Something to mull over...

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

The Art of Secrets

Art of Secrets is well-written, smart, witty and unpredictable. It uses the scrapbook/case file approach, where each chapter is a documentation of a character’s point of view. The format of the POV clippings change with each chapter and can take the form of either a news article, a journal entry, an interview transcript, an email, a conversation or a train of thoughts. So while the story starts out with a big trigger event, and the initial chapters lean towards an investigation taking place, at the end of the book, a bigger story emerges – an insight on the fascinating tendency that we all have to mask the true nature of ourselves.

Secrecy is an art, not a science. People are walking marketers. The only things we know about each other are what we choose to divulge. We can be as fascinating, charming, disarming, or as hateful as we want others to perceive us. Real motives only surface through time.

It brings to mind, “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is.” (Jer. 17:9).

This book is highly recommended for leisure and/or assigned reading as well as book clubs! I recommend the printed version over the Kindle edition – the FORMATTING is superb and adds to the entire scrapbook/case file experience! I am looking forward to more creative fiction from this author.

Liars, Inc.

The characters are in their late teens, and their lifestyle reflects current trends - a bit disturbing and disheartening, but we cannot turn a blind eye to the lives of current-day teens. So, while strategic thinking, self-positioning and self-marketing (all requiring lies in one form or another) may be the way to go nowadays, esp. among the young people still braving the waters of peer pressure, underneath the facade lies the normal, beating heart. A heart that desires to be honest, to care deeply, and to love truly. A heart that's vulnerable to abuse and hurt.

This is a good book that is sobering, but at the same time, hopeful. I would recommend it for a book club or even a small group discussion among young adults (aged between 20's and 30's).

The Best Mistake Mystery

Written in typical middle-grade omniscient and sarcastic language, this story revolves around character Stephen Nobel, who is an uber inquisitive, awkward and analytical boy with an extreme glass-is-half-empty and if-there-is-smoke-then-there-must-be-fire mentality.

Stephen gets involved with a series of misadventures and because of his personality, inadvertently solves mysteries along the way in a dry humorous manner. It is an entertaining story that grown-ups will probably enjoy even more than kids, because of the humor in between the lines.

My ten-year old daughter’s opinion of the story is that has a staccato bounce to it and the transitions are almost too abrupt. She liked the story, but is having a hard time identifying who to recommend it to, since she says this book will be better appreciated by someone who loves reading, and unfortunately most of her 5th grade friends do not enjoy reading as much as she does. If they do, it will be the usual straightforward mystery stories.

On the other hand, I will be glad to recommend it to all word nerds out there, because the play of words and quality of writing is just geeky fun.

We received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Parenting with Grace and Truth

A good short book on parenting by example and influence. This contains concise advice as far as transitioning into the parenting approach that works better particularly starting with pre-pubescent kids, the stage when authoritative directions and rules, as well as figurative ‘spanking’ is no longer appropriate nor effective.

This book combines principles that my wife and I learned in Growing Kids God’s Way as well as Real Family Values. It talks about defining family values and communicating this clearly to the kids, with parameters for expectations and consequences. There is no defined limit to the grace we should extend to the kids, as long as there is a good conversation afterwards to deal with the heart and the Biblical truth behind the values and boundaries in place. Obviously, love should embrace the whole effort of parenting.

I like it. I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Monday, November 7, 2016

No More Perfect Marriages

This books hits a home run as far as honesty and vulnerability is concerned. This is most apparent at the beginning and won me over as a reader. I have read and reviewed several books on marriage, and this goes straight to the heart of the matter. I highly recommend it!

The focus is obvious from the title itself - marriage is the union of two flawed individuals living under the grace of God. Given this premise, the only thing that can sustain the relationship is a continual growth and understanding of this grace - upon us, and toward each other. The books deals with the issue on ‘slow fades’ or gradual erosion of a marriage’s foundation (love and respect), and the issue on sweeping things under a rug, or hidden behind a mask.

The book is written sort of like a personal devotional or a group discussion material. However, I believe that it has so much more potential than that. Since the intro alone is so powerful as to open people’s hearts, I would have wanted it to probe deeper and facilitate more of a marriage workshop or counseling type of conversation between husband and wife. Maybe a companion workbook will be good, similar to His Needs, Her Needs. I have a feeling that we will be hearing more about this book, and that we will possibly see this expand to weekend workshops all over the country, and have training sessions to accredit other counselors who can discuss the material, other than the authors themselves.

As an aside, the layout and playful use of fonts was awesome!

