Book Review: The Wrong Unit

Released July 4, 2016

CoverThe Wrong Unit is one of the best sci-fi adventures I’ve read in a very long time. It contains 85 chapterettes of excitement, humor, and character development—both human and non. The only reason I’m not giving it five stars is chapterette 86, which is a jarring, out-of-place dose of cheesy epilogue that ruined it for me. I definitely recommend you read this book, but stop after chapter 85—which is a perfect ending.

Rob Dircks’ imagination is fantastic, bringing a strong premise and throwing in just the right amount of action, challenges, and humor to its development. I might suggest he paint the scenery just a bit more vividly in future work, but not to the point of distraction as some authors do. This is definitely a page-turner, with good use of plausible sci-fi tropes without falling into a pedantic effort to explain them to us.

Well done, Dircks. Next time, don’t listen to the editor who tells you it needs a Disneyesque ending. (Full disclosure: I received a free review copy from Goldfinch Publishing.)

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Book Review: The Life Assistance Agency

img_0829Scheduled for publication September 25, 2016

With a quirky title like The Life Assistance Agency, the offbeat concept, and the humor at the beginning, I was put in mind of Douglas Adams’ Dirk Gently books. As a result, I was slightly disappointed when the wit went away after the first part of the book. That’s unfair, because the book really is a great read. It could benefit from just a touch more editing, but the free advance review copy that Urbane Publishing sent me may well get final touch-up before its release this week.

As best I can discover, this is Hocknell’s premiere novel. I certainly hope it’s not his last, because he does an excellent job of weaving together stories in two different timelines. It was consistently engaging, with pleasant twists and revelations along the way. The characters were interesting—even when not lovable. I will most certainly keep an eye out for future work from Thomas Hocknell. He’s an author I look forward to reading again.

Book Review: Bloom County Episode XI: A New Hope

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(to be published September 27, 2016 — available for preorder at https://www.amazon.com/Bloom-County-Episode-XI-Hope/dp/163140699X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473464696&sr=8-1&keywords=bloom+county)

You should know up front that this is not an unbiased review. It couldn’t be. I was a fan of the Bloom County and Outland comic strips decades ago, and I was one of the most excited people when Berkeley Breathed decided to post occasional new strips on Facebook last year. In fact, I confess that I am one of those who posted supportive replies to those much-appreciated additions to the Bloom County universe. The fact that Breathed has even included some of those fan tributes from Facebook in this volume makes it even more impossible for me to be unbiased. Then IDW Publishing offered me the opportunity to review this pre-release version free! Deal with it.

Before we even get to the strips, we have to see the artist behind them. I was really moved by a young person like Berke’s words for the great Harper Lee, and the influence that her writing had on him–especially her encouragement to him that Bloom County shouldn’t end.

Breathed speaks of the ways in which the newspaper deadline fervor didn’t fit his creative style, much like Bill Watterson and his beloved Calvin and Hobbes. In a different age, we might have lost Breathed’s insights altogether. In the Internet age, he has been able to find a vehicle that has worked perfectly for his genius.

Yes, all of this review so far is based in his incredible history and a single page at the front of this new collection. It’s important, though, because Breathed’s work is so much more than a highly entertaining comic strip. It’s a movement of the heart. It’s a way to speak truth without the snark (and bias) of Doonesbury. It’s reminiscent of the insight of Calvin and Hobbes packaged in the lovable forms of characters like…penguins (now revived after a 25 year nap). Binkley’s anxiety closet is newly relevant to the things we all see in the world around us.

Thank you, Berke, for finding a new communication vehicle that fits your working style and allows us all be looks at your view of the world. This book is a treasure for anyone willing to take an honest look at the world. Treat yourself to a few hours in this wonderfully insightful universe.

Book Review: Searching the Scriptures

51ksvqxjcel-_sy346_(due for publication by Tyndale September 13)

In his introduction, Swindoll says that this book is an attempt to pass on what he learned from his beloved mentor, Howard Hendricks, and built upon in his 50+ years of ministry. And indeed, there are parts of the book that are very reminiscent of Hendricks’ work, Living by the Book (1991, Moody Press). Swindoll wrote the foreword for that book, which I’ve loaned out more copies of than I’ve had returned. But even if you have that book, Searching the Scriptures is a really valuable work.

He starts with two powerful chapters that address why we should bother studying the Bible–something many people have never really had explained. If you read these two chapters and do the exercises at the end of each, you will likely come away with a new hunger for Bible study.

The next four chapters describe–and give great exercises of–his four key steps of Bible study. I won’t throw in a spoiler here…I will say that they won’t necessarily be surprising, but you’ve likely never had them explained and illustrated so clearly. The advance review copy Tyndale gave me didn’t have some graphics that are supposed to be in the final version, but I still found it easy to follow.

Swindoll puts it succinctly: “Those who don’t learn to prepare their own meals from the Scriptures simply don’t know what God’s Word has to say. It simply isn’t possible to get the spiritual food our souls need in an hour on a Sunday morning.”

There are a few anachronisms, such as his insistence on the need for a concordance. Surely we can forgive a man who has been in ministry for 50 years a few quirks related to being a bibliophile rather than an online scholar with the ability to do a word search with a duplex of taps.

This is not a quick read that you breeze through. I received my review copy from Tyndale a few weeks ago, and am just now finishing this review. If you don’t take the time to go through the exercises at the end of each chapter, you will finish this book informed but not transformed. But faithfully following Swindoll’s wise techniques will prevent one from falling into common traps such as “proof-texting;” pulling one verse or part of a verse out of context and building a false theology around it.

This book will almost certainly give you a new hunger for, and a new ability to gain nourishment from, studying God’s Word. In fact, I would argue that it should be part of every single New Christian class around the world. Even the library of every Christian around the world.

Book Review: The Water Knife

The Water KnifeWell, let’s get the negatives out of the way first. The last thing the scifi genre needs is Yet Another Climate Change Dystopia. And this one comes with the tired sermons about human stupidity and climate change deniers. I was also disappointed that Bacigalupi threw in a gratuitous declaration of one character being gay, when his sexuality contributed absolutely nothing to the story. You’re better than this formulaic stuff, Paolo.

Having said that, the book is a good thriller with very nice character development and a great twist at the end. In my opinion, Bacigalupi is one of the better voices in today’s scifi generation and this story keeps your attention well. So well that I stayed up later than I should have last night because I had to finish it.

Book Review: Bedlam & Belfry: Intergalactic Attorneys at Law

imageBedlam & Belfry are attorneys with rather low scruples, high ambitions, and devious minds. In some stories that leads to interesting contrivances. In others, such as Bedlam & Belfry: The Musical, they aren’t even relevant to the story. Regardless, the reader should approach this book with thoughts of humor, and nothing at all “intergalactic.”

Most anthologies are of the “Best of” variety, where an editor has the ability to select his or her favorite stories of a particular type. In this case, the author has only written 12 so this collection is both the best of and the worst of. That’s why you find really enjoyable stories such as Bedlam & Belfry go to the Dogs beside such clunkers as Bedlam & Belfry Get Elected.

As in the days when people bought entire albums rather than individual tracks, you don’t have to enjoy all 12 to think the album was worth it. But when you made a mix tape, you only selected a few from the album to make the cut. On balance this book (full disclosure: review copy provided free by Rocketship Press) is enjoyable, but don’t approach it with the lofty hopes raised by reviewers who compare this to Monty Python and Douglas Adams.

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