Sunday, December 21, 2014

Leon On Me by Anne Marie Miller

“Lean on Me,” subtitled “Finding Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent Community,” is badly misnamed. It should have been named, “Let Me Lean on You, How I Formed a Support Group with Whom I Was Intentional, Vulnerable and Consistent.” It is really only about the author’s pursuit and finding of her own community, presented as people on whom she called when she needed support; it was not said to be a give-and-take group. Unfortunately for the reader, on page 150 is this disclaimer: “People who like very practical things and how-to guides and instructions for living in better community may be frustrated at this memoir.” That was an understatement. So if you are looking for memoir about how a hand-picked group of people helped a young woman through a trying time, giving her encouragement and support of every kind, challenging her thinking and feelings, and helping her to health and wholeness, then this book is for you. This book chronicles in great detail the author’s thoughts and feelings, sometimes repetitively. The author went through a traumatic divorce and relocated, then realized she was in a bad place emotionally. She called on friends to support her, and they promised to do that. She moved in with an older couple, longtime friends of hers, and began to heal. Here’s a sample of this writer’s style, from page 92: “Healing is disorganized and chaotic and unpredictable. Even after my time in Lincoln, I would feel happy and invincible and whole and my elated heart would sing through my skin. There are the days where I put on a little extra makeup or wore a new shirt or painted my toenails because everything felt right on the inside and somehow I believed my new pink pedicure was representative of the lightness I felt.” First, the reader must tolerate writing that breaks the rules we learned in grammar school, using not enough commas but too many “and”s and “or”s, and, second, be able to stomach all the personal details the author thinks communicate her state of mind with pseudo-articulate phrases such as “my elated heart would sing through my skin” (whatever that means). Also, the word “I” occurs so many times your eyes and even your ears weary of it. Here’s a sample: “I didn’t want to die, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to live. I went to Dose, the coffee shop down the road from my house, and before I ordered, I would walk back to my car in tears. I craved isolation.” I would recommend this book only to those who love the author, as only they would be fascinated by every event and narrative, able to overlook the many annoyances to which the objective reader is subjected with regard to both content and style. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

52 Little Lessons from Les Miserables by Bob Welch

This well-written book does an excellent job of personalizing the author's insights into Victor Hugo's masterful novel. If you enjoy the novel, the musical, and/or the 2012 film version, there is enough of each reflected in this book that you will come away thinking about the deep issues of the story could affect you. If you have not read the novel or seen the musical or movie, no matter. Bob Welch starts his book by telling the story in five short pages, no small feat. Then in chapters that are two to four pages long, the author thoughtfully gleans from various scenes a lesson and a challenge, sometimes adding something from his own experience that drives the point home. Some of the challenges concern our behavior, such as doing good unnoticed, and others ask us to consider things deeply, such as whether something is robbing us of our soul. If you are anywhere on the spectrum of being curious about or wholeheartedly loving Les Miserables, this book is a great companion to the novel, the musical or the movie. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Move On by Vicki Courtney

The bottom-line point of this book is that God's mercy comes to meet you in your situation, whatever it may be; and everyone needs mercy. The book's message starts with getting real with yourself, God and others--telling the truth about who you are and where you are. So far, so good. The author then veers off into the topic of how we are to take God's mercy to others, as we are said to see others in one of two groups: Us and Them. We are encouraged to evaluate how we are part of the divide and how we can be part of the bridge. Vicki Courtney comes back to the topic of receiving God's mercy by understanding deeply that Christ paid for ALL of our sins and addresses allowing mercy to reach our unresolved shame, encouraging us to share our burdens with a few trusted others in order to shed light on our darkness. The author then veers off again into the topic of legalism and how we shouldn't impose our standards on others, an intense chapter that parallels the one on Us and Them. The book talks about the need for approval with a giant acknowledgement of how many females have come to use social media to measure their worth. One chapter is about, in a word, idolatry. This is an exceptional chapter, written very thoughtfully. The last couple of chapters end with owning up to the fact that we sin and encourages us to fall forward, not down. The author makes the excellent point that if Christians identify themselves as sinners saved by grace, the emphasis is on sin. If Christians see that the Bible says they are saints who sin, the focus will be on pursuing holiness. For the most part, I found this book challenging and thought provoking. It used the Bible, sometimes more effectively than others. The chapters on Us and Them and on legalism were, however, jarring. They both addressed how we can bring mercy to others and so did not fit with the flow of the book. I also found some of the author's illustrations too specific. For example, she used a conversation with a former houseguest as an illustration of legalism, and a friend's daughter's suitemate as an illustration of shame. It seems to me it would be easy for certain people in the author's circle to pinpoint themselves or others in these illustrations. I don't know that I would recommend this book to others. At this point, the things that stood out to me were not the positive aspects of the book; perhaps if the things that were jarring about the book fade, that will change. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Friday, August 22, 2014

The Blessings of Friendship by Mary Englebreit

This lovely picture book highlights the best of Mary Englebreit's work by pairing each picture with a verse, a poem, a saying or a quote. Everything about this book is fine, from the quality of the paper to the beautiful artwork, to the careful layout of the quotations. If you like Mary Englebreit, you will love this book. It would make a wonderful gift to a friend. I received this book in exchange for my review of it.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Book of Revelation Made Clear by Tim Lahaye & Timothy E. Parker

