Saturday, December 26, 2015

Film Review: The Beauty Inside

The Beauty Inside 2015 South Korea. Yang Film. Directed by Baek Jong-yeol

What a Difference a Day Makes! But this movie involves not time, not space, but the human body and it has the feel of a transgressive fairy tale. Or perhaps it would be more transgressive if it hadn’t played it so safe. I will say though that some folks --especially those who are uncomfortable with non-normative sexual relationships-- might not find it such a safe watch. (This film is based on the original Intel and Toshiba “social” film, which I have not seen so alas, no way for me to compare.)

On his eighteenth birthday, Woo-Jin discovers that he is a monster. He wakes to find that he is not himself. Not externally anyway. He soon realizes that it is his fate to look differently everyday. He wakes not knowing what sex, race, or age he will be. The only way he can keep any one face is to not go to sleep. But sooner or later sleep overtakes him and he awakes to a new self. One can imagine that this could be a problem. He lives an isolated life as a furniture maker with only his mother and his best friend privy to his secret.

Then one day he falls in love.  At first he is content to simply visit Yi Soo, the object of his affection everyday. Since he looks like a different person, he can just pretend to be a customer. But after a while, he decides to show her who he is. After the initial shock -- and worry that she is dealing with a nutcase--  Yi Soo accepts him. But this acceptance takes a toll on her mental health and on her reputation. After all, her co-workers think of her as a man who sees a different man every day. And the poor girl only knows who her boyfriend is when he takes her hand in the morning or when he emails a photo of himself in the morning.  We come to understand that although human love is based on the beauty inside, there is comfort in the routine of seeing the same person’s face everyday.

So then, the safety and discomfort factor. True, there are scenes where we see two girls lying in a bed caressing each other’s faces but that’s pretty much it. Not that I wanted a full-on gay sex scene but if the filmmakers are going to  challenge society, they really should step up and make some of us conservative folks in the audience cringe or cover our eyes. But perhaps some conservative folks in Korea had that reaction. It would’ve been neat too to have an interracial kiss on one of the days when our hero is a Black person. Heck, I wouldn’t have minded a scene showing him as a Black person walking around town.  But the biggest problem in this incredibly sweet and wonderful angsty movie is how incredibly sweet and wonderful and angsty it is. And you know what that means, don’t you? While there are the occasional ugly, old, plain, middle-aged folks thrown in as our main lead, the guys who play our heroes are all incredibly hot and gorgeous. Korea’s culture of beauty obsession is not challenged at all. So, how can one dislike a movie when all of one’s favorite Korean stars are in it? Highly recommended. I suppose the film does say something about love and appearances. I just don’t know what. But it is beautiful and touching to watch.  This film is showing in art theaters.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Film Review: End of Animal or The Apocalypse Comes to the Korean Countryside

Director and Writer: Sung-hee Jo   



There are so many American evangelical Christian movies out nowadays. Movies such as War Room, for instance. On the whole, these films are generally only received well by Christians...primarily because American evangelical Christian filmmaking is so bad. Notice, I keep saying "American evangelical Christian." And the reason I am so specific is because non-American evangelical films are generally rather good. And American Christian non-evangelical films are also generally good. (See "The Mission," for example.) There have, of course, been a few good evangelical Christian movies. The Apostle, for instance. But in all honesty, evangelical Christian movies made by Americans are usually pretty bad.

One of the reasons why Evangelical America Christian movies are so terrible is that they are so finely-woven together with American culture, American filmmaking, and American Church tradition. American culture has certain racial and social ideas that have seeped into American Christianity. American filmmaking aims for blockbusters; thus American Christian movies tend to be large-scale affairs rather than indies. And American Church tradition is illustrative, preachy, expository, combative, and informed by such siege mentality that it often feels the movie is all too aware of possible enemies/unsaved folks/detractors in the audience. Because of this debate mentality, many Christian movies are not about characters but they often seem to be about polemics and doctrinal points.

Given all that, it's always refreshing to see Christian films that are simple stories. It's refreshing when the films are plain old stories but it's downright exhilarating when a Christian filmmaker tackles Christian a perfectly cinematic way. 

End of Animal, which is streaming online in various places, is an apocalyptic film that is a far cry from the likes of would-be blockbuster Left Behind. The story begins with a cab ride. Our heroine, Soo Young, is heavily pregnant and is pretty much due any minute. Because of this, she is driving to her mother's house where her mother will take care of her before, during, and after the birth. The cabbie is a friendly older guy. But a stranger soon joins the group in the cab. He's wearing a hood, and a baseball cap and he knows way too much about the lives of the two people he's traveling with. He also knows the world will be ending soon. Is he an angel? God? Or "an angel of the Lord" (an angel who pretty much is so full of God that the angel is almost a walking manifestation of God.)?

Well, the angel starts telling them all will go black within a few seconds and gives them some advice. Even after the blackout occurs, electricity stops, and good folks disappear off the face of the earth, he keeps giving advice to our heroine. Via a walkie-talkie or by other means (dreams, notes, words spoken off the cuff by casual strangers, etc.)  Note, I said "advice." Because one cannot really call the words "commands." This being is protective, testy when not listened to, omniscient, but by no means a "bully."

This is one of the first areas where this movie differs from American movies. In an American Christian movie, we would have been given a long dissertation on who this being is and why He is being this way, complete with chapter and verse. There is no such exposition in this movie. Korean filmmakers are notorious at trusting their audiences. American filmmakers are equally notorious for introducing characters, showing their character traits, and generally not trusting their audiences to figure stuff out.

I said earlier that this being is testy. And really, after watching Soo-Young repeatedly follow her own logic, disobey intuition, disobey clear commands, and get into deeper and deeper more harrowing circumstances, the viewer understands why this unknown protector of hers gets annoyed. Like Israel of old, and like Christendom now, Soo-Young is willful, stiff-necked, and self-trusting to an inordinate way too logical degree. Like the poor man beaten on the road in the parable of the Good Samaritan, she has traveled a road and has been beaten. But unlike the beaten man, she continually refuses the help provided by the Good Samaritan.

We the viewers consider her a "good" character because she is clearly a decent person. But she is not an obedient character. We consider her a character whom another character loves and wants to save. But at the end, one wonders if this woman is beyond salvation. And with the film's devastating last lines of dialog, one understands the exasperation of God.

There is one character who is reminiscient of the malefactor on the cross and it's a bit jarring to see his redemption. But, if one is a viewer of Korean dramas and movies, one has come to understand the almost-ubiquitous redemption arc.

