Monthly Archives: February 2012

Book Review: Radical Together, David Platt

Cannonball Read IV: #8

My church home group is reading Radical Together by David Platt. I am a Christian, and I want the world to be in love with Christ, but I’ve always wanted to be a comfortable Christian. You know, doing evangelism from my second-row pew and in my community. This is going to be a relatively short review because the book, while excellent, is pretty succinct: we need to be radical for God and break free from the Sunday-morning Christian routine that so many of us are doing, even if we aren’t really aware of it. Platt suggests six areas where we can change: aiming for the best and not just good; listen to what the gospel is telling us to do (GO SERVE OTHERS!); listen to God and what His Word tells us; using every day people to spread the love of God, not just pastors; and live selfless lives (because we have died to self) for a self-centered God.

I’m just going to say that people who aren’t Christians won’t like this book and will find a lot to hate about it. It’s extreme (hence the title) and it says that Christianity is the way and the only way. But I loved it. It challenged me to do more and do bigger for the future of the Kingdom of God.

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Book Review: Steve Jobs, Walter Isaacson

Cannonball Read IV: #7

How does one write a book about icon (or, if you will, iCon) such as Steve Jobs? It seems like an insurmountable task, yet somehow Walter Isaacson did it, and did it well, in his biography Steve Jobs (so originally titled!). This biography covers a massive span of time, from his birth (and even provides some background on his parents’ births, both adoptive and biological) until just before his death (the book was released just weeks after Jobs passed away in October 2011). At times it reads like a Steve Jobs companion, at times it reads like a brief primer on the history of Apple. And at all times it’s engaging and thoroughly enjoyable.

Isaacson conducted extensive interviews with Jobs himself, Jobs’ wife, friends, former friends, others in the computer industry, people in marketing who Jobs worked with, his former flames, children, and used existing articles from magazines and newspapers, not to mention memos and emails from Jobs himself, as the primary research for this book. And Jobs was the one who told Isaacson not to hold back. As a result, Steve Jobs comes across as what he was: a brilliant a-hole. What I find utterly fascinating about him is this: he didn’t really create anything of Apple’s products, per se. Sure, he had visions of how he wanted things to look and what he wanted them to do, but he relied very heavily on his engineers, like Woz, to actually create the things that Apples sells, such as the original Mac, the iPhone, and the iPad. His genius was in being a visionary and pushing others to do the actual work. Bill Gates actually said of Steve Jobs that “‘He never really knew much about technology, but he had an amazing instinct for what works.’” He was an ideas man, not a doer man, and it made him famous.

He was also a gigantic jerk to others around him. He constantly told people their ideas were shitty, the competitor’s product was shitty, that this was shitty and that was shitty, and then (more often than not) when he realized it wasn’t actually shitty, he took credit for the idea, and in return a huge number of people working for or under him bailed ship. (I felt like this book should have been a drinking game. Jobs tells someone a product is shitty? Take a shot. He then takes credit for that “shitty” idea when he realizes it’s actually a good one? Three shots. Someone quits because Jobs was a douche canoe to him/her? Chug an AMF.) YET PEOPLE STILL LOVED HIM. My mind is boggled by this dichotomy.

Something else I learned about Jobs while I was reading this biography is not only what a jerk he was, but what a really weird person he was. He had some freaky dietary habits, like only eating things in certain colors or specific kinds of food, and he tried to get others to do the same. He had a lot of little quirks and was prone to bouts of crying when he didn’t get his way, which is annoying for anyone but especially annoying for an adult.

If you have ever been interested in Jobs, this is a fantastic book to read. It really represents Jobs for who he was – the good and the bad all mixed together.

