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