Review of Deep Under Cover by Jack Barsky

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Genre: Memoir

Recommended!

deep under coverDeep Under Cover is a very engaging memoir of an East German KGB agent who infiltrates the United States during the Cold War. The author details his early life in East Germany, his recruitment into the KGB, his complex personal relationships, his transformation into espionage and rebirth into the identity of American Jack Barsky, and eventually of the love that changed his world, drawing him toward a new physical and spiritual identity.

Jack’s story is both fascinating and touching. His perspective of each “side” during the Cold War is valuable. And it is clear throughout that the Lord continuously intervened on Jack’s behalf. He ends with focusing very directly on the mindset shift, which lead him into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. His encounter with the FBI is also particularly interesting.

It’s amazing Jack was able to share his story so openly, regardless of what details may be missing as per each mission. Definitely worth reading!

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

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Review of Invitation by Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, and Alton Gansky

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Genre: Supernatural Suspense/YA Fiction

Series: Harbingers, Cycle One

Loosely Recommended.

invitationThis first installment of the Harbinger series is made up of four novellas, each written by a different well-known Christian fiction author, and each from the point of view of a different character. The aim of the series is to write fast-paced, supernaturally quirky short stories that read like a TV series. While this is not necessarily “YA Fiction” it has a youthful appeal.

The four primary characters are: Brenda, a prophetic tattoo artist, Professor James McKinney, an atheist ex-priest, Tank, a soft-hearted football player with healing abilities, and Andi, a Jewish assistant to the professor, who loves patterns and numbers. These four are drawn together as unlikely friends to solve mysteries, use their gifts, and influence people.

These stories were a little strange for my taste, and I didn’t know what to make of them, despite enjoying the overall concept. Also, not all of the episodes had a clear resolution.

The first episode involves a cult-like school, where the characters are trying to save a student from being brainwashed. The second deals with a disappearing house that haunts people (creepiness ensues). The third involves a plague of eye-less dead animals. And the fourth centers around saving a girl from another dimension. For the most part, the episodes were strange, but not dark, thus appropriate for most Christian readers.

I didn’t really enjoy this, and probably will not continue reading the series, but I do think it could be enjoyable for an older teen with good discernment, who wants edgy Christian fiction.

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

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The Music in Me Lives (Holocaust Poetry)

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In light of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), I thought I would share this poem I wrote based on the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman as presented in his memoir The Pianist and accompanying film. It’s called “The Music in Me Lives” and speaks both to the miraculous survival of one man in the Holocaust, as well as to the themes of life, death, and detachment, and the place of art in guiding the soul through suffering–all of which are personal to me in my own journey.

Since this was a class project that I was not planning to share, my introduction addresses my classmates in the context of previous class discussions.

The poem itself begins right at the three minute mark; feel free to skip ahead (being in front of a camera is not my happy place).

If you are not familiar with this movie or book, there are major spoilers in my presentation.

 

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Review of The Returning by Rachelle Dekker

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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.

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Review of Catching Heat by Janice Cantore

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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. 

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Review of The Occupied by Craig Parshall

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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.

 

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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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