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Snippets from 2011

In order to deal with a backlog of finished but unreviewed books, as well as some I didn’t finish (DNF), I’m going to do a first ever “snippet review” on Hardkover. Get ready, here they come!


The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin

by Douglas Bond. 383 p. Published by P&R Publishing in June 2009.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★☆☆☆

This is one of my DNFs – I got half way through and was uninterested and unimpressed.  This historical fiction about John Calvin is told through the eyes of his frenemy, Jean-Louis Mourin.  I don’t know if it was the forced feeling of the “old English” style of speaking (which doesn’t make much sense, given that the story is set in France), the slow plot, or the heavy-handed characterization of the narrator (I felt constantly bludgeoned with foreshadowing) – this book was not for me.  I liked the concept, as my favorite way to read about historical people is through historical fiction (I find them much more engaging than biographies).  I saw many good reviews for it on Amazon, so give it a try if you find it interesting.  Just wasn’t my cup of tea.


Debt: The First 5,000 Years

by David Graeber. 544 p. Published by Melville House Publishing in July 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★★

This is my other DNF.  I got about one-third through this monster – it was actually a very interesting and fascinating read.  It’s only downfall was that it felt like one of those books where you get the gist after the first couple chapters and the rest are just repeats with different examples (I could be wrong . . . but I guess I’ll never know!).  Graeber’s discussion on our concept of debt is definitely worth reading – and if you’re really into anthropology, sociology, or economics, you might make it to the end! (And if you want someone to blame for the “Occupy Wall Street” Movement, Graeber just might be your man.)

Long Trail Home (#3 in the Texas Trail Series)

by Vickie McDonough. 304 p. Published by Moody Publishers November 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★★

Picked this one off NetGalley because I liked the first two in the series, Lone Star Trail and Captive Trail.  It was as good as the first two and I’m looking forward to the remaining three.  This book featured the story of a young man who went off to fight in the Civil War and came home to find his parents dead and his fiancée married to someone else; the female protagonist is an abandoned child who managed to survive by pretending to be blind (so she could stay at an orphanage for the blind).  As was true with the first two books, the interesting historical setting was my favorite part about the story.  The romance was a little predictable, but its hard to escape that in this genre.

The Winters in Bloom

by Lisa Tucker. 288 p. Published by Atria Books September 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Half mystery, half drama – this reminded me in ways of Diane Chamberlain’s The Midwife’s Confession in genre and style.  A couple’s only child goes missing and each one thinks that it is someone in his/her past that is to blame.  The story flashbacks to previous relationships and how the couple met to explain their fears and eventually introduce the kidnapper.  This book has decent character development (although I didn’t think the characters were quite as realistic as in The Midwife’s Confession) and a good plot – I found myself fairly hooked all the way through.  However, I thought it petered out at the end; the denouement was very anti-climatic and you don’t get the satisfaction of participating in the inevitable reunion.


The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis

by Nancy Guthrie. 288 p. Published by Crossway Books July 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★★★

This was a FANTASTIC bible study!  I love the format – each chapter begins with a list of questions and scriptures to read and contemplate before Guthrie “lectures” in the teaching section.  The chapter concludes with a pointed description of how that chapter’s topic points to Jesus and discussion questions for facilitating a group study.  The chapters highlighted primarily Creation, Fall of Man, Noah, Babel, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph.  I used this book for my own personal devotion time and found it very enriching.  I liked it so much that I’ve talked my small group into using it for our next study!  Highly recommended.


Rules of Civility

by Amor Towles. 352 p. Published by Viking Adult Books July 2011.  Checked out from my local library using my Kindle!

