Review of Blind Betrayal by Nancy Mehl

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Genre: Romantic Suspense

Series: Defenders of Justice #3

Not Recommended.

Deputy U.S. Marshal Casey Sloane and her partner, Doug Howard, are tasked with escorting a reporter to testify before the grand jury, but the situation quickly escalates when a bomb goes off in the U.S. Marshals Office. An agent from Casey’s past, E.J. Queen, collaborates with Casey and Doug to protect the witness at all costs, and deliver her safely to the trial. The romantic tension between Casey and E.J. builds, along with the challenge of keeping the reporter safe, as the hirelings of a powerful man come against their team at every turn.

The first two books of the series are Fatal Frost, and Dark Deception. This book stands alone without confusion, but I could tell (having not read the beginning of the series) that some of the characters had appeared previously.

I expected more from this based on how much I’ve enjoyed some of Mehl’s other novels. It’s an okay story, with plenty of twists and turns, a quick pace, and would make a great lighthearted reading. However, the suspense was lacking, as was the character development (or perhaps the characters were developed more thoroughly in the first two books of the series?). Overall, I found this a little too predictable, and I could not connect with the characters.

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

 

 

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Review of My Story 1 by Craig Froman and Andrew Froman (Master Books)

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Social Studies Curriculum

Early Elementary

Recommended!

What could be more exciting than a treasure-hunting curriculum full of stunning illustrations and photos?!

The students will go on four “quests”: Quest 1 begins with the student’s family, community, city, state, and country. Quest 2 travels around the Americas, Antarctica, and Africa. Quest 3 explores Canada, Russia, China, India, Indonesia, and Australia and Oceania. Quest 4 begins again in the USA, then goes to Greenland, Iceland, around Europe, and back “home” to the USA.

As students travel around the world, they will explore modes of transportation, cultures, languages, foods, wildlife, land features and habitats, traditions and responsibilities, weather, jobs/careers, water safety, time zones, continents, directions, and many other aspects of community, geography, and culture.

Students begin each quest with a clue card of questions to search for throughout the journey. The activities range from coloring, short answer, puzzles, copywork, oral discussion questions, vocab/spelling words, reading and drawing maps, and journaling. The curriculum is also biblically grounded, with Bible verses and stories throughout.

I most love the colorful pictures–this is a beautiful book (worth students having their own consumable copies)! I also appreciate the lighthearted adventure of learning, the age appropriateness, the strong faith element, and the honor of other cultures. Plus, everything is included within the single book (lesson plans, quizzes, answer key, etc.). And there are some great suggestions of (optional) field trips, for exploring aspects of community. I anticipate we will have a lot of fun with this!!

Level:

The worksheet sections are written for students who can write on manuscript ruled paper (K-2). Writing full sentences is not a requirement. Most questions could be answered in a single word or short statement. There is also copywork in every chapter to practice writing new words. This would be perfect for 1st-2nd grade, depending on the ability and interest of the student.

I’ll be using this with a kindergartener and a 3rd grader. The youngest will love it as is, and the writing will be a little easy for my 3rd grader, but I think he will be engaged by the subject matter.

Methodology:

We homeschool with a mix of Charlotte Mason and Classical methodologies (with Classical Conversations), and will be adding this as a supplement to CC Foundations Cycle 1 this coming year, which I expect will be a great complement considering its world-wide focus.

My Story 1 is a fun-loving curriculum, with lots of hands on exploration, and activity suggestions, which would fit well with Montessori, or other kinesthetic approaches. It has a large emphasis on oral and written narration, and story-telling, reminiscent of Charlotte Mason or other literature-based methodologies. It is also very comprehensive, without the heaviness of some Traditional programs.

Explore Master Books’ website here.

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

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Review of The Hidden Side by Heidi Chiavaroli

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Genre: Contemporary/Historical Fiction

Natalie Abbott hides behind her radio persona, confidently ministering on-air to her listeners, while struggling to connect with her own family. After a tragic school shooting involves her children, Natalie’s world is rocked. She finds comfort in the 1776 journal of Mercy Howard–fiancé to Nathan Hale–who becomes a Revolutionary War spy after her beloved is hanged. The perspectives of Natalie, Natalie’s teenage daughter Maelynn, and Mercy are interchanged as each deals with their own secrets, shame, and journey to freedom.

