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The Judgment Stone by The Judgment Stone by
The Judgment Stone, by Robert Liparulo, is the 2nd book in the Immortal Files series, after The 13th Tribe. It manages to take the thrills, ideas, questions, and energy of the first book and take it up...
Finding God in The Hobbit by Finding God in The Hobbit by
With the release of the new Hobbit movie,...
Next Door Savior by Next Door Savior by
Max Lucado is the comfort food of Christian writers. He has a talent for taking tough, hard to digest ideas and making them easily understandable.  In Next Door Savior, Lucado has taken the idea...

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Exciting Biblical Speculative Fiction | Posted August-06-2013
The Judgment Stone, by Robert Liparulo, is the 2nd book in the Immortal Files series, after The 13th Tribe. It manages to take the thrills, ideas, questions, and energy of the first book and take it up a notch. 



Jagger Baird is coming to terms with the fact that he is an immortal.  As he and his wife, Beth, and son, Tyler, are beginning to get past the Tribe's attack on them, it all begins to happen again.  This time it begins when an archaeologist at the monastery/sacred site where they live discovers a piece of the original 10 Commandments, the ones Moses broke.  Touching the Stone lets a person see into the spiritual realm, with angels and demons all around us, and prayers in the form of beams of light showing a person's connection to God.  A wonderful discovery and treasure, it is quickly taken by yet another group of immortals, known as the Clan. 



Unlike the Tribe, the Clan has no wish to please God, end their lives, and get to Heaven.  They want to hurt and grieve God, and the Stone will allow their leader, Bale, a clear view of where he can do the most damage.  As the carnage begins, Jagger and Owen try to track the Clan and take back the Judgment (God) Stone.



Interspersed with this story thread is the story of Neveah and the rest of the Tribe as they try to kidnap Beth (again) in order to discover the secret to reconciling with God.  They begin an attack on the monastery, causing Beth, Tyler, and the monks to play a deadly game of hide and seek.



The characterization is great, particularly the contrast between Owen and Jagger.  Beth and Tyler form a solid spiritual backbone for Jagger to lean on.  Bale and the rest of the Clan are vividly described, and radiate pure evil.  The yearning for God and not-to-subtle spiritual message is drawn throughout the book.



The plot moves forward rapidly due to the non-stop action and Liparulo's writing style.  There are no long, boring paragraphs, and short chapters and jumps in viewpoint keep the reader constantly wanting more.



Liparulo brings the varying stories together in an explosive and exciting finish, with quite a few surprises and revelations along the way. Reminiscent of the classic novel This Present Darkness,  The Judgment Stone is well worth reading, and proves even more that Robert Liparulo not only writes great Christian thrillers, but great thrillers in general.  I'm looking forward to the next installment.



I received a review copy of this book through Thomas Nelson's Booksneeze program in exchange for an honest review.


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Not As Good As The First Book | Posted February-18-2013
About a year and half ago I read the first book in the Ancient Earth Trilogy. It was pretty good and it had me looking forward to book to.  When I had the chance to review A Hero's Throne, I jumped at it.  I'm glad I did, but I have mixed feelings.



This book picks up eight years after the events of The Realms Thereunder.  Daniel and Freya are both trying to move on with their lives, but they are once again called to battle the forces of Gad in the underground city of Nidergeard, beneath Britain.  They are reunited with Alex and Ecgbryt, one of Easdstan's Sleeping Knights.  As before, Lawhead incorporates the ancient myths of the British Isles into the story of Daniel and Freya's quests. 



The story concerns Daniel's growing confidence and willingness to fight and Freya's doubts about the legitimacy of what they are doing.  Alex and Ecgbryt are attempting to wake the other Sleeping Knights to assist in the freeing of Nidergeard, which has been invaded since the last book. In addition to these, we are given some insight, or at least glimpses, into why and how Ealdstan created Nidergeard and the Sleeping Knights.  Also, there are short episodes where children come into contact with the mythical creatures breaking through into our realm (giants, mermaids, trolls, etc.).



