15 December 2016

What if Mary Had Had a Smartphone?

The message remains the same, only the technology has changed.

If the video doesn't display, click here to see the video: https://www.youthworker.com/mini-movies/62945/messages-by-a-manger

Have a very Merry Christmas and don't forget the reason for the season.

Run well, y'all,
Bob Allen
Greenville, SC

The video in the this blog post is from Videos for Youth, available for $19.99-$22.99. Posted in the blog post using the embed codes from Videos for Youth.

08 June 2016

Book Review: Code 13, Don Brown

Lieutenant Commander Caroline McCormick, Judge Advocate General's Corp (JAG), US Navy, is a highly competent Navy lawyer. On the basis of a stellar stint of handling the personal legal affairs (wills, powers of attorney, etc.) of sailors on a ship about to head to sea for an extended time, she is reassigned to the secretive Code 13 section of JAG at the Pentagon. Her former, almost fiance is also assigned there. Complicating that move and relationship, Commander McCormick is strongly attracted to Captain Paul Kriete, who is also being reassigned to Washington. And, just to make things interesting, her almost fiance, Lt. Commander PJ MacDonald, is strongly attracted to the beautiful red-headed Senior Lieutenant Victoria Fladager, also in JAG in the Pentagon. But, that's not the main story.

Code 13 and Lt. Commander MacDonald (PJ) in particular have been tasked with issuing an opinion on the legality of a proposed coastline drone surveillance program to be run by the Navy but to be done in partnership with Homeland Security. At issue are the Fourth Amendment protections against searches without a warrant and the doctrine of "posse comitatas" that prevents the use of the military in domestic law enforcement. There are powerful stake holders, some of whom will stop at nothing to either get the drone program approved or to prevent its approval. And, to get their way, one of those interested parties is apparently assassinating JAG officers.

I must say that the author, Don Brown, keeps the story moving and kept my interest. And, there is a "nice" little twist at the end that I didn't see coming. The conflict between securing the borders of the US, combatting terrorism, and ensuring constitutionally guaranteed privacy and freedom is handled well. Lt. Commander MacDonald is torn on how to write his legal opinion and I, as the reader, felt his conflicts. Also, there is no graphic sex or foul language — adultery is alluded to, but not described.

But — and you were waiting for the "But" — this book is so full of clich├ęs.

First, every possible conspiracy is introduced: big government, intrusive government, mob-controlled drug trafficking, greedy corporations who will do anything to get profits, terrorist threats, blackmail. It's all there.

Second, it seems that every possible stereotype is given page time: military men who are hunks, affairs between bosses and secretaries, politicians who can't keep themselves from getting involved in sexual scandals, the dumb cousin in the mob, sexist attitudes of both men ("… hot little firecraker of a redhead JAG officer.") and women ("One man alone, trim and well fitted in the choker whites of a naval officer's uniform, could stop most women dead in their tracks … even the least of them proving to be handsomer than the studliest actor Hollywood had to offer."). For me, it really got old.

If you want a clean, quick, no-thinking-necessary read, then Code 13 is a good book for that. The book does have Christian elements in it. I enjoyed it, but it's not going to make my "Best of 2016" list.

DISCLAIMER: In exchange for an honest review, I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a part of its BookLook Bloggers' program. My only compensation, besides the free book, is continued participation in the program.

13 March 2016

Book Review: The Newsmakers, by Lis Wiehl

Engaging book. Nylan Hastings, owner of Global News Network (GNN), is intent on dominating the world of news. To that end, he is looking for a "star" who can be the face of GNN. Greg Underwood has uncovered Erica, currently working at a small town New Hampshire station. She is exactly what Nylan wants — young, beautiful, resourceful, anxious to get ahead, intelligent — and she is hired.

Her first assignment is a rare interview with the Duches of Cambridge. But, as she is setting up the interview, there is a horrific ferry crash in view of her cameras. Erica's coverage of that crash makes her an instant celebrity.

Erica's second major catch is an interview with the likely next President of the US, Kay Barrish … who suddenly dies in the midst of the interview and on live TV. Erica's heroic attempts to revive her boost her ratings to the top.

But, something isn't right about all of this. Odd things begin to happen in the office; there are nagging questions about the ferry crash — perhaps it wasn't the result of external terrorist activity; why would a perfectly healthy Presidential candidate suddenly die; seemingly random deaths begin to appear to have some connections. Erica begins to wonder if she is being manipulated for some hidden purpose.

Wieh does a good job of keeping the suspense high, giving just enough information to keep the reader guessing. It's not hard to figure out who the real evil figure is, but who are Erica's friends? There are moments when the dialogue and events are rather cliche-ish — Greg and Erica have been to dinner and a sudden rain chases them into a tight shelter.

The thing that I found very annoying was Wiehl's use of the present tense throughout the book. It makes logical sense, but somehow the story doesn't flow nearly as well.

Though advertised as Christian fiction, there is little really Christian about it. Erica whispers the "Serenity Prayer" on a few occasions. Some of the things that Erica does verge on New Age practices. Erica has a troubled past and wrestles with strongholds in her life. That makes the book more real but she wins by the sheer force of her will, not by help from the Holy Spirit — and sometimes she succumbs to temptation. Read this book as a good fiction story with well-defined evil but rather flawed good. I enjoyed it very much, but it's not a primer on "The Normal Christian Life" (book by Watchman Nee).

(DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of The Newsmakers from the publisher as a part of their bloggers' book review programme, BookLook Bloggers. I was free to write the review I thought the book deserved and received no compensation apart from continued participation in the programme.)

20 February 2016

Book Review: If I Run, by Terri Blackstock … Hooked me from the beginning

First of all, it's irritating to me to read the first book in a series and find out that I wasn't warned that the story would leave me hanging, but, frankly, that was the biggest flaw in this book and it's one that I can overlook.

I was hooked from the first paragraph. Casey is in the room where her boyfriend, Brent, lies after being bloodily murdered. The evidence all seems to point to Casey as the perpetrator, even though no one who knows her can imagine that she would be capable of this kind of brutality. Casey, knowing that she will be the prime suspect and that the evidence makes her look guilty, decides to run and hide. When the police can't find her, Brent's parents hire Dylan to find her and the police, desperate to find Casey, reluctantly agree to work with Dylan. Dylan, though, is an Iraq War vet with PTSD.

This is definitely fiction and it moves fast, so there are some things that defy reality: Who keeps $12 thousand in cash in their house, but it makes it much easier for Casey to run and hide? What innocent, law-abiding person is able to establish a new identity so quickly? Blackstock is able to keep the tension high as she develops the story without revealing everything. While Casey is a larger-than-life runaway, her fear and conflicted feelings are real.

Murder is never clean, but otherwise, this is a clean murder mystery — no gratuitous sexuality or language. It is a Christian novel, but it doesn't beat the reader over the head with stereotypical evangelicalism. At the end of the book, the story is clearly not complete, so be ready to read the 2nd and 3rd books. I liked this book.

DISCLAIMER: I received a free copy of this book through the publisher's BookLook Blogger Review program. I was encouraged to write an honest review of the book. My only compensation is continued participation in the review program.