Wednesday, December 31, 2014

The Power of 100! by Shaun King

King wants to see people pursue life goals with reckless abandon. He has written this book to help us do that.

He encourages us to write 100 goals across seven key areas of life. He then presents a strategy to go after those hopes and dreams.

The seven key areas are: Generosity, Health and Fitness, Career and Finance, Spirit and Emotion, Travel, Friends and Family, Accomplishment and Experience. He includes a chapter on each of these areas to help us fine tune our goals. He is adamant that we cannot be successful in just one or two of these areas. Our life must be well balanced with success in all the seven areas. Why start with generosity? “A life grounded in generosity is a life well lived,” King writes.

He encourages us to make one outrageous goal for each area. He then suggests subgoals of easier attainment and shorter time span. The result is 100 goals. Knowing that writing goals is just the beginning, he offers a strategy to put fire under the goals and keep it going. He has some advice on making the goals stick and tips on overcoming adversity.

If you are looking for a plan to reset your life, this is a good book to read. He addresses all the issues that keep us from making the mental shift to living life on purpose. He looks at the fears we might have and the consequences of living in fear. He confronts the excuses of no money and no time.

One might think this is just another book on setting goals but the real force of this one is King's personal story. He was severely beaten in high school resulting in spinal operations. As a young married he was in a severe car accident. He lives daily with pain. But he does not let that stop him from achieving success.

Like any other motivational book, reading it is not enough. One has to actually do what the book suggests. King's own life story is a great motivation. Find out more about the book and King at

Shaun King is an award winning entrepreneur and humanitarian. He is a motivational speaker, full time author, and motivational coach. He has raised over $10 million for causes all over the world. He is married to his high school sweetheart and lives in Los Angeles.

Howard Books, 304 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Petticoat Detective by Margaret Brownley

This is a delightful Christian historical romance. Jennifer is one of the first female detectives for the Pinkerton National Detective Agency. While she has had some great adventures catching big named villains, this assignment may be her hardest yet. She has to pose as a woman of ill repute in a frontier town. She is to befriend Rose, another woman in the bordello who is supposed to have information about the identify of the Gunnysack Bandit. But shortly after Jennifer arrives, Rose is killed. Then her life becomes even more complicated as she crosses paths with Tom, ex-Texas Ranger now looking for his brother's killer. His brother had been planning to rescue and marry Rose and Tom had planned to talk to Rose too. Jennifer must keep her true identity secret as she continues her assignment and avoids being distracted by the handsome Tom.

I really liked this novel. The idea of a virtuous woman posing as one of ill repute is a touchy one but Brownley pulls it off. Jennifer manages to retain her virtue while continuing on the case.

There are some thought provoking moral issues in the book. Each of the women in the bordello has a story and the reasons they have come to this place of last resort will tug at heart strings. There are righteous women from the local church who go about dealing with these women all wrong – except for one. There is the issue of the men who visit the house too. When Jennifer sees men of good standing in the town frequent the place, it sours her toward men in general. She is not convinced there are any men who can be trusted to be faithful to their wives.

Within these serious issues Brownley has included some humor. When the women in the house become a shoe tossing brigade, I had to laugh.

I was impressed with the way Brownley concluded the book. The issue of the women of ill repute ends well and somewhat realistically.

In the author's note at the end of the book we find that there was an initial woman Pinkerton detective, working from 1856 to her death in 1868. She was put in charge of the Female Detective Bureau in 1860. (This novel takes place in 1883.) Pinkerton was way ahead of his time since women were not allowed on any police force until 1890.

There is a good discussion guide included so this would make a good book for reading groups. There are some great moral issues to discuss. I really enjoyed how Brownley handled those sensitive issues, how the plot developed, the humor included from time to time, and the romance. An overall good novel.

Margaret Brownley is the author of more than twenty novels. You can find out more at

Shiloh Run Press, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this novel from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

A Brush With Love by Rachel Hauck

About the novella:
Ginger Winters is a gifted hairstylist with scars no one can see. The last thing she expects from the New Year is a new chance at love.

