Thursday, November 13, 2014

Review of INSIDE THE CRIMINAL MIND by Samuel Samenow

Nobody really wants to get inside the criminal mind for fun because the criminal mind holds the worst that human potential has to offer. Criminals do bad things that harm other people. We know that. But why do they do it? What is it that causes a person to submit to acting out criminal behavior?

Inside the Criminal Mind by Dr. Samuel Samenow seeks to explore the criminal mind, and Dr. Samenow comes to the subject with decades of experience in the field. In fact, this is an updated edition of the book. The book is an exploration of human evil. It's not that outside forces don't contribute a degree of influence in a criminal's mind; but Samenow's book looks at specifically how criminal behavior originates in the criminal's mind. They are responsible for their actions, and they weigh their actions.

I'm not sure who the ideal reader would be for this book, but it's a great resource for fiction writers who want to get into the heads of their potential villains to make them more believable.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Review of TABLES IN THE WILDERNESS by Preston Yancey

Tables in the Wilderness by Preston Yancey reminds me a lot of Heroes and Monsters by Josh Riebock, which is a book I love. Yancey is a former Southern Baptist who has made his home in the Anglican tradition. This book is about his journey of discovering God.

This journey is very contemplative and involves some rough patches here and there where God seems silent. It also involves some genuine encounters with God that many people long to have. Yancey writes with gut-wrenching honesty, and while some believers may take issue with some of the things he writes, he's definitely thoughtful and thought-provoking throughout.

It's unlikely that anyone gets everything right when it comes to God, but I think readers can appreciate the willingness Yancey exhibited in sharing his personal journey with all of its stops and starts. This is a beneficial book in helping believers wrestle with what it means to commune with God.

Review copy provided by BookLook Bloggers

Friday, November 7, 2014

Review of A.D. 30 by Ted Dekker

Ted Dekker has spent years creating stories that explore man's interaction with God, and although he's always fought the label of "Christian author," he's never hesitated to say that his stories are about Jesus and what Jesus has done. That's been clear in books like The Circle Series, The Books of Mortals, Boneman's Daughters, and The Bride Collector. Many of his stories have been parables, much like the kinds of stories Jesus himself told, but for a more contemporary audience. In A.D. 30, Dekker dives deeper than he ever has into a story about Jesus. This is no allegory. This is a look at Jesus in his original context from the eyes of a foreigner.

We take a journey with Maviah, a woman who has been shamed into slavery even though she should be a queen of her people. After her father's tribe is overrun, she's sent on a mission to King Herod Antipas to ask for help. She makes the long journey, a desperate woman who aches over the loss of her child. What she discovers when she arrives in Palestine is rumors of a Jewish mystic who has been causing quite a stir with his message about a kingdom not of this world. Soon she encounters Yeshua, and his message challenges everything she's ever known.

The strength of this book is the way Dekker makes us experience the world of the story. It's clear that Dekker did a lot of research for this book because it feels so authentic. By putting us in the mind of Maviah, we experience Jesus as a foreigner, which is really what we all are to the way of life he calls for. The book reads like a first-hand glimpse at the ministry of Jesus, and it's profound.

My only complaint about this story, and it's a small one, is that it felt like forever until we got to Jesus. That may have been the point, however. Much of the first half of the book is Maviah's dangerous journey to Palestine, and this part was difficult to get engaged with at times. However, once Maviah has arrived at the end of her journey, that's where the story picks up.

Ted Dekker has been my favorite author for years, and though I love some of his books more than others, I always appreciate his striving for authenticity in each of his books. He's one of the best storytellers out there. A.D. 30 is a unique book and one that anyone would benefit who wants to encounter Jesus afresh.

Review copy provided by Center Street

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Review of HAND IN HAND by Randy Alcorn

Randy Alcorn has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read his thorough book on the theology of heaven. With hand in Hand, he tackles the often debated topic of human responsibility in the midst of a universe sovereignly governed by God. Over the years, after much study, I tend to lean more toward a Molinist approach, though I wouldn't say I agree with all of it.

After reading Alcorn's book, I find I agree with much of his approach to the subject in recognizing that the Bible teaches genuine human responsibility and God's sovereignty being true of reality. However, God's sovereignty doesn't mean meticulous control of every event that occurs. It does mean that God is free to meticulously control everything if he so chooses. In one sense, God's will is thwarted by human decisions, but God's ultimate will of saving those who believe is never thwarted. Alcorn discusses all of these points well in a way that is understandable. Each chapter builds on the one before it.

