Friday, January 31, 2014

Review of REASONABLE FAITH by William Lane Craig


Title: Reasonable Faith

Author: William Lane Craig

Publisher: Crossway Books

What It's About: In Reasonable Faith, William Lane Craig outlines the arguments that have made him an expert in the field of apologetics.

Why I Read It: I've enjoyed reading William Lane Craig's work for several years, and I listen to his podcast regularly. I tend to be a deep thinker, and Christianity was at times difficult for me to accept because I didn't know there was so much evidence that supported it. I don't know of any better defender for the validity of Christianity than William Lane Craig, and Reasonable Faith is the most thorough explanation of the arguments that Craig shares when he's discussing Christianity.

What I Liked About It: Some people reject the need for apologetics because they believe that convincing people that God is real and that the gospel is true is the job of the Holy Spirit. Why offer arguments if God is going to do what he's going to do in a person's heart and mind? Craig tackles this issue, and I love the way he does it. Craig explains the difference between knowing the gospel to be true and showing the gospel to be true. We know the gospel is true because of the conviction of the Holy Spirit, but arguments can be used to show the validity of Christianity. I love this because if we know it's true, then there is evidence. Why not share that evidence? Craig shares that apologetics can be used by the Holy Spirit to bring people to faith.

I enjoyed Craig's use of many historical sources, such as Thomas Aquinas, Leibnitz, and Blaise Pascal. He covers a lot of the historical approaches to providing evidence for God's existence. The arguments are strong. From showing the absurdity of life without God, to the Kalam Cosmological Argument for God's existence, to the evidence that points to an empty tomb and Christ's resurrection, Craig shows Christianity to be the most reasonable explanation of the world's evidence.

Knowing the evidence that Craig presents, I'm firmly confident that God exists and that Jesus is him. 

What I Didn't Like About It: I honestly can't think of anything I don't like about this book. It's the best apologetics resource I've read.

Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Review copy provided by Crossway Books through their Beyond the Page reviewer program

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Event Catalyst

What usually drives you, something inward or something outward?

The Event Catalyst

I've been thinking about something I call an "event catalyst" for a long time. It's the idea that many human beings don't change until some outward big event happens that prompts them to change. An example would be getting cancer and then deciding that it's time to stop smoking. Or waiting until after your spouse or best friend gets upset with you before you stop doing the thing that led to them getting upset. 


The example I think of the most is when we're living a life doing things that we know we shouldn't, things that we know are wrong, and then something life-shattering happens. Suddenly, we feel this pull to say, "I'm sorry, God. I promise I'll change this time. I won't do this anymore."

But is that enough to sustain us?

What Really Drives Us

I get it. We all wonder at times if the bad things that happen in our lives are just some form of punishment meted out to us by God. But notice it wasn't a desire to be better that changed us. It wasn't a desire to be who God wants us to be. It wasn't even that we necessarily woke up to the effects our choices were having on us, although that is a part of it.

It was the event. The event catalyzed the change.

If we're worried that what we've been doing brought on this huge event in our lives, our natural response would be to remove the things in our life that might have caused the event. In essence, events sometimes act as the sovereign force that rules our lives. Or, more accurately, we treat them that way. We give them that role in our lives every time we change as a result of them. So sometimes events change us. But only for a time. 

It's a few weeks into a new year. It's the time when people are making changes and hoping they'll stick. But we're creatures of habit, and we soon find ourselves failing at the goals we've set. But what if it's because we're trusting in the wrong thing? An event is just an event. It doesn't hold any power to change us. It doesn't love us or hate us. It just is. And maybe what we've been doing caused it. Maybe it didn't. Either way, we have to find something that's bigger than an event to lead us to healthy and lasting change.

Driven by Something Bigger

I set some goals for this year like many people, and already I see myself slipping behind on some of them. It's disappointing, and it's frustrating. Especially in the areas where I want to be a better husband and daddy. But, of course, I know the "event" of a new year isn't enough to sustain me. I'm on a journey of trusting God more, and I realize that Jesus is bigger than an event. The dreams that Jesus has for what my life could be like are bigger and better than an event. Yet I find myself so easily trusting in the events in my life.

