Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Emotions: Confront the Lies, Conquer With Truth - Hopeful and Healing

Fear, rejection, bitterness, guilt, despair- what do you do when they come knocking on the door of your soul?

If you are in any way human, emotions can trip you up.  They are such unruly things – causing you to be up one minute, down the next. They can control our perception of the world, others, ourselves.  So how do we handle the seemingly constant barrage of feelings that at times can threaten to unhinge our ability to live abundantly.

Pastor Charles Stanley’s latest book, Emotions: Confront the Lies, Conquer with Truth, delves into the world of negative emotions with Stanley’s well-known mix of Biblical advice and wisdom achieved through personal experience.

It’s typical Stanley – solid, spiritual, and hopeful.  Each chapter tackles a debilitating emotion with an understanding of what the emotion does to us and how God wants us to overcome the effects of the emotion and live a life that honors Him.

Each chapter ends with a series of questions intended for personal reflection or group study – if you are so inclined to unearth your emotions in a small group.

Emotions Confront the Lies, Conquer with Truth can, indeed, be helpful in wrestling those inner-demons into submission.  It’s tried and true Stanley – level-headed and calming, like advice from a trusted friend. 

If you have been a follower of Christ for any length of time, there probably won’t be any major revelations.  But for a new-believer trying to sort through baggage, Emotions could have the answers for healing.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Last Perfect Summer - A Poignant, Nostalgic Trip

The Last Perfect Summer was absolute magic. 

Please understand a novel that centers itself around any sport as The Last Perfect Summer does, is like dose of Benadryl with a chamomile tea chaser to me.  As a rule, no form of fiction loses my attention quicker than a story laced with athletics.

So when I say The Last Perfect Summer is magic, I am saying that it transcends mere “sports genre” fiction.  It is much more than a story about Little League baseball.  It is a story of the Boomer generation growing up during those hazy summer days.  It’s about small towns, close-knit neighborhoods, and families that worked hard and sacrificed – and taught their kids to do the same.

At the center of it all is Teddy Tresh, a successful 40 something that decides to visit a childhood friend who is living in a mental institution.  Harry has been hospitalized for years after contracting encephalitis, which caused brain damage that left him feeble-minded and hopeless.  When Teddy first sees him after decades, he is determined to connect with his childhood friend in the only way that seems feasible – reminiscing with Harry about their days growing up in the small, Western Pennsylvania town of Rockland.

The Last Perfect Summer shifts back and forth between the present day conversation with Teddy and Harry and their days as pre-adolescent boys during the 60s.

Teddy’s visit with Harry is moving.  Harry progresses from an aged, confused psychiatric inmate to a man connecting to whom he was and is through the stories Teddy tells of their summer in 1964 when their all-star team made it to the championship.

As touching as those chapters are, it is the chapters centering on the boy’s life in small-town America in the 1960s that capture the heart – especially the hearts of those of us in the Baby Boomer generation.
Prence brings it all back.  Those early summer mornings where the day stretches ahead with limitless possibilities - spontaneous games of backyard baseball, crushes on the cute little girls next door, catching frogs and catching heck from any mom who caught careless boys stomping through their flower gardens.

Prence’s prose transported me back to my old neighborhood, the days before Amber Alerts and fears of letting your kid out of your sight.  A time where every kid in the neighborhood jumped on his bike first thing in the morning, checked in at dinner time, and made sure he was home when the streetlights came on - a time when one of the highlights of the afternoon was chugging down a chocolate Coke at the local drugstore with your buddies.

For a Boomer like me, this book was a welcome vacation to the halcyon days of my childhood.  For a baseball fan, it would be pure heaven.

Because Little League is the core of Teddy’s childhood summer - the championship, that golden grail that beckoned.  Even for someone uninterested in baseball, like myself, Prence wove those baseball practices and games into intense heart pounding spectacles of victories and defeats as seen through the eyes of a 10 year old boy.  Prence’s writing puts you in the middle of that dusty ball field waiting, with stomach churning, for that ball to come straight toward you, hands sweaty and heart racing. 

