Saturday, December 17, 2011

Behind the Veils of Yemen - Book Review

Book Description: When Audra Grace Shelby and her husband felt God calling them to minister in the Middle East, she was fearful--how would she raise her children in the heart of conservative Islam? Armed with prayers and a faith that always seemed too small, the family made the move to Yemen, enduring deadly illness, uncertainty, and the unnerving experience of being Christians in an Islamic culture. Yet God was at work, and Audra was invited to see what few Christian women have seen: behind the veils of Muslim women. Here she shares about the friendships she forged, about the opportunities to minister when her new friends' hopes shriveled and their own religion faltered--and how the grace of God touched lives in the midst of an enemy stronghold. With humor, passion, and honesty, she shows readers glimpses of life deep in the heart of Islam and the yearning heart of our loving God.

Review: This book chronicles some of the time Audra Grace Shelby spent with her family in Yemen. She opens by discussing the difficult journey to the mission field, one that included a life-threatening illness for her husband. It moves into stories from their first weeks/months in Yemen. She chronicles how she built relationships with the women in her community, most importantly, Fatima, her Arabic tutor. Shelby details how these relationships continue to be built by detailing some of her encounters with the Muslim women and their personal, probing questions of her life. I could feel Shelby’s awkwardness in some of the situations she described. I loved the honesty Shelby portrayed throughout this book. She was honest about her struggles – with the culture, the heat and the inconveniences present when working in a developing country. She is also refreshingly honest in her conversations with God outlining her questions and doubts. These conversations happen repeatedly throughout the book, often accompanied by the lesson God has shown her. I really enjoyed this book and it was a remarkably quick read. The storytelling style in this book made me want to keep reading. My only lingering question is what happened after they returned to Yemen after the birth of their fourth child. The follow-up at the end doesn’t really address that and I was left wondering what happened to Fatima, did the seeds of the gospel ever see harvest? I felt the book was missing a couple of chapters. Even with that, I recommend this book to anyone interested in missions, life in the Middle East or both.

Baker Publishing gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Monday, December 12, 2011

The Baker's Wife - Book Review

Book Description: Before Audrey was the baker's wife, she was the pastor's wife.  Then a scandalous lie cost her husband a pastoral career. Now the two work side-by-side running a bakery, serving coffee, and baking fresh bread. But the hurt still pulls at Audrey.  Driving early one morning to the bakery, Audrey's car strikes something-or someone-at a fog-shrouded intersection. She finds a motor scooter belonging to a local teacher. Blood is everywhere, but there's no trace of a body.  Both the scooter and the blood belong to detective Jack Mansfield's wife, and he's certain that Audrey is behind Julie's disappearance.  But the case dead-ends and the detective spirals into madness. When he takes her family and some patrons hostage at the bakery, Audrey is left with a soul-damaged ex-con and a cynical teen to solve the mystery. And she'll never manage that unless she taps into something she would rather leave behind-her excruciating ability to feel other's pain.
Synopsis:  Audrey and her husband Geoff were leading a church in their small town when a lie-filled scandal took it from them.  They decide to stay in town and make a living by turning a hobby into a successful business.  They work together operating a bakery and use the bakery as a way to minister to the community.  Unfortunately, an accident and disappearance shatters their life, putting Audrey under a cloud of suspicion.  A wayward ex-con ends up in their lives and carries secrets of her own.  Through a hostage-taking, Audrey is forced to solve the mystery of the disappearance in order to save her husband and son. 
Review:  This book was not at all what I was expecting.  It started slow but I enjoyed the mystery aspect of it once I got into it.  I liked the suspense in the book but I was somewhat disappointed in the ending.  It didn’t really “fit” with the rest of the book.  I can’t really put my finger on exactly what my complaint is, it just felt somewhat forced in parts.  I’m not saying that makes it a bad book or even one I’m sorry I read, it just wasn’t my favorite.  One thing to note… I’m still not 100% sure how I feel about Audrey’s “gift” of being able to feel other people’s pain/sickness.  I know the author explains it as feeling extreme empathy/compassion for others but I’m still a little uncomfortable with it.  It’s not enough for me to not recommend the book to others, it’s a good book, I’m just not sure how others may react to Audrey’s gift.  All in all, it was a good book; not my favorite but a good book all the same.
Thomas Nelson Publishers gave me a copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Attracted to Fire - Book Review

