Saturday, March 21, 2015

God's Story in 66 Verses, by Stan Guthrie

Great idea and execution. Guthrie makes a rather outrageous and bodacious claim in the subtitle, Understand the Entire Bible by Focusing on Just One Verse in Each Book, but has succeeded in his goal by choosing a key verse from each book of the Bible, one that captures the core message of the book. Then he gives a 2-3 page overview of each book. He has managed to capture the message of the Bible clearly.

This is an excellent overview and would be a good introduction for a new believer or for anyone who is not familiar with the Bible. It's also a good reminder for mature believers and helpful in pointing out the key themes — something that can be difficult if one gets caught up in the details of each book. Mind you, the details are important, but this book helps one to step back and see the whole of each book before digging into the details. For my first time through the book, I read 2-4 chapters per day as a part of my personal devotions and it was helpful. However, I think a better us of the book is to use this as one reads through the Bible — getting an overview and then memorizing each key verse while reading that particular book of the Bible.

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book for review purposes from the publisher through their blogger review programme, BookLook Bloggers. I was free to write the review I thought the book deserved. My only compensation is continued participation in the review programme.)

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Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Best and Worst Books I Read in 2014

Someone asked me on Facebook if I was going to post my favourite books of 2014. I looked back at my list (95 books and 26,442 pages). Here are the best and worst, sorted by category (my categories).

The Best Reads would be rated 5-stars by me on Amazon, which means the book has to **REALLY** have an impact on me. I tried to decide on the 1-3 absolute best and couldn't narrow it down because each is unique and meaningful for different reasons.

The Worst Reads would all be rated 2-stars or less, which means I REALLY did not like them.

If you're interested in seeing my comments on each book, you can view or download this document from my Dropbox account — The Best and Worst Books I Read in 2014

BEST READS OF 2014
  • Unbroken, Laura Hillenbrand (Biography) 
  • A. Lincoln: A Biography, Ronald C White (Biography)
  • Once Blind: The Life of John Newton, Kay Strom Marshall (Biography) 
  • Commentary on Philippians, Colossians, and Thessalonians (only Colossians chapter), John Calvin (Bible) 
  • Expositor's Bible: Colossians and Philemon, Alexander Maclaren (Bible) 
  • The 3D Gospel: Ministry in Guilt, Shame, and Fear Cultures, Jayson Georges (Cross-Cultural Ministry) 
  • Daily Reflections on the Names of God, Ava Pennington (Devotional) 
  • A Hobbit Devotional: Bilbo Baggins and the Bible, Ed Strauss (Devotional) 
  • Revisiting the Master Plan of Evangelism, Robert Coleman and Bobby Harrington (Evangelism) 
  • Faith of My Fathers (Chronicles of the Kings #4), Lynn Austin (Fiction) 
  • The Book Thief, Markus Zusak (Fiction) 
  • To Kill a Mockingbird, Harper Lee (Fiction) 
  • The Secret Life of Pronouns: What Our Words Say About Us, James W. Pennebaker (Language/Psychology) 
  • The Painful Side of Leadership, Jeff Iorg (Leadership) 
  • The Top Ten Mistakes Leaders Make, Hans Finzel (Leadership) 
  • The Meaning of Marriage, Timothy and Kathy Keller (Marriage) 
  • David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, Malcolm Gladwell (Sociology) 
  • The Teeth May Smile but the Heart Remembers, Andrew Rice (Uganda History) 
  • The Monuments Men, Robert M. Edsel (US/Military History)
WORST READS OF 2014
  • Saint Francis of Assisi: A Life Inspired, Wyatt North (Biography)
  • The Legend of Juan Miguel: The Tale of an Unlikely Hero, Anna K. Sargent (Fiction)
  • Pursuit, Jason Garrett (Fiction)
  • Tiaras & Texans, Laina Turner (Fiction)
  • Your Best Nap Now: 7 Steps to Nodding Off at Your Full Potential, Martha Bolton (Humour)
  • How to Solve Soduku (52 Brilliant Ideas), Robin J. Wilson (Non-fiction) 
On the running front, which was the original purpose of this blog ... well, let's just say that was another worst of 2014.  :-(  I'm trying to get back and plan on 2015 being much better.

