A Call to Resurgence

1037I find many contemporary Christian books lacking in either sound theology or cunning intrigue. When it comes to Christian books I tend to stick with the classics like R.C. Sproul and C.S. Lewis.

A friend of mine suggested I read Mark Driscoll’s new book, A Call to Resurgence, and he asks the question: “Will Christianity have a funeral or a future?”

I’m not going to lie. I like Driscoll. I agree with about 97% of his teachings about the Chruch, the Bible, God, and the people of God. And I believe he’s got a good handle on what’s in store for Christianity in the very near future.

As citizens of the 21st century are drowning in the rapid currents of the new “tolerance” movement, Driscoll makes the point that we Christians need to know where we stand on issues such as gay marriage, abortion, and basic theological truths that many of us may have forgotten.

I loved this book. Not only because I agree with most of his statements and predictions, but because he explains this “brave new world” we’re living in crystal clear, and reminds Christians that we can no longer sit on our butts and watch the world spiral out of control.

We’ve got to join in the chaos, because, really, it’s not chaos at all. The world is heading in the direction God has planned – bad as it may seem now.

We just have to know how to live in it and stand strong.

The Man in the Box, Chapter 6

I just turned in the final edits for my revised edition of The Man in the Box. Enjoy this sample chapter while we await the rerelease date. And don’t forget to like The Man in the Box on Facebook for updates!

Chapter 1, Chapter 2, Chapter 3, Chapter 4, Chapter 5 (pt 1), 5 (pt 2)

Check out the trailer here!

6

Both kids had managed to push Rosalynn close to her breaking point. Between Jeremy getting sent home from school early because of a fight he had gotten into over stolen crackers at lunch and Taylor refusing to get off of her iPhone to help with the packing, Rosalynn was ready to just call a babysitter and leave the kids at home while she and Robbie enjoyed Hawaii all to themselves. But she had to keep reminding herself that they were the reason they were going in the first place. Maybe she and Robbie could at least upgrade to first class while they left the kids in coach.

She had texted this suggestion to Robbie earlier, but she hadn’t heard back from him. In fact, she had called him when he was due home an hour ago. It was unlike him to be late, but she figured he was probably swamped with last-minute stuff to do before vacation. That was understandable; she just wished he would let her know he’s all right and tell her he’d be late coming home.

“Mom, Caitlin wants me to spend the night since I won’t see her tomorrow or for the next week,” announced Taylor, from halfway down the stairs with her iPhone clutched to her hand.

“Doesn’t she have school tomorrow? Her mom wouldn’t allow that,” replied Rosalynn as she fished through the cupboards for pasta shells.

“She already told her mom and she’s okay with it.” Taylor was standing at the edge of the kitchen now, dressed to go out. “I’ve already got my stuff thrown together. And I was thinking maybe you could let me drive since she’s just a couple blocks away.”

“You packed for a sleepover that was just planned, but you can’t manage to pack for Hawaii anytime in the last four months?” asked Rosalynn. “No, I’m not letting you go over there. You’ve got to pack, and I don’t want to have to drive back over first thing in the morning just to pick you up.”

“Can you guys shut up?” yelled Jeremy from the living room. “I’m trying to watch my show.”

“Don’t say that word,” Rosalynn responded. “Next time you say that to me, the TV goes off.”

“So can I go?” asked Taylor.

“No. No, you can’t go,” said Roslaynn pulling out the dish pan and gathering the cheese and the grater. “I’m not letting you go to Caitlin’s so you can keep her up all night on a school night, and you’ll end up sleeping all day tomorrow when you’re supposed to be packing; she’ll probably fall asleep in class. No. But if you want to go to school tomorrow, I can take you and you can see Caitlin there. How does that sound?”

“Sure,” said Taylor, “that’s fine by me. I’d rather go to school than stay here anyway. No offence, but I really don’t want to go to Hawaii anyway.”

“You’re bringing this up now?” asked Rosalynn, though she didn’t know why she was so surprised.

“Me, either!” yelled Jeremy. “I hate fish. I’d rather stay here and eat chicken.”

“Seriously, can’t he stay out of any of my conversations?” asked Taylor. “For a kid with ADD, he sure knows how to tune in.”

