Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Year in Review

So, here's how it played out. My plan was to read one book each month from a set list. While I read a great deal more than one title per month, I didn't manage to read everything I'd planned to. I read:

with varying degrees of enjoyment and edification.

I attempted to read:

And I did not read:

  • There is a God by Antony Flew

  • Prisoner of Birth by Jeffrey Archer

  • Heaven is Real by Don Piper, and

  • Who Switched Off My Brain? by Caroline Leaf (my husband did read this, though, and says it's fantastic)

Next post, the reading list for 2010! In the meantime, how did your reading go in 2009? Did you meet your goals? What stood out for you - the best, the worst, the mediocre...?

Sunday, December 20, 2009

On Strike for Christmas

by Sheila Roberts
St. Martin's Griffin, 2007

Joy's had it with husband, Bob Humbug. After all the personal sacrifices she's made over the years to accommodate his dislike of social gatherings, it's time he saw just how much he'd miss if she stopped taking charge of the holiday. It's time for a strike.

When Joy shares her idea with her knitting group, the Stitch 'n Bitchers, Sharon (called Yulezilla by her husband), Laura, and Kay jump at the chance to join her and teach their men a lesson. Only Carol, whose husband died two years earlier, and Jerri, who is battling cancer, opt to sit the strike out.

Many will relate to the feelings these women express, and Roberts provides a light, fun read. Of course, it's not only the men who have something to learn, and as the plot progresses, the women, too, are exposed to some eye-openers.

I love reading Christmas stories at this time of year, and this was a great choice. Need to relax and de-stress? This is the perfect book to read by the fire.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Why Did God Give Us Emotions? A Biblical Perspective on What Science Has Discovered About Emotions

by Reneau Peurifoy
Life Skills Publications, 2009

Emotions are such a mysterious gift. They take us to heights of ecstasy. They dash us on the rocks of despair. They can bind us together and tear us apart. They can move some to noble acts of courage and self-sacrifice, and in others, they are the force behind terrible acts of evil and destruction.

Why did God make us this way? How are we supposed to manage this wonderful and mystifying gift we call emotions? In his new book Why Did God Give Us Emotions?, author Reneau Peurifoy takes a detailed look at the many sources of our emotional responses and the roles our emotions play in our thoughts, actions, relationships with others and relationship with God. Why Did God Give Us Emotions? is a book twenty years in the making, based on Peurifoy’s focused study, counseling experiences, and growing maturity in the faith.

“From the very start I’ve had two goals: I wanted to look at what science has learned about emotions from a biblical perspective, and I wanted to do it in a way that would strengthen the reader’s walk with God,” Peurifoy states. “Over the last two decades, I’ve seen the strengths of science and psychology in helping people and making our lives more comfortable. I’ve also become acutely aware of the inability of science and psychology to address the true source of human misery: sin and our separation from God. I believe that God has helped me write a book that will be useful to many.”

Peurifoy, who holds a Master’s in counseling, stresses the importance of recognizing how the individual aspects of emotions interconnect. He focuses on four main aspects of emotions: their subjective nature, their physical side, their mental side, and their spiritual side. Why Did God Give Us Emotions? addresses topics like:

· Are some emotions “good” and others “bad”?
· The role of medications in treating emotional problems
· How our core beliefs affect our interpretation of events
· How emotions are the true window into our souls
· How to stop hiding from “taboo” emotions
· What keeps us from hearing God
· The role emotions play in becoming the person God wants us to become

There is certainly no shortage of counseling and self-help books lining the shelves of Christian bookstores today. Why Did God Give Us Emotions? is destined to distinguish itself from the rest. With simple, straightforward verbiage (no pop psychology terms here), practical steps to follow, and twenty years of wisdom and insight, Peurifoy’s book is essential reading for pastors, counselors, and those struggling with emotional issues as well as the general reader who wants to understand this wonderful, yet often mysterious gift and gain skills for managing emotions more effectively. Also included is a section of discussion questions, making Why Did God Give Us Emotions? an ideal vehicle for small group study.

[Note: this book was provided by the publisher and the above information was offered for posting. I did read the first eight chapters, and think some would find the book interesting and helpful. Although I had trouble getting into it, I do plan to finish the book at some point. If I end up having a more personal response, I will pen a new review.]

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Kneeknock Rise

by Natalie Babbitt
Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2007 reprint

When Egan goes to Instep to visit his aunt, uncle, and cousin for the town's annual fair, he is eager to hear evidence of the monster, Megrimum that lives on Kneeknock Rise. Megrimum sounds his eerie groans whenever there's a rainstorm, and tourists come from far and wide for the unique auditory experience. Everyone wants to hear Megrimum, but no one wants to climb Kneeknock Rise to see him, for the word is that none come back alive.

As the fair draws to a close and raindrops start to fall, Egan and his cousin, Ada, get into a dispute. Ada goads him into proving he is not a sissy by climbing the Rise, and Egan takes up the challenge, accompanied by his uncle's faithful dog, Annabelle.

What will Egan find if he gets to the mountain's top? Does the Megrimum really exist, and if so, will he slay it or be defeated?

This well-written, thoughtful book was the recipient of the Newbery Award in 1984. Recommended for young readers or as a read-aloud.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Incident Report

by Martha Baillie
Pedlar Press, 2009

I was a bit worried when I received this library hold earlier than anticipated. But as I flipped through the pages, I breathed a sigh of relief - there was a lot of white space on most of the pages!

Forget journal entries, correspondence, straightforward plot, or stories told from differing viewpoints. This story is told in spurts - each little incident forming its own report. Mariam, the book's protagonist, is a library clerk in Toronto. Her career seems to be dictated by her dead father's love affair with books, and the library is populated by customers on the fringe of society, as well as quirky coworkers. When she meets Janko at a local park, he fills a void in her life, bringing happiness and a feeling of security. But someone at the library seems to be stalking her and Mariam can't figure out who. Is there any such thing as safety?

I found this book interesting for its experimental style. The story's climax came as a bit of a surprise and the abrupt ending disappointed. At least it disappointed me. The book was a Giller Prize nominee after all, and is the sort of book that provokes discussion and controversy.

There Goes the Bride: An Agatha Raisin Mystery

by M.C. Beaton,
Minotaur Books, 2009

I confess - I'm in love with Agatha Raisin! There's just something undeniably attractive about this insecure, crusty, middle-aged amateur sleuth.

In episode 20, Agatha's ex-husband is on the verge of marrying Felicity Bross-Tilkington, a beautiful younger woman. In a mood of reminiscence and regret, Agatha holidays in Istanbul, where she is spotted by James, who is coincidentally visiting the same area and who concludes she is stalking him and his new fiancee. When Felicity is murdered just before the wedding, Agatha is a prime suspect, but is free to go when witnesses place her elsewhere.

Hired to investigate the death by the victim's mother, Agatha finds herself half-heartedly rebuffing the advances of a persuasive Frenchman who seems to be around whenever someone who might have information for Agatha turns up dead. Soon Agatha's own life is in danger. Will she escape or will the killer succeed in executing his ruthless plan?

Great fun. I read it in less than two hours and only wish the writer could pen her next installment as quickly!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Shadows on the River

by Linda Hall,
Steeple Hill, 2009

The third and final book in Hall's Shadows series tells the story of Ally Roarke, a single mom in her late 30s who carries a deep wound from her childhood. After witnessing the murder of her best friend at age 13, and identifying the attacker, the son of the town's richest family, Ally is victimized herself when the incident is swept under the carpet and her accusations are not believed. Forced out of the town a year later, Ally abandoned her faith in God, and sees her life as evidence that God is not there or He doesn't care.

Now living, working, and mothering in Halifax, Ally focuses her attention on work and her profoundly deaf daughter, Maddy. Larry Fremont, the murderer of her childhood friend, lives in the same city, but it's a big enough place that they haven't run into each other.

