Sunday, March 22, 2015

Review of HEAVEN, HOW I GOT HERE by Colin S. Smith

Heaven, How I Got Here by Colin S. Smith is a fictionalized account of the life of the thief who hung on the cross next to Jesus and eventually found redemption there. Though the thief is only briefly mentioned in the gospels, Smith creates an interesting tale of what might've happened the day of Jesus' crucifixion from the thief's perspective.

The story mixes some of what we know actually did happen with some speculation of what it must have felt like for the thief on the day of his execution, particularly when it came to asking Jesus for mercy and receiving it. The thief tells the story from his place in heaven, and he recounts what he knew about Jesus and what led him to cry out to him.

It's an interesting approach to communicating some core ideas of Scripture.

Review copy provided by Cross Focused Reviews

Monday, March 9, 2015

Review of THE FICTION WRITER'S GUIDE TO DIALOGUE by John Hough, Jr.

The Fiction Writer's Guide to Dialogue by John Hough, Jr. is one of the most readable and concise books I've read on what it takes to write good dialogue. Dialogue can be quite tricky, but the author guides you into what dialogue should be and what it shouldn't. For example, everyday conversation isn't dialogue. People in novels don't speak like people do in real life. In real life, people say a lot of pointless words. They repeat themselves a lot, and they're often not clear in what they're trying to communicate.

There's also the issue of how characters speak the words they speak. Many writers rely on adverbs to communicate how a line of dialogue is spoken. Hough challenges writers to use carefully chosen words that communicate in themselves how the speaker is speaking. This forces you to be more economical with your words and utilize subtext more.

One of the most helpful chapters was on ways and reasons why you would interrupt dialogue, namely to keep the character grounded in front of your reader and not become a talking head and to create dramatic effect.

The only part of the book that I wasn't a fan of was when the author said that quotation marks are optional. I actually haven't come across that advice before, but I'm sure it's true. However, as an English teacher, every line of dialogue I saw in an example in the book drove me crazy. It's a tiny negative in a book full of really useful advice for fiction writers. If you're struggling with writing solid dialogue, this is definitely a book to get.

Review copy provided by Allworth Press

Thursday, March 5, 2015

Review of ETERNAL LIVING: REFLECTIONS ON DALLAS WILLARD'S TEACHINGS ON FAITH AND FORMATION

I've loved and respected Dallas Willard as a theologian and philosopher for many years, so I was greatly saddened when he passed away in 2013. As a follower of Jesus, there are few writers who have articulated the faith in a way that makes perfect sense to me as Willard did. Eternal Living is a collection of essays by people who knew Dallas Willard and whose lives he greatly impacted with his teachings.

The book is structured around the roles that Willard played in public and in the lives of the people he knew and loved. Probably the most moving of the essays are the ones by his friends and family. It's easy to see why reading his books impacted my life, but it's interesting to see how he impacted those who were closest to him.

Willard had an incredible impact on people, and that's why a book like this was so likely to come about. If you read and loved the writings of Dallas Willard, this is a great book on the impact he had.

Review copy provided by InterVarsity Press

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Review of BOTH OF ME by Jonathan Friesen

Both of Me by Jonathan Friesen is a book about a young woman named Clara who is on a mission to travel the world without a care in the world, and she's been very resourceful about it. But everything changes when she encounters a strange boy named Elias on a flight. Elias seems to know things about her that he shouldn't know, including things about her past. But Elias has two split personalities, one that Clara is falling in love with and one that lives in a fantasy world. Clara is determined to discover the mystery of Elias and finish a journey she hopes will merge Elias's personalities.

Both of Me is different. It's a young adult novel, and it's about a boy with split personalities. The story takes off right at the beginning, and the relationship between Clara and the two versions of Elias kept me interested. I think this book works because of its unique concept. The description is compelling as we see the world through the eyes of the two different versions of Elias.

Though the saying goes that you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, it was actually the cover that drew me to this book. And then I read the synopsis. It's definitely an interesting read, especially if you're a fan of young adult novels.

