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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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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How to Listen so People will Talk

 

by Becky Harling

 

 

            With touching honesty, Becky Harling shares her failures, which mirror our own, at becoming an active listener. She encourages us to truly care about others and to become more self-aware of our listening skills.

            Harling teaches us to honor the stories of those we meet, something to which I, as an author of veterans’ stories, can certainly relate. My task, of listening for hours as a veteran tells his story, is rather a case in point for Harling’s message. I treasure every moment of the experience, and value not only what I can learn from the veteran, but also the joy of letting another person be heard and valued. This is exactly Harling’s point.

            The reader of “How to Listen so People will Talk” is also reminded to stop trying to fix the problems of the other person, but instead to listen and let the person work out their problem by the conversation. Harling supplies ideas of questions to ask the other person to keep them talking, how to offer true empathy and validate the feelings of the other person, and how to notice one’s nonverbal cues that might discourage conversation. She offers suggestion for the reader to use during conflicts with others, reminds the reader to avoid distractions while speaking with another person, and above all – encourages the reader to be really available for others. If we could all absorb these skills, how much  more fruitful and pleasant our lives would be!

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

 

Harling, Becky. How to Listen so People will Talk: Building Stronger Communication and Deeper Connections. Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

 

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31 Proverbs to Light Your Path


                                                                                                                  by Liz Curtis Higgs



In 31 Proverbs to Light Your Path, Liz Curtis Higgs presents a devotional that is both concise and practical.

          Readers will be encouraged to actually complete this book, as each proverb is discussed in a format that is easily accessible and can be read in a time limit that fits with the modern woman’s lifestyle. After giving a brief, but in-depth devotion on a particular verse in the book of Proverbs, Higgs offers a short prayer – one that you can really pray without sounding false. Then Higgs provides the most innovative segment of the book: One Minute, One Step. In this segment, she assigns the reader one simple action to do with one simple thought to ponder.

          For perhaps the first time ever, a writer is really serious about giving readers a quality devotional that they can really use, and that they can really fit into their busy lives. Higgs should be applauded for her efforts in writing 31 Proverbs to Light Your Path.

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

 

Higgs, Liz Curtis. 31 Proverbs to Light Your Path. Waterbrook (Crown Publishing Group), 2017.

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An Inconvenient Beauty


by Kristi Ann Hunter



Kristi Ann Hunter’s latest novel in her Hawthorne House series, “An Inconvenient Beauty,” is a fitting conclusion to the series. The stalwart older brother finally meets his match – and this while he is trying to convince himself that another woman is the one for him.

         Griffith, the Duke of Riverton, has resisted matrimony while his siblings married, but now he realizes that the time has come for him to finally take a bride. He applies the logic and rational thinking he is known for in his choice of a life companion, only to be smitten – and quite heavily – with a girl who he feels would be most unsuitable. He discovers the secret that has kept her bound to a season of flirting with no serious commitment possible, and he solves her problem, opening the way for a relationship between them.

         With all the charm of an excellent Regency novel, “An Inconvenient Beauty” is a delightful read. Griffith’s character might be slightly overdone in the “smitten” department, but overall the book does a fine showing.

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

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The Dream Centered Life 


by Luke Barnett



“The Dream Centered Life,” by Luke Barnett, was not as helpful a book as I had hoped. Like many of those in ministry who write a book, his examples were almost all larger-than-life ones about large ministry goals. I, as do most other people, live on a simpler plane.

          Barnett shares that he sensed God wanted his church to become “the premier go-to place for training and participating in the arts” that “the entire state” looked to. This seems an unusual mission for a church. Also, the church was to train 100,000 pastors and leaders through their annual conferences over the next ten years; build an $8 million extension to the church building and be debt free by 2023; have a greater emphasis on small groups – 50,000 people attending 5,000 small groups; and for the church to have a multi-site campus. Those are all really big dreams, but the average reader will have a hard time relating to this type of dream.

          Other interesting concepts are contained in the book. One is that “God conceals our dreams from us to see who is eager and energetic enough to search them out.” Next, Barnett states that the bible contradicts the Buddha’s teachings that suffering comes from desire, so desire must be eliminated. God apparently gives people desires and then fulfils them, having very specific dreams for each individual life. We can also be assured that God does financial miracles to support the vision, even going so far as to believe that “when a dream comes from God, he pays the bills.” Barnett also states that we have to decide whom we are to fear: other people’s disapproval or God’s; or we will make our decisions out of fear. One of the strongest statements Barnett makes is that “dreamers fast.” He is convinced that “the only way to receive and achieve our highest dreams is through fasting and prayer.” Later he says that the greatest power any dreamer has is prayer.

          The reader is encouraged to push through the fear and act anyway, to fight every round and not give up, to declare your dreams to those around you or you will have “shallow faith,” and to make friends that push you in the right directions. This may be the best advice this book has to offer, along with this: “As awesome as your dream is, don’t confuse it with your identity.” In other words, don’t depend on your dream to make you accepted, appreciated, and significant. But isn’t that just what all of us want our dreams to do? I suppose that there is some encouragement here in “The Dream Centered Life,” but the book seems to encourage the reader to live in a pipe dream that God will “pay the bills” for our dreams.

