Review of Sister Dear by Laura McNeill

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Genre: Suspense/Drama

Recommended!sister dear

After ten years in prison for a murder she did not commit, Allie is determined to get her life back: reconnect with her daughter and family, find a job, and prove her innocence. Written from multiple perspectives, and interspersed with past memories and present events, the characters’ insights creates a mystery and suspense that builds up for an intriguing story (even if the twists are expected).

This book provides an honest, and slightly dark, look into troubling circumstances, so there is “adult material” (sex, violence, murder) even though it is produced by a Christian publishing company. There are also no direct themes of faith.

Even so, I enjoyed reading this. The characters are raw and interesting. And the story had just enough suspense to hold my attention, while touching on deep themes. I found myself thinking about forgiveness, jealousy, how to reconcile complex relationships, and the process of finding closure and moving forward.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.

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Review of Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette

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Genre: Biblical Fiction/History/Romance

Series: Out of Egypt, Book 1

counted-with-the-stars-by-connilyn-cossette-1441229418Recommended.

Kiya was a wealthy Egyptian, engaged to be married, when her father lost everything–selling her into slavery where she was no longer a good match for her fiancé. In slavery she becomes friends with a Hebrew girl, and experiences the plagues and Exodus from Egypt from the unique worldview of an outsider.

The historical foundation of this fictionalized account is very good; and the perspective is very interesting. The portion of the story when the Hebrews cross the sea, and their time in the wilderness is particularly well done. I was less impressed with the plagues, and found much of the narrative (especially the beginning and very end) to move too slowly, even though the content is solid.

I also could have done without the romance, which felt a bit cliché–although maybe this is what people want? The story could have been stronger by focusing more on the friendship, identity issues, and religious experience of the women without the distraction of finding Kiya a suitable mate.

I loved the fresh perspective of the Exodus, which brought the biblical story to life.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House.

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Review of The End of Law: A Novel of Hitler’s Germany by Therese Down

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Genre: Historical Fiction/Holocaust

Recommended!

9781782641902

In 1933 Berlin, Hedda Schroeder is wealthy, naive, and caught up in her superficial life of jazz clubs, dating, and fashion. She dates two men: Karl Muller, a medical student and engineer, who bores her; and Walter Gunther, who is attractive, charming, and ambitious in his mysterious work as a newly hired SS officer.

In 1940, Hedda is married with two children to Walter, who is abusive in both his marriage and political work. Hedda also reconnects with Karl, as he and her husband work together as SS officers within the secret T4 euthanasia programme–its mission to kill those unworthy to live, including those with physical and mental illnesses.

This dark, fast moving narrative is informative and powerful in graphically detailing some of the horrors within the T4 euthanasia programme. It captures “adult material” that is not always easy to read, yet very important to remember and take as a warning.

The characters respond differently under the pressure of their circumstances–but each in a very human way. I especially enjoyed Hedda’s transformation from self-absorbed to aware and courageous. I enjoyed the end-note that Karl is loosely based on a real person. And I was challenged to consider the depth of evil, and the ethical and practical responsibilities of those who recognize it.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Lion Hudson.

 

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Review of Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning by Timothy Snyder

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Genre: History/Holocaust

Recommended.

9781101903452It’s Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), and I just finished reading this comprehensive and unique history of the Holocaust.

This book caused me to consider the Holocaust and anti-Semitism in a new way, even if I did not always agree with Snyder’s interpretations.

Snyder begins with addressing Hitler’s political and sociological motivations, especially in terms of Lebensraum (living space)–the idea that the higher race deserves a higher standard of living including more space, and decadence. He argues along these lines that Hitler’s motivations went beyond traditional anti-Semitism with a more personal and political aim, only later leading to his Final Solution to exterminate the Jews.

Snyder also describes the overall political atmosphere and relationships between the countries involved in WWII, with special concentration on Germany, the Soviet Union, and Poland; and in consideration of the weight of double occupancy, the myth of Judeo-Bolshevism (blaming Jews for communism), and the influences of the destruction of state power. Multiple individual accounts are shared to demonstrate those political tensions from a personal perspective. I also appreciate that Snyder extends beyond Auschwitz to the deeper horrors occurring in the multitude of states around Europe.

However, I expected a stronger and more grounded focus on the Holocaust as a warning. While the history is comprehensive, the warning appears only in the final chapter and is weakly focused on the Green Revolution, and climate change. While I agree with Snyder in the importance of caring for the earth and living sustainably, I adamantly disagree with his conclusions in linking this and state power with preventing a next holocaust.

Snyder’s perspective is interesting–I was not aware of all of these variables, and am interested to do further research and draw my own conclusions. I recommend the book due to its solid research, and presentation of ideas, rather than for its interpretations and conclusions.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tim Duggan Books.

 

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A Simple Pathway to Healing

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Walkway in PolandA few years ago while I was praying about my health, I heard the Lord say, “You have to eat like you are in the Garden to feel like you are in the Garden.

