Monday, December 29, 2014

A Review: "The Secret of Pembrooke Park" by Julie Klassen

The Secret of Pembrooke Park"The Secret of Pembrooke Park" is the most recent Regency novel from Julie Klassen. Abigail Foster's family faces financial ruin due to a bad investment by her father. After being forced to sell their family home and find more reasonable accommodations, the Fosters are surprised to learn that a distant relation is allowing them to lease Pembrooke Park, a home that has been left vacant for nearly twenty years. Abigail oversees the work at Pembrooke and discovers that there is more to the manor, and family history, than meets the eye. Rumors of treasures abound and secrecy shrouds Pembrooke Park. Abigail finds herself in the center of the mystery, made even more intriguing when letters and old journal pages begin to appear in her mail.

This story drew me in completely with the mystery and intrigue. The romance is well-done and not overly sappy. The overall plot keeps the reader engaged from the beginning. The characters were well-developed and likeable. Having been a fan of Klassen's since the beginning, I found this book to be among her best works and definitely a significant improvement over her most previous work, "The Dancing Master". A charming book that I will definitely read again!

(I’ve received this complimentary book from Bethany House Publishers through the Book Blogger program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Review: "Same Kind of Different As Me" by Ron Hall and Denver Moore

"Same Kind of Different As Me" is a collaboration, the tale of how two very different lives intersect. Told in the first person, authors Ron Hall and Denver Moore take the reader on a journey of their lives, both individual and corporate. Both were raised in the South, but with one being white and the other black, their experiences were vastly different. Moore grew up a sharecropper. It was all he knew until one day he hopped a train, did some traveling, and eventually settled in Fort Worth, Texas. Homeless and angry, he finds his way to the Union Gospel Mission. Hall grew up lower-middle class, but worked his way up in life to become an art dealer. His wife, Deborah, began to feel a call on her life to serve the homeless at the Union Gospel Mission. Hall went along half-heartedly, but eventually felt his heart begin to change the more they served. It was through their volunteer work at the mission that Hall and Moore met. Despite the major outward differences, they strike a friendship--one that has endured through the years.

This book presents so many issues for the reader to wrestle with. Poverty, homelessness (and the response to it), sickness and death. I found Moore's portion of the book fascinating to read because of his life experience. Not being able to relate, I found it extremely helpful to see things from a different perspective. Hall was a little more difficult to read through. Before he met Moore, he came across as a bit self-absorbed and materialistic. That changed, however, once he became serious about his faith and befriended Moore.

This is a wonderful book to help tear down stereotypes. So many themes of this book remain so relevant and are worthy of further discussion. There is a discussion section at the back of the book, which makes it perfect for individual reflections or for a small group discussion. This is an important book that would be a great starting point for thinking critically about issues like poverty, homelessness, and a proper response to both.

(I’ve received this complimentary book through the BookLook program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

Monday, December 8, 2014

A Review: "Unplanned" by Abby Johnson

21556369"Unplanned" by Abby Johnson is an incredibly important book in the pro-life discussion. Abby Johnson was involved with Planned Parenthood for eight years, initially being recruited as a volunteer while as a college student. She worked her way through the ranks, eventually becoming the director of the Bryan, Texas, clinic.

Despite growing up in a pro-life family, Johnson never really thought critically about her position on the matter. She was captivated by the lofty ideals of Planned Parenthood:  reducing the number of abortions by increasing access to birth control. Drawn in by this proposition and by the chance to help women in crisis, Johnson started her career path at Planned Parenthood. During her time there, she came into frequent contact with volunteers from the Coalition for Life who gathered outside the fence surrounding the clinic to pray for an end to abortion. Through compassion and gentle discussions, Johnson began to see that maybe the people on "the other side" weren't as bad as they were portrayed by Planned Parenthood.

Then came the day she was requested to assist with an ultrasound-guided abortion. As she watched what happened to the unborn baby, she was horrified. It was that particular instance that caused a crisis of belief for her. She began to question everything she had ever done at Planned Parenthood. Her first stop was the nearby Coalition for Life who had won her over by their genuine care and concern for her, as well as their daily prayers for her.