The other thematic layer is social and historical. Our heroine has suffered in much the same way that modern Korea (or even modern African-American) culture has. Does she come out of her suffering with any sense of gratitude? No, she repairs her woundedness with the desire for stuff.

If this movie had been made in the USA, the bad guy would have been killed and our heroine would have seen the light.

This movie is not to everyone's taste. If you aren't a religious person, avoid it. But if you like scifi apocalyptical films, films about the spiritual nature of human beings, and Christian films that are a notch above the rest, this film is Highly Recommended.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Review: The Time Garden by Daria Song

The Time Garden: A Magical Journey and Coloring Book (Time Series)

  • 80 pages
  • Watson-Guptill; Clr edition (September 1, 2015)

  • ISBN-13: 978-1607749608

  • $8.79

    I recently reviewed the second book in this series, the Time Chamber and I liked it a lot. But now that I've seen the first book, I think the second pales in comparison. It pales because the first is so rich.

    The Time Garden is essentially a coloring book with a story thrown in to frame the pictures. The typefont for the story is pretty small for a kid's book -- and yes, although this is supposed to be an adult coloring book, I definitely think it'll probably be bought for kids. The vocabulary in which the story is told is a bit unwieldy for a kid but it's perfect for adults. The story itself is good for kids but there is no resonance for adults. It would've been good if there could be a story that really does connect symbolically to the adult mind. But, maybe I'm nit-picking. The book is after all, primarily, a coloring book.

    Which brings me to why I like this book so much better than the first. The pictures here are just more complicated period. There are lots of nooks, crannies, patterns, geometric, man-made, and natural shapes in the world. Birds and flowers are on one page while axles or buildings or gears or balloons are on the next. Although it is not fantastical in the sense of fantasy, it does present the world in a way that enables the viewer to see how beautiful and eerie the world can seem if one only looks. It's fun. More aimed for girls but boys might like them. Because some of the drawings are so complicated and the coloring space so small, I wouldn't recommend this book for children who don't know how to color within the lines.

    The pages have so far been able to withstand magic markers but because the pictures are on both sides of the page, i would be careful with the kind of media one uses. Crayon, colored pencils seem best.

    Very recommended for adults and kids who like coloring.



    Saturday, October 17, 2015

    The Time Chamber by Daria Song

    The Time Chamber
    by Daria Song
    Clr edition
    (October 13, 2015)
    ISBN 9781607749615
    80 pages
    9 13/16" x 9 13/16”
    I haven’t seen any adults coloring any books but supposedly there’s an adult coloring book
    craze. Who knew? So when I got the opportunity to review one of them, I grabbed it. The fact
    that the book features a world perfect for fantasylovers
    who yearn for sensawonda helped too.
    Unlike, say, illustration books where the colors are chosen by the creator of the book, what
    makes coloring books so good is that there’s a collaboration between the original artist and
    countless colorers around the world. Coloring book artistry is a skill that requires generosity and
    as they guide strangers through their created world.
    So, the book. There is a story as well. A little fairy who lives inside a cuckoo clock is bored with
    her world and decides to visit the human world. The sights the reader/cocreator
    sees are tiny
    because they are seen through the POV of a tiny fairy. Aspects of the human world would seem
    magical to any stranger, but imagine a tiny creature from another world viewing our human
    world at night. This is what is so lovely. Our world is full of so many patterns which we barely
    notice. The practical created arts of a utensil set or of keys or the haphazard patterns of books
    on a bookshelf are what brings delight to our lives. I remember sitting in a dentist chair once and
    noticing how the horizontal slats of the window blinds fell against the window sills and how the
    light reflected diagonally on the medicine drawer. I’m sure it made me smile. The world is full of
    design, color, and patterns we hardly notice unless a child or a fairy brings them to our attention.
    Then suddenly the designs on crockery, the parallels of the rise and goings of a staircase, or
    even the face of a clock will give us pause. Art and the POV of children truly adds beauty and
    magic to our world.
    This is the sequel to an earlier work which showed the fairy’s world. That was probably lovely as
    well. The book is printed on both sides of the paper. That means that one should warn one’s
    child to be careful about what media they use. Recommended for kids and adults who like to
    Happy creativity

    Thursday, October 15, 2015

    Review: NLRV Giant Print Holy Bible

    NLRV Giant Print Holy Bible
    • Age Range: 8 and up
    • Hardcover: 2368 pages
    • Publisher: Zondervan (October 6, 2015)
    • Language: English
    • ISBN-10: 0310751209
    • ISBN-13: 978-0310751205

    When I read that this was a Giant Print Bible, I was suspicious. Giant Print Bibles are either very, very large and unwieldy -- often coming in two different books-- or the print isn't "giant" at all. But when the Bible arrived, I really liked it. This Bible actually works. It is giant-print and it's in a handy-sized book.

    Another great thing about it is that it's the Bible and little else. There is a small dictionary and a list of 150 famous Bible stories at the back --and a table of contents and a tiny introduction in the front. But other than that it is the Bible without all that pesky "study" that makes Bibles unwieldy or that tells us what to think. The margins are somewhat small so not a lot of room for notetaking -- although one can still take notes. The Bible is told in single column format so the reader will have to get used to reading across the width of the page without wandering into other lines. I would've wanted spaces between each paragraphs but that would probably add more pages. So this Bible works. There are chapters headings and sub-headings within chapters. The typefont is dark and heavy which is good but that sometimes means one can see through the paper to the preceding or the following pages. It's hardcover and solid without feeling ultra-heavy.

    This is the kind of Bible that is good for small kids whose eyes have not gotten used to small print or to people with sight issues or eye problems. I was going to give this Bible to a church, which is what I generally do with Bibles after I review them, but I think I'll give this to hubby. He got this great big smile on his face when he opened it to read it.

    I was given this Bible free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Friday, October 02, 2015

    Review: The Surprising Imagination of C S Lewis -- An Introdution

    The Surprising Imagination of C S Lewis -- An Introduction
    Jerry Root and Mark Neal
    Abingdon Press

    Have you ever had one of those moments when the perfect book falls into your hands at the perfect time? There I was writing a new story and in a bit of quandary about what direction my imagination in the story would take.

    Knowledge of Lewis writings would make this book an even better read but it is not required because the editors/writers have written a book that is an “introduction” to Lewis’ philosophy of the imagination and to his writings.  

