Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Everyday Prayers by Scotty Smith

This is by far the best devotional I read this year. Scotty lists a portion of Scripture, usually several verses, then he records his prayer revolving around the passage. His prayers are so honest … and so convicting. These are prayers from his heart. Sometimes they are praise. Sometimes they are a lament. But they are always written with such honesty they will go right to your own heart.

This book gave me a whole new understanding of what it means to “pray the Scripture.” It will be the standard with which I read all others on the topic. Reading his prayers gives much insight on how to read and then reflect on Scripture. It is almost as if Scotty is a modern day psalmist.

I highly recommend this devotional. It is one thing to read a book about praying the Scripture. It is quite another to read the actual prayers of one doing so. It will continue to move you year after year.

Scotty Smith is founding pastor of Christ Community Church (PCA) in Franklin, Tennessee. He has also planted five daughter churches in the area. He is an adjunct professor at Covenant Theological Seminary and regularly teaches at Reformed theological Seminary in Orlando.

Baker Books, 384 pages.

Drawing Closer to God by Dianne Neal Matthews

For each daily devotional, Matthews has taken a question found in Scripture and reflected on it. Some are questions asked by God or Bible writers. Others are questions asked by characters in Bible stories. She explores the questions and adds practical applications.

She begins each devotional with a contemporary story illustrating the principle of the following meditation. She ends each devotion with an associated Scripture verse, and then a thoughtful question for journaling or contemplation during the day.

This is a good daily devotional. It gives you food for thought each day and I recommend it.

Dianne Neal Matthews has written a number of devotionals, magazine articles, and stories for compilation books. She speaks at women's groups and teaches at writers' conferences. She and her husband live in the Salt Lake City area. You can find out more at www.DianneNealMatthews.com.

Baker Books, 373 pages.

Designed for Devotion by Dianne Neal Matthews

Matthews goes through the entire Bible in this devotional. She highlights major events and characters, gives some background, and includes practical application. She also discusses some topics as they come up in the Scripture.

This is not a theologically deep devotional. It would make a great choice for someone new to the Bible, who would like to have an overview of its story. As a seasoned Christian, I benefited from it too. It was good to be reminded of the stories I've read before but with some new insights given.

We are encouraged to read through the Bible in a year. If that is something you have tried but have not been successful in doing, this devotional would make a good alternative.

Dianne Neal Matthews has written a number of devotionals, magazine articles, and stories for compilation books. She speaks at woman's groups and teaches at writers' conferences. She and her husband live in the Salt Lake City area. You can find out more at www.DianneNealMatthews.com.

Baker Books, 384 pages.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Global War on Christians by John L. Allen Jr.

Most American Christians (myself included) have no idea of the global war on Christians. We ignore the issue because, in general, we've not experienced persecution ourselves.

Yet Christians today indisputably are the most persecuted religious body on the planet. (1) Open Doors estimates one hundred million Christians world wide presently face interrogation, arrest, torture, or death because of their belief.

This book is about the literal war on Christians underway in the world. It is not about the U. S. nor intellectual attacks on Christianity. This book is about the threat to the lives of Christians across the globe.

Allen gives an overview of an area and then a country by country look at the situation. He has added some individual stories as well. Some of the stories are expected, such as those from Muslim and communist countries. But some are unexpected, such as those from Israel.

Is the situation serious today? Aren't we in an era of religious enlightenment and tolerance? Allen writes, “Of the 70 million Christian martyrs since the time of Christ, half, 45 million, died in the twentieth century.” (33) It is estimated that 80 percent of all religious discrimination is against Christians.

Allen argues that Christians have a special obligation to come to the aid of their persecuted brothers and sisters. We can no longer ignore what is happening to Christians around the world. He ends his book with practical steps Christians can take, from praying to relief and advocacy.

It is time we Christians considers ourselves part of a global family of faith. Reading this book will help us on the way to that point.

You can read chapter one of the book here.

John L. Allen Jr. is the senior correspondent for the National Catholic Reporter and the senior Vatican analyst for CNN, and writes for other national and international publications. He is the author of seven previous books. Find out more about him here.

