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.