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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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 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 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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