Wednesday, November 27, 2013

"The Berenstain Bears Thanksgiving Blessings" Review

Ride along with the Bear family on Thanksgiving Day as Brother and Sister learn about all the things they—and YOU—can be thankful for ... including faith, family, and the huge feast waiting for them at the end of their journey to Gramp's and Gran's. Includes a sheet of colorful stickers featuring the whole Bear family.
For more information, click here.
My Take:
“Over the river and through the woods to Grandmother’s house we go!”
This is a song that my parents and I used to sing every time we travelled to my grandparents’ houses during the Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays. I have great memories of the fun, family, and faith that went along with each of these celebrations.
In this Berenstain Bears book – Thanksgiving Blessings – the Bear Family is thankful for many things on Thanksgiving Day. Among these are faith and freedom and family and friends. The Bears ponder these things as Papa Bear tells the history of how the Europeans first came to America and why they came. He also talks of being thankful for work and play.
As the Bears arrive at Grizzly Gramps’ and Gran’s house for Thanksgiving dinner, they are even more mindful than they were at the start of their journey of how many Thanksgiving Blessings they have.
This story is another good one in the collection of Berenstain Bears holiday books that have been released over the last few years. There is not too much of a story here but rather an explanation of various blessings to be thankful for during this time of year. However, my four-year-old daughter enjoyed it, and she also really liked the stickers that were included with the book. Her favorite part of the book was the song “Over the River and Through the Woods,” which, of course, I sang to her as we read the book.
I thought the content was appropriate for ages 4-8, which is the age range given for this book. It explains the history of Thanksgiving and mentions the Native Bears as sharing food for the first feast. It also mentions that the most wonderful blessings of all are family and friends. I would say that the most wonderful blessing of all is eternal life in heaven and a joyful life on Earth through Christ, but I see the point that the book is trying to make.
The Berenstain Bears are a favorite of mine, and I think this little book is a good addition to our Bears library.
I will give The Berenstain Bears Thanksgiving Blessings … 4 BookWorms.
The Berenstain Bears Thanksgiving Blessings
by Mike Berenstain
Publication date: August 20, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Zonderkidz. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Monday, November 25, 2013

"Fifteen Minutes" Review

Zack Dylan grew up on a horse farm in Kentucky with a wonderful family and a faith in God that sustains even during difficult times. Zack wants nothing more than to marry his college sweetheart and settle down in Kentucky where he can sing and lead worship for the youth at his local church.

But when financial problems come to his family and the farm, Zack decides to take his talent to a national stage by auditioning for a singing competition called “Fifteen Minutes.” Zack feels that he has enough talent to make it far in the competition, and he is convinced he can use this time to be a light for God as well as help out with his family’s financial difficulties.

More quickly than he ever thought possible, Zack becomes a national sensation. As he rises up the ranks on the show, Zack is asked to compromise his beliefs and to keep quiet about his relationship with God and about his relationship with his fiancé back home. The producers of the show only see the bottom line and will do whatever it takes to make Zack
into exactly who they want him to be, no matter the cost.

A behind-the-scenes look at a fictitious “American Idol”-type competition, Fifteen Minutes examines fame and everything that goes along with it.

Admittedly, I have not really enjoyed the previous novels by Karen Kingsbury that I have read. They were not horrible, but they just were not my types of books. But the summary of Fifteen Minutes struck me as interesting, and I wanted to keep an open mind and give Karen Kingsbury another try.

The first thing I noticed about this book was how easy it was to read. It had an interesting plot and, for the most part, it kept my attention. The behind-the-curtain look at a national singing competition was the most interesting part for me, and it seemed to be it was realistic. I used to watch “American Idol” when it was in its early seasons, but it has been a very long time since I have seen it. I got tired of all of the drama that went on that distracted from the actual singing part of the show. Even though it’s been a while since I have seen this type of show, I could see the competition of “Fifteen Minutes” unfolding in my mind’s eye as I was reading, almost like a movie.

