“I’m Not a Math Person” and Other Lies We Tell

Stop Perpetuating the Myth

I’m back! It’s been a while since I’ve really updated anything on this site, but for good reason—my wife and I just welcomed our first child! So far it’s a wild, awesome, sleepless adventure, and I’m so grateful. As I’m re-entering work mode, he’s already inspiring blog posts: One of the first subjects people talk about with a new baby is “What will he be like when he’s older?” Nothing wrong with wondering what a kid might be good at, but the conversations have reminded me of how often we tell kids what they aren’t good at, sometimes in ways so subtle that we don’t even realize it. Take anyone who’s ever said these words:

I’m not a math person.

Ever heard it? Ever said it about yourself? I count all the variants, too: I’m just not good with numbers. Math was never my strong suit. It doesn’t make sense to me. I’m better with words. I’m all right-brained. I’m so bad at math.


Math is thinking logically, abstractly, and spatially. It’s reasoning with quantities, patterns, and cause-and-effect relationships. Humans do these things everyday. Pouring an appropriate quantity of water into a glass without spilling it on the counter is a mathematical process. We don’t consciously think about the size estimation, velocity, and pour angle, but watch a toddler attempt the same task and it’s obvious that a successful glass of water involves learned skill. Not to mention, neurologists tell us that spatial reasoning is a right-brain activity. So guess what, right-brainers? You can do math!

Hold on, say the skeptics. Multivariable calculus is hard. Not everyone is cut out to be a rocket scientist. Some people really are more talented in math than others.

To an extent, I agree—but that’s missing the point. “Rocket scientist” is an absurd standard to measure whether or not someone is “good” at math. We can say a kid is “good” at basketball without expecting him to be a future NBA all-star. For most situations, especially school teams, good means proper shooting form, competent ball handling, and basic situational awareness. By that definition, anyone can be good with a decent coach and a few years of practice.

Math’s the same way—middle and high school standards build on foundational concepts that mainly need practice and self-confidence. Yet for generations, we’ve implied to our students that mathematical reasoning is based on IQ rather than repetition and hard work. Despite study after study proving that there’s no such thing as a predetermined, innate math ability, the myth continues. Perhaps one of the biggest contributing factors is that kids hear adults say these things about themselves. “I can’t do math” is what people say when they’re struggling to divvy up a restaurant bill. Maybe it’s a joke, but kids catch on, and they think there’s this whole category of people who can’t do basic division. Then the first time they see a difficult algebra test, they decide that they must be one of “those” people who just can’t do it.

Change Your Language

  • Instead of saying, “I’m bad at math,” say something like “I need a minute to think about this” or “Let me use my calculator.” Show patience and problem-solving, not defeat.
  • Talk about mathematicians, scientists, and engineers like any other profession. There’s nothing wrong with calling someone brilliant or genius, but don’t inadvertently suggest that people who choose careers in math have some magical ability that others do not. This harms kids who see themselves in the “other” group.

There’s no such thing as a “math person.” Don’t let kids—or yourself—believe the lie.

Click here for more lite posts (600 words or less) or follow @AuthorJLeonard.
Photo by Roman Mager on Unsplash

What’s Wrong with “God Bless America?”

Why It’s Okay to Be Not Proud of My Country

We’re just a few days away from the Fourth of July and, to be completely honest, I’m finding it hard to celebrate. Before I sing along that “I’m proud to be an American” and “God bless the USA,” I have to wonder, do I sincerely believe those words? Right now, am I 100% proud of this country?

One of my rules of online engagement has been to stay away from politics—I’m more interested in building people up than adding to divisive rhetoric—but as I witness jaw-dropping immigration policies, continued gun violence, the threat of international trade wars, and an apparent collapse of diplomacy and compromise in our own legislature and with our global allies, I cannot say that I’m proud of this country right now.

