Thursday, March 28, 2013

Keeping Faith FIRST -- Firsthand Book Review

Firsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your OwnFirsthand: Ditching Secondhand Religion for a Faith of Your Own by Ryan Shook

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

FTC disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Firsthand is a quick but engaging read.  What Ryan and Josh Shook have done in this book is take a look at how many Christians don’t “own” their faith, instead they rely on the faith of others.  The surprising thing is many people don’t realize this.  They have gone to church, participated in mission trips and everything else that “good Christians” do. 

I wish this book was around when I was younger, because this was me.  In fact one chapter is entitled “Trashing the Checklist”.  When I was in high school, I literally had a chart where I would tick off each item as I did it and gave myself a grade each week as to how I preformed as a Christian.  Thankfully God doesn’t rely on what we do or don’t do, but Grace is His measuring stick, and He doesn’t grade on a curve but it’s a “pass/fail” as to if we have asked Him for that Grace in our lives.

One of the things I enjoyed most about this book was at the end of each chapter there was a section entitled, “Making it Real” where it helps you apply what you just read.  I especially enjoyed the “Other Voices” where people from around the country told their experiences with that part of making faith real.  Some of these mirrored my experiences.     I could relate so well to some.  I grew up in church, spent three years in a Christian school, went on mission trips, taught Vacation Bible School, memorized entire BOOKS of the Bible, but it was just what I felt I was supposed to do to earn God’s love.  That’s where some of these people were.  Others I didn’t really connect with their experiences, but it was interesting to see how people are different in their faith.

Another thing I particularly liked about this book is they encouraged people to question.  I asked lots of questions in my search for truth.  I had one pastor tell me, “It’s a waste of my time to talk to you.”  when I was asking him questions.  Being told it’s okay to doubt is something I rarely see in Christendom.  I particularly liked the quote in this chapter, “God is no less with you in your doubts than He is with you in your certainties.”  (Page 123).  Often I have been made to feel the opposite.  Not sure about something?  Doesn’t that mean you’re backslidden and need to make a trip to the altar?  Not always.  We’re human, and God understands that.  Thomas was with Jesus, saw Him with his own eyes, and Thomas still doubted.  It’s unnatural to assume we will never have doubts when we haven’t seen with our eyes.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is disillusioned with church (or God.   Many times we say we are disillusioned with God when it’s the church we have become upset with the inconsistencies in “rules”.)  I also would recommend this to anyone who even grew up or has been in church for a while.  Even if you once had a firsthand faith, it’s still easy to replace it with a secondhand one.  While aimed at younger people, this book has value to all ages.

You can watch a talk about this book here:

FTC disclosure:  I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Please rank my review here:

You can purchase Firsthand here:

You can read a sneak peak here:

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Book Review: Rosebud Blooming

Rosebud Blooming: Hurting to Healing in His TimingRosebud Blooming: Hurting to Healing in His Timing by Nancy Maggio
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

If I was presented with this book, but it was still in manuscript form, I would say it could have potential. However, as a finished book, it falls far short of what it could have been, and I only finished it because I was provided a copy from the publisher for an honest review, therefore I *had* to read it. I feel if I say I'm going to read something, I need to, no matter how much I dislike a book.

This book is good in premise. There are 88 pages, and each chapter begins with a poem, then is followed by a short story of an event that happened in the author's life. When given the opportunity to review this book, it looked like one I would greatly enjoy Rosebud Blooming starts with the poem "Unfolding This Rosebud". While it is not of great literary quality, the sentiment is beautiful, and I settled in further, knowing I picked up a great read.

Chapter One, "Voice in the Valley" was the best edited selection in the book. The story could have used polishing, and I prefer much less dialogue in a passage. A tale often flows better without lots of "He said", "She whispered" interjected into the story. The recollection did give me goosebumps, I enjoyed this memory, and it was by far the best told story of the collection.

The next section starts with a poem "Skeletons in the Closet". This time I felt the poem was more forced. Rhymes such as "doors/metaphors" were used, and even "fear/years". I was always taught that if you end a line in a poem plural you need to have the next line with the same ending or it won't rhyme. In other words, fear rhymes with year, not years, and this was repeated frequently through the book. The poems grew increasingly forced and un-rhymed as the book progressed. Some of these couplets included "world/twirl", "clergy/worry", "others/shudders", and even "unique/freak". This book would have been infinitely stronger leaving out the poems. They would make a nice keepsake to hand down to family, but for a published book, they are not of enough literary quality to merit being included.

