Thursday, February 27, 2014

Review: Slated by Teri Terry

Teri Terry
Nancy Paulsen Books
352 pages
ISBN 978-0-399-16172-8
$17.99 ($19.00 CAN)

Slated is a dystopian young adult book which takes place some thirty years in the future. Unlike many dystopian books, the world depicted doesn’t differ in major ways from ours. The differences in this UK is not easily or immediately seen but they are there. There are terrorists, missing children, government anti-terrorist groups, untrustworthy officials, mental hospitals and --oh, yes!-- Slated children. The “slated” are people, usually children, who have had their memories erased as punishments for crimes. These slated people are kept in hospitals until they are deemed ready for the outside world. After they are released (or semi-released) they are placed in schools and families in the hope they will fit into their communities. The Slated, of course, have forgotten their past lives and most are happy at their second chance of life. However, sometimes slating doesn’t quite work. . . especially if one is special, like Kyla Davis.

The world depicted in the book is recognizable, probably too recognizable. Slated is never boring but something is lacking --not merely the main character’s missing-but-slowly-returning memory.The enjoyment of Slated depends on what the reader is looking for. Slated might seem slow and unsatisfying for those who seek out speculative fiction for the joys of worldbuilding. Those who like a mystery will find the reveal at the end of the book unsatisfying, too little too late, or a bit “meh”. But those who are interested in the psychological ramifications of trusting others or of navigating a larger and unknown culture will like it.

The main character’s lack of memory makes the story claustrophobic and helps turn a sci-fi dystopian story into a mystery. Not so much a Who-done-it? but a What-might-I-have-done? Who-can-I-trust? And-who-am-I? The main character is placed in a position where she has to accept many “givens.” Whether adopted into a family or born into it, the typical teenager understands how she fits into the household. Not so Kyla who has to take the word of her handler, Dr Lysander, about her new family.

Learning to navigate the spectrum of trust is often examined in art but Teri Terry includes the additional teenage coming-of-age trope of self-discovery.  The main character Kyla has to integrate herself into a culture she doesn’t understand while being essentially an alien or an isolated immigrant. She has to figure out how to figure people out and to learn who really wants to help her. The subtext of being an immigrant is also accompanied by the subtext of being learning disabled.  Anyone who has ever felt like a stranger in her own skin or who has felt somewhat lost and confused about the world will understand the character’s battle.

Much is revealed in the last sections of the book and much is left hidden from the main narrator, and thus from the reader. The main character has discovered her true self and now understands who is (or has) been trying to manipulate her. She has a goal now. Her goal is not to save the world or to discover the extent of the government manipulation. For all she --or the reader-- knows, the problem is global. But the goal is important to her, and the goal is enough to make the reader reach for the entire trilogy. Slated shows the best and worst aspects of the first book in a trilogy. The character’s goal has been prepared, the journey begins. But the author chose to hide much of the story until the end, which feels somewhat manipulative. Still, it’s a good book and adults and teenagers who like dystopian trilogies should like it.Recommended.   

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review: The Making of a Prophet by Jennifer LeClaire: Practical Advice for Developing Your Prophetic Voice

Review: The Making of a Prophet: Practical Advice for Developing Your Prophetic Voice
by Jennifer LeClaire
Chosen Books
Baker Publishing Group

The problem with Jennifer LeClaire’s The Making of a Prophet” is that she doesn’t believe God answered Moses’ prayer: “Would to God that all God’s people were prophets!” It is not the only problem but it is the main one from which all the other problems grow.

The hint that LeClaire lives in the Old Testament paradigm of certain special people called to guide nations, ministries, leaders, because of their spiritual gifts begins early in the book. At page 16, she writes “perhaps you are consistently seeing revelatory gifts- such as words of wisdom, words of knowledge, and discerning of spirits-- manifesting in your ministry. That gives you a hint of your Kingdom vocation.”

