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JamieBeu

Books with a Beu

Jamie Beu, owner and co-author (with his wife) of CatholicFamily.info, is a "cradle Catholic", devoted husband, and father of two girls. He is a regular contributor to his parish newsletter, as well as an impassioned defender of the faith who is able to both support and challenge others as necessary -- all in an effort to build-up Christ's Kingdom on Earth. To this end, he does a lot of reading - not just of religious books (for education and research), but also of secular books, both to decompress as well as to keep a finger on the pulse of pop culture (the better to relate to others, as well as to help restore the culture).

Currently reading

Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters: 10 Secrets Every Father Should Know
Meg Meeker, Meg Meeker
Hyperion
Dan Simmons
Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of Your Life
'John Townsend', 'Henry Cloud'
Boundaries Face to Face: How to Have That Difficult Conversation You've Been Avoiding
Henry Cloud
Jesus of Nazareth
Pope Benedict XVI, Adrian J. Walker
Permutation City
Greg Egan
Truth and Tolerance: Christian Belief and World Religions
Pope Benedict XVI
Is Jesus Coming Soon?: A Catholic Perspective on the Second Coming
Ralph Martin
Prelude to Foundation (Foundation: Prequel, #1)
Isaac Asimov
Autobiography of a Saint: Therese of Lisieux
Thérèse de Lisieux, Ronald A. Knox, Vernon Johnson

Redshirts: A Novel with Three Codas

Redshirts - John Scalzi Although I like Scalzi's writing and topics, this one was just not quite up to his usual standards.

Yes, it was quite funny (given the topic - ensigns on a starship keep dying on away missions, yet the "main characters" always survive - how could it not be?), filled with Scalzi's typical realistic dialogue (think: Buffyspeak). But I think he might have bitten off more than he could chew with this "high concept" piece. Sadly, it's one of those cases where the concept of the work is better than the work itself (think: any Christopher Moore book).

Additionally, it seemed too short - more of a novella than a regular-sized novel (or maybe I just read it too quickly).

I enjoyed it, and I do think it is worth reading (especially for the three codas - that was an interesting literary challenge, with varying degrees of success), although not as good as the Old Man's War series. In fact, not even as complete and well-done as Fuzzy Nation or The Android's Dream. (To be fair, he is one of my favorite authors, so maybe I'm just expecting too much from him now.)

Read it - you'll enjoy it (just not as much as most of his other books).

Mockingjay (The Hunger Games, Book 3)

Mockingjay - Collins Suzanne I actually didn't think this was a bad book, except for the last third or so.

The first two-thirds held a lot of promise, with the whole psychological/morale war going on between the districts and the Capitol. Some of the action sequences were really contrived (an arrow taking out a hovercraft? really?), but for the PR war promised to be the most compelling part of the series.

Then, they get to the pods. Really? C'mon! What idiot scatters lethal pods throughout an entire urban center? (not to mention releasing killer mutations that don't care which side they kill first) I can usually suspend disbelief for "futuristic" situations (I'm a huge fan of sci-fi), but I can't suspend disbelief over supposed evil geniuses and chess masters making dumb moves.

Toward the end, though, it really seemed like Suzanne Collins ceased to care about any of her characters by that point in the book. It felt a little odd that she built up a few characters like Finnick just to kill them off with little to no ceremony about their deaths. By the time Prim dies, you're just numb and don't care anymore, because obviously the author doesn't care either! Talk about keeping it real... real meaningless!

There were some interesting twists, but the Hollywood Tactics used in the urban warfare were a little ridiculous and the deaths (not a spoiler, people!) were over-the-top and pointless. Honestly, if the trilogy had ended at 2 books, it would have felt as complete.

On the whole, I'm glad I read it, if only to be in-the-know with pop culture, but it's not something I'm going be like, "That trilogy was so awesome! I'm going to read it again in a year."

