My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The Curse of Chalion
The Name of the Wind
Chronicles of the Black Company
The Faded Sun Trilogy
The Tar-Aiym Krang

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Review: King Philip's War 1675-76: America's Deadliest Colonial Conflict

King Philip's War 1675-76: America's Deadliest Colonial Conflict King Philip's War 1675-76: America's Deadliest Colonial Conflict by Gabriele Esposito
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I am fairly familiar with Osprey Publishing; they publish several illustrated 'army' books that are a huge help for table top strategy gamers who like to assemble and paint their own models (so I have several books from this publisher). Sadly the kindle version of this book jumbles the illustration layouts making it difficult to fully enjoy them. This seems to be a common problem with preview mobi files; the pdf version looks fine.

The book itself breaks down each of the factors that contributed to the war. Each section picks up a specific theme, such as who the players were (profiles of peoples and their leaders), how each side was organized, what weapons and equipment were utilized and how the war itself was prosecuted. Over all, each section was clear and concise. The author doesn't try to explore the causes of the war very deeply, it does come across as something of a colonial apologetic. Even without looking at what motivated the war, you can infer a lot just from how everybody reacted to what was happening and the book does a good job laying that out. I was a little surprised by the lack of support (even some antipathy) from the British Crown for the New England Puritans. In the end, I think it provides an excellent foundation to exploring how the war influenced the evolution of the English colonies and perhaps why New England became the Revolutionary powder keg by which England lost control of her colonies.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#KingPhilipsWar167576 #NetGalley

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Sunday, August 28, 2022

Review: Collects for Our Cultural Moment

Collects for Our Cultural Moment Collects for Our Cultural Moment by Terry Jonathan Stokes
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I am not sure that I am the intended audience for this book of prayers as there are specific [younger] generational and cultural references that I had trouble understanding.  I was looking for something that could enhance my own public ministry, but I had trouble identifying with many of the references to [what I presume are] millennial memes, or specific issues within minority communities where it felt presumptuous for me to even try to appropriate, even as an ally.  That said, it is certainly useful in identifying concerns within those communities, even if I felt awkward with the provided language.  So too with the idea that you can [and should] bring everything to God, the author was perhaps a bit too literal in execution, even though this is a great idea in theory.  This is how you get mundane items like, "For when one clogs the toilet" or "For before third-wheeling" alongside more profound prayers, such as "For a protest" and "For letting go of toxic relationships."  Perhaps it is just me, but I don't believe that I would actually use more than a handful of the prayers provided.  In addition to the topics that I mostly likely won't encounter at this stage in my life, the mix of formal thee, thy and thou ... with more current "hip" language, just didn't seem to work that well.  Fortunately, the author does include a basic [6 step] formula to enable you to create prayers more relevant to your own specific situation and/or communities and it is pretty good.

I: Friendship
II: Singleness and Romance
III: Family and Home.
IV: The Self
V: Community and Society
VI: Work and Vocation
VII: Recreation
VIII: Music
IX: Church Life

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#PrayersforthePeople #NetGalley.

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Thursday, August 25, 2022

Review: Cursed Objects: Strange but True Stories of the World's Most Infamous Items

Cursed Objects: Strange but True Stories of the World's Most Infamous Items Cursed Objects: Strange but True Stories of the World's Most Infamous Items by J.W. Ocker
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Narration: Mr. Campbell does an awesome job here; reminds me of narrators from similar unexplained mysteries TV shows and was quite enjoyable to listen to. The tone and cadence are perfect for this topic. Of course, he doesn't have to do a cast of characters (which would be the only reason he doesn't get a 5* performance).

The book was a fun survey of some famous cursed objects (Hope diamond, Tuts Tomb, et. al) and many of the fantastic stories that come with them (and where they are now in case you want to live life dangerously) ... all delivered with an irreverent sense of humor that made it extremely entertaining. After looking 'under glass' (museums), he heads into the crypt for some ghoulish fun before continuing on to grandma's attic for some more modern curses. He also covers how some of these things 'become' cursed (or at least how they get their reputation). The closest he gets to any scientific inquiry was when he picked up a 'cursed object' on eBay for a year long experiment ... which is to say that None of this is very scientific ... so check your skepticism at the door and just enjoy the trip ... which finishes up talking about weird objects that should be cursed ... but aren't.

