Friday, May 30, 2014

Film in Five Seconds, by Gianmarco Milesi, H-57, and Matteo Civaschi

The guys who brought us Life in Five Seconds have now released Film in Five Seconds.  They have taken 200 films and boiled them down to a brief, simple graphic summary.  Some of them are laugh out loud funny, some I didn't recognize, and some didn't make sense to me.  Thankfully, there is an "answer key" for the ones you can't figure out.

Rather than try to describe their work, here are a few examples:
The third one's a real time-saver, since to watch the Lord of the Rings trilogy takes about 12 hours.  The first two, in case you can't figure them out, are The Lion King and The Wizard of Oz. Duh.  Plenty of the others in the book are not quite as easy to figure out.

This is a great, clever diversion.  It's a quick read, obviously (16 minutes and 40 seconds, to be precise) but the "films" are fun to "watch" and fun to share.  And, like real movies, many are worth "watching" again.

Check out their web site for additional samples: 

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

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Money Sucks, by Michael Baughman

As Michael Baughman's grandson Billy is approaching college, he is concerned with instilling in the young man a sound perspective on money and wealth.  Baughman records his reflections and conversations with Billy in Money Sucks: A Memoir on Why Too Much or Too Little Can Ruin You.  It's a quick, entertaining read, with some thoughtful passages and wisdom from a caring grandfather.

More than anything, I loved reading about Baughman's relationship with his grandson.  They lived next door to each other, and after Billy's parents' divorce, Billy spent a lot of time at his grandparents' house.  They played games and watched movies together, and had a regular date to shoot baskets and go out for tacos.  I would imagine it's rare for an older teen to have as close a relationship with his grandfather as Billy does.  That is commendable and worthy of emulation.

Baughman also gets major props for his trail running background.  He notes that he hikes and runs trails regularly in the Ashland, Oregon area where he lives, and has run marathons and ultra-marathons.  He is acquainted with Hal Koerner, a leading ultrarunner who also lives in Ashland.  Based on my experience as a back-of-the-pack ultrarunner, I would concur with Baughman that "ultra-runners are unassuming types who rarely draw attention to themselves, . . . who work hard and never boast about their rare achievements."  (By the way, he doesn't mention this in the book, but he was writing about persistence hunting long before Christopher McDougall did in Born to Run!  Check out this Sports Illustrated article he wrote in 1978:
Alas, the ultrarunning content of Money Sucks is very small.  It just interested me. . . .

Back to money.  Baughman's major theme as he conveys his wisdom to Billy is to help him "see through and well beyond the allure of making as much money as possible."  He writes that money is not a means to happiness--quite the contrary, in fact.  As a rule, middle class and wealthy people can live on much less than they think, and would be better off pursuing things other than greater wealth.  Much of what we buy--homes, luxury cars, fancy watches, etc.--is meant to impress others.  Less expensive watches and cars, for example, get the job done for less money.

Baughman quotes from Thoreau and other writers to bolster his message: live more simply, live for experiences not things, don't pursue material things because you have been conditioned to but because you actually need them.  In sum, "wanting too much money . . . sucks."  Reflecting on the hustle and bustle of modern life, he articulated something I have often thought while stuck in traffic: "I wished that somehow it could be made possible to momentarily stop all the planes and motor vehicles, just long enough to learn where everyone was coming from and where they were going and why, and then to calculate how much of it made any actual sense."

Now to what I didn't like about Money Sucks.  Baughman has a narrow, bigoted view of those he views as "rich."  "I regard many rich people with a blend composed of equal parts scorn and pity."  Rich people often make their money "swindling people, selling people crappy, useless products or lousy ideas, lying, bribing, cheating."  And if they inherited money, "there's the question as to whether or not they really deserve it."  He discusses an article which demonstrates that wealthier people act more unethically (It's actually sort of interesting and entertaining, for an academic study:  The article confirms his opinion "about many rich people being a--holes, certainly some of the time, often much of the time, possibly most of the time in extreme cases."  As for making money, money is "a necessary evil."  He wonders "how much of the evil does a person actually need, and how low should a person stoop to get it if he really needs it?"

