Friday, April 18, 2014

Calling the Unlikely: A Review of Davis Bunn's "The Turning"


Perhaps you’ve heard the voice before. That inexplicable urging deep within your heart and soul, not audible but just as clear as if it had been shouted to you from a bullhorn. The voice of a Divine Storyteller, nudging you to follow a path you never would have expected.

It is this kind of Divine calling that Davis Bunn writes about in his new “devotional fiction” novel The Turning.

A brooding businessman from Cleveland. A snobby choir leader from Baltimore. A beautiful young oriental woman torn between two major life decisions, and an Arab learning the Christian faith. Each one hears the same message from God. Each must face a unique task. Each must take a monumental step toward forgiveness, reconciliation, compassion … spiritual obedience.

Feeling God call them to New York, these spiritual misfits band together under the leadership of a well-known Christian author to battle a rising cultural enemy.

 
My thoughts:

I love the fact that each of the protagonists is introduced as someone who we normally would not look to for spiritual guidance. Each character has baggage, yet God does not wait till their baggage is gone to call them. He calls them with dirty lives, and offers them progressive steps of obedience to follow. Yet with each step, hearts are rearranged, maturity deepens, and the characters begin to take bigger and bolder steps of faith.

Davis shows us through these characters that we don’t have to be spiritual giants for Christ to call us. We simply need to be open to hearing His voice. He’ll meet us in that spot where calling and action collide.

 

“The fruits of the Spirit require us to grow beyond our comfort zone. Like Isaiah, we are the most unworthy of believers. And yet God has called us. Each and every one of the family of Jesus. We are all invited to move beyond the failures and limitations that confine us.” ~ The Turning

 

Davis Bunn is as encouraging and Christ-focused as ever! I'm giving The Turning 4.2 stars.

I received a complimentary copy of The Turning from River North Fiction in return for my honest review.

 

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Beautiful Contradiction

I’m a walking, living, breathing contradiction. A grammar snob who sometimes misplaces commas. A clean freak whose room looks like a bomb-kissed bookstore. I’m an exercise enthusiast who both loves and hates running and a fiction writer who’s forgotten how to plot a story.

I’ll contentedly snail my way through an autograph line, but I hate waiting for long-term goals to come to fruition.

I despise cold weather … I live in the Midwest.

I love to travel … I can’t stand long drives.

I’m a borderline Vegan who eats seafood. A workaholic who loves to play. A perfectionist lugging an ever-present bag of mistakes.

A sinner whom God calls “saint.” A filthy peasant whom the King of the universe calls “daughter.”

I am nobody. And yet, to the only One Whose opinion matters, I am one of a kind.

Perfection is not a requirement for admission into God’s adopted family. We’re strange, fickle creatures who strive tirelessly one moment to practice purity and goodness, and the next fall like a slaughtered calf, sacrificed to the idols of our soul.

 We need not hide from our Father in a dark corner every time we do something silly or even devastating to miss the mark of perfection. We need only to throw back our heads, spread our arms wide and relish in the downpour of forgiveness, grace, and love waiting to fall upon us from a Savior who sees our every fault and quirk and still chooses to call us His own.

Imperfect, yet sought after by the One Who invented perfection. Now that is a beautiful contradiction.


 

“Even before He made the world, God loved us and chose us in Christ to be holy and without fault in His eyes. God decided in advance to adopt us into His own family by bringing us to Himself through Jesus Christ. This is what He wanted to do, and it gave Him great pleasure. So we praise God for the glorious grace He has poured out on us who belong to His dear Son. He is so rich in kindness and grace that He purchased our freedom with the blood of His Son and forgave our sins. He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding.” ~ Ephesians 1:4-8, NLT

Friday, October 11, 2013

Limitless Potential



Simon Orwell has grown accustomed to living in the dust of abandoned dreams. A college dropout from a prestigious university, Simon’s life has turned out much like his last great science project – an unfinished mass of potential, set aside, regarded as an impossible failure. Too broken to accomplish that for which it was created. Settling for the mundane, Simon believes he is unworthy and incapable of fulfilling his greatest dream. That of changing the world.

 Summoned to Mexico by his elderly partner on the project that would have literally brought light to those living in darkness, Simon faces the bleakest prospect of a new chance. Perhaps not a chance to rejoin the project and rebuild his career as a scientist – that hope has all but faded like the dim light bulbs of the poor Mexican town – but maybe, just maybe, a chance to remedy at least a few of his past wrongs.