Image (an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House), 308 pages.

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

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Stranger Things by Erin Healy

Serena Diaz's career as a successful teacher falls apart when she is accused of molesting a male student, Brock. He's angry because the low grade she gave him means he won't get the scholarship to Cornell. Told to stay away from the high school campus, Serena takes her sketching pad and heads for the hills. She stumbles upon a human trafficking exchange, resulting in the death of a man and a life of terror for her.

This is a suspenseful novel. Serena is a feisty woman who wants to understand the man who died protecting her. She also wants to understand why her student is doing such a horrible thing to her. Trying to get to the truth entangles her in a web of lies so thick she may not escape alive.

True to Erin's form, this novel is a meeting place of the natural and the supernatural worlds. Like the Celtic “thin places,” there is a burned out house in the novel where some see the supernatural invading the senses. It made me wonder if sometimes we miss the true reality of a place or event because we are so fixated on the physical reality of things.

This is a very good novel. It rips at your heart to read about the girls being kidnapped and horribly mistreated. While the story flows well, it is a hard one to read – not because of the writing style but because of the subject. The end makes it worthwhile, however.

In her Author Note, Erin points out that human trafficking has risen tho third place in the world's ranking of the fastest growing illegal industries, behind drugs and weapons.

Erin Healy is the best-selling author of several novels, some with co-author Ted Dekker. She and her family live in Colorado.

Thomas Nelson, 368 pages.

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

Saturday, December 28, 2013

A Nation Forsaken by F. Michael Maloof

You've probably read about it in a novel, perhaps One Second After by William R. Forstchen. The United states experiences an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) and power lines are fried, cars stop, airplanes crash to the ground, etc. Is it fiction or is it a real possibility?

Maloof says it is a greater possibility than we'd like to think. He reports on how easy it is to build a radio-frequency device that could deliver a local EMP, at a cost of around $400. He speculates on the damage that could result from several local attacks or a larger one, such as the bomb exploding in Forstchen's fiction. When powerful electromagnetic waves encounter electronic circuits, it fries them.

We seen this on a small scale with intense solar flares. There have been some blackouts and some satellites have gone dark when the flare was encountered. Some think a big CME (coronal mass ejection) is only a matter of time. It would fry all electronics.

Nothing that's been invented in the last fifty years – based on computer chips,microelectronics or digital technology – will work.” (62) Most cars and trucks would not run. Pumping stations, communications, etc. would cease. No food would be delivered. No water would be pumped.

Maloof reveals the lethargy of congress. They are not taking steps to prevent the disaster from happening. We are suffering from “bureaucratic indifference and political scapegoating.” We can protect some personal items by sheathing them but on the large scale, our only defense against such an attack is our missile defense system, he says.

He has quite a bit of information on how to prepare for this disaster.

If you are interested in knowing how vulnerable we are to this kind of attack and how you can prepare for its aftereffects, you need to read this book.

I live near a naval air station that has recently seen the addition of Growler squadrons. The modified F-18s are now known as the EA-18G airborne electronic attack aircraft. They have advanced attack avionics, capable of both suppressing enemy air defenses and initiating electromagnetic pulse attacks. (101)

F. Michael Maloof was a former senior security policy analyst in the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He directed the Defense Department's technology security operations. After 9/11 he reported to the undersecretary of defense, preparing analysis of terrorist networks. He now serves as a senior staff writer for WND.

WND Books, 161 pages.

Holiness Day by Day, Jerry Bridges, compiled by Thomas Womak

This is a great devotional. The daily readings have been collected from Bridges' books. The emphasis is on personal holiness. We are encouraged to right living but are also reminded of God's love toward us and the righteousness we already have in Christ.

Bridges is clear, we are accepted by God because of the righteousness of Christ. He reminds us that we are bankrupt in our own efforts. Nonetheless, we are to have devotion to God and a desire to please Him. We are, in fact, to practice godliness.

