Review Blog

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I have decided to include various book reviews on my website as an extra service for my readers. The books to be reviewed will include both those I have read in my ongoing research and those that someone has requested that I review for them. I hope my readers will enjoy this new offering.

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Keturah


by Lisa T. Bergren



“Keturah” – the first of the Sugar Baron’s Daughters series – by Lisa T. Bergren is perhaps the best fiction book I will read this year. Set in the enchanting and dangerous tropical setting of the sugar plantations of Nevis, this novel broaches the topics of abuse, adultery, and the place of women in the eighteenth century world. The book is much more thought-provoking than the usual Christian novel.

           Fresh from an abusive marriage, Lady Keturah Banning Thomlinson is determined to make her own way in the world without the need of a man. She has not become a brash, unattractive person however, but is still a sensitive woman – albeit one who knows she must find the strength within herself to carry on and save what is left of the family fortune for herself and her two younger sisters. Forging ahead to do what was not seemly for a woman in that era – traveling by ship alone to the Caribbean – Keturah faces a world inhabited by men who wish to keep her in her place.

           The novel is gripping and exciting, with the discovery of her father’s infidelity, a mudslide, a storm, a yellow fever epidemic, and incidences with a neighboring overseer up to no good. The excitement is tempered by Keturah allowing God’s spirit to work in her heart, softening it toward her father’s mistress and toward a childhood friend who wishes to help her. A step above other Christian novels, “Keturah” is a satisfying winner.

           I received this book from Baker Publishing in exchange for this review.

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Judah’s Wife


by Angela Hunt



“Judah’s Wife,” by Angela Hunt, is a novel about the Maccabee family during the so-called “Silent Years” between the two testaments of the Christian bible. The book brings out that God was still leading his people even though a prophet had not arisen in this time period, so he was not actually “silent” at all. Ms. Hunt took actual events and battles and fleshed out the women’s stories around these events.

Leah, Judah Maccabee’s wife, is a character to which the reader will feel immediately drawn. Her sad childhood home, filled with abuse, can touch the heart. It also shows the contrast of her father’s posturing to be religious in public, but then being abusive at home. Leah thus comes to her marriage a damaged person and desires only that her new husband will be a man of peace. Unfortunately, this is entirely the wrong time period in Israel for this to happen.

Leah’s position echoes the plight of women throughout the ages. For example, when she shares about her pitiful childhood, she felt her husband remained stubborn about wanting to fight for God: “A man who truly loved me would have been moved to take me in his arms and comfort me, but not even heartfelt tears had swayed his resolve.” As a result, she decided “to follow the example of countless women and hide my deepest feelings.” When Judah leaves to lead men into battle, Leah reacted the way we all do at times: “My lower lip edged forward in a pout as I crossed my arms. Part of me felt ashamed for resorting to such theatrics, but what was I supposed to do? I had tried reasoning with my husband, I had wept, I had begged, I had conceived a child in an effort to turn him from war. None of those things had worked, so why not throw a temper tantrum?” After the death of her child, Leah felt trapped in a marriage with a man who refused to be the husband she wanted.

         I will leave the reader to discover how Leah comes to a better realization of her husband and her place in God’s plan. The resolution is a good one, but the book ends on a sad note, simply because actual events happened that way. Ms. Hunt has completed a sensitive portrayal of a new marriage and of this time period in history.

          I received this book from Baker Publishing in exchange for this review.

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A Most Noble Heir 


by Susan Anne Mason



“A Most Noble Heir,” by Susan Anne Mason, has an interesting, if very predictable plot line. A lowly stable hand is discovered to be the son of an Earl and this changes his life. The major theme in the book is the stable hand’s love for a kitchen maid. This was acceptable when he was still working in the barn, but not when he is in training to be an Earl’s son. The question throughout the book is: Will Nolan stay true to his love for Hannah, or will he succumb to the temptations of the noble life?

        Nolan is determined to stay true, and he actually secretly marries Hannah before beginning his grooming by the Earl, his newly-found father. Despite having lived through a similar circumstance which did not turn out well, the Earl objects to the marriage and vows to have it annulled. Poor Hannah leaves the house when she discovers she is pregnant and says she wants to give Nolan room to make his decision: their marriage or his new life. The thing is, Nolan does not want to make that choice – he wants both. Hannah has misinterpreted something she overheard Nolan say to his father. The Earl puts a good spin on what Hannah has done by saying that, “Anyone who would sacrifice her own happiness to give her husband the opportunity to figure out his place in life is a worthy woman indeed.” However, later in the book, Hannah admits to Nolan that she needs to ask his forgiveness for “running away.”