That changes the day Larry's colleague is found in a hotel room, dead of blunt force trauma. Ally is sure the disreputable businessman is responsible, and this time she's going to prove it and show everyone that she didn't make up her long ago story. This time, too, she'll have help. Mark Bishop, a new colleague, has just as much reason to hate Larry as she does.

But can Ally really trust Mark? Or is he just using her? And what, if anything, does the mysterious Zacchaeus Plan have to do with this latest death? Hopefully Ally will find out the answers before she becomes the killer's next victim.

A quick read, with characters you'll care about and enough twists and turns in the plot to keep you wondering how it'll all pan out.

Thursday, November 19, 2009


by Dr. Warren Wiersbe,
David C. Cook, (updated and revised) 2009

Dr. Warren Wiersbe, associated with the Back to the Bible radio broadcast for many years, and a former pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, has penned a series of 50 useful books starting with the word "Be". These include: Be Comforted, Be Daring, Be Determined, Be Dynamic, Be Free, Be Patient, Be Real, and (the one I have) Be Hopeful.

Easily accessible for both pastors and lay people, these study guides can be used in personal Bible study or with a group. Be Hopeful consists of twelve chapters, each of which concludes with questions for personal reflection or group discussion - a typical format for the guides.

In Be Hopeful, Wiersbe addresses, among other things, the fact that where there's Christ, there's hope; how it is possible to stay clean in a polluted world; what we can learn from Noah; and how each of us can be a good shepherd.

As I get deeper into my study of God's Word, I look forward to using other titles in the "Be" series to assist me along the way. I believe you will find them a blessing as well.

(Note: This book was provided for review by David C. Cook)

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Too Many Crooks Spoil the Broth

by Tamar Myers,
Doubleday, 1994

A Pennsylvania Dutch mystery with recipes.

An avid mystery reader, I am always on the lookout for a new cozy series to enjoy. Especially while I wait for the next installments from M.C. Beaton (Agatha Raisin), Joanne Fluke (Hannah Swensen), Jill Churchill (Jane Jeffry - I think I've read the last one, actually), and Robin Hathaway (Dr. Fenimore and Dr. Jo Banks).

This is not a bad beginning for what I believe is Tamar Myers' first book. It's certainly first in this series. Her main characters, straight-laced, never-married, Amish woman Magdalena Yoder, and her flamboyant, divorced, free-spirited younger sister, Susannah Yoder Entwhistle, provide delightful counterpoints for each other. Magdalena, the primary heir of their parents' estate, has turned the family property into a Bed and Breakfast establishment, with temperamental Aunt Frini as its on-again off-again cook, and Uncle Mose as its steady behind-the-scenes jack-of-all-trades.

When Magdalena messes up the weekend's reservations by allowing a group of deer hunters and a group of animal rights protesters to share space at the inn, all hell breaks loose. It isn't long before one of the guests is found at the bottom of a steep staircase and Magdalena fears a possible lawsuit. After she is shot at in the woods, she fears more than that. It doesn't help when another guest is found dead, clutching Mama's best Dresden Plate quilt.

What are the real relationships between the guests? Does one of them have a motive for murder? Can Magdalena piece the story together before there are any more fatalities?

While I was a little disappointed in the ending (the who-dun-it), I found much to enjoy in this book. The interactions between the main characters are hilarious, and I was amused by the author's inclusion of her husband and herself in the story (as good-as-gold police chief, Jeff Myers, and his mule-mouthed wife, "Tammy"). There are also delicious Pennsylvania Dutch recipes to dry. I look forward to reading the next book in the series and expect the mysteries to get better as Myers' gets more experience in the genre.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Vanishing Girl

by Shane Peacock (Canadian author)
Tundra Books, 2009

The boy Sherlock Holmes cracks his third case, following Eye of the Crow and Death in the Air.

Still smarting from the lack of recognition accorded to him after solving his first two cases, Sherlock is determined to outsmart Inspector Lestrade of Scotland Yard and get the attention and appreciation he is due. When wealthy Lord Rathbone's daughter is abducted in broad daylight, Sherlock is soon on the trail of her kidnappers. But his initial deductions appear to have been wrong when, four months after Victoria's apprehension, she is returned to her family. It isn't long, though, before Lord Rathbone's home is picked clean by thieves. Soon Victoria disappears again. Who is holding her, and why? Can Sherlock piece the clues together in time to save her life, and that of a little workhouse blind boy? Who can he trust, and will he get his just reward or be thwarted once again?

Peacock writes this series very much in the style of 19th century author and Sherlock Holmes creator, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. He has obviously studied the character minutely, and has a sound grasp of 19th century England and the London of Holmes' youth. This is a riveting mystery that ends on a note that will surprise, but not likely disappoint fans of this intrepid detective.

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Northern Roses and Southern Belles

Six romance authors provide romance stories set during the United States Civil War.

Angel of My Dreams by Susan Macatee - I'm not a fan of the paranormal, but if you like this kind of thing, Macatee writes it well. Kyle, a civil war reenactor, is in the doldrums after his long-time girlfriend dumps him. An encounter on the "battlefield" with a nurse named Josie turns his life upside down. No one else seems to see her, though, and he wonders if he is losing his mind. Hypnosis and regression, as well as dreams, tell the story of Josie's romance with a Civil War soldier. Is Kyle being visited by a ghost? And if so, how can they ever be together?

No Decorum by MaryAnn Webber - The author creates a likable hero and heroine in Randolph and Juliet, but I'd have wished for a little more decorum here. Although free-spirited, the daughter of a pastor ought to show more respect for the "house of God," even if in reality that house is His people and not a physical building. That aside, Webber shows truth in how war both brings people together and also forces them apart, revealing the emotional heartache of separation and uncertainty.

Are You Going to the Dance? by Jeanmarie Hamilton - Again, we have likable characters in Lexie and Clayton, though I found the sexy front porch scene gratuitous. Lexie is a capable woman whose friendship with the Lipan Apache and distrust of Clayton's life-long friend, Al, causes conflict between her and the man of her dreams. When an Indian is injured by renegades, Lexie risks everything to rescue and care for him in secret. She yearns to trust Clay, especially when he makes it clear that he has serious romantic intentions toward her, but can she trust him with this?

The Colonial and the Cottontail by Jennifer Ross - This is my favourite story in the book and the only one with a Canadian connection. When Cole and the Confederate rebels rob the St Albans Bank, it's a short ride across the Canadian border to relative safety. After going their separate ways before a planned rendezvous, Cole learns that thirteen of his compatriots have been captured and realizes he's on his own in the British territory. A chance encounter with widow, Becca Taylor, and her son Thomas, provide him with the perfect cover while he tries to figure out how to help his imprisoned cohorts. Soon, however, he comes to care for the pair. Which must he follow - heart or duty? Ross has created well-developed characters and a fascinating plot line.

In the Shadows by Isabel Roman - This story tells the tale of Marion, a Union spy working in the south. Complicating matters is her attraction to Jack, a blockade-running southerner. Even though their feelings are mutual, she wonders what he'll do when he catches her eavesdropping on her aunt's neighbours as they make plans to kidnap key Union leaders. Will he protect or betray her? Roman, who tends to write more erotic material, "tried to add in a good hot sex scene, but it didn't fit with the story." That's fine with me - this well-written story was hot enough in spots, and it's more sexy not to reveal everything and allow the reader's imagination to take over.

Long Way Home by Caroline Clemmons - When Parmelia Bailey steals one of her own horses from the Union soldiers, she never expects to run into Darrick McDonald, the man who left town with her heart a few years earlier. Seems like Darrick's joined with the Yankees, while her brother Matt fights for the Confederates. Jeff Lawson, a dangerous renegade whose proposal Parmelia rejected, is also on the loose and threatening to harm the local townspeople. Parmelia is a strong and brave young woman, but she can't thwart him on her own, and she's too angry with Darrick to trust him or seek his help. Then Lawson and his men break into the Bailey home and kidnap Parmelia and her future sister-in-law. How can they escape without the aid of a rescuer? Clemmons has penned my second favourite story in this anthology, drawing likable characters and creating an exciting plot that finishes the collection on the right note.

