“Why Can’t We Trust God?” A Book Review

“Why Can’t We Trust God?” By Thomas Wise; copyright 2020; Zion Press; 123 pp.

Mr. Wise has a good premise for his book. Some of the questions he supposes to answer are questions people in pain often ask. There’s a lot of good information and plenty of references to scripture telling stories about biblical characters who learned to (or failed to) trust God.

However, Wise, a university professor, more often sounds didactic in his writing than encouraging. From the wording in the title to the tone of the whole thing, it seems to me that he’s more interested in loading the reader with information than helping the hurting to find some peace. The subtitle reveals what the author intends to convey in the book but is buried in the negativity of the cover title’s treatment. In fact, the subtitle isn’t even included on the cover.

References to sources and the websites associated with them fall into the narrative early on and became distracting to me. They would have better been equipped with superscripts, referring them to the bibliography (‘References’) at the end of the book. The people he cites are most likely other scholars and I’m sure they’re credible sources, but the parenthetical references make the book hard to read.

When Wise begins each chapter with a heading including one of the “four sorrows” we deal with in our journey to trust, he does well, but again he buries the idea in long descriptions. I would have enjoyed hearing more stories from people he’s talked with. They would have helped me, in addition to his personal experiences, relate to others who’ve had the same challenges.

Perhaps Wise’s audience is other scholars or the people in “organizational leadership” that are mentioned in his bio. That might explain the nature of the tone and the content. However, I believe that in a book written to answer questions about why it’s so hard to trust God in our pain, those people in leadership would also be better served with hope and encouragement. This book reads more like a lecture or seminar.

Again, the premise is sound. I applaud Wise for tackling the subject. Throughout history—with biblical characters being excellent examples—people just like any of us struggle with trust. I appreciate his few personal stories; his pain is real. But overall, I don’t agree with most of the other reviews I’ve read.** I expected a more personal approach since pain is a hard topic to talk about. When I ask “Why” questions, I’d rather someone tell me “how and why I can trust God” instead of emphasizing “why I can’t.”

** I waited to read them until I’d written my own review so I wouldn’t be influenced one way or the other.

This review is for a book of which a reader’s copy was provided by the author through Book Crash.

“Hey Grandude” : A Book Review

“Hey Grandude” by Sir Paul McCartney; copyright 2019; Random House; 32 pages

Like many children, my kids loved being read to. “Hey Grandude!” is a book I’m sure my son would have wanted read more than once at bedtime. “Read it again” he’d say.

Grandude has four of his “chillers” staying at his house and with his magic compass, they go on adventures to the ocean, the desert, and a snowy mountain. There’s fun and danger in every trip. Grandude’s magic begins with a postcard he pulls from his pocket. (Maybe that “Wish you were here” is the real magic.) I’d say this one is best read at bedtime seeing as it ends with some tired-out grand kids.

Kathryn Durst’s illustrations are colorful and fun. The target age group is 4-6 years and I’m not sure some of the language would be something they can understand without having it explained. But the story includes a compass, a spyglass, a stampede, an avalanche, and postcards. Considering the nature of communications methods in place today, kids will most likely have to have “postcards” explained.

Nevertheless, since kids usually ask for an adventure story to be read over and over, so they’ll hear something new each time it’s read (isn’t that always the case on re-reads?) and maybe add to their vocabulary. There’s some “Zing Bang Sizzle” for most kids who have the imagination to lose themselves in the adventures.

Happy Reading.

5 Good Reasons to Read Books

It’s “Read Across America Day.” And whether or not you live in the United States of America, reading is fundamental (to quote an old slogan).

I learned to read while sitting at our kitchen table eating breakfast**. I learned how to sound out words like riboflavin, barley, lecithin, syrup, and all those other things I was feeding my tummy. My big sister also helped because she was a ravenous reader. I suppose she hoped I would be too. When we sat outside the small downtown grocery store while Dad and Mom ran in for a few things, she’d help me with the words on the big old signs that told us what the specials were that week. Hamburger, Wheaties**, margarine, Wonder Bread.

Me, ignoring people who say I have too many books.

