Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Movie review: Polycarp: destroyer of the gods (2015)

Within the past two weeks, my siblings and I got to see the Polycarp movie
(available as DVD on May 5th 2015!)
We were interested partly because we know many of the people involved with this film project, and partly because historical accounts such as these are so important to remember.
I must admit that I experienced some fear of going to see a Christian film because I can be rather critical of the typical badly-filmed poorly acted homeschool family film. 

Imagine my relief and excitement when I immediately found myself immersed in the movie, with no qualms at all about the quality of the production!
We all agreed that this film accurately and respectfully portrayed the life and death of Polycarp. 
Polycarp (AD 80-167) was one of the earliest martrys. A student of the apostle John, Polycarp served as the bishop of Smyrna.  Tertullian testifies of Polycarp's discipleship with John, while Saint Jerome wrote that Polycarp was a disciple of John and that John had ordained him bishop of Smyrna. Polycarp was martyred at an advanced age for refusing to burn incense to the Roman Emperor. He was burnt at the stake and then, when the flames did not end his life speedily enough, stabbed to death. A famous quote from the martyr is:
"Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong"

       How wonderful then, that Henline productions (run by talented brother and sister Joe and Jerica Henline) has produced this beautiful film dramatizing the later years of Polycarp. Although it incorporates some fictional aspects, one can tell that the film was made with much thought and consideration to historical detail and the glory of God in particular. This is no money-seeking venture but rather a film dedicated to the Lord! 

Since there are so few details known about the daily life of Polycarp, Henline productions created several fictional characters, specifically a slave girl ''Anna'' around which to weave the story. The whole film beautifully emphasizes God's amazing love and grace as the family in the story actively demonstrate God's love by opening up their hearts and home to the young slave girl.
It makes a wonderful family film which will open up hearts and lead to important conversations particularly with young children. On that note, I will assure you that this movie kindly avoids gore and extreme violence. The scenes in the ampitheatre are surprisingly well-done with the horror of the moment being represented yet there is nothing you would want to hide from a child younger than 8 or 9. 

Other aspects we loved about the movie include...
-Sets/props were accurate; excellent portrayal of ancient Smyrna (our family loves history and are used to critiquing films)
-Believer's worship gatherings were realistic and well done (you know how awkward it is when you're watching a film about believers in ancient times and they use terms from the 21st century? Not so in this film, thankfully!)
-Gary Nation who played Polycarp did a great job!
-Eliya Hurt, although not a professional actress played her main role of ''Anna'' delightfully
-The score by Benjamin Botkin was absolutely beautiful. I loved how he incorporated traditional instruments into the music to give it a perfect Greek feel.
-The horror of the amphitheater was hinted at without there being any gore whatsoever
-I recommend this movie for ages 8+
-The cinematography of this film was especially pleasing. Beautiful color tones and filming.

As for those necessary critical thoughts which I'm sure you want to hear since there is no way this movie can be absolutely perfect...
-We didn't care for the actor (Gary Bosek) who played the evil Quadratus...but he was a bad guy, and nobody's supposed to like them right? We just found his acting talent lacking. 
-The mother (played by Ilse Apestegui) is sweet but a little overdone in the film. However,
this probably won't bother most people since a lot of actresses posing as mothers in films are like that. 
-There are some amateur actors of course, but not unbearable. 
-Although I prefer slower-paced films over fast-paced, I did find that this movie was a little long (slow) but it wasn't meant to pass as an action or adventure film, so one can hardly criticize it for that. And I did watch it at the end of a full Sunday so I was probably tired.
In conclusion, your family can't go wrong with getting this movie and watching it together! You will be moved and blessed by it. 

Thick as Thieves by Susan K. Marlow book review

Thick as Thieves
By Susan K. Marlow

   From Christian author Susan Marlow comes yet another book for young people! This new chapter book is the start of another collection of books about the popular character Andrea Carter who lives on a ranch in California! Readers who have enjoyed the previous books about Andi (the Circle C beginnings and adventures) will be delighted that the author has decided to continue sharing fictional Andrea's adventures as she grows into a young lady!
New readers will find, just as I did, that any of Susan Marlow's books can be read on their own as well as part of the series. Of course once you read Mrs. Marlow's works you will want to get her other titles as well!