I liked the book, but not nearly as much as the first book.  The side stories were way more interesting than those of Daniel and Freya.  In fact, much of Daniel's story takes place in Elfland and references events that I had no knowledge of.  It seemed like there was another book or short story that I missed.  I also don't feel like A Hero's Throne advanced the overall story much at all.  It was not much of a "bridge" as is typical for the middle book of a trilogy.



I would still recommend this book, and will read the third when it comes out.  Just don't be disappointed when it doesn't match its predecessor.



A received a copy of this book as part of the Booksneeze program in exchange for an honest review.


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Comfort Food | Posted February-18-2013
Max Lucado is the comfort food of Christian writers. He has a talent for taking tough, hard to digest ideas and making them easily understandable.  In Next Door Savior, Lucado has taken the idea of Jesus as both God and Man and explained how and why that is necessary.



Subtitled Near Enough to Touch, Strong Enough to Trust, this book demonstrates how no one is too broken or too far away to experience the love of God.  Jesus became a man, literally, in order to fully experience what we do, and to reassure us that He has been where we are and lived what we live.  He has complete understanding of what it means to be human. 



The first section of the book is called No Person He Won't Touch.  This section discusses nine different types of people whom Jesus loves.  These include Every Person, Shady People, Desperate People, Discouraged People, Suffering People, Grieving People, Tormented People, Spiritually Weary People, and Imperfect People.  If you look hard enough, I'm sure there is a category you fit in.  Lucado shares anecdotes and scripture to illustrate his points.



The second section is called No Place He Won't Go.  Covered in this section are: Every Place, Inward Places, Ordinary Places, Religious Places, Unexpected Places, Wilderness Places, Stormy Places, The Highest Place, Godforsaken Places, God-Ordained Places, and Incredible Places.  Again, I'm sure the place you are in is mentioned. The good news?  Jesus has been there and will go again for YOU.



This book is a great answer for anyone who has said "I'd love to come to church/become a Christian, but I've got to get myself right first".  Thanks to Jesus, the God-Man, we don't need to get ourselves right first.  He does it for us.



Included in this edition of the book is a discussion guide, which makes it perfect for small group or Bible studies.



P. S.  The anecdote of the little boy who had knots in his shoelaces is priceless.  "Do you untie knots?"



I give Next Door Savior 5 out of 5 stars.



I was given a review copy of this book by Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.


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A Look at Christian Themes | Posted February-18-2013


With the release of the new Hobbit movie, many Hobbit tie-ins are appearing. Finding God in the Hobbit by Jim Ware is a book that appeared shortly after The Lord of the Rings trilogy of films was released, but it now pertinent again.  In this short book, Ware examines the many places God can be discovered in the story of Bilbo Baggins and his quest. 

 

First, this book is not a devotional.  It uses as its premise the fact that stories are a reflection of The Story, God’s ultimate plan of salvation for mankind.  While Tolkein himself was a Christian, he has said that The Hobbit was not intended as an allegory, and Ware respects that.  He simply points out how many elements of the story are echoes of God’s story.  Ware has used each chapter to explain one theme or idea, beginning with a passage from The Hobbit, then explaining the context and supplying scripture or life examples to support his point.  He wraps up with a reflection on the truth that is revealed (ex: Trust God, be yourself and watch the sparks fly; God’s grace is the narrow strand on which all our hopes depend).  Some of my favorite chapters include On Eagles’ Wings; Reluctant Leader; and Grim but True (this is particularly cool for anyone who has a pessimistic life view and gets tired of being told to look on the Brightside).

 

This was an interesting book, and I would recommend it to fans of Tolkein, or other fantasy authors.  It is not heavy-handed in its approach to Christianity, which lends it to being a good book for both Christians and non-believers.  For more of the idea of all stories reflecting God, I would recommend Epic by John Eldredge.

