Monday, May 31, 2010

The Heart Mender by Andy Andrews

Title: The Heart Mender

Author: Andy Andrews

Rating: Good

Reason for Reading: We received this as a part of the BookSneeze program from Thomas Nelson Publishers. I received this book for free in exchange for an honest review. My opinions are my own and are not influenced by receiving the book for free.

Summary: The Heart Mender is a story within a story. As such, there are many layers and levels to the book and the lessons to be learned from the book. At the beginning of the book, the author discovers a mysterious object buried in his yard. While trying to unravel the mystery of the object, Andrews takes the readers on a journey through time in which the main characters of the story learn to overcome their intense grief and disappointment by discovering the beauty and healing power of second chances.

Review:  The Heart Mender is a beautiful and poignant story about the miraculous power of forgiveness and second chances. While fans of The Traveler's Gift might feel bereft because of the lack of an in-your-face, step-by-step guide to the moral of the story, they can be reassured that the lessons typical of an "Andy" book are all still there. These lessons are cleverly and seamlessly woven into the dialogue and the plot of this tale. The author assists readers in uncovering the deeper meanings and lessons of the book by providing a reader's guide in the back. Andrews truly is a master storyteller and The Heart Mender is a wonderful story.

This book is a definite must-read.


Other resources:

 BookSneeze gave us a SECOND copy of The Heart Mender with the express instructions that we give it away on this blog! So, we'll be having a contest.  To enter, read the following rules and then answer the question: When has a second chance (or the lack of a second chance) drastically changed your life?


1.     Answer the question in about 100 words using the comment feature of the blog.

2.     Do not include any personally identifying information.

3.     All entries must be received by midnight June 30, 2010.

4.     Be honest. We prefer integrity over entertainment.


Devon and Dawn will choose a winner from the entries that follow the above guidelines. Winner will be notified via email and posted on the blog. Odds of winning will depend on number of entries submitted. Devon and Dawn reserve the right to use all entries in future blog posts. Only one book will be given away. Book was provided by Thomas Nelson Publishers and the BookSneeze program. Our review was not influenced by the free book, nor the number of books given to us. Devon and Dawn created the rules of the contest and these rules were not a part of the BookSneeze program.

Captivating: Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul by John & Stasi Eldredge

TITLE:  Captivating:  Unveiling the Mystery of a Woman's Soul

AUTHOR:  John & Stasi Eldredge


REASON FOR READING:  I acquired this book through Thomas Nelson Publishers' BookSneeze program in exchange for a review of it.  The publisher has in no way influenced the content of this review, and the views expressed are solely my own.  This is a book I've had on my wish list for sometime, so the opportunity to acquire it through the BookSneeze program was seredipity.  This book was also recommended by Dave Ramsey, along with many other authors I am reading at present.

SUMMARY:  Captivating is all about the soul of woman as created by God.  Starting with Eve, the authors describe the heart and soul of women, including the fictional characters found in age-old and modern day stories, and the author's themselves.  Weaving in references from Lord of the Rings, Star Wars, Sound of Music and Cinderella, John & Stasi describe how every woman is built to be romanced, to be an irreplaceable role in an adventure, and to be beautiful.  The authors also describe how these qualities affect a woman's relationships with their husbands, parents, siblings, and children.

REVIEW:  This book is intense, full of material both scriptural, personal, and pop-cultural.  It will challenge your view of yourself and how you relate to the women in your life.  The few pages the authors use to translate ezer kenegdo  from the Old Testament have already improved my relationship with Dawn.  As with the other Edlredge book I've read [Epic], Captivating is full of drama, describing modern day, earthly experiences as taking place within a larger context on the spiritual plane.  The book is full of adventure and romance as Satan has a particular hatred for woman, God's image bearer for relationships and closeness, and God seeks to return the hearts of His fallen daughters to Him.  This book is challenging and eye-opening, but comforting and healing as well.  I highly recommend Captivating.


Thursday, May 6, 2010

Rating System

Welcome to our book reviewing blog. Devon and I are avid readers. As such, we find that books tend to fall into three distinct categories: good, bad, or right for you if...

Good: A book with the rating "good" is a great read for anyone. Everyone can learn from its principles and applying them to life. We definitely recommend checking out a copy of the book from your local library or picking it up at a used book store. This book will be a treasure.

