The Road to Paradise: A Review

The Road to Paradise, Karen Barnett’s newest novel and the first book in the Vintage National Parks Novel series, is a sweet story of two people’s interaction with God’s creation – a woman who sees His fingerprints in every flower and sunrise and a man whose past has blinded his eyes to the tenderness of God’s love as revealed in nature.

It’s the summer of 1927. Margaret “Margie” Lane, the only daughter of Senator Lane, has landed a job at Rainier National Park in Washington State. Her new boss, head ranger Ford Brayden, is skeptical about having a pampered debutante on his park staff. But the Senator’s funding for the park’s new administration building leaves him little alternative but to humor the poetry-spouting skylark with the curly hair.

Yet, as Ford watches Margie – her love for nature and the way she sees a story of love in every flower petal – something begins to change in him. Margie no longer seems ridiculous, but rather lovely. When Philip Carmichael, a slick operator who has just purchased the Rainier National Park Company, begins to pursue Margie, Ford’s defenses go up. As the plot unwinds, Margie and Ford must work together to halt the advances of Philip, who intends to develop the wilderness of Rainier for profit, and ultimately, use it as a bargaining power to gain Margie’s hand in marriage.

Favorite Elements:

  • Uniqueness – I’ve never read a book quite like this one. I particularly enjoyed the rich element the setting played in the story. The historical period and location were endearing and truly made the story.
  • Faith – This book taught me a little something about the way God works. I love how God isn’t forced into Margie’s life. He’s a part of it. She rejoices in His workmanship and seeks to share His love. She trusts Him to open the opportunities He desires for her to verbally witness to the lost and goes about glorifying Him until that time comes. Her demonstration of simple trust and love for our Creator has shown me the importance of letting go, rejoicing in the God of my salvation, and trusting Him to open the doors He wants me to walk through.
  • Cover – I know that sounds kind of shallow, but the cover is so cute and vintage-y. It immediately caught my eye when I was browsing for a book to review!

Least Favorite Elements:

  • Initial Character Development – At first, I felt Margie’s character was a little too perfect. She didn’t seem to have enough character flaws, or just overall spunk, to be relatable. However, if you stick with the story, you’ll soon see otherwise! She possesses a quiet determination – a paradoxical “gentle” spunk.

The Road to Paradise is now available for purchase in paperback, hardback, and e-book formats. To purchase the book, check out Amazon or the Waterbrook Multnomah publishers’ website.

Disclaimer:

I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

Jane of Austin – A Review

In her newest novel, Jane of Austin, Hillary Manton Lodge puts a modern spin on Jane Austen’s timeless classic, Sense and Sensibility.

Jane Woodward’s life has been turned upside down in years past. Her mother was tragically killed in a car accident, and her father’s name has been defiled in the midst of an embezzlement scandal. Due to these familial problems, Jane and her older sister, Celia, have gained guardianship of their younger sister, Margot, and are running a vintage tea salon in San Francisco to support themselves. But an unexpected series of forces them to start life over. So, armed with her tea plants and a long list of playlists, Jane and her sisters leave the Bay area for Austin, Texas.

In Austin, Jane and her sisters move in the casita that belongs to their cousin Ian and his wife Mariah. While staying here, the girls meet ex-Marine Captain Callum Beckett, Ian’s old friend who has recently been discharged after losing a leg during a mission.  Jane, however, seems to overlook Beckett’s quiet strength, however, as her attentions are split among searching for a new location for the tea salon, trying out new scone recipes, and falling for the handsome Sean Willis, a charming rock musician. Jane finds her feelings for Sean are straining her relationship with Celia. Her older sister warns her not to get too close too fast, but how can Jane resist her knight-in-a-shining-Stetson?

This was a really fun read. I particularly enjoyed the characters of Jane and Celia. Jane is girly, but not frivolous. She loves good tea so much that she always carries loose leaf tea in her purse. Her spunky, yet practical, spirit nicely contrasts Celia’s quiet gentility. I also enjoyed drawing the comparison between the characters and events in the novel and Sense and Sensibility. I felt like I was like solving a mystery as I realized that such-and-such a character in Jane of Austin was really so-and-so from Sense and Sensibility. Another element I particularly enjoyed about this book is its symbiotic relationship to tea drinking. In order to enjoy this book even more, you must have an ample supply of tea at the ready, as I delightfully discovered. And, if you’re any good with the oven, you can use the recipes featured in this book to whip out some of the treats the characters enjoy in the novel.

