Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Blue Mind by Wallace J. Nichols

I always knew there was something special about living on an island, surrounded by the calming sounds of lapping waves. This book explains it.

Nichols writes that our brains are hardwired to react positively to water. He combines water science and neuroscience to show exactly that. He defines the “blue mind” as a mildly meditative state characterized by calm, peacefulness, unity, and a sense of general happiness and satisfaction with life. It is inspired by water and the sensations associated with it. “...[W]ater provides the most profound shortcut to happiness out there.”

He explores our emotional ties to water, explains the technology of brain study, contemplates what happiness is and how it is evaluated, looks at the affect of the color blue and the other sensations of water. He explores the recreational use of water and the health benefits of water, including its therapeutic use for PTSD, drug addiction and autism. He explains the Red Mind and the Gray Mind – enlightening.

Blue Mind is not a dry science book. Nichols includes lots of stories as examples of his thesis. Some of the findings are subjective and anecdotal and the stories help illustrate them.

The application of Nichols' book is broad, all the way from health benefits to urban planning. He is also concerned about the future of water and ends his book with a reminder of our emotional attachment to it and the need to make sure it is there for the future.

Now I know why there are aquariums in waiting rooms and why you should put a small one on your work desk. I know what it means if someone gives me a blue marble. I also now know the science behind why I love the water so much, especially the beaches of my island home.

Wallace J. Nichols, Ph.D., is a research associate at the California Academy of
Sciences and cofounder-codirector of Ocean Revolution, SEE the WILD, and LIVEBLUE. He lives in California with his partner, Dana, and two daughters. Find our more about the author and his work at http://www.wallacejnichols.org/.

Little, Brown, and Company, 352 pages.

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

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Love Well by Jamie George

George knows that many Christians are not living the abundant life Jesus promised. They experience shame, fear and hopelessness that is often paralyzing. He uses his own story as a backdrop for encouragement to start moving forward.

He encourages us to know and be known, to experience love deeply and give that love away. He suggests we open our eyes and do something new. We are to speak out our shame, set boundaries, recognize the value of suffering, listen to others' stories and be vulnerable with our own. We are to forgive and stay open to connection.

I have mixed feelings about this book. George tells readers what to do but there is very little on how to do it. He gives us twelve actions to take to get unstuck. “Speak out shame,” “feel through your pain,” and “be vulnerable with your story,” are just a few. But we are left to our own devices as to how we are to do that. George shares many stories from his own life, especially that of his troubled marriage. He and his wife went to counseling and he relates many of the lessons he learned and how he grew through the experiences. He then encourages us to do the same. For me, there were just not enough practical suggestions as to how we could have the same kinds of healing experiences he had, yet without the intervention of a counselor. Some of the actions he asks us to do have been the subjects of entire books themselves, such as “set boundaries.”

This is a very personal book in that George reveals much about his own struggles and those of his wife, especially in their marriage. At times I felt a little uncomfortable with his revelation of a marital problem. I almost felt like I was voyeur, seeing something too personal to be made public.

George tells lots of stories. Many are about himself but some are Bible stories. His retelling of the story of Joseph is some twenty seven pages long. As a Christian who has read the story many times, I have to admit, I did skim over some of it. New Christians may appreciate the lengthy retelling of a biblical story but seasoned Christians may not.

The design of the text is interesting. In the advanced reading copy I received, there is much empty space. The print size is larger than normal and there is extra space between the lines. There are also double spaces between the paragraphs and the way the text is written, there can be up to thirteen paragraphs on a page. (Page 220 has 110 words. Another book I'm reading, with regular type and line spacing, has around 330 words per page.) Perhaps I'm being picky, but with regular type and spacing this book would have been 50 to 70 pages smaller.

Jamie George founded The Journey Church in Franklin, Tennessee, in 2006 as a safe haven for the “religiously wounded.” George is co-authoring a curriculum with novelist Karen Kingsbury. He lives with his wife and four children in Franklin, Tennessee. You can find out more at http://jamiegeorge.com/.

David C Cook, 288 pages.

I received an ARC of this book from the publisher through the Icon media Group for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Radically Normal by Josh Kelley

Kelley wants his readers to honor God in their everyday lives. He also wants to correct some longstanding ideas and practices, such as Christians' obsession to look super spiritual on one hand or practice complacency on the other. Kelley wants Christians to be radically normal. “It's the biblical art of fully engaging this life while focusing on the next.” (14)

Kelley reports that you don't have to sell all and go overseas to honor God. But we are not to settle for mediocrity either. He wants to see believers pursuing greatness in their unique place in the body of Christ, exercising their specific gifting.

He helps readers understand what obsessive behavior is – actions based on guilt, obligation or legalism. Doing something because it is your joy to obey God – that is being radically normal. “Learning to consistently live between legalism and worldliness,” he writes, “is much harder, but it's also much more fun.” (136)

Kelley's book reminds me of John Piper's writing on being a Christian hedonist. Obeying God's commands because we want to, not because we feel obligated to, will ultimately bring us much more happiness and enjoyment of His creation. Getting there is not always easy, however. Legalism is often the easy way out.

