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The Adventures of Stuart Horton

Stuart Horton is a boy (ten but looks younger) who, due to a job opportunity for his mom, had to move from his home to a new, smaller home, in the town of Beeton.  It is the small town where his father grew up and he soon discovers his family has a strange and mysterious history in Beeton.

Lissa Evans wrote two books about Stuart published here in the USA as Horton’s Miraculous Mechanisms and Horton’s Incredible Illusions (different names in England where she’s from). I decided to write my review of these books as one for two reasons. They are both equally good. They are also both short (under 300 pages put together) and they are really all the same story.  In fact the whole of the two books takes place in only a matter of weeks.

Stuart discovers that his father’s uncle was a well-known magician in town.  That with a gift given to Stuart’s father by this uncle (Tiny Tony Horton) sets Stuart on an adventure to discover what happened to Uncle Tony. He befriends a young girl living next door and she helps him to solve the mysteries he comes upon.

I enjoyed these two books quite a bit. They are very quick reads (they are written with younger tween to early teen kids in mind) but I always enjoy a well written book regardless of the target age. It’s got a lot of action, mystery, and a little danger (of the kids variety). And because Uncle Tony was a magician there is also an elusive sense of magic in the first book that becomes more concrete in the second.

It’s also good when an author has his or her series planned out in advance. If they know where they are going to end when they start. It allows them to insert details and characters early on that they might have overlooked if they just wrote as the story took them.  Clearly the author knew where the story was going. It creates a sense of realism that is good in a fantasy book of this type. It grounds it. And while I’d like to see more adventures with Stuart, the story come to a conclusion satisfactorily.

I’d recommend these books for readers as young as 10 but even older if they are not “readers” like I was as a kid.

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Amazing Animal Facts postcards

amazing-animal-facts-50-colorable-postcards-boxAs you probably know if you’re reading my blog, from time to time I write reviews of books that different publishers send me (BTW this seems as good a time as any to say that getting these for free doesn’t affect my reviews of them).  My last item was not a book though.  It is a set of postcards.  The Amazing Animal Facts postcards to be precise.  They come in a nice box with dividers, not unlike a recipe box, to separate out the different types of animals (Sea, Forrest, Field, Jungle, Sky).  There are two of every card which would allow you to send one and keep one if you wanted to keep a set.

tumblr_oi7aqwme6f1t3i99fo4_1280All of the cards are printed in black and white.  This is so you, or your recipient, can color them in (I suspect they intend you to, but you can make that call on your own).  I personally don’t want to sit and color.  I know adult coloring books are all the rage now but, while I can in some respects understand the allure, it’s not something I have ever felt the need to do.  I do, however, find the illustrations on the cards charming, as I do the facts presented on them.

There’s not a whole lot more to say about these cards other than I like them.  I don’t know that I have need to send out postcards, or that I ever will.  But I like the art on them enough to be glad I have them around.  It’s an interesting product, and I would love to see a similarly designed book with more animals represented.  I only wonder if, as a product, this one has any real staying power.

The Mysterious Package Company

In 2003 I came across a game called In Memoriam.  Without going into the details of that game I found it very engaging.  Essentially the game was set up as digital evidence for a crime with videos, photos, and puzzles/clues set up by the criminal.  The game makers also set up numerous websites to facilitate a blurring of the lines between the real world and the game.  You would investigate clues on the internet using Google and those searches would lead you to their websites.  You would also get emails from “other investigators” on your team (really just auto emails from the server) to your actual normal email.  It was very effective at blurring lines and making it feel more real.

I really enjoyed that escapism that allowed you to feel part of the story like no other video game I’d ever played.

Recently I became aware of a service/product that’s been around for a few years now called the Mysterious Package Company.  You sign up so either you (or a friend) receive a series of packages in the mail.  The idea behind it is that everything you receive is presented as a true thing.  There are clues to unravel and artifacts to discover.  It sells itself as a similar experience as I had with this video game so many years ago.  I decided to find out what it was like so I ordered the cheapest one they had (still not cheap but not as many mailings as the other more expensive items).

tq9nxs1It came in a plain cardboard box without any stamps or adornments to let the recipient know who it was from.  When I got the box open, there was some packing peanuts, a plain white envelope, and a wooden box.  The envelope had no distinctive markings on it.  At first I suspected it was a packing slip or something of that nature.  It was not.  It was a “hand written” letter addressed specifically to me.  It was of course printed but at first glance it did very much appear to be hand written on lined paper.  The letter was explaining that the package was being sent to me as the previous owner could not keep it.  Blah blah blah, mysterious stuff and more.  This isn’t to say the letter was poorly done, just don’t want to give much away.  I did find the letter a little difficult to read.  The handwriting wasn’t super clear, but I think that helps.