   I have always been an avid reader. Growing up, I loved historical fiction. Now that I am an adult, I still enjoy speed-reading books for a younger audience in the hopes of finding new favorites for my siblings as well as my future children. Although there are many wonderful books for children and young adults which are not particularly Christian (think Little House and such), it is always great to be able to provide books for your children which reinforce Biblical truths and grace. I have found that Susan's books stay true to the Christian faith without becoming fake or unrealistic.
Unusually for Christian works of fiction, her books are also quite exciting. These books make splendid read-aloud as well as personal reading books.

 In Thick as Thieves, now fourteen-years old, Andrea Carter learns the meaning of true friendship through an exciting series of events.
The lessons within this book are applicable to all ages- boys or girls. I am looking forward to Susan Marlow's next books in the series!

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Monday, April 27, 2015

Simply Ancient Grains: Fresh and Flavorful Whole Grain Recipes for Living Well by Maria Speck

Simply Ancient Grains: Fresh and Flavorful Whole Grain Recipes for Living Well

Simply Ancient Grains: Fresh and Flavorful Whole Grain Recipes for Living Well


I was excited by this cookbook because for one thing, I am an extremely healthy eater and cook! Another aspect is that I am very interested in eating the way our ancestors did! Grains in the old (and I mean old) days were beneficial and healthy! I was hoping the author in Simply Ancient Grains would go in-depth to explain how to best prepare grains by soaking and sprouting and then cooking for the most nutrient-dense meals.
I was disappointed in that Maria Speck simply prepares the grains as most people do; by steaming or boiling, etc. Also, the recipes are a little too simple for my tastes and expertise. However the book is quite beautiful and full of the colorful photographs which the publisher is known for. Thus, I do recommend this book to those of you who desire many recipes for grain dishes! The recipes look tasty.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review!
The award-winning author of Ancient Grains for Modern Meals , Maria Speck makes cooking with ancient grains faster, more intuitive, and easier than ever before in this collection of recipes, most of which are gluten-free.

From black rice to red quinoa to golden Kamut berries, ancient grains are showing up on restaurant menus and store shelves in abundance. Yet in home kitchens, many fear that whole grains are too difficult and time-consuming to prepare. In Simply Ancient Grains, Maria makes cooking with these fascinating and nourishing staples easy and accessible with sumptuous recipes for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and dessert. Her family-friendly dishes are Mediterranean-inspired and delicious, such as Spicy Honey and Habanero Shrimp with Cherry Couscous; Farro Salad with Roasted Eggplant, Caramelized Onion, and Pine Nuts; and Red Rice Shakshuka with Feta Cheese. Maria’s tips and simplified approach take whole grain cooking to the next level by amplifying the flavor and enduring beauty of these nutritious grains.

A Sparrow in Terezin by Kristy Cambron

A Sparrow in Terezin (Thomas Nelson, April 2015)

   I don't read much fiction, but I have a fondness for historical fiction and especially world war two historical fiction. (and of course in the adult realm of recent literature, I stick to Christian fiction/historical fiction)

  I was intrigued by A Sparrow in Terezin on account of the world war two setting. When I began reading this novel, I was surprised by the unusual method the author has of coordinating two different stories in one volume; as you read the book you will jump back and forth from a story set in present-day California to the afore-mentioned world war two adventure. This at first may seem confusing yet the author, Kristy Cambron reveals exceptional writing skills in her melodious manner of conducting the two different tales. 

A Sparrow in Terezin is the indeed the sequel to Kristy Cambron's first novel, The Butterfly and the Violin in which you met the characters Sera and William Hanover. A Sparrow in Terezin was my first read from this author yet I had no difficulty keeping up with the tale. It did indeed have a confusing beginning but so exciting was it that it couldn't deter me from continuing to read just to uncover all the secrets. 

