ARC (Advanced Reader Copy), Faith, Nonfiction, Self-Help

Raising Emotionally Strong Boys, by David Thomas

AVAILABLE June 14, 2022

I am so impressed with this book! Although I’m not a parent, I have taught hundreds of boys ages 4-11 in my teaching career. I could not help but think of the variety of personalities and levels of emotional strength in my young students.

The insights and tools in this book are excellent. It emphasizes the importance of teaching boys not only to manage their emotions, but to give themselves permission to have them in the first place. It talks about how essential it is for boys to see examples of other men being vulnerable, asking for help, losing a competition, and mourning a loved one, all without compromising their manliness. That is something I appreciated greatly, being married to a very masculine, but also a sensitive man.

I also thought about the other men in my life: my second generation absent father, my brother who broke that cycle and is an extremely involved dad to his children, an amazing grandfather who often stepped into the father role, cousins and uncles, circling back to my husband, who is one of the most emotionally strong men I know.

While I welcome them, I was not prepared for the amount of Biblical references. They may, unfortunately, limit the book’s audience. The author uses Christ as the ultimate example of emotional strength. Who better to pattern your life after?

This would make a great book club selection, a terrific gift, and an interesting read for parents, grandparents, and teachers. Thank you NetGalley and Bethany House Publishers for this advanced copy in exchange for my honest review.

9.5/10 Stars

Autobiography, Faith, Memoir, Nonfiction

Hope Unseen, by Captain Scotty Smiley and Doug Crandall

“I’m not sure what God is going to do with my life, but I know that there are good things in store and that He has a purpose for me.”

I first heard about Scott Smiley a few weeks ago. He was a guest speaker at an event hosted by a state congressional candidate I follow on Facebook. I had no idea who he was and what made him so inspiring. As I learned more about him and his story, I was reminded how backwards this world is, in that so many famous people have done very little for others, basking in the light of their own glory, while those who truly deserve our attention are often relegated to smaller venues.

One of seven children, a West Point graduate who married his high school sweetheart, Tiffany, Scotty Smiley’s life dramatically changed on April 6, 2005. While leading a 40-man platoon in Iraq charged with finding car bombs stationed throughout a residential area, Smiley confronted a suicide bomber at the moment of detonation. At that instant his world went black. He was blinded and partially paralyzed.

This book tells of Captain Smiley’s journey from that day to recovery, rehabilitation, and finding a new purpose in life. Make no mistake, this man had his gloomy days–lots of them–despite being blessed with an incredible support system of family and friends. Going from an independent, highly motivated Army officer to a man who could get lost walking in a parking lot was a huge blow. It challenged his sense of self and his lifelong faith down to their very cores.

Certainly, his story is one like many veterans who return home with physical and emotional scars that can last a lifetime. Living in a country that hasn’t seen war on its own soil for such a long time can make us feel distanced from the sacrifices made on a daily basis by people who dedicate their lives to preserving freedom for ourselves and others. No doubt, his story, faith, and determination are worthy of 10 stars. As a piece of writing I do wish it was more linear with less detours. There were several, although it may be the style of his coauthor. But overall, Scotty Smiley does make you want to try harder and be better, remembering that through God, all things are possible.

8.5/10 Stars

Faith, Fiction, Magical Realism, Romance

How to Save a Life, by Kristin Harmel

“…maybe love is, at its core, about opening your heart to another person as opposed to taking their love for yourself.”

I could make this review nice and short and just emphatically say Read. This. Book. But I won’t. Instead, I’ll just say that after two frustrating days of starting (even finishing) a few books and being disappointed, finding How to Save a Life, by Kristin Harmel, was worth the wait.

It’s a novella–only 160 pages–but it is amazing how the right story in the right hands does not have to be long to make a significant impact.

Imagine being given the worst possible news. (I’ll let you decide what that will be.) Then imagine being given the gift of resetting one day again and again until you can make things right. For Jill, a 39-year-old pediatric oncology nurse, this is what happens.

I do not want to say too much, except, again, Read. This. Book. It will make you look at your life, your relationships, your time management, and your fears through new eyes. After all, what is “time” anyway, right? An abstract concept meant to measure our day? Or something over which we truly have control? Your opinion might change if you give this book a chance.

