Thursday, December 25, 2014

Review of JESUS, CONTINUED... by J.D. Greear

Many Christians struggle with the idea that if Jesus were actually present in their lives, then they'd find living him for much more doable. Of course, the disciples of Jesus lived with him right in front of them and still struggled to understand him and do what he wanted them to do. Jesus himself made a surprising statement before his death. He said that it would be better for the disciples if he left because then the Holy Spirit would come and lead them to all truth.

That's the focus of J.D. Greear's new book JESUS, CONTINUED... In the book, Greear looks at what the Bible teaches about the Holy Spirit. This is important because most talk of the Holy Spirit either goes to extremes of an overemphasis on spiritual gifts or a complete ignorance of him altogether. Greear shows the vital work that the Holy Spirit does in the world and in the lives of believers. He gives a clear understanding of the Holy Spirit's divinity and how people can recognize the Spirit's work in their lives.

Greear's book has a great section on spiritual gifts that is helpful in the midst of what can often lead to messed-up theology. By the time you finish with the book, you'll understand that the Holy Spirit finishes what Jesus starts in the lives of believers.

Review copy provided by Book Look Bloggers

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Review of STATION ELEVEN by Emily St. John Mandel

On the night a famous Hollywood actor dies on stage while performing Shakespeare's King Lear and in a moment that none of the world expects, a new strain of flu begins to rapidly spread across the globe, wiping out 99% of the population of the world in just a few weeks. Twenty years later, a band of survivors who call themselves The Traveling Symphony wanders from town to town in the broken down landscape of their post-apocalyptic world, performing Shakespeare for those who can still appreciate art from a distant time. One of their number is a girl named Kirsten who was there the night the actor died. She was eight. And she tries to make something of the life she’s been given, striving to find the world they’d once left behind, just like a character named Dr. Eleven tries to do in a series of graphic novels she’s carried around since before the collapse of civilization.

Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel is a beautifully written novel that follows several well-developed characters back and forth in time. The book features a nonlinear plot at its finest as Mandel weaves the narrative from the time before the collapse to several years after and back again.

The writing of the story reminded me a lot of reading the first two books in Justin Cronin’s The Passage trilogy, with it’s beautifully detailed descriptions and thoughtful character development. The book follows the actor Arthur Leander, his wife-then-ex-wife Miranda, a photographer turned paramedic named Jeevan Chaudhary, Arthur’s oldest friend Clark Thompson, and Kirsten Raymonde. The primary story is centered on Kirsten, and what I liked about her character is her curiosity and fascination with art and creativity. She carries around a series of graphic novels about a space station filled with people that await the day they can return to an inhabitable earth. The space station is called Station Eleven, which is where the story gets its name. There are a lot of interesting parallels between the narrative of Mandel’s story and the story of Dr. Eleven and the inhabitants of Station Eleven. The origin of the Dr. Eleven graphic novels is interesting.

Though this story follows several characters back and forth in time, Mandel carefully weaves all of their stories together because this really is one story she is telling. Some of the most interesting aspects of the story are the prophet and his origin story and the airport where civilization seems to stop. Mandel also fuels reader interest by providing several elements of mystery throughout the story that promise answers later on in the story.

I picked up Station Eleven because so many people had been saying how good it was. They were all right. Out of all the novels I’ve read this year, this one definitely goes down as the best one I’ve read. Emily St. John Mandel has created such a vividly real world that I’d love for her to continue the story in another book.

Review copy provided by Knopf

Friday, December 12, 2014

Review of VIDEO GAME STORYTELLING by Evan Skolnick

Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is one of the latest video games that combines interactive gameplay with a compelling story. Many gamers have been into story-based games for some time. Personally, I've always enjoyed the stories that I got to experience through the Final Fantasy series of games. Though I don't get to play games as much as I used to, I still find the story lines of popular games intriguing. Storytelling in games gives gamers a unique opportunity to be immersed not only in the gaming world but the experiences of the characters in the games themselves. Because I'm a storyteller and I've always found storytelling in games intriguing, I've always wanted to create a game story like Final Fantasy.

Evan Skolnick's new book VIDEO GAME STORYTELLING is a welcome introduction to the concept of writing stories for video games. The book is divided into two parts. In the first part, Skolnick covers the basics of storytelling, which includes three-act structure, the hero's journey, writing and believability, and the narrative force of conflict, among many other important concepts in the world of storytelling. These are the things that are true of stories, regardless of the medium. Part 2 looks more closely at how the storytelling elements are applied specifically to games. It's interesting that there really aren't many big names associated with video game stories. As Skolnick shows, it's because the video game narrative isn't the job of one person. Video game design is the work of a team of people, working together to create the best gamer experience possible. Part 2 takes you into the video game development process and the many people that are a part of it. Learn about gaming environments, missions, and character design.

VIDEO GAME STORYTELLING is an insightful introduction to the world of video game design from a storytelling perspective. It's a great book for storytellers in general, but specifically for those who want to create their own video game stories.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Monday, December 8, 2014

Review of THE SKELETONS IN GOD'S CLOSET by Joshua Ryan Butler

People who struggle believing in God the most often struggle with some common questions, and it's understandable why they do. These questions center around hell, judgment, and the actions of God in the Old Testament. The way these concepts have traditionally been presented creates a picture of God that is almost monstrous. Some Christians want to just ignore these parts of Scripture and pretend they aren't there. They like to treat them as skeletons in God's closet, deeply buried away in our conversations with people.

Joshua Ryan Butler, in his new book THE SKELETONS IN GOD'S CLOSET, chooses not to run from these questions, but to face them head-on, and he does so thoughtfully and with a heart toward understanding God for who he truly is. I've often wrestled with the concept of hell until I discovered much of what Butler conveys in this book. Though I don't agree with the idea that he seems to present that hell is created by humans, I do agree that the condition humans end up in begins in the human heart. Salvation is an interruption to the natural progression of the human heart toward more and more evil. It's a rescue from the worst in us to love God and love others. It's a restoration to who we were designed to be. Hell, however, is what happens when we definitively reject God's rescue of us. We become worse and worse as we are separated from the true source of life.

