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.

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

My Jesus Bible - A Review

My Jesus Bible

My Jesus Bible.cover.jpg

Text by Michael Berghof
Illustrated by Gill Guile

A Review

“My Jesus Bible” is a colorful, attractive children's Bible. The book consists of 20 stories pulled from Jesus’ life that would appeal to preschool children to 3rd or 4th graders. Given that information, this reviewer would recommend the book for children and their parents or Sunday School teachers.

I have two problems with the book. First, there seems to be some question as to what age group the book is actually designed for. Its physical design as a board book with a plastic handle would make it appear to be designed for the preschool child. The detail of the artwork would seem to appeal to the kindergartner or 1st grader. The size of the print and the writing itself would suggest that the book belongs in the hands of the older elementary school child. This final obstacle could be overcome by an older sibling or adult reading the material to a younger child or the availability of a recording to accompany the book (at this point this does not exist, as best I can tell). Though it can be said of any book, the purchaser will need to be aware of who will be using the book and how it will be used.

The second difficulty I see is a lack of Biblical references. These would be useful for both the older child and for the parents or Sunday School teachers working with child readers. It would allow the adult to familiarize himself or herself with the Biblical material from which 20 stories are drawn which becomes important because the stories are drawn from all four gospels - sometimes combining the events described by multiple authors. Having access to the underlying scriptures would prepare the adult reader to answer children’s questions and to familiarize themselves with Scripture’s content.

Do I recommend this book? YES. But only if the purchaser is aware of its limitations and willing to work with those limitations and child for whom the book is purchased.
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.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Build the Altar - A Review

Build The Altar cover_.jpg

A Review

Paula Wiseman has become one of my favorite Christian fiction writers.  She is now, slowly, building a reputation for none fiction works as well.  I earlier purchased a copy of her 56 Tips To Help You Get the Most Out of Every Book in the Bible and appreciated her insights and thoughts. Her latest book at 42 pages uses the various altars found in scripture as tools for teaching about worship.

Ms. Wiseman uses five altars built by men and women from both the Old Testament to help the believer understand the purpose and role of worship in his and her life. Noah, David, Elijah, Hannah, and Mary, provide are the individuals used to build her argument.  Each chapter is divided into two sections: “Consider the Context” and “Connecting to Christ”. The first section focuses on the story of the character and the altar he or she builds. The discussion is both exegetical and practical - questions are used throughout to make the discussion personal for the reader. The second section builds parallels between the history discussed in the first section and life of a 21st-century believer. The two sections provide sufficient depth to be of interest to both the new believer and a mature believer looking for something to help renew their faith.

This book/booklet could serve as a guide to personal devotions for as short as a week or a month or longer. Another way I might find this guide useful would be to spend the first day of the week using this guide as a tool in a personal retreat setting (park, zoo, mall, etc.) and then use the remainder of the week using the insights found during that alone time to guide the reader's personal devotions for the next week. Finally, the book could serve as the foundation for a six-week study for a small group - the small group covering the material in the book, while encouraging the members to use the material to guide their devotions in the time between meetings.

However the book is used and whoever uses the book, it is likely to be a blessing to the reader.
This review is based on a free electronic copy provided by the author for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are my own.

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation - A Review

Reclaiming the Lost Art of Biblical Meditation

Biblical Meditation.cover.jpg

Robert J. Morgan

A Review

Robert J. Morgan has a reputation for compiling material suitable for personal or corporate devotions. In the past these have included collections of sermons, hymn stories, and church history. This book serves a similar purpose, but also guides the reader toward developing the spiritual discipline of Biblical Meditation in his or her own life.

At one level the book is a guided look at the Biblical principle of meditation. It does this by guiding the reader through examples - both from scripture and by guiding the reader through key scripture passages. Chapters demonstrate the principles, states them explicitly, and provide opportunities for the readers to put these principles into practice.

The middle portion of the book contains suggested meditations based on each chapter. This of course requires the reader to review, again, the principles discussed in the book. Plenty of blank space is provided for the reader to make his or her own personal comments.

The book concludes by gathering the key Biblical passages used as examples throughout the book. This allows the reader to use the tools and guidelines provided throughout the book without the intrusion of the author’s commentary.

I found the authors approach helpful. Having spent much of the early years as a believer using Bible study materials developed by other publishers, this book takes that approach one step further - by using the Bible Study material to teach the reader to develop skills that can be used independently of a publisher’s pre-printed manual. Part of discipleship is teaching believers to study and apply the scriptures for themselves. This book does that well.

This reviewer would recommend this book for use as an individual’s personal study or as a unit in a small group study. It would make a handy gift for a new believer who is ready to study scripture independently. I would also recommend that it be placed on the shelves of a church library, making it available to a larger audience over time.
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.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

The Curious Christian - A Review

The Curious Christian

Barnabas Piper

A Review

A broad look at curiosity and the Christian, the author makes a solid case for the role curiosity plays in the life of a believer – whether the ordinary layman living a rather mundane life or the scholar who is researching questions of lasting consequences.  Questions are part of being human – whether it is in culture, the sciences, or faith.