My first reaction was arrogance–I was already vegan, I like vegetables, and I felt like I was eating in a balanced and healthful way. In further prayer and reflection I found that I actually had much room for improvement. I ended up going on a specialized raw vegan (living food) diet for six months (with the help of a local chef), focusing on gut health and digestion.

I have long since been back to a healthier version of my “normal” diet; but that season of eating simple raw and fermented foods has had a lasting influence on my health. My hypothyroidism was completely cured, so that I was able to get off all the medicine I had been taking. I started losing some of the weight I had gained in my second pregnancy. And I believe this season has contributed to some of the healing I have experienced since (e.g. my hormones are now balanced, and I had an autoimmune pain disorder for about six years, which is now gone–more on that later).

About six months ago I started taking a supplement to help thyroid health–not because I was having thyroid problems, but because I wanted to ensure that I never had thyroid problems again. I had an irrational anxiety that my problems would come back because my levels were slightly elevated from one appointment to the next (but still in the normal range), and I wanted a physical comfort that I was still healed and would stay healed.

Guess what happened? I immediately started having thyroid problems again! At my next appointment (three months ago), my doctor told me I should look for any iodine in my diet and remove it, as it could be the reason my thyroid was off again. Iodine apparently doesn’t respond well beside autoimmune conditions (which I am still working through); and my new supplement had 150% the recommended dosage of iodine! I stopped taking it, and recently received the results of my newest blood work: my thyroid is healthy. No more problems. It’s reflecting its original healing.

Healing does not always come the way we intend: It may come through physical strategy and lifestyle changes when we want God to do a miracle; or it may come as a silent or incomprehensible miracle when we desire a spectacle or tangible assurance.

In 2 Kings 5, Naaman calls on the king of Israel for healing of his leprosy, but instead finds himself at Elisha’s house, where a servant tells him to dip seven times in the dirty Jordan river to receive his healing. He became angry that he was not cared for per his expectations; then:

Naaman’s servants went to him and said, ‘My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed’!’ So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.” (v. 13-14)

We can trust God, who designed our bodies, to heal us in whichever way He deems: be it dipping in a dirty river, heeding His direction in lifestyle choices, or even in receiving an instant healing miracle. We do not need to manipulate His process through our own knowledge, but can approach Him as the Wise Doctor who has given us both practical resources and examples of good health (as with the Law of Moses, and the Proverbs), as well as the power of the Holy Spirit to heal the sick, and to receive His healing ourselves.

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Review of Be Healed and Stay Healed by Ed Rocha

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Genre: Charismatic Interest/Healing/Inspirational

Recommended.

9780800797812

This is a short and very readable book. Ed Rocha shares stories about his frustrations and successes in healing ministry. The first part has a a chapter each on the deaf being healed, the blind regaining sight, the lame walking, skin issues cleansed, the dead raised, and other miracles. The first five chapters end with powerful prayers to repeat aloud for those needing healing in those areas. All of the modern-day testimonies are inspiring, and biblically centered on the testimony of Jesus.

The second part of the book deals with hindrances to healing: sin and demonic affliction. This section (particularly the sin chapter) was less strong. It was still good, but I had a couple (very) small issues with Rocha’s theology; and I think his writing is most effective when he is sharing stories and testimonies, which there were less of in these chapters. Often stories express theology better and more accurately than it can be explained.

The third section focuses on belief and faith to “stay healed” (as the chapter name implies), but staying healed does not seem to be the theme of these chapters at all. Rather, they provide a solid foundation for receiving healing, and understanding some fundamental things from Scripture. The Appendixes are also a helpful elaboration for those looking to the example of Scripture in healing ministry.

In such a short book, I do not think the section divisions were necessary; and not having them may have led to more beneficial prayers and testimonies (in keeping the consistency).

Overall, it is inspiring, faith-building, and would be an encouraging read for anyone who is ill, or who is passionate about ministering healing to others.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Chosen.

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What Is Faith? (Part One: Faith is a Substance)

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“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of realities not seen.” (Heb. 11:1 TLV, emphasis mine)

Faith is a special kind of belief. We can believe something and be completely wrong or misguided. But faith is a belief based on tangible spiritual evidence that is directly rooted within a relationship with God. Through an intimate knowledge of God, faith provides vision into God’s supernatural Kingdom; and this is why it can be so powerful when used rightly.

Faith perceives through spiritual senses what cannot be accounted for in the physical. Faith recognizes what the Spirit of the Lord is doing even before it manifests into reality. Faith is an inside connection to the Kingdom of God, developed through learning God’s voice.

Faith says, Even though my reality is otherwise, I have a peaceful assurance beyond all doubt, and a proof in my spirit that this is the truth.

When the “things hoped for” are physically out of reach or inconceivable, faith is the steady foundation of clarity and courage that brings stability and perspective to the whole situation. It is a substantial force, regardless of how invisible or unfathomed by those outside of it. And faith is not necessarily illogical. We all connect to the world differently, and have a different array of dominant spiritual senses; so while one person may gain faith through an emotional experience, another may receive faith through a more physical, or even intellectual, experience.