The Last Perfect Summer is poignant and charming.  For Boomers, it’s nostalgic and will make you smile in recognition of those childhood summer days.

But even if you aren’t a boomer, it’s just a darn good read. 

Courtesy copy of The Last Perfect Summer obtained from Windy City Publishers in exchange for an honest review

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Prayers and Promises For Worried Parents - An Encouraging Devotional for Parents of Prodigals

There is nothing in the world as painful to a parent like a child walking away from the faith.  It’s heartbreaking and devastating.  Praying and wondering if that child will ever come back, it’s a nightmare that can seem endless.

Author Robert J. Morgan knows that feeling all too well as a parent of a prodigal. Through his own personal dark journey as a father praying for a wayward child comes this devotional, Prayers and Promises for Worried Parents.

Morgan’s 108 devotional entries encourage parents with scriptures and prayers designed to keep their focus on God and his faithfulness.

Originally, Prayers and Promises was meant as a personal journal for Morgan as he struggled with depression and anxiety over losing a child to the world.  It wasn’t until later that Morgan realized that his journal would be beneficial to parents going through the same struggles.

Although filled with scriptures and prayers that uplift, many of the illustrations Morgan used are so dated as to be a distraction.  As a contemporary parent, I found the frequent stories of prodigals and their parents living in the 1700s/1800s a bit of a disconnect from the modern life.  To be fair, Morgan does include personal stories, and testimonies from friends but the centuries old illustrations, even though they conveyed God’s faithfulness, still left me feeling distant from what God must be doing today.

But the use of bygone illustrations aside, Prayers and Promises for Worried Parents is just that – an affirming devotional for any grieving parent of a prodigal.

A complementary copy of Prayers and Promises for Worried Parents was obtain through Howard Books in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World - Time to Overthrow the "Self-Esteem" Regime

Several years ago when my kids were but little tots, my husband and I were browsing a toy store with them.  The next row over we heard a female voice dropping the f-bomb with profusion.  Concerned that our offspring would pick up a new vocabulary word, my husband decided to ask the woman to shift her conversation to a G-rating.   We were in a toy store, after all.  Imagine his surprise when he discovered the perpetrator of the profanity was a teenaged girl.

Now my husband is a big muscular guy, kinda scary looking if you don’t know him.  He walked up to her and asked her politely to watch her language.  She sneered and proceeded to light and lob an f-bomb directly at my husband – then walked away. 

We all have similar stories to tell.  Bratty kids pitching a fit in the grocery store,  surly teens mumbling under their breath.  Maybe, even, truth be told, our own kids are turning into despots in our very homes.  It just seems kids are becoming more and more out of control and disrespectful.  But don’t throw up your hands quite yet. 

Obviously, Little Miss Kiss-My-Tuckus’s parents never read Jill Rigby’s book Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World.

Raising Respectful Children in a Disrespectful World gives hope to parents whose kids may not be turning out to be those upstanding citizens mom and dad envisioned them to be when they first brought their blanket-swaddled bundles home from the hospital.

Rigby unveils the fallacy that all our kids need is a healthy dose of self-esteem.  According to Rigby, the self-esteem movement that swept the nation in the 70s becoming one of the foundational tenets in parenting, has decimated the character of countless children.  Concern about a child’s self esteem has created self-absorbed, selfish and disrespectful children and adults.

Through Raising Respectful Children, Rigby calls for this madness to stop and asks parents to take a hard look at their parenting techniques – are we raising confident, caring, and courteous human beings, or self-centered, ill-equipped men and women who can’t take care of themselves and couldn’t care less for others?

Honestly, Rigby is on the mark with this book.  Parents need to be concerned about their children’s character and not their social status or – gasp – shall I say it – “happiness”.  Rigby contends that we need to be parents, not best friends.  We need to correct and rebuke without worrying about whether or not our kids will be happy about it. 

But Raising Respectful Children is not a book written to make parents hang their heads. Including a small group study guide, Rigby’s book is overflowing with encouragement and practical advice on how to build Godly character in our kids. 

