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Mockingjay – A Little Disappointing

August 29, 2012 2 comments
Mockingjay

For me, Mockingjay was the weakest of the books.

In reading a trilogy of books, the last book is typically either really great or just dreadfully horrible. With Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins (books one and two being The Hunger Games and Catching Fire (respectively)), I was somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t the worst book I’ve ever read, but then again it wasn’t the best either. In all honesty, I loved the book up until the final three or four chapters…that’s when I started pulling out the “Really Suzanne Collins?!” (see Seth Meyers on SNL).

In book three of the saga, we find that half of the remaining participants in the last Hunger Games have been kidnapped by the Capital while Plutarch Heavensbee has helped save Katniss and the other half. We find out that Peeta is one of the tributes that was kidnapped by the Capital and he has been brainwashed into thinking that Katniss is the enemy. Katniss has been named the “Mockingjay” of the fight as a result of her rebellious ways toward the Capital and they want to dispose of her (by way of Peeta or any other means necessary). The rebellion has started and it is an all out war – innocent people dying everywhere. Since she is the Mockingjay, they don’t want the enemy to have easy access to Katniss, so they put her on a team that basically shoots videos about what is going on around them and they use these videos to interrupt the Capitol’s television feeds. Katniss requests the privilege of killing President Snow, so she and several others make their way to the President’s mansion. Unbeknownst to them, the Capitol has sent out soldiers looking for them in an attempt to kill them, thus ending the rebellion.

For me, this is where things hit a rough spot. I really did not like the way the author handled Katniss’ opportunity to kill President Snow (I don’t want to ruin it for you, so I won’t tell you what happens). I know that engaging books are supposed to have plot twists to keep the reader interested, but to me this was just plain stupid. The very end to me (again, I won’t tell you what happens) felt to “wrap things up with a pretty bow” for me. It was like Mrs. Collins just said “Yeah, I’m done with this series. Let’s get this over with.” and to me the last three or four chapters show this. Don’t get me wrong, I love the entire series but this was the weakest of the three books for me.

Photo Credit: By Amazon.com

Spark Takes A Much Needed Risk

August 14, 2012 Leave a comment
Spark by Jason Jaggard

Spark is a great read!

WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group sent me a complimentary copy of this book for my review.

I grew up in the Southern Baptist Church and we would frequently sing the hymn Pass It On – “It only takes a spark to get a fire going…” Little did I know the concept of “spark” would take on a whole new meaning in my later years. In his new book Spark, author Jason Jaggard defines a spark as “…a choice. A small risk. It’s a flash of light that brightens the everyday routine of your life. It’s a decision to move from inaction to action.” A spark is finding something that would make you, someone else, or the world as a whole a better place and actually doing that thing.

Jaggard’s organization Spark Good encourages people to form Spark Groups (a group of about 8-10 individuals who meet for five weeks encouraging each other to take a small risk each week) with their friends and family. The book talks about why we need to take risks and tells the stories of several individuals (including Jaggard himself) who took risks and how they bettered themselves and others as a result. It is definitely an easy read and I got a wealth of information from it. Here are a few takeaways that impacted me:

  • “Sometimes doing one imperfect but beautiful thing can lead you to more beautiful things later on if you are listening for God. Contrast that with doing nothing. Most of the time doing nothing leads to more nothing.”
  • “Sometimes God calls us to wait until He speaks. Other times He is waiting for us to act. And other times still, He won’t speak UNTIL we act. It’s in the acting that we hear Him speak. It’s when we move that we begin to see God more clearly.”
  • “When God moves and you stand still, God becomes blurry. Oftentimes the only way to see God clearly is to move along with Him.”

I highly recommend this book to anyone who is struggling with finding the next step to take in their life (after being unemployed, dealing with tragedy, or if you feel like you are in a rut). My only problem (and this is very minor) is the style of Jaggard’s writing – he writes a sentence or two then puts a space, then he’ll write another sentence then put another space, then write two more sentences and put a space…it’s not your “traditional” writing style and that kind of annoyed me. One of my friends described it as “writing down his thoughts.” This may or may not be a distraction for the reader (it was a distraction for me because I myself am a writer) but other than that it was a great read.

You can read the first chapter of Spark online. Watch the video for the book trailer below.

Photo Credit: By Parable.com

The Concept of Mercy

beeper

God is on call waiting for you.

