Saturday, June 30, 2012

Book #38

Quiet, by Susan Cain. Unabridged audio.

I am an introvert, and when I first heard a little about this book, I was excited to read it. And it did not disappoint.
Cain talks about her own introversion, and how it has affected her for both good and ill, but does so in the context of speaking about a range of research finding about the personality trait. She discussed psychology, biology, sociology, and anthropology. All of these fields of study have something to say about the topic of her book. Her thesis is that modern America is an extrovert-focused society, where the best sales pitch is rewarded, and the most risk-taking behavior is respected. Cain points out that this is not a trait that is equally respected across cultures, as the "quiet brilliance" of introverts is more likely to be recognized and revered in Asian cultures.

Cain's point is that both introversion and extroversion have their own strengths and weaknesses, and that a strong society will make place for both personality types.
I found so much to hold on to in reading this book, and expect to revisit some of the chapters again in the near future.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Book #37

Reading the Bible for the First Time, by Ronald J. Allen. Paperback.

Disclosure: I received this book via Goodreads' Early Reviewer program.
Ronald J. Allen has been a professor at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis for nearly three decades. He has written a number of books on both of his teaching specialties, preaching and the New Testament.

His latest, published by Eerdmans, is a very readable introduction to the New Testament. The heavy theology is in there, but it is presented in a very clear manner, a feat that not every academic manages. The book is written to be accessible to the unchurched, and is successful in that. Yes, the first few pages include a "how to read the Bible" section that is very simplistic to anyone who has ever picked up a Bible, but after that the book has much in it that "church veterans" can benefit from.

Topics covered in the book include the world of the New Testament, the authors of the books, and how the Bible came to be the book it is today. He then moves on to discuss the life of Jesus, the books of the New testament, and then ends with discussions of "big ideas" and "famous passages" from the New Testament. Each chapter has discussion questions designed to spur conversation about the material, either in a one-on-one setting or a Bible Study or Sunday School class. The four appendices are also helpful resources, especially the discussion of the various Bible translations.

Allen has a perspective on these topics, as every author of a theological work does. What makes his approach useful is that he discloses his perspective, and then presents all of the major positions in an even-handed manner. Again, his approach is to be open to the unchurched, so not hewing solely to one particular theological viewpoint is wise. 

There are not many books out there that meet the niche that this one does. The combination of the modern, academic viewpoint and the very readable nature of the writing makes it a very successful work.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along!
Just do the following:

Grab your current read.
Open to a random page.
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.

BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
From chapter 7 of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Won't Stop Talking, by Susan Cain.

"Introverts also seem to be better than extroverts at delaying gratification, a crucial life skill associated with everything from higher SAT scores and income to lower body mass index."

Monday, June 25, 2012

Book #36

Of Love & Evil, by Anne Rice. Unabridged audio.

 In 2002, Anne Rice had a spiritual re-awakening, and decided to no longer write novels about vampires and witches. Among the topics she decided to write about were angels, by way of the Songs of the Seraphim series. 

The second book of this series sees former assassin Toby O'Dare sent back to 15th century Rome by his guardian angel -- Toby's past makes him perfectly suited to his new job as dispenser of divine justice throughout time and space. His job in Of Love and Evil is to solve a murder, one that may involve an ancient demon.  It is a nice mix of traditional religious belief and Rice's long-time fascination with the darker elements of life.

The book touches on the Jewish-Catholic relations of that era, and the character nuances were strong in playing out that theme. This was a short novel, and it was in the plot area that the brevity showed most. It  was a complete story, although it was an enjoyable read.

The story completely wraps up in this volume, but then the last few pages set up what I assume will be the next novel.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Walking Dead, issues 1-12

Policeman Rick Grimes is shot attempting to apprehend an escaped convict, but is himself shot in the attempt. He falls into a coma, and when he awakens, he finds a changed world. There is no government, no police, no society at all. Just a small number of survivors. And lots and lots of zombies.

I have not seen an episode of the TV show based on this comic, and this is my first time reading the issues. As many people have said before, these are excellent comics -- the story is fast-paced, the characterizations are believable, and the dialogue is realistic. These are the types of comics that demonstrate that sequential storytelling is a medium, not a genre. Any type of story can be told in this format.

As I mentioned when I reviewed a Showcase reprint collection, comics that are designed to be in color, yet shown in black-and-white can be hard to look at. But this comic is designed to be viewed in black-and-white, and the artists make great use of this color choice. Moore & Adlard do a great job of differentiating the looks of the large cast of characters, an impressive feat without being able to show color differences in hair or clothing. 

These issues are collected in the trade paperback collections "Days Gone By" (issues 1-6) and "Miles Behind Us" (7-12), and also in the Hardcover collection, volume 1 (all 12 issues).

Friday, June 15, 2012

Book #35

Nina Kimberly the Merciless, by Christiana Ellis. Unabridged audio.