Oh ... and don't steal this book ... it's cursed :-)

I was given this free advance review copy (ARC) audiobook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#CursedObjects #NetGalley #TimCampbell

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Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Review: The Tower of Fools

The Tower of Fools The Tower of Fools by Andrzej Sapkowski
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is an historical fantasy set in central Europe circa 15th century where the magic and myth unfold against a backdrop of a Church struggling to suppress growing heresies. The majority of people and place names are transliterated from Polish, so they tend to have an over abundance of consonants that make it a little difficult for this native English speaker to read quickly. Hidden within this forest of letters are quite a few obscure [archaic] English words that I had never encountered before ... and which reading on the Kindle app made them fun little Easter Eggs that I could easily look them up. All of this reinforces the 'Twilight Zone' feeling that the world where all of this happens is in another time and place, vaguely familiar and at the same time weirdly different. The dialog was also held nuance and euphemisms to beat the band and the verbal sparring just as amusing as the rest. I don't think that I have had as much fun with the English language in quite sometime.

The MC is one Reinmar of Bielawa, a young physician caught in a rather indelicate position and force to flee for his life. Being a well educated man, he quickly comes to the attention of the wrong people (aka inquisition) as such are know to cavort with heretics and sorcerers (There are so few of them and they must stick together). Perhaps even he dabbles in the forbidden arts. As the cast of characters quickly expands, it becomes ever more difficult to figure out who the good guys are ... and Andrzej skillfully weaves in references to historical events that would make a punmeister blush (and had me laughing out loud) ... because Gutenberg's innovation would never be allowed to succeed and Luther is the name of 'cheeky cat' who likes to spread out on tables. Of course Reynevan is a young fool ... worthy of the Tower of Fools if not for his companions. It is precisely because of his brash naivete that gives the reader one misadventure after another, slowing introducing more of the hidden mystery of the world (where maybe there are not so few of them after all). Alas ... at the end we have not resolved much else out three main characters are still living and ready for part 2. I would have preferred some closure on something; but it was not to be.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#TheTowerOfFools #NetGalley

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Sunday, August 21, 2022

Review: Speaking with Spirit: 52 Prayers to Guide, Inspire, and Uplift You

Speaking with Spirit: 52 Prayers to Guide, Inspire, and Uplift You Speaking with Spirit: 52 Prayers to Guide, Inspire, and Uplift You by Agapi Stassinopoulos
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

You get 52 reflections (2-3 pages each) on various aspects of Life, that if you actually have any experience with might help; however, I found it difficult to relate to most of them.  Each reflection opens with a personal anecdote and a little self analysis that I felt would apply more specifically to the author than to me.  Increasing the disconnect is the actual form of the Prayer.  If your spirituality is more independent of the established religions and you are comfortable with more generic language, the Prayers probably are not that bad … but I just could not get past the opening of Dear Beloved and ending with So Be It for all of them.  The language is generic enough to potentially fit within any tradition … or no tradition; but that actually makes it difficult to connect to somebody with a solid connection to a particular tradition … which is the primary issue that I had with this (for me, there just was no spark and spirituality is all about the spark).  While I [think] I understand what the author was going for, it was enough beyond my comfort zone to impede any spiritual benefit I might have found if the topic were more relevant to me.


1: My Birthday Wish: May My Life Be an Offering
2: How to Dial the Spirit for Directions
3: It’s Not a Trade; It’s an Offering
4: The Sweetness of Doing Nothing
5: The Gifts That Lie in the In-Between Times
6: God, Help Me Laugh Again!
7: Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary
8: The Courage to Give All Parts of Yourself a Voice
9: Putting the Day to Rest

10: Reviving Your Enthusiasm for Each New Day
11: Hearing the Whisper of Your Creativity
12: Asking God to Come with Me to My Job Interview
13: You Hold the Keys to Your Purpose

14: Becoming You: The Greatest Accomplishment 
15: The God Diet
16: The Hidden Gifts of Being Alone
17: Replace Your Addiction with God
18: The Imprisonment of Perfectionism
19: The Importance of Feeling Unimportant
20: Our Divine Right to Heal
21: To Thine Own Self Be True
22: You Are Never Really Abandoned
23: Stand in Your Mighty Self and Banish Self-Doubt

