Thursday, January 31, 2013

Secretly Smitten by Coble, Billerbeck, Hunter & Hunt

The intrigue begins when dog tags are found in Grandma Rose's attic. They were the dog tags of a man Grandma had loved long ago. But he had been killed in the war and had never come back. How did those dog tags get in Grandma's attic?
Tess, Zoe, and Clare Thomas are not going to let the issue go. But Tess is distracted when a handsome man and his young daughter shop at her bookstore. She is also working extra hard at seeing to it that the train will stop at Smitten. That would help the town so much.
And Zoe has other things on her mind as she is getting her new matchmaking business going. Unfortunately, the new city manager, a stickler for making sure businesses adhere to all the city ordinances, is getting to her.
Anna Thomas, the girls mother, is thinking about raising sheep so she can spin her own wool. That would be a nice addition to her knitting shop. Then Michael, a retired military man, shows up in Smitten to take care of his ailing mother. He offers to help Anna but she is not so sure she should allow herself to get to know this man.
And Claire, she loves her routine at the nursery where she works. She wouldn't even think of rearranging the shop. But when she hires a homeless man, she wonders if she could dare risk love.

What a treat, this second book about Smitten, Vermont. And you certainly don't have to read the first one to thoroughly enjoy this one. The four stories written by the authors flow well. The authors, who are themselves friends, really did a great job in creating a fun to read collection of romance stories. And it all comes out in the end – the dog tags, I mean. What a fun read.

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

Colleen Coble is a RITA-finalist and the author of several best-selling romantic suspense novels.
Kristen Billerbeck is a Christy Award finalist and two-time winner of the ACFW Book of the Year award.
Denise Hunter is the award-winning and best-selling author of several novels. She and her husband are raising three boys in Indiana.
Dian Hunt has lived in Indiana forever, been happily married forever, loves her family, her dog, and chocolate.
You can find out more about these authors here.

Thomas Nelson, 432 pages. Publisher's product page.

Please visit your local Christian bookstore to buy this book.

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Runner by A. Wayne Gill

Michael Knight is the youngest son of a popular preacher in Ozark Falls, Missouri. Everyone expects Michael to follow in the footsteps of his ministering father, as did his older brother. But Michael is drawn to law and, unknown to his parents and steady girlfriend, applies to law schools. When the acceptance letter arrives from New York University Law School, events are set in motion that will forever change Michael and his family.
When Michael arrives in New York, it is soon obvious he is unprepared for the kind of life that is before him. He is sucked into work and relationships that are not to his best interest nor to God's glory. Overwhelmed by the glitz of possible success, his life spirals down to places he had hoped to never see.

Gill has created a story that could be yours, or your next door neighbor's. There is the son who wants to get out of the small town and make his mark in the world in the big city. There is the daughter who is living with a man entangled in illegal business. There is the older son who is in ministry, following in the footsteps of his father.

It is a retelling of the prodigal son story set in today's high power legal arena. Gill has added other elements such as the daughter living in a relationship that brings heartache to her parents. Gill introduces us to the world of powerful legal firms, dealing with corporations involved in illegal activities.

At the end of the book, I was happy to wonder at the grace of God as He worked in every one of the members of the Knight family.
This book is not a literary masterpiece. There are no memorable eloquent sentences.
This is just a very good story of family relationships, dreams of the future, reality, and God's gracious activity that brings it all to His glory in the end.

You can find out more about the book and read the first few chapters at You can find out more about Wayne Gill and his work at
This is the first book in what Gill plans to be a seven part series.

Iron Pillar Media, 280 pages.

Wayne Gill is CEO and Managing Partner of Gill Dion & Forsyth P. A., a law firm with offices in Florida and Georgia that serves some of the top companies in the world. He earned his law degree from George Washington University. He has written one previous book, Tales My Grandma Told Me – a Business Diversity Fable. He has received several honors and service awards. He is also the co-founder of and legal adviser to Oasis Compassion Agency, a non-profit empowerment agency for the disadvantaged.

