle it up in his arms and to carry it home.” (11) Gire reminds us that there is no place to hide.
He writes of the stages of God's pursuit, the capture then creation.
He gives a few examples of others being pursued by God, such as Francis Thompson, creator of the poem The Hound of Heaven. He also includes biblical stories. The majority of the book, however, is his own story. He writes about shame, being an outsider, having ADD, and Jesus' mission to the outsider. In addition to reminiscing about his life, he includes lots of his musings about his own life.

Gire, by his own words, is a highly sensitive person. Gire has used writing as a way to understand and express himself. Much of this book consists of his thoughts about his own experiences. He speaks of having been in counseling for some time and I think he has written this book as an exercise in his personal growth process.
I am not as pensive as Gire is and I had a hard time identifying with the material in this book. This book is very much about Gire, how God has pursued him, and his reminiscing about his life. Perhaps another highly sensitive person would be able to identify with Gire's experience.
I am not sure who would enjoy reading this book and profit from it. I suppose someone who would is interested in writing for self revelation and healing would find this book an example of that.
I would not recommend this book for someone seeking to know God. Gire's book is too full of his own life to make this title attractive to a nonbeliever.

Ken Gire is the author of twenty-four books. He has won two ECPA Gold Medallion Awards and two of his titles were selected as C. S. Lewis Honor Books. Ken teaches weekend seminars on writing throughout the country. He lives in Baltimore, Maryland. You can find out more about him at

Bethany House Publishers, 176 pages.

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

Monday, July 23, 2012

Faith and Other Flat Tires by Andrea Palpant Dilley

Andrea was a missionary kid. Her parents moved to Kenya in 1979, Quaker missionaries. They left Kenya in 1985, when Andrea was seven. They moved to Spokane, Washington.
When she was twenty one, she scraped off the fish symbol her brother had placed on the back bumper. “I was purging myself not of faith necessarily, but of a particular kind of faith and of a Christian culture that I associated with spiritual certainty. I didn't want anything to do with it.” (89)
She walked away from church when she was twenty three, not knowing if she would every go back.
This book tells the story of her search for purpose, a partner, and a worldview she could believe in. It is written for people like Andrea who find themselves driven by doubt, searching for a place to call home.
She shares her experience attending Whitworth University in Spokane, being a nanny for Jerry Sittsers' children. She frequented bars and led an aimless life. She dated and was disappointed. “My heart was out drifting in the dark somewhere, alone and untouchable, like a kite whose kite runner had stopped watching and let the string unwind into the air.” (202) “In the search for love, faith, and life purpose, I was failing on all fronts and driving around with three flat tires.” (206)
After two years of spiritual wandering, she started going to church again. “I left for a while, burned out by faith and church. Then I came back, driven by a completely different kind of fatigue. I was tired of myself. Tired of being an overwrought, introspective twentysomething trying to undertake the search alone.” (233)
Back at church she begins attending a Bible study. She finally found a few answers and the man she would marry.
As Andrea and her new husband drive off to Arizona, Andrea says, “I still had so many questions – about the doctrine of atonement, the triune God, the purpose of prayer. Behind those questions were buried other questions.” (297) And so Andrea ends her story, still looking for answers to those hard questions.

Andrea is articulate, sharing her questions about God and faith. Many young people will be able to identify with her searching spirit. This is a good book for the parents of twentysomething children to read. It will help them understand the doubts that plague young people. It will also remind them that we live with doubts, developing the faith that we can live with.

Andrea Palpant Dilley grew up in Kenya as the daughter of Quaker missionaries, and spent the rest of her childhood in the Pacific Northwest. She studied English literature and writing at Whitworth University. Her work as a writer has appeard in various publications. Her work as a documentary producer has aired nationally on American Public Television. She lives with her husband and daughter in Austin, Texas.

Zondervan, 300 pages.

