Saturday, May 21, 2011

Book Review: The Promise of an Angel

I’m so confused. It used to be, the only Amish books I read were by Beverly Lewis. It was all so simple then. Since I’ve been reviewing books, however, I’ve read several by different authors, and they all present the Amish in different ways. There are similarities to their rules and beliefs, but huge differences, too. Perhaps each of these authors lives near a different Amish community, and perhaps rules vary from area to area. I really don’t know. I just know it’s confusing when one author says the Amish are one way and another says they are different.

The Promise of An Angel portrays the Amish in the harshest way I’ve seen yet. Except for the two main characters and Samuel, the people in this book are nit-picky and critical, watching each other like hawks in order to pass judgment on one another all the time. They don’t seem to care about each other’s happiness and well-being, only following strict rules all the time. There is no love in this community—no compassion or care. Living in this community would be a nightmare.

After her little brother falls from the barn roof, Judith, first on the scene, sees an angel who gives her a cryptic message. When Judith, who does nothing but love God and care for the people around her, tells people what she saw, they accuse her of blasphemy and threaten to throw her out of the community. They decide she’s a danger to their children and their way of life. That seemed an extreme reaction to me.

I not only had concerns about the way the Amish were portrayed. I had concerns about the angel, too. Angels in the Bible clearly identified themselves to those they visited and delivered God’s messages in a straightforward manner. The people who encountered them knew who they were facing and why. The angel in the book, however, is vague and cryptic, giving Judith clues, but leaving her totally confused. At one point, Judith isn’t even sure he’s from God. She wonders if he’s Satan messing with her mind.

Thomas Nelson Publishers sent this book for my honest review. Though there are a few beautiful moments worth reading—Judith learning to forgive, Judith and Andrew praying together about their future and for their community—it’s still a book I hesitate to recommend.
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Friday, May 20, 2011

Book Review: The Gospel for Real Life

The Gospel for Real Life is the third Jerry Bridges book I’ve read. I wasn't disappointed in this one either! In it, Bridges explains all the big, scary words of theology (propitiation, expiation, redemption, sanctification, and so on) in the order they take place along the Christian journey and in terms the average reader can easily understand. He explains that these aren’t words we have to know and understand in order to be Christians. (All you need to know is that God loves you, but your sin separates you from Him. He sent Jesus to die on the cross for your sins, so He could restore relationship with you. If you tell God you are sorry for your sins and receive Jesus as Your Savior, you are a Christian. Welcome to the family of God!) Understanding the big words, however, helps us know and appreciate more fully all that Christ has done and is doing for us every day. Bridges goal is to help his readers appreciate and experience “The unsearchable riches of Christ” that come from knowing the Gospel (a big word that means, "Good News").

Bridges uses both Scripture and personal experience stories to help readers understand and apply the concepts of each chapter. There are sixteen in all, with an 8-week study guide at the back of the book. The Gospel for Real Life would be an excellent text for a small group or a growing Christians’ Sunday school class. I enjoyed reading it on my own as well. I’m happy to recommend this book.
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Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from NavPress Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Book Review: How Huge the Night

Reading How Huge the Night was like reading two books at the same time. Chapters alternate between Julien’s story and Nina’s story. The two seem unrelated through much of the book and don’t intersect for quite some time.

Julien’s story fascinated me. A teenage boy taken from his home in Paris to live with his grandfather in his father’s hometown, Julien is quite upset. He tries to fit in, but, though his family is from the area originally, the other boys in town see him as an outsider. Things only get worse when Benjamin, a German Jewish teenager, comes to live with his family for safety’s sake.

Did I mention the story is set in World War II?

Nina’s story disturbed me. When her father dies, she cuts her hair, disguises herself as a boy, and flees Austria through Italy to France with her younger brother. Two Jewish teenagers, alone and destitute, travelling through Europe, seeking safety, and trusting no one, one is hopeful and determined, one is terrified to the brink of near insanity.

Though I heartily recommend the book for adults, I have to question whether Nina’s part of the story is appropriate for all adolescents, the age group this book was written for. Maybe it’s okay. I recommend that parents preview the book and carefully consider what their kids are ready to read. Teenagers should know that World War II was atrocious, but they don’t need all the specifics. Parents should determine what their kids are ready to know.

How Huge the Night is a well-written historical fiction story based on actual events. It presents World War II through the eyes of teenagers trying to escape its horrors, trying to find God at work in the midst of them, trying to do right in the midst of so much wrong. Julien’s mentorshis parents, his grandfather, and his pastorare strong, giving him just enough guidance as he makes big life choices. Overall, I recommend this book.

