Monday, December 31

Prophet by R.J. Larson



Ela of Parne is only 17 years old, yet the Infinite has chosen her to be His prophet. She is the first female prophet of Parne and she knows that prophets die young. That is not exactly an encouraging thought. Ela is called to Istgard, where the people have turned away from the Infinite. In a story strongly influenced by the judges and prophets of the Old Testament, Ela must convince the people to turn from their sinful ways or be doomed.

Joining her is her younger sister, Tzana, who suffers a disease causing her to age pre-maturely. She also meets up with Kien, an ambassador from Traceland who also seeks to save his people from Istgard. Will Ela faithfully serve the Infinite, knowing it will likely lead to her death, or will her feelings win out?

Saturday, December 29

The Best Question Ever by Andy Stanley


We make choices every day.  Sometimes they turn out good, other times they don’t.  Each decision we make tends to be made through different processes.  What if there was a single question we could ask ourselves which would help us make a better choice?  In The Best Question Ever, Andy Stanley seeks to reveal that question to us and explains why he finds it to be such an important question.

The first part of the book explains the question and what it is meant for (for the sake of the review, I won’t reveal the question).  Though the question doesn’t seem particularly hard to understand, Stanley still devotes several chapters to deconstructing it.  It actually takes a couple of chapters before he even reveals the question.  The rest of the book then goes a bit deeper into the application of the question and includes both hypothetical and real examples of where it could help.

Friday, December 28

The Lawyer's Lawyer by James Sheehan


Lawyers today have a reputation for greed and a willingness to slap anybody with a lawsuit.  While some may rightly have earned it, this is not the case for Jack Tobin.  Jack is not only one of the best lawyers around, the guy other lawyer’s would want to have represent them if needed, a “lawyer’s lawyer,” he is also a good person who cares more for his clients than a paycheck.

The story opens, briefly introducing us to Jack in 1991 before whisking us forward in time a few different times.  After a fairly lengthy set up, we begin to get to the heart of the plot.  Jack takes on the case of suspected serial killer who is on death row, but who Jack believes was set up.  In doing so he finds most of the town against him, including the women he has fallen in love with.  As the case goes deeper, Jack finds himself fighting for his life in developments he never could’ve seen coming.

Sunday, December 16

Finding God in The Hobbit by Jim Ware


I was in fourth grade when my parents read The Hobbit to me.  Through the weeks of reading I was transported to Middle Earth.  Though Bilbo’s adventure eventually came to the end, I discovered there were further tales of Middle Earth and soon listened to my parents recount the tale of The Lord of the Rings.  These stories have remained among my favorite ever since.

Having read a couple of biographies on J.R.R. Tolkien, I knew he was Christian, and though his stories may not always have obvious spiritual themes woven in them, I knew they were present, at least in part.  This led me to Jim Ware’s Finding God in The Hobbit.  Knowing of Tolkien’s Christian background, I was interested in the insight given.

Saturday, November 24

Red Letter Revolution by Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo



I didn’t expect a whole lot in opening this book.  I was mildly familiar with Shane Claiborne and had no idea who this Tony Campolo guy was.  Disappointment started in the first chapter.  The authors begin with the history of Red Letter Christians, as well as offering a defense for it.  This was OK, but did not immediately engage me.  In addition to this, the style of the book caught me off guard.  Instead of the typical way a book might be co-authored, this book was set up as a conversation between Tony and Shane.  They would ask each other questions, provide answers to the questions, and elaborate further on the other’s points.  Having not read a style like this, it was hard to get used to at first.

Friday, November 2

The Sanctuary by Ted Dekker

Love is a theme regularly tackled by Ted Dekker in his many novels. As I read more and more novels, the exploration of the theme began to seem more and more similar. Then Dekker wrote The Sanctuary, a follow up to his novel The Priest's Graveyard. Once again the theme of love comes up, but Dekker approaches it in a way that feels fresh.

Like The Priest's Graveyard, Dekker switches back and forth between Renee's point of view (1st person) and Danny's points of view (3rd person). Danny is imprisoned, doing time for a crime he didn't commit to help save the woman he loves. But prison isn't easy, especially for Danny who has given up his violent past and made a vow of non-violence. Through Danny, Dekker begins to explore the issue of whether America's system of treating prisoners is working, a system bent on punishment and not rehabilitation.

