Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Coming Soon from Katie Ganshert

Author Katie Ganshert has a new book coming soon. If you're a fan, or interested in exploring exciting new authors, take a gander at the spectacular pre-release package below.


And stay tuned here for more news about Life After.


Wednesday, January 11, 2017

A Call to Mercy: Hearts to Love, Hands to Serve – Mother Teresa (ed. By Brian Kolodiejchuk, MC)


©2016 Image, New York



On the occasion of her canonization in the Catholic Church, this collection of sayings, instructions, and speech excerpts from the late founder of the Order of Missionaries of Charity is both inspiring and challenging. The volume was designed and released to coincide with her canonization.



Few people would deny the inspiration that Mother Teresa was (and is) to people of faith, even some of us who are not Catholic. The collection of her wisdom and her instruction to the Order is a beaming snapshot of who this revered nun was. Included with the collection are sisters’ recollections of Mother Teresa in not only her teaching but in her living out of that teaching personally.



I must say that tackling this book is a mammoth task because it is a collection rather than a memoir. It is not a biography, but at the same time it is. Collected here are teachings that amount to the things by which this saintly woman would want to be remembered. The lessons that she taught are collected and edited into categories that explain the demonstrative faith that made her the leader that she was and allow people of faith to remember her for the saint that she is. The editor begins with sayings, instruction, and memories on the teaching “Feed the Hungry” and includes chapters on visiting the sick and imprisoned and bearing wrongs patiently.



I would not advise reading the book like an essay or even a textbook. However, it is an excellent reference to keep handy when needing an example of living faith in real time, which is what Mother Teresa did and encouraged others to do.



My recommendation of this book is for those who would like to see more into the life and work of this newly canonized saint, for those who are looking for some inspiring examples of faith in daily living, and for those who want to know more about what one who is the hands and feet of Jesus Christ looks like. I do not recommend this volume for those looking for an escape, a little light reading, or even a pat on the spiritual back for being good. Because of the limited audience appeal of this book and the heavy content within I rate this book at an even 3 reading glasses (for the faith community, it’s a 4.5, and for the Roman Catholic readers out there, I’d raise it up to a 5 and proclaim it required reading).



—Benjamin Potter January 11, 2017



[This book was provided free of charge by the publisher for purposes of this review. The opinions are my own.]

NIV Holy Bible for Girls, Journal Edition


©2015 Zondervan, Grand Rapids



This is the first opportunity that I have had to review a new edition of a Bible. While I will not be reviewing the text of the Scripture, I would like to make a few observations about this special edition of the NIV Translation.



I personally like the New International Version for reading and preaching because of its smooth flow of the English language. I was disappointed a few years ago when publishers re-vamped the text with a version that was a bit more politically savvy than the original NIV. That being said, I would like to turn my attention to the characteristics that make this edition unique among Bibles.



This particular edition is designed with two goals in mind: (1) to appeal to an audience of girls in the pre-teen years and throughout the teenage years, and (2) to provide journaling space so that readers can “make this beautiful book [their] own.”



Aesthetically, the vibrant colors of the cover with pastels and pinks would seem to appeal to a number of girls in the target age group. The cover itself is sturdy cardboard that should last for several years and abide daily use since the Bible is designed to be a tool worthwhile for a girl’s daily devotion time. And it comes equipped with an attached silk place marker as well as a handy elastic strap to keep the book closed when not in use.



The text of the scripture is printed on about 2/3 of the page leaving ample space for notes, ideas, and responses that grab the heart of the reader while they are engaging with the Bible. The other third of the page is lined to aid in the reader’s response. I asked my 15- and 10-year-old daughters to examine the Bible and give me their thoughts, after all they are both in the target group for this edition. Both of them were impressed by the journaling margins designed into the book suggesting that this would make the Bible a good tool to use in daily devotions.



One drawback with the journaling design in my opinion is the paper used for the pages. While the publisher did not use the delicate onion-skin paper that is found in many gift Bibles and high-end, leather-bound editions, the paper is relatively thin to be used for the purpose of note-taking and high-lighting. I fear a great deal of bleed-through might occur for readers with a heavy writing hand like myself. I will grant that the weight of the paper is good to keep the volume from having to be divided into two or three books in order to include the entire text of the Scriptures.