As in the “Bailey Flannigan” series by Karen Kingsbury that I previously reviewed, I felt as if this book was not always extremely relatable in the sense of it focusing on all the fame and fortune, since I doubt most people will ever have to deal with that. However, it is a good reminder that as Christians we should be living out the love of Christ in our lives every day and in every circumstance.

I also thought that the “fame is bad” point that was made in this book got tiring after a while, and it definitely bogged down the story at times. I understand what the author was trying to say when writing this book, but it just felt as if I was being beaten over the head with it. “Fame is bad. There is always a price to pay with fame. There is no way to completely live as a Christian in the secular world of music and Hollywood.”

I also wonder what else might be going on as the author was writing this book, considering
that Karen Kingsbury is so famous herself. Is it different because her fame is within a Christian setting? I say that it’s not. So it made me wonder where this “fame is bad” mantra was coming from. It definitely seemed as if she had an agenda.

The best part of the message about fame, however, was the point that as Christians, we are not meant to worship people. We were made to worship God. This is an excellent point that has stuck with me since I finished the book.

As for the story as a whole, it wasn’t bad. Zack’s plotline was very interesting, but it was sometimes surprising to see just how easily he fell into the fame game. He seemed to be really naïve about things at times, but then again, he was young and had never had his faith tested like this before.

There were a few other stories told in this book as well. The reader gets the story from the view of Reese, Zack’s fiancé back home, as well as two of the judges of “Fifteen Minutes.” Their stories were fairly interesting, but each of these characters seemed to be written to the extreme, which kept them from being completely realistic to me.

Overall, this novel had an interesting plot that might actually have made a better movie than a book.

I will give Fifteen Minutes ... 3 BookWorms.

Fifteen Minutes
by Karen Kingsbury
Howard Books
Publication date: October 29, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Howard Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

"Singularity" Blog Tour

Jevin Banks is searching for a killer--and answers to terrifying questions he never even thought to ask.
When his friend is murdered, illusionist Jevin Banks is determined to find out what really happened. Drawn deep into a web of conspiracy and top-secret research on human consciousness, Jevin won't stop digging until the truth is revealed. Soon he uncovers a dark secret that could change the very fabric--and future--of human life on the planet.

Based on frightening scientific realities and bristling with mystery, suspense, and intrigue, Singularity is the riveting sequel to Placebo.

Available November 2013 at your favorite bookseller from Revell, a division of Baker Publishing Group
My Take:
My husband read and reviewed this book since he previously read and reviewed Placebo. Here is his review:
The last book that I read in this series Placebo had some good points and some bad points. 
Unfortunately, this book seems to have taken the good parts out and expanded on the bad parts. 
My biggest problem with the last book was with how dark it was.  This book takes that to a whole new level.  The descriptions of the torture in this book are extremely graphic.  The things that the antagonists would do to their victims were just plain awful.  There were several descriptions of sexual assault-type situations which were again very graphic.  I actually had to skip several paragraphs during those parts of the book.  I “watch a movie” in my mind as I read a book, and I decided that I didn’t need those images in my head.  I believe that those parts could have been toned down or just insinuated, and the story would not have been affected.
The other part of the last book that I didn’t like was the long expositions on the “scientific” parts.  This book does that again only much longer.  The focus of this book is the ability for humans to merge with machines and computers to eventually live forever.  In an effort to head in that direction, the antagonist has implanted chips into himself to control a robotic arm.  That was pretty cool.  However, as our protagonists are learning about all of this, they hold many, MANY conversations about what is currently possible, where we are headed, and the moral implications of it.  There were a couple of times where they started talking about the moral implications of melding man and machine or engineering humans, but they would brush past that and then drone on about the details and possibilities which just didn’t help the story.  The first time they talked about it, it was useful.  Every time after that was just annoying and boring.  And that is a shame because the author could have really done some cool and thought provoking stuff with that.  
Also, in this book, the God Talk was forced and felt like it was added after the book was written.  You could have completely removed any mention of God from this book and it would not have changed anything.  In the last book, the two main characters, Jev and Charlene, were falling in love and taking things slowly.  Charlene was a believer and Jev was seeking and growing closer to making a decision.  In this book, Jev is not interested in God and the two are living together!  What happened?  That was a great storyline that could have really made for an excellent continuation in this book, but it was completely ignored or changed.
The “mystery” of this book was pretty lame, too.  The book keeps talking about extending human life indefinitely and controlling machines with your mind.  But, the impetus for the antagonists was to steal a mind controlled drone.  Why?  The mind control was just a shiny bell on what the bad guys wanted.  They wanted to steal the drone.  Make the story about that.  Ignore the mind control stuff.  It just made the motivation for the bad guys murky.  And, frankly, I didn’t care.  It was like two different stories were being told, and neither was very fully fleshed out.
Overall, I did not enjoy this book.  It was too dark, too graphic, unnecessarily technical, the storylines were confusing and not fully fleshed out, and it was just boring.  I will not be reading the next book in this series.  And, it will take some serious convincing before I read anything by this author again.

