Monday, April 30, 2012

My Review of WRITING YOUR WAY by Don Fry

Photo Credit: Writer's Digest

Writing instructor Don Fry believes that writers struggle with efficient productivity because they use someone else’s writing process instead of one that is perfectly suited to them. This is because they only know how to write the way they were taught. The process they’re taught may work for some writers, but for others something more reflective of their own personality, skills, and natural talents may be much more effective. WRITING YOUR WAY is a new book by Don Fry designed to walk writers through developing their own personal writing style and writing voice. The key is to develop a process that works for you.

One of the most helpful parts of the book comes early on as Fry walks writers through the five steps of the creative process for any piece of writing. The five steps are
1. IDEA – What is your article or story about?
2. GATHER – What source material will you need to develop the idea?
3. ORGANIZE – How will you structure the article or story?
4. DRAFT – The initial writing of the piece without any editing along the way.
5. REVISE – The revision of the initial draft.

I loved this breakdown of the creative process because it was so clear and immediately helpful. As Fry unpacks these steps one per chapter, he also unpacks various ways to tackle each of the steps so that writers can discover what specifically works best for them in each step.

I found the interviewing tips in the GATHER chapter to be very helpful, as well as the various people Fry encourages writers to have in their lives to be ready sources for the things they write. I also appreciate the encouragement to just write and worry about revision after the initial draft is complete. Editing as I write is one of the things that slow me down the most when I’m writing, so this was something I can immediately put into practice.

Fry finishes up the book by discussing ways for a writer to develop their own voice. There are some very helpful ideas about a writer’s different personas used in their writing.

WRITING YOUR WAY is a great book because it focuses on helping writers to become more productive and more in tune with their own creative process. Writers will likely want to read with a pen in hand to latch on to the most important ideas for their own unique process.

I received this book for free for review from Writer’s Digest Books, and the opinions expressed in this review are completely my own

Sunday, April 29, 2012


I’ve always wanted to be a writer. Not necessarily because I feel like I need to get paid to do it, but it would be great to get to spend more of my time doing what I love most. It’s a great way to get much of the weighty thoughts that bounce around in my head out in a creative and hopefully stirring way. I once heard Erwin McManus say that he who tells the best stories shapes the culture. Writing has a way of influencing and ultimately giving people hope. Maybe you’re like me and you want to write not only to stir people, but make a living at it as well. STARTING YOUR CAREER AS A FREELANCE WRITER by Moira Allen is a book that is proving to be very helpful as I learn more about what it takes to write and make a living from it.

Allen uncovers clearly and concisely what it looks like to be a freelance writer, giving encouragement and real-world practical steps to take to along the way. Some of the practical tips include finding time to write, setting achievable goals, finding ideas and shaping those ideas into a well-though-out article, and how to pursue publication.

There are some really helpful chapters on doing research, conducting interviews, exploring markets, and writing query letters. Online writing was also discussed, which is what I was most familiar with. Copywriting is one of the most prolific ways for a freelance writer to generate income, so I really appreciated the section on copywriting.

When it comes to breaking into freelance writing, STARTING YOUR CAREER AS A FREELANCE WRITER is an extremely helpful and thorough guide on how to go about it. I’d recommend it to anyone interested in making a living as a writer.

I received this book for free for review from Allworth Press

Friday, April 27, 2012

My Review and GIVEAWAY of AS ONE DEVIL TO ANOTHER by Richard Platt

UPDATE: Congratulations to JoyAnne for winning the free book!

Photo Credit: Tyndale House

C.S. Lewis once wrote a very creative fictional series of letters called The Screwtape Letters. Screwtape was a demon mentoring a younger demon on the most efficient strategies for luring a human being away from the heart of God. It was a compelling and clever way to illustrate the way evil and temptation work in the lives of human beings. Obviously, there are no senior demons mentoring over new and inexperienced demons, but the fictional letters Lewis created were still brilliant in their illumination of how demons have opportunity to work in our lives.

Author Richard Platt has undertaken to write a new series of letters by senior demon Slashreap to younger demon Scardagger in his new book AS ONE DEVIL TO ANOTHER. The book reads much like Lewis’ original Screwtape Letters, and it’s a great tribute to a brilliant man with a brilliant mind. Platt takes us on the journey of a young woman whose heart is constantly being worked on by a demon with the purpose of keeping her away from God, or the Adversary as Slashreap prefers to call him.

AS ONE DEVIL TO ANOTHER is a creative exploration of the fragile hearts of human beings and where we’re the most vulnerable to having our hearts pulled away from God. Platt takes Lewis’ method and updates it with today’s most prevalent areas of temptation.

I received this book for free for review from Tyndale House Publishing


Tyndale House has given me the opportunity to give a copy of this book away. For a chance to win this book, leave a comment answering the question below and be sure to include your email address. Contest ends Thursday, May 3rd at 11:59 pm. Winner will be announced on Friday, May 4.

What was your favorite book written by C.S. Lewis and why?