I, like many others, grew up with a kind of rank-based nationalism. With the notable exceptions of soccer and standardized test scores, the USA was number one at pretty much everything. I learned America is the richest country in the world, the greatest country with the most freedoms and most opportunities, and the place to which everyone else in the world wants to immigrate.

(As a quick fact-check before moving on, the USA is not the richest, not the happiest, and, when measured per capita, not the one with the most immigrants—just to keep it in perspective.)

In church, these same beliefs of global superiority often came packaged between layers of guilt and strong calls to action. Shouldn’t we, citizens of the greatest/richest/freest country on Earth, give our time and money to help those in need? Shouldn’t we go on missions, build orphanages, teach skills, and give food and clothing to those less fortunate? By less fortunate, of course, we always meant, born somewhere else.

While there’s nothing inherently wrong with homeland gratitude or international missions, or even the words “God Bless America,” I have had to unpack the relationship between Christianity and American patriotism because, deep down, I recognized that I grew up with some underlying idols and assumptions. Despite our First Amendment freedom of religion and Thomas Jefferson’s oft-quoted description of a “separation between Church and State,” matters of religion often find their way into policy arguments (most recently from the Attorney General), and matters of politics frequently find their way to the pulpit. As a Christian in America, I’ve experienced plenty of “How Would Jesus Vote?” sermons, on both ends of the political spectrum.

On one hand, faith leaders have interpreted 1 Timothy 2’s call to pray for our leaders as a near compulsory support of American legislation and military action. On the other hand, I’ve heard the opposite—but sometimes equally extreme—definition of “social justice” and “God’s heart for the poor” as the complete antithesis of whatever the current political party wants. Either way, it seems there’s a right answer about how Christians should feel about America, although we disagree on what that answer is. With partisan divides deeper than ever, how can we follow God and follow America? Or are we asking the wrong question?

First Things First: God Chooses All Nations

In Philippians 3:20, Paul writes, “our citizenship is in Heaven” in the context of looking toward spiritual aims instead of earthly desires. All throughout the New Testament, the writers describe a doing away with worldly ways of living, and one of them appears to be a rejection of ethnic affiliation. Galatians 3:28 argues, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In Acts 10, Peter learns not to call any Gentile unclean. Jesus speaks to the Samaritan woman at the well. With Jesus on the cross, God’s promise opens to everyone (Gal. 3:29). God hasn’t just chosen Israel or just chosen America. He’s chosen all the nations to have equal access to his covenant. God’s people are the salt of the earth, not the salt of American soil only. They are the light of the world, not the light of the USA only.

But, We Still Live Here

For most people though, truly global citizenship is more an ideal than a reality. I’ve heard the argument that a nation is like a family, and, to an extent, that’s true. The Bible gives specific instructions for honoring parents, raising children, and healthy marriages. Few would fault a man or woman who says, “I put my family before others.” It makes sense to invest the most time and resources into our children, but not because we don’t want other people’s kids to thrive. In our humanity, we’re limited, and limitations force us to focus on the tasks we’ve been given. Loyalty to my family doesn’t mean I shouldn’t share some interest or concern for other people’s families. On the contrary, I want each part of the community to succeed. A healthy view sees the limitations to my role and trusts that others have roles too. We are many parts of one body, many nations of one world.

In fact, we ought to leverage our positions for good. Joseph’s prominence in Egypt allows him to share food in a famine. Daniel finds favor with Nebuchadnezzar in Babylon as a royal advisor. Esther’s influence with the king saves the Jewish people. What I love in these stories, though, is the kind of open-handed uncertainty that comes with faith. Joseph didn’t know how or when he’d reconcile with his brothers. Daniel didn’t know if he’d survive the lions’ den or Esther if she’d survive her audience with the king. They kept faith and integrity, but they lacked the presumption of knowing exactly how their problems would—or should—resolve. In other words, they did not assume that they were somehow more deserving or more entitled to a certain outcome; they humbly used what they had to bring about change. In Galatians 6, Paul encourages us to do good to all people “as we have opportunity,” and it’s true: I’ll have far more opportunities where I have legal residency, social privilege, cultural literacy, the right to vote, and a place of employment. In some ways, the USA and American citizenship do afford advantages on an international field, and it’s important to leverage those as opportunities to serve, not as prideful ways for America to fix the world.

