Monday, May 23, 2016


Hairstyled: 75 Ways to Braid, Pin & Accessorize Your Hair

Whether your hair is long or short, thick or thin, straight or curly, and whether you favor elegance or simplicity, there is a style in this book for you. 

If you're ready to freshen up your look and make the most of your hair, then Anne Thoumieux will be a good advisor. Each style has step by step instructions and accompanying photographs, and the "difficulty level" is listed for all of them so you can start with easy ones and work up. 

Anne covers all the basics, outlining several types of braids, various updos and buns, and multiple creative uses for headbands and scarves. She gives curly hair a section all to itself, and another one for medium length hair. She even has a selection of short hair styles, showing how much variety you can achieve with a basic pixie cut. 

So, what will I be trying? Mostly the variations on my basic theme: a braid. I like the braided crown, and the fishbone braid. I've always admired buns and French twists, yet my straight hair seems too slippery to stay in an updo. Maybe some of Anne's tips and tricks for adding texture and then holding it all in place would help? 

I know one thing for sure- this basic stylist book could inspire little changes here and there that revitalize your whole look. Be bold, try something new, and surprise yourself. :-) 

I thank Blogging for Books for providing me with a review copy. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

None Like Him~

None Like Him: 10 Ways God Is Different from Us (and Why That's a Good Thing)

You know those moments of fear- some of them legitimate, some not- when you realize that you are terribly limited, and so much is outside of your control and beyond your comprehension? Those are moments when life in this world feels more like a bet made against you than anything else, and you wonder how you're supposed handle it. 

The plain, hard truth is that we can't handle it all. We can't bear it all. We can't respond to everyone, or give everything that is needed. Only God can, and there is none like Him. 

This truth crushes us- we are not God. And then it saves us- because God is God. And we don't need to worry any more about what we aren't, because God is. That's why Jen Wilkin wrote this book. When we exalt God, we reassure ourselves in the process, because we are his, and we don't need to play god. 

Jen arranged this book around ten attributes that only God possesses. Self-existence, immutability, omniscience, eternality, sovereignty, ..... these aren't merely abstract concepts for us. They're aspects of God's nature, and therefore they underpin the universe he made. In him we live and move and have our being, and "None Like Him" leads us to consider what his being is. 

I thank Crossway Publishing and Flyby Promotions for providing me a review copy. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

The Mother Letters~

The Mother Letters: Sharing the Laughter, Joy, Struggles, and Hope

Looking back at human history all around the world, we see that wise people have always understood the power of a spoken blessing. When goodness is called out and a good name is bestowed, that is a powerful part of growth and transformation. Today, we need these moments of invocation more than ever. When life is hard, we need to hear what God made us to be. When all we can see is trouble, we need to hear about the hidden treasures. 

This book, "The Mother Letters" is a sweet ray of sunlight, a spring breeze, a friend's hand warm on your skin. Amber Haines, author of the beautiful book "Wild in the Hollow," and her husband Seth, author of the honest and hope-filled "Coming Clean," have curated this selection of Mother Letters. 

The Mother Letters are for every woman who has ever mothered any child. If you have borne the weight and glory of that title, whether there was DNA involved or not, whether "Mom" was ever spoken aloud before or not, then you are a Mother. 

Some of the contributors have names you may know from their books or blogs, and others you'll meet here for the first time. Yes, they're plainspoken about motherhood's messiness. You will read about temper tantrums and multiplying laundry piles. Yes, they're truthful about motherhood's pain. You'll hear their hearts as they discuss watching a child grow and reach for independence. Yes, they write poetically about motherhood's delights, from holding the newborn child to seeing your grown child living well. 

Despite all these familiar themes, though, this isn't your ordinary mother-book. The authors aren't selling you on any particular parenting method. They aren't determining your worth by the productivity of your womb. They aren't defining you in terms of your offspring's success. Instead, they're calling out to you as a God-designed individual. They won't encourage you to do or be more for you children's sake- no, they'll call for you to be alive in Christ's name. They'll declare you a Mother-soul, which is strong and wide and generous. 

I thank Revell Publishing for my review copy, which was provided in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Dear Mother.... 

