Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Bible Story Coloring & Activity Book - A Review

Bible Story
Coloring & Activity


A Review

I eagerly awaited the arrival of my review copy of this book, but I was not sure what to expect. However, I found myself wonderfully surprised when I found this book in my mailbox this week. Rather than a 20+ page book of easy activities, I found an almost 400-page book of activities that would be satisfying to kids from pre-K through elementary school.

The activities range from simple coloring pages to various kinds of puzzles and combinations of both. About half of the activities are clearly tied to a Scripture passage, usually a chapter or two. Others are related to a nearby page and its scripture passage.  It should be noted, that almost all can be directly connected to a scripture passage, several of those do not have a direct reference to a scripture.

The back cover lists 10 different activities:

  • Word Searches
  • Crossword Puzzles
  • Connect the Dots
  • Hidden Messages
  • Fill in the Blanks
  • Secret Codes
  • Unscramble
  • Mazes
  • Find It
  • Matching
And as the cover says, “... and more”.  This collection of activities would be great on a road trip with kids, for a child to use while staying home when sick, as a boring summer day’s activities, etc. The book would serve as an excellent supplement to a morning Sunday School class or mid-week children’s activity time. Parents may want to consider the book as a stocking stuffer for Christmas.
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, June 27, 2017

Fatal Forgeries - A Review

Fatal Forgeries

Fatal Forgeries Cover.jpg

Ritter Ames

A Review

Laura Beacham’s parents were art thieves. She was in the art recovery business. That at times put her at odds with much of the rest of her family - and those odds could be fatal. That theses sounded intriguing, but I was disappointed in its implementation.

The book is inviting as the characters travel throughout Europe, visiting or traveling near landmarks in London, Barcelona, and Paris. Similarly, the book introduced me to the world of art, particularly as created by Caravaggio, an Italian artist. These side trips did give value to the book and made the trip interesting as I used Google and Wikipedia to discover more of these unknown worlds.

The book, however, has one large problem - it does not offer a complete story. This reader felt as if he were set up, but that nothing was accomplished in its 300 pages. Paintings were not returned, parents were not found, thieves were not caught (though one murderer was).

I kept hoping for some conclusion of the story, but it never came. Like an afternoon soap opera (with far less romance), one can only hope the next book offers the satisfactory ending expects from an enjoyable book.
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.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Rethinking Holiness - A Review

Rethinking Holiness cover.jpg

A Review

Though I am a Wesleyan pastor, my introduction to Holiness theology was less than typical. I began my journey as a United Methodist but chose to attend an Evangelical Free Church seminary recommended by Paul Little at a weekend IVCF retreat. My appreciation of holiness theology came from three sources:
  • John Wesley’s A Plain Account of Christian Perfection
  • William Burt Pope’s Compendium of Christian Theology
  • Richard Watson’s Theological Institutes
I occasionally struggled with some of the more modern interpretations of Wesleyan holiness theology, but I found these texts to be satisfying and understandable. The current book brought my education into the 21st century.
Besides the topic, one other aspect of this book attracted me to it: the author has his roots in the Christian Missionary Alliance Church. I, too, had spent six years attending a CMA church - even considered entering ministry via this denomination. God had other plans and brought me to the Wesleyan Church. And four years later I was ordained as a Wesleyan Pastor.
For these two reasons, I jumped at the chance to read and review Rethinking Holiness.
Though the book occasionally has a practical bent, it is primarily a theology text. As such it is grounded in scripture.  The book begins with a grand look at the holiness of God. To Van de Walle, God’s holiness is not an attribute, but the defining characteristic of God. It is what sets Him aside from every other thing that claims or we are tempted to replace God with falls short on this characteristic.  Other things and people may be called holy, but only by the fact that they have been made so by their connection to God.  
The seven chapters each address a different aspect of holiness’ importance to the rest of scripture and our world:
  1. The Desire and Need for Holiness
  2. A Biblical Definition of Holiness    
  3. A Theological Investigation of Holiness    
  4. Holiness and the Nature and Purpose of Humanity    
  5. Holiness and the Nature and Problem of Sin   
  6. Holiness and the Nature and Goal of Salvation    
  7. Holiness and the Nature and Goal of the Church  
Each chapter concludes with an .”Excursus” covering a related, though distinct, topic. For example, the Excursus found at the end of Chapter 3 discusses “Human Language and the Nature of  God”. The book is well-researched with references and includes a complete index in the last few pages. My only disappointment with the book is that the author does not address the topic of entire sanctification - though that is not a specific point in the doctrinal statement of the CMA Church.
The writing is concise, well-organized, and interesting. I felt invited to move into each chapter and to be engaged with the content. The writing is easily understood, whether the reader is a theolog or a layperson. The book belongs in the seminary library. Some church libraries will find it useful. It would certainly fit well as an ancillary text for a course on God’s character or attributes or one focusing on the role of the Holy Spirit in the believer’s life. Finally, the book is recommended reading for anyone (scholar, pastor, or lay) looking for a source of personal renewal in their walk with Jesus.
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.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

