Sunday, December 12, 2010

DVD Review: "I Am"

While, at first look, I Am may seem like a rehashed knock-off of the controversial book The Shack, the film contains little to incite controversy. God takes on the form of an African American man in casual clothes in the film. However, His conversations with the characters of the film seem more like the quiet conversations, pleas and prayers of the heart than like face-to-face, God intervening encounters. The conversations feel like what’s presented in Romans 2:15: “They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them at other times even defending them.”

The true heart of I Am lies in the Ten Commandments, however, as the commandments are shown on the screen throughout the movie as different characters encounter the consequences of their actions taken against the commandments. Some such actions take the form of odd, unexpected sins. One woman, for example, puts “other gods before me” when she has herself frozen in order to keep herself alive. The man who freezes her after she blackmails him has visions of the woman taunting him, tempting him to kill her, and, thus, he creates a “graven image.”

Other applications of the commandments are refreshingly different. Instead of focusing on the common conception of God forbidding the use of his name as a swear word, the film shows a man using God’s name to sell a product, or “taking God’s name in vain.” Another character learns to honor the Sabbath, not by setting aside a day every week for God and church, but by taking time to rest from work and life’s troubles to spend time on the things that really matter, such as being with his family.

These situations are part of a larger plot as other commandments like the commandment to not commit adultery come into play and as the lives of the ten main characters intertwine. There’s no one consistent plot to follow, and the different stories can confuse the viewer because of the way they are organized, but the pieces come together in the end to complete a puzzle that makes viewers think about their own lives.

Ultimately, I Am is not about preaching a bunch of rules and stuffing them in the viewer’s face. Instead, it is about finding peace in life. Revenge, human love, science, alcohol, memorialization of a passed loved one and everything else can never erase the past. As the God in the film says, the past can find justice, but man can never forget. What man truly needs is peace.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Review: Embracing Your Second Calling

"Embracing Your Second Calling: A Woman's Guide," by Dale Hanson Bourke, has plenty of insights to offer, even to a man. Bourke uses her own experiences and stories from the Bible to show that the older person can find purpose in the faithful life, focusing on God instead of on the highs of the past. The best is yet to come, and as long as you're alive, God can still use you.

As a younger person, I couldn't get into this book. I found myself wondering why I have to wait until later life to focus on God and my faith life. The sidebars, while helpful, proved distracting. I did, however, get something out of Bourke's use of the Bible to get her points across, and there's still a lot for the reader to learn, no matter what age.

Definitely a book I'll come back to when I've gotten a little older.

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Love on a Dime

I can't help but love a good story about a writer. After all, I'm a writer, myself. Therefore, Cara Lynn James' new novel "Love on a Dime," which follows a society lady named Lilly secretly writing dime novels with moral twists, had my attention from the very beginning. And it kept my attention, too.

While some of the dialogue was less than natural, the story, itself, kept me intrigued throughout, and the faith of the main characters felt natural. It took far too long for the final, inevitable result to come about, but Lilly's efforts to keep her identity a secret from her fans, her publisher (and former lover), and, most of all, her family, as well as her efforts to find a true love that will please her parents makes for a good novel that I highly recommend, especially to my fellow writers.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from in return for my honest review.

Review: A Time To Dance

Expecting only the very best from Karen Kingsbury, I sat down to enjoy a pleasant read of her book "A Time To Dance." I did not find the very best, however. While her characters are realistic and her story is intriguing, the book goes on for too long without any progress. The story, which follows a couple as they put off a divorce for the sake of their daughter, who is getting married, is heartfelt and moving, but some readers may want to skip the majority of the book and go straight to the end. The plot is slow moving and makes for an even slower read, a boring read, at that. Only in the last quarter of the book do things get interesting enough to keep the reader's attention. That said, it's still a pleasant read overall. If you can get through the slow parts, you'll find yourself at a wonderful, inspirational ending.

I received a free copy of this book from in return for my honest review.

Review: The Last Station DVD

A striking film that deserves far more recognition than what award shows have given it, The Last Station combines a strong story with even stronger actors. Focusing on the last year of Russian author Leo Tolstoy’s life, Station becomes a character study, a study of life and human value, as Tolstoy, his followers, and his wife struggle to reconcile the ideal values of the Tolstoyan movement.

Vladimir Chertkov (Paul Giamatti) claims to care deeply about his dear friend, Tolstoy, but quickly puts the importance of the Movement and his own ideas above the importance of Tolstoy’s original ideas. His concerns take the form a will that Tolstoy (Christopher Plummer) must sign that would leave his works to the Russian people as public domain, thus spreading Tolstoyan ideas to the farthest reach. Meanwhile, Countess Sofya Tolstaya (Helen Mirren), Tolstoy’s wife, realizes the will could take away her children’s inheritance, a fact that launches her and her husband into an escalated love-hate relationship. As Sofya makes her disappointment in the will more evident, Chertkov sends Valentin Fedorovich Bulgakov (James McAvoy) to keep a check on the countess. Bulgakov begins to have his own doubts in the movement, however, as he befriends the countess and falls in love with a local named Masha (Kerry Condon). Such a forbidden relationship leads to a realization of an imperfect human nature and of the need that all people have: love.

While the elongated plot and many characters make for a slow moving film, the depth of characters and their stories make the film worth watching. The actors stay in their elements throughout, resulting in a captivating movie that could be made boring by it’s slow pace.

Mirren steals the screen with her constant emotional roller-coaster as the countess. She smashes plates and screams at everyone around her, but soon rolls into moments of silence, contemplation, and love.

