Book Review: Does This Church Make Me Look Fat?

Does this Church Make Me Look Fat?

Marketing Copy:
What does it mean to give church a try when you haven’t really tried since you were twelve? At the end of her bestselling memoir Mennonite in a Little Black Dress, Rhoda Janzen had reconnected with her family and her roots, though her future felt uncertain. But when she starts dating a churchgoer, this skeptic begins a surprising journey to faith and love.

Rhoda doesn’t slide back into the dignified simplicity of the Mennonite church. Instead she finds herself hanging with the Pentecostals, who really know how to get down with sparkler pom-poms. Amid the hand waving and hallelujahs Rhoda finds a faith richly practical for life–just in time for some impressive lady problems, an unexpected romance, and a quirky new family.

Does This Church Make Me Look Fat? is for people who have a problem with organized religion, but can’t quite dismiss the notion of God, and for those who secretly sing hymns in their cars, but prefer a nice mimosa brunch to church. This is the story of what it means to find joy in love, comfort in prayer, and–incredibly, surprisingly–faith in a big-hearted God.

My Review
I finished this book a couple of days ago. I’ve talked about it with a friend and with my husband. I’ve started this review a half dozen times, and scrapped every one of them. There are parts I really liked. But all in all, it was not easy to like. And yet, I would recommend it. Now you know why I keep scrapping the reviews.

This book is good. I wasn’t sure I was going to like it at first. It’s a bit “edgier” than most of the books I read. It’s gritty and real. The author uses big words. I was glad I was reading it on my Nook so that I could just tap the word I didn’t know and look it up—but there were words that weren’t in its dictionary, either.

This book stretched me. I usually pick up a book and if I like it, I read it straight through. This book wouldn’t let me do that. It made me think. I found myself cheering at times, laughing out loud, and all teary at others.

This book takes the reader on a journey, and it’s not always pleasant or pretty. But it’s real. I could relate to her faith journey. I especially thought the discussions of her struggle with sex and tithing were worth the price of the book in themselves. These were not simplistic handlings of controversial topics, but nuts and bolts, real person questioning, and coming to resolution.

Over a decade ago, I was the interim pastor at a Mennonite church. I could see some of what the author has written might ruffle a few feathers, and possibly offend some. On the other hand, I know several people who struggle with issues with the church and their faith journey and I think this book would give them some things to grab onto and wrap their minds around.

This book is tight. Everything in there belongs. It’s real. It’s not fluffy. And how can you look fat when you’re beautifully transparent?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rhoda Janzen is the author of the #1 New York Times bestselling Mennonite in a Little Black Dress and the poetry collection Babel’s Stair. She holds a Ph.D. from UCLA and teaches English and creative writing at Hope College in Holland, Michigan

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Tyndale House Publishers. 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.

Book Review: Rare Earth by Davis Bunn

Look in the sky! It’s a bird, it’s a plane, no! It’s a helicopter and it’s carrying Mark Royce!

Whether it’s Spiderman, Ironman, Larry the Cucumber, or the Avatar, it seems that we are in search of a hero. Life is oppressive and we feel weak and defeated. Who you going to call?

Enter Mark Royce. Now the interesting thing is you will not be able to call him, but he can be your hero just the same. His calling comes from one much higher, and mysterious…and farther up the food chain. He doesn’t have super powers, or a suit of armor, but he gets the job done. And he’s so real. You can’t help but like him—he has a charisma…at least that’s how the story goes. This man’s man does a pretty good job with the ladies, too!

But what I like best is that no matter where he’s at or who he’s saving or protecting you know that his true mission is immersed in God’s heart. Don’t get me wrong, Davis knows how put the Word in his words. The reader can’t help but walk away with a deeper sense of God, but never feels beat up in the process.

This is Book 2 in the Marc Royce series (Lion of Babylon is Book 1). The really nice thing is that Rare Earth is a stand-alone novel – the main character is the same as in Lion, but nearly all the other characters are new to this book. Readers will have no trouble understanding Rare Earth if they have not read Lion yet. But trust me, you’ll want to read it too.

Here’s the Plot of Rare Earth
Marc Royce stares out of the helicopter, a sense of foreboding rising with the volcanic cloud. Below, the Rift Valley slashes across Africa like a scar. Decades of conflicts, droughts, and natural disasters have left their mark.