Overcoming a childhood tragedy, Ginger emerges from the pain and trauma with a gift of bringing out the beauty in others. Her success as personal stylist to a country music sensation was almost enough to make Ginger forget she would never be one of the beautiful people.

Now she is back in Rosebud, Alabama, running her own salon. But she knows she is still the girl forever on the outside looking in, even as she is the acclaimed “beauty maker” for the Alabama society wedding of the decade.

When high school crush Tom Wells Jr. returns to town, Ginger's thinly veiled insecurities threaten to keep her locked away from love. Despite Tom's efforts, Ginger can't forget how he disappeared twelve years ago and broke her heart. When Tom challenges her to see her own beauty, Ginger must decide if she will remain chained to the past or enter an exciting future.

My review:
Wow, Hauck has crafted an amazing novella. The physical scars Ginger hides with long sleeves and neck scarves have become such a part of her being that she believes no one could ever love her. Tom's encouragement for her to see her beauty within is a wonderful message to those who cannot recognize their own beauty.

The theme of forgiveness is strong. There is past hurt in both Tom and Ginger's lives that needs to be dealt with.

The most heart warming aspect of the novella for me was Ginger recognizing the need for Christ in her life. There is a strong Christian theme in this novella that fits right into the story as an essential part of it.

The romance in novellas usually seems rushed to me but that is not the case here. Since Tom and Ginger liked each other in high school, they already have a foundation upon which to build a relationship in a short amount of time.

Hauck has taken the time to create some memorable scenes, such as being stuck in the mud (literally)! It all adds up to a wonderful story with laughter and tears. I highly recommend it.

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

Rachel Hauck is an award-winning, best selling author of several novels. She is a graduate of Ohio State University with a degree in journalism. She worked in the corporate software world before turning to writing full time in 2004. She and her husband live in central Florida. You can find out more at

Zondervan, 114 pages. You can buy the book here.

I received a complimentary egalley of this novella through Litfuse for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Mastering Life Before It's Too Late by Robert J. Morgan

Morgan wants to help us master our life before it's too late. He gives us ten biblical patterns to help us become pleasantly productive people. The Bible reveals the godly patterns for such a life, Morgan writes. “The Bible is the best self-improvement course ever devised.”
  • Listen to a twelve-year-old. Be about your Father's business.
  • Redeem the time. Wasted hours can never be regained.
  • Clear the decks. God isn't disorganized and neither should we.
  • Maximize the morning. Schedule a standing appointment with God.
  • Pull off at rest stops. Routinely replenish your inner resources.
  • Operate on yourself. Diagnose and treat yourself spiritually.
  • Live “as if.” Act by faith even when your emotions aren't ready.
  • Bathe in the Dead Sea. Experience the buoyancy of biblical joy.
  • Practice the power of plodding. Persistently work in small increments.
  • Remember there are two of you. It's Christ in you that's achieving significance.

Within writing about these principles, Morgan establishes the importance of committing to obey the will of God. He reminds us, “Every day is a divine adventure.” He clarifies that we are not to be just busy. What is important is accomplishing what God has planned for us. He really attacks time wasters. He also points out possible goals that do not align with the Father's will. He shares his morning technique to maintain stewardship over the time God has given us. He points out, “...organization is one of God's essential traits.” (1 Cor. 14:33, 40) He advocates instilling organizational skills in children. He reminds us to get some rest and make wise withdrawals like Jesus did. He writes about strengthening ourselves in the Lord and about choosing and maintaining a joyful attitude. He encourages our abiding in Christ and writes about the exchanged life (Ian Thomas).

While the book is generally theoretical, about the general biblical principles, Morgan has included good examples of practically living out those principles.

He has questions at the end of each chapter that help internalize the principles and promote action. These would be good for personal reflection or for a group discussion. There is also a free downloadable Mastering Life Before it's Too Late workbook at (At the time of this post, the workbook was not available. I was assured it would be available by the publication date of January 6, 2015.)