The box was in the style of an old wooden parts crate type thing.  Actually nailed together with four good size (not large) nails.  You will need tools to get it open.  I used a pocket knife but you won’t do it bare handed (unless you’re just going to smash it open).  It is a rough wood and bares stamps from an unrelated company giving it a real world feel.

Inside the box you are presented with some rolled up, yellowed newspaper pages.  I read through them briefly.  One of the papers are wrapped around a leather journal with a medal medallion on a string wrapped around it (perhaps binding the evil inside was what they were going for).  There was also a copied flyer that would also be from the time period (1980 on the newspapers).

mcnally1The book, which is the main focus of this box, is an old lined leather journal.  I don’t want to say much about the contents of the journal so as to not ruin the story.  I will say from a production value standpoint it’s great.  A few cut out newspaper clippings are tucked in the pages.  While we all know this is produced in bulk, it does appear handmade when viewed.  Even up close it’s not immediately obvious it was not hand written.  It would have to be, but the illusion is great.

As far as the story that comes along with the package, I found it entertaining.  I didn’t find it “chilling” as some reviewers on the website had said.  Perhaps, knowing it wasn’t real, I found it difficult to allow the illusion.  Maybe it’s my age.  Everything is produced very well and as a whole is very convincing from a visual standpoint.  I think I was expecting more of a puzzle to unravel than just a story to read.  Unless there’s some large underlying part of the story that I’ve missed (which is entirely possible).  I haven’t yet received the “reveal” letter from them so it’s possible there is a part of the story I missed (and if so I will post about it) but it actually seemed pretty straight forward to me.

With all that said, I did enjoy it.  In fact if it had been gifted to me, so that I may not have been expecting it that probably would have added to it.  And I think that’s their intent.  You buy it for someone so the package is mysterious.  But knowing it was coming and what it’s all about from the beginning I think ruined the illusion some.  It is worth the experience.  I may try one of their other packages that are multi-stage.  That may add to the mystery and puzzle.

NKJV Study Bible (2nd Edition) is a good resource

9780718011659Of the various translations if the Bible out there I tend to like 3 the most.  The KJV, ESV, and NKJV are easily my favorite 3.  The MEV might replace one of those but I’ve only just started reading through it so those are still my three.  I was given the opportunity to review a NKJV Study Bible published by Thomas Nelson and was excited at the opportunity.

First thing, I’m not going to spend a lot of time going over the content of the study notes.  In general they are good.  Some things I don’t agree with.  But after going through the Bible I suspect every Christian of every stripe will find something they don’t 100 % agree with (though not all the same things).  This I’ve found is true of every study Bible.  After all the notes are not inspired, they are the work of flawed men (and women).  Therefore I don’t expect perfection.  One thing we all need to learn is to eat the watermelon and spit out the seeds.  So in general they are good, but not perfect.

The cover is a teal/blue design (the copy I received was the soft fake leather that is very popular right now).  I thought it was ok but my wife thought it was very nice.  Perhaps this color scheme is designed to appeal to women or maybe I just don’t like color.  Not sure.  You can judge for yourself by looking at the picture.

It has center column references which are traditional and very well-liked by many.  Personally I prefer side column references as it is easy to see what verses have them.  The color coding on notes is great though.  If you’re a visual learner I think this will be a good layout/design for you.  Even if you’re not it helps draw clear lines between the inspired text and the thoughts people have had on the text.  This isn’t to say that all the notes have color coding but it there enough for it to register (at least for me).

It is on the big side for Bibles.  Not as large as the ESV Study Bible (which is also great), but still big enough that it probably won’t be your everyday carry around with you Bible either (if you are the type that has one of those).

Over all it’s a solid study Bible and an improvement on the original version (which didn’t have the color).  If you like the NKJV and are looking for a study Bible you could do much worse than this one (I’m looking at you Modern Life Study Bible).  I did receive this Bible for free for the purpose of this review.  The opinions are, however, my actual opinions.

Hello, Bicycle, a great little book on bikes

61rlhzyme4l-_sx258_bo1204203200_I received the book Hello, Bicycle from the publisher to look over and review.  The opinions are my own.

I actually liked this book a lot.  It covers many different topics that relate to bicycles.  From determining your needs when shopping for a bicycle to bicycle maintenance to getting around on your bicycle.  It’s all done in an informative, but tongue in cheek manner (did you know having a bike won’t force you to wear spandex shorts? I know now thanks to this book).  Truth be told, I didn’t find a lot of new, or surprising information in the book.  Still I enjoyed reading it and I love the format of the book.

