Thursday, April 17, 2014

River of Peril by Susan K. Marlow

Recommendation: **** (4-stars)

In the 4th book of the Goldtown  Adventures Series Jem and his family are traveling to Sacramento - the big city! On a stagecoach full of gold being delivered to help the North during the Civil War is where the trouble begins. After the gold is stolen by the Knights of the Golden Circle nothing about their fun trip to the city seems right. Jem once again finds himself at the center of a dangerous adventure and this time his sister's life depends on his quick wit and determination.

Positives: Again, the historical backdrop to this book was fascinating to me. The details that went into describing the steamboats and the life surrounding them were intriguing. In this book, Jem relied on his faith in God to help him. Several times he cried out in prayer when he didn't know what else to do. I also liked how the author handled some of the historical realities of the time. She didn't shy away from the fact that along with the river-boating lifestyle came things like coarse language. While it was brought into the story as a reality, it was handled perfectly for her audience. She also touched a bit on slavery and allowed her young readers to think through the life of slaves on an age appropriate level.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: Romans 12:2-3 kept coming to my mind as I read this story.  Jem was surrounded by worldly people and confronted with worldly problems at every turn, yet his faith remained strong. While he struggled with fear, he knew where to turn when he felt overwhelmed with fear and cried out in prayer. Where do we teach  our kids to turn when fear and trouble surround them? Psalm 56 is a favorite at our house! No matter who is attacking us, no matter what we are fearing, we can trust in God and not be afraid. He is our very present help in trouble (Psalm 46:1)! Remind your kids of the commands given to Joshua to "Be strong and courageous..." and that the reason we can live without fear is because "the Lord our God is with us wherever we go" (Joshua 1:9).

Age Level: 5-10 years of age. These books will have a great appeal to young boys!

I received a free copy of this book from Kregel Publishing in exchange for this review.

Click HERE to purchase of e-book of version of River of Peril!

Canyon of Danger by Susan K. Marlow

Recommendation: *** (3-stars)

Twelve year old Jem (Jeremiah) Coulter is growing up in California during the Gold Rush. As a boy on the verge of manhood he is charged with many responsibilities around the house. He enjoys the times he gets to pan for gold, but he also takes his responsibilities of caring for the animals seriously. Goldtown, like any settlement that sprung up during the Gold Rush, is a colorful and sometimes dangerous place to live. Jem's father is the sheriff and Jem is proud of how he works to maintain order in Goldtown.  When Jem's father is called away for two weeks on business, Jem is left in charge as the man of the family. Jem is determined to make his father proud - even when a wolf threatens the family herd, an injured stranger comes into their family and Jem's own horse and his Pa's good rifle are stolen. How will he solve all these problems on his own? And what kind of danger will he face doing it?

Positives: A great story filled with just the right amount of mystery and danger as well as some fun humor that keep the reader entertained. The historical aspects of this book seem to be well researched and provide a great backdrop to the adventure. I enjoyed the characters and felt like I could picture each one. I appreciated Jem's character in particular as he seemed so real -a young boy who knows what is right, but still struggles to always make the right decision.

Negatives: None

Talking Points:  As I mentioned above, I enjoyed Jem's character as we saw his inner struggle to do what he knew to be right. What 12 year old boy doesn't struggle with this? What person of any age? Talk with your kids about their struggles. How do they handle situations and temptations that arise? Do they have Scripture verses that they go to? Do they pray? How do we as parents handle these things? Encourage kids that while they will always face temptation, they can stand strong! Arm them with verses to fight with in moments of weakness and offer them grace when they are weak (I Cor. 10:13, James 1, Heb. 2:18, Heb. 4:15, Gal. 6:1).

Age Level: 5-10 years of age. These books will have a great appeal to young boys!

I was given a free copy of this book from Kregel Publishing in exchange for my review.

Click HERE to purchase an e-book version of Canyon of Danger!

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

John Knox by Simonetta Carr

Recommendation: ***** ( 5-stars)

Ms. Carr once again educates and enlightens young readers with the latest installment in her series of Christian Biographies for Young Readers.  The life story of John Knox is told through a thoughtful weaving of historical events and interesting facts however the thread of the story maintains Knox's convictions regarding the authority of Scripture and the work of the church.  As a major figure in the Protestant Reformation his voice is still heard today, particularly as one of the authors of one of the first Confessions of Faith written. The convictions set forth in this document ring true for the church today.

