the low down on new books

5-Star Books

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 ★★★★


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 ★★★★★


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 ★★★★★


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 ★★★★★


Roots

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Alex Haley. 729 p. Published 1976 by Dell Publishing.  Bought used at a library sale.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction/Autobiography

Short Bio: Kunta Kinte grows up from a young tyke into a strapping young “man” of 16 when he is suddenly captured and taken via slave ship to Maryland.  After three escape attempts, he finally resigns himself to his new status as property but determines to pass on the pride and dignity of his African heritage to his daughter, Kizzy.  The author traces the oral history of Kunta’s descendants six generations until he reaches his own birth.  The history of Haley’s family includes such extraordinary characters as Gran’mammy Kizzy, preacher-girl Mathilda, Chicken George, blacksmith Tom Lea, and lumber mill owner Walter Palmer.

Eyewitness Account: At the beginning of the year, I made a list of about 20 classics that I hadn’t yet read that I’m trying to get through in 2011.  This is one I was really excited about – and it didn’t disappoint.  Haley’s perfect combination of rich detail with gripping plot and fantastic characterization make for an excellent (though sometimes heartbreaking) read.  He spends a good majority of the book on Kunta Kinte – about half of that in Africa (I nearly died of anticipation, I kept expecting him to get snatched and he didn’t leave Africa for at least 160 pages!).  At the end of the book, Haley explains how he backtracked to find where his ancestors came from and located the very village – how incredible!

Don’t be intimidated by the length – Roots is jam-packed with interesting historical/cultural detail among a suspenseful plot and colorful people.  I practically felt myself the incredible pain and humility that Kunte experiences as he crosses the Atlantic in a crowded ship, the desperation that drives him to attempt escaping multiple times (despite severe beatings as punishment), and the utter bewilderment he feels toward his fellow slaves who accept their shameful lot so willingly.  By the time I read through most of Haley’s family history and got to the end of the Civil War, I was ready to whoop with glee when Tom and all his brothers finally got to live as free men. But my favorite part of all is the end, where Haley describes his own journey of discovering just where his great ancestor Kunte Kinte was from and how he got to America.  Well done, Haley! This is probably one of the only books I’ve given all 5-stars to.  

Notable Quotes:

“In his hut after the moro had gone that night, Kunta lay awake thinking how so many things–indeed, nearly everything they had learned– all tied together.  The past seemed with the present, the present with the future, the dead with the living, and those yet to be born; he himself with his family, his mates, his village, his tribe, his Africa; the world of man with the world of animals and growing things– they all lived with Allah.  Kunta felt very small, yet very large.  Perhaps, he thought, this is what it means to become a man.”

“I sat as if I were carved of stone.  My blood seemed to have congealed.  This man whose lifetime had been in this back-country African village had no way in the world to know that he had just echoed what I had heard all through my boyhood years on my grandma’s front porch in Henning, Tennesse . . . of an African who always had insisted that his name was “Kin-tay”, who had called a guitar a “ko” and a river within the state of Virginia, “Kamby Bolongo”; and who had been kidnapped into slavery while not far from his village, chopping wood, to make himself a drum.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying?  The Book Haven, Serendipity

Rating:

★★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★★ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★


Doc: A Novel

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Mary Doria Russell. 416 p. Published May 2011 by Random House.  Bought from Amazon.com for my Kindle because I LOVED The Sparrow.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Historical Fiction

Short Bio (from Publisher’s Weekly): Russell (Dreamers of the Day) brings lethal Dodge City to life in a colorful group-portrait of famous frontiersmen years before many of them would pass into legend at the O.K. Corral. After a tense childhood in Civil War–torn Georgia and the loss of his beloved mother, young John Henry “Doc” Holliday moves west in hopes of ameliorating the tuberculosis that would eventually kill him, relocating in the late 1870s to Kansas, where he divides his time among his poorly paying vocation of dentistry, lucrative gambling, and his fractious relationship with Kate Harony, a cultured, Hungarian-born prostitute. In a tale notable more for a remarkable cast than orderliness of plot, the rising tension between the corrupt, carousing, and well-armed inhabitants of Dodge and the forces of law represented by the moralistic Wyatt Earp and his brother, Morgan, makes a spectacular background to a memorable year-in-the-life tale of a fiery young Southern gentleman whose loyalty to his friends and love of music outshine even his fragile health and the whiskey-soaked violence of the western

