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Monday, December 8, 2014

God's Sovereignty and Man's Free Will

Randy Alcorn addresses the difficult question of is it possible to reconcile God's sovereignty with man's freedom to choose. In this thorough discussion of this topic, the author presents both sides, many times finding more common ground than differences. The use of diagrams and charts helped to illustrate the discussion and see the differences that may exist.

The study of this topic is designed by the author for the following reasons:
1 - To develop a deeper appreciation for God and his Word which reveals him to use
2 - To help us mirror Christ's humility
3 - To embrace all of God's inspired Word, not just parts of it
4 - To foster unity in the body of Christ
5 - To avoid fatalism and crushing guilt
6 - To prevent us from becoming trivial people in a shallow age

This book would be for those who are serious about this topic and want to see both sides presently fairly. There are questions in the back of the book for a small group study.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Lizzy and Jane by Katherine Reay

Being a Jane Austen fan, I am always on the look out to find and read anything that is along the lines of a Jane Austen book. I have read many updated versions and so called sequels of her novels. Some are good and some not so good. So when I saw his book, "Lizzy and Jane" I immediately picked it up. I thought it would be a modern take on Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice," but it is not that at all.

There are many references and quotes from the works of Jane Austen, but the book is about complex family relationships, grief, and cancer. Lizzy was a senior in high school when her mother died of breast cancer. Jane was eight years older and newly married living out of the country. Each of them dealt with their grief in different ways causing deep rifts in their relationship and a strained relationship with their father. Fast forward 18 years and Jane is dealing with treatment for her own diagnosis of breast cancer and Lizzy is a chef in New York who has lost her creative edge. Lizzy takes a leave from her job and flies to the west coast to help out with Jane and her family.

What happens next involves the love of food and literature, the painful work of piecing together shattered dreams and hopes and the difficult work of working through grief, pain and loss. Throughout the book, the difficult descriptions of the reality of cancer treatment is balanced with cooking and the enjoyment of food. At times the pain was real and raw, but you witnessed the characters moving forward in working through some challenging issues. And through it all there was a thread of hope and joy that even the most difficult circumstances could not extinguish.

I also enjoyed Katherine Reay's first book, "Dear Mr. Knightley" and look forward to more books by this author.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

C.S. Lewis - A Life: Eccentric Genius, Reluctant Prophet by Alister McGrath

In honor of the 50th anniversary of the death of C.S. Lewis, Alistair McGrath, a professor at King's College, presents a compelling look at his life. This thoroughly researched biography takes a chronological and objective view of C. S. Lewis. Drawing on correspondence and archival material in his research, the author gives us a new view of Lewis' life.

The background of the writing of the Narnia and other works of fiction and non fiction by C.S. Lewis makes for fascinating reading. For example, I was interested to learn about why Aslan is the name for the lion in the Narnia chronicles. McGrath explains this along with other interesting information.

All in all, I think this is one of the best biographies I have ever read. It is so thoroughly researched and the insight into the creative writing of C.S. Lewis was engaging. I felt that it was a portrayal of the man as well as his work that was both factual but written in such a way to make it enjoyable reading.

Monday, November 10, 2014

The 13th Gift by Joanne Huist Smith

As Christmas was approaching, Joanne Huist Smith was not looking forward to celebrating the season. Following the unexpected death of her husband, she was still dealing with anger and grief. As she struggles to work and keep her family going in spite of her pain, an unexpected gift arrives on her doorstep 13 days before Christmas. Each day following that day, another gift arrived with a note with lyrics to "The Twelve Days of Christmas." The note was signed from "Your True Friends."

As Joanne and her children try to find out the identity of the mysterious gift giver, they discover something else in the mean time - healing for their broken hearts. The gifts draw them closer to each other and they begin to celebrate the season in the spirit of kindness and giving back to others.

