Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Misfits Welcome by Matthew Barnett


Misfits Welcome: Find Yourself in Jesus and Bring the World Along for the Ride by Matthew Barnett is the story of how God can use the "misfits" of society in huge ways if one will just surrender to Him. Barnett draws on twenty years as pastor of the Dream Center in Los Angeles to prove this premise.

Barnett shares of his own feelings of inadequacy and being a misfit when he started in the ministry as a twenty year old. He grew up the son of a megachurch pastor, which gave him no context with which to deal with the reality of life on the streets of Los Angeles. Using examples from his own life, as well as those of some of his staff (the majority of whom are former pimps, drug dealers, prostitutes, addicts, or from some other group society has deemed unreachable) Barnett shares stories of miraculous life changes that have occurred when people have given their lives, especially the parts that seem to not fit in and cause the most problems, to Christ.

Misfits Welcome is an easy read. The chapters are relatively short and since the content is more illustrative than instructive, it can be quickly read. I was impressed with Barnett's enthusiasm and complete faith in the concept he put forth. It's obvious this is an idea that has taken root in him, with some mind blowing results. The stories of change are very inspiring, and make even an occasional cynic like myself excited about what can happen if I can surrender the "misfit" parts of myself.

I recommend Misfits Welcome to anyone interested in seeing what God can do with a submitted life. Anyone already on that journey will be encouraged; anyone not sure if that's for them will be challenged. Either way, there is something for almost everyone.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook 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, November 17, 2014

Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong

Fields of Blood: Religion and the History of Violence by Karen Armstrong is a scholarly look at the correlation, or lack thereof, of religion and violence from the formation of the first primitive communities through today. Armstrong examines all religions, with a particular focus on Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

The first part of the book focuses on the formation of organized communities as well as the corresponding religion in various regions of the Eurasian continent. In every community, violence is first seen not when religion comes on the scene, but when people are organized into communities and resources become scarce, or a ruling group raises to the top and wants to keep their power. It was the forming of agricultural communities that allowed for a surplus of food, which allowed a small group from the community to control the surplus and in effect rule everyone else. It was only through violence that a surplus was maintained. Armstrong seems to find no direct correlation between religion and violence. Instead, in each community, both existed and fused and some later point.

Another key point is that religion as we see it now is not how it was viewed through most of history. There was no distinction between the sacred and the secular. All aspects of life were intertwined and therefore, while it may seem to us that there was a causal relationship between religion and violence, the ancient peoples who lived the events would never have seen things that way. The sacred was secular, and the secular sacred; to split the two and say strictly religious motivations, or strictly the competition for resources is what drove violence, would be as foreign a concept to them as the smart phone.

Fields of Blood is a thoroughly researched and well written examination of the topic of religion and violence. It is a scholarly work, and therefore may be a tad difficult to understand for the average man on the street. However, anyone willing to wade through it will undoubtedly learn something. Also, each religion is treated the same, without any of the reverence or acceptance of beliefs as truth that someone who practices that religion may have. This can be somewhat disconcerting for the devout reader. At the same time, being willing to think critically about one's own religion as well as others is a skill that can be useful in discourse and understanding. Armstrong shows no bias for or against any particular religion, so anyone willing to think outside his/her own box will benefit from her examination.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. 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, October 10, 2014

The Berenstain Bears God Show the Way by Stan and Jan Berenstain

The Berenstain Bears God Shows the Way by Stan and Jan Berenstain with Mike Berenstain has three separate stories involving the Berenstain Bear family and their faith. The three stories included are: Faith Gets Us Through, Do Not Fear, God is Near, and Piggy Bank Blessings. The first two deal with fear and the last one deals with saving money.

Those familiar with the original Berenstain Bears books will find familiar characters on the pages of these three stories. They story lines are similar to those one would find in the original series, though these three stories include elements of Christian faith and Bible verses. All three stories are written on level 1 of the I Can Read! system, which means they are written with "simple sentences for eager new readers."

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the Berenstain Bears characters, or anyone interested in Christian faith based children's stories.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook 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, October 1, 2014

Killing Lions by John and Sam Eldredge

Killing Lions: A Guide Theough the Trials Young Men Face by John and Sam Eldredge is the book form of a conversation this father and son pair had with one another over the span of several months. This time period included Sam's transition from the life of a college student to that of a newlywed. These were real questions Sam had and the answers his dad gave him.

The intent behind Killing Lions, besides the basic communication of information, is to provide some fathering to a generation of young men who so desperately need it. Sam is extremely blessed to have the kind of relationship he does with his father. Both he and John acknowledge this and hope to be able to share some of that through this book.

