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

Thursday, February 22, 2024

Review: The Amulet of Alamin

The Amulet of Alamin The Amulet of Alamin by Felix Alexander
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

An Interesting Historical Fantasy

This book will be way better if you have at least a little Mesopotamian history under your belt (and can remember a good portion of it). In short, it was a fascinating fantasy that combines elements of ancient Hebrew stories with middle eastern myths and legends set in context of a war of aggressive expansion by the evil Zagesi. As the story unfolds, you get a veritable who’s who of famous names, Sargon, Enki, Abram et al with angles, demons, immortals (aka shape changers), nephilim, etc. In fact … it is the huge cast of main and supporting characters that is this story’s weakest link. There are so many that it is difficult to keep track of everything and main plot gets buried under extraneous side stories in a failed attempt to overcome the lack of character differentiation and/or character growth. It’s just too busy and it didn’t pull me into the story at all. This is more like an extended version of a short story than a novel … and this doesn’t work very well for me the reader. Add to that a tendency to add details that just take up space and don’t really add much to the story or advance the plot as far as I can tell.

This issue is compounded by an average audio performance where the narrator struggles to differentiate voices, especially when the story changes the PoV in the middle of the chapter (the prisoner escape and chase being a perfect example of swapping back and forth between the escapees and the pursuers several times in the chapter where it almost seemed like there were all in the same party). Other than that, the pacing and enunciation was good for what was happening within the story. Overall it was a fun distraction, but not a favorite.

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

#TheAmuletOfAlamin #TheShadowsOfTime #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Sunday, February 18, 2024

Review: Integrating Psychology and Faith: Models for Christian Engagement

Integrating Psychology and Faith: Models for Christian Engagement Integrating Psychology and Faith: Models for Christian Engagement by Paul Moes
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The was very interesting exploration of what we believe about ourselves with respect to agency/freewill, morality and self. The book is divided into two (2) parts with the first part looking at prevailing concepts and ideas within psychology and the second part looking at the integration between secular and religious approaches to understanding the human person. Each chapter was well explained in accessible language for somebody new to the concepts (without going into too much detail) and summed up with reflections and conclusions as well as questions for discussion.

Part one brings the reader up to speed on a large number of terms and concepts, such as cosmology, ontology, epistemology and teleology, that form the basis for knowing what we know about ourselves with respect to ideas and concepts such as is there free will (or are we completely controlled by environment and physical makeup … with behavior only determined by our firing neurons) … and even how much we can know for certain. What was especially interesting was the exploration of how our own worldview (or bias) is projected into our own understanding of self and how each of the typical worldviews today approach human psychology, with a comparison between what might be termed as secular vs religious influences. Amazingly enough it does an excellent job of explaining different approaches in Christian thought to nature and grace and how they are expected to engage with he world around them.

Part two begins the discussion on how to integrate the views fund in contemporary psychology and contemporary religion to gain a more complete picture and potential a more effective means of behavior modification, beginning with how each engages in reductionism (pro/con) to simply what is arguably a very complex reality. Ultimately there are a lot of terms and ideas that are presented here and if nothing else, you gain a good, layman’s understanding of what science and religion believe about what it means to be human from several different vantage points.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Part 1 Philosophical Foundations
1. Worldviews and Natural Science Beliefs
2. Worldviews about Human Nature
3. Views in Contemporary Psychology
4. Views in Contemporary Religion

Part 2 Models of Integration
5. Scientific Reductionism
6. Biblical Reductionism
7. Complementary Models
8. Humanizers of Science

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

Postpositivism. In recent decades, several investigators have become dissatisfied with strict positivism and have moved toward postpositivism. Perhaps the most common form of postpositivism, critical realism, accepts that there is an objective reality that can be discovered but that humans always understand that reality imperfectly.

Another example of teleology influencing psychology comes from the world of therapy. Therapists often differ on the best practices or processes in therapy, but they also differ on what constitutes a good outcome.

Because a person’s religious beliefs impact the way they view knowledge, science, human nature, and the wider society or culture—which in turn influences their view of psychology.