Many books have a design that actually works into the content (some more effectively than others) and this is one of those books.  I’m not sure if I would have enjoyed it as much if it wasn’t for this aspect of the book.  Perhaps that’s just me but I suspect not.  With that said it makes, in many cases, the book not work as well in an electronic format.  Any book that has sidebars, “note boxes” or things of that nature don’t translate over well to a purely text format.  I’ve found this with many books (study Bibles in particular) and they don’t translate over well.  So do yourself a favor and pick up this particular book in a physical format.  Sure it might cost a bit more, but in the end it will be worth the extra investment.

NKJV Teen Study Bible: A review

_240_360_Book.1907.coverI have two boys, one a teenager and the other nearly there.  With that in mind when I had the opportunity to review the NKJV Teen Study Bible I jumped at the chance.  I like the NKJV (our current translation to use in family study/worship is the ESV) so having that is already a good start.

As far as layout is concerned this Bible is ok.  There are no center column references.  Actually there aren’t even many inline references either.  This is a strike against it in my opinion.  Otherwise the layout is pleasing enough.  There are no red letters but that doesn’t bother me too much.  I’m accustomed to them and I like having them there but in reality all of the Bible is from Jesus not just the words He physically spoke so having red letters sometimes lead people to believe that those words are somehow more important.  There isn’t a lot of color either (blue) but that’s ok.

The comments, in my opinion are not at a level I would want for kids in their upper teens.  Perhaps the lower teens.  Which means this particular Bible won’t have a long shelf life.  I think by the time kids are in their late teens they should be asking deeper questions about their faith than I think this is equipped to handle.

Lastly, and perhaps the most concerning, my kids weren’t interested in this particular Bible at all.  There have been others that they were really into.  Some I’ve even reviewed here.  This is not one that they particularly like.  That’s important because if your kid doesn’t want to read it (for whatever reason) then the Bible is of no use to them.  I asked why they didn’t seem to like it and I didn’t get clear answers.  Perhaps it was some intangible thing about the way the text is displayed.  But it didn’t get a positive reaction at my house.

Ghosts from Our Pasts

I’m the type of person who likes to collect things that look as though they could be lifted out of the fictional environment they were conceived in.  In the case of films this is most often expressed as prop replicas.  I have the obligatory Sting from the Lord of the Rings films (not the stainless version the carbon steel “museum” edition that United Cutlery created back in the early 2000s).  Even when I’m not wholly interested in a property I like these types of things.  I have a journal that is supposed to look like it belongs to the lead character in the Uncharted series of video games.  Never played the games but the journal had a nice, in world feel.

So when I was offered a free copy (for the purposes of review) of Ghosts from Our Past: Both Literally and Figuratively, I was happy to take a look.  I loved the original Ghostbusters films.  I haven’t seen the reboot (it didn’t look like it was doing the original justice and I don’t rush out to see films like I used to), so know that upfront.

My understanding of this book is that it is supposed to server as both a brief biography of the main characters in the film and something like Tobin’s Spirit Guide from the first film.  It does the first job ok.  It’s a primer on who the characters are.  The second part of the book I found more confusing.  If the book functions as a guide for the characters it doesn’t make sense for the characters to have written it.  In the original films the book the referenced (TSG) was an authority above the characters.  It had knowledge they didn’t.  So this can’t serve in that capacity.

I guess my biggest problem with it is the book doesn’t know what it’s supposed to be.  Had the biographies been replaced (there is actually a section for them) or the stories worked into the guide portion of the book I would have found it more compelling as an actual in world item.  The inclusion of the biography section made it feel more like movie tie in than a “replica” of an item from the world created by the movie.

It’s not bad, but it’s not good either.

Deleted E-Mails, Humor, and Not Always Being so Serious

The-Deleted-Emails-of-Hillary-Clinton-e1441316635318So I’m not entirely sure what I expected from the book The Deleted E-Mails of Hillary Clinton.  It wasn’t nearly the politically motivated book that you might think.  While I’m sure that poking fun at Mrs. Clinton, in and of itself, will be viewed by some as a political attack I didn’t find the book politically charged at all really.  It’s not as though there were huge sections with “emails” about not wanting to help soldiers and/or ambassadors in Libya.

The book starts out with notes about getting things ready for the job, buying pant suits and definitely not being jealous about not being president (wink, wink).  It’s by and large just good natured ribbing about the things everyone knows about Mrs. Clinton.

If you hate her, you’ll probably think the book is too easy on her.  But it’s not supposed to be a serious indictment of her as a politician.  It’s supposed to be a lighthearted, and funny, look at what kind of emails might be found in her deleted emails.