Even if you're not a person of faith in Jesus, the late Stephen Covey talked about successful people living by principles. Principles are patterns of behavior that we believe we should follow, and we follow them because we believe that our lives will be better than living lives without principles. We believe that living by these is better than letting something outward drive us. In this way, we're self-driven rather than event-driven. Or, in the case of those who live by faith, we walk by faith in Jesus who we believe has outlined the best way of living for us.

The Key to Real Change

As we start another new year, will we be outwardly-driven by an event catalyst or inwardly-driven by something bigger and better than an event?

The events are going to come, and, by all means, if they prompt us to change, we should change. But let's look deeper for a more lasting motivation.

This year, let's change because we know we should; not because something pushed us into it. Let's pursue our goals because we know we should. Let's pour into the lives of others because we know we should.

The event catalyst lasts only so long. Let's pursue something that endures.

What's something you want to do this year because you know you should?

Photo Credit: SomeDriftwood via PhotoPin CC

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Return to Blogging

I started blogging a couple of years ago, but I was also reading books like crazy and reviewing them because, as a reviewer, I got to read a lot of books for free. It's a nice perk, and I still love doing it. But my blog quickly went from me creating my own content and sharing my own thoughts about the world to being primarily a book review site. I even started marketing it as simply a book review blog.

The problem is that I was consuming more content than I was creating, and that's not really what I want. While I enjoy much of the work of the authors of the books I review, reading what they create often reminds me how much I wish I was doing what they're doing. I love to create. I love reading about creativity and being inspired by creativity. I've loved writing and making up stories ever since I can remember. 

I have a wonderful wife and three incredible children (ages 5, 3, & 2), and I want more than anything for my children to learn to be producers more than consumers. To give more than they take. To create relentlessly and pour their unique giftedness into the world. And I want them to see that in me. So one of my goals for 2014 is to be more of a producer than a consumer.

I'll still read and review books, but I hope to spend more time in this space creating and connecting with people who want to change the world through creativity the way I do. 

Many of my reviews will likely move to a new blog (or blogs) more focused on the particular niche of the books I enjoy reading. Here, I'll still be reviewing books primarily about writing, creativity, and my favorite fiction stories. 

Here, I'll be blogging about writing, creating, and approaching life from a pursuit of faith in Jesus. My goal when I write is to be thought-provoking and affirm life in people. That will be my goal here.

If you've visited my blog in the past to read my reviews, I appreciate it, and I hope you'll continue to visit as I re-begin this blogging journey.

Feel free to visit me on Twitter as well.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

My Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2013



I love reading a lot of fiction books, but I read a lot of nonfiction as well. Here's a list of the ten nonfiction books I enjoyed the most in 2013.


C.S. Lewis: A Life by Alister McGrath
I love C.S. Lewis, as many people do. His writings are some of the most thought-provoking ever written. McGrath's book takes us into the life of Lewis, and what I like about the book is how Lewis' writings are shaped by the things that Lewis went through. After reading McGrath's biography on Lewis, I started reading almost everything else by him that I could find, including The Intellectual World of C.S. Lewis and Faith and CreedsThis was easily my favorite book of 2013.


Start by Jon Acuff
Acuff is great at motivating people to do something important with their lives. I read Start at a time when I was facing the reality that what I thought God wanted me to do with my life, he wasn't letting me do, and I was interested in the possibility of becoming a school teacher. While reading Start, I took the plunge to get my alternative teaching certification, and I'm in my first year of teaching now. Start is about getting rid excuses and pursuing the dreams that dwell inside of you. I love the process he outlines because it's a process for living all of life and continually improving. It's a great book.

Contagious by Jonah Berger
I love information, and I'm really interested in what causes certain information to spread so widely and rapidly. Jonah Berger's book is about how an idea, concept, or message becomes contagious. He outlines six steps for making something contagious, and each chapter is devoted to one of the steps. He provides compelling examples for each step and research to back up his findings. I love the way he challenges common assumptions. This is a great book for any communicator.


I Got Schooled by M. Night Shyamalan
Like most people, I was surprised to learn that filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan was writing a book on education. I love Shyamalan's movies, I'm an educator, so I was immediately intrigued by the concept of this book. Shyamalan seems to genuinely care about the state of education in America, and he outlines five solutions that work cohesively together to create real change in America's schools. As a teacher, his findings challenged me to be my best as an educator because of the potential cost to students who have just one year under a poor teacher. The book works because Shyamalan is a great story teller, and the stories he tells about students and teachers he met on his journey to finding the key tenets to successful education were inspiring and gave hope for a better educational future. Even if you don't agree with everything that Shaymalan presents, if you're and educator or a parent, this book is worth your time for the research it presents.