For readers of historical romance who are not averse to the occasional erotic moment.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Here's the Story: surviving Marcia Brady and finding my true voice

by Maureen McCormick,
HarperCollins, 2008

Seems like every celebrity bio I read these days portrays a dramatic fall from the peak of fame into sex, drugs, and (sometimes) rock and roll. Maureen's tale is no different in this regard. Hugely recognized for her role as Marcia Brady on The Brady Bunch, Maureen struggled to separate herself from her character when the show ended after five seasons. Challenged to find suitable work, and falling in with cocaine users, Maureen sank into a deep pit of drug addiction, doing whatever necessary to feed her habit.

Halfway through the story, though, we come to a startling turning point and are suddenly in a different book. A life-changing experience, which I won't spoil for you by sharing, starts her on a better path. Though she continues to make questionable choices at times, she is blessed to meet and marry a wonderful man, whose commitment to their marriage is remarkable, considering how much Maureen tests it. Eventually she is diagnosed as bipolar and finds relief through Prozac.

Her book concludes with the words "And that's the story", but I know it isn't really finished. I look forward to hearing more about the life of this actress as her story continues.

By the way, for Brady Bunch fans, Maureen does discuss the show and relationships between cast members.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Good to a Fault

by Marina Endicott
Freehand Books, 2008

At 43, Clara Purdy's life is one of predictable organization and duty. Divorced years earlier, following a brief marriage, she lives alone in the house she shared with her mother, has worked for the same insurance company for twenty years, and faithfully attends church out of a sense of tradition.

All her routines change the moment she runs into the down-and-out Gage family. When she learns they'd been living in their car, and it turns out that the mother has a serious illness, Clara feels she must do something useful. She invites the father, Clayton, the three children, and their grandmother to stay with them while Lorraine remains in hospital. The rest, as they say, is history.

Beautifully written, with well drawn characters and a compelling story, this book took a little while to read, but was definitely worth the effort. I was a bit taken aback by developments in Clara's relationship with the good pastor, and am relieved that the author notes "that the parish and diocese described...bear no resemblance to any on earth." Otherwise, the one thing that irritated me was Father Paul's penchant for reciting esoteric poetry.

Winner 2009 Commonwealth Writers' Prize, Best Book (Regional: Canada); shortlisted 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize ; shortlisted 2009 Evergreen Award

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Tallest of Smalls

by Max Lucado,
illustrated by Maria Monescillo
Tommy Nelson, 2009

This rhyming picture book by well-loved author, Max Lucado, deals with the subject of self-esteem in children. How can kids know that they are special and significant when their peers may be telling them otherwise?

In the town of Stiltsville, those who are deemed worthy receive the opportunity to wear stilts. A poor, ordinary boy named Ollie, has never been chosen for this honor, though he longs for it with all his heart. At last the day comes when, by some miracle, Ollie's name is called. He is thrilled, until he comes crashing down. Only Jesus is able to make him understand that his true significance is not dependent on the assessment of others, but on what God thinks of him.

While this is a valuable concept for anyone to appreciate, I don't know that this story will convince children. The story seems contrived and the problem too easily resolved. The author also fails to maintain perfect rhyme, which makes it awkward to read in places. The illustrations are cartoonish and colorful, but somehow old-fashioned.

I am left with the same feeling I get from reading some Robert Munsch books: once you've made a name for yourself in the publishing world, anything you write - good or bad - will be put into print.

(This book was supplied by Tommy Nelson as part of their book review blog program: http://brb.thomasnelson.com/)

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Seaside Letters: a Nantucket Love Story

by Denise Hunter,
Thomas Nelson, 2009

I don't often read romance novels, but I've written a few short stories in the genre and feel it's important to read one once in a while. I doubt I could have made a better choice than Denise Hunter's Seaside Letters, third in a series of Nantucket love stories.

Sabrina Kincade's cousin and fiance betrayed her when they fell in love over a year ago. Hurt and humiliated, she fled from Florida and spent her honeymoon alone in Nantucket. When the "honeymoon" was over, unwilling to face her family, Sabrina found a job and somewhere to live on the island, determined never to let anyone access her heart again.

Enter Tucker McCabe, the man she serves coffee to every morning at a Nantucket cafe. Devilishly handsome and seemingly good-hearted, Tucker has fallen for a woman he's met online and wants Sabrina to help find her. The problem is, Sabrina is that woman, and she doesn't want to be found. Especially since she knows something about her past that Tucker must never discover. Can she pretend to search for Tucker's mystery woman and spend hours in his presence without letting her guard down? And what will she do if Tucker falls in love with someone else?

My biggest problem with the romance genre in general is that it sets women up to have false expectations of a man, and to have an incorrect picture of what love looks like in real life. I understand that it's "escape" reading, but escape reading can have dangerous real world consequences. That said, I like Hunter's expressed goal for the Nantucket series: "to show the love of Christ through the relationship of the hero and heroine." I think she achieves her goal well, and the reading guide questions at the end of the book encourage a deeper probing of this aspect.

Conclusion/confession? Denise Hunter has created a very readable book, with a well-developed plot line and three dimensional characters. I am going back to read numbers one and two in the series: Surrender Bay, and The Convenient Groom, and look forward to reading more of this talented author's work.

The Blue Umbrella

by Mike Mason
David C Cook/October 2009

What would happen if the world’s weather was controlled by one man with a blue umbrella? If your mother had been killed by lightning, would you trust him? This is the decision 10-year-old Zac Sparks faces in Mike Mason’s first fantasy novel, The Blue Umbrella, a superbly written children’s story with significant spiritual overtones.

When Zac Sparks’ mother dies, he’s sent to live in Five Corners with his cruel old Aunties. It isn’t long before Zac knows something strange is going on. Five Corners is populated with weird characters—a midget butler, a mute girl , a blind balloon seller, and a mysterious singer who is heard but not seen. Then there’s the Aunties’ father, Dada. Zac’s first encounter with Dada is so terrifying he faints dead away.

The one bright spot is Sky Porter, the proprietor of the general store across the street, a friendly soul who encourages Zac—when the Aunties aren’t looking—and shows him a kindness that is sadly lacking from his dismal life. But Sky isn’t what he seems either, and when Zac learns Sky’s amazing secret he realizes, to his dismay, that this wonderful man may have a very dark side as well.

Discovering that Dada is an evil magician who is intent on stealing the ultimate treasure, Zac knows many lives are at stake, including his own. With time running out, he must turn to the one person who might be able to help: Sky Porter. Can Zac trust him?

In the vein of Lewis and Tolkien, Mason has created a fantasy that will appeal to fans of Harry Potter, The Golden Compass, Lemony Snicket, and The Chronicles of Narnia. You can watch the book trailer here.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Transformation Study Bible

Warren Wiersbe, general editor
David C. Cook, 2009

For over thirty years, millions have come to rely on Dr. Wiersbe’s commentary and insights on Scripture. “It isn’t enough," he states, "for us simply to read assigned portions of the Bible each day, as helpful as that is. A truly transforming experience involves meditating on what we read (Ps. 1:2), studying it carefully in the light of other verses, and then obeying what God tells us to do (Josh. 1:8).” The Transformation Study Bible offers the full text of the highly readable New Living Translation (which was created using a highly rigorous and scholarly approach) with accompanying notes and commentary from the 50 books in Dr. Wiersbe’s “Be” series.

