"You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me."

-C.S. Lewis

What we read has such an impact on us, and I am always on the lookout for something that will inspire me to be a better person. Here is a sampling of books that have been in the teetering stack sitting on top of what is rumored to be my bedside table.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

A Call to Give Thanks

I have been blessed with so much this year - more than I can write in this forum, in fact. And so, I am choosing one thing to share that I know has been bothering many of us, especially those of us who work with children. It's that entitlement society that we all fear.

This year, I have had the privilege of leading my daughter and my niece through a Girl Scout project about protecting the planet's water. I watched these two darling Brownies as they explored the sad truth that so many children around our world must spend the majority of their days searching for enough water for their familes to drink.  And even though my sister-in-law and I have done everything we can to raise these girls outside the realms of entitlement, the thought that we need to be thankful for tap water boggled their little minds. It was the single most important thing they carried with them as they finished their project.

Last night, as I was purchasing my very American root beer float from Sonic, I was thinking about how many things I take for granted. At that moment, I was listening to the Focus on the Family radio broadcast, and the speaker was issuing a call to all listeners:

Each night, before you go to bed, give thanks to God for three things that you have been blessed with. And then watch your life change.

It seems too simple, too good to be true. And yet, I know that it works. Many of you know that I have clinical depression. Negative thoughts are the norm for people in my situation. But lately, when an extremely negative thought pops into my head for no reason at all, I have taken to immediately sending up a prayer of thankfulness for all my many blessings.

And you know what? The more I do this, those blessings are pushing the negative thoughts out of my head. I am learning to enjoy life for what it is, not for what I want it to be.  I am less and less plagued by unwelcome thoughts, simply for remembering my blessings. Who would have thought that something so easy could be so effective? Whole books have been written on escaping negative thoughts, and all it really took was prayers of thanksgiving.

I believe I first learned from Frances Hodgson Burnett in her novel The Secret Garden that where you tend a rose, a thistle cannot grow. A nice platitude, but it's true nonetheless.

So here's my challenge for myself and for anyone who wants to take it:

Think of three things that you are thankful for, every single night. And for those of us who are teachers, perhaps we can have our students, at the close of every single day, think of three things that they are thankful for. In a public school classroom, this is easy to do without bringing in religion. No one philosophy has a monopoly on thankfulness.

How many people could we influence to bring in roses to push out the thistles?  And what effect could this have on our entitlement society, if we could teach our children how to be thankful, instead of complaining that they are not thankful enough?

As my shoes clunk on the Pergo from stepping off my soapbox, I wish each and every one of you a blessed Thanksgiving.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot

To say that this book was a page-turner is a definite understatement. I'm going to be wholly honest and admit that I picked this one up solely because I thought the title was interesting, and I was captivated by the picture of the young woman on the cover.

As it happens, that woman - Henrietta Lacks - isn't just a fascinating picture. In her lifetime, it was apparent that she was an amazingly inspirational woman. And then there's the little matter of her cells....

A sample of Mrs. Lacks' cells taken during a biopsy is the only line of cells that has been deemed "immortal", meaning that they have not died off after 50 generations of division. In fact, since 1951, her cells have been used for so many medical breakthroughs that most - if not all - of us, have been affected by these cells. I had never heard of the HeLa cells before this book, but they are famous in the scientific and medical communities because of their widespread use in research. The list of medical advancements that are linked to HeLa starts with the polio vaccine, and just builds from there.

This book is a very well-researched account of the life of Henrietta Lacks, the life of her cells after her death, and the effects on her family. It is also a very thought-provoking discussion of race and class in America.

As if those issues weren't enough, the book brings to light a subject which most of us know nothing about - although we should. Neither Henrietta Lacks nor her family knew what those cells were being used for. For that matter, neither do any of us know what is being done with tissue and blood that is removed from our bodies during even simple procedures. And yet, most of us have tissue or blood samples in storage somewhere.

The debate over ownership of tissue samples should be more public. Because like Henrietta Lacks, we are all much more than a conglomeration of cells. For me, that was the true message of this book.