I was reading Day 9 of 40 Days Living The Jesus Creed by Scot McKnight this morning and the overlying theme on today’s entry was mercy. It’s hard as a society to grasp the concept of mercy, because it’s not something we typically experience in our world on a daily basis. My first instinct was to go to the dictionary to see what mercy actually means.

Mercy – /mur-see/:

  1. Compassionate or kindly forbearance shown toward an offender, an enemy, or other person in one’s power; compassion, pity, or benevolence.
  2. The disposition to be compassionate or forbearing.
  3. The discretionary power of a judge to pardon someone or to mitigate punishment, especially to send to prison rather than invoke the death penalty.
  4. An act of kindness, compassion, or favor.
  5. Something that gives evidence of divine favor; blessing.

Though all five definitions are appropriate regarding God to some degree, the last definition is what really felt applicable for me when it came to this excerpt from the book. McKnight talks about the fact that it is God who provides mercy and that is only provided when someone needs it. He uses the analogy of God being “on call” when it comes to giving mercy to those who need it. The example made me think of my friend who is a nurse – she is often on call for her job. The only way she provides care when she is on call is if someone actively calls her and says “We need your assistance today.”

Not to sound trite with a “Sunday School response,” but God is available at our calling…we just have to actually take the initiative and call Him! Matthew 7:7-12 encourages us to just ask and God will follow through, but you have to start by asking…don’t just expect it to happen. One of the biggest challenges we as the human race face is to show mercy to those around us, especially when they don’t ask for it or we don’t think they deserve it. God has shown us mercy, so it goes without saying that we should do the same for others.

Photo Credit: By Hades2k

Catching Fire Definitely Sparked My Attention

Catching Fire

Katniss Everdeen is the “girl on fire.”

Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, picks up right where The Hunger Games left off with Katniss Everdeen and Peeta Mellark as they take part in the Victor Tour of the Districts. While on the tour, Katniss discovers what appears to be an uprising in some of the districts and unbeknownst to her she is the cause of this rebellion. When she and Peeta eventually make it back home to District 12 they find that the Peacekeepers have taken over and have basically stripped everyone of their freedom and have threatened or even killed numerous citizens. Katniss feels horrible that all of this was caused by her actions so she makes a plan to escape while she is in the woods one day.

Through her trip in the woods, Katniss meets two runaway girls from District 8 who tell her of a secret District 13 that is a peaceful place where they hope their troubles will end. When she gets back from the woods, she discovers that the “Quarter Quell” (a special event that occurs every 25 years) takes place for the Hunger Games this year. Each “Quarter Quell” has a unique twist to it (ex. the year Haymitch Abernathy won they had twice as many participants) and this year is no different – the participants are selected from the surviving victors of past Hunger Games. Since Katniss is the only female surviving victor from District 12 she is forced to participate and Haymitch is selected as the male tribute, but Peeta volunteers in his place.

Peeta throws additional plot twists in the mix at the interview process with television host Caesar Flickerman (I won’t spoil the surprises). During the games Katniss and Peeta form an alliance with several previous victors including pretty boy, Finnick Odair and sarcastic cynic, Johanna Mason. Wiress, an older former victor helps the group discover something about the playing field they are able to use to their advantage. Another major plot twists happens at the end so their is never a dull moment from the first page to the end.

I really enjoyed Catching Fire as much as The Hunger Games. The movie version of the first book was a little disappointing, but here’s hoping that the sequel will be worth the wait – November 22, 2013 can’t get here soon enough!

Photo Credit: By Wikipedia.org

Don’t Quit Your Day Job…Yet!

Quitter

Quit the right way!

In many circles, Jon Acuff is considered a rock star – he has his own blog, has written three books (including Gazelles, Baby Steps And 37 Other Things Dave Ramsey Taught Me About Debt and Stuff Christians Like) and he speaks to millions of people a year. With all these accolades, one of the main titles Acuff talks about frequently is that of “serial quitter” (having had eight jobs in eight years). Quitter, tells the story of how Acuff went from working a job he could barely tolerate to finding and starting his dream job. With a self-deprecating sense of humor, the author tells of how he learned that you cannot truly quit your day job with out a great deal of preparation.

Some great takeaways I found in this book are:

  • Some times you need your day job to fund your dream job.
  • Test your dream job to see if it truly works before you quit your day job.
  • Find a support network who believes in your and your dream job.
  • Create an “opportunity filter” that shows what you would be willing to do or not do in order to achieve your dream job (ex. only travel only 2 weekends out of the month, no back to back trips, etc.)

