Friday, July 31, 2015

Midnight on the Mississippi by Mary Ellis

I was expecting this to be a mystery. There is some, but I would say the romance is primary with the mystery secondary.

Nicki Price is our heroine. She is a brand new private investigator come to New Orleans to work for her uncle, much to his surprise. She wants to be there because of her father's death seventeen years ago. While he wasn't the best of fathers and he did cheat at cards, his death still bothered her. There was just too many unanswered questions and Nicki wanted answers.

Nicki's uncle is hired by Hunter Galen, a high class portfolio investor, to find out who killed his partner. Hunter is the primary suspect and the police are not looking anywhere else. When the uncle is caught fudging crime scene rules, Nicki is left as the only one capable of helping prove Hunter is innocent. When Galen starts to fall for Nicki, the investigation seems to take a back seat.

I like Nicki as a character. She is a bit of a bumbling PI, getting her car stuck in the mud on a stakeout. But I like her heart. She truly wants to be an investigator and solve her father's murder some day. Hunter is a bit of a romantic. I think he is a little too forward in his advances toward Nicki. In that respect, there seems to be more written about the time the two spend together than there is on the actual mystery.

I thought the most interesting aspect of this novel was the setting. Hunter and Nicki spend days and evenings sightseeing, going to parties, etc. There is much written about the culture of the New Orleans area, the people, the food, the dancing, and the sights. We get an idea of Cajun celebrations and lots more. I really enjoyed the way the cultural setting of the novel was done.

I found the plot a bit predictable. And I kept wondering why, when Hunter was the prime suspect, he and Nicki would keep taking days off to go sightseeing when I would have thought pursuing leads would have been more important.

There is a little bit of Christianity in the novel, but it is not essential to the characters nor the plot. I recommend this novel to readers who like a novel taking place in a well described location.

Mary Ellis is the bestselling author of several novels. She and her husband live in central Ohio. Find out more at

Harvest House Publishers, 354 pages.

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

Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Potter's Lady by Judith Miller

Rose is our potter's lady in this historical novel of 1870s West Virginia. She's just graduated from the Philadelphia Design School for Women and is now back home. Her brother, Ewan, wants to buy a business and Rose convinces him to buy a pottery factory. She feels she can be of greater use to her brother in that business than in the brick making one he was also considering.

Rose has high ideals. After Ewan purchased the pottery factory, Rose wants the children to go to school for part of the day and she wants the workers to clean their work spaces. The men do not take kindly to her desires. Rose knows the children need a chance for education but their fathers don't see it. Rose also knows that the dust from the pottery finishing process is bad for workers' lungs. But again, the men don't see the worth of that task.

Rose is also an artist. She would rather concentrate on quality than quantity. Joshua, her sort of beau and pottery owner in another town, is all about money. He emphasizes quantity in his factory. Don't we see the same kind of business practices happening today?

There is some intrigue in the novel as Ewan's pottery bids are consistently ruled out when underbid by Joshua's company. There is some romance too, though it is understated. I would have liked to learn a little more about the pottery industry at the time.

There are some good lessons to learn from this novel. One is the useless nature of trying to fill a hole in one's life with money or things. That kind of greed will never end up fulfilling a person's soul. On the other side is the lesson of trusting God to meet the needs of life. That's the only way one will feel truly satisfied.

I found the novel slow going, especially the first half. The novel is not a page-turner but I did appreciate the attention to historic detail. One finds out much about Philadelphia and West Virginia during the period.

This book is the sequel to The Brickmaker's Bride and you can read my review of that book here.

Judith Miller is an award-winning author whose avid research and love for history are reflected in her best-selling novels. She lives in Topeka, Kansas. Find out more at

Bethany House Publishers, 337 pages.

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

End of Discussion by Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson

What happened to the rich American tradition of messy free speech? Where is the dialog? What happened to dissent, to holding a minority view? Why is there such a cost of speaking out, of not being politically correct (as some small businesses have found out)?

The authors call this present atmosphere “end of discussion.” Rather than defending one's right to declare opposing opinions, the authors write that the atmosphere today is, “I disapprove of what you say, so I will explore various ways of punishing you for saying it.” (11) And we live at a time when just about anything we say can be offensive to someone. It's a time of double standards for rhetoric. There are different rules for liberals than conservatives.