One other exception that my older daughter noted as a disappointment was the lack of study helps such as a short, general concordance and maps, although there is a “Weights & Measures” conversion chart included in the rear end papers.



Overall this is a useful, attractive copy of the Bible that would be a fine gift Bible for the pre-teen or teenaged girl in your life. I give it four out of five reading glasses.



—Benjamin Potter January 11, 2017



[This book was provided free of charge by the publisher for purposes of this review. The opinions are my own.]

Monday, October 3, 2016

Survivors Will Be Shot Again by Bill Crider


©2016 Minotaur Books, New York

Blacklin County Texas is finally settling in to the quiet Mayberry-like existence that it should enjoy, so Sheriff Dan Rhodes has decided to take a long overdue day off. But when a would-be thief descends on the same convenience store Rhodes has entered to end his hiatus from drinking Dr Pepper, days off vanish from his mind.

It's just as well, because a crime ring has been operating on the outskirts of the county. Billy Bacon, who’s been the victim of thieves on his property over and over again, has called in another incident on his place. This time, the sheriff finds not only an empty space where Billy’s heirloom saddle should be, but also the body of Bacon’s neighbor, Melvin Hunt.

As usual, readers are treated to the squad-room banter of Hack and Lawton, even though Hack is convinced that the high sheriff intentionally keeps his dispatcher “out of the loop.” There is also high adventure as Rhodes heroically wrestles a “prehistoric turtle” and rids Clearview of the scourge of illegal marijuana patches.

We have another fast and fun story played out on the stage of Blacklin County Texas. Rhodes and his cohorts earn another 5 reading glasses for their efforts.

--Benjamin Potter, October 3, 2016

Between the Living and the Dead by Bill Crider

©2015 Minotaur Books, New York

[Note to the reader: I received and read this book several months ago, and now that I have finished the next in the series, I thought I should go ahead and post a quick note about this good Dan Rhodes story.]

Seepy Benton, professor at Clearview College, trained member of Blacklin County’s “Citizen’s Patrol”, and part-time live music for a local restaurant has a new job interest—he’s a ghost hunter. And so is born another headache for county sheriff Dan Rhodes.

As is his fashion, award-winning author Bill Crider, weaves a story filled with ghosts, guns, and intrigue. Throw in some trademark comic relief and mystery lovers have another good evening’s read. Crider is known for his wit and attachment to clichéd phrases, and constantly files them away to surface in one of his mystery novels. As I read the description of Dan Rhodes subduing a run-away bull in the Walmart parking lot, I fairly laughed out loud to see that the good sheriff “took the bull by the horns.” And I wondered how long Crider had been waiting to fit that one into a story.

Again filled with our favorite characters, Sheriff Dan Rhodes fans will not want to miss this edition of crime and punishment in Blacklin County Texas. This one will be fun at Halloween time with its haunted house, reference to ghosts and hat tips to the Ghostbuster movie franchise. Dan Rhodes gets another 5 reading glasses, if for no other reason than he “ain’t afraid of no ghosts.”

—Benjamin Potter, October 3, 2016

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Win a Galley

Actually, I'm just posting this to increase my  chances. If you don't enter, I have a greater chance to win.

http://bit.ly/2ds0Pky

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Saffire – Sigmund Brouwer


©2016  WaterBrook Press, Colorado Springs

“A Novel.” That is the descriptor listed beneath the title on the cover of this fascinating book. I have been reading selected Sigmund Brouwer books for a couple of decades now. Most of them fall into the category of “novel” which indicates that they are fictional stories, and that the main thrust of the story is to, well, tell a good story. I think that’s why I enjoy reading Brouwer’s fiction. He writes for audiences at a variety of stages in their reading, and goes out of his way to inspire young people to both read and write, often focusing his seminars on school-aged boys who find it difficult to “get into reading.” May his tribe increase.