Butler presents God as truly loving in what he does, even when it seems harsh. He shows how God's love requires judgment; it requires a desire to eliminate the evil infection in human beings. While this isn't a deep theology book, it is a very thought-provoking book that genuinely wrestles with the questions. The only complaint I would have toward this book is that I wish Butler would have dealt in more detail with the verse that describes hell as a place created for the devil and his angels. This verse doesn't necessarily undo what he teaches in his section about hell, but I think it's an important verse to wrestle with.

Butler presents God as truly more beautiful than we could imagine. God communicates in a way that requires thought, but he can be understood. Unfortunately, he's often been misunderstood. I didn't expect this book to be that great, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Review copy provided by BookLook Bloggers

Friday, November 28, 2014

Review of the INTERSTELLAR Novelization by Greg Keyes

I'm a big fan of Christopher Nolan's movies, but I haven't seen Interstellar yet. Because I have three young children, it's typically kid movies that my family goes to the theaters to see, so movies like Interstellar get put on the back burner until DVD release. I've never been a big fan of novelizations because screenplays are written to be filmed. They're designed as a visual narrative. Even with book adaptations, the book's story is translated into a primarily visual story. Interstellar seemed like it could be good as a novel, however, because of the nature of the story. It's an end of the world tale about a group of scientists who need to find a new home for humanity to live because the earth is slowly becoming uninhabitable.

I read the novelization for Interstellar in just three days because I was so caught up in the narrative force of the story. I felt like the author translated well what I'm sure the movie's visuals intend. I could imagine that I was seeing the movie, but at the same time, I was able to see into the characters' heads to experience what they felt, especially Cooper's character.

What intrigued me about the story of Interstellar is how emotionally stirring it is. As a father of young children, it was easy to identify with Cooper's desire to give his kids the best and yet want to be with them. The relationship between Cooper and his daughter Murph alone kept me reading the novelization.

I haven't seen the movie yet, but as a novel, I was definitely intrigued by Greg Keyes' take on the story. If you want a taste of a bit more of the characterization of the characters in Interstellar, the novelization is an interesting read to check out.

Review copy provided by Titan Books

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Review of SKETCH by France Belleville-Van Stone

Sketch by France Belleville-Van Stone is the kind of book that makes being an artist look like something you could do. Especially how she lays it out in such a way as to be something you do to capture moments in your daily life. The book is relatively short, yet contains all the essential information you need to get started if you've always wanted to draw what you see.

She covers some philosophical elements about why anyone should draw and how to find time to draw when you live a busy life. But she also covers the technical aspects such as the supplies you'll need for the various types of drawings you'll want to try. You'll learn some basic drawing techniques, combined with illustrations to make learning easy. There's even a section on using technology to create art.

Sketch is a fun little book that will help you to make sketching a regular part of your life and a great artistic outlet.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Review of REVIVAL by Stephen King

Jamie Morton was a young boy when he first met Charles Jacobs, the eager preacher who had a strange interest in electricity. Jamie remembers the day Jacobs' wife and young child were killed in a tragic car accident and the sermon Jacobs preached shortly after that revealed his doubts about the God he's been serving. But Jacobs left town after that day, and Jamie never expects to see him again. Years later, Jamie is a drug addict and at the end of his rope when he encounters Jacobs as a magician who uses electricity to make moving photos of people. The trick is strange, but Jamie is grateful when Jacobs performs an experiment on his brain with electricity that completely shuts off his hunger for drugs. They part ways yet again, and Jamie makes something of himself. But their paths seem to be intertwined, and what Jamie sees of Jacobs is becoming more and more disturbing. He's using some sort of secret electricity to perform miracles, but Jamie suspects he's doing more harm than good.

In an epic novel that spans decades, Stephen King delivers a story that follows that obsession one man will do anything for and the tragic consequences that could result. Revival sounded like one of the most interesting Stephen King premises I've ever heard, so I was excited to dive into it. And I have to say that few novels have kept me turning pages and up into the night like this story did. Jamie's journey is interesting from his time as a boy to decades later when he encounters the man who will at once be his ally and then his nemesis.

Charles Jacobs is a twisted character. The tragedy that befalls him is unfortunate, but the path he takes after is what makes this novel intriguing. Through Jamie, we watch Jacobs from a distance, always wondering, "What exactly is this guy up to?"

There are times when the narrative feels slow. It's a bit of an introspective novel. But for the most part, I found the novel compelling.

All that to say that I was quite disappointed with the end of the book. It just wasn't satsifying for the journey I felt like I'd taken with the characters. However, some people may like it, so I would say go ahead and read the novel. Up until the end, it's really good. I do wish it would've ended differently, but who am I to fault King for wanting to end the story how he wanted. Otherwise, exceptional story that will keep you interested.

Review copy provided by Scribner

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Review of INSIDE THE CRIMINAL MIND by Samuel Samenow

Nobody really wants to get inside the criminal mind for fun because the criminal mind holds the worst that human potential has to offer. Criminals do bad things that harm other people. We know that. But why do they do it? What is it that causes a person to submit to acting out criminal behavior?

Inside the Criminal Mind by Dr. Samuel Samenow seeks to explore the criminal mind, and Dr. Samenow comes to the subject with decades of experience in the field. In fact, this is an updated edition of the book. The book is an exploration of human evil. It's not that outside forces don't contribute a degree of influence in a criminal's mind; but Samenow's book looks at specifically how criminal behavior originates in the criminal's mind. They are responsible for their actions, and they weigh their actions.

