ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “A Sense of Urgency” by Patrick McLean (Fiction)

A SENSE OF URGENCY by Patrick McLean

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Baseball franchise moves can break your heart.

Mark Weber, President & CEO of the St. Louis Cardinals, thought he landed his dream job. Little did he know it would turn into a nightmare shortly after management changes at parent company Rheinhold Brewing Company.

Christina Rheinhold, newly installed President & CEO of the company that bears her name, is anxious to keep the small brewery afloat. What better way than to shed non-beer assets? Especially if you don’t even care about the team, purchased by her father when In-Bev acquired Anheuser-Busch and they also were in an off-loading situation. Christina [is] well aware of the 125 year plus tradition of the team in St. Louis, but it [is] very tempting to sell the team to out of town parties for top dollar.

Can Mark, with the help of natural and even supernatural support, save the team for the city and their fans?

REVIEW:

Baseball! So many different aspects of my life seem to be telling me I should brush up on my (nearly nonexistent) knowledge of the sport. I spent my middle and high school years abroad in a country where baseball doesn’t exist, which probably explains why I know so little about the sport–including its history and why it is of such significant importance to Americans today. There are some similarities across sports: baseball and cricket, for example, are both considered “gentlemens’ sports” in that competition coexists with camaraderie and umpires are as important as the players, their calls are of the utmost importance, and sassing an umpire is as gross a misdemeanor as exists. In many other ways, though, baseball and the culture that has formed around it is utterly unique. In A Sense of Urgency, Patrick McLean captures much of the detail and texture of daily life with baseball and infuses his book with the spirit of the same.

Like the sport itself, A Sense of Urgency is a dialogue-driven read. Thumb your way through the book and you’re liable to land on a series of pages where the majority of the text printed on that page is being spoken aloud by one character or another. McLean is somewhat unusual in this–in writing, I mean. My personal addiction when writing is to scenic description (sometimes I think it’s all I know how to write) and that was fairly common among the writers I became acquainted with back in my college years. There are also plenty of authors who are addicted to what you might call the Infodump, or in some genres worldbuilding without much action. In moderation both worldbuilding and scenic description can be useful, but as most of you can probably attest, something needs to happen in a book in order to keep the momentum going and readers engaged. Too much summary description of action as it unfolds, though, can come off as distant. (“He ran, then he stopped. He ate a sandwich. Then he moved to Alaska to learn how to muster sled dogs.”) It’s almost as if some writers (me included) can completely forget about the power of dialogue–but not Patrick McLean.

One of the benefits of a dialogue-driven book is that it doesn’t come off as teasing or deliberately disingenuous to withhold certain information until the critical moments in which those details are important; a third person omnipresent narrator, however, knows everything the character knows and can therefore be something of a tease in books that depend on the timing of those details for plot momentum and reader interest. (If an author knows that it was Lady Scarlett in the dining room with the candlestick but asks me to consider the butler and Colonel Mustard as primary suspects, I start to wonder what else the narrator is hiding from me. And then I start skimming ahead. Because sometimes I’m a very impatient reader! Whoops.) With dialogue, though, an author is fully justified in only conveying what the characters themselves know or are willing to share in the moment, since their voices are the only (or at least the dominant) voices on the page. This comes in very handy in A Sense of Urgency.

Dialogue also conveys personality and regionality in a way like no other text can. Speech patterns, dialect, and idiom tell people who we are when we speak, more than even our clothes and our resumés, since we can put on costumes and brag as much as we like, but how we speak and how we speak to each other will always reveal who we are underneath the affectations and behavioral habits we acquire.

When it comes to plot, there’s not much I can tell you about A Sense of Urgency that’s not already in the description without spoiling key details, but as the omnipresent narrator of this review I’m going to tease you with hints at what you’ll discover when you crack open a copy for yourself. McLean’s command of the details is exquisite. (Who wears loafers without socks??! Who are these people? My mother would be mortified if she were caught out of doors without socks in her sneakers. I, meanwhile, wear sandals until the snow is thicker than the soles of my sandals. Then I switch to boots. I do not loaf. You’ll have to read on in order to discover why this is important in the book.) The little things aren’t always little in this book. But that could also be a hint of misdirection; a Colonel Mustard moment of mine, if you will. (See? Don’t you hate it when a narrator tortures you? McLean doesn’t do this thanks to his dialogue-driven approach.) The Cardinals are more than just a team. Security is called to escort people out … and there are several moments where things get “a little dicey,” to steal an expression from the book. There’s plenty of drama to go around, but I won’t embarrass myself by trying to replicate McLean’s command of how baseball works and will simply state instead that this is a book that is focused on the game and what the game makes possible in the lives of those people who are involved in it.

If you like baseball, or even if you know nothing about baseball but enjoy seeing just desserts dished out by characters who are knowledgable and passionate, this is a book to add to your reading list.

IN SUMMARY:

While the world keeps reminding me that Americans play baseball and not cricket, A Sense of Urgency pairs the sport with storytelling that is bound to appeal to fans and newcomers alike. And yes, Patrick McLean really does convey … a sense of urgency … in this compelling slice of life narrative.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find A Sense of Urgency  wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Patrick McLean’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

The year 2020 being what it is, I couldn’t help but feel drawn to Integrity Based Policing by Dan Barry, which is an insider’s perspective based on Barry’s thirty or so years in law enforcement for the City of Las Vegas. Personal opinions aside, I think it’s an important moment to be seeking out stories from all perspectives on this topic in order to better understand what’s going on in the world (specifically America) today.

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It?”

Religion 531 cover art

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

You Are Much More Powerful Than You Think You Are—And, Unfortunately, Are Totally Responsible For What Happens In Your Life.

You are NOT a physical being with a Spiritual nature. You are a Spiritual being that happens to be in a physical body at the moment. It is almost certain you have lived many physical lives. Your mission (and everyone else’s) is to return to God as an eternal companion to him. You do this by learning what brings you closer to God and what moves you farther away. In this book, you will learn:

  • God judges no one—You are your own moral agent—You will reap everything you sow
  • Whether you are religious or not, you are on your ‘correct’ path, for all paths lead to God
  • In 325 CE, a schism split ‘Christianity’ into those who believed in the ‘Mystical’ Jesus and those who believed in the ‘Mythical’ Jesus—the ‘Mythical’ believers won
  • Long lost, and recently rediscovered, writings indicate the ‘Mystical’ Jesus is a better choice
  • The ‘Mystical’ Jesus taught reincarnation, Karma, The Law of Return and other long-suppressed truths
  • Jesus did not start the Christian religion you practice

REVIEW:

Many books on religion are a minefield of biases, whether the author is conscious or unconscious of that fact. Refreshingly, Josephus the Scribe is extremely up-front about his goals from the very beginning of Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It? (I’ll shorten the title to Religion 531 from here on in this review). I always read introductions, without fail, because they are critical to my trust and faith in a book’s content, in that I can’t quite relax into a book until I know I grasp the author’s intent and baseline character. In his introduction, Josephus lays out his relationship to the facts (discoverer, not proprietor) and the analyses within the book. He both acknowledges his credentials and admits that credentials do very little to persuade those who disagree with the facts as written. So, by the time he gets around to saying:

Forty years of work experience, particularly those with the federal government, coupled with an extensive informal study of many religions, reinforced what I learned in college and illustrated repeatedly how ‘good intentions’ get derailed by bureaucracy and dissent.

… I believe him. I believe that he is not setting out to (as I’ve heard often during my childhood about those outside of Christianity) “undermine the Church.” (Capitalized to represent the entirety of orthodox believers, according to whatever the speaker took to be orthodox.) Even on my first read-through of his introduction, I understood that Josephus’ goal was to lay out the commonalities and shared beliefs between groups that have been divided from each other in public debate for eons, and to provide perhaps some talking points for those wishing to build bridges between various faith-based groups. In fact, later in his “About This Book” section, Josephus writes that “You do not have to deny your faith (whatever it is) to learn from this book. […] This book attempts to identify some of the common threads that are woven through all.”

In my mind, that’s an admirable goal.

As a reviewer’s job, my question is to ask if he achieved that goal so that you can feel equally as confident as I do in reading that introduction.

Let’s talk about the book in terms of clarity first. I appreciated Josephus’ warning (in “How to Read This Book”) that “The concepts in this book are difficult to follow. They are also difficult to explain.” A part of me, the sassy teenage daughter part, wants to roll my eyes (just a little bit) at his need to defend the book’s existence as-is, but mostly I’m grateful for the warning. He might as well have posted a big warning sign: IT GETS COMPLICATED. Which, well, that fits with the way life is working out, doesn’t it? “It is also likely that you will need to go back to previous pages of the book to understand fully concepts that you are reading in later pages,” Josephus writes: “This is expected, as absorbing a new way of thinking is tough.”

What is this new way of thinking? It’s not “scholarly,” as the author points out, but it is primary-text-driven. As he also notes that he’s primarily anticipating that his readers will mostly be Christians (presumably, protestant ones), it’s also not an attempt to “validate or refute” existing understandings. Josephus is clearly attempting to slow down the tendency to leap for an Apologetics-driven reading when his stated goal is to simply get people thinking and to a place of connection.

In some ways, the book’s structure is a hybrid between something like a traditional devotional book and a philosophy textbook for those looking for something more digestible than Plato or Kant. Each chapter is short, between roughly 5 and 15 pages long, excepting only the chapter on “What Does This All Mean?” which is broken out in 1 to 2-page bite-sized chunks. The opening Table of Contents and the closing Index are your friends, since some chapters are indeed worth revisiting as Josephus’ thoughts circle back later on. (I suggest sticking a post-it note there to make them easy to find. I don’t dog-ear books, but if you’re okay with me gasping in horror, go ahead and you do you! JOKING.) The book is fantastically easy to navigate.

Religion 531 is extremely accessible when it comes to voice as well as structure. Sentences are short and to the point, as well as what my writer friends like to call “voicy.” That is, there’s a lot of personality on the page, with humor and emphasis writ large on the page using punctuation, asides, and metaphors. Not all of the paragraphs are short, but they are all way shorter than you will find in typical textbooks and philosophy books. (Thank you, Josephus!) I love a good and to-the-point paragraph. The only stylistic choice that gives me pause is Josephus’ regular use of quotation marks (“”) to set apart words or expressions tied to common religious principles or beliefs. It can make him come off as skeptical, even though it would overall appear that he is nothing of the sort.

I reserve the right not to step into the minefield of attempting to review this book on the merit of its religious or religion-adjacent points. As a child of Christian missionaries, I know exactly how fraught that can be, no matter who I’m’ in conversation with. I am growing increasingly immune to taking offense when someone disagrees with me on arguments (I’m not naturally good at it) pertaining to the Deep Things (my umbrella term for faith, mental health, relationships, human nature, natural history, and science)–but in large part I can thank my brother-in-law’s family for making it clear to me that many people in this world just naturally love debate, love pushing thought to the outer edge of the envelope, and arguing over topics without taking them personally. I think Josephus would love having dinner with that side of the family. (You’re welcome to sub in for me at the next reunion, Josephus!)

If you’re more like me and prone to care very deeply about these things and feel utterly wrecked when the ground shifts underfoot, I still think it’s worth going on the adventure (or roller-coaster ride, depending) that is Religion 531. You just might want to take it slow and remember, always, that Josephus’ goal is to expand both your mental and emotional vocabulary for thinking about and connecting over items of faith. That’s an admirable goal, but he leaves the success in your hands!

That’s pretty brave, I think.

IN SUMMARY:

Josephus the Scribe tackles the core tenets of world religions, with an emphasis on modern protestant Christianity, in an attempt to broaden readers’ understandings and possibilities for connection over matters of faith in an easy-to-read, voicy book that isn’t afraid to ask big questions.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Religion 531 – The Master’s Course: 2000 Years of History Can’t Be Wrong, Can It?  wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Josephus the Scribe’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’ll be wrapping up A Sense of Urgency for my next review! It has been a process working through these two books side-by-side, but a very enriching one. Watch this space!

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Outskirts Press book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: “Tales of Invasions and Empires: Our Place in Time (c. 1100-1400)” by Kent Augustson

(POSTING TO SPA April 17th) Tales of Invasions and Empires

cipa evvy award

2019 CIPA EVVY Award

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

This is the first book in a trilogy offering an original interpretation of our place in time that makes the discord of the current day more comprehensible. This is accomplished using three devices.

First, recognizing that human history is the history of civilizations, we have identified four civilizations that, with their spread, account for about 85% of the world’s population today. These are Confucian China, Hindu India, the Muslim Middle East, and the Christian West. To gain an appreciation of these four is to know well today’s world and to glimpse where we are heading.

Second, we provide a unique time frame for the progress of these civilizations which expands upon German philosopher-historian Karl Jasper’s well-regarded argument for an Axial Age relating to love, morality and wisdom in the centuries surrounding 500 BC. We postulate a new Axial Age in our day that speaks to power.

Third, we make our simple but powerful hypothesis accessible by avoiding complex reasonings and endless accumulations of data. Rather, presented perceptively in each book are seventeen memorable tales about the civilizations that link to one another, interact with one another like a long novel of four families out of which our theme evolves. Beginning with 1100 AD when these civilizations start to meaningfully interrelate, the books cover three centuries apiece. The final chapter in this work provides a summation of how events in the 12th to 14th centuries directly relate to the present day.

REVIEW:

QUICK NOTE AT THE TOP: The world has changed somewhat since this book came out in 2018; in the last month alone, twenty million United States citizens have lost their jobs in one of the biggest economic downturns of all time, a reality that is echoed and magnified on a global scale. Whatever else COVID-19 does, it has done much to lay bare the systems of power that underpin daily life. And the fragility of our “modern” world. Augustson has dealt with several chunks of history in his books, including the 2014 publication of Our Place in Time: The New Axial Age and the Pivotal Years (2015-2020), which would be a better place to dig for his predictive insights into what’s happening now.

To return to this particular book: I’m always deeply appreciative when authors can manage to do three things: show their authority (and expertise) on a subject, make plain their personal bias without it compromising the book’s value, and produce a readable book. Augustson doesn’t lead with his thirty years in government affairs; I had to delve into the authors notes and so forth at the end. But it becomes pretty clear from early on that he knows what he’s doing so far as crafting a persuasive argument and backing it up with curated information that’s digestible to the common reader. There are charts. There are maps. There are structured chapters. But there’s also a kind of playfulness and a clear voice to the work which keeps it from feeling overwhelmingly textbooky.

Augustson starts with seventeen chapters about seventeen intersecting lives. Fair warning, though: he takes it for granted that readers are familiar with some terms that I personally hadn’t seen before (“Jaspers Age” being one, and “Axial Age” another). A little quality time with le Googl brought me up to speed, but it’s well worth taking a pause after the introduction to study the initial charts and timelines and lock in some of those terms before going further. I was set up well for this book by reading Keay’s history of China last year and having started Dalrymple’s The Anarchy more recently. (Not to mention all the Western Civ courses I took through high school and college, getting both the Commonwealth (Australian) and individualistic (American) takes on that third of Augustson’s four cornerstones. Once I finish Dalrymple, Augustson has inspired me to look for a book specifically on the history of Islam and Muslim culture; then I will have a better understanding of his four cornerstone civilizations.

Augustson’s grasp of the facts of history is one thing, but his ability to draw together the different threads of history in very different parts of the world by focusing on the intersecting lives of one or two individuals per chapter is what sets this history apart. Whatever you personally believe about the threefold ages Augustson argues in favor of, it is worth reading this book simply for the pleasure of seeing so many otherwise disparate lives wound so cleverly together. The fifteenth chapter, which deals with “Global Cold and the Black Death” is both hard and valuable to read on its own.

IN SUMMARY:

Augustson’s experience in government affairs is put to work in this mammoth installment of what could safely be called history with a bent towards interpretation, and he makes an interesting argument for the realization of humanity in three ages. Fair warning: This book weighs over a pound, so make sure to have set aside some serious reading time.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find Tales of Invasions and Empires wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Kent Augustson’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

Regrettably, the far-reaching effects of the current global pandemic prevented me from finishing the book I had intended to review two weeks ago, so you can look for that review next Friday. It has been worth the extra time, however.  I’m speaking of Barry Beaven’s God, Me, and the Blackhorse, a hard-hitting memoir of war. (I know, I picked light subjects to review in a time of global unrest. Comforting.) I’ll see you all back here next week, then, and in the meantime I hope you stay safe and healthy.

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Amazon book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.

ORIGINAL BOOK REVIEW: The Realistic Optimist – A Collection of Essays by Ellie Bushweller

457827 Ellie Bushweller cover

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

This book was written by a person who has a full and active life as a wife, mother, grandmother, nurse, counselor and freelance writer. She has been a keen observer of many aspects of human interest.

It is a collection of essays that are concerned with a wide variety of topics. The essays are insightful, informative, humorous and hopeful.

This book should appeal to all those who are intrigued by all the joys and concerns that impact people’s daily lives.

REVIEW:

There are many essays out there in the world, and books like The Realistic Optimist are the best possible kind of persuasion I need to read more of them. Like many readers, my main exposure to the form came in college–first, as an undergraduate learning the basic definitions and structure, and then as a graduate student experimenting with genre expectations and strengthening my sentences. There were essays on supersonic planes, on oranges, on eclipses, on eating unprocessed foods, on shopping every store in the Mall of America, on sports, on hunting, and the list goes on. What there wasn’t, for the most part, was a collection of essays from a single author that captured my interest and felt like something more than a couple of really good works surrounded by filler.

Until now.

For most of a decade, Ellie Bushweller essayed for her local South Burlington’s The Other Paper. Her columns chronicled the daily lives of not just the people she met and the scenes she witnessed, but also the comings and goings of squirrels. Of seasons. Of one’s fellow bench-mates in the park. Of the tools and technologies that pass through our lives. Of time itself. Each of the roughly one hundred essays in this collection were written with conviction and heart, and while the occasional line indicates an essay’s origin in a newspaper column, the collection does not suffer from the change in delivery method.

It is fitting, I think, that The Other Paper would cover this collection of essays which it helped bring into the world with warmth and affection. There’s simply no reading of this book … and no encountering of Bushweller herself … without feeling touched by sunshine. One can easily see why and how she developed a loyal following among the newspaper subscribers of South Burlington.

Which isn’t to say that Bushweller hasn’t walked through some valleys and shadows and maybe even done dark alleys. After a childhood in Brooklyn, she grew into an adulthood as a nurse working to care for children and adults in a dilapidated city housing project. Still, despite life’s hardships witnessed and experienced daily, she clearly never closed her heart to the possibility of doing some good simply by being … a realistic optimist.

IN SUMMARY:

Come for the squirrel stories but stay for the bittersweet authenticity of a life lived with gusto and conviction, gentleness and generosity. The Realistic Optimist is rich with spirit and a balm in tough times. It is also a love letter to a decade of life in a specific time and place–South Burlington–that deserves witness.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find The Realistic Optimist wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Ellie Bushweller’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’ll be going back to one of my wheelhouses, which is to say novel-length works of memoir and nonfiction. (Although frankly, I can fall in love with any genre if the writing is strong.) I’m working on a memoir of combat in Vietnam: God, Me and the Blackhorse by Barry Beaven. I tend to be deeply affected by stories of war, so I’m taking it slow and checking in and out of some other, lighter works … but I think Beaven’s will be the next book to make it into my reviews. You can catch those thoughts on Beaven’s book in two weeks here on Self Publishing Advisor.

 

I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. 

* Courtesy of Amazon book listing.


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ABOUT KENDRA M.: With nine years in library service, six years of working within the self-publishing world, as well as extensive experience in creative writing, freelance online content creation, and podcast editing, Kendra seeks to amplify the voices of those who need and deserve most to be heard.