Thursday, July 14, 2016

(Review) The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg

Publication Date: October 1, 2014
Publisher: Tyndale
Genre: Historical fiction, Holocaust, World War II
Pages: 480
Source: Self purchase
Rating: 5 stars for excellent

Link @ Tyndale for more info on the book. This link includes an excerpt.

Link @ Amazon

ECPA 2015 Christian Book Award Finalist!
2014 finalist for the Goodreads Choice Awards!

Joel Rosenberg's website

Links of interest: 
I Escaped from Auschwitz, from The Guardian
Escapes and Reports, from Memorial and Museum at Auschwitz-Birkenau
Rudolf Vrba, from the Holocaust Education and Archive Research Team
Jerry Bielek, from the Daily Mail
Auschwitz, Wikipedia
Auschwitz, from The United Holocaust Memorial Museum
History and Overview of Auschwitz, from the Jewish Virtual Library

The Auschwitz Escape is a Christian historical fiction story of an escape from the notorious concentration camp Auschwitz.
Auschwitz is located near the town of Oswiecim, Poland, near the border of Germany. It is 37 miles west of Krakow. Auschwitz is generally used to refer to all the camps in this area. However, there was a large network, comprised of 3 main camps and 44 sub-camps. Auschwitz 1 began in 1941 with political prisoners, followed by criminal, resistance, and Jews. Later, homosexuals and gypsies were included. The prisoners died by poisonous gas, diseases, starvation, severe labor, harsh weather conditions, and other methods of extermination at the hands of the Nazis.
Between 2.1 million and 4 million were murdered.
Jacob Weisz is a young man living in Germany. He and his parents are Jews. The Jews know something horrible is happening to their people, yet are filled with a mix of shock and fear. Do they stay or do they leave? Jacob becomes involved in the resistance action. The Auschwitz Escape is essentially his story, yet it demonstrates the plight of all Jews during this period.

My Thoughts:
This is the first book I've read by Joel C. Rosenberg. The book has gained high marks/reviews from readers. I've been anxious to read this book!
I've read a long list of Holocaust stories and memoirs. I am not an expert. I am not a history harpie. However, this genre of books causes me to "pick at" a little more for accuracy.
The first note-worthy element of The Auschwitz Escape is we know from history very few people escaped. We know from reading books and watching films the horrors of Auschwitz, as well as the perilous and (near) impenetrable prison. As a curious reader, I had to know how an escape was carried out? This questions led me to continue reading till the last page.
There are a few situations in the book where Jacob gets a pass. He is in the right place at the right time and among the right kind of people who can help. I am okay with this. Sometimes life is like this. We are in the right place to be helped and by the right kind of people. However, another reader may find this far-fetched and not real enough.
The previous thought is balanced by the horrors of Auschwitz, and the way in which Jacob came to be there. This place is NOT the right place, nor the right kind of people to be under their control.
The Auschwitz Escape creates a strong emotional response. Auschwitz was hell. This was hell on earth. It is the place where Hollywood productions seems minuscule and insignificant. Rosenberg portrayed Auschwitz to the point of causing me physical discomfort. No human can adequately share in words the horrors of Auschwitz, because words are just not enough. I feel Rosenberg has accomplished his mission of describing Auschwitz and the story of Jacob.
Some stories use a place as a character. I know this seems like a false statement, but Auschwitz was its own organism. It was a character. It was a monster.
Lastly, this is a Christian fiction story. This means Christianity is referred to. I have read books where the Christian theme is on every page. I have read books where I had to hunt for the Christian theme. Where I saw this element the most is in the later half of the book, and I did not think it was pasted into the story as a filler.
Reading Holocaust stories, whether fictional or biographic, is important in educating modern society of where we can never repeat. It gives a voice to honor all of those who suffered in the Holocaust.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

(Review) All But Normal: Life on Victory Road by Shawn Thornton with Joel Kilpatrick

Publication Date: July 5, 2016
Publisher: Tyndale
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir
Pages: 320
Source: Free paperback copy from Tyndale in exchange for a review.
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Link for the book @ Tyndale: All But Normal. Excerpt is available @ the link.

Website for All But Normal. A free preview is available @ this link.

Website of Shawn's: Pastor Shawn. 


All But Normal is the story of Shawn Thornton's family; principally his mother's mood swings, and it's results on the family. The story begins in the early 1960's and the car accident that left his mother in a coma. After awakening from the coma, her personality was vastly different. She recovered enough to return home. Her walking was hindered by a stiff awkward gait. She was unable to return to the life she'd once lived. Shawn's parents married young. Shawn and his brother, Troy, lived a chaotic home life. From a cluttered home to a fiery tempered mother, everyday was lived in fear of another episode.
Shawn Thornton examines his childhood through the lens of his boyhood and development to manhood. The affects on his personality, emotions, and spiritual life are explored.