"Unplanned" is a riveting book and an incredible look at the issue of unborn life from both perspectives. Because of Johnson's role with the organization, she offers a unique look at Planned Parenthood from the inside, revealing things that they would probably prefer to remain hidden (for instance, that they need to increase revenue by increasing abortions, something that goes completely contrary to their main talking point).

It is fascinating to read the thought process and beliefs behind why she wanted to work for Planned Parenthood. Her transformation from believing the pro-choice rhetoric and semantics to a Bible-believing pro-life Christian is amazing.

This book was initially published in 2010. It was recently re-released with an additional chapter containing follow-up information that has occurred since the book was previously published. Johnson and her husband launched a non-profit ministry called And Then There Were None, with the goal of assisting abortion clinic workers who wish to leave their work. So far, they have helped over 100 workers who chose to leave the abortion industry. Throughout the book, Johnson helps the reader to see that it's not just women seeking abortions who need help, care, and prayer; abortion workers are in just as much need.

"Unplanned" is an important book in the conversation of unborn life. Johnson is able to offer a unique look from both sides of the discussion. I highly recommend this book for anyone seeking to understand the "other side", no matter which side you may be on.

(I’ve received this complimentary book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

Thursday, November 20, 2014

A Review: "Vanishing Grace" by Philip Yancey

Presented as a follow-up to "What's So Amazing About Grace", Yancey returns to the subject of grace in his newest book "Vanishing Grace". In four sections, he confronts the issue of why, since we have such good news to proclaim, Christians continue to lose influence and credibility among the culture at large.

This book helps Christians to confront where we have collectively gone wrong with our approach to culture in general and non-believers in specific. The first section looks at how the Church has failed to demonstrate love and grace to those who need it most. The second section examines three models of ways to approach love and grace better. The third section takes a look at three pressing questions:  is there anyone else? why are we here? how should we live? The fourth section addresses how the Church should engage with our culture.

While the book as a whole was deep and thought-provoking, it was the fourth section that was the most convicting. In the first chapter, he looks at how Christians should be involved with politics. In the second chapter, he revisits the three models he discussed in section two.

This is a difficult book to read in that it really causes you to think and examine your approach to culture and non-believers. But even if it may be a difficult book to read, I think it's a necessary one.

(I’ve received this complimentary book through the BookLook program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

A Review: "Wounded by God's People" by Anne Graham Lotz

This latest book by Anne Graham Lotz tackles a heavy subject:  woundedness. Not just any woundedness, but wounds inflicted by those who are part of God's family. Taking the biblical story of Hagar as her base, she takes readers on Hagar's journey and explores just how relevant Hagar's story is to our modern story. She also draws on her own personal journey through pain inflicted by other Christians to help the reader engage even more.

Whether the wounds come from Christians or not, our world is full of "the walking wounded". Pain abounds in our sinful, fallen world. Lotz takes a deep look at how wounds affect people and relationships. She also explores the key role of forgiveness in finding healing from wounds that others have inflicted.

This book is a wonderful tool, especially in this day and age. With so much hurt, both intentional and unintentional, every Christian needs to read this book to help overcome the brokenness and woundedness that occurs so regularly. I highly recommend this book, both for the individual and small groups to read and discuss together.

(I’ve received this complimentary book through the BookLook program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)


Sunday, August 17, 2014

A Review: "Miracle in a Dry Season" by Sarah Loudin Thomas

Cover Art"Miracle in a Dry Season", the debut novel from Sarah Loudin Thomas, takes place in Wise, a tiny hamlet in the mountains of West Virginia. Casewell Phillips is a well-respected member of the community. He harbors a deep desire to marry, but hasn't found the right woman yet. Perla Long came to Wise with her daughter, Sadie, to reside with her aunt and uncle in order to escape her past, but finds it to be difficult to leave it all behind. Circumstances bring them together, particularly a severe drought which brings the community together in ways they would never have forseen.