          I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books and Waterbrook for my unbiased review.

 

Barnett, Luke. The Dream Centered Life. ISBN: 978-0-7352-8965-9. Waterbrook, 2017.

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 Insight


by Tasha Eurich



           Tasha Eurich has written a book that is helpful on a personal relationship level as well as on a business level. The knowledge shared in “Insight: Why We’re not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life” is detailed, practical, useful, and freeing. We can finally become aware of areas where we don’t know ourselves as well as we think we do, and we can finally do something about it, thanks to this new work by Eurich.

            Eurich begins by explaining how important it is for us to be self-aware and how the tools we have been using up to this point to become self-aware don’t really work. This in itself is valuable because we can stop beating ourselves up about failure in areas that won’t count anyway. Next, Eurich shows how our modern culture of “self” blocks our insight. After reading this chapter, it would be hard to post selfies on the internet, should one have been used to doing so. Eurich then goes on to explain tools that really will help guide us to self-awareness.

            “Insight” is a book that you can figuratively take with you to your next business meeting, to your next discussion with a loved one, and to the next time you are on social media. With its depth of understanding and practical “how-to’s,” this book can be a game-changer for you.

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

Eurich, Tasha. Insight: Why We’re not as Self-Aware as We Think, and How Seeing Ourselves Clearly Helps Us Succeed at Work and in Life. Crown Business, 2017.

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The Tea Planter's Wife


by Dinah Jefferies



What words can be used to describe “The Tea Planter’s Wife,” a novel by Dinah Jefferies? Evocative, mysterious, enchanting, engrossing, colorful, emotional, and deeply moving come to mind. “Very hard to put down,” is one phrase to describe the book; one wishes the story to continue long after the last page is read. Others have used the words “spellbinding” and “lushly descriptive” and these are most accurate descriptions. There are just not enough good words to describe “The Tea Planter’s Wife.”

            The reader is quickly drawn into 1920’s Ceylon and the high hopes that begin Gwen Hooper’s marriage to Lawrence Hooper. Some of the resultant difficulties are common to all married couples, but others are truly part of the scenery and politics of the time period. One is immediately part of the characters’ lives with none of the “lag” often found at the beginning of novels. The reader smells both the scent of tropical flowers and the dangers of an American socialite and a scheming sister.

            Set against a lush backdrop that never disappoints, with just enough mystery to keep the pages turning well past one’s bedtime, “The Tea Planter’s Wife” is a real winner.

            I received a copy of this book from Broadway Books in exchange for this impartial review.

 

Jefferies, Dinah. The Tea Planter’s Wife. ISBN: 978-0-451-49598-3. Broadway, 2017.

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How We Love: Expanded Edition

by Milan and Kay Yerkovich



How We Love: Expanded Edition (Discover Your Love Style, Enhance Your Marriage) is a marriage guide based on Attachment Theory. The authors, Milan and Kay Yerkovich,  begin by explaining how each of us is imprinted with a certain love style from our childhood experiences. The key question the reader is to ask oneself is: Can you recall being comforted as a child after a time of emotional distress? Approximately three-quarters of people cannot. Five love styles – that actually impair how one loves – are explained: the Avoider, the Pleaser, the Vacillator, the Controller, and the Victim. Then, the consequences of the different styles paired together in a marriage are discussed. The reader will likely recognize him- or herself in one of these styles.

            There is one problem with How We Love: Expanded Edition. It is that the reader is reminded at the end of all the chapters in the first half of the book to go to the workbook to get the help needed to work on the problem the chapter has introduced. This is rather annoying and one becomes frustrated that this thick book does not provide all the help needed without the reader having to spend more money.

            The book ends with a section called “Changing How We Love” and in this section the reader learns that the answer to overcoming our learned love-style behavior is the “Comfort Circle,” in which the couple learns to seek awareness; engage the other; explore by truly listening to the other spouse, then clarifying and validating what the spouse has said; and either resolving or tabling the emotions or problems to another agreed-upon time. The reader is encouraged to spend time holding the spouse and vice-versa in order to nurture by touch. While this may feel uncomfortable at first, the reader is assured it will soon become a very special time in which the couple will feel tender emotions toward their spouse that perhaps have not been felt in a long time.

            It might be difficult to get some partners to perform some of the skills recommended in the book, especially without paying a counselor and thus feeling obligated to do so, but if the skills in the book were actually practiced by the reader and his or her spouse, it appears that the techniques described would be helpful in enriching the marriage.

            I received a copy of this book from Blogging for Books (Crown Publishing Group) for my unbiased review.

 

Yerkovich, Milan and Kay Yerkovich. How We Love: Expanded Edition. Waterbrook, 2017.

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The Promise of Dawn


by Lauraine Snelling




Lauraine Snelling’s new book, “The Promise of Dawn,” the first in the “Under Northern Skies” series, combines some predictable elements. The uncle who invites the Carlson family to immigrate to America from Norway to help with his ill wife and logging business is predictably and consistently the “bad guy” and just barely comes around to see the error of his ways in the last few pages of the book. Like many similar novels, the reader has to put up with an unbelievably-unconvincing amount of ugliness from his character all throughout the book, and then hardly has time to enjoy his about-face before the book closes.

