Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Double Strike - A Review

A Review

Davis Way finds herself in the midst of a casino based crime spree - again. Like most businesses, casinos have to change with the time - and the Bellissimo Resort and Casino is not sure how best to grow.  To manage the needed transition, Richard Sanders (CEO) and the management team contracted with an experienced group of casino managers to operate a “casino within a casino”.  To celebrate the opening of this new venture, they had set up the “Strike It Rich Sweepstakes.”  This event would introduce the casino and its guests to the hardware and the software that would define the “Casino of the Future”.  

Only three things stood in the way of a successful opening:

1.  Davis Way’s wedding was planned for the same weekend as the opening of the “casino within a casino”.
2.  Davis Way was still married - only she did not know it.
3.  Something was not right with the “casino within a casino”.

It fell to Davis and the other members of the security team that worked for the Bellissimo to put the pieces together before something tragic happened (sadly, they were not able to do that) and the Mississippi Gaming Commission closed down the casino.  

Of course, as in her earlier books, the fact that Davis Way is the virtual twin of Richard Sanders’ (CEO) wife, Bianca, only complicates the work they have to do.  The task is further complicated by the presence of the Sanders’ son Thomas who is on the verge of being expelled from his boarding school.  The presence of other characters (some legitimate, some not so) makes for an interesting story.  I would love to access to Jeremy’s (aka “No Hair” and Davis Way’s boss) tie collection - they are colorful and interesting.  Given that he only wears a tie once, means they should be available for others to use.  Maybe the author could mail a set of them my way.  Because Davis Way is a virtual twin to the bosses wife, she gets the privilege of assuming her role, wearing her clothes (that is nice), and spilling hot chocolate on the one-of-a-kind fur coat (that is not so nice).  

The mix of plot, characters, and setting (including time spent in Alabama and Mississippi), make for a story that will leave the reader laughing his or her way through a crime that could topple a major institution in Biloxi, MS, as well as Davis Way’s family.  Though I am not a gambler or drinker, it was a pleasure to again walk along with this set of characters as they seek to solve mysteries bigger than they thought possible.     

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.

Bones Never Lie - A Review

A Review

I suppose there is a first for everything. For me, this was my first Temperance Brennan novel. For Temperance Brennan, it was a serial killer that could not decide whether home was in Montreal, Vermont, or North Carolina. Bones Never Lie would serve as a first for both of us.

Temperance Brennan had crossed my path before – but it was like in another lifetime. The TV show Bones, like many have noted, has little connection to the main character of the books, other than sharing the main character's name and occupation. Regardless, I was not disappointed. The book was a thriller with just a hint of romance. What it did lack, sadly, was the humor that has become a part of the Bones TV show.

Temperance soon discovers that there is a connection between the young teen girls deaths in Montreal, Vermont, and North Carolina. What is not clear is the nature of the crime – is there a single suspect or a pair, working together; how does a body found in a barrel of maple syrup connect to the other crimes; how did the pedophile located near the center of many of the death connect to them all? Yep, Brennan was faced with questions that left her feeling unsettled.

Suspense, crime drama, thriller, quirky characters (some stable, some not so) all contribute to a weeks worth of good reading. Could I laugh as I read – hardly. But I could sit back and relax and try to be an amateur detective and see through the clues before Temperance Brennan and her friends did the same. Didn't do that well either, but I did have fun trying.
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, July 21, 2014

Murder at the Mikado - A Review

Murder goes part and parcel with the theater, but one does not usually expect it to be the actors actresses to be the ones dying. However, that is what Andrew Farthering, Madeline Parker, and Nick Dennison find when Brent and Fleur Landis individually approach them for help in discovering the person responsible for killing members of the local theater troupe. With a bit more support of the local constabulary than in the past, the three friends (at least for now) tackle the difficult problem at hand.

The challenge is made more difficult by relationships long past, but not easily forgotten. Yet part of solution comes in the development of trust and forgiveness – trust and forgiveness will also, as the reader discovers, serve as the foundation of the upcoming wedding.

As in the two previous books, the mid-20th century setting of the story is believable and enjoyable. The lack of modern technology and the growing number of murders makes for a gripping plot that held this reader's attention to the end. Weaving in threads and lines from various Gilbert and Sullivan musicals makes the reading fun as well. Add to that the various bit parts of Ruth, Madeline's aunt, Chief Inspector Birdsong, and one or two others introduced or re-introduced in the current volume, and we have a fun trip through a mystery of rural mid-20th century England.

One can only hope that Julianna Deering, pen name for DeAnna Julie Dodson, will bringing us more from the life of these three amateur sleuths and their friends even a they begin the next stage of their lives.

One final note – this reader loved the image that the author gives for marriage in the final two or three chapters. Marriage is never easy, but given the hard work involved, it is worth it. I would not be surprised to find the picture painted in these chapters in a future sermon.  

