Friday, April 29, 2016

NKJV, The Chronological Study Bible from Zondervan, 2016

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The Chronological Study Bible presents the text of the New King James Version in chronological order - the order in which the events actually happened - with notes, articles, and full-color graphics that connect the reader to the history and culture of Bible times. It is the only NKJV study Bible arranged in chronological order.
Features include:
The entire NKJV text with translators’ notes, arranged in chronological order, provides absorbing and effective Bible study
Full-color illustrations of places, artifacts, and cultural phenomena give the reader a dramatic, “you are there” experience
Fascinating articles connect the Bible text to world history and culture
Daily Life Notes explain how people lived in Bible times
Time Panels and Charts show the flow of Bible history
In-text and full-page color maps of the biblical world assist study

(1728 pages)

I've been fascinated by the idea of reading the Bible chronologically for . . . maybe two years now? One day the idea just popped into my head: it would be so cool to read the Bible in the order that it was actually written. I talked my brother into joining me on a "read the Bible in two years" challenge, with a document I'd printed off of the internet that listed daily readings in chronological order. But you know how it is - life happened, I got busy, and soon I fell so far behind I felt guilty even looking at the reading schedule. It's been so long since I worked on it that when I went to find the sheet to figure out where to start reading in this Bible, I couldn't even find it. I guess my only consolation is that my brother stopped remembering to do it before I did!

Anyway, when I saw that BookLook Bloggers had some chronological Bibles available for review, I immediately shifted my review schedule so I could clear up a credit on the site to request one when it came out. I even seriously considered requesting two Bibles, one in each of the colors, because I'md developing quite the Bible-collecting fetish and because maybe my brother would be motivated to start reading with me again if I gave him a cool new chronological Bible. I decided it would be wrong to take two Bibles when I only needed one to write this review (considering they're identical in all but the cover), so I just stuck with this one. And what a joy it is!

I mean, honestly, this Bible is everything I could have hoped for. It has a beautiful soft-bound faux leather cover in calm shades of brown (which are lighter than the ones in the picture, BTW), and a pretty light brown ribbon I can use to mark my place. Right there it's already leaps and bounds ahead aesthetically when compared to the two Bibles I've gotten the chance to review in the past - both of those were hard-bound, with no ribbons, and had frankly ugly covers. This is a dignified Bible that actually looks like people would use it in a Bible study, whereas the others looked like Bibles they'd hand out to church newcomers or something.

Once you actually crack the spine, there's a plethora of details that put the biblical events in a historical context. Rather than being divided into the traditional "books of the Bible," because it's a chronological Bible it's organized into nine epochs that literally cover every time period from creation to the end times. Each epoch begins with a page or two of explanations that describe what we know about the time periods covered by that epoch. Scattered throughout the text are further details and explanations in areas like art, beliefs, science, etc., as well as boxes that answer questions raised by the text. If you're looking for a particular verse or word, there's a large concordance and a passage index that can help you find whatever you're looking for; there are also plans for a one-year and a two-year reading plan (which I definitely think I'll give another go), and a few pages for writing notes if you're a note-writing sort of Bible reader (I am not).

Honestly, the only real trouble I have with this Bible is the translation itself. Now don't be me wrong, I haven't got anything against the NKJV. The trouble, though, is that the translators had to add a few words to the text to make many of the sentences actually make sense. And when they did, they didn't just say "this is a translation, so we had to add some words here or there to make it readable." No, they said "we'll add all these words, but we'll put them in italics so you know that they're not original." And that's fine for people who care about which words are original and which ones the translators added, but it does make for some choppy reading when every few lines I come across some really funky italics in the middle of some otherwise ordinary sentence about, like, heads of sheep or something. Because they're not "heads of sheep," they're "heads of sheep." I can get used to it, but I do wish that the italics weren't there.

