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You Are Never Alone: Trust in the Miracle of God’s Presence and Power
by Max Lucado
The focus is on Jesus. The focus is always on Jesus in Max Lucado’s writing—on how much God loves YOU, enough to send His Son Jesus to cover your sins with His shed blood. The God of the universe loves you and wants to have a relationship with you. That is the message of You Are Never Alone.
Max Lucado’s style of writing is so appealing; it’s like sitting down with an old friend who loves you and has great anecdotes and wisdom to share. He has a way with words. Even his acknowledgements section, often the boring part of a book, is a masterpiece of prose. Lucado can paint word pictures that make you feel you are right there in that hospital waiting room with a hurting mom or having a fish breakfast on the beach with Jesus, risen from the dead, and Peter who denied him. The writing can grip your heart as you see yourself as Jesus does, make you smile as you respond to the humor in a situation, and bring you to your knees as you realize the enormity of God’s love for you.
You Are Never Alone weaves anecdotes Lucado has collected along the way with Scriptural lessons from the book of John in the New Testament. He writes in everyday language with inspiration that will keep you turning pages. Look for theological soundness that never seems pompous and scenarios that depict life as we know it in vivid language we understand. There is a lot of tongue-in-cheek that you are not meant to take literally but which elucidate the heart meaning of the passages. He jumps from Jesus cooking “fish tacos” for His disciples to earlier references of art restoration as Jesus wipes away “layers of guilt and shame” in Peter’s heart with a “cotton swab of grace.” Lucado makes these complex connections seamlessly, and the reader emerges with a new understanding of the old story of God’s redemption of man.
This inspirational book can be devoured as a whole, read chapter by chapter over several days, or studied in depth using the “Questions for Reflection” prepared by Andrea Lucado. This section occupies one quarter of the text and takes the reader through thought provoking questions that encourage you to invest yourself, including your imagination and feelings, in the study which never strays from the Scripture. This book is an examination of the themes and miracles found in the Gospel of John. It is inspirational, humorous, and insightful. You Are Never Alone is yet another of Max Lucado’s books that will encourage you to trust in God during life’s storms.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Publication: September 15, 2020—Thomas Nelson
If you see your troubles as nothing more than isolated hassles and hurts, you’ll grow bitter. But if you see your troubles as opportunities to trust God and his ability to multiply what you give him then even the smallest incidents take on significance.
John did the math: the stone rolled away, the now-tenantless tomb, the linens in their original state. Only one explanation made sense. Jesus himself did this! He passed through the burial wrap as if it were a sunrise mist.
Call me simple, but I think God is a good Father. I think he knows something about life. And I think he invites us to take the step, to take the plunge, to jump—not into a pool but into a relationship with him that is vibrant, joyous, and, yes, fun!
The Screwtape Letters
by C.S. Lewis
Welcome to the inside-out, topsy turvy world of The Screwtape Letters, correspondence supposedly written by Screwtape, an experienced devil who is mentoring his nephew Wormwood, a junior tempter, in the process of keeping the human assigned to him from becoming a Christian and making good choices. The human is considered a “patient.” God is called “the Enemy,” and Satan is referred to as “Our Father Below.” As you can imagine, this short book is not a quick read as you have to turn familiar designations of God and Satan, as well as your whole thought process, around so that the book will make sense.
First published in serial form in a newspaper, it is divided into chapters which are letters generally focused around one topic such as gluttony or humility and gives advice on how to twist things that God has created in beauty and purity into something that will draw the patient away from God and onto sinful paths.
I am glad I read this book, but I didn’t enjoy it in the same way I would an entertaining mystery or a gentle romance. It is quite witty with tongue-in-cheek humor throughout. It challenged my mind and spirit as I tried to decipher C.S. Lewis’ message. Reading The Screwtape Letters is rather like looking into a mirror. Beware! As you see a reflection of yourself in some of the passages, you may be inspired to make changes in your own life that will result in your reflecting God’s image rather than the one Satan would appreciate. With much food for thought, The Screwtape Letters could be read and studied many times, especially over the course of a lifetime, deriving a new depth of meaning applicable to you personally with each reading.
Category: Christian, Fiction
Notes: C.S. Lewis was one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century. He is the noted author of many works of fiction and nonfiction including The Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity. The Screwtape Letters was originally published in 1942.
Publication: 1959—Macmillan Publishing Co.
