"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.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Starring Me, by Krista McGee

           Starring Me is a YA book about seventeen-year-old Chad, who has been a pop star since winning a major television talent competition.  He's trying to break into acting with his own show - but, his parents insist that his female co-host be a Christian.  Enter Kara, a seventeen-year-old non-Christian who is in the final round of auditions for the show.  The two have met through mutual friends, but neither has any idea that Kara is being considered for Chad's show.

            The story was frustrating from the beginning for me.  It is marked by awkward transitions, and I never felt as though I were a part of the story.  The characters were one dimensional and stereotypical.  This is the kind of book that seems to talk down to teens through characters that just didn't seem real. 

            Spiritually, the theology was sound.  However, the religious aspects were more preachy than not.  The Christians in this book rarely talk about anything but their religion, even though they supposedly lead multi-faceted lives.  There was certainly much more telling than there was showing, particularly with regard to religion. 

            The subject matter of this book might be interesting to teens - television auditions, teen heartthrobs, and even hanging out at the White House. But other than the setting, I couldn't find much in this book to intrigue me.

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

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Garden of Madness, by Tracy L. Higley

           Garden of Madness is a story that was inspired by characters in the Biblical book of Daniel.  Tracy L. Higley tells the story of a Babylonian princess who both literally and figuratively races to save her family and her country from a destructive revolution. She is aided in her efforts by a son of the Judean king.
            The plot of this book has the adventuresome spirit I love to read. It's got murder, mystery, romance, family secrets - everything you'd want from a good story.  Plus, you can't get a much better setting than the Hanging Gardens of Babylon. The plot is complex, with many characters who weave in and out of Princess Tiamet's struggles to overcome her family's enemies.  Tia herself, while at times melodramatic, is largely a strong character that I think most women would find inspiring.  While the book isn't wholly unpredictable, the complexity of most of the main characters is enough to keep the reader guessing at many of the details of the great mystery within the plot.     
            The author admits that most of the story is fiction.  However, it is a speculation of the story of one of the ancestors of Christ.  I feel that the theology in this book is sound.  Not only will I read this book again, I look forward to finding other works by this author.  It is, hands down, the best book for the Christian market that I have had the pleasure of reading.
            Disclaimer:  I was given a copy of this book by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.
            Five out of Five Stars

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

This Scarlet Cord, by Joan Wolf

           In this interesting twist on the five chapters of the Book of Joshua that discuss Rahab, we get a glimpse into Jericho as it might have been before and during its fall.  Rahab is a young Canaanite woman who in this story falls in love with an Israelite named Salmon.  As a result of her love, she turns to the Hebrew faith and aids the Israelites in their conquest of the city.
            Rahab as she is described in the Bible is both a prostitute and an ancestor of Jesus.  In this book, she is more a young woman who is caught up in the trappings of the Canaanite faith.  In Jericho, this may well have been the religion of Baal and Asherah, and this is how it is depicted in the book. So although we do not see Rahab presented as a prostitute in this story, we do get insight into a young woman who undergoes a conversion to Judaism as she comes into her maturity. 
            There were moments of this book that drew me in.  Others were more bland.  I did not find the cultural presentation of the era to be convincingly depicted.  Parts of the story seemed to suggest that Rahab's conversion and assistance to the Israelites were more motivated by her love for Salmon than by her love for Yahweh.  I also feel that the story deviates from what we know of Rahab through the Bible and the writings of Josephus.  However, I do recommend this book to anyone who is inspired by Rahab and is interested in a different take on her story.  It is very much a story of female empowerment.

            Three out of Five Stars

            Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Spirit Fighter, by Jerel Law

            In this tale of adventure, 13-year-old Jonah and his sister Eliza are part-angels on a mission to save their mother from the forces of evil. Their mother, a nephilim half-angel, has been kidnapped by fallen angels. Jonah and his sister, helped by their guardian angel, embark on a wild journey through New York City to rescue their mother.

            I've been reading a lot of angel fiction recently, and so I was intrigued by this one. It did not disappoint, I can tell you. The author does a fantastic job of telling a tale of action and adventure. Swords, shields, sea-creatures - you name it, this book has it.  I was delighted to find a book that would appeal to boys, since good books of this variety are few and far between.

            Another impressive aspect of this book was the religion.  While the book is obviously a work of fiction, I felt that the theology was sound.  Best of all, the book sends a powerful message to Christian youth without being preachy.  (And it is not without a certain degree of humor that I say that it's the first book angel I've read where the characters actually pray!)

            I highly recommend this book for any middle schooler or even upper elementary student.  Boys would especially like it. This is Jerel Law's first novel, and I'm eagerly awaiting the second installment in this series.

