Thursday, January 31, 2013

Review of ISCARIOT by Tosca Lee

Photo Credit: Howard Books

Rating: 5 out of 5

Judas Iscariot has been known as possibly the greatest betrayer in all of history, having handed Jesus over to the Jewish authorities for thirty pieces of silver. This was followed by a very tragic end. But Judas is undoubtedly an enigmatic character on the pages of history. Though Jesus knew he would betray him, he chose Judas as one of his inner circle, the twelve disciples. The Scriptures record Jesus calling him friend. What would drive this man to betray a man who devoted so much of his time and affection toward him? Who was Judas? And what did Jesus look like in Judas’ and the other disciples’ eyes? What would we have done in that situation?

Tosca Lee, in her latest novel ISCARIOT, explores many of those questions and paints an incredibly stirring and reflective picture of not only Judas Iscariot, but Jesus himself. Through thorough research of first-century Palestine and what history reveals about the man Judas, Lee weaves a thought-provoking tale of a man who loved Jesus greatly, yet greatly misunderstood what he came to do.

The story is told in first-person from Judas’ point-of-view. Lee take’s some creative license in filling in some gaps in Judas’ history, but does a fantastic job of showing what Judas may have been like and why he may have done what he did. Lee’s knowledge of the Scriptures and history are impressive and give the novel a great sense of authenticity.
I was greatly impacted this story because it forced me to see Jesus in a new light, or really an old light because Lee helps us to see what following Jesus must have felt like for his disciples. The reality for them was that following him was dangerous. Jesus himself was dangerous in the way that he challenged the religious leaders. And he was always going against people’s expectations of what he should do and what he should be like. In doing this, we’re put in the position of understanding that we might’ve done the same thing.

I grew in my love and respect for Jesus by reading this novel. ISCARIOT is a unique story, and it will be one that stays with me for a long time.

Review copy provided by Howard Books

Review of LEAD WITH A STORY by Paul Smith

Rating: 5 out of 5

LEAD WITH A STORY by Paul Smith is a book about using storytelling in a leadership context. Smith explores the role of storytelling as it has become a viable leadership method in the business world after a time of being a method people commonly avoided as out of place. Smith shows how storytelling works for a leader by helping those being led with understanding and creating motivation to take action.

Each chapter looks at a specific leadership challenge (21 in all) and illustrates how storytelling is used to navigate those challenges. Each chapter was good because uses actual stories to make his point. I especially appreciated the chapters on creating courage and shaping culture. In addition to the leadership challenges, Smith intersperses some chapters on story theory specifically suited to creating leadership narratives.

I've read a lot of leadership books, but because of my love of story, this has to be one of the best I've read. I can't wait to put some of this into practice.

Review copy provided by AMACOM

Monday, January 28, 2013

Review of THE RECORDING ENGINEER’S HANDBOOK Second Edition by Bobby Owsinki

Photo Credit: Course Technology PTR

Rating: 4 out of 5

If you’re into recording your own music or the music of others, it’s good to know some effective techniques for getting the best recorded sound you can. THE RECORDING ENGINEER’S HANDBOOK Second Edition by Bobby Owsinki is a full-length book guide packed with techniques for getting the most out of your recording production experience.

Owsinki begins by covering microphone basics, which is vital for the recording engineer, then he gives an overview of some of the microphones most preferred by engineers. After going over some basics of recording tracks, the real advantage of this handbook is the section on miking individual instruments. The instruments are listed in alphabetical order, and Owsinki gives some helpful tips on mic placement and how to get the best recorded sound from each instrument. It would be great to take in all the information in this section because it will be very helpful for you in the studio.

Some further inclusions in this handbook are surround miking and some great interviews with accomplished recording engineers giving more helpful tips. THE RECORDING ENGINEER’S HANDBOOK is a really helpful book for getting a great recorded sound during recording sessions.

Review copy provided by Course Technology PTR

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Review of PRO TOOLS 101: AN INTRODUCTION TO PRO TOOLS 10 by Frank D. Cook

Photo Credit: Course Technology PTR

Rating: 5 out of 5

In college I studied recording production and had the great opportunity of learning how to use Pro Tools for recording. It’s been a few years since I studied, so I was interested in keeping my knowledge of Pro Tools up-to-date. PRO TOOLS 101: AN INTRODUCTION TO PRO TOOLS 10 by Frank D. Cook is the official textbook for training in the newest Pro Tools systems. Having read a previous Pro Tools textbook, I can say that I feel this one is better designed and formatted and perfect for anyone wanting to learn how to record on one of the world’s most used and well-known systems.

