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.

 

Forty Days of Meditation by Hawkins

meditationReading the scriptures every day and then pondering thought provoking questions are worthy uses of a devout Christian’s time. So this book has to be a great resource, right? For several reasons this book falls short of its goals.

Forty Days of Meditation
A Scripture Journal
by Pam Hawkins
Common English Bible
January 2015

Each day the “journal” has three to five passages from the Bible, all in Common English Bible version, with a meditation question. Day 1 for instance has Exodus 20:1-6 (God warning against making idols with threats about punishment to the third or fourth generation), Psalm 95:1-7 (a song of thanks to the God and Lord of all things and an exhortation to bow down to him), Mark 12:28-31 (Jesus saying that the greatest commandment was loving God, with everything in you, and loving neighbors), and Ephesians 4:1-6 (Paul calling believers to live in unity with other believers because there is only one Lord.) The meditation for this day is, “What difference does it make for you that the Lord of life is “one Lord,” one God, and that you are called to have no other gods? Recall a season of life where another “god” claimed your loyalty.”

On the face, that’s not a bad combo. There are passages about idols and a single God to worship from the Pentateuch, the Psalms, the Gospels and the Epistles with a question about “one Lord.” But where it fails is in exposition. There is an assumption here that the reader would understand what idols are, which I think is not appropriate. Consider a normal person looking to get closer to God. Ask them what other “gods” they worship (and maybe read them the Exodus passage) and they may honestly be confused. They are not Hindu, or Muslim, or any other religion that worships another “god.” It is the responsibility of the writer to engage the reader at their level and briefly explain what they mean by other “gods.”

Not all meditations are clear. Day four asks the reader to “Name and describe a “wide open” or “deserted” place where you have felt close to God…” without context of what to do with that feeling. Conversely, some of the meditations are excellent. Consider Day 11, “What is the difference for you between believing something about God and believing in God?” Others are just as poignant. I’d like to believe this isn’t a preference thing, but the fact is that when we read books it’s impossible to remove our bias and expectations. For me, the meditations were generally loosely tied to the passages and in many cases vague in a not helpful way.

I also have a problem with calling this a “journal” because there is often less than half a page on which to write. For such a small book (122 pages), there was certainly room enough to add 40 more pages to give room to actually journal. (Not having these pages to write on cannot have been a cost saving thing as we are already being charged $9.99 suggested retail for 120 pages. That’s 0.08 a page! Normal novels – 350 pages or so – come in at $0.02, or four times less. My point: this is overpriced and certainly could have added the “journal” part into this “scripture journal.”)

In conclusion, it’s hard to imagine someone reading this and actually meditating on each day and not growing. I believe, however, that it could have been much better with a little more clarity in the meditations and the addition of the journaling pages.


@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.

Grace of God

An ex-detective finds himself investigating the disappearance of $30,000 from a church. The question of money turns out to be secondary to the question of faith. But is the question well asked?

Grace of God
A Story of Easter Traditions
Phase4Films
March 2015

Why this is a story of “Easter Traditions” is unclear. What it is – basically – is a long form sermon illustration about a group of people at a church finding their way. A mother who finds her daughter (and more), a daughter who finds strength to stand up to abuse, an investigator who (is this really a spoiler?) finds God. Everything fits so tightly together you’d think it was made up! Ha. Ha. Ahem. Yeah. It’s like that.

The film isn’t good. I found the plot is mediocre at best. Editing was harsh and quick. The characters are cookie cutter: an ex-thug who found the light, a self sacrificial, peaceful preacher, a smart-allecky daughter, and so on. At times, the acting was outstandingly bad. I wonder when Christians are going to hold entertainment up to the standards that we should expect instead of just being happy that there was a story with a “happy” ending and no cussing.

(I say happy here in quotes because I’m not certain that the outcome was the best one.)

I don’t recommend it and I hope other Christians will avoid the film and send the message to the producers that we expect more. Stories don’t have to be neat, they don’t have to be clean, they don’t have to quote the Bible every few minutes. The Bible itself isn’t neat or clean and does a way better job showing the way.


@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 movie was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other) by Rodkey

TapperMaybe it’s the comic book lover in me, but I love the trend in young reader / teen reader books including art, graphics, comics and diagrams to further the story. I think about Captain Underpants, Dork Diaries and others. This book does also does this very well. And it’s a good book, too.

The Tapper Twins Go to War (With Each Other)
by Geoff Rodkey
Little, Brown Books for Young Readers
April 2015

Reece and Claudia are siblings that just can’t stop one-upping each other with pranks. How it started may be a misunderstanding but at this point its on. And the best part is that they determine to document the whole thing in this book. Both siblings use the book to provide evidence against the other. Evidence is presented in diagrams, illustrations, pictures and narrative form.

