Monday, December 19

Bound for Glory by Timothy R. Botts

This is definitely a different sort of book than I normally review, but it looked neat, so I thought I’d give it a try.

Bound for Glory is a collection of spirituals which Timothy Botts presents as a way to celebrate African American music.  Each song is presented in its entirety (at least it seems to be complete songs), and Botts created illustrations to go with each.  The illustrations usually incorporate some of the lyrics, and they’re presented in a way to evoke a visual representation of the song.  For example, with the song “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot” the image features chariot wheels, but also has flames underneath the printed chorus.  It’s a beautiful picture which blends colors, textures, and even the chosen font to depict the song.  Working with Patricia Raybon, personal reflections are offered on the songs, and they write about why the song is important to them.

Saturday, November 19

Screenwriting Tips, You Hack by Xander Bennett

Want to be a screenwriter?  Yeah?  Have you sold anything yet?  Yes?  No?  Regardless, you’re a hack.  Just ask Xander Bennett, author of one of my favorite blogs, Screenwriting Tips You Hack (yes the book and the blog share the same name).  

 I’ve been reading Xander’s blog for about a year now and it’s by far one of my favorite blogs (ranking up there with Scriptshadow).  Each day Xander posts a new tip.  They’re usually only a few sentences long, but they’re quite useful, such as, “‘Wise beyond his years’ is a character description cliché – and not a very useful or informative one.”  Xander is able to infuse humor into his short tips, and reading his blog may quickly deflate the ego of any amateur writer before proceeding to provide practical advice.

Thursday, November 17

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

After many long years, Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle finally closes. I was in eighth grade when I read Eragon and loved it. I’ve loved fantasy stories since grade school, when my parents read me Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia. Though it many have criticized the series for following nearly every fantasy cliché in the book, I still enjoyed it and when Eldest came out shortly afterward I jumped right back in. By time Brisingr released I had started college, and though I still enjoyed Eragon and Eldest, I was sorely disappointed at the lack of story progression and the overwhelming amount of filler material.

How does Inheritance stack up? In short: Better than Brisingr, but it lacked many elements needed to make it a solid ending to the series.

Sunday, November 6

Decision Points by George W. Bush

Memoirs often seem to follow similar patterns.  They usually follow someone’s life in chronological order, lingering on the events that they are either most known for (in the case of celebrities or politicians) or which they think are the most important events in their life.  Wisely forgoing that, former President George W. Bush instead focuses each chapter on events which found to be  large decision points in his life.  Chapters range from “Stem Cells,” “Day of Fire” (9/11), “Iraq,” “Katrina,” to “Financial Crises.”  Each chapter tends to flow chronologically and he recounts his thoughts and feelings, and explains his rationale for the decision he told.

Tuesday, November 1

The Orthodox Heretic by Peter Rollins

Aside from its small size (smaller than most paperback books, though it is a hardcover), the first thing that caught my eye was the back cover.  In the upper corner are the words, “Shelve under: Christ-Following.”  Now, I’m used to seeing the genre of a book by the bar-code, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen one so direct.  I even found it a bit funny.  I’ve never seen a shelf in Barnes and Noble labeled, “Christ-Following.”

In The Orthodox Heretic, Peter Rollins has assembled many short tales  - parables if you will.  Much like the parables Jesus told, they serve to illustrate an idea, a theme, or even a way of life.  Some may shock, others may provoke though.  Even parable is followed by some commentary by Rollins.  He may explain where his idea came from, or he may expound upon it if he thinks there is a chance the reader may become confused.

Monday, October 24

Why Men Hate Going To Church by David Murrow

Churches today are facing a problem: they are having trouble drawing in men.  According to Murrow, a typical church service’s attendance is predominantly female, at 61%.  Furthermore, women tend to volunteer more, and most Christian colleges also have a noticeable gap between male and female attendance.  Why Men Hate Going to Church was originally published in 2005, however Thomas Nelson has released an updated and revised version of the book.  The updated version includes materials from other books by Murrow and he has trimmed some content he now sees as unnecessary or redundant, as well as including updated numbers and figures when possible.

After some misunderstandings after the first printing, Murrow makes it clear that he is not blaming women for the problem, nor is he blaming men.  His goal is show that the gender gap exists in church, reasons for it, and ways to encourage men back into church.

Wednesday, October 19

Over It official music video - Cities and Saints

Here is Cities and Saints second official music video for their song "Over It," which I edited with the director.  This was a fun project to edit and I still find the song getting stuck in my head from time to time.

Tuesday, October 18

The Bone House by Stephen R. Lawhead

After the sudden, and surprise, ending of The Skin Map, I was curious how Lawhead would continue the series. Though The Skin Map was not my favorite work of his, I generally enjoy his novels. The Bone House mostly picks up close to where The Skin Map left off. I say mostly because when dealing with alternate universes and various times, some events begin to happen in a non-linear fashion.

Having reconnected with Wilhelmina, Kit searches for other elements of the Skin Map, hoping to find them before the Burley men find them. Wilhelmina aids him when possible, though she is careful to keep up work at a coffee house in one of the alternate dimensions. In that world she is close to some alchemists who have created a device capable of reading ley lines. Added to the cast is Arthur’s grandson, a man willing to do anything to recover the Skin Map and who serves as a second villain, after Burleigh.

Tuesday, October 11

Church Diversity - a short video

I've found myself watching this video several times over the past couple of days. The poetic nature of the lyrics and visuals bear re-watching to let the ideas settle in. I'm hoping to get my hands on the book, as I'm sure it will be an interesting read.

Have you read the book yet? Is it as thought provoking as the video?