          Another predictable element in the book is that the reader is able to see clearly what is going to happen next. The family is using a ladder to get up into the loft area to sleep…the stairs have not been built…the wife is heavily pregnant….no imagination is necessary to guess what is going to happen.

          Now for the frustrating elements in the book. Nine-tenths of the book is an endless recitation of chores. Seriously: kitchen chores, barn chores, garden chores, logging work. Although the explanation of all these tasks is somewhat interesting, very little else happens in most of the book. The point is obviously to make the reader understand how “bad” the “villains” – the aunt and uncle – are. However, surely a little more plot could have been added into the book. I found myself tired after reading chapter after chapter of nothing but work, work, work. By the middle of the book, I felt like saying, “I GET it already; they are working themselves to the bone, like it says on the back cover.”

          The other frustrating element is that no explanation is ever given for the uncle’s behavior. Numerous times in the book one of the other characters almost asks the aunt or a neighbor why he acts the way he does and what he has done to offend the entire community, but they never do ask. After putting up with his awful behavior through the entire book, the reader wants the satisfaction of an explanation, at least.

          After saying all this, I have to say that I almost still enjoyed the book anyway. There was some turn-around in the aunt’s behavior and that was rewarding for the reader. The wife’s character was developed enough that one could sympathize with her, but the father’s character was not really developed enough to engage the reader. It is a credit to Snelling that one could find some satisfaction in reading a book that was largely a list of chores.

          Bethany House (Baker Publishing Group) provided me with a copy of this book for my unbiased review.

          Snelling, Lauraine. The Promise of Dawn. ISBN: 978-0-7642-1896-5. Bethany House, 2017.

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The Chamberlain Key


by Timothy P. Smith



The first chapters of Timothy Smith’s book, “The Chamberlain Key,” read like an exciting mystery novel. One can hardly put the book down for wanting to know what Smith might discover next. Later, a Madonna figure is introduced, and the plot starts to sound a little more “typical.” Then, as suddenly as a windstorm delivers its last fierce blow and then fizzles away, so do the last two chapters of this book fizzle.

            After all, a novel would have a slam bang ending, and “The Chamberlain Key” just does not. These last two chapters are when the reader realizes that this has not just been a great story, but that Smith is really serious, and he has led the reader through an adventure just to leave her with a little sand slipping through her fingers and nothing to hold on to. No dramatic disasters or salvations are predicted, as one would expect. Instead, one is warned about Anti-Semitism and a repeat of Hitler’s terror regime. A good warning that should be heeded, of course, but not what one was expecting – such as a statement that “the world will end on ____.”

            There are also parts of the story which seem a little arrogant, and Smith knows they will seem so and makes every effort to tell the reader that this story applies to all people. His own birthday is the only full date with - day, month, and year - that he can find encrypted in the text. Without a computer program, I cannot verify if this is true, but it would seem incredible if it were. Smith also mentions where previous decoders of bible encryptions went wrong, so the reader will thus believe he has found the correct way to do this.

            Smith hopes his story will do for the reader what it has done for him: deepen and broaden one’s appreciation for the bible as the word of God. With me, this goal has fallen short of the mark. Maybe with you, it will be different.

            I received a copy of this book from Crown Publishing in exchange for this honest review.

  

Smith, Timothy P. The Chamberlain Key: Unlocking the God Code to Reveal Divine Messages Hidden in the Bible. ISBN: 978-1-60142-915-5. Waterbrook (Crown Publishing), 2017.

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The Captain's Daughter


by Jennifer Delamere



“The Captain’s Daughter” contains the elements of a good story: some mild suspense; an awakening love story; a character’s dash of confidence provided by her faith; a developing interest and resultant new life direction; and a resolution of inner turmoil. Then why exactly did the book’s story line seem to fall flat? It is hard to say.

            The book opens with the main character escaping a bad situation, only to find herself in an even more precarious situation on the streets of London. She shows some pluckiness and faith, and escapes the trap. Then, for 200 pages or so, the story lines flounders. The Captain’s daughter finds work and slowly, slowly discovers her interest in the world of the theater. Her relationship with the man the reader just knows she will end up with slowly, slowly builds. Two hundred pages is too long to wait for these events to occur. Then, finally, the book wraps up – not with a major revelation such as the reader is expecting, such as “the Captain comes home” – but with a slow fizzle: the couple get together, but he is going to follow her new, barely started career. The reader is left wondering how long this will actually last.

            While a “nice” book and an easy read, the story lacked colorful, evocative descriptions of London or the theater. The theme of the main character being from George Muller’s orphanage was not played up to the level it could have been. The story line moved much too slowly – too much like real life does. And lastly, the title of the book did not really tie in to the story at all. Sadly, “The Captain’s Daughter” was a disappointment.

            I was provided with a copy of this book from Bethany House Publishing in exchange for this unbiased review.

 

Delamere, Jennifer. The Captain’s Daughter. ISBN: 9780764219207. Bethany House, 2017.

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Women Who Move Mountains


by Sue Detweiler



I have mixed emotions about the book, "Women who move Mountains," by Sue Detweiler. I have done many bible studies and read many Christian books. Because of this, Ms. Detweiler's book didn't really tell me anything I didn't already know. If I had not already heard the ideas she presents here, I am sure I would have been very excited about the book and its unique approach.