The novel was full of likeable characters and some interesting sub-plots. The theme of sin, forgiveness, and God's grace ran strong through this novel. The story is mostly told through Casewell, which brings an interesting twist that isn't found in many Christian fiction novels. The characters are well-developed and the descriptions of life in this tiny Appalachian town are wonderful. This book was a nice debut novel and provides high hopes for future novels from this author.

(I’ve received this complimentary book from Bethany House Publishers through the Book Blogger program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)




Thursday, August 7, 2014

A Review: "The Family Project" by Glenn T. Stanton and Leon C. Wirth

The Family Project: How God's Design Reveals His Best For You - Book  -     By: Glenn Stanton, Leon C. Wirth
"The Family Project" by Glenn T. Stanton and Leon C. Wirth is a companion book to the 12-session small group curriculum created by Focus on the Family. With the idea of family in such disarray and under attack in public arenas, this book brings some clarity, definition, and meaning to "family". The book is divided into four sections which seek to lay a Biblical framework for family and marriage. Each chapter concludes with a reflection statement which sums up the main idea from each chapter, as well as a number of reflection questions for digging deeper into the ideas presented in each chapter.

I found this book a little hard to digest on my own, but believe it would be an excellent resource for a small group to go through together. There were a lot of theological ideas presented, which can make for heavier reading at times. The main points were presented clearly and each chapter built well on the previous ones. Overall, this is a good resource for bringing added definition and clarity to what family means.

(I’ve received this complimentary book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Review: "The Berenstain Bears: God Shows the Way" by Stan and Jan Berenstain with Mike Berenstain

"The Berenstain Bears:  God Shows the Way" by Stan and Jan Berenstain with Mike Berenstain is a slim volume that contains three separate stories. "Faith Gets Us Through" focuses on how faith can help see us through any difficulty that may come our way, as evidenced by a Scout pack exploring a cave. "Do Not Fear, God is Near" helps readers understand that with God, we have no reason to be afraid, a lesson Sister Bear learned to help conquer her own fears. "Piggy Bank Blessings" instructs about the value of saving money, as well as generosity toward others.

My boys rather enjoy stories about the Berenstain Bears, and this volume is a great one--not only because it contains three books, but also because the faith lessons taught in each story are ones that I am eager for my boys to internalize. Having stories like this that help reinforce certain faith concepts are fabulous. They have already been requesting re-reads of the stories!

(I’ve received this complimentary book through the BookLook program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

Monday, June 2, 2014

A Review: "The Chopped Cookbook"

Chopped Cookbook: Use What You've Got To Cook Something Great (Hardcover) Book
"The Chopped Cookbook", a beautiful hardback cookbook compiled by the Food Network, starts with the premise of using what you have in order to cook something great. They focus on common ingredients that most of us already have in our pantries and present all kinds of recipes that can be prepared quickly and easily.

The book starts off with "The Chopped Pantry", which contains a list of basic ingredients to help you stock and organize your own pantry. Then it launches into the recipes, divided into different categories such as pasta, chicken, eggs, vegetables, and salads. Many of the recipes contain full-page, full-color photos as well as number of servings, prep time and total time. There are also helpful cooking tips scattered throughout. Also sprinkled throughout are questions and answers with various judges from "Chopped".

This is a great cookbook for a beginner or intermediate home cook. One downside:  it isn't spiral-bound, so the book doesn't stay open on its own while you are preparing your meal. Overall, it's a great cookbook!

(I’ve received this complimentary book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

A Review: "Beautiful on the Mountain" by Jeannie Light

Beautiful on the Mountain: When There Was Trouble in Graves Mill, God Sent the Most Unlikely Answer  -     By: Jeannie Light, David Aikman
"Beautiful on the Mountain" is the true story of Jeannie Light's experience of life in the remote mountain community of Graves Mill, Virginia in the late 1970's. Light had previously lived an opulent lifestyle, which included life in a renovated plantation mansion. Following her divorce, Light received 700 acres of undeveloped land in the mountains, just outside the Shenandoah National Park and near the tiny hamlet of Graves Mill. Needing to be out of her plantation home, she rents a small home in the center of the hamlet while she struggles to figure out what to do with her land and how to proceed with life in this remote area. Even before she settles in, she is approached about re-opening the chapel. Despite feeling completely unprepared for the task at hand, she agrees.

