Thursday, June 29, 2017

NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible - Book Review

From the publisher: The NIV Kids’ Visual Study Bible, for ages 8–12, brings the Bible to life in four-color illustrated splendor. This study Bible includes a spectacular full-color interior featuring over 700 illustrations, photos, infographics, and maps on every page that visually represent key Bible information. Each page also features important facts located near the relevant verse. Intriguing facts; colorful, engaging maps; photographs; and illustrations make this a Bible they’ll want to explore.

     Over 700 four-color photographs, illustrations, infographics, and maps throughout
     Full-color design
     Book introductions, including important facts and an image to orient the reader
     One-column format with side bar study notes for ease of reading
     Presentation page
     The complete text of the New International Version (NIV) translation of the Bible
     Beautiful cover featuring gloss

The NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible is just that: Visual. In my opinion, the selling point of this edition of the Bible for kids is all the visual aids that are a part of it. This is not to say its a graphic novel-type book; it's not. It just has a lot of pictures, charts, graphs, etc. For example, there is a pie chart breakdown of the topics discussed in Proverbs. There is a bar graph showing the make up of David's Mighty Man army. These types of things are spread throughout the Bible. Additionally, each book of the Bible begins with a title/information page, which includes "Who wrote this book?", "Why was this book written?", "What do we learn about God in this book?", and several other topics which can be helpful in understanding the context of the book. In the margins of the pages, quite often there are summaries, explanations, or support for specific verses.

So, does this version work? Overall, I'd say yes. I have a daughter who is anxious to get her hands on this Bible, and she likes it. She feels like all of the visual parts will be helpful and good. I do as well, as the key is to help kids understand what they are reading, as opposed to just reading it or looking at pictures. Overall, I would recommend the NIV Kids' Visual Study Bible as a great Bible for kids in the 8-14 year range in particular, but it is a good Bible for kids of other ages as well.

I received a review copy of this book from Zondervan in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

ASTRO CITY #45 by Kurt Busiek - Book Review

From the publisher: “WHAT BROKE THE BROKEN MAN?” part one of two! Astro City’s tangled history of superheroes, music, counterculture, serpents and darkness comes to a head. Heroes are destroyed, minds are shattered…and an unlikely savior rises. 

Well, Kurt Busiek did it again. Astro City #45, the first of two parts, tells the story of Glamorax, a hero from the 70's who seems to represent everything about the 70's glam rock movement. When Glamorax's friend, Tom O'Bedlam, throws a party, a rather eclectic group of people from past decades shows up. This causes Glamorax to do some serious soul-searching. As Tom and Glamorax progress, they discover that a serpent cult has played a role in society for a long time.

Busiek has a knack for telling interesting stories with unusual heroes and villains. Sometimes they are new takes on familiar archetypes, sometimes they are new ideas that often seem obvious in retrospect. This story, and Glamorax in particular, is one of the latter. As a character, there isn't a lot of depth to him/her, but as an idea, it is tremendous. A hero who represents the counter-culture of a society makes perfect sense. Additionally, the narrator, known as the Broken Man, is also interesting. Having shown up in several issues lately, the Broken Man (who reminds me a bit of Dream from the Sandman) continues to break the fourth wall and warn the readers of a deadly menace called Oubor. The Broken Man is a curious figure, and seems like he has much to offer the Astro City universe. How the stories of these two characters, Glamorax and the Broken Man, converge with that of Oubor seems to be the set-up for the second part of this story. I'm anxiously awaiting the next issue to read the conclusion to Busiek's mystery.

I highly recommend Astro City #45 by Kurt Busiek. Long-time readers will enjoy it for the bigger picture aspects and new readers should find it self contained enough to please them.

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A Day at the Beach by Jedd Hafer and Todd Hafer - Book Review

Cover: A Day at the Beach
From the publisher: Do you yearn for a day at the beach where your mind and soul can wander away from life’s troubles? Do you gaze up at the sun or the nighttime stars and wonder if God is really on your side? Do you long to hear his quiet voice in the roll of a gentle wave? In A Day at the Beach, brothers Todd and Jedd Hafer don’t have the answers to all of life’s troubles, but they’ll help you see that the God who built the universe also wants to help you build a great life. Let these encouraging words bring a ray of warm sunshine to your doorstep as Todd and Jedd offer their joy-filled perspectives on life and faith. So take a deep breath, unplug from life’s daily grind, and follow the call of your heart to Jesus, the ultimate source of life.

