2.27.2015

"Patriots, Redcoats, & Spies", by Robert J. and Robert A. Skead (book review)


I requested this book for review because my 9 year-old son was studying the founding of America at the same time this book was made available.  I told him I had requested the book, and that it was my hopes that he would read it and type a review.  This book is written for youngsters, so I thought it would be best for a youngster to read and review.  What you are about to read are HIS words, not mine (I only helped with very minor editing for flow), so please be graceful when you read my 9 year-old's thought processes and sentence structure.

HIS REVIEW:  There were two kids named Ambrose and John and their father gave them a letter to give to George Washington about the secret plan the Redcoats were going to play on them. When they were gone they had to get horses. They arrived at a barn to get some horses to ride but they had to do a trick to get the horses. They did their trick and they got 2 horses.

When they rode in the woods they got caught by some spies. Their father told them to trust no one and that’s what they did. They rode off into the distance.

When it was getting dark they went in to the woods and slept for the night. In the morning they saw someone took their horses. They went to the thief’s camp and they got their horses and rode away. When they rode away they got to George Washington’s house and got caught by his guards. The guards took them to Washington. When George Washington saw the kids he said to the guards to let them go and give them bread.

So the kids gave him the letter. He read the letter, which said the Redcoats were going to attack. He got right to work on preparing for the fight against the redcoats.

LIKES: I liked that it was very kid friendly and it was very entertaining to read.  I learned that the Redcoats did not like George Washington.  It was good that my class had already learned about George Washington, the Redcoats, and the Patriots.

DISLIKES: I liked the pictures, but they weren’t as nicely drawn as in some of the other books I’ve read.

RATING: I would give this book a 4 out of 5 stars.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers (Zondervan).  None of the opinions were forced upon us, and we were not required to provide a positive review.

2.22.2015

"Chasing the Woodstock Baby", by Steve Hagood (book review)


INTRODUCTION: Legend has it that one, two, or three babies were born during the 60's Woodstock concert, but none of those babies, now long grown (if they exist) have been identified.  Identifying one of the Woodstock babies would require the sharp skills and diligent efforts of a trained investigator.

When two lovers, one of them being a pregnant 19-year old Caroline Wolf, and their friends attend Woodstock, a drug-induced high led to the birth of a child who would disappear.  Decades later, Caroline's other child is ill and in desperate need of a bone marrow transplant.  Caroline reaches out to Chase, a retired Police officer from Detroit PD.  Chase has a never-give-up attitude, the perfect candidate to find Caroline's lost Woodstock baby.  

The problem was that Caroline wasn't exactly sure the baby was still alive, and didn't know where to suggest Chase begin looking.  Using his investigative skills, Chase's leads take him into Saline, Michigan, a city gripped in the clutches of a corrupt Hannigan family.

What would Chase uncover?  Would he find the baby? Would good prevail over evil?  Read the book to find out!

LIKES: The author, Steve Hagood, is a Michigan native who decided to write the setting of his book in his hometown of Saline. Being familiar with that city myself, I was excited to follow the story around town in my mind.  I saw clearly the buildings, roads, and turns as he described them, and I even imagined where certain crimes had taken place -- even though he didn't suggest exactly where they occurred.

The book contains only one story line, which makes for a quick, easy, and entertaining read.  (In fact, I completed the book in two sittings.) The chapters are short (typically 2 or 3 pages), and he keeps readers turning to the next chapter. I like this because many cookie-cutter books have two or three story lines, one of which is usually just a "filler" plot to make a book a little thicker so publishers can bump up the prices. Being an independent book, however, there was no need for unnecessary fluff.

Steve is a gifted writer whose scene and character descriptions provide just enough detail to paint a mental picture, yet not so much that bogs a reader down.  He writes with wit and real-world humor that caused me to laugh aloud a number of times.

I smiled when I reached the end, and I said to myself, "Well done, Steve".  While there was no major twist to the story, I was pleasantly surprised how one relatively minor character came into play at the end of the book.  I couldn't help but think Steve's was a brilliant conclusion.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book!

DISLIKES: Lower-budget publications tend to have a few editing flaws, and this one was one of them. There were several in this book, but none detracted from the plot.  However, I had to re-read a few sentences to think about what Steve intended to say in those particular instances. Because I know the author, I sent the list of necessary edits to him in case this book goes to additional printings.