24: How to Get Out of a Toxic Environment 
25: You’re Bigger Than Your Fear
26: The Discouragement Trap
27: The the Wisdom in Your Disappointment
28: Reframing Failure to Your Advantage
29: In the Eye of the Hurricane: Finding Calm in Crisis
30: Having the Freedom to Choose How You React
31: Resetting Your Balance
32: Yes, You Can Kick the Worry Habit
33: When You Shut Others Out, You Shut Yourself Down

34: The Gift of Praying for Others
35: Finding Your People
36: To Compare Is to Despair
37: Free Yourself from Being Caught in the Middle
38: How to Lose an Argument and Still Be Okay
39: Breaking the Pattern of Unhealthy Attachments
40: Breaking Up: A Divine Opportunity to Upgrade Yourself
41: Yes, You Can Be Happy After Divorce
42: Parenting Through the Ups and Downs of the Teenage Years
43 Partnering with Spirit to Care for Aging Parents
44: Finding Comfort and Grace in the Loss of a Loved One
45: Being at Home Wherever You Are
46: Love Yourself the Way You Want to Be Loved
47: You Are the One You’re Looking For

48: Embracing All Aspects of the Feminine in You 
49: How to Navigate Being an Empath
50: Living with a Sense of Timelessness
51: Forgiveness: The Greatest Gift of All
52: Gratitude: The Key to Happiness and Fulfillment

Ending Questions

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#SpeakingwithSpirit #NetGalley.

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Thursday, August 18, 2022

Review: To Sleep in a Sea of Stars

To Sleep in a Sea of Stars To Sleep in a Sea of Stars by Christopher Paolini
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Narrated by Jennifer Hale.

First Contact with an alien/xeno organism with overtones of the Aliens film series (Kira seems like a ringer for Ripley to me) or maybe Venom; followed by contact with an alien civilization that was truly foreign to our own (and threatens our very existence).

This is a very long (30+ hours) story that starts out a little rough. The narration was pretty good; however, some voices periodically had an unnatural feel to them for me (mostly with the 'softer' tone she used to represent Kira's inner voice, but I am actually quite picky in that regard). Most of it was rock solid though ... especially the action dialog. After awhile, I either got used to it, or the narrator hit her stride, because it didn't bother me much toward the end and I remain absolutely impressed with the range of voices supporting her narration.

This is a plot driven story that builds slowly as Paolini introduces each piece before settling down to tell the real story. He does this with the skill of a master story teller; however, the tempo may lose some readers before you get to the best parts. Be patient ... it is totally worth it. Unfortunately, the final combat scene was painfully drawn out, and once the main conflict is resolved, the story redshifts into fantasy and coasts for way too long (making the story something of a bell curve with respect to how much I enjoyed it). This is the primary reason it doesn't get 5* from me.

Character Building: Before the early supporting characters faded from the narrative, I found them to be extremely shallow, irritating and slightly over the top (obvious) in their fidelity to the stereotypes they are based on. For the most part, they did thier job in moving the plot along and providing a foil for Kira's internal conflicts, but they didn't do much after that. The main character (MC) is xenobiologist Kira Navárez who begins the story as something of a victim of circumstance, driven forward by forces not under her control after an accidental exposure to a xeno artifact. Kira seems to be the only character with any growth as she struggles to reclaim her own agency. It took me awhile to connect with her and her internal drama and self recriminations, but I eventually got there with the help of two strong supporting characters (ship captain Falconi and ship mind Gregorovich) ... both of which slowing developed into strong characters in their own right. A few other characters periodically cross the stage, but they felt more like the earlier characters that were more shallow and mostly there to move the plot along. Most of the characters in this story exist primarily to support the plot.

World Building: Flat out some of the best that I have ever encountered; but it was not so obvious at the beginning. Paolini inserts details into his story with such skill that it was not until the end, where I had a full view of his creation and how it all works, that I could see all the hard work that went into making it so believable (and on full display in the addendum). The tech was a well developed take on many of the traditional Sci-Fi tropes and left me wanting to see it all for real. Each of the three poles (Humans/UMC, 'Jellies'/Renowii[sp?] and Vanished), along with emerging the 'Nightmares/Corrupted,' have a unique perspective that was interesting to explore and reasonably drove the interactions between them. There are even a few surprising revelations that give you 'ah-ha' moments that makes you revisit some of what has already happened in a new light. All of that helped to create a nearly perfect immersive experience that pulls you through the story at break neck speed (IAW it was almost impossible to walk away from once it got moving).

