Sunday, August 31, 2014

Review of "The Waiting" by Cathy LaGrow

One of the most fascinating books I've read lately, "The Waiting" by Cathy LaGrow is a novelized telling of a true story. Young Minka, or Minnie as she is called, is raped by a stranger while on a special picnic with her sewing club. She is 17 and extremely shy and innocent, still believing that the stork is the deliverer of babies. When she discovers (several months later) what she is facing she is grieved but goes forward with courage. She stays with an Aunt and eventually lives at the House of Mercy, a home for unwed mothers, to deliver her baby. Soon, a little girl she names Betty Jane arrives, and she is instantly in love - although she knows she will have to give her up for adoption.

The years pass and Minnie never ceases to think of her beloved daughter, even though she has had no contact and doesn't know much beyond that she was adopted by a Lutheran Minister and his wife. She goes on to live a full and fulfilling life, not without her share of heartbreak; but she never forgets her first daughter. Finally, decades later on "Betty Jane's" 77th birthday, Minnie prays to see her just once! before she dies. Unbeknownst to her, 'Betty Jane' is still alive - and her son Brian is very interested in learning their health history. He begins, with his mother's permission, to research her adoption and in the process finds Minnie. The joyous reunion begins and continues to this day.

This is such a beautiful book. It is well written, thoroughly researched (the author's note at the end provides incredible detail on what they went through to make sure the details were accurate), and so touching. You will treasure this incredible testament to unending love and God's miracles.

Review of "While the World Watched" by Carolyn Maull McKinstry

The memoir of Carolyn Maull McKinstry's life is centered around her part in the Civil Rights Movement. Carolyn was a survivor of the 1963 Birmingham bombings in which four of her friends died. She also participated in protests with Martin Luther King Jr. as a teen and experienced many different challenges and heartaches. Through it all her faith in Jesus helped to sustain her, although she had years of alcoholism and what we would likely describe today as post-traumatic stress disorder.

This was a very interesting and ultimately inspiring book. So many tragedies in our nation's history of people treating others beyond poorly. Sprinkled throughout the book are different speeches from John F. Kennedy, George Wallace, and Martin Luther King; all of which serve to give great perspective and historical accuracy of what occurred. She also opens each chapter with a Bible verse, quote, or newspaper article excerpt that applies to the topic. All in all this was a well-written and fascinating book, and it is easy to recommend.

Review of "The Trail" by Ed Underwood

A beautifully written yet information-rich allegory about how to discern the will of God, "The Trail" is an interesting and powerful story by pastor Ed Underwood. Matt and Brenda are a younger married couple who are seeking to know what God would have them do in regards to a job change Matt is considering. They embark on a journey through the wilderness (literally) with a retired pastor and fire fighter named Sam, who teaches them eight principles to discovering God's will. Along the way they experience deeper truths than they expected, as secrets are revealed and hidden pains come to light. Will Matt and Brenda find what they seek?

I really enjoyed this book. It was a pleasant and interesting way to communicate some truths about a relationship with God. Matt and Brenda's story is a common one and is certainly relatable, and there are deep truths to be found in the principles and verses applied here.

Review of "Interrupted" by Jen Hatmaker

This book has been recommended to me for some time and I finally took the plunge. The timing could not have been better; as a relatively recent church planter there are so many things I related to and loved about this book. It was super validating and encouraging, and I literally read it in one day. I can't wait to have my husband read it (additionally, our 12 year old daughter ripped it out of my hands as soon as I was finished; after reading 7 and watching "My Big Family Reno" she is a fan of all things Hatmaker) - and although it's pretty deep for 12, I'm eager to hear what she thinks.

"Interrupted" is the dissection of how God wrecked Jen's life in the best way possible, opening her eyes/heart/daily practices etc. to the journey He had for her - one that was rich and incomparable. By the way, if you are avoiding this book because you think it will be convicting, hey, that's all the more reason why you should do it anyways. :)  If you've read 7 this is a must (I wish I had read this prior to reading 7 but hey, truth is truth no matter the order. Also, if you're planning to read 7, wait just a minute and read this first - it will be a richer experience.)

