Thursday, April 26, 2012

Vindication for Jefferson: Criticism of Modern Scholarship

Thomas Jefferson was a very charismatic individual. In his own day and even today people have very strong opinions about him. In The Jefferson Lies, Barton covers six distortions of Jefferson's beliefs and actions. Thomas Jefferson:
  • Fathered Sally Hemings' children
  • Founded a secular university
  • Wrote his own Bible and edited out the things he didn't agree with
  • Was a racist who opposed equality for black Americans
  • Advocated a secular public square through the separation of church and state
  • Detested the Clergy
  • Was an Atheist and not a Christian
Barton does an excellent job of refuting these misconceptions by quoting from primary sources and giving an accurate description of what the culture was like in the 1800s. He makes the point that Jefferson was a complex personality, and his views changed over time. He was a good man who tried to apply rational thinking to very complex problems. It's one of the attributes of Jefferson's correspondence that makes them worth reading in the original.

Barton also makes the point that modern scholarship is lacking in a number of areas. I think the most important criticism is that scholars no longer, except in rare cases, go back to primary sources and study the cultural differences between today and the period when Jefferson lived. For me, this is a very serious criticism. Generations of children and young adults are receiving sloppy instruction. I have no problem with people having political agendas, but I do think it's wrong to distort history to prove one's bias.

I highly recommend this book. Both the scholarly presentation of information about Jefferson and the argument that too many scholars are dangerously cutting corners in their research are well worth considering. Whether you agree, or disagree, this book will make you think.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Money Isn't the Most Important Thing

Amanda meets and marries Jack, but one suspects that she really fell in love with his three year old twins. She can't have children herself, and she wants them desperately. The early part of the book is filled with the idyllic, loving family that Amanda and Jack, create for the three-year-old twins.

But there are other problems on the horizon. Although Jack has told his billionaire father that he doesn't want to live on his money, the money is still there. When Jack and his parents are killed in a plane crash, it's left to Amanda to take care of the inheritance. All she wants is the girls, but scenting money, the maternal grandparents manage to gain custody. The girls are raised in a poor, red-neck environment, experimenting with sex and drugs and believing the lies told about Amanda.

The book is an easy read. Amanda and the girls tug at your hear strings. How many children have been sacrificed to the avarice of grandparents? The biblical themes, prodical son and Cain and Abel, are very prominent, but most readers will probably be oblivious. The fact remains it's a great story.

On the negative side, the characters are not well developed. We like the girls and Amanda and keep rooting for them, but the grandparents are too much of a caricature of evil to be believable. I enjoyed the setting, but felt the novel's potential was squandered on less than fully realized characters.

I recommend the book, if you like a quick read. It has good Christian principles and can even make you cry.

I reviewed this book for the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Friday, April 13, 2012

A Story of Redemption, and for Parents and Teens, a Cautionary Tale

This is the story of a young man who had all the advantages. His parents are missionaries; his father, an evangelist. He grew up in a Christian home, but he had to test the limits. If you're a parent, the stories of his limit testing will make you cringe. I raised four boys, and I have to admit I held my breath through the early part of the book, wondering did my kids do this too?

I thought Andrew's tale of falling from grace through wanting to be popular, to be someone other people talked about was very enlightening. Many teens want this and they choose the same path Andrew chose. As parents, we need to be aware of the pitfalls. I'm certainly not blaming Andrew's parents. He, from the narrative, had exceptional parents, but it cautions us to be aware of how our children feel and perhaps to try to empathize with how much attention they need when they try to become somebody.

I thought this was an exceptional story. I applaud Andrew Palau for telling it in all it's heartrending detail. I highly recommend this book for parents of teens and for teens. No one needs to take Andrew's path to the Lord, but far too many children do.

I reviewed this book for NP BytheBook.  

