Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Still Life by Dani Pettrey

This is the first book I've read in this series by Pettrey and I was surprised to find it a bit darker than her Alaska series. That this is the second book in the series is painfully evident by references to the events in the first book. There is much thinking on the part of characters about events in the first novel in this one. I found it distracting and recommend you read Cold Shot before starting this one.

The heroine is Avery, a photographer who is black listed because of what happened in the first novel in the series. She now works for an independent crime scene investigator, Parker. They have feelings for each other but will not acknowledge them, again because of what happened in the earlier novel.

Avery feels compelled to look for a friend from childhood who has gone missing. Parker helps her. Several federal agents Avery and Parker know are brought in but some are soon distracted by another case involving people being smuggled in by boat. The narrative frequently alternates between the two investigations. The second story line added interest in that it is about human trafficking but I did feel it distracted from the main plot.

The plot of the novel relies heavily on Avery and her relationships with people from her youth. Avery has become a Christian since her rough younger days but those she knew (and knows) have not. There were many complications in the investigation because of Avery's previous relationships. It was all a bit confusing.

There is a strong Christian message in this novel. Avery struggles with her past and must remind herself she is a new creation in Christ and the old is forgiven. There is also the message of sharing the gospel with another when the opportunity presents itself and not delay.

This novel is heavy on character development and romance. There is much ruminating by the main characters. I recommend the novel to those who enjoy a novel emphasizing characters thinking as opposed to suspense, of which there is little.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Dani Pettrey is the bestselling author of the Alaska Courage series and winner of the Daphne du Maurier award for Inspirational Novel, the Christian Retailing's Best Award for Suspense, and the Holt Medallion for First Novel. She and her husband live in Maryland. You can find out more at www.danipettrey.com.

Bethany House Publishers, 352 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Gift of Jesus

This devotional has been written by 51 men, Southern Baptist ministers and leaders. There are six devotions for each week, all six written by the same man. They are identified as Monday, Week 1, etc., so the book can be started any time. A relevant verse is provided before the devotion and a prayer after.

The devotions center on being faithful in our Christian walk. The topics vary but are a good mix between encouragement and challenge. There are devotions on the workplace, the leading of the Holy Spirit, responding to trials, struggling with alcohol, understanding the character of God, showing respect for spiritual leaders, the falseness of the prosperity gospel, parenting, and much more. The depth of the devotions vary from asking the reader to follow Jesus (153) to the struggle of faith when God seems absent (158).

As is often the case in books written by a variety of authors, there is inconsistency in the quality and impact of the devotions. Some were really challenging while others were rather ho-hum. Overall, however, I did appreciate them.

I would recommend this book to men, since the devotions were written by men. The illustrations of riding dirt bikes and sons playing football would seem to appeal mostly to men. There are no surprises in these devotionals, just good solid teaching.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Johnny Hunt, General Editor, is the former president of the Southern Baptist Convention.

Thomas Nelson, 336 pages.

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

Sunday, January 29, 2017

Killing Us Softly by Efrem Smith

This book was not what I was expecting. Smith says the book is about spiritual death and embracing it as “a way of understanding a key element of Christian formation.” “This book is an invitation,” he writes, “to enter into this journey of being killed softly by God's steadfast love and grace.” I expected this book to be about spiritual death, how we experience it and work it out in our Christian lives.

I found the book to be more about advancing the kingdom of God in the world. He writes about how the world is up-side-down to us and that Christians have the right-side-up remedy, establishing the kingdom of God. He explores how Jesus demonstrated the counter cultural nature of the kingdom.

Smith centers most of his writing around racial injustice. Twice he voices his concern that the church is “still one of the most racially segregated institutions in the nation.” Many of his stories and illustrations revolve around actions advancing racial equality. He argues that if Jesus were on earth in the United States today, He “ be considered an ethnic minority, a person of color.”

Smith is very encouraging for us “to go deeper in our intimacy with God, to experience in new ways our identity in Christ and the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.” He never helps us understand how we move into those realities. He has added some questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter but there is never a strategy offered to help us decrease and see God increase.

He gives us lots illustrations and many stories from his own life. The book is more about his own thoughts on his experiences and advancing God's kingdom than it is an exploration of what it means to die to self. There is plenty of encouragement to go and advance the kingdom of God in the world. If that's what you are looking for, you'll like this book. If you are looking for a greater understanding of what it means to die to self, you may be disappointed.

