Spiritual & Christian

Jesus Loves You by Christine Topjian

Jesus Loves You is a picture-guided story of Jesus’s presence in one young man’s life. The illustrations accompanying Topjian’s text show the main character during all of life’s most significant sea changes, from birth to high school graduation to beyond. Below each image is a brief line or two describing the moment as the main character experiences it, and telling the reader how Jesus was there to lend his support and encouragement. The story even delves into some truly challenging moments, like handling your first heartbreak, fighting with your mother, and caring for aging parents, though this is done thoughtfully so as not to alarm or confuse young readers.

In the style of Love You Forever, Christine Topjian’s Jesus Loves You takes an extended look at the role of parental figures throughout a child’s life, though the parent in this case is none other than Jesus Christ. Topjian’s text innovatively hones in on this key aspect of Jesus’s relationship with his followers – that throughout life’s victories and low points alike, he is there to either console or congratulate those who would listen to him. This seems like an especially appropriate topic for little ones just starting out on the long road to adulthood. This book would make a great gift for a child who is still figuring out who Jesus is, which can sometimes be a difficult concept for young minds to digest. On the other hand, it would be just as suitable for anyone who is about to embark on a new journey, whether that means heading off to college, starting a first job, or getting married.


A Brush with the Beast by Richard Sones

Within the first few sentences, the reader can feel Nick’s agitated mind frame leap out from the pages. With rich paragraphs filled with flowing descriptions, the reader is transported through Nick’s journey almost as if they are experiencing it first-hand. The descriptions of the locations, such as the Ancient Order’s inner sanctum, are precise and full of details that make it very easy for the reader to picture the place in their mind’s eye. The suspense of the narrative begins with Nick’s inner thoughts and interactions with the Ancient Order, and then spills out towards a host of secondary narratives of characters such as Fanak, Tamil, and Sarah. Their stories are at first random and do not seem to be at all related, but slowly their stories begin to interweave into a larger tapestry of a narrative. The story begins to dive deeply into a web of conspiracy, terrorism, and cult behavior on several sides in several different religions. As the story unfolds, Nick’s ascent to power grows more and more disturbing as civil liberties are stripped from the American people and the world as a whole dips closer and closer toward anarchy and apocalypse. The fervency and fanaticism displayed by characters Fanak and Nick are disturbing, and rightfully so. Twisting and turning, it is never quite clear just how this novella will end.

While A Brush with the Beast maintains momentum throughout most of the entire narrative, the ending still appears to be a struggle for the author. There is no conclusion, no wrapping up of the storyline. Sarah is left following a stranger at the very end, but to what purpose? Equally uncertain are the fates of numerous characters, like Nick, Fanak, and Tamil. Fanak and Tamil are given one final mission, but the reader never finds out the result. Though the author does well with description, transition, and narrative, in order to fully cultivate this novel, there must be a conclusion and purpose. Is Nick meant to succeed?  Do Fanak and Tamil complete their mission? Who exactly holds the power – the governments of the world or Nick? Is there global anarchy or not? The purpose and direction of the narrative become very muddled at the end, with no clear answers or conclusions.


The Valley of Ba’ka by Sue McGovern


Ecclesiastes chapter 3 says, “To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under the heaven: a time to be born and a time to die…” This passage provides a deep sense of comfort for Sue McGovern, author of The Valley of Ba’ka. The story is one of strength: of seemingly unending mercy, forgiveness, and resilience. The Valley of Ba’ka is a Spiritual/Christian book, in which McGovern details a horrific period of her life: the murder of her husband, at the hand of her son, while her brother is dying of cancer. The book follows McGovern’s journey from the day before her husband’s murder throughout the criminal trial and into the days afterward. Throughout it all, McGovern maintains her faith in God. That faith—which claims that there is a season and at time for everything—allows her to forgive her son, to be there for him during his drug rehabilitation and mental health issues. Her journey is not easy by far, but McGovern finds strength in her faith, her family, and her writing of The Valley of Ba’ka.

“Isn’t it strange the trivialities we remember in moments of great turmoil?” McGovern poignantly asks in the opening chapters of the book. This moment is one of the clearest in the book. McGovern’s strength lies in her candor: she speaks freely of what happened, how she dealt with it, and how she felt the entire way. While the writing may not captivate, it is a smooth enough read. The material is dark, but McGovern writes with a grace and a kindness that permeates the book. She cites countless Bible verses as well as Spiritual hymns, and her depth of spiritual knowledge is very apparent. The author believes that God sets certain people aside in times of hardship to help others. Perhaps, The Valley of Ba’ka is His way of setting her aside. Perhaps it is her way of setting herself aside.


The Destiny by Dianrdrie


The Destiny is a collection of 80 readings given by author Dianrdrie. Coming from the author’s personal shamanic perspective, each of these readings are correlated to a “spirit of herbal” or herb, a “shaman spirit card” and a “generator of aroma” or essential oil. The author shares a paragraph length reading for each of the 80 readings that are said to “absorb into [the] body with their beauty, within the energy essence of flow, giving [the reader] the understanding [he/she] seek[s] and need[s]”. Perhaps, these are channeled readings from the higher self of Dianrdrie, but it is unclear as to what the reader should do with the information about the herbs, cards and aromas. It is also unclear what the readings are for.

Dianrdrie clearly wants to share healing and wisdom, love and light, beauty and joy with the readers of The Destiny. The readings are somewhat poetic in nature, but their lack of fluidity creates a challenging energetic sensation when attempting to read them. Some readers might be able to sit with them and “allow…the feelings…[to] filter through”, while others will feel an energetic block that prevents them from grasping the writings and be left feeling they are just nonsensical words. It truly will be a matter of individuality. The Destiny has such a deep uniqueness that it may be viewed as a positive or a major drawback. Being written in all caps is a definite drawback though. That style places a strain on the eyes and does not allow for the soft, healing energy that the author clearly intends. Perhaps, Dianrdrie could reevaluate the format of The Destiny and share it in a way that helps open higher vibrations for readers to connect with.


The Burning Bush by Adriana Moreira

four stars

41rZUwcw4cL._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_A Christian account of God urging one woman, Adriana Moreira, to get His message to as many people as possible is the premise of The Burning Bush: To God’s Suffering Children. As the author of this memoir-like book, Adriana Moreira shares various examples from the Holy Bible and relates them to experiences she had with [her] God in His effort to get her to spread His message. She audibly heard a whisper on numerous occasions until she finally listened and chose to do what she was being called to do. Throughout the book, she breaks down different aspects of suffering and shares inspirational stories to help those going through the various different types of suffering to realize they can find support in Christ.

Christian readers or those who lean towards Christian belief systems will likely find a lot of hope, guidance and support in Adriana Moreira’s The Burning Bush: To God’s Suffering Children. Not only is it a fairly well-written inspirational book, but Moreira has included numerous uplifting Bible verses. Even more than that, she included the whispered messages God spoke to her. With boxes around them, they stand out and can be found quickly and easily just by scanning through The Burning Bush. Adriana Moreira is clearly a devout Christian and therefore, her book will connect with readers of similar faith. The Burning Bush can bring the reader’s God into his or her life in all areas just as the author did within the pages of her book. Readers, who feel they are suffering children of God, should consider grabbing a copy and reading it to gain inspiration and the realization that they aren’t alone.


