Monday, December 16, 2013

Samson: A Savior Will Rise by Shawn Hoffman

Samson: A Savior Will Rise by Shawn Hoffman is one of the more difficult books I've ever read, because of the content. Most of the novel, which is based on true events, takes place in Auschwitz. Dr. Josef Mengele and his experiments are largely featured and several of the main character's family members are involved in them. The main character, Samson, and his family are amalgamations of people who were actually in the concentration camp at Auschwitz. The story follows Samson and his family from the incident that sends them to the camp, through the eventual demise of many of the characters, and the subsequent end of the war.

Hoffman does a good job of blending fact and fiction. While it is understood that the characters and the circumstances that brought them to the camp are fictional, everything else, including everything that happens in the camp is based on fact. When a particularly hard to believe incident occurs, Hoffman provides documentation that the incident actually happened in the form of a footnote at the bottom of the page. As familiar as I felt I was with the atrocities of the concentration camps, I was not prepared for some of the details of experiments Dr. Mengele performed. I appreciate the fact that Hoffman represented the historical figures with attention to historical detail.

The Holocaust in general, and what Dr. Mengele did in particular are difficult topics to discuss. Hoffman's creation of a fictional family that experiences these things actually helped ground them in reality for me. Some of them are so horrific and beyond human thought that had I read about them on their own, without the association of the narrative, I don't know that they would've had the same impact. Hoffman does a great job of providing historical fact while also telling a compelling story that raises important questions about faith and hope. While it is a difficult read that requires a mature reader, I would recommend Samson: A Savior Will Rise to anyone interested in WWII, the Holocaust, or simply important questions about how faith and hope are shaped among the worst of circumstances.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Forever Friday by Timothy Lewis

Forever Friday by Timothy Lewis is an enchanting story of the lifelong love of Gabe and Huck Alexander. Adam Colby, an estate broker, stumbles across albums filled with weekly postcards from the Alexander's sixty year marriage, each with an original poem written by Gabe on the back. Recently divorced and intrigued by a love that seems to eclipse anything he has ever experienced, Colby seeks out the only person who can help him fill in the gaps of the Alexander's story, their long time housekeeper's daughter Yevette Galloway.

The story of Gabe and Huck's love is told by Yevette to Adam in flashbacks told from both Alexanders' perspectives, though mainly through Huck's. Through this retelling, both Yevette and Adam discover some truth they've been seeking. Each chapter that tells the Alexander's story begins with one of the poems found on a postcard, as well as a place and date. Most of the story involves their early years, though the last four or five chapters cover stories that occur several years apart until Gabe's death.

I'm not generally a fan of romantic fiction of any sort, in any medium. However, the constancy of a man writing his wife a postcard every week for six decades intrigued me, which prompted me to request to review this book. I'm so glad I did. Forever Friday is a powerful story of the kind of love a man and woman can experience when they are completely devoted to one another and their relationship is founded in faith. This was a retelling of a simple, rich, and powerful romance without any of the sap and frivolity that ruins many other stories. I'd recommend this book to anyone who enjoys romance stories, simple stories of how people relate to one another, or anyone interested in the history of the Houston area in the early 1900s as this is where the majority of the story takes place.

I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Heart Failure by Richard L. Mabry, M.D.

Heart Failure by Richard Mabry is a suspense story with a minor romantic theme. The main characters are Dr. Carrie Markham and Adam Davidson, who are newly engaged. A drive-by shooting in the first chapter sets off the action that finds Carrie and Adam fighting for both their relationship and their lives. Adam believes it is because of a secret in his past that even Carrie doesn't know about. However, as the violence continues and both of them seem to be a target, the mystery deepens. Adam and Carrie both take steps to figure out what is going on so they can move on with their lives.

Though Heart Failure is not edge of your seat suspenseful, it is fairly entertaining and keeps the reader guessing. There are enough red herrings thrown in that do a good job of obscuring the truth of who is behind the attacks and why until the end. Adam and Carrie share equally in the narration, with the perspective sometimes shifting mid-scene. The balance provides good character development and gives the reader insight into both main characters and their thoughts and motivations. The other characters are entertaining and add to the uncertainty both the main characters and the reader feel as the story progresses. The faith of both main characters is developed as more of a background theme than a dominant one. The romance between Adam and Carrie is a key part of the story, though I think calling Heart Failure a romantic novel would be a stretch.

I'd recommend Heart Failure by Richard Mabry to anyone who enjoys a solid story with some twists and turns. Those who enjoy reading novels told from one than more perspective will especially enjoy this. There is a little something for those who enjoy suspense, a touch of romance, or modern day stories.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Friday, September 27, 2013

Hopelifter by Kathe Wunnenberg

Hopelifter by Kathe Wunnenberg is a mixture of advice and encouragement about the powerful ways God can work in the lives of women who offer hope to one another. The first part discusses what hope is and the different arenas in which it can be found such as people, places, or objects. The second part discusses ways to overcome discouragement, the need to offer hope to those who usually fill that role, and the importance of spreading hope. The third part is a collection of 100 unique ways to offer hope in common situations women face. There is also a discussion guide and a collection of Bible verses about hope included in the back.

