Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water by Hudson

Coffee-Tea-and-Holy-WaterThere are a lot of really great books out today from authors trying to call American Christians back from materialism, false idols and malaise – the American church – but this book takes us one step further by putting our version of Christianity in its place in the big picture. Not all Christianity is the same. Not all issues are the same. Not all methods are the same. But Christ is the same.

Coffee, Tea, and Holy Water:
One Woman’s Journey to Experience Christianity Around the Globe
by Amanda Hudson
Abingdon
March 2015

Amanda Hudson decided to visit five different countries to find out what Christianity was like on the ground and in the homes of the believers in those countries. What she finds is eye opening. Brazil, for instance, is extremely superstitious and much less materialistic and the challenges of spreading the Gospel are specific to their culture. Wales suffers from apathy and a post-Christian mindset. Tanzania, China and Honduras all have their own customs, their own challenges, their own versions of worship. Every new place she visits works to shed light on what American Christianity struggles with and ideas for overcoming those struggles.

This is part travelogue, part diary and part challenge to overcome American Christian issues, this book is a must read. As someone whow has been on short term trips to other countries I can attest to the need for Americans to think outside the borders of our narrow, very rich lives, and see the world and Christianity in the big picture. When we see how others live in abject poverty but demonstrate limitless generosity we are humbled. When we see actual idols – small statues! – next to statues of Christ, the Bible takes on a very real, very timely message for those who barely crack it open because of its otherness.

In my opinion, every Christian in America should visit Christians in other countries on short term trips, but if they can’t then books like this one are a must read. Christ is there in every culture, and finding Christ in the midst of all the different cultures in this book help readers cut out all the excess and see the beauty of a refined and purified Gospel.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Exhale by Plumb

plumbI’ve been a fan of Plumb since the late 90s – The Late Great Planet Earth blew me away back in the day! – and I am very excited to say that this album is everything I’d hoped for.

Exhale
by Plumb
Curb
May 2015

I recently had a chance to listen to and review a so-called worship album by Christy Nockels that sounded a ton like CCM. Contrast that with this album, which many would expect to be CCM due to the hit Lord, I’m Ready Now has been playing in high rotation on CCM stations, which is actually more of a worship album. A rock worship album, but hey, that’s good for me.

Of the songs on this album, my favorites are Smoke, Resurrection and Broken Places. In fact, the first 7 songs are the best in my opinion. After that, they get more introspective and the sound moves away from lyrical rock, which I think Plumb does best. Overall, this is a great album for rock fans of Plumb and CCMers looking for something new and a little deeper than the average CCM.

Do you want to see for yourself? Post a reply here or send in a comment via email for a chance to win a digital download of this CD! One random winner will be announced after the contest closes May 22nd. Choice of winner is ours alone. Only one entry per address. Winner cannot have won a prize from FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days on this or any other site.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This CD was provided by the publisher via FlyBy Promotions as a review copy.

Faith of Our Fathers by Pure Flix Entertainment

Faith-of-our-fathers-movie-posterArmed with high hopes and a bag of snacks, I attended a pre-screener of the faith-filled family film, Faith of Our Fathers.

Faith of Our Fathers
Pure Flix Entertainment
July 2015

I genuinely enjoyed it; however, I left feeling grieved that it fell short of what it could have been. I have the unsettling conviction that it will draw scathing criticisms from people outside the Christian faith, many of them merited.

It cannot be denied that, at times, the acting is stilted, the plot under cooked, and the credibility almost totally lacking. (For example, Rebecca St. James’s cameo as a sultry car thief, though well acted, was pretty ridiculous).

Be that as it may, it held my interest throughout and made me laugh out loud more than once. More importantly than that, it is a movie that glorifies Jesus Christ and proclaims the gospel message. Also, what with its messages on faith, patriotism, friendship, and fatherhood, Faith of Our Fathers has more substance than most of the drivel that one can find in movie theaters these days.

(Be forewarned, this movie contains war violence, so you might not want to show it to the younger kiddies).


Jaime Jane Motok is a violin teacher by trade, a lover of Narnia, funny movies, Simon and Garfunkel and the perfect cup of Joe.

A preview version of this movie was provided by the producers for review.

Wabanaki Blues by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel

wabanaki-blues-coverMona Lisa LaPierre’s parents give her little notice that she’ll be spending the summer after graduation  in a remote cabin with her curmudgeonly grandfather.    Mona must learn who she is in the face of family secrets and her dual Native American heritage.

