Sunday, December 14

The Underground Girls of Kabul by Jenny Nordberg

Afghanistan is a country ruled by men, and so the birth of a son brings honor and joy to a family, whereas a girl is considered a disappointment. When a family has multiple girls and no boys, they are looked down on by their family and friends. But not all families choose to live in shame. When a daughter is born they raise her as a boy, and present her as a boy, until she is older, a practice called bacha posh.

Award winning Journalist, Jenny Nordberg, first brought this phenomenon to light for the New York Times. In The Underground Girls of Kabul, she follows several women who participate in this activity. They range from a female politician who poses her youngest daughter as a boy, to a girl who is resisting her parent’s efforts to transition her back into a girl, to a woman who lived for 20 years as a boy but is now a married mother of three.

Sunday, November 16

Vanishing Grace by Philip Yancey

More and more often Christians are known for what they stand against. While Christians used to be thought of favorably, that has drastically changed, especially when it concerns evangelical Christians. What has changed? Philip Yancey believes that it is because Christians are not showing grace to those around them. Instead they offer condemnation and judgmental attitudes.

This is not the first time that Yancey has tackled the subject of grace. In 1997 he released one of his most well-known books, What’s So Amazing About Grace?. It also happened to be the first book by Yancey I ever read. He looks at what grace means, and what grace should look like. However, Yancey is worried that grace is even more difficult to find, and he is convicted by the words of Hebrews 12:15: “See to it that no one misses the grace of God…”

Thursday, October 30

The Dunning Man by Kevin Fortuna

In his debut novel, Kevin Fortuna allows us to peek inside the lives of 6 characters through six short stories. The characters and their situations never overlap, but they’re tied together in their humanity. These characters have their own struggles, and their own problems. One of them has planned a wonderful evening with the woman of his dreams, but nothing seems to be going his way as he takes the train to pick her up. Another man struggles with tenants, all of whom are in quite strange situations.

Fortuna is a strong writer. Though his stories are short and the entire book is under 150 pages, the characters he creates are fleshed out and feel real, something which authors of 300+ page novels have a hard enough time doing. Despite the troubles the characters encounter, Fortuna also manages to weave a bit of wit and humor under the tension.

Wednesday, October 15

Pursuing Justice by Ken Wytsma with D.R. Jacobsen

These days it seems that everything needs to be politicized. If democrats are for something you can reasonable guess that republicans will be against it, and vice versa. One of the things that has become politicized recently is that of justice. But is the common portrayal of justice by either political party a good one? Ken Wytsma, writing with D.R. Jacobsen, seeks to show what he believes true Biblical justice looks like. In his vision it’s not a liberal or a conservative issue. It’s a human issue, one deeply vital to our world.

 For Ken, justice is a part of God’s plan for us. If we are not seeking out justice, then we are failing to follow a part of God’s commands. Through the books he references scripture to back up his view, such as Luke 4:18 or Psalm 9:16.

Tuesday, September 30

City of Stairs by Robert Jackson Bennett

Once upon a time the gods reigned supreme. But then a catastrophe, called the Blink, wiped them out. The government that rose up worked to erase any mention of the gods, trying to cover up history and censor their subjects. The oppressors rule with an iron fist.

Shara Thivani enters into the city of Bulikov as a junior diplomat from the city’s oppressors. Unofficially she is one of their top spies, and she was sent to investigate a murder. Joining her is her ‘secretary’ Sigrud, a giant of a man who causes grown men to quake in their boots.

During her investigation, Shara begins to question: Are the gods are truly gone or if there is some remnant of their power still at play? Throw in former lovers and secret organizations and the air of mystery in Bulikov grows thicker.

Saturday, September 13

Let's All Be Brave by Annie F. Downs

Author of several books for young adults, Annie F. Downs admits that she’s not exactly the bravest person. But she realizes that there is courage within her, and hopes to show others that courage is also within them, even when they don’t feel brave. Using examples from her own life and from the Bible.

Let’s All Be Brave reads as a mash up between memoir and self-help. It’s a very conversational book and many chapters almost feel as if Annie is just sitting down and casually sharing her life story with you.