Tuesday, October 23

Purple

Purple from Manasseh Project on Vimeo.

This video was created for the Manasseh Project, and I had the honor of being able to edit it. It was entered into the Mosaic Film Experience in Grand Rapids, where it won first place in the non-student category.

Friday, September 7

The Breakthrough by Jerry B. Jenkins


After Jerry B. Jenkins’ TheBetrayal improved upon the The Brotherhood, I decided to check out this third book.  Following the events in the previous books, Boone Drake needs a vacation.  He lost his first wife and child to a fire, got shot, and then had his new girlfriend accused of leaking classified information.  If that’s not enough to tire a guy out, I don’t know what is.  Boone definitely seems to be on the path towards relaxation, especially now that he is married to Haeley and adopted her son.  But, he’s a cop, and there never seems to be an end to the number of bad guys.

Taking cues from TheBrotherhood, things once again go wrong for Boone, and again his family is caught in the middle.  Only this time boon might actually have a chance at helping.  Just when he feels like he cannot leave Haeley’s side, he becomes aware of a human trafficking ring which forces him to look toward Beijing in a story that at times threatened to become the Christian version of Taken.

Monday, September 3

House of Mercy by Erin Healy


Beth is a young woman with a dream of becoming a vet. She has a love of animals, and as she works with injured animals, she begins to wonder if she has a gift of healing.  Being a vet would allow her to work at her parent’s ranch in a role that she would enjoy.  However, in an attempt to help a nearby family, Beth causes a terrible accident.  The consequences of her actions are more than her family can afford to pay.  To save the ranch and atone for her mistake, Beth must find her grandfather, who she didn’t even know was alive.  Her guide: a wolf, which might not even be real.

House of Mercy is Erin Healy’s fourth solo novel, and the third I have read.  She also co-authored two books with Ted Dekker, Kiss and Burn.  Once again, Healy brings some supernatural elements to her writing, though they appear much more subdued this time, most of the time being completely absent.

Monday, July 30

When Bad Christians Happen to Good People by Dave Burchett


People can be hurtful.  At times it’s intentional, other times it’s done with the best of intentions.  This hurt can be found everywhere and be found at the hands of many, even those in the church.  In some instances Christians hurt those who are already a member of a church, other times someone walking into the church may encounter an experience which completely turns them off to faith.  Originally published in 2002 and now reprinted, When Bad Christians Happen to Good People takes a look at Christians have hurt others, and what we can do to help heal those hurts.

A book like this is going to contain the stories of hurt.  These stories are not pleasant reads, and often contain the risk of sounding angry or harsh.  In reading this book, I got the sense that the original edition did include some harsher moments, but Dave Burchett seems to have tempered his tone without losing the message.  I’ve read other books by those who were hurt by the church, and at times they held a harsh edge which did not push towards any sort of resolution.  Unfortunately there are those who experience pain in the church, and I appreciate how David promotes healing while illustrating the hurt that needs to be healed.

Wednesday, June 27

Flame of Resistance by Tracy Groot


D-Day looms in Nazi occupied France, and everyone knows something is going to happen, but are unsure of how it will turn out.  Brigitte runs a brothel, but secretly brings much needed food to the French resistance.  Meanwhile, an American pilot, Tom Jaeger, is shot down, and quickly joins the resistance until he can reconnect with US forces.  Tom poses as a German officer and works with Brigitte to gain information vital to the resistance.  But each day that passes is another day to be caught.  Will they gather enough to help the resistance, or will they be caught?

This is Tracy Groot’s fourth novel.  Her first three were Biblical Fiction, including the Christy Award winning Madman.  I read Madman a few years ago and enjoyed it.  Last year I had the opportunity to meet Tracy, who is a West Michigan native, and she told me about Flame of Resistance, which at the time was not yet out.  While still historical fiction, it is her first novel not in Biblical times.  However, readers might notice that the story is a loose retelling of Rahab’s story.

