Friday, January 31, 2014

In Broken Places by Michele Phoenix

This is a novel that draws you in and invites you to become emotionally involved.

Shelby, in her mid-thirties, is a survivor. She and her brother survived their violent father and meek mother. Shelby's crafted a life for herself – a safe life. But her well crafted life begins to crumble when she find out she has been asked to be the guardian of a four year old girl. That crumbling of her safe life is the beginning of the healing she has needed, yet run away from, for too long.

The major theme that drew me into this novel deals with how much of an influence our childhood is on who we are as adults. Shelby is terrified that she will become violent like her father. She fears it is in her genes.

The author deftly combines the current life of Shelby with short vignettes of her childhood. We see how her current actions have grown out of childhood experiences.

As a reader, that really made me think about my own adult life, my childhood experiences, and how the two are related. In another book I read recently the author said our brains are generally hard wired by the age of six. The experiences we have in early childhood are very formative. As we see the adult Shelby act in response to childhood experiences, we have to ponder our own lives and actions.

Right along with the theme of childhood influence on adulthood is the theme of healing. How do we heal those broken places? God does the healing, of course, but how do we make ourselves available for Him to do it? What are the areas where we have not allowed those scars to be healed? Essential to that healing is forgiveness, another element of this novel.

This novel is very well written. It is so well written I was immediately drawn into the story. I was a captive reader from beginning to end. But I had to stop several times and think about what I had just read. This is a thought provoking novel as well as a captivating one. It is one I'll be thinking about for some time.

There is a discussion guide at the end of the book. This would make an excellent book for a reading group. There is a great deal of thoughtful material in it.

You can find out more about the novel, including a trailer, photos and an interview with the author at

Michele Phoenix is a graduate of Wheaton College and spent twenty years teaching at Black Forest Academy, a school in Germany for missionaries' children. Michele fought two kinds of cancer in 2008. Changing the direction of her life, she came back to the States to launch a new ministry for and about missionary kids. She lives in Illinois, serving with Global Outreach Mission as a missionary children's advocate. Her first novel was Tangled Ashes, released in 2012.

Tyndale House Publishers, 384 pages.

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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Is Sunday School Destroying Our Kids? by Samuel Williamson

Sam writes that, “...our Sunday school lessons teach us to be good little boys and girls, and if we are, then God will love us and use us.” That is just the opposite of the gospel. Rather, he argues, let's teach the wonder of the gospel. God loves us...because He loves us, even in out total unworthiness.

Sam wants us to make sure that the same message of gospel grace through which we got saved is the same message we preach today. Admit the shortcomings of the biblical heroes, he says, realizing they were sinful yet still loved and used of God.

Sam has a good understanding of the dangers in replacing the gospel with moral living. He also understands the depressive nature of being told how bad we are before God without being told how loved we are by God.

This book is really about our daily need to remember grace. Read this book and be reminded of the whole gospel.

Sam Williamson studied European intellectual history at the University of Michigan. He spent twenty five years in business, the last two decades as an executive and owner of a software company. After his work in business, he felt called to the ministry and founded Beliefs of the Heart. Sam and his wife live in Ann Arbor, Michigan and have four grown children. See his weekly articles at his blog:

Beliefs of the Heart Press, 102 pages.

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

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Behind the Stage by Anne Sanders

This novel covers a little over a year in the life of Pastor Josh Allen. He's been transferred to a town in the south after having been in Seattle for some time. We follow along as Josh makes the necessary adjustments as he gets to know his flock.

Life for the newly arrived pastor is not easy. It seems there is always someone unhappy with what he is doing or not doing. He is a man sensitive to the true needs of people, however, and is usually able to direct them to the right path.

His personal life is a challenge too. He finds out his college-attending daughter is having an affair – with a man he is counseling because of sexual addictions. He knows a confrontation is necessary. His wife is battling depression and has said some hurtful things to people. And then his bishop calls, wondering if Josh should be moved to a different church.

