Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Impressionist by Tim Clinton and Max Davis

Adam has just had an argument with his wife and she has threatened to leave him. That's after she told him their teen-aged son was back on drugs. Needing some space to think, he heads to a nearby park. An old man approaches him, asking to paint his portrait. That experience changes his life.

The authors have woven a tale of spiritual transformation using Adam's encounter with the painter, Jim Ed. Jim Ed encourages Adam to share his life. Jim Ed gives wisdom from God while painting, also sharing his own story of being a black man in a time of violent prejudice.

We readers glean lessons from the painting session. Jim Ed decides it must be a watercolor. “Watercolor dribbles and makes splotches. It's not neat and clean...” (30) Just like Adam's life. Jim Ed is an impressionist so the result of his work is much more than a portrait. His aim is to capture the person's soul and the possibilities it presents.

Jim Ed helps Adam understand how he can become the man God designed him to be. It's simple but it's not easy, Jim Ed says. “First, you have to know your identity and then live your life in desperate dependence on Him.” (94)

There are some good lessons for Christians in this book. For example, Jim Ed reminds us that life has many defining moments, places where we have to make life determining choices.

I was disappointed in the resolution of some of Adam's problems. I'll not reveal how it happens but it seemed to me to be the same unlikely scenario as the cavalry suddenly coming out of nowhere to rescue those overwhelmed by the enemy. I know the book is sort of in the magical realism genre (Jim Ed knows things about Adam without being told), but the end was just a little too convenient for me. I would have rather had a realistic, hard fought victory concluding the book.

Download a free preview of the book here.

Watch the book trailer here.

Tim Clinton is the President of the American Association of Christian Counselors. He is Professor of Counseling and Pastoral Care, and Executive Director of the Center for Counseling and Family Studies at Liberty University. Licensed as both a Professional Counselor and Marriage and Family Therapist, he now spends the majority of his time working with Christian leaders and professional athletes. He has authored twenty books. He has been married to his wife for 31 years and they have two children. Find out more at www.TimClinton.com.
Max Davis holds degrees in journalism and Biblical Studies. He is the author of over twenty books and has done a variety of ghostwriting and collaboration projects. He and his wife live in Greenwell Springs, LA. Find out more at www.MaxDavisBooks.com.

Destiny Image, 192 pages.

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

Monday, September 29, 2014

Rebels by Jill Williamson

This is the third and final novel in The Safe Lands series. If you have not read the previous two, you would probably have difficulty following this one.

Most of the Outsiders are living with the Rebels. As they go in to free more women, Jemma is recaptured and taken to the harem. She is found to be already pregnant.

Omar and Mason are sentenced to be liberated and we finally get to find out what that is. We also get to find out a little more about the plague. And the Owl actually takes to the air.

This has been an interesting series taking place in 2088. There have been lots of advanced technical gadgets like SimTags that yield an individual's location and SimSight contact lenses that transmit everything the person sees.

There are also issues covered in this book beyond just the science fiction aspect. One is how our animals are raised and slaughtered. Many of us would not like to think about the conditions animals live in that are destined for our dinner plates.

Another issue is sexual pairing and impregnating. While there is nothing graphic in this novel, just the subject matter and how impregnating females is dealt with by those in authority suggests that this book, and the series, should be read by older teens. The use of addicting substances also makes this suitable only for older teens.

There was a surprising theological issue on this novel. One of the Rebels has a fanatic wife. She abhors technology and will not allow it. “Whoever is a friend of the world is an enemy of God.” “The technology of the devil is not allowed...” (151) Wow. I can see some interesting discussions about that topic in a teen reading group. A discussion guide has been included.

This is a great series for older teens. The characters are well developed and have matured over the eight months as they have faced life's temptations and challenges. Some have succumbed while others have remained steadfast.

This novel provides an exciting end to the series. Can the Outcasts manage to reveal the lies and free the people?

Jill Williamson is a novelist, dreamer, and believer. She wrote her first novel in 2010, winning the Christy Award. She loves working with teenagers and gives writing workshops at libraries, schools, camps, and churches. She lives in Oregon with her husband and two children. Find out more at www.jillwilliamson.com.

