Saturday Miscellany – 2/25/17

Skimpy results for 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:

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

  • The Accidental Detective by Michael RN Jones — Meet Victor Jones, Mr. Robot with a less creepy, humorous and Farenheit Press-ish twist.
  • Kings of the Wyld by Nicholas Eames — a fantasy novel about a mercenary group “getting the band back together” in a world where they’re treated like rock stars.


Behind Her Eyes by Sarah Pinborough

Behind Her EyesBehind Her Eyes

by Sarah Pinborough

Hardcover, 306 pg.
Flatiron Books, 2017

Read: February 21 – 22, 2017


David and Adele have just moved to London to try to get a fresh start — she’s a stay-at-home wife, gorgeous, and seemingly frail — most of all, she’s deeply devoted to her husband. David’s a psychiatrist who might be a bit too fond of his drink, and doesn’t seem to be as devoted to Adele as she is to him. From the get-go we know there’s a few things really wrong with their marriage, and you can tell that finding out just what they are (and if the drinking is really as bad as it seems) is going to be interesting, to say the least.

Louise is a single mom who needs something fun in her life — things are going well for her ex and his girlfriend, and her son is going away for a month with them. Louise doesn’t have a lot going on in here life other than her son — she has pretty much one friend, a part-time job, and a social life that mainly consists of Netflix, cigarettes and wine. She’s our point-of-entry character, the reason we care about anyone else in the book — she’s relatable, she’s fun, she’s real. On a rare night out, Louise meets and kisses a man (David) who later confesses to be married and leaves.

Naturally, the next day Louise meets her new boss — David. They pledge to forget that night and move on professionally. Soon afterwards, Adele runs into Louise and a friendship develops between them — Louise carefully never admitting that she knows Adele’s husband.

Yeah, up to this point, this could be the fodder for a comedy — something that Jennifer Weiner might write, but with a little more edge, and involving people in London. So maybe it’s a dark Helen Fielding feel. Anyhow, Louise’s relationships with each get deeper. And as that happens, the tone gets darker and darker — everyone involved has secrets, and at least two of the people in this triangle aren’t who we think they are. And before you know it, you’ve left Women’s Commercial Fiction and turned the genre corner into Crime Fiction. There is evil or madness — maybe both — at the core of this story, and it’s dark. But the book never goes as far as it could into the darkness — it’s careful about showing it. Just lets it out every now and then, so you know it’s lurking out there.

The story is told from Adele’s and Louise’s perspective — with flashbacks to earlier in Adele’s life. Adele clearly has some problems, but it’s unclear what they really are. It’s tough to know whose perspective on things is more realistic — particularly their competing ideas about David. Eventually, we start to see that one of these women is manipulating the other two in the triangle and their plans are pretty serious.

Pinborough does a masterful job of drawing you into the story, the characters, their destinies — you can’t help but care, and even before things become a psychological thriller, you’ll find yourself very invested into what’s going on with these people and what will happen. Once things become perilous . . . forget it, you won’t be able to tear yourself away from this book. I loved the tone, the character development — Louise is one of my favorite characters of 2017.

Now, for the first 290 pages I was enthralled and was about ready to call this the best thriller I’ve read in months — maybe years. You can understand the hype about this book — why Two Crime Writers and a Microphone devoted an episode to this book, etc. But the last 16 pages . . . I just don’t know. It’s impossible to really discuss these pages without defying my “no spoiler” policy. Let me put it this way, if you can swallow X — you’ll dig the last 16 pages, and your jaw just might drop in the final 6. Me? I choked on X, and was fed up with the last 6. Since I finished it, I can understand what Pinborough was trying to do — and can even make a decent argument defending it. But I don’t like it — and think that even the best argument in her defense is codswallop.

Behind Her Eyes is a really strong book that will grab you, keep you entertained and will give you a conclusion that you’ll talk about for days (at least).

What I want to give it after the last 16 pages:

—–

2 Stars

Buuuut. . . . I think it really deserves this:

—–

4 Stars

2017 Library Love Challenge

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.

—–

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.

—–

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.

—–

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.