At the end though, this book didn’t really do much for me. I had a hard time with her writing style. She. Wrote. A. Lot. Of. Sentences. Like. This. I’m usually ok with a couple instances of that, as long as they are used effectively, but this technique seemed strangely placed.

Monday, August 25

The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible

The Quick-Start Guide to the Whole Bible is a pretty self-explanatory title. But just in case there are any questions about it, here’s a quick summary:

Dr. William H. Marty and Dr. Boyd Stevens take a look at each chapter of the Bible. They look at the setting and context of each book. Who wrote it? Where do the events take place? Is there any important historical context to know? The sections on setting tend to range from a paragraph to a little over a page. Then a summary is offered for book. The lengths of these vary, though on the whole the New Testament books tend to be a little longer than the Old Testament books. The final section in each chapter outlines the significance of the book, or at least of key events in the book. For example, in Paul’s letters, the key points that Paul was teaching our outlined.

Saturday, August 9

The Confession by Robert Whitlow

Life is good for Holt Douglas. He’s with the woman of his dreams and his career as assistant DA is very successful. But then he stumbles across information regarding the death of a very wealthy, local man. While it was ruled a suicide, Holt believes it may have been murder, so he begins investigating on the side. He quickly faces opposition as he begins to search for clues. During the course of the investigation, a dark secret from his past haunts him, and Holt risks having this secret unravel his life before he can finish his investigation. Will Holt discover the truth before it’s too late?

I have a fondness for legal thrillers, and I’m surprised that it took me this long to pick up a novel by Robert Whitlow.

Wednesday, July 30

Murder at the Mikado by Junlianna Deering

Life for a private investigator can be quite demanding, and Drew Farthering is no stranger to stress and business. Finally though, everything seems to be going smoothly. He’s engaged to the woman of his dreams and doesn’t have any cases demanding his attention. He soon finds out a storm is brewing behind the calm after a former girlfriend, Fleur, and her husband come in need of help. Fleur is the primary suspect in the murder of an actor she used to work with at The Mikado.

Despite not wanting to get drawn into Fleur’s life, Drew finds her husband extremely likeable and relents to their plea to help clear Fleur’s name (much to the chagrin of Drew’s fiancĂ©). However, as he begins to investigate it seems that this might be far more complicated than he though. It seems that everyone in the theatre troop had motive and few of them have any sort of alibi. All the while, the wedding draws nearer while the murder case becomes more and more muddled. Will Drew be able to get to the bottom of this case? And what sort of toll will this place on his relationship?

Wednesday, July 23

Brick by Brick by David C. Robertson with Bill Breen

It started with DUPLO. I was just a little tyke, bumbling around the house and talking in only semi-understandable words. I loved those big plastic blocks. Then, when I was a few years older, I was able to graduate to ‘big boy’ blocks: LEGO blocks! I remember going to the toy store with my dad and being shown a couple of sets I could pick from. In the end it was between a space set and a pirate set. Though I’m sure both of them would’ve occupied my imagination for hours upon hours, it was the pirate set that won out. It’s the first LEGO set I remember getting, and my collection only grew.

As a teenager I held on to my LEGO sets, but they got temporarily pushed to the side, only occasionally being pulled out. Recently, however, I’ve found myself being drawn back to LEGO.  I’m sorting through my old sets and acquiring new ones.

Sunday, July 13

The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks

They are one of America’s best kept secrets. Serving in World War I, they spent more time in combat than other American units and were never overtaken by their enemies. Not a single man was captured, and they were well decorated. Despite all of this, this unit, comprised of African Americans, face discrimination from their own country.

Written by Max Brooks and illustrated by Caanan White, The Harlem Hellfighters seeks to not only show us the accomplishments of the 369th Infantry Regiment, but also to show us the horrors of racism they faced. Indeed, this is where this graphic novel best succeeds.

