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Grace: A Bigger View of God's Love

Randy Alcorn. Harvest House, $12.99 (224p) ISBN 978-0-7369-6746-4

Alcorn (Heaven), the founder and director of Eternal Perspective Ministries, offers more than 200 daily thoughts to help readers better understand God's many-faceted grace. Each brief entry offers a Bible verse, some thoughts about it (one to several paragraphs in length), and an inspirational quote. The book doesn't try to redefine grace, but rather explains that the gift of grace isn't something to be taken for granted, and helps readers wrap their heads around the hard-to-understand concept that God loves and forgives all of us without condition. Understanding that gift, these passages suggest, can lead readers to view themselves as sinners who are well loved, and serve as a catalyst and example for how to extend grace to others both in and outside of the church. Alcorn often contemplates daunting concepts such as having to confront sin that's contemplated or committed in the best interests of another person. At other times the message is much more winsome, as when, on a Christmas morning, he ponders the wondrous gift of redemption. Alcorn effectively demonstrates how grace itself allows believers to understand the nature of being given a gift that no one could never deserve. (July)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Heart Made Whole

Christa Black Gifford. Zondervan, $16.99 trade paper (208p) ISBN 978-0-310-34649-4

In this compulsively readable entreaty, Gifford, a speaker, songwriter, and blogger, urges readers to invite God into the midst of their most painful circumstances in order to experience healing at the heart level. Sharing her own experiences with trauma, betrayal, and the death of her infant daughter, she describes how easily people can guard their hearts from God and explains how she finally learned to run toward God instead and lay her hurts and disappointments bare in front of him. Gifford also weaves in scriptures from a variety of paraphrases and translations of the Bible, hoping to help readers understand how God has designed their hearts to speak and guide them toward deeper intimacy with him. Gifford's authentic voice and willingness to be transparent make her work an invitation to deep heart transformation for anyone who is holding it together on the outside but feeling roiled by life's darker moments. (June)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Vegangelical: How Caring for Animals Can Shape Your Faith

Sarah Withrow King. Zondervan, $16.99 trade paper (176p) ISBN 978-0-310-52237-9

Evangelical public policy activist King (Animals Are Not Ours [No Really, They're Not]) ambitiously makes a case for veganism and animal rights to an evangelical Christian audience that may not have thought much about the biblical significance of animals except as sacrifice and meat. King reexamines some key theological concepts, such as dominion, and major doctrinal arguments about the kingdom of God and reconciliation, using language that evangelicals will be comfortable with in order to move readers to reflect about animal welfare. Her theological analysis is more provocative and successful than the rest of the book, which relies on shocking anecdotes about horribly mistreated animals at zoos, pet stores, research labs, and factory farms. Considerable existing literature critiques animal treatment, especially in food production; a growing body of literature of ecospirituality also considers the dignity and place of animals in God's creation. For her audience, King's argument may be innovative, but those outside evangelical circles who have religiously motivated concern for the earth will find this work under-researched and longer on shock value than ethical provocation. (June)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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A Woman's Place: A Christian Voice for Your Calling in the Office, the Home, and the World

Katelyn Beaty. Howard, $22.99 (272p) ISBN 978-1-4767-9409-9

Beaty, Christianity Today's first female managing editor, writes eloquently on the potentially divisive topic of women entering the workforce in increasing numbers, which has transformed traditional conceptions of the place of women within the family unit. Beaty practically notes that all women work, whether caring for the family or earning money; it's simply their surroundings that change. In researching the book, Beaty discovered that most women feel torn between their jobs and family obligations. Citing theologians and Christian thinkers with various opinions about women treating vocational jobs as their callings, Beaty situates her main argument around Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In and considers how Christian women should balance responsibilities toward their families, their faith, and their own career ambitions. The book is written for a narrow audience; the women interviewed "tended to be at least middle class, have a college degree, live in or just outside urban areas, and be white." Readers will be treated to in-depth study from a scriptural perspective as Beaty traces the history of women and work through the ages. Beaty's work is certain to generate lively discussion and some personal soul-searching. (July)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Holy War: Cowboys, Indians, and 9/11s

Mark Cronlund Anderson. Univ, of Regina, $27.95 trade paper (340p) ISBN 978-0-88977-414-8

This provocative psychohistorical reflection on post-9/11 America posits that U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are merely the latest in a lengthy history of military engagements with which the perpetually traumatized nation regenerates itself through acts of violence that replicate frontier tropes. By exploring landmark moments in the U.S war against Mexico, the Marines' occupation of Nicaragua, the invasion of Vietnam, and the Reagan presidency, the book shows the European civilizer/savage narrative repeatedly recreated with different names and faces. Anderson, whose 2007 Cowboy Imperialism and Hollywood Film mines similar territory, meticulously illustrates how the interplay of mass media, government manipulation, and a complacent community of mainstream historians perpetuates the frontier myth of America as innocent victim, slow to anger, and reluctantly compelled to battle to defend its divine mission. Delivered with a confident, authoritative voice, the text can drift from heavily academic to downright colloquial, an unfortunate tonal inconsistency that may undermine some of its excellent arguments. But Anderson's persuasive contentions that the U.S. is always in need of an enemy (like some say God requires Satan) and trauma demands repetition is well supported by documentation explaining why peace is an exceptional state for the world's most powerful country. (June)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Enlightened Negotiation: 8 Universal Laws to Connect, Create, and Prosper

