Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Counterfeit Conspiracies - A Review

Counterfeit Conspiracies cover.jpg

A Review

An okay book. Not great, but okay.

The book is a cosy mystery - enough murders to make things interesting, but all the suspects escape capture. Oddly, even the art that was stolen was questionable at best, and possible a fraud. All the good guys did get home safe.

Yet the reader never gets the satisfaction that all is done.

On the other hand, one can hope that Book 2 (being released simultaneously with this tome) or 3 (being released in Fall 2016) of this series will pull together threads that were left dangling in Book 1. (Hint: having started Book 2, it appears that some of those threads may be pulled together.) This reader felt like he was in the middle of a mystery centered soap opera (minus the sensuality) that might go on for quite some time.

I guess I will need to wait to be satisfied.

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Man, Myth, Messiah - A Review

A Review

As I read Man, Myth, Messiah, I was reminded of two literary references in my past. The first is a quote from C. S. Lewis, which is also referenced by Rice Broocks early in the book. Lewis, a converted atheist, once proposed that once someone examines the life of Christ, he or she must ask is this man a liar, a lunatic, or was He truly the Lord of the universe. That question presupposes an earlier question – “Did Christ actually exist?” This last question became important only as we entered the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. Because this question has become so important to the current generation, Broocks seek to rephrase Lewis' “trilemma” with the similarly worded, but slightly different combination suggested by the book's title - “Was Jesus Christ a man, a myth, or the Messiah?”

The second literary reference that I am reminded of was Frank Morrison's (nee Robert Henry Ross) Who Moved The Stone? For me, this was a required text in seminary (ca. 1980), and like the current book, it attempted to show the evidence for the events surrounding Christ's resurrection. The current book goes further and seeks to establish the historical proofs that demonstrate the claims the early Christians made for Jesus Christ using the standard methods used by in the field of history.

The author not only presents his evidence, but also helps the reader understand how the practicing historian would use that evidence to build a solid case for the claims of Christ. As always, the author makes it clear, the reader must make his own choice to follow the evidence or not. Evidence does not make one a Christian – faith in the Savior does.

The author does an excellent job of building his case. The book would make an excellent gift for a church to give its graduating seniors. For the pastor or church, it would provide the perfect read for the Lenten season. As a textbook, it would serve well as a required text for a college level course in Apologetics or as an ancillary text for a similar seminary level course.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

God's Justice Study Bible

God’s Justice
Study Bible
Gods Justice Study Bible cover.jpg
Tim Stafford
General Editor

A Review

Justice has long been a theme of the Christian Church, but with few exceptions we hear little about it from those who speak most loudly for the church. Tim Stafford and his team of 56 writers plus additional staff have put together a useful tool for perceiving and understanding the place justice has in God’s economy.  

There is much to excite the Christian leader or layperson as he picks up this volume for the first time. I was pleased that the editor chose to use the NIV (2011) to use as a foundation for the printed version of the Justice Bible. Though some ma have preferred an earlier NIV version, by choosing the NIV this Study Bible does have a well-respected foundation upon which to build.

However, having noted the translation, the first thing I noticed (and confirmed by reading the introduction) was the international flavor of the book. Book notes are written by scholars and leaders from all over the world. There are very few pages without notes - demonstrating that, to these authors, God’s justice is pervasive throughout time and the scriptures. I was also glad to see each book concludes with “Questions for Reflection” - these are brief but to the point.

That does not mean that this Study Bible is perfect (but what is?).  First, the notes do not stand out - the font is small and and the notes brief compared to the text they discuss. There are no formal cross references which would allow the reader to see how individual themes continue throughout the scriptures. There are some references within the notes, but these are scattered throughout the text and follow no strict pattern.

Though the notes do have an international authorship, the notes for each book are still the work of a single author from a single country. I don’t know if having a team of authors from two or more countries work on each Bible book would have made a difference, but it would have better expressed the “international” flavor of the book

Also, with so many notes, spread out through the whole text of scripture, an index is required - sadly, there is none. This makes finding notes and Bible texts which address a particular theme difficult (if not impossible) to find.  With no index, this Bible could be helped by making a searchable digital version of the book. As in the past, I would like to see WordSearch or LOGOS add this to their digital libraries for easier use by the reader. With no index, it also may mean that this Bible is more suitable for reading than for studying. As I have noted in the past, accessibility is as important, if not more important, than content. This Bible falls short on accessibility.

I would recommend this Bible be made available to all pastors - we each work in justice ministries in one way or another. The same could be true of missionaries and those called to work among the world’s hurting and abused. Though this Bible does not need to be in every teacher’s home, it would find a place in the church library where teachers and others would have access to its contents for personal use.  
This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

A Muddied Murder - A Review

Muddied Murder Cover.jpg

A Review

A small farm, a vegetable stand, a small town local grocer, and an organic cafe, make for the perfect location for a murder. When located in southeastern Pennsylvania, it seems almost like home. In fact, for Megan Sawyer, it was too close to home.

Megan was on the verge of becoming a big time Chicago lawyer, but she had the opportunity to return to her roots in rural Pennsylvania after the death of her husband. But to do so, she had to hang up her law education and grab the small farmer label that came with the old family farm she would run. She found it energizing - working among the vegetables and farm animals that defined her new life. The property had a history - a legend really - that somebody knew more about than she did. A legend that somebody was willing to kill for.

Megan was the first suspect (really? come on now?); Bibi Birch, her grandmother, was the second (not likely, being in her 80’s). But somebody had murdered Simon Duvall, the local zoning commissioner. It would take Megan, Bibi, Clay (the farmhand), Bob King (the town Police Chief), and Denver Finn (the local veterinarian), along with a few others to find the truth. The characters were well developed and fun to follow. This reader felt like he knew them - having lived in small towns and known a few individuals that returned to their rural roots by choice.

As in the past, Wendy Tyson and her publisher, Henery Press, have put together a fun, readable book - a book that sets the stage for future books involving some of the same characters. I can hardly wait for Spring 2017, when the next book is scheduled for release.

For the reader looking for a cozy mystery written for those spring days that never are quite ready for summer, “Muddied Murder” might just fill the bill. Sit back, relax, and get to know the people of Winsome, PA, as you discover the history of Washington Acres and its ties to an unnecessary murder.

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

NLT Illustrated Study Bible - A Review

NLT Illustrated
Study Bible

NLT Illustrated Study Bible Cover.jpg

A Review

Over the last four years I have been privileged to receive  number of study Bibles for review. Many are good - and serve the audience for which they were designed, but do not stand out from the crowd. But occasionally an editor or publisher will bring together material that will serve a wide audience for many years. Such is the case with the NLT Illustrated Study Bible.

From the opening flyleaf which quotes Hebrews 4:12 “For the word of God is alive and powerful” to the closing flyleaf which quotes Psalm 119:18 “Open my eyes to see the wonderful truths in your instructions.” it is clear that the (un-credited) editors have a high regard for both the Scriptures and for those who will be using their book as a guide to those Scriptures. A single page list contributors to the Bible from a wide variety of backgrounds - but even there the list is of names and their contributions without any mention of their academic credentials or affiliations. But the names are known and respected by those familiar with Biblical scholarship - both popular and scholarly.  This list is separate from the individuals (also listed) who contributed to the NLT translation - though there is a great deal of overlap. This means that the very scholars who translated the NLT have contributed to the Study Bible coming with the translation’s name.

The Study Bible begins with a 10-page timeline bringing together both Biblical history and world history as it is generally understood. To give a sense of its conservative bent, it should be noted that Abraham’s birth is dated at 2166 BC, Moses’ birth is dated to 1526, the Exodus is dated at 1446, and David is anointed king, becomes king of Judah, and becomes King of Israel in 1025, 1010, and 1003 BC, respectively.

The Biblical notes are extensive - occupying ⅓ to ⅔ of each page, cross references (not heavy, but present) are included in the inside margin of each page. Brief notes describing key historical events, people, themes, and theological discussion are placed between the Bible text and the study notes at the bottom of the page. These brief notes occur on about ½ of the pages.

The text is of medium size - easily read in bright light, but more difficult to read in a more subdued setting. It would be nice to have the book available as an e-book to use along with the paper version. I expect one or more of the major software publishers (WordSearch, LOGOS, etc.) will license the material for use - at least I am hoping so. The Biblical text and the accompanying notes take up nearly 2400 pages.  (This does not include the aforementioned timeline or the material which follows the Biblical text).

The timeline is continued (on a smaller scale) on four additional pages introducing the reader to the first half-century of church history following the closing of the canon. The book concludes with a number of helps - “Hebrew and Greek Word Studies”, An index of the brief essays (“Features Index”) included in the text. A comprehensive “Notes Index“ gives access to the study notes which form the main content of this study Bible. The book concludes with a nice “Dictionary and Concordance” and the expected set of Biblical maps.   There is a brief index (I wish it was more comprehensive) to the maps - it does not allow the reader to find all locations shown on the maps, but to find maps focused on the major events or people found in the Scriptures.

The Bible certainly belongs on the desk of most lay people wanting to more deeply study the Bible. Pastors will find it helpful as they seek background material and comments as they prepare themselves and their messages each week. Students will also find this book as an easily accessible study aid as they complete Biblical coursework.  

Though I was lucky enough to receive a free review copy, the NLT Illustrated Study Bible will be kept close at hand as I seek to meet the needs of the people God has allows me to serve.
This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The Biblical Hebrew Companion - A Review

Biblical Hebrew Companion - Cover.jpg

A Review

It has been 40+ years since I sat in my first Hebrew language course. Since that time I have learned and used more Fortran, COBOL. Basic, Pascal, Lisp, Assembly Language, etc, than Hebrew. Now 40 years later, I have returned to the pulpit wishing I could remember some of that early Hebrew (and Greek) that I had learned years ago.

This reference book serves part of that purpose. In fact, I wish I had it by my side while learning Hebrew - as it takes each major part of speech, each verbal conjunction, each grammatical construction and gives insight to the reader on its role in the language. The entries try to address three questions:

  1. What does it look like?
  2. What does it do?
  3. How it might effect the exegesis of the passage?

A number of appendices add value as they bring together lists of topics that don’t fit elsewhere: vowels, consonants, Syllables, Pronunciation, ect. Also included are a scripture index and  suggested bibliography for further study grouped by topic.

The book will not serve as a Hebrew textbook, but as a great reference tool to set on the desk of the student or pastor working with the original languages. I cannot  but hope that a similar volume will be forthcoming from the publisher for the Greek student.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinion are mine alone.

Whispers in the Reading Room - A Review

Whispers in the Reading Room Cover.jpg

A Review

I don’t think I have ever read a book that left me with such mixed emotions. The author presents a beautiful picture of how God can take broken lives from a variety of backgrounds and transform them into something of value and worth. At the same time, the author reminds us that we cannot judge a book by its cover or a man by his coat.

The story takes place in the weeks and months following the closing of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair. Lydia has the responsibility of running a local “Reading Room” in the Chicago community. Thus begins this mystery. I would call this a “mystery embedded in a romance” (which I find a bit uncomfortable reading), rather than a “romance embedded in a mystery” (which is more to my liking). But the four main characters have all strayed from their faith - when fate (i.e. God) brings them together.

Though Sebastian Marks is a man of mystery, the true mystery does not begin until the 50% point (using Kindle’s measurement) of the book. The death of Lydia’s ex-fiance will force each member of their small group to rethink friendships, beliefs, and behaviors. And because of this, the book is much more about relationships than about the mystery.

The book is well-written, by a skilled writer. Her ability to weave the history of the era (and forcing this reader to search Google to discover more) is always a sign of a good book. Though the author seems to confuse the three fires that destroyed the remains of the World’s Fair site over a year’s time into a single event, the story was alive and real.

Bottom line - I enjoyed the book. I wish there had been less romance, but then i am male and thrive more on the excitement than on the romance. Would I recommend the book? Yes - for everyone, but for some more than others. If you like a mix of history, mystery, and romance, you will enjoy “Whispers in the Reading Room.”
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review. The opinions are mine alone.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Divine Science - A Review


A Review

Rarely, if ever, have I run across an author that accepts scripture and science at face value, as equal partners in discovering truth. The author has no problem in stating that he sees himself as a “cradle Catholic”; more importantly, at least to this reader, his faith in the Grace of God is his own. At the same time, the author makes it clear that as a tenured member of the University of California-Irvine Department of Physics, he is a scientist.  He takes his faith seriously; he takes science seriously.

Too often, these kind of statements are made so that the speaker can join the discussion, though the statements are made lightly. But as the reader makes his way through this book, it becomes clear that Dr. Dennin attempts to make both of these foci key parts of his decision making. Though I do not agree with all of his conclusions, I do appreciate his attempts to weave his faith together with his science to make a single coherent world view. Something most writers find hard to do.

Using a combination of Scripture, Theology, Philosophy, and Science, the author seeks to discover the “fullness of reality” as God intended it to be seen – giving a fuller view than would be possible if we relied on one or the other alone. 

I do appreciate the work that Michael Deninn is attempting to do. I remember the job interview I had at a Midwest Christian College. I was told up front that I would be fired if I in any way supported creation (note, my field was Computer Science). The author does not support a seven-day creation approach, but, at the same time, he has no problem acknowledging God’s presence and work in the creation event. Early in the book, he quotes an undergraduate faculty member addressing the Creation story:

That story may be factually false, but it is a myth. And a myth can convey truths that are more important, more salient, and more applicable than any fact that you might encounter. That story is better than factual, it is truthful.

The author accepts scripture at face value, recognizing that it represents different authors, with differing backgrounds, and written using different genres. Each of these truths serves as the foundation for good exegesis – and means that he takes not only his faith seriously, but also the scriptures.

The reader may not accept all of the conclusions that come from the author (as I said earlier, this reader does not), but the author and this book do deserve a careful reading by both the theologian and the believing scientist. 

In the interest of openness, I should point out that this review is written by an ordained Protestant pastor who spent 24 years in the college classroom teaching Computer Science.  The review is based on a free electronic copy of this book provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.

Murder On The Hour - A Review

Murder On The Hour cover.jpg

A Review

I read the book. I  liked the book. I do not get the title.

Regardless, this lovely Welsh murder mystery held my interest both as we visited the various shops in Lianelen and walked about the outlying country that lay alongside the River Conwy in North Wales. But even the beautiful territory in which the author set her book could not stop the murder of Catrin Bellis. And it would take the combined instincts and detective work of Penny and Victoria (owners of the local spa), Evelyn (the former  postmistress), and DCI Gareth Davies, to discover the guilty party.

To add complexity and interest to the story, Antiques Cymru (the Welsh version of The Antiques Roadshow) was coming to town. The mixture of tapestries, tea sets, furniture, and other oddities recovered from attics and barns in the area would provide some of the clues and excitement that added to the local mystery. But in the end it would take ah, but that would be giving away the story.  

Michael was an annoying distraction to both Penny and to the reader. His presence added little to the story and wasted the time of whoever met him.  It is time to let him go.

The first couple of chapters were a slow go - but once the murder occurred and time could be spent in tracking down the culprit, the book’s pace picked up quite nicely. The last night of reading was a long one as I made my way to through the final chapters to find out the truth.  As the book draws to a close, the author does a nice job of walking us back to the beginnings of WWI to provide the historical backdrop of the crime. A tale which might have served as the basis for another mystery as well.

The author hints that there will be more mysteries for Penny and her friends - I, for one, hope they come soon.

This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.