If you love her you’ll probably be the type to not want to see any jokes pointed her way.  As such this book will seem just mean.  At least that’s what I’ve noticed about many on the left.  They don’t seem to enjoy any jokes about their political picks (which is weird since so many comedians fall left on the political spectrum).

So here’s what I say to both of you.  Chill out.  Not everything has to be a serious discussion of the issues.  If you picked up this book looking for that, go home, go to bed and get up in late November.  We’ll all be better off for it.  I hope most people will just take the book for what it is and enjoy it as the parody it is.

How May We Hate You – A review

51cJDfOE5NL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_I like snark and sarcasm.  I take that back.  I love snark and sarcasm.  They are a few of my favorite things.  If I was Oprah I’d be trying to give it away to people every year amongst the greatest gadgets (or whatever it is she gives out every year).  This is why I requested a review copy of the book How May We Hate You.  It is written by two aspiring entertainers who took jobs as hotel concierges to make ends meet.  The book is designed to look like the kind of little book you’d find in a hotel that would be titled How May We Help You with the word “help” scratched out and with the word “hate” scribbled in next to it.  Presentation wise, the book is great.  As I sat down I was sure it was going to be great.

However after reading a while it became clear that the biggest gripe these two have is that people don’t seem to know what a concierge does.  I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that these two didn’t know before they started working as one either.  I get the jokes when someone just won’t accept that it’s not the concierge’s job to break the law or materialize sold out tickets from thin air.  However those don’t seem to be the most common.

They seem to be upset that people don’t know that their particular labor union won’t allow them to do anything that has to do with the guests stay inside the hotel.  Two things, that’s stupid and the hotel needs to negotiate better contracts (except labor unions won’t let them, don’t get me started).  If a guest of the hotel is talking to you by mistake (especially if they’ve stood in line to do so) don’t be surprised if they are upset that they then have to go stand in another line because your labor contract with the hotel won’t allow you to call housekeeping for them.  You’re a representative of the hotel, not of the labor union.  That’s how the customer sees you.  If I ask the guy making fries at McDonalds for some ketchup I’ll be a little peeved if he tells me that his labor contract won’t allow him to give stuff to the customers directly.  It may not be your job technically, but in the end everyone at the hotel has the job of making the guest want to stay there again.

All in all it wasn’t a bad book.  It just wasn’t as funny as I was hoping.  I remember when I worked retail we would make jokes about customers all the time (I worked at an art supply/picture framing store).  It was there that I realized that just because a joke about customer behavior is funny to those on the inside of an industry doesn’t mean it would be to someone on the outside.  This book probably falls squarely into the category of hilarious for concierges but not so much for other people.

Oh, and I was given this book for free for the purposes of this review, it hasn’t changed my opinion of it (obviously).

Man, Myth, Messiah – A Review

mmmI was given a copy of the book Man, Myth, Messiah by Rice Broocks to read by the publisher for the purposes of reading it and giving an honest review.  This is that honest review.  It hasn’t been swayed in any way by the fact that I got the book for free.

Now that the business is concluded, on to the review.

I’ve been reading a lot of books on apologetics recently.  Books by J. Warner Wallace, Frank Turek, John Lennox, etc.  Each book has its own individual strengths and weaknesses.  Most of them cover at least similar ground but each also has things in it I’ve never heard (or don’t recall hearing) before.  For example this book talked about the placement of the tomb of Jesus.  It was discovered that in 44 AD the walls of Jerusalem expanded.  With this expansion it put the tomb inside the walls of Jerusalem.  Jews would not bury a person inside the walls of a city.  So if the tomb site was made up hundreds of years later (as some have asserted) it would not have been placed inside the walls that were in existence.  This is strong physical corroboration of Jesus from an early time period (within 11 years of His death).  That means the site was likely established within a decade of the crucifixion and death of Jesus.  If there was no resurrection then there would be no early evidence for it.  The people in the area would have remembered if Jesus had in fact been executed and buried so there would have been no easy way to fake it (non-believers would have said something).

I liked this book.  It wasn’t my favorite on the subject but it is a solid effort and I will likely read it again.  If you were looking for a book to give to a doubting friend to provide some historical evidence for your faith this is not a bad book.  It is a bit more “preachy” than some others.  I would likely give someone Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace if I was planning it out.  However if I was reading it (or happened to have the book on me at the time) I wouldn’t hesitate to give this book to a non-believer.

For an already believing Christian who just wants to learn some of the historical evidence for the New Testament this is a great book.  Certainly worth the time it took to read it.

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