Run well, y'all,
Bob Allen
Kampala, Uganda

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Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Book Review: No Greater Valor, by Jerome Corsi

No Greater Valor: The Siege of Bastogne, and the Miracle That Sealed Allied Victory (I read the Kindle edition), by Jerome Corsi, is a (mostly) readable account of the American defense of Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge. American forces tenaciously held this important crossroads against numerically superior forces and in spite of harsh weather and shortage of both food and ammunition. Because of the weather and the fact that the Bastogne defenders were surrounded by German forces, fresh supplies could not be brought in until the weather broke on 23 December. I'm not competent to declare whether or not this battle is the most courageous ever fought by American troops, but this certainly is a story of courage and determination. The defenders on the ground, the airmen who flew supply drop runs, medics who volunteered to fly into Bastogne in gliders, and Patton and his 3rd Army all demonstrated courage.

I have no military background — missed the Vietnam draft by one graduating class, my draft number was either #162 or #169 (Hey, give me a break — that was 43 years ago). I also don't generally like books about specific battles. Consequently, I struggled a bit with the military organizational vocabulary. Mostly, I just ignored those kinds of details and read for the bigger picture and that was what I found appealing. For me, the book got much better once the preparations to defend Bastogne were done. I did find it appealing to be reading this book on the 70th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge and the Siege of Bastogne — that was not by design, it's just when I happened to read the book.

Corsi says that his primary purpose in writing this book was "to reexamine the importance of God in our Judeo-Christian historical tradition in a world certain again to be…'nasty, cruel, brutish, and short' once again in the future." I don't believe he accomplished his purpose. Note — that's not the same thing as saying that I don't believe the premise. I just don't think Corsi presented the kind of compelling evidence that he intended. There are certainly examples of faith in action — Patton's distribution of leaflet encouraging the troops to pray, the attendance of both troops and leaders in Mass and Protestant services during lulls in the action, the statements of belief that God had favoured the American. Did God give the generals and other officers extraordinary wisdom in making decisions that seem to be merely fortuitous? I think so. Were the personnel involved motivated and emboldened by a belief that they were fighting to defeat an evil in the Nazis that was built on a Satanic foundation? I think so.

Someone who believes that God does not intervene in human affairs or, certainly, a non-Christian may well find the references to God's help obnoxious. But, if that focus doesn't bother you, this is a really good story of courage and great strategy.

[DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of this book from the publisher as a part of their blogger book review programme, BookLook Bloggers. The expectation by the publisher is that I will write the review that I believe the book deserves. Other than the free copy of the book and continued participation in the reveiw programme, I receive no other compensation from the publisher.]

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Monday, November 10, 2014

Book Review: Same Kind of Different as Me

Denver's voice is the first one heard and he opens the story by saying, "Until Miss Debbie, I'd never spoke to no white woman before. Just answered a few questions, maybe--it wadn't really speakin. And to me, even that was mighty risky since the last time I was fool enough to open my mouth to a white woman, I wound up half-dead and nearly blind." Now, that's a great start to a story -- it caught my attention.

This is a gut-wrenchingly honest book (I even shed a few tears and had a hard time returning to it at one point) -- friendship, loyalty, prejudices, fears, sin, love, forgiveness, doubts, anger, pain, loss, greed, trust, dashed dreams, crushed hopes. Two very dissimilar men (Hall and Denver) become friends -- Hall's wife sort of pushes Hall into the relationship. While it is a book about friendship, the message of the book is equally how much impact one person (Deborah Hall) can have on all the people around her. Interesting way to write the book with the "voices" of Hall and Denver alternating throughout the book -- often every other chapter but, occasionally, there will be 2-3 chapters of Hall followed by a chapter of Denver.

(Disclaimer: The second time through, I received a free review copy from the publisher through their Blogger Review program, BookLook Bloggers. I was free to write the review I believed the book deserved -- an easy task with this book.)

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Sunday, August 24, 2014

Book Review: The Way of Kings, Brandon Sanderson

Sanderson created a whole new world for this novel (1st of 10 projected books). It includes various human and human-like beings as well as spren (beings that appear to show various states — fear, pain, glory, wind, anticipation, etc.), crab-like creatures that are used as beasts of burden but also produce valued crystals, and plants that are alive and move in response to stimuli. He also created legends and religion and mythology. Some humans and others are able to take advantage of powers contained within spheres and chips. These powers don't give new abilities, but greatly enhance existing abilities. It took some time to get into the story, primarily because of all the new terminology and cultural references that had to be absorbed.