“Well I’m sorry, but we’ve already got your tickets paid for, and I know it’s rough being away from all of your friends for a week, but it’ll go by fast; I promise. Now, can you please leave me alone so I can have dinner ready before your dad gets home?”

“Where is he anyway?” asked Taylor. “He’s never this late.”

“He’s got a lot to finish before his day off tomorrow, that’s all. He’ll be home soon,” Rosalynn said.

Taylor glanced down at her iphone when it chirped at her, then looked back up to Rosalynn. “So, no?”

“No. Go upstairs and pack.”

Taylor huffed as she walked off, saying, “I’m not even going to start packing until tomorrow anyway.”

“That’s fine. You can get a head start on all your procrastinating tonight,” said Rosalynn, rolling her eyes and unwrapping the mozzarella. Cooking was solitary for Rosalynn. She felt comfortable and in her element in the kitchen. It’s where everyone else in the family was too afraid to go, and she secretly preferred it that way. If Rosalynn needed time to herself, she would cook, because she knew that at least there, no one would bother her.

Robbie had come up with a code for the kids to warn them that she was in cooking mode— “Chef Snappy’s in the house.” Snappy, because of the way she tended to snap at people if they got in her way in the kitchen. She didn’t do it purposefully or out of spite—she just put her all into whatever she was preparing; cooking was her zone. She realized a few years too late that that’s why Taylor hardly knew how to boil an egg, because she never took the time to teach her how to cook. She pitied her future husband and would be sure to apologize to him once they were married.

She felt she did right by her children in every other sense. She always helped them with their homework, made sure they were properly groomed for school, minded their manners at the table, put her foot down on what they were or were not allowed to watch and how much (often fighting Robbie every step of the way on that one). Where Robbie was parentally weak, she was strong. But Robbie was much better at dealing with discipline if they ever defied her—one of the few things he wouldn’t stand for, and he usually had good discernment when it came to how much arguing amongst siblings was too much—which was a wonder since Robbie was an only child. Rosalynn felt like she and Robbie were a good team when it came to the kids, but tonight, she really could have used his help.

She called him once more only to be taken straight to his voicemail again. His office had closed two hours ago.

Is Divergent as Good as Hunger Games?

divergentThis is a spoiler-free review.

I just read Divergent by Veronica Roth.

Apparently she wrote it while she was in college and two other books completes her trilogy.

Like Hunger Games, it is set in a dystopian world, and also like Hunger Games, it is written in that awesome first-person present tense style that really seems to be catching on.

You should know that my wife and I are pretty obsessed when it comes to Hunger Games, and I’m sure Roth doesn’t appreciate her story being compared to something so superior.

However, one can hardly divorce the two.

Divergent lacks the big-picture suspense story that carries Hunger Games, as it’s sometimes hard to see where Roth is taking her readers. There’s little setup from the start, explaining her dystopian Chicago, which could have served as great suspense marks.

But at the same time, it’s not such a bad thing to learn about things as the protagonist does.

When I finished Divergent, Sarabeth asked me the same question everyone else is wondering: “Is it better than Hunger Games?

My answer was no.

“If you hadn’t read Hunger Games, would you have liked it more?”

My answer again, was no.

Don’t get me wrong. I actually enjoyed the book. But unlike Hunger Games, my criticisms kept building up.

My biggest hangup with the book was the love story.

Now, I realize this is a teen book centered around an adolescent girl, but I just kept rolling my eyes each time the love interests came together for yet more snogging and oohing and awing.

To be honest, it’s the most I’ve wanted to throw up due to such over-the-top sentiments.

Maybe I wouldn’t’ve felt that way if it wasn’t so forced and manufactured. Really, it was just very difficult to buy into.

As for the rest of the book?

I actually enjoyed the author’s world where society is broken up into separate factions based off of different virtues. It is a very well thought-out world, and many scenes were quite heart-stopping as you had no idea what the sadist villain was going to come up with next (don’t you just love a terribly wicked bad guy?).

Would I recommend it? Sure thing. A good fiction is hard to find these days, and I would qualify this as good enough. I’ll certainly be reading the next two books when they’re available in paperback.

