Grace of God

An ex-detective finds himself investigating the disappearance of $30,000 from a church. The question of money turns out to be secondary to the question of faith. But is the question well asked?

Grace of God
A Story of Easter Traditions
Phase4Films
March 2015

Why this is a story of “Easter Traditions” is unclear. What it is – basically – is a long form sermon illustration about a group of people at a church finding their way. A mother who finds her daughter (and more), a daughter who finds strength to stand up to abuse, an investigator who (is this really a spoiler?) finds God. Everything fits so tightly together you’d think it was made up! Ha. Ha. Ahem. Yeah. It’s like that.

The film isn’t good. I found the plot is mediocre at best. Editing was harsh and quick. The characters are cookie cutter: an ex-thug who found the light, a self sacrificial, peaceful preacher, a smart-allecky daughter, and so on. At times, the acting was outstandingly bad. I wonder when Christians are going to hold entertainment up to the standards that we should expect instead of just being happy that there was a story with a “happy” ending and no cussing.

(I say happy here in quotes because I’m not certain that the outcome was the best one.)

I don’t recommend it and I hope other Christians will avoid the film and send the message to the producers that we expect more. Stories don’t have to be neat, they don’t have to be clean, they don’t have to quote the Bible every few minutes. The Bible itself isn’t neat or clean and does a way better job showing the way.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This movie was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Implications Abound by Adam4d

2015-03-17-implications-abound2Like The Oatmeal, but for Theology Nerds.

Implications Abound
A collection of curiously Christian comics
by Adam4d
CreateSpace Independent
March 2015

In his first collection of comics from his website, Adam4d chose an eclectic collection of his work. Some of it is clearly earlier – the art is less detailed, and tends to be more issue based – while some looks and works like some of his more recent work – having more detailed characters acting out quotes from historical figures, pastors and authors or providing more in-depth commentary on Christian issues. While the art style varies, the theme is the same: modern Christianity is under the microscope. But it never comes across as intending to harm.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-58-01-1 Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-58-10-1

Some use satire simply as an attack, while others make a point. (Think political cartoons). Adam4d’s work is primarily a way of teaching. Even those who may feel attacked have to admit that it wasn’t the artist who did the attacking; it is the Word, quoted faithfully in context, or quotes from theological and intellectual greats from history that convicts.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-56-10-1If there was a letdown it was in how short the book was. I understand that with full color it would have to be shorter to be affordable, but, like many fans of his webcomic, I have my favorites that I’d have liked to see included. Some of his newer stuff is really top notch as well. But that’s what the second collection if for, right?

With religious work there can be – rightly so – concerns about orthodox views. Nothing I’ve read so far would not be considered orthodox. While I don’t know the author, his work strikes me as tending to Reformed if any set of doctrinal beliefs without any controversial or secondary issues to cause readers of different backgrounds to stumble. If you are an orthodox Christian you will find a lot to agree with here. Beware, though, should you hold to unorthodox beliefs as they will come under the scrutiny of the Word.

Screenshot_2015-03-19-14-52-26-1I haven’t had as much fun reading about theologians, laughing at (and being rebuked for) so-called Christian behavior, or learning complex theological arguments in clear, deep ways since I read Jon Acuff’s Stuff Christians Like a few years back. Hilarious, poignant, needed. This webcomic and book are part satire, part teaching, and part rebuke and 100% required reading.

I highly recommend it!


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

2014 BookGateway.com Booky Awards

BookyBookGateway.com is pleased to announce its books of the year award, the Bookys, for books published in 2014!

The Booky is awarded annually by the editors of BookGateway.com, a book review website for reviewers and book bloggers founded in 2010 with the express goal of encouraging a lifestyle of continued learning through the love and practice of reading. The Booky awards recognize the best books published and reviewed at BookGateway.com during the preceding year. Each reviewer that submits at least 10 reviews during the calendar year along with each Genre Editor of BookGateway.com can nominate books for Booky award recognition. Final decisions are made by the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com.


Children’s & Teens:
Galaxy’s Most Wanted
Written by John Kloepfer | Illustrated by Nick Edwards | HarperCollins | July 2014
From the review: “I would call this a perfectionist’s masterpiece. All the adventure and non-stop fun and danger made me not want to put the book down. And it’s a cliffhanger, too. I’m dying to read the next book. It was absolutely amazing.”


