Thursday, July 28, 2011

Book Review for September's Autumn by Sandra Newberry

September's Autumn

 September's Autumn by Sandra Newberry is fictional story written as part personal story and part documentary. There's basically two parts to the book: the personal and the historical. The personal centers around a girl named Autumn. Taking place in Mississippi in the 1920's, Autumn's family is a group of house and field servants to a woman named Penelope and her husband.

Autumn's grandparents were slaves prior to the Civil War and her grandmother would often share stories of that time period as the family picked cotton under the sweltering sun. Autumn and her sister's reactions to these stories are mixed. Autumn listens with a mingled sense of interest and shame not wanting to hear but curiosity compelling her to. Her sister is merely annoyed and impatient at her grandmother for dredging up a history that holds no relevance for her.

Autumn herself has a special relationship with her mistress, Penelope. Penelope dotes on her like a daughter. Indeed, Autumn could pass for her daughter for she's as light skinned as the elderly woman. Newberry writes at length on the mutual dependence yet fear, prejudice and mistrust the two races have for each other.

The other part to Newberry's story is about twenty black men who are murdered in horrible, despicable ways by the Klu Klux Klan. Newberry goes into so much detail of the names and families of the victims as well as the history of the KKK and the perpetrators of the crimes that I looked up the particulars on the web to see if she was recounting actual crimes taken from history. I couldn't find anything on the men she wrote about but I think that Newberry must have thoroughly researched her subject to give such a convincing account.

I don't know why Newberry chose such a subject to write about. On the one hand I think it's important for America to remember a sad epoch of our history so we don't repeat it. On the other hand, racial prejudice is not what is depriving the  black community of opportunity these days. If a writer really wanted to help African Americans as well as an ever growing population of white society, they need to study the current reasons people are poor. It's not a lack of opportunity but a lack of vision and spiritual integrity.

I taught for ten years at a high poverty/minority school. Every student was given the same education. There was no segregation, many of the teachers were black as well as the principal. The problem I saw was how many of our children were born out of wed lock with many siblings, each with a different father and everybody living off of the nanny state: food stamps, welfare and government housing. 

  The current biggest cause of death among young black Americans is not the Klu Klux Klan. It's gang warfare and drugs. I don't think it's coincidental that after reading this book I read a book called Courageous that deals with just such a problem and its roots in fatherlessness. (You can read about it in my next review.)

Other than that observation and the fact that Newberry equates racial prejudice with prejudice and violence against homosexuals (which, of course, not only betrays the actual date of the book but I wonder how many black people would appreciate the comparison) I would have to say she has done a good job with this book.
Newberry's writing style is eloquent and fluid. I also looked up information about her but could find nothing. If this is a first book for her I wish her luck in her future endeavors. I think she has a lot of potential.

I received a complimentary copy of  this book as a member of the
Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team. Visit   if you would like to buy a copy of the book or to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Book Review for J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne

J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne is the second delightful book I've read in the Christian Encounters series published by Thomas Nelson Publishers.  Horne gives a highly readable and interesting account of one of the most important authors of the twentieth century: J.R.R. Tolkien.

Combining a chronology of the events of Tolkien's life with his writing endeavors plus his relationships with friends, Horne weaves a colorful tapestry of an author whose books, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings have impacted many readers, not only fantasy readers but those of us who love folk lore and fairy tales.

Horne describes Tolkien's impeccable attention to detail; how he not only wrote these epic fantasy sagas but also spent years writing chronologies, family trees and whole generations of sagas to give a legend to each of the characters in his Rings books.

Tolkien was fascinated with Norse and Icelandic mythology and his own world of Rings, Elves and Hobbits were inspired by these ancient sagas. While at school and later as professor of literary languages at Oxford, he formed literary groups such as the Kolbitars (coal biters) and later, the Inklings (whose membership also included C.S. Lewis) where the members learned Old Norse and other medieval Germanic languages and read folk lore and mythologies from Norway and Iceland out loud to each other in the original languages.

His relationship with his wife is an interesting and romantic one. They fell in love as teenagers and were devoted to each other for their entire lives, which were long. His own upbringing was hard in that his parents died while he was still a child. His conversion to Catholicism is largely due to his extended family rejecting him and being raised and cared for by a Catholic priest.

Horne includes an interesting caveat by listing the high percentage of famous creative people in the area of fine arts who lost one or more parents due to death or abandonment while they were still young.

