Those of you who know me well know that I not only edit books, I also read, write, and post reviews (occasionally) on sites such as Amazon.com, barnes & noble.com, etc. I hope my comments are helpful in steering you to worthwhile reading.
Find Your Strongest Life by Marcus BuckinghamI’m having difficulty getting past “WOW.”
Marcus Buckingham’s newest offering to move folks (in this case, women) from blasé to blast-off had me underlining, starring, and writing “Yes, that’s me!” all over the margins. His take on why satisfaction eludes modern women is spot on—and he offers a solution that makes more sense than anything I’ve read in the past twenty years: we’re trying too hard to do everything right. Of course we know that’s impossible, but not having an alternative that makes sense, we continue to work harder, try harder, and sink deeper into the rut of our weaknesses. Then we focus on our weaknesses and (again) try harder to fix them—ascribing to the old adage, “we are only as strong as our weakest link.” But Buckingham says no. At the heart of Find Your Strongest Life is this insight: “one link, made strong, can become the chain.”
And he shows us how to do it! Through stories of real people and through “make sense” examples, Buckingham illustrates behaviors we can implement today that will build and bring attention to the specific (strong) moments that energize us, bring us joy and fulfillment, and attract the positive attention of those around us so that our relationships both at home and at work will be successful.
If you need a jump-start toward a more engaging, rewarding, and purposeful life, read and apply the ideas in Find Your Strongest Life. It will make good sense.
A Slow Burn by Mary DeMuth (Zondervan, Oct. 2009)
Redemption waits around every corner and beckons even the most disagreeable characters in A Slow Burn, book two of Mary DeMuth’s Defiance Texas Trilogy. Several times I found myself recollecting the Old Testament account of Hosea the prophet and Gomer the harlot—another disturbing but inspiring (and true) example of the depth of God’s love for humanity.
After the high drama and heartbreak in Daisy Chain (book one) I wasn’t expecting the emphasis on romance in A Slow Burn. Emory Chance, the drug-addicted waitress whose daughter was abducted and found dead in book one, attracts some men for all the wrong reasons, and others for the right reasons. It’s a curious paradox that kept me turning the pages to find out why.
Well, it seems the answer will be revealed in book three. We also need to find out who is the tattooed man, why Officer Spellman hovers so close to Emory, and what will happen to the fractured preacher, Hap Pepper, and his abused family. Will Jed ever be at peace with God, with Daisy’s death, and with himself? Jed is still my favorite character—his teenage fury is so palpable, and rightly so. I am pulling for him—it seems he has more than his share of grief and trouble to sort out.
Defiance, Texas. Still defiant in A Slow Burn. But something, or someone there will discover whatever is keeping that ramshackle town in bondage and have the courage to love it into submission. Because after all, redemption is waiting around every corner, and that’s what I’m hoping for.
Fearless by Max Lucado (Thomas Nelson Press, 2009)
Bad news assaults from every direction these days—so much so that fear spreads faster than the swine flu pandemic. In his newest release, Fearless, Max Lucado, responds by weaving together stories from life and Scripture and showing us how to walk boldly.
Max presents fear and worry as personifications—painting little caricatures of them and thereby diminishing their mystery and power. At the same time, Max allows us a glimpse into the space worry occupies in his own daily grind, revealing his own attractive vulnerability.
Fearless cracks open our personal caches of fear, chapter by chapter, (i.e. finances, health, children, overwhelming circumstances, catastrophes, death) and offers the God-promised remedy. I could easily picture myself slapping away anxiety as I do the bloodthirsty mosquitoes that swarm to my skin like bees to nectar.
Max challenged me in chapter 7 to decide whether I am a Prudence or a Paranoia when it comes to dealing with “biggie” fears, such as his own fear of dementia. Later, in chapter 8, the account of the death of contemporary martyr Boris Kornfeld sent chills through my arms as I read how God used him to change the course of history in the godless society of Soviet Russia. Will God use me that way? May it be!
The discussion guide included in this excellent book provides both individuals and groups the opportunity to examine, expose, and battle fear, chapter by chapter, and go deeper into God’s antidote for the paralysis caused by today’s societal ills. Fearless should be the next read for any discerning, contemporary believer and for pre-believers searching for peace in an anything-but-peaceful world.
Call of Zulina by Kay Marshall Strom (Abingdon Press,2009)
“Tough topics served with a smile”
Kay Marshall Strom’s new novel Call of Zulina (the first in the “Grace in Africa” series) dives head first into a time and place few of us know much about, and fewer care to confront. The story gets its inspiration from a place known as Goree Island in the country of Senegal in West Africa, a hub of the slave trade to Britain and America in the late 1700s. Millions of men, women, and children languished there in chains until enough salable souls collected to fill a slave ship. The conditions weren’t suitable for dogs, let alone human beings.
