Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Searching for Sunday by Rachel Held Evans

Like millions of her millennial peers, Rachel Held Evans didn't want to go to church anymore. The hypocrisy, the politics, the gargantuan building budgets, the scandals--church culture seemed so far removed from Jesus. Yet, despite her cynicism and misgivings, something kept drawing her back to Church. And so she set out on a journey to understand Church and to find her place in it.

A memoir about making do and taking risks, about the messiness of community and the power of grace, Searching for Sunday is about overcoming cynicism to find hope and, somewhere in between, Church.

I've become interested in this book after I've seen a bunch of people I follow on social media talking about it and recommending it. I thought to myself, even if this book is not exactly my type, I'll just give it a try and see how it goes. After reading it, I must say I understand why so many people were impressed by it. The writing is quite catchy and beautiful. It caught me for a while as well. Until it just got weird and confusing to me.

What I really liked about this book was the writing, the author clearly has her way with words, she is a good writer. What I didn't like about it was the message. It felt confusing to me. I mean, I get the part where the author opens up with her experience with the Church. There are a bunch of people that have bad experiences with the Church. And I empathized with her. The confusing part was the part where she encourages readers to keep trying to love the Church, but then continues with her negative talk about it. I just felt like her ideology isn't exactly coherent. At times I felt like she kept contradicting herself. I honestly didn't get what she was saying: stay with the Church, and keep trying? or just get out of it and try to find a better one (or start a better one)?

At times, it seemed to me like she was very quick to judge the Church. Although her thoughts on cynicism I thought were goodBeing a book about the church  I expected her ideas to be accompanied by Bible verses/references to sustain them. But there were very few Bible references/passages throughout it. Also, when she inserted controversial ideas, like the Church loving and accepting the gays/lesbians, she didn't backed it up with any Bible reference. 

I believe every person has the right to an opinion, so I won't get into everything that I didn't agree with, because my rating wasn't based on me agreeing with her ideas anyway. I wanted to keep it objective. I've decided to give it a 3 star rating only because I was impressed with her writing. Evan's writing really sounds good but underneath it I just thought it was incoherent and confusing most of the times. All in all, it was a good read, but I don't feel like I can recommend it.

Rachel Held Evans is a New York Times best-selling author whose books include Faith Unraveled (2010), A Year of Biblical Womanhood (2012) and Searching for Sunday (2015). Hailing from Dayton, Tennessee - home of the famous Scopes Monkey Trial of 1925 - she writes about faith, doubt and life in the Bible Belt.
A lifelong Alabama Crimson fan, Rachel is married to Dan. Her preferred writing fuel is animal crackers and red wine.

:: I have requested this book from Thomas Nelson via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The ideas expressed here are my own.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Melissa: A Father's Lessons from a Daughter's Suicide by Frank Page

Desperately hurting people take their own lives every day throughout the world, yet the church is not on top of the epidemic and often seems ill- equipped to address it biblically and effectively.

Frank Page, a former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, learned this firsthand when he and his wife Dayle lost their daughter, Melissa, to suicide in 2009. Writing from personal experience, he examines the biblical truths that carried him through such a painful time and that minister to him on dark days still known to come around. Ultimately, Melissa: A Father's Lessons from a Daughter's Suicide is beauty from ashes, a book of wisdom and hope that Page wishes he could have read before going through this valley, and a resource the church can use to directly address an all-too-real problem.

This is a heavy book to read. It's heavy because of the emotions and the pain that can be felt throughout its entirety. It's a father's grief observed. It's painful, sad, honest, raw, loving and gentle. 

Starting from the beginning, this book is dedicated to those who are struggling with thoughts of suicide and to those who survived it -  families of the ones who chose suicide. In the introduction, the author explains his hope for this book to become a tool and an encouragement for people struggling in any way, with suicide or with its consequences. 

It is written from a fathers heart, and as a reader, you can feel that all the way throughout it. The voice of this book is not one of superiority, but of empathy. I really loved the way he tackles the difficult and controversial (especially in Christian circles) problem of suicide. He comes at it with boldness, gentleness and love; not at all with judgement. 

The book is structured into 8 chapters, each focusing on some primary misconceptions people have about suicide and the persons committing it. At the end of each chapter, the author dedicates a special section to those who contemplate committing suicide entitled "A Letter to You" in which he tries to offer a new perspective based on what was discussed in that chapter. 
Being the president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Committee in Nashville, the author offers a biblical perspective on the issue of suicide. Throughout the book he will insert bible passages and stories of people in the bible struggling with depression and other destructive thoughts and emotions.