    It seems --according to the editors-- Lewis has written about the senses and types of imagination. The three senses of imagination are as follows: the first is wish-fulfillment fantasy which is self-referential and narcissistic and imagines the dreamer as the hero. The second sense is invention in which the creative power of the human mind crafts images and depictions to explore, grasp, and understand the world as it is. The third sense is the imagination that helps us to understand what is beyond our understanding and experience horizons that are beyond our experiences.

    The types of imagination include: the baptized imagination which is the imagination regenerated which is an awakening and longing for the numinous, and a waking to the grief of the world. The penetrating imagination is imagination that helps in getting deeper knowledge of a kind of reality. There is also the material imagination, the generous imagination, the primary imagination, the transforming imagination, the controlled imagination, the satisfied imagination, the awakened imagination, the absorbing imagination, the shared imagination, the compelled imagination, and the realizing imagination. I think those are all of them. The editors use different works by Lewis to show how these different kinds of imagination are at work in literature, art, spirit, theology, creativity, self-knowledge, and reality.

    C S Lewis is a Christian writer who, along with other Christian writers such as George MacDonald and J R R Tolkein-- has influenced much of modern fantasy. I suspect many readers will not want to read this book because they fear they might be overwhelmed with silly Christian nonsense. But trust me on this, unless an atheist writer has a major grudge against an old evangelical aunt, he/she should find this book very enlightening. And certainly those who want to depict the religious mind properly, without spite or injustice, would do well to read a book like this.  

    I really want to do this book justice because it is that good! Maybe I just love having my heart opened to how the creative heart opens. The last book that had such an effect on me was Mastermind: How to think like Sherlock Holmes by Maria Konnikova and that was a book that used Arthur Conan Doyle to show how memory, neuroscience, and literature works. This book brought back my joyful love of literary criticism and reminded me again why my favorite genre to read and to study is review/criticism. Truly, reading this book caused me to be Surprised by Joy.

    Thursday, September 17, 2015

    Review: Two Days, One Night

    Country: Belgium
    Language: French | Arabic | English
    Release Date: 21 May 2014
    Directors: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
    Writers: Jean-Pierre Dardenne, Luc Dardenne
    95 minutes

    Humiliation is often part of a character’s arc. But usually, in stories, a journey through humiliation is not the entirety of the arc. This is the case, however, is what the award-winning French film Two Days, One Night is about.

    The story begins when Sandra (Marion Cotillard) receives a phone call while she is making breakfast for her family. The call is from a colleague at work and she is told that a vote has been taken by her fellow employees and she will be laid off. It is evident that Sandra and her family belong to the struggling working class. To make matters worse, they have recently taken out a mortgage on their home. They need the job. But Sandra’s fellow employees are also working class folks and when faced with the choice of their $1000 bonus or having Sandra lose her job, the employees chose their jobs. The problem is: Sandra had a nervous breakdown earlier – from which she is still not fully recovered—and while she was away the company realized that 16 people could do the work instead of seventeen. All everyone has to do is to work three hours overtime each week. So why should the boss take Sandra back again? Especially when a new job contract with another company has popped up?

    Sandra, however, is not willing to give in easily. The colleague who called her has managed to finagle a new vote. If Sandra can do her best over the weekend to convince her fellow employees to change their minds –for her sake—she can keep her job. But how to beg, plead, ask, people to give up what is “rightfully” their own? She is not particularly a fighter. She freezes, her voice constricts, she goes into panic mode, she gets suicidal. She is not the person to go around begging. It’ll only bring humiliation, self-loathing, self-recriminations. In short, humiliation.

    Humiliation is hard to watch, even when Sandra meets those who are willing to be sacrificial for the sake of another person. It’s hard. But when she meets the self-satisfied, it becomes even harder. But the weekend progresses, and Sandra commits to her pleading (for the most part: there is a major lapse toward the end.)

    This is a good little film. It has heart in its restrained Belgian way, and although I generally think restraint – just as over-emotionalness—has to be done well in film-making, the restraint works well here because the audience is well-aware that Sandra is an emotional mess who is holding up fairly well (externally) considering the circumstances. It’s a wonderful study on human nature, human resilience, society, selfishness, rationalization, and all those other spiritual words we use when we talk about loving our fellow man. Highly recommended. I suspect those who love stories about the human spirit or spiritual movies will like this because it is so well done. Spirituality without preachiness. Good discussion movie for schools, film groups, spiritual groups. If you like actioners, this might not be the film for you however.

    Monday, August 31, 2015

    Review: Korean documentary -- My Love, Do Not Cross That River

    This powerful documentary is not for everyone. Its slow languid tender pace is not only beautiful but it is a death-watch of sorts. We know from the beginning scene that one of the main persons --in this case, the husband Kang Kye-yeol-- in this documentary is going to die.

    It is the ending story of married couple Jo Byeong-man and Kang Kye-yeol who have been married for 76 years ever since they met when he was 19 and she was 14. It has been said that if one really loves one's spouse one must be prepared to let that spouse die before one's own death. In that way, the survivng spouse won't have to deal with the horrible loss. Most marriages do not last for 76 years. So one can imagine how harrowing it must be for an 89 year old woman who has loved and known her husband since she was a child.

    Korea is good at these intimate documentaries of the human condition. The filmmaker Jin Mo-young filmed the couple through joyful and intimate moments and the viewer wonders about how the fimmaker managed to be afforded this privacy for 15 months. Throughout the 90 minute fim, we see the everyday activity of two people who have lived and loved each other, and who have seen the death of children and the indifference of one particular son. The film will definitely bring you to tears. Not to be missed, especially by romantics who aim to love and live long.

    Sunday, August 30, 2015

    Review: Rain -- A Natural and Cultural History

     Rain: A Natural and Cultural History 

    by Cynthia Barnett 

    Hardcover: 368 pages

    Publisher: Crown (April 21, 2015)

    Language: English

    ISBN-10: 0804137099

    ISBN-13: 978-0804137096

    If you're someone who loves non-fiction, especially informational non-fiction about natural phenomenon, you will love this book. 

    It's a great solid, beautiful, thoroughly-researched book. And I do mean "thoroughly-reserched." The author writes about Rain in all its forms, function, manifestations, causes, effects, power, powerlessness, cultural, historical forms. Seriously, there is the cinematic power of rain. There is evolution and rain. There is cosmology and rain. There is literature and rain. There is religion and rain. There is geography and rain. There is history and rain.  Rain has changed history, destroyed kingdoms, been responsible for great literature and great films. 

    It deals with rain as a chemical, mathematical, biological, nutritional, artistic, and powerful entity.  I seriously cannot tell you how well-researched this book is. But in addition to that, this is one beautifully-written book. 

