Saturday, March 31, 2018

World War One Posters

The first World War is a century in the past, and it's hard for people alive today to grasp what life was like during the war.  Calla Editions's book World War One Posters: An Anniversary Collection give a glimpse into that era.  We are all familiar with the famous Uncle Sam "I want YOU for U.S. Army" recruiting poster.  Calla includes this and ninety-nine others.

Besides recruiting posters, which must have been compelling for young men looking to serve their country, there may be just as many posters for those not signing up.  Posters implore people to buy war bonds, war stamps, join the "school garden army," or knit socks for soldiers.  Only about half the posters are American.  They have included British posters, as well as posters in French and German. 

This is in interesting collection, and certainly will trigger interest in the stories behind the posters.  But I wish Calla would have provided more than the title and artist of the poster.  They do include a very brief visual description of each, but no context, no historical background, just the poster.  I would be interested in the timing and distribution of the poster, how many copies were made and where they were posted, specific events that may have triggered a poster's theme, the results of the posting (for instance, how many pairs of socks did Americans knit and send overseas?).

So view this as what the title says it is: a collection of posters.  It's a window to history that doesn't tell a lot of history, but it's a window worth looking through regardless.

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

Friday, March 30, 2018

Act of War, by Brad Thor

Scott Harvath, once again, is tasked with saving humanity.  In Brad Thor's 2015 novel Act of War, the enemy is China (to be fair, rogue elements in the Chinese power structure, but in a country like China, how do we distinguish. . . .) and the weapon of choice is a large-scale coordinated EMP attack.  Of course, it takes a while for Harvath and his colleagues to put all this together. 

Act of War features a plot that, like many of Harvath's novels, seems almost too realistic and plausible.  One of the "nose under the tent" elements is Obama's NASA program to reach out to Muslims "to help them feel good about their historic contribution to science" (that, by the way is an actual Obama quote).  The Chinese use this program to recruit Muslim students to enter the U.S., but then the students stick around and take part in the plot to launch the EMP attack.  It's quite a scheme, but Harvath, with the help of his Carlton Group colleagues, the FBI, and other government entities, gets to the bottom of it and averts disaster.

Thor is known for his realistic writing and insider information, so it makes me wonder how concerned I should be about this sort of attack.  If you've read any apocalyptic novels or seen the movies, you know what sort of impact such an attack could have.  Harvath gets it and knows that if they don't foil this plot, it would be disastrous for the U.S. and the world.  But Harvath comes through, saves the world, and serves justice on the plotters in typical Harvath fashion.

This is obviously a work of fiction, but Harvath/Thor holds nothing back in his contempt for Obama and his policies, even if Obama is not named.  Also, given that this was published before Trump even announced his candidacy, it's interesting to read the ways that Thor's successor to the fictional Obama aligns with Trump.  Thor sensed the need for change and prophetically and/or hopefully wrote the future.  I don't know who the actual, real-life Harvaths are, but I have no doubt that he or she and their counterparts are working on the front lines and behind the scenes to secure and protect the United States.  Let's hope so, anyway.

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Her Last Day, T.R. Ragan

Jessie Cole didn't plan to become a private investigator, but when her sister disappeared, her passion to find her shaped her career.  T.R. Ragan introduces Jessie in Her Last Day.  She's a private investigator with a penchant for getting into trouble and a knack for tracking down missing persons.  When a local eccentric man hires Jessie to find his missing daughter, she never expected that her search would bring her into contact with the Heartless Killer, an elusive serial killer who has been terrorizing Sacramento for years.

She teams up with Ben Morrison, a local crime reporter who suffers from amnesia due to an accident ten years ago. . . . about the same time Jessie's sister disappeared. . . . Hmmm. . . .  As they pursue their investigations, it becomes clear to both of them that the stories are more involved than they realized.

I enjoyed Ragan's characters, who have high degree of complexity in their backgrounds but aren't over-the-top caricatures.  The one over-the-top character, the Heartless Killer, was inexplicably malevolent, to a disturbing degree.  As she developed him and his twisted ways, I thought, "If he's the villain throughout this trilogy, I might be done after this one."  But, unlike her Faith McMann trilogy's cliffhangers, Ragan wraps this one up nicely.  She leaves some questions about the characters unanswered but brings the case to a conclusion.  Her Last Day is a promising start to the series.

Monday, March 26, 2018

Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?, by Gregory Thornbury

I have two minor regrets regarding Larry Norman.  First, at some point I wrote to him, perhaps to join the Phydeaux fan club or something, and he sent a personal note.  I didn't keep it.  Second, when I was living in Michigan, he played a couple hours away.  This was around 2001 or 2002, I think.  I didn't go.  I sure wish I had.  I didn't get turned on to Larry Norman until later in his career.  It wasn't my fault; I was born a few years too late.  I think I was 13 when I bought Something New Under the Son, in 1982 or so.  This was after the peak of Norman's fame in the 1970s. 

I am grateful for Gregory Thornbury's new book, Why Should the Devil Have All the Good Music?: Larry Norman and the Perils of Christian Rock.  Thornbury had unprecedented access to Norman's correspondence, journals, and many other records, as well as the cooperation of his family, friends, and business associates.  The result of his labors is a thorough, thoughtful look into Norman's life, career, and perspective.

A constant theme of the book, and of Norman's life, was his struggle to straddle the Christian world and the secular world.  He never wavered from his Christian faith and remained theologically sound, yet mainstream Christianity rejected him from the start.  In a way, though, he didn't long for the approval of mainstream Christianity.  He was critical of the materialism and hypocrisy of the American church.  He saw his life's work as outside of the church.

This outsider status guided his career.  He was a vocal critic especially of the Christian music industry.  He wrote, "Almost none of the Christian music succeeds as art . . . it is merely propaganda masquerading as art . . . Not only is it misconceived as a musical project . . . but it fails to deliver its message . . . [their records] are sold only by Christian bookstores or direct mail.  Non Christians do not frequent religious bookstores."  To the extent that Christian music aims to reach the lost, it fails.  In an interview he said, "The sad irony of almost all Christian music is that it preaches salvation to people who already have it . . . while the people who need the message don't usually hear it."

It's a tough line, and I think every Christian artist since Norman has dealt with the same questions.  Most don't sound as contentious about it, and Norman sounds accusatory and snobbish when he dismisses many Christian musicians as substandard artists or misguided in their ministry.  Nevertheless, Norman's influence grew and has continued even after his death.

Thornbury doesn't hold back in discussing some of the unsavory parts of Norman's life, including an affair while he was on tour.  The most troubling part of his life is the wreck he made of his business relationships.  Due to lack of wisdom, poor counsel, and good old-fashioned stubbornness, Norman had a very difficult time maintaining good relationships with record labels, tour promoters, and other musicians.  Thornbury covers these stories in great detail.

As troubled as Norman's personal and professional life was at times, his legacy as an artist and as a Christian witness is what endures.  He was one of the greats, and the music industry and the universal church owe him a great debt.  We won't know until we get to heaven the full extent of his impact on the Kingdom of God, but I won't be surprised to see him in heaven's worship band.

(Side note: his CDs are very expensive and sometimes hard to find.  I wish his estate would figure out how to get the rights to his albums and release a nice box set of all his music, including original album art and his voluminous liner notes.  I'd snap that up in a heartbeat.)

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

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Escape Artist, by Brad Meltzer

Brad Meltzer's newest offering, The Escape Artist, will seem very familiar to Meltzer's fans.  Meltzer is known for political conspiracies, "could it be true" historical background, breathless action, and convoluted plot twists.  The Escape Artist has it all.

The best thing about The Escape Artist is Nola, an artist with a troubled past and an almost supernatural gift of observation.  She uses her skills as the Army's artist in residence.  When she dies in a plane crash, the Army coroner happens to be the father of one of Nola's Girl Scout friends.  He recognizes that this corpse is not Nola, and the chase to figure out the truth digs him in deeper than he could have expected.

Nola's character is so troubled and so gifted, she deserves her own series.  In The Escape Artist, she shows not only her artistic skills, but also her survival and combat skills.  Throughout the book, Meltzer flashes back to Nola's childhood.  She was sold to a malicious man as a child; his monstrous, abusive behavior toward Nola shaped her into a killer.  Her art was her only escape.

As is his style, Meltzer's story is totally implausible.  He twists the reader around, taking a long time to reveal who the bad guys and good guys are, and who was that corpse from the plane crash?  He throws in a lot of historical information about a secret group of spies, enough to make you wonder, "How much of this is really true?"  Probably some of it. . . .  The good thing about Meltzer is that even though you might roll your eyes at the plot twists and unbelievable story elements, his books are still fun to read.  Pop up the popcorn and dive in.

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

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Hidden Order, by Brad Thor

The five candidates on the secret list to replace the chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, who died suddenly, have disappeared.  Who is the Fed going to call?  Scott Harvath, of course.  Brad Thor's Navy Seal, ex-Secret Service agent Harvath is back in Hidden Order: A Thriller.  (Why the subtitle?  It's pretty obvious that a Harvath book is going to be a thriller.)

Harvath has been working in the private sector, and this contract with the Fed is the chance to get the company back in the black.  In the course of the investigation, Harvath teams up with a Boston detective (young, pretty, and available, of course) to track down a killer as the fed candidates turn up dead, murdered in complex, symbolic ways.

Besides the investigation itself, Thor spends a lot of time on the history of the Fed, including references to actual historical events and books of history and economics.  This part of the story came off as a bit propagandistic.  It was pretty clear that Thor was promoting a point of view here, but it doesn't distract too much from the narrative.

Thor fans will enjoy this story, even if the unnecessarily symbol-obsessed killer and the unrealistically complex conspiracy seem over the top.  It's always fun to see what kinds of messes Harvath will get into and out of.

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!

Saturday, March 10, 2018

I'm Not Your Sweet Baboo, by Charles M. Schulz

Peanuts comics never seem to get old.  Charles Schulz's comics are timeless, classic, and consistently funny.  Schulz, sadly, is no longer around to write new comic strips, but thankfully publishers continue to publish new collections.  Kids who don't have the pleasure of reading new Peanuts strips in the Sunday paper can enjoy books like I'm Not Your Sweet Babboo!

In this collection Snoopy battles with the neighbor cat, Peppermint Patti enrolls in dog obedience school, Snoopy rescues Linus from the top of a barn, and Sally makes some memorable class presentations.  I was surprised at a few more grown-up themes, like when Snoopy's bride-to-be runs off with his brother, and when Charlie Brown leaves home to hide out from the EPA.  (They were after him because he took a bit out of the kite-eating tree.)

Kids of all ages will love these comic strips, as they have for generations.  Schulz was one-of-a-kind and his work simply doesn't get old.

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

Friday, March 9, 2018

Things That Matter, by Charles Krauthammer

Charles Krauthammer is one of the bright lights of political commentary today.  He has written a Washington Post column since 1985, for which he won a Pulitzer Prize, and appears on Fox News as a commentator.  In Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes, and Politics, he has collected a variety of his columns and other writings, giving a nice glimpse into his thinking.

As the subtitle suggests, these columns span three decades, so a few of them seem dated, but for the most part he has selected writing that stands the test of time.  For example, he writes about Winston Churchill, on whom the 20th century hinged.  Krauthammer praises Churchill's traditionalism: "It took a 19th-century man--traditional in habit, rational in thought, conservative in temper--to save the 20th century from itself." 

Another figure from history who gets a bad rap: Columbus.  In spite of the obvious problems of conquest, "after 500 years the Columbian legacy has created a civilization that we ought not, in all humble piety and cultural relativism, declare to be no better or worse than that of the Incas.  It turned out better.  And mankind is the better for it.  Infinitely better."

Several of the essays are very personal, such as his tribute to his brother and his praise for baseball.  Others are more in depth, such as an extended essay on embryonic research.  All are thoughtful and thought provoking.  Yeah, it's a lot to take in on a wide array of topics.  Things That Matter is probably best enjoyed as originally written, reading one column a day, like in the Post, rather than straight through.  However you approach it, it's worth your valuable reading time.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Loving Your Spouse When You Feel Like Walking Away, by Gary Chapman

Gary Chapman long ago established himself as a leading expert on marriage and relationships.  His 1992 book The Five Love Languages continues to be a popular and helpful resource, influencing couples and marriage counselors everywhere, and creating a cottage industry for Chapman.  His recent book Loving Your Spouse When You Feel Like Walking Away: Real Help for Desperate Hearts in Difficult Marriages covers a variety of marital conflicts and offers help to couples(This is an update of Chapman's 2008 book, Desperate Marriages: Moving Toward Hope and Healing in Your Relationship.)

Chapman wants couples, even those who feel like they have no option but to leave, to reject some myths and accept some realities.  He writes that people can change, that couples do have options, that each spouse is in control of his or her responses, and each can influence the other with his or her actions. 

I have to be honest, Loving Your Spouse is not fun to read.  Each chapter covers some difficult-to-live-with characteristic: irresponsible, workaholic, depressed, controlling, abusive, sexually abused or abusive, uncommunicative, unfaithful, addicted.  Chapman draws from his many years of marriage counseling and conference speaking for detailed stories of couples who have dealt with each of these and how they overcame (in most cases he tells a happy ending).  Reading about these struggling marriages isn't exactly happy reading. 

If a couple is dealing with one of the above troubles, this can be a great resource to get started on the journey toward reconciliation.  In summary, Chapman says spouses should "embrace the positive actions that one individual can take to stimulate constructive changes in a relationship."  Don't give up on marriage and be an agent of change.  It's never to late.

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

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Waking Gods, by Sylvain Neuvel

Sylvain Neuvel continues what he started in Sleeping Giants in book two of The Themis Files, Waking Gods.  The giant robot that scientists recovered and put together in book one was incontrovertible evidence of extraterrestrial beings with intelligence and technology superior to man's.  In book 2, the aliens show up.  Without prior warning, another robot appears a decade later, this time fully assembled, in London.  Attempts at a peaceful welcome failed, and a large slice of London is vaporized by the robot.

Themis, the earth-assembled robot, takes down the robot, but then additional robots appear in major cities around the world.  Themis's crew has their hands full, trying to figure out the teleportation feature and being reunited with their test-tube baby daughter they didn't know they had.  Their plan for confronting the newly-arrived robots sounds crazy, but it just might work. . . .

Neuvel continues his documentary story-telling style, advancing the narrative through journal entries, interview transcripts, event logs, etc.  While I enjoy his method, in this case it serves to downplay the scope of the events of the book.  Tens of millions are killed by these robots, and it seems as if the characters can barely bring themselves to care.  He gives only a distant, detached understanding of world events as he focuses on the personal perspective of the characters.

I thought he had a pretty good cliffhanger at the end of Sleeping Giants.  That cliffhanger became an important element of Waking Gods.  But the cliffhanger at the end of Waking Gods is even better.  I can't wait to read Only Human!

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Greater Love, by Robert Whitlow

Greater Love concludes Robert Whitlow's "Tides of Truth" series about Tami Taylor.  The first two books brought Tami through her summer internship with a law firm in Savannah.  In Greater Love, she is finishing up law school and is faced with deciding whether to take a position where she interned, an established firm that will pay her very well, or to join a start-up firm with a former DA and a fellow intern.  Once she felt certain about joining the big firm, Sister Dabney gave her a prophetic word that she should join the women in the new firm.

Figuring out which man to commit to is not as easy a task.  She has been courting Zach, but she senses some distance and wonders if he's the one.  Her fellow intern has taken a job with Zach's firm, and proves to be a faithful friend, so maybe he's the one. . . .

As she gets settled back in with her landlady from the summer and reconnects with Sister Dabney, her first assignment from the county is to defend a runaway named Jesse.  Sister Dabney had been helping her, and together she and Tami have to unravel Jesse's stories about her past and try to defend her.  When mysterious people show up and Jessie disappears, things become more complicated.

Whitlow has written a nice trilogy, keeping a balance between suspense and legal matters, and the romance and growth of a young lady.  Tami may not be the most likable heroine ever, as her stringent legalism sometimes seems to sap the joy of following Jesus.  But I have to admire her steadfastness and her determination to honor her parent's wishes in all things, and to maintain her Christian convictions in the face of challenges in her career and her personal life.   Greater Love is a satisfying finish to a very enjoyable trilogy.

Monday, March 5, 2018

The Color of Justice, by Ace Collins

Ace Collins takes us back to a bitterly divided South in The Color of Justice, a novel about a young black man accused of murdering the teenage daughter of a prominent white family.  When the young man's mother tearfully seeks the assistance of Coop Lindsay, a young white attorney whose family has deep roots in their small Mississippi town, Coop is just intrigued enough to consider representing Martin.  It doesn't take long for Coop to figure out that the evidence against Martin is fishy.

Nevertheless, the whole town, at least all the white people in town, are convinced that Martin is guilty.  As word gets around that Coop will be defending him, the town turns against him, even burning a cross in his yard.  Coop finds an unlikely ally in a local millionaire, whose old money runs the town. 

The Color of Justice takes a jarring turn about two-thirds of the way through.  The trial concludes, but Collins jumps forward from 1964 to 2014, when Coop's grandson, also named Coop, comes to town.  His purpose is to look into the 1964 murder case, but he gets drafted to assist with a new murder mystery.  We learn that the first Coop, along with Martin, disappeared as soon as the trial ended.  That mystery and the new mystery end up mingling, and young Coop has to use his insight, just as his grandfather did, to come to unpopular conclusions in the name of justice.

By linking these two stories, a half century apart, Collins adds a level of interest to The Color of Justice, which otherwise would have been a pretty straightforward murder mystery.  I enjoyed it, with some reservations.  The whole culture of the South theme seemed artificial, for some reason.  I felt like Collins may have cribbed a bit too much from To Kill a Mockingbird and the like.  I don't know if a story about justice in the South in the 1960s can avoid stereotypes and easy categorization.  Also, I'm not a lawyer, but it seemed like Collins played fast and loose with court procedures, especially in the 2014 trial.

Overall, The Color of Justice is entertaining.  Coop is easy to cheer for, and Martin and his mother are well-written as the justice-seeking minorities with all the odds against them. 

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

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Treknology, by Ethan Siegel

The classic TV and movie series Star Trek, in its many manifestations, is very entertaining on the story-telling merits alone.  But the minds behind the stories weren't just weaving fantasies.  The technology in Star Trek, even the most fanciful, anticipated and inspired technology that is in our grasp.  In Treknology: The Science of Star Trek from Tricorders to Warp Drive, astrophysicist Ethan Siegel demonstrates how dozens of Star Trek technologies have either come into common use, or are being developed.

One of the most ubiquitous is, of course, the cell phone.  The original flip phones were modeled after the communicators first used in the original Star Trek series.  At the time the series aired, the concept of using a hand-held device for two-way communication over great distances was fantasy.  Today we take it for granted.  Another iconic show element is the automatic sliding doors.  When they appeared on the show, they were amazing.  Today we walk through so many of them we rarely notice.  We regularly use computers that far surpass anything the show's creators imagined.  We use tablet computers that exceed the PADDs on the show, and our devices have so much memory and computing power we don't know what to do with it all.

Some of the other technologies in the show are quite a bit further from everyday usage.  The transporter beam, another iconic Star Trek staple, is still almost in the realm of fantasy, but scientists have been developing the ability to transport matter.  The warp drive and impulse engines are well out the reach of current application, but are imaginable based on current usage.  Other Star Trek technologies, like artificial gravity, antimatter containment, and the Holodeck still seem way out of reach, but Siegel writes that even these fantastic-sounding technologies are in the infancy of actual development.  He writes, "We might not have achieved the dream of Star Trek just yet in every regard, but given that it's been just more than a half century since it first envisioned our world three hundred years into the future, our progress isn't too shabby."

Treknology is a fun book, chock full of references to various episodes and movies, with screen shots and scientific illustrations.  It's a reminder that phrases and scenes fans know and love, like "What is the nature of your medical emergency?," "Set phasers for stun," and the introduction of transparent aluminum are more than just throwaway plot points, but, like much of the series, are harbingers of things to come.

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

Friday, March 2, 2018

Zero Limit, by Jeremy K. Brown

I enjoy a variety of sci-fi, but I think my favorite is the near-future, highly believable, hard sci-fi style.  Jeremy K. Brown's Zero Limit is a great example of this.  He tells a thrilling story that is wrapped up in the science and politics of a tomorrow that people living today could experience.

Caitlin Taggart is a war hero, having acted with bravery in the Middle East.  Through a variety of circumstances, include anti-Moon prejudices and anti-immigration policies that have stranded her on the Moon, she is the head of a mining crew scraping the Moon's surface and processing H3 to be shipped back to Earth for energy production.  When the flamboyant owner of a mining company asks her to lead an expedition to rein in an asteroid that is mostly platinum, the promise of a chance to return to Earth and her Earth-bound daughter is too much to turn down.

Upon arrival at the asteroid, a fuel explosion destroys her ship and alters the path of the asteroid to a collision course with Earth.  Cait and her rag-tag crew of miners are the Earth's only hope to avoid apocalyptic devastation.  Working with crews on Earth, they dredge all the technology they can access to push the asteroid to a path that will miss the Earth.  Brown pays close attention to the use of science and technology, building a very believable story, in many cases using examples of technology that exists in real-life 2018, or is close to reality.

As you might expect from a story like this, Brown includes plenty of melodrama and edge-of-your-seat close calls.  Of course the first solutions they attempt won't work out that great, and there will be some major flubs and terrible losses along the way.  But that's what makes this a page-turner, an exciting, old-fashioned and forward looking action-packed story that will keep you up reading at night.

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