Tuesday, April 22, 2014

For Such a Time by Kate Breslin

The story of Esther has always been one of my favorites.  Whoever thinks the Bible is boring has not read this story!  So when I heard of this fictional book that follows a similar story line, I was intrigued.

 For Such a Time takes place during another historical period when Jews were being targeted for annihilation...during the reign of Hitler.  While the characters and events of this story are fictional, the concentration camp conditions and plight of the Jews was very much real. Once I got into the book it was very hard to put down!  Even though I had a faint idea of how the story would unfold, it was not predictable and kept me guessing. 

The only thing I didn't like was the frequent use of German and Jewish words in the text.  Many times the words could not be defined by context clues alone, so I just learned to skim over them.  There is a glossary of terms in the back of the book, but who wants to keep flipping to the back to look things up?  And then it was frustrating to do so and not find the word listed!  I understand the use of these words for historical value, but it decreased the ease of reading.  I would have preferred words be defined by footnotes or within the text.

This would be a wonderful book to read this summer by the pool or while on vacation.  Not only will you be forced to ponder what the Jews had to endure during the time of Esther and at the concentration camps, but there is also enough excitement and romance to keep the pages turning.  You may even find yourself gaining courage to stand up for what is right in our world today.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

New Life

The past few days we have been out in the flowerbeds preparing them for mulch.  At first glance everything looked dead.  There were brown, limp grasses and a collection of leaves covering the ground.  But once I began to clear away the debris, I found this...

...new life beginning to grow.
This is what I think of when Easter comes to mind.   We see what looks dead...a situation that appears to have no hope. That's what the disciples saw on Good Friday.  But because of the resurrection, we know that nothing is impossible with God.  He can take that which is dead and breathe new life into it.  He can take that which is hopeless and clear away the debris to reveal beauty in the making.
As you see evidence of new life growing around you this spring, remember that God can do the same thing in your life.  Ask him to open your eyes and trust that He is able.
For I am about to do something new. See, I have already begun! Do you not see it? I will make a pathway through the wilderness. I will create rivers in the dry wasteland. - Isaiah 43:19

Monday, April 14, 2014

Miss Brenda and the Loveladies

Wow...this book captivated me from beginning to end!  Many of us see needs in the world and feel compassion for others.  But few resolve to do something about those needs in the way Brenda Spahn has.  She saw that women being released from prison had no hope and were likely to return to their former way of life.  She knew the system wasn't working - and when God gave her a vision of what "could be" she was obedient to His call. 

I really enjoyed the honesty presented in this book.  Brenda's plans didn't always work out in the way she thought they would - but she persevered and rolled with the punches.  It is clear that she is passionate about what she does and loves these women. 

While most of the chapters are written from Brenda's point of view, a few of the chapters are written from the Loveladies' perspective.  That added a really neat dynamic to the book.  It took a lot of courage for these women to share their stories with the world.  Hearing their stories will make your heart ache, but will also cause you to rejoice in their successes.  I have a new compassion now for woman in these situations and how tough it would be to transition from life in prison to life in the free world.  What began for Brenda as inviting a few ex-cons into her home, has now grown into a large faith-based rehabilitation program in Birmingham, Alabama.  Despite the opposition, the woman graduating from this program have a high success rate!

 I encourage you to read this book.  It may provide you deeper insight and compassion as it has done for me.  Or you may feel led to help out in this ministry.  Or maybe hearing Brenda's story will give you that burst of courage to follow through on whatever God has laid on your heart.  Thank you ladies for being so vulnerable and sharing your stories!

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from WaterBrook Press in exchange for an honest review.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Just 18 Summers by Gutteridge & Cox

This fictional novel is based around the fact that most parents have only 18 summers to spend with their kids before they are ready to go off on their own.  Are we making the most of those opportunities?  Or will we be left with regrets?

The novel revolves around 4 different families in different stages of life.  We read about a man adjusting to being a single father after the death of his wife.  A couple who is learning that providing things and opportunities for their children does not replace the need for relationship.  There is a pregnant woman who is consumed with created a safe environment for her newborn.  And finally a couple struggling with letting go as their children go off to college and get married.  Each family must ultimately learn to trust God and make the most of the opportunities given.

I really liked the overall message of the story.  I'm glad to be reminded that the 18 summers go by fast and I'd better enjoy them while I can!  That being said, some of the characters in the story were so "over-the-top" that I could not relate to them...and they were somewhat annoying.  For example, the single dad needs to make cupcakes for his daughter.  He thinks the way to do this is to bake a 9x13 cake and then use a cup to "cut out" the cupcakes...really?  My six year old is smart enough to look at the back of the box and know what pan to use.  It's little things like this that disconnected me from the characters.

Each chapter is identified by the name of the character whose point of view is being presented.  While it was interesting hearing a story from many different viewpoints, this was a bit confusing during the first half of the book.  At the beginning of each chapter I'd have to stop and think...Hmmm...Now which family does he/she belong to?  The last half of the book was smoother reading because I was more familiar with the character names and relationships.

Again, the overall concept and message of the book are wonderful.  I just wasn't crazy about the character development.  For those who read the book and want to take action to make the most of their remaining 18 summers, the authors have created a website with articles and resources at www.just18summers.com.

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Gods at War: Student Edition - Kyle Idleman

It may be a little early, but I'm starting to collect a library of books for my boys, the oldest of which will be a teenager in 2 years. (Wow...it's strange to even write that!) I'm on the lookout for books that will keep his interest while at the same time teaching him truths that I want him to learn.  It is with this task in mind that I began reading the student edition of Gods at War. 

The first few chapters explain what idolatry looks like in society today.  We are no longer bowing to idols made of wood or stone, but we do worship idols when we "look to something or someone to do for us what God was meant to do for us".  For example, "Instead of looking to God as a source of comfort, we turn to mindless entertainment.  Instead of looking to God as our source of significance, we turn to our accomplishments... Instead of looking to God as our source of joy, we look to our family, friends, or a boyfriend or girlfriend."  You get the picture.  These idols, or "gods", are at war for our hearts.

The rest of the book looks at specific "gods" that many youth (and adults as well!) tend to worship.  Topics include drugs/alcohol, food, sex, romance, entertainment, appearance, materialism, achievement, relationships, and ourselves.  I think that Kyle Idleman does a great job of explaining the dangers of trusting in these things to meet our needs, and he presents it in a simple and humorous way that teenagers can relate to.  I wish I would have read this book as a teenager!  At the end of each chapter is an "Idol ID" section which asks questions to help the reader identify whether that idol is a problem for him/her.  There is also a short section explaining how Jesus is the answer.  After all, "Idols are defeated not by being removed, but by being replaced."

Talking about all these issues as "gods" took a little time to get used to for me, but I understood the message and it's given me a lot to think about.  I hope that in the years to come it will resonate with my boys as well. 

*I received a complimentary copy of this book from BookLook in exchange for an honest review.