The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert by Rosaria Butterfield
I had heard a lot of people talking about this book, so I finally decided to check it out myself. Butterfield's story is really interesting, and I love her honesty. I don't agree with all of her theology, but she does present Jesus in a way that makes him known and reveals his beauty. Butterfield's story is interesting because she chronicles a transformation from living one way to living another, and it was a change that was clearly catalyzed by something outside of her. Anyone should read her story.



Fight by Preston Sprinkle
Sprinkle tackles a difficult issue for Christians in this book. Should Christians ever respond violently? He walks us through Scripture to show that God's heart has always been for people to act in love toward one another. He makes a compelling case for nonviolence and a rejection of war. He presents a lot of Scripture to back up his conclusions. It's a difficult subject, especially in the areas of self-defense and participating in war. I struggled with what I was reading with this book, but it's definitely thought-provoking.



Jesus>Religion by Jefferson Bethke
Bethke became famous after his poetry video "Why I Hate Religion, But Love Jesus" went viral. I saw the video and knew exactly what he was talking about. Bethke appeals to a lot of people because he gets to the heart of what many of us feel are inadequacies when it comes to American Christianity and the churches that represent it. Jesus>Religion is Bethke's personal journey as he explores what it really means and looks like to genuinely follow Jesus. This is another book that reveals the beauty of Jesus. I knew before I even read the book that this would end up on my favorites list.


Called to Stay by Caleb Breakey
The easiest thing to do when you feel like you've been genuinely burned by a church is to walk away from it. I've felt that pull, and countless others have as well. Breakey's book is about rejecting that pull. It's about loving the bride of Christ more than we love ourselves. Breakey outlines strategies for loving Jesus and being an infiltrator by staying in the church and loving it enough to do what it takes to make it more like Jesus. The book is very practical and it challenges you to take an active role in being a change agent within a church. It's a hard path to take, and it takes a great deal of humility to do well.


Kingdom Come by Sam Storms
I started doubting the dispensational theology presented by the popular Left Behind series several years ago when I actually started studying the relevant passages for myself. It just didn't add up. I could never find a book that adequately described what I was discovering, though. Until I heard about this book by Sam Storms. Storms is an amillennialist, and his book outlines the amilliennial position. I don't quite agree with every theological aspect of the book, but I found much that I do agree with. Storms exegetes Scripture thoroughly and well in this book. I recommend it for everyone interested in what the Bible teaches about the end times.

Covenantal Apologetics by K. Scott Oliphint
I love apologetics, and I love studying complex theology. Oliphint is a mixture of both. He takes his cue from apologist Cornelius van Til in presenting a method of apologetics called covenantal apologetics. At the core of Oliphint's method is the firm belief that Christ is genuinely Lord over both those who believe and those who don't. Our job in defending the faith is getting people to recognize this reality through biblical truth and embrace it by changing their position from opposed to God to aligned with God. The gospel is our defense, and Oliphint brilliantly outlines how our conversations with unbelievers should go. This is a deep book and requires deep thought. It's definitely one I find myself picking up again and again.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Review of I GOT SCHOOLED by M. Night Shyamalan


Like most people, I was surprised to learn that filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan was writing a book on education. I love Shyamalan's movies, I'm an educator, so I was immediately intrigued by the concept of I Got Schooled. I love the way Shyamalan shares his passion for education and the story that prompted him to write the book. He seems to genuinely care about the state of education in America.

I love the way he outlines the five solutions as something that has to cohesively work together to create any real change. In the book, Shyamalan interviews many great minds in the field of education to reach his conclusions. As a teacher, his findings challenged me to be my best as an educator because of the potential cost to students who have just one year under a poor teacher. I agree that smaller schools would provide a more conducive environment for students to learn because the teacher could spread themselves to a smaller number of students.

The book works because Shyamalan is a great story teller, and the stories he tells about students and teachers he met on his journey to finding the key tenets to successful education were inspiring and gave hope for a better educational future. Even if you don't agree with everything that Shaymalan presents, if you're and educator or a parent, this book is worth your time for the research it presents.