From media choices to how to create memorable family bonding times, this book will equip every parent wanting to raise kids who will be respectful and successful in the things that truly matter.

Friday, August 2, 2013

Ghost - Rambo Meets "This Present Darkness"

There is nothing in the literary world quite like an edgy thriller, a story with a kick-butt protagonist and a manic, twisted killer - and if it comes with a strong spiritual backbone – bonus!

Wayne Thomas Batson’s foray into adult fiction, Ghost, has all of the above and then some.
Batson, better known for his young adult fiction (The Door Within Trilogy), has penned a page-turner (or screen-tapper for you Kindle users) that definitely isn’t for the kiddies. It’s an adult novel that delivers an intriguing, action-driven plot with a Christian worldview that isn’t the least bit preachy.

“Ghost” is John Spector, a mysterious investigator who shows up in the middle of desperate situations and administers a kind of justice that could be considered on the divine side.

In Ghost, Spector finds himself assigned to check out a string of grisly murders involving young women.  The killer, known as Smiling Jack, finds delight in photographing the girls getting their throats cut and downloading the murders on the Internet.  The FBI, several years earlier, claimed the photos a hoax.  But Spector and FBI Special Agent Deanna Rezvani believe otherwise.

In the land of corpse-strewn detective novels, Ghost follows protocol.  Bad Guy does really bad things and Good Guy chases bad guy down and is beaten up a couple times along the way.  But what makes Ghost such a great read is the supernatural theme.  Without giving too much away, let me say that John Spector isn’t your average Joe – for him, delving into the otherworldly is commonplace. There is a strong Christian motif here with no apologies.  Think of Ghost as “Rambo meets This Present Darkness.”

Ghost is an adrenaline-generating read, teasing us with clues to Spector’s identity until the final pages.

Tightly written and populated with intense characters, Batson’s latest delivers earthly action with unearthly thrills.  

This is one Ghost you’ll want haunting your bookshelf.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

The Face Of The Earth - Tedious Attempt at Romance and Suspense

Mitchell Brannon is waiting anxiously for his loving wife to come home after a conference.  He’s all set to fire up the grill, cook some steaks, and have a romantic evening with the woman he loves.

Problem is, she doesn’t show up. 

The last words he heard from Jill are on the answering machine - a message from a woman who obviously can’t wait to see him again.

So begins Deborah Raney’s latest novel, The Face of the Earth, a suspenseful romance of sorts.

As any good husband, Mitchell searches high and low and calls in the cavalry.  By his side is his next-door neighbor, and his wife’s best friend, Shelley.  She’s more than eager to help find her friend – especially since it means spending time with Mitchell.

To be fair, Mitchell and Shelley are Christians, and the core of the book is their struggle to keep each other at arm’s length while being faithful to Jill – who may very well be dead.

That’s fine for a couple chapters. But after pages of Mitchell and Shelley driving the back roads for days and months, agonizing over forbidden attraction, wringing their hands, and sighing heavily, I was begging for Jill to come back and end all the tedium.

Maybe it’s the fact that the characters are plain vanilla.  I couldn’t find much depth to them.  By the end of the book, I didn’t care if they got together or not.

The Face of the Earth certainly had the potential of being a tense page-turner.  However, it got bogged down with the “Can We Be With Each Other?” dilemma. Very little action outside of driving and driving and driving.  If only the plot, itself, would have had such drive.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Glenn Meade's Brandenburg - Nazis Are Back!

Deep in the steamy jungles of Paraguay, something believed long defeated begins to stir into a new life.  The time is right – and just when you thought it was safe to go back into Germany.

Glenn Meades’ newest, Brandenburg, has modern-day Nazis hatching evil plans for taking over the Fatherland in the sweltering heat of South America and in the wintery climate of Berlin.

The brutal murder of investigative reporter Rudi Hernandez in Paraguay raises some red flags for his cousin Erica Kranz and Joseph Volkmann, the man assigned to uncover the mystery behind Rudi’s death and a string of murders around the world, inexplicably linked to a group of influential Germans.