I thought he had a very good explanation of how legalism gets started, from building protective fences. That helped me understand how to avoid it. He also has a well thought out section on avoiding friendship with the world (James 4:4; 1 John 2:15). Just because something is “earthly” does not mean it is “worldly.” He even has wisdom on how to make the best use of suffering because it will come to all of us. I like his suggestions about art too.

Questions for group discussion or personal reflection are included so it would be a great book for a small group or to read by oneself.

Kelley has tackled a difficult subject of living godly lives in a fallen world. I think he has done well. He helps readers understand what it really means to give God glory in our daily lives. His suggestions are realistic, encouraging, and doable.

You can find out more about the book and read a sample chapter at www.RadicallyNormal.com.

Josh Kelley has been a pastor for fifteen years. He has a BA in Biblical Studies from Pacific Life College. He served as assistant pastor at His Place Community Church and from 2007 to the church's closing in 2014, as pastor of The Gathering Christian Church. He and his family live in northwest Washington and he is back working at Starbucks.

Harvest House Publishers, 224 pages.

I received a complimentary digital galley of this book through the Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Spoken For by Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Joy Bethke

Women want to be loved. They want to know that someone out there wants them.

What if you could know, the authors ask, that there is One who seeks you, intensely loves you, and desire you be His bride-to-be? What if there is an epic love story unfolding in your life right now?

The authors help you see your relationship with God in a new way, recognizing He is your Relentless Lover. God wants you. He loves you and is continually pursuing you. He has called you and you are of great value to Him. You are His Peculiar Treasure. He has set you free. You are covered and you are promised to Him.

Robin and Alyssa share their own stories of (human) love and rejection and how they have come to understand God's love for them. Robin shares her wisdom and life experience while Alyssa reveals her emotional experiences of dating and romance.

Discussion questions are included at the end of each chapter. It might make a good choice for a high school girl's discussion group

The authors hope that this book will encourage readers to respond to the invitation from the true Bridegroom.

This is a young woman's book. It offers encouragement to young women who are looking for love and are, perhaps, desperate for romance. Both Robin and Alyssa are very open about their experiences in love, being rejected, experiencing depression and an eating disorder.

My caution for this book is that at the very end there is quite a romantic section on how Jeff proposed to Alyssa. I felt it took the emphasis away from looking to the true Bridegroom and put it squarely back on the human romance level. A young woman might read the last section and be swept back into her intense desire for human romance, forgetting much in the previous sections of the book.

Robin Jones Gunn is the best-selling author of the Christy Miller series with more than 4.5 million copies of her books sold worldwide. She and her husband live in Hawaii. You can find out more at www.robingunn.com.
Alyssa Joy Bethke is twenty-six, a popular blogger and a newlywed. She and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest. You can find out more at www.alyssajoy.me.

Multnomah Books, 192 pages.

I received a complimentary digital galley of this book for the purpose of an independent and honest review. 

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Discovering Joye by Jim Stovall

Stovall never met Joye Kanelakos. He only knew her as the mother of one of his colleagues and coworkers, Dorothy. When Joye was near death, she told her daughter about a special box. After her death, her children went through the box and found a treasure. The box was filled with Joye's poetry. Dorothy read one of them to Stovall and the scene came alive in his mind.

Stovall realized there are discoveries like Joye's poetry to make every day. He shares some of the discoveries he has made through his relationships with others. It may be a discovery he made while on a speaking engagement or something one of his wise friends said. He relates the story and adds one or more of Joye's poems.

Here are some of his discoveries:
We must savor each moment with the special people in our lives as we never know which moment with them will be our last.” (27)
Every season is a gift, every day is an opportunity, and every moment is a treasure. Spend them all wisely.” (46)
Being grateful today makes you appreciate yesterday and anticipate tomorrow.” (130)

The poems from Joye are moving. Here is one of my favorites:
Our Legacies
Every footprint that we take
Makes a change where we have passed.
Small things there beneath our heel
Are changing where the print was cast.
What then could any difference make
When ruthless paths our courses take?
Beneath our heel some things will bend
Without the strength to rise again.

The nineteen stories that Stovall tells are encouraging and full of insight. There is one on money and another on friends. He encourages learning, celebrating family, giving joyfully, practicing gratitude, choosing happiness, and includes many other topics on living life.

Stovall does an amazing job of revealing the insights found in Joye's poetry. The combination of poetry and prose makes for pleasant reading. This book would be a wonderful gift. Its small size and short chapters of wisdom would be appreciated by anyone loving poetry. Stovall's book is a good reminder that we all leave a legacy. What kind of a legacy it will be is up to us.

Find out more about the book and read a couple of paragraphs at http://www.discoveringjoye.com/.