Consider these five good reasons to read, whether it’s books; newspapers; magazines; your email (Especially the ones from your boss); your Twitter feed (Unless it gets nasty. Then run. Run away very fast); or that text your spouse just sent so you don’t get in trouble (Unless you’re driving because that could cause trouble).

  1. Read because you can inform yourself and others.
  2. Read because it can be relaxing.
  3. Read to kids because you’ll teach them that reading is important. It’s also a great way to bond with them.
  4. Read because it improves your vocabulary
  5. Read because it’s your assignment for school and you want to pass the class

To celebrate Read Across America Day, try one of these ideas.

  • Read a book and tell someone a little about what you’re reading
  • Encourage someone to read
  • Help someone learn to read
  • Finish that book. Come on, you’re almost done
  • Tell us in the comments what you’re reading

It’s also the 116th birthday of Dr. Seuss. Dr. Seuss gave us fun characters and some crazy worlds to visit. They lent themselves to memorization because, whether we noticed it as a kids, he was teaching us in a fun way about poetry.

Here’s a blog about books and reading from Why Not Books. The blogger includes a list of the Why Not 100 with links on his site for such lists as Harry Potter incantations; Beatles Songs as Book Titles; Books Written by Kids; Banned Books; Freaky Fictional Presidents, and more. Now those might make for some interesting reading.

The Why Not Books blog also includes a list of classic Dr. Seuss characters. How many Dr. Seuss characters can you name? What’s your favorite Dr. Seuss book?

In case you were wondering, I did become a rabid reader, just like my sister. She ended up recommending books to me as I grew. Her tastes ran to classics and she is six years older than me, so I was about thirteen years old when I read “Anna Karenina” at her suggestion. Thanks, Laura! What a ride it’s been.

Be a blessing to someone today. Read aloud to them, even if it’s talking through the clues and answers to your crossword puzzle.

“Frog’s Rainy-Day Story” A Review

Frog’s Rainy-Day Story and Other Fables by Michael James Dowling; 72 pp; © 2019; Carpenter’s Son Publishing; Illustrations by Sarah Buell Dowling

“Frog’s Rainy-Day Story” presents fun ways to teach family values and lessons about life. Kids are familiar with animals like frogs, rabbits, foxes, crickets, beavers, owls, and all the other creatures who are the characters in this book. Through the animals’ conversations in each tale, children can learn how to interact with the world and one another.

Mrs. Dowling creates beautiful drawings of animals and simple scenery. I especially liked their expressions and how understated the color is. Rather than being in bold colors, the artwork doesn’t distract from stories that are meant for learning. That’s not to say the stories aren’t fun. They are. But the simplicity adds to the tone of the book.

Some of the lessons include being kind, making choices, generous or selfish attitudes, and spending money. Since the reading level is second grade, most children will understand, especially since the book provides a glossary at the end.

“Frog’s Rainy-Day Story” also welcomes families to dig deeper into the lessons by using their “Burrowing Deeper” study and questions on the website. The stories, used in this way, can help children with personal reflection and help families find a way to make family devotions fun.

When parents explain how the story relates to their child’s life, they’ll probably need to draw from their own knowledge of the Bible. Each of the eight stories ends with a comparison of worldly wisdom to biblical wisdom. These are helpful, but I sometimes didn’t see how the story depicted what the author was hoping to express. Most of them, however, have obvious morals.

This husband and wife team has a winner here. Not only is the book useful and fun, but it’s a quality publication. The size of the book gives it a typical children’s book feel and the fact that it’s a hardcover means it should last for years.

In addition to finding the book for purchase at the authors’ website, you can find it at Christianbook.Com and on Amazon.

This review is with thanks to Book Crash and the authors for providing a reader’s copy.

“Gracie Lou Wants a Zoo” A review

Gracie Lou Wants a Zoo by Shelly Roark; Illustrated by Simone Kruger;  36 pp; Little Lamb Books; copyright 2019

Gracie Lou has a pet turtle, George. But she wants even more pets. Because her family lives in an apartment, each time she asks her parents for a new pet, they tell her “no.” It’s no wonder; the animals she wants require some pretty special circumstances. She asks for a duck, a giraffe, a monkey, and an elephant.

Dad reasons with her, telling Gracie God has a plan for her, even if it means she wants a zoo. Nevertheless, she has a tantrum and complains to George as she crawls into bed.

