Friday, March 30, 2012

Temptation, by Jay Adams

Recently, I was given the opportunity by P&R Publishing through NetGalley to read two new booklets that were published earlier this year in exchange of an honest review. I must say, I thought they were both fantastic, as you will see.

Temptation, by Jay Adams

Review: Ok, full disclosure: Jay Adams is one of my favorite authors (right up there with R.C. Sproul). I think he is a great lecturer, great writer and great teacher of Nouthetic counseling.
That said, on to "Temptation": As a Christian, we constantly struggle with one very important thing: lack of spiritual growth. We wake up each day, go about our lives, day after day, month after month, and suddenly we realize that we are spiritually stagnant, and inside it feels like a dry, arid desert. We don't grow in the Lord as we should and we become impatient, sad, and desperate to see changes in us and hoping that others can see great changes in us too. Dr. Adams offers great insight into what's really going on, why this happens and what we can do about it. So, what can you do about it? Dr. Adams explains that leaving behind our sinful ways is not enough, we must replace them with righteous ones (Col. 3:5–10), and that this process of is what leads to Christian growth.
This short booklet (30 pages or so) will lead you in examining your life, and getting to the core of your problem; in knowing what to do and and how to do it. It gives you hope in knowing that as you do your part in living righteously, God works wonderful things in your life, and you will see it. It's very well written, in simple terms; everything well explain, and to the point. Full of biblical truths, biblical approaches and practical solutions.

5 out of 5 stars

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

MOMumental: Adventures in the Messy Art of Raising a Family, by Jennifer Grant

Overview (from NetGalley): MOMumental is a foray into the enormously amusing, creative, and taxing process of raising a family and a starkly honest memoir that mothers everywhere can identify with. With narrative that is chock-full of humorous, poignant stories drawn from her everyday adventures as a mother and wife, Grant presents an entertaining and inspirational book that will give readers uncommon insights about being an intentional parent.

Review: First of all, what's great —no, wonderful— about this book: mothers everywhere will feel in good company. The book begins by confirming the fact that we, as mothers, all go through the same things: the same experiences, the same self-doubts, the same moments of exasperation, tiredness, and loneliness, and the same moments when we all think that we are the only ones who have a child misbehaving, disobeying, waking up at night, talking back... and well, you can fill in the blanks. It is a great book that offers solidarity and hope. "We all go through it" and "Don't worry, it gets better" are wonderful, encouraging phrases we need to hear, and the author not only tells us, but shows us, through her own experiences raising her 4 children, that this is true. That just because your toddler laughs when somebody falls down doesn't mean he or she will grow up to be an insensitive adult, or just because your toddler lies to you today doesn't mean he or she will grow up to be a pathological liar. That is great. You've probably heard it before, but in this book you will see proof of it, great examples, stories, that will definitely put your mind at ease. It's like talking to a good friend, sharing your doubts and worries with a friend who has gone through it and can offer you advice.
However, I thought that, although the book was certainly funny at times, it wasn't as funny as the author and her editors thought it would be. You know how it is when you tell a cute, funny story about your kid only to realize midway through that maybe it was funny to you because it's your kid? Or that maybe you had to be there to really "get it"? That's exactly how I felt when reading some of her stories. Sometimes it felt like walking in on an inside joke. Also, I thought it was too long, a few chapters too long, which made it repetitive.
But all in all, it is a good parenting book, with good advice and personal stories. I did not agree with quite a few things, but those things and approaches I agreed with will be put to the test with my son soon enough.

3 out of 5 stars

*I received a copy of this book from Worthy Publishing through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Gone to Ground, by Brandilyn Collins

Overview (from NetGalley): Amaryllis, Mississippi: In the past three years five unsolved murders have occurred within the town. All the victims were women, and all were killed in similar fashion in their own homes. And just two nights ago-a sixth murder.

Clearly a killer lives among the good citizens of Amaryllis. And now three terrified women are sure they know who he is-someone they love. None is aware of the others' suspicions. And each must make the heartrending choice to bring the killer down. But each woman suspects a different man.

Review:  Really, really good. The story is told from three different points of views, from three different, terrified ladies who each has a different suspect for the same horrible crimes committed in the span of three years within the small community of Amaryllis. And each women suspects someone who is very close to her. Like these three ladies, you will be certain from the beginning about the identity of the killer, and you will constantly change your mind, and go back to start, and then think it over and realize that no, the killer is this other guy, but then, wait a second, no, no, no, it's the third guy, and you will second guess yourself every step of the way. Which makes for a really good reading experience; entertaining and exciting.
The lead characters' voices are very well written and defined. The story is nicely told, with enough action, mystery and anticipation. It's not perfect, though. You will know, just know in the nick of time who the murderer really is; you will guess it, and you will instantly know why this person did it, but it doesn't take away from the experience. And I think the novel should have ended before it did. The last chapter was unnecessary; just adding one or two paragraphs once everything was resolved would have been enough.
But it still is a very good mystery with great twists and turns. Keep in mind that, yes, there is a serial killer on the loose, but this story is not gruesome or horrifying. The crimes are not too detailed, so it's not unpleasant or offensive.
4 1/2 stars out of 5

*I received a copy of this book from B&H Publishing Group through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Falling to Pieces: A Quilt Shop Murder, by Vannetta Chapman

Overview (from Goodreads): When two women—one Amish, one English—each with different motives, join forces to organize a successful on-line quilt auction, neither expects nor wants a friendship. As different as night and day, Deborah and Callie are uneasy partners who simply want to make the best of a temporary situation. But a murder, a surprising prime suspect, a stubborn detective, and the town's reaction throw the two women together, and they form an unlikely alliance to solve a mystery and catch a killer.

