Monday, May 25, 2015

Truly Free by Robert Morris

In Truly Free best-selling author Robert Morris invites us into a glorious truth-that the promise of being set free from the slavery of sin is a promise to be set free completely. Although evil is real and Christians can be oppressed by it, we have the promise that the one who is in us is greater than the one who is in the world (1 John 4:4). Jesus saves us, trains us to resist the power of evil, and delivers us from anything that holds us back. With Jesus, we can be finally free forever. (back cover)

Pastor Robert Morris, founding senior pastor of Gateway Church, knows firsthand how easy it is to become entangled in sin. He has been quite candid about his own struggles, and has the heart and passion to help others break free. I appreciate the personal stories that he shares and feel they help others realize that they are not alone and that anyone can allow sin to pull them away from the life they want to lead. Just as Paul says in Romans 7:15-25, knowing what you should do, and even what you want to do is not enough.

Pride can be the largest stumbling block in preventing us to reconcile our desire to live a Christ-honoring life, and the life we actually live. Morris explains how we simply cannot change of our own free will, but must get down to root causes (not excuses, necessarily, but things that may have influenced us.) I found several passages in the book very convicting and came to the realization that even the self-defeating "small" sins make a difference. More than just a feel good book of overcoming sins and temptations, Truly Free encourages the reader to turn the the Lord to break free of the snares that trap us in a life that keeps us from living the life and being the person God intends...and to be aware that we cannot do it apart from Him. I recommend this book and would give it a 4.5 stars.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from BookLook Bloggers at no cost to myself. I was not required to write a positive review. Also, thank you to Thomas Nelson.

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Bash and the Chocolate Milk Cows

Bash is up to his usual tricks and with his overactive imagination, life is anything but boring. But cousin Beamer likes boring. This time he is back on the farm for Spring Break and Bash's favorite holiday---April Fool's Day! What could possibly go wrong in his latest scheme? Bash and the Chocolate Milk Cows is his most creative and complicated plan to surprise his parents yet. Toss in a polliwog observatory, a robber with a sweet tooth, and a goat of many colors...and get prepared for a wild week!

Storyteller Burton Cole, with illustrator Buddy Lewis, have a book that is sure to bring joy to 8-12 year old boys (and girls) and possibly strike fear into the heart of parents of mischievous kids. They may pick up a few ideas, and hopefully be discouraged about trying some of the crazier ones, but there is also a lesson to be learned. This time Beamer wants to learn more about baptism. This combination of fun-filled adventures, with a few important tenets of Christianity woven in at an age appropriate level, makes for a series that I definitely recommend for children. While they are more into practical jokes than I have ever been, it did bring to mind a few childhood adventures of my own. I love the encouragement to use your imagination and get outside and play!

I received a copy of this book at no cost to myself from Shelton Interactive in exchange for an honest review.

Catie Conrad: How to Become the Most (un)Popular Girl in Middle School

The 2nd in The Desperate Diva Diaries series, Catie Conrad has a new diary and new tween angst to write about. Catie Conrad: How to Become the Most (un)Popular Girl in Middle School  by Angie Spady brings back Catie, her best friend Sophie, her secret crush Josh, brother Jeremy, and nemesis Miranda Maroni.  The book, illustrated by Channing Everidge, is written in the style of a young girl's diary, complete with all of the drawings and sketches of future fashion designer, Catie. It's a continuation of the first book, but can be enjoyed as a stand alone title.

Miranda is up to her old tricks of making Catie look and feel bad about herself by accusing Catie of cheating on a test in the one subject she is good in AND by continuing to make fun of Catie's fashion designs. Everything Catie does is twisted by Miranda, and it's not easy to keep turning the other cheek and not finding a way to get even. With Valentine's day quickly approaching, the stress levels are higher than ever. Will Josh believe Miranda's lies? Catie is also trying to be supportive of Sophie and the Scholar Bowl team but what is the best way for her to help?

Of course, things are zany at home too. As if her brother and his pet skunk, Rosie, weren't enough, Jeremy AKA "The Germ" is pet-sitting a friend's bearded dragon!! Then, just when things could not get worse---Jeremy breaks his leg! Guess who is put in charge of taking care of the pets and helping her brother?

This second book is just as much fun to read as the first one. I am way past those traumatic middle school years, so I read these with a touch of amusement interspersed with my own memories of the drama that goes with being that age. But, I am also very impressed with the message that goes out to young girls, especially Christians, that we all face problems, but we have a God always available to turn to in times of need. The use of Scripture and the counsel of parents and support of friends who share the same values and beliefs are presented in a way that does not appear to be a lesson. I strongly recommend The Diva Diaries.

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book at no cost to myself from Shelton Interactive. I was only asked to give an honest opinion.

Changing Churches: A View From the Pew

• Are you a "church hopper" or thinking of becoming one? • Do you look down on Christians who change churches? • Did you know that 76% of "church switchers" are devout Christians? • Do you wonder about vast changes in church? • Do you wonder what will bring church unity and transformation? Changing Churches describes, through the eyes of one couple, the difficult journey that "church switchers" travel-a journey often precipitated by disruptive church changes. The book encourages Christ-like transformative change in churches rather than man-devised makeovers. As you read you will learn about: • The right reasons to leave a church. • How to manage the pain and angst of leaving a familiar church. • How to search for another church-the anxiety and adventure. • How to handle conflict between spouses about leaving and searching. • How to find the new church that fits you and fits God's plan for you. Changing Churches is helpful in understanding the sweeping changes in churches and what we can do to build up the church.

