The Parables of Jesus Coloring Book (review)

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Parables-CBThe Parables of Jesus Coloring Book Devotional by Laura James

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Parables of Jesus is a coloring book and devotional in one. Each of its 46 readings focuses on one of Jesus’ parables. The coloring picture that follows relates to the reading.

The devotional readings begin with the parable or part of it quoted from the Bible. The entry lists, as well, other places in the gospels where Jesus tells the same story.

The devotional readings include a variety of things such as explanations of the first-century customs behind the word pictures in Jesus’ story, how the people in Jesus’ day might have understood the parable, and a practical application from Jesus’ picturesque stories to our twenty-first century lives.

Devotions end sometimes with a prayer, sometimes with a question to answer, and sometimes with a challenge of how to apply the parable to life. Devotional pages are framed on one corner with a leafy border—also to color.

The pictures that follow each devotional illustrate the parable. There are lots of scenes with people as well as objects. The style of the people in the pictures reminded me of figures found in Egyptian art. The “About the Author” section of the book’s listing identify the style: “… reminiscent of Ethiopian Christian Art.”

Each devotion and coloring picture is printed on the right-hand (odd-numbered) side of the page with the opposite side blank—except for when the devotion needs more than one page, and it completes overleaf. The book is printed on heavy white paper, suitable for a variety of coloring media.

The book concludes with two lined pages for notes.

I found the devotions drew me in and helped me to know how to better relate to and apply these familiar but sometimes mysterious stories.

The format with its left-side pages of white space made the book feel uncluttered and peaceful. Users could write their own thoughts and responses to the devotions in the space or leave it blank.

The consistent style of the drawings throughout gives this coloring book the appearance of an illustrated picture book. The illustrations would only be enhanced with color added, making it a perfect book to color and give away as an illustrated devotional.

This is a beautiful and inspiring book, designed to provide hours of coloring meditation.

I received The Parables of Jesus Coloring Book Devotional as a gift from Hachette Book Group for the purpose of writing a review.

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The Antioch Testament (review)

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The Antioch TestamentThe Antioch Testament by Donald Joiner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

When a wounded Syrian Christian refugee entrusts Chaplain Charles Monroe with a heavy and ancient-looking manuscript, Monroe is sure he’s in possession of something precious. Sending it to his brother Ken in the States for its preservation proves wise. Monks in a U.S. Eastern Orthodox monastery recognize the manuscript’s ancient language and, on translation, it turns out to be the letter of an early Christian, Ignatius, written to Dorothea, the daughter of Theophilus (the man to whom Luke addressed Luke and Acts).

When the Syrians discover the manuscript has left the country, official Amir orders Sentry in the U.S. to get the manuscript back no matter what it takes.

An injured Charles Monroe soon returns home from war. Author Donald Joiner unfolds The Antioch Testament in an epistolary style, having the monastery translators read the letter chapter by chapter to the Monroe brothers. In this way he tells the post-resurrection story of Jesus’ disciples (devoting a chapter to each). He tells where they traveled and to whom they preached, names their prominent converts, and relates how they died.

These readings are interspersed with conversations between Amir and his henchman as they work on a plan to steal the manuscript and return it to Syrian soil.

Joiner has done a good job of digging through ancient Roman and church history to give us a version of what might have been the fate of the twelve apostles. (I was impressed by the fierce opposition those first Christians faced from both Jews and Romans, and how steadfast and loyal the disciples were.) Joiner uses the discussion between the Monroe’s and the translators at the end of each chapter of letter-reading to introduce alternate versions of the story from tradition and underline what he feels are important points (like the Apostle Peter’s leadership of the early church).

Though successful as a work of history, The Antioch Testament is, in my opinion, not as successful as a work of fiction. The story starts out strong, with some great battlefront scenes. But once we get into it, the characters are never explored and remain one-dimensional. The dialogue is stilted, with large chunks of “teaching” delivered under the guise of conversation. Even the sub-plot of the attempt to steal the manuscript feels slow-moving and wooden.

However, readers who are mostly interested in ancient church history as it relates to the fate of the disciples will find The Antioch Testament rewarding.

I received The Antioch Testimony as a gift from a publicist for the purpose of writing a review.

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My Battle Against Hitler (review)

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My Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third ReichMy Battle Against Hitler: Faith, Truth, and Defiance in the Shadow of the Third Reich by Dietrich von Hildebrand

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Dietrich von Hildebrand, a German professor of philosophy in Munich, watched with dismay as Germany fell under the spell of Hitler and the Third Reich. In 1933, at age 43, he and his wife Gretchen left Germany to live in Vienna.