I wish the book would have provided more tips a teacher could put into practice to improve the educational environment, but perhaps Shyamalan has more to say on the subject that wasn't in the book. I personally enjoyed this book as a rare storytelling experience from a master filmmaker, and I learned a lot about my field at the same time.

Review copy provided by Simon and Schuster

Saturday, January 25, 2014

My Top Ten Novels of 2013

I read a lot of books, and novels are always the books that stick with me the most. Below are ten of the stories I enjoyed the most in 2013. I loved all of them, so they're really in no particular order.

S. by Doug Dorst & J.J. Abrams
I love the work of J.J. Abrams, so when I heard about his unique story concept for a book, I knew it was something I want to check out. Doug Dorst crafted an intricate and captivating story by giving us three different storylines running alongside of each other. There's the story of the novel by mysterious author V.M. Straka, the story of Straka himself weaved throughout the inserts and footnotes included in the book, and the story of Eric and Jen in the margins of the book as they try to uncover the secret of Straka. S. is storytelling experience that I can't imagine will ever be duplicated with as much quality as what Abrams and Dorst have created.
Buy it at Amazon.com

Steelheart by Brandon Sanderson
Steelheart is a book I came across because it was mentioned on Twitter by one of my favorite authors, James Dashner. I decided to check it out, and I'm glad I did because it is a brilliant story. It's the story of superhuman powers that corrupt the individuals that receive them rather than turn them into heroes. Imagine a world where these people rule because they're almost infinitely more powerful than those of us without powers. The Epics, and the Epic named Steelheart in particular, have altered the world into one of oppression. After watching his father die at the hands of Steelheart when he was a boy, years later David is consumed with exacting revenge on Steelheart. He meets some interesting friends along the way, and not everyone is who they seem.
Buy it at Amazon.com

Sovereign by Ted Dekker & Tosca Lee
Ted Dekker has been my favorite author for years, and his Books of Mortals trilogy came to a close with this final book. There's something trilogies that I enjoy, and this one is told very well. It's a gritty retelling of the redemptive story of the Bible, and it gets to the heart of what it means to believe in the face of seemingly impossible circumstances.
Buy it at Amazon.com




Hurt by Travis Thrasher
Great young adult novels seem to reach beyond the young adult market, and Thrasher's Solitary Tales is a story that captures the angst of the teen years well, but tells a story so intense that it appeals to adults as well. Thrasher has been one of my favorite authors since I picked up his novel Isolation a few years ago in a Christian bookstore just because it looked interesting. The Solitary Tales tell the story of Chris Buckley who is trying to understand the dark secrets of Solitary after witnessing the girl he loved murdered by a dangerous cult. I loved Hurt because it answers so many questions. It's intense to very end, and you're not sure if the story can possibly end with a happy ending. It's a story I loved to see continued in the future because it ends with such possibility.
Buy it at Amazon.com


The Runaway King by Jennifer Nielsen
This is the second book in Jennifer Nielsen's Ascendance Trilogy. I loved the first book and the wreckless character of Jaron who become the king of Carthyra. This book is the story of whether Jaron can possibly grow into the king Carthyra needs. Jaron is a fun character because of the confidence he has, which is sometimes misplaced, and his angst-driven attitude toward life. It was fun to see how he changes throughout the course of this story. I'm currently reading the final book, and I'm excited to see how Jaron's story ends.
Buy it at Amazon.com



Doctor Sleep by Stephen King
I've never read The Shining, but I've become of a fan of King in recent years, so I wanted to check out Doctor Sleep. I'm glad I did. It's a long novel, but it's a story that is well told and powerfully redemptive. Dan Torrance is an adult, battling alcoholism and the horrors of his past, and he's caught up in a plot to rescue a little girl named Abra, who also has the shining, from a group of near-immortals called The True Knot. It's as much Abra's story as it is Dan's, and I loved how King connected these two characters together. If you decide to read this book, know that it does have quite a bit of profanity throughout.
Buy it at Amazon.com