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

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Shattered by Dani Pettrey

This is the second in the Alaska Courage series. If you have not read the first one (Submerged), you will still be able to follow the story but will miss out on some of the meaningful history of the McKenna family.
This novel centers around Piper McKenna. She is the feisty sibling of the family. She goes into action when her brother Reef is accused of murdering a snow boarder. Yes, he was seen holding the murdered woman, but he claims he is innocent.
Deputy Landon Grainger is like a sibling to the McKennas. He was taken in as a young person when his own family fell apart. But now he has the unpleasant task of arresting Reef and putting him in jail. The sheriff, soon up for re-election, wants this apparently cut and dried case to be tried quickly.
Piper will have none of it. Convinced her brother is innocent, she is determined to find the real killer. The family rallies around her. They also enlist the help of a young newspaper reporter who has come to Yancey to cover the murder story.
As the family begins to investigate the history of the murdered snow boarder, they run into all kinds of obstacles. Convinced Reef is innocent, Landon takes a leave of absence from his law enforcement duties to help.

This is a fun suspense/romance novel. Piper is a kick. She is out to find the murderer and will stop at nothing. Deputy Landon, on leave, is desperate to keep her out of harms way. The feelings are growing between the two as they try to unravel the identity of the mysterious murdered woman. Their investigations take them to British Columbia, California and Oregon as they follow the trail to the murderer.
I loved the interplay between Piper and Landon. I love the tenacity Piper has and the dedication to her that Landon exhibits.
The first third, or so, of the novel I thought was a bit slow. After that, however, there is nonstop action to the end. Well written suspense, great character development, and a strong showing of Christian character. There is one family member, Gage, who is mad at God and I suspect he may be the subject of the next in the series. He has eyes for the newspaper reporter, so who knows what the next novel will bring.

Dani Pettrey is a wife, home-schooling mom, and the author of Submerged. She and her husband life in the D. C. metro area with their two teenage daughters. Learn more at

Bethany House Publishers, 368 pages.

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

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Love Finds You in Glacier Bay Alaska by Tricia Goyer & Ocieanna Fleiss

Ginny Marshall is a very popular singer. And her manager has great plans for her future. But Ginny is not ready. There is too much from her past she needs to take care of first.
Like her former fiancé, Brett Miller. She needed to talk to him. It had been two years since she had walked out of their relationship and sent the ring back. Back to Glacier Bay, Alaska.
Ginny decides to fly up to Glacier Bay and just talk to Brett. No one knows her better than he does, perhaps he can help her understand to do with her future.
When Ginny arrives in Glacier Bay, Brett is on an extended kayaking trip. Brett's Grandma Ethel convinces Ginny to stay with her until Brett returns. Ethel introduces Ginny to a collection of letters telling a love story from nearly a hundred years before.

The authors weave the current love story with the one from two generations before. The experiences are cleverly paralleled.
The strength of this novel is its setting. This is one in a series of romance novels taking place in various locations in the United States. The authors do a great job of weaving the history of the area into the story. One really gets a feel for the area.
The romance is pleasant. It would have been a bit slow but becomes quite interesting when paralleled with the historical story. The authors have done their research well.
The Christian themes are strong in this novel. Ginny is faced with the possibility of great success. And God has certainly given her a gifted voice. But is it what God wants?

This is not a page turning novel but it is a rewarding story to read. Not only will you get insight into an area of Alaska, but you'll read a pleasant romance too.

You can find out about the other books in the Love Finds You series here.

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

Tricia Goyer is the award-winning author of more than thirty novels. She and her husband have four children and live in Little Rock, Arkansas. You can learn more about her at

Ocieanna Fleiss is a published author and editor. She lives with her husband and their four children in the Seattle area. Find out more at

Summerside Press, 316 pages.

Please visit your local Christian bookstore to buy this book.