Challenging, thought provoking, interesting; with her trademark humor and transparency throughout, this is an important read for anyone. I think Christ followers who are tired of the status quo or are convinced there is "something more" will be especially pleased. The overwhelming message I received from reading "Interrupted" is this: what God has specifically planned for you and I is certainly better than we can imagine, and when we are operating daily by being obedient to WHATEVER THAT IS, our lives and the lives of those around us will simply be transformed.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Review of "Raw Faith" by Kasey Van Norman

Kasey Van Norman is a married mother of two and an author. Her book "Raw Faith" is a combination of a memoir exploring her journey through cancer and chemotherapy and a Bible study/inspirational book. She shares journal entries and Scripture, as well as her thought process in how she handles her fight. She is very transparent with her fear and anger as well as her ultimate choice to have complete faith, what she describes as Raw Faith, in God and what He is doing with her life.

In the end, she decides that Jesus is enough. God is faithful. And that as painful and difficult as her battle with cancer was, she wouldn't change the path He has taken her on today. She is especially thankful for the maturity she received throughout her journey with cancer. If you are struggling with any challenge, difficulty, or heartbreak, you will enjoy this book.

Review of "Echoes of an Angel" by Aquanetta Gordon

Aquanetta Gordon is the mother of five children. Her son Ben was diagnosed with bilateral retinoblastoma at the age of two, and both of his eyes had to be removed. Aquanetta was determined that Ben would not be identified by his blindness, and constantly told him that he could do anything. Ben quickly developed something called echolocation, essentially using sound waves to identify the world around him. His highly developed echolocation skills eventually drew scientific and media attention, and Ben has been featured on numerous news channels and talk shows. Throughout his life a major constant was his relationship with Jesus. He was very intent on sharing who God was in his life. When he was in his teens the cancer returned and he eventually passed away just before his 17th birthday.

This book is essentially a memoir, a telling of both Aqua and Ben's stories. It was interesting and inspirational.

Review of "The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven" by Kevin & Alex Malarkey

This was a tough one for me. I wanted to buy in...but had a hard time fully doing so, as I believe that some of what is presented here conflicts with what I read in the Bible. Heaven doctrine or your personal beliefs aside, it was certainly (on the surface) an inspiring story about a father and son who are in a terrible car accident. The six year old son, Alex, is in a coma for two months. When he "wakes up" he tells of going to heaven and back to earth numerous times, and what he experienced while there. The book is written "tag team" style - the father Kevin is the primary "voice" with Alex weighing in on what heaven is like at the end of each chapter. There are also testimonials from people who were either at the scene or were involved in praying for Alex throughout this journey that are sprinkled throughout each chapter.

If I could suspend some belief for a bit about certain topics, if I just took it at face value - the stories of how the family's financial and physical needs are met in incredible ways is certainly inspiring. I was sad to hear that the parents are now divorced. And, to be presented as fact (especially as the person in question, Alex, who supposedly experienced all that's written and now at 16 is saying he doesn't agree with what his father has written and had nothing to do with it) is much more difficult. I can't recommend this book.

Review of "Uncommon Marriage" by Tony & Lauren Dungy

Tony Dungy is a well known football coach who has experienced great success. But perhaps his greatest success is in living well. He and his wife, Lauren have been married for more than 30 years, and together have seen and experienced more than most. They are the parents of nine children, several of whom are adopted, and they truly exemplify their relationship with Jesus in their actions. What I especially liked about this book is that simply by reading their story, you are easily absorbing the very insights they are hoping to communicate. It is "teachy" without being preachy.

Written memoir-style, this was definitely their story but they share numerous insights on different obstacles and joys of marriage. There is even a cross-reference section in the back that I found very helpful. I really enjoyed learning about their life and marriage, and had several takeaways that I know would benefit just about anyone.

