Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Intersect {a Litfuse Blog Tour review}

I love being able to use DVDs as part of a Bible Study or as a way of engaging people in a group setting.

The idea of Intersect: Where Your Story and God's Story Converge is just that -- to use stories, real stories from real people -- to engage people and to make it so conversations about some important matters are easier to make happen.

I was intrigued.

From the publisher:
Follow the journey of five individuals as they tell authentic stories of circumstances that have forced them to examine how God might fit into their lives.

This five-week small group resource helps spark spiritual conversations. Starting spiritual conversations with those outside of the church is a worthy, yet often difficult and intimidating task. Intersect was designed to help overcome those barriers. It is an easy-to-use resource, perfect for sharing with co-workers, friends, neighbors, and family to enter into meaningful conversations.

Each film is accompanied by thought-provoking questions designed to encourage participants to examine the world in which they live and the life they are pursuing, always ending with a conversation on how Jesus intersects the current topic. Allow this powerful new film resource to engage those you are in relationship with and then propel them forward in their next step with Jesus.
This DVD and Study guide is material for five weeks of small-group activities.   Each week has you talking about some initial questions, watching a few minutes of someone's story on the DVD, and then getting into some follow-up discussion.

The initial questions are pretty personal.  The segment on Control starts off with the question(s):
What are some specific areas/compartments that you are juggling in your life right now?  How well are you managing all of them?
They are all questions that make you think and analyze your life.

The DVD segments include someone telling his own story, whether that be about an unexpected divorce (Disappointment) or a drug problem (Trust).  These are clearly real people, talking about real things in their lives.  As this is produced in the UK, the backgrounds and the accents give it a bit more of a "hey, check this out!" factor.  Exotic isn't the word I want, but rather it is just a bit unusual and out of the ordinary, while still feeling very ordinary.

The follow-up discussion questions have you talking about specifics from the video, reading an (included) Bible section (quite short) in The Message and talking about that, and applying all of the above to your life now.

This is designed to engage with 20- and 30-year olds, but I think it can work with a wider age range than that.  I wouldn't necessarily go a whole lot younger, but high school/college age teens could find it engaging too, and certainly it can work with older adults.

This is a neat resource that isn't overly preachy and can certainly lead to interesting discussion.  You can see what other people had to say about this at the Litfuse Blog Tour site.

Disclaimer:  I received this DVD/Study Guide through LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Giants: Legends & Lore of Goliaths {a Master Books Review}

I love the Legends & Lore series.

A year ago, I reviewed my favorite EVER book about the flood -- The Flood of Noah: Legends & Lore of Survival.  We all loved it, with all the little mini-books and flaps and doors and other such interactive fun.

Seeing the newest title in this series, Giants: Legends & Lore of Goliaths by Charles Martin, I knew I had to get my hands on it too.

What fun.

Here's how they describe the book:
The word “myth” has come to mean “fiction” in our minds, and so some people take Bible accounts, Aesop’s fables, and Greek myths and place them all in the same category. But what if some of the old legends are true? Rather than dismiss these narratives, perhaps we should investigate them. In this case, the world is filled with giant legends that speak of heroes and wars. In this highly engaging book of giants you will discover
  • Unique glimpses into the ancient accounts of giants from around the world
  • What does the Bible say about giants?
  • Full-color artistry developed in an interactive format with fold outs and flaps, booklets, and more!
  • A spectacular center spread stretching 4-feet across!
It is fascinating that the ancient world agreed on many aspects of the Bible, one of these being that early in the history of mankind, a race of violent, yet intelligent giants walked the earth, were destroyed by the Flood. Through historical records, the pre-Flood and post-Flood worlds are reconstructed, with giants re-emerging in and around Israel, and you’ll see one more reason that the Bible can be trusted.

Our thoughts:

This book is just as much fun as the others in the series.  The big fold-out page in the middle looks like this:

David and Goliath, in a huge and massive scene, gives a fun perspective on the shepherd boy vs. the giant.  It is just fun to pull that open and look at it.