I'm not sure who the ideal reader would be for this book, but it's a great resource for fiction writers who want to get into the heads of their potential villains to make them more believable.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review of TABLES IN THE WILDERNESS by Preston Yancey

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey reminds me a lot of Heroes and Monsters by Josh Riebock, which is a book I love. Yancey is a former Southern Baptist who has made his home in the Anglican tradition. This book is about his journey of discovering God.

This journey is very contemplative and involves some rough patches here and there where God seems silent. It also involves some genuine encounters with God that many people long to have. Yancey writes with gut-wrenching honesty, and while some believers may take issue with some of the things he writes, he's definitely thoughtful and thought-provoking throughout.

It's unlikely that anyone gets everything right when it comes to God, but I think readers can appreciate the willingness Yancey exhibited in sharing his personal journey with all of its stops and starts. This is a beneficial book in helping believers wrestle with what it means to commune with God.

Review copy provided by BookLook Bloggers

Friday, November 7, 2014

Review of A.D. 30 by Ted Dekker

Ted Dekker has spent years creating stories that explore man's interaction with God, and although he's always fought the label of "Christian author," he's never hesitated to say that his stories are about Jesus and what Jesus has done. That's been clear in books like The Circle Series, The Books of Mortals, Boneman's Daughters, and The Bride Collector. Many of his stories have been parables, much like the kinds of stories Jesus himself told, but for a more contemporary audience. In A.D. 30, Dekker dives deeper than he ever has into a story about Jesus. This is no allegory. This is a look at Jesus in his original context from the eyes of a foreigner.

We take a journey with Maviah, a woman who has been shamed into slavery even though she should be a queen of her people. After her father's tribe is overrun, she's sent on a mission to King Herod Antipas to ask for help. She makes the long journey, a desperate woman who aches over the loss of her child. What she discovers when she arrives in Palestine is rumors of a Jewish mystic who has been causing quite a stir with his message about a kingdom not of this world. Soon she encounters Yeshua, and his message challenges everything she's ever known.

The strength of this book is the way Dekker makes us experience the world of the story. It's clear that Dekker did a lot of research for this book because it feels so authentic. By putting us in the mind of Maviah, we experience Jesus as a foreigner, which is really what we all are to the way of life he calls for. The book reads like a first-hand glimpse at the ministry of Jesus, and it's profound.

My only complaint about this story, and it's a small one, is that it felt like forever until we got to Jesus. That may have been the point, however. Much of the first half of the book is Maviah's dangerous journey to Palestine, and this part was difficult to get engaged with at times. However, once Maviah has arrived at the end of her journey, that's where the story picks up.

Ted Dekker has been my favorite author for years, and though I love some of his books more than others, I always appreciate his striving for authenticity in each of his books. He's one of the best storytellers out there. A.D. 30 is a unique book and one that anyone would benefit who wants to encounter Jesus afresh.

Review copy provided by Center Street

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review of HAND IN HAND by Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read his thorough book on the theology of heaven. With hand in Hand, he tackles the often debated topic of human responsibility in the midst of a universe sovereignly governed by God. Over the years, after much study, I tend to lean more toward a Molinist approach, though I wouldn't say I agree with all of it.

After reading Alcorn's book, I find I agree with much of his approach to the subject in recognizing that the Bible teaches genuine human responsibility and God's sovereignty being true of reality. However, God's sovereignty doesn't mean meticulous control of every event that occurs. It does mean that God is free to meticulously control everything if he so chooses. In one sense, God's will is thwarted by human decisions, but God's ultimate will of saving those who believe is never thwarted. Alcorn discusses all of these points well in a way that is understandable. Each chapter builds on the one before it.

The only part of the book I struggle with is Alcorn's reliance on the "greater good" argument for why evil exists. The greater good argument depends on the existence of evil in order for God to bring about a "greater good," and this seems to make God in some way dependent upon evil to bring about certain goods. It seems more accurate to say that God is capable of bringing about the greatest good without the existence of evil, which means the "greater good" wouldn't require the existence of evil. Yet God can and does utilize the evil that occurs in a way that will lead to good. For a theodicy argument, I fall more in line with Brian Little's Creation-Order Theodicy.

Overall, I would have to say that this was one of the most refreshing books on the subject that I've read, and I've read a lot. Alcorn writes with graciousness toward all sides and a deep love of God.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review of THE REMAINING Novelization by Travis Thrasher

The Remaining is a new movie that uniquely ties together faith and horror. Though I haven't seen the movie (I will when it releases to DVD), I did get to read Travis Thrasher's novelization of the movie. If Thrasher's handling of the story is any indication, and I'm sure it is, the movie is probably really good. However, given the style of writing and storytelling I've grown used to in a Thrasher novel, I have a feeling that the book tells the story in a way that the movie will lack.

For example, one of the characteristics of Travis Thrasher's writing that I enjoy the most is his characterization. The novel gives us a deep look into several of the characters, including what they're feeling in the midst of the madness they find themselves in and what motivates them. Thrasher makes you feel like you know the characters.

Then there's the situation itself. The end of the world has begun and demons have been released to do what they will on the earth. This book takes a different approach to the Rapture concept that has been made popular by the Left Behind series. Instead of Christians disappearing from the earth, their spirits leave their deceased bodies behind, which makes the story much more creepy. The majority of the story takes place as a group of survivors huddle together in a church with a pastor who discovers that his claimed belief in Jesus had always been a sham.

This is novel of darkness and evil, yet these are only the backdrop for a brighter story of light and redemption. Travis Thrasher's telling of this story is both intense and at times fun throughout. Having become a Thrasher fan after reading one of his horror-centered novels, this was a welcome return to the type of storytelling I enjoy most from him. Whether you've seen the movie or not, this book is an emotional thrill-ride from beginning to end.