  I thought the author wrote with wonderful style and skill. It is rare to find a Christian fiction book written in such a classic manner. I believe that is the crowning glory of this book. The characters (particularly the world war two side in this book) are interesting and realistic. I did find that the plot twist, the storyline of this book wasn't worth the time I gave to reading the book. However on the other hand any time spent reading this book wasn't necessarily a waste since it was so well-written. But I did feel disappointment during the concluding chapters of the book. I was left with the feeling that everything wrapped up too easily and quickly.
Lastly, I did not feel much Spiritual depth in this novel. Surprisingly, the romance contained within was sane and beautiful; not overdone. But the faith aspect lacked strongly. There are some courageous moments of human grace and mercy which are wonderful. But other than that nothing life-changing. 

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review. Thank you!

Bound together across time, two women will discover a powerful connection through one survivor's story of hope in the darkest days of a war-torn world.

Present Day---With the grand opening of her new art gallery and a fairytale wedding just around the corner, Sera James feels she's stumbled into a charmed life---until a brutal legal battle against fiancé William Hanover threatens to destroy the perfectly planned future she's planned before it even begins. Now, after an eleventh-hour wedding ceremony and a callous arrest, William faces a decade in prison for a crime he never committed, and Sera must battle the scathing accusations that threaten her family and any hope for a future.

1942---Kája Makovsky narrowly escaped occupied Prague in 1939, and was forced to leave her half-Jewish family behind. Now a reporter for the Daily Telegraph in England, Kája discovers the terror has followed her across the Channel in the shadowy form of the London Blitz. When she learns Jews are being exterminated by the thousands on the continent, Kája has no choice but to return to her mother city, risking her life to smuggle her family to freedom and peace.

Connecting across a century through one little girl, a Holocaust survivor with a foot in each world, these two women will discover a kinship that springs even in the darkest of times. In this tale of hope and survival, Sera and Kája must cling to the faith that sustains and fight to protect all they hold dear---even if it means placing their own futures on the line.

Monday, April 13, 2015

When Sorry Isn't Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love by Gary Chapman, Jennifer M. Thomas

When Sorry Isn't Enough: Making Things Right with Those You LoveWhen Sorry Isn't Enough: Making Things Right with Those You Love

Of course we know that only true Christians can be genuinely repentant and sorry....likewise only true believers can love with Jesus' kind of love! 
I have heard some critics talk about Gary Chapman's books as shallow because they seem like they are just trying to make people feel better- shallowly healing relationships but not dealing with the heart. I wouldn't agree with this argument because Mr. Chapman does indeed address this argument within his books. Also, you have to admit that people are not just soul. They have personalities. And with millions of personalities running around on the globe, it's good to know how to avoid conflict with them. Also, we could argue that people shouldn't be coddled to and loved in the way that THEY want. Sorry people- humans are so selfish that it will scarcely ever happen that a human can forget himself and how he needs to feel loved. That's why books such as this are SO useful. Imagine all those hurt feelings because you thought you were making a genuine apology but the other person just couldn't understand your way of apologizing! Tell them to ''get over it'' but maybe they can't....Because we are each so different and unique! So, read this book and think twice before you say that you can live fine without the advice presented within the pages....
Chapters include:
Why we hunger for a real apology when we have been hurt; The components of a complete apology;  Why forgiveness isn't the same thing as trust;  What forgiveness really is and what it can and cannot do; Why some people will not apologize and what to do when they won't; The danger of forgiving too easily; What our forgiveness "language" is.

I was happy to receive this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion.