 

I received a copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.






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Grace is Great | Posted December-05-2012
Grace is another in a long line of great books by Max Lucado that provide spiritual insight.  The focus of this one is on grace, as per the name.  It is a simple concept - God provides us grace and all we have to do is ask forgiveness and accept it.  In theory, however, it can be a tough concept to grasp.  Lucado does a good job of explaining grace in its many forms and providing multiple illustrations from both the Bible and real life to support his ideas.  This book is a quick and easy read; Lucado does a nice job simplifying spiritual truths in his writing style. 



My two favorite quotes from the book:

1.  God's grace has a drenching about it. A wildness about it. A white-water, riptide, turn-you-upside-downness about it.  Grace comes after you.

2.  In the Chinese language the word for righteousness is a combination of two characters, the figure of a lamb and a person.  The lamb is on top, covering the person.  Whenever God looks down at you, this is what he sees: the perfect Lamb of God covering you.



In addition to the text, the book also contains a Reader's Guide, which is pretty thorough.  Therefore, the book can also be used for Bible Studies and Small Group studies.



I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the concept of grace, or anyone in need of grace.



I received a copy of this book from Thomas Nelson Publishers in exchange for an honest review.


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Good Info | Posted July-01-2012

For Men Only, by Shaunti and Jeff Feldhahn,  is another in the line of books directed at helping men understand women better.  It is actually a companion to For Women Only (which Shaunti wrote and presents at conferences), and arose out a response to that book.  That being said, it is a fairly informed read.  It is short and concise, choosing to focus on six main ideas: Reassurance, Emotions, Security, Listening, Sex, and Beauty.




While much of this was not new to me, I did appreciate the fact that there was research, both anecdotal and statistical to support what the authors were saying.  The topics also stayed focused on the main ideas, several times suggesting other resources for anyone interested in a deeper examination of the ideas.  Additionally, it is helpful to have reminders of the differences in make up between men and women, and to have suggestions on how to bridge the gap without putting the entire burden on my wife.




I enjoyed this book and recommend it to men in any stage of a relationship, from serious dating to married for a long time.




I received a copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books program in exchange for my honest review.






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Eye-Opening | Posted July-01-2012

The Blessing is centered around the concept of blessing your child(ren).  It stems from the story of Isaac, Jacob, and Esau. It concerns children receiving unconditional love and approval from their parents.  It's a pretty interesting concept, and I found the book to be very informative.  Trent lists the five elements of the blessing as: meaningful and appropriate touch; a spoken (or written) message; attaching high value to the one being blessed; picturing a special future for him or her; and an active commitment to fulfill the blessing.  The book goes on to explain the importance for a child to receive this blessing and the negative consequences that can arise if the blessing is withheld, intentionally or not.  Situations regarding single parent households, blended families, and how to overcome the lack of the blessing as an adult are all addressed.  I think this can be a very valuable book for parents, regardless of the ages of their children.


Related anecdote: I remember the time and the place almost exactly.  It was in a hotel room in (or near) Angola, Indiana.  I was in my second year of being a graduate assistant football coach.  It was Saturday morning and I was getting ready to leave for the stadium.  My dad gave me a card.  I'm not sure exactly why he picked that day; there wasn't anything special about it.  The card had a picture of Vince Lombardi on it and the text of his famous speech, "What It Takes To Be No. 1".  Inside, Dad had written a short message that reaffirmed his love for me, that he was proud of me, and that he was confident in me.  In short, Dad had encapsulated John Trent's concept of "The Blessing".  I'm not sure if he knew of the concept or not, but I still have the card, displayed in a frame on a shelf with my other football memorabilia.  It's my favorite thing my dad has ever given to me.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com  book review bloggers program.