Review of "Blind Descent" by Brian Dickinson

One of the most interesting books I've read recently! Brian Dickinson is a former Navy Rescue Swimmer, an elite athlete and "mountaineer." In his quest to summit on a number of different continents, in 2011 he took on the (extra) big one, Everest - a staggering 29,000+ feet.

In this memoir of an amazing adventure, he intersperses his military training exercises that assisted him in making this attempt along with present day experiences as he climbs Everest. He also shares a lot about his wife Joanna and their two children, whom he credits with helping to keep him focused on coming home. :)

There is an exceptional amount of preparation and planning that goes into something like this, and it was fascinating to learn about. What makes this story extra incredible is that once he was at the summit, Brian experienced "snow blindness" - and because he had summited alone, was required to descend the mountain alone, unable to see. His faith in God helped him not only to succeed in the first place but to also stay calm as he experienced incredible challenges descending the mountain. A must read for all ages.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review of "His Treasure" by Sheri Rose Shepherd

A beautiful gift-sized book with almost 90 devotionals, "His Treasure" is designed for women who are wanting/needing/longing to feel close to God and truly know the identity we have in Christ. Every day is "His something" - including "His Story," "His Leading," "His Promise," - and much more. Written letter style from God to you, each one includes a supporting verse and a "Treasure of Truth" - a statement about that particular topic.

This book is focused on helping us understand that we are a treasure to God and He wants us to know it! It would be a wonderful and thoughtful gift to yourself and someone else!

Review of "So Long, Insecurity Teen Edition" by Beth Moore

Besides having one of my favorite book titles ever, this teen edition (in a magazine-book format) is great for your pre-teen and teen girl. Beth talks to teen girls in a language that makes sense and tells them to quit comparing themselves to others (focus on seeing yourself how God sees you and learning who He wants you to be) as well as talking about a Godly perspective on media, boys, fashion, social status, your gifts and talents, and much more. Backed up with pictures and thought provoking questions, this book is a great conversational tool that will get your girl to ask questions that go a little deeper than does he like me? am I pretty enough?

She also includes verses, group discussion questions, Real Girl testimonials, and Q & A with Beth. One of my favorite parts was the section on what defines "a secure girl." The entire book is well written and presented in an eye-catching way. Everything is designed to make you think. It's very healthy and I cannot recommend it enough!!!

Review of "Rhinestone Jesus" by Kristen Welsh

I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed this book. I found that the author and I have much more in common besides the "proper" spelling of our names, :) -we've also been married for about the same amount of time (and to pastors or former pastors) AND have daughters named Madison - who are about the same age! Who knew! :)

Described as a "spiritual adventure story" she writes consistently about how her "YES" to Jesus continues to turn into much more than she had ever bargained for. It is written much like a memoir, and she seems very honest and transparent - telling story after story of her real family that is simply trying to do what they believe that God is calling them to do. Their "path" may not be everyone's; but it is inspiring regardless. She gives practical advice but primarily, it's very much a memoir of her journey to date.

Inspiring and touching, I can easily recommend this book.

Review of "Visible Threat" by Janice Cantore

We catch up with Police Officer Brinna Caruso following the death of her nemesis, and although she is still the "Kid Crusader," in this book she is thrown into the fire surrounding the human trafficking industry. While helping with a rescue that leaves another officer permanently disabled and Brinna herself injured, they discover much more than they bargained for. The funding for Brinna's K-9 partner, Hero, has just been cut and she is concerned.

Happily married and a mother of twins, specialty shop owner Magda Boteva has a secret that not even her husband knows - and she has been living in fear for far too long. She is just about to her breaking point - no matter the cost.

Office Jack O'Reilly is moving past the death of his wife and may be beginning to have feelings for Brinna that are moving past friendship...but does she feel the same way?

This is the second book about Brinna Caruso, written by real-life retired police officer Janice Cantore. You will enjoy the mystery, suspense, and behind the scenes police info you'll find in this book!