The number of interjections in the prose interrupted the flow. While the author may have thought "Ha!" or "Duh", leaving it out would have allowed the reader a more pleasant experience with this book. The questions in her thoughts made me have to stop and refocus as I forgot what was going in the story. An example of this is on page 63, "Huh? This was a quick-fix surgery?" and on page 72 where she thinks, "What planet does this guy live on?" (Given the situation I would have been thrilled someone came to my rescue and not given a second thought to someone calling from outside my window asking if my house was locked.) The English language is varied and has so many phrases that can be put together to create a tale, yet the author often resorted to cliches.

As a Christian reading a Christian book, I didn't feel like the abbreviation OMG! should have been used. While it would have read better spelled out instead of just "OMG!", my problem was this typically stands for "Oh My God!" and reading a Christian book, I didn't expect to see my Lord's name taken in vain.

The editor of this book certainly didn't do his/her job, either. There were two different times the author said "me and _____". Because it was in the predicate of a sentence, "me" was correct, but proper English dictates that the other person come before "me", an example is "my daughter and me". Technically you should also order people in importance. An example being "the president, my congressman, my mayor, and me". One of the times the author used "me and ____" she said "me and God". I believe God is much more important than the author, and I groaned out loud and checked how many more pages were left to this book I wanted to edit with a red pen.

I truly believe the story "Wounded, Rescued, and Saved" combined with "Betrayal" would make a wonderful full length book themselves. These were fascinating stories that would have had many details I am sure people would have found very interesting if they were just presented at length. I was hoping the bulk of the book would be about these two segments, but instead "Betrayal" was a mere five and a half pages long instead of memoir length. While of course, it could have been edited to make the writing more pleasant to read, the content was good enough to make up for the quality of writing. I really wish the author would consider writing this as a full length book, but I would recommend finding a different editor next time she publishes! While some might disagree with the fact that homosexuality needs a "complete healing" as she states at the end of this vignette, there is enough to draw from to write a whole book merely on this section. If she doesn't do so, I hope her brother does. (And I sincerely hope she received his permission to write this story about him!)

I was excited to read this book, and I fully expected to like it. I think it has potential, but I feel it's still in rough draft form. Losing the poems, polishing the stories and adding some more I believe would make this into a much better read. As it is, it was difficult for me to concentrate on the content in part because of writing style and with grammar problems a good editor should have fixed. For this reason I give it one star.

FTC disclosure: I was provided a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own, and I was in no way required to write a positive review.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Review and Giveaway: JJ Heller's Album "Loved"

 Available for purchase today is J.J. Heller's new album, "LOVED"

 I had never heard of her until I was asked if I wanted to do a review of this album, but just one listen to a sample song and I was hooked.

This video, "Who You Are" seems to be just life going about as normal. Lately my mind has been thinking about friends who lost a child some years back. I am sure if you ask them, life is still just putting one foot in front of the other. The lyrics of this song are haunting. God "lost" His Child. This album clocks in at just under 39 minutes with 10 songs. They are beautiful both in style (although some are a little more rockier with drums). The lyrics are even stronger than the songs. 

One of my favorite songs is "Redemption" The chorus says "We're alive for the very first time". Isn't that the way redemption feels? Knowing that, as it also says in the song, "Everything broken will be whole again". That's pretty much beyond our wildest dreams, right? Knowing what is cursed is redeemed, what is broken will be made whole. It's a comforting thought, and lends itself to a wonderful song.   The whole album is to give hope for what can happen in the future.  Our world is full of hurt and pain, but someday. . . someday in Heaven if not before, we will be made whole, restored, and filled with joy.  This album reminds of of what will be while we're still in a world filled with pain.  Yet it's not pithy, but touches on real human emotion acknowledging hurt, grief, and disappointment.

JJ Heller and her husband, David, did an excellent job of writing these songs. She sings lead vocals, he does background vocals and the acoustic guitar. I haven't been a big fan of contemporary Christian music the last few years, but if this album is any indication of what may be on the horizon, I am looking forward to the future! I really loved this album, and I highly recommend it. 