Test Everything

So where do we go from here? To start, we have to stop claiming that one political party or candidate carries the so-called “biblical worldview” or that God has somehow chosen America at the expense of all others. When it comes to politics, it’s almost never a right answer versus a wrong answer, but rather two different approaches to the same problem that each have their flaws. I love 1 Thessalonians 5:20-22, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” Take Martin Luther King Jr., a man who looked at the laws in his time, tested them, and found he needed to reject them. While he remained civil and respectful, he cared about God’s people more than he cared about the image of America.

Healthy patriotism is a loyalty and regard for our country while continually believing that our nation is neither perfect nor inherently superior. Following God will sometimes mean supporting the American status quo, and sometimes it won’t. Nationality is a context for serving God, not a mandate or restriction.

I am not proud of everything America has done or is doing, and that’s okay. Independence Day is not about saying everything’s right with a nation. To quote from our own Declaration of Independence, whenever a form of government is destructive to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, it is the right of the people to alter it.

It’s hard to think of something more fundamentally American than celebrating freedom by protesting the leaders and laws of our nation. It’s hard to think of something more Christian than rejecting the world but still choosing to love it anyway.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell. Click here for more content or follow @AuthorJLeonard.



Review: Dragma’s Keep by Vance Pumphrey

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.
I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Dragma’s Keep
by Vance Pumphrey

Leaping Wizard Press, 2015

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The verdict: Lighthearted adventure that seeks an audience willing to join the quest.

Much to its credit, Dragma’s Keep stays true to its genre and knows its intended audience. Fans of Dungeons & Dragons will slide right along with the backstory and lore. Each chapter reads like a new level of an RPG. Pumphrey brings heavy action and enjoyable banter, making the novel’s tone more lighthearted than dramatic despite the extended adventure sequences. The plot stays singularly focused on the party’s mission, which is all it needs to do for readers who know what they’re getting into, but those looking for some twists and detours in the narrative might find the opening acts a bit repetitive. It’s a long wait for a truly disruptive wrinkle in the storyline, but Pumphrey eventually deviates from the expected and brings a satisfying conclusion.

Valdaar’s Fist, an ancient weapon of untold power, emerges after 2000 years. In search of it, a five-person party—including sorcerer Sordaak, thief Savinhand, sword-swinging muscle man Thrinndor, dwarf Vorgath, and healer Cyrillis—embarks on a quest following a lore reference to the lost site of Dragma’s Keep. The group must work together to decipher an ancient map, battle orcs, minotaurs, and other monstrous creatures, and unlock hidden passages to plunge deeper into a network of caverns toward the fabled treasure. Yet each member of the posse has his or her own priorities, and their secrets from each other may prove more dangerous than the secrets of Dragma’s Keep.

“Bah,” repeated the caster, even more vehemently.
“Legend has it,” the paladin went on as if he had not been interrupted, “that one day he will return to rule the land that is rightfully his. But first the path must be prepared for him. His disciples must join together and set up a kingdom worthy of his rule. His sword—Valdaar’s Fist—must be found and the power contained within must be released.”

