Monday, December 31, 2007

Voices of the Faithful – with Beth Moore

© 2005 Integrity Publishers, Brentwood, TN

This collection of daily devotions contributed by International Mission Board, SBC, missionaries was actually compiled and edited by Kim P. Davis. Moore gets bigger billing because she’s the big name on the cover. The devotions are superb. As with any collection of this sort some are not on a par with the others, but most days are inspirational. Many tug so strongly at your heartstrings as to draw a tear or two. Often you will be inspired, and occasionally challenged to join this group of witnesses in their trek to foreign lands to share their faith.

This is also a collection that is tough on an old bird who likes to read all the words, though. I must admit that I’ve been known to even read the copyright page for all the information and disclaimers there. The problem with this volume is the transition between months written by the “big name writer.” As inspiring as the daily entries from the field are, the monthly intros by Moore are equally uninspiring. Voices of the Faithful would have done well without the “help” of Moore. The devotions would have been just as inspiring and the reader would not be plagued with the carryings on at the beginning of each month.

Also included at the end of the book are some helpful materials such as the index, and some advertisements from the IMB to help the reader discover ways to get involved personally in missions. All in all, the book is worth the money you spend on it simply for having the one-page daily devotions that will help to inspire you to missions and Kingdom building. Because of the distractions, I’d only give it four and three-quarters reading glasses of five.

—Benjamin Potter, December 31, 2007

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Christmas Child – Max Lucado

©2003 W Publishing Group of Thomas Nelson, Nashville

Max Lucado has become synonymous with feel good theology. Sometimes this is a good thing, sometimes bad. At Christmas when we are looking for stories that tug at our heartstrings, this is a pretty good thing.

Originally published as The Christmas Cross, this little heart-warmer tells the story of a Chicago journalist who takes an assignment in Dallas that keeps him away from his wife—
after a series of angry interchanges—on Christmas Eve. From his father’s possessions he has obtained an old photo of the Clearwater Lutheran Church in Clearwater, Texas. Since this is the place of his birth—and the place where he was adopted from—the reporter takes a few extra days for the trip (it also helps him get out of range of the anger of Meg) to find out the mystery in Clearwater.

Upon his arrival he finds a handmade crèche on the lawn of the church with a story that brings him home, reuniting him with Meg before it’s too late.

While the story feels good for the holiday, it doesn’t drag the tears from you as some other holiday offerings do. The movie from Impact Pictures provides a lot of meat for the bare bones of the story. The movie also predicated the re-titling of the book (the new title is not nearly so cryptically attached to the story as the original) and stars William R. Moses and Megan Follows with a cameo by Christian recording artist Stephen Curtis Chapman.

My final opinion: The Christmas Child is good for four sets of reading glasses because it is a quick read with a nice message. For your money—rent the movie and enjoy a couple of hours of wholesome entertainment for the whole family.

—Benjamin Potter, December 26, 2007

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Christmas Jars – Jason F. Wright

©2005, Shadow Mountain, Salt Lake City

Christmas books should touch your heartstrings. You know, like The Christmas Box, The Christmas Shoes, or The Christmas Wish. Here’s a little novella that won’t disappoint. But you’d better have a box or three of tissue handy. The tears start early on and increase until the end of the book.

Hope Jensen is an abandoned child who excels in all she does as a journalist after being adopted by a lonely housekeeper. Just as Hope’s career seems to be taking off, she loses Louise to cancer (just after Christmas). Upon her first Christmas without her mom, Hope returns to her apartment to find it ransacked and burglarized. And then she finds the jar of money left unheeded by the police crew doing the investigation—“It wasn’t there thirty minutes ago . . .”

She spends the bulk of the book discovering the secret behind the mysterious “Christmas Jar” (as it is marked). She finds the origin and the reasoning that started it all in an unassuming family led by the father Adam Maxwell. And then she writes the story, only to find it’s too late to make up for the lies she’s been feeding Adam and his family.

This book has everything you want in a Christmas novel—death of a loved one that makes you think about what you want to be like as a person, selfless giving that keeps on giving, and finally gives back. Don’t pass up this book this year. But don’t forget the tissues.

In the spirit of the season, I give Christmas Jars a full five reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, December 12, 2007

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Polar Express – Chris Van Allsburg

© 1985, Houghton Mifflin, Boston

I’ve started my Christmas reading (as you can see from the Leisure Reading section below) and kicked it off with a great book from the children’s section. This one is a Caldecott Winner and rightly so. The illustrations in this beautiful story seem to put the story itself to shame. Van Allsburg paints beautiful renderings of the city, the forest, the North Pole, and Santa.

The idea that believing in Santa allows you to hear the sleighbells is precious. This is not a book about staying a boy a la Peter Pan, but rather an encouragement for the young at heart to continue believing in Santa. It’s about Santa Claus, Christmas, Trains, and all that makes Christmas a happy time.

I had wanted to read the book for several years but not until we rented the Tom Hanks movie version did I decide to get and read the book. The details in the movie enhance the book, so I’d highly recommend watching with your kids—they’ll love it and so will you. The movie doesn’t rip tears from your eyes like most of the holiday fare is designed to do, it just pulls you into the world of Christmas and the Christmas spirit.

The book, on the other hand, while lacking in literary detail should be highly prized on your shelf for the story the illustrations tell. If you were to see the pictures in order without the words accompanying, you’d still be able to craft a wonderful Christmas bedtime story. Try it. And while you’re at it give Van Allsburg 4 ¾ yuletide reading glasses for the inspiration.

—Benjamin Potter, December 10, 2007

Friday, December 7, 2007

All the Dead Fathers – David J. Walker

© 2005, St. Martin’s Minotaur, New York

Occasionally there’s an author that makes you say, “Hey, this guy’s good. Why haven’t more people been reading his work?” They have a style that is readable and engaging without being overly pushy with their story. One such unassuming writer is David J. Walker. This isn’t to say that Walker’s not been noticed. His first Mal Foley novel, Fixed in His Folly, was nominated for the coveted Edgar award. Even so, it seems not enough people are talking about this talented ex-priest, ex-investigator, ex-lawyer (if you can ex- out of any of those careers to be a writer). Even I haven’t given any time to him here. Well, now that’s about to end.

Kirsten is an ex-cop turned private eye who loves her lawyer husband. She is the owner/operator of the Wild Onion, Ltd. private investigation firm of Chicago. Her latest case is one brought to her by her uncle, the priest. Fathers who have been listed in the paper as being accused (if not convicted) of child molestation are being brutally murdered one by one. Michael, the uncle, is on the list and that brings a lot of back-story baggage to the novel. Walker makes it work.

Kirsten hires on to provide “protection” for those left on the list (especially those who are appealing their cases to Rome and living for the duration at the Villa St. George monastery). Interspersed with chapters that focus on the killer who has a history of their own that includes priests and Kirsten, Walker weaves a story that hooks you and makes you want to read—on into the night.

All the Dead Fathers is not your run-of-the-mill, weepy-eyed, politically correct whodunit. Nor is it your normal offering of the hardboiled variety. Here you will find all the grit and gnarled justice of a hardboiled detective story mixed with the emotion of a high-powered mystery novel. No major twists and turns, just good reading. Those who are offended by hard language will be offended, but the language is not a distraction to the story itself. It’s time to give David J. Walker his due, and I give All the Dead Fathers five full sets of reading glasses.

—Benjamin Potter, December 7, 2007

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