The authors explore how even private sayings can become public outrage, especially with the force of social media today. Then they give examples of how the left orchestrates the outrage, lots of examples. They look at the current situation on college campuses, womanhood and feminism, firearms and gun control, humor, and other topics.

This book is openly anti-liberal. I was glad to read that the authors admitted that the right does the same kind of thing but they are just not as good at it as the left is. Nonetheless, I am just amazed at the misinformation that is put out by the liberal side. I am so glad these authors are setting many records straight.

If you think it has gotten crazy out there, reading this book will convince you you're right. The cost of dissent has become enormous. The unhealthy trend toward silencing the opposition has become an accepted way of life. As the authors write, “...the price for holding mainstream beliefs is getting awfully high.” (230) Tolerance is no longer a two way street.

So, what can we do? The authors admit that some of these problems cannot be uprooted in three easy steps. (261) They do give some suggestions in their closing chapter.

You may have heard the news stories of small businesses being sued for declining service on the basis of freedom of religion. That is only the tip of the iceberg. Read this book, and find out what's really going on.

Mary Katharine Ham and Guy Benson are Fox News contributors and writers. Ham serves as a contributing editor to Benson is political editor at The pair has collaborated on a number of projects.

Crown Forum, 304 pages.

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

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Hope Harbor by Irene Hannon

This is one of those books that, when you get to the end, you wish it were hundreds of pages longer so you could continue reading about the changing lives in Hope Harbor.

I really liked this book. I liked Michael, a high profile CEO of a nonprofit Chicago organization who comes to Hope Harbor on the Oregon coast to think about his life, to heal his parched and dying soul. He is still not over his wife's death. This seaside town had been her childhood favorite. I like Tracy, the cranberry farmer who lost her husband and now thinks she is not good at all for any man, certainly not for marriage. I like her hard working attitude, trying to keep the business going in bad economic times.

I like Charley, maker of fish tacos he sells out of his stand. An artist of note, he has his taco stand because he likes to minister to people and share the wisdom he gets from above. I like Anna, the elderly woman with deep hurt who, to her own surprise, offers to let Michael stay in her addition. I like how Michael's presence brings just enough light into Anna's darkness that she becomes ripe for forgiveness and reconciliation. I like the pastor and the priest, their efforts to help others, their weekly golf and their repartee. I like the young pregnant teen, devastated by the alienation from her parents and taken in by Anna at Michael's suggestion.

I really enjoyed reading this book, seeing how God worked in the lives of hurting people to bring them to a place of being alive with love. Hannon has crafted the story line very well. I was amazed at how it all worked together for good for the characters.

I highly recommend this novel. Just be sure to have a box of tissues nearby as you get close to the end. You'll need them.

Irene Hannon has written more than forty-five contemporary romance and romantic suspense novels. She is a two time winner of the RITA Award, has received the National Readers' Choice award, three HOLT medallions, a Daphne du Maurier award, a Retailers' Choice award, a Booksellers' Best award, and has been a two time Christy Award finalist. She has a BA in psychology and an MA is journalism. She and her husband live in Missouri. To find out more visit

Revell, 352 pages.

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

Monday, July 27, 2015

Direct Hit by Mike Hollow

I like a good detective story and historical novel, if it is written well. This one is.

The time is 1940 and the place is London. It is the first night of the Blitz. A man is found dead in his van with the suspicion of murder. Detective Inspector Jago is called to the scene. Just as he and his assistant make their observations, the sirens blow. Jago has enough time to recognize the dead man before the policemen head to safety. When the bombing is over and they return to the scene of the crime, all that remains is a huge crater.

That's the beginning of this good detective novel set in WW II London. The historical aspect of the novel is superbly done. We get great descriptions of the city and the bombings. We also get an idea of the atmosphere at the time. There were those who would pay good money to have their call-up papers lost so they would not have to go to war. There were others who were embracing the ideas of Marx, unhappy with the class distinctions. I can tell the author has done a great deal of background research.

The detective story itself is good. The characters are well presented. I liked Jago. He is my kind of guy. When young, he spent hours in the local public library, plugging some of the gaps in his education. The older he got, he says, the more gaps he found. Isn't that why we read?

As a side story, Jago is asked to help an American reporter. To his surprise, it is a woman. I really liked the interaction between the two. It was fun to have a little humor at times in their relationship. For example, when a fellow policeman remarked that the reporter was a confident lady, Jago comments, “She's American, that's all. I think they breed them more confident over there.” (201)

The novel has a good mystery, the historical aspect is well done, and the characters are great. I recommend this novel to those who like British historical mysteries.

