Saturday, December 19, 2009

Book Review: Cottonwood Whispers

At first I hesitated to accept this complimentary copy of Cottonwood Whispers from Tyndale House Publishers for review. It's a sequel, and I haven't read the first book. But that wasn't a problem. Author Jennifer Erin Valent subtly refers to the previous story from time to time while keeping this story fully self-contained. I appreciated that! I wasn't confused and didn't feel I'd missed anything. I just enjoyed reading a well-written story about a 17-year-old girl who finds herself caught in the middle of a serious community crisis.

The story is set in the South in 1936. Jessilyn Lassiter lives with her parents and adopted sister/best friend Gemma Teague. She also has a crush on the “boy-next-door” who's really a man in his early 20's trying to decide if Jessilyn has grown up enough for him yet or not. When a three-year-old neighbor is hit by a car and dies, an innocent man is charged with the crime. Jessilyn and Gemma struggle to bring truth to light without bringing harm to their family.

Cottonwood Whispers is a coming of age story full of strong characters, deep emotions, and a surprising storyline. Woven carefully throughout is a message of God's faithful presence and sovereignty. If you enjoy reading novels, I recommend this one.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Book Review: Jesus Lives

Sarah Young is quickly becoming one of my favorite devotional writers. This is the second book of hers that Thomas Nelson Publishers has sent me to review, and I am not disappointed. I plan to read the third, which is actually her first, as well.

In Jesus Lives, as in Jesus Calling, Sarah Young shares writings from her personal prayer and devotion time. Her messages are unique in that she focuses on Christ’s presence, writing what she believes He is saying to her each day. As a result, the devotionals are written as if spoken by Christ which makes them especially personal and meaningful.

Young does make it clear, however, that,
“The Bible is the only infallible Word of God. My writings are based on that unchanging standard, and I try to ensure that they are consistent with biblical truth.”
Scripture is, in fact, emphasized in each devotional. Words directly from the Bible are italicized and two to four references are included for each message.

Young has made two helpful additions to this book. First, there is a Guide to Themes. If I want to read devotionals specifically about trust, for example, this guide tells me which include that theme or several other themes I might be interested in.

Second, on the page opposite each devotional, all referenced verses are printed out for me to read right there. This means, unless I’m looking for context, I don’t have to read with my Bible in hand or at the computer with on the screen.

While the devotionals in Jesus Calling focused on His Presence, the 180 devotionals in Jesus Lives focus on His love. If you are searching for a devotional that will help you to develop a deeper awareness of and relationship with Jesus, I recommend Jesus Lives.


Monday, November 23, 2009

Book Review: The White Horse King

The back of the book advertises The White Horse King as “a mythic adventure story that stirs the imagination and races the heart.” So—I was expecting to read of an adventure, something like First Knight or The Three Musketeers set in Viking times. Instead I got a documentary. There’s nothing wrong with documentaries, but when you’re expecting an epic story, they are disappointing.

That first reaction set aside, as an historical biography, The White Horse King is well-researched and thoroughly presented. I don’t know if the author ever read You Can Write Your Family History by Sharon DeBartolo Carmack or not, but he followed her instructions for a biography to the letter, starting with known facts about Alfred the Great and adding cultural and historical information to complete the story, to help the reader understand what he probably did, felt, and thought about events during his time. Notes set to the side of the text, drawings, maps, and pictures add interest to the book. Each of the eight chapters begins with an historical ballad, poem, or quote relevant to the content. The book also includes a bibliography and index.

If you enjoy learning about the Vikings, early Anglo-Saxon kings, and the history of England along with the origins of some of its early myths, The White Horse King is a book you will want to read.

Thank you to Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending a complimentary copy of this book for me to review.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Book Review: 101 Simple & Thoughtful Ways to Give This Christmas Away

Wow! Matthew West wrote a book! A good book! Usually he writes songs—really good songs. But the song he wrote for the latest Veggie Tales movie gave him the idea for a book, so he wrote that, too. It’s really good. (Did I say that already?)

101 Simple & Thoughtful Ways to Give This Christmas Away is a small hardback (6.5 x 6.5). Each page lists one idea for giving Christmas away followed by West’s explanation of the idea and a Bible verse. (I had no idea there were so many Bible verses about giving, yet they were all familiar verses. Seeing them all together in one place made me realize maybe I take them for granted sometimes.)