There is nothing earth shatteringly new in Killing Lions. Those who've read other works by Eldredge will find familiar themes and statements. What makes this one unique is the back and forth format that shows the conversation between the two authors. It gives the book a more casual feel; it really does feel more like one is eavesdropping on a conversation instead of reading a book. The real people and situations discussed illustrate the authenticity of these questions. Topics covered include love, money, work, and relationships.

This is a book written by men about the battles young men face. I am not a man, and therefore can't speak about its content in that regard. As a woman, this book did help me understand some of the thought processes and struggles I've seen friends face that I never quite understood. It helped give some meat to the bones of all the clich├ęs one hears about the differences between men and women. 

I'd recommend this book to any young man (in age or in spirit) who finds himself in need of advice or even reassurance that he isn't alone. Fathers guiding sons through this stage of life will also benefit from reading this. Women who want to better understand the struggles young men of this generation are facing will also benefit from reading this.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook 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, September 22, 2014

A Spy Among Friends by Ben Macintyre

A Spy Among Friends: Kim Philby and the Great Betrayal by Ben Macintyre is a fascinating read about the duplicity of the most successful double agent of WWII and the Cold War. This non-fiction account written in narrative style takes the reader on a journey through Philby's life as a career MI6 agent who sent every secret that came his way to Russian intelligence.

Philby lived an incredible life full of colorful characters. Macintrye chooses to frame his telling of this life with a friendship - that of Kim Philby and fellow MI6 agent Nicholas Elliott. Throughout their entire career, Elliott was Philby's most faithful supporter and friend, even during the later years that were full of suspicion and accusations. A Spy Among Friends, a title with a clever hidden meaning, traces Philby's development from a communist sympathizer in college to a full blown double agent whose deception led to hundreds of deaths and unsuccessful missions to thwart communism. For the first twenty or so years of his career, not one person suspected his deception as he moved up the ranks of MI6.

I have never heard of Ben Macintyre before, but after reading this, I am a huge fan. This wasn't just a good book; it was a great read. It was factual and informative, but read like a best-selling novel. Macintyre's choice to frame the story of Philby's life in his friendship with Nicholas Elliott makes the reader feel the impact of Philby's betrayal on a more visceral level. Though I knew the outcome from the start, I found myself amazed at the culture of MI6 that allowed Philby access to so many more secrets than he would have had from just his own work. This same culture averted suspicion from Philby and allowed him to escape several close calls.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in WWII or Cold War history, as well as anyone interested in spycraft or its history. I plan on finding Ben Macintyre's other books and throroughly enjoying them while also learning as much as I did while reading A Spy Among Friends.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. 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

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Dancing on the Head of a Pen by Robert Benson


Dancing on the Head of Pen: The Practice of a Writing Life by Robert Benson is a short collection of stories, wisdom, and advice about the art of writing. Benson has written close to twenty books in varying genres and about different subjects. In this book, he passes along some of what he's learned in his forty years living the life of  a writer.

From the beginning, Benson makes it clear that there are no right or wrong ways to approach being a writer. Every piece of advice he offers is just that - advice. He shares what works for him, and some general guidelines about finding what works best for each individual as a writer. He goes through the entire process of writing a book, from the initial capturing of an idea through all of the editing and trying to get it published. He offers just enough advice about each phase to get the reader started. He offers guidance while affirming that there is no right or wrong to get started; the point is to get started. 

As one who has always enjoyed writing, and often toyed around with the thought that there was a story inside of me worth sharing, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Dancing on the Head of Pen. It was witty, practical, and full of helpful information. It is broken down into easy to digest sections that can be referred back to if one is seeking guidance in a particular area. I'd recommend this book to anyone who has ever entertained the thought of being a writer of any kind. Whether that leads to a book, a blog, a journal, or even nothing tangible that no one else ever sees, this book is good for a writer's soul.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review. 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, July 22, 2014

Ex-Muslim by Naeem Fazal

Ex-Muslim: How One Daring Prayer to Jesus Changed A Life Forever by Naeem Fazal is the personal story of how a young Pakistani Muslim raised in Kuwait moved to America and became a Christian. Naeem Fazal followed his older brother America to attend college. At first extremely resistant to his brother's new found faith, three weeks into his stay he had what most Western Christians would consider a radical encounter with Christ that forever changed him.

It's always interesting to learn about other people's experiences, especially people from other cultures. Fazal's perspective on things that I don't even think about because they are so common to me are refreshing. It's not for me to comment on another person's story, but as far as the story in book form goes, it seems as though the content was stretched a bit; there is a lot of repetition. Also, the narrative is non-linear, which is sometimes confusing.

Overall, this was a good read, but not a great one. It will be of interest to anyone interested in personal conversion stories and or Muslim culture.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook 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, June 2, 2014

No Place to Hide by W. Lee Warren, M.D., Major, USAF (Ret.)