Food for thought: Jago, reflecting on the men he saw killed in WW I, says, “Now it feels like my duty to take each day as a gift and not to leave to tomorrow what I can do today.” (216)

You can find out more about the author and the Blitz Detective series here.

Mike Hollow was born in West Ham, home of the Blitz Detective. He worked for the BBC translating, then after various jobs, worked in communications for developing agency Tearfund. In 2001 he went freelance as a writer, editor and creative project manager. He now earns his living by translating spending the rest of his time in the cellar of his house in Hampshire chronicling the adventures of DI Jago.

Lion Hudson, distributed in the U.S. by Kregel Books, 318 pages.

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

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Holly Garden PI: Red is for Rookie by Anne Greene

What a fun novel. Holly Garden is a kick, almost like a Stephanie Plum who has been born again. She's even got a super hero type of guy who just happens to be around when she needs rescuing, a sidekick for stakeouts and a gun toting granny.

Holly is working for her uncle's private investigation company. She and her family's next door neighbor and her best friend Matt, are providing security for a Valentine's Day nonprofit fund raising gala when Matt is kidnapped. Holly is out to find Matt and catch the bad guys, if she doesn't trip over her own shoelaces, that is.

Holly, as hard as she tries to be a good detective, has accidents, smashes cars and generally bumbles her way through the investigation. She manages to rescue a runaway teen and teach a kids' Sunday School class in the process, however. Hers is a well crafted character. She has a soft heart but she so desperately wants to clear her father's name. And she is a committed Christian, devastated when a man is killed as she had not shared the gospel with him.

While this seems to be following the style of the popular Stephanie Plum series, it is a pretty good novel. The writing is good and the dialog is entertaining. If you've read the Stephanie Plum series and have been looking for something similar written from a Christian perspective, this is it.

Anne Greene, writing as W. A. Swonger, is the author of Trail of Tears, published by Moody Press. Her historical romance, Masquerade Marriage, won the 2011 New England Readers' Choice Award and the 2011 Laurel Wreath Award for Published Writers.

Elk Lake Publishing, 278 pages.

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

Saturday, July 25, 2015

The Essential Guide to the Power of the Holy Spirit by Randy Clark

Christians have debated over the centuries whether the presence and power of the Holy Spirit is active in Christians in this era. Clark wants to put an end to the debate. “We cannot afford to be arguing among ourselves while there is so great and so ripe a harvest set before us in this generation.” (13)

To that end Clark has written this book. He wants to correct false concepts of the Holy Spirit. The main thrust of the book is the question as to whether the supernatural power of the Holy Spirit in the believer has ceased (cessationism) or whether it continues (continuism) as affirmed by Scripture. The book is, in general, a response to cessationists, giving a biblical basis for the continuation of the gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I appreciate that Clark looks at the problems that have plagued the Charismatic movement. He also reviews the positions of key figures in Christian history, such as Augustine, Calvin and Edwards. He also reviews examples of the use of the Holy Spirit gifts today. Clark applies Jonathan Edwards' method of discerning the spirits to the use of the gifts today, condensing it down to five marks.

I like how Clark has presented this work. While I would not classify this as a scholarly work, it is well suited to Christians who are widely read and familiar with major theologians, both past and present. My only concern about the book is that I thought Clark went too easy on those who claim to be modern day prophets. I am not so sure the requirements for accuracy and the consequences of false prophecy are different today than in Old Testament times, as Clark claims. Other than that, his is a well presented defense of the continued manifestation of the Holy Spirit's power through believers today.

Randy Clark is the President and founder of Global Awakening, an apostolic ministry founded in 1994 aiming to equip the body of Christ through ministry schools, training programs, conferences and international mission trips. He is also an adjunct professor at United Theological Seminary and Regent Divinity School. He received his MDiv from The Southern Baptist theological Seminary and his DMin from United Theological Seminary. He also has a ThD from the Phoenix University of Theology. He and his wife have four grown children and three grandchildren.

Destiny Image, 224 pages.

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

Friday, July 24, 2015

Drawing Fire by Janice Cantore

Abby is a very good detective. The others in the squad room call her Superglue. She became a cop because she wanted to solve the murder of her parents when she was just six years old. She has kept that unsolved case in the back of her mind for years.