       As a matter of fact, I believe the unique approach is one of the strongest features of this book. Everyone knows that a study guide to accompany a book can be wonderful, but often, we neglect to actually finish the guide. We read the book and find excuses not to look up the scriptures or think through the questions. Detweiler's choice to alternate chapters in the book, the first expounding a topic and including a touching story of a woman who faced the issue, and then the second chapter incorporating a bible study right into the text, with commentary, brings the study forward in a way that is more unforgettable. The end of the book includes a "gift" - 21 Days to Spiritual Breakthrough:  short devotions that encourage you to journal, meditate and pray; Guidelines for Taking a Spiritual Retreat; and Guidelines for Fasting. The topics covered include: belief, rejection, brokenness, shame, anxiety, sadness, perfectionism, entitlement, timidity, and disappointment.

     Women who move Mountains is a practical, includes-everything-you-need-but-your-bible type of book that you can really USE to gain boldness, confidence, and grace in your faith journey.

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

            Detweiler, Sue. Women Who Move Mountains: Praying with Confidence, Boldness, and Grace. Bethany House, 2017. 

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True to You


     by Becky Wade   



             “True to You” is truly a delightful book. The characters are warm and well-developed and the last part of the book reveals an incredible plot twist that turns this into a one-of-a-kind story.

            The reader gets to see Nora, the main female character, blossom after three years of trying to escape from an unhappy relationship by throwing herself into work and a PBS television series. While her star is rising, the reader gets to see the main male character, John, deal with a medical diagnosis and a search for his birth parents that could easily bring him very low. Although perhaps should have seen it coming, I didn’t – and the incredible circumstance that brings the two together in the end was a page-turner, and one that was heart-felt and sympathetically treated by the author.

            I especially enjoyed the book because of Nora’s interest in history, which I also share. In the setting of the story, I was reminded of a little historical village near where I live. As a Personal Historian, I also help people find their family histories and I felt I should take notes on the steps Nora took to help John find his birth mother. Becky Wade has triumphed with “True to You”!

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

           Wade, Becky. True to You. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House (Baker Publishing Group), 2017.

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Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth


by Holger Hoock



            Holger Hoock believes that America has forgotten the violence naturally inherent in the Revolution because it has been downplayed by later generations, or even completely rewritten out of our history. This has left us with an overly sentimental narrative of our origins, more nostalgic than realistic. He hopes that his new book, Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth, can correct this view of “martyrs rather than battle-bloodied warriors” as the founders of our country. Hoock feels that to understand the Revolution we must write the violence back into the story, and he aims to do so with Scars.

             By “violence, he not only means physical force and damage to property, but also threats, bullying tactics, and brutality to instill fear in people, which would then influence their conduct. He states that it was through campaigns of terror that the American Patriots enforced their policies toward the Loyalists who remained in the colonies during the war. Hoock mentions witnessing a series of monuments to American Loyalists while in England. The stories told by these monuments include Loyalists being brutally treated: hunted, humiliated, bullied, tortured, dispossessed, and lynched or driven out of the country – hence the remembrances in England, to where they fled. He wishes us to remember the psychological and physical violence inflicted on those who opposed the Revolution, by considering it America’s first civil war, and being “forced to confront the terror at its very core.” Not that the Patriots didn’t say almost the same things about the Loyalists – they did: accusing the British of plundering and destruction, battlefield massacres, rape, prisoner abuse, and deportation. Hoock says a “swirl of brutality swept up all sides.”

             As a German-born specialist in British history, “who did not grow up with the national myths of either Britain or America,” Hoock feels he is more qualified to see both sides of the story and bring a fresh outlook. He does seem to lean a little toward the British side, however, if one reads closely. No matter, one of his main theses is that those participating in the Revolution came to experience its inherent violence as a defining characteristic that gave meaning to their struggles. He says the war required violent escalation and terror to sustain itself and to combat domestic enemies. Hoock adds that the prize of enjoying liberty and independence justified this fierce treatment of fellow Americans (Loyalists) for the Patriots. Statements such as these would make the savvy reader question whether Americans would put up with such actions to secure independence in the twenty-first century. Maybe now we would choose to remain British subjects and work within the system in order to avoid the violence.

             Hoock suggests that the memory of blood shed at the hands of the “cruel British” helped the victors identify as Americans. Patriots were able to display their old scars as cause for national pride, but Loyalists had to recede from their scars in order to make a new life, and thus “a mantle of collective amnesia fell over the violence that Patriots had inflicted on their neighbors,” with little remembrance of the “threats, physical abuse, and imprisonment endured by thousands.”

             Hoock says that we should be mindful of the intrinsically violent nature of America’s “revolution and first civil war.” It should read to us as “a cautionary tale for the American empire, with its persistent impulse to intervene in other countries’ revolutions,” and its “quest for nation building in little-understood regions.” Americans should be more alert to the potential pitfalls of pursuing moral objectives by violent means and should take an approach to global leadership that is “more restrained, finely calibrated, and generously spirited.”