However, I will say this. I’d much sooner allow my kids to read Hunger Games long before I hand Divergent over to them. It’s not as sexual, Katniss isn’t all googly-eyed and wounded by Cupid, and the lines of good vs. evil aren’t so blurred.

What are your thoughts on the book? Which series do you like better? Share your thoughts below.

From a Mermaid to an Ice Queen: Is Frozen Better Than Beauty?

Frozen-Wallpaper-disney-frozen-35897178-1920-1200These days Sarabeth and I go to the movies about three times a year. Once in the summer to catch the newest Pixar movie, and twice in December for the latest Hunger Games and Hobbit installments. Since there will not be a Pixar movie released this year (insert ultra-sad face here), I insisted we catch Frozen because of all the hype (thanks to many of your comments).

We all remember the glory days of Disney when they repeatedly put out hits such as The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and The Lion King. There were some other good ones that followed, but none that held a candle to the greatness… flawlessness… no, majesty of the Phenomenal Four. Somehow that majesty just couldn’t be recaptured, though Disney filmmakers searched far and wide for it: from the age of dinosaurs, into the depths of space, on the Hawaiian islands, down to the depths of the lost city of Atlantis.

Disney, it seemed, just couldn’t quite recapture that African sunrise, or convince audiences that carpets can fly.

It seemed that the great entertainment empire had thrown in the towel when it released the horrendous Home on the Range, an embarrassing cartoon not even worth a slot on TV (Sarabeth and I turned it off after ten minutes – but the soundtrack is surprisingly good, to Disney’s credit).

And then Disney, apart from Pixar, debuted its first CGI movie, Chicken Little. This was a far cry from the best, but it was a step in the right direction, set in a town where Mickey and the gang could very well live. Suddenly it seemed the Mouse wasn’t out of the game just yet.

Then came Meet the Robinsonsthe first of Disney movies to open with Mickey Mouse Steamboat-willieat the helm of Steamboat Willy, which communicated one thing loud and clear: The Mouse is back. Still a far cry from the majesty of the great fairytales of 90s, it touched a soft spot in audiences, and especially in me, since the theme is based on adoption. It’s a movie I cannot get through the end of without crying.

The Princess and the Frog came hopping into theaters with even louder drums and cymbals (and a great soundtrack, to boot!). Not only was the Mouse back, but the enchanting fairytale world Disney had created was expanding.

And man, was there ever a greater uproar than when Tangled hit silver screens across the world less than a year later, screaming Disney is back for good! That magic, that music, that humor, everything old Walt himself would have approved of a thousand times over!

And now, Frozen.

Wow.

Paperman-shortFirst off, let me just say that the short before the film was the most inventive cartoon since Roger Rabbit! (It’s not as emotionally-charged as Wreck-It Ralph’s “Paperman”, but it certainly was a fun treat.) It was so nice to see Mickey Mouse on the big screen for once.

Frozen, without a doubt, will breed a whole new generation of Disney enthusiasts. Frozen makes you believe in happiness and magic and music all over again. Frozen, I am pleased to say, has recaptured that long-lost majesty. 

It will be a long time before we see another movie as good as Frozen. 

Is it as good as Beauty and the Beast? It’s too soon to tell. It certainly had its share of flaws that Beauty lacks, but I can say without reservation that Frozen has earned its place on the same shelf as the mermaid, the Beast, the street rat, and the king of Pride Rock. 

Welcome, Ice Queen, to the most prestigious Disney family in history.

And may that family continue to grow for our children’s children to enjoy all their lives.

Christmas Wish List Part 4

santas_christmas_list

Looking for some last minute Christmas gifts for the book lovers in your life? I’ve compiled a list of the best books I’ve read this year. (See below for last year’s lists for more recommendations.)

FOR FICTION READERS

Life as We Know it (Susan Beth Pfeffer) – Sarabeth and I read the whole series this year, and despite the political agenda (which eases up with each book), we thoroughly enjoyed them. They’re teen books, but who wouldn’t be interested in reading a dystopian tale about an asteroid knocking the moon closer to earth, throwing everything out of whack, and devastating every survivor on the planet? I’m not sure how there isn’t a movie out about this yet.

The Yearling (Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings) – Disclaimer: Do not read this book while driving, or in public, for that matter. Best to be read by yourself, locked in a room miles from anyone, so that no one can hear you wailing and weeping when you read the final pages.