Now just might be her chance to find the killer. A serial murderer is on the loose and his latest victim is an elderly woman related to the governor – a man who knew her parents all those decades ago. Perhaps he knew who hated her parents enough to shoot them and burn their business to the ground.

I liked this police detective novel. We follow Abby around as she investigates homicide cases. She is our heroine and I liked her as a character. She is somewhat obsessed to find out who murdered her parents. She has entered the police force for that very reason. She's a savvy woman who is not afraid to go after and apprehend a suspect, even when it puts her life in danger. Her life gets even more complicated when a private detective comes in on an investigation. Luke is also interested in the twenty seven year old case. Abby finds herself a bit distracted because she is attracted to Luke. But she is engaged, even if her fiance is sort of a boring and confining associate pastor.

Cantore's police experience shows in the well crafted and action packed scenes. The plot is complex as various people Abby comes in contact with are associated in some way to the cold case, including the governor. There is some suspense and we are left at the end of the novel knowing some of the facts behind her parents' death. There are several new issues that come up near the end, however, so I will be eagerly waiting for the sequel.

Janice Cantore was a Long Beach, California, police officer for twenty-two years. She now lives in a small town in southern Oregon where she writes suspense novels. You can find out more about her and the other novels she has written at

Tyndale, 407 pages.

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

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Can't Buy Me Love by Beth Vogt

This enovella kicks off a new series by Vogt about destination weddings. Bellamy Hillman is the bride to be. She is a dog groomer, a result of her inability to decide her major in college. She's from a large, boisterous family where dollars were stretched as far as possible. Now she is marrying Reid Stanton of the wealthy Stanton family. Bellamy is caught up in the planning the one-of-a-kind Manhattan wedding when she realizes her wedding gown is almost exactly like that of Reid's recently married sister. She averts disaster by buying another wedding gown. But when the bill comes in, she realizes she may have dodged one disaster only to cause another.

This is a fun short story (about 140 pages). It introduces us to the whole idea of destination weddings. It's a good romance as there are some classic elements. Bellamy is from a large and outgoing family, Reid from a small one who hides from the media. Bellamy's family is rather middle class while Reid's is terribly rich. There is something Bellamy and Reid have in common, however. A devastating mistake with money. While Bellamy is willing to share her error, Reid is not so forthcoming. And that spells disaster.

So an immediate issue that comes forward in this novella is honesty. The story certainly shows the need for it to maintain a good relationship. There is also the issue of one coming from a middle class sort of family while the other is from the very rich. How can the two, though so much in love, possibly get along? And the same goes for their families.

I really like how Vogt works it all out. I like how the Christian faith of the two families supersedes the supposed class difference between the Stantons and the Hillmans. I like how Reid's mother is really a regular woman rather than a snobby rich woman. I like how Reid's sister always wanted a sister of her own.

This is a rewarding novella, a good read for an evening. The romance is fun and there are some good lessons to learn too.

You can read my review of the first novel in this series, Crazy Little Thing Called Love, here.

Beth Vogt is a nonfiction author and editor who said she'd never write fiction. She's the wife of an Air Force family physician (now in solo practice) who said she'd never marry a doctor or a military man. She's the mom of four who said she'd never have kids. She is a 2014 Carol Award finalist. You can find out more at

Howard Books, about 140 pages.

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

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Trial by Twelve by Heather Day Gilbert

This is a delightful mystery. The characters are believable and well developed. The plot is a bit of a stretch, but was still fun to read.

Tess is helping her husband pay off his student loans by being a receptionist at a new age spa in the hills of West Virginia. When the spa owner decides to put in a new pool, excavation workers uncover a female skeleton. Then another is uncovered. Then a fresh body is dumped in the hole. It is clear a serial killer is on the loose.

Tess is a Glock carrying mother who agrees to help the detective find the killer. Before too long, death strikes closer than Tess would like and it becomes evident she is the next woman in the killer's sights.

Tess is a great heroine. She is a loving mother who appreciates a job that allows her to spend as much time with her family as possible. She has a great mother-in-law who loves to babysit, a hardworking husband who loves her, and wonderful friends.

The location for the action is in the coal mine area. Description of the area is one aspect of the novel I thought was lacking. I would have liked to know a little more about the area, perhaps what the trees look like, the hills, etc.