The other pages have more information though.

The above page is right as you open the book, with basic info about local giants underneath each of the flags.  It is fun to run across some we've heard of, and many we haven't.

The basic idea of the book is to explore giants, stories and legends of giants, and biblical accounts of giants.  What is real?  Are the Bible stories really that far-fetched?

I enjoy reading through this with my kids, as we can read the main text at one point, and pull up little booklets or flaps at a different time.

Tales of giants are everywhere.  It was fun to explore them.

Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from Master Books.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received complimentary products does not guarantee a favorable review.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

'Til We Meet Again {a Tyndale House Blog Network review}

I'm incredibly excited to talk today about an absolutely fantastic book that I've recently read.

'Til We Meet Again by Ray and Betty Whipps reads like a novel, possibly even like a historical romance novel, but it is the true story of this amazing couple.  The bulk of the story is told from Ray's point of view, with letters from Betty inserted between chapters.

Ray and Betty met in Europe during World War II, after Ray had been wounded, ending up being cared for by Betty. 

The book had me at the opening chapter.  It starts in the present, with Ray having nightmare/flashbacks to the war.  He heads down to breakfast, and Betty says something to him about having a tough time of it again last night.

That was the point where I identified with Betty.

Let's see how the publisher describes this book:
Ray and Betty Whipps both served in Europe during WWII: Ray as an infantryman under General Patton in the trenches of Normandy, Paris, and Belgium, and Betty as a field nurse in Cherbourg, France. The two met when Betty tended to Ray after he was injured in a mortar blast. Both strong Christians, the two bonded over their shared faith, and as Betty nursed Ray back to health, they fell in love and vowed to marry after the war. However, soon after Ray returned to his unit, he was captured by German forces and held captive in Stalag VII, Germany’s largest prisoner of war camp. It was there that Ray’s faith was put to the ultimate test as he endured the most horrific weeks of his life—weeks marked by brutality, malnutrition, back-breaking labor, and near-constant death. The only thing that kept him alive was the dream of someday reuniting with Betty.

Told in first person from Ray’s perspective, with personal wartime letters from Betty interspersed throughout, ’Til We Meet Again is a sweeping love story set amid the backdrop of WWII. The perfect combination of “in the trenches” battlefield accounts and classic 1940s romance, this memoir reads almost like a novel. It is an epic story of faith, hope, and love, and a nostalgic look back at one of the most memorable periods in American history.
Following Ray's story is just amazing.  He dreams of being a pilot, is on track to do so... but he is hindered by his math skills, or rather his lack of math skills.  While changing gears, he ends up drafted into the Army.  After Basic Training, and a stint in helping to train others, he ships off to England right about the time of D-Day.  He ships over to France about a week later, and starts the crawl of trench warfare towards Germany.

His story-telling feels so real, so I had to read parts of it to my husband to get his take.  Now, my husband is far too young to have fought in World War II, but his grandfathers did.  His father was in the Navy in Vietnam.  And Dale was a grunt in Operation Just Cause in Panama.  I read this part, at the end of chapter 10:
Despite the fact that it was an Army tradition, griping never really seemed to help all that much.  I still felt just as cold and just as unsafe.
Dale laughed.  And said, "He definitely knows something about being a grunt."

You simply MUST watch this video. 

I loved this book.  I am making my teens read it as we study World War II.  In spite of my categorization above that this is a good historical romance novel, it is totally appropriate for teen boys.  There is a lot of battlefront action that conveys not just the horrors of war, but also the everyday heroes.
Disclaimer:   I received this book for free from Tyndale House Publishers.  No other compensation was received.  The fact that I received a complimentary product does not guarantee a favorable review.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Seven Women {a BookLook Blogger review}

Eric Metaxas has done it again.

Seven Women and the Secret of their Greatness is an incredible book.