Review copy provided by the Tyndale Blog Network

Friday, October 31, 2014

Review of MIRACLES by Eric Metaxas

Miracles are often debated topic, and rightly so. If miracles happen, then they are clear evidence of something or someone intervening into the natural processes of the laws of nature so that a miracle can occur. The possibility of miracles is intimately tied to the question of whether or not God exists. In his new book Miracles, best-selling author Eric Metaxas explores the concept of miracles and does a great job of illustrating their importance and possibility.

The book clearly defines miracles as something God does in the world, and miracles require God's intentional action to occur. Many believe that if miracles ever have occurred, they only occurred long ago, and we live in a different world now. Metaxas is quick to point out, however, that the laws that govern our universe today are the same laws that governed our universe thousands of years ago. Therefore, miracles are either possible at all times or at no time in history. This is an important point because the implications are that the miracles we read about in the Bible are still possible today.

Metaxas deals with the debate of faith versus science and deftly shows that science and faith are both about exploring God's world and discovering more about him and his creation. They aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, he points out, many scientists have been led to faith because of the evidence they've seen in their scientific studies of God's existence.

The book looks at the miracle of life and the most important miracle of all for Christians: the resurrection. The second half of the book shares real-life miracle stories. Metaxas was careful to only include miracle stories that fit a certain number of criteria to qualify as a definitive miracle.

I've always love C.S. Lewis' book on miracles, and it was good to see Metaxas quote Lewis on multiple occasions. This book is written for today's generation, and it's an important exploration of the concept of miracles and why God performs them.

Review copy provided by Dutton Adult

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review of WRITING GREAT BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADULTS by Regina L. Brooks

For the last few years, it seems like young adult fiction has ruled the publishing world. From the popularity of YA series like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and The Twilight Saga, it seems that what is commonly referred to as young adult fiction appeals to a broader ranger of people than just young adults. In the updated edition of her book Writing Great Books for Young Adults, Regina L. Brooks covers some of the characteristics of the YA genre that seem to appeal to so many appeal. She introduces writers to the process of writing a young adult novel.

Of course, this is really a book about writing novels in general. Many of the concepts of writing a novel stay the same, regardless of the genre you're writing in. However, Brooks sprinkles in many key concepts that are specific to the YA genre throughout. Brooks takes writers through the process from an initial idea all the way to securing an agent and pursuing publishing. Everything in between is extremely helpful in terms of developing characters, story lines, and weaving all of the components of storytelling together into a coherent whole.

If you're interested in writing in the YA genre specifically, and more importantly if you're interested in connecting with a wide audience, this book will help you to develop the skills to move in the right direction.

Review copy provided by Sourcebooks

Review of WILLIE'S REDNECK TIME MACHINE by John Luke Robertson & Travis Thrasher

Though I do enjoy watching Duck Dynasty, it was Travis Thrasher's name attached to this book that convinced me to read it. The Robertson family is obviously well-known and the concept behind this book and the four others in the Be Your Own Duck Commander series is a fun one as you imagine the world portrayed on the show with some supernatural/sci-fi twists. In Willie's Redneck Time Machine, you journey with the main character, making decisions that help to shape the story experience you end up having. The book functions as a Choose Your Own Adventure type of book, and that makes it a fun way to read. It's an interesting approach that Thrasher has taken to join up with John Luke Robertson to write these books.

I'm a high school English teacher, and this kind of book will definitely appeal to some of my students. My children are too young to get it at this point, but they would likely enjoy it when they're older.

Overall, if you're looking for a fun adventure type story that features the Robertson family, you'll probably get a kick out of this book.

Review copy provided by Tyndale House Publishers

Monday, October 27, 2014

Review of NKJV Study Bible

I've always been a fan of the New King James Version of the Bible for its language structure and commitment to accuracy. The NKJV Study Bible features the complete NKJV text and several extras that make studying the Bible much more intuitive.

Each book of the Bible features a slick introduction that gives us some of the primary characteristics of the book such as genre and key concepts, as well as a basic outline of the book. The commentary notes on the bottom of each page help to give insight about what a particular Bible passage means. There are full color photo illustrations throughout, cross-references, passage titles, and much more that help you to study the Bible with understanding and with the goal of transformation.

The NKJV Study Bible is a great Bible study resource all in one book.

Review copy provided by BookLook Bloggers

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

Review of BONHOEFFER ABRIDGED by Eric Metaxas

Dietrich Bonhoeffer was a fascinating man who is known for his insight into being a disciple of Jesus and the concept of community in the body of Christ. There's much more to his life than just those things, however. When Eric Metaxas' biography on Bonhoeffer came out a couple years ago, I wanted to read it, but never got around to it.

Now, Thomas Nelson has made BONHOEFFER ABRIDGED available, which includes much of the text of the original book, but much is taken out as well. The idea is to keep in the bare essentials. Bonhoeffer's life put him right in the middle of what was going on during World War II. He was very outspoken against Hitler and even participated in a plot to assassinate the German leader. Bonhoeffer's life was filled with tragedies and trials, and he exhibited a solid faith in Jesus that is encouraging to many to this day.

BONHOEFER ABRIDGED is an accessible biography from a masterful writer.

Review copy provided by Book Look Bloggers

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Review of THE SOUL by J.P. Moreland

J.P Moreland is one of the most trusted Christian philosophers, and in his book THE SOUL: HOW WE KNOW IT'S REAL AND WHY IT MATTERS, he wrestles with one of the most debated topics in the world. Do people have souls? It's an important question because it concerns whether or not there is life after death and whether we are only what people can see, that is, our physical bodies.

Moreland outlines his argument by first defining some important terms, such as events, dualism, and physicalism. He states that neuroscience, while important, can neither prove nor disprove the existence of the soul. He then looks at the way the Bible treats the concept of the soul-body union. Throughout, he shows evidence that human beings are intricate combination of both soul and material and that humans can exist, at least temporarily, outside of the body because of the existence of the soul. The soul is what gives us identity.