By the time one reaches page 136, where the author shows her belief that those who are part of the prophetic ministry get more spiritual warfare than regular believers, one has about lost one’s patience with all the specialness and the Old Testament model of how God’ gifts works. The idea that God has poured out his spirit upon all flesh gets lost in all this prophetic specialness. While Paul writes that all members in Christ’s body are equally important -- with the “eyes” that specialize in seeing, the ears, the mouth, etc--  LeClaire takes many of the charismatic gifts mentioned in the New Testament and gives them all to the prophet.  Although LeClaire is not Catholic, there is a deep sense here of the Catholic idea of clergy --who all do important things in the church- and the lowly laity who are acted upon by the prophet. Indeed, the prophet of LeClaire’s vision seems answerable only to the pastor, but even then the prophet must be wary of dangerous pastors who may not understand or who may distort or envy the prophet’s vision. This kind of mindset goes counter to God’s idea of parts of the body being dependent on other parts. Although St Paul separates those who have the gift of prophesy from those who have discernment, etc, LeClaire hoggedly usurps all these gifts, thus making the specialized office of prophet way more self-sufficient than Paul does. While St Paul speaks of those with gifts of discerning of spirit, or those with gifts of healings, LeClaire lists prophetic intercessor, prophetic deliverance minister, etc.  LeClaire writes that she discussed her fears with an apostolic mentor. It is unclear who this apostle is therefore this reviewer found it difficult to accept that apostle’s say-so about spiritual warfare. While the apostolic ministry still exists, Christians must be wary of calling anyone an apostle. The signs of an apostle are many and one of them -according to St Paul 2 Corinthians 12:12--is that an apostle is one who has done great signs and wonders including raising someone from the dead.  

Interestingly, the book would be good for all Christians. It shows all the challenges that come to those who believe the Word of God. Jesus declares in the parable sower that persecution comes because of the word, but LeClaire continually seems to insist that these trials are worse for the prophet.   

One of the charismatic gifts is the gift of faith - the gift of speaking forth a thing and commanding it to come. LeClaire speaks mostly of the revelatory gifts however. So there is an imbalance.  

This book is almost a spiritual equivalent of the YA book, Divergent. It talks about the specialness of a kind of people. Unlike other books such as Seeing the Voice of God by Laura Harris Smith or You May All Prophesy by Steve Thompson, ---books which help the reader feel equal to the writer and which are about the working of the Holy Spirit in all of God’s people-- LeClaire’s book is a subtly disguised paean to herself and uniqueness. Whereas those books teach from their author’s unique experiences but somehow seem universal, this book is for everyone, but it doesn’t think it is.  The Making of a Prophet purports to be a charismatic book but it could easily be a sermon written by a non-charismatic about the pitfalls of ministry.  

Saturday, February 22, 2014

Review: From Orphan to Physician - The Winding Path by Chun-Wai Chan and David Biebel

Those who From Orphan to Physician - The Winding Path is a memoir every Christian should read. This testimony to the care, guidance, and provision of God will touch the heart of many, perhaps provoking them to jealousy as they see God's lovingkindness toward a young Christian who believed in Him.

The author of the narrative is Chun-Wai Chan, MD-MPH, a graduate of Princeton University and Harvard Medical School. He is also Chief of Cardiology at Kaiser Medical Center in Fresno, California and has created, founded and co-founded several churches and charities for Chinese Christians within the United States or China.

The art of writing a memoir is difficult, especially if it is a memoir which is also a testimony of God's care and if one is a famous and accomplished man. But, although written in the first person by Dr Chan, this memoir is a truly humble record.

The memoir tells of Dr Chan's youth living as refugees in a poor shantytown, after his family fled oppression in the mainland.  As a young child, he and his family endure health and some family members die because of their poverty. They are Christians and often young Chun-Wai wonders why the family suffers so much. But soon events, finances, blessings, guidance, and coincidences, begin to fall into place. Throughout his life, blessings and God's leading direct and provide for him. Through the loving mercy of God he receives education, scholarships, and guidance.