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

Saturday, July 21, 2012

The 3-Minute Difference by Wayne Nance with William Hendricks and J. Keet Lewis

In 1978, Wayne was a 315 pound financial advisor. He also had five credit cards maxed out. It took someone calling him a “fat slob” to wake him up. He got his weight and spending under control. (At the end of the book he tells us he had a coach.) But, as his wife said, he was still a jerk.
He began investigating the core thing that drove his behavior and realized his attitudes and beliefs were driving his behavior. He investigated others struggling with similar problems and found certain underlying attitudes.
Wayne has written this book to help us understand these inborn, underlying attitudes, and how they affect everything we do and every decision we make. (This core is established by age six.) He then takes us through a step by step plan to regain our life.
He doesn't ask us to change who we are but rather come to terms with who we are. He uses ALTER with purpose: Awareness, Learn, Tactical plan, Execute the plan, Re-evaluate.
He calls the core drive out attitude and developed a 3 minute survey to identify it. (The survey is included in the book.) It shows that every person is wired differently. Everyone is a combination of four categories:
T for tactical (planners, goal setters)
R for rational (logical thinkers, attending to facts)
I for impulsive (playful, spur of the moment, generous)
M for mellow (laid back, harmonious, trustful)
Wayne covers each combination, their traits, and what they need to watch out for. He has practical plans for physical, financial, and relational fitness, noting the pitfalls of each personality.

I wasn't surprised to find out that I'm a barge (you've got to read the book). The 3 minute survey only confirmed what I already knew about myself. I thought the plans for altering one's life were a little weak on the various core attitudes. Most of each chapter was on general change, then a paragraph on each of the boats, barges, and sailboats designations. I would have rather seen a couple of chapters devoted to T people, then a couple to R people, etc. The information just felt too general to me.
One who has done lots of reading on personality styles may not find anything new here. One who is interested in finding out his or her own personality for the first time will find this a quick and easy way to do so.
And, as is always the case, it comes down to just doing it. Wayne has included a 91 day plan to help the reader get going and accomplish change.

This book has been previously published under different titles, Thin, Rich, and Happy in 2007, and Real Life Management in 2008.

Mission Books (an imprint of eChristian Publishing), 298 pages.

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

Friday, July 20, 2012

The Last Hunger Season by Roger Thurow

Thurow had been a reporter at the Wall Street Journal for 30 years. For 20 of those years he was a foreign correspondent based in Europe and Africa. While covering the famine in Ethiopia in 2003 he looked into the eyes of the starving and committed himself to doing what he could to end global hunger.
He and a colleague, Scott Kilman, began collaborating on a series of articles on the African famine. They then wrote Enough: Why the World's Poorest Starve in an Age of Plenty, released in 2009. “Why were people still dying of hunger at the beginning of the twenty-first century when the world was producing – and wasting – more food than ever before?” (xv)
In 2010, Thurow resigned his position with the Wall Street Journal and accepted a post as Senior Fellow for Global Agriculture and Food Policy with the Chicago Council on Global Affairs.
Thurow was invited to Africa by Andrew Youn to see the work of the One Acre Fund, the organization Youn founded. The Last Hunger Season is a record of his experience at the hardscabble homesteads of western Kenya.
He calls it a paradoxical region of breath taking beauty and overwhelming misery. The smallholder farmers, tending fewer than five acres of land, have been largely ignored by the international community, the government, and the private sector.
Thurow has a way of writing so that you feel like you are sharing the experiences of the Africans. You meet families living in mud-and-sticks shacks that were supposed to be temporary. You feel the struggle of parents having to choose between keeping enough maize to feed the family all year long or sell it to pay for their child's education. Praying for rain, seeing the rain come, vital to keeping the crops growing. But then seeing a child with malaria from mosquitoes bred in the rainwater. Treating the malaria with what little money there was to feed the family until the next harvest. Some days, a weak tea was the only food a family would have.
African soils are some of the poorest in the world. The One Acre Fund is helping the struggling farmers with hybrid seeds, fertilizer, and training in planting, weeding, and storing the maize. The program is having an impact as the farmers reap harvests large enough to see them through the hunger season, sometimes with money left over for education or other improvements. This plan goes beyond the Band-Aid approach of food aid. Instead, it is farm aid, long term, building agricultural sustainability.