Anyway, if you have any questions about this Bible that I didn't answer feel free to leave them in the comments section below. And if you've ever tried to read the Bible chronologically, let me know how it went or if you have any tips!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this Bible from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers program.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Unstuffed by Ruth Soukup, 2016

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STUFF. It's everywhere. Lurking in corners and closets, spilling onto counters and coffee tables, creating havoc everywhere we look. And it's not just the physical clutter that weighs us down. Oh no, it is the stress of overbooked schedules, and the weight of life that sometimes feels oppressive and totally out of whack.
New York Times bestselling author Ruth Soukup feels your pain--she has been there too. Through personal stories, Biblical truth, and practical action plans, she will inspire and empower each of us to finally declutter not just our home, but our mind and soul as well. Unstuffed is real, honest, and gets right down to the question we are all facing--how can we take back our lives from the stuff that is weighing us down?

(224 pages)

This book reminds me of another self-help guide I read lately, Gretchen Ruben's habit-formation guidebook Better Than Before. With all due respect to what was a pretty good book, I have to say that I like this one a lot more.

And it's not even that the tips are so much better (to be honest, there's actually a certain amount of overlap). No, the biggest draw with this book is that Soukup is just so relatable and nice that I feel like she actually knows what she's talking about. Ruben may have been a huge busy-body sticking her nose into other people's habits, but it was pretty clear she was also a rather self-righteous control freak. To be perfectly honest, there are days - many days - where I fit that description. I don't, however, really enjoy being inside the brain of someone else like that. With Soukup, however, I can see myself in a different way: I see the messy house, the everyday calamities of living with kids, the exasperation of all that junk everywhere.

I mean, I'm not even really the target audience for this book. I'm a seventeen-year-old high school student, not a mom with a house full of junk. My control freak tendencies, however, have driven me toward finding better ways to quell the stream of stuff that's always flowing around my room. Soukup's advice is basically "get rid of everything you haven't used in a while and/or don't care about." While I'm definitely not as ruthless as she is (I see memories where she sees opportunities to cut sludge), and I'm still very much in the "there's got to be a perfect way to organize all of this without throwing stuff away" phase, I can still appreciate her advice's value - though mostly for other people.

The second half of the book actually isn't really about unstuffing your house at all; it's about unstuffing your life. I really loved Soukup's advice in those chapters, even though I was initially caught off-guard by the switch. Her advice about making sure you get more sleep definitely affected me (I immediately downloaded Sleep Cycle, the app that she recommended, and I already love it!), and her admonition to make sure you're not overworking yourself really struck me in my current pre-AP-exam frenzy. In the past six months I've moved across the country, had wrist surgery, struggled with the College Board through the process of getting a computer accommodation, debated whether and then decided to get braces, and struggled through the process of making new friends after the move - not to mention keeping up with my four AP classes and, of course, studying for the exams (that are now in less than two weeks - eep!). Soukup's advice to pace yourself, to allow yourself room to breathe, is exactly what I needed to be reminded of right now. I have to recognize the fact that I'm under a lot of stress right now, and I need to make an effort to carve out space in my schedule to detox from it.

Which I'll definitely do . . . after my AP exams. Summer has never looked so inviting.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this novel from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers program.

Sunday, April 17, 2016

I'm taking a break

You may have noticed over the last week that I haven't posted any reviews. That's because I've been so tired and overwhelmed with my schoolwork (AP test season starts in just two weeks, folks!), and haven't had the energy to even read a book from start to finish, let alone write a coherent review of it. I'm going on official hiatus, from now until about the middle of May - or even longer, depending on how much writing I can do during summer vacation. I'm sorry to do this, but I have to prioritize my time and blogging just isn't a possibility right now! I'm not stopping for good, and I hope all of my wonderful readers will stick around until I get back on my blogging feet again. Have a great rest of the school year!

EDIT 4/21/16: Actually, I kind of miss blogging. I think I'll probably post a few reviews in the next month, but I just won't be on as rigid a schedule as I usually am. Keep an eye out for some new posts coming soon!

Friday, April 8, 2016

The Mage of Trelian by Michelle Knudsen, 2016

Spoiler Warning: The Mage of Trelian is the third book in the Trelian trilogy. I've tried to make my review as nonspecific as possible to avoid spoiling the rest of the series, but there are some things it's impossible not to mention. If you haven't read the first two books then read ahead at your own peril!

