Thursday, May 31, 2012

Review of MORTAL by Ted Dekker & Tosca Lee

Photo Credit: Hachette Book Group

Rating: 5 out of 5

It’s been nine years since Rom Sebastian learned that the whole world has been dead. Long ago human beings were stripped of all their emotions except fear, and Order has ruled over a dead world. Until Rom Sebastian discovered a vial of blood that restored his emotions and brought him back to life. Following an ancient prophecy by a group of people known as keepers, Rom found a boy who was born alive and destined to bring life back to the world. After giving a taste of life to the world’s next Sovereign Feyn, Rom convinces her to give her life so that Jonathan can become Sovereign and fulfill his destiny on his eighteenth birthday. For nine years, Feyn has been held in stasis, legally dead to the world. Now, days before the boy Jonathan is set to assume the mantel of the world’s Sovereign on his eighteenth birthday, a dark force is led by Saric, who has a dark version of life flowing through his own veins and leads an army who shares his blood. Saric has brought Feyn out of stasis to become the world’s rightful Sovereign before Jonathan has a chance to. A tribe of Mortals, brought to life by Jonathan’s blood, has placed their hope in Jonathan becoming Sovereign over the world. But Feyn isn’t who she once was, Jonathan has been exhibiting some strange behavior lately, a growing unrest is developing among the Mortals, and Saric’s army of Dark Bloods threatens to destroy everything the Mortals have hoped for.

Ted Dekker and Tosca Lee did a phenomenal job with FORBIDDEN, the first book in their Books of Mortals trilogy, by introducing us to a world where human beings are essentially dead, ruled by fear and desperate for a savior to bring life. MORTAL, the second book in the series to be released next month, carries the story forward in some unexpected ways. It’s clear that the story is reflective of the redemptive history of the Bible, but it’s also clear that Dekker and Lee are trying to tell their own story as well, shining a light on concepts you’ve maybe never considered before. You can’t guess where this story is going next, and that makes it hard to put down.

The strengths of the book are its characters and the stakes at play in the story. Rom Sebastian is still a great character who pledges his allegiance to Jonathan and the kingdom the Mortals believe that Jonathan will usher in. His devotion is shown through his actions throughout the story, and it was great to see him rise to a respected leader. Roland, the leader of the nomads, is a man committed to Jonathan, but even more so to his people, and the conflict inside of him is emotionally stirring. As the story progresses, you really begin to understand the difficulty of a man in his position. Jonathan is an enigma. Sometimes rational, and sometimes almost driven by madness, his people don’t know what to do with him. He’s definitely the character I found myself most drawn to because of his intriguing nature. Though not everything he does seems like Christ figure you would expect him to be, he certainly keeps you guessing, and like Jesus, he shows that more is at stake than people often realize. Jordin, Jonathan’s protector and a new addition to the story, is the character I think most people will resonate with. She’s driven by love and devotion to Jonathan, but like everyone else, she greatly misunderstands what Jonathan’s end goal is. Saric is the classic villain driven by an insatiable hunger for power, but the things he does to get it make him really stand out among villains. Finally, there’s Feyn. I didn’t like what Dekker and Lee did with Feyn in making her a mindless pawn of Saric, but I understand that the story is about unexpected twists. I’m interested to see where they take her character in the final book.

The stakes in this book are incredibly high. The fate of the world rests on the Mortals and their goal of bringing Jonathan to power. Everything is threatened both by Saric’s Dark Mortals and resurrection of Feyn, as well as Jonathan’s erratic behavior and growing factions within the Mortal camp. The characters really make you feel what’s at stake in this story.

Dekker has been my favorite author for a long time, and I’m really enjoying Lee’s contribution to this story. MORTAL will likely leave you very unsatisfied simply because it makes you thirsty for more, and the last book doesn’t come until 2013. The story is brilliant in its ability to reframe the story of a group of people and ultimately a man who was greatly misunderstood by everyone who should have embraced him and the life he came to give. I loved the ending for the very familiar world it painted. Read this book, then immerse yourself in the story of Christ it reflects and the life he came to give.

Look for MORTAL to be released by FaithWords on June 5, 2012

Review of GRASPING GOD'S WORD 3rd Edition by J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays

Photo Credit: Zondervan

Who the book is for: Anyone serious about digging deep into the biblical text
Rating: 5 out of 5

Christians generally know they’re supposed to read the Bible and that they’re supposed to do something about it, but the Bible doesn’t always make sense. The Bible was written to an audience that is removed from us by time and culture, so it’s easy to miss what the original author intended to communicate to the original biblical audience. Misinterpretation of the Scripture is unfortunately all too prevalent.

In GRASPING GOD’S WORD, J. Scott Duvall and J. Daniel Hays walk us through a clear and helpful process for responsibly reading, interpreting, and applying the Bible. They call it the Interpretive Journey, and it’s an imaginative and motivating description for what encountering God through the Scriptures is meant to look like. The authors outline five steps in the Interpretive Journey:
1. Grasp the text in their town. What did the text mean to the original audience?
2. Measure the width of the river to cross. What are the differences between the biblical audience and us?
3. Cross the principlizing bridge. What is the theological principle in this text?
4. Consult the biblical map. How does our theological principle fit with the rest of the Bible?
5. Grasp the text in our town. How should individual Christians today live out the theological principle?