Pro Tools is such a fun production tool to use. From recording tracks, composing MIDI tracks, mixing, and effects processing, to even importing video and editing the sound and music for it right inside of Pro Tools, it’s a tool built for creativity. After an introduction explaining how to use the book, Cook launches into Part 1, which describes what Pro Tools is and everything you need to know to use the Pro Tools workspace. This information is vital and foundational to being successful with the rest of the training in the book.

Part 2 launches into recording sessions in Pro Tools and working with tracks, MIDI, editing, and mixing. Part 3 puts the concepts in Part into practice by providing hands-on projects to work through. I haven’t had a chance to go through these yet, but I’m sure they’re going to be very helpful. Part 4 covers how to get certified in Pro Tools. The book includes a DVD/DVD-ROM with tutorials and all the files needed for the hands-on projects. PRO TOOLS 101 is a great opportunity for anyone to learn recording production with a great system.

Review copy provided by Course Technology PTR

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Review of the GUITAR FOR KIDS GUITAR METHOD by Bob Morris & Jeff Schroedl

Photo Credit: Hal Leonard

Rating: 5 out of 5

For awhile I've wanted to find a really good resource to teach my young children how to play guitar. The GUITAR FOR KIDS GUITAR METHOD by Bob Morris and Jeff Schroedl is a Hal Leonard Guitar Method, and it's one of the only guitar method books I've come across designed specifically for kids.

The book starts with all the standard info of how to hold the guitar and how to hold the pick, as well as what's what on the guitar. But what I love about this book is the starting point for kids to learn the guitar. Instead of starting with full chords, the book starts with simple 3-string 1-finger chords. After learning a couple of those chords, my kids can start switching between them and with the teacher's melodies played along, they can feel like they're making music. In fact, the book includes snippets of popular songs throughout to help kids learn actual music. There's even a CD with tracks of each of the exercises so they'll know what the exercises are supposed to sound like, and they can play along.

After learning a few chords they begin learning notes and melodies. By the end of the method they'll be playing songs in the included songbook. I was really excited about this book, and I think it's a great resource for teaching children how to play the guitar.

To purchase this book, head to Music Dispatch or your local music store.

Review copy provided by Hal Leonard Books


Photo Credit: Hal Leonard

Rating: 5 out of 5

I've been playing guitar for several years and, like nearly any guitar player, I love playing guitar solos. I've spent a lot of time learning scales, licks, and I've been able to play some things well, but I'm nowhere near where I want to be. I've been going through a new guitar technique book that I'm finding to be really helpful. The GUITARIST'S GUIDE TO SCALES OVER CHORDS by Chad Johnson is a resource any guitar player, no matter where they are in their proficiency, could seriously benefit from.

The book starts with the vital foundation of the major scale, how this scale is built, and this is integral to knowing how the rest of the scales presented in the book are formed. You'll learn how chord progressions work, scale positions all over the fretboard for each of the scales and modes, and most importantly, how to apply scales over chord progressions.

This book puts you in a position to have a lot to work from when it comes time to "improvise" a solo. The book even includes a CD with the tracks panned left and right to help you learn the exercises in the book, as well as play over the chord progressions on the CD.

The book is well-structured and should help anyone improve as a player. I've read a lot of guitar technique books, but this is definitely one of the most helpful I've come across.

To purchase this book, head to Music Dispatch or your local music store.

Review copy provided by Hal Leonard Books

Review of TOTAL ROCK GUITAR by Troy Stetina

Photo Credit: Hal Leonard

Rating: 5 out of 5

Troy Stetina is one of the foremost guitar instructors in the world when it comes to rock guitar. Of course, not everyone can have the opportunity to learn from Stetina face-to-face. Fortunately, he's written several guitar instruction books, and TOTAL ROCK GUITAR is one of his best because of the way he covers several different rock styles.

After a very helpful section on getting a great rock guitar tone, Stetina launches into the first of 22 lessons that progressively introduce more and more difficult techniques. The book covers rock rhythms, single-note riffs, arpeggios, and many soloing techniques. The included CD, all tracks played and recorded by Stetina himself, has the tracks for each lesson included to help players learn to get the sound correct.

Probably the strongest part of this book is that each lesson contains a song composed specifically for the book by Stetina that puts the lessons' concepts into practice. This gives players the opportunity to learn some real music that sounds good and helps to learn technique at the same time.

When I suggest a guitar method for anyone wanting to learn rock guitar, the first book I point to is TOTAL ROCK GUITAR by Troy Stetina.

Review of reviewer's personal copy

Review of 1 & 2 Thessalonians in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary of the New Testament by Gary S. Shogren

Photo Credit: Zondervan

Rating: 5 out of 5

With any Bible commentary that I review, I try to focus on the areas where I've wrestled the most and had the most questions during my faith journey. With Gary S. Shogren's commentary of 1st and 2nd Thessalonians in the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, my focus was on what Shogren had to say about Paul's eschatology. All that to say that what I appreciated most was Shogren's handling of Christ's return and the gathering of the saints in 1 Thessalonians 4 and his discussion of the Man of Lawlessness in 2 Thessalonians.

When I first became a follower of Jesus, the Left Behind series of books were highly popular and I quickly subscribed to a pre-tribulational rapture interpretation of 1 Thessalonians 4. It wasn't long before I starred to see some inconsistencies with this view from a biblical standpoint. Shogren handles the issue carefully and without any disrespect to those who hold to the dispensational view. He shows, from looking at the Greek text, that Paul was describing Christ's return at the end of the age, after the Man of Lawlessness is revealed, when Jesus gathers all his people and then establishes his earthly eternal kingdom. Because I've wrestled with this for some time, I found this part of the commentary fascinating and enlightening.

I also appreciate Shogren's writing style and the way he presents various viewpoints before outlining why he believes one is more plausible than the others. The introduction is enlightening as well as he describes how the Thessalonian church came about and how the letters of Paul to them came about. I highly recommend this commentary for anyone studying Paul's letters to the Thessalonians.

Review copy provided by Zondervan

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Review of EVERY GOOD ENDEAVOR by Tim Keller

Rating: 5 out of 5

I love everything that Tim Keller writes because he has a way of applying the gospel to real everyday matters of life like no one else I’ve heard or read. In his latest book EVERY GOOD ENDEAVOR, he with co-author Katherine Leary Alsdorf tackle that biblical perspective of work. Specifically, the book looks at the integration of faith and work.

Keller strives to give people a perception of work as a good thing designed by God for a good purpose. Many people think of work as a bad thing, perhaps a result of the fall. It often feels like a necessary evil and something we dread going to each day. But Keller shows the biblical framework of work as cultivation. God is creator, and he created us to be creators. We create culture and promote human flourishing through our work when it’s done in a faith-driven way.

Yet there are some side effects of the fall when it comes to work, and Keller tackles some of the things that we often experience with our work such as fruitlessness, pointlessness, selfishness, and idolatry.

Then in true Keller fashion, the book applies the gospel narrative to work. The gospel gives us a new story with new motivations. We don’t work to find our identity or our meaning. We work because God has called us to work. We choose career paths that fit our unique giftedness, but also move us on the journey of cultural cultivation that God designed work for.

EVERY GOOD ENDEAVOR is a brilliant book that anyone would should read to be encouraged by God’s plan for work. It may convince you to do some things different. It may convince you your in the wrong line of work. Or it may convince you you’re right where God wants you to be. The message of this book is greatly needed to understand our role as cultivators in our world.

Review copy provided by Dutton Books

Review of SONG OF THE STARS by Sally Lloyd-Jones

Rating: 5 out of 5

I have three young children and they’re getting to the ages where they get really excited about Christmas. My wife and I love the opportunity to give gifts to our children, but we also want to be very intentional about communicating what Christmas is really about. We’ve grown to love the children’s works of Sally Lloyd-Jones, and we were excited to read her Christmas book SONG OF THE STARS to our children in hopes of having it be a yearly tradition for our children.

The book is beautfilly written in the way that Lloyd-Jones knows how to pick words that communicate the incredible impact of what happened the first Christmas. The book is equally beautifully illustrated by Allison Jay. The book is a creation-oriented celebration of God coming into the world as a baby, and the illustrations show creation awaiting God’s arrival.

My kids loved the book, and we’re excited to use it to communicate the expectation we should feel about Christmas because Christ came.

Review copy provided by ZonderKidz

Monday, January 21, 2013

Review of THE ART OF EXPLANATION by Lee LeFever

Photo Credit: Wiley

Rating: 5 out of 5

THE ART OF EXPLANATION by Lee LeFever is a book that I got really excited about because it tackles the subject of explanation and the need to explain things so that people understand and are moved to action. A few years ago I started to get the sense about the need for better explanations when I noticed that convincing people to take action on something important didn’t seem to produce the desired action. I sensed it was because our explanations didn’t create any motivation for taking action.

LeFever explains it perfectly in THE ART OF EXPLANATION. Explanations that help people understand and cause them to care start with why, or as he says, the forest before the trees. LeFever spends considerable time walking us through the types of explanations that cause people to care about what you’re explaining. He explains his process that he uses for the video explanation production company he founded Common Craft. There are even video examples you can look at.

With helpful visual illustrations, packaging tips, and tips for presenting your explanations, I would have to say THE ART OF EXPLANATION is one of the most practically beneficial books I’ve read when it comes to communicating ideas.

Review copy provided by Wiley Books

Friday, January 18, 2013

Review of THE KINGDOM OF GOD edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson

Rating: 5 out of 5

For the last several years that I’ve been a follower of Jesus, one of the main topics I’ve been most interested in is the Kingdom of God. The subject of the Kingdom of God is taught about throughout the entire Bible. Jesus talked about it more than anyone, and the disciples taught as if the goal of the gospel was humanity’s reconciliation to the Kingdom of God.

I was really excited when Crossway released THE KINGDOM OF GOD edited by Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. It is one of the most thorough and enjoyable books on the subject that I’ve read. With contributions from several biblical scholars that I’ve come to respect, the book explores the many places in both the Old Testament and the New Testament where the Kingdom of God is mentioned and elaborated on.

My favorite part was the exploration of the New Testament and Jesus’ parables specifically on what Jesus and his followers were communicating about the Kingdom of God. I also enjoyed the chapter on the Kingdom of God and eschatology, which is what people think of most often in relation to God’s Kingdom. The book also explores the church in relation to the Kingdom and implications for the teaching about the Kingdom of God for Christians today.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD is a great book if you’re interested in looking at what the Bible communicates about the all-important subject of God’s Kingdom.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books

Monday, January 14, 2013

Review of THE ICARUS DECEPTION by Seth Godin

Rating: 4 out of 5

In THE ICARUS DECEPTION, revolutionary business thinker Seth Godin seeks to call people to a life of being genuinely human. To be genuinely human is to be an artist, Godin says.

Industrialization and standardization have lulled people into being cogs in a machine, always doing what they’re told and never thinking outside the box. Godin exposes a system that has people doing their job, but never really making a difference because they offer nothing unique of themselves to the world. But he also describes a world that has been changing. He describes a Connection Economy where artists share something unique and genuine of themselves for the betterment of the world.

In Godin’s mind, everyone is an artist. You don’t have to be a painter, or a writer, or any of the other things you often think of when you think of an artist. People are inherently creators, and if the artist inside of all of us isn’t choked out of us when we’re young, then being an artist will be foundational to who we are. We create by producing something that we can share and make others lives better.

THE ICARUS DECEPTION is a manifesto with page after page of motivational thoughts calling people to embrace their unique giftedness and share it with the world. Much like his earlier book LINCHPIN, this book is a call for people to become indispensible. It’s an invitation to see the world differently and understand how it needs people to be creators.

Review copy provided by Portfolio Hardcover

Review of THE IMPACT EQUATION by Chris Brogan & Julien Smith

Rating: 4 out of 5

Chris Brogan and Julien Smith have proven to be skilled at coming up with great ideas and making those ideas have the widest possible reach and impact. But how do they do it? In THE IMPACT EQUATION Brogan and Smith outline the elements an idea needs to truly make an impact. Using what they call the Impact Equation the authors have created a helpful acronym (CREATE) to communicate the elements needed to make an impact. The elements are:


The book is really helpful as the authors use personal stories and examples from their successes to communicate about the importance of platform, originality, and the all-important human element to making an impact. If you're an idea person, THE IMPACT EQUATION will give you plenty of ideas to widen your impact.

Review copy provided by Portfolio Hardcover

Friday, January 11, 2013

Blog Tour Review of J.R.R. TOLKIEN: THE MAKING OF A LEGEND by Colin Duriez

J.R.R. Tolkien has become a well-known, a legend even, because of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit and the movies depicting those two stories. His imaginative mind created an unforgettable world made more believable through its carefully crafted history and languages. It’s always interesting to look at the life of an author to try to understand where their brilliant ideas might have come from, and that is especially the case with Tolkien because of the scope of his work. In his book J.R.R. TOLKIEN: THE MAKING OF A LEGEND, Colin Duriez takes readers on a journey through the life of Tolkien to help us understand the mind of this scholar and literary genius.

It’s interesting to read how this man with humble beginnings became such a well-known figure in literature, creating stories that tap into the nature of humanity as well as the very real conflict between good and evil and hopes for redemption. Tolkien is unique in his formation of the languages for his work. One of the most interesting areas of his life for me was his deep friendship with C.S. Lewis because Lewis is one of my favorite thinkers of all time.

The book is a great biographical depiction of Tolkien’s life and captures some really meaningful moments from the man’s life. If you want to know more about Tolkien, this is the book to go to.

