Book Review: These Nameless Things by Shawn Smucker

I loved Smucker’s previous novel and was looking forward to this one. However, this was a real struggle for me as I didn’t really understand what it was about for much of it. Smucker explains in his note at the end that it’s a mirror to Dante’s Inferno and not having read that I didn’t get the connection.

Smucker’s writing is excellent in his ability to draw the reader into his scenes. I felt part of the story throughout it and I expect it was this quality that kept me turning the pages. We see the story through Dan’s eyes as he and his forsaken community of nine attempt to start again having escaped some nightmare which no one can apparently remember. Until a strange young lady arrives and then everyone starts to dream. About Dan and his brother, Adam, who is lost in the place they left.

Ever so slowly the group is challenged to deal with their dreams while Dan sets off in search of Adam. Meanwhile, this strange young lady continues to play a pivotal role far beyond this group. But who is she?

I struggled because so little is said and I didn’t particularly care for any of the characters which made it a battle to continue.

Clearly, from some of the other reviews there are plenty of readers who ‘got it’ and enjoyed the story. I think it’s likely to one of those ‘you either love it or don’t’, they’ll be little in between. The themes of forgiveness and hope are present plus dealing with one’s past and being able to move on. Forgiveness and unforgiveness are such strong ‘soul ties’ that they play an incredibly important role in one’s ability to lead lives of wholeness. I appreciate that Smucker wrote a story of redemption but wish I enjoyed the story more.

As another reviewer stated I wonder if this would work better as a short story, say 150 pages, so liking the characters is less important in making a statement about redemption and forgiveness.

However, I’m not discouraged from reading Smucker’s next story simply because of the quality of his writing and the issues he grapples with.

I received an early release ebook version from Revell Reads via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: Stories that Bind Us by Susie Finkbeiner

This is my first Susie Finkbeiner story and gosh, what a delightful surprise it was. It starts slowly and never really increases in pace which is unusual for the stories I mostly read. But it wasn;’t long before I was captivated by this story of family.

We meet Betty Sweet, recently turned 40, in the early 60s. Her husband, Norman, dies suddenly and there is a void in her life. Small town LaFontaine, not too far from Detroit, is the setting featuring a Main Street with the family-owned and run bakery: The Sweet Bakery, Betty’s in-laws where Norman also worked.

Norman’s family comes around Betty in her grieving and we get to meet Albert, his brother and Marvel, his sister plus Pop, the patriarch of the family. We could meet these characters on the street, there’s no frills, simply true to life people. Marvel has twin ten year old boys: Nick and Dick, who are full of energy and mischief as one expects of twins at that age.

Finkbeiner writes short chapters which typically are split between Betty telling us a story of the past: her mom, her childhood with sister Clara, meeting Norman and their courtship and then the current time. They’re usually linked in some manner and so what gradually builds is a family portrait, one full of the love, loss, struggles with mental health and the everyday meanderings of life. Nothing much happens but it’s engrossing.

And then there’s Hugo. He shines a light into Betty’s world. He’s a special little boy, and Finkbeiner ever so gracefully deals with issues of race and prejudice with this innocent child. It’s beautiful to read.

I was sad the book ended even though not much happened but Finkbeiner’s soft touches with the character’s faith, familial love and gentle portrayal of mental health are captivating. I feel privileged to have read this beautiful story.

Now to locate Susie’s earlier ones.

I received an early release ebook copy from the Revell Reads programs enabled by NetGalley with no expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: Ishmael Covenant by Terry Brennan

I loved this first instalment of the 3-part series. It’s a fantastic combination of thriller, historical conspiracy, Biblical prophecy, Middle Eastern complexity and one’s never sure where the line is drawn between fact and fiction.

There are a lot of players but Brennan supplies a ready-reckoner at the beginning. And there are a few plot lines thrown at us early in the story which takes a little working through but by around 40% of the way through it I was getting the hang of it.

