Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Review: The End, My Friend by Kirby Wright

The End, My Friend
 by Kirby Wright 
ISBN 978-0974106793

In Kirby Wright's The End, My Friend, the powers that be have come undone. National and local laws have crumbled. Militias, warlords, and gang-leaders rule the streets.And Tony and Eva have to get away from it all. 

They have to get out of the city and into the safe areas, Oregon for instance. Other humans are dangerous, and yet it would be great to find allies one could trust.

This is a futuristic story without any science fiction or supernatural events. It's the author's image of a possible scenario -- the USA after economic and governmental collapse. The author assumes --probably rightly-- that if the US ever had a meltdown, there would be looting, murdering, raping, and mayhem throughout the larger cities and danger on the highways. The country would be full of badlands and bad guys with only a few safe regions. 

The first two or three chapters have a distinctively "real" feel. But then, the author does something with his characters which some readers may not like. The story, which had felt like a mainstream novel suddenly becomes a bit stylized. Not entirely, but a bit. The characters speak and do things that characters in a noir novel might do.  Think Mad Max meets Sin City. It's not a bad thing, and it certainly will not mar the book for those who like hip larger-than-life characters. Evo is tough, but for those who like to see regular folks in novels, she is way too tough. She is a broad, a dame, a femme fatale, if necessary. And the conversations between the characters are a bit too tough-guy lingo. 

This is a good book, a novel filled with suspense and disturbing insights into the American psyche.  But the hipsterification of the main characters and the stereotyping of some of the Big Bads they encounter reduces the impact. Recommended. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Review NKJV Study Bible -- Full Color Edition

If you like the KJV translation of the Bible and you have a strong shoulder, the NKJV Study Bible: The Complete Resource for Studying God's Word -- Full Color Edition is a good one for you. This thing is heavy, familiar (because it retains the cadences and modernized version of the good-old-KJV), and very insightful.

This Bible has the usual Book Introductions, and outlines, cultural notes, charts, maps, and diagrams that one finds in all study Bibles.  Those are all good but what totally blows me away is its other features which show a thoroughness that just thrills me.

The Bible is set up as follows:
A Foreword which lists all that is contained in the Bible, A Table of Contents of the entire Bible, Special Abbreviations, Preface to the New King James Version. After this, there is an article entitled "How to Understand What the Bible Means by What It Says." This is a neat little article by Earl D. Radmacher which everyone who reads the Bible should read.  It depicts a four-part process: Word Focus, Word Relations, Context, and Culture.

Then there is a listing of  the Books of the Bible entitled "Books of the Old and New Testament", a list of Articles, List of Bible Times and Culture Notes, List of Charts and Diagrams, List of In-Text Maps, List of Word Studies. These lists  show the titles and pages of the articles scattered throughout the Bible. Thus the List of Articles contain articles in all the Bible books.

For instance, the articles in Psalms are: The Poetry of the Psalms, Image of God: His Reflection in Us, Psalms on Creation, Psalms of Lament, Royal Psalms, Two Sides of the Coin, The Messiah in the Psalms, Psalms of the Passover, The Sanctity of Life: Created in His Image.

The Bible Times and Culture Notes section lists the historical, geographical, and cultural illustrations and notes.  The same goes for the Charts and Diagrams, Maps and Words Studies sections.
The Bible Itself: Then The Old Testament. After this, there is the Harmony of the Gospels, which shows how the gospel passages work together. The New Testament.

Then the Table of Monies, Weights, and Measures, Teachings and Illustrations of Christ, Prophecies of the Messiah Fulfilled in Christ, The Parables of Jesus Christ, The Miracles of Jesus Christ, Prayers of the Bible, Subject Index to Annotations and Features, Concordance, Map Index, Maps.

This is a really good Study Bble. One of the best.

First of all, The NKJVStudy Bible includes verse by verse study notes. Yes, every verse has a commentary. In certain books such as the psalms, even chapters have commentary! These notes even have cross-references. Not just a few perfunctory ones, mind you! In addition, there are cross-references in the middle of each page. Included in the notes sections are also inset boxes with Word Studies, vocabulary definitions and explanations of translations based on Strong's dictionary. The notes on the verses have an academic feel but also feel very human. The writers really went all out and mined all the Bible verses for meaning.
The chapters in the Bible are divided with sub-headings which are always useful i.e. Balaam's First Prophecy, Balaam's Second Prophecy, Balaam's Third Prophecy.

The Subject Index and Concordance are very good and should be useful to most people.

