Monday, February 22, 2010

Book Review: Yesterday's Promise

I struggled to get into this book. The heroine lost consciousness in the first chapter—and didn't regain it for quite some time. Other characters were introduced, then disappeared, then returned—I wasn't sure what the storyline was or whom I should cheer for as the book progressed. Was the book a murder mystery, a romance, an adventure? I was completely lost and tempted to give up entirely when it finally all came clear on page 108.

Suddenly, I had a hero with a noble cause to follow and the book was worth my time. Would he fulfill his quest—or learn a better lesson along the way? The heroine was still unconscious, but I was certain she'd wake up before her knight-in-shining-armor completed his mission, conquered evil, and gladly returned to her side.

To be fair, if I'd read the first book in the series, I might have understood more quickly what was really going on. But though the characters are the same and the storylines are related, I think each book was meant to be mostly self-contained. This book also leads to another, but one adventure ends as our heroic couple plans for the next to begin.

Part of the book is set in England and part in South Africa in the late 1800's. Dialogue reads like a BBC period film. Fans of Jane Austen or with an interest in the events of this historical time may really enjoy this book series.

Thank you Waterbrook Multnomah Publishing for sending this book for me to review.

Book Review: Beneath a Southern Sky

If you're in the mood for an extremely wild ride on an emotional roller coaster, Beneath a Southern Sky will be a good book for you.

In the first chapter, you'll meet Daria and learn that she is widowed and remarried, but has just been notified that her first husband never died. Then you'll jump back a few years in time to meet this husband and discover, step by step, how Daria found herself in this impossible predicament.

Unfortunately, as impossible as that predicament is, Daria's life and the lives of those around her are full of complications that make the situation even more emotionally devastating. I'm warning you now, this book is intense.

Yet it ends as perfectly as it can. It's a story of redemption and sacrifice and true Christian love, of repentance and of learning to listen to God and to obey His voice. Life is confusing and messy, but God can lead us through—even when we make well-intentioned, but avoidable mistakes. He can even use those mistakes to bring healing to other lives, using bad for good, redeeming everything.

Author Deborah Raney has a gift for creating pleasant settings and realistic characters. She kept me guessing about the outcome of the book right up to the end—and I hope I haven't given it away. The story was a little over the top in intensity at times, but otherwise I really enjoyed this read.

Thank you Waterbrook Multnomah for sending this book for my review!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Book Review: 66 Love Letters

This book is amazing! Dr. Larry Crabb had a great idea. In the prologue to the book, he explains how he came up with it. Desperately longing to hear God's Voice, he realized that God speaks through His Word, the Bible. He decided to read through the Bible with this thought in mind, seeking God's personal message in each book. In From God to You: 66 Love Letters—a Conversation with God that Invites You into His Story, he shares his prayerfully considered thoughts with us.

The book is divided into seven parts representing different sections of the Bible. Crabb writes an introduction for each part, giving us an idea of what God is communicating through each section. Within each section is a chapter for each book of the Bible that's part of that section. Crabb calls each book of the Bible a love letter.

He begins each chapter with a one sentence synopsis of the book—one sentence communicating what He believes God is saying in that book. He continues with one paragraph to develop that thought, written in first person, as if God is speaking directly to the reader. Finally, Crabb has a conversation with God about the message he's discovered. He asks questions, voices concerns—even objections. But he always lets God have the last word, leading him forward to the next letter in the Book.

I appreciated Crabb's insights, observations, and questions. His perspective helped me understand the Bible in a whole new light. It also challenged me to study more—to take bigger bites, to grasp the whole sometimes instead of only little devotional insights.

Thank you, Thomas Nelson for sending this book for my review. I've enjoyed it thoroughly!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Book Review: Love & War

Epic taught us about the great adventure story God is writing daily. Wild at Heart explored man's role in it. Captivity helps us understand woman's role. Now Love & War puts it all together with a brilliant look at marriage.

Love & War first helps us understand what God planned for marriage to be. John and Stasi Eldredge weave tales of Eden with stories of their own marriage to help us see what God intended, what marriage often becomes, and how God can help us recover. Life is all about learning to love; marriage is the school where God can teach us the most!

