Sunday, December 15, 2013

Once-a-Day Country Faith Devotional

I obtained this book free from Book Sneeze in return for providing a review.

Was overall impressed with this book. It is in effect a bible quotation book that does what the title says -- provide reflections from fifty-six leading country music stars on their favorite biblical quote. The basic format: a nice glossy picture of the star(s) in question, the quote and a short discourse on what the quotation means to them. Nothing profound but a nice way to examine the Bible in a good looking package. The book also includes the Gospel of Mark.

The title is a bit curious in that it is not really "once a day" since we just have the fifty-six reflections. The Book of Mark is provided perhaps because it is the shortest gospel. The aim is to help the reader pick their own favorite passage and this suggests a certain Christian focus. But, the verses chosen are from both testaments of the Christian Bible.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Dear Mr. Knightley: A Novel

Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey noted that a novel is "some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.”

This along with the pleasure so many have reading them has led her own books to inspire a range of volumes as well (and at least one movie, Clueless). A book referencing a character from Austen's Emma suggests this too is one of that character. Mixing in a bit of a Dickens touch, this tale is about an orphan who gets a chance to Northwestern University’s prestigious Medill School of Journalism via scholarship. In return, she has to write to her beneficator, who is going by, yes, Mr. Knightley. Shades of "The Education of Samantha Moore." It's a nice device though extensive epistolary novels (letters) do personally bore me after awhile. The importance here is the nature of the character and the interest held in their stories. Here, we see the development of Ms Moore's character, which as Austen fans know, is a key theme in her novels as well.

Others note that this seems to be in the style of an old novel, but really -- lots of things are modeled on other things. We need to judge the book itself, not how it stands against some novel from when the Titanic went down (in real life!). On that level, it's a pretty good read. Judge for yourself.

This book was obtained free from Book Sneeze in return for this review.

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sweet Olive

Matt Damon recently starred in a movie called "Promised Land" in which he played someone whose job it is to get people to agree to sell the rights of their land so his firm can use it for fracking (hydraulic fracturing, or a process where highly pressurized water, sand, and chemicals are are injected into wells, where they break apart rock containing natural gas). He goes to "the heartland," so to speak, to do this, but has a change of heart.

The heroine of this book, Camille Gardner, has a job somewhat similar -- to convince landowners to lease their land to gas and oil companies to drill wells to extract the gas and oil. She too, if not exactly for the same reasons, runs into complication too. Turns out that Camille doesn't really want to be in this line of work. Her passion is art and dreams about owning an art gallery. So, when she feels obligated to take one more job to negotiate new land deals from a group of artists in Sweet Olive, well, trouble brewing is no surprise. She starts to fall in love with the community and the locals ... the book provides a sort of paean to small town life and the "important things in life." And, if one is wondering where Book Sneeze -- who gave me a complimentary copy for this review -- comes in, yes, we also come to see how Camille has to turn to God to direct her path professionally and personally in order for her to do what is right.

Jane Austen in "Northanger Abbey" noted that a novel is "some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best-chosen language.” If that is the test, this one is pretty good.

Monday, September 9, 2013

NIV College Devotional Bible

I first read the Bible some time ago and it has charm straight. But, the full experience requires commentary, background and contemplation. The reader, Christian or not, is well advised to take each into consideration, if they wish to truly understand and enjoy the benefits of the book -- yes, it is the "Holy Book," but this is basic to any great work of literature.  So, it should be here as well.

This Bible is one of many -- there is in effect a cottage industry out there of Bibles geared to various groups. One review thought this might get to the point that things will be watered down:
The NIV Bible is for everyone and to prove it Zondervan will make a version for you. The version differences? You'll get a different cover and a bunch of topically sorted comments/devotions. Do you enjoy the outdoors? Got you covered: NIV Outdoorsman Bible. Are you a young girl? NIV Faithgirlz! Bible, Revised Edition. Teen? NIV Teen Study Bible. Teen guy? NIV Revolution: The Bible for Teen Guys: Updated Edition. Married? NIV Couples' Devotional Bible: New International Version. What if someone in your family is in the military? Even that: NIV New Testament - Military Family (with Psalms): Peace for the Military Family. And a million more.
Oh, I think that a bit unfair though I understand the concern. This copy has the basics, including such things as Table of Weights and Measures and blank pages for journals. It is a pretty attractive copy -- this might be deemed trivial, but if you just want a Bible with no frills at all, would you get this one? -- though the cover is a bit bland. Perhaps, it is intended to look like a college textbook?