Wabanaki Blues
by Melissa Tantaquidgeon Zobel
The Poisoned Pencil
June 2015

When Mona’s parents announce they’ll be heading to Russia to study bears, Mona is shocked to learn she’ll be spending the time with her granfather in remote New England woods.  She is forced to miss graduation and the chance to get her crush, Beetle, to notice her before they part.

Mona, the child of both Mohegan and Abenaki tribes, has a passion for blues.  This passion and the voice of her grandmother Bilki keep her grounded as she goes on a journey to learn the truth about a young woman’s disappearance and in reality, about herself.

Zobel, being Native American herself, really paid tribute to her heritage.  Instead of watering down Native traditions and stories, they took forefront in this novel.  Zobel shares her traditions and writes them with such reverence and respect.

I REALLY wanted to like this book.  Unfortunately, too many story lines and crossing details made it hard to keep the different parts of the story straight.  It’s a genuine coming of age story told in an uncoventional way, which I appreciate.  It just became very complex in a way that wasn’t able to keep me engaged.  Complex in the name of suspense is fantastic.  This just fell short of that for me.


Robin Gwaro is the Young Adult and Women’s Literature Editor at Bookgateway.com. She currently spends her days wrangling her 8 year old science nerd and 5 month old busy body.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

 

Never Fight Again . . . Guaranteed! by Hawkins

neverfightWhen you say something is guaranteed it really only promotes the sale if there is a chance that the thing for sale may not actually be – on its face – obviously going to work. But this book promotes as “Groundbreaking” common sense ways of dealing with conflict that will work. Without the need for a guarantee.

Never Fight Again… Guaranteed!
Groundbreaking Practices for a Win-Win Marriage
by David B. Hawkins
Abingdon
July 2014

This may seem to suggest that the book isn’t useful or good at doing what it promises. That’s not the intention in this review. Rather it’s a commentary on the sensationalism of the title and calling Dr. Hawkins “Your Relationship Doctor.” We get it, you want to sell this book. But when I’m looking for relationship advice I’d rather read about how the help is going to actually help rather than ad copy. Enough of this, how is the book?

The book will help you stop fighting if you actually change how you fight into one of not fighting. Circular, right? What Dr. Hawkins promotes is empathy, courtesy, charity and self control. Not groundbreaking, but perhaps not mentioned enough in books like these. I’ve read most of the big names in this industry and most relationship book focus on explaining behavior then responding to the behavior once you understand where it’s coming from. Men are from Mars so they act this way… Woman need love while men need respect… and so on. This book avoids dealing with the consequences of behavior by challenging the reader to change how they respond in a way that may be summarized as simply, “It’s not healthy to fight.”

So if it’s not healthy to fight then it’s not healthy to argue. It’s not healthy to let your emotions loose or vent. Instead, control your tongue and focus on loving your spouse. If this sounds familiar it really should be for buyers of Abingdon books because this is straight out of Proverbs and Jesus’ sermons. Love your enemies. Be patient. Return love for hate and so on. Which brings me to a concern. This is a “Christian” publisher and the author does quote the Bible at times but there isn’t a clear connection to the source material that if Dr. Hawkins were quoting ideas by any other author or book than the Bible you’d expect citations. There are very few quotes from the Bible here, but the ideas seem to be influenced heavily by them.

(One other thing: the initial quote in the book about how good and pleasing it is when “families” live together in harmony is a misquote. Only the CEB uses families. In all other translations this is better translated as “members of the community of believers” or “brothers and sisters [in the faith].” I had previously thought highly of the CEB but this is a red flag. What other small changes were made?)

Overall, any reader who listens to these words and takes them to heart wont fight. Because basically the book is saying to not fight, don’t fight. Not a bad message, but not groundbreaking. I believe the book over promises on an overly obvious principle. The Dr. is right, but you don’t need the book to know it in my opinion.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

I Am Princess X by Priest

PrincessXForced by circumstances to sit out together during PE, Libby and May became the best of friends. Together they created Princess X and wrote story after story together. Until tragedy strikes And Libby is taken from May’s life.

I Am Princess X
by Cherie Priest
Arthur A. Levine Books
May 2015

After the funeral, Libby’s father moved away and donates everything in their home – including all the stories and artwork for Princess X. May becomes distraught at losing both her best friend and their creation. Then May’s parents divorce and life competes its turn towards terrible.