Thursday, April 26, 2012

My Review of MOCKINGJAY by Suzanne Collins

Photo Credit: Scholastic Press

SPOILERS of the previous two books in THE HUNGER GAMES

For seventy-four years the nation of Panem has punished its twelve outlying districts for a failed uprising by forcing each of the districts to send one teenage boy and one teenage girl to a televised fight to the death held annually called The Hunger Games. It’s a sick world where a powerful Capitol finds its greatest enjoyment in the annual bloodshed of the Games. Up to this time, the districts have been held in submission. No one is rebelling, and no one believes they even could. Until in the seventy-fourth Hunger Games, Katniss Everdeen commits an act of defiance that forces the Gamemakers to choose two winners instead of one. When the Capitol tries to rectify Katniss’ defiance by forcing Katniss and Peeta Mellarck to partipate in another Hunger Games, a secret faction of rebels breaks her out of the arena and takes her to the once-thought-annihilated District 13. The districts of Panem have been pushed to the brink by the murder of their children in The Hunger Games, but they need a symbol to unite them against the Capitol and end the Games once and for all. As Katniss assumes the role of Panem’s Mockingjay, she must battle the despair she feels over the widespread loss of life her actions have caused and the fate of Peeta who has been kidnapped by the Capitol. Can the rebels win? Can Katniss be the symbol that unites them? Will she ever see Peeta again? The race to the end is thrilling, heartbreaking, and full of surprises.

When it comes to the third book in a trilogy, all bets are off. Everyone is dispensable. Anything can happen. And the tension is raised higher than it ever has before. MOCKINGJAY, the final book in THE HUNGER GAMES Trilogy by Suzanne Collins, kept me up at night. Because I had to finish it and because I felt like I had to deal with the difficult themes it wrestled with. MOCKINGJAY is a book that will make you think long after it’s over and feel the emotions it provokes even longer than that. It’s what you would expect after you’ve been invested in these characters for three books.

I had to wrestle with this one for a couple days because as a piece of dystopian literature, the ending is bittersweet. I didn’t want the story to end, but all great stories must come to an end. For Katniss, the journey to the final page of MOCKINGJAY is mired in heartache and widespread loss of life. The twists and turns of this story kept me reading until the end. In fact, I read MOCKINGJAY in two days.

In the end, I think Suzanne Collins wrote an incredible finale to an emotionally stirring series. I’ve read that many people were disappointed with it, but as the story unfolded, I understood that within the context of the story Collins was trying to tell, the events leading up to the end made since.

There’s a chilling scene near the end that I won’t give away, but it was a brilliant move on Collins’ part to raise the unsettling question of whether the rebels who are trying to overcome the Capitol might just end up another incarnation of the Capitol. Though the goal is to stop The Hunger Games, will the rebels actually stop it or see it as something necessary to maintain control? MOCKINGJAY, as well as the other two books, is a startling exploration of the inner darkness that seems to dwell in human hearts.

MOCKINGJAY explores some weighty themes such as love, vengeance, war, and ultimately hope for a better world. Collins has created a thrilling and thought-provoking story that stands along some of the greatest stories of our time. People will be talking about this one for a long time.

My Review of Jeff Goins' New eBook YOU ARE A WRITER

For some people, writing is a dream, something to be chased sometime in the future. For others, it’s a passion that must be pursued because the words and the ideas are like a pounding force trapped inside a box, desperate to get out. Writer Jeff Goins has become known as one who both pursues his passion for writing and one who cares deeply about helping others who have this calling inside them to pursue it also.

Each week, Goins contributes to his blog an impressive array of advice on how to be the best writer you can be. Generosity is a common theme in his writings, and it’s something he lives out by investing in the careers of others. But no advice he gives is as important as the advice he puts forward and expounds upon in his new eBook YOU ARE A WRITER.

For Goins, it seems pretty obvious that if you want to be a writer then you actually need to sit down and write. In the words of another writer Steven Pressfield, you must “do the work.” But Goins equally realizes that writers face inner opposition all the time. They need something to drive them, encouragement to keep going, and practical steps to take toward success. YOU ARE A WRITER is the perfect place to find those. Goins’ writing journey has been going on for a long time, but it’s only in the last year that things really started taking off for him, and he graciously shares that journey with us and what he learned along the way.

Never one to blush away from the incredible difficulty that being a writer can be sometimes be, Goins stays in the realm of the positive to give writers steps that will work for them if they’re willing to put in the work. Covering three crucial elements of building a platform, establishing a brand, and creating channels of connection, YOU ARE A WRITER shows writers how to get their writing before the viewing eyes of others and creating a following. Writers often have very profound and important things to say that will affect many, and Goins shows them how to get their ideas out there and embraced by the people who share areas of commonality with them.

A really helpful element to the book near the end is the concept that before writing a book, writers should write for magazines and gets practice and build relationships there. And of course, he walks writers through the journey of how to do it.

YOU ARE A WRITER is a phenomenal resource for writers who are just starting out or who need an extra dose of motivation to keep going. Check out for more information about Jeff Goins and his new eBook.