The book gives us a glimpse of the work done by Christian Children's Fund, and of life in Hong Kong after the Chinese uprising. All this is interwoven effortlessly with the depiction of Chun-Wai Chun's personal life. This book is a testament to the faithfulness of God to all those who seek him and trust Him. Highly recommended.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Review: The Cheesy Vegan

The Cheesy Vegan: More than 125 Plant-Based Recipes for Indulging in the World’s Ultimate Comfort Food
John Schlimm
Photographs by Amy Beadle Roth
Da Capo Press
Lifelong Books
ISBN-13: 978-0-7382-1679-9
244 pages

The typical American vegan lives in a world where his lifestyle is continually faced with an onslaught from the “normal” American diet. The choice to eat only plant-foods means being continually faced with formerly-loved foods that one must now diligently and ethically avoid. Cheese is one of the most luxurious foods in the human diet; how is the committed vegan going to live without it?

The Cheesy Vegan seems designed to remedy this situation. The book begins with an introduction, a description and list of what should be in a vegan’s pantry, a chapter called the DIY vegan cheese kitchen which features descriptions on how to make different kinds of vegan “cheese.” Then the chapters with recipes follow, with chapters entitled: Breakfast and Brunch, Soups and Salads, Sides, Sandwiches, Appetizers and Snacks, Suppers, Mac ‘n Cheese, Cheesecake, Vegan Cheese Pairings (Wine, Cheese, and Cocktails), Metric Conversions, Store-bought vegan cheese resource guide, resource guide for cheese tools, acknowledgments, and an index.

The most important section, on which all the other chapters rest, is the chapter on the DIY Vegan Cheese Kitchen. This is the chapter where the would-be-cheesemaker will hone her craft, and this is where the reader is introduced to the many ingredients that will create vegan cheese: canola oil, nutritional yeast, agar, soy milk, miso etc. It’s also the chapter where the reader might say, “Is he serious?” It’s not as if cheese-making is so labor-intensive but unless one loves one’s kitchen, it might be best to become expert at specific cheeses then buy the rest at the store. There is also the matter of storing and keeping one’s creations. They’re more ephemeral than the typical cheeses one finds in supermarkets. Yet there is something weirdly invitingly adventurous and creative about these cheeses.

The food recipes seem easy enough -- especially after one has made the cheese. Each recipe is presented on a page with a description worthy of a foodie magazine. The ingredients for the recipe are listed in a column near the edges of the page. The directions for the recipes are extensive and easy, but the font seems a bit too light and might be difficult for some to read. The glossy photos are mouth-melting.

Some people who might hastily read the title of this book might assume this is a collection of recipes that contain cheese made from dairy. But Cheesy Vegan is stridently vegan. There is no dairy-made cheese in this book; only store-bought and home-made “cheese.” As it is written, “the proof of the pudding is in the eating.” Thus the only proof of how well the substitute cheese in this book work is how well the cheese tastes. Are they really good or are they close-but-no-sugar?  It’s about taste. Of course just because a cheddar-cheese substitute doesn’t taste like “real” cheddar, doesn’t mean the new created taste is a bad thing.      

A committed vegan will probably have no trouble making these cheese-substitutes -- although the author does warn would-be vegan-cheesemakers that some of these cheeses do take a while to set. But the author has listed store-bought substitutes.

This book is recommended for vegans, for vegetarians who don’t mind eating cheese, for those who might be allergic to real cheese (and not to yeast, soy, canola, etc.) It can also be used by anyone seeking good recipes with cheese, whether or not they use real cheese or cheese-substitutes.

Saturday, February 08, 2014

Review: NIV Essentials Study Bible

NIV Essentials Study Bible
ISBN: 978-0-310-44241-7
1708 pages plus ten pages of maps

The NIV (New International Version) translation of the English Bible is one of  the most popular of the many modern English Bible translations.  It was first published in 1973 and since then it has appeared in various specialized Bibles, geared toward different readers or uses. The NIV Essentials Study Bible is the newest NIV Study Bible, published in 2013.

This large print study Bible is divided into Table of Contents, Alphabetical Order of the Books of the Bible, Abbreviations used by the editors, About the NIV Essential Study Bible, Preface, Old Testament, New Testament, Table of Weights and Measures, Reading Plans, Subject Index, Concordance, and 14 full color maps.

