Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Book Review: 31 Verses to Write on Your Heart

Title:  31 Verses to Write on Your Heart
Author:  Liz Curtis Higgs
Genre:  Devotional/Bible Study
Publisher:  WaterBrook, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC
Number of Pages:  200
My Rating:  4/5

I have heard of Liz Curtis Higgs through the years but have never read any of her books until now. I was eager to do so, because my impression of her has been that she is a fun-loving, faithful sister in Christ, and I wondered if her writing would match my preconception. And it does.

Higgs is a prolific writer (over 30 titles, including her Bad Girls of the Bible series) as well as a professional speaker and Bible study teacher. You may have enjoyed her on stage during the Women of Faith, Women of Joy, and Extraordinary Women tours in both the United States or abroad. She is a wife, mother, and tabby cat shepherd currently living in Kentucky.

This book is down-to-earth, honest, and uplifting in its approach to scripture study and memorization. It is accurately described as a "daily devotional and a small-group Bible study" on the back cover and is suitable for individual or group use.  The readings are gentle but thought-provoking and are peppered with Higgs' personal experiences that help to bring the truths to life (not to mention tickle your funny bone).

There are 31 chapters, each focused on a well-known scripture verse and followed with a heartfelt, personal prayer and tips for memorizing scripture. There is also a study guide section with questions for each chapter that will assist the reader to dig deeper, both privately and in a group setting. A scripture verse reference listing for each chapter rounds out the book.

If you are a new believer in search of a treasure trove of meaningful scripture verses to learn and memorize, this book is a wonderful place to start. If you are an old saint with scripture verses already stored up in your heart, this book is a wonderful way to re-visit some favorites, dig a little deeper, and reignite your passion for memorization.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

'Tis the Season to Be Jolly

I never know when it will hit, but I do remember struggling sometimes as a teenager -- amid the love and light of the Christmas season, I became depressed. How could that be? I had a family and friends and lived in a safe, secure environment without want. I never did figure out what triggered the overwhelming feelings of emptiness and sadness that crept into my heart back then, and I still can't figure it out today.

So.....what is it like to be depressed during the Christmas season? I'm sure it's different for everyone, but for me, it's something like this:

*Depression is staring at the bare tree in the living room and not having the energy to decorate it and not caring if it ever gets done.

*Depression is looking at a stack of beautiful Christmas cards and not having the energy to address and mail them and not caring if they ever go out.

*Depression is holding an Advent calendar in your hands and realizing you're days behind in lifting the flaps and not caring because every day is just another major effort to get out of bed and get dressed.

*Depression is watching the available shopping days fly by and not having the energy to figure out gifts for everyone and hoping they'll graciously accept gift cards this year.

*Depression is listening to Christmas music and weeping because your father is no longer on Earth to celebrate his favorite season and your elderly mother is hours away and alone.

*Depression is not baking any cookies or making any crafts or attending any parties or concerts and being relieved that you don't have to engage.

*Depression is forcing yourself to attend church and to put on a sweet smile even though you usually love worshipping and fellowshipping with your brothers and sisters in Christ and even though your heart is out of tune.

*Depression is wanting to lie down and sleep until it's January 1st when you no longer have to see, smell, or hear all the festivities taking place around you but without you, even if it's your choice.

*Depression is thanking God for your precious little cat because making sure it has food and water and a clean litter box is pretty much your only reason for needing to be alive right now.

Please remember to pray for those who are struggling with depression this Christmas season. In spite of all the love, light, family, and friends, being jolly is just not on the agenda.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Book Review: Dark Matter

Title:  Dark Matter
Author:  Blake Crouch
Genre:  Science Fiction/Thriller
Publisher:  Crown, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC
Number of Pages:  340
My Rating:  4 out of 5

Ever hear of Wayward Pines? It's that creepy enclave in a shattered post-apocalyptic Earth that kept me glued to my couch every week it aired on television. I loved seasons one and two and sure do hope there's a season three on the horizon. That said, when I tried to read Blake Crouch's books that the show was based upon, I gave up after about 50 pages out of sheer boredom. I felt the writing lacked enough luster for me to keep going with it. I was disappointed.

