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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Review of The Returning by Rachelle Dekker

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Genre: Futuristic/Supernatural Christian Fiction/Sci-Fi

Series: A Seer Novel, Book 3

Not Recommended.

978-1-4964-0229-5Two decades have passed since the Seers fled the Authority City, with Remko and Carrington forced to leave their baby girl Elise behind. Now the Authority City is under the manufactured “peace” of a vaccine inhibiting memories and causing robotic submission to the authorities; yet Elise is immune, and is beginning to wake up to her identity as a Seer, as a supernatural shift is set in motion, with both sides gearing up for their inevitable confrontation.

I enjoyed the first two books of the series: The Choosing, and The Calling, even though I had a slight theological concern with each of them. In this final installment, the spiritual/theological aspect is much more prominent. I really like the theme of identity as a child of the Father’s, and how the inner struggle of light and darkness is portrayed. I also like the Seer’s process of learning to work together, and embracing their various supernatural gifts.

However, there is a stronger spiritual theme of finding one’s light within oneself that is not at all biblical, regardless of how many churches may embrace this form of religious syncretism. The Bible teaches that since sin was introduced into the world, humanity is born into sin, and then reborn in Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus came to save the whole world; but we must receive his salvation in order to have the Holy Spirit inside of us. When an unbeliever looks into himself he will not find God, but must choose to receive God’s calling, and die to himself.

Dekker’s characters are entirely focused on the light within themselves, and in all things, as the source of their identity and power. As a result, when the characters suffer, they go within themselves and are entirely self focused in a transcendent chat of beliefs (in line with Eastern religions, New Age, or modern psychology despite the “Christianese” language) rather than suffering in the example of the Christian Apostles (or Jewish Patriarchs) by looking to God and sanctifying His name in the midst of affliction. Dekker’s spiritual metaphor is clear as she constantly quotes Scripture (often out of context). I cannot advocate this harmful theology, despite some of the other positive spiritual motifs.

I also felt that the story itself was not as strong as it could have been. While there were moments of internal and/or spiritual struggle, the intensity of the suffering and conflicts were too shallow and unrealistic, the characters too often had overly simplified solutions to every problem, and the novel overall felt predictable, shallow, and preachy (of its poor theology).

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers.

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Review of Catching Heat by Janice Cantore

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Genre: Mystery/Crime Novel

Series: Cold Case Justice, Book 3

Not Recommended.

catching-heatDetective Abby Hart and PI Luke Murphy are sent to San Luis Obispo to work on the cold case of a murdered student, as well as a second case in finding a dangerous missing person. Meanwhile, Abby strives to find closure in the case of her parents’ death, investigating this personal case on the side.

This series should be read in order! Starting at book 3, the current cases were easy to follow, but the I felt lost with Abby’s personal “Triple Seven” case until near the end when the perpetrators gained a small role. I also had gaps with the characters’ histories and relationships. Consequently, the romance seemed like too much too soon, but likely had been built on in the other books.

I enjoyed reading this for the lighthearted romantic crime novel that it is (especially in the final suspenseful portions), but did not get as much out of it as I do some books. I really liked another of Janice Cantore’s books, so was expecting more. Overall this was a “mediocre” read for me–not bad, but also not memorable.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale. 

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Review of The Occupied by Craig Parshall

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Genre: Thriller/Supernatural

Series: Trevor Black, Book 1

Recommended.

theoccupied

Trevor Black is a high profile defense attorney until he is physically threatened by the demonic manifestation of one of his criminal clients. As his life falls apart around him, his developing gift of spiritual discernment (i.e. smelling and seeing demons) prevents him from continuing life-as-normal, and he begins to seek truth–both from God, and in unveiling the connection between multiple demonically-based crimes.

Trevor’s life is woven together through three parts: “The Flesh,” “The World,” and “The Devil,” progressing from his childhood/coming of age, to the shattering of his prestigious criminal defense career and marriage, then his return to his hometown to investigate the murder of his childhood friend, while connecting the physical and spiritual patterns of his life.