The section entitled “About the NIV Essentials Study Bible” showcase the tools used in this particular study Bible. These tools are generally referred to as “lens.” In this case, there are
A) The Book Introductions —  Each book in the Bible is introduced with a quick overview  of key concepts, verses, and teachings found in the Bible. It also includes a timeline, maps, and photos.
B) The Unpack Lens — Commonly called “footnotes” in other Bibles, these “unpack lens” are study notes found at the bottom of the page. They include explanations of texts, verses, and show how the particular verses fit into the larger Bible.
C) The Dig Deep, Look Close Lens — These are taken from the NIV Archaeological Study Bible and are used to show historical (artifacts, etc) evidence for the Bible. Some of them include maps.
D) Q&A Lens — These are questions taken from the NIV Quest Study Bible and tackle questions that have challenged Scripture readers throughout history.
E) The People in Focus Lens — These are articles about specific people in the Bible. These notes are adapted from the NIV Student Bible
F) Insight Lens —  This lens contains articles adapted from the NIV Student Bible which gives relatable meaning to passages which might seem distant from the modern reader.
G) Guided Tour Lens — These notes are also excerpted from the NIV Student Bible and shows “a bird’s eye view” of the entire Bible.
H) Highlights — These are short articles which highlight certain verses whose importance the reader might miss.
I) Reflect & Respond Lens — These are taken from The Great Rescue, NIV,  is intended to cause the reader to meditate on certain inspirational issues.
The Reading Plans are:
A) One Year Through the Bible reading plan,
B) 60-Day overview of the Bible reading plan
C) 20 Not-so-famous Bible stories
D) 30 Days of Great Faith
E) 30 Days with Jesus
The Subject Index are linked to the Q&A and commentaries/lens found throughout the Bible.

The NIV translation of the Bible is one of the most trusted -- second to the King James Version (although the Net Bible and the New Living Translation) are also good translations. It uses contemporary English and will not cause confusion in some minds as the KJV often does with those who do not understand Shakespearean English.

With the inclusion of so many study tools and resources, this is definitely an improvement on the other NIV Bibles, and other study Bibles in general. Some might be confused with all the resources but modern teenagers, a generation of multi-taskers, will find it easily navigable. One certainly can buy this Study Bible and benefit from the glimpses/inclusion of other Zondervan study Bibles. The compilation is flawlessly put together and the merging of those different resources into one "NIV Essentials Study Bible" is a tour-de force of editing, recombining and copying and pasting.

This is a study Bible and it shows the benefits and drawbacks of all study Bibles. It is very helpful for anyone who needs to understand how to approach the Bible and will teach the new Bible reader how to understand Bible reading. The various Lenses used to bring the Bible to life will definitely make even the casual Bible reader understand the Bible better. The typical person who is new to the Bible often just picks up a Bible and goes off to study it. They don't know what Bible resources to use, unless they are being trained in a church or Christian cult. This Study Bible has everything a new Bible student will need in one easy to read package and answers questions that might enter the reader's mind. The Bible student will also have the freedom to pause in reading the Scriptural text to look at the articles and footnotes. The archaeological additions are incredibly helpful in bringing the past events to life.

The flip side of all Study Bibles is that those who read them might trust the commentary in the same way they trust Scripture. There is always a danger of being indoctrinated into thinking about certain Bible passages in a particular way. Zondervan publishing luckily proclaims mainstream Christianity. But, although it is a good thing to know what the worldwide church thinks about certain Bible characters, each Bible reader should also be aware that the commentary they are receiving —however historic and accepted the interpretations— are coming from human traditions and traditions can often be challenged. For instance, whether or not one believes in the Pre-tribulation rapture of the church, it cannot be forgotten that the idea of a pretribulation rapture was promulgated through a certain commentary found in a study Bible. There are dispensational Study Bibles, preterist Study Bibles, etc.