Quitter is an easy read that I really enjoyed and I would highly recommend to anyone who is not happy at their current job. As someone who is currently unemployed, I also got a lot out of the book. One of my favorite quotes from the book was “Find your passion. Practice it. Then plan it.” – a lot of people think they have to plan everything first and then take action. More often than not, when you practice your passion the plan will appear in the process.

Photo Credit: By Better World Books

From The Library of C.S. Lewis – Not What I Expected

July 13, 2012 1 comment
From The Library of C.S. Lewis

From The Library of C.S. Lewis just wasn’t for me.

WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group sent me a complimentary copy of this book for my review.

One thing I hated about my entire college experience was text books. Not only were they expensive, but they were so dry and boring to read. I found myself feeling the same way about From The Library of C.S. Lewis by James Stuart Bell. Don’t get me wrong, C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors (The Chronicles of Narnia, Mere Christianity, The Problem of Pain, and Miracles are among some of my favorite books) but this book was not what I expected. I lost interest after only four chapters.

The premise of the book sounds great – a collection of excerpts by authors and poets who influenced C.S. Lewis and his writings. Divided into eighteen sections, the book covers topics like God’s love, our love of God, knowing God, sin/temptation, self/the soul, grace/redemption, suffering, and faith. Each section has about 10-20 excerpts from various authors and poets regarding that topic. Each author or poet is given about a page to a page and half and under each excerpt is a sentence or two about the author or poet and their life. What gets confusing is within one section you may find multiple excerpts by the same author or poet, but they are not back to back (which to me would make more sense)…they are scattered throughout the section. Something else that really bothered me was that the excerpts weren’t explained – most of them completely went over my head and left me thinking “What did I just read?! I have no idea what that even means!”

If you are familiar with Christian literature, you will recognize several names including George MacDonald, Saint Augustine, Martin Luther, and Brother Lawrence. I really wished this book had given me more insight as to who C.S. Lewis was and who influenced him spiritually and as an author, but it felt more like a history lesson that left me bored to tears and more often than not with a headache to boot.

Photo Credit: By Amazon.com

Sinner – A Great Ending to Paradise

Sinner by Ted Dekker

Sinner concludes the Paradise novels.

Ted Dekker’s Sinner is the third and final book in the Paradise novel series. This story picks up 13 years after Showdown with Darcy and Billy (two of the children who lived in the monastery during the first book). Billy is now a lawyer and Darcy works at an assembly plant. The two are brought back together by the government as someone has discovered their special abilities (Darcy can persuade people to do things with her words and Billy can read a person’s mind) and wants them dead. They are brought to Washington, DC for “safe keeping” but numerous lynchings begin to happen and Darcy and Billy are asked to help solve the mystery behind the occurrences.

The duo convinces the government that the lynchings are racially driven and that it is the work of religious fanatics. Darcy motivates congress to create “The Tolerance Act” which deems anything spoken against another person based on race or religion a federal offense. They begin to hear rumblings from Paradise and discover that Johnny is back in the city preaching the truth of Jesus Christ and how he is the only way to heaven. Under the new act, Johnny’s actions are considered intolerant as by saying Jesus it the only way he is by default saying that other ways are wrong. Darcy and Billy agree to meet with Johnny in hopes of making him see things their way. Three thousand people end up coming to Paradise as a result of Johnny’s message and the government is faced with decision of how to punish Johnny and the others for breaking the new law.

Unlike Saint, Sinner was an enjoyable and intriguing read from start to finish. The book deals with topics like power (asking “When you have the ultimate power, will you let it go to your head and use it for personal gain?”) and being able to forgive yourself for sins of the past. Dekker has done a great job with the Paradise novels and I look forward to reading more of his books in the future.

Photo Credit: By http://www.teddekker.com

Tender Warrior – A Contradiction In Culture

WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group sent me a complimentary copy of this book for my review.

Tender Warrior

How can a true warrior be tender?

When you hear the words “tender” and “warrior” together, it paints an interesting picture. How can a warrior truly be a warrior and be tender? Stu Weber’s 1993 (published again in 1999) book Tender Warrior seeks to inform the reader what it means to be a real man. In a society where it is the norm for children to not know their father, Weber is one who challenges the male population to stand up and be men. Using stories straight from scripture (including David, Jonathan, Caleb, Joshua, and Jesus), the reader is shown that being a true man is not defined by society. The ultimate “measuring stick” of a man should be Jesus, and not the picture the world has painted of Him – the true version that comes straight from the scriptures in the Bible.

