BOOK REVIEW: Nothing to Hide, by J. Mark Bertrand

 

In the second of the Roland March Mystery series, Nothing to Hide, by J Mark Bertrand, loses me quickly.  There is no requirement to read the previous novel, and this one takes off into the grittiness that characterizes Bertrand’s work.  However, the plot holds together loosely, and I am left wondering why it took me so long to finish it.  March investigates a headless corpse in Houston with ties to the Mexican cartel, and links to his own past.  Everyone has something to hide….  I still like the character of March, the tough homicide detective with characteristic troubled past, yet he is less engaging than in the previous novel.

Still, the attempt is worth praise for the unusual addition to Bethany House Publishing, and I encourage Bertrand to continue.

 

My spotless advance copy was provided me in return for my honest review for Bethany House Publishing.

BOOK REVIEW: You’re Stronger Than You Think, by Dr. Les Parrott

When the first page of a book promotes the author’s website and another $5.95 (after coupon code), one must be wary.  You’re Stronger Than You Think: The Power to do What You Feel You Cant, by Dr. Les Parrott, does make such an offer, and leans heavily toward ‘think-and-grow-powerful’ mentality of the mega-churched.  In fairness, his practical suggestions are good, but the overall impression is vague empty promises based on human effort.  Linking Dorothy from the Wizard of Oz with the Apostle Paul, Parrott summarizes his self-help strength source: “It’s found in your mind, your heart and your soul.  To use it-to summon your strength- all you have to do is say you need it and then listen for the still, small voice.”  No humility here.

I disliked the frequent ‘plugging’ of the author’s website offers, and the questions at the end of each chapter were silly.  He generally talks around a subject, quotes others, and ties in cute stories.  Pure feel-good fluff, with a touch of Scripture on top.  The darker grey pages at the end of sections hold good specific ideas (for instance, to clear your head, practice a mind-dump: write down every little thing that is on your mind, even the silly thoughts, for more clarity.), and evaluation quizzes (also silly).  I did like chapter 6: “Be Bold: there’s strength in taking risks”, but you could borrow the book from the library for those 20 pages.

In short, don’t bother (unless mega-church mantras are your style).  Read Think and Grow Rich, by Hill for the real thing.  I’m sure it will have the same effect: dust, not wealth.

My advance copy of this book was my only compensation for this frank review, for Tyndale Publishers.  My thoughts are my own, and haven’t made me rich yet.  Everything I have is grace from my Giver.

Resources:

pdf first chapter 

Dr. Les Parrott

  bio

other works

website

BOOK REVIEW: Help for the Fractured Soul, by Candyce Roberts

Thinking I was about to read a typical book on emotional healing, I picked up Help for the Fractured Soul: Experiencing Healing and Deliverance from Deep Trauma, by Candyce Roberts.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.  The book is a gutsy advocate for therapeutic intervention of those who have experienced trauma at the hands of others – often thru ritual and repeated abuse.  It speaks to those dealing with multiple personalities, and related disorders caused by such abuse.  This book is not for the faint of heart, although I thought the author’s portrayal of such true scenarios was gracious and tender.  A simple approach of prayer, coupled with quiet compassion and the expression of trust, are key elements of this author’s healing process. I ended the book in respect for the humility and love this author has shown to some really tough patients/clients.  I would highly recommend it to any pastor seeking knowledge and hope in this area of ministry to a small but tortured (and often hidden) set of members of any congregation.

This review was in return for my receipt of an advance copy of this book from Chosen, a division of Baker Publishing Group, thru Bethany House Publishers. My thoughts are my own.