I Thought There Was a Road There by Lynn Assimacopoulos

four stars

roadA collection of personal essays that functions as both a memoir and a spiritual devotional, I Thought There Was a Road There…and Other Lessons in Life From God follows the memorable moments of Lynn Assimacopoulous’ life. The stories in the book range from when her son learns to drive, to riding horses on a summer vacation, to a story that reflects back on Lynn’s time as a nursing student. These snapshots of Lynn’s life are told out of order, but they are still able to paint a rather complete picture of her life, and the kind of person she is. Through her stories and reflections, she finds strength in God, who steers her on the right path, even at times when she finds herself or other members of her family to be going in the wrong direction. At only around one hundred pages, this is a rather quick read, as each chapter is an easily digestible story that offers up an entertaining tale, and usually, a lesson.

Even though this book is not very long, it packs an emotional punch by sharing stories throughout the author’s life. Readers will feel as if they get to know Lynn and some of the other members of her family through the realistic way she describes them on the page. With the kinds of problems and struggles that any mother can face, readers will also find that these short tales are highly relatable. While the book has a religious tone and discusses the guiding power of God often, it does so in a way that is not too forceful for readers who are new to reading spiritual books, therefore making it accessible to all.


Beyond Scriptures: Consider the Facts by Pompeii Lee


The Bible may be a common starting point in learning about the Christian faith, but how do you apply the lessons beyond what’s written? Pompeii Lee’s Beyond Scriptures: Consider the Facts provides an easy-to-read guide that takes the reader along a path of spiritual contemplation. Unlike a church sermon, the text is split across both traditional and nontraditional ways of thinking. Breaking it down into a simple format that uses a plainspoken tone has its benefits. By raising questions and giving key topics another look, Lee’s reflections find new answers to old moral dilemmas from Christ’s time. Beyond Scriptures achieves this analysis through examples such as the tests Jesus passes, the symbolism of the planets, and the comparison of faith to other major religions. All, Lee argues, can find strength through a Christian lifestyle of faith.

Beyond Scriptures is very much a life advice book aimed to bridge philosophical questions and practical counsel. Beginner friendly, Lee is considerate towards the nonbeliever as he begins with Christ’s own journey at the end of his time on Earth. The story is easily one of the most well-known, but phrasing it in an accessible way allows the reader to follow the thread of thought. Continuing forward, Lee produces similar bite-sized thoughts. Limiting the depth allows the text to reach a wide scope of topics that do not feel disconnected despite the gaps. Yet, this limitation may serve as its weakness as well. For instance, Lee provides an overview of various religions in comparison to Christianity. The brevity of the section results in a lack of secondary opinions. In that same vein, the final paragraphs feel underdeveloped and overall, deprives the text of a cohesive conclusion. Readers will find the strength of Lee’s words in the heart of the text, where each call of action details how faith can directly change your life. Beyond Scriptures best serves as a companion to embracing faith into daily life.


The Gills Creek Five by Greg M. Dodd


Screen Shot 2017-06-13 at 1.48.48 PMThe Gills Creek Five by Greg M. Dodd is a classic stage play that centers around five vibrant, unique characters: Dane, Rett, Sam, Emile, and Martin. Set in South Carolina, specifically in a Sunday school classroom in a church, the play follows the metaphorical journeys of five men who have haphazardly (or by divine providence, you decide) come to study a book together every Wednesday night at 6:30 for eight weeks. The group comprises Dane, the group’s charismatic and enthusiastic leader; Emile, an overweight volunteer who lives with his mother; Sam a British veterinarian who seems a bit lost in life; Rett, a jovial former pastor with a predilection for speaking broken French and sprinkling French phrases throughout his lines, thanks to his six-year stint in Louisiana; and Martin, a wisecracking librarian’s assistant who stumbles upon the group, mistakenly thinking that it’s an AA meeting. In addition to being, on the surface, about a men’s small group, The Gills Creek Five also has a sort of meta-narrative that’s briefly explained in the foreword. The author, Greg M. Dodd, had previously written a novel that the characters in the play end up studying as a part of their weekly faith-centered men’s study group. The leader of the group, Dane, introduces the text by giving a little background on how he came to pick up A Seed for the Harvest. He explains that he met the author of the novel at a local coffee shop, The Lost Bean, and in the midst of their conversations about the author’s next project, a play, he learned that the author’s true intention in sharing his work and interviewing Dane about his experiences was to bring strangers that much closer to God through witnessing. This quick bit of explication serves as a little nod and a wink to the audience, who should know from the foreword that this was an actual encounter that helped shape the play they’re watching or reading. On every level, this play focuses on the meaningful connections and conversations that men have with one another and how that fellowship impacts the directions of their disparate, yet miraculously interwoven lives.

Whether or not faith plays a part in readers’ lives, this touching play will be sure to leave a lasting mark on hearts and minds of all ages. Beyond being about five men who gather together in a church setting to discuss a book, The Gills Creek Five serves as an enlightening testament to the resiliency and resolve of the human spirit. On top of being a brilliantly told story with an uplifting message, this play is flat-out enjoyable to read. The greatest thing that this play has going for it is the depth and reality of the dialogue. Immediately, the reader gets a developed sense of who each of the characters in the play is. Their voices jump off of the page, and without ever having to describe them explicitly, the author paints a vivid picture of each man. A large part of that vivid picture has to do with how real, raw, and riotously funny the dialogue is. At times, it seems as though the author might have actually jotted down his interviews with real people verbatim, even though it’s a work of fiction. It’s this commitment to the way that people actually speak that moves the narrative forward at a break-neck pace. Before the reader knows it, they’ve flown through the entire play. The Gills Creek Five sucks readers in and won’t let them go until it’s really engaged them in a powerful discussion about life’s meaning and the purpose of everyone’s individual journey along the way. And despite its depth, it still manages to be largely comedic. Regardless of religious persuasion, this play is worth a try for its universal truths and lighthearted, realistic dialogue.


The Promise by Karen Cheathem

four stars

A novella about the power of love and what it means to keep your word, The Promise by Karen Cheathem explores the idea that good things can happen to good people, and that anything is possible if you have faith in the Lord. The narrative follows a woman named Luella Mae White, who grew up in terrible poverty and suffered cruel abuse. Luella persists through her hardships, determined to succeed and build a life of love and happiness for herself, finding strength through her Christian beliefs. The story is told as a modern day parable where a woman who has little finds power within herself to persevere and bring love and kindness to all those around her, even though the same is not always given to her in return.

Coming in around only sixty pages, The Promise is not a very long book, yet it still packs an emotional punch as the content within these pages will keep readers engrossed in the story. With a heavy focus on religion, Christian values, and the comfort a close relationship with God can give, it is sure to appeal to those who find strength in the Lord. Nevertheless, it also has the ability to appeal to those who might not be as spiritual or religious. Cheathem paints a strong character in Luella, and the supporting characters who surround her add further dynamic layers to this story about keeping promises, striving against difficult obstacles, and never giving up.


June Rain by Brandon Knightley


juneFor many people, high school is either the greatest or the worst time of their life, but for Dante Giacoso high school is a rather neutral time, neither the beginning nor the end of anything. It is simply a time of self-discovery, introspection, and independence. Dante spends much of his time during senior year alone, considering the path that may be before him, like college, and the things that he may be good at, like mathematics. However, when there is a scheduling difficulty and Dante is placed in Senior English instead of Honors English, his eyes are opened to a whole new world, a world where Helen Dellasante, a girl that he had once considered to be plain and unexceptional, holds an important key to understanding the meaning that life can hold. June Rain is a story of love, growth, and faith. When a simple gesture, like offering an umbrella when it is raining, can change the whole course of a life, it becomes nearly impossible to not believe in a higher power, in something that can bring a sense of fate to a rainstorm in June.