Five out of five stars.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Back from Women of Faith!

I'd like to start this post by saying how grateful I am to Thomas Nelson Publishing for sending me to Women of Faith. It was an absolutely amazing experience, one which I will keep in my pocket all the days of my life.

Friday Highlights:  I practically fell out of my seat laughing at Andy Andrews and his version of "Amazing Grace" set to the tune of the theme from "Gilligan's Island."  I marvel at this man because I've read his book The Final Summit (review here), and felt that its author was a truly inspirational person. Hearing his comedic side was a surprise of some magnitude, I can tell you! I was honored to hear him speak.

Brenda Warner was such a strong woman and a model of who we as women should strive to be. I felt humbled to be in her presence. This woman reminded me that God is always near through the rainbows and the rain.  Her testimony was exactly what I was hoping to get from Women of Faith. Instead of this fine woman constantly being introduced as "Kurt Warner's wife," people should be introducing Kurt Warner as "Brenda Warner's husband." Because that's how bright her ray of sunshine is.

Mandisa gave a concert that was not only inspirational but just. plain. fun. I'm heading over to iTunes after I finish this piece!

Saturday Highlights:  I've wanted to hear Amy Grant live since I was a child. I think I must have looked like a kid in a candy store during her set. Her guitarist amazed me as well. Amy Grant, Mandisa, and Sandi Patty closed the set together, inviting all women to sing with them. Dancing and singing along with these three women was one of the best times I've ever had. I felt so free, and so grateful to be alive.

Sandi Patty carried the day, without a doubt. I've rarely heard a performer sing so well during a live show. And the speech that she gave brought me to tears. She reminded us to just be still and listen, for God is near.

My one concern is that there was a dramatic piece given on Friday night that seemed to downplay the role that husbands play in our lives. Yes, we women are busy, and we lead lives that at times are overwhelming. But we can't ever forget the load that our husbands pull.

I don't know where I would be today if it were not for the kind and thoughtful efforts of my husband, and that's not an exaggeration. I had unidentified, untreated clinical depression for much of my life, and my husband has been an absolute rock through all of it.

I was saddened by that presentation because I realized how many women out there identified with it. I used to be one of those women, but through God's mercy, I have learned to step back from that kind of life.
If I were ever to speak to women, that is the topic I would choose. So many of us struggle, and so many of us have no idea how to deal with the pain.

If you are one of those women who identified with that presentation, I hope that you are able to step back, take a look at your life, sit down with your husband, and talk with him about how you can simplify your lives.You are not running a race. If you feel as though you are, something is wrong, and there are so many ways that you can address it if you can just ask for help.

"Be still, and know that I am God..... My grace is sufficient for you." If you have been to Women of Faith, or if you plan to go in the future, my prayer for you is that those verses are what you take from it. Because ultimately, that's all we need now or ever will need.

Soli Deo gloria

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Beneath a Southern Sky, by Deborah Raney

I highly recommend this book if you haven't read it yet. Deborah Raney's books were recommended to me by Goodreads, and I really wish that I had discovered her much earlier. Her writing style is nothing short of amazing, and this book latched onto my attention from page 1.

The basic premise is that the heroine and her husband are living a very happy marriage on mission in Columbia when the husband dies. The grieving widow returns to America, where she gives birth to their child, and attempts to put the pieces of her life back together. Two and a half years later, she is happily remarried to another man - until she receives word that her first husband has been found alive. She's put in the terrible position of having to choose between two men she loves.

This book deals in a very powerful way with the theme of sacrificing our own desires to meet God's plan for our lives. And, really, if you enjoy Christian fiction, this one is a must-read.