 

Resources:

Candyce Roberts

BOOK REVIEW: Unplanned, by Abby Johnson

Delving into non-fiction for a look at the dramatic conviction experienced by Abby Johnson, a pro-choice leader, into a pro-life spokesperson, Unplanned is a gripping relation of events.  While Abby tends to be verbose and overstated in her attempts to bring clarity and depth to a simple story, it was still eye-opening to hear her version of events.  The tenderness and compassion of the pro-life response to her change of heart is nothing more than inspiring, while the relation of her exposure to an abortion procedure is gut-wrenching, and yet should be required reading.  The book inspires compassion, not only for the smallest members of our human race, but also for those who have the courage to stand in that gap, and for the blind who continue abuse.

My thanks to Tyndale House Publishers, whose summer reading program caused me to read this book, and did not compensate me in any way (I read it from the library this time), for my candid review.

RESOURCES:

Abby Johnson

Pro-life

Planned Parenthood

BOOK REVIEW: Short-Straw Bride, by Karen Witemeyer

An enjoyable addition to the Christian chick-lit category, Short-Straw Bride, by Karen Witemeyer, brings a gentle romance into life.  Meredith Hayes finds herself in a marriage to save her propriety, in a houseful of angry Archer men.  Despite an earlier encounter with her trumped-up husband Travis, for whom she has had childhood fancies, she discovers that a new marriage, especially under duress, will put her faith to the test.  Travis is honorable, yet fiercely protective of his property – will he allow her to truly be his helpmeet?

Karen Witemeyer has written her fourth novel, and I enjoyed every page of it.  Sure, the typical farm setting was in place, and the drama of a trumped-up marriage to put doubt and sizzle into everyday encounters, but yet Karen infuses it with humor, strength and drama.  The characters are all believable, likeable, and some are memorable.  The plot is simple yet drew me in, and the Biblical references seemed appropriate, not pat.

I enjoyed this book, and would read more by this author.

My thanks to Bethany House Publishers, for the receipt of my copy of this book, which is my only remittance for my candid review.

Resources:

Karen Witemeyer

video for book trailer

freedmen’s schoolhouse (an interesting detail of the story…I wondered how accurate)

BOOK REVIEW: My Stubborn Heart, by Becky Wade

 

Becky Wade makes a cheerful and clever addition to the realm of light Christian romance in her latest book, My Stubborn Heart.  I found it easy to read, loved the characters, and related to many of their emotions and questions.

When Kate Donovan takes a side-trip into the small town of Redbud, PA to help her grandmother restore her family home, she little knows what awaits her, when the surly contractor shows up.  (I know, it’s Christian fiction, I bet you know too).  Yet Becky writes an engaging and funny love story, along with character development and growth.  My only regret is that it is not Christian growth: several flaws are blatant with our hero and heroine in terms of their faith.  Their faith is fluffy: they mention God, yet don’t go to church, engage in study or prayer, and seem rather like ‘good people’ with a few handy Bible verses.  While I would usually hammer down on this watered-down version, Becky’s characters don’t simply move, they dance and sing.  I would read more about them in a heartbeat.  The heroine’s grandmother has a motley assortment of friends who do some creative poker and blind-date arranging, and are memorable in themselves.  Altogether, an admirable effort, but slim on the Christian side.  And when you do read it – please tell me why it is so important to God that you must play professional hockey?

My thanks to Bethany House Publishers, who provided me with this advance copy in return for my candid review.

 

Resources:

Becky Wade  (note: had to use publisher’s site, as author’s site, beckywade.com would not open at time of this review)

BOOK REVIEW: MOONBLOOD, by Anne Elisabeth Stengl

 

With her third allegory in the Tales of Goldstone Wood series, Anne Elisabeth Stengl offers Moonblood.  While I love the allegorical works of C.S.Lewis, and appreciate the effort for Christian fiction, this book failed to draw me.  It would have helped incredibly to have an introduction of some sort, to set the stage from the previous 2 books, but as I believe most works of fiction (even in a series) should stand alone, this lacked a simple plot.