This is a very plot driven story but Brennan gives us sufficient insights into some of the key players like Brian Mullaney, the DSS Head responsible for guarding the US Ambassador to Israel, Atticus Cleveland and his daughter, Palmyra Parker. There are a bunch of bad guys, one in particular, a mysterious ‘otherworldly’ type dubbed The Turk, who takes the story into a different realm for parts of it. I particularly appreciated how Cleveland had a strong faith, even when confronted with some hairy situations, that Mullaney was struggling in his faith and Palmyra had many questions about hers. I’m excited as to how these three navigate the rest of the story as regards their faith.

I found it enthralling and even though this story wraps up one of the key plot points there’s still much to resolve when it ends leaving us enthusiastically waiting for Book Two.

I received an ebook copy of the novel from the publisher via NetGalley being a member of Audra Jennings PR blog tour with no expectation of a favourable review.

Book Review: A Cross to Kill by Andrew Huff

This story starts fast and doesn’t really let up for the rest of it. John Cross is a ‘retired’ assassin who worked for the CIA and after giving his life to God determines to live the life of a small town pastor. However, his past won’;t let go of him.

It’s a good story especially as it’s not the usual thing we get to read in Christian fiction. Here is a man, grappling with being obedient to God, to his new calling while all the habits and thoughts so ingrained in his heart and mind seek to keep him from that obedience. It’s a fascinating insight into the struggle we all have to allow our hearts and minds to focus on the kingdom of God rather than the world we’re familiar to.

Cross is a good character and I’m excited to see how Huff develops him through the series. What I found intriguing in this first story Cross appeared more at ease in his old role, the assassin. When we see him as pastor, he’s a bit stiff and tied to what I’d describe as ‘religious’-type behaviours to keep focused on his pastoring. He was a traditional old school preacher who was still learning on the job. I hope we see his character develop where he warms to his pastoral role and more significantly, being a man who walks with God.

Christine Lewis is also a good character who is not your average journalist. She’s gutsy and feisty. I’m also looking forward to seeing how she develops in the series.

The action was intense and at times a little hard to visualise. I found that perhaps it went on for too long, particularly the car chases that covered multiple chapters. I hope as Huff develops he’ll be less reliant on using the same action tropes, eg, the car chase. However, he handles it all very well and keeps the pace fast which keeps the pages turning.

This is an intriguing series that I’m sure will develop into a really good one.

I received a complimentary ebook copy from Audra Jennings PR and Kregel via NetGalley with no expectation of a favourable review.

“Deadly Proof” by Rachel Dylan

Kate Sullivan is a 30-something lawyer who is given the biggest case in her relatively short career: lead counsel on a very big Pharma case involving a class action of families who have lost a member as a result of using a new drug from a global Pharma giant, MPC. Kate’s the plaintiff bringing the case against MPC and a college buddy, Ethan, is leading the defence.

We’re quickly thrown into the action as an insider (an MPC employee) having conferred with Kate is mysteriously murdered. Kate employs a PI to help her get to the bottom of that case to see if it has anything to do with her much bigger case. Of course it has a whole lot to do with it. Landon, an ex-Army Ranger, is the PI and there are immediate sparks between him and Kate and it’s clear their relationship will create fodder for the story’s romance angle.

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Book Review: ‘Rule of Law,’ by Randy Singer

This is the first Randy Singer novel I’ve read and I’m certain it won’t be the last. The combination of the legal, military, political and intrigue is compelling. Yes, some of the legal mumbo-jumbo and Supreme Court protocols were at times a bit tiresome but it wasn’t long before Singer brought us back to the human element. Special forces soldiers who were fighting for their country were killed in a bungled raid in Yemen. And now their loved ones had no father, no husband, no son, no brother and no explanation as to what really happened to their men.

Paige Chambers and Wyatt Jackson are two excellent creations. So different in style, mannerism and attitude but a terrific combination of youthful innocence and seasoned cynicism. And Amanda Hamilton, the President, was a leader with heart and courage to do what is best for the people of the nation not just make the right political move.

I suspect the story line borders on the truth – are the CIA effectively a rogue unit when operating outside the US without appropriate Congressional authority to act? When acts of war occur without appropriate authority are the executive branch protected by the “state secrets” provisions allowing such acts to not be properly brought to account and the perpetrators brought to trial?