             Putting the violence back in the Revolutionary War will result in a “candid reckoning and honest remembering” that hopefully will allow for “proud, grateful celebration and for frank reflection on the ambiguities and the contradictory legacies” of the war, according to Hoock. Maybe. As a historian and an author, I am all for being honest in telling what happened in the past. But maybe we just need a few heroes in this modern day and maybe there is no real need to completely destroy the memories of our ancestors. For example, the women of the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution, knowing full well the ancestors they honor by their membership in the Society were not perfect, are doing what they can to support our current veteran heroes. Maybe that is enough honesty for modern Americans.

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

 

Hoock, Holger. Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth. ISBN: 9780804137287. New York: Crown Publishing, 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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Misused Stories in the Bible: Surprising Ways Popular Bible Stories are Misunderstood


by Eric J. Bargerhuff



            Eric Bargerhuff, in his newest book, “Misused Stories in the Bible: Surprising Ways Popular Bible Stories are Misunderstood,” explains that it is important to keep the bible stories familiar to many from childhood in context so they will not be misinterpreted; and that everyone from the casual reader to the serious student, should learn to interpret the bible using context and “all the aids and guides to faithful study.” Unfortunately, I was disappointed in the way Bargerhuff tried to fulfill this ideal. I expected to read a book with interesting insights discovered by nuanced translations of the original language of the New Testament. I may have missed an incidence, but I only counted two times that Bargerhuff spoke of an original Greek word and its meaning.   

            Bargerhuff also lost credibility with me because he chose to use stories that were not original to the earliest texts of the scripture – specifically the story of the “woman caught in adultery” and the story of Zacchaeus. Ignoring modern scholarship does nothing to make his point. He also takes some things literally that are best left as stories with a moral point; for example, when he describes the plight of Jonah: “Now imagine the darkness, the mucky-horrific-putrid place Jonah had to endure: a chewed-up fish, some rotten squid…” Our imaginations are stretched to the breaking point as we try to figure out how Jonah was not digested along with the fish and squid, and thus we lose sight of the point Bargerhuff meant to make.

            It is rather sad that Bargerhuff falls prey to name-calling, when he says that “Jonah would have made a very good New Testament Pharisee.” It is a shame that a group whose only interest was in doing things the way they thought God desired has been so maligned over the years, and I was sad to see Bargerhuff join the crowd. Many respectable scholars realize that the New Testament was written at a time when the authors who criticized the Pharisees were biased by their current events, thus coloring the text they wrote. Bargerhuff also does not seemingly understand the way tax collectors worked in the outlying Roman territories. These men were not paid for their duties. They collected an amount above the taxes due as their pay. Rome did not “turn a blind eye,” as Bargerhuff phrases it, but instructed the tax collectors to operate using this method. Naturally, then as today, some would have felt they were charged too much for their taxes.

            In the latter half of the book, Bargerhuff tackles some of the “big” topics in Christianity. He points out the deception of “prosperity gospel” preachers, discusses the eternality of salvation with Judas as a negative example, mentions the Mormons and Jehovah’s Witnesses (in a negative manner), the baptism of the Spirit, and the real biggie: the unpardonable sin – the blasphemy of the Spirit. It is in a later chapter that Bargerhuff says he is concerned that the church today suffers from a lot of surface-level teaching. It is sad that I can say that is exactly how I felt about “Misused Stories in the Bible” – that it is a surface-level teaching that did not dig as deep as advertised. Perhaps the truest chapter in the book is the one about the “three” wise men of the nativity story one hears every Christmas. Bargerhuff points out in this chapter that a popular song sung each year doesn’t actually tell a real historical story. Here we see some good scholarship.

            I may have been the wrong person to review this book. If I had never extensively studied the New Testament, and had only read simple children’s stories, I might have been impressed with the book. In his introduction, Bargerhuff asks that if I (the reader) think differently than he does, could I be charitable. I am afraid I have not been as charitable as I usually am to authors I review. If I could offer a suggestion, it would be to ask Bargerhuff to go back over his manuscript and add some of those more insightful explanations I was hoping to find, and for him to realize that his readers expect him to be aware of the latest scholarship in the biblical field, even if all he does is refute it.

            I received a preview copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for this review.

            Bargerhuff, Eric J. Ph.D. Misused Stories in the Bible: Surprising Ways Popular Bible Stories are Misunderstood. ISBN: 978-0-7642-1913-9. Bethany House Publishers, 2017.

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Weaver's Needle


by Robin Caroll



            Robin Caroll’s newest novel, Weaver’s Needle, is fast-paced story that takes the reader from New Orleans (that’s not New Or-leans!) to Arizona’s Superstition Mountains, east of Phoenix. Former Army MP Landry Parker and former police officer Nickolai Baptiste, both recovery specialists, are turned into rivals by a wealthy client, who promises to pay $50,000 to whichever one of them locates the original copy of a treasure map to the Dutchman’s Lost Gold Mine. The client’s husband was murdered to obtain the map, and the police are interested in finding the killer, but not the map. Landry and Nickolai are challenged to work together to solve the mystery of the map’s whereabouts and the identity of the murderer when they become the victims of various, ever-increasingly-dangerous plots to discourage their individual searches.