I am taking part in the CSFF Blog Tour of this book. Below are links to the blogs of others participating in this tour.

Julie Bihn Thomas Fletcher Booher Beckie Burnham Jeff Chapman Vicky DealSharingAunt April Erwin Carol Gehringer Victor Gentile Rebekah Gyger Jeremy Harder Jason Joyner Carol Keen Shannon McDermott Meagan @ Blooming with Books Melanie @ Christian Bookshelf Reviews Rebecca LuElla Miller Nissa Writer Rani Audrey Sauble Chawna Schroeder Jojo Sutis Elizabeth Williams

Blink (a division of Zondervan), 400 pages. You can buy the book here.

I received a complimentary copy of this book in conjunction with the Christian Science Fiction and Fantasy Tour, for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

The Stress Cure by Linda Evans Shepherd

We all experience stress at times. Perhaps you are one of the 39% of Americans who said their stress increased last year. How are you doing managing your stress?

Shepherd first defines stress so we know what we are dealing with. She reminds us that stress affects our spiritual well-being as well as physical and psychological.

The Holy Spirit is in us and we are to use the tools He provides, prayer and God's Word. Only the Holy Spirit can give us the supernatural peace of Christ.

Shepherd writes about feeling overwhelmed, frustrated, burdened, hopeless, offense, anxiety, negative, distracted, and depressed. Prayer begins the process and she provides many of them within each chapter. At the end of each chapter are prayers of yielding, forgiveness, healing, and exchange. She presents Scripture and encourages us to write down our thoughts and impressions.

An unusual feature in her book is the retelling of Bible stories through her own imagination. They are an encouragement to readers, realizing that those in the Bible experienced stress and found peace.

Here is just one of the many prayers in this book:
Dear Lord,
I invite you into my circumstances. Even when my way is filled with pain, I choose to trust in you. I choose joy. Trouble will give me the chance to grow and to endure, and even when I struggle, you are with me. You are my life preserver. In you I trust. Give me your strength to live in joy no matter what.
In Jesus's name, amen.

Shepherd encourages us to invite God into every area of our life. It will take time and practice, she writes, to develop the skill of yielding to the peace of God. Reading this book will certainly help you on your way.

You can find out more about this book and view the study guide questions at www.StressPrayers.com.

Linda Evans Shepherd is the author of over thirty books. She is an internationally recognized speaker. She is the president of Right to the Heart Ministries, the CEO of AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association), and the publisher of the magazine Leading Hearts, found at LeadingHearts.com. She has been married to Paul for over thirty years and is the mother of two. Find out more at http://www.sheppro.com/. You can learn more about her speaking ministry at www.GotToPray.com. To learn more about all of her ministries, go to www.LindaEvansShepherd.com, her ministry website at www.FindingGodDaily.com, her suicide outreach at www.ThinkingAboutSuicide.com, and an invitation to know God at www.GodTest.com.

Revell, 208 pages.

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

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Be Rebellious by Megan Clinton

Clinton presents an important challenge to young women today. She wants young women to rebel against this sex oriented culture, against others defining who they are. “It's time for a new generation of women who think, act, and feel differently about life and the future.” (16)

Rebellion means to defy established traditions and norms. Clinton suggests that rebellion just might be the truest expression of being a fully committed Christ follower. This rebellion is against the lies of this culture and perhaps even against a particular church's culture.

This book is a great help in rethinking where women get their worth. It is not by what is seen in the mirror or on TV.

Clinton is quite open and honest about sex and its deceptive promises of happiness. She presents a great strategy for dating while honoring God. She offers wise advice for relationships and challenges her readers to make a difference in the world.

This is a powerful message to young women today. Clinton encourages each one to be unique, to be herself, to be a woman who stands up for what is good and right and holy. (182) Choose to let God define you, she says.

Clinton retells Bible stories to illustrate her principles. She has also included great stories of women who broke the world's mold, like Gabby Douglas and Katie Davis.