I give it 1 BookWorm.

My husband and I were both aware that this book would be darker than most, but it just went too far. I wasn't able to even get that far into it before I had to stop reading. Again, we realized that this material would be more graphic and darker than other Christian fiction. We knew that going in, and we still we not able to get past all of the things that just made this book feel wrong. We both think that this book should not have been published by a Christian publisher. While we understand that sinful subject matter will be addressed in a Christian book (because we are all sinners), nothing in this book pointed towards redemption and forgiveness for those sins. Where was Christ in this Christian book? Where was the hope that we can have through Christ alone? It seemed like a completely secular novel with God thrown in here and there, and we expect more from Christian publishers.
The opinions expressed are our own. We feel this way towards this novel and not towards Revell Publishing's other novels.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell Publishing. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

"His Word in My Heart" Review

Memorizing Scripture...memorizing passages of Scripture...will change you - the way you think, the way you live, the way you know God.

We want to memorize Scripture - we really do - but so many other things become our priority. The kids need to be fed, the laundry done, and a work schedule negotiated. So, we daily strive without doing the most important thing, the best thing - putting God's Word in our hearts and minds. And then we wonder why - Why am I not growing?  Why do I still struggle with this same sin? Why is my family faltering?

The good news is YOU can do it. In this updated classic, Janet Pope will share practical tips and strategies - including how to harness technology - to enable you to start memorizing the living Word today.

Find more information about this title here.

About the Author: Janet Pope, a gifted teacher and communicator, teaches a weekly Precept Bible study and has a blossoming speaking ministry. She spent 10 years with Campus Crusade for Christ before moving to Foundations for Living where she has served for the last 12 years. A diligent student of the Bible, her passion is to lead others to the oasis of God's Word. Her unique contribution to the body of Christ is that she has memorized over 120 chapters of Scripture, including 14 books of the Bible. She is author of His Word in My Heart: Memorizing Scripture for a Closer Walk with God. Janet and her husband, Ethan, live in Dallas, Texas and have two children in college.

My Take:

When I was a child, I was really good at memorizing things. The order of the books of the Bible? No problem - with and without at catchy tune. Psalm 23? Psalm 100? Passages from Isaiah, John, and 1 Corinthians? I recited them regularly in Sunday School.

But over the years my Scripture memory has become very lacking. You could partially chalk this up to being busier as an adult and to mommy brain (which is a real thing!), but mostly it is due to the fact that I just haven't been as diligent about it as I was as a child.

And that really needs to change.

The biggest takeaway I received from this book, His Word in My Heart, is the idea of memorizing entire passages (and even books!) of the Bible rather than picking verses here and there. This makes so much sense. It makes for an easier way to memorize since one verse flows into the next, and it keeps you from taking a verse out of context.

The only thing that I would claim to be a negative for this book was that the NetGalley e-book that I received was not formatted correctly during the parts of the book where the author would write out in detail how to memorize Psalm 1 and Titus. These outlines were gibberish with correct words in between. So, I didn't really get the whole outline of how to break these passages down in order to memorize them. I will have to just make a plan on my own.

