Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Waiting for Jack – Kristen Moeller

©2010 Morgan James Publishing, Garden City, New York

This little book (subtitled Confessions of a Self-Help Junkie: How to Stop Waiting & start Living Your Life) is almost a paradox. The author, now a life coach and radio personality, draws on her experience that sometimes immersed her in the self-help aisles of local bookstores, seems to want to help others out of that cycle of looking for the next-best self-help scheme. In so doing, she’s created her own self-help book.

The book is very readable—slow readers like me could finish it in a couple of days, and has lots of usable ideas and memorable life examples in it. Through the pages, a reader can find much to relate with the writer about. Some of the darker moments of her life helped to shape who she was, and so it seems to be with all of us. And she still seems to be on the journey (which is the point of her book in the first place).

Another great aspect of the book is the publisher—Morgan James who donates 1% of book proceeds to Habitat for Humanity (a worthy cause). And the basic idea is to stop waiting for others and start living your life.

Initially, I thought I would like the book for the above reasons, but as I read more and more of the pages, I became more and more disconcerted. On final assessment, the author produces less of a self-help book and more of a philosophical treatise. The divisions of the book—Body, Mind, Spirit—could be the first clue. My greatest difficulty with the book is the conclusions hashed out in the final chapters.

While not attempting to espouse any religion (religion: bad; spirituality: good), she entrenches herself deeply in Buddhist teachings. Her main piece of advice—Let go. It sounds good, but proclaims a truth that is diametrically opposed to the Truth. (But you didn’t log on to hear a sermon.) I can stand with her in some of her arguments against judging and letting oneself be ruled by fear, but have to take issue with her conclusion that hope is a bad thing. Perhaps it isn’t that she thinks hope is bad, but that her definition of hope is less than what hope really is (when she discusses hope, she does like many Americans and equates it with wishes).

I see the book as a good step in her journey, but can’t recommend her conclusions nor advise you to take her advice wholeheartedly. (one/half reading glasses)

Benjamin Potter, July 28, 2010

Sadie When She Died – Ed McBain

© 1972, New American Library, New York (1st Signet printing August 1973)

I picked up yet another episode involving the 87th Precinct boys not long ago. These little paperbacks are always good when you’re trying to escape after a hard day on the job, or if you’ve had to read a bunch of deep-thinking material. Why? Because their well-written escape literature. Ed McBain was probably one of the premier police proceeduralists (sure, it’s a word—and if it’s not, it ought to be) in the business.

Gerald Fletcher has found his wife dead in the bedroom when he returns home from a business trip. And he’s happy. The defense lawyer has no qualms about telling detective Steve Carella his real feelings about the deceased. And Carella can’t let go of the nagging feeling that Fletcher did it, even when they have a confession from the junkie-turned-burglar who happened to surprise the dead Mrs. Fletcher in the apartment which was his first job.

Carella’s investigation turns up some tawdry secrets about Sarah (or Sadie as she’s known in the seedy bars of the city), and her little black book leads him to the actual killer. Fellow members on the 87th squad help out with the investigation, and Bert Kling (crest-fallen from being dumped by the love of his life), has not only a new romance on his hands, but an excellent side mystery that almost gets him killed (and does land him in a hospital bed).

The fact that this mystery takes place in the city at Christmastime is another plus for me. And it could be for you, too. Pick up a copy at your local used bookstore. I think you’ll like it. (5 reading glasses)

Benjamin Potter, July 28, 2010

Jesus, Career Counselor – Laurie Beth Jones

©2010 Howard Books, New York

Periodically I receive contact from someone wanting me to review a book for this blog. I must admit that I do not accept all of these requests—after all, I do have a real job. So, unless I already know that the author or book is one that will be beneficial to my ministry or a great diversion, I usually pass. Once in a great while, I’ll read the description of the offered book and say, “sure that sounds like something that would be a good read.” That’s what happened a few months ago with this little book by Laurie Beth Jones. Having not read Jones’ previous book Jesus, CEO, I found myself a little behind in the direction she was going with the book. Even so, the author does not rely heavily on the earlier writing excepting a few passing references.

Readers will find several nuggets of good advice about how to find (and keep) one’s ideal work. One bit of advice is to discover where you are gifted, and find work in that arena. The author’s suggestion that faith can be a major part of this is also a healthy view for job seekers to take.

As a pastor, two things disturb me about the book itself. First is the reliance heavily on mystic religious ideas to approach personality types and then marry those ideas to Scripture. The outline for the book is based on a four-point personality scale (no problem here). Like many authors who explain personality in laymen’s terms, Jones assigns each personality type an easy to remember category. Unfortunately reaching into the world of mysticism, she labels them Fire, Water, Earth, and Wind. Each type is then discussed with three characteristics displayed by that type.

Jones also uses scriptural examples to support the discussion. Herein lies my second concern. While the scripture sometimes provides a good background for the points, the verses, passages and stories are often superimposed on situations to which they do not relate.

Can someone find helpful hints for job searching skills? Yes. Are those tips necessarily tied to Jesus? I had difficulty dragging that from the text. Should you buy/read this book? I can’t say that I would recommend it. But I wouldn’t go so far as to say the book is a waste of time. I can only award it two reading glasses.

Benjamin Potter, July 28, 2010

Monday, July 12, 2010

Ends of the Earth – Tim Downs

© 2009, Thomas Nelson, Nashville

Tim Downs can tell a story. He can even get me interested in the details (which usually put me to sleep). The reason: Downs has a sense of humor that bursts forth—especially in the details. He makes this perfectly clear in his Bug Man series featuring Nick Polchak. In the Bug Man novels, forensic entomologist, Polchak, goes into minute detail when describing what happens to blowflies and beetles when they encounter a fresh dead body.

Ends of the Earth has Polchak called in to develop a postmortem interval (PMI), determining as closely as possible when a person died. Nick arrives on the scene to find a dead tomato farmer who may or may not be involved in drug trafficking. He suggests that the police might make use of a good drug dog, and recommends Alena Savard (see Less than Dead to meet the “Witch of Endor”). As he begins collecting larval evidence, he discovers that the widow of the dead farmer (who asked that he be brought in on the case) is none other than Kathryn Guilford (see the Bug Man’s first outing in Shoofly Pie for background on the connection here). Now the mother of an autistic child, Kathryn wants to know who killed her deadbeat husband and why.

Nick’s investigation leads him to call in other characters from past stories—Nathan Donovan (Plague Maker and Less than Dead) and his new wife Macy (First the Dead). He finds that he is chasing after an international agriterrorist. Among the details found in the story are some about corn farming (including some interesting information on ethanol), organic farming, and autism spectrum disorders. As always Downs has done a great deal of research to marry these concepts.

The story moves smoothly from beginning to end, with lots of dry humor along the way. In an effort to overcome his desire to make a decision about Nick’s future, Downs leaves the last chapter blank. Writing two separate endings, he offers them online at his author website for readers to vote. (Don’t click on the link to read the options for resolving the cliff-hanger unless you want to have the ending of the conflict to be spoiled.) This element angered my blushing bride—I’d given her the book for her birthday. So much so that she threw the book across the room. Then she refused to vote for either of the optional online endings arguing anti-climax for both.

I found the options to be satisfactory (regardless of the choice), but that’s just me. I think you’ll enjoy the story regardless of the cliff-hanger ending. Pick up a copy at your favorite online or brick and mortar bookstore today.

You should enjoy the story at 4½ out of 5 reading glasses.

Benjamin Potter, June 12, 2010

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