The web of espionage, terrorism, and politics is not easy to unravel in this cerebral thriller.  Meade doesn’t give anything away until the reveal in the last quarter of the book, and that’s what makes it such a intriguing read.  We know the Nazis are up to something – but what exactly is the plan?  Although brainy, Brandenburg doesn’t disappoint in the action – plenty of bullets and standoffs to please the most ardent action aficionado. 

Volkmann and Kranz may be a bit too brooding for my taste – both dealing with the weight of their family’s history – Volkmann’s father a concentration camp victim, Kranz’s father a commander in the SS.  Their relationship is at times cold and strained as they deal with the aftermath of their pasts.

Meades’ overview of Germany’s present political climate is a good backdrop to the action.  Discontent over unemployment, inflation, and the influx of immigrants creates a potential powder keg that’s just begging for the spark to set it off.  And the Nazis are all too happy to oblige.

Brandenburg is a smart novel that digs a little deeper into Hitler’s early life leading the Nazi Party and spins a suspenseful “what if” that will keep the pages turning well past midnight.

A courtesy copy of Brandenburg received from Howard Books in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Damascus Countdown - Frightening, Believable, and Quite a Ride

CIA operative, David Shirazi, has proven himself a trustworthy follower of the Twelfth Imam – a man who is the self proclaimed Messiah of the Muslim world.  His apparent eagerness to please has put him in a position to draw close to the leaders of the Arab world who have given their allegiance to the Imam.

But now David is on the run, with his team of special operatives, to locate missing nuclear warheads – playing a lethal shell game hoping to find to the nukes before Israel is incinerated in a fanatic-fueled firestorm.

Joel Rosenberg’s Damascus Countdown takes up where The Tehran Initiative left off, with Agent Shirazi rubbing shoulders with the Arab elite while trying to get information on the extremely dangerous plans of the mysterious Twelfth Imam.  

While Shirazi meets with a top aide of the Imam at the Jamkaran Mosque, the Israeli’s strike, determined to take out the nuclear threat to their safety.  An all out war has started in the Middle East, and Shirazi is in the center of it.

Rosenberg presents of view of Middle East politics liberally dosed with Muslim fanaticism that is truly hair raising.  And believable.  He knows his stuff.  It would not be a stretch to close the cover of Damascus Countdown and see similar events unfold on a CNN broadcast. 

Eschatology, both Muslim and Christian, is woven throughout this thriller with a validity that not only drives the plot forward but gives credibility to the spiritual aspects of the events that play out.  Rosenberg does not shy away from end time prophecy, nor does he back off from prominently displaying the faith of his Christian characters – especially David Shirazi, a recent convert to Christianity, who is not afraid to share his faith with the men with whom he is facing death.

The story flies forward at an incredible pace, with barely time to catch a breath.  The action in Rosenberg’s Damascus Countdown, like his previous books in this series (The Twelfth Imam, The Tehran Initiative), moves like an Israeli Air Force scramble.   You won’t be able to turn the pages fast enough.

Damascus Countdown is a tight political thriller populated with characters who are smart and gutsy.  It’s a nail-biter for sure but also inspires with its faith-filled message.  

Friday, February 15, 2013

The Art of Falling in Love - Heading Down the Love Path With Eyes Wide Open

As I write this review it is Valentine’s day – a day where the people who see themselves as the “Forever-Alone Crowd” will be curling up under an afghan with a pint of Ben and Jerry’s to watch The Notebook for the thousandth time, or will be hanging with other relationally-challenged guys to watch a Die Hard marathon.  It’s the day for singles to circle the wagons around their hearts and attempt to ignore the hearts and flowers.

It’s also a day where those who have embraced matrimony will either surprise each other with tokens of affection, or disregard the day entirely.

It is a day where love is either expressed with giddy anticipation or ignored with feigned apathy.
Overall, love is looked at as something that just “happens”.  It may last a lifetime, or it could fade.  It’s an emotion that we just don’t have any control over. 

If you fall into any of the categories above, and you’re feeling that love is just too fickle to trust, take heart.  According to relationship expert Joe Beam, there is a path to follow to fall in love – a path where you have complete control over each step you take.

