Sunday, July 20, 2014

Book Review: A Deadly Business


This was an enjoyable read. I was a little put off to find that it is the second book in a series (I hadn't read the first), but it really stands alone. Not a bad book — a bit of courtroom drama, an accidental death that might be a murder, a dead husband who turns out not to have been what he seemed, a bit of romance between Mia and Charlie (but not over the top or graphic in any way, even by implication). There were some odd things in the book that seemed out of place: for instance, Eli blurting out that Mia is his girlfriend — where did that come from? The side story about the lady and her son who were living in a friend's garage and then moved into Mia's spare bedroom seemed an odd, out-of-place, and totally unnecessary insertion in the story and the conflict over that with Gabe was never resolved. Gabe's character as a 14 year old was well developed and seemed true to life. I'm not sure what qualifies this as "Christian fiction". And I'm not sure what characterizes "Christian fiction -- is it overt Christianity (not in this book), is it morality (the language was clean and there was no gratuitous sex or adultery in the book), is it a Biblical worldview (that existed in the book but was very subtle and seemed motivated by a desire on the part of the characters to be good, not necessarily biblical)?

If you're looking for a light mystery that's an easy read with enough unknowns to maintain interest, then you will probably enjoy "A Deadly Business".

(I received a free copy of A Deadly Business for review from the publisher as a part of their blogger review program, Book Look Bloggers.  I was free to write the review that I thought the book deserved. I receive no compensation other than continued participation in the program.)

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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Book Review: The Case for a Creator, Student Edition

One of my biggest disappointments as an adult has been to realize the deficiencies of my high school science courses. So, I approach books like The Case for a Creator: Student Edition very much as a layman.

The Case for Faith was the first of Lee Strobel's books that I read. It was a refreshingly clear apologetic not only in the rationality of belief in God but also for placing one's trust in God alone. Later, I read "The Case for Christ" and found it to be just as clear.

I expected the same kind of approach in The Case for a Creator and I was right. Strobel's raises the questions about creation and then consults with experts who are Christians to find the answers. The material is presented in a way that even a science layperson can follow and (mostly) understand. He presents the arguments for creation versus evolution clearly. This book should help Christian students know how better to articulate why creationism is a reasonable worldview. Strobel lays out some of the weaknesses of a belief in evolution.

After reading The Case for a Creator, I did have some concerns. First, while I haven't read the original edition, this student edition read like portions of the longer edition were simply cut and pasted to make an abridged version. Second, much to my surprise, I found that Strobel's signature method was actually a little tiring after having read two others of his books. Finally, I wonder if Strobel has addressed the most recent issues in evolutionary science or if he has consulted the most competent scholars — I don't know that he hasn't but others who have reviewed this book have indicated that he hasn't.

Apart from the content and style of the book, I found some significant issues with the Kindle edition:  sidebars are inserted into the main text in ways that are somewhat confusing and in at least one case, a sidebar is inserted in the middle of a sentence. Also, some typical navigation features are missing — direct access to individual chapters via the "Go To" menu and the "swipe up" navigation feature of the Paperwhite. My copy is a review edition provided by the publisher for the purpose of review. I've asked the publisher about these issues. They've said the review copy should be the same as the purchase copy but that they would investigate my concerns and let me know. After almost 2 weeks, I have heard nothing further. These formatting issues are not unique to this book nor are they unique to Kindle books published by Harper-Collins. They don't take away from the value of the book — they simply make it a little more difficult to read.

I do recommend this book as a basic text for students. It is helpful in developing a creation apologetic. However, I don't think it should be the only book that someone should read on intelligent design or on creationism.

(NOTE: I received a free copy of The Case for a Creator: Student Edition from the publisher in exchange for writing a review of the book as a part of their BookLook blogger review program. I have been free to write the review that I think the book deserves and receive no other compensation except continued participation in the review program.)

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Friday, April 4, 2014

Book Review: Critical Condition

I'm a fan of Richard Mabry's books. Critical Condition is the fifth one I've read — somehow I missed Heart Failure, but I'll rectify that — and it was not a disappointment. The book will be released on 15 April 2014.

Shannon Frasier, first year medical student, witnesses the shooting death of her fiancé, Todd, and is helpless to help him. Ten years later, as a surgeon in a Dallas hospital, another man is shot and killed in her front yard and she is, again, powerless to help him.

Shannon, her recovering addict sister, Megan, and her almost-fiancé, Mark, get tangled in a bank robbery/murder case. In the midst of all of this, Shanon struggles with her weakened faith in God.

