Book Reviews

Fully Alive - A Journey that Will Change Your Life 
by Ken Davis

There certainly isn’t a shortage of inspiring self-motivational books on the market.  That said, however, this particular book by Ken Davis is one that would be a great pick for a beginning self-help reader.  All the important facets of motivation are introduced as Mr. Davis retells his own journey of change from an over-weight couch potato to a much leaner man of action.  He has actually walked his talk.  And he tells his “talk” with clarity and a healthy dose of good humor, making for a particularly enjoyable read.   

For anyone looking for some common sense encouragement as they face their own personal challenges, I would recommend Fully Alive by Ken Davis. 


Unsinkable: A Young Woman's Courageous Battle on the High Seas
By Abby Sunderland and Lynn Vincent. 

While this most certainly was a challenging and exciting voyage – deemed successful or not - the writing did little to convey that impression.  As much as I wanted to live the adventure through Abby, it was difficult to muster much emotion – or to finish the  book.

That said, simply accepting the challenge of such a feat is admirable – and enviable - for someone with little courage for such adventure.  It was for this reason that I chose to read her story; to learn more of the kind of person who attempts such daring feats and at such a tender age.  And especially to learn how her faith factored into her journey.

The story of Abby Sunderland is inspiring; unfortunately the book itself was not.  In the hands of a better co-writer, it could have been a real high-seas adventure.


Shiny Sequin Bible
International Children's Bible (ICB)
Thomas Nelson Publishers

First of all this Bible comes in a nice sturdy  decorated box which makes it especially nice for gift giving.  The Bible itself is fun, colorful and three dimensional with glittery hearts and flowers embellishments on the front.  I can’t imagine any little girl not loving this delightful children’s Bible.  Even my thirteen year old granddaughter remarked, “Cool!” when I showed it to her.

The version of this Bible is the International Children’s Bible (ICB Version) and is perfect for a younger child.  The Bible reads more in story form making it more easily understood.  (Even a novice adult Bible reader might like this as a first version to read.)

Additionally, in the back of the Bible is a Dictionary section where not only terms and items defined but also names of people, such as “Abraham (AY-brah-ham) was the most respected man in the Jewish nation.  The Jews called him ‘father Abraham.’  He was known for his great faith.

And beyond that section is one entitled, “Memory Verses for my Life”; a section of familiar Bible Verses for memorizing.

This is a Children’s Bible I would purchase myself for a special little girl.  And I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to others as well.


The Liturgical Year
The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life
by Joan Chittister

This book was a disappointment for me. I am a Lutheran; I grew up in the Lutheran Church and thus have a basic understanding of liturgy. But as a follower of Martin Luther, liturgy has played a much less significant role in my spiritual and worship life as compared to someone of the Catholic faith. It was for this reason that I chose this book. I wanted to have a better understanding of the Christian liturgical year. I wanted to learn the deeper meanings and historical significance of events in the life of Jesus and how -through liturgy - these are reflected in worship. To that end, this book failed in my opinion.

Instead of historical significance and deeper meanings the reader is given the standard Christian platitudes. For example, Chittister writes in her chapter on the Christmas season: “Christmas is not meant to leave us with nothing more than a child’s perception of what it means to see a baby in a manger scene. It is meant to take us to the level of spiritual maturity where we are capable of seeing in a manger the meaning of an empty tomb. It is meant to enable us to see through the dark days of life to the stars beyond them.” As my Granddaughter would say, “Well duh!”

Martin Luther wrote in a sermon long ago, “Do you think that God wants to be served with the sound of bells, the smoke of candles and such fancies? He has commanded none of these…” I wanted a solid rebuttal of his asssertion. Unfortunately it was not to be found in this book.

A better title of the book might be, “An introduction to the Church Calendar”. And titled as such, it would be an excellent resource.

I was given a copy of Joan Chittister’s The Liturgical Year by Thomas Nelson Publishers through in exchange for my honest review. This opinion is wholly mine.


The American Patriot’s AlmanacDaily Readings on America by William J. Bennett and John T.E. Cribb.

I love this book! Besides being a very attractive book, visually, it’s a very interesting – and fun - way to get a daily dose of American history. Each day of the year is allotted one page. One half of the page is a paragraph or two about a specific event falling on this calendar day. The page then continues with four to five quick facts about this day in history.