That night, Gracie’s wish comes true. She now has a duck, a giraffe, a monkey, and an elephant. But at what cost? The presence of them all proves to be more than she expected.

The illustrations in “Gracie” are fun and colorful with even the insides of the front and back covers featuring cute animals. “Gracie Lou” is long enough to tell a good story, and short enough to fit into a bedtime ritual. Gracie’s experience can help moms and dads explain why kids don’t always get what they want, and that God has a plan for them if they will be patient and see the wisdom in waiting.

In looking up the title on a couple book websites, I didn’t find a suggested age group for “Gracie Lou,” but would suggest ages 2-6.

I think one of the best parts of the book is watching the animals. George smiles and blinks in response to Gracie Lou. The giraffe eats potato chips as he sprawls on the couch with the TV remote. A rowdy monkey flings books from the bookcase. The purple elephant raids the fridge. Clever framed “photos” on the walls in the apartment add to the scenery.

Shelly Roark is the award-winning author of “The Bubble Who Would Not POP.”

Bookcrash provided a copy of the book for review.

Three Simple Rules: A Wesleyan Way of Living: a Review

by Reuben P. Job, copyright 2007, Abingdon Press, 77pages

This book is based on John Wesley’s three simple rules: Do No Harm, Do Good, Stay in Love With God. The editor, Reuben P. Job, says in his preface that these three rules “have the power to change the world.” I’m a Wesleyan and am familiar with the Discipline, so the book had some attraction for me when I first picked it up.

It’s a book which can be read perhaps in one sitting, but I believe it needs to be read more slowly so the reader may chew on the wisdom of Wesley. For instance:

“When I am determined to do no harm to you, I lose my fear of you; and I am able to see you and hear you more clearly.”

While “Three Simple Rules” is intended for a general audience, I believe the message is especially relevant for leaders. Emphasis, in my opinion, should always be on staying in love with God. When I do that, I’m more likely to remember the greatest commandments. Then it follows that I’ll “do no harm” and “do good.”

This tiny little book includes a Daily Guide to Prayer and sheet music for “Stay in Love With God,” which is adapted from words by John Wesley. Epigraphs for each of the three chapters are taken from Psalms and the New Testament.

I keep reading this book over and over again because it’s like a guidebook. There’s so much to learn and apply. Certainly it will take a lifetime for me to be true to its principles.

“The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man” a Review

“The Astonishing Secret of Awesome Man” by Michael Chabon; Balzer and Bray; copyright 2011; 40 pp.

It doesn’t hurt that “Astonishing Secret” is written by one of my favorite authors. It doesn’t hurt that it’s about a superhero. I love superheroes. It doesn’t hurt that it’s funny. I love to laugh. It doesn’t hurt that it’s fun to look at the pictures.

 

We’re supposed to guess Awesome Man’s secret identity and along the way, if you’re paying attention, you’ll figure it out. He tells us about his awesome powers, but confesses he smashes into things—and sometimes on purpose. Because “When you are a superhero like me, sometimes you have to smash into things.”

 

He has a Fortress of Awesome, Moskowitz the Awesome Dog, and an arch nemesis–the Flying Eyeball. If he gets into trouble and his powers get away from him, he retreats and gets all ‘positronic’ again.

Chabon has captured the essence of comics with sound effects in humongous letters: “Skreech” “Sklurp” “Ska-runch.” Hey, it also doesn’t hurt that the author has had a love relationship with comic books his whole life (almost). Jake Parker’s illustrations couldn’t be cleverer. He works wonders with bold colors, also reminiscent of comic books.

Awesome Man puts me in mind of Calvin from Calvin and Hobbes and his alter-ego Stupendous Man. Except I don’t think Calvin, erm, Stupendous Man can hug mutant Jell-O.

The clues are there, but even if you figure out Awesome Man’s secret identity early in the story, I bet you’ll want to read it again, even if your child doesn’t ask you to.

But I bet he will.

Days With Frog and Toad: A Review

What a cool relationship Frog and Toad have. They remind me of an amphibious odd couple. Their personalities are different as well as their skins. Frog seems to be always upbeat and Toad seems to have a tentative attitude toward things. And then there’s the Toad-is-brown and Frog-is-green thing going on.

