Monday, December 31, 2012

Review of THE BEST QUESTION EVER by Andy Stanley

Rating: 5 out of 5

In light of a new year coming up or at anytime you find yourself at a new beginning, it would be a good idea to have an effective and efficient method for making decisions. We all have decisions in our past that we regret, and we may even be suffering the consequences of some of those decisions. Andy Stanley's book THE BEST QUESTION EVER is a helpful look at how to make wise decisions.

Stanley has a way of laying out things clearly and honestly. The book encourages to evaluate decisions in light of past experience, present circumstances, and future hopes and dreams. Stanley gives measure for living a life and making decisions that are more than just "not wrong." Just because something isn't wrong doesn't mean we should do it. Instead, we should look for the wise thing to do.

THE BEST QUESTION EVER is about drawing upon God's wisdom and living a life with few regrets.

Review copy provided by Waterbrook Multnomah through Blogging for Books

Review of the upcoming ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MOVIE MAKING MASTER CLASS by Tony Lee Moral


5 out of 5

Alfred Hitchcock made a lot of great movies that have stood the test of time. I can’t say that I’ve seen very many of them, but I’m well aware of his influence on some of my favorite modern filmmakers. Tony Lee Moral takes the approach of learning about filmmaking by exploring Hitchcock's process and methods in his upcoming book ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MOVIE MAKING MASTER CLASS.

Though the book explores Hitchcock's movies, the strength of the book is that Moral uses Hitchcock's approach to filmmaking to communicate a comprehensive look at all aspects of filmmaking from the original idea to the finished product. Hitchcock was a very involved filmmaker and had input in all aspects of his film, and this translates well into teaching about the different aspects of filmmaking in the book.

Some of the aspects that are particularly helpful from a Hitchcockian standpoint are the use of camera angles, cutting your movie to increase suspense, and the use of music. But the book also discusses working with actors and stages of story development.

ALFRED HITCHCOCK'S MOVIE MAKING MASTER CLASS is just what the title says it is, and film makers can learn much from walking through Moral's book.

Advance Review Copy provided by Michael Wiese Productions

Review of THE PANEM COMPANION by V. Arrow

Rating: 5 out of 5

Right before The Hunger Games movie came out I decided to finally sit down and read the books, and they quickly became one of my favorite book series I've ever read. When you get caught in a book's narrative the way The Hunger Games pulls you in, you hate to leave that world you've come to know so well through the story. V. Arrow, creator of the most well-known fan map of Panem, has written an unofficial guide to the series called THE PANEM COMPANION.

THE PANEM COMPANION goes through the process of mapping out the land area of Panem and gives a full- color map of the world Suzanne Collins may have had in mind when she wrote the series. The book explores some of the common elements that fans find themselves interested in about Panem and delves deeper into possible answer's for things such as race and ethnicity in Panem, gender roles, the rebellion, Prim's parentage, and much more.

THE PANEM COMPANION is a great opportunity to journey back into the world of Panem and speculate about some of the themes and elements of The Hunger Games series.

Review copy provided by Smart Pop Books

Review of THE THINGS THAT MATTER by Nate Berkus

Rating: 4 out of 5

My wife Lindsey loves interior design and is really good designing spaces that look really visually appealing. So I wanted to check out Nate Berkus' newest book THE THINGS THAT MATTER. Berkus is one of the world's most recognized and celebrated interior designers.

The book is really a chronicle of his life and the people and things that have inspired and shaped his sense of style. It's not really a how-to book on how to do great interior design, but people can still learn from it.

Berkus takes us on a journey through his own home and the homes of some other people as well. The main point that he's trying to make is that the design of your home should tell a story about who you are, which is an idea that my wife loves. The book wasn't really type of book I get into, but people interested in interior design will probably find it interesting

Review copy provided by Spiegel and Grau


Rating: 5 out of 5

It’s hard to know what to tell your kids about Santa Claus when you want the Christmas holiday to be about focusing on Jesus, why he came, and what he ultimately did for us. Santa can be used to promote a lot of self-centered focus and ideas that Christmas is really Santa’s holiday rather than the time we celebrate the birth of God in the flesh. However, I’ve always known that the Santa Claus myth that we know today evolved from the story of a real man named Saint Nicholas of Myra, and it is this man that can teach us a lot about who Jesus is and what Christmas is about.

