Friday, December 31, 2010

My 2010 Reading List

2010 was a great year for fiction. I read 29 books, discovered a new favorite author, and enjoyed excellent stories. Below are my rankings and links if I reviewed the book on my blog. Let me know if you've read any of these, what you thought, or if you decide to read any.

All-Time Favorite Books (5 out of 5)
The Pawn—Steven James
The Rook—Steven James
The Knight—Steven James
June Bug—Chris Fabry
The Charlatan’s Boy—Jonathan Rogers

Both Recommend and Would Read Again (4.5 out of 5)
Sky Blue—Travis Thrasher
The Mountain Between Us—Charles Martin

Recommend (4 out of 5)
Beyond the Night—Marlo Schalesky
Finding Alice—Melody Carlson
Auralia’s Colors—Jeffrey Overstreet
Cyndere’s Midnight—Jeffrey Overstreet
Stone Cold—David Baldacci
By Reason of Insanity—Randy Singer
Broken Angel—Sigmund Brouwer

Fun, Intriguing, or Thought Provoking (3.5 out of 5)
The Hunted—Mike Dellosso
Scream—Mike Dellosso
Darlington Woods—Mike Dellosso
Ghostwriter—Travis Thrasher

Liked, But Irritated or Unmoved (3 out of 5)
Adelaide Piper—Beth Webb Hart
The Second Thief—Travis Thrasher
Love, Charleston—Beth Webb Hart
The God Cookie—Geoffrey Wood
Almost Heaven—Chris Fabry
Flight of Shadows—Sigmund Brouwer
Possession—Rene Gutteridge

An Average Book (2.5 out of 5)
Nobody—Creston Mapes

Didn't Meet My Expectations (2 out of 5)
The Lovely Bones—Alice Sebold

Waste of Time (1.5 out of 5)
The Long Trail Home—Stephen Bly
The Master Sniper—Stephen Hunter

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

THE CHARLATAN'S BOY by Jonathan Rogers

Whoop! Ladies and gents, this is the tale of two uglies - the selfish heart of a huckster named Floyd who separates gullibles from their coin and Grady, an orphan known as the ugliest boy in the world. Together, they run a popular scam convincing folks that Grady is a mythical creature known as a feechie. And for only a copper, villagers can have a looksee at a genuine, real-live he-feechie. Yet when the townspeople stop believing in feechies, Floyd and Grady have to move on to other flimflams until they decide to pull off the greatest hustle of their lives - The Great Feechie Scare.

In The Charlatan's Boy, Rogers captures the longing soul of a boy. Who is Grady? And where does he belong? Weaving this magical tale through the fantastical country of Corenwald, Rogers takes the reader on a wild adventure into the lives of comical characters and into a community of hucksters, hoaxes, and heroes.

More than a great book, this is a fun book. The Charlatan's Boy engaged my heart and tickled my ears as Grady gives a firsthand account of his life in the feechie trade. Grady's distinct boyish voice makes this story all the better as he uses words like sockdolager, caterwampus, and flusterations. Want a taste? You can read an excerpt from the first chapter.

This story leaves me wanting more from Rogers, and I can't wait to read this book aloud to my children.

5 out of 5.

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

POSSESSION by Rene Gutteridge

I remember being glued to the TV in October 2002 when people in the Washington D.C. area were randomly being murdered by snipers. The story was both captivating because of its mystery and level of grief. Thus, when I came across this book that weaved a fictional story through these actual events, I was intrigued.

Vance, a former police officer who worked the D.C. sniper case, leaves the department and travels across the country to escape the past. He hopes this new beginning will help save his marriage and help him move past the horror of October 2002. However, when the men driving the moving van hold Vance's belongings for ransom, Vance senses that something deeper is at work, and it's a dark secret in his past that is hunting him down. Suddenly it's not about his possessions. It's about protecting his family from evil. Murder, mystery, and chaos follow.

Possession kept me turning the pages as I wondered what would happen. I enjoyed the thriller but found myself frustrated that it took so long to reveal the secret in Vance's past. By the time it was revealed, it almost felt like a let down because of all the prior hype. The ending also felt too easy.

Rene Gutteridge's Possession is a story with a great plot line but didn't live up to my expectations.

3 out of 5

I received this book free from Tyndale Publishing as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

FLIGHT OF SHADOWS by Sigmund Brouwer

Sigmund Brouwer's Flight of Shadows picks up where the prequel Broken Angel left off, and although his story is exciting at times, it suffers from the plight of many sequels. Whereas Broken Angel seemed to have a destination and intelligently worked to get there, Flight of Shadows felt like the storyline wandered too much and wasn't as compelling.