Verdict: ★★★★

I vacillated on whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars – when I think about the writing, I want to give it 4 and when I think about the plot I give it 3.  Overall, the characters are pretty decent, so I think it deserves the higher rating.  I wasn’t blown away by the plot of this book; however, when Amor Towles puts together words, he doesn’t just make a sentence — he makes magic!  I found myself stopping to re-read parts aloud, just to see if they sounded as beautiful out loud as they did in my head.  He manages to find that perfect balance of writing vivid prose without it being flowery or ridiculously over-the-top.  The book itself is very Great Gatsby-ish – not only because it is set in Manhattan in the 1930s as people are struggling to recover from the Great Depression, but the writing has that older Fitzgerald style.  I liked the female protagonist and thought she had an interesting narrative voice for this time period.  If the plot had been more poignant, it would have ranked 5 stars.  Definitely recommended.


The Princess Curse

by Merrie Haskell. 336 p. Published by HarperCollins September 2011.  Checked out from my local library in old-fashioned hardback binding. Recommended by the BookSmugglers.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

I loved the idea of this book – the tale of the Twelve Dancing Princess, with the heroine being an apothecary‘s apprentice who tries to lift the curse.  The book just never quite lived up to its potential, however.  The imaginary world Haskell created didn’t seem to materialize and charm me the way other fairy tale worlds have (I’m thinking of Ella Enchanted and The Princess Academy in particular).  Perhaps that is why the plot felt a little choppy and the characters just a little too far from reach to join my cast of literary friends – it was hard to truly fall under the magic of living in another world and allowing them to be real.  Although I don’t think this one will join Ella and The Princess Academy on my classics shelf, I would still give it to middle graders or young adults who like a good fairy tale.


Mine is the Night (sequel to Here Burns My Candle)

by Liz Curtis Higgs. 464 p. Published by WaterBrook Press March 2011.  Checked out from my local library on my Kindle!

Verdict: ★★★★

This was the first book I’ve picked up in months that I simply could NOT put down!  I’ve long owned and loved Higgs first Scottish trilogy beginning with A Thorn in My Heart, which is based on the biblical story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah.  Mine is the Night is the sequel to her second Scottish series, this time adapting the story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz in the setting of the Scottish Jacobite rebellion.  Each one is well written, engrossing, and always pointing to underlying story of faith and redemption from the original biblical version.  Not only is this a great time period to read about (Scotland! Rebels! Bonnie Prince Charlie!), but Higgs’ amazing depth and breadth of research combines with her clever writing to bring the heather hills and thick Scottish brogue alive.  Highly recommended!

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Has God Spoken?

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Hank Hanegraaff. 380 p. (Actually, 290 without the appendix, endnotes, and index). Published 2011 by Thomas Nelson.  Advanced review copy provided by Thomas Nelson’s “Booksneeze” program in return for my honest opinion.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Christian Non-Fiction / Religious Apologetics

Short Bio: Once of the most frequently voiced criticisms of Christians is that they believe a book written some 3500-2000 years ago is not only divine revelation given to man at that time, but that it has remained virtually unchanged since then.

The “Bible Answer Man” responds to these criticisms with four main categories of evidence:  the reliability of the manuscripts we have, archeological finds that corroborate biblical accounts, the fulfillment of prophecy, and finally the “art and science of scriptural interpretation”.  He presents his evidence in the form of pneumonic devices that help the reader remember the main points of each (i.e., for “Manuscript C-O-P-I-E-S”, one has a device to remember that Copyist practices, Oral tradition, Papyrus & parchment, Internal evidence, External evidence, and the Science of textual criticism are the supporting facts for how we know we can rely on the biblical manuscripts we have today).

Eyewitness Account:

Overall, I thought this was an extremely interesting book and a good read.  This is the second book I’ve read this year that appears to be written mainly as a response to some vociferous opponents of the authors and both are about the Bible (See “The Book That Made Your World”, responding to criticism that Christianity was an imperialistic and oppressive force in India, for the other).  Hanegraaff’s book contains numerous rejoinders to several Biblical critics (most often to Bart Ehrman, who is a religious studies professor at UNC Chapel Hill).  It contains a wealth of information about the science of manuscripts, archeology, history, and whether the skeptical arguments against the veracity and authenticity of the Bible hold any weight.  It’s organized fairly well, and the pneumonic devices he gives are actually very useful (I found myself trying to recall them at the end of each section to cement the points in my memory).