Although I enjoyed this book a lot, I have to say it resembles a Hallmark Romance movie. That being said, the plot is a tad bit cheesy at time. I had a hard time envisioning a hardened marine captain admitting in casual conversation with an old crony that he may or may not be in love with a girl he hardly knows. When explaining these kinds of cheesy instances to my sister, we both found ourselves rolling in laughter. (We would not be enjoyable companions for a Hallmark movie marathon. We both crack up at the first sign of overtly dramatized rom-coms.)

Jane of Austin is now available for purchase in paperback or eBook versions through WaterBrook Publishers as well as Amazon. For more information about the book or the author, visit Hillary Manton Lodge’s web site.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

 

 

 

 

Know Who You Are. Live Like It Matters: A Review

 

Photo: Amazon

Tim Tebow is most widely known for the Christian life he leads in the sports world. More recently, however, Tebow has enhanced the scope of his mission field to include written texts. Hence this new book, directed specifically at homeschool audiences, Know Who You Are. Live Like It Matters.

In this 196-page book, Tebow provides homeschool students with 36 devotionals, urging them to discover their true identity in Christ and the implications this identity poses. The book is designed to be completed over the course of the academic school year (36 weeks = 36 devotionals), and each 1-3 page devotional is followed by writing questions and/or assignments (letters, short stories, dialogues, etc.) to maximize application and understanding of the concepts presented.

The book is divided into four sections, each 9 weeks long. The first section discusses a Christian’s identity in Christ. The second section focuses on “uncover[ing] guidance when the going in life gets tough” (pg. 3), while the third section focuses on building and maintaining godly relationships. The final section challenges students to “Live Bigger” – to dare to “do” the hard and often by-passed love that is demonstrated for us in the life of Christ.

Pros

  • Sequence – The book starts off with a necessary foundation – knowing who you are in Christ – and ends with the most challenging weeks of actually living out one’s faith in the hard places.
  • Personable Structure – Each devotional features a personal anecdote from Tebow’s life in order to more readily engage learners.
  • Reflection Opportunities – The writing opportunities at the end of each chapter allows students to make the lessons personal, to examine their spiritual lives and listen for the guidance of the Holy Spirit as they draw closer to Christ.
  • Sincerity – This is the real Christian walk. Nothing fake or artificial. It’s sometimes hard, but as Tebow encourages readers, it’s always worth it.

Cons

  • Gaps – This book provides a great start on knowing who you are and living like it matters. But, the book simply does not contain enough “material” to cover a whole week of study for students. Parents would be well advised to either include supplementary material, perhaps service learning or Bible study, as well as parental and/or peer discussion for this book. The concepts themselves are definitely worth focusing one week of study on, but more material will likely be needed to really get the most out of this book.

Know Who You Are. Live Like It Matters. is now available from retailers. For more information, or to purchase a copy, check out Amazon or Waterbrook Publisher’s web pages. This book is available in both paperback and e-book formats.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

Windfall: A Review

Windfall

Photo from Amazon.com

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith is one young adult novel I will not be recommending to you, my readers. Before I explain why, though, I’d like to give you a brief run-down of what the book is about.

Alice is an orphan. Her parents died about 1 year apart when she was only 9 years old, so for the past 9 years, she has lived with her aunt, uncle, and cousin in Chicago. During these years, she has spent many happy hours with her cousin (Leo) and their mutual friend, Teddy. Gradually, Alice has fallen in love with Teddy – the caring, happy-go-lucky, laid-back guy she jokingly calls Ted E. Bear.

For Teddy’s 18th birthday, Alice purchases him a coming-of-age gift – a lottery ticket. But not just any lottery ticket. The winning lottery ticket.

And suddenly Teddy’s (and Alice’s) life changes.

Since Teddy’s dad left him and his mom when Teddy was a child, he has lived in humble circumstances. So the $141.3 million lottery win opens endless opportunities. Unfortunately, these opportunities start to go to Teddy’s head. He’s no longer the caring, happy-go-lucky guy Alice knew. And now, she’s afraid he’ll never return the romantic love she has for him.