9.5/10 Stars

Autobiography, Faith, Memoir, Nonfiction

River of Fire, by Sister Helen Prejean

While exploring new podcasts I came across one called Everything Happens, with Kate Bowler, out of Duke University. She often focuses on Catholic themes, but not always, and she has an intelligent, soft-spoken style of interviewing that draws you in while making the interviewee feel comfortable.

One of my favorite episodes was the Helen Prejean interview. You may not think you know who Helen Prejean is, but you probably do if you’ve heard of the biographical film Dead Man Walking, with Susan Sarandon and Sean Penn. Sister Prejean, a Catholic nun from the Deep South, has made it her life’s work to befriend and advocate for prisoners on death row.

However you may feel about the death penalty–hot button topic that it is–you will enjoy River of Fire, Sister Prejean’s autobiography. Her warm, Southern, conversational drawl permeates through the pages as you travel with her back to Louisiana in the early nineteen forties and fifties. You read about her childhood, her funny relationship with her sister, and her personal vocation to serve others as a nun. You’ll also learn about the dramatic shift brought on by Vatican II and the necessary adjustments required of those in the Catholic ministry.

I admire Sister Prejean’s tireless efforts to serve the poor, the disadvantaged, and the marginalized. The world needs more people with her compassion for others.

9/10 Stars

Listen to the podcast episode HERE. (25 minutes)

Faith, Faith and Religion, Religion

The Divine Gift of Forgiveness, by Neil L. Andersen

As a member of the Quorum of the Twelve apostles, Elder Neil L. Andersen has a lot of responsibilities. So I always have a healthy amount of respect when he and his fellow apostles take the time to write books filled with loving instruction such The Divine Gift of Forgiveness. As a subscriber to Deseret Bookshelf PLUS I had the option to listen to the book, pleased to hear that it was read by Elder Andersen himself.

Forgiveness is a vast topic. There is forgiving others and forgiving ourselves. Both are not easy but, as people of faith, we are commanded to forgive. These realms are covered in the book, presented mostly through Elder Andersen’s own experiences in different leadership callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I think my favorite story was when, as mission president, he was counseling a young missionary who had struggled with the devastating effects of pornography addiction. His approach and advice were excellent.

We live in a harsh world where insensitive criticism of others and ourselves have become pervasive. This amount of tension can lead to thoughtless words, hurt feelings, and self-doubt. I am grateful for the Savior’s great love, that we are children of an omnipotent Father in Heaven who created us in His own image, and this book’s reminder to be a little kinder to ourselves and others during this mortal journey.

9/10 Stars

Biography, Faith, Faith and Religion, Nonfiction, Religion

Life’s Lessons Learned, by Dallin H. Oaks

If you’re familiar with Dallin H. Oaks, you know he is nothing if not certain when he speaks. As the senior apostle in the Quorum of the Twelve in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, some might even describe him as intimidating. I have felt that too, until about a year ago when I heard him being interviewed, alongside his wife, on a podcast. Hearing him speak freely, as opposed to giving a speech, humanized him to me. It was then I had new respect for the man.

Life’s Lessons Learned, published in 2011, is a book with a simple format. President Oaks (he is called “president” because of his current Church calling in the First Presidency) shares different events from his life and the outcomes of those events. The oldest of three children raised by a single mother after his father died of tuberculosis when he was 11, Dallin H. Oaks is the definition of self-made. Trained as an attorney, his legal resume is very impressive. However, the majority of his adulthood has been devoted to Church service, and it will be that way for the rest of his life.

The book is divided up into three chronological sections, each with brief experiences and the lessons learned from them. The sum of its parts being that anything we go through, good or bad, has something to teach us. The more self-aware person will take that information and apply it. Sometimes the lessons come from observing others as well.

There are many wonderful things to glean from the book, but I think my favorite was the one on “labeling.” Here is an excerpt:

“We should be careful not to label or define ourselves (or others) by some temporary quality. The only single quality that should characterize us is that each of us is a son or daughter of God. That fact transcends all other characteristics….

“When we choose to define or label ourselves (or others) by some characteristic that is temporary or trivial in eternal terms, we de-emphasize what is most important about us (or them) and overemphasize what is relatively unimportant. This label can lead us down the wrong path and hinder our eternal progress.”

I could not help but think about recent events and run this section through that particular filter. Lately it feels like excessive labeling (and generalizing) is leading to society’s downfall.

That is only one of many examples, all taken from his own life. President Oaks will be the first to tell you he is not perfect, something he freely admits. But he also shares ways he and all of us can improve, both from a spiritual perspective and from Life’s lessons.

His writing is clear and well-organized–the kind of intuitive organization I appreciate. I recommend this book and look forward to reading more.

9/10 Stars

Faith, Faith and Religion, Religion

Answers Will Come, by Shalissa Lindsay

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Olympians sometimes swim in sweats to increase the drag and work their muscles harder. This mortal body may often feel like that too. Some of the challenges that I process as temptations are more helpfully viewed as mortal processes that provide my spirit an intensive training exercise in patience, self-discipline, and charity. –Shalissa Lindsay

(Just a brief disclaimer for anyone reading this review: this particular book is very much targeted to members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, also known as LDS or Mormons. There are several references only they will understand. That being said, the book’s message is for everyone.)

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began in mid-March, my Sundays have looked very different. Instead of spending a minimum of two hours at our church building listening to talks and lessons, singing hymns, and partaking of the sacrament, my hubby and I have been holding our version of “home-centered church.” It is spiritual and reverent, but we dress more casually and it doesn’t last two hours. We pray, follow the weekly Sunday School lessons, read the scriptures, and try to maintain a Sabbath atmosphere in our home that day.

It has actually been wonderful. It’s made me realize the power we each have to access the Spirit and have him abide in our homes, whether we attend church in a building or not. I do miss my church family and the insights they give during lessons–I learn so much from their example–but this will do for now.

Not being around others of my faith on a weekly basis has created another desire in me. If I cannot share ideas in person, I would, at least, like to read the ideas of others. Part of attending church in person is the comfort of knowing others share your struggles. Not exactly in a “misery loves company” type of way, but more like “we’re all in this together, so let’s figure it out together.”

That’s a lengthy introduction! Suffice to say, all this spiritual pondering without a congregation has been a bit lonely. When I have questions or concerns, there is no class full of like-minded people with whom to discuss them.

I’m very aware that the Lord’s timeline for answers is not my own. (“Answers” could be answers to questions or answers to prayer.) So it is comforting to read a book such as this that lets me know that my (some time) impatience and frustration is not unique. In Answers Will Come, Shalissa Lindsay tells my heart and my head things I already know, but need to hear again…and again…and….again.

The bottom line, Life is not easy, and that’s OK. Answers are not immediate, and that’s OK too.

Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has a well-known quote: “Some blessings come soon, some come late, and some don’t come until heaven; but for those who embrace the gospel of Jesus Christ, they come.”

You could reread this quote substituting the word blessings for answers, making it no less true.

I found myself agreeing with a lot of the logic the author uses to reconcile her faith, her patience, and current gaps in her doctrinal knowledge that she wants to fill. Many of her gaps and questions are fairly common. And, while not the most revelatory read, Answers Will Come certainly makes you think and self-examine, as we all should do once in a while.

8.5/10 Stars

 

 

Faith, Faith and Religion, Nonfiction, Religion, Self-Help

Let God Love You, by Wendy Ulrich

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Once in a very great while I will read a book and think, “If I was more eloquent and disciplined, this is the book I would’ve liked to write.”

Fortunately, probably more successfully, Wendy Ulrich beat me to it.

For many, just believing that God exists is a challenge. That’s a subject for another book. (One I have no plans to write.) But for the rest of us, the biggest challenges can be keeping Him close, feeling worthy of His love, and being assured that He is listening when we pray. Admitting these challenges, even to like-minded friends and family, is equally difficult. It feels like a massive character flaw.

Wendy Ulrich, who spoke at an event I attended in 2012, addresses these challenges and more in her book Let God Love You: Why We Don’t, How We Can. Although Ulrich is a psychologist–which would normally have me running in the opposite direction–she doesn’t use professional terms to make her point. Instead, she takes a very courageous route, an incredibly vulnerable route, tapping into all of her own insecurities with her personal relationship with God over the years and sharing them with us.

At times I felt almost numb. Her sentiments echoed mine in a way that was so accurate, it was almost scary. Her concerns, her fears, her highs and lows felt so relatable. I could feel myself nodding along and thinking, “yes, Yes, YES…These are all things I’ve felt too.” After a while I thought, “I should just stop highlighting, because I’m highlighting everything.” Other reviewers have said the exact same thing.

Not only was it extremely satisfying to know that someone else has gone through the same struggles I have while trying to feel God’s closeness, but it was a relief to know the root of those struggles (she shares many possibilities) and to know that there is hope. Hope, being a core element of faith. Faith being the “assurance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”

Some may ask, “If being close to God is so hard, why try at all?” Good question.

Obviously, the desire to believe in God (or not) is a choice we all make. But, like anything else worthwhile, it takes practice. Knowing there is hope of getting closer to Him by understanding what we might be doing to keep Him at a distance is a major step. The most important lesson I learned is that we often project human flaws on God because being flawed humans–who often hurt and disappoint each other– is all we know.

It’s been a long time since I could honestly say I was “blown away” by a book, but I was with this one. Yes, it forces introspection and self-examination, sometimes admitting things we are secretly ashamed of and have tucked away, possibly for years. But for those of us who think having a better relationship with God is worth it, which I most certainly do, this book is a wondrous read that far surpassed my expectations. And, while Ulrich is an LDS author, the principles of the book are for anyone and everyone.

10/10 Stars

Faith, Religion, Self-Help

Christ In Every Hour, by Anthony Sweat

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Anthony Sweat, a BYU professor and popular Education Week and Time Out For Women speaker, is one of those talented communicators who can “dial up” a presentation to include heavy doctrinal insights or “dial it down” to make it relatable to the masses but still very powerful.

His most recent book, Christ In Every Hour, is somewhere in the middle. It is both readable and deep, sharing examples of people who have endured great crises with faith and scriptural examples (often from the life of Christ) to instruct us in how we may become more like the Savior, our Ultimate Teacher.

At its core it is a teaching book, and I came away having learned many things I either did not know had not pondered in depth. One of my favorite explanations was the idea of Christ as the “bridegroom,” a term often used in Christianity. Despite numerous times hearing this in Catholicsm and in the Church of Jesus Christ of Letter-day Saints, the whys and wherefores escaped me until reading about it Christ In Every Hour. Another terrific explanation was about the importance of the Jesus’ first miracle of turning water into wine, why it was so significant and what it symbolizes through the ages for all of us. (I hope I have the opportunity to work it into a church talk one day! But I probably just jinxed myself for writing that.)

The book culminates into a clever acrostic:

Christ…

Cleanses

Heals

Restores

Identifies

Strengthens

Transforms

Overall, this book is excellent and I highly recommend it. It’s audience is wide and beyond the scope of Latter-day Saints, appealing to anyone who wants to nurture their relationship with the Lord and make Him a part of your every day life.

9.5/10 Stars

 

Faith, Nonfiction, Religion, Self-Help

Faith Is Not Blind, by Bruce C. and Marie K. Hafen

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I recently heard an interview with Bruce and Marie Hafen and I was so impressed that I decided to find their book, Faith is Not Blind. Bruce Hafen has been dean of the Brigham Young University Law School, president of Ricks College (now BYU-Idaho,) and is a long-time General Authority. He and his wife, Marie, have co-authored several books together.

A short but very powerful book, Faith is Not Blind speaks mainly to members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but like Sheri Dew’s Worth the Wrestle, it is for anyone (or anyone related to someone) suffering a faith crisis or someone merely “going through the motions” who wants more. In other words, it casts its net fairly wide.

Because many questioning their faith, whether it be faith in God or their particular organized religion, feel a tug-of-war between logic and belief–opting for logic–the Hafens approach faith from a logical view. They know their audience.

Main points, upon which the book is built, are these:

  • real vs. the ideal
  • early innocent simplicity
  • bewildering complexity
  • mature enhanced simplicity

The last point, mature enhanced simplicity, is the ultimate goal for anyone who wants to break the confines of their struggles and rediscover faith. This usually only comes as the result of complexity. The complexity stage, however, is where many people get stuck, often for a lifetime, often leading to “intellectual apostasy.”

The Hafens assure the reader that emerging from complexity and progressing to mature enhanced simplicity with both faith and individuality intact is a very attainable goal, but it requires work and participation. There is no getting something for nothing. Understanding the ways modern society tries to prevent reaching the goal of mature enhanced simplicity is also key and something they discuss in depth. Personally, I found the idea of the “burden of proof” shift over recent years amazingly accurate.

Without being preachy, the Hafens accomplish a great deal in fifteen brief chapters. The reader will find himself holding up the figurative mirror and self-examining his own faith, as well as feeling more compassion and understanding for loved ones still stuck in the mire of bewildering complexity. At the very least, we learn that faith and logic do not need to be mutually exclusive, but can build upon each other to create one great end result.

It is a brilliant book.

9.5/10 Stars

Bonus Link: Bruce and Marie Hafen discuss stages of faith in the ALL IN podcast.

Part 1: Click HERE              Part 2: Click HERE

 

Faith, Memoir, Nonfiction

Carried, by Michelle Schmidt & Angie Taylor

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Most parents would agree that having a child predecease them is the worst possible thing they could imagine. While the majority will not have to experience this devastating trial, John and Michelle Schmidt were not so fortunate. In 2016 their daughter, Annie, an avid hiker, went missing and lost her life in Oregon’s Columbia River Gorge. Despite John’s fame as a member of The Piano Guys, the only thing that could immunize them from the excruciating pain of Annie’s death was their faith.

In Carried, How One Mother’s Trust in God Helped Her Through the Unthinkable, Michelle Schmidt chronicles the heartbreaking events of this difficult time.

The reader should be prepared that only about 30% of the book actually focuses on the search for Annie. The larger portion is a memoir of John and Michelle’s life leading up to the event, a life fraught with the ups and downs of marriage and a growing family while navigating decades of John’s music career. Clearly the purpose of this background information is to provide the reader with a foundation of the faith-building experiences the family endured that sustained them all during the hardest moments of their lives. That being said, Carried almost feels like two books in one and can be a bit misleading in what the story is truly about.

I appreciated the details of John and Michelle’s early life and have great admiration for their faith, but most readers gravitate towards the book for a different reason, which is to read about Annie’s disappearance and the events surrounding it. Still, it is comforting to see a family recover, albeit slowly, from such a loss and to use the experience to help others.

8/10 Stars

Bonus Link: John and Michelle Schmidt discuss the search for Annie in the ALL IN podcast. Click HERE.

Faith, Nonfiction, Religion, Self-Help

All These Things Shall give Thee Experience, by Neal A. Maxwell

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One of the most beloved apostles in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is Elder Neal A. Maxwell. Known for his compassion and his intelligence, Elder Maxwell passed away in 2004 after an eight year battle with leukemia.

At the time of his passing I was in the middle of a self-imposed “hiatus” from Church activity and, although I feel it was something that I, personally, needed to go through in order to shape who I am today, I do not recommend it. It was, in retrospect, both a waste of time and time wasted (not the same thing.) There are so many things I do not know but want to know and so many things I want to learn that I could’ve pursued years ago.

One of those things about which I’ve felt a recent desire to become better acquainted with the lives and teachings of Church leaders, past and present. Elder Maxwell has always been in my peripheral vision but it wasn’t until recently, while in the midst of several exhausting weeks of different trials and challenges, that I decided to read this particular book. It had been sitting for years, unopened, in my Deseret Bookshelf app. I read about two thirds of it and listened to the last third, read by Elder Maxwell himself in that fatherly voice of his, one that exudes both care and concern.

My immediate impression was that Neal A. Maxwell crafts his thoughts with the same quality as Mozart writing a symphony or da Vinci creating the Mona Lisa. This is not an exaggeration. He is one of the most masterful, exquisite writers I’ve ever encountered. But, like any masterful work, appreciating it requires focus and study. This is not a book you can skim or listen to in the background. While I did do some multi-tasking while listening, those tasks had to be fairly mindless in order to pay attention and ponder the messages.

If I had to choose 3 favorite chapters it would be these:

  • The Omniscience of an Omnipotent and Omniloving God
  • Prayer and Growth
  • Follow the Brethren

All of these chapters resonated with me for different reasons. Going into great detail about God’s omniscience helps us to understand that challenges help to shape us to become like Him one day, which should be our ultimate goal. Learning how to pray in a way God can answer has been a recent personal pursuit, so I was happy to learn more on the subject. Following the brethren (leaders) is a strong pep talk of a chapter, but sometimes tough love is the best course, especially when the only agenda behind that pep talk is to help the reader self-reflect and improve.

I learned a lot of things that I need to consider in my own life, especially when things are difficult. I also understand, more than ever, why Neal A. Maxwell was so revered. He KNOWS people, how they tick, how they function, how they act and react. I was amazed at his perception. This book is a treasure.

10/10 Stars

Biography, Faith, Nonfiction

Insights from a Prophet’s Life: Russell M. Nelson, by Sheri Dew

Insights_from_a_Prophet_s_Life_-_Russell_M._Nelson_580xWhen you have an incredible subject like Russell M. Nelson and a gifted writer like Sheri Dew, you have the recipe for success. This was, hands down, one of the best biographies I’ve ever read (heard as an audiobook.)

As someone who has loved biographies since I was a child, my standards are fairly high, and Insights From a Prophet’s Life not only met those standards, but exceeded them. What a fascinating man!

I was prepared to be impressed, but I was left amazed. Yes, he is a brilliant and well-respected heart surgeon; yes, he is a devoted husband and father; yes, he is a faithful servant in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but there are many, many stories between these milestones. And, despite his gifts, hard-work, and humility, he has not escaped tragedy. The chapter on his first wife’s passing is heartbreaking. The chapter on his courtship with his second wife is optimistic.

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Russell M. Nelson and his first wife, Dantzel

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Dr. Russell M. Nelson, heart surgeon

All of his experiences, including adapting to the changing world as a surgeon and spiritual leader are inspiring. Everything he does is with an enormous amount of faith and discipline.

By the end I was entertained, motivated, impressed, delighted, and honored to learn more about our dear President Nelson.

10/10 Stars

Bonus Link: Author/Deseret Book CEO, Sheri Dew, discusses writing about Russell M. Nelson in the ALL IN podcast. Click HERE.

 

Faith, Religion

The Coming of the Lord, by Gerald N. Lund

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I’m a newcomer to the world of podcasts, and one of the very first ones I heard was a fascinating interview with Elder Gerald N. Lund, well known in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for his prolific writing of historical fiction, such as The Work and the Glory series.

The podcast series ALL IN was interviewing Elder Lund about the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, a subject on which he is very knowledgeable. The Coming of the Lord, Elder Lund’s very first book, was referenced several times and, since a 30 minute podcast episode can only cover so much, I sought after the book.

The subject is gripping, dramatic, and very interesting. The book is well-researched, using many quotes and prophecies from scriptures and the prophets of old and in the latter days. It is interesting to think that it was written in the early 1970’s because many of those prophecies have already been fulfilled.

I learned a lot, but the writing is a bit cumbersome. My rating is based on the writing, not the subject. Elder Lund did mention on the podcast that he is in the process of writing a revised version of The Coming of the Lord. I would be curious to compare it with the original.

8.5/10 Stars

Bonus Link: Gerald N. Lund discusses “signs of the Second Coming” in the ALL IN podcast. Click HERE.

Faith, Religion

Almighty, by David Butler

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I recently heard the author, David Butler, interviewed on my favorite podcast show, ALL IN and knew I had to read this book. He is one of those people who speaks like he’s always smiling and the tone of his writing is no different. I loved this book! Feeling unhappy? Unloved? Marginalized? Life got you down? Read Almighty.

It is written for anyone of any Christian faith. It is like a booster shot of sunshine, reminding you that life is more than a parade of challenges. David Butler personalizes our Heavenly Father into a loving, approachable celestial parent. A celestial parent who is waiting for you to have a relationship with Him. This book is like wrapping a warm blanket around the aching heart, the heavy mind, the broken spirit.

I highly recommend it.

9.5/10 Stars

Bonus Link: David Butler discusses his book, Almighty, on the ALL IN podcast. Click HERE.