This heart warming true story is an illustration of how hope can come out of devastating grief and pain and how the gift of kindness can be passed on. It is an honest, painful and hopeful story of a real Christmas miracle.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

As One Devil To Another by Richard Platt

If you enjoyed C.S. Lewis's Screwtape Letters, you will enjoy this book. The book consists mainly of the correspondence of senior devil, Slashreap to his young protégé, Scardagger. The intent of Slashreap's letters are to coach Scardagger on winning a soul away from Heaven and into their clutches. The contemporary issues of technology and morality come into play as Slashreap encourages Scardagger. The timeless issues of the power of prayer, the problem of suffering and the promises held out by Heaven and Hell are also addressed.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and thought the writing was excellent. Foremost C.S. Lewis authority Walter Hooper calls it "a stunning achievement, the finest example of the genre of diabolical correspondence to appear since this genre was popularized by C.S. Lewis." I whole heartedly agree!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Ask It by Andy Stanley

Everyday we face questions about what we should do. Andy Stanley proposes in the book "Ask It" that there really is only one question we need to ask to help us answer all the other questions we face. It may not be as simple as that, but he does offer some helpful suggestions that one needs to consider when makes decisions.

First of all every choice needs to be examined in the light of "Is this the wise thing to do?" Instead of "How close can I get to sinning without sinning" in making this decision. Being honest with yourself is essential to begin with as well as examining the choice in light of your past experiences, your present circumstances and future hopes and dreams. Along with being honest with yourself, prayer, reading God's Word and getting godly counsel, these guidelines will be helpful in determining that choices you make in life will be good ones.

In making wise choices we need to understand who God is and who we are not. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10). All in all this book contained helpful guidelines and illustrations to aid in decision making. There is a study guide at the back of the book which would be helpful for individual or group study.

Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Keepers of the Covenant by Lynn Austin

"Keepers of the Covenant" by Lynn Austin is the second book in the Restoration Chronicles which focuses on the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah. No one does Biblical fiction better than Lynn Austin! She does an excellent job of bringing the people of the Old Testament to life, both the Jews and the Gentiles during the time of the exiled Jews in Babylon.

A decree is issued from the king's palace calling for the killing of every Jewish man, woman and child throughout the empire in a year's time. This decree and the situation behind it is detailed in the book of Esther. Faced with this threat, a quiet but intelligent scholar, Ezra is forced into a position of leadership of his fellow Jews during this time of crisis.

You understand the fear of the Jewish people and the threat facing them by their Gentile neighbors. Their stories both of the Jewish and Gentile people are intertwined as the events unfold. There are stories of despair and doubt countered with those of faith and hope. Ultimately, God's great love for His people who trust in Him is what comes to light throughout this story. I highly recommend this book for a look into the lives of the Israelites during this time. It will inform and encourage readers in their journey of faith.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Be the Message by Kerry and Chris Shook

"Be the Message" is a book that is both thought provoking and practical. Instead of just talking about the Christian faith, Kerry and Chris Shook demonstrate how to effectively live out that faith. It is not doing good works only, but allowing our faith in Christ along with the power of the Holy Spirit, to come alive in our thoughts, words and deeds. This book books challenges all of us as Christians to actively live out what we say we believe.

This book is divided into sections including Transforming your words into a life message; Discovering your unique life message; Understanding the message that confounds the world and Taking your life message to the world around you. After each chapter there are suggestions for Bible study and prayer as well as specific actions to take. This is a book that I will spend some time re-reading and working through each chapter. This would make a great individual or group study.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking by Anya Von Bremzen

"Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking" is a memoir spanning three generations and the history of Russia over a century which includes famine, food and family. Each chapter represents a decade of Russian history as well as the food of that particular decade. This quote at the beginning of the book sets the tone for it: "Food, as one academic has noted, defined how Russians endured the present, imagined the future, and connected to their past." The type of food described in the decades of Russian history and the family memories it evokes, makes for interesting reading.

The author and her mother came to the United States in 1974 and share their recollections of their life in Russia and then later when they go back to visit. But in spite of all the hardships of the Russian people including the author and her mother, their food survived along with the meaning of family.

This book was not as much about food as I thought it would be. There are some recipes included in the back of the book though. It does, however, give a fascinating look at the life and times in the former Soviet Union and even in present day Russia.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar

I really enjoyed "The Story Hour" and thought the author's way of telling this story was compelling. I felt as though I really understood the thoughts and feelings of the characters and could not put the book down. For some there may be some language or scenes that may be offensive, but there are few incidences.