RATING: If you're into investigative stories with creative wit, I think you'll be pleased with this book.  I think Steve is a talented writer who has a serious potential to be on a best-seller list one day if a big-name publisher will pick up on his work. I give this book 4 stars out of 5.  It was a fun page-turner, but in need of some edits.  The 155-page, soft-cover book retails for $9.95, and the Amazon Kindle edition retails for $4.99.  Please support an up-and-coming author by purchasing your copy today!

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge directly from the author in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review; all opinions are mine.

2.21.2015

"The Matheny Manifesto", by Mike Matheny, with Jerry B. Jenkins (book review)


When I recently watched the St. Louis Cardinals in the playoffs on television, I was stricken by the imposing figure who was the team’s head coach – Mike Matheny.  Every time the camera showed him, I couldn’t help but admire how he led his team – from the way he stood calmly and stoically in the dugout, to the manner in which he argued close calls.  I make no bones about it, I’m a Tiger baseball fan!  More than that, however, I’m a baseball fan as there are so many aspects of the game I enjoy.  Baseball is so much more than a sport of bat, ball, and glove.  And Matheny models character that youngsters (and oldsters alike) would be good to emulate. 

Matheny appears to live the class he preaches.  While fans can watch him in action in person and on television, now we can read about it in his new release, “The Matheny Manifesto”.  Here’s the gist: Prior to agreeing to coach a youth-league baseball team, Matheny wrote a letter to and for the parents of the boys on the team.  It became known as his manifesto.  The general synopsis was that parents need to keep quiet and trust the coaches to coach.  While explaining his coaching philosophy, Matheny lays out 8 keys to success: Leadership, Confidence, Teamwork, Faith, Class, Character, Toughness, & Humility.

“The Matheny Manifesto” is not just another hoo-rah book spouting various leadership principles supposedly valued by some high-paid, upper-class, successful individual.  Instead, it is a short, easy, leadership primer that highly encourages one central theme: Class!  Class is weaved into each of the keys to success.  Win, lose, or draw, in order to teach youngsters class, we must be adults who model class. Even if you’re not a baseball coach or fan, the principles laid out in the book apply to all arenas of life.

DISLIKES: I fully recognize Matheny didn’t intend for this book to be about him.  It’s about his philosophy of success.  However, high-profile figures have the ability to espouse their philosophies in books people will buy because we look up to these individuals.  That said, there is not one picture in the book…and no, I’m not like a 4th grader who chooses books based upon the number of pictures it contains in order to make it a quicker read.  Like I said, I’m a baseball fan, so I would have liked (even expected) to see some pictures from Matheny’s high-school-to-the-pro’s playing days.  Especially for the outrageous price being asked for this small 221-page book ($24 USD), I would hope it would contain a few glossy pictures.  That being the case, I think the pricing will be the main discourages from people buying this book…and it’s unfortunate because the book is so well-written, containing much encouragement!

RATING: 4 stars out of 5


DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and were not forced upon me.  I was not obligated to provide a positive review.

2.14.2015

Build a Load-Bearing Bridge with Popsicle Sticks and Tongue Depressors:



Like us, you've Googled the "How to's" for building one of those wooden load-bearing bridges out of popsicle sticks and/or tongue depressors.  Maybe you've decided to try a free-time experiment, or, like us, your student is participating in a Science Olympiad competition.

Long story short, our son was told THE DAY BEFORE the competition that he could participate in the bridge building portion. We were given a bag containing 100 popsicle sticks and 20 tongue depressors, we could use only glue to attach them, and the bridge had to span 1 foot of distance. Not cry-babying here, but while the other students had several weeks to build sturdy bridges, we had only about 18 hours. That's why I share this...in the end, the quick design we devised ultimately held approximately 150 pounds and didn't break!  Here's what we did.


We decided to design the bridge with a truss system of layers of staggered sticks.  Each truss consisted of 4 layers of sticks set on top of each other at differing (thirds) intervals.  If you can zoom in on this picture, you'll see we "striped" lines across the face of the sticks, dividing each stick into thirds. Rather than overlaying the sticks in halves (imagine a cinder block wall), we decided to overlay them in thirds so that if one stick gave out under a load, there was another immediately below it to help support it.


 The picture above gives you an idea of how we staggered the layers of each truss. When layering in thirds (just like in halves), some of the "thirds" had to be cut so that each layer of the truss would start and end in line (well, approximately).


In total, we made 6 trusses that stretched approximately 15 inches, and each truss consisted of approximately 16 popsicle sticks (the top and bottom layers were exactly 4 sticks long).  While the glue was setting, but not completely dry, we overlayed what would be the top of the bridge with the thick tongue depressors.  Their purpose wasn't to provide strength (since they laid flat, rather than vertical), but to connect the trusses together and hold them in place.  We crossed our fingers as we allowed the glue to harden overnight.  We weren't confident, and even prepared our son for the possibility (probability, even) that his bridge would probably crumble under even the lightest weight.  But...