June Rain by Brandon Knightley is an interesting look into young adulthood, how love forms, and what it means to be spiritual. Knightley’s characters are beautifully crafted and honest, each with their own stories and backgrounds, each with their own human flaws. Knightley’s writing itself is exquisite, making something that might otherwise seem mundane, seem beautiful and worthwhile. Even if one does not believe in a long-lasting high school romance, it is hard to not believe in and support the love that Helen and Dante have for one another. Additionally, Knightley’s writing is well-educated and well-researched, dipping into areas of philosophy that Knightley seems very comfortable expounding on, areas that give the entire novel a deeper sense of purpose.


The Amazing Love of Paul’s Model Church by Ed Gross

four stars

Paul, one of the greatest Christians and most successful church planters, called just ONE of his church plants his “model church,” the Thessalonians. They opened their homes and their hearts to a man hunted and persecuted. They trusted that he was there for a reason and needed to be protected. The Thessalonians are a wonderful example of what it means to stay true to your faith and spread the Good News in a constructive and impactful ways. Evangelical activities are not always supported in this day and age, to be an evangelist in biblical times, brings to mind a whole new set of problems and obstacles to sharing the Gospel. This book reveals the power of love to help disciples not only survive, but become one of the greatest testimonies in all of church history. Its message is especially relevant in our day of growing anti-Christian sentiments.

Author Ed Gross does a wonderful job outlining the Thessalonians story and detailing everything they represented. Each chapter is followed up by insightful discussion questions, allowing the reader to reflect on what they have read and how they feel about their faith in light of what the book forces them to ponder over. Supported with specific biblical references, this book gets at the heart of spreading the gospel. It offers a wonderful in-depth look at the Thessalonians and their approach to hospitality and their willingness to help others. Based on the author’s knowledge about the topic and littered with insight from other biblical experts, multiple sources weigh in on the discussion to display an abundance of viewpoints. More discussion questions would have had a major impact on the reader’s ability to be introspective and allow for more self-assessment. Yet, overall the book accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do.


A Seed for the Harvest by Greg M. Dodd

four stars

seedA tale of one man’s journey to find Christ in a more meaningful way, A Seed for the Harvest is an inspiring piece of Christian fiction. The narrative follows Jon Smoak, a man who has been going through the motions of following the teachings of Jesus Christ, but without much rhyme or reason. He has a Bible by his bed, and goes to church regularly, but he often finds himself wondering why he is here, living his life in the way which he so chooses. He decides to make a change, and seek out God in a more direct way, so that his daily life becomes a much more meaningful path of righteousness. Along his journey, he comes to meet many others whose advice and generosity helps guide him in a multitude of ways.

This book does a good job of explaining the gospel through the eyes of one relatable man. As we follow Jon on his journey to build a better relationship with Christ, we are reminded why Jesus died for our sins in the first place. While the narrative is very religious in tone, it also does a good job at reaching out to those readers who may not be as familiar with Christianity. Therefore, this works as a story that could entertain both believers, and those who are searching for a closer relationship with God. By presenting many engaging and original characters on the page, we are given many glimpses of people who have been influenced by profound sorrow, joy, good fortune, and heartbreak. This is the kind of narrative that offers hope, and redemption.


The Nativity Stories by B. Michael Fee


storiesIn The Nativity Stories, B. Michael Fee offers a self-proclaimed fictionalized version of some of the most important and popular stories from the Bible. He attempts to provide more detail and insight into biblical characters such as Mary and Joseph, John The Baptist’s family, and the Shepherds on the night of Jesus’s birth. His chapters go beyond the original biblical versions in order to reveal the potential thoughts, reactions, and beliefs of ordinary people during an extraordinary time in human history. Christian readers will recognize the origins of Fee’s stories from the Bible and will find his narrations describe how these people nurtured and influenced the very beginning of Christianity.

Fee’s novel is the perfect read for Christians looking to delve deeper into the Bible or those looking to explore their faith. His narration clearly comes from his own desire to study Biblical characters and their stories within Christianity while still preserving the holiness of the original texts. His writing is calming if a bit too broken up by ellipses and how similar it is to that of the Bible. The chapters are meant to teach the reader about the power of God and humanity’s relationship to the almighty deity. His characterization, however, at times creates characters that lack the flaws of humanity. They are too perfect and not relatable to readers who could be struggling with the real, daily problems of the modern world. Despite this, Christian readers will appreciate that his work provides insight into the minds of Jesus’s contemporaries.


Through Prison Doors by Stanley M. Meyers


prisonStanley M. Meyers expounds upon his time in prison with accessible and spiritually-driven dialogue in his memoir appropriately entitled Through Prison Doors. Meyers, convicted of crimes he both did and did not commit, is sentenced to prison for a maximum sentence. A man of faith, Meyers illuminates his religious experiences behind bars, melding chapters on the challenges of prison life with the optimism of his Christian endeavors. Sprinkled throughout with carefully quoted biblical citations, Meyers takes his readers through many of his miraculous encounters with God, supporting his experiences and visions throughout with the text of the Bible itself. As his tale unfolds, the story of his evangelical work behind bars coincides with his work to release himself from those bars as he endures family tragedies and courts all too ready to reject his claims.

Readers looking for an insightful and dirt-stained exposition on the hardships and the social atmospheres of prison life will be disappointed in Meyer’s clean-cut and highly religious memoir. The vast majority of Through Prison Doors focuses on Meyer’s Christian activities in prison and spends a great deal of time with biblical scriptures that relate to those activities. Additionally, there is little to no exploration of the criminal ventures that Meyers engaged in that sent him to prison, which leaves a haunting and tantalizing mystery along the edges of the text. That being said, the memoir is a beautifully executed work of Christian apologetics that is sure to inspire many like-minded religious individuals, especially those in prison or those with loved ones in prison. Through Prison Doors is an optimistic portrayal of one man’s struggle and one man’s ability to overcome through his faith in Christ.


Undamned by L.E. Kinzie


undamnedOne might say that L. E. Kinzie’s book, Undamned: My Escape from the Old Testament, not only shuns the big business of modern churches, but her defensive voice seems to damn them as well. Kinzie offers readers an opportunity to visualize the spiritual journey she has traversed in her desparate attempt to find God and learn what it means for her to be truly spiritual. In the initial pages, Kinzie expresses her distaste for the fast-food mentality so many religious organizations and churches today have taken. The writing in Undamned flips from supporting the good intentions of many within such organizations to rejecting their one-size-fits-all approach. Kinzie shares her individual and personal story broken into two parts. She expresses how she came to discover the truth about herself and about what she believed to be God. Pulling the proverbial rug out from under her spiritual beliefs and weaving a new rug helped her open to happiness versus continually stalking it in an attempt to capture it. In the spiritual toolbox, shared in Undamned, there are twenty tips and pieces of advice to help other seekers break free from the chains of the Old Testament.

L.E. Kinzie shares a story of searching for one’s spiritual self while trying to understand what God and spirituality really is. Undamned: My Escape from the Old Testament comes not from a clergy member or other authoritative figure, but instead an average person, who was once a self-proclaimed religious addict. There are a handful of useful tips and tools in Undamned, but there is also a lot of repetition in regards to the author’s personal experience. An angry and defensive tone pours forth from the pages even as Kinzie expresses the vital importance of recognizing that church is something each of us should create for ourselves. In her final thoughts, Kinzie tells the reader that the church isn’t God, but is every person individually as well as collectively. Ultimately, Undamned: My Escape from the Old Testament is the journey to realizing that connecting to God or spirituality doesn’t mean one has to go to church as God is everywhere and in everything.