Having founded and run Hopelifters Unlimited, an organization dedicated to spreading the hope of Christ in the lives of women, Kathe Wunnenberg is uniquely qualified to offer advice on the subject of hope. Many women want to help one another and offer hope and encouragement during a difficult time; however, many find it difficult to know what to say or do in the face of a situation that is so daunting and sometimes unfamiliar. Another thing that makes Wunnenberg a great source of information on this topic is the fact that she has gone through many of these situations, including miscarriage, adoption, and the loss of a job among others. Wunnenberg openly shares her struggles and what was helpful to her during these times.

The 100 Recipe's of Hope are the most unique feature of this book. Almost every one is written by someone who has experienced the situation being addressed. (The rest are written by women who have been directly involved with someone who has). Each recipe offer a simple, yet creative way to bring a bit of light to a dark situation. Oftentimes, the most difficult step is the first one. Having such  a solid starting place to launch from will help many women come up with even more creative ways to offer hope to those around them.

Overall, Hopelifters is a fantastic resource for anyone, but especially women, who has ever wanted to reach out to someone but just didn't know how. Wunnenberg's honesty about her own struggles, and the numerous examples she shares of how God has moved in her life as well as the lives of those around her make everything discussed very accessible and easy to grasp. I'm excited to put some of what I read to use, and I encourage any woman who has ever needed a little jump start in offering hope to someone to keep a copy of this handy.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Monday, August 19, 2013

The Living Room by Robert Whitlow

Breaking out of his normal legal thriller genre, Robert Whitlow's The Living Room tells the story of the dreams of Amy Clarke and how they affect her family life and work. Amy is a mother and wife who used to work as a legal secretary. Over the last couple of years, she has stayed home to write inspirational romance novels. The source of these novels are special dreams she has had since childhood where she is directly in the Lord's presence.

When the reader meets Amy, she is finishing her second novel and her life enters a time of flux. She goes back to work part time, her daughter faces a new threat at school, and her dreams change from something she can keep private, to something that directly get involved in the lives of those around her.The Living Room tells the story of this time in Amy's life.

The Living Room is a pretty good read. It has the same kind of tension that Whitlow's legal thrillers have that keep the reader guessing what will happen next. However, the story, characters, and dialogue are not as organic and natural feeling as they are in Whitlow's other novels. It was obvious he was out of his element writing from the point of view of a housewife. I don't think it is because Amy is a woman while most of his other novels feature a male as the protagonist; his Tides of Truth trilogy has a female lead and is just as good as any of his other stand alone novels. I can't quite put my finger on it, but for some reason, even though it is still a quality read that I would recommend, The Living Room lacks the natural flow that is normally one of Whitlow's strongest assets.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale by Ian Morgan Cron

Chasing Francis: A Pilgrim's Tale by Ian Morgan Cron is a combination novel/mini-biography of St. Francis of Assisi. At the beginning of the study guide included in the back, Cron writes, "Chasing Francis is written in a genre called wisdom literature, which is a delicate balance of fiction and non-fiction, pilgrimage and teaching." I had never heard of wisdom literature outside of ancient texts, but after reading Chasing Francis, I found myself wishing there were more examples in the modern world.

Using the meltdown, pilgrimage, and restoration of the faith of his main character, Pastor Chase Falson, Cron gives the reader a look into the life of St. Francis. Chase finds many similarities between the state of the church during Assisi's time and how it related to the world, and the state of the church and how it relates to the world today. Assisi and his teachings were thought to be radical and out of touch with the establishment of his day, but his willingness to simply take what Scripture says and obey it without trying to find a deeper meaning, drew thousands and helped renew their faith in, and relationship with, their Creator. This resonates with Chase who experiences his own restoration through learning about St. Francis.

The story of a pastor burning out and finding restoration is an effective vehicle to teach the reader about St. Francis, which is what Cron was intending to do from the beginning. There are large excerpts from many books about St. Francis, and much of the dialogue is about his life as well. The way it is intertwined with the story is seamless and not at all burdensome. In the back, Cron provides a chapter by chapter study guide that the reader can use to further study the life of St. Francis, and see how what he believed can impact his/her life. There is also an extensive bibliography included for anyone interested in reading other works about him.

Chasing Francis provides an enjoyable reading experience that includes the profound insight and sharp wit that made Cron's memoir Jesus, the CIA, My Father, and Me a bestseller. Coupled with the life and lessons of one of the church's most beloved saints, I'd recommend Chasing Francis to just about anyone. It will appeal to readers of various genres, and at barely over 200 pages, is definitely worth the investment.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Monday, May 6, 2013

Hitler's Cross by Erwin W. Lutzer


 Hitler's Cross
Hitler's Cross by Erwin W. Lutzer is  about the church in Germany during the rise and reign of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi party. It traces the historical, social, economic, and political circumstances that shaped Germany during the post WWI era and allowed Hitler to start WWII.  The church's silence and inaction during this crucial time in world history is examined in light of the aforementioned factors, as well as the spiritual climate that allowed such a shocking lack of engagement with the world.