I had reviewed his book Seven Men a few months ago.  I loved that book, and the fairly short biographies of seven really great men from history.  So of course I was interested in Seven Women.  Only I thought that since my teens are all male, I'd probably just read this one myself.

Don't think so.  My teens need to read this as well.

From the publisher:
In his eagerly anticipated follow-up to the enormously successful Seven Men, New York Times best-selling author Eric Metaxas gives us seven captivating portraits of some of history's greatest women, each of whom changed the course of history by following God's call upon their lives-as women.

Each of the world-changing figures who stride across these pages-Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks-is an exemplary model of true womanhood. Teenaged Joan of Arc followed God's call and liberated her country, dying a heroic martyr's death. Susanna Wesley had nineteen children and gave the world its most significant evangelist and its greatest hymn-writer, her sons John and Charles. Corrie ten Boom, arrested for hiding Dutch Jews from the Nazis, survived the horrors of a concentration camp to astonish the world by forgiving her tormentors. And Rosa Parks' deep sense of justice and unshakeable dignity and faith helped launch the twentieth-century's greatest social movement.

Writing in his trademark conversational and engaging style, Eric Metaxas reveals how the other extraordinary women in this book achieved their greatness, inspiring readers to lives shaped by the truth of the gospel.
Did you see the women that Metaxas chose for this book?  Women who did things that maybe only a woman could have done.  Not the first woman to do whatever some men had done before.

Like he did with Seven Men, Metaxas has these women placed chronologically.  That means you start off by reading about Joan of Arc, and you finish up with Rosa Parks.  In between are some totally fascinating women, including two I had never heard of:  Hannah More and Maria Skobtsova.

Those two may have been my favorites, simply because I knew nothing about them until I read this book.  It's easy to name my two least favorite biographies from this book for the same reason.  I have read quite a bit already about Corrie ten Boom and Mother Teresa, so I didn't love these short bios of them.

However, these make perfect length lessons for my teens.

Dare I hope that Metaxas comes up with some sort of Seven More Men and Seven More Women titles?  I simply love the length for my own reading, and for enrichment for the kids too.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this ebook free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Sunday, September 13, 2015

The Biggest Story {a FlyBy review and giveaway}

There are some review items that come along and make me wish I still had little kids.  Fortunately, The Biggest Story by Kevin DeYoung was something that I could still use with my younger two.

This book is simply delightful.  It tells the whole story of the Bible in a very overview format, in ten fairly short chapters.  As an adult, I sat down and read the entire book in about a half hour.

It was laugh-out-loud funny at points.

The illustrations, by Don Clark, are phenomenal. 

From the publisher:
In The Biggest Story, Kevin DeYoung - a best-selling author and father of six - leads kids and parents alike on an exciting journey through the Bible, connecting the dots from the garden of Eden to Christ's death on the cross to the new heaven and new earth.  With powerful illustrations by award-winning artist Don Clark, this imaginative retelling of the Bible's core message-how the Snake Crusher brings us back to the garden-will draw children into the biblical story, teaching them that God's promises are even bigger and better than we think. 
This book is fun, and it really does do what it claims -- it connects the dots from Adam and Eve through Christ and the resurrection, and then back to the garden of the new heaven and earth.

I didn't think it could pull it off.  It did.

And there is just so much to look at in the illustrations.

I have a copy to give away!  US and Canada only, please.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

"Disclosure (in accordance with the FTC’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising”): Many thanks to Propeller Consulting, LLC for providing this prize for the giveaway. Choice of winners and opinions are 100% my own and NOT influenced by monetary compensation. I did receive a sample of the product in exchange for this review and post.

Only one entrant per mailing address, per giveaway. If you have won a prize from our sponsor Propeller / FlyBy Promotions in the last 30 days, you are not eligible to win. If you have won the same prize on another blog, you are not eligible to win it again. Winner is subject to eligibility verification.”

