Ender’s Hunger Games

Apocalypse Five (Archive of the Fives Book 1) by [Rourke, Stacey]Title: Apocalypse Five
Author: Stacey Rourke
Genre: Dystopian Sci-Fi
Pages: 252
Rating: 2 of 5
Future Release Date: 2/12/19 (Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC. This in no way affects the content of the review)

Smoosh together Ender’s Game and The Hunger Games, tack on Children of Men for good measure, and you have this book. I’m not sure if I have ever read such derivative sci-fi. It went straight past cliché and into aping popular franchises while stopping short of actual intellectual property theft. There were a few clever twists on the concepts involved, but not enough to raise this above a “seen it all before and the other guys did it better” 2.5-3 stars plot.

The physical descriptions knocked this the rest of the way down to 2 stars. There was way too much “flexing pecks” “chiseled abs” “ebony locks” “tangle of lashes” “mahogany stare” etc. for me. And only about half of those descriptions came in the (frequent) lusting-after-each-other scenes!

Between the Harlequin Romance-esque vocabulary and painfully derivative plot this book did not work for me at all.

(There were also way too many misused/misspelled words – repel instead of rappel, alude instead of elude, toe-head instead of towhead, etc. – but hopefully those are due to my reading a proof copy and won’t remain in the published edition)

Not My Usual, but Fun

Title: The Flash: Starting Line
(Issues #0-12 plus Annual #1)
Author: Brian Buccellato
Illustrator: Francis Manapul
Genre: Superhero Comic Book
Pages: 344
Rating: 3.5 of 5
(Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review)

Even though I enjoy superhero movies, I’ve been a bit annoyed by comic books the couple times I’ve tried to dip into them. For me, there’s just not enough plot per issue, and crossover plot points from other heroes leave you with the choice of spending more money on other titles or having only a vague idea of what is going on. This format does away with some of that, and I quite enjoyed it. With all the issues for the year bundled together, the “artificial cliffhanger after minimal exposition followed by a month-long wait” annoyance wasn’t there, and there were no major plot points that hinged on knowing something from another title. An acquaintance with Flash and his recurring villains would add to the experience, but a newbie would not be lost or frustrated.

The stories themselves fairly skillfully combined origins & explanation of the Flashverse (if that’s a word) kind of plotlines with regular superhero fare (foiling bad guys, balancing romance and secret identity, etc.). The artwork wasn’t bad, but did feature more talking head panels than I was expecting. Honestly, since I’m not a comic connoisseur, I don’t know how it stacks up against similar efforts. Overall, I’m probably not the usual audience for this book, but it was fun.

Multiple Unreliable Narrators

Title: Someone Like Me
Author: M. R. Carey
Genre: Psychological Horror?
Pages: 512
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Future Release Date: 11/6/18 (Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of my review)

This book is messed up…and I mean that in the best possible way! I love unreliable narrators (especially of the quite-possibly-bonkers variety), and this book is full of them. Our two main characters have suffered physical and emotional trauma (trigger warning for spousal domestic abuse & peril to children), and they both know that it has left them with psychological issues.

Liz has discovered a dark, violent side that first surfaced when she had to defend herself against her murderous ex-husband, and Fran, a teenager, has had hallucinations and other mental aberrations since surviving an abduction as a child. As their lives intertwine (Liz’s son becomes Fran’s friend), their interactions and perspectives on each other give us some hints of what is really going on while things spin increasingly out of control…and I can’t go into any more detail than that without spoilers.

There were a few points in the book where I felt that the teenage characters’ catty bickering and sneaking around to keep parents/adults in the dark took this into clichéd YA territory, but overall I enjoyed it. I would highly recommend it if you enjoy the kind of book where you get popped right into the action and have to figure out what is going on (and even what genre you are reading).

Cromwell in Painstaking Detail

Title: Thomas Cromwell:
A Revolutionary Life
Author: Diarmaid MacCulloch
Genre: Biography/History
Pages: 575 (plus citations & indices)
Rating: 4 of 5
Future Release Date: 10/31/18 (Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC through NetGalley. This in no way reflects the content of the review)

In his exhaustive portrait of Thomas Cromwell, the author focused largely on Cromwell’s scheming and plotting overseeing and subtly nudging the English Reformation in an Evangelical (i.e. Protestant) direction. The English branch of the Protestant Reformation was seemingly driven more by lust and greed than concern for godly living or doctrinal purity (as aptly summarized my Rowan Atkinson and Horrible Histories here). However, Diarmaid MacCulloch’s thesis is that Cromwell was driven, at least in part, by real (but cautiously concealed) Evangelical leanings.

MacCulloch’s biography is built on an examination of what must have been reams and reams of correspondence and court documents. The whirl of names, titles, legislation, favors granted, animosities provoked, etc. can be a bit dry and confusing, but no one can accuse the author of not being thorough!