I think Page offers a real, raw, authentic and painful image of what the consequences of choosing suicide can be. I believe this book is a great resource for people who are thinking about committing suicide and for the families whose loved ones chose suicide and are now living its consequences. 
I'm not part of either of those two categories, but I really liked the book. I believe it offered me a realistic perspective on the problem of suicide. This book showed me the aftermath of a choice, not only the causes and symptoms of a disorder. 

Frank Page, coauthor of The Incredible Shrinking Church, is the president and chief executive officer of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee in Nashville, Tennessee. He holds Ph.D. and M.Div. degrees from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and has also served as a seminary professor, Bible reference writer, and international speaker.

>> I have requested this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The ideas and opinions expressed here are my own. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

For the Love by Jen Hatmaker

The popular writer, blogger, and television personality reveals with humor and style how Jesus' extravagant grace is the key to dealing with life's biggest challenge: people.

The majority of our joys, struggles, thrills, and heartbreaks relate to people, beginning first with ourselves and then the people we came from, married, birthed, live by, live for, go to church with, don't like, don't understand, fear, struggle with, compare ourselves to, and judge. People are the best and worst thing about the human life.

Jen Hatmaker knows this all too well, and so she reveals how to practice kindness, grace, truthfulness, vision, and love to ourselves and those around us.

For the Love is a funny, real, transparent read about people. The book is structured into four main parts: 
  • The first part deals with the inner self - character traits, self esteem, fashion concerns, insecurities that keep us from being the real us.
  • Second part talks about family - how to deal with family, some wisdom words about kids, marriage and school. 
  • The third part deals with other people like: friends, neighbors, strangers and enemies.
  • And the final part tackles the church issues, its people and the non-church people as well. The author focuses on issues like: dissatisfied church members, exhausted church leaders, poverty tourism, social media, criticism etc. 
The first time I opened this book I couldn't put it down. I laughed out loud so many times while reading it! Especially while reading The Thank You Notes & Fashion Concerns!
One think I really liked (besides her humor!) was the fact that she was real with issues, she didn't sugar coat difficulties and ambiguities of life and Christian Faith. I particularly enjoyed this when she talked about short-term mission trips and parenting. She was honest, raw-honest, funny honest - it was really good!
I appreciate the fact that the author hasn't structured this book as a guide or a 5 step program. She promotes a Jesus-centered life, a simple way of living, living intentionally, finding joy in little things of life and loving well. I felt like the motto of this book was - Love God and love people and everything else will fall into place.
It was a really good book! I contemplate re-reading it in the future. (5 star rating)

Jen Hatmaker is the author of eight books and Bible studies, including A Modern Girl's Guide to Bible Study. With a heart for the women of her generation, she speaks at retreats and conferences around the country. Jen and her husband, Brandon, reside in Texas with their five children, and lead the ministry work at Austin New Church. 

*I have requested this book from Thomas Nelson via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The ideas and opinions expressed here are my own. 

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Nobody's Cuter than You by Melanie Shankle

Written in the same comedic style as the "New York Times" bestsellers "Sparkly Green Earrings" and "The Antelope in the Living Room," "Nobody's Cuter than You" is a laugh-out-loud look at the special bond that exists between friends and a poignant celebration of all the extraordinary people God had the good sense to bring into our lives at exactly the right moments. 
From the friendships we develop over a lifetime to the ones that wounded us and the ones that taught us to love better, Melanie Shankle reveals the influence our friends have on who we were, who we are, and who we will become. And on a day when our jeans feel too tight, our chins have decided to embrace hormone-related acne reminiscent of our teen years, and our kids have tested the limits of our sanity, they are the ones who will look at us and say, "Nobody's cuter than you!

I've pre-ordered this book as soon as in was available to preorder; clearly I was really excited about Melanie's third book. I have read all her books so far (and loved 'em all!), so this one was a must-have to my collection.

Nobody's Cuter than You is a memoir about friendship. Melanie takes us on a journey throughout her childhood years to her present life. She introduces us to her friends from back then and to the friends she shares life with in the present. Through each of these friendships she manages to capture a unique aspect about friendship. She also emphasizes how differently we can choose friendships depending on each one's stage of development or season of life. 
One key aspect that Shankle focuses on throughout the entire book is the importance of female friendships in other women's lives. She discusses the fact that out culture doesn't promote or encourage this kind of relationship enough or the way our mothers and grandmothers' generations did.  

