Friday, April 29, 2011

Book Review: Story Engineering

If you’ve never read a book about how to write a novel or a story or some other work of fiction, this book will be useful to you. It covers the basics beautifully. However, if you’ve already read several books of this type, this book has nothing new to offer you. The author may have repackaged the basics as “Six Core Competencies,” but they’re still the basics. You will find them covered in most other books of this kind.

Perhaps this is why the author felt the need to defend his work throughout the lengthy introduction and on and on into the first few chapters. It was as if he was saying, “Really. Picking up this book was worth your time.” He also felt the need to mention in several different places that his book on writing would prove to be more useful to the reader than Stephen King’s book, “On Writing.” I haven’t read King’s book, so I can’t say if that’s true. But the author of this book makes me wonder if maybe it’s something I need to do.

Throughout the book, the author uses scenes from popular books and movies in order to make his points about the effective (or not-so-effective) use of core competencies. I think this is meant to add interest to the book. But in one case, he described a scene from a trailer from a fairly recent movie and told what was wrong with it. I’ve seen the movie, though—not just the trailer. That particular scene didn’t end where he thought it did. The actress’s very next line, in fact, subtly foreshadowed the movie’s end perfectly—just enough to make the viewer wonder what was coming, but without giving anything away. It was a skillful use of that particular competency.

The author does know the basics of a good story, and, overall, he presents them well. If you’re looking for something to help you develop this skill, this book may be helpful to you.

Thomas Nelson Publishers sent a complimentary copy of this book for my review.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Book Review: Fairer Than Morning

Ann Miller thinks she knows how her life is going to play out. She thinks she’s going to marry Eli and live happily after with him. But when he proposes too soon and her father says she must wait, Eli looks for other options and Ann becomes confused. Events that follow change Ann’s view of life, of humanity, and of herself. As she becomes aware of things she’d been sheltered from, Ann begins to wonder if what she wanted for her life is what she wants after all.

I truly enjoyed reading this story. Though there’s a lot of heartache and injustice within, the book presents deep concepts subtly woven into an intricate story with surprising developments and great characters. The historical setting is unique—Pennsylvania and Ohio in the early 1800’s touching on issues of slavery, indentured servitude, apprenticeships, immigration, poor houses, city and country life, and classes of society.

Fairer Than Morning by Rosslyn Elliott is the first book of The Saddler’s Legacy series—fiction based on the lives of real people. I’ll be watching for Book 2, Sweeter Than Birdsong, due out in February 2012.

Thank you, Thomas Nelson Publishers, for sending a complimentary copy of this book for my review.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Book Review: 90 Days of God's Goodness

I’m so thankful I chose this book from Waterbrook Multnomah Publisher’s Blogging for Books program. I almost didn’t. I’ve been reading a lot of devotionals lately. But I’ve read Randy Alcorn’s novel, Safely Home, and was curious about his non-fiction work. He didn’t disappoint me. In fact, he encouraged me—a lot! This is a book I will read more than once.

90 Days of God’s Goodness deals with the question, “If God is good, why do pain and suffering exist?” Alcorn says we find answers by sitting in God’s Presence, focusing on Who He Is. In other words, instead of concentrating on the pain and suffering, we trust God in our circumstances because we know He is good.

Each devotional is about three pages long, begins with a passage of Scripture (not just a verse or two), continues with Alcorn’s thoughts on what that passage teaches us about God and how He works, and closes with a prayer. In the introduction, Alcorn invites readers to allow his prayers to prompt their own. His prayers do this effectively.

90 Days of God’s Goodness is full of wisdom and comfort. I recognized some themes from the novel, Safely Home. I suspect these themes are found in other books by Alcorn, too. If you’re looking for encouragement in struggles and assurance of God’s love, both firmly grounded in His Word, I recommend this book to you.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Book Review: The Girl in the Gatehouse

I have another amazing book to recommend to you today! The Girl in the Gatehouse was Jane Austin at her finest—except that it was written by Julie Klassen. But you’d never know that if someone didn’t tell you. The main character is even an authoress—and a fictional friend of a friend of Jane Austin herself.

