Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label book review. Show all posts

February 2, 2018

100 Days with Jesus: a book review


When Lifeway Bloggers kindly sent me a review copy of 100 Days with Jesus written by Diann Cotton and published by B&H, I saw what a fine gift this book makes for Easter, new Christians, or anyone who wants to get better acquainted with Jesus the Person and Jesus the Messiah.

Those of us who had the blessing of being introduced to Christ years ago might be more apt to use this well-made little hardback as a reminder of the character and power of our Lord.

With an inspiring photograph on the left page and a Bible reference, definition, and “name” of Jesus on the right, brief devotionals on the “Chosen One,” the “Prince of Peace,” the “Reconciler,” the “Source of Eternal Salvation,” and more can provide a springboard for meditation and contemplation of Who Christ IS in our lives.

To give you an idea of the text and format, “Consolation” begins by quoting Luke 2:25-30 in the Holman Christian Standard Bible (HCSB) version then provides a definition of consolation followed by a one-paragraph response including these words:

“Simeon waited his whole life to see the One who would rescue and comfort his people. When he realized You were the One, he had complete peace. He knew that You were the only answer to this broken world…”

The page closes with a question and suggestion:

“To what are you looking for CONSOLATION and comfort? Thank Him, praise Him, and worship Him as your CONSOLATION today!!”

As another example, the page on Jesus as “Head of the Church,” says: “Jesus, You are the HEAD - the One who gives leadership and supplies the spiritual life to the body of believers…” then goes on to ask, “How does this give you peace today, knowing that Jesus is the HEAD OF THE CHURCH?”

May each “name” of Jesus lead us to pray for the church and our part in His Body and help us to receive Christ's consolation for ourselves and the world.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer

100 Days with Jesus, hardback



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January 15, 2018

Christ Chronological – a book review

God does provide! Right when the research for my newest writing project required a chronological account of Christ, B&H Lifeway Bloggers kindly sent me a review copy of Christ Chronological, which I highly recommend for Bible students, teachers, pastors, writers, and all who want to follow the sequential movements of Jesus as shown in the Christian Standard Bible (CSB) translation of the Gospels.

Beginning with “The Prehistory and Birth of Christ” and ending with “The Resurrected Jesus Completes His Ministry,” this hardbound book presents each color-coded Gospel account of Jesus with headnotes or footnotes in black ink to illuminate each passage. Regarding “The Birth of Jesus,” for example:

“Matthew seeks to show the cohesion between Jesus’s birth and OT prophecy through his many ‘fulfillment’ quotations (1:22-23). Luke, however, gives an account of the events that triggered the pilgrimage of Joseph and Mary from Nazareth to Bethlehem as a means of placing Jesus’s birth in the context of Greco-Roman history. Chronologically, Luke’s account could fit seamlessly between Matthew 1:25 and 2:1.”

In “The Anointing of Jesus at Bethany,” we learn:

“There is little variation between Matthew and Mark on the account of Jesus’s anointing. John, however, fills in a number of details that are left unstated in the Synoptics. John, for example, highlights the role of Lazarus, Mary, and Martha, three key characters in his Gospel. A harmony of the three accounts would seem to indicate that Jesus, his disciples, Lazarus, Mary, and Martha were all present at the home of Simon, a man presumably healed of leprosy by Jesus. John singles out Judas Iscariot’s indignation, whereas Matthew and Mark refer more generally to all the disciples. This shows the underlying contrast John is seeking to make between Mary’s devotion and Judas’s impending betrayal.”


In discussing “The Passion of Jesus,” footnotes tell us:

“All four Gospel writers record the arrest of Jesus at the hands of his betrayer, Judas. Each author, nevertheless, has his own emphases. Matthew is characteristically concerned with showing how the unfolding of the events fulfills Scripture. Mark has a similar interest in fulfillment but adds an interesting detail about a naked bystander – an insertion that many believe to be a cryptic reference to the author himself. Luke adds more vivid detail to the event, including Jesus’s healing of a servant whose ear was severed. Not surprisingly, John offers the most detail about the characters. In addition, Judas’s role is overshadowed by Jesus’s surrender. Through this, John demonstrates how Jesus remains in complete control of the unfolding events. Collectively, the four accounts give a full-orbed picture,” which could well be said of this entire book.

