“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.

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“Avengers: Endgame” A Review

“Avengers: Endgame” 2019; Marvel Studios; Directors Anthony Russo, Joe Russo; starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson

I was excited, looking forward to sitting in one of our local theaters for three hours to watch “Avengers: Endgame.”

I woke up yesterday feeling under the weather, and even though my symptoms calmed down an hour or so before show time, I hoped I’d be able to sit three hours watching the endgame unfold and experiencing again the Avengers team’s responses to crisis.

I made it. I couldn’t eat popcorn (I know, how did I resist theater popcorn?) nor did I purchase a drink from the concession stand. My reward for going the length of the entire movie without leaving my seat was a free trip to the ladies room afterward.

One piece of advice. In my opinion, having watched all the films and most of the associated Marvel television series, it would be to your advantage to watch “Avenger: Infinity War” before seeing this one. It will help keep in mind all the action that preceded the “endgame” Doctor Strange referred to at the end of “Infinity War” and some of the motivations of the characters.

This probably is, in fact, not a review at all. I will have to let you know how I liked the movie when I’m done weeping. Not really. But there are some sad parts in this story along with all the anticipated action and the typical Marvel humor.

“Don’t Close Your Eyes”: A Review

“Don’t Close Your Eyes” by Bob Hostetler, Illustrated by Mark Chambers; copyright 2019; publisher Tommy Nelson; 20 pages; $9.99 US/$12.50 Canada

Bob Hostetler writes a “silly bedtime story” that is charming and sweet featuring baby animals with their moms and dads. Mark Chambers’ illustrations create the right atmosphere for a lovely bedtime story.

In a simple rhyming scheme, the story tells little ones that it’s time to go to bed. But the 20-page poem invites sleepy children to not close their eyes. Rabbits and foxes, owls and deer, and birds and bears have flown, buzzed around, and played all day. They’re ready for bed after a day of romping just like the child in Mommy’s lap.

If I had small children, I would hope they’d want me to read “this one” “again, Mom.” While the message repeated throughout is “Don’t close your eyes,” it’s meant to quiet a child until they can’t keep those little peepers open. Sounds to me like the perfect book to prepare a child for sleep after the bath and bedtime prayers.

The story’s short and easy to read. The binding is solid. The pages are constructed from cardboard and polyester foam so those chubby fingers can handle the book easily. Also a smart move as far as helping the book to last.

Parents might want to make the story interesting and give that little sleepy head something to do. There are mice on a few of the pages and bugs all over the place. An age-appropriate game might be to ask them to look for the bugs or the mice and count them as they “read along,” making sure of course that they “don’t close” their eyes.

So be sure they don’t pay too much attention to the droopy eyelids on those critters. You might just get a sleeping child who only needs a kiss and the light turned out.

Bob Hostetler is an award-winning author, pastor, speaker, and blogger. His 50 books include “The Red Letter Life,” “The Bone Box,” and a devotional, “The Bard and the Bible.” He lives in Ohio with his wife, the lovely Robin.

Mark Chambers is an award-winning illustrator of children’s picture books and youth fiction. His work includes “My Hamster is a Genius,” “Pirate Pete and His Smelly Feet,” and “Spider!” He currently lives in the U.K.

 

Reasons Good King Wenceslas Stays Relevant: Media Monday

During this year’s Christmas season, social media seems to be crowded with the hashtag #NotAChristmasSong. People, come on…

I remember singing, as a tradition, so many of the songs they’re talking about. Singing them makes me happy and nostalgic. No matter what people think, I’ll continue to sing them. Perhaps for most people, it’s just a joke and they’re not really slamming these songs. They may be trying to make fun of the social media hashtal using their own hashtags. But, in my opinion, some of those folks are a little too serious about what is and isn’t a Christmas song.

A song I remember singing is “Good King Wenceslas.” In reality, it’s not a Christmas song, but a song mentioning the Feast of Stephen. That particular feast is to honor the first Christian martyr, the apostle Stephen. Celebrating that feast is also a way to remember that Christ offers eternal life. Stephen, after all, saw Christ standing at God’s right hand. That gives a whole new meaning to “it’s a wonderful life.”

The song is also a nice story about how a king looked after a poor and probably oppressed man. Now how much more can that be about Jesus?

In the lyrics to the song, the good king welcomes his page to follow in the footsteps he makes in the deep snow.