From the Back: Special Agent Meghan Connors’ dream of one day protecting the president of the United States is about to come true. Only one assignment stands in her way. After the vice president’s rebellious daughter is threatened, Meghan is assigned to her protective detail on a secluded ranch in West Texas. Unfortunately, working with Special Agent in Charge Ash Zinders may be as tough as controlling her charge. Ash has a reputation for being critical and exacting, and he’s also after the same promotion as Meghan. But when the threats escalate and security on the ranch is breached, it becomes clear this isn’t the work of a single suspect—it’s part of a sophisticated plan that reaches deeper and higher than anyone imagined. And only Ash and Meghan can put the pieces together before it’s too late.

Synopsis: Meghan is a Secret Service agent assigned to a team who's job is to protect the Vice President's daughter. The job isn't easy since the daughter doesn't really want to be protected and someone is trying to kill her. Meghan's job is also complicated by the fact her boss, Agent Zinders is a sexist who doesn't think women belong in the Secret Service. As the book progresses, Ash sees how wrong he was and as he and Meghan work together to save the VP's daughter, their attraction for one another grows.

Review: This book took a while for me to get into but once I did, I couldn't put it down. I stayed up WAY too late a couple of nights reading. :-) I liked Meghan's character but then again, I'm partial to strong female characters. I thought Mills did a good job making Meghan's character strong but not so over-the-top she came across as borish or difficult. The story progressed quite well and there was enough intrigue and tension to keep you occupied and wanting more. There were times here and there that the story was a little far-fetched but not so bad I quit reading. It was pretty easy to figure out who was the "bad guy" but Mills kept you guessing as to how Ash and Meghan were going to resolve the situation. I like a book with likable characters and this one had that. I felt the ending was a bit contrived in parts but overall, it was a good book.

I'm not sure why I haven't read Diann Mills before but I plan to read more of her work soon. I'm glad to have found another new author.

Tyndale House Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

It's Not About Me - Book Review

Synopsis: Pop culture and psychobabble tell us to make ourselves the center of the universe in order to be happy. Churches have communicated the false idea that God exists to give us all that we selfishly want. In this book, Max Lucado reminds us that it's not about us, it's all about God. It is through this shift in thinking that we can truly live an unburdened, happy life.

Review: I intially selected this little book because I thought it was a new Max Lucado book. Turns out it is a title I was unfamiliar with. Either way, I'm glad I requested it. This book is a great reminder from the title to the last page, that this life is not about us. Our lives are supposed to be about reflecting God's glory. Lucado repeatedly uses Scripture to make his points about how we are supposed to live our lives. We should be like Moses in Exodus 33, asking God to show us His glory. We should want God Himself more than the things of God. Lucado also consistently talks about God's character and characteristics, writing about His strength, His love, and His power. God has all the characteristics (and always has) and chooses to share them with us. According to Lucado (using Scripture as back-up), we as Christians are to reflect God's glory like a mirror. I love this imagery. This idea is so simple yet so profound.

While this book doesn't really reveal any great new theology, it's a great reminder of how we should live our lives. What I like about this book is the way Lucado imparts his wisdom without sounding preachy. When talking about habits/behaviors that prevent us from reflecting God's glory, Lucado uses himself for the examples. Overall I'm glad I requested this little book. I'm going to add it to my bookshelf so I can pull it out and re-read it from time to time.

Thomas Nelson Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my review.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Bloodlines - Book Review

Note: This book does not come out until September 30th. You can pre-order it at your favorite online bookseller.