The author explores a number of questions related to curiosity:
  1.      What are we to be curious about?
  2.      Are there topics which are out of bounds?
  3.      How do we satisfy our curiosity? 
  4.      Are there eternal consequences for our curiosity?  
My favorite chapter was actually the final chapter – “How to Live a Curious Life’ in which the author provides 12 takeaways for living the curious life. It summarizes much of what has been discussed in the earlier parts of the book.  

Ultimately, I was somewhat disappointed in the books presentation. It did not draw me in, nor was it as practical as I would have liked. Much of it consists of a description of one man’s personal journey as a curious person – perhaps of interest to some, not to this reader. This is one book I will not be adding to my permanent library.
This review is based on a free copy provided by the publisher for the purpose of creating this review.  The opinions expressed are mine alone.  

Monday, April 17, 2017

The Illusionist’s Apprentice - A Review

The Illusionist’s Apprentice
Kristy Cambron

A Review

Fairytales can take many forms. This one takes the form of an historical cozy mystery set in the years following the First World War. But also woven between its pages are flashbacks to Wren Lockhart’s troubled childhood and her adventurous teen years. Along the way we meet Harry Houdini and we get to make brief visits to the Palace of Versailles in France. We also get a glimpse of the classical collection of tales found in W. Jenkyn Thomas’ “The Welsh Fairy Book”.

Wren Lockhart watched her mother die and always blamed herself for not preventing her sister’s causing the death. It would take 30 years for her to discover the truth and to find the freedom to forgive herself and learn to love and trust another person, while a variety of vile characters would try to destroy her life and heart along the way.

The book was part cozy mystery, part history (I enjoyed the author’s note at the end of the book), and part adventure.  The hint of faith and romance add value to the book for many readers.

For the reader looking for a fairytale wrapped in modern colors, this book might just fill the bill.

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.

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Double Up - A Review

Double Up
Double Up.jpg
Gretchen Archer

A Review

Gretchen Archer knows how to write a cozy mystery. She combines murder, arson, and fraud into a fun and funny story centered on the Bellissimo Casino and, for this book, the new competitor, the Blitz, located across the bay in Biloxi, Mississippi.  

Davis Way Cole’s “House” is hilarious as it attempts to meet every need the family has in it 24th floor suite - EVERY NEED to the extreme. Added to “House” is Davis’ ex- ex- Mother-in-Law and her ability to spy on the competitor’s operations. Then things only went from bad to worse when the shrimp started spoiling in the ex- ex- Mother-in-Law’s car (“yuck”).

It was obvious something was not right - and Davis Way Cole (former casino super spy) took it upon herself to find out what it was without getting herself and her friends killed in the process.

This reader was laughing from the first chapter - he needed to be careful to not wake his spouse with a giggle or two in the middle of the night. Though the mystery was obvious from the beginning, it would take nearly half the book before the first murder took place - meaning the story was a bit, though not obnoxiously, slow in developing.  My biggest disappointment, having read the earlier books in the series, was the disappearance of many main supporting characters, Fantasy, No-Hair, Mr. and Mrs. Richard Sanders, from most of the current book. If the reader has not read previous books in the series, their absence will hardly be noticed.

For the reader looking for a funny and enjoyable spring read, “Double Up” should fill the prescription 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.

Monday, April 3, 2017

Reformation Theology - A Review

Reformation Theology.jpg

A Review

I was hesitant to agree to review this book. I clearly do not put myself in the reformed church tradition - yet, as a Wesleyan pastor, theology does intrigue me, and I want to understand it as best I can. I was not disappointed.

In spite of the title, the book is not a theology text, per se. It fits most closely under subject heading “historical theology”, but it does not quite fit there either. When I consider the topic of “historical theology” I expect to find the book or paper to follow the development of a theological theme over time - from the original scriptures and early church, to the church fathers, through the middle ages and the reformation, to its current understanding in the church. This book does not do that. Rather, this book takes a snapshot of the broad areas of theological study (from the doctrine of scripture to eschatology) as they were understood during the formative years of the reformation. Written as a series of essay, each dealing with a specific theological topic, the various authors attempt to examine the doctrinal issues through the eyes of major players in the reformation. As an example, let me draw from the “Abstract” on the essay entitled “Sola Scriptura” by Mark D. Thompson:

Sola Scriptura is sometimes described as the formal principle of the
Reformation. Certainly, an appeal to Scripture’s final authority is
a common thread throughout the writings of the major theological
voices of the Reformation, despite their distinctive emphases and
particular interests. This chapter examines the thought of Luther,
Melanchthon, Zwingli, Bullinger, Calvin, and Cranmer on the au-
thority of Scripture in an attempt to highlight both their common
perspective and their unique contributions. It also argues that de-
spite the genuinely revolutionary character of the Reformers’ ap-
peal to Scripture, it in fact relied on antecedently held convictions
about the nature of Scripture and its right to determine Christian
faith and practice.