For example on November 29th these are two of the facts recorded:
  • “1853 In late fall, Harriet Tubman is engaged in a mission to rescue nine slaves from Maryland and conduct them north to Canada.”
  • “1890 The first Army-Navy football game is played at West Point. (Navy wins 24-0"

Additionally, between each month is an added section of historical information offering such topics as “Amendments to the Constitution”, “Fifty American Quotes” and “Faith and Founders”.

The American Patriot’s Almanac would be an interesting book to own as well as one that would make a perfect gift.  It's one that could be read and re-read offering an ample taste of our country’s rich and colorful history – one day at a time - in an easy to read format. This is a five star work in my book!


Lee, A life of Virtue, by John Perry was a quick and easy yet very informative read.  The narrative moved along at a good pace with few frills or flourishes; just solid information - and some photos - on which to base your own impression of the man, Robert E. Lee.  While it was in no way a mesmerizing page turner chock full of detail,  it was, none the less, an excellent account of Lee’s life.  I would definitely recommend it for the casual historian or the history student.

A typical excerpt: 

“On April 19, Virginia seceded from the United States but didn’t join the Confederacy.  Hearing the news, Lee remarked, ‘I must say that I am one of those dull creatures that cannot see the good of secession.’  That afternoon Lee walked for a long time in the rose garden at Arlington and paced around the house.  Friends had gathered to discuss secession, but early in the evening Lee left his wife to entertain them and went up to his room.  For hours, until all the guests were gone, Mary heard her husband pacing upstairs, dropping several times to his knees in prayer.” (page 118)

I enjoyed the book and would not hesitate to read others in this Generals series.

I was given a copy of Lee, A Man of Virtue by Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for my honest review. This opinion is entirely mine and mine alone.


Angel Song by Sheila Walsh and Kathryn Cushman

The story of an Angel's Song - a beautiful, haunting melody and the spiritual mystery surrounding it - held so much promise. And because of that, I chose this book to read. However the authors fell exceedingly short in their fictional creation. Flat- very flat - is how I would describe this book; both in mechanics and substance.

The characters were thin and trite. The stranger encountered on an airplane was predictably handsome with a "dazzling smile, complete with dimple on his left cheek". The boss, heartless and uncaring; concerned only with business and profit. There was no flow to the dialogue, nor rhythm to the pace. Given this creative environment, it is not surprising that the plot of the story went virtually undeveloped and almost completely lost.

I did not care for this book at all and struggled to finish it. The idea holds so much promise; yet so little was delivered. Two stars is a stretch. 


Cast of Characters by Max Lucado
Common people in the Hands of an Uncommon God.

Maybe it’s because I just finished reading the in-depth study of Esther written by Charles Swindoll and was expecting the same from Max Lucado, but I didn’t care for this book.

The premise is an excellent one; God uses all types of “characters” to achieve His purpose; people who run the gamut of personality and persuasion. And telling the stories of those in the Bible – with their less-than-stellar character as a focus - can certainly be helpful. But it seemed that Lucado thought he needed to show what a hip character he was in order to authentically tell these stories. And it was that perspective that I didn’t care for. Instead of a solid analysis, the reader was given a little tap dance through the bible.

For example Esther 5:2 reads in my Bible: “When the king saw Queen Esther standing in the courtyard, he was pleased.” 

Lucado’s translation? “When the king saw Queen Esther standing in the courtyard he said, ‘a-hubba-hubba-hubba.’”

And in writing about Paul, he wrote: “Spoke to an emperor once, but couldn’t convert him. Gave a lecture at an Areopagus men’s club, but wasn’t asked to speak there again. Spent a few days with Peter and the boys in Jerusalem, but they couldn’t seem to get along, so Paul hit the road.”

This cool-guy writing style made it difficult for me to find the gold in this book.


The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews

While this wasn’t a can’t-put-down spell binding page turner, I did enjoy this book. The historical account of the Nazi presence so near America’s shores during WWII was very interesting. That information alone was enough for me to judge this book worthy of reading.

And the story of the crossed paths of a widow, whose husband was killed by the war, and a badly injured German soldier added a unique human dilemma to this historical tale and proved interesting enough to hold my attention to the end.