This is without a doubt one of the strongest books I've ever read. I'll say upfront that I will be purchasing a copy as soon as it is available! John Piper begins with somewhat of an autobiographical chapter, detailing is younger, racist days. He is very transparent about how he used to speak to and act towards and think about blacks. He openly states that the gospel changed his heart. After that opening, he begins to delve into the gospel and discusses point by point how the gospel message and really the whole of Scripture shatter any notion that one race is superior to the other. Piper repeatedly uses Scripture to draw parallels between how God views us and how we should view others.

While this is a book chock full of Scripture, it isn't just a biblical tome on race. Piper uses the last portion of the book to provide practical advice to people on how to address racism in their lives (and churches) and how to work to end segregation in our churches. Church members everywhere should be able to take Piper's suggestions, combine them with the Scripture presented and develop a plan to fit their church's unique situation.

Because of my situation at work as part of an undoing racism initiative and my current church's entire design, this book resonated with me on many levels. I was convicted of some of my own thought patterns and am prayerfully working through what those mean. I cannot wait until my hard copy comes and I am able to delve deeper into the spiritual truths presented in Bloodlines. If you've ever wondered about race/racism adn how to address it as a Christ-follower, this book will be an excellent tool.

I received a galley proof of Bloodlines from in exchange for my review of this book.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Never the Bride - Book Review

Synopsis: Since she was just a little girl, Jessie Stone dreamed up hundreds of marriage proposals, doodled the romantic ideas in her journal with her treasured purple pen, and fantasized about wedding dresses and falling in love. She’s been a bridesmaid nearly a dozen times, waved numerous couples off to sunny honeymoons, and shopped in more department stores for half-price fondue pots than she cares to remember.

But shopping for one key component of these countless proposals hasn't been quite as productive–a future husband. The man she thought she would marry cheated on her. The crush she has on her best friend Blake is at very best…well, crushing. And speed dating has only churned out memorable horror stories.

So when God shows up one day, in the flesh, and becomes a walking, talking part of her life, Jessie is skeptical. What will it take to convince her that the Almighty has a better plan than one she’s already cooked up in her journals? Can she turn over her pen and trust someone else to craft a love story beyond her wildest dreams?

Review: This book has an interesting storyline to say the least. In some ways it reminds me of "The Shack" with God taking on human form and interacting with Jessie. Even more than a week after finishing it, I'm not 100% sure of my opinion. As a book, it was okay - it was a slow-starting book but I kept with it. There were times that Jessie annoyed the mess out of me and had she been a friend of mine, we would have had words. After a while, the storyline picked up and I got to the point I really wanted to see where the book was going. As a fiction book, it served the purpose I want a book to, it entertained.

From a theological standpoint, I'm much more conflicted. While I know it is fiction, there were some comments God's character made that are completely outside His character. Several times, God appeared to be humored by the distress Jessie was feeling. I just don't see God being amused by the hurt of His children. There were parts of this novel that God used to convict me of some erroneous thought patterns in my own life so it's not all bad. But, like "The Shack", this book needs to be read by more mature Christians who can separate the fictional version of God with the Scriptural version. Overall, it was a decent book but I won't be quick to recommend it to others.

Waterbrook Multnomah gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Promises to Keep - Book Review

The narrator of this story is nine year-old Roz who has recently moved to town from Minnesota to escape an abusive husband/father. One afternoon, the family finds their home's previous owner, Mrs. Tillie Monroe sitting on the front porch. She still views the house as hers regardless of the fact her sons sold the house and there is a new family living there. Over time, Roz's mom allows Tillie to move in as a housekeeper/nanny and she rightly becomes part of the family and somewhat of a mentor to Roz. Without the adults in her life knowing, Roz is sought out by her father and begins secretly meeting with him. About the same time, Roz makes a friend, Mara, who has secrets of her own about her father. As the story continues, Tillie becomes ingrained in the family and Roz's secret about her father becomes deeper and deeper. The story comes to a dramatic conclusion that I don't want to spoil. If you want the full story, read the book. :-)

This book gets off to a somewhat slow start but at a certain point, I had to keep reading and at one point, I stayed up WAY past my bedtime to finish it. Tatlock wove an interesting tale using a nine-year old protagonist but it really worked for the book. There were multiple themes running throughout the book including race, family, lies vs. truth, fear, and friendship. Tillie's wisdom provided the spiritual influence for the book - there was a presence but it wasn't overdone. This book provided a solid, interesting storyline with a great ending. I would highly recommend it to anyone.

