Monday, February 8, 2016

Like Jesus by Jamie Snyder

This book is a good reality check. Have we built a counterfeit Jesus in our own hearts and minds, in our own image? Snyder reminds us that we are to be like Him, not make Him like us.

Snyder is quick to point out that we will never actually be like Jesus, but are we becoming like Jesus? We are all changing and becoming. Have we made the commitment to become like Jesus?

Snyder wants to make sure that we have the right idea of who Jesus is and how He acted. He explores a number of images of Jesus that have been created as a reflection on us, our lifestyle, our politics, and more. He helps us deconstruct those false images and construct the right one.

He asks some penetrating questions about our relationship with Jesus. He points out character traits and action of Jesus that may be surprising to some. He looks at Jesus' righteous anger. He notes, "So being like Jesus means getting angry at situations involving unfairness or inequality and being moved to act." With equal directness, he looks at real compassion, simple obedience, radical grace, and radical humility. He helps us understand how to go beyond just knowing the facts about Jesus to true life transformation through a relationship with Him.

I felt that hardly a page went by without my being challenged. For example, in the chapter about humility, Snyder writes, “Jesus made Himself nothing and then turned to us as His followers and said, 'Follow me. Follow me into obscurity. Follow me into selflessness. Follow me into an others-focused life. Follow me into my kingdom, the way is paved with radical humility.'” Ouch. And that is just one part of one chapter.

I highly recommend this book. It is a reality check and a challenge. It's a book one can read over and over again, renewing our passion for being like Jesus and having a relationship with Him. There are discussion questions included so this would be a great book to use as a group study.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Jamie Snyder is lead pastor of Lakeside Christian Church, where he preaches and reaches to thousands every week. He and his wife have three children and life in Kentucky.

David C Cook, 194 pages.

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

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Always Watching by Lynette Eason

I really liked the first novel in this new series about the Elite Guardians Agency. For this female reader, that the agency is owned and operated by women is great.

This story centers on Olivia, co-owner of the agency and previously on the police force. The agency has been contracted to protect Wade Savage, a psychiatrist with a popular night time talk show. He's being stalked and Wade's father hires the women to protect his son and granddaughter. The situation quickly gets very serious as one of the agency is nearly killed and Wade begins receiving threatening gifts.

There is lots of action and suspense that keeps the novel moving. I am always a bit disappointed, however, when suspense comes as a result of not calling for backup. Olivia went into potentially dangerous situations solo just too many times. But that was a minor defect in a novel with almost continuous action.

I liked the characters. Olivia reveals some of her past that helps us understand why she acts as she does today. Wade is a very compassionate man and a loving single father. Before long a budding romance develops between them. I liked twelve year old Amy too but was disappointed that she made some really poor choices when she should have known of the potential danger involved.

I pretty much narrowed down the identity of the stalker early on but Eason does give us a few red herrings to distract us. And then there was a twist at the end I didn't see coming.

I really liked the spiritual character development of Olivia most of all. She's mad at God as the novel begins but circumstances force to to reconsider God's role in her life.

I recommend this novel to readers who like mystery, suspense, and a strong group of women working to keep people safe.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Lynette Eason is the bestselling author of the Women of Justice, the Deadly Reunions, and the Hidden Identity series. She lives in South Carolina. Learn more at www.lynetteeason.com.

Revell, 336 pages.

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

Come Empty by Saundra Dalton-Smith

We all experience pain, especially the emotional and spiritual kind that can drain the life out of us. When we've tried everything and still feel empty, we are given the invitation to come empty and be filled. “It is an invitation to be renewed, strengthened, guided, restored, and satisfied.”

Dalton-Smith shares her own experience of feeling empty after treating patients all day. She went to a conference, seeking to be filled. She realized she was spiritually dehydrated, with dryness of soul and spirit. She was thirsty for more of God in her life and ultimately found Him to be more than enough.

She shares some 80 devotions and suggests we choose 50 for a 50 day challenge. There is a great topical index at the back of the book so we can choose the devotions that especially speak to us. Each devotion takes about five minutes.

These devotions are different from anything I've read before. The first part is an expression of pain. These are heartfelt cries of the soul in the midst of grief, depression, anger, and many other emotions. Some of them deal with issues like alcoholism, dementia, cancer, jealousy, and many more. Next is given a very positive and loving reply from God. Each reading includes Scripture, going deeper questions, and a simple prayer.

These devotions are aimed at people who are really hurting and need a comforting word from God. These are not the kinds of devotions that spur healthy Christians on to repentance, good works, or holiness. Nonetheless, there are several devotions toward the end of the book that are about positive emotions, such as praise and contentment. The idea of the full range of devotions is to spend 30 – 40 days working through pain and then ten to twenty days transitioning to the fullness God offers.

Working through the readings in this book is a good way for readers to pour out life's hurts and receive God's healing love. I recommend the book.

Food for thought: “My presence may not change your situation, but it will always change you.”

