100 Word Book Reviews: August 2020

Sanderson, Brandon. Alcatraz Versus the Knights of Crystallia. New York: Scholastic Press, 2009. 320 pages.

B+: In this third installment of the Alcatraz series, the boy with the talent for breaking things finally leaves the Librarian-controlled Hushlands for the Free Kingdoms. However, so have the librarians. Caught between a plotting mother and indifferent father, Alcatraz struggles with his place in this new world. As a suspicious peace treaty is about to be signed, he must unravel the truth, perform a wedding, organize the Royal Archives (not a library), avoid playing music, and find the traitor in their midst. Full of the usual zany antics, the Knights of Crystallia lovingly mocks itself and its readers.  

Sanderson, Brandon. Arcanum Unbounded: The Cosmere Collection. New York: Tor Books, 2016. 672 pages.

B+: Arcanum Unbounded is a welcome peak behind the curtain of the Cosmere. The collection is made up of short stories and novellas from some planets in the Cosmere previously known (Scradrial of Mistborn, Roshar of Stormlight, and Sel of Elantris) as well as some previously unknown. The Emperor’s Soul is almost worth the price of the book in itself and Edgedancer allows the minor and quirky Stormlight character of Lift come into her own. Though not for novice fans of Sanderson, this will be a enjoyable volume for all those already neck deep in the Cosmere. 

Sanderson, Brandon. Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens. New York: Scholastic Press, 2010. 320 pages.

A-: My personal favorite of the Alcatraz series. In the Shattered Lens, Alcatraz is at his most honest, most courageous, and most foolhardy. Racing to save the kingdom of Mokia from falling under a librarian siege lead by a sect committed to destroy all glass, Alcatraz’s team crosses enemy lines (while quoting Hamlet) only to find the situation almost hopeless. As his friends are taken, the kingdom begins to fall, and more responsibility is heaped on his shoulders, the young Oculator fully unleashes his breaking talent. In doing so, he breaks far more than just his enemy. 

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich. The Cost of Discipleship. Translated by R. H. Fuller. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1959. 316 pages.

A+: One of the few books I can genuinely say changed my life. The opening chapter on cheap versus costly grace should be revisited regularly. When first reading it at seventeen, I was captivated by the costly call to forsake all and follow Christ. Now, years later, the same call rings through to me in a different context – home, work, wife, kids. Bonhoeffer’s brilliance is in cutting through all the false questions and spiritual gymnastics we use to avoid simply obeying the word of Jesus. In Christ alone there is life, but it comes by way of taking up a cross. 

Sanderson, Brandon. Skyward. New York: Dell Publishing, 2018. 528 pages.

A: What is courage and cowardice look like? Is it dying in a blaze of glory? Or is it continuing to live and fight even when everything in you says to give up? These questions jump off the page as we follow Spensa Nightshade, daughter of The Coward, in her quest to become a pilot in the battle against the alien Krell. Haunted by the death of her flight mates and her father’s shame, Spensa’s bravado begins to run dry, only for her to discover new (and different) wells of courage with the help of her quirky robot, M-Bot. 

Sanderson, Brandon. Alcatraz Versus the Dark Talent. New York: Starscape, 2016. 304 pages.

A-: Alcatraz Smedry is a coward. He revealed this conclusion at the beginning of the first book. Yet, as the “final” book of his autobiography closes, we are left wondering if his own assessment is true. Does one moment of fear and failure negate all his previous courage? Alcatraz infiltrates the Librarian stronghold of Highbrary to stop his father from accidentally destroying the world. With no Talents and Bastille unconscious, Alcatraz’s wit and daring will not be enough. This book ends in despair, Alcatraz unable to write more. We await Bastille taking up the pen to finish the saga. 

Sanderson, Brandon. Starsight. New York, Dell Publishing, 2019. 480 pages.

A-: Third time reading this year. The sequel to Skyward sees Spensa travel from Detritus to infiltrate the enemy space force and steal a hyperdrive. With only her pet slug, Doomslug, and her robot spaceship, M-Bot, for company, Spensa is thrown into a new world full of alien species. Now training to fight the mysterious Delvers, this cross-cultural experience leaves her conflicted about the war her people are fighting. While she wants freedom for her people, can she still fight when she knows the faces of her enemies, and knows just how scared those soldiers are too? 

Smith, James K. A. How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2014. 148 pages.

B+: This book is vintage Jamie Smith. It is witty and clear, while pulling complex ideas into the realm of ordinary people and pulling music and movie references into the realm of philosophy. How (Not) to be Secular is a guide to reading Charles Taylor’s A Secular Age. Taylors volume (both in size and content) is largely inaccessible to the average reader. Taylor diagnoses and describes the cross-pressures (un)believers feel in this secular age. While an excellent tour through Taylor, as a ‘reader’s guide’ this book lacks the constructive punch I have come to expect from Smith’s work. 

Stott, John R. W. The Baptism & Fullness of the Holy Spirit. Downer’s Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1964. 60 pages. 

B+: In this brief, but helpful book, Stott addresses the relationship between baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit. Baptism is the sign and seal of both forgiveness of sins and receiving the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit is the gift of Christ in our baptism. While rejecting the idea of a second, spiritual baptism, Stott does recognize the continual need for Christians to come to Christ to be filled by the Spirit. Balanced, clear, and imminently readable, this volume by Stott ages well as the church continues to seek to walk by the Spirit and live into our baptism. 

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