Keys to Successful Living by Derek Prince

Book description:

Unlock a Better Life

Life rarely goes the way you hope.  But you can take action!

Important secrets to living a successful life are found in the 12 keys in the book of Hebrews.  Bestselling author Derek Prince uncovers these keys and reveals how they will unlock God’s provision and blessing for you.  No matter what situations you are facing, you can step into the successful future God has planned for you.

You are being handed the keys to a better life. Will you use them?

My review:

This is one of those small short books that you pick up and think, I can read this in about an hour.  However, I found that there was so much information in the pages of this book that I wanted to read it leisurely and mull over the ideas that Prince gleaned from the book of Hebrews.

Each chapter has a title that begins with Let Us.  This underscores the idea that we are not to operate under our own efforts, but instead to lean on each other.  I needed to remind myself of that again and again, as I am one who is very independent and has difficulty trusting others.

As this book is based on lessons from the book of Hebrews, there isn’t a lot of new information in it that I haven’t read in other sources.  I’m always a little hesitant to put that in a book review because I am afraid that it sends that message that this book isn’t necessary or helpful.  However, I found the lessons in this book to be good reminders of how we should live.  We should be diligent and growing in maturity and show gratitude.  However, without constant reminders, it is too easy to fall into the trap of complacency.  This book serves as a powerful reminder to keep growing in your faith.

If you are looking for a book that reminds you of all the ways you should be living, this is a great book.  It is a short book, but one that you will want to spend some time with and mull over.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Baker Publishing Group in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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Candle Prayers for Kids by Claire Freedman

Book description:

A delightful companion prayer book to the popular Candle Bible for Kids. Jo Parry’s distinctively bold and vibrant illustrations complement a combination of traditional and modern prayers by Claire Freedman, author of the Benjamin Bear series. Candle Prayers for Kids helps to bring prayer and talking to God into the life of every child.

My review:

I am always impressed with the quality of Candle books and this one is no exception.  Whenever I come across a Candle book, whether browsing in a bookstore or when one arrives in the mail, I find that I take a couple of moments to savor the beautiful illustrations and the nice weight of the pages.  This one is a sturdy hardcover with strong pages, perfect for little hands that will be turning the pages as they learn about prayer.

Any child would enjoy reading this book and looking at the brightly colored illustrations.  They are colorful and give strong clues to the topics of the prayers, perfect for beginning readers that might have difficulty finding just the right prayer for their circumstance.

I really liked the Table of Contents.  It is user-friendly and makes it easy for readers to find just the right prayer to fit their circumstance for the day.  Freedman thought of many different times when children might want to pray and provided a starting point for them.  I love the way it teaches children to talk to God in all circumstances, whether they are happy, sad, scared, or thankful.  It gives children words to say as they begin to navigate the waters of heartfelt, independent prayer.

This is a great book for kids.  The recommended age range is 5 – 7, which I think is just right.  This book would be good for beginning readers, as well as a read aloud.  It would also make a great gift!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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Your New Identity by Neil T. Anderson

Book description:
Like Jacob, who in the book of Genesis tricked his father into giving him his brother’s blessing, we all struggle with our own painful choices. Often our attempts to fix our missteps result in an even more complicated web of destruction. Is it possible to escape the unending tangle of guilt and shame? Is there a better way toward wholeness?

In Your New Identity, Dr. Neil Anderson demonstrates that the two most important beliefs every Christian should possess is knowing who our heavenly Father is and who we are in Christ. This second of eight Victory Series studies will help you understand God’s nature and character, and guide you to lay aside former ways and embrace your new life as a child of God. This study, with six sessions, can be used individually or in a group, and includes a leader’s guide, along with illustrations and questions for deeper reflection and practical applications.

God is full of grace and mercy; He makes right what we in our fallen nature have made wrong. In Your New Identity, you will discover that, as Jacob learned, an encounter with the living God will change your life . . . forever.

My review:

This book is filled with hope in each lesson.  Readers can work through it in a group setting, but I found it awesome to use individually as well.  It is broken into six sessions, with each session consisting of five readings and fill-in-the-blank response sections.  If you use it individually as a devotional, you can complete the book in a month.  However, the daily readings are very short and interesting and the questions do not take long to complete, so you can move through it a bit faster, or at your leisure.

I thought this was a really great book at encouraging readers to let go of the past and embrace the future as a new creation.  Anderson does a great job in describing the grace and mercy of God in ways that are easy to understand and in ways that I have never read before, such as a story about a child who was adopted by a loving Father.  It made me look at the ideas and grace and forgiveness in a whole new way.