All virtues are less formidable to us once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility. Catch him at the moment when he is really poor in spirit and smuggle into his mind the gratifying reflection, “By jove! I’m being humble,” and almost immediately pride—pride at his own humility—will appear.
Music and silence…how I detest them both!…Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile—Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires.
And since we cannot deceive the whole human race all the time, it is most important thus to cut every generation off from all others; for where learning makes a free commerce between the ages there is always the danger that the characteristic errors of one may be corrected by the characteristic truths of another.
by Denise Hunter
When an innkeeper desperate to fulfill his promise to his father to take care of his sisters is introduced to the world of glamorous movie stars and paparazzi, his own world is turned upside down. Levi Bennett tries to fix everything for everybody, but he takes on more than he can handle when he meets the gorgeous Mia Emerson retreating from heartbreak and a scandal.
Beautiful Bluebell, N.C., is the perfect place for Mia to recover with the sympathetic and discreet Bennett siblings taking up her cause. Romance is in the air for Levi and Mia as well as for Levi’s sister Molly who was the focus of the first book in the series. Just when things start to look up, there are realistic twists and turns that shake things up for the characters. But disasters and surprises can be part of God’s plan, and He can bring good out of them as the characters in Carolina Breeze by Denise Hunter, a clean romance with a bit of mystery, soon discover.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Notes: #2 in the Bluebell Inn Series, but works well as a standalone.
Publication: May 19, 2020—Thomas Nelson
Using people is wrong. Using their feelings against them is even worse.
It was time to get serious about her faith again. She was learning to let down her walls with people, but she needed to let God in too. Him, most of all.
The movie had been going on for a while, but her mind was on other things…All of it was tangled up in her head like last year’s Christmas lights.
Of Literature and Lattes
by Katherine Reay
I enjoyed Katherine Reay’s The Printed Letter Bookshop and was excited at the opportunity to read another book by this author—Of Literature and Lattes. This book is also a clean read dealing with real problems and is, in fact, a follow-up to the first book. I liked both novels, but I didn’t feel the second was as well organized or flowed as well as the first. In The Printed Letter Bookshop, the bookstore is almost another character as is Maddie, its former owner whose funeral initiates the action in the book. We depart from a focus on Maddie and her bookstore in Of Literature and Lattes where some characters continue with the focus on Janet who works at the bookshop and is rediscovering her artistic talent as well as trying to reconnect with her ex-husband, her daughter Alyssa, and her mother. That is a lot of reconciliation to accomplish!
Alyssa struggles when she discovers the success of her employer and his company are based on fraud, and she finds her only alternative is to return home. There she meets Jeremy, a new character who is also trying to start over both with a coffee shop he purchased and in his relationship with his seven-year-old daughter.
There are a lot of twists and turns as Alyssa tries to find employment. To her credit, she will take any job offered when she discovers no one in her field will hire her because she is under investigation by the FBI. Alyssa and Janet want to repair the long-term fracture in their mother-daughter relationship, but it is not simple. Meanwhile, Jeremy has difficulties with his ex-wife and his employees.
The storyline jumps around among the various characters and themes. The characters have to deal with ethical, moral, and legal issues and rely on the help of kind neighbors, family, and friends.
Although I found the first of the book to be a little disjointed, it came together as the story progressed. My favorite character is Becca, Jeremy’s young daughter. I enjoyed the novel, but did not make an emotional attachment to any of the characters. I assume there will be more books making it a series. Reay has written a number of fiction books based on her love of literature and especially the works of Jane Austin.
I received a complimentary copy of this book. Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.
Category: Romance, Women’s Fiction, Christian Fiction
Notes: 1. This book could be read as a standalone, but some of the characters’ relationships would be clearer if you read The Printed Letter Bookshop first.
2. I included this in the Christian Fiction category because the characters’ relationship to Christ is a background theme providing moral and relationship structure.
Publication: May 12, 2020—Thomas Nelson
What before she had regarded as instances of Alyssa’s ingratitude, obstinance, and petulance were recast in light of her own issues of control, manipulation, and anger.
Father Luke had been telling her for months that her problem was no longer asking others for forgiveness, but accepting it herself. “It’s an odd form of pride, you know,” he had said over coffee one day. “You decide you know better than God and make your own ruling.”
Yes, the “bad” in life bumped down the generations with discord and pain, causing breaks and tumult as well, but it could be healed. It could be made new and, perhaps, made stronger.