Bethany House Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Courting Miss Amsel - Book Review

Edythe Amsel ahs moved to Walnut Hill, Nebraska to teach in a one-room schoolhouse. She's headstrong and not at all what the townspeople expected when they hired her. Her teaching methods are called into question quite often by the parents of her students. One of those wondering about her methods is Joel Townsend, a local farmer raising his two nephews who just happen to be in Miss Amsel's class. Joel pretty quickly finds himself attracted to Miss Amsel. Unfortunately for him, Miss Amsel's not interested in dating. As the school year progresses, Miss Amsel finds herself wanting to take her students (especially the girls) to hear Susan B. Anthony speak on women's suffrage. The outcry from the town is predictably harsh. Will the townspeople run her out of town? I won't give you any more details so I don't spoil the book. :-)

This is a new author for me but I'm glad I found her work. While the book is a historical romance, it never falls into the sappy, sickenly sweet territory other historical romances can. I also like the fact that the main character isn't portrayed as a weakling in need of a man to save her. Sure, she has her flaws but I found myself wanting her to be successful both as the schoolteacher and in love.

I think the author did a good job crafting an enjoyable story. Once I got into the book, I found myself wanting to keep reading. The story kept moving and kept me interested. This is definitely a book I'm going to share with other people. I'm also happy that I found a new author! Gotta love that book and a fun, new author for me.

Bethany House provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Now I Walk On Death Row - Book Review

I have to say upfront that this is one of the most powerful and thought-provoking books I've read in a good while. Now I Walk on Death Row by Dale Recinella is part autobiography and part indictment on the death penalty. The book opens with the story of Dale's past as a high-powered lawyer who is on top of the world professionally but falling apart personally. His marriage falls apart and his brother confronts him and challenges him to get his life together. He has a conversion experience and begins to study the Word and turn his life around. He spends time studying Scripture and begins to seek his purpose in life.

The question that challenges him the most (and I relate to this challenge) is 'what if Jesus meant what He said?' Recinella is moved to action by this thought and looks for ways to serve within his community. There are arguments with Catholic Church leaders about who is supposed to be concerned with social justice issues.

Eventually, Recinella finds prison chaplaincy as his calling and befriends prisoners over time. As his ministry within the prison continues, he moves to state prison and death row prisoners. He begins to witness executions and begins to question how Christians can support the death penalty. The second half of the book chronicles his experiences with several executions and he highlights the possibility that the state of Florida has executed men who might have been innocent of the crimes for which they were convicted.

This is a powerful book; the writing style allowed me to feel the emotion and the struggle Recinella went through. If you are a staunch proponent of the death penalty, this book will make you think and should lead you to question that position. There were some issues I didn't agree with him on 100% but overall, this is a powerful testimony of how God changes people and gives them a passion for His glory. One of the points that sticks with me the most is the idea Recinella said a couple of times in the book...Jesus said it. You read it. Go do it. Sounds like a great way to live life.

Bethany House Publishers provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Springtime in the Spirit - Book Review

Springtime in the Spirit by Maureen Lang is part of the Great War series and is set in post-WWI Germany. I wasn't sure what to expect since I'm not a big fan of historical fiction but I came away pleasantly surprised.