In his fantastic new book THE SAINT WHO WOULD BE SANTA CLAUS, Adam C. English takes us on an historical journey into the life of the real life Saint Nicholas, and it’s a truly interesting story. Saint Nicholas was a wise and humble Christian leader most known for rescuing three girls from prostitution by secretly delivering money in a small pouch through their window at night. Nicholas was instrumental in the church Council of Nicea and the destruction of the temple of Artemis in Myra.

Though some of the legends surrounding Nicholas are a little unbelievable, the book lays out a genuine story of a man committed to Christ and his desires for the world. English’s research is impeccable, making this surely the best book on the subject. There’s not much focus on the modern Santa Claus myth other than a brief look at Coca Cola’s role in shaping our ideas about him. The focus is really on the real man, and I have to recommend this as one of the most interesting books I’ve ever read on a historical figure.

Review copy provided by Baylor University Press

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Review of GOD AT WAR by Gregory A. Boyd

Rating: 4 out of 5

For a long time I’ve heard people say things about God that didn’t quite add up either logically or biblically concerning why evil exists in the world. Most people struggle with the idea of evil and suffering existing in a world created by and governed by a perfectly loving and powerful God, so it’s natural to want to try to reconcile how this can be true. Since the days of Augustine, the common solution has been the Greater Good Theodicy, which states that any evil event that happens, God allows to happen in order to bring about a greater good. In fact, in this scheme, evil is mysteriously a part of God’s plan without him being guilty of causing it. I began to question this idea because if God needs to allow an evil event in order to bring about a “greater” good, then that makes the evil event necessary. Put simply, God needs evil to bring about good. Put that way, it’s an appalling thought. A perfectly loving and powerful God couldn’t need evil to bring about his purposes. Yet evil still exists, and Christians still believe that God is perfectly loving and powerful. So how do we reconcile these two truths?

In GOD AT WAR, theologian and pastor Gregory A. Boyd spends considerable time tearing down the biblical inconsistency of the Greater Good Theodicy. Though I don’t agree with Boyd’s stance on God’s foreknowledge (Boyd is an open theist), I found this book to be incredibly illuminating about the nature of the world we live in and how evil exists within it while God is perfectly loving and powerful.

Boyd proposes a warfare worldview, that we live in a universe that is at war, between God is who is good and beings he created that started out good but went bad of their own free will. Boyd takes us on an exploration of key texts in both the Old and New Testaments to show that beings endowed with creaturely free will often do things that are in opposition to God’s desires, and God allows this, not to bring about a greater good, but because he created a world of free creatures who, in many ways, can do what they want. Of course, God isn’t just standing idly by while people are suffering. God is very active in the world to eradicate evil, but his desire in the beginning was to work through people. Therefore, God works in people and through people to eradicate evil.

Boyd shows how fallen angels have free will and make decisions and take actions that are often harmful to us as human beings. God is at war with these beings, and this presents the warfare worldview. We shouldn’t think that Boyd is presenting a weak God, but a God who deeply loves his creation and can do anything he wants yet chooses to work within the created order he instituted.

GOD AT WAR is a thorough book with many endnotes. This is very helpful for doing deeper study. Body cares much about people and how God is presented to them. I really appreciated this book and its accurate portrayal of a warfare worldview.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press


The BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO DIGITAL PAINTING IN PHOTOSHOP begins with an introduction describing the role of digital painters as concept artists for the visual elements we see in movies and video games. But even before that we’re introduced to some visually stunning images on the front cover of examples of digital painting. The book is designed for someone with no experience in digital painting or using Photoshop who wants to learn how to create incredible art through digital painting.