Reading this book is certainly an eye opening experience. Reading of the hunger the smallholder farmers experience is heart breaking. Reading about the attempts of some in the U. S. Congress to curtail the foreign aid programs helping the African farmers is maddening.
Thurow reminds us that Africa is crucial for the world's future food supply. The smallholder farmers, who produce the majority of the continent's food, are indispensable for the future. His experience shows the need to invest in long-term agricultural development in Africa.

Go to the author's blog here

Watch a video about the book here

Public Affairs Books, 273 pages.

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

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Hide and Seek by Jeff Struecker and Alton Gansky

Kyrgyzstan became an important country when it ceased to be a part of the U.S.S.R. It is a key country in the region and is being courted by Russia and China. There is a U. S. base there, strategic for staging deliveries of men and equipment to Afghanistan. But the country is in turmoil. Protests and riots are evidence of the hatred toward the American presence.
In the midst of the unrest, there is an attempted kidnapping of the daughter of the Kyrgyzstan President. She is temporarily rescued by Army trained Foreign Affairs Officer. The two women are on the run and are in danger.
A special ops team in the area for training is sent on the rescue mission. Their assignment becomes more dangerous when the Prime Minister of Kyrgyzstan makes it look like the American team has been killed but secretly arranges for their deaths. The special ops team must avoid the riots and the military trained men after them, all the while trying to find and rescue the endangered women.

This is a well written military suspense novel. The story is realistic, the action is fast paced, and the characters are well developed. The special ops team leader is a Christian and the authors described well how his faith relates to his job. His wife is recently pregnant and the pain she experiences when misinformed of her husband's “death” is heart breaking.
The most disturbing part of the novel, for me, was the fact that this is about military action in a foreign nation where all U. S. military presence has been forbidden. Granted, this novel is about a rescue and that made it easier to take. But violating another nation's sovereignty in covert operations, even if it is supposedly for their good, was difficult for me to read about with enjoyment.

Chaplain (Major, Ret) Jeff Struecker is a decorated member of US Army Rangers, the Army’s most elite fighting corps. His personal experiences in Mogadishu, Somalia, were documented in the New York Times best seller and major motion picture Black Hawk Down. During his twenty-two years of active duty, he also fought in war in Panama, Kuwait, Afghanistan and Iraq. Now retired from military service, Struecker currently serves as Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Columbus, Georgia.
Alton Gansky is a Christy Award-nominated and Angel Award-winning author who writes to stimulate thinking about spiritual matters. He served as a pulpit minister for twenty years and has published nearly thirty books.

B & H Publishing Group, 369 pages.

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

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Company by Chuck Graham

This short novel is an allegory, a parable.
On what became known in the village of Brigos Glen as Last Day, the earth went dark. Terrible black clouds covered the protected valley. For a while, generators and batteries provided light. But finally, all was dark.
The elders sent out teams to venture out of the valley to find help. Some are never heard from again.
Then one day, a voice is heard, asking if they would like some help. And so begins the story of The Company bringing power to the village, establishing The Plan. A smaller company came in to train the villagers on the management of the power and The Plan. Another company communicates with the village leaders after The Plan and the power is set up.
Some seventy years later, six people from the village are summoned to meet with The Company. Much of the story is what happens as they leave the village and meet with the leader of The Company.

I knew this was a parable so, as I read it, I tried to understand the idea communicated. I have to admit, I totally missed it. (I am sure that says more about me than the author.) Much was made of the three power companies that had developed over the years in Brigos Glen. One adhered strictly to The Plan. If it wasn't written in The Plan, it wasn't done. If people wanted power, they had to come and ask for it. Another power company believed in expanding on the plan, reaching new people, doing new things, keeping up with the times. The third power company was all about developing a new source of power, finding a new way of life not depending upon others. They didn't even bother to read The Plan, something so old and certainly outdated.
Much was made of these three approaches to The Plan and I immediately thought of how we approach the Bible and how we “do church.” I was surprised at the end of the book, where Chuck explains the motivation, that the aim of the parable is to explain the Trinity. The Trinity is represented by the three companies that brought power to Brigos Glen. Much less is written about them in the parable than the ones I mistook as the focus of the parable.
Nonetheless, there is much to think about and discuss in this story. It would make a good summer read for a book or discipleship group.
I was surprised to read at the end of the book that many of the names had symbolic meaning. Looking at that section before you read the book might help understand the parable, but then again, might distract from it.