The plot was just a little bit unrealistic. Nonetheless, I really enjoyed the book. The dialog was very good and Tess' interactions with her friends are well done and believable. This is a good mystery and I'll be looking for more from this author.

Heather Day Gilbert enjoys writing stories about authentic, believable marriages. She was born and raised in the West Virginia mountains, is a graduate of Bob Jones University, is married and has three children. You can find out more at

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 284 pages.

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

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

The Lost Garden by Katherine Swartz

I really liked this novel, combining a contemporary story with one that took place in the same location nearly one hundred years before.

In the contemporary story, Marin is trying for a new start after her father and his second wife were killed in an automobile accident, leaving her the guardian of her fifteen year old half sister. They've found an old cottage in the picturesque village of Goswell on the Cumbrian coast. The property contains a walled garden that captures the interest of Marin and her sister. They enlist a local gardener and begin to uncover its secrets.

The historical story takes place at the end of WW I. Nineteen year old Eleanor is grieving the loss of her brother, killed just days before the Armistice was signed. Her father, the local vicar, notices how unhappy she is. He decides to hire someone to make a garden for her and perhaps draw her out of her grief. Jack has been doing odd jobs in the village and when Eleanor's father hires him, an unsuitable friendship forms between him and Eleanor.

I really liked how Swartz weaves the two narratives together, alternating between them as somewhat parallel stories unfold. Both are romance stories, in a sense. Yet they are both stories of revelation, forgiveness, reconciliation, and healing. The characters have been crafted well and come alive through Swartz's storytelling.

The historical narrative reveals how terrible WW I was. So many men did not come back and those who did were severely damaged by the horror they saw. It would take a strong woman to help such a traumatized man find his way again at living a meaningful life. They had to fight for their happiness.

I liked how Swartz used the garden and a small building in it to tie the two stories together. It seemed to symbolize how women from both eras had to deal with tragedy and the possibility of a new life. I also like how the two stories involved sister relationships. Both relationships had to face some difficult obstacles. I think I liked the ending best of all. Much of the book is about struggle and discouraging circumstances. The end was sweet with promise of hope for the future.

Katherine Swartz lives in the Lake District with her husband, an Anglican minister, and their five children. She also writes fiction and contemporary romance under the name Kate Hewitt. You can find out more at

Kregel Publications, 352 pages.

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

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Zero Victim by James E. Ward Jr.

Ward wants us to change the way we see the past and our attitude toward the future. “In this book,” he writes, “I will share how you can liberate yourself and protect yourself from victim mentality by reconditioning and preconditioning your mind to see yourself as a winner.” (xv) He identifies everyday pitfalls, gives steps to prepare for mentally dealing with future events, looks at how negative events shape our mentality, shares his own personal journey, gives lessons from the Bible, shares the destructive power of heard and spoken words, looks at the family, and gives techniques for liberating one's self from a mentality of defeat.

This is a great introduction to getting rid of victim mentality. I really like his emphasis on perception. A person with a victim mentality will tend to “read” victimization into circumstances. A person with a Zero Victim mentality will tend to “read” victimization out of circumstances. Interpretation of events is based on the perception of our self and our life. Changing the “lens” through which we see life will really make a difference in our attitude about life. (62) He gives plenty of stories of people to illustrate that principle.

Becoming a Zero Victim individual will take work. It will mean training the mind for better responses to daily events and training the tongue to speak thoughtfully and positively. Mental preparedness is key and that takes work. Ward also lays the biblical foundation for the mindset and the necessity of being a new creation in Christ.

We can decide how to react to potentially negative events. Developing the Zero Victim mindset can be done. Ward includes some very good techniques to get us on our way. His suggestions do lack practical steps for implementation so I would suggest this book be read and discussed with a trusted friend. Friends can hold each other accountable as progress is made.

James E. Ward Jr. was called to ministry after studying music and business at DePaul University in Chicago. He founded INSIGHT Church in Skokie, IL, in 2013. He earned his MDiv from Regent University in Virginia Beach. He and his wife have two children. You can find out more at and

James Ward Ministries, 126 pages.

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

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Refining Fire by Tracie Peterson

I enjoyed this historical novel, about Seattle in 1889. We again enter into the activities at the Madison Bridal School.

This novel centers on Militine. She has found a refuge in the school, a place that allows her to hide her unsavory past. She really has no intention of marrying as she is sure no man would have her. But when Thane, a trusted escort for the bridal school women, begins to share his own past, Militine realizes she may have found someone with whom she can share her pain.