A few weaknesses are that the book could have used some better editing (I repeatedly had a feeling of “deja vu” as I read sentences that had been used almost word for word in an earlier section – you really can’t use phrases like “the story is interesting as well as instructive” or “the land vomited out the children of the promise just as it had the Canaanites before them” more than once without someone catching it) and that Hanegraaff gave too much text to his opponents.  Its one thing to briefly mention an opposing viewpoint that you want to counter, but to give whole paragraphs or pages to their writing makes it seem like the author is obsessively aggravated.  Overall, you get the feeling that Hanegraaff was writing more of a reference resource than a book designed to be read straight through, as there were not only exact phrasings that were repeated, but also examples and evidence used in multiple sections that are introduced as if for the first time. 

However, I found that I could dismiss my irritation at those points for the meat of the book.  The manuscripts and archeology sections were really fascinating (and gave me a HUGE appreciation for how God has preserved the Bible over time).  The prophecy section dragged a bit for me, but did have some gems; my favorite part of the book was Hanegraaff’s discussion of types in the bible, particularly “typological prophecy” in which the event that you are connecting to the prophecy is not the “predictive fulfillment” but the successive and more complete antitype to the first fulfillment (as in the case of Isaiah’s virgin birth prediction). Having heard of types and antitypes before, it was new information to me that this idea applied to prophecy as well as people and events.

Well worth reading.

Notable Quotes: 

Amazing but true, today in the city of David you can step into the very Pool of Siloam in which the blind man “washed, and came back seeing.” (John 9:7 NKJV). You can traverse the Siloam tunnel that almost three thousand years ago provided the precious commodity of water to the inhabitants of Jerusalem during the siege of Sennacherib.  You can see the Siloam inscription in the Istanbul Archaelogical Museum commemorating one of the greatest engineering feats of ancient history.  You can rest your arms on the guard rail overlooking the excavated ruins of the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus cared for the physical and spiritual needs of a man who had suffered the ravages of sin for thirty-eight years.  And you can be amazed at the grace that what was once secreted in soil accurately reflects what which is sealed in Scripture.

Other Books Read by This Author: none

What are other people saying? Shades of Intrigue, Finding Jesus, God-lovin’ Mama

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★★ Organization

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


Captive Trail

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Susan Page Davis. 272 p. Published Sept 2011 by Moody Publishers.  Advanced copy provided for review in electronic format, courtesy of the publishers (through NetGalley) in return for my honest opinion.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Inspirational Historical Fic

Short Bio (from Amazon):  

The Captive Trail is second in a six-book series about four generations of the Morgan family living, fighting, and thriving amidst a turbulent Texas history spanning from 1845 to 1896.  Although a series, each book can be read on its own.

Taabe Waipu has run away from her Comanche village and is fleeing south in Texas on a horse she stole from a dowry left outside her family’s teepee.  The horse has an accident and she is left on foot, injured and exhausted.  She staggers onto a road near Fort Chadbourne and collapses.

On one of the first runs through Texas, Butterfield Overland Mail Company driver Ned Bright carries two Ursuline nuns returning to their mission station.  They come across a woman who is nearly dead from exposure and dehydration and take her to the mission.

With some detective work, Ned discovers Taabe Waipu identity. He plans to unite her with her family, but the Comanche have other ideas, and the two end up defending the mission station. Through Taabe and Ned we learn the true meaning of healing and restoration amid seemingly powerless situations.

Eyewitness Account:

I picked this up because I liked Lone Star Trail.  The sequel is written by a different author, but had all the same elements I appreciated about the first – interesting historical setting (this time dealing with the Comanche, Texas settlers, and French nuns who had set up a “mission” and school for girls), decent plot, and empathetic characters.  Many children were captured and raised among Native Americans during Westward Expansion, and this story is a compelling snapshot of what such a situation must have felt like to a captive.