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

Friday, January 25, 2013

Reasons for Belief by Geisler & Tunnicliffe

Has someone asked you lately why you are a Christian? Do you have reasons that you can quickly relate to your inquirer?
The authors identify ten major criticisms of Christianity to which believers should know how to respond. There is more evidence than ever substantiating the Bible and the deity and resurrection of Jesus, the authors write. They use the evidence to answers the ten critical issues.
#1 Real truth does not exist. The authors help us understand what truth is, how it must be backed up by facts, and how it is tested (using logic).
#2 God does not exist. Evidence is given for the existence of God and the kind of God the evidence points to. Worldviews are explored and the basic arguments for God's existence given.
#3 If God exists, he isn't necessarily the God of the Bible. The authors compare the attributes of God given in the Bible and the attributes indicated by the evidence available.
#4 Miracles don't happen. The definition of a miracle is reviewed, their purposes, and how those in Christianity differ from those claimed by other religions.
#5 The New Testament's many errors make it unreliable. The early dates and accuracy of the manuscripts are covered. “...[T]he New testament is the most accurate document from the ancient world.” (103)
#6 Jesus never claimed to be God. It is shown from the gospels that the Jews of the day certainly understood Jesus was claiming to be God. Other evidence is given, as well.
#7 Jesus didn't prove he was God. Evidence is given from within the Bible, such as the virgin birth and fulfilled prophecy.
#8 Jesus did not rise from the dead. Arguments against the resurrection are answered. Other evidence is given, such as martyred apostles.
#9 The Bible isn't the only true religious book. Jesus claiming to be the only way is reviewed. What other religions say about God is examined.
#10 Christianity is too narrow. There are many ways to God. The claims of other religions are compared to those of Christianity.

They show how Jesus is unique, remind us that Jesus is God and that His claims are true.
They end the book, having presented all the evidence, by showing how these truths impact our life and how to share this information.

Recognizing that this book will not answer every question Christians have about belief, they give a list of resources to further investigate apologetics, including web sites and books.

This is certainly an introductory level book. It by no means extensively covers any aspect of apologetics. For a Christian just beginning to understand the need to defend their faith, this would make an excellent resource.
It should be noted that the authors use the Bible in answering several of the criticisms. Readers who do not have the viewpoint that the Bible is authoritative may find some of the answers to the criticisms insufficient.

Norman L. Geisler is distinguished professor of Apologetics and Theology at Veritas Evangelical Seminary in Murrieta, California. He is the author of over eighty books. He and his wife live in Charlotte, North Carolina. Learn more at

Patty Tunnicliffe is a former public school teacher, Bible teacher, and conference speaker. She and her husband make their home in Santa Barbara, California.

Baker Publishing Group, 240 pages. Publisher product page.

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

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

What You Need to Know About Healing by Harold J. Sala

What do you do when you are faced with sickness, suffering, those unexpected challenges?
Sala has written this book to encourage you, your family, and your church leaders.
The manner in which God brings healing is part of His sovereign dealing with you as an individual. Sometimes God brings healing supernaturally, immediately.
There are times when God works through the hands of skilled physicians. This Sala calls integrative healing. God brings healing through a combination of medical science and His grace in response to fervent prayer in faith.
There are times when God allows suffering. It is apparent, Sala writes, “that supernatural healing is not the way God intends to answer all our prayers to be healed.” (149) He looks at Paul's “thorn in the flesh,” pain, weakness and grace. The taste of His presence and goodness transforms pain to purpose. This Sala calls redemptive healing. He explains what one needs to do to turn pain and suffering into redemptive healing.
Sala provides an overview of how God brings healing. He goes through the Bible, reviewing the accounts of God healing and providing Scriptures that affirm God's power and purpose in healing. He looks at the healing acts of Jesus and those in the early church period, including those recorded by the early church fathers.
He notes that with the conversion of Constantine and the Milan Edict of 313, changes happened. “Slowly, over a long period spanning centuries, the church as a dynamic, living organism whose existence was demonstrated by its supernatural character including gifts of healing and the miraculous became an institution that vied for recognition and eventually political power.” (95) Christians transitioned to faith in science and accounts of healing are few.
Nonetheless, God heals and Sala gives several accounts of healing from the recent past. He writes, “I have demonstrated that God, on occasion, does intervene, bringing healing and health to some in such a manner that leaves no room for rational, human explanation.” (132)
He ends his book by giving eight steps to help find healing God's way. He adds an Addendum: Encouragement for Pastors and Church Leaders.

This is a very informative book. Sala thoroughly covers the complex subject of God and healing. Reading this book would be an encouragement to anyone experiencing sickness.
His last section really helps you understand God's purposes in healing and presents a good path of putting yourself in the right place to receive what God has for you.
Sala highlights, in the Addendum, the responsibility of church leaders with respect to healing. He suggests that this would be a good book for church leaders to read and discuss. I agree.

Harold J. Sala is founder and president of Guidelines International, Inc., a ministry helping believers be discipled and strengthened. He has written dozens of books and is the featured speaker on “Guidelines: A Five-Minute Commentary on Living,” a daily radio program. Find out more at

B & H Books, 256 pages.