Food for thought: “To follow Christ is to follow him into the declaration and demonstration of the Kingdom of God.”

You can read the first chapter here.

My rating: 3/5 stars.

Efrem Smith is the president of World Impact, an urban-missions and church planting organization. He is a teaching pastor at Bayside Midtown Church in Sacramento, California.

NavPress, 192 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Murder on the Moor by Julianna Deering

I grew up reading mysteries from Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers. Reading this mystery series by Deering is like coming home again. The dialog, the setting, the mystery, and the characters are crafted with precision. What a treat.

Drew Farthering (who reminds me of Lord Peter Wimsey) has been asked by an old classmate to help solve a mystery. Mysterious activities have been happening on his estate, culminating in the murder of the village vicar. Drew and his wife travel to the Yorkshire moors. Fathering sets out to identify the murderer, but all too soon there is another murder and impending danger.

I love the setting of 1930s England. Deering has paid particular attention to detail with regards to the landscape, the dwellings, the cars, etc. Parts of this novel have hints of Sherlock Homes embedded in it too. That was fun. The characters are well developed. Deering has done a great job crafting distinct individuals, some a bit quirky. It was interesting to see Drew eat a little crow in this novel – signs of a maturing man. But my favorite part of the novel by far is the dialog. The repartee between Drew and his wife is delightful.

I highly recommend this novel and the entire series to readers who enjoy historical mysteries set in pre-WW II England. I am looking forward to the next adventure from this author.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Juliana Deering is the pen name of the novelist DeAnna Julie Dodson. She lives north of Dallas. You can find out more at http://juliannadeering.com/.

Bethany House, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Counterfeit by Lee Carver

I always enjoy reading a novel where I learn something and here it was about art fraud. Our hero is Dr. Richard Reed. He's taken the summer off from his university teaching duties to work with Interpol in their art fraud division. He meets Kendra Cooper, a librarian for a Texas art museum. She has taken a few weeks vacation in Amsterdam to study the masters. When Reed sees her closely inspecting and then photographing paintings, he is sure he has found a part of an art fraud ring.

The setting is Europe, mostly Amsterdam. There is quite a bit of action and some suspense. I was a little disappointed in the suspense as I felt it was predicted, caused by a dumb move on the hero's part, especially in light of previous dangerous encounters.

The major characters are pretty well developed. Dr. Reed is from a wealthy family while Kendra had to work her way through college. Their budding romance has to bridge that financial hurdle as well as the difference in their family structure.

The most interesting aspect of the novel by far is the information about art. The author has included many facts and tidbits about well known artists and their works. It was interesting to learn about art being hidden, say during WW II, and then discovered later. But some of the “found” art turn out to be contemporary forgeries. I also found out how forgeries are identified, sometimes something as simple as the age of the packing material.

I recommend this novel to those who enjoy a novel as much about a topic as it is romance and suspense. You'll learn quite a bit and enjoy a good plot too.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Lee Carver sets her novels in countries she has visited. She and her husband of forty-eight years have two adult children and five grandchildren.

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 306 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through The Book Club Network. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Friday, January 27, 2017

Builders and Blockers of Life by Randal Smalls

Smalls says he has written this book to help us discover the reservoir of strength and wisdom so we can get busy making our dreams come true. “No one else can make me change for the better-,” he writes, “I am responsible for helping myself.” (14) He does remind us that we have God's help.

Smalls wants us to make better choices. He addresses areas that can hinder or help us: doubt – belief, pride – humility, fear – courage, rejection – affection, resentment – affection, addiction – devotion. He helps us break from the past, change habits, and much more. He illustrates his teaching with examples from his own life. He provides questions for reflection at the end of some chapters, as well as a prayer and encouragement for future action.

There is good encouragement in this book to overcome many issues that hold us back. No detailed strategy is included however. The most helpful way to read this book would be with an accountability partner. A strategy would need to be developed and worked through based on the encouragement in this book. An accountability partner would be a great help in that process.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Randal Smalls is founder of The Better Life Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit organization designed to empower at-risk teens and adults. Creator of The Better Life Course, he conducts Better Life events in a variety of venues. You can find out more at www.betterlifecourse.com.