The Bible has various lessons intermingled between the readings though they don't really seem consistently geared to students particularly.  There is a little lesson and some questions the answer and think about. It should be noted that this version is Protestant though as a Catholic, I can tell you that the average reader very well might not know the difference though the books of Tobit and Judith are two are of my favorite ones.

Overall, I think the lessons are interesting, but nothing you know, fascinating. So, three stars.

* I received this book for review from Book Sneeze, but this review is my own.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Book Review: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me: A Memoir…of Sorts

Ian Cron in this memoir shares his experiences growing up with an alcoholic father who is emotionally absent from his family, and physically absent for months at a time because of his work with the CIA.

Cron slips back and forth between the present and the past, telling us his both his father’s story and his own. I am a huge fan of this technique, and it works so well with Cron’s story. Going back and forth allowed me to put the pieces of the story together, and again, a non-linear storyline forces me to really focus on what I’m reading. Cron’s story was interesting and funny enough as it was, but I loved that I couldn’t just speed through it.

And that’s the thing — this book had a great humor to it. Cron had every right and reason to be angry — deception and disease in your family when you are young sometimes leaves you that way — but has made peace with the life he has lived and instead of coming across bitter and angry, he comes across as raw and honest and funny. I couldn’t help but laugh several times throughout the book, and that made his message of God’s goodness and grace and His desire to have a relationship with everyone even more poignant.

This style made the reading that much more receptive to his message. Medicine can use a bit of honey, morality can use a bit of help too.

** This book was obtained for free from Book Sneeze, but this review is my own. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Lead Me Home

I am not familiar with Stacy Hawkins Adams works or the "Winds of Change" series, but the plot of the book looked intriguing, so took a chance.  One thing that made me check it out was the main character's concern that her role as pastor's wife and mom of some boys was not enough for her, particularly with a successful professional sister.  Whatever the ultimate decision, it is interesting to examine such issues.

To provide a thumbnail sketch of the plot.  Shiloh Griffin is out of sorts, the book starting with a bit of foreshadowing having to do with her having trouble a musical piece. Some "shame" is pressing on her soul as well.  We learn about that later.  First, she volunteers part-time to teach music at a local high school, while some drama is going on at her church, including involving her women's church group. This goes on in the background while something deeper -- that forces her to come clean -- occurs with a student, who finds out that she is pregnant. 

Now, this is a conservative Christian novel, so the "proper" path involving pregnancy is well known.  I won't address how Stacy and the student's situation turned out, but the first few pages of the book should be a pretty good hint on at least one of them.  But, that isn't the only thing that is weighing on Stacy's mind -- she did more than one questionable thing as a teenager with lingering results.  Spoiler here -- I saw no need for her to tell all of this to each member of her family like this, including to her children.  I see the value of coming clean, but at some point, come on. Also, the student's fate was something of a cop-out.

All considered? I thought the writing a bit hackneyed though it kept your interest.  I think it dragged on too long -- it could have been shorter. Didn't agree with certain plot developments, but that is probably a matter of opinion.  Overall, I think it was okay, and if you felt attached to the lead character, you might be a bit more generous with your rating. 

* I received this book free from Book Sneeze, but the opinion is independent of that and the opinion of merely the author of this review.

Monday, June 17, 2013

When Donkeys Talk A Quest to Rediscover the Mystery and Wonder of Christianity

Writer and musician Tyler Blanski takes the reader on a journey to discover what Scripture is tells us.  Is Scripture and Christianity just a collection of nice stories we break out on religious holidays or pithy sayings for bumper sticker or a Christian t-shirt with no real thought or care as to what we just heard or read? That is the issue Blanski addresses in his book, the necessity to recapture the fundamental element of Christianity, the reality of a relationship with God and a passion for His revealed word.

That is take the religion seriously even if sometimes using a down to earth approach.  It’s about exploring the world of Biblical imagery and narrative where donkeys can talk in a world dominated by science and logic and reason that donkeys cannot speak. Blanski may claim to be a humble 29-year-old house painter, but there’s no hiding his academic labors in medieval studies, and so he looks at Christianity through the lens of how people in ancient times understood science and how they understood and practiced faith.

The characters in Blanski’s personal stories  make you say "I feel I know these people." And how can a book which seems so casual — almost random — in its approach to faith also be such a valuable snapshot of church history? As in other cases, the appearance of casual takes work.  Don't be fooled.  He does a good job here. 

* I received this book free from Book Sneeze in return for a review but the content is my own freely posed.