The Lord’s Firefighter by Troy Lee Colvin


lord'sFollowing the life of Hunter Jackson, Troy Lee Calvin meshes firefighter culture and lingo with evangelical Christian faith in his text The Lord’s Firefighter. Hunter faces a string of harrowing events in his line of duty as both a firefighter and a Christian. These events test not only his physical strength but also his spiritual, as well as the faith of those surrounding him. Calvin offers detailed conversations and explanations for the Christian religion through the dialogue of his characters, all of which are strung together by a primary plot with a cold-blooded antagonist. Hunter’s life, and the lives of those he loves, are threatened by a deadly arsonist with even deadlier help. The Lord’s Firefighter weaves supernatural elements into a realist story of faith, offering advice not only for a Christian’s day-to-day struggles, but also for the Christian’s violent spiritual battles, with a touch of southern atmosphere and charm.

Christians may find this novel a useful tool in remembering key points to use in evangelical dialogues with non-Christian friends. Calvin covers topics in Christian life ranging from marriage to materialism to apologetics and proffers powerful encouragement for those who might be straying from their professed faith. For the non-Christian, however, The Lord’s Firefighter will unlikely grab or hold any attention. The plot is thick with holes and the supernatural nature of the villains may alienate potential non-religious audiences. There are also some perplexing implications about Christianity that emerge in the backdrop of the villain’s rise to infamy. Readers will be strung along from fire scene to fire scene, and without a previously-existing attentiveness to Christian doctrine, which fills the rest of the dialogue and plot, there will be little to engage a long-lasting interest.


The Process: He Restores My Soul by Barbara Nethery


process‘A book about real life’ The Process: He Restores My Soul is an inspirational self-help book that challenges the reader to look at their lives, and strip down their soul to its very foundation, to build it back up again and make a positive change to move forward in life. Author Barbara Nethery uses the power of prayer and encouraging words in order to bring about a change in the readers who follow along with this insightful and easy to follow book. The Process takes the reader on a journey as they move through the different chapters that each explain a different element on how to rebuild one’s confidence, happiness, and over all well-being back up again. The author encourages the reader to take themselves back to the beginning, always focusing on where we started, to better understand where we are headed. The role of the family and how different members of one’s surroundings can affect personal growth are also discussed, as is repairing the damage that may have already been done.

This book would be helpful for anyone who is feeling lost, and looking to re-establish their sense of faith. While there are many positive messages throughout the book, it is certainly focused on finding strength through the Lord. While the heavy religious tones may not appeal to all, it will certainly be enjoyed by those who already have a strong sense of faith, or for those who are looking to become stronger in their beliefs. The book is not overly long, and it is very easy to get through. The reader could even read it more than once to really make sure the messages Nethery offers hit home. If you’re looking for a religious self-help book to improve your overall well-being and quality of life, then this is the book for you!


Ripeness is All by Henry Carrier


ripenessPart memoir, part spiritual guide, Henry Carrier’s Ripeness is All: A Boomer’s Mirthful Spiritual Journey is the kind of book that tackles a lot of content, and succeeds in delivering a powerful, unifying message. A self-professed boomer, Carrier describes his life, from his years as a young child, all the way to the present day, sharing his insights in wisdom on some of the most important decades in human history. He covers events such as Vietnam and the Civil Rights movement, and shifts in perspective like counterculture and postmodernism. While a great deal of the book focuses on religion and spirituality, as Carrier aims to present a contemporary understanding of religion that he hopes will appeal to both believers and non-believers, there are a lot of intimate moments in the book that are personal memories Carrier decides to share with the reader. Such instances include the effect that using marijuana had on his psyche, how he was corrected online by a stranger about his ideas on what the story of Noah’s ark truly meant, and descriptions from his trip to India, just to name a few.

This book is very wide in its scope, but somehow, Carrier is able to bring all of the different elements together to create an entertaining and delightful read. There are times when the constant mention of religion and theology may rub some readers the wrong way, especially if they are non-believers, but the way Carrier presents his ideas is never abrasive. He does not shy away from questioning commonly held Christian beliefs, instead trying as we all do, to understand the world we live in, and how religion, and the potential for an afterlife affects our every day experience. In a way, the subtitle for this book also explains that the reader will be going on a ‘spiritual journey’ as they follow along with the words that Carrier has written. There is a lot of content here, and although at times it can be somewhat overwhelming, as for the most part all of these stories and anecdotes come from the mind of one man, it is an interesting tale that he is telling. If you are keen on exploring ideas on spirituality, religion, culture, and politics from a different perspective than your own, then this may just be the book for you.


From the Break to the Breakthrough by Monica Ceasar


From the Break to the Breakthrough by Monica Ceasar is a book about the power of having God in your life. It focuses a lot on being positive and moving forward through the hard times that life throws at you. The author uses a few of her own life experiences, such as a break-up and not getting a job, to show how it is possible with God’s help to move past similar set-backs. The book is filled with familiar metaphors that the author uses to portray how a person should remain positive and never stop trying in life.

The book is constantly giving advice such as don’t waste your love on someone who is not loving you back, cut negative people out of your life who will kill your dreams, and be sure to think at least one positive thought per day. While the suggestions are fine, someone who is going through any sort of extreme adversity may find that the words fall somewhat short and don’t apply well to their own life. The book is meant for a Christian audience, so anyone with another religious background would have trouble enjoying it. For a person who is Christian though, the book could serve as a nice reminder that God should be a central part of their lives, and should be considered and trusted in every aspect of it. It reminds the reader that life was not meant to be perfect, but with some faith and prayer better days are around the corner.


Almost a Millennium by Jeanbill


jeanbillTwo men from two different time periods have more in common than one may think. Fred, a successful 21st century physician, turns to atheism after struck by traumatic life events. Paul, a medieval monk, also has a traumatic life and struggles with his Christian faith. Closing a book of prayers and sermons with a four-page encoded section that includes a condensed autobiography of his life as well as his harsh critique of the crusades, Paul places the book in safekeeping in the hope that it will survive the crusades and eventually land in the hands of someone who can decipher his secrets. When Fred unexpectedly comes across Paul’s book and ciphers Paul’s cryptic message, he has no idea that four pages of millennial history will challenge him to rethink Christianity.

Jeanbills’ debut novel is replete with a wealth of medieval history and cryptology. Jeanbill opens with Fred who is unaware that he is heading toward a major turning point in his life. Immediately shifting gears, Jeanbill then takes readers to the life of a lowly farmer-turned-monk who lives on the peninsula of Glastonbury, England, during the dark ages. Jeanbill alternates character scenes between chapters and adds a good handful of supportive characters along the way. Yet as he develops Fred and Paul — his main characters — and attempts to build his story between these men, Jeanbill fills pages upon pages with interesting and captivating feudal and religious accounts. Unfortunately, Jeanbill’s collection of history takes precedence over the character ties between these two men of vastly different time periods. While readers with a fetish for history will undoubtedly be very impressed with Jeanbill’s research, they will be greatly disenchanted at how it throws off the storyline’s development.


Life is Beautiful by Sarah M. Johnson


lifeSarah M. Johnson shares a story of great personal tragedy and personal triumph in her spiritual memoir, Life is Beautiful: How a Lost Girl Became a True, Confident Child of God. It is a powerful and gripping story from the beginning. Yet, after reading the first chapter focused on the plane crash that took the lives of Sarah’s father and brother, the realization comes that the crash really isn’t the beginning of the story. Sarah flips back and forth, especially in the first half of Life is Beautiful, from reflections and descriptions of the plane crash, the deaths and the survivors, to life prior to her family’s trip to Guatemala. Her father had not often been present during the early years of her life. Yet, getting arrested for drugs and then bringing Sarah’s aunt home to die led to his transformation. He no longer wanted to take from others, but instead wanted to give back. This is why Sarah and her family flew to Guatemala. As the story jumps back and forth, you also come to realize that heavy drinking was a part of Sarah’s family culture. It is no surprise that she, too, tried to escape her issues through drinking. Between alcoholism, the tragic loss of her family, and the failure of her first year of college, she comes to realize she has tremendous work to do on herself. Throughout Life is Beautiful, she explores her connection or lack thereof to God. Eventually, she steps fully into her faith and finds herself walking life’s path with God at her side.