Positives:  As with the previous books in this series, this is a beautifully written and illustrated book. What a treasure to add to any family library! Though the historical account is detailed with lots of names and locations, the author is able to present it in an understandable and clear format.  Most impressive is that though telling the story of John Knox's life, she is able to clearly communicate to young children the importance of the authority of the Bible and the role of the church in the life of believers.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: Stories like these can help us and our children develop strong conviction. As we learn of what Reformers like John Knox lived through - the trials and persecution they endured for the sake of the gospel it should make us thankful and deepen our own faith.  Hebrews 11-12 teach us that the faith of those who have gone before us should drive us to holiness as we seek Jesus. The portion of the Scots Confession of Faith included at the end of the book provides an excellent resource.  Challenge your family to come up with the Scripture verses that back up those statements.

Age Level: 7-12 years of age

I received  free copy of this book from Reformation Heritage Books for this review.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Blades of Valor by Sigmund Brouwer

Recommendation: ***** (5-stars)

I think author Sigmund Brouwer saved his best for last with this final installment in the Merlin's Immortals Series. This was my favorite book in the series!  The questions and doubts that have plagued Thomas become resolved through a complex web of events.  The Druids and Immortals square off in a battle of deception and trickery to finally end the power struggle that has been playing out for years. Thomas now knows the truth and has learned valuable lessons about faith, hope and love that will serve him well as he leads his kingdom into the future.

Positives: The book kept me reading! Just when I thought a piece of the puzzle had been solved there was a twist. While not filled with battle scenes using swords as weapons there was definitely a war being waged and it was fascinating!  The intricate storyline that has developed throughout this series was completed masterfully. There were also a lot of spiritual messages throughout the book that I enjoyed (see Talking Points below).

Negatives: None

Talking Points: While there were many spiritual topics that this book brought out there were two that I enjoyed the most as I pondered them and talked about them with my kids.  There is a wonderful dialogue on the difference between religion and faith that is very thought provoking. I loved how the author brings this to the forefront in this story and challenges the reader to think through the differences. We turned to the book of James and looked at how faith and "pure religion" are defined and talked through the differences we see in "religious" people and "faith-filled" people.  My favorite spiritual aspect came at the end of the book when Thomas discovers why he is called an Immortal.  Lord Hawkwood says, "...Each of us is born into a mortal body, but our souls are immortal. The choices we make in  the mortal body have eternal consequences, for truly, all humans are immortal." What a different message than what our kids hear in the world today! We know there is a judgment coming. For unbelievers that judgment will be eternal separation from Christ in hell. Believers will be rewarded based on the life they lived on earth. Read and talk about these verses - I Cor. 9:24-25, James 1:12, I Pet. 5:4, 2 Tim. 4:8. These are specific verses that talk about the rewards or crowns we can receive in heaven! How we live today does matter - we are immortal! I want my kids to be excited about the day we can lay our crowns at Jesus' feet (Rev. 4:9-11) don't you?! And that means teaching them that every moment of every day is to be lived for the glory of our great God and Savior.

Age Level: 10 years of age and up

I received a free copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah in exchange for this review.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Martyr's Fire by Sigmund Brouwer

Recommendation: **** (4-stars)

In the 3rd book of Merlin's Immortals Series we are presented with many plot twists and lots of exciting adventure! Thomas manages to narrowly escape danger on numerous occasions. He is still searching for answers to the secret of Magnus and his role in this dangerous game of deception that is being played out all around him. His beliefs are tested and his faith is stretched - whom should he trust?

Positives: True to the previous books, there is no end of danger and mystery in this installment of the series. I thoroughly enjoy trying to figure out the mystery as the story moves along and I love the emphasis on faith and trust that the author continues to weave throughout this book.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: Thomas continues to struggle with his faith throughout this story. He wants to believe in God, but allows his experiences to cloud his judgment in search of truth. Talk to your kids about your own faith struggles. Was there a time you doubted God, His goodness, His faithfulness, His love? Help your child build their faith upon the truths found in Scripture, not experience.  The more we know and understand the God of the Bible, the stronger our faith will grow. God cannot lie (Heb. 6:18, Titus 1:2) so when He says He is love (I John 4) we can believe it, when He says He is faithful (I Cor. 1:9, II Cor. 1:18, II Thess. 3:3), we can trust it. The more your kids learn to lean on these truths the stronger they will stand in the storm.