Throughout the book, West shares personal stories of times he was challenged to give in these ways. I especially appreciated the stories of his grandfather and father giving to others in ways that taught him. Some ideas are extremely simple, like giving a smile, others are more challenging, like giving till it hurts or giving to an enemy. But each idea is well presented, thought-provoking, and easy to understand. (I especially appreciated #16.) Some of West’s ideas draw attention to well-known charities such as Operation Christmas Child and the Salvation Army.

If you are looking for simple ideas to make Christmas giving more meaningful this year—and for giving all year round!—I highly recommend this cute, little book.

Thank you Tyndale House Publishers for sending me this complimentary copy to review.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Book Review: The Sacred Meal

Nora Gallagher has a unique writing style. I enjoyed reading The Sacred Meal, and it definitely made me think. I agreed with some statements from every chapter, but at the start of each, I wondered if I would. Rather than state her point at the outset, Gallagher reminisces, moving from story to thought to another story, connections not always obvious until the end when she wraps it all up and, suddenly, her point is finally clear.

Though I liked her writing style and enjoyed her stories and found some statements in each chapter to embrace wholeheartedly, there were a few issues that greatly concerned me. Throughout the book, Gallagher refers to historical, human Jesus and seems to ignore the God Who came to save. In her chapter on the history of communion, she leaves out the biblical accounts of the Last Supper, of Jesus Himself giving us this sacrament. In fact, she compares communion to the Muslim’s Ramadan and the Jewish Seder saying that since all three faiths come from Abraham, they are bound to have common rituals. All three may involve food, but that doesn’t make them similar, historically or otherwise.

Further, Gallagher seems to define communion as something that unites people, that links them together with some mystic bond. That’s true, but only if we recognize Jesus as that bond. We are united as we remember His sacrifice, as we reflect on what He did for us on the cross, as we worship Him together with gratitude. Gallagher mentions being thankful, but there doesn’t seem to be any worship or recognition of Christ involved. At the end of one chapter, she suggests it doesn’t matter what we believe, but only how we live. I get the impression she believes we save ourselves by following Christ’s example, by living good lives, that we don’t really need him; He’s just a good life model to follow. This concerns me. How we live is important, true. But living the way God wants us to is only possible if we’ve accepted Christ as our Savior, if He lives in us.

The Sacred Meal is a thought-provoking book with some good ideas, but I hesitate to recommend it. If you do choose to read it, read the biblical accounts of the Last Supper first, be clear on what your church believes about Communion, and compare and contrast with other books and articles on the topic. I don’t think Gallagher should have the only word.


Thursday, October 29, 2009

Book Review: Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain

This is one of those rare books that I just want to go out and purchase several copies of to give to people I know. The pages were overflowing with helpful and encouraging information. As I went about my days after reading portions from the book, I found myself, several times, recalling passages to apply them to different circumstances I would face or to share the ideas with friends. Practical information that’s easy to remember—signs of a well-written book.

The authors identify seven struggles all people face: injustice, rejection, loneliness, loss, discipline, failure, and death. They devote four chapters to each, defining the problem, giving examples (both modern and biblical) of people who have dealt with these, and showing how God can use the pain of the struggle to bring spiritual growth and blessing in His time. I especially enjoyed their interpretation of the Bible stories, showing God’s work for good behind the scenes in familiar characters’ lives.

Each four chapter section ends with a summary of the major points (for clarity and quick reference) and questions to help readers prayerfully seek the truth of their situations and apply the concepts to their lives. The authors help readers understand that when they trust God, knowing that there is a purpose to any pain He allows in their lives, they can continue on with anticipation and hope.

Finding Purpose Beyond Our Pain is the collaborative effort of psychiatrists Paul Meier, MD (founder of the Meier Clinics) and David L. Henderson, MD. I had heard of Meier, but never read anything of his before. I wasn’t disappointed. I’m happy to recommend this book.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Book Review: Green

I can’t say Green was a pleasant read—but it was worth my time. I think. (The non-ending still has me perplexed.)