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Israel's Mission {a Litfuse Book Tour review}

With some reviews, I don't even know where to begin.

When I saw a That the World May Know set by Ray Vander Laan was available to review, I wanted to beg to be assigned.  I didn't.  I merely applied.  But I was ecstatic to be chosen.

We have borrowed a few of the previous sets to watch here at home, and we simply love how he approaches the Bible.  Collecting the entire series is one of those dreams of mine.

Israel's Mission is the 13th volume in this series, and I have to tell you these just keep getting better.  Subtitled Becoming a Kingdom of Priests in a Prodigal World, the entire message is one that is so perfect for my family -- for most Christian families, I'd guess -- right now.

Let's see how the publisher describes it:
What's your mission?

God gave the assignment to His people thousands of years ago: to bring "lost sheep" back into the love and safety of His kingdom. He said to become a "Kingdom of Priests," and put God on display to show the world what He is like. It's still our task today. In this thirteenth volume of the That the World May Know ® film series, you'll glimpse the urgency and rewards of welcoming the strangers and prodigals the Lord longs to embrace. Discover the mission that can give your life - and the lives of those around you - greater meaning than you ever imagined.

Join renowned teacher and historian Ray Vander Laan as he guides you through the lands of the Bible. In each lesson, Vander Laan illuminates the historical, geographical, and cultural context of the sacred Scriptures. Filmed on location in the Middle East and elsewhere, the That the World May Know ® film series will transform your understanding of God and challenge you to be a true follower of Jesus.

Designed for use with That the World May Know: Israel's Mission Discovery Guide.

Filmed on location at these biblically significant sites in Israel and Jordan:

-Back to the Father's House - Negev Desert
-Show Them the Way - Timnah
-Prodigal Sons and Daughters - Qatzrin
-Return from the Far Off Country - Jerash
-Welcome Home - Qatzrin

Our thoughts:

Wow.  Just wow.

We have been sitting down the the Discovery Guide and watching the video after going through the intro material.  I've never used one of these before, we've always "just" watched the video segments. 

Watching the videos without the Discovery Guide is great for family use, too, and is probably what we will continue to do.  The Discovery Guide would be fabulous for use in a small Bible study though.  It even includes daily study questions that the group can do in between the weekly sessions.

Watch this clip to get a feel for how the program works:

Ray Vander Laan takes people on tours in Israel, where they visit real places, touching the stones, viewing the scenery -- and he films the individual half hour sessions where you get to see the places too.  And you get to see him interact with his "class" and feel a bit like a participant yourself.

Vander Laan knows his subject, and his teaching style is very engaged, with lots of moving around, having students repeat Bible verses, or Hebrew/Greek words, hands-on for those actually present.

These are so worth viewing, and I highly recommend them.  Watching through these with my teens (the 9- and 11-year-olds have had a harder time paying attention, especially to the Discovery Guide parts) has made me realize that I really want to own the entire series.

Which means I am absolutely entering the giveaway below:

Our task as Christians is to bring “lost sheep” back into the love and safety of His kingdom. How are you doing at welcoming the strangers and prodigals the Lord longs to embrace? Learn how to work on your task with Ray Vander Laan's Israel's Mission, volume thirteen in the That the World May Know® DVD series. Discover the mission that can give your life—and the lives of those around you—greater meaning than you ever imagined. Filmed on location in the Middle East and elsewhere, the series will transform your understanding of God and challenge you to be a true follower of Jesus.

Celebrate the release of Israel's Mission by entering to win the entire That the World May Know® series—perfect for working through with your family, Bible study, or Sunday school class!

israels misson-400 

One grand prize winner will receive:
  • All 13 DVDs in the That the World May Know® series
Enter today by clicking the icon below. But hurry, the giveaway ends on September 18th. Winner will be announced September 21st on the Litfuse blog.


Disclaimer:  I received this DVD/Study Guide through LitFuse Blog Tour.  No other compensation was received.  All opinions expressed in this review are my own.  