Whitaker House, 192 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through The Book Club Network. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Sweeter Than Chocolate by Christy Bower

The psalmist says God's Word is sweeter than honey. (Ps. 119:103) In ancient times, people with a sweet tooth craved honey. Today it's chocolate. Bower uses the metaphor, “sweeter than chocolate,” to describe God's Word.

Bower encourages us to crave God's Word like some crave chocolate. She wants us to have an attitude of delight toward the Bible and become addicted to it. She gives suggestions as to how that happens.

While Bower says anyone can understand the Bible, she does note that practice and training are required. She helps us understand the different Bible translations and how to choose one. She gives us an overview of the Bible and helps us understand the various Bible study tools, including computer resources. She explains how Bible study is done and how we can meditate on the Word.

This book is a good introduction to the Bible and Bible study for new Christians or Christians beginning to study the Bible for the first time.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Christy Bower has an M.A. in Biblical Studies from Multnomah Biblical Seminary and has twice been named “Writer of the Year” by American Christian Writers. She is the author of more than twenty books. You can find out more at http://christybower.com.

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 150 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the author. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Paralyzed by Alana Terry

This is the second book in a series. The first one had plenty of action and movement. This one concentrates on the character's struggles with memories and a post traumatic stress disorder.

In the previous novel, Kennedy had been kidnapped and held hostage. In this novel, she faces an uncertain future. The kidnapper was in custody but an accomplice is still at large. Kennedy struggles with fear, endangering her success at her college studies. Then she finds herself in physical danger too.

I found parts of this book a little disconcerting. In the midst of a suspenseful situation, Terry would give readers a lengthy section of Kennedy's thoughts. I really felt the flow of the action bogged down at these points. I would have preferred a mere paragraph of thoughts during suspenseful situations with more thinking at other times.

I would suggest that the first in the series be read before this one. Much of Kennedy's thinking dwells on what happened in the first novel. Without that background, this novel will not be as meaningful. I recommend this novel to readers who enjoy a novel concentrating on the psychological struggles of the main character.

You can read my review of the first book in the series, Unplanned, here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Alana Terry is a pastor's wife, homeschooling mom and Christian suspense author. Her novels have won awards from Women of Faith, Book Club Network, Grace Awards, Readers' Favorite, and more. She and her family live in rural Alaska.

Firstfruits Publishing, 256 pages.

I received a complimentary digital copy of this book from the author. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

The Trapped Girl by Robert Dugoni

I've just discovered a new author and series that have captured my interest. I appreciate mysteries centering in the Seattle area so jumped at the opportunity to review this book. I'm glad I did.

I liked the plot. It has a number of twists and turns. People are not who I thought they were. Crimes are not what they initially seemed. It could have been quite confusing. The way the plot develops, however, leads us directly through the investigation process and the revealing of facts.

I really liked the characters. Dugoni has crafted the detectives to be people with depth. One of the detectives, for example, has an issue with water. He can't swim and has some real anxiety when he has to interview a person on a boat docked at a marina. I especially appreciated Tracy, lead detective in this mystery. I am sometimes cautious when an author writes with the lead as a person of the opposite sex. Does a male author really understand how a female might think and feel in a situation? But I was pleasantly surprised and felt comfortable with Tracy's character.

I like the setting. Who in the Pacific Northwest is not in awe of Mt. Rainier? I like the mystery. I learned something new about police forces and their territorial thinking. I like the characters. The team of detectives working with Tracy are like family to her. That brought some warmth to this mystery.

I am not positive all the elements of the plot were wrapped up to my satisfaction at the end. Nonetheless, I did really enjoy this mystery and will be looking for more in the series. While it is book four in the series, it is the first I've read and enjoyed it.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Robert Dugoni is a bestselling author, has been nominated twice for the Harper Lee Award for Legal Fiction, was a 2015 International Thriller Writer's finalist and the 2015 winner of the Nancy Pearl Award for Fiction. Dugoni left his law career in 1999 to write full time, winning the 1999 and 2000 Pacific Northwest Writer's Conference Literary Contests. You can find out more at www.robertdugoni.com.

