Sunday, February 27, 2011

Books in Progress

I am one of those people who always has more than one book going at the same time. Some of this is because I like to read certain types of books in different places, there are different formats of books I have going at the same time. At a minimum, I always have a fiction and a non-fiction going, and also an audio and a paper going. Since Christmas, I guess I always have a Nook-book going, too. But right now, according to Goodreads, I have 7 books in progress. I feel the need to explain why, so here they are, in alphabetical order (by author):

a) Port Mortuary, by Patricia Cornwell. This is the audiobook that I just started yesterday. I will have it done by next wekeend, probably. Despite all of the podcasts I listen to, I can usually knock out an average-length audiobook in about 7-10 days.

b) Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes, vol. 1: Batman, by Michael Fleisher. This was my "quick read," book, the one that I can dip into for 15 minutes whenever I get the chance, usually in bed or if I take a jacuzzi.

c) Saints for Sinners, by Alban Goodier. This is a book that I own, but library books take precendence, especially as their due dates approach. I bought it last year at a festival, and have just barely started it, and will get back to it. Eventually.

d) Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind. I knocked out the Sword of Truth series a few years ago, but re-started it again with my daughter when the TV show came out. We listen to this one together, and got about a thrid of the way through it over her Christmas break. We will listen to some more over spring break, and knock it out in early summer.

e) Stronghold, by Melanie Rawn. Another one that I own, so it fell to the bottom of the list. I was reading it late last Summer when my health headed south, severly cutting into my ability to concentrate, and epic fantasies require concentration. Even though I am generally on a health upswing now, and not to over-psychoanalyze my own behavior, I am probably waiting until I am closer to 100% to pick this one up again.

f) Callahan's Crosstime Saloon, by Spider Robinson. This short story collection is my current "quick read" book, as it needs to be returned to the library in a few weeks.

g) The Story of a Soul, by St. Therese of Lisieux. When we got the Nook for Christmas, I loaded it up with a bunch of free public domain books, and this one was the first I started reading. I am still getting used to the device, figuring out when and where that format works best for me.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Book #13

Innocent, by Scott Turow. Unabridged audio.

A 20-year later sequel to Turow's breakthrough Presumed Innocent, this new novel finds Rusty Sabich on trial again for the death of a woman. And again, his nemesis is Tommy Molto. Turow does a nice job of aging the characters from the first novel, leaving their core personalities in tact, yet implying two decades of life experiences and world-weariness. The character development of Sabich and Molto was a strength of the novel.

I found the POV chapters from Rusty's son slowed the momentum of the story in the first hundred pages or so, but like most legal thrillers, once the action moves to the courtroom, my attention was fully engaged.

The whodunit aspect of the story is very well-done, as Turow leads you to believe a number of scenarios along the way, but the revelation of the truth in the last chapter was a surprise to me.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Books 10 & 11

In taking a quick look at what I had read so far this year, and what is coming up, I noted how little I have read so far from the religious/spiritual/Christian category. The year has just started, so it is still a small sample size, but it was a trend that I noticed.

Last year, more than a third of the fiction I read, and nearly two-thirds of the nonfiction, fell into these categories. The year before the stats weren't quite that high, but well over 20% of my total reading. And no, Christian fiction is not usually the greatest stuff in the world, but I pay attention to the genre and usually find enough to spark my interest.

I try to not think too far ahead in my reading plans, I like to let serendipity happen, just see what books are available at the library when I wander in. But I am gong to make a point of looking in that section the next time I'm short of books, and see what I can find.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Book #12

Dark Slayer, by Christine Feehan. Unabridged Audio.

I am ususally not a reader of paranormal romance. OK, I admit that I did read the Twilight saga, but that was just to be culture-current, and to be clear, I thought they were horrendous on a multitude of levels.

But I was out of audiobooks, and I was in the library, and this was on the shelves. And although I usually don't pick up series in the middle, from what the back of the book said, this was a new POV character. So with some trepidation, fully understanding that I am not the book's target demographic, I picked it up.

The plot revolves around a female werewolf, one of the great vampire slayers of all time. Meeting for the first time in her life, her "life mate," the pair battles the head vampire and mage. They battle together, they have misunderstandings, they flirt, they have a few explicit scenes, and they battle more. I don't think it's a spoiler for this genre to mention it has a happy ending.

Friday, February 18, 2011

Book #11

Mere Churchianity, by (the late) Michael Spencer. Paperback.

I followed the Internet Monk blog and podcast for a few years, and was saddened by Michael Spencer's health decline and eventual death. Michael was finished with the text of the book when he passed away, and it came out shortly after his death.

His "evangelical wilderness" ideas spoke to me, and many others. Known best for his "Coming Evangelical Collapse" newspaper editorial, Spencer has penned a relentless critique of the many ways that modern American church culture has diverged from the teachings and priorities of Jesus.