Fantasy:
Raising Steam
by Terry Pratchett | Doubleday / Randomhouse Audio | March 2014
From the review: “What’s interesting is that Pratchett threw most of the protagonist from his last several series together in this one in a sort of all star cast of funny and it worked! Vimes and Moist play off each other very well. Vetinari gets to exercise his awesome evilness at times, although unseen, of course. And characters from all over the Discworld make an appearance. All that to say that anyone who enjoys any of the Discworld series will love this one. Funny as always but building towards more.”


Graphic Novels:
Outcast
written by Robert Kirkman | art by Paul Azaceta | Image: Skybound | June 2014
From the review: “The artwork by Azaceta is dark, brooding and heavy. Which is perfect. The story is tight and intriguing. A book that horror and suspsense fans will be thrilled to read. It is also a book that fans of the Walking Dead and Kirkman’s other work (not counting his superhero stuff) will enjoy because of the complex character development. This is another story where the supernatural is merely the setting that our characters move through.”


Non-Fiction:
The Answer to Bad Religion is Not No Religion
by Martin Thielen | Westminster John Knox Press | February 2014
From the review: “There is a lot of bad press about Christians today. Sure, a lot of negativity is stirred up in Hollywood but there is enough smoke here to say a fire exists. So a message that clearly explains why someone shouldn’t abandon Christianity because of Christians is a welcome and needed one.”

10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know
by Kari Kampakis | Thomas Nelson| November 2014
From the review: “Reading through the book I not only thought these were truths that my daughters should know but that I wished that I had known these things when I was a teen. These really are “ultimate truths” as they speak to who we are as created and loved beings and speak to an inner peace that just doesn’t come from any other source but the foundation of God. This is a must read for teenaged girls and their parents. I highly recommend it.”


Romance & Chick Lit:
The River
by Beverly Lewis | Bethany House | September 2014
From the review: “This is a story of redemption, healing, forgiveness, and family. Both girls have to find peace and resolve and be content in their decision that led them away from their Amish roots… this is a worthwhile story that will pull at your heart strings and break your heart at the same time.”


Science Fiction:
Star Wars: Tarkin
by James Luceno | LucasBooks & Randomhouse Audio | November 2014
From the review: “Luceno’s great accomplishment is how he has readers cheering for Tarkin’s success. We grow to like him and understand his decisions. (Obviously not those decisions in the movies, but the decisions prior to those that made up his character.) I don’t recall the last time I rooted for the bad guy. I’m not talking anti-hero here, but actual bad guy.”


Thriller & Suspense:
Personal
by Lee Child | Delacorte Press / Random House Audio | September 2014
From the review: “Child’s character and this story is outstanding. Far and away more enjoyable than most “big name” series I’ve read over the last decade. I’m definitely a fan from this point on and the great news is that I’ve got a bunch of old books to catch up on!”

Deep Black Sea
by David M. Salkin | Permuted Press | June 2014
From the review: “In my opinion, this book is perfectly set up for being made for a movie. It has everything that other survival horror movies has but it’s in a situation that hasn’t been done often or for a while. There have been some movies set at these depths but not many. And the pace of this book is very similar to that of a movie. I read most of it in a single night – not wanting to put it down. Very cinematic.”

The 5 Love Languages for Men by Chapman

5-Love-Languages-of-MenThe newest books in the popular ‘Love Languages’ series by Dr. Chapman are out and they focus on their target audience: men or women. The question is, what makes this book worthy of your purchase rather than the original?

The 5 Love Languages for Men
by Dr. Gary d. Chapman
Northfield Publishing
December 2014

This is in fact a very good question considering there are other versions of this book that already cater to men – “The 5 Love Languages Men’s Edition: The Secret to Love That Lasts” which came out in 2010. There are – and this is very surprising! – 128 total books available by Dr. Chapman on Amazon, the vast majority of which are derivatives of the original “Five Love Languages”. Interestingly, quite a lot of the books that are not specifically about the Love Languages deal with anger and apologizing. That is interesting because the only two sections that this book has that prior versions of the Love Languages are those two topics: how to deal with anger in a healthy way and how to apologize effectively.