Catching Fire (The Hunger Games, Book 2)

Catching Fire - Suzanne  Collins Better than the first book.

Although there were still some issues (like President Snow just being uber-evil and creepy - a little over-the-top for me), there was a lot more tension, more twists and turns (especially of the "unexpected" or "surprise" variety), and better character development, especially of the other victors.

Being the 2nd act of a three-act play can be a challenge. It can either go the "Empire Strikes Back" route, or go the way of "Transformers: Rise of the Fallen". This book falls more into the former camp than the latter. (I'm just hoping the 3rd book doesn't have Ewoks.)

Race Forever (Choose Your Own Adventure #7)

The Race Forever - R.A. Montgomery, Sittisan Sundaravej, Kriangsak Thongmoon The main thing I remember about this book is that it was the first CYOA book that I died during the first time reading it through. Every one of the previous books, I survived (usually with a happy ending) the first time reading through. This one was different, though. I don't remember how I died (I think my car broke down and I ran out of water and the last thing I saw was a buzzard ready to peck at my face!), but I remember being taken aback by not being successful the first time.

The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary

The Unabridged Devil's Dictionary - Ambrose Bierce, David E. Schultz, S.T. Joshi I recall seeing blurbs from this in email taglines and referenced in many other places throughout the years, so I figured I should finally read the whole thing, cover to cover. Although it is clever in places, it is also dated, both in language and in allusions. This may explain why it is only quoted in snippets.

The author says (in the preface) that the original title was "The Cynic's Word Book", but there ended up being such an explosion of "Cynic's" books that "Among them, they brought the word 'cynic' into disfavor so deep that any book bearing it was discredited in advance of publication." (Much like the "Idiot's Guide" books.) However, it reminded me more of a somewhat highbrow version of Jeff Foxworthy's Redneck Dictionary, although with more poetry and less illustrations.

Although calling it "the Devil's" might have sounded overly diabolic or irreverent at the time it was published, it barely raises an eyebrow now. That said, there is much that mocks or denigrates several religions and religious officials. (Then again, it also mocks races of people, politicians, and poets along with priests, so in that sense, it is unbiased in its broadsides.)

I can't say this was a masterpiece, but it does give a time-capsule-like glimpse into the political humor of its time (including multiple references to "the N word" and digs at suffragettes - things considered repulsively offensive today), which is probably more worthwhile than many history books written today. In addition, it does give some witticisms that are still good for today, such as:

“GRAPESHOT, n. An argument which the future is preparing in answer to the demands of American Socialism.”
“AMNESTY, n. The state's magnanimity to those offenders whom it would be too expensive to punish.”


The copy I read came from Project Gutenberg, so it had many typographical errors - but the upside was the price and that I can read it on my smartphone.

The Map of Time: A Novel

The Map of Time - Nick Caistor, Félix J. Palma After reading parts I & II, I gave up on this book. The fact that this is billed as a time-travel book but any and all time travelling is a hoax left me very dissatisfied. Add to that the confusion incurred by adding historical figures such as H. G. Wells and Jack the Ripper as well as the Elephant Man into a work of fiction... well, it really felt rather random to me. If I wanted to read alternate history/time travel randomness, I'd have read The Man in the High Castle again. But since I thought "High Castle" sucked, I felt no inclination to finish this book.

I even asked the time travel group here on Goodreads whether it was worth finishing, and the silence was deafening.

Can't recommend and won't finish. (Glad I got it from the library - upset that I put off other reading for this.)

The Hobbit or There and Back Again

The Hobbit or There and Back Again - J.R.R. Tolkien I forgot how fast the end wraps up. It really makes you think about how the story really is about the journey, and not about what happens once you get there.

I'd really like to have heard about the "and back again" part of the tale, but... oh well!

The Hunger Games (The Hunger Games, Book 1)

The Hunger Games - Suzanne  Collins Well, my wife requested this from the library, but the waiting list was so long that when we finally received it, she figured both of us should read it so we don't have to wait so long again. Although it was fairly interesting, it was also fairly mindless and not necessarily worth the wait (or the hype).

I can understand how this would appeal to the YA audience, but I hesitate to call this a true dystopian novel. For a novel to be truly dystopian (i.e., similar to 1984, The Stand, or even A Canticle for Leibowitz), there has to be a primary philosophical/sociological point that goes to the extreme that results in the dystopia (i.e., "thought police"; biological weapon mistake; or a revolt against technology, engineers, and scientists).

This book did not proceed from such an extreme point, at least not in any well-defined sense. Instead, it vaguely resembled a mix between Lord of the Flies and The Running Man (or maybe even The Long Walk, since it deals with teens).

I confess to enjoying these Bachman Books when I was younger, but none of them tried to paint a full dystopian worldview - just a game that takes place within that vaguely-defined horrible future of gruellingly fatal games. But The Hunger Games attempts to paint a picture of this whole world in which this depraived bloodsport exists, without really explaining (at least in any detail other than "the Capital wanted to punish the Districts") why such a world exists in the first place.

Again, maybe this resonates better with tweens and young adults who are dealing with learning "the rules of life" only to see them constantly shift and change on them. (Society, faith, friends, and family all giving teenagers conflicting advice: "do this..."; "except when this is the case..."; "no, don't listen to them..."; "forget that! This is what you *really* should do".) Maybe the mix of anarchy within strict authoritarianism strikes a chord with teens that it doesn't quite hit with an adult and parent.

That said, it's decent enough as "chewing gum reading", but not deeply philosophical or insightful. Given the content (violent, but not necessarily ultraviolent, with little to object to on a "sexual content" basis), I also wouldn't recommend it for anyone under, oh.. say... 14 or 15 years old? (It's definitely better than letting them read some of the other "urban horror" or "paranormal romance" crap that is geared toward their age group.)

Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine

Glenn Beck's Common Sense: The Case Against an Out-of-Control Government, Inspired by Thomas Paine - Glenn Beck The first half was kinda depressing (statistics about debt and decaying morals, etc.), mostly to tweak those who are not yet resolved to take action to take the country back from the politicians who have steered us so far from our founding principles.

The second half doesn't offer many step-by-step solutions, but it concludes with Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" pamphlet in its entirety. That part is amazing! It is worth reading to see how he summarized the natural rights of man; derived those rights from Scripture (as well as denouncing monarchies through Scripture); demonstrated how monarchies (specifically the King of England) ruled and acted against those natural rights; and not only outlined an excellent starting point for our current Republic form of government, but also predicted the rise of Napoleon in France due to the absence of such a government.

If you've ever listened to Glenn Beck's show or attended a Tea Party rally, this book will be mostly a rehash of what you've heard before, and should be read mostly for the second half to remind us of where our country started and the sacrifices our founders made.

If you have not listened to his show or been part of the Tea Party, this book should knock you on your butt with frank descriptions of the current state of our nation (hint: it's worse than you think, and getting even worse, regardless of the party in charge). This book, if you are paying attention, should wake you from your slumber. If after reading this book, you are still asleep at the wheel, you probably shouldn't vote and may God have mercy on your soul. (Just sayin'...)

It's a Book

It's a Book - Lane Smith Adults will find this to be a funny book, but the ending page is not appropriate for younger children (uses a slang term some parents might find offensive).

As such, make sure that you pre-read this before letting your kids read it (so you can judge for yourself whether it is appropriate, whether they will get the humor throughout, etc.).

Being George Washington: The Indispensable Man, as You've Never Seen Him

Being George Washington - Glenn Beck This book is part-history, part-self-help/motivational, part-adventure. It tends to blur the line a bit between history and non-fiction novel.

The good thing about reading a history book like this is that it is nowhere near as boring as a text book from a history class in grade school or college. It's a quick read, you'll learn some new things, and you'll retain more because it is a chronological narrative (i.e., the connections from one point to another are easily made and kept in your mind).

The bad thing is: it's a quick read. Since you'll be done reading it quickly, you'll feel like stuff has been left out (something, perhaps, that your history teacher would have gone on about for days but would have bored you stiff).

It should also be noted that this is not, strictly speaking, a history book or straight biography. As I said before, it is part motivational reading. Every other chapter is Glenn's interpretation of what you just read in the previous chapter and how it relates to our times and to the person reading the book (i.e., "lessons to learn from this"). Even if you agree with Beck, it can make the book feel, at times, like an after-school special or a "one to grow on" PSA in the middle of Saturday morning cartoons.

That said, it'll whet your appetite to learn more about Washington, the founding of our country, and the people involved - much like when you first meet someone and start dating them to get to know them better. However, I imagine most of the other books about Washington (or history in general) may seem even more dry and boring than before - kinda like wanting to know more about your dream girl just to discover that her family and friends are the most lame people in Dullsylvania. This book, her family has interesting stories to tell, but they also get preachy after each story, telling you what they think you should take away from each anecdote they share.

Maybe I'm just jaded by hating history class in high school, only to become really interested in history and politics in my 30s, but that's how I feel about this book. It seems like a great introductory book (perhaps a bit too homiletic), but I'm afraid of being let down by other books.

Fool: A Novel

Fool - Christopher Moore I think the warning at the beginning of the book sums it up perfectly: "WARNING: This is a bawdy tale. Herein you will find gratuitous shagging, murder, spanking, maiming, treason..."

It is a satirical spoof of Shakespeare's works (particularly King Lear, but allusions are made to other works of The Bard), and it is fairly witty in some parts, but mostly it comes across as crass, crude, and sacriligious merely for the sake of being crass, crude, and sacriligious.
I have no problem with some low-brow comedy, but it has to actually be funny and not merely shocking. This book really feels less like a satirical tribute to Shakespeare and more like a medieval version of "American Pie" - some humorous parts (even some genuine gems of comedy) sprinkled not-generously-enough amid a veritable Dark Ages thesaurus of bodily functions.

Like I said, I found it to be quite funny, but not consistently so. I probably would have liked it much more if there weren't so many insulting references to the Christian faith and practices. As a result, it felt like watching a comedian who says a few funny things that have you applauding for him and laughing out loud, and then he jarringly shifts gears into offensive material that just leaves you upset that he had to go there.

The Pillars of the Earth

The Pillars of the Earth - John      Lee, Ken Follett Well, I finally finished the audiobook version of The Pillars of the Earth, and it is definitely epic in scope. This makes it easy to do a decent job of characterization (plenty of pages and time to develop the characters), but also makes it difficult to keep that characterization consistent. In this respect, I think the Follett did a good job with most of the characters. The only flaw (as with any "period piece") is that the "ingenious" or "devious" characters are also amazingly modern in their thinking, their inspirations, and their hopes and dreams. It's almost beyond belief that so many of these 12th century English men and women from these small towns would all be so clever and come up with ideas that decades and even centuries ahead of their time.

That's not even my main complaint about the book. My biggest problem with it was the graphic descriptions of the depravity of William Hamleigh (especially in audiobook format). As someone who has read Stephen King and other horror novels before, even I thought there were several extremely disturbing passages. When listening on a CD, they it is even worse because it is unfortunately quite difficult to know just how far to skip ahead without potentially missing some critical plot point.

Unfortunately, the same holds true for the love-making scenes. It almost seems as though the author took a detour into erotica and forgot he was writing a book in which the building of a cathedral church is the central plot point!

In case you missed what I'm trying to say, this book is not for the squemish or the morally sensitive.

All that said, Mr. Follett did a very good job (especially for an atheist) at describing and portraying the "hero" of his tale, Prior Philip, a Benedictine monk. He also did a surprsingly good job of describing the internal struggles of the other religious figures (whether mostly good or mostly villainous).

Overall, it was a decent book, but not one I'd recommend to many people I know. Furthermore, I'm not all that sure I "enjoyed" reading it. I wanted to really like it (since my brother's girlfriend had recommended it to me, and we all seem to have similar tastes), and at times, it was an interesting description of Gothic architecture and medieval life in England; at other times, though, it seemed to be too much like a bawdy and ultraviolent soap opera. (I guess I just like tales that are a little more escapist and aren't so depressingly much like real life.)

A Canticle for Leibowitz

A Canticle for Leibowitz - Walter M. Miller Jr. An amazing novel (or trilogy of novelas)!

This book encapsulated many things that hit home to me: anxiety about the future (and far-future), civilization rebooting, the Church as protector and guardian of humans and human heritage, musing about Biblical characters, and if we start colonizing other planets, how soon before we send missionaries as well?

Just an incredible, scholarly book that raises both hopes and fears. It gives a nod to the potential of humanity for good, while also acknowledging we are all members of a fallen race.

On the advice of the forward to this edition, I'm going to mark this as a book to read again in 10+ years.

The New Space Opera 2: All-new stories of science fiction adventure

The New Space Opera 2: All-new stories of science fiction adventure - Gardner R. Dozois, Jonathan Strahan, Neal Asher, Garth Nix, Sean Williams, Bruce Sterling, Bill Willingham, John Meaney, Elizabeth Moon, Tad Williams, Justina Robson, John Scalzi, Mike Resnick, John C. Wright, Robert Charles Wilson, Peter Watts, John Kessel, Cory Doctorow Well, the stories had to do with space, so I'll give it that. Aside from being stories about space, there were only a few stories in this collection that I would say were worth my time to read (e.g., "The Lost Princess Man", "The Tale of the Wicked", "Utriusque Cosmi", and "To Go Boldly").

So many of the stories were trying so desperately hard to be poignant or meaningful or "current" that they ultimately just ended up being confusing, depressing, and/or pointless. The biggest wastes of time (the ones I thought were especially bad) were "The Island" and "Punctuality".

On the bright side, there were two good things about this book:

1) it reminded me of how much I enjoy Scalzi John's stories. As a result, I stopped reading this anthology and instead picked up Fuzzy Nation, a book I enjoyed much more than this collection.

2) The adequate (which is above-the-average for this collection) story "Catastrophe Baker and a Canticle for Leibowitz" once more piqued my curiosity about the real A Canticle for Leibowitz that I finally broke down and read it (after having it on my to-read list for quite some time) - a decision I do not regret in the least!

Perelandra

Perelandra  - C.S. Lewis An amazing book.

I was a little concerned about how I'd like this book, since I was kind of ambivalent about Out of the Silent Planet. Rarely do you see a sequel that is better than the first in the series. This sequel, however, was not like the difference between "The Empire Strikes Back" and "A New Hope" - it was more like the improvement of "The Empire Strikes Back" over any of the Star Wars prequels!

The description of Perelandra has you guessing for a while - until you realize that what he is describing is from first impressions to dawning comprehension of reality. The novelty of the lands of Perelandra (if they can truly be called that) are enough to write a whole sci-fi book about (much like how in Ringworld the planet's setting is the central focus of the story). However, for Lewis, this is merely an imaginative setting - he's got bigger fish to fry.

And what a fish it is! The story of the Garden of Eden, retold with a fallen human being there to try to avert it! Lewis's dialogue of the temptations thrown at the "Eve" of Perelandra are so cunning and so intricate that there is a real tension of not just "how will they get out of this one?" but "is it even possible to get out of this one?" Truly an amazing job that puts that whole serpent and apple business to shame.

Highly recommended for anyone who loves sci-fi and is serious about their Christian faith. Even if you are not a devout Christian, you will be intrgiued by what is presented, philosophically and fantastically, in this book.