Friday, September 30

The Skin Map by Stephen R. Lawhead

Kit Livingston isn’t really much of an adventurer—of any sort.  He seems rather content in London, and the relationship with his girlfriend, Wilhemina, is flat lining.  Though life seems a bit droll at times, he’s also not too eager to change.  Of course, discovering that your great-grandfather Cosimo, long thought dead, is alive and a worldwide traveler adds a bit of spice to life that Kit wasn’t asking for.  To top it off, he discovers that the traveling Cosimo does is not only geographical, but also through time.  Cosimo belongs to a small group aware of ley lines (which act as pathways to parallel universes) and is in search of the Skin Map, a map which shows many of the ley lines.  Unfortunately for them, others with more devious plans are also in search with the map.

Thursday, September 29

Ascent from Darkness by Michael Leehan

Ascent from Darkness is probably one of the most chilling books I’ve read, made more so because it is a true story.  Feeling unfulfilled by where his life was leading him, Michael dedicated his life to the service of Satan.  Through much of it he tried leading a double life.  He tried to keep this decision hidden from his friends and family, and though they did not know specifically what was happening to him, many felt a sense of darkness surrounding Michael.

Michael’s writing is raw and honest.  He tells us many stories, many of which show the darkness that he fell into, but he does so not for the purpose of shocking us (though much of it is shocking), but rather for the purpose of showing how far he had fallen.  His stories include purchasing Satanic bibles and leaving them scattered throughout fundamentalist churches, animal sacrifices, and opening himself up to demonic possession.

Tuesday, September 20

Forbidden by Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee

(This review is spoiler free)

Peace has reigned on Earth for hundreds of years.  But that peace came at a steep price – a virus that was designed to strip humanity of all emotions save for fear.  There is a group, known as the Keepers, who seek to restore humanity to its full potential.  They guard a vial of blood which will restore humanity to any who consume it.  Rom has the vial thrust suddenly upon him, and not knowing what to expect he drinks of the blood.  What do you do when to be alive is forbidden?

Many reviewers have already been comparing Forbidden to the Circle series, which contain some of Dekker’s most well-known books.  The similarities are quite striking.  Once Rom and his friends drink of the blood, their relation to those who are dead seems very similar to the Forest Guard/Scab relations.  Each side thinks they are right and that the other side has lost something.

Sunday, September 11

Raised Right by Alisa Harris

Each day it seems that the line between politics and religion blurs.  At every election voters look at their own beliefs and decide which candidate best exhibits their beliefs.  We expect politicians to be cookie cutters of our own value system.  There are some which praise this blurring of the lines, and there are others that fear it.

Alisa Harris grew up in an extremely conservative home.  She has many memories of picketing abortion clinics and of helping campaigns for conservative Christians.  However, when she left for college she felt as if a bit of a blind fold was lifted.  She began to see that her religious beliefs and her political views were a tangled mess.  No longer could she clearly see where were faith/beliefs influenced her political thoughts and where her party’s thoughts influenced her beliefs.  She developed an understanding of the many different viewpoints and began to rethink her political motivations.  She realized that she had been engaging with politics, but had not done so with love.

Wednesday, September 7

The Betrayal by Jerry B. Jenkins

After leading the sting to bring down one of the most notorious gangs in Chicago, life should be feeling sweet for Boone Drake.  And it would, except for a minor detailing like sustaining a serious gunshot wound to his shoulder and learning that someone is suspecting his girlfriend, Haeley, of leaking classified information.  Hiring the best defense attorney Boone knows of, he is determined to prove Haeley innocent.  To discover otherwise would truly be a betrayal of the worst kind.

Those who read my review of The Brotherhood may remember that I was not too fond of the book.  Too many times it felt cheesy and I felt the Christian element felt more forced than natural.  So why did I read the sequel to a book I didn’t like?  Despite the cheesiness, the story held some promise and it certainly ended on strong note considering the rest of the story.

Sunday, September 4

Vigilante by Robin Parrish

Crime in the US in growing at a speed too fast for local law enforcement to control. Something has to be done. Nolan Gray, a war hero, concocts a plan. Working with two friends, he fakes his death and then watches the streets of New York as a vigilante/hero. The public dubs him The Hand. Meanwhile, the President, who served with Nolan in the military, starts a new organization designed to fight organized crime faster and more effectively.

Vigilante reads as part Iron Man and part Batman. Parrish forgoes the superpowers of other heroes, opting instead for the hero with high tech gadgets and a wide range of combat skills.

Unfortunately, Vigilante completely misses the mark.

Saturday, August 27

The Corruptible by Mark Mynheir

Private investigators don’t have an easy life, especially when they started out as cops.  After sustaining an injury that prevented him from performing police work, Ray Quinn still has an itch for tracking down bad guys.  Ray’s in a bit of a slump.  His clients aren’t bringing him in for the big cases and he certainly doesn’t enjoy trailing cheating husbands – especially when one client spills the beans to her husband and the husband corners Ray in the bathroom.  Nope, life isn’t easy.

Not long afterwards though, he is approached by Armon Mayor, a wealthy business man.  One of Mayor’s former employees (an ex-cop who Ray knew on the force) has stolen a hard drive with sensitive customer data on it.  Mayor wants the hard drive retrieved and doesn’t want anything leaking to the press.  There’s also a little something about a hefty paycheck.

Unfortunately, the ex-cop is found dead with no trace of the hard drive.  Now Ray, joined by wanna-be cop Crevice are pulled deeper into a growing mystery.  Not everything is as it seems.

Tuesday, August 23

With by Skye Jethani

There are some books which make me nervous before I pick them up, and not in a, “I’m afraid this book might actually challenge me” sort of way.  The books that make me nervous feel like they were written because the author felt obligated to write a book.  Often this is a feeling I get when I read a book by a pastor turned author.  Though it sounded intriguing, I was afraid that With would be book written out of obligation (Skye is the managing editor of Leadership Journal, maintains an award winning blog, and is a speaker at various conferences).