If you feel like you were made for something more, if you are ready to quit wasting your time trying to fit in and wasting your life on stuff that doesn't matter, read this book. You will be challenged and encouraged to rebel, to become the woman God wants you to be. I highly recommend it.

Food for thought: “God is looking for women who will commit themselves to Him and live free with no reserves, no retreats, and no regrets.” (179)

Follow the discussion: #Letsdoit #Berebellious #Startstoday

Megan Clinton (now Megan Clinton Allison) graduated from Liberty University with a degree in Pre-Med/Biology and is currently attending Physician Assistant (PA) School at Jefferson College of Health Sciences. She is excited to be equipped as a PA to provide medical aid to those in need through international mission work. Find out more at http://meganclinton.com/.

Worthy Publishing, 224 pages.

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

Monday, September 22, 2014

Being Church Doing Life by Michael Moynagh

There are fresh expressions of faith in Britain, where the church is learning new ways to express the love of God and people. This rebirth of the church in shapes we have not seen before and the “un-churched” are getting involved.

Moynagh has written an excellent book describing this new approach to mission in the local church. Ordinary Christians are starting new communities that make disciples, and with the support of church leaders and congregations.

This is a great book for churches or individuals who want to make a difference in their community but don't know how. Moynagh has included over one hundred examples of missional and intentional communities serving a specific neighborhood or demographic. They meet in places and minister to people the traditional church does not reach. The community typically meets several times a month, joining the parent church one or two Sundays a month. The emphasis is on Christians ministering together, shoulder to shoulder.

He answers our question of why we'd want to start intentional communities, addressing any reservations we might have. Then he offers tools for developing them. He offers models of worship-first, relationship-first, and serving-first. He shows how local churches and denominations can encourage the communities and includes keys to success. He also gives ideas to help us get the ministries started and what to look out for. He includes suggestions on establishing leaders, finding funding, evaluating progress, and much more.

It's as easy as ABC:
       Ask another Christian (or more!)
       Begin jointly to serve people round you
       Create community with them
       Discuss stories about Jesus
       Explore following him together

I am impressed with these new ways of expressing our Christianity. Moynagh writes, “Communities are God's strategy for individuals to make a difference.” (34) The stories of people getting out of the church building and impacting their own neighborhoods are amazing.

This kind of ministry is something each of us can do. To stir our ministry possibility thinking, Moynagh suggests we answer these questions: Who am I? What do I know? Who do I know? Out of the answers to those questions will arise possibilities for ministering within our community. It could be a community centered around cuisine, music, or a myriad of other areas.

Moynagh has done a wonderful job in helping us know how to engage our neighborhood for Christ. He's provided suggestions, tools, encouragement, answers to questions – this book is a complete handbook on intentional communities. If you are ready to find an expression of your Christianity outside of the church sanctuary, read this book. If you are a pastor or church board member looking for ways to have your church impact your community, read this book.

You can watch an excellent and encouraging BBC TV interview with the author here.
You can read stories about intentional communities at www.freshexpressions.org.uk/stories/
Watch videos about fresh expressions at https://www.youtube.com/user/freshexpressions
To see what's happening on the U.S., go to www.freshexpressionsus.org/

The Reverend Dr. Michael Moynagh is based at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, where he conducts research for Fresh Expressions, UK. He has written or co-authored more than fifteen books.

Monarch Books (distributed in the U.S. by Kregel Books), 352 pages.

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

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Never Ever Give Up by Erik Rees with Jenna Glatzer

Jessie Rees was eleven years old and on a competition swimming team when one day she had trouble seeing. An MRI revealed a tumor located in the pons, right in the middle of the brain stem and interwoven with the nerves – diffuse intrinsic pontine glioma. It was inoperable.

Jessie's dad, Erik Rees, shares Jessie's story through his eyes. He writes about the diagnosis and the prognosis of twelve to eighteen months. Jessie saw other children fighting cancer and asked what they could do to help them. JoyJars were created, plastic jars stuffed with goodies for kids. Treatments began. A Facebook page was created and an early comment resonated with Jessie: “Never ever give up.” She adopted it as her mantra and shortened it to NEGU (knee-goo).