Banished from her family home, Mariah Aubrey takes refuge with her companion, Miss Dixon, in an abandoned gatehouse on her aunt’s property. When Mariah’s aunt passes away and the aunt’s unsympathetic stepson leases the property to Captain Matthew Bryant, Mariah suddenly finds her secrets much harder to keep. To complicate matters, she inherits her aunt’s assistant, Martin, who also needs refuge of a sort.

Also adding interest and intrigue are the people from the poorhouse just across the street. Each character in this story is fun to meet and has a story to add to the mix of Mariah’s quiet, but increasingly complicated life. (My favorite was Amy; she truly understood the spirit of Wildflower Thinking.) I loved reading this book and seeing how every little detail worked together perfectly in the end. Thank you, Bethany House Publishers, for sending a complimentary copy to me!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Book Review: The Whole Bible Story

The book The Whole Bible Story by Dr. William H. Marty wasn’t quite what I expected, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t what it says it is. From the title, I expected a story and pictured myself curling up in a corner of my couch with a nice cup of coffee to savor the most precious story in the world told in simple story form.

That’s not what this is.

In the introduction, though, Dr. Marty tells why he wrote the book. A friend of his asked him for a Bible, but found herself overwhelmed by it. She didn’t know where to start. Dr. Marty wrote The Whole Bible Story to help people like her.

This is a history book.

In it, Dr. Marty tells the historical narrative of the Bible. For understanding, he has broken this narrative down into 19 chronological segments, concluding with an epilogue based on Revelation. To avoid confusing the reader, literary forms of the Bible other than historical narrative, such as wisdom literature, law, prophecy, and epistles (letters), are not included in this book.

Within each chapter, Dr. Marty tells the history once with some interpretation, commentary, and explanation as he sees needed to help the reader understand what’s going on. Then he tells it once more for review—this time, just the facts. I appreciated this summary the most.

Readers like Dr. Marty’s friend who want to gain a simple understanding of the scope and sequence of Bible events will find this book to be a valuable tool. I thank Bethany House Publishers for sending a complimentary copy for my review.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Book Review: Max on Life

Max on Life. Though this isn’t a typical Max Lucado book, I really appreciated all it has to offer. It’s similar in set up to Dr. James Dobson’s Solid Answers. To produce Max on Life, Lucado has selected 172 questions asked by his congregation, readers, and radio audience to answer in this book. Some answers are taken from previous works; others are new to this one. All are meant to help us with our biggest questions on life.

The book is divided into seven sections: Hope, Hurt, Help, Him/Her, Home, Haves/Have-Nots, and Hereafter. It also includes an inspirational message for aspiring writers that tells a little about how Lucado started writing and what should motivate us. (I loved his insights about Bible writers.) Finally, in case you choose to use the book as a reference as needed, there are topical and Scripture indexes in the back to help with this.

Lucado’s answers, as regular readers would expect, are well-thought out and clearly presented. Most include his familiar anecdotes and plays on words that entertain while helping readers understand. Though surprised by the book’s format, I wasn’t disappointed. I recommend this book and thank Thomas Nelson Publishers for sending it to me.

Note to grammarians: In case you were wondering, I looked it up—either indices or indexes is correct. Though indices is traditional, indexes comes first in my dictionary and makes the most sense to me.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Book Review: Another Dawn

Single-mom Grace Graham’s world is changing. She and her fiancĂ© have broken up, and troubles have come up at work that will devastate her best friend/boss. Grace holds herself responsible for the situation and wonders what to do. When her sister calls from Tennessee and demands that Grace return to help as their father is facing surgery, Grace sees a justifiable excuse to run, hoping things will sort themselves out while she’s gone.

But she’s running to the family she’s shunned. Though hopeful of mending some fences, Grace finds herself in a situation she never anticipated and facing challenges she can’t handle alone. Another Dawn is the beautiful story of how Grace learns to march uphill, counting on God for needed help as she chooses to do right things.

I usually read several books at a time, rotating from one to the other to another. But this story captured me. Kathryn Cushman explores themes of forgiveness, trust, cherishing relationships, seeking God’s wisdom, and taking responsibility for the consequences of one’s actions—even if those consequences may have been unintentional or unavoidable—even if they resulted from doing what seemed to be the right thing.

