Review of The Masterpiece by Francine Rivers

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Genre: Contemporary Romance

Recommended.

Roman Velasco is a wealthy Los Angeles artist by day, tagging graffiti on buildings at night as as a way to deal with his childhood trauma. Grace Moore is a single mother and Christian, struggling with the horrifying memories of her past, and the mistakes and challenges of her present situation. Similar themes of abandonment and loss run through their childhoods, yet each has responded with different protective coping mechanisms. They must each learn how to spiritually heal from the memories that haunt them, to let go of their protective walls, and to discover themselves anew in Christ and community.

I have read many of Francine Rivers’ books, and while this one is not my very favorite, there were many elements within the narrative that moved my heart. I read it quickly, compelled by the well developed characters, realistic storyline, and slightly predictable “feel-good” romance of wanting everything to come together as it should. There is a lot of depth to the characters’ experiences, and reactive habits in dealing with old wounds; and much wisdom within the challenging process of healing.

There is more “churchiness” in this novel compared to Francine Rivers’ other books (not just in talking about God, but in actually attending church). I enjoyed this as it gave an interesting perspective of the contemporary American mega-church and/or post-denominational church cultural trend, and what that looks like to an unbeliever.

Overall, this is an enjoyable and thoughtful novel.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

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Review of Answers for Homeschooling: Top 25 Questions Critics Ask by Israel Wayne

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Genre: Homeschooling/Christian Life

Recommended.

This is a great resource for Christian families considering homeschooling, who are unsure about certain aspects or capability, as well as for those actively homeschooling who don’t know how to respond to critical comments. It is written in a conversational manner, and includes references to other beneficial resources for new homeschool families.

I appreciated learning the history of homeschooling, and the great risks of many homeschool pioneers in gaining this freedom. This foundation was a great way to begin the book, as it left me with a deeper awareness and gratitude of this privilege.

I am also especially impacted by Israel Wayne’s commentary on socialization, which comes up frequently in my own experience. He lays a persuasive biblical foundation of the quality of companionship within the social experience, and the necessity of having proper relationships in place for learning to be possible. The argument of being “salt and light” in the world (public/private schools) is similarly addressed in a compelling manner.

Some sections caused me to think differently about certain aspects of homeschooling (e.g. whether or not to accept government funding–I hadn’t considered some of the negative implications). Other areas were less relevant to me (e.g. I’m not concerned about my teaching/academic capability, although many readers may find this very encouraging; and my husband and I have a system in place regarding our educational roles, which is different from the author’s suggestion, but works for us personally).

Overall, I was surprised by the helpfulness of this resource in addressing issues I would not have considered to ask, and providing new information interwoven with spiritual encouragement and a biblical precedent for homeschooling. I am more inspired than ever by our commitment to this form of schooling, and found the book freshly edifying.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Master Books.

 

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Review of The Delusion: We All Have Our Demons by Laura Gallier

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Genre: Contemporary Fiction/Fantasy/YA

Series: The Delusion, Book 1

Highly Recommended!

This novel is a powerful illustration of spiritual warfare, with a simultaneously engaging story.

Suicide has become an epidemic at Masonville High School. High school senior, Owen Edmonds has a strange encounter that allows him to see creepy creatures preying on his friends and family–binding them with shackles and chains, and manipulating their thoughts. Warning people about the unseen evil he sees makes things worse. Owen also encounters a girl who is different. While everyone else is in bondage, she is glowing. What does she have that the others are missing? And why aren’t the angelic beings that Owen also sees not always able to intervene? Owen searches for truth, while also becoming more engaged in the mystery and physical obstacles that surround him, and the impending threat which darkness is planning for his high school.

This is one of the best YA novels I’ve read. It addresses relevant struggles, while illuminating the very real spiritual battle behind the physical experience of depression and other negative thought patterns. There is freedom in knowing what we are fighting against, and receiving the truth in Jesus that brings life.

The writing is aimed at middle and high school students, and are books I would like my own kids to read. My only critique is that the end comes pretty abruptly, with much more to be addressed. I look forward to the other books in the series.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

 

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Review of Egypt’s Sister by Angela Hunt

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Genre: Historical Fiction

Series: The Silent Years

Highly Recommended!

In Alexandria, Egypt, Chava is a Jewish girl with a close relationship with the young Cleopatra, as her father is the royal tutor for the Ptolemy household. Believing God has destined her to be a blessing to Cleopatra when she becomes queen, Chava chooses not to marry, and seeks to serve Cleopatra at every possibility. However, this choice is more challenging than Chava could have anticipated, as Chava must choose between her faith and her position.

