Thursday, August 28, 2014

Critical Reaction by Todd M. Johnson

Publisher: Baker Publishing Group/Bethany House, November 2013
Genre: Christian fiction, environmental law, nuclear reactor, courtroom drama
Format: Paperback
Pages: 384
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Free copy from Bethany House and an Open Book in exchange for a review.

Previous book by Todd M. Johnson.
The Deposit Slip

Critical Reaction ebook is available @
Amazon $1.99
Barnes and Noble $1.99

The Hanford Nuclear Facility is located in Washington State, on land that once belonged to the Yakama. They had hunted and fished in the area, it was their homeland. In the 1940s, the Hanford facility was built, and a dam was built in the 1950s, these encroached on their ability to fish and hunt. A way of life that had existed for generations ended.
Kieran Mullaney, works in the Plutonium production lab at the nuclear facility. Poppy and Lewis are guards at the facility. On a cold night, an explosion rocks the facility, sending a green and orange cloud from the smokestack. Months later, Kieran contacts an old friend from college, Emily Hart. Emily and her father are attorneys. As the story progresses it becomes evident they are all at risk, because of what happened at the testing facility.

My Thoughts:
I read the entire 384 pages in one day. From the first page to the end I could not lay the book down.
I don't think I've read a book about a nuclear disaster, and its after affects. Nor, have a I read a story with the theme of land previously home to Native Americans, and been snatched away for hazardous scientific work.
Critical Reaction, might have gone the way of a lone political agenda. Instead, it lets the story tell itself and the reader can decide for them self.
My favorite character is Poppy. He is a seasoned rugged man. His character traits are reminiscent of the "Greatest Generation". He's a man of wisdom, strong work ethic, family man, resilient, intuitive.
Critical Reaction, has minimal court room drama. Most of the story is the disaster itself, the after affects on its people, and the research and investigation needed to try the case.

Critical Reaction, is based in part in a real case handled by the author and trial lawyer, Todd M. Johnson.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Psalms: A 12-Week Study (Knowing The Bible) by Douglas Sean O'Donnell

Publisher: Crossway, June 15, 2014
Genre: Non-fiction, Bible Study, Old Testament, Psalms
Format: pdf
Pages: 96
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Free copy from Crossway in exchange for a review. All reviews expressed are from my own opinion.

Link for copies @

Other studies in the Knowing The Bible series:
Matthew, Philippians, Proverbs, Ruth and Esther, Acts, Genesis, Romans, Isaiah, John, James, and Mark.
All the studies are 12-week in format.
Link for more information: Knowing The Bible

All Scripture references are from the 2001, ESV, Bible by Crossway. References to additional content held in the ESV, Study Bible are referred to often in the Knowing The Bible, Psalms. The additional content is pertaining to word definition and history.
From the series preface:
"Knowing the Bible, as the series title indicates was created to help readers know and understand the meaning, the message, and the God of the Bible." Page 6. 
Week 1 is an overview of Psalms.
The 12-week study covers 150 chapters of Psalms. Psalms is divided into 5 books.
"Book 1 Psalms 1-41"
"Book 2 Psalms 42-72"
"Book 3 Psalms 73-89"
"Book 4 Psalms 90-106"
"Book 5 Psalms 107-150"
The books are divided further, the titles and chapters given are:
"Week 2: Doorway to the Psalms" covers 1-18
"Week 3: Love the Lord, All You His Saints" covers 19-31
"Week 4: Surrounded by Steadfast Love" covers 32-41
"Week 5: Why Are You Cast Down, O My Soul?" covers 42-56
"Week 6: Let the Nations Be Glad" covers 57-72
"Week 7: Truly God Is Good to Israel" covers 73-78
"Week 8: Glorify Your Name" covers 79-89
"Week 9: My Foot Slips" covers 90-106
"Week 10: I Will Awake the Dawn!" covers 107-119
"Week 11: The Songs of Ascents" covers 120-134
"Week 12: Let Everything That Has Breath" covers 135-150

In each chapter there is an intro to the section of Psalms, followed by "reflection and discussion" questions, an explanation section "Gospel Glimpses", "Whole-Bible Connections", "Theological Soundings", "Personal Implications", finishing with the encouragement to pray for reflecting and asking the Lord to teach us what we've studied.