Another interesting aspect is Tolkien's relationship with C.S. Lewis. Lewis was an atheist when they first met and Horne relates details of their friendship that I was not aware of that was instrumental in leading Lewis to Christianity as well as additional information that reveals how human their friendship was.

Like other friendships there were conflicts. For instance Tolkien seemed to get promoted in the University at each opportunity that arose while C.S. Lewis was repeatedly passed over for professorships (which finally led him to taking an appointment at Cambridge).  On the other hand, Lewis wrote far more rapidly and his works were received and published with greater enthusiasm and alacrity than Tolkien's originally were.

Another interesting note is that while Lewis was a devoted and enthusiastic supporter of Tolkien's Lord of the Rings trilogy and did what he could to promote the books, Tolkien did not care for Lewis' use of Greek mythological characters in his Narnia Chronicles.

These conflicts led to a gradual falling apart of their friendship that Tolkien later came to regret at Lewis' untimely death.

Tolkien ended his years devoted to caring for his wife, so much so that he never finished his book of chronological backgrounds and sagas of his Ring characters. This book, The Simarillian was later edited and put into book form by his son, Christopher.

Tolkien finally succumbed to a bleeding ulcer a couple of years after his wife's death. On their tombstones, according to his instructions, the names “Beren” (on his) and “Luthien” (on hers) are engraved.
In short, I highly recommend this book (and all the biographies in this book series).

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson book publishers in exchange for my honest review.   
If you buy these books please do so through the links provided so I may receive a percentage.  Thanks!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Book Review for Prayer Walk by Janet Holm McHenry

PrayerWalk: Becoming a Woman of Prayer, Strength, and Discipline

  You know I'm an ordinary Christian woman, God. But I'd like to become more disciplined, to have a consistent daily prayer time. I'd like to lose some weight and to be a little more fit. And...and...oh, this sounds crazy after everything I've just said, but I'd like to be content with my life. (From the Introduction)

That's how Janet Holm McHenry begins her book, “Prayer Walk.” McHenry, a high school English teacher and mother of four came to a point in her life when she knew she couldn't wait around to become more spiritual, get closer to God or expect all her problems to go away. She was going to have to proactively seek out a relationship with God and this is how she did it: Every morning before anyone else in her household was up she began walking around her town for an hour or more praying to God.

This book is part-personal story part instruction manual teaching the reader how to see God as our ultimate “Personal Trainer” by walking and talking with Him. She testifies as to how she not only got in shape and became healthier but how she became closer to God and also more cognizant of the people around her at school, her town and in her own family, their needs, their hurts, and started praying for them as well.

The book is divided into two parts. The first six chapters discuss how to become a woman of discipline. Why we should walk, making time to walk and the added health benefits of walking. The second part details how to pray, who to pray for and the differences that McHenry saw in her own life as well as her community as a result of her prayer walking.

For instance, a real struggle for her was the death of her father who suffered from Lou Gehrig's disease. She walked miles and hours wrestling with God in the wee morning hours seeking closure and answers. Another result was how she became aware of the needs and hurts of her students. When one student's father committed suicide, her prayer walking provided wisdom and guidance that enabled McHenry to turn a tragedy into a tool of counseling for her high schoolers who not only had a lot of questions but some were fighting against suicidal thoughts themselves.

At the end of the book is a study guide for groups who would like to use this book as a Bible study or discussion. There are also resources for walking, a thirty-day pray walk challenge and how to organize a community prayer walk event.

I found this book to be highly provocative and challenging. I don't know if I will begin to prayer walk but this book offers good arguments that provide me with food for thought and motivation.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Waterbrook Multinomah Publishing co. in exchange for my honest review.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Book Review for The Station: A Journey of Discovery by Ileana Ramos

 In The Station a man named Tony tells a story about a young girl Lily. Lily is filled with anger, hatred, bitterness and emptiness. She embarks on a journey that she hopes will take her to a place where she can finally be released from all these scars and hurts and to fill what is missing in her life.
On her journey she meets different people. They have names like,”Trust,” “Patience," "Love", and "Forgiveness", to name a few.

Each of these people inform Lily that what she is looking for is the fountain and in order to find the fountain she must shed all the negative attributes that she clings to. She is told that the fountain is really inside of her and if she would be able to let go of her anger, bitterness, and forgive herself and others who have hurt her she would discover the fountain in herself.