Thomas & Mercer, 378 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Monday, January 23, 2017

The Seven Stories That Shape Your Life by Gerard Kelly

Being a “missional” church is a popular concept right now. But what does that mean to Christians? How does that give us purpose and meaning to our lives? To help us understand missional thinking, Kelly looks at seven stories from the Bible in a somewhat nontraditional way. Each one identifies an aspect of our place in God's intention for the world.

The seven stories are creation (the starting point for understanding who God is, who we are, how the two might be connected), vocation (called to be unique partners in God's purposes), liberation (seeing injustice through the passion of God, not our own), formation (shaped into God's people through worship), limitation (exile, experiencing loss as part of the purposes of God), incarnation (God's story is the essence of our story), and restoration (God's plan for the world through the blessing of the church).

Kelly has helped me understand what missional thinking is. “It is the discovery, development and deployment of the gifts God has given to each of us and to all of us.” (17) Each of us has a unique part in God's plan. We must understand who God is and what He wants and then receive the tools and training to connect with the mission of God in our world.

Kelly's book is a bit involved. A layman may have a tough time making it through the book and I would suggest it only if the person has an interest in understanding what missional thinking is and how it applies to his or her own Christian walk. This book seems suited best for church staff or leadership boards wanting to develop their own theology of mission. The book could also be a resource for a sermon series.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Gerard Kelly is co-founder, with his wife, of the Bless Network, a movement committed to God's mission on mainland Europe. He lives in Normany, France, where Bless has a church plant and training base. He is a popular speaker and the author of eighteen books. You can find out more about the ministry at http://blessnet.eu/.

Monarch Books, distributed in the U. S. by Kregel, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Sunday, January 22, 2017

Craving Connection from the (in)courage community

These devotions are different from any I've read before. They are more like stories of women sharing their own experiences and then giving us lessons. These devotions are meant to encourage and inspire on a very personal level.

The book is divided into three sections. Stories in the first section are aimed at helping us connect with God more deeply. The second section encourages us to engage with friends while the last section helps us connect with our community.

Each devotion is written by a different woman. Many are published authors or bloggers. That makes the quality of the writing pretty good. The stories are heartfelt accounts from women writing about their lives and having to rely on God, establishing relationships with friends, and ministering to their community. They write about actual experiences of loneliness, jealousy, fear, forgiveness, hurt, and many more. I think my favorite was from Lisa-Jo Baker on how her high school friends helped sustained her as her mother was dying of cancer. There are some questions included at the end of each devotion, a challenge, and a prayer. There are also a verse, something to consider, and a suggestion for engagement at the beginning of each reading

I like this collection of stories. The idea is for us to see ourselves in the stories and I could certainly identify with many of them. I was impressed with the insights the women had to offer on some hard topics like sin and the words coming out of our mouths.

I recommend this book to women who want to connect with others. It could certainly be used by an individual for a month of inspiration. It would also be a good resource for a ministry leader of women.

I don't think this book is suitable for discussion among a large group of women. I see it more as a springboard for one woman connecting with another, perhaps over coffee a couple of times a week. The stories are good for initiating an openness through story telling but it would have to be with a trusted person.

Food for thought: “Love is being willing to inconvenience yourself for the sake of another – and finding joy in it.” (225)

You can find out more about the book and watch a trailer at http://www.incourage.me/cravingconnection.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

The authors are women affiliated with (in)courage, an online and conference community. You can find out more at http://www.incourage.me/

B&H Books, 288 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Icon Medial. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Your Miraculous Potential by Wayne Chaney

Chaney challenges readers by asking if we are good representatives of the kingdom of God. He suggests we might be living beneath our spiritual potential. He wants us to release the power of God in our lives.

He emphasizes the importance of hearing from God and responding in faith. We will see the miraculous, he says, in ways that are pleasing to God. It starts with having a passion to know God and His ways. He helps us understand hindrances, how to place ourselves in the right position, and how to recognize God's voice.

Chaney illustrates his teaching with stories from his own life, others he knows, and from the Bible. I really appreciated his own stories. He is very honest and shares a story of when he was sure he heard from God, followed through, and … nothing. Nonetheless, he encourages us to keep our ear to God, remain sensitive to His leading, and respond when He speaks.

I found it interesting that Chaney distinguished supernatural works not birthed out of an intimate fellowship with God and those authored by God. That might explain some of the craziness that has come out of the Charismatic movement.