Like many novels the novel is set up well and the first 200 pages are compelling. The story sagged a little in the middle as our lawyers went through their processes to testify in multiple court situations. But the last 50 pages or so are brilliant. I couldn’t turn the pages fast enough and I was kinda sad when it all came to an end.

I do hope Randy Singer has found himself a new hero that he can use in a series of JAG-style novels: Paige Chambers. I know I’ll certainly be reading that series.

If you enjoy watching TV shows like JAG and Madam Secretary you going to enjoy Rule of Law (without the soap opera that sometimes comes with TV shows).

I received a Net Galley copy of Rule of Law as part of the Litfuse Blog Tour with no expectations of a favourable review.

Book Review: “Invention” by Justin J Camp

Wow … there is so much in this short book. So much to contemplate but also to do! And that’s what lifts this book above the majority that explore the concept of identity and purpose: Camp guides the reader through a practical Spirit-led self-evaluation to map out a blueprint for life. A blueprint that documents your talents, spiritual gifts, sense of calling and potential actions to take. Really useful for men at any stage of life but especially if you have a sense there is more to life and that you’re not fulfilling the Lord’s purpose.

This is an easy-to-read book with each chapter featuring what Camp calls a “nano-history” – a brief profile of an inventor who lived and worked during the Industrial Revolution. I enjoyed learning more about such people as Otis, Benz, Edison and more. Recognising that Camp had taken some creative licence to illustrate a point, these openings certainly piqued my curiosity in the topic under consideration.

I love that notion that we’re God’s most fantastic invention – “His beloved creations … and can’t-miss-this intentionality – for us and for our lives.” And He so wants us to understand our unique identity and the purpose we have to play in His Kingdom. For too many years I’ve lived not being sure of my identity and purpose and so I’ve meandered, allowed myself to be too distracted by all and sundry and not been the husband, father and friend that I should be.

Do you feel that way too? If so, grab this book. It’s filled with relevant Scripture and quotes from other valuable sources as Camp demonstrates how we can start the journey to discover our God-given identities through drawing closer to the Lord and together evaluating and documenting a plan to start living it.

I’m looking forward to working through it again and sharing it with other men who I know will find it beneficial.

I was provided with a PDF copy of this book by the publisher with no expectation of a positive review.

Book Review: “Getting Jesus Wrong” by Matt Johnson

Matt Johnson presents a very frank and honest assessment of his own walk with the Lord over the past 20+ years. I appreciated the fact that he wrote this book as a means of documenting his own journey and experiences as a believer making it very readable and relatable.

The book has 2 Parts:

Part 1: Life Coach Jesus and Other False Gods,
Part II: The Antidote to Pride and Despair.

Part 1 addresses some of the ways he and, therefore we, may get Jesus wrong. This also includes looking at certain church scenarios that he experienced: the Life Coach Jesus, Checklist Jesus, Movement Leader Jesus, Visionary Jesus and Pride & Despair. I saw myself having experienced each one of these throughout my own walk both the different church situations and the drivenness to achieve, to mark off my checklist and the resultant pride and despair.

Johnson came across a little cynical in this section but I may not be familiar enough with his sense of humour. In saying that I recognised myself in much of what he covered and opened my eyes to some aspects of my own faith that I have perhaps taken for granted which I’m very appreciative of.

Part II then seeks to outline how we can journey through life with a “correct” perspective of Jesus. These 3 chapters are the most powerful and are full of great truth supported with relevant Scripture plus a number of references to a number of influential thinkers including Martin Luther who in particular, appears to have had a great impact on Johnson’s reflections. Dependence on Jesus is the only way but this can take a lifetime for us to work out. Letting go of our humanness is such challenge simply because it comes naturally to us.

There are many things to like about this book and I would encourage people to read it. My only concern is I felt it leaves a slightly sour view of the church. Yes, the church is full of people and therefore is always going to make mistakes. However, the church is pivotal to Jesus’ mission and He is passionate about the church. We all have a role to play in helping bring more of Jesus into the church.