Jim Stovall began going blind at seventeen and was fully blind at 29. He is the president of the Emmy award-winning Narrative Television Network. He is the author of twenty books, including the bestselling The Ultimate Gift. Find out more at http://www.jimstovall.com/ and www.narrativetv.com,

Destiny Image, 172 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Operation Zulu Redemption: Out of Nowhere by Ronie Kendig

This episode is another one full of action as we follow the surviving women of Zulu Team, the all female special ops group.

At the end of the last episode, Teya had walked into an ambush. She is determined to find the guy who left her with a broken nose and black eyes. Trace takes the women back to the secret bunker for additional training. He is seeing to it that they are trained better than they could have ever imagined – their lives depend on it.

When the women find out they are still in the army and have been on inactive status these last five years, tempers flare. Trace can still order them into dangerous situations, and he does.

Trace gets a lead and arranges a meeting in Paris with one of the civilians present during the Misrata disaster. The meeting turns deadly and Teya, at the wrong place at the wrong time, is seriously attacked and is now on the hit list of the most feared assassin in Europe.

Another lead and Zulu goes to Greece. This time Trace and Boone are helpless as the safety of the team is compromised and we are left with the women in danger – again.

This is another action packed episode but I am getting frustrated with Trace's inability to keep his team safe. The women continue to escape, but in the process, make Trace look inept. I, like the women, thought they had been dismissed from the army. I thought Trace was running a rogue operation, trying to find the cause of the Misrata disaster. Finding out they are still in the army, though inactive, makes me wonder why Trace doesn't do a better job of protecting them by calling in more help. It makes for great suspense as the women are attacked again and again but I am getting tired of Trace's ineptness and the army's inability to protect some of their own.

A possible reason for Trace's limited action is that an army official of high rank was involved in causing the Misrata disaster. There is a hint of that possibility in this episode. Trace might be operating under the radar, so to speak, to keep that army professional from knowing his actions.

See my review of earlier episodes: Overkill - the Beginning and Collateral Damage.

Ronie Kendig is an award-winning author known for her action fiction. The combination of her degree in psychology and her knowledge of military life combines for intense scenes of compelling fiction. Find out more about her and her work at www.roniekendig.com.

Shiloh Run Studios, about 185 pages.

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Jesus Now by Frank Viola

The gospels give us a good idea of what Jesus did while on earth, but what is He doing now? Viola gives us the answer to that question as he looks at the present ministry of Jesus.

He looks at the various roles Jesus has today and how they affect our Christian walk. Jesus is our High Priest. “He is the one who rolls up His sleeves and joins us in the broken places of our lives.” (23) He is also our Advocate, Mediator, Intercessor, Great Shepherd, Heavenly Bridegroom, Author and Finisher of our faith, Builder of the church, Head of the church, and Lord of the World.

Jesus is still carrying out the work of God today. “He carries it out in His enthroned state, withdrawn from visible sight but active in Spirit in and through His followers.” (195) To help us understand that work, Viola does spend quite a bit of time on the proper use of the gifts of the Spirit.

This book is not a scholarly study of the ministry of Jesus today. It is more of a conversation on what Jesus is doing now and what it means to our every day lives. It would make good devotional reading. Anyone who would like reassurance that God is working today, through Jesus, the Holy Spirit, and Christians, would benefit from reading this book. His work may be hidden from our sight but we do know He is on the throne and He has promised to be present with us until the end of the age. That is good news.

Frank Viola has written many books on the church and the relationship of Christians with Jesus. You can find out more and follow his blog at http://frankviola.org/.

David C. Cook, 207 pages.

Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg

This novel is light Christian romance all the way.

Autumn is the owner of an old inn along the shore of Lake Michigan, having acquired it after her father died and her mother wanted nothing to do with it. But tourism is down and continual repairs has left Autumn in financial difficulty.

Blake has just returned to his home town after being gone for years. He is still trying to deal with his past and his part in the death of his brother. His reception is mixed as some still hold him responsible for the tragedy.

Autumn and Blake are unlikely friends as Blake's father owns a hotel, direct competition to Autumn's inn. The town is in need of promotional help, however, and Blake agrees to organize the last festival of the season – if Autumn will help. It will be a struggle as the hostility between the families goes back a long time.

The two work together and romance blossoms. Just when it looks like the two might get together, Autumn looses the inn and decided to take a job in Europe.

This is a fun romance. It is the second in a series. I read it without having read the first one, Made to Last, and enjoyed it but felt I had missed much of the earlier character development. To obtain full enjoyment of this novel you should read the earlier one.

The characters are well crafted. The plot is good. I did feel like the reconciliation of Blake with the people in the town was a bit fast and unrealistic, as was Autumn's change of heart near the end of the novel. This is romance, however, and romance often breaks the borders of sensible reality.

Melissa Tagg is a former newspaper reporter and current nonprofit grant writer. She is the author of Made to Last and blogs regularly at www.melissatagg.com.

Bethany House Publishers, 365 pages.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Book Club Network for the purpose of an independent and honest review.