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Wednesday, May 18

MAY the Force be With You!

Since the release of the newest Star Wars movie, I have been living in a Star Wars world with these boys.  Actually, to be more precise, a Lego Star Wars world!  But we've drawn some parallels through our play, and they're still picking up a thing or two.  

When creating Star Wars, George Lucas substituted God with the Force, and the movie has many underlying religious tones.  Just as an example, the blessing “May the Force be with you” echoes the old Christian saying, “May God be with you.”  

I'm sure you're sitting there thinking up another example now!  (And if not, what are you waiting for?  Leave your example in the comments below!)  Today's books are about the force in your life...featured book first, then kids' books, and finally adult books.

Featured Book
Star Wars Jesus (Caleb Grimes)
Star Wars Jesus is a a "spiritual commentary" on the reality of the Force. Written in 101 entries that chronologically follow through the six movies, Grimes brings out unique observations and discussions of the movies from a Christian spiritual and theological point of view.

This is a well-written and very well-organized book. The entries don't have to be read in a particular order, so you can jump around easily.  If you want a particular commentary on any aspect of the Star Wars films, the chronological order of the book makes that very easy to access. It is not a "preachy" book; it does not intend to convert the reader to Christianity, merely to illustrate the bold similarities that the Star Wars films have with Christianity. It is respectfully enthusiastic about Christianity and Stars Wars, but also has some themes of Taoism and Buddhism.  Recommended for Star Wars fans or those interested in science fiction and religion.  This would be appropriate for teens and adults.


Books for the Kids
The Heroes of the Bible Treasury and Great Stories of the Bible are each six book treasuries that are level 2 readers designed for newly independent readers.  These books include :
·         Elijah and the Power of God ISBN: 9780310750819
·         A King, A Statue and a Fiery Furnace ISBN: 9780310750932
·         Miracles of Jesus ISBN: 9780310732426
·         A Father’s Love ISBN: 9780310732402
·         The Good Samaritan ISBN: 9780310746621
·         Paul Deliver’s God’s Message ISBN: 9780310750765
·         God’s Great Creation ISBN: 9780310732389
·         Noah’s Voyage ISBN: 9780310746836
·         Joseph the Dreamer ISBN: 9780310750840
·         Moses Leads the People ISBN: 9780310732365
·         Ruth and Naomi ISBN: 9780310746508
·         Brave Queen Esther ISBN: 9780310746669

My first grader thoroughly enjoyed these books!  These are appropriate for young readers, about age four to nine (depending on your child’s reading level).  They portray classic Bible stories in a way that is fun and visual for young readers.  They take complex stories and simplify them, for better understanding.  I love that there are full color illustrations on every page – it really helps to solidify the stories.  The author has picked twelve great stories to bring to their level – many of them are classics, but others are gems that will really get a particular character quality across.  Overall, this is a great set of books for young ones!


How come people lived so long back then? Why did God allow the flood? Is Jesus real?  Kids have LOTS of questions about the Bible and God. The NIrV Kids’ Quest Study Bible is a great resource for kids eager to learn more.  Isn’t it exciting to discover the world, ask how things work, and learn about God and the Bible? With a bright, colorful design, reading and using the Bible is fun.
Features include:
·         Over 500 questions and answers for kids
·         Book introductions help explain what each book of the Bible is about
·         A dictionary and subject guide help kids find what they’re looking for
·         Fresh, colorful design makes the Bible fun to look at and use
·         The complete NIrV translation, the steppingstone to the NIV!

This is a great book for the graduate of leveled readers.  It is written at a third grade reading level, and answers those curious questions that kids are so well-known for having about their world!  It is a Bible, with scriptures (some are revised), but it also has illustrations and explanations for those scriptures.  It includes a dictionary, an index, and colors!  Some of the answers cross-reference other passages, and it encourages deeper thinking and exploration.  This is a wonderful book for the in-between age…the child that isn’t ready to tackle an adult Bible – or even an adult that has trouble comprehending it.  It breaks it down into manageable bits.

Minecrafter's Bible  (Zondervan)

Do you ever feel like it's more fun to exist in the computer world than the real one? Is that the only place you can control your destiny? Well, God is the original great world builder, and he gave us the power and the skills we need to make changes in the real world. The Minecrafter’s Bible, NIrV contains the full text of the New International Reader's Version (NIrV) of the Bible (from Genesis to Revelation) as well as 24 color tip-in pages featuring full-color illustrations in the style of wildly popular virtual-world-building games. Featured stories include the days of creation and great builds of the Bible.

While there are several glossy, color pages with Minecraft illustrations, this Bible isn’t really Minecraft-oriented.  It’s a real Bible.  It’s just a Bible with a few Minecraft pictures sprinkled throughout.  There are reading plans, for reading the entire book, maps, color illustrations, color charts, and little tidbits such as “Brain Games” and “Check it Out,” that lead to further exploration.  It is visually appealing, and will attract young readers and teens simply for the fact that it features Minecraft.  It has a sturdy cover and binding, for the abuse kids typically give.  It also has “study” features scattered throughout.  Overall, it’s a good kids’ Bible for elementary / middle schoolers.


God Bless...series  (Peter Francis)
Includes (currently) :  God Bless America, God Bless Texas, and God Bless Florida
Take a tour of the most amazing landmarks and cities! Each book will show readers how special their country is, and how God made such a wonderful place for us to live.


These are stories about a bear named Henry who decides to travel around America.  In each of the state books, he visits cities and landmarks for that particular state.  In the America book, he tours the entire country in sixteen pages.  At each stop, he thanks God for the land that he loves.   I like that it is a board book, so a bit harder to beat up.  It has full page illustrations that are visually appealing.  This would be appropriate as a read-aloud for young children, or as one to be read from by beginning readers.  While we’re all familiar with the A to Z books, if you’re in the market for a new series for preschool aged children, this could be a good choice.


Books for Mom & Dad
Together at the Table (Hillary Manton Lodge)
Three months ago, Juliette D’Alisa’s world changed.  In a bittersweet series of events, her mother’s health took a turn for the worse. Juliette and her brother opened their restaurant together to rave reviews, but her romance with Memphis immunologist Neil McLaren ended in anger and tears.  As autumn sweeps into the Pacific Northwest, Juliette feels that she’s finally on the cusp of equilibrium. The restaurant continues to thrive, and her family is closer than ever. She and sous-chef Adrien are seeing each other, both in and out of the kitchen. Just when she thinks her world might stop spinning, a trip to the waterfront lands a familiar face into her path.  Rather than dwell on her personal life, Juliette throws herself into work and research. After reading her grandmother’s letters from war-torn Paris, she still wants to know the full story –  and she’ll travel across countries and oceans to find it.  But even Juliette can’t outrun the man who stole her heart. As she finally uncovers the truth about her family history, what will it mean for her own chances at lasting love?
I highly recommend this entire series!  It has been one of the best trilogies that I’ve read in a very long time, and I feel fortunate to have been able to read the conclusion having already read the first two books first.  If you haven’t read them yet – go back, read them, and then come grab the third one!  This third book is basically two stories - one present day (Juliette and company) and the other taking place during WWII, following Juliette’s grandmother’s diary.  It wraps up a lot of loose ends.  Fabulous recipes are also added at the end of each of the chapters.   I am looking forward to more from HML! 

Code 13 (Don Brown)
Caroline is just getting her feet wet at the prestigious Code 13, but is thankful for at least one familiar face—her old flame, P.J. MacDonald. He loops her into the assignment he is currently working on—the legality of a proposed drone-sharing contract with Homeland Security that would allow the sale of drones for domestic surveillance. The contractor wants a legal opinion clearing the contract for congressional approval. But the mob wants the proposal dead-on-arrival.  When P.J. is gunned down in cold blood and a second JAG officer is killed, one thing becomes clear: whoever is ordered to write the legal opinion on the drones becomes a target. Which is exactly why Caroline goes to her commanding officer and volunteers to write the legal opinion herself. She is determined to avenge P.J.’s death and trap the killer, even if that means making herself a target.  It is a deadly game of Russian roulette for the sake of justice, but Caroline is determined to see it through, even if it costs her life.
I want to begin by saying that this is the second in “The Navy JAG Series,” and while many novels that are part of a series can still be read as stand-alone books, this one really didn’t work out very well as a stand-alone.  I have not read the first book, but it would appear that people who read the first one enjoy this book considerably more than those that read it as a stand-alone, like I did.  That said, the story began pretty slow and I almost put it down, but then it got to a good part and took off from there.  True, the plot was predictable, and you could guess how the story was going to end by about chapter four, but the journey was filled with mystery and excitement.  The love scenes could use a little bit of help…but we’ll overlook that and chalk it up to being a male author.  J  I liked how the mystery held an underlying Christian theme.  If you like military thrillers, then I recommend beginning with book one, Detained, and reading through this series.



Like Never Before (Melissa Tagg)

Maple Valley became Amelia Bentley's haven after her heart and her dreams of a family were shattered. But her new life as a newspaper editor is shaken when the small-town paper is in danger of closing. Her one hope: A lead on an intriguing story that just might impress the new publisher...if only she knew who he was.  After his biggest campaign success yet, widowed speechwriter Logan Walker now has the chance of a lifetime--a spot on a presidential campaign. But his plans are interrupted when he finds out he's inherited his hometown newspaper. He travels home intent on selling the paper and spending some much-needed time with his young daughter before making the leap into national politics.  But instead of a quick sale and peaceful break from his hectic career, Logan finds himself helping Amelia chase her story. She's scrappy, but wounded. He's dependable, but lost. They may butt heads more than expected, but a series of leads on Maple Valley's quirky unsolved mystery is just the start of the sparks that fly in the office and in their hearts.


I love that this book is completely believable and relatable.  The characters are very well developed and easy to like.  You feel as though they are friends, and you are a part of the story itself.  There is just the right blend of romance, drama, tragedy, and humor…making it a book that you’ll want to read in one sitting!  My only caveat?  Now I have to go back and read Book 1 and the Prequel…..I’d suggest starting with those first!  (This book does work just fine as a stand-alone story.)

Fading Starlight  (Kathryn Cushman)

Lauren Summers is hiding. Her fashion house internship should have launched her career, but a red carpet accident has left her blackballed. The only job she finds is unpaid, but comes with free lodging--a run-down cottage in the shadow of a cliff-side mansion. Unsure of what comes next, she's surprised to be contacted by a reporter researching a reclusive former Hollywood ingénue who lives in the nearby mansion. Kendall Joiner wants Lauren's help uncovering the old woman's secrets. In return, she'll prove the red carpet accident was a publicity stunt so Lauren can regain her former job. With all her dreams in front of her, Lauren's tempted by the offer, but as she and the old woman get to know each other, Lauren realizes nothing is quite as it seems.

Fading Starlight by Kathryn Cushman is a beautiful story of faith, friendship, and new beginnings.  The main character struggles with ethical issues that any one of us could face, and begins a spiritual journey with an elderly neighbor.  A main theme in the book is that we have to give it to God.  She cannot fix her problems, and she cannot define her course.  Life often goes awry from our plans.  For me, one of the best parts of this book was the setting – with its old-Hollywood glamour, the beautiful gowns, and the film history.  I learned a lot from the background alone.  If you’re into a good read with minimal violence, then this one is for you.

The Basque Book (Alexandra Raij)
Whether it’s a perfectly ripe summer tomato served with just a few slivers of onion and a drizzle of olive oil, salt cod slowly poached in oil and topped with an emulsion of its own juices, or a handful of braised leeks scattered with chopped egg, Basque cooking is about celebrating humble ingredients by cooking them to exquisite perfection.  Chefs Alexandra Raij and Eder Montero are masters of this art form, and their New York City restaurant Txikito is renowned for its revelatory preparations of simple ingredients. In this much-anticipated and deeply personal debut, Raij and Montero share more than one hundred recipes from Txikito—all inspired  by the home cooking traditions of the Basque Country—that will change the way you cook.  Dishes like Salt Cod in Pil Pil sauce have fewer than five ingredients yet will astonish you with their deeply layered textures and elegant flavors. By following Raij’s careful but encouraging instructions, you can even master Squid in Its Own Ink—a rite of passage for Basque home cooks, and another dish that will amaze you with its richness and complexity.  The Basque Book is a love letter: to the Basque Country, which inspired these recipes and continues to inspire top culinary minds from around the world; to ingredients high and low; and to the craft of cooking well. Read this book, make Basque food, learn to respect ingredients—and, quite simply, you will become a better cook.

This is a nice hardcover book with gorgeous photographs.  It features over a hundred recipes, many of them centered around seafood and Spanish ingredients.  One of the first things I noticed, however, was that they are mostly ingredients I have never seen anywhere around us.  It would be very difficult to get the necessary ingredients to make these recipes.  The text was very nice – the author talks about meeting her husband, how she got interested in Basque cooking, and the basics of this style of cooking.  The book has background information about the food, and text about several of the specific recipes.  The photography was beautiful, too!  