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

#IntegratingPsychologyandFaith #NetGalley

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Thursday, February 15, 2024

Review: Palladium

Palladium Palladium by Leigh Turner
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

Set in Istanbul, a mysterious group known as the “Elders” has recruited several terrorists teams to “End the West” through a terrorist attack on the city. There is a loose connection to an ancient artifact known as the Palladium, which must first be obtained to ensure the attack would succeed, so one team steels it and abducts the archeologist that found it (the rationale for the latter is a bit thin when it is revealed much later). Fortunately, her brother Orhan is a Turkish policeman and her lover is a former British SIS officer who are on the job to get her back. Along the way they seem to always be just a step behind as the story drags on and on. Frequently there was way too much detail injected into the story and then continually repeated while doing little to advance the story, with some of the details were a bit questionable; but not enough to really detract from the overall enjoyment of the story … just don’t think about it too much and you will be fine. Over all, the lot was fairly predictable and the story mechanical enough that I had difficulty connecting to characters and plot; however, it was decent enough for light entertainment.

The narration was also pretty average … every now and then the pacing was a bit off to feel natural and the performance had difficulty differentiating the voices, but it wasn’t too hard to keep it all separate.

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

#Palladium #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Sunday, February 11, 2024

Review: I Am Asking in the Name of God: Ten Prayers for a Future of Hope

I Am Asking in the Name of God: Ten Prayers for a Future of Hope I Am Asking in the Name of God: Ten Prayers for a Future of Hope by Pope Francis
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

There is no doubt that we are living in a time of increasing troubles and violence and that this should be a concern for all of us. This book attempts to identify the 10 moral issues/failures facing the world today with a call to action by the Pope. While I am actually a fan of Pope Francis, this really doesn’t introduce any new ground and doesn’t really cover any of these issues in depth (and does not provide much in the way of practical ways to address them). 

There are a few surprises, such as the appeal to media to stop with he fake news and manipulation … which IMHO is more a pipe dream than anything else. Another was the unequivocal statement that just war was not possible (seems like a change in doctrine and problematic if understood as a complete prohibition to defense … not sure if that is what he meant to say). Then there was the call for equal treatment and opportunities of women … an apparent contradiction so obvious that an immediate defense is presented that hinges on the election of the Holy Virgin above all men. This chapter does nothing to actually clarify and answer the cries of hypocrisy leveled against the Church by her opponents.

Outside of those few surprises and disappointments, the main take away appears to be order in which these issues are presented. The book opens with an apology and a promise with respect to the clergy abuse scandal. Next up is our environment and a call to protect our common home. Clearly this is a priority of the Pope and probably should be so for anybody who accepts man caused climate change. Unfortunately I don’t think any will be persuaded with this … nor any of the other appeals that target poor behavior of bad actors … so nothing is likely to change.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction
Chapter 1: In the name of God, I ask that the culture of abuse be eradicated from the Church
Chapter 2: In the name of God, I ask that we protect our Common Home
Chapter 3: In the name of God, I ask for the media to fight fake news and avoid hate speech
Chapter 4: In the name of God, I ask for Politics that works for the common good
Chapter 5: In the name of God, I ask that we stop the madness of war
Chapter 6: In the name of God, I ask that the doors be opened to immigrants and refugees
Chapter 7: In the name of God, I ask that greater participation of women in society be promoted and encouraged
Chapter 8: In the name of God, I ask that the growth of poor countries be allowed and encouraged
Chapter 9: In the name of God, I ask for universal access to health services
Chapter 10: In the name of God, I ask that the name of God not be used to incite wars
Epilogue: “Pilgrims of Hope”

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:
I cannot begin without again asking for forgiveness. Our words of repentance will never be enough to console the victims of sexual abuse at the hands of members of the Church.

It is also in the very Social Doctrine of the Church, which says that humans must not “make arbitrary use of the earth, subjecting it without restraint to his will, as though it did not have its own requisites and a prior God-given purpose, which man can indeed develop but must not betray.”

Specifically, I renew my plea that mass media end the logic of post-truth, disinformation, defamation, slander, and the fascination for scandal and, instead, seek to contribute to a culture of dialogue and reflection, with necessary disagreement and confrontation but without the need to denigrate or mistreat others.

Populism seeks that small group to appropriate popular sentiments for their own aims, even though different nuances are used to understand these movements in each continent. This kind of populism seeks to exclude and concentrate when it does not manipulate and exacerbate conditions.

War can never be justified. War can never be a solution. We need only to think of the destructive power of modern weapons and see the devastation that they unleash; many times the situation is left a thousand times worse than before the war began. War does not solve problems but creates and leaves destruction in its wake.

At the same time, if the world does not improve the conditions that lead to massive forced migrations, the decision to limit the quota for secure and legal entry for those who flee war and poverty cannot be deemed anything but hypocritical.

It is inexcusable that in the twenty-first century, women are still considered second-class citizens in many places. There is a cultural root to this, leading to even more forms of violence. The base of all this is cultural, transcending any border between nations.