I really liked this book. In this day when we get so caught up in all the attractions of a busy life, it is good to be reminded of what is really essential for the Christian. This book gives a good foundation for living the live the Bible prescribes. Those who have read other books by Morgan may find some repetition here. But we need to be continually reminded of these principles and I highly recommend this book.

Robert J. Morgan is pastor of The Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, Tennessee, where he has served for thirty-five years. He is a life-long student of the Bible and has spent forty years learning about maximizing each day and becoming purposeful and productive. He has authored more than twenty books and is a popular speaker at conferences and seminars across the country. He and his wife live in Nashville. You can find out more at

Howard Books, 304 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Masterpiece Marriage by Gina Welborn

About the book:
He wants to save his business. She wants to be a professor.

After flood damages the looms at Zenus Dane's Philadelphia textile mill and the bank demands loan payment, he turns to his aunt for help. Small pieces of his damaged textiles could be used for quilts, and his aunt designs unique ones. Zenus knows his aunt's name would be the key to selling his textile pieces.

But there is a problem. His aunt has already agreed to do a series of illustrations for Mary Varrs, a lovely yet secretive Englishwoman studying tomatoes. The illustrations are essential to Mary's report, necessary for her possibly being hired as a research assistant. There is also a quilting bee going on at his aunt's house. She demands both Zenus and Mary help with the quilting project if they want her to provide what they want in time. His aunt has plans to find Zenus a wife. It just may not be who she has planned.

My review:
The plot of this novel has a familiar theme: what is Mary willing to give up for love? Would she give up her dream? Or would she pursue her dream even if it meant working with a man she detests? Is love enough?

Mary wants to be a professor in a time when that was generally not allowed. Even her credible research could very well be discounted because it was done by a female. This is a good reminder that women have had to fight for their place in academia.

This is a pretty good romance. One learns a little bit about quilting and the textile industry. The end is quite abrupt and seems a bit unrealistic. Nonetheless, it was a pleasant reading experience.

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

Gina Welborn is the author of several novels and novellas. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers; the president of Faith, Hope and Love; and a founding member of She lives in Cache, Oklahoma, with her pastor husband and their five children. Find out more at

Find out more about this book and the Quilts of Love series here.

Abingdon Press, 240 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this novel through Litfuse for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

The Passion Translation

A new Bible translation? Yes, and this one is different from others I've read. The aim of The Passion Translation is to express the original language in a way that shows the emotion behind the text. The translation team incorporated the ancient Aramaic scripture, overlaying it with the Greek. The root meanings of words are revealed in a fresh way, with an emphasis on the original emotive intent of the text. The translation team leader, Brian Simmons, says, “We want English speakers to have the same response as the original hearer...”

I was provided with the gospel of John and The Psalms to review. From the very first verse in the gospel, I could tell this translation was different. Here are the first two verses:

  In the very beginning
  God was already there.
  And before his face
  Was his Living Expression.
  And this “Living Expression”
  Was with God, yet fully God.
  They were together – face to face,
  In the very beginning.

Here are some surprising texts I found in my reading. When Jesus spoke to Nathanael, “Nathanael was stunned.” (John 1:48) After Jesus cleaned the temple and spoke to the Jewish religious leaders, “the Jewish leaders sneered.” (John 2:20) Those phrases give a whole new idea of what the individuals were feeling. Now, those feeling words aren't necessarily in the specific text but footnotes reveal that the emotion is implied in the original language.

This footnote on the last verse in the gospel of John gives an idea of the impact of the Aramaic on translation. “21:25 The Aramaic is very poetic, 'The world itself could be emptied out into the books that would be written.' An alternative translation of the Aramaic could read, 'I suppose that forever is still not long enough time for all the books to be written!'” (108)

The poetry in the Psalms surprised me. Here is Psalm 19:1

  God's splendor is a tale that is told;
  His testament is written in the stars.
  Space itself speaks his story every day
  Through the marvels of the heavens.
  His truth is on tour in the starry-vault of the sky,
  Showing his skill in creation's craftsmanship.