When it comes to the mother/child relationship, my favorite image is of the mama black bear with her cubs. When the little bears come out of their winter den, they know nothing about the world outside. It's wild and dangerous, a place to flourish and a place to be cautious all at once. The small bears learn everything by following right behind mama. 

Human mothers teach their children all the practical things, too. We need these practical skills and essential lessons. But Mothers-all-over-the-world, most of all you teach us how to be. You show us how you move through the world, how you stand in your own skin, how you look at others and reach out to them. 

My wish for every Mother Soul would be happiness, wholeness, and whimsical holiness. 

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

"Seven Laws of Love"

The Seven Laws of Love: Essential Principles for Building Stronger Relationships

Imagine that you're going about your ordinary day- waiting in an elevator, riding a bus, standing in line- and all of a sudden this random guy comes up and taps you on the shoulder and says "Hey, did you ever think about what love really looks like?" 

That's what this book is. It's Pastor Dave Willis, appearing at your side and saying "Let's just take a minute and imagine what love sounds like, how it moves, how it grows, how it feels, and most of all- how to give it away." 

This book is a practical primer for those who are ready to love and care more fully for the people around them. The first seven chapters describe seven principles that govern love. Love is honest, love heals, love commits, love conquers, love is gracious, love gives and continues to give, love cannot die.

The next seven chapters zoom in on particular relationships- with family, friends, children, spouses, enemies, neighbors, and your Maker- and envision what better love would look like in those contexts. 

You might laugh while reading this book, your might shake your head at the way we humans treat each other, you might be injected with fresh hope. 

I thank Thomas Nelson for my review copy.

Sunday, May 1, 2016

A Laura McNeill Mystery

Sister Dear

This is destined to be a very short review. First, I much appreciate Laura's descriptive writing. Reading this book, it was as if I wore her characters' skin, saw with their eyes, and heard with their ears. I'd try another of her books to experience that sensory-involved reading again. 

Second, the mystery. Whoa, did it hook me right in. I wanted to see how all the angles came together, how all the pieces added up. The questions of guilt and innocence in a small town rarely fail to catch my attention. Especially when the mystery is also a sister story. 

Which brings me to my third point, the sisters. I absolutely hated their relationship, and I think the author intended for me to. I can't say more about this, except that I kept wishing and hoping for total restoration or even a single ray of hope, and there was no such resolution. 

If you read this, expect a fast, deadly mystery, that is peeled back layer by layer by a woman desperate to begin her life again. 

I thank Litfuse for my review copy. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

The Heart of Revelation~

Heart of Revelation

Revelation is probably the most abused book out of all the canonical Scriptures. 

Have you ever tuned into an evangelical radio station? If you stay on one long enough, you will hear somebody preaching from Revelation, and it probably will scare you to death. They'll have you worried about microchips and plagues, falling asteroids and a one world order. (If you've heard this before, you're probably in a cold sweat right now, just thinking about it.) 

The impassioned preacher will be drawing all his horror stories from the visions seen by John the Beloved when the elder Apostle was exiled to Patmos. John was given a glimpse of both apocalypse and renewal, in visions which encompassed total devastation and then God's healing presence amid a redeemed world. The record of this experience was sent out to the newborn churches, and somehow I think they treated John's words differently than we do today. 

Typical evangelical preaching on Revelation leaves you hoping to die before the End Times arrive. The focus is on the torment (I’m not sure if everyone alive will be tormented, or just the unconverted- I’ve heard it spun both ways) and not the triumph. The early church certainly understood evil, and corrupted governments, and deadly persecution, yet when they read Revelation they saw a victorious Lamb; a conquering Christ. This unforgettable and imponderable letter from John taught them how to live, how to worship, what to work for, and what to hope for. 

J. Scott Duvall wrote this book to help us receive the words of Revelation in a Christ-centered, soul-strengthening way. Instead of sucking us into the kraken infested whirlpool of prophecy predictions, he pares his thoughts down to ten essential themes. 