The goal of this Study Bible is to enable readers "to appreciate, appropriate, and apply the Word of God," in order to produce "purity, joy, right values, hope, comfort, freedom, new life, peace, guidance, wisdom, integrity, encouragement, and effective prayer.” If you want to be a new person, knowing and obeying the will of God and becoming more like Jesus Christ, The Transformation Study Bible is an excellent tool to encourage that process.

The basic features of this Bible include:
  1. Introductions for each book of the Bible, helping the reader understand its background, important themes, and other key information.
  2. Book outlines that provide the key theme and key verse with other Scripture passages that fit into the flow of each book.
  3. Book overviews with timeless and practical lessons from Dr. Wiersbe.
  4. 'Catalyst notes' that discuss important biblical themes and character issues. These help prepare readers' hearts and minds as they study, and motivate them to have their lives transformed by the power of the Holy Spirit.
  5. 'Be transformed' notes that direct the reader to the life-changing impact of a particular part of scripture.
  6. Cross references that reveal how different parts of Scripture are connected.
  7. Full colour maps that help readers locate significant sites and geographical relationships of places identified in the Bible.
  8. A dictionary-concordance that helps readers locate a verse or group of topically-related verses.
  9. Approximately 10,000 study notes that explain key Bible passages and how they apply to readers' lives.

Dr. Warren Wiersbe has produced a Bible that is clear, understandable, and applicable to the lives of its readers. He encourages believers of all levels to know and love the Bible and to experience the same transformation that has radically changed his life.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Fairy-Tale Detectives (The Sisters Grimm)

by Michael Buckley
Amulet Books, 2005

When 11-year-old Sabrina and her 7-year-old sister are deposited with Mrs. Grimm, Sabrina is understandably suspicious. Their father, who disappeared along with their mother 18 months ago, had always told the girls that they had no living relatives, yet here is this woman pretending to be their grandmother!

Well, no matter. It won't be the first time the girls have run away from a foster home. But when the girls' attempt fails, it isn't long before they find themselves in very odd circumstances. Is it possible that pixies really exist? Are storybook creatures secretly living in Ferryport Landing? Are the sisters really descendants of the famous fairytale scribes?

When Mrs. Grimm and her faithful companion, Mr. Canis, are snatched by a giant, Sabrina and Daphne spring into action. They must save their friends from imminent destruction. But can they trust trickster king Puck and Jack the Giant killer to help them? And what is Mayor Charming's role in the abduction?

First in a series, this extremely well-written book captured the interest of my entire family, from youngest (11 y.o.) to oldest (## y.o.). My son, deprived of x-box, computer, and tv from Monday to Thursday, devoured 50 pages a day and we all look forward to reading the remaining titles.

It's worth noting that, though these are the author's first children's books, he has previously written for television. No wonder his images and scenes are so riveting and you can easily imagine this story playing out on the big screen.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Christianish: What if We're Not Really Following Jesus at All?

by Mark Steele,
David C. Cook, 2009

According to wiktionary, the adverb 'ish' is used to express doubt about the complete accuracy or truth of what precedes it. Thus, 'Christianish' suggests 'somewhat or fairly Christian' - not Christian at all really, because there is no acceptable halfway to following Jesus. God says in Revelation 3:16 that 'because you are lukewarm, and neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of My mouth.' Middle of the road is not a good or safe place to be.

In Christianish: What if We’re Not Really Following Jesus at All?, author Mark Steele encourages the reader to move away from this mediocre Christianity and to live the real deal. He admits his own failures and tells of his personal journey to living a life that’s centered on Christ. “Somewhere along the road, I stopped being a ‘little Christ’ and instead began filling out the application that I had labeled ‘Christian.’ It was not a definition based on the actual namesake but, rather, on those who frequent the clubhouse. I allowed Jesus to seep into my church world—but not my relational world, my romance world, my business world, my creative world, my habits, my mouth. I had become Christianish.”

Christianish may feel like authentic faith. Yet it’s often easy to settle for the souvenir t-shirt—the appearance of a transformed heart—instead of taking the actual trip through true life-change. We find ourselves being contented with a personal faith that’s been polluted by culture and diluted by other people’s take on spirituality.

In Christianish, Mark details the tell-tale symptoms of being Christian-like and revisits the words and life of Christ to deliver a compelling look at what authentic faith is all about. Each chapter begins with a personal story that is often humorous, and follows up with a piercing truth about the life we are called to live in Christ. The book concludes that "There is only one way for us to discover the right way to travel the right road. The way is not church. The way is not an ideology. The way is not Christian. The way is Jesus.”
Here are a couple of my favourite passages from the book:
"Conviction without love is just an angry opinion. Conviction with love proves that what is true is also alive. That it is not only a code, but a transformative power. Conviction alone needs desperately to be proven accurate at all costs. In short, it only survives when it wins. And unfortunately for our opinion, Christ has called us to be losers." (p. 158)
"To this end we have begrudged and distanced ourselves. From God. From faith. From one another. And as we do, the Enemy wins. Because he has been able to distract us away from the very core idea of following Jesus: that we only truly gain when gain is not what we are after, and we only find answers for ourselves when we are being the answers for someone else." (p. 172)

Author Bio
Mark Steele is the president and executive creative of Steelehouse Productions, a group that creates art for business and ministry through the mediums of film, stage, and animation. He is also the author of Flashbang: How I Got Over Myself and Half-Life/Die Already and is a regular contributor to Collide Magazine and Relevant Magazine.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Not So Fast: Slow-Down Solutions for Frenzied Families

by Ann Kroeker,
David C. Cook, 2009

Today’s families find themselves in a high-speed, fast-paced, goal-oriented society. We race from first and second jobs to appointments, lessons, practices, games, and clubs. How do we counterbalance our overcommitted culture? Replenish our depleted selves? Restore our rushed relationships?

For readers whose every hour is rush hour, Ann Kroeker explores the jarring effects of our culture and offers refreshing alternatives. Bypassing the fast lane, Kroeker urges families to discover how simplifying and slowing down can help restore strained relationships…and souls.

“We’re raising our kids in a high-speed, high-pressured, 24/7 world,” says Kroeker. “Pushing children to get ahead, we cram everything possible into our days to maximize their chance at success. We’re overloaded, overextended, overcommitted, and over-caffeinated. And we’re paying a price: Our relationships are anemic; our health, in jeopardy. Half-awake and half-hearted, we can’t sustain this pace.”

In Not So Fast, Kroeker relates her own story of how embracing a slower everyday pace has resulted in a richer, fuller, and more meaningful family and spiritual life. With practical ideas and insights that will spark creativity and personal reflection, Kroeker offers hope that families can discover the rejuvenating power of an unrushed life —a life that makes room for knowing and loving God and people. At the close of each chapter, the “Slow Notes” section offers slow-down solutions to apply immediately. In “Live from the Slow Zone,” readers will hear inspirational stories from those who have learned to reap the rewards of life in the slow lane.

“For everyone who yearns for the benefits of a slower life, I want to point to Jesus and say, ‘Start here. Start with the One who offers true and lasting peace. Look to His Word. Meditate on that. Learn from Him, for His yoke is easy and His burden is light,’” writes Kroeker. “I wish we could see that the root of meaning and peace that we’re seeking is found not in a yoga pose or a mind-emptying meditation session, but in a rich relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Author Bio
Mother of four children and author of The Contemplative Mom, Ann Kroeker is committed to encouraging and inspiring families as they face the demands of daily living. A contributor to the award-winning Experiencing the Passion of Jesus, she has written for numerous corporations and her articles have appeared in a variety of publications.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Buzzards are Circling, But God's Not Finished With Me Yet

by Stan Toler,
David C. Cook, 2001

On the landscape of life, buzzards are inevitable—those challenging events and situations that encircle us, eye us as prey and swoop down to cause hurt and heartache. A late-night phone call delivering bad news. Loss of a job. Bankruptcy. Whatever form these buzzards take, the pain is excruciating.