Green is a story of fallen mankind, and God’s plan to restore, and Satan’s plan to destroy. It’s an allegory of the biggest spiritual battle of all time. And what’s spiritual, or unseen in the real world, becomes literal and seen in the world of the Circle. So it’s not pretty. In fact, it’s mostly dark and horrific and frightening and highly disturbing. You may have nightmares. Be warned.

But the story also includes the Great Romance—God’s love for His children, their love for Him, and the hope and help He provides to those who remain faithful to the end. One scene was so beautiful, it brought tears to my eyes. That scene made the book worth my time. I think.

Green is an unusual book. Book Zero of the Circle series, you can read it first or last and it will still make sense—to a point. It’s also the sequel, of sorts, to Showdown and is related to the Lost Books series, too.

If you’ve never read a Ted Dekker novel before, I’d recommend starting with something tamer, yet equally enthralling, like Blink. If you’re eager to start the Circle series, I’d recommend starting with Green. Though Dekker has written it to work like a circle, the loop didn’t, to me, completely work—it did loop, but it didn’t seem faithful to the subject of the allegory. I’m not sure what Dekker was trying to communicate with that. If you start with Green, however, White will leave you as a reader, in the end, in a happier and more satisfying place.

And if you want the allegory without the violent, horror extreme, you can still just read Black, Red, and White without Green. It’s not essential to the storyline—just a thought-provoking extra if you care to give it a try.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Book Review: Called to Worship

While I’ve heard of studying the Bible this way, this is probably the first time I’ve seen the results from someone who’s done it. In Called to Worship, Vernon Whaley follows the biblical theme of worship from Genesis to Revelation to give us a comprehensive picture of the concept.

The book is divided into three sections: Old Testament Principals of Worship, New Testament Principals of Worship, and Worship in Heaven (Principals from the Book of Revelation). Within each chapter, he tells the stories or gives examples of worship presented in the book or group of books he is discussing. Then he summarizes what we can learn about worship from that section of the Bible with Principals of Worship from This Chapter. The book is more than a word study; it’s a theme study. It’s meant to help us believe, understand, and know that God calls His children to worship Him, and it offers biblical guidance as to how.

As Director of the Center for Worship at Liberty University, Whaley definitely understands and has a heart for worship and for helping others to worship. Looking at familiar Bible passages from this point of view definitely gave me new insights and understanding. There were a few, but not too many places, where Whaley’s ideas seemed a little contrived, where perhaps he stretched things a little to make the passage fit the theme. But if the reader studies the Bible passages along with the book, there is much to learn. There is also much to look forward to as Whaley guides us to practice now what we can look forward to enjoying through eternity.

Our wonderful Lord is worthy of all worship and praise!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Book Review: Fearless

Imagine your life without fear—that’s hard to do. Yet Max Lucado has made a list of many of the things we fear daily and, in this book, shows us how to turn that life-stunting fear into a healthy trust in God. He also teaches us why we should and why God is worthy of that trust—in all situations.

As always, Lucado uses catchy titles, relevant stories, and poignant illustrations to clearly make his point, to bring God’s message to life. My favorite was the story of the lawyer warning the newborn of the all the negative things that might result from being born in order to avoid being sued. Now that was clever, and he made his point. But I won’t give it away—you’ll have to read the book.

Fearless includes a discussion guide for deeper study. My copy also came with a small booklet, a synopsis of the book, that I can give away to encourage a friend facing fear.

If you’re a fan of Max Lucado’s books, Fearless will not disappoint you. If he’s new to you, Fearless will encourage you. It will also make you smile. A quick read, relevant to the concerns of our day, Fearless is a book I recommend.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Book Review: Rick & Bubba's Guide . . .

Rick & Bubba’s Guide to the Almost Nearly Perfect Marriage is a sweet combination of light-hearted silliness and the wisdom borne of experience. Making no claim to be marriage experts, these radio personalities share stories from their lives, jokes in good taste, and lessons learned, not only about marriage, but also parenting and ministry. I really enjoyed reading this book.

My favorite chapters were:

Mama, Don’t Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Puddin’ Heads—advice I often receive from my husband as we raise three boys (though I don’t think either of us really knows what a puddin’ head is)

R-E-S-P-E-C-T—an on-target look at the marriage relationship Paul calls for in Ephesians 5

Things We Have Survived—birthday parties, vacations, moving, pregnancy . . .