Five out of five stars

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cherished, by Kim Cash Tate

Cherished  is a novel that is ultimately about the choices we make in life and the consequences that follow. More importantly, it is a novel about forgiveness and redemption. It inspires the reader through several different story lines about a St. Louis family and their friends.
I think that what works best about this book is the strong connections that the characters have toward supporting each other in their spiritual growth. The Bible study group - really, a sisterhood - shared by the female characters is inspirational in and of itself. More women should have groups like that, and I hope that this book can serve as a model there.
The dialogue stands out in my mind as being realistic and enjoyable to read.
I did find, though, that the many characters and their storylines were difficult to follow, especially at first. There were moments in the book when I was truly moved by the events, but there are some pretty intense issues that are handled in this book. I felt that because there were so many different story lines, the book doesn't do justice to the deeper emotions that are evoked by some of the issues covered. I think I would have preferred to see this book split into two separate novels so that the two most serious issues could have been handled with greater intensity.
All in all, though, I think the author is talented, and I'd like to read more of her work.
Three out of Five Stars
Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Special Props to Women of Faith

I've really got to hand it to the good folks who work in the Women of Faith registration department.  I was fortunate to be chosen as a blogger at this year's Anaheim event by Thomas Nelson Publishing.  I was truly grateful for this opportunity, and have been looking forward to it since I heard the news.

However, a week before the conference, my tickets still had not arrived.  After waiting and checking the mailbox much like a high school senior during college admissions season, I finally caved and decided to call them this morning. I spoke to just the nicest woman. She discovered that I hadn't been assigned seats due to a glitch in the computer system. Gosh, don't I understand what that's like!

To sum it up, her supervisor felt so badly about the mixup that they've given me seats on the conference floor, very close to the actual presentation. These seats are so difficult to come by that I'm absolutely overwhelmed by their generosity. 

But more important than that was the sense of kindness that I felt from the woman who took my call. This was a woman who seemed so full of love that I could feel her spirituality over the phone, half a continent away. I truly didn't want to hang up the phone, just so I could enjoy her sheer goodness for just a few minutes more. That's the kind of person I wish I were, the kind of person I'd like to teach my daughter to be.

And she was just one more reminder that we make an impact with even the smallest actions.

So, thank you to Women of Faith, and thank you for the kindness of one woman. You've reminded me that there are still people in this world who shine a light for the rest of us.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Stained Glass Hearts - Seeing Life from a Broken Perspective, by Patsy Clairmont

Stained Glass Hearts, by Patsy Clairmont, purports to discuss the feelings of brokenness - the sense that life must be something more - that many of us have.  The book is advertised as showing the reader how to see her life in a new way. The reader is to be led to see her life as a work of art.
I was excited to read this book to see what wisdom the author had to impart. Certainly, she is an interesting writer, with tidbits and anecdotes meant to stimulate the mind of the reader. At times, however, I found these anecdotes to be rather disjointed, making the book hard to follow.
There were a few ideas in this book on how to mend one's emotional health. The author gives sound advice, but I found that the advice was thin based on what I expected.
The real beauty of this book lies in the interactive portions at the end of each chapter. The reader is invited to experience God's world through music, art, and literature, and nature. These sections awaken the reader's senses that, yes, there is something more to life than day-to-day existence. So many people have used their God-given talent to provide the world with meaning and life. This book will lead the reader to explore the sheer artistry of our world, and to learn to enjoy the intricacies of life despite having broken, stained-glass hearts.

Three of Five Stars
Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Why God Won't Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running on Empty? - Alister McGrath

Why God Won't Go Away: Is the New Atheism Running On Empty? by Alister McGrath, is a thought-provoking book about the flaws of the New Atheist movement. While the title is a bit misleading - McGrath states in the final chapter that this book isn't the forum to explain why humans continue to be drawn to a higher power - the book is an interesting read.

The first section of the book contains a literature review of New Atheist authors and ideals. It also discusses the difference between New Atheism and more traditional atheist views. McGrath then goes on to discuss what he feels are key tenets of New Atheism - namely the ideas that religion promotes violence, that religion stands in opposition to reason, and that religion is at war with science.