I have little doubt that Baughman is a person of integrity and unimpeachable ethics.  But his view of money seems incomplete and disingenuous.  He notes that he has, in his adult life, always been right about the middle of incomes.  But he has spent his career as an academic and writer.  I think many people around the world would love to exchange their lives of manual labor, office cubicle clock-punching, or subsistence farming for his office on a college campus.  In fact, at one point he notes that for several years he took off from teaching in the fall semester so he and his wife could spend a few months camping and fishing in Baja California.  Sure, he wasn't staying at resort hotels and eating at gourmet restaurants everyday, but many people would label someone who can live like that "rich."  I know I can't afford to leave my cubicle for months at a time. . . .

More importantly, though, Braughman spends very little, if any time, on people who are rich because of the contributions they have made to the economy, technology, or culture.  Should we have a problem with someone making millions by inventing crucial technology, writing or performing music that inspires us, organizing and distributing goods and services to the benefit of consumers?  While it's true that some rich people are a--holes, and some rich people act unethically, and some rich people spend their money in unreasonable ways, and some rich people have no concern for using their wealth and position to advocate for social causes, the same things can be said of people of all classes!  Braughman's arguments come across reeking of envy and moral superiority.

I liked this book, and I like Braughman's goal.  His personality is a bit caustic when talking about those with whom he disagrees (and I'm afraid I would be one with whom he would frequently disagree!), but I enjoyed reading about his love for Billy, his love of life, and his love of pursuing happiness in a relatively simple lifestyle.  I have no doubt that Billy is going to carry on his grandfather's legacy.

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

Monday, May 26, 2014

Strange Fruit, by Joel Christian Gill

In the annals of the history of blacks in the United States, some stories are told again and again.  Seeking out some of the lesser-known African-American heroes has been the passion of artist Joel Christian Gill.  In Strange Fruit, Volume 1: Uncelebrated Narratives from Black History, Gill introduces characters and events from U.S. history that probably haven't come onto the radar of most of us, black or white.

He found some great stories.  Who knew that the first American stage magician was black?  Or one of the greatest lawmen of the West was black?  The stories of the world-record breaking cyclist, the pre-NBA basketball player whose coach reluctantly put him in games, and the black chess master are fun to read.  But the best are the stories of the men who won their freedom and their families' freedom through their efforts.  One man mailed himself in a box to freedom.  Another joined the army and came back to take his daughter to freedom.  There is a dark, vengeful side to some of these stories, and rightly so.

Gill's simple, comic-book style presentation makes the stories fun to read and highly accessible.  He also provides a bibliography so that more advanced readers can pursue these the stories further.  His illustrations make the stories feel lighter than they really are.  I particularly enjoyed the crows which illustrate and personify Jim Crow laws and the way those laws try to hold back Gill's subjects.

Gill calls this Volume 1.  Surely the number of volumes he could write has no end.  The dark chapters of slavery, prejudice, and discrimination in U.S. history are, unfortunately, long ones.  I appreciate Gill's approach: by focusing on these heroes and their heroic acts and lifestyles, the evil and villainy of slavery and racism are revealed.

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

Friday, May 23, 2014

The Case Against William, by Mark Gimenez

Mark Gimenez is one of those authors whose books draw me in.  His Texas settings come to life, his characters are believable yet colorful, and the stories keep me reading into the wee hours.  The Case Against William is no exception.  Football superstar William has been accused of murder, and his dad, a has-been beach bum of a lawyer comes to his defense.  Family drama, legal drama, football drama, all add up to a most entertaining read.

In a vein similar to The Perk, Gimenez talks about big-time high school and college football with an interesting mix of reverence and downright, almost blasphemous, skepticism.  I happen to know that he lives just a hop, skip, and a jump from the home field of one of the most dominant high school football programs in Texas, so he probably knows what he's talking about.  I liked this line, describing William's post-game interview: "He looked up and pointed his index fingers to the sky, as if to thank God.  As if God had made that throw.  As if God could give a sh-- about a football game, particularly a college game."  Ouch.  (I know Baylor's RG3 isn't the only player to do this, but I couldn't help but wonder if Gimenez had him in mind.)  Football plays a big role in William, and Gimenez paints a vivid picture of the life of an up-and-coming football star.