The Eye of Minds by James Dashner
James Dashner became one of my favorite authors when I read the prequel to his Maze Runner series a year and a half ago. The Eye of Minds is the first book in The Mortality Doctrine trilogy, and it is an intense and compelling beginning to the series. It's a book about virtual reality and a villain inside of the virtual reality world who is affecting the real world. Michael and his friends are enlisted to find and stop him before it's too late. The ending to the book was completely unexpected, and I can't wait to read the second book in the series.
Buy it at Amazon.com



Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion
With the release of the movie last year, Warm Bodies was also re-released as a novel. The story sounds ridiculous, but I enjoyed it a lot. R. is a zombie who begins to fall in love with a living girl named Julie after he begins to experience the memories of Julie's boyfriend when he consumes the boyfriend's brain. It's a unique retelling of the Romeo and Juliet story, and it's a really good story. I also read the prequel novella, and I'm looking forward to the sequel.
Buy it at Amazon.com




Inferno by Dan Brown
Dan Brown is known as the controversial author of The DaVinci Code, and he tells stories in such a way to get people thinking. Inferno is about Robert Langdon trying to uncover a chain of clues to stop a mad scientist from unleashing a terrible plague on the world. Many of the clues are tied to Dante's famous epic poem, and Langdon is the expert who is on the run with a woman named Sienna. What Langdon uncovers throughout the course of the story is surprising, and Brown's ability to keep the reader guessing makes it a captivating story. I didn't really agree with end-game message of the book, but it was a great story.
Buy it at Amazon.com

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
This book was highly anticipated. It's the first in a seven book series, and it is truly unique. Paige Mahoney is a dreamwalker, a clairvoyant who can enter the minds of others and extract information, among other things. The voyants are a hated race, and forbidden from the world, a world heavily guarded by a group called Scion. Paige and many other voyants are taken hostage and made to live among a group of creatures known as the Rephaim. It's a dangerous world she's discovered, and her life will change completely as she discovers how truly powerful she really is. The story world is unique and the abilities of the voyants are interesting. It was an intriguing beginning to the series, and I look forward to the continuation of it.
Buy it at Amazon.com

Review of THE NEW HUNGER by Isaac Marion



Isaac Marion's novel WARM BODIES told the story of a zombie named R somehow developing very human and alive feelings for a girl named Julie. It's an intense story of tragedy and restoration. It was a story I loved, and one for which I felt Marion would be able to write an equally compelling prequel when I heard that there in fact was one. That's exactly what Marion did with THE NEW HUNGER, a prequel to R and Julie's story in WARM BODIES. THE NEW HUNGER takes us to the early days of the zombie infection outbreak. A disease has reanimated human corpses and given them a hunger for one thing - living human flesh and blood. The world's population dwindles amidst this plague. THE NEW HUNGER follows three story lines. The first is the tall man who wakes up from death in a forest. He's not sure who he was before he died or why he's alive again, but he's battling a new hunger inside of him for something he's sure he's not supposed to hunger for. The second story line is Nora and her brother Addis. They're traveling, trying to stay alive and find other people to band with. They run into zombies several times, and their chances for survival don't look good. The final story line follows 12-year-old Julie Grigio and her parents as they try to find a community of the living and hope for a survivable future.

This story felt much more intense than WARM BODIES, and while I loved the first book, I actually felt like this was a better story. Maybe it's because it sets up for WARM BODIES. Maybe it's because it hints at a story later than WARM BODIES. I was surprised that the majority of the story was about Nora and her brother, and I don't think you can read this story without developing a great of empathy for Nora and a desire to know where her story ultimately leads.

If you liked WARM BODIES, I'm sure you'll enjoy THE NEW HUNGER. It's a very interesting take on the story's primary characters before the first book took place. THE NEW HUNGER was released exclusively as an ebook with Zola Books. Check out https://zolabooks.com to or Amazon.com purchase.

Review copy provided by Zola Books

Photo Credit: Zola Books

Friday, January 24, 2014

Review of DOCTOR SLEEP by Stephen King


DOCTOR SLEEP is the long-awaited sequel to Stephen King’s novel THE SHINING. Danny Torrance has grown up and wrestled with the demons of his past. He becomes an alcoholic like his father was, and while coping with the challenges of being sober, he assumes a role in hospice care center where he becomes known as Dr. Sleep. The story is also about a little girl named Abra Stone who also has the shining. A group of people known as the True Knot want Abra because they live off of the steam that comes out of the body of someone who is killed who has the shining. Dan’s and Abra’s paths converge as Dan tries to rescue Abra from the True Knot and Rose the Hat, their merciless leader.