I’m a fan of the concept of the Five Love Languages and I found value in reading two new sections (to this book). But I do wonder about the constantly produced “new” books when it seems like these few topics have been covered in detail quite a bit. And I wonder at why we would buy a book that focuses entirely on a single sex. Why not buy the complete version and get details for both sexes? In fact, this book at only 192 pages – and that was with large drawings inserted on dozens of pages – you aren’t getting as much as you could by paying less for an older version with all the info.

In the end, I can’t fault the publisher for trying to make more money on the concept (that’s what companies do) and I can’t fault any of the content of the book, which I found and continue to find valuable. I just don’t think we needed a new version. The only person I’d recommend this version to would be someone who had never read the concepts and is a male. Even then, I’d still recommend the original over this version.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

All Fall Down by Ally Carter

allfalldownGrace may be crazy. She acts crazy. Others tell her she is crazy. She is starting to believe she is crazy. The question isn’t whether she is crazy or not but whether a reader will care enough to find out.

All Fall Down
Embassy Row 1
By Ally Carter
Scholastic Press
January 2015

Grace’s mother died in a fire. Or from a gunshot wound. It was an accident. Or it was a hit by a man with a scarred face. Grace doesn’t know for sure but she swears that it was murder. Moving around with her military father and settling on living with her ambassador grandfather isn’t helping her settle things down. It also doesn’t help that everyone – including herself – believes that she may have cracked. And her reckless, self endangering actions seem to prove that point. But has she?

When she seems to spot the scarred man, her friends (other ambassadors’ kids) help track him down. Sorta. In the end the question of the scarred man is not answered but rather leads to more questions. This is a theme of the book – constant uncertainty. Both the main character, her “friends,” and even the death of her mother. Nothing is certain. And when you put the book down in the end you’ll be no closer to an answer. In this way it is not so much a full book but the start of a book. A prequel chapter at best. A normal ending of a book would have certain aspects cleared up and the challenges set up for the next book. This one ends with questions and nothing resolved. Not satisfying.

But young readers will like it. My teen reader (15 and also a fan of Carter’s other series) loved it. It was adventure and intrigue and she looks forward to the next one. I blame this on the Netflix effect where instead of watching a weekly show we instead now binge on episode after episode. The kind of expectation for sequels that now exists in a trilogy-filled Young Adult section has taught younger readers to accept and look forward to what many readers would have previously expected to be only the first part of a novel; not a completely separate novel.

In the end, it’s not a great book in itself. There is very little story. Very little development and very little to recommend. But once the whole trilogy (or whatever number in this series will be) is completed it will likely be a fan favorite. And of course, Carter fans will be predisposed to enjoy it. My recommendation: either wait till they are all done and read them together or avoid this series and go for something more complete.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Infected by Littlefield

infectedCarina’s uncle just died of an “accident.” That wouldn’t be very suspicious except for the fact that her mother also died of an accident and they both worked for the same shadowy secret project. Lot’s of smoke, but is there fire?

Infected
By Sophie Littlefield
Delacorte Books for Young Readers
January 2015

Alone, Carina is forced to rely on the only person left in her life, her boyfriend Tanner, who we quickly meet in the first chapter as the two underage kids have sex. (Both of these characters are in high school. Even if it isn’t statutory rape, which it may be in some states by legal definitions, it’s definitely not something I want a 12 year old – the age suggested by the book – to read as normative.) Tanner and Carina then go on a quest to find out the truth about the secret project and the death of her Uncle and Mom. The book lasts all of like two total days. The end.

In my opinion this is a mess of a book. Sure, it’s fast paced and a lot happens during the two days but very little is fully explained and the characters aren’t memorable. By the end of the book what I was struck with most was how the characters were doing things that only adults should do (sex), speaking like bikers at times, and didn’t inspire the reader to care very much about the situation.

Let me get on my soapbox here a little bit. Society recognizes that children – read under 18, which is the legal definition – are vulnerable and should be protected. Anything that sexualizes children is rightly frowned upon and likely illegal. But for some reason books are allowed to do this all the time with no questions asked. How many “young adult” books have underage protagonists – 15, 16, 17 years old – who engage in sexual relations and other risky behavior and are sold and marketed to other children who then learn the lesson that this is normal and safe? There is rarely talk about the dangerous repercussions of these activities. No one gets STDs, pregnant, emotionally or spiritually damaged. It’s all presented as good fun with no downside. That isn’t reality though. And books the promote children having unprotected, possibly illegal sexual relationships with no expectations about the very real dangers involved in those activities do children and society a disservice.