    As a Christian I really liked the discussion of Earth's evolution and rain. Not that the author is a Christian. (There are a few moments when I got antsy with some typical dismissive anti-religion sentences but overall, she was pretty respectful.) But the way Barnett descrbes how rain affected Earth's formation, it reminded me of the Genesis Creation account where Earth is described as having a watery firmament around it. The description of the effect of a great flood also reminded me of the story of Noah's flood where water came up from inside the earth. 

    Again, this is not a religious book. But the author does make one see how wonderful and magical and powerful rain is. 

    I received this book for free in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

    Thursday, August 20, 2015

    Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible

    Review: NIV Zondervan Study Bible
    D A Carson, General Editor

     The NIV Zondervan Study Bible is a new study Bible which uses the NIV translation and which is structured in the following manner:
     Quick Start Guide
     Table of Contents which is divided into the following sections:
     Each book of the Bible and its location
     List of Articles
     Abbreviations and Transliterations
     Editorial Team
     Editor's Preface
     The Bible
     Weights and Measures

     The Bible proper is introduced with Chronological maps for both testaments and each Bible book is preceded by an Introduction which generally describes the author and place of the book's composition, the date of the book, the genre to which the book belongs, the style, content, and challenges of the book and the purpose for which it was written. Canonicity, Themes, and Theology of the books are also summarized. Some book introductions have more than these topics, some less. At the end of the Introduction, there is an outline of events in the Bible book.

     Each page of the Bible takes up about --on average-- 50% of the page with verse-by verse commentary taking up the bottom half of the page. Verse cross-references are in tiny columns on the upper right edge of the pages.Illustrations are found throughout. Sub-chapter sections have summary headings that are printed in green. Corresponding Bible stories are listed under each topic heading.

     The Articles in the Study Bible begin after the book of Revelations and are very good for the most part. Some writers write more accessibly than others. There are two or three women contributors, but for the most part the writers are men. The writers are also primarily European and from mainstream seminaries, denominations and theologies.

     Unlike many Bible studies where verse-by-verse commentaries focus more on the spiritual application, exegesis, and meaning of a verse, the study portion of the Study Bible seems to have been written for story or reading comprehension. Historical backgrounds, insights into motivations and actions of Biblical characters as well as analyses of ramifications and consequences are shown for verses, individually or collectively. Most of the explanations are historical and spiritual. And again, there is a feeling of someone beside you telling you what is literally going on in each verse. There are moments, however, when certain cultural biases or ignorance creep in, sometimes at the cost of truth. (This is often the reason why Study Bibles can be detrimental. Because human opinion is placed beside God's word, careless readers will incorporate the assumptions and biases of the Study Bible's editors and writers. )

     For instance, a writer states in the commentary on Daniel 1:8-16:
     "...this refusal of the royal diet has NOTHING to do with keeping kosher, avoiding political connections, or refusing food offered to idols; rather, they are giving God room to work. Their healthy appearance at the end of the chapter is the result not of diet but of God's grace." (The capitalization is my own.) But why does the writer use "NOTHING"? "Nothing" is a big word. In assessing anything, it is often best to edge one bets and not generalize too much.
     and Daniel 1: 13-14:
     "A diet of vegetables and water rather than the royal food and wine would naturally make the four men look worse." NATURALLY? Based on what?

     The commentator even states that Daniel not eating the king's choice food was only temporary and cites Daniel 10:3 as proof that Daniel later ate the king's food. But "choice food" is not the same as the king's choice food. And one can eat choice food according to the Torah without it being choice food from the king's table..even if one returns to meat-eating. Seems like a big leap to me.
     Reading such a line makes the reader wonder if this is someone out to defend the meat diet. Is the writer speaking against vegetarianism? Has he had some run-in with a Seventh Day Adventist or some person who took the Daniel Fast to the extreme? Additionally, the writer's parochial American notion of what is healthy also causes him to dismiss the possibility of Daniel being healthy without meat. Not to mention he goes so far as to deny Daniel is actually keeping the diet prescribed by the law. The writer has a good point; God is the ultimate keeper of one's health. But in attempting to show this truth, he goes overboard. "NOTHING to do with keeping kosher?" I think this is a big leap.
    I found myself thinking: Did this man in one commentary on a verse totally dismiss Daniel's allegiance to the Kosher diet? What about the verse where Daniel decided he would not defile himself with the king's meat?

     This kind of questionable opining is everywhere in this study Bible.
     For instance, the description of what a spiritual mystery is in the commentary on  1 Corinthians 14:2 reads as follows: "Because nobody understands the language [when someone is speaking in tongues] what is being said is a mystery."

     The writer is saying that Paul says speaking in tongues is a spiritual mystery because no one understands what is being said. The writer is wrong, I think. Certainly the word "mystery" turns up in other Bible books. "Great is the Mystery of our faith" is mentioned in Phillipians for instance. And as used in the Bible, "mystery" doesn't mean simply not understanding anything, much less a language spoken in tongues. And here, the author doesn't use the Bible to define the Bible. He doesn't use mystery as it is not defined in other Biblical Scripture. Why not? For me, and for many other commentators in other Bible commentaries, "someone who is speaking mysteries in an unknown language" would still be speaking mysteries in known language. It is not the lack of comprehension of the language that makes the mystery. It is the deep truth itself, a truth that is so high and unattainable to mere human reasoning. But why did the reviewer write his weak explanation? Is he simply unaware of the general meaning of the verse? Or is he trying to downplay the power of speaking in tongues. One gets the unsettled feeling that some of the writers of this Bible Study don't read the Bible much. Or that they are not writing so much to explain the Bible but are writing to lead the reader to their own denominations.

    For the most part, though, it's a good Bible. The analyses are very insightful and helpful OR sometimes just plain obvious to a longtime Bible reader. Or sometimes --on rare occasions-- downright questionable. Although nothing in this Study Bible will cause anyone to stray from theological truth, it's best if the reader of Study Bibles use two or three Study Bibles --from different denominations-- instead of just one. It is not a bad book. It is even a good and helpful book but it could be better.

     The font used for Scripture is thin and perhaps should've been heavier but it is still readable. This book was sent to me free of charge in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Monday, August 17, 2015

    Review: Exploring Christian Theology Vol 2: Creation, Fall, and Salvation

    Exploring Christian Theology Vol 2: Creation, Fall, and Salvation  
    Nathan D Holsteen & Michael J Svigel, Editors
    Bethany House

    The editors of Exploring Christian Theology Vol 2: Creation, Fall, and Salvation are affiliated with Dallas Theological Seminary.