You can find out more about the book, read an excerpt, share your story, and join the 5 Day “Come Empty” Challenge here.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

Saundra Dalton-Smith is a Board Certified internal medicine physician actively practicing in Alabama. She speaks nationwide about eliminating limiting emotions, finding grace in difficult places, and experiencing personal renewal by drawing near to God. She is the founder of I Choose My Best Life. You can find out more at www.DrDaltonSmith.com and http://ichoosemybestlife.com/.

SonRise Devotionals, 200 pages.

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

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Cold Shot by Dani Pettrey

This is the first in a new series by Pettrey, taking place on the east coast, Gettysburg. The main characters are Griffin McCray, a park ranger at Gettysburg, and Finley Scott, a forensic anthropologist. Finley had been doing some historical digging at Gettysburg when a contemporary body is uncovered. It turns out to be the body of a woman and she has been murdered. Finley and Griffin set out to discover who the person is, identify the killer and find him.

Finley calls in the help of Parker Mitchell, a crime scene specialist she knows. It turns out Parker and Griffin have a history. It is revealed as the novel progresses. FBI agent Declan Gray heads up the investigation and it turns out he is part of Griffin's past as well.

There are two plot lines that run through this novel. One is identifying the murdered woman and finding the killer. The other is Griffin's past. We learn about the four guys who were best friends, all deciding to go into crime prevention in some way. But disaster had happened in the past and there is a heavy tension between Griffin and Parker. Only God's grace and healing can mend the chasm between the two men. There is also a bit of romance that develops between Griffin and Finley and, though it seems quick, I felt it was rather secondary.

I enjoyed the murder mystery aspect of this novel. I liked reading about all the work it took to identify the murdered woman. It is amazing how much can be deduced from a body. Evidence pointed to a sharp shooter, an accomplished sniper. Griffin had been one with the SWAT-team so we learn quite a bit about that too. For example, a cold shot is the first shot the sniper takes – no practice shots.

The character development aspect of the novel was complicated. Understanding Griffin and Finley required much back story. It was gradually revealed in the book but there was so much of it I frequently felt like I was reading a sequel rather than the first in the series. I'd like to read a whole novel on Finley's previous experiences and another centering on Griffin's past.

I recommend this novel to those who like a forensic mystery with lots of character development. We are left hanging at the end of the novel concerning one of the original four best friends so I'll be looking for the next in the series.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Dani Pettrey is the award-winning and bestselling author of six books, including the Alaskan Courage romantic suspense series. She and her husband live in Maryland, have two daughters and one grandson. You can find out more at www.danipettrey.com.

Bethany House Publishers, 336 pages.


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

The Beauty of Intolerance by Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell

Many Christian parents are seeing a radical change in the core values of their children. The children no longer share the moral standards and beliefs of their parents. The McDowells have written this book to help parents deal with this cultural shift that is separating them from their children.

Most young people think their moral views are correct for them. They want to be loved and accepted even though their beliefs and lifestyles are different from previous generations.

The McDowells start with helping us understand the nature of moral truth. Rather than getting truth from the Bible, young people follow the cultural idea that moral truth is found within the individual. The McDowells also look at the meaning of tolerance and how it has changed. The traditional meaning was to love the individual without approving of the sinful condition. Now it includes accepting, affirming and respecting the individual and the sinful condition or Christians are labeled intolerant and hateful. They include quite a bit of information on homosexuality which I found very helpful.

A few fictional scenarios are included to show possible ways parents can interact with their children on a couple issues. They also provide a strategy to help parents clarify biblical values with their children. They suggest, for example, “Every truth, every rule, and every guideline coming from God's Word is issued from the loving heart and character of God for our own good.” They also suggest parents be aware of instruction at school, movies watched, etc. “The doctrine of cultural tolerance has permeated our society. It will take every intentional and concerted effort on your part to counter its influence.”

The McDowells believe it is possible to truly love and accept people with whom we significantly disagree. The information and strategies presented in this book are very helpful to that end. I recommend this book to parents and others who want to understand the cultural shift and know how to deal with it in a godly way.

You can find out more about the book here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Josh McDowell is the author or coauthor of 142 books. He is a popular international speaker and has been at the forefront of ministry regarding cultural trends for over five decades. He and his wife have been married for 43 years. They have four children and ten grandchildren. You can find out more at www.josh.org.
Sean McDowell, PhD, is an assistant professor at Biola University in the MA Christian apologetics program. He is also the bestselling author of over fifteen books and is an internationally recognized speaker. He and his wife have three children and live in Southern California.

Shiloh Run Press, 256 pages.

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

Friday, February 5, 2016

Blue Ribbon Trail Ride by Miralee Ferrell

This is the fourth in the Horses and Friends series and is another fun book to read.

Thirteen year old Kate is concerned that her parents don't have enough money to send her younger autistic brother to a camp that would be so good for him. Her friend Melissa comes up with a trail-ride fund raising idea and Colt adds a scavenger hunt to it. Kate and her friends get planning. They want send a bunch of autistic kids to the camp. They'll ask businesses to donate prizes. What could possibly go wrong? When the antique jewelry box Kate's mom was using to store the registration money goes missing, Kate and her friends have a mystery to solve.