Wednesday, July 9

Mindwar by Andrew Klavan

In high school he was the star football player. Now, the only thing Rick Dial is good at is moping and playing video games. His mom and younger brother attempt to engage with him, but he shuts them out. His father is no longer around, having left with an old girlfriend. After a traffic accident leaves him crippled, he turned to video games to dull the pain.

Little does Rick know that this obsession with video games makes him a prime candidate for a secret government program. A Russian terrorist has created a whole digital reality, named the Realm. Through the Realm, he can launch attacks on American systems, wreaking havoc wherever technology could be found. Rick is tasked with entering the Realm to help stop this man before he can sow seeds of destruction and chaos across the country. In this digital world, Rick is freed from the constraints of his injury, but anything that happens to him there will affect his real body. If you die in the Realm, there are no extra lives.

Wednesday, June 25

Dear Luke, We Need to Talk. Dad by John Moe

What would the letters or journal entries look like from some of your favorite fictional characters? What if they had access to online message boards? This is the simple premise of John Moe’s newest book, Dear Luke We Need to Talk. Darth. Thrown in the mix are some real world events, such as a series of ‘proposals’ for Super Bowl halftime shows. References from The Wizard of Oz, to E.T., to Star Trek.

From the opening pages, I was ready to enjoy my evening. While the first two letter hardly elicited a gut busting laugh, they certainly made me chuckle.

Then it started getting rocky.

Saturday, June 14

Know the Heretics by Justin S. Holcomb

I’ve seen a lot of chatter online recently about heretics. It seems that certain segments of the church love nothing more than accusing others of heresy. If a well-known author or speaker says something they disagree with, or if they hold a different interpretation of a certain biblical text, then they are labeled either a heretic or a false prophet.

How often are these accusations of heresy true? Could that person truly be a heretic? If so, there seem to be an awful lot of heretics running around. Just google the following names followed by the word ‘is’ and you’ll find that ‘heretic’ is one of the top suggested words to complete the search. Go ahead and try, I’ll wait.

Joel Osteen
Rick Warren
Rob Bell
Donald Miller
Shane Claiborne
Philip Yancey

Chances are you may not agree with everything single thing that all of these people have said or believe. But are they heretics? Or is that word being thrown around with a proper understanding of what it means?

In the wise words of Inigo Montoya, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

Sunday, May 18

The Martian by Andy Weir

After months of travel, Mark Watney became one of the first people to set foot on Mars. However, the mission ends prematurely after a major storm blows towards the astronauts’ camp. On their way to back to their shuttle, the storm catches up to them, blowing Watney from the rover. Believing he’s dead, the rest of the crew escapes, leaving Watney’s body behind.

But Watney didn’t die…at least not yet.

Stranded on the surface, he is forced to pull together the remaining resources to find a way to survive. He is forced to use the left over equipment much longer than it was originally intended. Each day brings a new struggle as he attempts to find a way to contact Earth. Though he hopes for a rescue, he also knows there are a million things that could go wrong. If everything fails, Watney will be the first person to die on Mars.

Saturday, May 17

The Extravagent Fool by Kevin Adams

The year 2008 was just the beginning for Kevin. At the start he had a successful business and had investments scattered across the board. He was living the dream.

All of this began to fall away, and it 2009 nearly everything was torn away from him. He found himself staring forward, with no idea what the future would bring. He and his family were struggling to just pay groceries and the electric bill. It was in these circumstances that Kevin decided that he just needed to let go of how he had viewed the world before, and begin trusting in God. Though the journey was not easy, he committed to it every step of way. His family and friends sometimes thought he was a fool, but he realized that the way he was living before was truly the foolish way.

The Advocate by Randy Singer

Raised in ancient Rome, Theophilus studies to become an advocate (read: lawyer). Studying the works of revered philosophers, he is passionate and knowledgeable. One of his first positions is as an assessore (a sort of adviser) to Pontius Pilate. It is Theophilus who whispers to Pilate, “Offer to release Barabbas” when Jesus is brought is brought before them. Theophilus believes in justice, and in the years that follow he proves himself as a capable advocate, standing up to likes of Caligula. His biggest test will be to stand before Nero and defend a man named Paul. While Theophilus be able to prevent the execution of a man he knows to be innocent?