Bridges also shares how God brings us to the point of desiring holiness and then pursuing it.

This is a very convicting yet encouraging devotional.

Jerry Bridges is the best-selling author of several books and is on staff with The Navigator's collegiate ministry. He and his wife live in Colorado Springs, Colorado.

NavPress, 336 pages.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Frantic by Mike Dellosso

This novel falls into the genre of magical realism, or should I say spiritual realism?

The novel opens as Marny is working at a gas station. A car comes in for gas and Marny notices there is a listless young woman in the back seat. The car is gassed up and drives off. It is then Marny notices the crumpled piece of paper left behind. The girl must have thrown it out. HE'S GOING TO KILL ME, it read.

Marny determines to rescue her and the adventure begins. This novel has lots of action and suspense. It is different, however, in that spiritual forces create apparent reality from time to time. A traumatic event from the past may come into the present and to the affected character be as real as possible. We don't see spiritual being but we do see the spiritual nature of past events.

There is also faith. A young boy is special in that he has tremendous faith. He can (sort of) do supernatural acts, or at least see to it that something natural happens in an unnatural way. Another aspect of faith is bringing something into reality from the unseen. (Heb. 11:3) We see that happening in this novel as Marny is identified as a hero long before he is one. Was that a prophecy or was it faith moving him into his chosen role?

I really liked the novel. I liked the way the spiritual invaded everyday reality. Sure, there were some almost magical events (actually spiritual) that, I suppose, bordered on fantasy. But those events were not that much different from axeheads floating or fiery chariots flying through the air.

Mike Dellosso is the author of several novels and is an adjunct professor of writing at Lancaster Bible College. He earned his BA degree from Messiah College and his MBS from Master's International School of Divinity. He lives in Hanover, PA, with his wife and four daughters.

Realms (Charisma House Book Group), 296 pages.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

A Date With Death by Ace Collins

Helen Meeker is back and has fewer than thirty days to stop the execution of an innocent pastor who has unbelievably confessed to being a Nazi spy. While on a case that has dynamic implications to uncovering an espionage ring operating on American and British soil, Helen defuses a hostage crisis in a bank robbery gone wrong, unearths an explosive coffin, and is introduced to a dead English hero who seems very much alive. The fate of an innocent girl and the world’s two most dynamic leaders depend upon Helen’s connecting the cases before Wilbur Shellmeyer faces a firing squad and Churchill and Roosevelt meet for a secret conference in upstate New York.

I really like Helen, special operative working for President Roosevelt. We first met her in The Yellow Packard (see my review here). She is gutsy, a good shot, and a superb investigative agent. She's mad at Hoover because he lets only men be FBI agents. She is the perfect female heroine.

There is plenty of action and mystery in this story. A hint of romance too. It is a page turner and I loved it. It's only Episode One so there is much more to come.

This is the first in the “In the President's Service Series.” Purchase the ebooks each month or subscribe to the monthly installments in a magazine style issue, readable on any device that will include interactive videos from the author. Enjoy a behind the scenes adventure where Ace Collins talks about researching this time period, including the cars, the music, a woman’s struggles trying to earn a place in many areas of law enforcement, the lives of world leaders, and much more.

Go to http://www.bookfunmagazine.com and scroll down to the book cover. Click on the cover and you'll be taken to a subscription page. You can subscribe for one month ($9.95) or a full year ($60.00).

Ace Collins has published a number of novels and inspirational books. His works have been made into two network television specials and a CBS movie. He has written more than 2,000 magazine articles, appeared on every network morning television show, as well as CNN and FOX. One of his hobbies is restoring classic cars. He and his wife live in Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

Elk Lake Publishing, 155 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this work through the Book Group Network for the purpose of this review.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Angry Conversations With God by Susan E. Isaacs

This is the best spiritual memoir I have read in years. The subtitle reads” A Snarky but Authentic Spiritual Memoir. Snarky it is (rudely sarcastic or critical). And authentic it is. Those two qualities captured me.