If you struggle with shame or guilt over your past, or if you find it hard to understand the idea of being a new creation in God, this book is awesome.  You will walk away with new insight into what it means to be a child of God.  This book stays with you, even after you read it.  I find myself thinking over some of the ideas Anderson put forth and mulling over how I can apply them daily to my own life.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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The Remaining by Travis Thrasher

Book description:

The Remaining is a novelization of the apocalyptic movie from Sony Affirm. Just after a young couple says their vows, the earth shakes, and some people die suddenly and are taken away. The rest of their wedding party and friends are left to wrestle with what happened and with their faith. Characters struggle with secret love, dreams, hopes, and beliefs as they continue to evaluate their faith. This book and movie are both action-packed thrillers that will encourage audiences to think about their beliefs.

My review:

I’m becoming a fan of novelizations of movies.  Throughout this book, the descriptions are so vivid that I can easily imagine what it would look like on the big screen.  The characters are easy to identify with and the plot is action-packed.  The best part about the plot is that it is not at all predictable.  I had no idea what was going to happen next!

This book gives a different idea than others about what life after the Rapture might look like.  Whether you believe in the Rapture or not, the topic seems to spark a lot of imagination about how prophecy might come to pass.  This book offers a vastly different perspective from the popular Left Behind series, but who is to say which is correct?

The story is told from several different viewpoints through the eyes of the main characters.  Normally I don’t enjoy that type of back and forth perspective, but it didn’t bother me so much in this book.  Thrasher makes it very clear which character is narrating and their voices are different.

Overall this is a good book.  The only negative for some people might be that it is very dark and there is a lot of death.  However, some might argue that it wouldn’t be a realistic take on the end times if it were bright and cheerful.  This is definitely not a feel good kind of book that you want to enjoy on a leisurely afternoon at the beach.  It is sad, dark, and disturbing.  It is one of those books that stays with you for awhile.

If you like to read apocalyptic fiction, this is a good choice.  You might hurry and get a copy so you can read it and then see the movie.  Movie opens September 5, 2014.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Publishers in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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Playing by Heart by Anne Mateer

Book description:

Lula Bowman has finally achieved her dream: a teaching position and a scholarship to continue her college education in mathematics. But then a shocking phone call from her sister, Jewel, changes everything.

With a heavy heart, Lula returns to her Oklahoma hometown to do right by her sister, but the only teaching job available in Dunn is combination music instructor/basketball coach. Lula doesn’t even consider those real subjects!

Determined to prove herself, Lula commits to covering the job for the rest of the school year. Reluctantly, she turns to the boys’ coach, Chet, to learn the newfangled game of basketball. Chet is handsome and single, but Lula has no plans to fall for a local boy. She’s returning to college and her scholarship as soon as she gets Jewel back on her feet.

However, the more time she spends around Jewel’s family, the girls’ basketball team, music classes, and Chet, the more Lula comes to realize what she’s given up in her single-minded pursuit of degree after degree. God is working on her heart, and her future is starting to look a lot different than she’d expected.

My review:

This book offers a little bit for everyone.  I don’t often think that about fiction books, but this one does.  There are a lot of things going on in this book, whether it is sports, music, war, romance, teaching, or family.  I think it also does a fair bit of demonstrating difficulties women faced at the turn of the century.  It is always interesting to be reminded of the rules that women school teachers had to adhere to while they were teaching.

The plot of this book was fairly predictable, as most books of this genre are.  Therefore, I like to think more about the characters and how the author crafts other aspects of the plot to achieve the predictable conclusion in an unpredictable way.  I thought the subplots and supporting characters provided a lot of interest to Lula’s story.

The only thing I didn’t love about this book was the way the perspective switched between Lula and Chet.  It isn’t my favorite writing technique to tell the story from different perspectives, and I thought it was unnecessary for this one.  Mateer does a great job crafting her characters in such a way that we get to know Chet and Lula, without needing to be privy to their internal thoughts.

The message in this book is particularly strong.  Readers can learn from Lula that we can have our plans mapped out and engraved in stone, but we still need to be aware of God’s will for our lives and be ready to listen and respond to his voice.  We can be reassured through Lula’s experiences that heeding God’s will is the best recipe for a happy life.

Despite my small criticism, I greatly enjoyed this book and think that many other readers will as well.  It is a light-reading book that can be read over the course of a weekend or while traveling.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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The VB6 Cookbook by Mark Bittman

Book description:

Whether you call it flexitarian, part-time veganism, or vegetable-centric, the plant-based, real-food approach to eating introduced in Bittman’s New York Times bestselling book VB6 has helped countless people regain their good health, control their weight, and forge a smarter, more ethical relationship with food. VB6 does away with the hard and fast rules, the calorie-counting, and the portion control of conventional diets; it’s a regimen that is designed to be easy toa dopt and stick to for a lifetime. 