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Moving to the Country May Not Solve Your Problems

Brad and Darlene move to Roundtop, Texas to find a more relaxed place to raise their family. Their oldest son, Chad, has been in trouble at school in Houston. They're hoping the move to a smaller community will change that. As with all changes in life, some good things happen: Chad seems to have grown beyond his bad crowd, Darlene finds a true friend, and Anesty gets her laying hens. However, everything is not wonderful in paradise. Grace, the second oldest, experiences severe problems, Darlene has to face whether she can work outside the home, or whether her family needs her full time, and Brad has to come to terms with keeping secrets from his wife.

The book is a good one for parents of teenagers, particularly if the mother is a stay-at-home-mom. The book tackles many problems of young adults: illegal drinking, emotional problems, and dating. It also raises questions about how much Mom has to give up to keep the family together. The book came down rather heavily on the side of Mom going back home, but I'm not sure that's realistic in today's world. I would have liked to see a more balanced way of dealing with the problem of Mom's job and the kids' needs.

The story is a bit diffuse. I thought Wiseman was trying to deal with too many problems and character types. The risk with too many characters is that some the conflicts go unresolved. That happened in this book, but may pick up in Part II.

I recommend this book if you're dealing with teenagers, or a mom deciding to go back to work. It's filled with reminders that we all need to talk to God. I found that very refreshing. The story moves quickly and is easy to read. You have to decide for yourself whether Brad and Darlene are making good choices for themselves and their children.

I reviewed this book as part of the Booksneeze Program.  

Sunday, April 8, 2012

A Tribute to People Who Influenced His Life

How many of us know people who touched our lives, some we see in person, others are people who influenced us from afar, but they all left their mark on us? Calvin Miller has a wonderful idea. Tell them how much they meant. They're all in heaven. He hopes to meet them there, but sometimes the hardest things to say when you're face to face are the things that matter most. Calvin's solution was to write letters to the important people in his life. It's something we could all do.

I loved the letters, some made me cry, but they all made me think. Some of the people Calvin wrote to like CS Lewis and Madeleine L'Engle, are people who were important to many of us because of their writings. Others are people we too would like to thank, like Todd Beamer who inspired all of us with his “Let's Roll.”

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and recommend it to anyone who has people in their life they'd like to remember. I may even try writing some of my own “Letters to Heaven.”

I reviewed the book for PR By the Book. Letters to Heaven: Reaching Beyond the Great Divide by Calvin Miller

Friday, April 6, 2012

Support for the Bible as History

Do Historical Matters Matter to Faith? Offers the reader, as stated in the introduction, a challenge and an invitation to consider that the Bible is a historical narrative, the account of real actions that happened in real places in real times. The book covers a very wide range of topics relating to this thesis:
  • Biblical, Systematic, and Historical Theology
  • The Old Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority
  • The New Testament and Issues of History, Authenticity, and Authority
  • The Old Testament and Archeology

Since the topics cover a very wide area, it is not always possible to give an in-depth treatment to any one topic. However, I didn't find this to be a problem. There are numerous references and if one topic is of many interest it can be followed up in other sources. I liked the fact that I could sample all the areas and then go in-depth on those the interested me.

My particular favorites were the chapters on Isaiah and Daniel. I found the chapter on Daniel particularly fascinating. Little is known about the history of Babylon and Nebuchadnezzar, beyond that found in the Bible chapter. However, the more we learn, the more the chapter appears to report on real events.

My favorite section was the fourth section on archeology, particularly the chapter on excavations at Khirbet Qeiyafa. The descriptions of the site were very well done and reinforced for me the idea that not all ancient sites have been well explored and the more we learn about them, the more they support a historical model. Personally, I believe that the Bible is a historical record. I was delighted to find so many excellent chapters in support of that proposition. Even if that isn't you belief, the book is well worth reading. It will make you think and may change your mind.

I reviewed this book for Crossway.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

A Rather Slow Start: Finding Our Way Home by Charlene Ann Baumbich

Badly injured after a fall, prima ballerina, Sasha Davis, returns to her home town practically hiding in her deceased mother's house. Angry, depressed, and in pain she is a difficult person to be around. Evelyn Burt, an irrepressible nineteen-year-old, wants to be on her own out of her parents house. She's opted not to go to college, which is a major disappointment for her parents, and she's engaged to a boy they don't like. Sasha hires Evelyn to be her assistant and the lives of the two women begin to intertwine, each helping the other in small, but eventually, life-changing ways.