The common element in how the substance of faith is received is dependent on one’s relationship with God: “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” (Rom. 10:17 NKJV)

Do you want more faith? Do you want to see what the Lord is doing in the invisible realm, and to have peace or wisdom regarding your situation? The best place to start is by reading the Bible, and dialoging with the Lord (the Living Word) through prayer. The marriage of the Spirit and the Word together in our lives builds a framework of faith that will usher us into the Kingdom–and the Kingdom into our physical realities.

 

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Review of An Insider’s Guide to Praying for the World by Brian C. Stiller

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Genre: Christian Life/Missions/Intercession/Devotional

9780764217272This devotional style prayer guide has 41 chapters dedicated to countries, and 11 chapters focused on either influential people or other issues (e.g. The Pope, Prison Ministries, or Caring for the Vulnerable). Each chapter is about five pages long–an ideal length for prayer and reflection, and maybe even to be supplemented with additional research (I know I was drawn to look up more facts on my own as I slowly made my way through it!).

The chapters begin with a small map or picture and quick facts of the topic at hand, elaborate into the author’s personal encounters within the country/subject or historical detail of the region, and conclude with a Bible verse, bullet point list of items for prayer, and a single paragraph ready-made prayer.

Stiller has a lot of interesting stories that make for enjoyable reading while providing a feel for the lifestyle in different regions of the world. But as a prayer guide, the focus on personal stories was sometimes too limiting to recognize the prayer needs of the country at large. For this reason, I thought some of the chapters were very well done, while others were only okay. The “Items for Prayer” list in each chapter was the strongest part, so I would have liked those sections to have been a longer, more substantial, part of the content.

I also wonder at how well the material reflects present needs as many of Stiller’s stories come from decades earlier. It is plausible that Stiller still holds inside connections to the places and people he has visited, but this is not directly mentioned. The overall feeling of the book is of becoming familiar with the history of each country and praying over general themes, rather than interceding over the immediate needs of each population.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House.

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Review of The Calling by Rachelle Dekker

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Genre: Futuristic/Dystopian/Suspense

Series: A Seer Novel, Book 2

Recommended.

978-1-4964-0227-1The dystopian setting of the Authority City continues in this sequel to The Choosing with an increasingly dangerous regiment of experimental vaccinations to control the people, and a plan to find and exterminate the rebel camp of the Seers, lead by Remko Brant. Against high stakes and multiple disappointments, Remko struggles to work through his anger and fear in order to realize his identity, and discover his calling.

I enjoyed the first book in this series, and was glad to resume the story with this one, which I found better than the first. It reads as popular teen fiction, with relatable characters, a good amount of suspense, and lots of action in the second half (the beginning was interesting enough to keep me reading, but slower paced). The end was particularly good, and left me wanting to read the final book of the series!

I especially liked the juxtaposition of the corrupt society’s initiatives to control and manipulate the people, compared with the spiritual teaching of the rebels to surrender to God by finding their identity in Him. The spiritual metaphor, on this note, is very positive, although theologically it is a bit shallow. I had a small issue with this in the first book as well, in that the story presents a partial truth in its portrayal of salvation–presenting salvation as something that one simply realizes as one’s identity, rather than the biblical process of dying to oneself through repentance, in order to be exalted as a new creation through Christ (a transformation into salvation, rather than an epiphany that no transformation is needed because one has already been made perfect). This is an important difference to me, and one I would emphasize to my kids before letting them read this. But from a story perspective, it is very good. And the process of surrendering one’s fears is also strongly presented.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers.

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Review of The Confessions of X by Suzanne M. Wolfe

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Genre: Historical Romance

Highly Recommended!

_225_350_Book.1814.coverSt. Augustine of Hippo wrote an autobiographical work called Confessions; and within this he mentions his pain in parting with his concubine, whom he loved dearly. The Confessions of X brings to life a fictitious rendering of this anonymous women’s story–her own autobiography unknown to history, yet having made a permanent impression on Augustine who thus influenced the early Christian world. The historical aspects of the book are well researched, and the author’s minor liberties with the factual account and chronology achieve her goal of dramatic storytelling without taking away from the historical richness.

Truly, this is one of my favorite narratives of the year as the characters touched me–even to tears, which is very rare for me while reading. It is a brilliantly written novel that captures the human condition, and reaches the soul, while also providing a poignant doorway to Northern Africa and Rome in the fourth and early fifth centuries.

Augustine was not a Christian until later in his life, and this is not a “Christian” novel in the tradition of lightheartedness and censoring, but an honest one that tells the truth in every detail: not shying away from pagan worship, sensuality, the brutality of the games, or the pains of childbearing, illness, and loss. The poetic writing evokes the emotions and brings each setting to life–for better and worse, and however graphic to the mind and senses.

I was most touched by the exploration of human and divine love, and was left with a greater sense of Jesus’ love through the multi-faceted metaphor of these characters’ lives, and the impossible choices they make along the way.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.

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