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

No More Excuses Diet {a Blogging for Books review}

I've been gaining weight.  I know there are lots of reasons for it, but I hate it.  I hate that I don't have clothes that fits, I hate that I just don't want to go out because I feel awkward.

I'm tired.  And I'm tired of being tired.

The No More Excuses Diet by Maria Kang was one of those spur of the moment decisions on my part, where I just know I need something to help push me, and if I have to write a review, so much the better.

Kang does write a no-nonsense book about taking care of yourself here.  But before I chat, let's check how this book was described:
Don’t let excuses stop you from having a body and a life that you love!

We all know that we should exercise and eat right, so why is it so hard to follow through? We make excuses for why we aren’t taking better care of ourselves, saying things like, “I’m too tired,” “I don’t have time,” or “I’m just not built to look that way.” But Maria Kang, the mother of three behind the viral “What’s Your Excuse?” mom photos, is here to say that the excuses stop now.

The No More Excuses Diet combines short term goals with healthy habit-forming behaviors to create permanent lifestyle changes. Using a specially designed transformation calendar, readers set clear, personal goals and make an easy-to-follow plan for each day. The program uses a balanced diet of 30% carbs, 30% protein, 30% fats, and includes a 10% flexible portion that can be customized depending on your goals— whether it’s extra protein for building muscles, or a sugary treat at the end of the day. The No More Excuses Diet also provides a completely customizable workout guide, with over 50 illustrated exercises designed to build strength, flexibility, endurance, and to shed fat. The program also includes 7 weeks of worth of exercise programs that can be done at home with no extra equipment. Packed with meal plans, grocery lists, lots of encouragement and a clear plan of action, The No More Excuses Diet is a must-read book for anyone who is ready to bust through the excuses the hold them back and take their health and fitness to the next level.
I'm going to start with things I didn't particularly like about the book.  That mostly boils down to:  I had a hard time relating to Kang at this point in my life, and I think that is pretty important when trying to make big lifestyle changes.  Kang is adorable, and young.  I love this photo:

This is a picture I could have taken when I had three boys.  I was in great shape, and I was a dozen or more years younger than I am know.  I see myself in her.  I really like her.  And she clearly does know her subject.

What I do appreciate about the book is that Kang isn't some totally idealistic, everything-can-be-perfect type of person.  She spells out that real life will get in the way of the best laid plans, but that doesn't mean you totally give up.

Her diet plan is reasonable.  Her exercise plan is reasonable.  She makes sense.  And I love all the photos she has for the exercises. 

I would have completely loved her ideas and her plan thirteen years ago.  This would have pushed me to lose those last fifteen pounds.

Right now, it is motivating me to do something, and to some extent that even involves following her suggestions.  Just not quite as all-out as she suggests.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from Blogging for Books for this review.

Monday, September 7, 2015

The Carols of Christmas a BookLook Blogger review}

I love Christmas.

I love music.

I love Christmas music even more.

I also really enjoy learning the stories behind some of my favorite songs.  So asking to review The Carols of Christmas: A Celebration of the Surprising Stories Behind Your Favorite Holiday Songs by Andrew Gant was an easy decision.

Of course I wanted it. 

From the publisher:
From Oxford professor and renowned British composer, a joyous account of the history behind our favorite carols.

Everyone loves a carol-in the end, even Ebenezer Scrooge. They have the power to summon up a special kind of mid-winter mood, like the aroma of gingerbread or the twinkle of lights on a tree. It's a kind of magic.

But how did they get that magic? Andrew Gant-choirmaster, church musician, university professor, and writer-tells the story of twenty of our favorite carols, each accompanied by lyrics and music, unraveling a captivating, and often surprising, tale of great musicians and thinkers, saints and pagans, shepherd boys and choirboys. Readers get to delve into the history such favorites as "Good King Wenceslas," "Away in a Manger," and "O, Tannenbaum," discovering along the way how "Hark, the Herald Angels Sing" came to replace "Hark, how all the welkin' ring" and how Ralph Vaughan Williams applied the tune of an English folk song about a dead ox to a poem by a nineteenth century American pilgrim to make "O Little Town of Bethlehem."

