Wednesday, December 17, 2014

A Special Gift for Christmas

The meaning of Christmas shines through this collection of stories. These are not tales of Santa, elves and reindeer. These stories by well known authors illustrate the deeper meaning of Christmas. They range from sentimental to humorous. In these twenty stories there is something for everyone.

My favorites were Riders of St. Nicholas, a humorous tale of cowboys left behind to take care of the ranch while the rest of the ranch staff rides off to enjoy a Christmas celebration. I also liked Pearl Buck's Christmas Day in the Morning. This is a sentimental story of milking cows on Christmas morning.

The book is illustrated with wood cuts that add an extra dimension to the beauty of the tales. These stories can be enjoyed in private, but they can also be read aloud for the enjoyment of the entire family.

I highly recommend this collection. It can be a special Christmas gift for your family, or for friends. It is a very lovely book.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

A Philosophical Exploration of Santa's Existence: Does Santa Exist? by Eric Kaplan

Tammi tells the author, Eric Kaplan, that her son, Schyler, can't be friends with his son, Ari, because Ari would tell Schyler that Santa doesn't exist. This causes Eric to be concerned that Tammi is sacrificing the children's friendship for a belief. Can people hold different beliefs and remain friends? Is it important that a belief be based on reality? The question then becomes: Does Santa Exist?

To answer this question Kaplan takes us through an abbreviated course in philosophy from the ancient Greeks, to medieval Jewish philosophers, and Buddhists. On the way we pass through neuroscience and folklore. The book contains some attempts at comedy to explain philosophical ideas, but I thought they generally fell flat.

I didn't dislike the book, but I did feel that Kaplan took a rather circuitous route to get to the conclusion. The book is not difficult to read. If you enjoy philosophical discussions, you will like this book. However, I can't recommend it. I felt it was rather pretentious,
showing off the author's grasp of philosophy to come up with an answer that was intuitively obvious from the beginning.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

This Life is Not Your Only Chance

The premise of the book is that we, and all of creation, are part of the living God. Each lifetime is devoted to learning. We can die and choose to come back to learn the things we left unfinished, or couldn't face in this life time.

This is an interesting premise and Mike Dooley makes a good case for it. His case is not all that different from that made by some of the major philosophers and religions. In fact, the early chapters read much like philosophy.

I'm not sure I believe all that Dooley says, but some of his ideas are beyond question. We all have the power to affect our own lives in the here and now. We don't have to be victims. If we see ourselves as powerful, we will be able to overcome obstacles. Trials are not to break us. Trials are to show us that we can over come adversity.

One of his major themes is that the way we see ourselves is withing in our power to change. This is a good message. Whether you believe the dead have seen this and are giving you insight, or whether this rings with truth for today, it's an excellent message.

The book is comprised of a number of chapters on topics such as the idea that dead people have moved on to another reality, dreams can come true, dead people were ready to go, but we, the living, may not be, and life is more than fair. Each chapter ends with a letter from a dead person to someone dear to them. Most of the letters are from young people, but they ring true for people at any age.

I enjoyed the book. I'm not sure the dead are telling us these things, but certainly the premises make sense. We do make our own reality by the way we deal with the adversities and successes that come our way. I recommend the book. It will give you a lift.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Transplant Recipients, Romance and Serial Killers

Angry because the police are not doing more to find her brother, Rachael de Luca, blind since childhood, stomps out into the street and is promptly hit by Detective Mason Brown's car. She is shaken but unhurt, still he feels responsible.

Mason is having a bad day. Immediately after hitting Rachael, he receives a text from his brother, Eric, returns to his apartment, and watches his brother commit suicide. That isn't the worst; Eric left a suicide note confessing to killing thirteen young men. Mason can't bring himself to accuse his brother. He hides the evidence and to atone gives Eric's body for organ transplant.

Rachael receives the corneas. Now she can see, but at the price of terrible nightmares in which she appears to enjoy killing young men. In spite of Eric's death, the killing hasn't stopped. Now Rachael and Mason team up to find who is committing these murders.

