Monday, October 20, 2014

The Color of Justice by Ace Collins

This is another great novel from one of my favorite authors.

The action takes place in Justice, Mississippi, and consists of two murder trials fifty years apart. In 1964 a college aged black man is accused or murdering a high school aged white girl. The conviction seems a done deal in the racially charged town.

Cooper Lindsay, son of the pastor of Justice Methodist Church and recently returned to the town as a lawyer, is approached by the boy's mother. Convinced he is innocent, she asks Coop to represent him. Coop struggles with the decision, knowing it would put himself and his wife and children in danger and would effectively end his career in his hometown. Remembering his deceased father's sermons on the Good Samaritan, he takes the case.

The situation does turn deadly as tempers flare and old hurts are resurrected. We readers are not privy to all the results of the violence until another trial takes place in Justice, fifty years later.

I really liked this novel. Collins has really laid bare the racial tension in the town. I really liked Coop as a character. He is a man who struggles with doing the right thing, knowing it might bring harm to his family. Yet his father's sermons ring in his ears, inspiring him to see that justice is done.

I have never lived in the south and this book is an eye opener to the prejudice that can still reside in the hearts of people. As we find out in the book, that prejudice can originate in a lie and needlessly hurt many people.

Collins has given us a well thought out plot that spans half a century and reveals the darker side of mankind, yet encourages us with those determined to right the wrong that dark side causes. I recommend it.

Ace Collins has authored more than twenty five books having sold more than two million copies. He lives in Arkansas. You can find out more at AceCollins.com.

Abingdon Press, 320 pages.

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

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sara and Andy by Ronald Glanz

Sara and Andy met at a funeral home. Both had long been caregivers to a remaining parent. The care giving had prevented either of them from being very social. They were immediately attracted to each other and were soon married. In a fairy tale, rags to riches story, they quickly become extremely wealthy. Their wealth allowed them to form a plan to avenge for a wrong done a long time ago.

The plot of this novel is pretty good. Who doesn't want to see the bad guy finally pay for an evil deed done years ago?

I was distracted by the quality of the writing, however. The author switches viewpoint indiscriminately. In one sentence she was thinking while the next paragraph starts with what he was thinking. There is also a mixture of verb usage, with awkward combinations of past tense and present tense in the same sentence. Also, an odd mixture of pronouns, such as, “They all took a sip of their wine as the salad was being served with your choice of over fifty different types of dressing on the salad cart.” (67) (I wonder how big that salad cart was with fifty different salad dressings on it!) And then there is the odd habit of each character addressing the other by name each time during a conversation. (People just do not talk that way.) There is also the use of precise times and distances, such as, “forty-three minutes later...”

I was disappointed the way the author presented Christian ministers. Sara's mother died when she was thirteen. Her father, a minister, made advances to her when she turned eighteen. She was stronger and able to push him away so he went to his girlfriend's to satisfy himself. The replacement minister turns out to be a gambler and a thief, skimming off the offerings. Not a very good showing for Christians.

The novel glorifies gambling and Andy routinely lies. The novel gave me the impression these actions were fine if the end resulted in justice. There are many mentions of “luck” as Sara and Andy pursue their cause. There is never any mention of trusting God or anything like that.

A pretty good plot line but the unfavorable depiction of Christianity and the writing style were just too distracting for me to thoroughly enjoy this novel.

Ronald Glanz received his B.S. In Mechanical Engineering from Rose Polytechnic Institute in 1967. He and his wife live in Mineral, Virginia.

CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, 284 pages.

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

The Significant Life by George M. Weaver

Are you concerned that when you die you will soon be forgotten? Do you long to be noticed and remembered?

Humans long for a life of significance, Weaver writes. People want to be known, appreciated, influential, and remembered. He relates the attempts of many people to gain a life of significance. Some sought fame, others accomplishments, politics, philanthropy, even crime. All these efforts have negative side effects and actually fail, Weaver writes.

The key to significance for each human is Christianity. True significance for an individual comes from God. Weaver reminds us that man was created in God's image, each human is fully known by God, and God actually interacts with humans.