This is an important book and one that requires a lot of thought because of the complexity of what is discussed. I definitely recommend it.

Review copy provided by Moody Publishers

Review of FRAMING FAITH by Matt Knisely

Photojournalist Matt Knisely makes a profound connection between our love of storytelling and the way God interacts with us in the world. His new book FRAMING FAITH is about capturing the moments that matter in life, the moments that God is most clearly speaking. Knisely calls people to break from the constant distractions that our world, especially today with all of the technological options in front of us, puts in front of us. When we can begin to learn to look and listen to the world around us, and really be present in the moment, we can see the story that God is telling through our lives.

Knisely is a photojournalist, and he shares some great insights about life as someone who is constantly trying to capture profound stories in an image. The way he discusses story in the book really resonated with me because I'm a storyteller, and it was great to see the way God works through this to draw us to him, to make us feel, and to profoundly change us.

FRAMING FAITH is a challenge to stop and truly see the world we inhabit and the God who is working in the midst of it. This is definitely a unique and encouraging book.

Review copy provided by Book Look Bloggers

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Review of THE HAPPINESS OF PURSUIT by Chris Guillebeau

Chris Guillebeau has made pursuit a key aspect of the way he lives his life, having journeyed to every country in the world. He has a popular blog and is a bestselling author. Guillebeau's unique approach to life has been an encouraging model for many people, and now, in his new book THE HAPPINESS OF PURSUIT, he shares page after page of his insight on living life in pursuit of a quest.

Guillebeau recounts his personal journey and what led him to the quest he's been on. He defines the idea of a quest and why it's important. He sees the quest as something that brings fuel to a person's life. Throughout the book, he shares personal stories, as well as the stories of others who have found their quest.

THE HAPPINESS OF PURSUIT is for people who want more out of life. It's for people who want some solid advice to follow on how to pursue their life goals.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Review of SONGS OF A SUFFERING KING by J.V. Fesko

SONGS OF A SUFFERING KING by J.V. Fesko is one of those books that seeks to reveal Jesus from the Old Testament. When we want to learn about Jesus, we usually turn to the New Testament, and often the gospels in particular, because Jesus is literally there in that story. The Old Testament is before Jesus was born. Yet the Old Testament is a prequel to the New Testament that foreshadows Jesus through every story in some way.

In SONGS OF A SUFFERING KING, Fesko looks specifically at the first 8 Psalms in the Old Testament and how they relate to Jesus. He makes the connection from David to Jesus and shows how these Psalms point forward to the life and work of Jesus. Through the Psalms we see the conflict that rages in the world between God's will and human rebellion, and we see God as one who promises to bring redemption through his Son.

Fesko's book will help you to see the Psalms in a fresh light.

Review copy provided by Cross Focused Reviews

Review of CAN I REALLY TRUST THE BIBLE by Barry Cooper

If the story of God's creation and interaction with the world is contained in the Bible that Christians read from every day, it's highly important that the book be trustworthy in what it communicates. The Bible is a unique book in the way that it's structured and the extraordinarily odd events that it records, all while claiming these things really happened. Christians and non-Christians have often debated the Bible's authenticity as God's word, and a new book by Barry Cooper seeks to offer the most compelling arguments for the Bible's validity in a clear and concise manner.

CAN I REALLY TRUST THE BIBLE is a small book that packs a lot of information about what it means for the Bible to be God's word. He tests the Bible's own claims about itself before testing the ways in which it rings true with the way reality is. While the Bible is unique, Cooper shows it to be a trustworthy guide on our journey of communicating with God. It records what is true of God and what God envisions for mankind.

The book can be read quickly, so if you're looking for a quick resource on the Bible's validity, this book is it.

Review copy provided by Cross Focused Reviews

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Review of BE THE DAD SHE NEEDS YOU TO BE by Dr. Kevin Leman

I have a daughter who is five years old, and I love that little girl more than I can quite express through words. I feel an incredible responsibility to be her father and raise her to be the best that she can be. BE THE DAD SHE NEEDS YOU TO BE by Dr. Kevin Leman is a book about being a great dad. He explores the unique reality of raising a daughter and what a daughter needs most from her father.

It's a book about the influence a dad has and how to maximize that influence. There are plenty of challenges in raising a daughter, but even more opportunities for shaping a daughter's life to be a uniquely great one.

As a father of a daughter, I think this is an important book to read and to wrestle through as Leman offers insight on the level of influence a father holds in his little girl's life.

Review copy provided by Book Look Bloggers

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Review of CHANCE AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD by Vern Polythress

Chance and the Sovereignty of God by Vern Polythress is a weighty book that deals with a highly complex subject. The book tackles the question from a theological point of view of whether or not there are chance events that occur in the world.

Polythress looks at a variety of seemingly random chance occurrences in the world. He then explores how chance occurrences work in a world in which God is sovereign. Using the Bible, probability, and mathematics, Polythress makes a compelling case for God's ultimate sovereignty over any event that we might consider random.

This is an important book because we need to know that we live in a world in which God is always aware and in control, ultimately bringing about what he wants for the good of his creation. It's not an easy book, but it's definitely a book to wrestle through.

Review copy provided by Crossway Books

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Review of BIBLICAL PORTRAITS OF CREATION by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr & Dorington G. Little

BIBLICAL PORTRAITS OF CREATION by Walter C. Kaiser, Jr and Dorington G. Little is a book that explores some of the most important passages of Scripture that speak about God's creation. The book serves to look at one of the key aspects of God as Creator and looks at the wonders of what God has created.

The authors look at the early chapters of Genesis, but also several from the Psalms and a look at the new creation as revealed in places throughout the Old and New Testaments. Each chapter presents the key Bible passage being explored and breaks it down with commentary. There are helpful discussion questions at the end of each chapter that would be ideal for a Bible study group.

