Sunday, December 7, 2014

MindWar, by Andrew Klavan

MindWar, by Andrew Klavan, tells the story of Rick Dial, a high school football hero whose dreams of playing college ball were shattered when a tragic accident left him with painful debilitating leg injuries, necessitating the daily use of crutches. When the story begins, we find Rick in a deep depression. He'd wrapped his whole identity into playing football, and without it he feels useless and angry. Coupled with the pain and betrayal of having had his father walk out on their family as well, he is disillusioned. He has spent the past six months in his room, losing himself in video games. He has essentially given up on life, and is avoiding contact with nearly everyone, including his faithful girlfriend, who sends him email after email that goes unread.

When an initially terrifying encounter with a couple of strangers turns into an offer to use his gaming skills to complete a dangerous, top-secret mission involving a virtual world (that could potentially have devastating effects on the real world), Rick readily accepts the opportunity.  He subsequently finds his time in "The Realm" to be both illuminating and healing, as well as a powerful reminder of what it means - and doesn't mean - to be strong, in both body and spirit.

MindWar was a fast-paced, and action-packed read.  Combining elements of mystery, thriller, and sci-fi, it takes the reader on a thrill-ride (complete with the requisite twists and turns) from start to finish.  Klavan is an excellent story teller.  The characters are likable and sympathetic, and I found myself rooting for Rick and his family right from the beginning pages, even as he was sitting in his room still feeling sorry for himself.  Klavan also wove some important messages of love, forgiveness, and personal responsibility throughout the story, without being too heavy-handed with the "religious-speak" (a personal pet-peeve of mine.)

On a personal note:  As someone who has been dealing with an injury, chronic pain, and recovery from two surgeries in the past 2 1/2 years, I especially connected with the elements of Rick's injuries and recovery, and the reminder that being strong sometimes means not being pain-free, but being brave and positive and moving on despite the pain.

This was a great read that would be of particular interest to young adults who are interested in gaming/virtual worlds, or to any teen or adult that just appreciates a good story.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Never Ever Give Up: The Inspiring Story of Jessie and Her Joy Jars

Never Ever Give Up is the inspiring true story of Jessie Rees, a young lady who bravely battled inoperable brain cancer, and chose to spend her remaining 10 months on earth not feeling sorry for herself, but boldly reaching out to help others.  Lovingly written by her father, Erik Rees, along with Jenna Glatzer, the book is both biography and manifesto.  I read the entire thing on a flight from Phoenix to Seattle, and while it was perfectly timed (I was literally reading the final pages as we descended), if I hadn't yet finished I'm pretty sure I would have parked myself in a chair in the terminal to continue reading.  It was that good.

Desperately wanting to bring some light and love to the kids who were hospital bound, Jessie and her family began making what she called "Joy Jars":  big jars filled with toys, games, and other fun for those with long hospital stays.  Much of the book focused on how this effort grew (and grew quickly!) since Jessie first became ill.

You would think that a book about an 11 year old with terminal cancer would be profoundly sad, and it was, to be sure.  But the take-away was not sadness at all.  It was hope.  Inspiration. Encouragement.   This was the story of a child whose first thought after receiving a cancer diagnosis was "How we can help the other sick kids?"  This was the story of a family who supported her in her efforts to bring joy to others, and a family who has continued her mission in her honor even after she left her earthly life.

Beautiful girl.  Beautiful family.  Beautiful book.

You can read more about Jessie and her Joy Jars at the Jessie Rees Foundation website, originally called Never Ever Give Up, or NEGU (pronounced NEE-GOO, according to Jessie.  :))  You can also follow along on Facebook.

My life is touched just having read about Jessie Rees.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Critical Condition, by Richard L Mabry

Critical Condition is a medical thriller that tells the story of Dr Shannon Frasier and her sister Megan as they inadvertently get tangled in what becomes a murder investigation. The story opens with Dr Frasier and guests gathered at her home for a dinner party that is tragically interrupted when a gunshot victim ends up fighting for his life on her front lawn. Dr Frasier, who is still trying to deal with making peace with a similar incident in her past, is then thrown into an tangled and complicated investigation that tests her personally, professionally, and spiritually.

Her sister Megan, who has been in and out of Shannon's life with troubles of her own, shows up just in time to be implicated as well, and brings with her a fair amount of questions, confusion, and mystery surrounding her involvement in much of the story that unfolds. This book was fast paced, and a quick read. It grabbed my attention right from the start (opening with a man dying of a gunshot wound will tend to do that) and it didn't take me long at all to finish reading it. Unfortunately, it didn't really hold my attention the whole way through, and I ultimately ended up with mixed feelings.