The characters, set in a mythical kingdom,and bordered by several more, felt stilted and withdrawn, while the dangers and purpose lacked clarity for me to push on in reading it.  Even re-reading the dust-jacket descriptions left me more puzzled than before.  Prince Lionheart, second in command of his kingdom, with an aging father hoping to set him up for ruling, is still reeling from the distrust of himself and his people after he returned from a battle with dragons.  After seven chapters, I still couldn’t figure out if he actually battled the animal, or had a conversation with it.  His betrothed, Daylily, is typecast as proud and beautiful, without depth.  Servant Rose Red hides a grotesque set of features and her own secrets in serving Prince Lionheart, but it is never explained what her feelings on the matter are.  The Prince, consistently, vacillates in his, and as his subjects distrust her, kicks her out of the kingdom, and a chapter later, is chasing after her for some unknown reason.  I lost track of several other characters that had even less clarity than these.  Prince Lionheart’s peer, Prince Aethelbald of the kingdom Farthestshore seems to have characteristics of redeemer, and appeared to have the clearest set of goals in the book: rescue.  Prince Lionheart could not assist, tortured as he was by doubt and self-recrimination, and possible  dragon-possession.  Are you confused?  A clear plot is vital, and this book stands in proof of it.  Clever cover illustration, though.

My copy, which I will not keep, is in return for my candid review for Bethany House Publishers.

Resources:

Anne Elisabeth Stengl

Tales of Goldstone Wood

BOOK REVIEW: The Mentor Leader, by Tony Dungy

In my second review of a Tony Dungy book, The Mentor Leader, takes a focused approach to the valuable attributes of a mentor leader.  Looking at eight different sides of this unique approach to leadership, Tony makes the case for a very humble style of leadership, while citing stories from various heroes of the football arena.  Most of the stories are found here, so the application takes some stretching for women, mothers or anyone not involved or interested in football.  Yet I did find it an interesting read, with valuable points to share.  The very servant-esque element of his approach is probably what I related to most, and the stories were a bonus.  For example, “If you do it right, as a mentor leader you may make it all but impossible for other people to give you credit.”  Amazing.  He even argues that character (off the field especially) matters, in contributing to your personal, leadership and team’s success.  Refreshing.

Each chapter is concluded with several thought-provoking questions, or action points to make the learning process functional.

I would recommend this book to a very-sports-oriented team player, and aspiring leader to bring Tony’s perspective home.

This review was completed with a library copy, for the Tyndale Summer Reading Program, which you can join also!

RESOURCES:

Tony Dungy website

bio

podcast

blog

BOOK REVIEW: The Cause Within You, Finding the One Great Thing You Were Created to do in This World, by Matthew Barnett, with George Barna

I chose  The Cause Within You for it’s title in the Tyndale Summer Reading Program, and was fascinated by the stories Matthew Barnett tells of his visionary downtown Dream Center in Los Angeles.  Recounting stories of hope, healing and restoration, while reaching out to the ‘untouchables’ of our culture in south central L.A., Matthew weaves a hopeful slice of encouragement onto my plate today.  I had expected a 10-step book, or at least some practical suggestions, given the title, but that was not to be.  Rather than be discouraged, it was astounding to hear of the self-sacrifice he and many of his congregation had made to serve their community. I particularly liked the insistence he had that service to Jesus must come quickly, steadily, and solidly into the lives of others – waiting for long planning, or committee meetings is not how Jesus did it, nor should we.  He quotes Nike’s favorite slogan as an impetus to their response to ideas, and given the book, stories and web-site I reviewed, it seems to be working.  He appears to be a modern day St. Francis of Assisi – complete with Twitter feed and Facebook page.  I wouldn’t knock it – when the church gets practical, God is preached.  Many times, more effectively than any amount of theology could explain.  This book was enjoyable, easy to read and encouraging.  It inspires practical attempts to live out faith in your world, your city, your home.

This review was completed for the Tyndale Summer Reading Program – you can join also!  I found the copy at the library (no free book today!)