I received this book for free for review from the author, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

My Review of THE INTROVERTED LEADER by Jennifer Kahnweiler

As many people with introverted personalities have discovered, it can be really difficult sometimes to be an introvert in a clearly extroverted world. Overall, being outgoing is viewed as an asset, and being quiet and introspective is viewed as a weakness. Extroverts are often viewed as the natural leaders, and introverts don’t often show up on the radar of someone considering someone for a leadership position. Not to mention that introverts are often misjudged as antisocial. I love people, I love being around people, and I love investing in people, but I can’t say it comes naturally for me or that I’m at ease being around people. Often, my introverted personality causes me to be very self-conscious, and the things I want to communicate to people I genuinely care about become very difficult to verbalize. The frustration for me, as I’m sure it is for a lot of introverts, is that I care deeply about people, I’m very interested in people and what makes them tick, but introversion often feels like a force fighting against that. After reading Susan Cain’s groundbreaking book on introverts QUIET, I became interested in another book called THE INTROVERTED LEADER by Jennifer Kahnweiler.

THE INTROVERTED LEADER is ironically written by an extrovert, but an extrovert who has gone to extra care to understand the introvert personality and discover methods for introverted personalities to express what’s inside more effectively. Kahnweiler takes a look at some common challenges that introverts face in a workplace world, nearly all of which I resonated with. Not all introverts struggle in the same ways with living in an extroverted world, so Kahnweiler gives a quiz to help isolate specific areas an introvert might want to engage in becoming more comfortable in, thus producing results.

The book focuses on a four-step process introverts can put into practice. The four steps are:
1. Prepare
2. Presence
3. Push
4. Practice

Essentially, in several different areas, such as public speaking or managing people, where introverts may struggle with being effective, Kahnweiler walks them through a process of creating lasting and effective habits through the four steps.

THE INTROVERTED LEADER is empowering and practical in a way that will hopefully allow introverts to contribute more effectively their inherent giftedness as leaders.

I received this book for review from Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Monday, April 23, 2012

My Review of CATCHING FIRE by Suzanne Collins

Photo Credit: Scholastic Press


For seventy-three years the Capitol of the nation of Panem held The Hunger Games, a violent fight to the death between the teenaged tributes from each of Panem’s twelve districts, as a reminder to never attempt to rise up against the merciless Capitol again. For each of the seventy-three Hunger Games, there has been only one victor. Until Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark, in act of defiance against the Capitol, forced the Gamemakers to choose both of them as the victors. Now Katniss must convince the world that her act of defiance in the Games was driven by love for Peeta, or risk being the catalyst of rebellion against the Capitol. Everyone she loves is in danger. And with the punishment of participating in another Hunger Games with Peeta where only one can walk out alive looming over her, she must decide what is more important: surviving to fight the Capitol or keeping Peeta alive.

Suzanne Collins painted a world that revealed the darkest aspects of the hearts of humanity in THE HUNGER GAMES. In CATCHING FIRE, Collins continues Katniss’ story with the aftermath of Katniss’ decisions in the previous book, taking us deeper into a government system built on power, oppression and senseless killing, as well as deeper into the mind of a girl pushed beyond her limits with the fate of a nation and those she loves most resting on her shoulders.

I loved the first book. Not because of the senseless bloodbath that it depicts, but because it reflected a world desperately in need of redemption, and Katniss struggles, in a sense, to be a light in the darkness. I loved the second book even more. As the story progresses, it begins to feel like Peeta is the real hero of this story as he pours all of his energy into protecting Katniss even though she doesn’t know how she feels about him. It’s an incredible picture of unconditional love.

Collins does an incredible job of raising the stakes for the players involved. With the end of THE HUNGER GAMES, I wondered in what direction this story could go next and if it would be as captivating. CATCHING FIRE feels like you’ve been strapped in for a relentless gut-wrenching thrill ride where you’re desperately hoping the horror of it all can somehow be undone.

The villain becomes more present within the story in CATCHING FIRE as we’re given a closer look at the mysterious President Snow. The man is powerful, knows it, and will mercilessly destroy anyone who threatens that power. Collins gives a chilling description of a man who wears an aroma that is a mixture of roses and blood on his breath.

Nearly every chapter ends with somewhat of a cliffhanger, making it really hard to stop reading once you get to the end of a chapter. Once again, I loved the first-person narrative from Katniss’ perspective. Collins gives us some great descriptions of the world of Panem throughout so that imagining what it’s like is really easy. The end of the book will definitely leave wanting to get the next book and start reading immediately.

I love post-apocalyptic stories and I love trilogies. THE HUNGER GAMES Trilogy is quickly one of my favorites.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

My Review of GODFORSAKEN by Dinesh D'Souza

It’s a common argument that plagues nearly everyone. Survey the world around you for only a short time, and it becomes clear that we live inside a universe where evil runs rampant. If this is true, how do we reconcile the Christian idea that a loving all-powerful God created the world? Would this perfect God create a world so clearly dysfunctional? Or does the existence of evil merely put the nail in the coffin of the idea of God’s existence? I wrestled with this issue many times, and in some ways I still do. Yet I’m convinced that a loving all-powerful God does exist, so like many people, I’m always on the search for an adequate explanation of how a perfect Creator and an imperfection creation can both exist.

