Book Reviews for Summer 2019

In case anyone was wondering, the answer is yes. I am still alive. And in case no one was wondering… well, I’m still alive anyway. Summer is hardly the time for staying cooped up indoors and composing new blog posts, is it? But summer is pretty much over now. I am now at leisure to present my literary summation of the season. Enjoy.

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Horseman (Crockett and Crane, Book 1) by Kyle Shultz

A fantastical alternate history with enough snark to keep me giggling throughout. Shultz throws together the components of literature, legend, the Wild West, and a shape-shifting centaur like a mad scientist playing with chemicals in his laboratory. The result is a wham-bang story, and a very satisfying one.

Side note: Maybe it’s because one of the last things I read was a screenplay right, but I really wanted this to be a movie. And now I’m just annoyed that it isn’t one. The film industry should be ashamed of itself for not jumping on the opportunity for certain cinematic gold.

Follow this magical link to learn more, or get a copy of Horseman.

King’s Warrior (The Minstrel’s Song, #1), by Jenelle Leanne Schmidt

In the interest of full disclosure, King’s Warrior does not fall under my preferred variety of fantasy. It is a quintessential epic, verging in some instances on the cliche. It has the girl-warrior-wannabe, the boy with a great destiny who doesn’t believe he’s anything special, and the retired hero brought back into the action by a tragical inciting incident. The plot is not unpredictable.

And yet…

The author has an unmistakable gift for storytelling. Despite many familiar elements, I did not once roll my eyes, or utter a single “ugh”. I enjoyed the story, the characters, the relationships. You never know what caliber of writing you’re going to get in an indie title, but King’s Warrior definitely belongs in the upper tiers.

Though epics that take place outside of Middle Earth may never rank among my favorites, those who do crave that style will love King’s Warrior.

Oh, look! Another magical link for you to follow…

The Good Neighbor: The Life And Work Of Fred Rogers, by Maxwell King

A quick anecdote, on Mister Rogers’s personal habits of entertainment consumption:

“He’d only watch television once a week, The Alfred Hitchcock Hour […], because he liked to see Alfred Hitchcock come in and say hello. And then he’d turn it off.”

… I laughed.

As for the rest.

The writing style occasionally rubbed me the wrong way. For instance, I couldn’t quite determine whether Mister Rogers’s Christian faith was a tad askew, or if his biographer simply didn’t know how to address it (ie: Fred was a practicing Christian all his life, but it’s not like you think… he wasn’t one of THOSE people). Frankly, it might be a little of each.

Despite this, it would be just about impossible to read a book about one of history’s kindest, most selfless and caring public figures and not get something out of it. In the crush of noise and discord that seems to define our age, how refreshing to immerse oneself in quieter, simpler ideals. Most refreshing of all: history’s kindest, most selfless and caring public figure was the real deal. He really WAS as kind, selfless and caring as he appeared to be on television.

If only humanity could discover a will to learn, here is a man we could all be learning from.

Becoming Mrs. Lewis, by Patti Callahan

I am conflicted.

On one hand, this is a beautifully written rendering of a tragic (and true) love story. Every time I picked the book up, I found it hard to put down again. Lots of people seem to have felt the same way.

But, but, but.

On the other hand, I found myself growing increasingly uncomfortable as the story went on. Novelizations of real people and events are always going to be a tricky game. I wasn’t always sure where to separate fact from fiction here, and I don’t like that.

What really broke the deal, though, by the end, was how… shall we say… personal it got. The romantic details were so…. detailed. I don’t want to be arrogant by claiming to know the real-life subjects better than anyone else. But if this book isn’t making C.S. Lewis spin in his grave, then I think it’s safe to say nothing ever will.

My golly. It seemed like such an invasion of privacy. Even if every last one of these words and thoughts really happened, that doesn’t mean they needed to be written. I mean, it’s clean romance and everything, but it still felt like reading the intimate details in the relationship between your grandparents. So. So. Awkward.

Many have enjoyed this book a lot, as I said. It is not my intent to discourage others from reading and/or enjoying it. But I just could stop cringing.

Image result for out of time nadine brandesOut of Time Series, by Nadine Brandes

A well-crafted YA dystopian yarn. Having read and adored Brandes’s “Fawkes” last year, I was interested to see how her earlier work would compare.

The pacing in each installment of the series is rather odd. The plot meanders this way and that, and I found myself a little disoriented at times, unsure of where I was being taken, or why. By the end, you see it was all a part of the pilgrimage. I think the uncertainty is part of the point.

I might not quite be falling over myself in attempt to, omigosh, tell you how brilliant A Time To Die is, it’s clear that Nadine Brandes knows how to tell a story that sinks its claws in and won’t let go. What is more, she knows how to infuse her Christian faith into her work in a manner that is compelling and authentic. The inner conflicts that arise are perfectly relatable, even if they’re occurring in a fictional dystopian world.

I think Brandes is one of the better writers of speculative Christian fiction out there right now. I highly recommend her books, and I can’t wait to what she’ll do next.

The complete trilogy is currently available for 4.99 on Kindle. Kind of a steal, guys.

Surprised By Laughter: The Comic World of C.S. Lewis by Terry Lindvall

This is a pretty fat book for what would seem a comparatively slim subject. Towards the end, I began to think the material just a hair exhaustive. For the most part, however, it was delightful and not over done at all. Lindvall strikes the right balance between the light and the weighty. Just as Lewis himself was so adept at doing.

Admirers of Lewis (as well as GK Chesterton, who is given an almost equal share of attention) will certainly want to give Surprised By Laughter their consideration.

The Swan Kingdom by Zoe Marriott

The Swan Kingdom had every promise of being a compelling story. I mean, it’s a Wild Swans retelling… how could it not? Unfortunately, the story suffers from a lack of proper development. The brother characters barely appear throughout the book. The love interest is not unlikable, but also lacked dimension. Other promising characters popped up here and there, only to disappear a chapter or so later.

The heroine, meanwhile, is not presented consistently at all, nor is her growth thoroughly explored. In chapter one, she is described as ugly. So ugly that her father laments he will never be able to find a husband for her (which is pretty extreme, given that this girl is a princess). By the end, she has apparently become beautiful enough to silence and awe an entire ballroom full of people upon her entrance. This might work (I really think it would work) if such a dramatic change was documented. Like, at all. But it is not. I could but scratch my head and emit a less than eloquent, “Huh?”

The Swan Kindgom is in no way offensive or poorly written. It’s just… doughy in the middle.

And now, for something completely different…

The US Army Survival Handbook

As entertaining as it is informative.

One section cautioned against attempting to capture a Komodo dragon, leaving me with questions.

Like, if I try to make friends with it instead, is that cool?

And, I mean… capture? Not kill, or debilitate, but CAPTURE? Is there anyone who would actually attempt this? Ever? Have a lot of army recruits watched “How To Train Your Dragon” one too many times, and let it go to their heads??? I need answers.

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Side note: I checked this book out of the library. On a page in the middle, someone wrote the letter “L”, and a phone number. Honestly, this book was every bit as mysterious as some of the Agatha Christie titles I plowed through earlier in the year.

Farewell To Manzanar: A True Story of Japanese American Experience During and After the World War II Internment, by Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston

A sad, sad story, but told without any apparent prejudice or bitterness.

Did you know that it was literally not legal for Asian immigrants to become US citizens until the 1950s? Because I did not, and that shocked me. Like, give us your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free… just not the Chinese or Japanese ones. What the heck, America?

I can’t help considering the dark spots in American history, contrasting them with the whole Land of The Free, Home of the Brave imagery. It seems like there are two camps in the US these days. There are the die-hard patriotic types, who idolize our nation, and refuse to admit that it is anything but a perfect shining example of everything that is right and good. And there are those on the polar opposite end, who define America by its dubious track record of genocide, slavery, racism, and overall injustice.

Here I am in the middle. Isn’t it possible to mourn and regret the awful parts of American history, and still be grateful for the relative freedoms our laws afford? To recognize that, no, this is NOT a perfect nation, but to still be glad I live here?

Sighs.

 

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