Plummer becomes Tolstoy, portraying Tolstoy’s confusion at the world around him, a confusion that many people face as they draw to their final years. Plummer invites viewers into the world of his character and leaves them thinking.

Giamatti’s character resembles many of his past roles in films like The Illusionist, but he continues to play the manipulative, yet relatable character with perfection, a character with an agenda, yet simultaneously shaped by the world around him.

McAvoy continues to look as good as ever. Perhaps that’s why a movie that could have made its themes just as clear without explicit sex scenes had to go for an R rating. The two scenes that include nudity contribute to the clashing definitions of love presented in the film, but the extreme extent to which the scenes are portrayed take an unnecessary road that may ruin the movie for some viewers.

The thought-provoking material presented, however, does not fail to move the viewer, even with its Communist background. And with such strong actors as Mirren, Plummer, Giammati and McAvoy, to carry the film’s themes, The Last Station cannot fail to captivate.

Preview: Charlie St. Cloud

All things good come to those who wait, and teenage heartthrob Zac Efron has a lot of good to deliver to his fans in his latest movie, Charlie St. Cloud. The romantic drama follows the title character (played by Efron) after he survives an accident that allows him to see life in a new and unique way.

“It was interesting to step into Charlie’s shoes and play a guy who’s down on his luck, who feels numb and doesn’t think he has much to live for,” Zefron said. “I tend to play characters who are more energetic, full of life and dance a lot. But Charlie is very different. The role was a 180-degree change, and that was extremely exciting.”

Son of a single mother (Kim Basinger) and older brother of a boy named Sam (Charlie Tahan), Cloud is on his way to success with a scholarship from Stanford. When tragedy takes his brother Sam away, an unfulfilled promise to never leave his brother haunts Cloud and leads him to leave behind his dreams and becomes a caretaker at the cemetery where Sam is buried, the same cemetery where he plays baseball with his visions of Sam every evening before sunset.

When unexpected love comes his way, however, Cloud finds himself torn, especially since the woman he loves is about to leave town on a sailing voyage around the world. Is it a twist of fate that has brought her into his life now, when she only has a week until she leaves? Just as Sam helps Charlie to find the courage to let go of the past for good and pursue the girl he loves, he discovers the soul most worth saving is his own.

Efron reunites with director Burr Steers (17 Again) for this stunning drama based on Ben Sherwood’s critically acclaimed 2004 book “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud.” The novelist crafted the novel after a deep loss of his own.

“The book came from two very personal places,” Sherwood said. “First, the sudden and unexpected loss of my father and the accompanying feelings of profound sadness and being frozen in place and not even realizing how much of an impact that grief can have on one’s life. Second, the liberating, transformative power of love—the way in which love can unlock so many things and give you the strength and motivation to move forward with your life.”

As producer Marc Platt looked for a performer to play the lost young man, Platt knew he “wanted to find someone with the humanity and charisma that this character possesses, but who wouldn’t be dour and sorrowful.”

Platt said Efron met the criteria needed for an actor to play such an emotionally complicated character, and noted that it was Efon’s maturity that first struck him as unique and worthy.

Zefron, who has a younger brother, himself, said he felt a connection to the story when he first read script.

“There was a familiarity, a lot that I could relate to and a lot that I recognized in Charlie,” Zefron said. “I thought Charlie’s relationship with Sam was real and honest, and I admired the qualities that I saw in him. I thought they were very heroic.”

Filmed on location in British Columbia, Charlie St. Cloud provides not only a heroic, captivating story, but a captivating setting as well. Much of the film takes place on the water, where Cloud races his sail boat. After his brother’s death, Cloud stops sailing, but the winds keep blowing, and change may bring about a new day when Cloud can sail once again.

Review: Jesus Calling

"Jesus Calling" by missionary Sarah Young is a compilation of devotionals for every day of the year, written to every Christian from Jesus, himself.

I've never been one to get much out of super-short devotional books, but if I did start using a devotional book, "Jesus Calling" would be on the top of my list. I thought the fact that the devotionals are written from Jesus' perspective would bother me, but it didn't. The devotionals are taken straight out of Scripture and include Scripture references at their end. I've always felt that when God speaks to a person, it's through His Word (and hardly ever through physical speech). "Jesus Calling" seems like a great example of what this looks like.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Plan B

In "Plan B," Pete Wilson attempts to provide new answers to the questions readers have when life gets difficult, when Plan As don't work out and people are forced to consider Plan Bs.

According to Wilson, most answers, or at least the kind of answers Christians are looking for, can't be found. Instead, Christians must wait on God's timing and anchor themselves in God and the hope He provides. Christians should not run from hard times, but should try to look for ways to grow and be transformed through difficult circumstances, whether it be sin or the loss of a job. Wilson tells his readers to hope Someone rather than hope for something because God's plan is much better than the plans of man.

Wilson starts off with originality and depth, but soon loses the qualities that make "Plan B" a worth-while read. The first few chapters take Biblical examples and provide new light that makes readers think. The latter half of the book, however, gives the same old, cliche answers that most readers will have heard a million times. Some messages need repeating, though, and many readers will find new hope through "Plan B." If nothing else, the book is worth buying or checking out to read the first few chapters.

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Wonders Never Cease

I'm a skeptic when it comes to extraordinary claims of angel sightings in the modern world, but if a person somehow did see angels, Tim Downs' "Wonders Never Cease" provides an interesting scenario of what could happen.