Review: Oh, this is a very intriguing mystery. Mrs. Chapman does a wonderful job of combining Amish and English life, presenting both equally and in a true to life form, and mixing it up with murder. She really is a very skilled writer. Callie is a character that almost anyone can relate with, and Deborah is the one you wish you could be more like. Although you will know the murder victim since the beginning, you will not guess who or why. And let me tell you: I thought the book was very well written, with a nice and slow pace, with enough time to get to know the characters (most of them, anyway) and their motivations, with enough descriptions to get a real sense of the place; never boring, but you're always anticipating, with this cannot-wait expectation of WHO and WHAT is he looking for and WHY, my goodness, WHY?! And then, with all this tension, anxiety and desperation built up, you get to the climatic scene that does not disappoint in any way and there you are: expectant, trying to figure it out, to make sense for yourself... Don't bother; just enjoy the ride, loose yourself in the drama and mystery, and be advised: it is impossible to outsmart this novel. You will not guess it, but you will like it.
The motive behind everything is the only thing that left me, I don't know... kind of wanting something else, wishing it was for a more fantastic reason. But Mrs. Chapman is clear from the beginning: this is set in today's world, with today's worries, and complications. So don't expect a mysterious reason or surprise in the end. Like I said before, it is true to life.
Something I liked but also disliked? The love interests for Callie, only because I have my heart set on one specific law enforcement officer and I sense that Callie is not headed in that direction... *sigh*
There are a few loose strings, which I figure will be covered in the sequel, A Perfect Square, that came out this month. So read up and enjoy, but, fair warning, you would most likely want to buy the sequel.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Good times of parenting

Raising a 2 year old is definitely challenging and stressful. While it's true that my husband and I spend every available moment together with our son and we enjoy it and wouldn't change that for anything, and we think our son is the most precious, wonderful and beautiful boy, it's also true that he is stubborn, willful and quite often disobeys. Now, Ian is very bright (like the kids his age are nowadays, as you may have notice), so he understands very well what we say to him and what we mean when we tell him not to do something, but he goes out of his way to do it anyway. He sometimes even calls me, and when I look at him, he brazenly does exactly what I just told him not to do, challenging me and my orders. What are we, as parents, supposed to do? Laugh it up? Dismiss it as part of the "terrible twos" phase? Discipline him?
We choose to discipline, but to do it right. I mean, if I'm being sincere I have to admit that sometimes we fail, sometimes we let our exhaustion (from work, house shores, etc) get the better of us and one of two things happen: 1) we give up and let him do whatever it is he wants (terrible, I know) or 2) we over-scold him (terrible, awful, yes I know). "But he is only 2!", you find yourself screaming at your computer trying to get through to me, to insist that he is a child acting like a normal child. And yes, he is. But no, we should not dismiss this "normal" behavior as "just a child being a child". What happens when he hits us in public (he doesn't, just an example of what he is capable of doing)? Or spits? Or yells at us? Or throws a tantrum? If he is capable of understanding us, he is capable of following our simple order which is to "do as mommy or daddy says".
Now, what goes through his mind when he disobeys? Exactly what goes through ours when we do the same thing: he is putting his needs or wants first. And there are two great books that can help deal with that:

Shepherding a Child's Heart, by Tedd Tripp
Don't Make Me Count to Three, by Ginger Plowman

Both books will give you sound, biblical advice on how to raise your children, but it doesn't mean that you have to follow literally what they say. This is a problem I see whenever I read the reviews for this type of books. No, you will not necessarily agree with everything, but you do take away lots of great things, great insight and very good advice. We don't follow what these books say literally, but we have now a better understanding of what goes on in Ian's mind when he disobeys and what are good, biblical ways to approach this.
So what will we do the next time Ian goes out of his way to do whatever he wants and knows it's wrong? (Bear in mind, this will happen any second now.) We will make sure he understands his wrongdoing, reprimand him and love him even more. That's what makes parenting such a good time to have with your child.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

An Amish Family Reunion, by Mary Ellis

Overview (from NetGalley): During a rumschpringe visit to Niagara Falls, Phoebe Miller meets Eli Riehl, a young man who charms her—and everyone else—with his exceptional storytelling ability. When Phoebe sketches scenes to illustrate one of his tales, Eli encourages her incredible talent, and together they embark on a lofty and unlikely business venture for two young Amish people—writing and illustrating a children’s book.
Can their love for a good story develop into something that lasts forever, or will Phoebe’s deep-seated fear of desertion stand in their way? 

