Saturday, May 31, 2014

Christian Nonfiction Review: 50 Things You Need to Know About Heaven

Dr. John Hart starts with the basics in his book "50 Things You Need to Know About Heaven." As he advances, I suppose you could consider his questions and answers a crash course. If you want something more detailed, there's always Randy Alcorn. Hart comes from a strong, clear Orthodox Christian perspective and aims to make Heaven look less boring and more fulfilling (here, I really got a lot from his perspective on sex and relationships in Heaven). There weren't too many new revelations for me, but I still found this an interesting read. And I appreciated that the questions were well organized and seemed to flow one from another. Hart also offers Scripture verses and passages for further study.

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

Nonfiction Review: Guide to Interviews

I just finished reading Richard Bolles' guide for resume writing, so his "What Color Is Your Parachute Guide to Rethinking Interviews" was a good companion read, and had considerably more, advice, as well. I do wish he had spent more space covering good thank you letters, but with an appendix on disabilities (a definite self esteem booster), another appendix on salary negotiation, and much more, the book includes plenty of great advice. Bolles focuses on setting up the job interview as a conversation where each party wants to know how well they fit each other. He also provides the most important possible job interview questions and answers. Anyone looking for work should read this book. Although Bolles' excessive and inappropriate use of commas throughout the book did bother me.

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

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Fiction Review: Here to Stay by Melissa Tagg

Although Melissa Tagg develops her story rather slowly, she has a knack for making her characters and their thoughts and motivations personal. It took me a while to get interested in her novel, "Here to Stay," but I eventually became invested in the characters and their ending. I also related to the theme of a wandering spirit looking for the right place to call home and for the right, fulfilling dream to follow.

Main characters Autumn and Blake come from rival families. One is desperately trying to fix things at her failing inn before she leaves for a new job in France, the other has come home after a national scandal and a local tragedy. When they end up planning the town's Christmas festival together, they slowing fall in love and help each other deal with family issues and more.

It's a very day-to-day story, without too many big developments, but the characters are endearing and the romance believable. I also had an easy time reading it, despite it's sequel nature.

It's a relaxing, albeit long, read.

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

Review: What Color Is Your Parachute? Guide to Rethinking Resumes

Richard N Bolles' "Guide to Rethinking Resumes" is written for beginners. It's also written for more advanced readers who have specific accomplishments they can list in their resumes. So here's my problem. I'm still early on in my career, and I'm no mathematician, so I have no idea how to turn what I do into percentages and so on. At the same time, I found that, thanks to my dad's research, my resume already had a lot of what Bolles recommended. His detailed lists and instructions start at the VERY beginning and work their way to the end, with an extremely short chapter on cover letters added in the mix. So the majority of the information he had to present was irrelevant to me. But I did find a few good examples and tidbits in there, as well as lots of websites to search and utilize. So it wasn't an all-bad read. In fact, most people probable do need this book. If your resume still starts with an objective and other older techniques, you DEFINITELY need to read this book.

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

Nonfiction Review: Spoken For by Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Joy Bethke

I'm still a little confused. As the typical romantic single girl longing for companionship and love, I certainly needed to read "Spoken For: embracing who you are and whose you are" by Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Joy Bethke.

The ladies spend the entirety of their book reminiscing about their own failed and successful romances (written with next-door neighbor charm) and how God led them to Himself. The premise focuses on how God pursues and loves us as individuals and as a church - as His bride - of no great use, but of great value. Promises and reminders of what God's love looks like, but less of what it looks like for us to love God.

This is something I have pondered a lot lately. I'm not an overly emotional person. I love God with my mind, but I'm not sure what it looks like to love God with my heart. I trust God, but I have no idea what to do with the longings of my soul for friendship and love. I believe in God's providence, but He's not physical. I can't hug Him. I can't laugh with Him. I can't go on a ride at Disneyland with Him. It's not the same. And "Spoken For" did not really answer my questions revolving around these desires and conflicts.

Also, I'm not really sure what to do with idea of comparing God's love to a romantic love. While all the analogies and comparisons work well, and are Biblical, I find that today's society is oversaturated with emotion and "love."

What I did get out of the book: I am loved. God pursues me. God has a plan for me. God calls me to give up control of my life and follow Him (subtle hint of obedience over selfish desires and sins there).

It was also a very quick and easy read - one I was able to enjoy. Robin and Alyssa make their readers feel like best friends in the kitchen having an honest conversation.

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

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Review: NIV Chronological Study Bible

I've wanted this Bible for a while. A few years ago, I got a book counterpart to this Bible that had all the study notes without the Bible itself. I never read the entire thing, but I've been meaning to get back into it. It's wonderful to have a Bible that makes it easy to read things in chronological order and to find out more about the history behind what happens. I love the way this version integrates the Psalms with relevant passages and possible coinciding incidents. I wish there could be more historical notes, but the pieces provided are useful.

My only complaints are that the very nature of this Bible 1) makes it difficult to look up passages (although there's a guide in the back to lead you to the right pages for the right passages), and 2) leads to notes on history, geography, archeology and culture that lend themselves to the interpretation that parts of the Bible are no longer relevant (i.e. female pastors, etc). There's also a lack of commentary on more controversial issues like the gifts of the Spirit.

The layout is colorful and well thought-out. I enjoyed the photos, maps, etc, and the clear section dividers, called Epochs. I look forward to digging into this Bible more.

*Disclaimer: I received this Bible in exchange for my honest review of it.

Review - NonFiction - Lunch with C.S. Lewis

Parts biography, theology and commentary, Alister McGrath's "Lunch with C.S. Lewis" reads like a very well-written university paper. McGrath takes topics such as pain, Lewis' writings (including the Narnia series and Mere Christianity), friendship and more and proceeds to consider what Lewis might have to say about each topic. Some topics lend themselves better to stories of Lewis' life, others to interesting looks at what Lewis had to say about life. While I found the book a great read, I also thought it might be time better spent reading Lewis' actual books. But for the beginning interested in a book that will make the connections and cover the basics of Lewis' life in an easy read (rather than a full biography) it is an attention-worthy and thought-provoking book - one that I will keep on my shelf. But if you're looking for a book to fill with highlights and underlines, this is not the book for you.

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

Review - Fiction - For Such a Time

I'm your typical Christian romantic, so naturally I love the story of Esther and all its film and book adaptations. Kate Breslin's "For Such a Time" is an intriguing and new take on the famed story of ultimate strength of faith ... and romance (forget all that harem stuff).

Breslin relocates Esther to the Holocaust in World War II Germany and Austria. Stella, aka Hadassah, hinds behind falsified papers and the generous SS-Kommandant Colonel Aric von Schmidt, who spots her in the firing line just in time to save her. He takes her on as his secretary at the camp where her uncle Morty just happens to be imprisoned. Aric's conscious prickles at him as he falls in love with Stella, all the time torn between his indifference and his duty to his country.

While Aric's motives and background are not always clear, the rest of the story develops beautifully. Breslin writes incredibly well for her first novel. She includes quotes from the book of Esther at the beginning of each chapter, hinting at what is to come, but the turns and twists her characters take stay true to the original while taking completely new and unexpected paths. Of course Stell won't be the salvation for her whole people. Aric is not Hitler. But she does play a key role in the salvation of her family and others at the camp. You'll have to read the book to find out how. It's worth it. One of the best historical romance novels I've read in a long time. Compelling and original.

Side note: Breslin did have trouble making this book particularly Christian. She inserted a Bible into the role and implied Stella had Christian leanings, but there's no real resolution. I'd rather she had kept that part out or had some more solid ending to it.

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