Cookbook review: My New Roots by Sarah Britton

My New Roots: Inspired Plant-Based Recipes for Every Season    I am absolutely delighted by this new, beautiful cookbook from popular health blogger Sarah Britton! As an artsy cook, I was drawn to this book by its pleasing cover and design. The interior is full of lovely photographs depicting various dishes as well.
Published by Clarkson Potter, this book will not disappoint. In looks or quality of recipes.
As I read through the cookbook, I was surprised and delighted by the similarities I share with author Sarah Britton. I suppose you could call me a health nut. I am also a chef for our large family and delight in not only trying recipes from around the world but also inventing hundreds of my own dishes.
In the past several years I have become quite talented at producing a variety of extremely healthy dishes and delights. Although I don't usually need a cookbook, I am excited by ''My New Roots''....I think I will try more than 75% of the recipes in here! I will point out that I am not Vegan or Vegetarian yet I love recipes which fall into that category thus I will benefit greatly from using this cookbook.
I loved how the title referenced to how Sarah Britton changed from a normal city girl to a healthy cook and blogger. The cookbook includes her story, which I thought an interesting read.
So, to close: don't miss this beautiful hardcover cookbook from the ''queen bee of health blogs''

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Book on parenting review: If Jesus Had A Child by Glenn Wilkerson

book-imageIf Jesus Had A Child by Dr. B. Glenn Wilkerson

   You may not have any idea what this book is about, given its unusual name. However, it is simply a book on parenting.

   The book is written in a coherent and organized fashion which I highly appreciated. The text is large and easy to look at, and the chapters are full of interesting thoughts which are never redundant. 
The author is Dr. Wilkerson, who is recognized as one of the world’s foremost authorities on elevating the spiritual/emotional health and creating positive self-concepts in children. He is a Christian minister and is the President and founder of the ARKGroup, a non-profit organization dedicated to the well-being of children and students.
Most importantly in light of the subject of this book, Mr. Wilkerson is a Christian father! He has successfully raised several children who are in turn happily raising their own families. 

Although I am not a parent yet I was raised in a large family and still have several young siblings. I was able to view all the advice, wisdom and suggestions in the chapters of this book practically.
I will begin by saying that much of this book is good. Indeed, we must love our children unconditionally and never treat them wrongfully no matter how our parents raised us or how angry we may feel with our offspring at any moment.
However, there was some confusion throughout this book which would be detrimental to a Christian parent. I actually found this book more useful for a non-believing family. The book neglects to mention God. It neglects to view sin as a major flaw in a child's character. Thus, this book is mostly a parenting help manual- seeking to remedy situations instead of hearts and relationships.
Dr. Wilkerson seems very intent upon this new 'democratic' type of parenting which I don't think will be all that helpful to families. I quote from the author: 

"Misbehavior takes place only when children do not have their needs met."

I really cannot agree with this because every child is born with a sin nature- you can be the most perfect and loving of parents and your child will still sin...even rebel...there is only hope in Jesus Christ and his salvation. This latter subject was never mentioned in the book- I found this very odd.  I suggest you read this other review on the book.

Another quote from the book is: ''There are three basic human needs: the need to be loved and wanted; the need to feel powerful; and the need for life to be meaningful and fun. Dr. Dreikurs says that misbehavior occurs when children try to fill their unmet needs in inappropriate ways. He says that every bad behavior can be connected to a specific unmet need.''

I didn't appreciate some liberties Dr. Wilkerson took with Jesus' character. For instance, in the foreword the author states:
"I have even ventured to 'quote' Jesus, paraphrasing words and thoughts I think He might have in response to a given situation"

At another point in the book, the author takes the liberty of assuring the reader that Jesus made sure he and the disciples had ''a lot of fun'' and proceeds to mention the wedding at Canaa where Jesus was probably ''telling jokes''....later the author also mentions the fishing excursions as part of the fun times. Excuse me? Fishing wasn't what it is today in America! And I am sure that Jesus and the disciples had JOY but their goal wasn't FUN. And smiles yes, but jokes....ouch. 

