Saturday, June 28, 2014

Review of YAWNING AT TIGERS by Drew Dyck

Title: Yawning at Tigers
Author: Drew Dyck
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
What It's About: Yawning at Tigers is about having an accurate perception of God and an accurate perception of who we are in relation to God. The basic premise of the book is that God is anything but boring and engaging with him is a dangerous affair because of who he is.
Why I Read It: I heard Drew Dyck talking about his book on The Phil Vischer Podcast recently and was intrigued by what he said.
What I Liked About It: I think Drew Dyck does a great job of helping believers to understand how ridiculous our approach often is to God because we view him like we would a tiger in a zoo, which is basically harmless because it's in a cage. God, however, is an infinite being who cannot be caged, and yawning at God when we engage with him would be ridiculous. Yet that's what many of us do. Dyck doesn't try to tame the vision of God presented in the Bible, but he does seek to provide understanding that though God is a consuming fire, he is one that loves us and gives his life for us. Yawning at Tigers is about realizing who God is and being in awe of the fact that this God loves us and pursues us relentlessly.

Review copy provided by Thomas Nelson, courtesy of Book Look Bloggers
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Friday, June 27, 2014

Blog Tour Review of TITUS FOR YOU by Tim Chester

Title: Titus for You
Author: Tim Chester
Publisher: The Good Book Company
What It's About: Titus for You is a user-friendly guide to the New Testament book of Titus, written by the apostle Paul.
Why I Read It: I've enjoyed Tim Keller's books in this series, and I've been familiar with Tim Chester's work.
What I Liked About It: Chester does a great job of putting you into the context of Titus's world into which Paul was writing. He helps to make sense of the way this letter works within the New Testament narrative. One thing I loved about this book is the way Chester outlines the way church structure was apparent before Paul wrote this letter in the early church. The book also seeks to compare the world and culture Titus inhabited with the world and culture we live in. Chester uses these comparisons and similarities to make insightful application of Paul's words to our lives today. As with all of the books of the New Testament, Titus is all about the gospel and grace, and Chester does a great job of revealing the grace of God that Paul outlines in his letter to Titus.

Review copy provided by The Good Book Company, courtesy of Cross Focused Reviews
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Title: The Multiplayer Classroom
Author: Lee Sheldon
Publisher: Course Technoloy PTR
What It's About: The Multiplayer Classroom is about utilizing game mechanics in the classroom to motivate student engagement and increase learning.
Why I Read It: I'm a high school English teacher. I don't want my students to be bored by my teaching, but I want them to learn as well. I wanted to explore game mechanics for the classroom, and because I knew Lee Sheldon to be video games writer, I was particularly interested in this book.
What I Liked About It: I think the concept is interesting, and I think Sheldon does a great job of elaborating on it. I especially enjoy the personal examples he shares. I think this would make a classroom fun, and I think, with a lot of work, a teacher could utilize this to get students learning as well. It shows why game mechanics work to get people engaged. Though I enjoy the idea, I'm not completely sure how to put it into practice in my own classroom yet. I'm not sure that it's not more work than it's worth. It's definitely worth more exploration, and for that reason, I'll be going through this book over and over. I'd definitely recommend it to anyone who is interested in utilizing game mechanics in the classroom.

Review copy provided by Course Technology PTR 


Title: Character Development and Storytelling for Games
Author: Lee Sheldon
Publisher: Course Technology PTR
What It's About: Character Development and Storytelling for Games is a book designed specifically for writers who are interested in the process of developing stories for video games.
Why I Read It: I've always loved the stories in my favorite video games, with the stories in the Final Fantasy games probably being my favorite. I love writing in general, and I've always wanted to learn about writing for games. 
What I Liked About It: The book is thorough. I love video games, but this book will help you to understand games better, especially from a story development perspective. This book gives writers the tools to develop compelling story lines that get games engaged not only in the game play, but in the story as well. Learn about characterization, which is really important because gamers play as characters and often interact with many non-playable characters in their game play. You'll learn how to script stories for games. Learn about the different types of games that feature stories and how those stories fit in with the game play.

The book is also a helpful guide for helping writers and designers to communicate in a way that each understands the other. I thought this book was very helpful and a lot of fun to read as a video game player and a writer. If you're interested in writing for games, this is the book to get.