God- who is this Person, maker of Time, Space and Matter, who holds the ends of history in his hands? 
Worship- how would we live if we recognized and responded to God's worth?
The People of God- when life is scary, we can give each other shelter in His name. 
The Holy Spirit- our Advocate, Helper, Comforter, the One who came to bear with us. 
Our enemy- that force which hates the ways of God, yet only exists because God created it. 
The Mission- how do we carry God's news and enflesh Christ's life, from now until the final day?
Jesus Christ- he walked the earth with his glory hidden in human skin, yet when he returns He'll be revealed as the King. 
Judgement- the act that sets everything right.
New Creation- everything as if was intended to be, aligned and alive in Christ. 
Perseverance- clinging to the purpose behind all of life.  

If Revelation has been used wrongly in your life and left you terrified and troubled, then maybe it's time to read this book. It will remind you that John's testimony was recorded to strengthen our hearts, fanning the flame of God's love so that the church can warm the world. 

I thank Baker Books for providing my review copy. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

When Anything Goes....

When Anything Goes: Being Christian in a Post-Christian World

 Don't let the title scare you away. This isn't (another) screed against the slipping morals of modern America. Instead, "When Anything Goes" is Leslie Williams' response to a world that's clamoring with opinions and crying out for meaning. 

As a believer with a keen intellect and a disarming sense of humor, Leslie is an excellent guide on the tour of God-and-humanity interactions. She's distilled her convictions from decades of personal experience and informed her conclusions by years of study. 

When she speaks about Christianity, she speaks to a human being first, a soul-hungry creature that's made for more (and made of more) than immediately meets the eye.

We're all "beggars for love, with our hands outstretched." We have illusions of control. We are not in control. We will someday die. Leslie tells it like it is, but she doesn't stop there. She calls us out of hiding, out of covering our dirty tracks, and into greater Life. We can be overwhelmed by the magnificence of forgiveness. We have a home in the heart of God, with the door held open by Christ.We are treasures in God's sight.

I got the sense as I read "When Anything Goes" that Leslie has a very practical Christianity, one worked out right here in the world where all the ends don't tie up and all the numbers don't seem to add. Some people have never encountered a faith that could survive outside a sanctuary. This book reminds us that Christianity, like its Christ, works with whatever material it is given. Nothing is too poor or too profane for God to use or transform.

Ultimately, my best endorsement is to say that this book is reminiscent of C. S. Lewis's "Mere Christianity." C.S and Leslie both know how to talk of heavenly things to their earthly neighbor. And that kind of conversation is one we need more of. 

I thank the author and Abingdon Publishers for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations~

The 9 Arts of Spiritual Conversations: Walking Alongside People Who Believe Differently

This is going to be one of the best books I read this year. I just know it. 

A year or so ago, I encountered Hugh Halter and his concept of "whimsical holiness" through his book "Flesh: Learning to Be Human Like Jesus." Hugh provided a fresh, Gospel-driven direction for our Christian living and witnessing. It was such a simple, beautiful notion: The Gospel, presented rightly, draws and woos. It doesn't repel. So, we can speak plain truth about Jesus while keeping our current friends, and maybe we'll even make some new friends. 

Now, Mary Schaller and John Crilly have come out with this incredible little volume "The Nine Arts of Spiritual Conversations." If you've ever wanted to share your faith, ever wanted to give somebody something that matters so much to you, then this is the book you've been waiting for. I wish it could be packaged as a double feature with "Flesh," because it explores all the questions that Hugh's book raised. 

Mary and Crilly know that the Gospel is truly good news, and they both want to spread that good news. We all know the word for this activity. It's evangelism. We also know that evangelism is a wonderful thing that's been used in a bad way. We've all been burned by an ill-timed and insensitive application of the Gospel. Sometimes we were the ones playing with fire, sometimes someone else was juggling flames in our vicinity. Either way, it hurts. 

Mary and Crilly have a vision- to replace "ready, aim, fire" evangelism with humane and honest engagement. Simple, essential, revolutionary. We'd match God's truth to the situation in front of us; we'd dispense God's love to this particular human being; and we'd recognizing that this person has an individual story that's a part of the ongoing Gospel story. 