Randy Singer is best known for his legal thrillers, though with the exception of The Cross Examination of Jesus Christ, they all were set in modern times. With The Advocate, Singer seeks to bring the world of Rome to the readers, weaving in cultural details, biblical events, and the legal setting of the time. The cases that Theophilus experiences are far different from the American court rooms we are used to reading about.

Saturday, May 10

Persecuted by Robin Parrish

After being framed for murder, popular evangelist John Luther is on the run. Even worse, he is being tracked by a mysterious assassin who will not hesitate to kill anyone who gets in the way. But what led to Luther’s current condition? He refused to support a proposed piece of legislation which could eventually lead to religious persecution across the country. Now, not only must he survive, he must also stop this bill from becoming law.

Persecuted is a fast paced novel, based on the movie of the same name which comes out later this year. I can’t speak to the accuracy in which it follows the film, as I have not seen it, but Persecuted came off as being written cinematically. At times this was great, as it helped set up the scene, and could give a better understanding of the action going on. Other times it seemed distracting as Parrish would draw our attention that was likely referenced in the screenplay, but not meant to be focused on, such as strange details given about the type of handset someone is using for the phone.

Sunday, April 20

Girl at the End of the World by Elizabeth Esther

Life in The Assembly seemed normal to Elizabeth Esther…at first. From a young age she was trained in street preaching, preparing for the apocalypse, and raised so that she could become a proper submissive wife someday. Sinning could lead to spankings and the fear of the wrath of God. Even infants were punished so that they could more properly learn their place. When Elizabeth expresses her interest in extracurricular programs at school, her parents insist that she instead devout her time to The Assembly. Her father then tells her (in complete seriousness), “’Well, since I’m your father and have authority over you until you’re married…God’s will for you comes through me!’”

As she grew older, Elizabeth began to question the teachings of The Assembly. But the leadership was heavy handed, and included members of her own family. All of her life she had learned to submit to them, and fear had been instilled in her. Still, she began to question The Assembly, but it wasn’t until she was grown and married that she began to see beyond the walls of this cult.

Saturday, April 19

20 and Something by David H. Kim

After reading The Hyperlinked Life, I was interested in checking out another book in Barna Group’s “Frames” series. The Frames series is composed of several short books with the goal of offering, “…concise, data-driven and visually appealing insights for anyone who wants a more faith-driven and fulfilling life.” 20 and Something takes a look at Millennials. What makes this generation different that other generations? And for those who are millennials, this book seeks to take a look at many of the questions that they will encounter and then offers guidance.

Once again, the infographics at the beginning are great, showing what millennials hope to achieve before turning 30, what they think adulthood means, and whether they are satisfied with different aspects of their life.

Sunday, April 6

When We Were on Fire by Addie Zierman

The swell of Evangelicalism swept through the United States in the 80’s and 90’s. Christianity became ‘marketable’ as it gained its own music, its own bookstores, and even its own clothing and jewelry.  WWJD bracelets seemed to spread like wildfire. Cubbies and Awana taught the importance of memorizing Bible verses and introduced children to the core of the faith. Teenagers flock to their school’s flag pole to pray. Phrases that have now become clichĂ© became common place such as “Let go and let God” and “Hate the sin, love the sinner.”

It is in this world that Addie’s story takes place. As all of these cultural influences are at their peak, and Amy Grant and DC Talk take hold in young hearts, she too is swept up in it all. She is on FIRE for the Lord. Her youth group attendance is impeccable, her Bible at her side at all times, and most importantly she will not missionary date (though she does feel called to date a missionary).

Monday, March 31

Jesus is Better than You Imagined by Jonathan Merrit

Everyone has an idea of what Jesus is like. Within Evangelical Christianity you’ll get a similar answer from most people. Most of them make Jesus sound great (though unfortunately some groups manage to make Him sound awful). But we still have our own ideas, and sometimes those are shaped through negative experiences. But…what if Jesus is better than you imagine? What if He is better than His followers make Him out to be? In his newest book, Jonathan Martin shares many stories from his own life and how he came to be surprised at where he found Jesus.