Dinesh D’Souza has written a new and thoroughly thought-provoking book on this problem called GODFORSAKEN. D’Souza suggests that he presents compelling truth for God’s existence and a reason for why God allows so much evil to exist. Interestingly, he uses many arguments from science to prove his points. The book surrounds the scientific idea of the Anthropic Principle to explain God’s allowance of evil in our world. Basically, with consistent laws of nature, our world is perfectly designed to produce and sustain creatures like us. D’Souza argues that for humanity to exist, evil must be allowed to exist. The same world that produces evil is the same world that produces humanity. Any changes in the design of our world would mean that humanity could not exist.

D’Souza reveals the inadequacy of many past theodicies, but I found his to be just a newer updated version of a Greater Good Theodicy. A Greater Good Theodicy means that God allows evil in order to bring about a greater good out of that evil. In the case of GODFORSAKEN, God allows evil to bring about the greater good of a world where humans can live and have free will. I must admit that D’Souza’s arguments are solid and very convincing. However, I found the book to make less of God than most people are accustomed. Essentially, GODFORSAKEN tries to comfort people with the fact of evil by saying that human life is a result of a world where evil is necessary, and this is surely better than non-existence.

Greater Good Theodicies fail because they make evil a necessary reality to God’s creation, as if God could not create without it. If God wants to bring about good, he can surely do that. But if he wants to bring about a greater good, he has to use evil to do it. Yet there’s really no indication that any greater good is brought out of evil. What good could be greater than a good produced by a good and loving Creator in the absence of evil? The Bible presents us with a God who is omnipotent and omnibenevolent, a God who could easily bring about incredible good without the use of evil. He doesn’t need evil, so there is no greater good from evil. Is redemption better than innocence? Was the reality of fallen humanity and the need for Christ to die for it better than an unfallen humanity who enjoys God forever? Obviously, the gospel is beautiful and great, and it is an incredible good, but we can’t say that God intended for humanity to fall and Jesus to have to die when he created. Certainly, he knew humanity would fall, and the plan for redemption existed eternally in his mind before creation, but a good, loving, and omnipotent being would have preferred the existence of evil to have never occurred.

So while I found many great insights from D’Souza’s book, I don’t think it presents the answer to our problem. Evil exists, and I believe a loving and all-powerful God exists. Though the improper use of free will answers the problem of evil in my mind, I can’t say that God viewed free will as a greater good. I believe God loved individual free human beings, and this love allowed them to make choices that make our world one laced with evil. I think D’Souza does a great job of describing how our world works as a result of the fall, but I don’t think he describes creation the way God originally intended it because the Bible doesn’t describe evil as necessary.

Nevertheless, GODFORSAKEN is a worthwhile read for anyone interested in the issues of the problem of evil. Though I don’t believe it provides and adequate answer to the problem, it does have some very insightful thoughts throughout it. In the end, the problem of evil is an issue people will continue to wrestle with.

I received this book for free for review from Tyndale House Publishers

Friday, April 13, 2012

My Review of THE ANXIOUS CHRISTIAN by Rhett Smith

I’ve always wanted to be a writer, but I’m nowhere near to the place I wish I was or even where I could be had I made different choices in my life up to this point. Case in point, when I was a freshman in college at a small Christian university, I saw an ad for anyone interested in working for the school newspaper. A simple phone call and I would be getting the opportunity to do what I loved most and getting valuable experience at it. For days I’d spend several minutes sitting in front of the phone, poised to make the phone call. But I couldn’t do it? I was plagued by anxious thoughts. What if I couldn’t do it? What if people didn’t like me? What if I wasn’t a good writer? What if I started and felt like giving up early on? Chief among my anxious thoughts was a total lack of confidence that questioned why I had any business thinking I could do it in the first place when I would undoubtedly be working with people so much better than me. Shyness has always been a struggle for me, and this stopped me. I never called the newspaper.

I am, what I have come to realize, an anxious Christian. Anxiety paralyzes me into indecision. I’m sure it’s the same for a lot of people who are followers of Jesus. As Christians, we’re told over and over again not to be anxious, not to worry, not to fear. Yet these things seem to ever-present forces that press in on us and limit the life we were created to live. But what if it could be different? What if anxiety, instead of driving us fear and indecision, drove us to action and a greater pursuit of dependence on God?

Rhett Smith wrote THE ANXIOUS CHRISTIAN from this very perspective, and it was a book that deeply resonated with my own experience with anxiety. Smith, rather than proclaiming anxiety as something “unchristian” and something to be ignored, reveals biblical evidence that anxiety is an indication of our deep need to trust in Jesus rather than in ourselves or our circumstances. Anxiety is an invitation to deeper, more profound, and life-changing belief in Jesus to help us do what he wants of us. Most helpful is the encouragement to take action when anxiety strikes. In hindsight, I should have made the call to write for the newspaper in college because trust in Jesus would have meant that whatever happened, good or bad, Jesus would have been with me, helping me get past whatever hindrances would have arisen. I don’t have to fear because no one else lovingly governs the world in pursuit our hearts but God. That means God wants to be active in helping bring about incredible good and life-altering hope. Anxiety threatens to take us out of the equation of God using us to do what he does best.

