Tag Archives: book review

The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco (Thomas Nelson, 2017)

Another Look at History {Book Review – The Dog Who Was There}

The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco (Thomas Nelson, 2017)

About the book (from the publisher):

The Dog Who Was There by Ron Marasco (Thomas Nelson, 2017)

No one expected Barley to have an encounter with the Messiah.

He was homeless, hungry, and struggling to survive in first century Jerusalem. Most surprisingly, he was a dog. But through Barley’s eyes, the story of a teacher from Galilee comes alive in a way we’ve never experienced before.

Barley’s story begins in the home of a compassionate woodcarver and his wife who find Barley as an abandoned, nearly-drowned pup. Tales of a special teacher from Galilee are reaching their tiny village, but when life suddenly changes again for Barley, he carries the lessons of forgiveness and love out of the woodcarver’s home and through the dangerous roads of Roman-occupied Judea.

On the outskirts of Jerusalem, Barley meets a homeless man and petty criminal named Samid. Together, Barley and his unlikely new master experience fresh struggles and new revelations. Soon Barley is swept up into the current of history, culminating in an unforgettable encounter with the truest master of all as he bears witness to the greatest story ever told.

My Thoughts:

When I first heard about this adult novel, I loved the unique premise that the story would be told through the perspective of a dog wandering about first century Judea.

The first several chapters move very slowly with quite a few flashbacks, dreams, and “had been” moments rather than immediately drawing the reader in to current action. Much of the writing could be tightened and more active phrasing employed. (Perhaps this was a voice choice, though.) I also noticed several inconsistencies within the first half of the book (ie: a character calling the time “first century AD” when I’m not sure someone living during the time of Christ would have called it that). Also, at times Barley is portrayed as only understanding certain words, yet at other times, he is shown as understanding full conversations. The book also is a bit of an Americanized version. For example: one of the characters in the first chapter has the more culturally appropriate name of “Duv,” but his wife says it rhymes with “love,” which is an English word, of course, and wouldn’t have been used in ancient Judea. Though the book is pitched as told in Barley the dog’s point of view, readers are tossed between Barley’s perspective and several other characters’ perspectives throughout the book, which breaks the flow of reading.

Barley himself is a wonderful character. The author does a lovely job of showing the dog’s instincts and natural desire to be in a ‘family’ group and love and protect. Those traits are (in my animal-adoring experience) God-given, which plays well into the themes and plot of this novel. The last third of this book picks up in action, making it a quicker read. Many of the violence scenes are graphic, just as a note to readers who prefer not to read such. Barley (and the readers) only see Jesus in his last few days as he reaches Jerusalem, so you can imagine the intensity of those chapters. The ending, though, is satisfying and offers redemption to the many, many trials Barley endures throughout the book. It winds together Barley’s experiences in a way that offers an example of how God works in our lives.

Read more about the book and the author at the Litfuse page.

What biblical or historical event would you find interesting as ‘viewed’ from the perspective of an animal?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book via Litfuse. This is an honest review, and all opinions expressed are my own.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Craving Connection book cover - (in)courage community

Finding Friendship as Adults {Book Review}

When we were young, it was so easy to go up to someone and make a friend, right?

“Hi, wanna play?”

“Sure!”

Boom. Friendship initiated.

Of course there were challenges, conflicts, and collapses, but some aspects of friendship were just easier. When you saw someone every day at school or every week at co-op or every week at art class, you could easily keep up with each other’s lives.

But as adults, it’s not as easy to go up to someone and ask, “Hey, wanna be friends?” (I’ve often considered it.) And the energy it takes to maintain a friendship seems to increase.

But friendship doesn’t become any less important. God made us to connect with others, encourage others, and grow together.

Many writers from the (in)courage community have come together to create a 30-devotion book full of thoughts on connection and adult friendship – Craving Connection (B&H Books, 2017).

Craving Connection book cover - (in)courage community

I remember when I first found (in)courage about five years ago, I felt welcomed. With several different writing styles, experiences, and voices, it could be a place for everyone without judgment and with godly encouragement — and relatable to real-life, which can sometimes be hard to find among devotions. Many of the contributing writers found in this book are the same names I’ve been reading since five years ago — some were blog writers then, some were readers conversing in the comments, and now they’re authors of their own books.

The thirty devotions, written by thirty different authors, share personal stories of friendship challenges and friendship successes and what God has shown them connection can mean in their lives and the lives of others.

The devotions are split into three main sub-sections:

  • Connecting with God More Deeply
  • Connecting with Friends More Purposefully
  • Connecting with Community More Intentionally

Each devotion starts with a focus verse (designed well in a sidebar box), an initial thought to consider, and an action step to create connections in your own life as you read. After the devotion, each ends with three connection questions, a prayer, and an action ‘challenge’ to take what you’re reading and apply it to real life. The book has lovely design aspects with border accents, sidebars, and quote highlights, which help make it a lovely gift book.

With thirty authors, there is definitely some diversity (racial/cultural, abilities, and a little bit of economic) in the book. I feel the book would be able to reach even more people if more diverse backgrounds were included. As a special needs mom, I’d love to see more stories that did touch on special needs go deeper and more opportunities in generally to really look through a window into other perspectives, other voices, and other life experiences. That said, most readers will be able to find aspects of life they can relate to and relate to well. (I did, too.) And you’ll never feel judged reading this book. Instead, you’ll read of ideas on remaining intentional in the hard but needed work of connected with others. You’ll see grace, see the value of connection, and see writers who are growing in life just as you are.

And that’s a gift. I’m thankful for the (in)courage community.

Want motivation to connect more?

(in)courage is hosting 5 weeks of Craving Connection Challenges, starting on February 7th! They’ll share an excerpt of the book and inspiration to complete the associated connection challenge. Read more over at (in)courage!

Craving Connection Challenges at (in)courage

What can you do to support a friendship today? What friendship or community are you thankful for today?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions expressed are my own, and this is my honest review.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family! For Book of the Month, if you click my referral link and join, I receive a small bonus.

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Courage to Soar by Simone Biles with Michelle Burford (Zondervan, 2016)

Soaring and Believing {Book Review – Courage to Soar by Simone Biles}

Courage to Soar by Simone Biles with Michelle Burford (Zondervan, 2016)

From the publisher:

Courage to Soar: A Body in Motion, a Life in Balance by Simone Biles with Michelle Burford (Zondervan, 2016)

Simone Biles’ entrance into the world of gymnastics may have started on a daycare field trip in her hometown of Spring, Texas, but her God-given talent, passion, and perseverance have made her one of the top gymnasts in the world, as well as a four-time winner of Olympic gold in Rio de Janeiro.

But there is more to Simone than the nineteen medals—fourteen of them gold—and the Olympic successes. Through years of hard work and determination, she has relied on her faith and family to stay focused and positive, while having fun competing at the highest level and doing what she loves. Here, in her own words, Simone takes you through the events, challenges, and trials that carried her from an early childhood in foster care to a coveted spot on the 2016 Olympic team.

Along the way, Simone shares the details of her inspiring personal story—one filled with the kinds of daily acts of courage that led her, and can lead you, to even the most unlikely of dreams.

My thoughts:

Written for tween age and up, this autobiography follows Simone from her early life in foster care through her gymnastics journey to the Olympics.

Each chapter starts with an inspiring quote from an author, athlete, or otherwise accomplished person. Simone also sprinkles in inspiring statements throughout her narrative, typically as she learns the lessons they grow from. These motivational lines can apply to anyone with a goal, which helps expand the book’s readership.

“…a person can only fail if they stop trying, if they refuse to pick themselves up and try harder.” – Simone Biles, Courage to Soar

The writing tone is casual and quality is average, but accessible. The chapters progress mainly chronologically (with a few backtracks), culminating with her recent Olympics experience. Readers gain insights to the many pressures that come with elite gymnastics. Faith discussion is limited, as comments were generally more about praying that God would make this or that happen and recognizing talents as God-given. If you’re looking for a deeper look into the author’s faith, you won’t find it in this book, but readers can still learn more about her dedication and perseverance. This book isn’t meant to make one think and analyze, but instead provides entertainment, background about a role model, and a few inspiring moments along the way.

What athlete or role model have you read about recently?

Disclosure: I received a free electronic copy of this book from the publisher as a part of the BookLook bloggers program. All opinions expressed are my own and this is my honest review.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

NIrV Love Letters from God Bible (Zondervan, 2016)

Reflecting on the Bible as a Family {Book Review – Love Letters from God Bible}

NIrV Love Letters from God Bible (Zondervan, 2016)

From the publisher:

NIrV Love Letters from God Bible by Zondervan (2016)

What if a child could read his or her own personal mail from God? The NIrV Love Letters from God Bible will invite kids to do just that! This full-text Bible in the New International Reader’s Version (NIrV) is a perfect way to introduce children to God’s Word and his great love. With 80 love letters from God written especially for the reader, children will see Bible stories and themes come to life and learn just how much they are loved by their Creator.

Each love letter also contains a very special Bible verse, entitled God’s Wonderful Words to You. Much more than a mere memory verse, each carefully chosen promise will be God’s very own personal words of love, encouragement, and hope, and are highlighted in the text. The love letters will culminate in an invitation for the children to write their own RSVP to God.

Features include:

-80 personal love letters from God
-Highlighted Wonderful Words—special verses to remember and cherish
-80 prompts encouraging children to write their own love letters to God
-8 full-color tip-in pages with additional content
-The complete text of the New International Version (NIrV)

My thoughts:

This NIrV Bible is a continuation of the style from the author’s Love Letters from God picture books. (I reviewed the first one in that series here.) My kids still enjoy reading through the original Love Letters from God, so we looked forward to reviewing this Bible together.

This Bible is a full Bible text in the NIrV translation. There’s a short “how to use this Bible” page before the table of contents, then an explanation of the translation, and then it goes straight into Genesis.

We love the NIrV translation, so reading this Bible remains enjoyable. About once a book (or twice for some books), readers find a short “love letter from God” written in the same style as the picture books, written from the perspective of God talking to the reader (referring to the reader as “you”). The letters often reiterate something read in the Bible text and ask questions for reflection as well as restate aspects of God’s love. Each letter concludes with a highlighted verse. Beside each letter, readers have about one vertical third of the page to “write back” to God and respond to the suggestions reflection questions. These reflections often ask “have you ever…” questions to relate the biblical material to the reader’s current life or ask “how do you feel” about a truth introduced.

As with any Bible with interpreted devotions, I suggest reading and analyzing these devotions/reflections together with your child/students as not all interpretations may fully fit your family/church’s theology.

Additional features:

  • three full-color inserts (front and back pages) with additional information or highlighting important aspects of faith and study, including the ten commandments, definitions, ‘how to pray,’ a ‘getting to know Jesus’ summary, and more. Each of these pages has a “Write Back” sidebar with questions for writing reflection. We particularly liked the “how to pray” page. It makes prayer accessible for all and less daunting for kids unsure of where to start.
  • a dictionary in the back
  • full color maps in the back
  • an attached ribbon bookmark

This isn’t a study bible since it does not contain other sidebars or introduction/summary information at the beginning of each book. But it’s also not meant to be a study bible. Its main purpose seems to be for reading and reflection on what the words of God mean about God and about our relationship with God. This bible serves its purpose well, so it’s a fine addition to any family library. If you are looking for one main bible for kids to use for both study and reflection, you may find other study bibles better able to suit your needs.

