Monday, March 19, 2018

If I Live, by Terri Blackstock

The first thing to say about Terri Blackstock's If I Live is that if you haven't read books one and two of her "If I Run" series, read those first.  Jumping into If I Live without having read If I Run and If I'm Found is like starting a movie in the middle.  Eventually you'll figure out what's going on, but at first you'll be totally lost.

If you have read the first two books, you will be pleased to see the pieces coming together.  Casey Cox is on the run, suspect number one for her friend's murder.  What she knows, and hasn't been able to figure out how to reveal, is that her friend was killed by the same dirty cops who murdered her father a decade ago.

Changing her identity and moving around is only practical if she's not recognized.  Even though she's in another state altogether and taking great pains to keep her identity hidden, with her face all over the news, someone inevitably turns her in.  She is in a race against time to expose the corruption in the police department while avoiding the deadly fate of the corrupt cops' other victims.

Blackstock's pacing is breakneck; you won't be able to turn the pages fast enough.  Much of the plot and action are formulaic, especially if you're an avid reader of this type of fiction or viewer of police-themed TV dramas.  But that doesn't change the fact that Blackstock writes the genre well.  I enjoyed the way she brought in the faith element, with Casey ultimately becoming a Christian.  It's also nice to read an action-packed, gritty story that does not succumb to the use of profanity and sexual material.

This series is great for fans of gripping, fast-paced fiction, especially if you don't mind staying up most of the night (because you won't want to put it down). 

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The Amazing Adventures of Jules: The Future Imperfect, by Émile Bravo

For reasons unknown to him, Jules has been chosen for a mission to space.  So begins The Amazing Adventures of Jules: The Future Imperfect, Émile Bravo's graphic novel for kids.  In a sense, Bravo's story is an "it could happen tomorrow" story, where a shuttle takes the astronauts to a space station, from which the launch the interstellar ship.  He doesn't take much time developing the ins and outs of technology, like how light-speed travel is possible, but this is a kids' story, not hard sci-fi.

He does explain, through the mad-scientist type crew members, relativity and time dilation.  It wasn't until the trip was underway that Jules grasped that during this eight-week journey, eight years will have passed on Earth.  He's in the dark most of the time, to comic effect.  Bravo packs a big, eventful adventure into a very small space, giving the story a rushed, urgent feeling.  The travel to another solar system, land on an alien planet, make first contact, and nearly spark an inter-stellar war.  That's a full day.
 The story line and illustrations give The Future Imperfect an old-school feel.  It seems like something from an earlier age, in a timeless, innocent sense, even as it looks forward.  This is a fun, light comic that will entertain the next generation of space travelers.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Hyper-Capitalism, by Larry Gonick and Tim Kasser

Larry Gonick has written and illustrated some fun books in his "Cartoon Guide Series," such as The Cartoon History of the United States and The Cartoon History of the Modern World.  His newest offering, in which he teams up with psychology professor Tim Kasser, looks at the vast and complex world of modern economics.

If the title, Hyper-Capitalism: The Modern Economy, Its Values, and How to Change Them, doesn't give a big enough hint, let me tell you: they are no fans of modern capitalism.  Their perspective fits very well in the Occupy movement and the reactionary, Bernie Sanders political left.  Let's just say that as a conservative-libertarian free-market idealist, I had some problems with their perspective.

I will say that as a practical, realistic person, I really appreciate and embrace some of their action steps.  I mean, who can really argue with some of these suggestions: "seek higher pay and better working conditions, buy mindfully, share services, invest responsibly, opt out of materialism, buy little, live simply."  I wish the consumerist mindset weren't so strong, and I agree that credit card debt is out of control in our country.

My problem is that the overall emphasis of Hyper-Capitalism demonizes corporations completely and only brushes over the fact that modern capitalism has been responsible for bringing more people out of poverty that at any time in world history.  Yes, there are problems with corporations who gobble up more power and resources than they should and abuse the public trust.  But Gonick and Kasser put too much trust in government to address these problems.  In their world corporations are evil and rapacious, while government is selfless and pure.

These guys demonize big business, while celebrating such idiocy as the WTO protests in Seattle and the Occupy movement.  I'm no economist, but I'd be more interested in seeing an economic analysis of the issues they raise, even from a leftist position, than this relatively weak psychological treatment.  It seems incomplete and unbalanced.  But, as I said, they have some good suggestions for people to avoid getting to eaten up with consumerism.

Friday, March 16, 2018

A Short Time to Stay Here, by Terry Roberts

Award-winning Southern fiction writer Terry Roberts returns to western North Carolina in his second novel, A Short Time to Stay Here.  The Great War is ramping up in Europe and the Mountain Park Hotel of Hot Springs, North Carolina has been repurposed as a detention center for German sailors who were in U.S. ports at the start of the war.  Stephen Robbins, proprietor of the hotel, is adjusting to his role, shifting from resort host to detention camp supervisor.  A new arrival in town, Anna Ulmann, has come to Hot Springs to photograph the locals, but, on a deeper level, is looking for an escape from her controlling husband and New York lifestyle.

Robbins is a proud American and a child of the mountains of North Carolina, but he's also sympathetic to the Germans under his watch.  Unlike some of his neighbors, he sees Germans as his fellow men and insists that they be treated as such.  His attitude doesn't win him any points with his estranged cousin, the sheriff, or with the national press, who thinks he's too coddling.   But he does find love with the exotic New York photographer, who becomes his confidant and companion during her stay in Hot Springs.

A Short Time to Stay Here is enjoyable on several levels.  I like war stories like this which give a personal, home front perspective.  Some of the local boys go to Europe to fight and don't come home.  Although the Germans held in Hot Springs are non-combatants, some are ex-military and the animosity toward all of them is palpable.  The opposition that Robbins faces in town turns violent.  As he digs into the schemes of some of the townspeople his life and future are endangered.  Finally, as with Roberts's previous novel That Bright Land, he beautifully and lovingly captures the life and land of western North Carolina.  A Short Time to Stay Here is a good story that is a great pleasure to read.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Mere Science and Christian Faith, by Greg Cootsona

For too many people, Christians and non-Christians alike, science and Christianity seem incompatible.  Greg Cootsona, pastor, campus minister, and college professor, wants young Christians today to embrace the compatibility of believing in an all-powerful God and studying the wonder of his creation through mainstream science.  In Mere Science and Christian Faith: Bridging the Divide with Emerging Adults Cootsona wants to "inspire more ministry leaders to point emerging adults toward studying nature as an act of worship."  Given that "half of our college students and postcollege emerging adults will be involved in science-related fields," Cootsona writes that "they need to know how to do their work while following the upward call of Christ."

The difficulty many science-oriented emerging adults have is two-fold.  First, the church perpetuates a suspicion of mainstream science by alienating it, rather than embracing it.  Second, when the church does talk about science, it focuses on conflict, teaching about controversies between faith and science rather than engaging.  We should "teach the collaboration, not the controversy."

Cootsona wants Christians to be comfortable with mainstream science as a means to teach us about God's creation.  Overall, he holds to a view of dual causation: "God as first cause works through secondary, intermediate, and natural causes."  In every field of science we can find practicing Christians who are both faithful followers of Christ as well as scientists accomplished in their fields of study.  Unfortunately, by focusing on controversy, many young Christians miss this fact and assume that one can't be a mainstream scientist and hold on to Christian faith.

Cootsona's book is a helpful remedy for this line of thinking that holds science and Christianity as incompatible.  He delves into several issues, like the days of creation, Adam and Eve, and cognitive science, bringing some reason to these contested areas.  More than anything, the resources he refers to can open up lines of inquiry for leaders and young people alike.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!

Monday, March 12, 2018

That Bright Land, by Terry Roberts

In 1866 in western North Carolina, the Civil War still rages on, at least for some.  In Terry Roberts's brooding novel That Bright Land, Jacob Ballard returns to the land of his birth to investigate the murders of Union war veterans.  Ballard was born in these rural mountains, but moved away to the north as a boy.  Now the War Department has sent him back.

Using the cover that he is there to interview Union army disability pensioners, Ballard meets many of the men in area who fought for the Union.  The area was split; this is one region in which brother really did fight against brother and neighbor against neighbor.  The longer Ballard hangs around, the more his life is in danger.

Roberts's murder mystery is interesting, although the suspense builds quietly enough that it doesn't seem very suspenseful.  Roberts's prose is what makes That Bright Land enjoyable.  As he creates the physical setting, with the steep hills and dark woods of Appalachia, and the time, when the wounds of the Civil War are still fresh, the reader can be forgiven for losing track of the story line.

Ballard finds his man, finds love, and finds himself.  I found myself much more enthralled with this western North Carolina community than with Ballard's mission and the resolution of the mystery.

Sunday, March 11, 2018

Astronaut Annie, by Suzanne Slade, Illustrated by Nicole Tadgell

In Suzanne Slade's Astronaut Annie, Annie is excited about career day and keeps her family guessing about what she's going to choose.  Of course, we know what she has in mind because we know the title of the book!  As she gathers supplies from around the house, we see hints of her ambitions: the space-themed cereal, the models of planets hanging in her bedroom, and the moon hanging in the sky.

Everyone is surprised at career night when Annie tells her story and models the space suit she has cobbled together.  It may be surprising to some that an African-American girl dreams of being an astronaut, but Slade adds the stories of four real-life women who became astronauts.  It is not too far-fetched for a bright, determined girl like Annie to fulfill her dreams of going into space.

Slade's story, along with Nicole Tadgell's warm and timeless illustrations, will surely inspire some little girl somewhere to think bigger and aim higher.

Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for the complimentary electronic review copy!