Colorful characters and fascinating stories of life "off-grid" fill this memoir. The transformation of this little hamlet to a true community is great fun to read about. The one thing I felt lacking was there was not much discussion of the author's own personal faith journey. Faith was certainly part of the story throughout, but there was not much in the way of personal reflection regarding her faith. Overall, it was a nice, easy read, but not necessarily a repeat read for me.

(I’ve received this complimentary book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)


Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Review: "Parenting the Wholehearted Child" by Jeannie Cunnion

"Parenting the Wholehearted Child" by Jeannie Cunnion focuses on releasing our own expectations of parenting and allowing God's grace to captivate our and our children's hearts. By allowing ourselves to surrender to the beauty of the grace of God, it will ultimately trickle down to our children.

The book is divided into four sections. Part 1 deals with grace:  what it means, how it looks in our lives, and what it means to allow God's grace to rule in our our hearts as parents. Part 2 focuses on introducing our children to friendship with Jesus, as well as giving tools to help encourage that friendship. Part 3 includes chapters addressing different character traits and how to cultivate those in your children's lives. Part 4 shares how to lead with unconditional love as we instruct our children in obedience.

Overall, this was a book that sums up what Christian parents should desire for our kids:  a living, vibrant faith in Christ and a life that reflects Christ-like character. She offered many practical applications, as well as Scriptures and personal stories, to get her point across. This is a book that resonates with me and it's one that I need to read again and again. This would be a fabulous book for a small group to go through together, as well as for an individual to go through slowly to really digests all the great points Cunnion addresses.

"Until we accept God's wild, unrestricted love and absolute acceptance of us, we will struggle in vain to let it flow through us to our kids. But when his grace begins to transform our hearts, it also begins to transform our parenting. It's not about what we do. It's about what his grace does through us when we surrender to his wholehearted acceptance of us" (p. 48-49).

(I’ve received this complimentary book through the BookLook program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

Saturday, February 22, 2014

A Review: "Notes From a Blue Bike" by Tsh Oxenreider

As a fan of Tsh Oxenreider's blog at TheArtOfSimple.net, I was eager to pick up her latest book, "Notes from a Blue Bike:  The Art of Living Intentionally in a Chaotic World". Her writing style is engaging and easy to read. Part memoir, part manifesto of living a simpler life, Oxenreider skillfully shares personal stories that highlight her family's journey to living a counter-cultural lifestyle.


I loved the stories that she shared. Motivating and thought-provoking, I found myself drawn in by her passion for the subject. Having lived overseas, Oxenreider brings a unique perspective to the table that many people have never experienced or may never get to experience. Drawing heavily on their life in Turkey, she illustrates how their life there was a springboard to living life with more intention upon their return to the United States.

Divided into seven main sections, Oxenreider shares how her family makes conscious choices to live more intentionally and simply in areas like food, work, and entertainment. They make travel as a family a priority to give their children a better worldview and as part of lifelong learning. It was easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm with which she writes. I left each section contemplating how I can incorporate some of these ideas into my own family life.

Oxenereider is quick to reiterate that each family needs to evaluate and make decisions based on what is best for your particular family, your particular season:  "We're each given freedom to choose our decisions, and that responsibility is the very definition of living with intention, after all:  making daily choices so that your life lines up with your passions and values. It should all make sense in your head" (p. 214).

This book is a great jumping off point for people to put some thought into what your goals are, how you want to live, what your priorities are, and how you want to raise your kids. It is never easy to live counter-culturally, particularly in a culture like the U.S. But with a bit of thought and some creativity, it is possible to make even small changes.

While Oxenreider writes out of her life as a mom of young kids, this book is not geared specifically for moms of young kids. There is a lot of great information in there for people of all ages, men or women, regardless of life stage. I would highly recommend this book!

(I’ve received this complimentary book through the BookLook program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

Monday, February 17, 2014

A Review: "A Godward Heart" by John Piper

A Godward Heart"A Godward Heart" by John Piper is a collection of 50 brief meditations, each designed to take the reader deeper in their relationship with God. The book is meant to be savored slowly, pondered, wrestled with. You may not agree with everything that Piper presents in this book, but allow yourself to be challenged. Think deeply about what you believe and why.