I love how Rhett Smith quotes Steven Pressfield about the Resistance because as a I writer I’m very familiar with Pressfield’s books THE WAR OF ART and DO THE WORK, and both have been helpful in my pursuit of taking action over indecision.

If you’re an anxious Christian, I have to recommend reading THE ANXIOUS CHRISTIAN and learning how to let anxiety be a catalyst for action and greater pursuit of God’s heart. Thought it’s not a quick-fix solution, taking Smith’s advice will put you on the path to a more satisfying life doing the things that God created you for.

I received this book for free for review from Moody Publishers

My Review of HOLLYWOOD GAME PLAN by Carole Kirschner

Photo Credit: Michael Wiese Productions

I love creative storytelling because of it’s incredible potential to tap into people’s emotions and communicating in a way that makes abstract concepts and ideas more concrete to recipient’s mind. I love reading, but I also love experiencing stories through films and TV series. Once Upon a Time a time is my current favorite series on television about a group of people desperately in need of redemption, awaiting a promised hero of the story. The Dark Knight is a movie that beautifully communicates the idea of one man taking on the guilt of another’s betrayals. Visual storytelling is the most widespread way of communicating to and inspiring a stunning amount of people.

I personally don’t plan on moving to LA and getting a career in Hollywood, but I was interested in a new book by Carole Kirschner called HOLLYWOOD GAME PLAN. This book is all about how to prepare for and land a job in the entertainment industry, and it’s a really intriguing inside look into the inner-workings of Hollywood.

The book covers the all-important preparation someone will have to undergo before attempting to land a job in the entertainment industry. Kirscher walks through the basics of what Hollywood is like so you’ll know what you’re getting into. There’s a really helpful chapter on preparing an “industry-ready resume,” as well as how to create a Hollywood cover letter. The idea is to focus on your strengths and sell those strengths to decision makers. The book covers the importance of networking and a step-by-step job search strategy, as well as creating a custom career path because the idea is to always be furthering your career.

This book is ideal for anyone who wants to break into the entertainment industry. It’s really easy to read and full of expert advice on the world of visual storytelling.

I received this book for free for review from Michael Wiese Productions

Thursday, April 12, 2012

My Review of Gospel-Centered Discipleship by Jonathan Dodson

Photo Credit: Crossway Books

It seems like it can be really easy to misunderstand what becoming a disciple of Jesus is about. For many, belief in Jesus is simply a get-out-of-hell free card. Believe Jesus, have your sins forgiven, and go to heaven when you die. Yet this simple concept of what the gospel of Jesus Christ is couldn’t be less satisfying. And the crazy thing is that the gospel is meant to be ultimately satisfying because we were made for so much more than a mediocre earthly life followed by eternity with God. Jesus called himself the Bread of Life, as well as a well from which all thirst will be satisfied. But is this what people are often led to when they’re given the gospel? I think about what I would mean to communicate the gospel to people, and too much of what we’re told about evangelism is simply centered on saving people from hell. Compound that with all the people I know who claim to be Christians, but live no different than non-Christians, and it’s hard to see the gospel as really even remotely relevant for right now. But there are some Christians who come to Jesus believing their life is supposed to be different. So they embrace the gospel to save them, and then perform their hearts out with religious service to keep them in God’s favor. It seems like the gospel is what saves us, but it doesn’t change us.

GOSPEL-CENTERED DISCIPLESHIP by Jonathan Dodson is a vital book in the discussion of what exactly the gospel is and what it does for us. Dodson reveals a deep love and appreciation for the gospel of Jesus as that which both saves us and sanctifies us. The gospel is about falling in love with Jesus and living our lives in light of what he’s done for us. It’s about having our affections transferred from all the lifeless idols our hearts turn to and to Jesus as the one for whom we were created to be most satisfied in.

Dodson reveals the tendency of many Christians to take one of two paths after embracing the gospel—religion or rebellion. The religious seek to earn God’s favor through their actions. This is defeating because nothing we do will ever be good enough. Instead, Dodson reveals the Bible’s teaching that Jesus performed perfectly for us so that we wouldn’t have to. Yet the rebellious take the opposite route. Fully embracing that Jesus performed perfectly for us and paid for our sins, the rebellious treat their lives as essentially free do whatever they want, including sinning freely, because God has already forgiven them. Dodson combats this with the biblical teaching that we are saved from our sin so that we can be obedient to Christ. True freedom is freedom from sinning; not to sinning.

Dodson explores the motivations behind the things that we do, which are the true heart of why we commit the sins we do. Discipleship is about fighting for continual belief in Jesus. It’s about fighting for the image of Jesus to be constantly and beautifully revealed in our lives. There’s an incredible chapter on the Holy Spirit who is “the motivation behind the motivation” for gospel-centered discipleship, as Dodson proclaims him. We can’t forget the Spirit’s role in our spiritual journey with Jesus because it is the Holy Spirit who powers our belief and reveals both our sin and desperate need for redemption, as well an accurate picture of who Jesus is.

