Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley by Katherine Reay

This debut novel is an excellent work. It is fashioned after Daddy-Long-Legs by Jean Webster and, while it does not require a love of the works of Jane Austen, would be especially enjoyed by Austen fans. The author’s use of Austen quotations at times is brilliant, and at those times it is as if an Austen fan entered a room of slightly distorted mirrors, simultaneously able to see both the original and the slight distortions in the reflection. The only downside to patterning this book after Webster’s work is that from the start, readers of that predecessor know the denouement. The main character, Samantha, is well written and eminently likable, making perfect sense to the reader. Her closest friends are well crafted. The character and story line surrounding Cara, though, seemed contrived and unnecessary, as if to drive home the point of what might have become of Samantha, whose interest in and pull towards Cara seemed borne of guilt rather than caring, making their interactions beyond the first one ring false. Cara accurately reflects that discomfort, and while the course of all the other relationships can probably be predicted, the one with Cara is left completely unresolved, in large part because of the shakiness of the continuing motivations of both characters. Issues around the child welfare system are embedded deeply into the book’s themes, giving it both a darker and richer feel than Webster’s works. The author does a masterful job of incorporating the effects of child neglect and abandonment into some of the main characters in a way that make their challenges make sense and come alive. For those who have never had any exposure to the child welfare system, it will be a bit of an education. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

This Is Your Captain Speaking by Gavin MacLeod

For anyone who loved The Mary Tyler Moore Show or The Love Boat, this book is a treat to read. It is written as you’d expect Gavin MacLeod to talk, in a folksy, in-the-moment style. Unlike many Hollywood biographies, this one is discreet. The author does not routinely badmouth others, although he does give his impressions of them. You get the idea that Gavin MacLeod is a positive person who likes others, which makes him come across as more of an everyday person than a TV star. In addition to narrating his path to fame, the author also talks about his struggles, including the “hole” in his life not met by fame or wealth, and how he gave his life to Jesus at a crisis moment, which changed his life. He details the transition and the change in a way that is easy to understand. The thing that most impressed me about Gavin’s life, beyond the fame, was this: he lived his life in such a way that two of the people who worked most closely with him over the years both came to faith in Christ through his witness. No matter who you are, THAT is an accomplishment, to have earned both the respect and credibility to be heard when people have a need. Having read this book and seen what he considers his most meaningful work on film, The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry, there is only one thing I wished he would have added to both: a clear presentation of the gospel. In both the book and the movie, Gavin MacLeod talks about “giving your life to Jesus” and recognizing “Jesus as your Lord and Savior,” and while in the book he cites John 3, he says nothing about Jesus dying for our sins nor about His resurrection; I Cor. 15:3-4 includes these two events as “of first importance”. Gavin MacLeod mentions a tract from which he read when he prayed with a friend who wanted to receive the Lord. I wished the book would have included that prayer or a narration of the steps to “give your life to Jesus” so the reader might follow those steps. For the most part, this was a satisfying book to read. I learned more than I had hoped about the author and, as he said, his voyage through Hollywood, faith and life. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

31 Days to Happiness by David Jeremiah

These 31 chapters are an expository work on the book of Ecclesiastes. While it is lengthy—over 300 pages—it is well worth reading. The author’s lifetime of experience in speaking and writing, coupled with the deep wisdom found in one of Solomon’s books, make for a challenging, wonderful read. There is a rarely found depth in this book that no doubt will call the reader to reach for it again and again. This book, mirroring Ecclesiastes, aims at exposing wisdom for what it is: the opposite of worldly views. The first half emphasizes the fact that neither money nor work can bring happiness. The second half shows how godly wisdom is the polar opposite of a natural view, with misery, sorrow, rebuke and “the hard way” bringing profit. Chapter after chapter dissects Ecclesiastes’ premises, such as the chapter on Solomon’s final admonitions which were that life is uncertain, short, mysterious and obedience and so should be embraced, enjoyed, examined and expressed. David Jeremiah’s many years of sermon preparation are reflected in excellent chapters such as this one. This book was interesting, challenging and comforting. The Bible is communicated well, especially the book of Ecclesiastes, which can be puzzling to read. I highly recommend this book. I would say, though, that I think it is misnamed. It should be “31 Days to Wisdom”. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