Mehrad Nazari. SelectBooks, $16.95 trade paper (256p) ISBN 978-1-59079-368-8

In this informative and illuminating book, Nazari, a business professor and meditation and yoga teacher, combines her areas of expertise to look at the many ways people negotiate, consciously and unconsciously, in everyday life. To show how to become more successful in reaching common ground, he shares personal stories that demonstrate "enlightened negotiation," which considers ethical and spiritual principles as well as business success. Nazari stresses that values such as truth, fairness, and compassion have a place in the boardroom. He identifies eight "laws" of enlightened negotiation: trust, intention, communication, strength, flexibility, manifestation, mindfulness, and reflections, each bringing its own challenges and rewards. He details each of these laws, showing how to generate intended outcomes and deal with unintended results. He also explores individual negotiating styles, the power of the spoken word, and the practice of ahimsa, which dictates doing no harm but allows for self-protection. Standing out in a crowded field of books on improving negotiation skills, Nazari's explanation of his uniquely soulful and mutually beneficial approach offers a way of reaching consensus while promoting reciprocal and self-affirming respect. (June)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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The Presidents & Their Faith: From George Washington to Barack Obama

Darrin Grinder and Steve Shaw. Elevate Faith, $16.99 trade paper (276p) ISBN 978-1-943425-24-2

Grinder and Shaw, professors at Northwest Nazarene University, here update their 2012 collected biography of the U.S. presidents to cover Obama's second term. Their thesis remains the same: to persuade citizens "to think carefully about the connection between faith and presidential leadership." With a skosh of humor, they crafted reports from personal, contemporary, and scholarly resources on each president, producing mini research papers laced with their opinions. Primary and secondary quotes handily serve as shuttlecocks for volleys, civil and un-, on presidents' worship habits or lack thereof. Grinder and Shaw report presidents' denominations and stands on religious freedom and racism, from slavery to civil rights, but not one word on sexism, not even when discussing why Carter left the Southern Baptists. They compare one president to another and make note of factoids (Lincoln was never baptized), becoming more voluble and opinionated about presidencies near the present day. As self-labeled "American Puritans," they become downright preachy at times, especially concerning Bill Clinton, while doing less to emphasize other presidents' comparable sins. Political history and religious history buffs will find ample fodder for speculation and continued research. (Aug.)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Escapology

Ren Warom. Titan, $14.95 trade paper (320p) ISBN 978-1-78565-091-8

Warom makes an impressive debut with this action-packed, post-apocalyptic, postmodern adventure, in which a skilled hacker attempts the ultimate digital heist. In the near future, massive land ships, remnants of a broken world, ply their trade across a global ocean, and the sprawling city of Foon Gung occupies the last patch of stable land in what used to be Asia. Shock Pao, a down-and-out "Haunt"—someone who can navigate the electronic realm known as the Slip without being seen—is pressed into service by a ruthless crime lord and winds up in the center of a society-shaking conflict involving gangs, assassins, and all-powerful AIs. The diverse characters and well-crafted setting breathe fresh life into the cyberpunk subgenre. Warom's language is dense, full of slang and complex character voices, but rewarding for its difficulty. "Curled up against the window like a squashed bug, Shock squints down at the tops of rain-swollen clouds, the plunging cliff-side drops of the 'scrapers, and half imagines he might be dying" is how readers meet the protagonist, who struggles with addiction and gender identity questions among many other concerns. The worldbuilding and narrative could be a little clearer and more straightforward, but readers will appreciate that this tale defiantly carves out its own identity. Agent: Jennifer Udden, Barry Goldblatt Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Last Call at the Nightshade Lounge

Paul Krueger. Quirk, $14.99 trade paper (288p) ISBN 978-1-594-74759-5

Krueger's enjoyable light contemporary fantasy novel will satisfy fans of bars and bartenders. Bailey Chen is fresh out of business school, but she has no plan, so she's living with her parents in Chicago and working at a bar where her lifelong friend Zane—with whom she shares emotional baggage that isn't quite in the past—is a bartender. When Bailey kills an attacking demonic creature called a tremens, she learns that bartenders have a far deeper history than most people know, and that drinks mixed with a specific brand of booze can temporarily give her magic powers to fight the monsters. Nobody believes her when she notices supposedly impossible things the creatures are doing that could signal an oncoming tremen apocalypse, and some of those she trusts may be more dangerous to her than demons. The rare action scenes are brief but intense, but even a flood of tremens takes a backseat to Bailey fighting her way through the shadowy bartenders' world. The climax seems a little too easy, but the winning main characters and the occasional histories of the drinks provide plenty of fun. Agent: Dawn Michelle Frederick, Red Sofa Literary. (June)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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Missed Connections

Tamara Mataya. Sourcebooks Casablanca, $6.99 mass market (320p) ISBN 978-1-4926-2121-8

Mataya's vapid novel holds little appeal for even the most flexible and generous fan of contemporary romances. Sarah visits the Missed Connections website several times a day, scrolling through posts about chance encounters and looking for her elusive Mr. Right. When an unknown admirer posts a message to her, she starts chatting with him online. At the same time, she hooks up with Jack, her best friend Pete's twin brother, and the sex is as amazing and sizzling as she'd always suspected it would be. She loves how Jack makes her feel sexy, but Sarah is judgmental and hung up on his supposed immaturity. Jack and Pete are both loyal, funny, and sweet, but it's perplexing why they put up with Sarah's narcissism and shallowness. And no matter how Sarah tries to justify it, she is cheating on Jack with her virtual admirer, and the fact that the relationship is completely online is irrelevant. Sarah makes a lot of excuses, wishing she could have an emotional connection with Jack, but she does nothing to take the relationship beyond the physical. Even Sarah's bosses and coworkers have more personality, and readers will have little tolerance for Sarah's whining about her job and love life. Agent: Nicole Resciniti, Seymour Agency. (June)

Reviewed on 07/01/2016 | Details & Permalink

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