The discussion of religion  and violence was moot for me - after all, there are many other things besides religion that humans use as an excuse for their violent tendencies. This led straight into the discussion on reason. I enjoyed McGrath's assertions that while the New Atheism purports to belittle belief systems, theirs is a belief system as well.

However, it was the discussion of the so-called war between religion and science that I found to be the most compelling. McGrath takes a look at the view that religion and science must naturally stand against each other, with surprising insights.

In conclusion, I enjoyed this book for the ideas it presented. Highly recommended for anyone interested in apologetics.

Four out of Five Stars

Disclaimer: I was provided this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Women of Faith


I'm excited to report that I will be attending the Women of Faith conference in September, courtesy of Thomas Nelson Company. I've been wanting to attend this conference for a long time. Many of my friends have been, and I've heard it's very powerful. I can't wait!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

God's Love Letters to You: A 40-Day Devotional Experience, by Dr. Larry Crabb

As the title says, this book is a devotional that was designed to be read over forty days. It focuses on ridding our minds and souls of the negative thoughts that bombard us from all directions in a fallen world. The author seeks to remind us of the positive thoughts that are sent to us by God through the Bible.
At first glance, this book seems to be a very good devotional. It's something that could be done quickly each morning. It's similar in style to publications such as "Our Daily Bread" - although the study questions that go with each reading are better at helping the reader apply each section to his or her own life. People who love to write journals will appreciate these study questions, although the answers certainly don't need to be written down.
Furthermore, each reading focuses on one book from the Bible. I can easily see how a reader might be able to turn the forty days in this devotional into a longer study of each book that is included. Although the book was designed for individual use, I can see how it could be used in a group setting, as well.
All in all, this is a great little devo. I'd recommend it for anyone, man or woman, who is looking for something extra for quiet interludes with God.
Five out of Five Stars
Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher. I was not required to write a favorable review.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Seraph Seal, by Leonard Sweet and Lori Wagner

The plot of this apocalyptic novel is a simple one:  The end of times is upon the world. The few remaining faithful have a short amount of time to decipher clues that indicate that, yes, the end of the world is here, so that they can adequately prepare as many people as possible for the final day.

I was intrigued by this book because it initially seemed to be of the intellectual suspense nature. Clues are presented, and the reader ostensibly has to work to determine what these clues mean. However, I didn't find any of the clues to be difficult - thereby negating the need for the appendix at the back that was supposed to be vital to this new genre of "engaged fiction."

Furthermore, the book was largely predictable and I was never able to establish any kind of personal connection with most of the characters. This may have been because the book jumps back and forth between several different storylines. The moment I became attached to a character, the plot would twist away from that character and not return until several other storylines had been updated. Adding to my confusion, the point of view will occasionally jump from third person limited to third person omniscient, making it difficult for me to understand which character's thoughts are driving the scene.

The Alphabet of the Apocalypse at the end of the book is an interesting feature, and I hope that the authors publish a non-fiction book that delves deeper into the ideas presented there. I didn't agree with everything that they wrote in the Alphabet, but the feature as a whole was certainly thought-provoking.

Two of Five Stars

I was provided with a copy of this book through Thomas Nelson's "Booksneeze" program, and was not required to post a positive review.

Monday, May 16, 2011

No, He Can't: How Barack Obama is Dismantling Hope and Change, by Kevin McCullough

The title of this book says it all: McCullough is not a fan of Obama's policies, and the book is devoted to listing specific offenses. It is divided into sections on the economy, domestic and foreign policy, and morality.

I was looking forward to reading this book because I felt that it would provide an in-depth look at Obama's policies and their effect on America. The book certainly does that, albeit in a disjointed way. The main thesis of examining Obama is often laid aside for discussions of celebrities that seem wholly unconnected to US policy. It makes for a confusing read.

Furthermore, any undergraduate poli. sci. term paper would have to cite way more sources than this book ever does, and that bothered me.  I never knew if what I was reading was fact or biased opinions partly rooted in fact.