When his girlfriend's daughter starts seeings angels, nurse Kemp McAvoy decides to take on some wings and become an angel himself to scam the movie star who comes under his supervision at the hospital. Kemp aligns himself with a failing book publisher and the movie star's agent, but as debt collectors, a janitor, and real angels get into the mix, things won't turn out the way Kemp expects.

Downs well-crafted story will intrigue the reader. The story, itself, pulls the reader in. Characters get less credit. The characters are predictable and echo similar characters in other books and movies, especially Downs' aging movie star. The moral themes don't satisfy, either. While Kemp's girlfriend and her daughter manage to get out of a bad situation and away from Kemp, Kemp and his partners find themselves in a get-what-you-deserve ending. Kemp never realizes how selfish and wrong he is, and he never makes up with his overbearing father.

Unfortunately, wonders do cease in this book, but Downs still manages to keep the readers' attention in his less than original but still captivating book.

I received a free copy of this book from in return for my honest review.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Review: You Can Be Everything God Wants You To Be

When a book begins to lose an audience and the author has a lot of fame, what to do? Easy! Cut half the book, add some pictures, give it a new title, and market it as a completely new book with a small, hidden note that alerts the reader to its original source. So is the case of Max Lucado's "You Can Be Everything God Wants You To Be," a rehashing of "Cure For the Common Life."

Don't get me wrong. I love Max Lucado's books. Lucado never fails to bring deep insights to the simplest things. "Everything God Wants You To Be" is no exception. It provides plenty of inspiration for the dissatisfied Christian. But when a book only takes me, a slow reader, one hour to read, I have to wonder if the book's qualities make it worth $14.99. Sure, it's hardback, and sure, it's written by Max Lucado, but if you're going to spend that much you might as well spend another $5 on the full version, unless you want a coffee table book.

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chimes Articles: Jesus Mural, Date Night, Facebook, Illusionist

Illusionist performs at Biola

Concerns over Facebook privacy continue

What would Jesus Tweet?

Mural week rife with voices

Listening theme at Mural chapels

Date Night review

Mural artist to speak

Muelhoff gives feminism new perspective

Portal Replaced

New study says people less affiliated, but just as religious

Police escort man off campus

Review: Searching for God Knows What

I've been interested in Donald Miller since his book "Blue Like Jazz" first stimulated a lot of hype. My first adventure reading his material came with "Searching for God Knows What," however, and I was pleasantly surprised. While the book title doesn't match up with the content, and while Miller gets a bit far into politics with his reasoning (taking a more liberal view), he gives more reason to think than to fight. I'm not quite sure how yet, but I'm certain this book has changed me in some way, maybe even for life.

Miller's book talks about the survival instinct all humans have, causing them to take on a right vs. wrong perspective that would get the "lesser person" thrown off the lifeboat. According to Miller, Jesus saw all people as equal and loved all people, which we should see and do, as well. Too much of Christianity focuses on declaring war and making Christians look good and better, which Miller says does not match up with what Christ modeled.

Miller's thoughts on the subjects of selfishness, spiritual war, and the hole inside all men are intriguing and provoking. I couldn't put his book down because it never allowed me to stop thinking. Miller didn't give me much to act on, in the end, however. What he writes is true, but Miller doesn't give any way to reconcile it with still being able to stand up for what you believe in. Therefore, I'm left more confused than inspired. I suppose that can be a good thing, because it keeps me thinking.

"Searching for God Knows What" has other faults. It lacks Biblical support and tends to take the form of personal essays, giving it a more subjective feel. Much of the content is repetitive. That does not take away from the thought-provoking nature of the book, however. It certainly got me thinking about my motives and my deep need that only God can fill, something that I've been struggling with (confidence, self-appreciation, selfishness, etc) for a long time. "Searching for God Knows What" is a must read for any Christian.

I received a free copy of this book from in return for my honest review.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Review: How Should A Christian Live

I really should stop reviewing books and devotionals aimed at younger audiences. "How Should A Christian Live," a devotional for teenagers, is yet another example of an easy to understand yet lacking in depth read. Even as a teenager, I longed for something deeper than this. Maybe I'm alone in that, but I've always thought that Christians, no matter how young or old, should desire the deepest possible relationship with God. Plus, is the Bible really meant to be entirely easy to understand? Isn't that why we have the Holy Spirit to help us understand?

Anyway, back to my review. "How Should A Christian Live" has some great material, although entirely cliche material that I've heard many times before. It's organized with short sections within sections including definitions, Get It, Grab It, Hold It, Live It, and Give It, as well as several word games that are there just for fun. I suppose the games would hold a younger person's attention and get them to actually read some verses, but the games seemed pointless, boring, and easy to me. The devotional also includes a CD with select scripture readings on it. Unfortunately, my copy wouldn't work (there goes another star in my rating).

So, overall, this devotional makes a good read for its targeted younger audience, excluding a younger me. I'll give it 3 out of 5 stars for that.

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Review: Friendship for Grownups

We're grownups aren't we? But sometimes we don't act like grownups, especially when it comes to how we manage our friendships. In her latest book, "Friendship for Grownups," Facts of Life star and Women of Faith speaker Lisa Whelchel helps readers grow up a little in their friendships. Using her own personal experience, Whelchel opens up about the importance of both finding and becoming a safe friend. She teaches readers to find friends they can be open with and grow with. In such friendships, people can feel free to be themselves and to act human. Whelchel also discusses how grace in friendships can point toward the true grace of God.

