Monday, May 31, 2010

‘Highland Blessings’ by Jennifer Hudson Taylor – Book Review

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I have had the good fortune to read another book based in Scotland – ‘Highland Blessings’ by Jennifer Hudson Taylor.

Here is the synopsis of this delightful tale:

          Kidnapped on her wedding day.
Scotland, 1473.  Highland warrior Bryce MacPhearson kidnaps Akira MacKenzie on her wedding day to honor a promise made to his dying father.  When he forces Akira to wed him, hoping to end a half-century-old feud between their clans, she struggles to overcome her anger and resentment.  Yet her strength in the Lord becomes a witness to Bryce.  But there is a traitor in their midst…and murder is the ultimate weapon.

Here is the trailer for this precious book:

And here is the biography of the author:

Jennifer Hudson Taylor‘s fiction has won awards in the American Christian Fiction Writer’s Contest and has appeared in numerous national publications, such as Guideposts, Heritage Quest Magazine, Everton’s Genealogical Publishers and The Military Trader.  Jennifer graduated from Elon University with a B.A. in Journalism.  When she isn’t writing, Jennifer enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, researching her own family history, and reading.  She resides with her husband and daughter in the Charlotte area of North Carolina.  Highland Blessings is her debut novel.

The main character, Akira, is a wonderful young Christ follower who had a surprisingly good attitude on the day Gregor Matheson, her intended, abandoned her at the wedding altar and she was subsequently kidnapped by Bryce MacPhearson in order to deliver her to his older brother, Evan, to be his wife:

Akira remained silent.  How was she supposed to respond while being kidnapped away from her family and all that she held dear?  She had no idea what to expect.  All she knew was that she depended upon the Lord to give her sufficient grace to get through whatever she would be forced to endure at their hands. (p. 18)

Upon reflection on his actions against Akira that day, he prayed to God:

“Lord, Vicar Forbes says to honor yer mother and yer father.  I’m only trying to do so.”  He sighed heavily, wondering if God would hear him after what he had done today.  “I really do want peace between our clans.  I’m tired of all the bloodshed.  Show me how to keep my promise without another war.”
          No answer came from the Almighty.  Bryce dropped his head in shame.  While he had never been an overly religious man, he had no desire to anger his Maker.  Had he gone too far this time? (pp. 24-25)

As time went on, Bryce developed fond feeling for Akira:

Something about Akira made his pulse quicken, and he needed to keep his distance to maintain a clear head.  He stepped back.  Other than Evan, Akira was the only one who had the nerve to challenge his decisions and way of thinking.  She made him see different perspectives.  Bryce couldn’t decide if it was a blessing or a curse.  As much as he hated to admit it, her thoughts mattered, and he had no idea why. (p. 61)

Eventually, Akira and Bryce discussed what had been happening in each of their lives:

“An angel came to Gregor in his dreams and told him he wasn’t to wed me.  I was meant for another.  I’m not one to argue with the Lord, but I was stunned by this news.  I didn’t know what to think.  When ye took me I thought that perhaps I was meant to be a MacPhearson bride, but now Evan is gone.  I guess God has something else planned.  Far be it from me to know what it is.” (p. 90)

Bryce grew pale, then responded:

                   “Ye were meant to be a MacPhearson bride.  You were meant to be my bride.” 
         (p. 91)

Akira wasn’t quite sure that was exactly what God had in mind.  Bryce was quite convinced:

The next morning someone slipped a document under Akira’s chamber door.  The shuffle noise caught her attention, and she bent to retrieve it.  She turned it over and read her name beside Bryce’s on an agreement of matrimony.  Last night when he had threatened to wed her by proxy, she didn’t actually believe he would go through with it, but now she held the proof in her hand.  Bryce’s bold signature leaped out at her.  Vicar Forbes had signed the parchment as well.  She looked at her own name in unfamiliar round letters and wondered who had signed on her behalf. (p. 105)

This book has all of the elements of a powerful and interesting novel – romance, suspense, intrigue.  Jennifer has all of the elements that keep you turning the pages to find out what will happen next. 