The book itself is typical of the YA genre. Fairly cheesy by my standards, but I can see where teenage girls would lap up this frustrated love story. So why am I giving this book a negative review?

I generally do a little background checking on the author of books I choose to review before I request the book for review. I found one of Jennifer E. Smith’s books for sale on Christian Book Distributors, so I thought Windfall would be a “clean” read. I was, however, very disappointed by the overt homosexual themes in this book. Leo – Alice’s cousin – has a boyfriend, Max, who attends college in Michigan. Leo is torn between pursuing his dream at the Art Institute of Chicago or going to college with Max.

I tried to ignore this in the beginning of the book, hoping it would just be a background “fact.” But as the story progresses, Leo’s relationship with Max gains more importance. He plans to visit him during spring break, and the conversation between Alice and him unquestionably exposes the immorality of this relationship:

[Leo to Alice]: “I still can’t believe my parents are letting me -”

[Alice to Leo] “Spend the whole spring break alone with your college boyfriend?…I can. They love Max. And they trust you.” (138)

By Leo’s plain proclamation on page 175 (“I love him”), I was done.

It’s not so much that this book features homosexuality. I would be OK if homosexual relationships were portrayed as sinful. But they are not only recognized as OK, but they are also given equivalent legitimacy with straight relationships.

I ordered this book with the intention of putting it in my classroom library (I’m a middle school education major). However, as a Christian, I feel responsible for the type of literature I endorse in my classroom. For this reason, I cannot endorse books, like Windfall,  that portray sin as “good.” With this in mind, I will not be recommending this book to anyone.

And this book will not be going into my library stash.

Disclaimer: I received this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my  honest opinion as represented in this review.

 

English Lessons: A Review

What is it like to go from a Bible-Belt Texas home, where your father is a local pastor and world-renowned Christian author, to a historical, yet predominantly atheist, English town? Scary? Exciting? A little bit of both?

In Andrea Lucado’s first book, English Lessons: The Crooked Little Grace-Filled Path of Growing Up, Andrea gives readers a glimpse into her time as a student studying English Literature in Oxford, England. In the 221-page memoir, she shares the challenges faced and conquered, the lessons learned, and the person she became while living in Oxford. This is a story of doubt, questions, loneliness, identity, and confusion penetrated by heavenly answers, comfort, and strength.

Andrea Lucado grew up with church as her life. Could you expect any less from the daughter of Max Lucado? Andrea’s life in her Texas hometown was centered around the Christian faith. She attended a Christian school. She went to church camp every summer. All of her friends went to church. So, when Andrea moved to Oxford for a study-abroad graduate program, the cultural barrier was only part of her problem. Andrea felt alone in her faith in England. What is more, this loneliness and constant bombardment by a secular, atheistic culture left her questioning her faith. Yet, in the midst of her questioning, Andrea found strength in God.

Although this memoir chronicles the serious issue of Christian identity in a lost world, the book is not without its light side. Andrea also details her trip’s some amusing perks. In the book’s 14 chapters, she discusses

  • Suffering caffeine withdrawal symptoms while fasting coffee for Lent (“In Oxford I resolved that if I could make it in life without coffee for forty days, I could do anything.” -Page 85)
  • Having one, only ONE, battery stolen out of her bicycle headlight
  • Meeting an Austrian-Korean soulmate
  • Surviving in an English cottage with no microwave
  • Experiencing a Thames River moment or two
  • Arguing with a statue of Christian martyrs
  • Visiting a variety of movie-worthy British pubs

Andrea’s story is a testimony of God’s faithfulness in the midst of doubts and weaknesses. Her coming-of-age story is not your typical self-reliance, be-yourself mantra we find in society today. Rather, it is a story of Christian identity, of finding faith beneath the doubt, of facing fears and overcoming them in the grace of our Savior.

Pros:

  • Illustrations – I have to admit, one of my absolute favorite things about this book are the illustrations. The cover of this book immediately led me to anticipate great things inside. The black and white, watercolor-esque headings of each chapter are distinctly British, yet feminine and modern. Illustrator Hannah George’s contributions to this book add a new dimension to the memoir.
  • Use of Metaphors – From bicycle front lights to field crickets, Andrea utilizes a variety of metaphors to connect more strongly with her readers.
  • Writer’s Humor – Although this isn’t a comedic memoir, the reader gets a nice taste of Andrea’s youthful humor. Not too much for the seriousness of the memoir, but enough to bring a smile to your face.
  • CS. Lewis References – Can you really write a Christian memoir about studying at Oxford and not mention him? Bonus points in my book for bringing one of my favorite authors in on the action!