Dispatched to audit a relief organization, Royce is thrust into the squalor and chaos of Kenyan refugee camps. But his true mission focuses on the area’s reserves of once-obscure minerals now indispensable to high-tech industries. These strategic elements—called rare earth—have inflamed tensions on the world’s stage and stoked tribal rivalries. As Royce prepares to report back to Washington, he seizes on a bold and risky venture for restoring justice to this troubled land.

But this time, Royce may have gone too far.

Be A Winner!
I have been authorized to give away a copy of this exciting new book! Here’s how you can be entered into a drawing to win your very own copy of Rare Earth:
1. Leave a comment on this review.
2. Let me know that you signed up for Davis’s e-newsletter http://www.davisbunn.com/news.htm
3. Like Davis’s Facebook page facebook.com/davisbunnauthor
Now here’s the super thing about this contest: you get an entry for every step you complete! That means you have three times the chances of winning if you do all three and let me know about it!

About Davis Bunn
Davis Bunn is an award-winning novelist whose audience spans reading genres from high drama and action thrillers to heartwarming relationship stories, in both contemporary and historical settings. He and his wife, Isabella, make their home in Florida for some of each year, and spend the rest near Oxford, England, where they each teach and write. Visit Davis at http://www.davisbunn.com.

Q & A with Davis Bunn
When you finished writing Lion of Babylon (book 1 in the Marc Royce series), did you just keep going with the storyline and wrote Rare Earth at the same time? Or was there a time gap in between?

Normally by the time I complete a story, I have been living with the characters and the tale for about a year. What I need more than anything just then is a break. I don’t need to stop writing; I just need to write about something else. The emotions for a new book have to be fresh. The characters are not just continuing on. They are starting over. The emotions and the concepts and the tension and the theme are all brand new. The names stay the same. The rest of the universe shifts on its axis.
Marc Royce is not your typical hero. Where did you find your inspiration for his character?

As I started researching the first book in this series, Lion of Babylon, I took a flight where I was seated next to this very remarkable woman, an amazing combination of hard intelligence and great gentleness. She was reading a pocket New Testament. We started talking, and it turned out that she was a special operative, formerly with the State Department intelligence division, and now working with the Department of Defense Intel. I found myself drawn by this incredible paradox of ruthless focus and very intense calm.
Soon after this flight, I had an opportunity to meet a senior figure in the CIA. I had never had any contact with the intelligence community, and all of a sudden I was finding one door after another being opened, because both of these people—the DOD Intel officer and the CIA agent—took it upon themselves to help introduce me to their worlds. I have found this happen on a number of occasions, and these ongoing miracles humble and astound me. I drew on these people as the basis for structuring my hero.

What can readers expect to find in Rare Earth?

All my books hold to one key aim—to create a story that carries a moral, and together result in an impact or challenge or inspiration or comforting assurance that remains long after the book is set down. That, to me, defines a worthy effort.

What kind of character is Mark Royce?

He carries his faith into a world that likes to think Jesus no longer plays a role. He sees himself as the ultimate outsider, wounded by the loss of his wife, searching for a place he can call home, and an ideal worth living for—or giving his life for.
Tell us about one or two other key characters.

Like the book that launched this series, Rare Earth is a story about the missionary church. Many of the other characters are Kenyan, and reveal the amazing role that believers play in this nation.

What type of research did you do for this series?

I worked in Africa for four years early in my adult life. I was not a believer at that time. I came to faith four years later. I taught in Kenya last year, the first time I had been back to sub-Sahara Africa in almost twenty years. Going back to Africa now, as a believer, has opened my eyes to many things. Seeing with the compassion of sharing faith and seeking to serve means that I do not merely observe, I share with them. I hope this comes across in my story.

Research is a huge component of all of my stories. But with Lion of Babylon and Rare Earth, the situation was quite different. In both these Royce novels, I was combining knowledge gained in my previous business life with the perspective gained from my walk in faith. It has been quite a fulfilling experience, personally, to revisit these lands and see them through the eyes of our compassionate God.
Which character in Rare Earth do you connect to the most?

This is the second book starring Marc Royce. He is a complex individual with a lot of amazing traits. I feel like I am finally coming to terms with the depths of this man.