In The Buzzards Are Circling, But God’s Not Finished With Me Yet, Toler takes a lighthearted look at some of life’s more serious subjects. Drawing from his own personal struggles, Toler offers a generous dose of encouragement for the troubled heart, helping readers find hope, joy, and peace, even in the most trying of circumstances. In chapters such as “When the Fountain of Youth Has Rusted” and “I Know I’m Lost, but the Scenery Is Spectacular,” readers will find the strength they need to face life’s difficulties knowing that God is in control.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

God Has Never Failed Me, But He's Sure Scared Me to Death a Few Times

by Stan Toler
David C. Cook, 1995

In God Has Never Failed Me, But He’s Sure Scared Me to Death a Few Times, Toler gives a humorous twist to challenges of faith. Though we know that God’s provision is always on time, we’ve all had experiences where we wondered what He was up to. For anyone who's ever felt stressed, confused, hurt, angry, or any other emotional response to the difficulties and uncertainties of life, Toler provides delightful reminders that God is still at work in the world.

Filled with heartwarming stories and hilarious anecdotes, this collection offers hope and peace for the weary, waiting heart. Toler combines a rich blend of spiritual truths with humorous insights as he reminds God’s children of His unfailing love. Through it all, readers will discover a God who is always faithful, worthy of our trust, and never late with His help.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Hope Unleashed: Serving God Through Words and Actions

by Andy Hawthorne,
David C. Cook, 2009

In Hope Unleashed: Serving God through Words and Actions, Hawthorne inspires Christians to serve others through acts of kindness without compromising the gospel message.

“The famous words of Francis of Assisi are being bandied around everywhere: ‘Preach the gospel at all times, and if necessary use words,’” writes Hawthorne. “The only problem is, I don’t really feel that this quote from the great man describes the heart of what we should be doing at all. A much better way of describing evangelism to me would be: ‘Preach the gospel at all times with your actions and with your words.’”

As a young man committed to bringing the Christian message to youth in his hometown of Manchester, England, Andy Hawthorne was shocked when a missions partner told him he shouldn’t just preach the gospel but also engage in community projects. What did washing someone’s car have to do with the gospel? But Hawthorne enacted the idea and today his mission organization, Message Trust, has been praised internationally as bringing hope and change to the roughest, poorest neighborhoods of Manchester.

“It’s right that you can’t get a ten-ton truck across a one-ton bridge, and that if we try and bring our great juggernaut of gospel proclamation into the community without any bridge maintenance, it’s all going to collapse,” Hawthorne says. “However, it’s equally true that if we build a beautiful, highly polished bridge of kindness, service, and generosity, and yet never bring the truck across the bridge, we haven’t got the job done either. For me, the secret to success in any ministry is to genuinely combine the two.”

Written in a warm, passionate, nonreligious style, Hope Unleashed is filled with practical ideas and strategies for Christian missions based on word and deed. While sharing inspiring stories from his own experiences in ministry, Andy draws principles from Scripture that will both inform our actions and keep us mindful of the need to “give a reason for the hope that is within us.”

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Make Love, Make War: NOW is the Time to Worship

by Brian Doerksen
David C. Cook, 2009

In Make Love, Make War, award-winning Canadian songwriter, musician, and worship leader, Brian Doerksen, sounds a clarion call for believers to engage in authentic worship. He defines what true worship is, describes what it looks like, and tells us why it's important. The writer of many beloved worship songs [perhaps most notably Come, Now is the Time to Worship; Refiner's Fire; and Today (As for Me and My House)], Doerksen encourages songwriters and worship leaders to rethink their values and motivations and to draw close to the heart of God. Each chapter tells the story behind one of his songs, and concludes with tips for songwriters.
Despite its uninspiring cover, this book demands to be read by all believers who are serious about worship. While the title may startle some Christians who have bought into the notion that believers should always be 'nice,' Doerksen reminds us that we are in a spiritual battle and that worship is one of our most significant weapons as we seek to recognize the character of God and to love others.

While I am not giving my copy of the book away, but passing it along to my daughter, who is an aspiring singer/songwriter, I encourage you to visit HearItFirst.com to enter the “Hear It First, Read It First” contest and promotion sponsored by David C Cook, Integrity Music, HearItFirst.com, and Gibson/Epiphone Guitars. There, you will be able to enter to win prizes, as well as download free music video performances of Brian Doerksen (i.e., “It’s Time” and “Holy God”) and free sample chapters from Make Love, Make War. Prizes include a set of worship CDs from Integrity, a signed Epiphone guitar and an Epiphone amplifier! Visit hearitfirst.com/BrianDoerksen!

You can also watch Brian Doerksen's music video, "It's Time," here.

Friday, August 21, 2009

The Friends We Keep - Winners Announced!

I decided that in addition to the copy I had to give away, I would pass my own along and share the love. Therefore, I have two winners to announce: Faith and Kim I. will each receive a copy of Sarah Zacharias Davis' The Friends We Keep. Congratulations, ladies!

I'm sure there will be other giveaways in the future, so stay tuned for your chance to win!

Friday, August 14, 2009

The Friends We Keep - Review and Giveaway Contest

by Sarah Zacharias Davis
Waterbrook Press, 2009

During a particularly painful time in her life, Davis learned how delightful–and wounding–women can be in friendship. She saw how some friendships end badly, others die slow deaths, and how a chance acquaintance can become that enduring friend you need.

The Friends We Keep is Sarah’s thoughtful account of her own story and the stories of other women about navigating friendship. Her revealing discoveries tackle the questions every woman asks:

• Why do we long so for women friends?

• Do we need friends like we need air or food or water?

• What causes cattiness, competition, and co-dependency in too many friendships?

• Why do some friendships last forever and others only a season?

• How do I foster friendship?

• When is it time to let a friend go, and how do I do so?

With heartfelt, intelligent writing, Sarah explores these questions and more with personal stories, cultural references and history, faith, and grace. In the process, she delivers wisdom for navigating the challenges, mysteries, and delights of friendship: why we need friendships with other women, what it means to be safe in relationship, and how to embrace what a friend has to offer, whether meager or generous.

Sarah Zacharias Davis is a senior advancement officer at Pepperdine University , having joined the university after working as vice president of marketing and development for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and in strategic marketing for CNN. The daughter of best-selling writer Ravi Zacharias, Davis is the author of the critically-acclaimed Confessions from an Honest Wife and Transparent: Getting Honest About Who We are and Who We Want to Be. She graduated from Covenant College with a degree in education and lives in Los Angeles , California .

As a special bonus with this review, everyone who posts a comment by August 20 will be entered into a draw to win a copy of the book. A random draw will be made and announced here August 21. Good luck, "sisters"!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

40-Minute Bible Study Series

by Kay Arthur,
Waterbook Press

The 40 Minute Bible Study series from beloved Bible teacher Kay Arthur and the teaching staff of Precept Ministries tackles important issues in brief, easy-to-grasp lessons you can use personally or for small-group discussion. Each book in the series includes six 40-minute studies designed to draw you into God’s Word through basic inductive Bible study. There are 16 titles in the series, with topics ranging from fasting and forgiveness to prayer and worship. With no homework required, everyone in the group can work through the lesson together at the same time. Let these respected Bible teachers lead you in a study that will transform your thinking—and your life.

Titles Include:

•The Essentials of Effective Prayer
•Being a Disciple: Counting the Cost
•Building a Marriage That Really Works
•Discovering What the Future Holds
•Forgiveness: Breaking the Power of the Past
•Having a Real Relationship with God
•How Do You Walk the Walk and Talk the Talk?
•Living a Life of Real Worship
•How to Make Choices You Won’t Regret
•Living Victoriously in Difficult Times
•Money & Possessions: The Quest for Contentment
•Rising to the Call of Leadership
•How Do You Know God’s Your Father?
•Key Principles of Biblical Fasting
•A Man’s Strategy for Conquering Temptation
•What Does the Bible Say About Sex?