Life is Beautiful is very well-written even if the flipping back and forth between time frames is a bit perplexing at first. Sarah M. Johnson has an inspirational story to share with the world, and she has done an eloquent job of doing so. By sharing her story in such an open and honest way, Sarah shows readers they are not alone. She finds that there are others who are willing to be there and help her. Just as Sarah found guidance and help, she inspires others to do the same. Sarah M. Johnson truly expresses the concept that life can be beautiful no matter what has happened in our past.


Behind Closed Doors by Francis Anthony Quinn

closedBehind Closed Doors follows the lives of a group of young people in the San Francisco Bay Area. Set against a backdrop of today’s turbulent conflicts over celibacy, challenges to authority, sexual revolution and Church politics, this is a fascinating account of the failures and triumphs of three men and one woman, beginning with their high school seminary days. Ladd Franklin struggles with his celibacy vows before and after becoming a priest. His subsequent assignment in the International Relief Services brings him into critical encounters on several continents. Eventually he comes face to face with Soviet Union officials and is present in St. Peter’s Square at the time of the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II. David Carmichael is ambitious, looking forward to advancing his career and approaches his ministry with the future in mind. David is continually opposed by members of GOD (Guardians of Doctrine). Tyler Stone is sensitive, caring, and finds the demands of celibacy particularly burdensome. In the course of his priesthood, Tyler is accused of sexual molestation and is subsequently brought to trial.

Written in an engaging voice, Quinn draws you into each character and keeps you there. Getting to know each of the individuals enraptured within the story and read about how they deal with their respective life trials is an interesting journey through the evolution in the Catholic Church. Told in a creative memoir form this fictional-autobiography gives the impression that each character is independent, yet connected in a deep way. Witnessing their growth, triumphs, failures, and sacrifices gives each character the authenticity that so many writers never achieve. Your heart will break with each tragedy and rejoice in every success.


The Promise: Or, The Pros and Cons of Walking with God by Sean Paul Murphy


Sean Paul Murphy shares an interesting story of his life from hearing God’s messages, apparent promises, and directions to facing his own human death.  In his memoir, The Promise, or The Pros and Cons of Talking With God: A story of first faith and first love and how the two became almost fatally intertwined, Murphy explores his personal experiences. He writes of having a strong Christian faith and being a believer and a sinner, but he also shares that just because he can hear God’s voice doesn’t make him more religious or more highly valued by God.  Murphy does share some strong opinions surrounding his religious beliefs however.  Mind you, as he says himself about a third of the way through the book there is a “gray area we create for ourselves between His sovereignty and our own free will.”

The Promise, or The Pros and Cons of Talking With God was penned because, according to Sean Paul Murphy, God told him to write about his personal experiences of living in that gray area. It is a well-written book that shares exactly that. You, the reader, are given the premise of this memoir from early on and are not likely to be disappointed as you page through Murphy’s spiritual journey.  At times you might think he is a little bit crazy or needs psychological help, but he is very clear that he is not concerned about that.  Instead, his point was to be open and honest in his sharing. Within this memoir amongst Murphy’s journey, amidst his struggles and realizations and conversations with his sovereign deity, you can discover powerful inspiration for your own life no matter your spiritual beliefs or lack there of. 


Walking with Elijah: The Fable of a Life Journey and a Fulfilled Soul by Doobie Shemer


Walking with Elijah: The Fable of a Life Journey and a Fulfilled Soul was crafted by Doobie Shemer based upon his shamanic journeying experiences.  Elijah is the spiritual teacher that Doobie met upon his first shamanic journey while at a weekend retreat focused on introducing others to shamanism.  In his book, Walking with Elijah, he elegantly shares his conversations with his teacher – his questions, and Elijah’s responses.  Throughout the chapters he breaks down various aspects of humanity, souls and the spiritual realms that many have questions around from heaven to soul mates to the different levels of souls, which according to Shemer, include angels.

Now practicing shamanism on a regular basis, Doobie Shemer has created a well-written rendition of his personal shamanic journeys.  Within Walking with Elijah, he shares his experiences in, what shamans call the lower world, the middle world and the upper world.  There is a good deal of intriguing communication between Shemer and his teacher, Elijah, and spiritual guide, Hilla.  However, it is exceptionally important to remember that these stories shared with you, the reader, are simply that – stories.  They come through the author’s human filters.  Our grasp of this “fable of a life journey” is that it is meant to share inspiration and different potentialities for the reader to ponder.  It feels like a good read to help others expand their own thoughts, and recognize that something else may exist beyond what they believed to be the exact end all, be all.  Shemer does a great job of writing in a simplified way that allows you, the reader, to explore the possibilities of your own path with interest and freedom.


A Life Worth Living by Valerie Garland


A Life Worth Living by Valerie Garland is a collection of spiritual stories and anecdotes that reflect the love, power, and compassion of Jesus Christ. Full of scripture passages that relate to what the author is reflecting on in her own words, Garland has put together a book that is full of praise and devotion to the wonders of God and his one begotten son. The author tells the reader about her own life as a wife and mother, the triumphs and tribulations she has undergone, and how her strong faith has gotten her through the difficulties we sometimes face in life. Garland explores the power of faith, prayer, prophecy, and even dreams. Coming in at only around fifty pages, this is a quick religious read that followers of the Christian faith will find appealing.

This book is extremely religious in nature, and would most appeal to those who are devout Christians, or to someone who is feeling lost in their life, and looking for the guidance offered by the church and through the unending love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ. Many of the passages in this book read as sermons or homilies, with the author showcasing her beliefs in the Lord, and how this belief has given her strength.  Due to the very powerful proclamations the author makes, this book is probably not for everyone, and may turn off readers who are not already followers of Christ. We’d recommend this more for those who are already avid believers in Christian principles and ideals.


The Last Sin by James C. Nwabueze


The Last Sin by James C. Nwabueze starts off with a very confusing opening scene. It is quite hard to follow. Yet, the reader can grasp that the devout Christian believers and those who oppose the idea of Heaven and Hell are at a point of intense conflict. One could say this isn’t a new occurrence, however, this is the core theme for Nwabueze’s story. One might even call it a war. This story is filled with pastors and bishops engaging in the exact sins they preach against day in and day out. Sexual escapades and affairs abound. At times the deeply faithful even begin to doubt their trust in God or in the things they have been taught. Throughout the story the characters face challenges around their own sexuality and sexual desires. They genuinely believe these feelings and desires make them sinners if they were not already sinners. They continue to ask for guidance and help from God to forgive them and support them in avoiding the temptations of the flesh. Nearly every character experiences deep turmoil to the point of weeping as they try to understand and balance their desires with their perceptions of God’s views about sex.

There is a strong theme within this story that sex, in almost any form, is a sin. The author places exceptionally strong Christian beliefs within the majority of the characters. The story line is a bit confusing at times while the secrets and apparent sins abound. In fact, there are points where it really seems as though there are two stories instead of just one. If the reader has the patience to stay with the story, they will discover how it all comes together in the end.