Abrianna is at the bridal school as a ward of her aunts, owners of the school. She is a fiery young woman. When questioned as to why she didn't trust the elders and deacons to find a new pastor, she says, “I don't put my trust in men... That is reserved for God alone.” And when she does come to discuss matters with the new pastor, he ends up being befuddled. He'd faced off with life long theologians and had never felt this way. I really liked that Abrianna!

Besides being a good romance, this novel has some very interesting aspects to it. The pastor of the church had recently died and there is quite a discussion about the qualities the new pastor should have. I kept thinking as I read that, my, how times have changed.

The new pastor turns out to be a rather ornery man. His attitude toward women was terrible. Reading his thoughts made me glad I was born at a time when enterprising women are accepted. The pastor's comments on many topics give rise to discussions among church members about whether one should leave a church or fight for it.

Another interesting section in the book was about the volunteer fire department of Seattle at the time. For example, when the fire alarm sounded, volunteers had no way of knowing if the fire was the responsibility of their group or not. Going along with the firemen is the whole idea of the great Seattle fire of 1889. I have visited “underground” Seattle and it was interesting to read about how that came to be.

Another enlightening aspect of the novel was about human trafficking. Even at that time Chinese women were smuggled into Seattle and kept imprisoned until they could be sold. This aspect of the novel is not successfully concluded so I hope there is going to be a sequel where the nefarious man will get what is coming to him.

Peterson has a delightful way of writing. She has created well developed characters. Even though the sisters who own the bridal school are minor characters, I really liked their individual personalities. They added much to the story. Peterson also adds some humor from time to time. I can tell she has done her research on Seattle during this era. I really enjoyed learning about the devastating fire in addition to reading a fine novel.

You can read my review of Steadfast Heart, the first in the Brides of Seattle series here.

Tracie Peterson is the award-winning author of over a hundred novels, both historical and contemporary. She and her family make their home in Montana. You can find out more about her at and follow her blog at

Bethany House Publishers, 320 pages.

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

Friday, July 17, 2015

Thriving in Babylon by Larry Osborne

If you only read one book this year, I suggest this be it. Osborne's book is that timely.

Osborne looks at Daniel for lessons in thriving in Babylon. We might think of Daniel's story as saying something like, if we do the right thing God will keep us from harm. Nothing could be farther from the truth, Osborne writes. Just read about the heroes of the faith in Hebrews, the ones who were tortured, imprisoned, killed, etc. They were great people of faith but God in His sovereign wisdom declined to rescue them. “He chose to be with them in their trials rather than delivering them from their trials.” (23)

The lesson we get from Daniel is that he found a way in a wicked culture to glorify God and serve God so that kings acknowledged Him. Osborne identifies three qualities that marked Daniel's life: hope, humility, and wisdom. He addresses them in detail in this book. He explores where they come from, how they're developed, and the impact they had on the wickedness around Daniel. For example, it was Daniel's humility in serving his masters so well that his influence in Babylon grew greater and greater.

I really like Osborne's insights. I was reminded again that God is in control. I was also reminded that God's judgment begins with His own people (and what that might be saying about our current culture). I found out that hardship serves a purpose, as a spiritual boot camp. Those who have not been through a spiritual boot camp will have trouble thriving in Babylon as there are necessary spiritual qualities one can only get through boot camp experiences.

I loved Osborne's example of watching a rerun of the USC - Notre Dame football game. Only a few minutes left and Notre Dame is ahead. The USC quarterback gets sacked and ten yards are lost. The clock is ticking. But Osborne, a USC fan, is not stressed. He knows what happens two plays later. What a lesson for Christians, even when we get sacked and lose yardage. We know who wins!

I really like the way Osborne writes. He has a way with words and inserts a bit of humor from time to time. His insights are timely and full of wisdom. Some of his thoughts seem counter intuitive, like honor and respect toward godless leaders. But Osborne is a stickler for being biblical, just like Daniel. I found his teaching to be right on. If you are ready for a biblical perspective on living in a godless culture, read this book.

Unfortunately, there were no discussion questions included in the galley I read. Nonetheless, I highly recommend this book for classes and small groups. This is an important book for our time and discussing it with others would make it even better.