In his recent book, The Art of Falling In Love: 4 Steps to Falling In Love, Staying in Love, Renewing Lost Love, Beam looks at the process of falling in love, demystifying it without making it seem clinical.

The Art of Falling in Love guides us on a journey down the “LovePath”- a relational road that takes a couple from attraction to acceptance, to attachment, and finally to the deep abiding love of aspiration.

Beam’s contention is that we all, at some point in our lives, head down the path, but how we proceed down that passage is our decision.  It does not have to be a journey that is arbitrary and out of our control.  It is a quest for true, abiding love that is gained by intentional and determined choices to love.

Beam’s use of the visual image of a path is helpful in charting your own personal journey.  It was useful to see where I was on the love path, and the book aided me in knowing what I needed to do to proceed to a higher level of committed love, or what some potential potholes were in the way, that might derail my travels down the path.

The Art of Falling in Love seems to be primarily written for married couples who may find themselves careening wildly off the path or waking up to the realization that somewhere along the way, they had taken a U-turn and are falling out of love.

The book gives every person struggling in a seemingly doomed relationship real hope.  The fact that the author, himself discovered the validity of this path after his own divorce from his wife, gives the book authenticity.  Wherever we are in our relationship – he’s been there too.  Considering he and his wife Alice remarried and are enjoying a relationship that is stronger than ever, certainly makes Joe Beam the poster child for the LovePath and The Art of Falling In Love.

So if you’ve been married for what seems forever, or contemplating heading into a relationship equipped to do this love thing right, buckle up and settle in for a ride down a path that will change how you love.

A free copy of The Art of Falling In Love was obtained from Howard Books in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, February 8, 2013

One Sunday - A Believable Story of Grace and Redemption

Miss Alice has fallen down the rabbit hole.  At least that’s how Alice Ferguson feels when she finds herself 40, pregnant, and living in Nashville – thousands of miles and a lifestyle away from her fast-paced vocation as a career-destroying tabloid editor from LA.

Because of complications due to the pregnancy, Alice determined that it would be best to move in with the baby’s father, a Southern-bred doctor determined to do right by her – and anxious to keep an eye on their baby.

But the move from the City of Angels to the heart of Tennessee isn’t sitting well with this west coast mover and shaker.  The switch from rubbing shoulders with the Hollywood elite to bed rest and baby showers is a hard adjustment.

And then there are the neighbors, Pastor Tim and LeChelle Jackson with their bevy of kids. When Alice’s doting fiancĂ© is out of town, she ambles over to the Jackson’s for LeChelle’s down home cuisine, and basks in the family’s love for one another – a love she had always longed for.

But along with the meals comes a generous slice of conviction from Tim.  Gentle and affirming, he also desires Alice to come to grips with her life and prods her to examine her relationship with God.  Finally, after successfully dodging several invitations to attend church with them, Alice gives in – if only to get them off her back.

One Sunday by Carrie Gerlach Cecil lays open the heart of a very lost, confused, and utterly wounded woman who hides her hurt beneath success and sarcasm.  Alice seems to have her life under control – even with an unplanned pregnancy, but as she sits through the Sunday service on the back pew of Bethel Church, memories she had buried begin to work their way to the surface, and she is faced with the pain caused by the life behind her and by the burden of choices she made.

Cecil crafts this story brilliantly.  Alternating between Alice’s acerbic analysis of each section of the Sunday morning service and flashbacks of her traumatic childhood and insecurity-driven adulthood, One Sunday allows us to look into a suffering soul who is trying to make sense of this Jesus thing.

One Sunday is never heavy handed.  Alice is a delight as a sarcastic, eye-rolling, self-centered mess.  I absolutely love her snarky attitude and her play-by-play of a contemporary Sunday go-to-meeting.  She made me laugh - and made me hurt for her too.  Alice’s journey back to God is authentic and at times earthy.  It is believable.

A novel with hope and humor, One Sunday will touch your heart with its story of grace and redemption. 

A courtesy copy of One Sunday was received from Howard Books in exchange for an honest review.