Here is how Psalm 23 begins, “The Lord is my Fierce Protector and my Pastor.” Here is the first line of Psalm 40, “I waited and waited and waited some more.” Here are some phrases from Psalm 104. In verse two, “You wrap yourself with a shimmering, glistening light. You wear sunshine like a garment of glory.” And verse three, “You build your balconies with light beams...”

How about this from Psalm 73:7,8, Asaph writing about the wicked?

  Pampered and pompous, vice oozes from their souls;
  They overflow with vanity!
  They're such snobs – looking down their noses
  They even scoff at God!

This translation gives an idea of the emotion of the biblical writers that I've not seen before. I have read other dynamic-equivalent translations but this one reveals more emotion than I've ever experienced in reading the Bible. That the Jewish religious leaders “sneered” really gives the reader an idea of what those leaders felt. When some of the disciples didn't like what Jesus taught, they said, “That's disgusting!” The translation gives an expression of emotion generally not seen in Bible translations.

It is important for readers to remember that this is not a word-for-word translation but a thought-for-thought interpretation of the original language. Simmons has included lots of footnotes, explaining how the interpretation is implied in the original language.

The uniqueness of this translation is the use of the Aramaic in addition to the Hebrew and Greek. Simmons says the Aramaic speaks more to the heart and in that sense, using it allows for a better expression of the original passion.

As with any thought-for-thought translation, it should be used along with word-for-word translations to obtain a good overview of how a variety of scholars interpret the original languages.

You can find out more about this translation at or There are videos you can watch and comments from other readers. The entire translation is expected to be finished in 2017.

The translator is Dr. Brian Simmons, a former missionary, linguist, minister, and Bible teacher. He is now working on completing The Passion Translation.

Broadstreet Publishing Group, LLC. John, 112 pages. Psalms, 303 pages.

I received complimentary copies of John and Psalms through the Icon Media Group for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Saturday, December 27, 2014

Success Has Gears by Susan Ford Collins and Richard Israel

This is the second book in The Technology of Success series. (See my review of The Joy of Success here.) In The Joy of Success, we learned that success has three phases or gears. This book applies the principles of the three gears to business and leadership.

When in gear one, we learn skills, information, tools and technology. When in this gear we are grasping the basics. In gear two, the emphasis is on production and competition. The drive is to be efficient, produce quantity and quality. There comes a point where one just cannot produce more and must go to gear three. In gear three one creates and innovates. There is invention, discovery, creative insights to a different way.

The authors apply these three gears to leadership. A leader must realize in which gears those around him are operating. They give the action leaders would take and the skills they exhibit in each gear. They give twenty examples of leaders operating, often in the wrong gear for those under them to succeed. Some anticipate moving to the next gear while others stay stuck in first gear.

This book is good for those who desire to achieve success. It helps workers understand the gears and the need to move through them all. It helps managers understand where there people are and what kind of leadership they need.

You can find out more at

Susan Ford Collins is the creator of The Technology of Success. She has facilitated over 3,000 training programs for businesses such as American Express, IBM, Ryder, and many more.
Richard Israel is the author or co-author of several books. He is a consultant, speaker and trainer in sales, leadership and information strategies. He has coached companies in nearly every sector. He lives in Miami, Florida.

The Technology of Success, 144 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through The Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Always on my Mind by Susan May Warren

About the book:
This novel is a continuation of the Christiansen family saga. In When I Fall in Love, Casper and his brother Owen had a physical confrontation. Owen left for parts unknown. Casper, an aspiring archaeologist, took a job “treasure hunting” in Honduras. All during that time he could not get Raina out of his mind. He returns to Minnesota to face his feelings for her but when he does, he is shocked. Raina is pregnant with someone else's baby.