In short, this book has some good points but too many wrong ideas to be of much value especially to Christian parents.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Goodreads firstreads review: His Love Never Quits: Finding Purpose through Your Pain by Cherie Hill


His Love Never Quits: Finding Purpose through Your Pain


This book is wonderful. Not only is the topic excellent and important for a Christian to dwell upon, but the way in which the book is written is perfect.
The author uses a writing style which is simple yet deep; every sentence was worth pondering and I look forward to making this book last throughout the year in order to gain the most from it.
His Love Never Quits: Finding Purpose through Your PainI loved how Cherie Hill doesn't dwell shallowly on simply God's love, but shows clearly how God is Sovereign, powerful and all-knowing. This book gives an excellent picture of how we are weak humans who cannot know the future but must come to rest in the knowledge that HE does, and has a perfect plan!  There is a respectful view of God throughout this book which, combined with the overflowing love explained is absolutely wonderful and comfortable. This book is perfect for everyone whether they are experiencing great or small trials.

 I loved the depth yet easy-to-understand qualities of this small book. I can't believe how easy it was to ''digest''...
The only thing I would change about this delightful book is the chapter length. There are only 4 chapters in the book and they are each too long to read at one sitting. So, just make sure you have a bookmark on hand!

I received this book through a Goodreads giveaway; thanks so much Goodreads! 

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Enough Already: winning your ugly struggle with beauty by Barbara Roose

Enough Already: Winning your ugly struggle with beauty by Barbara Roose
(Abingdon, March 2015)

   As a young lady I always appreciate books like this one! I wish I had read it when I was a teenager, struggling with understanding who I really was in God's eyes! Through this book, Barbara Roose tactfully and kindly deals with the subject of beauty. I enjoyed her loving, enthusiastic personality which resonated through the pages of text.
This book would be perfect for a women's book study because it includes group discussion questions, quizzes and such for each chapter.
One thing I appreciated about this author is that she uses Biblical wisdom as the foundation for every topic; this isn't just a book full of some woman's advice.
Wisely, Enough Already doesn't just cover the topic of outward appearance but also addresses the root of our problems and insecurities- the heart. I loved the practical approach many of the chapters had which will help the reader deal with friendships and relationships in life.
Something I did not like about the book was the chapter on aspects of a woman's body. The author attempted to be humorous and upbeat about it but it wasn't in keeping with the deepness and wisdom of the earlier chapters of the book. It also wasn't an incredibly necessary chapter in the book.

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Recognize your own outer and inner beauty as defined by God, not the media or others.

Most women know that God loves them, but might he love them more if they finally lost that last ten pounds, or got their hair to lay right, or finally found a pair of jeans that looked good and let them breathe? Well, maybe God doesn't care about jeans, but women do, and all the talk about inner beauty hasn't kept all of us from staring into a mirror and taking an inventory that never quite measures up. Enough Already will:

-Elevate the soul-freeing, spiritual truth that God is the Creator of beauty and that women are called to appreciate and care for themselves as his own.
-Enable women to accept God-given beauty so that when they look in the mirror they see his handiwork, not their flaws.
-Equip women to win the ugly struggle with beauty once and for all.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Book review: Steadfast Heart by Tracie Peterson

Steadfast Heart by Tracie PetersonSteadfast Heart by Tracie Peterson

   I requested this book from the publisher, Bethany House to review because I mistook the author for another whose works I had previously enjoyed. Upon discovering my mistake, I was disappointed but gave this novel a chance in order to judge it fairly in my review.

Steadfast Heart is the first in a new series by the author Tracie Peterson.  Let me present his caveat that I don't usually love romances, even Christian historical-fiction novels. However, so you can know my frame of mind I do own and enjoy Liz Tolsma and Sarah Sundin's books. I also thought one I read by Carol Cox had some good points. And Beverly Lewis's books are well-written with some good morals although I consider them rather a waste of time literary-speaking.