With a beautiful heart for women and a wonderful humility, Whelchel has written a book that will hit a core with any reader. It certainly hit a core with me. I've always been a loner, but I've also always desired deep friendships. While I still have no idea where to start finding such friendships and while my desire to be a part of a team of women (like Women of Faith) has only deepened, Whelchel's story has given me courage. I recommend this book for anyone and everyone with the same deep desires for open friendship.

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Review: Essentials for Life

Billed as "Your Back-to-Basics Guide to What Matters Most," "Essentials for Life" by Marcia Ford falls short of the expectations its title sets up. The book does cover the basics of Christianity, as described, but with so many basic to cover there's little room for expanding and explaining. Unfortunately, this effort to include all the basics left the book lacking in depth. New Christians may find this book informative, but for the rest of Ford's readers, this book will be a mere refresher on what is already obvious to most Christians. And sometimes we need those refreshers. Despite its lack of depth, I still found myself extremely interested in the book and unable to put it down (or perhaps that was because of my desire to find something deeper and more profound buried in the book). Still, the book poses more questions than answers. Its short chapters and interesting sidebars (that include quotes from well-known authors, Bible verses, and interesting facts) make it an easy read, but easy does not equal greatness. In this case, "Essentials for Life" misses some essential facts and explanations, leaving the reader wanting more.

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review of it.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Review: Hand of Fate

Charged with the controversial language and topics of political debate, Lis Wiehl’s “Hand of Fate” never stops building tension. As new plot twists reveal themselves, and as characters’ personal lives intertwine with the mystery, readers find themselves in the middle of a wonderfully pieced together mystery.

After talk radio show host Jim Fate dies from a mysterious gas release in his studio, the Triple Threat Club sort through the chaotic mess left behind to find the murderer behind the crime. The club includes federal prosecutor Allison Pierce, who's pregnant; FBI special agent Nicole “Nic” Hedges; and Cassidy Shaw, a TV crime reporter, who formed the “Triple Threat Club” after a high school reunion. Together, they piece the clues together. But when one of them reveals a secret pertinent to the case, things begin to change. A public suicide sets things on a path even further away from the one the club has been on, and the three women must reconsider the evidence to find the real criminal.

“Hand of Fate” leaves readers confused or shocked at several points throughout the book. Some content may be too graphic for certain readers, and the political background of the book may charge emotions of politically active readers. Overall, however, “Hand of Fate” covers all bases. An intriguing Christian mystery that doesn’t over-push its Christian background, “Hand of Fate” will delight most readers.

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Review: Chronological Guide to the Bible

True to its title, "Chronological Guide to the Bible" goes through Biblical events in chronological order, providing historical insight and background. Unfortunately, rearranging things to fit a historical order makes for a confusing format. The book's cover claims it "works with any translation," but with its confusing format and lack of organization, readers will find it difficult to look up the many suggested passages or navigate their way through the book when looking for specific events.

Divided into nine epochs, the book includes book summaries and outlines, time lines, maps, reading guides, and random side bars (if you can even call them that). Colored pictures and informational facts make the read a bit easier, but the overall layout is too random and has too much white space.

That said, "Chronological Guide to the Bible" still makes an interesting reference book if the reader is willing to wade into the book and find its hidden gems. If the reader has time, he may also read the book straight through, which allows the book to flow more easily.

I received a free copy of this book from in return for my honest review.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Review: Buried Alive

I dreaded reading “Buried Alive” by Roy Hallums. Nonfiction of this type (especially involving politics and war) usually doesn’t float my boat or keep my interest. But once I started reading Hallums’ captivating story of his hostage situation, I instead dreaded having to put the book down. Even with all its technical language referring to guns and helicopters, and even with its not necessarily graphic, but detailed descriptions of Hallums’ surroundings and treatment, my interest never faded.

A contractor in Iraq, Hallums spent ten months in captivity after he happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and was kidnapped by a group of Muslim extremists raiding his office for information. The extremists held him for ransom, all the while beating him, barely feeding or bathing him, and forcing him to sleep blindfolded and handcuffed on hard surfaces. At one point, Hallums and others were kept in an underground cell, the entrance to which was covered with cement every few days after captors gave them food. Hallums was literally “buried alive.”

Hallums tells the story from his perspective, but takes breaks from the intense moments he spent in captivity to tell the story from the home-front, quoting American officials who worked to rescue him and focusing on his own family’s efforts to keep his name in the media - to keep his case urgent.

“Buried Alive” reminds me of how lucky I am to live in America. I don’t know what I would do under the circumstances Hallums was subjected to. I certainly don’t think I’d come out as healthy as he did, or alive as he did. Hallums’ testimony of how he kept faith, hope, and prayer alive during his captivity will inspire readers as it inspired me. I fully recommend this book.

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Chimes Articles: Credit Cards and Arrest on Campus

Credit Card Laws Put Restrictions on Both Consumers and Card Companies

Man Escorted Off Campus

By Kathryn Watson and Harmony Wheeler Today

Campus Safety escorted a man out of the library in handcuffs at about 12:10 p.m. Friday.

Campus Safety officers arrived on the scene about a minute after they received a call from the library. Officers from the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department soon arrived and escorted the man off campus, said Justin Shelby, public information officer for Campus Safety.

A library employee said the man had been demanding access to the library and yelling for about 35 minutes when Campus Safety arrived. Campus Safety officers told the man to calm down as he continued yelling about his rights to accessing the library. Witnesses say the man, described as elderly and Asian, yelled things like “Don't do that” and “I'm heart patient” as officers handcuffed him. The man was “yelling, cursing and pestering animatedly,” Shelby said.