Review copy provided by BookLook Bloggers

Review of 4-HOUR WORKWEEK by Timothy Ferriss

Tim Ferriss's 4-Hour Workweek has been a popular book among entrepreneurs and aspiring entrepreneurs in the last few years, so naturally I wanted to check it out. Ferriss writes from experience, and he's a very motivational writer. He wants you to believe that you can live the type of life that everyone dreams about. And he of course paints a picture of that life that's very appealing. I liked the book. It has a lot of solid information in it. But I don't know how practical it is for most people to do. It's written for a certain type of people, and I suppose that would be the creative class. Not everyone is creative, however.

As a strategy, Ferriss lays out the steps he's taken and encouraged others to take to gain control over their lives and do what they really love. I'm a teacher, and I love my job, but I have always wanted to create for a living.

I think there's a lot I can apply from this book and plenty of other people can to. But the writing style makes it sound too good to be true throughout. Overall, it's a motivating book that will get you thinking.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Review of MOTIVATE YOUR CHILD by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller

As a parent who is a Christian, I want my children to grow up knowing and loving Jesus. I also want them to develop the character they will need to be authentic in their pursuit of Jesus. What I love about Motivate Your Child by Scott Turansky and Joanne Miller is that they approach raising children from a standpoint of wanting to teach children to make right choices for themselves. Instead of external behavior modification, prompted by punishment or reward, the authors give parents solid advice on how to help their children develop character and intrinsic motivation to do what's right.

They do this by exploring the concept of motivation and the common approaches that people take before encouraging us to help our children become the kind of people who make right choices. The key to the whole strategy is freedom of choice by the children. Do we want our children to obey because they fear getting in trouble or because they want to genuinely do what God wants from them? If you raise a child to love God and his wisdom, then they'll likely be much more responsible teenagers and adults.

I love the strategies in the last half of the book. The authors outline specific things parents can do in their time with their kids to shape their children's spiritual development. This is a solid book for parents who want their kids to become people who genuinely and relentlessly pursue after God's will for thier lives.

Review copy provided by BookLook Bloggers

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Review of WONDER by Travis Thrasher

In Wonder, the first book in Travis Thrasher's Books of Marvella series, Thrasher sets up a story that moves forward on two levels. First, there's the story of Brandon, a teenager with an abusive drunk for a father and a summer job that he volunteers to work for free just so he can get to know the new girl in town, Marvel Garcia. As Brandon navigates the life of a teenager and the unique struggles he faces, there's another level of the story brewing in the background. A teenager has been murdered in their small town, and no one knows who is responsible. As Wonder takes us into the first half of Act 2 of Thrasher's Marvella story, Brandon and Marvel become closer as they discover more and more about each other, their dysfunctional families, and the role Marvel believes she is to play in God's redemptive plan.

Wonder is a love story, but it's one that is played out against the backdrop of the mystery surrounding the murders occurring in the town. What's interesting about this story is that this is clearly about the murder that occurred in Marvelous, but it's as if Thrasher refuses to let us explore the murder with any depth just yet. It truly feels like that plot thread is running in the background, and it gives the story a sense of foreboding throughout.

This story, or at least this part of the story, is about Brandon and Marvel. Marvel is a great character. She's unique, bold, confident, and yet strangely humble. She has a deep love for God, and yet Thrasher isn't afraid to show us that she struggles at times with the faith she embraces. This is important because although she feels deeply for Brandon, she's sure she's not supposed to be with him.

What I always love about Travis Thrasher novels is the characterization. Being written in first-person point-of-view, Brandon has a very distinct voice and personality that comes through clearly in the story. But the depth of characterization isn't limited to just the main character. Thrasher has created a distinct voice for Marvel and all of Brandon's quirky friends, as well as his enemies. I don't think you can read a Thrasher novel without getting a clear idea of what each of the characters is like, and it's great because although this is another young adult series like Thrasher's earlier Solitary Tales (one of the best series I've ever read), Brandon Jeffrey definitely isn't another Chris Buckley; he's his own character with his own struggles and journey.

Wonder is the second book in a four-book series, and the last few pages will leave you wanting to continue the story because it's the midpoint, and the midpoint is the place where things start to get crazy. I'll be interested to see where this story goes from here and its connection to Solitary (read the acknowledgements in the back for the vaguest hint that they're connected). If you're looking for a story with exceptional characterization and a suspenseful plot, The Books of Marvella is one to check out.

Review copy provided by Tyndale House Publishers