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Apprentice mage Calen shocked everyone when he disappeared—apparently willingly—with Krelig, the incredibly powerful and evil mage intent on destroying the Magistatum and forcing the world to submit to his rule. Krelig believes Calen’s untapped magical power will be the key to his victory, and is training him to unlock his full potential. Calen is desperate to escape, but knows he must first learn as much as he can if there is to be any hope of defeating Krelig. Meanwhile, Trelian is at war, and Princess Meg has been training with her dragon to fight the enemy forces. She refuses to accept that her best friend, Calen, could really be a traitor, but she might be the only one. As the mages prepare for their own deadly battle, Calen must find a way to get back to Trelian to stop Krelig before it’s too late—if those he left behind will forgive and trust him enough to let him come home at all.
(423 pages)

I've been a long-time fan of the Trelian books, since I first stumbled across them about five years ago, and I can't tell you how thrilled I was to find out that there was finally going to be a final book in the trilogy! The cliffhanger at the end of Princess of Trelian is brutal - I have no idea what Knudsen was thinking leaving her readers hanging for so long before she released the resolution. Yikes.

Anyway, Mage is written just as well as the first two books in the trilogy. My lingering dissatisfaction with the novel doesn't come from the writing or the pacing or anything like that - no, it comes from the ending, which I can't discuss without spoilers. Let's just say I'm not a fan of false dichotomies (Meg's parents, I'm looking at you) and ambiguous romance conclusions. There were a few different ways the story could have gone that would have left me completely happy, and the one Knudsen chose just wasn't one of them.

That said, this is a very engaging book. I devoured it in only a few sittings, and that wasn't just because I'd loved the first two books so much - I was legitimately gripped by the story and the need to know what would happen next. This book is darker than the first two in some ways, and I really love it. The entire series has that feeling of authenticity to it that is so hard for most authors to master: I legitimately feel like Calen and Meg are real people, people who make their own choices and have their own very strong personalities. They're not caricatures, and that's both a plus and a minus. I actually wish they'd followed a slightly more cliche path to reach the ending, just because I'm a huge softy. What actually happens plot-wise is pretty amazing too, but I just don't really like the ending.

I love how Knudsen really doesn't pull any punches when it comes to showing just how dark and twisted Krelig really is. He breaks people, and he forces them to give their all to him. Calen is the only person who can even slightly resist Krelig's force, but Calen is so enamored with the techniques he is learning that he begins to put off returning home. He begins this mental tennis match between "I need to get out of here now!" and "I should stay, because I'm learning so much every day." He's stuck in a hard spot, and the way he escapes - gah! I can't discuss it, but my heart is absolutely broken. Truly and completely.

Do I recommend this book? Well, if you've read the first two Trelian novels then my thoughts really don't matter - you know you're going to read Mage, no matter what people tell you. If you're deciding to read the series as a whole, then . . . yes, I think I do recommend it. I wish the ending was a bit more satisfying, but I can't discount the entire series just because Knudsen's ending is more open-ended than the one I had hoped for. I'm glad I read the trilogy, and I encourage you to give it a try.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

101 Ways to Have Fun from Faithgirlz! and "Girls' Life" Magazine, 2016

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In today’s world, a girl’s free time is precious, but figuring out how to make the most of those spare moments can sometimes be difficult. Faithgirlz! is here to help, with over one hundred unique ideas, activities, and time maximizers you can do by yourself or with your friends. From planning the perfect relaxing afternoon to creating quick and awesome DIY masterpieces, and even tips on hosting amazing sleepovers (complete with lip synch battles and the best-ever snacks), 101 Ways to Have Fun has something for every situation and mood. Whether you have ten minutes or an entire afternoon to fill, finding the ultimate ways to de-stress and kick back with friends has never been easier!
(128 pages)

I decided to review this book because it looked interesting. I reviewed one of the other books in this series a while ago (Redo Your Room - my review here), which had lots of cute advice but not many that I actually wanted to do to my own room. I thought it would probably be the same with this one, lots of theoretically-interesting tips but nothing I could really apply to my own life. Was I right? No.