The only part of the book I struggle with is Alcorn's reliance on the "greater good" argument for why evil exists. The greater good argument depends on the existence of evil in order for God to bring about a "greater good," and this seems to make God in some way dependent upon evil to bring about certain goods. It seems more accurate to say that God is capable of bringing about the greatest good without the existence of evil, which means the "greater good" wouldn't require the existence of evil. Yet God can and does utilize the evil that occurs in a way that will lead to good. For a theodicy argument, I fall more in line with Brian Little's Creation-Order Theodicy.

Overall, I would have to say that this was one of the most refreshing books on the subject that I've read, and I've read a lot. Alcorn writes with graciousness toward all sides and a deep love of God.

Review copy provided by Blogging for Books

Monday, November 3, 2014

Review of THE REMAINING Novelization by Travis Thrasher

The Remaining is a new movie that uniquely ties together faith and horror. Though I haven't seen the movie (I will when it releases to DVD), I did get to read Travis Thrasher's novelization of the movie. If Thrasher's handling of the story is any indication, and I'm sure it is, the movie is probably really good. However, given the style of writing and storytelling I've grown used to in a Thrasher novel, I have a feeling that the book tells the story in a way that the movie will lack.

For example, one of the characteristics of Travis Thrasher's writing that I enjoy the most is his characterization. The novel gives us a deep look into several of the characters, including what they're feeling in the midst of the madness they find themselves in and what motivates them. Thrasher makes you feel like you know the characters.

Then there's the situation itself. The end of the world has begun and demons have been released to do what they will on the earth. This book takes a different approach to the Rapture concept that has been made popular by the Left Behind series. Instead of Christians disappearing from the earth, their spirits leave their deceased bodies behind, which makes the story much more creepy. The majority of the story takes place as a group of survivors huddle together in a church with a pastor who discovers that his claimed belief in Jesus had always been a sham.

This is novel of darkness and evil, yet these are only the backdrop for a brighter story of light and redemption. Travis Thrasher's telling of this story is both intense and at times fun throughout. Having become a Thrasher fan after reading one of his horror-centered novels, this was a welcome return to the type of storytelling I enjoy most from him. Whether you've seen the movie or not, this book is an emotional thrill-ride from beginning to end.

Review copy provided by the Tyndale Blog Network

Friday, October 31, 2014

Review of MIRACLES by Eric Metaxas

Miracles are often debated topic, and rightly so. If miracles happen, then they are clear evidence of something or someone intervening into the natural processes of the laws of nature so that a miracle can occur. The possibility of miracles is intimately tied to the question of whether or not God exists. In his new book Miracles, best-selling author Eric Metaxas explores the concept of miracles and does a great job of illustrating their importance and possibility.

The book clearly defines miracles as something God does in the world, and miracles require God's intentional action to occur. Many believe that if miracles ever have occurred, they only occurred long ago, and we live in a different world now. Metaxas is quick to point out, however, that the laws that govern our universe today are the same laws that governed our universe thousands of years ago. Therefore, miracles are either possible at all times or at no time in history. This is an important point because the implications are that the miracles we read about in the Bible are still possible today.

Metaxas deals with the debate of faith versus science and deftly shows that science and faith are both about exploring God's world and discovering more about him and his creation. They aren't mutually exclusive. In fact, he points out, many scientists have been led to faith because of the evidence they've seen in their scientific studies of God's existence.

The book looks at the miracle of life and the most important miracle of all for Christians: the resurrection. The second half of the book shares real-life miracle stories. Metaxas was careful to only include miracle stories that fit a certain number of criteria to qualify as a definitive miracle.

I've always love C.S. Lewis' book on miracles, and it was good to see Metaxas quote Lewis on multiple occasions. This book is written for today's generation, and it's an important exploration of the concept of miracles and why God performs them.

Review copy provided by Dutton Adult

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Review of WRITING GREAT BOOKS FOR YOUNG ADULTS by Regina L. Brooks

For the last few years, it seems like young adult fiction has ruled the publishing world. From the popularity of YA series like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, and The Twilight Saga, it seems that what is commonly referred to as young adult fiction appeals to a broader ranger of people than just young adults. In the updated edition of her book Writing Great Books for Young Adults, Regina L. Brooks covers some of the characteristics of the YA genre that seem to appeal to so many appeal. She introduces writers to the process of writing a young adult novel.

Of course, this is really a book about writing novels in general. Many of the concepts of writing a novel stay the same, regardless of the genre you're writing in. However, Brooks sprinkles in many key concepts that are specific to the YA genre throughout. Brooks takes writers through the process from an initial idea all the way to securing an agent and pursuing publishing. Everything in between is extremely helpful in terms of developing characters, story lines, and weaving all of the components of storytelling together into a coherent whole.

If you're interested in writing in the YA genre specifically, and more importantly if you're interested in connecting with a wide audience, this book will help you to develop the skills to move in the right direction.

Review copy provided by Sourcebooks