Lakshmi is an immigrant from India caught in a loveless and lonely marriage and is carrying a lot of guilt and shame. She finally reaches a breaking point and attempts suicide which lands her in the hospital. There she meets a psychologist named Maggie who is assigned to her case and also happens to be married to an Indian man. An unlikely friendship develops between uneducated Indian immigrant Lakshmi and well educated African American Maggie. They both are carrying secrets which if shared could destroy their trust in each other and in their marriages.

I really don't want to say any more about the plot because it may spoil it for the reader. I will say that what I was reminded of is at what lengths we go to at times to justify our own behavior even when it is harmful to us and to someone else. You see one character comes to terms with her past and move forward while another continues to believe that she can do what she wants and not suffer any consequences. It was a very thought provoking book and filled with a promise of hope.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman

"A Man Called Ove" by Swedish author, Fredrik Backman is a delightful read. I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Ove is the grumpy neighbor you try to avoid. He see things in black and white, right and wrong and is inflexible to say the least. His world is turned upside down when a lively family moves in next door to him and things begin to change.

Ove's wife, Sonja, seemed to be the one person that understood Ove over the 40 years they were together. Since her death, Ove in a sense has also died and given up on any chance of happiness. He plans to take his life, but circumstances keep intervening to keep him from carrying out his plan. You get to meet a number of the neighbors including Jimmy who grew up next door, Rune suffering from Alzheimer's disease along with Rune's wife Anita and Parvaneh, an Iranian woman to name a few.

Along the way you get glimpses into Ove's past to see why he is the way he is. As he allows himself to respond to the care of his neighbors, Ove begins to change. This is a heart warming story. I laughed and cried while reading it. It is a testament to power of reaching out to people in our lives who may be difficult. No one is beyond hope and no one is beyond redemption. It is a good reminder for all of us.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Shades of Mercy by Anita Lustrea & Caryn Rivadeneira

"Shades of Mercy" is a coming of age tale centered on Mercy, a fifteen year old girl, growing up on a farm in the Northwoods of Maine in the 1950's. In the Northwoods, there is a tribe of Maliseet people who are relegated to shacks near the town's dump. Mercy is in love with Mick, a Maliseet teenager. Racial tensions escalate when one of the town girls elopes with a Maliseet young man. As tempers flare and tension increase, Mercy and Mick find themselves in the middle of the escalating situation.

The characters are engaging and you get a glimpse into that time period in rural Maine along with some of the local customs and traditions. It is a good lesson about how prejudice and assumptions not based on fact can lead to tragedy. It was eye opening for me to learn about Native Americans being displaced in the state of Maine and the ongoing struggles that they still face today.

This is an enjoyable read and a fascinating look into that period of history in Maine and the tensions that existed.

I received this book from Moody Publishers for this review

Mickey And Willie by Allen Barra

Sportswriter Allen Barra gives you an in depth look at the lives of Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays and how their lives intersected over the years. Both came from hard working families where sought ways in the off season to make some extra money. They did endorsements together and appeared together. Their statistics were similar and there was often the debate as to who was the better ball player.

Neither one of them had very happy personal lives. You get more of a glimpse into Mickey's life because he was much more open about it. Willie tended to be more private. They were both very popular with their fans, Mickey with the New York Yankees and Willie with the New York Giants (later the San Francisco Giants). They both played during baseball's golden age before the National Football League reached the popularity it is today. It was a simpler time for baseball and there is no doubt that Mickey and Willie contributed greatly to the enjoyment of all baseball fans at that time.

The writer does an excellent job of researching details, conversations and statistics as well as sharing his own personal experiences with the two players. For anyone who loves baseball and history this is a very entertaining read.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, September 8, 2014

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

As a serious reader of classic literature finishing the book "War and Peace" is much the same as a serious runner completing his first marathon. I had read "Moby Dick" (a little too much information about whales for me) and "Les Miserables" (too much information about the Paris sewer system for me)so I felt I had completed some half marathons of reading. However reading "War and Peace" is in a whole other class. I read the Maude translation which I felt was easy to read and had helpful footnotes. It also included some illustrations which also helped. The fact that the book is divided into small chapters or sections also helped.

The novel is set in Russia during the invasion of Napoleon from approximately 1805 to 1812. The focus is on different Russian aristocrats and their lives during this changing time. It is also about the Russian army and its response to Napoleon. There is a lot of history in the details about the battles between the Russians and the French which is explained in the notes included along with the Maude translation. The research Tolstoy would have had to do to write about the war is mind boggling.