Weaver then looks at what this means, that we have our significance from God. He suggests that it allows us to be humble, to treat others the way God wants us to, and that we are able to follow our God-given purpose.

This is a great book. I look at our culture today and I see so many people trying to be somebody. This book explains why. Weaver's message is also a good reminder of who we are in Christ and what that means in how we relate to one another. A thought provoking book, I recommend it.

Food for thought: “Our identity rests in God, not in the impressions we forge in the finite minds of others...” (151)
Nothing you can do to me can threaten my significance.” (197)

George Weaver is an attorney practicing law in Atlanta, Georgia.

Crosslink Publishing, 283 pages.

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

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Playing Saint by Zachary Bartels

There is a new author on the Christian mystery scene and I really like his debut novel.

The characters in the novel are great. There's Parker Saint (a name he took on for his TV celebrity persona). He's a popular TV preacher who speaks about creating your destiny – forget the real gospel. He'd been caught on video, forcefully acting out his displeasure to an airline employee. He's sort of blackmailed into helping the police solve what looks like an occult serial killer. If he does that, his image wrecking tirade will never see the light of day.

And there are the three priests from the Vatican – secret operatives. They are great. What an unusual trio of men, at least one of whom is gun toting. They are trying to find a centuries old relic and end up getting involved in the murder case.

This novel has all the elements I like in a mystery. There has to be murders. Here we have several with mysterious images painted on the victims (with their own blood). There has to be well developed and believable characters involved. There has to be something I learn about in the course of the novel (Catholic artifacts in this case). There has to be a suspenseful end (and this one had me whipping pages as fast as I could read the words).

I like it when the main character grows or matures during the novel. Parker Saint comes to the point where he knows he is way over his head. His positive attitude, “create your destiny” preaching doesn't cut it when he is confronted with vicious demonic evil. He has to face the crisis of what he believes, what he has been preaching, and what the Bible says.

The interaction between Saint and the Vatican operatives is great. The priests know their stuff. They understand the gospel and the reality of evil much better than Protestant (their name for Saint). The conversations between them are enlightening, especially about occult symbols both recent and ancient.

Since this is a “Christian” mystery, there needs to be a spiritual aspect to the novel and there was. The difference between a positive self-help message and a sermon is clearly pointed out. Saint is told to ask the question: “Could this sermon make sense without a crucified and risen Savior? If the answers is yes, throw it out, because it's not a Christian sermon. It's advice, life coaching, pep talks, whatever you call it, but it's not a Christian sermon.” (232) Wow, chew on that one for a while.

As I said, I really liked this novel. It is great fiction yet it also contains some very important spiritual lessons. Christian fiction rarely gets any better than this novel. And since there is a reading group guide included, this would make a terrific book for reading groups.

Zachary Bartels is an award-winning preacher and Bible teacher and serves as senior pastor of Judson Memorial Baptist Church in Lansing, Michigan. He has a B.A. in world religions from Cornerstone University and M.Div. from Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. He lives in Lansing, Michigan with his wife and their son. Find out more at http://www.zacharybartels.com/.

Thomas Nelson, 344 pages.

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

Friday, October 17, 2014

The Woman Code by Sophia A. Nelson

This book came out of Nelson's own deep self-discovery after enduring an even deeper pain. This is a book about self-worth, about how we treat ourselves and how we teach others to treat us. It is about making peace with our past, about finding our value, about finding our voice.

Each of us live by a code and Nelson gives us hers. We must first know our value, our worth. We must put ourselves at the top of the list. We must be informed by our past but not let it define us. We are to be authentic. We are to be accountable for our life. We are to protect our heart.

She goes on to write about resilience, aging, gossip, apology, the power of thoughts and words, and untying rather than cutting relationships. In the workplace she advocates leading from the heart and advises bravery. About relationships she addresses the inner circle of friends, love, laughter, loyalty, and having courageous conversations.

She writes about these key areas and includes suggestions to live out the principles, including practical steps. There is also a study guide at the end of the book.