I hate to say it, but I’ve never actually read THE SHINING. I saw the movie once a long time ago, but King states in the book that the sequel has more to do with the novel than the movie, so it doesn’t really count. 

Even though I haven’t read the first book, I absolutely loved this story. It chronicles a very long period of time as we see Danny grow up and hit rock bottom as an alcoholic and watch Abra grow up into a thirteen-year-old.  

The True Knot made for a ruthless villain, and yet King tries to inject a little sympathy for them. They’re simply trying to survive. 

I loved Dan and Abra’s connection and how their story unfolded. Abra is an interesting little girl, and you want everything to be okay for her, but, as the story progresses, you’re not quite sure that it will.

The book felt a little long, but it does chronicle a lot of time. It was a great story. I suppose I’ll have to go back and read THE SHINING now.

Review copy provided by Scribner

Where you can buy it: Amazon.com

Review of Editor Proof Your Writing by Don McNair



Title: Editor Proof Your Writing

Author: Don McNair

Publisher: Linden Publishing

What It's About: EDITOR PROOF YOUR WRITING is about polishing your writing to a standard that is more likely to get you published. The author walks writers through several chapters on content revision and editing to make writing more crisp and concise.

Why I Read It: I love writing, but I know that I can always improve. This looked like a good book for somebody who wants to be a published author.

What I Liked About It: This book is designed to walk you through editing your work in progress, if you have one. This is a helpful aspect because it puts you into a productive mode with your writing as you're reading the book. The editing chapters were very eye-opening. I didn't realize how many of the writing flaws that McNair outlines show up in my own writing.

What I Didn't Like About It: There's really not anything that I didn't like about the book. It was very helpful, and I would recommend it to other writers.

Review copy provided by the publisher

Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Blog Tour Review of Ted Dekker's EYES WIDE OPEN


How well do you know who you are? What if something happened that made you question everything about yourself? Your family? Your history? Your name? Even what you look like?

Christy Snow is a troubled girl with a fractured past, but she's not crazy. At least, she thinks she's not. So why is she in a mental institution? Christy remembers ending up in the mental hospital while looking for her locket in the basement of an adjacent building. When the staff begin questioning her, she never imagined they'd mistake her for patient that tried to escape. Now she's locked up, and everyone says that she's actually a girl named Alice who was recently admitted to the hospital. But how could that be? She remembers who she is. 

Austin Hartt is Christy's closest friend. When he goes looking for her, he stumbles upon something he wasn't meant to see. Soon, he's also admitted as a patient named Scott Connelly. But he knows he's not crazy, and neither is Christy.

Things begin happening that cause Christy and Austin to question their reality and their very identity. 

EYES WIDE OPEN by Ted Dekker is the kind of story that causes you to feel what the characters feel. It's a trippy feeling, knowing that Dekker has crafted this story that begins with you knowing that these two characters aren't crazy. They've just stumbled onto something that someone has to cover up. But as the story rolls along, you, as the reader, can't help but start questioning what Christy and Austin really know about themselves.

EYES WIDE OPEN was originally released last year as an episodic eBook, and each chapter feels like an episode in a bigger story. I love television, especially shows full of mystery like LOST and Once Upon a Time, so I enjoyed the episodic feel of this book.

I think Dekker did a really good job with the characters in this story, considering what they believe about themselves and the impossible situation they're thrust into. It's a great example of what Stephen King talks about when he says to create compelling characters and throw them into a troubling situation to see how they'll react.

At the core of this story is the concept of identity. It's really a struggle that I think all people have, and Dekker explores it creatively and compellingly. Where do we find our identity, and does it matter? This story prompts the reader to get to the core of who they are. As always, this Dekker novel ultimately points to the one rescuer that is Jesus, and our identity can only truly be found in him. 

As you read this novel, be prepared to question everything as you're reading. There are plenty of twists and turns, and the story is compelling all the way to the end.

