"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.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

31 Days to Happiness, by Dr. David Jeremiah

Suffice it to say, this was not the book I thought it was going to be, based on the title.  So much for judging a book by its avatar!  I was pleasantly surprised by David Jeremiah's book.  I thought I was getting a fluff piece on the Magical Happy Land some people think we're entitled to.  But this book is really an insightful commentary on the Book of Ecclesiastes and how it relates to modern life.

The Book of Ecclesiastes, besides being the inspiration for pop songs of the 60s, contains reflections written by King Solomon toward the end of his rather eventful life.  And when you think about the lessons we can learn from that life, Ecclesiastes takes on new meaning.  I, for one, had never given this book much thought.  But Dr. Jeremiah's writing changed that for me.  He delves into Ecclesiastes with both wisdom and wit, covering topics that most people can relate to.

What this book doesn't cover would be a shorter review.  This commentary helps us put Biblical perspective on a wide array of topics - injustice, learning to move on, working for a boss you don't respect.  But there is also advice on the good things in life - marriage, joy, living life to its fullest.  Birth, death - as Solomon puts it, "Everything under the sun."

I highly recommend this book to anyone who wants wisdom on life from a man who experienced everything out of life.  It's a wonderful month-long Bible study, and you'll find yourself with a better perspective when the month is over.

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

Five out of Five Stars

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Jesus on Every Page - 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament, by David Murray

Jesus on Every Page - 10 Simple Ways to Seek and Find Christ in the Old Testament is a thought-provoking book that links the New and Old Testaments in a way that is not often done in the modern church.

I will say, this is not the book I was expecting to read. When I first opened this book, I thought that it would be about specific Messianic verses in the Old Testament - those verses that specifically refer to Christ on earth. I am always interested when one of those verses pops up in my reading, and so I was looking forward to reading Jesus on Every Page.

However, the book turned out to be much more than a simple discourse on specific verses. Murray delves into the theology that links the Old Testament with the New. He discusses the New Testament writers and what they had to say about the Old Testament. The majority of the book is then spent on teaching the reader how to find Christ throughout the Old Testament. It is not just about specific verses, although many verses are given. It is about teaching the faithful how to read the Old Testament from a different perspective - with a mind toward finding Christ.

Is Jesus in the Old Testament? Absolutely. He didn't just pop up unexpectedly, and this book will help the Christian find Jesus, so to speak, in a new way.

The book tends toward the academic side, and be prepared to read passages from the Bible concurrently with this book. At times, I felt that the book would be better for a pastor or a seminary student, but I stayed with it and was rewarded for my time. The discussion questions at the end are suitable either for group or individual study. I highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an intellectual Biblical experience.

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

Five out of Five Stars

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Saving Beauty From the Beast: How to Protect Your Daughter From an Unhealthy Relationship

           I found this book quite by accident, and I'm glad I did!  Saving Beauty from the Beast: How to Protect Your Daughter from an Unhealthy Relationship, by Vicki Crompton and Ellen Zelda Kessner, is a must-read for any parent.  Whether you have a daughter or a son, the information in this book is vital.  It was written from the perspective of a mother whose daughter was killed as a result of an abusive relationship.  She spent quite a bit of time researching unhealthy relationships in young adults and teens, and this book is a product of that.  I wish I'd read it as a teen.

          The authors identify the different kinds of abusive relationships - emotional, sexual, and physical - and discuss each one in great detail.  They give tips on how to tell if someone you know is being abused.  Even better than that, they help the reader understand what an unhealthy relationship looks like in the early stages, when it's still relatively easy to leave.  They also discuss what happens to a victim's mental state that allows her to continue in a relationship that's bad for her.  Contrary to popular belief, most victims don't remain in that situation by choice. 

          The authors also discuss how to help your child leave an abusive relationship.  They also give information on how to raise your child so that she is less likely to become involved in that relationship in the first place. 

          Out of the several books I've read on this subject, this one is one of the best.  I highly recommend it.