Although Lilly is skeptical she eventually comes to a place through the help of these different “people” where her desire to find and experience the fountain is stronger than holding on to these destructive emotions.

At first I thought that maybe Ramos was simply providing a recipe for some “New Age” philosophy. As the story develops we are informed that the fountain is actually God who lives inside all of us and we can see God through Jesus Christ who is the personification of God.

In fact Ramos uses a lot of Biblical terms and metaphors- describing God as knocking on the door of our hearts, filling it with the fruits of the spirit (love, joy, peace, forgiveness, self-control etc..)

But there were some key elements missing. Never once is Lilly called on to repent and have her sins forgiven through Christ's sacrifice on the cross. In fact Christ's death and resurrection are never mentioned. He is simply someone who becomes a close friend after we forgive others and ourselves.
Another unbiblical assertion is that life will be lived happily ever after.

One of the most wonderful things I have discovered about the ministry of Jesus is the truth that he came to set me free. I was in such bondage to others as well as to those hindrances and heaviness I found within my self. When Christ came into my life, the shackles that kept me in bondage were broken, and I experienced freedom for the first time in my life. All I can tell you is that I know I have found the truth for myself, because I have love, peace, joy, acceptance, and serenity in my heart and soul. (pg118)

Notice how Lily states the shackles that kept her in bondage were hindrances and heaviness within her self. She never calls it sin. She admits that Jesus set her free but she never mentions the method by which Jesus frees us from sin.

Lily talks about receiving love, peace joy et al but it's not through the forgiveness of sins. Also, the implication seems to be that we are simply going to experience these attributes like some kind of Nirvana reached on earth. (The fact that she quotes Deepak Chopra and Kahil Gibran is another clue that Ramos is not presenting the Gospel.)

That sounds wonderful but it's a false promise. While it is true that the Christian walk produces these fruits, life can become harder after becoming saved. God uses hardship to produce these and other fruits: endurance, patience and self-control. If anyone enters into a relationship with Christ thinking life is going to become a merry skip to la la land they are going to be quickly disillusioned.

No matter how much Ramos uses Christian terminology and talks of all the wonderful things Jesus can do for you when he becomes your Friend she leaves out a crucial and necessary step. That is the process of salvation.

It is our sin that separates us from God. All the anger, bitterness, hurting others, not forgiving other people who have hurt us-all stem from sin. Ramos states that God is living in us and we simply need to find him to rid ourselves of these destructive attributes. No, God is separated from us until we accept Jesus' covering of our sin so we then can fellowship with a Pure and Holy God.

Ramos never talks of salvation. She only talks about someone lost and seeking who can find the solution inside of herself. Jesus is delegated as a teacher and guide but never as He truly is: a Savior.

My conclusion? The Station is a cleverly disguised attempt to make a New Age philosophy sound Christian.

I received a complimentary copy of  this book as a member of the
Dorrance Publishing Book Review Team. Visit   if you would like to buy a copy of the book or to learn how you can become a member of the Book Review Team.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Book Review for The Quotable Rogue: The Ideals of Sarah Palin In Her Own Words Ed. by Matt Lewis

  With all the vicious attacks against Sarah Palin by the mainstream media (or “lame stream media” as they are referred to in this book) I wanted to read for myself what exactly Sarah Palin has to say for herself on different issues.

Matt Lewis, the Senior Contributor to the Daily Caller, compiled hundreds of quotes of Palin from several different sources. Many of these are from television interviews, others are from Republican rallies or speeches for local municipalities in Alaska or around the country at Tea Party conventions or other local gatherings.

If, like me, you had a curiosity to hear straight from the horse's mouth what her opinions or statements are about such relevant topics as : abortion, Barack Obama, civil rights, economics, education, the environment, energy policy, gay marriage, being governor of Alaska and last but not least, Tina Fey, then this would be a good book for you.

These are not all the topics but they give you a good sample. The last section includes quotes of what people have to say about Palin. It's pretty mixed. I thought Lewis did a fair job of including the anti-Palinites along with the pros. I was also glad to see that David Letterman unequivocally apologized for his uncalled for remark about Palin's daughters.

I, myself, was surprised, to read some of the quotes. She doesn't stand for (or against) everything I thought she did.

So if you, too, would like to get straight from the horse's mouth where Palin stands and whether she's someone you'd vote for in the upcoming presidential election, this book is a good place to start.

I received a free copy of this book from BookSneeze in exchange for my honest review.

If you buy the book, please do so through the link below. Thanks!