Age Level: 10 years of age and up

I received a free copy of this book from WaterBrook Multnomah in exchange for this review.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Bible Tell Me Who - Lessons From Amazing People of the Bible by Christopher D. Hudson

Recommendation: **** (4-stars)

This collection of 90 Bible stories introduces your young child to Bible characters from the Old and New Testament. Each story is written simply and beautifully illustrated. The stories give a small glimpse into the lives of these characters and asks what we can learn from them.

Positives: I loved that the book included characters we can learn positive and negative lessons from. With so many stories included it also introduces children to "lesser known" characters like Ezra, Hosea and Caiaphas. I was also pleased with the "What Can We Learn" section following each story. Most of these focus on lessons we can learn about God and His character as well as applicable thoughts on how we are to respond to our sin, God's law and other people.

Negatives: None

Talking Points: The author gives you a great lead-in for discussion with your child! Use his thoughts on what there is to learn from each character to talk with your child about our great God and Savior. For older children, ask them what they can learn before reading this section! The author is careful to include the gospel throughout the book. Use these opportunities to continue to foster a continual "gospel conversation" with your young children. Remember, God's Word is an effective sword - even in the life of young kids! (2 Timothy 3:16, Heb. 4:12, Eph. 6:17). Use this book as a great tool to introduce Bible characters. Keep your kids in the Scriptures as well and enjoy watching them grow and change.

Age Level: 2-5 years of age

I received a free copy of this book in exchange for this review.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

The Lightening Thief by Rick Riordan

Recommendation:  **** (4 stars)

Percy Jackson has not lasted long in any of the “special” schools he has attended, as trouble always finds him. This 6th grader discovers that he is a half-blood, the son of his human mother and a Greek god. There are more of his kind, and he is destined to be a hero. His friends Grover and Annabeth, a satyr (goat-man) and another half-blood, help him to successfully complete his first quest. He even gets to meet his father, Poseidon, god of the sea. Percy’s supernatural ability to manipulate water and survive beneath its surface, along with his courage and determination, make him a force to be reckoned with.

Positives: This book is well written with an attention-keeping pace of one event flowing to the next. The characters are well developed, giving the reader enough insight and background into why they are who they are. It was an enjoyable read that I looked forward to picking up again each time. Although my 5th grader had already read this and the remainder of the series, he and I went through it together as a fun way to spend time together. While the storyline deals with the intertwined human world and the world of the Greek gods and goddesses, there is an acknowledgement that “God” is a completely different matter altogether.

Negatives: Some violence (when Percy fights and prevails over the minotaur); small section with questionable content due to its prophetic nature (consulting the Oracle for Percy’s destiny).

Talking points: Aside from acknowledging that this is fiction, there are worthy character qualities that can be highlighted and encouraged. Percy’s friendships with Grover and Annabeth are good displays of loyalty, dependability, and encouraging personal growth. The three increase in their appreciation for one another, and even challenge each other to be stretched in their strengths and weaknesses. As they face a variety of foes, their consistent concern for one another is admirable. “A friend loves at all times.” (Prov. 17:17) As the half-bloods inherit supernatural powers from their god- or goddess-parents, so do we inherit traits from our biological parents. Discuss the unique ways that God has made each person according to His design and will, and how this is for His glory. But also that He is the ultimately sovereign power who watches over, protects, guides and helps us. (Psalm 139, Hebrews 4:14-16) As Christ put on flesh and walked the earth as a God-man, He understands all of our weaknesses and we can call upon our Father in the name of Christ at any time for any reason and He will hear and answer our prayers according to His will. (Psalm 37:4, Eph. 6:18) As we put on the ‘armor of God’, He equips us with everything we need for life and godliness, and to stand against the enemy (Eph. 6:10-17, 2 Pet. 1:3).

Reviewer’s further note: Our family enjoyed the audio version of another Riordan book while on vacation. This one was The Lost Hero, which is subsequent, but several books removed from, The Lightning Thief. My red flags were popping up all over, as the Oracle takes on a much larger role in The Lost Hero, to the point that she was essentially demon-possessed, in my opinion. Another being “takes over” her essence, and even her appearance is changed, along with other physical elements in the room changing. I could not get past the power and importance of this character’s part in the story. It was very much something I knew I must discuss with my 11- and 8-yr old children later on, and did. Because of this increased element, I strongly encourage parents to preview, discuss, and proceed with caution in the reading of this book series. Riordan’s writing style continued to be very entertaining with excellent character development, but in the aspect mentioned above, discernment is required. (Heb. 5:14)

Age level: 10 years and up