While the above was a part of the book, this isn’t the only reason not to recommend the book. It’s short, shallow and not that interesting in my opinion.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The City on the Edge of Forever by Ellison

Screenshot_2015-01-03-14-18-47-1“No woman was ever loved as much, Jim. Because no woman was ever offered the universe for love.”

The City on the Edge of Forever
Star Trek
By Harlan Ellison
IDW Publishing
February 2015

A crewman named Beckwith decides that he should end his tour rich so becomes a drug dealer on the Enterprise. When one of his junkies decides that his habit is endangering the ship he decides to Screenshot_2015-01-03-13-17-35-1come clean prompting Beckwith to attack him and flee the shop to a nearby planet. The planet is somehow, against all odds, habitable and hosts a city occupied by ancient creatures who guard a gateway to all of time and space. This is a city on the edge of forever.

Beckwith takes a chance and flees through the portal to the 1930s earth and changes the universe and timeline. To repair things Kirk and Spock go back in time as well. The guardians are clear though: there is a certain event that must not be Screenshot_2015-01-03-13-42-01-1changed or time will irrevocably change the universe.

After a time adjusting, Kirk and Spock find the focal point: a woman. More than that, as Kirk gets to know her – and maybe love her – Spock becomes convinced that the only way time is reset is if she is killed. This sets us up for one of the most emotional and powerful science fiction stories written. Can Kirk let her die, as he must, or will he holds on to this love at the possible peril of the universe add they know it?

Each page is fully painted and visually represents the characters very well. Fans of the original series and science fiction will appreciate and enjoy this excellent graphical version of the original teleplay.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

Star Wars: Tarkin by Luceno

Star Wars: Tarkin by James LucenoOne of the most dastardly villains in the Star Wars universe came and went with an all too early bang along with the Death Star: Peter Cushing’s Grand Moff Tarkin in Episode IV, A New Hope. The then wasted opportunity to get to know this fascinated character is finally made available by this novel and readers will rejoice!

Star Wars: Tarkin
by James Luceno
read by Euan Morton
LucasBooks / Random House Audio
November 2014

A leader with the guts to blow up a fully developed world deserved more than the quick death on the Death Star. We never learned who he was, how he got to where he was, how in charge he really was, and what could drive a man to that horrendous atrocity. But here we do. James Luceno takes the Star Wars universe in a slight historical detour to tell the story of Tarkin’s rise to power in the Empire. Without spoiling too much, he begins with his outer rim birth and how he was raised to how he overcame perceptions and earned the respect of those in power, specifically Darth Vader and the Emperor.

Luceno’s great accomplishment is how he has readers cheering for Tarkin’s success. We grow to like him and understand his decisions. (Obviously not those decisions in the movies, but the decisions prior to those that made up his character.) I don’t recall the last time I rooted for the bad guy. I’m not talking anti-hero here, but actual bad guy.

This story isn’t just back story on a single character though. We see scenes where Palpatine rules and makes decisions, further fleshing out that character as well. After all, we see so little of how he ruled in The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. The one character we don’t learn as much about is Vader, but frankly we know quite a bit about him so that criticism is unfair.

Not everything is perfect though. The rebels tend to be rehashes of Star Wars cliché characters. The leader is Han with Leah’s moral compass; the others are tag-alongs you could see in nearly any book in the series. Indistinct is the best way to describe them. But they aren’t the focus. Tarkin is and when the story sticks to him it shines.

In my opinion, one of the best Star Wars books in recent years and one of my unexpected favorite reads of 2014.

A note about the audio version: Morton is excellent. His Tarkin reminds us of the film version. His Vader – thanks to audio editing and effects – works great. The Emperor is outstandingly close to the original. Very well done. Plus you get all the great radio drama sound effects we are accustomed to in Star Wars audio books.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

The Descent by Bonansinga

descentThe Governor is dead. Killed by Lily Caul at the battle for the Prison. Woodbury turns to new leadership as it tries to survive the aftermath.

The Descent
The Walking Dead
by Jay Bonansinga
read by Fred Berman
Thomas Dunne / Macmillan Audio

Lily doesn’t want to be the new leader of Woodbury. Not even with a democratic council by her side. After the losses she’s suffered she wants nothing more than to find a capable leader and settle back into the shadows. But there is a hoard coming – the size of which no one has ever seen – so stepping down isn’t an option yet.