My Thoughts:
Joni Eareckson Tada, wrote the foreword. Her name will be mentioned in All But Normal as a book Shawn's mother read and re-read. One of my favorite quotes from the book is written in the foreword.
...the leaders God chooses are often more broken than strong, more damaged than whole, more troubled than secure. God's most effective leaders don't rise to power in spite of their weakness; they lead with power because of their weakness. By the last page of this book, you'll be convinced that God's greatest leaders seem to rise up from beds of nails, not roses. Page ix. 
Several reasons led me to give All But Normal, 5 stars for excellent:
  • A transparent view of a dysfunctional family across five decades, including the long-term after effects. 
  • A first time Christian work on the effects of a brain injury and a mental health disorder. 
  • A coming of age story. 
  • God at work in the individuals even during a chaotic period. 
  • I felt Shawn Thornton is honest and does not downplay the incidents, but he is loving and respectful to his parents. 
  • All But Normal shows how God prepared the author for service in ministry despite the hard life situations growing up.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

(Review) Like A River From Its Course by Kelli Stuart

Publication Date: June 27, 2016
Publisher: Kregel
Genre: Historical fiction
Pages: 363
Source: Free copy from Kregel in exchange for a review
Rating: 5 stars for excellent

Link for book @ Kregel. 


Kelli Stuart's blog

Kindle Fire Giveaway from June 27 through July 18.

Article from the Huffington Post: 75 Years Later: What the Past Teaches Us Today.

Kelli Stuart's Blog post: Addressing the Question of Faith.  

Like A River From Its Course begins in 1941, Ukraine. Four main characters are introduced, each sharing their story and voice. These characters are Maria (Masha) Ivanovna, Ivan Kyrilovich, Frederick Herrmann, and Ludmilla (Luda) Michaelevna. They solidly represent four types of people affected by World War II and the Holocaust. From a civilian aspect, to a Nazi officer, to a Ukraine swept up in the roundup and murder of Jews.

My Thoughts:
Like A River From It's Course is a work of historical fiction.
The author explains:
The characters in this book are composites of the hundreds of men and women I met while touring Ukraine. They don't tell one single person's story, but rather hundreds of stories combined. While the characters are fictional, the circumstances and horrors they faced were very real. Page 361. 
1. My first reason for giving Like A River From It's Course 5 stars for excellent, is the historical research and the telling of so many stories. It is a compilation, representing many individuals; in a sense all those who suffered during WWII and the Holocaust have a voice.

2. A German officer is one of the characters. He is the enemy. However, I am shown the thoughts and feelings he struggles against. I understand his background, education, and reasons for ideology. I also see his nemesis. These are not excusable for his demented murderous behavior, but it does show a strong dimensional view.

3. Like A River From It's Course is a character study and sketch of the Ukraine. The various main characters give the story a panoramic view of World War II. They are in the Ukraine, but they represent different aspects of society. Each of them have internal conflicts. The external conflicts is the war, Holocaust, and possible death. Each of them have a desire to carry out what they feel drawn to and what they must do. The characters are often polar in personality from one another. A Nazi officer who is intent on torture and murder, versus a teenage girl who is orphaned and in despair.

4. Baba Mysa is a secondary character. Her wisdom is shown in body language and on point sage words. Her wisdom transcends for all time.
Life is full of heartache and hardship. Very rarely will life make sense, and it will almost never seem fair. But if you remember that pain and heartache aren't unique to only you, that you're not the only one mired in circumstances that seem too great to bear, you'll do much better in life. Page 213.
5. While reading the story, and because I understand the ending may not be positive for all the characters, this was a strong reason to continue reading. I became apart of the story, both because of the characters, and the serious nature of the entire story.

6. Several themes are at work besides the war and Holocaust: coming of age tale, sexual abuse, family saga, romance, sibling rivalry, orphaned, and domestic abuse. 

Friday, July 8, 2016

(Review)The Uncommon Woman: Making an Ordinary Life Extraordinary by Susie Larson

Publication Date: July 1, 2008
Publisher: Moody
Genre: Nonfiction, Christian Women, Christian Growth
Pages: 200
Source: Self purchase
Rating: 5 stars for excellent.

Amazon link for the book

Susie Larson Website

Live The Promise radio site



"The uncommon woman refuses to let her mistakes or weaknesses define her because she is defined by His strengths alone." Page 26.
The word uncommon refers to ordinary. The book is written to a female audience. No matter the life we are living we can be called by God and live exceptional lives.