I loved the way supporting characters gently helped Grace through her struggle by offering insights (the next door neighbor), sharing their own experiences (the newspaper editor and pharmacist), and just modeling how to do what’s right (Grace’s son). Another Dawn is well-done Christian fiction, a beautiful and thought-provoking story with biblical wisdom woven in.

I thank Bethany House Publishers for sending this book for my review. I’ll be eagerly watching for more by Kathryn Cushman.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Book Review: Jolt!

This book was outstanding—very practical, full of common sense wisdom—the kind we know deep down inside, but sometimes need to read or hear. I chose this book because it was written to help people not only deal with change, but also use it to bring about good things. As an Army wife, my life is full of change! Yet, Phil Cooke writes about other kinds of change. Even people whom others would consider stable and changeless are experiencing tons of change. In the past fifty years, society and technology and all sorts of others aspects of our world have dramatically changed and continue to do so. People can try to ignore this or choose to adapt in positive ways. Cooke tells his readers how to do the latter well.

The book is divided into five sections of five chapters each. Each section has an introduction and a review which includes a synopsis of what Cooke is encouraging the reader to do. Liberally sprinkled throughout each chapter are quotes by historical figures, celebrities, and other writers relevant to the topic Cooke is presenting. And, just for fun, the first page of each chapter is crooked—I guess to appear that it has experienced a jolt. I thought that was kind of cute.

The longest chapter is five or six pages at the most, so this book is a quick and easy read. Cooke talks about dealing with change, choices we make, how other people influence us, the importance of faith, eliminating distractions, discovering your priorities, setting realistic goals, and deciding to act. If you have a dream or goal that you’d like to meet, but don’t know how to proceed, this book will give you the pep talk you need. If your life has dramatically changed—if you’ve been kicked out of Normal Land—and don’t know how to function in your new world, this book can help in that area, too. It was a worthwhile read for me. Thank you, Thomas Nelson Publishers, for sending it for my review!

Book Review: The Final Summit

Synopsis: David Ponder is whisked away by the archangel Gabriel to lead a summit of historical travelers. Their challenge is to answer the question, “What does humanity need to do, individually and collectively, to restore itself to the pathway toward successful civilization?” They have five tries to find the correct two-word answer or humanity is doomed.

What I loved about this book: a) It’s full of practical wisdom—like Proverbs. Andrews explores the importance of developing several significant virtues in our lives. I would list them and offer quotes I loved, but to do so I’d spoil the suspense of the story. b) Andrews brings many historical characters to life, allowing them to speak, telling their own stories and lessons they learned through their own experiences. Again, I’d love to say more, but I’d spoil the suspense. c) The suspense was a ton of fun! It was hard not to peek ahead to see which character would speak next or what the next two-word attempt to answer the question might be. I enjoyed reading this book.

What disappointed me: This is risky. I don’t want to give anything away. But the correct answer, though good, was a disappointment. Everything Andrews said people need to do is wise and good, but the answer must fall under the umbrella of Christ to be correct. Humanity can’t save itself. People must humbly submit to Christ. They must receive Christ as Savior. Then His Spirit can develop those significant virtues in their lives and lead them to do something worthwhile for the Kingdom. Though I loved the book and found value in reading it and recommend it for its practical wisdom and will read it again, I felt the ending fell just short of teaching Truth.

Thank you, Thomas Nelson Publishers, for sending The Final Summit for my review.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Book Review: 31 Days of Power

Sometimes little books like this one don’t get much notice, but 31 Days of Power is one that’s worth your time. It’s a positive, and comprehensive, approach to spiritual warfare. That is, we focus on God through prayer, praise, and Bible study. We live the way He directs us to, freed to ignore Satan knowing God IS the Victor. Then, as we pray, praise, and study, God helps us to proclaim what we learn to help Him lead others out of darkness and into His Light.

I like that. Focus on the positive. Ignore the darkness; God is in control.

Ruth Myers started studying spiritual warfare after the death of her first husband, then studied more intensely with her second husband as they served as missionaries in Asia. Through this book, she shares what she learned--and what she practices. The first section is a collection of 31 prayers based on Scripture. Following some, the reader is encouraged to journal her own specific prayers based on that day’s theme. The second, much shorter, section is five chapters of instruction, again based on Scripture, on the dynamics of spiritual warfare.

