Saturday, November 28, 2015

This Week in Reading

Searching For Sunday, by Rachel Held Evans, pages 1 – 17.
The Finisher, by David Baldacci, COMPLETED. Review here.

All-Star Squadron 46
Box 13 OGN
Fables 119 – 129
Just a Pilgrim 2
Star Brand Giant-Sized Annual

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Review of The Finisher

Book 44. The Finisher, by David Baldacci. Unabridged audio.

David Baldacci is the latest in a long line of successful novelists who have entered the potentially lucrative world of publishing novels for the Young Adult audience. In other words, if it’s good enough for Patterson and Grisham, why not Baldacci, too?

Vega Jane is a teenager in the land of Wormwood. All her life, she has been told that nobody can leave the town, that there is nothing outside but a dangerous forest and malevolent forces. But she begins to believe that the land’s leaders may not be telling the whole truth.

And then about halfway through the novel, we get this world’s version of the Hunger Games. Or it’s Maze Running. Or it’s … well, you get the idea. It’s a regular young adult versus young adult battle series (not to the death, so that’s different), but this time females are eligible. And of course Vega gets drafted into the action. And things go from bad to worse.

There are a few moments when Baldacci tries way too hard to make this land seem unusual and fantastical, including strange words for common items. The factory is “stacks,” the church is “steeples,” a year is a “session,” and minute is a “sliver.” And the chapter numbers were all translated to this land’s tongue, as well. But these moments did not add to the mystery, they just added to a sense of silliness.

Although I think it’s fair to see that with this novel, Baldacci may not be a great writer of YA fiction, at least not yet. But I am a fan of his, and he is still a great writer of action, suspense, and high drama. Those basic elements of the plot worked well, and I anticipate reading the next novel in the series. I trust that Baldacci can successfully address the book’s weaknesses, delivering a stronger YA novel next time.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

This Week in Reading

The Finisher, by David Baldacci, pages 38 – 242.
The Juvenilization of American Christianity, by Thomas E. Bergler, COMPLETED. Review here.

Action Comics 518
Adventures of Superman 705
DC Bombshells 4
Fables 114 – 118
More Fun Comics 52 & 54
Project Nemesis 2

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Review of The Juvenilization of American Christianity

Book 43. The Juvenilization of American Christianity, by Thomas E. Bergler. Hardcover.

One of the great shifts in American Christianity since World War II is one that I had never really thought about until reading this book. Thomas Berlger terms it “juvenilization," and it is the process of modern churches adapting their services to follow the models of successful teen ministries. And then not being able to move away from that model.

The results of this shift are mixed. Positive aspects include accessible sermons, modern worship music, and an emphasis on a personal relationship with Jesus. Drawbacks include a therapeutic church culture, a lack of commitment to church attendance, and overly simplistic sermons. The problem is that what may work in the short-term in one setting may have negative long-term consequences when applied in other settings.

Bergler teaches ministry and missions at a Christian college in Indiana, and brings a scholar’s mind to this work. That is not to say that the book is difficult to read, because it is not. But the comprehensiveness is impressive, as the thirty pages of endnotes can attest. It is clear that Bergler has thought about this topic for a long time, and the case he makes is persuasive.

Bergler avoids the common mistake of treating the entirety of the church as one unified entity. He gives equal space to four groups: liberal mainstream Protestants, conservative evangelicals, African-American Protestants, and Catholics. Although the results differ based on each denomination's unique aspects, each has been effected by this trend. This comprehensiveness is a strength of the work, along with his ability to communicate these academic findings to a broader audience.

The book does include suggestions, both for youth workers and church leaders. But Bergler does not seem convinced that the church can bring itself to question means that in many ways have proven successful. But the long-term strength and viability of the church in America may depend on churches' ability to do just that.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

This Week in Reading

The Finisher, by David Baldacci, pages 1 – 38.
The Juvenilization of American Christianity, by Thomas E. Bergler, pages 125 – 211.
X, by Sue Grafton, COMPLETED. Review here.

All-Star Squadron 3, 21 & 22
Constantine the Hellblazer 6
Hawkeye  12, 13, 15, 17, 19, 21 & 22
Jack of Fables 36 – 40
Starfire 6
Superman 95
Superman: The Man of Steel 39

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Review of X

Book 42. X, by Sue Grafton. Unabridged audio.

I consider myself a big fan of this series, having started my reading of the novels when “G” or “H” was new on the shelves. Kinsey Millhone is a powerful combination of intelligence, toughness, and vulnerability. In this novel, what begins as a $200 job locating a recently released prisoner, becomes a case of fraud, then assault, and perhaps she stumbles onto a serial killer. 

About ten novels ago, Grafton began to move away from the traditional detective story first-person POV into a more modern POV format. This narrative change allowed Grafton to expand the scope of these novels, allowing us to see events that Millhone can't see, and for us to know more about what is going on than the protagonist does. This allows for suspense, and some of those novels were more sweeping and epic in their scope.

With this novel, Grafton returns to the smaller scale of the traditional PI novel, and returns to the first-person narration. I enjoy these “smaller” mysteries, although this book was easily 50% longer than the first half-dozen or so novels. This was one of the best of the last ten or so novels in the series. The slow unfolding of the plot made for an enjoyable read. 

I hope that when I finish "Z," I will be satisfied that a 26-book series will have ended well. Ending books is not easy, and ending series is even less easy. I hope and trust that Grafton will be able to pull it off.

As always, Judy Kaye does a fine job performing the audio version of the novel.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Podcast Guest Apearances

Over the last few weeks, I have had the privilege of appearing as a guest on some excellent podcasts. There are a few more to be recorded and released in the near future, but here are two that have been recently released.

W Blaine Dowler invited me on to be part of his Unofficial Marve's 75 Countdown Podcast. On episode 31 of that show, we spoke about the first issue of Walter Simonson's legendary run on Thor, issue 337. This excellent story featured the introduction of the very popular B-level character, Beta-Ray Bill.

Along with my progeny and podcast co-host Emily, I joined a super-team of podcasters to talk about the pilot episode of CBS' new TV show Supergirl. Michael Bradley released the show as an episode of his Superman & Batman show. Other guests were Michael Bailey, Bob Fisher, and Cindy & Chris Franklin.

Emily also joined me as part of a group appearance on the Fire & Water Podcast. Recorded as part of the Irredeemable Shagg's 2015 World Tour, we were joined by Li'l Russell Burbage, Michael Bradley, JC Beirau, Van Zee, and comics professional Thom Zahler. Released as part of episode 143, we talked about our "guilty pleasure" comics. I mentioned Sherlock Bones.

I thank these podcasting friends for their hospitality. It is always a pleasure to podcast with such good buddies. And Shagg.

Saturday, November 7, 2015

This Week in Reading

X, by Sue Grafton, pages 147 – 306.
The Juvenilization of American Christianity, by Thomas E. Bergler, pages 80 – 125.

Action Comics 704
Adventures of Superman 517
Fairest 21 – 26
Hawkeye 6 – 11                        
Sherlock Bones, vol. 3
Strange Adventures 1

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Expanding Holmes: Review of Sherlock Bones, vol. 3

Sherlock Bones, volume 3, story by Yuma Ando and Art by Yuki Sato. Graphic novel.

As I said when I reviewed volumes 1 and 2 of this manga, this series requires a “leap of faith” to accepts the series’ wild premise. Japanese schoolboy Takeru adopted a puppy who turned out to be the reincarnation of Sherlock Holmes, who informs the boy that he is in fact Watson. And the pair help Takeru’s father and sister, both police officers, solve crimes.   

The core of this volume is the 4-part A Golfer’s Glory. Takeru joins his family to play golf for the first time, and meet up with a pair of professional golfers who happen to be playing at the same time. The dog witnesses one of the pros kill his rival, and he and Takeru work out how to prove it. The case turns on details revealed in photographs taken during the round.

Photography also plays a key role in the final story, which is a cliffhanger, concluding in the next volume.  A candidate for student body president has photo-shopped his opponent into a compromising positiong, abut Sherdog believes he can prove the guilty party!

The volume also contains a one-off “Sherdog at home” story, and a 3-parter about a suspicious suicide. That one turns on a series of math equations that the killer, an after-school tutor, had taught Takeru (and Sherdog) in their past tutoring sessions. Oh, the irony.

This volume seemed more plot-heavy than the prior two. There was less of Sherdog as pt-upon English gentleman, or Takeru’s crush on his longtime friend Miki. And Takeru’s sister Airin only appears in one story, reducing the amount of “Irene Adler” daydreaming for the dog. I hope that these do not represent the series’ moving away from its base in the lore of Sherlock Holmes.

All of these stories involve school or family drama in one way or another, in addition to the Holmesian mysteries. So there is the potential for melodrama, and if a reader is not in the mood for that, or for the manga-style art, this might not be the read for them. But if the wacky premise doesn’t stop you, the content can be quite enjoyable.