The book closes with one of the most brilliant and biblically inspiring ideas I’ve ever come across. Throughout the book, Dodson reveals the need for Christians to be plugged in to the body of Christ. Building upon this is the concept of “fight clubs.” Because sin must be fought and defeated in the power of the Holy Spirit in order to continue in belief in Christ, Dodson encourages believers to be a part of a group of two to three fellow believers of the same gender. These groups constitute fight clubs, and their goal is to gather together to fight sin together. Dodson proposes that this is done by relying on the Bible, doing theology, and allowing this to penetrate our lives through gospel-driven changed behavior. I was really encouraged by this idea and loved the focus on the church as the context where both spiritual growth happens and mission is catalyzed.

GOSPEL-CENTERED DISCIPLESHIP is one of the most encouraging and biblically faithful books I’ve read in awhile. It gave me a beautiful vision of Jesus that drives me to follow him more completely. Jonathan Dodson has done an incredible service to the body of Christ, and I would recommend this to any believer as a source guide to what it means and looks like to follow Jesus everyday.

I received this book for free for review from Crossway

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

My Review of THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins

Photo Credit: Scholastic Press

The nation of Panem was born out of the ruins of what was once known as North America, and at its center is a powerful, beautiful, and technologically-advanced city known as the Capitol. Twelve Districts surround the Capitol. It was once thirteen. Once, long ago, the Districts tried to overthrow the oppressive Capitol. They were all defeated, District 13 was annihilated, and as a reminder to never rebel again the Hunger Games were born. Every year, each of the twelve Districts must send one boy and one girl, aged 12-18, as tributes to fight in the Hunger Games. It’s a brutal fight to the death, and there can only be one survivor. When Katniss Everdeen’s twelve-year-old sister is selected as District 12’s seventy-fourth female tribute, Katniss volunteers to be tribute in her place. Thus begins an unrelenting story of one girl’s desperate quest to survive in a contest she stands little chance to win. Making matters worse is that the boy tribute from District 12 is Peeta Mellark, a boy who once saved her life.

THE HUNGER GAMES by Suzanne Collins is a non-stop journey into the desperately flawed heart of humanity. Twenty-four teenagers are thrust into an impossible situation that requires them to do things they were never meant to do merely to survive. The result is violent and unsettling, but we grow to love Katniss Everdeen and hope for her survival because she seems meant for so much more than the Hunger Games. She seems meant to cut to the heart of the Capitol, and this story seems to begin that journey.

I’m not sure why, but I really enjoy post-apocalyptic stories, and this is one of the best I’ve read. The story concept is twisted, and no sane person could hope for another person’s death because they ended up in the Hunger Games, but the story creates a world that is obviously corrupt and desperately in need of redemption. I loved that about this story. I haven’t read the other two books in the trilogy yet, but I’m hoping for a taste of redemption by the end.

I loved the first-person narrative of the story because it makes the reader feel like they’re experiencing the Hunger Games through the eyes of Katniss. I also felt like I really got to know her character because we get to hear her thoughts throughout, and she quickly became a very likable character.

Foundational to the concept of THE HUNGER GAMES is the idea of sacrifice, that for one person to live someone must die, or in this case, twenty-three people must die. Katniss makes what will possibly be the ultimate sacrifice when she volunteers to be a tribute in her sister’s place, and we see this concept of self-sacrifice throughout. For the most part, the tributes aren’t heartless. They don’t want to kill, but they must kill to survive. But alliances are built along the way that makes the idea of killing someone you possibly care about very difficult. Collins amps up the stakes up to the very end of the story with this theme. Will Katniss kill to survive? More importantly, will she kill someone she’s grown to care about to survive? Collins pulls you into the story with the emotional cost the Capitol wants the tributes to pay.

The world of THE HUNGER GAMES is incredibly well-built. I could picture the run-down appearance of District 12 and the gleaming technological perfection that is the Capitol. This is another way the first-person narrative really helped to drive the story. Panem is the epitome of human depravity as we learn that those in charge in the Capitol have an insane thirst for power, and this plays out in their enjoyment of watching the teenaged tributes slaughter one another in their yearly games. Their greatest source of entertainment is also their primary method of exacting punishment and ensuring the obedience of the Districts.

The characters were brilliantly developed. Katniss Everdeen, a girl who has survived heartache and subsequent abandonment because of the death of her father, cares deeply for people. Collins shows this through Katniss’ actions and inner dialogue over and over again throughout the story. Yet she’s also forced to do things that no one would ever hope they had to do. I found myself desperately wishing she didn’t have to kill anyone, but understanding that she’s been placed in the most impossible of situations. Haymitch, Katniss’ mentor, is intriguing because of how winning the Hunger Games has affected him. Peeta Mellark, the boy tribute from District 12, is an interesting character because of the choices he makes throughout the story and the revealed motivations behind those actions. The other tributes range from sweet and innocent to vengeful and bloodthirsty. The collective entity known as the Capitol is the most mysterious character of all. They leave me with the most questions. How did they get so powerful? Why did the Districts feel they needed to rebel, and why was the Hunger Games the response the Capitol came up with to punish the Districts for their betrayal?

The end of THE HUNGER GAMES left me wanting to read the second book immediately. I’m interested to see the aftermath of what happens in this story and Katniss’ place in it all.