The authors spend twenty-two chapters elaborating on the steps of this journey, pointing out important concepts such as context, word studies, who is in control of meaning, and the role of the Holy Spirit in interpretation. The last two sections give us some important insights on specific genres represented in the Old and New Testaments.

The point of GRASPING GOD’S WORD is knowing God more and experiencing the transformative power of God’s Word, and this book does a great job of it. There are a lot of really great books out on how to study the Bible. This one is by far my favorite, and I recommend it for anyone who is serious about digging deep into the biblical text.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

Review of AUDIO ENGINEERING 101 by Timothy A. Dittmar

Photo Credit: Focal Press

Who the book is for: Anyone interested in recording and mixing music
Rating: 5 out of 5

AUDIO ENGINEERING 101 by Timothy A. Dittmar is an easy-to-read and understandable guide on audio and recording production. I’ve always loved music. I love the way sounds come together to create something that sounds truly amazing. Dittmar explains the seven characteristics of sound, how to use EQ effectively, signal processing, and signal flow. Illustrations throughout the book make the concepts of audio engineering easy to understand.

Dittmar goes a step further in making AUDIO ENGINEERING 101 a helpful guide for aspiring sound engineers by including discussions about people skills and studio session procedures, as well as chapters on pursuing internships and career opportunities with the knowledge the book provides.

I studied recording production in college, and AUDIO ENGINEERING 101 explains the process of engineering a music production from start to finish better than my professor did in college. The book would make a great textbook for recording production students, and I wish I had a book like this when I was studying. Anyone interested in recording should pick this book up. You’ll be ready to jump into experimenting with recording as soon as you finish.

I received this book for free for review from Focal Press, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Fantastic Parenting Book: My Review of RAISING WISE CHILDREN by Mark Matlock

Who the book is for: Parents wanting to develop biblical wisdom in their children
Rating: 5 out of 5

As parents my wife and I really want to help our children to become wise people, to see the world as God sees it and make decisions based on the wisdom that is found in trusting completely in Jesus day by day. Mark Matlock has been a voice for the Bible’s call to wisdom for several years. I first experienced his teaching when I was a student going to student conferences, then as a student pastor taking students to Planet Wisdom conferences or attending youth ministry seminars. All that time I’ve been hearing him champion biblical wisdom. Now that I’m a parent, I have a lot invested in helping my children, who are very young now, learn to walk with Jesus and walk wisely with him.

Mark Matlock has compiled what he has learned about wisdom in a new parenting book called RAISING WISE CHILDREN: HANDING DOWN THE STORY OF WISDOM. Drawing upon Scripture, especially the Proverbs, Matlock describes wisdom as the way that God sees the world. Wisdom is drawing upon this knowledge of how the world works from God’s perspective and making decisions about life in light of it. Our calling as parents is to mediate wisdom to our children, and Matlock walks readers through a carefully thought-out process of how to do just that.

I loved the discussion about the contents of the mind, and the categories he derived from the Proverbs was really insightful. The book is ideal for families to work through as it includes many helpful ideas for activities to do with your children. It outlines many great opportunities that families have to mediate wisdom. I devoured this book in matter of a couple of days. Now I’m excited to go back through it with pen and highlighter and discuss it with my wife.

RAISING WISE CHILDREN is such a great book and an incredible service to parents and to their children if they’ll put what Mark Matlock proposes into practice. This book was the best book on biblical wisdom I’ve come across.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own


Photo Credit: Michael Wiese Productions

Who the book is for: Anyone interested in filmmaking, especially the technical side of editing to a finished product
Rating: 5 out of 5

Great movies require the creative talents of a variety of different people. From screenwriters, to actors, to cinematographers, to directors, there’s a lot that goes into creating a great film. But one person really brings all of it together to create a brilliant piece of visual storytelling: the editor. Even if you’re not making feature films, but short videos, how you edit your video will determine how the video is received and what it will ultimately look like to a viewer. I’ve shot and edited a few short videos myself, and the editing process was always difficult because I didn’t know exactly what to do to make the video look great.

Film editor Gael Chandler has written a thoroughly helpful book on the editing process called CUT BY CUT: EDITING YOUR FILM OR VIDEO. Chandler walks readers through the technical side of editing a film or video, explaining relevant terms that may be unfamiliar along the way. The book serves as an inside look into the making of a feature film as Chandler describes the process by which an editor receives footage and organizes that footage, then begins making decisions about how to make well-placed edits. There’s information on editing systems, visual effects, and one of my favorite areas of filmmaking, sound design.

CUT BY CUT is a thorough guide that will help anyone interested in filmmaking to produce better films. It gives great insights into the filmmaking process and champions the editor specifically.