Officers found no weapons on the man, but determined he still posed as a possible threat.

“We were concerned about the officers' safety and the safety of the students and the other people in the library,” Shelby said.

Shelby said the same man had been reported to Campus Safety earlier in the week, when he was warned that his presence on campus was considered trespassing and escorted off campus.

Campus Safety is following up on the incident and will have more details later.

Review: The Sweet By and By

I love reading books that are almost impossible to put down. Every night I read “The Sweet By and By” by country singer Sara Evans and writer Rachel Hauck, I waited until my eyes were red to stop reading.

Evans and Hauck provide lovable, realistic characters readers can easily related to. As the main character, Jade, slowly reveals her past, the reader learns along with her that, which people can forgive and forget, they can’t hide their past forever. The past affects the present; it makes us who we are. Engaged to a wonderful man, Jade must face her past in order to fully commit to a future. Along the way, she heals broken relationships with her mother, her ex, and, most importantly, God.

The book does not come without its faults, however. The writing can be hard to follow at times, and some things don’t fit. Jade’s encounter with her ex doesn’t have enough purpose, and one scene that switches to her father’s viewpoint is the only scene of its kind. Evans and Hauck tell the rest of the book from Jade’s and her hippie mother’s points of view, so the father’s viewpoint doesn’t fit. Jade’s conversion is also unrealistic, too quick, and too emotionally charged.

But even with its faults, and its title that doesn’t completely fit the book, “The Sweet By and By” makes a good edition to any woman’s book shelf. I certainly couldn’t put it down. It’s told at the perfect pace and reveals each new twist just when the stakes need to be heightened to keep the reader’s attention. Most importantly of all, the characters speak to the reader’s heart, something every good book needs.

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Review: Beautiful Mess

I like country music. It’s OK. And I like a good story about someone conquering life’s challenges. So, Diamond Rio’s “Beautiful Mess” seemed like a choice read for me, even though I’d never heard of the country group before. The title captured my attention, along with the interesting cover. However, once I began reading, the my attention span was cut short and it took me several months to finish reading the book. It was not the choice read I expected.

“Beautiful Mess” tells Diamond Rio’s story, starting with the band as a whole, going into chapters about individual members of the band and their histories, and ending with the band as a whole. While the band’s stories do sometimes contain touching, beautiful messes, some chapters are beautiful messes in themselves. The beginning and end are the most interesting parts of the book, especially the ending, which turns a beautiful mess into a beautiful whole.

Getting to the end was difficult for me, though. Maybe it’s just because I don’t normally read or enjoy biographies. Maybe it’s because I’m not a fan of the book. Or maybe it’s because the book was poorly written. The point is, while fans may enjoy this book, I did not. “Beautiful Mess” is a mess. It fails to connect, and it’s focus could easily be narrowed down to a book on the band alone without any histories of band members.

On the bright side, the photos are nice, and the audio version that comes with the book (downloadable online) was the only reason I was able to finish the book.

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Sunday, February 28, 2010

Movie Review: Percy Jackson and the Olympians

“Percy Jackson and the Olympians: The Lightning Thief” reaches for the heights of Mount Olympus, but only makes it as far as the great mountain’s entrance gates.

While the mythological story accomplishes enough to make a sequel likely, it ultimately takes its place as just another film in the long line of children's books adapted for the big screen.

Unlike its book counterpart, however, “Jackson” comes across as anything but a children’s film. The very premise of the gods having sexual relations with humans sharply contrasts with Christian values, and the rest of the story takes unnecessary steps to make this into an adult film.

The film’s title character, Percy Jackson, played by Logan Lerman, is the son of Poseidon and has grown up without any knowledge of his father’s position or his own demi-god powers. Zeus made a law that forbade any god from having relations with his or her demi-god children. Percy crosses paths with Zeus, however, when someone steals Zeus’ lightning bolt and Percy gets blamed. Suddenly, Poseidon and Zeus’ brother, Hades, along with a host of many other characters, come after Percy, wanting the lightning bolt for themselves.

When Hades kidnaps Percy’s mother, Percy sneaks out of a camp for demi-gods, where he has begun his training, to save his mother. Along for the road to Hell are Grover, Percy’s protector, and Annabeth, daughter of Athena, the goddess of wisdom. Together, they face monsters worse than Hell itself.

“Jackson” has several flaws. All the gods live in America, not Greece, a relocation never explained. When Percy’s mother gets taken to Hell, it’s easy to not care, and Pierce Brosnan gets far too little screen time as Chiron, the centaur who trains Percy. The CGI effects often fail to bring a suspension of belief and needed items, such as bows and arrows, seem to appear out of nowhere.

Meanwhile, Chiron the centaur and Grover the satyr are able to hide their animal halves in front of humans without any explanation. And then there’s the head of Medusa, a slimy, slivering thing that turns people to stone with one look. Don’t we all need one of those to carry around in our backpack? Mind you, the parts with Medusa, played brilliantly by Uma Thurman, are some of the most enjoyable parts of the film, but they’re also the weirdest parts.

None of “Jackson’s” flaws compare to the way its sexual elements almost ruin the film altogether. The film takes the younger, innocent characters of the book, makes them older, and turns them into characters that accept immoral actions. Grover, the party goat, comes close to pervert status, making advances toward almost every girl he sees and accepting the advances of Hades' promiscuous wife. And what’s a sexually inclined film without a scene in Las Vegas?