This book is a very nice story about normal people, people you might know. If you want to immerse yourself in someone elses' not too threatening life, this is probably the book for you. Personally, I found the opening very slow going. We don't find out what Sasha's problems are, besides the injury, for many pages. If the author were building suspense, it would be one thing, but this seems more like an inability to get to the point of the story. My thought was that perhaps the story should start somewhat later, perhaps when Sasha starts rehab and begins to take a more active part in her life rather than being a petulant invalid.

While the women in the story were fairly believable, I found the male characters poorly done. Donald is so nice, it's hard to believe anyone could be that wonderful. Jason is somewhat more real, but again he doesn't come across as a full person. I can recommend this book only if you like pretty stories with a happy ending.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Romance, Mystery and Danger in Ancient Babylon

Princess Tiamet is recently widowed. Her first husband Shaltiel was the eldest son of the Judean King, Jeconiah. Under Jewish custom, it would be proper for her to wed his younger brother, Pedaiah, bur Tia dislikes him. To preserve her independence, she suggests instead that she'll marry his younger brother, Nedabiah, who is only ten years old. But Tia's mother, Queen Amytis, has another plan.

Tia has no protectors. Her father Nebuchadnezzar has been mad for seven years, roaming the hanging gardens, living like an animal. Tia loves him but knows she can't expect him to help her. He's virtually a prisoner in his own body. But the mad king isn't the only secret the palace holds. The Magi are becoming more powerful. An air of tension hangs over the city and mysterious and dangerous things happen. Knowing that she has no one to help her, Tia decides to help herself and discover what evil is being plotted.

If you like historical romance, you'll enjoy this book. The story is primarily fiction, but relies on the Book of Daniel for the historical elements. The descriptions of life in Babylon are intriguing as is the depiction of life in the palace.

Although I enjoyed the book, I felt the character of Tiamet was rather modern for ancient Babylon. When we meet her, she's exercising by jogging along the palace walls at night. This picture made me wonder how historically accurate the book would be. However, since little is actually known about Nebuchadnezzar's court, it's hard to judge. Historically accurate or not, the book is a captivating romance.

I reviewed this book as part of the Booksneeze Program.

Fast Paced Thriller Based of the Mystery of Columbus

Tom Sagan, previously a star reporter, is ready to blow his brains out. He knows he was betrayed by some of his sources who furnished invalid information. He ran with the story and lost his job and his standing as a prime reporter, but he can't find anyone to clear his name. Life no longer seems worth it. Suddenly, a man, Zachariah Simon, appears at his house holding a picture of his daughter, Alle. He shows Sagan a video of her tied to a bed being molested. Sagan and his daughter are estranged, but she is his daughter. He can't help but respond.

Simon is looking for a treasure related to the voyages of Columbus. He thinks Sagan has some clue to where it is. According to legend, Columbus brought a valuable treasure to the New World, but what was it? Indeed, who was Columbus? These questions are at the heart of the danger stalking Sagan and his daughter.

Berry does an excellent job of inserting historical detail into the fictional narrative. In fact, it is probably what keeps the story moving swiftly. We really want to find out about the Columbus mystery. The action moves between Europe, where Zachariah Simon tracks the history of Columbus' voyages and the people who were associated with him, and Jamaica where a delightful character named Bene Rowe is his sometime confederate. Rowe is a Maroon, early inhabitants of Jamaica. I learned a great deal about the fascinating history of Jamaica and the early inhabitants.

I highly recommend this book, if you like thrillers, particularly those with a historical background. The pace is fast, the history seems mostly factual, and the characters are well drawn. As a bonus, you'll get to experience the lush beauty of Jamaica.

I reviewed this book as part of the Amazon Vine Program.