Wednesday, June 20

Why Church Matters by Joshua Harris


“Church isn’t where we go.  It’s who we are,” reads the back cover of Joshua Harris’s book Why Church Matters.  This was previously released as Stop Dating the Church, so if you already own that book there’s not need to rush out and buy this one, unless you really want the added discussion questions.

Lately it seems I’ve been reading a lot of books which have something to on the church.  From You’ve Lost Me to A Faith of Our Own, it seems more people are wondering what to do when the see more and more young Christian leaving the church.  One of the questions that will inevitable come up: Is Church is even all that important?  Harris answers with a firm, “Yes.”

Tuesday, June 19

A Faith of Our Own by Jonathan Merritt


Everyone seems to have an opinion on everything today.  Even it’s something that you can’t really have an opinion on, people still find a way.  As opinions grow, more and more people begin to voice their opinion hoping to gain influence with it.  Religion has always played a role in America, and now Christian leaders seek to gain more influence.  However, many seem to have moved beyond voicing their thoughts, they are seeking a culture war.  But is a culture war really what we are called to?  Can we really love our neighbors, and even our enemies, in a culture war?  Is anything even being accomplished in a culture war?  Has the church stepped too far into politics?  These are some of the things which Jonathan explores in A Faith of Our Own.

Throughout, Jonathan makes a case that Christians have become overly involved in politics.  Pastors have come to endorse specific candidates, parties, legislation, and policies.  These endorsements can silently indicate that if you disagree you must not be a fully committed Christian.  As Jonathan shows, this runs on both sides of the aisle. 

Tuesday, June 12

Lost in Shangri-La by Mitchell Zuckoff


All too often history books are plain boring.  They include too many events that are only present because the author is a history buff who can’t bear to let tiny details slip through the cracks.  They suffer from writing devoid of any personality, as if your eighth grade history teacher wrote it.  Even worse is when they offer up nothing new, but seem to paraphrase every other book on the same subject. 

Thankfully, not all history books are created equal.  Every once in a while comes a book which makes you forget that the event happened decades, or centuries, ago.  You are drawn into the story, rooting for the people involved, wondering how it’s going to end, and actually learning something interesting.  This is how I felt throughout Lost in Shangri-La.  Written by Mitchell Zuckoff, it was originally published in hardcover in 2011 and is now being released in paperback.

Monday, June 4

A Shot of Faith to the Head by Mitch Stokes


In the era of the internet, opinions are a mere click away.  So are rants, meaningless gibberish, anger, and people who are always ‘right.’  Bring in television, film, and book publishing, there are a multitude of ways not only to present an opinion, but also to hear it.  In an age where everyone tries to have there opinion heard, it can be difficult to weed out the truth.  To make it worse, those who voice their thoughts not only believe they’re right, but often believe that they can attack people who hold differing views.  While dialogue is important, it can be hard to have a true dialogue with people of differing views in today’s world. 

For Christians, this is especially found in talking with Atheists.  Often Christian beliefs are immediately dismissed as irrational.  And if someone thinks a view is irrational, it’s hard to have a proper dialogue, and may even lead to doubting one’s faith.  But is Christianity irrational?  Is Atheism the ration side, or is irrational?  In A Shot of Faith to the Head: Be a Confident Believer in an Age of Cranky Atheists, Stokes writes to encourage Christians in their faith. 

Wednesday, May 30

The Storytelling Animal by Jonathan Gottschall


What stories do you like? What ways do you like to engage with stories?  The answers to these questions vary widely from person to person.  You may like to read romance stories, while others like to watch comedic ones on TV.  Others prefer the storytelling in music. 

How about this: Why do you like stories?  What is it about story that is so important to us that we have created so many forms of storytelling?  Tales at the water cooler, gossip magazines in the grocery store isle, entire stores filled with books, and large rooms where you sit and watch a screen while surrounded by strangers are all venues for stories. Why?  This is the question that Jonathan engages with in his book.

Tuesday, May 22

Martha Marcy May Marlene – script review


This is a first for me.  While I’ve reviewed movies before, I’ve never reviewed just the screenplay.  Last week I decided that I should read more screenplays.  I read a lot of novels and non-fiction books, but if I want to write screenplays, then I should be reading screenplays, both professional and amateur.  While I won’t review all of them, Martha Marcy May Marlene left me with a lot of varied thoughts.  I have not seen the film.