Crilly and Mary do a fabulous job showing that converting a soul is God's work, and that calling out to a soul is our work. We can be the ones who notice and listen and welcome somebody in. God will do the inner transformation, he will impart his Spirit. 

"The Nine Arts of Spiritual Conversations" is a pleasure to read. First because the ideas presented are so vital, and second because it's packed full of good quotes. I really enjoy books where the authors quote widely, because it's like sitting in on a conversation between multiple thinkers. 

So. Don't let the simple cover and title of this book fool you. It's an undiscovered gem. If you're ready to hit the street and the office and the dinner table with the message of Jesus, then bring this book with you.

Thank you to Tyndale Momentum for providing me with a copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Life in Community~

Life in Community: Joining Together to Display the Gospel

Two pillars mark out the landscape of life. One of them is marked "Loneliness," and the other one reads "Belonging." We're all journeying along in the space between. We're human beings made for belonging, but we're alone in our own skin, separated by secrets and struggles. 

It's our community that brings us together, proving that we have a place, and that we can contribute. It's our community that cares about us, calling us to live with courage, comforting us in painful times, confronting us when we hide from the truth. 

Dustin Willis' new book "Life In Community" is a primer on this vital subject. Dustin believes in Gospel-fired community, which is what you get when diverse individuals decide to welcome each other the way God-in-Christ has welcomed them. 

Chapter by chapter, Dustin outlines what this kind of community could look like, how good it could be, and how it's worth the all effort it takes to build it. He makes it clear that community isn't a lofty idea or a shining ideal, instead it's a solid and tangible manifestation of God's grace right here on our ordinary streets. 

Most important, Dustin draws our vision back to Christ, over and over, showing him to be both the model and the source of our communities. I really appreciated this balance, because Jesus is both our Divine Savior and our perfect example. His ultimate work on our behalf powers the "go and do likewise" works that we do in imitation of him. 

I thank Moody Press Newsroom for providing me with a review copy of this book in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Monday, April 4, 2016

This is Your Brain on Sports~

This Is Your Brain on Sports: The Science of Underdogs, the Value of Rivalry, and What We Can Learn from the T-Shirt Cannon 

Our intention is selecting "This is Your Brain on Sports" was to read, review, and pass on to a 13 year old nephew who is an active participant in youth sports. However, some of the content in the chapters "Acting on Impulse" and "Why Athletes Don't Need an Empty Bed Before Competition" lead me to believe that this book would be best left to parental discretion, when it comes to young readers.

For adults, this book did cover some of the psychology dealing with the modern day theory of no one wins, no one loses, everyone gets a trophy for participating. This book examines how some get way more involved with their favorite teams than is humanly healthy, and how this leads to bad behavior at times. I found the chapter on how the brain drives the athlete to the finish line fairly interesting, The book is a quick read on a rainy afternoon. Turn off the TV and pick it up.

Thank you to the publisher and "Blogging for Books" for providing a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Sunday, April 3, 2016

Brazen~ by Leeana Tankersley

Brazen: The Courage to Find the You That's Been Hiding

"Brazen needs to be rescued from the clutches of hussy and delivered into the hands of holy, because it's a word worth using, a word worth living." ~ Leeana Tankersley 

This book is like the best of songs- pieces of it will get caught in your head, looping over and over in your memory, and its refrain will call you onward into good things. 

Leeana knows what it's like to not be in a good place. She understands what it's like when your heart and mind and body are struggling and you're afraid that you'll never be well again, that you won't be able to make anything work, and that it all doesn't matter. 

Out of her Hard time- yep, Hard deserves a capital H- she emerged, slowly learning the value of her own soul. Think about it. What do we have to offer God, our family, and our friends? The answer is: Only our Essential Self. 

A soul will never tip a measuring scale, not by one ounce, yet Jesus said you couldn't pay for it with the whole world. A soul cannot be seen, not one glimpse, but it's the source of every choice you make. We desperately need to nourish these souls, to cultivate the inner life and know the sacred space where a woman meets her Maker. That is Leeana's message. She calls it brazen living: Being yourself- God made and God approved- without that corrosive shame that dogs and destroys. 