Given the popularity of THE HUNGER GAMES movie, it’s clear that Suzanne Collins has written a story that resonates with people. It explores the messy choices people must make in the midst of a dangerous world and the nature of sacrifice. It’s a dark story, but it’s a story that confronts us head-on with the value of human life and challenges the terrible ways we’re tempted to treat one another. I can’t wait to see the movie now that I’ve read the book, and I can’t wait to dive into CATCHING FIRE.

I received this book for free for review from Scholastic, and I was not required to give a positive review

Monday, April 9, 2012

My review of IS GOD TO BLAME by Gregory Boyd

Photo Credit: Intervarsity Press

I’ve always had a sense that the idea that God allows evil in order to bring about a greater good didn’t quite make sense, either logically or biblically. If this were God’s reason for allowing evil, then he would need the evil in order to bring about the good. I don’t think we want a God who is dependent upon evil to govern his creation. Yet this is the comfort many Christians try to give people. Or perhaps someone well-meaning believer tries to comfort us in the midst of our suffering with the idea that God is purposefully bringing (or allowing) this evil into our lives to teach us something we wouldn’t learn without the suffering, which is a result of evil. But what happens if you can’t quite figure out what it is God is trying to teach you in the midst of the suffering? Does that mean the suffering will continue until you unlock the magic door that reveals the purpose behind God’s allowance of evil into your lives? Of course, the Bible does reveal God bringing about good out of evil actions or intentions, though it’s not called a greater good. And sometimes God does want to teach us something in the midst of our suffering. But the comfort we try to find in the source of evil often relies on God being behind why the evil is happening. We would never accuse God of bringing about evil, but it’s often the logical conclusion of our beliefs about it.

In the book IS GOD TO BLAME?, Gregory Boyd plunges into this difficult theological issue with both a heart for people who suffer as the result of evil and a heart to see God revealed for the loving, evil-fighting Creator that he is. Boyd reveals the disconnect behind the comfort Christians often try to find in believing that God is somehow directly responsible for the evil in our world for our own good. How we view God is truly the most important thing about us, and Boyd reveals a picture of God that is biblical and beautiful because he shows evil to be the result of a creation that is at war. He shows evil to be the result of the devil initially and the free choices of flawed human beings secondly. Creation isn’t the way God designed it to be. God, out of love for his creation, gave human beings the freedom to choose him or not, knowing beforehand that they would choose otherwise. Then he went to war to fix the problem the devil and free humans created in his universe. The Bible is the history of God setting things right again, and this is most fully revealed in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Boyd treats the Bible very Christocentrically, which I loved. He points out that the fullest picture of who God is and what his character is like is revealed in Jesus. This shows God to be a God of love and a God who wars against evil.

The book reminded me at times of Brian Little’s Creation-Order Theodicy because Boyd paints a picture of God’s creation as one that he set laws into place that help govern what can happen in the world. Boyd is an open-theist, and I’m not, but his open theism doesn’t figure prominently in the model he’s proposing.

I can’t say that I agree with everything Boyd said in the book. I’m a little uncomfortable with the limitations he suggests God has placed upon himself, but I understand the logic behind it. I’ll have to look into it more. And while open theism doesn’t figure prominently in the book, I have to say that I believe that God knows the future exhaustively and that human beings have genuine freedom.

IS GOD TO BLAME? was a very encouraging and enjoyable read because Boyd’s heart for God and for people shines through. It’s definitely a good book to explore a more Christocentric view of the problem of evil.

I received this book for free for review from Intervarsity Press

Saturday, April 7, 2012


Photo Credit: Intervarsity Press

How exactly does prayer work? Christians know they’re supposed to pray, but what exactly does prayer do? Does is it affect how God governs the world? Or does it merely change how we perceive God’s governing of the world? I’ve wrestle with this question for most of the time that I’ve been a follower of Jesus. Truthfully, it all depends on what kind of a world God has set up and how he has decided to govern that world. That’s the premise behind Terrance Tiessen’s book PROVIDENCE AND PRAYER: HOW DOES GOD WORK IN THE WORLD?

Clearly, Jesus tells us to pray in the Bible, and prayer is show to actually help achieve certain events, but the question is how much influence, if any, our prayers contain. If we don’t pray, will God refuse to do something that he would have if we had prayed? Tiessen takes us on a journey through ten theological models of providence and explores how prayer works within those ten models. He runs from the spectrum of God exercising little control to God exercising meticulous and fatalistic control. Each chapter is incredibly helpful to expose people’s beliefs about God’s providence and how their approach to prayer may often not reflect their theological model. I stand somewhere between a Redemptive Intervention Model and a Molinist Model. Tiessen closes the book with an additional model that combines the middle knowledge concept of the Molinist Model and a Calvinist Model, a position he’s modified a bit since the publication of this book.

One of the most helpful and creative aspects of this book is the hypothetical prayer meeting that Tiessen includes. A group of people are gathered to pray for a kidnapped missionary. Each chapter includes a hypothetical person who adheres to the chapter’s theological model and how they would pray.