This is a thoughtful book, but a difficult one to read due to the subject matter. It has a similar feel (not plot) to the controversial drama 13 Reasons Why, with the added aspect of working out one’s faith, and finding grace in the middle of a mess. The characters grapple through dark human issues, repentance and forgiveness, vulnerability, deep secrets, and new beginnings. The parallel historical narrative, while similarly heart-wrenching, provides an interesting depth and perspective, while also breaking up the intensity of the contemporary story.

I appreciate this narrative, but did not enjoy reading it as much as it gave me a lot to think about, and has influenced my perspective on some issues. This is a story that cannot be unread–it will stick with you.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

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Review of The Memorization Study Bible (KJV New Testament) by Thomas Meyer

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Genre: Study Bible/Bible Resources

Recommended!

Lately it’s been on my heart to begin memorizing full chapters of Scripture, so I jumped at the opportunity to review this new Memorization Study Bible. My translation preference is not the KJV, so I debated about whether to consider this Bible. If you love the KJV I highly recommend this! If, like me, you have another favorite translation, this may not be much help. Although, I have to say, I’m so impressed with this Bible, I may decide to memorize from the KJV for the New Testament.

Memorization is still a lot of work, even with a special Bible! The author (who has memorized 20+ full books of the Bible without having a photographic memory!) suggests repetition in speaking and writing one verse at a time, while isolating it on the page. What makes this Bible unique is its special format. Words are specifically aligned on the page in a way that aids the memory process, and numbers are used to specify how many words per each line. This arrangement would be difficult to self-replicate with another version of the Bible unless you understood the pattern and had extra energy toward custom formatting.

I also appreciate that popular Scriptures are highlighted throughout, and enjoyed reading the appendices, which includes lists of short memory verses, sin to salvation verses, significant verses, popular NT chapters, memorizing techniques in Judaism and Christianity, and (my favorite) a fascinating summary of the historical development of Bible memorization, depicting the practices of many believers and scholars throughout history who memorized large portions of Scriptures.

Explore Master Books’ website here.

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

 

 

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Review of Language Lessons for a Living Education 2 by Kristen Pratt

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Language Arts Curriculum

Early Elementary

Highly Recommended!

I have been anticipating the release of this curriculum, and it is exactly what I hoped it would be! It has a perfect balance of comprehensive language arts instruction at a gentle pace; plus, it’s a beautiful book, with a strong Christian focus.

Each lesson begins with a story, poem, picture, or piece of Scripture, followed by questions for reading comprehension or observation skills, and narration practice as the student verbalizes what he/she heard, saw, or learned through the piece. Many of the stories follow two very likable Sunday school friends, Claire and Micah; and I love how the narration skills draw out empathy and thoughtfulness in many of the discussion questions. Many lessons end with a chance for the student to draw and/or write his/her own story.

The grammatical component starts with a review of basic skills: the alphabet, vowels and consonants, phonics, nouns/proper nouns and verbs, capitalization, punctuation, days of the weeks, and names of months. Then it moves into syllables, writing a full sentence, plurals, abbreviations, subject-predicate, subject-verb agreement, compound words, contractions, homophones, homonyms, a/an, tense, more advanced phonics and consonant blends, synonyms, antonyms, prefixes, suffixes, and root words, adjectives, demonstrative pronouns, writing and addressing a letter, and writing a psalm.

The final 100 or so pages of the book includes quizzes corresponding with each lesson, and a suggested grading rubric.

I love that this curriculum includes the full spread of language arts while utilizing a variety of learning styles and activities: hearing a story, copywork, writing (starting with simple words and progressing to sentences), sight word practice and reading, learning activities, puzzles, spelling (using boxes to show the shape of words), memorization (of short poems, Scriptures, and eventually all of 1 Cor. 13), and storytelling through writing and drawing. In the past we have done multiple L.A. curricula at once to cover all the bases. This is going to simplify our homeschool. The strong biblical foundation is also a huge blessing, as the Scripture and godly character is woven throughout.

Level Placement: 

This language arts series is not grade based, but level based. This second book follows Master Books’ Foundations Phonics curriculum, and Basic Language Skills (early reading, early writing, and spelling) curriculum. I would put this at about a 1st grade level, but it really depends on the child; and I love the publisher’s emphasis on personal skill level rather than comparison.

