God’s Answers to Life’s Difficult Questions by: Rick Warren

How does God help the stressed, the lonely, the depressed, among many other sufferers? Rick Warren addresses our most common emotional adversaries, and offers Biblical examples of God’s solution to them.

As a Christian, the Bible is the central source of information for me, so it’s imperative that self-help books like this utilize Bible verses as the foundation for their lessons. Warren does exactly that, doing one better than just verses. He uses the red letters in the New Testament. What better way to learn than through our Great Teacher?

As always, a change of perspective is one of the key factors I seek in reading self-help books. With all that I’ve read, I consider myself pretty open-minded and understanding in general, but any time a book can expand upon what I already know, it’s worthy of a review. This book not only expanded on solutions I knew, but reinforced those solutions with Jesus’ own

“Jesus said, ‘Even if I testify on my own behalf, my testimony is valid, for I know where I came from and where I am going.’” (John 8:14)

“You cannot out-dream God. If you could stretch your imagination to the greatest limits of what you think could possibly happen, God can go beyond even that.” (page 22)

Warren’s book targeted specific emotions, and thus the book overall felt more focused than other self-help books. Most definitely a book I will be adding to my bookcase.

“Insecurity always produces pressure in our lives, and when we are insecure, we feel coerced to perform and conform.” (page 15)

“Light diffused produces a hazy glow, but light concentrated produces fire.” (Page 20)

Next Door Savior by: Max Lucado

In case you don’t recognize Max Lucado’s name, let this be the book to introduce you to one of my favorite Christian authors. Lucado has a way with words to reshape our view on simple principles of Jesus in our lives. Next Door Savior brings Jesus into our neighborhood.

“The God of the Universe left the glory of heaven and moved into our neighborhood.” (page 85)

The discouraged, suffering, grieving, tormented, spiritually weary, and so many more can find rest in the Bible verses and examples Lucado reminded us of in this book. The stories in the Old Testament, the lessons the disciples learned, all that was written for us. It’s easy to point out the lessons the Bible characters learned, but often it can be difficult to translate those lessons to our modern lives. Lucado aids us in doing this for 240 pages of the most inspirational messages.

“It’s not that sin has no more presence in your life, but rather that sin has no power over your life. Temptation will pester you, but temptation will not master you.” (page 69)

A definite must-read for anyone seeking to live with Christ.

“He will come out in your speech, in your actions, in your decisions. Every place you live will be Bethlehem, and every day you live will be a Christmas. You, like Mary, will deliver Christ into the world.” (page 91)

“God’s greatest blessings often come costumed as disasters.” (page 145)

“With hands nailed open, he invited God, ‘Treat me as you would treat them!’ And God did. In the act that broke the heart of the Father, yet honored the holiness of heaven, sin-purging judgment flowed over the sinless Son of the ages.” (page 142)

The Vatican’s Exorcists by: Tracy Wilkinson

From unbiased reporter Tracy Wilkinson unravels the truth about the Vatican, its priests, and exorcisms. Written in a point of view that neither discredits nor acknowledges the existence of the demonic, the book provides testimonies of exorcists and equally counters those testimonies with those from doctors and psychologists.

Wilkinson’s research was done thoroughly and well pieced together in this book. She explored many avenues behind the Church and Catholic teachings, as well as sitting in on an exorcism personally. Her work provided no majority so the book remained in perfect balance of both religious and psychological belief systems.

Books that change my perspective are always worthy of a review. This book expanded the possibilities of what really happens behind religious leadership’s doors. I never would have thought religious leaders to use the devil as a scare tactic, but this book pointed out that many do exactly that to gain followers. So many details like that were included, and I walked away from reading this stronger as a Christian, and more aware of the wiles of the devil.

“These priests and other Vatican officials cannot say demonic possession is an impossibility because it is contained in Church dogma. But they fear—with justification—that this uncomfortable topic will be misinterpreted and sensationalized. They would rather it not be highlighted at all, in deference to more positive, life-affirming aspects of the religion.” (page 3)

“The rhythmic incantations of the priest, the patient’s inward focus, the isolation—all can submerge a patient into a trance, a hypnotic-like state that allows subconscious role-playing. A kind of emotional contagion sets in that signals certain behavior to the patient. A good hypnotist can make a patient bark like a dog. An exorcist, less explicitly and unintentionally, could make a patient talk like the devil.” (page 151)

I read this book a month before the show Evil aired on CBS, and thought it must have had some influence on the plot of the television series. Some of the facts in the book were stated in the pilot of Evil by the character David Acosta, and the premise of the book is reflected in the show as the challenge of religion versus mental illness when it comes to the possessed or demonically influenced. Closely similar, both works are worthy of checking out!

