Monday, October 29, 2012

Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day by Daryl Aaron

 Understanding Theology in 15 Minutes a Day, Daryl Aaron, 978-0-7642-1012-9

This was very informative and easy to understand. Some of the topics include: how do we know the Bible is the Word of God and what are the implications, what characteristics of God make Him unique, the Trinity, creation, angels and demons, original sin, Jesus being God and man, salvation, the Holy Spirit, baptism, and the Rapture.  The chapters are only about five pages long, so you get an overview of a topic, but don't dive too deeply into it.  The author is Professor of Theology and Bible at Northwestern College in Minnesota and has a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary and a PhD from Graduate Theological Foundation, so needless to say he knows his theology.  Even though these are topics that I'm familiar with, I still learned a lot about different views and what the implications are for believing some of them.

Aaron uses a lot of Scripture references when making his points, which compels you to open your Bible and read it for yourself.  Scripture verses are written out  for topics where there's differing views and he explains their arguments well.  If he feels that a view is clearly shown in Scripture, he points that out.  For topics such as the Rapture and Tribulation, he presents the differing views and leaves it at that.  He also brings in a bit of Church history with dates and names when explaining who made a view popular and when.  An interesting fact is presented at the end of each chapter that relates to the topic.

I really enjoyed this book.  I think it would be especially good for someone new to theology or to the Christian faith. I found the topics to be very interesting.  For example, the chapter, "What does it mean to be human," talks about humans being made in God's image and different views of what that might mean.  The book clarified some ideas for me so now I know a little more of why I believe the way I do and pointed out the Scriptures to back that up.

I received this book free from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Borders of the Heart by Chris Fabry

Q & A with Chris Fabry:

Q: Your newest novel, Borders of the Heart, addresses heavy topics such as illegal immigration, the U.S./Mexico drug trade and the cost of compassion. Where did you get your inspiration for the book?

A: Our family moved to Arizona in 2008 and since then I’ve known I wanted to write about this area of the country, a rich, desert existence with problems and possibilities. This book is not as much an “issue” book as it is a book about people who have to deal with lots of those issues as part of their daily lives. I don’t have an ax to grind on the topics, but I did want to show how real people are affected by these contemporary topics.

Q: Several of the characters in Borders of the Heart are dealing with things from their past. What lessons do your characters learn along the way?

A: The past is huge for each of us. I’m convinced many are “stuck” by something in the past that holds us back from being all God wants us to be. A reader will walk through that process with the main character, J.D., and I’m hoping they’ll see an authentic struggle.

Q: J.D. Jessup is faced with a very difficult moral dilemma when he weighs the decision to follow his boss’ very clear direction or his own heart when he discovers Maria near death. What lessons does this story provide for your readers?

A: Every choice we make in life comes with a cost. If we say yes to one thing, we may have to say no to something else. The choice J.D. makes is a good choice, and even good choices can lead to disastrous and deadly results. Can you believe that God is involved in even the difficult circumstances? I think that’s a huge reveal in this story for me. Does everything have to work out perfectly in the end in order for God to be glorified?

Q: How does the concept of redemption figure into your story? Was it gratifying to write about redemption? Why or why not?

A: A lot of people don’t like the word “saved.” It’s old fashioned and not in vogue. I think the term is loaded with truth because if you’re on the verge of death and someone “saves” you,you know exactly what that means and how grateful you would be. Characters in this story get rescued from certain death and when the stakes are that high, I can’t help but get emotionally involved in the story.

Q: How does the concept of grace figure into your story? Was it gratifying to write about grace? Why or why not?

A: Grace is when we’re treated better than we deserve. Yes, characters discover that in the book as well. I love the concept of grace in such a gritty, tough story because you’re not expecting it. You’re expecting A+B=C and when grace invades, it catches you by surprise.

Q: Borders of the Heart clearly demonstrates that sometimes there is a cost to compassion. What made this an important story element for you? Why was it important for you to show that sometimes there is a cost for us when we behave compassionately?