Martha is a young woman who became entangled in a cult.  She was welcomed into the community and greeted with kindness.  Though it was a lifestyle new to her, she seemed to quickly grow into it.  Growing into the cult further began to reveal a darker side.  Though she had made the cult her life, Martha realized she could not stay.  So she runs away, and when she does so, she fears for her life.

Saturday, May 19

The Story Telling Animal - book trailer

Review coming May 30th. What do you think? Let me know in the comments.

Tuesday, April 17

The 13th Tribe by Robert Liparulo


After the Israelites were caught worshiping the Golden Calf at the foot of Mt. Sinai, they were severely punished by God.  They are punished by God for their sin.  However, Liparulo paints a picture in which the true extend of the punishment is not completely revealed in Exodus.  Of the Israelites, a number of them were placed in a 13th tribe.  This tribe was cursed with immortality, keeping them separated from God.  They hope to gain God’s favor by killing sinners.

The tribe, still alive today, has something huge planned.  Outfitted with advanced technology they are planning one of their largest strikes yet.  In their planning they cross paths with Jagger, a man with torn faith.  When Jagger’s family is pulled into the fray he must find a way to stop this group of immortal vigilantes.

Thursday, April 5

Stitching

A friend of mine is directing a short sci-fi film and is trying to raise money to fund the project. Have you ever wanted to back a movie? Maybe be an executive producer? Or do you just love science fiction? If so, you should check out his Kickstarter page and see if this project is something that interests you.

Here's a short video with some information about the project.

Saturday, March 31

Quiet by Susan Cain


We often pride ourselves on being able to identify certain types of people.  This is especially true of extroversion and introversion.  We use terms like ‘shy’, ‘quiet,’ ‘a people person,’ ‘outgoing,’ and ‘talkative’ to describe them, usually knowing that these terms point to introverts and extroverts.  What we’re not as good at is recognize why people react certain ways and when it is better to act introverted or when it is better to act extroverted.

Susan Cain subtitled her book, “The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking.”  An introvert herself, her main focus is introversion.   One of the key factors in determining what someone is, is their level of sensitivity.  Introverts, she writes, are more sensitive to stimuli and more easily overwhelmed.  She explains that this is why introverts prefer interacting with smaller groups of people, tend to not enjoy public speaking as much, and tend to prefer working in environments with less external noise.  An important thing to note here: When Susan writes about qualities typically embodied in introverts they are often generalization.  In many people they may be true, but it others it will be false.  Some introverts are perfectly fine with public speaking while some extroverts have terrible stage fright.

Friday, March 23

Blue Like Jazz - the Movie review

Blue Like Jazz opens with the basics of story structure: Setting, Crisis, Climax, and Resolution. This underlying theme of storytelling seems to be inspired by the accounts told in Miller’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years, were we learn about the process of writing Blue Like Jazz.

In the film, Don works at a plant which makes pre-ready communion cups.  He plans to attend a Baptist college not far from home.  His dad, described, as ‘the Hobo,’ encourages attendance at Reed, a school which has been called one of the most godless campuses in America. Of course Don refuses.  However, at his church Don is confronted with a hypocrisy which seriously shakes his faith.

Confused and angry, Don decides to take up his dad’s idea.  At Reed he meets Lauryn (in the men’s room) and she introduces him to Reed.  When she discovers his religious background she warns him, “Get in the closet, Baptist boy.”  Don also meet social-activist, Penny, who he quickly falls for, as well as connecting to a character referred to as ‘The Pope,’ an atheist who is designated to be ‘God’s voice’ for the campus. 

Saturday, March 17

You Lost Me by David Kinnaman


Churches across America have noticed an alarming trend: young adults leaving the church. Where are they going? Why are they leaving? David Kinnaman, president of the Barna Group and co-author of the book UnChristian, seeks an answer. Kinnaman and the Barna Group performed a study of young adults to figure out what is causing this exodus.

Most of You Lost Me is an analysis of the results of this study. While suggestions and commentary are offered, the first focus of the book is find an answer. Kinnaman hopes the results in his book can provoke discussions and possible changes.

One of his key points early in the book is that our world tends to think in terms of mass production. Unfortunately, this mindset has seeped into the church. Kinnaman writes, “…disciples cannot be mass-produced. Disciples are handmade, one relationship at a time.” While You Lost Me looks at an entire generation, Kinnaman doesn’t lose sight of the fact that there is no one right answer. As he continually writes throughout the book, “Every story matters.”

Tuesday, March 13

Blue Like Jazz trailer

I'm really hopeful for this movie. It's official release date in April 13th. Christian based movies always get a bad reputation, and I'm hoping Blue Like Jazz can show otherwise. Check it out.


Thursday, March 1

My Imaginary Jesus by Matt Mikalatos


Have you ever wanted to talk with Jesus?  Like, sitting down with him for lunch and having a casual face to face conversation?  That’s what Matt Mikalatos does at the beginning of My Imaginary Jesus, a sort-of true story.  Only this guy Matt’s having chili with isn’t Jesus.  He’s an Imaginary Jesus, but Matt isn’t aware of this until the apostle Peter joins them and punches Jesus – the imaginary one.

Matt then goes on a journey with Peter (Pete) and they join up with Daisy, a talking donkey who is going to help Matt on his journey to discover the real Jesus.  Along the way they meet Testosterone Jesus, Magic 8 Ball Jesus, Free Will Jesus, Political Jesus, Catholic Jesus, Protestant Jesus, some Mormons, and a bunch more imaginary Jesus’s.  I was expecting a book similar to Philip Yancey’s, The Jesus I Never Knew.  What I got was…completely different from anything I can ever remember reading.

Tuesday, February 21

Called to Controversy by Ruth Rosen


Upon receiving Called to Controversy I had no idea what to expect.  I requested it from Booksneeze because the title sounded interesting, a reason that has not always worked out so well in the past.  Ruth Rosen tells the story of her father, Moishe, the man who founded Jews for Jesus.

To my delight, I found Called to Controversy to be an enjoyable and engaging read.  Though I had never heard of Moishe Rosen before, Ruth writes in such a way that I could imagine what it would be like to actually meet Moishe.  The book starts with his childhood, where he grew up in a Jewish home.  He held to his Jewish identity until after his marriage to Ceil, when both were introduced to and converted to Christianity.  To their families this was the ultimate act of betrayal, and for a while they were shunned by their family.

Monday, February 20

Oscar Predictions 2012

My Oscar predictions for 2012.  Unlike last year, I haven’t seen a lot of these nominees, so some of my predictions are based on reading about them.  I’m also skipping some of the smaller categories.  Check them out after the jump.


Thursday, February 16

Bloodlines by John Piper


Despite the progress that has been made regarding racial tensions in the last 150 years, we must sadly recognize that problems still exist. Even more unfortunately, there are even problems found within the church, especially where people misinterpret Biblical passages. Through a mixture of personal experiences and Biblical study, John Piper presents a vision of how the Bible offers hope of removing racial tensions and prejudices.

Bloodlines is broken into two parts: a look at the state of our world and why it needs change, and then a look at the hope the Bible offers.    In the introduction, Piper quotes extensively from Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” which is a powerful response to white religious leaders who criticized a peaceful demonstration led by King which resulted in King’s arrest.

Thursday, February 9

Church Diversity by Scott Williams


“We must face the sad fact that at the eleven o’clock hour on Sunday morning, when we stand to sing, we stand in the most segregated hour in America.” – Martin Luther King Jr.

It was not planned, but I finished Scott Williams’ (a campus pastor for lifechurch.tv) book Church Diversity on February 3rd, near the beginning of black history month.  Even more coincidentally the next book on my list, and which I just started, is John Piper’s Bloodlines, a book about race and Christianity.  Then, in one of my classes I presented from a chapter of a book titled Hollywood Faith, which looks specifically at Oasis Church in Los Angeles.  In Church Diversity Williams uses Oasis as an example of a highly diverse church and looks at what they do to achieve diversity.

Wednesday, February 8

"Was not Jesus an extremist for love: 'Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you'?  Was not Amos an extremist for justice: 'Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream'?  Was not Paul an extremist for the Christian gospel: 'I bear the in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus'?


"Was not Martin Luther an extremist: 'Here I stand; I cannot do otherwise, so help me God'?  And John Bunyan: 'I will stay in jail to the end of my days before I make a butchery of my conscience.'  And Abraham Lincoln: 'Thus this nation cannot survive half slave and half free.'  And Thomas Jefferson: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal...'  So the question is not whether we will be extremest, but what kind of extremist we will be.  Will we be extremists for hate or for love?"

-Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, Letter from a Birmingham Jail

Monday, January 30

Eye of the Sword by Karyn Henley

A sequel to Breath ofAngel, Karyn Henley continues the Angelaeon Circle series with Eye of the Sword.  Last year, I reviewed Breath of Angel for Waterbrook Press and some of you may remember that I didn’t like it.  One of the biggest things going against it (for me) was that its target audience seemed to be teenage girls and I had trouble connecting to the story.  I had no intention of reading the following books.  When I ordered this book, I failed to look beyond the title and the cover, and didn’t realize that this was the sequel.  It looked more like a guy-oriented medieval fantasy story.  It wasn’t until I received it that I realized the mistake I made.  I kept my expectations quite low for this story.

Monday, January 16

I Didn't Ask to Be Born by Bill Cosby


Bill Cosby is a funny guy.  Ask pretty much anyone and they’ll tell you the same thing.  If you don’t believe them, find some episodes of The Cosby Show, or look him up on YouTube.  I’ve found him to be able to merge humor and wisdom together in a ways that many couldn’t.  So, I eagerly looked forward to reading I Didn’t Ask to Be Born and readying myself to explain to those around me why I was laughing.

I Didn’t Ask to Be Born is a collection of ‘observations’ that Cosby has made.  Many of them are stories from his own life, where he always stresses either the unusual nature of it, or in some case the seeming normalcy of life.  For example, the chapter “The Missing Pages” find Cosby wondering what happened ‘between’ Bible stories, and “Too Late for Me but Perhaps Not for You is a story of his interaction with his daughter.  Interspersed through the book are short, one panel comics, which typically relate to the story being interspersed.

Buried


Paul Conroy wakes up in darkness.  Stretching out, he finds himself surrounding by wooden boards.  He pounds on them, but they do not give.  His hands come across a lighter and he discovers that he is in a wooden coffin.  As he beats on the wall grains of sand briefly come through the cracks – he is buried.  He is a truck driver in Iraq and the last thing he can remember is his convoy being attacked.  In the coffin he also finds a pen, a cell phone that only has a half charged battery and wavering signal, a small knife and a few other odds and ends. 

Making several phone calls, he is first greeted by answering machines.  When he finally connects with a people, he finds himself frustrated by the run around he is given.  To top it off, a man calls demanding five million dollars by 9:00pm (it’s a little after 6:00pm in the beginning of the movie) or else he’ll leave Paul to die.  Running out of time and air, Paul only has a cell phone to communicate and the hope that he will be found before it is too late.

Saturday, January 7

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

There are different sorts of negative reactions to films.  There’s the absolute feeling of disgust after watching mere minutes of Birdemic, a film so terrible that I cringe when I hear the name.  There’s the annoyance with movies such as Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, which have such a love affair with CGI and poor scripts.  The worst kind, I have found, is viewing a movie which I have anticipated for weeks, if not months, only to find that not only did the film not reach my expectations, but I didn’t even think was entertaing, or good, in general.  Unfortunately, Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy is probably the most disappointing film I’ve watched in years.

Wednesday, January 4

The Voice: New Testament

Working with Ecclesia Bible Society, Thomas Nelson has published, “The Voice,” a new translation of the New Testament.  The goal of “The Voice” is to make the story of the Bible readable and engaging, even for those who may be unfamiliar with the texts.  I’ll do my best here to highlight what differentiates this from other translations.
      1) The formatting was designed to make it readable and understandable.   Whenever anyone is speaking, their words are preceded by the speaker’s name, and their dialogue is separated from the previous paragraphs to make it clear when they are speaking.  Especially in situations where there are multiple speakers, I found that this makes it easier to follow the flow of a conversation.