I will be using this with my kindergartener, who has completed a phonics program, is an early reader, and enjoys copy-work and writing. It looks like the curriculum starts slow enough that he will be ready for it, along with the other reading and vocabulary work we will do in addition.

On Methodology:

We homeschool using a combination of Charlotte Mason and Classical methodologies (and will be starting Classical Conversations in the fall), with a strong focus on faith and discipleship. This curriculum is inspired by Charlotte Mason (narration, observation), and shares the memorization emphasis of the grammar stage of the Classical Trivium. It also has a slightly Traditional feeling with the workbook, tests, and open-and-go lesson plans in the front (but is much more interesting in its range of activities). This curriculum could easy complement any methodology as it is flexible and relaxed, yet comprehensive.

Explore Master Books’ website here.

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

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Review of The Kremlin Conspiracy by Joel Rosenberg

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Genre: Fiction/Suspense

Series: Book One

Highly Recommended.

If you’re looking for a suspenseful political thriller, this is an excellent choice. It is similar in style to Rosenberg’s other novels, including its fast pace, realistic political feel, and cliffhanger ending. I’m already anticipating the next installment of these characters!

The plot depicts desperate political unrest, as the Russian president deceptively plans an invasion, while displaying a peaceful front. The story is written primarily through the eyes of two men: US patriot Marcus Ryker, and Russian son-in-law and senior aide to the president, Oleg Kraskin. Each are sympathetic characters, who want to prevent unnecessary war. Their backstories and the historical-political atmosphere are set up before the main conflict of the narrative fully comes into action; but while the story is written in several parts, it moves quickly, with high suspense from beginning to end.

One of my favorite aspects of Rosenberg’s books is his understanding of history and politics, which often parallel real events, motivating me to research the actual situations–in this case the history and political atmosphere of Russia. The depth and insight hidden within the story heightens the stakes, making the already exciting suspense even better!

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

 

 

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Review of The Spiritual Gifts Handbook: Using Your Gifts to Build the Kingdom by Randy Clark and Mary Healy

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Genre: Spiritual Growth/Charismatic Interest

Recommended.

Leading charismatic ministers Randy Clark (Protestant) and Mary Healy (Catholic) co-write this book to reveal the unity of the Spirit and charismatic experiences within these distinct ecumenical traditions. Their shared desire for the activation of the Body of Christ in the Spirit is beautiful, and their unique yet harmonizing perspectives are inspiring and informative.

I expected this might cover the range of spiritual gifts (i.e. the five-fold ministry gifts, motivational gifts, and manifestations of the Spirit). However, the focus is on the manifestations of the Spirit (charisms), primarily from 1 Corinthians 12:8-10 and also mentioned in other verses. On these spiritual gifts, this is a solid introduction, beginning with a foundation of the theologies of salvation, the baptism of the Holy Spirit, and of the Spirit’s movement in Scripture, and church history, through the most recent spiritual revivals. The historical details were most inspiring to me as it was edifying to hear stories of the Spirit’s manifest power throughout the Church.

The authors also provide focused attention to the manifestation gifts, grouped by the revelation gifts (word of wisdom, word of knowledge, and discernment of spirits), power gifts (faith, healing, miracles), and gifts of speech (prophecy, tongues, and interpretation). Clark and Healy each share engaging stories to illustrate these gifts in practical use, and provide supporting scriptures of similar biblical experiences.

Overall, I was hoping the book would be a bit more thorough with the whole of spiritual gifts, and how they work together–and also that it would provide more depth and practical attention for those already working in the charismatic gifts. However, I also really enjoyed the unique dialog of Protestant and Catholic perspectives and the many personal stories, and would recommend this resource to those beginning to explore the charismatic spiritual gifts, or those looking for encouragement and activation in this area.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Chosen.

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Review of Judah’s Wife by Angela Hunt

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Genre: Historical Fiction

Series: The Silent Years: A Novel of the Maccabees

Not Recommended.

The silent years is one of my favorite parts of history, and this novel is well researched and descriptive, but didn’t come together for me overall. While I enjoyed the historical details, the narrative was slow and felt unfocused. I struggled to finish reading it (although I’m glad I did as the end was much better than if I were to have stopped half way through).