With With (no pun intended), Skye seeks to look at the ways we relate to God.  He begins by outlining four of the most common types of relationships, life under God, life over God, life for God, and life from God.  After offering a description of each he delves into the fallacies of each way. 

Wednesday, August 17

Star Wars: Ascension by Christie Golden

*There may be spoilers for earlier books in the series*

Ascension begins with a whirlwind of events.  The Lost Tribe of the Sith is preparing for a visit from Abeloth, still unsure if they are going to kill her or ally with her.  Her knowledge seems vast but they do not want her to slip out of their control.  Meanwhile, Coruscant is still adjusting to the coup which overthrew Daala and put in place a temporary Triumvirate, on which Jedi Master Saba is a member of.  The rest of the Jedi are now also free to assist Luke and Ben in their hunt for the Abeloth and the Lost Tribe (along with the help of Sith apprentice, Vestera).

After being disappointed in the pacing of Conviction, I was happy to see Ascension start off with a brisk pace that didn’t let up.  The beginning chapters allowed for one of the strongest opening for the series so far as Golden gives us a wonderful look into the Lost Tribe’s culture.

Sunday, August 14

Faith in the Land of Make-Believe by Lee Stanley

Film students, especially those attending a Christian university, often get asked what they want to do with their field of study.  “So do you have to go to Hollywood to get a job.”  Or they get ask, “Are you going to make Christian films, like Fireproof?”  This is partly what led me to pick up Lee Stanley’s book (Stanley produced Gridiron Gang)—I wanted to see how a Christian in Hollywood approaches their faith as well as hoping to get a different sort of look into Hollywood.

Before producing Gridiron Gang, Stanley primarily shot documentaries, many of them featuring juvenile delinquents.  After serving as a sort of guest-chaplain at juvenile detention camp he began to feel that God was calling him not only to minister to those serving time but to show the world that there is hope through these kids.  Having quite a stubborn side, Stanley was able to court approval to take some kids sailing and to eventually take a small film crew and make a documentary for television.

Thursday, August 11

Earthen Vessels by Matthew Lee Anderson

 When it comes to books on faith there are very few that focus on the body.  Many focus on trials and problems, evangelism, the church or the afterlife.  Those that do focus on the physical body usually seem to focus on dieting and weight loss.  How often do we truly stop and consider how our bodies relate to our faith?

Matt’s chapters cover topics such as his understanding of why our bodies are significant, tattoos, sexuality, and death, as well as taking a look at the importance of the body of Christ.  Going into this book I was a bit wary, especially when I saw a whole chapter about tattoos.    Are tattoos even considered as much of an issue, especially now that all the “exciting” conversion stories them?  Instead of hearing the old rhetoric about tattoos, Matt looked even deeper into the issue, looking at the individualistic nature (or in some cases the non-individualistic nature) of the American culture.  He also breaks down the common pro and con arguments for tattoos and explains the fallacies of both sides.

Sunday, July 31

40 by Travis Thrasher

What would you do if knew the date on which you would die?  Would you be happy with how you lived your life, or would it be filled with regrets?  Would you tell other people, or would you keep it to yourself?

This is the situation facing Tyler after his guardian angel, Matthew, says that Tyler will die on his 40th birthday—less than a year away.  A music producer who worked on one of the biggest hit albums in the last several years, Tyler has been on a bit of decline.  His star musician never shows up to any meetings, and there seems to be trouble getting a studio to sign on to a popular Christian singer looking to crossover into a more secular market.

Sunday, July 24

Star Wars: Choices of One by Timothy Zahn

Set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back, Choices of One is the newest edition into the expanded universe.  That it is written by Timothy Zahn is a welcome relief.  Zach is the author of The Thrawn Trilogy, which helped ignited the Star Wars expanded universe, which now features numerous bestselling books and spans a time frame which starts thousands of years before A Phantom Menace and go until over 40 years past A New Hope (the Fate of the Jedi series), or if you count the graphic novels it goes more than one hundred years past A New Hope (the Legacy series).

Even though the Rebels succeeded in destroying the Death Star, there fight is far from over.  After being discovered on Yavin 4 they are in search of a new base, and the Empire is dead set of destroying them before they do.  Meanwhile, a mysterious warlord named Nuso Esva from the unknown regions seems to be growing more powerful daily.  Neither the empire nor the rebels seem to know fully which side, if any, Nuso is on.  All three groups end up in the Poln system, trying to dig deeper into the issue.

Thursday, July 21

To Be Perfectly Honest by Phil Callaway

Thou Shall Not Lie.

We all know that commandment, right?  But are there limits, or exceptions to this?  Is it lying to laugh at a joke, even if it’s not funny?  Is it okay to lie when telling the truth would reveal a surprise such as an upcoming gift?

These are just a couple of the situations that Phil encountered while trying to live a full year without lying, which he does at the request of the publisher.  That’s right, it was his publisher’s idea, not his own.  When I read that, it instantly sent up red flags for me.

God Wins by Mark Galli

God Wins by Mark Galli
*please note that I have read Love Wins, though I have not reviewed it at this time.

As soon as Rob Bell's Love Wins was first announced, a huge fury of criticism rose against him.  Many acted as if they knew exactly what Rob was going to say based purely on the title, subtitle, and a short teaser trailer.  The book's release served to fuel the criticism of some, but it also caused people to think and engage with new ideas.  Not everyone who read the book agreed with Rob Bell, but not everyone who disagreed with him harshly criticized him.  In the wake of Love Wins, it seems publishers decided to hit on a potential goldmine by releasing books responded to Love Wins.  God Wins, by Mark Galli, is one such book.