In Kay’s fictionalized story, young Grace Winslow lives in naive luxury in the shadow of Zulina, the slave fortress owned by her British father and her African princess mother. Her parents’ marriage of convenience is loveless and abusive, a lifestyle that Grace is determined not to repeat in spite of her father’s wishes that she marry a wealthy but boorish Englishman. Grace’s bi-racial state is another enigma in an environment where most blacks are slaves and most whites own them. Where and with whom does Grace belong? Her escape from the family compound leads her on the journey to answer that question. But in the process, she discovers much more than she had expected—or wanted—to know.
The plot is fast-paced and, at times, the book was hard to put down. Strom has an uncanny way of making a setting come alive with her wonderful, imaginative descriptions. I could easily feel the “blast of hot wind” that “gusted in the faraway voices of the ntumpane—the talking drums.” Occasionally, I fumbled with some “head hopping” within a scene or chapter, but that certainly didn’t deter me from wanting to know what would happen to Grace, and how she would escape the dismal dungeon of Zulina.
Although the story addresses some horrific human indignities and cruelties, Strom writes so graciously and passionately that one feels more informed and edified than ashamed of being white. The message of redemption weaves its way throughout the storyline as her characters show us hope in the midst of hopelessness—and virtue that can rise above evil.
The book is certainly appropriate for teens and adults—and recommendable as an introduction to the realities of slavery, both past and present. The author’s Christian worldview is evident but not overt, giving the book good crossover appeal.
Daisy Chain by Mary DeMuth (Zondervan 2009)
Mary DeMuth’s Daisy Chain kept me turning pages late into the night. I just HAD to know why the characters living in Defiance, Texas, were all so defiant! Even the golden retriever wouldn’t obey. Maybe it has something to do with the scorching, toe-burning dust and the fierce storms that blow in without warning but give no relief. Maybe that’s why Defiance is so full of secrets, sorrow, and sickness.
I have a love-hate relationship with novels that have sequels. I love that there will be more. I hate that loose ends dangle at the end of book one! If you are the kind of reader who needs a wrapped-up-with-a-bow, satisfying and sugar-sweet ending, this story probably isn’t for you. Book two in the series won’t be out until October! BUT…if you want heart-piercing, thought-bending, dramatic fiction that scrapes up against life and tackles the broken state of our human condition, you must read Daisy Chain.
Mary writes wonderful, life-changing fiction. And although one might perceive this book (and her first two excellent novels) as YA fiction because of the ages of the main characters, I appreciate the way she uses youthful characters to appeal to my personal “inner child.” The struggles young Jed Pepper faces spark memories of my childhood angst, joy, fears, and the events that became foundational to both my functional and dysfunctional adulthood. Most important, Mary’s novels carry the strong message of redemption. Nothing is beyond God’s grace. I know that to be true in my own life. I’m hoping it will be true for Jed, Hap, Sissy, Miss Emory, Hixon and Bald Muriel. Can’t wait for books two and three.
Once Blind by Kay Marshall Strom
Kay Strom never disappoints! Her narrative non-fiction biography of John Newton takes the reader deep into the pathos of a boy, then a man, whose anger separates him from what he most longs for: acceptance. This is more than the story of a slave-ship captain turned preacher. More than the events leading up to the penning of “Amazing Grace.” Once Blind opens up the pages of history and reveals the dark heart of humanity. Then, in keeping with Kay’s passion to speak for those without a voice, she jumps right into the issue of slavery today. Yes, it’s worse than what Newton and his colleagues lobbied and spoke out against in the 1700s. If you don’t believe, it, read the book!
90 Minutes in Heaven
by Don Piper and Cecil Murphy
It is a rare person that has no curiosity about what “lies beyond.” The recent popularity of TV programs and movies that deal in some way with the afterlife speaks to this inherent desire to know “is there really a heaven?” In spite of our eagerness to know – we also are quick to discredit accounts by individuals who claim to have experienced death, and returned with first-hand evidence of the reality of a realm beyond this one.
Don Piper is one of those individuals. He was silent for many years, but now, thanks to his collaboration with Cec Murphy (TCP), his story is available – to believe, or to scoff. I don’t think he really cares anymore what people think. There is enough evidence to prove his death had a purpose, and enough pain to prove his life has a purpose. The story is more than another life after death encounter. For a Christians, it is a challenge to the depth of one’s faith and one’s commitment to the belief in an omniscient God. It is the ultimate story that addresses the question “what am I doing here?”
Sure – we all want to know what heaven is like. We want more than the scriptures offer us. We want details! Read Don’s story. You will get details, and you will still long for more. You will thrill with hope, and hope for more thrills. Most of all, you will wonder.