          And for those of you who think it can't happen to you or your child, think again.  You'd be surprised at the kinds of personalities that are likely to be in the victim's position.  If you've trained your daughter to be helpful toward others, or if your child is the strong, save-the-world type, then becoming informed about abusive relationships can be one of the best parenting decisions you can make.

          Five out of Five Stars

Saving Beauty from the Beast: How to Protect Your Daughter from an Unhealthy Relationship

Get Out of That Pit, by Beth Moore

     In my search for a good women's Bible study program, I ran across the writings of Beth Moore.  Get Out of That Pit is the first book of hers that I've read.

     The book ostensibly is about what to do when you realize that you have sunk down into a mire of troubles with no foreseeable way out.  I've been both inside and outside the "pit," and so I thought this would be a good introduction to Moore's work.  But in part because I have had this experience, I can't recommend this book.  I'd also be hesitant to read any of Moore's other books. 

     Her writing style is difficult to follow.  She wanders all over the place before she makes her point.  About a quarter of the way in, she makes the statement, "[t]hat analogy may look like a random comparison...."  All I could think was, Honey, this whole book has been a random comparison.  Considering that many people reading this book are themselves in dire straits, lengthy stories about IHOP or frogs seem less than helpful and even inappropriate.  A person with the wandering mind that is sometimes caused by extreme depression, for example, would find this book confusing.

     Second, Moore twists Scripture to suit her needs.  I understand there has been controversy over this, but I do feel it's true.  Very early in the book, she discusses that many of us fall into a pit innocently, not as the result of our own sin.  Certainly, that's true.  But in the next paragraph, she quotes a verse about being trapped in a pit.  When I looked the verse up and read the whole chapter, that verse is actually about being trapped in a pit because of sin.  How harmful is that to someone who is looking for reassurance that sometimes we really are innocent victims?  And this was only the first time I noticed that she sometimes chooses verses that contradict what she's trying to say.  She contradicts herself at times, as well.

     Is she well-meaning?  Yes.  But there are much better resources to help people in despair.

Two out of Five Stars 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Reclaiming Love: Radical Relationships in a Complex World, by Ajith Fernando

     Reclaiming Love is nothing short of an amazing book.  I so admire Ajith Fernando for the time and prayerful thought that he must have put into writing this book.  He takes the definition of love that Paul gives in 1 Corinthians 13 and turns these few words into an in depth look at what it means to truly love your neighbor as yourself.

     1 Corinthians 13 places great conviction on so many of us to be more loving.  But we all know it's not as simple as that.  Patience, kindness, perseverance, never keeping a record of wrongs - all of these things are not easy to achieve 100% of the time.  Many of us don't even feel that giving of ourselves in this manner is safe for our own self-worth. 

     Much to my delight, Fernando delves into each of these definitions of love in a way that stems from his years as a pastor and counselor.  He analyses their meaning in a way that is both academic and easy to understand. He then discusses how we can apply each of them in our daily lives.  This isn't a piece of fluff, either - Fernando goes into great detail.  The examples he gives are highly relevant to a number of situations - from personal life to family to work.

     I was especially impressed with his ability to reach out to people who are in recovery - as well as the people who work with them.

     This book is a jewel.  I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in becoming more Christ-like.  It's not a dust-gatherer - it's a book that a reader can return to time and time again.

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

Five out of Five Stars

Thursday, July 25, 2013

How Children Succeed, by Paul Tough

            Paul Tough's How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character is an eye-opening look at what causes students to not only attend college, but to graduate from college.  This book is a must-read for educators and parents alike.

           Reading this book, I felt like Tough was writing what I've been thinking for years.  Intelligence is certainly a key factor in student success, but it isn't everything.  We all know extremely intelligent people who have floundered through life, allowing drugs and other addictions to take the place of worthwhile pursuits.  And we all know less intelligent people who have done extremely well in their chosen fields. 

            What makes the difference?  Tough examines anecdotal evidence and research alike to come to the conclusion that it is character traits that cause people to succeed - not just at college, but in life in general.  These character traits aren't just morals like honesty and generosity.  They are things like stick-to-it-ness (grit), curiosity, and a strong work ethic.