This gives you an idea of Isaacs' motive in writing this book and her writing style: “I decided to write this book; that it would serve as a record of counseling sessions with this God whom I loved, whom I could not escape, and with whim I was very, very pissed off.” (8)

She wanted to be successful in television and film. She also wanted a boyfriend. At one point in her life, she had a decision to make. She loved Jack but Jack did not love Jesus. “I had to choose. I'd rather have Jesus and be physically alone than be with Jack and be spiritually alone. Give me Jesus.” (183)

Isaacs takes us through her failed relationships, her failed attempts at getting a break in the entertainment industry, and her failed attempts of finding a church that did not drive her crazy. “I just can't endure one more forty-five-minute worship set followed by one more three-point sermon on 'How to Be Better.' I don't want to be better. I want Jesus?” (201)

Isaacs is refreshingly honest in this memoir. She shares her struggles with sex (and losing, many times). She writes about her antagonistic relationship with God and creates counseling sessions where she and God try to talk it out. She openly relates her frustrations with the dilemmas of the Christian life.

This is not a sugar coated account. She honestly shares her turmoils. But in the end she could write, “God put me on a barbecue spit and burned off every bit of diseased flesh until there was nothing left but dry bones. Now he is putting new flesh and new breath back into me. What's next? Only God knows.” (238)

She shares insight. “For a moment I felt awe for a God who loved me enough to hate the things that hurt me without hating me for causing them.” (215) She gives us food for thought. “If your theology can't work in Darfur, it can't work anywhere.” (217)

I recommend this book. Hers is not a neat and tidy Christian life. But she is authentic. She continued to pursue the God with whom she was so pissed off. And when she found Him, He hadn't changed. She had.

Susan E. Isaacs is a writer and performer with credits in TV, film, stage, and radio. She has an MFA in screenwriting from USC and is an alumnus of The Groundlings. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband. You can find out more about her at www.susanisaacs.net.

FaithWords, 242 pages.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

52 Reasons to Believe by Gregg Peter Farah

This book is a mixture of theology and devotional. Each of the 52 chapters is short, like a devotional, but deals with theological issues. This is a great book for someone ready to learn a little theology but not ready to tackle a systematic theology tome.

Farah starts out with thoughts on the Bible, giving 20 characteristics and evidences of the Bible's reliability. He next moves to God, with 12 descriptions of God, revealing who He is. He follows that with 13 characteristics of Jesus. In the final section Farah covers seven traits of the Holy Spirit.

Each chapter includes insightful aspects of the topic, a key quote from another author, a “did you know” interesting fact, how to link the topic to your faith and practice, small group discussion questions, key verses, and a prayer.

The information presented is aimed at giving reasons for belief. He includes lots of resources so readers can further investigate each subject.

I was impressed with the material presented. The information is theologically sound and is presented in such a way that even new Christians will be able to understand why the Bible is reliable and the basic characteristics of the Godhead. His “link to your life” sections are great. He provides very practical ways of incorporating the truth of the chapter into every day experience. I really liked his challenge to keep track of the amount of time spent on consuming information and entertainment, then compare that to the time spent reading and reflecting on the Bible. That really is a wake up call! (64)

This book is a great choice for anyone wanting an introduction to theology. The format is very readable and clear. Farah has even added curriculum ideas and lesson templates at the back of the book so this would make a fine choice for small groups or Sunday School classes.

Gregg Peter Farah is a Pastor at Shelter Rock Church on Long Island. He and his wife have three daughters. You can find out more about him and his books at http://gpfarah.com/. There you can watch a video, sign up for his blog posts and download a free ebook.

Carpenter's Son Publishing, 240 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Book Group Network for the purpose of this review.

One Year Alone With God by Ava Pennington

This is a very nice daily devotional that goes through the names and attributes of God. She starts out with the Hebrew names such as Adonai, El Roi, Yahweh Jireh, etc. She then writes about God's character traits. She has included Consuming Fire, Exalted, Holy, Immutable, Just, Merciful, and many more. She also covers the names and character traits of Jesus: Cornerstone, King, Light, Servant, The Way, and more. Lastly she writes about the Holy Spirit: Advocate, Counselor, Transformer, etc.