No Place to Hide: A Brain Surgeon's Long Journey Home from the Iraq War by W. Lee Warren, M.D. is a firsthand account of about four months of the Iraq war from the perspective of an Air Force trauma neurosurgeon. Stationed at Joint Base Balad, Iraq, Warren treated members of the U.S. military, members of the Iraqi National Guard and police force, and Iraqi civilians. Their problems varied from brain tumors to bullet wounds in the brain and varying degrees of destruction from IEDs.

Based on Warren's memories and almost daily emails home while deployed, No Place to Hide, is written in a fluid and easy to read style. Warren is extremely honest in his descriptions of what he saw and experienced and how he felt about it all. Some of the descriptions of the human destruction left behind by IEDs are horrific. He balances that with moments of hope and kindness that were able to life his spirits in the midst of tragedy. 

While Warren's account of his wartime experiences is not overtly "Christian," it does chronicle some of his struggles with issues of faith because of issues both at home and at war. It is also somewhat unique among war stories in that it is sanitized when it comes to language and actions. 

I enjoyed reading No Place to Hide. It was fast paced and descriptive. I would recommend it to anyone interested in medicine (specifically surgery), war accounts in general, or the Iraq war in particular.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook 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, May 16, 2014

When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman

 When We Were on Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over by Addie Zierman could be the story of the life of any number of Millennials one would meet on the street. While the story is a common one, the intensely personal and eloquent way it is communicated sets it apart as something special. Mrs. Zierman shares her journey from a 14 year old "Super Christian" to a thirty something recovering cynic, struggling to consistently engage the Evangelical culture she has alternately embraced and rejected.

I found several parts of Mrs. Zierman's journey that resonated with me. While our paths have not been exactly the same, we were a part of the same culture at around the same time, and the imprints it left on our life are similar. I applaud the brutal honesty with which Zierman shares her journey. I appreciate that she didn't try to tie anything in a nice neat bow or whitewash the ugly parts of her story. She understands the complexity of life in all of its ups and downs. Her retelling of her story is powerful because of that complexity.

When We Were on Fire comes with an author's note, a discussion guide, and an interview with the author. This book would be excellent to read individually or as a small group. While it's told from a distinctly female perspective, Zierman's story carries meaning for both men and women. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys personal narratives, is struggling with Evangelical Christian culture, or anyone open to the subject of faith and it how can shape one's life.

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

Passion: The Bright Light of Glory by Louie Giglio


Passion: The Bright Light of Glory by Louie Giglio is a collection of sermons based on "some of the most impactful messages ever delivered to Passion-goes over the years" (page 9). Along with Louie Giglio, there are chapters written by Francis Chan, Beth Moore, John Piper, Judah Smith, and Christine Caine. While each chapter has its own theme, the overarching theme is the same of that of the Passion movement as a whole: for Christians to live for His renown.

Anyone familiar with the Passion movement will find familiar content within these pages. This is truly a highlight reel of the movements last several years. It is a testament to the effectiveness of the Passion movement that though I have never been to a Passion event, I was in college when Passion started gaining traction and am thus very familiar with their overall aim. It was nice to read some of the sermons that have influenced my generation. Each chapter bears the style of its author, therefore some were easier to read than others. However, overall each chapter flows really well with the next as well as contributes to the main theme of the book. This isn't always easy to do with more than one author, but Passion: The Bright Light of Glory accomplishes it well. I recommend this book to anyone interested in the Passion movement, Christian living, or taking the pulse of the current young leaders in the of the Christian movement.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook 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, April 10, 2014

Crash the Chatterbox by Steve Furtick


Crash the Chatterbox: Hearing God's Voice Above All Others by Steve Furtick is a fantastic look at strategies Christians can use to drown out the voice of the enemy and listen solely to God, the Voice of Truth. Using scripture and many personal examples, Furtick explores four main areas Christians most face the incessant nagging of the enemy: insecurity, fear, condemnation, and discouragement.

I found many gems scattered throughout Crash the Chatterbox. It may be that I appreciated it more at this point in my life than I would have in others, because the topic is something I've been actively dealing with over the last year. However, there are plenty of helpful truths and strategies for anyone in this book, because we all face one of the big four in various areas of our lives. Furtick's writing is extremely accessible and relatable, as he is quite honest about his own struggles and victories in this arena. This is one of the best books I've read on the topic of controlling the thoughts we allow to influence our life. The truths are simple, yet profoundly life changing if applied.

Furtick includes a section by section discussion guide at the end that the reader can use to dig deeper into the subject in his/her own life, or that can be used in a group setting. The overall appearance of the book is aesthetically pleasing. Also, it is broken into very manageable sections which helps if one only has a few minutes at a time to read. The key thought of each chapter is displayed at the end in a giant, eye grabbing chat bubble. I'd recommend this book to every Christian, and even non-Christians who are interested in seeing the difference the power of Christ in one's life can make.