The tips in here are actually pretty cool. They're separated into categories, like "Just for Y-O-U" and "Friend Zone," all of which have at least some ideas I could adapt to do all by myself as well as ones  that look like a blast to try with a group of friends. I just moved here a few months ago, so I'm still working on that group of friends, but I can still attest to the fun of some of the activities. Shopping vintage, an idea from "Have a Blast with you BFF," is something I love to do all by myself, so it was cool to see it listed. I've also done BFF coupons, which are always a lot of fun. I love the idea of doing a "wardrobe makeover," where friends look at each other's clothes and put together new outfits. That looks like something I'd love to do! They also suggest co-hosting a blog together, making skin scrubs, wrapping your earbuds with embroidery floss, starting a book swap, and tons of other cool ideas. Some of them are kind of obvious, like a movie marathon at a sleepover, and others are things I'm not really that interested in doing - like turning old jeans into shorts (haha, I don't have any old jeans!) or making rosewater iced tea (which just doesn't look tasty to me) - but there are still a whole bunch of creative, fun ideas that I'm hoping to try out soon.

I'm definitely not going to tell you to run out and buy this book right now, because if I didn't already have it I wouldn't be buying it myself. But I will say that it's got good ideas, and it's the perfect book for people who want to get together with friends and make a conscious effort to come up with some new, fun things to do together. If you're running short on ideas, I'd suggest giving 101 Ways to Have Fun a try.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher through the BookLook Bloggers program.

Monday, April 4, 2016

A Colouring Book of Hours: Castle by Marcia Overstrand and Angie Sage, 2015

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Come and explore Marcia's Castle in this beautifully produced colouring book from Septimus Press.
Hardback bound, no bigger than an iPad, and with a velvety matt surface, you can take A Colouring Book of Hours: Castle with you wherever you go. It will become your own private world that you dip into and develop for an afternoon, or whenever you want a few moments' peace.
In a series of exquisitely drawn vistas and vignettes, the book takes you through a day in the Castle, from first light and the dawn chorus, to a refreshing sleep in the second-best bed.

I'd heard so much about the adult coloring book craze (and my sister has, like, three of them) that I decided I just had to try one out for myself. When I saw that the author of Septimus Heap, one of my all-time favorite authors, was starting a publishing company and releasig a Septimus Heap coloring book she'd illustrated herself, I knew that I just had to have it. I sent a pleading email to the publisher, got a very nice email back from Angie Sage herself (I squealed so loudly when it showed up in my inbox!), and - about week later - got a beautiful international package sent all the way from England to my doorstep. When I pulled out the signed Fyre bookplate and saw that the book was autographed, I just about fainted. Angie Sage is amazing.

But what about the coloring book itself? Well, let me tell you, I totally get this whole coloring book craze now. It's just so relaxing! The pictures in the coloring book are really cool - though so detailed it's a little hard to color them in when you only have like five colors, I will admit - and once you finish one it's really breathtaking to sit back and take the full effect in. In the picture on the right you can see my finished version of "The Dawn Singers." The curtains are my favorite, because the pattern is just so cute! I can't really show you in the photo, but when I tilt the book different ways the light hitting it makes the entire picture shimmer. I'm not sure how that happens, but it's really pretty.

To be perfectly honest, most of these pictures are a little too complex for me. I haven't developed an eye for putting together a picture, so I just color specific portions of the picture and then back up, look at it, and pick another portion to color, so sometimes it kind of clashes a little bit. Flipping through the book I'm pretty daunted by how complicated some of the pictures are - and, to be honest, slightly put off by one or two of them because they shatter the image I had in my head about how certain parts of the Castle look. Coming from the girl who spent literally five years pronouncing Marcia "Marsha," though, that probably doesn't carry much weight.