These are not deep theological devotions on the various names and attributes of God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. A new Christian would find good food for thought here, however. And seasoned Christian will also be pleased to be reminded of God's character as revealed through His names and attributes. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Topical and Scripture indexes have been included at the back of the book.

This book is out of print but it looks like it has been reissued with a new title, Daily Reflections on the Names of God. You can find out more about the book and the author at her website.

Ava Pennington is a contributing author to many books,including a number of Chicken Soup and A Cup pf Comfort books, and has written for several magazines. This is her first solo project. She lives in Florida.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The Ragamuffin Bible

Do you come to God feeling like a ragamuffin – unworthy and unlovable? Brennan Manning, the author of the classic The Ragamuffin Gospel, reminded us that we are still God's beloved, no matter what we've done. Each of us needs God's grace. Each of us needs to accept God's unconditional love in daily practice, not in theory only.

Excerpts from the life's work of Manning, who passed away in April 2013, are the heart and soul of the Ragamuffin Bible. It is intended for anyone who is not living in the fullness of God's grace, including Christians who live on a diet of grace mixed with law. The Bible features:
  • an introduction by Brennan Manning, the “original ragamuffin”
  • the complete text of the New International Version of the Bible
  • 104 devotions that guide the reader into a deeper connection to God and His Word
  • 250 reflections that help the reader understand what it means to be a child of God
  • quotes that offer the reader thoughtful insights into God's kingdom

A recovering alcoholic and former Franciscan priest, Manning's spiritual journey took him down a variety of paths, all of them leading to the profound reality of God's irresistible grace. He spent the last forty years of his life helping others find their own identity in Christ.

This would make an excellent Bible to give to the undervalued and overlooked, such as those in homeless shelters.

Go to www.theragamuffinbible.com to see a book trailer and download a sample of the Bible. You can also buy the ebook version for only $4.99 through the end of December (2013).

Zondervan, 1460 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this Bible through the B&B Media Group for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A Melody for James by Hallee Bridgeman

This is a delightful novel. It begins with immediate action. Angela heads up a technical team that has just made an amazing breakthrough in computer storage. But before the final information can be saved to an external location, security is breached. Men have broken in and are placing explosives at the door. Angela orders the computer systems destroyed. Just as that happens, the door explodes.

Move ahead six months. James is still dealing with the death of his wife. They had been partners in the technical endeavor. The police are at a loss. All he has is the excited message Angela left on his phone announcing the breakthrough.

While James is waiting in an airport for a delayed flight, he notices a woman. She sense him staring at her and the two strike up an odd conversation. Her name is Melody and she has just come back from a honeymoon – one she spent all by herself. She had discovered her fiancee with a woman in his house on the day of their wedding. Devastated, she had skipped the wedding, changed to an earlier flight and canceled his.

This is the beginning of an unusual romance. After their late arrival, James rescues Melody from a nasty scene with the man she thought she would marry. James and Melody spend a day together talking. When they separate, they don't even know each other's last names but they do exchange phones numbers and agree to meet again.

But when Melody arrives home, her ex-fiancee nearly kills her. In a coma for days and her telephone smashed, she loses all touch with James. Yet she never forgets her mysterious knight is shining armor and he never forgets the only woman he had ever been attracted to except Angela. Four years later... Well you have to read the book.

This is a delightful romance. It has lots of action. There are periods of intense suspense. The characters of Melody and James are well developed. There is a great mystery involved too. A major theme in the novel is faith in God when life is not what one had planned. Both Melody and James struggle with the hurt they have experienced.

Reading this book is a rewarding experience. It is wonderful to see how God orchestrates the lives of Melody and James to bring them where they need to be. I'll be looking for the next in the series.

There are recipes in the back of the book and I made the French bread. Yummy.

Hallee Bridgeman has written several novels and also blogs about homemaking at www.halleethehomemaker.com. She and her husband have three children and live in Kentucky.

