“The Tournament,” Matthew Reilly

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Photo Courtesy of Pan Macmillan Publishers

This is a very different Matthew Reilly novel. There’s no Scarecrow, nor Jack West. There is also no hero saving the world with moments to spare from some global calamity.

But don’t let that stop you from reading it as this is Matthew Reilly at his story telling best.

We meet Bess, the young 13 year old daughter of Anne Boleyn & Henry VIII, who goes to Constantinople with her teacher, Roger Ascham, to witness the inaugural World Chess Tournament hosted by the Sultan. Soon after arriving, a prominent Cardinal from the Catholic entourage is found murdered. The Sultan engages Ascham to investigate the murder. In the process of the investigation, conducted in the background to the tournament, further murders are perpetrated to add to the intrigue.

Meanwhile, Bess’s friendly older companion Elsie seeks to win herself a Prince, the son of the Sultan. She spends her nights on various nocturnal exploits which she regales in full detail to Bess the following morning. Yes, this novel features sex, which to his credit, Reilly points out at in his “Author Note” at the beginning of the book stating it to be for mature readers only.

The tournament, the investigation and Elsie’s ambition are all drawn together at the end. There was a degree of predictability which is not typical in a Reilly novel, however, the power of the novel is in Bess’s coming of age story line.

Bess, of course, matures into Elizabeth I, and one of the wonderful aspects of the novel was the fictionalising elements of real people. Fundamentally, this is a story about Bess, and Reilly courageously explores how the experiences in her youth (namely this fictional one) helped mould her into becoming one of Britain’s greatest monarchs. Not to mention that she never married.

Told from Bess’s first person voice, this is a rollicking tale that will delight Reilly’s passionate reader-base as well as introduce new readers to the great story teller that he is.

“The Gifts of Imperfection,” Brene Brown

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Photo courtesy of Hazelden Publishing

Wholehearted living. Aha, yep heard of it, but not sure what it means nor whether you’re living it?

Brene’s book goes a long way to helping you discover the what and the how of living a wholehearted life.

Brene’s recommendations are all based on quality research that she has performed as well as other various experts she engages through the discovery process she outlines through the book.

This is a practical book. But what is so special about it is that it’s also Brene’s journey. She’s not speaking from the pulpit, rather from the trenches alongside us. She guides, tests ideas, empathises, shares her own failings as she explores the results of the research she’s conducted over many years.

Being able to say “I’m worthy” or “I am enough” can be very difficult for many of us. This masterful guide is a great place to start in learning how to do just that.

Cannot recommend this book, nor its author, enough.

 

“Sun Stand Still Devotional,” Steven Furtick

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Photo courtesy of WaterBrook Multnomah

Having being impressed with the book Sun Stand Still I was excited by the idea of a 40-day condensed devotional version of it.

Both books reflect on Joshua’s audacious prayer asking God to freeze time so he and his Israelite army have more time to vanquish the Amorites. And God answers by doing just that.

Furtick believes we all should be living lives of audacious faith where prayers such as Joshua’s are common practice and just as importantly we are stepping out in faith so that God can demonstrate His faithfulness to us.

This devotional is excellent. Each day’s message is short featuring a passage of Scripture that encourages us to be faithful. Yes, God can be trusted. What I particularly love about Furtick’s writing is that he is the master encourager (he’d be a great sports coach) to be able to motivate by demonstrating God’s faithfulness and then equip the reader with the tools to utilise to step out in faith.

He also uses a lot of great soundbites that are short, sharp and memorable, such as:

– The proof of faith is the action it produces.
– Faith not only prays. It also pursues.
– Live a life that is explainable only by the existence of a God who is infinitely great.

Furtick shares a number of stories of his own journey in starting his church (which is quite a remarkable story) and this devotional includes some updates which weren’t included in the book. Each day’s lesson then ends with an accompanying action to pray.

If you’re desiring something more for your life, I’d encourage you work through this devotional. You won’t be disappointed. I expect I’ll keep returning to it on a regular basis.