“Jackson” does not fail on every count, however. The sequences in Hell are visually impressive, although they, along with other monsters in the film, may scare younger audiences. Percy’s feelings toward the father who left him gives viewers something to relate to, and his sacrificial actions make him a character to look up to.

While some characters do not make a mark, Percy and Annabeth (played by Alexandra Daddario) play well off each other, creating a memorable and enjoyable love-hate relationship. An adventure in itself, the film’s music also leaves an impression. While listeners can hear elements of other film scores, the score fits the film well and exudes the magnificence of Mount Olympus.

Percy’s journey includes several humorous moments, as well as a few action scenes, making for a simply enjoyable film. Directed by Chris Columbus (who directed the first two “Harry Potter” films), “Jackson” takes viewers on an exciting journey to the world of the gods and demi-gods, but fails to make an impression as a whole. With its overused sexual jokes and with its actors failures to connect emotionally, the film does not stand up to the high standards set by its predecessors like the “Harry Potter” series. Nor does have enough weight to draw the overwhelming amount of fans the “Twilight” series has accumulated.

Chimes Artices: Power Outage, Prayer, the iPad

I provided quotes and info for this story:

Prayer on Campus:

Ken Wales Speaks to Students:

Is the iPad Welcome?:

Review: "Kaleidoscope" by Patsy Clairmont

Leave it to Patsy Clairmont to create a book with a cover as cute as she is, a length as tiny as she is, and chapters as short as she is.

Beautiful cover and all, Kaleidoscope fails to connect. Chapters, each based on a single verse from Proverbs, come across as devotional stories. While one or two chapters may hit individual readers hard, most readers will have to either dig deep or read only one chapter per day/week and truly commit to thinking as hard as Winnie the Pooh to get something out of this book.

Mind you, the stories Clairmont tells are delightfully funny, but that doesn’t compensate for lack of depth in the Word. I have yet to read a book by a Women of Faith Speaker that truly dives into God’s Word. Some pointless questions and a few verses to reflect on after each chapter are the closest Clairmont comes to covering readers with the water of the Word of God.

On the bright side, she does bring some clear understanding to a few confusing proverbs, but, as lovely as its cover is, Kaleidoscope does not “find inspiring reflections of the divine that bring clarity to our world.”

*Quote from the book jacket’s description.

Book Summary:

Acclaimed author and Women of Faith speaker Patsy Clairmont causes womens' hearts to leap and their hopes to lift in this quirky, straight-to-the point look at the Proverbs.
Understanding the Christian life and the Bible can be a daunting task. But maybe God didn't mean it to be so hard. In Kaleidoscope of Proverbs, Patsy Clairmont pieces together some powerful messages from God and reveals new facets of beauty, inspiration, and instruction. Written for busy women, Patsy offers brief, powerful chapters that address the key aspects of their lives, hearts, and relationships.
In the Proverbs, God gives us small gems of hope and truth, and in Kaleidoscope of Proverbs, Patsy Clairmont unveils them for readers with her trademark humor and insightful teaching.

* I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: “Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God.”

Sheila Walsh is an incredible speaker and writer who never fails to give her audience a glimpse of her heart and a glimpse of the heart of God. Sometimes, however, a glimpse is all you get.

Readers will catch several glimpse of both Sheila’s and God’s heart in Walsh’s latest book, “Beautiful Things Happen When a Woman Trusts God.” While the book contains plenty of deep, Biblical insights, it doesn’t flow well, and readers can find much of its content in Walsh’s previous books.

Walsh uses her own testimony and the stories of several people in the Bible to teach readers about courage, beauty, waiting on God, crying out to God, trusting God, and realizing God has a plan for your life. Her words don’t really begin to resonate until half way through the book, however, and even then, the lessons don’t stick unless you make an effort to study a chapter a day and put the chapters into practice. All the lessons she teaches have deep truths, but don’t seem to connect to one another.

Walsh begins and closes with the example of how much more fun swinging can be when someone you trust is pushing you, but she doesn’t fully utilize the metaphor throughout the book, and some of her best content does not come until the end.

Walsh’s best content, like her closing chapter on the parts of life that will unexpectedly transform into jewels and gold in heaven, doesn’t entirely fit into the book’s theme and would better suit a book of its own. Walsh’s testimonies seem scarce and scattered, as well, and would resonate more if gathered into one book.

Overall, however, “Beautiful Things” is beautiful. Despite its flaws, the book offers plenty of wisdom if one makes an effort to digest and apply the trust in God that Walsh encourages.

P.S. This book is aimed at women, but would have just as much applicability to men.

I received this book for free in exchange for my honest opinion review for

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Review: Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts

"Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts" makes a great resource for any person with a desire for a deeper study of God's Word. The book, complete with maps, photos, and outlines, would make a great textbook for most Bible courses, especially classes that overview either the Old Testament or Old Testament or classes that focus on the geography of the Bible.

While the reference book doesn't include as much geological background as it could, it does exactly what it's title promise: It delivers easy-to-understand maps and charts. Each chapter covers a specific book of the Bible and includes resources such as outlines of the book, maps of geographical locations in the book, and information on the author, date, themes, and literary structure of the book. Depending on the book being covered, the chapter may include more details on the book, as well.

The majority of the material appears in the Old Testament sections, so, the book could use some more extensive coverage on New Testament books. Then again, the shorter the book covered, the shorter the coverage. That makes enough sense. Still, while "Nelson's Complete Book of Bible Maps and Charts" provides plenty of simple material that lays the Bible out clearly, it's not a deep theological explanation of books. It's book introductions could come right out of a teen's study Bible. Ultimately, the books makes a great companion for a Bible class or the study of the Bible, but doesn't stand completely on its own. It has its use, but its much like a lot of other sources on the market.