Olicia Kimbrell Press, 322 pages. You can buy your copy here.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through the Book Group Network for the purpose of this review.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Prototype by Jonathan Martin (book and DVD)

Jonathan's book is built on an excellent premise: become fully human in all the ways Jesus was. Unfortunately, the structure of the book built on that premise is rather shaky.

Jonathan starts his book by saying he wants us to know who we really are by coming awake to God and understanding that Jesus is our prototype. Jesus never forgot who He was – beloved by God. “He lived every moment of His life fully convinced of His identity.” (18) What if that were possible for each of us?

The book was off to a good start, but then Jonathan lost me. By about a third of the way into the book I was tired of stories about Jonathan. I do think there is more about Jonathan in this book than there is Jesus. For example, he spends more words writing about his own attempts at going to the wilderness than he does of Jesus being in the wilderness. (Compare p. 57-61 with p. 51-53.) At the end of the book I knew far more about Jonathan (his wedgies at Bible camps, his riding his bicycle, Pentecostal upbringing, etc.) and others involved in his ministry than I did about Jesus.

Sometimes I just didn't get him. “I think most of what you need to know about how life with God works is probably wrapped up in the bittersweet taste of dreams. All the longing and aching for something beautiful that is just out of reach. Sometimes you can touch it and sometimes you can't.” (118-119) What? That's most of what I need to know how life with God works? Poetic words, sure, but give me what the Bible says about life with God!

I am yet still puzzled by how Jesus is our prototype and what we do with that. Jonathan has provided us with lots of stories but with no teaching as to how we really live into the identity of Jesus as our prototype. There is nothing about having the mind of Christ, or what it means to be “in Christ” or to have “Christ in you.” There is nothing about the Spirit at work in you.

I can tell Jonathan loves to talk and write. He is a good communicator. His book reads well and is poetic at times. It is just that he did not do in this book what he said he was going to do at the beginning.

If you enjoy an individual's spiritually “coming of age” story and the stories of authentic followers of Jesus, you'll like this book. If you really want to know what it means to have Jesus as a prototype of being fully human and how to live into that identity, you'll have to go elsewhere.

Go to the book's website to read the first chapter, the Introduction, and to watch a trailer.

There is a four week discussion guide included at the end of the book.

There is a recently released Small Group DVD of this book. It provides video from Jonathan Martin with suggestions for six sessions of discussion. Much of what Jonathan says is directly from the book so one might find repetition if using the book and the DVD for group discussion. Go here to get more information on the DVD.

Jonathan Martin leads Renovatus, a Church for People under Renovation, in Charlotte, North Carolina, where he lives with his wife. He holds degrees from Gardner-Webb University, the Pentecostal Theological Seminary, and Duke University Divinity School. Find out more at http://pastorjonathanmartin.com/

Tyndale house Publishers, 240 pages. See the publisher's product page.

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

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Identity of Purity by Rhianna Sanford

For many teen-aged girls today, sexual purity is a foreign concept. Rhianna wants them to know what purity is and why it is important.

She helps young people recognize true love. She lays bare the sneakiness of sin. She identifies and helps teens avoid the hurdles to purity: media, peer pressure, sexual temptation, drugs and alcohol, and pride. Rhianna wants teen girls to keep foremost God's view of sex, not television's, not their friends', not what society is proclaiming.

She points out that it makes a difference who your friends are, how you treat others, and yes, how you dress. She has great guidelines for modest dress. For example, she suggests keeping all of the bosom concealed – yes, even that little show of cleavage. Young women want a potential husband to be attracted to them first, because of what is on the inside – your character. Having a fellow be attracted to you first because of your body, well, that is setting the stage for lust, resulting in disaster.

Rhianna wants teens to recognize that their true beauty is in their Godliness. When a teen places her identity in Christ, she will not want to flaunt her body. She presents excellent insights on accepting the gift of salvation and activating a prayer life.

She includes great stories from her own life to illustrate the principles she presents.