Eyewitness Account: The only criticism of this book I can truthfully give is that it ended too soon!  Russell managed to do what she did so expertly in The Sparrow – she introduced me to a cast of characters that I did not want to say goodbye to.  Forget your brawny Fabio romance heroes; I’ll take Doc over them any day!  Doc Holliday was the epitome of a southern gentlemen driven to survive his debilitating tuberculosis – and he has the wittiest and most charming lines in the whole book.  Wyatt Earp steals your heart with his illiterate sincerity and desire to serve unilateral justice.  Kate Harony, Bessie Earp, and Belle Wright are, each one, very different and yet very independent women trying to tame a wild country full of unreliable men.  I even fell in love with a young black boy who would have been cast as an extra if the story were a movie set, he had so few of his own lines.  And the writing – oh, the writing!  There are some authors who make music with their words, and Russell leads the pack.  Doc is one of the wittiest, engaging, and heart-breaking novels I have read all year.  It’s a book that I’d recommend to my dad as easily as to my grandmother, the themes are so universal.  This is one of the few books that I’ve actually bought this year and it was COMPLETELY worth it!  I’m just sad I didn’t get a physical copy so I could start handing it out to my fellow book-junkies.

Notable Quotes:

“Yes, sir! Yes, they do,” Doc said, suddenly hot. “Every one of them has a story, and every story begins with a man who failed her. A husband who came home from the war, good for nothin’ but drink. A father who didn’t come home at all, or a stepfather who did. A brother who should have protected her. A beau who promised marriage and left when he got what he wanted, because he wouldn’t marry a slut. If a girl like that has lost her way, it’s—because some worthless no-account—sonofabitch left her in—the wilderness alone!”

Doc sat back in his chair and stared out of the window for a long time. “Bein’ born is craps,” he decided. He glanced at Morg and let loose that sly, lopsided smile of his. “How we live is poker.” Doc looked away and got thoughtful again. “Mamma played a bad hand well.”

Sit in a physician’s office. Listen to a diagnosis as bad as Doc’s. Beyond the first few words, you won’t hear a thing. The voice of Hope is soft but impossible to ignore. This isn’t happening, she assures you. There’s been a mix-up with the tests. Hope swears, You’re different. You matter. She whispers, Miracles happen. She says, often quite reasonably, New treatments are being developed all the time! She promises, You’ll beat the odds. A hundred to one? A thousand to one? A million to one? Eight to five, Hope lies. Odds are, when your time comes, you won’t even ask, “For or against?” You’ll swing up on that horse, and ride.

Other Books Read by This Author:

What are other people saying? Cleaveland.com, Washington Post, The Magic Lasso

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★★ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★


The Greener Grass Conspiracy

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Stephen Altrogge. 144 p. Published April 2011 by Crossway Books.  Advanced review copy received in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley. 

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Christian Non-Fiction (Spiritual Growth)

Short Bio: Stephen Altrogge delves into our society’s most commonly found malady: discontentment.  How could residents of the richest nation in the world, of whom most are in the world’s top 1% wealthiest, be so discontent?  Altrogge examines what this discontentment looks like in our lives, what’s at the root of it, and how we combat it.

Eyewitness Account: Moment of truth: I expected this book to bore me.  It had “yeah, yeah, I know all that” written all over the blurb.  If you looked at the five-star rating above, you can imagine just how surprised I was to find these short 144 pages a down-and-dirty, “in the trenches” look at the battle for contentment.  Altrogge examines the nature of discontentment (which is ultimately a form of idolatry – finding or believing that true satisfaction is in something God created rather than in God himself), the lies we believe when we’re not content (“God owes me”, “God is holding out on me”, “If I could just get this one thing then I’d be truly happy”, and finally, “I know what’s best for me”), what we truly deserve from God (punishment for being the rebellious idolaters that we are), what we actually get from God (not only forgiveness for our death-causing sins, but also a place in God’s family as his children and inheritors of his kingdom), and the root of what we are truly longing for – the Heaven we were created to enjoy.