Still loving this series, and would recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction and interested in this era!

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Reviews from the Heart, This That and the Other Thing, Sandra Ardoin

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


The Book That Made Your World

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Vishal Mangalwadi. 464 p. Published May 2011 by Thomas Nelson.  Advanced copy provided for review in electronic format by the publisher (through NetGalley) in exchange for my honest opinion.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Non-Fiction (History, Christianity)

Short Bio: 

Discover how the Bible became the West’s source of human rights, justice, heroism, optimism, compassion, capitalism, family, and morality.

In the 1960s many from the West went to the East in search of spiritual wisdom. The Book That Made Your World reverses the journey. Vishal Mangalwadi, an Indian philosopher, takes readers on a historical journey through the last millennium, exploring why and how the Bible reformed Europe and made the West a uniquely thinking civilization: technical and tolerant, scientific and free, just and prosperous. Readers will learn:

  • Why an American president puts his hand on the Bible to take the oath of a secular office
  • What forced British monarchs from Henry VIII to James I to submit to the Bible’s authority
  • Why Bible translators Wycliffe, Luther, and Tyndale became history’s greatest revolutionaries
  • How the Bible globalized western education

Eyewitness Account: 

This book was a fairly interesting treatise on how the Bible has influenced all aspects of our civilization (for the better).  You’d expect something like this to be written by a someone of Western Judeo-Christian background, but the author is actually a native Indian who writes the book as a response to a national Indian movement claiming that the Western Christian influence impacted India negatively rather than positively. Mangalwadi juxtaposes the kinds of behavior, motives, and priorities that result from the Christian faith with the mindset of those from Buddhist/Hindu faiths.  He covers a rather diverse set of subjects to explore his theory that the best parts of all civilization are the result of Christian influence – the development of science and education, the protection of life and the rights of women, and the liberty and prosperity that characterize the West.

This is one of those books that you kind of get the gist of within the first couple chapters – I found it hard to keep my interest past the second half of the book.  However, it is very well written and very thought-provoking.  Mangalwadi includes some personal anecdotes to make his point about the effect that other worldviews have on a society that are very provocative; the most poignant is one in which a neighbor girl is not only neglected to the point of death, but her parents refuse to let Mangalwadi and his wife offer their free help and resources to nurse her back to health (as a result of a worldview that says life is suffering and everyone has the life they deserve).

If you like history and broad discussion of civilizations, you’ll probably love this book.

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

Notable Quotes:

“When a husband is forbidden extramarital affairs, taking a second wife, or divorcing a difficult wife; when he is not allowed to hate or be harsh with her; when he is required to love and honor his wife; then his wife is empowered.  She has the security to seek her dignity and rights.”

“When we believe truth is unknowable, we rob it of any authority.  What is left is brute power wielding arbitrary force.  Whether a person or an ethnic minority is guilty or innocent becomes irrelevant.  Their right to life depends exclusively on the whims of whoever has power.  Any nation that refuses to live under truth condemns itself to live under sinful man.”

What are other people saying?  Christianity Today, The Biblical BookshelfBreakPoint

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Organization

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Speaking of Jesus

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Carl Medearis. 187 p. Published 2011 by David C. Cook. Advanced review copy provided by Speakeasy in return for my honest opinion.  (Book excerpt read by Carl here).

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Anyone who loves Jesus but finds Christianity frustrating.

Short Bio: Carl does his best to offend just about anyone who is attached to all the trappings of Christianity – but he does it with a sense of humor, a touch of reality, and with the obvious filter of being one of Jesus’s number one fans.  He challenges the traditional ideas of evangelism and salvation by pointing out not only their lack of scriptural foundation (especially when looking at Christ’s example) but also by laying out what most of us know to be true – they are terribly ineffective and often get the opposite result!