Resources:

Matthew Barnett bio

Dream Center 

BOOK REVIEW: Unstuck: Your Life. God’s design. Real Change, by Arnie Cole and Michael Ross

Written for the Christian whose faith seems stagnant, Unstuck, by Arnie Cole and Michael Ross attempts to reach a very select audience.  Citing extensive research, a three-step plan for breaking out of a faith rut is written by two men who are part of the Back To the Bible ministry.  Further, the endorsement of Jim Daly, president of Focus on the Family, is featured prominently on the cover and first pages of this book.

But even with all that, the book felt flat.  While I agreed in principle that the Bible, and engaging in study of it, is a vital means for revitalization of life, faith and relationships, this book did not inspire me in the execution of it.  Part one focused on the deadness: burnout, busyness, and the research behind suggesting the Bible was meant to combat these struggles.  I didn’t need a book to explain the research, in fact, if I had picked this up at a bookstore, it would have been because I wanted to get unstuck.  So Part two    described the process of the “Power of Four:” time with God, refreshed thru the Bible, recharged by it, and having a 2-way connection with Him.  Part three applied this process to personal experience.

The book extensively relies on, quotes from, and refers to research.  Just from my daily glance at Google news, I have become very skeptical of ‘research’ and while this may be the most researched method on the planet – it didn’t tell me anything I didn’t know before I picked up the book.  While I think the authors meant to simply establish their credibility, it made the book feel like required textbook reading, rather than an encouraging walk with a friend.  After reviewing so many of this genre of books, I am partial to those who do have a plan (this one is 45 days), but am cynical about research.  I am further cynical when chapter one is titled “Confessions of a Spiritual Loser,” as that just doesnt smack of the charisma needed to get me ‘unstuck’ from my current hang-up.  While I don’t want Tammy Fay Baker to smile at me from each page, simple honesty goes far with me.  The author’s story of his return to faith was moving, yet his continual use of this title suggested a lack of insight to me.  Leaving the faith, or lonely in the faith, is not a loser – it is a lost and hurting person out of touch with his Saviour.  And no research will help.  The 45 day plan might, but I found the Scripture suggested and questions to be unconnected at best, and left me with more questions when finished.  This would be very frustrating if read alone.  In a group, it might work.  (Where’s the research on that?)

On the flip side, the web site (gotandem.com)suggested in each chapter as a resource for further follow up, seemed well-done, engaging, and clear: daily Scripture delivered at your specified times, for the purpose of continual growth.  The authors did not cite the research involved in the creation of the web-site’s name, a story I would be curious to hear.  I would simply skip the entire book, and go to the site: the author’s stated purpose would be fulfilled (you would be getting into a lot of Scripture, in timely doses), and not have to wade thru pages of research and ineffective counsel on the very deep woes that bog down believers.

From personal experience, in the addictions, hangups and sins that enslave, being told to ‘read more Scripture’ or ‘go to church more’ simply angers – because it shows a lack of understanding of the enslavement.  A slave is not free to simply do those easy things: it is foreign, untrusted and means nothing.  Only when the enslaved reaches bottom, cries out to the Saviour, and has counsel and accountability is change possible.  No amount of reading or attending works when internally, the message can’t change, and the reader cant ‘hear’ what is being said.  That’s where this book misses the mark: it is written without concern for the audience.  Stuck people don’t want research, they want help.  Coating the help in statistics makes it that much more ineffective.  This would be the equivalent of a researcher extolling the numbers of hungry, the value of a sandwich to a homeless man on the street: just give him a sandwich for crying out loud, and keep your research!  Give him a hug, a shower, a smile – anything but this tome of boring (if well-meaning)facts.

In comparison, it is no surprise to me that The Purpose-Driven Life is a bestseller.  Read it instead, and the resources there are far more apt.

This review is in return for the copy of the book Bethany House provided me.  My opinions are my own.  No surprise there!

Resources:

Arnie Cole

Michael Ross

Back to the Bible