Monday, December 28, 2015

Best of 2015: the Books

I read 71 books this year and its December 28th  as I write this.  I might squeeze one  more in before year ends but they probably wouldn’t make the years best so I feel safe writing.

Sadly, at least to me the majority of the books I read this year were fiction.  Next year I hope to have either a better balance or come out non-fiction heavy.

I’ll post my top 10 this year which is rare. Normally I eek out a top 5 at best. All books that I just didn’t want to end.  As usual there is a mix of fiction and non fiction on the list.  Each title has a link to the book on amazon if you are interested.

This is one of those books that I will read again in 2016.  A very informative and motivating look at branding and self promoting. I have really lacked blogging this year except for the couple months after reading this book.  I plan to re-read it at the beginning of the year and then God willing keep to a schedule.

You was an absolute page turner. I don’t want to give any of it away but it completely took me in and I’m so glad it did.  If you liked Gone Girl and the Woman on the train then you should read You.

I hate to put a classic on the list because you look like you are either an idiot for not having read it yet. Or you look like you are trying too hard to be perceived as an intellectual.  I can’t help it though this book was an absolute delight. Its short and if you have read it do so immediately. The depiction of our secret and hidden sin as a creature that feeds off of us and its transformation was breath taking.  I read and reread that part several times.

Jack Reacher is back both in book form and on my list of top books.  Reacher is one of my absolute favorite characters. I never get tired of these stories. Even a bad Jack Reacher Novel is better than most the books on the shelves.  As long as Mr Child keeps writing them I will keep reading them.

Armada is the second book by Mr Cline. His first book Ready Player One toped my list last year and is an upcoming movie from Steven Spielberg.  
The book follows Zack Lightman as he discovers the video game he is an expert at has been a training and recruitment tool for the a global defense federation to help stem an impending invasion.
While at first glance the plot is incredibly similar to Last Starfighter a favorite movie of mine as a kid, it had enough twists and unknowns that it made my list.

I enjoyed the narrative aspects of the book more than the insight into leadership.  It had plenty to say on that subject but to me it was the personal stories about Brian, his dad, his wife and Hillsong itself that really stood out.  Definitely One of the best books of 2015

Revival was an absolute thrill ride.  The hero Jamie Morton and his friend turned nemesis Charles Jacobs are both written brilliantly.  This is the best King book I’ve read since 11/23/63.  I think it especially interested me because the villain was, at the time he met the hero a minister.  I found his “turn” completely engrossing and the book kept me guessing.

Originally published in 2002 this is “inspired by actual events”.  When I heard this was the next film by Alejandro González Iñárritu director of last years Oscar winner for best picture Birdman and how it was going to be shot.  I had to read it.  The movie is going to be wide released in January and I urge you to read the book first. Although from trailers and press releases the story will differ enough to make it it’s own entity. 
This is a tale of treachery and revenge set against the backdrop of a frozen landscape occupied by vicious natives and lethal animals.  The book had a Cormac McCarthy quality to it that was different from my usual fare.  It is 100% worth your time.

On Wednesdays I set up the meeting hall at the church for dinner that evening.  While I do this I am usually listening to an audiobook or a Podcast. There I was one Wednesday morning about 8am sobbing and praising God at the same time alone in the room.  If the first part of this book doesn’t make you cry from heartbreak, and then elicit tears of complete and utter praise for what God can do I’d have to question your heart.  This book is not to be missed, my absolute favorite book of this genre for 2015.  The courage of Pastor Lusko in telling this story and continuing in his mission after the events of the first part of the book is an inspiration I can not forget.  I can’t recommend this book more heartily. Please do yourself and your walk a favor and read Thru the Eyes of a Lion.

1) Unbroken by LifePoint. 
Ok, I'm a bit biased here but Unbroken: 7 Stories of Life Change from the Ozarks is a book compiling 7 testimonies of 8 people from my church.  The names were changed and the testimonies were expertly written as a narrative by a company out of Seattle calls Good Catch Publishing.  This book was then and is still being mass distributed to our community and the surrounding areas.  In the book you will find people that have lost it all and how Jesus has brought them back and restored them.  From drug addiction and attempted murder to spousal suicide and porn there is something in here that speaks to each of us and our hidden sins. The things we can’t forgive ourselves from.  Read as God restores relationships and heals hurts and addictions.  It was a privilege to help facilitate the making of this book and an even bigger one to see it change lives.

There you have it, my favorite books of 2015.  I hope you pick up a few of these and give them a shot.  If you do or if you have already read them I would love to hear from you.

Thanks for reading.
Alan


Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Best of 2015: The Movies

This will probably be a little lopsided.  I've only seen 38 movies in theatre this year which seems low for me.  It's for that reason I don't think this will really be a top ten as much as a list of movies I have seen and liked this year.


I'll start with It Follows.  This was a pretty low budget but effective horror movie.  Horror is pretty close to my favorite genre, I think because I wasn't allowed to watch it as a child so when I hit my late teens early twenties I devoured as much as I could.
It Follows has its flaws, but all in all it was a good movie with some solid scares and quite a bit of disturbing images. Not blood and gore mind you but general creepiness that sticks with you for a while.














