My Favorite Books

The Walking Drum
Ender's Game
Dune
Jhereg
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

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Review: Praying the Psalms in the Voice of Christ: A Christological Reading of the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours

Praying the Psalms in the Voice of Christ: A Christological Reading of the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours Praying the Psalms in the Voice of Christ: A Christological Reading of the Psalms in the Liturgy of the Hours by Frank J. Matera
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is designed to be a companion to the Divine Office; also known as the Liturgy of the Hours because of how it is divided across the hours of the day (with five current times for Morning, Day, Evening, Night and “Office of Readings). Each “hour” presents a collection of psalms, communal antiphons/responses, readings, canticles/hymns, intercessions and other prayers as the continuous prayer of the Holy [Catholic] Church. The focus of this work is on the Psalms found within each "hour.” The author’s premise is that instead of interpreting these psalms through the context of history, there is a much deeper spiritual meaning that can be discovered when take a more christological approach to understanding.

“The Liturgy of the Hours [LOH] provides several aids for reading the psalms: (1) a general title for each psalm, (2) a brief text from Scripture or an early church writer for each psalm, (3) an antiphon for each psalm, and (4) a psalm prayer after many of psalms.” (Intro). Further, the psalms are divided across a cycle of four (4) during ordinary time, so each chapter deals with one of those weeks (with Night Prayer given its own chapter as it doesn’t follow the four week cycle). This organization makes it ideal to use as preparation for praying the Divine Office (as opposed to reading it straight through). Chapter One also includes the Invitatory that begins each day of prayer. For each day there is a synopsis of the psalms for that day before diving into a short discussion on how to see the voice of Christ for each psalm (as they appear) within each “hour.” I found the discussion helpful both for understanding what the psalm was saying (and why) as well as providing an understanding of how Christ is revealed within it. All together, this helps to develop a greater interest and love for this specific devotion and should be a welcome addition beside your copy of the Liturgy of the Hours.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction: Praying the Psalms in the Voice of Christ
Chapter One: Commentary on Week One
Chapter Two: Commentary on Week Two
Chapter Three: Commentary on Week Three
Chapter Four: Commentary on Week Four
Chapter Five: The Psalms of Night Prayer
Conclusion: Lessons Learned

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

#PrayingThePsalms #Edelweiss

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Thursday, October 26, 2023

Review: Science Fiction Classics Collection: Frankenstein, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde

Science Fiction Classics Collection: Frankenstein, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Science Fiction Classics Collection: Frankenstein, The Time Machine, War of the Worlds, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ****
Performance: ***

Four SciFi Classics in a Bargain Bundle

The four(4) stories are classics and most readers are probably already familiar with them. When compared to contemporary fiction at the time they were written, they are at the top of the genre; when compared to modern sci-fi they may show their age a bit (most of them use sparse dialog in favor of a 1st person PoV narrator … which makes it fairly easy to turn them into audiobooks, but also means they come across fairly dry like a diary or news report). Still, there are elements in each that helped to define the genre to this day and are well worth the read. The narration was decent, but with the limited dialog, there was little need to display any range for multiple character voices … so I can’t really justify rating it above average, but I thought it fit each story style fairly well.

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

#ScienceFictionClassicsCollection #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Sunday, October 22, 2023

Review: Catholic Discordance: Neoconservatism vs. the Field Hospital Church of Pope Francis

Catholic Discordance: Neoconservatism vs. the Field Hospital Church of Pope Francis Catholic Discordance: Neoconservatism vs. the Field Hospital Church of Pope Francis by Massimo Borghesi
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It probably should come as no surprise that this work seeks to deflect must of the criticism of Pope Francis that appears to be coming from the neoconservative wing of the American Catholic Church … primarily by offering an analysis of how and why the theological foundations of the movement developed within the aftermath of the fall of communism [within Russia] and the presumed superiority of the capitalist system that brought it down. Full disclosure here … I am NOT a part of the neocon movement and as such I found that I very much resonated with the analysis and arguments illustrating where they have drifted away from the missionary nature of the Church. Much of this was supported by significant blocks of quotations from the likes of notable neocons such as Novak, Neuhaus and Weigel to ensure sufficient context; however, readers subscribe to the neocon ideal probably won’t appreciate this nearly as much as I did.

This principle defense of Pope Francis seems to center on how his theology revealed in the various encyclicals are really a continuation of the theology and teachings of the Church advanced by previous Popes (primarily JP2 and Benedict). While this appears to be true, there can be little doubt that the focus of Pope Francis (on the poor and our home) does not align with where the Catholic neoconservatives wish the Church to go (adherence to the law and unrestrained capitalism) and that is the source of much of the criticism from that wing. Perhaps it is telling that any show of sympathy to those that do not participate in the prosperity of capitalism is condemned as mere populism (ref Zanatta - "Manifesto populista"). Of the two approaches I find myself more in the former camp while understanding the importance of the latter within the membership of the Church. What is missing from this book is any sort of balance or attempt to acknowledge the concerns raised by the Pope’s critics … and toward that end we see the inventible result of such a vacuum.