Each chapter is a meditation on one aspect of the larger theme. The titles will give you an idea. "Make Peace with Self Possession." "Disobey Your Fear." "You Are That Girl." "Curate Your Life." "Keep Casting Your Nets." "Fall in Love." "Unlearn." "Welcome it All." 

"We are both complete and becoming," says Leeana. We need to rest- brazen, shameless rest- in the knowledge that we are enough, we are complete.  And then we need to act- with brazen bravery- to engage the world and share our healing souls. We need to give our words and art and love- brazenly- to the world. 

This book is an invitation and a gentle push. 

I thank Revell Reads for my review copy, provided in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Saturday, April 2, 2016

Honestly~ by Daniel Fusco

Honestly: Getting Real about Jesus and Our Messy Lives

Jesus makes dead people alive. That's what Daniel Fusco wants you to know. That in the shout-it-from-a-mountain-top message that energizes every other thought is this book. 

"Honestly" is one of those books where vital truths are spoken in everyday words, as if God really is right here amid the baseball and jazz music and Italian food of Daniel's life, and amid the whatever and wherever of your life. 

Daniel weaves back and forth, looking at Scripture and looking at life, exploring what it's like to be human, to know the love of God, and to walk like Jesus through this messy world. 

People always talk about "being a good Christian," and we really ought to quit that, because none of us are and it doesn't matter anyway. What matters is that we have a good Christ. And we do. 
We have a Jesus who will walk with us through a hard thing, when all we want to do is get over it or go around it. We have a Jesus who doesn't turn away from any ugliness that we can expose, instead he reaches out and touches us. 

That's the truth. It's also the truth that terrible things happen. And burdens are too heavy to be carried alone. And people suffer in very real ways, even when they look fine from the outside. Any book titled "Honestly" has to address both sides of our existence-that  this world is cracked right up the center and we're all feeling it, and yet we are safe in Jesus, and loved better than we could ever imagine. 
This book earns its title. 

I thank Navpress and Tyndale for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Curious Faith~ by Logan Wolfram

A Curious Faith: Rediscovering a Good God with Childlike Wonder  

"We've been given a torch of faith to walk through a tunnel when we can't see where we're going, and thankfulness makes us brave along the way." ~Logan Wolfram

Curious. At first, it seems like an odd adjective to use to describe faith.

When I hear the word curious, I think of a child. A healthy child is constantly exploring, learning, and growing, and all their days are infused with curiosity. That's what makes them ask questions and try things they're unsure of. Their curiosity insists that there's more to the world than meets the eye. 

On second thought, maybe "Curious Faith" is exactly what we need. 

This book was written by a storyteller, that much is clear. Logan knows how to hold her life up to the Light and describe the colors that it carries. Whether she's telling us about the lowest lows (when a heart you love stops beating) or the sweetest gifts (when somebody finds hope again) there is passion in her words. 

Chapter by chapter Logan shares her journey of curious faith, reflecting on bravery and pain and risk and possibility. She speaks about the moments that have meant so much to her, when new understanding has come. She lives believing that God is up to so many things, and we should keep our eyes open for them. Her description of watching an eclipse cover the moon is particularly moving. It reminded me that the predicted, expected, "natural" phenomena of eclipses and thunderstorms and springtime still tell us much about the God who loves us. 

So.... a curious faith.  It involves a lot of wondering and watching, waiting and wanting and worshipping. It's a good thing.

I thank David C Cook for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Core Christianity~ by Michael Horton

Core Christianity: Finding Yourself in God's Story

Definitions matter. We need to know what a thing is, where it comes from, what to do with it, and what it might do to us. The more important a thing is, the more imperative it is that we define it correctly. 

When you think about it, the unity of the global Christian church depends on a bunch of shared definitions. A Trinitarian God, salvation through Christ, the coming of the Helper Holy Spirit, the arc of history towards a new creation.... these are all components of "Core Christianity" as we can find it in the Scriptures. 

Michael Horton has helped us all out by bringing together multiple definitions in one book, putting the core concepts in your hands so you can get them into your head. 