7-Day Christian by: Brad Wilcox

In this book, the expectation of Christians is elevated to a whole new level of Jesus-worthy action. So many of us say we’re Christian, say we believe in God, but this book taught me how to express that, how to display Jesus’ love in my every day life, and how to be more proactive in my faith and love for the Lord .

While it’s easy to say you are something, it’s difficult to show you are. Wilcox provides us with examples of how to be better disciples for the Lord, and how to leave this world behind to prepare for our permanent home.

7-Day Christian isn’t referring to the conversion of becoming Christian in seven days. This book centers around how we as Christians should remain Christians seven days a week, not simply on the holy day, Sunday the Sabbath.

“We need more believing and behaving disciples—faithful men and women who are ready to stand up and stand together to change the world as early Christians did—one renewed friendship, one warm embrace, one sincere compliment, one compassionate act, one righteous choice at a time.” (page 6)

“People should be able to trust that they will see Christ’s image in our countenance and His teachings in our lives—not just on Sunday, but throughout the heat and pressure of a 7-day week.” (page 47)

Power Over the Enemy by: John Osteen

The most powerful book I have ever read. While this is a Christian book, you don’t have to be Christian denomination to understand the context of the book as Osteen explains the main villain in all of our lives: the Devil.

In the Bible, the Devil is stated as a real villain, not an ideal we blame our problems on. He is a real entity that we face in our daily struggles. A loathsome lion prowling for the weak and vulnerable, for those who are alone and unprotected. And Osteen arms readers with the tools presented in the Bible for all of God’s children to use in combat with the Evil One.

Not only did this book change my perspective, but I walked away a stronger woman from it. Prior to this book, I was fearful of the Devil. Film and media convince us that he is an enemy we should fear for his power and mercilessness, but Osteen presented us with Bible verses that contradict Satan’s falsified claim of power. In this book, the Devil went from King of Hellions to a coward who runs from Jesus’ Name.

I was also made more aware of the ways Satan works to manipulate us and lead us astray from God. The Bible states that the Devil tempts us away from God, but Osteen presented examples of how the Devil does that in today’s world.

This book was so empowering that I have two sets of notes I took from it. I keep one set at my desk and am constantly referring back to it. The other set is my backup because I never want to lose the knowledge I learned from this book. This is a book I pass to everyone, am eager to share with people of non-denominational religions, and even to those who aren’t sure about God.

Power Over the Enemy gives us control of our fear over the darkness, over the silence, over the demons that come creeping into our lives. We are given power through Jesus’ Name and are able to conquer our terrors and stand fearless waving our flag of the Cross.

“God honors faith; our enemy attacks with fear. The battleground is the mind, and you must fortify your thoughts with the Word of God.” (page 9, Foreward by Joel Osteen)

“I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you” (Luke 10:19)

“When you’re in that attitude of faith, you are opening the door for God to work in your situation. You may not see anything happening with your natural eyes, but don’t let that discourage you. In the unseen realm, in the spiritual world, God is at work. He is changing things in your favor. And if you’ll do your part and keep believing, in due season, at the right time, God will bring you out with the victory.” (page 99)

“You create the atmosphere in which you live by the thoughts you entertain for constant meditation” (page 135)

“The devil must laugh at the thousands of Christians—the mighty sons and daughters of God—who are intimidated by demon forces. They have the power to cast out demons, and yet they roll over and surrender…” (page 146)

Fearless by: Francine Pascal

A 36-book series revolving around a girl born without the “fear” gene. Completely fearless and badass, Gaia Moore spends her free time searching for trouble, acting as a shadow heroine in New York City, awkwardly flirting with the boy of her dreams, Sam, and just trying to fit in.

Struggling to appear a normal seventeen-year-old girl proves hard when your father is an antiterrorist and when all his enemies are after you. After Gaia’s mother was murdered, Tom Moore went into hiding, leaving his daughter under the protection of his CIA friend, George, and his wife, Ella. But Gaia Moore is no regular teen girl who screams and runs from danger. Rather, she seeks it, meets its eye and takes it down. Gaia Moore is a lethal force and can handle herself.

“Jeez, what a girl had to do to get mugged in this city” (page 42)

“Yo, Rapunzel. Forget the ladder. There’s a faster way down.”

Sentences like these are the reason Gaia Moore is one of my favorite characters of all time. That, and the fact that she wears fingernail polish that’s “cockroach” colored, the fact that she’s a badass without being cocky. I love her crude humor, her fearlessness. It’s so original and her character never flawed in any part in the story.