Carl makes the case that our current idea of “evangelism” is the result of believing we “win” people to Team Christian by convincing them logically that all the elements of Christian doctrine are true, but in the process end up having to defend a whole history of sinful and misguided actions committed in the name of Christianity.  He advocates that we have moved away from the heart of the gospel – that Jesus said he himself was the only way to come to God (relationship, not logical belief).  If you simply and joyfully point to Jesus rather than try to defend man’s religious version of Jesus’s message, you’ll witness some amazing things.

Eyewitness Account:  I LOVED this book.  I’m ashamed to admit that I could relate all to well with Carl’s many examples of how we can we get so distracted with Christianity (ooh, shiny!) that we sometimes miss Jesus.  In fact, although I would call myself a Christian, I found that Carl was definitely “evangelizing” to me – because I needed the reminder that it always boils down to how you respond to Jesus’s call to “Follow me”.

I loved how accessible and readable this book was – I could give it to a 5th grader, to my grandpa, or to my pastor.  Carl’s humor and humility are sugar that helps the medicine go down (I’m sure I annoyed my fellow bus passengers at several points by laughing out loud).  Ultimately, I finished the book excited and energized to know Jesus more and follow him more closely – which I think Carl would appreciate! (Apparently Carl and I are BFFs and on a first name basis – try reading his book and see if you don’t feel the same way).

Highly recommended, and I think that people of other faiths would also like this book!

Notable Quotes: 

“When we preach Christianity, we have to own it. When we preach Jesus, we don’t have to own anything. Jesus owns us. We don’t have to defend Him. We don’t even have to explain Him. All we have to do is point with our fingers, like the blind man in the book of John, and say, “There is Jesus. All I know is that He touched me, and where I was once blind, now I see.”

“We have an unfair advantage. We know the Creator. We’re friends with the King. We know where truth is found and its name. We know what brings life and what gives life and where eternal life resides. It’s not fair. While others are explaining and defending various “isms” and “ologies,” we’re simply pointing people to our friend. The One who uncovers and disarms. The beginning and the end of the story.”

“There is a place for doctrines and dogma and science and history and apologetics, but these things are not Jesus—they are humanly manufactured attempts to make people think that having the right ideas is the same thing as loving and following Jesus.”

” . . . Jesus can go toe-to-toe with anything.  There is no person in human history who holds a candle to Jesus.  When we make sharing our faith a war of ideals, we create casualties on both sides of the boundary.  We fight an “us versus them” campaign trying to show that our religion, our logic, our reason, our theology is better than everyone else’s.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None, but Tea with Hezbollah is on my list.

What are other people saying?  CNN Article on Carl’s Book (and its 73 pages of comments), Will’s Blog, Sister Chat, Rick Love  

Rating:

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Organization

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★


River’s Song

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Melody Carlson. 288 p. Published August 2011 by Abingdon Press.  Advanced review copy provided courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley, in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Inspirational Fiction

Short Bio: Anna Larson journeys through a mid-life crisis of sorts when she returns to her hometown for her mother’s funeral and takes care of her late parents’ estate.  She finds that living by the river helps her to deal with the disappointment of wanting a deeper relationship with an uninterested teenager daughter and the trauma of living under a manipulative mother-in-law.  In her old hometown, she rediscovers her Native American heritage through the research of a doctoral student, Hazel, and gains the help of Hazel’s contractor son to transform her parents’ local mom-and-pop store into a riverside inn.