Caitlyn has escaped the freedom-squashing land of Appalachia and finds herself in an unfamiliar country ruled by a hierarchical system and city-states reminiscent of ancient Greece. In search of her friends, Caitlyn tries desperately to stay ahead of government agencies, a sinister bounty hunter, and exploratory scientists who are desperately seeking her DNA to reveal the mysteries behind her wings and life-giving blood. She is befriended by Razor, an illusionist she's not sure she can trust but whom she needs to rely on if she ever wants to find her friends and escape west.

Accepting the truth that history repeats itself, Brouwer does a beautiful job of taking ancient cultures and adopting their societal structures to create a modern world that may not be as far-fetched as it seems. Although I wasn't as drawn to the characters or story this time around, Brouwer makes good on developing speculative fiction that is unique and thought provoking.

If you're curious, you can download the prologue and first chapter.

3 out of 5 stars.



I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

BROKEN ANGEL by Sigmund Brouwer

Broken Angel is an imaginative tale that twists tyranny on its head. What would happen if a group of Christians separated themselves from the world and created a culture that combines advanced technology with Old Testament law?

With echoes of George Orwell's 1984 and M. Night Shyamalan's The Village, author Sigmund Brouwer weaves a frightening story that establishes a society where Christian beliefs are imposed through earthly power. Instead of purging sin, a new kind of evil is unleashed and freedom is stripped away.

At the heart of the story is Caitlyn, a woman trying to escape the nation of Appalachia and reach the Outside. But she's being hunted by a demonic bounty hunter named Mason, a killer who knows a dark secret about Caitlyn's past.

This is the first book in a series of stories by Brouwer. The action is fast-paced with lots of secrets and no unrealistic surprises. The faint of heart should be warned that there are a few scenes of torture. I look forward to the second installment of this series, Flight of Shadows.

4 out of 5

Saturday, November 6, 2010

ALMOST HEAVEN by Chris Fabry

Chris Fabry writes sweet, character-driven stories. In Almost Heaven, Fabry tells the fictional story of Billy Allman, a West Virginia backwoods native and master mandolin player. It's Billy's dream to run his own radio station, and he pours his heart and soul into making that longing come true. But things always seem to go wrong. Billy's life is fraught with tragedy, from a devastating flood to the tragic loss of his parents to the evil behavior of a father figure. Behind the scenes, the reader catches glimpses of an angel named Malachi who is active in Billy's life, watching over him and protecting him.

Over the past few years, Fabry has been through his own tragedies, and this book captures a message that comes straight from his heart and personal experiences. We don't always know why things happen, but we can always trust in the One who creates beauty from ashes.

I found it interesting that the idea for the character Billy Allman and his radio station is based off the life of a real man. A reader wrote Fabry a letter, telling him about a man who poured his life into serving God and had recently died. I just would like to say, a lot of people didn't know Billy... [But] I know when he walked into heaven yesterday, heaven knew Billy. He was an important person to them.

Chris Fabry's book Dogwood had one of the best twists I've every read. His book June Bug captured my heart and is one of my all-time favorite books. Almost Heaven, although good, didn't capture my heart like his other books. I didn't connect with the characters this time and the plot felt slow. But Fabry is still one of my favorite authors and he writes great stories, and I look forward to his next endeavor.

3 out of 5

I received this book free from Tyndale Publishing as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, October 9, 2010

THE GOD COOKIE by Geoffrey Wood

Geoffrey Wood writes some of the most witty banter I've ever read. His book The God Cookie had me laughing out loud, and his characters' dialogue is a pleasure to read.

Parrish is a coffee shop owner who tells God that he's listening and will do whatever God says. A few minutes later, he opens a fortune cookie and reads the text: Take the corner. Unsure of its meaning, Parrish begins a journey of learning how to trust God and then do the next thing. Parrish guesses that the corner might be a street corner and bus stop near by, and he hangs out there trying to figure out God's plan. When he discovers a lost letter in which the writer is crying out for help, Parrish believes that it is his mission to find and help the author of the mysterious letter.

The book's premise is simple, yet so often it's a message we avoid. What would happen if I told God, "I'm all in"? How would my life be different if I spent more time listening and obeying God's voice than feeding the hunger of pride, busyness, and indifference? Geoffrey Wood explores the possibilities through the life and obedience of a coffee shop owner who makes mistakes along the way but in the end discovers the power, joy, and excitement of a life lived all out for God.

