Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Review: One Life

Author: Scot McKnight
Title: One Life: Jesus Calls, We Follow
Description: McKnight claims that the church has traditionally emphasized the wrong elements of the Christian life, thus giving a mistaken impression of what it means to follow Jesus.   
Source: This was the freshman One Read at Southeastern University this year. I started the book along with them but took a little longer to finish it.
Writing style: McKnight is a professor at a Christian school, and that’s his voice here; the book sounds very much as though it is written to students, and examples from his relationships with various students are sprinkled throughout the book. The author continually refers to, and the period there really started to get on my nerves as he referred to,, etc. etc. What exactly does that period mean and why is it there? Maybe you have to be under 30 to get it…
Audience: Young Christians.
Major ideas: Following Jesus might not be exactly what your church has told you.  The main distinction is McKnight’s de-emphasis of personal acts of piety and stress on bringing the kingdom of God to earth by increasing peace and justice. 
Wrap-up: This idea isn't knew, but McKnight conveys it in an engaging way. 3.5/5*

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Review: Tiny Beautiful Things

Title: Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar
Description: Dear Sugar is an online advice column; this book is excerpts from that column.  
Writing style: Sugar is pretty blunt—there are several letters where she outright advises people to leave their spouses or to do other fairly difficult/controversial things. She’s always encouraging, though, in a sort of “pull yourself up by the bootstraps” kind of way. She often comes across as a therapist (or at least, that’s how I see someone who advises a person who really ought to be in therapy). She mines her own experiences as she gives advice, so there are a lot of personal examples in the book, making it read like a fragmented memoir.
Audience: Memoir readers? This book has been a bestseller, so I figure it has a pretty wide audience, but it’s tough to generalize on what exactly that audience might be.
Major ideas: It’s up to you to make the best of your life, whatever situation you may be in and whatever you have been through.
Wrap-up: As a Christian, there were some ideas in this book that I disagree with pretty fundamentally, but I can’t fault the writing, which was sparkly, or the overall feeling I got from the book, which was that if no one else cared, at least Sugar did. 4/5*

Monday, February 18, 2013

Review: Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit

Author: Joseph Epstein
Title: Gossip: The Untrivial Pursuit
Description: Epstein discusses why people gossip, different types of gossip, and a history of gossip.  
Writing style: Unlike a lot of the other non-fiction books I’ve been reviewing, this book does not come from a scholarly background. As far as I can tell, this book was just the author’s opinion and feelings, with a little historical research thrown in. The author throws in a gossipy tidbit of his own at the end of each chapter, and I have to admit that many of the people he was gossiping about are ciphers to me. (I guess that says something about gossip in itself—if you don’t at least know of the person being gossiped about, gossip is meaningless.)
Audience: People who like gossip?
Major ideas: I think this guy just likes to gossip.
Wrap-up: I wished that either the book had been more gossipy about people who are actually well-known or more scholarly. This book was in that shadow territory in between, which made for a lackluster read. 2/5*

Friday, February 15, 2013

Review: Cooper Moon: The Calling

Author: Cheryl Shireman
Title: Cooper Moon: The Calling
Description: Cooper Moon is a philandering drunk who gets into a barroom argument with a friend who claims that a person can just say some words and God will enter that person. In order to prove him wrong, Cooper says the words and finds himself not only converted, but obsessed with having his own church.  
Review source: I was sent the book in exchange for a review.
Plot: The book follows Cooper and his wife and their friends and acquaintances in their small Michigan town. Cooper’s quest  to build the church is central, but there is also TJ’s quest to win a television reality show, Frank & Violet’s disintegrating marriage, and every woman in town’s burning desire to take Cooper away from Sally.
Characters: On the positive side, the characters are a little quirky and pretty memorable. Cooper is a problem, though. I think that the author was trying to show how radically faith can change someone, so she imagined the most disgusting character possible (when we meet him, he is dead drunk and has wet himself). She has to put temptation in his way, though, so she makes him irresistible to women. That was hard for me to wrap my head around; I found him disgusting. He does put his whole heart into changing his life, though, and it’s engaging to watch him blunder around as he learns what it means to be a believer. One more note: the villain is way over the top and the book would have been better without him.
Writing style: I’d call it character-driven and quirky. I enjoyed reading the book.
Audience: This is Christian fiction, but I think even non-Christians who wonder about the life-changing consequences of a decision that wasn’t even really intended would enjoy this book.
Wrap-up: The author promises that this is the first book of a four-book series, and to drive the point home, this book ends with a cliffhanger. I would have preferred the ending without the cliffhanger. If someone gave me the next book in the series, I would probably read it, but I don’t know that I’ll go looking for it. It was a cute, enjoyable read, though. 3.5/5*

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Review: Something about Sophie

Author: Mary K. McComas
Title: Something about Sophie
Description: Sophie has been summoned to a town she’s never visited by a man she doesn’t know. Unfortunately, he dies before she can speak with him. When Sophie meets a charming doctor, she’s torn about leaving; when people start to die, she’s forbidden to leave. Sophie knows that she’s adopted, and she strongly suspects that Arthur knows the secret of her parentage.
Review source: Library Thing Early Reviewers
Plot: McComas kept the plot moving and parceled out information steadily. The ending isn’t a real shocker, but neither was it signaled too early on, so I was interested to keep reading.
Characters: Sophie is a kindergarten teacher and about as interesting as you would imagine her to be. Her boyfriend is as interesting as she deserves.
Writing style: Mostly fine, but some odd shifts in point of view and some awkward phrasings. I’m not sure how much of that will be fixed up by the time the book is released—I had an ARC.
Audience: Chick lit.
Wrap-up: An inoffensive read. OK, enjoyable. 3/5*

Monday, February 4, 2013

Review: The Man in the Empty Suit

Author: Sean Ferrell
Title: The Man in the Empty Suit 
Description: The narrator—we never learn his name—invented time travel, and to celebrate, he throws a party on the 100th anniversary of his birth, to which he travels every time he has aged 365 days. The year he gets to wear The Suit, he’s excited about visiting the party, but something happens that has never happened before—one of his selves turns up dead, and it’s a self that’s not too far in the future from him. If he wants to continue to live, he has to use the clues he’s left himself to figure out how to prevent the killing. A beautiful woman shows up at the party as well, and who she is and why she came—and how to save her life—become other puzzles that the narrator must solve before time runs out.
Review source: Netgalley
Plot: The first half of the book had me totally gripped. This kind of self-referential time travel is fascinating. I thought the book slowed a little once the narrator left the party.
Characters: The narrator is the main character—the ONLY character for much of the book, though he shows up in many incarnations, which he names (the Youngsters, including the Inventor, and the Elders, including Seventy, Yellow, and the Screwdriver. Not to mention the Body.) In many ways he is completely self-absorbed and self-focused—which makes sense, since he is the only person he interacts with—but when he leaves the party, he suddenly becomes selfless, which strikes me as a little artificial.
Writing style: The author keeps things moving briskly for the first half of the book, but then the action slows way down. I have to admit that by the end I was mighty confused. I could probably have worked things out with an elaborate diagram of who was tethered to whom, as I’m sure Ferrell did, but I didn’t want to go to the bother.
Audience: Science fiction, time travel, or mystery fans.
Wrap-up: You’ll probably want to turn to page 1 and read it again, just to figure everything out. 3.5/5*