Eyewitness Account: Although I have been a Melody Carlson fan in the past, this book was a bit of a disappointment.  It just might not have been my particular brand of tea, but I thought that the plot moved very slowly, the main character seemed oblivious and wimpy, and the relationships rather stereotyped (teenage daughter who is bratty and disinterested, overbearing and manipulative mother-in-law, etc.).  Anna’s relationship with her mother-in-law is complicated by her dependence on the woman, and that situation is resolved much too quickly and easily.  Similarly, for such a shy mouse of a person, her new romance blooms into marriage far too quickly.  However, I did like a few things – at the top of the list, I really enjoyed the emphasis on Anna’s Native American heritage and exploring the idea that we often come to value later in life what we despised when we are younger.  Anna’s mom and grandmother were the most interesting characters in my opinion, but got much less development than the other living characters.  If the book had been centered around them, I probably would have liked it more.  Anna was just a hard person for me to like since she just came across as a naive doormat to me.  I thought this series would have the same warmth and charm that Carlson’s older Whispering Pines series, but it didn’t have the same feel to me.

Other Books Read by This Author:  These Boots Weren’t Made for Walking, Whispering Pines Series

What are other people saying? A Mom with a BlogEmmegail’s Bookshelf, Book Nook Club,

Rating:

★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★ Original Idea

★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Lone Star Trail

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Darlene Franklin. 272 p. Published August 2011 by Moody Publishers.  Advanced review copy provided in electronic format by the publisher in exchange for my honest review, courtesy of NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Historical/Inspirational Fiction

Short Bio:

The six-book series about four generations of the Morgan family living, fighting, and thriving amidst a turbulent Texas history spanning from 1845 to 1896 begins with Lone Star Trail.  Judson (Jud) Morgan’s father died for Texas’ freedom during the war for independence.  So when the Society for the Protection of German Immigrants in Texas (the Verein) attempts to colonize a New Germany in his country, he takes a stand against them.  After Wande Fleischers’ fiancée marries someone else, the young fraulein determines to make new life for herself in Texas.  With the help of Jud’s sister Marion, Wande learns English and becomes a trusted friend to the entire Morgan family.  As much as Jud dislikes the German invasion, he can’t help admiring Wande.  She is sweet and cheerful as she serves the Lord and all those around her.  Can the rancher put aside his prejudice to forge a new future?  Through Jud and Wande, we learn the powerful lessons of forgiveness and reconciliation among a diverse community of believers.

Eyewitness Account:

The last four fiction novels I’ve read have not been page turners, so it was nice to finally pick something up that I didn’t want to put down!  Not only did I love the setting (Texas settlers, both “American” and German, just after the state joined the U.S.), but I loved the characters and their own personal journeys.  I felt like the relationship conflict was more realistic, with just the right amount of communication struggle vs attitude hang-ups (pride, anger, jealousy, insecurity, bitterness, etc.).  Some books make relationship conflict all about a lack of communication, but the characters in Lone Star Trail acted much more like my own friends and family do.  I admired the way Franklin perfectly wove in the themes of prejudice and forgiveness.  I finished it the day I picked it up – very well done!

Other Books Read by This Author: None

What are other people saying? Reader’s Roundtable, Along the Way, Ausjenny

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


The Week-By-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Ron and Jennifer Kujawski. 200 pages. Published in 2010 by Storey Publishing.  Received as a gift on my birthday this year.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Nonfiction – Home & Garden

Short Bio:

“Timing is everything,” they say, and vegetable gardening is no exception. Knowing exactly when to start seeds indoors, what day to transplant them into the ground, when to pinch off the blossoms, and when to pick for peak flavor is the secret to enjoying bountiful harvests all through the gardening season.

In Week-by-Week Vegetable Gardener’s Handbook, authors Ron and Jennifer Kujawski take the guesswork out of gardening with weekly to-do lists that break gardening down into easily manageable tasks. Suitable for all gardening zones, the book offers easy instructions for setting up a personalized schedule based on your last frost date. The Kujawskis are an inspiring father– daughter team who share their own triumphs, mistakes, and misadventures over many years spent together in the vegetable patch. Readers will enjoy the friendly direction and advice these veterans offer. Easy-to-read boxes, bulleted lists, charts, and detailed how-to illustrations make each week’s activities clear and doable. Spots for record-keeping encourage readers to track their own successes and fine-tune their weekly schedules from year to year.  Inch by inch, row by row, week by week, gardeners will move confidently through the gardening season. Whether it’s planting the strawberries, pinching off the pumpkin blossoms, checking for tomato hornworm, or harvesting the carrots, they will know exactly when and how to do it for the most bountiful harvests and the most enjoyable vegetable-growing experiences ever.