If you haven't read a book by Geoffrey Wood, this is a good one to start with. It's slow at times, but I often read it with a smile on my face and a laugh ready to break free.

3 out of 5.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

THE KNIGHT by Steven James

After I read The Pawn by Steven James, I didn't think he could top it. Then I read The Rook and thought that would be my favorite. Now I finished The Knight, and I am again amazed at how much I'm enjoying this series.

James weaves a story of a serial killer who has a story to tell. Hot on his trail is FBI agent Patrick Bowers. With a tale that integrates ancient books, the Renaissance, a heartless killer, and an evil game, Bowers tries to stay alive long enough to capture the murderer who always seems to be a step ahead.

Steven James' books are well thought out, captivating, exciting, and don't shy away from showing evil for what it is. Without glamorizing the darkness, James provides a character who wrestles with doing the right thing while exploring the blackness in his own heart - and at the same time giving us a man we can route for. I'm looking forward to reading the fourth installment of this series, The Bishop.

Friday, September 24, 2010

GREAT PARENTS, LOUSY LOVERS by Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham

I've been married for six years and have three kids ranging from 4 1/2 years old to four weeks. It's hard for me now to remember the days when it was just my wife and me, when all our attention was on each other. Now, instead of holding hands we hold babies in the middle of the night; now, instead of rubbing her feet or going out on a date, I'm wiping baby bottoms and breaking up arguments between the two oldest.

When I saw this book's title, I knew I wanted to read it.

My wife and I strive to be good parents, and in doing so, sometimes we completely run out of energy and passion for each other. Authors Gary Smalley and Ted Cunningham write a much-needed book that gets to the heart of couples with small children. One of the best ways to parent is to first love your spouse.

Smalley and Cunningham provide simple ways for couples to again focus on each other in the midst of a hectic parenting lifestyle. While these tips were good, I most appreciated the authors' approach to explaining why spiritual aspects are so important in a marriage. A good marriage is founded on a faith in Jesus Christ. If you're not living your life in recognition of his authority and presence in your life, you're falling short and your marriage will suffer.

I'll be keeping this book on my bookshelf and going to it during times I feel my wife and I separated by the toils of parenthood. Any of their suggested dates are sure to get us back on track and reminding us how important our marriage relationship is to our parenting skills.

I received this book free from Tyndale Publishing as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, September 11, 2010

THE PAWN by Steven James

I think I've discovered a new favorite author. Steven James, author of the Patrick Bowers Thriller series.

I just finished James' first book in the series, The Pawn. It's a grab-you-and-won't-let-go thriller. FBI agent Patrick Bowers is an expert environmental criminologist who studies the significance of time and space in crime investigations. His newest case involves a cunning serial killer who's killed eight women and calls himself The Illusionist. The killer leaves a number of calling cards, including a yellow ribbon and a chess piece--and he always seems to be a step ahead.

With a back story linked to the Jamestown Massacre and Jim Jones, James weaves an exciting story that captured my imagination and kept me guessing to the end. This book is not for the faint of heart. It is graphic and doesn't shy away from the dark side of evil. But that's what makes hope, light, and integrity that much more powerful. I look forward to reading his second book, The Rook.

This book was nominated for a Christy Award in 2008.

4.5 out of 5

Sunday, August 22, 2010

LOVE, CHARLESTON by Beth Webb Hart

I know what you're thinking, because it's the same thing my wife said to me. "What are you reading? It looks feminine."

Yes, I'm reading a girly book. But I have good reasons.

First, I love a good story, and I've come to realize that great stories come in all kinds of packages. Sometimes the best tales are from books I wouldn't normally give a second glance. So, rather than only reading stories that capture my interest, I challenge myself to read books I think my wife might like. Which is why I read this book. I'm always on the lookout for stories that will capture my wife's heart, and by reading the same books she reads, I connect with her in deeper ways. It's another link between our hearts, another bond that strengthens our marriage.

Author Beth Webb Hart's book "Love, Charleston" is not a light, easy read. It revolves around some pretty painful themes like postpartum depression, adultery, and family jealousy. Which is why this book is a powerful story. As Christians, we hate to admit our downfalls and sins. If Christ is in our heart, our lives should be joyful and complete. But we all deal with struggles that we hope our friends and family will never discover. But that's exactly why three women can pull through their own struggles, the power, love, and support offered by family.

Anne is a few years away from being over the hill and longs for a husband. Years ago, she heard God's voice giving her a promise. But now she is starting to wonder if she misheard or misunderstood God. Alisha has a perfect family, home, and family, but when a frightening depression emerges, it completely unravels her life. Della struggles with feeling like she's made a mistake and married the wrong man. She is jealous of Alisha's lifestyle, especially compared to her home without AC and a paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle.