The Prayer Box
by Lisa Wingate
Decorated boxes and boxes of letters were stacked high in the closet of the old woman who had passed away. The letters told the story of a lifetime of racism, hardship, and misunderstanding contrasted with faith, generosity, and love. Tandi was at the end of her rope when she read these letters written by Iola to her Heavenly Father. They were a lifeline to this single mother trying to escape her past and build a new and better life in a tiny North Carolina coastal town where no one knew her or her dark secrets.
Befriended by kind townsfolk and absorbing the lessons of the letters, she learns how to trust others, herself, and God. The way is not easy, however, as she has always made poor relationship choices with men. She also needs to find a way to financially support herself and her children and establish a good mother-daughter relationship with a teenager who has been left in charge for much too long. Drug addiction born of a painful accident constitutes another hurdle for Tandi.
The sisterhood that welcomes Tandi at Sandy’s Seashell Shop is a delightful group of creative, caring, and wise women. Paul is an unlikely romantic interest, but extremely kind, likable, and reliable. Ross, Tandi’s boyfriend, is very self-centered and manipulative; he assigns Tandi’s children a low place on his metaphorical totem pole. Tandi’s sister, Gina, shows up unexpectedly to do what she does best—stir up trouble. As we get to know all of these characters, we are also watching the character of Iola unfold through the letters in her prayer boxes.
There are forces who want to destroy Iola’s old Victorian home. Some investors in the area are looking at profiting financially. Other locals feel like Iola had no right to the house. No one is aware of Iola’s generosity. In the midst of her own troubles, Tandi makes it her mission to save the house and and honor Iola’s memory. This is a big undertaking, but Tandi is learning to rely on an even bigger God.
Filled with images of water bubbling and flowing and lighthouses standing steadfast and firm, Lisa Wingate’s The Prayer Box tells a cross-generational tale. It is beautifully crafted both in the carefully selected words and in the plot that, through prayer letters of the past, weaves Tandi’s story with that of Iola; both are entrancing. This is a book I didn’t want to put aside to finish another I was reading. The Prayer Box won as I was quickly and thoroughly immersed in the plot, language, and characters.
Category: Women’s Fiction, Romance, Christian
Notes: 1. This is the first book in the Carolina Heirlooms Collection which is a series of three books united by setting, not characters.
2. The end of the book includes “A Note from the Author” and “Discussion Questions.”
Publication: August 16, 2013—Tyndale
He was wearing orange tennis shoes and red-flowered swim shorts, topped off with a lime-green Windbreaker with palm trees and lizards on it….All in all, he looked like he’d raided Jimmy Buffett’s closet and then gotten dressed in the dark.
It felt good to do something good for someone else. To add a few deep-fried droplets of kindness to the world. A little act of service. Is it possible that all service is worship? The words were still in my head.
After so many years of dysfunctional relationships that masqueraded as love, having someone offer real love and ask nothing for it in return was startling, sometimes too much to handle. I wasn’t sure I could trust it or was worthy of it.
Stay: Discovering Grace, Freedom, and Wholeness Where You Never Imagined Looking
by Anjuli Paschall
A spiritual journey is such a personal adventure. Anjuli Paschall shares hers in the book Stay. She also reaches out to other women encouraging them to lean into God through the irritations of daily life and the times of actual trauma and to stay with the pain of hard places because you’ll find God there. She suggests that, instead of building up walls of protection and withdrawing from the fray or working harder to force things to happen, we need to stay with Jesus and “drink life-giving water.” With intriguing chapter titles like “The Guard Shack: An Invitation to Make Mistakes” and “Old Spaghetti Factory: An Invitation to Hold On,” this book is filled with anecdotes and Paschall’s descriptions of how God led her to grow spiritually.
Paschal is a good writer and very effective at drawing the reader into her frame of mind as she navigates the various circumstances in her life. I highlighted many passages and agreed with most of the things she said. I am amazed at the number of turns in her life journey. She is the mother of five, wife of a pastor, photographer, founder of a social media site that helps other moms in truly desperate straits, and a spiritual counselor. Now add writer to that list.
Realizing that I am isolating statements that come from a rich context, I feel I must point out what I perceive to be a major conflict. Towards the end of the book, the author states “My one and only purpose in life is to be loved by God.” I disagree with that and she does too as earlier in the book she states: “We all have one calling. One deep, right, true, foundational calling in life—to love God and to love others.” That philosophy is found in the Bible in Matthew 22 in the New Testament and in Exodus 20 and Leviticus 19 in the Old Testament. Although, I have a few points of disagreement, in general I find this book to be refreshing in the author’s honesty and transparency. She doesn’t try to appear to have it all together. She shares her fears and vulnerabilities as she also shares her hopes and dreams. She encourages women to abandon shame over never being enough and stay the course resting and trusting in Jesus.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Bethany House for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: Christian, Self-Help
Notes: Discussion questions are included.