The Unthinkable—a heart-touching call for couples to cling to each other while lifting each other to Christ when the worse part of for better or for worse comes to pass

Most chapters end with a humorous topical list of things pertaining to marriage such as “Top Ten Reasons Some Husbands Don’t Pick Up After Themselves” and “Sample Apologies for Men” and “for Women.” The book closes with a revelation of the top secret and infamous “The Book of Blame.”

Also included is a CD containing clips from some of Rick & Bubba’s radio shows. There is some overlap in the book, but it’s great to listen to in the car and share with others in the family.

If you’re looking for a giggle and a happy look at marriage from the male point of view, I gladly recommend this book to you.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Book Review: What's He Really Thinking?

By listening to men talk about their lives, wives, families, issues, and concerns through her many years as a therapist, Paula Rinehart has come to understand men. Better than that, she’s figured out how to explain them to the rest of us! (She even knows why boys stick things up their noses. I’d always wondered about that!)

I found this book to be respectful, entertaining, and insightful. I appreciated Rinehart’s easy-to-understand explanations and relevant illustrations. She explains how men and women think and act differently and how a greater understanding of this leads to a greater understanding of each other. (She even slips in a few clues to help women understand themselves!)

It’s not just about husbands and wives either. It’s about mothers and sons, fathers and daughters, brothers and sisters, and even in-laws. If there’s a man in your life, this book will be helpful to you.

Following the text, Rinehart provides suggested Scripture to pray, an in-depth study guide, and a list of questions whose answers will give you a better understanding of your particular man.

And be sure to read the footnotes—They don’t just quote sources. Rinehart writes personal and relevant notes of interest in them that relate to the text, though they aren’t really part of it.

I enjoyed this book, a quick and interesting read—I scribbled notes all over it, so I’m sure it’s one I will look back over again. I’m happy to recommend it to all Christian women who love and care about their men.


Monday, July 13, 2009

Book Review: Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl

I did not enjoy reading Notes from the Tilt-a-Whirl—at all. I usually try to find something nice to say when I review a book, even if I haven’t particularly cared for it, but this book was offensive to me.

N.D. Wilson is obviously highly intelligent and well-educated. He’s a deep thinker with a gift for word-crafting. (There, I said something nice.) Unfortunately, he seems obsessed with what’s morbid, distasteful, nasty, and gross. (And I was absolutely shocked to be assaulted by his use of the s-word in a Thomas Nelson book—with no good or even potentially justifiable reason. He just felt like writing it and did, and Thomas Nelson let him get away with it.)

Wilson uses illustrations from science and nature to prove God’s existence, explain the existence of evil, and explore other religious/philosophical ideas. His arguments are on-target, well-written, and intriguing, but are lost in the shock of the disgusting examples he chooses. Instead of walking away from the book thinking, “Our God is so awesome!”—which I think Wilson had hoped his readers would, I left it thinking, “That was just so gross!”

I’d like to see Wilson write more. If he cleans up his act, he has a lot of potential. But I think I’ll be afraid to trust another book by him. It’ll have to get a raving review from another bold soul before I do.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Book Review: Between Wyomings

Fans of music from the 60’s and 70’s may really enjoy the stories shared in Between Wyomings by former record producer Ken Mansfield. On a three-month road trip in a van named Moses with Mansfield’s wife, Connie, and two fully-loaded iPods, Mansfield reminisces about some of the significant events of his life. His memories are triggered by places he visits and songs the iPods play.

Though I had a hard time relating to his music, memories, or fast-paced lifestyle as a Grammy-winning music producer, Mansfield did include a few profound thoughts on God that I truly appreciated. I was most touched by his conversion story. I love hearing how God works in people’s lives, how He creatively works to draw all people into His Kingdom, and then how He works through those people to impact others as well. Mansfield’s story is a testimony to God’s loving determination to lead those He created, loved, and died for safely home.

Mansfield’s memories star such people and groups as the Beatles, the Beach Boys, Bill Gaither, Don Ho, Glen Campbell, Ray Charles, Dolly Parton and Willie Nelson. Mansfield also lists God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit among the stars. His memories come from all over the US (just like his road trip) and also “across the pond.”