A Day at the Beach by Jedd and Todd Hafer is a nice little devotional book (it is gift book sized). Each daily devotional is between 2-4 pages and includes an anecdote (somewhat beach related), a tie-in to a Biblical prinicipal, and Scripture to tie it all together. Some of the topics/titles include Burning the Beach Burgers,A Shell of Yourself?, For the Love of a Penny, and Beach Butler Brigade.

The Hafer brothers have put together a fine book of devotions; there were probably about 60 or so. However, my one quibble with it is that the topics are only very loosely related to anything beachy. I chose to review this book hoping to both learn more about God and to be transported to the beach (much like another devotional called Life is Better at the Beach). The topics are nice and engaging but not what I expected.

Overall, I would recommend A Day at the Beach by Jedd and Todd Hafer to readers looking for a short, easy to read devotional book. Just beware that it isn't so much beach related as you may hope.

I received a preview copy of this book from Tyndale in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

The Wild Storm #5 by Warren Ellis - Book Review

From the publisher: Michael Cray is dying. This doesn't stop IO from giving him one final job, to fix the world he’s spent years killing for. Michael Cray, the best assassin in the world, is sent out to kill Angela Spica, the engineer who saved Jacob Marlowe’s life and exposed the secret state she worked for. Lucy Blaze, investigating the chaos caused at Camp Hero by IO and a wild CAT, meets an old enemy—and realizes an ancient war may be entering a new phase, at the worst possible time. 

Finally! The Wild Storm #5, by Warren Ellis, finally begins to offer some explanation of what is going on (I think). Things I noticed in this book: Michael Cray, who works for International Operations, gets a clue about Angie Spica and her suit. Zealot gets some mysterious advice. Daemons show up for the first time. There is a quiet moment with Angie Spica and Adrianna Tereshkova (aka Void). We are introduced to The Bleed, and find out a little more about Jacob Marlowe and Skywatch. Last, Executive Protection Services makes an appearance.

As far as The Wild Storm issues go, this was a change, in that there really weren't any fights or major conflicts to speak of. It is heavy on personal character moments, which I really enjoyed. Ellis is deepening the characters, providing motivation and backstory. I'm generally a fan of Warren Ellis's storytelling and trust him to reveal what I need to know in his own time, and this issue gave a little bit of that. I'm still not 100% sure just what exactly is going on, but I'm patient enough to ride it out and let the story unfold. So, with that, I'll just wait for the next issue of The Wild Storm to discover more of the mystery.

I recommend The Wild Storm #5, by Warren Ellis.  As before, though, this is not a good starting spot. You really need to begin with issue #1 to have any hope of understanding what is going on.

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

Batman #25 by Tom King - Book Review

From the publisher: “The War of Jokes and Riddles” part one! Don’t miss this extra-sized anniversary issue! In his own words, Bruce Wayne narrates a harrowing, never-before-told story of the Dark Knight’s greatest failure…and the horrors it unleashed! In the spirit of YEAR ONE and THE LONG HALLOWEEN, prepare to see a side of Batman you've never seen before—get in on the ground floor of a classic Batman epic in the making!

Wow! Batman #25, by Tom King, is AWESOME! It is titled "The War of Jokes and Riddles" part one, and that pretty much sums it up. Forgive for a sparse write up here, but I don't want to give away anything. So, Batman is narrating a case that happened shortly after Year One. Riddler, who is in jail, has been co-opted into helping the police with difficult cases. Joker is running rampant. And that's about all I'll say.

Tim Sale's artwork is spectacular, and Tom King looks to have written the first chapter of what might be a legendary Batman story. The pieces are put in play, Batman is hesitant with his narration, and Joker and Riddler are at the top of their game, both vicious and smart. I can't wait to read the rest of this story.

I highly recommend Batman #25 by Tom King. This is a must for Batman fans, and is a great starting point for new readers. It's also a great hook to grab fans who have drifted away from Batman recently. In short: Read This!