This book gives great hope to those who trust that God has created the world for our good and will restore one day in order to dwell among us.

Review copy provided by Cross Focused Reviews

Review of MAKE COMICS LIKE THE PROS by Greg Pek and Fred Van Lente

I've always been a fan of comics and comic book heroes. Comics are a great way of telling a story because of the visual nature. The Killing Joke by Alan Moore is probably one of my favorite graphic novels ever because of how well the story is communicated using images and dialogue. I'm a storyteller, and I've always wanted to try my hand at some point in creating a story through a comic book.

MAKE COMICS LIKE THE PROS is a great introductory guide that walks you through the process comic book creators go through to produce a comic book. The authors, Greg Pek and Fred Van Lente, share their experience working on some of the most loved comic book characters in history. You'll learn the whole process from pitching to writing to drawing, inking, and lettering, all the way to publishing. They cover how to find and keep an audience without minimizing the difficulty of breaking in to the comic book industry.

It's a fun book with some very helpful insight for those who want to work in the comic book industry.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Review of FOUNDATIONS IN COMIC BOOK ART by John Paul Lowe

FOUNDATIONS IN COMIC BOOK ART by John Paul Lowe is a not only a book about drawing comic book characters; it's a great introduction to drawing in general. The book is very helpful in showing the budding artist how to notice the shapes and forms in the things that they want to draw. Really helpful for me was the instruction on drawing perspective because that's always been a sticking point for me as an artist.

Because this is a book about drawing for comic books, after the basics are covered, the reader is introduced to the concepts that will help them to draw comic book figures. The book doesn't stop with the drawing process, however. For comic book art, there is also inking, and Lowe introduces the reader to inking techniques as well.

I found this to be a very helpful book as someone who wants to draw well and be a visual artist.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Review of HOW WILL THE WORLD END? by Jeramie Rinne

How Will the World End? is a small book by Jeramie Rinne that seeks to answer some key questions about what the Bible teaches concerning end times. I've always been interested in this subject, and, like many people, developed an eschatology that was based primarily on what the popular Left Behind books told me. When I finally studied it for myself, I realized that Left Behind is a speculative story based on one possible interpretation of the passages (still a good story that I think God does use in drawing people to Jesus, but shouldn't be taken as the definitive standard by which your eschatology is measured. Rinne covers those particular passages in this book very well.

In fact, for such a small book, it's very straightforward in its approach to Scripture, while also including some very helpful illustrations throughout. The main crux of the book is that Jesus is returning someday. This should cause believers to sense God's call to spread the message of the gospel because we don't know when time is up.

So far, I've read three books in this series from the Good Book Company, and all of them are great because they're clear and concise. I'd definitely recommend this book to any Christian who has questions about what the Bible teaches about the end.

Review copy provided by Cross Focused Reviews

Monday, September 1, 2014

Review of THE RULE OF THOUGHTS by James Dashner

In The Eye of Minds, James Dashner's first book in his groundbreaking new series The Mortality Doctrine, Michael discovered something about himself that he never realized, and everything changed for him. The Rule of Thoughts picks up where the first book left off, and Michael now faces new challenges as he tries to stop Kaine from implementing his plan to take over the world of the wake. People are being taken over all over the world. Michael, Bryson, and Sarah become wanted, and they are tasked with facing Kaine whose motivations aren't quite clear.

Dashner created a unique and fun story world with the first book. This is a great book for gamers because of the world of the narrative. Michael, the main character, is literally one of the most complex characters I've ever read. And his friends create a nice mini-community that creates a feeling of warmth even in the midst of the insane circumstances they find themselves in.

Dashner blew me away with the first book, especially the end. This book has only continued to cement Dashner as one of the most innovative storytellers around in my mind. Kaine is a truly compelling villain, and the narrative force of the story kept me reading until the end. As the second book in a trilogy, this book creates plenty of hunger for what Dashner has in mind for book 3.

Review copy provided by Delacorte Press

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Review of 1 SAMUEL FOR YOU by Tim Chester

The God's Word for You series has been an insightful and refreshing dive into the pages of Scripture, with books from Tim Keller and Tim Chester. The newest book in the series is 1 SAMUEL FOR YOU by Tim Chester takes the approach that the other books take, but into an Old Testament historical book. Chester approaches the book as a book that records the historical events of God's dealing with Israel at that time, but it's also a book that features a lot of typology and foreshadowing of the Messiah.

Many people approach stories in the Old Testament primarily for the examples they can find for how to live a godly life. Chester shows, however, that the story is primarily about God and what God does even though people are flawed and relentlessly disappoint him. Chester does a great job of taking some of the wordplay in the Hebrew and helping modern day English speaking readers understand what the author was trying to communicate. Repeatedly, Chester shows how the story of 1 Samuel is really the story of God and points forward to Jesus.

The God's Word for You Series is very user-friendly and provides a lot of useful insight about what the Scripture is saying and how it should impact our lives. I hope to continue reading more books in this series.

Review copy provided by Cross Focused Reviews

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Review of 7 WAYS TO BE HER HERO by Doug Fields

Title: 7 Ways to Be Her Hero

Author: Doug Fields

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

What It's About: 7 Ways to Be Her Hero

Why I Read It: I've read Doug Fields' books on youth ministry in the past, and I was interested in what he had to say about marriage.

What I Liked About It: Fields is gut-honest throughout the book, and that's what makes the book so great to read. He uses humor throughout, but he's also very serious about what husbands can do to better serve their wives. One area that he covers in the book, that I also struggle with often as a husband, is the power of a husband's words, especially encouraging words to his wife. Another area that is vital is the husband's role of shepherding his wife's heart. This book is all about being a better husband and leading your wife closer to Jesus.