Annaliese is a part of the Socialist movement in Germany working to rid herself of the links to the Capitalistic society of her youth. She is surrounded by other like-minded individuals who use her to gain the support of the women of Germany. Christophe, a childhood friend of Annaliese, is sent to the city to try and convince Annaliese to come back to her parents' home. Annaliese though wants no part of her history or of her family. She sees them and their capitalism as the problem with society. As the book progresses, you sense a shift in Annaliese. Her nicely restructured belief system begins to crack and as violent incidents occur throughout the city, she is forced to begin questioning her beliefs. I won't spoil the ending but rest assured, the book ends happily for the main characters.

I will admit this book was a little tough to get into. The story took a bit of developing and that seemed to cause the story to drag a little. But, I stuck with it and was glad I did. The level of intrigue picked up and I had to force myself on several occasions to put the book down and go to sleep. I appreciated that the author allowed Annaliese to question her beliefs in an honest way and even toward the end of the book, she was still questioning God and how He could have allowed things to happen the way they did. You could sense the struggle the character was going through.

I was definitely surprised at how much I enjoyed this book. I think if you like history, the book will interest you on multiple levels. It really explores the political maneuverings of that time period but has a sweet story in it as well. I will be looking for the other books in the Great War Series.

Tyndale House provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review. I was not required to post a positive review. No other compensation was provided.

Deeper Into the Word - Book Review

To continue with this month's theme of new authors, here's another one. Deeper Into the Word was written by Keri Wyatt who is a Bible-study author and speaker. I wasn't really sure what to expect by this book but I was pleasantly surprised. It really functions as a "souped up" New Testament Bible dictionary. Wyatt has taken the most common words in the NT and provided brief commentary or reflections for each word. With me being somewhat of a word nerd especially when it comes to Scripture, I would have liked the posts to be a little more detailed. BUT, having the shorter entries allows for the inclusion of more words. Wyatt has done an extensive amount of research on the words included in the book - I was impressed with the thoroughness of the entries. I will be adding this book to my study shelf to use when studying the New Testament.

Just an FYI, I saw online that an Old Testament version of Deeper Into the Word is due out in November of this year. Based on my experiences with this one, I'm hoping to procure the OT version too!

Bethany House Publishers provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for my fair and honest review. No other compensation was provided.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Double Shot - Book Review

To stay consistent, here's another "new to me" author. Double Shot by Erynn Mangum was sent to me to review and I was thrilled to find this new author. This is the third in the "coffee" series but it is so easy to catch right up with where the story line is. In this book, Maya is engaged to be married and planning the wedding. But of course, the planning can't go off without a hitch. Throw in a new job offer for her, a new job offer for her fiancee (with a move) and a premature nephew and Maya is completely overwhelmed. Without spoiling too much of the storyline, I'll just say everything wrapped up quite nicely.

I really enjoyed this book. I can so relate to Maya and her need for planning and control. I could identify with her doubt and indecision. I liked that Mangum made the difficulties Maya faced seem realistic and not have an easy ending without a struggle. The author used other characters in the book to challenge Maya to trust in the Lord's timing but it never came across as preachy. I like that this is a great "chick lit" book without the nasty language and sex scenes found in other author's work. I will definitely find other work by this author. In fact, I've already downloaded another book in the "coffee" series to my nook.

I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Always True - Book Review

This was a new author for me (again). Always True by James MacDonald was a little different than most of what I review. Rather than a straight Bible study book or a reference book, this one focuses on a particular topic, the promises of God. I did like the layout - it breaks down five principles on the promises of God: God is always with me, God is always in control, God is always good, God is always watching and God is always victorious. MacDonald works through the theology of each promise, laying out the Scripture references for each promise and embedding the Scripture in each chapter. I did appreciate the Scripture references throughout but several times while reading, I felt like the material presented came across as trite. Don't get me wrong, I believe every bit of it; I'm just not sure how I would have responded if I'd been struggling with something major in my life. I would be interested to see how some friends of mine who are struggling would/will respond.

One thing that concerned me slightly was the section in promise three about God being always good. Some of this section came across as prosperity gospel (ie, if you have faith, God will bless you). It may not have been the author's intention but that's how it came across to me.