Eyewitness Account:

My husband and I ventured out into the great world of gardening this year, planting squash, tomatoes, peppers, cantaloupe, beets, radishes, artichokes, and herbs.  We stumbled through the internet looking for advice on when to plant, which seeds to start inside and which to plant in the ground, what kind of soil they need, how often to water . . . OVERWHELMED!  If you can relate, then GRAB THIS BOOK!

The book is organized into small, bite-sized clips of information and steps to take each week of the year.  You start in the winter by planning your garden, researching and ordering seeds, and sharpening/repairing gardening tools.  The book tells you when to start indoor seedlings, when to harden and plant, what diseases to watch for, when to fertilize . . . all in digestible chunks!  I actually didn’t mean to just sit down and read it (it’s supposed to be weekly, right?) but I got sucked in (and finally discovered what the leathery brown stuff was on the bottom of my tomatoes and how to prevent them!).  This book is invaluable, and I plan to re-read it at least twice more as well as use it as a reference.  I can’t wait until winter to start planning next year’s garden!

Other Books Read by This Author: None

What are other people saying? The Retro Housewife, Publisher’s Weekly

Rating:

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Organization

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★


Lonestar Sanctuary

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Colleen Coble. 320 p. Published in 2008 by Thomas Nelson.  Listened to audiobook narrated by Aimee Lilly, borrowed from my local library.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? Adult Inspirational Fiction

Short Bio:

In the quiet safety of the Bluebird Ranch, old promises resurface and unexpected love brings new hope. Though tragedy has wrecked her life, Allie Siders holds on to the hope that her five-year-old daughter, Betsy, will speak again. But with a stalker out for revenge, all Allie can think about now is their safety. She must sever all ties and abandon life as she knows it. She heads to the peaceful Bluebird Ranch, nestled deep in Texas hill country, and to the only person who can help them. The ranch is a sanctuary for abused horses, and also for troubled youths: the perfect place for Betsy to grow and recover. Ranch owner Elijah DeAngelo eagerly welcomes the duo. But Rick Bailey—the ranch foreman and DeAngelo’s right hand man—hasn’t decided to let his guard down… yet. Promises made long ago soon force Rick and Allie to work together to escape danger. Will they discover love along the way?

Eyewitness Account:

I’ve been grabbing audiobooks from our library to listen to on my phone while commuting to work, and this was the second one I picked up.  Texas ranch, single mom stalked by a murderer . . . sadly, it wasn’t quite as gripping as I thought it would be.  If it hadn’t been something I was listening to while doing other things, I probably would have had trouble finishing it.  It was a little too predictable to be really engaging – the characters were okay, but not terribly distinct from most Christian Fic heroes and heroines.  It would make good summer beach reading for those who like Christian romantic fiction, seems like there are a lot of other readers out there who appreciated it more than I did.

Other Books Read by This Author: None

What are other people saying? Cindy’s Book Club, Kel Mel Blog, Romance Readers Connection 

Rating:

★★☆☆☆ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆


Lit! A Christian Guide to Reading Books

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Tony Reinke.  208 p.  To be published Sept 30, 2011 by Crossway Books.  Advanced review copy provided in electronic format by the publisher in return for my honest opinion, courtesy of NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Nonfiction – Christian Growth

Short Bio:

A call for Christians to reclaim the priority, privilege, and practice of reading.

Christians are identified as people of the Word—submitted to the authority of God’s written Word, called to center our lives on it and not on the image-driven world that vies for our gaze. But how do we build such lives, and what do they look like?