Cynical, sassy Rachael is a great character. You can't help, but love her independence. Mason is a good foil. He's a sexy hunk, driven by guilt, and at bottom a good cop. The interplay between these two makes the novel worth reading.

The plot, based on stories of transplant victims who take on the characteristics of their donors, is interesting, but seems to go well beyond the actual stories. The novel has a number of twists that keep you guessing. However, I was disappointed in the ending. I felt there was too little buildup to justify the final unveiling of the murderer.

I recommend this book if you like romantic thrillers. It's the first book in a series, so you may get hooked.

I reviewed this book for the Amazon Vine Program.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

A Comprehensive Examination of Prayer

In the second half of life, Thomas Keller and his wife realized how important prayer was for them. Both were diagnosed with serious illnesses. When he was diagnosed with thyroid cancer, his wife asked him to pray with her every evening. Perhaps because of the timing, they realized the importance of praying regularly at night and have been doing it every since. Their experience is an excellent introduction to this useful volume.

Keller points out that prayer occurs in all cultures. It may differ in presentation, Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians pray differently, but they all pray. Even atheists have admitted that they pray. Prayer is a facit of most people's lives. From this perspective, Keller examines the various aspects of prayer.

In Part One, Desiring Prayer, he discusses the need for prayer with an delightful illustration of Flannery O'Connor's struggle with prayer. Part Two, Understanding Prayer, discusses the many varieties of prayer both in religious and non-religious traditions. Part Three Discusses how theologians like Augustin, Luther, and Calvin taught about prayer and the methods they used. Part Four, Deepening Prayer, uses illustrations from John Owen, C.S. Lewis and others to discuss meditation and the experiential aspects of prayer. Part Five, Doing Prayer, is about learning how to pray. I thought one of the best parts of the book was the last chapter which is a guide for daily prayer.

I highly recommend this book. It not only gives a broad overview of the history and cultural differences of prayer, but it leaves you with a plan for your own spiritual development through daily prayer.

I reviewed this book for Net Galley.  

A Thoughtful Way to End Your Day with Prayer

Christoph Blumhardt (1842 – 1919) was a German Lutheran theologian. He didn't publish these prayers when he was alive. They were spoken prayers shared with his friends, including Deitrich Bonhoeffer, Emil Brunner, Karl Barth and others. Because the prayers were spoken, we can feel the author's voice in the beautiful language. I love the feeling of peace reading these prayers gives you.

Each prayer is accompanied by a scripture reference. This makes them perfect for meditation and devotion at the end of the day. There are 365 prayers making this devotional perfect for a year's worth of worship. Often it's difficult to find time in the evening to speak with God, but these prayers make it easy. Sometimes words don't flow, but these prayers and scripture give you a way to start.

I highly recommend this devotional. It would make a wonderful gift or an addition to your own collection of devotionals.

I reviewed this book for Handlebar Publishing.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Worried About Your Loss of Civil Liberties? – Read This Book

In Suicide Pact, Judge Napolitano traces the loss of our civil liberties, not just from the most recent incursions by Presidents Bush and Obama, but throughout the history of our country. In high school, most of us heard of the acts that curtailed our freedoms at least the names of the acts should be somewhat familiar: Alien and Sedition Act; Lincoln's suspension of habeaus corpus and use of military courts rather than civilian; Wilson's Overman Act; Franklin Roosevelt's imprisonment of the Japanese during WWII; and more recently Bush's Patriot Act.

When you see all these incursions into our liberty discussed in a single book, it makes you realize how much we citizens have abdicated our responsibilities because of fear, or because of political advantage for the party we support. This book is well researched. The cases are discussed by a legal scholar, but are easily understood by a general audience.

The book is not a condemnation of a single party. Napolitano is even handed in showing the depredations into our liberty by both parties and by some of our most revered presidents. I highly recommend this book. It's a wake-up call.

I reviewed this book for BookLook Bloggers.