This is a good book for Charismatic Christians about learning to hear the voice of God and then responding. Chaney gives good general instruction on the different ways God speaks and how we can position ourselves so that we are not hindered from hearing God.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Wayne Chaney pastors Antioch Church of Long Beach, California. He and his wife are cast members of Oxygen Network's television series, Preachers of L.A. Chaney has also appeared on several other television shows. He has a radio talk show on Sunday mornings and has served on many boards, task forces, and committees. He is married and has three children. You can find out more at www.waynechaney.com.

Whitaker House, 208 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through The Book Club Network. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Dry by Jane Harper

This novel is an amazingly well written one to be a debut effort. The present day murder mystery and the death of a teen decades ago are deftly intertwined in the well crafted plot. I was amazed at how the two events played back and forth as layers of lies and deceit were peeled away.

The setting is a drought stricken town in rural Australia. The desperation of the farmers and the effects of the drought on the town in general were very well portrayed. The relationships among the people of the town revealed well the underlying feelings. I especially appreciated the turmoil Federal Agent Falk experienced as he returned to his home town for the funeral of the man who had been his friend in teen years. He had been implicated in the death of the teen girl those decades ago and his presence causes a great deal of unrest among the locals. And when Falk realizes the death of his friend may have been murder rather than suicide, the anger and animosity in the town escalates.

This novel is a great murder mystery. It is also a great study in human relations, showing how past hurts affect present day relationships. The characters are well drawn. The setting of the parched Australian land is well described. As the plot unfolds and the mystery becomes more complex, there are some twists that kept me turning pages. I'll be watching for the next novel from this author.

I recommend this novel to mystery fans. I doubt you'll be disappointed.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Jane Harper worked as a print journalist for thirteen years. She lives in Melbourne with her family. You can find out more at http://janeharper.com.au/.

Flatiron Books, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Hearing From God by David Stine

Stine's book is one of those rare ones that not only gives great encouragement but also includes practical suggestions for following through. Stine reminds us that God wants to communicate with us and that we must put ourselves in position to hear Him. He gives us precise suggestions, examples of how it works from his own life, and forty days of journal pages where we can follow his method and record our responses.

This is by far the best book I have read on hearing from God. I was a bit apprehensive at first. Using the scientific method to hear from God? But I was greatly impressed with what Stine has written. He is clear that hearing from God could never be reduced to an exact science. Using the approach he advocates, however, does give us a means to hear from God more clearly and then apply it to our lives.

Stine has developed a five step method based on the scientific method. It includes determining a time and place to meet with God, being still and worshiping, reading and praying (making observations, asking application questions about growth, obedience, direction, sin, promises, accountability), then listening and writing, and finally sharing and obeying. He includes great examples from his own life how he has used this method and the results that have come from it.

Stine reminds us that it takes time to establish a new habit and it takes time to develop our ability to hear God's voice. He asks for a forty day commitment of thirty minutes a day. He provides the format in the last half of the book, giving forty days of worksheets with Scripture passages and space to journal our responses.

I highly recommend this book. Is there any more important skill for a believer to develop than hearing from God? Stine has done an excellent job of explaining the philosophy of his method, giving examples of how it works, and then providing us with the materials to do it ourselves.

Don't bother with this book, however, if you are not willing to make the commitment for which he asks. Stine reminds us that there is no promise that God will respond to those who seek Him half heartedly.

Food for thought: “God's Word has sustenance that provides exactly what we need at the right time and in the right way, but we have to set aside time to seek out His message in order to find it and receive it.” (876/3596)

You can read an excerpt here.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

David Stine is the lead pastor of DC Metro Church. He has a master's in practical theology and a doctoral degree in leadership from Regent University. He lives in the larger DC area with his wife and their four children.

Howard Books, 320 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Monday, January 16, 2017

The Kill Fee by Fiona Veitch Smith

Smith has provided readers with a complex plot in this mystery. It is London in 1920. Events in Russia have forced some of that country's royalty to find refuge in London. Poppy Denby, reporting on arts and entertainment for The Daily Globe, gets involved when there is a murder at an exhibition of Russian art. A Faberge Egg is missing from the exhibition. Poppy and her friends are determined to unravel the mystery of the murder and the theft.