Review: This book is part of a series, which I did not know, but it can stand alone. However, be advised that there are a lot of characters and, if you haven't read the previous books, it might be a bit confusing at times. But, although that can be a little distracting, it doesn't take away from the enjoyment of this nicely written book.
There are many themes woven together like a fine quilt: marital problems due to lack of effective communication, loneliness, fear, jealousy, among others. But aside form the many themes and the many characters, Phoebe and Eli emerge as the true leads in the story. She is a girl who keeps to herself, loves to be alone with her thoughts and her tablet to paint, but at the same time, she longs for something more, something more exciting, a new inspiration for her paintings.
And along comes Eli, whom I loved. He is unique; very outspoken, well read (something apparently not too Amish like) and somewhat fearless. He has big dreams, and Phoebe starts dreaming with him. The two are made for each other. And you wish to know more, to dig deeper into their relationship, but this is where the story is lacking. The reader is left wanting more, and not in a good way. We see Phoebe meet Eli (the Niagara Falls part is really good), and it's obvious they like each other, but then, instead of watching their story develop, we cut to Leah, and then Mathew, and later on Emma, and a few characters later we go back to Phoebe and Eli but already a few weeks have gone by. And this presents a problem because as you get interested in one story, the author cuts to a different one. And I understand that this novel is about the family per se, but when the selling point is Phoebe and Eli's story, and it certainly is a cute and sweet story, then the reader needs to spend more time with them, and it would have been better if the author cut back a little bit on the others, so not only we could see more of Phoebe and Eli, but we could understand better their thought process, their feelings and their decisions.
That said, the fact is that it is a good, enjoyable novel that in the end celebrates the importance of family and remaining close no matter the distance.
3 1/2 stars out of 5

*I received a copy of this book from Harvest House Publishers through NetGalley in exchange of an honest review.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Joy of Calvinism, by Greg Forster

Overview (from NetGalley): The Bible’s command to “rejoice continually” seems impossible and, frankly, unreasonable. Yet despite the apparent difficulty in fulfilling this commandment, Gregory Forster argues that Calvinism holds the key—namely that “real Calvinism is all about joy.”
Forster passionately holds to this belief, and systematically demonstrates it by addressing popular misconceptions of what Calvinism is and is not. Dismantling negative expressions of Calvinist theology, Forster positively reiterates its fundamental tenents, showing how God’s love is the driving force behind every facet of Calvin’s doctrine of salvation.
Written accessibly, The Joy of Calvinism is an important addition to the conversation surrounding Calvinism and its advocates. Skeptics and those who have had negative perceptions of Calvinism, as well as Calvinists themselves, will find this a helpful resource for clearing up the controversies and grasping the winsomeness of the doctrines of grace.
Review: I was very excited to read this book. I had the opportunity of obtaining a copy from Crossway through NetGalley for reviewing purposes; not in exchange of a good review, but in exchange of an honest review. As a reformed Christian, I was very happy to see a book like this being published. And I must say I was very pleased. Forster does a great job of almost reinventing the "5 points of Calvinism". Distancing himself from what Calvinism denies, he explains what Calvinism celebrates, the joy behind knowing and understanding that God is really, actually, and actively in control of everything; that all he has done and does has a purpose, a reason behind it; that nothing that ever happens is by chance.
Forster's take on the 5 points is refreshing, and uplifting, centering on God's personal love for His people and how this love defines everything else for Him and for those whom He calls. This book is mostly aimed at reformed Christian (or Calvinist, a term I really don't like), but it really is essential for every one who wants a better understanding on this small part of the reformed faith, as well as skeptics and naysayers.
Although I think it's a great book, it does have a few flaws: an Introduction that could've been (if edited correctly) the first chapter; a "Detour" that (again, if edited correctly) would've been a great Introduction; and a few times when, trying to explain something more simply, the author ends up confusing the reader, only to have one more paragraph where it all comes clear again.
Those few misses aside, this book is a great tool for new believers, Bible school teachers and church leaders in reformed or Calvinists churches.
Finally, a quote from the book that I thinks sums it up perfectly: "Joy is not an emotion. Joy is a settled certainty that God is in control." It really is.
4 out of 5 starts

Friday, March 2, 2012

Spotlight on Author Vannetta Chapman and a new contest!

Vannetta Chapman (A Simple Amish Christmas, ) is a wonderfully gifted writer. Her love of God and the Amish comes through in every page, in every well thought out detail and description. The second book in her Shipshewana Amish Mystery, ,will be out on March 31, 2012, ad it's sure to be a great read. Also out later this year: . Take note, because this is Amish fiction at its best.
Now, today Mrs. Chapman posted a new Fan Fiction Contest on her Facebook page with weekly prizes and a final grand prize of a Kindle Fire loaded with great Amish fiction from her and other authors. Be sure to check this out because it's a fun, creative contest that will keep you excited and very interested right until The End.
Here's the link:
Have fun, enjoy, and happy reading and writing!