After holding approximately 30-or-so pounds, the teacher decided to have a boy sit on the bridge.  When it didn't break, my son sat on his friend's lap.  As the two sat on it together, the bridge STILL didn't collapse! Around the 150-pound mark, this design finally started to bow, but still didn't break.  They stopped the competition when one girl's design didn't even begin to show signs of weakness at the 150-pound mark.  The below design was her's.


Great job, kids!  What would be a competition without also teaching some invaluable life lessons?  Here's what we helped teach our son.

LIFE LESSONS:

First, life sometimes gives us lemons (like being told to build something or complete a task in a relatively short time).  But when handed lemons, make lemonade.  In other words, do the best you can with what you've been given.  That's real life, folks!  How many times do we have an agenda for our work day, but our supervisor says to us at the last minute, "Hey, I need this done ASAP!"  So what do responsible people do?  Cry? Whine?  No, we get to work and do the best we can.

Second, this bridge was a direct result of teamwork, and not any one person's ideas.  Our son, my wife, and I all had good ideas about how to build the sturdiest bridge in the shortest amount of time, but we had to acknowledge when someone else's ideas were better than our own.  Due to time constraints, we didn't have days or weeks to debate or research our ideas.  Instead, we had to make decisions and put them into action.

Finally, our son loves science, but is not so fond of math.  We've been trying to show him how math comes into play in all fields of science.  Here, we helped him see the value of thirds and how they work together to even build bridges.  We connected the boring-ness of theoretical math with the exciting fun-ness of science.

CONCLUSION: I hope this is helpful to you in your bridge-building adventure.  So, have fun, keep calm, and build on!

2.06.2015

"Jesus, Continued", by J.D. Greear (book review)


Many authors have undertaken the difficult task of writing about the Holy Spirit.  The "3rd" person of the Trinity can truly be difficult to understand, and I imagine He's an even more difficult Person to write about. I've read a few contemporary books on the Holy Spirit, including "Forgotten God" by Francis Chan.  This one, "Jesus Continued", ranks among my favorite contemporary works on the Holy Spirit.

The book is divided into three parts: Part 1: The Missing Spirit; Part 2: Experiencing the Spirit; and Part 3: Seeking the Spirit.  The first two parts each contain six chapters, and the third contains four chapters, totaling 227 pages.

THOUGHT-PROVOCATION: I was inspired by numerous thought-nuggets throughout the book, and there is not enough space in this blog review to discuss them all.  Therefore, I will briefly address a few of those nuggets I found most insightful or thought-provoking.

1) A famous quote has been attributed to St. Francis of Assisi, "Preach the gospel; when necessary, use words."  J.D. discusses this peculiar concept of "witnessing with my life" on page 57.  He writes, "The gospel is...an announcement about what Jesus did to save people, not a presentation of what a good person you are...Sharing that announcement requires words, because you can't really explain what Jesus did through charades.  How can you preach the gospel of Christ's finished work without words?" (emphasis mine).

This thought inspires me because the Holy Spirit's primary role, as J.D. quotes J.I. Packer, is to illuminate the gospel message in what J.I. calls it a "floodlight ministry" (p.23).  Therefore, it seems appropriate that the Spirit of God would inspire us to speak the truth of the gospel He intends to illuminate.  I wonder if Assisi's quote has done more harm than good by providing well-intending Christians with an escape route from having to speak the gospel.  Instead, they hope living a good life will do it all.  Certainly, words AND actions ought to work in concert with each other, but actions alone do not explain the gospel message with any sense of clarity.

2) All of Chapter 5: "God Doesn't Need You" was entirely liberating.  Ironically, this nugget falls on the heels of what inspired me in the thoughts above.  In chapter 5, J.D. expresses that "not every assignment that comes from heaven has your name on it" and "There's no reason to feel guilty over what you're not doing if you're doing what God has commanded you to do"..."nor should I feel guilty that God has not assigned it to me." (all p.82)

Let's hear it for one collective sigh of relief: ahhhhhhhhhh.  You mean, it's not all up to me?  You mean, if all the details aren't hammered out, God can still use my flaws?  You mean, if I'm not eloquent, the Spirit of God can still use my words to accomplish his floodlight ministry on the gospel?  Ahhhhhhhhhhhhh!  "Faithfulness, not degree of sacrifice", writes J.D., "is our measure of 'success'" (p.83).