This does not mean that we should not respect the principle of paying debts that have been legitimately acquired, but we should refuse to accept the unbalanced method in which countries are required to fulfill their payments, which is the same in the poorest nations as in the wealthiest countries.

There is now a spiritual virus that is very contagious, one that turns us into self-focused men and women who see only ourselves and no one else. The reality is that we are responsible for caring for ourselves and our health, which translates to caring for the health of those nearest to us; there is an unequivocal moral obligation.

Violence in the name of God is a betrayal of religion. Therefore, we must say no to any hate perpetrated in God’s name or in the name of any other religion.

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


#IAmAskingintheNameofGod  #NetGalley 

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Thursday, February 8, 2024

Review: City Of Light

City Of Light City Of Light by Darren Deegan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Performance: **

Loosely based on Irish Myth and Legend, the City of Light tells a story from two PoV; a young girl on the wrong side of the tracks and a government stooge that allows the reader to “check-in” with the rulers of the city.  The narration/performance was fair if somewhat choppy.  The narrator struggled a lot with male character voices and the fits and starts tempo highlighted an odd emphasis now and again.  Still, she managed to avoid the breathy wonder voice and up tick lilt at the end of each sentence that drives me nuts … so over all I could still enjoy the experience.  The story itself was mostly teen drama … taking nearly half the book before it actually got interesting with some action (it took that long to get to the main plot hook of a heist gone wrong).  There is an undercurrent of kidnapped children that was barely explained in the second half encounters and of course there are several anticipated reveals with few surprises.  Over all that makes it an average fantasy for me with a sub-par narration.

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

#CityOfLight #TheZinSeries #FreeAudiobookCodes 

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Sunday, February 4, 2024

Review: Listening for God in Torah and Creation: A weekly encounter with conscience and soul

Listening for God in Torah and Creation: A weekly encounter with conscience and soul Listening for God in Torah and Creation: A weekly encounter with conscience and soul by Jonathan Wittenberg
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is a Jewish Commentary of the Torah (The first five books of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures), subdivided into the weekly readings. Being familiar with the text, but not raised in the tradition that provides the view point for this commentary, I was able to appreciate the wonderful insights that helped me better understand my own traditions (and in some cases even fill in the gaps). In fact, Rabbi Wittenberg provided a significant amount of context and explanations (such as how the Mishnah and Talmud are used to expand on the scriptural text) that even someone unfamiliar with his sources could understand how they contributed to his exegesis. In addition to his use of those more traditional commentary sources, Rabbi Wittenberg weaves in personal interpretations and contemporary opinions, along with various mystical approaches (such as Kabbalah), that provides a balanced and diverse view for Torah study.

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

The Hebrew Bible, Gospels and Quran all contain ethically difficult passages. The Torah has disturbing things to say about war, gender relationships and those it regards as idolaters. From the earliest times the rabbis found ways of disarming such texts by reinterpreting them or declaring them no longer relevant. But the dangers of literalist, noncontextualised readings remain. Considering such passages from a historical perspective allows them to be seen in their social, economic and political context, not as the unchanging will of God, but as how that will was understood at the time of composition.

The Talmud explains that the world was created in ‘Ten Utterances’, the ten occurrences of the words ‘And God said’ in the opening chapter of Genesis, the ode to wonder with which the Bible begins. With typical exactitude, the Talmud notes that the phrase occurs only nine times, before resolving the discrepancy by counting ‘In the beginning’ as the first of the ten.

The rabbis exploit the Torah’s silence, filling the gaps in the narrative with legends. According to one of the most popular, Abraham’s father Terach was a manufacturer of idols. One day when his father was out and Abraham was left to serve the customers, he smashed all the idols, leaving the hammer in the hands of the largest. When his father returned, he furiously demanded to know what had happened. ‘A fight broke out among them,’ Abraham explained. ‘They attacked and destroyed each other until only the biggest was left.’ ‘They’re just lumps of clay,’ his father retorted.

No sooner is he named than we’re told that ‘Esau is Edom’ (Gen. 25:30), and Edom, to the rabbis, meant Rome, the empire that sacked Jerusalem and sent the Jewish People into two thousand years of exile. When Rome became Christian under Constantine, Edom became their oblique way of referring to Christendom.

People sometimes ask me ‘Where was God at Auschwitz?’ I believed God was there Himself–violated and blasphemed. The real question is ‘Where was man in Auschwitz?’  The issue, then, may not be, ‘Is God here?’ but, ‘Are we here? Are we listening to God’s cry?’