In the end, the story seems to revolve around 3 primary characters. Kaladin, a surgeon's apprentice turned warrior turned slave turned bridgeman, turned Brightlord protector. Kaladin may be the most complex of the characters and, in some ways the most human of the characters as he struggles with trust and bigotry and figuring out who he really is.

A second primary character is Shallan, a girl from a once powerful family who convinces the king's sister to take her on as a ward, ostensibly to become a scholar but with the intent of stealing Jasnah's Soulcaster, to replace her family's broken soulcaster, and using it to restore her family's fortunes and position.

The third primary character is Dalinar, a Highprince and uncle of King Elhokar. Dalinar is thought to be going crazy because he has lost his passion for war and is intent on uniting the highprinces of Alethkar in order to restore the glory of past kingdoms. In that, he is opposed by all of the other highprinces because they want to retain their individual power and position and ability to gain wealth. He is also resisted by Elhokar because of fear.

These three may not continue to be the primary characters in subsequent books as Wit, Szeth (assassin), and Taravangian seemed to be ascending at the end of the book. Characters well developed and acted reasonably consistently. The worlds are strange. Legends aren't quite clear but Sanderson has a habit of introducing something as if it were clear and then over multiple flashbacks, revealing details. Definitely kept my attention but the length of the series is a bit daunting to even consider.

I read the Kindle edition and really appreciated the X-Ray function for this book!!

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Book Review: The Confession, Robert Whitlow

It's always easier for a prosecuting attorney if he has a confession ... or is it? The Confession (link to Kindle edition on Amazon), by Robert Whitlow, is a lawyer story — actually an assistant DA. As a teen, Holt Douglas was drunk but not as much as his friend. He refuses to let his friend drive and takes the keys himself. In the subsequent wreck (didn't see that coming, right?), the friend dies but Holt lives. He makes a decision to tell the police that the friend was driving and lives with the secrecy and guilt of that decision for years afterwards.

As an assistant DA, Holt begins to suspect that the death of a prominent and powerful businessman, Meredith, was not suicide as was reported. Then, with the help of Trish, a detective assigned to locating and bringing to justice men who have defaulted on alimony or family support payments, begins to uncover evidence that Greg, a supporter of the DA and huge contributor to Trish's church, was involved in the death of Meredith and decided that the DA and the Sheriff and some deputies were involved in a massive cover-up. The story involves some conflicted attraction between Holt and Trish that causes trouble between Holt and Angelina, Holt's girlfriend. Whitlow does a good job of weaving in Holt's guilt over hiding the truth about his role in the wreck that killed his friend. Trish's father was killed by a drunk driver, and Whitlow does a good job of weaving in the tension of Trish's anger, especially when Holt tells Trish the truth about his own wreck. The Bishop becomes a key part of the story as Holt moves toward faith. Then, there is a twist or two in the story.

While not great book, The Confession was an engaging read. I rate it 4/5 stars.

(EDIT: I deleted the comment about page numbers not being in the edition I read. In communication with the BookLook Bloggers administration, they said that the review edition does not come from Amazon and may not be formatted the same.)

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a part of their blogger review programme, BookLook Bloggers. I was free to write the review I thought the book deserved and receive no compensation or other benefit except continued participation in the review programme.)

Run well, y'all,
Bob

PS — I've started back running in Kampala. It's known as the city of seven hills and the hills are KILLERS!

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Monday, August 18, 2014

Book Review: Known and Loved: 52 Devotions From the Psalms

Written for Moms by a Mom. I didn't realize that until I started reading — I apparently got it as a free book some time back and found it on my Kindle when I was looking for a devotional guide for the Psalms. I'm glad I didn't realize the "for-moms" part because I would not have read it. There were some really good insights into some of the Psalms. Some chapters less applicable to me since I'm a non-mom. I used it as a daily devotional supplement, reading one per day.

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Sunday, August 10, 2014

Traffic in Addis Ababa

This video was supposedly taken at the Ring Road in Addis Ababa. Throughout all the years I've been in East Africa, I've heard that the craziest traffic is, in order of craziest to crazy but less so:
  • Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
  • Kampala, Uganda
  • Nairobi, Kenya
  • Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
Based on this video, they're all about the same!


Run well ... especially if you have to cross traffic like this!
 Bob Allen Kampala, Uganda

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