In summary, this book really could have done a lot more in discussing Obama than it did. Certainly there are serious issues with this presidency that should be evaluated. But the biases in this book make it difficult for me to recommend it to anyone for that purpose. Had it been more scholarly, I might have been able to take it more seriously.

I was provided this book by the publisher and was not required to give a positive review.

Two out of Five Stars

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Lead, Serve, Love, by Gregory E. Lang

This book would make an excellent gift for a Christian in any stage of the journey. It would also make a wonderful Bible study for teens and adults alike. The book is a compilation of three-word phrases designed to help the Christian lead a more Christ-like life. Relevant Bible verses accompany each phrase.
How exactly does a person lead a life that is more Christ-like? I have always struggled with this, since Christ was, well, Christ. How can an ordinary human live up to his standard? This book helps with this, taking key passages from the Bible and summing each up with a quick, three-word sound byte that makes it easy to understand how we can walk as Christ did.
This is definitely a book that was meant to be savored slowly. Sure, you could quickly read through the three-word phrases, and you'd get something out of it from page one. But it would be so valuable to take each phrase one at a time, studying the Bible verses with each phrase, and reading further into the relevant Bible passages. This book would make an excellent Bible study, and I plan to spend more time with it over the next few months.
I would recommend this book to anyone who is confused about how to lead a Christ-like life.

Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book by the publisher. I was not required to post a positive review.
Five out of Five Stars
Lead, Serve, Love: 100 Three-Word Ways to Be Like Jesus
Gregory E. Lang
Thomas Nelson, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

Max on Life, by Max Lucado

What proof do we have that the resurrection really happened? Do people who have never heard of God get to go to heaven? Why do bad things happen to good people? How can you teach a child humility without destroying his self-esteem? And what's really permissible in the Christian marriage bed?

These are just some of the 172 questions about religion and life in general that Max Lucado attempts to answer in this book. The book is presented in Q & A format, and has been divided into sections. There is also a helpful index in the back. Essentially, Lucado takes many questions that Christians have, and does his best job to answer these questions, citing Biblical references.

Lucado writes in a very straight-forward manner that is often humorous. The book is a good read if only for that. All of the questions that are posed are certainly relevant to both the new and old believer. Many of the questions are answered very well. For example, I've never read a better discussion of the reality of the resurrection, and all of my doubts were put to rest by this book.

However, some of the answers are extremely generalized and don't seem to fully address the question at hand. In a few instances, I wasn't sure if the question was ever answered. All in all, though, anyone who is seeking more information about the Christian faith will find that this book is by and large a valuable addition to a library.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers 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 Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Five out of Five Stars

Friday, April 15, 2011

Johann Sebastian Bach, by Rick Marschall

Three out of five stars
The premise of this book is a discussion of Johann Sebastian Bach and the influences that inspired his music. As biographies go, it is short and a quick read, offering a glimpse into the man who himself had a wide impact on the musical world.
Of Bach's great many works, the one which I am most familiar with is Jesu, Joy of Man's Desiring. Consequently, I knew that Bach was a Christian, but did not fully understand the great extent to which his faith impacted his music. Rick Marschall paints a very vivid picture of Bach as a man who had great theological knowledge, and transposed his theology into the musical realm. In this book, we see Bach as a missionary of sorts, delivering God's message through the world's most universal language.
On the other hand, the book didn't give me much insight into his life beyond that. For a man who must have been capable of great passion, very little of that seeps into the pages of this biography. This book is more a discussion of the times in which Bach lived, and a conglomeration of quotations from other biographies on Bach.  The spirit of the man does not leap off the pages of this book as I would have hoped.
That being said, however, I am now better prepared to listen to Bach's music now that I have read this book. After all, perhaps the only way to truly understand a musician is to understand his music. And so, even though the book does not live up to my expectations from a biography, its brevity was just enough to pique my interest in a great man. I recommend this book to anyone who doesn't know much about Bach, but would like to know more without devoting too much time to the subject.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers 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 Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, April 11, 2011