Bad: Some books are just bad and not fit for anyone to read. They may be written poorly, not researched well enough, or even contradictory to its own advice. Sometimes the book's "value" just isn't worth the time invested. We don't suggest the book is worth reading from cover to cover; however, you may want to skim it or use it to make your wobbly table less wobbly.

Right for you if...: The books that fall into this category are books that are good for some people, but pointless for others. If we give a book the "right for you if..." rating, you can look at the end of the review to see under which circumstances we feel the book is "right for you".

Please understand that these are our personal views/ratings of the books. This blog is for informational purposes only and we do not wish to ruin the careers of authors. We are simply offering a you a way to guide your reading.

If you disagree with a rating we give a book, feel free to leave a comment. Please make sure that the comment is well written and not accusatory, inflaming, or combative. We reserve the right to refuse to publish a comment.

The Traveler's Gift by Andy Andrews

Title: The Traveler's Gift

Author: Andy Andrews

Rating: Good

Reason for Reading: This book was recommended by Dawn as one I would enjoy. She was certainly right on three fronts. First, it's fun to read. It plays like an action-adventure novel or mystery at times. Second, it is educational. The wisdom contained within is impossible to miss as one reads through the narrative. And third, the traveler visits different moments in history, and I am a history buff (but that quality is not necessary to enjoy and learn from the book). This book was purchased, and no compensation was provided for this review.

Summary: The Traveler's Gift is the description of Andy Andrews' Seven Decisions that determine personal success. Andy read 200-300 biographies of successful persons. From this, he identified seven principles at work int heir lives. The decisions they made led to their successes and revealed these principles. The book introduces the reader to each decision by taking the traveler, David Ponder, on a journey to meet an historical figure. These seven people of great influence each teach him a gift. Written like a novel or historical fiction, the narrative the author has composed teaches while it entertains.

Review: Not a self-help in the traditional sense of diagnosing the reader's problem and then providing the authors prescription, The Traveler's Gift instead walks the reader through the decisions with the protagonist, David Ponder. Unemployed and struggling, he begins to wonder if he can find success in life, or if he's just cursed. Through his travels, figures like Harry S. Truman, Christopher Columbus, and Anne Frank give him the decisions that determine personal success. Their advice to him is the author's advice to the reader, though you won't feel preached to. The advice is more like the Maltese Falcon or Holy Grail of a suspense movie or a mystery novel. You won't find the author suffering from a superiority complex. Nor will you find these solutions too shallow to be followed in real life. No "visualize" or "think outside the box" directives that go nowhere in 3-dimensional life. The reader can appreciate how real these principles are to the individuals David meets. Andrew's descriptions of them and their circumstances are compelling, even to a non-history buff. As you read, you'll find parallels to your own life and challenges, even if they don't compare to the Battle of Gettysburg in historical importance. Andrews asserts that everything you do matters, and therefore, are valuable when done well.

Reading like a novel, but educating like a self-help book, The Traveler's Gift is a must-read for all. Brief, compelling, and insightful enough to read every year, put it in your library, or that of a friend.


Other resources:

Why Seek Out Wisdom?

One of my favorite quotes is from Sam Levinson, "You must learn from the mistakes of others. You can't possibly live long enough to make them all yourself." This makes seeking out wisdom seem so logical. Compare two people, one who learns only from his own mistakes, and one who learns from both his and those of others. Which would you prefer as a counselor? Which would you prefer to have your life in his hands? Which would you prefer to be? Whether you are selecting a book to read, a friend to ask for advice, a class to take, or a leader to follow, seeking wisdom is a key step to your success. No one really is a self-made man. Everyone has learned from what they have been exposed to. So, expose yourself to that which improve your likelihood of success.

Another quote from Albert Einstein states that we can't solve problems with the same kind of thinking that created them. Makes sense, doesn't it? Doing the best we could so far got us here. Want to go someplace else? That will require doing better. How can we do better in the future than what was our best was in the past? It requires greater thinking. Not necessarily bigger, but better. Think that you are as good now as you'll ever be? Think again. You mind, your emotional awareness, your spirit can grow, be strengthened, and find hope. You are right now growing and changing into what you will become. You can determine what you'll become by deciding how you'll change. We believe reading to be a key ingredient in this process.