        This particular plot line of someone running away from a relationship instead of trying to stay and work on it has been used too much, it seems to me. The characters always discover it was a mistake, so why don’t authors just dispense with this plot line and use something more productive, instructive, or interesting. Other than this flaw, “A Most Noble Heir” is a sweet, simple story of love overcoming odds and I am sure it will appeal to many readers who just want a “fun” story instead of a deep one.

        I received a copy of this book from Baker Publishing in exchange for this unbiased review.

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The Power of Meaning 


by Emily Esfahani Smith



“The Power of Meaning,” by Emily Esfahani Smith, has to be the best book I have read so far this year. Warm and engaging, it touches the deepest part of the individual and describes our dire need for meaning and purpose in our lives.

            Using both scientific research and personal examples, Smith almost appears to delve into the recesses of the reader’s mind as she explains why we feel the way we do and our desperate need to connect with others on our journey through life, and even through death. First, Smith discusses the crisis we have in our modern day – how our information technological world has isolated us from our fellow compatriots on the journey and then she shares what we can do to overcome this problem.

            We all desire a sense of belonging, a real purpose beyond ourselves, a need to share the story of our lives, and to experience moments of transcendence. With solid ideas of how to grow into these important elements of our emotional lives, this book is a must for everyone’s collection – a book to read more than once, to savor, and to use as a blueprint for a new life, full of meaning and purpose.

            I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for an unbiased review.

 

Smith, Emily Esfahani. The Power of Meaning: Finding Fulfillment in a World Obsessed with Happiness. ISBN: 978-0-553-44656-2. New York: B\D\W\Y, Broadway Books, 2017.

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Rogue Heroes

 

by Ben Macintyre

 

 

            Ben Macintyre tells the story of the founding and World War II missions of the SAS – the Secret Special Forces – of Britain’s war machine. David Stirling, whose original idea of a raiding force in the North African desert changed the course of the war, is highlighted, as are many other of the men who performed these gutsy raids in the African and European theaters of the war.

            Macintyre, in one place, describes the actions of the SAS as “war on the hoof, invented ad hoc, unpredictable, highly effective, and often chaotic.” Naturally, it proved hard at first to incorporate such actions into a standardized military structure, but once it was finally recognized how invaluable this type of fighting force could be, more backing from higher-ups was forthcoming.

            The story of the unit is told by Macintyre in all its colorful and thrilling escapades. He does not over-glorify the SAS, however, but is brutally honest about the failures, personality conflicts, and foibles of the people involved. The unit faced extreme hardships and these are detailed so as to amaze the reader with the determination and pure grit of those involved. One could not pick up a more dashing read nor one that grabs the reader’s interest any better than “Rogue Heroes.”

            I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

 

Macintyre, Ben. Rogue Heroes: The History of the SAS, Britain’s Secret Special Forces Unit that Sabotaged the Nazis and Changed the Nature of War. ISBN: 978-1-101-90418-3. Broadway Books (Crown Publishing Group), 2016.

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God of Tomorrow: How to Overcome the Fears of Today and Renew Your Hope for the Future


by Caleb Kaltenbach



“God of Tomorrow: How to Overcome the Fears of Today and Renew Your Hope for the Future” is a book well worth reading. Caleb Kaltenbach is a sensitive writer who has an understanding of different points of view and he is able to bring comfort to the reader in challenging times, as well as hope for the future of our society.

          The book addresses not our personal problems specifically (although what Kaltenbach says also applies to us personally), but focuses on the large-scale social changes that affect us all and give us a fear of tomorrow because of what we see transpiring in our society that appears discouraging to us. “I don’t believe God want us to have a toxic fear of the future or to get stuck in anxiety,” Kaltenbach says. Yes, our country is polarized in its politics. Yes, there is a great deal of racial tension at a time when our country is becoming more multiethnic, not less. Yes, our society reveals a lack of concern for hurting people. Yes, we now see a loss of civility in public discourse, with vile posts on social media. But, Kaltenbach reminds us that society has always changed and is always changing, and that change can represent newness, progress, innovative ideas, and positive emotions, not just upheaval, loss, and hurt.

          Kaltenbach tells the reader that we need to have a robust trust that God is still in control, has a plan, and is working out his plan in the midst of what is happening today – that all of tomorrow is not lost. The main theme of the book is what he calls “The God of Tomorrow Principle”: Since tomorrow belongs to God, we can graciously offer hope to people today. He reminds us that if we invest in the people around us, we can start changing the world, one relationship at a time. Our perspective of God being in control can be greater than any anxiety we may face. God is not afraid of tomorrow – he is already there.