I was given this free advance review copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Review: Devil's Cauldron

Devil's Cauldron Devil's Cauldron by Michael Jack Webb
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Christian Fantasy, so expect a fair bit of mary sues, deus ex machina and evangelical preaching (Caveat Emptor). This is a sequel to Infernal Gates and I recommend reading that prior to this book, or you will miss a fair amount of background (all of the limited character building for the protagonists is there).

Ethan and Sam are back and once again taking on the Adversary. The MCs are easy enough to like (if a bit shallow), so this is not a bad read, given the genre within which it is found. To be fair, it is pretty hard to develop any interesting drama or plot conflict when you put the Almighty in your corner. Maybe that is why they tend to rely so heavily on conspiracy theories. These can be entertaining if done well; this book is decidedly average on this count. The primary appeal here is actually how the author weaves in several threads of ancient myth into the dark forces working against our heroes (so ancient history buffs might find it interesting as well).

What prevents this from being a better story are the typical mistakes I see in newer authors ... such as info dumps (which can be a slog) and/or over explaining what is happening (which removes the mystery too early ... and can be a slog when I don't really care about the details of what they are eating). Plot disciple is also problematic when you have an Ace in the Hole that can always put you back on track (I personally prefer less obvious interventions). Add to this a "Young Earth/Creationist" cosmology that just makes it hard to take anything else in the book very seriously (Continental Drift is not that fast buddy). All of that considered, if you are familiar with the genre, it is actually better than average.

This book is currently available through Amazon's Kindle Unlimited.

I was given this free advance review copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#DevilsCauldron #BookSirens

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Sunday, August 14, 2022

Review: The Genius of Jesus: The Man Who Changed Everything

The Genius of Jesus: The Man Who Changed Everything The Genius of Jesus: The Man Who Changed Everything by Erwin Raphael McManus
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The author is the lead pastor of Mosaic, a nondenominational christian megachurch based in Los Angeles. In this book, he explores the concept of Genius, starting with how he defines it … which basically holds two things … it is nonconforming and it is transformational (the author actually splits nonconforming into three parts: 1. They are heretical. 2. They are original. 3. They are extremist). There are two ways that genius manifests: transforming what we do is the most common measure and transforming who we are is the second and most overlooked aspect. Conceptionally this is a pretty good fit into my own philosophy on what religion is supposed to do and it is the latter which describes the Genius of Jesus (who shows us how to transform ourselves).

The author then makes a bold statement: “Before you were twelve, you were a prodigy.” I think that is quite a stretch to basically say that we all have the potential for greatness … a potential that decreases as we get older when we don’t use the talents given to us by our creator. While the author may be engaging in a bit of fanciful optimism here; I can see what he is driving at and he comes up with some pretty good questions to get you started …

* Have you embraced your identity? Do you know who you are?
* Have you discovered your intention? Do you know why you’ve been put on this earth?
* Are you endlessly inquisitive? Are you asking the right questions?
* Are you expanding the parameters of your intuition? Are you open to the unknown?
* Is your essence grounded in intimacy with God? Do you know the God who loves you?

“Whatever genius is within you, it was not given to you for your personal benefit but for the good of others. Genius is a form of stewardship. To unlock your genius, you must choose to bear the weight of great responsibility.” Which is another way of saying we are called to follow Christ’s example … but do we really understand that example?