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

Larry Osborne has served as senior pastor and teaching pastor at North Coast Church – one of the ten most influential churches in the country – since 1980. He is the author of numerous books. He and his wife live in Oceanside, California, and have three grown children. You can find out more at

David C. Cook, 208 pages. You can purchase a copy here.

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

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Paranormal Conspiracy by Timothy J. Dailey

Dailey believes there is a conspiracy afoot. It's a plot to lead humans astray, to overthrow the Judeo-Christian worldview.

To prove his point, he looks at various claims, like Bigfoot and UFO sightings, seances, and psychic healing. He spends a great deal of time on Colonel Percy Fawcett, his life, and his attempt in 1925 to find the lost city of Z in the Amazon jungle. He also spends extensive time on Joe Fisher, once caught up in trying to prove reincarnation, who then wrote an expose of it in 1991. A third detailed exploration is into Cicada 3301.

Daily looks at the physical evidence and laws of physics to evaluate the possibility of UFOs. He also looks at the observer's feelings and after effects of people involved and notes their similarity to those of occult involvement.

He draws some conclusions from his investigations. He notes that the entities experienced have intelligence and capabilities far surpassing humans. They can assume forms from animals to UFOs. He suggests they are associated with the occult. It is a grave error, he writes, for humans to think they can comprehend and control the phenomena.

I was a little disappointed in that this book is not quite what I had hoped. Dailey spent a great deal of time on three stories. While it does bring a human interest element to the book, I would have rather had evaluations of a larger number of experiences. He also quotes from many sources so if you have read much on this subject you may see material repeated.

Dailey is concerned about the unchecked encroaching presence of the paranormal and occult in Western culture. He does give readers encouragement at the end of the book that God is greater than the malevolent forces, but he does not give any strategy as to what Christians can be doing about it.

You can read an excerpt here.

Timothy J. Dailey has a PhD in Religion and Ethics from Marquette University. He has written a dozen published books as well as numerous articles. He has taught on several continents and served as a senior fellow for policy at the Family Research Council. He and his wife have five grown children and live in northern Virginia.

Chosen Books, 208 pages.

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

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

The Last Con by Zachary Bartels

This is a complicated novel. It took me to about half way to get hooked into the story. I like getting hooked earlier but I am glad I persevered. The second half of the book made up for the complicated aspect of setting the stage in the first half.

The main character is Fletcher, a grifter recently released from prison. He is trying to restore his place in his family, his wife and daughter having waited for him the six years he was incarcerated. He'd found Jesus in prison and as the book opens, Fletcher and his family are going on a youth trip to Detroit. Fletcher runs into his old mentor and before long is blackmailed into doing work. The job is a serious con involving treasures from centuries past. Before long, Fletcher's wife and daughter are involved and it becomes a matter of life and death.

This novel is about deception. It is an essential skill of a grifter. But it gives us readers something to think about too. Many of the people in the novel were not who they appeared to be on the surface. Perhaps we do that too. Is it ever right to be dishonest, say, toward a spouse? And what about conning someone? Do we perhaps set up the scene, make our spouse's favorite meal, attempting to influence the outcome? Other issues in the book include the life of a convict when he returns to society and, perhaps, his church. How can he be mentored and helped to be restored to society? Fletcher went along with a youth group mission trip. Was that a good idea?

I was a little taken aback by all the deceptive actions in the novel. I felt there was much more about the con, especially in the first half, than there was about the history behind the entire scheme. I became more interested in reading the novel as more of the history was revealed in the second half. Be sure to give this novel a hundred pages or so before deciding whether you like it or not.

In an Author's Note, Bartels reveals the historical background of the book. Much of the action is this novel has its roots in historical fact.

In the end, I enjoyed the novel. There was plenty of action and a good deal of suspense in the second half.

Zachary Bartels is the author of Playing Saint. An award-winning preacher and Bible teacher, he serves as pastor of Judson Baptist Church in Lansing, MI, where he lives with his wife and their son. You can find out more at

Thomas Nelson, 400 pages.

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

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

The Modern Fig Leaf by Pablo Giacopelli

Giacopelli received revelation about the Garden of Eden, when Adam and Eve began functioning from their minds and not their hearts, looking at things as if they were separated from God. They lost sight of their true identity, he writes, becoming disconnected from it. Their focus became wrongly fixed on what was outside them. “...[T]he enemy has successfully managed to blind and disconnect them from their true identity found inside their hearts where they are still made in the image and nature of God.” (37)

Giacopelli shares his experience of learning his own identity and nature in Christ and the realization that the devil wants to rob us of it. He shows why it is so important to live out of our heart and not our mind. If we live out of our mind only, we will try to get back to God by obeying rules, missing our heart engagement with God.