            The book begins with the story of the legend of the lost mine. Interwoven throughout the book are small sections where the reader is taken to witness an Apache dream vision, wherein the protectors of the mine – located in their Thunder God’s mountain – are warned of a white man’s coming. Even more interesting is the modern Native American interest in the legend and the responsibility to continue to protect the mine from discovery.

            The characters are well-developed, and the reader develops empathy for their past difficulties and present situations. Typical of a Christian novel, one side character “finds Christ” toward the end of the book, and this proves an encouragement to Nickolai. The book ends with a hair-trigger finish and a surprise ending that ties all the various elements together. Altogether, a very satisfying read!

            The book was provided to me by Barbour Publishing in exchange for this review.

            Caroll, Robin. Weaver’s Needle. ISBN: 978-1-63409-994-3. Uhrichsville, OH: Shiloh Run Press (Barbour Publishing, Inc.), 2017.

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Behind the Scenes


by Jennifer L. Turnao



         Set in New York society of 1883, Behind the Scenes is a wild ride. The reader is exposed to both the exposed layer of sophistication of the elite inner circle – as in the William Vanderbilt’s costume ball – and also behind this scene to the back rooms of the Vanderbilt mansion.

         The book’s heroine is Permilia Griswold, a gun-toting, outspoken suffragette who secretly works as a newspaper columnist to support a school for unfortunate women. We are even told that she has taught science and math classes at the school. Long ago having given herself up as a “wallflower,” Permilia has followed more intelligent pursuits and would rather have a hand in running her father’s mining operations than be part of high society. When she overhears a plot to murder one of the gentleman guests at the ball, her daring, adventurous spirit comes to the fore, impressing the gentleman, Asher Rutherford, no end.  Asher is even willing to change his personality for her, as he asks a friend to “teach me to be a dangerous gentleman – one who looks as if he eats nails for breakfast and bullets for lunch,” although this transformation becomes unnecessary.

         The only downside to the book is that the conversations in the first eight or so chapters seem rather stilted and way too elaborate. This seems to improve as the book moves forward. Behind the Scenes is a rollicking “who done it” with interesting characters that will charm the reader. A “life quote” that could be taken from this book would read as follows: “Some of our life experiences should be looked upon as stepping stones, needed in order to cross the stream at large, but not meant to be lingered on forever.” As Permilia learns this lesson, so can the reader.

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

         Turnao, Jennifer L. Behind the Scenes. ISBN: 9780764217944. Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 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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Chronicle of a Last Summer 


by Yasmine El Rashidi



“Chronicle of a Last Summer,” by Yasmine El Rashidi, is a novel that captures brief snapshots of Egyptian life in 1984, 1998, and 2014. The three vignettes, told in the voice of a young child, a college student, and an adult, make the color and imagination of the mysteries of modern Egypt sing.

            Written in a rather “choppy” style, the short sentences each seem to highlight a particular point without any extra verbiage cluttering their message. It almost feels as if El Rashidi is punching the reader like a boxer, sharing word picture after word picture.

            There is a darkness to the novel, especially concerning the disappearance of the narrator’s father, but instead of being anxious for her character, the reader is encourage to process the events just as the narrator does.

            To an American audience, the vivid scenes of a girl’s life show a world far different from the one the reader would have experienced, and this is one of the most interesting aspects of the book. It is fascinating to imagine oneself breathing the same air, smelling the same smells, and feeling the same sensations as the narrator.  This is an engaging novel on a more unusual subject, and El Rashidi does an excellent job.

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

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Back in the Saddle


by Ruth Logan Herne



        Back in the Saddle could be considered as much a psychology textbook as a Christian romance novel. The book deals with deep issues of abandonment (for more than one character), shame, remorse, guilt, and then finally, love. Colt Stafford has come home to the ranch, hungry from his failure on Wall Street. He takes on the feisty housekeeper who has her own big secret. He takes on his brother who wants to fight with him all the time over seemingly nothing. He takes on his father, who, while he did not abandon Colt physically, had refused him the love he needed growing up. He falls in love with his nieces, one of whom is described as, “a tough, angry little girl, abandoned by her mother and thwarted by her well-meaning father.” In the middle of the book, Colt thinks a thought that fits for everyone in the story: that he or she “deserved at least a chance at normalcy.” If this romance sounds heavy, it is. Yet it is so well-written that the reader stays with it just to see everyone’s lives work out. Colt finds what he was really hungry for all along – the faith, hope, and love he’d lost so many years before.

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

          Herne, Ruth Logan. Back in the Saddle. ISBN: 978-0-7352-9065-5. Multnomah (Penguin Random House, LLC.), 2016.

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Long Time Gone


by Mary Connealy



           Mary Connealy’s Long Time Gone is like stepping into a 1930’s Western movie.  The book, set in 1880’s New Mexico, opens with a gunshot wound caused by an outlaw. Next the reader is taken to see the father of the man who was shot, and he is suffering from a broken leg caused by avalanche. Connealy certainly believes in bringing the reader right into the action as quickly as possible, using the tried and true elements found in those old movie and TV Westerns which I love.

            Another person, a woman, is shot before the theme of the book becomes clear. The main theme of the book is that the Boden family members find themselves playing detective to discover who is behind a plot by revolutionaries, not only to take over the Boden’s Cimarron Ranch, but the entire area, restoring the old Spanish land grants to their “original” owner – Mexico. “Viva Mexico!” the thrills begin.