We recommend you look through our blog for books that speak to you, that sound like they have some wisdom to impart. Then read them, actively. Dig into them with focus. Take notes. Highlight. Find a friend to share them with. You don't have to purchase them. There are good libraries all over the place where you can get these books for free, or next to nothing on inter-library loan. Some you may want to purchase, so you can keep them in your library, or pass them along to a friend. Request them as gifts from those people who ask you what you want. Find a used bookstore where you can get a dogeared copy that someone else has already highlighted. One of the books I'll blog about cost me just 10 cents at a used book store, honestly. There is no correlation between what a book costs and how valuable you'll find it. Some will pay rich rewards, no matter what you pay for them.

We will always cite why we decided to read the books we review, and where we acquired a copy. Some books are from our personal library, some we've checked out of our local library, some we've gotten for free in exchange for an honest review of the material. We'll always let you know. Our comments belong to us, and will not be influenced by how we got the material. We request your comments about the books we review, whether you agree with us or don't. We also welcome your recommendations if there is something you think we'd like to read.

Happy reading!

Tithing by Douglas LeBlanc

Title: Tithing Test Me in This

Author: Douglas Leblanc

Rating: Good for you if...

Reason for Reading: I received this book as a part of the BookSneeze program by Thomas Nelson publishers. I chose it over other books, because I'm a person who tithes and I wanted to read others' views of tithing.

Summary: The book Tithing is a religious journalist's view of the ancient practice of tithing. Through the stories of many people across the country, Leblanc tells the benefits of tithing. He uses real-life examples of people associated (or formerly associated) with the Episcopal Church to bring a face to tithing.

Leblanc uses the stories of these people to encourage the reader to return to the "ancient practice of tithing." The concepts of living simply and being generous are thoroughly discussed as well.

Review: As a practicing tither, I was excited by the possibilities presented in a book dedicated to the subject.

Though the book is interesting and fairly easy to read, it deals more with the politics of the Episcopal Church than tithing. Many of the biographies and anecdotes in the book don't even mention tithe or giving.

Unfortunately, I was bogged down enough by the church politics and so distracted by the numerous off-topic anecdotes that after 3 hours of reading over half of the book, I couldn't finish. The author gave a good effort, but the result fell far short of my hopes.

This book is good for you are interested in Episcopal views of tithing, or just want to read various random people's thoughts on tithing and giving.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their <> book review bloggers 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."

Living Life in the Zone

Title: Living Life in the Zone

Author: Kyle Rote Jr. and Dr. Joe Pettigrew

Rating: Good

Reason for Reading: This book was provided to me free of charge by Thomas Nelson, Inc. through the BookSneeze program in exchange for preparing a book review and posting it to this blog.  The content of this review is solely my own words and not influenced by receiving the book as compensation.

Summary: The book is a 40-day study for men.  The book provides a short chapter for each of the 40 days.  Each chapter includes citations of relevant bible verses, a profile of a sports or business figure and how they have applied that life principle in their life, three self-assessment questions, and an assignment to put the lesson into practice that day.

The subjects discussed include a man's relationship to God, improving your relationship with your wife, being a more effective father, you role as friend to your fellow man, and being a Christian man in your workplace.

Review: The lives up to its description as a spiritual game plan for men.  While many self-improvement books provide only limited spiritual content, Living Life in the Zone is replete with spiritual discussions and biblical references.  The book describes "the zone" it is teaching men to live in as not just a period of higher productivity, but higher effectiveness.  It encourages self-examination to help men redefine their role as husband, father, friend, employee, manager, and spiritual leader.

The part of the book I found most helpful is the biographical sketch included in each day's reading.  Under the subtitle Playmaker, this section uses a notable man's real life experience to illustrate the spiritual principle being at work in real life.  Most of the men profiled are notable in the world of sports, like Tom Landry or Kurt Warner.  Some of them are notable from the world of business, like David Green of Hobby Lobby or Mike Glenn of FedEx.  Not all the examples are those of men who used the spiritual principle to succeed, nor are any of the stories too Pollyanna or unrealistic.  Even though I was familiar with many of the men profiled, I learn something new from each Playmaker section.  The authors have described their lives with details not covered in typical media coverage of athletes and coaches.

If you want to know more about these notable men from sports and business, something that reflects how their spirit and their relationship with God affected their lives, this book is a must read.  You want to explore how you can have a deeper understanding of spiritual issues, if you are looking for a guide familiar with sports, business, and politics in the modern world, this book will deliver.  This book is a fun read while providing a meaningful message.  It is enjoyable and educational.  I highly recommend this book for any man with a wife, a child, a job, and a relationship with God.