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

What an interesting experiment. Rachel tried to live what the Bible says, in the Old Testament and the New, should be the behavior of women. Rather than try it all the whole year, she concentrated on an aspect each month.
For example, the worked on her character one month: cultivating a gentle spirit, kick the gossip habit, practice contemplative prayer. Another month she concentrated on cooking and cleaning. Another month was obedience: calling her husband “Master,” interviewing a polygamist. She tried to be the Proverbs 31 woman. She found out what the Bible said about beauty. One month she concentrated on dressing modestly and wore a head covering. She observed the Levitical purity laws. She investigated biblical submission. She pursued justice. She practiced silence.
She steps on toes for sure. She comments on the role for women that is promoted by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. For example, a woman could write a book used in a Christian college or seminary but could not teach in a Christian college or seminary. (254)
She notes that she has heard more sermons than she can count on 1 Timothy 2:11 (a woman should learn in quietness and full submission) but never heard one on 1 Timothy 2:8 (men everywhere are to pray, lifting holy hands). (261)

And the result of it all? There were some things she'd be happy to ditch, like calling her husband “Master.” But she had learned a lot over the year, some of which had changed her life. She thought she'd be sick of the Bible. She writes, “But somewhere between the rooftop and the red tent, I'd learned to love the Bible again – for what it is, not what I want it to be.” (294)
Her unconventional conclusion is that there is no such thing as a single model for biblical womanhood. “Among women praised in Scripture are warriors, widows, slaves, sister wives, apostles, teachers, concubines, queens, foreigners, prostitutes, prophets, mothers, and martyrs.” (295) There is no universal biblical ideal to which women should conform.

I learned a great deal from reading her book. It is certainly worth reading. It would be fun, I think, to read it in a woman's study. There is much women would find in it for discussion.

Rachel Held Evans is the author of one previous book, is an award-winning author and a popular blogger. Find out more about her at

Thomas Nelson, 321 pages.

Monday, January 21, 2013

The Tainted Coin by Mel Starr

This is the fifth in the Hugh de Singleton chronicles, adventures set in the fourteenth century. Hugh is a surgeon. He, is wife and child reside in Bampton, Hugh being the bailiff for Lord Gilbert.
In this novel, a badly beaten man is found under the porch of St. Andrews Chapel. The dying man is a traveling merchant. Upon his burial, an ancient coin falls from its hiding place in his mouth.
Since the murder happened on Lord Gilbert's land, Hugh pursues the assailants, identified by a horse with a broken shoe. The quest takes him to a nearby village and the release of a kidnapped girl. Before long, Hugh's life is in danger as he comes against wealthy and powerful men.

Starr's novels are so interesting because he has done so much research on the culture and customs of the fourteenth century. Following Hugh, I was amazed at his medical knowledge. I was fascinated by the herbs used and the surgeries performed.
For those liking lots of action, this novel may seem a bit slow. The impact of the novel is not the action but the historical context. If you would like to know what life was like in the fourteenth century among the Lords and their subjects, this would be a good book to read.
You do not have to read the preceding four novels to appreciate this one. Doing so, however, will help you understand how Hugh got to be where he is, especially in his personal life.
For those of us challenged in our knowledge of medieval English, Starr has provided a glossary at the beginning of the book.

Read an excerpt of the book here.

Mel Starr has spent many years teaching history, and has studied medieval surgery and medieval English. He lives in Michigan.

Monarch Books (distributed in the U. S. by Kregel Publications), 223 pages.

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

Sunday, January 20, 2013

God is Alive and Well by Frank Newport

Newport's book is based on hundreds of thousands of interviews Gallup has conducted in recent years.
He reports: “...80% of all Americans are Christians, and 95% of all Americans who have a religion are Christian.” (21) Also, 54% of Americans are Protestant. The Protestant portion of the U. S. population is shrinking. More and more Americans are going to a nondenominational Christian identity. Because of this and other factors, traditional Protestant denominations will continue to shrink.
He notes the health benefits of being religious, the interaction of religion and politics, and how the degree of religiousness affects culture.
What about the future? Studies show that people get more religious as they age. If the baby boomers follow that pattern, the future looks good for religion. However, “If baby boomers keep the same relatively low level of religiousness they have now as they age, then older America is going to be a lot less religious than it is now.” (120)
The determining factor may be the explanation for older people being more religious. It may be the generational explanation, such as moving through the stages of live. It may be the cohort perspective – older Americans are more religious because of the circumstances in which they grew up. (134)
Newport believes the evidence points to a generational explanation. “It is likely that baby boomers will become more religious as they age, just like those they are replacing.” (139)

