Monday, December 22, 2014

The Patmos Deception by Davis Bunn

This novel takes place mostly on Patmos and some of the near by islands. Nick is a journalist looking to boost his sagging career. He gets a possible break when he is hired to investigate the disappearance of valuable antiquities. He enlists the help of a friend from the past, Carey. She had just graduated with her degree in forensic archeology and accepted a job in Greece. But the Institute for which she was to work has mysteriously closed and Nick's call comes just at the right time.

In the course of Nick and Carey trying to track down the smugglers, they befriend various local Greeks, including Dimitri who is trying to keep his family's charter boat business afloat.

The novel has plenty of action in the second half including a number of boat trips to various islands. It took a while for the plot to get to the point where it was interesting. I found most of the action hard to visualize. I would sometimes reread paragraphs to make sure I understood what was going on. The novel takes place when Greece was experiencing severe economic downturn and we do learn quite a bit about that.

Carey has a spiritual experience that may be considered a Christian rebirth. The theme of Christianity is not prominent in the book, even though most of the action takes place on the island where John received his revelation. There are some allusions to that part of Christian history but they were more on the order of setting the stage rather than being the center of it.

The writing is good but not something I would call superb. There is no clever dialog. No sneaky plot twists. There is talk of characters changing but, except for Carey's religious experience, it is not shown through their actions. It is a good novel but I would not put it in the category of one of the better ones I have read this year.

Davis Bunn is an award-winning novelist and a lecturer in creative writing at the University of Oxford. His books have sold seven million copies worldwide. He and his wife divide their time between the English countryside and the coast of Florida. Find out more at www.DavisBunn.com.


Bethany House Publishers, 336 pages.

Life With a Capital L by Matt Heard

Jesus promised Christians would have abundant life, Life with a capital L. Maybe we can't put a finger on it but we know that is not the life we are experiencing.

Heard writes that the answer is not being more spiritual but being more fully human under God's direction. He desires that we embrace the significance of our existence as images of God. That means deep engagement in the physical and spiritual realms, living an integrated life. He helps us understand our deep longings, how they differ from pursuits and how they get mismatched.

The essential element, he writes, is grace, resulting from an authentic encounter with the God of grace. We live, loved by God, not just knowing so in theory. We are to let God's unconditional love, through the Holy Spirit, transform us.

He gives the experiences of Christians living with a capital L:
  • Freedom to be fully human (being vulnerable to trusting God).
  • Learning to pursue life by practicing righteousness (distinguished from legalism).
  • Heart is engaged (mind and emotions engaged, fully feeling grief, hope).
  • Beauty is experienced (engaged senses, connecting with God).
  • Illumination received from Scripture (the only true light).
  • Story, realizing ours is part of a bigger one.
  • Worship (in the right direction, identifying idols).
  • Love (the difference between a bucket and a pipe).
  • Time (numbering our days, grabbing the life out of each one).
  • Brokenness (surgery of the heart, beauty from ashes)
  • Heaven (compass of eternity)

This is an “about the topic” book, not a “here is how you do it” book. Heard gives the general concepts and teaching on the topics but there are no practical action steps given. Each reader will have to contemplate the topic and come up with action plan on their own. There is a DVD series available, with workbooks, and that might give a practical plan of action.

This book will probably appeal to career age Christians. He draws many spiritual lessons from literature (classic and contemporary), poetry, art, songs, movies, television, a pro football player, and his own life. Because of that, the book would be good for Christians who watch movies and television a great deal and don't read their Bibles very much. Those who are familiar with current entertainment stars but not Bible characters would likely relate to this book.

Matt Heard is a graduate of Wheaton College and Reformed Theological Seminary. He been involved in pastoral ministry for three decades, is a speaker, writer, and teacher. He most recently served as senior pastor of Woodman Valley Chapel in Colorado Springs for twelve years. He and his family live in Colorado Springs. Find out more at www.mattheard.com.

Multnomah Books, 256 pages.

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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas Underdogs by Connie Cameron

About the book:
Christmas is supposed to be a season of joy and gladness. But sometimes it can be a season of pain and sorrow. For author Connie Cameron, Christmas of 2009 was just that. However, Connie was reminded that she didn't have to succumb to the pity party; she had a choice. When she trusted God in the midst of her sadness, He worked behind the scenes in her heart and in the hearts of others.

Journey with Connie as she reminisces about Christmases past. See yourself in her struggles to step out of her comfort zone. Laugh and cry over human and canine rescues. And by the final page, you too will be inspired to help someone less fortunate. This Christmas allow your heart to become enlarged … for the underdog.

My review:
This is a great book for dog lovers. Cameron has woven many of the stories around the dogs in her family. But there is much more to her stories that would be of interest to readers in general. She writes about the sudden death of her teen aged step-son right before the Christmas season. She tells us about her reluctant entrance into prison ministry.

Running through all of her reflections is the theme of relying on the Lord for strength in adverse situations. She has included a number of spiritual lessons that are very encouraging.