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Review: Revolve 2010 Biblezine

I spent my teenage years as the weirdo loner, too mature for her age and never fitting in. Thus, I can't speak with complete authority when I review and criticize Revolve 2010 for its focus on teenage issues that I never fully dealt with: boys, boys, and more boys.... and little bit of looks. Really, that's all Revolve 2010 looks at, and while I can't completely relate to all of its contents, I can certainly tell that its "sharp look and relevant articles" for teen girls doesn't go nearly as deep or be quite as honest as it could.

This "Biblezine" does include the New Testament with colorful headers and interesting asides, but, unfortunately, most of the "articles" included are mindless dribble, content any Christian girl should find obvious, and content that doesn't fit the Bible verses that parallel them.

On the bright side (and the colors in this magazine are bright), the general design and content probably do appeal to most teenage girls. A few elements similar to blogs and Facebook give the magazine a touch of creativity. Most of the content, however, would be better off in its own book, rather than next to New Testament text. The magazine promises to reveal the relevance of God’s Word to teens, but the majority of articles do not come straight out of Scripture, and, remembering the mature teenager I was, I would prefer a magazine that delves deeper into the text, not one that talks solely on boys.

The magazine also uses a lot of space promoting Revolve books, events, and products instead of focusing on Scripture. Another note: some of the text message passages are more puzzles than they are creative and fun ways to make Scripture relevant.

Plus, the cover given as a preview promises an article on "Caught in a Sin Spiral" that I was really looking forward to. The copy I received had a different cover and had no such article.

I received a free copy of this book from in exchange for my honest review of it.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Tom Howard Dies of Heart Attack

Music Pioneer Tom Howard Dies During Hike; Suffers Massive Heart Attack

By Harmony Wheeler, Bully! Pulpit News

(Los Angeles, CA) -- Music Producer and recording artist Tom Howard, known for his work with a variety of artists like Larry Norman, CeCe Winans, Sixpence None The Richer, Dolly Parton and Lynyrd Skynyrd, died of a massive heart attack on Thursday while hiking with family at Edwin Warner Park in Nashville, according to online reports. Writing on Howard's Facebook page, friend and musical collaborator Jennifer Goetz noted, “he didn't feel well, complained of feeling nauseous. After a little while he collapsed and they tried to revive him. By the time the paramedics got there he was gone."

Remembered for his musical genius as a recording artist, producer and arranger, Howard was a friend to many artists in his adopted home town of Nashville, He grew up surrounded by an artistic culture in the Twin Cities and remembered conducting an orchestra on the radio from his living room as a child. He recorded his debut album, “A View From the Bridge,” in 1978 with Larry Norman’s Solid Rock record label and was one of a select group of devout Christian musicians Norman assembled to be a part of his musical community along with Randy Stonehill, Daniel Amos, Mark Heard, and others who performed on each others' records and tours. In subsequent years, Howard went on to release several more albums including The Harvest and Danger In Loving You and composed movie scores and arranged string accompaniments for hundreds of artists.

Howard is survived by his wife, Dori and children, Katie and Joseph.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Preview: The Tooth Fairy

Review: G-Force

It’s hard to take a film like G-Force seriously. Then again, melodramas are hardly meant to be taken seriously, and G-Force comes pretty close to a melodrama classification. The film, which follows three guinea pigs in their secret agent activities, has little going for it when classified as an action film. However, it has much going for it when considered a fun, cute, family adventure film.

Darwin (Sam Rockwell), Juarez (Penelope Cruz), and Blaster (Tracy Morgan) are three rodents on a mission. In order to prove their worth, they break into the home of Leonard Saber, a top appliance manufacturer believed to have hidden, dark motives. When their mission appears to have failed, however, the FBI shuts G-Force down, and the three guinea pigs must make a run for it.

The team finds itself in a pet shop surrounded by a lively crew of characters including Bucky the hamster (Steve Buscemi) and Hurley the guinea pig (Jon Favreau). Together, they must find a way out of the pet store and back into the action to solve the mystery before the global extermination begins.

It’s easy to understand why these guinea pigs are not taken seriously by their superior FBI officers. Viewers may have an equally hard time taking G-Force seriously. If the premise of the film is cheesy, the film’s ending comes with an even more unexpected yet melodramatic ending that will have many viewers laughing in unbelief. The acting, however, equals the best in the industry, especially the almost unrecognizable voice of Nicholas Cage as Speckles the super-smart mole, who plays a major role in the film’s climax.

The plot and it’s conclusion are aimed mainly at kids, which probably lends many reviewers’ reasons for considering it kids version of Transformers. Yet G-Force is strangely lovable by both children and adults when viewed in the right mindset. When expectations aren’t too high, G-Force will please most viewers.

Special features on the DVD and Blu-ray give “rodent lovers” more to enjoy, too. The DVD includes features for both an adult and young audience and includes bloopers, deleted scenes, music videos, “Boot Camp” orientation for kids who want to join G-Force, and “G-Force Mastermind,” which gives viewers a look at the story behind G-Force. The Blu-ray version also has extra features including two different behind-the-scenes looks at how the G-Force’s lovable animal agents were animated as well as a look at Jerry Bruckheimer’s CG work.

Review: Princess and the Frog

Disney has come a long way with film technology since its humble originals. Now the company steps backward with old animation styles and steps forward with its first African American princess in The Princess and the Frog. Disney knows where the happiest place on earth is, and in the words of one of the film’s catchier tunes, it’s “Gonna Take You There.”