Wednesday, July 20

Christian Encounters: J.R.R. Tolkien by Mark Horne

When I was in late elementary school, my parents read me The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings – I quickly fell in love with both.  Since then I read the books numerous times and did more than one report on J.R.R. Tolkien, especially where The Lord of the Rings was concerned.  When I saw that Thomas Nelson’s Christian Encounters series had a book on Tolkien, I knew I had to give it a try.

When I first received the book, I was a little disappointed at the length.  At barely 130 pages (this is not counting the bibliography), I was concerned about the quality of the content and worried that it would be too brief.  On the plus side, I knew it would be a fast read.

Sunday, July 17

The Boy Who Came Back From Heaven by Kevin and Alex Malarkey

In 2004, Kevin Malarkey and his son Alex were in a terrible car accident.  Kevin sustained only minor injuries, but Alex was near death and many did not expect him to live.  Alex was in a coma for two month, barely clinging onto life.   Though the doctors could not explain it, Alex began to heal.  It was slow, but at the end of the two months Alex woke, and boy did he have a story to tell.  He spoke of seeing the accident as if he was not seeing it from his body and described things that he should not have known.  From there, Alex says that he was brought into heaven.  He also recounts being told (in Heaven) of another man who ‘died,’ went to heaven, and returned to earth, and said that man’s descriptions were accurate (I’m presuming he’s talking about 90 Minutes in Heaven, though it is not directly identified beyond vague references).

Thursday, July 14

World War Z by Max Brooks

After many years, the remaining human population is beginning to settle back down, though the whole human race is still haunted by the zombie outbreak. That zombie outbreak spread throughout the world, resulting in a massive war: humans versus the undead. The war is over now. 12 years have passed since the United States declared victory on their soil. For many other countries, victory came later. World War Z seeks to document, through numerous interviews, the events which occurred in the war. Interviews are held with people from all over the world and from all levels of society. Each chapter focuses on a different aspect of war.

Wow. I really liked this book. Max Brooks creates a vivid picture of a world torn by war and the undead. As the interviews progressed and more details were revealed concerning the zombies and the war, it consistently felt real. I felt that if a zombie outbreak were to actually occur, the events in this book would be entirely plausible.

Thursday, July 7

Desiring God, Revised Edition: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist by John Piper

According to John Piper, joy is at the root of a Christian’s relationship with God, using the terms Hedonism and Hedonist to describe this.  This is not to be confused with straight-up hedonism, and Piper makes sure to note and explain the distinction.  A Christian, he says, should take pleasure and experience joy in worshipping and following God.

Piper begins with an explanation and an early defense of his position.  From there, he examines how his ideas are to be found in various aspects of Christian life.  Subsequent chapters cover marriage, Scripture, prayer, and even suffering.  All of this is with the goal of worshipping God and serving God.

Saturday, July 2

Breath of Angel released

Back in April I reviewed Breath of Angel by Karyn Henley.  Well it was finally released in mid June!  You can check out my review here.

Meanwhile, I have a huge stack of books on my desk to read.  I'm hoping this July will allow me to feature many book reviews.

And have a wonderful Fourth of July weekend!

Saturday, June 25

A Place Called Blessing by Dr. John Trent and Annette Smith

When I picked up A Place Called Blessing I had no idea that it was written as a story to outline ideas brought up in the book The Blessing (co-authored by Dr. John Trent).  A Place Called Blessing tells the story of Josh, a child who is placed in foster care after his parents die in a car accident.  After a tragic event Josh is labeled as a troubled kid and therefore no one wants to take him in, though they gladly take his brothers.  After he hits the age of 18, he leaves to find work and ends up renting a room with Anna and Anna’s son, Mike (who Josh works with).

Josh is haunted by the tragedy in his life and feels at fault for it, even though Anna and Mike assure him that is was an accident.  Through the care they show him, Josh begins to realize that he isn’t a screw-up and seeks to find a place of true belonging in the world.

Friday, June 17

Is the Bible Reliable DVD set

from The Truth Project by Focus on the Family

How are we to know if the Bible is reliable, especially when it seems people are constantly bringing up ‘evidence’ or promoting thoughts that seem to imply that the Bible cannot be trusted.  Rarely do we hear about discoveries that may actually support the Bible as being historically accurate.  This has found to be especially true in Colleges, where Christians are often first exposed to people who not only disagree with Christianity but who may be openly hostile to it.

To help prepare students for the challenges they would face, Focus on the Family started The Truth Project, which in turn established TrueU.  True U is releasing several DVD sets to help high schools better understand their faith and to engage with skeptics and unbelievers in.  Is the Bible Reliable is one of those sets and focuses on looking at archeology and trying to discern if the Bible can be relied on as an accurate, historic document.

Star Wars: Knight Errant byJohn Jackson Miller

Vol. 1 - Aflame by John Jackson Miller

Aflame is the first book in a new graphic novel series from Dark Horse, set over one thousand years before Star Wars: A New Hope.  Kerra Holt is working with a group of Jedi in going behind Sith lines.    Things do not go as planned, and soon Kerra is the only remaining Jedi from a group and is stuck between two Sith brothers who are locked in combat with each other.  She has to find a way not only to avoid being destroyed by the Sith but also to help a colony on the planet she’s stranded on.

Knight Errant is the first the graphic novel I have reviewed here!  I don’t read many graphic novels, though I have enjoyed many of the few I have read.  If done well, I enjoy the visual style they can bring to the story, and that is one of the things I enjoyed most about Knight Errant.  I actually thought the story itself was pretty straightforward and actually pretty weak.  But since it was presented in more of a visual format, I still enjoyed it and made some of the more ridiculous parts a bit more palpable (including a scene where a character jumps from roof to roof….on moving spaceships).

