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One of the series that I’ve enjoyed reading recently is the Percy Jackson series.  The Lightening Thief is the first book of the series, which was recently made into a movie.

Just as Percy Jackson is finding out about his strange powers, he is whisked away to Camp Half-Blood, where he begins his training along with other demigods.   In this series, Percy undertakes quests to battle evil in the form of ruling gods, traitors, family, friends, monsters, and titans.

This series is an entertaining, well-written fantasy series written for tweens, though any age or gender will enjoy reading the mythical series.  If you decide to watch the movie, read the book first, lest you miss out on a good story line and excellent details that the film fails to portray.

You can purchase the series here.

A few weeks ago, I attended a leadership training for my school. Beforehand, we were asked to read The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable by Patrick Lencioni. Inwardly, I groaned, thinking that it would be a struggle to get through a self-help book which was not of my choosing. I started reading right away, thinking it would take me awhile.

4fdc53a09da051e606316110.L._AA240_Based on the premise that successful organizations begin with teamwork, Patrick Lencioni sets up the five pitfalls that unsuccessful teams succumb to. They are (in order of importance), absence of trust, fear of conflict, lack of commitment, avoidance of accountability, and inattention to results. In simpler terms, they are invulnerability, artificial harmony, ambiguity, low standards, and status/ego.

Most of the book is written as a story-a fictional company has major problems despite the incredible wealth of talent among its leaders. In swoops a new CEO, with little experience but a lot of knowledge about team building. She begins the process of team building by helping each member understand the truth to why their company is failing.

In creating a fictional story, Lencioni does a good job of setting up each pitfall that can plague a team. The story itself is interesting, and it sure beats reading a list of do’s or don’ts. By showing each of the five pitfalls through character flaws, the reader more deeply understands the importance of each way a team should function.

After the story ends, Lencioni includes a brief section where readers can take a mini-assessment of their team, as well as a section for help in overcoming each dysfunction. Though never really specifically pinpointed, you can see the importance and value of effective leadership, including tools that a leader must possess.

I truly enjoyed reading this book (I couldn’t put it down!), and I found it extremely helpful in thinking about working with others. I feel that Lencioni revealed an extremely important value which we all need: humility. I found myself evaluating my own attitudes about being on different teams in my life, and quite honestly, I was a little ashamed. It gave me good perspective when thinking about how I should be interacting with my teammates, and I really considered the lack of commitment that has been plaguing my life. I highly recommend this book for leaders or team members on any sort of team: sports, business, family, work, accountability, etc. If you decide to read it, don’t forget to read the acknowledgments, and let me know what you think!

Undoubtedly many of you have heard of Randy Pausch.  He became famous when his “Last Lecture” was aired on Oprah.  This book was written as a follow-up.

An educated man, Randy has accomplished much in his life.  He dedicates the book to his parents, who “allowed (him) to dream”.  Being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer (the most deadly of all cancers), he reflects on life lessons and the importance of his own life.  Inspiring others through his position at a top university, Pausch tells others to acheive their dreams, his book detailing how he did that and how you can, too.  His last lecture can be watched here.

This book touched me, but perhaps not in the way it has done to the 24k people who’ve loved his video.  Near the end of the book, my eyes teared up thinking about the pain and loss that Randy’s family will suffer as a result of this.  Not only that, but Randy himself was forced to take into account his whole life and reflect back upon it, knowing that his kids would grow up without a father.  Death hurts.

I thought it was curious that Randy did not include any spiritual insights in his book.  This caused me to wonder.  Here is a man with much-happiness, family, fulfilled dreams.  Now, they are being taken from him.  Yet, he is still satisfied with his life.  He celebrates it, in fact.  Obviously this man doesn’t need God.  He’s got it taken care of.  My question is this: Do I need God?  Does he exist?  Does it matter at all that there might be a God bigger than we can fathom and he is intricately involved in our lives?  Randy seems to have all the answers: work hard, send thank-you notes, never give up, believe in others, do the jobs you don’t really want to, be a team player…all good things, of course.  But where is his need for God?  Hasn’t he just successfully taken Him out of the picture?

For many, that won’t matter.  They either don’t believe in God or don’t want to acknowledge that he exists.  Or, perhaps God is irrelevant to this topic.  But is He?  If He is who He says He is, than I should give more careful thought to the actions of my life.  I’m not so ready to accept Pausch’s encouragement.

Yes, this book is inspiring when you first read it, as Randy’s lecture is inspiring when you first hear it.  I’m tempted to think however, that it just might be a little bottle of poison wrapped up in a pretty package.

What is it like to meet God?

Mackenzie Allen Phillips, creation of author William P. Young, finds out for himself in this heart-warming novel.  It’s been three years since Mack’s youngest daughter was abducted and murdered.  Still wallowing in grief, his world turns upside down when he receives a note from “Papa”.  Haunted by the invitation to go back to his daughters murder scene, he secretly packs his car and heads out to the middle of nowhere.

Reaching “the shack”, Mack’s anger boils over as he curses God for the pain He’s caused.  However, instead of a dilapidated old cabin, he finds himself in another world full of beauty and wonder.  It is here that Mack meets Sarayu, Jesus and Papa.  For two heavenly days, Mack communes with the Triune God, changing his perspective and letting go of the weight load he’s been carrying for so long.

Though a bit slow in the beginning, this story picks up about half-way through.  I found myself thinking deeply about the true nature of God, wondering at His gentle love which is portrayed in this novel.  The message of relationship is clearly the intent, as Young weaves together the four main characters of the story.  I also appreciate the comforting reminder that God works all evil for “the good of those who love him”, as he did in Mack’s life.  My guess is that Young suffered his own personal tragedy during which God tenderly cared for him, allowing him to create such an amazing path through doubt and faith.

I would recommend this book to someone facing a difficult situation, perhaps to those who question God’s love in the face of significant pain or loss.  I’m not confident all will love this book, though; I sometimes felt as if I was an outsider looking in to something I didn’t quite understand.  The nature of the book was deeply intimate, yet transparent in a way I cannot express.  Perhaps the intimacy built with God in midst of suffering and anguish can only be experienced.  It was clear to me however, that it was not Mack who called, but God.  I think that’s true, and it’s what I’m waiting for.

To read another more lengthy review of this book that touches on the theological implications of this book, click here.

Because I’m a teacher, I tend to read alot of youth/teen novels.  I enjoy them  because they are usually pretty imaginative, they are quick reads, and I can recommend them to my students.  Yesterday I finished Things Not Seen by Andrew Clements.  Clements is a pretty popular childrens author, best known for his first novel, Frindle.

Excitement jumps out on the first page when Bobby, the main character, discovers he has just become invisible.  He immediately shocks his parents with the news, and they all decide it’s best to tell no one.

On his quest to materialize his body again, he meets a blind girl named Alicia, and they soon become friends.

This story does not reveal the expected response of new found invisibility-breaking into banks or spying in the girls locker room-but Clements creates a fairly believable emotional response of a 15 year old boy.

I would recommend this book to kids ages 12-16, or to someone who likes to read kid novels.  Things Not Seen is by no means the best of this genre, but it’s an enjoyable read and fairly well-written.