As always, Mabry's medical/murder mystery compelled me to finish. His characters are real, struggling with daily issues of stress, faith, fallenness, doubt. I like and appreciate the fact that Mabry's does not resort to foul language or to sex scenes to "enhance" (tongue-in-cheek) his stories. Even though two of the main characters are doctors, the storyline itself is only tangentially related to the medical profession.

While this was a really good read, there are weaknesses in the plot. Shannon, Mark, and Megan's interferences in the investigation would probably have earned them serious trouble in real life. I sincerely hope that the Dallas police would have taken the threats against Shannon's life more seriously than the story portrays. Some things that seemed weak in the first half of the book made sense later (I won't detail to avoid spoilers).

Shannon's struggles with her own doubts about God may seem trite to non-believers, its a very real struggle for many believers -- how to reconcile one's belief in a loving God with difficulties and evil in daily life. Once again, I highly recommend Mabry's books.

(DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of Critical Condition free from the publisher as a participant in their Book Look Bloggers program. However, I was free to write the review that I believed the book deserved. My only compensation is continued participation in the review program.)

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Book Review: Take This Cup (edited 28 March 2014)

I was first introduced to Bodie Thoene's writing with her Zion Covenant and Zion Chronicles series (currently, on Amazon, both Bodie and Brock are listed as authors for these series of books; the editions I read in 1991 were attributed only to Bodie). I was enthralled with her portrayal of the Jewish experience in Germany. Then, I read The Man From Shadow Ridge, written by Bodie and Brock Thoene, and was greatly disappointed. The writing was lifeless and the story seemed forced. So, I was pleasantly surprised that I enjoyed Take This Cup. I was concerned when I found that this is book #2 in a series. However, it seems to stand well on its own.

This book needs to be read as fiction -- it doesn't purport to be anything else. A young boy, Nehemiah, born to a shepherd and a crippled weaver, is "chosen" as the cup-bearer, to bear the cup of blessing and suffering that has passed from Melchizidek to Abraham, to Joseph (the cup placed in Benjamin's bag), and now is to go to the Messiah. Nehemiah's rabbi was one of the wise men who visited Jesus after his birth. Nehemiah must endure a long, perilous journey to get to Jerusalem in time to pass the cup to the Messiah. There are some odd inclusions:
* The white hart that supposedly survived from Eden is almost a spirit-guide. This is inconsistent with the book's basis in the biblical message about the Messiah.
* The star patterns predicting the Messiah's return seems out of character for the story.
* Bible passages seem to be used in contexts in which they were not initially used.

One thing that the Thoenes do stress in the story is that the Jewish people were expecting the Messiah to be a military/political leader who would overthrow the Romans and reestablish the Jewish nation under a descendent of David. In that interpretation, the crowd celebrating Jesus' entry into Jerusalem and then turning against him a few days later makes sense. Jesus, a descendent of David, was not the kind of Messiah they expected, so they turned on him.

Take This Cup is an engaging, fun read as long as it's treated as very fictionalized.

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher's Book Look Bloggers program in exchange for writing a review. I was free to write the review that I thought the book deserved.)

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Saturday, January 18, 2014

Book Review: The Prodigal: A Ragamuffin Story

Mega-church pastor, Jack, falls from grace — not in the sense of losing his salvation, but he gets drunk and sleeps with his assistant when they get stranded on a church missions publicity trip. The church he founded fires him, his wife leaves and takes their daughter. Jack is devastated by what "they" are doing to him and refuses to acknowledge doing anything wrong. He retreats to a getaway where, over a 2-month period, he tries to drink away his problem. But he's rescued by his father from whom he has been estranged for 10 years.

Back "home", Jack begins the long process of facing who he really is, what God really thinks about him, and restarting his life. It's a good story that hits close to home in that we all have failed, in some way, to live up to our own expectations of our self and we struggle with how to be worthy enough to be accepted by God and others.

Some of the characters were particularly well developed — Tom, Jack's father; Frank, the Catholic priest who advocates for grace; and James Taylor, the despicable mayor.

While I recognize that I come from a different religious tradition than Manning and the characters in his book, I found the liberal use of alcohol by believers unsettling. It was not just by one or two characters, but by many (maybe most). And, with the 3 main characters, there was misuse, even abuse, of alcohol that essentially went unchallenged, even as it led to problems.

