The Shunning by Beverly Lewis

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Title: The Shunning by Beverly Lewis

Notable: Book #1 in The Heritage of Lancaster County series

Premise:

Katie Lapp is a young Amish woman who is set to marry Bishop John Beiler.  Her heart still belongs to her first love, Dan, who tragically drowned at sea.  She hopes that her marriage to John will give her a new start in life and restore some happiness that she’s been missing.  Just before Katie’s wedding, a family secret comes to light that tears her world apart and she must decide which path is the right one to take.

My thoughts:

This is not my normal reading material at all, so I had a bit of a tough time getting into it.  The book starts out fairly slow, so that contributed as well.  Once I got several chapters in, the action and intrigue picked up and then I couldn’t put it down!  The best way I can describe this story is to say that if a Hallmark movie were to become a book, this would be it.  If that’s too feel-good and emotional for you, you would have a tough time with this book.

There is a strong Christian element to the story, but it didn’t seem out of character, given that it’s about the Amish.  I appreciate all of the small details that the author included about the Amish way of life.  You can tell that she really did her homework.  The story itself is pretty good.  I wasn’t expecting rip-roaring suspense, but it kept my interest and made me want to read the next in the series.

I don’t want to give away the plot, but suffice it to say that Katie goes through an identity crisis of sorts.  She has to figure out what her future life will look like and deal with the consequences of her choice.  It’s rather heartbreaking, really.

I recommend The Shunning to those who enjoy tame romantic stories and reading about the Amish.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Katie Luther: The Graphic Novel: Mother of the Reformation by Susan K. Leigh

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Title: Katie Luther: The Graphic Novel: Mother of the Reformation by Susan K. Leigh

Premise:

Katie Luther was a former nun and the wife of the chief architect of the Reformation, Martin Luther.  This book talks about her childhood, her time in the convent, and her life after leaving the convent.  She worked tirelessly beside Martin Luther to care for her family and allow Martin to focus on his work with the church.

My thoughts:

If you’ve read the graphic novel from Concordia called Martin Luther: Echoes of the Hammer, you’ll notice a lot of similarities between these two books.  Some of the illustrations are the same, as well as the information about Martin Luther which is pertinent to both stories.

Katie took her vows as a nun at age sixteen.  She later read some of Martin Luther’s writings and started to question the accepted church doctrine of the time.  Martin Luther actually helped facilitate the escape of Katie and several other nuns from the convent where they resided.  Katie helped manage a couple of households before she and Martin married and started their own family life.  She worked tirelessly to provide for her family, keep their large home provisioned and cared for, hosted many guests and students, and opened her home as a hospital when the plague swept through.  Martin Luther’s work would not have been so successful without the support and unsung labors of his wife which allowed him to focus on the work of the Reformation.  Like its companion book, this one is not without bias.  However, it focuses more on Katie’s role than on the disputes between the Protestant and Catholic churches.

I recommend Katie Luther: Mother of the Reformation to kids who want to learn about the Reformation and those who contributed to its success.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Luther: The Graphic Novel: Echoes of the Hammer by Susan K. Leigh

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Title: Luther: The Graphic Novel: Echoes of the Hammer by Susan K. Leigh

Premise:

Martin Luther becomes an Augustinian monk, under the leadership of the Catholic church.  When he starts studying the Bible for himself, he comes to question some of the church’s teachings.  Luther seeks reform within the Catholic church to return to a form of worship and practices which more closely mirror that of the early church.  Eventually he is excommunicated and ends up being a very important contributor to the Reformation.

My thoughts:

This is a dense graphic novel!  It includes a lot of Luther’s timeline and other facts which have a bearing on his story, so it can feel more like textbook reading than a comic book at times.  Even though the interest factor wanes a bit when they have to provide some deeper explanations, I think they did a fair job of balancing the action with the information.  The illustrations were very nicely done, too.

The story of Luther’s life was quite interesting.  I didn’t remember much about what he accomplished, except that he translated the Bible into German so that everyday people would have access to it.  I think this is an excellent book to introduce young people to Luther’s life, but it is not without bias.  I noticed a few statements when the author inserts their personal opinion into the narrative, instead of just sharing the facts.  I’m not too surprised though, since the book is published by Concordia.

I recommend Luther: Echoes of the Hammer to parents who want to introduce their kids to the history of Martin Luther and the Reformation.  Personally, I would talk with my kids about the fact that the book is a bit biased.  It’s good for kids to be able to identify when opinion is being presented as fact.  😉

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Islands of the Blessed by Nancy Farmer

islands-of-the-blessed

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I finished the final book in the Sea of Trolls trilogy–The Islands of the Blessed. I think this was the best book in the series!

Premise:

Jack and his companions must go on another quest to save his village.  A draugr, or undead spirit, has been drawn to the little town by a magical bell.  She is seeking revenge for an old wrong done to her and will harm anyone who gets in her way.  Can the Bard, Jack and Thorgil get justice for the draugr before her patience runs out and someone else is hurt?

My thoughts:

I thought this was the best book in the series!  The characters have gained more depth and the plot has become more satisfyingly complex.

It’s great seeing the old characters again–especially the Northmen.  Skakki, Olaf One-Brow’s son, is an admirable man and a great leader.  The Bard saw much more action in this story and displayed more of his impressive magical skills.  Magic is just so much fun!  Jack and Thorgil also matured in this tale and their companionship finally develops into something safe and comforting.

The fin folk, or mermaids, were a really fun and imaginative people group.  I’ve never seen the concept of merfolk developed so fully, and it was interesting to see how the author imagined their homes, social customs, etc.

It seems like this is a series that could keep going, especially since there are characters whose stories didn’t wrap up–Pega, Lucy, Brutus, Hazel, etc.  I was disappointed that Pega’s character and story line weren’t developed more.  It seemed like there was a really good story wrapped up in her existence, but in the end nothing of great importance happened to her.  Jack and Thorgil’s entrance into the School of Bards sets the scene for another series of stories, but I don’t know that any will be forthcoming.  Islands of the Blessed was published in 2009.

This is a great book for kids in the elementary to teen age range, or as a family read-aloud.  Those who are interested in Norse mythology or the early interplay of Druid and Christian religions will appreciate the subject matter most.

Possible Objections:

  • One instance of the a-word

Rating: 4 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

The Unofficial Holy Bible for Minecrafters: A Children’s Guide to the Old & New Testament by Garrett Romines & Christopher Miko

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I spotted The Unofficial Holy Bible for Minecrafters at the library and had to bring it home to check it out.  My boys are very into Minecraft, as I’m sure many other kids are.  What better than to illustrate Bible stories using Minecraft illustrations?!

Premise:

This book contains an assortment of Bible stories which are illustrated Minecraft-style.  The illustrations are actual builds which somebody did in the Minecraft game.  The choice of stories is random and this is by no means a complete Bible.  Also the text of the stories is vastly shortened, resembling the style of comic books.

My thoughts:

Personally, I wouldn’t choose to sit down and read this book because Minecraft doesn’t appeal to me.  However, my boys love Minecraft and I can see how this book would hook them into reading about the stories of the Bible while enjoying the visuals of the Minecraft world.

Kids will not gain great understanding of the Bible by reading this book, but it is a fun way for them to enjoy the stories in another format.  I’ve found that younger boys in particular seem to gravitate towards a comics-style Bible versus a regular one.

This book would make a great gift, or addition to a church’s library.  It would also be a good way to get a child to read who is interested in Minecraft, but not much of a reader.

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Holding On to Hope: A Pathway through Suffering to the Heart of God by Nancy Guthrie

holding-on-to-hope

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Another read from some time ago is Holding On to Hope.  I don’t know where I got this book from; it had been sitting on my shelf for quite some time.  Since I’ve had bouts of feeling hopeless lately, I thought it might be time to read it.

Premise:

Nancy and her husband share recessive genes for a rare birth disorder.  They lost two children to this disease and Nancy writes from a place of great pain.  She shares her story, but intersperses Job’s story, as well.  (You know, the guy from the Bible who lost everything in one day and ended up covered in painful boils.)  She raises insights into why God allows suffering, what emotions are normal in the midst of it, how we can move forward, and how it can help us in our relationship with God.

My thoughts:

As I got a couple of chapters into the book, I honestly wanted to shut it and put it back on the shelf.  There were some hard truths in there that I really didn’t want to think about.  I was feeling justified in some of my feelings, and didn’t want to be told that perhaps I was wrong.  I didn’t want to take the higher road or be the bigger person.  I wanted to wallow in my self-pity.  What’s so wrong with that?

I decided that I should try to slog through the rest of the book, even though it was telling me some things I didn’t want to hear.  It did get better, both in broadening my mental horizons and in helping me to understand where the author was coming from.

If you have experienced loss, pain, disappointment, or anything else that has made you feel totally defeated, then I think this book is for you.  You may not like all that it has to say, but I think you’ll still gain some helpful insights.  The book is relatively short, so it shouldn’t be a big chore to make it through.

This book is written from a Christian perspective, so if that’s not your thing, you may want to skip it.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

Kingdom Works: True Stories about God and His People in Inner City America by Bart Campolo

kingdom-works

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Kingdom Works is another social justice book which I read some time ago.  For those of you interested in that subject, this book is full of anecdotal stories from an inner-city Christian ministry director.