The meditations include reflections on particular Scripture passages, marriage and parenting, certain doctrinal positions, and thoughts about current culture. There isn't a particular pattern or order the meditations follow, which gives it a slight feel of disjointedness. But, taken one bite at a time, there will be plenty to mull over!

Some of my favorite meditations include "The Morning I Heard the Voice of God", "What's the Place of Confrontation in Marriage?", "What Love Does and Does Not Do", and "Why Require Unregenerate Children to Act Like They're Good?".

Piper generally puts out wonderful devotional material and this one is no exception. I definitely recommend this book for anyone who desires to think critically and be challenged in their spiritual growth as a Christian.

(I’ve received this complimentary book from Waterbrook-Multnomah through the Blogging for Books program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

Friday, January 24, 2014

A Review: "The Dancing Master" by Julie Klassen

The Dancing Master"The Dancing Master" by Julie Klassen introduces the reader to Alec Valcourt, a London dancing and fencing master who was forced to relocate with his mother and sister to the village of Beaworthy after a scandal forces them to leave London. Shortly upon relocating, the family learns that dancing has been forbidden, an unwritten law for the last twenty years. As Alec attempts to find his way in a new profession while his heart lies with dancing and fencing, he encounters the Midwinter family, the leading family in the village. Lady Amelia Midwinter appears stoic and aloof, but harbors family secrets. Her daughter, Julia, is an unabashed flirt, reckless, and headstrong, yet longing to find the affection and love that she's been missing from her own family.

While much of the story is told from Alec's point of view, there is a good deal told from Julia's, as well as a small amount from Lady Midwinter's. At times it was a little hard to follow because Lady Midwinter's memories and Julia's daydreams were interjected without any real transition.

Normally, I really like Klassen's work. Her stories are typically very solid and engaging. But this one was missing that spark, that something special that really drew me in to the story. Maybe it was because this was her first story that was told primarily from the man's point of view. Maybe it was because Julia was simply not a very likeable character. There were many other secondary characters that were more likeable and deserved greater development.

The first half of the book was pretty slow to start and I often found it dragging. The plot picked up in the second half as the story developed further. It still wasn't enough to salvage the book for me. Overall, it was just an okay read. As much as I enjoy Julie Klassen's work, I just can't recommend this particular book. If you are new to her work, start with her earlier ones before diving into this one.

(I’ve received this complimentary book from Bethany House Publishers through the Book Blogger program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Review: "The Question That Never Goes Away" by Philip Yancey

The sequel to Philip Yancey's best-selling book, "Where Is God When It Hurts", addresses the question of "why" in the midst of suffering. "The Question That Never Goes Away" takes the reader on a journey to three different parts of the world that were stunned by tragedies that befell them. In the span of one year, Yancey visits the scene of the devastating tsunami in Japan, Sarajevo, Bosnia where incredible ethnic cleansing ripped apart a region, and Newton, Connecticut where 26 adults and children were brutally murdered in their elementary school.

While never truly answering the question of "why", Yancey provides a framework for anyone undergoing suffering. He draws the reader back to the fact that no matter what painful circumstance we may be going through, God is with us. He reminds us that until eternity "...no answer to suffering will satisfy, even if we had the capacity to comprehend the answer" (p. 47). He brings balance to living in our present fallen world and remembering that perfection awaits us in heaven, our eternal home. Many of the stories he chooses to share in the light of these tragedies remind us that light does still shine in the midst of overwhelming darkness.

This book is a good read for anyone who is struggling with finding their way through pain or suffering. It may not hold the answers to "why", but it points us to the One who does know "why" and who suffers along with us.

(I’ve received this complimentary book through the BookLook program in exchange for a review. A positive review was not required and the views expressed in my review are strictly my own.)

A Review: "The Lifegiving Parent" by Clay and Sally Clarkson

"The Lifegiving Parent" by Clay and Sally Clarkson completes the "Lifegiving" trilogy that also includes "The Lifeg...