When I read books on my Kindle, I like highlighting good quotes so that I can peruse them later when I write my book reviews or when I want to share good parts with my friends.  I went back into my highlighted quotes for this review and found FIFTY-THREE PASSAGES that I had marked (my average for a really good book is about 20)!  With just the right mix of personal anecdotes, too-true illustrations, and scriptural backing for each of his chapters, I found this book enjoyable, humorous, well-paced, deeply thought-provoking, and extremely practical to apply.  Two thumbs up and a big gold star sticker for Stephen Altrogge!

Notable Quotes:  (remember, I had FIFTY-THREE quotes to pick from!)

“He displays his glory in some people by allowing them to suffer and then gives them incredible amounts of grace in the midst of that suffering. He shows his glory in others by abundantly blessing them and then giving them a heart that overflows with generosity. To some he gives a large family, so that they might raise their children to the glory of God. To others he gives the gift of singleness, so that they might pour all their energies into serving Jesus. God is God, and he will display his glory in us as he chooses.”

“Discontentment is the result of misplaced worship. It’s the result of giving our heart to someone or something that should never have it. When we stake our happiness on anything other than God, we’re going to be miserable. Why? Because we were made to worship God and find all our joy in him.”

“The world is full of good things, wonderful things, all made by a generous and good God. Deep friendships are wonderful. A day to ourselves is refreshing. Good health is a blessing. But God has designed these gifts to be windows through which we see him. The gifts are meant to point us to the Giver, not to be an end in and of themselves. And so God has made us in such a way that we can’t be satisfied in anything other than himself.”

“Marriage isn’t the ultimate. Deep friendships aren’t the source of eternal joy. Being in heaven in the presence of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the ultimate. Being face-to-face with and talking with, feasting with, and serving Jesus is the end-all. Throw away your ideas of a boring heaven with nothing to do. We’re going to be with our Creator, the one who invented gladness and created fun. Heaven is going to be ringing with joy and laughter and excitement.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying?   Blogging Theologically, The Unwasted Life, Sharper Irons, 

Rating:

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Organization

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★


Radical

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by David Platt. 240 p. Published May 2010 by Multnomah Books.  Book received as a gift.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Christian Non-Fiction

Short Bio: Platt challenges Christians in the United States to examine one of the fundamental components of their culture: The American Dream.  He builds a convincing case that the elements of the American Dream (with hard work, achieve all your potential and enjoy the resulting reward of your labor) inherently conflict with the biblical gospel (God calls the weak and powerless to rely on His strength to fulfill the mission to see His name glorified by all people on earth).  Platt evaluates the way the Christian church and our individual Christianity look in America and compares them to the examples of the church and Christians in the Bible.  He compares our common strategies with those of Christ’s example.  He lists Christ’s instructions to his disciples alongside our expectations of what Christian commitment entails.  Finally, Platt calls readers to join him in an “experiment” to test out the theory that we might be missing out in our American Christianity – he charges readers to (consistently, for one year): 

1. Pray for the whole world (using Operation World),
2. Read the whole Bible,
3. Give sacrificially to a specific purpose in a specific context,
4. Go serve someplace out of your normal context (for one week of the year), and
5. Participate in a faith community. 

Eyewitness Account: This book is certainly one of the most challenging and engaging reads I’ve had in a while – and I read almost all of it in one day because I was so interested in it!  I’m not usually big into marking up books, but my copy has underlines and notes and exclamation marks all through it (hopefully those will amuse whoever borrows it from me) because I wanted so much to engage in the author’s discussion.  I completely resonated with the struggle of fleshing out what it means to be a disciple of Christ in an American context – what exactly is our purpose in life? Is it to climb up our career ladder and work for the comfort and security of our family’s future?  Is it even to regularly attend church and ensure that you give to good charities? Or is it to radically hunger and thirst for God’s word and presence in your life in a way that causes you take ridiculous risks? 

I enjoyed Platt’s honesty about his own spiritual journey and the times when he himself has fallen victim to the American Dream.  I was left challenged with the idea that even having been a Christian for many years, I still think with my American brain.  When I am excited or touched with a need that I sense God asking me to step up to fill, I immediately start thinking “How can I fulfil it? How can I accomplish that task? What resources do I have?” I’ve slipped into my American mindset already – and if I were to succeed, who would get the credit?  Would anyone look at what I’d done and praise God?  No – they’d praise me.  God chooses to use the weak and the powerless and asks them to do ridiculous, impossible things because He knows that’s how He gets the credit!