I do hope Newport is right. The future of religion in America certainly depends upon whether the baby boomers do become more religious as they age or not.
Also, I wonder about the claim that 80% of all Americans are Christians. Perhaps they identify themselves as Christians, but would they be called evangelicals? If so many Americans are Christians, why is America heading in the direction it is?
For me, something just does not ring true with Newport's optimistic hope for the future. If you'd like to read a book that I think is more realistic, try The Great Evangelical Recession. See my review of that book here.

Frank Newport is Gallup Editor-in-Chief and a leading public opinion analyst. He has been a professor, a partner in a market research firm, and now Gallup's chief pollster for more than 20 years.

Gallup Press, 280 pages.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

The Reformation Experience by Eric Ives

Ives argues that, if you want to understand why the world thinks the way it does today, you must consider the relevance of the Reformation. He sets out to tell the Reformation story in light of recent scholarship, from the bottom up. He concentrates primarily on England.
The first section of the book looks at religion before the Reformation and what Christianity meant at the grassroots level. He describes a typical service, relates religious activities and customs, and what biblical texts were available.
The second section looks at the context and character of the Reformation in Europe. He identifies the main participants, what the issues were, and what changes were seen in Spain, Italy and France.
The final section investigates the governmental and local responses in England, as well as what had and had not been achieved towards the end of the sixteenth century. He reviews Henry VIII's reformation, the ensuing protests, enacting The Book of Common Prayer, changes in belief and practices by the time Edward VI died, return to Catholicism under Mary, persecution and the resulting martyrs, Protestant survival, Protestant Elizabeth, the hybrid church with Reformed doctrine but traditional Catholic structure, puritans, the impact of the accessibility of the Bible in English, and other consequences of the Reformation.

I really appreciated Ives' concentration on what the Reformation meant to individual Christians in England. He helps us understand the differences in worship experiences and religious practices. I usually read books on the Reformation that deal with doctrine and belief. This book is a refreshing change.
While there is some information included regarding the Reformation on the continent, Ives certainly concentrates on England. Anyone wanting to understand Christianity in England during the sixteenth century will find much to appreciate in this book.

Eric Ives is Emeritus Professor of English History at the University of Birmingham, and an expert on the Tudor period. He is the author of Life and Death of Anne Boleyn and Jane Gray: A Tudor Mystery. He died in the fall of 2012.

Kregel Publications, 320 pages. Publisher's product page.

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

Friday, January 18, 2013

The Book of Why by Nicholas Montemarano

Eric Newborn is a successful self-help author and speaker. He is loved by his readers who have been helped by his “you can create your future” philosophy. They are devoted to him, having been helped by his “you control your destiny” mantra.
Then, Eric's destiny becomes one he cannot control. He is looking at a future he did not create.

Montemarano has crafted a unique novel. He intersperses pieces of Eric's present life and recent life with inspiring segments of Eric's teachings at self-help seminars. As the novel unfolds, we get glimpses into the relationship of Eric and his wife. We see bits of his childhood. And it is all enfolded into scenes from the present.

In addition to being a captivating, well written story, there are many issues brought up in the novel. Can we really create the future we want? Are there forces, or a Force, beyond us that determines our destiny, despite our best efforts?

This novel has a haunting quality to it. It certainly gives one pause to think about how much of our future we can plan for and make happen and how much is already mapped out for us.
(I felt the last third, or so, of the book lost a little focus, and was a bit dragging. Otherwise, it is great.)

I usually blog reviews of “Christian” books. This is not a “Christian” book but it certainly has themes and issues Christians would do well to read about and discuss.

Nicholas Montemarano is the author of a story collection and a previous novel. He is Associate Professor of English at Franklin & Marshall College in Lancaster, PA.

Little, Brown and Company, 320 pages.

