Category Archives: Book Review

Short reviews of three picture books I’ve read recently

For me, one of the great joys of fatherhood is reading with my son. Here’s what we’ve been reading lately.

King Arthur's Very Great GrandsonKing Arthur’s Very Great Grandson – written and illustrated by Kenneth Kraegel

This is a beautifully illustrated adventure story. I’ve read the book multiple times with my six year old, which he loved, because the main character turns six right at the beginning of the story.

I enjoyed how this book introduced my son to mythical creatures (a fire-breathing dragon, a cyclops, and others) in a fun and non-frightening way. These beings populate many of the books he’ll read as he gets older (The Chronicles of Narnia, The Harry Potter series, and a thousand others) so I was glad that his first exposure to them was endearing.

This book is ultimately about the value of friendship. Pair this message with the sweeping, colorful horizons that fill every page and you’ve got a winner. But perhaps the highest compliment I can give this book is that after the first reading my son immediately said, “Can we read that again?”

Recommended to anyone who reads picture books to their children. The story is powerful and the art work is stunning.

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Paul Kent

Book review: THE REAL FORCE by Paul Kent

I really enjoyed this little book! It’s a fun and approachable guide to reading the Bible for 40 days.

Like many others, Star Wars was the movie of choice for me and my siblings when we were kids. In many ways I feel some amount of ownership (if that makes any sense) with the original trilogy because its dialog, toys, and characters were such a major part of my growing up years.

Paul Kent (full disclosure: he’s a friend of mine) must feel that same ownership because he treated the Star Wars canon with respect and obvious admiration. I found his points about truth — originating in the Bible, but illustrated in Star Wars stories — convincing and inspiring. I also think he did a good job of not overstating his case. There are no claims that Star Wars is a “Christian movie” or anything like that (see the introduction). Rather, there are observations that the truth of God — creation, sin, love and redemption — can be found illustrated in all kinds of places, even galaxies far, far away.

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Three short books read in October

Last month I read a few quick reads. Here are some short comments on each. What are you reading these days? Let me know in the comments section. – AR

Comics_Sam CarbaughComics: Investigate the History and Technology of American Cartooning by Sam Carbaugh

This book covers the entire history of comics in 120 pages. From cave drawings and ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs all the way up to web comics, it covers everything (Sunday funnies, manga, superhero comics, graphic novels, indies, etc. etc.). It’s written for young readers (junior high?) and it’s beautifully illustrated in full color. This book also contains 25 different projects readers can do. Readers are encouraged to experiment with different types of comics and encouraged (multiple times) to self publish.

Even though I’m well outside the target audience for this book I truly enjoyed reading it. I learned a lot and the activities rekindled in me an old desire to write comics some day. This book is highly recommended for young readers who are interested in writing, storytelling, drawing, and anything related to comics.

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Book Review: The Art of Spiritual Writing by Vinita Hampton Wright

Art of Spiritual Writing-Vinita Hampton WrightThe Art of Spiritual Writing by Vinita Hampton Wright is a manual for writers attempting to write about the spiritual life. In the introduction Wright says, “For more than two decades I have advised writers and edited their work for the spirituality market. Now I have tried to distill the best of what I know for those writers who hope to serve people’s spiritual needs.” The best of what Wright knows has proven to be exceptional.

There are many reasons why I would recommend this book to writers engaging in spiritual writing. Here are a quick few.

(1) The book is concise. As an avid reader and writer, brevity is important to me. I love a good long work of classic literature like everyone else. But I don’t enjoy getting bogged down in laborious modern non-fiction. I would rather spend my time writing, or reading compelling fiction. This book was a quick, empowering, practical – yet thoughtful – read.

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Thoughts on reading “The Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad

I recently read Joseph Conrad’s famous novella, “The Heart of Darkness.” It’s one of those stories that I would put in the category of books-I-would’ve-read-had-I-ever-taken-an-AP-English-class-in-high-school.

It’s the tale of an English sailor named Marlow who sails deep into Africa on the Congo river. His goal is to retrieve an Englishman who lives among tribal people, and is dying. I read a Barnes & Noble hardcover edition of this story that included a lengthy introduction, discussion questions, and end notes with considerable commentary. Based on what I read of that material, and my own reaction to the story, I can say that this tale is an exploration of human depravity. I don’t mean to say that it details evil actions or anything like that, but rather, Marlow’s voyage into the darkness of the jungle is representative of the voyage a human soul may take if they pursue narcissism to its end.

At least I think that’s what it’s about.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not really qualified to give a critical review of this book. I read it because I’ve heard about it. I read it because I want to read challenging material. And admittedly, I read it because it was short and I needed a quick filler while I wait on a library book I requested. :)

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What Orson Scott Card taught me about The Lord of the Rings

Orson Scott Card, Ender's GameToday’s post is my third inspired by Orson Scott Card’s book Characters & ViewpointAs I’ve said in my other two posts, this is a fantastic book. Highly recommended for fiction writers.

In chapter five Card asks the question, “What kind of story are you telling?” He then categorizes various stories with what he calls “The MICE quotient.” Here’s a quote from Card:

“It is a mistake to think that “good characterization” is the same thing in every work of fiction. Different kinds of stories require different kinds of characters.

But what are the different kinds of stories? Forget about publishing genres… Instead we’ll look at four basic factors that are present in every story, with varying degrees of emphasis. It is the balance among these factors that determines what sort of characterization a story must have, should have, or can have.”

The four factors make up the acronym MICE.

M – Milieu stories
I – Idea stories
C – Character stories
E – Event stories

Card then contends that usually a given story will feature one of these elements more heavily than others, and that Character stories are the dominant type of story in our culture today.

I’m not going to explain all four factors here (you really should read the book!), but rather I’ll focus on one factor: Milieu.

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Pandering to the Masses – Thoughts from Orson Scott Card

Orson Scott Card, Ender's GameA while back I mentioned on this blog that I’m reading through Orson Scott Card’s book, “Characters and Viewpoint.” It’s a fantastic read. I’m taking my time with it and really trying to absorb all of the ideas. (If you’re a fiction writer, I highly recommend getting a hold of a copy.)

I was reading it today and he touched on a subject that I’ve debated with numerous writers before: Should we write popular fiction? Is there really merit in that? Worse still, is it okay to write “just to make money” and please people? If someone does, are they bad writers or bad for doing it?

Here’s a quote from Card’s book, chapter two:

“Our objective as storytellers and writers isn’t to make money – there are faster and easier ways of doing that. Our objective is to change people by putting our stories in their memory; to make the world better by bringing other people face-to-face with reality, or giving them a vision of hope, or whatever other form our truth telling might take. You want the widest possible audience to receive this message; when you use your best skills to open up your story to other readers, you aren’t “pandering to the masses,” you’re freely giving your best gifts. If your stories happen to reach a very wide audience then yes, money will come. But it isn’t the money that makes the work worth doing; too many of us make too little for that to be the motive that pulls us along.”

Well said, Mr. Card.

-AR