Monday, July 20, 2009

The Cross: 38,102 miles. 38 years. 1 mission.

by Arthur Blessitt,
Authentic, 2008

Blessitt tells an incredible story, a true story, his own story. Accepting Jesus as his personal Saviour and Lord at the tender age of seven, he learned early in life to listen for, and obey, Jesus' voice. This led to his special calling when he was about 29 years old - to carry the cross into all the nations of the world that others might see and hear the message of the cross, and know that God loves them and wants to save them.

By the year 2000, Blessitt had spent 38 years cross-walking through the world. He travelled 38, 102 miles, and God opened the doors to every country, including places that would not normally welcome the cross, such as Saudi Arabia and North Korea. In this book, Blessitt shares many of his extraordinary experiences - among them meeting Yasser Arafat, sleeping in a prince's abode, facing a firing squad, and chipping pieces from the Berlin Wall as it was torn down. What moved me the most were Blessitt's stories of God's healing touch on people he encountered while carrying the cross. What saddened me most was the rejection of the cross by church leaders in Montreal, part of my own country.

Blessitt writes this book not only to share the true tales of an intrepid adventurer, but to encourage Christians everywhere to heed God's call on their lives, to share the good gospel news with others, and to be passionate about their faith and the cause of Christ.

A fascinating read.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

I Love You, Miss Huddleston: and other inappropriate longings of my indiana childhood

by Philip Gulley
HarperOne, 2009

After enjoying Gulley's fictional Harmony series - tales of a Quaker pastor and his quirky congregation - I was sure I'd like reading snippets from memoirs of his childhood.

At times I shook with laughter, even as I read in public places. Gulley has an intuitive sense of the ridiculous and elevates the humour in real life through exaggeration. Try this on for size:

"'They call it the kissing disease, you know,' Dr. Kirtley said. 'Somebody been kissing you?' He winked at my mother.

"I had two aunts - big-lipped women who wore bright orange lipstick and stuck their lips to my cheeks like suction cups. Whenever they were within arm's length, they'd pull me to them and glom on to my cheek like a sucker fish. Now it appeared they had infected me. Killed by my big-lipped aunts."

While the book isn't a complete laugh-a-minute, it certainly has its fill of light-hearted moments. Thought-provoking at times, it calls to mind a time when life was simpler and relationships richer. Entertaining - a wonderful book to take with you to the cottage or wherever you vacation.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Good Deals & Smart Steals: How to $ave Money on Everything

Good Housekeeping,
Hearst Books, 2008

Filled with information on how to be a smart shopper and get a good deal, the Canadian reader benefits most from general tips like, "If you are a good customer, you can ask the bank issuing your credit card to waive the annual fee." On the other hand, quite a few of the suggestions seem common sense - "pay your credit card bill in full and on time to avoid interest charges." The majority of websites and companies named are American, thus rendering the book best suited to U.S. consumers.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Nelson's Illustrated Guide to Religions: a Comprehensive Introduction to the Religions of the World

By James A. Beverley
Thomas Nelson, 2009

The author's credentials are impressive. As Professor of Christian Thought and Ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto, and Associate Director at the Institute for the Study of American Religion in Santa Barbara, along with three decades of specialization in the study of new and world religions, he is the perfect choice to pen such a volume as this.

Covering all the major world religions, as well as a number of smaller ones, and fringe groups, the book offers the following features:
  • historical information on each major religion with detailed timelines
  • profiles of each group's primary leaders
  • an inventory of key principles and beliefs of each religion
  • an analysis and critique of religions from a Christian perspective
  • opinion and commentary on the controversial issues related to specific religious groups
  • recommended resources - bibliographic information and extensive Internet sources for further study
  • new groups explored - including The Lord is Our Righteousness Church and the Sold-Out Discipling Movement
  • ten tests for truth in religions - a set of multifaceted tests that Christians should apply when approaching the faith traditions of others - and their own faith

With some of the smaller groups, I did find that there was very little information, but this was probably a reflection of the fact that little information was available to the author as well. I was a bit surprised to see that there was nothing on the Shinto faith (Japan), but it was the only "obvious" omission.

Excellent for high school, college and university students, as well as the interested layperson. A solid addition to public library shelves and to one's personal bookshelves. I will turn to this again and again to become more knowledgeable about the various belief systems that exist, and to be better able to respond to door-to-door missionaries from different faiths.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Talking to the Dead

by Bonnie Grove
David C. Cook, 2009

When Kate's husband, Kevin, dies suddenly after they've been married only five years, Kate is devastated and lost. The pair had been high school sweethearts with shared dreams for the future. Dreams of a house filled with children, love, and laughter. And when Kate starts hearing Kevin's voice after the funeral, she is filled with both longing and despair. Is she going crazy? And why does Kevin seem to turn on her?

Kate's mother, whose own husband passed away eight months earlier, gives Kate the space that she needs. Her sister, Heather, and Kevin's best friend, Blair, are always there when she needs them. Maggie, an older woman from Kevin's church, wants to help. But there are gaps in Kate's memory - important things about the past and her marriage to Kevin that Kate needs to remember before she can move forward.

Counseling, group therapy, and medication for depression help, but aren't enough in and of themselves. Could she be "spiritually blocked" as one counselor suggests? As Kate recovers bits and pieces of her past, and learns of several betrayals, she turns to Jack Slater, a pastor/youth worker she met at a downtown community centre. With his friendship and insight come the beginnings of healing and forgiveness.

This is one of the best first novels I've had the pleasure to read. Bonnie is a gifted writer, who draws the reader into the story and doesn't let go. I literally had a difficult time putting this down, and eagerly anticipate Bonnie's next book.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Cream Puff Murder

by Joanne Fluke,
Kensington, 2009

This long-awaited installment in the Hannah Swensen culinary mystery series doesn't disappoint.

Hannah's mother, Delores, has penned her first romance novel, and Hannah has to prepare the refreshments as well as appear in a Regency costume Delores has ordered. Unfortunately, the dress is too small and Hannah goes on an intensive diet and exercise program in order to fit into it in time.

Meanwhile, Ronni Ward is doing her level best to lure every man she encounters and antagonize every woman. Her success leads to her untimely demise in the jacuzzi at the Heavenly Bodies fitness club.

Several of Hannah's male acquaintances are suspect, including her sometimes-boyfriend, police detective Mike Kingston. Hannah must investigate to clear their names and discover the real killer.

Along the way, she develops new insights into both Mike's character and the character of her other love interest, dentist Norman Rhodes.

While I figured out who-done-it fairly early on, I thoroughly enjoyed Fluke's latest dish, and am only sorry that I'm apt to have several more months' wait before the next title is released. I guess while I wait I'll just have to try all the wonderful recipes included in the book! Thankfully, a few lower calorie options are available.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The One-Minute Mother: the quickest way for you to help your children learn to like themselves and want to behave themselves

by Spencer Johnson,
William Morrow & Company, 1983

An expectant mother decides to consult the mothers around her in order to have a better understanding of good child-rearing methods. After speaking with many and becoming tired and discouraged, she finally hears of a woman who has simple and effective strategies. She visits this "one-minute mother" and her three adult children to find out the secrets of successful parenting.

Although this is an older title, the contents remain true for parents today. Told in story form, and just over 100 pages long, the book is a quick and easy read. When the techniques suggested are applied properly and consistently, mothers should discipline children effectively, and children should learn to like themselves and want to behave themselves.

A companion volume, The One-Minute Father, is also recommended.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Sisterchicks in Wooden Shoes: Winner Announced!