Other resources:

The Present

Title: The Present

Author: Spencer Johnson, MD

Rating: Good

Reason for Reading: This book is from our personal library, purchased many years ago.

Summary: The book is a practical parable.  Formatted as a story within a story, the prologue has Liz seeking advice from former co-worker Bill.  She notices that Bill is doing much better now than when they worked together, while Liz is struggling at work and home.  Bill says that his improved performance and greater enjoyment of life began when heard the story of The Present, and began applying its lessons.  He is at first hesitant to tell Liz the story, knowing her skeptical nature, but Liz confirms she will give the story a fair chance, no matter how simplistic is seems.

The story is that of a young man's journey to maturity, guided by occasional visits to the old man who lives in his neighborhood.  The old man knows The Present and gives it to the young man in small segments at different moments in his life.  Not surprisingly, the segments are The Present, The Past, and The Future.

The epilogue has Liz meeting with Bill again after some time has passed.  She has learned and applied the lessons from the story.  She has shared the story with others, just has Bill shared it with her.  The skeptic is now a believer in the simple truths contained within the parable.

Review: This book contains such profound truth in such simple words, it is striking in value.  It is a quick read.  I can go through the whole book in about two hours.  This is a great book to keep in your library and read every year.  It won't last through a New York to Los Angeles flight, probably not even between when you get through security and receive clearance to takeoff.

The story is compelling.  It is easy to relate to the young man as he learns about The Present from the old man.  His circumstances are easy to identify with for any reader.  The language is so simple that the lessons are easy to digest, surprisingly so given their great value.  If you are interested in simple truths to be found in a quick, easy read, find a copy of The Present.


Other resources:

Mastering The Seven Decisions by Andy Andrews

Title: Mastering the Seven Decisions that Determine Personal Success, an Owner's Manual to the New York Times Bestseller The Traveler's Gift

Author: Andy Andrews

Rating: Good

Reason for Reading: After reading and thoroughly enjoying The Traveler's Gift (TTG), this book is the logical next step. Even a casual reader of TTG can tell Andrews has more to say than could be squeezed into the book. Mastering the Seven Decisions (Mt7D) provides the context and commentary to flesh out the lessons. This book was purchased and given to me as a gift, and no compensation was provided for this review.

Summary: While TTG is told as a narrative (in fact, some booksellers and reviewers categorized it as fiction!), this book is solidly in the non-fiction, self-help category. Andrews provides a chapter on each of the 7 Decisions, providing examples and insight. Each decision is also described in a letter to Andrews from a famous person, including General Norman Schwarzkopf and Amy Grant. Peppered throughout the book are exercises where Andrews prompts the reader to write down thoughts, feelings, fears, and affirmations. The exercises help the reader find the specific connection between the principles he describes and how work in their life.

Review: Andrews lives up to the promise in the books title that this is an owners manual to TTG. The expanded descriptions of the 7 Decisions help the reader understand how they have been at work in their life. And, perhaps most importantly, how the reader can use a greater understanding of them to be more successful in the future. The exercises are tough, but quite valuable. Have a notebook and pen nearby as you read the book. Completing the exercises will take time and lots of lined notebook paper, but the rewards are worth it. The reader will be facing their fears and failures, evaluating their past, dreaming about their future, and finding resources and actions to be more and do more. The reader's past will become a wonderful education in the principles behind personal success. The reader's looming challenges will become the ingredients in a successful life.

Unlike a lot of self-help books, reading Mt7D and completing the enclosed exercises will produce something personal and tangible. The reader will finish the book with specific steps they can take to make different choices, and consequently find the destiny of their dreams.


Other resources:

Related book reviews: The Traveler's Gift

The Richest Man in Babylon

Title: The Richest Man In Babylon

Author: George S. Clason

Rating: Good

Reason for Reading: This is from our personal library.  I purchased this book for just 10 cents at a used book store.

Summary: The book is a compilation of separate writings the author prepared for banks and financial institutions in the early 20th Century.  Each chapter is a story all unto itself, but some of the characters appear in more than one or are referred to by other characters.

As the title indicates, the stories are set in ancient Babylon, which is described as a city of great wealth and knowledge.  Many of the chapters revolve around Arkad, who is described as the richest man in the community, as he shares his knowledge of money with others.

The language used is similar to what you might read from the King James Version of the Bible, or from Shakespeare.  Don't let that worry you.  There isn't anything here you can't understand.  Money is often referred to as "coins", banks as "moneylenders", and those in debt are sometimes slaves.