Ever since I read A Faith of Our Own a couple of years ago, I’ve been reading Jonathan’s writing. I regularly check his articles for Religion News Service and have been anticipating this book. I tore through it as soon as I received it.

Sunday, March 23

Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick

Everyone has a chatterbox inside their head. This chatterbox spreads lies and half-truths and tries to keep you from fully following God. At times it may even sound good, all the while leading you in the wrong direction. It is this ‘chatterbox’ that Pastor Steven Furtick (Elevation Church) examines in his new book, Crash the Chatterbox.

Chatterbox is broken up into four main sections, taking a look at insecurity, fear, condemnation, and discouragement. Furtick examines how our chatterbox tries to stop us, and how we can see past it and hear God’s voice over the noise. Filled with stories from his own life, and told second hand, Furtick provides many illustrations for his stories.

Saturday, March 22

The Hyperlinked Life by Jun Young & David Kinnaman

When seeing that David Kinnaman (UnChristian, You Lost Me) co-authored this book, I knew I had to pick it up. When I saw that the other co-author, Jun Young, worked at Microsoft and in communications, I was even more intrigued. The Hyperlinked Life is a part of the Barna Group’s “Frames” series. This series is composed of several short books (this one clocks in at a whopping 95 pages, including the note and ‘about’ sections. The goal of Frames is to offer, “…concise, data-driven and visually appealing insights for anyone who wants a more faith-driven and fulfilling life.”

The topic in The Hyperlinked Life is ‘Information Overload,’ something that has permeated our society. The book starts out with several great infographics that show some results from the Barna Groups polling. These infographs show how tied we are to our technology, especially our social media and cell phones. There is a small section from the Barna Group offering a further breakdown of the results and they illustrate the daily toll our constant reliance on technology can take on us.

Sunday, March 9

A Draw of Kings by Patrick W. Carr

War is coming to Illustra. Duke Weir has seized control of the country and captures Adora, with plans to marry her to let his leadership and to produce an heir. Enemies gather at their border. Errol is imprisoned and the identity of the rightful heir is still unknown. With the barrier fallen, the true heir must be found or Illustra will be destroyed.

This final book in Patrick W. Carr’s “The Staff & the Sword” trilogy starts off at a fast pace and keeps it up until the end. With the country at the brink of war, there is a much darker tone to A Draw of Kings as many story elements finally lock into place. Carr also manages to keep a couple of surprises until the end.

While this series is set in a fantastical medieval world, this book finally seemed to take full hold of the fantasy genre. Between the demonic enemies and their beasts, Carr presents a strong story of good versus evil.

Friday, March 7

The Adam Quest by Tim Stafford

Normally I would’ve passed over this book, but after the recent debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham, the title caught my eye. Tim Stafford (writer for Christianity Today) interviews eleven scientists who profess Christianity. He specifically speaks with them about their view on human origins to see what they believe and why. His point of the book is to be objective, and let the reader decide (though he does include a chapter with his beliefs at the end). Not all of the scientists agree with each other. He interviews young earth creationists, intelligent design creationists (which he labels as those who belief the earth is billions of year old but was influenced by a creator), and evolutionary creationists (who believe God used evolution to form life over millions of years).

Each chapter focuses on different scientists. Stafford covers a brief bit of their history, especially how they became Christians and how they became scientists. He then goes into their reasoning for their respective views

Saturday, March 1

Oscar Predictions 2014

Once again, I did my best to catch as many of the nominees as I could. At the moment I’m 5/9 in the Best Picture category, though I’m seeing Captain Philips Sunday afternoon. Here are my predictions in some of the categories I’m most interested in.
The Academy Awards 2014

Monday, February 24

Prototype by Jonathan Martin

“What happens when you discover you’re more like Jesus than you think?”

This is the basis behind prototype. God loves us. God created us. What if Jesus were more than just our savior? What if Jesus is the prototype for humanity, to show us what we should be like? What if we tried to do more than just ‘follow’ him?