In exile he founded a weekly magazine (Der Christliche Standestaat—The Christian Corporative State) that, for five years (until the spring of 1938 when Hitler took over Austria and the von Hildebrands had to flee), was dedicated to unmasking the nationalism, militarism, collectivism, and anti-Semitism that combined to make up the ideology of National Socialism espoused and enforced by the Nazi party.

My Battle Against Hitler is Dietrich von Hildebrand’s story. The book is made up of two sections. The first part—von Hildebrand’s memoirs—contains selections from the 5000-page memoir he wrote in 1958 for the benefit of his second wife to help this much younger woman understand his life. This section is organized by year.

The second part is fragments of the essays he published in the Vienna magazine from 1933 to 1938.

The whole thing is stitched together by pieces written by John Henry Crosby and John F. Crosby, translators of the memoirs and essays. The book begins with John Henry Crosby’s chapter “The Life of Dietrich von Hildebrand.” Throughout the book pieces written by the Crosby’s connect the dots between journal entries and put the essay fragments into context.

Von Hildebrand’s journals are interesting and colorful. They depict him as an inveterate people-watcher who tended to categorize those he met as black or white depending on how they viewed Bolshevism and National Socialism. Any whiff of sympathy to those movements colored his entire opinion of a person.

He was someone who also seemed readily star-struck with those in power that he admired. His account of meeting the Empress and Emperor Otto of Belgium in 1933 is typical of his reaction:

“The Empress made a very strong impression on me. There was something unbelievably elegant and aristocratic about her face, while her presence as a whole seemed to combine both strength and tenderness. She was immensely attractive. … Afterward I was able to meet Emperor Otto, who also made a very great impression on me. He was then still very young, about nineteen or twenty. …I was amazed how well informed he was about all the problems in Austria and how intelligently he spoke about them” – Kindle Location 1927 & 1934.

As a whole, his memoirs introduce us to the philosophers, thinkers, and politicians of the day with whom he rubbed shoulders in Vienna and other parts of Europe. They are infused with his philosophical idealism which is rooted in his Catholic / Christian worldview. And so he saw Bolshevism and National Socialism as players in the age-old drama that was far bigger than what was being enacted on the stage of Europe at that time:

“In reality, there have been only two fronts in the world for the past two thousand years; the front for Christ and the front against Christ. He is the cornerstone which separates all spirits” – Kindle Location 5012.

Though I found many of his essays hard to follow (he was a deep, philosophical thinker, quoting names of contemporaries as handles of philosophical movements with which I’m unfamiliar), his strong convictions and clear thinking is, as a whole, hard to resist. I couldn’t help but contrast his well-thought-out opposition to Nazism to our popular movements which, herd-like, seem to be fueled by little more than trending tweets and social medial ‘LIKE’s. Von Hildebrand would have been aghast.

In our time when dueling worldviews continue, von Hildbrand stands as a shining example of someone who knew his convictions, was a master at communicating them, and stuck by them no matter how popular opinion shifted. This book is a worthwhile read for his defense of the Jews alone. The journal entries and essays where he decries anti-Semitism could help bolster our own resistance to this movement that is again finding a voice on the streets and university campuses around us.

This book is a treasure for those interested in a close view of pre-World War II Vienna, the political atmosphere and movements of the time, and how one Christian thinker analyzed and evaluated the philosophies that underpinned those movements.

I received My Battle Against Hitler as an e-book download from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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NIV First-Century Study Bible (review)

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NIV First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian ContextNIV First-Century Study Bible: Explore Scripture in Its Jewish and Early Christian Context by Kent Dobson

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As someone who writes a bit of biblical fiction, the overview description of the NIV First-Century Study Bible drew me in:

“Experience the Bible through Eastern eyes by exploring the cultural, religious and historical background of the Bible. This hardcover study Bible allows you to understand God’s Word in its original cultural context, bringing Scripture to life by providing fresh understanding to familiar passages, beloved stories, and all the Scripture in between.”

As a Booklook blogger, I got a reviewer’s copy of the e-book version of this Bible. This is a review of that edition’s Bible study features, not the NIV text.

The list of features is long and impressive. I’ve checked them out and this is what I found:

This Bible’s notes (commentary study notes and translator’s footnotes) and articles do indeed focus on describing and explaining the Middle Eastern location, history, and customs of the Bible’s writers and setting.