There is some good teaching in this book and some that makes me really nervous. Some of the really good teaching includes our misunderstanding of failure. Another great aspect of the book is the emphasis on not making the use of the mind our primary means of living.

I would advise discrimination when reading this book, however. Some of Giacopelli's revelation seems to be different from that historically accepted by evangelical Christianity. He writes, “The real reason why we are sinners is because we are born into a reality that falls short of who we really are – from living in the wholeness Adam and Eve lived in before the fall.” (44) He seems to indicate that there was no fundamental change in the nature of man because of Adam's sin. The Fall seems to have resulted in a mere change in perspective. Humans are still one with God, still in the image and nature of God. “This humanity of ours is not flawed or disgusting or repulsive to God. ...the truth is that there is nothing wrong with our humanity...” (73) And it is not just humans that are one with God. “We need to understand that everything and everyone is within God and He is within them. This is because if anyone or anything is outside of God, then God can't be God.” (246)

In order for this to be possible, Giacopelli has redefined sin. It is no longer disobedience before a holy God but “a by-product of living from our false identity.” (73) Jesus, in fact, “showed all of us He understood our true identity was not that of a sinner and our true and original Self was not capable of sinning either.” (242)

That means salvation must be redefined too. Giacopelli says it is “a fundamental and profound shift in knowing and understanding who we truly are.” (74) Salvation is no longer being made alive in Christ (Col. 2:13) but is coming to the understanding, as Giacopelli did, that God “has been with me and within me ever since I breathed my first breath...” (233) “This is what Jesus came to show and save us from … the illusion of separation that our false self leads us to believe...” (240) The illusion we need to be saved from is a state of unconsciousness in which we could not see the truth of who we really are, that there is nothing wrong with our true Self (apart from not being able to see this truth). (240)

That means he must redefine what it means to be part of the body of Christ. He used to think those individuals were people who “prayed a prayer” and “who have become Christians.” “Today, however,” he writes, “I realize and see that the body is made up of each and every one of us alive in this world today, whether we have become 'Christians' or not. The truth is that every single individual has been made in the image and likeness of God. The only difference between those of us who understand and see that we belong and those who are unable to see is only that God has awakened us to the reality, while others are not able to see yet.” (72) On being one with God, he writes, “This reality is open and true to every single one of us who have ever lived on this earth.” (234) Also, every person “carries the spiritual DNA of God.” (236)

That means that our spiritual experience and growth must be redefined. “The main opponent we face each day is not the devil, but the 'me' we see each time we look in the mirror.” (50) And because of that, “The truth is that we are responsible for most, if not all, of the suffering we experience in our lives.” (71) (He does not address Jesus' statement that the man blind from birth was not responsible for his own blindness but that it was for the glory of God, John 9:3.)

That means he must also redefine hell. He writes, “I believe that all hell means is a loss of divine union that in the present describes a state of consciousness that is unaware of the truth.” (244)

It follows that Giacopelli does not write about sin entering the world through Adam (Rom. 5:12-14), being dead in trespasses and sins (Eph. 2:1), about the heart being deceitful (Jer. 17:9), about the need for repentance (Acts 17:30 and many others), about the need to be saved (Eph. 2:5,8 and others), about becoming a new creation (2 Cor. 5:17), about judgment (Heb. 9:27), and so many other aspects of what I consider historical, evangelical Christian belief.

Giacopelli has some good points. We Christians should not think that we can behave so that we can gain God's approval. Yes, we Christians are to live and rest in the position and identity we have in Christ. But the author errs in wanting his readers to accept that all mankind retains the nature of God, that every human is one with God and just doesn't realize it. Giacopelli has neglected the fundamental change that occurred in the nature of man with the sin of Adam.

Pablo Giacopelli has been a competitive tennis player and then coached some of the best female players in the world. He is a personal and professional performance coach certified by the Coach U Institute. He is also a certified professional performance tennis coach and has been trained in sports psychology. He and his family have been based in Tel Aviv, Israel, for the last four years but are planning to relocate to the USA in 2015 to expand his work with The Zone Project.

Destiny Image, 250 pages.

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