The characters are complex and described is such detail they become alive and the story stays with you. The fact that I read "Give War and Peace a Chance" which I reviewed previously on this blog, gave me the courage to go ahead and start reading "War and Peace." It is an experience that will enrich your reading and give you a sense of accomplishment.

"War and Peace" must be considered one of the greatest works of fiction ever written and I am in awe of Leo Tolstoy and his writing ability. Reading this book is not for the faint of heart as it requires a great deal of perseverance to continue through it and finish it, but for me it was well worth it.

Friday, August 29, 2014

Spiritual Misfit by Michelle DeRusha

Michelle De Rusha grew up in a church environment filled with rituals which were empty for her. She was not sure if she believed in God and had a great fear of death. When she married and moved to Nebraska where everyone seemed to attend church, she began to wrestle with her doubts, her fear of death and her feeling like a fraud as she attended church with her family. At first she went to church because of her children but then she slowly started to ask the question, "Why Not God?" She began to understand that it was okay to wrestle with God and have some doubts along the way. As she began to pray, read the Bible and participate in small groups with members of her Lutheran church her faith slowly took root.

As she discovered, some times conversion is not a "Damascus Road experience" but a daily decision to walk the path of the Christian faith. As she understands the concept of grace, she finally understands that there is nothing she can do to earn the gift of salvation. Also along the way she realizes that she does not really have control of her life and that she needs to put God first in her life

Her journey to faith begins with her sincerity in admitting to herself that she did not believe in God. I appreciated her honesty as she shared the spiritual journey she is on. Anyone who has doubts about faith or feels as though they do not belong in their church would be able to identify with the author. I enjoyed her writing style and found the book very engaging.

I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, August 25, 2014

My Cousin Rachel by Daphne Du Maurier

One definition of Gothic: "of or having to do with a type of fiction that uses remote, gloomy, settings and a sinister eerie atmosphere to suggest horror and mystery." While "My Cousin Rachel" is not set in a dark, crumbling medieval castle, the overall atmosphere is rather dark and with the sense of some impending disaster. Philip Ashley is the heir to his cousin Ambrose's Cornwall estate. Orphaned at a young age, Ambrose is like a father figure to Philip and they are very close. Because of his health, Ambrose goes to a warmer climate for the winter and on this trip meets and marries Rachel. Ambrose's letters to Philip from Italy become more and more infrequent after his marriage. The tone of these letters also changes from ones of being happy and content to ones of being frightened of his wife and a concern that she is trying to harm him.

Philip goes to Italy only to find his cousin has died. He blames Rachel for his death and is determined to not welcome her when she comes to Cornwall. On her arriving though, his attitude changes and he is mesmerized by her. As his infatuation and passion for Rachel grows, Philip seems to lose all common sense as his 25th birthday approaches and when he has full control of the estate.

The story is told from Philip's perspective so you get a view into his thoughts and emotions. You feel more and more as the story goes on that it will not end well and some disaster will happen. There is a quote in the book that describes Rachel well and stated by Philip's godfather. "There are some women, Philip," he observed, "good women very possibly, who through no fault of their own impel disaster."

A very well written book that uses suspense in the plot to keep you going throughout the story. Daphne Du Maurier is also the author of "Rebecca" which is similar in style to "My Cousin Rachel."

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Give War and Peace a Chance: Tolstoyan Wisdom for Trouble Times by Andrew D. Kaufman

As an avid reader, I like to challenge myself by reading some lengthy classics. One summer I read "Moby Dick" and another summer "Les Miserables." It has always been my goal to read "War and Peace" but I have put it off for some time now. I even possess two copies from used book sales and have it on my Kindle so not having a copy is not an excuse. I think I shy away from it because I have found reading Russian literature is confusing and most of the time depressing. Trying to figure out who is who with the Russian first names and last names and then the nicknames has a challenge for me. War along with death and dying also seem to be major themes as well. So when I saw this book, it interested me and I read it to see if reading "War and Peace" would be worth it.