Kids learning to read will have fun with “Days With Frog and Toad” because Frog and Toad help each other, play together, relax together, and obviously care about one another.

Each of the five stories—“Tomorrow,” “The Kite,” “Shivers,” “The Hat,” and “Alone” are comical and sweet. Each contains a lesson that parents can discuss with their child. The stories are a fun way to learn about helping, being persistent, being responsible, and appreciating people.

The frog and toad stories remind me also of “The Wind in the Willows” because of the characters’ particular species. Arthur Lobel has done a fine job with the I Can Read Book, with engaging stories and simple illustrations to go with the simple sentence structure for beginning readers. The I Can Read series is explained as “a perfect bridge to chapter books” with “high-interest stories for developing readers.”

 

“Socrates in the City” A Review

Socrates in the City by Eric Metaxas; copyright 2011; Blackstone Audiobooks; approx. 15 hours

“Socrates in the City” is a compendium of talks given in the forum of the same name that takes in place in New York City. This periodic event’s premise is based on Socrates’ words, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” I’m as pleased as I can be that I read this as an audio book because it meant I could hear the speakers and the questions in their own voices. I would have missed the nuances of each speaker’s voice and those of the audience members in the Q & A sessions.

Each guest speaker does, indeed, talk about the topics listed in the subtitle. These topics are what I call gritty. You may not agree or even understand the stance each speaker takes on his subject, but you’ll have to admit that they are people who challenge your thinking. They know the subjects and are astute to the fact that we might not be.

It was refreshing–their delivery of facts about their given topic, observations which form and affect culture, and their expressions of their individual opinions on the topic. They speak in civil discourse, something that’s lacking in our age of “power through social media.” The audience members asking questions following each speech prove that they are no slouches either.

Socrates in the City is a platform I respect because of the content and the method in which the content is delivered. Metaxas’ introductions often make me cringe with his attempts at humor, but his keen wit in these efforts outweigh the groaners, so I forgive him. In fact, a few of the speakers found his introductions of them clever.

Metaxas ends this audio book with a talk on his most recently (at that time) published book Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Having read “Bonhoeffer,” it was a pleasure to hear the author explain a little about his writing and research process and some high points in the biography to look out for. Truly, “Bonhoeffer,” though a monster of a book, has been listed as one of two of my favorite biographies to date. The book Socrates in the City: Conversations on “Life, God, and Other Small Topics” is fairly high up there on the current list of favorite non-fiction too.

Because He Lives: A Book Review

Because He Lives by Jennifer Flanders; 205 pp; Prescott Publishing; copyright 2018

While the subtitle of the book is “a devotional journal for Easter,” this uniquely formatted book serves a Christian for any occasion, any time of year.

Flanders compiled each chapter to reflect various aspects of God’s nature, his miracles, and his love. The author says Because He Lives is a “celebration of His life, death, burial, and resurrection.” The meditations are meant to get the reader thinking about the life and work of Jesus, especially his Passion week.

Different from any devotional I’ve seen, this one presents a coloring book style. I believe that Flanders creates her journals this way to make the act of meditating on scripture more engaging. As with her other works, the daily readings are mostly dependent on scripture, basing the message on Christian creeds.

While engaging in the scriptures offered for reflection, readers may want to write prayers, poetry, experiences related to the reading, prompts from the Holy Spirit, or anything God brings to the mind and heart. There seems to be a completely gentle way of helping Christians speak on paper the influences of God’s grace in their lives. I found it refreshing in its simplicity.

I enjoyed Flanders’ inclusion of prophesies fulfilled, the various episodes of God’s goodness in Jesus’ ministry, scriptures related to living a life dedicated to Christ, and remembering the eternal perspective that we should always keep in mind.

The journal is certainly slanted toward the Easter season, but even though the title suggests that, I’d recommend it for any time of year. The artwork is borrowed from paintings and graphics we’re familiar with and, as I said, are suitable for the person who enjoys using markers and colored pencils as personal expressions. The book would make a nice gift for any occasion, reminding us that we are who we are ‘because he lives.’

BookCrash provided a complimentary copy of Because He Lives in exchange for this review.