Category Archives: Gift Books

Darth Vader and Friends by Brown

darthvaderStar Wars and satire fans rejoice! Like the amazing William Shakespeare’s Star Wars books, here is another book in a series that takes what we love and pokes fun at it in a way that is never hurtful, but always hilarious.

Darth Vader and Friends
Star Wars
by Jeffrey Brown
Chronicle Books
April 2015

This collection of comics runs the gamut of “awww” (like Lando, Leah, Han and Luke sitting together watching the suns set, saying, “I’ve got a good feeling about this!”) to the silly (ghosts Yoda and Obi Wan telling Darth Vader, “Look Anakin. If you want to hang out with us you’re gonna have to take off the helmet.) Most of the comics are from the perspective of the kids and they do childish things (drawing all over attack maps, etc). Some take favorite phrases from the original trilogy and flip them on their head through the mouths of children.

This is a whimsical, easy read that makes for a perfect gift book for fans of either humor or Star Wars.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Tic-Tac-Tome by Yonkers

tic-tac-tomeA book that can beat you at Tic-Tac-Toe? That’s what the author says anyway. If the book is really that good, I must be the best Tic-Tac-Toe player ever.

Tic Tac Tome
The Autonomous Tic Tac Toe Playing Book
By Willy Yonkers
Quirk Books
June 2014

This is a massive book. About 3-4 inches thick (and only 4×4 in size) with like a thousand pages. What’s interesting is that this could be an app with maybe 40-50 kb worth of data. It’s big but really simple. You choose where you want to place your mark (O or X) and turn to the designated page. On that page you’ll see your mark and also the book’s next move. Repeat. Repeat. Cat’s game. Pretty much every time.

That’s the bummer thing about this book (and this game): once you recognize the gambits of the other player you really can’t lose. And neither can they. So this game is really for newbies and kids. As such, so is this book. I had my 7 year old play it and he figured out how to Cat’s pretty quickly. My 12 year old never lost. Two adults who “played” the book also never lost. In fact, I never saw anyone actually get beat by the game.

This is a gift book with limited interest. Fun for a moment.

NOTE: In case you see a different book of the same name by Ty Liotta, this is actually a reprint with Quirkbooks from the 2011 ThinkGeek version that has been out of print.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Brick Bible by Brendan Powell Smith

coverIt seems like publishers don’t need much of a reason to print new Bibles with even the slightest deviation of theme. The Men’s Bible, NIV Men’s Devotional Bible, MANual: the Bible for Men, Every Man’s Bible NIV, Every Man’s Bible NLT, Every Man’s Bible (NIV or NLT): Deluxe Explorer’s Edition, Quiet Strength Bible: Men’s Bible Study – those are all real and they are only the very first page of “Men’s Bibles” on Amazon. When will we see something truly different? Enter Brendan Powell Smith and The Brick Bible. But is it a Bible?

The Brick Bible: The Complete Set
By Brendan Powell Smith
Skyhorse Publishing
October 2013

CainandableIn this version, which collects both the Old and New Testaments, the artist/writer of the Brick Bible Brendan Powell Smith created and shot over 2000 different scenes from the Bible’s main stories. It is clear from the start that these are not photos for children. The violence, sexuality and nudity that exists in the Bible is on naked display in the depictions. (Brendan Powell Smith did create some children’s books that avoid some of the messier elements, like Jonah, Daniel, Noah’s Ark, the Christmas Story and such.)

The fact that every scene pictured is built, one brick at a time, is the real joy and accomplishment of this book. It is pure genius! Even seeing how Brendan Powell Smith overcomes issues like height (Saul has a 2×1 white square as his robe then 1×1 flat yellow rounds for legs to make him taller than everyone else, for instance), or outstretched arms (he has connected arms out of socket sideways to have them straight out), are very clever. Further effects with focus and perspective make almost every picture an achievement in itself.

Tdavidhe Old and New Testament have most of their major stories and some minor ones that seem to fit Brendan Powell Smith’s design (see below). You will see a ton of New Testament space spent on Jesus and Revelation, with little time spent on the Epistles, which makes sense since they aren’t visual stories but didactic letters. Understanding the difference in the type of literature of the Bible helps understand why he would or wouldn’t have photos. But in some cases, where there are visual portrayals of certain kinds of literature, specifically apocalyptic, the scenes are very literally envisioned. And in other situations that require interpretation skills, the author relies on English 21st century understanding of words rather than what the words meant originally.