The author is an internationally acclaimed Russian literature scholar, is a featured Tolstoy expert on and frequently asked to discuss Russian literature and culture on television and radio programs. So that being said, he does take a scholarly approach to "War and Peace" which is thorough, but very readable. Woven throughout the book is the story of Leo Tolstoy's life and the parallel between his life and the life of the characters in "War and Peace." Each chapter has a theme such as imagination, success, happiness, love, courage, death and truth. It gives you a look at the characters, the turmoil of war with France and the total disruption of their way of life at that time in the history of Russia.

Has reading this book encouraged me to get started on "War and Peace?" I think I will move it closer to the top of my stack of books next to my chair and maybe just maybe start reading it before winter sets in.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Thief of Glory by Sigmund Brouwer

10 year old Jeremiah Prins has a sheltered and care free life as the son of a headmaster of a school in the Dutch East Indies. That peaceful life comes to an end when the Japanese invade their island in 1942. Jeremiah's father and three older half brothers are taken away to work camps. He is left as the oldest child to take care of his mother and a younger brother and two younger sisters. It isn't long before he and his family are transported to a Japanese camp. The story of the hardships and lengths people go to survive is a compelling one. The cruelty of the Japanese commander, Nakahara, is directed at all in the camp, but Georgie, a fellow prisoner, directs his cruelty and hatred towards Jeremiah.

As time goes on, Jeremiah's mother becomes more disturbed and less able to care for her children. The relationship between the family members is a complex one. The story is based on the author's father's experiences in a Japanese camp during World War II. That adds to the historical accuracy of the book.

This is a compelling book. Once I started it I could not put it down. The pain and heartbreak of those years in the camp stayed with Jeremiah his entire life and as he nears the end of his life, he does experience some reconciliation and peace with God. I highly recommend this book.

I received this book from Blogging for Books for this review.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Evergreen by Rebecca Rasmussen

"Evergreen" is an interesting book. I found myself getting caught up in the characters and the story line, but yet at the same time wondering about how plausible the whole story was. Maybe it is not that important, but some of the characters seemed to be believable and others not so much. At times, I felt as though there were some gaps in the story and feeling like something was missing. All that being said, I enjoyed the book for the most part and think it was well written and thought provoking.

Eveline and her husband Emil begin their married life in the wilderness of 1938 Minnesota. After they have their son, Hux, Emil receives a letter saying that his father is dying in Germany and he heads there. Eveline decides not to go back to town to live with her parents, but stays in their cabin aided by neighbors, Lulu, Reddy and their son, Gunther. Eveline is the victim of rape and becomes pregnant while Emil is away. Lulu helps deliver the baby and Eveline gives the baby girl away. The baby girl is named Naamah and is raised as an orphan.

As things change, and the wilderness begins to vanish, the lives of Hux, Naamah and Gunther as intertwined over the years. The story itself spans three generations. This story was another reminder that the choices one generation makes has an impact on the generations that follow. The covering up a situation only leads to pain and heartbreak for those involved in the present and those in the future who are impacted by that decision. There is a glimmer of hope at the end and that helped to bring resolution to some of the pain from the past generation.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Good God, Lousy World, & Me by Holly Burkhalter

Holly Burkhalter is an activist working for change around the world in the midst of the horror of sex trafficking, genocide, rape, slavery and injustice. Although she grew up in a Christian home, she turns her back on Christianity when she sees her grandmother, a devout Christian and former missionary, have an emotional breakdown following the death of her grandfather. As she sees her grandmother lose her faith, she loses what little faith she has. She describes herself as a twisted, angry betrayed former Christian.

Her journey of faith begins when she meets Gary Haugen of International Justice Mission. Their mission is to mobilize the church to get involved in the area of human injustice. IJM believes the atrocities committed by human beings against other human beings breaks the heart of God and that it should break the hearts of Christians everywhere. Holly was impressed with the Christians who worship a good God and want to help the poor as it is commanded in the Bible. She witnessed Christian victims of atrocities praise God and thank Him for His presence with them in the midst of their suffering. Another person witnessed to Holly as she showed the unconditional love of God as she ministered to AIDS patients. Another friend who rescues victims of sex trafficking shared that he is only able to do what he does is by believing that God has a plan to redeem brokenness, find lost girls, and wipe every tear from their eye. Slowly Holly began to believe again a God who is good, who loves us unconditionally and who can perform miracles.

Holly shares her struggles with physical and emotional problems as she continues in her journey of faith. After she became a Christian, she began working with International Justice Mission. This memoir is one full of questions and no easy answers to the problem of human suffering. It is both an honest and thought provoking memoir.