There is also the problem with Biblical character analysis rooted in old traditions and prejudices. For instance, the passage on Lot doesn’t consider that perhaps Lot had a problem pulling himself away from Sodom because he may have had two married daughters there (which is a probable deduction from the words “I have two unmarried daughters here” and the conversation about Lot’s sons-in-law.) The commentator  assumes Lot is merely addicted to the rich lifestyle of Sodom. It is quite possible that Lot also loved friends, family, and in-law. There is also the Samson depict Samson as weak toward his lust for women. This might be true, but it might not be. Some might consider Samson’s sin to be more of a tempestuous anger. In the same way the decision to focus on Job’s wife as a symbol of an “accuser” instead of a woman who has lost children shows that uncompassionate tradition still intact. The commentator declares in the footnotes that the voice of the accuser is silenced after Job’s wife stops talking but isn’t the accuser also present in the voice of Job’s friends? There is also a strong Calvinist tread throughout whenever the discussion of suffering pops up. One would think that an adaptation of a Bible study would create opportunities for reassessment of traditional interpretations, dismissals of certain characters, scapegoating of certain characters turning others into sacred cows.

Much of this Bible Study seems like a rehashing, or a padding and/or a recompiling of other NIV Bible studies and resources. The cons is that sometimes it seems as if the NIV Essentials Study Bible is a subtle advertising tool of other Zondervan Productions: NIV Study Bible, The Essential Bible Companion, NIV Archaeological Study Bible, NIV Quest Study Bible, NIV Student Bible, and The Great Rescue Bible. Looking at the book’s cover flap— the reader often cringes at what feels like a subtle way to sell those other BIBLE books. Yep, a Bible as a marketing tool for other Bibles. Mercifully, Bibles often lose their dust jackets so the Bible owner will more than likely cast off the uncomfortable mercenary feel.

The Reading Plans are good for teenagers but there is a kind of perfunctory feel to them. They are good enough, but they seem somehow inadequate as if the Bible Reading Plans were at hand so the editors tossed them in. Certainly, Zondervan has more than its share of reading plans lying around. Why not include others? Why not a reading plan that merged some of the doctrinal insights scattered throughout? Why not a reading plan on children in the Bible or women in the Bible? Cynically, one almost feels as if reading plans with women would’ve been included if Zondervan had wanted to advertise a woman’s Study Bible.

The Subject Index and the Concordance are helpful and between both of them a good student will be able to find verses or subjects.

On the whole, although this Study Bible feels as if new insights haven’t been added —especially in the way women and certain characters such as Hagar are treated— this is a very good Study Bible. Even with its faults, it is a good gift for new readers of the Bible because it contains very good tools to help theological, geographical, and doctrinal understanding. Recommended for those new to the Bible or to those teaching Sunday School.

Friday, February 07, 2014

CFBA: A healing heart by Angela Breidenbach

This week, the

Christian Fiction Blog Alliance

is introducing

A Healing Heart

Abingdon Press (April 1, 2013)


Angela Breidenbach


Angela Breidenbach is a speaker/coach in mental and physical health, author of A Healing Heart April 2013 from Abingdon Press in the Quilts of Love series, Gems of Wisdom: For a Treasure-filled Life, Creative Cooking for Simple Elegance, and Creative Cooking for Colitis. Other works by Angela include compilation books and devotionals from Guidepost, Group, and articles in magazines, ezines, and newspapers. She is certified in mentor/peer counseling as a CTA life coach, as a Stephen Minister, and a weight loss/nutrition coach. Angela serves as an assisting minister (worship/prayer leader) for her congregation in Missoula, MT. Not only did she walk the hard line of deciding to donate her mom’s brain for the study of schizophrenia, but she’s also on the brain donation list at the Brain Bank-Harvard McLean Hospital.


Mara Keegan is an uber-successful mother and a widow of three years. She's been chasing success and all the "good things in life" for her family to make up for the cruel whim God played on them by taking her husband. In an effort to be the perfect mom, she decides to make a photo memory quilt, a graduation present for her daughter, Cadence.

She’s not yet finished when she experiences a heart attack. While Mara recuperates, she revisits the choices she's made that led to this physically and spiritually broken heart. The memory quilt must be finished in time for Cadence's big day, but Mara struggles with her burgeoning feelings for the man who must keep Mara's business going during her recovery, Joel Ryan. Can Joel find his way into Mara's heart and onto Cadence's quilt?

If you would like to read the first chapter of A Healing Heart, go HERE

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