Casper concentrates on helping his older brother, Darek, prepare for the reopening of their family's resort (which was damaged greatly from a forest fire in Take a Chance on Me.) But he keeps on running into Raina and his feelings will just not go away. They establish a tentative friendship as they both investigate a mystery in the history of the area. Casper's life gets unbearably complex when Raina begins dating a man Casper dislikes and Darek is on edge due to costly repairs from the harsh Minnesota winter.

My review:
Warren's novels are always so much more than a simple romance. She deals with complicated issues and this novel is full of them, concentrating on Casper. He must deal with his anger toward his absent brother for his involvement in Raina's life. He has to face his own feelings for Raina when she seems to be shunning him. He has to face Darek's wrath as the resort struggles financially. We are able to get into Casper's mind as Warren shares much of his inner struggles.

We also share some of Darek's struggles in running the resort while his parents are away (a vacation planned in Evergreen). His wife is about to give birth and Darek is overwhelmed with the pressures he feels.

This is not a nice, tidy Christian romance. Raina struggles with the mistake she made, the impossible task of being a single parent, and the recurring thoughts that God does not love her. Casper struggles with forgiveness and his own feelings of failure. Darek is convinced he will be the ruin of the family resort. Each of these three must overcome mistakes to be the people God has designed them to be.

This novel is a bit longer than most Christian novels. Much of that is getting in the mind of the characters. Readers who like to be privy to the mental struggles of individuals will enjoy this novel.

For me, the most rewarding aspect of this novel is the family relationship. The family members are loyal to each other, each helping the others in their time of need. Even though some have married and are away from the resort, when a need arises, they are right there. The only one not benefiting from this family loyalty is Owen. I am sure that is fuel for a future novel.

While this is part of a series about the Christiansen family, Warren provides enough background information throughout the book that I think one could enjoyably read it without having read the previous novels.

Susan May Warren is the bestselling, Christy and RITA Award-winning author of more than forty novels. She served with her husband and their four children as a missionary in Russia for eight years. She now writes full time as her husband runs a resort on Lake Superior in northern Minnesota, where many of her books are set. Find out more at

Tyndale House, 400 pages.

Others in the series:
Take a Chance on Me
Evergreen (novella)

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Simplify by Bill Hybels

Are we living the life God called us to live? Doing so, Hybels says, means uncluttering our souls. It means we stop doing the stuff that doesn't matter and concentrate on what does. It is a simplified life, but, Hybels writes, “Simplified living is about more than doing less. It is being who God called us to be, with a whole hearted, single-minded focus.” (2)

He writes about a handful of practices that will orient us toward a simplified life. He helps us identify what drains us and what replenishes us. He encourages us to control our calendar and our finances. He considers the role of our job. He helps us deal with offenses and anxiety (productive and destructive fear). He explores relationships (real friendship), adopting a life verse, and identifying the season of life we are in.

Each chapter examines the practice and assesses what Scripture says about it. He has included very practical Action Steps at the end of each chapter. Those help us look at our own lives and then incorporate into our lives the principles he's presented.

This book is about uncluttering our souls. The book is not so much about stuff as it is our commitments, our relationships, those things to which we give time and energy. He has included three filters at the end of the book through which we can screen our activities and relationships.

If you are ready to focus on the life God has for you, one of intentionality and purpose, this book is a great resource to get you on your way.

Food for thought:
The path to simplicity is not for the faint of heart.” (12)
My schedule is far less about what I want to get done and far more about who I want to become.” (35)

Bill Hybels is the founding and senior pastor of Willow Creek Community Church in South Barrington, Illinois. He is the bestselling author of over twenty books. He and his wife have two grown children and two grandsons.

Tyndale Momentum, 320 pages.

Clutter Free by Kathi Lipp

Clutter. We all have it and know we should do something about it. Why don't we?

That is the first topic Lipp covers in this book. She helps us understand the why of clutter. She explores why we are hesitant to get rid of stuff. Reasons include fear, guilt, not wanting to admit defeat – and those are just a few. She also writes about why we buy and the longing we have that cannot be fulfilled by stuff. She helps us when we need to deal with other people's stuff and avoid mistakes.