Monday, June 13

Heaven is for Real

At the age of four, Colton Burpo had to have an emergency appendectomy.  The symptoms had been preset for days but had initially been misdiagnosed and Colton’s appendix burst days before he finally got the surgery.  Later, after the surgery Colton revealed to his parents (his father is a pastor) that during the surgery he went to heaven.  He tells about events he should’ve had no way of knowing, including details about his great grandfather (who he never knew) and about a miscarriage his mother had before he was even born.

The selling point on this book is of course that of a little boy seeing Heaven.  However, even the surrounding story kept my interest and at times was shocking, humorous, and heartwarming.  Colton’s father, Todd, wrote the book with Lynn Vincent, however he wonderfully captures his son’s personality to the extent that I could imagine Colton was standing beside me recounting the tale.

Saturday, June 11

The Lotus and the Cross by Ravi Zacharias

What would happen if two people, each one key to the following and faith in a different religion, were to have a conversation with each other?  Would the similarities be much greater than thought?  Or would the differences be vaster?  This is the scenario that Ravi Zacharias used to inspire this short book (97 pages), The Lotus and the Cross.   He imagines a conversation between Jesus and Gautama Buddha.

I read this book as a part of a World Religions class at my university when we started talking about Buddhism.  The Lotus and the Cross is written as a conversation, more like a play than a book, without description of movement/location.  They are addressing the concerns of Priya, who Zacharias read about in a paper while visiting and talking with Buddhist in countries where Buddhism has a strong following.  Priya was a young Buddhist woman who ended up in prostitution, contracted HIV, and ended up committing suicide through her frustration with life.  Zacharias wonders what Jesus would’ve told such a woman.  Then he wonders what Buddha would tell her.

Wednesday, June 8

Be the People by Carol M. Swain

"A Call to Reclaim America’s Faith and Promise"

What is America’s future?  Is the country moving on the right path, or the wrong path?  How do we get on the right path?  If you were to ask random people these questions, you’d probably get an equal number of random answers, some more similar than others.  The answers to these questions differ even more wildly if you were to ask conservatives, moderates, and liberals their views.  When it comes to politics, it seems that everyone thinks they are right and that those that disagree are not only wrong but potentially dangerous and are trying to destroy this country.  Really makes you want to run for a political office, doesn’t it?

In Be the People, Carol Swain, author, expert on race relations and immigration, and self described conservative, offers her take on America’s situation and proposes ideas on a path America should take.

Saturday, June 4

CHERUB: The Recruit by Robert Muchamore

Spies are among us, and they might now be who you think.  In the midst of World War II British intelligence created a whole new intelligence operation: CHERUB.  CHERUB has one extremely important qualification: you must be 17 years of age, or younger.  They reason that adults would never suspect children of being spies, so if they train the children well enough, they will can gather information which adults would find decidedly harder to discover.

James Choke wasn’t really your typical pre-teen.  He’s smart, but also a troublemaker, having strong potential to get in fights with other students.  His mother heads a ring of shoplifters, so even though she never does the actual work she pulls in quite a bit of money.  This means James also has unlimited access to the newest gadgets: his room is stuffed with them.  Along with his little sister, he leads a fairly happy life…until his ex-stepdad (father to James’ sister) shows back up, trying to weasel money from James’ mom.  She ends up accidentally overdosing on medication and alcohol and dies. 

James is sent to a children’s home and his sister ends up with James’ stepdad.  At the home James falls in with the wrong crowd and starts down a path that will quickly lead to jail time.  Before that that come true though, he catches the eye of CHERUB.  James has much of what they look for, above average intelligence, young, and parentless.  They take him on as their newest recruit.

Monday, May 30

Jesus, my Father, the CIA, and Me - a review

Subtitled: "A Memoir of Sorts…"  by Ian Morgan Cron

The first thing that caught my eye on this cover was the word, “CIA.”  Then I saw the image of a young child waving at the photographer (the photo is an actual photo from Ian’s childhood).  The title and synopsis promises a story of child growing up with an alcoholic father who works for the CIA.

To my disappointed, Ian only really delivers on half of that story, the part of growing up with an alcoholic father.  Ian has few positive memories of his father, and throughout the book he struggles with how to relate to his father and how to get his father to notice him, as well as struggling to keep this problem hidden from his friends at school.  This does have many interesting parts to it.  Ian himself tries many things to gain his father’s attention, including trying harder to achieve good grades.  But he also turns to alcohol and illegal drugs, something he hoped would help deal with his father, who on occasion was known to grow violent.

Saturday, May 28

Star Wars: Conviction by Aaron Allston

**I will avoid spoilers for Conviction however there may be spoilers for earlier series, especially the Legacy of the Force series**

The end is coming into sight in this 9 book series and here in Conviction, book seven in the Fate of Jedi series, events seem to be occurring with both a great amount of energy, and yet just enough mystery to justify two more books.  Conviction comes hot off the heels of Vortex, which I thought was the strongest book of the series so far.

Luke Skywalker, exiled in Outcast started the series searching for clues regarding his nephew Jacen’s  descent to the Dark Side but turned to investing a creature called Abeloth, a being who is strong in the dark side of the force.  Luke is accompanied by his son, Ben, a Sith apprentice.  Oh, and he’s trying to simultaneously evade being killed by a planet full of Sith.  Meanwhile, the Jedi on Coruscant are dealing with Daala, who is trying to limit the power of the Jedi, if not disband them completely.