Rees is very honest about the toll on his family and the stress placed on relationships. He's honest about his arguments with doctors originating in his frustration with their failure to offer experimental treatment. He writes about the lessons they learned from their use of social media, the bad experiences with thoughtless responses from others. He shares his anguish of praying for healing again and again and his struggle with doubts about God.

He takes us through the treatments, the victories, the defeats, the second tumor, and the decline. He writes about his determination to see his daughter's mission to bring joy to juvenile cancer patients fulfilled.

This is an inspiring book about the difference one young cancer patient has made in the lives of many. Rees has written this book with the goal of increasing awareness of childhood cancer and increasing hope in people who are dealing with difficulties in their lives.

I believe if we take the time to listen to our hearts about the things that bother us in the world and make the decision to do something rather than just feel bad about it, we can make life so much better for others and or ourselves.” (84)

The ministry that Jessie inspired goes on in the Jessie Rees Foundation. You can find out more about it at http://negu.org/, www.jessie.org, http://www.jessicajoyrees.com/, and on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/JessieReesFoundation. You can watch a video on how the Jessie Rees Foundation got started here.

The only thing that makes this book less than perfect is the concentration on the father's experiences. He has included a chapter about himself, titled “becoming daddy.” I felt his wife and Jessie's mom, Stacey, was absent most of the book. Finally, on page 165 he writes, “This reminds me to say that my wife, Stacey, is simply amazing.” He goes on with his admiration of her but it just seemed odd to me that most of the book centers on his experiences and his feelings. About Jessie's headaches, he writes, “Thankfully, she didn't have any on November 19, which was my forty-third birthday.” (171)

Erik Rees is the chairman of the Jessie Rees Foundation. Through his leadership, Jessie's mission to encourage every kid fighting cancer to “Never Ever Give Up” is becoming a reality. He and his wife live in Orange Country, California, with their two children.
Jenna Glatzer is the author or ghostwriter of twenty-four books. Find out more at www.jennaglatzer.com.

Zondervan, 240 pages.

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

ROAR by Scottie Nell Hughes

Hughes had written this book because she wants Conservative women to speak out, to not shy away from battles. She wants Conservative women to know they are not alone in their quest to save the family. Conservative women need to know the strength they have and the influence they can have through social media.

She writes about parental freedom in raising children. “My biggest fear is that the government will continue to weave in and out of the family dynamic until we will no longer be able to make choices according to our own discernment.” (86) She gives her opinions on motherhood, birth control devices, education, the disarmament of women, the media, freedom of religion, women in combat (not), the (supposed) gender gap, climate change, and more.

Hughes is quick to make it clear that she is a biased journalist, believing that her opinion is correct and supported by facts. (120)

If you believe the Left can do no right and the Right can do no wrong, you'll love this book. It is definitely a book for Republican women as Hughes writes about cooking meals, being sexy in bed, dating in college, being a mommy, etc.

I was bothered by Hughes' style of writing. She is really “in your face,” so to speak. I found it interesting that she writes of the Left, “I think the key element missing in today's media is respect...” (121) But she uses phrases like “mindless voters,” “Leftist loonies,” “Liberal vultures,” and “President Obama and his mindless toadies.” If she honestly wants to criticize lack of respect on the Left, then I would think she would show some in return. I don't listen to the rhetoric from the Right (nor from the Left, for that matter), so I was a a bit shocked by her language of attack.

Hughes writes, “The weakest link in the Conservative movement today unfortunately falls on the shoulders of the female.” (5) She wants Conservative women to speak out, to make their voice heard. I'm all for it, as long as we remain respectful before God and our fellow man (and woman).

This book is a combination of thoughts on being a woman and encouragement for women to find their voice. I've never wanted to be a model for Victoria's Secret nor have I had my bikini line waxed, so I had difficulty identifying with some of Hughes' thoughts on being a woman. Women for whom concepts like that are important will like this book.