Monday, May 25, 2009

Book Review: Jesus Calling

Jesus Calling by Sarah Young, a missionary with a unique story to tell, is a one-year daily devotional with a thought-provoking twist. Young writes to readers as if Jesus is the one delivering the message. She has Him quote Scripture throughout to subtly show these are things He truly would say. Yet her insights are deep. Jesus speaks in gentle, yet firm tones, calling us to an ever deepening relationship with Him.

The devotionals came from Young’s personal quiet time as she began to journal what she believed Jesus was saying to her through Scripture instead of what she personally thought about the Scripture she read. She shares this change of perspective with readers in a powerful way.

Themes presented throughout the book include practicing Christ’s presence, trust, refusal to worry or fear, letting God manage our time—schedule our day, perseverance and trials—and Jesus’ faithfulness through it all. The book begins with a brief biography of Sarah Young, giving her testimony and telling how she came to write these devotionals. Following each message is a list of references to Scripture used.

I’ve truly enjoyed reading this book. Many times Jesus seemed to be saying just what I needed to hear. I plan to read the book again very soon, this time journaling along with it and taking extra time to study the Scriptures in context. I highly recommend Jesus Calling as a gift for a growing Christian friend or for personal prayer time use.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Book Review: Face of Betrayal

Face of Betrayal is the story of three women whose jobs bring them together so that a strong friendship is born. One is a federal prosecutor, one a reporter, the third an FBI special agent. They find their paths crossing as each plays her unique role in fighting crime; they call themselves, “The Triple Threat Club.”

In Face of Betrayal, a teenage girl is missing, a senate page. Entries on the girl’s MySpace page lead Allison (the prosecutor) and Nic (the FBI agent) to suspect murder or suicide, rather than kidnapping. Because the girl is a senate page from an influential family, the case quickly becomes big news, keeping Cassidy (the reporter) busy.

At the same time, Allison’s life is threatened and Cassidy becomes involved in a complicated relationship. These story elements, along with hints about Nic’s mysterious past add drama to the book while letting us get to know the main characters.

I enjoyed reading Face of Betrayal, though it was a little bit graphic for my tastes. If you are a fan of crime dramas, you’ll like this book.

Following the story, there is a thought-provoking discussion guide—very well-done. There is also an interview with Lis Wiehl by Bill O’Reilly where we learn how her career experiences helped her to create “The Triple Threat Club” and where she promises a sequel to come soon.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Book Review: Do Hard Things

If you have a teenager, are a teenager, work with teenagers, know a teenager, or have a heart for building God’s Kingdom whatever your age, you must read this book. Don’t argue with me—go get it today. I’m not kidding! Go!

Alex & Brett Harris were only 16 when they founded TheRebelution.coma teenage rebellion against low expectations. This book was born of that movement and, though written for teens, is full of sage advice for adults as well. The Harris brothers took Paul seriously when he said, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” –1 Timothy 4:12. Through their web site, book, and conferences, they are encouraging others to do the same.

In the book, they start by telling their story, then move into a history of “teenagers.” Did you know they’ve only existed since the early 1800’s? They explain how teenagers came to be and some of the results society is seeing today. After that, they give examples of historical “teenagers,” then considered adults, who accomplished some amazing things. They call this first section of the book, “Rethinking the Teen Years.”

In section two, they define hard things and tell why teenagers should attempt them—to grow, to pursue excellence, to dream big, to be faithful and choose integrity, and to stand for what is right. They also explain what is needed to accomplish hard things: courage, commitment, competence, collaboration, character and so on.

Finally, they tell stories of teenagers today who have done hard things and who are planning to do hard things. They encourage the reader to make a plan to attempt his or her own hard things. In the appendix, Alex presents the Gospel for any reader who doesn’t yet know Christ.

Do Hard Things is well-researched, well-organized, and well-written. It's an easy and interesting read. It’s also a very good idea! I highly recommend it. Happy reading!

Monday, April 27, 2009

Book Review: The Noticer

I think you could say this book is a combination novel, self-help, motivational read. It’s a fictional story about a homeless man who is helped by a mysterious stranger who claims to be a noticer. His wisdom comes from noticing what others tend to miss. The homeless man’s life is forever changed for the better, and the noticer disappears.

Years later, he returns, however, to share his wisdom with those who need it throughout the town. His insights are profound—that’s where the self-help, motivational part of the book lies. Yet the story is intriguing. The Noticer is a happy story.