Review copy provided by Worthy Publishing

Where you can buy it: Amazon.com

Monday, January 20, 2014

Review of THE SCREENWRITER'S ROADMAP by Neil Landau


THE SCREENWRITER'S ROADMAP by Neil Landau is a book designed to get you thinking about all the core structural elements of your story and how to get them up to peak performance. Each chapter is based on a structural question that Landau poses to you in the midst of writing your story. The questions are incredibly helpful and his elaboration on the questions is equally helpful. He includes numerous examples of popular movies to make his points throughout, and he writes as one who teaches screenwriting for a living.

I loved the tone of the book and felt like I wanted to stop and write several times as I read it. By far my most favorite part of the book was the interviews Landau conducts at the end of each chapter. I loved reading the interviews with David S. Goyer, David Koepp, the writing team of Rise of the Planet of the Apes, and several others. The interviews give you a lot of really good insight into the storytelling process of some of the best writers out there.

THE SCREENWRITER'S ROADMAP is a great book for getting your story going in the right direction. It's immensely helpful, and I highly recommend it.

Review copy provided by Focal Press

Buy it at Amazon.com

Friday, January 17, 2014

Review of GUITAR WORLD PRESENTS KIRK HAMMETT'S THE SOUND AND THE FURY by Nick Bowcott



When I was learning how to play guitar in high school, Metallica was one of the most popular bands at the time and had been for a decade and a half. I was a fan of their music, and especially of their guitar player Kirk Hammett. Hammett did a series of guitar instruction features for Guitar World. I only read a couple at the time, but I was excited to see that Hal Leonard had recently re-released the articles in their entirety with commentary throughout in GUITAR WORLD PRESENTS KIRK HAMMETT'S THE SOUND AND THE FURY. 

Nick Bowcott takes the articles that Hammett produced for Guitar World and presents them in way that guitar players can learn and build as they go through the book. Bowcott's gives some history behind Metallica and Hammett's journey as a guitar player, as well as some insight into how Hammett achieves his legendary guitar sound.

The book comes with a CD to play along with all of the examples throughout the book. Hammett is one of the best guitar players there is, and this book provides a great opportunity to learn some of the techniques that make him great.

Anyone interested in buying the book can go toHalLeonard.com or Amazon.com

Review copy provided by Hal Leonard Books

Review of ACOUSTIC ARTISTRY by Evan Herschelman

Evan Hirschelman is an instructor at Musicians Institute, and in his book ACOUSTIC ARTISTRY for Hal Leonard, he introduces acoustic fingerstyle and classical guitar players to some techniques that will add more creativity to their playing. The book is written for guitar players who already have some proficiency in playing the instrument. Hirschelman introduces players to techniques such as string-slapping and string-tapping, as well as percussion techniques using the body of the guitar. 

The book is divided into parts that correspond to the techniques that the book strives to get guitar players to understand, practice, and master. What's good about the book is that each technique starts with the basics and increases in complexity and difficulty. Guitar players who work through this book will learn how to be more creative in their playing and performing. Not only will they become better guitar players; they'll become better musicians.

The book is well-designed and includes a CD to help players practices the exercises contained in the book. It's a great book if you enjoy fingerstyle or classical guitar.

Anyone interested in buying the book can go to HalLeonard.com or Amazon.com

Review copy provided by Hal Leonard Books


Review of Percussive Acoustic Guitar by Chris Woods



I've always been a fan of the guitar playing of Phil Keaggy. His ability to use the guitar both as a guitar and a percussive instrument is impressive. PERCUSSIVE ACOUSTIC GUITAR by Chris Woods gives guitar players the techniques to turn their guitar playing into more percussive-driven music making. The book covers string slapping, body percussion, string tapping, harmonics, and the use of alternate tunings. 

I like the way this book is organized. Each chapter is dedicated to one of the techniques that Chris Woods is trying to teach players to implement in their playing. He starts out easy and increases the difficulty. The book also includes a really helpful DVD that guides players through the exercises in the book. 

This book is great for acoustic guitar players who want to get more out of their playing. The techniques are advanced, so the book isn't really for beginners, but it's great for someone who already has a grasp on making some great music with the acoustic guitar.

Anyone interested in buying the book can go to HalLeonard.com or Amazon.com

Review copy provided by Hal Leonard Books

Monday, January 13, 2014

Review of S. by Doug Dorst & J.J. Abrams



Title: S.