A: You’ve heard the saying, “Freedom isn’t free.” The one who acts with compassion usually absorbs the pain of someone else. This is a picture of the cross, of the sacrifice made for us in Christ. This is another thread you’ll discover throughout the story.

Q: Have you ever been faced with a real-life hard choice or ethical dilemma like your main character J.D.? If so, what was your dilemma and did you feel like you made the right choice?

A: I’ve never had to decide whether to leave a person for dead or not, but I think every day we have a chance to sacrifice. Sometimes it’s a small thing, like taking time for your children when you have something REALLY important, like writing a few more paragraphs. I haven’t always passed those tests. My contention is, the details of everyday life will show what we’ll do with the big decisions. If you choose well in the small moments, the moments when no one is looking,you’ll choose well when a huge decision comes your way. Conversely, if you don’t see the little things as important, you might not make a good decision with the big decision.

Q: What do you hope your readers will take away from reading Borders of the Heart?

A: Borders of the Heart is at its core a love story. You will root for J.D. and Maria to survive and solve the mystery of what’s really going on in Tucson. And I hope readers will take away the truth that what looks impossible to people is possible with God’s power. Even if something looks hopeless, it’s really not when God is involved.

My Review

 J.D. Jessup has run from his life as a musician to Arizona, where he works on an organic farm near the Mexican border, learning the trade and living simply.  He's been existing, not really living.  Then he finds Maria, lying out in the desert, covered in blood and near death.  Though his boss has told him to call Border Patrol if he ever finds an illegal, he can't do it and instead cleans her up and takes her to a doctor.  This act of kindness sets him on a different and dangerous path, because someone wants Maria dead.  He can't seem to let her go, even when he has the chance to; he feels an inexplicable bond with her and knows he must see this through to the end, whatever that might be.  Maria slowly opens up about who's after her and why, but he's not sure if he can trust her or if she's playing her own game with him caught in the middle.

J.D.'s story is slowly revealed as he talks with Maria and meets Good Samaritans along the way.  He's very introspective and they cause him to question his beliefs about God and a past tragedy.  I get the sense that he grew up going to church but never had faith for himself.  Could God be working things together for good and is God really in control?  These seem to be important themes for Fabry; a previous book I've read, Almost Heaven, also deals with this.  The title refers not only to the American-Mexican border, but also to how we wall ourselves off from others, whether it's out of fear or something else.  There's some discussion from both sides of the illegal alien debate. Who's really our neighbor?

I enjoy Fabry's writing.  There's a lyrical quality to it and he has a way of describing scenes so I feel I'm really in Arizona, sweating and dusty, even though it's cold where I am!  There's some action as the bad guy gets close and the body count rises. There's only a hint of romance but mostly the story is J.D. figuring things out for himself.  I found the story interesting, but a bit hard to get into.  It's quite different than what I usually read.  I do plan on reading his other stories because I like that he makes me think about the hard questions.

I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.

Borders of the Heart book trailer

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

With Every Letter by Sarah Sundin

In a word, amazing! I literally couldn't put this book down! Mellie is a flight nurse during World War II, eager to go in to combat zones and help evacuate the wounded.  She's confident when it comes to her job, and she'd good at it.  Social situations, however, are something she's not good at. Growing up in the jungle with her father for companionship, shy Mellie doesn't know how to act or what to say to girls her own age.  Add to that her quarter Filipino heritage, and the children she did know were cruel to her.  She's never had a friend.  Lt. Tom MacGilliver is an engineer stationed in North Africa, rebuilding runways as the Allies push forward against the Nazis.  He has an infamous father, a well-known murderer and the subject of jump-rope rhymes.  He must put on a cheerful face in case anyone thinks he'll snap and turn into his father. No one knows the real him underneath the mask.