I did have two concerns about the book, though. First, some of the Noticer’s wisdom comes from other books. It’s adapted just a bit to make it somewhat unique to this book, and I liked what the Noticer added to these popular concepts—he did make them even easier to understand. Yet I still felt the other authors deserved credit for their ideas.

Also, in two scenarios, the Noticer’s wisdom leads to great points, yet doesn’t really follow a logical path from point A to point B. The Noticer says if this is true, then this is true, then this is true, then this must be true, but if one thinks about it, if the first is true, the second isn’t necessarily true, although the end point is nice and in some cases may be true anyway. I won’t give specific examples and give away elements of the story. Just think carefully when you recognize this formula in the book.

In spite of these two concerns, I enjoyed the book and considered it worth my time. The Noticer is a quick, thought-provoking, inspirational read.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Book Review: His Name Is Jesus

A beautiful hardcover book with a matching, protective slipcase, His Name Is Jesus by Max Lucado would make an ideal gift for someone not yet acquainted with his work. I am certain it would also be appreciated by someone who enjoys reading Lucado’s books, but hasn’t collected them all over time. This gift book provides a nice sampling of some of Lucado’s most profound thoughts on Jesus’ life.

His Name Is Jesus is a compilation of selections from Max Lucado’s many devotional books. Portions have been taken from the devotionals about Jesus and arranged chronologically to tell Jesus’ story through Lucado’s insightful eyes. The book is divided into six chapters: the preface, Jesus’ birth, mission, death, resurrection, and legacy. The artwork and photography greatly enhance each story and highlighted thought.

Although the preface is all that seems to be unique to this book as far as words are concerned, the arrangement, photography, and design offer a whole new, collectible work. I especially enjoyed being able to read it at Easter time. The book was a valuable tool to help guide my reflections surrounding that precious holiday and Jesus’ sacrifice for you and for me. As an introductory gift or keepsake for someone who doesn’t collect, I’d recommend this book.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Book Review: "In the Footsteps of Paul"

Technically, In the Footsteps of Paul, is a pictorial gift book. Truly, though, it’s a well-designed storybook about the life and journeys of the Apostle Paul—complete with pictures that help the reader see there really was a flesh and blood person who lived the life one reads about in God’s Word.

The book is divided into three sections: Paul’s conversion, his missionary journeys, and his final trip to Jerusalem which led to Rome. Ken Duncan, the author/photographer, correlates Scripture, mostly from the book of Acts, with pictures of the places mentioned in that book. He ties Scripture passages together with his own comments and quotes from well-known authors and preachers to tell the story of Paul and his ministry.

Of course, there are no pictures of Paul in this book, but the photos, comments, and quotes work together to help the reader imagine him in every scene or traveling from one to another. Just as visiting an historical site helps one more fully understand the reality of the recorded event, this book gives us glimpses of Paul, a man who really lived.

Along with beautiful photos, the book also includes maps of Paul’s journeys and pictures of artwork found in the region depicting Paul at work. Educational and inspirational, this book was a thought-provoking read.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Book Review: Rachel's Tears

Rachel’s Tears is a must-read for parents of teenagers and those who work with them—ministers, educators, mentors, and such. Rachel’s father thinks of her life “as an example of the amazing things that can happen when any of us, no matter how ordinary, open our hearts to God’s deep and boundless love” (p. 69). In contrast, Rachel’s killers’ lives show what happens when people open their hearts to sin, bitterness, evil, and hate. The Columbine school shootings were truly “a spiritual event,” as Rachel’s father describes them, showing clearly the two paths that all people must choose between.

This book is not the story of Columbine, but rather a look into the extraordinarily spiritual life of a young girl devoted to Christ. Even before the shooting, Rachel was not afraid to stand up for what she believed in, loving the outcast, facing rejection, serving Christ, and growing in His grace every day. Her life, brief as it was, is an example for us all. I’m thankful that her parents were willing to share her story and excerpts from her journal to help us understand—to show God’s work in her life and what He can do through ours when we surrender ourselves to Him.