    This book is written for mainstream Christians who want to understand the historic battles and debates that have occurred among Christian theologians. The writers are
    concerned with showing the many shades and permutations of Christian theology throughout the ages. Because of this, there are clarifications which might help the reader understand if he/she has subtly veered from the right theological path.  It might also be good for atheists who want to understand what Christianity really says and not what popular theology says it is. Roman Catholics may not agree with some of the author's conclusions. Sects such as Mormons, Jehovah Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists might also disagree with some conclusions but all groups will probably agree on the historical facts. This book also shows the various pitfalls and wrong near-miss theologies that Christians can fall into without quite knowing it.

    For some people, theology is a head game. For others, knowledge of true Christian traditiona beliefs is a matter of life and death. It is possible that many people have changed denominations because the doctrine of one denomiation -- whether true or false-- suited their itching ears or aching hearts better. Indeed, Christians who hated doctrines -- such as hell, eternal punishment, etc-- have created whole doctrines in order to have their Christianity and their own emotional peace as well.

    The importance of Christian theology to daily life is first seen in the first sections where the various philosophies on the origin of the soul is presented. Many Christians have wondered, "When is the soul created?" Perhaps they lost a child to abortion or miscarriage and wanted to understand.

    The editors and writers are clearly educated but they make an effort to make Christian theology accessible, although there are some chapters which might be difficult for pastors and teachers who do not have good reading comprehension skills.

    The book is divided into the following sections:

    The Christian Story in Four Acts
    Part One: From Dust to Dust
    Part Two: Wise Unto Salvation
    These two parts are further divided into chapters entitled: High Altitude Survey, Passages to Master, Humanity and Sin in Retrospect, Facts to Never Forget, Dangers to Avoid, Principles to Put into Practice, Voices from the Past and Present, Shelf Space: Recommendations for your Library. These chapters are also then divided into subsections.
    The book ends with a very large glossary of Christian theological terms

    There are scripture memory boxes, charts of ideas, and footnotes at the end of each chapter.

    In addition to their own words, the authors have also compiled quotes from famous theologians throughout the ages such as Aquinas, Wesley, Pascal, Jonathan Edwards, Whitefield, Augustine, Martin Luther, and of course Calvin among many others.  This is mostly in the section entitled Voices from the Past to the Present athough the book contains quotes throughout.

    The book also speaks of salvation and shows the way of salvation throughout. Highly recommended.

    This book was sent to me free of charge by Bethany Publishers in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Tuesday, June 16, 2015

    Review: New International Reader's Version NIrV Study Bible for kids

    New International Reader's Version
    NIrV Study Bible for kids

  • Age Range: 6 - 10 years
  • Hardcover: 1792 pages
  • Publisher: Zonderkidz (June 30, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0310744032
  • ISBN-13: 978-0310744030

  • This new kids' Study Bible is quite good. It's not perfect, and some readers will probably compare it with the venerated King James Version. But, for people who are not native English Speakers, especially children and those who have studied English as a Second Language, this will be an easy accessible read.

    There are two main differences between the NIrV and Bibles for adult readers and native speakers. The first and main difference is how verses are broken down. Those of us who regularly read the Bible have gotten used to sentences that are run-on sentences or often one long clause after another linked together by commas, dashes, hyphens, and semi-colons. This version fixes all that. For the most part, most of the semi-colons and commas have been changed to periods. This sometimes makes the Bible a bit clunky and sometimes there is a tiny bit of paraphrasing (or repetition of the obvious) but the verses become clearer. So there are many Bible verses which are no longer made of one sentence but of two or three.

    For instance, instead of "A time to be born, a time to die" (KJV), there is now "There is a time to be born. And there's a time to die." The Bible doesn't feel bloated however.

    The other main differences is in vocabulary. This change is somewhat iffy at times. Again, from Ecclesiastes.
    "That doesn't have any meaning either. In fact, it's a very bad deal." Ecc. 4:8    

    Most of the vocabulary changes are not so trendy-hipster sounding and the book reads well. But there are a few moments when a reader will miss the majesty of certain verses or will cringe at what seems like banal-phrasing. Kids, of course, will not be bothered by that.

    Other issues with the vocabulary occur when some spiritual meaning seems lost. John 3:16 no longer states, "His only begotten son" but states "His one and only son." Some people might not like this change; after all, Scripture later states that all who are in Christ are children of God. In another example, there are changes from "the lepers worshiped Jesus" to "the lepers kneeled before Jesus."

    There are also some moments when it seems some words should have been changed to accomodate younger children.

    The cover is a hard-cover. There are several illustrations which are used to depict some larger spiritual truth. The typical information one finds in the Bible are present here as well, but they are written for children. So, for instance, the section which lists the books of the Bible is illustrated as books on a bookshelf.

    Highly Recommended. I received this book free in exchange for a honest review.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    Mama Maggie by Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn

    Mama Maggie
    by Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn
    Thomas Nelson
    ISBN: 978-0-7180-2203-7

    I like books that tell me about other ethnic cultures, especially about the struggles of Christians in other cultures. If the story involves hardship in anyway, then I'm totally going to love it. When one considers all the books published by American Christian publishers, there are relatively few books for the general public that explores Christians in other cultures.

    Within the past ten months, I've reviewed books on Vietnamese refugee Christians, and one about a young Christian woman who started an orphanage in Haiti. This time around the book is about the religious and social suffering that Coptic Christians in Egypt have endured.

    Christians of all faiths will probably like this book. It's an inspirational story about a Christian doing good in this world. And the world is full of Christians doing good things that many people are unaware of. In this case, it's about Maggie Gobran, Egypt's Garbage Slums, the daily martyrdom Arab Christians endure, and inspiration.

    The writers really give a good historical background of these slums and why many Coptic christians from the countryside --many of whom don't really understand their faith-- have ended up living in such poverty. This is where the book shines.

    The book is about the work of Maggie Gobran, a woman who was rich and educated and who gave it a up to (wear all white) and work among the poor Copts in an Egypt slum. In vignette after vignette and chapter after chapter, we see how difficult the lives of young children in the slums were and how much Mama Maggie, the "Mother Theresa of Cairo," has improved their lives and their self-esteem. No wonder she was a nominee for the Nobel Peace Prize.  

    I mentioned the wearing of the white because I feel it's important. Christians in other cultures are not like western Christians and I suspect the wearing of white is a good external image, especially in the Middle East where Islam and Christianity are so obsessed with the Virgin Mary and with female purity. If a woman is going to do good in such a culture, I don't think it's a bad thing to wear white. White nun-like flowing robes are iconic and the power of the iconic in such a culture -- and among many uneducated people-- is powerful. I could only think of God telling John the Baptist to wear the outfit of a prophet.