This story doesn't provide a perfect ending, but it does offer a theme that is true in every Christian's life. Hope. We have hope in Jesus Christ, who offers joy that overcomes the messes of this life. And if offers an encouraging tale that captures the importance of female friendships.

Of note, I felt the back cover's book description didn't capture the true heart of this book. It implies that the book will revolve around Anne, but most of the viewpoint comes from Alisha and Della. I kept waiting for the book to focus more on Anne, but it never did, and her story felt more like a sidebar than a major theme.

3 out of 5

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson publishes as part of their blogger review program. I am 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: "Guides Concerning the Use and Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Friday, August 20, 2010

BY REASON OF INSANITY by Randy Singer

I love a good courtroom drama. I grew up watching Law and Order and reading John Grisham. Legal thrillers are some of my favorite stories, and By Reason of Insanity captured my attention and kept me turning the pages.

By Reason of Insanity follows Las Vegas defense attorney Quinn Newberg on two cases as he uses the insanity defense to argue for his clients' innocence. Quinn's first client is his sister, Annie, on trial for murdering her husband. The second is a young newspaper reporter, Catherine, who has had visions of recent murders, and the police arrested her as prime suspect number one. Quinn believes that Catherine suffers from fractured personality disorder, which has motivated her to pursue a vigilante justice against rapists and their lawyers. As he tries to discern the truth and keep Catherine from being found guilty, he's also faced with caring for his niece while Annie sits behind bars.

Randy Singer is one of my new favorite authors. He's an experienced trial attorney and award-winning author. This book was nominated for a Christy Award in 2009, and its intense writing, well-designed plot, and believable twists make this book an excellent read.

4 out of 5.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

JUNE BUG by Chris Fabry

It's rare for me to find a book that captures my attention with a single sentence:

I believed everything my daddy told me until I walked into Walmart and saw my picture on a poster.

And it's even more rare for me to find a book that not only lives up to its potential but also surpasses my expectations. It's books like June Bug that touch my heart and remind me why I love a good story.

For as far back as she can remember, June Bug has driven around the country in an RV with her dad. There's never a destination, only an adventure to where the road leads. At night they park at Walmart. During one stop at Wally World, June Bug pauses to look at the Missing Children posters hanging at the entrance. To her astonishment, she sees a girl named Natalie who looks just like her. This discovery starts June Bug on a journey of discovery and truth. If this man in the RV is not her father, who is he? And where is her family? From the very beginning, this book captured my imagination. I fell in love with the characters, cared for them, and felt their joy and pain.

This is the second book I've read by Chris Fabry. Last year, Dogwood mesmerized me and became one of my favorite books of all time. I liked this one even more. And I'm not the only one. This book was nominated for a Christy Award this year. I read about 25 fiction books a year. This is the first one I've rated a 5 out of 5 in the past three years. I can't wait to read Fabry's newest book coming out this fall.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

THE SECOND THIEF by Travis Thrasher

Tom Ledger works in marketing and sales and is ready to quit his high-paying job. But before he leaves, he steals secret information from his employer and sets up a deal to sell it to a buyer named Sloan. On his way to meet the thug, Tom's plane has engine problems and the aircraft crash lands in a Nebraska cornfield. .

Tom is not a religion man, and his faith is only in himself. Life is what you make for yourself, he says. Bury yourself in work and make a good life. But Tom's life is full of secrets, mistakes, and ugly realities. Suddenly faced with his own death, he utters a simple prayer, "Please God, please let me live."

Thus begins Tom's journey into a second-chance life. He survives the crash and begins to wrestle with questions that he's ignored for years. This book is not so much a story about an airplane crash as it is one prodigal son's introspective journey to find Truth in life.

This is a quick read and the plot moves at a slower pace than most of Travis Thrasher's novels. He throws a twist in the story that I did not expect, and although I understand how it moved the story forward, it was a surprise that I had difficulty accepting. That said, I've enjoyed reading Thrasher's novels and appreciate his ability to write great stories, and I look forward to reading more of his books.

If you're interested in the story behind the story, check out Thrasher's blog.

3 out of 5

Friday, July 16, 2010

SAME KIND OF DIFFERENT AS ME by Ron Hall and Denver Moore


This is one of the best books I've read in the past few years. It's message cuts straight to the heart, and I've found myself thinking again and again about the story and its remarkable true characters.