Cons:

  • Imagery – Although imagery is employed, I would have liked to have been able to visualize Oxford a little bit better through the descriptions written in the book. I think the book’s cover and the blurb on the back had me setting my hopes a little too high in this department, so I was a tad disappointed that I couldn’t quite get a full “mind’s eye view” of Oxford. Imagery is definitely used in the book, just not as much as I would have liked.

English Lessons is set to release on May 2nd in both hardcover and e-book editions. For more information, visit Waterbrook Multnomah or Amazon. For more information on Andrea Lucado and to get some behind the scenes coverage of the book, visit her blog.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

 

 

 

 

Enjoy – A Review

Have you ever felt guilty for enjoying something innocent, like one chocolate chip cookie, a favorite TV show after a good day’s work, or time out for coffee with a friend? Has a fear of idolatry or a sense of legalism been tying you down from enjoying the good things in life God has given you? If you’re like me, these factors have plagued you at least once in life. But, in Trillia Newbell’s new book, Enjoy: Finding the Freedom to Delight Daily in God’s Good Gifts, we see the Biblical reason why we do not have to succumb to guilt, fear, or condemnation as we embrace the gifts of our Lord. In this 212-page book, Newbell explores how we can biblically enjoy things like friendship, recreation, and fellowship with Christ. “We enjoy because we know that the gift is given by God for our enjoyment,” Newbell explains. “The gift starts with God as the Giver. If we believe this and see all things as his gifts to us, we are free to abandon our man-made rules and self-imposed guilt and simply enjoy” (10).

Each of the book’s 11 chapters (with the exception of the introductory chapter) explores a different gift God has given us to enjoy. The topics covered include:

  • Friendship
  • Marital Intimacy
  • Work
  • Rest
  • Money and Giving
  • Food
  • Nature
  • The Arts (literature, art, music, dance, theater, etc.)
  • A Relationship with Jesus
  • Our Eternal Hope

In each of these chapters, Newbell ties the pure enjoyment of these things back to the Garden of Eden and God’s original purpose for them. She then goes on to explain how they have been affected by the Fall, the redeeming work of the cross, and the wait for total redemption with Christ’s return. A recurring theme in each chapter is God-centeredness over self-centeredness. Newbell explains that as we remember that every good thing is a gift from God, we come to focus on the Giver instead of fearing or idolizing the gift.

Throughout the book, Newbell also challenges her readers with what she calls “The Enjoy Project.” This is a list of 7-8 reflection and practice activities at the end of each chapter, meant to maximize the lessons for that chapter’s topic. This feature makes this book ideal for a weekly women’s group or Bible study. Each chapter could easily constitute a week’s discussion, and the activities in “The Enjoy Project” could easily become each day’s homework (1 activity per day).

Pros:

  • Numerous personal anecdotes and connections make the author seem much more personable and relatable.
  • The Enjoy Project makes the application of each chapter’s concepts easier and more meaningful.
  • Each topic is explored in a theologically sound manner, with evidence cited from Scripture to support the author’s claims.
  • This book is a refreshing weekend read. At 212 pages, it’s a fast book to read, and the content is refreshing to the soul. It certainly brightened my weekend!

Cons:

  • Although “The Enjoy Project” and the chapter content provide a few strategies for how to simply enjoy the gifts of God in light of the Giver, I wish there were a few more. This is merely personal opinion. I happen to be a very “How?” driven kind of person, and bulleted lists and structured procedures are my “thing.” I understand, however, why these were excluded from the book. Mrs. Newbell is trying to eliminate any legalistic attitudes from her readers’ minds, and the addition of steps/lists would likely hurt this goal. Still, I would have liked a few more suggestions, or even anecdotal examples, of how people practice enjoying the gifts of God.
  • This book is marketed as “Christian Living,” but it is written specifically for women. Just a heads up!

Enjoy is still a fairly new release, having made its public debut in December 2016. The book is available in both print and e-book forms. For more information on the author, visit her website at www.trillianewbell.com. Enjoy can be purchased on Amazon or through the WaterBrook Multnomah Publisher’s website.