We don’t get to see the other side of this conflict until the last 3rd of the book where the concept of the Church as a Field Hospital is presented. The basic idea is that the Church should first focus on the big things (a sort of triage that works to relieve suffering) instead of focusing on the purity of her members. This doesn’t means that the Church must compromise her teaching, but that it recognizes that we are all unworthy and are at different places on our journey … and that is all okay. When everything is all said and done … this is where the Church should have been all along.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction: Beyond the Theological-Political Model
Chapter 1: The Fall of Communism and the Hegemony of Catholic Americanism
Chapter 2: the Pontificate of Francis and the Crisis of Globalization
Chapter 3: A Church That Goes Forth and a Field Hospital
Conclusion: Theo-populism, the United States, and the Future of the Church

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

#CatholicDiscordance #Edelweiss

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Thursday, October 19, 2023

Review: A Touch of Frost

A Touch of Frost A Touch of Frost by Renée R. Harper
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: **

An incomplete and ultimately disappointing story

To get straight to the point, there is an incredibly slow buildup with no clear, discernible plot until you get to a quick, and completely predictable, reveal at the end that sets up the series.

I was definitely intrigued by the synopsis and the world building was as interesting as I expected. Unfortunately, the story itself meandered through the world while focusing on the angsty emotional drama of the MC, making it difficult to connect with her. This was made even more problematic by the confusing collection of competing prophecies and curses that were poorly explained and hard to keep straight. By the end you are still left with a conflict between two nations, one from which magic is brutally persecuted because of a prophecy against the ruling monarch while the MC, a young woman caught up in the events as they unfold while she pines over a lost love and dreams of a “magical” future. Despite the long, and drawn out story buildup, the story was pretty typical for a YA Fantasy genre; however, it loses points for the abrupt ending and a narration that struggled to differentiate character voices. It really is part 1 of a larger story that should have been told together, but by the time you get to the intermission, there isn’t quite enough interest to continue.

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

#ATouchOfFrost #TheShatteredCrown #FreeAudiobookCodes #KindleUnlimited

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Sunday, October 15, 2023

Review: Rebuilt Faith: A Handbook for Skeptical Catholics

Rebuilt Faith: A Handbook for Skeptical Catholics Rebuilt Faith: A Handbook for Skeptical Catholics by Michael White
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a practical book designed to help Catholics get more from their faith (with the idea that you get out of faith what you put into it). As such, it provides forty (40) days, plus two bonus days to round out six weeks, of practical steps a believer might take to invest in their faith and obtain a much deeper relationship and understanding of that faith. Each [weekly] section [except the first] corresponds with acronym STEPS (Serve, Tithe, Engage, Practice, Share). Each day within a week provides an exercise to highlight an aspect of that weekly topic that begins with a quote from a Saint, followed by a Daily Reading along with a few anecdotes mapping the reading to some experience by either or both authors, then three (3) questions for reflection before finishing with a prayer and bible verse to help jump start (or rebuild) your faith (Read, Reflect, Rebuild).

The book was well organized and each of the daily exercises only take about 10 minutes or so each, so it is easy enough to actually do; however I feel the authors might be a bit overly optimistic with their target audience … I doubt this book will be that effective in reclaiming lapsed catholics who lack the motivation to actually invest in their faith (perhaps because they have already lost it); however, for those (seekers) with such motivation, this really gives that tools to go more deeply into the faith and perhaps prevent some from looking elsewhere for spiritual growth. This is not a magic bullet … it requires work.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction
Week One - Get to Know Jesus
Week Two - Serve
Week Three - Tithe and Give
Week Four - Engage in Christian Community
Week Five - Practice Prayer and Sacraments
Week Six - Share Your Faith

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:
Our Goal for this book is to help those who have stopped going to church entirely or mostly, and those close to leaving, to reconsider and rebuild their Catholic faith, though it will also be helpful to those who feel a need to renew or refresh it.
Discipleship requires getting up out of the pew and serving in some specific way.
When we invest our time and talent to serve God and others, we grow in true greatness, become more like Christ, contribute to the growth of God’s kingdom, life others up for their needs, and find our true calling and purpose in life.
Alone time is important, but when it comes to faiths (and life in general), it is not good focus to be all alone.
To become fully devoted followers of Christ, we need other people to challenge us and help us grow. We need others to remind us to reposed with love when the people around us are not acting in very loving ways.
That Jesus would present himself as a rabbi and nevertheless associate with such egregious lawbreakers, such as tax collectors and prostitutes, offended them deeply. They mistook his loving-kindness toward sinners for approval of their behavior.
I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#ARebuiltFaith #NetGalley