Pumphrey’s language is a bit hard to pin down as he throws in some modernisms that don’t feel native to the fantasy world. In certain moments it almost feels like a parody of the usual archetypes, especially when orcs topple over with video-game quantity and ease. Each of the five main characters also has a good half a dozen monikers that rotate every line of dialogue, and while that might sound like an odd thing to critique, it does take longer than it should to sort out who’s who in the early chapters. Once I had an image of each person, though, I did enjoy seeing the limitations on individual powers. The party’s needed collaboration and slow trust in each other provide depth to the story, even as they reach the different checkpoints in their journey relatively easily. All in all, Dragma’s Keep is an entertaining thrill ride that serves up a full-course meal of lighthearted escapades. Recommended for epic fantasy lovers who are serious about adventure, especially if they can still share a good laugh while swinging a battle-ax.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Vance Pumphrey’s writing, visit his website, or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

Review: The Breaking of Liam Glass by Charles Harris

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.
I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Breaking of Liam Glass
by Charles Harris

Marble City Publishing, 2017

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The verdict: Poignant and biting satire that brings laughter, sadness, and—most importantly—a strong call for change.

Going in, I knew The Breaking of Liam Glass was a satire, but for whatever reason, I expected an over-the-top detective spoof. What I found instead was a tight and suspenseful noir, featuring sharp wit and spot-on social commentary. Harris dives into London’s underbelly without the story ever feeling seedy or unfair, and as a result, he creates a brilliant novel on the press and perception, a tale of “fake news” that’s all too rooted in reality. I can see Harris’s background as a screenwriter in the close third-person narration hopping from character to character without ever breaking the action. Without giving any spoilers, I’ll say that after racing to the finish line I felt more lost than found. Maybe that’s the point. Liam Glass entertains and unsettles, and, as a society, we have to fight against the current.

It’s the spring of 2010 in London. Fourteen-year-old Liam Glass disappears while making a late-night ATM run for his mom, and the authorities soon find him stabbed and barely hanging on to life. Small-time journalist Jason Crowthorne catches a whiff of the story and decides this could finally be his big break. When a major sports agent offers his support, Jason crafts a heartwrenching narrative that will finally earn him professional recognition and his daughter’s approval—never minding whether or not the story has any ounce of truth to it. Yet as rumors circulate and actual facts come to light, Jason discovers the sea’s full of sharks, and he’s not the only one willing to use a fabricated headline to skyrocket his career. In a race against the deadline, Jason’s willingness to risk it all soon shows he has more to lose than he ever thought possible.

Home was a small studio flat in an old conversion; four very basic rooms reached by a fire escape. Jason ran up the steps, slammed the front door shut behind him. Then he pulled out his camera and looked again at the picture of the kid under the oxygen mask. He had a nose for stories, a good one. Maybe it hadn’t been twitching much recently, but he knew what worked and what didn’t.

As a character, Jason’s crafty and desperate, but sometimes his internal deliberations grow a bit tiresome. He’s neither horrible in a way that’s delightful nor hapless in a way that’s endearing. Much of what happens really is his fault, and it took a long while before I was ever on his side. Harris delivers the story over an improbably action-packed 24 hours, unfolding a domino effect of one bad choice after another. Nearly every character is self-seeking in some way or another, but nobody’s all bad. It’s a cast of people doing the wrong things for the right reasons, or maybe the right ones for the wrong reasons, or maybe real life’s as gray and sloppy as London in the rain. The Breaking of Liam Glass holds the tension of our sensational tabloid addiction alongside a bitter apathy toward progress. Recommended for anyone with a passion for current events, or anyone brave enough to hold a mirror to society, if only to find a way to break it.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Charles Harris’s writing or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

Review: On Level Ground by Danny and Wanda Pelfrey

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.
I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

On Level Ground
by Danny and Wanda Pelfrey

Crosslink Publishing, 2017

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The verdict: A clean, inspirational cozy that caters to its niche. 

Local historians just like their main character, the writing duo of Danny and Wanda Pelfrey bring love and charm to their hometown setting. While some parts of it might have been a little too quaint for my taste, On Level Ground presents a heartfelt cozy mystery that’s safe for all ages. This was my first experience with Davis Morgan, but I had no problem understanding the story without reading the previous ones in the series. Weaving moments of prayer, scripture, and clean adventure, the Pelfreys create an inspirational tale about second chances and finding solid footing amid the constant throes of life.

Small-town Georgia preacher and bookstore owner Davis Morgan makes a routine pastoral visit to the elderly Bessie Taylor. Upon arrival, however, he discovers a grisly crime scene. With the so-called Adairsville Creeper making headlines, the assault on Ms. Taylor could be anything from a prank gone wrong to something far more sinister. Meanwhile, Davis’s daughter, Amy, adjusts to married life and her father’s new spouse; policeman Charley considers his future career path while facing conflict as executor of a family estate; a new basketball coach has a fierce and mysterious obsession with Margaret Mitchell’s Gone With The Wind; and hardworking EMT Tonya is sidelined by injury. Elsewhere, an increased interest in famed local author Corra Harris might have some connection to the Creeper’s trespassing. In the small town of Adairsville, nobody’s business is private, and recurrent sightings of the Creeper soon escalate into a criminal ploy with potentially deadly consequences.

“You’re just a little gullible, Deidre,” Charley retorted. “In my work, you soon learn there are all kinds out there. It’s sad, but I constantly encounter people that wouldn’t think twice about pounding a nice old lady over the head for a twenty-dollar bill. Our world is full of mean and desperate people.”

I wish he were wrong, but that’s not the case, Davis thought. He’s right, as much as I hate to admit it. Satan is alive and well in this world and that sometimes makes it a scary place to live.

At several points in the novel, the characters seem too aware of their audience, making the dialogue a bit stilted and uptight when I wanted more raw and intimate. Much of the novel feels like a lesson with a story attached rather than the other way around. When the Adairsville Creeper comes on the scene, his only distinguishing feature is a black hoodie—perhaps a missed opportunity to unpack some current events around police profiling. As for Davis, he faces pressure on all sides in a humanizing way, although the reader rarely sees chinks in his armor. Thankfully, the Pelfreys unveil more of his natural limitations as the story progresses. In fact, the titular character does very little sleuthing on his own, often being the last to know information or having clues fall straight into his lap. The story’s more about Charley than Davis, and the supporting cast sees the most character development while the mystery itself often feels secondary. The final chapters tie the bow pretty neatly, but the door’s still open for more in the series. All in all, On Level Ground presents clean, inspirational fiction, recommend for Christian readers looking for an upbeat, faith-affirming read.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Danny and Wanda Pelfrey’s writing or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

Review: Curses of Scale by S.D. Reeves

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.
I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

Curses of Scale
by S.D. Reeves

Riversong Books, 2017

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The verdict: A well-paced, mystical epic packed full of surprises—something different in all the right ways.

Just from the author’s quirky sense of humor on the acknowledgments page, I had a feeling I’d like this book. Curses of Scale will by no means be every reader’s cup of tea. It’s mysterious and odd, full of surreal sequences and shifting points of view. Yet it’s also original and well written, featuring clever dialogue and immersive imagery without breaking the pace. From the action-packed opening to the gradual unfolding of the narrative, Reeves achieves what he sets out to accomplish. I tip my hat whenever an ambitious fantasy writer actually pulls it off, and Reeves delivers a mystical tale about finding purpose, forging one’s path, and time’s relentless pursuit of us all.

The story opens with the druid Calem racing to uphold a bargain with the wisecracking fairy Oberon. Calem’s wife, Niena, is cursed to become a dragon, and only the fairy’s ritual can reverse her fate. Meanwhile, the aspiring musician known as Squirrel wants nothing more than to attend bardic college but must contend with her militant, overprotective grandfather, Marny. Squirrel plots to run away until a surreal experience in a tavern one night transports her off course. When a fire-breathing dragon threatens Marny’s post, he barely escapes with his life. Across the wide path of destruction that follows, Marny seeks his granddaughter just as she discovers her true identity. With fairy magic at hand and a terrifying dragon on the move, Niena must race against time to escape her destiny and break the cycle of the curse.

“They who taught us the three chords.”
The quartermaster clutches his chest. Light begins to creep back into their ruin. But it is queer and evil; flames spread over the great sprawl of Kimbesh in the distance, rolling across the rooftops of the urban menagerie and setting upon them as fast as sunlight in the quiet of the dawn.
“They who gave us music to keep back the silence of the night.”

The first few pages feel a bit like an out-of-body experience, but the story untangles as it goes. Calem’s internal conflict pairs well with the fairy’s cynical quips, although Calem’s magical abilities remain somewhat undefined. He has healing spells, can transform into animals, and sometimes his magic fails due to his own dwindling energy. Niena’s own musical spellcasting feels similarly opaque, which might bother some fantasy aficionados in it mostly for the world building. At points I felt disoriented with the timelines, wondering if a subsequent chapter happened before or after the one before it, but Reeves eventually pieces it all together once all his cards are on the table. In fact, there’s a certain elegance to the disorder, like a song with strikingly different verses that come back to the same refrain. Reeves brings twists and duplicity; he unfolds the story in discrete moments instead of blurring his characters across the years. One must read this novel with eyes open and brain turned on. Curses of Scale works for me, but I can see others not fitting this niche. Recommended as an intelligent, engaging read for those looking for something fresh in fantasy.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out S.D. Reeves’s writing or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

The English Teacher’s Nightmare (A Poem)

A Healing Rite When People Don’t Write Right

I grade essays every week, and sometimes the hours of editing stifle my creativity. Here’s a recent exercise I did to bring some of it back. Plus two many typos make me pole my hare out, and I’ve gotta vent somehow.

The high-strung grammarian’s his own class of neurotic;
The affect of such condition lands frankly despotic.
See while some readers forgive that small A so disgraceful,
I’ve recoiled and retched in a manner distasteful.

Oh yes, it slashes me open; I bleed red like a pen
And make punctilious edits with a sigh and amen.
Until a paragraph down when I am offered advise
To relax, smell the flours, and watch the plural butterfly’s.

Perhaps I’ll ignore principle rules or laying in bed
Or the sly whom sneaking off to put a who in its stead.
Yet though I mean not to embellish, I fear nobody sees
What sick, soul-crushing effect that affect has on me.

They say what’s the big deal if y’all know what I mean
Grammers dead, said Nietzsche
and tihs proevs so is splelnig
No1 reads books when tweets R bestselling

Alright then, said me—
if u cant beat em
then join em
2 can play this fowl game

What now? Think puns mark my only recourse?
Iambic pentameter, just missed.

That part in Scarlet Letter
when Elizabeth
and Mr. Darcy
finally share a kiss.

Would that every comma splice, could be so clever
Or it’s maker so certain he placed it on porpoise
riding waves, self-ensured, in this daring endeavor
of creation.

Dreams sustain me.

Look at this haiku!
I am such a daredevil
To end it here.
Click here for more lite posts (600 words or less) or follow @AuthorJLeonard.

Review: The Scribe by Liam Mullen

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.
I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Scribe
by Liam Robert Mullen

Amazon, 2016

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The verdict: A quick read, sparser than I’d hoped, serving a specific audience with an interest in biblical history.

I picked up The Scribe intrigued by its premise—a look at biblical history from a rarely told perspective. Mullen draws from the gospels and Acts to create plausible backstories for some of the Bible’s best-known characters, infusing some fictitious elements and extrabiblical traditions. While Mullen’s writing feels knowledgeable about the subject matter, some glaring anachronisms keep it from being truly immersive. Character thoughts refer to years as “BC” or “AD” even though the terms didn’t exist until centuries later, and the prose references some future events and includes modern vocabulary that took me out of the ancient mindset. Less nerdy readers might not have the same gripes. In terms of structure, the chapters are more like short vignettes involving different characters, making Mullen’s work more like a story collection than one continuous narrative. The behind-the-scenes musings about Christianity’s early days might spark thought or discussion; it’s to the story’s credit that I wanted more than I found.

Following Jesus’ crucifixion, Sanhedrin scribe Escobar faces an unexpected crisis of faith. In the wake of his own personal tragedy, Escobar is strangely moved by this rabbi on the cross, and he determines to learn more about Jesus. Years earlier, the young fisherman Simone loses his grandfather in a horrific accident but later earns the name Cephas, while meanwhile Roman Senator Cesari loses his wife in childbirth but learns from a Seer that his son will become the gospel writer Luke. Back in the present day, Escobar sees the resurrected Christ and receives a special mission. Interspersed with scenes of Jesus’ earthly ministry, Escobar goes to Ephesus with a changed heart, a city where he encounters Mary and the apostle John. Elsewhere, a now-adult Luke meets Paul on his own journey to Ephesus. As the scenes unfold, ripple effects stretch out to touch men and women across the Meditteranean world, culminating with a trial before Emperor Nero in Rome.

“The answer already lies in your heart, Escobar. You must cut all ties to the Sanhedrin or they will destroy you. You’ll destroy yourself by associating with them…listen closely to the words of men like Cephas. They have a steadfast message for the world.”

In contrast to the linear narrative of the gospels themselves, Mullen gives a layered perspective of the first-century Roman world. As a result, however, the timeline jumps around, and it’s challenging to find a single main character or conflict. The story has several developmental and proofreading issues and could benefit from professional editing. Several transitions feel choppy, and I wanted more development of the main characters. As a starting point, it’s an interesting take on a biblical origin story. All in all, The Scribe offers a quick, intriguing novella for those interested in biblical history.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Liam Mullen’s writing or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

Review: Artemis by Andy Weir

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.

by Andy Weir

Crown, 2017

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The verdict: With his trademark nerdiness, Weir delivers a well-imagined, entertaining thriller. Sometimes that’s all I want.

As a fan of Weir’s smart wit and geeky science in The Martian (after all, who isn’t?), I was glad to see more of the same in Artemis. It doesn’t have the full-scope problem solving or human-forces-that-join-us-together grandeur of Weir’s earlier novel, which won’t bother the genre fans but might disappoint some who jumped on the bandwagon after seeing the movie. Weir continues to nerd out with technical discussions and detailed asides, offering somewhat plausible, real-science sci-fi. The engineering and economic angles make this otherworldly science fiction surprisingly down to earth, and the voice has the same snark and humanity that makes The Martian so lovable. It’s not a sequel to his breakout title by any means, but I at least enjoyed the tighter setting and change of pace in the plot.

In the not-so-distant future, humans have a colony on the moon. Divided between ultra-rich tourists and the working class residents, the city of Artemis makes the perfect escape from earthly problems, or so at least its residents hope. Lifelong moon-dweller Jasmine Bashara wants to graduate from her career as a bottom-rung porter to one of the lunar elite, and she doesn’t mind the dishonest path to the top. Not only that, but Jasmine has a serious debt to pay off and needs cash more than anything. So when her side job as a small-time smuggler drags her into a much larger criminal operation, Jazz takes the risk in hopes of a life-altering payout. Her plans backfire, however, and soon Jazz is in way over her head with literally nowhere to run outside the protected bubbles of Artemis. Yet as Jazz turns the tables to investigate what went wrong, she finds that lunar politics go far beneath the surface. Jazz’s one shot out of this mess will jeopardize everything she holds dear, and she’ll need some help to pull it off.

No. I was a smuggler, not a saboteur. And something smelled off about the whole thing.
“I’m sorry, but this isn’t my thing,” I said. “You’ll have to find someone else.”
“I’ll give you a million slugs.”

Weir mixes the fast-paced heist story with intriguing discussions about the near-future aluminum industry on the moon and the implications of a colony in lunar gravity. Even more so, he makes social considerations alongside the scientific. Refreshingly, it’s not just Americans running the moon’s economy. (It’s Kenyans, actually, and for logical reasons explained in the novel.) Alongside the brilliant creativity about the practical benefits and horrors of moon life, Weir throws in a few poignant observations on race and class, reminding readers that progress isn’t just about technology.  In terms of writing style, Artemis features a sassy, wisecracking first-person narrator with some lazy information dumps, but the delivery’s forgivable when the content’s this enriching. Although definitely recommended more for the engineering puzzles than the character development, Artemis celebrates both scientific and human achievement, seeing our weaknesses and triumphs. It’s a smart, enjoyable read, and sometimes that’s all I want from a book. Recommended for anyone who loves science fiction, crime thrillers, or dreaming about the world’s near future.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Andy Weir’s writing or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.

Review: The Color of Fear by Wendy Wanner

Disclosure: This review contains Amazon affiliate links. Thanks for your support.
I received a copy of this novel in exchange for an honest review.

The Color of Fear
by Wendy Wanner

Amazon, 2017

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The verdict: A genre-bending tale delivering strong characters, suspense, and just the right amount of occult.

I love thrillers with supernatural twists, and so The Color of Fear piqued my curiosity from the back cover alone. For Wendy Wanner’s debut novel, the book contains an impressive amount of research and thought. The story starts off as a cozy mystery, with Rachel as the uncharacteristic amateur sleuth and nothing especially grisly about the crime. At first, motives feel predictable and dramatic irony comes a bit heavy. Yet Wanner brings new layers as the story progresses, and the supernatural threads mix well with the everyday events, leading to a strange if not thought-provoking metaphysical conclusion.

Following her brother’s suicide in Scotland, Rachel Steerley returns to her Massachusetts home and successful career as an interior decorator. Two years later, the ghosts of her past return to her idyllic small-town life. When long-standing socialite Greta Wallace drowns in her bathtub, only Rachel sees the death as suspicious. Eerie sensations follow Rachel’s every move, and when the body count rises, she determines to discover the truth on her own. Everyone’s a suspect—from antique bookseller Brian and his vicar brother, to ruthless real estate tycoon Gavin and his secretary Daphne, to Rachel’s childhood neighbor and newfound love interest, Douglass. At the center of the mystery lies Rachel’s own fear of drowning, stemming from a horrible accident that claimed her parents’ lives. For answers, Rachel must dive into the past—both the town’s history and her own.

Greta shivered as if the unnaturally icy wind was blowing right through the glass. “I have had the strangest feeling lately, as if everything is closing in on me. This town feels oppressive and I don’t seem to have any privacy or freedom to do what I want.” She paused only a moment then shook her head. “No, it’s silly, let’s go inside.”

While the dialogue feels oddly literary in an otherwise modern setting—more than once is a character “debonair”—perhaps I just don’t spend enough time with old-money New England elite to relate. The page count is a bit high; the first few chapters have a pretty heavy information dump and a large cast of characters. Rachel’s personal history takes a backseat after an emotional opening, and at times I wanted more skin in the game for her. Wanner evens out the pacing as things go along, however, and each character receives enough attention to justify his or her presence by the end. Considering the length, Wanner does a great job extending the suspense without leaving the reader bored. Critical readers might find some of the character head-hopping distracting, while others may enjoy seeing the thoughts and feelings of each member of the suspect pool. As a slight trigger warning, the novel contains a literal sermon against abortion. Full of old mansions and modern decor, Wanner’s The Color of Fear explores what it means to “live in our pasts,” both healing from personal trauma and embracing our family heritage. It’s hard to classify this genre-bending tale. Recommended for anyone who loves Victorian-style drama or country romance, especially those in the mood for a mystery.

Jimmy Leonard is the author of The Evangelist in Hell.
Be sure to check out Wendy Wanner’s writing, visit her website, or see more book reviews on this site.

If you’ve written a book you’d like me to consider for a review, find out more information and follow the submission guidelines here.