The Litfuse Publicity Group sent me a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review.
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Sunday, May 15, 2011

Book Review: Beyond All Measure

Beyond All Measure by Dorothy Love is an historical fiction romance set in the backwoods of Tennessee shortly after the Civil War. Ada Wentworth has just come from Boston by train to be the companion to a cantankerous elderly woman. The circumstances that led to this situation are kept from the reader for quite some time, yet eventually unfold. Expecting to be met at the train station by the woman who hired her by correspondence, she is surprised and flustered when Wyatt Caldwell comes to get her instead. She’s even more flustered when Mr. Caldwell turns out to be her employer, a Civil War veteran and successful mill owner who has hired her to care for his aunt.

Though it all begins so awkwardly, the story unfolds in a subtle, quiet way. I really liked this, so let me try to explain. When you put a Yankee in the midst of deep southerners just after such a traumatic war, there are bound to be problems. To make matters worse, the small town where the story takes place is struggling with racial tensions. The war is over, but people are still choosing sides as they work to discover what their changed world will ultimately look like. There is a lot of repressed anger and conflict in the story, yet most of it is resolved peacefully as people get to know each other over time. As they do this, they learn and grow and change themselves, building a successful community. Ada, Wayne, Lillian, and some unexpected others play their part in this process as they choose to do what’s right regardless of what others pressure them to do and sometimes above concern for their own safety.

Overall, I enjoyed this story. I’ll admit I was frustrated by the author’s obviously kept secrets at the beginning of the story, but once I got past those, I liked the way the story played out. If you enjoy historical romances, I recommend this book.

Thank you, Thomas Nelson Publishers, for sending it to me.
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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Book Review: When the Morning Comes

The second book of the Sisters of the Quilt series takes readers out of the Amish community. Hannah has fled and must learn how to live among the Englisch. Thankfully, she finds herself among people who care about her and want to help her succeed. They are patient, most of the time, and sympathetic to her unique needs.

Hannah’s situation gives readers an interesting perspective about the Amish. Away from her familiar community, Hannah must overcome challenges such as proving her identity, gaining an education, and learning to use technology.

The story isn’t entirely about Hannah’s experiences among the Englisch, though. Author Cindy Woodsmall keeps readers up-to-date about developments in Hannah’s home community: what’s happening with her sister, her brother and sister-in-law, her ex-fiance’, her best friend, and her parents. The story goes back and forth between two worlds. To learn if they are separated forever, readers must move on to the third book (which I’ll review in a future post).
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If you missed it, you can read my review of the first book by clicking here. No one sent these books for my review. I got these myself at the recommendation of a friend.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Book Review: My Foolish Heart

In My Foolish Heart, author Susan May Warren gives her readers a compelling story full of subtle, but deep truths about following Christ. (If I read it again, I’ll have my highlighter out. Several lines are quotable!) I loved the book, a gift from Tyndale House publishers for this review, and will be watching for the three others in the series (already in print) set in Deep Haven, Minnesota.

In this book, we meet Issy, a woman whose mother died in her arms following a tragic accident. Afraid to leave her house as a result, Issy hosts a national radio show from her home studio. We also meet Caleb, the new boy next door. Just home from Iraq and recovering from wounds, Caleb hopes to build a new life in New Haven. Seb has just moved back to town. He’s the town football hero who hasn’t been such a hero since high school days who hopes to reclaim some of the glory of his past. And Lucy is the sweet donut girl whose secret may destroy her dreams.

At the end of the book, Warren includes a note telling what inspired the story and what she learned from writing it. I appreciated her thoughts. The book closes with discussion questions for reading groups. I recommend the book, My Foolish Heart!
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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Book Review: When the Heart Cries

A friend loaned this book to me. I didn't receive it from a publisher for review. But I was so intrigued, I immediately purchased the second in the series, then waited in anticipation for the third to be released. This is what the publisher says about When the Heart Cries:
Despite being raised in a traditional Old Order Amish family, seventeen-year-old Hannah Lapp desires to break with custom, forgo baptism into the faith, and marry outside the cloistered community. She’s been in love with Mennonite Paul Waddell for three years, and before returning to college for his senior year, Paul asks Hannah to be his wife. Hannah accepts, aware that her marriage will change her relationship with her family forever.

On the evening of their engagement, tragedy strikes and in one unwelcome encounter, all that Hannah has known and believed is destroyed. As she finds herself entangled in questions that the Old Ways of her people cannot answer, Hannah faces the possibility of losing her place in her family, in her community– and in the heart of the man she loves.
To complicate matters, a jealous sister spreads rumors about Hannah causing suspicion toward her within the community, her father is more concerned about the family's reputation than Hannah's plight, and a buggy accident which nearly kills her sister-in-law is blamed on Hannah, adding even more pain. As circumstances become ever more desperate, Hannah begins to run out of choices. Her hope of rescue comes from an unexpected place.

The story is intense and emotional, sometimes almost too much so. But readers will want to read straight through to the end. Thankfully for new readers, all three books are available now! It's a series I recommend.
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Reviews of the other books will follow soon.