As a morale-building campaign inspired by the movie "The Shop Around the Corner", Mellie is forced into writing a letter to Tom, a man she's never met, though it helps that it's anonymous for them both.  Mellie offers encouragement, prayer, and a listening ear, and he offers the same back to her. So begins months of writing and growing as they offer advice to each other,  pray for each other, and fall for each other.  Mellie is then stationed near him; how will they react to each other in person and will they have the strength to overcome their fears and admit who they really are?

I loved this book.  It was my first one by Sarah Sundin, though she does have another trilogy set during World War II, which I now can't wait to read!  Her writing was wonderful, the characters so detailed and real I found myself rooting for them both in the difficult circumstances they each found themselves in, and the romance very well done. I think a guy could find a lot to like as well, with the backdrop of World War II and the jobs they both perform.  I learned a lot about flight nursing and engineering in the context of the war.  We get both of their perspectives, which I love.  "You've Got Mail," my favorite movie, is based on "The Shop Around the Corner," and I love the plot line of two people falling in love through letters (or email!) before they ever meet. This is definitely a keeper!

Friday, October 19, 2012

Guardian, Halflings book two by Heather Burch

If you're looking for something a little different, a little out there, than look no further. I had to read book one before I started this because I figured I would be lost if I didn't and am I glad I did! You definitely have to read these in order. In the first book, Nikki Youngblood is being chased by hellhounds when she's rescued by three teenage boys. Or are they? It turns out they are halflings, half angel, half human, descendants of the nephilim. They are sent on a journey by the Throne to protect her, though they don't know what role she plays. She and Mace are immediately drawn to each other, but he faces an impossible choice, because being with a human means you've chosen the enemy's plan and will be condemned for all eternity, yet he can't seem to stay away. Where Mace is the rule follower, Raven is the rule breaker, and she finds herself drawn to him also. The feeling is mutual. This book reminded me a lot of Twilight with the love triangle and especially the way they're so intensely drawn to each other, along with the forbidden element.

After Nikki survives a tragedy in book one and Damon Vessler, her godfather and possible bad guy, becomes her guardian, she chooses to stay with the halflings. They are told to sail to Europe to stop a terrorist attack with six other halflings, three of whom are female, which complicates matters a bit. They try to train her in preparation for whatever evil comes their way while she struggles with feeling inadequate for Mace and for whatever's coming. Nikki's gone from believing only in what she can see to believing that angels, halflings, and demons exist, and that there's a whole battle going on that she never knew about. She really struggles with making the right decisions and there's a couple close calls for her in this book. Will she finally realize her true purpose and destiny?

I really enjoyed the first two books and can't wait for the third! This is an interesting twist on the nephilim story from the Old Testament. While some things are obviously fiction, the author does a good job of showing the truth of the destructiveness of revenge, the power of prayer, and the importance of choosing good over evil. I think anybody who likes to read young adult fiction would enjoy this book, Christian or not, because it makes you think about God and the battle going on around us, but isn't preachy and shows the real struggle Nikki faces as she's finding this out for herself.

Thanks to Zondervan for the advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Twice a Bride by Mona Hodgson

 Twice a Bride

 This was a charming story. I haven't read the first three in this series, and while it's not necessary to do so, I think it would have added to my enjoyment.  The first three books are about Willow's sister-in-law and her sisters, who are all featured prominently in the story, along with Miss Hattie, who's quite the character.  While the story focuses on Willow, it does have some parts told by the sisters and Miss Hattie.  Willow, a widow of 6 years, has moved to Cripple Creek to live near her brother and his wife. She has just buried her father and her family is worried that she will become catatonic again, the way she did after her husband died.  She's determined to not let that happen, however, and focuses on finding a job.  She loves to paint and takes a job painting portraits from photographs and colorizing them for a new photographer in town, Trenton Van Der Veer. There's a bit of confusion with each thinking the other is married, but the truth is found out soon enough.  Meanwhile, the Sinclair Sisters' father is supposed to be coming for a visit, but a train derailment and a couple surprise guests throw them and Willow for a loop.  Not to mention how Miss Hattie and Mr. Sinclair get along!  There's also another tragedy early in the story, but this isn't a sad book, by any means.  There are a lot of joyous occasions throughout the story.