          The only way to counter our fear of tomorrow, according to Kaltenbach, is to stop focusing on what tomorrow might deliver and surrender our fears to God’s unlimited power and uncontested reign. God is molding the events in society to serve a purpose that is greater than any one person or society, and keeping that in our minds will give us perspective on what we see on the nightly news. Society will change over and over, but God remains the same. With God at our back, we don’t have to spend time in unproductive worry. “We can boldly and graciously offer hope to people because God has created and prepared tomorrow and he will walk with us into it…I am convinced that the biggest implication of God’s sovereignty has for our lives today is hope.”

          “God of Tomorrow” is a book that offers real hope and real solutions for our concerns about the future of America and the world and calls for positive, affirming actions from the reader. Read this book and move forward into the future with confidence. I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for this unbiased review.

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Holding the Fort



by Regina Jennings



“Holding the Fort” by Regina Jennings is a charming Western story. The gospel message is explained clearly in the text and is woven well into the story, not appearing as an awkward add-on as it sometimes does in Christian novels. Written with humor, the story explores how one can feel the ridicule and humiliation received from others and still feel acceptance from God.

          Louisa Bell is in a precarious situation. She has been let go from her position as singer in a Wichita, Kansas saloon and she has nowhere to go and no way to support herself. She travels to see her brother, stationed at Fort Reno in Indian Territory as her only option, but on the way, another option is presented to her: she can take over for the governess that will not be arriving at the Fort. With her decided lack of education, this is the most challenging assignment she has ever faced. Her unconventional methods of teaching add charm to the story.

          Louisa’s antics of hiding that Bradley is her brother and of facing every day with two active and less-than-well-mannered girls, all while trying not to give away her big secret delight the reader. The major’s growing attraction for her threads throughout  the book, and the action is nonstop, with an Indian uprising, the major’s youngest daughter helping with peace talks, and General Sheridan showing up at the Fort. “Holding the Fort” is a very enjoyable book and a good reminder that God loves us all.

            I received this book from Bethany House Publishing in exchange for this unbiased review.

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Where We Belong


by Lynn Austin


I suppose the title of Lynn Austin’s new book, “Where We Belong,” to mean that we belong in God’s will, and that there we will be the happiest, as the sisters in this novel, Rebecca and Flora, prove to be. The novel begins in the Sinai Desert in 1890, and the majority of the book is a flashback from this point. Introduced as one of the sister’s reminisces, each flashback explains the background of the various characters, jumping to anywhere in the previous thirty years in the city of Chicago. This technique builds interest, but not suspense.

            The exotic settings in the book, and the danger encountered on the streets of Chicago and in the desert make for an interesting tale. I was pleased with the novelty of one of the sisters collaborating with a Cambridge scholar on a book, and eventually being respected for her contribution. I also enjoyed the search for ancient documents, both of which topics are of personal interest to me.

            The sister’s desire for exotic travel – especially Rebecca’s – comes in time to a climax of trying to convince Rebecca’s potential marriage partner to believe in the authenticity of the bible. Because of her interest in history, Rebecca could only marry a man who would listen to her ideas and allow her to research and travel, and because of her strong faith, Rebecca cannot accept marriage with a man who is not a believer. This dilemma is solved at the very end of the book in a most predictable, if perhaps not believable way.

            My only complaint about the novel is how it turns rather “preachy” toward the end. The adoptions by the two sisters are shown to parallel the adoption of believers into the family of God, and the second chances the adoptees receive also mirror God giving second chances. That would be enough to get the message across, but Austin also tries to give her readers ammunition to defend the gospel against intellectuals who attempt to explain what happened in our ancient texts. I was not convinced that Professor Dyk would have become a believer from the evidence that Austin has presented to him in the novel. This intellectual argument may have been a message that Austin really wanted to get across to readers, and I suppose I should applaud her for the attempt, but to me it fell flat. I found myself more convinced by Professor Dyk, who seemed to have the most rational argument. I would have enjoyed the book more if I had not felt by the end that I was in a classroom and should be taking notes, instead of in a charming escape in the desert searching for ancient documents.

            I received a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers (Baker Publishing) in exchange for this unbiased review.

Austin, Lynn. Where We Belong. ISBN: 978-0-7642-1762-3. Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

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Wellth: How to Build a Life, Not a Resume

Grow Your Happiness and Well-being


by Jason Wachob



             “Wellth: How to Build a Life, Not a Resume,” is a charming book described as a way to “grow your happiness and well-being.” It is simply written, to the point, basic, and helpful. Easily read in small bites, the book is replete with the real life insights of the author, Jason Wachob, who founded Mindbodygreen.

