Sunday, January 31, 2016

Book Review: "Safe House"

Safe House by Joshua Straub is one of the best parenting books I’ve read in a long time. As parents, we focus a lot of energy on protecting our children from physical harm. Safe House, however, teaches us how to focus on their emotional health as well. Straub says emotional safety is “the key to raising kids who live, love, and lead well.” The safe house he describes has a secure foundation and four sturdy and carefully balanced walls—grace, truth, protection, and exploration. It exists in a carefully chosen and supportive community of family and friends. Straub explains each of these elements clearly and shows how building such a house is within every parent’s ability.

Straub draws on his own experience as the parent of a toddler and a newborn. He also draws from the wisdom of other experts in the field of counseling. He applies each concept to all age groups, from birth through adolescence. He closes with one chapter on strengthening your marriage in order to work as an effective team, not only as parents but for life, and with a final chapter on helping your child to establish faith in Christ.

I recommend this book to all parents. I’m even telling my friends about it face to face. It’s a reference I will refer to often, so I thank Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers for sending me a complimentary copy in exchange for this review.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Book Review: "Step by Step"

Step by Step is one of Candace Calvert’s best books yet—and I’ve loved reading every one so far. This novel is the second in her Crisis Team series which started in Sacramento. In this book, Taylor Cabot has moved to San Diego—one of my favorite cities! She is a nurse and a member of the local crisis team. But nearly three years have passed since her husband was killed in a tragic accident, and she is determined to get over it. To do so, she has created a survival list and given herself a deadline to complete it. She’s doing whatever it takes to move on with her life, including pushing unanswered questions and undealt-with emotions aside.

As her deadline approaches, Seth Donovan, whom we also met in the previous book, comes to town to provide training to the newer members of the local crisis team. He’s also hoping to learn why Taylor has been less involved in this crucial volunteer effort. Neither person realizes how many new crises are headed their way.

Like all of Calvert’s books, this one is easy to read and hard to put down. Her characters are so real, you wish you could meet them in person. You cheer for them, feel their hearts breaking, and hope that everything will turn out all right for everyone. As a bonus, Calvert includes interesting details about the city settings of her books, in this case, San Diego. If you’ve been there, you think, “Yes. It’s just like that.” If not, you’ll want to go.

Tyndale House Publishers sent me a complimentary copy of this book for my honest review. I recommend it, along with all of Calvert’s books, to you.

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Book Review: "#Struggles"

If you spend much time on social media, Craig Groeschel's new book, #Struggles: Following Jesus in a Selfie-Centered World, is a must-read. Groeschel writes with wisdom and humor making this book a simple and fun but often profound read. Some of his insights are the common sense we're tempted to ignore. Others create huge aha moments: "Oh! I never thought of it that way." Throughout the book, Groeschel gives sound advice on navigating social media in a Christ-centered way.

I especially appreciated the way he organized the book. He explains in the introduction, "We will look at eight biblical values and how they can help us restore balance in our lives and end our unhealthy over-reliance on technology." Each of these values then gets a chapter in the book, and, though each chapter is about 20-25 pages long, he has them broken down into little bits, solidly clarifying each point within. Following the conclusion are two useful appendices: The Ten Commandments of Using Social Media to Grow Your Faith and Share God's Love and Safeguards.

Zondervan sent me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. I'll be referring to it often as a reference and reminder. I recommend it to you!

Sunday, January 17, 2016

Book Review: "The Painter's Daughter"

The Painter's Daughter is a story that is both enchanting and anxiety-producing. It's a perfect combination. Add the beautiful setting on the cliffs of England in the early 1800's and you find yourself reading a powerful book. I was completely absorbed.

This is the story of two strangers who marry: one out of a sense of duty to family, the other out of desperation and fear. Both hope their marriage will cover a secret and protect the innocent. Sophie Dupont, the painter's daughter for whom the story is named, is still in love with her new husband's brother who abandoned her without saying good-bye in pursuit of an opportunity to further his career. Captain Stephen Overtree is convinced, because of a mysterious prophecy, that he is soon to die anyway, and so may as well marry for noble reasons other than love.