A charming book that brims with anecdote, expert knowledge, and Christmas spirit, this is a fittingly joyous account of one of the best-loved musical traditions.
My thoughts:

This has been fun to read.  The introduction was a bit technical, and long.  I think I'd get more out of it after reading at least a few of the stories about the carols, so I've thought about going back to re-read it.  The introduction does contain a lot of great information, though, about carols in general and Gant's discoveries, so I wouldn't skip it either.

The sections on the individual carols are a lot of fun.  Most are pretty short, and easy to read in a single sitting.   There was only one song in the book that I wasn't at least somewhat familiar with.  Other songs, in addition to those mentioned above, include:
  • O Come, O Come Emmanuel
  • The Holly and the Ivy
  • I Saw Three Ships
  • Good Christian Men, Rejoice
  • O Come, All Ye Faithful
  • While Shepherds Watched
  • O Holy Night
  • Ding dong! Merrily on High
  • Angels from the Realms of Glory
  • I Wonder As I Wander
  • Personent hodie
  • Here We Come a-Wassailing
  • The Twelve Days of Christmas
  • We Three Kings
  • What Child Is This?
  • Jingle Bells
Gant does a fabulous job of outlining the history of the words and of the tune, as best he can figure it.  Each chapter ends with the score for the song, which is really a lot of fun with tunes such as "Angels from the Realms of Glory," where I had to sit down at a keyboard to figure out how it went... as the tune I've always sung to this song is nothing like what is in here (and the text had a pretty lengthy discussion of the tune!)

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

The Printer and the Preacher {a BookLook review and giveaway}

We've been studying US History this year, and I really wanted to have some extra biography read-alouds to throw into the mix.  I love biography.

The Printer and the Preacher by Randy Petersen is a biographical tale of Benjamin Franklin and George Whitefield.   My US History courses never even mentioned Whitefield, so I certainly didn't know they were friends.  Even the homeschool programs I've used with my kids (both explicitly Christian, and at least not antagonistic towards Christianity) have never mentioned it.

So reading through this book has been fun.

From the publisher:
A groundbreaking look at the strange friendship between George Whitefield and Benjamin Franklin, who together defined what it means to be an American.

They were the most famous men in America. They came from separate countries, followed different philosophies, and led dissimilar lives. But they were fast friends. No two people did more to shape America in the mid-1700s.

Benjamin Franklin was the American prototype: hard-working, inventive, practical, funny, with humble manners and lofty dreams. George Whitefield was the most popular preacher in an era of great piety, whose outdoor preaching across the colonies was heard by thousands, all of whom were told, "You must be born again." People became excited about God. They began reading the Bible and supporting charities. When Whitefield died in 1770, on a preaching tour in New Hampshire, he had built a spiritual foundation for a new nation-just as his surviving friend, Ben Franklin, had built its social foundation. Together these two men helped establish a new nation founded on liberty. This is the story of their amazing friendship.

Our thoughts:

We were attempting to read through this book at a pace of a chapter a day, which would have taken us five weeks.  My teens would have been okay with that speed, but the younger two (ages 9 and 11) struggled a bit to stay focused.  So we slowed that down.

With other summer stuff happening, it has taken a long time to get through the book!

I've been really impressed with both the information and the fairly casual style of writing.  Petersen uses letters and journals to show what each of these men was thinking.  We've learned a whole lot about Whitefield, and some about Franklin... and certainly everything about the two of them interacting is material we didn't know.

Fascinating stuff.

I received two copies of this title accidentally, so BookLook Bloggers graciously allowed me to give one away.  US and Canada only please!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”