Thursday, October 12, 2023

Review: Johnny Rockett and the Beautiful Six: Book One in the Misadventures of Johnny Rockett

Johnny Rockett and the Beautiful Six: Book One in the Misadventures of Johnny Rockett Johnny Rockett and the Beautiful Six: Book One in the Misadventures of Johnny Rockett by K.R. McClellan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

A Frat Party in Space

You get a good idea of the genre just from the title and the book delivers what that title promised with a descent narration (that struggles a bit with the female roles). However, despite the sexual innuendoes and occasional body function humor (eg fart cats), the story is fairly clean and doesn’t really focus on that aspect much (which is a plus for me). Likewise there is the expected drama between the six (6) beautiful “girls” traveling with the everyman hero and freight jockey Johnny, one of which is his jealous co-pilot. There are a few basic plot twists, however, most of the story is fairly predictable … and you can see the obvious inspirations from the various sci-fi and fantasy sources such as the Shannara series (so yeah … expect flying boats that hunt flying whales to be a significant part of the plot). Ultimately there is nothing about this story that should be taken seriously … and if you can manage that, I think you might enjoy it.

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

#JohnnyRockettAndTheBeautifulSix #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Sunday, October 8, 2023

Review: A Jewish Paul: The Messiah's Herald to the Gentiles

A Jewish Paul: The Messiah's Herald to the Gentiles A Jewish Paul: The Messiah's Herald to the Gentiles by Matthew Thiessen
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Having written nearly 1/3rd of the Christian New Testament, it is difficult to ignore the significant contribute by St Paul to Western Christianity. Unfortunately, the 13 or so letters attributed to Paul can be difficult to interpret (Thiessen even notes that the Book of Acts says that many were confused by his teachings). The problem is exacerbated by the fact this we no longer have the same context as his original audience so a straightforward reading may often leads us astray. According to Thiessen, this is particularly true with Paul’s apparent rejection of Judaism that has frequently been used to support the concept of supersessionism, and by extension antisemitism. Placing Paul firmly within an early Jewish milieu under the influence of Greek [Stoic] philosophy can actually provide us with a better understanding of what Paul was trying to do as the Apostle to the Nations (Gentiles).

This is not a new concept for me. Paul is a self described Uber Jew, so after his Road to Damascus “conversion” and apparent rejection of Jewish tradition (for Gentile Jesus followers) has generally been seen as a hard break with the “Judaizers” of his past … except such a believe just doesn’t add up considering his deference to St Peter and the Church in Jerusalem. I have always been uncomfortable with many of the modern interpretations of Paul and have actively sought after an exegesis more in line with how I read the Gospels … this included a number of articles and discussions that attempted to incorporate St Paul’s view of how Gentiles fit within the larger salvific plan of the God of Israel. Thiessen does an excellent job of presented his [academic] argument in language that is clear and accessible to a casual reader with solid support for his positions. Even so, much of the evidence provided is circumstantial, so his conclusions are generally based on a “best fit” paradigm and largely subjective where some readers may not be persuaded of his point of view. This book is a welcome addition to my growing library from which a gain a better understanding of my own faith.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction
1 - Making Paul Weird Again
2 - Radically New or Long-Lost Reading of Paul?
3 - Judaism Doesn’t Believe Anything
4 - Paul, an End-Time Jew
5 - The Gentile Problem
6 - Jesus the Messiah
7 - The Gentile Problem and Cosmetic Surgery
8 - Pneumatic Gene Therapy
9 - The Bodies of the Messiah
10 - Living the Resurrected Life
11 - Resurrection as the Culmination of the Messiah’s Coming
12 - The Messiah and the Jews
Conclusion

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:
If a person is a Jewish follower of the Messiah, they should continue to be a Jewish follower of the Messiah. Do not try to change that identity now. If someone is a gentile follower of the Messiah, they also should not try to change that identity.
Paul argues that circumcision and adoption of the Jewish law in its entirety will not work for gentiles because Israel’s God never intended for non-Jews to undergo circumcision and adoption of the Jewish law.
This divine hardening of many Jews, Paul is convinced, is a temporary situation, one that serendipitously results in gentiles receiving deliverance (11:25). It is not permanent. It is not the final word, because God has elected Israel for the sake of their ancestors. And God’s call and God’s election cannot be undone.