I continue to really like this youth fiction series. The dialog between Kate and her friends is a great mix of affection and teasing. As with the others in the series, there are moral lessons to learn from the actions of the characters in the novel. Kate and her friends do some things without telling the parents and one really backfires (and lands on Kate's dad). Readers will learn that it's best to be open and honest with parents and others. They'll also read about a very good example of forgiveness and restoration.

Kids will get some insight into setting up a trail ride as well as a scavenger hunt. They'll also learn about hoarding when the kids visit an elderly man. “Maybe he was cranky because he needs a friend.” (184)

I love the new character, Jake. He's a kid with a huge St. Bernard named “Mouse” and a bunch of quirky knowledge he loves to share. He's my kind of nerdy kid and I hope he'll be in future novels. It is fun to see Kate's circle of friends expand.

Perhaps the best part of this book for me, an older reader, was the mention of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys mysteries. I grew up on those books and this novel would be a good way to introduce them to contemporary young readers.

I recommend this whole series to girls aged 8 - 12 who like horse stories. It is a fun one containing some great moral lessons.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

You can read my reviews of the earlier books in the series:

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

Miralee Ferrell is an award-winning author of sixteen novels. She is a speaker and licensed minister counseling hurting women. She and her husband live along the Columbia River Gorge in southern Washington State. You can find out more at http://miraleeferrell.com/

David C Cook, 204 pages. You can buy a copy here.

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

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Keeper of the Stars by Robin Lee Hatcher GIVEAWAY

This novel is the final one in the King's Meadow Romance series but can certainly be read and enjoyed as a stand alone book.

The story centers on Penny Cartwright and Trevor Reynolds. Penny's younger brother, Brad, had recently been killed in an automobile accident. That Brad had been in that automobile, driving late at night, was all Trevor's fault, Penny believed. Brad had followed his heart, finding a place in Trevor's band as a drummer rather than pursuing a respectable job after college. Penny, with her master's in library science, had been mad at Brad and even madder at Trevor. When Trevor showed up at Brad's funeral, Penny was so livid she slapped him.

Trevor was torn. Brad had begged Trevor to go to King's Meadow and spend some time there. Trevor had promised that he would but now he wasn't sure it was a good idea. Penny hated him. Yet there was something about Brad and his belief in God that Trevor wanted to understand. He was sure King's Meadow was where he would find what he needed.

This novel is a good study in forgiveness and character maturation. Penny had already lost her mother and losing her brother too was almost more than she could bear. Breaks in the narrative take us back to turning points in Brad's life and we begin to understand the relationship Brad and Trevor had. We can only hope Penny can get beyond her blame toward Trevor and see what a great guy he is.

This is a nice, straightforward romance. There are a few surprises but no intriguing plot twists. There is good character development as Penny struggles with her feelings and faces the reality of what God has been and is doing in her life. Trevor faces his own spiritual hunger as he sees Penny and her dad reveal the spirituality for which he longs.

I recommend this novel to those who enjoy a straightforward Christian romance. Reading about this part of Idaho in the winter was enjoyable too.

I am taking part in a blog tour of this book and you can read other reviews here.

You can read a sample chapter here.

My rating: 4/5 stars.

Robin Lee Hatcher is the award winning author of over seventy novels and novellas. After fifteen years of writing in the general market and a change in her heart, she began to write stories that included her Christian faith and values. She and her husband live on the outskirts of Boise and are parents and grandparents. You can find out more at http://www.robinleehatcher.com/.

Thomas Nelson Publishers, 304 pages. You can buy a copy here.

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

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Mystery Rider by Miralee Ferrell

This is the third in the Horses and Friends series and another great story.

Melissa suggests the barn have an entry in the Fort Dallas Rodeo parade. Kate, Tori, Colt and Melissa start to plan at a get together at Kate's house. After Melissa leaves, the three remaining kids spot a black horse with a mysterious rider covered in a slicker and hood. They wait outside in the late afternoon for several days until they see the figure again. They decide to follow the mysterious duo, leading them into possible danger.

I continue to enjoy these stories. They have a good mixture of intrigue and adventure with a surrounding framework of friendship. There is always a moral lesson to learn and the one in this book deals with lying. Well, not lying so much as not telling the entire truth. Kate is able to convince herself that not telling the whole story is not really lying. Circumstances come crashing down and the truth comes out anyway.

The four friends really mature in this novel. Melissa haltingly becomes a more feeling and supporting friend. Kate and Colt, along with the others, show maturity and selfless love in helping an elderly woman. And Tori? Tori is a really sweet girl. She is beginning to show a gentle boldness that focuses on helping others. As the kids concentrate on helping someone else, they learn that God provides what they need themselves.

Get your tissues ready. You'll need them. I can't remember the last time a youth novel elicited such an emotion. I highly recommend this entertaining and instructive fiction.

My rating: 5/5 stars.

You can read my review of A Horse for Kate here, and Silver Spurs here.

Miralee Ferrell is an award-winning author of sixteen novels. She is a speaker and licensed minister counseling hurting women. She and her husband live along the Columbia River Gorge in southern Washington State. You can find out more at http://miraleeferrell.com/.

David C Cook, 224 pages.

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