I was impressed with her depth of writing. What might have seemed to be a regular occurrence Cameron turns into a spiritual lesson. The culmination of it all is a reminder of our call as Christians to be aware of the underdogs, whether they be the unwanted dog at the pound or the downcast prisoner at the local jail. I recommend this encouraging book.

Connie Cameron has hundreds of published writings including seven Chicken Soup for the Soul titles, Reader's Digest, and The War Cry. She has also been published in many of Cup for Comfort titles, Guidepost's Extraordinary Answers to Prayer book, and God Allows U-Turns for Women, among others. She was also a weekly columnist in five newspapers for several years where she shared her thoughts about life and faith. Her first book, God's Gentle Nudges, is full of true inspirational stories pointing the reader to a closer walk with the Lord. She served as a missionary in Kenya and is a popular women's ministry speaker. She and her husband of thirty five years live in Ohio. You can find out more at www.conniecameron.com.

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 116 pages.

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

Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Best Yes by Lysa TerKeurst

We make scores of decisions every day. TerKeurst wants to help us change our approach to decision making. She wants us to honor God with our time. “How we spend our souls matters.” (62)

She asks us to identify that soul thing, that God honoring thing that keeps slipping away because we are so pressed for time. She helps us understand what “discerning what it best” (Phil. 1:9-10) means, involving knowledge, insight and wisdom. She asks us to assess our day and encourages scheduling.

She helps us with decision making in general, the fears, why there are no perfect decisions, dealing with our expectations, saying “no”, having a growth mind-set instead of a fixed one, and what to do when the decision doesn't seem to be working for you (do the next right thing right in front of you).

We will steer where we stare,” she writes. (91) So stare at God.

At the end of the book is a sort of Appendix, a decision tool, that helps the reader form a method of making the Best Yes decisions.

This is a great book for women who feel overwhelmed by all to which they have said yes. It is a very timely book as Christians are being distracted by so many “good” possibilities. Choosing the best takes discernment and TerKeurst's book helps the reader understand how to make those necessary decisions without feeling guilty. A very readable and recommended book.

Visit www.TheBestYes.com for more information.

Food for thought:
Wisdom is either displayed or betrayed by our actions.” (230)
There is a big difference between saying yes to everything and saying yes to God.” (163)

Lysa TerKeurst is wife to Art and mom to five kids. She is the president of Proverbs 31 Ministries and the author of seventeen books. She is a popular speaker at women's events. You can find out more about her at www.LysaTerKeurst.com and www.Proverbs31.org.

Thomas Nelson, 264 pages.

Friday, December 19, 2014

The Job by Janet Evanovich and Lee Goldberg

Poor Kate O'Hare. As an expert FBI agent, she caught the infamous Nick Fox. He's such a good thief the FBI decided to let him escape if he agreed to help capture other thieves. And Kate has to be his partner.

In this novel, someone impersonates Nick to get his attention. It turns out to be an old thieving partner of his, Serena. She wants Nick to take down the powerful drug lord, Menendez. Serena's brother had performed plastic surgery on Menendez, altering his appearance so he could not be identified. Then Menendez had the doctor killed. Serena wants revenge. Rather than death, she wants Nick to bring the global drug lord to ruin.

Nick has a plan. Kate recruits her dad, the ex-government operative who taught her how to defend herself with a straw and a sandwich bag when she was a grade-schooler. He brings along his senior citizen friends. They may be old but they've still got what it takes.

There are quirky characters from a previous novel, like Wilma “Willie” Owens who thinks she can drive anything, and almost can. And Boyd Capwell who thinks he can act his way into or out of any situation. And Tom, who can build just about any structure Nick might need. There's a new character, special effects wizard Rodney.

They all like adventure and there is plenty of it. A hundred and fifty foot tub of a boat is transformed into a research vessel attracting the treasure greedy Menendez.

While this series is not as overtly funny as the Stephanie Plum novels, there are plenty of laughs. There are also the exotic locations, the outlandish adventures, an intricately devised con, and a frisson of romance between Kate and Nick (well, mostly Nick). They all add up to a fun novel.

Janet Evanovich is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of the Stephanie Plum series as well as others. Find out more at www.evanivich.com.
Lee Goldberg is a screenwriter, TV producer and author of several books, including the Monk series of mysteries. Find out more at www.leegoldberg.com.

Bantam Books, 304 pages.

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

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Destiny by Don Brown

About the book:
Three men, three armies, one letter.
When WW II hits Walter brewer's family in the worst possible way, he is torn between his love for his wife, his family, and his country. A rural postal carrier in his hometown in North Carolina, Walter has no idea his life is about to become entwined with a Nazi officer and a Royal Naval commando. Will he survive his mission over France as a paratrooper in the 101st Airborne, or is the ultimate sacrifice Walter's destiny?

My review:
This is a prequel to Brown's Navy Justice series. Brown had actually written this novel two years before the one that introduced Zack Brewer, the young Navy JAG officer. In this prequel, we learn about Zack's grandfather,Walter Brewer. Walter faced the challenge of WW II participating in the battle on June 6, 1944 in Normandy, France.