“All In,” Mark Batterson

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Photo courtesy of Zondervan

Batterson challenges us to be the person God wants us to be: completely committed to Him in everything, ie, to be All In.

He uses great stories and powerful Biblical passages to emphasise different aspects of our lives where we struggle to be fully committed. And of course, no Mark Batterson book would be without many wonderful soundbites that the reader can highlight, add to their journal, tweet and/or post on FB. But more importantly these help you remember key points of the message. One of my favourite ones is:

“If you want God to do something new, you cannot keep doing what you’ve always done.”

This is a challenging read as it’s very difficult to stay seated on the bench once you realise the Biblical truth that Batterson is sharing. Read it and get ready to be shaken up and stirred to jump off the bench with renewed vigour.

“Sedona Storm,” Barbara Scott

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Book cover courtesy of Landheart Press

I thoroughly enjoyed this story. I understand it was originally published a decade or so ago and the authors have modernised it (even with an iphone mention!). A story of the unseen world that angels and demons inhabit interwoven with the natural world of man is as timeless as the Bible.

It’s suspenseful and contains some graphic scenes that are not for the faint of heart but it’s how the authors depict the two worlds intersecting (including many a collision) that has the reader spellbound. Prayer engages heaven by activating angelic assistance and this is wonderfully demonstrated in this novel.

We see the consequences of dabbling in the darkness, yes, it can destroy, kill and steal. But we also see grace, healing, forgiveness and salvation. Yes, this novel sure packs a lot in it.

I’m pleased the authors elected to re-launch after so many years as it’s messages are important for the world to hear.

“Memory’s Door,” Jim Rubart

memorys-door-james-l-rubart-134x210This is the sequel to Soul’s Gate in the 3-book Well Spring series. It continues the adventure of the four: Dana, Marcus, Brandon and Reece (The Warriors Riding) as they prepare themselves to tackle the malevolent “Wolf” who personifies the spirit of religion. The four all confront their own darkness that in some way or another is holding them from living in complete freedom in their walks with Jesus. This is a key theme of the series: we allow our past regrets to hold us back even when we have Jesus in our lives. Jesus however has come to set us free from our past. However, we can’t just runaway from them. We need to confront our darkness with Jesus and let Him bring healing.

We spend a lot of time in the “spirit” and/or in people’s souls. I’m reminded of CS Lewis’s “space trilogy” novels (not Narnia) where he takes us in to another realm. There the Warriors battle demons whilst also meeting friendly spirits and angels on their journeys.

There were times I felt Rubart was delaying the ultimate conflict as I thought there were one or two elements that were laboured over, however, he continued to surprise me with some riveting action and suspense. And the battle near the end is simply breathtaking.

Rubart’s wonderful storytelling takes the reader into the minds and souls of his characters. He is a masterful communicator and at all times he had me visually present within the scenes. As with Soul’s Gate, Rubart uses Scripture powerfully to weave within the story. It’s not preachy but essential as the Word of God enlightens, empowers and equips the Warriors. But we also see how it can be misused to lead others astray.

I love how this series is making me stretch further into Jesus, opening my eyes to what is holding me back in enjoying complete freedom and showing me how I can use prayer, the Word and faith to unshackle me. The importance of comrades in battle is highlighted. We cannot run this race alone especially when it comes to tackling the spirit world.

I can’t wait for the final instalment.

“The Real Win: A Man’s Quest for Authentic Success”, Colt McCoy, Matt Carter

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Photo courtesy of Waterbrook Multnomah Publishers

I think most men are borne with a desire to be significant, to be seen to have made an impact wherever we are stationed. As Christian men, this desire is no different and we often find ourselves chasing the world’s roadmaps for achieving impact.

Matt, a Pastor and Colt, an NFL quarterback, are leading successful lives in the world’s eyes. The two men take us through their struggles with the world’s guidelines for success to demonstrate an alternative based on Biblical practices. They specifically focus on four key areas: work, family, a man’s character and his future or legacy.