The book features step-by-step tutorials on how to set up Photoshop, including all the settings you need to be aware of in order to get the most out of the program. You’re introduced to the Photoshop workspace and how to actually put lines and color onto a digital canvas. The book is really a collection of essays by some of the world’s best digital painting experts on topics such as the different elements of art fundamentals, painting sci-fi, using photographs, and a look through some actual digital painting projects.

The book includes some great visual illustrations throughout that give beginners a level of quality in digital painting to strive for. It also shows what artistic capabilities are possible and what can be accomplished. It’s all very technical and will take a lot of patience, but it’s a great intro to digital painting using Photoshop.

Review copy provided by 3DTotal Publishing

Thursday, December 27, 2012


Rating: 5 out of 5

I’ve been really interested in the Molinist approach to describing God’s foreknowledge and providence in the last couple of years because it claims to be a way to preserve both God’s complete and meticulous sovereignty and genuine libertarian human freedom.

Thomas P. Flint, a professor of Philosophy at Notre Dame, has written what is probably the most authoritative and thorough book on the subject of Molinism. The book is called DIVINE PROVIDENCE: THE MOLINIST ACCOUNT. Flint begins the book by affirming from Scripture both divine providence and human freedom. He then launches into the argument developed by sixteenth-century Jesuit theologian Luis de Molina to describe how both of these could be true. Molina suggested that God’s knowledge was divided into three logical moments. In the first moment, God’s natural knowledge is his pre-volitional knowledge of all possibilities. For example, God knew before creation all the possible things and people he could create. Skipping ahead to the third moment, God’s free knowledge is his exhaustive and entirely accurate knowledge of the past, present, and future of the world he has created. Molina suggested a middle moment in God’s knowledge. In God’s middle knowledge God knew all the free choices all the people he could create would make in any set of circumstances. This included the entire causal history up to the point of the choice to be made, so clearly God’s middle knowledge is infinitely vast. Based on this middle knowledge, which was pre-volitional, God chose and planned out the world he wanted to create. This way man’s free choices were factored in to his creation. God can govern the world through his omniscience and human freedom is preserved.

Though it seems to me that God still ultimately in this system decides beforehand each of the “free” choices people will make, I must say that Flint makes a great argument and this view has many merits to it. Though I don’t agree with all of it, I think it’s getting close.

The book is thorough and can get a bit confusing at times, especially when Flint starts talking about possible worlds and possible galaxies of worlds. Molinism has always been controversial, and Flint takes some time to discuss why he believes some of the common arguments against Molinism don’t hold up.

Finally, and this is where the strength of this book lies over others, Flint goes into some practical implications of the Molinist system. I’m not Catholic, so the chapter on Papal Infallibility wasn’t applicable to me, but the chapters on prophecy, unanswered prayers, and praying for things to happen were very illuminating on the possibilities of how God’s providence could work if Molinism were true.

I thought this book was very helpful to me as someone interested in all the aspects of what Molinism is about. If you’re interested in what this theological system looks like in comparison to Calvinism and Arminianism, this is a great book to read and wrestle through.

Review copy provided by Cornell University Press

Monday, December 17, 2012

Early Review of HURT by Travis Thrasher


Photo Credit: David C. Cook

Rating: 5 out of 5

Rating: 5 out of 5

Chris Buckley’s life has been strange and relentlessly tragic since he first arrived in Solitary, North Carolina. He’s watched people die, and he’s learned that some people think he’s something important. Dark forces that work beneath the surface of Solitary’s strange enough exterior are determined to draw Chris into their plans for evil and power. But Chris’s heart is being pursued by good just as much as it is being pursued by evil, and Chris must fight for what he loves most before he has to watch more people die. A girl named Kelsey has captured his heart, but can he rescue her from Solitary’s consuming darkness before it’s too late? Or will his tragic history repeat itself once again?