Tuesday, May 24

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides

Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), in search of the power of the fountain of youth, is gathering a crew.  Wait, never mind, that’s someone pretending to be Jack.  Jack is actually imprisoned (again) for piracy and is facing a British judge awaiting his sentence.  Whoops.  Wrong again, not Jack but Gibbs who everyone thinks is Jack.  Out comes the judge, ready to sentence Gibbs, only its – Jack?  Saving his friend from the gallows, Jack “frees” Gibbs (read: poor planning and ends them back up in British hands).

Mayhem ensues.

It isn’t long before Jack learns that the imposter is Angelica (Penelope Cruz), an old flame (and Blackbeard’s daughter).  She captures Jack and brings him aboard Blackbeard’s ship with hopes that Jack will help lead them to the fountain of youth.  The British also seek the fountain and turn to “privateer” Captain Barbossa to lead them.  The writer’s also decided, just for fun, to have several ships full of Spaniards also hunt for the fountain.

Saturday, May 21

Dug Down Deep by Joshua Harris

Theology.  Doctrine.  Orthodoxy.  To many people these words can be confusing or scary, sometimes both.  Everyone has an idea of what they mean, but often those ideas are jumbled together from what they’ve heard.  Even to Christians these can be difficult to identify with, especially since negative connotations have become attached to them in recent times.  If you were to mention any of these terms to a random person, chances would easily be that they either wouldn’t know what the term meant or they would have a negative reaction towards it.  But is this the way it should be?  Joshua Harries (Why I Kissed Dating Goodbye) doesn’t think so, and this prompted him to write Dug Down Deep, his attempt at writing a book on systematic theology for those who don’t want to attend the nearest seminary.

To begin, Harris examines some of the key terminology associated with theology.  Theology, he explains, is the study of the nature of God – of learning about God.  Essentially, if you’ve ever thought about God, in any context, you’ve already performed some sort of theology.  It may not have been incredibly deep theology, but it is theology none the less.    Harris goes on to point out that the person who declares their belief that God does not exist is performing theology just as the minister in the pulpit is performing theology.

Sunday, May 15

MacArthur - a review

MacArthur by Mitchell Yockelson

Of all of the great generals in the past century, MacArthur seems to be one of the biggest. Before cracking open this book, I knew that he is one of the most famous American generals in recent history but I wouldn’t be able to tell you anything about his accomplishments, nor be able to list all of the wars he fought and led in (WWI, WWII, and the Korean War). After enjoying the biography I read on Patton last year in the same series, I decided to give MacArthur’s bio a try.

Much like Patton, MacArthur focuses largely on MacArthur’s military efforts and not much time is dedicated towards his private life except where necessary. MacArthur was a brilliant strategist and a great orator. He also knew how to keep his troops’ morale up. He tried to avoid leading from the rear, preferring to be as close to the front lines as possible.

Sunday, May 8

UnPlanned Trailer

To accompany my review of the documentary UnPlanned, here is the trailer for it.

Also, on May 17th, Unite for Life is hosting a Webcast featuring Abby Johnson. Check them out to find out how you can watch and how you can participate.

Thursday, May 5

UnPlanned - a review of the documentary

UnPlanned: The Sensational True Story that Made Headlines Across the Nation

When Abby Johnston quit her job at Planned Parenthood she did what no one would’ve ever expected her to: she joined Coalition for Life, an organization which strongly opposed Planned Parenthood’s position and actions regarding abortion.  Though she did not intend it, her move swept across media outlets nationwide, landing her on headlines and primetime news.

Unplanned is a documentary about Abby, her time at Planned Parenthood, and what led to her quitting her job, and seems to be meant as a companion piece to a book, also titled UnPlanned, which has also been released on her story.  It tells the story chronologically, starting with life before Planned Parenthood, how she got involved with Planned Parenthood, her becoming the director of her location.

Saturday, April 30

Nick of Time - a review

Nick of Time by Tim Downs
Nick of Time is the 5th Bug Man book staring Nick Polchak.  I will avoid major spoilers for Nick of Time, but there may be spoilers for the earlier books.

Nick Polchak is getting married.  At the end of the previous novel, Nick proposed.  But the story ended before we knew who he proposed to!  Alena?  Kathryn?  Well a fan vote on Tim Down’ website led to Alena being chosen.  So know the Bug Man is only days away from being married, something that tends to terrify his friends more than him, though he isn’t without his share of worries. 

A week before the big event, Nick goes to a meeting of his peers, which one of his close friends invited him to.  When he gets there, his friend is noticeably absent.  Upon investigation, Nick discovers evidence that his friend has been murdered.  Despite getting married in less than a week now, Nick undergoes a search to find his friends killer, leaving his bride wondering where on earth he is.  But Alena isn’t the type to sit around with her fingers crossed.  After days of not hearing from Nick, she decides to track him.  Will she find him in time, or has Nick gone too far this time?

Friday, April 29

The Priest's Graveyard - a review

The Priest’s Graveyard by Ted Dekker

The Priest’s Graveyard is the latest book in which I think of as his ‘serial killer novels.’ Specifically, these are the novels published through Center Street with a plot heavily involving some sort of serial killer. I liked Boneman’s Daughters and thought The Bride Collector was pretty decent. Then again, I didn’t like Immanuel’s Veins (his latest novel until now) and thought Green was a weak entry into the Circle series (these are the only other Dekker books I’ve reviewed so far). So where does The Priest’s Graveyard fall?

The Priest’s Graveyard is the story of Danny and Renee. Renee is a young woman with a troubled life, one that includes drug addiction and abuse. While running from someone trying to killer her, she rescued by a man named Lamont, who quickly becomes her angel. Though a bit quirky and dealing with more than a mild case of OCD, Lamont takes Renee in and cares for her, helping her over her addiction. Renee falls in love with him and they marry. But something terrible happens, and Lamont disappears. Renee suspects Lamont’s corrupt business partner – Bourque.

