Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Covered Deep by Brandy Vallance

This novel is a very complex one. There are many layers of stories going on at once and at times I was little confused.

The setting is after the Civil War in a small town in Ohio. Our main character is Bianca. She is twenty-five and waiting for her true love, encouraged by her father. He's a bit of a romantic and because of him, Bianca is well read and intelligent. He sees an advertisement for a contest. The winner would travel to London and then journey to the Holy Land. She enters and is one of four winners.

The other characters are the man who originated the contest and the other travelers. Shortly after Bianca arrives in London, we find out that there is much more to the fellow travelers and the host than originally meets the eye. Throughout the journey on the boat and the time in the Holy Land, we gather information about the travelers and their relationships (hidden or overt) to the other travelers. Danger is woven into the narrative, as is romance.

I had a little trouble with Bianca. She is supposed to be so well read yet she is entirely naïve in some areas. She seemed poised one moment yet entirely falling apart the next. She just did not seem to have a consistent personality to me.

I did not like any of the other characters. Each was someone very different from whom he or she appeared to be on the surface. For me, that was a bit much. Trying to understand all the previous entanglements of the characters made reading the book more difficult.

One strong aspect of the book is the presentation of the gospel. It is presented strongly and several times. I felt at times it was a bit much and forced. Completing the novel, one would certainly have a clear understanding of the gospel.

I look forward to the next novel from this author. She says this story was fourteen years in the making. Perhaps that is why there are so many layers and complex characters in the book. I'd like to see one written in a year or two, with a more focused plot, consistent character structure and about fifty fewer pages.

Brandy Vallance lives in Colorado with her missionary husband. They have two children. You can find out more at www.brandyvallance.com.

Worthy Publishing, 400 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Lost Book of Mormon by Avi Steinberg

This is a hard book to describe. It is mostly a personal journey. It is partly a travelogue. It is partly an investigation into The Book of Mormon.

Steinberg was fascinated by the topic and decided to enter into the book by traveling the path followed by the characters in the book. He notes that the heart of his quest was an effort to understand the difference between prophecy and fabrication.

Most of the book is about Steinberg. He tells lots of stories about his adventures, many of which have nothing to do about The Book of Mormon. I mean, did I really need to know about the pair of pants he found hanging in his hotel room closet?

Surprisingly, he also uncovers some information about the book and Smith that I had never heard before, such as the relationship of Melville to the book. He does a pretty good job of weaving the many theories about the book into his travelogue.

Steinberg is a clever writer. Even though he used some language I didn't appreciate, I found his writing captivating in a coming of age sort of way. I did enjoy reading the book, it just was not what I thought it was going to be.

Steinberg thinks The Book of Mormon is a book one should take seriously – as a work of American imagination, as a modern American novel.

I really don't know to whom I would recommend this book. Perhaps to one who appreciates the writing more than the topic about which the book is written.

Avi Steinberg is the author of Running the Books: the Adventures of An Accidental Prison Librarian, which was a San Francisco Chronicle Best Book of the Year. He is a regular contributor to The New Yorker's Culture Desk blog. His essays have appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Salon, Paris Review Daily, and n+1. Find out more at http://avisteinberg.com/.

Nan A. Talese, 290 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Relaxing With God by Andrew Farley

Are you haunted by performance demands from God? Do you feel you must show God how much you love Him by your actions? Do you worry about what you are supposed to be doing for God? Are you experiencing spiritual anxiety because of recent books encouraging fanatical service?

Farley felt that way, that he needed to do just a little more each day to meet God's demands. Now he understands the principle of spiritual rest. In fact, we are to make every effort to enter that rest! (Heb. 4:11) The true gospel, Farley says, is both simple and restful.

Rather than God needing us to work for Him, Farley shows how living from God is to be our daily spiritual reality. He reminds us our sins are forgiven, once and for all. We are to live in that reality daily. We are always in fellowship with God, too. “The truth is that our fellowship is unshakable and unbreakable because of what Jesus did, not because of what we are doing.” (64) We don't have to “die.” We already died in Christ. He helps us understand what “flesh” is. He argues against the possibility of “losing” your salvation.

I really liked this book. I heartily agree with almost all of it and the rest I am seriously thinking on. Farley points out many non-biblical teachings about who we are in Christ. They may sound good but they do not line up with Scripture. He has some very thought provoking comments about predestination for Calvinists. I really appreciate his discussion on covenants, that the dividing line is the cross, not the manger.