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Not Just for Average Joes | Posted July-01-2012

Average Joe, by Troy Meeder, is about subtitled God's Extraordinary Calling to Ordinary Men.  I'd say the subtitle is half right.  The first half of the book gives multiple examples of men Meeder refers to as "average Joes", guys who aren't famous, etc.  Each example includes characteristics they have that all men can/should have.  For example, the chapter titled "The Soldier" references courage and sacrifice, doing what needs to be done.  I really enjoyed reading about these ordinary men who showed godly values and characteristics.  The second half of the book contains more anecdotes, but it seems to focus in more on living a godly life than the first half, which showed regular guys having an impact on the lives of others.  Each chapter also has references to men in the Bible who also demonstrate each of the characteristics.  It was a quick read, and the information was presented in a very casual, easy to read manner, although there were a few instances it seemed to switch to a more "preachy" approach.  The final section has a study guide that would be great for facilitating a discussion in a men's group or for an individual to go a bit deeper into the book's message.


Overall, I enjoyed this book.  I feel like I was entertained, informed, and challenged by Meeder's ideas and thoughts.  I would recommend this book to men of any age, particularly men's groups who are looking for a book to study.


I received this book from the publisher as part of WaterBrook Multnomah's Blogging for Books review program.





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Helping Men to Connect with Their Daughters | Posted July-01-2012

As Greg Wright, father of four girls, realized his oldest was approaching her teen years, he wondered what he could do to help them make solid, wise decisions.  His solution?  Daddy Dates.  He began taking his daughters on dates.  He theorized that when he wanted to show their mother how much he loved her and how interested he was in her, he pursued her and was creative as well.  He decided to try it out with his girls.  He resolved to call them on the phone, and ask them out on a Daddy Date (one at a time).  He paid careful attention to what they were interested in, then told them exactly what to expect on the date.  Wearing a suit, he came to the door to pick them up, then escorted them to the car and opened the door for them.  He explained to each of them what they should expect when they began dating, and told them how men should treat women, modeling it to them.  He also made sure to talk, asking open-ended questions and carefully listening to the answers.  Doing this often over the last nine years, he has developed amazing relationships with his daughters, built on trust and respect.


Wright is extremely easy to read and understand, and he presents many different situations he has been in with his girls.  His Special Thirteenth Birthday Daddy Date is pure genius!  This book was a quick read, but full of practical advice and ideas.  The appendix at the end includes a personality test for help in understanding your daughter(s), and fifteen of his best Daddy Dates.  As the father of two daughters, this book has immediate application value to me.  One of my greatest fears is that somehow I'll fail my daughters and they'll fall into horrible circumstances because of my lack of guidance; Daddy Dates is full of ideas on how to make sure that doesn't happen (or to at least reduce the chances).  Thanks Greg.


Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookSneeze®.com  book review bloggers program.


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Christian Lessons in Batman | Posted July-01-2012

Several years ago, I read a book by John Eldredge in which he stated (I'm paraphrasing) that the reason we enjoy stories so much is that they are all a reflection of the Big Story (Jesus dying for our sins and God's plan for us).  God on the Streets of Gotham is written in that vein. 


God on the Streets of Gotham takes a look at Batman, focusing on the movies but referencing other media as well.  Asay attempts to draw parallels between Batman and the life of a Christian.  He does not claim that Batman is an analogy for Christ or Christians, merely that there are reflections of the Christian life contained in the Batman mythos.  It is an interesting take on Batman, and on Eldredge's idea about stories.


The book contains ten chapters: Masked, Marked, Nemeses, Submission, Code, Tools, Partners, Struggle, Sacrifice, and Hero.  My favorite chapter was Nemeses.  This focused on the villains Batman faces and described each of them as representing an emotion or characteristics: for example, Catwoman represents amorality and Bane represents addiction.


Overall, this was a decent book.  It did not get bogged down in philosophy or rhetoric.  It was obvious that Asay is a Batman fan and knows much of his story and history.  I enjoyed reading it.  I would really recommend it to Batman fans, as opposed to the general population.


I received a copy of this book from Tyndale House Publishers in exchange for an honest review.





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