Publication: March 31, 2020—Bethany House
I’m learning to be okay with my mistakes. They don’t define me or determine my worth, but simply direct me to God.
I believe we all can be placeholders of heaven for others. We can create a seat at a table, offer a single cup of coffee, leave bread on a doorstep, or clear an hour in our schedule. God will continually bring us people who are desperately in need of home. If we can embrace each other’s differences, move toward the disabled, welcome the foreigner, laugh with a child, talk with the elderly, all kinds of heaven can burst open like a flower in bloom here on earth. Even the tiniest spaces can become a place for others to taste eternity.
No amount of getting, accomplishing, or achieving will ever satisfy the soul. The soul focused on gaining power, influence, and admiration will only grow hungrier.
The Jerusalem Assassin
by Joel C. Rosenberg
Not every book is a good match for every reader. I think that may have been the case for me and Joel C. Rosenberg’s The Jerusalem Assassin which is a Christian political thriller. Most of this book is the setup for a very convoluted assassination plot involving groups of high level leaders and secret operatives from seven countries as well as a terrorist group.
It becomes apparent to world leaders that the president of the Palestinian Authority “doesn’t want to go down in history as the man who made peace. He wants to be remembered as the man who refused to surrender to the ‘criminal Zionists’…” In response, the leaders of the United States, Saudi Arabia, and Israel decide to meet on the Temple Mount and announce a peace proposal. Unfortunately, that opens the door for a targeted attack on the leaders of those countries.
Without the included Cast of Characters, I would have been lost. Instead, I was able to follow plot development by continual back and forth referencing of unfamiliar names, slowing the reading down considerably. I can’t say I actually enjoyed the book until the final fourth when the action played out.
The main character is Marcus Ryker who is ostensibly working for the Diplomatic Security Service, but is actually a special operative for the Central Intelligence Agency. Highly trained, efficient, and trusted, he uses his many connections to obtain critical information. He is a caring Christian, but his job puts him and those he loves in danger. I learned a lot about the daily physical and weapon training for agents and also the complicated logistics involved in setting up security for a U.S. president for a special event abroad.
Although the scenario of world conflict and years of attempts at a Middle East peace settlement are real, the details of the book’s plot and the people involved are fictional providing the author with much flexibility in creating his story. The results are deadly for many of the characters.
I would like to extend my thanks to NetGalley and to Tyndale House Publishers for giving me the opportunity to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
Category: General Fiction (Adult), Mystery and Thriller
Notes: 1. #3 in the Marcus Ryker Series, but this book did not appear to rely on very much background from other books.
2. This author has written many books, both fiction and nonfiction, that focus on the Middle East.
Publication: March 17, 2020—Tyndale House Publishers
They were coming, and he knew they were coming, and he knew why—they were coming to kill him and to kill the president and to kill anyone else who got in their way. They were coming to settle scores.
…he and his son-in-law “must have undergone a Vulcan mind meld at some point, so unified are their views on theology and politics and even where in the Old City to buy the best baklava.”
Mahdi, the long-awaited Promised One…when that savior came, he would finally judge the Jews, the Christians, the atheists, the agnostics, and the pagans. Indeed, the Mahdi would judge every infidel and do so with fire and fury such as the world had never seen nor imagined.
In the Land of Blue Burqas
by Kate McCord
What would it be like to live in a country where the language, religion, and culture are extremely different from your own, a country like Afghanistan? Kate McCord raised support from friends and embarked on what was destined to be a five year adventure as a project manager, arranging for and supervising programs to help the local people. In the process, she found ways to interact within the cultural norms which, if violated, could result in penalties including physical abuse, expulsion, or execution.
Although she could not openly evangelize, she spent much time there having tea with women, and sometimes men, sharing stories to illustrate the teachings of the Honorable Jesus who is regarded as a prophet in Islam. Those stories included parables Jesus himself shared with His followers. In recounting tales they could relate to and by the way she lived her life, Kate was able to show her Muslim neighbors and friends a God who loves them, unlike Allah, who is never associated with love. Allah’s followers obey him according to the interpretations of the local mullah in a most legalistic fashion.