The Final Summit, by Andy Andrews

Four out of Five Stars
              The Final Summit tells the continued story of David Ponder, who has been called by the archangel Gabriel to lead a meeting of some of the greatest minds in history. The subject of the meeting is the determination of the one solution that will restore a moral compass to humanity.
                I haven't read the earlier novel with this character, but that did not stop me from understanding this book. The story is part fantasy and part philosophy. On the one hand, we have a fictionalized discussion of what values are essential in living a moral life. Key players in this discussion include (but are not limited to) President Lincoln, Joan of Arc, Winston Churchill, George Washington Carver, and King David. Reading the author's idea of how these varied people would interact with each other was highly interesting. It made the message of the book easier to understand.
                On the other hand, there is an intense intellectual debate behind the various ideals that prevent a civilization from falling apart. It would be a very good book to choose for a group study, and discussion questions are included in the book. I found the book to be very thought-provoking, as well as inspiring.
                 I would also like to point out that key issues involving clinical depression are raised. The credo in the back of the book is a fantastic culmination for anyone, not just depressives, who is interested in changing his life.

The Final Summit
Andy Andrews
Thomas Nelson, 2011

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Unsinkable: A Young Woman's Courageous Battle on the High Seas, by Abby Sunderland and Lynn Vincent

Four out of Five Stars

This is the semi-autobiographical account of Abby Sunderland, the sixteen-year-old American who attempted to sail solo around the world in 2010. The book is written partly in Sunderland's first-person voice, and partly in third person to describe her background, the preparations for her trip, and the trip itself.
I must start this review by stating that at the time this story hit the news, I absolutely did not agree that a young woman of that age should be allowed by anyone to attempt such a feat. Even after reading this book, I still have my doubts.
However, after having read this book, I realize that Abby Sunderland is not your average person. This is a story of a young woman who knew exactly what she was getting herself into, had prepared herself as much as she could, and who had an amazing team behind her.  The Abby Sunderland in this book is not the same girl who was presented to the world by the media.
Honestly, this should be required reading for high school students. Sunderland tells an amazing story of perseverance, of courage, and of sheer gumption. People who aren't sailors (like me) may get lost in some of the details, but the raw human emotion that shines so brightly here will be inspiring to anyone. It is also a story of the power of faith.
It's an easy read, and I highly recommend it to anyone who wants to know what the human spirit is capable of. Also, anyone who was even remotely interested in Sunderland's journey will find this book interesting.

Unsinkable: A Young Woman's Courageous Battle on the High Seas
Abby Sutherland and Lynn Vincent
Thomas Nelson, 2011
ISBN: 978-1-4002-0308-6
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://booksneeze®.com/> book review bloggers 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 Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, March 26, 2011

She's All That, by Kristin Billerbeck

Two out of five stars

I read this book because I found the author's most recent book, <i>A Billion Reasons Why</i>, to be entertaining. I can't say the same for this one, however. I just didn't connect well with any of the characters. The main character wore on my nerves after a while, which was unfortunate since the book is written in first person.

Billerbeck's writing style, however, is incredible. She's definitely an author that I would read again.

She's All That
Kristin Billerbeck
Thomas Nelson, 2005
ISBN   9781591453284

Saturday, March 19, 2011

A Conversation with God for Women, by Marcia Ford

            Essentially, this book is presented in a FAQ-style format. It poses questions that many Christians have about their faith and what God expects from us. It answers these questions in the first person, as though God, Christ, or other people in the Bible were answering these questions directly.  Corresponding Bible verses are footnoted and included verbatim in a separate section at the back of the book.
            At first, I was taken aback by the boldness of a book that would speak for God.  However, most of the assertions made in the book are supported by appropriate Scripture. There are a few cases, particularly with other Biblical people such as Mary the mother of Christ, where I think that much inference has been made into personality.  However, these instances don't detract from the larger message of the book. 
            I feel that the theology of the book is spot-on.  There were portions that could have used more links to Scripture, but the message of the book seems well grounded.
            The book seems to have been organized to read from cover to cover, but I think that most readers would appreciate jumping around and reading the questions that pertain to their own lives.
            I highly recommend this book for any Christian who has questions about the faith, and for non-Christians who also seek to understand the religion better.  It would be an excellent addition to a church library.