Mary Harwell Sayler, ©2018, poet-writer, reviewer

CSB Christ Chronological, hardback




May 18, 2017

The Children’s Bible retold


The Children’s Bible published by Hendrickson Bibles, who kindly sent me a copy to review, offers the colorful artwork of Jose Perez Montero to illustrate approximately 300 Bible stories retold by Anne de Graaf.

Written on a third to fifth grade reading level, the stories proceed in chronological order, introducing children to biblical patriarchs and matriarchs, poets and prophets, and, of course, Jesus and the first peoples of the church. We see the beginnings of creation, the fall of mankind, and the need from the start for a savior.

Each well-told story helps young readers get to know God as the Lord interacts with people in scenes a child can relate to or circumstances they can envision.

To draw readers into the story, the author uses active verbs, easy-to-picture nouns, a conversational tone, and other good techniques found in the best fiction. At times, this requires imagining how a scene might have been, for instance, “In the evening, Moses wandered among the families.The children ran up to him and he gave them all a pat on the head.”

This type of picturing makes readers feel as though they’re “there” too, which is ideal in helping children relate to biblical heroes, put themselves into the action, and see the importance of trusting God, which, in turn, helps to build faith and character.

The only problem with this method is that liberties must be taken since the Bible does not say that kids approached Moses or that he ever gave them any notice. For that reason, I wish the book had been titled The Children’s Bible Storybook, which would show that it’s not intended to be a new translation into kidspeak.

Despite that objection, I highly recommend these “retold” Bible stories and artwork as they do exactly what a good book for children should do – get them interested in the content, which, in this case, will most likely lead them toward a trusting relationship with God.

Mary Harwell Sayler, © 2017, poet-writer, reviewer

The Children’s Bible, hardback






January 29, 2015

Essential Bible Dictionary


After reading and reviewing the Essential Guide to Biblical Life and Times last year, I was eager to see the Essential Bible Dictionary, also published by Saint Mary’s Press, who kindly sent me a review copy.

Similar to the layout, info-chocked pages, and volume slimness of the other offering, this “essential, written by Dr. Sheila O’Connell-Roussell, focuses on the themes, people, places, and events that essentially inform our faith.

As a blurb on the back of the book tells us, this slender dictionary includes more than 800 word entries, 10 charts and tables, 5 pages of color photographs, and 4 colored maps. But even with all that info, once again, I found myself opening the book, starting to read, and getting “hooked” as happens with readers approaching any well-written book.

Most of us don’t make a habit of reading dictionaries, but I recommend the effort. For one thing, it sounds weirdly cool (“What are you doing?” “Nothing much. Just reading the dictionary.”) But mainly, you’ll discover definitions for words you might not know to look up and check out. Or you’ll find words you’ve heard but aren’t 100% sure of their meanings.

Also, one word might lead to another that’s related, so as you look up entries for each, you’ll get a bigger picture. For example, the entry on “Apocryphal Books” leads you to “Canon” and “Deuterocanonical Books,” each of which has distinct differences but similarities too.

To give you an example of the definitions, the word “canon” comes from “a Greek word meaning ‘rule’ or standard.’… The canon of Scripture refers to the list of books that the Church recognizes as the inspired Word of God.”

Although various church denominations might not agree on the canon for the Hebrew scriptures (aka Old Testament), all agree on the books included in the New Testament, but how did they decide?

“When the Church fathers evaluated the writings that were presented for the New Testament canon, they used the following criteria to evaluate whether writings were worthy to be included…. If the manuscripts agreed with all three criteria, it was considered inspired text.

• Was the manuscript written by an Apostle or a student of an Apostle?

• Did the image of Christ and the theology within the manuscript agree with the Apostolic Tradition?

• Was this text well known and accepted by the community?”


Besides the importance of the inspired word of God in the churches, most honor biblical events by some type of ritual or sacrament. In the Catholic Church, you’ll find seven, each of which has an entry in the book: Anointing of the Sick, Baptism, Confirmation, Eucharist, Holy Orders, Marriage, Reconciliation (aka Confession.)

Looking up the word “Eucharist,” I was surprised to find no mention of “Communion” or “Transubstantiation,” but other related words have individual entries: Altar of Christ, Blood of Christ, Bread, Bread of Life, Last Supper, Passover, Sacrament, Unleavened Bread, Worship.

In addition to word links or cross references, some entries have their own charts or lists. For instance, look up the “Ten Commandments” and find a chart listing those God-given rules. Or look up, “Feast, Festival” and find info on Rosh Hashanah, Passover, Pentecost, Hanukkah, and other special dates on the Jewish calendar, which Jesus and His family surely observed. Or look up “Parables” and find the names and biblical locations of the parables of Jesus. Better yet, look up “Jesus Christ” to discover “The Titles of Jesus,” to Whom we look as essential for our daily bread and lives.


