Monday, August 8, 2016

Nonfiction Review: Between Pain and Grace

"Between Pain and Grace" is an interesting textbook-style read, but it's not exactly what you might expect from a book on pain and suffering. Authors Gerald W. Peterman and Andrew J. Schmutzer touch briefly on God's overall narrative and His desire to involve mankind in the process, but beyond that readers do not get much of a theological debate on why God allows evil to exist. Instead, "Between Pain and Grace" is the "Biblical Theology of Suffering" - or systematic theology on suffering - that its subtitles says it is.

The authors define suffering and look at specific instances of pain and suffering found in the Bible, spending time on a few random topics like mental illness, toxic families and sexual abuse, and more often than not bringing the reader back to the idea that suffering flows out of a context of a broken communal ecosystem.

More specifically, the authors address:

- What is sin?
- Does God suffer?
- Is the church engaged as it should be in misery and lament?
- How should the church respond to suffering?
- What is the role of righteous anger, tears and so on?
- Does suffering come from a biological or spiritual cause?
- What is the proper Biblical response to suffering?

Peterman and Schmutzer write that the three part task of the Christian is to help alleviate suffering, facilitate godly suffering, and prevent future suffering. They conclude that - just like the disciples who questioned the role of the cross in Christ's ministry - we must struggle to understand the role of suffering in God's plan.

Overall, "Between Pain and Grace" did not quite come together for me, especially since I am not a part of its target audience - pastors and those going into ministry. There is some great material here, though - even with a few sections that seemed irrelevant or confusing. I didn't make a lot of underlines, but I did get a few takeaways. But I would caution the potential reader to know what they will be reading to avoid false expectations.

*Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Live Fearless Adult Coloring Book

I don't normally write my reviews in pro and con format, but for this adult coloring book - Live Fearless - I felt what I had to say was simple enough for that format.

... Margaret Feinberg includes full-sized pages opposite of her drawings for reflection on verses. She suggests using your coloring time to memorize each verse.
... There is a nice selection of verses and some pretty floral drawings.
... The size, weight, and paper of the book lay out and fold nicely for coloring.

... The drawings themselves, especially the text of the verses, are very detailed and, thus, extremely difficult to color in. I didn't even try and decided to give to a friend who would enjoy it more.
... There are only about 20 drawings to color in.
... I would love to see a longer devotional to go with each verse.
... The hashtag given - "livefree" - does not really work because too many people use it for other things.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Review: God Made You Just Right

The very first illustration of "God Made You Just Right" reminded me of myself as a child. The same short, brown hair. The same little girl with a trunk full of dress-up clothes and accessories. Surely every adult (and child) will see themselves in this adorable children's book, just over 20 pages long with drawings of boys and girls - African, Asian, American. Each page spread includes one or two sentences that remind us God created each detail of our lives, from physical to spiritual, made special to fit into His grand purpose. He even "picked those tickly spots right on your tummy and your toes!" The picture book ends with Jeremiah 29:11 - "For I know the plans I have for you, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."

*Disclaimer: I received this book in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Punderdome - A Card Game

I love puns. I love games like Apples to Apples. Combining the two sounded like a fun idea. But I think I'll stick with my spur of the moment puns - they're more fun. I've seen mixed reviews for the Punderdome game, so maybe there are people good enough at puns to make this game work, but my dad is pretty amazing at coming up with puns, and this game just did not work for him. The game includes topic cards that you're supposed to pick two of and use to create a pun in 90 seconds. Then the judge picks a winning pun for each round. It all sounds good, but coming up with puns using the topics is just plain difficult. On the bright side, there are some puntastic jokes on the back of each card.

*Disclaimer: I received this game in exchange for my honest review.

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Review: Zacchaeus and Jesus

Read about Zacchaeus and Jesus. Then flip the book over and read about Jesus and Zacchaeus.  What a creative idea to make a story more interesting and interactive for kids! Dandi Daley Mackall's enchanting rhymes focus on God's redemptive powers. The first person narrative also makes it easy for the reader to imagine him or herself as Zacchaeus. And the actual pictures are exactly what you would expect from a children's book.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Fiction Review: Missing by Lisa Harris

The second book in the Nikki Boyd series, "Missing" by Lisa Harris is a constant page-turner. Murder and fake prescription drugs mingle with a father's grief over his recently deceased wife and a detective's growing affection for the man. Family politics interfere, and the case of a missing woman becomes personal when a dead body is found on a boat connected to the family.

After becoming invested in Nikki Boyd's character from the first book, I was slightly disappointed there was not further development on her missing sister's case. Harris also has a tendency to create a climax before the reader and characters have a chance to solve the mystery. But the build up and suspense is even greater here than the first installment, and Harris also has a strength in her ability to include a romance that does not dominate the plot.

You do not have to read the first Nikki Boyd mystery to enjoy or understand "Missing," but I highly recommend reading the entire series as it develops.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Today's Moment of Truth

I was relieved to find out that "Today's Moment of Truth" was not just a collection of excerpts from Lee Strobel and Mark Mittelberg books - although much of the content is similar. This is my kind of devotional - as it is more intellectual, but still includes a verse and thought for each day. Here we both have reminders to praise God and reasons to believe in and praise God. The actual "devotions" cover everything from creation to science to world religions. They're short and simple - which would normally bother me (I prefer detail) - but as paired with Scripture they work well and come alive again as new truths.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Fiction Review: The Promise of Jesse Woods

"The Promise of Jesse Woods" reads much like a memoir, alternating between the main character's present time and his first childhood summer spent at a new home with new friends. The people he meets along the way drive the compelling novel forward, even with its laidback pace. In the present, Matthew returns home to stop the woman he loves from marrying another man. In the past, he meets a young girl and boy from the wrong side of town. Injustice rears its ugly head, and the reader quickly becomes engulfed and enraged. The book wraps up nicely, strongly implying a theme of redemption. The concluding remarks on Matt's need for a real savior - Jesus - feel a bit forced, and one can't help feeling slightly disappointed in the character resolution. But ultimately it is author Chris Fabry's gift for immersing readers in the rich and vibrant story that prevails. One can't help but feel that Fabry knows his characters backwards and forwards.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.

Nonfiction Review: If In Doubt by Rhys Stenner

I applaud any believer who can clearly lay out the reasons for his or her beliefs. Pastor/Author Rhys Stenner certainly knows how to direct his readers back to the Gospel. In his book, "If In Doubt," Stenner makes numerous Scripture references as he attempts to give a "clear view of the truth." He uses the metaphor of a spy glass zooming in closer and closer to a defined picture. The book covers creation, morality, the Bible's reliability, Jesus' deity, the afterlife, and the end times.

In terms of content and style, though, there is little originality and what is given is oversimplified. The one thing Stenner had going for him was his British origins - which may have given him a unique and interested perspective, had he used it more. As it is, Stenner brushes over topics in favor of spending the majority of the book outline what most people will already know Christians believe. Readers are much better off checking out a book by Lee Strobel or the likes, where more detailed answers to "doubts" will be provided.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free in exchange for my honest review.