Lutzer, a pastor and theologian, structures his book in a logical, chronological order. He examines the history of the German people and the German church which helps explain the state both were in when Adolf Hitler and the Nazis came on the scene. The book is set up as a conflict between two crosses and two saviors: Christ and the cross, and Hitler and the swastika. Lutzer shows how Hitler and the swastika came to reign over Christ and the cross in Germany for a period of time. However, he makes sure to point out that God was always in control and that He was and is the ultimate victor. The swastika may have "reigned" for a bit, but Christ and the cross were never beaten. This is mainly highlighted through the life and efforts of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Confessing Church.

Overall, the book was OK. I was a bit taken back by the preachiness of the commentary about modern day America and the parallels the author sees between now and Nazi Germany. I expected more of a straightforward historical account, and found the continual interjections somewhat disrupting. Other than that, Hitler's Cross contains good information, and I would recommend it to anyone interested in WWII, church history, or sociology.

I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Moody Publishers Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Friday, March 22, 2013

The Searchers by Joseph Loconte

The Searchers by Joseph Loconte is an examination of faith and doubt using the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as the unifying thread of the book. Using examples from history, film, and his own life, Loconte discusses the role of doubt in faith and how the truth and power of the resurrection is the defining event of Christian faith, both then and now.

The Searchers is a good read with some well made points, but I am disappointed with it for two reasons. One is that I feel the description provided on the back cover is slightly misleading. I expected this to be more about the story of the disciples on the road to Emmaus - more of an in-depth historical examination of that time, place, and circumstances. Instead, the story of the road to Emmaus serves more as a common thread that ties each chapter together, in a sometimes tenuous way.

The other disappointing aspect is that the book was somewhat redundant. The first half of each chapter was good and had good information, but the last half dragged and repeated itself. Overall, I don't know that I would recommend The Searchers, but neither would I advise someone not to read it. Perhaps having a better understanding of what it is actually about would improve the reading experience.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Fearless by Eric Blehm

Fearless by Eric Blehm is the story of a daredevil, crack addict teen who became a member of the top special forces group in the United States military. Through God's grace, Adam Brown was able to become a husband, father, and special forces operator who gave the ultimate sacrifice for his brothers-in-arms.

Eric Blehm had unparallelled access to Adam Brown's friends and family, as well as primary source documents such as military records, court documents, and letters. This is obvious in his recounting of Brown's life, as he is able to make the reader feel as though he/she knew Brown personally. Fearless seems almost like a novel because of the easy flow with which it reads. The raw honesty of Brown's failures and struggles make it easy to relate to Adam, as well as to root for him. Knowing that his life will be cut short in an act of sacrifice for those he served with made each triumph Brown experienced that much more poignant.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading Fearless and getting to peek into Adam Brown's life. Blehm treats his life with respect and balance, something I think Brown would have appreciated. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in biographies, special forces, or the power of God's grace in the life of one who is willing to surrender to Him.

I received this book free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishers as part of their Blogging for Books book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace by Gary chapman and Paul White

The latest in Gary Chapman's best selling series about how to best express love to individuals in one's life, The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace changes gears a bit and helps one show appreciation in a setting where the word love may be misinterpreted or not be appropriate.

For this edition, Chapman paired with workplace psychologist Dr. Paul White to discuss ways appreciation can be shown in the workplace, as well as the effect appropriately directed and received encouragement has on workers individually and the workplace as a whole. Chapman and White discuss the various ways appreciation is shown and the importance of encouraging someone in a way that is meaningful to him/her. The five love languages are quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation, tangible gifts, and physical touch. Within these five languages, there are various dialects, or specific ways that are more meaningful depending on the person. For example, one worker may feel the most appreciated when receiving a private not of encouragement, while another may be more encouraged by a public word of affirmation.

Chapman and White are thorough in their treatment of each language of appreciation and how it can be expressed in the workplace.They give many helpful examples from the variety of field tests they've done with numerous companies throughout the nation, of varying sizes, services offered, and structures. The end of each chapter includes several questions under "Making it Personal" that help the reader apply the contents of each chapter to his/her life. There is also an "Appreciation Toolkit" in the back with helpful appendices on topics such as "How to Reward Volunteers" and "Acknowledging and Dealing with the 'Weirdness Factor'".

Overall I would strongly encourage any person in leadership over others in the workplace to read this book. The effects of positive and appropriate affirmation in the workplace cannot be overemphasized. Anyone from the CEO to the low man on the totem pole who simply wants to encourage those around him will benefit from reading Chapman and White's The 5 Languages of Appreciation in the Workplace.

I received this book free from Moody Publishers as part of their Moody Publishers Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255