Review copy provided by Book Look Bloggers

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Review of WORDS FOR PICTURES by Brian Michael Bendis

Title: Words for Pictures: The Art and Business of Writing Comics and Graphic Novels

Author: Brian Michael Bendis

Publisher: Watson-Guptill

What It's About: Words for Pictures is a guide for anyone interested in writing scripts for comic books or graphic novels.

Why I Read It: I've always loved comic books and graphics novels. I've never written in that medium before, but I've always been interested in the process. Bendis's book is the perfect guide to learning how to write in the comic book/graphic novel medium.

What I Liked About It: As a fan of comic books, I've come across Brian Michael Bendis's name many times, so I knew this was a book by someone who was on the front lines of the industry. In fact, Bendis is one of the leading writers for Marvel Comics, and he's written for The Avengers and Ultimate Spider-Man, among many others. I loved his story about how he got into comics. He even includes some examples of his early work in learning the craft.

Bendis covers the way comic book scripts are created, from pitch documents to the actual script that an artist follows to create the visuals of the story. Bendis makes it clear that when you're writing a script, you're writing something that your audience will never see. Comics and graphic novels are a joint effort by the writer and the artist, so when you're writing your script, you're writing in a way that the artist will understand what you're trying to get across so that they can translate it into visuals on the page.

The book also includes several contributions and interactions with other leading writers and artists to give us an even wider look into the creative process for comics/graphic novels.

The book doesn't just cover the craft side of comic books, however. Bendis also guides writers through the business side of comic book writing. This includes how to break into the business of comic book writing, which is a difficult pursuit. It's also about how to run a writing business once you've broken in and established yourself as a comic book writer. This was an interesting part of the book because Bendis interviews his wife who handles much of the business side of Bendis's career. It was great to see her insight into what a writer must do to always stay in the profession.

To top it all off, the book includes a chapter on the questions Bendis is asked the most, complete with his insightful and honest answers. This is a great book, the best I've seen, if you're interested in writing for comics or graphic novels.

Review copy provided by the Blogging for Books program in exchange for an honest review

Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Review of IF I HAD LUNCH WITH C.S. LEWIS by Alister McGrath

Title: If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis

Author: Alister McGrath

Publisher: Tyndale House

What It's About: If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis is a unique interaction with the writings and thought of C.S. Lewis as if he were our lunch guest.

Why I Read It: C.S. Lewis is probably my favorite author of all time, and I thoroughly loved McGrath's biography of Lewis. I found the idea of having a conversation with Lewis over lunch intriguing.

What I Liked About It: The layout of the book is great as each chapter takes one theme each from the writings of Lewis. For example, McGrath spends a chapter looking at Lewis's thoughts on the importance of story, and in another chapter we get a closer look at the character of Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia stories. There are other chapters on education, friendship, the meaning of life, apologetics, the problem of pain, and heaven. McGrath spends the beginning of each chapter outlining Lewis's thoughts on the subject, with some context, and then engages in a hypothetical dialogue with Lewis on the subject. Because McGrath researched extensively into Lewis's life for his biography, he is the perfect person poised to give us a book like this. If you're a fan of Lewis's writing, If I Had Lunch with C.S. Lewis is a fun book to read that will give you a good overview of what was most important in Lewis's mind.

Review copy provided by Tyndale House as a part of the Tyndale House Blog Network

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Review of THE BLUE BOOK OF GRAMMAR AND PUNCTUATION by Straus, Kaufman, and Stern

Title: The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation
Author: Jane Straus, Lester Kaufman, and Tom Stern
Publisher: Jossey-Bass
What It's About: The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation is a comprehensive guide of English grammar and punctuation rules.
What I Liked About It: I'm an English teacher, and what I like about this book is the clear layout of grammar rules throughout. The different parts of speech are divided into sections with clear communicating of how they work in a sentence, rules that apply to them, and clear examples of the parts of speech in action. The book even includes quizzes, which are helpful if you're trying to brush up on your English grammar, or if you're a teacher, looking for a resource to assess your students' knowledge of grammar.

Review copy provided by Jossey-Bass

Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com  

Review of THE GAMIFICATION OF LEARNING AND INSTRUCTION FIELDBOOK by Kapp, Blair, and Mesch

Title: The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook
 
Author: Karl M. Kapp, Lucas Blair, and Rich Mesch
 
Publisher: Wiley
 
What It's About: The Gamification of Learning and Instruction Fieldbook
 
What I Liked About It: As a teacher, I'm always looking for new and effective ways to engage students. I'm also very interested in the concept of gamification because I think game mechanics can be used to great effect to build motivation in people. This book does a great job of discussing games, gamification, and simulations and how to apply them to the classroom setting. I love the clear and comprehensive nature of the information covered. The authors outline the nature of interactive learning events, why they're important, and some basics of where to come up with ideas for them. Then there are contributions throughout the book of specific ways to incorporate ILEs to the classroom. If you're a teacher and you're into gaming, this is a great book for putting gamification into practice.

Review copy provided by Wiley

Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Friday, July 11, 2014

Review of WRITING FANTASY & SCIENCE FICTION from Writer's Digest Books

Title: Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction

Author: Orson Scott Card, Philip Athans, Jay Lake, and the Editors of Writer's Digest

Publisher: Writer's Digest Books

What It's About: Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction is a comprehensive guidebook to creating fantastic storyworlds and characters for stories that have more of a fantasy or sci-fi focus.

Why I Read It: Many of the stories I love the most fall into the realm of either science fiction or fantasy, or at least have fantasy and sci-fi elements as a part of the story.

What I Liked About It: This book is really about creating a world for your story, and the variety of authors who contribute to this book cover a wide-range of elements you need to consider as you're crafting your story. Things like the society of your story, dress, weapons, religions, creatures. Everything that you can think of that has a place in either fantasy or sci-fi stories is covered in this book. One of the interesting parts of the book is the section on steampunk stories, and it might get you interested in trying your hand at one. Orson Scott Card, who wrote Ender's Game, is one of the primary contributors and the reason why I wanted to read the book. The other authors have just as much insight to offer, however, and it's a valuable addition for any fiction writer's bookshelf.

