Category Archives: Non-Fiction

Book Review: Craving Grace by Lisa Velthouse

Craving Grace chronicles the real-life journey of one woman as she struggles with balancing the scriptural expectations for holy living with the promise of God’s grace and forgiveness.  Author Lisa Velthouse composes this memoir to share her story of  “faith, failure, and [her] search for sweetness.”  While I never even heard of the book, some of you may recognize her name as the author of Saving My First Kiss – a book she wrote vowing that she would never kiss a man until she got engaged.  As Velthouse travels through her life she comes to the realization that it is her belief in God and how he loves her (or doesn’t love her) that impacts everything she is and does.  Velthouse writes about 1/3 of the way into the book:

“[T]here have been – there are still – times when I don’t feel convinced he can be trusted for another tuft [of grass – referring to the idea that the Lord is our shepherd] or for what seems like the right one….I had all but stopped asking God for things, even small things that had a chance of being important to me.  I assumed he would rather teach me another hard lesson than disk me up some asked-for happiness or relief.  I had become afraid to pray my most weighty and meaningful requests, out of ear that God might deny them instantly, for sport.

“My only fallback plan was to…keep trying to be extra good.  I hoped my obedience and good behavior would compel God to send me some of the favor I had been asking for.  The problem with this fallback plan, however, was that it was held together by two assumptions: I’m deserving and God isn’t loving.”

While at times her struggles to me seemed simplistic and her expectations unrealistic, I also recognized myself while reading the book that it was my own sense of self-righteousness that was causing me to judge her attempts at holiness as being that way.  In all honesty, reading the book reminded me that holiness is much than what we don’t do but also what we do do.  Later in the book Velthouse identifies her own struggles and failures with that of Peter in the Gospels, and this one struck a chord with me:

“Here [is Peter], a man who only days earlier had with confidence and maybe cockiness put stock in his own ability to follow Jesus boldly.  “Even if everyone else deserts you, I will never.”  There were perhaps, valid reasons for Peter to believe he could pull that off – he had already given up his career and left his family to follow Christ around the countryside for who knows how long – probably years.  He had once gone out on a limb and had, in fact of all the other disciples, dared to say that Jesus was the Son of God.  On top of that, he had attempted to walk on water and for a short time had even managed it.  His discipleship to that point had demonstrated gall and a fierce tenacity, no doubt.  Even so, in a few gray moments before dawn, he found he was still fundamentally lacking and wrong…Peter couldn’t keep even one denial down his throat.

“I tend to look at myself and think, Good too.  Good at following God more than most other folks.  Good at holding my tongue for the most part.  Good at being an example, especially when there’s a stage to stand on…Good at not needing forgiveness most days.  Good at making up for my flaws and foibles….It is a story cut from the same stone as Peter’s “I will never,” and somewhere there is a rooster about to crow…

“Par of the message of Christ’s death, God’s sacrificing his own Son for humanity, is that even at our best and brightest, at our most spot-on and well-intentioned, we are incapable of being the people we would need to be in order to get to God.  So I am more than just a person who sins; I am a sinful person.  On my own I am fundamentally, unchangeably full of sin, no matter how good I try to get.  My only hope for a future apart fro my sin is to accept the one gift I can never deserve: Christ’s sacrifice.”

As with most people I know (including me) who struggle with this big concept of living by the grace of God, Velthouse found that once she discovered grace she began to abuse it, in a sense.  But then she realized, correctly, that our response to God’s grace is not sinning more but trusting more.  She writes of her rebellious stage, “The phase didn’t last long…Over time I discovered that reveling in God’s grace didn’t necessarily require emphasizing how crude and irresponsible I could be.  When the dust settled, I returned to careful behavior, to pursuing obedience as best as I could.”

Overall this book was a pleasant read, though my over-all disappointment with the book is that it spent more space talking about life before her discovery of living in God’s grace and not much about what that discovery meant as she lived it out day-to-day.  If you’re looking to read the journey one of your sisters in Christ makes as she discovers – truly discovers – God’s grace, this book is worth your time.  Don’t look to it for any radical insights or revelations – but be careful as you read it, because you may find it is like looking into a mirror and seeing yourself.  I’ll give it 3.5 stars.

I received this book free from Tyndale Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Book Review: The Fight of Our Lives by William Bennett and Seth Leibsohn

Perhaps it was the fact that I read this book shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden, but I just couldn’t get in to it.  While I am definitely on the conservative side of the political spectrum, I found this book to be just laborious to wade through.  It’s not necessarily that I disagreed with everything that was being said, it’s just that it was not very interesting to read.  The book serves in many ways as an expose on liberal policies in regards to the War on Terror, but I can’t say it contained anything I hadn’t read or heard about before (if not in specifics at least in generalities).  It was overly predictable in its content.  Beginning to read it shortly after the death of Osama bin Laden very well could have tainted my view of it, since they spent a good deal of time talking about him and in my mind I was thinking, “This is outdated since the man is dead.”  I’ll give it 1.5/5 stars over all.