I LOVED the examples of hard-core disciples that Platt gave – people like George Muller, Jim Elliot, and John Paton who did seemingly crazy things that ended with God getting praise from people who were definitely against God before.  I also found this book to be exceptionally well organized for something of this content – I really appreciated how Platt walked the reader through Matthew 10 to discuss how Christ sent out the disciples, what he told them to expect, and how he equipped them.  I also found his walk-through of the Romans Road a very provocative and logical exposition on our status before God and the need to share the message of Christ with others.

Although I already have portions of his “experiment” imbedded in my daily life, I was challenged to be more consistent and intentional about them.  I found this book though-provoking and and look forward to re-reading it again soon (hopefully I can talk my book club into it)!  If this book really intrigues you, I’d urge you to check out the insightful review done on the Gospel Coalition’s page (linked below) – it has some thought-provoking questions about the content of this book and Platt’s response.  

Notable Quotes: 

“The dangerous assumption we unknowingly accept in the American dream is that our greatest asset is our own ability. The American dream prizes what people can accomplish when they believe in themselves and trust in themselves, and we are drawn toward such thinking. But the gospel has different priorities. The gospel beckons us to die to ourselves and to believe God and to trust in his power. In the gospel, God confronts us with our utter inability to accomplish anything of value apart from him.”

“In direct contradiction to the American dream, God actually delights in exalting our inability. He intentionally puts his people in situations where they come face to face with their need for him. In the process he powerfully demonstrates his ability to provide everything his people need in ways they could never have mustered up our imagined. And in the end, he makes much of his own name.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying?  Another book review from Lets Eat Grandpa, a book review and dialogue with the author at The Gospel Coalition, and a reader who evaluates her progress on the “experiment” on year later at The Coffee Shop.

Rating:

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Organization

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★


The Fear

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Peter Godwin. 384 p. Published March 2011 by Hachette Books.  Advanced review copy received in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Political Non-Fiction

Short Bio: Peter Godwin relays the stories he gleans from several trips through Zimbabwe in the aftermath of the 2008 election, chronicling the unbelievable stories of assault, torture, intimidation, and murder of President Robert Mugabe’s regime against their opposition.  Mugabe, who helped lead Zimbabwe’s fight to independence 30 years ago, ruthlessly held his power in a “democratic” society by employing brutal intimidation tactics against all opposing political parties and supporters.  Although the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), claims they won the presidential vote in 2008, Mugabe refused to abdicate his power to their candidate, Morgan Tsvangirai, and stepped up the incredible violence perpetrated against MDC supporters.  He is currently still the President of Zimbabwe.

Eyewitness Account: I don’t think I’ve read such a shocking narrative since I read about the Rwanda genocide in We Wish To Inform You That Tomorrow We Shall All Be Killed With Our Families Godwin isn’t chronicling a genocide so much as he is detailing a politicide – the systematic wiping out of all who did not support Robert Mugabe’s regime.  I have never before been so utterly grateful to live in a country where the worst a presidential election degrades to is a smear campaign; I can vote for whomever I please without wondering at the polling booth, “Should I return home to the thugs waiting to torture and kill me, or simply flee for my life now?”  I had no idea what the state of welfare for the average person was in Zimbabwe – the fact that almost their entire population relies on food from foreign aid agencies because all the farmers have been run off their land, that torture victims would die from sepsis because they wait two weeks to seek medical help from their wounds out of fear of further attacks if they are seen at a clinic, and that their currency was so hyperflated that you had to bundle the bills in bricks of millions to buy bread.

Although I give this book a full 5 stars for its incredibly compelling narrative, I hesitate to recommend it unilaterally – because story after story contains descriptions of some of the most inhumane torture I have ever heard described.  The book is aptly named, as Mugabe’s regime truly imploys every possible way to instill immobilizing fear in the heart of all voting Zimbabweans.  If you can get past the descriptions of horrendously brutal torture and truly heartrending situations faced by thousands of ordinary citizens, I highly recommend this book as a snapshot of how one man has catalyzed the utter collapse and ruination of a country and of the many brave people who have stood proudly in defiance of him.

