Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Fatal Trust by Todd M Johnson

In Fatal Trust, a new legal suspense novel by Todd M. Johnson, we follow Ian Wells as he tries to unravel the origin of a wealthy trust, the truth behind a decades old art heist, and his family's own buried secrets.

Ian is an up-and-coming Minneapolis lawyer who reluctantly inherited his father's law practice, and has since been trying to get out of the trusts and wills business in order to move into criminal defense. Business is slow, bills are piling up, and he's stuck at a crossroad - until a new client shows up wanting him to do a seemingly quick investigation for a trust dispersal, with a hefty fee for Ian already written into the contract. The one condition for him to get the fee is that he has to determine which of the three potential heirs have been involved in any sort of criminal activity for the last twenty years.

What starts out as a quick gamble to get a small fortune soon plunges Ian headfirst into the world of mobsters and unsolved crime. He finds himself becoming a target for both the potential heirs and the legal system, who are trying to solve the very crime that he's digging into and unraveling. Will Ian be able to keep his own conscience clean while discovering buried secrets about everyone he holds dear? Will he be able to clear his own name and avoid persecution for crimes he didn't commit?

This is definitely not a fast-paced thriller for those who like a quickly moving storyline. But the plot is solid, the characters are well established, and Todd has built a vivid image of the underground Minneapolis crime world of the '80s and '90s. A good read for anyone looking for a legal suspense that doesn't mind a slower unraveling to get to the finish line. It also has plenty of breakpoints, so it's great for those who don't have a lot of spare time to sit and invest in reading large sections at a time. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from Bethany House Publishers for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from inside book):
Todd M. Johnson, author of Critical Reaction and The Deposit Slip, has practiced as an attorney for over thirty years, specializing as a trial lawyer. A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Minnesota Law School, he also taught for two years as adjunct professor of International Law and served as a U. S. diplomat in Hong Kong. He lives near Minneapolis with his wife, his son, Ian, and his daughter, Libby. Learn more at authortoddmjohnson.com.
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Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Whole by Steve Wiens

Whole: Restoring What Is Broken In Me, You, And The Entire World by Steve Wiens is more than just a book on the topic of spiritual wholeness. Steve has crafted a portrait of what it means to be whole, using both personal anecdotes and classic Bible stories.

He starts the journey to wholeness by carefully plotting out five questions for us to consider on this quest. Where are you? Am I my brother's keeper? What are you seeking? Where are you going? What will you bring? Posed from the Bible itself, these questions will open your eyes to a new understanding of what it means to be whole, as well as why it's so important for us to find that place of wholeness.

After careful consideration of these questions being asked of us, we move on to ponder the scenarios laid out in the exodus, the wilderness, and the promised land. Steve guides us through the implications of each, as he reveals how these stories relate to our current lives and what we can do in order to get through the exodus to the wilderness and, in turn, lean on God while in the wilderness so that we may find the promised land.

With questions for reflection and discussion at the end of each chapter, this book is a wonderful tool for individual or group study. I would suggest Whole for anyone who feels the singe of brokenness within themselves or questions their place in this world and how they can help restore the brokenness of the world around them. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Steve Wiens is the founding pastor of Genesis Covenant Church. He, his wife, Mary, and their three young boys live in Maple Grove, Minnesota. He blogs at SteveWiens.com and podcasts at This Good Word.
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Wednesday, August 16, 2017

Included In Christ by Heather Holleman

Included In Christ: Living A New Story From Ephesians is an 8-week Bible study of Ephesians by Heather Holleman. During the course of this study, Heather guides us through the book of Ephesians, one chapter at a time, while learning to write our own Savior Stories and use them to replace the Shadow Narratives that we so often tell about our lives.

What exactly are Savior Stories and Shadow Narratives? A Shadow Narrative is "a story that you tell yourself over and over again that keeps you in the darkness of exclusion and loneliness, weariness, and toxic patterns of jealousy, comparison, and despair." To contrast, a Savior Story (also called a Signature Story) is "a classic story that best represents who you are." Heather also describes Savior Stories as "healing stories, hopeful stories, and harmonizing stories about your life."