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Book Review: Home Front, Kristin Hannah

Cannonball Read IV: #6

To be truthful, Home Front by Kristin Hannah isn’t the kind of book I’d usually read. Her last book, about a foster girl, gripped me and was totally my “kind” of book. This one, however, was one I was willing to skip, but I forgot I preordered it so I read it anyway. It tells the story of 41-something Jolene, who is in the National Guard along with her best friend Tami (who is also Jolene’s neighbors). The two women are deployed suddenly and surprisingly to Iraq, and Jolene, whose husband told her before she left that he was done with their marriage, must deal with complicated marriage stuff while trying to still pretend for her daughters (five-year-old Lulu and tween Betsy) that all is good in dusty, war-torn Iraq. And then tragedy strikes when the chopper Jolene and Tami are traveling in is taken down, and only one woman returns home – but not the same. There may be some minor spoilers below, just so you’ve been warned.

I gave this book four stars on GoodReads but had a hard time doing so. Is it comparable to other books I’ve given four stars to on there? No way man! But when comparing it to like books, it merits the four stars. One of the reasons I rated it high, if I’m being truthful, is it caused a really, really emotional reaction in me. I’m not sure if it’s because I was hormonal and majorly in the PMS window, but the thought of having to write letters to your children in the event of your death just got me all worked up, and then the funeral scene at the end of the book? Oh good Lord, I was a mess. But military stuff like that always chokes me up. Overall, I think this book felt rushed and then at the end, it felt like it was too neatly tied up. Homegirl Kristin Hannah needs to read some Flannery O’Connor, where everyone dies or ends up miserable! I’m not against happy endings, but when the ending is something so content and the rest of the book has been an emotional rollercoaster of PTSD and death and bitchy teenagers, I call bananas on that nonsense. Also, I really, truly, with passion hated Betsy. A lot of teens/preteens act like her but holy. freaking. crap. Her character and behavior was way too over-the-top.

A good, fast beach read and fun for Hannah fans, but by no means quality or deep.

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Book Review: 11/22/63, Stephen King

Cannonball Read IV: #5

Last year I finished Under the Dome and thought, “Wow, Stephen King, your books don’t freak me the heck out like they once did!” (Okay, that might be my fault for reading The Stand when I was eleven – or my parents’ fault!) So when I saw that 11/22/63 had come out, I wanted to read it. I figured, I’ve already finished one giant King book recently so I’m primed for another. The my mom bought the book on her nook when she went on a family trip to Africa and came home just raving about it, so I was stoked when I was able to check it out from the library at work for free dollars.

11/22/63 tells the story of not only just the day of JFK’s assassination (that is not a spoiler – read the title and look at the picture!) but it deals with time entire concept of time travel. Jake is living in 2011 when Al, the man who owns a local diner, invites him to take a trip through time via a portal in the pantry of his diner. And boom goes the dynamite. What follows is part thriller and part love story. King looks at what the repercussion of time travel are, and also looks at our capacity for love and human compassion in the midst of suffering.

This book was a nicely written book, and my mind kept tripping out (in a good way!) on certain concepts, such as how Al bought the same hamburger meat over and over again (because every time he went in and out of the portal, he “reset” it, thus “allowing” the meat to still be there on his next trip in – this becomes incredibly relevant to Jake’s own trips later in the novel!) and over the idea of Sadie and Jake being married in the “past.” (I apologize for these “quotes.” I just have to use them because all of these ideas are relative and hard to define unless you’ve read the book – the “past” is the past in 2011, where Jake is from, but it’s the present when he’s there!).

Be warned: this isn’t just the story of preventing JFK’s assassination. Only the last third to fourth of the book really deals with that. The majority of the book centers around Jake changing the personal tragedy of one of his students, and of Jake falling in love with Sadie while waiting, in the “past” of course, for 11/22/63 to roll around.

My only real gripe is that there were some phrases that were repeated over and over again that made me want to ask King’s editor what the heck he was thinking. For instance, the phrase “the past harmonizes” and its variants. Yes, we get it, there are things about the past that appear to show you that it knows you’re there – now please, for the love of quality writing, find a better way to say that! Over all, though, this was a great story, and I enjoyed it a lot. Fun characters, a mind-bending plot, and an excellent story make it a highly recommended book from this girl!