            This book does not answer the question of how to teach people these traits.  But it makes a strong case that they can be learned.  Anyone who does not understand why education is so deeply linked to psychology will learn a great deal from this book.  It is a wonderful springboard for a vital conversation - what should we be teaching our children.

            Well done, Mr. Tough.  Someone finally said it!

Five out of Five Stars

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Barefoot Summer, by Denise Hunter

            Barefoot Summer, by Denise Hunter, is a book that I can recommend to anyone looking for a sweet little beach read.  It tells the story of Madison McKinley, a veterinarian who is trying to get over her brother's death by winning the regatta he had always planned to win.  There's just one problem - she's afraid of the water.  She turns for help to Beckett O'Reilly, a good sailor who also has a bad past.

            Naturally, a romance unfolds between them, and it's fun to read.  But the book stands out for me because it deals with grief and guilt in some very realistic ways.  It's also got a very good handle on the problems that can face an adult child of an alcoholic. 

            I'm always happy to see these kinds issues being dealt with in this genre.  Despite a million bumper stickers to the contrary, we are hopelessly of this world, and the world's problems don't disappear just because we're Christian.  This book tackles those problems in a way that doesn't detract from the entertainment value of the love story.

            I recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a Christian romance that has emotional substance.  I'm looking forward to the next book in the Chapel Springs series.

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

            Four out of Five Stars

Monday, May 13, 2013

Intentional Parenting, by Sissy Goff, David Thomas, and Melissa Trevathan

Intentional Parenting is by far one of the best parenting books that I have read.  And it's no wonder, since the authors have vast experience at a family counseling center.  So, not only have they been to the circus, they've been the lion tamers as well - so to speak.

In all seriousness, though, this book really does have some amazing ideas on how to approach this journey we call parenting.  Each chapter discusses how to put real thought into parenting.  
Subjects include consistency, playfulness, spirituality, and patience, and hope.  Key concepts that are necessary for parenting with purpose are examined in detail, with real-life anecdotes and ideas for how to improve on each area. 

I loved that age-appropriate ideas are provided throughout the book.  Clearly, a teen requires a different style than a toddler does, and this book recognizes that.  I also loved the questions posed to the reader.  This book really encourages the reader to put thought into his or her parenting style - it's parenting with purpose!  And no matter how you feel you're doing as a parent, this book is going to provide you with tools that you will be able to use for the benefit of your whole family.  And for fans of Love and Logic, the ideas in this book can be used with that program.

As a teacher and a mother, I highly recommend this book to any parent or soon-to-be-parent. 

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

Five out of Five Stars

Thursday, March 21, 2013

The Christian Mama's Guide to the Grade School Years, by Erin MacPherson

The Christian Mama's Guide to the Grade School Years, by Erin MacPherson, is a humorous account of what it is like to usher a child into the first few years of school.  It is a book geared toward prayerful parenting, and one that many parents would enjoy reading.  It has great ideas, and is certainly written from a meaningful Biblical perspective. 

That being said, it is really less of a guide and more of a parenting memoir.  There are very good ideas in this book, but they are peppered in between lengthy stories about the author's own family.  These stories are cute and can help a parent feel better about not being the only one who is dealing with these kinds of issues, but they can be distracting to a reader who is looking for a more meat-and-potatoes kind of guide.  Even that kind of information skews toward the more humorous side, which can detract from the message.

The author has been a high school teacher and has interviewed people who are experts - the "From the Principal's Office" sections by an experienced principal are the best parts of this book.  But coming from a Christian mother who is also a grade-school teacher, some of the points dealing with school in this book are under covered and even inaccurate (for example, not all private schools give your child access to state-of-the-art techniques - some are so underfunded that students get a substandard education).

The bottom line?  If you're looking for a heavier guide, this isn't the book for you - but you will still get very good parenting tips.  If you're looking for a humorous memoir that will help you get your child ready to enter kindergarten - or help you improve your parenting skills (and can't we all?), then this is the book for you. 