Her philosophy includes making room for what's really important. She relates our accumulation of clutter to the state of our spirit. Clutter leads to a lack of peace and to stress. She shares the advantages of neighborhood sharing and not owning everything ourselves.

Yes, she does finally give us her strategy for clutter management and the three question test. Her plan is a little different in that it concentrates on what we want to keep. (She has included her three-box, two-bag system from a previous book in an Appendix.) She also includes a clothing strategy on how to get to a minimum yet useful wardrobe. She provides a strategy for paper clutter in an Appendix.

She finally reminds us that the de-cluttering process is not simply to get rid of stuff but to uncover and appreciate the treasures we have, making room for the best things in our life.

The important part of this book is the reasons we have clutter. If we don't address those reasons, even though we de-clutter once, it will be back. Reading this book will hurt but we'll be better for it. Reading the reasons why we buy and why we keep stuff was very insightful.

If you are ready to be intentional about your stuff, read this book. You will not only receive a good strategy to manage clutter, you'll find out why you've accumulated all that stuff in the first place. I highly recommend this book.

Food for thought:
The easiest time to say no to clutter is at the store.”
Everything I own must earn the right to be there.”

Kathi Lipp is the author of ten books. She is the host of "So Here's the Thing with Kathi Lipp" and speaks at conferences across the U.S. She and her husband are the parents of four young adults in San Jose, CA. Find out more at

Harvest House, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

When Heaven Seems Silent by Mark & Tammy Endres

One aspect of the Charismatic community that is sometimes troubling is the “word of knowledge.” What do we do when there is a word that God is going to heal and yet nothing seems to happen for years, even decades?

This is what the Andres write about. Mark was born with a partially formed left shoulder and arm, and a bud for a hand. He and his wife started attending a church and small group where people would give words of knowledge. People indicated that God would be doing something miraculous to Mark's arm. Those words were confirmed time after time. They have been waiting twenty years for that miracle.

I am impressed with the depth of biblical understanding shared in this book. There is an excellent section on words of knowledge, hearing them, their purpose, and how to apply them. The authors explore why God might make us wait. They deal with the spiritual conditions that might prevent receiving a miracle. They explore what the Bible says about suffering and miracles. They include the stages one goes through while waiting, the doubt, anger, depression, etc. They are very honest about their own feelings, believing, waiting, and experiencing bouts of impatience. They share how they finally came to the place where they can say, “We are content and expectant at the same time.” (120)

This is an excellent book on how to handle the hard task of waiting on God. If you are feeling disappointed with God, this would be a good book to read. If you don't understand why you have not received what you are convinced God has promised you, this is a good book to read. If you are facing obstacles along your path of belief, this is a good book to read. The authors are realistic yet remain expectant that God will fulfill His promise. You will be encouraged to continue in faith while trusting God.

You can watch a book trailer here.

Mark & Tammy Endres founded Hand of Jesus Ministries Inc, a prayer and equipping resource to impact a hurting world. They are licensed and ordained through the Apostolic Network of Global Awakening. Mark is a facilitator for the Christian Healing Certification Program. He has a bachelor's degree in special education and a master's degree in human resource development. Tammy is a retired special education teacher and the author of devotionals and teaching materials. Find out more at

Charisma House, 208 pages.

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Somehow Christmas Will Come by Peggy Blann Phifer

About the book:
When Molly Dugan's best friend gets married and leaves St. Paul, Minnesota, Molly feels alone and plans a visit to her brother, Patrick, in Las Vegas. Molly had been worried about him ever since his wife died in a tragic boating accident. Grieving she could understand, but she sensed something deeper going on. And she was concerned about Patrick's six-year-old daughter, Bethany. So she sets aside her life in St. Paul to spend an indeterminate time in Vegas. When Molly gets there, she finds more than she bargained on. And in the lead-up to Christmas, the situation only gets worse. Little Bethany loses her last anchor. How does Molly convince her that somehow, Christmas will come?

