Category Archives: 2011

Cell

Cell
By Stephen King

Synopsis: One October afternoon a pulse is sent out through everyone’s cellphones which makes them turn violent and mindless. Clay, a graphic artist, leads a small group of survivors trying to make their way from Boston to Maine. On their way they run into a flock of the “phone-crazies” sleeping in a field and decide to blow them up. This proves to be a bad idea and they soon realize the full power of the not-so-crazy “phone-crazies.” The small group of survivors is prodded along both physically and mentally to a town where they believe they will be murdered by the “phone-crazies.” The mental power the flock holds over the band of survivors makes it impossible to fight their prodding. Clay hopes that he will find his son when they arrive and that they can find a way to escape.

My Opinion: I heard that Stephen King had written a zombie novel so I figured it would be worth a shot. I’m not a huge fan of his, but I live in Maine so I feel somewhat obligated to read his stuff, especially when he is tapping into a genre that I really enjoy, like zombies. It took me awhile to get into the book. I actually picked it up three separate times before it finally stuck, but once it did, it was interesting enough for me to stick with it.

At first I thought Cell was going to be a pretty straightforward zombie story but after about 150 pages things really started to get weird and by the time I was about 2/3 into it, I knew I was reading a Stephen King novel. There was levitation and dreams and telepathy and intuition and all that stuff that his books are normally full of. One of those things, which annoys me whenever I see it in his books, is the intuition of the main characters explaining how things “work.” What I mean by this is that a character gets a hunch about something, like in this book the hunch is about how the “phone-crazies” are rebooting at night like computers, and then building the whole explanation of what happened off of that surprisingly accurate guess. It seems unrealistic and kind of lazy, like he can’t think of a better way for them to figure things out, so they just end up making perfectly accurate guesses.

Aside from that annoyance, which is pretty common among the stuff I have read by Stephen King, I would say that this book had some pretty cool stuff in it. I am always interested to see how someone can take a very popular subject and put their own spin on it. King certainly did that. The idea of the cellphone pulse was pretty cool, especially now when everyone has a cellphone. I also liked the idea of the flock mentality. I read something similar in the Monster series by David Wellington, but that had more to do with magic and mummies and stuff. In Cell the pulse and the group mind all seemed to be the result of some kind of terrorism. I thought that was also an interesting angle. I liked that he tied the outbreak to two things that are in the spotlight right now: cellphones and terrorism.

While I appreciate the angle that King took with Cell I would say that he went so far as to make you ask if you were reading a “zombie” novel at all. The “phone-crazies” shared many traits with the typical undead: lack of motor skills, lack of independent thought, lack of pain sensation, a propensity toward violence … but they were still alive, they ate, they could think as a group, they could levitate, and they seemed to have higher objectives than simple violence. So Cell borders on being a zombie novel, but for a real undead purist this is NOT a traditional zombie novel, and these “zombies” will break most of your “rules.”

FYI: One of the characters, Ray, was based on a charity auction winner who’s sister paid $25K to have him appear in the book.

Cell at amazon.com


Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor

Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor
By Chuck Black

Synopsis: Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor is book five of The Knights of Arrethtrae series. In this part of the series a young man, Quinlan, feels called to become a knight of the King and follow the Prince. He first trains with a skilled knight and later a Silent Warrior who teach him to fight and overcome his self doubt and fear. After his training is complete he returns to his hometown to fight the hidden Shadow Warriors. When the enemy leader, Lucius finds out that Sir Quinlan has returned he launches an all out attack on the city. The small band of knights under the leadership of Quinlan must lead the charge in the battle against Lucius’ Shadow Warriors.

My Opinion: So Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor is an allegory and full of various Christian truths and life lessons. I think that Black does a mediocre job at presenting this allegory in an interesting and engaging way.

I would say that the good thing about the allegorical element is that many of the truths that he alludes to in the story are important, i.e. trust in the Prince and not ourselves, The King choosing the weak of the world, following the Prince requires complete surrender and a sacrifice of everything but is rewarded greatly when you one day cross the Great Sea, and many others.

The thing that I thought was sub par about the allegory was the totally transparent way that it was presented. Many times Black would almost quote the Bible verbatim through some character’s speech or he would add elements that really didn’t make sense in the story, but fed the allegory. He discusses how the King sent the Prince from across the Great Sea to bring the Kings people back to him and how they rejected him and he died “on a tree” (what does that even mean?) but the King brought him back to life using the Life Spice. Black tries to explain how this death and resurrection enabled the knights to follow the Prince, but it never really makes much sense. I felt like a lot of the more obvious “Christian” themes seemed overly forced into the story.

Aside from the failures in the allegory I thought the book was pretty good. I think that younger kids, probably boys in their tweens mostly, would really enjoy reading this book and would get a lot out of it. The battles are pretty engaging and exciting, and the characters are dynamic enough that you grow to like (or dislike) them. There is a little humor tossed into the mix to keep the dramatic elements from being too overwhelming for younger readers. It certainly isn’t C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia or J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but it is another series that could be worth picking up if you have a young avid reader.

FYI: the land Arrethtrae, where the story takes place, is a backward combination of the words Earth and Terra.

Sir Quinlan and the Swords of Valor at amazon.com

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their Blogging for Books program.


World War Z

World War Z
By Max Brooks

Synopsis: The book is composed of short interview pieces, compiled by a journalist, describing the history of World War Z, or the war against the zombies. While the interviews are from various individuals in several different locations around the world, they are put together in such a way that the story progresses through them. The book is divided into major sections covering the outbreak, the initial reactions of the living, the regrouping and war that the humans wage against the zombies, and the aftermath (those are not the names of the sections, just the general subject of each).

My Opinion: I know I should have read this book a long time ago. It’s hard to be a proper zombie fan without having read this book. The first zombie book I ever read was The Zombie Survival Guide, also by Brooks, but I just never got around to this one, until now. There were things I liked a lot about it and things I thought could have been a lot better.

I liked that he covered the zombie apocalypse from many different angles. If you are only following one character, especially if you don’t have an omniscient narrator, you only have to know what is pertinent to that one character’s story. Brooks has to explain this thing from many different perspectives. This means he would have had to learn enough about biology, weapons, warfare, world history, theology and so on to at least sound convincing when writing each of the “interviews” I’m not an expert in any of these areas, but as a regular guy I thought he sounded pretty convincing.

The big thing I didn’t like was that all the characters seemed to have the same voice and the same vocabulary. I had a hard time believing these were different people. Some swore more than others, one even thought she was still a little girl, but even that didn’t come off convincingly. So he succeeded in being able to speak intelligently about several different expert subjects, but he failed at the more important task of making me feel like I was hearing from different people.

There are lots of cool discussions about history and warfare and peace and violence and different cultures and consumerism and all those fun subjects that zombie novels get to deal with under the surface. All together I could see why it has ranked among the top of the pile for zombie novels. It may not be the “best” zombie novel for the enthusiast, but I would say that it is very digestible (pun fully  intended!) so it will appeal to lots of readers who may not otherwise be interested in zombie novels at all.

FYI: Max Brooks is the son of the hilarious movie maker and actor Mel Brooks.

World War Z at amazon.com


Feed

Feed
By Mira Grant

Synopsis: This book takes place twenty something years after the beginning of a zombie “Rising.” The zombies are still around but some semblance of normality has returned. People can come and go, assuming they have proper hazard clearance for the area they are attempting to enter, and are willing to be subjected to several blood tests to confirm they were not infected while out and about. In this new world bloggers are trusted over traditional media to bring the legitimate news. To get on-board with this trend presidential candidate, Senator Ryman, hires a three part team of young bloggers led by the smart and sarcastic Georgia Mason, who, above all else, wants to find and expose the truth. Their job is to follow and report on his campaign. Everything goes well until people start dying in what first appear to be accidents, but are discovered by the bloggers to be intentional acts of terrorism. Georgia and her team end up in danger as they uncover the truth about what is going on and who is responsible.

My Opinion: I like zombie novels that aren’t really about zombies. What I mean by that is that I like stories about other things (l0ve, friendship, espionage, power-struggles …) that use zombies as a backdrop, or environmental element, to their story. Feed is that kind of story. Because the story is set a while after the initial “Rising,” zombies have become just another hazard of life. They are obviously a very dangerous and civilization changing hazard, but life has gone on since the dead started to rise. Feed is more a story about politics and media and friendship and truth than it is about zombies. Zombies (and the infectious virus) just make a really nice backdrop for the story. The main characters are believable and you end up really liking them and rooting for them. Toward the end of the book the story was so intense that I couldn’t read fast enough. I think that is a good sign that I was into the book at that point! I liked the characters, the plot, the dialogue, and the underlying messages about truth and control and oppression and fear. It was a really good, easy, read. Not too gory or disturbing (not that I consider those to be bad things), definitely a good book to help step into the zombie genre.

FYI: The second installment in this trilogy is titled Deadline, but as far as I know there is no third book yet.

Feed at amazon.com


Radical

Radical
By David Platt

Synopsis: The basic premise of this book is that American Christians have distorted the message of Christianity to fit into the ideals of the “American Dream.” This essentially means that American Christians are overly materialistic and selfish with their time and money. It also means that they view Christianity as a consumer product, thus rendering church services to be professional entertainment and Christianity to be a product that is consumed, not a life-changing truth. Platt offers explanation to how these views do not agree with the real message of Christianity and finally gives a “challenge” which will aid the American Christian in overcoming these American distortions of the faith.

My Opinion: I have been putting off writing this (and honestly if writing it was not part of the agreement for receiving it I probably would not be writing this) because I have to say that something early in the book put a bad taste in my mouth so I feel like possibly that skewed my opinion of the rest of the book, so take that as a sort of disclaimer. What was that thing at the beginning of the book? Platt tells a story of a group of believers in his Alabama mega-church who hear about some Christians in Asia facing persecution who must meet in secret to study the Bible. These believers in Platt’s church are inspired by these Asian Christians so they start a regular evening Bible Study and call it “Secret Church.” To me this seems to trivialize and make light of the very real persecution of fellow Christians in these dangerous regions. Platt seems to agree with this criticism but never applies it to his church’s “Secret Church.” Toward the end of the book he explains about the ichthus (Jesus Fish):

How far we have come when we paste this symbol identified with martyred brothers and sisters in the first century onto the backs of our SUVs and luxury sedans in the twenty-first century.

Beyond this I felt that the book seemed to say a lot of the “right things” but never really got to the heart of the problem. Platt tries to offer advice in correcting these American distortions of Christianity, but he does so within the very system that has created and fostered these ideas. This seems to miss the very heart of the issue. He tries to encourage people to give generously to those in need, yet he pastors a mega-church which is a resource black-hole. He tries to encourage people to minister to each other, yet says nothing about the false distinction between clergy and laity. He encourages people to be sold out to Christ and never look back, yet he offers a “Challenge” or program to try out and see how it feels. Something in me has a hard time with a book titled “Radical” which opposes the American Dream, yet culminates in a one year program. Maybe I’m just being too critical. That is quite possible.

This book exposes a lot of real problems within the American Church, what I feel it does not do is offer valuable solutions to those problems, and this is mostly because it never gets to the heart of those problems. I see two major oversights in Radical. The first is that he never asks the reader if they are truly even Christians. I think that would be the place to start. If you have a lack of passion for the things you say you believe, and if you believe a distortion of the real thing it would certainly be worthwhile to initially ask “do I believe the real thing?” The second oversight, in my opinion, is that he completely ignores the negative effect of the clergy/laity distinction. Why don’t people live out their faith? Because they pay someone else to do that for them. Give money to missionaries and pastors and ministries. They are the professionals and that’s what they get paid for. This is how Americans view everything and the clergy/laity distinction brings that belief into the church.

FYI: Platt has also released The Radical Question and Radical Together.

Radical at amazon.com

I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review as part of their Blogging for Books program.


Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy
By Eric Metaxas

Synopsis: A biography covering the life of Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Starts with a history of his family going back a few generations where we learn that Bonhoeffer comes from a long line of (at least somewhat) important intellectuals and theologians. Dietrich’s childhood and development as a theologian are discussed. The bulk of the book covers his resistance to the Reich Church and work as a conspirator against Hitler.

My Opinion: I really enjoyed this book and learning more about Bonhoeffer, Nazi Germany, and the world’s response to the Third Reich’s activities both political and religious. The author clearly likes Bonhoeffer and presents him in a particular light which may lead one to be cautious since the book is obviously not unbiased, but nonetheless it was written well enough to hold my attention throughout. It may not be the most balanced or scholarly work on Bonhoeffer out there, but I had honestly never read anything about him so it was all new information to me and it was delivered in a very accessible manner. It may not be a book for scholars, but it certainly is a book that will help the everyday person, like myself, learn about a really amazing theologian who lived out his beliefs to the very end.

FYI: Metaxas wrote another very-well received biography, Amazing Grace, on William Wilberforce (which I have not read or reviewed yet).

Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy at amazon.com


Imaginary Jesus

Imaginary JesusImaginary Jesus
By Matt Mikalatos

Synopsis: Matt lives in Portland, OR where he hangs out at coffee shops and vegan restaurants. He spends a lot of time with this guy that he thinks is Jesus. One day a guy name Pete beats up Matt’s Jesus friend and informs him that he is the Apostle Peter and that guy was not the real Jesus. From that point on Matt attempts to find the real Jesus but runs into some complications along the way, as his imaginary Jesus is not so eager to be left behind.

My Opinion: I got this book because it was free on my reader. It is also free for the Amazon Kindle. I didn’t have really high expectations for it since a) it was free and b) it was written by a guy in Portland, OR where all the liberal hippie Christians hang out, and write annoying ’emergent’ type books that generally feel a little too universalist and watery for my taste. Well, I must say I was pleasantly surprised. The book is pretty funny and super easy to read and actually has some really important stuff to say, albeit in an silly and irreverent way that may offend some people who are too closely connected with the Legalistic Jesus character from the book. Not only do we learn about Matt’s Imaginary Jesus, but several others as well like Health Nut Jesus who wears running shorts and a sweat band, Testosterone Jesus who has the manners and intelligence of a caveman and is quite popular at men’s retreats, Liberal Jesus, Portland Jesus, King James Jesus, and lots and lots more! If you don’t find a Jesus that you connect with in this book I would be really surprised. Matt helps us to laugh at our misperceptions of Jesus, but at the same time see the danger in following anyone but the real thing. As Matt struggles to understand his wife’s miscarriage we see that no one but the real Jesus has an answer that makes any sense of the suffering in the world. This is a great read.

FYI: Being from Maine I feel it is important to note that Portland, Maine (settled in 1623), while not as popular or populated as Portland, OR (settled 1851), is the original Portland and actually the namesake for the West Coast city. Francis W. Pettygrove of Portland, Maine owned a partial claim to the city in Oregon and won a coin toss thus giving him the right to name the city after his home city.

Imaginary Jesus at amazon.com