the low down on new books

Young Adult

Speaking of Jesus

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Carl Medearis. 187 p. Published 2011 by David C. Cook. Advanced review copy provided by Speakeasy in return for my honest opinion.  (Book excerpt read by Carl here).

Verdict: ★★★★★

Who Cares? Anyone who loves Jesus but finds Christianity frustrating.

Short Bio: Carl does his best to offend just about anyone who is attached to all the trappings of Christianity – but he does it with a sense of humor, a touch of reality, and with the obvious filter of being one of Jesus’s number one fans.  He challenges the traditional ideas of evangelism and salvation by pointing out not only their lack of scriptural foundation (especially when looking at Christ’s example) but also by laying out what most of us know to be true – they are terribly ineffective and often get the opposite result!

Carl makes the case that our current idea of “evangelism” is the result of believing we “win” people to Team Christian by convincing them logically that all the elements of Christian doctrine are true, but in the process end up having to defend a whole history of sinful and misguided actions committed in the name of Christianity.  He advocates that we have moved away from the heart of the gospel – that Jesus said he himself was the only way to come to God (relationship, not logical belief).  If you simply and joyfully point to Jesus rather than try to defend man’s religious version of Jesus’s message, you’ll witness some amazing things.

Eyewitness Account:  I LOVED this book.  I’m ashamed to admit that I could relate all to well with Carl’s many examples of how we can we get so distracted with Christianity (ooh, shiny!) that we sometimes miss Jesus.  In fact, although I would call myself a Christian, I found that Carl was definitely “evangelizing” to me – because I needed the reminder that it always boils down to how you respond to Jesus’s call to “Follow me”.

I loved how accessible and readable this book was – I could give it to a 5th grader, to my grandpa, or to my pastor.  Carl’s humor and humility are sugar that helps the medicine go down (I’m sure I annoyed my fellow bus passengers at several points by laughing out loud).  Ultimately, I finished the book excited and energized to know Jesus more and follow him more closely – which I think Carl would appreciate! (Apparently Carl and I are BFFs and on a first name basis – try reading his book and see if you don’t feel the same way).

Highly recommended, and I think that people of other faiths would also like this book!

Notable Quotes: 

“When we preach Christianity, we have to own it. When we preach Jesus, we don’t have to own anything. Jesus owns us. We don’t have to defend Him. We don’t even have to explain Him. All we have to do is point with our fingers, like the blind man in the book of John, and say, “There is Jesus. All I know is that He touched me, and where I was once blind, now I see.”

“We have an unfair advantage. We know the Creator. We’re friends with the King. We know where truth is found and its name. We know what brings life and what gives life and where eternal life resides. It’s not fair. While others are explaining and defending various “isms” and “ologies,” we’re simply pointing people to our friend. The One who uncovers and disarms. The beginning and the end of the story.”

“There is a place for doctrines and dogma and science and history and apologetics, but these things are not Jesus—they are humanly manufactured attempts to make people think that having the right ideas is the same thing as loving and following Jesus.”

” . . . Jesus can go toe-to-toe with anything.  There is no person in human history who holds a candle to Jesus.  When we make sharing our faith a war of ideals, we create casualties on both sides of the boundary.  We fight an “us versus them” campaign trying to show that our religion, our logic, our reason, our theology is better than everyone else’s.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None, but Tea with Hezbollah is on my list.

What are other people saying?  CNN Article on Carl’s Book (and its 73 pages of comments), Will’s Blog, Sister Chat, Rick Love  

Rating:

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Organization

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★★

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Something Rotten: A Thursday Next Novel

Reviewed by Nick 

Just the Facts: Something Rotten: A Thursday Next Novel. Jasper Fforde. 2005. Penguin Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Young Adult/Action Adventure/Fantasy

Short Bio:  Thursday Next is back, and she’s fed up with the Book World! Deciding that she’s overdue to take a vacation from Jurisficiton, She rejoins SO-27, only to be faced with more problems than she left behind. Yorrick Kaine, a bookrunner, threatens world domination, Goliath is rising to new heights of manipulation when they decide to become a religion, and Landen is still eradicated. Jurisfiction has refused to accept her resignation, her father has stopped time again to tell her that the world will soon come to and end unless she helps the Swindon Mallets win Supper-Hoop 88, and there is family trouble with literary and historical figures at home. Can Thursday manage to stop Kaine and Goliath, advise Jurisfiction, keep Bismark away from her mom, untangle the Merry Wives of Elisnore, tame Pickwick’s son Alan, reactualize her husband, manage the Super-Hoop team, save Danish literature from disappearing altogether, and prevent the end of the world, all in time to come home and keep her mom from finding out that a gorilla is babysitting Friday?

Eyewitness Account: So this is not a prepublication review, as is most of the books that we review; this is more a guilty pleasure review on my part! This fourth installation of the Thursday Next series holds to the expectations brought on by the previous books. Fforde’s humor resonates throughout the book, much in the same way as in it’s predecessors. I appreciate how Fforde finds new and refreshing ways to make the reader laugh. It hardly feels like he recycles his jokes or punchlines at all. The beginning of this book did move a little slow, and the pre-chapter blurbs were perhaps not as brilliant as in previous books; perhaps starting to see Fforde slightly loosing creative steam for this series. He did leave quite a few ends untied, so I am still looking forward to First Among Sequels.  

Other Books Read by This Author: The Eyre Affair: A Thursday Next Novel; Lost in a Good Book: A Thursday Next Novel; The Well of Lost Plots: A Thursday Next Novel.

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


God’s Answers 4 UR Life

Reviewed by Nick

Just the Facts:

God’s Answers 4 Your Life by Steve Russo (April 1, 2010). Accessed through the courtesy of NetGalley in electronic format.                                              

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares?  Young Adults 

Short Bio:

Teenagers face many different pressures, stresses and questions about life. Where should they get their answers? Author Steve Russo compiles many different hot topics in the realm of ethics, from drug and alcohol abuse to loneliness, from suicidal tendencies to cults, from family to prayer, from heaven to the nature of God.  He addresses each topic alphabetically with a brief explanation of experiences of his or his friends pasts or observations about live in general and then he presents scripture references that address the issue at hand.


Eyewitness Account:

This encyclopedic collection of inspirational answers to problems that most everyone face is useful to not only believing teenagers but also to people in general that want to know more about what the Bible says about life issues and problems. One thing I really appreciated about Russo’s design is that there is one page for a description of what the issue or question that needs to be answered really is and the opposing page is totally dedicated to scriptures that provide an answer to that issue or question. His issues, I’d say, are for the most part applicable to every teenager sometime in life. Russo does have a slight tendency to use more New Testament references than old and he tends to favor Meaning-Based Translations such as NIV, ESV, AMP, etc, and paraphrases like MSG, over more Inference-Based translations such as the NASB, RSV, etc. This particular book is not meant to be a page turner, so I took that consideration out of the ratings.


Rating:

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★★ Organization

★★★☆☆ Original Idea


Overall ★★★★


The City in the Lake

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Rachel Neumeier.  294 p.Published 2008 by Alfred A. Knopf. 

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? YA Fantasy

Short Bio (from Booklist):  The City in the Lake is a robust, prosperous kingdom until Prince Cassiel vanishes. Beloved by all, the prince represents the kingdom’s heart, and after his disappearance, life withers throughout the land. In a remote village, 17-year-old Timou’s father, a mage, departs for the city to search for the source of the kingdom’s malaise, and when he doesn’t return, Timou sets off after him. Her journey requires her, for the first time, to draw heavily on her own mage training, and as she circles closer to the kingdom’s mysteries, she finds shocking personal connections and, ultimately, love. 

Eyewitness Account: I picked this up because The Book Smugglers both rated this a “9 – Damn near perfection.” Its got a great title (the City IN the Lake?), beautiful cover, and intriguing plot summary.  Maybe my expectations were a little too high – I thought it was good, but would have given it a 7 or 8 on the Book Smuggler’s rating scale.  Neumeier’s writing is purely beautiful; I had written down 5 different quotes before I even got to chapter 3!  The story is engaging, full of interesting characters and a plot that isn’t wholly predictable.  However, I finished it with a slight sense of disappointment – the story didn’t feel fully developed.  The idea of a single City “anchoring” a multitude of other Cities was a brilliant idea that wasn’t fully fleshed out.  Neumeier had some AMAZING content that I think could have been more perfectly and satisfactorily relayed in a longer book (or perhaps expanded into a series).  Overall, worth reading for her writing style alone!  As this was Neumeier’s first book, I’d imagine her later writings are definitely worth picking up.

Notable Quotes:

“So Timou learned how to catch fire and the memory of fire in glass, how to contain the quick fire in a coal and how to let it loose again, how to find the fire that waited to spring eagerly forth from the heart of dry wood.  And how to try again and again to find such fire when at first she could see nothing but wood, trusting that, because her father said it was there, eventually she would find the heart of it that wanted to burn.”

“She loved these books … she loved their heft in the hand, which so contrasted with the brittle fragility of their pages. She loved the graceful or angled or tightly looping scripts that filled those pages.”

“I am not afraid to have this darkness lie before every step I take, because once I saw into darkness and it was glorious.  Grieve for your father because you lost him, it’s right we should grieve for those we lose, but don’t grieve for him because he’s here, Timou!”

Other Books Read by This Author: None!  Will definitely try “The Floating Islands” next, though.

What are other people saying? The Book Smugglers, Wands and Worlds, The Well-Read Child

Rating:

★★★★ Plot Development

★★★☆☆ Characterization

★★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


Ember and Ash

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Pamela Freeman. 528 p. To be published        May 1, 2011 by Orbit (Hachette Books Group).  Advanced copy provided in electronic copy, courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? YA / Adult Fantasy

Short Bio: Fire has unexpectedly shown Himself – and demanded a dangerous task of Ember, daughter of warlord Arvid.  Together with small group of Arvid’s trusted family and soldiers, Ember embarks on a journey to bring fire back to her people before they perish from winter.  Along the way, she and her traveling mates are confronted with the Great Powers that had, until now, remained aloof from the “new blooded” descendents of Acton.  At the end of her journey, she faces an impossible choice – a future for herself with the one she loves, or a future of peace and prosperity for her people.

Eyewitness Account: Pamela Freeman can definitely spin a tale!  Fantasy can be hit or miss – it’s usually either very clever or a cheap knockoff of some other popular idea.  Ember and Ash was definitely in the former category.  It was a little slow to get into at first, but that’s probably because I hadn’t read her Castings Trilogy, which precedes Ember and Ash and appears to cover events about 20 years prior to it.

I loved Ember – someone who not only had flaws, but also didn’t know her own mind half of the time!  Her journey to the Fire Mountain is also her own personal journey to finding out who she is and what her place/purpose in the Eleven Domains is.  I loved how she found herself out of her element at times, how she depended on her companions for their expertise, and how she boldly stepped up to take the consequences of tough decisions that she had to make.  Ember makes some very wise observations through her journey – one of my favorite was the distinction between lust/desire and love.  Most of all, I loved that the decision she made at the end of the book seemed true to who she was.

I also appreciated the way Freeman wove together so many people’s stories in with Ember’s – Ash, finding his own purpose and identity, Arvid and Martine dealing with the breach in their marriage, and Nyr looking for a better life for his people.  I found that even the secondary characters who didn’t get much stage time were full of personality – of dreams, aspirations, emotions, and complicated motives.  Lastly, the story of the Powers themselves was purely delightful – not at all predictable, and very clever.

Themes of unity, identity, and honesty are well-developed throughout the story.  One of my favorite passages is listed below, as it talks about how we have a tendency to reject change – but that the growth that change brings is well worth it.  It’s a book I’d love to give to teenagers, except for the overly graphic love scene at the end.  Well done, Ms. Freeman!

Notable Quotes:

“Heavy, inimical, a brooding presence envious of and hating everything the braid contained: life, love, warmth, fellowship.  Difference.  She . . . understood what it was He wanted, could feel His desire for the unchanged, unchangeable permanence of Ice.  For ice which never melted, for form which stayed, immutable.  For an eternity of sameness, safe and solid and forever.

She knew that feeling.  Every mother knew the feeling of wanting time to stop, wanting the child to stay a baby, wanting the youth to stay a child, wanting the moment when the little arms came around your neck to last forever.  Every human knew that feeling, of wanting tomorrow to be the same as today, so that you could just go on being who you were, without the pains that age brought.

But as a mother, as a human, she knew the stupidity of that.  Knew that the child could give more joy than the baby, as well as more grief; knew that age had its compensations; knew that growth always hurt.”

“. . .all he had was himself, the center of himself, which was, after all, just a single arrow in flight.”

Other Books Read by This Author: None, but I might eventually pick up Blood Ties (first in The Castings Trilogy), as I enjoyed Ms. Freeman’s writing so much.

What are other people saying? Thoughts of a Scot, Aurealis Xpress

Rating:

★★★★★ Plot Development

★★★★ Characterization

★★★★ Writing Style

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★


The Goddess Test

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Aimee Carter. 298 p. To be published April 26, 2011 by Harlequin Teen.  Advanced copy provided in electronic format, courtesy of the publisher through NetGalley.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Who Cares? YA Fantasy

Short Bio: Kate’s only desire is to spend as much time as possible with mom, who is dying of cancer.  Her mom takes them to a small, rural town where Kate meets James and Ava . . . and begins a series of events that lead her to make a bargain with Henry/Hades, the god of the Underworld that will give her more time with her mother.  If she can pass the 7 tests that the unseen “council” of gods puts before her, she will become an immortal (and Henry’s wife, to boot).

Eyewitness Account: I thought this book was going to be a lot more interesting – it follows the popular trend of books about the “contemporary” Greek gods.  However, what made for great adventure-packed stories for kids came across rather bland for a YA romance.  While a number of plot devices showed good promise (great foreshadowing at the beginning, interesting development of “the Underworld”, and clever theme behind the 7 tests),  this modern-day twist on the tale of Persephone didn’t quite work.  The plot felt contorted and contrived, and the characters never fully enough developed to be real.  Rather than acting “ageless,” Henry acts like an old protective father, which makes it difficult to picture him as someone a teenager would fall in love with.    

The fun part of the Greek gods are how they interact with each other, play around with mortals, and create great quests for heroes like Jason and Hercules.  As the plot focuses only on one god (Henry), who generally mopes around or acts overly parental, the best part of setting is rather lost.  The only thing that kept me turning the pages was the desire to know what the tests were (of which I only guessed a couple, so kudos to the author for not giving everything away).

Other Books Read by This Author: None.

What are other people saying? Lit Express, A Myriad of Books, WhatchYAReading?

Rating:

★★★☆☆ Plot Development

★★☆☆☆ Characterization

★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★☆☆ Original Idea

★★★☆☆ Page Turner

Overall ★★★☆☆