Review copy provided by Course Technology PTR

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Review of THE WRITER'S GUIDE TO PSYCHOLOGY by Carolyn Kaufman

Title: The Writer's Guide to Psychology
Author: Carolyn Kaufman
Publisher: Linden Publishing
What It's About: The Writer's Guide to Psychology is a book for fiction writers who want to write the psychological aspects of their characters as authentically as possible.
Why I Read It: I'm a fiction writer, and I wanted to understand the psychology of people so that I can write characters that are more believable.
What I Liked About It: Kaufman puts to rest many misconceptions that fiction writers may have about psychology. Mistakes that fiction writers have made in the past are brought to light, so that fiction writers can make the best use of the tool of psychology in their writing. 

The book, on one level, is about the drives that people have that make them do the things they do. On this level, the book helps fiction writers get into character motivations and understand what makes people tick. It also helps them to understand the psychological disorders some people experience so that a writer can write a character with a psychological disorder authentically. 

On another level, the book is about understanding the roles of psychological professionals, the people that help those who suffer psychological disorders. For example, what does a therapist do, and what does a therapy session look like. What kind of treatments do those with disorders have to go through. Understanding these things can help you to avoid inaccurate portrayals of what psychology looks like in real life. 

This is a book that should be on every fiction writer's bookshelf.

Review copy provided by Linden Publishing
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Review of WHAT'S BEST NEXT by Matt Perman

Title: What's Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done
Author: Matt Perman
Publisher: Zondervan
What It's About: What's Best Next is a book about productivity, specifically from a Christian perspective. It looks at productivity from a biblical standpoint.
Why I Read It: I've read a lot of books on productivity. When a great deal of your work is focused production and creativity, the many things that you have to do can get overwhelming. I was immediately interested when I found out there was a book on productivity that could speak into God's desire for your productive life.
What I Liked About It: I loved this book. Perman makes compelling arguments for the distinctly God-desired role of productivity in a Christian's life. I loved the title of this book because it focuses the book's strategy on choosing the right things to do. Perman argues that getting things done isn't the point because you can get a lot of things done, but they may not necessarily be the right things. Instead, you should develop a way to prioritize the right things to do. Not everything should make it onto your task list. Then I love his definition of productivity. Productivity, from a biblical standpoint, is about doing good things that benefit other people. This framework for productivity helps in the choosing of what's best next to do.

The first part of the book is about theory and theology of productivity. It sets a great foundation for why God cares about productivity and why it's important for us to rethink what being productive means. The second part is more practical. Perman offers an organizational and productivity system that will help you to do more of the right things that will benefit other people. The four step process is to define, architect, reduce, and execute. This process helps you to plan out your productivity schedule and get more of the right things done.

Another great thing about Perman's book is the wealth of wisdom he draws from all of the great productivity books we've all probably read. He pulls the best from these books and organizes them into his what's best next framework.

I've read a lot of books on productivity. This book is, without a doubt, the best of its kind. Though this book is written from a Christian perspective, it's also something that works, so that even if you're not a Christian, there's much to learn from the productivity strategy of this book. I can't recommend this book enough.

Review copy provided by Zondervan
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Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Review of MR. MERCEDES by Stephen King

Bill Hodges is a retired police detective whose life hasn't been the same since he left the police force. Everyday seems like a struggle to find a reason to keep living, and someone else seems very aware of how hopeless he feels. Before he retired, Hodges was working one of the most horrific crimes he'd ever encountered--an unknown man had stolen a Mercedes and ran over several people waiting in line for a job fair early one morning. The one who did it was the one who got away, and Hodges hates that he was never able to catch whoever was responsible. But he's about to get a second chance. The killer is still out there, and he wants to play a cat-and-mouse game with Hodges. 

Hodges is soon pulled into a dangerous pursuit of a man who seems void of compassion or guilt. The Mercedes Killer is more dangerous than Hodges imagined and he has to be stopped before he strikes again.
MR. MERCEDES by Stephen King is a novel that is a mixture of fun and disturbing. King does a great job of getting us into the head of his main protagonist Bill Hodges. And Brady, the primary antagonist, is truly twisted. The Mercedes Killer pushes Hodges' buttons in a way that somehow brings him to life. Hodges only feels alive when he's in the pursuit of finding a killer. Brady knows this and exploits it. 

The novel has the fun feel of a mystery as Hodges digs deep into the evidence to discover who the killer is and what he plans to do next. Having read several Stephen King novels, this one does feel a little different, but its true Stephen King all the way through. King talks of writing books that start with a situation in his book On Writing. This is definitely that type of book with the Mercedes Killer attacking the people waiting in hopes of getting a job the way he does. 

If you're a fan of King, this is another great book by him. It's a story of good versus evil and the pursuit of stopping a heartless killer. As a fan of Stephen King myself, I definitely recommend this as another great story by one of the greatest writers around.