The basic message of the book — that God loves us, extends his grace to us when we don't deserve it, and is forgiving — is a great theme and one that's necessary. The problem, in my limited exposure to the US over the last many years, is that this is a theme that is taken to the extreme by some (Osteen, for example) to the point where there is no repentance necessary. Thus, Jack's focus as a mega-church pastor — we've all totally ruined our live — seems like a straw man. However, his focus on self-improvement (we have to do better) seems to be a more common thread — works-based salvation. The truth is between those two — we have sinned, we do need a Saviour, God does extend his grace and we can repent and turn to him for forgiveness and eternal life. Jack finally experiences God's grace and forgiveness as he slowly realizes that the love he receives from his earthly father is a picture of how God deals with us.

I rate the book 4 of 5 stars. If you're struggling with guilt because of real sin, this is a great book to read to help you see God's love and forgiveness at work. It's also an enjoyable story of one man's struggle.

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this e-book in exchange for a review of the book through Thomas Nelson's blogger review program, Booksneeze. I have been free to write the review I think the book deserves.)

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Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Book Review: "The Total Money Makeover"

Read this book and put the principles into practice. You have to do both. If you're only going to read it, don't spend the money on the book in the first place.

I had just talked to one of my brothers and sisters-in-law about Dave Ramsey's financial advice and books when I checked on available books via Thomas Nelson's blogger review programme, Booksneeze. Ramsey's book, The Total Money Makeover, was available, so I decided to see what I thought. My brother and sister-in-law are big fans. She says Ramsey's advice helped her see the error of her own financial management. And, while I don't think of them as wealthy, they are financially comfortable.

Let me acknowledge that this book was not really written for me (just shy of 60 years old). It barely addresses financial issues that I face as I don't have 20 years before retirement. We do use credit cards but have no debt, have an adequate nest egg, and our kids are already through with university.

First impressions: a lot of hype and a lot of cliches and sound bites. I've never listened to Ramsey's radio programme but I often felt like I was reading a transcript, particularly in the first part of the book, which seemed primarily motivational. That is fine, but I didn't really need that.

All of that being said, this is an excellent read for anyone who has consumer debt or who is undisciplined with finances or who has 20 years or more before retirement. Ramsey lays out clear principles and plans for controlling one's finances rather than letting them control you. And, it doesn't matter whether one has an annual income of $25,000 or $225,000 — the principles and the plans apply. In fact, this book may be more important for the one with the $25,000 income.

Ramsey's primary messages, though he doesn't use these phrases, "get out and stay out of debt — avoid it like a plague" and "be laser-focused on working your financial plan" (Ramsey's phrase is "focused intensity"). His advice is sound, though it may be unconventional:
  • Quickly set aside a starter emergency fund
  • Get rid of consumer debt, starting with the smallest debt first — early success is a strong motivator for future effort.
  • Complete your emergency fund
  • Maximize retirement savings
  • Save for your kids' college
  • Pay off your mortgage
  • Build wealth
  • Give, have fun, invest
His motto is, "If you will live like no one else, later you can live like no one else."

For me, the biggest weaknesses of the book are:
  • It's cliche-ridden — to be fair, though, he warns the reader up front that it will be.
  • I think he doesn't make a strong enough emphasis on giving early in the book. One could get the impression that giving doesn't begin until one has built wealth.
  • He doesn't address what to do if one is within 10 years of retirement and doesn't have decades to build wealth.
But, none of those weaknesses detract from the importance or helpfulness of The Total Money Makeover.

Run well, y'all,
Bob

[DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review of the book. My future participation in the program is not dependent on how I review the book, I'm free to write the review that I think the book deserves.]

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Monday, December 9, 2013

Perceived Corruption — A Threat to Develpment

I am not an economist — I took precisely one course in economics in university and that was an entry–level course that I took primarily to get the hours I needed for graduation. (Hindsight: I wish, now, I had taken the course more seriously.) But, it doesn't take an economics genius to see that when an investor (either national or expatriate) is considering whether or not to spend money and energy in developing a business in a particular place, a country that is perceived to be corrupt is not going to be high on that investor's list of places to go.

Transparency International has released its 2013 report on Corruption Perception Index. I think it's very important to note that this report doesn't attempt to measure actual corruption — merely the perception of corruption in the public sector (bribes, backroom deals). And, in this case, it may well be true that perception is reality. For more details, go to TI's site. For a quick look at a particular country, put your cursor over that country. Scores range from 8 to 91, with 8 being the countries (Somalia, North Korea, and Afghanistan) perceived as being the most corrupt. Rankings are 1-177, with those same 3 countries tied for worst with a ranking of 175.



Having lived in Kenya for most of the past 27 years and now looking forward to moving to Uganda, it is very sad to me that the corruption in both of those countries has such a huge negative impact on the citizens of those countries.

Run well, y'all,
Bob

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