Catching Up – Reading Challenge Mini Reviews, Part II

As you can see from my last entry, I am using my offline reading journal to catch up on some of what I’ve been reading in 2016. This time around, I’m closing out the year with mini reviews of all the other Challies Reading Challenge books I read.  And the 2017 Challies Challenge?  Why yes, I am definitely participating – but more on that next year. 😉

scared Book InformationScared: A Novel on the Edge of the World

Author – Tom Davis

Publication Information – David C. Cook (2010, $9.99 digital, $14.99 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a book about a current issue.

I realize that the “book about a current issue” prompt was probably meant to steer readers to a nonfiction book. However, two things led me to this novel instead. First of all, while reading my way through this challenge, I was trying to stick to books that I already had in my library since I have quite a backlog of books I need to read. And the second reason? Well, I had just finished reading and thinking my way through a work of theology and I really wanted to read a novel.

And what a novel it was. I have said in the past that I think there are ideas which can be brought home more vividly through fiction rather than nonfiction. That is exactly the case with Scared. This novel, which deals primarily with the AIDS crisis in Africa, not only teaches readers a lot about the issue at hand but also makes readers feel what this crisis does to our brothers and sisters overseas who must live with it.  Before reading this book, I knew factually that AIDS has ravaged – and continues to destroy – large chunks of the African continent. However, in this book, I found myself forced to face the specifics of this plague more closely and in such a way that one simply cannot comfortably ignore it or isolate oneself from it. The novel focuses on the character of Stuart Daniels, an award-winning photographer whose life has basically hollowed out. Daniels rose to fame with a snapshot of brutality in the Congo and haunted by it, his life has never been the same.  Now he finds himself in Swaziland covering the AIDS crisis on an assignment that will either help him find his way back or end his teetering career for good. It is in Swaziland that Daniels meets Adanna, a fatherless and impoverished girl trying desperately to survive but also to make the best of what God has given her. Through the eyes of Daniels and Adanna, we see deep poverty, the ever-present threat of disease, corruption and brokenness. And along the way, the author has his characters wrestle with the question of where God can be in all of this suffering, a journey that helped me grow in my faith as I spent time thinking about what I had read.  In the technical sense, Davis’ writing is sometimes a bit stilted and awkward, but the message of this novel is powerful. Rating: 4 stars


chosenbygod Book InformationChosen by God

Author – R. C. Sproul

Publication Information – Tyndale House (1994, $8.88 digital, $14.99 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a book about theology.

For my theology read, I chose to do a reread because this is an important book that I have been meaning to dig into again. Though raised with reformed teachings, I have to admit that at various times in my life, I have wrestled with the idea of predestination. I just couldn’t reconcile the idea that people are exhorted to follow Jesus with the idea that somehow we had been chosen all along. And frankly, I had trouble trying to understand the concept in a way that didn’t make God – whom I know deep in my heart to be all that is good – look mean-spirited.

And that is why this book is so important. Sproul explains doctrine in a way that is very accessible to readers like me, who aren’t theologians. Sproul pulls directly from Scripture to show not only how predestination works but why it’s an important concept to understand and how it emphasizes God’s power and sovereignty.   If you want to understand the concept of predestination better, this is definitely a book you will want to read.Sproul writes with firmness and conviction, and this book will have a permanent place in my library. Rating: 5 stars


tracesofguilt  Book InformationTraces of Guilt

Author – Dee Henderson

Publication Information – Bethany House (May 2016; $8.50 digital, $15.99 print)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a mystery or detective novel.

It’s been quite a while since I read one of Dee Henderson’s novels, and this one is fantastic. First in her new Evie Blackwell Cold Case series, the book introduces us to Evie Blackwell, an investigator with the Illinois State Police.

For her latest assignment, Evie has been sent to Carin, Illinois to help launch a task force aimed at re-investigating unsolved cases around the state. In the case of Carin, there are two troubling missing persons cases. Upon her arrival, Evie begins to work with local sheriff Gabriel Thane. Thane’s roots in the town run deep, and since he cares deeply for Carin and its residents, the missing persons investigations have a personal connection for him while Evie can be more detached. One case involves the missing child of a vacationing family, while the other centers on a local deputy and his entire family who disappeared twelve years previously after leaving for a camping trip. Not surprisingly, these cases have sent deep ripples through the entire community.

I found myself quickly sucked into this tale, and followed along with the characters as they persistently put together pieces of these old cases, trying to find their solutions. As I often do when reading mysteries, I found myself thinking about sin and about justice. In addition, since the lead characters at times consider the sacrifices their careers demand, I couldn’t help but think along these lines as well. This is one of those books that one can read purely for action or which can be read for a look at something deeper – and it’s very enjoyable either way. Rating: 4.5 stars

*Thank you to Bethany House and Netgalley, who provided me with a free copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.*


science-of-good-cooking  Book InformationThe Science of Good Cooking

Author – Cook’s Illustrated (America’s Test Kitchen)

Publication Information – Cook’s Illustrated (2012; $30.50 hardcover, $20.99 digital)

Reading Challenge Book? Yes. This is a book that someone told me “changed their life.”

This last challenge had me wracking my brain for several months this year because I really haven’t had many people describe books to me in these types of terms – or at least, not books I haven’t already read several times over myself. However, a friend of mine who is a stellar cook recommended this one and I gave it a try.

This 500 page tome is packed with good recipes, but also contains a good deal more than that. In addition to the recipes, the authors from America’s Test Kitchen describe in great detail the science behind various cooking techniques.  Knowing why something works and how to bring about a certain process in the kitchen has improved my cooking even when I’m not working from a recipe.

This book helped me to understand why browning a roast before throwing it into the slow cooker achieves a better level of flavor, why meat that has been allowed to rest before carving is juicier, what cooking techniques are best for tougher cuts of meat and so on. There are also some great baking tricks  in here, and explanations that have helped me rescue dishes from disaster. With a bit of practice, I(and most folks) can generally follow most recipes but this cookbook will take readers beyond that and bring them to a place where they can understand the theories underlying good recipes and therefore step up their cooking game. So, does this book change your life?  Well, it certainly has my family eating better food. Rating: 4.5 stars





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