Danny is a priest, also with a terrible past in war torn Bosnia. But he’s not a normal priest. He’s a priest who seeks to bring the worst of humanity to justice, which usually results in their death. He doesn’t go after petty criminals. He goes after those who will likely never receive prosecution in any other way. Then his path crosses with Renee. He sees the cruelty she was subjected to in her early life and the pain that was caused when Lamont was torn out of her life. Together perhaps they can rid the world of the monster responsible.

Sunday, April 24

Out of a Far Country - a story of unconditional love, grace, and redemption

Out of a Far Country: A gay son’s journey to God.  A broken mother’s search for hope by Christopher Yuan and Angela Yuan

In the fall of 2010 I heard Christopher speak at my university, where he told his story as well as telling a bit of his parents’ story.  His parents are Chinese immigrants to the US and did their best to raise him with values of a Chinese household.  Not only was he a strong speaker but he told a powerful story, one especially relevant to today’s world.  Then I learned he wrote a book with his mother, going even deeper into the story.  The book is set up to two sides of the same stories, alternating between his mother’s side, and then his side.

Monday, April 18

Max on Life - a review

Max on Life by Max Lucado
Max Lucado seems as if he is constantly writing!  He publishes at least one book a year, though including gift books there are often more.  His books have connected with people in various stages of their Christian faith.  His most popular titles include 3:16, Facing Your Giants, and Outlive Your Life.  Each book is based around a single theme which is then broken into various forms for different chapters. 

Max on Life differs slightly than his other books.  The subtitle book is, “Answers and Insights to Your Most Important Questions.”  Max gathered 172 questions and provided his thoughts and what he believes a proper Biblical answer would be.  These are questions he has been asked at one time or another over the past 23 years.  The questions are divided into the topics of Hope, Hurt, Help, Him/Her, Home, Haves/Have-Nots, and Hereafter.

Saturday, April 16

Heart of Ice - a review

Heart of Ice by Lis Weihl and April Henry

Heart of Ice is the third book by Lis and April in their Triple Threat series.  The Triple Threat is a group of three woman, Allison (a federal prosecutor), Nicole (FBI agent), and Cassidy (crime news reporter) who are extremely close friends.  Previously I had read Face of Betrayal, which is the first book in the series, and which I did not care for.  However, I won a copy of Heart of Ice through an online giveaway, and decided to give it a chance (and yes, I realize I’m not the intended audience for this novel, though I hope you still find my review helpful).

Elizabeth Avery is a new exercise instructor with a dark past and dating an extremely rich man.  However, her lover is divorced, and his wife seems to constantly want more money.  So Elizabeth devises a way to silence her, with the help of a childhood friend who has a criminal record associated with arson.  Can Triple Threat catch Elizabeth before it’s too late?

I had mixed feelings on Heart of Ice.  I liked that even though I skipped the second book, I could jump right into this one.  Aside from perhaps a few bits of character development, I didn’t really miss anything.  The plot is self contained within this novel, and I didn’t get the sense of an overarching storyline.

Friday, April 15

Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup

Slumdog Millionaire formerly published as Q&A by Vikas Swarup

The movie Slumdog Millionaire, directed by Danny Boyle, went on to win 8 Oscars, including best picture.  It also won Best Adapted Screenplay, from the novel Slumdog Millionaire by Vikas Swarup, which had previously been published as Q&A.

Slumdog Millionaire tells the story of Ram Muhammad Thomas, who won a billion rupees on one of India’s biggest game shows and was subsequently arrested on charges of cheating.  The game show doesn’t want to pay Ram the full amount, and since he is an uneducated man, they figure the only way he could’ve won is by cheating.  With the help of Smita Shah, a lawyer who takes on Ram’s case, Ram hopes to show how his life experiences helped provide him with the answers to the question and that he did not cheat.

For those of you who have watched the movie, you have already noticed one very large difference between what I just wrote above and what you saw in the movie: the main character’s name.  I have no idea why they changed the lead’s name.  It’s been a couple years since I watched the movie, so this review of the book isn’t meant to examine the transition from book to screen.

Each chapter covers a different question on the game show, and how Ram knew the answer.  We watch as he enjoys his childhood with his best friend Salim, being adopted by a Priest, falling in love, being forced away from the one he loves, and through many other tales.  Though these, we not only discover how Ram knows the answer to the questions on the game show, but we also learn about him, as his character deepens with each question.

Monday, April 11

Into The Deep music video by Cities and Saints

"Into the Deep" by Cities and Saints.

From Cities and Saints Facebook: "Cities and Saints is a four-member melodic alternative rock band based in Grand Rapids, MI. Formed in late 2009, CaS features Evan Walters, former lead guitarist of Three Chord Statement; Adam Visser, former drummer of Three Chord Statement; Scott Walters, former bassist of Echo After; and vocalist and pianist Marty Lamain, who is currently a student at Cornerstone University."

This is their debut music video shot and edited entirely by college film students. I was camera operator on all sequences involving the band. I hope you enjoy, and don't forget to check out Cities and Saints on Facebook!

The Final Summit - a review

The Final Summit by Andy Andrews

David Ponder, first appearing in The Traveler’s Gift, returns in The Final Summit, set nearly 30 years after his quest for knowledge and truth.  He has learned the Seven Decisions and has worked hard to employ them in everything he does.  Yet he seems to have hit some sort of rut in his life, despite all the success he has earned.  He feels somewhat out of place in the world.  But then Gabriel returns and brings him to The Final Summit.  A gathering of all Traveler’s throughout history has been called, and David has been selected to lead them.  They are told that because of the course it has chosen, humankind may well be nearing its end, or at least undergo a cleansing reminiscent of the Flood.  David and the other Traveler’s must correctly figure out what humankind must do to avoid this destruction.  The guidelines: the answer is two words, they only have five guesses, and they have a time limit.