Angela Hunt is one of my favorite writers for Christian historical fiction. The historical details are smartly woven into the narrative, providing vivid insight into the worlds of Egypt and Rome, alongside an adventurous and heart-felt story of friendship, loyalty, godliness, and forgiveness.

This is not so much a story of Cleopatra, as it is of Chava’s sacrificial love for her friend. I love the depth of Chava’s character, and her determination to choose the difficult path of following God, rather than the comfort of marriage. While Chava’s life unravels very differently than she anticipates, God’s promises to her are met in surprising ways. The honesty of the story is encouraging, and well worth the read!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House.

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Review of The Character Builder’s Bible: 60 Character-Building Stories from the Bible by Agnes and Salem de Bezenac

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Genre: Children’s Story Bible

Recommended.

Our family has several favorite children’s Bibles that we rotate through, and this is the one my kids are currently most excited about. The illustrations are perfect for young children, and the stories are simple enough that my seven-year-old can easily read them, and the perfect length to keep my five-year old’s attention.

Each Bible story is connected to a positive attribute (diligence, honesty, service, praise) or theme (peer pressure, salvation, Easter, Holy Spirit). The first two-page spread of each story includes a full-page illustration and concise biblical narrative, and the following two-pages provide the definition of the character trait or theme and a comic-style layout showing how the theme is relevant to children in daily life.

For instance, the story of Samuel hearing God’s voice is connected with “attentiveness,” with the everyday life illustration showing how to set aside quiet devotional time to hear God. The story of the friends carrying the paralyzed man to receive healing from Jesus emphasizes “friendship,” with the real life illustration portraying four examples of healthy friendship. And the story of Zacchaeus demonstrates an example of repentance: feeling sorry, asking for forgiveness, attempting to make it right, not repeating the wrong.

Some of the stories could be better connected with their theme, but have nevertheless provided opportunities for family discussion. Also, the emphasis of this book is on character-building through Bible stories, so this is probably not the best “Bible” for readers desiring a cohesive narrative of Scripture. Although there is a strong evangelical focus, with the basic details of the Gospel message presented in impressive directness and simplicity.

I most love the discussions that have come out of this book, especially of the various character traits. I also appreciate how it introduces new vocabulary, and enjoy that 43% of the stories (26 out of 60) come from the New Testament, as our family tends to spend more time in the Hebrew Bible.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Kids.

 

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Review of Keeping Faith in an Age of Reason by Jason Lisle

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Genre: Apologetics/Bible Resource

Recommended.

This is an excellent resource for addressing areas of confusion or criticism within the Bible.

Lisle begins by introducing common fallacies, then works through 420 alleged contradictions to show where Bible critics have faltered in their logic, and how the Scriptures in question actually fit together.

The biblical “contradictions” are arranged in thematic sections: Quantitative Differences, Names, Places, and Genealogies, Timing of Events, Cause and Effect, Differences in Details, and Yes or No Questions. It is also easy to search for specific chapters of the Bible, using the Scripture Index in the back.

A wide range of passages and concerns are addressed, ranging from details one might not consider (e.g. #49: For how much did David buy the threshing floor?, or #186: To whom were the cities of Exhtaol and Zoreah given?), to larger theological concerns (e.g. #185: Is circumcision required?, or #329: Is God the creator of evil?). Although many of the contradictions could be addressed more thoroughly (and to include theological variances within the Christian perspective), I really appreciate the succinctness and clarity of each point, and the focus on thinking through the logic of each criticism. The practice of critical thinking–both within and outside of one’s own perspective–is essential to having a strong foundation of faith; and this text allows readers to practice this skill.

Teens and adults who want to have a stronger grasp of apologetics will find this a helpful guide in affirming and defending their faith.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Master Books.

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Review of the 10 Minute Bible Journey by Dale Mason

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Genre: Family Devotional Bible

Highly Recommended!

I’ve been asked several times recently whether I have a favorite Bible devotional for homeschooling, and can tell that this is going to be our new favorite. It goes through the Bible from Creation to “Forever” in 52 stories of the biblical accounts, plus an additional 8 bonus sections on select topics, and a 2.5 foot fold-out timeline.

Each devotional can be realistically completed within 10 minutes (I timed myself reading a few of them, with an average of about 6 minutes each in my “mom” voice). They also include enough depth and detail to draw out into an extended conversation if preferred.