This is not a book on meditation or anything like that. It is a book about resting in who we are in Christ. Farley has done an excellent job in clarifying our position in Christ and what that means to us in our daily life.

Food for thought: “So wake up every day, be reminded of who you really are in Christ, and then just be yourself! In so doing, you are both living in and walking by the Spirit.” (98)

Go here to watch Farley preach on this subject.

Andrew Farely is the lead pastor of Church Without Religion (ChurchWithoutReligion.com) and the bestselling author of several books. His live call-in radio program airs nationwide each Sunday on Sirius XM. Find out more at www.andrewfarley.org.

Baker Books, 176 pages.

Monday, October 27, 2014

A Promise to Protect by Patricia Bradley

This is the second in a series but even if you haven't read the first one, if you like suspenseful romance, you'll like this novel.

Synopsis:
Dr. Leigh Somerall has returned to Logan Point. She didn't want to but it was the only place open for her to do her hospital work to pay back her loans. She didn't want to be there because Sheriff Ben Logan was there. Ben, the young man she loved in high school. Ben, the father of her nine year old son, TJ.

Tony, Leigh's brother had asked to meet Ben in another town. When Ben arrived, he found Tony near death. With his last strength, he asked Ben to protect Leigh. It soon becomes apparent Leigh's life is in serious danger. Ben's relationship with Leigh is strained. She never explained to him why she suddenly left and hurt him so badly. Leigh didn't dare tell Ben then what his father had said. She couldn't tell him now, even if he was TJ's father.

Review:
I really liked this novel. I liked the troubled character of Ben. He is riddled with guilt because a boy drowned at a camp during his watch. He knows he is to accept God's forgiveness but he keeps wondering, if he had just jumped in the water earlier, the result might have been different. I liked Leigh's character too. She knows she should tell Ben TJ is his son but she is sure Ben's father still hates her. Ben and Leigh are thrust together and one can only hope they both overcome their difficulties to experience second love. And TJ, what a great kid! What a champ for trying to help Ben's stroke damaged father to learn to communicate by using an iPad. All the time I kept hoping he'd find out he was really helping his Grandpa.

The novel is full of action too, from the murder at the beginning to the suspenseful end. Someone thinks Leigh now has the information for which her brother was killed. The murderer is not above hurting her son to get what he wants.

Building suspense and frustrated romance make this a great novel. Bradley has done a good job crafting the plot and characters. She had me fooled as to the bad guy. Good for her.

Patricia Bradley is a published short story writer and author of Shadows of the Past, the first in the Logan Point series. That manuscript was a finalist for the 2012 Genesis Award, winner of a 2012 Daphne du Maurier Award, and a winner of the 2012 Touched by Love Award. She makes her home in Corinth, Mississippi. Find out more at www.ptbradley.com.

Revell, 336 pages.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Skeletons in God's Closet by Joshua Ryan Butler

God gets a lot of criticism. Many think that Hell, Judgment, and Holy War are dark doctrines rather kept in a closet.

Butler decided to get these skeletons out of God's closet. He is convinced those issues have been misrepresented today and are often not what the Bible teaches or what Christian theology has historically proclaimed. He centers his work around the biblical story of God's reconciliation, healing, and protection of the weak.

The first skeleton is hell. According to Butler, hell is a force for evil, not a place of punishment. “Hell gains entrance into God's good world through us.” (24) “We've unleashed the destructive power of hell in the beautiful place God once called 'very good.'” (28)

Hell is the destructive power of sin that is cast outside the city. “Hell is not a place God creates to torture sinners, but a power God exudes to protect the robust vitality of his kingdom.” (62) Hell, “...is a space created by God for a people who prefer to live without him, who desire freedom from him.” (90) In the Appendix, he does clarify that hell is a place and involves punishment. “God's containment is the punishment.” (319) He does make it clear, however, “that it is not torture.” (320)

Butler never mentions the devil in his discussion of hell. He writes, “Where then, does evil come from? As we have seen, we are the ones, not God, who unleash its destructive power in the world. We are the architects of autonomy, the engineers of evil...” (62) He does not mention spiritual warfare, temptation, resisting the devil, etc. “The power of hell resides in our hearts and makes its way into the world through us.” (78) He does refer to Satan in the Appendix.

The next skeleton is judgment. “God's judgment is good news,” Butler writes, “because the injustices are not forgotten.” (116) God judges the world “to heal creation,” “to release the land from captivity.” (117) There will be a healing of the nations, a reuniting of the nations. (130)

Butler emphasizes that judgment begins in the house of the Lord. He does not write about forgiveness, however. If a priest rapes a boy, he will be judged (no mention of the possibility of repentance and God's forgiveness). He also seems to indicate that an abandoned wife in a third world country who worked hard to support her children, “might find herself surprised to encounter Jesus and hear his voice call her his beloved...” (153-4) There is no mention of what Christians would generally call “saving faith.” Butler says Jesus knowing us is where our salvation is found. That is not the same thing as claiming to know Jesus. (154) He writes, “And it is also important to note: Jesus appears to know many who didn't know him.” (156)

About other religions, Butler writes, “Jesus calls us to humble ourselves before followers of other religions as those created in the image of God.” (165) Butler reminds us that “God's kingdom is for them and that Jesus' judgment will be a surprise...” (166) "God is all about reconciliation.” (171) Butler gives the impression the only thing that will keep a Buddhist or Hindu out of the kingdom is their hanging on to a teaching or practice that is not compatible with the kingdom. (173-4) We must not think “that God's grace is not big enough to encompass the Muslim in the midst of a reduced perception of Jesus (the Christian must declare that God's grace has encompassed us as well in our reduced perceptions of Jesus).” (178)

Butler's third skeleton is Holy War. He argues that Israel's conquest of Canaan is a David and Goliath kind of story showing that God is for the weak. He also argues that the Old Testament makes clear it was using ancient trash talk, an exaggerated way of speaking. (228) Hyperbole is used to emphasize military victories. Joshua's armies were “clearly not fighting against civilians” but were “fighting against soldiers in their fortified military outposts in the battlefield.” (231) He also argues that the Canaanites were “driven off” not”killed off.” (232) He explores the characteristics of Babylon and compares them to those of our civilization. He notes that Gods coming Holy War will be a confrontation, not vindication, of our civilization.

I am always amazed when someone develops an understanding of Scripture that is different than what is generally understood today. Butler argues that his understanding is historical, citing Augustine and C. S. Lewis (actually, Lewis' fiction). Butler develops much of is theology from the parables of Jesus. He generally ignores the rest of the New Testament. The impetus for developing his theology seems to be the injustice he has seen in the world. God's justice, then, becomes oriented toward the welfare of humans, not God's own holiness.

On the positive side, Butler's book is a good reminder of the skeletons in our own closet. Have we hidden evil behavior in the closet? How about judging others? What about ignoring the plight of the weak and poor? Reading this book did encourage me to think about the skeletons I might be hiding.

In the end, Butler's book left me dissatisfied. There were times when his unusual interpretations of Scripture really made me think. There were other times when I was sure he was skirting heresy, or perhaps actually treading on it. I would advise discernment when reading this book.

Go to Butler's website, http://joshuaryanbutler.com/, to read a sample chapter, read interviews, watch a book trailer, and much more.

Joshua Ryan Butler serves as pastor of local and global outreach at Imago Dei Community, a church in the heart of Portland, Oregon. He oversees the church's city ministries in areas like foster care, human trafficking, and homelessness; and develops international partnerships in areas like clean water, HIV-support, and church planting. He is also a worship leader who enjoys writing music for the life of the church.

Thomas Nelson, 384 pages.


I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Too Loved to be Lost by Debora M. Coty

Do you need some encouragement? Do you need a new "herspective" on life?

Through personal stories and anecdotes, Coty permeates this book with encouragement. Whether you need to know you are cherished by God, need to overcome depression, or have hidden hurts that need healing, you'll find encouragement in this book.

Sometimes her stories are laugh out loud funny. Sometimes they are so serious you'll want to weep. But each one has an encouraging lesson that comes through loud and clear. She shows how God is the lifter of your head, how to get Scripture to reside in your brain, how to recognize everyday mini-miracles, and how to BARF when things go bad (you've got to read the book). She deals with brokenness, discernment, burnout, control, getting refreshed, and much more. She adds questions at the end of each chapter that are great for reflection or discussion within a trusted group.

Coty has a way with words. I mean, have you ever measured yourself on the grumplitude barometer? And, “Forgiveness is like losing weight.” (You've got to read the book.) She is great at wrapping nuggets of truth in the gift-wrap of humor.