If I have anything to whne about -- and I often find something to whine about when it comes to Bibles-- it's a very small complaint. And it seems odd to complain about it seeing the NKJV goes over and above most Study Bibles. But here goes: They include a page called Prayers of the Bible. Now, they didn't have to include this page. Most Study Bibles don't. But if they are going to include it, I think they should've been less perfunctory about it. Considering the amount of work done with the rest of the Bible, the scantness of this list is appalling. I suppose they could have said, "SOME" of the Prayers of the Bible. Then I would've been pleased. But they missed the boat on that one. For instance, they listed only three prayers by Paul. Anyone who has read the epistles know there are much more than that. Even if Paul only says, "I bend the knee and ask the Father..." it's still a prayer, right?

This is the Full Color Edition. The color is useful for illustrations, photographs, maps, etc for the most part but they are also used with the sub-headings in the chapters. Interestingly, the words of Christ are not in red letter. . .which I half-expected. A lot of people like that. And if they were going full-color, that would've been easy enough to do.  The font is not n large print but it is readable by most folks. And I suspect if they had made the font any larger the book would be a back-breaking labor to carry around.

I like this Bible a lot and highly recommend it. I won't be carrying it to church though. Although I like the NKJV I will continue carrying my Gardener's NIV Bible to church. Because I've already started marking that one up and because it is way less heavy. Anyway, a highly recommended Bible. So far, my favorite Bibles have been

NIV Integrated Study Bible, NIV Spirit-Filled Bible, the One-A-Day Chronological Bible, the NIV Gardner's Bible, and this one.  

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review: City of Stairs

City of Stairs
by Robert Jackson Bennett
Broadway Books
Published 2014
464 pages
ISBN: 978-0804137171
Paperback $9.49
Kindle $7.99

City of Stairs is a cross genre - detective and fantasy novel- that has an incredibly knowledgeable, shrewd, insightful etc etc heroine and only a peevish person like myself would have problems with it. But, try not to mind me. Although the investigation and the investigator left me cold, the world-building makes this one of the best fantasies I've read this year. And I personally did not like it.

First, the characters are types you would find in a dime-store novel: rich effete closeted gay aristocrat whose politics and penis-theology cause him to fight conservatives, a tough-as-nails ball-buster governor, a brawny Hagrid-like bodyguard from the north, ignorant emotional judgmental misogynist religious conservatives. Stereotypical these characters may be, but they are in a really unusual novel with fantastic worldbuilding.

Imagine a continent whose indigenous religious population -and whose gods- have been defeated by a smaller dark-skinned nation they had formerly enslaved.  The conquerors, the Saypuris, have done what all imperialists do: they've removed almost all traces of the gods and attempted to erase history. However, many miracles of these gods still persist. As do many secret adherents. And well...stuff keeps happening. Religious extremists, called Restorationists, are going around fomenting riots. An important Continental historian has been assassinated. The question is: Are these gods still around? What do they want? Do we really want these gods around? Who killed the historian? And is some supposedly-dead god still working behind the scenes?

But after a while the book and I had to part. As a dark-skinned religious woman, I'm hard-wired to be on the side of the religious Continentals,  Generally, I was the kid who was on the "Indians' side" when I watched cowboy movies. I'm always the one rooting for the USA to lose during Olympic games. But ultimately, the whole "war against the gods" thing irked me. It probably won't irk most secular-thinking scifi/fantasy readers that the book ends with a maternal hands-off  goddess who allows her humanoid children to grow up without her. But the "Who watches the Watchers" star-trekking of religion thing can really bother a conservative religious person. Still, the world that Robert Jackson Bennett created is a fascinating one and the author profoundly explores the ramifications of his premise. So, excellent book. But not for me.   

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Review: NIV Once a day Bible Chronological Edition

NIV Once a Day Bible -- Chronological Edition
Paperback: 1280 pages
Publisher: Zondervan; Special edition (October 31, 2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 9780310950950
ISBN-13: 978-0310950950
Paperback $13.98
Kindle $10.99

It's been a while since I've read the Bible from cover to cover. If you're a Bible reader like me, you end up reading certain sections over and over in your daily devotionals and avoiding others. So it's good, every other year or so to read through the Bible.

This time around, hubby and I are using the NIV ONCE A DAY BIBLE (Chronological Edition) and I was so pumped to order it from Zondervan for review. Reading the Bible chronologically would be a fun way to read it. Plus the fact that certain chapters are assigned to you -- Day One had my hubby and I reading Genesis 1 through Genesis 4-- keeps you on track. There are also reflections at the end of each "day."