Nelson is writing to women who have been beaten down, who have been deeply hurt. The attitude needed is, “Enough. I am going to live my life for me before it is over.” And, “We do not put husbands and kids so far above self that we forget we have dreams, needs, wants, and desires too.” And, “Here's the thing: the only way we grow into better human beings is by facing ourselves and facing our problems so we can fix them.”

It is important for potential Christian readers to know that there is never mention of the work of the Holy Spirit, or allowing God to transform us, etc. Nelson does identify herself as a Christian and she does say women should have a strong spiritual life. She never says it needs to be a Christian spiritual life, however.

The focus of this book is definitely “self” oriented. She writes, “You see, everyone we meet, for better or worse, comes to teach us something about ourselves. It is never about them. It is always about what we can learn about us: to grow us, to better us, to refine us, and to restore us.” She also writes, “The goal of your life should be the search for your life.” That seems to go against Jesus' teaching about finding life and losing it (Matt. 10:39) That also seems to go against Paul's admonition to value others more highly than ourselves. (Phil. 2:3)

The thrust of the book is to help women reach their potential. In the general self-help genre, it would be a fine book. In the Christian genre (with which this publisher has been identified for decades), it comes up lacking.

Learn more about the book and watch the book trailer at www.thewomancodeboook.com

Sophia Nelson is an award-winning author, award-winning journalist, and former White House correspondent for JET magazine. She is a noted television personality, appearing regularly on MSNBC as well as having appeared on many other networks. She writes for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and The Huffington Post. She is a motivational speaker and leadership trainer in the Fortune 500 industry and universities.

Revell, 256 pages.

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

Thursday, October 16, 2014

An Insider's Guide to Spiritual Warfare by Kristine McGuire

Spiritual warfare,” McGuire writes, “is a reality for every person on some level.” We might think that spiritual warfare is found only in the supernatural. But she reminds us that we also experience spiritual warfare through the temptations of this world and through our own carnal desires. McGuire gives us her strategy for spiritual warfare in this book.

She knows whereof she speaks. She accepted Christ as Savior when a child. As an adult, she spent eight years journeying into witchcraft, spiritualism, and ghost-hunting before recommitting her life to Christ. She writes from her own experience.

Each of us is engaged in spiritual warfare, even if we do not recognize it. Christians need to understand we have an enemy who seeks to harm us. “Satan hates us and seeks our utter destruction.” McGuire takes us through the origin of the warfare and teaches us about our allies, angels. She helps us take seriously the existence of Satan and understand his strategy. She also explains our weapons.

She focuses on the mind, where most of the spiritual warfare happens, identifying common battlegrounds. Suffering can leave us vulnerable. Worry and fear can lead to lack of trust in God. She also addresses anger, lust, laziness, gossip and strife. She reminds us of the occult influence permeating our culture and how deception has crept into the church.

She ends her book by reminding us of the key to spiritual warfare and warns against opening unwanted spiritual doors. She includes the truth about ghosts and strategies for tearing down strongholds, including the spiritual disciplines that need to be developed.

This is a very practical book. You won't find spectacular exorcisms in this book. Instead you will find the strategy for the spiritual warfare of every day life. She includes penetrating questions at the end of each chapter as well as practical action steps to be taken.

I recommend this book for those who seek to understand what spiritual warfare is and how it is waged daily.

Kristine McGuire grew up in church but, as a adult, became immersed in the occult. In 2007 she renounced her occult affiliations and recommitted her life to Christ. She has been interviewed on The 700 Club and Women Today and her writing has been featured in various Christian magazines. She and her husband live in Grandville, Michigan. Find out more at http://www.kristinemcguire.com/.

Chosen (a division of Baker Publishing Group), 237 pages.

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

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

The Hardest Peace by Kara Tippetts, Share Your Story and Enter to Win

A young mother battling cancer invites readers to embrace grace in every season of life.

"I never expected to be sitting on my daughter's bed with the sinking feeling her mama was going to die of cancer and not of old age. This is my own testimony of what is broken and ugly being made right and redeemed. The brokenness of today causes us to look at hope for tomorrow."

