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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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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