Tuesday, July 22, 2014

How to be a Christian Without Going to Church by Kelly Bean

There seems to be a growing unease with the organized church. Studies show that Christians are leaving the church. The encouraging news is that they are not leaving their faith.

The author is one of them. She served in church for more than two decades and knows the importance of the visible church. “Now, as a non-goer and cultivator in an ever-evolving Christian community,” she writes, “I also believe there are healthy, visible, doable alternatives to the traditional church.” Becoming a non-goer can lead to life-giving, world-changing, growth-inducing, community building life.

She shares her own experience, explores what “church” means, and why people are leaving the church. She shares many stories of people who have created meaningful post-church experiences. She looks at possibilities of forming community and passing on the faith without the structure of the church. She gives practical suggestions for mentoring and connecting with others. Most have had to venture out of their comfort zones.

She suggests that non-goers may be part of something new happening in Christianity. It is an expression of Christianity that is integrating belief into life, evidencing real spiritual formation from real life experiences, and forming authentic relationships through community building. It is an exploration of the meaning of belief apart from church activity.

Bean's book is a good look at how Christians are committing themselves to be the church in new (and sometimes old) ways. It is an encouragement for those frustrated with their organized church experience. It is also a wake-up call to pastors and denominational officials. It reminds them people are leaving their churches, not because they are leaving the faith, but because they are leaving what they consider to be an irrelevant organization.

Bean's book includes numerous examples of Christians committed to exercising their faith outside of church activities. I found it very encouraging. The statistics of church attendance in decline can be depressing but this book gives one hope that Christianity is alive and well and being exercised on the street corners and in the living rooms of our communities.

This is a good book for non-goers. Bean has given many practical ideas for creating intentional communities and instigating action to share the good news of the gospel. It is also a good book for those thinking of leaving the organized church as it encourages movement toward alternative faith expression.

Kelly Bean served at Cultivator of third Saturday organic community which gathered in her living room for 24 years. She is co-planter of Urban Abbey, an egalitarian inter-generational intentional community in North Portland. She is co-founder and Executive Director of African Road, an International NGO working in collaboration with African leaders who are creating community collectives. Find out more at www.kelly-bean.com.

Baker Books, 241 pages.

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

Monday, July 21, 2014

Murder at the Mikado by Julianna Deering

If you grew up on Agatha Christie and Dorothy Sayers you'll like this series. If you like historical English mysteries you'll like this one.

In this third novel of the series, Drew and Madeline are preparing for their wedding mere weeks away when a flame from Drew's past rears her beautiful head. Drew had been captured by Fleur's beauty during his Oxford days. Now she asks for his help in a murder, one she fears she'll be accused of doing. Drew loves a mystery but his potential sleuthing is a problem for Madeline. Seeing Fleur's beauty and sensing her deceptive feminine ways, Madeline becomes insecure and demands Drew make a choice – the mystery or the marriage.

This is a great period mystery. I love the way the 1930s England comes alive through Deering's writing. The dialog and action are well crafted. The mystery is well done. We are introduced to the world of a theater group in that era. There is much deception afoot and only Drew and Madeline, combining their efforts, have a chance of uncovering the murderer.

The best part of this novel for me was the interaction between Madeline and Drew. Drew is such a nice English gentlemen and when Madeline becomes jealous of his old and forgotten flame, it really throws him for a loop. He is torn. He loves Madeline so much but solving the murder is so tempting, especially when it seems he will be able to learn something of his unknown birth mother.

Great characters, great mystery, great dialog, great setting – it all makes for a great novel in a favorite series of mine.

Julianna Deering is the pen name of the multi-published novelist DeAnna Julie Dodson. She lives north of Dallas, Texas. You can find out more about her and her books at http://juliannadeering.com/index.php.

Bethany House Publishers, 336 pages.

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

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Fatal Addiction by Ace Collins (In The President's Service: Episode 4)

At the end of episode three, Helen Meeker had impulsively hopped onto a DC-2 bound for Nazi Germany. Her motive might have been to save her friend Henry but the rest of her FBI team was sure her decision was deadly.

This is another great episode in the series. Meeker is a smart and savvy woman and with the help of Reggie Fistar, Alistar's twin brother, manages to foil Fistar's traitorous plans.