Author: Doug Dorst; concept by J.J. Abrams

Publisher: Mulholland Books

What It's About: The book is really two stories progressing at once. The book is designed to look like an old library book, a book called Ship of Theseus by a mysterious and controversial author named V. M. Straka. The novel is about a man who wakes up not knowing who he is and is dragged onto a ship where he encounters strange things. Then, when the ship crashes, he washes up on land where he is caught up in something no one with amnesia could be prepared for. 

The book is also about the storyline running through the margins of the book. A college student named Jen and a rejected graduate student named Eric are trading the book back and forth, having conversations in the margin. They're trying to uncover the mystery behind Straka and developing a relationship at the same time, but it's clear that this search is putting them in danger.

Why I Read It: I love the work of J.J. Abrams. I realize he only came up with the concept of the book, but his commitment to mystery has always been something I've really been drawn to. I found a new author that I enjoy in Doug Dorst.

What I Liked About It: Everything. The way the book is designed. The stories are full of mystery and suspense. S. is this really interesting character because he doesn't know anything about himself. He's a complete enigma. The way Eric and Jen's story plays out in the margins is done really well. I wondered how it could be pulled off, but it was definitely pulled off really well.

What I Didn't Like About It: It's a great concept, but it can never really be done again, at least in the way that it's a new kind of experience. This isn't a flaw in the book. It's just disappointing for such a good storytelling experience to end.

Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Review copy provided by Mulholland Books

Review of DIRECTING THE CAMERA by Gil Bettman

I tend to read a lot of books on screenwriting because I love the storytelling element of film making. But I'm fully aware that the images on the screen and the dialogue and action that take place are what really moves a story.

DIRECTING THE CAMERA by Gil Bettman goes into how a director uses the camera to move a story forward. Specifically, the book covers strategies for getting the best moving shots from the camera, covering placement, lens selection, and other camera strategies.

The book includes a foreword by Hollywood director Robert Zemeckis. It has photos throughout to show the techniques in action. I'm not a cinematographer, but it would be great to get my hands on a camera and put some of this stuff to use. This another great book put out by Michael Wiese Productions.

Review copy provided by Michael Wiese Productions

Where you can buy itAmazon.com

Review of SCREENWRITING BEHIND ENEMY LINES by John Schimmel

In SCREENWRITING BEHIND ENEMY LINES, John Schimmel provides valuable insight into writing a script that studio executives are more likely to read, and he writes as an industry insider. Though there are many similarities between this book and many other screenwriting books, Schimmel's book truly seeks to get readers behind the scenes of the film industry. He seems to hold nothing back as he pulls back the curtain to show the reader what the current state of the industry is and where it has come from.

The bulk of the book covers story structure just as any screenwriting book would. Schimmel applies the ideas to actual films he has worked on, and this is very helpful to see the structure ideas as they're working. There's plenty of homework for the aspiring screenwriter, and going through the book should help any writer find areas where they can improve.

I was looking forward to this book for several months, and I'm glad I got a chance to read it. It's a helpful one, and any aspiring screenwriter would benefit from reading it and applying what is in it.

Review copy provided by Michael Wiese Productions

Where you can buy it: Amazon.com

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Review of CHURCH HISTORY, VOLUME 2 by John D. Woodridge & Frank A. James III

Title: Church History, Volume 2

Author: John D. Woodbridge and Frank A. James III

Publisher: Zondervan

What It's About: CHURCH HISTORY, VOLUME 2 covers the history of Christianity from right before the Reformation up to today. The book shows how Christianity has spread and impacted the cultures it has touched for the last several hundred years.

Why I Read It: I've been a follower of Jesus for a long time, and I've always loved studying history. The history of Christianity and how it has impacted the world is very interesting. I believe the way it has made a difference offers great credibility to the message of Jesus.

What I Liked About It: The book is thick, so I knew it was going to cover a lot of ground. I liked how it outlines major movements in church history, such as the years right up to the Reformation. I also enjoyed how it draws out some detail about some of the influential players in each historical movement of Christianity. The organization is done really well, and the presentation of history is conveyed in a way that, at least to me, was interesting. There's plenty of insightful commentary throughout. It's a great book for Christians and people interested in Christianity's place throughout history.

What I Didn't Like About It: Other than wishing that some historical figures were discussed a little more in depth, I was overall satisfied with the book.

Where You Can Buy It: Amazon.com

Review copy provided by Zondervan Academic, courtesy of AcademicPS