Review of Thief of Corinth by Tessa Afshar

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Genre: Historical Fiction/Romance

Recommended.

Set in the first century, Ariadne is a strong-willed, athletic young woman, discovering her identity, and grappling with personal responsibility, ethical choices, love, sacrifice, and relationships (especially within her own broken family). She runs away from the oppressive environment of her critical mother, and the arranged-marriage set up by her grandfather, only to find that the freedom of her father’s household is due to his thievery. Ariadne’s natural athleticism makes her the perfect accomplice to her father. But an encounter with the Apostle Paul challenges everything she believes.

Afshar describes her intentions to write “a lighthearted story that still manage[s] to grapple with a few important issues” (373). In this, she has succeeded. Thief of Corinth has a realistic feel that thoroughly encapsulates first century Corinth, while remaining lighthearted and appropriate enough for teen readers.

The story is spread over several years, so it has a slower pace with several peaks, which eventually tie together nicely. I would not consider this suspenseful, but enjoyed the characters, and gentle narrative flow.

I appreciated how authentically and subtly the religious aspects were woven into this novel. I think the story could appeal even to non-religious readers.

Paul’s narrative teaching on love based on 1 Corinthians 13 was particularly touching, although also one of few scenes that brought out more of a contemporary than historical tone. I appreciated this, as the themes in the story are universal. Readers can easily put themselves into the atmosphere of the story, and find personal applications.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

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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 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 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 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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