One other really great thing about this book, however, was that I thought that the author was very encouraging. She has memorized so many books and passages of the Bible, and she knows that anyone can do it if they just try. I was encouraged to start memorizing Psalm 1 (starting just this morning), and I almost have the first verse down. Who wants to join me?

His Word in My Heart is an easy-to-read and encouraging book that will motivate and help anyone to memorize the Word of God and apply it to their lives.

I will give His Word in My Heart ... 5 BookWorms.

His Word in My Heart
by Janet Pope
Moody Publishers
Publication date: August 20, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Moody Publishers through NetGalley. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

"My Hope Is Found" Review

Previously in this series, Gideon O’Riley was able to find love with Lonnie only to be ripped away when a woman from his past, Cassie, declares herself to be his true wife. After several months together, Cassie realizes that she will never have Gideon’s heart and releases him to return home to Lonnie.

But several things still stand in the way of a happily-ever-after for Lonnie and Gideon, including a new man in Lonnie’s life. Toby McKee, a new preacher in Fancy Gap, has spent the last several months helping out at the Bennett farm where Lonnie lives. He and Lonnie become fast friends, and when he proposes marriage, Lonnie sees it as a path to a wonderful new future for her and for her son, Jacob.

When Gideon finally arrives back at the Bennett farm, he finds Lonnie promised to Toby. Will Lonnie choose to go back to Gideon, or will she decide to move down a different path with Toby? Whatever Lonnie decides, will Gideon be able to place his hope and his future in the hands of a loving God?

In the previous novels in this Cadence of Grace series, I was able to enjoy the setting and descriptive nature of the writing even if the story was a bit frustrating at times. This was again the case with the final novel in the series, My Hope Is Found.

The imagery in this novel is stunning. The writing is very descriptive and paints a very good picture of the Blue Ridge Mountains. As I was reading, I felt as if I was right there in the setting of the story. While the format and style of the writing was very descriptive, it was overly stylized for my taste. Sentence fragments. And capitalized conjunctions. These were very, very common and sometimes were more than my “grammar police” brain could take. I don’t mind this from time to time in novels – I do it myself in reviews – but it happened so often that for me it was distracting and kept me from feeling the complete thoughts of the characters.

The story in this novel is told from the points of view of Lonnie, Gideon, and Toby. This gave it a bit more depth, especially since it made it harder to figure out who Lonnie would choose in the end. Normally I can tell as soon as I start reading who the main female character will end up marrying. In this one, I actually wasn’t 100% sure at times, and this is a credit to the writing and character development of the novel.

I thought that the best part of this series was the secondary characters, especially the Bennetts and the Jemsons. I loved how they were so sweet and so willing to help others. Their compassion was a testament to their faith, and it was very encouraging.

Gideon’s spiritual transformation was also a good part of the series. Over the course of the three novels there was much growth in Gideon’s life, and it was obvious that the changes that occurred were things that only God could do.

Although I appreciated Gideon’s growth and the wonderful descriptions of the setting of this novel, the overall plot was still sometimes frustrating for me. Lonnie did not come through as a strong character in this novel. She was extremely wishy-washy, and a lot of the times her feelings and actions were based on rumors and assumptions instead of taking time to find out the facts. Lonnie developed a romantic relationship with Toby in just a few months, and then she couldn’t decide which man she wanted to marry. She said she loved them both. Can you romantically love two people at once? I know I could never do that – not a true love anyway. Maybe I am just being too practical, or maybe it’s because I have never had two men in love with me at the same time, but I just couldn’t relate. Since the moment I fell in love with my husband, I have never loved another, and time apart or other difficult circumstances would not change that.

I will admit that Gideon did need to make a decision for Christ before he could truly be a husband to Lonnie, so maybe that had something to do with it, even though I don’t remember her thinking of it in quite that way. Having Lonnie admit that she was in love with both men at the same time was just too much for me.