Steadfast Heart was one of the most boring books I have ever experienced. Surprisingly the author is quite popular and has penned over 100 similar novels. The fame shocks me, the number of books doesn't. This author has a tendency to make a simple storyline, such as that found in Steadfast Heart stretch over 300 pages! What a waste of time for a Christian girl or woman to spend her time on such literature. The literary quality was poor, the characters hard to relate to and the storyline lacking depth. Not only that, the romance was the most lame I have ever read.
   The heroine is Lenore who is hoping to find a husband according to her parents' urgings to marry soon. To my surprise, the book focused far more on Abrianna, Lenore's lively red-headed friend. The ''prince charming'' in this tale is quite boring. The one lesson he learns in this novel is weak and feels ''thrown in'' to he story. Lenore is supposedly the sweetest and most graceful creature alive yet her character isn't the most admirable or lovable- to the reader. Supposedly the hero in this book was smitten upon first sight of her.
Frankly, I was much more interested in Lenore's humorous friend Abrianna and her future which I know will be the focus of the next book.
Being familiar with the films made off of Jane Austen's classic books such as Pride and Prejudice I believe the author made an attempt to let her characters in Steadfast Heart speak with poise and elegance such as they. But Tracie Peterson didn't quite master the art.
For instance:
''...grief would flood my soul if I thought I'd lost all chance of winning his love.''

and later...
''I love him, Mother. I've loved him from first glance. I suppose that might sound silly to some but it's the truth. I've even prayed about this. Abrianna told me that God would show me His direction for my life, and I believe that direction points to Kolbein.''

The book is full of dialogue which is made up of short sentences spattered with old-fashioned words. Instead of sounding historically-correct they simply sound childish.
It reminds me of a badly-produced period film. You know when you can just tell that the actors have no proper idea of the time period they are attempting to portray?

If you don't understand my thoughts on this novel, read it for yourself and come to your own conclusions!

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest opinion on it. 

  Lenore Fulcher isn't pretentious despite her spoiled upbringing. Her deepest desire at the age of twenty is to find true love. However, her father believes she's wasted enough time searching for a suitable husband, and he wants to marry her off to one of his business partners--thirty-seven-year-old James Rybus. But the idea of marriage to a man so much older is out of the question for Lenore.

Kolbein Booth, a lawyer from Chicago, arrives in Seattle looking for his headstrong sister who he believes may have answered an advertisement for mail-order brides. Sick with worry, he storms the Madison Bridal School, demanding to see his sister, only to learn she isn't there. But Lenore Fulcher is, and something about her captures his attention.

Is this the man Lenore has been searching for? She may not have long to find out...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Too Many to Jail: The Story of Iran's New Christians by Mark Bradley

Too Many to Jail: The Story of Iran's New Christians

Too Many to Jail: The Story of Iran's New Christians

    I was impressed by the quality and depth of this book called ''Too Many to Jail''! 
I have been interested in not only mission work around the world but especially missions in Islamic countries so this book was a must-read for me! Having read many books and articles on this topic,  I am always overwhelmed by God's mercy when I read accounts of Muslims coming to faith in Christ. Furthermore, I am deeply moved when I read about the strength and depth of the faith of these converts.  To us here in the ease and comfort of the West, it is unbelievable what many of the Christians in the middle east and beyond suffer. All for the name of Christ. In ''Too many to Jail'' there are many, many true-life stories of former Muslim Christians who suffer for the true God. Not only that, this book is a in-depth introduction and study of the Islamic faith, particularly in Iran. The political history of Iran, in the early chapters of the book I found quite interesting to read since it impactful to the lives of the thousands of Iranian Christians. Although some foreign politics can be quite dull, in this book it is not the case. Every chapter was interesting to read.
Some portions further on in the book were rather descriptive and graphic but important in the journey to realisation of what our brothers and sisters in foreign lands endure for the name of Christ! 

I received this book from the publisher in exchange for my honest review.

Documents the remarkable rise of the Iranian church, despite fierce persecution, as Iranians grow disillusioned with Islam

In 1979, there were fewer than 500 known Christians from a Muslim background in Iran. Today there are at least 100,000 new believers. Church leaders believe that millions can be added to the church in the next few years--such is the spiritual hunger that exists. The religious violence that accompanied the reign of President Ahmadinejad drained its perpetrators of political and religious legitimacy, and has opened the door to other faiths.