I received this book for free for review from Michael Wiese Productions, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

My Review of THE GOSPEL OF YES by Mike Glenn

How we view God is the most important thing about us and the thing that shapes our approach to all of life, but what if your view of God could be summarized in his use of the word “no”? That seems to be the struggle for many Christians and even non-Christians, that God wants to limit you and keep you from anything you might truly enjoy. And this view of God in itself is very limiting to how we live our lives. It either keeps us from doing things that God may in fact want for us because we believe just the opposite. Or it may keep us from God himself because we want to do what we want to do, and we don’t want God stopping us. Really, either way we’re kept from a close connection to God because we greatly misunderstand who he is and what he wants for us.

Mike Glenn, pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church in Brentwood, Tennessee, argues that our view of God should really be summarized by the word “yes.” In his new book THE GOSPEL OF YES, Glenn walks us through a journey of a God who is passionate about the great purpose for which he created all things and humanity specifically. God, who is infinitely good and loving, is really all about saying yes, and this is affirmed throughout the Bible beginning with God’s “yes” to create. Of course, God does tell us no when the things we’re doing are destructive to us. Glenn carefully and beautifully articulates the heart of God toward humanity in his great love for us and great sadness at our sinfulness, which mars the image of God in us and corrupts the purpose for which he created us. God’s “yes” is his divine intention, and it is unbelievably good.

God’s divine intention for our good was so great that not even our sinfulness was going to stand in the way of God doing everything he could to undo what our sin has done. Jesus is the summation of God’s “yes” to humanity. Jesus is the fulfillment of God’s “yes.” In Christ, we find new life and a unique destiny that each of us are meant to fulfill. God created each of us for a purpose. We can choose to deny God’s divine intention for us, but we’d be missing out on a truly satisfying purpose for which we were made.

Using personal stories and God’s revelation of himself in Scripture, Glenn invites us into a journey with God as he really is. THE GOSPEL OF YES does a great job of dismantling our misconceptions about God’s character and repaints a biblical picture of a God who is passionate about his glory and our good. Christians everywhere need to read this book.

I received this book for free for review from Waterbrook Multnomah, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

My Review of PRAYING WITH THE GRAIN by Dr. Pablo Martinez

Should everyone pray the same way? Will one way to pray be equally effective for all people? Dr. Pablo Martinez, in his book PRAYING WITH THE GRAIN, suggests that the answer is no. Everyone is different, and everyone operates from their own unique combination of personality traits. Therefore, what works for one person in their prayer time with God may not work for another. The point of praying, after all, is to connect with God, but in order to be successful in making the connection, we need to pray in a way that nurtures that connection most according to our personality type.

Dr. Martinez presents several interesting findings about personality type affecting prayer, such as the difficulty extroverts have with developing a regular prayer time by themselves because of the isolation, or how introverts value that isolated time alone with God. The book explores the different aspects of personality and gives tips on what prayer practices people should take according to their personality.

I had a couple of drawbacks with the book. First, I think it’s important that people develop different ways to pray, but I don’t think anyone should reject a way of praying simply because it’s uncomfortable. The book didn’t really make that suggestion, but I felt it needed mentioning. Second, the author talks about the ideal personality is balanced. Though it would be ideal to be balanced between extroversion and introversion, etc., readers may get the impression that they need to work on changing their personality, as if God didn’t design them with the personality traits they have.

Overall, the book is an interesting look at how to be more intentional about our prayer time with God, and it’s a good read for anyone wanting to learn more about ways they can pray.

I received this book for free for review from Kregel Books, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

My Review of THE EXPLICIT GOSPEL by Matt Chandler with Jared C. Wilson

THE EXPLICIT GOSPEL by Village Church pastor Matt Chandler contains the clearest and most compelling explanation of what the biblical gospel of Jesus Christ is and what it does that I’ve ever come across. Walk into most churches in America on a Sunday morning and you’ll likely hear a sermon on some kind of behavioral change that Christians need to adhere to. While change is good and should be a part of the journey of walking with Jesus, Chandler reveals the tendency of churches to assume the gospel. The danger is to spend so much time talking about behavioral transformation that we ignore the very thing that is meant to fuel that transformation. We assume people know the gospel, so we don’t spend much time on it. But, as Chandler reveals through his brilliant explanation of the gospel, most people don’t know the gospel as clearly as we may think. An assumed gospel leaves people exhausted with trying to earn God’s approval through our own work when God’s approval has been freely given to us not because of anything we’ve done, but because Jesus’ righteousness has been imputed to us through faith in him.

Chandler explains two important perspectives, or narratives, of the gospel revealed in the Bible. The first narrative he calls “the gospel on the ground.” This narrative is God, Man, Christ, Response. This is the gospel as God’s means of saving individual people, and it is all about elevating the glory of God. Chandler clearly explains the betrayal sin is against God’s glory, the need for God’s justice to be met, and God’s deep love for humanity in satisfying his own justice through the atoning death of Jesus. The second narrative, which Chandler calls “the gospel in the air,” shows that though God is about saving individuals, his redemption is far-reaching to the whole of his creation. Man’s sin has disrupted the created order, and man’s salvation ends in a restored creation where God and man live together forever. “The gospel in the air” is about the importance of Christians to live lives of love and mercy within the culture we live in.