Ultimately, Akira came to accept her marriage, and grew to love her husband; their love was strong and mutual:

“My darling,” she whispered in his ear, “God has blessed us beyond measure.  He answered all our prayers and kept all His promised blessings.  We are indeed fortunate.”
“We are indeed, m’love.”  Bryce lowered his head, his warm lips melting upon hers. (p. 296)

I really liked this book!  My heritage is, in part, Scottish, so this book really intrigued me.  And it didn’t hurt that I just attended the Alma Highland Festival and Games, which deals in all things Scottish; I even tried haggis for the first time, so my interest in Scotland and its clans was piqued!  Jennifer did a wonderful job in portraying how feuds can be so long-standing between different people groups that they often don’t know from where they originated.  That is a valuable lesson to learn; let’s be forgiving, as the Lord directs. I think Jennifer did a terrific job with her debut novel, and I am sure there will be many more JHT novels to come!  In fact, her second novel, ‘Highland Sanctuary,’ is scheduled to release in October 2011.

 You can order this book here.

This book is published by Abingdon Press and was generously provided by the author.

Friday, May 28, 2010

‘The Last Christian’ by David Gregory – Book Review and Giveaway

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I will often preface my reviews by saying “this is the first book I have read by this author.”  That is not the case with the author of ‘The Last Christian,’ David Gregory.  I have also read his ‘Dinner with a Perfect Stranger,’ which I loved (it was made into a movie entitled ‘Perfect Stranger’).  When I read the plot for this book, I was surprised!:

In the Future, It’s Possible to Live Forever – But at What Cost?
A.D. 2088.  Missionary daughter Abigail Caldwell emerges from the jungle for the first time in her thirty-four years, the sole survivor of a mysterious disease that killed her village.  Abby goes to America, only to discover a nation where Christianity has completely died out.  A curious message from her grandfather assigns her a surprising mission: re-introduce the Christian faith in America, no matter how insurmountable the odds.
But a larger threat looms.  The world’s leading artificial intelligence industrialist has perfected a technique for downloading the human brain into a silicon form.  Brain transplants have begun, and with them comes the potential of eliminating physical death altogether – but at what expense?
As Abby navigates a society grown more addicted to stimulating the body than nurturing the soul, she and Creighton Daniels, a historian troubled by his father’s unexpected death, become unwitting targets of powerful men who will stop at nothing to further their nefarious goals.  Hanging in the balance – the spiritual future of all humanity.
In this fast-paced thriller, startling near-future science collides with thought-provoking 
religious themes to create a spell-binding “what-if” novel.

Wow – that whetted my appetite!  A suspenseful, futuristic novel was not what I was expecting from the next David Gregory novel!

Here is the trailer for this whirling dervish of a book:

Here is the biography of the author:

David Gregory is the best-selling author of Dinner with a Perfect Stranger, A Day with a Perfect Stranger, The Next Level, and the coauthor of the nonfiction The Rest of the Gospel. After a ten-year business career, he returned to school to study religion and communications, earning Master's degrees from Dallas Theological Seminary and the University of North Texas. A native of Texas, he now lives in the Pacific Northwest.

This book is so fascinating!  Mr. Gregory gives an interesting view of the future.  Here he has Bryson Nichols, founder and CEO of Nichols Technology Inc. (NTI) and the leading artificial intelligence innovator of his time, introducing the first transhuman:

As eyes scanned the stage for the announced spectacle, Nichols reached both hands up to the sides of his skull.  He worked his fingers momentarily under his hair, then placed his palms alongside his head.  He appeared to start pulling his head upward, but his true action quickly became evident.  Nichols was lifting the top half of his skull away from his head.
Several women near the front shrieked.  One fainted.  The ballroom erupted into a cacophony of shocked exclamations an then quieted once more.
Nichols finished lifting the artificial skullcap off his head and held it to his side.  He stood, sans the top of his skull, and smiled.
The hushed crowd beheld the metallic gray device that was Bryson Nichols’s brain. (p. 38)


When Abby came to the U.S.A., she was shown a message that had been left sixteen years ago with the missions agency with which her parents were affiliated.  The message was from her grandparents.  Her grandmother relayed the following message:

“Christianity as we once knew it – and hopefully as you still experience it there on the mission field – has practically disappeared in America, Abby.  Though it prospers in many parts of the world, the U.S. has followed the path Europe took into secularism.  Our faith isn’t outlawed, but the preaching of the gospel is regarded as hate speech and prosecuted.  Not that it matters much anymore – few are left who would proclaim it.  That’s how bad it’s gotten.
          “Things will get worse before they get better.  God has made that clear to us both in our spirits and lately” – Abby’s grandfather leaned forward on the couch, and his tone changed – “in our dreams.  I never thought God would speak to me in dreams, and at first I ignored them.  But your grandmother started talking to me about her dreams, and we found that sometimes, we had the same dream.  It has to be from God, Abby.  There’s no other explanation.”
“….We believe Jesus has destined you to reignite Christianity in the States.  I wish we could tell you more.  I wish we knew more.  But this is all we have, and God has a good reason for that.  I’m sure he wants you to look to him to direct you.” (p. 50)

There are so many technological innovations in the future!  Instead of the World Wide Web, there is the Grid.  People are able to get brain implant to increase their capacity and intelligence.  Vehicles are driverless.  Here are some other improvements (according to Bryson Nichols):

2020 – animal brains had been fully mapped.  Millions were using neural implants for hearing and sight loss.  First-stage virtual reality was commonplace in the military and in industry.
2030 – a standard personal computer equaled the processing power of the human brain.
2035 – advanced speech recognition software terminated computers as separate objects.  The old internet was replaced by the worldwide Grid, a thousandfold improvement in cyberspace.
2063 – NTI entered the artificial intelligence marketplace with the introduction of neural implants that enabled direct brain connection to the Grid.  Overnight we assumed the worldwide lead in AI technology. (pp. 33-34)

Mr. Gregory, through Abby, does a wonderful job in explaining how Christianity compares with the other world religions.  Here is a portion of her interview on Global Sunrise on the Grid:

“It never occurred to your parents to introduce the Inisi [the tribe in New Guinea] to various other religions or worldviews?”
                   “Such as what?”
          “Islam. Judaism.  Hinduism.  Or simply the acceptance of the universe as it is.”
          Abby looked stunned.  “No.  Why would they?  None of those is going to lead you to God.”
          Marshall [the hostess] perked up noticeably.  “Really?  Why would you say that?”
          “Because Jesus is the only way to God.  Only he died and was resurrected to redeem humanity from its sin.”   
          “And what about Judaism?”
          “You mean in the Old Testament?”
          “No, in the modern world.”
          “There’s no point in being Jewish if one doesn’t accept the Messiah, is there?”
          Marshall seemed uncomfortable with the response.  She shifted in her seat.  “And what about Muhammad?”
          “Muhammad is a false prophet.  I feel terrible for all the people who have followed him all these centuries.” 
          “And the Eastern religions – Hinduism, Buddhism…”
          “Are all false.  They claim that salvation comes through enlightenment.  But enlightenment doesn’t save anyone from their sins.  Only Jesus does.” (pp. 90-91)

And here’s an explanation of what happened to Christianity in the twenty-first century (as explained by Creighton Daniels, a history professor, to his students):

“…When a large segment of society became openly nonreligious, an amazing thing happened – amazing to the religionists, anyway.  People discovered that religionists and nonreligionists behaved similarly.  Sexual behavior, divorce rates, self-reported levels of honesty – none of these varied significantly between religionists and nonreligionists.
“…So this produced a cascade effect in which the younger generation – people born in the 1980s and after – looked at the older generation and didn’t see a difference in their lives…
“The results for American Christianity was cataclysmic.  The number of adherents to Christianity spiraled downward as most of each succeeding generation rejected it.  By 2030 only half of Americans self-professed as Christians, by 2050 less than a quarter did, and by 2070 fewer than ten percent did.  That was its last generation. (p. 148)

Dr. Daniels goes on to give his opinion of megachurches:

…”that movement – megachurches, they called them – was the beginning of the end, a last gasp of the Christian religion.  Churches got larger in an attempt to appeal more to the masses.  They adopted a new marketing strategy, using their gathering to appeal to outsiders with popular entertainment and practical life helps.  …[T]hat didn’t produce a lifestyle any more distinctive than before, so people ended up seeing through it.  They decided that if they wanted to be entertained, they might as well stay home and watch their televisions.  That, you may recall, used to constitute entertainment.”  (pp. 146-147)

Creighton and Abby grew close.  Abby influenced Creighton to read the Bible, something he hadn’t done in twenty years.  He came up with his interpretation of what Christianity should be:

“I just think that your Christianity is too limited.  From what I’ve read, it seems that the full message of the Christian faith is that God himself comes to life inside you, that he joins himself to your human spirit, and that he actually lives his life through you.  He doesn’t help anyone live the Christian life.  He lives it himself.  He is the life.  What you’re teaching people and living by is a kind of Christianity self-help system---“ (p. 256)

Abby initially was irritated at this characterization, but she eventually realized that Creighton was spot on in his assessment.  Here is how she explains her new insights:

“….the burden was still on me.  I had to perform well enough for God. I had to keep his commands.  I had to be a good Christian.”  She shook her head.  “No one can live up to that.  Jesus doesn’t want to help you.  He wants to live through me.  So when I’m sharing the gospel or testifying before Congress or” – she smiled – “forgiving you, it’s Jesus in me doing these things.” (p. 387)

I will not give away the ending (you HAVE to read this book!), but suffice to say that Abby not only influenced Creighton, but she helped to start what her grandfather had foreseen for her – to point people in 2088 back to Jesus.

The Last Christian’ lived up to my expectations.  It was fascinating to see how an author interpreted the United States seventy eight years into the future.  I pray we are able to show Jesus in our own lives so that the future generations really know Him and not our pharisaical interpretation of His life.  I was interested in both the technological and the spiritual aspects of this novel.  Those who are interested in Christian fiction and science fiction will enjoy this.  I applaud Mr. Gregory for writing such a spectacular novel!

You can order this book here.

This book was provided by Waterbrook Multnomah for review and giveaway purposes.

I have a copy of this book that I would love to send along to one of you!  

There are several ways to gain entry:

1) Leave a comment below, telling me what how you think our world will look in 2088.  Please make sure to leave your email address in this format – sample[at]gmail[dot]com.

2) Follow me on Twitter; I will more than likely follow you back!  If you are already a Twitter follower, that counts, too!  Please leave a new comment to that effect.

3) Follow me as a Google Friend on this blog; if you are already a Friend, that counts, too!  Please leave a new comment to that effect.

4) Become my Facebook friend.  Please leave a new comment to that effect.

5) Follow this blog as a NetWorked Blog Follower after you’ve become my Facebook friend.  Please leave a new comment to that effect.

So there are five chances to enter!  Please limit one entry per option.

This giveaway is for U.S. residents only.  The deadline for entry is Friday, June 11, 2010 at 11:59 p.m. EST.  A winner will be chosen via the Random Number Generator on Saturday, June 12, 2010 and will be contacted via email.  The best to all of you!

The Winner of 'Present Perfect: Finding God in the Now' is.....

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The Random Number Generator has done its random thing, and has chosen a winner for Greg Boyd's 'Present Perfect.'

The winner is......

lotus 82 aka Steph!

Congratulations, Steph!  I will be emailing you momentarily to get your snail mail address!

For those of you who would like to order this terrific book, you can do so here

Thanks to everyone who entered for your terrific comments!  Please come back soon!

Thursday, May 27, 2010

‘Almost Forever: A Hanover Falls Novel’ by Deborah Raney – Book Review

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The latest book on my checked-off list is ‘Almost Forever: A Hanover Falls Novel’ by Deborah Raney.  I have heard a lot of wonderful things about her books, so I’d been wanting to read one for a long time.  This one lived up to my high expectations!