"Book of Henry" - A Movie Review

Book of Henry
Book of Henry - poster.jpg

A Movie Review

So I am trying something new - rather than reviewing a book, I am going to review a movie. To be honest, this is not my first attempt at a movie review - though my earlier attempts date back to the early 1990’s. I was part of a CPE Unit being held at St. Luke’s Medical Center in Sioux City, IA. We had been given a writing assignment to evaluate what we learned about death in the books we had read that summer. However, it was not the books that I read that helped me think through this theme that year - the same year that “Mr. Holland’s Opus” and “My Girl II” were released. Those two movies and probably a couple of others became part of my essay for that unit. So now, 25 years later, I will again take a stab at writing a movie review.
Earlier this afternoon, my wife and I walked into our local Cinemark theater wanting to see “Cars 3”,  “Megan Leavey”, or “Book of Henry”. The latter movie won for this afternoon as it fit into our schedule given when we arrived at the theater and when it was playing (i.e. we only had a 1-hour wait, rather than the two-hour wait that the other two would have required).
“The Book of Henry” reminded me, as I mentioned to my wife and confirmed by a second review I read after coming home from the theater, of an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. I and the other review both mentioned “Rear Window” as a comparable Hitchcock film.
Henry’s mom is an immature mother trying to parent a semi-genius son and his rather normal brother. Henry becomes aware that a neighborhood girl is being abused by her stepfather, but because of his role in the community, nobody takes the accusation seriously. While facing his own crisis, Henry devises a way to protect the neighbor’s daughter and prepares a script for his mom to follow to assure the daughter’s safety. The immature mother begins to follow the script - but finally grows up enough to tackle the problem
in other ways. But the mom is not the only one who is going to grow up, Henry’s younger brother challenges mom to not address problems like her genius son would, but like she would.
The movie brings together a number of important themes in the lives of several of the main characters. Though not specifically a Christian film, the movie addresses issues that are important to believers - child abuse, parenting, grace (including a child’s rendition of “Amazing Grace” at an appropriate point in the movie), and maturity.
The PG-13 rating and the selection of previews chosen (ranging from R- to PG-13 rated movies) to run prior to the beginning of our feature film left my wife and I with doubts as the movie began. Occasionally the movie included some inappropriate language. There is a discussion of child abuse, but nothing explicit is shown on the screen. Similarly, a suicide is committed off screen, but even that helps bring the film to a satisfying conclusion. The movie is not appropriate for children or young teens or the Christian that may be offended by foul language, but it does have something of value to teach each of us about the world in which we may find ourselves. I gave the movie 5/5 stars and would recommend it for most adults.
This review is based on a paid admission to the theater. The opinions expressed are my own.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Beyond Justice - A Review

Beyond Justice
Beyond Justice.cover.jpg
Cara Putman

A Review

Cara Putman has created a captivating legal thriller based on the many issues present in the immigration discussion - particularly the immigration of children - legal and illegal.

A trained lawyer, I found Ms. Putman’s description of the law understandable and believable. Her use of legal references allows the reader to delve deeper into the legal issues discussed in the book. The law is not merely described but is used to build an engaging story in which Hayden McCarthy, is handed an unwinnable case. The client has recently legally immigrated to the US with her younger child. When she discovers that her older son has been caught crossing into the US illegally and has been murdered while in custody, she approaches Elliot and Johnson, the law firm for whom Hayden works, to discover the truth and ensure justice follows. The ensuing hornets’ nest endangers the life of the client, her child, Hayden McCarthy, and her friends. Set Washington DC and its environs, as well cross country to Waco, TX, the story takes us on a bumpy ride that will easily hold the reader’s attention.