I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

A Countdown to Christmas by Ace Collins

Our family loves Christmas, both the good and stressful things about it. It seems like every year, we attempt to start a tradition. But so far, what I have noticed is that each year’s celebration is unique in its own, as we discover new material, books, or activities that we could do to make the season more meaningful.

This year, I have decided that we are going to go through this book. I read through it in advance and yes, this will be a great book to go through. The devotionals are short but insightful. Each devotional focuses on one thought, so that works for us, since we do our family devotionals each morning at the breakfast table. I can supplement the material with other Scriptures during the weekend and likely on the 24th and 25th, and 31st as well. The daily article on the history on a Christmas tradition is great trivia info. I can now assign my son to print out the appropriate sheet music so that we can sing the hymns at night after dinner. The recipes for food and handmade gifts look easy to follow. I am a good follower of recipes, so this will work for me. These will only be supplemental to our favorite dishes and projects. Cool, now we have an exciting December to look forward to!

At the end of the day, the memories that will be created will be up to me and my family. This book is just a springboard of devotional thoughts, conversation topics and food and gift ideas. I wouldn’t bank on this book itself leading our Christmas – I will do that, and I will make sure that Christ is central to everything we do. The Scriptures will still be our primary resource to make sure our hearts are focused on our God.

I received a review copy of this Christmas book from NetGalley.

What Will They Say About You When You Are Gone by Rabbi Daniel Cohen

This is one of the few self-help books, not necessarily religious, that I enjoyed.  The whole concept has to do with building up one’s spiritual ‘PR’ campaign (I define PR as positive reimaging), knowing that at the end of life, people will be sharing about us in our future eulogies.  How do we want ourselves to be remembered by?  Of course we wouldn’t want the sharing to be shallow or superficial, but rather substantial and with basis.  Hopefully, by then, we would have made our impact and will leave this world a better place.

Even if the motivation sounds a little narcissistic, the book actually dealt with the heart of the matter.  Life is what we make it - and if our lives are supposed to make a statement, we need to start defining it now.  The book included some workshops to help navigate the process of reverse engineering our lives, regardless of one’s starting point.
This is a life long process, and at some future point, I may share with you some updates, as comments to this review.  Hopefully it will be comments from other people, and not myself!

I was given a review copy by the publisher through NetGalley.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Infinity by Jus Accardo

As always, Jus Accardo has penned another story that is easy and fast to read. The author is an excellent story-teller. The story starts with a good hook – nothing unusual, just current, down-to-earth, relatable and familiar. The writing style is conversational and natural, so it is easy to get on board and empathize with the main character, Kori, who is going through grief recovery with a need to express herself artistically. The rest of the cast are engaging.

Subjective thoughts - My kids and I love Flash, the TV series, and earlier this year, we read Fair Coin by E.C. Myers. Because of this, to me personally, the concept of parallel worlds is no longer as exciting as it used to be. So as the story dove more into this aspect, a lot of it sounded familiar and cliché. The plot is simple, so I won't elaborate. Overall, I found Infinity to be a fun, engaging read, and I would attribute it to interesting characters and the impressive way that the author navigated the relationships among the characters. The characters projected honesty and realness.

Similar to the Denazen series, this book is marketed as YA, but the concept story is science fiction. Some of the content is mature YA. Parents - you may want to read this first and make the call whether you would like your middle school kids to read it.

I received a review copy from the author and Entangled Publishing via NetGalley.

Revelation: A Thriller by Carter Wilson

Tight psychotic storytelling that prodded me along quickly.  It may have just happened to hit me a certain way, but the writing style brings flashes of Fight Club and American Psycho to mind.  The characterization is brilliant and scary.  The way the story is told is definitely tension-gripping:  Lead character Harden Campbell is trapped in a cell and the only way to survive is to type out the story that involves him, his captor and the woman he cares for.  The reader is his captor.  How should he word the truth?  This is a great read.

I received a review copy of this book from Oceanview Publishing via NetGalley.

The Whizbang Machine by Danielle Vann - Quirky and adventure-filled story

A magical mystery book with just enough human relationship elements to keep me connected to the characters.  The story is quirky and took me on an adventure with the overarching intent of unravelling the mystery, powers and purpose of the famous Royal typewriter.  The machine’s history is connected to the main character’s family tree, and is critical to resolving a feud that dates back to over a century ago.  This was a quirky, dynamic, odd and unravelling adventure story that I enjoyed reading.

I received a review copy of this book from Waldorf Publishing via NetGalley.