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

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Risk is Right by John Piper

What do you live for? Piper writes that the meaning of life should be, based on Phil.1:21, “Honoring Christ, magnifying Christ, making much of Christ.” (15)
Piper says if our all-embracing passion is to make much of Christ in life and death and if the life that magnifies Him most is the life of costly love, then that is a life of risk. And there will be the possibility of loss or injury.
We can't avoid risk. Piper argues that it is woven into the very fabric of our lives. And the seriousness of risk? Piper writes, “Risk avoidance may be more sinful – more unloving – than taking the risk in faith and love, and making a wrong decision.” (23)
Piper explores the risk takers in the Old Testament as well as Paul, the great risk taker of the New Testament.
He addresses the right and wrong reasons to risk. He looks at what God promises when we risk. “The bottom-line comfort and assurance in all our risk taking for Christ is that nothing will ever separate us from the love of Christ.” (49)

Are you taking risks to magnify Christ? If not, read Piper's book. It is short but it really packs a punch.

John Piper is pastor for preaching and vision at Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis. He is the best-selling author of more than 30 books, including Don't Waste Your Life.

Crossway, 64 pages.

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

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Sudden Glory by Sharon Jaynes

Have you felt like there is something missing in your spiritual life? You know you should be feeling something more in our Christian life.
It is a common cry of the heart, Sharon writes. “You long to feel close to God but sense there's just something lacking, that you've missed the mysterious formula to make it happen.” (4)
Acts 17:28 came to Sharon's mind. She meditated on it for a year. “I came to realize that what He wants for us is to sense His presence, experience His love, and delight in intimate relationship as we live and move and have our being in sacred union with Him.” (9)
She writes of those moments when God makes Himself known personally – a sudden glory.
Her aim in this book is that we will be reminded of God's passionate pursuit of our heart and that we would let ourselves be caught all over again. She explores what it means to be in union with Christ. She helps us see how to receive the sudden glory moments in Bible reading, prayer, circumstances, creation, and people.
God has pulled out all the stops,” Sharon writes, to reveal glimpses of His glory.” (66) We are just not paying attention. She challenges readers to get a notebook or journal and begin chronicling how God makes Himself known. “When your union with God is restored through your relationship with Jesus, when in Him we live and move and have our being becomes a reality in your life, your ears will hear, your eyes will see, and your senses will detect the glory of the Lord turning ordinary days into extraordinary treasures.” (69)

This is a very encouraging book. Sharon uses many of her own experiences to illustrate becoming aware of those moments of sudden glory.
She has a very good section on suffering. “Could it be that the puncture wounds in the canvas of your life – the losses, the disappointments, the crushing blows – might actually become the rent places of the soul through which you can see God?” (133)

In addition to the encouraging nature of the book itself, there is a twenty four page study guide at the end of the book that would be great for personal or group study. This book would make an excellent choice for a woman's small group.

Sharon Jaynes is an international conference speaker and author of eighteen books. She is the cofounder of Girlfriends in God, a nondenominational conference and online ministry. The online devotions reach about five hundred thousand subscribers daily. To learn more, visit Sharon and her husband live in North Carolina and have one grown son. You can find out more at or

Multnomah, 230 pages. Publisher's product page.

You can read the first chapter here.

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

Monday, January 14, 2013

Unexpected Love by Julie Colemen

The attitude toward women at the time of Christ was one of subjection. They were thought inferior, fickle, contentious, and indecisive. They had no legal rights and lived under the control of their father and then husband.
“God did not originally intend this for women,” Julie writes. God created Adam and Eve as an equal partnership. The idea of authority and dominion would come after the fall.
“But Jesus came to set them free.” His redemption sets us free from the condemnation of sin. “We are also delivered from the consequences of sin.” Christ removed the curse. “He intended to restore women to the glory they had at creation.”

Julie looks at nine women who had interactions with Jesus. They all needed Jesus. And Jesus was interested in them. In a culture that devalued women, Jesus showed intentional interest in them. He gave them significance.
Julie covers each of the interactions within its cultural context, revealing a purposeful Jesus. “He wanted to transform their lives.”

I was impressed with how Julie dealt with the biblical stories. She first gives the Scripture passage then retells the story in her own words, adding lots of interesting details. She has a section on “digging deeper.” I could tell Julie has done lots of research. She brought out facts about the time period I had never seen before. She then includes a section applying the story's lessons to women today.
Each chapter ends with questions and suggestions for journaling. These could be used for personal or group discussions. This book would make a fine study for a woman's Bible study group.