 Hope becomes an unreachable goal once again when Simon arrives in the tiny town of Ojinaga to the tragic news that his partner is dead. Natural causes of course. The same natural causes that now stalk Simon as a hunter stalks his prey. Simon is thrown from his unassuming life, thrust into a quest for answers as to who is behind the old professor’s death and what clues he left behind for his young protégé.

 Now, taking refuge at a struggling orphanage, Simon must accept the help of some of his late partner’s closest friends if he is to find answers. Because maybe, the unthinkable really is possible. Maybe he, like his project, really does have more potential than he thought. Maybe even the ability to light up the world.

 
Least favorite parts:

 The book was slightly predictable in a few spots, but overall that did not detract much from its readability.

 
Favorite parts:

Despite his own lack of confidence and vision for himself, Simon is enveloped by unmerited encouragement from the orphanage director (and friend to his deceased partner), Harold Finch. Harold pushes the unmotivated Simon to view his life as something more than what he has made it so far. To set goals. To believe in impossible dreams. Probably my favorite line in the book is when Harold tells him, “Son, that’s the power of dreams. If they’re not big, if they’re not impossible, they’re not worth investing your life.” (Unlimited, page 177)


 Conclusion:

 At a time when I, like Simon, doubted my potential and the gift God has planted within me, Unlimited glimmered into my reading life with a challenge – “be more.” Channel that wasted energy and potential. Believe in the dreams that God has buried in your very soul. Believe in His ability to make the impossible possible. Believe that you are destined to light up the dark.

 I believe this book will challenge you as well. Dare you to defy your doubt, to trust that when you allow God to direct your dreams, the results could be … unlimited.

I'm giving this book four glowing light bulbs out of five.
 

 
I received a complimentary copy of this book from B&H Publishing Group in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

The Heart Can Bleed ...

In a world as dark and foreboding as the fear that rules it, one man is entrusted with a centuries-old secret and awakened to a life forbidden for half a millennium. Having impulsively ingested a bit of ancient blood with only a cryptic message as his guide, Rom Sebastian discovers an unknown power that lies dormant in every soul. A throng of emotions – passion, sorrow, hope, love – beautiful and terrible at once, but so vastly far above the simple life of fear known to every inhabitant of the decomposing earth.

   Now on the run from a fearful government who views him as “out of Order,” Rom must choose either to live in the familiar clutches of fear or bravely seek out the truth behind these new emotions. To learn their purpose … and his.

   Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee serve up a heart-racing thriller that’ll engage your every emotion and leave you craving more while digesting a hard-hitting truth. The truth that true life is not one that sits back in pillow-fluffed ease while fearing the future. True life is one of seeking purpose beyond ourselves, no matter what the cost, and no matter what the pain along the way. “Because in life we risk death. … The heart can bleed. And it will.” (Forbidden, page 373)

   Once again, Dekker transports us to an alternate reality to help us better understand our own. Once again, he weaves a climactic tale of romance and redemption to remind us of a certain life-giving blood. Much like the power of that life-giving blood, this is a story that cannot possibly be understood through mere description … it must be experienced.

 

 
Warning:

While similar in many ways to Dekker’s Circle series (and personally, I believe that Thomas Hunter plays an unseen role in this story, *wink, wink*) The Books of Mortals trilogy takes it up a notch on the violence scale. Okay, maybe several notches. (Think head-chopping violence and mega-creepy villains from Green and rack up their frequency a bit.) Also, the spiritual analogies are slightly more vague, at least in this first book of the series. But dig deep and think hard … the content is rich.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Some Dreams Are Hidden


It looms on the horizon, black and sinister, churning through the atmosphere and masking all that it touches in shadows of doom and deadly uncertainty. Circling the land like a beast stalking its prey, the hurricane surges closer and closer to the Florida coast, threatening to level everything in its wake. For Dr. Elena Burroughs, the almost sadistic storm system is but a single raindrop in her bucket of worries. A much larger storm is brewing, far more power-hungry ... and far more deadly.

 
“It all came down to the dreams. And her own next step. The prospect of what awaited her was wrenching.”


 As we re-enter Elena’s life in this sequel to Book of Dreams, she is steadily attempting to piece her shattered world back to a semblance of normalcy. After a fizzled romance, shelved friendships, a tanked career, along with the loss of her home and nearly all her possessions, the world’s leading authority on dream analysis has only one remaining option – the dreaded spotlight. With no job and virtually no one to turn to except her ever-persistent editor, Elena reluctantly agrees to a worldwide publicity tour … one that leaves her drained and emotionally raw, not to mention humiliated by a demeaning and obnoxious scientific colleague.