If you need to insert some joy into your life, this book is for you. If you need to be reminded of the relentless love of God toward you, this book is for you. If you feel lost in the mess of your life, this book is for you.

You can go to www.DeboraCoty.com to watch some videos and read her blog, “Living Life in the Crazy Lane.”
I am taking part in a blog tour and you can read other reviews here.

Debora M. Coty is a popular speaker, award winning author, and long time Bible student. She serves in the children's ministry in her church, is an orthopedic occupational therapist, and writing workshop instructor. She and her husband are the parents of two married children and one adorable grandchild and live in central Florida. Find out more at http://deboracoty.com/.

Barbour Publishing, 224 pages. You can purchase a copy here.

I received a complimentary egalley of this book through the Litfuse Publicity Group for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lights Out by Travis Freeman with Rebeca Seitz

A blind football player?

Freeman tells his story of a pretty regular childhood until, as a twelve year old, he began experiencing headaches. Doctors said it wasn't serious. Then the raging infection in an eye and a temperature inching up to 106. Finally tests revealed Cavernous Sinus Thrombosis. Few battled this disease with their minds intact. About 70% died. Treatment was ineffective so surgery was pursued. Cleaning out as much of the infection as could be done, Freeman would live – but blind.

Rather than going to a blind school, he went back to his own school. How he succeeded there and played football as a center, even through high school, is quite a story. (He even went to an opponents' huddle by mistake one time.) It continues on with college, seminary, a PhD, and then preaching.

Freeman reminds us that in some sense, each of us walks in the dark. He draws spiritual lessons from the tools and actions blind people use. He also give us great ideas on how to interact with the blind, giving them respect. “Disability does not equal inability,” Freeman reminds us. His humorous stories are a good indication of his positive attitude.

What an inspiring book. It is an encouragement to anyone facing obstacles. He relates how mobility experts helped him map out his way in a new setting. Similarly, we have friends, our relationship with the Lord, the support of the church, etc., for our support.

Freeman reminds us that a dark world is not an impossible one. It presents great challenges, yes, but they can be overcome. Everyone has challenges that need to be overcome. Freeman's life is a great example of living an overcoming life.

Watch the inspiring Dateline special here.
Go here to find out about the movie, 23 Blast, and watch the movie trailer.

Travis Freeman received his Bachelor degree in Business Administration from the University of Kentucky, and his MDiv and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He currently serves as adjunct professor at the University of the Cumberlands, and as the President of The Freeman Foundation, dedicated to furthering the truth that disability does not equal inability. Learn more at http://travisfreeman.org.

Freeman Foundation, 200 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through Glass Road Media for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Out of the Storm by Jody Hedlund

Having grown up in a lighthouse, loneliness is all Isabelle Thornton has ever known--and all, she assumes, she ever will know. But when her lightkeeper father rescues a young man from the lake, her sheltered world is turned upside down.

This short story takes place in 1854 at the Presque Isle Lighthouse on Lake Huron, as does the first full length novel in the series, Love Unexpected, releasing later this year.

This is a pretty good novella. The romance is a bit quick for me, but then, it has to be for a novella. I had trouble liking Henry. I wish his character could have been developed a little more so we could understand him better. I was amazed that Isabelle would fall for him as he didn't seem trustworthy, nor did he have a pleasant personality.

Isabelle's love seemed a little unrealistic to me. She had grown up at the lighthouse so had limited interaction with men. It seemed her attraction to Henry was more because she was getting a man's attention for the first time in her life more than it was real love.

The historical aspect of the novel was good. It gave me a new appreciation of what lighthouse keepers had to endure in the 1800s. It was a rough and lonely occupation.

This is a quick read and sets us up for the series to come.

This is a free ebook novella and part of a new series from Hedlund called Beacons of Hope, set around the Great Lakes lighthouses of Michigan. You can download the novella at Amazon or in EPUB form from the publisher, via email, at their promotional website.

Jody Hedlund has been writing novels for the last twenty years. A number of them have been award-winning and best-sellers. She and her husband have five children You can find out more at http://jodyhedlund.com/.

Bethany House Publishers, 141 pages. The novella is 90 pages long with the rest of the download being an excerpt from the coming novel.

I was invited by the publisher to download this free novella for the purpose of an independent and honest review.