    I really liked this book. Sometimes we Christians in the west cannot even conceive of what sufferings other Christians are enduring.  I will say though that I had a few struggles getting past the actual cover and writing style of this book.

    The full title of this book is Mama Maggie: The Untold Story of One Woman's Mission to Love the Forgotten Children of Egypt's Garbage Slums
    by New York Times Best-Selling Authors Marty Makary and Ellen Vaughn

    A round pseudo seal appears on the cover which states The Authorized Biography of Nobel Peace Prize Nominee Maggie Gobran.

    The book is published by Thomas Nelson.

    That's one unwieldy title, isn't it? Seriously, book covers like this tend to turn me off because I tend to dislike the way that Christian publishers promote books. Simply looking at the cover makes me think of several things:

    1) The best-selling authors were hand-picked by the publishing house because they are best-selling authors.
    2) Why does a book need two authors? To erase all personality from the writing and to make the book fit into the same exact mold of all Christian memoirs and biographies?
    3) Is there an un-authorized biography coming around soon?
    4) Mama Maggie was a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee? Who is Maggie Gobran and Why don't I keep track of Nobel Prize Nominees anymore?
    5) I didn't know there were Forgotten Children in Egypt's Garbage Slums. I should've known shouldn't I?
    6) Why is this woman wearing white with a big cross around her neck? Is she a nun?
    7) How am I going to make it through what promises to be a very very very overy-reverential book?
    8) If I, a Christian, is cynical about the presentation of this book, how would a non-Christian cynic feel about it.

    Yes, it is I, Carole the cynic, reviewing yet another modern Christian memoir. And you can imagine what it's like reading this book after pushing past all those questions.

    It's a good book, though. Of course it's reverential to an almost canonizing degree. Maggie Gobran is praised by these two writers in amost every line so that even when they try to humanize her she hardly sounds human at all. But here is a case where my feelings about the writing has to be divided from my feelings about the object of the writing.

    True, Maggie is saintly and is to be praised for all the wonderful programs and organiations (such as Stephen's Children's) that she created. But the continual praise the writers throw at her can be off-putting for some readers.

    I received this book for free in return for a fair and honest review.

    Saturday, April 25, 2015

    Review: Just Add Watercolor

    JUST ADD WATERCOLOR-  Inspiration & Painting Techniques From
    Contemporary Artists
    by Helen Birch

    Watson-Guptill Publications
    ISBN 978-60774-757-4

            A handy, colorful instruction book that uses contemporary art to
    illustrate watercolor tricks and techniques. Each technique is
    demonstrated in a spread, with the art on the right and the technique
    that the artist used described on the left.  Instead of the usual
    table of contents, there is a "visual index" which reproduces a square
    from each painting, with the page number in the lower right  of the
            The examples are not strictly reserved to watercolor; other
    categories include digital, mixed media, other water-based media, and
    non-paper media. There is a brief chapter in the back called
    "Watercolor fundamentals" that deals with materials, media & terms.
            Some of the artists and the techniques they demonstrate are Eleonora
    Marton, (painting in monochrome), Leah Goren (bold and unusual
    colors), Madara    Lukjanovica (glazed landscape), Charlene Liu
    (stenciling), Simona Dimitri  (creating color shift), Sasha Prood
    (creating movement), Peggy Wolf (painting from photographs),  Hornung
    (creating a stylized painting), Marcus Oakley (using primary colors),
    Kasia Breska (using "found" materials), Paul Bailey (mixing watercolor
    and acrylic), and Jennifer Davis (painting on wood).
            The book is 7.5 x 5.5 in, making it easy to carry and refer to. The
    artists are well selected for stylistic variety and give a good
    cross-section of approaches to this versatile medium.

    Wednesday, March 25, 2015

    Review: Black Moon

    In Black Moon, we have a road trip book of sorts. Jordan and Chase are young guys who’ve stolen sleeping pills and are travelling. Lila is a teenager whose folks have sent her on the road to protect her from their insomniac rage. Biggs is searching for his insomniac wife. So basically, all these folks have found themselves in a symbolic dark wood and angry raging sleepless folks are blocking them from the path direct.

    I really didn't feel the sleeplessness vibe. I just didn't. The author seemed to be exploring the frustrated, malicious, existential resentment of he “have-nots” towards the "haves." Those who cannot sleep are pretty vicious towards those who can.

    As is to be expected when everyone in the nation goes sleepless, the entire infrastructure falls apart. Universal insomnia being the cause of anarchy, I can believe. But I'm not sure the sleepless would have energy to be so nasty. As for the cause of the sleeplessness, the author riffs on the probable spiritual, emotional, or societal cause of this ongoing catastrophe. But in the end, I'm not sure what “sleeplessness” is a metaphor for. Are the ones who are able to sleep the true victims? Or are they the strong ones because they can shut off life and fall into peacefulness when they want to?

    The story feels like a series of poetic meditations thematically held together by the male characters’ goals, especially their goals toward their wives. If you intend to read this book, put away all thoughts about “beginning, middle, and end.” There is no real “ending” here. We are in literary territory  and riding the modern male’s stream of consciousness. This is a book which feels like a literary summer read and which folks will either love or hate.

    Review: The Hope of Heaven: God's Eight Messages of Assurance to a Grieving Father

    The Hope of Heaven: God's Eight Messages of Assurance to a Grieving Father Hardcover – March 10, 2015

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (March 10, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071802205X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0718022051

  • I found this book somewhat problematic. It's called Hope of Heaven by Allan M Hallene Jr. and it's a father's account of his son's suicide. So, yes it's important that the father has hope that his son will go to heaven. After all, Christians believe most suicides end up in hell because it is murder. I tend not to be cut and dried about where the souls of suicides go. We simply don't know the state of their souls or their minds.

    In this memoir, the dad finds his son's body after the son has hung himself. At that moment, God gives him a clear image that assures him that his son is at peace in heaven. We all know that need for spiritual assurance when someone dies. I imagine it would be even worse if the person has died unexpectedly or by suicide. There is also the whole question of parental guilt and responsibility.

    But the father gets these assurances. That could be a problem with me because I'm very wary of spiritual assurances. I'm generally wary of spiritual incidents, visions, dreams impressions etc as well. But something about assurances often makes me stop and ponder if the human mind wants to interpret things a certain way.