Denver Moore grew up picking cotton in literal slavery. In the 1960s, he hid on a train and escaped his life of misery, only to adopt the life of a homeless man on the Texas streets. He was alone, and the world had turned its back on him. And then a woman named Deborah walked into his life. She and her husband, Ron, were a wealthy couple that had recently begun serving at the local homeless mission. Denver tried to reject Deborah's efforts to befriend him, but she wouldn't take no for an answer. What followed is the story of a remarkable friendship, and how three people from different worlds discovered that they had more in common than they realized, and just how much they needed each other.

This true story strips life down to Christ's words in action: love your neighbor as yourself. Over the past few years, I've been praying to live a life in close connection to God in a moment-by-moment relationship. I loved reading about Denver's relationship with God and how close they were and how clearly Denver heard from God.

Sometimes we get so caught up in our own lives we miss the plights of those around us, and we are so busy finding ourselves that we close our eyes to the lost and hurting. This book convicted my heart and is making me reevaluate my priorities.

Highly recommended. 4.5 out of 5.

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Thursday, June 24, 2010

WINSTON CHURCHILL by John Perry


I used to live in Fulton, Missouri, the city where Winston Churchill gave his famous Iron Curtain speech. I've been to the local museum, studied his life, and as a newspaper reporter, interviewed people who witnessed his speech. Thus I was excited to read Christian Encounters' Winston Churchill.

This book is a great summary of important dates, people, and events in Winston Churchill's life. It provides a peak into the spiritual life of Winston Churchill. As a future homeschool dad, I think this will be a great resource when studying his life. However, currently as a parent of small children, I frequently had to stop reading and found it difficult to pick up where I left off. This is not a long book but it took me a while to finish.

I've come to greatly respect Winston Churchill, and this book affirmed my beliefs that he was an honorable and courageous man.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

SAINT PATRICK by Jonathan Rogers (Christian Encounters Series)


THE SUMMARY: This brief biography tells the story of Saint Patrick, the Irish Paul. Born into a family of privilege, Patrick is kidnapped as a teenager and taken to Ireland. After six years as a slave, Patrick escapes and returns to his family in Britain. Yet before he can return to his former life, the Lord comes to him in a vision and tells him to bring the good news to his former captors. Thus is the story of the first Christian missionary to take the gospel beyond the Roman Empire to barbarians at the ends of the earth.

THE MESSAGE: Many lessons can be drawn from the life of Saint Patrick. Yet the one that comes through clearest is Patrick's unwavering faith that through all of his misfortunes and struggles, the Lord's loving hand is behind every circumstance. Just like Paul brought the gospel to the Gentiles, Patrick brought the gospel to a country that did not know God's love and grace.

THE PRESENTATION: As author Jonathan Rogers stated, all that can reliably be known about Saint Patrick is gathered from two documents that he wrote, which totals less than 20 pages. However, there are many legends that surround his life. Jonathan Rogers explores Patrick's writings and his legends and weaves them into an understanding of the life and times of 400 AD. Together, this biography paints a realistic portriat of Saint Patrick.

FINAL THOUGHTS: I knew very little about Saint Patrick before I read this brief biography. Now I've come to respect and appreciate the life of a humble man who lived out his faith with courage and brought the gospel to Ireland.

THE RECOMMENDATION: 4 out of 5

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

REDEFINING BEAUTIFUL by Jenna Lucado

THE SUMMARY: In a culture that defines beauty as only skin deep, Jenna Lucado challenges preteen and teen girls to define beauty in a new light--what God sees when He sees you. She encourages girls to embrace their unique traits and learn to wear eight life accessories: security, identity, value, love, self-control, peace, joy, and contentment.

THE MESSAGE: Jenna digs deep into her top eight life accessories and shows why girls should desire God's view of beauty. She encourages girls to trust that no matter what, they have a God who loves them; to know who they are and whose they are; to know they are treasured; to know God's love for them so they can love others; to make good decisions; to believe God is in control; to know the source of all joy; and to find contentment in who God made them to be.

THE PRESENTATION: The book is designed to be introspective and reactive. Jenna leaves room in the book to write thoughts and answer questions. She offers physical beauty tips--everything from using sunscreen to creating healthy bedtime routines. Her dad, well-known author Max Lucado, also offers his two cents occassionally, providing a fatherly perspective.

FINAL THOUGHTS: Having daughters, I appreciated Jenna's frankness and realness. I desire my girls to grow in true beauty, and this book offers a solid foundation on that journey.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free Thomas Nelson publishers as part of their Blogger Review Program. 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 Commissions's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."