Sunday, July 24, 2016

Beyond Bethlehem and Calvary by Diana C. Derringer

Subtitle is 12 Dramas for Christmas, Easter, and More! Published by CSS Publishing, 50 pages.

This is a collection of short plays based on Bible stories. They can be used in worship services as well as other church gatherings. Some are designated as “sermon starters.” The first page of each drama includes a list of specifics to help the organizer plan and collect props. The list includes time (how long it lasts), theme, scripture reference, church year season, suggested use, summary, character list, props and costumes needed, sound equipment requirements, lighting, and setting. Most skits are five minutes or less, but there is on that lasts 15 minutes.

I can see this collection being used year-round. Christmas and Easter are represented, but other seasons are included, too. There’s even a Father’s Day skit. These plays are a great way to help people identify with Bible characters and apply scriptural principles to their own lives. The book is available on Amazon here.

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

Monday, June 20, 2016

Delilah:Treacherous Beauty by Angela Hunt

The third book in author Angela Hunt's Dangerous Beauty series, Delilah is an interesting read. The story of Samson and Delilah is one of the Bible's most famous love stories. Samson, an Israelite, is a judge and Nazirite, dedicated to God at birth by his mother. He has the gift of incredible strength, which gets him in trouble with the Philistines, the political rulers of the time. The Bible doesn't tell us about Delilah's ethnicity or country of origin. She's most often portrayed as a bad girl, a conniving woman, as in the 1949 movie, Samson and Delilah, starring Victor Mature and Heddy Lamar.

Hunt tells the story by alternating viewpoints between Samson and Delilah. Since the Bible gives no backstory on Delilah, she creates a fictional one. Abused by a Philistine, Delilah was rescued by traveling merchants, and taken out of the danger zone. She takes up residence with a widow who weaves for a living and runs a travelers' stop on a major trade route. Delilah has a baby by the Philistine who abused her and raises her son with the help of the widow. Samson enters the picture after the widow's death. He lives with Delilah and helps her raise her son. She hides him from the Philistines from time to time.

In the Bible story, Delilah betrays Samson by finding out the source of his strength, his long hair. She arranges for the Philistines to cut it while he's asleep. When they capture him, he is too weak to break free. As Hunt presents it, Delilah loves Samson, and he loves her. But she still betrays him. She's present when he dies in the Temple of Dagon, taking the Philistines down with the temple.

It's a fascinating read. As always, Hunt presents known historical details accurately. She fills in what the Bible doesn't tell with plausible fiction. I alternately felt sorry for Samson and Delilah. She loved him. He loved her. Ultimately, her betrayal led to the downfall of the Philistines. Was it part of God's plan for her to betray him? Read the story and decide for yourself.

FYI, if you are fuzzy on the Bible account, here's a summary.

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


Thursday, May 5, 2016

Habits for Our Holiness by Philip Nation

Full title: Habits for Our Holiness: How the Spiritual Disciplines Grow Us Up, Draw Us Together, and Send Us Out (Moody Publishers, 2016).

Most Christians desire to be more holy, because they think they should be. But, many don't know exactly what holiness means. For me, it means being "set apart" for God, but not set apart in the sense that you withdraw from the world. Easton's Bible Dictionary defines holiness as "consecrated to God's service." That involves a lot of things.

Author Philip Nation shows us how we can dedicate ourselves to knowing God better by practicing certain spiritual disciplines. Two other authors have addressed spiritual disciplines at length: Richard Foster and Dallas Willard. Both list certain disciplines that bring us closer to God. Nation uses some of these familiar disciplines and adds a couple more. He places a different emphasis on the quest for holiness. Not only should we be holy in our dedication to God in our private life. We are also commissioned by Jesus to be active in the world, providing an example and leadership to others who want to be close to God. The promotional material for the book puts it this way: "By showing how the disciplines have their greatest power when practiced in community and on mission, Philip Nation gives Christians a bigger reason—and greater desire—to pursue spiritual disciplines."

I've read books on spiritual disciplines before, and I expected this book to be similar. However, it is only similar in the fact that it explains spiritual disciplines. Nation's approach is refreshing because he's saying that we should not only use disciplines to become more holy. We should use them to be better witnesses for our faith. I recommend the book to anyone interested in the spiritual disciplines. It will breathe new life into your quest for holiness.

Nation is a teaching pastor and assistant professor who is also associated with LifeWay Christian Resources.

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

Monday, February 15, 2016

Renovating the Richardsons by Virginia Smith

This is the second book in the Tales of the Goose Creek B & B. I read the first book, The Most Famous Illegal Goose Creek Parade, and resolved to read the sequel as soon as it came out. I loved the setting, the characters, and the town politics surrounding the painting of the water tank.

In my review of the first book, I said, if you liked Mayberry, you'd like Goose Creek. For this one, I'll say, do you like Fixer Upper or Flip or Flop on HG-TV or the movie Bad News Bears? Then, you'll like this installment. The water tank is being painted, but the contractor has to cover the whole project with canvas to keep out snoopy residents wanting to critique the work before it's finished. The town organizes a softball team to play against a neighboring town in a grudge match hatched up by the mayors. They can barely get enough people to play, never mind whether they have the ball-playing skills.