Rhianna observes that many Christians are more concerned with the possibility of misstepping in what our current social culture says than what God says. If you are more concerned about the latest fashions or television shows than you are about what God thinks of them, you need to read this book, regardless of your age. It will bring you back to a place of being more concerned with God's thoughts than anything society can produce.

This is a great book for teen girls. It is a great book for teens and moms to read together. I highly recommend it.

Rhianna Sanford and her husband, Alessandro, founded and pastored Living Waters Family Church in Courtland, Kansas. She is a businesswoman, singer and musician. She is the mother of three and the family lives in Olathe, Kansas. You can find her on Facebook, Facebook.com/TheIdentityofPurity and Facebook.com/Rhianna.Sanford, and on Twitter, @PurityDefined.

You can buy the book here.

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

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Colorado Promise by Charlene Whitman

This is a great historical romance. It is New York in 1875. Emma Bradshaw is setting her sights on choosing her college, perhaps Vassar, when her father informs the family that they are moving to Greeley, Colorado Territory. Emma is incensed but there is no fighting her father on this. Her future plans of being a botanical illustrator have been destroyed.

Life is anything but peaceful for Emma when the Bradshaws settle in Greeley. She is somewhat comforted by the presence of Randall Turnbull, a childhood friend who has moved to Greeley to work for his railroad baron father. She anticipates the possibility of romance.

But Emma feels trapped by her father's strict control. In a fury, she mounts her horse and heads out of Greeley and right into a storm. She is thrown from her horse and is rescued by Lucas Rawlings, a handsome veterinarian who lost his wife and baby a few years before.

Emma is torn. Randall is such a safe man to be around but something draws her to Lucas. Life for Emma gets very complicated.

Whitman has done an excellent job in crafting this novel. I loved the feisty Emma. She was willing to stand up for what was right even when her family disapproved. Lucas is a treasure. He is in such need of healing and Emma is the perfect woman to help make it happen. But there are also so many serious obstacles to their romance.

This novel was a delight to read. Whitman has done an excellent job of bringing the reader right into the action. It was fun to experience, through Emma, the transition a New York City family had to make to be able to live on the western frontier. I was amazed at the locust infestation, the sudden snow storms, and the hatred some had toward the Indians.

If you are looking for a historical romance that is entertaining and downright fun to read, this novel is for you.

Charlene Whitman is the pen name of Susanne Lakin who lived in Greeley for a time in the 1980s. You can find out more about her at http://www.cslakin.com/.

Ubiquitous Press, 418 pages.

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

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Called to Stay by Caleb Breakey

We've seen the statistics. The Millennials are leaving the church. Caleb wants them to stay. He wants them to infiltrate the church and bring it to a greater commitment to Jesus.

This requires courage, commitment, and a whole lot more. For example, he writes, “Do not shy away from speaking directly to the evils that sneak into your church. Openly speak against lukewarmness, head knowledge, pharisaical living, Christian snobbery, spiritual laziness, pride, conditional love, borrowed faith, consumerism, judgmentalism, cynicism, and grieving the Holy Spirit.” (45) Whew! I'm overwhelmed just reading that list. He also adds that it is to be done “Quietly, gradually.” (56) That is quite an assignment.

He gives an extensive plan for infiltrating your church. I was a bit overwhelmed with all the suggestions. I think you might want to pick a couple of the ideas and do them well. If you form a group, more of the suggestions could be accomplished.

He also gives a number of requirements to infiltrate. Here are some: You cannot be mediocre in prayer. You must let your heart be broken where needed. You must live through the power of the Holy Spirit. You must become childlike. You must be intentional and intuitive. You need deep trust in yourself.

He admits that infiltrating is not for everyone. He has great sections on evaluating your church and deciding when to leave.

This book overwhelmed me. I don't think any one person can do what Caleb desires. If you really feel called to stay at your church and work to make it what God intended, you may want to gather others around you and make it a group effort. And be prepared for hurt. Caleb mentions hurt, almost in passing, on the last two pages of his book. I wish he would have given it more consideration because it is going to happen.