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255

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Book Review: Now I Walk on Death Row by Dale S. Recinella

If you want to read a book that falls into the category of “I can’t put this one down” then add Now I Walk on Death Row to your summer reading list.  Wow!  How do I summarize this one?  It was, truly, one of those books that once I started to read it I couldn’t put it down.  This is the true-life story of Dale Recinella, a Wall Street finance lawyer, who decides to ask the question, “Does Jesus really mean what he says?”  The answer, he concludes, leads to a transformation in his life that can only be explained as miraculous.  Over time he leaves his work as a finance lawyer and enters the full-time ministry (volunteer, ministry, I might add, not paid ministry) serving “the least of these”.  Mr. Recinella begins by serving the homeless and down-and-out in the inner city where he lives, then transitions to serving AIDS patients, then works with men in prison, and eventually ends up as a volunteer chaplain ministering to the inmates on Florida’s death row.  It is a remarkable journey – one that is a model of what it looks like to “walk by faith and not by sight”.  This book at times made me laugh, cry, and even get angry – it was everything a good book should be.  And to top it all off, it is a true story.  Now I Walk on Death Row challenged me – and will most likely challenge you – to examine if you’re really taking Jesus at his word and if you are truly living the life God has called you to live.  What was shocking (and humbling) as I read the story is not how bad life is for many people in this world, but how ignorant I am of the pain around me and how unwilling I can be to sacrifice my own self to share with them the good news of Jesus’ love.  This book receives 5/5 stars.

Note: I received this book free from the publisher as part of their blogger review program.  I was not required to write a positive review of it.  I am disclosing this to comply with FTC regulations.

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Book Review: Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron

I have to say I was very excited to read this book.  Ian Cron wrote a book I reviewed earlier in the year entitled Chasing Francis, and I enjoyed his style thoroughly – I even gave the book a good review.  But the further I got into this book the more disappointed I became.

Perhaps it was my expectation from the title, but with “Jesus” as the first word I thought Jesus would play a bigger role in the book.  But I was sadly mistaken.  The book focused on the life of Ian as he grew up with an alcoholic father.  This is a story many people relate to and many books are written about, though what sets it apart for Ian is that his father works on-and-off for the CIA.  But Jesus?  He figures as a minor role in the story at best (let’s be honest – after reading the book I think his Nanny may have had a bigger influence on him that Christ), quite different than what I expected.

The writing was whimsical and I found myself laughing so hard in spots I cried, and if I was reading just any old autobiography of any person who was not claiming to be a Christian and who didn’t include the word “Jesus” in the title I would have given this book 5/5 stars – it was that enjoyable to read.  But I was looking for more spiritual insight, more discussion regarding how Ian found Christ and how that experience changed – neigh, transformed – his life.  But what I experienced were some passing references to Christ.  It gave me a greater understanding of what it must have been like to live with an alcoholic, spy father, but it in no way drew me closer to the cross.

So, regrettably, I have to give this book only 1/5 stars.

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Book Review: Working it Out – A Journey of Love, Loss, and Hope by Abby Rike

If you have watched The Biggest Looser you have probably heard of or seen Abby Rike.  Abby competed on Season 8 of The Biggest Looser, and this book is her story.  For those looking for a book on weight loss (which I wasn’t), this book may very well be a disappointment because it’s not about weight loss primarily.  What is is about, though, is so much more – and it is worth the read.  In 2006 Abby lost her husband, five year old daughter, and two-week old son in a terrible car accident, leaving hear all alone.  As she tells the story, she lived in an ideal world with a wonderful family.  The book is more about dealing with the loss of her family than anything else, and, as someone who has experienced an untimely death of a loved one, she very accurately explains the grieving process so many of us have gone through, and the feelings we encounter.  Yes, grieving is hard and life is difficult and bad things happen – we can all accept that – and there is the whole stages of grief thing we all know about.  But what Abby discusses with such honesty and openness is what she felt from other people and their failure at times to support and care for her.  She discusses the struggle to make it appear as if everything is just fine when it’s really not, and the almost impossibility of finding someone on whom to open up to that won’t judge you, won’t try to explain away your pain, won’t go running when you come near, and will be willing to just listen and not say something stupid in response instead of just staying silent.

The book does talk about her weight loss journey and her time on the show, but the bulk of the book introduces you to her family, their deaths, and her grieving process – in fact, you are 2/3’s of the way through the book before weight becomes a major issue and The Biggest Looser is really mentioned (she downplays the weight issue so much that when it does come up it’s almost as if it comes out of no where).  Again, this is not a book about weight loss but a book about grieving, suffering, and learning to live in a fallen and broken world.  She is honest in saying she’s not there yet and she still has rough days – which, unless you’ve experienced the untimely loss of a loved one you can never fully understand – but she is willing to share her journey in an honest and open way.