Chuck Graham is the Founder and Executive Director of Ciloa (Christ is Lord of All), an international ministry devoted to sharing God's encouragement with the world. Find more about this ministry at Chuck practiced law for thirty one years and left his practice in 2010 to devote more time to Ciloa and writing. He continues to work with churches and ministries in areas of encouragement, mediation, reconciliation and frequently speaks on such topics. He and his wife live in Atlanta, Georgia and have three grown children.

Winepress Publishing, 264 pages.

Please visit your local Christian bookstore to buy this book.

I received a complimentary digital edition of this book for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

The Stars Shine Bright by Sibella Giorello

In this latest in the series, FBI Agent Raleigh Harmon is back in the Seattle office. She is still under review from her Alaska cruise ship experience but is given an under cover assignment. She poses as the niece of a wealthy race horse owner and has the task of investigating why horses that have been winning suddenly begin to lose.
In addition to dealing with arrogant trainers and betting mobsters, she also has Jack as her immediate contact with the FBI. Jack, with his irritating sense of humor and apparent infatuation with Raleigh. And then her fiancé, DeMott, insists on flying out from Richmond with the dog dying for Raleigh's affection.
Raleigh's life is in danger as someone is out to harm the horses and get rid of her. And she puts her own career in danger (again) as she goes outside the bounds of accepted FBI protocol to track down the criminals. While she uncovers the animal loving terrorists who have been causing damage in the Pacific Northwest for years, she may be also ruining her career.

I really like this series. Giorello is a gifted author. There is snappy dialog, quirky characters, and faith lived out in the day to day activities of Raleigh. Add to that the informative descriptions of the varied landscape of Washington State, from the scablands of eastern Washington to fault ridden Puget Sound. Geological background information is deftly woven into the story line. Living the Pacific Northwest, it is a treat to read about familiar places in a novel. And Giorello gets extra points for having Jack mention Deception Pass, a nearby favorite of mine.

This is a well written novel. Although it is the fifth book in a continuing series, Giorello weaves in enough background information from previous books that you won't be lost if this is the first you read.

“The stars shine bright when it gets dark enough. The invisible becomes visible.” (269)

Find out more about the author and her books at

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

Thomas Nelson, 400 pages.

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

Monday, July 16, 2012

The Jesus Scandals by David Instone-Brewer

Why write about scandals? David says they are the inconvenient truths of the gospel. Some may try to dismiss the gospels as fiction. But these scandals would never have been invented for fiction. They reveal the truth of the authors.
The chapters of the book are self contained and can be read in any order. They are short and can even be used as devotional talks.
The scandals regarding Jesus himself include: illegitimate birth, accusations of alcoholic abuse, welcoming children, paying the pagan image bearing temple tax, and a shameful execution among others.
There are scandals regarding Jesus' friends: Mary Magdalene, Judas Iscariot, ordinary disciples, and prostitutes.
There are scandals regarding his teachings: hypocrisy, polygamy, divorce, oaths and curses, forgiveness and more.
David's area of expertise is early rabbinic Judaism. He wants his readers to understand Jesus and that requires knowing something about the Jews of the time. He adds Roman and Greek culture as well. He has added lots of background information on each topic. (For example, I learned the legend behind the tradition of coloring Easter eggs.)
David tends to add his own philosophy here and there. Some of his opinions may be troublesome to readers. For example, when he writes of the scandal of Jesus welcoming children, David goes on to give opinions about children taking communion. “...I am sure,” he writes of Jesus, “he'd welcome even the smallest and least educated child at his table.” (48) As one of the Reformed tradition, taking the warnings of Paul on taking communion wrongly, I did not appreciates David's added comments.
When people write write, they have presuppositions. David lays his out right away. “My personal presuppositions are that Jesus is who he claimed to be in the Gospels, and that these accounts represent what actually happened.” (9) He does stay true to the gospel, although he did lose me when he tried to explain how eternal punishment is true and destruction is true. Punishment of hell involves torment followed by destruction (i.e. annihilation). The torment must be of limited time, yet that allows “eternal torment” to be true. (See his discussion on pages 181-182.)