Throughout the book, MacCulloch assumes that the reader has a basic knowledge of the major events of the Tudor period especially ones relating to Henry VIII’s marriages and relationship with the church. His goal is to describe Cromwell’s role and motivations in this history, not to give an “entry level” summary of it.

Cromwell is treated fairly sympathetically throughout, though the author admits more than once to “blood on his hands.” I can’t help but wonder if in an effort to save him from being portrayed as a monstrous “mustache-twirling villain,” MacCulloch hasn’t gone a little too far in the other direction. Many of Cromwell’s actions (e.g. participation in the destruction of Anne Boleyn) seem to be more about personal vengeance and/or advancement rather than Protestant idealism. Whatever the case, this book filled in some gaps in my understanding of the Tudor period in general and the English Reformation in particular. I recommend it to anyone interested in the time period who appreciates (or at least doesn’t mind) painstaking detail derived from primary sources.

Relatable Awkwardness

Title: Super Chill:
A Year of Living Anxiously
Author/Artist: Adam Ellis
Genre: Comic Strips
Pages: 120
Rating: 4.5 of 5
(Thank you to the artist and publisher for a free eARC through NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of this review)

If you’re anxious and socially awkward, this book is for you (it might also be for you if you just like laughing at anxious, socially awkward people, but that’s not very nice). With this collection of autobiographical comics, Adam Ellis invites us into his struggles, neuroses, and obsessions. I’m an extremely introverted person whose job requires a lot of social interaction, and I found a lot of these both relatable and hilarious. A few of them seem to be just weird for the sake of being weird, but as a fan of Gary Larson those work for me too. Overall, I highly recommend this for a good laugh (and the reassurance that you’re not the only anxious person out there).

Trivia (and Poop)

Title: True or Poo?:
The Definitive Guide to Filthy Animal Facts and Falsehoods
Authors: Nick Caruso & Dani Rabaiotti
Genre: Science (Zoology/Scatology)
Pages: 160
Rating: 4.5 of 5
Future Release Date: 10/23/18 (Thank you to the authors and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of this review)

The subtitle says it all: look no further for an entertaining collection of gross animal trivia. Apparently this is number two in the authors’ juvenile yet educational zoology series that began with Does It Fart?.

This collection is a little less one note than the first one, in that it gives a statement about an animal and asks whether it is “true or poo.” The facts are loosely grouped into topics like mating/parenting, eating, and (of course) pooping. While a few “true or poo” questions are about common animal myths (e.g. camels store water in their humps), most are just a way to introduce an odd fact about an animal and then launch into a short description of some of its interesting characteristics. I learned some things, even in the sections that started with a common animal myth that everyone over the age of 6 knows to be false.

The explanations are light and humorous with occasional innuendoes that might not be appropriate for a younger audience (but might just go over their heads) and plenty of gross facts sure to delight people like my 9-year-old son (I’m honestly not sure what age group this is aimed at). Fun little cartoony illustrations are scattered throughout the book as an added bonus.

For me, the preoccupation with poo (while not surprising given the title) wore thin after a while. However I did have a lot of fun reading this and definitely recommend it as a fun read and a source of great trivia to astound and disgust your friends and family.

Hilarious Cynicism

Title: Emotions Explained with Buff Dudes
Author/Artist: Andrew Tsyaston
Genre: Comic Strips
Pages: 112
Rating: 5 of 5
(Thank you to the artist and publisher for a free eARC through NetGalley. This in no way affects the content of the review)

I’ve occasionally chuckled and bothered my wife with a “come look at this!” when comics from Owlturd floated past on social media… but apparently I’m too lazy to actively go out looking for them, so having 100+ pages of them gathered in one place was awesome! As the title/cover suggests, this collection mostly features personifications of emotions, life, personality types, etc.

The humor is fairly cynical/pessimistic which appeals to me, even though it probably shouldn’t (as a pastor I may have seen human nature at its worst a little too often). I think that I laughed the hardest at the Type A / Type B personality comparisons as they were pretty spot on for my wife and me. I’ll leave you to guess which of us is which.

Overall, this was the funniest thing that I have read in a long time. If your sense of humor tends toward the cynical, you must read it!

A Guided Tour of Atheism

Title: Seven Types of Atheism
Author: John Gray
Genre: Philosophy/Theology
Pages: 176
Rating: 3.5 of 5
(Thank you to the author and publisher for a free eARC via NetGalley – this in no way affects the content of this review)

I believe that it is important to understand where other people are coming from in terms of differing culture, beliefs, and worldview. It can help foster respectful dialogue rather than talking past each other or yelling at each other. To that end, I picked up this overview on atheism.

Just as no major religion is monolithic in its belief and practice, those who espouse atheism have a wide variety of arguments, beliefs, ethics, worldviews, etc. John Gray gives a guided tour of seven kinds of atheism, describing major proponents and beliefs of each category and pointing out its strengths and weaknesses. He strongly criticizes most versions, mostly alleging inconsistency via partial dependence on a monotheistic or even Christian worldview. He speaks favorably only of what he calls “Atheism without progress” (George Santayana & Joseph Conrad) and “The Atheism of Silence” (Arthur Schopenhauer & Benedict Spinoza).