Day 4 is when the chronological aspect kicks in.  In this case, Day 4 begins with the Book of Job, after the mention of Haran, Nahor, and Abram in Genesis 11. Job is placed in a different position in this book than in the NIV Integrated Bible. Understandable because although we know Job is the oldest book in the Bible, no one is really sure where in the timeline it fits. So one chronological Bible might place Job after Ishmael, another after Abram. It's not a big deal but it does subtly shift our understanding of Job and one is tempted to ask, "Is Job a descendant of Abram through Ishmael or not? OR is he just some other non-related person living around that time?" This Chronological Bible is done by the folks at Walk Through the Bible, a group I highly respect so I won't whine.

Other differences is that this is how the Bible books are integrated. But again, that is about the art of the editor. Interestingly, the historical books are merged and interwoven very well with the psalms and the prophets, and the epistles are interwoven with the book of Acts, but the books of the Torah, Joshua, Judges, Ruth, and the first seventeen chapters or I Samuel (everything before Day 103) are pretty much left alone and unintegrated into the larger chronology. I like the NIV Integrated Bible a bit better because with the integrated Bible similar passages found in Leviticus, Exodus, or Deuteronomy were placed beside each other.  

There is a chronological index with the readings for each day so if you wish to avoid certain books, you can. I always avoid the books of Ezra and Nehemiah but now that they're all woven in with Daniel, Esther, a couple of psalms, and Zechariah, I guess I'll have to read them.

There are reflections at the end of each day. They are not particularly insightful, but they aren't useless either.  I would think that anyone reading the Bible chronologically would probably already have studied their Bible so deeper Biblical insights might be needed. Or even commentary about the chronological events. But why be picky? IT's a good edition and it's actually a fun way to go through the Bible.

Like all chronological Bibles, this is not to be one's sole Bible. Bible books are separated, split up, and interwoven into other books. The psalms, for instance, are all over the place. So, this is definitely a supplemental Bible.

All in all, this is a really good Bible and a fun way to read through the Bible. My only nit is the type size. The print is readable but still a bit too tiny. True this is a paperback but even so. Little old ladies read paperbacks. I shouldn't complain because the paperback isn't expensive. Recommended.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Review: In Capable Arms by Sarah Kovac

In Capable Arms
by Sarah Kovac

I generally don't like Christian non-fiction. I find much of it dishonest or preachy...especially autobiographical books.

But In Capable Arms is an incredibly pleasant exception.

This is the bio of Sarah Kovac who was born with arthrogryposis, a condition that occurs in about one in every 3000 births where the arms are pretty much useless.

Kovac tells about her experiences growing up and coming to terms physically, culturally, emotionally, and theologically with this disability. She writes about the shame and fear she went through and continues to go through. As this is a book written by a Christian, she also writes about her faith and about the theological, doctrinal issues and platitudes she went through

It is also a story about family, about marriage, and motherhood. The writer's depiction of her parents' parenting philosophy, her own fears of being a capable mother, and her journey to self-acceptance will touch anyone even if the reader does not have a disability.

This book is recommended for everyone, disabled or not, who have had to battle to gain self-acceptance or who has had struggles which make them feel "abnormal." The writer is insightful and shows the philosophical and emotional pitfalls that those with any kind of life struggle might fall into.   There are little insets with questions that the reader may journal about. These attempts at interacting with the reader seemed slightly intrusive and a perfunctory attempt to a kind of self-help book for Christian women's group. The journal questions really don't quite work. Either they should not have been included or they editors should have prepared more questions, surveys, reading guide, or commentaries.

However, the inclusion of some kind of reading guide is habitual with some Christian non-fiction. Some readers will like the inclusion and may find the journal questions useful.  Recommended.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Review: The Martian by Andy Weir

The Martian, by Andy Weir

Andy Weir has managed to create an exciting book about numbers. The Martian is a fun book. It’s a quirky book with an engaging main character, but it is not a perfect book.

Its perfection lies in the fact that the main character is as much an alien to the reader as he is to the world he finds himself in. He is an earther stuck on an inhospitable planet where he faces starvation, death by cold, death by thirst if he is not rescued. But he is also an alien -- a martian if you will-- because unlike the rest of us Earthers, he is an astronaut. Astronauts are not made like you and me. They are constantly heroic, they don’t allow fear to oppress them, they know stuff.