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

Four of Five Stars

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Accidental Pharisees, by Larry Osborne

Accidental Pharisees is a pretty clever name for an important topic.  The premise of this book is a discussion of overzealous faith and how to avoid it.  By using the Pharisees and their lack of understanding about the spirit behind doctrinal laws, author Larry Osborne tries to show Christians that overzealous faith runs counter to what Christ calls us to do.  And he does this in an easy-to-read way that promotes further discussion or study if the reader so chooses.

The point that Osborne tries to make is a good one.  It's that whole "you're not the boss of me" mentality that we remember from childhood.  "Bossing" each other didn't work then, and it doesn't work now.  He identifies the major ways in which he feels Christians have this attitude:  pride, exclusivity, legalism, idolizing the past, uniformity, and gift projection onto others. 

I think that the fundamental message that we can take from this book is this - each individual Christian has his or her own legitimate calling from God.  Nothing another person can do should be able to reject or minimize that calling.  To that end, I feel that this book is successful.

There is a caveat that I attach to this review.  Osborne seems to be influenced by life experiences with exclusivity - and the book reflects that.  There is a negative attitude about several different kinds of churches, and Osborne tends to generalize.  He makes it seem as if almost any style of church other than his suffers from exclusivity.  I wish he had recognized that not every church with a given label behaves in an exclusive manner.  Sure, some do,  but many don't.  And that's not reflected in this book.  I would hate for someone to shy away from a church because of it.

I can recommend this book for solo reading or group discussion, but keep an open, prayerful mind.  I found it best to apply this book to my own individual circumstances, and ignore the comments that were made about church styles. 

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

Three out of Five Stars

Monday, March 11, 2013

Chocolate-Covered Baloney: Confessions of April Grace

Chocolate-Covered Baloney: Confessions of April Grace, by KD McCrite

April Grace Reilly is a sixth-grade girl who definitely knows her own mind.  And in her topsy-turvy world, that's a very good thing.  She's got a grandmother who's dating a pastor from a neighboring church, an annoying sister who thinks she's God's gift to the soap opera world, and a Big Mystery on her hands.  To top it all off, April Grace's non-existent other grandmother drops in out of nowhere and becomes all too existent.  How's a girl supposed to stay on top of all of this?

This was a delightful book to read.  April Grace has got the spunk and personality to match wits with Ramona Quimby any day of the week.  The first person point of view is very effective in this book.  We really get a great sense of April Grace's wit and frustrations with the people in her world.  She does read younger than sixth grade - but that's a very good thing, in this reader's mind.  A book like this would appeal to readers in fourth grade and up.  It's a very good example of middle grades fiction - and probably the best middle grades fiction book I have read in the Christian genre.

The best part about this book was the writing.  McCrite is a very talented writer.  Chocolate-Covered Baloney has such amazing voice, and such skillful show-not-tell writing.  This is a book that any girl in the middle grades can enjoy reading.  I highly recommend this book .

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

Five out of Five Stars

Sunday, January 13, 2013

House of Mercy, by Erin Healy

House of Mercy, by Erin Healy, is a story of charity, forgiveness, and redemption.  Its main characters are members of a Rocky Mountain ranching family who are trying to succeed despite personal conflicts and pending financial ruin.

I was excited to read this book because I had read Healy's The Promises She Keeps.  Healy is a talented writer who examines Christian themes from a different perspective than your run-of-the-mill fare in this genre.  The plot of this book does not disappoint - nor does the author's gift for writing an intelligent story.  In House of Mercy, we follow a family undergoing serious financial issues.  They try to heal broken relationships throughout, and also try to keep their dream of providing a safe haven for the needy.  There is a touch of the supernatural, and also of horror.

Despite the intricacies of the plot, however, the characters never really came to life for me.  The storyline concerning the doctor was certainly the most interesting, in its terrifying way.  But this alone wasn't enough to make the story memorable for me, personally.

I do recommend this book for anyone who is looking for a well-written Christian book that explores serious themes.

Three out of Five Stars

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