A Conversation with God for Women
Marcia Ford
Thomas Nelson

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers 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 Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Saturday, February 26, 2011

The Promises She Keeps, by Erin Healy

5 out of 5 stars

The Promises She Keeps
Erin Healy
Thomas Nelson (2010)
ISBN 978-1-59554-751-4

The Promises She Keeps is a deeply compelling story about love and the decisions we make about what we do with the time we have in this life. The back of the book almost makes it sound like a romance, but instead the novel delves into the power of love as a whole, and what it means for our society. The novel tells the story of a young woman with cystic fibrosis, and the people who influence her in her quest to be eternally remembered after she dies.
The book is very suspenseful, and I liked the mystery elements that were included. Promise, the heroine, survives some accidents that really should have been fatal. These events were very thought-provoking as I tried to reason why Promise was able to survive. Chase, another character, often quotes well-chosen Bible verses that only piqued my interest in Promise's story. The antagonist, Porta, is a practicing witch who serves to counter Chase's argument that love is the most powerful concept of all. The dichotomy of these two characters is, in my opinion, what drives the book and makes it so fascinating.
Without giving away any spoilers, the ending of the book is so full of suspense and is so well-timed that I couldn't put it down.
The writing was phenomenal , the message was deeply inspiring, and the book was just simply a good read. You don't have to be a Christian to enjoy it, either. The author doesn't appear to be trying to convert anyone. The book carries with it a message that could be appreciated by anyone.
Frankly, this is a superb book that deserves a wide audience.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com <http://BookSneeze®.com> book review bloggers 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 Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, February 21, 2011

A Billion Reasons Why (Fiction by Kristin Billerbeck)

Three out of Five Stars
Katie McKenna is a special education teacher who has given up on her past as a singer in New Orleans. Giving up that past means that she's decided to marry a man from her church in an effort to erase the memories of a passionate relationship gone bad back home. But when her ex shows up and invites her to sing at his brother's wedding, Katie finds that she is confronted with a choice between the passion of old and the stability of the present.
There is plenty of romance in the story, particularly for anyone who enjoys the movies and music of the 1940s. I thought the references to the old classics were sweet, and they made the story much more entertaining.  The writing style is very good, with plenty of imagery to help the reader become more involved in the story. And you can't beat New Orleans for the setting of a novel.
The major thing that didn't quite work for me was the characterization. There seemed to be so many inconsistencies in several of the main characters. Is Dexter passionless and predictable, or is he a sweet guy who sends roses every week? Does Eileen like Dexter or not? Does Eileen like Luc or not? And Katie's mother seems to flip flop so much you'd think she was a beach sandal. Issues like these made the story less enjoyable for me
I will say, however, that the main characters were fun to read, particularly Luc.
I would recommend this book to anyone who likes simple romances with interesting plots and settings. It's an easy, fun read.
A Billion Reasons Why
Kristin Billerbeck
Thomas Nelson, 2011
ISBN 978-1-59554-791-0

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the Goodreads First Read book 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 Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <http://www.access.gpo.gov/nara/cfr/waisidx_03/16cfr255_03.html> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Truth of the Cross, by R.C. Sproul

Five out of Five Stars

R.C. Sproul's The Truth of the Cross  is nothing short of an amazing piece of theological writing. It discusses the necessity of Christ's atonement in light of the sins of man. It also goes into detail about the substitutionary act that was Christ's death, and covers who exactly benefits from the atonement. There is also a chapter on the five points of Calvinism that explains the historical depth of Calvinism.

I admit that I was nervous about reading this book because of Sproul's reputation as a first-class theologian. As a layperson, I wasn't sure I was going to be able to follow his writing very well. However, Sproul is a master of the written word. He takes this subject and makes it easy to understand with his captivating writing style. As a result, I found the book to be a fairly easy read  - which helped, because the subject matter is so thought-provoking.