However, Andrew’s writing style was neither imaginative nor creative enough for me. I like to be carried away by the writing and that wasn’t even close to happening in this book.  Fortunately the story rose above the mediocre narrative.

On historical interest and personal drama I would give this book five stars; however the storytelling rated only three in my opinion. Therefore, I rate The Heart Mender  four stars.


Plan B by Pete Wilson
What do you do when God doesn’t show up the way you thought He would?

This isn’t a revolutionary question nor is this book a revolutionary answer to this question. But what this book is, is a wonderfully written guide to understanding just what it means biblically and spiritually to be in a Plan B.

Through the use of beautifully told, yet carefully examined Bible stories, Wilson helps us see how even the most heartbreaking or devasting events (our Plan Bs) can be used by God to bring about a deep transformation in our lives. This isn’t a rose-colored-glasses look at our Plan Bs; no, Wilson repeatedly reminds us that there are no easy answers or explanations to our problems. But he does clearly lay out the promises that God makes available to us if we chose to stay in him during the inevitable dark times. And it is these promises – which Wilson supports with ample biblical references - that will bring about spiritual transformation.

Wilson writes, “There is an undeniable relationship between crisis and hope. Between waiting hopefully and being transformed. Between Plan B and the glory of God.”

This book is an excellent place to begin to get hold of a deeper understanding of what that means. I, without any reservation, give this book five solid gold stars! It will be one I go back to again and again.


If I Could Ask God Anything awesome Bible Answers for curious kids by Kathryn Slattery

I approached this book with high expectations. How “awesome” to have help explaining some of the challenging questions kids ask about God; help that would go beyond the happy-face but thin responses we so often offer kids. “…the perfect resource for children, parents and Bible teachers” the cover said.  This is the promise I held as I began this book.

Unfortunately, the promise went unfulfilled. While the questions were many and varied - from “Does God Ever Sleep?” to “Is the Holy Ghost Really a Ghost?” – the answers were right out of any basic Christian Sunday School class curriculum. There was nothing wrong with Slattery’s answers; they just weren’t the step beyond answers I was hoping to find.

For example, the question, “Did Jesus Really Feed Five Thousand People with Five Loaves of Bread and Two Fish?” was answered this way:

“Yes, Jesus really did feed five thousand men, plus women and children, with only five loaves of bread and two fish. He took the loaves and fish, looked up to heaven, and thanked God for what they had – even though it didn’t seem to be enough. Then Jesus broke the loaves. When the people had finished eating and were full, the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over (Matthew 14:13-21)!

God may not always give you what you want. But you can trust that God will always give you what you need.

That is the biblical account, for sure; it’s the one kids usually hear - complete with a Bible reference. And for some, that answer might be enough. But I was hoping for more; something that would go beyond simply repeating the basic story as most Sunday School books do.  Thus, I would rate it as a fairly standard resource or three stars.

I was given a copy of If I Could Ask God Anything by Kathryn Slattery by Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for my honest review. This opinion is wholly mine.


The Sacred Journey by Charles Foster

According to Charles Foster, “A pilgrimage is a journey to the ultimate otherness.” It is not an easy journey; it should stretch us physically, mentally and spiritually. But the good news is, he tells us, we are inherently designed to be pilgrims. Through scripture, historical accounts and his own pilgrimages, Foster makes the case that God created us to journey, not settle. And it is through these sacred journeys that we reach the ultimate God experience.

The book moved at a good and interesting pace and I liked it from the very start, even though early on I felt I was being told that not only did I need to get out of my comfortable church pew and begin to walk, but I needed to walk in places such as the Holy Land and Mecca in order to reach my epiphany. Fortunately, the message eventually emerged that this was not the case. “Above all, do not let anyone, least of all the writer of a book on pilgrimage, tell you where to go. It is nothing to do with anyone else.”

In addition to scripture, Foster includes a goodly amount of theological and mystical stuff that can be accepted or discarded, but ultimately have little bearing on his message, which is this: If you want to stretch yourself beyond your religious comfort zone and meet God on the mountain top, then plan a pilgrimage, a sacred journey all your own. And then go. Which is what I now feel inspired to do.