Connect with the artist:

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received one or more of the products or services mention above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers. 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” 

And I have a copy to give away to one reader of The Radar Report.  Open to the USA only,  18 and older.   Winner has 48 hours to respond or another winner will be chosen.  Giveaway ends March 24 at 11:59 pm Eastern.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Blog Tour Review and Giveaway: The One Good Thing

The One Good Thing by Kevin Alan Milne
Published:  March 12, 2013
Publisher: Center Street
Pages:  384

At the beginning of “One Good Thing”, Nathan Steen seems like the perfect man.  He could be the man that romance books write about -- loving, kind, perfect family man.  He always carries stones, and when he does a good deed, he moves a stone to a different pocket so he knows if he’s done all his good deeds for the day.  Sometimes he does something small, or he might take half a day (and his family) to help clean an elderly woman’s home.

But Nathan carries a secret.  Only one person knows his secret, and that person is not his wife Halley.  It isn’t until a freak accident when he’s helping a Hispanic man named Jesus who is stranded by the roadside that the facade Nathan has been living behind shatters -- because he is killed.  The law firm he works for allows Halley access to his computer so she can retrieve any personal documents.

That’s when she sees the e-mail from Madeline Zuckerman that references “our little girl”.  Halley has never heard of this woman, nor did she know Nathan had any other children.  Alice, Nathan’s daughter is convinced there has to be some mistake, but even her grandparents know who Madeline Zuckerman is, but Alice isn’t swayed.  She knows everyone is wrong because her dad wouldn’t have another child or he would have told her.

This book chronicles the story of the Steen family as they come to grips with finding out that their hero wasn’t as big of a hero as they thought.  It takes us back to Nathan’s high school days, introduces us to Madeline (or as she was called back then Fatty Maddy).  Old wounds get reopened, and hurt runs deep when there’s a two decade long secret, but in the midst of hurt there’s honor.

I loved this book.  I read it in two sittings.  While I enjoy reading, it’s rare a book makes me cry, but this one did.  I think Kevin seemed too perfect in the beginning, but then we learn he’s carrying a secret that could shatter everything everyone believed about him.  At that point he became real to me.   I thought the fact he was helping Jesus when he died was a little farfetched.  Sure, I know there are lots of Hispanic people named Jesus, but I felt this was taking Nathan’s charitable acts too far.

I thought the writing was excellent, and the story was woven in such a way that different characters told their story, but at the same time even with going back into time we don’t learn Nathan’s true secret until the present.  Not everyone lives happily ever after, but healing and restoration takes place.  Of course there’s no bring Nathan back, and for that reason the book is sad, but what if there were more Nathan Steens in the world?  it would be a better place.

About the author:

Kevin Milne was born in 1973 in Portland, Oregon. Although Oregon was always considered home, he also spent portions of his childhood in Virginia, Hawaii, and California. In 1991 he graduated from Sherwood High school, followed by undergraduate studies at Brigham Young University, then an MBA from Pennsylvania State University. As an adult he has lived in such varied places as Vermont, New Jersey, Nevada, Austria, and Croatia.

Since beginning his writing career in 2007, Milne's novels have been reproduced in 16 languages worldwide. His first published work, "The Paper Bag Christmas", was converted to a stage play in 2011.

Today, Kevin resides once more in his home town of Sherwood, Oregon. He and his wife, Rebecca, were married in Washington DC in 1995, and are the proud parents of five children.

FTC disclosure:  I received an advanced reading copy of this book in exchange for a fair and honest review.  The opinions are entirely my own.

Good news!  I also received an advanced reading copy of this book to give away to one lucky reader of my blog.  The giveaway is open to the USA and Canada.  You must be 18 to enter.  Winner will have 48 hours to respond to my e-mail or another winner will be chosen.  Giveaway ends March 20, 2013 at 11:59 pm Eastern time.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Sunday, March 3, 2013

VeggieTales: The Little House That Stood Review and Givewaway

I enjoy most VeggieTales videos.  I love the talking vegetables, the jokes that probably go over kids' heads, and the silly song that appear in each episode.   I was excited when I received an offer to review VeggieTales:  The Little House that Stood and this was a DVD that I enjoyed as much as the others.