Three years later, May is staying with her father in Seattle and comes across the most unexpected of things: a sticker featuring Princess X! And then she finds more. And a webcomic… that tells the story of of Libby’s tragedy in a completely unexpected way. Had someone found their stories and changed them or is Libby somehow so alive?

Adventure ensues as May starts looking for clues to solve the mystery of the webcomic and uncover the true story of what halogens that night to Libby.

This is an outstanding, tense book! It’s a mystery, drama and young reader novel all in one and the best part is that no fluffy romance muddling up the core story. No love triangles.

NOTE FOR SOME PARENTS: The only complaints I had were in just a few small parts that as an adult I don’t mind but since this is a book for young readers (middle to high school) they probably could have been avoided. First the only mention of religion is when May and Libby come across an “angry white man” shouting about how sinners go to hell. That’s an overplayed negative bias that had no part in the story. Second, there are a couple throw away sentences about “marriage equality” that play no part in the story. Again, political bias displayed for no reason. Every family in the book is divorced. Every family. Divorce happens but not at a rate of 100%. Finally, one of the latter main characters is gay. Since none of the characters hook up, sexual preference isn’t explained for any other characters and romance plays no part in the story this is irrelevant. One has to wonder why they are included.

I’m not suggesting that there can’t be hateful religious characters, gay people, divorce or political issues in books. But almost all of these are not necessary to the story and story pop up out of no where and don’t go anywhere. For children I’d prefer we stay away from these topics if we can.

A great story that’s very well written with only a few small decisions that some parents may object to.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Lizard War by Patton

battlebugsMax loves bugs. All kinds of bugs. So when his mother brings him an ancient book of bugs and corresponding magnifying glass you can imagine his excitement! That enthusiasm quickly turns to terror when he finds himself on an island in the book, small, and facing an Emperor Scorpion!

The Lizard War
Battle Bugs (Book 1)
by Jack Patton
Scholastic

Somehow, Max finds himself inside the book, on the map in the center of it on Bug Island. Another island, hosting the Lizard Empire, has recently had an eruption of their local volcano where the lava has formed a land bridge to Bug Island. The lizards are now filing across the new bridge to the massive amounts of food (bugs) available on this island. Max, lacking all the cool powers and abilities of bugs uses the one thing humans have that bugs don’t – his large brain – to help the bugs fight back.

But that’s not exactly how it goes though. The story is full of loop holes in logic and storytelling. Max is at heart a lover of nature but for some reason he dislikes lizards – who are evil because they eat bugs, but bugs that eat bugs are not evil, like the spider or scorpion he befriends – and sides with the bugs. [SPOILERS] His big brain helps in two very small ways, 1) telling the bugs to attack the lizards on the nostrils, and 2) telling them to escape across a fast moving stream by cutting down a tree. Neither of those ideas display knowledge of bug specific abilities or human specific knowledge. You could say that the beetle cuts down the tree because they chew through wood to be bug specific, but why didn’t the beetle think of it? The “Battle” bugs don’t actually fight much, and the story ends with them running away across the stream and Max going back home. [END SPOILERS]

In the end, you don’t have much or a story at all. Almost nothing happens. No character development. No battles. Very little learning about the bugs. It’s a big shrug. I let my science loving 8 year old read it and he gave up, calling it boring.

This is a cross between Honey I Shrunk the Kids (shrinking and adventure) and Ant Bully (but where Max actually likes bugs) but it’s not as funny and much less happens. In my opinion, there isn’t much to recommend it.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die by Marnie Riches

girlwhowouldntdie

The University of Amsterdam is sent into a panic after a series of murders and explosions. Georgina McKenzie is invited to help keep an eye out for anything suspicious that happens on campus.  What she doesn’t realize is that someone is also keeping an eye on her.

The Girl Who Wouldn’t Die
by Marnie Riches
Harper Collins, Maze
April 2015

When Georgina, or George as she’s known to her friends,  finds herself in the middle of what’s assumed to be a religiously driven terror plot, she ends up getting more than she bargained for.  Friends and classmates begin to die with no understood connection.

George goes beyond her initial “eyes peeled” request and begins to dig further into what is going on.  As a result, the main inspector on the case comes to her for recommendations.  As she gets deeper and deeper into the case, George finds herself more in the center of the investigation that she ever thought she’d be.

This novel is AMAZING!  This is the first of Riches’ work that I’ve read, and I would quickly grab another!  What seems to start out as a simple crime store with religious motivation quickly becomes so much more.  Riches throws a plot twist into the novel that is completely unexpected, yet perfectly executed in this fast-paced, exciting novel.

While some of the loose ends were tied up, Riches left just enough open for George’s return to another novel coming in August of this year, and I can’t wait to read it!

 


Robin Gwaro is the Young Adult and Women’s Literature Editor at Bookgateway.com. She currently spends her days wrangling her 8 year old science nerd and 5 month old busy body.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

 

Let It Be Jesus by Christy Nockels

nockelsI’ve enjoyed listened to Watermark and Passion in the past, both Christy Nockels. I recognize that when it comes to music, personal tastes will drive a lot of whether or not someone enjoys something. All that to say that you may very well enjoy this album and I hope you understand when I say that I didn’t as much as I thought I would.

Let it Be Jesus
by Christy Nockels
sixstepsrecords
April 2015

Let it Be Jesus was recorded live, but doesn’t flow like a normal service. There is almost no background noise, crowd noise or continuation from one song to another on most tracks. (Some do have noticeable crowd noise especially towards the end, like If You Never, but once done, the sound starts completely over, like on Leaning On You.) I found most of the songs to be much more CCM than worship oriented. What I mean is that most songs were from the perspective of the singer and what God has done for them or what they will do now that they have God, which is what CCM usually covers. Examples include, Rock of Ages, Find Me at the Feet of Jesus, or My Anchor. Most songs are not directed at God, which is what you would find in worship songs. (This isn’t all of them, of course. Leaning on You is a very good worship song directed toward God.) Some songs were hard to describe. I’m not sure what Everything is Mine in You is about. I’d like to read more about that Theology. I can guess, but it’s not clear, which I think worship should be. (Again, preferences, right?)

Also most songs tend not to build or swell. Very little urgency in them. Ballad focused (again the CCM focus). This is a shame as Nockels has a strong voice and could totally have rocked some more up tempo songs. The closest you get would be the overly happy Freedom Song or how My Anchor starts to build but then plateaus and stays at middling urgency. There isn’t an Oceans or Brave here.

Overall, I found this album to be a calm, relaxing CCM studio sounding album. A couple worship tracks but for the most part something we will find on the radio in coming months. You know, safe for the whole family stuff. As for me, I’ll grab Bethel or United next time I’m looking for something to worship along with.

Congrats to Kathrine E. of Murfreesboro, TN for winning a download of this album! For more chances to win, click the Giveaway page in the menu drop down above.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This CD was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Eeny Meeny by Arlidge

arlidge

What would you do if you had to make a choice?  If you were imprisoned with no food, no water, someone you know, and a gun?  Two go in, but only one can come out.   How do you choose?

Eeny Meeny
by M. J. Alridge
Penguin Group
June 2015

Helen Grace is a respected, hard-working Detective Inspector.   She has been charged with leading the investigation into a heinous serial killer who forces victims to make a choice between his/her own life or the life of his/her fellow captive.  Initially, Grace doesn’t believe the stories the victims are telling, until the capture repeats itself several more times.

Grace must follow a sadistic mind, battling her own demons as she goes.  She is forced to confront the limitations of her present and the horrors of her past as she races to stop the orchestrator of these horrible crimes.

Based on the background, I was really hoping to like this novel.  I am a fan of a crime stories, so I was really excited to get into this one.  As the story started, it seemed pretty promising.  There’s the central crime, as well as some office intrigue that leaves many of the inspectors and officers distrustful.

Even with that, as the story progressed, it was less and less what I thought it would be.  Sometimes, this is a good thing.  In the case of Eeny Meeny, it wasn’t.   There were many moments where the change in point of view was jarring.   While I think the intention was to keep the character shrouded in mystery, the transitions weren’t smooth.

Also, I completely recognize this is the first in what will be a series of novels featuring Helen Grace.  That being said, as a reader I needed more of her background to be unfolded earlier in the story for the ending to not be so jarring.  It felt completely out of left field, again not in a good way.

So overall, I’m not sure I’d be interested enough in this series or Helen Grace as a character to read additional entries into this series.  She needed more to humanize her and make her likeable to the reader.  That didn’t really happen for me.

 


Robin Gwaro is the Young Adult and Women’s Literature Editor at Bookgateway.com.  She currently spends her days wrangling her 8 year old science nerd and 5 month old busy body.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

 

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