Read about two of our favorite NIrV Bibles for middle grade readers and advanced early chapter book readers here: NIrV Adventure Bible and NIrV Kids’ Devotional Bible.

Do you generally look for more reflection questions in your family bibles, or do you look for more study aspects?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the publisher as a part of the BookLook bloggers program. All opinions expressed are my own and this is my honest review.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

A Fix-It Girl Reads About a Fix-It Girl {Book Review – A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay}

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

About the book (from the publisher):

A Portrait of Emily Price by Katherine Reay (Thomas Nelson, 2016)

Emily Price—fix-it girl extraordinaire and would-be artist—dreams of having a gallery show of her own. There is no time for distractions, especially not the ultimate distraction of falling in love.

But Chef Benito Vassallo’s relentless pursuit proves hard to resist. Visiting from Italy, Ben works to breathe new life into his aunt and uncle’s faded restaurant, Piccollo. Soon after their first meeting, he works to win Emily as well—inviting her into his world and into his heart.

Emily astonishes everyone when she accepts Ben’s proposal and follows him home. But instead of allowing the land, culture, and people of Monterello to transform her, Emily interferes with everyone and everything around her, alienating Ben’s tightly knit family. Only Ben’s father, Lucio, gives Emily the understanding she needs to lay down her guard. Soon, Emily’s life and art begin to blossom, and Italy’s beauty and rhythm take hold of her spirit.

Yet when she unearths long-buried family secrets, Emily wonders if she really fits into Ben’s world. Will the joys of Italy become just a memory, or will Emily share in the freedom and grace that her life with Ben has shown her are possible?

My thoughts:

See how “fix-it girl extraordinaire” is listed in that first sentence above from the publisher’s back copy? That’s how I knew I’d at least be able to relate to some of Emily Price’s inner workings as I read this fun, yet layered novel.

We meet Emily as she’s just arrived in Atlanta on a new art restoration job and at the same time meet brothers, Joseph and Ben. Hints of backstory are dropped here and there, but we are fully in the present as we witness differing personalities between the brothers and Emily realizing how she may be able to help both at her job and at the Joseph’s aunt and uncle’s restaurant.

As we follow along, we see that Emily’s want to help and fix things is fantastic in the art world, but sometimes becomes overbearing or a burden in other aspects of life, like with her sister Amy. Broken relationships abound both in Emily’s family and in Ben and Joseph’s, and this is part of what makes the story realistic and easy to both follow and relate to.

I love how the setting transfers from Atlanta to Italy, and we as readers get to witness some of the author’s lovely descriptions of sunflowers, of small Italian villages, of art once beautiful and ready to shine again. The descriptions of art restoration are lovely, full of questions and perspective from Emily’s point of view, and readers without art knowledge (like myself) can still be captivated.

The romance is a whirlwind one that might bring some readers out of the story for a moment wondering how realistic it could be, but the author makes it work, partially by leaving it imperfect yet a place for grace. Readers will love Lucio and many of the other side characters and both cheer for and be challenged by the more difficult relationships and sometimes slower (yet realistic) growth. One of Emily’s most important trials is learning, when the time is right, to sit with others in a pain rather than attempt to fix it and that’s a guide for all of us.

Oh, and after you read it, please come back here and tell me what you think of page 264 because that was one of my very favorite pages.

A Portrait of Emily Price is intriguing, thoughtful, and lovely, and is among my favorites of Katherine’s books. (My favorite favorite is Lizzy and Jane!)

Check out Katherine’s other books, including Dear Mr. KnightleyLizzy and Jane (which I reviewed here) and The Bronte Plot (which I reviewed here), and read more about Katherine on her website.

What is one of your favorite novels that includes either international travel or broken families (or both)?

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from the author as a part of the launch team. All opinions expressed are my own and this is my honest review.

I am an affiliate for Amazon Associates. If you click on an Amazon link and then make a purchase, I receive a small commission. This does not affect your final cost at all. Thank you for supporting this blog and my family!

This site is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.