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Nightwing Vol. 2: Back to Blüdhaven (Rebirth) by Tim Seeley - Book Review

From the publisher: Dick Grayson's adventures as Nightwing continue in the second volume collecting the best-selling NIGHTWING series from DC Unverse Rebirth!

Former Robin and retired superspy Dick Grayson has returned to Gotham and stepped back into his life as Nightwing--the blue-and-black clad vigilante known for going where others won't. Fresh off a deep cover operation to infiltrate the Parliament of Owls, Nightwing must come to terms with secrets of his past that will forever change his destiny. Featuring appearances by Batman and Superman, this volume is packed with nonstop action and adventure!

Written by GRAYSON veteran scribe Tim Seeley, NIGHTWING VOL. 2 continues the spectacular adventures of the former Robin, Dick Grayson! Collects NIGHTWING #9-15.

Tim Seeley continues Nightwing's Rebirth adventures with Nightwing Vol. 2: Back to Bludhaven. Back in the day (pre-Flashpoint, pre-Rebirth, etc.), Nightwing moved to Bludhaven to escape from Batman's shadow. Bludhaven was basically a dirtier, more crime ridden neighbor to Gotham. Dick Grayson moved there, joined the police force, and had multiple adventures during the original run of Chuck Dixon's Nightwing comic. Many fans, myself included, have fond memories of this run. Cue Tim Seeley, who is (I believe) returning Nightwing to his roots after all he's gone through over the past several years and various reboots.

Dick moves to Bludhaven to rediscover himself, volunteering at a community center. There, he discovers that his supervisor, Shawn Tsang, is a former supervillain (Defacer), one whom he actually apprehended. As he patrols Bludhaven as Nightwing, Dick also runs into (and catches) another former Gotham villain (Gorilla Grimm). All of this leads to his discovery that there is a support group for former villains chased out of Gotham by Batman and Robin trying to go straight (an interesting concept). Over the course of this book, Nightwing attempts to uncover a deeper conspiracy and, with the help of the motley group of former villains, succeeds. Dick also finds himself in a complicated relationship with Shawn, and the final chapter of this volume addresses this.

Seeley is able to capture some of what makes Dick Grayson unique among the Bat-heroes: his humor and the sense of pleasure and sheer joy he takes in what he does. He has always been the balance to Batman's deep brooding and seriousness. The supporting characters have potential, but so far, they didn't really stand out. I'm curious to see how things progress with Shawn Tsang, though.

Seeley has done a fine job with Nightwing. However, I just found this collection to be okay. While he is getting back to some of the joy Dick has in being Nightwing, along with his sense of humor, this just didn't feel like a "deep" story. It's nice and fun, and there are some cute parts (Bludhaven attempting to use Nightwing's presence as a marketing gimmick). Overall, though, Nightwing Vol. 2: Back to Bludhaven was just a little better than average. I still really enjoy Nightwing and look forward to seeing where Seeley takes him. I would recommend this particular book to established fans, and I believe Nightwing's relocation to Bludhaven provides a nice jumping-on point for new readers.

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics and Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

Sunday, June 18, 2017

City of Miracles By ROBERT JACKSON BENNETT - Book Review

From the publisher: Revenge. It’s something Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is very, very good at. Maybe the only thing. 

So when he learns that his oldest friend and ally, former Prime Minister Shara Komayd, has been assassinated, he knows exactly what to do—and that no mortal force can stop him from meting out the suffering Shara’s killers deserve. 

Yet as Sigrud pursues his quarry with his customary terrifying efficiency, he begins to fear that this battle is an unwinnable one. Because discovering the truth behind Shara’s death will require him to take up arms in a secret, decades-long war, face down an angry young god, and unravel the last mysteries of Bulikov, the city of miracles itself. And—perhaps most daunting of all—finally face the truth about his own cursed existence.

City of Miracles, by Robert Jackson Bennett, is the third (and final, I think) book in the Divine Cities series. However, that being said, the books all stand on their own merits, and can be read as stand alone stories without anything being lost. Read together, they create one long story about a world dealing with magic gods, or Divinities. Additionally, each book focuses on a different character as the main protagonist, but there are callbacks to previous characters and events.