This novel reminded me a bit of Father Tim of the Mitford books. Josh is a nice fellow who feels called of God to minister to others. He is gentle and supportive of those in need yet firm with those who need correcting.

This is a pleasant novel to read. It was encouraging to see how a pastor dedicated to his ministry and his family dealt with all the issues that came to him.

Anne Sanders became a Christian while spending a year in Japan. She has written for newspapers, magazines and websites. Her website,, helps those looking for volunteer and charity opportunities. You can read her blog at Behind the Stage is her first novel.

WestBow Press, 164 pages.

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

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Exploring Christian Theology by Nathan Holsteen & Michael Svigel

This is the first release of what will be three volumes. This volume covers the church, spiritual growth, and the end times.

This is probably the most unusual book on theology I have ever read. As the authors themselves say, “This book provides central themes, essential passages, and a basic orientation to major Christian doctrines from a broadly orthodox protestant evangelical perspective.” (119) And they do exactly that. A variety of viewpoints are given as are the essential truths. One comes away with a good understanding of why there are so many different beliefs on the subject but also with an understanding of the underlying truth that ties them all together.

There are a few factors that make this such an unusual book on theology. One is the odd inclusion of pages and pages of quotations from people and confessions through the centuries. The authors have written on these subjects, I think, at the level of new Christians. The information is basic, well laid out, and not technical. Then to have the pages of quotes just seems so out of place.

Another factor is the difference between the two authors in their writing style. Holsteen writes on the church and spiritual growth. He uses lots of stories from modern films (from Star Wars to Mrs. Doubtfire) and books (from Robert Ludlum to Dr. Seuss). He draws an analogy between the Dallas Cowboys under the Jerry Jones administration and developments in the patristic era of church history. (57) It seemed like Holsteen was trying desperately to be relevant to current culture. I just did not appreciate that style of writing about theology.

Contrasting to Holsteen's work is Svigel's on the end times. It was well presented and written without any references to modern culture. While I was put off by Holsteen's section, I really liked Svigel's. He did a great job of showing how various beliefs about the end times rose and fell over the centuries.

Another factor that makes this book unusual is that it includes principles to put into action. The authors don't just give you relevant information about the church, spiritual growth and the end times, they tell you how these truths affect your Christian walk – how you are to live your life in light of them.

The authors have included an extensive reading list for further study. They've added annotations to book references so this would be a good jumping off point for further study. There is also a great glossary included so new Christians won't be confused by the terms used.

So I have mixed feelings about this book. It would be good for new Christians as it provides a great overview of the topics included. There are just some odd aspects to it that make it less than perfect.

You can download an excerpt here, at the publisher's page.

Nathan D. Holsteen, ThM, PhD, is associate professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife have two children and live in Fort Worth, Texas.
Michael J. Svigel, ThM, PhD, is associate professor of Theological Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary. He and his wife have three children and live in Garland, Texas. See more at

Bethany House Publishers, 256 pages.

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

Monday, January 27, 2014

Ingredients for Success by Joseph Slawek

Slawek was surprised when he was told that God had something to say about business. He began studying the Bible. He kept coming back to Matthew 25. There he found ten principles that provide insight to those in the marketplace. Those principles changed his life and the way he did business.

He shares those principles in this book, as well as how to apply them to life and work. I'll cover just one of the principles: Aim For Excellence, Not Perfection. I would have thought perfection would be the target. But, Slawek says, perfection gets us in trouble. It is unrealistic and leads to procrastination. The other options are failure, mediocrity, and excellence. Many aim for mediocrity and that is the biggest threat to excellence. Failure is preferred over mediocrity. At least failure shows us what not to do. He shows how pursuing excellence comes from Matthew 25 and how he has put that in practice in his own life and business.

Slawek offers lots of personal examples from his life and his role as CEO of FONA (Flavors of North America). He has a good sense of responsibility to those who work with and for him. He clearly shows how he has put these principles into practice in his life, business, and leadership role. He shares the growth of FONA and the awards won (business excellence, contribution to nonprofits, etc.). FONA is a growing company, a result of putting these principles in practice, Slawek argues. (See the biographical note below to get an idea of the awards won.)