My review:
This is a delightful novella about tragedy, love, and restoration. Christmas is difficult after the loss of a loved one and Phifer has done a great job of creating just such a situation. Yet she has taken the loss and, as God promises, worked it for good. All of the wonderful redeeming events that happen could not have without the tragedy happening first.

The characters are well developed. Molly is at a loss when Bethany's world falls apart – again. But with the support of Patrick's wise mother-in-law, we see Molly grow into the person she needs to be. That little Bethany is a kick. Phifer did an excellent job creating her. And the handsome fellow, Patrick's fellow fire fighter, is quite a man, godly, compassionate, sensitive. He brings with him a strong element of Christianity that eventually permeates the family.

Be aware that this novella is about tragic loss just before the Christmas season. While it is an excellent novella, it may be hard for some to read if they have experienced something similar.

I really liked how the story ended. It is a very good example of God's grace and restoration. Readers will get a true sense of what Christmas means.

Peggy Blann Phifer is an author, columnist, book reviewer and author interviewer whose work has appeared on various web sites and periodicals, both in print and online. She enjoys handcrafts of all kinds. A retired executive assistant, she and her husband of 25 years live in southern Nevada.

Elk Lake Publishing, 188 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through The Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Home for Christmas: Stories for Young and Old

This is the time of the year I like to read Christmas stories. A short story a day helps me get in the spirit of the season. I was happy to say yes when I was asked to review Home for Christmas, a collection of twenty Christmas short stories.

Some of the stories were familiar ones, like Henry van Dyke's “The Other Wise Man,” Pearl Buck's “Christmas Day in the Morning,” and Madeleine L'Engle's “Transfiguration.” Many of the stories and authors were new to me. Some are little-known European tales not available in English anywhere else. They were selected for their literary quality and their spiritual integrity. They are illustrated with original woodcuts by David G. Klein.

I found each story to be a treasure. It was fun to read again the ones I remembered from childhood. It was enlightening to read those coming from Europe and places like Siberia and Cuba. Some of the stories are much more serious in nature than we may be used to in America. Yet each story emphasis an aspect of Christmas, such as sacrifice, sharing or giving.

Some of the stories are like fables and may be a little different than what evangelical Christians are used to reading around Christmas time. In a couple of stories, the Christ child appears. Some stories are decidedly Roman Catholic in nature, with bleeding statues. These stories are not ones that necessarily share the gospel. They are literary stories about Christmas (or the Christmas spirit) from around the world.

I was disappointed that there was no information about the background or author of each story. A little history would have helped me enjoy them more.

This is a good collection of stories that will give a broader appreciation of the worldwide meaning of Christmas through short story.

Plough Publishing House, 339 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Handlebar for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Sister Eve Private Eye by Lynne Hinton

I liked this mystery but it was a little different in style from the usual mystery novel. The most emphasis is placed on the characters with the mystery taking second place.

Evangeline Divine (that's Diveen), has been a nun for some twenty years. Her mother died years ago and her dad is a bit hard to take. Her father, whom she and her sister call Captain, is a retired police detective now trying to keep his own detective agency alive. When an infected wound on his leg will not heal (he's diabetic), the leg is amputated. Eve takes leave from her religious duties to care for him. He'd been hired by a movie star to find the screenwriter/director for whom she worked and with whom she was having an affair. He had disappeared (but turns up murdered). Without her father's direction, Eve takes up detecting work.

I like Eve. She wears boots under her habit and rides a Harley to clear her mind. Her father, the Captain, is a grouchy and hard headed man. How he and Eve learn to get along is a major part of the novel. We come to understand their history as the plot progresses.

As a mystery, the novel does not stand out. How the mystery is resolved and the murderer caught is just not satisfactory. It is the interaction of Eve with her father, his old partner, the movie star, and other members of the community that make the novel worth reading. The character of Eve and the potential of the detective agency are strong enough that I will be looking for another from this author.