I love that the story includes both perspectives (although lead by Claudia) – the way the book is written naturally illustrates the ongoing “war.” Bickering is documented. They argue with each other as the author changes perspectives regularly. The book also includes “interviews,” “stolen” screen shots of phone texts and such with other characters, like the parents, the sitter and friends at school.

(I also loved the useless trivia hidden in pictures and diagrams, which reminded of asides on Family Guy (but clean) or the Simpsons. Sarcastic, silly and fun.)

While the book is written for Middle Schoolers but adults will enjoy it as well. It is clean, so no worries. Consequences are natural and shown so lessons also get learned. A fun book.


@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 Choose You Today: 31 Choices to Make Love Last by DeArmond

chooseyoutodayThe problem with marriage today isn’t any kind of external pressure. Instead it’s internal expectations. “Happily every after,” marriages of “my” dreams, and so on. We think the other person is automatically going to make us happy and meet our needs. We think that marriage is about what we get out of it. We count on our spouses to “complete us.” But that’s not how it works.

I Choose You Today: 31 Choices to Make Love Last
by Deb DeArmond
Abingdon Press
January 2015

DeArmond does a great job resetting expectations in this book. Love is a choice that has to be made every day by both spouses. True love is sacrifical, not selfish. And for those who want the best possible marriage, this is a great place to start.

I Choose You Today starts with choosing God, then moves into choosing our spouses. First in pursuit, loving and blessing then on to honoring, trusting, forgiving to finding our places in relationship by sharing burdens, submission to each other, service and then to fun things like intimacy, romance, laughing and so on. Each day we read about a topic with witty, charming illustrations, along with purposeful self discovery questions to consider, a Bible verse and a common sense quote and then a sample prayer.

I found that following through this guide helped remind myself of my responsibilities in my marriage. If you’re looking for something to remind you of the best parts of marriage and maybe give your marriage a boost this is a great place to start.


@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.

Implications Abound by Adam4d

2015-03-17-implications-abound2Like The Oatmeal, but for Theology Nerds.

Implications Abound
A collection of curiously Christian comics
by Adam4d
CreateSpace Independent
March 2015

In his first collection of comics from his website, Adam4d chose an eclectic collection of his work. Some of it is clearly earlier – the art is less detailed, and tends to be more issue based – while some looks and works like some of his more recent work – having more detailed characters acting out quotes from historical figures, pastors and authors or providing more in-depth commentary on Christian issues. While the art style varies, the theme is the same: modern Christianity is under the microscope. But it never comes across as intending to harm.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-58-01-1 Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-58-10-1

Some use satire simply as an attack, while others make a point. (Think political cartoons). Adam4d’s work is primarily a way of teaching. Even those who may feel attacked have to admit that it wasn’t the artist who did the attacking; it is the Word, quoted faithfully in context, or quotes from theological and intellectual greats from history that convicts.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-56-10-1If there was a letdown it was in how short the book was. I understand that with full color it would have to be shorter to be affordable, but, like many fans of his webcomic, I have my favorites that I’d have liked to see included. Some of his newer stuff is really top notch as well. But that’s what the second collection if for, right?

With religious work there can be – rightly so – concerns about orthodox views. Nothing I’ve read so far would not be considered orthodox. While I don’t know the author, his work strikes me as tending to Reformed if any set of doctrinal beliefs without any controversial or secondary issues to cause readers of different backgrounds to stumble. If you are an orthodox Christian you will find a lot to agree with here. Beware, though, should you hold to unorthodox beliefs as they will come under the scrutiny of the Word.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-52-26-1I haven’t had as much fun reading about theologians, laughing at (and being rebuked for) so-called Christian behavior, or learning complex theological arguments in clear, deep ways since I read Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like a few years back. Hilarious, poignant, needed. This webcomic and book are part satire, part teaching, and part rebuke and 100% required reading.

I highly 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.

2014 BookGateway.com Booky Awards

BookyBookGateway.com is pleased to announce its books of the year award, the Bookys, for books published in 2014!

The Booky is awarded annually by the editors of BookGateway.com, a book review website for reviewers and book bloggers founded in 2010 with the express goal of encouraging a lifestyle of continued learning through the love and practice of reading. The Booky awards recognize the best books published and reviewed at BookGateway.com during the preceding year. Each reviewer that submits at least 10 reviews during the calendar year along with each Genre Editor of BookGateway.com can nominate books for Booky award recognition. Final decisions are made by the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com.