This entry was cross-posted to the  Book Guys blog.

This was one of the early successful podcast novels, released originally in audio form in 2006 through The audio was a nominee for a 2006 Parsec Award, and the book was released in print in 2009. Christiana Ellis recently released a re-mastered version of the audio, with higher-quality sound recording and music than the "classic" version. It is this re-mastered version that I listened to.

The story starts with a beheading, and the first few minutes are actually the most violent in the book. But this scene also has a measure of humor to it, and it is this lighthearted aspect that carries throughout the entire work. Nina Kimberly, only daughter of the late Marcus the Merciless, has been promised as a wife to the idiotic king of the backwater land of Langia. But Nina wants adventure, she wants to meet a real hero and go on an epic quest, and (mostly) she doesn't want to marry the king.

She realizes she can't just kill the king without risking further bloodshed, so she seeks out alternatives. Determining that she needs the help of a wizard to kill the king in a way that will allow her to lead the people as is her rightful due, she sets out -- and the idiot king joins her. Their company grows, as a dragon and a con man join them. But someone in the group is a betrayer, and Nina has to discover who it is and overcome this plot to succeed in her quest.

Even when the plot of the novel turns more serious and the stakes are raised, Ellis manages to keep the comic tone. And for an author, she does a very good job narrating the work. Ellis is able to bring slightly different intonations to the various characters, which is a skill many authors do not possess. The overall production values (narration, music, sound quality) were very high in the re-mastered audio version.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Book #34

Son of Stone, by Stuart Woods. Unabridged audio.

I wonder if Stuart Woods is laying the groundwork to end his long-running Stone Barrington series in the near future.  I say this because with this latest novel another supporting character (no spoilers) dies. The author is in his mid-seventies, and it seems like the character is reaching the pinnacle of his career.

Arrington Calder returns, and what readers suspected about her son Peter's parentage (that Stone is the father) is confirmed. He and Dino's son hit it off, and the two make plans to attend college together, as preparation for a career in film production. They meet a female musician who joins the team, and who later becomes Peter's girlfriend. These character development moments are the strength of the novel.

When tragedy strikes, Stone and Dino jump into the fray, and this is where the action plot takes off. Woods is skilled at writing actions scenes that make sense in the context of story. The eventual conclusion of the plot is not necessarily a surprise, nor are the specifics of the crime being investigated. But the pace is strong, as are the character moments.

The oddest thing about this series is that in the last few novels, it seems like every tragedy in Stone's life leaves him more powerful and more wealthy. But that quirk aside, these novels are usually fun reads, and Son of Stone was certainly  a fun read.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Book #33

And the Lamb Wins: Why the End of the World is Really Good News, by Simon Ponsonby.

Ponsonby's books occupy an important middle ground between academic theology and dumbed-down pop theology. His books are serious, but manage to be readable and understandable.

This book covers the range of end-times doctrines that fall under the theological term of "eschatology." The provocative topics covered here include the return of Christ, the tribulation and rapture, the role of Israel in the future, and the role of the antichrist.

Ponsonby fairly presents the various positions on these controversial doctrines, but does eventually argue for a particular "take" on the issues. And although I disagree with him on a few points, I never felt that my positions were caricatured. The book is well-researched and well-presented, and I would recommend it for any student of these doctrines.

Monday, June 4, 2012

A Fantastic (4) Cast

This entry was cross-posted to the Book Guys blog.

love the idea that blogs and podcasters (and sometimes even academics) can dig into older comics and offer review, commentary and analysis from a modern perspective. Of course these books were considered disposable items when they were produced, and were never intended to be investigated as closely as they can be now. One of my favorite venues for this type of analysis is the Fantasticast, where a pair a veteran podcasters from Britain are reviewing early Fantastic Four comics. New episodes of the podcast appear every fortnight (as the Brits say).

Steven Lacey (host of the 20 Minute Longbox podcast) and Andrew Leyland (co-host of the Hey Kids! Comics podcast) join forces to try to figure out exactly what Stan Lee and Jack Kirby were trying to pull off in creating and presenting the FF stories from the early 1960s. Their most recent episode covered issue #14, and many key aspects of the storyline have already appeared in these early stories — the “soap opera” nature of the family drama is a centerpiece, and Doctor Doom, the Puppet Master, and Namor have all showed up to battle Marvel’s first family.

The podcast hosts bring a love for the material, and have a great sense of humor. They realize how inherently silly some of these stories and characterizations are, and are not shy about sharing the silly parts with their listeners. The inconsistencies in these early stories is an endless source of delight to the hosts. They also cover the Human Torch adventures from the Strange Tales comics, which are even crazier than the stories from the FF comic.

There are many comic podcasts out there, and lots of them are very good. But the Fantasticast is one of my favorites.