Kate spent time learning the language and culture. Led by the Holy Spirit, she developed culturally sensitive ways to share difficult concepts like the Trinity. She lived as an Afghan woman, learning clothing requirements and social rules such as where to sit on a bus and when to make eye contact. Clearly a foreigner with her own religion, she adapted their customs to her own in a way that respected both traditions. Kate faced challenges in deciding whom to help in the most culturally appropriate way and looked to the locals to ascertain their attitudes toward individuals seeking aid. Knowing she could not revolutionize a society in which none of her many female friends said their husband had never beaten them, she nevertheless planted seeds of generosity, good attitudes, and kindness which helped the women in their relationships as well as showed them a side of the Honorable Jesus that they did not know thus drawing them to Him.
In the Land of Blue Burqas is the canvas on which Kate McCord paints a remarkably positive picture of Afghanistan and its citizens in spite of their dislike of most foreigners and regardless of the many brutal aspects of their culture. I came away with a clearer understanding of why the country vehemently resists change and is so hostile to non-Muslims. I also emerge from this enlightening book grateful that I live in a country where I am free to choose to worship a loving God.
Category: Evangelism, Christian Missions
Notes: I had a difficult time choosing the memorable lines I wanted to share. Sound bites and even longer quotes don’t do this story justice. I urge you to read the book to get a more complete understanding. It is a fascinating read. It also stimulates me to want to read about how Islam plays out in other countries.
Publication: May 1, 2012—Moody Publishing
Still, my greatest fear in the country has always been that I would be kidnapped and sold to some warlord as a fourth or fifth wife, relegated to household and sexual slavery behind a twelve-foot, mud-brick wall and locked gate. Even the mildest stories of Afghan women’s lives haunt me.
Our very presence challenges the power of the mullahs and the worldview of our neighbors. It’s one thing to hate and reject the voiceless, faceless masses of pig-eating, alcohol-drinking sons of Satan from the other side of the world—mythic caricatures interpreted by the mullahs through history and religion.
But we Christian foreigners are flesh and blood with eyes and voices, laughter and tears, stories and faith. When Afghans meet us, see our lives, hear our stories, and recognize our humanness, conflicting worldviews collide. The safe box of well-defined ideological fortress-orthodoxy trembles, walls collapse, and doors open.
One Little Lie
by Colleen Coble
I didn’t know quite what to expect from Colleen Coble’s new series Pelican Harbor, so I dove into the first book wondering how the author would combine some mystery, a little thriller, and a bit of clean romance while incorporating a Christian viewpoint. Not that it couldn’t be done or hasn’t been done, but it is not my typical cozy mystery read. As it turns out, One Little Lie is a page turner. Its plot and characters have depth, and the threads occur on many levels. The reader has to wonder if they are parallel or will possibly collide making this a very intricate mystery indeed.
Jane Hardy is chosen to be the new Pelican Harbor Chief of Police after her father resigns. What was behind his leaving the force? Why is Reid Dixon, who makes documentaries, having conversations with Jane’s father? Reid has been granted approval by the mayor to follow Jane around. Besides the pressure of extra scrutiny on her first days as Police Chief, why does Reid’s presence make her uncomfortable? Several murders and kidnappings later, events ramp up to a high danger level for Jane and her K-9 officer and companion Parker. Who can Jane trust?
The prologue of this book is set fifteen years earlier during an attack on a cult. That event and the years prior cast a shadow and create devastating secrets for the characters in this book. As for the Christian viewpoint, some of the characters in the book trust in God and have a relationship with Him. Those characters have challenges in which they rely on God; other characters come to see that believing in God could impact their lives and choices in a positive way as they struggle to get past the lies others have told them. This book provides closure for many threads, but I feel there is more story to be told in Pelican Harbor, Alabama. I’m looking forward to the publication of Strands of Truth, the next book in the series, in September 2020.
Category: Mystery, Romance, Christian
Notes: 1. #1 in the Pelican Harbor Series
2. Discussion questions are included at the end of the book.
Publication: March 3, 2020—Thomas Nelson
Jane had no idea how much he was going to mess with her life. It had been a long time coming Retribution was an exciting word, one he’d rolled around and around in his head for years. It would be a freight train coming for the Hardys at full speed. None of them would understand his purpose until it was too late.
But if Olivia could face the horror of her future, surely Jane could face the past that couldn’t reach out and hurt her any longer.
She teetered on high heels and wore tight-fitting jeans and a top that showed off her curves. False advertising. A cute figure was never a substitute for a beautiful spirit.