Now, you're probably reading this and trying to figure out what all of this has to do with the book of Ephesians. Here's the simple answer: verbs. Heather has broken down the book of Ephesians into seven main verbs that are studied one at a time and applied to our own stories as she helps us learn to tell "the right story" about our life.

This Bible study is so much more than just reviewing the book of Ephesians and it's various hidden implications. It's also a journey of personal discovery as you learn exactly what it means to be Included, Chosen, Seated, Strengthened, Renewed, Filled, and Proclaiming within your Savior Story - the story that no one but you can take hold of and claim.

Written by Heather Holleman, a teacher of composition and advanced writing at Penn State, this study is not just for those people who "like to write". As long as you're willing to follow her simple suggestions and seek out honest answers to her heart-felt questions, this book will help you discover the real you hidden beneath the Shadow Narrative of the everyday hustle. Now is the time to rewrite the story you tell others - and yourself - about your life and God's place in it. This is the tool to help you begin that journey. 5/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from Moody Publishers for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Heather Holleman, PhD, is the author of Seated with Christ and Guarded by Christ. She teaches composition and advances writing at Penn State and has received numerous awards for excellence in teaching and mentorship during her career. She also serves alongside her husband, Ashley, in graduate student ministry with Cru's Faculty Commons. They live in Pennsylvania with their two daughters, and Heather writes daily at heatherholleman.com.
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Saturday, August 12, 2017

Beloved Hope by Tracie Peterson

Beloved Hope is the story of learning forgiveness and letting go of the past, trusting in God's plan for healing amongst the aftermath of betrayal, and believing in the strength and courage of looking toward a brighter future.

In this second book of the Heart Of The Frontier series by Tracie Peterson, we focus on Hope Flanagan, the middle of three closely bonded sisters in 1850s Oregon City. Tracie has done a good job at knitting important details from the first book throughout this one, so as to not confuse the reader if this book is their first exposure to the series.

Having survived the massacre at the Whitman Mission two years earlier, Hope finds herself now having to stand as a witness in a trial against the Indians that robbed her of so much more than just her innocence. While she had spent the last two years "moving on" and attempting to make the best of life, she now has to face everything that happened and admit to the pain she stills grips so tightly.

With the help of her sisters and a few close friends, Hope learns that not only is there a greater power in forgiveness than in revenge, but also that God can turn even the most dire of pasts into blessings of a hopeful future.

While I did not find the story and dialogue to be quite as gripping as the first book in the series, Treasured Grace, I still found this to be a wonderful gem and a novel testimony to God's power to help us overcome the past and let go of the bitterness that can grab hold of us so tightly at times. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from Bethany House publishers for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Tracie Peterson's love for history and research fuels the bestselling stories she writes. She is the author of over one hundred novels and the recipient of the 2011 ACFW Lifetime Achievement Award. Tracie and her family live in Montana.
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Tuesday, August 8, 2017

We Stood Upon Stars by Roger W. Thompson

We Stood Upon Stars: Finding God In Lost Places by Roger W. Thompson is a series of 31 short stories of various travels Roger has been on throughout his life. Most of these recollected journeys focus on the detours, wrong turns, and other mishaps that happen when things don't go quite as you anticipate. But, as Roger demonstrates, those wrong turns often lead us on the greatest adventures and hold the secrets to life's biggest mysteries.

Most of the stories tend to wander and get off topic themselves, which lends to the overall flow that life doesn't follow a set map or order when it comes to how we learn the lessons it has to teach us. And for those of you who want a definitive purpose or moral behind each of these mini road trips, Roger has made a point to show us what he's come to learn from the experience.