I received a copy of this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Big Rock Candy Mountain by Wallace Stegner

I enjoyed reading Wallace Stegner's Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Angle of Repose" so that is why I chose to read "Big Rock Candy Mountain" also by him. I was not disappointed. There is something great about a book when you continue to think about it and its characters in the days following the completion of reading the book. It was that way for me when I finished "Big Rock Candy Mountain" and I am continuing to ponder what I read.

Elsa is eighteen when she leaves her home in Minnesota to help keep house for her uncle. She still misses her mother who died three years previously and probably would not have left home except for the fact that her father marries a woman who was supposed to be Elsa's best friend and who is 20 years younger than her father. Young and naïve and still hurting she meets Bo Mason who sweeps her off her feet. They marry and the book is mainly about their life and family over the course of 30 years.

Bo always has the desire to make money quickly and as he and Elsa drift from one location to another, that dream of being rich never comes to fruition. Despite living in poverty, Bo being involved in illegal rum-running and gambling, Elsa stays with Bo through it all. From North Dakota to Canada, Nevada to Utah, Bo keeps searching for the one scheme that will make him rich.

The writing in this novel is beautiful as you read about the life and times of survival during the lean years of the early 20th century and the back roads of the American Northwest. The characters are complex and you wonder whether Elsa was a saint to put up with Bo all those years and if Bo is totally to blame for not providing better for his family. There are no easy answers, but you will be left pondering the questions all the same. The book is a bit long but it is a fast paced and engaging classic.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Don't Miss Your Life by Charlene Ann Baumbich

I had the privilege of hearing Charlene Baumbich speak at an event at Prairie Path Books in Wheaton, Illinois, recently. She was a great speaker and very entertaining. She shared a number of her experiences and over all her message with to not take yourself too seriously, to laugh at yourself and enjoy your life. The book is filled with many humorous stories, some of which she shared at the event. Her message is to live life to the fullest as God is encouraging you to do, to slow down and enjoy the simple pleasures in life. In the last chapter, Charlene uses an analogy of a reed saying each of us should be a reed that the breath of God can blow through. I like that analogy. No amount of striving, complaining, hurrying, etc. can change our circumstances. It is only by resting in God and letting Him take control that we can find the peace and joy that we are looking for. Very entertaining book with a message of hope and encouragement for women of all ages looking for ways to cope with the challenges and changes in life.

The Girls of Atomic City by Denise Kiernan

"The Girls of Atomic City" is a fascinating look at the lives of women recruited to work at Oak Ridge, Tennessee, part of the Clinton Engineer Works during World War II. It was fascinating to learn that many of these women did not know where they were going or what they would be doing when they were recruited to work in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. Many of these women were right out of high school and from the south. They were housed in dormitories, apartments or huts. The construction went up so quickly that there was constantly mud all over on the ground. At the height of World War II, Oak Ridge, was home to 75,000 residents and consumed more electricity that New York City.

Inserted between the chapters is some more technical information about the discovery of fission and the possibility of creating a bomb using plutonium. Interestingly, the first scientist to mention the possibility of fission was a woman although she did not get credit for that discovery. After watching the movie, "Fat Man and Little Boy," which was about the Manhatten Project and the development of the atomic bomb at Los Alamos, I was interested to read this book. The scientists at Los Alamos were waiting on the production of plutonium at Oak Ridge for them to create the atomic bomb that was first dropped on Hiroshima in August of 1945.

Some of the technical information was beyond me, but I enjoyed first hand accounts of the lives of the women who worked at Oak Ridge. The author interviewed a number of women who shared their experiences. It was very interesting and an important part of the history of all that went into the creation of the first atomic bomb. If you are interested in this topic, I would highly recommend this book.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The Lost City of Z by David Grann

David Grann examined the diaries and records of "the greatest exploration mystery of the twentieth century": What happened to Percy Fawcett and his quest for the Lost City of Z? Setting off into the Amazon in 1925, Percy Fawcett (accompanied by his son Jack and Jack's friend, Raleigh Rimell) attempts to find an ancient Amazon civilization. This civilization, the lost city of Z, which was also thought to be the fabled city of El Dorado is rumored to be a complex society in the midst of the Amazon jungle. The trio of explorers disappear into the jungle and are never heard from again.