If this is a topic that interests you, I recommend this book. Thank you, Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers, for sending it for my review.

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Book Review: Lazarus Awakening

Jesus loves you!

While reading Lazarus Awakening, I became convinced that this is the most basic, the foundational message that people need to hear. Yes, they need to realize they have sinned and need a Savior. Yes, they must seek forgiveness and receive Christ. But how can they do this if they don’t know that the One they are counting on to save them for eternity can be trusted completely because of His great love for them? “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son . . .”

I was struck by the true story Joanna Weaver told in the first pages of the book about the woman who confided she could tell anyone else that Jesus loves them, but couldn’t look at her own face in the mirror and say it to herself. Even women who’ve heard from childhood that Jesus loves them struggle to believe it and seek to earn his love through self-improvement and good works. Lazarus Awakening shows why this is a burden we don’t have to bear. Jesus loves us. We are free to serve from thankful hearts and out of love—because we want to—not to earn something we’ve had from the moment He created us: His love.

Lazarus Awakening is the third book in a series based on the lives of siblings Mary, Martha, and Lazarus.This book focuses on Luke 11:1-12:11, the story of Lazarus’ resurrection. Weaver ties other Bible stories and personal experience into each chapter to make her points. The book includes a 10-week Bible study and several appendices with helpful information to enhance learning from the book.

I thank the LitFuse Publicity Group for sending this book for my review. I enjoyed the study and plan to read Weaver’s other books, too.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Book Review: Heart of Ice

Lis Wiehl has written a third Triple Threat Club novel (with April Henry) and is getting ready to release a new series, too! I just finished reading Heart of Ice and will be watching for more books by this talented team.

In Heart of Ice, the Triple Threat Club is trying to convict one sociopath for a series of murders while trying to solve various other crimes that, unknown to them, are also being instigated by a sociopath—one whom they personally know but have no reason to suspect. Throughout the story, Wiehl takes the reader deep into the mind of this disturbed personality; it’s a scary (and sometimes a bit graphic) journey.

As in her other books, Wiehl touches on an assortment of social and political issues and concerns through the story as well: cancer, troubled teens, our prison system, rehabilitation programs, drug addiction, single-parenting, arson, and codependency—to name a few. Questions in the reader’s guide at the back of the book help the reader further consider opinions on how society should deal with some of these.

Though I enjoyed reading Heart of Ice (and look forward to reading future books by Wiehl and Henry), I wouldn’t classify this as a Christian novel. One of the characters happens to be a Christian, but the focus is on secular society dealing with cultural issues. Prayer is mentioned, but only as something Christians talk about when they don’t know what else to do. There is one miracle event that causes one of the non-Christian characters to wonder if maybe there is a God. Perhaps Wiehl and Henry will build on that in the next book.

Thank you, Thomas Nelson Publishers, for sending Heart of Ice for my review.

Saturday, April 2, 2011

Book Review: Unsinkable

I’m so thankful Abby Sunderland decided to share her amazing story through a book. I’d heard bits and pieces on the news, but I thoroughly appreciated her telling of her “courageous battle on the high seas.”

Though only sixteen at the time, Abby had grown up in a family of sailors and had dreamed from age thirteen of sailing around the world. Her brother accomplished the feat the year before she made her attempt. Abby had the training, the experience, the equipment, and the team she needed. She also had a loving family who recognized her determination and believed in her abilities, who were willing to help her make her dream come true (though that must have been very hard for them to do).

Abby’s accomplishments during her journey were impressive and her story is fascinating. She may not have made it all the way around the world, but she gained much through her journey anyway. I love her message that teens can do a lot more than our society tends to allow or give them credit for. This is absolutely true.

When I chose this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers for review, I was cautioned that it didn’t contain the spiritual content I might expect from their books. That statement is true of the book I’ll be reviewing on Monday, but I don’t know why they said this about Unsinkable. Both Abby and her family profess their faith throughout the book, praising God for provision, wisdom, and miracles. As Abby shares her adventure, God is clearly a part of it.

If you enjoy true life adventure stories, I recommend this book! Thank you, Thomas Nelson Publishers, for sending a copy to me.