From the first musical number, you can tell “this is gonna be good.” In bustling New Orleans, Tiana waitresses to save money for her own dream restaurant. She thinks only of hard work and doesn’t believe in fairy tales, but that all changes when, dressed as a princess for a costume party, she meets a visiting prince looking for a princess to kiss. Only one problem: the prince’s froggy exterior is no costume.

Tiana kisses the frog, but instead of finding a handsome prince in front of her, she discovers the voodoo magic of the Shadow Man has turned her into a frog, too. Hardworking Tiana must put up with lazy Prince Naveen as they try to flee the Shadow Man and find a way to turn back into their true selves. Along the way, they run into a trumpet-playing crocodile, a firefly in love with the evening star and a voodoo queen who help them to understand that their true selves are more than just human bodies.

Sticking to regular Disney fashion, The Princess and the Frog recalls previous Disney films (and other films like Shrek) as it maintains a typical “be true to yourself” message on top of a love-over-money theme.

While these enduring themes will continue to woo audiences, the film still lacks in some areas. Too bad some cinematic royal didn’t kiss this frog of a film and turn it into the amazing film it had the potential to be.

The film gives Disney its first African American princess (not long after America elected its first African American president), but it hasn’t completely strayed from stereotypes like a rich white woman, a Cajun firefly and three hillbillies. But hey, it’s Disney, and where would the comedy come from without such characters? (Maybe Disney kept them for the same reason it left out the many negative historical circumstances of the 1920s.)

The supporting characters, however, never fully develop. Aside from Tiana and Naveen, who make a convincing and lovable couple, only rich girl Charlotte’s antics and the firefly’s romance are memorable. Louis the crocodile and Mama Odie the voodoo queen seem like quick thoughts thrown in to make the film longer. The film goes by too fast, and its climax and resolution, while enjoyable, would have enhanced the movie more had the filmmakers drawn them out just a bit longer.

One of the movie’s main character’s, the Shadow Man, hardly gets enough screen time. And while animators made his character entirely satisfying, his voice does not live up to standards set by past Disney villains. His “friends from the other side,” however, are more than spooky. They evoke the demonic atmosphere needed (maybe too much for younger viewers). Some of the best moments come from the shadows.

Some viewers may find this demonic atmosphere a bit too demonic, however, not because of how dark it is, but because it is dark. Voodoo plays a key role in the film, both a positive and negative role. While the Shadow Man gets what he deserves from his dealings with the devil, Mama Odie’s use of magic, while not portrayed as demonic, earns her the name of Voodoo Queen. This is Disney, and some viewers may assume innocence, but others will have a hard time recommending the film no matter how pleasant its lessons, characters and animation are.

For those who can get past the voodoo elements as negatives, the real delight comes in Disney’s return to 2D animation. After flops like Home on the Range and several films that went directly to video, one can understand why Disney took a break from putting it’s classic animation style on the big screen. Now, Disney makes a big comeback. While The Princess and the Frog cannot boast as colorful and breathtaking a picture as its commercials make it out to be, viewers will find this film a refreshing change from other animated films.

The film’s talented singers (Anika Nani Rose of Dreamgirls plays Tiana) and Broadway-style musical numbers also refresh viewers, but the music leaves them wanting more. Randy Newman’s score fits New Orleans perfectly, but one or two songs could use more jazzing up. Several of the Broadway-style numbers fail to completely satisfy. While they are fun, foot-tapping material, they don’t last long enough, and a few of them could use more engaging singers.

Despite its setbacks, The Princess and the Frog makes a great addition to the Disney royal lineup. With the help of directors John Musker and Ron Clements, who brought Aladdin and The Little Mermaid to life, Disney puts a unique twist on another classic fairy tale. Viewers will be “going down the bayou” for years to come.

More Chimes Articles From Last Few Months

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Review: "Called to Worship" by Vernon M. Whaley

An insightful look at the Biblical view of worship, Vernon M. Whaley’s “Called to Worship” makes for a compelling read... if you don’t mind the length. Though repetitious and long-winded, the book provides principles of worship based on the various people, events, and books of the Bible.

Whaley spends well over half of the book discussing concepts from the Old Testament, recounting well-rehearsed stories from the Bible and drawing applications for worship. His complete recounting of these stories, however, adds an unneeded length to the book and often makes for a tedious read, giving “Called to Worship” the unpleasant feel of a textbook.

Perhaps Whaley could have saved some extra space (and some of his readers) if he had organized his book by theme instead of by book. Some of the most important principals, found in the New Testament portion of Whaley’s book, are not given enough pages, and many of Whaley’s points are lost in confusion due to what seems like contradictions that may be explained in the latter half of his book if only he would put half and half, one and one together.

Whaley does call attention to one of the most important and compelling aspects of worship: putting God first in our lives (in other words, dedicating our lives to Him in full obedience). Whaley reminds his readers that Christians should not allow idols to replace God. Some of his points on this topic are confusing and contradictory (at least they seem that way - he doesn’t account for the difference in covenants when he writes about the consequences of sin), but for the most part, Whaley gives a strong, scripturally-based argument that makes the reader think.

“Called to Worship,” overall, does make the reader think... that is, if the reader has enough patience to finish the book. God designed man to worship Him, but man often tries to fill the God-shaped hole in his life with worldly idols. Whaley brings readers back to God’s “call to worship,” the kind of worship man is meant to act out.

This book was reviewed in exchange for a free copy of the book for