This is how I suggest this book be used. If you feel called to stay in your church and infiltrate, find some others with a like mind and go through this book together. There are no discussion questions in the book but there are additional resources you can download at www.calledtostay.com..

Caleb Breakey is a former journalist and a frequent conference speaker. He and his wife live in Washington State.

Harvest House Publishers, 190 pages.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Life Change by Jordan Easley

Change is hard. How many times haven't we made New Year's resolutions ... and then not kept them? Jordan wants us to know true change is possible. That's because God is the change factor. He is the only one capable of changing our lives.

He reviews what makes change so hard for us and how we got in this state. Then he gives us hope by looking in the Gospel of Mark. We must be desperate for Jesus, just as was the leper. It was his need, his hope, and his faith that brought him to Jesus. From the paralytic we learn that it makes a difference who our friends are. From the lady with the issue of blood we see that a touch from Jesus can change everything. From Jairus (and his daughter) we learn that sometimes we need an advocate to intercede for us. Sometimes we need to wait expectantly, even when it looks hopeless.

Jordan looks at other encounters people had with Jesus as illustrations of change. He gleans many more insights from those stories, helping us understand our need for supernatural change that comes from God alone. “You don't have the ability to change yourself, but Christ has a unique and supernatural way of changing the lives of people that are desperate for Him.” (139-140)

Jordan ends his book with practical suggestions. “Life Change is hard,” he writes, “and if we're going to experience it, it requires much effort and diligence on our part.” (163) It is going to require work. He identifies what we need to do to place ourselves before the Life Changing God.

If you are desperate for change, read this book. Then go to the One who makes it possible, the Life Changer Himself.

Food for thought: “[Problems] are platforms for God to work miracles.” (107)

Jordan Easley is on staff at Long Hollow Baptist Church (Hendersonville, Tennessee) as the first Multi-site Development Pastor. Prior to that he was at Second Baptist Houston and other large Baptist churches. He is a graduate of Dallas Baptist University and attended seminary at Southwestern and Luther Rice. He and his wife have two children and live in the Nashville area.

B&H Publishing Group, 208 pages. Go to the publisher's product page to watch a trailer and download free resources.

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

Merlin's Shadow by Robert Treskillard

This is the second in the Merlin Spiral series, following Merlin's Blade. Treskillard is exploring the historical background of the relationship between Merlin and King Arthur in an imagined story of the time leading to the Arthurian legends.

In this novel, Merlin and his friends travel north with the orphaned infant Arthur, hoping to protect him from their enemies. His own half-sister is captivated by an evil Voice and determines to see Merlin dead.

Merlin's devotion to Arthur's safety is immense. He faces one challenge after another as he continues his task. It is said of Merlin, “If it was in his power he would give everything he possessed to save Arthur.” (332)

There is a definite battle between good and evil in this series. Merlin is a Christian but his faith is severely tested as he encounters various obstacles. He faces betrayal and deception time and again yet continues his sacred responsibility. It is gratifying to see Merlin grow into the spiritually perceptive and capable leader he needs to be.

This is a well written novel. The characters come alive and grow as the story develops. The action scenes are vivid and realistic. The sea voyages, storms and battles are intense. True to the nature of the druids, there are magical happenings in this novel. That might be a concern for some but they certainly follow in the tradition of the Arthurian tales.

Treskillard has done an excellent job of weaving a compelling story around the few facts known about Merlin and Arthur. This is an epic presentation of life and faith in the fifth century, the time after the Romans had left Britain but before the arrival of the Saxons. I look forward to the third and concluding book in this series. I've been introduced to the Sangraal (Holy Grail) and I want to know what happens to it and young Arthur.

Visit the author's website and blog to find out more about the book, the author, and the legend.

Robert Treskillard is a Celtic enthusiast, a software developer, a graphic artist, and a sometime bladesmith. He and his wife have three children and live in the countryside outside St. Louis, Missouri.

I am taking part in a Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy blog tour of this book. Below is a list of the participants. Click on each name to read another review of this book.