PROVIDENCE AND PRAYER is a rare book that is really helpful, even if it doesn’t answer all my questions. Nevertheless, I’m glad Terrance Tiessen decided to take on this subject. It’s another great addition to anyone’s theological library.

I received this book for free for review from Intervarsity Press

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Review of the new SIGNS Series: EARTH from Erwin Raphael McManus

Photo Credit: David C. Cook

I discovered the creativity and spiritual catalyst that is Erwin McManus several years ago when his book SOUL CRAVINGS came out. Shortly after reading it I read all of his other books and began listening to the podcast of his church in LA called Mosaic. What I loved about Erwin McManus was that he clearly loves Jesus and loves leading people to know Jesus, but he’s also an incredibly creative guy. He’s a storyteller and innovator, which are two things I’ve always strived to be as well. So naturally McManus became someone I looked up to and felt I could learn from.

McManus continues to expand his creativity into filmmaking with his new series SIGNS which begins with EARTH. EARTH is a short film, just 10 minutes, that features McManus speaking to us in front a variety of barren landscape backdrops. Exploring King Solomon’s famous words, “Everything is meaningless…There is nothing new under the sun,” Erwin McManus takes us on a journey of the restorative creativity of God in redeeming humanity and creation to be more beautiful as he created them to be. Away from God life is meaningless, barren, purposeless, and hopeless, but with God life is full of adventure, creativity, and hope. EARTH is about the light of Jesus shining in the dark places of humanity and making things new.

EARTH is another perfect example of Erwin Mcmanus’ giftedness for creativity and capturing the essence of God’s message in a way that people can understand and embrace. Check out SIGNS: EARTH, and be encouraged to live in light of the new that God is doing.

I received this film for free for review from David C. Cook


Photo Credit: Michael Wiese Productions

When I was in high school my greatest dream was to become a Hollywood screenwriter. I envisioned going to film school and being successful. I loved writing scripts for my creative writing class in high school, and it was great practice. Though my love of writing never diminished, becoming a screenwriter was a massive dream that went into dormancy. However, as a hopefully ever-growing creative, writing scripts is still something I’d like to do someday as part of my writing portfolio.

That’s why I was really excited to pick up a screenwriting book by D.B. Gilles called THE SCREENWRITER WITHIN: NEW STRATEGIES TO FINISH YOUR SCREENPLAY & GET A DEAL. For anyone interested in becoming a screenwriter, this book is an incredibly helpful introduction to what it takes and what steps to take toward that career pursuit. Gilles breaks down the information in the book into five parts:

1. Storytelling
2. Characterization
3. Dialogue and Conflict
4. Finding Your Niche
5. Game Plans for the Business You’ve Chosen

I’ve read a lot of books on storytelling, and what I like about this book was the simple and helpful way Gilles described how to structure a story for a screenplay. He separates the standard three-act structure into what he calls “The Punctuation Theory of Screenwriting.” This is a really helpful concept in formulating a screenplay’s plot. Gilles gives really helpful information about high concepts, using life to find story ideas, developing the plot, and writing story outlines that become treatments that become screenplays.

His discussions of characterization and dialogue are spot on, and the book closes with some very practical tips and encouragement for aspiring screenwriter. Gilles doesn’t make light of what it takes to be a screenwriter, but he does encourage writers to develop thick skin and the perseverance to pursue writing a winning screenplay.

THE SCREENWRITER WITHIN is an easy read and comes in at only 235 pages. It’s a practical and realistic guide to screenwriting. I’d encourage anyone with a dream of writing a screenplay to pick it up and take Gilles’ advice.

I received this book for free for review from Michael Wiese Productions

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Review of THE THIRTEENTH TRIBE by Robert Liparulo

Photo Credit: Thomas Nelson

Robert Liparulo has created a story that takes us into the time of Moses and the betrayal of the Israelites in worshipping a golden calf and brings the consequences of that decision into the present day in an intriguing way. Liparulo has developed a captivating "what if" type of tale that imagines a group of forth of the Israelites who were dealt the punishment of immortality without the chance of ever seeing the face of God. Eternal separation forever on earth. This group has become the Thirteenth Tribe, and they're determined to earn their way back into God's favor by acting as his hand of judgment toward sinners. For 3,500 years they've been walking the earth and putting sinners to death.

Jagger Baird is a former army ranger who is thrust into the middle of the Thirteenth Tribe's plan to kill millions of people. Jagger must find a way to stop an enemy who is seemingly impossible to stop and safe his wife and kids, while desperately trying to find the faith he once had and lost.

Robert Liparulo is an incredible storyteller. I first discovered him when I picked up his first novel COMES A HORSEMAN. The premise for THE THIRTEENTH TRIBE is brilliant and the characters who make up the thirteenth tribe are incredibly well-developed. It's interesting to re-imagine biblical events through their eyes.

Jagger is a character haunted by the past and desperate to rebuild his life. His injuries make him real and a character we can identify with.

THE THIRTEENTH TRIBE is an incredible thriller that explores deep questions about the nature of God and forgiveness. As a reader and a storyteller I feel like I can learn much from reading Robert Liparulo. Can't wait to see what he has in store next.

I received this book for free for review from Thomas Nelson through BookSneeze