HURT is the final book in Travis Thrasher’s young adult series The Solitary Tales. With a story whose scope has been as big as the first three books have built it to be, I held a lot of expectation going into the conclusion of the story. With every page I felt drawn to an epic conclusion where questions would be answered and hope for the characters’ futures would be realized. And with every page the reality of Chris’ situation looked more and more bleak. If Thrasher has taught us one thing with the story of The Solitary Tales, it is that no one is safe. There are no guarantees that your favorite characters will make it to the end in one piece. So you read, not quite sure where this story is going to end up and if happiness is even possible in the midst of Solitary.

I loved the three previous books leading up to this one, but this one was by far my favorite. It was clear that the other books were leading up to this one, that this final act was what the story was all about, and I was almost completely satisfied with the conclusion. I say almost completely satisfied because I closed the book wanting more, wishing that the story wasn’t over, and hoping that this wasn’t the last I would read about the characters in The Solitary Tales.

Travis Thrasher has created a story that is creepy and beautifully redemptive. It is as much about Chris Buckley’s journey of his discovery of a loving God who battles against the darkness as it is about his discovery of Solitary’s secrets and his connection to them. Young adults and adults alike will find a compelling and suspenseful story in The Solitary Tales.

Review copy provided by David C. Cook

Friday, December 14, 2012

Review of MULTIPLY by Francis Chan

Rating: 5 out of 5

Francis Chan has become a voice in my own life for passionate pursuit of Jesus and deep commitment to reading the Scriptures. Together with Mark Beuving, Chan dives into the important topic of discipleship with MULTIPLY: DISCIPLES MAKING DISCIPLES. MULTIPLY is more than just a book; it is a series of study sessions designed to walk believers through God’s plan for discipleship and making new disciples. The book is all about encouraging believers to be the kind of disciples who make more disciples because this is the mandate that Jesus left us with.

Chan launches into the book with an exploration of what a disciple is and the kind of heart the disciple is to have. It’s a beautiful journey through what it means to love and follow Jesus and being an example to other people of what that looks like. The second part of the book covers the vital need for the disciple to be a part of a faith community and the role of the church in the world for making disciples. Part three walks believers through how to study the Bible for themselves and understand it. Finally, the book gives an overview of the Bible’s overall narrative.

MULTIPLY is a much-needed resource for helping Christians understand their biblical calling in life. The book states at the beginning that this material isn’t merely to be read, but to be taught. Chan and Beuving clearly desire to encourage Christians to be disciples and make more disciples, carrying on Jesus’ work in their lives. MULTIPLY is one book that needs to be in the hands of every believer.

Review copy provided by David C. Cool

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Review of HTML & CSS by Jon Duckett

Rating: 5 out of 5

HTML & CSS by Jon Duckett is an incredibly helpful guide to website design for the absolute beginner. Websites are one of the most important ways for people and businesses to create a platform to get their information out to people, and knowing how to design a website is a valuable asset. Duckett has written a clear and easy-to-understand guide that will give anyone the information they need to begin designing their own websites or getting the most out of their blogging platform software.

The book is divided into two parts. The first part covers HTML and the second part goes into the more visual design that goes into a website through CSS. The layout is perfect and very helpful both for retaining the information and flipping back through the book to refresh on certain elements you may have forgotten. Duckett gives the reader the most up-to-date code available in HTML5, but also goes over some of the older code that you might run into.

For anyone who dreams of designing and building websites, but worries it might be too difficult, HTML & CSS should remove much of that hesitation. I’m excited to start using the things I’ve learned in this book to start designing and building websites, and especially for my blogging.

Review copy provided by Wiley


Rating: 4 out of 5

BRYAN HITCH’S ULTIMATE COMICS STUDIO by comic book artist Bryan Hitch is an inside-look at how comic books are made. Though not a step-by-step instructional book on how to draw comics, Hitch does provide some great tips and a look at his own process, so that even a beginner could learn something from it.