JonathanThe violence and nudity that really help to bring even more distinction to this version of the Bible. So often these are glossed over. Stories about David taking out Goliath, for instance, usually ends with the stone killing Goliath. We gloss over the fact that David then chopped off Goliath’s head like a trophy. When stories in the Bible tell of murder and war, the Brick Bible takes, what looks a lot like, “glee” in telling them in gory, clear red brick building glory. While this is jarring at times it also makes real some of the parts of the Bible that we skip past when reading.

HeavenWhile I enjoyed the honesty in the violence, I didn’t enjoy some of the commentary in the pictures. At times the fact that this is satire is very clear and real. Picture and headings says more about Brendan Powell Smith’s opinions on the subjects he is depicting than allowing proper Biblical interpretation to take place. Instead of exegesis, many times there is simply a very wooden literal reading of the English which is infused with the current meanings and interpretations. For instance, there is no evidence and it is not implied in the original languages or in 2500 to 3000 years of orthodox belief that Jonathan loved David in an erotic way. But in the depictions of their interactions it is clearly set up as a homosexual relationship. Hearts floating above Jonathan’s head – like a teenager with a crush – and when David greeted Jonathan with a kiss it is on the lips rather than what the Bible is saying. Jonathan did love David and pledged his life to him. And in that culture a kiss in greeting was much more akin to what we see in foreign films – a sign of respect. Not an erotic thing. Likewise, headings titled “Genocide” instead of “Judgment” also clearly show Brendan Powell Smith’s wooden literal and bias.

lastsupperI have a ton of respect for what Brendan Powell Smith has done here with Legos and art. I’ve read that he is an atheist and I think that bias comes out in ways that will offend sincere believers – many prospective buyers and readers may be turned off by his choices in what to include and how to irreverantly depict them. Interestingly, in reviewing Brendan Powell Smith’s online site (http://www.bricktestament.com/home.html) you will find some pictures online were redacted or cropped from the published books. I noticed this with scenes that I was concerned with above, where commentary steps the story a little further from orthodox acceptance. If he or the publisher were aware of the possibility of offense and so removed from publication certain scenes it seems like they should have considered what scenes should perhaps have been removed from both. After all, the primary audience of a book about the Bible should be Christians who love creativity and art and also God. But with a focus on satire, and by allowing his bias to color what he selected to depict in such an overt way, it overshadows evertything else and we end up losing some of the primary audience for the much, much smaller satire audience. I’m not sure that was very wise.

JesusEven with the satirical commentary, this is a genius book. It is not Christians who may be offended by visual depictions of some of the seedier stories in the Bible or who may be offended by the way that the author treats a reverant subject in such an irreverant way at times. It is also not for children. But it is for art loving people who enjoy creativity and brilliant photography. It is also for lovers of Lego and the amazing things that toy/tool allows us to do with it. With all my concerns listed I would stistill recommend it to those audiences for this amazing achievement.

To answer the question posed at the start of this review: this is not a Bible. It is a work of art. As long as we think of it like this we may be more inclined to enjoy it for what it is rather than what we believers would want it to be.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Facebook Diet by Adams

You know you’re a Facebook addict when a book about Facebook addiction catches your eye. Yes, you.

The Facebook Diet
by Gemini Adams
Live Consciously
May 2013

This hilarious gift book features 50 full color cartoons from talented artist Gemina Adams who uses understated, simple illustrations to point out the truth of modern society’s online addictions. The illustrations will have you laughing out loud recognzing yourself in the work! We all know this stuff, but recognizing it is wild fun.

Consider some of my favorites, like the one where a man wrote (in paint) on the wall of their friend’s house and asked if they saw what he had written on their wall today. Or an illustration that says, “Nothing seems real until you post it…”

(Note that some of the art and language, including the one above, while rare, include depictions of nudity, sexual relations, and some language. If that is something you are sensitive to, then you should be aware of it. In total, there are perhaps 5 of the 50 illustrations that could offend.)

The book also includes over 20 pages of ideas on how to detox, including facetious ideas, like, “Get sent to jail” to politically charged (and accurate) options, like, “If all else fails… move to China!” An appropriate dessert to the illustrated main course.

If you are a Facebook addict or know one this book will make a great gift for those who enjoy art and humor. If Facebook isn’t your addiction, Live Consiously also has Twitter, You Tube and Instagram Diet books coming out next year.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Little Book of Great Dates by Smalley and Smalley

dates52 great fun ways to spend time with my wife? Yes, please!