My Review: First of all, I want to say that I did like the last section of the book more than I did the first. My initial impression brought to mind people I know who are constantly complaining. I am not saying that they don't have legitimate reasons, but I don't understand why someone remains somewhere that they obvious dislike. Part of my lack of understanding is probably due to the fact that the first half of my life involved a lot of moving; I simply don't have emotional attachments to a particular church, school, etc. The other is due to a church split due to people who were extraordinarily attached to the building, yet held a lot of resentment toward the preaching, the music, the increased attendance, etc. So, while I did understand reasons Mrs. Parish wanted to leave each church, I guess I simply don't understand the emails and drama attached. To her credit, she did stick with some of them longer than I would have, but it came across like she was upset because the churches weren't following her personal preferences. 

But, the later half of the book went more into the reasons for leaving in a more factual, impersonal way that was more helpful (in my view) for those considering changing churches and gave a fuller insight into the church as a family from the lay persons view on to the pastor's responsibilities and needs. There are many reasons for leaving a particular church, but as Mrs. Parish herself suggests, this is a something that should be done prayerfully. I even understood better about discussing it with the pastor, especially if you feel that a false doctrine is being taught. This is a book that goes into detail and one you may want to consider purchasing if you are having doubts about whether you should be seeking another church.

Disclaimer: I'm a part of the CWA Review Crew and I received a copy of this book at no cost to myself in exchange for my honest opinion.

Friday, May 15, 2015

When Grace Sings by Kim Vogel Sawyer

When Grace Sings by Kim Vogel Sawyer is the 2nd book in The Zimmerman Restoration Trilogy. This book opens with reporter Briley Forrester and his boss working on an undercover scheme to expose the Mennonite community as not being the idyllic people that tourists believe. The plan is for Briley to become a long term boarder at Grace Notes Bed and Breakfast in Arborville, Kansas.

Alexa Zimmerman has just opened Grace Notes in her grandmother's old home and is establishing a means to support herself and in hopes of being accepted by the family she has only recently come to know. (For more on this story, read When Mercy Rains) Things are further complicated when her cousin Anna-Grace moves into the boarding house to help her fiance', Steven, restore and repair the house which has been bequeathed to him.

I did not read the first book in the series, so I am a bit leery of writing an accidental spoiler. Therefore, I am not giving many details. I will say that Kim gives enough background from the first book that I did not feel that there were huge pieces missing. Yet, she also shared just enough to pique my interest in wanting to read, "When Mercy Rains" so I can get the full picture of what happened. So, while not a stand alone novel, it is still a satisfying story. Of course, as with any good writer, she leaves you wanting more. I definitely want to read "When Love Returns" when it is released.

The characters were well developed and people you could understand. Even when I would think, "that's not what I would do," I understood the motive and mindset of each because we did get a fuller picture of each. To me, creating fictional people you would like---or even dislike---in real life is what draws me into a story and hold my interest. I have read several of Kim's books and she is very skilled at adding layers to the people who populate her novels. To be honest, I am not a huge Amish/Mennonite genre fan, but Kim has once again presented a story that I thoroughly enjoyed and kept my attention.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from WaterbrookMultnomah's, Blogging for Books 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 Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Kim Vogel Sawyer FB Author page
Kim Vogel Sawyer website


Sunday, May 3, 2015

One Last Thing - St. James/Rue

One Last Thing by Rebecca St. James and Nancy Rue is a contemporary fiction that focuses on the subject of online pornography addiction and the devastation it can bring to a person and their relationships.

Tara Faulkner and Seth Grissom were childhood friends who grew up next to one another and whose lives had flowed from an idyllic childhood to a fairy tale perfect romance. Seth's best friend was Tara's brother and their parents were best of friends also. But, three weeks before the lavish wedding, Tara discovered a secret that revealed a part of Seth she could not imagine.

I didn't love the book, but I did like it a lot. The various characters covered a full spectrum of people who are likely to part of ones circle of friends. The jolt to Tara after discovering Seth's porn addiction, and the indecision of what to do and how to react seemed very well played. More than one of the people in the story had secrets that were slowly revealed and gave a greater depth of understanding to the results of sexual addiction, showing that it is not the harmless hobby that many claim, and that it does hurt many people. While the story did delve into causes for Seth to have formed this addiction, keep in mind that this is just one person's story.

The family dynamics also proved that what is seen on the surface may hide a whole range of other emotions and hidden agendas. The family that put on the biggest facade of a perfect life, proven to have many dysfunctional aspects. As Tara struggles to keep Seth's secret while evolving into a person of more depth, she is sometimes surprised by the reactions of close family members.

Now, some of the work situations seemed not quite in step with reality, but I did like the friendships formed and the support group. Tara managed to build a healthy support system community that provided the strength she needed as she worked through the issues that needed confronted, and came out a much more likeable person at the end of the book than she was at the beginning. While the book did not end with all of the loose ends tied in a pretty bow, it did end on a hopeful note that Tara, and Seth, would get through individuals more secure in who they are, what and in Whom they believe, and better equipped to face challenges in life.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers 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 Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”