Sunday, October 1, 2017

Fiction Review: The Christmas Blessing by Melody Carlson

I enjoy reading books by Melody Carlson because of her simple writing style and her ability to create the beginning of a good story. That's why I try to read her Christmas books each year. "The Christmas Blessing" is yet another feel-good, holiday story that can be ready in a day or two.

However, I'm getting tired of Carlson's neglect of any real character development. She is brilliant at setting up stories - in this case, a single mother and war widow (of sorts) leaves her baby in the manger of the father's parents, fearing for the child's life, but also fearful of admitting the child's true origins. But just when the opportunity opens for a show of redemption and love, Carlson brings her novella to a heartening and complete, but shallow conclusion.

The grandmother of the baby is portrayed as a woman with a somewhat hard heart, dealing with the loss of her son and unwilling to believe her son would steer away from the righteous path. Amelia, the mother of the child, struggles with her self-worth and unpleasant family background. The child's father is in a prisoner of war camp. And the grandfather is a strong, Christian man, in the perfect setup to lead his family under Christ. But we barely see the beginnings of the relationships and issues here. There's so much missed potential! The book description says, "Or could the celebration of the arrival of another unexpected baby nearly two thousand years ago be the answer to her dilemma?" But the answer never really comes.

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

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Fiction Review: The Mark of the King

"The Mark of the King" is one of those historical fiction books that is more planned out and spans a longer period of time, and because of that it requires more investment from the reader. It took me a while to finish reading this novel, but I found it a rewarding read.

The story takes place at a time when France was sending convicts and others to Louisiana to settle an claim land. Julianne Chevalier is a midwife condemned for the death of one of her clients. Forced to marry and over time in love with another man, she searches for the truth behind her soldier brother's disappearance. Meanwhile, she must deal with the harsh lifestyle of Louisiana and the injustices present there, particularly with the way native peoples are treated.

My only qualm with this book is that author Jocelyn Green chose to tell the story from multiple points of view that don't always last for longer than a chapter or two. It's a pet peeve of mine, and I much prefer a novel with consistent narration. However, Green's writing style attests  to detailed research and is captivating on its own terms.

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

Review: Martin Luther in His Own Words

"Martin Luther in His Own Words" gives just enough contextual and explanatory commentary before a number of selections of the reformer's works. I would have appreciated, however, some explanation of the division and organization of the book, which is set up into sections: Sola Fide, Sola Gratia, Sola Scriptura, Sola Christus, Soli Deo Gloria. I didn't always understand how selections fit into these categories, or what exactly the categories entailed or meant. Topics actually addressed in Luther's writings here include faith and works, the book of Romans,  the doctrines and practices of men versus the doctrine of God, and our duty to God. I do recommend the book for anyone looking for some highlights of Luther's writings.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Christian Nonfiction Review: God Among Sages by Kenneth Richard Samples

"God Among Sages" gives a Christian overview of Jesus, Buddha, Confucius and Muhammed, with some interesting interludes on the Trinity, church history, and religious pluralism.

Personally, I would have preferred author Kenneth Richard Samples start with an overview of the Bible's trustworthy and perfect nature, as much of what Samples writes depends on a belief in the Bible as the Word of God, or at the very least a reliable historical document. Much of what Samples does write on the subject can be found in more extensive, easy-to-read books out there. I've read several of them myself, and therefore did not find much of anything new in "God Among Sages."

I did, however, take the time to write down some of the charts Samples provided on parallels between Yahweh and Jesus and on Jesus' self-attributed divinity and humanity. I also found Samples' thoughts on pluralism informative, especially his refutation of the Elephant Analogy.

As for the author's comparisons of Christianity to the major world religions, Samples did have some great points on how to converse with those belonging to these religions. And his look at the founders or major leaders of the faiths serve as a good beginning point for any Christian looking to defend his or her faith. I am surprised that Samples chose not to include some of the religions derivative of Christianity and more common in the United States such as Latter Day Saints and Jehovah Witnesses. But maybe he's saving that for another book.

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

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Review: "Speaking of Homosexuality"

"Speaking of Homosexuality" by Joe Dallas is probably the most expansive book I have yet read on the Christian perspective on the LGBT issue - so much so that I would love to read an expanded edition with more real-life examples (Dallas himself was once a "gay Christian") and in-depth discussion. As it is, the book provides succinct, organized and detailed arguments and counter-arguments. After spending a few chapters on the context and people of the conversation, Dallas covers everything from the "born that way" question to the same sex marriage controversy and several chapters' worth of what the Biblical view entails. Dallas makes a strong effort to explain the liberal viewpoint, including quotes from leaders of that movement. And while he maintains the traditionalist position, he builds bridges between opposing sides. Each chapter includes a bullet-point summary of his points - and there are many (enough that I have up on underlining and decided to keep the entire book for future reference).

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free. All opinions are my own.

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Review: Essential Worship by Greg Scheer

In the first third of "Essential Worship," Greg Scheer makes some excellent points in defining worship and its part in God's plan. However, as the "handbook" progresses, Scheer gets caught up in obvious, minute details such as how to consider incorporating dance and the arts into a service and the best setup of chairs and stage space - topics which could be interesting in a philosophical and ideological realm, but not so much in technical descriptions (easy, but boring to read). The author's own reformed theology, while not bothersome to me, was also an obvious influence throughout. The book is certainly written with a worship pastor or worship student in mind, but the first half of the book is worth reading if you are trying to get a stronger perspective on biblical worship, and Scheer is very good about providing both recommendations for additional resources and about including diagrams and illustrations.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free. All opinions are my own.

Devotional Review: Remember and Return

In "Remember and Return," John MacArthur lays out who Christ is, what He does for us, and how we should respond. The devotional is basically a plan of salvation for those who are not Christians and a "rekindling" of love for God for believers. It's nothing you haven't read before, but it's written with eloquence, and the topics are foundational to the Christian faith. This is the kind of devotional I can get behind. It's more than a page. It includes references to multiple Bible verses, their context, and their original Greek meanings. It is deep and thoughtful. And for those who actually like traditional devotionals, it still includes a daily verse and challenge.

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free. All opinions are my own.

Monday, January 2, 2017

Review: NKJV, Journal the Word Bible, Large Print

The NKJV, Journal the Word Bible, Large Print features lines in the margins for journaling. Do not be fooled by the sample image, though. The image features an example of "coloring-book" journaling, but any illustrations will have to be made by yourself. The large print could also be a a bit larger. But the hard cover is beautiful (and looks just like the picture) and good quality (it will last). I'm also grateful to have this in the NKJV. I have a similar journal Bible that is NIV, which is not my favorite version since the latest update to the translation.

*Disclaimer: All opinions are my own. I received this book for free.