The reader will notice that the author attempts to draw from the thoughts of Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingly, Bullinger, Calvin, and Cranmer. Other writers may draw from a subset of these individuals or extend their writing to include elements of the Counter-Reformation and other contemporaneous groups. Interestingly, Wesley’s name is mentioned only once, in the Prologue, which sort of serves as later limit of the book’s coverage.

I found the reading to be a bit uneven - the Prologue was very difficult, formal, scholarly; some essays followed the same pattern, while others were more readable by the typical seminary and graduate student. They were still scholarly and well-researched, but not so formal as to hinder the reader’s understanding. The book was not written as a defense of Reformed theology, but as an explanation of the reformers' theology at the time they lived. Some authors simply echoed the reformers' ideas, others tried to place those ideas into their cultural settings. Speaking of authors, the only name familiar to this Wesleyan reviewer was that of Michael Horton (who wrote the Prologue) - I expect that this is more a result of this reader’s background than the quality of the scholars chosen to be part of the project.

Though the Advanced Readers Copy did not include indexes, a Name Index, a Subject Index, and a Scripture Index are scheduled for inclusion in the final edition of the book. These will add significant value to the book.the

This book does belong on the shelf of all scholars coming out the reformed church or having an interest in historical theology. Having said that, I would recommend the book be read by Christian scholars of all stripes - whether a personal copy or one borrowed from the library. Luther, Melanchthon, Zwingly, Bullinger, Calvin, and Cranmer, each contributed to the protestant reformation in their own way. Understanding that contribution will be important to all of us.

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.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Baseball Faith - A Review

Baseball Faith
Baseball Faith.jpg
Rob Maaddi

A Review

This reader is not a baseball fan. He does not spend summer evenings or weekends sitting in front of a TV set watching baseball games. Having said that, he does own season seats to seats for the local Triple-A team right behind home plate. He enjoys the sound of the crowd, the taste of a diet soda in a giant cup, and the smell of an occasional food item from the venders stationed beneath the stadium.

That was enough to catch the interest of this reviewer for “Baseball Faith” by Rob Maaddi. Well, that and this reviewer’s own faith.  

And that is what this book is about - a look at the faith of 52 major league players. The entries are a simple four pages each: a full-page picture, a one-page testimony, a page summarizing the player’s career, and a page highlighting significant stats from their career. But with that the reader becomes aware that God is alive and well on the ball diamond, though it may not be obvious during the nine innings of play.
Not being a fan of MLB baseball, most of the names pass me by like a ball goes wide of the batter, but that does not make their stories any less intriguing. Their stats provide the justification for including them in this collection. We hear in their own words how and where they came to a point of believing in Jesus; and we begin to understand how their faith influences their game, both on and off the field. As they share, they also set an example for those of us who play on some field other than a ball diamond - whether it be in an office, a factory floor, or a classroom, etc. It is this modeling which gives this book its real value to this reader. This is a book that can be shared from mentor to mentee, from the little league coach to the young player, or from father to son.

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, March 28, 2017

Every Trick in the Rook - A Review

Every Trick in the Rook.jpg

A Review

Not quite a cozy mystery, but one worth reading nonetheless.

This is the second book by Marty Wingate that I have read. The first focused on the plant life of the English countryside, this book was woven throughout with a look at the birds of the English Island. Julia, her former (and now deceased) husband, her boyfriend, and father are all birders, both recreationally and professionally. As Julia and her friends, with some help from the local constabulary, attempt to discover the reason and person(s) behind her ex-husband’s murder, we are introduced to some of the amazing feathered animals that live in England.

The mystery is intriguing enough to hold the reader’s interest from beginning to end; while the parade of birds that are woven throughout the story will drive the reader Google and other internet search tools to better understand the creatures which “fly” by the reader’s windows. The most interesting species is, as the title suggests, Alfie, a Rook - an intelligent bird, capable of collecting lots of minutia. Some of the collectables are downright gross, while others serve as stepping stones toward pinning down the murderer’s identity and motive.

Cozy - no.

Readable - absolutely.

This book is well worth the time spent reading over the last week. This reviewer recommends this mystery for bird lovers, mystery lovers, and amateur crime solvers wherever they may be found.  

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.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

100+ Little Bible Words

100+ Little Bible Words.jpg

A Review

Colorful words plus easy words make for a great gift for the young toddler just learning to read. Each set of images is based on a familiar Bible story and includes 10 or more words for the toddler to learn. All the words come from the Bible text; approximately 85% of the words are helpful for general knowledge as well as for understanding of the Scripture. The the other 15% are more closely connected to the Scriptures, but are important for the future Bible reader to know. Most of the words are nouns, though there are some adjectives and verbs scattered throughout the book.

The pictures are colorful and bright - though the individual pictures are a bit smaller than one might expect for a preschool book. The book will make a great gift for the toddler or preschool child. A parent or other adult will need to read the associated Bible stories and pronounce the words found in each story, but that will only build the relationship between the parent and child as the child is learning to associate the words with their pictures.  

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.