So when the opportunity arose for me to try another Blake Crouch book -- Dark Matter -- I was intrigued enough by the storyline to lay aside my hesitancy, and I am so glad I gave him another go. This book kept me glued and riveted and questioning and pulling my hair out from the first page to the last. Aside from the author's fondness for the F-bomb (the book would have been just as great without it), Dark Matter will pull you in and hold you in suspense until the very end.

The main character, Jason, is an immediately likable fellow, and his separation from and search for his wife and son will touch your heart. Their are baddies galore who will stop at nothing to keep a reunion from happening, and his journey through, not time, but parallel space is exciting and rife with twists and turns. I appreciate that the science behind the whole parallel universes theory is presented in a way that is not overwhelming and confusing. Crouch did a good job of spreading said explanations throughout the book and in a manner that even a layman could (mostly) understand.

Given the success of the Wayward Pines franchise, I hope Dark Matter is also made into a movie for the big screen. Visually, it would be stunning. And the audience would be on the edge of their seats the entire time.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from for review.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Book Review: Taste and See

Title:  Taste and See
Subtitle:  Savoring the Supremacy of God in All of Life
Author:  John Piper
Genre:  Christian Devotional
Publisher:  Multnomah, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC
Number of Pages:  390
My Rating:  4.5 out of 5

I am always excited to read a new-to-me devotional book because on days when I don't have time for longer reading, the bite-sized portions are perfect. However, not all devotionals are created equal. Some are milk; some are meat. These meditations by John Piper definitely fall in the meat category.

John Piper is a well-known theologian and author who is not afraid to talk about issues that could be considered controversial, but praise the Lord for that. In this book of 125 short chapters, each dealing with a topic that is maybe not so nice and neat, he has the courage to present his Biblical worldview clearly and compassionately. I may not always agree with everything he says, but I love that Piper doesn't shy away from the tougher stuff and that he makes me think. I have to chew and digest my way through his mediations, so even though they are short, they are packed.

Taste and See touches on many topics ranging from omnipotence to love to retirement, sin, evil, righteousness, adoption, eternity, prayer, mental health, joy, discipline, salvation -- the list goes on and on. It covers the gamut from Biblical theology to contemporary issues facing the Christian (and the world) today. You will not be bored, period. Especially helpful are the indices in the back of the book for quick subject and scriptural referencing.

Piper states that what he has "written here is partly meditations on Biblical reality and partly applications to contemporary life" and that he "hopes that what pervades all the readings is a savoring of the supremacy of God." And I feel he has done what he set out to do.

And a shout-out regarding his poem of dedication to his daughter -- it is absolutely delightful and not to be skipped over.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from for review.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Book Review: The Gift for All People

Title:  The Gift for All People: Thoughts on God's Great Grace
Author:  Max Lucado
Genre:  Christian Devotional
Publisher:  WaterBrook Multnomah, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC
Number of Pages:  132
My Rating:  4 out of 5

Max Lucado, a prolific speaker and writer who lives and serves in a church in Texas, is a well-known and beloved author. His soft-spoken words, both oral and written, inspire and encourage millions. This book offers his usual content, seeking to lead the reader into a deeper understanding of the amazing grace of God.

It is divided into four main sections -- The Gift of a Savior; Ransom for Sinners; Bounteous Grace; and The Choice -- designed to cover the gift and experience of grace from the birth of Jesus Christ to the need for a decision to receive this gift and experience of grace in one's own life. 

Each main section is divided into about eight short chapters with such headings as "It Began in a Manger," "Road to Calvary," Pardon and Peace," and "The God Who Invites." The reader is taken on a journey of discovery in the gentle, heartfelt way that Lucado is famous for. His ability to clothe theological truths and insights in practical, earthly terms helps the reader to visualize the Word becaming flesh and dwelling among us.

