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: “God, Me and the Blackhorse” by Barry Beaven

God, Me and the Blackhorse by Barry Beaven

OFFICIAL DESCRIPTION*:

Doc Beaven belonged to a devout Christian family. Because of his faith he chose to be a non-combatant and became a medic who never carried or fired a weapon. After teaching medics he went to Viet-Nam where he was sent to the 11th Armored Cavalry Regiment, the first and only independent Cavalry regiment in Viet-Nam. While only having 13,000 troopers during the war the regiment developed an elite reputation for combat and was commanded by the best of commanders, including George Patton’s son. Doc Beaven was awarded several decorations including the Purple Heart, and talks about life and the difficult choices in the war as well as the combat and those who served. Following the war, he became a physician and currently works in Correctional Medicine.

REVIEW:

I have always been cautious of wartime memoirs and even the more realistic wartime fiction, particularly those memoirs and fictions of the Vietnam War, but having taught several of Tim O’Brien’s books in freshman courses, I have a deep respect for the literature that came out of the Vietnam War. I saw how it worked upon my students. Mostly I taught core classes where very few of the students actually wanted to be there, but reading about Vietnam straightened more than a few backs. I’m cautious about reading books from that moment in history because … you can’t read them and remain unaffected. And as is perhaps to be expected for someone of a generation that has never seen a draft, I have no stomach for war.

I began God, Me and the Blackhorse before COVID-19 became the life-altering specter that it has become, and I’ll be honest: I had to put it aside for a couple of weeks when things here in Montana looked bleak. But it’s a compelling read, and once the new normal of working from home and so forth had fallen into place, I found myself drawn back to Barry Beaven’s voice and experiences in his memoir.

His story isn’t the typical one coming out of Vietnam, either, so I learned a great deal about the function and realities of being a noncombatant medic on the front lines. There were a lot of good surprises in reading this book. For example, I knew going in that Beaven had taken the medic path in part because of his religious beliefs, so I expected something more like the memoirs of wartime chaplains that I’ve read, which tend to have more to do with either falling out of faith (disillusionment) or distinctly preachy in tone, mapping the faith lessons of battle onto the peacetime lives of readers who have never been. There’s nothing wrong with those types of books; it’s just that my own religious upbringing means I’ve already read so very many of them.

Beaven is not preachy. His is also not a story of great disillusionment or loss of faith. From what I can tell, he had his reckonings, but he keeps his faith and is rightly proud of his decisions during that time to this day. His is the voice of a thoughtful observer, the kind who notices small details not just because they tended to save his life or help him save the lives of others on a regular basis, but because that’s the kind of storyteller he is. One of my favorite moments in which we watch Beaven watching others is this one:

We had a Spec 6 medic with the unit then. He was an LPN and basically ran the medics. Dr. Cupps was in charge, but the scut was run by him. He had this bad hand tremor that would shake constantly up until the moment he had to do something, and then it would smooth away. It was fun watching him suture or cut as he’d have this shaking needle heading for someone’s skin but then be totally smooth when the needle touched the skin

Through a wonderful command of the details, he perfectly reconstructs both his world and the many personalities moving through it during the wartime years. He summons the tedium of the endless patrols, punctured as it was by sudden bouts of hostile contact.

And yes, he paints a pretty good picture of the kind of emotional callouses combat medics have to develop in response to so much death. And while he puts his readers in that moment perfectly, Beaven the adult memoirist does draw back every now and again to comment upon the actions and thoughts of Beaven the young medic.

But it’s not a tedious read, I guarantee you. Beaven has a good sense for when to give his readers a bit of humor. I may or may not have laughed out loud (I admit nothing) when I read the line:

One of our squadron’s medics stole a jeep and drove to Saigon for a bash and sold it to pay for the party. We got him back but not the jeep.

It’s asides like this that make God, Me and the Blackhorse more than just another record of a hard time. And it’s Beaven’s personality that I find the most valuable aspect of this very interesting memoir.

IN SUMMARY:

Barry Beaven is one of those rare wartime memoirists who knows how to let a story breathe, and rarely does he try to tell his readers what to feel. Throughout God, Me and the Blackhorse, he documents the experiences and the emotion of working as a medic in Vietnam with a specificity of detail that those historical fiction authors who have not seen combat simply can’t replicate. Once you settle into Beaven’s voice and style, you find yourself running alongside him to the aid of the wounded amidst the thunder of enemy fire.

WHERE TO BUY?

You can find God, Me and the Blackhorse wherever good books are sold, including Amazon and Barnes and Noble. You can also find out more about Barry Beaven’s work on the book’s Outskirts Press author page.

WHAT NEXT?

I’m trying out a lot of different things as I try to break myself out of a little bit of a recent reading rut: young adult literature, fantasy, and … sports fiction? I’m fascinated by the role American sports play in history and society, having grown up in large part abroad, so I’m digging into Patrick McLean’s A Sense of Urgency. I’m hoping this book will help me understand baseball, because even after fifteen years stateside, I’m only just now beginning to understand American football. Time to figure out another sport!

 

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.

Self-Published Book Review: “My Dog is More Enlightened Than I Am”

Book reviews are a great way for self-publishing authors to gain exposure. After all, how can someone buy your book if he or she doesn’t know it exists? Paired with other elements of your book promotion strategy, requesting reviews is a great way to get people talking about what you’ve written.
When we read good reviews, we definitely like to share them. It gives the author a few (permanent) moments of fame and allows us to let the community know about a great book. Here’s this month’s featured book review:
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My Dog is More Enlightened Than I Am

by Maureen Scanlon

ISBN: 9781977210531

 

AWARDS and HONORS
* Spirited Woman Top 12 Pick List
* 2019 Author Shout Recommended Read

Synopsis*:

Follow the ways of our furry friends and learn to focus on positive thoughts and change habits!

Maureen Scanlon is a certified life and spiritual coach and relationship expert with training in cognitive behavioral therapy and NLP techniques. In her book My Dog Is More Enlightened Than I Am, Scanlon offers tips on how to take inspiration from animals to make the most of your life and nurture your relationships. Take time for yourself and find peace. Understand others’ beliefs and perspectives to learn compassion. Find the joy and happiness we all seek. All with the help of the animals in your life.

 * courtesy of Amazon.com

Reviews

My Dog is More Enlightened Than I Am by Maureen Scanlon is a self-help book which, as the title suggests, takes its inspiration from man’s best friend. Relax Whenever You Can, Be Spontaneous, Appreciate Our Differences, Take Care of Each Other, Self Care, No Regrets, and Be Curious are especially true and, I presume, all dog owners and lovers will be reminded of their canine friends and can easily relate to these first six chapters. The rest of the topics take their cue from the law of attraction with the writer sharing some of her experiences, both painful and joyous.

Maureen Scanlon is a certified life and spiritual coach and her book exhorts readers to emulate these loyal and carefree creatures that have been important parts of many people’s lives in more ways than one. One of the things that make this book intriguing is that we don’t only get to know her dogs Jade and Brodie but the feeling that they are hugely instrumental in the production of this inspirational work, thus they are co-authors of this book. All of us would like to make the most out of our lives and may look everywhere for inspiration, not realizing that the animals around us can help us find the peace and happiness we seek. My Dog is More Enlightened than I Am opens our eyes to the fact that there are a lot of things we can learn from animals, especially from these loyal furry creatures that will always be there for us.

Author Interview:

 

 


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Thanks for reading!  Keep up with the latest in the world of indie and self-published books by watching this space!

Self Publishing Advisor

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Self-Published Book Review: “Rambling Squirrel”

Book reviews are a great way for self-publishing authors to gain exposure. After all, how can someone buy your book if he or she doesn’t know it exists? Paired with other elements of your book promotion strategy, requesting reviews is a great way to get people talking about what you’ve written.
When we read good reviews, we definitely like to share them. It gives the author a few (permanent) moments of fame and allows us to let the community know about a great book. Here’s this week’s book review:

rambling squirrel

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Rambling Squirrel

by Wendy Laird

ISBN: 9781432738761

 

Synopsis*:

Learn interesting squirrel facts as you read about a curious squirrel’s journey.

Little squirrel has learned a lot about life as a squirrel but he hungers for more of life’s challenges. Follow his exciting adventures ahead!

 * courtesy of Amazon.com

Reviews

“Rambling Squirrel” is a book about a squirrel wanting to learn lots of things. He was born on a bright, blue-sky day and learned very quickly. He learned how to climb down a tree head first, gather nuts for winter, where to build a safe nest, to hide in a safe place and, of course, use his tail as a blanket, a rudder and an umbrella. But he wanted to learn more! He went to talk to his mama and she suggested he should visit his cousins to learn more. He packed all of his squirrel-needing items and went to visit his cousins.

First he visited his cousin Beaver, He taught him how to build a river dam. It was cold, hard work! Then he went to visit his cousin Prairie Dog, He told Squirrel to always stay alert and keep safe by digging a tunnel and live in it! But Squirrel didn’t want to live in a tunnel so he went to visit his cousin Flying Squirrel; he couldn’t wait until he could fly! He also learned from his cousins Woodchuck, Chipmunk and Mouse. He was gone from his family for many weeks when he went to go back home. When he returned home, he told his family all about his trip!

My favorite character was the baby squirrel because he wanted to learn more about things. My favorite picture was when he was with his cousin Beaver because the squirrel really looked like a beaver! My favorite part was when he was with his cousin Prairie Dog. I liked the artwork a lot! I also learned more fun facts about squirrels in “Rambling Squirrel.”


tuesday book review

Thanks for reading!  Keep up with the latest in the world of indie and self-published books by watching this space!

Self Publishing Advisor

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