The Blood of God by Darin Bowler

four stars

The Blood of God: Appreciating and Applying the Remedy for Your Sins by Darin Bowler is a religious and spiritual self-help book that aims to guide people to the saving power and forgiveness that a belief in Jesus Christ consists of. A Bible teacher and an associate pastor at Lodi Christian Life in Lodi, California, Bowler clearly holds a great deal of knowledge about scripture and Christian teachings. The lessons that he explains within this book can be applied to every day life to help those who have lost their way. Bowler claims that the reason many people give up on themselves and on God himself is because they do not have a clear understanding or appreciation of the fundamental saving power of the blood of Jesus Christ. This book is broken down into five easy to follow chapters that offer up Bible passages and then sections of explanations dissecting what they mean in a way that any reader can digest and understand with ease.

As Bowler explains, the Bible is a rather practical book, it does not go into super flowery language or descriptions, instead it gives the reader truths in order to guide them towards the way in which they should live. This is the kind of self-help book that could be useful to anyone who feels lost and without hope. If you are searching for something to believe in, then the teachings of Christianity, of love, and a belief in God and Jesus Christ may be something that can help to heal your soul. And as Bowler explains in his book, The Blood of God, Jesus sacrificed himself on the cross so that we could all be saved and find peace in his strength.


The Cloister Door by Victoria Hughes


In The Cloister Door, Victoria Hughes tells the beautiful story of Maryanne. We first meet Maryanne at the age of eighteen. Maryanne is known to be wild, but what most people do not realize is Maryanne is deeply religious, as she attends church regularly and is fascinated by nuns. She only behaves wildly in an attempt to fit in with the behavior of her divorced mother and her older sister. Maryanne begins to visit a group of cloistered nuns and is called to join but resists, instead going off to college because she is offered a full scholarship. She tells the nuns that it must be God’s will she attend college, even though deep down she believes she is simply not good enough to serve God. The story moves forward and we follow Maryanne, now in her thirties, in her career as a flight attendant. It is not until Maryanne has an abortion that she begins to return to the church and finally heeds God’s call and enters the monastery. Maryanne believes this is the end of her story, but it is really just the beginning. Maryanne’s life in the monastery is just as difficult as it was out in the world, and she must learn to live not only with God, but also with her sisters in Christ. Ultimately, Maryanne learns she must not only forgive herself, but also accept the forgiveness of God if she is to be a true member of the community.

Hughes tells a compelling story in beautifully phrased prose that enthralls the reader from the very beginning. The story is interesting even for those who are not inclined to the spiritual; Hughes paints a captivating and realistic picture of monastic life. Maryanne’s fears and the reactions of her friends and family are thoroughly explored and realistically portrayed. The real draw of the story, however, is Maryanne, and the heartfelt depiction of her spiritual journey. The reader will worry about her, root for her, and cheer her on through every twist and turn that life, and God, throws at her.


In His Way by Rebecca Duvall

When the going gets tough, the tough get going. We’ve all heard this old saying before, though we frequently misunderstand it. It’s not to say that, when the going gets tough, the tough approach life with abandon, but, rather, that they approach it with new found dedication and a determination to find solutions… Such is the case with Rebecca Duvall, who, like many of us, found herself in a trying marriage. She’d been married before, and, when her first marriage hit the rocks, she hit the road. But, when she committed herself to her second husband, Robert, she took their vows more seriously, particularly when they were challenged. In sickness and in health, through both still and troubled waters, from infidelity to insecurity, she stuck by her husband, and he by her, and remained married, where others might very well have given up entirely. How did she do it? She found faith in God and support from His followers—and she found strength and grit within herself, which allowed her to fix what was broken and discover renewed purpose, happiness, and understanding.

In His Way by Rebecca Duvall chronicles Rebecca’s journey toward God and away from the idea of a “throwaway marriage.” An introspective and insightful memoir replete with Christian themes and thinking, it’s incredibly inspirational and uplifting and is sure to appeal to anyone who’s lost confidence in the institution of marriage, as well as to those looking for stories that shed the light of hope on otherwise bleak horizons. It reminds readers that, with God, all things are possible and that, despite what divorce rates and courtship horror stories may indicate, love and companionship are always worth saving.


Success is Your Birthright: God’s Success by R. Stanton Tucker

birthrightSuccess Is Your Birthright: God’s Success by R. Stanton Tucker is a spiritual book that takes the reader on an emotional journey as they are forced to examine their lives and choices as they try to understand the true meaning of existence. The biblical story of Joseph is the guiding force of this expedition, as it is retold within the pages of this narrative with great fervor. As Joseph’s biography unfolds on the page, we read about his struggles and triumphs, which are filtered through a lens that causes us to reexamine our faith. Ideas about humanity, God, and religion as a whole are explored in this book in a variety of ways. As the back of the book claims, this work may help you find a spiritual awakening, build your confidence, bring about inner growth, offer encouragement through difficult times, challenge what  you previously held as true, open up closed hearts, and demonstrate love. Clearly, this is book that is full of a great deal of hope.

An entirely Christian work of non-fiction with many elements of self-help abounding on its pages, Birthright tackles a great deal of material. Luckily, Tucker has succeeded in keeping the book organized and focused, as the pages continue on, the ideas he gives to the reader are presented in a straightforward and mind-opening manner. It appears that his main goal is to strengthen the wills of others through faith in God, and through his examples and arguments, he does a rather good job at achieving what he wishes to. A book that could be helpful to anyone who is suffering, or experiencing a low point in their lives, Birthright brings about a shining light.


Gilgamesh: The New Translation by Gerald J. Davis

A story older than the Bible, the Iliad, and other ancient works, The Epic of Gilgamesh is a story that has been passed down through countless of generations throughout the ages. It tells the story of the fifth king of the first dynasty of Uruk, a kingdom that existed in what is now present day Iraq. This king reigned for one hundred and twenty-six years according to the legend. Originally written on clay tablets by an unknown author, the story has been considered one of the best works of literature, as it recounts man’s never-ending quest of finding immortality. Author Gerald J. Davis, explores this epic narrative and combines the work of previous scholars to make the story more easily understandable and accessible to today’s current reading population. By presenting the text in long lines of prose instead of in more restricted verse, the book is made a far easier read that therefore preserves the meanings from the original work itself.

Davis is an author who has great experience putting together books such as this one, as he has also created a new translation for classics such as Beowulf and Don Quixiote. He has a skill at finding the true spirit of a tale, and dissecting it down to something even more pure, before putting the pieces back together in an organized and insightful manner. The research that went into this project is highly evident from the detailed and complex structure that Davis explores throughout the book. All in all, this is a very well polished work that readers of history, ancient times, and epic tales will be sure to dissect with pleasure.


The Profound Truth of Divine Existence by Paul Brewster

We all have questions about life, death, and the universe at large, but we don’t always ask them, because, when we do, we’re usually unsatisfied or uncomfortable with what we are told. Certain threads of philosophy tell us we are nothing; several spiritual schools tell us we are everything; and science, for the most part, merely tells us about the molecules out of which we are made. These different ways of thinking are hard to digest on their own and even harder to stomach when taken together in one shot – but ‘The Profound Truth of Divine Existence’ by Paul Brewster brings them together in new ways that are intelligent, insightful, and sure to go down with ease. An entirely enthralling text, it thoroughly examines essential dichotomies – such as those between the mind and consciousness, past and present, reality and perception, knowledge and knowing, and the earthly and the divine – and shows how our understanding of them is frequently, and fundamentally, flawed. As it breaks down the walls we’ve erroneously erected to divide our thoughts, it picks up the pieces and puts them in proper place, positioning them alongside bedrocks of philosophy, religion, science, and the humanities, to lay the foundation for a new path that leads to enlightenment, healing, personal wholeness, and peace.