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

#AJewishPaul #NetGalley

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Thursday, October 5, 2023

Review: INCA'S DEATH CAVE

INCA'S DEATH CAVE INCA'S DEATH CAVE by Bradford G. Wheler
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book: **
Performance: ***

Info Dumps R'Us

I like history … and I like action/adventure stories, especially ones that have history as a backdrop. That is what I thought this was. This story is more like a history textbook with some action/adventure in the background. I appreciate the well researched details; but I didn’t need to know all that to enjoy this “thriller." Even so, using wikipedia style info dumps to present ancillary context and detail is a rookie mistake; especially when a lot of this doesn’t seem to actually advance anything in the story. It might be more interesting to those readers that enjoy historical trivia and travelogues. In addition, the simple, and often limited, dialog interspersed amongst the extensive narration was made even more awkward and unnatural by the frequent use of I said, s/he said, etc. (even when not needed by the poor character voice differentiation).

Ok … so we have an archeology professor and his research assistant sent to Peru to do a little historical investigation looking for the proverbial treasure of the Inca’s Death Cave. Unfortunately … the story is actually a little too true to form here as the initial setup is extremely long and boring while the team works to digitize the relevant conquistador records. I suppose that it is natural to make the Catholic Church one of the boogeymen in story; queue the typical critiques and moralizing on why the Vatican is evil. Despite the opinionated preachiness, the basic underlying facts were pretty accurate even as interpretation leaves something to be desired and the Vatican is redeemed in the end (as a non sequitur). It a multi prong effort, there is also some data mining and programming hijinks (aka hacking) and some sensor drone mapping to identify probably locations for the cave … and about as exciting as watching paint dry. I mean, it was interesting from an academic point of view, just not a thriller yet. In the mean time, let’s bring in a total unrelated conflict with a drug cartel so that we can shoot at our heroes (which is basically the only action/conflict of the story). Finally … the end comes up quickly and is pretty much anticlimactic with an epilogue to fill in the happily ever after expectation. Over all, this is a very simple story that would probably only appeal to those with an interest on that specific time and location.

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

#IncasDeathCave #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Sunday, October 1, 2023

Review: The Power of Unlimited Faith: Living in the Miraculous Everyday

The Power of Unlimited Faith: Living in the Miraculous Everyday The Power of Unlimited Faith: Living in the Miraculous Everyday by Kynan Bridges
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Book: *
Performance: ***

Get Your Miracles Now?

What is Faith? The author contends that faith is an act or response to God’s Will as known through His Word … and Faith is the currency of God’s Kingdom that allows you to “demand” God act on His promises. In other words … if you don’t get what you want from God, it is because of your poverty of faith. So the whole point of this book appears to be how to increase your faith so you can get stuff. This is a dangerous parallel to the so called “Prosperity Gospel” that frequently morphs into a we all get what we deserve and if you pull the short straw it is because of something you did or did not do attitude. There is soooo much wrong here I struggle to begin an appropriate critique. The problem is that there is also a lot that is actually pretty good before it jumps into heterodox theology using incomplete proof-texting and anecdotal miracle stories (some of which should have easily been medically confirmed … such as turning metal into bone). While I absolutely believe such miracles are possible, many of the miracles described should have in fact caused a significant stir in the secular communities and withstand their scrutiny … and so are likely to be very hard for many to accept. And then the explanation on why everybody doesn’t get the miracles they ask for is because we live in time and God lives outside of time? Yeah … weird. However, Bridges does a reasonable job of extracting context from the original Koine Greek terms found in the NT; however, there are also several research missteps … such as blaming primitive embalming techniques for the reason Lazarus’ body would smell days after death (unaware perhaps that Judaism actually prohibits embalming the dead). Such a lax approach to details undermines the over all message that ultimately comes from opinion in search of supporting facts.

The narration was decent for this genre.

The chapters and sections in this work are:
Chapter 1/0 - Endorsements (7m)
Chapter 2/0 - Preface (2m)
Chapter 3/1 - In The Beginning (22m)
Chapter 4/2 - Faith Foundations (24m)
Chapter 5/3 - Seeing the Invisible (19m)
Chapter 6/4 - How Faith Comes (20m)
Chapter 7/5 - The Law of Confession (23m)
Chapter 8/6 - Faith for Miracles (25m)
Chapter 9/7 - Ever Increasing Faith (19m)
Chapter 10/8 - Demand and Supply (15m)
Chapter 11/9 - Kingdom Currency (17m)
Chapter 12/10 - Faith and Love (19m)
Chapter 13/11 - Enduring Faith (28m)
Chapter 14/12 - The Law of Expectation (25m)
Chapter 15/13 - Speak the Word Only (26m)
Chapter 16/14 - Just Believe (16m)
Chapter 17/15 - Unlimited Faith (22m)
Chapter 18/16 - About The Author (4m)

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

#ThePowerOfUnlimitedFaith #FreeAudiobookCodes

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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.