Renovating brings back familiar characters from the first book and introduces new ones. Millie and Al Richardson dive into the renovation of the old home they bought for the B & B. Susan, the veterinarian, is back, along with her love interest, Justin, the handyman. The renovation of the B & B house involves finding one expensive surprise after another. There's strife between the Richardsons and between Susan and her father. New characters include Tuesday Love, who opens a massage parlor in town. Not exactly welcomed by the citizens, she makes a most interesting alliance to help develop her business plan. And Al Richardson's annoying co-worker, Franklin Thacker, buys the Richardsons' old home so that they can move into the B & B. Al is not thrilled because, now he will be annoyed by Thacker on weekends, not just during work hours. All the action culminates on the Fourth of July, the date set for the water tank reveal and the softball game. Sorry, I'm not going to spoil it for you.

Author Virginia Smith has published at least 26 books, including nonfiction and fiction (mystery, contemporary romance, and historical). Her sense of humor permeates all her writing, but it really shines in the Goose Creek series. You'll find yourself smiling while reading (not something that happens to me very often). If you haven't read the first book, don't worry. The story can stand alone.

Note: I purchased this book before I knew that I would receive a review copy from the publisher, so I have two copies. If anyone local would like to have my duplicate, please e-mail me at emilyakin(at)live.com. First person to contact me will receive the book.

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

Image source: http://virginiasmith.org/goosecreek.html

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

The First Hostage by Joel C. Rosenberg

This book is the second in Rosenberg's J. B. Collins series. Collins is a Middle East reporter for The New York Times. I have not read the first book in the series yet.

The hostage mentioned in the title is the President of the United States. He was kidnapped at a peace conference in Amman, Jordan. ISIS is the perpetrator of a large-scale attack on world leaders attending the conference. The Jordanians, along with an American special operations team, head up an effort to find and rescue the president. Collins is caught in the action and becomes eye-witness to the planning and execution of the rescue. But, will it be successful.

As usual, Rosenberg brings the drama and action to life with believable characters and almost constant suspense. The author's knowledge of Middle Eastern politics and the people involved make his stories feel like they came from front-page news rather than a fictional novel. While being entertained, the reader learns more about the dynamics of Middle Eastern politics.

I have read and reviewed Rosenberg's Twelfth Imam series on this blog. Check them out at this link.

Note: For some of my reviews, the publisher sent me the book at no charge in exchange for a review. This is not one of them.

Image source: http://www.joelrosenberg.com/books-dvd/

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Risen by Angela Hunt

Risen is also the name of a movie being released this month. The subtitle for this book is "The Novelization of the Major Motion Picture." Book and movie are based on a story by Paul Aiello and screenplay by Kevin Reynolds and Paul Aiello. Usually the book comes out first, and the movie follows if the book is popular. In this case, the book and movie released about the same time. Interesting marketing move.

The story takes place during the week of Jesus' crucifixion. It revolves around two characters. Clavius is a Roman tribune, who was present when Jesus died. Rachel is a Jewish widow who supports herself by baking bread for the community. Clavius reports to Pontius Pilate, and he is charged with finding Jesus' body when it goes missing. There's an illicit romance between Rachel and Clavius, I suppose to add spice. Rachel has heard that Jesus (Yeshua) is the long-awaited Messiah, but she does not know whether she believes it or not. As Clavius investigates the disappearance of the body, he must speak with Jesus' followers as well as his enemies. As the promotional material says, Clavius does not realize that this experience will change him (and Rachel) forever.

In the beginning, I was a little distracted by the romance between Clavius and Rachel. I wanted to get on with the story. That's a problem with using Biblical events for fictional stories. The reader knows how events unfold, but he or she won't know how the fictional characters are affected. Author Angela Hunt has a master's degree in Biblical Studies and a PhD in theology. She writes Biblical fiction that makes you feel like you're there with the characters. She takes some liberties with the story, but she explains why in the book's notes. I don't know if I will see the movie or not. I'm a bookworm, not a movie-goer. I wonder how many people will see the movie because they loved the book, though.

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

Image Source: Angela Hunt website

Monday, October 12, 2015

On This Foundation by Lynn Austin

On This Foundation is the third in Austin's series The Restoration Chronicles which is based on the events in the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah. The story begins in the Persian capital of Susa, where Nehemiah, a Jew, serves as the king's cup-bearer. Responsible for the king's security, Nehemiah has a special set of skills. And, God calls him to use them in the rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem, the holy city of his ancestors now under the Persian empire's governance.

Because of his special relationship with the Persian king, Nehemiah succeeds in getting the king's approval. He's appointed governor of the Jerusalem area. With a contingent of the king's soldiers, he travels to Jerusalem and evaluates the job he has to do. The locals think he's nuts wanting to rebuild the walls that have been in ruins since the Babylonians trashed it years ago. But, Nehemiah succeeds in winning hearts and minds with the help of rabbi Ezra and other faithful Jews. There's a drought in the area that's caused hardships for many. As usual, Austin's story is populated with vibrant characters who portray the social structure of the times and keep the story interesting.

I've always admired Austin's ability to make the characters from Bible times come alive. As usual, she uses contemporary language in the dialog so that interaction between characters feels real and unstilted. I found Nehemiah especially fascinating. Even with the favor of the king and the position of governor, he still felt inadequate at times. He was admired by the people he tried to help, but he did not let popularity go to his head.

Reading the Bible story alongside the fiction account helps make the Bible story more understandable. The fiction version brings to life palace intrigue, suffering of the poor, and God's role in all the characters' lives. I highly recommend this entire series to Bible newbies and scholars alike.

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


Image source: Baker Publishing Group