When Bittman committed to a vegan before 6:00 pm diet, he quickly realized that everything about it became easier if he cooked his own meals at home. In The VB6 Cookbook he makes this proposition more convenient than you could imagine. Drawing on a varied and enticing pantry of vegan staples strategically punctuated with “treat” foods (including meat and other animal products), he has created a versatile repertoire of recipes that makes following his plan simple, satisfying, and sustainable. 

Breakfasts, the most challenging meal of the day for some vegans, are well represented here, with a full range of hot cereals, whirl-and-go-dairy free smoothies, toast toppers, and brunch-worthy entrees. Lunches include hearty soupls, sandwiches, beans, grains, and pastas to pack along wherever the day takes you, and more than a dozen snack recipes provide the perfect afternoon pick-me-up to banish the vending-machine cravings that can undo a day of eating well. Dinners are flexitarian, focusing on vegetable-forward meals that are augmented by a range of animal products for fullest flavor, satisfaction, and nutrient density. A chapter devoted entirely to “building blocks”–make-ahead components you mix and match–ensures that a flavorful and healthy meal is never more than a few minutes away.

If you’ve thought of trying a vegan diet but worry it’s too monotonous or unfamiliar, or simply don’t want to give up foods you love to eat, Bittman’s vegan and flexitarian recipes will help you cook your way to a new, varied and quite simply better way of eating you can really commit to…for life.  

My review:

The best part of this book is the flexibility of it.  If you are a vegan, there are quick, easy recipes for you to follow and enjoy.  If you are an omnivore looking to increase your vegetable consumption while eating healthier overall, there are recipes for you to follow and enjoy.  This is apparently a companion cookbook to go along with Bittman’s Vegan Before 6 diet book.  I haven’t read that book, but I found that he shared enough information in the first part of the cookbook that I had a good understanding of his lifestyle plan.

The thing I look for the most when I read a new cookbook is whether or not I can make the recipes with stuff I already have in my kitchen.  It is always disheartening to read a delicious-sounding recipe and then know that I have to make a special trip to the market just to get specialty ingredients.  Since I am new to the area of vegan eating/cooking, I thought for sure that I would have to make an extensive shopping list to try out the recipes.  I was thrilled to discover that most of the recipes featured items or products that I already have.

The only criticism I have about the book or the recipes in it is that the majority of the recipes have added sugar in the form of maple syrup.  With a strong family history of diabetes, I would have liked to see more recipes that were sugar-free.  However, for most people, I don’t think the addition of maple sugar would be an issue.

If you are curious about exploring vegan eating for health reasons, but still enjoy your meat, this cookbook/eating guide offers the best of both worlds.  The food lists are easy to remember and utilize and I think this book would help anyone make an easy transition to a more healthy lifestyle.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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Making Marion by Beth Moran

Book description:

Marion Miller comes to Sherwood Forest to uncover her father’s mysterious past. She is looking for somewhere to stay, but instead finds herself on the wrong side of the reception desk at the Peace and Pigs campsite. Despite her horrible shyness, she promptly lands herself a job working for the big-hearted and irrepressible Scarlett. It takes all of Marion’s determination to come out of her shell and get to grips with life on a busy campsite, where even the chickens seem determined to thwart her. Then an unfortunate incident with a runaway bike throws her into the arms of the beautiful, but deeply unimpressed, Reuben… Can Marion discover her father’s secret? And will she find peace, and perhaps even love, among the pigs?

My review:

I thought this was a very clever book that plays with the characters in the story of Robin Hood and Maid Marion.  To be clear, the only similarity is the names of the characters and the setting, but I thought the idea to use Reuben and Marion was neat.

The characters are what make this story so interesting.  There are numerous characters, but Moran does such a great job describing them and introducing them that it is very easy to keep them separate.  I found myself emotionally invested in Marion’s character almost from the very beginning and wanted to keep reading to find out what happened to her.  Likewise, I was so invested in some auxiliary characters that I found myself a little teary at times.  Moran isn’t afraid to write characters struggling with human faults and weaknesses.  The honest writing takes this book a step above others in this genre.

I thought the plot was almost as strong.  It is frustrating to read a book and have the conclusion figured out halfway through the book.  While some aspects of this book might be predictable in terms of relationships, there are several surprises that keep readers interested.  I thought Moran also did a great job in not giving away too much, too soon.

I’m always on the lookout for a new author to read and follow.  Moran is one that I will eagerly anticipate reading her next novel.  If you are looking for a fresh new author to follow, check out Making Marion.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Kregel Publications in exchange for my honest review.  All opinions are my own.

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Revenge of the Red Knight by Marianne Hering and Paul McCusker

Book description:

In this Imagination Station adventure, Patrick and Beth find themselves as guests in a beautiful castle in 15th-century England. Through a series of events, the steward of Lord Darkthorn’s castle finds the cousins with three artifacts collected in their previous adventures: the stone, the cup, and the golden tablet. They are accused of being thieves and locked in jail. Beth escapes and discovers the identity of the real thief, leading to a jousting contest with a surprising outcome. Set during the War of the Roses in England, Revenge of the Red Knight will teach readers about the Crusades, the integrity of knights and the vows they took, and why men would choose to risk their lives to fight for Christianity.