I rarely have such a disconnect with an author, and it bothered me throughout this entire series. I really wanted to like it more than I did.

I will give My Hope Is Found ... 2 BookWorms.

My Hope Is Found
by Joanne Bischof
Cadence of Grace #3
WaterBrook Press
Publication date: October 15, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from WaterBrook Press. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

Saturday, November 2, 2013

"Under a Blackberry Moon" Review

When Moon Song, a young Chippewa woman with an infant son, stumbled into Robert Foster’s lumber camp in October of 1867, she was immediately taken in by those who were working at the camp. After settling in there, Moon Song was even able to care for one of the lumberjacks, Isaac Ross – known to almost everyone as Skypilot – when he was injured rescuing one of Robert’s children from a falling tree.

Now that summer has come to the North woods, Robert enlists Skypilot to accompany the young widow Moon Song back to her people on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. When disaster comes to them on their journey, they must depend on each other for their very survival. The longer they are together and the more difficult their journey becomes, the more Moon Song and Skypilot are drawn to each other.

Set in the rugged North woods of Michigan, Under a Blackberry Moon gives an awe-inspiring view of this unforgiving land and the native people who made this place their home.

The Measure of Katie Calloway – a previous novel by this author – tells the story of Robert and Katie at the lumber camp, and Moon Song and Skypilot are both other characters in that novel. After enjoying that novel and others by Serena B. Miller, I was really looking forward to reading this one.

And it completely blew me away.

Since I was familiar with the characters, I was able to get into the story very quickly, and from there the various plot lines were so intense and so exciting that I never wanted to put it down.

My assumption was that the entire book would be about Skypilot and Moon Song’s journey to find her people, so I was a bit disappointed when that part ended halfway through. The journey that Moon Song and Skypilot find themselves on was such an adventure, and I thought that when that part of the book ended that the whole thing would slow down. But it really didn’t. What I did not realize was that there were so many other intricacies to their stories that needed to be told. This is what happened during the rest of the novel, and it was done with amazing skill.

I really liked how balanced this book was as well. The romance between Moon Song and Skypilot was of course a major plot of the story, but it didn’t overshadow what was going on in all of the other areas of their lives. It was told alongside all of those other events, which made it weave throughout the entire novel rather than sitting on top of it and weighing down the other areas of the story.

There was also a good balance between the stories of the fictional characters and the history of this time and place. I always feel so bad when I read about the injustice that was committed by white settlers towards the Native American people. At first I felt as if I was being preached at when this subject was brought to the forefront in this book. But as I continued to read, I realized that I was just being defensive about how the white settlers acted. I mean, most of my ancestry is traced back to Europe – those white settlers who committed such atrocities against Native American and African American people – and so when I read about these things, I feel really bad. I will say that my grandmother’s great-grandmother was Cherokee. That is pretty far back in my lineage, but it is something that I know about, and my family has always been proud of this part of our history. So, even though it was hard to read, the part of the novel that focused on the plight of the Chippewa and other Native Americans at this time was very thought-provoking.

The balance in this novel carried over into the spiritual aspect as well. Even though it was a major plot point – especially when it came to Skypilot admitting that he could not marry Moon Song if she was not a believer in Christ – it was done so well that it felt seamless. The message of salvation through Christ was clear without being preachy. It felt genuine and was very realistic.

I could go on and on about the things that I liked about this novel. The historical setting was fantastic and was described in realistic detail. The secondary characters were well-blended into the storyline – they were realistic without taking over the entire story – and the main characters were sincere and experienced a tremendous amount of growth over the course of the novel. It also had a satisfying conclusion, and I really enjoyed the author’s note at the end.

Under a Blackberry Moon is a grand adventure with a great story, interesting characters, and a sweet romance. This novel might not be for everyone, but for me – someone who loves Christian historical/romantic fiction – it was near perfect.

I will give Under a Blackberry Moon ... 4.5 BookWorms!

Under a Blackberry Moon
by Serena B. Miller
Revell Publishers
Publication date: October 15, 2013

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Revell Publishers. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this is accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."