As the survivors in Woodbury divert the swarm a young man travelling alone sees the commotion and follows it back to Lily and her group. It turns out his church group is holed up in a small town, surrounded on all sides by the swarm. Lily makes the decision that to survive they will need all the capable, live humans as they can find and this group could help them so they make out to save Reverend Jeremiah and his flock.

After saving them and incorporating the new group into the settlement of Woodbury it looks like everything is going exactly as Lily would like. She has found a new man for herself – and possibly the family that was stolen from her at the prison – and a new leader for the town in Jeremiah. But not everything is right.

[HUGE SPOILERS] Characteristically, Jeremiah turns out to be a zealot cultist who intends to drink the Kool-Aid, literally, and kill everyone at Woodbury in a dark version of communion. I don’t want to spoil the book for you. Hopefully, you read that huge SPOILERS tag. But in order to understand why I didn’t enjoy this book as much I have to go here. Why are all the Christians introduced in the book – and really in this series – insane cultists? Even Lily’s new crush turns into one in the end. Are there no actual religious people who are good, non-crazy characters? It’s a tired trope. There are so many bad guys in this world already. Adding all the Christians to the list is over-kill.

[SPOILERS STILL] And what’s with another book, another dead lover for Lily? This is the fifth book (four if you combine the Fall set) for Lily and she has had three lovers and all three have been killed. There are a bunch of families in Woodbury who haven’t lost a single loved one. It smacks of by-the-book plotting. Help Lily grow! Have her character develop. Not go through the same things in every book! [END SPOILERS]

I am excited about where the series is headed and I’m glad that the series continues with some of our favorite characters still alive from the original trilogy (quad-igy). I’d like to see more diversity of bad guys, less caricatures and some chances taken with plotlines rather than going back to the same well again and again.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know by Kampakis

10truths_rnd2Teens have it tough these days. I’m sure every generation says that, but how many generations have almost no privacy, the ability to be bullied from anywhere in the world at any time, and live in a world that is so overwhelmingly visual that almost all other aspects of our life take a back seat?

10 Ultimate Truths Girls Should Know
by Kari Kampakis
Thomas Nelson
November 2014

In this world, it’s important to know the truth about yourself and the right and wrong ways to act. With relativism so prevalent it’s tough to sell “ultimate truth” but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist or that we shouldn’t try. And this author tries and succeeds on so many levels!

The 10 Ultimate Truths focus on 10 important ant issues that girls (and boys, to an extent) deal with:

Popularity
Confidence
Reputation
Interacting with Boys
Self Worship
Perseverance
Patience
Image
Inner Beauty
Self Talk

As I read the books – as a man with two teenaged daughters and two sons – I found that the truths here applied to boys as well as girls in most cases. The truths exposed were demonstrated and illustrated for girls but they apply to everyone. Consider the “Interacting with Boys” chapter, for instance, where the truth is “Chasing boys doesn’t make you cool. It makes you a nuisance.” While the illustrations may change the fact is that boys are at least as likely to annoy girls buy how they pursue girls as girls are buy how they pursue boys. I don’t believe the point here is not to show interest but a healthy way to show interest is the key. That’s a lesson everyone can learn from.

I loved that when you read through the book you don’t just get answers, you get questions. Self discovery is a key way to make learning stick. The author includes several important questions in each chapter to bring the topic home. Also included are relevant Bible verses that tie these current teachings to the timeless truths of the Biblical teaching. Verses like Proverbs 22:1, “A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is greater than silver and gold” fits perfectly with the chapter on reputation.

Reading through the book I not only thought these were truths that my daughters should know but that I wished that I had known these things when I was a teen. These really are “ultimate truths” as they speak to who we are as created and loved beings and speak to an inner peace that just doesn’t come from any other source but the foundation of God. This is a must read for teenaged girls and their parents. I highly recommend it.


@ashertopia is the Managing Editor of BookGateway.com. He is an avid reader and a lifetime learner. His favorite genres include science fiction, fantasy, as well as theology and Christian living. His personal blog is AshertopiA – a land flowing with milk and honey… and a lot of sticky people.

This book was provided by the publisher as a review copy.

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