He probably had even more fun doing background on the character of Frank, the once powerful lawyer who now lives on the beach in Rockport, mostly drinking his life away.  ("Really, honey, I have to go fishing in Rockport as research for my next novel!")  Frank's career downfall came from defending an athlete who was accused in a case similar to William's, so getting back to the point of defending William makes the crux of the story.  Frank's beach bum friends provide the comic relief, adding to the story and the case with their various skills and backgrounds.

Like his previous books, The Case Against William showcases Gimenez's love of Texas and his strong handle on entertaining legal fiction.  The plot is pretty straightforward, but with plenty twists and late revelations, along with a nicely done, satisfying climax.  Put this one on your list.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

10:10: Life to the Fullest, by Daniel Hill

Pastor Daniel Hill asks, "How can there be so many people who love God, have surrendered their lives to Christ, and yet still feel this persistent gap between their current spiritual reality and the fullness of God that they long for?" If that question hits home with you, you are Hill's target audience in 10:10: Life to the Fullest.  Many Christians can relate to Hill's observation that Jesus' promise of abundant life is out of sync with our everyday spiritual experience.  "Too often the words that describe our faith sound more like this: comfortable, safe, routine, and status quo.  Sometimes even mundane, mediocre, empty, and stagnant."  If I'm honest, I'd have to say that describes me.

Hill boils down "the secret to fullness of life" to "the essence of a single word.  Faith." He describes faith as having three dimensions: faith and fear, faith and intimacy, faith and mission, and spends a few chapters fleshing out each of these dimensions.  Each of these builds on the others, and I think Hill's strongest chapters are those that deal with mission.  I would say he feels most passionate about mission, but he also makes it clear that without the building blocks of overcoming fear (Did you know that "fear not" is the most frequently repeated instruction in the Bible?) and seeking intimacy with God, mission loses power and effectiveness.

There were points at which Hill's exposition of his thesis lost traction.  10:10 sometimes had the feel of being a sermon or sermon series that he was stretching into book length and needed some filler.  But the core ideas and message of the book are powerful and right on.  And I will say this, as a measure of the book's impact: more than any book I've read in a while, at several points I was compelled to put the book down and spend some serious time in contemplation and prayer.  I would guess that Pastor Hill, upon hearing that, would consider his mission accomplished with this reader.

Hill, pastor of River City Community Church in the Humboldt Park neighborhood of Chicago, sounds like the kind of pastor of the kind of church I'd like to attend.  And 10:10 is the kind of book I need: a realistic, yet challenging spur for Christians to reflect on their spiritual lives, to ask why this abundant life doesn't seem so abundant.  It's a nudge to get me heading in the right direction.

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

Monday, May 19, 2014

Sting of the Drone, by Richard A. Clarke

Throughout the 1990s, as various terroristic threats from around the world came to the attention of the White House, at least one military advisor called for the use of drones for intelligence gathering and deployment of missiles.  Richard A. Clarke served under three administrations, and was constantly rebuffed in his efforts to get the use of drones approved.  Opportunities arose to strike known terrorists, including Bin Laden.  The White House, DOD, and CIA all opposed the use of drones--until September 12, 2001, when Predators were deployed against al Qaeda.  Within weeks, the use of drones to kill terrorist became common practice.

In Sting of the Drone, Clarke draws on his background in the military, intelligence, and government to paint a realistic picture of the use of drones, and tell the story of what might happen if the targets of drone warfare go on the offensive.  Told from the perspective of the pilots who remotely fly the drones, the bureaucratic decision makers who call the kills, and the terrorists on the receiving end of the attacks,  Sting of the Drone presents what may be the future of warfare.  Indeed it is already part of the present.

In this novel, Clarke's perspective can easily be read as fully pro-drone.  Through his characters, he points out the benefits of drone warfare, chiefly that the pilots are not in danger of being shot down.  In addition, using surveillance drones, a much clearer picture of the targets can be assembled before deciding on strike.  The drones are also more maneuverable and more cost effective, since they don't have to be designed to carry a pilot along for the ride.

Clarke's story-telling is similarly efficient, without a lot of dead weight.  The dialogue and action are crisp, moving along briskly, so that you don't want to put the book down.  At times, however, that crispness did lead to some choppiness as he shifted scenes or characters.  His descriptions of the drone program and the technology involved was very believable, and the interactions of the military, government, and intelligence communities have the feel of someone who has been there.

Sting of the Drone, while primarily a military action novel, does give a broad view of the use of drones, raising some of the ethical and technological difficulties of using drones.  Clarke informs and argues, but does so without veering of the direction of the story.  Sting of the Drone is a thrill ride of a book.

Thanks to St. Martin's press for the complimentary advance review copy!

Friday, May 16, 2014

The Julian Chapter, by R.J. Palacio

If you haven't read R.J. Palacio's Wonder, you really ought to.  In it, she tells the story of Auggie, a child with a cranio-facial disorder, and his struggles to become accepted in fifth grade.  In Wonder, Julian leads his classmates in widespread rejection and shunning of Auggie.  Palacio's new story, "The Julian Chapter: A Wonder Story," tells part of the story from the point of view of the bully, Julian.

Julian knows he doesn't like Auggie, and can't stand to look at him, but has to come to grips with why he feels the need to act so cruelly.  I won't say Palacio forces sympathy for Julian, but she certainly gives him a fair hearing, so we understand his point of view (terrible as it may be).  When he finally comes around, courtesy of a story his grandmother tells from her childhood, he shows that he really does get it.

So if you've read Wonder, you really must read "Julian's Chapter."  If you haven't read Wonder, do it.  You won't be disappointed, and then you'll for sure want to read this.

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

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

The Heroic Path, by John Sowers

Last weekend, I went on my church's men's retreat.  One of the features of every retreat at our church is skeet shooting.  I haven't shot skeet since Boy Scout camp, about 30 years ago, so I was as close to being a beginner as is possible.  My pastor tried coaching me a little bit, but quickly identified me as a hopeless case and gave up.  I felt clumsy, awkward, inadequate, and, well, unmanly.  I can relate to what John Sowers writes in The Heroic Path: In Search of the Masculine Heart.  Sometimes it seems that there is this elusive quality of manhood, of knowing how to be a man, that suburban-raised cubicle dwellers like me don't quite grasp.

Sowers, whose father left when he was young, began to wrestle with what it means to be a man in this world when his twin daughters were born.  His desire to be their protector, their provider, their hero, led him to start a journal and ultimately to write this book about the heroic path to manhood.  Drawing on Robert Bly, J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and especially the life of Jesus, he describes "the way to the wild masculine" which "follows the wind trails of Jesus as he walked into manhood."  Sower expounds on "the heroic path," "the mythic steps": severance (from Mom), confrontation, transformation, and return.

Sowers has some strong encouragement for men to be bold, to take risks, to step into the wild and be changed. For Sowers, coming face to face with a giant Kodiak bear was a turning point.  After an experience like this in "the wild," "everything has changed. The Secret Fire lights your eyes and simmers in your bones. You are coiled steel, burning with quiet intensity."  You will then be compelled to "walk into the center of town, climb the watchtower, and ring the bell.  We are to awaken the sons of long-dead knights, rousing sleepwalking men, men who are tiptoeing safely down to the grave."

Sowers bemoans the fact that American culture doesn't have a rite of passage to manhood like many cultures do. He's probably right that men would be stronger for it if we did. But he did tend to lose me with much of his "wildness" rhetoric, which sometimes made it seem like a manhood is incomplete without wilderness survival skills. Plus, while self-reliance and independence of thought are admirable and essential qualities, they must be rightly expressed. When he talks about finding "strength to put up boundaries" at work and saying no to pressing responsibilities, he asks "what if I stopped worrying about pleasing others?"  I know exactly what would happen to me at my job if I stopped worrying about pleasing others: I'd be unemployed!  I guess then I'd have time to head to the wild to find my manhood. 

Sower's call to manhood will appeal to many men, especially Chrisitan men who feel they have been emasculated by the church. I wish The Heroic Path had more practical, realistic advice for everyday living. I just don't see a trip to stalk bears on Kodiak island to be in my future. 

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

Monday, May 12, 2014

Kindred, by Octavia Butler

What would you do if you were a black woman living today, and suddenly found yourself transported to the antebellum South, where you were forced to live as a slave?  That's what happened to Dana in Octavia Butler's Kindred.  When the life of Rufus, son of a plantation owner, is in danger, Dana is drawn back to the past to save him.  Her stays get longer and longer, and she learns that her family is connected to Rufus's plantation, and gets to meet and mingle with her ancestors.

Butler presents a dark image of plantation life, of which Dana experiences the good and the terrible.  From a historical perspective, Kindred is a great introduction to life in the South, specifically the injustices suffered by the slaves.  Dana got first-hand experience of succumbing to the abuse and degradation.  Even in her relatively short stints, she learned to play-act her compliance, and allow herself to become numb to her plight.  My stomach ached to think that just a few generations ago, in my own country, perhaps even my own ancestors owned and abused slaves the way Dana and her forbears were treated.

My only beef with the book, with I thoroughly enjoyed, was the fact that the time travel element was not developed at all.  I mean, at least give us a hint as to why the time travel took place, through what means, if there are other episodes involving other people.  Kindred is categorized as science fiction, but there is none of the explanatory material a sci-fi reader might expect.  This is no more sci-fi than, for instance, Twain's Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court.

But don't let this quibble detract you.  It's really just an observation.  This is a great book, deservedly still in print 35 years after publication.

Friday, May 9, 2014

But Enough About You, by Christopher Buckley

Christopher Buckley long ago stepped out of the shadow of his father, the legendary William F. Buckley.  He has certainly earned his place as a brilliant writer on his own merits.  Besides his tremendously entertaining and humorous political novels, Christopher Buckley has written copiously for magazines such as The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, Forbes FYI, and others.  Many of his magazine pieces have been collected in a newly published collection, But Enough About You: Essays.

The essays and articles herein run the gamut, include travel pieces, reviews and criticism, memoir, and goofy stuff he must have written just because he thought it would be fun.  In the latter category, we find histories of the bug zapper, hotel alarm clock, hotel minibar, and the lobster bib, among other things.  These pieces are intelligently funny, but got a bit tiresome.  They were my least favorite part of the book, yet I know I would have appreciated them much more in the original context, as the silly humor piece in an otherwise straightforward magazine.

OK, I'm done being critical.  This really is a great collection of essays.  The great thing about But Enough About You is that if one essay is not to your liking, surely the next one will suit you.  Buckley has had such a wide range of experiences, in his travels, writing career, political experience, and his circle of friends, that it seems he has no end of interesting anecdotes.  His life is more interesting than most, and he writes movingly and brilliantly about it.  (And, I would add, humbly.  Even though he moves in elite circles, he does not come across as elitist.)

You just have to admire a writer who is as comfortable writing about a visit to Auschwitz or a tribute to Joseph Heller as he is writing about his imcompetence as a ski instructor for his 7-year-old son, or a fake questionnaire for vice presidential candidates.  Even more, he writes effectively about both. I am in full agreement with the dust jacket: "Reading these essays is the equivalent of being in the company of a tremendously witty and enlightening companion."  But Enough About You will have you alternatively laughing, thinking, and wanting to read more of Christopher Buckley.

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

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Wednesday, May 7, 2014

The Reappearing Act, by Kate Fagan

Perhaps the worst-kept secret in sports is the presence of lesbians on women's athletic teams.  With high-profile college and pro athletes coming out on our sports pages on a regular basis, Kate Fagan's coming out story seems to come from another time.  Fagan, now an outstanding ESPN columnist, was, 10 years ago, a starter on the Colorado Buffaloes basketball team.  In The Reappearing Act: Coming Out as Gay on a College Basketball Team Let by Born-Again Christians, Fagan tells the story of her time at Colorado, during which she came to grips with her gay identity.

As the subtitle suggests, Fagan was surrounded by outspoken Christians, and for a while joined them in Bible study and worship.  But she could not reconcile her feelings and attractions to other women to what she heard at Bible study and church.  She realized that her feeling that she was gay "was more real to me than any Bible verse or prayer session had ever felt."  More than the struggle against the Bible, she struggled against letting down her family and Christian friends.  She knew they would be disappointed in her, but she could not deny who she felt like she was becoming.

Fagan's story is unfortunate in several ways.  She was surrounded by good friends on the basketball team, but their "love the sinner, hate the sin" attitude seemed more like "hate the sin, reject, ignore, or shun the sinner."  She eventually moved out of the apartment she shared with her close Christian friends, unable to tolerate the judgmental looks.  By extension, she was driven away from God and the church.

After a pretty dark time of depression and rejection, Fagan seems to have taken some strong steps toward wholeness and acceptance of herself.  I am a straight, male, Christian, and I tend more toward her teammates' point of view, but I appreciated Fagan's perspective.  There are men and women in Fagan's shoes all around us.  In spite of growing acceptance of homosexuality in culture, being gay can still be a struggle.  Christians need to remember that we are called to love, not to judge.

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

Monday, May 5, 2014

Good Call, by Jase Robertson

If you watch Duck Dynasty, you know who Jase Robertson is.  One of Phil Robertson's sons, Duck Commander COO, duck call creator extraordinaire, and a colorful personality on the TV show, Jase reveals more of himself in his new book, Good Call: Reflections on Faith, Family, and Fowl.  Jase tells some funny stories on himself, which you would expect, but I was more impressed reading about Jase's active, evangelistic faith.

Jase is an entertaining guy, who loves hunting ducks, but also (perhaps more so) hunting frogs.  I went frog gigging one time, but that's not Jase's style.  He likes to stalk them and catch them with his bare hands.  He's a purist, and a connoisseur of frog legs.  But duck hunting tends to dominate his life.  Thus, the beard.  He likes the beard for aesthetic reasons, and for the practical reason of not having to shave.  More importantly, it makes sense of a duck hunter not to have his white, hairless face, shining like a beacon to scare away the ducks.

In Good Call, Jase writes about "facial profiling."  He tells the funny story of being politely escorted out the side entrance of a swank Manhattan hotel by a restaurant employee who mistook him for a homeless person.  He has been on the receiving end of plenty of wary looks due to his beard.  He insists, however, that he is "not going to judge someone for having less facial hair.  There is a place in our society for people with smooth faces; it's called the ladies' room. (That's a redneck joke.)"

Besides the funny stories and beard stories, Jase writes extensively about his ministry.  He went to Bible school and was, for a short time, a minister.  He and his wife, Missy, actively told anyone who would listen about Jesus, and had Bible studies at their house several nights a week.  By his accounting, many, many people have entered into a relationship with Jesus due to their influence.  In fact, he insists that his main goal for the popular Duck Dynasty show is that his family would have more opportunities to share about Jesus.  They certainly have been able to witness, both on TV and at events around the country.  He writes, "the only kind of stardom I and my family are interested in is the lifestyle in Christ as described in Philippians 2:15-16: "children of God . . . [that] shine like stars in the universe as you hold out the word of life."  From my perspective, it does look like the entire Robertson family has lived with that humble, Christ-centered attitude.

Of course one of the greatest challenges to Jase and Missy's faith has been dealing with having a daughter born with a cleft lip and palate.  Duck Dynasty viewers are familiar with Mia's birth and with the multiple surgeries she has gone through.  In Good Call Jase writes about how their faith has sustained them, and how Mia's spirit has out-shined any physical difficulties she has had.  I loved hearing about her great attitude, and reading about how Jase and Missy have taken this hardship and turned it into an opportunity to bring glory to God and to minister to other families who are facing the same thing.

Readers who are looking for good stories about Jase's childhood, the crazy things he gets himself into, and, of course, duck hunting, will not be disappointed.  There are surely not many people who love duck hunting more than Jase, but this book is really about his love of God and his desire to see other people fall in love with Jesus.  Good call, Jase.

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

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Friday, May 2, 2014

Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens, by Alex McCall

So how could I not want to read a book called Attack of the Giant Robot Chickens?  I was expecting a book loaded with silliness, and I wasn't terribly disappointed on that front.  But Alex McCall's book isn't just silliness, it qualifies as legitimate, fun, young-adult fiction.  In a near-future Aberdeen, Scotland, the adults have all disappeared, the kids survive in clans, hiding out for fear of the robot chickens that scour the landscape, looking for victims.

In some ways this is a pretty standard survive and fight back after a natural disaster/ apocalypse/ alien invasion story.  Alex McCall keeps it light, but the kids have to figure out how to be heroes, how to fight these giant robot chickens, and how to survive and return to their prior way of life.  It's a clever twist on a standard genre, thoroughly enjoyable, creative, and entertaining.  A movie version by the creators of the Wallace and Gromit films would be fitting for the tone and content of the book.

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