I wish there had been some practical suggestions for women on how to speak out. Hughes has given a great deal of encouragement to do so but has failed to tell women what they can do and how they can do it.

Follow the discussion: #ScottieNHughes #ROAR2016

Scottie Nell Hughes currently serves as the news director for the Tea Party News Network. She has covered a wide range of stories, completed interviews of numerous well known people and appeared on major television programs. She serves as a columnist for Townhall.com, TownhallFinance.com, and ChristianPost.com. She contributes to Patriot.TV and PatriotUpdate.com, and is a former PolitiChick. She has won numerous awards including Citizen of the Year for the City of Hendersonville, Tennessee, in 2011. She and her husband Chris have two children. Find out more at http://scottienellhughes.com/.

Worthy Publishing, 288 pages.

I received a complimentary digital galley of this book for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Magnolia Market by Judy Christie

I like reading fiction centered on southern society. It can be so structured it's like reading about a different country. And this novel is no exception. Christie gives us a frank look at the darker side of it.

Avery had married Ches Broussard six years ago, taken in by his charming and outgoing personality. It wasn't long before Avery realized her husband was charming other women. A year ago he had been killed in New Orleans, on business, he'd said, but she wondered.

On the one year anniversary of her husband's death, Avery is rudely awakened to her in-laws' true feelings about her. All the utilities cut off at her home. Her bank account closed. She hadn't realized her father-in-law was co-singer. Her in-laws wanted her out of town and would do everything they could to make it happen.

In the midst of an ice storm Avery slams her car into the front on a small market on the corner of Trumpet and Vine. The grouchy owner demands payment. So does the women who owns the car she hit too. Is this another nearly unbearable event in her troubled life, or is it an opportunity from God? Is it really true that everything happens for a purpose?

I liked this novel of southern society. Avery's in-laws are powerful people in the town of Samford and they are determined to have their way. But Avery is a tough woman. She is determined to stay in Samford and make a new life for herself. She manages to find some unlikely friends who help. She even discovers a little romance along the way.

This is a good novel of small town southern life. It graphically shows how an influential family can intimidate others and hide damaging secrets. It is also a good lesson on how God takes events that may seem so devastating to us and use them for His purpose and our eventual good.

There is another issue in the novel, that of urban development. The little market is in danger of being gobbled up and razed, making way for “modern” development. But Avery and those from the gallery across the street want to see the corner of Trumpet and Vine retain its charm.

Of course, a novel like this one includes references to southern food. It was fun to be introduced to fried pies, beignets, and chowchow. A couple of recipes are included at the end of the book, as is a Discussion Guide.

Judy Christie writes fiction with a Louisiana flavor. She and her husband live in northern Louisiana. You can find out more at www.judychristie.com.

Zondervan, 345 pages.

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

Thursday, September 18, 2014

"Sing Over Me" Video of Dennis Jernigan's Life Story

Dennis Jernigan is a well known Christian song writer and worship leader. He has written more than 2,000 songs, has released over 30 CDs and written several books. But there is a story behind it all.

Jernigan first felt “different” at five years old, when a man in a public bathroom asked to be touched. Jernigan eventually began sexually experimenting with other boys. He shares his struggle in this movie. He was haunted with shame. He thought God hated him, hearing of God's hatred of homosexuality from the pulpit. He learned to play the piano at his grandmother's and it became a refuge for him.

He struggled in high school and then at Oklahoma Baptist University. He shares how the music of Keith Green kept him from committing suicide. He thought he had a Christian mentor, a man who would help him mature. He was devastated when this man propositioned him.

The turning point in his life came in 1981 when he attended a Second Chapter of Acts concert. He became a new creation. Yet, like Lazarus, he was still wrapped in grave clothes. It has been a process of God working in his life, fulfilling Jernigan's declaration, “I am going to let the Father in heaven tell me who I am.”

Sing Over Me tells this story. It includes footage of Jernigan visiting his childhood home, church, and college. It even includes Jernigan's own recording of the moment he was set free. (Yes, he did sneak a recorder into the concert.)