The unique approach to a biblical book used by the authors is a good idea: there is a pre-quiz to test what you know, followed by the biblical passage, the authors' explanation of the meaning, and the quiz answers. As I began to read, I looked forward to learning much about this mysterious book. I concluded that three out of the four parts were effective; the one consistently weak link were the meaning sections, as they typically were more brief that the biblical passage, often either merely restating the passage or offering an unsupported viewpoint. As an example, in explanation of the meaning of chapter 17, verses 1 through 4, the authors say, "The 'scarlet beast' represents government. The 'woman' represents religion." Repeatedly as I read, I found myself thinking, "How do we know that?" A better name for this book would have been "The Book of Revelation Made Simple" or "One View of the Book of Revelation", for this great book is made clear only to those who either know no other views or who know other views but believe in a pre-Tribulation rapture. Only those would find the title apt, as no other views of Revelation are even mentioned, much less considered. This book presents the authors' view in a straightforward and simple way, so their view of Revelation is made clear. If that narrow focus is what you want, then this book is for you. If you are hoping for a scholarly discussion, or even one that justifies its viewpoints or considers several interpretations about the book of Revelation, look elsewhere. I received this book in exchange for my review of it.

Thursday, July 3, 2014

Be the Dad She Needs You to Be by Dr. Kevin Leman

This author makes the point that, contrary to popular belief, the most influential relationship in a female's life is her father, setting the trajectory for all other relationships, including her relationship with God. He makes this point using practical and statistical proofs. He emphasizes that dads are to aim to be excellent role models in discipline and balance, paying attention to the unique qualities of each daughter, while maintaining a primary loyalty to mom. Primary ingredients in a successful dad-daughter relationship include encouragement, acceptance and affirmation, while avoiding the poison of perfectionism and flaw-picking. Each chapter ends with a few bulleted talking points to drive home in just a few words the chapter's most important ideas, and there is a valuable list, "The ABCs of a Good Dad" at the end of the book. This book is a good, basic primer on fatherhood with lots of practical help. I would recommend it to anyone interested in improving this vital relationship. I received this book from Thomas Nelson in exchange for my review of it.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Passion by Louie Giglio

The title of this book can be misleading unless you are familiar with the Passion Movement, which I was not. The Passion Movement is aimed at college-aged adults and apparently has been holding events for years. This book is an anthology of messages from those events, given by Louie Giglio, John Piper, Beth Moore, Francis Chan, Christine Caine, and Judah Smith. The common thread through the messages comes from Isaiah 26:8: “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your truth, we wait eagerly for You, for Your name and Your renown are the desire of our souls.” The chapters in this book are a call to commitment and to action, seeking God first and foremost. The authors aim their messages at the young, so the references are to youth culture. The writing is a little uneven at times, because some messages were apparently transcribed and come across as a casual address rather than a polished narrative. Even so, the book is good and challenges the reader from the Bible to consider God seriously. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Clout by Jenni Catron

This book is subtitled, “Discover and Unleash Your God-Given Influence.” This simple, straightforward book addresses seven “clout killers” and four “clout cultivators”. The writer talks about fear, comparison, jealousy, scarcity, insecurity, pride and control as the “killers” and identity, confidence, mission and passion as the “cultivators”. She addresses directly how to confront and overcome the seven undesirable traits and how to find and pursue the desirable traits. Jenni Catron writes in a very easy style, sprinkling her analysis with anecdotes that are pertinent and helpful, while using Bible passages effectively. At the end of each chapter are penetrating questions which will help you evaluate yourself and which can help you move forward. If you are wondering how to increase your significance and influence, this is the book for you. It is practical and hands-on, and you will come away a deeper understanding of yourself and your influence. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The People Factor by Van Moody

Approaching relationships in an objective fashion is not something most people consider. Van Moody does an exceptional job of presenting the case for building strong, healthy friendships by giving critical consideration to everyone we encounter. As the vast majority of people will become close to, and therefore heavily influenced by, at least a few, the author makes the case for the importance of choosing friends wisely. Van Moody systematically considers what he calls the ten Critical Laws of Relationships, among which are mutual benefit, agreement, selectivity, sacrifice, and loyalty. He discusses how to evaluate ourselves and others based on these and other criteria. When relationships are unhealthy, guidelines are given to help decide where to go from there. The author is a pastor, and he effectively weaves biblical examples and references into each chapter, which ends with a summary and then questions to help the reader evaluate past and current relationships. This was a very good book, one to pick up again and again, with a goal of evaluating relationships. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.

Friday, January 10, 2014

All You Want to Know About Hell by Steve Gregg

While this book is misnamed, it is an excellent work. If you expect to read a description of hell, its structure, activities, and so forth, you will be sorely disappointed. The subtitle more accurately describes the book: “Three Christian Views of God’s Final Solution to the Problem of Sin,” presenting the cases for traditionalism, conditionalism, and restorationism. Having never heard of Steve Gregg or the school where he taught, The Great Commission School, my expectations were low. His book, however, is a gem, as it very carefully and articulately parses the three views, with a goal of being even-handed. I actually cannot imagine a more well-researched and well-reasoned work on the topic of hell. It expertly weaves together both biblical support and scholarly research. It was a pleasure to read this book and have my horizons broadened. You will come away with a better understanding of both the view you hold and those you don’t, realizing that no one view truly has a “corner on the market.” An intriguing insight on which the author expands both at the beginning and the end of the book is that “our view of hell is inseparably joined to our view of God.” That alone is reason enough to read this wonderful book. I received this book for free in exchange for my unbiased review through the Thomas Nelson BookSneeze Program.