The Beauty of Broken by Elisa Morgan

This is the author’s personal account about the brokenness of her family of origin and her own family, with the point being that every person is broken, and therefore every family is broken. There is no such thing as the perfect family because people are flawed. Elisa Morgan details the actions and reactions of herself, her father, mother, sister and brother in their relationships from the time she was young through the present, as well as the details of how she met and married her husband and the challenges they have faced with their two adopted children. God and the Bible are central to the author’s perspective and help her to maintain her balance throughout her life. Elisa Morgan demonstrates how a godly perspective is foundational to growing through life’s blows. There was much in this book to identify with and be encouraged by. The author used Scripture effectively. I would recommend this book to anyone who thinks family life should yield a profitable return on investment, who thinks that if you just do things correctly, everything should turn out well. God did not promise that, and the author proves her case that from the beginning, families have not delivered on that false premise. God does, however, provide the tools to weather the storms, and this book does a good job of exploring that subject. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Intentional Walk by Rob Rains

This book, subtitled “An Inside Look at the Faith that Drives the St. Louis Cardinals,” spends 16 chapters on individual players and their faith journeys. This book looks at the faith of individual players, not at the team as a whole. It touches on the effects players have on each other but gives you little sense of the collective impact on the organization, the media, or the public. Unfortunately, the chapters are written in such a way that the more you read, the more formulaic the chapters seem. Rather than integrating stories together, each chapter gives a snapshot of the player through two lenses—with regard to sports and to a walk with God--as a youngster, a young adult and then a St. Louis Cardinal. At times, it seems as if you are reading the same chapter repeatedly with changes in only minor details, such as names. This book would be interesting to a Cardinals fan who is curious about the faith journey of individual players. To anyone else, it will be too long and repetitious. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Resurrection Year by Sheridan Voysey

This book, subtitled “Turning Broken Dreams Into New Beginnings”, describes the journey of the author and his wife through heartbreaking infertility, deciding to turn a corner, and establishing a new life, including new jobs and a move to Great Britain. Particularly insightful is the narrative about the author’s heart processes as he makes these major transitions. Of great value is reading about the honest relationship between the spouses and God; rarely is such a glimpse into someone else’s mind, heart and soul given as this book does. The author’s faith has deep biblical roots, which is reflected in how and what he thinks and how he processes his experiences. The book was extremely interesting, challenging and inspiring, as you can’t help but put yourself in his shoes and wonder what might help you in times of such great heartache. It is well written, and I would recommend it to others. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Unglued Devotional by Lysa TerKeurst

This book of 60 devotionals aims to help you change by having you analyze yourself. The author intends that you spend a lot of time—aided by her many stories—evaluating your behavior, thoughts, and feelings with a goal toward improving your attitude, perspective and relationships. Each devotional has a verse, a Thought for the Day, and a narrative about what difference walking with God can make in every area of life. Most ask questions that encourage to reflect about yourself deeply. Each ends with a short, honest prayer. This book will be helpful to those who want to examine themselves in light of God’s Word, wanting to make changes to become more like Christ. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

The Anger Workbook by Les Carter and Frank Minirth This excellent book helps one identify anger in its many forms, trace its needs, motivating emotions and take steps to reduce and conquer it. It is accessible, using checklists to analyze and numbered blanks to delineate personal examples. The four parts of this book are Identifying Your Anger, Anger Thrives on Unmet Needs, How Other Emotions Create Anger, and Applying New Insights about Anger Reduction. This book was interesting, challenging and enlightening. It was thought provoking and insightful. The material was presented simply and cohesively, conveying biblical truth accurately. I would recommend this book to everyone. Unless we have faced our anger head on, we likely do not realize how much it permeates our lives. The Anger Workbook is extremely well written, with tremendous instruction and insight. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.