This is a very moving video. It is touching to see how Jernigan struggled with shame and despair. What a joy to hear of his being set free and his commitment to be the man God had created him to be. He shares about his fear of entering into marriage and God's faithfulness, how he came to write praise and worship songs and now knows that God wants him to share his story.

Dennis Jernigan has been married to his wife Melinda for 31 years and they have 9 children together. Dennis and Melinda live on a farm in rural Oklahoma where they serve as pastors in a home church in Muskogee. Jernigan is the author of well-known songs like We Will Worship the Lamb of Glory, You are My All in All, Who Can Satisfy, and hundreds more. You can find out more about him and his ministry at http://www.dennisjernigan.com.

The DVD of Sing Over Me is available for purchase or download at VisionVideo.
Sing Over Me is also available as a book and can be purchased here.

I am reviewing this video in response to an invitation to do so from Glass Road Media.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Hidden in the Stars by Robin Caroll

This is not your typical cozy quilt novel. This one begins with a vicious attack leaving one woman dead and another badly beaten.

Sophia is a young gymnast who has just been accepted on the Olympic team. She decides to visit her mom before going to the training camp. Two men burst into her mother's home, threatening, demanding. They beat Sophia, stomp her hands, nearly choke her – all trying to get her mother to hand over what they've come to claim. When she still refuses, they kill her and ransack the dwelling, sure Sophia is dead.

But Sophia survives. The novel centers around her recovery and the police trying to find out who the men are and what they want. Sophia's mother had been a young Russian ballet star who had come to America with her mother, Sophia's grandmother. Her rising ballet career had ended when a serviceman caught her eye and she became pregnant. Mother and daughter became estranged and Sophia never knew she had a living grandmother – until she walks into her hospital room.

I liked this novel. I do like murder mysteries and this was an interesting one since it included a quilt as a major part of the plot, holding the key to identifying the killer. There were interesting characters in the novel too. A woman who becomes Sophia's friend is a lip reader contracting with the police department. Sophia's throat was damaged and she cannot speak so the lip reader was brought in to help Sophia communicate with the police and doctors. Julian is the young detective investigating the case and before long romance begins to bloom between him and Sophia.

Sophia's heritage is Russian so we get introduced to a few Russian words and a little of the culture. Since Sophia's mother was in ballet, there were many references to ballets and individual roles. I am not a ballet fan so I did not find that very interesting.

I generally enjoyed the novel. I wish it had been a little longer as the romance aspect went rather quickly. Also, Sophia's future is unresolved at the end and I wondered how she would really handle not being able to be a gymnast any longer. An epilogue would have helped to clean up that loose end.

Learn more about this book and the series at the Quilts of Love website.
I'm taking part in a blog tour of this book. You can read other reviews here.

Robin Caroll is the author of 22 novels, many having been finalists for awards. She is a conference director for ACFW. She and her husband have three daughters, two grandsons, and live in Little Rock, Arkansas. Find out more at www.robincaroll.com.

Abingdon Press, 224 pages.

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

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

A Cry From the Dust by Carrie Stuart Parks

This is an amazingly well written book for a debut effort. Being mentored by Frank Peretti has left its mark.

Parks is a forensic artist and she shows her expertise, deftly weaving fact and fiction in this novel. The main character is Gwen Marcey, recent divorcée, mother of an acting out teen daughter, and world-renowned forensic artist. She is working at the Mountain Meadows Interpretive Center, overlooking the 1857 massacre site. She was reconstructing faces from the skulls of the only known survivors.

When a young woman faints at the sight of one of the heads Gwen has crafted, the mystery of what really happened to Joseph Smith begins. Before it is all over, people will be murdered, Gwen will be held captive by a fundamentalist offshoot of the LDS, and the lives of hundreds of people will be in danger.

This is a well crafted novel. Gwen is a gutsy woman. Her life has just been turned upside down and yet she perseveres. Life is tough for her but she keeps going. Just when she thinks she has FBI protection, she is forced to find her own way out of trouble. "They'd soon find out they shouldn't mess with a divorced, menopausal, bald woman." The suspense is nearly continuous and is well plotted.

