Review of The Domino Effect by Davis Bunn

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Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Suspense

Not Recommended.

dominoeffectEsther Larsen is a top risk analyst, and math prodigy, who notices alarming trends that will have devastating effects on the global economy if not stopped. In a parallel to the biblical heroine, she steps out to share her voice with the world, and prevent disaster–putting herself and those she loves at risk.

Esther is a very likable character, and immediately drew me into her story. She is strong, independent, refined, and logical, yet has the relatable introvertive challenges in processing her emotions, trusting a community of friends, and letting go of the past. There were several moments in Esther’s personal and professional life where I identified, connected with, and celebrated her achievements and character growth.

The global economic crisis was also set up to be suspenseful–initially. But the pace became much too slow about a third of the way into the novel, and it killed the suspense for me. The bad guys were not believable, or nearly wicked enough to create the needed tension and apprehension. And, while the details of the economic threat were interesting to me, the tone did not feel imminent.

I also found the end to be completely unmemorable–everything was too easily worked out; and I did not understand the point of a couple of the side stories, which did not tie together well for me. I needed more suspense, higher stakes, and more connections within the themes of the larger picture.

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

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I’m Going to Israel!

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I am on my way to Israel with a seminary study tour, and can not wait for the transformation that will come with this experience. Even now, the time I have spent with my traveling mates has been so enriching.

I just opened an Instagram account to stay in touch with my family through pictures. My username for those who may want to follow is: theresashell.

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Review of The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow

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Genre: Contemporary Fiction/WWII

Not Recommended.

the-witnesses-by-robert-whitlowParker House is a young attorney in North Carolina, with the gift of extraordinary intuition, which often comes in seeing glimpses of the future. His German grandfather, Frank, shares this same gift, which he had used during the Holocaust in regrettable ways. Wartime secrets begin to surface as Parker grapples between progressing his career and finding love, and Frank struggles through deeper issues of faith, repentance, and releasing guilt for his past mistakes.

I enjoyed the legal–courtroom drama–aspects of this book, as well as the characters. I thought Frank and Layla were especially well developed, complex characters; and I loved the flashbacks into Frank’s life during the war.

However, the pace of the narrative was too slow in many places, with the major theme of the supernatural abilities not directly coming out until the middle of the novel.

I also did not like the ending, as I felt the atrocities of the Holocaust (while alive and burdensome in Frank’s mind) were overall downplayed, and not dealt with appropriately or fully. The ending also felt predictable and abrupt to me. I would consider reading this author again, but did not enjoy this book.

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

 

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The Healing Breakthrough: Creating an Atmosphere of Faith for Healing by Randy Clark

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Genre: Charismatic/Healing

Recommended.

9780800797836

This is a great book on healing, especially for church leadership and healing within the local church setting. Randy Clark has a very relatable and accessible writing style, and describes some of the theology and challenges behind healing ministry, mixed with plenty of personal stories.

The first section details theological, social, and practical obstacles to healing, including Paul’s “thorn in the flesh,” hype and emotionalism, Cessationism, personal expectations, the “Word of Faith” movement, and other similar theological misbeliefs and perceptions. Each chapter is short and concise, which makes for a quick read of the most essential points on each topic.

The second section focuses on the practical ministry of healing, including the importance of the testimony, words of knowledge, the ways of God, the theology of faith, and, of course, many personal stories from ministry experience. I especially enjoyed reading the pieces about Randy’s doctoral research, and breakthroughs within his personal ministry.

I recommend this book as a practical, and beneficial, introduction to healing ministry in the local church and evangelistic setting. For healing theology, I would recommend instead some of the “classics” such as F.F. Bosworth’s Christ the Healer, which has had a huge impact on my own theology. But, Randy does an excellent job of summarizing some of the main issues that other theologians have addressed with more depth, in order to make these challenges accessible to the contemporary minister, church leader, and “lay” minister.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Chosen.

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Review of Delilah: Treacherous Beauty by Angela Hunt

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Genre: Biblical Fiction

Series: Dangerous Beauty (Book 3)

Recommended.

delilahI did not love the first two books in the Dangerous Beauty Series (featuring Esther and Bathsheba), but decided to give Hunt another try because I love the concept of biblical women’s stories coming to life, and have appreciated Hunt’s research and unique perspectives in her other books.

Told in the first person from the interchanging voices of Samson and Delilah, this is the best of the series so far. The Bible speaks very little about Delilah beyond her betrayal of Samson’s love. Hunt provides a background for Delilah, and further context for Samson, that is intriguing and realistic without contradicting the biblical account.