I most love: 1) the fantastic illustrations, 2) the Creationist/apologetics perspective, which even includes commentary on related issues such as the Ice Age, 3) the narrations and details within each story line (date ranges based on Ussher’s calculations, ages of characters at the times of each event, etc.) bring the accounts to life, 4) the historical chronology is thoroughly presented, even including the division of the Kingdom of Israel, 400 years of silence, and other stories that are often omitted from children’s Bibles like Isaiah’s ministry in the nude, King Josiah’s reign, and the stoning of Stephen, 5) controversial areas of theology such as the charismatic gifts, and eschatological perspectives are neutrally presented–everything follows the Bible pretty closely without adding to the story, and 6) reading the Bible itself is encouraged with a plan of daily Scripture reading, as well as footnotes for further study, and suggestions for using this devotional within a small group environment (including discussion questions).

I do have minor constructive feedback from a Messianic Jewish perspective: I do not love the word “convert” as used in the account of “The Conversion of Saul,” considering that his spiritual revelation opened him up to a born again experience, but not a new religion. He was more in line with the intentions of Judaism after recognizing Jesus as Messiah than beforehand in his legalism. Similarly, there is a negative widespread implication regarding the Pharisees. However, Paul considers himself a “Pharisee” even after becoming a Christian (Acts 23:6, Phil. 3:5), so the Pharisees are not “bad” in and of themselves, rather it was their hypocrisy and legalism that were problematic, leading them away from recognizing the Lord, rather than toward Him.

Overall, I’m very excited about this resource! You can find it at Master Books.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from New Leaf Publishing.

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Review of Deep Under Cover by Jack Barsky

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Genre: Memoir

Recommended!

deep under coverDeep Under Cover is a very engaging memoir of an East German KGB agent who infiltrates the United States during the Cold War. The author details his early life in East Germany, his recruitment into the KGB, his complex personal relationships, his transformation into espionage and rebirth into the identity of American Jack Barsky, and eventually of the love that changed his world, drawing him toward a new physical and spiritual identity.

Jack’s story is both fascinating and touching. His perspective of each “side” during the Cold War is valuable. And it is clear throughout that the Lord continuously intervened on Jack’s behalf. He ends with focusing very directly on the mindset shift, which lead him into a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. His encounter with the FBI is also particularly interesting.

It’s amazing Jack was able to share his story so openly, regardless of what details may be missing as per each mission. Definitely worth reading!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale Momentum.

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Review of Invitation by Bill Myers, Frank Peretti, Angela Hunt, and Alton Gansky

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Genre: Supernatural Suspense/YA Fiction

Series: Harbingers, Cycle One

Loosely Recommended.

invitationThis first installment of the Harbinger series is made up of four novellas, each written by a different well-known Christian fiction author, and each from the point of view of a different character. The aim of the series is to write fast-paced, supernaturally quirky short stories that read like a TV series. While this is not necessarily “YA Fiction” it has a youthful appeal.

The four primary characters are: Brenda, a prophetic tattoo artist, Professor James McKinney, an atheist ex-priest, Tank, a soft-hearted football player with healing abilities, and Andi, a Jewish assistant to the professor, who loves patterns and numbers. These four are drawn together as unlikely friends to solve mysteries, use their gifts, and influence people.

These stories were a little strange for my taste, and I didn’t know what to make of them, despite enjoying the overall concept. Also, not all of the episodes had a clear resolution.

The first episode involves a cult-like school, where the characters are trying to save a student from being brainwashed. The second deals with a disappearing house that haunts people (creepiness ensues). The third involves a plague of eye-less dead animals. And the fourth centers around saving a girl from another dimension. For the most part, the episodes were strange, but not dark, thus appropriate for most Christian readers.

I didn’t really enjoy this, and probably will not continue reading the series, but I do think it could be enjoyable for an older teen with good discernment, who wants edgy Christian fiction.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Bethany House.

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The Music in Me Lives (Holocaust Poetry)

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In light of Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day), I thought I would share this poem I wrote based on the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman as presented in his memoir The Pianist and accompanying film. It’s called “The Music in Me Lives” and speaks both to the miraculous survival of one man in the Holocaust, as well as to the themes of life, death, and detachment, and the place of art in guiding the soul through suffering–all of which are personal to me in my own journey.

Since this was a class project that I was not planning to share, my introduction addresses my classmates in the context of previous class discussions.

The poem itself begins right at the three minute mark; feel free to skip ahead (being in front of a camera is not my happy place).

If you are not familiar with this movie or book, there are major spoilers in my presentation.

 

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