The strength of this book is showing that no one would have made up a story about Jesus as we see in the gospels. There is just too much about him, his friends, and what he taught that would have been scandalous in the first century culture of that area. The gospels must be true.

David Instone-Brewer is a Senior Research Fellow at Tyndale House, Cambridge, a Baptist minster and a biblical scholar.

Monarch Books, distributed in the U. S. by Kregel Publications, 191 pages.

Publisher product page.

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

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The Telling by Mike Duran

As a child, Zephaniah had a gift. Some might call it a word of knowledge. He called it the Telling. When God chose, Zephaniah could see the future. His mother had taken him around to churches, drawing crowds and taking in the offerings. His mother had died while he was still young. He father had remarried … a crazy woman.
Now, years later, Zephaniah lives in seclusion in a small town at the northern fringe of Death Valley. He is alienated from his father and he bears the hideous facial scar he received from his stepmother.
Endurance is a town near abandoned mines, one of which legend has as the mythical ninth gate of hell. Strange things have gone on near that mine.
Zeph is called in by the police to identify a body. He is startled to find out the face of the dead being is his own but the rest of the body is strange. The legs are leathery, almost reptilian. Who is this creature?
As Zeph tries to understand what is happening, more of the ghastly creatures appear, taking over humans, feeding on the dark parts of their soul. It appears Zeph is the only person who can seal up that gate of hell and prevent the demons from taking over the town. But he has rejected his calling and turned away from it. Will God still use him?

This is a pretty good tale of good and evil. Zeph was scarred by his stepmother but was scarred even more deeply in his soul. Bitterness towards his father is the darkness the demons can feed on. If he doesn't deal with that, he will be consumed like the others.
My favorite character in the novel is the spunky Tamra. And there is Tamra's grandmother, Annie, a godly woman who is determined to not let the evil consume the town.
There are perhaps too many quirky characters in the novel. At times I felt they confused the plot. I felt that these other characters frequently took the responsibility off of Zeph. I think a fewer number of characters would have emphasized Zeph's spiritual struggle all the more.

Nonetheless, this is a good novel in the spiritual science fiction kind of genre. It reminds us of the spiritual warfare around us and it made me wonder again, just what is the government up to in those experiments in the desert?

Mike Duran is a blogger, speaker, and freelance writer. He is the author of The Resurrection. An ordained minister, Mike lives with his wife and four grown children in Southern California. You can learn more about him and his writing projects at

Watch a video here.

Realms (a division of the Charisma House Book Group), 303 pages.

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

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Passages by Brian Hardin

Son of a minister, Brian was determined not to go into the ministry. He got involved in the recording industry but the company he was with went bankrupt. He became aware of the emerging podcast technology and God called him to podcast the Bible, and the Daily Audio Bible was born.
Brian thought the podcast would be a temporary project but saw it grow into a community. He realized he was entering the ministry and that he was passionate about it.
Brian is very passionate about reading the Bible. He found it “reveals who you really are and illumines a path that you are created to walk.” (29) When he had completed his first full reading through the Bible, he realized he had been transformed.
He presents this challenge: “If you will commit yourself to spending every day in the Bible for one month, you will notice something shifting inside. If you'll do it for three months, you'll feel as if major places in your heart are coming back to life. It you'll stick to it for a year,you will have been transformed from the inside out.” (27)
Brian is convinced that if you read the Bible every day, everything will change (although it may not be the way you'd think).

Brian investigates why we don't read the Bible and counters with the benefits and blessings when we do. He shares how the Bible was meant to be read (story, context, etc.) and experienced (imagining ourselves in God's story). He gives many examples of how reading the Bible has changed others. He reviews many ways of interacting with the Word such as lectio divina and listening to the spoken word. He has included several Bible reading plans at the end of the book.

Brian makes some big claims for his project. “It's become one of the greatest ecumenical movements of our time.” (80) “At the Daily Audio Bible, no matter where you may physically be on this planet, you don't ever have to be alone again.” (90) As an older person, I would not agree that an individual connecting to others via digital media actually changes being alone.