I love the study series of Knowing The Bible. The ESV, Study Bible, by Crossway, is a favorite Bible of mine. To have a Bible study gleaned from the ESV, Study Bible, is a jewel.
The organization of the study is perfect.
I believe this study is more than a brief encounter in studying Psalms.
The Bible study on Psalms can be used for individual or group use.
My favorite feature is "The Gospel Glimpses", "Whole-Bible Connections", and "Theological Soundings". These sections teach Israels' background at the time of when the Psalm were written, what key words mean, and uniting that Psalm with the rest of Scripture (for example: Jesus as the king, Messiah.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Return To Me, The Restoration Chronicles, Book One by Lynn Austin

Publisher: Baker Publishing Group/Bethany House, October 1, 2013
Genre: Historical Fiction, Return to Jerusalem from Babylon
Format: Paperback
Pages: 465
Rating: 5 Stars
Source: Free copy from Bethany House and An Open Book program, in exchange for a review. All reviews expressed are from my opinions.

Barnes and Noble

Lynn Austin webpage
Facebook page
and on Goodreads

The second book in the series, Keepers of the Covenant. The book will be available October 7, 2014.

In 539 BC, Daniel interpreted the handwriting on the wall for the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, King Belshazzar. The destruction and end is near for the kingdom of Babylon. A new ruler conquered Babylon, his name is Darius the Mede, a Persian king. The Jewish captivity is almost over, the new king has declared all of the people who had been held captive by the previous predecessor may return home. Home for the Jews had been Jerusalem, but the temple is gone, the remains of their beloved homeland is desolate, and the area has been corrupted by the Samaritan people. Many of the Jews living in Babylon have no memory of Jerusalem, for them, home is Babylon. Iddo is a priest, he was a boy when the captivity began. He decides he and his family will return to Jerusalem. His grandson Zechariah is a boy with a heart for God's service. He is also torn by a relationship with a beautiful girl named Yael, and she is drawn to pagan beliefs and idol worship. The Jews living in Babylon have become desensitized and corrupted living among a pagan culture hostile to the One true God. Iddo is anxious to return to Jerusalem, but the journey will be long, and when they return what kind of new life will they be able to create?

My Thoughts:
Return To Me, is written in the third point of view. The story takes place over several years. From the end of Babyon captivity, through the journey back to Jerusalem, and the rebuilding of a new life and a new temple.
Iddo's family gives an intimate nature to the book. Their feelings of anxiety and fear of a new life in Jerusalem made me realize what the returning Jews must have felt. They'd lived in Babylon long enough to become "comfortable" living in the city. The pagan influence of the Babylonian people no longer bothered most of them. To pack up their things and move their family to a land they had no memory of must have felt strange and foreign. Iddo is a servant of God above all else. His family looked to him for guidance and direction; however, not all of his family were able to pull away from what they'd become accustomed to.
Yael, is a torn person. Torn between two worlds. One world of worshiping the True God. Another world where sorcery is used for self-interest and gain.
Return To Me, is a historical fiction look at the time period when the Jews returned to Jerusalem, but it is a modern teaching story for us. Living in a western culture where we have a strong influence from the media, we are apt to be persuaded to fall-in with attitudes, words, and actions, which are hostile to God. It can happen so slowly that it goes unnoticed by us until our conscience is not stung.

An Interview With Tosca Lee, Plus a Free E-Book

About Tosca Lee

One of the most gifted novelists writing today.”—Steven James, best-selling author.
Tosca Lee is the award-winning, New York Times best-selling author of Iscariot; Demon: A Memoir; Havah: The Story of Eve, and the Books of Mortals series with New York Times best-seller Ted Dekker (Forbidden, Mortal and Sovereign). Her highly anticipated seventh novel, The Legend of Sheba, releases September 9, 2014.
Tosca received her B.A. in English and International Relations from Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts with studies at Oxford University. She is a lifelong world adventure traveler and makes her home in the Midwest. To learn more about Tosca, visit

An Interview With Tosca

On The Legend of Sheba:
Links for the book:

  • You are known for your meticulous research. How did researching Legend of Sheba differ from your other books?
After a year and a half of hard research for Iscariot, I thought research for Sheba would be much easier. Not so! It is much harder to fill in the historical record of 1000 years earlier than the time of Christ due to the death of archaeological progress in history-rich and troubled Yemen, natural phenomena such as the encroaching sands of the desert, and a lack of historical records recording any queen in the Southern Arabian region.

  • What do we actually know about the Queen of Sheba?
We know something about the Sabaean (the Israelite Sheba = ancient Arabian Saba) people: that they had a capital in Marib, a sovereign “federator” who united the kingdoms of Saba, an elegant and evolving script, a sophisticated dam near the capital that turned Marib’s dusty fields into oases, and that there is great evidence of Sabaean settlement in the area of Ethiopia near what would become Aksum. We know the Sabaeans of the 10th Century BC worshiped the moon god, Almaqah, though experts do not agree whether this was a male or female deity. We know that in terms of the ancient world, they were quite rich due in large part to their cultivation of frankincense in the southeastern region, and that they had an extensive and evolving trade network that extended as far north as Damascus, as far east as India, and as far west across the Red Sea as Ethiopia and the continent beyond.