Perhaps the best chapter in the entire book is the very last one, the one entitled “A Letter to the Reader”.  Here she gives an update on where she is now, she overtly shares her faith in Christ, and acknowledges that we don’t always understand or know what will happen.  My only disappointment with the book is that it didn’t feature her faith more openly, particularly earlier in the book, but it is something she remedies at the end.  Overall I’ll give this book 3/5 stars.

Note: I received this book free from the publisher as part of their blogger review program.  I was not required to write a positive review of it.  I am disclosing this to comply with FTC regulations.

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Book Review: The Principle of the Path by Andy Stanley

There are very few books I’ve read which I would consider live changing.  Outside of the Bible, there are only two or three books which I can say have had such an impact on my life I can recall the specific title of the book, the author, and how it’s impacted me.  Granted, there are dozens of books which have influenced my thought processes and beliefs, but books that I can say impacted the direction of my life?  Those are few and far between.

The Principle of the Path is a book which certainly has the potential be added to my short list.  I say “potential” because its impact can only be measured over time, so I won’t add it to the list just yet – but give me a a year or so and I think it has a very good chance of being on it.  This is the first book I’ve ever read by Andy Stanley, but hopefully it will not be the last.  His writing style and humor remind me of John Ortberg’s – one of my favorite authors (in fact, at times I found myself thinking I was reading the latest Ortberg book instead of some other author!)  I found the book so captivating I actually read it in one 24 hour period (don’t get too impressed by that, it’s less than 180 pages long, and it took me less than 3 hours to read the whole thing).

Here’s the basic thesis of the book: it is our direction not our intentions, that determines our destination.  And it is our attention that determines our direction.  Simple enough, really, and something I’ve thought about plenty of times.  Stanley argues that many (actually, most) people are in situations in their lives that they never intended to be in not because of bad luck but because of bad planning (at times I felt like was writing advice written by my father!)  He spends the first few chapters of the book setting out his argument for why this is the case, and then the rest of the book detailing how to apply it to our lives.

Here are two quotes that sum everything up pretty well: “We don’t drift in good directions.  We discipline and prioritize ourselves there.” (p150) and “Attention determines direction, and directions determines destination.” (p153)  His position, in the end, is sound, and I find myself relating to and understanding it fully.  Too often we blame our situation(s) in life on our circumstances, forgetting that our choices led to our circumstances in the first place!   Stanley encourages us to set down a course to guide our choices so we can better control our destinations.  Stanley does a great job establishing that the Principle of the Path is not a law which can be violated/broken  but is something that is at work whether we acknowledge it or not – and we can harness it for our good or bad.

This is a book I highly recommend reading, and one that, if you read in partnership with Search for Significance by Robert McGee, would help you understand to a greater degree yourself (including your thought process, beliefs, struggles, failures, triumphs, and even fears).  A solid 5/5 stars.

I review for BookSneeze®

I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze.com book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255


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Filed under Christian Living, Family & Marriage, Leadership, Non-Fiction, Self-Analysis/Help

Book Review: While the World Watched by Carolyn Maull McKinstry

While the World Watched tells the story of the 1963 church bombing in Birmingham, Alabama that acted as a spark to ignite the Civil Rights movement.  It is a gripping story of one of the teenage survivors of the bombing who lost four of her friends.  Through the book she traces her journey as a black woman of the South in from the 1960s to the the present day.  The overall theme of the book is the power of love and forgiveness over hate and death.  It’s one of those rare books I had a hard time putting down (even when I was having trouble staying away because of the late hour at which I often read it!)

One of my favorite parts of the entire book was that throughout the chapters were excerpts of speeches by civil rights activists such as Martin Luther King, Jr. and even President Kennedy.  At the end of the book was a brief appendix with actual Jim Crow Laws listed.  I’ll say that much of what was in the book was new to me.  Over my years in education I often commented to my history teachers and professors that we don’t teach recent history in school – I was always lucky to get to WWII, yet alone anything post-WWII in school.  So while I obviously know of the Civil Rights movement and am familiar with many of the figures of it, this was the first time I read in detail anything about it.  For a white man who grew up in the North it gave me a much better appreciation for the struggle faced by black Americans over the last half-century.

I would give the book five out of five stars, but there were times I struggled with following the storyline because it didn’t always tell it chronologically – and so at times I had to go back and re-read a few pages because I got confused when the timeline switched.  That minor frustration, though, (and it was minor) is my only complaint.  I’ll give it a solid 4.5/5 stars.

I received this book free from Tyndale Publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commision’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Filed under Non-Fiction