            Some of the ideas in the book are so simple, it seems amazing no one has put this together before. Wachob covers all areas of life in one-word titled chapters: Eat, Move, Work, Believe, Explore, Breathe, Feel, Love, Heal, Thank, Ground, Live, and Laugh. With handy quotes included from other knowledgeable persons, Wachob brings life into focus. He reminds the reader what is most important in life – one’s own mental, physical, emotional, and spiritual health, and also the value of helping others, where true happiness is found.

            The simplicity of the book is part of its charm. The reader is not bogged down with an excess of words, but is able to grasp Wachob’s basic concept as well as useful steps to achieve balance in a particular area quickly and effortlessly. “Wellth” is a book we should all take to heart. Instead of always reaching for more and more of what does not bring health and happiness, our lives would be truly enriched if we followed the principles outlined in this book.

            I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

             Wachob, Jason. Wellth: How to Build a Life, Not a Resume. ISBN: 978-1-101-90450-3. New York: Harmony Books (Penguin Random House), 2016.

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The Bravest You


by Adam Kirk Smith



             Adam Kirk Smith has written a new self-help book that may turn out to be a milestone in encouraging others to find their bravest self. In the book, Smith outlines a five-step Bravery Process™, and guides the reader through each of stage of the process: Complacency, Inspiration, Fear, Passion, and Bravery. With examples from his own life story, Smith shows the reader how to identify goals and passions and thus find the reason and the courage to fight these basic fears, common to all of us: Inadequacy, Uncertainty, Failure, Rejection, Missing Out, Change, Losing Control, Being Judged, Something Bad Happening, and Getting Hurt.   

             One of the main messages of the book is that few people realized that passion is the fuel behind bravery. Smith’s message is empowering in that he points out that we all have a responsibility to find bravery, because there are people out there who are waiting for us to fight our fears and to embrace our futures so we can be of some help in the world. The fact that someone out there would care about what we have to say – and that we could actually help them with living their lives – is an astounding statement for someone embroiled in fear to hear. With passion for others as the new focus of a person consumed by fear, the urge to be brave and help others will become more important to the person than their insecurities previously were. Smith reminds us that we are each a unique individual, with a unique perspective, and we each have something unique to give the world – and we are the only ones who can give it. Now empowered with a mission much larger than ourselves, we will have reached a place from which we can move forward – with gusto.

             One committed to bravery will be able to accomplish their dreams – this is the promise that Adam Smith brings, and it is a refreshing take on how to get moving away from fear and into the stream of life, making a difference for others along the way.

              I received a copy of this book in exchange for this review.

              Smith, Adam Kirk. The Bravest You. New York: Tarcher Perigee (Penguin Random House), 2017.       

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The Kindness Challenge:Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship

by Shaunti Feldman


             In the subtitle of her latest book, The Kindness Challenge, Shaunti Feldman (For Women Only, For Men Only, The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages) makes an audacious claim: that this book will improve any relationship in only thirty days. Feldman then goes on to prove this claim with down-to-earth, common sense points of action that the reader should already know, but often does not remember and more often neglects to act upon. That we even need a book to tell us to be kind to each other is a sad commentary on our modern society, but Feldman goes even further and encourages the reader to “take the 30-Day Kindness Challenge!” and try to make a change in our society, even offering a website with extra ideas to help the reader accomplish this.

            The Kindness Challenge is an extremely practical book, and one that the reader can actually find very useful. Feldman reminds the reader of the simple elements of being kind, especially to one’s spouse, which many of us have forgotten to implement in our relationships. In Part I of the book, she explains how much difference a little kindness really makes in the lives of others and how acting kindly will bring those same rewards back to the reader. She also points out ways in which we often don’t even realize we are being unkind – an eye-opening chapter. Part II begins the practical help section of the book which describes the Kindness Challenge as including three elements: saying nothing negative about the person; finding one positive thing that can be praised about the person each day; and doing a daily small act of kindness or generosity for the person. Naturally these elements sound very simple, but are harder to put into practice, so Feldman outlines ways for the reader to implement these ideas. The final part of the book has specific thirty day challenges for wives, husbands, and “anyone.”

            In all, this book is extremely readable, and the steps simple to follow. It is also self-evident that following The Kindness Challenge should improve one’s relationships as promised. If nothing else, following the steps outlined in the book will make the reader a kinder person, and improve his or her self-esteem.

             I received this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for this review.

             Feldman, Shaunti.The Kindness Challenge: Thirty Days to Improve Any Relationship. ISBN: 978-1-60142-122-7. New York: Waterbrook, 2016.        

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