Monday, May 30, 2016

Nonfiction Review: Rescuing the Gospel

Erwin W. Lutzer begins his history of the Reformation with some background figures such as John Wycliffe and John Huss. He goes on to give a chronological telling of Martin Luther's life and views, then spends the second half of "Rescuing the Gospel" writing more by topic than chronology. Lutzer concludes with a quick overview of who came after Luther and a poignant call to keep the Gospel message distinct.

Readers will appreciate Lutzer's clear and compelling writing, as well as his ability to make statements without coming across as one-sided. Key theological issues such as the sacraments and salvation are discussed, but all in the context of history and in short order. Personally, I would love to read even more details about the theological issues at stake, not to mention more about how those issues are still relevant today. However, what Lutzer does have to say about modern relevance is helpful and worthwhile.

As far as the history presented goes, much of it can be gleaned from watching the fictionalized movie "Luther" or from other media. But the way in which Lutzer frames the history makes his nonfiction account the kind of book you cannot put down. The hardback edition has a great feel in your hands, as well, and includes color pictures of documents and paintings in an easy-to-read layout.

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

Fiction Review: Murder Comes by Mail

The murder in question does not happen until around page 80 and the rest of the action is slow to unfold. But A.H. Gabhart does have strong character development in "Murder Comes by Mail." Readers need not have read the first book in the "Hidden Springs" series to easily follow the mystery. The characters stand on their own for the most part and are easy to invest in, although some important descriptors are not thrown in until halfway through the book. The book really is more of a slice of life story as lead character Michael interacts with friends and family, and deals with one murder after another. But Gabhart fails to create a solid build up of clues. The pieces that are given really have nothing to do with the conclusion. Michael's possible love interest also feels thrown in, perhaps as a set up for a more solid character arc in future books. And what little faith elements Gabhart included were very cliche and lacked any depth. Still, I did enjoy the book, so I gave it four stars in spite of my nit picking critique. As a side note for more sensitive, conservative readers, one minor character is a female pastor, but that does not affect the story.

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

Sunday, May 22, 2016

"The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations" is not so much about how to have a conversation as it is about how to 1) approach conversation and 2) create situations for conversation. Although the book includes helpful points on how to share and illustrate your faith, it comes across as more of a book on evangelization than on how to have a conversation.

Authors Mary Schaller and John Crilly summarize with the reminder to 1) notice people, 2) pray silently and publicly, 3) ask questions, and 4) listen. While I certainly appreciated what they had to say about prayer and notice, about a third of the way through the book turned boring and inapplicable for an introvert like myself. As one who has conversations, particularly on Facebook, with acquaintances about God, I expected to learn more about how to speak and what to speak. Also, I listen to debates and podcasts in defense of Christianity frequently and did not 100% agree with the authors that asking and not telling is the only and best way to share the Gospel.

Honestly, much of this book felt like it was one large promotional tool for the authors' organization "Q Place." I can't say the book is not an important read, but it did not register with me, and I felt there was much left unsaid. As a side note, for those who may care, one of the authors is Catholic (but doesn't talk like on at all), both authors use several translations of the Bible including the NLT and the Message, and they do may references to controversial authors like Rick Warren. These are important factors, but they don't really influence the quality of the book.

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

Nonfiction Review: Girl Defined

"Girl Defined" is a great book for younger women and a good beginning for those just starting to search out what Biblical womanhood looks like. However, personally I found the content was geared more toward teenage girls who compare themselves to the models on TV and in magazines. Very little of the book actually looks at specifics of what the Bible says about women. The majority of what Kristen Clark and Bethany Baird is concerned with real-life examples and cultural pressures, which I appreciated - I just didn't find it particularly applicable to myself. The authors do constantly point everything back to the glory of God and focus on placing your identity in God. They contrast three pillars of culture-defined womanhood (sexual freedom, independence, and liberation) with three pillars of Biblical womanhood (helping others, producing life, and nurturing relationships), and include their own personal stories, as well. The book is a short and quick read that many will find relevant and encouraging, but readers should expect strong, simple and concise points over deep, thought-provoking theological material.