Free resources, including handouts and lesson plan suggestions, are available for groups using Unexpected Love at

Julie Coleman earned an MA in biblical studies after twenty years teaching children. She now writes and speaks full time, and, with her husband Steve, spends time with family including six grandchildren. They live in the Annapolis, Maryland area.
You can find out more about Julie and her ministry at

Thomas Nelson, 256 pages. This book releases February 5, 2013.

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

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Etched . . . Upon My Heart by Jill Kelly

What would you want your children to remember about you, should you die today? Jill writes, "This book is everything I hope my daughters eventually learn, always remember, and never forget.” (x)
Jill records moments in her life and what she has learned from them. She has grouped her experiences into chapters, each one covering a topic. At the end of each chapter Jill has included a list of what to remember and never forget, a prayer, and Scripture related to the chapter's topic.
For example, she writes about a birthmark she tried to hide, likening it to a relentless longing that echoed through her soul – a longing she was able to hide from everyone but herself. She shares other experiences from which she learned lessons on love, significance, forgiveness, suffering, giving, prayer, faithfulness, and death.
Many of her lessons came from painful situations. Probably the most painful was the death of their toddler son from a rare genetic disease. Jill honestly shares her complete collapse under the weight of the grief too intense to bear. She writes, “The temptation to reject the Word of God and buy into the lie that God had abandoned me was overwhelming.” (172) She came out of the experience with a deeper understanding of the power of the gospel.
Through all of these experiences, Jill concludes, “God is more concerned with who we are than what we do, more concerned with our character than our achievements. Godly character will necessarily lead to loving obedience, while its lack can still produce all kinds of good works with proud and self-righteous motives.” (160)

Jill is very honest as she shares her experiences. This book is certainly an encouragement to anyone facing painful circumstances in life. Jill relates her encouragement because she has gone through similar situations herself. We'll be thankful someday for those hurts, she writes. “It may not be today, and it may not be tomorrow – but someday... For it's your sorrow that will lead you to His love, and your suffering that will bring you to His grace.” (191) Wise words indeed.

Jill Kelly is the wife of former Buffalo Bills quarterback Jim Kelly. In September 1997, months after their infant son was diagnosed with a fatal disease called Krabbe Leukodystrophy, Jim and Jill founded Hunter's Hope Foundation. Jill and her husband live in Buffalo, NY, with their two daughters. Jill is also the author of Without a Word. Find out more about the Foundation at

FaithWords (Hachette Book Group), 224 pages.

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

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Who Do You Think You Are? by Mark Driscoll

We Christians have a condition, Driscoll writes. “We're continually forgetting who we are in Christ and filling that void by placing our identity in pretty much anything else.” (3)
Knowing our identity is important. It is underlying our struggles. We don't understand who we truly are in Christ.
Driscoll hopes that this book, by the grace of God, through the power of the Holy Spirit, will help us know our identity so we can live as we should.
After a great introduction, Driscoll takes us through the book of Ephesians. He covers the book paragraph by paragraph. He introduces the topic with a story of someone living out the truth. Then he goes through the passage explaining it, adding other relevant Bible passages. The topics: Saints. Blessed. Appreciated. Saved. Reconciled. Afflicted. Heard. Gifted. New. Forgiven. Adopted. Loved. Rewarded. Victorious.
His exposition on each section of Ephesians is well thought out and very encouraging. For example, he writes about the reality of suffering. Rather than a simple look at it, he addresses fourteen kinds of affliction found in Scripture. He reminds us that Paul opened Ephesians indicating he was a prisoner yet ends chapter one telling the Ephesians to not lose heart. Driscoll also gives the results of suffering: growth, credibility.
Driscoll has an excellent section on spiritual gifts with a good way of identifying one's own gift. He has a very good teaching on spiritual warfare.

Driscoll has done an excellent job in reminding us who we are in Christ. And we do need to be reminded from time to time as we frequently forget. I do wish discussion questions would have been included in this book. It would make a good book for a small group or Sunday School class, but with no discussion questions, its use is limited.

You can find out more about the book, with sample discussion questions and videos of corresponding curriculum, at You can access sermons on Ephesians and other information at and

Mark Driscoll is pastor at Mars Hill Church, Seattle, Washington. He is widely recognized as influential and innovative in his ministry. He is the author of more than twelve books. He and his wife have five children.