Review copy provided by Writer's Digest Books

Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Review of STORY PHYSICS by Larry Brooks

Title: Story Physics
 
Author: Larry Brooks
 
Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
 
What It's About: Story Physics outlines the fundamental forces that drive any story so that any fiction writer can learn to utilize them to craft a compelling story.
 
Why I Read It: I loved Brooks's other book Story Engineering and found it to be one of the best books on story structure I've ever read. When I found out he was expanding upon what he'd written in that book in Story Physics, I knew I wanted to check it out.
 
What I Liked About It: I loved Brooks's discussion of the difference between an idea, a concept, and a premise because it makes so much sense. It helps you to refine your idea to make it uniquely your own. I love engineering metaphors, and this book makes great use of the ideas of forces that drive a good story forward. Brooks argues that every good story follows certain story physics, and the stories that don't are the ones that people aren't reading. I loved his discussion of mission-driven scenes and the role of subtext in the stories we tell.

For those who haven't read Story Engineering, this book in some ways rehashes some of the key elements of that book, as well as provides some summary of what Brooks calls the Core Competencies of storytelling at the end. Since I loved the first book, I didn't mind revisiting what he'd already shared in the first book. Plus, it's stuff I try to use as I'm writing anyway. One of the most helpful parts of the book comes toward the end when Brooks applies what he's been talking about with story physics to The Hunger Games, which is one of my favorite novels. He also applies it to The Help

Story Physics is a great book if you're writing fiction because it will help you to understand what makes great stories great and give you some strategies for creating your own.

Review copy provided by Writer's Digest Books
 
Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Review of STORY TRUMPS STRUCTURE by Steven James

Title: Story Trumps Structure
 
Author: Steven James
 
Publisher: Writer's Digest Books
 
What It's About: Story Trumps Structure is a book about writing that focuses less on structural story formulas and more on letting a story form on its own as you're writing.
 
Why I Read It: I've been reading Steven James's books for years, long before he became a fiction writer. I've enjoyed reading his novels and think he's one of the best storytellers out there. 
 
What I Liked About It: I've read almost all of the books on story structure formulas, and some of them I really enjoy. There are really two types of writers: those who outline and those who don't. I tend to feel more free as a storyteller when I have an outline to work from, but sometimes I like to write without one. James's book is a book primarily for those who just want to write. James doesn't argue that stories don't have structure. They do, and, ironically, you'll find a lot about structure in this book. But the focus of Story Trumps Structure is to get you feeling free to let a story flow. I know I enjoy getting a story out and then fine tuning it afterward. James's book helps you to do that.

Like many books on fiction writing, James tells you the things that a good story needs, then unleashes you to write a story organically. He gives you some strategies to keep moving if you get stuck in the form of some questions to ask of your story, which I love and find most helpful.

There is a certain thrill from writing a story and not knowing beforehand where the story will go or how it will end. I tend to find myself outlining my stories because it's easy to get to a certain point in the story where you feel stuck. Those tend to end up unfinished stories. That's why I tend to rely on outlines. Story Trumps Structure is for writers who want to get away from feeling they have to have an outline. It's about keeping your story moving, keeping yourself engaged, and ultimately producing a story that will keep an author engaged.

When one of my favorite authors puts out a book about their process of writing, it's an exciting thing. Story Trumps Structure by Steven James doesn't disappoint.

Review copy provided by Writer's Digest Books
 
Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Review of YOUNG, RESTLESS, NO LONGER REFORMED by Austin Fischer

Title: Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed
 
Author: Austin Fischer
 
Publisher: Cascade Books
 
What It's About: Young, Restless, No Longer Reformed is an honest look at one person's journey in and out of Calvinism and what led him to believe that Calvinism gets much about God's character wrong.
 
Why I Read It: I've studied Calvinism thoroughly, and though I think they have some good logical arguments, I've never been able to buy into it because I believe the Bible reveals things as a little more complex than Calvinist doctrine teaches. When I heard about this book, with a title that plays on the title of another book called Young, Restless, and Reformed, I decided to check it out.
 
What I Liked About It: I love Fischer's honesty. It's not so much a book that tries to make careful and complex arguments against Calvinism as it is a book that honestly follows Fisher's journey from believing Calvinism to be true to finding it to be inconsistent with what the Bible actually teaches. Along the way, he shares what led him to believe Calvinists have it all wrong.

Fischer sees Calvinism as making the Bible impossible, which I agree with. Calvinists seem to take a stance that treats God as someone who needs to be defended because his glory is always in danger of being taken away. Of course, that's not how they see it, but all the talk about glory makes many Calvinists sound extremely paranoid that non-Calvinists will up and steal God's glory with their proclamations of libertarian free will and claiming of responsibility for their salvation.

Toward the end of the book, Fischer argues how silly it sounds for someone to accept a gift and then claim that they should be merited for receiving the gift. God's glory is in no danger, and I think non-Calvinists actually believe that more than Calvinists do. One argument that Calvinists often make concerning the elect is illustrated by comparing a husband's love for his wife as unique above his love for any other woman. I've always been frustrated by this argument. Fischer easily reverses this argument that even though a husband has a unique love for his wife, he doesn't treat all other women terribly. It would be ridiculous to claim God loves some people uniquely, so his love for the others leads him to send the others to hell for all eternity. Therefore, the comparison to a husband's love for his wife to illustrate limited atonement just doesn't work.

I'm with Fischer in believing that there are many great Calvinists that we can learn much from, but Calvinism itself paints God all wrong. For anyone struggling with Calvinism, this is a book I would recommend above many others.

Review copy provided by Cascade Books
 
Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com