“Mark my footsteps, my good page, tread thou in them boldly”

How much more could that be about Jesus’ offer to us, “Follow me”?

The page obeys, knowing his King will guide him in safety and security. Even in hardships.

“In his master’s steps he trod, where the snow lay dinted”

The word dinted means “with force or power.” How much more could that be about Jesus’ character?

Eventually, the story sends a message to everyone, no matter their worldly status, that blessing the poor brings a blessing. How much more could that be about God’s favor?

I invite you to click to see the musical score for Good King Wenceslas, which has all the verses of the song’s music and lyrics. Put yourself in the poor man’s place, receiving gifts from a King. Put yourself in the page’s place, following your Master. (If I was a betting sort of person, I’d wager you can’t read it without singing along.)

Oh, my King and Master, thank you for the position you give me as I follow you. I am lowly as a page, and not deserving of your grace, yet you’ve chosen me to stand with you. May I follow, every day, in your powerful steps and remember to provide justice to the poor and oppressed. Help me to remember how much you love us all. Amen

Gathering Courage: A Book Review

By T.A. McMullin, copyright 2015, Gathering Courage Media, 200 pages

This is the story of Terry, born Kaysia, who overcame blindness, dyslexia, and the pain of abandonment. McMullin hopes, through her memoir, to support people who share some of her experiences. Anyone who struggles in life, Terry believes, can acquire a can-do attitude.

Terry, who goes by T.A., begins the story with her birth and ultimate adoption. She talks a lot about one of her passions: animals, especially dogs and horses. When T.A. felt the most disheartened, it was God and her loving pets to whom she turned.

The family dynamics she met in each foster care home seem to be the same. Rejected from the first adoptive family, her self-esteem plummeted. She struggled in school and early in life. She wore a brace because of back problems. Ultimately, she became legally blind.

But her story isn’t all sadness. Because of her faith and her tenacity, she had success and experienced love from people who, she says, never gave up on her. She attended a major university, achieving two degrees.

Gathering Courage most certainly tells the story of a woman who triumphed over adversities. Her story is interesting and inspiring as she hoped it would be. T.A. tells her story in chronological order of events, which makes sense in this case. She includes photos of some of the pets and locations she is most fond of. Gathering Courage attempts to humbly show the courage of its author. The story will also inspire us to be the best we can be despite the problems we may encounter.

However, I think the handling of the content suffers. The book could have been shorter and it needed professional editing or the hand of a skilled ghost writer. While these considerations don’t detract from the story, they’re noticeable enough to have made the story go slowly for me.

A mentor and teacher, the author is committed to helping others like her “To Make Life Better.” It’s her vision and heartfelt desire.

T.A.’s memoir may be found at Gathering Courage Media or on Amazon.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy of the book from the publisher through the Bookcrash program in exchange for an honest review.

It’s a Jungle in Here: Book Review

It’s a Jungle in Here by Kristie Wilde; 22 pages; copyright 2018

Kristie Wilde, the author and illustrator of this title, has a real winner with another in the Joyful Creation Series. 

When I saw the cover of the book in my selection email from Bookcrash, I wondered if all the illustrations in this picture book would be as beautiful as the cover. (It doesn’t hurt that I really like elephants.) I wasn’t disappointed. Since children are drawn to the pictures in a book as much as the story, these watercolors do the job and then some.

The book is short, but I think that just means it’s a book kids request by asking, “Read it again,” and Mom or Dad won’t mind because it doesn’t take long to repeat. And I mean it, the paintings Kristie supplies are also fun. Check out the page with the frogs. Those little guys are so cute and it took me a bit to count them all. There are brightly colored butterflies and birds; big cats; and funny monkeys. She even includes chameleons, which tickled me, the owner of a crested gecko.

In the back, the author includes simple, but pretty cool, information about each animal group she presents. Her degree in forestry is probably one of the reasons she finds it a joy to educate kids while encouraging them and entertaining them with a good story.

All that and the message that God made each of the animals in the jungle unique and that he’s pleased with them. “It’s a Jungle in Here” reminds children that God is pleased with them too, no matter who they are.

If you want a copy of this beautifully illustrated book with a special message for your kids or grand kids, look for it at Barnes & Noble or Wilde Art Press, the publisher.