The video starts out with Bob and Larry wanting to do different sketches.  Larry wants to do a fairy tale story, and Bob wants to do a parable from the Bible, so they compromise and Bob becomes a builder of houses.  The parable of the wise man building his house upon the rock is explained in this episode.  As usual, VeggieTales takes liberties with the story to make it amusing, and in this episode the Three Little Pigs come to town and each hires a different builder.  One builds with brick, one with hay, and one with sticks.  Cabbageville gets hit with a horrible flood, and many structures are wiped away, but there are some buildings that stand.  Each one of those has something in common.  It was built by Bob, and each one had a solid fountation before construction began.

The silly song in this episode was not my favorite, but it was cute.   It was "Happy Tooth Day".  In this, Larry the Cucumber sings about his solitary tooth, including showing a baby picture of when he got his tooth.  He's afraid it might be lonely, so he buys it some friends.

The final section of the video was my least favorite.  Bob the Tomato stars as Humpty Dumpty, mayor of Gooseville.  It included lots of nursery rhyme references, but I felt it didn't have any real point to it.  I suppose it was to be about helping your neighbor, but it didn't come across as very biblical.   Just as a lesson, and the constant whining to Bob as mayor was a more than just a little annoying, especially the shrieks of Little Bo Peep.  Everyone went directly to Bob the Tomato with their problems, not trying to help one another or seeking help of someone at church or praying about them.  Still, this section was cute in its own way.  As an adult who loves VeggieTales, this segment is one I would be content to never watch again, although youngsters may feel differently.

Overall, this was another strong, solid episode of VeggieTales and one I would recommend.  

This episode goes on sale March 5th but you can go ahead and order it here:

Disclosure of Material Connection:  I received one or more of the products or services mention above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog.  Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will be good for my readers.  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”

And now for the giveaway:

I have one copy of VeggieTales:  The Little House that Stood to give to one of my readers.  To enter, you must be 18 or older, and live in the USA.  Ends March 12, 2013, and the winner will have 24 hours to respond to the e-mail or another winner will be chosen.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, March 1, 2013

Book Review: Girls with Swords

Girls with Swords: Why Women Need to Fight Spiritual BattlesGirls with Swords: Why Women Need to Fight Spiritual Battles by Lisa Bevere

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Publisher: Waterbrook Multnomah
Publication Year: 2013
Pages: 222

Girls with Swords:  How to Carry your Cross like a Hero is Lisa Bevere’s latest book.  I wanted to like this book.  One of my “book buddies” at church loves her husband’s books, so I started into this book hopeful, only to soon feel she was stretching to reach her analogies.  For instance, she uses the fact that the word sword is found in the words “God’S WORD”.  To me this means nothing except she is trying to find anything to make her points.  I would be much more impressed if that was the case in Greek as that was the language in which the New Testament was written.

I also disagree with her statement on pages 68-69:

“I don’t think the rulers of that age were particularly suprised that Jesus rose from the dead.  They had seen the dead raised before, and Jesus had told everyone he would rise after three days.”

When it says in John chapter two:

19 Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.  20 Then said the Jews, Forty and six years was this temple and the building, and wilt thou rear it up in three days?  21 But he spake of the temple of his body. 22 When there he was risen from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this unto them; and they belied the scripture and the word which Jesus had said.

I don’t believe that when Jesus’ own disciples did not understand until after the Resurrection that it was going to happen that the rulers had more spiritual insight than Jesus’ disciples. 

She also quotes generously from The Message which is not the most accurate Bible translation available.  It’s good for a devotional, but I prefer a more accurate translation.

I felt the theology was a bit off as well.  Of course, I don’t agree with a lot of Pentecostal theology and this book seemed to be of Pentecostal persuasion.   I did read the entire book, and there were sections I enjoyed.  I liked when she told personal stories.  I would have enjoyed this book much more if she would have talked more from her life and less about swords, as I think it’s a stretch to say that the cross is a sword.  I believe there are better books on spiritual warfare and living the Christian life, but if you are a Lisa Bevere fan, you will likely enjoy this book.

I received a copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. The opinions are my own.

You can purchase it here:

You can read a sneak peak here: