Hey y’all, here’s are some “capsule reviews” of the books I’ve completed this month!
Finish!, by Jon Acuff: This is the third in what I like to call his “basic instructions” series of motivational books (following “Start” and “Do Over”–you’re welcome to use the moniker, Jon!). Acuff has created a fanbase by delivering easy-to-follow, approachable guidance for those who are wanting to improve their lives and careers, and he blends humor and self-deprecation into all of his advice. I have to admit, there are times when Acuff’s writing feels a bit too cutesy, but then he hits me with an observation that is both obvious and frustrating in its pointed truth. In Finish!, he writes about (no surprise here) finishing projects and completing goals, rather than letting them peter out into disappointment. There are questions to answer at the end of each chapter, as you think about goals you want to accomplish and what you can do to avoid your typical pitfalls in pursuing them. I found this to be a very useful book. I copied down all the diagnostic questions into a notebook and have been working through them over the last few days. I may be delving into some of this in later posts, so I’ll save that for later.
Smallville Season 11: Volumes 1 and 2 (“Guardian” and “Detective”), by Bryan Q. Miller and Pere Perez: I’m a big fan of the Smallville TV series. I don’t think it gets enough respect for how it paved the way for comic-book TV series, and how (despite its WB/CW teen-romance beginnings) it really came into its own as a proto-Superman story in the final seasons. This comic book series by Bryan Q. Miller (who was involved in the writing/directing of some Smallville episodes, I believe) carries on after the TV show’s finale, showing what comes next for the Big Blue Boy Scout. These first two collections contain the first 8 or so comics in this run (which has been going on for a few years and is still enjoying some popularity). The writing is pretty consistent with the tone of the show’s dialogue, and the storylines are right in line with what you’d expect: Lex Luthor, whose memory was wiped at the end of Season 10, is building a “defense” system to guard against alien threats. Superman is becoming a public figure and has to reckon with how to maintain a double life. In Volume 2, Bruce Wayne’s Batman arrives, and while he is antagonistic/suspicious of Superman at first, they quickly see eye to eye (in a way that’s more believable than Zach Snyder’s attempt at the concept). The dialogue of the series mainstays hits the right notes; I hear their portrayals as I read it, especially the Lex Luthor dialogue where Michael Rosenbaum’s iconic delivery is represented well. But the artwork. Oh, the artwork. I almost closed the first volume after 3 pages because the figures and faces of these characters were abominable, sometimes downright laughable. The quality of the art was inconsistent at best throughout both volumes. Perez has no idea whatsoever how to draw Rosenbaum’s Luthor without him devolving into a twice-photocopied image of One-Punch-Man. The artwork was distracting throughout the book, which is a real shame because the writing was on point. I stopped reading after Volume 2 because I needed to move on to some other things, but I’d like to pick it up again in the future. Hopefully, another artist was brought on board to improve upon Perez’s weak work.
American Assassin, by Vince Flynn: You know that GIF of Jason Bateman from Arrested Development, where he opens up the paper bag in the refrigerator marked “Dead Bird,” recoils slightly, and then says “I don’t know what I was expecting”? That’s my “TL;DR” review of American Assassin. I saw a movie trailer for the adaptation of Flynn’s story, and it looked kind of interesting, though it was clear there was potential for sexual content. I figured I’d try the novel, instead; after all, Flynn hit the NYT bestseller list. I was in the mood for something light and forgettable. Popcorn reading. How bad could it be? Answer: Bad. Not even really bad, just boring. The protagonist, Mitch Rapp, is an all-American college athlete whose girlfriend/fiancee/who-cares was killed in the Lockerbie bombing in 1988. (It took me a solid 100 pages to realize this book was set in 1990 or so. Bad reading comprehension, Dave!) He vows revenge (or, as he puts it, “retribution”) on the terrorists responsible and all like them, and hooks up with a secret CIA program for training black-ops assassins, as ya do. The first 200 pages of the book detail the extensive training and winnowing process conducted by Stan Hurley, a former spook with a legendary reputation in the more dangerous corners of the world. Finally, Rapp is selected for this assignment, because he is PERFECT IN EVERYTHING THAT HE DOES. That was the first big strike for me; the hero is too perfect. He’s in total control of every situation, his internal dialogue is primarily composed of clever quips, and it all comes easy to him. It’s like placing the worst parts of Pierce Brosnan’s Bond in a Jason Bourne or Jack Bauer skill-set. As a result, there never seemed to be any real stakes. The next 300 pages in which Rapp and his associates complete their missions becomes grindingly tedious. Oh, one of their allies is a wealthy old German investor with a gorgeous granddaughter in her twenties who is attracted to the hero? Then obviously they sleep together after knowing each other for 6 hours, because why not, right? Completely pointless. There were a few times I thought about abandoning the book because it was ludicrous in an utterly tedious way, but I was more than halfway through, and I figured, it had to get better at some point, right? [Ron Howard narration: “It didn’t get better.”] In summary: Boring, stupid, predictable, with foul language and a pointless (though blessedly short) sex scene. Pass on this one, gang.
I also read a great book about the doctrine of vocation, but that will get its own post. I’m also in the midst of a few more that I’ll be able to finish before the month is up. Yay for reading time!
Your Turn: What’s one of your favorite mindless/popcorn/beach reads? Something light, silly, or enjoyable? Comment below!