I finished this book before church this morning, and I found that what I learned in this book opened up the Bible to me in ways I never imagined. I understand so much more about what Christ's sacrifice truly meant, both for those who lived before His time and for those who lived after. In terms of this understanding, I feel that The Truth of the Cross is one of the most inspirational books I have ever read, and I don't use that hyperbole lightly.

A chapter toward the end of the book does a pretty thorough job of explaining the five points of Calvinism from a layperson's perspective.  Sproul explains that Calvinism actually stems back to the time of St. Augustine, and that people tend to misinterpret the idea of limited atonement. He explains that limited atonement only means that Christ died for believers, which I feel is important for people to understand.

Whether or not you are a member of the reformed church, I believe that this book is inspirational and leads to a better understanding of the sacrifice that was made on Calvary. I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know more about Christ, God, and what is expected of Christians.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Crazy Love

I didn't realize how much debate there is in the theological community over this author until I'd read this book. I am not a theologian in any sense, but here is my layman's perspective of this book.

I appreciated the first section of the book, which examined God's character as He shows Himself in the Bible. I am impressed with Chan's challenge of the American church and its members to look within themselves to see if they are truly following God's word. The second part of the book focused on ways in which we as Christians can examine ourselves. It gives guidance on how to allow God to lead us in the path of the righteous.

The book was good in that it absolutely caused me to examine my life as a Christian more closely. However, the writing style was not as riveting as I had hoped it would be, which made it difficult to keep my interest for long periods of time. But, as with many issues of a spiritual nature, perhaps this book is best read slowly and deliberately, leaving time for prayer.

I recommend this book to anyone who is interested in stepping up their spirituality.

Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God
Francis Chan
David C. Cook (2008)
ISBN:   9781434768513

Friday, February 11, 2011

The Thorn

Four out of Five Stars

This is the first in a trilogy of books about two Amish sisters. One has left the Amish community for a passionate marraige with a non-Amish man, but has come to regret the decision. The other sister is faced with making a decision between her best friend, a non-Amish man she has so much in common with, and an Amish man who will provide her with the faith-based life she needs, but seems not to have a great deal in common with her otherwise.

The dichotomy between the two sisters is the most interesting part of the book. It is almost as though they are older and younger versions of the same person. It will be interesting to see how the trilogy plays out to see how much the younger sister is influenced by the choices of the elder.

This book is certainly better than most fiction about the Amish that I have read. It was well-written, and I felt as though most of the characters had true human emotions. It's tough to review the first book of a trilogy, since many of my concerns about the characters in the book were obviously left unanswered. I am eagerly awaiting the next two books to see how well the story stands as a whole.

This isn't a silly romance, nor is it a deeply serious book. Recommended for any older teenage girl or adult who wants a book that is a good, solid, middle-of-the-road book. I am eagerly awaiting the second book in the trilogy.

The Thorn (Rose Trilogy #1)
Beverly Lewis
Bethany House (2010)
ISBN13:   9780764205743

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Beguiled (Fiction)

The styles of the two authors blended together nicely. This was a very well-written book, with the perfect mesh of adventure and romance. The crime novel portion was interesting, although the ending was as predictable as these things usually are. The religious aspects of the novel, while important, definitely took a back seat to the crime aspect of the story, so I think that anyone, Christian or not, would enjoy this book. It is not at all preachy.

I'd recommend this novel for anyone who is interested in a crime novel that isn't too terribly intense, with light romance thrown in for good measure. And I very much hope that this won't be the last collaboration of these two authors.

Deanne Gist, J. Mark Bertrand
Paperback, 332 pages
Published February 1st 2010 by Bethany House
4 out of 5 stars

There's a first time for everything...

Well, I've succumbed, as I always knew I would, and have joined the ranks of the bloggers. But this is something I truly believe in - the sharing of information about good books. And I have to say that I'm excited about this new endeavor of mine. We shall see what comes of it!