Life of Pi (Yann Martel) - If you saw the movie and wasn’t that impressed, pick the book up. You’ll be much more impressed.

The Man in the Box (Andrew Toy) – Having never really been impressed with many suspense/adventure books, I’m not sure I can recommend this one enough. It’s about an average family man who discovers an exciting world inside a cardboard box. The more he goes back to it, the more addicted to it he becomes. After all, wouldn’t any man rather be fighting off monsters and running from titanic panthers rather than enduring yet another argument with his wife or kids? This book is often referred to as a darker Narnia.

Biography/History Readers

Elizabeth the Queen (Sally Bedell Smith) – For anyone interested in learning more about the monarchy, this is the book to go to. (Also recommended: The King’s Speech by Mark Logue.)

Close to Shore (Michael Capuzzo) - The coolest shark book you’ll ever read. Even better than Benchley’s Jaws. 

Rawhide Down (Del Quinten Wilbur) – If you love minute-by-minute retellings of little-known incidents in history, this book will tell you all you need to know about the assassination attempt on President Ronald Reagan.

Amazing Grace in the Life of William Wilberforce (John Piper)- God, and Christianity has never been a proponent of slavery. Not during Pharaoh’s rule, not during colonial times, and certainly not during the 18th century in Great Britain. Charles Colson raised Wilberforce up as one of his greatest heroes.

Charles Dickens: A Life (Claire Tomalin) – I’m in the middle of this book, and I already know I’ll be returning to it for a second visit very shortly. This is an especially great gift for struggling authors.

My Ideal Bookshelf (Jane Mount and Thessaly La Force) – Can’t decide on a particular book? Then buy 100 bookshelves! This book has book recommendations from well-known actors, poets, artists, authors and more. 

Check out last year’s book recommendations:

Part 1

Part 2

Part 3

Follow Up All Your Shopping with Something Free

man in box

I just received the incredible news that my novel, The Man in the Box is the first of my publishers’ free ebooks to hit number 1! And it’s the most popular book right now in contemporary fantasy! 

Honestly, I don’t know what all that means, but that’s what my publisher relayed to me. So, yeah, I’m pretty thankful for that and to everyone who picked up a free copy and made that possible.

But as great as I (and most everybody who reads it) thinks it is, I’m just not satisfied with it. If it were a movie, it’d be filled with continuity issues and minor plot holes, and that’s not good enough for me and my readers deserve better. I set out to write the best adventure/suspense novel I could, and it’s still just a step or two away from that mark of perfection.

This is not to discourage you from picking up a free ebook copy of The Man in the BoxToday is the last day it’s free, so get it, and keep it at number 1. But for those who do read it but get a little hung up on the mistakes and some awkwardly-worded sentences, (don’t worry, I do, too) I just wanted to let you know that I’m currently revising it.

Kind of like George Lucas remastering Star Wars. Plus, I’m adding new scenes and new characters to really help charge the action and tension. So download a free copy, get a feel and an idea for the book to help you decide if you’ll want to invest in the revised edition when it comes out in a few weeks.

What is The Man in the Box about? 

The Man in the Box is about an average family man, with a wife and kids, who gets overwhelmed with the dullness of life. He inadvertently discovers an imaginary world inside a cardboard box in which he is hailed as a god. Naturally, when he comes back home, he longs to return to that world. And as he goes back and forth, he becomes increasingly addicted to his fantasy world, forsaking the responsibilities of being a husband and father.

What are people saying about it? 

“Simple stories distract us. Good stories stir us. Powerful stories move us. Andrew Toy has written a story that rips the shroud covering the silent beast crouching near all of us, the life of emptiness and despair. He creates a compelling narrative truth of life as it is and as we want it; and he offers a peek at a hope for us all. I urge you: Relax in your favorite chair, pull up a footstool, and read The Man in the Box. Be prepared for the peaks and valleys of adventure, fantasy, real life, and war.”