Textual articles consist of pieces longer than study notes and supplement each book. They cover a variety topics that go from delving into the history of part of the text (like “The Oral Law”—an article on the Shema, Deuteronomy 6:7), to explaining the customs and ethics of the day (like “Joshua and the Ethics of War”), to telling about recent archeological discoveries that support the biblical record (like “Hezekiah’s Water Tunnels”), and more. These were interesting and informative.

There are word studies. I found these short, skimpy and disappointing in that the Strong’s Concordance number was not included.

Day in the Life articles explain the lifestyle and customs of Bible peoples. Some sample topics are: “Desert Shepherds,” “Slaves,” “Widows.” Because these pieces attempt to describe and explain customs spanning the Bible’s hundreds of years, they are quite general and don’t get into subtle changes that may have occurred over hundreds of years, e.g. between the patriarchs and the time of the exile or the Old and New Testaments.

There are many In-text Charts and Models. These were not all equally accessible on my e-book version. I’m not sure how they would display on different e-readers, but know that on my keyboard Kindle, many of them are too tiny to read. When they’re set up as pure text (e.g. “Ancient Texts Relating to the Old Testament”) they view just fine. However when they’re set up as graphics, text boxes or charts (e.g. “Old Testament Chronology”) the static text size, skewed spacing, and sometimes grayed graphics made them pretty well useless.

Further Study Helps include a Table of Weights and Measures, Endnotes, Bibliography, Topical Index to Articles, Glossary, Concordance, and Zondervan’s Full-Colour Maps (14). As with the charts and models, some of these things were not legible on my e-reader (like the tables and maps). I liked the Glossary, that explains Bible words and concepts, and the linked Concordance, where Scripture references are accessed by clicking on a link.

All in all, this Bible’s study features make it a great choice for anyone interested in learning more about the cultural and social setting of the Bible. For those getting it as an e-book, there is an article in the fore-matter on how to navigate this edition. Though my e-reader was unable to access all the Bible’s features, accessibility and usability no doubt vary with the type of e-reader or tablet.

Even without access to the full menu of features, the NIV First-Century Study Bible e-book version is a wonderful resource—a wealth of information, stored in one light reader, and available at one’s fingertips.

I received the e-book version of the NIV First-Century Study Bible as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Storm Siren (review)

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Storm Siren (Storm Siren, #1)Storm Siren by Mary Weber

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“ ‘Fourteen circles for fourteen owners.’
I shade my eyes to block the sun’s reflection off the distant mountains currently doused in snow and smoke and flesh-eating birds” – Kindle Location 107.

In this first snippet of the story already we see its bloody DNA. I should have read the online sample and been warned.

Seventeen-year-old Nymia is a Uathuil, a citizen of the land of Faelen in Mary Weber’s paranormal fantasy Storm Siren. Of the Uathuil’s she is a female Elemental who shouldn’t even exist. But she does, having been sold and resold from one slave master to another. At the point the story begins, she’s bought again by the evilly attractive Adora.

Adora puts her in the charge of handsome and mysterious trainer Eogan. Soon Nymia is learning to harness her powerful weather-creating abilities and combine them with Colin’s earth-moving talents. Together they are being prepared as Faelen’s weapons against neighboring Bron’s army and war planes.

As training proceeds, Nymia feels herself being increasingly drawn to Eogan, who can calm her explosive nature with his touch—and does with touches that progress from hand, to waist, to neck, to…

Nymia, for her part, fights any softness within herself or sensed in others with sarcasm, anger, and violence. She is honest, abrupt, vulnerable, and self-loathing but does display infrequent flashes of nobility as distaste for the killing machine she feels she is destined to remain.

The book is written in first person (Nymia’s point-of-view) present tense. The writing is vivid, action-filled, and poetic.

Despite Weber’s intriguing fantasy world, strong characterization, and strong writing, I didn’t like this book. Nymia’s inner life and thoughts seemed overly melodramatic—teenaged angst on caffeine-laced hormones. The fight scenes were complicated and felt almost cartoonish in the way the main characters were able to dodge death in split-second maneuvers. The romantic scenes hovered between lustful and creepy. Halfway through I seriously considered not finishing it. But Thomas Nelson published it, I told myself. Surely it will end up having some redeeming features.

I guess one might call Nymia’s visit to the Valley of Origin such a feature, and Colin’s sacrifice, and the inclusion of words like “redemption” and “atonement” near the end. But I found the meaning of these bits so abstruse, their message so vague and subtle–not to speak of  the little that felt positive being cancelled out by the whiplash ending–the total of the positive really didn’t justify the hours spent in dark negativity and bloody violence. As a result, I don’t recommend this book.

I received Storm Siren as a gift from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the purpose of writing a review.

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