Grann details the life of Percy Fawcett, his adventures, explorations and his obsession with the lost city of Z. Expeditions of those who go looking for Percy Fawcett are detailed as well. It is estimated that approximately 100 people lost their lives in looking for this explorer. The author himself goes on a journey retracing Fawcett's footsteps in an attempt to find out for himself what happened.

This was a fascinating look at life during this time in history; the obsession driving people to explore; and the life of the Indians in the Amazon jungle. I for one, would not want to deal with the heat, lack of food, insects and snakes. It was amazing to me what these men had to endure in the jungle. Of interest to me was when Fawcett stopped at the home of a German diplomat by the name of John Ahrens before he ventured into the uncivilized jungle.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this informative and engaging story of Fawcett's life and exploration in the Amazon jungle. I would highly recommend this book.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Duel with the Devil by Paul Collins

Paul Collins did a great job researching and writing this book of the true story of Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr who teamed up to take on America's first sensational murder mystery. Alexander Hamilton and Aaron Burr are bitter political rivals who together defend Levi Weeks who is accused of murdering Elma Sands. The trial takes place in 1799 when America is still a young republic. Alexander Hamilton is a leader of the wealthy Federalists while Aaron Burr is a leader in the populist Republican party. They both had connections to Ezra Weeks, a well known builder and brother to the defendant, Levi Weeks, when they put aside their differences to defend him in the murder trial.

Elma Sands, a resident of the same boarding house as Levi Weeks, is found dead in the Manhattan Well. She had been missing for two weeks and Levi is arrested for her murder. A number of interesting facts come out about some of the other residents of the boarding house both during and after the trial which makes for an interesting read.

The book paints a portrait of the United States in its early years as a republic. Even though the book is non fiction, it reads like a legal thriller. The epilogue describes the events four years after the trial when Aaron Burr shoots Alexander Hamilton in a duel. The duel to me seems like a senseless tragedy which was the result of pride and arrogance on the part of both men. I recommend this book for anyone who enjoys reading about American history and legal trials. I will definitely look for more books by Paul Collins.

Blogging for Books provided me this book for free in exchange for an honest review.

Monday, August 4, 2014

Seeking Allah - Finding Jesus by Nabeel Qureshi

In this book the author describes his incredible journey from Islam to Christianity through friendships, investigations and supernatural dreams along the way. You get a glimpse inside Nabeel Qureshi's loving Muslim home and his passion for Islam. Really almost against his will, he discovers evidence that Jesus rose from the dead and claimed to be God.

This engaging story is thought provoking as it examines the differences between Islam and Christianity and the clash of the two religions that happens in one man's heart. Going against what he has been taught all his life, he has to choose between denying the Christian faith he is drawn to or the family he loves. His journey to finding peace in Jesus is powerful.

Leaving Van Gogh by Carol Wallace

I have been fascinated by the life of Vincent Van Gogh since I read the book, "The Divine Commodity." This work of historical fiction is based on the last period of Van Gogh's life as seen through the eyes of Dr. Gachet who befriended him in the French town of Auvers-sur-Oise. Van Gogh died of a self inflicted gun shot wound in the summer of 1890. The book deals with the events leading up to Van Gogh's untimely death at the age of 37.

Before his death he completed 2,000 works of art that would go on to become some of the most important and valued in the world. The author researched thoroughly to paint a portrait of Van Gogh's final days including the mystery surrounding the gun Van Gogh used. Where he got the gun is unknown and it disappeared following his death. Although Van Gogh's faith and spiritual journey is not examined during this time, I still enjoyed the story of his last days and the book is very well written.