I love Melanie's funny writing style, to which I am already accustomed to from years following her blog. I've seen many people say that this book is Melanie Shankle's best so far. Well, I'd have to agree. It has more depth to it and she also shares her faith a bit more in this one.  
One of the things that I didn't quite get were the 60s and 70s references, I felt a little left out on those parts. But I didn't feel like it ruined my reading experience. 
It was a really great read - 5 star rating!

>> And here's the really cute book trailer: 


Melanie Shankle is a graduate of Texas A&M and lives in San Antonio, Texas with her husband, Perry, and daughter, Caroline. Melanie began blogging in July 2006 when she started her blog, Big Mama. Her first book, Sparkly Green Earrings, came out in February 2013 and debuted on the New York Times Bestseller list. Her second book, The Antelope in the Living Room, was released on February 4, 2014 and also hit the New York Times list.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Bringing Narnia Home (Lessons from the Other Side of the Wardrobe) by Devin Brown

The wisdom of C. S. Lewis comes in a form that is deeply moving as well as great fun and high adventure. Noted Lewis scholar and popular speaker Devin Brown reveals the lessons woven throughout this endearing text. 
Bringing Narnia Home presents Lewis's timeless message for the Narnian in each of us. 
A wise, winsome, and whimsical look at the important values and lessons the Narnia series teaches that actually provide the groundwork for a profound and meaningful life.

I have requested Bringing Narnia Home because I was immediately intrigued by the title. I am currently in the process of reading the Chronicles of Narnia with a friend and we are doing this little book club between the two of us. So I thought this book would be a great resource for me. 

The book starts with a warning - do not start reading it until you've read all the Narnia books. Well, I've ignored the warning and jumped right in. The experience wasn't ruined though, on the contrary, I really enjoyed the book! 

Bringing Narnia Home is structured into eleven chapters. Each chapter focuses on a particular lesson the reader can take out of The Chronicles of Narnia. Some of the lessons presented here are: 
  • Actions we see as small and insignificant can be far more important than we realize;
  • Being a Leader means more than simply being the boss;
  • Bad can look beautiful;
  • Sometimes help does not look like help until much later;
  • Merriment and Celebration are not just for holidays and birthdays;
  • There is a way back from every offense;
  • Only the Good have Fun;
  • Adventures begin in the most unlikely places. 
The author follows these little red threads throughout all of the books in The Chronicles of Narnia, giving detailed examples and discussing them a bit. Brown makes a parallel between these lessons and the Christian principles of life. 

I really liked this book. It is a thorough study on The Chronicles of Narnia and a helpful one. It left me with the warm & fuzzy feeling that I had after reading the Narnia books. So I really enjoyed it and found it helpful for my further narnian explorations. 

Devin Brown (PhD, University of South Carolina) is a Lilly scholar and professor of English at Asbury University. A C. S. Lewis aficionado, Brown has written, taught, and lectured on Lewis extensively for more than ten years. He has written a number of books related to Lewis, including Inside Narnia and Inside Prince Caspian, and lives in Kentucky. In 2008 Brown was invited to serve as scholar-in-residence at the Kilns, Lewis's home in Oxford.

*I have requested this book from Abington Press via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. The ideas and opinions expressed here are my own. 

Sunday, May 10, 2015

What Keeps You Up at Night by Pete Wilson

“I just can’t ever seem to shut off my brain and rest.”
It's easy to feel paralyzed by uncertainty. We want our questions answered, our decisions affirmed, and our plans applauded. But life doesn't come with an instruction manual and rarely follows a straight path. How would your life change if you learned to lean into uncertainty instead of waiting on the sidelines for just the right moment or opportunity?
In his most insightful work since the debut bestseller, Plan B, Pete Wilson provides a plan for living that will lead you to a place of peace that you've only dreamed about and a life filled with meaning, significance, and satisfaction.

I was excited at the opportunity of reading an advanced copy of What Keeps You Up at Night especially because I have known Pete Wilson for at least 6 years (from Cross Point Church messages, blog, social media). Therefore, I am quite familiar with his ideas, messages and beliefs.

I was pleasantly surprised by this book. Pete Wilson tackles the subject of fear, which is a pretty common emotion among people nowadays, and it comes in different shapes and sizes (fear of the future, fear of chasing our dreams, fear of being alone etc). He doesn't offer a universal formula that can solve all fear-related problems, he actually discourages that type of thinking. What he does is he offers practical ideas and steps for a change in perspective. Wilson encourages his readers to change the way they think and the way they react to fear by offering a biblical perspective on fear.