This is an excellent book for anyone who wants to understand the principles God has revealed in Matthew 25, principles for life and work. Slawek is clear in his writing and gives plenty of examples showing how he has put the principles into practice. He has added the vision, mission, and values of FONA in an appendix so readers can read how the principles can be incorporated into a business statement.

Joseph Slawek, founder and CEO of FONA International, is a 2011 Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year winner. He was inducted into the Entrepreneurship Hall of Fame in recognition of the unique corporate culture he established and the dramatic year over year growth it was driving – five times the industry standard. FONA is the only full-service flavor company on the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing private companies in the United States, and has held a continuous spot on the National Association for Business Resources list of Chicago's 101 Best and Brightest Companies to Work For. In 2011, FONA received the competition's top honor, Best of the Best in Chicago. In 2013, FONA also received the Elite Award for Compensation, Benefits and Employee Solutions. Joe and his wife have been married for 34 years and have three grown children.

Kickstand, 120 pages. You can buy a copy of the book here.

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

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Scraps of Evidence by Barbara Cameron

This quick read contains a simple mystery and a fast moving romance.

Logan is new to the St. Augustine (Florida) police department, having been recently recruited from Chicago. Tess is a native, having worked her way up to detective. The two are a team assigned to solve a murder in the city – the latest from a serial killer.

I learned a little about St. Augustine, the oldest city in the country. I did feel that the mystery was a bit simple. The emphasis of the book was the romance, by far. Logan and Tess were so focused on their relationship it seems they missed clues staring them in the face. It took a civilian to give them the final obvious clue and even then they did not prepare properly to arrest the murderer and Tess is kidnapped (sort of). And at the end the motive for the serial killing is never fully revealed.

The romance between Logan and Tess really goes quickly. A romance usually contains some seemingly insurmountable obstacles to the relationship that the couple has to work through. This romance just breezed along. In other police mysteries I've read, romance between fellow workers is frowned upon but in this novel it was encouraged. I found that a bit unrealistic.

Cameron usually writes Amish novels. This is a different genre for her. This novel has more the flavor of an Amish work than it does a mystery, even a cozy mystery. The story is short. The novel itself is just 213 pages. The rest of the book contains discussion questions and previews of Cameron's upcoming books. It could have certainly benefited from an epilogue. We could have had further information about the serial killer and his motive and a sense of the future for Logan and Tess. Granted, I read an uncorrected proof. This is one novel I would have liked stretched out a bit, to the more common length of around 300 pages.

Barbara Cameron is the author of more than 35 fiction and nonfiction books and three nationally televised movies. She is the winner of the first Romance Writers of America Golden Heart Award. She lives in Edgewater, Florida. Find out more at and

Abingdon Press, 240 pages.

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

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Pathways to the King by Dr. Rob Reimer

Reimer notes, “We have fewer people attending church now (percentage-wise) than ever before in the history of the United States. We need revival.” (7) It is his desire that the church live in continuous revival, believers set ablaze by the Spirit, so that the world will be drawn to Jesus.

He knows there is a price to pay for revival and that is what this book is about. He writes of the eight kingdom pathways, the eight practices we need to internalize to live in continuous revival: personalizing our identity in Christ, pursuing God, purifying ourselves, praising, praying kingdom prayers, claiming promises, passing the tests, persisting.

His chapter on pursuing God makes the book worthwhile in itself. His ten minute retreats are a great idea. His chapter on the promises of God is very good too (as are, really, all of them). He explains experiencing delay and how to avoid the mistakes people frequently make when claiming promises. His section on passing the tests (trials) is full of insights.

Reimer shares many of his own encounters with God, such as dreams and sensing God speaking to him. These experiences are not common, happening maybe a dozen times in the twenty five years he has been chasing God.

This book is full of practical ideas and challenges. New Christians will find a rewarding explanation of living a life of spiritual renewal and power. Seasoned Christians will be challenged. Reimer writes of the cycle of renewal, explaining the need for repeated renewal. So wherever you are in your Christian life, this is a good book to challenge you to a renewed pursuit of God.