I liked that we get Trenton's perspective in the story.  He's been badly burned by a woman and doesn't know if he'll ever get married.  He also avoids church because of a bad experience he had as a boy when his parents took him to a pastor because of his stutter.  Meeting Willow and her brother, a pastor in town, makes him question his beliefs about God and pastors.  I also liked that both Willow and Trenton had things in their lives that had to be overcome.  God and Jesus are mentioned a lot in this story, as a comfort, a Savior, a guide.  The author does a good job of interweaving faith into these characters' lives as a part of who they are, and not an afterthought.

I definitely want to read the first three books to find out the stories behind the other three couples.  This book made me feel like I was visiting old friends, even though I had never met them!  If you like sweet historical romance, this book's for you.

Thanks to Waterbrook Multnomah for my free copy in exchange for my honest review. Please rate my review! Thank you!

Friday, October 12, 2012

Sandwich With a Side of Romance by Krista Phillips

Sandwich, With a Side of Romance  Very enjoyable and amusing book!  Maddie is a tough wise-cracking twenty-year-old and a baby Christian.  She's trying to leave her shameful past behind her and make a fresh start in Sandwich, IL, where she hopes to create a stable life so she can gain custody of her eleven-year-old brother.  However, first day on the job at a hair salon and she's fired through no fault of her own.  She confronts Reuben, the man who was at fault, and he hires her to be a waitress at his restaurant.  Have I mentioned that Maddie is a huge klutz?  It didn't go well.  She continues to work for him, though, as one thing after another goes wrong in her life and his jealous girlfriend doesn't help matters.  She's vowed to stay away from men, so why does she feel this attraction to her boss, especially when she knows he's taken?  She struggles with pride and needing to do things herself, a by-product of growing up with no one to depend on, but will she see that she needs to give God control and lean on others for a change?

I really liked the back-and-forth between Maddie and Reuben.  Krista did a good job of showing the progression of their relationship from frustration and annoyance to affection and forgiveness of each others' mistakes.  I liked the contrast between Maddie as a baby Christian and Reuben as a seasoned one, but they were both still shown as imperfect, and had to learn to let go of the past and trust God.  I also liked that we got Reuben's perspective on the relationship.

The secondary characters were great and really added to the story.  The writing was good.  I don't think there was anything I didn't like about this book!  And all from a first-time author!  I'm definitely looking forward to what she'll be writing in the future.

I received a free copy of this book from Abingdon Press in exchange for my honest review.

Monday, October 8, 2012

When Love Comes My Way by Lori Copeland

book title frontSomewhat enjoyable but superficial romance. Tess Wakefield is the heiress to the Wakefield fortune and along with that comes the lumber company her grandfather owned.  However, she knows nothing about lumber and plans to sell to its competitor so she can continue to make hats for her millinery shops.  Jake Lannigan, the foreman of Wakefield Timber, wants to replant pine trees to give something back instead of stripping the land.  Her grandfather had agreed to do this, but died before they could start the project.  Jake and Tess have been arguing through letters and he is furious that she won't agree.  She travels from Philadelphia to Michigan to sign the papers for the sale when she's involved in a wagon accident along with the new schoolteacher.  She survives but the teacher does not.  However, when she wakes up, she has no memory and is mistaken for the teacher.  Jake suspects that she could be Tess, but he figures her teaching a bunch of unruly children could school this spoiled girl on what the real world's really like and maybe she'll change her mind in the process.  And there's always the chance that she really is the teacher.

They both immediately fall for each other but Jake fights it especially as he starts to become more sure that she is Tess Wakefield and not the teacher.  He also knows she's engaged, which complicates matters.    What happens when her identity is revealed before he can tell her the truth?  Can she forgive him? Will they fight for their love?