 A glimmer of hope shines through the wreckage when Elena is offered a professorship at a Melbourne college campus. But no sooner has she filtered back through the cracks and slipped momentarily underneath the fame radar than a peculiar bit of her past creeps back into her new life.

 Elena is dreaming again.

But she’s not the only one experiencing the prophetic dreams … more than a dozen people from around the world with no prior connection to each other are now assaulted by the same dreams. Worst of all, these vivid nightmares are beginning to come true.

Forced once again to serve as reluctant leader of an unlikely group, Elena feels less prepared than ever before. How can she, with a faith gone dry, find the strength and guidance to lead such a group? Especially when that group’s most compelling urge is to warn the world of the encroaching disaster.
  

“… right now, all I can tell you is, God has never felt more silent.”

 The clock is ticking and Elena must seek out the truth harder than ever before if she is to discover why she and the other “dreamers” have been granted the ability to see the future. And more importantly, what they can do to prevent the coming storm from destroying them all.

 


Personally, I didn’t enjoy this book quite as immensely as its predecessor, but that’s not to say that Hidden in Dreams isn’t amazing in its own right. Still packed with peppy dialogue and timeless Biblical truth (not to mention a few startling plot twists that’ll have your brain doing an about-face), this novel oozes quality and talent.

 I’m giving Hidden in Dreams a very unsubtle five stars as well as two thumbs up to Davis Bunn!

 

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Howard Books, a division of Simon & Schuster. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255.

 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book of Dreams (a review)


What if you had a choice … a choice to hear the voice of God speaking to the deepest crevices of your soul? What if you were given a book, a centuries-old heirloom that is a meticulous and perfect copy of the original … and what if you were told that God may choose to speak to you through that book? What if all you had to do … was listen? Listen. And dream.

 This is the choice Dr. Elena Burroughs is presented with upon receiving a priceless treasure from a dear family friend who believes that Elena may be “the one” chosen to unlock its secrets.

 For seventy-two of her eighty-one years, Miriam, a seasoned and saucy woman with a successful counseling career, has viewed a shining gift as a shadowy burden. Now ready to be free of the enigmatic book, she passes it on to Elena, certain that her goddaughter possesses the gift of interpretation necessary to discern the meaning behind the calligraphic writings. There’s more to the book than jeweled covers and fancy lettering. Could it be that an ancient prayer written in its original language is the key to unearthing a plot against the world’s economy?

Thrust into an unwanted leadership position, Elena must learn to surrender her fear of change and her aversion to letting anyone get close. As her trusted pastor friend so wisely conveys: “God has drawn you out of your comfort zone. Get used to it. I doubt it will be the last time.”

 Ranging from the grand and historical brick abodes of London to England’s back hills to Italian mansions, Book of Dreams will steal your breath with its setting and enrapture your mind with its deep theological themes. (Plus, any story with such a copious supply of British accents, rain-drenched backgrounds, and coffee gets mega awesome points in my book.)

A definite five stars! Book of Dreams is a priceless treasure worth reading.

 

 Deeper into Dreams:

  *Warning: May contain mild spoilers.
 
To Miriam, the ancient book containing the Lord’s Prayer in Aramaic is nothing more than a picturesque mockery of her life – a glowing representation of her failure. Despite the woman’s success and even the wisdom she clearly possesses, she has spent her life feeling unworthy and detached. Never able to move past the first page, the first word of the Lord’s Prayer in the decorative book. Never quite able to call her God “Abba” … Daddy.
 
The answer was there all along. She was upset because she felt she had missed the clues, the formula, the rules of how it all was supposed to work, but all along the first step was to come to God in utter confidence of His fatherly love and His desire to speak to her.

Yet when Elena inherited the book, she realized that there were no rules. All that was required was a heart searching for wisdom ... a heart that was willing to learn and to continue searching until it found answers.

Elena knew that despite the unique book’s value, the book itself was not divine. It was merely another tool with which to better understand the divine. She realized that the ancient book could not replace prayer and God’s Word itself. It is through those things that we maintain communication with the Lord and a sensitivity to His Spirit’s whisperings. Anything else is merely another avenue through which He speaks. It is only through prayer and Scripture that we can understand those other avenues. The truth is right there waiting for us to open our heart and see.