Three sections covering twelve chapters.
"The Uncommon Woman Understands the Paradox That She is Nothing and Everything." 
"The Uncommon Woman Embraces a Different Perspective
"The Uncommon Woman Changes the World" 

My Thoughts:
Before reading The Uncommon Woman,  I'd heard of Susie Larson. After reading this book, I began listening to some of the broadcasts from her radio station. I enjoy listening to some of the topics.
The Uncommon Woman covers a variety of subjects, from choosing the right battles, to praying instead of becoming influenced by other people's bad attitudes.
Chapter seven held important lessons for me. I feel the title does not explain the depth of the topic. In brief, do not let the world tell us how we are to respond and act. Further, don't let the wounds of life make us bitter and become like the world.
When we are wounded or attacked, we must remember Christ's example of humility. But in our remembering we do not lose sight of who we are and whose we are...To be transformable is to give the Lord (along with trusted godly people) easy access to the things of our character that Jesus might make us more like Him. But opening our souls up to anyone who wants to say a cross word to us is not wise. Not to say we should keep difficult people out of our lives. They are usually the ones God uses to refine our character. But we must not give more weight to their words than those of our godly friends and wonderful Savior. Page 110-111.
 Chapter nine explores fears.
"We all have a story to tell." 
The longer we live, the more stories we will have to tell.
"If we live by faith instead of being bullied by our fears, those stories will be ones of victory, inspiration, and triumph. Our stories will inspire others to put their fears under their feet." Page 143. 
From painful past experiences to fear of the future, fear feels like a dog chasing us in our waking moments and in our sleep. 
Larson defines fear and explores decisions "we've made out of fear." My favorite point, "We have to love God more than our fears." Page 150. 

Thursday, July 7, 2016

(Review) Crazy Love: Overwhelmed By A Relentless God by Francis Chan with Danae Yankoski

Publication Date: May 1, 2008
Publisher: David C. Cook
Genre: Nonfiction, Christian Growth
Pages: 205
Source: Self purchase
Rating: 4 stars for very good


Crazy Love propels the reader to have an passionate oriented love towards God. Going through the motions or habit, does not define love. Loving God, truly loving God, spills over into other people's lives; and we become an effective testimony of God's love living in us and toward others.

One: "Stop Praying"
Two: "You Might Not Finish This Chapter"
Three: "Crazy Love"
Four: "Profile of the Lukewarm"
Five: "Serving Leftovers to a Holy God"
Six: "When You're in Love"
Seven: "Your Best Life...Later"
Eight: "Profile of the Obsessed"
Nine: "Who Really Lives That Way?"
Ten: "The Crux of the Matter"

My Thoughts:
I love love love chapters with a title that demand a second look or response: "Chapter Two: You Might Not Finish This Chapter." If this chapter were all that was in the book, I would be satisfied.
"All that matters is the reality of who we are before God." Page 50.
A quote like this needs to sink in a bit. Turn over in my mind. Prick my heart.
His work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.                       1 Corinthians 3:13-15. 
Chapters four and five explore, "lukewarm Christians."
"As I see it, a lukewarm Christian is an oxymoron; there's no such thing. To put it plainly, churchgoers who are 'lukewarm' are not Christians. We will not see them in heaven." Page 83-84.
After reading all of the Gospels, Chan believes Jesus Christ asks us to give our "all or nothing."
Chan goes on to teach we live under God's grace and mercy. We mess up, but God forgives us. However, just because a person goes to church or does something "churchy," does not mean this person is saved. There is a clear distinction.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

(Review) Mended: Pieces of a Life Made Whole by Angie Smith

Publication Date: September 1, 2012
Publisher: B and H Publishing Group
Genre: Nonfiction, young motherhood
Pages: 184
Source: Self purchase
Rating: 2 stars for okay

Amazon link for the book

Angie Smith @ Facebook
Angie Smith Online: Bring the Rain
Angie Smith @ Twitter

Mended: Pieces of a Life Made Whole, is written to Christian women who need encouragement during a time of disappointment in life. Thirty-one chapters, all brief, covering applicable stories from the OT and NT. Most chapters are from Smith's devotional style blog posts. One chapter is not from her blog posts, "Her, Here." Each chapter begins with the focal Bible passage, followed by the devotional, and ending with a "mending" section.

"My hope is that this will be a resource that leads you to pray and dig deeper into His Word." 

My Thoughts:
Some sections of the book I enjoyed reading. A few worthy quotes for writing down and remembering. Over-all, I found the book to not be for me. I have not had small children in 25 plus years. I am not a young wife, mother, or woman. I'm a well-seasoned woman, with many other life experiences, other than being a young wife and mom. I can understand the book being well-loved by young women, but for me, I felt the book was okay.

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

(Review) 94 Feet, DVD

94 Feet, DVD 
DVD Release Date: April 19, 2016
Directed, Edited, and Screenplay by Chip Rossetti
Run time: 114 minutes
Source: Free DVD from FishFlix in exchange for a review.
Rating: 3 stars for good.