While I found some of the stories to be things I could relate to, I had a hard time getting on the same page as the author for most of this book. I think it would be a great gift for the outdoorsy man who enjoys mini road trips and summer camping ventures and fishing with his family. Or, the guy that remembers having done all of those things in his childhood and would be able to reminisce about those days of seemingly carefree wonder while reading the ventures enclosed. 3/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from the publisher for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back cover):
Roger W. Thompson is a successful entrepreneur, collaborator, adventurer, and writer. He's spent his career building innovative businesses and nonprofit organizations. In addition to creating the first mission tourism resort in Haiti with the Hand and Feet Project, he's produced surf films, built skate parks, and outfitted adventure trips. Alongside his wife, he travels, surfs, snowboards, and fly-fishes - and is teaching his two young sons to do the same.
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Friday, August 4, 2017

The Perfect You by Caroline Leaf

The Perfect You: A Blueprint For Identity by Dr. Caroline Leaf is a very unique personal assessment tool. Dr. Leaf has formulated a method by which to discover your own uniqueness as God's masterpiece and to help yourself become more in alignment with that uniqueness in everyday situations.

Not for those seeking easy answers, quick fixes, and simple "to do" lists, this book is a very thorough scientific exploration of what makes each of us unique in the way that we create and store knowledge to gain our own perspective and interpretation of life as we perceive it. Dr. Leaf reveals seven metacognitive modules which we use in order to constantly interpret information as it is presented to us throughout our day. These modules are Interpersonal, Kinesthetic, Linguistic, Logical / Mathematical, Spatial / Visual, Musical, and Intrapersonal.

The first two parts of the book are a detailed analysis of how the brain works in conjunction with our mental / emotional state, how we can discover and unlock our potential to control and boost our mental awareness, and an explanation of what is meant by "The Perfect You", as well as how to achieve it.

The third part of the book is "The Unique Qualitative (UQ) Assessment Tool", which is a series of 34-50 questions for each of the metacognitive modules discussed in parts 1 and 2. These are not "yes / no" or Likert scale (1-10) questions. Instead, these are all short answer questions, with 5+ lines provided for each answer. These are questions like "Do you enjoy learning and using new vocabulary? If yes, describe the what, how, when, and why. If no, describe the what, how, when, and why." The point isn't to get a final tally or pass some test, but rather, to be honest and open with yourself about who you are and how you process and interpret your surroundings in everyday mundane moments. This part of the book also includes a checklist and exercise to help you stay focused on changing your thought patterns in order to alter your current state.

Dr. Leaf states "Your UQ profile has a threefold purpose: to help you understand how you uniquely think, feel, and choose; to increase your ability to mindfully and deliberately self-regulate your thinking, feeling, and choosing to keep you in alignment with the Holy Spirit; and to help you understand how you think, feel, and choose when you are operating in your Perfect You so that you can recognize when you are operating outside of it."

Part four of The Perfect You has examples and tips to help you get through those times when you find yourself not following the assessment of your unique Perfect You.

Overall, I found this book to be a very interesting study of how we interpret and respond to our surroundings, and how we can adjust our thinking in order to change our world - both inside and out. However, as stated, this book is deeply scientific and could be very confusing and hard to read for a lot of people. Also, while the in-depth short answer questions are designed to probe your specific reasons behind your actions, I could see this as being a problem area for people that don't have an analytical mindset and have a hard time objectively assessing their own behaviors. For those of us that are more scientific and analytical, this book is a masterpiece and can connect the dots to raise your personal awareness of why you think, feel, and choose the things you do on a daily basis - as well as how to have better control in order to become more in alignment with God's design for your being. 4/5 stars.

*Disclaimer: I received a complimentary print copy of this book from Baker Books for the purpose of this honest review. All opinions are my own.*

About The Author (copied from back inside flap):
Dr. Caroline Leaf is the author of Switch On Your Brain and Think and Eat Yourself Smart, among many other books and journal articles. Since 1981, she has researched the science of thought and mind-body connection as it relates to thinking, learning, emotions, renewing the mind, healing from TBI and other neurological and mind issues, potential, and education. Dr. Leaf practiced clinically for twenty-five years while simultaneously working in impoverished areas in South Africa and doing research. She has worked in education for as many years. She is currently still doing research on the mind-body connection and is an international and national conference speaker on topics relating to optimal mind and brain performance such as stress, toxic thoughts, male/female brain differences, thinking and learning, controlling our thought lives, and how to identify and use our uniqueness. She is frequently interviewed on TV stations and media around the globe, has published many books and scientific journal articles, and has her own TV show, The Dr. Leaf Show. Leaf and her husband, Mac, live with their four children in California.
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