Brian Hardin is a speaker, photographer, record producer and an ordained minister. In 2006, he created the Daily Audio Bible, an online podcast that now delivers 1.5 million downloads a month. He has produced over 150 albums and works with artists and the arts extensively. He is married to Christian musician Jill Parr.

Zondervan, 217 pages.

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

Monday, July 9, 2012

Hidden in Dreams by Davis Bunn

In this sequel to Book of Dreams, several people from all over the world are having the same terrifying dreams. The dreams predict severe economic times ahead.
The dreams have come to the attention of an executive with a cutting edge drug company. The company is about to release a new drug for treating ADHD. The drug is revolutionary and effective. There is only one problem. One of the test subjects taking the drug has been having the troubling dreams. The company must have the dream issue cleared up before they announce their revolutionary drug.
Dr. Elena Burroughs is asked to help figure out how the dreams are happening and what can be done about them. Then she starts having the dreams as well.
Elena goes public about the dreams, at the drug company's request. Then the economic situation and Elena's world falls apart. Her life, and the lives of those she loves, are in danger.

Unfortunately, I don't think this novel is as good as the first in the series. This plot is very complex and I felt at the end that some of the loose ends were not sufficiently tied up.
Christianity is well presented as Elena and her “boss” are strong Christians. There is a character initially opposing Elena who is not a Christians, so the contrast is well developed.
Bunn is a good writer so the book reads well. However, at the height of the action, when all seems lost for Elena, the calvary came to rescue her, so to speak. That was unrealistic, I thought.
This is a good read, but is not the best I've read from Bunn. There is a Reading Group Guide at the end of the novel.

Davis Bunn is the author of numerous national bestsellers in genres spanning historical sagas, contemporary thrillers, and inspirational gift books. He and his wife are affiliated with Oxford University, where David serves as writer in residence at Regent's Park College. You can find out more at

Howard Books (a division of Simon & Schuster), 238 pages.

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

Sunday, July 8, 2012

One Big Thing by Phil Cooke

Do you know what you were put on this earth to accomplish? One Big Thing is the quest to find your purpose and then get your voice heard.
Cooke advocates living life strategically, living life with purpose, intention, and ambition.
A few people have known their purpose all their lives, others discover it in a sudden insight. The largest group discovers it through a progressive experience. Cooke walks us through the process of narrowing down and finding that one thing to do well. There is no easy way to find your One Big Thing. But there are questions Cooke asks to help you on your quest. What comes easy to you? What do you love? What drives you crazy? What do you want to leave behind? (It is not as simple as just answering those questions. Cooke adds lots of issues to consider.)
Discovering your one thing will make you passionate and people will respond to that passion. “In today's hyper-competitive, distracted, cluttered, ADD culture, the best way to get noticed is to be incredible at one thing. (37)
Your one big thing must express who you really are, reflecting your values. He gives some suggestions for understanding your personality. Cooke also adds a section on overcoming adversity.
Cooke's parting words: “Millions of people spend their lives in the pursuit of nothing, but you have chosen the great adventure. Go. Seek it with everything you have, and don't look back.” (171)

I have read a ton of these kinds of books yet I was impressed with this one. Having recently retired, I was ripe for working through Cooke's quest and find my One Big Thing. And I think I did! Like any other book of this style, reading it through and truly paying attention to what Cooke has said can really make a difference in your life.

Phil Cooke is an internationally known filmmaker, media producer, speaker, and author. Through his media production and branding company, he's helped nonprofit organizations and leaders in the world engage and influence today's culture. Check out his daily comments on faith and culture at Cooke and his wife live in Burbank, California.

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 183 pages.  Go to the publisher's product page to see a video about the book.