While I would have liked to have copies to give everyone who entered my book draw, please join me in congratulating Sandra M, the winner of Sisterchicks in Wooden Shoes by Robin Jones Gunn! Enjoy the book, Sandra, and keep on reading!

Sir Dalton and the Shadow Heart

by Chuck Black
Multnomah, 2009

Sir Dalton, a knight in training, seems to have everything going for him. Young, well-liked, and a natural leader, he has earned the respect and admiration of his fellow knights, and especially the beautiful Lady Brynn.

But something is amiss at the training camp. Their new trainer is popular but lacks the passion to inspire them to true service to the King and the Prince. Besides this, the knights are too busy enjoying a season of good times to be concerned with a disturbing report that many of their fellow Knights have mysteriously vanished.

When Sir Dalton is sent on a mission, he encounters strange attacks, especially when he is alone. As his commitment wanes, the attacks grow in intensity until he is captured by Lord Drox, a massive Shadow Warrior. Bruised and beaten, Dalton refuses to submit to evil and initiates a daring escape with only one of two outcomes–life or death. But what will become of the hundreds of knights he’ll leave behind? In a kingdom of peril, Dalton thinks he is on his own, but two faithful friends have not abandoned him, and neither has a strange old hermit who seems to know much about the Prince. But can Dalton face the evil Shadow Warrior again and survive?


The Disappearance of God

by Dr. R. Albert Mohler
Multnomah, 2009

More faulty information about God swirls around us today than ever before. No wonder so many followers of Christ are unsure of what they really believe in the face of the new spiritual openness attempting to alter unchanging truth.

For centuries the church has taught and guarded the core Christian beliefs that make up the essential foundations of the faith. But in our postmodern age, sloppy teaching and outright lies create rampant confusion, and many Christians are free-falling for “feel-good” theology.

We need to know the truth to save ourselves from errors that will derail our faith.

As biblical scholar, author, and president of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Dr. Albert Mohler, writes, “The entire structure of Christian truth is now under attack.” With wit and wisdom he tackles the most important aspects of these modern issues:

  • Is God changing His mind about sin?
  • Why is hell off limits for many pastors?
  • What’s good or bad about the “dangerous” emergent movement?
  • Have Christians stopped seeing God as God?
  • Is the social justice movement misguided?
  • Could the role of beauty be critical to our theology?
  • Is liberal faith any less destructive than atheism?
  • Are churches pandering to their members to survive?

In the age-old battle to preserve the foundations of faith, it's up to a new generation to confront and disarm the contemporary shams and fight for the truth. Dr. Mohler provides the scriptural answers to show you how.


Monday, June 15, 2009

Eyes Wide Open: See and Live the Real You

by Jud Wilhite with Bill Taaffe,
Multnomah, 2009

Having your eyes wide open means understanding who God is, and recognizing your true position and identity in Christ, as one who is loved and forgiven. It is this real you that Jud Wilhite invites you to discover in Eyes Wide Open .

Fluently written, the book is a kind of travel guide through real spirituality. Stories about following God in the messes of life, about broken pasts and our lifelong need for grace are relevant and inspiring. I know that I will have to read it multiple times in order to recall and retain all the valuable points that are made. Surprisingly simple cover art belies the importance and beauty of the contents within.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Sisterchicks in Wooden Shoes (Review and Giveaway!)

by Robin Jones Gunn
Multnomah, 2009

Having read all of the Sisterchicks books to date, I was excited to see that Gunn had penned a new installment. Once again, she doesn't disappoint, but delivers a solid Christian chick-lit novel.

The story's protagonist, Summer, receives news that a mammogram test has revealed some abnormality. Given that her mother had died of breast cancer, the news sends Summer into a panic. To delay the biopsy, Summer decides on the spur of the moment to visit her pen pal, Noelle, for a week in the Netherlands.

As in all the Sisterchicks books, the main characters tour an exotic location (in this case, Holland), allowing the reader a vicarious travel experience. This is one of the things I enjoy about the books, since I have yet to travel outside of North America. The other thing I like is how Gunn weaves scripture and spiritual ideas throughout the text so that the characters come to new understandings and ways of thinking. She is not at all heavy-handed or preachy in her approach, the effect is subtle and natural. In Sisterchicks in Wooden Shoes, Summer comes to realize that she can relinquish her own attempts to control and trust God for her future. Noelle also finds Summer's visit helpful in dealing with an unresolved issue from her past.

You can go to the Random House website to buy a copy of the book, or why not leave a comment on my blog before June 15? For the first time ever, I am offering a giveaway. I will make a random draw on June 16. Make sure you leave your e-mail address so I can contact you if you're the lucky winner!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

The Book of Negroes

by Lawrence Hill
HarperCollins, 2007

A "Canada Reads" (CBC) book selection; also the "One Book, One Community" book choice for Waterloo Region, 2009.

Aminata Diallo is of the Bayo tribe in Africa, and is kidnapped by slave traders at the tender age of 11. Forced to march with other captives to Bance Island, she crosses the sea and lands in South Carolina. Along the way, she witnesses much brutality, death, and disease. She leaves nothing out in her recounting of events, and so the reader experiences all of the horror with her.

But Aminata, who becomes known as Meena in the Colonies, is an intelligent, strong, and resilient girl, and survives, both through the care of those who take her under their wing, and through the use of her own wits. Though she suffers cruelty and hardship, she continues to press on, always with the ultimate goal of returning to Africa and the Bayo village. She moves from South Carolina to New York to Nova Scotia (as a black loyalist), and finally to Sierra Leone. At last close to realizing her dream, she joins forces with the abolitionists in England in a bid to end the slave trade once and for all.

Beautifully written, with strongly developed characters, the book draws the reader in from the very first pages, and never lets go. Highly recommended, it is based on historical fact, and acts as a rebuke and a reminder. We must do all that we can to end human slavery, for sadly, though not officially or generally tolerated, it continues to this day.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul

by John and Stasi Eldredge,
Thomas Nelson, 2007

After reading Wild at Heart last year, I thought I would enjoy the companion book for women. Alas, not so.

The premise of the book is that every woman has three common desires: to be romanced, to play a role in her own adventures, and to display beauty. Sadly, many women do not get these desires met and end up depressed, angry, isolated, and tired. The authors believe that if women see God as the ultimate lover, look to Eve as their model of ideal womanhood, and form close, intimate friendships with one another, they will better get their needs met. This is not new material, and not every woman will agree with the foundational concepts on which the authors build their argument.

Not recommended. The writing style was challenging, and it took me about six weeks to plod through. You would spend your time more wisely with a book like Completely His: Loving Jesus without Limits by Shannon Ethridge.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Grace is Enough

by Willie Aames and Maylo Upton-Aames
B & H Books, 2007

In alternating chapters, Willie and his wife, Maylo, share the stories of their growing-up years, their Hollywood lives, their meeting, epiphany of faith, and subsequent marriage. At first, it's a bit confusing trying to keep track of all the relatives, but this smooths out as the book progresses.

Willie and Maylo both experienced a fair amount of "freedom" during their youth and young adult lives, and also more than their share of personal suffering. Both became deeply involved in drugs and alcohol, dabbled in (oc)cultic practices, and Maylo even lived on the streets at one point. It's amazing that either one came out of their situation as well as they did.

The last section of the book deals with their coming to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ, an encounter that transformed and informed their lives thereafter. Willie talks briefly about his stint as Bibleman (a DVD series my son still enjoys) and the couple discusses their financial difficulties and disappointments (being a Christian doesn't make your problems all magically go away).

If the book is reprinted, it will need a postscript. Just a year after it was published, Willie and Maylo went their separate ways, Willie "fell off the wagon", attempted suicide, and declared bankruptcy. A very sad part of a story that I hope will yet have a happy ending.