Our hero is in danger, but there is absolutely no doubt in the reader’s mind that he will save himself and stay alive until he is rescued. In that respect, the bus has no tension. And yet tension is everywhere because the hero Mark Watney is constantly on his toes and constantly having to muddle through botanical, mathematical, engineering experiments. This is where the fun comes in. The Martian feels like a survival manual. It feels like nonfiction. The reader is constantly being taught about space, chemistry, physics, and botany. But it doesn’t feel as if one is being taught. One is simply being pulled along breathlessly in the wake of a kind of superman whom one cannot identify with but whom one likes because he has good humor and seems like a humble but smart guy.  

But as I said, the book has problems.

The problems are mostly in the sections that are told in the third person. It is here where the author shows that he has much to learn about writing scenes, descriptions, and real characters. The third person narration didn’t add much to the book  and only shows the shortcomings of the author. All that said, I recommend this book highly if you are a math geek and if math doesn’t give you a headache.

This is a short review. A larger review of this book will be up at THE FAN in August 2014

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Review: NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible

I really love this Bible.. well there is my usual caveat: I like the NIV but I love the NLT. But you know...other than that....

The basic subtext of the commentary in this Study Bible is Restoration. One executive editor is  David Stoop, a psychologist and founder of New Life Ministries, which offer counseling and treatment across America. The other executive editor is Stephen Arterburn, who has a masters n Education. So there is this pervasive idea that the person reading this study Bible has been through a hard time --perhaps even endured some destruction in her life-- and is ready to rebuild her life, her relationship with God, and to allow God to lovingly rebuild her.

I know that all sounds like pychobabble but that's just me. The commentaries profiles, etc do not sound like psychotherapy. They really do feel spiritual. And trust me, I have a real dislike for anything that hints, sniffs, reeks of psychobabble...probaby because I've often found Christian psychologists to be more psychological than Christian. But that's just me. Perhaps.

Unlike the Spirit-filled Bible which has a lot of names I recognized, the writers and editorial staff of this book are unknown to me. (That's not saying much, of course. . .but it goes to show that a great Bible study doesn't have to be written by folks who are famous in Christendom.)

The Study Bible begins ith a User's Guide which discusses how to examine our lives. It's a short little feature but that alone is something every christian should read.

Then a list of features follow:

The features in this Bible are similar in many ways to those found in other Bibles but there are also some differences.

There is the usual Bible Book Introductions, Text Notes, Devotional Reading Plan, Spiritual disciplines devotionals, spiritual discilplines profiles, and Character Profiles. But difference here is the focus on spiritual discipline as a means of renewal and restoration.

Each Bible Introduction includes: The Big Picture (a synopsis of the Bibe book), Spiritual renewal themes found in the particular book (for instance, the spiritual renewal themes in Genesis are A Good Creation, A Ruined World, Promises of Redemption, and Hope for Reconciliation.)

The Spiritual Keys Devotionals,  Devotional Reading Plan, spiritual discilplines profiles, and Character Profiles are all interspersed throughout each book and each chapter also contains insightful notes for Bible verses at the bottom of the page.  Indexes to all these are included in the back of the Bible.

The index to text notes include such psychological terms as boundaries, commitments, communication, complacency, peer pressure, compromise, choicesdenial, rationalization, discouragement, self-esteem, blame, accountability, wholeness, inventory.

There are seven keys -- the ones found in the beginning introduction:
1) Seek God and Surrender to him
2) See the truth
3) Speak the truth
4) Accept responsibility
5) Grieve, forgive, and let go
6) Transform your life
7) Preserve Spiritual Gains

All these have subtopics and verses that apply.

Seriously, this remedies the biggest flaw of the Celebrate Recovery study Bible which felt as if all we got was a litany of blaming former victims. I mean I understood the sorrows of the folks in celebrate recovery but the book felt a bit constrained by the whole recovery terminology. (But i digress.)

The Bible Characters in the character profiles are the usual folks...but given that renewal spin.  I really liked the one about Herod's Family and greed.

The spiritual disciplines, devotionals, and profiles show the disciplines as:
Bible study and Meditation, Fasting, Prayer, Repentance and confession, Service, Silence, Solitude, Spiritual Friendship, Stewardship, Worship.  All these also have subtopics. For instance the spiritual friendship subtopics include "But isn't God enough?" "Friends for life." "Maintaining our relationships" "Touching heart, soul, and body" and "Marriage: A most intimate friendship."

I heartily recommend this book. I received this book from Zondervan at no cost for a fair and honest review.

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