Premise:

This is a collection of stories from Bart Campolo, the leader of a volunteer organization called Mission Year.  Mission Year brings young people into the inner city to live together in community with other young Christians, to partner with local churches, and to minister in their communities.  All of the stories come out of that setting.  It isn’t meant to be a textbook on how to do ministry, nor does it outline deep spiritual insights that can be learned from each story.

My thoughts:

I enjoyed reading this book, though there are parts that are uncomfortable to read.  When it isn’t just a made up story, but the heartache experienced by real people, it can be difficult to look at.  Our natural inclination is to turn away.  Each of the stories, whether things turned out good, bad or somewhere in between, has insights to offer and will broaden your thinking.  That is where the value lies in this book–it makes you think and it challenges your preconceived ideas.  Most stories leave you with more questions than you started with and wondering about theological issues and how they relate to the problems shared.

A couple of favorite quotes:

In speaking of the type of ministry that Mission Year engages in, Bart said, “This is not a high-powered evangelism ministry.  There are plenty of those already.  This is a settle-down-and-love-your-neighbor ministry, where the evangelism has to come naturally if it comes at all.” (p.31)

“In that awful moment I realized for the first time that out there in the real world the choices are not always between right and wrong, but sometimes between bad and worse.” (p. 53)

I would recommend this book for adults and possibly high schoolers, depending on their maturity level.  Many of the stories talk about things like drinking, drugs, sex, and violence.

Possible Objections:

  • Some violence
  • Sexual themes
  • Drug references

Rating: 4 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

An Amish Harvest: Four Novellas by Beth Wiseman, Kathleen Fuller, Amy Clipston, Vannetta Chapman

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I have never read an Amish romance novel before, so decided to try one out and see what all the fuss is about.  An Amish Harvest is a short book which consists of four novellas by four different authors.  The stories all revolve around the Amish way of life.

Because the stories are by four different authors, you will notice some differences in writing style and word usage.  The styles are all similar enough that it shouldn’t be too much of an issue.  The first story has to do with an Amish widow and an English (what the Amish call non-Amish people) widower; the second is about a man and woman who bond after an accident; the third tells the story of a couple of young people who are different from others in their community and find understanding in one another; the last one is about a mystery and how a couple of middle-aged people bond during the shared experience.  Please, don’t ply me for details–it will ruin the stories for you!

I enjoyed the first two stories very much.  They were engaging and the characters were likeable.  The third story was pretty good, though it was missing a certain something to make it sparkle.  I didn’t enjoy the fourth story at all.  It seems like the characters weren’t very endearing and the plot was not engaging enough.

I feel like this book would appeal to women who love a wholesome love story.  It’s a fun, short read that could fill up a couple of cozy evenings on the couch.

Rating: 3 1/2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.

Grieving the Loss of a Loved One: A Devotional of Comfort as You Mourn by Kathe Wunnenberg

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I chose Grieving the Loss of a Loved One as my free book from BookLook Bloggers to review.  Rest assured, I will be sharing my honest opinion with you.

This book is a devotional which is meant to help the reader work through their grief over the death of a loved one, or someone else who was close to them.  Each entry contains a passage of Scripture, a short story or anecdote, a prayer, and blank lines to record the progress of your own grief journey.  There are 52 devotions, so this could conceivably take you through an entire year.

When ordering the book, I didn’t at first realize that it was a devotional.  I got it mainly to read the author’s insights on grief, not to use it as a journaling exercise to work through my own grief.  Although I won’t be taking advantage of the journal portion of the book, there are still enough short entries that make it worth my while to read.  I have enjoyed the pertinent stories that go with each day’s theme.  It’s been helpful to learn how other people have dealt with their grief.  I also appreciate the thoughtful prayers at the end.  Sometimes it can be hard to put into words the things you are feeling when you’re grieving.

I would recommend this book as an appropriate gift to someone who has lost a loved one who they were very close to.  It’s overkill for what I term casual grief, and is aimed more at long-term grief.

Rating: 5 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

*Disclaimer: I received this book for free from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for an honest review, which I have provided here.

Heaven is for Real – Movie 2014

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I watched Heaven Is for Real, the movie adaptation of the book by the same name.  It’s the story of Colton Burpo’s visit to heaven while he was on the operating table for a ruptured appendix.  This young boy was not expected to survive because toxins had been pumping into his body for five days, but he miraculously pulled through.

The movie adaptation diverged from the book in a few places.  The beginning symptoms of Colton’s illness and subsequent doctor visit are simplified so that you don’t get the same sense of seriousness that you do in the book.  I thought that part should have been truer to the book.