The author is using a historical setting to teach simple truths about money and finances that have survived the test of time.  The parallels to modern life are not hard for the reader to draw.

Review: For me, this is a classic, a must read, and on my list of books to read at least once a year.  It is a quick and easy pick up to have in your pocket while you are heading out to a place where you might read for a few minutes here or there.  If you sit down to read it from front to back, it won't take you long.  And because each chapter is a separate story, don't worry about losing your place.

The truths contained within are simple and common sense, but you won't be bored in reading it.  The setting, the phraseology, the characters are rich with colors and flavors that will make learning fun.  And the truths will help you with everything from day-to-day tasks like the importance of budgeting your expenses, to long term goals like purchasing a home or preparing for leaving your estate to your family.

I highly recommend The Richest Man in Babylon to everyone who wants to know how money works and how the decisions they make will affect their financial destiny.


Other resources: None

Everyone Communicates Few Connect

Title: Everyone Communicates Few Connect

Author: John C. Maxwell

Rating: Good

Reason for Reading: This book was provided by Thomas Nelson publishers through their BookSneeze program in exchange for a review.  The publisher has had no influence over the content of this review.  The thoughts are solely my own.

Summary: Maxwell is a well-known leadership expert and speaker.  He has prepared numerous books about leading an organization and the principles of personal success.  This book specifically focuses on one important aspect of communication, that being how to develop a connection between speaker and listener.

Maxwell divides the book into two parts.  The first describes the principles behind connection.  Maxwell defines a connection as the quality of communication that increases the impact of the speaker on the listener.  It operates at an emotional level between the persons involved.  These principles are not the practical steps of public speaking, the kind of things one learns from speech class or Toastmasters International.  Maxwell is describing the difference between those who speak, present, and write with little effect on their audience, and those who make a connection with the audience that makes their communication highly effective.  It is the difference between those boring presentations and unnecessary meetings everyone has endured, and those speakers or presenters that have hit you right in the gut.  Maxwell describes this ability to make a connection as a skill that can be learned, not just an inherent quality that some speakers naturally have.

The second part describes what connectors do, the preparations they make, the attitude they assume, and the focus they adopt.  This includes finding common ground with the audience, making the experience enjoyable, and choosing inspirational messages.

Review: Maxwell uses humorous and insightful stories about himself and his career as a pastor, speaker, and teacher.  He describes how he failed to connect early in his career, learned to connect, and is now teaching others to do so.  Just the anecdotes about him are well worth the cost of the book.  I found lots of situations to which I could relate, either as a speaker or a listener.  The lessons gave me a new appreciation for how a leader can use these principles to increase the success of their team.

If you are a leader, you have to communicate.  Whether you embrace this aspect of serving as a leader or cringe at it, this book will help you do it better.  It is personable, funny, brief, and easy to read.  You'll feel like you sat down with Maxwell as he personally told you how he does what he does.  And that of course is the whole point!  He connects with the reader, providing an example of what he is espousing.


Other resources:

Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God by Sheila Walsh

Title: Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God

Author: Sheila Walsh

Rating: Good

Reason for Reading: I received this as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze program.

Summary: Beautiful Things is a book about Sheila Walsh's personal journey from stardom, through her breakdown, and finding her faith again. Sheila profiles people in the Bible who have trusted God through various circumstances.

Review: Beautiful Things is not what I expected. I fully expected a book more like Sandi Patti's Layers, where it chronicles a famous woman's journey through a difficult period of her life. However, Beautiful Things…is more like a Bible study than an autobiography. Sheila profiles lives of Biblical characters who have learned how to trust God in very unique circumstances. She chronicles the (first) death of Lazarus and the following resurrection. Through it, I learned a host of new details…things I either forgot or didn't pick up in Bible College. And while the book walks the reader through all these great little facts and details that aren't always readily present within the context of the Bible passage, it doesn't feel as if you're reading a college text or sitting in a lecture hall. Sheila's writing style is lively and engaging. Each chapter starts off with a personal anecdote, and then walks the reader through a historical account found in the Bible. Finally, each chapter ends with Sheila bringing her point home and explaining what the reader should learn from the passage, how the reader can apply the passage to his or her own life.

Be prepared to have your thinking and faith stretched. I was unable to sit and read the book cover to cover simply because it made me face my hidden faults and insecurities. If you're looking for a book to help you grow your faith and at the same time make you feel as if you're not alone in learning to trust God, then this book is for you.