He begins by explaining why doctrine is a good word and not a bad one. Doctrine, he says, is born from drama. "God reveals what he is like, not in ivory towers of speculation, but down on the ground in real history. From the throbbing verbs and adverbs of the drama we are given stable nouns.... it is doctrine that tells us what the drama means for us." 

And then we're off, exploring the nature of God, the character of God, the origin of Scripture, the role of Scripture, the creation and the curse, covenants and their fulfillment, the incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection. This book is a fine starting point and/or a handy reference, moving along carefully but quickly and always showing the centricity and supremacy of Christ. 

I'm glad I had the chance to add "Core Christianity" to my shelf. We need both kinds of book- the sweeping stories that look at the large curves of God's work in the world, and the precise statements of God-Is, God-Did, and Follow-Him. This book is the latter kind. 

Thank you Booklook for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Fear and Faith~ Trillia Newbell

Fear and Faith: Finding the Peace Your Heart Craves

Fear, Trillia explains, is the posture of one expecting harm. As fragile humans in a fallen world we can come to harm in many ways, and so we have many fears. The trouble is that fearfulness doesn't protect us. It drains us.

Sure, there's a "healthy fear." We know it as caution. Caution informs our carefully chosen actions, helping us to engage with the world and be safe too. The unwholesome fear drags us away from reality. It doesn't want us to form relationships, resolve issues, or grow in any way. 

Don't you recognize it, when it comes to get you? That state of panic when the imagination runs wild and you see everything that could go wrong in vivid detail? 

Trillia has written this book to toss out a life preserver of God's truth onto the waves of fear. 
She believes that knowing who God is, what God has done for us, and who we are according to God will set us free to live without the ravages of fear. That's the "faith" the title refers to. It's not faith-in-general. It's specific faith, learned one portion of the Word at a time. 

Chapter by chapter she shows us treasures she has gleaned from the Word, and her enthusiasm whets our appetite for more. Fear of the future, fear of tragedy, fear of being judged and compared, fear of being ugly and unwanted, she brings all of these "unhealthy fears" into the strong light of the Word. 

Personal stories from women show us what the fight against fear looks like in real life, and they encouraged me. I really appreciated that Trillia doesn't pretend your fears won't come true if you're "faithful enough." She knows that they may. Some of her fears have. And yet.... God hasn't changed, and when a fear comes true and re-shapes reality, God meets her there. That's the hope she extends to all of her sisters. 

I thank Moody Publishers for my review copy, provided in exchange for an honest opinion.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Finding God in the Ruins~ Matt Bays

Finding God in the Ruins: How God Redeems Pain

Matt Bays describes such devastating ruins that you wonder how anybody could survive living in them, and then he describes such a strange and tender God who inhabits the ruins. A God who enters the horrible scenes, who draws near and stays near - and that's his tenderness- but who doesn't instantly end the pain for the suffering- and that's his strangeness. 

The phrase "Life sucks and then you die" may not be true, but it sure feels like it sometimes. And what good does it do us as Christians to pretend otherwise? What are we doing for God by acting like we can easily reconcile everything that's wrong with the promise of salvation and redemption? 

I believe in all the best words- GloryGoodnessMercyPeaceJoyHopeLoveRedemption. I've seen them come to life around me already, and I expect to see more of them the longer I live. But I've also seen things that suck. If I, as a well-cared-for young person, wonder how to put the pieces together, then what must somebody with a past of greater hurt and harm think? 

Who will bother to talk redemption with the people who live in the ruins? Matt Bays will. He knows what ruins look like, taste like, smell like. He also knows that if God IS, then he IS whether any human believes it or not. A God who knows his way around the ruins doesn't wait for a personalized invitation card before he drops by the human heart. God might come your way the same way tragedy did- unexpectedly, and altering all of life. 

On a personal note, I especially loved the way Matt spoke about his sister. I don't see how any reader could leave this book and not whisper a prayer for her in her fight with cancer. 

So. If you know that faith requires honesty if it's going to be more than a nice idea, and if you believe that hope is capable of staring hard at reality and still existing, then this is a book for you. 