3) In Chapter 16, "The Way Up is the Way Down", J.D. punched me right in the gut.  Hard!  "You will never be full of the Spirit so long as you are full of yourself" (p.219).  Whoa, don't be so hard on me, J.D.!  See, I'm a rather proud person.  I've accomplished much, and I want to make a good name for myself. (By the way, I should know better...my name isn't known by initials, such as J.I. Packer, A.W. Tozer, or J.D. Greear...just sayin').  But the prideful person I am is exactly the kind of person the Spirit of God cannot use.  Instead, "God's power comes as a gift only to the empty-spirited", J.D. writes on page 219.

This sobers me because I find myself in competition with the Spirit, thinking I can do much on my own. Obviously, that doesn't work.  Instead, I need to be broken and emptied of self so the Spirit can fill me.  J.D. quotes A.W. Tozer, "It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply" (p.220).  Honestly, my pride says, "I don't want to be hurt deeply!" But my spirit says, "I must be if I want to be used by God."  Thanks for the gut check, J.

RECOMMENDATIONI enjoyed or was challenged by just about every page in this book, either by having my theology challenged, or by chewing on thought-nuggets that inspire me to be more conscious of the Holy Spirit's work in and around me.  If you're the type of person who doesn't want to read anything that might rattle your long-held beliefs, then don't bother with this book.  While that's not the purpose of J.D.'s book, it's bound to happen.  Just stick to reading only the topics you agree with and be content in your world.  Otherwise, if you want to be challenged and encouraged by the Holy Spirit's real, living presence TODAY, then this one just might be right for you.

RATING: All said, I give this book 4 1/2 stars out of 5.  I like what he had to say, but I'd have liked to see a little better editing.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from BookLook Bloggers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  I was not promised gifts or rewards to provide a positive review.  All opinions are mine, and none of the statements expressed in my review were forced upon me.


NOTES FOR THE EDITORS: This section is simply a note to the editors. I'm not sure editors and publishers ever read simple bloggers' reviews, but these are for their use in case this books goes into a subsequent printing.

1) Pluralization: "An infinite amount of power and possibilities await us" (p.15).  Since "power" (no "s") is used, then "possibility" (no "ies") should also be used.  Therefore, "awaits" (with an "s") should be used.

2) "Where God has given clarity in his Word.  So throughout Scripture..." (p.37).  The first sentence seems to suggest a comma should be used after "Word" and that an additional phrase is missing.  As written, however, it appears to be an incomplete sentence.

3) "Don't mock those who overestimate their potential for the kingdom of God. mock those who underestimate it" (p.63).  I agree with the idea, but the "m" in "mock" needs to be capitalized.

4) On page 71, J.D. began telling a story about a Muslim man named "Ahmed" who had dreams and asked for interpretation.  I think it would have been good to complete the story, but J.D. left me hanging.

5) Referring to an analogy about a friend paying a debt he didn't owe to cover your $900,000 back taxes, J.D. wrote, "...but your friend paid that debt off, you would probably fall on your feet and say..."  How does one "fall on" his feet?  Did he mean "knees"?  Did he mean, "fall from your feet"?

1.18.2015

"Inside the Criminal Mind", by Stanton E. Samenow, Ph.D. (book review)


As a police officer, I find interesting the study of the thought processes and personalities that inspire criminals to behave as they do.  Although originally written several years ago, "Inside the Criminal Mind" has been revised and updated to include recent news-breaking crime stories, taking readers on a journey through the criminal mind from adolescence to adulthood.

WHAT CAUSES CRIME? The main question in the book is the one asked frequently, "Can we predict who will or will not commit crime?"  While Dr. Samenow attempts to answer such questions, each chapter seems to conclude with the suggestion, "We cannot know for sure who will or will not become a criminal."

What is encouraging to know is that parents don't turn children into criminals, and that we cannot predict how a child will turn out by looking at his parents (p.21).  This is going to come as a relief for some people, wondering if their poor decisions as parents led one of their children into a life of crime, but will be frustrating to others, thinking fixed parenting will lead to the solution.  But citing numerous stories of siblings who grew up in the same households, Dr. Samenow showed how some became criminals, while others became productive members of society.

SOCIAL LIFE: Simply associating with "rotten apples" is not a causative factor in criminality.  While associating with delinquent peers is indeed a risk factor for turning to crime, Dr. Samenow says this is "like saying diving into water gets you wet.  It reveals nothing about causation, but a great deal about choice" (p.47).  We cannot forget that criminals make choices; they are not forced into any action they commit.