The book is structured in 12 chapters - short and concise. At the end of each chapter the author makes it practical by offering three sections that will help the reader internalize what he/she just read:
  • The Key Ideas summarizes the chapter into a couple of simple and short ideas that can be easily remembered. 
  • In the Reflection Questions section, the author offers some questions that will help the readers identify the key areas that they can work on based on what was discussed in that particular chapter.
  • Your Next Step contains a challenge or a task to help the readers practice what they have already learned. 
I must confess I was skeptical when I started reading this book, because fear is a pretty vast subject. I wasn't sure what Wilson would have to say about fear that wasn't already said or discussed before. Well, he doesn't really bring anything new to the subject, but what he does is he reminds us the important aspects of fear, offers a biblical perspective on fear by illustrating struggles of biblical characters when being confronted with fearful situations. And he makes it practical and personal by offering the readers some tools for their own process of fighting their own fear. 

Pete Wilson is currently doing a special message series at Cross Point Church entitled What Keeps You Up at Night based on his book. You can check it out here.  

Here's the book promo: 

Pete Wilson is the best-selling author of Plan B and founding and senior pastor of Cross Point Church in Nashville, Tennessee, a committed church community that he and his wife, Brandi, planted in 2002. Cross Point has grown to reach more than six thousand people each weekend through its seven campuses located around the Nashville area, and online. As one of the fastest-growing churches in America, Pete’s ministry—an outreach focused on helping people become devoted to Christ, irrevocably committed to each other, and relentlessly dedicated to reaching those outside of God’s family with the gospel—has made him a frequent speaker at national and international church conferences. 

*I have requested this book from Thomas Nelson via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The ideas and opinions expressed here are my own. 

Monday, May 4, 2015

The Love Dare by Alex & Stephen Kendrick

Unconditional love is eagerly promised at weddings, but rarely practiced in real life. As a result, romantic hopes are often replaced with disappointment in the home. But it doesn’t have to stay that way.

The Love Dare, the New York Times No. 1 best seller that has sold five million copies and was major plot device in the popular movie Fireproof, is a 40-day challenge for husbands and wives to understand and practice unconditional love. Whether your marriage is hanging by a thread or healthy and strong, The Love Dare is a journey you need to take. It’s time to learn the keys to finding true intimacy and developing a dynamic marriage.

I've requested The Love Dare from B&H Publishing because I've seen the movie Fireproof some years ago, when it was released, and I really liked it. Even though I am not married I believe this sort of love challenge is suitable for any number of relationships, not only romantic ones. 

The Love Dare is a 40-day challenge to understand and practice unconditional love, the biblical type of love. Each day contains three main elements:
  • In the first part a unique aspect of love will be discussed based on a bible verse.
  • The second part will offer a specific dare to help the reader practice that specific aspect of love discussed earlier. 
  • The last part contains journal space for the reader to log what he/she is learning and doing and also the reactions encountered on that particular dare. 
The main principle of this love dare is that you must lead your heart, not follow it. Which I believe it to be an extremely healthy principle when thinking about relationships, and specifically here - marriage. 

What really makes this love dare a powerful tool is the free online marriage evaluation that this book comes with. It is a personalized marriage evaluation that takes only a few minutes to complete. It is simple and anonymous. And it helps to quickly clarify where the couple is, discover their key areas of growth and identify how to use the Love Dare in a strategically and personalized way for the couple's most benefits. 

I really liked this book. It comes in a beautiful and elegant leather touch cover. The pages are designed really beautifully, with plenty journaling space to keep track of the process.
I would recommend it to everyone who wants to work on their relationships, who believes unconditional love is the answer to relational problems, to those who want to work on their marriage (as this Love Dare is specifically designed for married couples) and to those who want to learn how to love well. 

Here's a video with the authors explaining what the Love Dare is and how it came into being:

This video presents a couple's experience with the Love Dare:

Alex Kendrick is an ordained minister and New York Times best selling coauthor of The Love Dare andThe Resolution for Men. He has spoken in numerous countries to students, families, and men’s groups. He is also an accomplished actor, screenwriter, and film director, whose credits include Facing the Giants, Fireproof, and Courageous. He and his wife, Christina, have six children.

Stephen Kendrick is an ordained minister who has served families for 20 years in student ministry and associate pastor positions. Along with his brother Alex, he is also a screenwriter (Facing the Giants, Fireproof, Courageous), movie producer, and coauthor of two New York Times best-selling books (The Love Dare, The Resolution for Men). Stephen and his wife, Jill, have six children.

*I have requested this book from B&H Publishing in exchange for an honest review. The ideas and opinions expressed here are my own.