Sunday, July 5, 2015

Hyacinth Girls by Lauren Frankel

This is a work of fiction. This author has experience with working with young people, which has prepared her for dealing with the topic that this book is based on. Se has worked with them both as an educator and as a librarian, both in the US and in the UK. Other than her educational and professional experiences in these matters little else seems to be known about this author. This book begins with a Prologue which sets the tone for how the plot will unfold. Except for the final chapters, the end of each chapter includes interactions between two of the main characters in this book; many of these sub-sections are text messages between these two main characters. Halfway through the book it shifts into the plot from one of the main character's point of view, and it has two more sections that shift points of views. This book ends with the author's acknowledgments to those whose input made this book possible.

This book, being fiction, is harder to review than non-fiction is. At least that is the case for me. It is even harder because of how this book is written, from the view points of more than one of the main characters. I did not grasp that the book was written from multiple viewpoints until over halfway through this book. Frankly, because the plots in the book threw me off, the author kept losing me and my interest. I felt that I was being thrown around and that I did not know where I would land, a critique that, in college, was made of one of my essays. But this is the author's debut novel. The teenage main character was true to life as her language, as told in her parts of the book told in her perspective and through her texts to another teen character, make clear. These portions of the book tend to be in-your-face, blunt and irreverent (no, I'm not saying all young people are like this!). I just had a hard time getting into the action in this book and to feel with the characters until the very end. Maybe it is just me, not the author, that causes this experience but as is said, perspective is reality though I'm not always sure of them. I think it is probably best to read this book more than once, to really grasp it. The strengths of this book are its subject matter and the realism in which it is dealt with. The author also exhibits honesty in portraying the leading adult character and in the lessons this character has learned. The conclusion and what the main teen character learned are powerful and show that when the truth comes to light, it often totally changes our concept of individuals whom we know. This novel is given many subheadings so that readers can stop without having to wade through pages of text or having to mark the text (a no-no in borrowed books). It is a fast and easy read, from a literary standpoint.

I recommend this book for all of those involved with young people, including parents, educators,teachers, youth ministers and youth workers, child and adolescent psychologists. It is a book about young people and about a major social ill that affects them, bullying. I recommend this book for all those who like novels. I recommend this book for young people themselves so they can be educated on bullying, though I think a good non-fiction book on bullying for young people may work better. There is profanity in this book that would make it a "PG-13" rated book though not so graphic as to be an "R" rated book.

I received this book free of charge through Blogging For Books in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to give a positive review of this book.

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Sunday, June 28, 2015

The American Church by D.W. Glomski

This is a short book. Information on the author is limited, as I have read this book as an e-book. From what I could glean, he was an aspiring pastor but changed his mind. He has been for years with an unconventional group called the Plymouth Brethren, who hold their church meetings in house settings. He was a member of their group for 22 years. This book begins with an Introduction which prepares us for what this book will be about. This book is arranged in ten chapters which each illustrate the points that he desires to make. He then finishes this book with afterwards that contain explanations to various groups. His Afterwards consist of A Word to Pastors, A Word about the Wine and the Wineskin, A Word to the Plymouth Brethren, A Word about the Apostles, A Word about Church and Going to Church, A Word about Change, and A Word about the Number One Problem in the Church. He then ends with a list of books that he suggests to readers for further reading.

This is the first book that I ever have read in e-book form, and so I was ale to quickly go through it. Also, it is a short book, not much over 100 pages. But when I started the first chapter, my hackles already began going up and it was not so much over the author's topic of the book. I was ticked off at his hard-hitting references to people who use any government benefits and how he lumped them into one general category as welfare freeloaders who get their kicks out of living off the system or living lazy lives. While he is right in that some people indeed abuse government benefits by laziness or even by fraud (the second is not referenced), he betrays at least a misunderstanding of how the "welfare" system works in that there have been major cuts and reforms in all means-tested (need-based) government programs. He also betrays ignorance of the fact that programs like Social Security, Social Security Disability and Medicare are not means-tested and so are not considered welfare programs. As for his subject which is general spiritual immaturity, he seems to lump American Christians into one broad category as weak, sickly, spoiled, selfish and bratty Christians. I fully agree that many who attend church fellowships fit this profile and need to grow up spiritually by following Jesus instead of following people. The Bible is full of admonitions to do that and the author does backup much of what he says by using Scripture. I applaud him bringing up matters pertaining to women that are offensive to even devoted believing Christian women, such as the Biblical call to be quiet in formal church fellowship meetings and to wear head coverings in those meetings. We don't like it (I don't like it!) but these calls to women are considered part of the Bible and many of us consider the Bible to be the Word of God. But this author comes off as arrogant in his approach to addressing God's calls to submission for women, and he makes no effort to balance these mandates for female submission with Jesus' honoring women when in His Incarnation and the Biblical principle that we are all equal in personhood if not in function. When I came to the Afterwards which contained messages to certain people groups that are more encouraging than the book itself, I was looking for an Afterward for us women. I did not find it and I was disappointed. I know that the author comes from a place of not having been with any organized church fellowship for decades but he comes off as judgmental and superior in his tone though he says that he has a Pastor's heart toward the modern American Church. Maybe he does have such a heart, but it is easy to feel beat up by this book if you attend organized worship services. I think he also overlooks that many people in these organized worship services may not even have living relationships with Jesus and so may lack the power to mature in a faith that they may not even possess, as the Gospel has been watered down to stress the grace, love and forgiveness of God which we all love to hear about, while excluding the uncomfortable parts like sin, judgment, judgment and hell which all of us (including myself) find uncomfortable and offensive) which are also integral parts of the Biblical message. But this book includes important truths that all believers, especially all those in official leadership positions, badly need to hear and apply to the best of their ability. Unfortunately, he offers few practical ideas of how to put his radically counter-cultural principles into practice. This book left me wanting more.

Would I recommend this book? I would with reservations as it offers no advice for practical application. I recommend this book for Pastors and I would encourage them to read the Afterward, addressed to them, to brace themselves for the tough message in this book that shatters long-established values from centuries of tradition. I recommend this book for all Christians who, I promise, will find much of this book offensive. I warn non-Christians to avoid this book as it will inflame the prejudices most already have against the Christian community.

I received this book in e-book form, free of charge, through BookLook Bloggers, in exchange for my honest review of this book. I was not required to give a favorable review of this book.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Truly Free by Robert Morris

This book is a how to book and the title explains what the book is all about. Robert Morris, the author, is the founding senior pastor of Gateway Church, a multi-campus, evangelistic church considered to be Spirit-empowered. The author's congregation is in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. He is featured, weekly, on the show that is called THE BLESSED LIFE. This show is televised to approximately one hundred million homes and in more than two hundred countries around the world. Morris is the best-selling author of eleven books. These books include THE BLESSED LIFE, THE GOD I NEVER KNEW, and THE POWER OF YOUR WORDS. Morris begins this book with an introduction. He launches into a chapter that tells us what the book is all about. The second chapter gives us three warning signs that tell us if we are experiencing the problem this book intends to address. The third chapter introduces us to the strategies of the enemies of our spiritual freedom. Chapters Four to Nine present things that we need to be free from and how to get free. The tenth chapter just sums up all that has been covered in all prior chapters. This book ends with a notes section.

This book is what I expected and is much like other spiritual warfare books that I have read in the past. I read THE BLESSED CHURCH, another book by Robert Morris, who wrote TRULY FREE and so I had an idea where he is coming from. I expected this book to say much about demonic oppression in relation to many of our mental and emotional ills, and it does. I expected it to say much about demonic oppression in relation to life-dominating sins, and it does. I believed he could have gone in more depth about the many subtle (and not so subtle) ways that the spiritual and the physical interact, as in how chemical imbalances can make us more vulnerable to spiritual attack, or how poor nutrition or some medicines can affect our moods and our spiritual motivation to walk by the Holy Spirit and exhibit His fruit in our lives. And he seems to single out three sins without going into sufficient detail into the forms these sins can show up in our lives without our even being aware of it. But it seems that the author wants his book to be an easy, fast read and knows that many people don't have the time or the patience to read much. I'm glad he included some disclaimers that demons are not to blame for all spiritual, mental, or emotional ills. But, sadly, pastors seem to be reluctant to talk about the role of Satan or his underlings, demons. I do not remember ever hearing a sermon on demonic oppression. That is sad because the Bible says that Satan (and his demons by implication) is one of our three enemies. Our flesh (sinful nature and the world (the system) are the other two enemies of the follower of Jesus. Unless we know our enemies and how they operate we cannot overcome them. This book has many valuable tips to overcome the Devil and demons. But in the chapter on greed, this author teaches tithing, giving ten percent to your local congregation. Yes, tithing is clearly taught in the Old Testament. This author, like many pastors, teaches tithing today for all followers of Jesus. The New Testament seems to focus far more on why we give and how we give. Tithing ten percent may cause more affluent worshipers to get complacent because they may think to themselves, "I have tithed my ten percent; God has to be pleased with me." And the teaching on tithing may make poor worshipers feel burdened because ten percent may feel too high of a percentage to them. While the author denies it, this chapter smacks of prosperity especially when he shares about his own giving experiences and how God "gave back to him" in finances. Many other points he makes in this book are worth pondering and applying, with prayer and God's power. If you are not a follower of Jesus, the author includes a brief segment, tips and a prayer (to be prayed in your own words) to become a follower of Jesus, or in the author's words, to be "born again."

I recommend this book to all pastors who minimize or neglect the teachings of demonic oppression and spiritual warfare. But as this book is far from complete or balanced, pastors should use this book only to educate themselves about those teachings so they will be equipped to preach and teach about them. People who struggle with the three sins Morris has chosen for treatment in this book, may find this book helpful, as these three sins are widespread among us. People with certain psychiatric disorders that require medication to reduce spiritual attacks, may find this book triggering and unhelpful. People who struggle with sins other than the three singled out in this book, might not be helped by this book.

I received this book free of charge through Book Look Bloggers in exchange for an honest review of this book. I was not required to give a positive review of this book.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

Hiding In the Light by Rifqa Bary

This book is a memoir that reads like fiction. It was written by a young woman who converted to Christianity out of Islam. Rifqa Bary, whose full name is Fatima Rifqa Bary, is the 16 year old teenage girl who made headlines in 2009 because, in fear of being killed by her father in an "honor killing," ran away from her Ohio Muslim home and never returned to her Muslim family. She tells her story though there are still security concerns about her life and she lives in an undisclosed location. She structures her book like a fast-paced novel and all the highly dramatic events of her life make for highly riveting, spellbinding, sometimes intense reading. She dedicates the book to her little brother, who she had to leave behind when she fled her Muslim home. She begins her book with a Prologue that dramatizes the events leading up to her fleeing her Muslim home to save her life. Then she launches into the novel-like telling of her life. The book ends with discussion questions to make readers think about their own walks with Jesus. No ghostwriter was used in this memoir, which is often done in such memoirs.

I expected this book to be a high-drama and riveting book and it is. I was aware of Rifqa Bary's case when it made headlines at the time but I don't remember following it closely. I found myself being appalled at how this author's's Muslim parents treated her since the age of six, all based on their Muslim views on what constitutes the worth of a female. This author makes it clear that she has no desire to denigrate Islam or Muslims but this book fleshes out how repressive Islam can be if it is taken seriously. I was excited about getting this book for review as I have been closely following the reports of Muslim movements to the Person of Jesus Christ all over the world as He reveals Himself to many through dreams and visions. I was not surprised to read of the author's own experience with dreams and visions but I don't want to include spoilers. Despite this author's many trials and hardships in life, I could not feel sorry for her. Why? She clearly had a wonderful experience with the Person of Jesus Christ that had such an impact on her that she was willing to give up all things for this Jesus. While I applaud the phenomenon of dreams and visions to reveal the love of Jesus to Muslims, I wonder if there is a temptation to base their faith on heavenly dreams and visions rather than on the historical Scriptures. Though the author grew up in the United States for most of her life, she was free of the influence of consumerism, materialism, relativism and many of our other "isms" because of her solidly Muslim home. I feel a pang of envy for her because of this. I was relieved that she made it out alive and well as she fled her Muslim father's home to save her life. God revealed Himself to her in very personal ways, showing her His personal care for her. I feel a pang of envy for her here! I can make no claims to hearing audibly from God, having Him visit me through any dreams or visions, or supernatural healings. I have had to appreciate Him by naked faith. Many people badly need the message of this book and will relate to this author, whether for being survivors of abuse or Muslims. Like it or not, it seems that God is focusing His revelations and mighty miracles among people in the Muslim world and even in Muslim communities in the West. But this book, for its powerful and needed message and merit, is not without its issues. The main issue I see is her experience with supernatural healing from cancer. Now I believe that God is capable of healing and does heal today, especially in developing countries where there is limited access to medical care. I have no problem with healing of itself but it was the way this author tells us about her healing, failing to offer any disclaimer that her story is meant to be descriptive, not proscriptive. The issue is that other readers with chronic illnesses will think that to trust God and obey Him, that they too, like the author, can and should forgo medical treatments and "leave it in God's hands." God does not answer many prayers for physical healing and I feel that a disclaimer should have been included. But the author is young and also may be unaware of many trends in Western culture. Also, there is little theology in this book. Hopefully, readers who use treatments vital to their health and even lives, who read this book will exercise common sense and realize that the author is talking about herself and is not telling anyone else what to do. No, I do not envy her abusive past but all that she learned from it and her stunning security in God are to be envied!

I recommend this book for every Christian and every Muslim. So many followers of Jesus have prejudices and ignorance about Muslims. While this book is mostly about Rifqa Bary's own life and experiences, it offers people of faith a valuable glimpse into the Muslim world and into the life of one Muslim who converts to the Person of Jesus Christ and literally leaves all to follow Him. This book will cause you to examine the depth of your own relationship with Jesus if you are a follower of His. If you are a Muslim, please read this book! It was written primarily to show you that the heart of Jesus is wide open to Muslims and He is all you are looking for. Read it with an open mind and see if Jesus reveals Himself to you.

I received this book free of charge through Blogging For Books in exchange for my honest review. I was not required to give a positive review of this book.

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