One reason I like this series of mysteries is because of the effort Smith takes to be accurate in historical detail. While she includes historical information at the end of the novel, she also includes some information about White and Red Russians at the novel's beginning. Much of the plot revolves around those two groups of Russians and their attempts to obtain the Faberge Egg and the information it contains.

The narrative is mainly the 1920 era but we do go back periodically to 1917 – 1918 Russia for events leading up to the 1920 action in London. In the process, we learn about the 1917 Bolshevik revolution and the treatment of the Tsar Nicholas and his family. We also learn about the Faberge Eggs and that some of them had secret compartments.

This is a complex novel with many characters. Smith provides a list of characters at the beginning of the book. That's a good idea as some characters are not who they seem. It's also important to know whether the Russian characters are White or Red.

I recommend this novel to readers who enjoy a complex plot involving a number of characters. I think the plot was more complex than I appreciate. At the end, I really didn't understand why some of the Russians behaved as they did. I did like the attention to period detail, the dialog, music, etc. And I do like Poppy as a character and will be looking for the next in the series.

You can find out more about Poppy Denby and the novels at http://www.poppydenby.com/. You can read my review of the first in the series, The Jazz Files, here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Fiona Veitch Smith has worked as a journalist in South Africa and the UK and is now an Associate Lecturer in Journalism at Newcastle University.

Lion Hudson (distributed in the U.S. by Kregel), 336 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Moving Forward by John Siebeling

Siebeling looks at various issues that hold us back in our spiritual walk, such as emotions, worry, habits, anger, and more. He gives encouragement to overcome the issues, giving information from a variety of books, studies, and the Bible. I found the book contained great encouragement but frequently lacked practical strategy.

He writes, “We have to make the decision to change and then discipline ourselves to make choices that will produce the new habits we want in our life (willpower).” (79) And, “Breaking free from life-controlling issues isn't easy.” (97) One of his “simple 'starter steps'” is “Quit the habit.” (98) He makes encouraging statements like, “You need to make the choice to be done with that way of living.” (98) Sometimes I felt Siebeling told me what I should be doing without providing the tools I needed to do it. At other times he did have some good suggestions, such as the questions he provides to help in making good decisions. Sometimes he gives the idea and leaves the work to the readers. For example, “For every worry, find a promise in God's Word to address your situation.” (67)

God's grace gives us the power to walk away from anything holding us back,” Siebeling declares. (102) Nonetheless, he also writes, “Some emotional hangups require self-discipline and practical lifestyle adjustments; others may require addressing more serious underlying issues or getting professional help.” (51) He also suggests professional help may be necessary when dealing with “life-controlling issues.” (97) It seems that, while God's grace gives us the power, we may need professional help as well. I would have preferred knowing practical ways of seeing God's power at work within me.

This book contains lots of instruction. For example, “Choose to be faithful to what you started. Faithfulness has rewards, so keep working even when it's hard.” (148) Here's another: “Make tithing your top financial priority each month. Find a way to make it work and adjust the rest of your budget to fit around it.” (157,158) If you respond well to that kind of instruction, along with some great stories illustrating the principles, you'll love this book. If, however, you need some practical coaching on how to keep working even when it's hard and finding a way to make tithing a priority, you will have to look elsewhere.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

John Siebeling is the founder and lead pastor of The Life Church, located in the metro Memphis, Tennessee, area. He is the author of several previous books and has a weekly television program.

Baker Books, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Friday, January 13, 2017

The Kindness Challenge by Shaunti Feldhahn

Kindness is a simple concept but what a difference it makes in the lives of others - and our own. In fact, Feldhahn says the factor above all others that helps us thrive is not how we are treated but how we choose to treat others. Our happiness starts with the choice to be kind, especially when we don't feel like it.

Unlike other books I have recently read, Feldhahn not only encourages us to be kind but actually gives us lots of strategies to do so. It's not easy as we live in a culture of unkindness. We have to be purposeful and persistent. Feldhahn gives specific yet simple steps to help us be kind to our spouses and to others in general. She includes thirty suggestions for husbands, another thirty for wives, and then a final thirty for being kind to another person in general. She even helps us find out what we might be doing to sabotage our relationships.

I was surprised that Feldhahn writes that a decision to be unconditionally kind takes away the power of others to make us crazy. She also informs us that kindness is not the same as being nice or not rocking the boat. Being kind does not mean avoiding challenges.