The story is told from the alternating perspectives of Judah Maccabaeus and his (fictitious) wife Leah. Leah’s character is the best developed as she undergoes some interesting shifts, particularly toward the end of the novel. However, Leah’s story and the historic battles felt like competing rather than compatible plot lines. The awkward rhythm of dueling climaxes and resolutions left me disoriented and wanting more cohesiveness between the physical and emotional levels. Meanwhile, Judah lacked the complexity required of his experience. I also wanted a better flow between the light romance of the story (at the beginning) and the seriousness of the grave political climate. Much more could have been developed within this historical setting; but the story came off flat as the emotional plot did not align with the many physical twists and turns. I have enjoyed many of Angela Hunt’s other novels, but did not care for this one.

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

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Review of The World’s Story 1: The Ancients (Student Book) by Angela O’Dell

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Genre: Ancient History Curriculum/Christian Worldview

Highly Recommended!

I love everything about this curriculum. The student book is filled with photos, illustrations, and maps that are as stunning as they are helpful and informative. The lessons are engaging, without being overwhelming. And the material of the Student Book is written in an accessible narrative form that could easily be used with multiple age groups or a full-family study. I also love the narration breaks and connection points within the text, which provide helpful markers for the parent-teacher (or independently working student) to pause and reflect before moving onward.

While many textbooks covering ancient civilization include a focus on mythology, this one is awesomely biblical-centric. It more-or-less follows the biblical timeline from Creation through the Roman Empire, with an emphasis on the Hebrew people and their neighbors (Sumer, Babylon, Egypt, Persia, Greece, Rome, and others in between). I love the addition of apologetics and archaeology, and the emphasis on a relational/Hebraic worldview of Scripture. Every chapter goes back to Scripture in some way–even ancient cultures that are not directly tied to biblical accounts (like China, the Celts, and tribes in the Americas) have a mission-focus, and/or demonstrate humanity’s need for God in a direct manner. I really appreciate this perspective, and the way faith and Scripture are woven throughout the lessons.

My kids are going to have so much fun with this. I can’t wait for volumes 2 and 3 to be released!

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

 

PS: Those interested in using this as a homeschool curriculum should consider purchasing with the corresponding Teacher’s Guide, which includes a suggested 180 day schedule, assignments (aimed at 5th-8th grade), and supplementary ideas.

You don’t have to homeschool to enjoy this! Read the Student Guide alone as an engaging devotional resource on ancient history from a biblical perspective.

Explore Master Books website here.

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Review of Teach Them Diligently by Leslie Nunnery

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Genre: Christian Parenting/Discipleship

Loosely Recommended.

Written in concise, encouraging chapters for the busy parent, Leslie Nunnery uses the illustration of Moses’ exhortation to Israel in Deuteronomy 6:1-8 to encourage parents in discipling their children in the ways of God. This passage expresses the transference of faith within everyday events, as parents continuously model and speak about the glory of God within the household, through symbols, actions, holiday observance, and intentional discipleship.

This resource begins slowly–first only hinting at the significance of the passage–then eventually bringing out some practical ways of discipleship (e.g. being vulnerable with your children, making space for two-way conversation, sharing your own stories of God’s goodness, and so forth). Many parents will be motivated and refreshed by the call to raise up their children, and encouraged by the practical examples.

However, Nunnery barely touches the surface of this significant passage, which is at the heart of both Judaism and the New Testament. Moses is reminding Israel of God’s heart and law, as was received on Mt. Sinai (celebrated as Shavuot–the receiving of Torah). The beginning of Acts opens to a parallel passage as the followers of Jesus gather in Jerusalem for Shavuot (known to Christians as Pentecost), to receive the Holy Spirit. It is the marriage of the Word and Spirit together that allows us to be fully activated in faith, in personal relationship with God, in the ability to love fully, to bear each other’s burdens, to forgive, and to walk worthy of our callings in Christ. I think this resource would be even stronger if parents were encouraged in the Scriptural foundation of the Holy Spirit, which is a needed aspect of drawing together as a family (in fact, unity within the Body was one of the primary signs of the nascent church!). If we want to fully disciple our children, both teaching the Word and living in the Spirit are vital, and there are so many stories and practical applications on both sides of this picture that could be expounded upon!

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

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