            The book moves quickly, and the script includes gunplay and death, and the occasional mention of Christianity. The women in the book are strong characters who refuse to reside quietly in the background – a common theme in current Christian fiction. Long Time Gone has considerably less humor than other books by Mary Connealy, and as I consider this to be her best and most outstanding difference from other romance writers, this shortage causes her to lose her edge a little with this book. The other problem with the book is that it does not read well out of sequence in the Cimarron Legacy series. When I read this book, I had not read the first book in the series, and it felt rather like I had entered a movie theater about thirty minutes after the movie had started. It was hard to catch up with the background to the plot. All that being said, the book is adventurous and the romance sweet, with not a boring moment. My only request is that Connealy add back the humor for the next book in the series.

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

            Connealy, Mary. Long Time Gone. ISBN: 9780764211829. Minneapolis: Bethany House, 2017.

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Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted:

Biblical Direction for Friends, Family Members, and Those Struggling with Homosexuality


by Ron  Citlau



           Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted, subtitled Biblical Direction for Friends, Family Members, and Those Struggling with Homosexuality,” aims high. Author Ron Citlau tries to educate the same-sex attracted, the church member, the church leader, and the reader. In this succinct and to-the-point book, he attempts to bring hope first by explaining why three current ideas will not bring hope to the same-sex attracted, and then by explaining why some previous ideas will.

            When I first saw the title of this book, I assumed that the author would be proposing that committed, legal, same-sex marriage, understood and accepted by the church, would be the new hope for the same-sex attracted. To my surprise, Citlau says nothing of the kind. He states in the introduction that “This book assumes that the Scriptures firmly and clearly stand against same-sex activity and seeks to reveal the ways a same-sex struggler can find relational and sexual fulfillment as they live out a traditional view of Scriptures even as they refuse to act on their same-sex feelings.”

            In Part One of the book, he states that a gay Christian identity, gay marriage, and “spiritual friendship” are actually obstacles to a flourishing life for the same-sex attracted. Citlau uses the word sin in relation to living a committed “gay” lifestyle and means it. In Part Two of the book, Citlau describes what he says will give a chance for the same-sex attracted to flourish, calling these “gifts”: the church; healing communities and Christian therapy, where a better understanding of one’s identity as a man or woman can be found; singleness; opposite-sex marriage; and prayerful lament, using the Psalms. Then, in Part Three, he addresses church leaders with thoughts on how they can help those in their congregation who are same-sex attracted.

            Citlau admits that he has struggled with same-sex attraction, even though he is happily married with children. He stresses, however, that the choice of opposite-sex marriage is not a cure for same-sex attraction and he does not advocate it as the only way to be accepted by church members. While written with sensitivity, this book does not really offer new ideas. Citlau still tells the same-sex attracted that their identity has been “broken” in some way, that to act on their feelings and desires is sinful, and that they must refrain from sexual behavior unless they feel called to enter an opposite-sex marriage. I imagine that for a same-sex struggler who reads this book, prayerful lament will indeed be the first reaction.

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

             Citlau, Ron. Hope for the Same-Sex Attracted: Biblical Direction for Friends, Family Members, and those Struggling with Homosexuality. 

                      ISBN: 9780764218682. Minnesota: Bethany House Publishers, 2017.    

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Gifts from Heaven: True Stories of Miraculous Answers to Prayer


by James Stuart Bell



           Gifts from Heaven, the new compilation of stories from James Stuart Bell (Angels, Miracles, and Heavenly Encounters and Heaven Touching Earth), desires to uplift its readers with stories of ordinary people receiving extraordinary help in times of need: “amazing events that could only happen with God’s supernatural intervention.”

          The stories in the book run the gamut from car accidents, to falling on stairs, to a return to sanity for a mentally ill father. Several stories record sightings of mysterious strangers, including one of a dead husband who looked years younger than the age at which he had died. Other strangers spoke to persons beside the road after a car accident and in a lonely hospital room at night. An interesting detail is that, in two of the stories, the “angel” was dark-skinned, even though the person having the experience was not. Less traumatic stories fill the book’s pages as well: stories of changing careers, being accepted into seminary, finding the right home, and even of a woman taking a $50 gift card to a grocery store where the very person who was in need was in the checkout line with no way to pay for her Thanksgiving meal. In one story, a woman falsely accused of child abuse feels that she was taught by God to let go of her selfish pride due to her experience. All the stories include the person’s interpretation of how God was with them, comforting and/or teaching them through their experience.

          This book fulfills what it sets out to do – share forty stories of God answering prayer. The book’s introduction suggests that “there are times when His power is so evident that all we can do is marvel and break out in praise to Him.” Obviously, this is what Bell hopes the book will do for the reader. He states that he hopes this volume “will encourage you, the reader, to persist in seeking all the precious gifts God has to offer.” He adds that he wishes the reader to see God as the Great Gift Giver, and to “cherish the Giver more than His gifts.” Reading the book with too critical an eye rather spoils the effect. Would it not have been kinder of God, and a much better gift to his child, if he had let the person learn of his nearness without, for example, a car accident, or a heart attack? The reader will enjoy this book more if he or she does not probe this questioningly into the stories, but tries to just capture the awe instead.