Children’s & Teens:
Galaxy’s Most Wanted
Written by John Kloepfer | Illustrated by Nick Edwards | HarperCollins | July 2014
From the review: “I would call this a perfectionist’s masterpiece. All the adventure and non-stop fun and danger made me not want to put the book down. And it’s a cliffhanger, too. I’m dying to read the next book. It was absolutely amazing.”


Fantasy:
Raising Steam
by Terry Pratchett | Doubleday / Randomhouse Audio | March 2014
From the review: “What’s interesting is that Pratchett threw most of the protagonist from his last several series together in this one in a sort of all star cast of funny and it worked! Vimes and Moist play off each other very well. Vetinari gets to exercise his awesome evilness at times, although unseen, of course. And characters from all over the Discworld make an appearance. All that to say that anyone who enjoys any of the Discworld series will love this one. Funny as always but building towards more.”


Graphic Novels:
Outcast
written by Robert Kirkman | art by Paul Azaceta | Image: Skybound | June 2014
From the review: “The artwork by Azaceta is dark, brooding and heavy. Which is perfect. The story is tight and intriguing. A book that horror and suspsense fans will be thrilled to read. It is also a book that fans of the Walking Dead and Kirkman’s other work (not counting his superhero stuff) will enjoy because of the complex character development. This is another story where the supernatural is merely the setting that our characters move through.”


Non-Fiction:
The Answer to Bad Religion is Not No Religion
by Martin Thielen | Westminster John Knox Press | February 2014
From the review: “There is a lot of bad press about Christians today. Sure, a lot of negativity is stirred up in Hollywood but there is enough smoke here to say a fire exists. So a message that clearly explains why someone shouldn’t abandon Christianity because of Christians is a welcome and needed one.”

10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know
by Kari Kampakis | Thomas Nelson| November 2014
From the review: “Reading through the book I not only thought these were truths that my daughters should know but that I wished that I had known these things when I was a teen. These really are “ultimate truths” as they speak to who we are as created and loved beings and speak to an inner peace that just doesn’t come from any other source but the foundation of God. This is a must read for teenaged girls and their parents. I highly recommend it.”


Romance & Chick Lit:
The River
by Beverly Lewis | Bethany House | September 2014
From the review: “This is a story of redemption, healing, forgiveness, and family. Both girls have to find peace and resolve and be content in their decision that led them away from their Amish roots… this is a worthwhile story that will pull at your heart strings and break your heart at the same time.”


Science Fiction:
Star Wars: Tarkin
by James Luceno | LucasBooks & Randomhouse Audio | November 2014
From the review: “Luceno’s great accomplishment is how he has readers cheering for Tarkin’s success. We grow to like him and understand his decisions. (Obviously not those decisions in the movies, but the decisions prior to those that made up his character.) I don’t recall the last time I rooted for the bad guy. I’m not talking anti-hero here, but actual bad guy.”


Thriller & Suspense:
Personal
by Lee Child | Delacorte Press / Random House Audio | September 2014
From the review: “Child’s character and this story is outstanding. Far and away more enjoyable than most “big name” series I’ve read over the last decade. I’m definitely a fan from this point on and the great news is that I’ve got a bunch of old books to catch up on!”

Deep Black Sea
by David M. Salkin | Permuted Press | June 2014
From the review: “In my opinion, this book is perfectly set up for being made for a movie. It has everything that other survival horror movies has but it’s in a situation that hasn’t been done often or for a while. There have been some movies set at these depths but not many. And the pace of this book is very similar to that of a movie. I read most of it in a single night – not wanting to put it down. Very cinematic.”

The 5 Love Languages for Men by Chapman

5-Love-Languages-of-MenThe newest books in the popular ‘Love Languages’ series by Dr. Chapman are out and they focus on their target audience: men or women. The question is, what makes this book worthy of your purchase rather than the original?

The 5 Love Languages for Men
by Dr. Gary d. Chapman
Northfield Publishing
December 2014

This is in fact a very good question considering there are other versions of this book that already cater to men – “The 5 Love Languages Men’s Edition: The Secret to Love That Lasts” which came out in 2010. There are – and this is very surprising! – 128 total books available by Dr. Chapman on Amazon, the vast majority of which are derivatives of the original “Five Love Languages”. Interestingly, quite a lot of the books that are not specifically about the Love Languages deal with anger and apologizing. That is interesting because the only two sections that this book has that prior versions of the Love Languages are those two topics: how to deal with anger in a healthy way and how to apologize effectively.

