It's a good book, but it's not my Typee...

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Uncommon: A Book Review Haiku

Uncommon finds truth
in lives lived well, paths straightened.
God and football themes.

Uncommon by Tony Dungy is a book aimed at helping men and boys be the best they can, but most of its lessons apply with equal simplicity and depth to anyone who cares to read it. Dungy draws on the lessons learned coaching professional football and seeing
what effect a life of privilege can have without a strong moral compass.

The Constantine Codex

The Constantine Codex is one of the most dreadful books I've read in quite a while. The plot would have been fascinating in the hands of a more skilled author. But Paul L. Maier manages to squeeze all the entertainment out of the story with his insipid dialogue.

The two main characters are a married couple--Jon, a Harvard professor and Shannon, an archaeologist--who talk to each other in bad jokes and long-winded explanations of things both of them should already know. Maier is clearly trying to get his readers up to speed on all the history they need to know in order to understand the story, but he doesn't seem to understand that not all factual information has to come out of a character's mouth. A few well-placed paragraphs of historical background would do wonders. Instead, readers will start to wonder how the main characters manage to hold down such prestigious jobs when they are clearly both morons. Jon and Shannon spend page after page trading information back and forth that should be so obvious to them that it need not be stated.

It would be like having the following conversation with your spouse:

Husband: I'm hungry, love of my life. What's that thing called where you combine bread and meat?
Wife: I believe you're thinking of the sandwich.
Husband: I think you're right! Did you know bread is considered a carbohydrate?
Wife: That's right! How could I have forgotten?
Husband: There, there. We can't all be as brilliant as I does the bread go on the inside or the outside?

I'm only exaggerating very slightly. Read the book for yourself if you don't believe me, but don't say I didn't warn you.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Craving Grace

Craving Grace is the second book by Lisa Velhouse, author of Saving My First Kiss. Velthouse takes readers through about three years of her life in this memoir and details her attempts to find Christian perfection, professional perfection, and a relationship that lasts longer than the second date.

The chapters jump back and forth in time and, though well labeled, are still likely to leave the reader confused by all the similar emotions and situations described again and again. Velthouse's thoughts also jump around quite a bit, but not in a displeasing way. Her style is personable and endearing.

I found myself wanting very much to meet this charmingly flawed young woman who strives so hard to be so many wonderful things. By the end of the story, readers with any heart will find themselves silently cheering at the hint of romantic success in Velthouse's future.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Left Behind

Left Behind. What to say? I'd heard of it, of course. My opinion was as yet unformed when I picked up the book, which is for the best. My only concrete thought was 'Why is there a Christian book about all the people who failed at being Christians? Why do we want to hear their story?'

But it turns out the whole idea of the book is that the people who missed their chance to follow Jesus before the Rapture begin to search for answers. Many of them become devout Christians after seeing Biblical prophecy come to life. So, the story itself if intriguing and well thought out.

However, the writing itself leaves something to be desired. The authors seem to have no idea how college students talk, leaving one of the main characters (college student Chloe) sounding stilted and even ridiculous at times. Most of the characters aren't terribly interesting. The aforementioned Chloe is probably the most compelling and charming, but the strange dialogue she's given drains some of her credibility as a character.

Some characters are completely one-dimensional, almost painfully so. Flight attendant Hattie Durham is depicted as a morally inept girl whose shallowness is pointed out so many times, readers may begin to suspect the authors aren't sure we've gotten it.

Overall, Left Behind turned out to be a decent read. The plot became fairly interesting in the last quarter of the book and I don't regret having read it. Not exactly great praise, but more than I can say for some books. I may read more of the series at some point, but I don't feel any great need to find out what happens to these people.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Scars of a Chef

Rick Tramonto has lived a pretty exciting life, as chronicled in Scars of a Chef. Rick's father was jailed for embezzling from the Union he worked for. His mother was an unstable, violent woman who sometimes terrified her son without ever laying a hand on him. Rick's behavior sent him spiraling down the school system as he was sent to ever-worsening high schools in an effort to straighten him out. Eventually he dropped out. To escape from the chaos of his life, he threw himself into drugs and cooking.

He worked his way up from a cook at Wendy's to his own acclaimed restaurants. Along the way he lost himself too often in drugs and partying or just working too many hours a day. He floundered for years, sometimes gravitating toward Christianity, but always delving again into self-destruction and the pursuit of culinary skill over all else.

When Rick finally found something to truly bring him comfort and peace, he gave himself over to it with the same single-minded focus he had previously directed at cooking. He had finally established a relationship with God. Now, Rick balances his love of food with his devotion to Christ. He and his family attend church several times a week and Rick turns to prayer instead of drugs.

Rick Tramonto's story is very readable and it's easy to see that his new-found inner peace has now healed over much of a past that would drag some people down forever. His journey to maturity has been full of potholes, mostly of his own creation. But the basic message of Scars of a Chef is that if someone like Rick can salvage a life marked by family problems and personal darkness, anyone can find their way to success and spirituality.