Bookcrash supplied me with a complimentary copy of the book in exchange for the review. (I’m going to gift it to a friend who has youngsters.)

 

Review: “The Proverbs Management Handbook”

The Proverbs Management Handbook: A Christian Manager’s Guide to Doing Business; By John A. Guderian; Published by Waterloo Publishing; copyright 2017, 262 pages

This is a great book with plenty…wait, make that numerous, biblical references for leaders. I was happy to see that someone had published a book of this type which is quite an easy read. In fact, a friend of mine said her husband was going into business for himself and asked another fellow in business what book he would suggest helping him to run it. The guy recommended the book of Proverbs. Wise move. The book of Proverbs was written to “attain wisdom and discipline; for understanding words of insight…” You get the idea.

And speaking of wisdom, this book includes references from one of the Bible’s wisdom books. It mostly includes proverbs written by King Solomon, but also uses some by other kings and notables. The author includes a variety of proverbs for a variety of situations. However, some references are repeated too often, in my opinion. While they may be appropriate for that topic, perhaps he could have found another suitable one.

It’s easy to read and would make a great reference for future use. One of its beauties is that its chapters don’t need to be read in order. Peruse the table of contents, find a topic you’re interested in as a leader, and read on. The author directs the content toward leaders of all types. One needn’t be in church leadership or corporate leadership. If you deal with people and have influence with them, you’re considered a leader.

I received the book as a pdf and it takes me longer to read that format. I doubt that I will refer to it much in the future for this reason. I prefer a solid book to hold in my hands. The Proverbs Management Handbook also contains a bibliography. That’s a feature I appreciate in a non-fiction book.

Since the author is a Christian, his advice is from that perspective. But the content is good for anyone to take heed of. A lot of wisdom from one of the wisest persons ever to be a king.

The book was made available to me through BookCrash for an honest review. The opinions expressed are mine.

“Surviving ‘Uncle Hitler'” : a Review

Surviving ‘Uncle Hitler’: Journey of a German Girl; copyright 2016 Dorothea Wollin Null; First Steps Publishing

 

While reading Surviving ‘Uncle Hitler’: Journey of a German Girl, I had to keep reminding myself of whom I was reading. The story put me in mind of All Quiet on the Western Front. When Dorothea speaks of “the enemy,” she’s talking about the Allied countries fighting Germany. That’s because she was a German girl during WWII. It gives one a different perspective when one isn’t German.

Her story begins with a short history of how the Reich and Hitler took power and a description of family members. It’s written almost chronologically, although she sometimes backtracks to memories of better times when there was fresh food to eat, a warm place to sleep, and family outings.

Probably the most nightmarish segment of her memoir is the descriptions of, as refugees their escape from Germany where bombs destroyed the cities, and they retreated from the oncoming Russian army. Most of Europe was somehow affected by air strikes, and she describes the hardships of traveling hundreds of miles through cold mountainous regions to escape the bombings on their way to Czechoslovakia.

Dorothea blends her story of fears and pain with mentions of her faith that God got them through the hard times. She believes that many of the hardships and disappointments––like her father’s disqualification from being able to emigrate to America––were actually blessings in disguise. Separation from her father as he served in the German Army was one of the difficulties; they never knew where he was or if he was alive. But they kept moving.

The author is indeed blessed to have a small cache of photos which she shares, probably because her mother was so diligent in holding fast to the big black handbag which held their official papers. The photos lend a lot to the story and help us to see the family as “not” the enemy. They were unknowing victims of Hitler’s tyranny as much as anyone.

Dorothea’s writing isn’t eloquent or lyrical, although some passages and specific sentences made me stop and take notice.

“In retrospect, I am astounded at how tough I was, how tough all the children were to survive those terrible times. Of course, if we children hadn’t been so resilient, generations would have been wiped out, and I wouldn’t be here telling my story.”

Her empathy for other children and her ability to see both evil and goodness give her a leg up in telling a story unique to its genre. Again, in the vein of All Quiet on the Western Front, a true story by someone who was there says, “war is wrong, devastating and leaves scars that can last a lifetime.”

However, Dorothea Wollin Null is a witness to her faith in God and leaves us with hope for eternity.

The book is available from Barnes & Noble and Amazon.

The reviewer received a complimentary copy from Book Crash in exchange for an honest review.