I’m a fan of the concept of the Five Love Languages and I found value in reading two new sections (to this book). But I do wonder about the constantly produced “new” books when it seems like these few topics have been covered in detail quite a bit. And I wonder at why we would buy a book that focuses entirely on a single sex. Why not buy the complete version and get details for both sexes? In fact, this book at only 192 pages – and that was with large drawings inserted on dozens of pages – you aren’t getting as much as you could by paying less for an older version with all the info.

In the end, I can’t fault the publisher for trying to make more money on the concept (that’s what companies do) and I can’t fault any of the content of the book, which I found and continue to find valuable. I just don’t think we needed a new version. The only person I’d recommend this version to would be someone who had never read the concepts and is a male. Even then, I’d still recommend the original over this version.


@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.

All Fall Down by Ally Carter

allfalldownGrace may be crazy. She acts crazy. Others tell her she is crazy. She is starting to believe she is crazy. The question isn’t whether she is crazy or not but whether a reader will care enough to find out.

All Fall Down
Embassy Row 1
By Ally Carter
Scholastic Press
January 2015

Grace’s mother died in a fire. Or from a gunshot wound. It was an accident. Or it was a hit by a man with a scarred face. Grace doesn’t know for sure but she swears that it was murder. Moving around with her military father and settling on living with her ambassador grandfather isn’t helping her settle things down. It also doesn’t help that everyone – including herself – believes that she may have cracked. And her reckless, self endangering actions seem to prove that point. But has she?

When she seems to spot the scarred man, her friends (other ambassadors’ kids) help track him down. Sorta. In the end the question of the scarred man is not answered but rather leads to more questions. This is a theme of the book – constant uncertainty. Both the main character, her “friends,” and even the death of her mother. Nothing is certain. And when you put the book down in the end you’ll be no closer to an answer. In this way it is not so much a full book but the start of a book. A prequel chapter at best. A normal ending of a book would have certain aspects cleared up and the challenges set up for the next book. This one ends with questions and nothing resolved. Not satisfying.

But young readers will like it. My teen reader (15 and also a fan of Carter’s other series) loved it. It was adventure and intrigue and she looks forward to the next one. I blame this on the Netflix effect where instead of watching a weekly show we instead now binge on episode after episode. The kind of expectation for sequels that now exists in a trilogy-filled Young Adult section has taught younger readers to accept and look forward to what many readers would have previously expected to be only the first part of a novel; not a completely separate novel.

In the end, it’s not a great book in itself. There is very little story. Very little development and very little to recommend. But once the whole trilogy (or whatever number in this series will be) is completed it will likely be a fan favorite. And of course, Carter fans will be predisposed to enjoy it. My recommendation: either wait till they are all done and read them together or avoid this series and go for something more complete.


@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.

Infected by Littlefield

infectedCarina’s uncle just died of an “accident.” That wouldn’t be very suspicious except for the fact that her mother also died of an accident and they both worked for the same shadowy secret project. Lot’s of smoke, but is there fire?

Infected
By Sophie Littlefield
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
January 2015

Alone, Carina is forced to rely on the only person left in her life, her boyfriend Tanner, who we quickly meet in the first chapter as the two underage kids have sex. (Both of these characters are in high school. Even if it isn’t statutory rape, which it may be in some states by legal definitions, it’s definitely not something I want a 12 year old – the age suggested by the book – to read as normative.) Tanner and Carina then go on a quest to find out the truth about the secret project and the death of her Uncle and Mom. The book lasts all of like two total days. The end.

In my opinion this is a mess of a book. Sure, it’s fast paced and a lot happens during the two days but very little is fully explained and the characters aren’t memorable. By the end of the book what I was struck with most was how the characters were doing things that only adults should do (sex), speaking like bikers at times, and didn’t inspire the reader to care very much about the situation.

Let me get on my soapbox here a little bit. Society recognizes that children – read under 18, which is the legal definition – are vulnerable and should be protected. Anything that sexualizes children is rightly frowned upon and likely illegal. But for some reason books are allowed to do this all the time with no questions asked. How many “young adult” books have underage protagonists – 15, 16, 17 years old – who engage in sexual relations and other risky behavior and are sold and marketed to other children who then learn the lesson that this is normal and safe? There is rarely talk about the dangerous repercussions of these activities. No one gets STDs, pregnant, emotionally or spiritually damaged. It’s all presented as good fun with no downside. That isn’t reality though. And books the promote children having unprotected, possibly illegal sexual relationships with no expectations about the very real dangers involved in those activities do children and society a disservice.

While the above was a part of the book, this isn’t the only reason not to recommend the book. It’s short, shallow and not that interesting 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.

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