I especially appreciated their view on the cause of the Columbine tragedy. Rather than fight for stricter gun control laws or place blame on video games and negative elements of the entertainment industry, they focus on the need for prayer in schools and a return to Truth in our schools about America’s moral and religious roots. On page 162, Rachel’s mother quotes the Duke of Wellington, who once said, “If you divorce religion from education, you produce a race of clever devils.” Rachel’s father uses current teaching on Thanksgiving as an example of how things have changed. Children are being taught that Thanksgiving celebrates the day the pilgrims thanked the Indians for sharing their turkey, rather than that it’s the day we follow their example and thank God for all He provides to help us survive and thrive in our nation.

Rachel’s Tears is a story of hope, encouraging people to serve Christ wholeheartedly by serving one another in love that events like Columbine won’t repeat themselves, that our teens will choose the brighter path and follow only God.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Book Review: The Great Eight

I enjoyed the book, The Great Eight. Scott Hamilton combines stories from his life, his Christian testimony, figure skating analogies, and several worthwhile life lessons with his unique sense of humor, honesty, and common sense to make many good points. The tone of the book was upbeat, positive, and mostly light-hearted, yet demanded I get out my highlighter to mark significant quotes and my pen for scribbling my own thoughts in the margins. I didn’t expect that, but was pleasantly surprised.

Though Hamilton has had tremendous success in the figure skating world, he has also overcome many life hardships: a mysterious childhood illness, loss of loved ones at an early age, cancer, a brain tumor, and going bald. (That was Art Linkletter’s joke, not mine.) Yet Hamilton has learned how to choose happiness through hard times. The subtitle says it well: “How to Be Happy (even when you have every reason to be miserable)". The eight chapters are eight principles to practice—and if you look closely within each chapter, you’ll find many more. My favorite thoughts were “When you fall, get back up” and “Smile like Kristi Yamaguchi.” His chapter on keeping the ice clear was absolutely profound. They are simple thoughts, simply said, but worth deep consideration in the pursuit of a happy life.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Book Review: What's Age Got to Do with It?

Robin McGraw was the perfect person to write this book. She enjoys doing research and is passionate about maintaining good health. As she has protected her own, she wants to help other women keep or improve theirs. As a result, the book is full of valuable information.

When I first began reading it, however, I felt a little overwhelmed. Robin shares what she has researched, what she does, and suggestions from the many experts who advise her. As I said, the book is full of information. As a result, if I tried to do everything Robin suggests, I think I’d run out of time, money, and energy in the attempt.

But this isn’t what Robin tells us to do. She reminds the reader several times that she is sharing what she has learned and what works for her. It’s the reader’s responsibility to use the information wisely to meet her unique health needs. In other words, I can choose one or two ideas to try from the categories that concern me to discover on my own what works for me. Robin’s book arms me with the information I need to do this well. Her research gives me a place to start. In some cases, her trial and error experiences may even save me some grief.

I appreciated, too, that it’s not a book about how to look young forever. Robin mentions that, as a mother of adult children of whom she’s proud, she wants to look like their mom, not their sister. But she also wants to look healthy for her age and to be confident about her appearance. If you’re looking for information on caring for your health and appearance at any age, this book may be useful to you.

Robin closes with a beautiful account of her personal, salvation story. Then she reminds us once again why she wrote the book. She wants to help women all over to live long and healthy lives, to be there for their children and grandchildren, and to enjoy watching them grow up, too.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Book Review: Rex

I was so thankful for the opportunity to read this book! It’s the story of God’s miraculous work in the lives of two incredible people: a multiply-disabled, musical savant and his lovingly dedicated mother.

The book starts out sad as Cathleen Lewis learns about one after another of her son’s disabilities and receives little, if any, encouragement or hope for his future. But when Cathleen begins to research these problems for herself, the book becomes quite fascinating. In fact, it demonstrates vividly just how “fearfully and wonderfully made” each of us actually is—the human brain is so complex! If the smallest thing is off, it can create big problems that baffle the world’s greatest minds and challenge the individual in huge ways!

Cathleen shares how her almost hopeless struggle to help Rex led her to God and how she relied on Him to guide her as Rex tackled each new developmental challenge. She also explains how God used music to help Rex overcome many of these challenges and also to find his joyful place in this world. To find such profound musical genius in one who struggles so with everything else is a wondrous, awe-inspiring thing. It is a truly happy and triumphant story of hope, God’s work, miracles, and grace.