The book is especially practical not just because it comes with a study guide but also uses examples from both of their lives to demonstrate how they’ve managed to depend on Jesus rather than the world’s principles. They don’t shy away from revealing their own struggles, failures and weaknesses.

There are many good chapters in this book. I especially appreciated the two that cover a man’s character especially in discussing integrity and weaknesses. “Therefore, let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (Heb 4:16b NASB)

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“Deeper Places,” Matthew Jacoby

dp.inddThe Psalms reflect the authors relationship with God. Accordingly, they are a tremendous example in demonstrating how we can communicate with Him.

Matthew Jacoby has a deep understanding of the Psalms as he has spent a great deal of the past 15 years immersed in them. He is a founding member of the Psalms-worship band Sons of Korah and accordingly has been singing them for many years.

This is one of those books that you need to take time over and mediate on both Scripture and Jacoby’s words of explanation. The book is structured around explaining the various types of psalm (eg, lamentation, praise, etc) and outlining how we can use the words to better aid our own communication with the Lord.

As one of the endorsers states: “Deeper Places is about knowing God, not knowing about God.” I want to know God more intimately and this wonderful book has opened my eyes to better understand how I can do that.

If your desire is to know God, then I’d encourage you to get your hands on this marvellous book.

“The Counselor: A Screenplay”, Cormac McCarthy

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Photo courtesy of Pan Macmillan

It’s been a few years since I read a screenplay. It’s obvious from the first page this was written for the screen.

The Counselor is classic McCarthy with his magnificent spartan use of language and ability to take his reader into the heart of every scene.

While I enjoyed reading McCarthy’s narrative and frugal but a times brutal dialogue, the story didn’t grab me. I think I’ll enjoy the story more when I see the visual representation of it on the screen. The story moves at great pace skipping from one scene to another then to another very quickly which I believe will be better portrayed on screen. There’s a wonderful cast assembled for the movie making it even more appealing. How the director captures the fear and tension that pervades the screenplay will be particularly interesting.

As with many McCarthy works there are some severe violent episodes that I actually found a little distracting but I expect is necessary to demonstrate the destructive essence of the drug trade.

This is one that is perhaps better to watch than to read.

“Soul’s Gate”, Jim Rubart

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Photo courtesy of Thomas Nelson

Jim Rubart’s novels simply get better and better. This is top notch and I’d encourage every Christian to read it.

From the first page Jim’s writing took me on a spiritual journey that had me pressing into the Lord as I explored the ideas in the novel in my own prayer life. Jesus brings freedom, it’s a fundamental aspect of the gospel and Soul’s Gate explores this truth by introducing four characters who are still struggling with their own particular issues. They are called to firstly tackle their own captivity before being able to help others to do the same which I take will be the main thrust behind the second in the series, Memory’s Door.

However, the enemy doesn’t just sit back and allow us as individuals to surrender our brokenness to the Lord. Rubart demonstrates this by using the allegory of people entering another’s soul to help that person to both recognise their struggles and then helping free them. However, frequently the enemy will turn up in an attempt to thwart the crusaders efforts. In essence, I see this as how the Holy SPirit works in our lives. He enables us to identify the roadblocks to our freedom and provides us with the ammunition to blast them away. And once again, Satan and his cronies fight hard to stop the roadblocks from budging.

We can all help others in their individual battles by way of prayer which again is a big theme that runs through Soul’s Gate. Prayer is powerful and it does work to prevent the enemy in its efforts.

I enjoyed each of the four characters, all very different and believable. I look forward to their development in the next edition. The scenery both physically and supernaturally is fantastic making the novel a great joy to read. Rubart does a magnificent job visually taking the reader into each of the scenes.

I’ll be recommending this to everyone. It’s a must read and the best novel I’ve read in 2013.

Congratulations Jim on a novel that I hope will stand the test of time not unlike some of those of a certain hero of yours, Mr CS Lewis.