While her story includes a long battle with cancer, The Hardest Peace holds wisdom for all who have met what Tippetts calls the "hard edges" of life. Whether it's a marriage you didn't expect to fall apart, a job you thought you'd never lose or a rebellious child, everyone will come face to face with at least one of these moments.

This is an amazing book about Tippetts' journey to finding the hardest peace, the peace in the midst of hard. She was raised and bruised by her father's anger. As a teen she escaped into beer, pot and relationships. She met Jesus her senior year and Jason as a camp counselor. It has been sixteen years of marriage with four wonderful children.

She tells her story in a compelling way. A church difficulty, moving to Colorado
for a church plant, their home in the path of a forest fire, then finding the lump in her breast. Headaches, an MRI indicating the cancer had entered her brain.

Tippets writes as a broken person, realizing that brokenness may be her greatest strength. “In the depths of my illness,” she writes, “I have been able to set aside my striving and look for God's presence in my suffering. My season of weakness has taught me the joy of receiving, the strength of brokenness, and the importance of looking for God in each moment.”

This is not the story I had planned,” Tippetts writes. Perhaps you are living (or have lived) a story you didn't plan. See below how you can share your story.

SHARE YOUR STORIES OF EVERYDAY GRACE IN THE MIDST OF LIFE’S DIFFICULTIES AND ENTER TO WIN A #HARDESTPEACE PRIZE PACK:

  • A book club pack (10 copies of The Hardest Peace for you and your small group!)
  • A handcrafted candle
  • Journal
  • Custom Etsy The Hardest Peace print and coffee mug
To enter to win, simply blog about your #HardestPeace story and then submit the link to your post here. Plus stop by others’ stories to leave encouragement and offer prayers as we all travel the journey of life together and discover that the hardest peace is often the most fulfilling peace.

Go here to find out more about the contest. (You can also enter the contest without sharing your story.)

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

Read stories others have shared on Tagboard.

Kara Tippetts and her husband, Jason, have four children and lead a church in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Cancer is only part of Kara’s story. Her real fight is to truly live while facing a crushing reality. She blogs faithfully at http://mundanefaithfulness.com/.

David C Cook, 183 pages. You can buy a copy here.

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

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Beyond IQ by Garth Sundem

We've seen them, those with an incredibly high IQ yet incapable of successfully living life. Much more is required, Sundem says. He aims to help us get the most out of what is in our brains to obtain the results we want in the real world. “IQ doesn't lead to success. Practical intelligence does.”

Sundem says we need qualities like intuition, wisdom, skill in willpower, the ability to focus, and skill in multitasking (actually the skill of brain switching). He provides an explanation of the necessity for each quality, including research, and then gives a number of exercises to develop it.

I liked his exploration of insight, finding a solution to a problem combining specific knowledge with openness. He gave exercises helping our brains become “open” to new solutions.

Other topics in the book include tacit knowledge, problem solving, identifying false assumptions, boosting creativity, when expertise is a trap, cognitive involvement, wisdom, pressure, emotional intelligence, heuristics and bias.

I appreciate Sundem's documenting research. He names many books from which he gleaned his information so it would be easy to do further reading on a topic. I appreciate all the exercises too. Many of them would take a great deal of time to complete. If you want to get the most out of this book, plan to spend a long time with it. Reading it from cover to cover will give you the information but not the intended benefits of the exercises.

I could see this book being used in a group setting. The exercises would make for a fun family evening or for a group of high school or college students.

Note to Kindle readers: many of the exercises contain instructions like, “Copy, cut out and arrange...” Also, after each exercise is a “Click here for the answers” which will work, I suppose on new Kindles, but not my older, non-touch screen one. Some exercises also say “Click here to download this exercise” which could be done on a computer Kindle reading app.

Garth Sundem has a pre-med/music degree from Cornell University. He has a growing list of books, keynotes for tech and data companies, has appeared on the Science Channel, contributes to GeekDad.com and Psychologytoday.com, and various magazines. He and his family live in Boulder, Colorado.

Three Rivers Press, 240 pages.

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