Obviously, the seven categories are Gray’s own generalizations, but they were helpful in getting an overview of a huge topic. As far as persuasiveness, some of Gray’s argumentation is pretty shoddy. For example, he summarily dismisses certain topics touched on by some atheists philosophers (e.g. Nietzsche & Rand) as “silly” without any further explanation, and his main argument against Christianity is little more than “there are much more likely explanations of who Jesus was than the one offered by Christianity.” Overall, this was a helpful overview, and that is what the author stated as his primary goal, so I guess he was successful in spite of occasionally lackluster arguments.

Wise as Serpents & Innocent as Doves

Title: How the Nations Rage:
Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age
Author: Jonathan Leeman
Genre: Theology/Philosophy/Politics
Pages: 272
Rating: 5 of 5

Over the last few election cycles I have grown increasingly troubled by the manner in which many professing, Bible-believing Christians participate in the political process – as if the platform of their preferred party had equal authority with Scripture; as if showing love, gentleness, and respect to their neighbor is not an obligation when politics are involved; and as if their hope for the future depends on “the right people” being in office passing the “right legislation.” None of this seems spiritually healthy or consistent for a citizen of heaven who claims Jesus Christ as their Lord, example, and ultimate source of hope (Philippians 3:20-21).

I have been trying to find a book that offers an informed, biblical overview of how and why Christian should participate in politics. Until this week, my search uncovered mostly partisan books on what and who the authors thought Christians should vote for (and why “the other side” is mistaken, hypocritical, and/or just plain evil). This week I finally found a winner: How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age by Jonathan Leeman. The author states that, “The primary goal of this book is not to help Christians make an impact in the public square. It is not to help the world be something. It is to help Christians and Churches be something” (p. 33).*

Rather than pushing a partisan agenda, Leeman warns us to “…be leery of being too captivated by any political worldview. Your tight-gripped principles should come from Scripture, not ideology” (p. 157). He reminds Christians that our primary identity is who we are in Christ according to the glorious Gospel of grace, lived out in fellowship with the local church. One of his goals “…is to encourage us all to stop letting our political parties set our political agenda. Even more, we should not conflate our parties with our faith. Parties are good servants, but bad masters; useful instruments, but awful identities” (pp. 116-117).

He deals very practically with how Christians should approach and advocate for issues that are important to them – both issues that directly relate to clear biblical principles and ones about which individual Bible-believing Christians might disagree because they are based on logical arguments, inferences, pragmatic concerns, etc. rather than a single principle. An important part of this is the discussion on how we treat those with whom we disagree. For example: “If you participate in social media, does your tone edify or convey care? Or does it lambaste and belittle? How will it affect your evangelism? Our arguments should seek to persuade rather than to score points” (p. 165).

I have another whole page of quotes that jumped out at me as I read this. However, rather than include them all, I will settle for urging you to read this book for yourself. As with any political or theological book, you probably won’t agree with everything in it (e.g. I thought he put a little more weight on Genesis 9:5-6 than it could legitimately bear), but it provides a much-needed biblical perspective on government and our participation in it. If you claim to be a follower of Jesus Christ, be guided by God’s Word, not a party platform or the combative, contemptuous attitude that prevails in today’s politics.

 

*all quotes are from the Nook eBook edition

 

The Love of Money…

Image result for Nostromo Signet book coverTitle: Nostromo
Author: Joseph Conrad
Genre: Classic
Pages: 448
Rating: 2.5 of 5

This is my third Joseph Conrad book, and I don’t know if I’ll bother with any more. He creates memorable, believable characters and situations, but his message/theme is always the same and is just plain depressing. He basically finds different ways to say “Society is rife with exploitation and everyone is vain, greedy, cruel, violent, and/or cowardly” while describing any action in the most dully dispassionate way possible and unexpectedly throwing in flashbacks or sudden leaps forward.

In Nostromo we follow the political travails of a fictional South American country, focusing especially on Nostromo, the vain Italian expatriate who is foreman of the dockworkers. He is constantly flattered and used as a tool by the European aristocracy but never really admitted to their society. Most of the conflicts, personal and political, revolve around the local silver mine as the story illustrates that “the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil.”

The narrations is surprisingly dull for a book about violent revolution. It focuses primarily on the pettiness, vanity, and greed of individuals and skips quickly over any large-scale action, mentioning it fairly dismissively in flashback form. Four hundred forty-eight tightly-packed pages of this was a bit much, and I was thoroughly tired of it by the end. If you’re interested in Conrad, I’d recommend Heart of Darkness over this one… all of the vivid bleakness with a fraction of the page count packs a much bigger punch.

And one final thing: I am using this as my Classic with a single-word title over at the Back to the Classics Challenge.