Review of The Returning by Rachelle Dekker

Standard

Genre: Futuristic/Supernatural Christian Fiction/Sci-Fi

Series: A Seer Novel, Book 3

Not Recommended.

978-1-4964-0229-5Two decades have passed since the Seers fled the Authority City, with Remko and Carrington forced to leave their baby girl Elise behind. Now the Authority City is under the manufactured “peace” of a vaccine inhibiting memories and causing robotic submission to the authorities; yet Elise is immune, and is beginning to wake up to her identity as a Seer, as a supernatural shift is set in motion, with both sides gearing up for their inevitable confrontation.

I enjoyed the first two books of the series: The Choosing, and The Calling, even though I had a slight theological concern with each of them. In this final installment, the spiritual/theological aspect is much more prominent. I really like the theme of identity as a child of the Father’s, and how the inner struggle of light and darkness is portrayed. I also like the Seer’s process of learning to work together, and embracing their various supernatural gifts.

However, there is a stronger spiritual theme of finding one’s light within oneself that is not at all biblical, regardless of how many churches may embrace this form of religious syncretism. The Bible teaches that since sin was introduced into the world, humanity is born into sin, and then reborn in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus came to save the whole world; but we must receive his salvation in order to have the Holy Spirit inside of us. When an unbeliever looks into himself he will not find God, but must choose to receive God’s calling, and die to himself.

Dekker’s characters are entirely focused on the light within themselves, and in all things, as the source of their identity and power. As a result, when the characters suffer, they go within themselves and are entirely self focused in a transcendent chat of beliefs (in line with Eastern religions, New Age, or modern psychology despite the “Christianese” language) rather than suffering in the example of the Christian Apostles (or Jewish Patriarchs) by looking to God and sanctifying His name in the midst of affliction. Dekker’s spiritual metaphor is clear as she constantly quotes Scripture (often out of context). I cannot advocate this harmful theology, despite some of the other positive spiritual motifs.

I also felt that the story itself was not as strong as it could have been. While there were moments of internal and/or spiritual struggle, the intensity of the suffering and conflicts were too shallow and unrealistic, the characters too often had overly simplified solutions to every problem, and the novel overall felt predictable, shallow, and preachy (of its poor theology).

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

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Review of Catching Heat by Janice Cantore

Standard

Genre: Mystery/Crime Novel

Series: Cold Case Justice, Book 3

Not Recommended.

catching-heatDetective Abby Hart and PI Luke Murphy are sent to San Luis Obispo to work on the cold case of a murdered student, as well as a second case in finding a dangerous missing person. Meanwhile, Abby strives to find closure in the case of her parents’ death, investigating this personal case on the side.

This series should be read in order! Starting at book 3, the current cases were easy to follow, but the I felt lost with Abby’s personal “Triple Seven” case until near the end when the perpetrators gained a small role. I also had gaps with the characters’ histories and relationships. Consequently, the romance seemed like too much too soon, but likely had been built on in the other books.

I enjoyed reading this for the lighthearted romantic crime novel that it is (especially in the final suspenseful portions), but did not get as much out of it as I do some books. I really liked another of Janice Cantore’s books, so was expecting more. Overall this was a “mediocre” read for me–not bad, but also not memorable.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale. 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Review of The Occupied by Craig Parshall

Standard

Genre: Thriller/Supernatural

Series: Trevor Black, Book 1

Recommended.

theoccupied

Trevor Black is a high profile defense attorney until he is physically threatened by the demonic manifestation of one of his criminal clients. As his life falls apart around him, his developing gift of spiritual discernment (i.e. smelling and seeing demons) prevents him from continuing life-as-normal, and he begins to seek truth–both from God, and in unveiling the connection between multiple demonically-based crimes.

Trevor’s life is woven together through three parts: “The Flesh,” “The World,” and “The Devil,” progressing from his childhood/coming of age, to the shattering of his prestigious criminal defense career and marriage, then his return to his hometown to investigate the murder of his childhood friend, while connecting the physical and spiritual patterns of his life.

The narrative is true to its promise as a supernatural thriller, and is a quick read as a result of the suspense. There is mature content including sexuality, demonic manifestations, and heinous crimes involving Satanic occult rituals. Some of this was difficult for me, and I probably would not have chosen to read it had I realized the supernatural focus. But upon finishing the narrative I am left with a positive impression of how everything came together in such a revealing and honest manner, without exalting the sin or darkness, or detracting from the message of faith. It is well crafted, spiritually en pointe, introspective, engaging, and ultimately points toward hope in Jesus. It may also be enlightening for those drawn to horror, who have not considered the spiritual framework behind physical evils.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Review of The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow

Standard

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.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Review of Delilah: Treacherous Beauty by Angela Hunt

Standard

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Review of The Alliance by Jolina Petersheim

Standard

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.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

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

Standard

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Review of Sister Dear by Laura McNeill

Standard

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Review of Counted With the Stars by Connilyn Cossette

Standard

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest

Review of Be Healed and Stay Healed by Ed Rocha

Standard

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.

facebooktwittergoogle_pluspinterest