City of Miracles focuses on Sigrud je Harkvaldsson, a former spy (think black-ops type) who has lost basically everything that is important to him. When he hears about the assassination of his longtime partner and friend Shara Komayd, he drags himself from his self-imposed exile to use his particular set of skills (wreaking destruction) to find those responsible for her death and avenge Komayd. This act drags him into a much greater conflict than he could have imagined, as he discovers Komayd was involved with finding the children of the now (mostly) deceased Divinities, some of whom he and Shara were responsible for killing. He also discovers that there is a mysterious force looking to find the children for it's own nefarious purposes.

I really enjoyed this book. It is deep, full of emotions, and action-packed. It also takes it's time as Bennett very deliberately lays out his story at it's own pace. This is not a light, easy read, but it's not a hard read, either. It just requires the reader to focus and absorb what is happening. The plot always moves steadily along, interspersing moments of character interaction with mysteries revealed and set pieces full of action and violence. Throughout, the reader is given insight into a world with a much deeper history than it at first seems. Bennett's world building is spectacular, and I, for one, would really enjoy future stories set in this world, whether involving the same characters and time period, or others from the past or future.

Bennett's characters also shine. Sigrud je Harkvaldsson is a deeply complicated man, full of contradictions. He is contemplative, yet  extremely violent. He lives with sorrow and regret, yet makes many of the same choices that caused the sorrow and regret in the first place. He is a loner, but desires the company of others. In addition, former protagonists from the previous books, Shara Komayd and General Mulaghesh, make appearances. Also playing a major role in this story is Shara's adopted daughter, Tatyana. There is an innocence and depth to this character that perfectly complements Sigrud to form a very vibrant heart to City of Miracles. Finally, the antagonist (who I'll not name so as to avoid any potential spoilers) is a broken and sympathetic character.

I highly recommend City of Miracles by Robert Jackson Bennett. In fact, you should read the whole trilogy, just to spend time in Bennett's world and with his characters. This is a fantastic read and it is well worth your time.

I received a review copy of this book from the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

DARK DAYS: THE FORGE #1 by James T Tynion IV and Scott Snyder - Book Review

From the publisher: DARKNESS COMES TO THE DC UNIVERSE WITH THE MYSTERY OF THE FORGE! Aquaman, The Flash and more of DC’s pantheon of heroes suspect Batman of hiding a dark secret that could threaten the very existence of the multiverse! It’s an epic that will span generations—but how does it connect to the origins of one of DC’s most legendary heroes?

The great comics event of summer 2017 is about to begin courtesy of superstar writers Scott Snyder and James Tynion III and illustrated by a master class of comics artists: Andy Kubert, Jim Lee and John Romita Jr.! You do not want to miss this one! 

What a great start to the Dark Days event! Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV have written a terrific opening chapter with Dark Days: The Forge #1. In a nutshell, here is what I know: Batman is (has been) investigating a mysterious dark force; Hawkman is looking into the origin of Nth metal, which he encountered when he became Hawkman; and Green Lantern and Duke discover a secret cave in the Bat-cave. Any more details than that and we'd be in spoiler territory. However, I can say that it looks like some heroes from DC's past might make an appearance and the book ends with a surprise/cliffhanger that I did NOT see coming.

Snyder and Tynion accomplished what any first book needs to do. They set the stage, teased several threads that will no doubt come together, and revealed just enough to pull the reader in and make them anxious for the next issue. I don't really know what the whole Dark Days event is about, but based on this first issue, I'm anxious to find out.

I highly recommend this book to all comic readers. Dark Days: The Forge #1 is fantastic, and looks like it is going to impact upcoming books for a while.

I received a preview copy of this book from DC Comics in exchange for an honest review.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Summer Events Heat Up

As summer vacation is in full swing, so are the kids' sporting events/activities. This week, Cami and Griffin are participating in tennis camp. They both have fun playing, and are learning a lot of the basics. Plus, they have lots of friends attending so that makes it even better.

Lexi has begun training/running to prepare for the upcoming Cross Country season. As of today, she is planning on joining the team when school starts, so she wants to make sure she is in good shape.

Church camp is coming next week for the twins, with more stuff to come over the coming weeks.