This episode includes insights to the actions of Hitler and his operators, including his interest in the occult and his desire to obtain power from ancient artifacts. There is also reference to the leader's experiments on humans, in this case the attempt to create a super-human using injections into the bloodstream. The episode has plenty of action too, such as a Nazi sub off the coast of Mexico and a kidnapped nun.

I really like the historical details the author has incorporated into the series. Collins likes vintage cars and in this episode we find an old Pierce-Arrow sedan, with lobster eye headlights, made into a flat bed truck.

Perhaps the most fun is the inclusion of the author himself into the action as there is reference to a certain “agent Collins” who had interviewed a suspect.

This series has all the elements of a great WW II espionage novel. I love Helen Meeker as a strong female heroine. The writing is crisp, the characters well developed and believable, and the action nonstop. I eagerly await the next episode.

You can read my review of A Date With Death, Episode 1, here.
My review of Dark Pool, Episode 2, can be found here.
You'll find my review of Blood Brother, Episode 3, here.

Ace Collins is the author of several novels, covering everything from value-driven plots to adventures, mysteries, historical stories, sentimental tales and comedy. He has also written several nonfiction books. His work has been made into two network television specials and a CBS movie. Find out more at http://www.acecollins.com/.

Elk Lake Publishing, about 62 pages.

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

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Operation Zulu Redemption Collateral Damage by Ronie Kendig

In this installment, the three remaining (healthy) women of Zulu Team get their mojo going. They refuse to merely sit in the underground safe house. They're climbing the walls. They want to be part of the action, part of uncovering who is behind the terrible incident five years ago.

We find out a little more about that incident too, as one of the women has a nightmare that visualizes what happened when all those children were killed. We are introduced to more characters, including the ultimate bad guy (but he remains anonymous). There's at least one new and suspicious character who is hiding something relating to the deadly past.

There is lots of action in this episode as well as a more insight into the minds of the characters. Kendig varies the point of view of the scenes so we get to experience action through the eyes of several characters. This episode has more emphasis on the romances the women have experienced in their lives since the deadly incident. For Teya, it gets her into trouble.

And we are left with another cliffhanger! Kendig knows how to leave us wanting more.

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 170 pages.

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

Emma, Mr. Knightley and Chili-Slaw Dogs by Mary Jane Hathaway

In this contemporary rendition of the classic Jane Austen's Emma, Caroline is back hone in Thorny Hollow to take care of her fragile mother. Caroline had been a successful journalist but her father's death made her return home essential.

Her long time friend is Brooks, a professor of journalism at a nearby college. He is a bright spot in Caroline's life, a voice of sanity in a world of lemonade and bridge parties.

The settled world of Caroline and Brooks is rocked when a handsome fellow comes to town and asks Caroline to write copy for manga books at his up and coming digital publishing company. Brooks doesn't trust this fellow – or is he just jealous?

This novel is good southern romance. There are garden parties and southern belles to match. There are Civil War reenactments and homes full of antiques. There are good guys and bad guys and a few quirky ones too.

The characters were well presented. Brooks is a real southern gentlemen. He'll even buy a cake when he knows Caroline has messed up the one she baked for her mother's bridge club. He is so gentle he has trouble expressing his deep feelings for Caroline. And Caroline seems to be that typical southern woman who wants to fix others' lives. She does grow in the novel as she realizes her fix isn't always what is best for the other person.

This is the second in the series yet it can easily be read alone. I didn't find as much humor in this one as I did in the first novel. I did enjoy reading about the Civil War aficionados. Those guys (and gals) really get into character. This is a nice southern romance and will give additional pleasure to those who enjoy Austen's novels. The author has even included a couple of recipes at the end of the book.

Mary Jane Hathaway is the pen name of an award-nominated author. She is the homeschooling mother of six young children. She holds degrees in religious studies and theoretical linguistics. She and her family live in Oregon.

Howard Books, 336 pages.

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

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

What's Best Next by Matt Perman

Since pursuing excellence is a worthy goal, books on productivity are a reading necessity. Perman takes the concept a step deeper. He wants each of us to be effective to the glory of Christ, to have time management that is Christ centered. This is a book about getting things done from a biblical perspective.

He aims to reshape our thinking on productivity. “I want to help you live the life that God has called you to live, and to live it with maximum effectiveness and meaning.” (20) He argues that productivity is about effectiveness, not efficiency. Getting more things done is meaningless if they are the wrong things. It is essential that our activity stems from our love of God, recognizing His purposes for us.