Christian DVDs 

A $5 coupon to FishFlix if you join their email list.

Link @ Amazon

St. Michaels is a small mining town near economic collapse. One of the two main businesses has already ended and the second one is going to have major lay-offs. One particular couple has grown up in the town. They have lived through a mining disaster before. They were young but the impact of the event brought grave consequences. The husband is Chris Rossi and he is a crew leader working in the mine. He is deeply troubled about the lay-offs. The lay-off will affect his best friend. After making an agonizing decision, Chris decides to quit. But, before Chris's last day a disaster happens.

My Thoughts:
Larry Wilcox is listed as an actor in the film, 94 Feet, but he is not a main character. Larry Wilcox is a supporting actor.
I did not recognize any of the actors in the film from other films I've seen. It's possible the actors have played parts in other Christian films and I'm not acquainted with them.
There were a few scenes where I felt the acting was "over the top." The acting looked awkward and insincere. One of the wonderful elements about a film is when the characters do not act like they are acting, but they act in a manner that feels and looks realistic. It is easy to become absorbed in a film when an actor does not act as if they are pretending, but they are the character. They are living and breathing the role they are portraying.
At the end of the film, a few messages were not given to the surviving families. This may have been over-looked, or not felt necessary for the ending, or maybe not enough film length. I felt these messages were important.
The film's primary strength is the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. The film's strength is not in the acting abilities, nor the scenery, nor the props, nor the editing, nor the dialogue. The strength is in the message of salvation and eternal life in Jesus Christ.
A secondary strength is the town of St. Michaels itself. The film did an excellent job of showing the sadness of the town: boarded up shop windows, a dreary fall or winter landscape, and businesses closed. Nothing new is happening in St. Michaels. The town itself is in dire straits. The individuals who live in the town cling to hope. Most of the people portrayed are Christians. They pray for wisdom and peace during the economic hardship and mining disaster. Those who are not Christians are relatively docile in their unbelief. The disaster brings the town together in prayer and in service to those hurting. I was given a panoramic view of St. Michaels and felt emotion for their plight.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

(Review) Gathering Courage: A Life-Changing Journey through Adoption, Adversity and a Reading Disability by T.A. McMullin

Publication Date: January 19, 2016
Publisher: Gathering Courage Media
Genre: Nonfiction, biography, learning disability, courage
Pages: 222
Source: Free paperback copy from T. A. McMullin
Rating: 5 stars for excellent

Amazon link for the book

About the author:
T.A. McMullin has become a champion for the encouragement and success of others. She has earned two degrees from Texas A&M University and has served as a 4-H Leader and FFA Advisor. Her professional career involves teaching agriculture, science, developing material for science and science fairs, working with students in an alternative school setting, teaching students with visual impairments, and mentoring students with dyslexia. T.A. McMullin lives on a small ranch in Texas, a forever home, with her horses, donkeys, and rescued Border Collie dogs.

T. A. McMullin was born in 1954, in Fort Worth, Texas. At birth, she was given to the Gladney Center for Adoption. At twelve days old, she was adopted. A grandmother and friends loved and accepted T. A., but her adopted family struggled to accept her. 
Gathering Courage follows the life of T. A. McMullin: birth, adoption, school years, struggles in school, natural ability with animals, support network, college, work, and a Christian testimony. 

My Thoughts: 
I enjoyed reading Gathering Courage. McMullin established early in the story a tenacity and strength to persevere against the odds. She did not give up, but instead kept her eye on the goal. 
Often while reading McMullin's life story, she reminds the reader of God's active role in her life, and she is quick to give Him the glory for every blessing. 
Sad and disappointing experiences did not harden her heart. She did not become a bitter person; she became a better person. 
God opened up opportunities for McMullin to share how she felt with people who had caused pain. She spoke "plain" but did not speak with malice. 
Gathering Courage is a story of hope for people who have disabilities or hardships. Sometimes people do not pick back up and persevere, they loose the "wind in their sails" and cannot move forward. McMullin picked herself back up and dusted her self off and kept moving. 
The pace and rhythm of the story is steady. 
The attitude of the story, even during sad moments, is balanced. Sometimes a biography that is filled with dysfunction and sadness can be overwhelming. Instead, I felt an attitude of hope and grace. 

"Yes, forgiveness is an ongoing process, and many times has to be applied over and over. Forgiveness is the gift we give to ourselves." Page 35. 

"However, I do have control as to how I act and react to those situations. I can honestly say there is a peace in my heart and forgiveness for the way I was treated. Most of all, I knew that I was God's child and He protected me and filled in the gap with people who showed me love and kindness. Their acts of kindness were paid forward years and years ago. It was love and kindness that gave me the courage to survive and to keep my heart pure. It is through love and kindness that I choose to live the rest of my life." Page 111.