My only disappointment is that it appears the author is attempting to build a series of book..s around the “justice” theme, but not around the characters introduced in this book. This implies that each book in the series will stand alone, rather than continue to build upon characters with whom we have already become familiar.

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, June 6, 2017

The Separatists - A Review

The Separatists

TheSeparatist Cover.jpg

Lis Wiehl

A Review

Lis Wiehl has written another smart, entertaining novel whose plot could easily be found in today’s newspapers. From the beginning of the prologue to the final moments of the epilogue, the reader is pulled from the skyscrapers of Manhatten to the corridors of power along the prairies of North Dakota to the industrial center of Winnipeg, Manitoba (Canada), we follow Erica Sparks and the news crew for GNN TV as they cover a recall election and its repercussions that are destined to reshape the United States of America.  Erica Sparks has discovered a politician that not only wants to be the new governor of North Dakota, but wants to lead the state and its people into a new country - The Homeland.

Whether the reader is a news junkie (as is this reviewer), a lover of historical fiction (though that history has not yet occurred), or just drawn to the writing of a terrific author, this book does not fail. The missing element is that though coming from a Christian publisher, faith does not play an integral role in the book's plot or themes. That does not mean that the believer or non-believer will not be challenged to relook at their view of politics at all levels - local, national, and international.
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.

NIV Kids Visual Study Bible - A Review

Kids Visual Study Bible.cover.jpg

Zondervan has created one of the most useful Study Bibles aimed at a young audience. Loads of visuals (the cover says over 700) and notes are what give this Bible significant value. The text is set against the center column; notes occupy the inch-and-a-half of the outside edges of the page. Though I did not do a thorough search, I could not find a page without at least one note, most had two. Some notes are longer - occupying an entire page. These pages tend to give extended details on places or individuals.

Additional helps include an index (not extensive, but better than that found in most children’s Bibles), a 12-page Bible atlas (indexed), and book introductions.

The Bible would attract children of all ages, though the text would seem to be better suited to older elementary or middle school students. The title might discourage its use by the middle school child, but it the contents would make it a perfect fit. I suppose parents will need to evaluate how their own children will respond to the title if they are thinking of buying this for a middle school child.

This book would make a perfect gift for a child entering fourth, fifth or sixth grade - they would then have the Bible and be accustomed to using it as they age. The book would also have a place in the church library where it could be used by a number of children for reading and personal 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.

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Woman's Study Bible NKJV (e-book) - A Review

The Woman's Study Bible

Womens Study Bible.cover.jpg

A Review

I have reviewed a number of Study Bibles and Devotional Bibles, but I have never been stymied to write a review by the nature of the e-book itself. At least until now.

I originally expected to receive a paper copy of this Bible - but received an e-book instead. The e-book was provided as both a mobi (i.e. Kindle) format and an ePub (i.e. Nook) format. I chose to explore the ePub version - and had a mixed reaction to what I found.

The footnotes, sidenotes, and essays, that I could find were well-written and helpful. However, unlike a paper copy, this reader found it difficult to “page” through the various notes and helps. I felt hampered - the most valuable material was hard to access. This was complicated by the fact that after following a link there often was no simple mechanism to return to the original location.

I expect that a paper edition would overcome most of these difficulties - so I have given it a three-star review. I would prefer to not rate this e-book at all (note - this is not saying zero stars). I would probably give a paper copy four or five stars. The material is useful and helpful - just not accessible.

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, May 30, 2017

The Good Book - A Review


A Review

The author has written a series of essays that look at 40 important chapters from the Scriptures (20 from the Old Testament and 20 from the New Testament).  The book begins each essay by providing the chapter as written in the Christian Standard Version. The essay then begins to discuss the chosen chapter that reads much like an extended sermon - with illustrations and applications.  The essay ends with a brief exercise allowing the reader to personalize the chapter.
As the reader moves through the book he or she will see the connections that make the 66 books ONE book. The book provides an overview of the scriptures - its story, its theology, and its application.
The material is suitable for both individual study or small group study. The material might also serve as the foundation of a year long preaching series - allowing a church to review the teaching of the entire Bible together.
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.

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Maggie Bright - A Review

The Maggie Bright

The Maggie Bright.jpg

Tracy Groot

A Review

Nahum 2:1-2 (RSV)

The shatterer has come up against you.
Man the ramparts;
watch the road;
gird your loins;
collect all your strength.

The Maggie Bright tells a story, but that story is fiction. On the other hand, its setting is far bigger, far more important, than the story itself. As I read, I was forced to review the beginning of England’s posture in WW II - a war that seemed almost over before it began.

More would follow as America eventually joined the war, but for now England had to save itself. It was not the British Navy or the British Army that would do that job - but the people of Britain itself.

The book presents a picture of war and a picture of humanity. It is both ugly and beautiful at the same time. History unfolds around a small boat - a craft designed to hold 12 vacationers, but destined to save nearly a 100 men on those fateful days at Dunkirk.

For those who are fans of World War II, those who enjoy the heroism of men who were not born to be heroes, and for those who believe in the power of prayer, this book belongs to them. My first thought when I saw the book was, “This is better suited for my wife.”  When I read the description I was convinced that I would not like this book - I do not like war stories. But my head and my heart were drawn into the story - with tears in my eyes as I came to its end. Not all my questions were answered - but that was okay. The book was satisfying in ways I did not expect. I was forced to review my history as the book unfolded. An operation of common sailors that was expected to save 30,000 - 45,000 men would save 340,000. Another 40,000 were left behind to surrender to the Germans, to be set free only at the end of the war.

The book is a story of a boat, of a war, and of humanity, and the price they paid for the freedom we have even today.

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, May 22, 2017

The Big Picture Interactive Bible: CSB - A Review


A Review

Holman Bibles has presented an attractive children’s Bible which has some difficulties in the presentation. The Christian Standard Bible hardback version, which I reviewed, is attractively designed to draw children of various ages to the scriptures. Each book contains a brief, “Kid-Friendly”, introduction including details helping the reader know to whom the book is written for, when it was written, why it was written, and a brief (a sentence or two) statement on the book’s key message. Also included in this introductory page is a list of the Bible Stories covered by the interactive features of this Bible. The body of the text includes six different types of sidebars focusing on additional key concepts:

  1. Definitions of “Big Words” or ideas found in many of the passages.
  2. Answers to “Big Questions” answered in the pages of the Bible
  3. “Christ Connections” help the reader see the role Jesus plays throughout the scriptures
  4. “Suggested Memory” highlight 100 verses that will help the reader apply the scriptures to their lives.
  5. Another section entitled “See the Big Picture” does for individual periscopes or sections what the Book Introductions do for the individual Bible Books.
  6. “Parent Connection”s is designed to help parents to “be empowered to use [the publishers] titles to engage deeper in the story with their kids. (Please note, I spent several minutes looking for an example of this kind of entry - I had a difficult time finding an example.)

These add significant value to this children’s Bible. I was disappointed however that I found no index to these features in the hardback version I was provided. A searchable e-book may overcome this limitation.

However, the very feature which is designed to make this edition stand out is poorly executed. After downloading an accompanying app from either the Apple or Android app stores, the reader can scan images within the book and have a Bible story read to them. The catch is that the reader must hold their phone or tablet camera over the picture for the entire story. Once the camera wanders away from the scanned picture, the story stops and must be restarted from the beginning. For older kids, the effort will not be difficult, but they may quickly get bored. Younger kids may have a difficult time leaving the phone focused on the picture long enough to hear the entire story. A couple of comments might be in order:

  1. If a written version of the story were included in the text, an adult or older sibling could read the story from where the automated story left off.
  2. This may only be a problem with a paper copy of this Bible - I expect that the e-book version of this Bible may not experience this handicap.

I will be giving two stars to this hardback version. I would give 2-½ stars if I could. My guess that the e-book would get a significant higher (4 stars?) rating provided it addresses the two issues mentioned above. I would hope that a future edition of the software or the printed book might address these issues. A parallel web page might also assist the parent and child to address these limitations as well.

The book’s best use for the hardback or paperback version might be in a church or public library, where the parent could borrow the Bible for a couple of weeks to see how well they and their kids can adapt to its use. A pre-school or Kindergarten Sunday School class might also find the book of value as it provides new methods for telling the Bible stories to a tech aware generation of young kids.

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.