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Review of "All For a Sister" by Allison Pittman

The final book in the "All For A..." series by Allison Pittman, I think this one is my favorite. All are set in the Roaring Twenties with some link to the evangelist Aimee Semple McPherson, and here in "All For a Sister," the author has even provided a mystery.

Celeste DuFrane has grown up in a life of privilege, while Dana Lundgren has been in prison for 20 years. Marguerite DuFrane is wealthy but bitter woman with many secrets, and her husband Arthur is a scientist trying to develop color for the movies - with a sad propensity for affairs.

Told in an interesting format, the author combines several different perspectives - the Confession of Marguerite DuFrane; Celeste (different ages); movie scripts that tell Dana's backstory; and I especially loved the present day Dana stories with titles such as "Dana Goes to Warner Brothers" and "Dana Goes For A Drive And Learns To Hold On To Her Hat." Personally, I found it interesting that although the author bounced around I still easily understood and followed the story. It also contributed to maintaining a high level of interest as the secrets began to unfold. I recommend this entire series as well as this great author!

Review of "Left Behind: The Kids" by Jerry B. Jenkins & Tim LaHaye

Based on the best-selling Left Behind series for adults, this youth fiction book tells the story of four teens (Judd, Vicki, Lionel, & Ryan) in the suburb of Mount Prospect, Illinois. They are connected in ways they won't begin to understand until later in the series, but for this book they are all greatly impacted by the disappearances of millions around the globe. They soon find out their loved ones have been "raptured" - as believers in Jesus, they were taken to heaven in a flash. Judd, Vicki, and Lionel's families are all gone, as they were the only ones who chose a different path; Ryan's parents die as a result of the disappearances, and he is actually orphaned.

This is a strong beginning to the "Young Trib Force" books and I can easily recommend it for your pre-teens and teens.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Review of "Overwhelmed" by Perry Noble

Pastor Perry Noble has written a book about overcoming difficulty that is heavily rooted in personal experience, having gone through a lengthy season of depression and despair. Interspersing his own stories with principles that are biblically based (lots of scripture that support the topic) as well as common sense, he presents his points in a friendly and conversational style that many will find appealing. He provides the reader with a number of perspective shifts, and is totally willing to be transparent about his personal struggles. Although I clearly don't know him personally, it doesn't seem like he is holding back.  I found a number of different ways to view challenges and I bet you will, too!

Review of "Claiming Mariah" by Pam Hillman

Set in Wyoming in the late 1800's, Mariah Malone's father has recently passed away and she is struggling to keep the family ranch afloat. Slade Donavan's alcoholic father died years ago, but not before making known that he was the sole owner of the gold that the Malone's ranch was purchased with. He arrives to claim what he believes is rightfully his, and Mariah sadly acquiesces. He has lots of baggage from growing up too soon; she is rocked by the revelations that her father may not be who she always believed; and their attraction to each other is at times inconvenient, but nonetheless real.

This is a sweet romance set in a (somewhat) simpler time. The author also weaves a mystery throughout the story of forgiveness, trust in God, and how family pride can be helpful OR hurtful. I can easily recommend this book.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Review of "Saving Casper" by Jim Henderson & Matt Casper

Interesting premise. "Saving Casper" is a follow up to the book "Jim & Casper Go to Church" (which I had not read prior to reading this; it is now on it's way to me. If you have not read the first one, I would suggest doing so before picking up this book; I think your understanding and experience would be a little more enriched that way!)

Jim Henderson is a former pastor, and Matt Casper is "currently" an atheist. They embarked on a journey to visit a number of churches, with Jim asking Casper questions and engaging in dialogue about his observations and thoughts on things that could be improved. This follow up book discusses their next steps as well as further reflection on that experience. The format is a back and forth conversation of sorts between the two (the book uses different fonts for each writer to help you more easily discern who is saying what) and no matter what you think about religion or atheism, it is certainly interesting. What I took as the overarching point was that we should be willing to engage in dialogue and then LISTEN, be open to hearing other perspectives, and be respectful of other's beliefs, even if they are not your own. Relationships will change everything.