Jaeth’s Eye by K.S. Villoso

Jaeth's EyeJaeth’s Eye

by K.S. Villoso
Series: The Agartes Epilogues, #1

Kindle Edition, 372 pg.
World Tree Publishing, 2014

Read: February 9 – 11, 2017


There is no doubt in my mind that Villoso had a very clear idea what was going on in these pages — but as I read, I felt like I was constantly e-evaluating what was going on — guessing what I was supposed to understand, and what was supposed to be being revealed to me (either where I was or in the future).

Not only did I not understand where I was, I couldn’t really tell you until the end how everything tied together and what the overall story was. I didn’t get the various cultures/ethnicities, I couldn’t tell how the various moves by the characters — or by those they were talking about — meant anything.

Now, I liked the characters — I liked the interactions, and every time that the story moved on I hated it, because I’d have to reorient myself. The characters seem to change almost every time I encountered them.

Glancing around the internet I see that I’m alone in this — every other reviewer seems to have really dug the way Villoso told the story. Great — that’s a relief. I’d rather that I missed out on something good than the alternative — that Villoso didn’t put out something good.

Well, there’s one thing that you cannot convince me belongs in this fantasy world — dime novels. Nope, that just doesn’t fit.

I’m going to give this a three because the individual scenes, the character moments were great — I just couldn’t put the pieces together. Go read someone else’s take on the book, it’s bound to be better than mine.

Disclaimer: This book was provided to me by the author in exchange for this post — sorry it worked out this way for you, K. S.

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3 Stars

Legal Asylum: A Comedy by Paul Goldstein

Legal Asylum: A ComedyLegal Asylum: A Comedy

by Paul Goldstein

ARC, 284 pg.
Ankerwycke, 2017

Read: February 14 – 16, 2017


Elspeth Flowers is a career-fixated, libidinous, and conniving Dean of a state college’s Law School. She’s been working for years to put herself and her school into the prime position to launch themselves into national prominence. The School is on the verge of breaking into the Top 5 of U.S. News & World Report‘s ranking of Law Schools — a first for any state school. When that happens, the prospects for the trailblazing leader that got them there are so bright they’d inspire a song by Timbuk3. While Elspeth wants the success for the School, what she wants more than that are for her post-academia plans for herself to come to fruition. But on the cusp of her anticipated victory there are a few things that stand in her way:

  • Cuckolded Assistant Dean Jimmy James Fleenor who keeps (initially inadvertently) blocking her cunning plans.
  • An Enterprising Mail Room clerk, Wendall Ward, who just might be the most influential person we meet in these pages — definitely the most on-the-ball Mail Room clerk since Brantley Foster.
  • A federal investigation into the business practices of the school’s biggest donor.
  • A handful of secrets that are enough to get the accreditation committee to look long and hard at everything around the school.

Did I forget to mention that the ABA’s Accreditation Committee shows up days before everything is going to fall into place for Elspeth? Not just that, but thanks to circumstances and Jimmy James’ fumbling machinations, the committee is full of people who aren’t going to march to the beat of Elspeth’s drum or respond to her wiles. Their arrival shows that Elspeth’s best laid plans may look impressive (especially to her), but in reality are merely a tower of Jenga blocks threatening to topple. The question is: can she keep things standing long enough to get her Top 5 ranking and seize the brass ring — or will she find herself standing in a pile of rubble?

I like to think I learned a lot about the state of legal education today from these pages — even if the details are exaggerated for the purposes of satire there’s enough truth at the heart of them to educate the reader. Competition can drive the most cut-throat amongst us to extremes — and when the rewards for winners are what they can be in this area of academia, there’s a lot of incentive for people to get very competitive.

This is Goldstein’s fifth novel (I believe), and it looks like this is the first that isn’t a straightforward legal thriller. The experience he gained from those other novels probably served him well as he attempts to stop into another, and far trickier, genre. His characters are well-developed and well-used, his pacing is good, and he reveals plot complication after plot complication like a pro. He doesn’t go for cheap laughs and doesn’t demean the targets of his satire — nor does he pull his punches. It’s not a laugh-out-loud funny book, but it’s amusing and he’ll elicit more than the occasional grin as you read it.

One thing I’ve noticed about satirical novels is that endings are the hardest part — I’ve stopped looking for strong endings in satirical novels, I just hope for not terrible endings. Plots just tend to get away from the authors — like Soap Box Derby cars with cheap brakes on steep hills. Things in Legal Asylum threatened to get away from Goldstein, but he largely managed a satisfactory ending. I’m not 100% convinced it wasn’t more by authorial fiat than by being true to the characters (particularly Elspeth), but it was close enough that I could swallow that last chapter without much difficulty.

Do I think I’d find this more amusing if I was in the legal profession, had some experience with Law School, or was closer to my time in higher education in general? You bet. Is all of the humor lost on me because none of the above apply? Nope — and the same is likely for other readers. This is a recommended read for those who like smart books — particularly those about smart people who don’t always act like they are. Strong writing, satire that’s on-target without being mean, good characters and an ending that’s pretty satisfying — it’s hard to ask for more

Disclaimer: I received a copy of this from the author’s publicist in exchange for this post and my honest opinion.

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3 Stars

No Little Women by Aimee Byrd

No Little WomenNo Little Women: Equipping All Women in the Household of God

by Aimee Byrd
Paperback, 278 pg.
P&R Publishing, 2016

Read: February 12, 2017

This book is — by and large — an examination and critique of contemporary Women’s Ministries, and the materials marketed towards women in a Christian context. Byrd doesn’t call for an abolition of Women’s Ministries — but does want to encourage women and the churches that they’re members of to evaluate these with a greater level of discernment, for churches to work at cultivating and equipping female members the same way they seek to for the males in the congregation.

Byrd examines the warnings Paul gives about those seeking to deceive and lead away women — and the impact that would have on the churches of the First Century (and today!) when they succeeded in drawing away women from the truth. Why does Paul focus on women in this context? Should pastors today do the same? Which leads to a discussion of the proper means and motives for educating the females in a congregation, and the roles that women (and laymen) should have in the ministry of the Church.

Byrd discusses (and critiques) the contemporary concept “ministries” of the Church in contrast to The Ministry of Word and Sacrament. And in that light, examines the role of “Women’s Ministries” (even if she finds the term problematic, it’s what everyone uses, so her discussion needs to use the term) in the Church today. So much goes on in even conservative, confessional churches under the umbrella of Women’s Ministry that diverges from — even flat-out contradicts — the teachings from the pulpits. How did we get to this point, and how does the Church respond to this in ways that will lead us all to maturity without causing harm and disunity in a local congregation?

Byrd doesn’t claim to have all the answers here, but she has some good places to start. One of the biggest ways is to improve the level of involvement from Church Leadership in the Women’s Ministries/Initiatives. Another is to improve discernment in women when it comes to dealing with books/teachings marketed toward them. Byrd devotes a chapter to citing problematic (and worse!) passages in popular books targeted to the Christian Woman Non-Fiction audience, with questions that discerning (or would-be discerning) readers should be asking. She even includes questions that people should be asking about No Little Women!

It should be noted — and stressed — that nowhere does Byrd argue for a change in the Church’s teaching on male/female relationships and roles, female ordination, or anything along those lines — she does argue that we might not be the best at applying those teachings right now.

What makes this book poignant is Byrd’s repeated call — maybe pleading would be a better way of putting it — for Church Officers (Pastors, Elders) to pay attention to the theological and spiritual development and education of the women in their congregations (and the never stated, but obvious, indictment of the all-too-frequent abandonment of their call in this regard). Yes, when it comes to the official and regular Ministry of Word and Sacrament, these officers are doing their duty — but when it comes to the books (and other materials) marketed towards them, the studies they use, the “Women’s Ministries,” etc. — all too often, it’s ignored. Byrd asks for Shepherds and Leaders to step up and help the women in their congregations — and even gives some tips for how they can effectively relate to these oft-neglected parishioners. Do I think most of the men she’s addressing here think they’re ignoring any part their flocks? No (and I doubt Byrd does either), but they sure appear to be.

A quick digression: At one point, Byrd cites statistics saying that Women buy 72% of the Christian Fiction sold and 59% of the Christian Non-Fiction, and another survey stating that Women read twice as much Christian Non-Fiction as men. Seriously? This is rather disheartening. What do Christian men read? Are we (on the whole) an illiterate group? This blog isn’t the proper setting for this question — and I’m sure not the one to answer it, but I hope someone takes this up (Sinclair Ferguson helps to remedy the problem in this small [and 15-year-old] booklet).

Byrd writes in her typical straight-forward manner, in a prose that’s smooth and easy to read. Despite challenging her readers, she never comes across and condemnatory or anything but encouraging. There’s a call to action (sometimes implicit, frequently explicit), but consistently done in a positive manner. Byrd’s seeking to improve how the Church — women, pastors/elders, and laymen — carries out Her mission, not to tear down.

Ultimately, I’m not one of the main target audiences — women and Church Officers — so I had a hard(er) time really getting into sections of this book than I’d like. But as a husband, father of a daughter, and layman concerned with the theological education of his fellow laity — a lot of this book was alarming, yet encouraging. Someone’s taking this seriously — and hopefully she’s raising enough awareness that others will follow suit. You don’t have to be a feminist or ecclesiological revolutionary to be concerned with the state of theological training of Christian women (and everything she says about Women goes for our teens and children) — it’s a matter for all laity to take up. This is as close to a must-read as I can think of.

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4 Stars

Saturday Miscellany – 2/18/17

Odds ‘n ends over the week about books and reading that caught my eye. You’ve probably seen some/most/all of them, but just in case:

    A Couple of Book-ish Related Podcast Episodes you might want to give a listen:

  • Episode 17 of Two Crime Writers — usual good stuff, plus the interview with Adrian McKinty is hilarious
  • Elan Mastai by Beaks & Geeks

    This Week’s New Releases I’m Excited About and/or You’ll Probably See Here Soon:

  • The Impossible Fortress by Jason Rekulak — okay, it came out last week, but I forgot to mention it. This celebration of the 80s looks great.

Lastly, I’d like to say hi and welcome to Mollie Player for following the blog this week.

Opening Lines – Dead Gone

Head & Shoulders used to tell us that, “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” That’s true for wearing dark shirts, and it’s especially true for books. Sometimes the characters will hook the reader, sometimes the premise, sometimes it’s just knowing the author — but nothing beats a great opening for getting a reader to commit. This is one of the better openings I’ve read recently. Would it make you commit?

She hadn’t been afraid of the dark.

Not before.

Not before it entered her life without her knowing, enveloping her like a second skin, becoming a part of her.

She hadn’t been claustrophobic, petrified the walls were closing in around her. Crushed to death without knowing they’d even moved. Not scared of things that crawled around her toes. Wasn’t afraid to sit alone in a darkened room and wonder if something was touching her face, or if it was just her imagination.

Nope. She wasn’t scared before.

She was now.

It took time to become afraid of those things, and time was all she had, stretching out in front of her without end.

She blamed herself. Blamed her friends. Blamed him. She shouldn’t be there, and someone was to blame for that.

Had to be.

from Dead Gone by Luca Veste

This tells you so much about the victim, her life and what’s about to happen to her (and who’s behind what’s about to happen) — such a good opening.

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) by Jennifer Weiner

Hungry Heart (Audiobook) Hungry Heart: Adventures in Life, Love, and Writing

by Jennifer Weiner , Jennifer Weiner (Narrator)

Unabridged Audiobook, 13 hrs, 15 min.
Simon & Schuster Audio, 2016
Read: February 6 – 14, 2017


I’m not the biggest Jennifer Weiner fan in the world, nor am I in her target demographic in any way, shape, or form — but I’ve enjoyed (in some cases more) those books of hers that I’ve read. So I figured there was a better than even chance that I’d appreciate this collection of essays about her life, career, love life, dogs, social media and more. It’s also read by Weiner herself, which is almost always a winning characteristic for me.

Sadly, this audiobook was better in theory than it was in real life.

There’s a scene in the last season of Gilmore Girls where Logan points out to Rory that despite her prejudices, attitudes and belief, she’s actually part of the same privileged class that he is — which she doesn’t take too well (understandably). I kept thinking about that as I listened to some of Weiner’s tales of woe about her childhood and college life. I’m not saying that she didn’t have problems in her childhood, that she didn’t have trials that no one should have to go through, or overcome a lot in her professional life. But man…the self-pity was overblown — she got an Ivy League education, came out of it with less debt than many people I know who went to less prestigious schools, took a high school trip to Israel, and a largely pleasant childhood.

It doesn’t get much better when she starts talking about her adult life, either. She assumes sexism — and has faced, continues to face, and will probably face a good deal of it in the future — but seems to have some fairly strong gender biases herself. She will frequently say something like “As a woman, I know I’m supposed to be X in this situation.” Almost every time she said something like that I thought, actually a man in the same situation would be expected to behave the same way — it may not be honest, healthy, or “authentic” in the contemporary understanding — but it’s what how an adult person in polite Western culture should act.

Oddly, for someone who lamented her own inability to be a stay-at-home mom/writer, the scorn she displays for stay-at-home moms later in the book seems out of character. Actually, she is dismissive of people with other beliefs and convictions than hers. I’m not suggesting for a moment that she shouldn’t be an opinionated person (of any sex), but it’s hard to respect anyone who can’t reason with their opponents with out dismissing or vilifying them.

I actually had a few more things in my notes along those things, but seeing this on the screen makes me want to stop before this becomes a diatribe against the book. Because, believe it or not, I enjoyed this book — when she tells a narrative or goes for a laugh, I really got into the book and wanted to hear more. It’s when she gets on her soapbox or when she doles out advice that wouldn’t work for women less-well-off than she is, I couldn’t enjoy it.

If anything, this book makes me like her fiction more — because the flawed people she writes about are a lot more relatable than she presents herself as. But listening (I think reading would be better — see below) to Weiner describe her problems with overeating, or the journey to get her first book published (and the real life experiences that shaped the book), her mother’s reactions to her book tours, getting the movie In Her Shoes made, stories about her dogs, and so on — man, I really liked that and would’ve gladly consumed more of that kind of thing.

As an audiobook, this was a disappointment. I found the little sound effect/chime thing between chapters grating. Weiner’s reading was too slow and her cadence demonstrates that she reads a lot to her kids. Which would be fine if the prose matched, but it didn’t.

I can’t rate this too low — it was well-written I laughed, I felt for her and some of the other people she talked about in a way that I can’t justify rating below a 3. But man, I want to.

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3 Stars