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

Bell, James Stuart. Gifts from Heaven: True Stories of Miraculous Answers to Prayer. ISBN: 9780764217869. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany House, 2017.

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Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan

by Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard

 

            I read one review of Bill O’Reilly and Martin Dugard’s latest book, Killing the Rising Sun, which stated something to the effect of: “Will O’Reilly get over the “killing” thing already? We didn’t actually kill Japan…” However, I say, “When you’ve got a good gimmick going, why kill it?” Besides – if one considers the Rising Sun to mean the Japanese military empire that desired to rule all of Asia (and perhaps the rest of the world) – then the title is quite appropriate, and the book does an excellent job of explaining just how America won the Pacific War.

            The catchy title belies the depth of research that went into this book. The prose is eloquent, yet easy to read, and hard to put down. I found myself staying up late at night to finish “one more” chapter. If one does not have a good grasp on the timetable of the events of the War in the Pacific in the 1940’s, then Killing the Rising Sun supplies this and more. The book is partly a defense for America dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the responsibility for the bombing is placed squarely on the shoulders of Truman (and Roosevelt). The horrors the Japanese civilians experienced is juxtaposed against the almost “glee” of Truman and other top officials when they heard of the success of the bombings. The book is brutally honest in its dealings with everyone involved.

            A “Note to Readers” begins the book with a warning that “some extremely troubling material” will be presented in the book and that “the violence the world witnessed in 1945 is unprecedented in history and will be chronicled on the following pages in detail.” The authors were not joking when they added this warning, and the reader should indeed be aware of this and be at least old enough to vote – the book is brutal in this respect as well. Killing the Rising Sun delivers what it promises: the truth. Even if one is appalled by the violence and man's cruelty to man, this is a book that must be read. We need to know why dropping those bombs seemed like the kindest thing to do at the time.

           O’Reilly, Bill and Martin Dugard. Killing the Rising Sun: How America Vanquished World War II Japan. ISBN: 9781627790628. New York: Henry Holt                        and Company, LLC, 2016. 

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Merry Cowboy Christmas


by Caroline Brown


 

            A light-hearted romance with which to celebrate the season – the perfect book for a “snow day.” Fiona Logan is forced to return home to Dry Creek, Texas after a failed marriage and a job loss has reduced her to pennilessness. Roadside assistance is provided by the handsome cowboy, Jud Dawson, who is living temporarily at the ranch. Fiona learns to deal with her soul’s restlessness as the attraction builds between her and Jud. Side character Truman O’Dell is won over to the true Christmas spirit, à la Scrooge. Solid family values are evident throughout the book, among the various sibling couples, and the romance of Fiona and Jud builds slowly, with humor and numerous innuendos. When the couple finally succumbs to a consenting relationship, the point is made about the foolishness of not using birth control. {Note: this episode is sexually explicit. If this offends you, then this book is not for you.} The book ends with Fiona at peace with her decision to marry Jud and the happy couple returning home after the ceremony, just where a good read should end. Carolyn Brown is one of the best writers in the Cowboy Romance genre, and this book is one of her best.

           Brown, Carolyn. Merry Cowboy Christmas. ISBN: 9781455534944. New York: Hachette Book Group, Inc., 2016. 

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So Long Insecurity: You have been a Bad Friend


by Beth Moore


 

            So Long Insecurity is such a promising title, but the book does not deliver any real answers, only ramblings on Moore’s own struggle with insecurity, including embarrassing stories that do nothing to further the book’s objective and only make us wonder about Moore’s stability. We realize that Moore is on shaky theological ground with this book, as she admits that although she is a “research freak,” she “turned to people” as her “books.” Elsewhere we read that she “started flipping through Scripture looking for tell-tale signs of insecurity,” hardly an organized methodology. Her main scripture reference is Proverbs 31:25: She is clothed with strength and dignity; and there is a nine-page prayer that Moore is “convinced was God’s idea for this particular message,” as she asked to be equipped with “supernatural wisdom and insight and” has “no other choice but to trust that He has answered” her request. That prayer is probably the best part of this book. A theme in the book is that we are told to repeat to ourselves that people can hurt us, but they cannot have our security – it is ours to keep.

            The book uses a great deal of sloppy vernacular, such as “girlfriend” and “sister,” in order to engage the reader, all of which sounds very unprofessional. Chapter 1 begins with the words, “I’m seriously ticked…The thing is, I’m not even sure exactly who I’m ticked at. I’m hoping to find that out as I hack away at these chapters.” That may be a reason to write a diary, but it is a poor excuse for writing a book. Sadly, Moore knows that this was not a good effort. Chapter 18 begins: “This has been a messy book. In case you’re wondering if I’m aware of it, I am…I’m afraid what you’ve gotten here were words spoken in a fit.” Moore honestly admits that, “Sometimes I’m such a needy, fragmented person that I wonder if I’ve written a whole book to myself.” This search for security would have been better discussed with a counselor than with readers. Moore has given us no reason to trust her judgment or advice. It is surprising that Tyndale let this book get published without major renovation.

           Moore, Beth. So Long Insecurity: You have been a Bad Friend. ISBN: 9781414334738. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2010.

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