Which character was the most difficult to write?

There is a Luo chief in Nairobi, a strong leader who has had everything stripped from him except his faith. He is the uncle of another great man, another leader. To have two people from the same tribe, and create individuals that stood out as unique portraits, was very challenging. I feel that I have done a solid job with them. I look forward to hearing what my readers think.

What was your favorite scene to write in Rare Earth?

It is very rare that a first scene holds such a powerful connection for me. Generally it is one where there is a revelation between characters, or a defining moment when a person’s eyes are truly opened to the eternal for the first time.

But in Rare Earth, when I shut my eyes and envision the story, it is that first scene that blazes into light. Travelling on the UN chopper from Nairobi, watching the volcano take shape upon the horizon. Marc Royce has been sent out there to fail. And to die. I really am pleased with that opening sequence.

What’s next in your writing pipeline?

The film project Unlimited, for which I wrote the screenplay, has now ‘wrapped’, that is, filming has been completed. The producer and director are now deep into the editing process. Meanwhile, I must get busy and write the novel.

I had the whole thing backwards here, doing the script first, but it has been a lot of fun, and the concept remains very fresh. So hopefully it will come alive on the page as well as the screen. Both the film and the story are titled Unlimited, and are slated for release in September 2013.

How can readers find you on the Internet?

My website and blog are at http://www.davisbunn.com
Subscribe to my blog’s feed (to get my latest posts via e-mail or through your feed reader) at http://feeds.feedburner.com/DavisBunn
Sign up for my e-newsletter (for subscriber-only giveaways and advance notice of my upcoming novels): http://www.davisbunn.com/news.htm
Facebook Author Page: facebook.com/davisbunnauthor
Twitter: @davisbunn – http://twitter.com/davisbunn
Pinterest: http://pinterest.com/davisbunn/

Rare Earth by Davis Bunn Sample Chapters 1-3

I received a complimentary copy of this book for review from Bethany House Publishers. 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.

Book Review: Travelers Rest by Ann Tatlock

Travelers Rest
Ann Tatlock
Bethany House, 2012, 342 pages

This was the first book I have read by this author. When I could see that I was coming to the end of the book, I had already decided that it wouldn’t be my last! I

My first reaction was that the book seemed to start slowly, but as I continued reading the pace completely drew me in. I was no longer rushing around my world, I was moving with a different rhythm: a Southern mosey, and the slower movement of the wounded in the VA hospital. Ms. Tatlock’s descriptions were so enticing that I felt the sun, heard the music, felt Seth’s heaviness. She deftly wove together the stories, layer upon layer, but it never felt heavy or stilted.

This is the story of intersecting lives, dealing with immeasurable losses, learning to walk together, and to find hope. Toward the end of the book the point is made that “all the small steps finally fit together” (p. 309) I’ve read books where this felt unnatural—that was definitely not the case here.

The faith struggle of the characters is obvious, but not obnoxious, or forced. No easy answers are offered, and that is refreshing. There is room for the reader to ask their own questions and find their own answers.

I think the thing that I liked best about this book were some of the phrases that the author dropped into the dialog. Things like the reference to life being a gearshift with no reverse, or making peace with a place, and entering a chapter you didn’t expect. It was just real and relatable.

As I read this book I found myself thinking of the people in my life facing difficulties and how I would love to get this book into their hands. That said, yes, I would definitely recommend it!

(I received a free copy of this book to review from Bethany House Publishers.)

Book Review: Unstuck

Unstuck
Your Life. God’s Design. Real Change.
Arnie Cole + Michael Ross
Bethany House Publishers, 2012, 265 pages

I was looking forward to getting this book to read. Then I got it. My first impression was not good. The authors stated that their approach to getting unstuck was not found in a quick fix or formula, but they proceeded to describe steps for the process. The steps initially felt like a veiled formula. I decided to keep reading, and I’m glad I did. It became very clear that the authors were emphasizing process and relationship. I was also reminded that most of us don’t get stuck overnight, so we should realize that getting unstuck will indeed take time.