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.

Is the Bible Good for Women? A Review

Photo: Amazon.com

The title of Wendy Alsup’s book is all revealing – Is the Bible Good for Women? Seeking Clarity and Confidence Through a Jesus-Centered Understanding of Scripture. In the 199 pages that follow, Alsup identifies the questions many women have been asking about what God expects from them, and then she answers them by allowing the “Bible to be its own best commentary” – in other words, using the Bible to understand the Bible.

What does the author mean by the question, “Is the Bible good for women?” Aslup explains that many people consider some of the passages in the Bible directed at women – such as 1 Timothy 2 and 1 Corinthians 11 – to be restrictive of what the author calls “the inherent dignity of women.” How can a Bible that calls for submission and identifies women as “helpers” to men be good for the female sex?

What follows is a masterful exploration of Scripture that clarifies so many misconceptions we as Christian women may have held about how God values us and what He expects of us.

Each chapter focuses on answering a single question. The answering of each of these question prepares the reader for the following chapter’s question, so this book builds upon itself. In the first chapter, Alsup establishes what she calls a “Jesus-Centered Approach” to Scripture – that is, seeing the Bible as a whole document that testifies to the need, appearance, crucifixion, resurrection, and anticipation of the return of Christ. Then, she delves into Genesis 1-3 in Chapters 2, 3, and 4. Here, she unpacks God’s purpose for the female sex (spoiler alert: This totally changed my outlook on womankind being “simply” a “helper”), the Fall of man and how that marred the fulfillment of that purpose, and finally, the need for a Redeemer, the coming of Christ, and the restoration he provides towards fulfilling God’s original purpose for womankind.

After establishing this key understanding of Scripture, Alsup then moves on to address the main question of the book – “Are women blessed or harmed by reading, understanding, and obeying Scripture as it has been handed down for generations?” (76). In Chapter 5, Alsup points out the need for defining “good,” explaining the world defines the word based on a temporal perspective, but God defines it based on eternity.

In Chapters 6-10, Alsup begins to explore specific passages of Scripture that spark controversy about the rights of women in the Bible. These passages include sexual ethics in Deuteronomy 22, the rape of Dinah, commandments for women to be silent in church, and the command for women to wear head-coverings in church. Alsup explains these passages to her readers in a way I really admired. I have noticed, often times, these passages are explained based on the culture of the day. While there is nothing wrong with this, I’ve often wondered if that’s really how the authors intended for them to be understood. If it was, why didn’t they offer a further explanation when they were writing the Scripture? Alsup approaches these “problem passages” differently. Instead of citing secular source documents or historical data on the culture of the Bible, she pulls passages straight from the Bible to contextualize Scripture. The connections she draws among passages, I feel, is theologically sound. No passages appear to be taken out of context or manipulated to woman’s advantage. What results is a clear, Jesus-centered, Biblical understanding of women’s God-given, “inherent dignity” and a deeper revelation of how much God loves us and seeks to protect us.

Pros of the Book:

  1. Each chapter is set up to answer a key question. This question-posing format makes for easy comprehension of a topic that has been muddled over the years.
  2. Alsup’s entire approach on her key question is strictly – and I mean strictly – Jesus-based. Although the law is referenced, it is viewed in light of the fact that Jesus has fulfilled it. This is fleshed out at the beginning of the book (Chapters 1-4) to allow the reader to approach the “harder” passages with a clear and Biblical understanding of truth.
  3. The beginning of each chapter features a summary of the previous chapter. This allows for more thorough comprehension and absorption of the material. It also makes it easier to set the book down and come back to it. This isn’t a book you have to read through all at once in order to really “get it.”
  4. The end of the book features a series of discussion questions to accompany each chapter. This makes this book an ideal resource for a women’s Bible study group or book club!

Cons of the Book:

  1. Some of the sentences are syntactically confusing due to long strings of prepositional phrases. Several times, I had to back-up and re-read a sentence or just slow down and mentally “sound it out” to make sense. However, this didn’t distract me very much from comprehending the argument.

Is the Bible Good for Women? is set to come out on March 21st, 2017 in both print and e-book editions. For more information on the author, you can visit her blogs – theologyforwomen.org and gospelcenteredwoman.com.

 

Disclaimer: I received this book as a review copy from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest opinion, as represented in this review.