 

The Rogue: A Review

The Rogue: Planets Shaken by Lee W. Brainard; 2017 by Soothkeep Press

The Rogue is the first volume of the Planets Shaken series about a dystopian future. It combines biblical prophecy, ancient history and government conspiracy in a story about scientists who have discovered a planet-sized comet on a collision course for Mars.

Astronomer Irina Kirlenko finds the comet but is stymied in her work in pursuing its path and imminent arrival. She believes those higher up who could investigate further and do something are hiding the discover to avoid panic when what the public needs is the truth. So, she sends her findings in coded language to her fellow astronomer, Ariele Serrafe. More people than this pair of women are in danger of being discovered with information the government will kill for.

Brainard writes the book with chapter openings as day/date/location entries. It’s an effective tool, creating that countdown feel which would probably happen if Earth was facing destruction and we knew how and when.

Brainard’s first installment is Christian fiction, but none of the characters is overtly religious. He’s only included a few references to their respective lives of faith. I found this refreshing since, although I’m a Christian, don’t read much inspirational fiction and don’t appreciate trite and obvious ploys to take me down an author’s path. The Author Himself, God, will draw me where He wants me to go; I prefer human authors be subtle in their approach, not leading me by the nose.

The characters in the book are either the kind you sympathize with or want to shake, and it’s easy to know which is which. Professor Goldblum is an opportunist, for instance, and out for glory. Other characters will seem selfless, but only the next volumes may tell if they truly are.

The story is peppered with acronyms I had to keep referring to and finally decided to pencil them in the back cover so that I wouldn’t have to search for the term again. I know what a planetarium is, and I understand constellations, but I had no idea what NEO meant. I do now. A glossary might have helped. I realize those are unusual for fiction, but I’ve seen it done and appreciated it when one was included. The book is enjoyable, and I might even be on the lookout for the next installation of the series. This was a fast read because the story itself moves fast. I wanted to know what was happening next to the characters (except for those meanies).

The cover is attractive as well and I’m one of those who pays attention to such things. This one is nice and clean; not all cluttered up. Be sure to read the qualifier written by the author on the copyright page regarding the novel being a work of fiction. I thought it was cleverly written.

The book is available at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

This review appears as a courtesy to Bookcrash and the author in exchange for an honest review and a copy of the book.

Christmas Songs We Know: A Review

“Mary Did You Know?:17 Inspirational Christmas Songs From Today’s Top Country Artists;” 2007; Word Entertainment (Warner/Curb)

This CD, with just over one hour of traditional sacred music, wouldn’t have been my first choice. However, because it boasts such a variety of artists, I couldn’t resist. While not a fan of country music, I still found this offering enjoyable.

Most of us have favorite singers or musicians. Most of us are on the lookout for a CD by that person. In this instance, I was in the mood for variety so when I saw it in the library display, I gathered it up.

Overall, the songs provide as much variety as the selection of artists. And, for the most part, they’re songs we know. Or at least have heard over the years playing in elevators or while shopping at the mall. It’s called inspirational music because the songs included are about the Christ child, Jesus. Only a couple of them hint at something other than Jesus’s birth and the event of Christmas and the night he was born.

My Favorites are “O Come, O Come Emmanuel” by Diamond Rio; “Breath of Heaven (Mary’s Song)” by Vince Gill; “What Child is This?” by Jo Dee Messina; and “The Christ (A Song For Joseph)” by Billy Dean. And while no one sings “Mary, Did You Know?” like the song’s author, Mark Lowry, Kenny Rogers and Wynonna did a more than respectable job.

The only track I didn’t care for was Leann Rimes’ rendition of “O Holy Night.” That’s a difficult song to sing, for sure. But her arrangement sounded to me more like someone wringing every note of the (USA’s) National Anthem up and down the scale. Perhaps Leann is an acquired taste, but I like to be able to sing along. Especially with Christmas music.

Rather astonishing to see how many of these songs are in the public domain.

The mix on each track is great. No one’s voice – no matter how much I may have disliked it – was overpowered by the background music. Nice blending of voice to music. My ear detected violins (or does ‘country’ music make that fiddles?) a couple of times and that added to my enjoyment. I’m partial to violins/fiddles.

If you’re a country music fan and enjoy sacred Christmas music, I recommend you listen to this one. You’ll hear the traditional favorites and maybe even learn a new one.