Reimer has added reflection questions at the end of the book so this would work well for group as well as individual use.

Find out more at

Dr. Rob Reimer is the founder and lead pastor of South Shore Community Church in Bridgewater, Massachusetts. It has grown to be the second largest CMA church in New England. Rob is also a Field Pastor for the Christian & Missionary Alliance Field in Senegal. In his role as Global Leadership Associate, Rob travels internationally to train and equip Christian leaders for the work of ministry. He is an Adjunct Professor at Alliance Theological Seminary in Nyack, NY. He has a bachelor's degree in English from King's College, a Master's of Divinity from Alliance Theological Seminary, and a Doctorate in Preaching from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He and his family live in the Bridgewater, MA area.

Carpenter's Son Publishing, 205 pages.

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

Friday, January 24, 2014

No One to Trust by Lynette Eason

What would you do if you found out the man you'd been married to for over a year is not who is said he was?

Thugs come to Summer's home looking for her husband David. They demand the laptop and flash drive he stole. David? Her husband was Kyle!

That is the beginning of this page turning suspenseful novel and nightmare for Summer and her husband. There is damaging video and written information that David has - information that will not only convict a mob boss but also incriminate a high up political official. Those men will stop at nothing to find David, including murder.

We find that David has been in the witness protection program. The mob wasn't looking for a married man so David married. Summer is crushed and angry. She has been betrayed once again. As the couple tries to stay alive they experience betrayal time and again.

Eason has created a novel with continuous suspense combined with intense character revelation. Throughout the novel David reveals who he really is, trying to win back the woman he genuinely loves. Christianity plays a vital part in both of them, David no longer being the man he once was.

This is a well crafted novel – a page turner. The plot is realistic. The suspense intense. The character development superb. I highly recommend this novel to suspense lovers.

Lynette Eason is an award-winning best-selling author of thirty-six books. She was a finalist for the ECPA Book Awards and is a member of ACFW and RWA. She has a master's degree in education from Converse College. She and her family live in Greenville, SC. Find out more about her and her books at

Revell, 336 pages.

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

Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Pleasure of His Company by Dutch Sheets

What if you were told the very God of the universe requests the pleasure of your company?

God is seeking those who have a heart for Him. Sheets explores what that means. It takes time and effort. It must be a priority. He uses the story of Mary and Martha to distinguish the pleasure of His company and the pressure of His company. He explains waiting on God, writes about creating a place to meet with God, explores what it means to walk with God, explains what friendship means, undistracted devotion, and how knowing God leads to knowing ourselves, to restoration and revelation.

Sheets tells a bit of his own story. His father was an evangelist and sheets was born again at a young age. But, he writes, “Being a born-again Christian doesn't equate to knowing God in a personal way.” (236) He knew who God was, he just did not know how to connect with God in a personal way and at any real depth. When things got tough he realized this faith did not sustain him. Using Jacob as an example, Sheets encourages us to seek a face-to-face relationship with our Father.

Sheets shares much needed insight into developing a personal relationship with the God Who created us. He explains that our hearts were created by God for the purpose of knowing and enjoying Him. Reading this book will help you fulfill your heart's desire. I highly recommend it.

Food for thought: “The pleasure of His company is readily available, but it's not cheap. It will cost you time and effort.”(263)

Dutch Sheets is a teacher, conference speaker, pastor and author, having written over 20 books. He is the Executive Director of Christ For The Nations Institute . He and his wife have to daughters and live in the Dallas area. Find out more at

Bethany House Publishers, 272 pages.

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

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Shadowed by Grace by Cara Putman

This historical novel takes us to World War II Italy. This is not your typical war novel. It concentrates on army personnel who did not fight yet were essential to the overall war effort.

Lieutenant Scott Lindstrom is a Monuments, Fine Arts, and Archives Division soldier. He helped locate and protect fine art, acting as a liaison with locals to save priceless works, some of it going back two millennia. He had been an Italian Medieval and Renaissance art expert back in a Philadelphia museum. Now his passion was to locate and save the great works in danger because of the war.