He has divided the book into sections that show why it is so hard to get the rights things done, what happens when we look at productivity in light of God and the gospel, an exploration of the processes behinds gospel-driven productivity, and how our understanding of productivity can be expanded to the workplace, our communities, and the world.

I really liked this book. This may be the first time I have seen planning and time management principles centered on the gospel. I understood the need for personal effectiveness but this book gave me a framework for understanding the purposes behind it as well. He also gives the tools to put gospel-driven productivity into practice. The book is centered on what the Bible says but Perman also includes insights from the best writers on productivity.

If you want to get biblical instruction on how to get things done and understand how getting things done relates to your Christian faith, this is the book for you. By increasing your productivity you increase your ability to do good to others and fulfill the purpose of God for your life. That's good news.

Food for thought:
The only way to find fulfillment and be productive in the ultimate sense is to center our entire lives – and therefore our productivity – on God." (54)
Productivity cannot be accomplished apart from Christ.” (56)
...[A] life well lived doesn't just happen; it requires intentionality.” (150)

Matt Perman formerly served as the senior director of strategy at Desiring God Ministries in Minneapolis, MN. He is a frequent speaker on the topic of leadership and productivity from a God-centered perspective. He regularly blogs at www.whatsbestnext.com and contributes to a number of online publications as well.

Zondervan, 352 pages.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Rope of Sand by C. F. Dunn

This is the third in The Secret of the Journal series. The author has conveniently given a synopsis of the story so far at the beginning of this book. While that was a good review, I think it does not have enough information contained to be able to read this book on its own. The basis for Matthew's condition has its roots in the seventeenth century, covered in previous novels. If you have not read the previous books you may be at a loss regarding some of the action and discussions in this one.

In this novel Emma is back in Maine and spends Christmas with Matthew's family. She knows the truth about his longevity and is now ready to meet his family. It is a complicated situation. Because of Matthew's “condition,” he has a son who appears much older than Matthew. When in public, there has to be some deception to cover the discrepancy in apparent ages.

Emma encounters a mixed reception. Some in the family welcome her while others are intensely hostile. As the novel progresses, it becomes clear that someone has evil thoughts toward Emma and her future.

The first part of the novel went slowly. There is much dialog between Matthew and Emma and much thinking on Emma's part. It took a while for me to be captured, but it did happen in the second half of the book. There is compelling suspense near the end of the novel. I had to remind myself that this is a British author and the narrative does not always move as quickly as we Americans sometimes like.

I really like the intervention of the spiritual into the physical realm. It peaks near the end of the novel when good battles evil. I really like this series and do recommend it. Those who enjoy intense character development and interaction will appreciate these novels.

C. F. Dunn runs a specialist dyslexia and autism school in South-East England and writes in the South-West. You can find out more at http://www.cfdunn.co.uk/.

Lion Fiction, 464 pages.

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

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Wish by Jake Smith

This is a very touching novel. Make sure you have your tissue ready.

Aaron is a seven year old whose leukemia has been in remission. But now it's back. When he gets to meet a baseball player from the Detroit Tigers, Aaron has one wish – that his dad would get to play for the Tigers.

Jim thought he might play professional baseball at one time. In college he met Emily and suddenly baseball wasn't so important. The dream lingered, however, and he now coached and played city leagues. When the Tiger organization offered to make it happen, James was torn. It would take weeks. He'd have to work his way up through the farm teams. Did he still have what it would take? Could he be away from his son for that long?

This is a well crafted and moving novel. The characters are great. I loved that little Aaron. What a sweet and courageous boy. This is a wonderful novel of a father's love, a family's perseverance, and the miracles that can happen when you believe in the impossible.

It is also a novel that emphasizes the work of finding donor matches for marrow transplants. You can go to http://bethematch.org/ to find out more about being tested for being a matching donor.

Jake Smith is an author and editor of three national, award-winning bimonthly magazines.. He lives in Traverse City, Michigan with his wife and children. A former assistant high school baseball coach and All-State shortstop, he now spends his time on the field helping coach his kids' youth baseball teams. Wish is his debut novel. You can find out more at www.jakesmithbooks.com.

Tyndale House Publishers, 312 pages.

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