Although the book is labeled as a “teen read”, the language isn’t in an immature tone that forces adults to become youth again. Instead, it’s written in a more mature voice that completely suits the serious and savage personality of its main character. Borderline young adult fiction.

Living vicariously through Gaia Moore is what books are all about. Jumping into the life of that character, becoming someone else for a change. Never before have I wanted to be a fictional character until Gaia. Her lack of gene is basically a natural superpower, and being trained in every form of combat makes her a weapon. Who wouldn’t wanna be such a kickass heroine?

Choke by: Chuck Palahniuk

Centered around scam-artist and sex addict Victor Mancini, this satirical story covers a season of Mancini’s life with flashbacks to his childhood scattered throughout. When not scamming people out of money pretending to choke at fancy restaurants, Victor is visiting his mother in the nursing home or attending sex addict recovery sessions less for help and more for filthy bathroom quickies.

The book sounds disgusting, and much of it was too vulgar for my ladylike sensitivities, but I recommend it because it changed my perspective on a lot in life. Satire has that ability to point out the differences in human nature and reality and experience in a very raw, almost intolerable way.

By the end of the book, I felt this big breath of fresh air sweep into my lungs. Almost as if Victor was trapped in a windowless house, roaming, searching aimlessly for a way out, and by the last chapter had found it, lit a cigarette and cursed the damned experience for making him a better person.

I honestly loved the book.

Some of my favorite quotes:

“The truth is, every son raised by a single mom is pretty much married. I don’t know, but until your mom dies it seems like all the other women in your life can never be more than just your mistress.” (page 15)

From the ever “wise” Ida Mancini, Victor’s mother: “We’ve spent so much time judging what other people created that we’ve created very, very little of our own.” (page 111)

Another that inspired more compassion for the elderly:
“…they show the movie The Pajama Game every Friday night, and every Friday all the same patients crowd in to see it for the first time.” (page 57)

“The unreal is more powerful than the real. Because nothing is as perfect as you can imagine it. Because it’s only intangible ideas, concepts, beliefs, fantasies that last. Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. You can change the way people live their lives. That’s the only lasting thing you can create.”

“What I want is to be needed. What I need is to be indispensable to somebody. Who I need is somebody that will eat up all my free time, my ego, my attention. Somebody addicted to me. A mutual addiction.”

Zoë Martinique Investigations By: Phaedra Weldon

Zoë Martinique is a private investigator with a secret
weapon: her ability to go Wraith. As a wraith, Zoë is capable of leaving her body and spying on the living from the spirit world where most cannot see her. During one investigation, Zoë happened upon the Archer, a villainous spirit who targeted her and changed her fate forever. With a band of supernatural heroes, Zoë is out to stop the Archer and anything that stands in her way.

The series is made up of main books and several sub-stories. You don’t have to read the sub-stories to be entertained; but to fully understand the story, the sub-stories are a must. The order of the series is listed below:

  • 0.5 Web Ginn House
  • 1 Wraith
  • 1.3 Out of the Dark
  • 1.6 Holly and Ivy
  • 2 Spectre
  • 3 Phantasm
  • 4 Revenant
  • 4.5 Beyond the Door
  • 5 Geist
  • 5.3 Walking Shadows
  • 5.6 Soul Cage
  • 6 Dominion
  • 6.3 Dark Time
  • 6.6 Dark Possession
  • 7 Seraphim

Continue to pages 2-4 for reviews of Wraith, Spectre and Phantasm.

Frankenstein by: Dean Koontz

If we’re talking the monster of all Halloween monsters, Frankenstein’s monster out-scares most. A creature stitched together with multiple body parts from several corpses, given birth by lightning, and having no soul, the Frankenstein monster is a true fright of nature.

Dean Koontz, master of imagination, rewrote our classic tale with a scientific upgrade meant for modern minds. With a god-complex the size of America, Victor Frankenstein is convinced he will replace every flawed human with one of his perfect specimens (creatures born in tanks who are nearly immortal). If not for one opposition: his first creation freed from imprisoned willpower, Deucalion. With the help of two homicide detectives, Michael-the-comic-relief-Maddison and Carson-the-bad-ass-O’Connor, Deucalion stands a chance at defeating the madman who created him.

Book 1: Prodigal Son
Wow! What a book. First, to tackle…no, to even contemplate tackling such a classic story and put a scientific, theological twist on it is ballsy. But then to execute such a daring attempt with expertise and finesse is breathtaking talent. Koontz definitely told a better Frankenstein story than I’ve ever heard in my life.

