Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Nonfiction Review: Talking About God

"Talking About God" narrates real-life conversations the authors have had with non-believer friends. However, given that the authors never really state where these stories come from or how they were recorded, I'm not sure how accurate the dialogue is, especially when so much of it felt preachy and tailored to meet the authors' purposes. The conversations all come at a point in time when God has already worked on the friend's heart and the person is as close as they can get to salvation before making the final crucial decision to follow Christ. While the backstories of these people are good to consider, I would have appreciated at least one or two conversations that better show the reality of resistance most Christians meet when discussing matters of faith with non-believers.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, February 18, 2018

Fiction Review: A Song Unheard

Roseanna M. White seems to become a greater author with every book of hers I read. I missed out on the first book in her "Shadows Over England" series, and now I feel compelled to go and buy it.

In "A Song Unheard," the romance is never rushed and the plot development is laid out at a perfect pace. The banter between characters often made me chuckle, and the slight suspense was just enough to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion.

Willa Forsythe is the best of thieves, assigned to find a hidden "key" to breaking cryptic codes during World War I. The key belongs to violinist Lukas De Wilde, left behind by his father, and it does not turn out to be where you expect. Lukas has escaped Belgium, but eagerly seeks to find and save his family from the terrors of the German army. Meanwhile, Willa has another hidden talent that connects her with Lukas: the violin. Of course, with her street smarts, Willa would never fall for a man like Lukas. And Lukas, once a playboy of sorts, finds a change in heart, both from the war and from meeting Willa.

The spiritual themes here feel natural, too. Willa with her self-dependence and Lukas with his fickle past both face a deep need for God and the question of where God is in the midst of suffering. Other minor characters, such as the German commander staying with Lukas' family, give the reader extra perspective on the facets of war and the conscience.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Study Review: "His Last Words"

"His Last Words" isn't really about Jesus' last words. In fact, reading through the day-by-day studies, I had difficulty connecting the dots and finding a common theme. And the last week or two of the study where we actually read Jesus' final words are quickly glossed over. Author Kim Erickson also asks a lot of those personal questions that I tend to not have answers for or tend to find pointless. However, I greatly appreciated that Erickson opened each day's study with the relevant passage split up, line by line, with space for the reader to write down what each line tells us about God. I found I was able to glean a lot just from this focus on what the Scripture actually says. As Erickson pulled in other verses, I took away a lot of individual lessons. She doesn't do a detailed study of John, but she does have a way of making a point. I also appreciated that Erickson took space to make sure the reader reflects on what she's learned over the week. I would not mind reading through this study again. I probably still won't answer any of those personal questions. That's just not my learning style. But, hey, maybe it's yours.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Review: "Good Night Tales"

"Good Night Tales" is exactly the kind of story book I would have loved reading with my father when I was a child. The illustrations are lovely, and, combined with the stories told, create a beautiful fairy-tale land. C.S. Fritz takes passages from the Bible and turns them into stories and characters that children will easily engage with. The stories are short, and I wish Fritz would developed the world he has only just begun creating in this book. The only thing I found odd about the book was that there were two or three stories with no text and that were not as easy to understand or follow.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Review: 60 Days of Happiness by Randy Alcorn

I love Randy Alcorn books. When I sit down to read a Randy Alcorn book, I know I can expect a deep examination of Scripture. But "60 Days of Happiness" really didn't make all that... well... happy with Alcorn. Maybe it's because of the devotional format. Maybe it's because Alcorn had to reformat a full book into short devotions. In any case, "60 Days of Happiness" felt repetitious. While each devotion includes a Bible passage and relevant quote or story, I wanted even more Scripture. Alcorn's basic premise is that happiness is Biblical and good, and he certainly proves his point. But I expected more from an Alcorn book.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Nonfiction Review: Why I Believe by Chip Ingram

Books on "Why I Believe" seem to be the popular trend these days, going off of the success of Lee Strobel's books and the need in this modern age to have a "reason for my defense." And I try to read as many of these kinds of books as possible. The thing is, with so many books touting the same "reasons" out there, the information can get a little flat without a unique frame or angle. While I appreciate Chip Ingram's testimony and his framing of the topic by questions and reasons to believe, I didn't find anything new in his book. And honestly, other books do a much better job of providing compelling arguments for the Christian faith. I've had real-world discussions with atheists and agnostics, and the evidences given are simply not enough. While "Why I Believe" may be a good book for those new to the topic or for Christians who just need a reason to hold onto their faith, Ingram really only skims the surface.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Fiction Review: Where We Belong by Lynn Austin

Lynn Austin's "Where We Belong" has compelling Christian themes and interesting characters, but slightly suffers from a rushed ending and a lack of descriptive language. The book is several hundred pages, so the reader expects more from their investment.

Sisters Rebecca and Flora have inherited a large sum of money and a passion for knowledge from their father. These factors eventually lead them to the Sinai desert searching for ancient documents that will prove that the Bible has not been altered over the years. Along the way, Lynn Austin alters course to tell the reader about the girls' past. She also spends two small sections of the book telling the story from the viewpoints of servants Kate and Soren.

The back and forth between time periods provides an opportunity to better get to know the characters, and Austin gives the reader enough to earn her investment. However, Flora comes across as a stick-figure character, too reliant on Rebecca, while I never could decide if Rebecca was helpful or too forward in her demands and manipulation of her sister. Even when Austin gives us an entire section from Flora's perspective, it is difficult to understand her character or to read from Flora's perspective so soon after reading from the perspective of Rebecca's strong personality.

Toward the end of the book, Rebecca develops a romantic relationship with an agnostic, largely driving her quest to find proof for the Bible's reliability. That quest, which provides the outline of the majority of the book, does not lead to much adventure (beyond some trouble with a Bedouin) or discovery, and its conclusion was a bit of a let down. And when Rebecca finally gives the conversion of her beloved to Christianity over to the Holy Spirit, his "aha" moment comes in a quick and unbelievable manner. Perhaps this part of the story would have been best served by saving a section of the book to be told from his perspective, so the reader could know how exactly God prepares his heart for that final moment of realization.

The redemptive and religious themes of the story are woven well, however. I greatly enjoyed the sisters' desire to find God's purpose for their lives and their mantra that only God knows the time our lives will end. Soren and Kate's street backgrounds also lead to happy endings reminiscent of God's own adoption of Christians through Christ.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.