One of the basic premises proffered in ‘The Profound Truth of Divine Existence’ is that the human mind only uses a fraction of its DNA to perceive the universe, whereas Jesus used one-hundred percent of his – so, it follows, if we are to achieve divine consciousness, we must activate all of our DNA, which requires both recalibrated focus and deliberate reflection. The same can be said, in analogous terms, of this book, itself. Most books on the modern market are written to a middle-school reading level, at best. ‘The Profound Truth of Divine Existence,’ however, is not. The breadth of topics covered, the depths to which each is explored, and Brewster’s highly structured writing style all require more attention than we’re used to giving books these days. In other words…this book may be a little heavy, but it’s well worth its weight.


Ashley’s Apocalypse by Jordin Gardner

‘Ashley’s Apocalypse’ is a 102 page novella concerning the trials and tribulations of the titular protagonist, her friends, and her family in the wake of a possibly government-induced zombie apocalypse. Fans of AMC’s hit show ‘The Walking Dead’ will feel right at home with this quick read, albeit ‘Ashley’s Apocalypse’ is much less concerned with the blood-and-guts atmosphere of such an event than the disintegration of Ashley’s notions of who she is and what she can believe in. When the book opens, Ashley is an intelligent, quirky high school student with a loving set of parents and sisters and one sister-like female best friend, Alex. As the novella progresses, Ashley’s experiences whittle away her pre-catastrophe identity until she must be saved from a suicide attempt by the story’s male hero, Paul.

The story of ‘Ashley’s Apocalypse’ is nothing new. A coming-of-age tale set in an apocalyptic event has been done many times before. However, the tale of two sisters being torn apart, changing, and reuniting adds an interesting flavor to the plot. The males in the story can only represent the best and worst of masculinity; not just in a zombie-infested wasteland, but in any heterosexual relationship. There are some parts in the story where more extrapolation is needed, not necessarily for gore’s sake in the zombie violence scenes (although that wouldn’t be unwelcome, either), but characters change at the drop of a hat. It takes two pages total for Ashley to lose her rock-solid faith in God and get it back. That scene alone could have taken up much more space. This lack of descriptive imagery and the hesitance to dive into a character’s brain for at least a few pages takes weight away from events in these characters’ lives that should be monumental, earth-shattering, life-changing things end up feeling a bit more shallow than they should. Overall, there’s a lot that could be done with this story, as the narrative has a lot of potential. The book could easily be 250 pages, and I’d love to read elaborations on all the great scenes that the author has cooked up. ‘Ashley’s Apocalypse’ is a quick and engaging read for Christian teens, but could’ve been much more.


Tales of My Large, Loud, Spiritual Family by Katherine Agranovich, Ph.D.

tn-tn-dpt-et-the-latest-1-jpg-20140418Growing up in Minsk behind the cold veil of the Iron Curtain, Katherine Agranovich’s most fervent desire is to become a doctor – but after years of hard work, study, and optimism for her own future, Katherine is laughed out of her interview with the college’s bigwigs, her application stamped with a vibrant red “REJECTED” just because she is a Jew, and a non-practicing Jew at that!  Immediately, she recalls all the times she had been bullied by her classmates as a child, ostracized from the group by her religion.  How could these terribly unfair things still be happening to her as an adult?  Yet, despite Katherine’s somewhat disadvantaged upbringing, her future holds some bright opportunities.  Just a few short weeks after her medical college rejection, she goes on a date with her future husband, Felix, and the couple leaps at the chance to immigrate to the United States where they can live their lives both freely and happily.  Soon, Katherine and Felix start growing their family, and the house becomes comfortably crowded with love and laughter – which isn’t to say that the Agranovich clan doesn’t face its own share of hardships.  There is Katherine’s daughter, Jessica, who is born with a rare blood condition that causes the young girl undue amounts of pain.  And Felix’s business partner reveals himself to be far less generous than the family had believed.  But the Agranovich’s soon learn that every tragedy also offers opportunity, and Katherine and her family gradually come to know the pervasive spiritual forces that govern their lives, sending everyone on a lifelong journey of self-discovery.

Tales of My…Family is a quirky, eye-opening non-fiction account that challenges readers to remain open-minded.  But even the book’s own author acknowledges that certain encounters with spiritual beings – among them an angelic financial advisor and a diminutive plant fairy – seem too ludicrous to be real.  However it is taken, Tales of My…Family sparkles with warmth, humor, and teachable moments that will undoubtedly encourage introspection in its readers.  In the end, Agranovich is not asking us to adopt her family’s admittedly nontraditional outlook on life – she is merely asking that we remain open to the beauty and mystery of the world that surrounds us, both seen and unseen.


Reason to Hope by Amanda Peter

Screen Shot 2014-07-13 at 6.38.48 PMReason to Hope is the true story of Amanda Peter who with each step of her lifelong spiritual journey grew in faith and strength. Growing up in South Africa, she writes how each moment of her life would lead her to the present- married happily in London. Despite having a bright future in South Africa with her first love, she decided to forsake the freedoms and pleasures we all take for granted and don the hood in order to become a nun in the Catholic Church. This experience would take her all over the world, from Italy to New Jersey, and expose her to the lives of saints, esoteric religious texts, and a deep understanding of the Catholic faith. After years in the church, she would work closely with Mother Theresa, and it would affect her life greatly.

Emotional, thoughtful, and spiritually enlightening, Reason to Hope shows the moments of Amanda’s life with honesty and openness. Each chapter presents how her faith expanded from infantile fantasies of sainthood to maturity and inner peace. While the memoir format lacks a certain narrative arc with clear rising and falling actions, the details and images are far from lacking. Amanda Peter manages to show her life without glamorizing her struggles, humbly showing the reader what and why she believes even all these years later. This book is perfect for those who are curious about faith, Catholicism, the convent, or even just a different side of life that is rarely portrayed in our modern era. Its call for hope is an inspiration for all.


Ora’s Odyssey by Ora Mor

91q2ldHDvbL._SL1500_Ora Mor has an incredible story to tell, captured here in her photographic memoir entitled “Ora’s Odyssey.”  Ora’s story begins in the American Southwest, where she is born into a family populated with larger-than-life characters.  There is Ora’s grandmother, who seems to contain boundless joy and youth, letting out whoops at the supermarket deli counter; Ora’s mother and father, the latter an argumentative man whose views on religion cast a tense cloud over the clan; her many brothers and sisters; and a whole crew of warm-hearted critters.  As Ora grows into her womanhood, she begins to question her father’s religious dictations, feeling herself drawn toward Judaism instead of Christianity.  Eventually, she summons the courage required to break away from her father’s domineering grip and strike out on her own, forging a life for herself out of sheer ambition and positive energy.

At times, Ora’s story seems nearly too fantastical to believe, bringing to mind similar family narratives like Big Fish that place an emphasis on embellishment.  Ora’s father, for example, is bitten by a black widow spider during the dead of night, though the rough-tempered man miraculously survives the spider’s poison – but that is also this story’s appeal.   The author paints her family in bold, vibrant brushstrokes that elevate Ora’s Odyssey and prevent it from becoming just another American memoir.  Readers will find themselves entirely invested in Ora’s future, and will draw inspiration from one woman’s journey toward spiritual, familial, and personal happiness.  This is a remarkable story that branches off in unexpected yet wholly satisfying directions – just like life.


The Seal of the King by Ralph Smith

Ralph Smith’s Seal of the King is an epic adventure that tells the story of Aurora and David, two lovers who will follow their faith anywhere. Reminiscent of Stephen King’s The Stand, Aurora and David must fight the most classic battle of them all: Good versus Evil. When Aurora and David’s worlds first collide they discover that their pure love for each other, combined with their unwavering faith in the Lord, may just give them the strength they need to overcome the Dark One and save both of their worlds from corruption, pain, and suffering. In the process, they discover many of the beautiful things that life and love have to offer them, the very things that may be worth the ultimate sacrifice to save.

