Friday, January 18, 2008


Author: Chuck Palahnuik

Type: Fiction

Shepnerd Rating: 3 Stars

Choke is a bitter, funny, interesting story that doesn't really go anywhere or resolve anything important. The author, famous for "Fight Club", uses the same formula is this work: engaging quirky characters, weird set-ups, un-redeemable situations pursued by unconscionable characters.
The character Vincent tells us in the opening paragraph that we will not like him. He is right. A child raised part in foster care and part by a chaotic jail-bird mom, Vincent grows up to become a medical student forced to drop out of college to provide for his mother who is dying with Alzheimer's disease. He takes a job in an amusement park to pay his bills, and pretends to choke in fancy restaurants to scam people out of money in order to pay for his mom's care. His quirky loser friend Dennis, his mom's Doctor, and his whacked-out mom serve as pivots the move around his dysfunctional system of being. He's also a sex addict (all this comes out in the first chapter alone!) whose sexual romps add little but funny sequences and shock to the story.
Its a great set-up with almost no denouement. By the time Vincent admits to Dr. Marshall that he doesn't want his mom to die, and doesn't want her to get better - that he wants her just to hover helplessly at the brink of death so he can be in control of her for a chance -- we realize he is right. We are not ever going to like Vincent.
Good writing, stagnant story.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Se7en (Seven)

Publisher: Zenescope

Type: Graphic Novel

Shepnerd Rating: 5 Stars

Wow. That's all I can say about this hardcover collection of the 7 book comic series by Zenescope that is a graphic (and I mean graphic) novel edition of the movie "Seven". Its not just a retelling, it fills in backstory (how did John Doe become such a psycho? What steps did he take to commit his crimes?) and uses art in ways to create emotion that are unheard of in most mediums.

The books was done with cooperation from New Line Cinema, and is quality throughout. Remember the black and white composition notebooks John Doe writes in? Each chapter is a sin, and features a full-page spread of the notebook page (so you can read his little writing about each sin and see his gross taped-in pictures up close). Each Chapter (7 of course) also shows something about his life "then" (an abusive mom, a early sexual encounter, catholic school, unfaithful wife...) and his plans to create the "now" (how he sets up his murders). Each chapter ends where the movie starts - the finding of a body - the understanding of the "sin".
If you haven't seen the movie Seven - you won't get the book. But if you read this book - you will get so much more out of the movie. For fans of thrillers and graphic novels - this book is worth your time, and money.

The Tent

Author: Margaret Atwood
Type: Literature/Short Story
Shepnerd Rating: 4 Stars

People who aren't used to Margaret Atwood's free flowing sentences and amazing intelligence will not like or get this book. However, as an Atwood fan since college (back when we rode our dinosaur to school) I found this book to be an amazing treat. Filled with short stories to illustrate her thoughts on everything from aging, to spirit seeking, to our commerical/materialistic world these small stories are packed with images, wit and style.
Sadly the book is thin and fast to read (I completed it in 2 doctor's visits). My favorite stories were "Salome was a Dancer" "No Pictures Please" "The Bottle II" and "Animals Reject Their Names". My only sadness about this book is that I wished it were longer.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

The Star Trek Encyclopedia

Author: Michael Okuda, et al

Type: Science Fiction

Shepnerd Rating 4 Stars

I bought this book to write an essay on the Bajoran Prophets for my StarFleet Academy class (no, serioulsy - check out Its a fanstastic resource in encyclopedia form - cross referenced and contains story lines, ship schematics, character explanations and even uniform codes. The whole thing is quite fun and it is very easy to find information in.

Why only 4 stars from the Shepnerd? 2 reasons - the pictures are in black and white (making for a very bleak apprearance, and the book was written before DS9 was finished so there are a lot of unfinished entries for DS9 and none of Voyager. I would love to see this work expanded to include Voyager and Enterprise (eh).

However, if you are wanting info on Star Trek TOS or TNG - its a great book to have.

Sacred Speech: A Practical Guide for Keeping Spirit in Your Speech

Author: Rev. Donna Schaper

Type: Spirituality

Shepnerd Rating - 5 stars

Inclusive language, political correctness and all types of uses of words have leaked into Christianity over the years. What Donna Schaper noticed was that while we are getting better and better at talking - we are not getting better at faith, healing or love.

This book is an outstanding help in learning the difference between being politically correct and speaking the truth in love. It offers many real-world example conversations and points out where they go right, and where they go wrong. Its a great source for Pastors or people who need to learn how to sad hard truths without offending others and a good primer for anyone who wants more God in their words.

And as a plus - there are study questions in the back if you want to use it for small group work. The book embraces diversity, and reflects wisdom.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

I'll Fly Away: Testimonies from the Women of York Prison

Editor: Wally Lamb

Type: Nonfiction/Memoir

Shepnerd Rating: 5 Stars

Wow. I dare you to read this book and not be changed. In a world where even Christians sometimes lack compassion and argue for longer sentences, or say "well, they are drug addicts, prison is the place for them" - this book is a much needed eye opener. The women in these essays do not deny their crimes, nor to they blame abusive childhoods, battering husbands, or drug addiction for their incarceration (although there is plenty of pain to go around). Yet seeing how the women come from and relate to - drugs, gangs, alcoholism, abuse, molestation and downright no common sense -- shows how very little faith and understanding society gives them.

I was reading this book when Michael Vick's 23 month sentence for dog killing was handed down and listening to commentators talk about the "stiff sentence". I just shook my head because I was reading an essay from a 18 year old girl sentenced to 15 years for accidentally killing a man who was raping her. SHE wasn't complaining about the length of her sentence, but missing the normal things of adolescence.

One inmate sums her faith experience up extremely well - on her first terror-filled night in prison serving 4 years for theft - she prays "Dear God, I know you were with me in the courthouse today, and I know you are with me now. Thank you for your blessings even though I am blind to them at this moment." If we could all be so honest with God.
Its a moving book that reminds us that prisoners are people, and we are not so different than they are. I conclude with a discovery one inmate shares which sums up this book nicely:
"Everyone in prison has a story; a need to be listened to, and a longing to be loved."

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Simply Christian: Why Christianity Makes Sense

Author: N.T. Wright

Type: Theology

Shepnerd Rating: 4 stars

I bought this book by N.T. Wright because of his close working relationship with Marcus Borg, whose work I respect tremendously. I was surprised to find a very different voice. The book is much more lyrical (and misses some of the "plain common sense" I enjoy from Borg), and yet intelligent and stunning.

It's a little stuffy sometimes, but profound and uplifting none-the-less. It seeks to answer the questions: why do we crave justice? Why do we desire spirituality? Why do we need beauty. It refers all of that the the echo of God in the world calling the church, the bible and Christians to a high level of living and being. There is a critique of modern culture and Christians who abuse the authority of Christ. There is a pathway for reclaiming the true power of Christianity and bringing justice, faith and beauty back to our world. An excellent, softly-spoken vision of the way things are, and the way they ought to be.