  • What do we actually know about King Solomon—I understand that the academic opinion varies quite a lot from the biblical account.
Again, we know more about the region, people, language, culture and ethnic history of the Israelites than anything, archaeologically-speaking, of the king himself. It would be such a help if something were unearthed from the City of David or the Temple Mount that could be linked to Solomon’s temple or directly to Solomon himself! There was an item—a small ivory pomegranate that was once thought to top the scepter of a priest of this time period, with an inscription indicating so… but this was later ruled to be a forgery, though the carved pomegranate did date to the correct (early to mid-900s BC) time period. I say more about this question in the Author’s Notes of Legend of Sheba.

  • The queen is a very minor character in the scope of the biblical narrative, but you assert that her famous visit to King Solomon is vitally important in the scope of Old Testament history. Why?
For two reasons. If the story of the United Monarchy (the kingdom of David and his son/successor, Solomon) is not true, then the bedrock of three major world religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam) collapses into fiction, and the claim of Jews to the land of Israel with it. Perhaps the authors of 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles knew that, because they took the opportunity to basically say, “Hey, this queen from the ends of the earth, that famous Queen of Sheba, came and brought tribute to our king, and blessed him and our god and said ‘All that I heard was true, and I never even heard the half of it!’” This is fascinating. It begs the question: what was it that was so great about this female sovereign—in a time when the world was ruled by men—and a pagan, no less… what was it about her that was so outstanding that her endorsement of Solomon, his riches, wisdom, and god, held so much weight as to be included in the Old Testament narrative? Who was this woman who matched wits with the wisest man in the world—whose throne was so secure that she could leave it and make the 1400 mile journey of half a year to visit this king… before making the long trek back? Well, this must be a woman worth knowing something about.

  • I understand you created a special bonus for your readers with Legend of Sheba. Can you tell us more about that?
Ismeni—a free eBook short story prequel to The Legend of Sheba—will be available August 26. This is the story of Sheba’s mother, and sheds some light on the man who would become the queen of Sheba’s right-hand councilor. It’s about 34 pages long, and also includes a preview of the Prologue and first chapter of The Legend of Sheba.

Links to Download FREE:

On writing:

  • You recently won the 2014 Gold Medallion for fiction—what people may not know is this is the only award given each year by the ECPA for Christian fiction across all genres. And yet you’re known for your controversial points of view and pushing limits of the category. What is it about your books that you believe resonates so much with Christian readers?
I think it’s that I’m willing to go there and get gritty. To admit that halfway through the writing of Iscariot, I realized I was no longer writing his story… but my own. Havah is also my story. They all are. And we’re not that different, you and I. I like writing about these maligned characters because even though we may not want to, we can often identify with them far more readily than the good guys, who seem so untouchable. We all feel let down at some point by the way God fails to adhere to our agendas for Him. We all have moments when we think, “if you knew me—really knew me—you would not love me.” We all fail with the best of intentions, and we all want to be embraced exactly as we are. We are all as capable of darkness as we are of light—and often the darkness is far more tangible. The stuff in the Bible isn't sterile—far from it. It’s gory, violent, sexual, and messy. But so is life. I want to be honest about fear and compromise as I am about hope, beauty and redemption.

  • You've also co-authored the Books of Mortals series with Ted Dekker. Aside from the obvious, how does co-writing differ from writing solo?
It takes twice as much time. You have to spend a lot of time talking, planning, plotting, and going over what you've done. When you write solo, there is no need for consensus, and for making sure you are sharing the same vision of character, plot, and resolution. But writing solo is also scarier; you don’t have the safety net of a partner to catch your writing foibles, pick up the slack where you are not as strong, and to get you out of bed and into the chair each day. They both have their pros and cons.

  • You get approached by a lot of writers early in the process of trying to get published. What is your best advice for writers and for those hoping to pursue a career in writing?
Finish the work first. Far too many people write to me asking how to get an agent/editor/publishing deal and they haven’t even finished a novel or built up a body of work to sell. Finish the novel, and start another. And another, even after you approach agents or start to self-publish. Agents, in particular, want to know what else you have to offer and if you can produce on schedule. If you haven’t completed at least one sell-able book, you are not ready to approach the industry. Finish the work. And please don’t send files to an author you don’t know personally to ask for his/her opinion of your writing. Many authors teach, edit or offer critiques as a business to support themselves. Sending them something out of the blue for their opinion presumptuously asks them to work for free.