The narrative is true to its promise as a supernatural thriller, and is a quick read as a result of the suspense. There is mature content including sexuality, demonic manifestations, and heinous crimes involving Satanic occult rituals. Some of this was difficult for me, and I probably would not have chosen to read it had I realized the supernatural focus. But upon finishing the narrative I am left with a positive impression of how everything came together in such a revealing and honest manner, without exalting the sin or darkness, or detracting from the message of faith. It is well crafted, spiritually en pointe, introspective, engaging, and ultimately points toward hope in Jesus. It may also be enlightening for those drawn to horror, who have not considered the spiritual framework behind physical evils.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

 

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Review of The Witnesses by Robert Whitlow

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Genre: Contemporary Fiction/WWII

Not Recommended.

the-witnesses-by-robert-whitlowParker House is a young attorney in North Carolina, with the gift of extraordinary intuition, which often comes in seeing glimpses of the future. His German grandfather, Frank, shares this same gift, which he had used during the Holocaust in regrettable ways. Wartime secrets begin to surface as Parker grapples between progressing his career and finding love, and Frank struggles through deeper issues of faith, repentance, and releasing guilt for his past mistakes.

I enjoyed the legal–courtroom drama–aspects of this book, as well as the characters. I thought Frank and Layla were especially well developed, complex characters; and I loved the flashbacks into Frank’s life during the war.

However, the pace of the narrative was too slow in many places, with the major theme of the supernatural abilities not directly coming out until the middle of the novel.

I also did not like the ending, as I felt the atrocities of the Holocaust (while alive and burdensome in Frank’s mind) were overall downplayed, and not dealt with appropriately or fully. The ending also felt predictable and abrupt to me. I would consider reading this author again, but did not enjoy this book.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Thomas Nelson.

 

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Review of Delilah: Treacherous Beauty by Angela Hunt

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Genre: Biblical Fiction

Series: Dangerous Beauty (Book 3)

Recommended.

delilahI did not love the first two books in the Dangerous Beauty Series (featuring Esther and Bathsheba), but decided to give Hunt another try because I love the concept of biblical women’s stories coming to life, and have appreciated Hunt’s research and unique perspectives in her other books.

Told in the first person from the interchanging voices of Samson and Delilah, this is the best of the series so far. The Bible speaks very little about Delilah beyond her betrayal of Samson’s love. Hunt provides a background for Delilah, and further context for Samson, that is intriguing and realistic without contradicting the biblical account.

I was drawn to the story. I frequently looked back to Scripture while reading to remember whether certain details were truly mentioned (and was surprised by some of the biblical events I had forgotten!). I also thoroughly enjoyed the human perspective of Delilah, who is presented more favorably than in most Sunday school classes.

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

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Review of The Alliance by Jolina Petersheim

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Genre: Apocalyptic/Mennonite/Romance

Not Recommended.

TheAllianceA pacifist Mennonite community agrees to take in stranded “Englischers” after an EMP attack; and together the community must find a way to survive the aftermath, while confronting their personal values and physical needs. Heroine, Leora Ebersole is caught in a love triangle between the Mennonite “boy-next-door” who has always loved her, and the attractive pilot who crashed his plane in her backyard during the EMP attack.

This reads like young adult fiction, both in writing style and depth of content. The story raises interesting questions as to keeping one’s faith and moral values in the event of mass chaos and destruction, as well as illustrating our contemporary dependence on EMP (electromagnetic pulse). Some parts of it are interesting, and I read it through to the end without too much inner complaint.

So much more could have been done with this plot structure. I enjoyed the unique merging of two cultures, but the narrative did not carry the substance or depth of the apocalyptic storyline. Suspense was lacking. It was predictable. And I disliked the shallow romance, which should have been a side story, rather than the main event.

I received a complimentary copy of this book from Tyndale.

 

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Review of Distinctly You: Trading Comparison and Competition for Freedom and Fulfillment by Cheryl Martin

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Genre: Christian Living/Women’s Issues/Motivational

Recommended.

9780764215865This easy-to-read devotional style book encourages women to recognize and value the distinct calling God has placed on their lives, and to be grounded in the Lord, rather than pursuing comparison, jealousy, competition, and weighty personal expectations. The author shares candidly, in succinct chapters, from her own experiences in the areas of relationships (dating, marriage, and divorce), college and career pursuits, failures, and trusting God through every season.

This would be perfect reading material for young women undergoing a life transition (like high school or college graduation), for someone delayed in a desired transition (like the pursuit of marriage, or job), or for someone looking to build self esteem while connecting with God.

The content was engaging and Christ-focused throughout, although I did find myself loosing interest toward the end, partly because I am not currently in the situation of needing inspiration in these areas.

I enjoyed the way that Scripture was integrated alongside personal stories, and found the length of each devotional chapter ideal for quick, reflective reading, while the devotional questions were thoughtful and introspective.

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

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