©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.


Essential Bible Dictionary, paperback








November 29, 2014

Catholic Bible Dictionary for every Bible lover and Christian reader


If you want a Bible dictionary with entries on the names, places, and topics in the deuterocanonical aka apocryphal books, the Catholic Bible Dictionary, edited by Scott Hahn and published by Doubleday, provides that and more.

When I first saw and ordered the review copy offered for free on the Blogging for Books site, I thought this dictionary might define the rites, rituals, and liturgy of the Catholic Church. Come to find out, others have made this mistake, too, but, as the title clearly states, this is a dictionary on the Catholic Bible. Therefore, the text includes information on Judith, Tobit, the Angel Raphael, and others mentioned in the deuterocanonical / apocryphal books but generally omitted from most Bible dictionaries.

Like any dictionary, religious or otherwise, this one has no need for an index as each topic is already alphabetized for an easy A to Z search. A clear font and spacious leading make the conversational entries easy to read, while clear maps in the back of the book make the movements through biblical places easier to envision. Also, in the back matter the chronologies of kings and historical movements help us to get grounded in what happened, with whom, and when, whereas the entries themselves offer insight into why.

For those insights and other information, we have the extensive research of former Protestant pastor, Scott Hahn, who has become well-known as an author, Christian apologist, and Catholic theologian. To further ensure accuracy in the material, the book has the official Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur of the Church to show freedom from doctrinal or moral errors.

To give you an example of the entries, I turned to a word rarely found in a religious dictionary “purgatory.” The closest entry in most Bible dictionaries might be “purge,” which eliminates or eradicates some type of impurity. To definite “purgatory,” however, the Catholic Bible Dictionary says:

“PURGATORY (Latin, ‘cleansing’ or ‘purifying’) Defined by theologians as the condition of those who died in the state of grace but with lingering attachment to sin. In purgatory these souls are purified for a time before being admitted to the glory and happiness of heaven. In this period of passive suffering, they are purged of unrepented venial sins, satisfy the demands of divine justice for temporal punishment due for sins, and are made ready for the beatific vision."

As the entry goes on to say: "The doctrine of purgatory is found in Scripture but is not fully developed. The two passages most clearly related to it are 2 Macc 12:45 and 1 Cor 3:12-15.”

For another example, let’s look at the entry for Tobit, a book unfamiliar to many Christians:

“TOBIT, BOOK OF The story of two Israelite families whose lives were touched by God in the Assyrian Exile. They were brought together by marriage and the intervention of the angel Raphael. Tobit is one of the deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament that is deemed scriptural by Catholics but not by modern Jews or Protestants” – the key word being “modern” as both Jewish and Christian readers originally accepted these books from the Greek Bible or Septuagint.

And, as the entry for “Septuagint” explains:

SEPTUAGINT (Latin septuaginta, ‘seventy’) The most ancient and important translation of the Old Testament into Greek. It was produced between the third and first centuries B.C.,” so Jesus and the Apostles would undoubtedly have been familiar with these books, which came about because “King Ptolemy II Philadelphus of Egypt requested a copy of the Jewish Bible to be placed in his famous library at Alexandria 9ca. 250 B.C.) Unable to read Hebrew, the king brought seventy-two scholars from Palestine to Alexandria to make a translation of the Hebrew Torah….”

That desire – to present the Bible in the language of the reader – has led to many translations of Holy Scriptures into English with excellent resources such as this to clarify our understanding and electrify our interest in embracing the Bible as an everyday part of our worship, our faith, and our lives.

©2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, poet, writer, and reviewer, is a lifelong lover of Christ, the Bible, and the church in all its parts.


Catholic Bible Dictionary, hardback

August 26, 2014

Reviewing The Life


At first glance, my review copy of The Life, kindly sent to me by its publisher Tyndale House, appears to be just another magazine in a handy size for carrying. Inside, however, most of the slick pages have been filled with Holy Scriptures from the Gospels of the New Living Translation (NLT) to reveal the life we’re to live in Christ.

The table of contents summarizes “The Life: What’s Inside.”