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

Saturday, May 21, 2016

Nonfiction Review: Unparalleled

I was pleasantly surprised by the way Jared C. Wilson presented many of the same points I have read before in new and thought-provoking ways. His book, "Unparalleled," presents the Christian Gospel through the frame of how it perfectly and uniquely fits real life. Wilson discusses how Christ's sacrifice satisfied God's wrath and allowed God's grace, and he presents that grace as separate from other works-based faiths. "Unparalleled" also uncovers the way the Trinity explains our need for love and relationships, considers how Christianity defines human-kind as worth-while in itself (not just for its use), balances fallen man with the sacred nature of life, gives clear Biblical support for Christ's claims, and concludes with a strong and orthodox presentation of the Gospel message and call to salvation. Wilson's stories and points are eloquent and worth a second read. I will be going back to take notes on this one.

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

Nonfiction Review: Feisty & Feminine

Penny Young Nance covers topics including sexual assault, marriage, abortion, terrorism and international politics in her book "Feisty & Feminine." Since she writes for women and comes from Concerned Women for America, several of the chapters focus on "women's issues," and reveal facts that I hadn't considered before. Still, her conservative points are sometimes one-sided, and I felt there was much left uncovered. I do wish that Nance had provided summary talking points and more relatable examples in addition to the high-standard profiles with which each chapter concludes. Instead of setting an example of how a woman can be both strong in this world and a conservative, this book really just gives one conservative's opinion on politics and provides unhelpful tips on how to be an "Esther woman." Readers will find the chapters informative and interesting, just not all that applicable.

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

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Fiction Review: The Reluctant Duchess

Readers will certainly enjoy Roseanna M. White's first "Ladies of the Manor" book, "The Lost Heiress," but I highly recommend that they quickly move on to the followup, "Reluctant Duchess." While "Heiress" had elements of suspense, love and redemption, those devices are increased doubly in "Duchess." Here we have the captivating story of Rowena Kinnaird, who escapes one "forceful" man by agreeing to marry another. Brice Myerston has his work cut out for him, however, as he struggles to earn Rowena's trust, prove he is a true and worthy gentleman, help Rowena to deal with the negative self-image her family has left her, and all the while protect his new bride from murderous plots and "cursed" jewels. White conquers subjects of rape, parent-child relationships, abuse, pride, forgiveness and redemption. Some readers may be skeptical when Brice claims to hear from God or Rowena chooses to believe in more active supernatural activities, others may dislike that White waits until more than 50 pages in to begin using different characters' points of view (the author also skips ahead in her timeline once or twice), but White's skill at creating a great story will win any reader's heart.

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

Nonfiction Review: They Were Christians

"They Were Christians" includes the bios of a great selection of Christian men - some of whom most readers will have never heard. However, Cristobal Krusten only includes one woman (Florence Nightingale), and, as a writer, I could not help but cringe in frustration at his occasional change in writing style. Krusten cannot seem to decide whether he wishes to write in narrative story or in usual biographical third person. I honestly do not mind either style - it was a quick and easy read - I just wish Krusten were consistent. Personally, I did not find Krusten's chapter introductions and closings relevant or needed, but many readers will enjoy the chance to know the author's own life story better. Also, the histories presented were inspiring, but did not include as many reflections on the faith and what these people believed as I would have liked to have read. A quick word of caution to more conservative, traditional readers - Krusten does briefly imply he has a Pentecostal background and that he "heard" from God at a young age.

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

Monday, May 9, 2016

Nonfiction Review - Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark

Addie Zierman's writing style is blunt. The author is not afraid to use a bit of language here and there or to briefly mention taboo subjects like sex with her husband. "Night Driving: A Story of Faith in the Dark" follows her road trip with her two toddler sons, mostly covering time behind the wheel or behind a bottle of wine. The journey is depressing, yet oddly comforting. After several chapters of reflection on the fired-up emotions of her youth and her inability to "feel" God, Zierman gives an accurate and poignant conclusion: "Every now and then God appears to his people in the blazing fire, but it's less often than I always thought. And his silence marks the pages of the biblical narrative more than I ever knew. It asks for our trust, for our hope. If I'd thought about faith as a journey in my life, I'd never pictured anything average. I'd imagined the same spontaneous and whimsical road trip I thought I'd be taking. As it turns out, this version of my faith journey is every bit as fictional as the road trip I'd imagined. Maybe faith has never been anything more than this slow, steady process of change." "Night Driving" is a quick and easy read that will remind readers that they are not alone.

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