Review of The Church Builder by A.L. Shields


Genre: Suspense/Mystery

Series: Book One


When small-town lawyer Bethany Barclay is framed for murder, she finds herself on the run and caught between two mysterious organizations plus the government’s own investigation. She quickly realizes her best friend Annabelle Seaver had been involved in something big–and upon Annabelle’s recent death, Bethany is the only one who can connect the pieces of the puzzle to discover what her friend was up to, and decide for herself if she wants any part in it. The narrative twists from dangerous men, through a religious cult, rumors of an ancient religious artifact, and a political and spiritual battle bigger than anyone could anticipate.

The Church Builder reads like a fast-paced blockbuster hit–in line with The Da Vinci Code or maybe a John Grisham novel. (I actually think it could be more successful as a movie than as a novel.) It is Christian fiction, and yet I do not know I would have recognized that if I were unfamiliar with the publishing company. The Christian themes are subtle even though faith in general is a large part of the book. Also, the writing has an abruptness to it that is more characteristic of secular popular fiction, and I mean that as a compliment: the story moved quickly, and reeled me in. I have enjoyed the characters and am interested to read the rest of the series as it becomes available.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Zondervan.


Review of City on Fire by Tracy L. Higley


Genre: Historical Romance


Ariella has witnessed the destruction of her beloved Jerusalem, the loss of her family, and death of her people. Now a runaway slave, she disguises herself as a male gladiator, fighting for the hope of winning the crowd and her freedom. Wealthy politician Portius Cato, is also running away in a sense–he has left Rome and the political sphere hoping to live a peaceable life in Pompeii as a winegrower, but is immediately caught up in politics as he begins to fight against social injustice and the personal affronts to his family. Cato and Ariella’s paths cross as they separately encounter a group of Christians, and each learn to surrender their individual challenges and stubbornness for a greater hope and purpose.

This is the third of Higley’s books that I have read, and while they were all good, I enjoyed this one best. I enjoyed the characters’ personalities, the suspense of knowing that Mt. Vesuvius would erupt at some point in the midst of their plans, and the historical setting of Pompeii, which has always interested me. I connected with Ariella’s strength, Cato’s sense of justice, and the Roman world, which is not far off from our own.

The author also has a very cool website with photos of her journey through Pompeii and the surrounding areas during her research, details about the writing of the book, and all sorts of other things. I love that Higley puts so much thought into portraying the historical elements of the story accurately, and enjoy following her on that adventure.

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


Review of Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers


Genre: Historical, Romantic Fiction

Highly Recommended!

Redeeming Love is a fictitious retelling of the biblical story of Hosea and Gomer, set in 1850s California gold country. Sarah was sold into prostitution at a very young age, and is given the “working” name Angel. Over time, her heart has hardened, and she is very good at her job. Then she meets Michael Hosea, a godly man who truly loves her and insists on marrying her. Analogizing both the Prophet Hosea, and the Father God himself, Michael demonstrates again and again that he will never stop loving, forgiving or pursuing his beloved wife.

I first read Redeeming Love immediately after becoming a Christian. At that point I had a negative view of Christian literature in general, and did not expect to enjoy this narrative; however, it instantly became my new favorite book. Reading it again today, this story still captures my heart. It is one of the few books that I could read again and again, and is still amongst my very favorite books of all time.

The depth of the characters is incredible. It does not matter that readers familiar with the biblical story may anticipate the movement of the narrative, because the story itself tugs on the heart and brings its own suspense. I do not think there is any novel that better expresses God’s deep unconditional love and investment in each one of us.

This 20th Anniversary Edition includes a Reader’s Group Guide; and while I cannot recognize if any significant changes or additions have occurred from former publications (I have long since passed forward my previous copy), it is so exciting to celebrate the anniversary of this truly life-changing book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah.


Review of Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta


Genre: Historical Romance/Victorian Gothic

Series: Book One of the Price of Privilege Trilogy


As an unmarried woman in 1838 England, recently orphaned Julia Elliston is left under the care of an anonymous guardian, who plans to carry out his ownership of her by sending her to Scotland as a servant. Desperate to control her own destiny, Julia travels to the estate of her best friend, hoping to reconnect with her childhood beau, Edward Auburn. Finding that Edward has chosen to enter the ministry, Julia (an atheist) is heartbroken and desperate for any match that will improve her social status. But as she entangles herself with the social elite, Julia begins to discover secrets about her family’s past that have serious implications for her future.

This is one of the most mysterious and suspenseful novels I have read in awhile. The strong Gothic writing, combined with the elements of Victorian England make for a chillingly grotesque, yet beautifully charming story. I felt myself caught up in the characters, the scenery, the mystery, and the wit. The romance was on the steamier side considering this is Christian fiction, but completely in line with the mood of Romantic and Gothic literature.

While it is obvious Dotta is well versed in the classics (e.g. Austen, Brontë, Poe, Dickens, Radcliffe, Shelley), she has her own unique style–and I like it! This is an excellent debut, and I cannot wait to read the rest of the trilogy! This one ended with just enough of the story wrapped up, and much more mystery to look forward to in the coming sequels.

I received a complimentary copy of this book through the Tyndale Blog Network.


Review of Father of Lights (DVD) and Finding God in the Bible (Paperback) by Darren Wilson


I do not typically post joint reviews, but in this case I received both Father of Lights and Finding God in the Bible simultaneously from the publisher, and for good reason. They each uncover what it looks like to be a friend of God. Also, in Finding God in the Bible Darren Wilson frequently refers to scenes and people encountered in his film, Father of Lights. I recommend watching the film first, then reading the book–although, of course, both are enjoyable completely on their own as well.

Father of Lights:

Genre: DVD/Christian Living/Charismatic

Highly Recommended.

I first encountered Darren Wilson through his feature film, Finger of God, in which he captured multiple supernatural miracles of God on camera in an exciting documentary-style demonstration of God’s involvement with humanity. His film, Furious Love, continued that story of God’s love and immanence. And Darren’s newest film, Father of Lights, wraps up this film trilogy with some of the most encouraging and exciting charismatic Christian footage I have seen.

This film expresses what it looks like to be a friend of God through documentary interviews and excursions with many of God’s close friends. As the film crew travels the world to visit with both known and lesser known Christian ministers, people encounter God, are healed, and recognize the warmth of God’s passionate love. There is also a particularly excellent scene where the film crew is able to film inside the Dome of the Rock, which is unheard of for Christians, but possible through the loving and miracle-working Father God. This is really an amazing film!

Finding God in the Bible:

Genre: Christian Living/Charismatic


In Finding God in the Bible, Darren Wilson candidly discusses some of the Bible’s more troubling stories and how each actually reveals something positive about God’s character. Areas analyzed, for instance, include Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his own son, Elisha cursing 42 youths to their death, what went wrong with King Saul, and many other interesting biblical passages. The majority of the book is taken from the Old Testament, with exception of the final chapter that focuses on Jesus’ character and interaction with His friends.

Wilson does not write as an apologist or theologian, but as a friend of God casually sharing his own personal insights, stories, and thoughts. Since I do love to study theology, at times I became distracted by very small insignificant details that were not quite accurate, and needed to remind myself to focus on Wilson’s overall message–a message, by the way, which was always excellent and well presented despite some very minor issues.

This is a book for anyone wanting to understand how God feels about humanity (He loves us, likes us, and wants to be our friend!), and also for those desiring to strengthen their own friendship with God. It’s easy to read, interesting, and very encouraging.

I received a complimentary copy of this DVD and this book from Chosen Books.