I am impressed with this book. I expected the encouragement and the stories as illustrations. What I didn't expect was so many practical ideas for showing kindness. Her chapters containing the thirty days of suggestions are great. Her ideas on the eight types of kindness are great too.

I highly recommend this book for all readers. We need to practice more kindness and this book is full of practical ideas to help us on the way. Feldhahn says it takes thirty days to change our thinking and habits but again, there is plenty of material in the book for that. She even provides a website where one can get an assessment and sign up for thirty days of emails with encouraging ideas.

Food for thought: “It is only when you are actively kind to someone who is not kind to you that you see the true power of Christ-like kindness.”

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Shaunti Feldhahn received her graduate degree from Harvard University and was an analyst on Wall Street before becoming a social researcher, best-selling author and popular speaker. Her books have sold more than two million copies in 23 languages. She lives in Atlanta with her husband and their two children. You can find out more at http://www.shaunti.com/.

WaterBrook, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher. My comments are an independent and honest review.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

The Riverman by Alex Gray Giveaway

Publisher synopsis:

Fans of atmospheric police procedurals will love watching Glasgow vividly come to life with the shocking twists and turns that have made Alex Gray an international bestseller
When a dead body is fished out of Glasgow’s River Clyde the morning after an office celebration, it looks like a case of accidental death. But an anonymous telephone call and a forensic toxicology test give Detective Chief Inspector William Lorimer reason to think otherwise. Probing deeper into the life and business of the deceased accountant, a seemingly upright member of the community, Lorimer finds only more unanswered questions.
What is the secret his widow seems to be concealing? Was the international accounting firm facing financial difficulties? What has become of the dead man’s protégé who has disappeared in New York? And when another employee is found dead in her riverside flat these questions become much more disturbing. Lorimer must cope not only with deceptions from the firm, but also with suspicions from those far closer to home . . .

My review:

This is a great novel to read during these dark winter evenings. The plot is complex yet engaging. I enjoyed how the facts of the case were uncovered bit by bit. It took dogged determination on Lorimer's part to get to the root of the mayhem. The police work is methodical but kept my interest throughout the novel. I felt the ruminations of the characters were well balanced with periodic action. The point of view jumped around a bit at the beginning but the threads were brought together as the novel progressed.

Relationships are an essential aspect of this novel. They are more important in this novel than those concentrating on action. In two of the marriages, there was some concern about the husband having an affair. I liked how those concerns brought a sense of reality to the characters.

This is the first novel about DCI Lorimer I have read by Gray. I could tell there was some back story I had missed, such as between Lorimer and his wife, but this novel reads very well on its own. I really enjoyed the setting and the focus on the river in Glasgow.

I recommend this novel to those who enjoy the European style of mysteries, with methodical plots that uncover the mystery layer by layer.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Book Details:

Genre: Police Procedurals
Published by: Witness Impulse
Publication Date: January 10th 2017
Number of Pages: 368
ISBN: 0062659138 (ISBN13: 9780062659132)
Series: A DCI Lorimer Novel, #4
Purchase Links: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Goodreads

Read an excerpt:


The riverman knew all about the Clyde. Its tides and currents were part of his heritage. His father and others before him had launched countless small craft from the banks of the river in response to a cry for help. Nowadays that cry came in the form of a klaxon that could waken him from sleep, the mobile phone ringing with information about where and when. It wouldn’t be the first time that he’d pulled someone from the icy waters with only a hasty oilskin over his pajamas.
This morning, at least, he’d been up and doing when the call came. The body was over by Finnieston, past the weir, so he’d had to drive over the river towing a boat behind him on the trailer. He was always ready. That was what this job was all about: prompt and speedy response in the hope that some poor sod’s life could be saved. And he’d saved hundreds over the years, desperate people who were trying to make up their mind to jump off one of the many bridges that spanned the Clyde or those who had made that leap and been saved before the waters filled their lungs.
George Parsonage had been brought up to respect his river. Once it had been the artery of a great beating heart, traffic thronging its banks, masts thick as brush-wood. The tobacco trade with Virginia had made Glasgow flourish all right, with the preaching of commerce and the praising of a New World that was ripe for plucking. The names of some city streets still recalled those far-off days. Even in his own memory, the Clyde had been a byword for ships. As a wee boy, George had been taken to the launch of some of the finer products of Glasgow’s shipbuilding industry. But even then the river’s grandeur was fading. He’d listened to stories about the grey hulks that grew like monsters from the deep, sliding along the water, destined for battle, and about the cruise liners sporting red funnels that were cheered off their slipways, folk bursting with pride to be part of this city with its great river.
The romance and nostalgia had persisted for decades after the demise of shipbuilding and cross-river ferries. Books written about the Clyde’s heyday still found readers hankering after a time that was long past. The Glasgow Garden Festival in the eighties had prompted some to stage a revival along the river and more recently there had been a flurry of activity as the cranes returned to erect luxury flats and offices on either side of its banks. Still, there was little regular traffic upon its sluggish dark waters: a few oarsmen, a private passenger cruiser and the occasional police launch. Few saw what the river was churning up on a daily basis.
As he pushed the oars against the brown water, the riverman sent up a silent prayer for guidance. He’d seen many victims of despair and violence, and constantly reminded himself that each one was a person like himself with hopes, dreams and duties in different measure. If he could help, he would. That was what the Glasgow Humane Society existed for, after all. The sound of morning traffic roared above him as he made his way downstream. The speed of response was tempered by a need to row slowly and carefully once the body was near. Even the smallest of eddies could tip the body, filling the air pocket with water and sending it down and down to the bottom of the river. So, as George Parsonage approached the spot where the body floated, his oars dipped as lightly as seabirds’ wings, his eyes fixed on the shape that seemed no more than a dirty smudge against the embankment.
The riverman could hear voices above but his eyes never left the half-submerged body as the boat crept nearer and nearer. At last he let the boat drift, oars resting on the rowlocks as he finally drew alongside the river’s latest victim. George stood up slowly and bent over, letting the gunwales of the boat dip towards the water. Resting one foot on the edge, he hauled the body by its shoulders and in one clean movement brought it in. Huge ripples eddied away from the side as the boat rocked upright, its cargo safely aboard.
The victim was a middle-aged man. He’d clearly been in the water for some hours so there was no question of trying to revive him. The riverman turned the head this way and that, but there was no sign of a bullet hole or any wound that might indicate a sudden, violent death. George touched the sodden coat lightly. Its original camel colour was smeared and streaked with the river’s detritus, the velvet collar an oily black. Whoever he had been, his clothes showed signs of wealth. The pale face shone wet against the pearly pink light of morning. For an instant George had the impression that the man would sit up and grasp his hand, expressing his thanks for taking him out of the water, as so many had done before him. But today no words would be spoken.There would be only a silent communion between the two men, one dead and one living, before other hands came to examine the corpse.
George grasped the oars and pulled away from the embankment. Only then did he glance upwards, nodding briefly as he identified the men whose voices had sounded across the water. DCI Lorimer caught his eye and nodded back. Up above the banking a couple of uniformed officers stood looking down. Even as he began rowing away from the shore, the riverman noticed a smaller figure join the others. Dr. Rosie Fergusson had arrived.
‘Meet you at the Finnieston steps, George,’ Lorimer called out.
The riverman nodded briefly, pulling hard on the oars, taking his charge on its final journey down the Clyde.
Excerpt from The Riverman by Alex Gray. Copyright © 2017 by Alex Gray. Reproduced with permission from HarperCollins | WitnessImpulse. All rights reserved.

Author Bio:

Alex Gray was born and educated in Glasgow. After studying English and Philosophy at the University of Strathclyde, she worked as a visiting officer for the Department of Health, a time she looks upon as postgraduate education since it proved a rich source of character studies. She then trained as a secondary school teacher of English.
Alex began writing professionally in 1993 and had immediate success with short stories, articles, and commissions for BBC radio programs. She has been awarded the Scottish Association of Writers' Constable and Pitlochry trophies for her crime writing.
A regular on the Scottish bestseller lists, she is the author of thirteen DCI Lorimer novels. She is the co-founder of the international Scottish crime writing festival, Bloody Scotland, which had its inaugural year in 2012.

Connect with Alex Gray on her Website & on Twitter.

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 I received a complimentary digital copy of this book through Partners in Crime Virtual Book Tours. My comments are an independent and honest review.