Here is the synopsis of this novel:

Unearthing a Lost Memory May Cause Her to Lose Everything She Holds Dear…But Could It Also Set Her Free?
Bryn Hennesey, a volunteer at the Grove Street Homeless Shelter, was there the night the shelter burned to the ground and five heroic firefighters died at the scene.  Among them was her husband, Adam.  Like the rest of the surviving spouses, Bryn must find a way to begin again.  But Bryn must do so living with a horrible secret…
Garrett Edmond’s, Molly, was the only female firefighter to perish in the blaze.  As her husband, it was his job to protect the woman he loved…  How can he go on in the face of unbearable loss and guilt?
And what started the fire that destroyed the dreams and futures of so many?  Investigators are stumped.  But someone knows the answers….

Here is the biography of the author:

Deborah Raney’s first novel, A Vow to Cherish, was awarded a Silver Angel from Excellence in Media and inspired the acclaimed World Wide Pictures film of the same name.  Since then her books have won the RITA Award, the HOLT Medallion, and the National Readers’ Choice Award.  Raney is also a two-time Christy Award finalist.  She and her husband, Ken Raney, have four children and enjoy small-town life in their native Kansas.

The book’s opening scene is the tragic fire at the Grove Street Homeless Shelter.  Bryn had been volunteering at the shelter for a while, but she’d been keeping it a secret from her husband, Adam, who was concerned about her safety.  Ironically enough, his presence at the shelter cost him his life as he bravely fought the fire with many of his colleagues.  The scene was compelling and suspenseful, and I was instantly engaged in the lives of these characters.

In my opinion, one of the most important elements in a Christian-themed novel is to prominently feature biblical truths.  This book by Mrs. Raney is brimming with them.  Many of the main characters, including Bryn and Garrett, are Christ-followers.  Bryn is experiencing a great deal of guilt for her perceived actions with regard to the fire.  She not only had many doubts that the survivors of this tragedy would find it in their hearts to forgive her, but she also thought she’d never be able to forgive herself.  Isn’t that often the case – that we are often harder on ourselves than is anyone else?  

Here is an example of Bryn’s tortured soul, as she attended the memorial service for the fallen heroes:

The rest of the short graveside service was torture, and when the bagpipes began to play again – a mournful rendition of “Amazing Grace” – Bryn thought she might be going mad.
For if the hellish nudging of her imaginations were true, surely there was no grace on earth or in heaven that could save a wretch like her.  (p. 40)

Ultimately, she realized that God does not condemn her; He forgives and forgets our sins if we confess them to him.  Other biblical truths in this book are redemption, mercy, love, and gratitude.

One of the characters that really touched my heart was Charlie, a resident in the homeless shelter who had developed a close relationship with Bryn.  Charlie had developed a brotherly affection for Bryn, and a selfless act toward her on his part truly showed the love of Christ; Charlie was the hands and feet of Jesus.

Bryn and Garrett developed a healing friendship, nurtured by the care they had to take of two dogs which were ‘orphaned’ by the displacement of their owners due to the loss of the homeless shelter.  Here is Garrett’s perspective of this new friendship:

Molly was gone, and God had put Bryn in his life for a reason.  Hadn’t he prayed for help, for a way to get through his grief?  God had answered with a beautiful friendship.  He refused to feel guilty for rejoicing in that divine provision.  (p. 150)

And here is Bryn’s perspective:

In bed that night she smiled up at the ceiling.  It was like strong medicine to smile again.  She’d shed enough tears to last a lifetime….She would defend her friendship with Garrett to anyone.  She didn’t care what her dad would say.  Or what Garrett’s family might think….
What they had together was a gift from God.  They had each lost the most precious person in their world, they had both experienced the horror of being left alone in the prime of life.  God had sent her a person who understood her grief intimately because it matched his own.  Identically.  (p. 179)

This is the first novel in the ‘Hanover Falls’ series.  The second novel is ‘Forever After,’ which is schedule for release in January 2011.  And Deborah is working on the final novel, ‘After All.’  I thank Deborah for shining a light into the life of fire fighters, and look forward to see what the future holds for Bryn and Garrett!

You can order this book here.

This book was provided by Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster, for review purposes.

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