Spiritual warfare is an on-going theme in this adventure. The Eldredges teach us that our marriages have an enemy, someone who wants to destroy our love. They reveal some of his strategies and teach us to prayerfully fight together against him instead of turning on one another in ignorance. They include an appendix of prayers in the back of the book to provide a model of this, along with stories of their own experiences.

Along with the metaphor of a great adventure story and the lessons in spiritual warfare that teach us to depend on God together is quite a bit of practical advice and encouragement for getting along day by day: how to love, how to fight, how to put up with petty annoyances, dreaming, playing, trusting, and weathering life's storms. The Eldredges close with ideas on where to go from there, next steps for making and keeping a marriage healthy and strong.

I mentioned in a previous post that there are few marriage books I trust or recommend. I explained why and shared my criteria for a good marriage book. So I laughed at the beginning of this book, when John said he and Stasi found reading marriage books to be a lot like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic. But these two know what they're talking about. Whether you're just starting out or celebrating your 25th anniversary like the authors just did, this book will be worth your time.

This book was provided for review by WaterBrook Multnomah. Thank you!

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Book Review: Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts

I am so excited about this new Bible study resource! Thank you, Thomas Nelson publishers for sending it to me. Arranged like a study Bible, without the actual Bible, Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts has a chapter for each of the 66 books, plus introductions to collections of books—the Pentateuch, the Gospels, and so on. Each chapter contains detailed information about the book, including the setting, who wrote it, when, themes and literary structure, an outline, and outstanding highlights. The chapter on Zechariah, for example, has a section on that prophet's visions since they are a highlight of that book.

Also included is a brief historical section on the time between the Old and New Testaments.

What I really appreciate about this resource are all the charts, pictures, and maps that help make Bible words more visual. Full color pictures show Bible places as they are today—they even have pictures of still-standing buildings. Time lines show when events took place and when they were written in biblical books. At a Glance charts make outlines easier to understand. Other charts show when prophecies were first made, when Christ fulfilled them, and where in the Bible we can find both.

Specifically, I liked the little diagram on Hebrews 11, the faith chapter. I knew that Hebrews 11:1 defines faith and that the whole chapter is devoted to heroes of the faith, but the chart on Hebrews 11 reveals five other definitions and how faith works in a Christian's life. I'd never looked at that chapter that way before. Below the diagram was a list of the faith hall of famers and their Scripture references for further study.

I recommend this resource to anyone seeking clearer perspective on people, places, and events of Bible times. Enjoy!


Monday, February 1, 2010

Book Review: Angels

I wasn't sure what to expect from this book. In my mind, angels are mysterious creatures, created by God to serve God. He often sends them to protect us and He did send them to deliver messages in Bible times, but I didn't think there was much more we could know about them than that.

Actually, there's quite a bit more information available. In Angels, Dr. David Jeremiah walks us through all the references to angels in the Bible to show us what we factually can know: where they are, what they do, their appearance, how they relate to God and to us, how they are alike and different from us, how they function in the spiritual realm. He devotes one chapter to The Angel of the Old Testament and another to fallen angels. I learned a lot from this book.

Jeremiah does very little speculation. For the most part, he sticks to what the Bible says, and he uses that information either confirm or disprove society's current perceptions of angels. When he does offer an opinion or theory, he tells us very clearly that he is doing so, then he quotes other well-known scholars who came to similar conclusions: Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, A.W. Tozer, Billy Graham, and Larry Libby. (And, to be fair, when other opinions exist, he tells those, too.)

Jeremiah takes his research one step further by showing us in each chapter how this information is relevant to our lives. By knowing how angels worship and serve God, we can follow their example. In this sense, they serve as role models, too. Jeremiah carefully shows us how throughout the book.

On a personal note, several passages in Angels left me completely in awe of God. The angels must have liked this, for they're in awe of Him, too. They exist to honor Him—just as we all do.

If you're curious to know everything the Bible says about angels and why this information matters, this book will appeal to you.

This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group.