Little Book of Great Dates
by Greg and Erin Smalley
Tyndale
September 2013

This leather-like dark royal blue book is gift sized with 52 two-page long “date” ideas. The Smalleys do a great job opening the reader up to re-evaluating what it means to date. Instead of spending time at a restaurant or going to a movie this book gives the reader a ton of fun things to try together. The focus is definitely on building relationship rather than amusement.

Some favorites included picking a challenging meal to cook where the focus is on working together to follow the directions then enjoying the meal together. Included are discussion questions around teamwork, what worked well and what didn’t and the next dish you want to work together on.

The book is full of great stuff, but one thing bothered me on my read through. On date 23 (page 62) “Time for a Check in” the reader is directed to the Smalley’s website to take a survey/ test to see where they are at in their relationship. A good idea. The catch? It costs $29.99. This is the written equivalent of the very unpopular app practice of In App Purchasing where you buy the app for a low cost (or free) but to get the full experience you have to purchase add-ons. I don’t like it on apps and I definitely don’t like it in my books. If the check-up is something we should do and we already purchased the book we should get a onetime code to take the test for free.

Overall, I’m a fan of the book and what it’s trying to accomplish. I love the redefinition of date and the focus on building the relationship rather than (only) having fun.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Cue Party Cookbook

Today is Labor Day and if your BBQ skills are lacking and your guests underwhelmed it’s time to get help. Why not get help from one of the most famous and most awarded grill masters ever? You won’t be disappointed.

Famous Dave’s Bar-B-Cue Party Cookbook
Secrets of a BBQ Legend!
by Famous Dave Anderson
Famous Dave Anderson / Self
June 2013

Most cookbooks I’ve read and used tend to be dry descriptions with (possibly) a small picture to show you what you’re working towards. Not this one. At 264 pages – all full color – you get way more than you expect here. (Kinda like the restaurant of the same name.) Everything from appetizers (like Smokin’ Dragons, which are bacon wrapped jalapeños,) to salads (including my favorite Fruit Salsa Dip with Cinnamon Chips,) to sandwiches and burgers to sides (like Southwest Creamy Mac N Cheese with three different peppers) to Entrées (yes, the ribs are in here!) to desserts and even drinks! This cookbook is full to the brim with great ideas.

Not just great ideas about food ingredients but also how-to. Consider the hamburgers. I thought I knew hamburgers. But Anderson shows how to prep the meat (loose not patted tight) with pictures, how to grill, when to add ingredients and so on. Way more helpful than your standard cookbook. Want to know how to prep for a real smoked meal? Directions including size of wood and how long to soak for the best taste are included. Very thorough for all skill levels.

I’m not usually a big fan of cookbooks and I don’t normally go for restaurant tie-ins. But this is a top notch cookbook that anyone who grills out or loves BBQ would enjoy and find very useful.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Not-So-Humble Pies by Jaggers

Some people follow directions when they cook and some people like to change things up. Kelly Jaggers is firmly in the second category and this book is full of unexpected, but surprisingly tasty recipes.

Not-So-Humble Pies
by Kelly Jaggers
Adams Media
June 2012

I admit that some of the recipes won’t appeal to everyone – lemon pistachio tart and green tea passion fruit mousse are just a couple examples of pies that I am not so interested in trying – but there are so many options and ideas here that it would be hard to understand how anyone could check it out and not find something they would love to try. In fact, I had several of those “why haven’t I ever thought of this; it’s so perfect!” moments. Some of my favorites are the apple pie with spicy cheddar crust and most of the dinner pies (like apple, brie and bacon tart or apple brie tart and bacon tart). Admittedly, some of the dinner pies are closer to fancy pot pies than actual dessert pies, but they fit in great in this book.

One of the things I felt was not explained well enough were the directions themselves. It seems like this book is really for people who are pretty good cooks already as the directions assume a certain level of skill as they leave out some of the details on how to do what they are asking for. Compared to a Betty Crocker Cookbook (well worn on my kitchen shelf,) this is advanced. Not to the point where a novice couldn’t figure it out, but it is challenging.

A note about the book itself: it’s hardback with a sleeve, giving it a high quality, rich feel, which I think it is perfect for the subject. It is also full color all the way through with colored fonts and full color photos. It simply looks great. It will make a great gift book for the wannabe chef in your life.

Overall this is a great gift book for the chefs in your life or a great addition to your own cookbook library if you are someone who likes to try new twists on tried and true recipes.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Beer – A Cookbook

Normally, I don’t review books like this but this is such a cool book!

Beer – A Cookbook
Good Food Made Better with Beer
Adams Media
May 2012

It is in the shape of a beer can (only much larger) and is made like a board book, like for kids, meaning that it is not only a cool cookbook that gives many fun recipes but it also looks cool and will be cool to open. Unlike many cookbooks, this one is tailor made to be a gift. And if you have a beer lover in the family this book is for you.

As for the recipes: there are some that you will no doubt recognize if you’ve been to some of the more creative bar & grills, but some are tantalizingly new. Take for instance the Chocolate Stout Lava Cake or the Best Corn Ever which utilize beer to bring something extra to already tasty dishes. Something that I found helpful was that the recipe may call for a type of beer, but the details may give an example of that beer helping those of us not in the know on the many, many types of beer available. I also liked that the recommendations are clearly not favoring one brand over the others so this doesn’t seem like a marketing ploy.

Overall, a fun book for those who want to cook with beer themselves or who are looking for a great gift for your beer loving friends.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he turns real life into stupid cartoons, writes on Christianity, Zombies, and whatever else he wants and posts Bible studies from his classes at church.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Art of the Mass Effect Universe by Hudson and Watts

Fans of Mass Effect rejoice: a comprehensive, authoritative behind the scenes look at the art of this massive amazing series is finally available!

The Art of the Mass Effect Universe
By Casey Hudson, Derek Watts
Dark Horse Comics
Feburary 2012

This collection of concept art showing the steps from development to completion of all the major characters, ships, and locations is 184 pages of full color high resolution bliss. Each page includes commentary about why designs were chose, discarded or changed and how the decisions would shape the form of the game series through its conclusion in Mass Effect 3.

Aspiring artists, fans of the series and those who are interested in what goes on behind the scenes at major production companies will be enthralled by the beautiful artwork and compelling storytelling.

As I am a fan of the series, and BioWare in particular, and an artist I found this book enlightening and educational. I went page to page and before I knew it I was through and starting over. I highly recommend it.


Scott Asher is the Editor-in-Chief of BookGateway.com. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people where he cartoons and writes on Christianity, Zombies, and anything else he wants to.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Creative Slow-Cooker Meals by Moeller

From the celebrated coauthor of The Marriage Miracle comes a new kind of cookbook and a new attitude toward planning meals. With an eye toward the whole menu, not just part of it, columnist Cheryl Moeller teaches cooks to use two crockpots to easily create healthy, homemade dinners.

Creative Slow-Cooker Meals
by Charyl Moeller
Harvest House Publishers
February 2012

Don’t worry about your dinner being reduced to a mushy stew. Each of the more than 200 recipes has been taste-tested at Cheryl’s table. Join the Moeller family as you dig into:

Harvest-time Halibut Chowder
Salmon and Gingered Carrots
Mediterranean Rice Pilaf
Indian Chicken Curry
Apricot-Pistachio Bread
Shrimp Creole
Rhubarb Crisp
… and many more! Perfect for the frazzled mom who never has enough time in the day, Creative Slow-Cooker Meals gives readers more time around the table with delicious, healthy, frugal, and easy meals!

Who doesn’t love a crock pot! Especially, when your a busy mom on the go all the time. I was excited to get an opportunity to review this cookbook.

There are 10 chapters in this cookbook. Take the Fast out of Breakfast, Passport of the Nations, Simple Meals Vegetarian, Gluten-Free Cuisine, and Parties/Barbecues/Gatherings just to name a few.

There are over 250 recipes in this spiral-bound cookbook. The pages are extra thick and look like they can handle a few wipes of spills on the pages. Lots of how to tricks when using a crock pot. Each chapter begins with a scripture verse.

The author recommends that you use two crock pots to make a complete meal. Each page has side by side recipes that go together for a complete meal. I don’t own two crock pots and don’t plan on getting two either. But a very good idea using two crock pots.

I tried a few recipes. One was Pineapple Carrots. Very good, simple, and easy to make. I used baby carrots and canned pineapple and it still came out good with lots of flavor.

Another recipe was African Sweet Potatoes. Which wasn’t bad but did lack flavoring in my opinion. I added a few ingredients at the end and it suited my palette better. The recipe was easy to make and easy to adjust to my liking if needed. Most of the other recipes came out pretty good.

I like cookbooks with pictures. I am a visual person and would of love to have a few pictures added to the pages to tempt me to cook it! Overall, this is a great recipe book that is easily prepare home-cooked dinners and meals. The recipes are practical, not gourmet, and use easily-available ingredients.


ReneeK is a sweet tea addicted mamma who loves to cuddle up to a good book. She blogs at Little Homeschool on the Praire and writes about family, homeschooling, having a special needs child, and about whatever else tickles her fancy.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.