Each chapter in Prototype covers a different theme, ranging from  identity, to obscurity to resurrection, to witness. These same themes are also covered in the DVD small group guide, which I also wanted.

Many times in the Old Testament, God refers to human beings as His beloved. But when God called Jesus His beloved, Jesus did something truly remarkable. He believed Him. And He lived every moment of His life fully convinced of his identity.” (page 16)

Saturday, February 22

King by R.J. Larson

Though I can’t tell for sure, King appears to be the finale book in Larson’s “Books of the Infinite” series. Akabe Garric has been chosen as king, though he had not asked for kingship. Despite this, he decides to prove himself to be a worthy king and begins undertaking a major project: Rebuilding the Infinite’s temple in the land of Siphra. He quickly runs into a problem, that land is held by worshippers of another god and will only relinquish the land if Akabe marries their leader’s daughter. Intent on rebuilding the temple, Akabe agrees to the terms.  Meanwhile, there have been numerous assassination attempts against the king, and the prophet Ela worries that the new queen may lead to the destruction of the new kingdom.

Containing undertones from Solomon and Moses, King moves at a brisk pace. Whereas the previous two books jumped back and forth between Kien and Ela alone, this time around Akabe and his queen (Caitria) are strong supporting characters, though most of the time they are also present with Ela and Kien. As I’ve mentioned in my earlier reviews, I’ve never found Ela to be a strong character, as she mostly reacts to events around her, or reacts to the visions she receives. While I understand that a part of this is due to her role as a prophet, it also makes her boring. Akabe is a reluctant king, trying his best to lead his people, and I would’ve enjoyed reading more about his struggles as ruler.

Saturday, February 8

Aquifer by Jonathan Friesen

The year is 2250. Freshwater is limited to a single aquifer, which is then routed to inhabited reasons. Those who are in charge, the council, have limited emotions to create a peaceful world. Luca, sixteen, is able to hide his emotions from this council. When his father goes missing, his entire world is changed. He travels underground and begins to learn the secrets of the aquifer and of the council, but the secrets he uncovers could have unintended consequences.

The prologue sets up the world and gets us comfortable with the dystopian setting as a fishing vessel pulls a woman’s corpse from the sea. It is full of mystery and sets up this dystopian world. Had the rest of the story followed the feel and strength of this prologue, I feel that this book would’ve been very entertaining. Unfortunately, I feel that Aquifer quickly lost steam.

Sunday, January 19

The Church Builder by A.L. Shields

Honestly, it was the cover of this book that first intrigued me. The image of the snake around the branch was simple, but also unique. After reading the brief description, I realized it was definitely a book I’d be interested in.

The Church Builder follows Bethany Barclay, a lawyer in a small town. However, despite her profession, this is not a court room drama. Rather, she gets pulled into a large conspiracy. She discovers her ex-boyfriend dead with a strange symbol near her. She believes the symbol relates to the murder of best friend, Annabelle, and flees, causing the FBI to label her as the main suspect. While on the run, Bethany is watched by two organizations, one bent on destroying religious faith, the other trying to save the church. As Bethany falls deeper into the conspiracy, she begins to wonder if she can truly trust anyone.

Saturday, January 4

Ministering to Problem People in Your Church by Marshall Shelley

Every organization seems to have at least one or two people who mean well but still manage to cause emotional strains. These people do not usually intend to cause problems, but sometimes they can derail the organization and cause stress for those in leadership positions. In this book (an updated version of the formerly released Well-Intentioned Dragons), Marshall Shelley reaches out to Pastors who may be dealing with these sorts of people. Shelley likes to refer to these people as well-intentioned dragons.

Though I am not a pastor, I was intrigued by the idea of this book. I’ve spoken with people and have read books and blogs by those who have been hurt by their time in the church. Sometimes the hurt comes from the church’s teaching or leadership styles. However, I have heard more and more people talk about they were hurt by others who attended the church, by ‘well-intentioned dragons’ who didn’t realize that their actions and words caused deep wounds. Dealing with ‘dragons’ is not easy. Often our default response to conflict is to avoid it, especially within the church.