I thank David C Cook and Litfuse Publicity for my review copy.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The Very Good Gospel~ Lisa Sharon Harper

The Very Good Gospel: How Everything Wrong Can Be Made Right

"If the construction of human empire is our goal, we will become enemies of God's purposes on earth. If the flourishing of the image of God and all the relationships in creation is our goal, then we will become partners with God, exercising dominion that is in the likeness of God." ~Lisa Sharon Harper

This book is a like a stick of dynamite. Handle it with care or else it will explode, blowing away your preconceived notions and altering the landscape of your understanding. 

And hey, maybe that's a good thing sometimes.  

If you could go back to the beginning, what do you think you would have seen between God and the world? Imagine it- the formless and void now sculpted and filled, God himself resting in satisfaction, the newborn sunlight shining on First Man and Woman, and all creatures utterly at home in the earth.
The Hebrew word for this utter wholeness, intense health, and holy happiness is "shalom." 

That "shalom" is everything we're craving, individually and nationally. 

Lisa Sharon Harper understands that creation was steeped in shalom at the start, and she knows that our hearts long to return to that place. She believes that shalom can be brought back into the world when men and women commit to acting justly, with mercy and generosity. 

If that's the case, then we as people of faith have some marching orders. Evil must be exposed, corruption reformed, and all oppression ended. Human dignity must be championed. Debate of the crucial ideas must be civil, and must not be censored. We must seek out "good governance" and keep our government systems accountable.

It's tempting to think of this all as abstract thought, but it isn't. We read the news of missing shalom every day. Bloodshed and violence, violated victims, lies and deception, economic struggle- we sleep in a planet-sized broken home.

As Lisa addresses these concepts she points us to current events. There are plenty to choose from, when discussing the need for shalom. 

I came away from this book reminded that life is a gift, and we want to live well. And there's so many areas of need, so in whatever way we can let's make our life count. That will never look the same for two people in a row, but we can pursue the goodness of God while looking hard at reality and we can find a way to work for shalom. 

I thank Waterbrook Multnomah for providing me with a review copy in exchange for an honest opinion.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Tiger's Cage~ by Linda J. White

The Tiger's Cage

As her fifth suspense novel, "The Tiger's Cage" is exactly what I've come to expect from Linda J. White. Fans know her books as white-knuckle fiction, and there's a reason for that. Each book revolves around an FBI Agent who is working on a complex and dangerous case at the same time as a personal crisis unfolds in their lives. In her earlier books she put her characters through the proverbial wringer- and dragged the reader along!- but this is the most intense story yet. 

"The Tiger's Cage" is the story of a father and son- Tom and Kenny Donovan. Tom is an FBI Special Agent poised to take down a drug kingpin, and Kenny is teenager who adores his never-back-down Dad. Their life is good. Not perfect, of course- Tom's wife wants more communication from him, and Kenny does too, and the work of law enforcement takes its toll on a whole family. Essentially, though, everything is fine. Until a January night when it isn't anymore. 

What happens when a son is harmed to send a message to a father? 

For Tom, the stakes couldn't be higher. The brave man he tries to be doesn't back down in the face of evil, and the threat against his child is an evil he never saw coming. 

The most satisfying part of Linda's books is the way she combines layers of clues, scenes of FBI action, and sudden plot twists while steadily building realistic characters. She writes her Agents as competent investigators and dedicated enforcers of the law, and also as flesh and blood humans with fears and families. Those last two dynamics come strongly into play in Tiger's Cage. For Tom this isn't just a case anymore- its about saving his son, rescuing the future of his family and redeeming the greatest wound in his past. 

But don't get me wrong- relationships and redemption come as part and parcel of the mystery, and they don't slow the trajectory of the case down one bit. No, this book builds steadily to a taut-wire ending scene that still draws me in even on a re-read. 

In "The Tiger's Cage," we see what a few good men will do when they're faced with injustice. 
It makes for some fine reading. 

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

God's Crime Scene~ J. Warner Wallace

God's Crime Scene: A Cold-Case Detective Examines the Evidence for a Divinely Created Universe

We have a universe of stunning complexity. We have a planet Earth uniquely fit for life. Life is dependent on the extensive information found in DNA. DNA tells the story of the past, shapes the present and points to the future. Human beings experience consciousness, and individual humans eventually wonder: What force is responsible for all of this? Where did it all come from? 