    Some books are hard to review because you know the writer has poured his soul out for the reader and because you know the writer is stil experiencing emotional pain you have no idea about.

    Another thing I'm wary about. The father is very calvinist/God's sovereignity. So he says stuff like God knew his son would kill himself because God knew his son was depressive and used those 23 years to help his son live and come as close to him so he could get to heaven. It's very subtle and I kinda get what the author is saying and maybe I kind believe The father writes several times about his son's keeping his emotional pain to himself. And there are sections about the son being prone to these issues. I totally believe that there are pre-natal causes why some people are prone to depression. Perhaps there are genetic issues. And let's face it, God does not create bad genetics. It's a fallen world. There are also nutritional and even allergy-related depressions. And there are family dynamics. It's the family dynamics part of the equation that makes me uneasy. Even if the family isn't responsible for the depression, one wonders why this suicidal boy could not talk to his father. NOTE: I'm not saying the family could have helped him. I am not even saying the child feared his family so much that he couldn't tell them his heart. What I am saying is the father's repeated comments about how he tried to help his son just makes me wonder. Something about hearing something repeated a lot can do that. I'm just very cynical when it comes to Christians writing about themselves; I've seen too many self-deceptions. So wariness is not the author's fault, it's all mine.

    In fact the author is really good at telling his heart, discussing theology (particularly the fatherhood of God), and rightly dividing the thorny theological issues.  It's an interesting combination of theological paper, grief counseling, memoir, and PhD treatise with references.

    Anyway, all that said,  the comforting assurances, are very profound-- as assurances from God tend to be. And "if one is able to receive them", I think this book would be good for folks whose kids have committed suicide. Basically, this book would be considered a brave book in some Christian circles. And in other Christian circles, it would be considered a product of a wussy Christianity. It really all depends on one's denomination and how rigidly one thinks about things.

    I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

    Saturday, February 28, 2015

    Review: Salad Love by David Bez

    Salad Love: 260 Crunchy, Savory and Filling Meals You can Make Every Day

    I have to say it: this book is a feast for the eyes. Heck, it's an invitation to a feast!

    Those of us who eat the same old things every day and wish to change our eating habits in the easiest most delightful way will love this book. This is a salad book that opens up one's mind. First, it reminds us of other foods that we've forgotten and ignored along the way. Secondly, it opens up one's mind to salads period.

    But first, the eye-feast: This food has the best food photography I've seen in ages. The photos are not flashy or anything. They are pretty basic: a wonderful, wildly colorful salad on a plain white dish.  Each page has a large photo and a tiny list of the required ingredients at the bottom. Often, the ingredient list isn't necessary because a picture is worth a thousand words and the photos are pretty self-explanatory. Along with the photo and the ingredient lists on each page, there are also two circular insets. The smaller inset (at the top of the photo) contains only one word which states if the salad is Raw, Pescatarian, Omnivore, Vegan, or Vegetarian. The slightly larger inset diagonally opposite the first one and at the bottom of the photo indicates how to transform the salad in some way. For instance, how to change that particular raw salad to an omnivore alternative, or how to change a pescatarian salad to a vegetarian alternative, or omnivore to vegetarian. For instance, the pescatarian Tuna, zucchini, broccoli and black olive salad can be turned into a vegan alternative by replacing tuna with canned beans. By doing this, each salad can be made in two different ways. So although there are 260 salads, the inset with alternatives pretty much doubles the total number of salads.

    The salads themselves are a perfect blend for taste and health...and satisfies the need for different mouth-feel.

    Before the photos, we have chapters which are no more than two pages long. Seriously, this is a cookbook for those who do not like to actually read cookbooks. One page shows pictures of the items discussed in the chapter, and the other page is a short description.

    The first chapter of the book is called The Base. The base of any salad -- as described here-- are greens, grains (couscous, rice, barley, etc), vegetables cut into small pieces, and vegetables shaved to look like ribbons or spaghetti. He doesn't list noodles here but since noodles appear in some of the salads, I'll include that as a base as well.

    The second chapter is called Vegetables and Fruits. The author states these should take up about 25% of one's salad. So non-veggie-lovers should love that. The veggies are generally raw and the pics of vegetables show an assortment of the veggies and fruits that the author typically uses.

    The third chapter entitled protein states that one cup or 25% of one's salad should be dedicated to protein and again there are pics of protein: meat, eggs, beans, cheeses, fish.

    The fourth chapter is entitled toppings; the fifth chapter is "Fresh Herbs." The sixth is Dressings & Spices. This is a fun chapter because it features tiny little recipes for dressings.

    Then there is a chapter on tools needed in the kitchen.

    The recipes are placed in four sub-sections:  Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring

    For the most part, the salads don't need a lot of preparation. One might need to boil some rice or noodles here and there But all in all, this is a cookbook that takes all the work out of preparing a meal. And if one already has ingredients on hand, making these salads shouldn't take more than 20 minutes or so.

    Highly recommended.
    I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    Review: NIV Proclamation Bible: Correctly Handling the Word of Truth

    The Proclamation Bible is not a study Bible per se. It merely contains articles about how to teach the Bible.
    Some of the articles are a bit problematic. Why? Because they are written from a Christian Teacher's perspective for Christian Teachers. And these folks are very very very educated theologians.  This means they know their stuff. But it also means that some of the articles are written in graduate theology-ese. Because while the writers know their stuff, they don't seem to know how to write about what they know to people who don't already know what they're talking about. These theologians are very aware that they are teachers and therefore knowledgeable.  They want to preach the word truly and rightly. And they are writing to other teachers.  So there is definitely a feel of a great US teachers versus all those other Christians (sheep) divide. It can be off-putting but I don't think it's meant to be.

    The basic Bible set up:
    A General Preface
    Editor's Preface

    What is the Bible by Mark D Thompson, Principal of Moore Theological College, Sydney

    A Bible Overview by Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe's Church Oxford, and President of Proclamation Trust

    The Historical Reliability of the Bible by Dirk JongkindResearch Fellow in New Testament Text and Language, Tyndale House, Cambridge, and Deputy Senior Tutor, St Edmund's College, Cambridge

    Finding the "Melodic Line" of a Book by Tim Ward, Associate Director of the Proclamation Trust Cornhill Training Course, London

    From Text to Doctrine: The Bible and Theology by Peter Adam, Vicar Emeritus of St Jude's Carlton, and Canon of St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne

    From Text to Life: Applying the Old Testament by David Jackman, Past President of the Proclamation Trust, London

    From Text To Life: Applying the New Testament by Charles Skrine, Curate at St Helen's, Bishopsgate, London

    From Text To Sermon: Preaching the Bible by Christopher Ash, Director of the Proclamation Trust Training Course London

    From Text to Study: Small Groups and One-to-Ones by Leonie Mason, Trainer of Ministry Apprentices and Bible Study Leaders at St Helen's, Bishopsgate, London

    Biblical Interpretaton: A Short History by Gerald Bray, Research Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama, and Director of Research at the Latimer Trust

    Then the Bible itself begins.