            Four out of Five Stars

            Disclaimer: I was provided a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The Founders' Key, by Larry P. Arnn

           The Founders' Key is largely a historical discussion of the link between the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.  It brings to light the intentions of the Founding Fathers as evidenced by outside sources such as the Federalist Papers. The author also does a fairly good job of discussing the pros and cons of representative government.

            The summary on the back of the book makes it seem as though this book will be about how leaders since the early part of the twentieth century have ignored the Constitution to the detriment of the country. However, the majority of the book isn't much more than a discourse on the intentions behind the two documents.  Anyone who already has a keen understanding of American history won't be surprised by much of the book.  Occasionally, the author makes mention of instances in our history when the Constitution hasn't been espoused, but not on the large scale that I was led to believe would be in this book. 

            I found that the book became most interesting during the conclusion, when the author does more than make mere mention of specific American institutions that are not listed in the Constitution - such as the federalized education and welfare systems. In the conclusion, the reader gets a taste of what the author was trying to convey. Unfortunately, there isn't enough there to sate the appetite.

            I do hope that the author publishes a second book that further develops the study of the treatment of the Constitution by our nation's leaders - perhaps going farther back than Wilson, since Lincoln was also a master of laying the Constitution aside when he felt it served the needs of his times.  And for that matter, Jefferson himself stated that future generations should not feel bound by the needs of his generation.  I would love to read a discourse on this topic.  I believe the author is up to this challenge.  I just don't believe it happens in this book.

            Ultimately, the book would be a good read for anyone who is trying to gain a deeper understanding of the two documents that form the basis of our nation.

            Three out of Five Stars

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

Monday, July 2, 2012

Chosen: The Lost Diaries of Queen Esther, by Ginger Garrett

          This is the first book of Ginger Garrett's I've read, and I must say that I was pleasantly surprised.  I am not normally a fan of ancient history, so I wasn't expecting to like this one.  But it wasn't long before I was so drawn into the story that I found myself thinking about it when I wasn't reading it.
            Chosen follows the story of the Biblical Esther.  I read the Book of Esther just before starting this book.  It's a short one, which meant that Garrett had to add quite a bit to the story to make it novel-length.  She does this masterfully, however.  Her writing style is captivating, and her attention to historical fact and detail lends credence to her story.  In some cases, she footnotes passages with historical information.

            What I Loved - The characterization of Esther. She pops out as a real person in this novel, and her hopes and dreams are as familiar to me as my own.
            What I Didn't Love - The footnotes that lead to commentary at the back of the book.  In many cases, these were either preachy or distracted from the story altogether. I think any person picking up this book is going to be able to make the connection that some choices we might make are wrong.  The commentary just wasn't necessary.

            Who Would Love This Book - Yes, this is a religious book.  But it's also a book about oppression, specifically against women.  I see this book reaching anyone who is interested in inspiring stories, ancient history, or feminism.

            Four out of Five Stars

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Lost, by Jacqueline Davies

I picked this book up because of my interest in the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire.  I'm not sure what I was expecting - probably something along the lines of the movie Titanic (which I actually didn't like, oddly enough).

What I found was a well-told story of a teenage girl living in a Jewish neighborhood in New York's East Side.  An employee at the Triangle factory, she is also dealing with a recent tragedy in her own life.  While she tries to escape the depression of her home, she befriends a coworker who has a mysterious past. Together, the two girls struggle to make a way in their new world - a way to escape the feeling of being lost.

This is so much more than a story of an infamous tragedy.  It is a powerful story of life as so many of us know it - a story of hopes and dreams, fears and losses, and the struggle to find a place in the world. 

Oh, yeah, and there's enough shades of a love story to keep the thing from becoming too serious.

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is interested in this bit of history, and especially to high school students who are studying US history.  The author does an extremely good job of bringing history to life in a way that school textbooks can't.  The Triangle girls had lives outside that factory, and I think it's easy to forget that when we only think of them in the context of the fire.

Five out of Five Stars

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Heart of Gold, by Robin Lee Hatcher

Heart of Gold, by Robin Lee Hatcher, is the story of a young woman who moves with her minister father from the Confederate South to Idaho. Her southern sympathies are challenged as she meets people with differing viewpoints. She finds that she must better know her own mind as she makes a place for herself in her new world.

            I was expecting a simple romance when I picked this book up, and certainly it is a light read. However, the issues of racism and brother-vs.-brother give the plot more depth than a run-of-the-mill romance. It is also a coming of age story, as the heroine learns to question the ideals that she has always thought to be right.  The readers journeys with Shannon as she learns to guide her decisions with thought and prayer instead of emotion.
            And, of course, there is the romantic aspect of the book. Will Shannon choose the dashing stage-coach driver who frustrates her with his lack of emotion about the war?  Or will she pick the gentlemanly fellow Southerner with whom she has more in common? 