I have not read The Traveler’s Gift, nor did I realize when requesting this book from Booksneeze that The Final Summit was a sequel of sorts.  There are many times, especially in the first quarter of the book, that David’s travels are discussed.  This led to a bit of confusion and made it harder to get into the story.  I have, however, read The Noticer, which I previously reviewed and enjoyed, though it is a completely separate world and story from this one.

Thursday, April 7

Breath of Angel - a review

Breath of Angel by Karyn Henley

After witnessing a terrible murder, Melaia, a young priestess, is suddenly thrust into a supernatural struggle.  Beings once thought to be legends are revealed to be truth.  Immortal men.  Angels.  Shape Shifters.  Malevolents.  There is an ancient blood feud between two immortal brothers which came about after the destruction of a only path from earth to heaven.  With the stairway destroyed, angels are trapped on earth, dragged into this feud.  The angels seek to restore the stairway, but do so a debt must first be repaid.  After being dragged into the story, it soon becomes clear that Melaia will play a role in the restoration – she’s just not sure how.

Breath of Angel is the latest book to enter into the Young Adult/Teen fantasy fiction market, especially in trying to appeal to fans of the Twilight Saga.  It’s not a vampire story (thankfully), but its target audience seems to be teenage females.

I am not a teenage female.

So why did I read it?  Well, I didn’t realize the target audience when I ordered it.  Also, I do love a good fantasy story.  If a story is well told and the characters are engaging, I don’t care as much what the target audience is.   However, Breath of Angel just didn’t work for me.

Sunday, April 3

Star Wars: Decieved - a review

Star Wars: Deceived by Paul S. Kemp

Deceived is the second book in the Old Republic series, which was created to go along with the upcoming mmorpg.  It is set thousands of years before the movies when the Sith and Jedi were at war.  Though the second book in the series, it is not a sequel.  Rather, it follows different characters through a different set of events in the years before Fatal Alliance

The opening sequences of the book feature the action from the cinematic trailer of the same name for the online game.  If you haven’t already, check out the trailer:

Saturday, April 2

Source Code - an engaging sci fi thriller

Source Code directed by Duncan Jone, written by Ben Ripley

Imagine waking up on a train.  You don’t know how you got there.  You don’t know who the lady sitting across from you is, even though she seems to know you.  Your last memory is flying helicopters in Iraq.  Looking in the mirror you don’t see your face…you see someone else.  Your driver’s license says, “Sean” – not your name.  Then the train explodes and you are consumed in a ball of fire.  Only you don’t die.  You wake up in a metallic chamber surrounded by wires, a screen on the wall.    Eventually a woman tells you that the train was real and had been bombed by terrorists who threatened to strike again.  The machine you are in is called the Source Code.  It lets you relive 8 minutes of someone’s life, someone from the train, in a sort of alternate universe which mirrors our exactly.  Your mission is to discover the terrorist within the Source Code so that they can be stopped in your world before detonating a dirty bomb.  You will repeat the assignment until complete.

What do you do?

Sunday, March 27

Thriving at College - a review

Thriving at College is exactly what the title sounds like: a book about how to do well in college.  It is divided into four parts, covering faith, relationships, personal character, and academics.  Within each section, author Alex Chediak breaks down common mistakes which college students make.  These chapters include, “Treating College as if It Were High School,” “Refusing to Grow Up,” “Being a Flake,” and “Living For Grades.”

As a junior in college, I feel that Chediak gives excellent advice.  He truly understands problems that college students face, whether they’re freshman or seniors.  He addresses head on the problem of students seeing college as a time to have fun and goof off, explaining how academics should be the priority over video games and Facebook, as well as how to stand firm in Christian faith even in a secular college.  He also strikes a balance in his views.  While he may start a chapter explaining why students should put more time towards classes and less time gaming, he may end it by reaching out to students that do nothing but sit with a textbook in their nose all day and who only strive to make that 4.0 GPA.

Saturday, March 26

The Cape Season Finale

Finally I had a chance to watch the season (and most likely series) finale for NBC’s The Cape.  If you haven’t already, you can check out my review of the whole series up to this point here.  There will be spoilers here, as I will be both reviewing and doing some analyzing of the finale.

At the end of Episode 9, Vince and Orwell finally get video evidence tying Ark to Scales, a known crime boss.  Orwell releases the video on her blog and soon news stations are abuzz with charging Ark and Peter Flemming (leader of Ark and criminal mastermind Scales) of corruption.  Flemming denies any knowledge of this, placing blame fully on Marty Voyt, Chief of Police and Vince’s former best friend (for those who don’t remember Marty betrayed Vince to Flemming and helped frame Vince as Chess.  Everyone now believes Vince is dead).

Vince’s wife, an attorney, takes on Marty’s case, hoping to help a family friend.  She doesn’t know of his betrayal.  This presents one of the strongest character moments in the entire series, yet it feels out of place.  Marty is now fully faced with his past and now has to struggle to keep his betrayal hidden, his family safe from Flemming, while forming a way to present evidence against Flemming.  And the show actually handled it pretty well.  I sensed true emotion from the character and for the first time in the entire season, he connected with the audience.

 However, the reason it feels out of place is because until this moment he is a minor character!  Sure, he has a larger role in the first couple episodes, but then he drifted into being a background character.  So for his character arc to suddenly begin to change doesn’t make sense.  There are other characters who I would love to see more from.  Summer Glau’s character, Orwell, had minor points of revelation earlier in the season.  This would’ve been the perfect episode to truly dive deeper into that.  It would be a great chance for Vince’s son, Trip to grow, especially since he had a decent role for most of the season (and was pretty much nonexistent in this episode).