Notable Quotes:

“And now the murders here are accompanied by torture and rape on an industrial scale, committed on a catch-and-release basis. When those who survive, terribly injured, limp home, or are carried or pushed in wheelbarrows, or on the backs of pickup trucks, they act like human billboards, advertising the appalling consequences of opposition to the tyranny, bearing their gruesome political stigmata. And in their home communities, their return causes ripples of anxiety to spread. The people have given this time of violence and suffering its own name, which I hear for the first time tonight. They are calling it chidudu. It means, simply, “The Fear.”

“I wish there were a better word than “victims” to describe what these people are. It seems so inert, so passive, and weak. And that is not what they are at all. There is dignity to their suffering. Even as they tell me how they have fled, how they have hidden, how they have been humiliated and mocked, there is little self-pity here. Survivors, I suppose, defines them better. Again, and again, as I play stenographer to their suffering, I offer to conceal their names or geographical districts to prevent them being identified. But again, and again, they volunteer their names, and make sure I spell them correctly. They are proud of their roles in all of this, at the significance of their sacrifice. And they want it recorded.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? The Guardian, Evan Lieberman, A Lit Up Life,

Rating:

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Organization

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★


Dirty Girls Come Clean

Reviewed by  Brittney

Just the Facts: by Crystal Renaud. 160 p. Published April 2011 by Moody Publishers.  Advanced copy provided in electronic format courtesy of the publisher, through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Self-Help/Christian Growth

Short Bio: Crystal Renaud shares her own personal story of pornography addiction, along with the stories of seven other women with similar struggles and her own adaptation of the 12-steps from Alcoholics Anonymous and Sexaholics Anonymous.  Crystals steps form the acronym “SCARS” – Surrender, Confession, Accountability, Responsibility, and Sharing.  Beyond an engaging narrative, the book includes many useful tools for anyone dealing with/in sobriety of a pornography addiction – from a personal inventory quiz to challenging application questions, as well as information on additional resources through other organizations, ministries, and websites (including Dirty Girls Ministries).

Eyewitness Account: This book is little powerhouse!! It is one of the fastest reads I’ve had in a while – yet still gave me quite a bit to think about.  I struck by Renaud’s description of the problem (data from 2003 concludes that 17% of all women struggle with a pornography addiction and that 1 in 3 visitors to adult websites are women) and by the testimonials of other women (including Renaud) who claimed that they each felt like they were the only person who had this problem!  It’s no surprise that Renaud’s SCARS steps heavily involve community – confessing to one another, being held accountable by someone else who is succeeding in their battle against addiction and sharing your story with others who need mentors and examples of standing strong.

Even though I wasn’t quite Renaud’s target audience, I did find some principles that are relevant to any Christian struggling against the power of sin and temptation in their life.  Renaud makes a point that our resistance to confess our sins only to God and not to each other usually reveals our continued deception – to show the world our “good” side and, in doing so, claim that we are our own saviors (see quote below).  I also appreciated Renaud’s statement that we can play the blame game  (excusing our current addictions by saying they are the result of our messed up parents or lack of emotional intimacy growing up) all we want, but it will not produce any growth or change in our lives.  We don’t actually move on and see different results until we take ownership of our own actions and choices and change them.

I requested this book to review on NetGalley because I’ve never seen another book like it.  I’m very thankful I did because I plan on recommending it to any woman who struggles with sexual addiction!

Notable Quotes:

“But why is it that confessing to others seems so much harder than confessing to God? . . . When we confess to God and not also to others, we cheapen God’s grace.  Your sins are of no surprise to God.  You won’t find a person on earth who isn’t carrying some piece of luggage they are ashamed about.  When God talks about healing through confession, He is talking about healing from having to be our own savior.  That’s why Christ died.  It is okay to be a screw-up because there’s grace enough to cover it.”

“But I’ve learned something over the years . . . that blaming others for my choices would not produce much change in me.  In fact, it would keep me in a holding pattern.  One that says that no matter what goes wrong in my life, no matter how screwed up things get, no matter how badly I mess something up  . . . I could just blame someone else and everything will turn out fine.  We all know that doesn’t work in real life so it certainly won’t work for this.  Unless of course I wanted to remain in an emotional prison.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Critty Joy, For What It’s Worth, For Such a Time As This

Rating:

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Organization

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★