Seal of the King is a fun and pleasant read, though at times it seems that it is much more focused on the deep spiritual connection that Aurora and David’s love creates than it is about purifying the world and destroying evil for good. By the end of the novel, there is no question that Aurora and David are the most perfect couple ever created and that anyone would be lucky to have a relationship half as loving and committed as theirs. While there are times that this feels like a bit too much, verging on overkill, perhaps they are just the power couple that their worlds have been waiting for.


God’s Only Savior by John Turnbull

God’s Only Savior: The Holy Spirit that Dwells in Everyone by John Turnbull is a meticulously crafted work that is the product of many years of careful research. After the death of Turnbull’s wife in 1982, Turnbull focuses his eyes inward, upon himself, and begins a spiritual journey in search of answers and clarity. Turnbull delicately dissects and breaks down the chapters of the bible, noting the differences that exist between the multiple versions of the bible, such as the spelling of names, dates of events, and even varying parallel stories. Turnbull then uses secondary resources, such as the dead sea scrolls and the Damascus Documents, to bring as much truth and light to each chapter as possible. As much as Turnbull began his journey as a man of the Christian faith, he researches with the eyes of a scientist, noting the significance of even the smallest detail and slowly revealing the roots of Christianity and his belief that all people will eventually be saved through an Ultimate Reality.

Turnbull’s work should not be expected to be an easy read, especially for those who are not already very familiar with the doctrine of Christianity, the chapters of the bible, and various biblical figures. Nevertheless, Turnbull dissects many of the big ideas we all wonder about in an interesting and readable way, contemplating how the main beliefs of Christianity came to be. One should begin reading knowing that some questions will be given answers, some questions will not, and new questions will arise in the process.


Cafeteria Covenant by Dee Emeigh

In twenty-first century America it is rare to find an individual who is unfamiliar with the basic practices and beliefs of Christianity. The golden rule, which is often a fundamental teaching in elementary schools, can be found at Matthew 7:12. Christian philosophies are so ingrained in our culture that most of us may even forget they are there. In Cafeteria Covenant, Dee Marvin Emeigh uses her life experiences to depict how this easy access, cookie-cutter ‘understanding’ of Christianity can actually dilute the true meaning of the bible and what it means to be a believer in the Christian faith. Emeigh draws great insights from the obstacles that she has encountered in her experiences with faith and finds many problems that can exist in the church, in fellow Christians, and in various interpretations of the bible. However, Emeigh does not lose her faith, she grows stronger and clearer in it. She learns that sometimes blocking out the noise, even if it comes from a widely-respected or well-intentioned place, can open us up to what God is actually saying. Emeigh speaks against Christians who simply bob along in the flow instead of letting the water stream through them.

For anyone who has ever questioned their own faith or felt estranged in a place that they thought should have been their spiritual home, Cafeteria Covenant is a must read. For those who are new to the faith or even unbelievers, Emeigh’s book is a good place to go so as not to be bogged down in jargon and feelings of blame or worthlessness. Cafeteria Covenant is thought provoking and will leave the reader feeling renewed in their understanding of faith and what it means to carry out God’s will.


Realm of the Unknown by James McPike

Realm of the Unknown by James McPike is an intense thriller, laced with mystery and biblical intrigue, reminiscent of the works of author Dan Brown. When a crowd of people in Israel is unexplainably killed, Vince Ramsey is called in to investigate. Many people are convinced that a supernatural force has caused the deaths, which leads Ramsey onto a quest to find the answers. In a short time he stumbles across an ancient artifact, which might contain the answers he is looking for. After meeting historical specialist April Fulton, the two decide to journey on together, to try and find out what is really going on, as they are traced and hunted by deadly assassins every step of the way. Hoping to solve the riddle and come out with their lives, they race to uncover the truth, finally coming face to face with an unknown and unbelievable evil that has previously only ever been spoken about in the Book of Revelation.

This novel combines the elements of a thriller, historical fiction, and mystery, all the while sprinkling biblical references and theories throughout. The clues to the conclusion are littered throughout the story, offering tidbits of information to the reader to absorb as they continue to flip through the fast paced pages. This narrative is a joy to read, and the characters of Vince and April have great chemistry together that is explored fully by McPike. The rollercoaster moments of the book keep coming, and although the ending is somewhat of a surprise, it did feel a bit abrupt in its timing. However, overall, this is a well thought out tale that will make the reader asking for more. This could definitely be the start of a very exciting new thriller series.


The Tower of Sarah by Ben Eden

When Sarah Bridges comes to on the roof of a towering skyscraper, she knows something is wrong immediately. Not only is she wondering about how she arrived to this strange spot, but she is also forced to contemplate the otherworldly forces that seem to be surrounding her. Eddie Conroy, who just lost his wife, is struck with pain yet again when his young son is abducted. Things come full circle when firefighter Doug Underwood finds Sarah’s house on fire, and her unconscious body floating in the swimming pool. These are the pieces that fit together to start off the suspenseful thriller, ‘The Tower of Sarah’ by Ben Eden. This Christian themed novel explores the ideas presented in Genesis, as the tower Sarah finds herself perched upon is just like the one the bible describes. The lost souls of Earth float to the tower’s roof, where they are eventually taken away into a never ending eternity. Sarah isn’t dead though, so she has an unusual opportunity to use her place within the void to find her attacker and prevent him from causing any more pain. Perhaps he is guilty of more than just what he has done to her? As the pages of this novel rush by, Sarah tries to bring justice before her spirit slips away from her body forever.

This novel successfully mixes suspense with Christian themes, interweaving the two together in a realistic way. Although the story is rather dark in parts, it still shines through with good messages about faith and believing in not only a higher power, but believing in yourself as well. The main characters are dutifully painted as they forge forward trying to find peace for themselves and those around them. The symbols within the story that Eden uses to represent Christianity are plentiful, and they tie the narrative together without overwhelming the reader. Even just as a story on its own, without the meshing of different ideas, this is a tale of merit that any reader will find enjoyable to navigate and explore.


Of Lions and Lambs by Vanessa Canevaro

Of Lions and Lambs is the story of Sophia, a young nun-in-training at the Sisters of Holy Redemption convent.  A caring, compassionate woman, Sophia has trouble sleeping at night, plagued by nightmares of a biblical and cataclysmic nature. Seeking the truth behind these terrible visions of Armageddon, she asks the convent’s priest for help, and together the pair realizes that a devastating chain of events has been set into motion, an ancient evil slowly awakening and out for vengeance against the whole of humankind. Over the following hours and days, Sophia witnesses a series of dark omens that seem to point to a long-lost prehistoric artifact as our only hope for survival. She learns that entire tracts of history have been omitted from the Bible, and it is up to her to uncover the truth and fit together the missing pieces of the past before time runs out.  Despite what you may have heard, it turns out that ignorance isn’t always bliss.  Sometimes it’s death.

‘Lambs’ is author Vanessa Canevaro’s first foray into the world of historical fiction, and it is utterly fantastic.  Interspersed with short vignettes featuring familiar biblical faces like Adam and Eve, Lazarus, and Mary Magdalene, this novel reads like a Dan Brown novel with a welcomed delicate touch.  “Lambs” reimagines the origins of our species, taking the reader on an adventure across ages and continents that is part thriller, part folktale.  The action starts off a bit confusingly – with a prologue that effectively establishes the conflict, while also muddying up the narrative’s waters – but, overall, “Lambs” is a beautiful, imaginative piece of fiction and a terrific maiden voyage for Canevaro.