On life:

  • It’s probably no surprise that you used to be a freelance writer. But you’ve also been an online gamer, a pageant queen—were first-runner up to Mrs. United States—a model and a leadership consultant to Fortune 500 Companies with the Gallup Organization. How have each of these seeming disparate experiences informed your experience as a best-selling author?
Online gaming, when I was doing it—before avatars and the time of EverQuest, even—was solely text-based. We’re talking about the early 90s, during the time of dial-up modems when online gaming boiled down to collaborative story-telling. I spent nine years writing about imaginary characters online. I don’t know how many words or pages that amounted to (hundreds and hundreds), but I assert often that everything I learned about characterization happened from role-playing in text and writing online—from slipping into the skin of characters I could only portray with words. The pageant thing, the modeling thing, gave me invaluable training in media. The year I was Mrs. Nebraska (1996) was when I started public speaking. Suddenly, I had a platform, and people assumed I had something to say. Well, I did, and that led to me going to work for Gallup. Working as a consultant, my primary job was as a speaker and teacher. This, too, has proved invaluable when it comes to speaking on writing and to the media. I’m very comfortable in front of an audience of 20 or 1000.

  • Where can readers meet you in person?
I have several events coming up—my schedule is posted and always being updated at

  • What do you do when you’re not writing?
I spend time with my family, hang out with friends I neglected on deadline, travel, go out to eat, and clean out my closets.

  • What are one or two things that your readers don’t know about you?
I danced semi-professionally as a classical ballerina in my teens. I also used to be a concert pianist. I have the greatest fans in the world, am terrible at math, can’t work if my house is messy, and am a crack shot with a deer rifle.

  • What are you working on next?
I’m taking a break from biblical historicals. My next two books will be something different. And then I’ll delve back into the biblical world again.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

The Lucado Inspirational Reader: Hope and Encouragement for Your Everyday Life by Max Lucado

Publisher: Thomas Nelson 2011
Genre: Inspirational, Devotional
Format: Hardcover
Pages: 420
Rating: 5 Stars for excellent
Source: Self-purchase

Christian Book (best price)
Barnes and Noble

Max Lucado has a lengthy list of books he's written over the past twenty-eight years. His writing style is one that is easy to read, understand, apply. He stands out in the Christian non-fiction field by his way of sharing a story all of us can relate to. He is an author that does not adhere or speak to a particular denomination reading group. I have family and friends who are Catholic, Lutheran, Bible, Baptist, and all of them agree Max Lucado is an approachable writer. Max is an author that is easy to refer to as just Max, and not his full proper name.
The best quotes from Max Lucado's books have been compiled for this treasured book. This book is from the bookshelf of my dad's collection. Whenever dad and I would visit a book store, dad always asked the store associate, "do you have any new Max Lucado books?" Dad would pour over any books on the shelves, and often purchase a book he already had at home.

My Thoughts:
I read The Lucado Inspirational Reader, as a daily devotional. Each section has several stories both Bible and modern life, that reflect a certain theme. These precious sections provoke an emotional and spiritual response, there are specific questions to answer, and there are illustrations which both ruffled-my-feathers and made me pause, because I know they're true. Max has a way of explaining something that then I go, "oh, I get it now."
In this first year of grieving since my dad's death (August 18, 2013), The Lucado Inspirational Reader ministered to me the most (with exception of the Bible). Yes, some of this has to do with the fact this book was my dads. Yet, there are several quotes which I'll share with you, and then you'll understand.

"Each of us has a fantasy that our family will be like the Waltons, an expectation that our dearest friends will be our next of kin. Jesus didn't have that expectation. Look how he defined his family: 'My true brother and sister and mother are those who do what God wants. (Mark 3:35 NCV). 
"The longer we live in {Christ}, the greater he becomes in us. It's not that he changes but that we do; we see more of him. We see dimensions, aspects, and characteristics we never saw before, increasing and astonishing increments of his purity, power, and uniqueness. We discard boxes and old images of Christ like used tissues. We don't dare place Jesus on a political donkey or elephant. Arrogant certainty becomes meek curiosity. Define Jesus with a doctrine or confine him to an opinion? By no means. We'll sooner capture the Caribbean in a butterfly net than we'll capture Christ in a box. In the end, we respond like the apostles. We, too, fall on our faces and worship."  
"I wonder, how many burdens is Jesus carrying for us that we know nothing about? We're aware of some. He carries our sin. He carries our shame. He carries our eternal debt. But are there others? Has he lifted fears before we felt them? Has he carried our confusion so we wouldn't have to? Those times when we have been surprised by our own sense of peace? Could it be that Jesus has lifted our anxiety onto his shoulders and placed a yoke of kindness on ours?"  
"Meet today's problems with today's strength. Don't start tackling tomorrow's problems until tomorrow. You do not have tomorrow's strength yet. You simply have enough for today."
"God doesn't call the qualified. He qualifies the called."