Parks shares how she came to write this novel in an Author Note. She herself is a breast-cancer survivor, forensic artist, and Great Pyrenees owner, as is Gwen. Seeing an article on the Internet about a Le Fort fracture found on Joseph Smith's skull set her creative juices flowing. Further research piqued her interest and a vague idea took shape. The result is a compelling novel.

I really liked this novel. I hope it is merely the first in a long line of great novels from this author.

Carrie Stuart Parks is an award-winning fine artist and internationally known forensic artist. She teaches forensic art courses to law enforcement professionals and is the author and illustrator of numerous books on drawing. She began to write fiction while battling breast cancer. She is now in remission. You can find out more at www.carriestuartparks.com.

Thomas Nelson, 384 pages.

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

Monday, September 15, 2014

Living Courageously by Joyce Meyer

Fear has always held us back one time or another. Meyer has good news for us. There is a solution to fear.

If you want to never feel fear again, this book will not help you. Yes, the Bible says we are not to fear, but that does not mean we'll never feel it. It means God expects us to face it head on, resist it in the power of God, and live courageously.

Meyer helps us understand what fear is, where it comes from, what our attitude toward it should be, and how we can overcome it. She is adamant about a firm decision to not fear, having a definitive mindset. Our thoughts are important. Believing that God is with us is essential. She does remind us that there is one fear we are supposed to have, a reverential fear of God.

Courage comes from believing God loves us unconditionally, and trusting He is with us at all times, and letting Him give us the confidence to be courageous.

In the latter part of the book she deals with insecurity and obstacles, then specific fears. She has great teaching on fear of lack, fear of not being wanted, or being inadequate, or not doing enough to be accepted by God, fear of the unknown or of making mistakes, and many more. She gives encouraging biblical teaching on each one. She also helps us to not pass on our fears to our children. Many Scriptures have been added at the end of the book for memorizing or meditating when retraining our mind to resist fear.

I really like this book. It is full of encouraging teaching, sprinkled with stories and affirming Scriptures and prayers. Meyer's writing is so encouraging in general and she does a great job addressing particular fears. This book will help you conquer fear one day at a time. It is a process and won't happen just because you've read this book. This book will inspire you to do what needs to be done, even if you have to do it afraid.

Food for thought: “All fear is rooted in wrong belief systems or thought habits, and I believe we can change them with God's help.”

Joyce Meyer is a popular Bible teacher with her television and radio programs airing on hundreds of stations worldwide. She had written more than 100 inspirational books. She travels extensively, teaching around the world. She and her husband live in Missouri. Find out more about her and her ministry at http://www.joycemeyer.org.

FaithWords, 272 pages.

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

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yes or No by Jeff Shinabarger

Yes and no are definitive words. They can change the trajectory of life.

A key question is, what do you do when you don't know what to do? How do you decide when the decision is not clear? That's where Shinabarger wants to help us, navigating that path to a difficult decision.

In the first half of the book Shinabarger shares his own story and the stories of others. He writes about the philosophical aspects of decisions, such as love, good works, wisdom, and gaining knowledge. He explores how to become a problem solver and how to determine our own decision making style.

He reveals his six-step process in the second half of the book, again with lots of stories. While reminding us prayer is a priority, he advocates considering the options, determining who is affected, consulting trusted advisers, identifying our fears, having a time of solitude, and taking a step. When he takes us through this process he gives plenty of examples (stories) and expands on the philosophy behind each step.

The style of Shinabarger's writing is that of a fellow across the coffee shop table, discussing decision making with you. He'll tell you stories illustrating aspects of decision making, offer some philosophy about making decisions, and then tell a few more stories. The strength of this book is his thoughts on the different aspects of the philosophy of making decisions. Also good is the section on decision making styles, something couples or governing bodies would find helpful.

This book is full of stories, lots of stories, personal stories, stories about others. There are few practical considerations of decision making. I would have rather had fewer stories and more practical instruction. For example, in his section on fear he writes, “Decision makers do not fear rejection; we look past the no in search of the yes.” Unfortunately, there are no practical suggestions as to how to do that.

In the “Take Action” section of the chapter on fear, Shinabarger does suggest finding a person whom you trust, “so he or she can help you move through that fear the next time it holds you back.” That would be the way to use this book, by reading it with a trusted friend or in a trusted group setting. At the end of every chapter he provides an action step and group discussions.

If you want to read a book about the various philosophical aspects of decision making in the context of lots of stories, you'll like this book. I would have preferred fewer stories and more on decision making techniques.

Food for thought: “If you want to contribute something significant in a broken world, choose to be a decision maker.”

Find out more about the book at http://www.yesornobook.com/ where you can also take a decision-making style assessment.

Jeff Shinabarger is the author of one previous book. He leads a community in Atlanta called Plywood People and has participated in over one hundred start-ups solving problems through that community. He is the co-founder of Q and creatively led Catalyst for eight years. He and his wife live in East Atlanta Village and have two children.

David C. Cook, 256 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through Icon Media for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Loving Jesus More by Phil Ryken

We want to love Jesus more and better. So does Ryken. He wants that for the campus he leads so he preached on it during the 2012-2012 academic year. This book is the edited result.

[T]here is hardly anything we need more in the Christian life than more love for Jesus.” But how does it happen? Where does it come from? Ryken reminds us that the love we have for Jesus is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. We need to do everything we can to keep that channel open.

We are to love God with our whole being. Ryken starts with the mind. Realizing the full extent of our sin is essential as he who is forgiven much loves much. There is an emotional element to our love for Jesus. He also addresses how hard it is loving whom we have not seen.

Ryken explores practical ways to love Jesus, such as keeping his commandments and loving the church. We love Jesus by loving His people. “There are thousands of ways to love Jesus more,” he writes.

His thoughts on why we don't love Jesus more are insightful and thought provoking. He writes of life-dominating affections and “darling” sins. He reminds us of the story about the uninvited woman at the Pharisee's house. She no longer cared what other people thought. “She was so in love with Jesus she forgot herself completely."

This is a very convicting book. We are the reason we do not love Jesus more. If you are ready to be honest about your affections, this is the book for you. But be ready to have your heart exposed.

Phil Ryken is the eighth president of Wheaton College. Prior to that he was senior minister at Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. He has written or edited over 30 books. He and his wife live in Wheaton and have five children.

Crossway, 176 pages.

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

Friday, September 12, 2014

Under a Turquoise Sky by Lisa Carter

This is the second in Carter's series taking place on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico but reads well on its own. Aaron is a federal agent who is assigned to protect Kailyn, a beautiful woman who witnessed a drug lord kill his wife. When their location is repeatedly compromised, Aaron decides to take Kailyn to the reservation, a place he left years ago without looking back.

The first part of this book has plenty of action, as does the end. Much of the book deals with the troubled relationship between Aaron and Kailyn. She is a southern bell and he is a no nonsense guy. Frustrations on both sides abound. I liked Kailyn. Even though she preferred her heeled shoes and southern society, she is a gutsy gal. Aaron is a troubled fellow. He had a rough childhood that still pervades his personality.

The fireworks are continual between Kailyn and Aaron. One minute it is flaming anger while the next it is explosive passion. Both are quick witted so the dialog is between them is great.

The strength of this novel is life on the reservation. Aaron returns to people he alienated and has ignored for years. His grandmother is precious and wants him to find his faith in Christ. His father is now sober and wants to renew a relationship with his sin. Aaron has much he must work through before that can happen. Other characters living on the reservation help flesh out what life is like there.

The books starts out with lots of action but slowed in the middle with the repetitive troubled relationship between Kailyn and Aaron. The end, however, has a twist and a resolution that is worth waiting for. A good novel.

Lisa Carter is the author of several novels and is a frequent speaker and vocalist at women's ministry events. She and her husband, with their two daughters, live in Raleigh, North Carolina. Find out more at www.LisaCarterAuthor.com.

Abingdon Press, 320 pages.

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