Even with my reservations, I would recommend this book with the caveat that it be read while also spending dedicated time in the Scriptures listed and in discussion with another believer.

C Grant and Company provided me with a free copy of this book from Moody Publishing Company in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Beyond Opinion - Book Review

I've had this book for a LONG time and am just now getting around to posting the review. The time in between receipt and review should in no way imply that I didn't like the book. This is a hard-to-read book but in a good way. It is packed with well researched, well written material but takes a long time to digest completely. I found myself having to stop, re-read and then process what I'd read. I loved that the book is a compilation of writings of other authors including such scholars as Alister McGrath and John Lennox. It is without a doubt an excellent book on apologetics. I like the format Ravi Zacharias used to set the book up, using chapters based on questions from groups of challengers including youth, atheists and Islam. This format allows the reader to read through the entire book or to choose the topic based on a particular interest area. I think it would be especially helpful for those who may be building relationships with particular groups of people and want to further their ability to answer questions relating to theology and the gospel. Make no mistake, this is a hard book to read but it is worth it on so many levels. I can't recommend this book enough for believers who work to share their faith by building relationships with people.

Thomas Nelson Publishers gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Amy Inspired - Book Review

This may be one of the worst named books out there. Inspired is not the word I would use to describe Amy. Annoying, whiny, or complacent would be better choices but those wouldn't make good book titles. I was just not pleased with this book. I actually got annoyed with the main character and the choices or lack of initiative Amy took throughout the book. She keeps wanting to change things about her life but through most of the book makes no attempts to do so. The end tried to wrap things up but it ended up being too trite and forced. I really attempted to like this book but even though I finished it, I had to force myself to.

I was also left wanting a little more in terms of inspiration for me as the reader. Most books I've reviewed for Christian publishing houses have a little more inspiration in terms of how the characters interact with church, their relationship with God, etc.. It doesn't have to be overt to satisfy me but in this particular novel, it seems forced and doesn't come across as "real."

In short, I was disappointed in the book overall. It is not going in my recommend pile.

Bethany House gave me a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review of the book.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Tandem - Book Review

I've been putting off this review because I don't really have that much to say. Here goes...

Tandem by Tracey Bateman has been my least favorite book of 2011 so far. This is a new author for me so I tried my hardest to give it my best shot. I even put it down and came back to it to try again. I just couldn't get into it. For one thing, I'm just not into the vampire genre and that's what this book was (unbeknownst to me). I don't have anything against the genre so my review isn't based on that premise, I just didn't "click" with the book. I kept hoping I would get more interested but the characters all seemed somewhat flat and the conversations were stilted. The plot line jumped around a bit and I found myself confused. I don't mind a twisted storyline, I just found this one more confusing that I wanted to put up with.

All in all, I was disappointed but it wasn't so bad that I would never pick up anything of Bateman's ever again. I just didn't click with this novel.

Waterbrook Press provided me with a free copy in exchange for my fair and honest review of this book.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

City on Our Knees - Book Review

I had "City on Our Knees" sitting around for a while as other books got moved to the top of the pile. I'm glad I finally got around to reading it. Even as short as it is, there is a lot of power packed into this little book. I've read lots of these "inspirational" books before and come away disappointed. That was not the case here. Toby Mac chose stories of real people and heroes of the faith to illustrate the importance of prayer in our lives. All too often we as Christians cheapen prayer or treat our prayer lives like a cosmic "wish list." Ever since I read this little book, I've been convicted to examine my own prayer life and spend time really focusing on how I'm praying and why I'm praying. There is a particular passage from the chapter on John Hyde (starts on pg. 113) that has stuck with me...questions Hyde asked...I've continued to struggle with these questions.

I wonder if Toby Mac thought about the impact this little book would have on the prayer lives of readers. I know I walked away different. Sure, there are inspirational stories throughout but what I walked away with was the underlying concept that prayer has and will continue to change the world.

Bethany House Publishers provided me a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. No other compensation was provided.