Yes, Saffire is a work of fiction. Yes, it is a good story, well-told. But it is so much more than a good story. Like all good historical fiction, this book becomes a time portal through which the reader can be transported to anywhere in history and become a part of the events described.

Saffire actually defies genre-fication—it is hard-pressed to be squeezed into a mold created by the publishing companies for marketing purposes. A surface glance at this novel could very easily place it in the category of romance because of the attraction-tension that runs throughout the story. The back-story of lost love for the hero that finds its replacement in the beauty and fire of one of the developing characters (Rachel Sandoval). There is a tip of the hat to the western story moseying through the pages as Jim Holt constantly remembers his days with the Buffalo Bill Wild West show, and concerns himself greatly with the location and condition of his cowboy hat. Mystery and intrigue lace the pages as Holt constantly asks questions on behalf of the orphaned child for whom the book is named.

Ultimately, though, Saffire finds a comfortable resting place in the seat occupied by historical fiction. The narrative intertwined with the historical setting and events that are the construction of the Panama Canal will hold the reader’s attention. Brouwer, as is his custom, is able to take a moment in history that is simply a mundane paragraph to most, and turn it into the exotic, exquisite exploration that fascinated those who lived there or watched from the window of newspapers around the world when it was happening.
This is a most enjoyable read which draws a portrait of the politics, mechanics, and theatrics of the Panama Canal Zone as a perfect setting for the story. I highly recommend this book to people interested in the building of the Canal, in the art of intrigue, in the history of the Canal Zone and the country of Panama, or even in the orchestration of bull fighting. I give Christy-winning author Brouwer five reading glasses for this latest novel.

—Benjamin Potter, September 13, 2016

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]


Saturday, August 6, 2016

Prince Noah and the School Pirates – Silke Schnee


© 2016 The Plough Publishing House, Walden, New York

You may recall when we were introduced to Prince Noah in the story The Prince Who Was Just Himself. He is back—along with his brothers (princes Luke and Jonah) and this time the boys are off to school.

In the fairy tale kingdom where they live, school is different than the school that we know. School is on a ship—the boys on one, the girls on another, the children with eye patches went to school on another ship, those with only one leg on another, and there was even a special ship for the children who didn’t learn so fast.

Adventure begins when all the ships are blown into pirate waters by a terrible storm. All the children are captured and taken to an island where they are imprisoned in a tower. The children all work together using the things they have learned on their separate ships to escape and return home to their families.

This endearing story encourages us to work together to solve problems and remember that everyone is important, even those of us who may be just a little different.

The author has teamed up again with illustrator Heike Sistig to give us another book that highlights the wonder of children who are “just themselves.” Having a child with Coffin-Lowry Syndrome, I find Schnee’s treatment of her own son with Down Syndrome delightful. Especially endearing is her description of her own Prince Noah as “blessed with an extra chromosome.”

Families with special needs children should get a copy of this book. And every school library should invest in a copy of this delightful tale—even if they are in a building and not on sailing ship. (5 reading glasses)

Benjamin Potter, August 6, 2016

[Disclaimer: I received this book for free for the purposes of this review.]

Renovate: Changing Who You Are By Loving Where You Are – Léonce B. Crump, Jr.

©2016  Multnomah Books, Colorado Springs

I like recommendations, sometimes. I especially like it when people take the time to notice where I’ve enjoyed something and make recommendations based on that. (Note of warning: on-line sites like Facebook and Amazon.com don’t really take the time to note your preferences, they just make recommendations based on volume activity.) Anyway, someone noticed that I gave a positive (maybe even glowing) review of David Platt’s Radical, and so this book was recommended to me.

The author, lead pastor of Renovation Church in Atlanta, is a former professional athlete who loves his town and his calling.

Like any book that approaches the norm from an angle, this book is liable to challenge your traditions as well as get your feathers ruffled because Crump forces us to ask the questions that no one wants to ask—or be asked.