Rachel Justice was a photographer, a good one. Many of her photos had appeared on the front pages of the newspaper. She had managed to convince her editor she needed to go to Italy and photograph the war torn country. He had come through with the credentials and passage. Rachel had to go to Italy - to find her father, the man her mother had met the year she studied art there. The year she came back to the states, having been seduced by a charming Italian, Rachel in her womb. Now Rachel had to find the man because her mother was dying of tuberculosis. She hoped that now he was a famous artist and he could provide the money for her mother's expensive treatment.

It was very interesting to read about the two main characters and their role in the war. I had not really thought about these kinds of people who participated in the war effort. As Cara writes in her Author's Note, she has done a great deal of research to accurately portray the efforts of journalists and art protectors. I appreciated reading about how some of the priceless works were successfully hidden from the Germans.

It was interesting to read about Rachel's role too. She was not strictly part of the army but they gave her a uniform and provided her transportation and supplies. The impression came through loud and clear that women were not appreciated by the army men. My, how times have changed.

The emphasis of this novel is the work of the art preservation so there is generally no heart stopping action nor page turning romance. For those appreciating historical novels dealing with the second world war, this is a nice change from the typical concentration on battle scenes.

Watch a video of Cara telling how she came to write this novel here.
Watch a video about the facts behind the novel here.
Watch a video about the camera Rachel used here.

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

Cara C. Putman is the best-selling author of over a dozen books. She is active in women's ministry at her church and teaches graduate courses at Purdue University. She practices law and is a homeschooling mom. She and her family live in Indiana. You can find out more at

B&H Books, 352 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through the Litfuse Publicity Group for the purpose of this review.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

A Promise Kept by Robin Lee Hatcher

Allison was sure she had heard from God. He had promised He would save their marriage. Yet here she was, alone in the Idaho mountains in the cabin she had inherited from her great aunt Emma. Her alcoholic husband gone after she had given him the ultimatum. She had been so sure and now it seemed God had not kept His promise.

This is a great novel, a combination of a contemporary story with a historical one. After Allison gets settles in the cabin, she begins to explore the attic.
She finds journals her great aunt had kept. As Allison's story develops, we periodically read from Emma's journals. This technique of reading about Allison's life and Emma's life is perfectly done.

I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. It is so well written. I felt like I really knew Allison as she struggled with her faith in God's promises. While she never looses her strong faith, she certainly questions how she hears from God. Her experience is so familiar. And I really enjoyed Emma's story. It was very interesting to see how a troubled marriage was dealt with in the 1920s and 30s.

Well written, a great story, well presented characters, all revolving around a committed Christian faith, this is a superb novel. I highly recommend it.

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

Robin Lee Hatcher is a best-selling author known for her heartwarming stories of faith, courage, and love. She has won the Christy Award for Excellence in Christian Fiction, the RITA Award for Best Inspirational Romance, to RT Career Achievement Awards, and the RWA Lifetime Achievement Award. She is the author of over 60 novels. You can find out more about her and her books at

Thomas Nelson, 304 pages. You can purchase a copy here.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through the Litfuse Publicity Group for the purpose of this review.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Outcasts by Jill Williamson

This is the second in The Safe Lands series. See my review of Captives, the first in the series, here.

The year is 2088. America as we know it is gone. Many people are dying from a plague that traveled through the land. Such are the people in the enclosed territory of Safe Lands. The plague prevents women from giving live birth so the Safe Lands enforcers go out to villages and bring in clean people. The clean women are forced to be impregnated and give birth, assuring the future of the Safe Lands community.

That is what happened to Levi and his villagers, those who were not killed that is. Levi wants to free his fellow captive villagers and works on a plan, joining up with other underground people. Levi's brother Mason works as a medic and is trying to find a cure for the disease. Brother Omar decides to take matters in his own hands, becoming the Owl.

The action in this series continues to be intense, from the beginning of this novel to its end. The brothers face the possibility of betrayal as they plan for rescue and escape. Their actions are clever as they work to avoid the monitoring devices of the government. Mason's life is endangered as he discovers that the meds the Safe Lands dispense are not what they are supposed to be. And Omar, well Omar just manages to get into trouble by himself.

The subject matter dealt with in this novel is intense too. Teens, as young as fourteen, are being impregnated (medical procedure) to assure a future for the community. There are also references to Safe Lands couples frequently pairing up.

Omar has taken up the practice of using a drug device. He is the most troubled of the brothers and has his moments of not being the young man he could be. Brothers Mason and Levi try to be responsible men and while reading the book I have to remind myself they are still teens.

The relationships between the captives deepen in this novel. It was interesting to see more character development of some of the young women. Again, I have to remind my self that these are teens thrust into a world of intense pressure. It is also a godless world and the captives struggle to maintain their Christian belief.

This is a very good continuation of the series. Because of the subject matter, however, I would not recommend this series for young teens. For older teens, there is much to think about and discuss in this novel. Topics would include self image, prejudice, peer pressure, and much more. There are discussion questions added at the end of the novel so this would make a good choice for a teen reading group.

I am taking part in a Christian Science Fiction & Fantasy Blog Tour of this book. You can read the reviews of the other participants by clicking on their names.

Red Bissell Thomas Fletcher Booher Beckie Burnham Pauline Creeden April Erwin Victor Gentile Ryan Heart Timothy Hicks Jason Joyner Julie Bihn Carol Keen Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews Rebecca LuElla Miller Nissa Jalynn Patterson Writer Rani Chawna Schroeder Jacque Stengl Jojo Sutis Steve Trower Phyllis Wheeler Deborah Wilson

Jill Williamson grew up in Alaska loving books. Her first novel won the Christy Award. She loves working with teens and giving writing workshops. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two children. You can find out more about her at

Blink (a division of Zondervan), 416 pages. You can buy the book here.

I received a complimentary galley of this book in conjunction with the CSFF Blog Tour for the purpose of this review.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

The Adam Quest by Tim Stafford

Stafford has interviewed and tells the stories of scientists who are also Bible-believing Christians. They love the Bible and they love science. The scientists fall into three categories: young earth creationists, intelligent design creationists, evolutionary creationists. Stafford has a final chapter where he identifies what he considers to be the strengths and weaknesses of each position.

Stafford writes much more about the life stories of the scientists than he does on their understanding of the relationship between the Bible and the findings of science, particularly evolution. Some say evolution really isn't science since it is not observable, repeatable and testable. Some compartmentalize their lives. Some “think belief in God is congruent with what evolution reveals.” (180) Many comment that there are unanswered questions and we are still learning.

My goal,” Stafford writes, “was for readers to get to know them and to understand their points of view.” (199) The idea being, I think, that if we know some of the story of these people we are more likely to be understanding of their positions. Stafford hopes that the dialog around the issue of origins will be one of being faithful to Scripture yet seeing science as a gift from God, all the while realizing that there is so much more yet to learn. (211-212)

I was disappointed in the book. I had hoped to read much more about how these scientists “held on to a strong faith while wrestling with the mystery of human origins” (subtitle). Having read the book, I know each scientist's life story but generally do not know how they reconcile their faith in God with the findings of science.

You can read a chapter of the book and watch a trailer at

Tim Stafford is senior writer for Christianity Today and the author of more than thirty books. He and his wife have three children and live in Santa Rosa, California.

Thomas Nelson, 240 pages.

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

Saturday, January 18, 2014

For the Love of Pete by Debby Mayne

This is a slow moving and methodical novel.

Bethany lost her husband over two years ago. She has moved back to her hometown, to the home she inherited from her in-laws. It is full of ceramic creations from her mother-in-law, plus her own collections of knick knacks. Pushing 50, romance is the last thing on her mind.

Pete and Bethany were once an item. Now Pete has taken over his father's plumbing business and is bringing it to the point of success. He can't believe it when he sees Bethany back in town. He's a committed bachelor but something stirs inside him when he thinks of her.

The most exciting event in Bloomfield's future is a festival proposed by Bethany's mother. Bloomfield needs just a few more residents for that magic number of 10,000 – needed to get into the Best Small Towns of America book. It is hoped the festival will draw people to the town.

Various quirky characters come together to make the festival a reality. Bethany is encouraged to give up some of her knick knacks for festival prizes. Giving up her prized possessions is something she struggles to do.

There you have it. A rather calm story line. There is no heart stopping action or suspense. This is a good novel for those who like a gentle novel and don't mind the plot tension that does appear being repeated several times.

Debby Mayne has published more than 25 books and novellas, 400 short stories and articles, and devotions for women. She has worked as managing editor of a national health magazine, a product information writer for a TV retailer, a creative writing instructor,and a copy editor and proofreader for several book publishers. Find out more at

B&H Books, 320 pages.

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

Friday, January 17, 2014

Organizing Your Prayer Closet by Gina Duke

Do you sometimes feel that prayer is just a spiritual exercise, not a means of communicating with God? Gina found that journaling helped her discover that God was answering her prayers – He was moving in her life and the lives of others.

We use organizers for other areas of our lives, so why not for prayer? Gina created this prayer organizer as a resource for disciplined prayer.

This book has about a hundred pages of instruction on prayer. The rest of the book consists of 52 weekly journaling pages. (See a sample below.) Gina reminds us that prayer should always begin with praise and thanksgiving and she shows us how to make it authentic. She then suggests bringing sin to the Lord and receiving forgiveness. Asking and receiving follows, then your calling (passion) and your ministry for the day. She provides space to record how God is working and the impressions you receive from God. She has included suggestions in the text to help us know how to record our entries in each of the sections.

I found the organizer to be very practical yet leaving place for reflection. It is designed to allow us to put our thoughts in order, take them to God, and see how He answers. I've journaled my prayers rather haphazardly and I can see the real benefit to using this journal system. It is going to take some time each day. But isn't it worth the effort? After all, you are interacting with the God of the universe!

Gina wants us to “pray smart.” Using this journal will help us do exactly that.

Gina Duke is a popular speaker and Bible teacher. She has a degree in Organizational Leadership and 15 years of experience in leading women's conferences. She is the Director of Women's Ministry in her church and host for “A Moment of Clarity” radio feature. She frequently hosts prayer journaling workshops. She and her family live in Portland, Tennessee. To find out more about Gina, her ministry, and watch a video, go to

Abingdon Press, 240 pages.

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

Thursday, January 16, 2014

A Rooster Once Crowed by Bryant Cornett

I find it hard to describe this book. It is part personal memoir of the gospel in Bryant's life. It is part an exploration of the gospel with frequent penetrating insights. It is sometimes eloquent yet sometimes rambling. It is sometimes reality and sometimes imagination.

Bryant has taken the title from the experience of Peter on the night Jesus was arrested. He makes a distinction between the experience of Peter after the first crow and the second. That first crow found Peter warming himself. This, Bryant says, is the time we are in. It is a time of familiarity, worldliness, getting by, chores, and provision. When the second crow is heard, it becomes a time of shame, realization, loss, despair, and weeping.

Bryant takes us through an overview of the gospel. He writes about creation, the fall, various events from the Old Testament, the life and death of Jesus and what it has brought us.

Like Peter, we have fallen short but forgiveness, restoration and a new path is available. The rooster has crowed once. It is time for us to make a decision.

Bryant shares many of his own experiences and visions as well as his own understanding of the gospel. He quotes at length from a number of authors, such as Plantinga, Lewis, and Keller. He has placed text boxes of the relevant Scriptures on each page.

While this book is popular with many, I was not particularly moved by it. Perhaps because I am a seasoned Christian and have over the years worked out my own understanding of the gospel. I think this book might be better appreciated by a very new Christian or by someone who is not a Christian but is willing to read about one man's thoughts on it.

At times I felt Bryant was just a little too personal in his writing. An example from his writing about belief: “I've paved the road thus far, and honestly, I'm exhausted. I thought the end of this topic was just ahead, but now I realize...” (140) Was the fact that he was exhausted really something I, the reader, needed to know? What purpose did it serve?

So I have some mixed feelings about this book. The book came out of a Sunday School class Bryant taught. You can listen to the relevant session at Listening to the recording will give you a taste of Bryant's rambling writing style too. You can also download a free sample of the book there.

Bryant Cornett is a commercial real estate broker. He and his wife have three children and live in Atlanta.

Carpenter's Son Publishing, 208 pages.

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

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

The Age of the Spirit by Phyllis Tickle with Jon Sweeney

Tickle writes that there are two major reasons for us to understand the Holy Spirit – well, at least understand as much as we can. First, early Islam had roots, in part, in the furor over the Trinity and what it is. Second, the fastest growing segment of Christianity is Pentecostalism with its emphasis on the Holy Spirit.

It is important, she argues, for us to know how we Christians have envisioned, engaged, and too often tried to engineer the Holy Spirit over the millennia. She reviews history, what people have written, decisions councils have made, etc. She explores particular topics, such as modalism.

Hers is a very readable overview of the subject. She understands that the reality of the Holy Spirit makes us uneasy. He is a mystery that unnerves us – that has been the case for centuries.

She writes, “...the most profound change theologically and conceptually in Christianity in our era has been and is the shift toward emphasis on God, the Holy Spirit.” (147) Considering Pentecostal and Charismatic Christians, about one quarter of all Christians today emphasize the Holy Spirit. This is the Age of the Spirit, Tickle says. She helps us struggle with the questions of Who the Holy Spirit is and how we live and worship in this era.

This is not an academic work. This is a very readable exploration of the Holy Spirit and how He has been understood and experienced. If you feel you have ignored the person of the Holy Spirit in your Christian life, this would be a good book to introduce you to writings about Him. If you want, there are plenty of footnotes and Appendixes for further study.

Phyllis Tickle is the founding editor of the religion department at Publishers Weekly. She has written over twenty four books and is a lector and lay eucharistic minister in the Episcopal Church. She is a senior fellow of the Cathedral College of Washington National Cathedral. You can find out more at

Baker Books, 192 pages.

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

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Snapshot by Lis Wiehl

This contemporary novel has its roots in the 1960s. Four year old Lisa's father James, an FBI agent, had been assigned to Dallas to help in the investigation of President Kennedy's assassination. About a year and a half later, James takes Lisa to a demonstration in Fort Worth. She sees a little African American girl about her age and sits by her. James takes a couple of snap shots. Just at that time shots ring out and a well known man leading the demonstration is killed.

In the present, Lisa is a federal prosecutor in Boston. She is surprised when she receives a request from her father, a man with whom she has a distant relationship. Now retired from the FBI, he wants her to help free the man convicted of that demonstrator's death over forty years ago and find the real killer.

That's the beginning of this low key novel. The plot involves trying to find out who actually killed the demonstrator and why another man was arrested and convicted. There is the possibility of a cover-up that may go all the way to the top.

There is not a great deal of action in this novel. It deals more with investigative procedure, such as using face recognition software in trying to find out the identity of the little African American girl. There is a tiny bit of suspense at the end but it resolves almost as fast as it arises.

If you like investigative procedural novels, solving a murder decades ago, you'll like this one. Personally, I would have liked a little more suspense.

The strength of this novel is that it is based on the actual experiences of the author and her father. He was, in fact, an FBI agent sent to Dallas to help in the Kennedy assassination. She and her dad did, in fact, go to a demonstration in Fort Worth where her photo was taken with a little African American girl. Recently being shown that snapshot, her creative thoughts began to flow and this novel is a result.

Lis Wiehl is a New York Times best-selling author, a Harvard Law graduate and former federal prosecutor. She is a legal analyst and commentator for the Fox News Channel.

Thomas Nelson, 320 pages.

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