I love how Hitch sees himself not primarily as an artist, but as a storyteller. He states that drawing and everything that goes into creating the images for comic books is in service to the story. Hitch looks at going from script to drawing and describes how to achieve certain rhythms in your drawings for storytelling.

The book contains some insightful explorations of all the key elements in the comic book-making process, including drawing, inking, and coloring, and he even gives some advice on the business end of how to break into comics.

If you love comic books or you’re interested in becoming a comic book artist yourself, BRYAN HITCH’S ULTIMATE COMICS STUDIO is a book to check out and learn from.

Review copy provided by FW Media

Monday, December 10, 2012

Review of THOUGHTS TO MAKE YOUR HEART SING by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Photo Credit: Zondervan

Rating: 5 out of 5

THOUGHTS TO MAKE YOUR HEART SING is the follow-up to Sally Lloyd-Jones’ groundbreaking JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE. What the previous book did to give children a Christ-centered narrative covering the whole Bible, this new book acts as a collection of devotional thoughts to guide children to cultivate their relationship with Jesus. Combined with the beautiful artwork of Jago, THOUGHTS TO MAKE YOUR HEART SING is a great companion to the JESUS STORYBOOK BIBLE in drawing children into a growing knowledge of and relationship with Jesus.

The foreword to the book was written by Timothy Keller and he describes the book as “the best, first introduction for children to have their own time with Jesus.” I love this book because of its focus on encouraging children to have their own time with Jesus. I have three small children, and this is something my wife and I want to cultivate in our children early. This book is the perfect resource and really meets that need in our lives.

My children love THOUGHTS TO MAKE YOUR HEART SING, and my daughter calls it her “very own Jesus book.” The devotional thoughts and the artwork included with each one are great for drawing my children’s attention. If you have children, this book will be a great addition to helping you disciple your own children to know and love Jesus.

Review copy provided by Zondervan Publishing


Rating:4 out of 5

Stan Lee is an iconic figure in the comic book industry, most known for comic book characters such as Spider-Man. If you’ve seen any of the Spider-Man movies, you’ve seen Stan Lee at least once. Comic books are an interesting visual storytelling medium, and I’ve always been a fan of comic book heroes. STAN LEE’S HOW TO DRAW COMICS is a great book for anyone interested in entering the comic book world.

The book covers many basics of drawing specifically for comic books, from the tools you’ll need, to drawing figures, to drawing backgrounds, to inking, lettering, and coloring your comic book artwork. The book features many step-by-step lessons on how to draw things like anatomy, character costumes, and backgrounds. It includes the artwork of many prominent comic book artists and focuses on the characters of Marvel Comics.

I’ve read quite a few books on drawing comics, and this one is good. I especially found the section on coloring comics helpful. If you want to start drawing comics, then this book will give you the steps to start right away.

Review copy provided by Watson-Guptill

Sunday, December 9, 2012


Rating:5 out of 5

DRAWING BASICS AND VIDEO GAME ART by Chris Solarski is really one of the coolest books I’ve ever come across. I’m not a huge gamer, but I think video game art is really visually stunning. It’s incredible what kind of artwork video game artists have been able to get across as technology has progressed over the years. DRAWING BASICS AND VIDEO GAME ART is an interesting book because it is both a drawing how-to book and an exploration of video game art specifically. Solarski proposes that video game artists approach art the way any artist has ever approached creating visual art.

What I really appreciated about this book is the very basics it gives of drawing, so it is ideal for a beginner. Solarski covers how to hold a pencil, the kind of marks you make, perspective, drawing figures and landscapes. Everything you need to know to draw in general and for video game art specifically. After covering drawing basics, Solarski looks at the concepts of character design and creating environments for video games, followed by applying color to your artwork.

DRAWING BASICS AND VIDEO GAME ART is written by a video game artist and designed for aspiring video game artists, but it’s a great book for anyone interested in drawing. Graphic designers would also greatly benefit from this book. I’ve been quickly sitting down with pencil and paper and working through the lessons of this book.

Review copy provided by Watson-Guptill