I was drawn to the story. I frequently looked back to Scripture while reading to remember whether certain details were truly mentioned (and was surprised by some of the biblical events I had forgotten!). I also thoroughly enjoyed the human perspective of Delilah, who is presented more favorably than in most Sunday school classes.

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

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Review of The Alliance by Jolina Petersheim

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Genre: Apocalyptic/Mennonite/Romance

Not Recommended.

TheAllianceA pacifist Mennonite community agrees to take in stranded “Englischers” after an EMP attack; and together the community must find a way to survive the aftermath, while confronting their personal values and physical needs. Heroine, Leora Ebersole is caught in a love triangle between the Mennonite “boy-next-door” who has always loved her, and the attractive pilot who crashed his plane in her backyard during the EMP attack.

This reads like young adult fiction, both in writing style and depth of content. The story raises interesting questions as to keeping one’s faith and moral values in the event of mass chaos and destruction, as well as illustrating our contemporary dependence on EMP (electromagnetic pulse). Some parts of it are interesting, and I read it through to the end without too much inner complaint.

So much more could have been done with this plot structure. I enjoyed the unique merging of two cultures, but the narrative did not carry the substance or depth of the apocalyptic storyline. Suspense was lacking. It was predictable. And I disliked the shallow romance, which should have been a side story, rather than the main event.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

 

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Review of Like a River from Its Course by Kelli Stuart

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Genre: History/Holocaust Fiction

Highly Recommended.

like a riverSet in WWII Ukraine (1941-1945, with the epilogue in 1947), this heart-wrenching story is told from four voices, who are a conglomerate of the hundreds of interviews and stories collected by the author during her extensive research.

Ivan Kyrilovich is a father and husband who risks his life to help his Jewish friends, and ends up in the shooting line with them at Babi Yar. Ivan’s youngest daughter, Maria, finds herself in a concentration camp. Another young Ukrainian woman, Luda Michaelevna, escapes her verbally abusive father, only to experience much worse. And Nazi officer Frederick Herrmann struggles to live up to his prestigious father’s expectations. Other major and minor characters also appear as the lives of the characters intertwine and separate throughout the narrative.

As one would expect from honest Holocaust fiction, not every character has a happy ending. Many scenes are intense and difficult to read. Characters die, and want to die, and experience unimaginable atrocities. Yet the overall feeling at the end is hopeful, and the narrative feels balanced and complete.

This is a powerful, beautifully crafted story, not to be overlooked by lovers of historical fiction.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel Publications.

 

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Review of Distinctly You: Trading Comparison and Competition for Freedom and Fulfillment by Cheryl Martin

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Genre: Christian Living/Women’s Issues/Motivational

Recommended.

9780764215865This easy-to-read devotional style book encourages women to recognize and value the distinct calling God has placed on their lives, and to be grounded in the Lord, rather than pursuing comparison, jealousy, competition, and weighty personal expectations. The author shares candidly, in succinct chapters, from her own experiences in the areas of relationships (dating, marriage, and divorce), college and career pursuits, failures, and trusting God through every season.

This would be perfect reading material for young women undergoing a life transition (like high school or college graduation), for someone delayed in a desired transition (like the pursuit of marriage, or job), or for someone looking to build self esteem while connecting with God.

The content was engaging and Christ-focused throughout, although I did find myself loosing interest toward the end, partly because I am not currently in the situation of needing inspiration in these areas.

I enjoyed the way that Scripture was integrated alongside personal stories, and found the length of each devotional chapter ideal for quick, reflective reading, while the devotional questions were thoughtful and introspective.

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

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Review of Colors of Goodbye: A Memoir of Holding On, Letting Go, and Reclaiming Joy in the Wake of Loss by September Vaudrey

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Genre: Memoir/Grief

Recommended!

goodbyeSeptember Vaudrey writes a beautiful memoir of the vibrant life of her daughter, Katie, who joined Jesus unexpectedly at age 19. She gracefully and honestly captures the depths and intersections of grief, joy, death, life, pain and love. There were also unexpected moments of suspense in seeing how God may have been working behind the scenes of this tragedy–His showing up in the most unconventional ways.

Katie was an artist, and some of her paintings/artwork are scattered throughout the book (including the front cover design, which is a rough draft of her newest work, shortly before her death). The book sections are also appropriately titled by meaningful paint colors, carrying on the depth of Katie’s artistic passion. The art and family pictures brought an added sense of connectedness to the Vaudrey family, and the treasure of Katie’s life.

This is a touching memoir. I love how September shows her grieving process within the perspective of the community, including how each family member needed to grieve differently, and how their extended family, church family, and community surrounded them in a manner that soothed them within their pain. This book is inspiring, hopeful, and life-giving.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Momentum.

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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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