The book has some drawbacks. The author’s love for Atlanta because of first a calling to that great city and followed by his intentional planting of himself there is evident in the amount of time spent in the first half of the book describing the history (good and bad) of the city of Atlanta. It is laudable for the church planter whose calling is to plant in Atlanta to love Atlanta. The take away for others is to fall in love with your place of calling. However, the first chapters, in the guise of supporting a sense of call to place, become an effort to convince all readers that Atlanta is the place (and the only place to serve). With a bent toward overselling his city, Crump almost loses his audience from his actual message—God not only calls to vocation, he calls to place as well.

Another distraction in the book is the intermission included in the middle of the manuscript. The record of the interview between the author and several of his colleagues who are part of his church planting effort does not flow with the rest of the book. If its inclusion was mandatory (on either the part of the author, the editor, or the publisher) for the book to see the printing press, it would be better served as an appendix located at the end of the book. Perhaps the production team felt that (even though it distracted from the message of the book) it might have missed a few readers’ eyes as an appendix, and centrally placing this section would earn it more readers, it still seemed to be less a part of the book and more a piece of the research for the book, and draws a giant question mark as to its inclusion (especially as an interruption).

I am disinclined to totally pan the book though. In a day and a vocational path that trends toward itinerance, Crump calls for longevity. He suggests that perhaps when the minister is answering the call from God to be part of church leadership, that the minister should consider not only the what but the where of that call. According to Thom Rainer, the average tenure of a pastor in a local church still hovers at just under three years (up from when I began my ministry when preachers were staying an average of 18 months). With research also claiming that most effective ministry is done after the 5-year mark, it would behoove ministers to actually plant themselves. The challenge is for those called to vocational ministry to stop looking for their next position the moment the moving truck drives away from the parsonage of their current place of service. Instead, study your place and the people there. Learn how to become one of them, and make your life about your place of calling. (Again this is addressing a God-calling that is often short-circuited by short-sighted men and women.)

The book reads a little slowly because of some of the distractions included in it, but it does have value if only to challenge both ministerial types and church members in general to start looking at their church place as a place to be planted, a place to serve, and a place to become. Christians are to be about the building up of the community—not necessarily changing it to the American dream, but changing it from the heart outward with the love of Christ. Therefore, I rate this book with three and one-half reading glasses. Don’t rush out and buy a copy (unless you want to plant a church in Atlanta), but go ahead and read it if a copy falls into your hands.

—Benjamin Potter, August 6, 2016
[Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.]


Monday, July 25, 2016

Don't Wait for the Obit


Bill & Judy Crider

For some reason we always seem to wait until obituary time to write the glowing report of our friends. This time, I don't think I'll wait for the obit to say the good.

I first met Bill Crider when he was Dr. Crider teaching American Lit. at Howard Payne University. I enjoyed his teaching style so much that I took him for a J-term version of English 201 (I think it was 5 papers in 3 weeks - the one year there was snow on the ground in Brownwood, TX). During the American Lit class I stopped by and asked if he as my English professor would look over a short story I'd written. He took it and a couple of days later he gave it back with some advice about the characters and a fairly generous assessment of the story itself. He was right about the need for character adjustment, but I think he was over-generous with the story itself--I still haven't re-worked it into anything worth sharing.

Fast forward about 15 years and I found a book with Bill Crider as the author. On a hunch, I bought the book, looked up his addressed, and inquired if he had been my English teacher. He was, and our friendship became more than student/teacher. He has become a friend, mentor, and all-around encourager. He's read a couple of my stories since and has always been more than friendly in his critique.

I've become attached to his writing (I've even indulged in some of the darker stuff that appeared under the name Jack Maclane) and always enjoy looking for the newest Sheriff Dan Rhodes mystery.



This mild-mannered friend of all has a talent not only for writing, but for music (especially if you like barbershop) and for being a great encourager. Thanks for being my friend, Dr. Crider.

I'm saying all this, and trying to join the cloud of voices bringing laud to a man who deserves it, because Bill has recently run up against a dire diagnosis of aggressive carcinoma. So while I'm not going to wait for the obit to tell what a powerful encouragement, influence, and friend Bill has been to me, I am going to take this moment to send thoughts and prayers out for him and this battle he's found himself in. Godspeed, Dr. Crider, and beat this thing. I know you've got another story (or 10) to tell.

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