The book contains sixteen chapters dealing with topics including the relationship between a husband and his wife, the relationship between a man and his children, being a leader, the tender side of being a man, a man and his friends, and a man’s relationship with his Savior. It is an easy read and even has questions after each chapter that would be suitable for a men’s small group study to use while reading the book.

Here are a few takeaways I got from Tender Warrior:

  • Being a male doesn’t necessarily make you a man.
  • Real men conquer for a cause.
  • Masculinity was made for connection.
  • Real men should be pro-visionaries. They plan ahead to set the standard.
  • A true man is called to be a king, warrior, mentor, and friend just like Jesus.

There were only three things I didn’t really like about the book: 1) The majority of the book was written for married men (especially men with children), but there was something in it for men of all stages in life. 2) Numerous times Weber’s illustrations seemed dated (he constantly used an illustration about a western television show he used to watch in the 1960s). 3) At times the author seemed to ramble a little. Some of the chapters could have easily been combined if he had cut back on some of the illustrations and just gotten straight to the point.

As a whole, I would highly recommend this book to any male who would like to make sure he is on the path to being a real man. For those who are interested, you can read the first chapter of Tender Warrior online.

Photo Credit: By http://www.scribd.com

Saint Not As Good As Showdown

Ted Dekker's Saint

I just didn’t like Saint as much as Showdown.

Have you ever read a book only to find the middle to be the best part? You start with a weak beginning and then when you get to the end your first thought is “Really?!?! That’s how you ended it?!?!” That’s how I felt about Ted Dekker’s book Saint (the second book in the Paradise trilogy). Dekker is by far one of my favorite authors, but this just isn’t one of his best books. My first frustration was it took reading at least half of the book before you find out how it ties in with Showdown (the first book in the trilogy).

Saint is about a trained assassin named Carl Strople. We find out that he has been stripped of his identity (his true identity is a major plot point and what ties the two books together, so I won’t spoil it). Strople is recruited to be a part of a secret assassin society called The X Group. His first mission is to kill Assim Feroz, a middle-Eastern dignitary, but in the middle of his mission he is told to switch targets and assassinate Robert Stenton, the President of the United States. Strople develops a conscience and cannot follow through with his task. As a result Englishman (another assassin from The X Group) starts searching for Strople with the intent to kill him.

The main themes that run through Saint are identity (coming to terms with who you really are and your past) and trust (primarily who can you trust when your life is at risk). This book is a good stand alone book as well, so if you haven’t read Showdown it will still make sense and that is one thing I like about Dekker’s works. I hope that Sinner (the final book in the trilogy) is much better than Saint. If you have never read any of Ted Dekker’s books, I would not recommend starting with this one – try Thr3e, House, or The Bride Collector instead.

Photo Credit: By http://www.teddekker.com

Maxwell’s Winning With People Is A Winner!

May 21, 2012 2 comments
Winning With People

Another winner from John C. Maxwell!

Former pastor turned leadership guru, John C. Maxwell is known for his insight and experience when it comes to the business industry. What I find helpful is Maxwell’s teachings are applicable to other environments such as church, small groups, and relationships. His 2004 release Winning With People specifically deals with relationships. Quite frequently the mindset of the business world is “What can I do to get ahead?” or “How can I succeed?” Maxwell challenges the reader to think outside of the box and change his or her thoughts to “How can I help others succeed?”

The book is broken down into five sections that ask the following questions: Are we prepared for relationships? Are we willing to focus on others? Can we build mutual trust? Are we willing to invest in others? Can we create a win-win relationship? Each section has 5-6 different principles that will help the reader refocus to help answer the respective question in a positive way.

I found so many takeaways within this book including:

  • “You can’t control another person’s response to you. All you can do is make yourself the kind of person others want to know and with whom they can build a relationship.”
  • “People respond to what they are prepared to believe. And what prepares them for what they believe is their experience.”
  • “It takes four positive statements to negate the effect of one negative statement.”
  • “You may be able to impress people with your successes, but if you want to influence them, share your failures.”

This book is an easy read and is one from which almost anyone can gain something – especially those in a leadership position (be it professionally, church, or in relationships). I highly recommend this book and if you are also interested in more leadership principles, make sure to read Developing The Leaders Around You, Becoming A Person of Influence, and Developing The Leader Within You (all by Maxwell). You can also follow John Maxwell’s Leadership Blog.

Photo Credit: By The John Maxwell Co.

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