Mad Max Fury Road
I really liked this movie. I've watched my digital copy a couple times since picking it up the day it was released.  It had phenomenal action and edge of your seat excitement.  The characters were well developed and interesting with the exception of Max. That to me was the big flaw in the film.  I didn’t care about Max.  I cared about Furiosa and the brides. I loved Nux but max was one dimensional and boring.  I hope the sequel returns some of the depth to the character that Gibson’s Max had.
Despite that it was still quite a spectacle to watch and i’m sure I’ll continue to visit it on down the road.












Mission Impossible Rogue Nation.
This franchise has become one of my favorites.  The series didn’t really take off for me until the third and it is overlooked by so many because Tom Cruise and his antics on Oprah directly prior to its release.
This particular outing is the first for Christopher McQuarrie on the franchise but not his last.  He has already been hired to return for Mission Impossible 7.  While I felt it was inferior to MI3 and Ghost Protocol it was still an excellent entry to the franchise.












The Martian
This was based on my favorite book from last year so it’s no wonder how it made it on to my best of 2015 film list. Good Ridley Scott movies are few and far between these days.  For every Prometheus there is an Exodus: Gods and Kings to contend with.  With that said the Martian to me ranks with the best of them on a list of Scott films.  This is the man after all that directed Blade Runner, Alien and Gladiator.  In my mind a far superior director to his late brother Tony.
What we get with the Martin is fully developed characters, real internal struggles and edge of your seat suspense and just a hint of comedy when things are almost too intense.  Matt Damon is at top form, something I was doubtful about prior to seeing the film. Due mostly to his poor choices in projects lately (see or rather don’t see Elysium).





Avengers: Age of Ultron


The amount of “movie spackle” you would need to patch the holes in this plot is astounding. However I am a fanboy at heart.  These are the characters I read as a child and the majority of which I still read. I genuinely fill with delight to see them on the big screen.  Marvels casting of the major characters has been nothing short of brilliant.  The biggest issue I have with this film and the future of the marvel cinematic universe in general is the next generation.  As this movie comes to a close you are shown a glimpse of the “new” Avengers and I could not possibly care any less about the majority of them.  The Vision has always been one of my favorite characters but even he would have trouble getting me in the theatre to see War Machine and the Falcon co-headline a movie.  I am unbelievably excited for Civil War, even though it is technically a Captain America film it feels like Avengers 3 from the trailer and promo material.  
With all that said, AoU was a fun movie. It’s great to see all of those characters brought to life.  









Ant Man
I had pretty low expectations for this one going in.  I enjoy Paul Rudd’s work in comedy but I wasn’t sure how he would play as a hero.  Fortunately that need not be a worry because this was a heist movie more than anything.  Making Scott Lang (the Ant Man) less of a hero and more of the straight lead.  The addition of Michael Pena as Luis added the comedy that Rudd would normally provide. Making the character of Scott Lang more believable and relatable than had he been the source of comedy in the film.
The whole sub particle aspect of the story did more to shrink my belief than add to the narrative but all in all it was one of the most fun experiences I had in the theatre this year.













Ex Machina
I struggled with this a lot.  It is in my opinion the best movie I watched in 2015.  The issue I was having is the fact that it is a rated R movie.  There are certain things I try to avoid in movies but the buzz from people I trust got me in the theatre for this one and I was not disappointed 
It is a brilliantly shot film with an expertly crafted plot.  It’s one of those movies I wanted to see but didn’t have huge expectations for.  I liked the cast and the idea but didn’t expect to enjoy the movie as much as I did or for it to be my pick for best of 2015.








Honorable Mentions


Star Wars Episode VII the Force Awakens (no spoilers)
I don’t know where this falls in my list. It’s a pretty recent watch so I don’t want to gush to much but it was certainly worth the wait.
I’m excited to see the franchise back on track.
I’ll definitely be seeing this again before the first of the year.













The Hateful 8
I was privileged to see an advanced copy of this and while I don’t think it was Tarentino’s best film it was a riveting watch.  In my opinion it’s going to take a lot to seat Django Unchained.  I believe it topped my list a couple years ago.

Hateful 8  does suffer from a bloated run time of almost 3 hours. However with Kurt Russell and Walton Goggins on the screen for the majority of that time trading Tarentino dialogue it seemed to pass faster. 

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Christmas List 2015

Every Year I post this list.  I encourage my friends and family not to get me anything for Christmas but inevitably some of you will.

This year is special, in June I am hoping to join a group from my church on a trip to Ethiopia.  the cost is $3,000 and thats money I do not have.  Money that God will have to provide if I am going to be able to go.  It's totally up to Him.  The will is there and the need is there so I am attacking the planning as if He has already provided.

We will be visiting a village in Ethiopia called Korah, it is inside an actual landfill.  It breaks my heart to know people are allowed to live like this.  I don't know what waits for me there or how we will help but I want to go.  I want to help anyway that I can.

If something goes haywire prior to the trip, if the trip is cancelled,  If I can't go, or if it's just not Gods will I will use the money in some other fashion for God's glory.

 So there you have it. That is my Christmas list for 2015.  If you don't want to help with that cause then I implore you to not get me anything.