    Each book has an introduction which shows
    The Message
    Points to Consider
    The layout of the Bible books is easy on the eyes with a good typefont. The type is dark and incredibly readable, unlike the NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible which has very light printing. The Scripture is placed in two columns on each page with cross-references in the middle of each page. The bottom of the page has definitions or alternate translations. There are sub-headings within chapters which will help guide the reader. There are also cross-references listed under the sub-headings if a scene or event is duplicated elsewhere. There are two ribbons for placeholders. Poetry is written in poetic form. Scriptures that are quoted in other Bible books are also set off in poetic form. The words of Jesus are not in red.
    There is a Table of Weights and Measures

    It's a solid hardcover Bible.

    For better or worse, the key word throughout most of this book is training; Theologians training others on how to read Scripture, how to understand Scripture, how to teach Scripture, and how to hear the Holy Spirit. There are many patterns to learn here, all of which will be helpful to some or all Bible teachers. But which could become almost legalistic and prohibitive if doggedly followed.

    The best thing about this Bible are the introduction to each of the Bible books. They are very insightful and the vocabulary is accessible to anyone. Those introductions alone are worth the price. The second-best thing are the articles in the front of the Bible about how to understand, read, and teach the Bible. But I say second-best because I suspect the folks who most need those articles might be the folks who can't get through them.

    I can understand a book written on a college graduate level. But I cannot imagine these articles being accessible to pastors who may not have had much college. Some of the article writers write as if they are writing a graduate thesis! At that time, one feels as if one is wading through a tome on linguistics written by a computer because the writer seems to have forgotten how to write conversationally. Other times the writer seems to be "speaking to the choir" because he is using jargon -- even though he thinks he is not-- and terms only church folks use. So this book will bless many people. It's a Bible after all. But it would be most useful for the super-educated types and for new pastors who might want to know and use certain patterns in their teaching and preaching.

    As a Charismatic Christian, I would probably dislike some of the patterns recommended by some of these teachers but a good workman knows how and when to use the rules and how and when to put them aside. Also, as someone who thought Calvin was a means-spirited and possible false prophet, I don't know if I can trust his pattern of exegesis as much as Gerald Bray does.

    But all in all this is a good book.  Those who like the NIV translation will like it.
    I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review

    Saturday, February 14, 2015

    Movie Review: August Eighth

    August Eighth 2012 Russian action fantasy drama Screenplay by Michael Lerner. Directed by Dzhanik Fayziev. Kseniya (Svetlana Ivanova) ,  Artyom (Artyom Fadeev) 2 hours 12 minutes

    Okay, to begin with, this film is pure propaganda. But what wonderful propaganda it is! I debated whether this review should be included because the fantastical part of the film is understood to be fantasy. In that way, this film reminded me of Pan’s Labyrinth because the fantasy is a child’s reaction to the warring world all around. So if Pan’s Labyrinth is fantasy, then this is as well.

    The story begins with Artyom in his fantastical alter-ego of Cosmoboy. His noble, self-sacrificing sidekick Kind Robot is helping him battle Robot Darklord. The scene shifts to a theater where Artyom is watching an amateur theatrical production about dragons. After this, Mom and Artyom are on their way home discussing family dynamics. Just at that moment, Darklord pops up in Transformers mode. Artyom warns his mom but gets rebuked with “Why do you always talk about robots when I want to talk about something important?” Not that mom should talk, she also has moments when the fantastical emerges out of the blue.

    The something important that Kseniya wanted to talk about is Egor, her new boyfriend. Truth to tell, Egor’s full of himself. But to be fair, he’s got a good job and so he’s a big find for the artistic single mom Kseniya. Besides, she’s only in her early twenties and her son is seven.  She hasn’t had a chance to grow up yet. So I cut her a lot of slack.

    When Zaur, Artyom’s dad, an Ossetian “peacekeeper” asks Kseniya to send their son to Zaur’s parents, Kseniya doesn’t want to. There’s a conflict going on in that region. But heck the conflict has been going on for 150 years, says ex-beau. Nothing’s gonna happen. Kseniya’s still not sure but hey, Artyom’s dad misses him, the grandfolks are getting old, AND boyfriend with the good job did after all invite her to go on a vacation with him.  So she sends Artyom off, trusting in Zaur’s promise that he’ll send their son back should trouble arise.  

    There’s this wonderful bucolic scene with cows, happy peasants, loving grandfolks, and women in babushkas. And then, wouldn’t you know it? The Five Day War threatens to break out. And annoying Ex refuses to send the child back.  Seriously, the men in this movie are useless. And so Kseniya’s quest to go to war-torn territory to get back her son begins.

    Folks, this is one fun movie! Mother's Love and War battles! IF you like war movies, don't miss this one on netflix.

    Friday, February 13, 2015

    Review: The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander

    The Secrets of Life and Death
    Rebecca Alexander
    ISBN: 978-0-8041-4068-3
    Broadway Books
    US $15.00

    The Secrets of Life and Death is a good summer read for anyone who likes mysteries and women in jeopardy books. It's also paranormal, urban fantasy. This is a safe book for anyone who wants to do some good bloody escapist reading. It is historical urban fantasy and based on the life of the murderous Elizabeth Bathory, the life and travels of Edward Kelley and Dr. John Dee. 

    This is a quick, easy read for folks who might like supernatural mysteries of the undead variety. And it does make one ponder certain deep questions like: “Can a religious person be deceived by a demon?” and “Why is living so important?” 

    Those who like historical fiction will love discovering more about the times and mores of Elizabeth Bathory and the royalty of Poland. Those who like urban fantasy will find it a page-turner. There's even a good romance. It's dark fiction but light reading.

    It left me a little cold because there were moments that felt very high concept generic blockbuster-ish. But if you want a good semi-predictable read, this is a good book. I did get a bit offended at the depiction of the religious character Edward Kelley who is the counterpart of “good witch” Maggie and who is the typical deluded superstitious religious Christian who  is somewhat deceived about angels, herbalism, and (of course) women. But hey, it's par for the course. 

    This book was sent to me free in return for a fair and honest review. 

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