My review:

I am a big fan of the Imagination Station series.  One thing I have always loved the most was that one could read the books out of order, even though it is a series.  This is the first one that I thought I might have enjoyed it better having read the previous ones first.  However, it is a tiny, tiny, criticism.

This book delivers what all the other ones do, excitement, accurate history, and a great message.  Young readers come away with an idea of what life might have been like in 15th-century England.  They learn about the Crusades and the courage and bravery of knights.  I think this one has even more action that some of the other books in this series, which might appeal more to some young readers.

I love the way the illustrations help to keep younger pre-readers engaged in the story.  It makes the book great for independent beginning chapter readers, or for a read-aloud for younger readers.

If you are looking for a Magic Tree House type book with a positive, Christian message, this series is just what you are looking for!

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Overwhelmed by Perry Noble

Book description:

Stressed out? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Good news—you’re not alone!

No one ever said life was going to be easy. Between financial struggles, marital issues, health scares, and the regular, run-of-the-mill problems of everyday life, it’s easy to feel weighed down and trapped by your circumstances. In times like these, it’s tempting to just throw in the towel and quit. Well, don’t do it!

Perry Noble has stood at the edge of the abyss himself, and in Overwhelmed, he shares the keys to unlocking the chains of anxiety and despair once and for all. Building on the premise that when we shift our focus from our circumstances to Christ, everything changes, Perry walks readers through a life-altering plan for overcoming stress, worry, depression, and anxiety so we can be free to enjoy the abundant, joy-filled lives we were created for.

God knows we’re frustrated. He knows we’re tired. He knows we’re struggling. But He also knows how things are going to turn out. He is greater than anything you are going through . . . so don’t give up on God. After all, He’s never given up on you.

My review:

I have mixed feelings about this book.  I was excited to read about strategies to cope with struggles of daily life – the busyness, stress, never ending to-do list, and juggling of responsibilities.  I found that I could identify with Noble as he shared his struggles of depression and being overwhelmed.  So I was hopeful that this would be one of those books that I would get a lot out of and could chew on for some time to come.

However, I found that there was not a whole lot of information in this book that I hadn’t already read elsewhere.  While it is good to be reminded of the fact that God is present for us and loves us and knows what we are going through, I was hoping for more concrete information that I wasn’t already aware of.

Perhaps this book wasn’t as helpful to me as it could be for others because I am not significantly overwhelmed at the present.  I can see how this book could be helpful to some readers in the midst of a great struggle.

For me, the most positive part of the book was the writer’s engaging writing style.  I found that he has a very light, conversational tone that is easy to read.  Although the topic of the book is heavy, the book itself is a quick read.

If you are looking for a book to remind you of truths that might uplift and encourage you, this could be a good choice.  If you are looking for a groundbreaking book that will change your life, you might want to look elsewhere.

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Tattler’s Branch by Jan Watson

Book description:

Lilly Corbett Still has grown to love her life as the small-town doctor of Skip Rock, a tiny coal community in the Kentucky mountains. Though her husband, Tern, is away for a few months at a mining job, Lilly has her hands full with her patients and her younger sister visiting for the summer.

Lilly turns to her good friend and neighbor, Armina, to help keep things in order—until a mysterious chain of events leaves Armina bedridden and an abandoned baby on her doorstep. Lilly works to uncover the truth, unaware of what a mess she’s found herself in until a break-in at her clinic puts her on high alert. As she struggles between what is right and what is safe, Lilly must discover the strength of her resilient country neighbors, her God, and herself.

My review:

This was a very nice book for an afternoon of reading.  At first, I was a little confused because there were a lot of characters introduced very quickly at the beginning of the book, but eventually I sorted out who everyone was.  I hadn’t read the first book in the series prior to reading this one, so perhaps if I had, I would have had a better idea of the characters right off the bat.

This is the first book I have read by Jan Watson, and I have to say that I really enjoyed her writing style and plot structure.  The plot keeps moving and Watson has a knack for not giving away too many details too quickly.  As the book progresses, readers are able to piece together the clues without it being too predictable.  I also enjoyed reading about various medical treatments and ailments of the time period.  I always enjoy learning something while I read!

Another thing I really enjoyed about the book was the characters.  I was impressed with the way that Watson made a bad guy sympathetic to readers.  I found myself rooting for them, even though they had done terrible things.  It is a rare author that can pull that off for me.

If you are looking for a nice, easy afternoon read, this is a great choice.  Although it is part of a series, it is not necessary to have read the first book prior to this one.  Just take your time at the beginning to get a good grasp on the characters, and you will be fine.

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