He focuses particularly on the problems with "churchianity," his term for trends in modern American evangelizicalism that Spencer sees as shallow and destructive: church growth, prosperity teaching, name-it-claim-it, culture warfare, etc ... His point is that a focus on Jesus (or "Jesus-shaped spirituality," as he calls it) conflict totally with these church-focused trends.

The book is written for those who have left the organized church, or are considering it, but have no interest in leaving Jesus. He gives hope for those who don't want to leave Jesus, but feel the need to leave the modern church.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Book #10

Full of Grace: Encountering Mary in Faith, Art, and Life, by Judith DuPre. Hardcover.

Every Christmas, I pick up a specifically seasonal book, and the last few years, that reading has focused on the Virgin Mary. This is another of those books, and a beautiful one at that.

The book contains dozens of striking photos, mostly of Marian works of art, although other photos are included that speak to particular themes. There are famous works of art, and obscure works of art. There is painting, photography, sculpture, and architecture. In addition to brief discussions of the artistic works, the book talks about a range of discussions related to Mary and related themes. Some of these are historical, some are devotional, and some come from the author's experience.

DuPre is taking a clearly modern view on Mary, and sometimes moves a tad too far into the non-traditional for my personal comfort level. But I take those passages as thought-provoking, as challenging, and DuPre usually moves back inside the guardrails of my comfort zone in due course.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Couple Casts

In honor of Valentine's Day, I wanted to focus on a particular sub-genre of podcasting, the couple-cast, husbands and wives podcasting together. As a husband with a wife, I appreciate hearing other couples bicker, it mkaes me feel better. No, that's not totally true. Anyway, here are the ones that I have heard, and enjoy.

The Jen and DAVe Show A show featuring David & Jennifer Avila, podcasting veterans from California who really know what they are doing. My favorite segments (although they should be more regular) include "Tech Talk with Jen" and the "Music Lyric Game," as well as making fun of their other podcasting friends. A truly fun and funny experience. My wife and I are both fans. Random and wacky.

Pete + Janet This is a new show from podcast veterans Just Pete and NASA Janet. Just Pete hosts the terrific alternative Christian music cast The Bored-Again Christian, and NASA Janet has done a bunch of things on the Webs, as well. This is a nice low-key show, just two interesting people talking about their lives in the American Midwest, their kids, their jobs, their friends, their hobbies, etc ...

Explicit Answers This is another show from James & Jenn Kennison, who previously co-hosted the fun Geek Loves Nerd podcast, among many, many others. This one takes on a quesion-and-answer format, with the married hosts answering listener questions about relationships, job stuff, church stuff, family & friends stuff, and most other things.

Family from the Heart This one has fallen off my list personally, but for no reason relating to the quality of the show. It is very solid, honest and transparent. Cliff & Stephanie co-host the show, talking about their lives as full-time podcasters, their 3 kids, and a range of parenting topics. They have also been able to snag some impressive interviews over the years.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Book #9

A Most Wanted Man, by John LeCarre.

A few books ago, I noted that I had skipped the last three LeCarre novels. Although I am not planning on reading the one that caused me to stop reading his works, I am glad that I picked up these last two of his.

Set firmly in post-9/11 Britain, this novel traces the attempts of British intelligence to convert to double-agents both a young Chechen man and his moderate muslim spiritual adviser. The action moves slowly, as the focus for most of the book is on character-development, but the action-packed surprises at the end are satisfying.

As always, LeCarre's spies are realistic, all too human, and driven by a volatile mix of patriotism, hubris, and vulnerability. LeCarre's even-handednbess can be maddening as a reader of thrillers, not clearly identifying the good guys and the bad guys, but this style and his master of the form make for the most highly literate novels of the genre.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Book #8

Winnie-the-Pooh on Success, by Roger E. Allen & Stephen D. Allen

After producing books on Management & Problem-Solving featuring Pooh and his friends, this mamagement consultanting team turned to Success as a topic. I ead the first two more than a decade ago, when they were new, but somehow this one fell off my rader screen until a few months ago. So here I am, reviewing a book that is about 12 years old.

This is a very basic management/self-help book, built around a S-U-C-C-E-S-S formula, using (as the name implies) some famous adventures of Winnie-the-Pooh and his friends as examples of applying various parts of the formula. Like many of these books, the advice seems after the fact as good common sense, but you probably haven't heard the advice presented in such a straightforward manner.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Book #7

Heat Wave, by "Richard Castle." Unabridged Audio.

I am a viewer of the TV series Castle, and picked this book up simply because of that connection. In a bit of a post-modern twist, the author character from the TV show has "written" a few novels in our real world.

So it is not exactly a tie-in novel in the sense of Star Trek or X-Files novels, featuring characters from the show. The book itself is featured in the TV show, and the characters on the show do have clear analogs in the novel, it is not a novelization of part of the show. That's confusing, I know, but there you have it.

Similar to the TV show, the mystery/crime aspect of this novel is not its strength. It's about the characters, their relationships, their backstories, and their interactions. There is a real estate mogul, art thefts, affairs, and a New York City blackout.

It's not great, but neither is the TV show. But it is a fun way to spend some time, as is the TV show.