I usually like Lori Copeland's books but I have to say I was disappointed in this one.  The romance seemed shallow.  Tess seems very forward for a woman of the time, especially a society woman; she does a lot of throwing herself at Jake, which I didn't like, especially since she's not getting much encouragement from him.  There wasn't much to the faith element in the book either, just some mentions of prayer and God.  This book was rewritten and expanded from a 1990 book she wrote for a secular publisher and I'd have to say it's not up to par with her usual style.  However, if you like light romance, you might enjoy this book.

I was provided a free copy of this book from Harvest House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, October 5, 2012

My Foolish Heart by Susan May Warren

  2012 Christy Award Finalist!

This was such an enjoyable book!  Isadora Presley lives in the small Minnesota town of Deep Haven, one that she hoped to escape when she was a teenager.  But years after surviving a terrible accident that seriously injured her father and caused her mother to die in her arms, she can still barely leave her house. She lives in fear and has panic attacks envisioning all the things that can go wrong out in the world.  She stays connected through her best friend Lucy and her online radio show, My Foolish Heart.  She gives advice on romance, though she's never had a date of her own, saying your perfect love could be right next door.

Caleb Knight moves in next door to Issy and has a secret of his own.  He was injured in the Middle East and has an artificial leg, but he doesn't want to broadcast it while he fights for a coaching job at the high school.   His wild dog and horrible manners drive her crazy, but could she be misjudging him?  When Caleb learns her story, he's intrigued by her and wants to help her find freedom, especially since he knows what it's like to feel that despair.  He's confused by how to reach her, though, and stumbles upon the My Foolish Heart show, where he calls in as BoyNextDoor with questions on how to befriend his neighbor.  Neither knows who the other really is, and they both start falling for each other online and in real life.

I absolutely loved this story. Susan is a great writer and really brings her characters to life.  It was refreshing to see truly flawed people, as a lot of romances portray their characters too perfectly.  Not only were there cute scenes portraying their interactions online and in person, but there were real issues to work through also, such as how to deal with paralyzing fear, trust, and God's perfect love.  This is technically the fourth book set in Deep Haven, but can truly be read as a stand-alone novel, though I don't think you'll want to.  I've read two others and enjoyed them tremendously and plan to read the other three soon.

Monday, October 1, 2012

Forget Me Not by Vicki Hinze

Forget Me Not by Hinze, Vicki This novel started out promising, but ended up being a disappointment.  Benjamin Brandt has been trying to find his wife and son's murderer for the past three years when a woman shows up at his crisis center with no memory and a strong resemblance to his dead wife.  Is this a trick from someone out to get his money, his wife back from the dead, or an amnesiac as she claims to be? "Susan" has been on the run for a few years when someone grabs her, beats her badly, and leaves her for dead.  When she wakes up, she has a cross necklace and a card for the crisis center in her pocket with the name Susan written on the back.  All she knows deep down is that she is a woman of faith; everything else is a question mark.

The employees at the crisis center work to discover her identity when they're attacked and they realize the men have come back to finish the job.  As Ben and his employees work to protect her and discover who she is, he finds himself drawn to her. Susan seems to fall for him immediately and there isn't much of a build-up to their relationship.  Ben has turned his back on God after what happened to his family and I did like that Susan was determined to not get involved with him unless that changed.  The story switches from Susan and Ben to the bad guys so you see what's going on with them behind the scenes, but it didn't really keep my interest.

The story is suspenseful at first with trying to figure out who Susan is and how she ties to Ben but the momentum seemed to die and I think it was partly because some of the mystery was gone when we saw what the bad guys were plotting. There just seemed to be too many threads in the story and almost too much explanation for what everyone was thinking.  There are a couple sequels focusing on different characters involved with the crisis center that sound interesting so I'm planning to give those a shot, but I thought this book was just okay. Please don't forget to rank this review! Thank you!