His tone and voice are refreshing, his writing is sheer brilliance. I’ve never read anything so simplistically genius in my life. His insight to psychology, science, and anatomy strike life to his plot, but it’s his presentation of his knowledge that provides a clear-cut resonance with the audience. What an amazing read. Definitely recommended to any and everyone, regardless if you enjoy science fiction or not.

Book 2: City of Night
The well-written journey I expected, with twists I never saw coming. A tragedy of emotional and soulful deprivation woven into this non-stop, action-packed adventure.

I love his style. I love his language. I love his creativity and imagination. I would love to live in this side of his imagination. It’s genius. There are some parts—rather it be Koontz as a writer or his editor—but some scenes where the words fit so right it was blissful. It was the exact word I needed to feel that experience. It was an incredible read. Would definitely read it again. Can’t wait for the next book.

Book 3: Dead and Alive
The ending of the book was obviously not the end of the series, even though I had been convinced it was only three books in length. One of my favorite techniques of Koontz is his ability to end his stories unexpectedly. I honestly anticipate every book to turn out differently than they do, and each time I’m more satisfied with his ending than I ever would be if he proved my assumption correct.

Book 4: Lost Souls
The science in this book wasn’t quite as realistic as the science in the first book. Then again, I’m unfamiliar with nanotechnology, so this could be a very well-thought, scientific statement. As a common reader, unfamiliar with science and technology in quite the same depth as Koontz, the ability of the Builders was too alienistic for my taste. It diminished the fear I felt toward the antagonists.

I was also not thrilled with Carson and Michael’s development. In the course of one book, they transitioned from bad ass partners as cops to a married couple with a baby, working as private investigators. It was a dramatic character change, and I feel like us getting to see them as a married couple would have been sufficient character development. Leaping right into parenthood was too big a step from one book to another, considering at the end of book 3 they weren’t even dating.

Granted, there was a significant time gap between books three and four, which wasn’t specified, it was supposed to be assumed by the audience. If that time gap had occurred in the first three books, I would have expected that and been more accepting of the dramatic change in Carson and Michael’s lives. But because the first three books consisted within a tightly woven schedule, the fourth book coming in suddenly at years later without forwardly stating this made it challenging.

I would have been more content leaving the characters in the state they were in at the end of book 3. It would have been a great trilogy. This book was my least favorite of the installment.

Book 5: The Dead Town
So glad I finished this book. The nail-biting suspense combined with the kick-ass cast made this book the ultimate climax of the series. Combined with a satisfying death of our all-time resented mastermind behind world purification and destruction, monsters immune to injury, and enough well-established points of view to create an entire town’s perspective of this crumbling catastrophe, the story played out divinely and wrapped up perfectly.

Grabbing this book was easy, putting it down was hard.

With the death of so many good townspeople, including children and those we rooted for, and the survival of so many characters we had come to know and love, the reality of the incident was my favorite aspect to this installment of the series.

The ability of the Builders became more frightful in this installment, mostly because I feel as though realizing what aspect of science they were made their ability clearer. In the previous book, it was harder to imagine small robotic structures capable of what they were doing to others. But in this book, Koontz had a more precise explanation. The fact that they were indestructible aroused a fear that every villain should be comprised of. Their only true death was by the death of their maker.

The different perspectives of the characters and their oblivious interaction with one another added to a climactic ending chapter that had me on the edge of my seat. I watched this book play out like a movie. This was the experience of a lifetime.

Koontz’s writing was by far the best in this book. His allusions and descriptive language painted the picture so vividly and fluently that I was able to relax while reading. Nothing was hard to imagine, and everything was so realistic, so fruitful to grasp that it created an enjoyable adventure.

I loved this book, it’s my favorite from the series, and I would read it a hundred times again. Perfect ending to an incredibly well-written, original series.

What the Night Knows by: Dean Koontz

This book…wow! (And that’s an understatement.)

Koontz captured a man’s family at just the right vulnerability and put a supernatural edge to it that fit right up my alley. He used demons to manipulate and attack this family, and the writing alone. My goodness, this man utilizes words to produce visual comparisons that leave me jaw-dropped.

The way the siblings interacted made the family substantial. They were real and graspable, and developing that relationship between the characters and readers is what writing is all about. I loved the family aspect of this book. I loved the husband and wife relationship. I loved them all as my own family. And that love is what brought the real fear to the book. When danger impended on these people I’ve come to know and care about, my fear spiked too.

This book was impossible to put down. I had to know the answers to my questions. I had to know what would happen. I had to know how Koontz would end it. His endings are always surprising and satisfying. His happily ever afters aren’t what you’d picture traditionally, and I love his refreshing tone, voice and imagination.