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

Friday, March 21, 2014

Christian Faith in the Old Testament by Gareth Lee Cockerill

Christian Faith in the Old Testament: The Bible of the Apostles by Gareth Lee Cockerill is a good book for what it is, but how it labels itself is somewhat misleading. The publisher's blurb and back of the book description both make it seem as though this book will help understand how certain events in the New testament have roots in the Old Testament. Or maybe how Old Testament prophecies or events are fulfilled in the New Testament. Instead, Christian Faith in the Old Testament is pretty much just a survey of the Old Testament.

Though I was disappointed that it wasn't quite what I expected, Christian Faith in the Old Testament is a very comprehensive and easy to understand. It contains many charts and figures that help solidify themes in the reader's mind. There are two appendices in the back - one contains historical evidence supporting the closed cannon of the 39 books in the Old Testament. The other appendix includes all of the charts and figures from throughout the book combine into one. Scripture references are all throughout the book, so the reader is always sure at what point in scripture the author is discussing. The overall themes of scripture are stated as well.

Overall, I'd recommend Christian Faith in the Old Testament by Gareth Lee Cockerill to anyone studying the Old Testament. This book would have been a huge help in my Old Testament survey class in college.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookLook 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, March 5, 2014

The Global War on Christians by John L. Allen Jr.


The Global War on Christians: Dispatches from the Front Lines of Anti-Christian Persecution by John L. Allen Jr. is an in-depth look at the growing trend of the persecution of Christians world wide. The book consists of an overview of five regions of the world: Africa, Asia, Latin America, The Middle East, and Eastern Europe, as well as a look at five prominent myths associated with the global war on Christians, and the consequences and possible responses to the overall problem.

Allen's background is as a speaker and journalist for various national and international publications, most predominantly the National Catholic Reporter. His background as a journalist is clear in his style of writing. The Global War on Christians consists mainly of facts and figures. While there are several examples and anecdotes to help push each point home, the entire book reads more like several very long articles joined together, rather than a self-contained book. This sometimes made it tedious to read for more than fifteen to twenty minutes at a time.  The other thing that made it difficult was the sheer number of facts, figures, and examples; reading this often felt like drinking out of the proverbial fire hose.

However, while it was difficult to read for long periods of time, the strength of Allen's journalistic background shines through in the depth of his research and the willingness to discuss and examine his word choice. The Global War on Christians has a twenty-two page introduction dealing with the possible objections to and reasoning behind his choosing the word "war" to describe his topic. In this introduction, he also discusses the difference between a "war on religion" and a "war on Christians," explains the silence about this topic both inside and out of the church, and ends with a call to action even before the first chapter.

Allen's passion for his topic is clear throughout the entire book. His diligence in research is evident, and his arguments are fair and easy to understand. This book isn't for everyone. it is a semi-difficult read both in content and style. However, its an important topic, and for those willing to take the time to read it, The Global War on Christians does a thorough job of informing its reader.

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

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Stranger Things by Erin Healy


Stranger Things by Erin Healy is an engaging suspense story based around the sordid world of human trafficking. Each character is somehow connected to this world, including the main character, Serena, a high school biology teacher who finds herself in a huge mess after allegations from a student surface. The main action happens over the course of four days and is showcased from a number of points of view.

I was first exposed to Erin Healy through Burn and Kiss, the novels she coauthored with Ted Dekker. I was excited to see how she did on her own, and I wasn't disappointed. Healy took a difficult and somewhat unrecognized problem, that of domestic sex trafficking, and built and engaging story around it that puts names and faces to the problem. First and foremost, Stranger Things is a work of fiction and it accomplishes the goal of entertaining quite well. However, the greatest works of fiction don't just entertain, but instruct as well. The thought that drives the characters in Stranger Things that fight against domestic sex trafficking is thinking "you are my sister" about every girl they meet. It's easier to ignore massive issues when we think of them as such - as massive, faceless, nameless issues. When the issue is seen through the lens of a person with a name and a story however, it is much harder to ignore. This is what Healy has done while still entertaining and without being preachy about it. My favorite part of the novel is that she used a physical location as a "thin place" an old Celtic concept where the line between the physical and spiritual world is nearly non-existent. It makes the house almost as much of a character as the people.

Stranger Things includes a list of questions for those who read through it as a group to discuss. The cover is attractive and an accurate representation of what is inside. The characters and dialogue are realistic and interesting. Overall, I'd recommend this book to anyone who is a fan of fiction with elements of suspense, redemption, relatable characters, or that brings light to major problems that exist in the real world.

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, January 14, 2014

Free Book Contest

For those of you who like such things, I thought I'd pass this along. Moody Publishers is hosting a contest where the winner wins a year of books. What could be better? Not much. Let me know if you win!