Unfortunately for them, all doesn't go the way either of them plan. Neither does all go the way readers anticipate. This story is full of unexpected surprises that keep readers guessing until the end. I recommend this book to fan's Christian historical fiction and regency romance. Bethany House Publishers sent me a complimentary copy in exchange for this honest review.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Book Review: "The Entitlement Cure"

This book is going onto my must-read-again list! (Okay, so I haven't created that list yet, except in my head. This book is giving me a reason to make it Goodreads official.) The author himself gives us two great reasons to read The Entitlement Cure:
"This book was written primarily to help you help loved ones and associates who struggle with the entitlement disease. But because we all struggle with that disease in some way--because we all struggle with pocket entitlement--you'll find that many parts of this book address the issues in a more general way, directed as much to you and to me as to the ones we want to help. In truth, all parts of the book are equally applicable to those of us who want to clean up our own act and those children, spouses, and coworkers we want to guide through dealing with their own entitlement issues" (p. 25).
Throughout the book, author John Townsend helps readers see that the cure for entitlement thinking is choosing to take responsibility for one's own life, choosing to do the hard things that will make one's life better regardless of what other people are doing or not doing. He starts by defining entitlement and explaining why people need a cure. Then he walks readers through each phase of the cure. I appreciated the entitlement and hard way mantras in each chapter that showed in contrast these healthy and unhealthy approaches to life. The skills section at the end of each chapter provides both a summary of the content and specific ways to practice it now.

I thank Zondervan for sending me a complimentary copy of this book in exchange for this honest review. It's one I recommend.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Book Review: "Whispers in the Reading Room"

I didn't request this book for review, but I'd considered it, so I was pretty happy when the Fiction Guild decided to send me a copy for review anyway. A book about a librarian with a mysterious patron to wonder about . . . who wouldn't want to find out where that leads?

I found this book to be unusual, intriguing, and perplexing. It's a variation on the age-old story of the good girl falling for the bad boy and the tension that develops as they influence each other. Who will influence the other more? And can such a relationship work or become healthy?

Overall, I thought that some of the impossible changes in different characters happened much too quickly to be realistic, but I liked the way everything turned out, so I was okay with that. Sebastian Marks was a complex character with a tragic history. His development held the potential for a much longer book. Likewise, Bridget and Vincent's story could have been a book in itself.

I did enjoy the story, however, and I recommend it to fans of Chicago's history

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

In Love with Life

“Be in love with your life.” -Jack Kerouac

“The one who gets wisdom loves life; the one who cherishes understanding will soon prosper.” -Proverbs 19:8

“Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” -John 12:25

Yesterday afternoon I found the Jack Kerouac quote, above, in a book I’m reading on how to be a better writer. I liked the thought, so I tweeted it. But then I realized that I only liked the quote within the context of a biblical worldview. It occurred to me that Jack Kerouac’s worldview might have been different from mine. I didn't know who he was or anything about him. Since I wouldn’t want to be quoting an infamous serial killer on Twitter—especially one who said, “Be in love with your life,” I googled the name.

According to Wikipedia, Jack Kerouac was an American novelist and poet, a “pioneer of the Beat generation,” “a progenitor of the hippie movement.” He died in 1969 at age 47 of internal bleeding caused by alcohol abuse. I wonder if he was in love with his life or if, maybe, he was searching for a way to be in love with his life or if, perhaps, he’d been deceived into believing he was in love with his life even as he was poisoning himself to death.

I may never know, but I don’t think I would enjoy reading any of his books.

To me, being in love with my life means learning to spend it well. For this I need the wisdom and understanding that only God can provide. I seek this in His Word and by talking with Him throughout the day. I practice His presence, enjoying Him and learning to go where He leads.

I often struggle with fear, though, and am tempted to too carefully protect and preserve this one life. But I’ve learned that that is not living well. It is not being in love with my life; it is keeping myself in a cage. When I feel this way, I must relinquish that job—protecting and preserving—to God. He loves my life even more than I do. I give my life to Him and spend it in His presence, according to His direction. I lose my life to Him and He gives it back, so I can love this life with Him throughout eternity.

Father, please give us wisdom and understanding, so we can live life well. Then please help us to trust as You lead. Show us how to abandon our lives to You, so You can make them into what You always meant for them to be. This is being in love with life: living for You always!