After walking us through the two narratives of the explicit gospel, Chandler gives some caution about focusing on one of the two narratives to the exclusion of the other. There’s a need for balance because God is clearly about both narratives.

Finally, Chandler returns to the idea of behavioral transformation, but this time having laid the foundation of transformation with an explicit, instead of assumed, gospel. He describes our role in sanctification as “grace-driven effort.” While many churches assume their people have the gospel down, THE EXPLICIT GOSPEL envisions communities of faith that find their motivation and fuel for life transformation through a clear understanding and embracing of the gospel. It’s not about us or what we do. The gospel is about what Jesus did. We are free because Jesus has set us free.

I loved this book. I’ve been listening to Matt Chandler on the Village Church’s podcast for years, and I’ve always felt God uses him to communicate the Scriptures really well. Every church and every Christian needs to read this book because, like Rick Warren has said, “It’s that important.” An embracing of the gospel as Chandler describes will change everything.

I received this book for free for review from Crossway Books, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

My Review of QUEST FOR CELESTIA by Steven James

Photo Credit: Living Ink Books

In the village of Abaddon lives a sixteen-year-old boy named Kadin. After being visited by a strange man who gives him an even stranger book called the Book of Blood, Kadin begins experiencing intense pain from a large growth that develops on his neck, a growth that no one sees but him. Even stranger, everyone else in the village has the growth also, but again only Kadin can see it. The Book of Blood speaks of a marvelous city far away called Celestia, ruled by a wise and benevolent king named Kiral. Pulled by the idea of visiting Celestia, Kadin begins a treacherous journey that takes him through dangers that threaten his life at every turn. Joined by a fellow vagabond named Leira, Kadin discovers the truth about himself and the truth about his land’s history.

Over 300 years ago a man named John Bunyan wrote an allegorical story about the journey of the Christian life. In QUEST FOR CELESTIA author Steven James reimagines the story for a new generation. I have to admit that I’ve never read THE PILGRIM’S PROGESS, so I can’t really comment on the similarities between the two books. What I can say is that I loved this story. James throws Kadin into the midst of intense circumstances early on, and it’s in the midst of his journey that we learn more about who Kadin is and what motivates him. Leira is a very likable partner for Kadin’s journey.

I love stories that contain their own mythology, and James creates a compelling mythology in CELESTIA’s narrative about Celestia’s king and how the other villages outside of Celestia came to be. I’ve been a fan of Steven James’ writing for several years, and QUEST FOR CELESTIA is another example of his engrossing storytelling ability.

QUEST FOR CELESTIA is a thought-provoking allegory of what it is often like to walk with Jesus. If you’ve walked with Jesus for any length of time, you’re likely to find many points along Kadin’s journey that you resonate with. Our lives are a story, and James as a storyteller has captured beautifully the story of struggle that often is the Christian life.

I received this book for free for review from Living Ink Books, and the opinions contained within this review are completely my own

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Review of SHAKE THE WORLD by James Marshall Reilly

The world of business is changing as more and more people are starting their own businesses instead of relying on merely a resume to try to get a job in a broken economy. A generation of young people are becoming intentional about creating a life they can feel truly makes a difference in our world. Writer James Marshall Reilly records many of the stories of this new generation in his new book SHAKE THE WORLD. Reilly conducts in-depth interviews with some of the leading professionals in this area such as Black Mycoskie of TOMS shoes and Jessica Jackley of Kiva. What Reilly discovers about the people he focuses on in the book is a drive that all of them share to not just make money, but to generate global change through the things that they do.

The book looks at several characteristics that these leaders share so that readers can learn from their examples. One of the core characteristics of these leaders is that they approach solving ordinary problems in extraordinary ways. They take calculated risks. They make sure they search out what is they were designed to do with their lives. As the back of the book says, they’re not out simply to find a job, but to create a life.

People want to do something meaningful with their lives, and Reilly’s book provides the encouragement and insights on how to approach creating a life of meaning and purpose that effects change in the world. SHAKE THE WORLD is a great resource for anyone struggling with employment in today’s economy, and it will be an especially helpful book to graduates.

I received this book for free for review from Portfolio, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

Monday, May 14, 2012

My Review THE HUNGER GAMES & THE GOSPEL by Julie Clawson

Photo Credit: Patheos Press

Like many people, I loved THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy. The interesting thing about reading the series was that the profound themes laced throughout the series about love, survival, human value, justice, and many others. The series taps into some of the deepest questions of humanity. I came away from the series with a lot of thoughts about the world we live in and how Suzanne Collins’ story reflects much of what humanity struggles with. People see a lot of different things from reading a great story like THE HUNGER GAMES, so not everyone comes away from it with the same thoughts. Christians often read stories through a certain lens, often seeing reflections of the story of redemption. This is why we sometimes see books with titles like “The Gospel According to Harry Potter,” or “The Gospel According to Lost,” or “The Gospel According to Twilight,” and plug in almost any popular series and someone has probably written a book on how the stories plot, characters, and themes reflect the biblical story.

This can get cheesy sometimes, but I think what we’re really trying to do is connect big stories to a much bigger story. It’s interesting that when you look at most popular stories throughout history, it seems pretty clear that people love the story of Jesus, but don’t always necessarily love it in its truest form reflected in the Bible. People of faith believe that stories of trouble, a desperate need for a hero, and redemption at the cost of great sacrifice to the hero originated in a true story initiated by God. If we can reveal how stories that have relatively nothing to do with Jesus actually reflect the story of Jesus, and more importantly, reflect the deepest longings of the human heart, then maybe people will become more open to the story of Jesus and what it has to offer.

Julie Clawson is a writer who also loved THE HUNGER GAMES trilogy and saw several glimpses of the story of redemption laced throughout the story. In THE HUNGER GAMES AND THE GOSPEL: BREAD, CIRCUSES, AND THE KINGDOM OF GOD, Clawson connects some of the most profound themes of the trilogy to some very important concepts Jesus himself wanted to communicate. Using Jesus’ beatitudes at the beginning of his Sermon on the Mount as an organizing outline, Clawson shows how the world is desperate for the kingdom of God, and how the kingdom of God stands in sharp contrast to the world of THE HUNGER GAMES. Using many stories throughout the trilogy, she shows how the world we live in has many similarities to the nation of Panem. The core of the book is about Christians intentionally working toward bringing aspects of God’s kingdom a reality in the world as people seek justice, peace, love, a thirst for righteousness and all the other elements Jesus wanted to communicate about the kingdom of God in the beatitudes.

Though the book is about THE HUNGER GAMES and the gospel, there’s not a lot of discussion of Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection as the foundation of people’s redemption and reconciliation to God. Some people will be frustrated by this, but I understood the book to be tackling what Dallas-area pastor Matt Chandler describes in this book THE EXPLICIT GOSPEL as “the gospel in the air.” Social justice is an important part of the biblical gospel, and Clawson does a great job of encouraging Christians to pursue God’s kingdom in this way.

The book is a great exploration of the kinds of changes the gospel is meant to bring to the world. The hope of a better world is reflected throughout its pages, and it was also a great journey back through a truly captivating story.

I received this book for free for review from Patheos Press, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

Review of CRAFTING NOVELS & SHORT STORIES from Writer's Digest Books

Photo Credit: Writer's Digest Books

Stories help us make sense of the world, and it’s been said that whoever tells the best stories shapes the future. The best storytellers are always learning more about their craft, learning from the best writers and instructors the world has to offer. Writer’s Digest Books has compiled an indispensable new resource on creating stories that features essays from some of the best minds in writing. The book is called CRAFTING NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES: THE COMPLETE GUIDE TO WRITING GREAT FICTION.

Writer’s Digest Books has been producing quality writing instruction resources for a long time, but this one is really great because it packs so much information on the core elements of writing fiction all in one book. Most writers of fiction want to be published. They want their stories read by people and want to impact their readers. The idea behind this book is to create stories that agents, editors, and readers want to read and can’t put down. I personally try to read everything on the writing craft from James Scott Bell and Steven James, who are both featured in the book, and made the book an immediate draw for me.

All the important elements of fiction are covered in the book. From characters, to dialogue, to plot, to revision, this book will walk you how to write better and more impactful stories. I especially enjoyed the “Focused on the Writing Life” sections which covers things such as making time to write, beating writer’s block, productivity, and research.

CRAFING NOVELS AND SHORT STORIES is a great resource for fiction writers that you’ll want to go to over and over again. If you aspire to write great fiction, the essays in this book will help.

I received this book for free for review from Writer’s Digest Books, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

Friday, May 11, 2012

My Review of THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL by Jonathan Gottschall

“We are, as a species, addicted to story. Even when the body goes to sleep, the mind stays up all night, telling itself stories.”

People have been telling stories and listening to stories since humanity has existed. We’re moved by them, entertained by them, and often find meaning for life’s occurrences through them. Everywhere you look, you find stories. From the books we read, to the gossip people tell, to the movies and television shows we watch, to the news programs that fill us in on the world’s events, and finally to the world’s most famous and lasting religious texts, humanity is pulled toward story. Not only that, but people are often bound by a common story that defines them. This is especially true in the world’s religions. Each religion, or even no religion, has a story to tell about the world’s origins and what life is for. People are often united by the common story that defines their existence.

But why are people so drawn to stories? Jonathan Gottschall tries to tackle that question in his new book THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL. Drawing together findings from science and psychology, Gottschall shows how ingrained in us is the need for stories and storytelling. He shows how far-reaching story is to the world we live in, using examples such as a criminal trial being a “story contest.” Lawyers are trying to paint a story that convinces a jury of a person’s guilt or innocence. It’s not just presenting cold-hard facts, but weaving a tale that influences the way people think. Another example is the way journalism often communicates information in a story-like way.

So consumed by story are we that even when we sleep at night, our minds are relentlessly creating stories in our dreams. Gottschall also shows that storytelling is an inherent instinctual behavior. Children don’t have to be taught to pretend and live in the midst of story. They just do it. Even more interesting is the evidence that stories aren’t really an escapist activity. Stories involve trouble. In fact, most stories involve more trouble than people often experience in real life. Nobody wants trouble in real life, but it’s the thing we run to in our imaginations. Why do we do that?

Gottschall presents some ideas that stories may help people deal with problems in real life as a type of simulated practice. He also shows how stories serve to influence and shows how it seems that stories are meant to motivate us live better and behave better.

The book comes from the perspective of evolution with story as something that has helped humanity to evolve throughout history. I’m not an evolutionist, so I can’t appreciate everything about the book. What Gottschall calls evolutionary processes, I call divine intelligence, so there’s still an incredible amount to learn from the book. I did appreciate the discussion on religion in the book since my defining story is the one that God created the universe.

THE STORYTELLING ANIMAL is a great book for anyone, but I especially appreciated it as a writer and a storyteller because helps shape how I approach story and what I hope to accomplish in people’s lives through story. The only other disclaimer I have is that the book can get a little vulgar at times. Despite that, there’s much to learn from this book about the role of storytelling in our world.

I received this book for free for review from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt

Thursday, May 10, 2012

My Review of FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE by Jon Fitzgerald

Michael Wiese Productions is releasing a book in October by Jon Fitzgerald called FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE: HOW TO MAKE FILMS THAT TRANSFORM THE WORLD. The book is about the ability to use "cause" films to inspire change in the world. Using examples of some of the mostly widely influential documentaries, Fitzgerald encourages filmmakers to find a message they believe in and create a documentary to spark awareness around their message. For example, Morgan Spurlock created awareness about the health concerns over McDonald's food in his documentary Supersize Me. As a result of this documentary, McDonald's eliminated their Supersize option.

In the book, Fitzgerald discusses the opportunities for indie filmmakers to create quality documentaries with a limited budget. The book covers important aspects of filmmaking, such as developing ideas, applying narrative structure, production scheduling, marketing, distribution options, film festivals, and more.

As a person who wants to effect change, I appreciated the book's focusing on using creative storytelling through Cause filmmaking to build awareness and drive change. The book covers how to create a documentary from start to finish. Fitzgerald also includes case studies from his own experiences as a documentary filmmaker. FILMMAKING FOR CHANGE is a great book for filmmakers who want to create change.

I received this book for free for review from Michael Wiese Productions

For Student Ministry Leaders: My Review of MAKE IT LAST: PROVEN PRINCIPLES FOR EFFECTIVE STUDENT MINISTRY by Jeff Lovingood

Photo Credit: NavPress

Student ministry in a church (ministry for teenagers) is a unique and exciting opportunity to impact a generation of people who will be the voices of Christianity for good or bad, both today and in the future. It's an opportunity to help students discover the deep love God has for them and the incredible intentions he has for their lives. And it's an opportunity to the lives of families and the students' leaders so that a new and truly good way of life in the Kingdom of God is ever-expanding.

It's not easy and it can often be frustration, especially in the midst of church politics, but student pastors are in a position to catalyze true and lasting change by leading students to deeper and deeper faith in Jesus Christ.

But how do you manage a student ministry that is intentional and effective? It can be easy to fall into the role of activities director and the dreaded mere babysitter for teenagers to either keep certain people happy or to create numerical growth that makes a ministry appear healthy on the outside. The problem is you'll never feel you're really accomplishing anything of lasting value, and the students, families, and leaders you serve deserve much more. Plus, life with Jesus has always meant to be a creative adventure, so there are ways to bring people closer to the heart of God while having fun at the same time.

Jeff Lovingood, a student pastor at a church in Tennessee, has written an important new book on navigating a healthy, intentional, and effective student ministry. The book is called MAKE IT LAST: PROVEN PRINCIPLES FOR EFFECTIVE STUDENT MINISTRY. Drawing from his many years of experience as a student pastor, Lovingood walks us through his strategies for serving students. What I really love about this book is something I've come to understand in the last couple years. Lovingood focuses on key relationships in student ministry among not just the students in the ministry, but the families of the students and their leaders as well. This creates a wider impact for the gospel in student ministry than just teenagers. Lovingood envisions an environment where parents are discipline their children while student ministry leaders come alongside them. Maybe an even more important aspect is the effectiveness of students taking ownership of their faith and reaching other students.

MAKE IT LAST encourages defining a clear purpose for the student ministry and a clear plan that centers around achieving that purpose. Lovingood covers the importance of working as a team with church staff, student ministry parents, and student ministry leaders. The more people you have on your committed to a strategy they clearly understand and can communicate themselves the better.

MAKE IT LAST is a perfect resource for any student pastor. I was a student pastor in a church for five years until about a year ago. I wish I would've had this book during my time in student ministry, and it will definitely be a go-to resource if God should lead me back into student ministry in the future.

I received this book for free for review from NavPress, and the opinions expressed in this review are completely my own

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

My Review of MUSIC BOX, a Short Story by Estevan Vega

In the midst of the world crumbling around her on the eve of the world’s end, a woman named Esther reflects on her life and her desperation to keep the life she’s worked so hard to create. Obsessed with how she looks, Esther stares into a mirror, noticing her growing imperfections as the man she loves Jacob tries to convince her to accept her fate. Outside, fires rage, and Esther and Jacob wait for the mysterious Rider to make his appearance. But Esther is enraged at the Rider and his insistence on tearing away all that she holds dear.

MUSIC BOX is a short story by Estevan Vega. I discovered Estevan while listening to a podcast by, and his writing sounded interesting. MUSIC BOX is a high-stakes tale about the choices we make and how things could be different. The story’s descriptions put me right into the story, and you can feel the angst that Esther feels about losing everything she believes is important. Though it’s a short story, there’s a certain level of suspense as you wonder where this story is going and where it will end up in the end.

While the story is interesting, it’s a bit confusing. In the end, I wasn’t sure what kind of characters I had just read about and what exactly happened, though I had my ideas. The story is creepy, which I can appreciate because it keeps the story intense and interesting. It seems like the story is meant to end with a certain sense of hope and redemption, but it was lost in the midst of the haziness of the story’s ending.

I liked the story as far as Vega’s ability to create an emotionally-stirring narrative with complex characters and strong descriptions that pull you into the scene. For that reason, I’ll continue checking out Vega’s other stories.

I received this short story for free for review from the author

My Review of COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER by Pilar Alessandra

COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER by Pilar Alessandra is a really helpful book for anyone who has ever wanted to write a screenplay but find it difficult to make time to do so. I’ve wanted to be a writer since I was in junior high, and I’m always trying to learn how to be a better writer and tell better stories.

Screenwriting is a great opportunity to learn how to write stories that people can visualize, and it’s a condensed story structure where every element, every word, must serve the overall story. Alessandra gives writers several small chunks of instruction on how to write a screenplay, and the book is especially great because she walks writers through writing a screenplay from beginning to end.

From how to come up with a compelling story idea, to structuring and outlining its elements, to developing characters and writing dialogue, to writing the first draft and revising to a final draft, COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER reads like a workbook that guides a writer through the complete process of producing a winning screenplay.

I came to the book knowing a little about screenwriting and having written some scenes before, but the book added so much to my knowledge base on screenwriting. It’s a great book for beginning screenwriters, and it really is a great resource for finding the time to write a screenplay in ten-minute chunks of time. Alessandra’s discussion of scene intention really opened my eyes on how to craft scenes and what I need to accomplish in a scene.

COFFEE BREAK SCREENWRITER is a book that I’m going to keep close as I’m crafting a story because it will be a really helpful reminder of exactly what things I need to think through to structure a great story. If you’ve ever wanted to write a screenplay, this is a great resource on how to do it.

I received this book for free for review from Michael Wiese Productions

Thursday, May 3, 2012

For Writers and Screenwriters: Review of THE LAST WORD by Tom Lazarus

Great writing is rewriting. Most writers hear this all the time, but they may not be aware of some practical tips to put into place to do rewriting well. Tom Lazarus is a screenwriting instructor at UCLA and the writer of the movie Stigmata. Lazarus introduces over a hundred practical and immediately helpful tips for rewriting in his upcoming book THE LAST WORD: DEFINITIVE ANSWERS TO ALL YOUR SCREENWRITING QUESTIONS. I enjoy all types of writing, from nonfiction to fiction to visual storytelling such as screenwriting, so this book was a helpful and enjoyable resource for me as a writer. Though it’s targeted at screenwriting specifically, if you’re not a screenwriter, you can still learn a lot about refining stories you’re writing from Lazarus’ book.

Reading the book fells like the experience of having a writing coach in your ear, giving you helpful tips to creating your best work, and Lazarus does it in a way that communicates authority and a clear know-how for what he does. The book is structured into several short easy-to-read chapters where Lazarus shares some notes that he’s written on different screenplays that he’s read and consulted on. It was great to journey into the mind of story consultant through the book and learn from his wisdom.

Throughout the book, Lazarus continually purports that our best writing is done by rewriting and adapting and improving. It makes me think of the visual of creating a piece of clay, then shaping the clay into something profound. We have to write something complete first, then we can shape it into something beautiful, emotionally-stirring, and thought-provoking.

Some of the areas that come to mind as helpful are tips on description of what the camera sees, avoiding backstory and creating a forward-momentum plotline, avoiding using language that can’t be filmed and tears readers out of the story.

THE LAST WORD was a really enjoyable book and a valuable resource for any storyteller, but especially for screenwriters. Look for the book to release in a few months from Michael Wiese Productions.

I received this book for free for review from Michael Wiese Productions, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

My Review of HEROES AND MONSTERS by Josh Riebock

Photo Credit: Baker Books

HEROES AND MONSTERS is a unique and creative memoir that looks at the life of faith in Jesus in all its moments of light and darkness. Josh Riebock, the book’s author, writes of experiences sometimes incredible and sometimes heartbreaking and tells all of them in a way that is refreshing and thought-provoking. Riebock takes on a journey that begins on a night when his hero his father does something less than heroic. Much of the book looks at how Riebock handles the often dysfunctional nature of his family and the journey from bitterness to forgiveness. This all coincides with his journey with a character that pops in and out of the story that Riebock calls “Jack.” It’s best to read the story to understand Jack.

HEROES AND MONSTERS looks at the nature of people to be either forces for good or for evil, and more often somewhere in between. Through Riebock’s story, hope for redemption pours forth on nearly every page. Riebock is a great storyteller, and I loved the artistic way he tells his story. The book is honest throughout and deals with heavy issues head-on. Ultimately, Riebock shows a story where God pursues the hearts of people and leads to profound and beautiful transformation.

HEROES AND MONSTERS is unlike any book I’ve read, but it’s a really good one. Check it out for a fresh perspective on what journeying with Jesus looks like in real life.

I received this book for free for review from Baker Books, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Review of Zondervan's Exegetical Commentary on Ephesians by Clinton E. Arnold

Zondervan’s EXEGETICAL COMMENTARY ON THE NEW TESTAMENT series is a really user-friendly and illuminating look at the biblical text, using the original Greek. Clinton E. Arnold is the General Editor of the series and the author of the Ephesians commentary of the series. Since I first heard a series of sermons from the book of Ephesians when I was a high school student, Paul’s letter to the Ephesians has been my favorite book of the Bible. It’s the one book of the Bible that I gravitate to over and over again.

I love Arnold’s commentary on Ephesians. Arnold carefully lays out the context of the community that Paul was writing to. He describes how the church started, the idolatry they had to turn from in turning to Christ, and the idolatrous context the Ephesian church had to continue to live within. There have been some widespread debates on whether Ephesians was even written specifically to the Ephesian church because there are some ancient manuscripts that omit the words “in Ephesus” from the letter. Arnold tackles this subject head-on and presents some compelling reasons for believing that Paul did write the letter to the Ephesian church and that “in Ephesus” were original to the letter.

Ephesians is a beautiful letter about God’s work in and love for the church, and it’s great to explore the details of the letter. Any discussion of Ephesians will inevitably lead to discussion of the subject of God’s election of believers. Arnold handles it expertly, pointing out that in writing to believers Paul says nothing about the non-elect, so the subject of reprobation isn’t even a teaching thought in Ephesians.

Bible students and teachers, whether they know New Testament Greek or not, will benefit greatly from this commentary and all the others in Zondervan’s commentary series.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan, and the opinions contained in this review are completely my own

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

My Review of THINK CHRISTIANLY by Jonathan Morrow

Photo Credit: Zondervan

THINK CHRISTIANLY is a fresh perspective on the church’s call to engage the culture and carry the gospel into all the places where redemption is desperately needed. For many Christians faith is relegated to a Sunday morning activity, and many aren’t sure about how to integrate their faith into all the rest of their everyday lives. A ready example is the seeming war between faith in science. Christians often don’t know what to do with what science has discovered and the implications of those findings for faith in a Creator God. Blind faith or complete abandonment are the common solutions Christians turn to when confronted with this problem, but in THINK CHRISTIANLY, author Jonathan Morrow makes a compelling and vitally important case for cultivating a thoughtful faith that reveals itself in radical love. As the book points out, the early church didn’t have faith in Jesus in the absence of evidence; their faith was supported by a vast amount of evidence.

THINK CHRISTIANLY is a call for believers to engage with culture. Morrow points out that the Bible’s first “great commission” was something often called the cultural mandate. Humanity was designed to create culture, and believers have the story of the world encoded in their gospel-driven DNA, so they are especially charged to create culture that brings glory to God and draws the hearts of people toward him.

Morrow points out that churches are called by God to equip the next generation to be able to make a case for what they believe. I love how he encourages churches to face heavy issues head-on because believers should be hearing about these things in church first so they can be prepared for how to deal with it.

Morrow quotes Dallas Willard liberally, which I loved because Willard is one of my favorite authors. I really enjoyed the discussion on what constitutes knowledge. The section on spiritual formation is especially helpful because Christians are to live differently and experience transformation from following Jesus.

The book, after laying down the foundation for engaging culture as believers, explores several specific areas where believers need to engage. Topics such as sex, homosexuality, politics, bioethics, and media are discussed. Each chapter is valuably supplemented by interviews by some of the greatest minds in Christianity.

THINK CHRISTIANLY is easily one of the most important books I’ve ever read. Jonathan Morrow has done an incredible job of challenging churches to be creators of redemptive culture in the world. I can’t wait to put some of the ideas of this book into practice. Every Christian should read this and let it inform their spiritual journey.

I received this book for free for review from Zondervan, and the opinions expressed in this review are completely my own