Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Skydive - A Review



Susan O’Brien

A Review

Not quite your normal cozy mystery.  Not even your normal murder mystery. Yet a book worth reading.

Kat (aka Katherine) has disappeared - almost as soon as she grew out of the foster care system, she was lost. Lost to everyone - her jailed mother, her foster parents, her friends, and to the PI “hired” to make she was okay. And, why was she lost, because she was not okay. Caught in the hands of human traffickers and nearly missing the deadline to avail herself of the help available to those leaving foster care, Kat needed help, and she did not yet know just how much help she needed.

It was up to Nicki Valentine, her colleague, Kenna, her boyfriend, Dean, the local police, and various associates and friends made along the way to find Kat before it was too late. The story of how they do so is gripping and tense. So gripping and tense I almost decided to give the book a rather poor review - with its various dark and creepy sittings (including the tattoo shop, a strip club, the basement drug hole, and the sleazy hotels they spent time visiting) and the people they had to deal with (prostitutes and drug dealers). Two things changed my mind. In the midst of this dark story there were glimpses of grace in the lives of the main characters as they found opportunities to pray and put faith into action. Though not a Christian book, faith is still present as the reader moves through the book. The second mind changer was the commitment of the author to responding to the issue of human trafficking - not just in her writing but in her life’s personal commitments as well. Her commitment to the abused was helpful in understanding the darkness that surrounded this story.

Does this book belong in the Church library - probably not; but it certainly would be worth reading by any believer or other person who has a concern for the abused and misused children in our world and in America. Though sexuality is certainly a part of the story, it is not explicit and will most likely not be offensive to most readers. Though fictional, the story opened my eyes to the underside of American culture - a side I wish did not exist.

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, November 29, 2016

Battlestar Galactica Six

Battlestar Galactica Six

Battlestar Galactica Six.jpg

J. T. Krul

A Review

The Cyclons are just beginning to wage war on the twelve colonies as the story begins. They have realized that their existence is superior to that of humans - in essence they have evolved from the beings that created them. Now they want to dominate. The are gathering forces.

This story appears to look at the story of Battlestar Galactica and the Cylon war that preceded it, not form the human point of view, but from that of the Cylons. One Cylon in particular, Eve, has seemed to lost her way. And is at some point caught between her role as a Cylon and her outward identity as a human. The final resolution of her conflict is not yet clear - time will tell.  

The artwork is well done - with a collection of modern graphic art and photographic images. The story is a bit difficult to follow and appears disjointed until close to the end of the book. The the ending is not entirely satisfying (hey, the author and illustrators do want the reader to read the next book in the series), it does begin to make some sense. Because the time period predates the original TV show, the connection to the earlier iterations of the series is hard to determine other than the presence the of Cylons themselves.  

For the reader willing to take another view of the Cylon war and its implications for the human race, this new line of comics just fill the bill. It was fun to relive some of what may have been in an earlier time.

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.

NKJV Journal the Word Bible - A Review

Journal the Word
NKJV Journal the Word Bible.jpg   NKJV Journal the Word Bible - 2 .jpg

A Review

The growth of Journaling Bibles has paralleled the growing interest in adult coloring books. This edition is a worthwhile addition to the available Journaling Bibles.

The larger print means there are fewer verses on each page that found in other Journaling Bibles - giving room for more creative efforts by the reader. The use of the well-received ESV in a Large Print edition will be welcome by those who have difficulty with normal sized print.  I also appreciate that the note taking space is on the outside margines, rather than trapped within the binding of the book. This allows for easier note taking or drawing. Finally, the pages appear a bit thicker than many similar Bibles - meaning that they are more easily turned as the reader makes his or her way from one passage to the next.

Two small concerns are also apparent - though the print is larger, the space reserved for notes or images does not appear larger than that found in other Bibles. Also, because of the larger print and heavier paper, the Bible is heavier than other Journaling Bibles. This is probably to be expected, but it also means that the very people who may be helped with the larger print may be hindered with the heavier book.

With an attractive, sturdy, hardback, binding, packaged in a cardboard wrapping (see the first image above), this Bible would make a great gift for the artist or older person. It is arriving just in time for Christmas and (in our family) birthdays. I expect that there will be an active audience for this version of what is becoming a standard presentation style for many modern Bible translations.

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

The Missing Matisse - A Review

A Memoir
The Missing Matisse

The Missing Matisse.jpg

Pierre H. Matisse

A Review

It appears that I am in the minority, but frankly I found this book to be disappointing. The description, the front cover, and the subject set me up for a boy and man who had survived the dangers of World War II France. Coming from a famous family, Pierre Matisse had gotten lost in the midst of history’s most famous war. This is the story of how he found himself again.

I was all set for an exciting true story; yet, I found the book to be boring. I could not get caught up in it. I would put it down for a week, hoping that my attitude would change when I again picked up the book. It did not. The sketches by the young Matisse at the beginning of each chapter did add some value to the book, but not enough for this reader.

Though I was not enticed by this author’s memoir, perhaps a WW II history buff may be as he or she connects the story of a real family with the events surrounding the allied invasion of France and the attempts of a nation to save itself. It did not work for me.   

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

Monday, November 28, 2016

365 Essential Questions From The Bible - A Review

365 Essential Questions.jpg

A Review

Looking for sermon material for use after Advent? Here is one place I am looking. I earlier reviewed a book on 25 Questions God Asked, now I am presented with 365 Essential Questions From the Bible. Both present interesting material for developing a series of post Advent sermons.  And since I prefer Bible Studies to sermons, I have enjoyed reviewing the questions that God us mortals throughout the ages.  And I do not need to write these questions, One better than I did just that.

Mary Selzer has noted that there are some 3241 questions in the Bible. Now we look at nearly all the 450 questions that God asked in the 66 books that make us the Holy Scriptures.  For the most part, the questions asked are discussed in small devotional sized chunks.  But these discussions are not light - they require the reader to look at the world around them and to look at their own lives.

I found it difficult to find an order to the book. The devotionals and their related questions do not seem to be connected - they are not in Biblical order (though there is a Biblical index at the end of the book); I see no topical headings to suggest that they are arranged in topical order. The index is arranged by days, though my preview copy had no daily headings (NOTE: my e-copy was a reviewers copy, which is often not in a book’s final form).

The book would serve as a year long devotional for the established believer looking for something beyond the typical daily devotional available from various publishers. I might also serve a couple looking to deepen their own relationship with God.
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.

A Very Blessed Christmas Coloring Book - A Review

Very Blessed Christmas Coloring Book.jpg

A Review

I am not the coloring book fan in my family - that privilege belongs to my wife. Besides buying colored pencils, pens, and supplies, she has taken classes at the local library and bookstores. She has made gifts for many of her friends and family, including yours truly.

This volume contains a variety of interesting pictures. Some are drawn from the traditional family Christmas setting, others display more of religious setting showing pictures of churches decorated for Christmas or typical Christmas angels. There are also a number of images that can be cutout and used for package tags or as part of larger craft projects. I was disappointed that there are few that show images of the original Christmas story - a manger scene, a group of shepherds or kings, a baby wrapped in swaddling clothes.

There is plenty of room for creativity, color, and glitter in this book - but little room for the parent or crafter to teach the story of Jesus the baby. If you are looking for Christmas fun, this book may provide it, if you are wanting to use your art skills to share God’s story, look elsewhere.

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.

The Biblical Greek Companion - A Review

Biblical Greek Companion.jpg

A Review

It was a year ago that I reviewed the companion volume, Biblical Hebrew Companion. I ended that review expressing hope that a similar book would be forthcoming for Biblical Greek. Now it has.   

Similar to the earlier volume, this 100+ page reference book serves as a simple desk dictionary/encyclopedia on Biblical Greek Syntax and Morphology.  It is not designed to teach Greek, other books do that well; but to assist the user in understanding how the various syntactical and morphological issues can be used to better understand the Greek used in the New Testament. The author, in his introduction, does a good job of summarizing the audience to which this work is best addressed:

  1. Pastors and other ministry leaders who may have learned biblical Greek at one time, but have experienced the loss of much of that learning because of the time demands of life and ministry;
  2. College and seminary students who are engaged in a biblical Greek language course, but who could use this resource as a supplement to provide easily accessible and simplified explanations, along with clear biblical examples;
  3. College and seminary students who are enrolled in an academic program that no longer requires them to learn the biblical languages, but who wish to have access to the wealth of available resources for original-language study;
  4. Those who have never had the opportunity, resources, or inclination to learn the paradigms, vocabulary, grammar, and syntax of biblical Greek, but would still like to benefit from the deeper insights into the Bible that Greek study can provide

As with the earlier work, I wish I had it by my side while learning Greek - 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 a passage?

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

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.

Rick Warren's The Lord's Prayer - A Review

The Lord’s Prayer

Warren The Lords Prayer.jpg

Author: Rick Warren
Illustrator: Richard Jesse Watson

A Review

It was probably not the first prayer I ever learned, but it was one of the first that I memorized. Rick Warren has written a nice and simple commentary on this most famous of prayers uttered by Jesus. Each entry is composed of four parts:

  1. A line (or phrase) from the Lord’s prayer
  2. An illustration working off the theme found in the quoted phrase
  3. A four (or so) line commentary responding to the quoted phrase
  4. A simple prayer echoing the phrase and commentary

The illustrations are colorful and gripping. They will hold a child’s (and maybe the parent’s) attention.  The commentary is not particularly deep; but because the book is written for a the 4-8 year old child, I would not expect an in depth exploration of the Lord’s Prayer. However, I expect both the parent and the child would find the entire presentation to an encouraging addition to their spiritual walk - regardless of their physical or spiritual age.

This book belongs in the preschool section of the church library and in the homes of preschoolers and beginning readers. It would make a great Christmas or birthday gift - I would say a stocking stuffer, except the 12”x18” size means it will not fit into most stockings.

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

The Whole Art of Detection - A Review

The Whole Art of Detection.jpg

A Review

Though I like the legend of Sherlock Holmes, I am not a Sherlockian. If I like a Sherlock Holmes story, it is because I like it; not that it fit well within the Holmes canon as defined by those with a more scholarly bent. Having said that, I found The Whole Art of Detection to be a pleasant trip through Holmes’ life events. The book is a selection of short stories that span much of Dr. Watson’s interaction with Holmes. They are written from a variety of perspectives - most are a retelling of adventures had by Dr. Watson and Holmes, but the book also includes a few 1st person excerpts from Holmes’ personal diary.

The fifteen stories are a bit uneven - some are quite capable of holding the reader’s interest, while other seem a bit longer than necessary. The stories introduce details of Holmes’ and Watson’s life - including the reaction of friends to Watson’s wife’s, Mary, death. Similarly, we see a glimpse of Watson’s response to learning that Sherlock Holmes had returned to Baker Street from his supposed death in Switzerland.

I kept coming back each night to find out what was next in the life of our two friends. In the course of reading, of course, we again meet Mrs. Hudson and Inspector Lestrade. We travel throughout London and its environs.

For the fans of late 19th century London and Sherlock Holmes, this book might just fill the bill for a late night read. It did for me, it will others as well.

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, November 15, 2016

The End of Protestantism - A Review

End of Protestantism.jpg

A Review

The Protestant Church at the beginning of the 21st century is a broken and fragmented church; often more defined by what we are not, than by what we are. Dr. Leithart argues that our goal is to become one church as Christ prayed, “... that they may be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you …” The flaw with this desire is that it is a heavenly goal, one that we expect to see at the end of time, not one we will see completed by broken people living in broken relationships. Ideal, yes; but not one likely to be seen this side of eternity.

In some ways, the author argues that the church was closer to this ideal at its beginning. As the church grew geographically, the ties to its early apostolic roots began to disintegrate. Five-hundred years later Martin Luther nailed his 95 thesis to a church door, creating more division. Calvin, Zwingli, and the other reformers added to the  splintering of the church - even though their goal, as their name implies, desired to reform the church. As governments began to support one splinter group after another, the splits became more ingrained into culture and a future unit more difficult to envision.

When the church crossed the Atlantic and made its presence known in the new world, the divide grew. Different divisions claimed different territories - the roles of the Dutch Reformed, the Anglicans, the Catholics, etc., in their various colonies cemented their differences. But as the colonies had to work together to form a new country, so the churches had to learn to cooperate. The result was a grudging acceptance, but not real unity. We have gotten to the point, as I mentioned in my introduction, where we define ourselves by what we are not, rather than by what we are.

But we cannot stay where we are - we need to move toward a unity much as the Father has with the Son.  

The biggest problem I have with Leithart’s goal is that he neglects to take into account that we are working with broken people in broken churches. I expect that a 21st century unity will recognize our differences and that those differences will give each local church strength and weaknesses. Much as the various spiritual gifts come together in a local body, the various strength and weaknesses of a community of local churches must come together to build the Kingdom of God.  Rather than using our differences to divide us, let us use our difference to build the Kingdom, one stone at a time.

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.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

NIV Faith and Work Bible

Faith & Work Bible .jpg

A Review

My interest in this Bible comes via a number of avenues. First, my thoughts return to my training as a vocational counselor.  Much of that training focused on the value we as humans place on work and/or being out of work. I was also drawn to this Bible by my work with college students completing their internships in Computer Science.  But my interest came most clearly as I thought of my own somewhat staggered career path - which has included formal education and experience in Chemistry, Ministry, Computer Science, and Counseling. As the book’s cover suggests, “You invest a significant part of your life working … it matters.

This Bible consists of helps that focus on work and the study of Scripture and the Christian life in general. These include a series of biographical and anecdotal stories of those who involved with their work and a series of essays written by well-known Christians exploring the topic of work and faith. Of a more general nature are a series of brief articles dealing with core doctrines that will influence our attitude toward our life’s work and a 31-day reading plan for studying “Scripture’s overarching storyline.”  Helpful indexes are provided to the biographical, doctrinal, and storyline studies.

The variety of helps means this reader is unsure whether this volume is better classified as a Study Bible or as a Devotional Bible - perhaps it is some unknown type of Bible that lies somewhere in between. It  is also unclear to whom this Bible is addressed. It would be a welcome addition to the library of the Christian involved in vocational counseling (whether a professional counselor or a pastor). It also belongs in the church library within reach of the lay community seeking their own understanding of their career  choices. Finally, this Bible would be a welcome gift for the layperson examining their own career decisions - either at the beginning of their career or seeking a mid-career change.  

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

Monday, November 7, 2016

NKJV Know the Word Study Bible - A Review

NKJV Know The Word Study Bible.jpg

A Review

This book represents a Study Bible that does not seem to know what it wants to communicate. Providing three tracks for study (Book by Book, Verse by Verse, and Topic by Topic), it never seems to really accomplish any of these with any sort of consistent vision. Tools are provided for each track, but none of them provide the depth this review would expect from a really good Study Bible. I would have preferred to have the editors pursue one of these tracks with more depth and consistency.  

Let me use the Topic-by-Topic track as an example. The Bible tackles 21 different topics (only 21? - for a true Study Bible, this seems weak) providing five notes on each topic. There are three exceptions. The discussion on “God the Son” provides seven notes, the discussions on “Sanctification” and “God’s Will” each provide six notes each. The notes are laid out in such a way that the reader can follow the “trail” forward to the next note, but without any reference to the previous note or the beginning of the thread, he or she is forced to refer to the index in order to follow the topic from beginning to end. Each note provides a look at one verse dealing with the topic, allowing the reader little room to more deeply explore the given topic. Cross references are either from the translators of the NKJV or from the verse by verse study notes - nothing specifically designed to help with further topical studies.  

Sadly, the indexing is minimal. The topic index, mentioned earlier, is designed to point the reader to the five, six, or seven, notes on each of the 21 topics. There are no indexes focusing on the Book by Book studies or the Verse by Verse studies. The appendices consist of tables of “Monies, Weights, and Measures,” a typical Bible Concordance, and a typical set of Bible Maps. None of these appear to be designed specifically to augment this Study Bible.

This Bible would serve as a great gift for a new believer, or for the high school graduate beginning their own study of scripture. The notes that are provided, are useful, but not sufficient for deeper study. Thus, this Bible would be of lesser value to the seminary student or pastor with access to other tools, Bibles, and resources, to supplement his or her study.

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

Beyond Suffering Bible - A Review

Beyond Suffering Bible.jpg

A Review

Though being marketed as a Study Bible, I think this Bible is has more similarities to today’s Devotional Bibles. Having said that, this Bible is the best Devotional Bible I have seen in a long time (ever?). It belongs in the hands of every pastor, caregiver, personal sufferer - anybody that finds themselves in a hopeless situation. As the reader might guess, that includes most of us.  

A variety of helps contribute to the value of this Bible. Devotionals are scattered throughout the Bible, many of them written by Joni Eareckson Tada, focusing on the many sides of suffering. Along with the devotionals, are a series of character profiles and application guides (“Connection Points”).  Also included are a set of ten weekly reading plans :

  1. Comforting Those Who Mourn
  2. Disability and the Image of God
  3. Growing Spiritually Through Suffering
  4. Intellectual Disability and Salvation
  5. Healing: A Proper View
  6. The Role of the Church
                  in Suffering and Disability
  7. Praising God Through Suffering
  8. Suffering and Spiritual Formation
  9. What Causes Disability
  10. Victory Through Weakness

Along with these resources, found in the text itself, there are also a series of essays from a variety of authors addressing the issue of suffering and the believer. I appreciate that the publisher has not left this book standing by itself. Near the end of the book is a two-page list of additional recommended resources: Books, Curriculum Resources, Joni and Friends Websites, and Other Helpful Websites. A very useful, comprehensive topical index is provide to give access to the various materials.

Though more like a Devotional Bible, the reader will find the typical helps (though nothing special) found in a Study Bible: Cross References, Dictionary and Concordance (combined), and Bible Maps. Finally, I should note that the contributing authors are listed, for both those who worked on the NLT translation and on the Beyond Suffering Bible.

As I hinted earlier, some version of this Bible belongs in the hands of every Pastor, lay leader, Sunday School teacher, church library, and family. We each will need to deal with suffering someday, somewhere. This Bible can help prepare us for that task.

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