Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Calico Joe, a Review

 Calico Joe is a novel by John Grisham.  I had to keep flipping the book to the front cover to remind myself of that.  No matter how much truth is blended into the story, the fact remains that the book is a novel.  The book is probably one that I never would have picked up on my own, but my buddy Jordan purchased me a copy and gave it to me to read, lauding it as a good story.  Not wanting to put Jordan off for too long, I picked up the short book and started as soon as I finished what I had been reading.

Calico Joe is, on the surface, a story about baseball.  Joe Castle was an up-and-coming baseball star, shattering records and making fans all across the nation.  Paul Tracey, at eleven years old, was obsessed with the game.  His dad, Warren Tracey, was a pitcher for the New York Mets, and from an early age Paul loved the game.  But Warren was a lousy father, often drunk and abusive and critical of everything.  Paul loved his dad but hated him, and this is the true crux of the novel.

The book is formatted into a memoir style.  One chapter is present day, with an odd first-person-limited view being told in present tense action.  Paul is older now, married with children.  The next chapter is a flashback to mid-century America, past tense jarringly obvious.  This format works, though I did find its methodology peculiar.  Regardless, the presentation accomplishes the story Grisham is telling.

The action here is subdued, with a foreseeable climax and a lengthy denouement that’s entirely appropriate.  The mood is tragic—Paul’s childhood was terrible—but the Reader is never all-out distraught.  The story is remarkably simple, but it’s also very accessible.  Grisham tends to do this well, writing prose that hooks the Reader on.  (Maybe that’s why I read pretty much all of his novels in middle and high school?)

I enjoyed Calico Joe.  As I’ve already stated, it was a simple story, but its simplicity made it effective.  The book is especially recommended for folks with daddy issues, or also for people that like reading “coming of age” books.  Baseball fans will undoubtedly love Calico Joe, although I suspect that hardcore fanatics may jump at some of the liberties Grisham took.  Overall, Calico Joe is a quick read.  The book handles the familiar themes of love, forgiveness, and death reasonably well, making an impact as much as to be expected by a popular fiction author.  If you want a summer read that’s appropriate for all sorts of Americana, check out John Grisham’s Calico Joe.

Friday, May 17, 2013

Humble Orthodoxy, a Review

Humble Orthodoxy, by Joshua Harris, is a concise booklet.  It has only four chapters, spanning just 60 pages*.   However, with those 60 pages, Harris writes about a message absolutely relevant to Christians today, and that’s one concerning love.

Humble Orthodoxy is a follow-up book to Harris’ Dug Down Deep (reviewed here).  It’s practical and to the point.  In Chapter One, “Your Attitude Matters,” Harris lays the groundwork for why this book is important.  Too often, Christians are either too humble or too orthodox, and each camp is plagued with problems.  Harris writes,
“Christians need to have a strong commitment to sound doctrine.  We need to be courageous in our stand for biblical truth.  But we also need to be gracious in our words and interaction with other people.” (p. 3,4)
Harris takes no credit for the term humble orthodoxy, but his teaching on the topic is nevertheless powerful.  It’s refreshing that’s he’s candid, for he, too, has much room for improvement.

This book packs a punch.  My copy is filled with underlines and stars.  The message is humbling (intentional pun!) and challenging.  Harris makes his point, and at least to me, it’s one that I am trying hard to infiltrate in my life.  Pride is insidious.  It’s toxic.  It’s detrimental to the gospel and it’s keeping millions of people in sin.  I don’t want my life ruled by pride or by my own personal truths/agendas, and Joshua Harris’ Humble Orthodoxy is an excellent resource to help combat that.

I highly recommend Harris’ little book, Humble Orthodoxy.  It offers a message that each and every Christian needs to hear.  A message on humility is not a fun message, nor is one on orthodoxy, but they are messages that are still important.  I pray that God works in my heart to make it more aligned with His truth.  I want to have genuine love and compassion for each person I encounter in my life.  I want to also hold fast to the Truth that God has revealed.   

* There’s an additional study guide section in the back.

FTC Thingy: This book was delivered on the wings of a three-winged Pegasus, festooned with spring rolls and lucky Vegas dice.  It also was delivered free of charge in exchange for my honest (to goodness) review.  I was not obligated to review this book positively, nor was I obligated to feed the Pegasus my last Oreo cookie, either, though I did manage to do both.

Monday, May 06, 2013

Red Country, a Review

Shy South is a foul-mouthed piece of barbed wire layered thick over a sandpapered-yet-beating heart.  Her life consists mostly of tending her farm, along with her step-dad (Lamb), her two siblings, and a ranch hand.  When she and Lamb return from a trip to town to find their farm burnt to the ground, the ranch hand hanged, and the children missing, Shy’s life changes.

Temple is a man of many professions, most recently employed as a lawyer to a gang of ruthless mercenaries.  Temple always takes the easy road in life, no matter the cost.  But the years of this taking the easy road are catching up with Temple, and sooner or later something will have to give.

Red Country is Joe Abercrombie’s sixth book in the world of The First Law.  Years have passed since the original trilogy.  The Union is ever growing, expanding to the prairies and empty lands of the Near Country and the Far Country.  Dark skinned Ghosts attack with the wind, quick and sneaky, eager to cut the ears off of trespassers on their lands.  Through this wild and untamed country Shy follows a trail, stopping at nothing to get back her brother and sister.

I find it interesting that Abercrombie, a master of trope subversion, falls back on a rather clich├ęd incident for Red Country.  A burning farm.  Kidnapped children.  This is nothing original to the Western genre.  Nevertheless, taking these tropes and placing them in the blurred fantasy world Abercrombie does yield some entertaining reading, albeit flawed.

It seems like many people enjoy Abercrombie’s gritty Realism feel.  I like that style to a degree, but this is not the predominant reason I like his books.  Indeed, this was what I rather disliked with Best Served Cold.  Abercrombie writes characters who are amoral and wretched, often portrayed with little-to-no redeeming qualities.  Altruism does not exist in his world.  Because of this, the reading is often heavy and bleak.  What I like about Abercombie’s world is his worldbuilding.  The history is mysterious and deep.  The magic is barely there, but enough to keep me intrigued.  I’m okay with shady characters, but I really connect with the worldbuilding.

Red Country is a Western and it’s a Fantasy.  I’ve been a fan of Westerns for a good portion of my life (at least through film).  I like the slow pacing of a Western, the simplicity of the plot, the landscapes and colors.  Red Country was slow (almost too slow, honestly) when it needed to be, but the action was intense whenever presented.  Abercrombie did a wonderful job of painting the untamed countryside.  He even did a great job blending this genre into his already developed universe.

So after all of this, I can’t help but feel a little disappointed with Red Country.  In some ways it was anticlimactic, as if Abercrombie matter-of-factly orchestrates events for these characters with little fanfare.  I was also somewhat underwhelmed with Shy.  It felt like she was reluctant to open up to even herself, and throughout her POV chapters I often felt as a viewer.  Temple, on the other hand, was engaging and much more interesting.

Despite some disappointment, I still very much enjoyed Red Country.  It improved upon the bleak, violence that Best Served Cold (my review here) offered.  It also had a more interesting plot than The Heroes (my review here), even if the action was less intense.  All in all, Joe Abercrombie knows how to craft an entertaining story.  More importantly, he knows how to keep me interested enough to read more of his works.  I can only hope to get a little more information about the Fantasy side of his universe with future books.  Give me some magic.  Just a little bit.  And stop making everything so bleak.  Red Country probably isn’t for everyone (especially people that despise Westerns), but it is a worthy addition to Abercrombie’s growing catalog.