Citing case studies of criminals' school, work, and social lives, Dr. Samenow drives home the point that criminality is a matter of choice, and adding drugs and alcohol to the "mix" only intensifies what already exists in a person (p.176).  Drugs and alcohol are not inherently the problem; they simply exacerbate the problem that already exists.

Dr. Samenow makes the case that responsible people discover the meaning in the processes of achievement.  When hard work leads to accomplishing a task, a good feeling about oneself is achieved.  A criminal, however, tends to set unrealistically high goals for himself that he cannot realistically achieve.  As a result, he becomes discouraged and quits shortly after beginning his work (p.209).

WHAT IS THE SOLUTION? Much great emphasis has been placed on the rehabilitation process of criminals.  The problem, however, according to Dr. Samenow, is not solved by RE-habilitation, but by habilitation.  "The very concept of rehabilitation is flawed" (p.279).  RE-habilitation assumes a positive personality trait and good character has always existed in a criminal's life, and that the criminal simply lost it and needs to get it back.  However, that is largely not the case.  Instead, the good character traits were never present in many criminals' lives to begin with, so the issue is establishing a new personality and character in place.  He calls this habilitation, rather than re-habilitation because for many, this process is a first-time event.

Unfortunately, many people (loved-ones, mentors, etc.) abandon the effort to habilitate criminals -- it's costly, time-consuming, and tiresome.  The criminal has to want to change if he is going to be habilitated.  But his mentors may just run out of steam in the habilitation process.  If the criminal, therefore, is your loved one, this process of habilitation will be long and arduous.  But, it will not succeed if the criminal does not want to change.  "They must reach a point in life when they are becoming fed up with themselves and, consequently, desire to change" (p.329).

CONCLUSION: I think the last paragraph sums up the solution quite succinctly, and it is found in the Bible's Proverbs: "As a man thinketh in his heart, so is he" (23:7).  We are as we think.  It is impossible to help a person give up crime and live responsibly without helping him to change what is most basic -- his thinking" (p.330).

RATING: For those interested in the study of crime and causality, I think you will appreciate this book.  I gleaned from it many invaluable insights, and I believe the intended readers are those employed as social workers, therapists, police officers, corrections officers, etc.  For this reason, I give "Inside the Criminal Mind" 5 stars out of 5.  For any other reader group, you likely won't be too interested in it.

DISCLAIMER: I received this book free of charge from Blogging for Books in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  All opinions are mine, and were not forced upon me.  I was made no promises in exchange for a positive review.

12.31.2014

"NKJV Note-Taker's Bible", by Zondervan Bibles (review)

For those of us who like to write in our Bibles, this version is a good resource.  However, there are a few things you must understand about this Bible before purchasing it.

Whenever a book offers large spaces in the page margins for note-writing, one of two things must occur. Either (1) the Bible has to be a monstrous volume in order to provide ample writing space, or (2) the Bible must be written with such small print that the reader strains his eyes reading it.  The latter is true in this case.

DIMENSIONS:
The Bible weighs 1 pound, 14.4 ounces.  Its thickness from cover to cover measures approximately 1 1/8". The cover is approximately 9 1/2" tall, and 6 1/2" wide. Pages measure approximately 9 1/4" tall, and 6 1/4" wide.  The outer and lower margins provide approximately 1 1/4" and 1" respectively for note-writing.  Not bad, actually.

However, letters stand approximately 1/16" tall, and each of the two columns per page span approximately 2 1/4" (depending on whether it's a poetry or prose section).  A little small for my tastes.
Photograph added to show margin and print sizes only.
VERSION:
The version I received for review is the NKJV.  On a personal level, I enjoy the NKJV, a proven readable and reliable version. However, I am not providing a review of the text, but the physicality of the Bible only.

COMMENTARY:
If you're looking for a study Bible with author/editor commentaries, then this is not the right choice for you. If, however, you find yourself getting bogged down with all the varied suggestions, you might like this Bible. There exists at the bottom margins of the pages some editorial inserts suggesting what the original texts of given verses seem to have suggested.  Because there is no concordance in the back, cross-referencing passages will have to be accomplished via the use of other tools.

RATING:
This Bible version is a good idea for note-takers, but its text is a bit small for reading.  Nevertheless, it is simple and basic.  I give this Bible 4 stars out of 5 for its simplicity and usability.

DISCLAIMER:
I received this Bible free of charge from BookLookBloggers in exchange for my unbiased review of it.  I was not promised reward or coerced to provide a positive review.  All opinions are mine.