I received a complimentary copy of Getting Jesus Wrong from Litfuse with no expectation of a positive review. If you’re interested in reading more about the book please visit the Litfuse Blog Tour site.

Book Review: “The Dog who was There” by Ron Marasco

As a dog lover, I was intrigued to read a story about a dog who experienced first hand the life of Jesus. I didn’t really know what to expect and now having read it I have a mix of thoughts as regards reviewing it.

I appreciated the grittiness of the story. We see the times of Jesus from the ground level so we get a taste of the dirt and squalor of certain areas of Jerusalem and other nearby locales. We get a view of the violence of the period, in particular, the ruthless and callous disregard the Romans had for life, both human and canine. For some readers this may be a bit confronting.

Barley is a rescue dog in the true sense of the description (we have 2 at home) and has a delightful spirit even though for much of his life he is poorly treated. But we do get to see him being loved by a married couple and later by a petty criminal, Samid, which Barley responds well too.

Jesus, or the Kind Man as Barley describes Him, doesn’t really enter the story until about halfway and then it’s not until the last 30% of the book when Barley gets up close to Him in His last days. And the crucifixion scene is tremendously portrayed from the eyes of Barley.

What I found challenging about the novel is that not a lot happens in the first half and I struggled to get through to it. I kept wondering when Jesus was going to become more prominent as that’s what the title alluded to. I was confused by the POV quite a lot. The author jumped between Barley and 3rd person narrator frequently to the extent they almost meshed. I felt Barley often saw things through a human and not, a dog perspective.

The last third of the novel was very good to read with a couple of very clever twists which amped up the emotional connection I had to the story. However, there is so much quality reading material available I’m not sure I’m able to recommend this one.

Note: A special thank you to Thomas Nelson and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

You can discover more about “The Dog who was There” on the Litfuse Blog Tour site.

Book Review: “Waiting for Wonder” by Marlo Schalesky

waiting-for-wonder-pkWe’re all familiar with the story of Abraham and Sarah … how they were blessed by God to be the blessing for future nations and generations. Of how Abraham, the great man of faith, on hearing God’s instruction to leave home, grabbed his family and did just that, not knowing where the Lord was leading them. But in Marlo Schalesky’s marvellous book we hear from Sarah, we gain insight into her perspective, on being Abraham’s wife and being wholly favoured by God not because she was a wife but because she too was the Lord’s beloved.

I liked how Ms Schalesky set out each chapter: we start with a Scripture from Genesis which sets it up, then a short introduction before we “hear” from Sarah herself, well, the author’s thoughts on what may have been going through Sarah’s mind at the time, then a section “Waiting for Wonder” where the author explores what’s to be discovered in the waiting and then finally “Who is this God?”, a short section bringing back to the greatness and goodness of God.

Yes, there is some repetition across 14 chapters of exploring “waiting”, however, there are some outstanding insights to be gleaned from the author’s interpretation of Sarah’s story that makes this book such a worthy resource on the subject. As Sarah and Abraham journeyed through many years of waiting the Lord drew them increasingly towards Himself, to a deeper intimacy and new devotion. This is what He calls each of us too. And that’s the wonder of “waiting”: our Creator woos us. To Himself in order that we discover our Lord in ways we could never have imagined and in so doing fresh perspectives on ourselves and His beloved.

I also appreciated the point that even when they received the blessing (yes, Sarah received it specifically too) from God of a child in a year’s time, they were again tested. And again they initially struggled because of their inherent fears that had always inhibited them. “Sometimes we must go back in order to go forward. We must face the sin, the lies we live, those in ourselves and in the people close to us.We cannot receive the fulfilment of promises to bless the world when we are stepped in old fear, old deceptions, old sins.”(loc 1357)

This so spoke to me. The Lord has something more for us but first of all we need to let go of the past and all its muck, whatever form it may take.

If you’re presently in a season of waiting then buy this book. Ms Schalesky wrestles with Scripture and overlays aspects of waiting in her own life to provide an excellent insight into the wonders that can be gained from waiting.

Note: A special thank you to Abingdon Press and NetGalley for an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

You can discover more about “Waiting from Wonder” on the Litfuse Blog Tour site.