Review copy provided by Kregel Books

Monday, January 7, 2013

Review of JOHN WESLEY'S TEACHINGS VOLUMES 1 & 2 by Thomas Oden

Rating: 5 out of 5

John Wesley is one of the most well-known Christian leaders and thinkers in church history, Christian leaders and theologians in church history, the inspiration of many church traditions such as Methodist, Wesleyan, the Salvation Army, and the Church of the Nazarene. He wrote an incredible amount of work on Christian teaching during his sixty years of ministry, and in his new series JOHN WESLEY’S TEACHINGS, Thomas C. Oden seeks to systemize and make available for the modern reader just exactly what Wesley taught concerning doctrines such as God’s attributes, providence and human freedom, sanctification, Christ, pastoral ministry, Christians, and many others.

Wesley never wrote a systematic theology, so he has often been accused of having many internal inconsistencies in his wide body of teaching. Oden’s new series seeks to show that Wesley’s teachings were consistent and coherent. Relying on the texts of Wesley’s teachings, Oden organizes the material systematically and conveying in modern language what Wesley taught in a way that people can clearly understand. For example, the first book in the series covers God and Providence, and it looks at God’s attributes, creation of man, theodicy, original sin, the role of experience, idolatry, etc. Oden breaks down Wesley’s teachings on these doctrines in easy-to-read chunks with helpful headings to give us a heads up on what we’re about to read. Oden also makes us aware of the specific Wesley texts where these teachings are found.

My own interest in Wesley’s teachings center on God’s providence, so the first volume is very enlightening concerning Wesley’s position on human free will, the free-will defense, and God’s foreknowledge. However, the second volume Christ and Salvation continues looking into Wesley’s theological stances concerning predestination, Christ’s work, justification by faith, and perhaps what Wesley is known most for, Sanctification.

Both volumes are spiritually enlightening as well as intellectually stimulating. They’ll surely benefit anyone interested in theology and specifically provide clarity on Wesley’s own thoughts.

Review copies provided by Zondervan

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Review of 20,000 DAYS AND COUNTING by Robert D. Smith

Rating: 4 out of 5

What would you do if you realized you had already lived 20,000 days of your life? Would you look back on your life with pride or regret? Robert D. Smith realized one day that he had been alive for nearly 20,000 days, and though he didn’t look back on his life with a lot of regrets, he realized that he still had much to do with his life. So he took a trip away and set out to plan the next 20,000 days of his life. In his new book 20,000 DAYS AND COUNTING, Smith takes readers on a journey through his process of planning his next 20,000 days and provide helpful and hopeful advice to readers along the way.

20,000 DAYS AND COUNTING is a short motivational book for people to find purpose and clarity in their lives. (I hesitate to use the word “motivation” because of the chapters in the book is called “Motivation is a Myth.”) Smith encourages readers to live each day as if it were there last, pursuing things with intensity, having a clear vision of where you want to be, and answering pointed question to design your life’s story.

The book reads really quickly. As I was reading, I didn’t even realize that I was almost finished with the book until I closed it and saw where my bookmark was. The book is good. The encouragement is helpful. The only drawback I had to the book was that it wasn’t anything I hadn’t read before. By now there have been so many books like this one that it almost seems common sense on how to live a purposeful life. But Smith’s stories are unique, and it was an enjoyable read.

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson through the BookSneeze reviewer program

Review of Zondervan's THEOLOGIAN TRADING CARDS developed by Norman Jeune III

Photo Credit: Zondervan

Rating: 5 out of 5

Zondervan’s new THEOLOGIAN TRADING CARDS are a unique approach to learning about the most outspoken and influential theologians in church history. I loved collecting baseball and football cards of my favorite players when I was younger, and these cards take that baseball trading card concept and apply it to theology geeks like me. Developed by Norman Jeune III, there almost 300 trading cards that span the beginning of church history to modern day and take a look at theologians who were orthodox in their theology and even the most prominent heretics church history has known. For example, not only do you have a card on Saint Augustine, but you also have a card of his most famous theological opponent Pelagius.

Each card features a theological figure in church history with some brief biographical information, followed by what made this figure significant enough to be mentioned. This may include their teachings, whether orthodox or heretic, or their most well-known writings. The cards are divided up into some cleverly titled teams to further give you the baseball trading card feel.

When I first heard about the THEOLOGIAN TRAIDING CARDS, I have to confess I thought it was a ridiculous idea. But the more I heard about them, the more I wanted to check them out for myself. I have to say that I love these cards. I love reading about Calvin, Arminius, Luis de Molina, Augustine, and a host of other prominent figures in church history. The box the cards come in touts the cards as, “A fun way to learn Church History and Theology.” It’s a very accurate description.

Review copy provided by Zondervan