Surprising Encounters with Jesus
Jesus’ Message Isn’t about Easy Religion
Death Is No Match for Jesus
What Does It Mean to “Remain” in Jesus?
Ordinary People Given God’s Power
The Choice


With colorful illustrations, wise words from “Youth For Christ,” and the highly readable NLT text, young people and new readers of the Bible receive a warm “Welcome to The Life,” where they “begin to get acquainted with God’s story through reading the story of the life of Jesus and his earliest followers straight from the Bible – or at least part of the Bible” and begin to see “there’s plenty more where this came from.”

Staying strongly focused on the person and power of Jesus, a brief magazine-type article challenges readers to remain in Christ then asks “What Does Remain Mean In John 15?” A sidebar beside the biblical answer adds illustrative examples such as:

• In order for a lamp to shine, the light bulb must remain in the fixture.

Remain within coverage areas to use cell phones.

• A fish that wants to breathe must remain underwater.


As we remain in Christ, we're alive in Him and can live NOW in the power of His Spirit, knowing, “Jesus is able to fight his own battles. He specializes in reversing the course of enemies so that they become dedicated followers.”

And as they believe, as I believe, as you believe and choose to remain in Christ and The Life, “Jesus will work miraculously within you to help you become more and more like him.”


© 2014, Mary Harwell Sayler, reviewer, is a traditionally published author of 26 books, including the Bible-based book of poems Outside Eden and poetry book Living in the Nature Poem.


The Life, paperback





May 9, 2014

The One Year Book of Psalms


As a Christian poet, I’m naturally (and, most likely, supernaturally) drawn to the biblical Psalms. Over the years I’ve collected a number of books that approach these prayer-poems from various angles, ranging from poetic retellings to lengthy discussions about as dry as parchment left out in the sun. However, The One Year Book of Psalms brings another perspective by placing a lively New Living Translation of each Psalm on one page with a related word or reading on the page adjacent.

Published by Tyndale House, this highly recommended book gives us entry into “exquisite poetry, crisp theology, and stirring history,” but, as the Preface goes on to say, Psalms “are far more than all that. Most of all, they are intensely personal. The Psalms meet us where we are, and they take us to where we ought to be. You don’t have to dress up for the Psalms. Come as you are.”

We’re free to bring our real selves to these biblical writings mainly because the Psalmists did! Their honest responses to life and their vulnerability in laying themselves open before God (and us too) give credibility to their faith whether they're expressing their fears, worries, laments, thanksgivings, or praise. We, too, have been there, working through our doubts and bouncing along our up and down emotions, so I felt stunned when I heard someone admit, “I don’t like reading Psalms! I just don’t get them.”

Frankly, this could mean low esteem of God or high expectations for ourselves, straining to “be good,” in which cases, the Psalms might seem shocking. For most of us though, Psalms can become remote whenever the customs, situations, or surroundings seem too distant from our own experiences or background for us to connect well. But, that’s where the readings accompanying each Psalm in this book come to our rescue!

For example, Psalm 24 “may have been written in honor of the Ark coming at last to Mount Zion (I Chronicles 13:8), but that’s only part of the story…. As it approached the city, the gates were commanded to open. The Ark came in, and King David came in," then David’s call to “Open up, ancient gates” not only spoke to that present moment, but also prophetically to the coming of the King of Glory, Jesus Christ.

Many Psalms and, indeed, the whole Bible point to Jesus, so when we read Psalm 68 and see “The Psalmist’s View of the World” where “The kings of all the other nations are coming to pay tribute to the Lord in Jerusalem," we have hope for the future as peoples everywhere return to God.

Besides helping us to envision the situations, scenes, or prophetic possibilities in many Psalms, the adjacent readings in this book also give us a glimpse of some ways the Psalms have spoken to and through social reformers, historical and political leaders, hymn writers, and poets, each of whom brings new insights.

For example, Isaac “Watts had written his first hymn in his teenage years as a protest to his father, a minister. Watts had complained about singing from the old psalter that had been around for over a hundred years, and his father told him, ‘If you don’t like these hymns, write better ones.’ So he did.” Watts then “wrote metrical versions of all the Psalms” with his timeless rendering of Psalm 98 coming to us as “Joy to the World.” Later, George Frideric Handel, who was partially paralyzed and recovering from “bankruptcy after several musical failures,” produced the music for Watts’ poem in the gorgeous masterpiece known as Handel’s’ Messiah.

Lord willing, these blessed prayer-poems and the readings about them will continue to uplift, inspire, and empower us for the work we've been given to do in Jesus' Name.


© 2014, Mary Sayler, reviewer


The One Year Book of Psalms, paperback