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, July 15, 2014

We Make The Road By Walking - A Review

A Review

The author begins his book by writing:
You are not finished yet.  You are “in the making.”  You have the capacity to learn, mature, think, change, and grow.  You also have the freedom to stagnate, regress, regress, constrict, and lose your way.  Which road will you take?

As a believer, I find this statement to be true - we can all grow or die, depending on the choices we make.  The book provides tools for each believer to evaluate his or own life - either as an individual, as part of a small group, or as part of a larger group worshiping together.  Or, a church or parachurch group may chose to wrap-up a year long study using all three approaches.

The book is divided into 4 Parts, 52 Chapters, plus a number of supplemental sessions to allow the individual or groups to evaluate their growth through the year.  Each chapter includes a suggested reading, a devotional or contemplative reading designed to bring that passage alive to the contemporary reader.  The chapter ends with a series of questions to encourage the individual or group to dig deeper into the topics covered in the current chapters.  Similarly, each quarter (13 chapters) concludes with a series of questions to evaluate individual and group growth.

Though the book is challenging and worth the time spent working through the studies, I am bothered by the author’s suggestion that the same book could be rewritten for groups of “Jews, Muslims, and others.”  Such a task could only be done fairly by alternate authors with their hears firmly rooted in those traditions.  For a Christian to attempt to write a devotional for those of other traditions would seem to stretch both the Christian’s commitment and other’s belief systems as well.

Read with care and used to critically examine one’s personal belief system, the book has values for Christians coming from a variety of backgrounds.  Merely giving the book a cursory reading would seem to be unfair to the author and the book’s purpose.   

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, July 14, 2014

Celebrate Recovery Bible (2014) - A Review

A Review

Since 2007, the Celebrate Recovery Bible (CBR) has been a standard resource for those working with those working through various recovery programs within the church.  In 2014, Zondervan created a slightly revised (i.e. very slightly revised) version of this work.  The major change was an updated Bible text: the 2007 CBR was based on the 1984 edition of the NIV; the 2014 CBR is based on the 2011 edition of the NIV.  
The back cover suggests that two “lessons” have been removed from the newer edition (reduced from 112 to 110 lessons).  All other material remains essentially unchanged - though I did not look at all the text, I could find no changes in the various essays, lessons, and biographical material I did examine.  
As in the past, Celebrate Recovery uses an eight step recovery process - rather than the better known 12 step process.  I did not find this to be difficult as I have seen in my studies of the recovery movement programs ranging from 8 to 10 to 12 to endless steps.   Regardless of what model seems most helpful, the Celebrate Recovery Bible will serve as a helpful tool in growing as a believer during the recovery process.  On the other hand, if you own the earlier version of the CBR, I see no reason to make an additional purchase of this new version, unless you are a strong supporter of the 2011 NIV.  If you do not own a copy of the CBR, picking up a copy of this Bible will help an individual in their own spiritual growth or assist the one walking alongside someone on their own spiritual journey.

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, July 9, 2014

Firewall - A Review

Christian growth rarely happens in giant leaps; it normally is the result of God gently getting a person's attention over time.  Taryn Young would need to learn that - but it would take time.  

Beginning with small, but wonderful, wedding, Taryn was at the Houston's George Bush International Airport ready to begin her honeymoon.  While stepping into the restroom, an explosion disrupts her trip, her new husband goes missing, and her day starts to go from bad to worse.  Help comes in the form of an FBI agent who is not sure whether she is a part of the problem or a part of the solution - but he is the only person she can trust at this point.  Well, at least until a new dog enters her life and seems to have her best interest at heart.

The software that Taryn had been developing was the target for a terrorist - but whether it was a homegrown or an international terrorist was a question that seemed to require multiple answers.  Over the week following the explosion the pieces start to come together - but can the FBI obtain and use the information in time to save millions of lives in the US and Canada.

DiAnn Mills has written a thriller worthy of the nights spent reading alone on the couch late at night and early in the morning.  Though the answers were not always obvious, the story held together like a well-designed puzzle - with no missing pieces.  It would be fun to see more stories involving this software developer and the FBI agent that comes to her rescue.
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.

Feasting on the Gospels: Mark - A Review

Cynthia A. Jarvis and E. Elizabeth Johnson
Once again the editors of this new series from Westminster John Knox Press  have built an excellent commentary using a multi-prong approach.  Each Pericope is examined from four perspectives:

  1. Theological
  2. Pastoral
  3. Exegetical
  4. Homiletical

The text can best be read using a paper edition or a tablet capable of displaying two pages (with two columns per page) adjacent to each other - as the four perspectives are designed to seen in parallel across two pages.  Doing otherwise makes following the four separate essays a bit difficult to follow.  It can be done, but it is not convenient.  If the page design for reading on a small tablet or phone had been altered to allow each essay to be read in its entirety before moving on to a new perspective or pericope.  

