Friday, April 4, 2014

Heaven and Hell: Are They Real?

Other than a word somewhat more distaste, "hell" is a ready-made curse word with a variety of uses. As noted by this book, perhaps overused. Its use as a generic curse word leads us to lose a full understanding and respect of what we mean by this term. And, it's opposite number -- heaven.

The book is a series of short chapters posing and answering various questions regarding heaven and hell (what are they like? do animals go to heaven? will we meet family members there? what does the Bible say about them? etc.). It also has a few pictures, mostly of a medieval art flavor and some pages that provide summaries (e.g., various quotations in the Bible). There is also a "further thought" for each section.

The book overall is down to earth/colloquial in tone, hopeful but not overly Pollyanna in nature. That is, the book argues that there is a heaven and a hell, so things won't all be charming for everyone. But, for those who follow the right path, particularly have faith and belief in Jesus, a great happiness will occur for them. The sections are short enough for easy reading for single prayer sessions or for individual study. The paperback further makes it a convenient book to have and use, slip in your bag to read on the bus or train. The sections favor excerpts from other works along with a few thoughts from the author, not always totally sure of what is what -- a good sensible approach. Nothing too deep, but pretty good of its kind. I would recommend it to those who like this sort of thing.

BookLook Bloggers provided this volume free in return for a review.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

First Born

This is an intriguing fantasy that has something to say about gender dynamics.

Tiadone, the narrator (in first person present tense -- we are told things as they are happening), is a girl raised as a boy. Why? Well, a first born (thus the title)  girl would have been killed.  This is unfortunately not just a matter of fiction in the world, more so in the not too far past.  The result, and this too suggests the parable qualities of the novel (many could relate about trying to live the life of someone they are not), in problems as she has to struggle against her true nature.  Particularly as she comes of age, including as feminine traits/strengthens come out.

The book takes place in a dystopian age in tribal conditions and a whole different world is colorfully drawn for the reader. I would recommend it for readers who like fantasy and science fiction, especially strong female characters.  The ending suggests a sequel or series is in the works. 

BookLook Bloggers provided this book in return for a review.  The opinions are my own.

Friday, February 14, 2014

No Cape Required - A Devotional : 52 Ways to Unleash Your Inner Hero

The Bible is filled with stories that provide lessons for our daily lives. Jesus particularly saw the value of using stories, parables, to promote a lesson.  It is helpful and often fun way to educate. A primary way this is done are sagas of various "heroes" from Abraham to David and beyond.  At the same time, other cultures also had their own heroes -- like found in the Iliad or Romulus and Remus.  And, trend continued over the centuries, to modern times, now often in television and movies.

And, this is the subject of this book. It uses heroes in works like Star Trek or The Hunger Games to provide short lessons on subjects like charity, justice, hope in others, mentoring, wisdom, bravery and so on.  Let's take an example. Robin Hood is used to discuss charity.  We start with a biblical quote and then the hero's place in literature and cultural history is discussed. Then, we return to a biblical connection, given a prayer to use and examples of how to be charitable in your everyday life. Nothing profound, but especially for those who like movies and the like, it is a good way to use popular culture to teach lessons.  And, there are a lot of examples provided, at least some of which will appeal to many of the readers.

It is a creative idea done fairly well. The video is not quite connected to the book but seemed catchy.

Note: This book was given to me free by Book Sneeze [now BookLook]  in return for this review.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Running Lean

1) A term referring to a deficiency of fuel in the fuel-to-air ratio of an internal combustion engine. (2) A physical condition where not enough caloric fuel is present for optimal performance of the body. (3) A spiritual condition in which a believer relies on his own strengths.
The title of this first effort at teen fiction (novel form) is a metaphor. The male lead character (like the author -- write what you know!) is into bikes. Calvin is part of a large family and is struggling to get over the death of his older brother (and mentor) in Afghanistan. Meanwhile, his girlfriend (into manga -- again, like the author) -- who is his first real girlfriend and seemed to be the only one who really understood what he was feeling as he dealt with the death -- has serious problems of her own. Stacey has anorexia. This is flagged as a possibility in the first few pages by a friend of Calvin, but it takes much longer for him to truly face things and figure out what to do.

The book has some clear positives. We get a good sense of what the two characters are thinking, their inner monologues. The author provides two complete characters and their parallel stories along with some other supporting casts. I like books that provide such alternative points of view. The book also shows us how people can be basically good people and well meaning, but still not understand and/or do the right thing in various cases. The importance of truly supporting another person, even if you don't fully understand yet what is going on or know what exactly to do is true enough. Issues of God and spirit also show up, including early on with Calvin's best friend. Church going even played a role in them first going out. The author expresses her religious beliefs on her website for those interested.

I have to give it a mixed review though since the book felt too drawn out. The friend so early on bringing up "anorexia" was a bit of a misstep -- the warning signs were there from the beginning and it was a bit too soon to say that. After saying it, having over three hundred pages of text seemed a bit much. It seemed too drawn out to me. Mention was made by some about the clueless parents. That happens and the author noted one place (in answer to an online review) that it was partially a plot device -- you cannot have the parent serve as a sort of "deus ex machina" and end the story. I'm not really upset about that. I do think the book could have been shorter. Another concern for some was the nature of Stacey. Was she too clingy or needy? Well, yes, she had some issues -- anorexia grows out of such things. As to why Calvin stays, I think that is explained some -- she was there for him, he feels a special obligation to someone he loves (this might have religious overtones) and the same sense of hyper-order that she feels compelled to use to keep sane in some fashion helps to put an order to HIS life. This sort of complexity adds to the story.

Overall, it was a serious look at major issues for teens today, including the economic issues that Calvin had to deal with. It was overlong but was a promising first effort.

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