Lynne Hinton is the author of sixteen books. She has penned a mystery series under the name Jackie Lynn. She is a regular columnist for The Charlotte Observer. She is a graduate of UNC-Greensboro and has a masters in Divinity from Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. She and her husband live in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she works as a hospice chaplain. Find out more at

Thomas Nelson, 328 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

The Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn

This novel takes place mostly on Patmos and some of the near by islands. Nick is a journalist looking to boost his sagging career. He gets a possible break when he is hired to investigate the disappearance of valuable antiquities. He enlists the help of a friend from the past, Carey. She had just graduated with her degree in forensic archeology and accepted a job in Greece. But the Institute for which she was to work has mysteriously closed and Nick's call comes just at the right time.

In the course of Nick and Carey trying to track down the smugglers, they befriend various local Greeks, including Dimitri who is trying to keep his family's charter boat business afloat.

The novel has plenty of action in the second half including a number of boat trips to various islands. It took a while for the plot to get to the point where it was interesting. I found most of the action hard to visualize. I would sometimes reread paragraphs to make sure I understood what was going on. The novel takes place when Greece was experiencing severe economic downturn and we do learn quite a bit about that.

Carey has a spiritual experience that may be considered a Christian rebirth. The theme of Christianity is not prominent in the book, even though most of the action takes place on the island where John received his revelation. There are some allusions to that part of Christian history but they were more on the order of setting the stage rather than being the center of it.

The writing is good but not something I would call superb. There is no clever dialog. No sneaky plot twists. There is talk of characters changing but, except for Carey's religious experience, it is not shown through their actions. It is a good novel but I would not put it in the category of one of the better ones I have read this year.

Davis Bunn is an award-winning novelist and a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Oxford. His books have sold seven million copies worldwide. He and his wife divide their time between the English countryside and the coast of Florida. Find out more at

Bethany House Publishers, 336 pages.

Life With a Capital L by Matt Heard

Jesus promised Christians would have abundant life, Life with a capital L. Maybe we can't put a finger on it but we know that is not the life we are experiencing.

Heard writes that the answer is not being more spiritual but being more fully human under God's direction. He desires that we embrace the significance of our existence as images of God. That means deep engagement in the physical and spiritual realms, living an integrated life. He helps us understand our deep longings, how they differ from pursuits and how they get mismatched.

The essential element, he writes, is grace, resulting from an authentic encounter with the God of grace. We live, loved by God, not just knowing so in theory. We are to let God's unconditional love, through the Holy Spirit, transform us.

He gives the experiences of Christians living with a capital L:
  • Freedom to be fully human (being vulnerable to trusting God).
  • Learning to pursue life by practicing righteousness (distinguished from legalism).
  • Heart is engaged (mind and emotions engaged, fully feeling grief, hope).
  • Beauty is experienced (engaged senses, connecting with God).
  • Illumination received from Scripture (the only true light).
  • Story, realizing ours is part of a bigger one.
  • Worship (in the right direction, identifying idols).
  • Love (the difference between a bucket and a pipe).
  • Time (numbering our days, grabbing the life out of each one).
  • Brokenness (surgery of the heart, beauty from ashes)
  • Heaven (compass of eternity)

This is an “about the topic” book, not a “here is how you do it” book. Heard gives the general concepts and teaching on the topics but there are no practical action steps given. Each reader will have to contemplate the topic and come up with action plan on their own. There is a DVD series available, with workbooks, and that might give a practical plan of action.

This book will probably appeal to career age Christians. He draws many spiritual lessons from literature (classic and contemporary), poetry, art, songs, movies, television, a pro football player, and his own life. Because of that, the book would be good for Christians who watch movies and television a great deal and don't read their Bibles very much. Those who are familiar with current entertainment stars but not Bible characters would likely relate to this book.

Matt Heard is a graduate of Wheaton College and Reformed Theological Seminary. He been involved in pastoral ministry for three decades, is a speaker, writer, and teacher. He most recently served as senior pastor of Woodman Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs for twelve years. He and his family live in Colorado Springs. Find out more at

Multnomah Books, 256 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.