Each section of the book began with a list of concise goals that the authors intended to accomplish. I found this very helpful. The good news is that they did a good job of meeting their goals. Perhaps this is just a personal pet peeve of mine, but I have always disliked going to a workshop and having the leader identify goals, but never come close to meeting them. To the authors’ credit they demonstrated integrity in this issue.

One of my concerns at the outset was that the book, because of its foundation being based in a survey that was taken by the authors, was going be too statistically focused for my liking. What I found to the contrary was a nice balance between head oriented material referring to the study, and personal stories. This balance is such that it would result in the book appealing to either mindset. There is also a nice assortment of quotes to support their findings and their stories. Many of the names are recognizable, lending a sense of credibility and connection both to and beyond the material.

Another strength that I found in this book was that it was plainly written, without a lot of Christianeze or assumed common religious language. While this would be appealing to either unchurched folks, unbelievers, or those new to faith, there wasn’t a sense that the material was dumbed down, so it would still make sense and get the point across to believers who found themselves stuck in one way or another. With that in mind this book would be good for the new believer just starting their faith journey and wanting to understand the Word. It would be great from the perspective of preventative material so that they might be sparred some of the frustration of being potentially stuck in the future. There is still enough impact of the material for the stuck, static, and status quo believer.

The third part of the book puts the ball in the reader’s hand. It invites the reader to plot his/her own course toward a spiritual breakthrough. While the steps described sound like a formula, it is presented in such a personal way that the relational component came through very clearly. By including pages that resemble a workbook, the authors’ remove some of the natural tendency to put off doing the suggested work and reflection and instead create the opportunity for the reader to get right to work. It should probably also be noted that the book is formatted to be read (and digested) on a daily basis (each chapter gives a daily scripture reading and question). The chapters also close with a statement about what their research revealed and an encouraging nudge.

I think the thing that really sold me on the book was the way they seemed to tie everything up at the end. They have been emphasizing the importance of improving one’s relationship with God, especially as it is related to the Word. They share at the minimum we need to be reading and engaging the Word at least four times a week as the foundational component of getting and staying unstuck. They finish by describing the four critical elements of spiritual growth: knowledge; prayer, faith and action. I believe that these parallel the things that God himself requires of us, loving Him with all our heart (faith), soul (prayer), mind (knowledge) and strength (action) (see Deuteronomy 6:5). Anything that helps us understand and move deeper into relationship with Him is a good thing. This book does that in a very clear manner. I’m really glad I kept reading.

I recommend this book. Read it. Share it.

(I received a free copy of this book to review from Bethany House Publishers.)

Book Review: Seal of God

Seal of God–The Path Is Narrow…But the Reward Is Great

A Memoir

Chad Williams with David Thomas

Forward by Greg Laurie

284 pages

Tyndale Publishers

I’m not in the military. I didn’t think I would really have much to relate to with this book. I was wrong. This is the story of a young man who is naturally gifted athletically. He achieves levels others only dream of and then gets bored–seeking the next thrill, the next bit of excitement. He frustrates his father by never sticking with anything. Here’s where I began to relate.

Chad winds up making a connection with a retired Navy Seal that changes the course and shape of his life forever. The story of his determined preparation and the relationship he has with his mentor is quite encouraging to me, both from the perspective of one who only dreams of being that determined and wishing I had that kind of mentor.

The tragic loss of his mentor in a brutally horrible attack in Iraq serves to amp Chad’s desire to be a Navy Seal. Reading through the grueling process of preparation made me feel like such a marshmallow, but also served to motivate me to start moving. I was about to cheer out loud when he finally completed the training.

That accomplishment, great as it was, only served as the vehicle for the real change and achievement in Chad’s life. The real story within the story is how he came to faith, how he grew, how that faith was challenged while he was a Seal, and then provided the opportunity for him to take that same level of determination and turn it into full-time ministry.

I’m excited to share about this book here, but I had no sooner finished reading it when I began to think of the people in my life with whom I wanted to share a copy. There are quite a few!

The writing is easy to follow and while he leads the reader into the often misunderstood or unknown world of the military, Navy Seals specifically, he does it in such a way that is informative and enlightening.

I highly recommend this book!

To comply with new regulations introduced by the Federal Trade Commission, please mention as part of every Web or Amazon review that Tyndale House Publishers has provided you with a complimentary copy of this book.

 

 

 

%d bloggers like this: