Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Review of THE SANCTUARY by Ted Dekker

Photo Credit: Hachette Book Group

Rating: 5 out of 5

Danny Hansen and Renee Gilmore have been through a lot. Danny used to be a priest committed to seeing justice enforced. Unfortunately, his brand of justice led him to take the law into his own hands and kill the people he believes deserve to die for their crimes. Renee Gilmore, caught in the crosshairs, learns to execute justice like Danny and the two of them fall in love. Their journey together leads Danny to a new understanding, that evil can’t be eradicated through violence. Taking the fall for Renee’s crimes, Danny is now in prison. Recently transferred to an experimental prison called Basil, Danny encounters a warden bent on exposing the darkness in all of the prisoners and eradicating it through some unorthodox methods. Meanwhile, on the outside, Renee receives a box containing a severed finger and a letter stating that if she doesn’t do what the person who sent the letter wants, then Danny will die. On the inside, Danny receives a similar threat. Can Danny and Renee do what it takes to rescue one another before it’s too late?

THE SANCTUARY is Ted Dekker’s follow-up to his 2011 novel THE PRIEST’S GRAVEYARD. While the earlier book was about vigilante justice, this story is about how the human heart is truly habilitated and the failure of human corrections systems to make any real lasting change in the heart of a criminal. Dekker has a knack for wrestling with big questions in his stories. Not in a preachy way, but by taking us on a journey with his characters to see how these deep questions of morality interface with real life. How will his characters deal with the questions Dekker is raising?

In THE SANCTUARY Dekker explores America’s prison system and daringly reveals the pervasive nature of our corrections system to harden criminals rather than rehabilitate them. Furthermore, rehabilitation may not be what we hope for because behavior may change but the inner heart motivations that catalyzed the behavior in the first place may still be in place, pouring out in other ways.

The suspense level is high in this novel, which is another Dekker staple. Danny and Renee are pushed to their limits and at times even further than their limits. Lives outside of their own are at stake, and they must do unspeakable things and endure much for the sake of others. The warden acts as almost invincible antagonist, which raises the tension even further throughout the story. And, of course, there is the element of mystery. Who is playing this cruel game with Danny and Renee, and what is their motivation? The big reveal is another element you can expect in a Dekker novel, and this one is no exception. I was surprised, as I usually am, and yet after you experience the story, it all makes sense. I should’ve seen it all along.

Readers of THE SANCTUARY will be faced with the deep depravity that exists in all of us and the incredible hope for genuine rehabilitation that is found only in the grace and love of God. It’s a great story by a truly talented and insightful author.

Review copy provided by Center Street

Review of DISLOCATED by Max Andrew Dubinsky

Rating:4 out of 5

William Scott awakens to what he assumes is just another regular day, but he soon discovers that something terrible has happened while he slept. As he investigates, he discovers people he knows, people he loves, dead. In fact, nearly everywhere he turns there’s another dead body. On top of that, a hungry wolf is chasing him. Somehow he seems to be the only person alive in the town he lives in, and he wonders if he might be the only person alive in the world.

DISLOCATED is a novella by Max Andrew Dubinsky, and as the description above indicates, it is a rapidly-paced journey of ever-increasing tragedy. William Scott is the narrator of his own story, and he is a truly distressed character with plenty of regrets. I would say that the story feels like hopes being dashed over and over again.

The story itself is interesting and definitely pulls you forward as you wonder, along with Scott, exactly what is going on in the world. The story has quite a few instances of strong language, which fit the character of the story I suppose, but tended to jolt me out of the story each time I encountered them.

DISLOCATED is the beginning of a bigger story, and it will be interesting to see where Dubinsky takes us on this journey. If you’re a fan of post-apocalyptic stories, DISLOCATED is a story to check out.

Review copy provided by the author

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Review of SINNER'S CREED by Scott Stapp

Rating: 5 out of 5

When I was in ninth grade, I was learning how to play electric guitar and listening to music through my headphones every night before I went to sleep, dreaming of making music that sounded as great as the music I was hearing. I can remember the first several times that I heard the song “My Own Prison” by a new band called Creed, and I thought it was amazing. I immediately got the guitar music for it and started learning how to play it. Creed was unique among rock bands. Stories about lead singer Scott Stapp’s childhood made the band and its unique lyrical content intriguing. I grew up going to church and hearing about Jesus, but it was around this time that I began to understand the message of Jesus for the first time. Creed was ever presenting itself as “not a Christian band,” but their lyrics seemed reminiscent of Christians wrestling with God on a spiritual journey that explored the deepest longings of humanity.

Then Creed was no more. One of the biggest rock bands in history was suddenly done making music. What happened? What was brewing under the surface? And where did God fit in the midst of all of it?

In SINNER’S CREED Scott Stapp takes us on an intriguing and often tragic journey beginning with his rocky childhood through Creed’s rise to fame and his battle with alcohol. Stapp shares the sad story of his biological father leaving his family when he was little and meeting and becoming the adopted son of an ultra-fundamentalist named Steve Stapp. Stapp is faced with two very divergent pictures of God at a young age. His grandfather shows him a loving God that cares deeply for him, but this is hard to reconcile with the angry vengeful God presented by his new father. This God is one who will send him to hell for the slightest deviance.

Stapp grows up trying to please his father and his father’s God, making excellent grades and being a star athlete. But any imperfection or the slightest hint of imperfection meant a beating. His upbringing eventually drives him away from home and on his own where he discovers drugs and self-expression through music. He tells the fascinating formation of Creed and their discovery by Wind-Up Records, their rise to rock-and-roll fame, and their disintegration. Throughout, Stapp shares his personal journey through alcohol addiction, being a father, and finding the love of his life, and finally reaching sobriety, a journey he says will always be ongoing.

I loved this book because Creed was one of my favorite bands of all time. I still love to pick up my guitar and play the intro to “Higher.” Creed’s lyrics were always reflective of a deep spiritual journey, and it was interesting to read Scott Stapp’s reasoning for why he wrote some of the words he wrote. Stapp tells the story in a way that kept me wanting to keep reading all the way to the end. I especially loved his recounting of meeting the guys who would form Creed.

Stapp shares a lot of intimate details in this book, and he shares a deep love of God on nearly every page. I appreciate his sharing of his struggle and giving us an inside glimpse of Creed. SINNER’S CREED is a captivating memoir that makes much of Jesus throughout.

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

Early Review of FORENSIC SPEAK by Jennifer Dornbrush

Who the book is for: Fiction Writers
Rating: 5 out of 5

FORENSIC SPEAK: HOW TO WRITE REALISTIC CRIME DRAMAS by Jennifer Dornbush is a great resource for any fiction writer. Realistic crime scene investigation in a novel or screenplay requires an accurate use of the terms and methods used in forensic science, but if you haven’t went to school to study it, then you have to research it for yourself, which can take up a lot of time that you could be spending writing. Dornbush has compiled all the information you could need to make your crime stories realistic.

After an introduction about growing up the daughter of medical examiner and becoming interested in forensic science and how it fits into fiction, Dornbush takes us into the world of forensic science. From crime scene investigation to toxicology to fingerprints to DNA, guns, and courtroom procedures, FORENSIC SPEAK gives writers a concise and easy-to-understand guide to making their stories more believable. The book covers important terms and describes how they’re used. The book gives examples from many films and includes exercises as well.

FORENSIC SPEAK reduces the amount of research writers have to undertake in order to craft realistic crime stories. It’s a great resource, and it’s definitely one I’ve been looking for awhile. It comes out February 2012 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

Available February 2013

Thursday, October 4, 2012

My Review of @WriMo: A 30 Day Survival Guide for Writers by Kevin Kaiser

Rating: 5 out of 5

“[T]he creative process has nothing to do with making something out of nothing and everything to do with discovery. Creating is discovery. Creating is doing. And that, friends, means action.” –Kevin Kaiser

Every year in November thousands of writers commit to writing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days as part of the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). It’s a grueling endeavor, and few make it to the end. But for those who do, it’s the opportunity to create something they can be proud of simply because they finished. To be a writer, you must write.

Kevin Kaiser is an important and resonating voice in the literary world. He’s the brand manager of New York Times Best-selling Author Ted Dekker, as well as a creative force all on his own. He’s committed to writers, and this commit shows in his willingness to be open to sharing his wisdom through his blog StorySellerPro. As a part of his commitment to writers and rooted in his belief in NaNoWriMo, Kaiser has written @WriMo: A 30 Day Survival Guide for Writers, a thirty-day “kick in the moneymaker” designed to be a source of inspiration to help the writers participating in NaNoWriMo to make it to the end.

I love Kaiser’s voice and expertise, and this book is full of practical wisdom on what it takes to stay focused on finishing your novel during NaNoWriMo. It’s not so much a book about the mechanics of how to craft a great story. Instead, the short blog-post-length chapters for each day tap into the motivations of the writer and expose the self-made hindrances many writers face during the crafting of their story.

Kaiser believes that writers can’t wait on inspiration. They must writer whether inspiration comes or not. Success comes with hard work and commitment. He’s gut honest about the discouragement writers will face and tells them to keep at it anyway. Don’t let anything stand in the way. “Bring it on,” Kaiser says. I loved his inclusion of Emma Coats’ 22 Story Rules. Coats was a former Pixar storyboard artist and shared these story rules on Twitter. My favorite chapter was “The Place,” which was an inspiring original short story by Kaiser.

For those participating in NaNoWriMo, @WriMo is the perfect guide to awaken your motivation each day in November. All the proceeds raised from the book will donated to support the future of NaNoWriMo. Check out Kevin Kaiser at StorySellerPro and click the link below to find the book on Amazon.

Review copy provided by the author