The kernel of the story was good... a murder mystery with plenty of twists and turns to keep you guessing. But with the exception of Megan, the characters felt sort of flat and underdeveloped to me. The ending was rushed, tying everything up extremely abruptly, and it made me feel somewhat cheated and confused. One of the subplots involved Dr Frasier and her will-she or won't-she commit to her "almost-fiance's" offer of marriage. When the answer was finally revealed, at the very end of the story, I found that I didn't much care, and had sort of wished she'd chosen something else.

This was not a bad book... as I said the story was mostly good, and I'd actually be interested in reading more by Mabry to see if different characters might grab me a bit more than Shannon Frasier.

I received this book for free from the BookLook Bloggers program in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.  

Friday, April 18, 2014

The People Factor, by Van Moody

The tagline of The People Factor, by Van Moody, reads, "How building great relationships and ending bad ones unlocks your God-given purpose."  This book is a manual in doing just that.  It instructs you in both understanding and evaluating your relationships, so that you can make healthier choices and ultimately build a more joyful and fulfilling life.  It gives you a biblically-sound blueprint for strengthening the positive relationships in your life, and how to avoid or gracefully exit the bad ones.

This is truly one of the best books of its kind.  Moody writes with a warm, conversational style.  It is easy to read, and easy to understand, prompting many "A-ha" moments as I read.  The book is divided up into three logical sections:

1.  Critical Laws of Relationships
2.  How To Make The Most of Difficult choices
3.  Essentials of Great Relationships

A few sections that particularly spoke to me on a personal level were those about always being yourself; recognizing the people who are on your side, and in your life, for the long term;  how to navigate healthy relationships with unhealthy people;  realizing that you can't be friends with everyone;  releasing your past to embrace your future;  and how to make difficult choices and constructive transitions in your relationships.  

My favorite analogy was when he skillfully compared a relationship to expired milk... milk that once served a real, important, nourishing purpose... but ultimately became spoiled and was no longer healthy.  It beautifully and concisely illustrated a very important life lesson.

This book covers everything you need to know when it comes to the relationships in your life, and gives you a solid, biblical perspective on dealing with them in the best, most productive way possible.

Relationships are such an integral part of our lives, and Moody understands this so well.   This is a must-read for anyone needing to improve the relationships in his life (which is all of us!), and will aid in helping you become a better parent, partner, co-worker, and friend.

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Hidden Falls: Ordinary Secrets - Episode One

Hidden Falls is a new 13-part e-series by Olivia Newport. The story centers around the small town of Hidden Falls, and the complicated lives, problems, and secrets of those who live there.

In Ordinary Secrets, the first episode in the series, we're introduced to several pivotal characters, including the man of the hour. Ted Quinn is a much beloved professor who is somewhat reluctantly getting ready for a big banquet and event being held in his honor. As his former students, friends, family, and townspeople gather to celebrate him, personal and professional lives are in turmoil. Secrets are being kept, and insecurities are coming out.

I had a bit of a difficult time getting into the initial flow of the story, but I eventually enjoyed it. The writing is fast-paced, cutting from one set of 3-dimensional characters to another, and the unknown of what's really going on is intriguing. There is very little back story or description... instead the story unfolds largely through real-time dialogue, almost in the style of a one act play. There were a lot of different characters introduced in a short amount of pages, so it was a bit difficult to keep everyone straight at first. Unfortunately, by the time I really felt invested in the story, it was over... leaving me with a big cliff-hanger, needing to read the next installment to see what happens next. In that sense then, the book was a success. It made me interested enough to want to read more, even if it meant buying subsequent episodes.

The first four episodes are available on Amazon right now (Ordinary Secrets is free!), and the rest will be released weekly, with the 13th, and final, episode released on April 11th. Check out the first installment now, and see if it grabs you!

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Last Light, by Terri Blackstock

Last Light, by Terri Blackstock, is the first in a series of books called the Restoration Series. It focuses on the Branning family, as their lives are suddenly thrown into turmoil when their city, and all its surrounding areas, suddenly loses all power.   Unlike a regular electric blackout, they lose all modern conveniences. Cars stop dead on the highway, airplanes fall out of the sky, and phones go dead.

Deni Branning, a somewhat spoiled and driven college student, is flying home for a visit when the catastrophe strikes.  She and her father must make their way home from the airport on bicycles, through all the stalled cars on the highway, their growing panic, and the fights and riots that are already starting to break out in the city.

Last Light pulled me in with its opening scene and never let me go.  Fast paced and evenly measured, it unfolded like the most gripping of thrillers.  The characters were well developed and believable, and the story line was full of twists and turns.  From misery to self-pity, to grit and determination, to looting and mysterious murders... it kept me reading page after rapidly turned page.   I enjoyed the element of mystery, but it's possible I enjoyed the basic story of pulling-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps survival during a difficult situation even more.  

At its core, it is a story of faith, trust, and family. And a good one at that.  I look forward to reading the rest of the books in the series.