Also, the way that Todd’s church and the community were unsupportive was fabricated for the movie.  There were also a couple of antagonists thrown in–Nancy and the psychologist.  I suppose these elements were added so that there would be some additional obstacles and challenges to overcome.  They did add some drama to the story which wasn’t present in the original.

I also have a nitpick about how Todd’s wife dressed.  I’ve known several pastor’s wives, and her clothing was entirely too revealing to fit her character.  I guarantee you that pastor’s wives in the Midwest do not dress like that.

Overall, I thought the movie was okay, but it’s not one that I’ll ever need to watch again.  It seems like it was constructed in such a way as to take the viewer on an emotional roller coaster, and that’s exactly what it did for me.

Rated: PG

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Unglued: Making Wise Choices in the Midst of Raw Emotions by Lysa TerKeurst

Unglued - WM

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Here’s another book from my Friends & Family Top Picks Reading Challenge.  I finished this book the other day, after going through it at a pace that was a little quicker than I would have liked.  I think this kind of book is best processed when you can go through it slowly, taking time to think about and implement the practices between chapters.

Unglued is a book that aims to help women deal with their raw emotions and figure out better ways to react to trying situations.  Lysa talks about how women can come unglued when they are put under trying circumstances, but that they don’t have to react in destructive ways.  According to Lysa, there are four reaction types: stuffer that builds barriers, stuffer that collects retaliation rocks, exploder that shames herself, and exploder that blames others.  The ideal emotional reaction that she wants readers to experience is called “soul integrity”.

I definitely relate to what Lysa is talking about when it comes to raw emotional reactions.  And I can see how I react in the ways she talks about, though it can be different depending on who or what I’m reacting to.  Unglued gave me a few reminders about different ways to deal with my emotions and how I can deal with trying situations in a more healthy manner.  So that part was good.

I’ll confess though, it wasn’t the most interesting read.  The writing style was not terribly impressive and seemed a little unpolished at times.

One other thing you should know is that Lysa’s examples deal with annoyances that are rather trivial.  She doesn’t talk about more serious situations such as betrayal, assault, etc.  Those situations create more intense and prolonged feelings which need to be dealt with in more depth and treated a bit differently.  That’s just my own belief.

I would recommend this book to women who find themselves getting annoyed at the petty things in life.  Whether you stuff or explode, there are some insights here that will probably help you deal with your emotions in a more positive manner.

Rating: 2 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

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Heaven is for Real by Todd Burpo with Lynn Vincent

Heaven for Real

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This is the first Friends & Family Top Picks – Reading Challenge book that I read.  (See my previous post to figure out what the heck I’m talking about.)  I remembered reading Heaven is for Real in the past, but I didn’t recall details well enough to do a thorough review.  I’m glad that I got the chance to read it again because it’s such an amazing story.  (If you don’t want the story spoiled, stop reading now.)

In a nutshell, this story is about a young boy who has memories of going to heaven and returning in a near death experience.  At the time, Colton was not quite four years old, and had started complaining about stomach pain.  His parents thought it was the stomach flu and because of a doctor’s faulty diagnosis, failed to get their son the medical treatment that he needed for a ruptured appendix.  This poor little guy ended up having poison pumping into his body for five days before being treated, at which point the doctors had no hope for a recovery.  Miraculously, Colton did survive!

Over an extended time period, Colton shared memories and information with his family which were quite startling.  He described Jesus, heaven, the Holy Spirit, told about meeting deceased family members, and was adamant about sharing God’s love with people.  Over time the many pieces of the puzzle came together for Colton’s parents and they realized that he was describing some type of out of body, heavenly experience.  They finally came to accept that what their son was describing had actually happened–he had actually gone to heaven.  This book is their attempt at sharing that testimony with others.

Personally, I was edified by the story.  I really like hearing about how others are trying to follow God’s path and the lessons they have learned along the way.  I also appreciate a good book that explores the themes of death and loss.  My sister died fourteen years ago and I still find healing by learning about how other people have dealt with loss.

Anyhow, Colton’s claims and descriptions don’t set off any alarm bells in my head, as far as squaring up with Scripture.  I’m not arguing that I absolutely believe, without a shadow of a doubt, that this really happened to him, but I’m open to entertaining the idea.  I don’t ask you to believe it, only to consider the idea and judge for yourself.

If you’re a Christian, you will probably enjoy this book and appreciate its sentiments.  If you’re open-minded, you will likely enjoy reading about this family’s story.  If anything Christian makes you a bit sick to your stomach, this is probably not the book for you.

Rating: 3 Stars

Until next time…

Lori

OTHER HEAVEN IS FOR REAL POSTS:

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