Tony Reinke’s answer is that we are to be readers of the Word of God and of the many other books that reflect God’s truth, goodness, and beauty in the world. In Lit!: A Christian Guide to Reading Books, Reinke lays out a theology of reading built around the gospel, developed from Scripture, and corroborated by church history. He offers guidance for exercising discernment in what we read, and practical advice on how to read regularly and well. Reinke also explains how to foster a culture of reading in our churches and homes. The book stresses that we may find truth, help, insight, or beauty in many different forms of literature, from theology to fiction to fantasy to business. Reinke reminds us that God is the author of all knowledge, and we read every book under his illumination.

Eyewitness Account:

The book blurb on NetGalley immediately intrigued me – someone wrote a whole book on why Christians should read (and written by an admitted “non-reader”)?  I snatched it up quick and wasn’t disappointed.  Reinke has a great writing style that is engaging, yet succinct (I didn’t do a whole lot of skimming because he moved from point to point fairly quickly himself).  The content was great; the first half of the book is Reinke’s “theology of reading”, his own thesis on why any Christian (or any person, really) who wants to grow and mature should read. I was most struck in this section by Reinke’s discussion of how when we rely more and more on visual media to communicate, we lose out on the precision of meaning found in words.

The second half is pure nuts and bolts – how to find time to read, how to highlight and annotate so that you get a lot out of your reading, how to make personal priorities for choosing what to read, and how to pass on a love and discipline of reading to your kids (to name just a few).  His chapter on priorities was so timely for me – I have been feeling overwhelmed these last few months with the sheer volume of what I want to read and how little time I have to read it in (as my backlog of NetGalley manuscripts can attest to!).  I took his advice and made a list of the goals I have for reading and it was so helpful to approach my TBR list with actual priorities and criteria for picking the next book!

The only thing that seemed odd about this book is the fact that he is really writing to people who don’t read – and it made me wonder how on earth he would get his message out to such people using a book? (Christmas present from those who do read?  My spouse just might get this one in his stocking . . .!)  However, they aren’t the only people who can find some juicy nuggets in this book – I loved it, and would highly recommend it to anyone.

Notable Quotes:

My priorities help me determine the value of a book. My priorities set the highest value on the rarest books (like theologically sound books on the person and work of Christ) and place the lowest priority on the most abundant literature (like best-selling secular fiction). This prevents me from allowing the abundance of literature in a category to dictate my reading diet. The categories prove valuable when I walk into a bookstore.

Literature is life. If you want to know what, deep down, people feel and experience, you can do no better than read the stories and poems of the human race. Writers of literature have the gift of observing and then expressing in words the essential experiences of people . . . The rewards of reading literature are significant. Literature helps to humanize us. It expands our range of experiences. It fosters awareness of ourselves and the world. It enlarges our compassion for people. It awakens our imaginations. It expresses our feelings and insights about God, nature, and life. It enlivens our sense of beauty.

This is a matter of conscience for each believer. And while there are no rigid rules for what Christians should or should not read, we must each be sensitive to our own conscience and the consciences of those around us. As we establish our own understanding of what books we will and will not read ourselves, we must respect the parameters that other Christians have chosen to set for themselves and for their children.

“Literature and art are God’s gifts to the human race,” writes literature scholar Leland Ryken. “One of the liberating effects of letting ourselves ‘go’ as we enjoy literature is to realize that we can partly affirm the value of literature whose content or worldview we dislike. If God is the ultimate source of all beauty and artistry, then the artistic dimension of literature is the point at which Christians can be unreserved in their enthusiasm for the works of non-Christian writers.”14 This point is critical for book readers. Our freedom to enjoy the aesthetic beauty of non-Christian literature does not require us to first endorse the author’s worldview or personal ethical choices.

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? The Biblical Bookshelf, Tom Farr’s Blog, Thoughts on Theology

Rating:

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Organization

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★