Monday, July 28, 2014

A Short Walk to the Edge of Life by Scott Hubbartt

Scott Hubbartt started on a journey in the backcountry canyons in the Andes mountains in Peru. As a military veteran, he thought he had enough experience and stamina to hike the 8 hours to his destination. Dismissing the advice to take a guide and ignoring some other warning signs, he embarks on a journey that nearly costs him his life. What began as an eight hour hike turned into days of becoming hopelessly lost. In his fight to survive, he realizes that he has come to the end of himself and at that point turns to God. The author not only has detailed his physical journey but his spiritual journey as well. This is not a long book and reads more like a journal, but it is engaging and thought provoking. Blogging for Books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

The Divine Commodity by Skye Jethani

This is a thought provoking book about how consumerism has invaded the present day church. Looking at the life of Van Gogh and his art as well as Scripture and history, the author discusses spiritual practices that liberate our imaginations to live as Christ followers in a consumer culture which opposes the values of Christ's kingdom. This book will encourage you to see how consumerism has distorted our faith and equip you to live differently. I highly recommend this book. After reading this book, I am inspired to read more about the life of Van Gogh and view his art work.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

If God Is Good - Faith in the Midst of Suffering and Evil by Randy Alcorn

The question if God is good in the midst of suffering is certainly not a new question, but Randy Alcorn's book "If God Is Good," certainly addresses the topic more thoroughly than I have seen previously. It is obvious that much research and thought has gone into the writing of this book. Suffering affects all of us human beings and what is more important is the perspective we bring as individuals to the topic of suffering.

Alcorn addresses the following: How we answer the book's central question will radically affect how we see God and the world around us; Seeking answers to this question should turn us to Jesus in a fresh way; We each bring our own burdens on the journey; The faith that can't be shaken is the faith that has been shaken; and God's Word is central to gaining an eternal perspective. The book is divided into the following sections: 1. Understanding the problem of evil and suffering 2. Understanding evil: It's origin, nature, and consequences 3. Problems for Non-Theists: moral standards, goodness and extreme evil 4. Proposed solutions to the problem of evil and suffering: limiting God's attributes 5. Evil and suffering in the great drama of Christ's redemptive work 6. Divine sovereignty and meaningful human choice accounting for evil and suffering 7. The two eternal solutions to the problem of evil: heaven and hell 8. God's allowance and restraint of evil and suffering 9. Evil and suffering used for God's glory 10. Why does God allow suffering? 11. Living meaningfully in suffering.

I just has a conversation with someone who told me that out of her suffering came great blessings. This is a book that will remain on my bookshelf and I am sure I will refer to it often.

Blogging for books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Fair Play by Deanne Gist

This book is historical fiction taking place during the Chicago World's Fair in 1893. The plot involves a woman physician and a Texas Ranger who both work at the fair. A lost baby is discovered and they take it to Hull House run by Jane Addams. Pictures of the World's Fair and/or the Hull House are at the start of each chapter. Being a fan of "The Devil in the White City," I am always fascinated with any fiction or non fiction related to the World's Fair. I did learn more about the living conditions of the poor in the city and the work of Miss Addams. The story was engaging but I appreciated the historical aspect more than the love story.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Ben Hur by Lew Wallace

This is a classic tale set in the time of Christ by Lew Wallace. Ben Hur is from a wealthy Jewish family and is arrested for an accident that injured a Roman soldier. He is sentenced and becomes an oarsman on a Roman vessel. His journey from being a slave to wealth and freedom is the main plot, but interwoven throughout the story is the birth and ministry of Christ and how it affects him and those close to him. This book illustrates the Roman culture as well as the Middle Eastern culture at the time of Christ. It is a bit lengthy but the writing is beautiful and the story is engaging and inspiring.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

A Constellation of Vital Phenomena

This book is haunting and beautifully written. It is a story set in war torn Chechnya and the people who find themselves in the midst of it. Havaa, an eight year old girl witnesses her father being taken by the Russian forces but runs to safety. The lives of those who are around her and how they are affected by the conflict is the basis for the story. It is a difficult book to read and displays man's inhumanity to man in the midst of war. Heartbreaking with a thread of hope woven throughout. Some language and scenes may be offensive to some, but it is not frequently used throughout the book.

Blogging for books provided this book to me for free in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Spoken For By Robin Jones Gunn and Alyssa Joy Bethke

This book is about the God's epic love story and how God pursues us relentlessly. We are not only loved, but sought after and spoken for. Each chapter illustrates this with personal stories of the authors and Scripture references. As human beings, we always want to feel accepted and included and when we are rejected it rips at the very core of our being. By resting in the love that God has for us, we can overcome and heal from rejection and shame and experience the love of God in a real and powerful way. This book would be useful for individual or group study as there are questions at the end of each chapter. It would be a great resource for high school or college students or any woman who struggles with feeling loved. I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.