I have read several of Brown's novels. They are usually full of intense military action. This one is a little different. Rather than lots of military action, this novel deals with the lives of three men whose destinies intersect. Brown has done a great job of revealing the background and character of the men as the story line alternates between them. We become aware of the atmosphere around each that causes them to become part of the military. We also read about what the families endured as men left for war.

Brown has done a good job developing the characters of the three men. We experience the pressure put on the German factory worker to be a part of the retaliation against the Jews, acts that haunt him. We see the influence a successful British military father has on his son, a young man who just wants his father's approval. And we share the struggles of the American who, after the death of his brother at Pearl Harbor, received his own draft notice. Brown has put love and life into the men who would eventually aim weapons at each other.

The most touching part of the novel for me was the spiritual aspect. The British commando was a committed Christian who carried into battle the gospel in German. That changed the destiny of the Nazi who took the gospel and the American who later encountered him in battle. It reminded me again of the grace of God and His providence in the affairs of men.

Readers of Brown's Navy Justice will enjoy this prequel. Those who like WW II novels will like it too. I liked it because it is a stirring novel of love, war, God's grace, forgiveness and reconciliation.

Don Brown graduated from the University of North Carolina, then law school. He continued his studies through the Naval War College during his five years on active duty , serving as a JAG Officer. You can find out more at http://donbrownbooks.com.

Mountainviews Books, 462 pages.

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Joy of Success by Susan Ford Collins

This is the first book in a Technology of Success series. While working at the National Institute of Health, she wondered what could be learned from studying healthy, highly successful people. She studied successful people for two decades to find out what made them successful. She found that the same ten skills showed up. She calls this skill set The Technology of Success.

In this book she helps us first understand what success is. She helps us identify areas where others have defined success for us. She encourages us to define our own success and then gives us the skills to move forward in our own dreams. She explains creating dreams with power and of committing to one dream.

Collins identifies the three gears of success and the importance of going through them. She explains the necessity of finding co-dreamers and the importance of communicating with them. She relates how to find people who will take action with us and how we can use their expertise. She helps us deal with limiting experiences from the past, updating them and their affect on the future. She helps us know how to hold the dream all the way to completion (the method will come). We need to shield our dream, our co-dreamers and facilitators. We need to be able to switch our view from problems to solutions. And through it all we must keep our balance.

This is a good book for those looking for a team approach to success. The skills listed are broad in nature. There are no specific tasks or lists of actions given. The reader would need to think through each skill and arrive at an implementation plan on his own. This may be difficult for readers looking for a more detailed exploration of success skills.

Collins has included a number of stories that serve a illustrations of the skills she describes. Some of them are from Collins' own life and are rather personal and romantic. The stories helped me understand how the skills worked on a personal level, in addition to a business level.

Find out more at www.technologyofsuccess.com.

Susan Ford Collins spent two decades studying successful people. She has given seminars to companies such as American Express, IBM, CNN, as well as many educational institutions. She is an internationally known speaker, artist, potter, gardener and photographer.

The Technology of Success, 182 pages.


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

Sunday, December 14, 2014

I Am Sophie Tucker by Susan and Lloyd Ecker

What a kick. This book is a riot. The authors make sure we understand it is fiction, but they call it a fictional memoir. It is a captivating retelling of Tucker's life up to her successful show back in her hometown of Hartford at Poli's Theater in 1913. (It sounds like there may be more volumes of her life story in the works.)

How she rose to become a star in Vaudeville is quite a story. The people she knew and the buttons she pushed are almost unbelievable. You'll meet Irving Berlin, Al Capone, W. C. Fields, Jimmy Durante, and more. Sophie seemed to get to know just about all of the people in the entertainment business.

There had been an autobiography of Tucker printed during her lifetime. While Tucker had given the publisher lots of juicy show business dirt, intrigue, romance, and murder, much of it was edited out. The Eckers have tried to piece together all of the parts of her life and created a fascinating (fictional) account. Anyone interested in Vaudeville, entertainment, or the theater, would enjoy reading this book. "This volume is 85% fact," Ecker explains. "The other 15% who knows?"

Back in 1973, Ithaca College students Susan Denner and Lloyd Ecker went on their first date to see a new singer named Bette Midler. They heard Bette Midler make reference to using Sophie Tucker's bawdy jokes. Over thirty years later they had seen dozens of Midler's shows and they decided to find out about the woman who had inspired her. In 2006 they tracked down a copy of Tucker's autobiography. They also read two obscure biographies. One of them mentioned that the New York Public Library housed a collection of Sophie's scrapbooks and listed other archives. The Eckers spent eight years reading, investigating, interviewing and traveling, pursuing the story of Sophie Tucker. They produced a documentary film and then this fictional memoir. More is in process. Since that fateful first date in 1973, the Eckers have had three children and developed Babytobee.com. Selling that business in 2006 allowed them to pursue the story of Sophie Tucker. You can find out more about what the Eckers have planned at www.sophietucker.com.

Watch an interview with the authors here.

Prospecta Press, 416 pages.

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