Monday, April 27, 2009

The Noticer: Sometimes, all a person needs is a little perspective

by Andy Andrews
Thomas Nelson, 2009

LPGA Hall of Famer Nancy Lopez says, "This is the best book I have ever read in my life." While I can't agree with that, I do affirm that the book is well worth reading.

Confused initially as to whether it was fact or fiction - it seemed too fantastic to be true - I consulted the CIP (cataloguing-in-publication) information at the front and ascertained that it's shelved in the library's "philosophy" section. Upon discovery that one of the author's other books is considered allegorical, I determined that this title also falls into that category.

Readers who enjoyed the Touched by an Angel television series will very much enjoy The Noticer, the story of a man named Jones, who shows up at critical moments in people's lives and helps them get the perspective and wisdom they need in order to make informed decisions and choices. He stops short of saying, "God loves you," but you sense that he means that just the same.

Very much in the allegorical style of Spencer Johnson's One-Minute and Who Moved My Cheese? books, and with the emotional feel of a Richard Paul Evans novel, Andrews combines a captivating story with important ideas about living effectively. Can be read quickly for plot, then read again slowly for life application. Comes with a Reader's Guide to enhance one's experience of the book. Highly recommended.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Hole in Our Gospel

by Richard Stearns
Thomas Nelson, 2009
(includes a study guide)

Richard Stearns is the current president of World Vision U.S, a Christian non-profit organization. He did not seek this position, but accepted it reluctantly as God's will for his life, after much objection and delay. Since joining the charity in 1999, he has seen and experienced much, and was encouraged to write this book to people of faith in order to communicate a message of vital importance.

So, what does he want to say to us? What 'hole' does he refer to? The cover of the book gives us some idea by posing the question, "What does God expect of us?" The answer he found "changed [his] life and might just change the world". His basic assertion is that Christians, -particularly those of us living in the west - have accepted a partial gospel, and that we need to instead embrace the "whole" gospel of Jesus Christ. This gospel remembers Jesus' concern and compassion for the poor, the sick and infirm, the widowed and orphaned, the disenfranchised and distressed. It is not insular and tight-fisted, but reaches out beyond four walls, with the time, talent, and treasure that God has entrusted us with. God does not bless us so that we might enjoy, but so that we might in turn bless others and, in so doing, glorify Him.

The Hole in Our Gospel challenges the reader with the realities that exist in our world today. In many parts, AIDS is taking a huge toll, clean water is lacking, people are suffering and dying needlessly. Stearns provides information, statistics, and compelling stories to open our eyes, and uses Scripture effectively to remind us of what Jesus had to say about our responsibility to serve and help others. He argues that the western Church has become too comfortable, apathetic, and self-serving, and rebukes us individually and collectively for neglecting a significant part of the gospel of Christ. Ultimately, he challenges the reader to ask, "What am I going to do now?" We cannot claim a lack of awareness, access, or ability as generations before us may have been able to do. Therefore, we must do what we can do. Faith without works is dead (James 2:17).

It is a disturbing fact that Christians are no longer viewed favourably in North America. Nonbelievers look at us and see a disconnect between how Jesus lived and what motivated Him and how we are living and what compels us. "God's name is defiled when His people willingly and apathetically accept the status quo, lacking the vision to lift up God's holiness, goodness and justice in a crumbling world," says Stearns. He encourages us to capture the vision of rebuilding what is broken and lifting up God's righteousness. "If each child of God does his or her doable part, then collectively we can set aright a topsy-turvy world."

"Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?" Jesus asked. God doesn't expect you to act alone in your own strength, but provides what you need in order to get the job done - all He needs is your willing heart.

Stearns' book met me at the right time in my life. My heart is willing to follow up with action, so that with Mother Theresa I might say, "I am a little pencil in the hand of a writing God who is sending a love letter to the world." If you need a push to be able to say the same thing, read this book, think deeply about what it says, then do.

Note: at the author's request, all royalties due the author will go to benefit World Vision's work with children in need.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Splitting Harriet

by Tamara Leigh
Multnomah, 2007

Former wild child, Harriet Bisset, has spent the last eight years atoning for the errors of her youth. The daughter of a preacher, she feels a duty to honour the church members who offered forgiveness and welcomed her back into the fold. Now working as director of Women's Ministries at the church she grew up in, she dreams of the day she can own Gloria's Morning Cafe, and drowns her personal sorrows in tubs of Jelly Bellies.

Enter Maddox McCray, the consultant hired by the church to help it transition from a traditional to more contemporary style in order to attract younger families and keep the church growing. He drives a motorcycle, has tattoos, and oh, that black curly hair! He spells trouble, and there's no way Harri is getting involved with him.

Well, er... If only he weren't so darned good looking, unpretentious, and persistent. But then there's how his suggestions are upsetting the balance at church, and causing Harri's comfort zone much discomfort...

Very well written, with fully developed characters, this story will tug at your heartstrings and move your spirit.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Shadows in the Mirror

by Linda Hall,
Steeple Hill, 2007

A friend of mine recommended Linda Hall a long time ago, and now that I've read her, I'm sure to seek out more of her work.

After her parents died, Marylee Simson was raised in Oregon by a maiden aunt. Now her aunt is dead and Marylee has returned to Burlington, Vermont to learn about her heritage, a subject Aunt Ruth would never address. What secrets does the town hold?

Soon after Marylee opens her craft shop and starts teaching classes, strange things begin to happen. The latch on the door to her balcony is mysteriously opened several times, her car alarm goes off in the middle of the night, a stranger seems to be watching her. A man she is attracted to seems both friend and foe - can she trust anyone, and what should she believe?

There are a couple of errors an editor failed to catch, and a few questionable plot points, but on the whole the story is well written and difficult to put down. The author offers questions for discussion at its conclusion, which help make it a suitable choice for a beginner book club.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

This is Your Brain on Joy: A Revolutionary Program for Balancing Mood, Restoring Brain Health, and Nurturing Spiritual Growth

by Dr. Earl Henslin, foreword by Dr. Daniel G. Amen
Thomas Nelson, 2008

Licensed counselor, Dr. Earl Henslin, discusses the five mood centers of the brain in a way that is accessible to the layperson, using humour, stories, and language that most people will grasp. Attaching himself to Dr. Daniel Amen to learn more about the brain and how SPECT imaging pinpoints hotspots, Dr. Henslin's counseling practice was transformed in a way that knowledge of psychotherapy models had not been able to accomplish. As Dr. Amen points out, psychiatry is the only medical specialty that never looks at the organ it treats. Doesn't it make sense to look at the brain when a person has a brain/mind problem?

Dr. Henslin gives us good news: there is no normal brain and we are not stuck with the one we were born with. The brain is plastic and responds well to treatment. Early in the book he provides readers with the "Amen Brain System Checklist," a diagnostic screening tool that helps identify potential brain disorders. Later chapters cover problems in the prefrontal cortex (Presidential control center), cingulate gyrus (Circular gerbil wheel), Deep Limbic System (Depressed low-mood space), basal ganglia (Basement of giant fears), and temporal lobe (Temper lofts). ADD/ADHD, OCD, depression, fear and anxiety, and anger are just some of the topics addressed. Dr. Henslin spells out a variety of treatment options, including supplements and medications, mood-balanced diets, music and cinematherapy, exercise, and the practice of spiritual disciplines. He advises patients to work with their doctors to devise the best treatment plan for their particular situations.

My favourite parts of the book are those where Dr. Henslin shares success stories and identifies resources (websites, movies, music, etc.) that will help the person in need. It is also fascinating to see before and after examples of actual SPECT images.

While at times the science was somewhat over my head in spite of Dr. Henslin's efforts to keep things simple, I still found myself nodding in agreement as I read and experienced my own a-ha moments. With the aid of SPECT imaging people can get the real help that they need and get on the road to joyful living more quickly. If you suffer from a mood disorder (or someone you care about does) this book is a "must read" for both hope and solutions.