Review copy provided by Scribner

Monday, June 9, 2014

Blog Tour Review - HACKER by Ted Dekker

Title: Hacker
Author: Ted Dekker
Publisher: Worthy Publishing
Nyah Parks is an extraordinary teenager who knows how to hack into computer systems better than most. She makes a living from hacking into the systems of major organizations, who then hire her as a data security consultant to make sure it can never happen again. Nyah's mother, after suffering major brain damage from a car accident, is close to dying. If Nyah can secure $250,000, she'll be able to enter her into a medical program that might save her. Nyah decides to perform a hack into a major organization in hopes that they'll hire her so that she can get the money she needs. Unfortunately, she comes upon some information no one was ever meant to see, and her life quickly becomes in danger. She now has to fight to stay alive while trying to find a way to help her mom. 

Hacker is the third book in Ted Dekker's Outlaw Chronicles, and it reads very much like some of Dekker's earlier books. It's an interesting concept. When I picked up the book, I had an idea the book would be about tapping into the potential of the human mind because of the cover, but actually reading what Nyah and Austin (a character from the first book in the series) do to themselves was both creepy and interesting. Most of Dekker's books are about tapping into the unseen reality behind all that we see. This book is no exception and probably does it to a far greater depth than some of the other books. Nyah and Austin tap into the unseen reality, but what's really interesting and that I found particularly compelling was the way they're able to tap into the future. Nyah discovers something that she desperately wants to stop. 

I thought it was another great Dekker novel. The pace is quick. The themes are clear. The characters are well-developed. The only drawback I have with this series and the book Outlaw is the frequent idea that comes across that we are merely spiritual beings having a physical experience. Our physical bodies are often described as costumes that aren't our identity. While I agree that our identity isn't wrapped up solely in our physical makeup, biblical thought places a high view of the physical throughout. The Bible describes us as a complex hybrid of the physical and spiritual, and the eternal state isn't one in which we shed our physical bodies; it's one in which are bodies are restored to perfection. We'll be forever a complex hybrid of the physical and spiritual. I'm not sure why Dekker has latched onto this concept of the body as costume, but it's one I wish he'd drop. It's a flaw to an otherwise excellent series.

Fans of Ted Dekker's books will probably love this book for all the reasons I mentioned above. It's a great story, and I'd love to read more stories about the characters from Nyah's and Austin's world.

Review copy provided by Worthy Publishing

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Review of PROOF by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones

Calvinism has often been reduced to its five points, represented by the acronym TULIP. But many Calvinists throughout history have seen this acronym as unfortunate because it's not quite as representative of the theology of Calvinism as it was originally intended. Alternative acronyms have been suggested, and PROOF is the most recent. PROOF by Daniel Montgomery and Timothy Paul Jones looks at traditional Calvinist theology in a fresh new light and seeks to reveal the five core truths of Calvinism through a whole new framework. PROOF stands for...
Planned Grace
Resurrecting Grace
Outrageous Grace
Overcoming Grace
Forever Grace

As you can see, the common thread is grace. Enter any Calvinist discussion, and you will hear the word grace mentioned perhaps more than any other word. Certainly, God's grace is amazing as the song tells us, and Montgomery and Jones seek to illuminate the complexities of God's grace so that people will love and appreciate him and what he's done even more.

I'm not a Calvinist, and that's not a decision I've ever made without some serious investigation. But many of my favorite theologians and teachers are Calvinists. There's much about this book that I love. It seeks to show God as the savior of his people, and I believe that's true. However, since this is a book about God's grace, I find some of their conceptions of God's grace troubling. Calvinism, no matter how you dress it, is about God giving his grace to some while withholding it from others. And this decision of who isn't based on anything the person does or will do, and although Calvinists will often deny it, the decision is random because there's nothing to differentiate the people God creates. They're all equal and all desperately in need of God's grace. That puts them all on a level playing field. Without anything to differentiate them, God picks some at random to bestow his grace upon and some to withhold it from. While PROOF is meant to be a book about the love and grace of God, it portrays God in some instances as someone who rejoices in destroying some of the people he creates simply because it was his sovereign choice. This doesn't accurately reflect the God of the Bible.

God can do what he wants, and I think we can all agree on that. But where I disagree with Calvinism is what God wants. The way Calvinists dodge the passages of the Bible that state that God wants to save all people just doesn't do the text justice.

While I think the core theology this book is based on is flawed in some areas, I did enjoy reading PROOF. The authors include some very illuminating personal stories, and I believe they are people who love Jesus and want to see his gospel spread.

Review copy provided by the publisher