The Alliance  (Jolina Petersheim)

When Leora Ebersole sees the small plane crash in her Old Order Mennonite community, she has no idea it's a foreshadowing of things to come. Soon after the young pilot, Moses Hughes, regains consciousness, they realize his instruments were destroyed by the same power outage that killed the electricity at the community store, where Englischers are stranded with dead cell phones and cars that won't start.  Moses offers a sobering theory, but no one can know how drastically life is about to change. With the only self-sustaining food supply in the region, the Pacifist community is forced to forge an alliance with the handful of stranded Englischers in an effort to protect not only the food but their very lives.  In the weeks that follow, Leora, Moses, and the community will be tested as never before, requiring them to make decisions they never thought possible. Whom will they help and whom will they turn away? When the community receives news of a new threat, everyone must decide how far they're willing to go to protect their beliefs and way of life.


This is not your typical Amish / Mennonite novel!  It is exciting and covers a topic I’ve never seen in that genre before today.  It includes romance, drama, and mystery – and it really makes you stop and think about how you would respond in the main character’s shoes.  My biggest hang up is that I thought it was going to be a standalone novel, and it turned out to be the first in a two-part series.   Usually I would just blow off the next segment, but I find myself so invested in the character development and the story line, that I’m anxiously awaiting the conclusion to see how everything plays out.

Go Big or Go Home  (Scotty McCreery)

It was just a simple singing competition that would be fun to audition for. Who knew what kind of doors it might open for a sixteen-year-old from Garner, North Carolina. Go Big or Go Home is the story of a kid with country songs in his soul. The special thing with Scotty McCreery, however, is that he has this God-given ability to sing those tunes the exact way they should be sung. Daring to enter the limelight at such a young age, Scotty finds himself embraced by the nation, and even overseas, as he competes on "American Idol". This is his journey from his North Carolina roots to winning America’s most popular singing competition and launching a musical career he had always dreamt about.  Go Big or Go Home narrates Scotty's journey from a kid imitating Elvis on the school bus to 30 million across America tuning in to see him win Season 10 of "American Idol”. Now as he completes his ground-breaking fourth album, Scotty shares a glimpse of where he came from and the impact his faith, family and friends have had on a humbled guy who keeps asking “why me?”
I was afraid that this would just be an American Idol recap, but it wasn't.  The book feels like a really long conversation, as he talks about his experiences and journey to today.  There is a lot about AI, but there's equally as much on his family and friends, as well as his values and experiences growing up.  Reading about his AI experiences was a real turn-off for the show...I can't imagine why anyone would voluntarily put themselves through that.  It's also eye-opening about the music business.  But overall, what I really like about this book is his genuine personality, and how he (seems to have) stayed true to his raising and himself.
The Naked Cookbook  (Tess Ward)

The author shares her personal prescription for renewal: a collection of deliciously simple yet flavorful recipes composed of the most nutrient-rich and simple foods. This is not a deprivation diet but an achievable lifestyle where food is enjoyed and celebrated in its purest form. Lamb Meatballs with Rhubarb Sauce, Smoked Tofu Panzanella with Figs, Hot and Spicy Seafood Soup with Crispy Shallots, Soba Noodle Salad with Cucumber and Mango--these delicious dishes support and fuel the body while encouraging optimal health.

This is an unprocessed foods cookbook – it is not for any special diet, other than simple, whole foods.  While it is supposed to be a ‘naked’ cookbook, I still expected more recipes than are included.  It was a quick read, and most of the recipes are not ones that I would use regularly.  I would have liked more recipes than are included; the collection seemed very bare.  There are section included on juicing, making nut milks, detoxing with food, and how to use food to better your energy and digestion.  The book is very dry, but the photographs are vibrant. 



F*ck That (Jason Headly)
Let this book help you find peace with the challenges that surround you....because they are f*cking everywhere.  We all have an inner voice. Sometimes it's just not quite as serene as we'd like. Based on the viral video that had everyone from yogis to workaholics raving, F*ck That is the completely truthful and oddly tranquil guide to achieving your inner peace.

First of all, as the title suggests, this book has a lot of strong language, so be prepared for that (though it in no way goes for overkill).  It's not appropriate for your kids, or to take to work (depending on where you work), or for your uplifting church group.  But it IS the perfect ending to a crappy day.  It's very small, so it'll fit in your carry-on bag to help keep you centered during that clusterf* of a last-minute flight you have to take for business...or anywhere else that you don't want to be.  It's a very quick read, and one star was taken off because I think it's overpriced for its size.  But it's good for stress relief and a good laugh.  I had not seen the youtube videos that started this book, but went back to watch them...again, without the kids around.  If you're not easily offended, and are just tired with life's crap, this is the book for you!
I received some, but not all, of these books in exchange for an honest review.  All opinions are my own.
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