 

Monday, July 2, 2012

A Rose Among Thorns


What happens when you toss together a middle-class ladies’ man and a dirt-poor chambermaid, telling them that a distant mutual cousin has left them in his will? Sprinkle in some spicy love triangles and tantalizing plot turns and you have the recipe for Gilbert Morris’ latest novel The River Rose!

We enter our story in the bitter winter of 1855, Memphis, Tennessee. The elements are harsher than usual this year, but perhaps even harsher are the winds of circumstance howling in the rosy face of widow, Jeanne Bettencourt. And quite a rose she is – delicate, yet determined; painstakingly honest and a diligent worker; penniless, yet somehow supremely confident. “You’re not like the other chambermaids,” she is often told by hotel patrons who are interested in much more than her room-cleaning abilities. And they’re right. Something about her grace and intelligence seems bizarrely out of place with her lowly lot in life.

But Jeanne’s purity of heart and nearly eternal optimism keep her from paying undue attention to her poverty. Despite the hard times, she is content with the Lord as her strength and trusts Him completely to provide for her and her frail, but joyful six-year-old daughter.

So when Jeanne’s breaking-even lifestyle is interrupted with news that she is part heir to a gorgeous steamboat, it’s obvious that the boat is a gift from above. But she still has a choice to make: sell the boat and buy a cracker box house of her own with the money, or live on board and begin making a living with the steamer through freight runs. To Clint Hardin, her buff and charming co-heir, the decision is simple. Why settle for a mediocre life when you have a chance at the extraordinary?

Neither Jeanne nor Clint could guess that God has much greater plans ahead than either of them ever thought possible for their lives. In the process, the unlikely business duo must each face their own past and decide whether or not they will allow it to affect their future.

All in all, The River Rose was a pretty nice read. I'll give this historical romance four shiny steamboats out of five.




Bonus thoughts (comparison to The River Queen):


Though the books in the Water Wheel series are completely unrelated as far as characters and plot (although there is a minor character with the last name of “Bettencourt” in The River Queen … hmmm.), I had fun noticing the little comparisons and contrasts between the books.

For instance, The River Queen is somewhat of a riches to rags story where a spoiled and selfish aristocratic woman must learn how to make a living for herself and her family. The River Rose on the other hand, centers around a hard-working young woman whose every joy in the world is derived from making her daughter happy. Rather than being merely a blessing in disguise for Jeanne, the steamer that she inherits may as well have been dropped out of the sky by angels.

Julienne, in The River Queen, is highly vain and spends most of her time fussing over her hair and dress. Jeanne, though also strikingly beautiful, is modest and humble and prefers to dress simply even when she no longer has to wear raggy clothes. She is very others-focused and has a heart for the less-fortunate, especially since she knows first-hand what it’s like to have barely a penny in her pocket.

Both women are strong and determined, daring to step out and accomplish a task that society says they can’t. Both are strangely annoyed and easily outraged by the man in their life who cares the most for them.

But what I found most intriguing was their differing views of God and each woman’s journey with Him throughout their individual story.

Julienne began with a nonchalant attitude toward her Creator. She had never really needed Him, in her estimation, and therefore was mostly oblivious to His existence. In losing her worldly goods, however, she was plunged into the realization that life was bigger than her own personal happiness, and she began to seek God for the wisdom and provision to survive the uncharted waters of her life.

When we first meet Jeanne in The River Rose, she possesses an almost uncanny faith in God, perfectly embodying what the Apostle Paul meant when he said “rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice!” Even with the faintest raise in tips or with the appearance of her favorite fruit or tea at the store, Jeanne breathes a silent prayer of thanks to the Father above. Later, she must rediscover her strong relationship with God, having uncovered the jolting truth that she has allowed her gaze to be turned from Him once her life’s circumstances began to blow in a new direction. She must learn that through poverty or prosperous seasons, in sickness or in health, there is never a time when we outgrow our need to love and depend on our God.

I also enjoyed the additional plot twists of this novel. Whereas The River Queen plotted a fairly straight and steady course, The River Rose dug deeper and deeper into its characters, revealing little bits of backstory along the way that keep you reading and wondering what happened that caused Jeanne to be widowed six years before. And before you’re half-way through the book, Gilbert will have you wondering which man in her life Jeanne will end up with after all.



I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from B&H Publishing Group. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I
am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.