While there is nothing 'new' presented in this book, Lucado's skill in presenting age-old truths in contemporary ways makes for a fresh and engaging read that will definitely touch the heart, mind, and spirit of those who take the time to consider again just how great God's grace is.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from for review.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

Book Review: The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts

Title:  The Illustrated Compendium of Amazing Animal Facts
Author:  Maja Safstrom
Genre:  Non-fiction
Publisher:  Ten Speed Press, an imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC
Number of Pages:  119
My Rating:  4.5 out of 5

This book is not at all what I expected it was going to be. I thought it would be heavy in words and light in pictures, somewhat like an encyclopedia. But it's actually light in words and heavy in pictures, somewhat like an art display at the museum. Once I embraced this new reality, I came to the conclusion that I was utterly and pleasantly surprised. This is a delightful little book. For all ages. Truly, a seven-year-old boy will get a kick out of it as much as a 40-year-old working woman and a 90-year-old grandpa and everyone in between.

Both covers are highly appealing with their muted teal backgrounds and crisp black-and-white drawings, and every page is filled with whimsical illustrations and interesting scientific facts. At my age, I've already learned about half of these facts, although remembering them is another story and therefore a good reason to read (and re-read) the book and be charmingly reminded. Keep it on the nightstand, the coffee table, or better yet, the dinner table for impromptu guessing games.

Little Johnny will appreciate the occasional bathroom humor ("Mosquitoes not only bite you -- they also pee on you!"), Mom can likely commiserate with the pregnant kiwi whose egg is "so big that it makes her belly touch the ground," and introverts will be jealous of the snail's ability "to go into its shell and hibernate" until the weather improves. Those are just a few of the gems that Safstrom offers the reader about 55 creatures, from crocodiles to tarantulas to penguins to cockroaches. Some details are lovely, some details are gross, and all of the details are fascinating.

This is a delightful little book. Well done, Maja Safstrom. You brightened up my day.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from for review. 

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Book Review: The Quality of Silence

Title:  The Quality of Silence
Author:  Rosamund Lupton
Genre:  Adventure/Thriller
Publisher:  Crown Publishers, an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a division of Penguin Random House LLC
Number of Pages:  286
My Rating:  3.5 out of 5

I love adventure stories. I especially love adventure stories that thrust the reader into life-or-death scenarios, complete with almost impossible challenges to overcome, characters I can love or hate, and clear-cut wars being waged between good and evil.  For me, this book fell a bit short. Here's why:

Life-or-death & Good v. Evil: Lupton does an expert job of setting the stage on the vast, barren, frigid expanse of Alaska, in which a mother and her deaf daughter defy the odds to find their missing and presumed dead husband and father, who was spending time in a remote village researching native wildlife. Facing the dangers posed by both humans and weather, the two gear up and set out with no knowledge of how treacherous their journey would actually be.  It is sometimes unclear which humans are on the side of good or evil along the way, but a little confusion keeps things interesting.

Challenges: The unpredictable and hammering weather, first and foremost, seeks to be their undoing, followed next by guilty men intent on stopping the duo from discovering the truth.

Characters: The only two characters I connected to were the weather -- which Lupton manages to give its own personality through continuous strong depiction of its relentless, unforgiving wind, snow, and darkness -- and ten-year-old Ruby, whose 'voice' sounds more like a 12 or 13 year old to me. Ruby insists on accompanying her mother on her harrowing journey, but I could never quite accept the fact that her mother allowed her to do so. I can't imagine putting my own child in that dangerous situation. Ruby's love for her parents and her acceptance of her deafness lace the story in a positive way, so that rooting for her is easy. The mother, Yasmin, gets on my nerves, but not enough for me to feel strongly about her one way or the other. I thought she had a chilly heart, though she does thaw out somewhat by the end. The father, Matt, though physically absent for most of the story, is also easy to like. However, I just didn't have the opportunity to know him well enough to form a strong opinion. It is truly the weather that is the central character in the book, and I'm certain I saw my own frozen breath on every page. Kudos to Lupton for her intense portrayal of a non-human entity.

As a story, I feel the first half of the book drags, the second half picks up speed and is more exciting, and the ending is rushed in its effort to wrap things up. And I did not appreciate the geo-political lecturing that filled the final chapters. Interesting facts were presented, but it was rather in-your-face.

There you have it. Some great elements, some not so great. Just my opinion, of course.

Disclaimer:  I received this book from for review.