            Either way, it's an enjoyable read that won't leave you disappointed if you like period romances.

            Three out of five stars

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

Saturday, January 21, 2012

The House on the Corner, by Michael Rains

The House on the Corner, by Michael Rains, is a novel about a boy who goes on a quest ostensibly to fight against a corporation that is controlling people's minds. He joins a group of people who are also working together toward this end.

Honestly, I was very confused throughout much of this book. The transitions between scenes are awkward and sometimes nonexistent. There is a sea of characters, and it's hard to keep track of the relationships between them - or even who they are.  At one point, one of the characters actually says that many things are very confusing.  Having most of the characters be so confused throughout the book doesn't help the reader much.  It was very difficult for me to write a summary of the book because I understood so little of what was happening.

Also, frequent errors in grammar (especially placement of commas) and odd word choices distract from the plot.  There is a good deal of telling instead of showing, which makes the writing style seem a bit trite.

On the plus side, the idea for the plot is interesting. There were moments of clarity when I could see the novel for what it could be. The spiritual allegory is quite promising.  If the author sees this, I'd like to encourage him to keep studying his craft.

One of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided a copy of this book by Thomas Nelson publishing house in exchange for an honest review.

Beyond Molasses Creek, by Nicole A. Seitz

Beyond Molasses Creek, by Nicole A. Seitz, is ultimately a story of finding peace and spirituality.  Along the way, Seitz takes the reader on two parallel journeys - that of an American woman trying to find a place in her life's future, and a Nepalese woman trying to find the true story of her past.

I was intrigued by Seitz' Inheritance of Beauty, but Beyond Molasses Creek is one of those books that draws you in and doesn't let you go until well after you're finished. I was mesmerized by the story of Ally and the struggles she has to overcome when she returns to her Southern hometown after her father's death. Her uneasy transition into this new season of her life is one that most readers can identify with. Her friendship with her African-American neighbor - once taboo but now accepted - only added to my compassion for the character. Ally is someone whom you'd like to invite over for a cup of tea and a nice chat.

In contrast to Ally's experience, Sunila's experience as an Untouchable is heart wrenching. I was especially  taken in by the comparison to the de juris caste system in Nepal vs. the de facto caste system in America. I was skeptical at first that the parallel storylines would work, but they intertwine beautifully.

This book is fascinating on several levels.  I highly recommend it.

Four out of Five Stars

Disclaimer:  I was provided an Advance Review Copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Your 100 Day Prayer, by John I. Snyder

This is certainly one of the best daily devotional books I've seen. As the title states, the book guides the reader through 100 days of Bible study, reflection, journaling, and prayer. The idea is to bring the same issue before God for 100 days, practicing persistence in prayer as Christ taught.

I admit that I had my doubts as I read the introduction of the book. It really seemed as though the author was selling the 100 Day Cure for What Ails You. But this book isn't for folks who think that life magically gets perfect the moment you become a Christian.  God never promised that, and this book doesn't either.

This book is about learning to become God-centered, instead of Me-centered. It's about learning to reconcile our fast-paced lives with the slower lifestyle that our bodies were designed for.  There are a variety of issues covered in this book, including anxiety, anger, fear, and finances. It is a 100 day course of soul searching with the aim of complete reliance on God.

This book is for anyone who wants to know why bad things happen to good people, anyone who is going through a crisis, or anyone who just wants a closer relationship with God.  Highly recommended.

Five out of Five Stars

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

Saturday, January 7, 2012

The Bone House, by Stephen R. Lawhead

The Bone House, by Stephen R. Lawhead, is an interesting foray into the realm of speculative fiction. The main character, Kit, and his allies must travel through different parallel dimensions on a quest to find The Skin Map.  The Skin Map charts the different dimensions of this "multiverse," but the key that the Map holds remains a mystery to Kit and to the reader. To complicate matters further, Kit must also stay away from Lord Burleigh, who is also in pursuit of the Map for his own evil schemes.
I had not read The Skin Map, the first book in this series, but a quick synopsis brings the reader up to date at the beginning of The Bone House. Still, though, I found it difficult to follow some of the story lines.  There are many characters and almost as many story lines told from different points of view. In addition, occasional flashbacks make the story somewhat difficult to follow. Also, the reader is expected to infer quite a bit as the plot plays out, since the story does jump back and forth in time and space.

However, while this novel can't be classified as an easy read, it is nevertheless interesting. The ideas of quantum physics and the multiverse are fascinating when written in a fiction format. An essay on the subject is included at the end of the book.  I'd recommend reading this essay before beginning the book, as it might make some things more clear.

All in all, this is a book that is not your normal fiction fare. If you're looking for something unique, this is the series for you.

Four out of Five Stars

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