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

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Mormonizing of America by Stephen Mansfield

Mormons make up only 2% of the U. S. population yet their influence is much greater than that number would indicate. Mansfield explores why their impact on America is so great. He says they have achieved their influence on two fronts: the secular success of the “Mormon machine” (the earthly benefits of religious requirements) and the appeal to hurting people.
Mansfield describes the engine of the machine.
Number one is Progress. This life is like an obstacle course a Mormon must master to qualify for what comes in eternity. Achievements become a religious value.
Number two is Family. It is an eternal institution. Families who qualify will rule in eternity, even as the Heavenly Father rules this world with his family.
Number three is Education. Knowledge and intelligence in this life is an advantage in the world to come.
Number four is Patriotism. The U. S. has an ordained destiny. The Garden of Eden is in the U. S. and is the spot Jesus will return to earth.
The vulnerable aspect of the Mormon Church is its history. The church makes assertions about history and earthly events. They are subject to historical research, scientific and medical testing. It is not a challenge the leadership or the average Mormon is prepared for, Mansfield says.
For example, the Book of Mormon says horses were brought to the New World (America) thousands of years before Columbus arrived here in 1492, finding none. The same is said about pigs, sheep, cattle and donkeys, that they were brought here in 25000 B.C. It also says American Indians are descendants of the “lost tribes” of Israel (although DNA evidence indicates otherwise).
Mansfield writes, “The truth is that when all of the research is considered, there is precious little scientific or historical evidence that Book of Mormon claims are historically true.” (177)
So why don't Mormons leave the faith? He says most Mormons are not primarily interested in scholarship. They are taught to seek a feeling of confirmation, an “inner knowing” that trumps objective evidence.
He goes on to write about the importance of the restored priesthood, the squishy nature of Mormon belief, and the odd nature of Smith's revelations. He also reviews the history of the religion and has a section of their beliefs. Their beliefs do change as new revelation is given, such as the recent “revelation” that allowed black males to the priesthood when before they were a cursed people.

This is by no means a definitive study of the Mormon faith. Mansfield's aim is to explain how a religion with such a troubled origin and such questionable beliefs can be so influential in America. He has accomplished that very well.
This would be a great book for anyone wanting an introduction to the Church of Latter-Day Saints and wanting to understand how the church has become such an accepted part of American culture.

Go here for Mansfield's blog, biography, a video and other information.

Go to the publisher's product page to read the first chapter and listen to an interview.

Worthy Publishing, 288 pages.

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

Friday, July 6, 2012

Quiet by Susan Cain

Are you an introvert? Studies show that at least one third and possibly one half of people in America are introverts. In our extrovert happy culture many pretend to be extroverts when they are not. There is a stigma attached to being an introvert so they pretend to be the ideal gregarious and outgoing person. Most of the institutions of contemporary life are designed for extroverts. So it may be difficult to accept that introversion is an essential part of who you are.
Susan looks at our extroverted society and how we got here. She visits three examples of our Extrovert Ideal: a Tony Robbins seminar, a class at Harvard Business School, an influential mega-church. She examines introverts and creative thinking, lone workers and expertise, and “groupthink.” She also looks at brainstorming (it's ineffective), jury trials, and elections. She explains the biological difference between introverts and extroverts. She looks at other cultures to see if all prefer extroversion.
She ends her book with some practical skill for extroverts and introverts alike. She encourages her readers to stay true to their personality, no matter what type they are.

What a great book. I realized I am a “pseudo-extrovert.” I am an introvert who learned to act as an extrovert because of my career and because of what I considered important. I found that pretend extroversion can be learned – even in grade school – growing into the role so that it becomes natural.
I liked her comments on the state of evangelical Christianity. “If you don't love Jesus out loud, then it must not be real love.” (70) She appreciates worship services that leave time for silence and contemplation.
I was encouraged by her discussion of solitude leading to exceptional performance. She quotes studies showing that group brainstorming doesn't work. (87) No wonder I like to work alone! Multitasking is a myth. “Scientists now know that the brain is incapable of paying attention to two things at the same time.” (85) No wonder I like it quiet when I study!
Susan's message is, “So stay true to your own nature.” (173) Honor your own style and don't get swept up in the prevailing culture.

Susan Cain is a writer and has taught negotiation skills at corporations and universities. She practiced corporate law for seven years. She lives in the Hudson River Valley with her husband and two sons. Visit her website at

Susan Cain bio and video on TED.

Read an excerpt here.

Crown Publishers (a division of Random House), 333 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for the purpose of this review.