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Book Review: Boy-Crazy Stacey, Ann M. Martin

Cannonball Read IV: #4

I have to come out and admit this (with no shame!) that I was – and still am, as a nearly-30-year-old woman! – a huge Baby-Sitter’s Club fan (thank you, Ann M. Martin for those happy years!) as a tween and even into my teens. At various times I’ve worked to complete my collection of books, and I still am (there are a TON of books!). When I found out that Scholastic was releasing the books with updated cultural references (no one watches VHS tapes anymore, and no one listens to cassette tapes!) and new covers, I was really excited. You see, I have the original series, and I have two sets of books 1 – 99 because I had to have them with both covers. Naturally I had to pick up copies of the books with the new covers so everything is complete. I’ve leaved through the books, but one night I picked up my new copy of Boy-Crazy Stacey and read it in an hour or so.

Here’s a plot summary of B-CS: Stacey and Mary Anne are hired by the Pikes as mother’s helpers/nannies when the Pike family (complete with eight children between five and eleven!) go on vacation to Sea City, New Jersey over the summer. There are romances, kisses, cheesy boardwalk gifts, and lots of cute kids and brother-and-sister drama to contend with. Aaand cut.

It’s hard to review a book I loved so dearly as a child because I have a huge bias, and honestly I still loved it. Are the Pikes a little too loose in their parenting? Probably. Do Stacey and Mary Anne act older than 13-year-olds? Yeah. Are the Pikes sometimes unrealistic? Totally. But I cannot help but love this!

I love that these books are fun reads for teenage girls, and deal with things like romance, family, and friendship in ways that girls could understand. Honestly, if my eight-year-old sister found this book, I wouldn’t totally freak out because there is nothing questionable in terms of its content. For that reason, I love it. These girls brought many fun, enjoyable hours to my reading as a child, and I’ve got no shame admitting the same holds true for my reading as an adult!

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Book Review: World Without End, Ken Follett

Cannonball Read IV #3

I read Pillars of the Earth a few years ago and before I was even halfway through, I bought World Without End, which is technical a sequel to PotE, but can be read before it and you wouldn’t be left behind (the novels are set hundreds of years apart). Essentially, WWE is the story of Merthin, the son of a disgraced knight who’s apprenticed to a builder in order to pay is father’s debts. The book is Merthin’s love story with both building bridges (and a dome) as well as his love story with Caris, a modern woman accused of witchcraft who is forced to become a nun. In the midst of all of this, the Plague strikes Europe, and if you were remotely awake during history in middle school and high school, you’ll know that didn’t end so well.

A lot of people who have reviewed this book on various sites have said its plot was similar to PotE, and to be fair, it has a lot of similarities. Perhaps Follett was capitalizing on his success with the earlier book and he realized he had a formula that worked. Or perhaps there are really only seven plots in the world and every story ever written is simply a variation of one of those plots. I don’t know. Either way, yes, the two books are similar, but that begs that question: does sharing similarities have to make the later book any less enjoyable? No, it doesn’t, and in fact, while I enjoyed both books, I enjoyed WWE more than PotE.

Follett’s prose is beautiful and detailed, which can be overwhelming for some readers, but I enjoyed it. Living in 21st century America, and being a reader who typically doesn’t read any kind of historical fiction, I thought his descriptions of England in the 1300s was lovely, and there is a great deal of history woven into the story as well (bam! A history lesson in an unsuspecting novel? I guess that’s why it’s called historical fiction!), not to mention the cast of supporting characters who help move the story along. Really, this is the kind of book that has something for everyone (love, adventure, war, disease, history, beautiful writing… this is just a small, small list!). If you’ve read Follett’s other works of historical fiction (PotE or the more recent Fall of Giants) or have ever looked at the book and wanted to read it – do it! I did (yeah, this book has been lying around my apartment for about two years now) and I don’t regret it!

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