McManus then introduces us to the different aspects of The Genius of Jesus:

Chapter 3: The Genius of Empathy
Chapter 4: The Genius of Power
Chapter 5: The Genius of Grace
Chapter 6: The Genius of Good
Chapter 7: The Genius of Truth
Chapter 8: The Genius of Beautiful

I don’t always see his point nor do I always agree with his opinions (and even some of his facts or presumptions), but I can always see what he is trying to say and the is the true essence of communications. This book will help you re-examine your [Christian] faith and hopefully find within it something the will transform who you are … and that is the Genius of Jesus :-)

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Thursday, August 11, 2022

Review: The Encyclopedia of Warfare

The Encyclopedia of Warfare The Encyclopedia of Warfare by Dennis E. Showalter
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is a very large and ambitious book with nearly 30 individual contributors covering a huge timeline. At the front are an index of wars and campaigns, an index of maps and charts and a nice timeline of civilization as a whole. After that, the various conflicts are basically organized by date and groups into broad categories (with only a limit description of the division criteria):

Ancient Wars 2500 BCE to 500 CE
Medieval Wars 500 CE to 1500 CE
Early Modern Wars 1500 CE to 1775 CE
Revolutionary Wars 1775 CE to 1815 CE
Wars of Empire and Revolt 1825 CE to 1914 CE
World Wars 1914 CE to 1945 CE
Modern Wars 1945+

Almost all of the information provided is under specific headers for a given battle within a conflict or campaign. The information is typically very basic, frequently lacking summary on what the objective of the battle was (focused more on a description of the forces and outcome, with some having maneuvers as well). In addition, the war/conflict headings were empty of any summary on the ‘casus belli’ and ultimate outcome. This gives the impression of a simple list of battles. Reinforcing this impression is how each section was actually organized … just by date, so it was not uncommon to jump across continents making it difficult to keep track of such conflicts … this would have been a lot better if there were geographic subdivisions (and a map). . Minor conflict with only one or two battles should have always been groups together. This was not consistent, and I assume a result of the many contributors (which I acknowledge can be difficult to manage). Examples:

Post Roman Britain (500 - 1500)
Franks (500 - 1000)
Byzantium (500 - 1000)
Turkist Empire (600 - 1299)
Muslim Expansion (624 - 1100)
China Tang Dynasty (581 - 950)
Korea (600 - 1100)
Norse Expansion (800 - 1066)
Norman England (1066 - 1200)
Holy Roman Empire (900 - 1259)
China Song/Ming (960 - 1644)
Scandinavian Kingdoms (1157 - 1471)

This makes the encyclopedia good, but short of its potential.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Review: Marauder

Marauder Marauder by Clive Cussler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is pretty standard Cussler; it reads more like a super hero story (think Batman) where the good guys are Mary Sue(s) with unbelievable toys and the bad guys are Bond villains with money to burn. In other words ... it is pure entertainment that requires more than a healthy does of suspension of disbelief, especially if you have any experience with the stuff they are playing with (yeah ... some of the tech here just doesn't work that way, sorry). So if you are in the mood for the kind of light reading you might pick up in the airport gift shop with a side of Jingoism, this is actually a fun read.

The bad guys work for a rogue Chinese industrialist with an interesting take on world domination. The good guys are a 'private' security firm in the image of the Kingsmen (in fact if you like the Kingsmen, you will be right at home for this story). Bad guys put the "plan' in motion and the good guys stumble across it my accident. Now the game is afoot and despite a few minor set backs, you KNOW how this story is going to end, but you still find yourself cheering them on as the piece everything together until the final showdown. Of course, what really keeps you engaged is the humorous relationship between the main characters. In pure escapist tradition, I can't help it ... I like them and I want to be them ... so the dream just works (YMMV).

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Sunday, August 7, 2022

Review: Jesus and the God of Classical Theism

Jesus and the God of Classical Theism Jesus and the God of Classical Theism by Steven J. Duby
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an academic text with 7 related essays on the mystery/nature of Jesus that push back on some of the modern theologians’ treatment of christology in favor of reconstituting some of the more classic patristic (aka orthodox) concepts. Modern theologians have noted that many of the classic [metaphysical] terms have evolved away from their original meaning into something that is more confusing than enlightening to the faithful today … and to some extent I completely empathize with that idea having recently struggled through a class on the Trinity. This book was a welcome addition to my study in that in revisiting the classical arguments, each essay took time to orient in the reader to the relevant biblical scriptures before reviewing the modern objections and walking through the orthodox/reform positions to explain how the classic view remains the better fit. 

The general focus of the essays in total examines the relationship between the persons of the Trinity, the unity of the person of Christ (with two natures) and the authenticity/genuineness of the Passion of Christ. Over all, the work is fairly big and extremely dense; so it is something of a slog to get through (taking me a lot longer to read that usual). With that in mind, each part/essay greatly benefits from a re-read or two to get more comfortable with the material presented. In addition, the topical organization makes this an excellent reference of a particular concept that you may continue to struggle with (which I still do).


Part 1 - Biblical Christology and “Classical Theism”

I.    Introduction

II.  Christological Challenges to “Classical Theism”

III.  Opposition to “Metaphysics”

IV. Revisiting God’s Perfections

V.  Revisiting the Role of Metaphysical Concepts 

VI. Conclusions

Part 2 - “The Word Was with God”: The Son’s Eternal Relation to the Father

I.    Introduction

II.   Biblical Description

III.  The Unity and Simplicity of God

IV.  Essence, Persons, and Relations

V.  Two Challenges

VI.  Conclusions

Part 3 - “Foreknown before the Foundation of the World”: The Son’s Election and Mission

I.    Introduction

II.   Biblical Description

III.  Eternal Actuality and the Divine Decree

IV.  Election, Immutability, and the Pactum Salutis

V.   Procession, Mission, and Historical Assumption

VI.  Conclusions

Part 4 - “And the Word Became Flesh”: The Son’s Relationship to His Human Nature

I.     Introduction

II.    Biblical Description

III.  Dogmatic Elaboration

IV.  Concerns about the Communicatio Idiomatum and the Extra Calvinisticum

V.   Response to Concerns

VI.  Conclusions

Part 5 - “The Spirit of the LORD Is upon Me”: The Son’s Dependence on the Holy Spirit

I.     Introduction

II.    Biblical Description

III.   Concerns regarding the Unity of God’s Operations

IV.   Unity and Diversity in God’s Operations

V.    The Gifts of the Spirit and the Human Experience of the Son

VI.   Conclusions

Part 6 - “I Have Come to Do Your Will, O God”: The Son’s Obedience

I.     Introduction

II.    Biblical Description

III.   Faith, Weakness, and Growth in the Obedience of Christ

IV.   Questions about Christ’s Sinlessness and Spiritual Exertion

V.    The Logic of Christ’s Spiritual Exertion

VI.   Conclusions

Part 7 - “A Man of Sorrows”: The Son’s Suffering

I.     Introduction

II.    Biblical Description

III.   Impassibility and the Nature of Passions

IV.  Impassibility and Metaphorical Attribution of Passions

V.   Impassibility and Reduplicative Predication in Christology

VI.  Conclusion


I was given this free advance review copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Thursday, August 4, 2022

Review: Rise of the Red Hand

Rise of the Red Hand Rise of the Red Hand by Olivia Chadha
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Rise of the Read Hand is set in the South Asian Province (aka Indian subcontinent) in a post apocalyptic world. The world building incorporates cyberpunk elements within a stratified class system determined by genetics. Only a few [Uplanders] are blessed with the perfect genes needed to successfully link with the computer algorithm (Not quite an AI) that is responsible for coordinating the people and resources needed to survive, but the unlucky [Downlanders] are left to scavenge for themselves in the poisoned world that remains after WWIII. Frequently these means cobbling together cybernetic replacements for missing body parts (the existence of which is enough to prevent you from being accepted by the elite). In the background is a raging pandemic that complicates things for both sides and forces some rather questionable behavior from the powers that be, who themselves are competing for resources from the "Planetary Alliance Commission" (PAC) that prioritizes resources to governments can prove they can effective manage them ... and the neural synch from Solace Corp was created to prevent much needed resources from being reassigned elsewhere.

The story itself comes across a bit choppy with the word choice and diction similar to what I have found in books that have been translated to English and which make it difficult for me to understand some of the cultural nuance. Some of it worked okay, such as calling the prosthetic components for cyborgs replacements. Character interactions seem to be more forced and less natural that I am used to, but they still end about where you would expect then to within the dystopian, cyberpunk tropes. Even the apparent "Romeo and Juliet" romance comes across a tad perfunctory. This would not be as much of an issue if it were not for a rather hamfisted use of info-dumps ... which can be useful in the right place, but should NEVER be repeated. Over all it was an okay story within an interesting world that earned it an extra star on that point alone.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Tuesday, August 2, 2022

Review: Among Thieves

Among Thieves Among Thieves by M.J. Kuhn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

It is in the Name … the story is about a band of thieves (anti-heroes), each with their own secrets and ambiguous moral stance, that team up for a heist against the most powerful man in their world. The story is awash with conflicts, both external and internal, and the main characters align with and betray each other as well as other parties … and the author does a good job at informing the reader as to the internal motivations that drive that.

The world building is interesting for the most part, but some of the word choices for people, places and things were a miss for me … they just didn’t quite connect, but at least they were fairly obvious in context (such as referring to the slums as “The Lottery”). The magic system of Adepts was a solid implementation of mental abilities (aka psionics … kinetics and sensory) that did not over power the plot and was fairly consistent throughout. The “seedy” part of the city was pretty generic through and a bit of a disappointment … you have the required gangs competing for control but no real sense of them outside of the typical tropes. Then you have the systemic corruption of power within the government/nobility that tries to help establish some empathy with the main character “thieves.” … the problem is that those characters are just not very relatable (interesting, yes, but definitely more caricature the believable).

The Team ...
  • You have a merc with a mysterious past and abilities almost inline with a Mary Sue … that gets explained a little as the story moves along. Props are due for evolving from what was fairly selfish character to one a little more altruistic by the end.
  • You have a young man with his own secret who is also on the run and has landed in the same ‘gang’ as a means to survive and stay hidden; you can guess how well that works right?
  • You have a mysterious “Northman” forger with his own conflicting agenda that may play a role in future installments
  • You have a smuggler captain who can sail a plank of wood with her small clothes as sails. …
  • You have a disgraced guardsman who compromises her integrity for a chance as redemption and the betrayal of a team member
  • You have a completely odious gang boss that for some reason isn’t top dog in the slums … but acts like he is and survives just fine thank you very much.

The Mark
  • The most power man in the world … who also happens to be the gatekeeper of virtually all magic (by controller access to practicing adepts).
  • An artifact used by the original gatekeeper to facilitate his rise to power

The Client
  • A King … who wants the power of the artifact to rule the world … but can’t be trusted to actually honor any deal? Yeah … they story really does hammer home the idea that you can’t trust anybody :-)
  • Each individual team member has their own, often conflicting, agenda … all hidden under an apparent motivation for cash … see above.
  • A competing gang boss that really is in it for the money … and just doesn’t see of doesn’t care about the danger of selling it to the above mentioned King.

Overall … it was a fun read that moves fairly well and I am looking forward to the next installment.

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

# AmongThieves #NetGalley

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My Ratings Explained ...

  • [ ***** ] Amazing Read - Perfect story, exciting, engrossing, well developed complex characters, solid plot with few to no holes, descriptive environments and place settings, great mystery elements, realistic dialogue, believable reactions and behaviors; a favorite that I can re-read many times.
  • [ **** ] Great Read - Highly entertaining and enjoyable, exciting storyline, well developed characters and settings, a few discrepancies but nothing that can’t be overlooked. Some aspect of the story was new/refreshing to me and/or intriguing. Recommended for everyone.
  • [ *** ] Good Read - Solid story with a 'good' ending, or has some other redeeming feature. Limited character development and/or over reliance on tropes. Noticeable discrepancies in world building and/or dialog/behavior that were distracting. I connected enough with the characters/world to read the entire series. Most of the books I read for fun are here. Recommended for fans of the genre.
  • [ ** ] Okay Read - Suitable for a brief, afternoon escape … flat or shallow characters with little to no development. Over the top character dialog and/or behavior. Poor world building with significant issues and/or mistakes indicating poor research. Excessive use of trivial detail, info dumps and/or pontification. Any issues with the story/characters are offset by some other aspect that I enjoyed. Not very memorable. May only appeal to a niche group of readers. Recommended for some (YMMV).
  • [ * ] Bad Read - Awkward and/or confusing writing style. Poor world building and/or unbelievable (or unlikeable) characters. Victimization, gaslighting, blatant abuse, unnecessary violence, child endangerment, or any other highly objectionable behaviors by Main characters. I didn't connect with the story at all; significant aspects of this story irritated me enough that I struggled to finished it. Series was abandoned. Not recommended.