Think of it as a crime scene, urges J. Warner Wallace. There's a pivotal question in a crime scene investigation: Was this situation caused by something inside this room, or did something outside of this room intrude and act? Are all the answers right here, hidden in plain sight, or are we processing a trail of evidence that will identify an external suspect? 

He applies this logic to the chosen case, leading us to ask: Is the force behind the 'crime scene' of our universe natural, unguided processes, or was there an involvement from outside the 'room' of time/space/matter? And what would the nature of such an involvement be?" 

Chapter by chapter we look for the evidence of "an inside job" or "outside intrusion" in all of those areas: the origin of the universe, earth's ability to support us, the genetic code that powers life, and the experience of consciousness and its attendant questions of free will and morality. As in any carefully crafted case, expert witnesses testify, represented here by quotes and excerpts of their work. These witnesses include cosmologists, physicists, evolutionary biologists, philosophers, theologians, and ethicists. 

"God's Crime Scene" is packed with information without being overwhelming. A whole library of books couldn't exhaust all of these issues, yet this single volume is a great orientation. Many charts and graphics help us grasp the arguments and a running "Suspect Profile" at the end of each chapter shows the evidence building up. Yes, J. Warner Wallace wants you to learn, but he also wants you to enjoy the process. 

In the introduction he quotes a former field training officer who loved to get involved in a good pursuit. The FTO would look over to the rookie in the passenger seat and say "Saddle up, partner!" He passes the same advice along to us- Saddle up! Following this evidence is a wild ride. 

I'm happy to add this book to my shelf next to his first book, "Cold Case Christianity: A Homicide Detective Investigates the Claims of the Gospels." Two or more re-reads would be required to get a handle on the material here, so I'm far from done with "God's Crime Scene."

If you want a thoughtful treatment of the "Was-God-Involved" question from an author who is utterly respectful of others viewpoints, look no further. 

I have to thank David C Cook publishers for sharing a review copy with me in exchange for an honest opinion. 

Monday, March 14, 2016

Seated with Christ~ by Heather Holleman

Seated with Christ: Living Freely in a Culture of Comparison

As I read Heather Holleman's book, I could tell that there was a love affair going on between her and language. She's one of those authors who writes as if the opportunity to communicate is a sacred thing, and she wants to use her every word well. You can tell that her heart beats faster when she finds a way to express stunning truth in a sentence, and her delight comes through the pages and quickens the reader's heart too. 

Heather's is the kind of writing that makes me want to treasure the gift of language for myself, and to use words with the honor and care they deserve. 

"Seated with Christ" is one of those books that will stamp itself on your soul, because the truth it tells is vital for living well. 

Where am I? I'm struggling, fighting with the stuff inside my head and outside my door. 
I'm scrapping, trying to get ahold of something good, afraid that I'm losing out to somebody else who seemed to start off closer to the prize. I'm scraping, chasing and wanting, trying to get by, worried that my grasping hands will come up empty and knowing that "grasping" is not a healthy way to live. 

Where am I according to God? I'm seated with Christ, resting with confidence in the place he provided, circled around his table with many others who are all looking at his face. I can act with the same confidence that I rest with, because no matter what happens I belong at his table. I'll never need to earn a better seat, and I'll never lose the one I've got. 

Heather is so right when she suggests that her reader probably has a mental list of tables they've never sat at. Some of these metaphorical "tables" are far more important than others, but in every case it hurts not to be offered a seat. That will never happen with Jesus. He has made a place for us, and when we recognize that we belong there so many things can change. 

Heather has three key words to describe seated living: Adoration, Access, and Abiding. She has an excellent chapter on each of these concepts. 

If you're hungry for a place to belong, if you wish you could live more freely, if you long to be unfettered by fears and shame, if you're conscious of "all the places you never sat" and you wish you had a seat with Christ, then please do read this book. Because you already have a seat. And Heather will help you find it. 

I thank Moody Press for my review copy, provided in exchange for an honest opinion.