Thomas Nelson, 256 pages.

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

Monday, January 7, 2013

Les Miserables Radio Theatre

Les Miserables is a classic that has been enjoyed by generations. The characters are unforgettable: the selfless Jean Valjean, obsessed Inspector Javert, and deceitful Thenardier. The themes Hugo portrayed through the characters are timeless: the savage injustice of the law, the lavish grace of God.
But at 1,000 pages, you may be wondering how you could introduce this masterpiece to your family. This Focus on the Family Radio Theatre® presentation is the answer. Dramatized, with the voices of some of Britain's finest actors, and appropriate sound effects, this book comes alive.
Granted, this audio production is less than three hours long, so you know you are going to miss the majority of the written book. The essential pieces of the plot are included and one can easily follow the story. The historical background for the story has been left out, however.
It is great for family listening. You will be so intrigued by this production you will want to read the entire book yourself.

If you are going to listen to this production with your family, you may want to do some preparatory work. Some research on the era would help explain many of the actions in the story. Your children may ask about the revolution, the living conditions of the time, etc. You should also consider that this audio production is not recommended for children under eight years old.

I really enjoyed this production. I'd read an abridged version of the book and found it interesting. But this audio presentation really brought the story alive. It has inspired me to patiently tackle the whole book.

You can find out more about this presentation and listen to sound clips at

Tyndale, Focus on the Family, 169 minutes, 3 CDs.

I received a complimentary copy of this production from Tyndale for the purpose of this review.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

The Heart of Religion by Lee, Poloma & Post

Is religion in America a positive force for good? The authors' research has shown that millions of Americans are striving to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Their Christian faith is generally the motivating factor.
The authors' interest is in people who have had a spiritual awakening resulting in spiritual empowerment. They write about how Americans experience the reality of divine love in a Christian context and then attempt to express that love to others through benevolent acts. “This is the heart of religion.” (6)
Their study, GLNS (Godly Love National Survey), sampled 1,208 Americans (plus hundreds more targeted surveys and responses). They interviewed over 120 Christian men and women from all walks of life to better understand the patterns their study revealed.
Some of their findings: Over eighty percent said they “feel God's love increasing their compassion for others.” (15) “...[T]he clear majority of contemporary Americans tend to consider themselves to be highly religious and spiritual.” (28)
They report, “Godly love does appear to be alive and well in America.” (30)
They investigate specific types of spiritual experience and the roles they play in the unfolding of godly love. They categorize the expression of benevolence as Servers (engaging in community service), Renewers (working to revive the church), and Changers (advocating peace and justice).
They note the importance of the pentecostal worldview in predicting the experience of divine love. They investigate the role of prayer in energizing godly love. They found that knowing God's allows for seeing beyond pain and suffering, an important by-product of divine love that affects benevolent service. They revealed the debt their interviewees owed collaborators and beneficiaries.
Our finding that religious people are more benevolent than nonreligious is not new; what is new is that we trace this benevolence, at least in part, to experiencing God's love.” (190)

Their work is statistical and they note the difficulty of statistics capturing the movement of spiritual activity. They have taken the survey results and used it as a skeletal form, then clothed it with narratives of case studies based on their interviews. Some of the interviewees include Heidi Baker, Tony Campolo, Anne Beiler, and C. Peter Wagner.

Perhaps the greatest importance of the survey,” they write, “is that it provides solid empirical evidence demonstrating that spiritual experiences are alive and well, transforming individual lives and communities in American society.” (73)

The authors cover just about anything you would like to know about religious experience in America related to benevolent acts (ethnicity, denominations, prayer, collaboration, social filters, tribalism, etc.). The book is academic in style although the authors have tried to make it as readable as possible for the general public.
If you are interested at all in what motivates people to make a positive difference in the lives of others, this book will certainly add insight to your understanding.

Find out more at

Matthew T. Lee is Professor and Chair of Sociology at the University of Akron. He is co-author, with Margaret Poloma, of A Sociological Study of the Great Commandment in Pentecostalism.

Margaret M. Poloma is Research Professor of Sociology, University of Akron. She is the author of Main Street Mystics, among other books.

Stephen G. Post is the President of the Institute of Research on Unlimited Love (, the author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping, and a Professor of Medical Humanities at Stony Brook University.

Oxford University Press, 301 pages.

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