-Sam Williamson, Founding Director, Beliefsoftheheart.com

“Expect dinosaurs and giant creepy-crawlies. And if that kind of thing scares you, then you’re like me, which means you’ll go ahead and read the book anyway, with no one to blame but yourself for all the flinching you’ll do … There was no going to bed until I’d reached the end. The suspense had me on the edge of my seat with worry about how everyone was going to get out of this, heart thumping out of control the whole time, except for that one minute where it almost stopped.”

-Danielle E. Shipley, author and blogger

Neat thing about this book is that while it is fast, fun, and easy to read, it also has the depth to be discussed and debated. Is it a biblical allegory? Is it the author’s way of telling the story of his own personal addiction in a creative code? An interesting look at addiction and its effects; you can’t blame the main character for getting drawn in. I often found myself wanting him to return to his addiction so that I could experience it with him!

-C. Vega, Amazon reviewer

More reviews here and on Amazon and Goodreads

Who is This Book for?

Anyone who’s ever wished for a better life. It’s recommended for ages 13 and up as a few scenes might be too violent for children.

My Ideal Bookshelf

idealbookshelf

There’s a book that my in-laws got me for Christmas last year, that I absolutely cherish. They found this book recommendation on Dr. Russell Moore’s blog, and were correct to think that I needed this book. 

The idea is simple. Writers, chefs, reporters, designers, artists, and other people with a significant status within their occupation were asked to compile their ideal bookshelf and present a short blurb about why they chose these particular books. Jane Mount beautifully recreates these personalized bookshelves with her gorgeous paintings of the book spines. 

Having just finished the book, I was inspired to compile my own bookshelf. Some of them I don’t yet own, so I’ve been requesting them from the library for the last week or so. And since I’m not a painter, and Jane Mount isn’t likely to paint my shelf, I took a picture of my compiled all-time favorite books. Read on for my blurb. 

photo-3

I never could have guessed how much fun it would be to collect all of my favorite books in one space! It felt like I had all of my best friends, past and present, in one room. You’ll notice quite a few history books in my collection, which may be odd since I’m not a historian. But I see history as more than old, grainy photos and faded portraits. Some authors can open history up the way Dorothy first opens the door to Oz, and next thing you know, you’re transported to a new world, making friends with people who you never thought could be just like you. 

I haven’t read all the Dickens novels in that meaty collection of his. But A Christmas Carol is by far my all-time favorite book of his. No movie could touch the splendor of redemption and Christmas cheer that his pen does (although The Muppet Christmas Carol comes closest). 

The Phantom Tollbooth, if I remember correctly, was the first “real book” I ever read. The words themselves were like pictures, and I’m so excited to share it with my kids one day. I’ve also got Bone: Out from Boneville up there. I discovered this series long before it became popular a few years ago. If you ever read this fantasy epic (which I highly encourage anyone with a sense of fun to do), do a little digging for the black-and-white version. It’s the real deal.

Mere Christianity and Colson’s Born Again are the best Christian books I’ve ever read. I don’t see how someone can remain an unbeliever after chewing on Lewis’s arguments in defense of Christianity, and the late Charles Colson gives the most raw, honest account of a testimony I’ve ever read. It also serves as a great history book as he served Nixon during the great Watergate scandal. 

I’m a huge Steinbeck fan, even though I haven’t read all of his books. But The Grapes of Wrath and Of Mice and Men are pure genius as far as “slower books” go. I can read them over and over and over. But (forgive me for this) if you want a heart-pulsing adventure novel that keeps you up all night, I have yet to come across one that is more suspenseful than The Man in the Box by yours truly. I’ve read Grisham and Koontz and King, but compared to Box, they lack a lot of opportunities for suspense that my book takes hold of. I’m currently editing it for it’s second edition, and even though I know how it ends, I’m still on the edge of my seat, and highly enjoying it.

And of course, no Pixar fan is truly a fan unless he’s got the history of Pixar in The Pixar Touch, and a few of the illustrated guides. I keep a pretty tight fist around my wallet, but when I saw To Infinity and Beyond: The Story of Pixar Animation Studios years back, I didn’t hesitate to drop close to $90 for it. Worth every penny, like when I bought The Office Season 1 without ever having seen it (the U.S. version), and my wife’s engagement ring. 

Let’s see YOUR ideal bookshelf! Post it on your blog and share the link below, or simply list some of your favorites in the comments section. 

 

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