As in the earlier volumes, the writing is well-done and useful to the man or woman preparing for the Sunday's pulpit.  Because different authors are used for each of the four perspectives, the reader is presented with multiple ideas or approaches to the text.  As I mentioned in previous reviews, I hope that this series of commentaries is extended to eventually cover the entire scripture, not merely the four Gospels.  I look forward to coming volumes in the months ahead.
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, July 2, 2014

The Spirit-Filled Life Bible - A Review

A Review

Over the last two or three years I have reviewed several Study/Devotional Bibles.  A few I have thought were of significant less value than others.  Others, were okay, but would not  be used regularly.  The New Spirit-Filled Life Bible, on the other hand, is one that will sit within reach on my desk (or keys, as I am reviewing an e-book) for regular use.  
As I am currently preaching from the book of James, these comments are reflect my observation of this book, more than any other.  Built in helps include the expected wealth of cross-references.  Almost every verse is addressed by at least one study note - some with more than one.  Word studies (called “Word Wealth”) are included for the most important greek words in the text.  Also included is an index to the English words translating the Greek and Hebrew words included as part of “Word Wealth”.  Extended notes are grouped into two categories:  “Kingdom Dynamics” and “Truth in Action”.  Each of these includes an index to their contents.  Finally, this Bible includes a number of extended essays discussing a number of topics that one might expect from a Bible edited by Jack Hayford.  At least in the Kindle version of this Bible, these essays do not distract from the value of the book - and add to it if read with care.
My major concern with The  New Spirt-Filled Life Bible is the lack of a unified index.  Each “Help” has its own index - word study, topical studies, applications, etc.  That means, if the user wants to study a topic in depth, he or she will need to search four or five different indexes to find relevant material.  In addition, it does not appear that Bible notes are indexed at all - the user will need to know which verses might speak to a particular topic.  This problem is not unique to this Bible - I have noted it in other study bibles.  As in the past, a comprehensive index would be helpful.  The New Spirit-Filled Life Bible is also available as part of the LOGOS Bible Software and its indexing and searching tools may make these notes more accessible.  I did not verify this as part of this review.
I would expect having a paper copy of this Bible may be of value as one studies, but whether a paper or e-book is available, this one Study Bible will be of value to the lay or pastor leader or Bible Stuyd teacher in a congregation.

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 Color of Justice - A Review

The Color of Justice

Ace Collins

A Review

It was 1964 and the civil rights movement was starting to impact some parts of the country, just not Justice, Mississippi.  And the death  of a young white girl, Becky Booth, was going to prove that point.  When Calvin Ross, a young, intelligent, black, and poor, high school student was charged with the crime, he needed a lawyer - a good lawyer.  Cooper (he went by the name of Coop) Lindsay was asked to be that lawyer.  But if he were to take the case, there would be a cost - a high cost - and no income.

It is now July 2014, 50 years later.  There had been changes, but maybe not enough.  Clark Cooper Lindsay (he, too, went by the name of Coop) was about to be dragged into another trial.  A trial that, like the one his grandfather faced, would change his life.  

The town had changed - a change that began with a sermon on Luke 10:25-37 - the story of The Good Samaritan.  The sermon had been preached in the years before the elder Cooper Lindsay had set up shop in town, but even now it was changing the town of Justice, Mississippi, for the better. As the younger Coop said, “There is work Grandpa began here and it needs to be finished.  And I feel at home in his old office.”  

The Color of Justice is the perfect read for a slow fall day. The two timelines, from 1964 and 2014, integrate well into a single story. It finishes with the reader wanting more - not because the book is incomplete, but because the characters are not done with their lives. I might hope, though do not expect, to see more books from Ace Collins featuring Coop Lindsay and his family and friends as they influence the culture in and around Justice.  Perhaps, those changes will need to be left to the imagination. The final version of the book is scheduled to include a set of discussion questions - which can only add  value to the book.

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, July 1, 2014

Nora Bonesteel’s Christmas Past

Sharyn McCrumb

A Review

A pleasant, gentle read - that rather than having an exciting plot, the small 150 page novella taught me more about life than most fiction books I read:
It seemed to her that getting old was in itself another country. Sooner or later, cemeteries weren’t full of strangers mostly older than you were; with every passing year they began  lling up with your friends and kinfolk.  The grave gathered in not only people you knew, but people who knew you.

The novella weaves together two stories, unrelated, but connected by the strands of history.  Each addresses the mysterious and how it finds it place into our lives.  Others, like me, may not be as comfortable as some.  But even with those misgivings, I was asked to look at myself - something done by good writing.  

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.