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.

Monday, March 9, 2009

A Catered Murder (Mystery with Recipes)

by Isis Crawford,
Kensington, 2003

When outspoken Bernie returns to small town Longley from L.A. for a respite from a bad marriage, she assists at A Little Taste of Heaven, the catering business owned by her more stodgy sister, Libby. When the guest of honour at one of their events dies after drinking cyanide-laced water they provided, threatening their business, the sisters decide to do some private investigating, with the occasional word of advice thrown in by their father, a wheel-chair bound former police chief.

Numerous suspects make the job difficult. Was there anyone who liked the victim? And when a second person is found shot to death, the mystery doubles.

Engaging characters and a well developed plot with plenty of red herrings make this a delectable read. While there's only one recipe I would actually try (for Devil's Food Cake), I am definitely going back for second helpings with the author's next installment.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

I Would Die For You: One Student's Story of Passion, Service and Faith

By Brent and Deanna Higgins
Revell, 2008

Brent Allen Higgins, Jr. (BJ, for short) "got" the Christian message at the age of 8, and from then on had a passion to know his Saviour better through prayer and the reading of His word. He understood completely that it wasn't all about him - it was all about Him, and he took every opportunity to share his faith with others.

In 2004, BJ went on his first short term missions trip to Peru with Awe Star Ministries. There, he saw the hand of God at work as many came to know the Lord. In 2005, he returned to Peru to continue sharing the love of Jesus with the people there. His journal and blog entries demonstrate the concern he had for lost souls and his sense that the time was short.

Back home, BJ's health, attacked during the Peru trip, worsened. It wasn't long before he was hospitalized. Medical practitioners could not identify the illness, but worked hard to care for him. Throughout this, BJ put others above himself, and his family gave glory to God in all things. Many lives were touched and eternally transformed.

BJ's fight for life ended on September 26, 2005, but his legacy lives on. By writing this book and sharing his story, his parents honour their son, draw others to Christ and encourage the church body to go forward with passion and commitment in BJ's place. His story inspired Mercy Me to write Bring the Rain and I Would Die for You. Awe Star Ministries now offer's BJ's Hope Scholarship for young people interested in going on the mission field.

Read this book and be changed.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Lifestories: Finding God's "Voice of Truth" Through Everyday Life

by Mark Hall and Tim Luke
Provident-Integrity, 2006

Mark Hall is lead singer of the group Casting Crowns, which is sold-out, on fire for Jesus. While accused of "singing to the choir", the group calls its ministry discipleship, and boy does the church need it. Last weekend I had the opportunity to hear the band in concert and it was an awesome experience. Afterwards I picked up Mark's book and highly recommend it to you, along with the group's CDs.

In Lifestories Mark shares his personal testimony as well as the stories behind his songs. The reader can tell that Mark is down in the trenches with us as he lives out a life of faith. While it's not always pretty and we all fail from time to time, Mark encourages us to continue seeking God's voice of truth - to stay in His word and in prayer so that we can truly know Him and strive to honour Him with our lives. He continually drives home the point that we can only reach the world for Christ when we are passionate about Him and authentic about ourselves. Each chapter includes the testimony of someone influenced by Casting Crowns' music, details about how God's voice speaks into the songs, and questions that get the reader to think about where she is in her own walk with the Lord. I personally found it very convicting and trust you will, too.