For you coloring aficionados, I'm not really sure what information is useful in deciding what coloring books to get. Besides the pictures, you're also focused on paper quality, right? Well, the quality of this paper is really good. It's nice and thick, so none of my markers bleed. There's a page in the back specifically meant for testing your pens, too, so you can double-check before actually beginning to use a utensil in the book. The spine lays really flat, too, so you can just set the book down open to the right page and it won't flop closed. I remember in my far-off little-kid coloring book days that books not laying flat was a major annoyance.

I haven't really been able color anything for a few months, because I had wrist surgery on my dominant hand, but now I'm actually supposed to be building up my writing stamina I'm looking forward to jumping back into coloring. I was stopped in the middle of my second full picture (you can see my progress in the photo on the left), so I'm going to finish it and move on to some of the others. My goal is to get through all of the pictures, preferably in time for the next book in the "Colouring Book of Hours" series.

If you're as big a fan of the Septimus Heap universe as I am, you'll probably also be interested to learn more about Septimus Press. Here's the link to their website, where you can check it out for yourself. The only book they've published so far is this Castle coloring book, but they have more of these coloring books coming down the pipeline as well as some Septimus Heap novellas (squeal!) and some other non-Septimus Heap-related projects. They also have a YouTube channel here, which has videos of someone (I think Angie Sage?) coloring in different pictures with various coloring utensils - colored pencils, watercolors, markers, etc. It's really impressive and pretty intimidating to watch her just sit down and casually draw these beautiful pictures, so I haven't watched all of them, but if you want a better idea of what the coloring book is like you can check the videos out and decide for yourself whether it's what you want. Let me know if you do decide to get it, and definitely send me photos of the pictures you color!

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Fridays With the Wizards by Jessica Day George, 2016

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Celie and her friends and family are back in the Castle, safe and sound. But there's still the problem of Wizard Arkwright. What do you do with an evil wizard?
Especially when he escapes from his cell, but doesn't leave the Castle!
Now it's up to Celie, with the help of her wizard brother Bran and her griffins, to track down Arkwright and get rid of him for good!

(240 pages)

I enjoyed this fifth installment to the Castle Glower series, but I'm a little less enthusiastic about passing it on to my younger sister than I was with the other ones.

Mainly because (and I promise, this isn't really a spoiler) Lilah gets engaged. She spends a lot of the book either cooing in her fiance's arms or snapping at Celie for some minor reason or another, and while it's fine for older kids I thought that eleven-year-old girls might not want to read so much about the stresses of getting married. Also, Celie is worrying that she and Lilah will be leaving their home country for a while to go to Lilah's fiance's home, and she dreads the day Lilah will leave the Castle Glower for good. Add to that the potential romance with Pogue (who, we are told yet again, is constantly being drooled over by the nearby village girls) and it seems a little angst-heavy for a kid's book.

That said, I enjoyed it. My little sister aside, Fridays is a good book that I devoured in a single sitting. Is it as good as the other books? No, I don't think so - the quality of the series has slowly been declining from book to book. They started out so fun and engaging, though, that Fridays doesn't hurt all that much for it. I loved the side plots with the griffins, who are finally given center stage to shine (after all the mystery surrounding them for so long!). They do devolve into simple plot tools at some points, but on the whole they are very engaging.

The biggest trouble as this series goes along, I think, is that more and more of the Castle's magic is destroyed. No, it's not destroyed in the literal sense - inside the stories it stays intact and even flourishes as the books continue! What I mean is that as we continue to learn its secrets we lose the thrills of surprise and excitement that the first book brought. This downward trend in excitement began at the end of Wednesdays in the Tower (though that book itself was one of my favorites of the series), and the thrill is pretty much disappeared by now. Part of that might also be the fact that there's no real threat in this one - sure, Arkwright is running around somewhere, but I never felt any real sense of danger; everyone was more concerned about Lilah's wedding to spare much thought to the evil rogue wizard.

I'm sorry, I don't mean to be so negative about Fridays. It's not a terrible book, it really isn't, and I totally enjoyed reading it, but I think George has started to run out of ideas for what to do with the series. I'll still be looking forward to the next book in the series to see if she manages to find a fresh angle - because if anyone can do that, it's Jessica Day George! - but I'm not sure it's really going to happen.