Maimonides’ analysis is based on the Talmudic observation that when a person repeats a wrong it becomes habituated. Our responses become so deeply engrained, especially when others endorse our decisions, as the yes-men around tyrants invariably do, that it’s almost impossible for us to change our ways and re-educate our conscience. According to Maimonides, then, God only hardens Pharaoh’s heart once he himself has done so beyond redemption.

In Hebrew, every letter of the alphabet is also a number. Noting that the numerical value of the word ‘Torah’ adds up to 611, a famous midrash on the verse, ‘Moses commanded us Torah,’ observes that of the 613 commandments, as they are traditionally counted, all but two were transmitted by Moses. The exceptions are, ‘I am the Lord your God,’ and, ‘You shall have no other gods beside me.’

Just as Midrash occupies gaps in the text of Torah, so it also vacates them. The place always remains free for further possibilities, the issues of the future. A defining characteristic of Midrash is that it doesn’t totalise; it never claims to be the only valid interpretation.

The laws were formulated by human beings in response to human conditions, under the guidance of God, to be sure, but subject to error like all other human institutions.  … That does not render the Torah a purely human document; rather, it acknowledges that, even with the deepest spiritual intuitions, our understanding of God’s will suffers from the inevitable limitations of human thought, which can never entirely escape its historical and intellectual contexts.

The rabbi didn’t return the greeting but said loudly instead, ‘What an ugly man you are! Is everyone in your town as ugly as you?’ The fellow replied: ‘I don’t know. But go and tell the craftsman who made me, “How ugly is that vessel which you made.”’ (Babylonian Talmud Ta’anit 20a-b)

The Torah refers to no such instructions, but the rabbis fill in the gaps. Balaam’s parting advice to the Moabites after failing, because of God’s intervention, to deliver the curses their king had hired him for, is to try sex instead and seduce the Children of Israel away from their God.  That’s why Moses orders his victorious officers to kill ‘every woman who’s slept with a man’ (Num. 31:17).  … It’s been suggested that according to ancient Middle Eastern protocols of war, it was customary for the victors to claim that they’d killed off all their enemies, the more the better, but they didn’t actually do so. It was merely a boast.

Nafshekha is usually translated as ‘soul’, but ‘life’ is more faithful to the biblical context. It may only have been in the mediaeval period that the word’s meaning migrated from the immediately physical, as in don’t eat an animal’s blood ‘because the nefesh, the life force, of all flesh is its blood’ (Lev. 17:14), to the more spiritual notion of ‘soul’.

The Talmud is strict about learning. Of the three tears God is said to weep, one is shed for those whose life makes it all but impossible to study yet who nevertheless dedicate themselves to Torah. Another is for those who have the leisure to learn, but don’t. 

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


#ListeningforGodinTorahandCreation  #NetGalley


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Thursday, February 1, 2024

Review: The Complete Dead Planet Series

The Complete Dead Planet Series The Complete Dead Planet Series by Drew Avera
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Exodus: ***
Verity: **
Endgame: **

Performance: ****

A Very Simple Dystopian SciFi

Simple World-building … Mars have been colonized for nearly 4000 years and it is ruled by corporate elites known as the Syndicate who are fairly stock bad guys of questionable morals and an apparent sadistic streak to make them truly and unquestionably evil. This authoritarian style government uses a “pontiff” puppet as governor and brainwashed assassins, euphemistically called “policemen” and who answer to a shell organization known as The Agency. Policemen are armed with laser gauntlets with neural links that pretty much do anything the author needs them to do. Outside of that and a reference to an artificial magnetic field that keeps mars habitable, the world is basically a dystopian America.

Simple Characters … bad guys bad … good guys good … and never the twain shall meet. Syndicate players really have no redeeming characteristics and, although paying some lip service to a profit moments, really are just addicted to power and the free exercise there if to teach the uppity masses a thing or two. The MC is a “policeman” assassin whose brainwashing didn’t completely take and “breaks” programming when he learns of a hit on his sister. You could perhaps forgive the somewhat stunted emotional capacity of Serus, except the supporting characters don’t do much better (making it seem like this story seem like it was targeting a much younger audience … say middle school). After overcoming his initial programming, Serus doesn’t really grow much … which makes it incessant navel gazing a minor irritation such that if it were not for the string of incredibly poor choices by pretty much everybody in the book would have been more of a factor in the rating. As it is, he miraculous seems to survive the consequences said bad decisions while absorbing enough damage to stop a charging Rhino and still somehow function (mostly because the villains are also incredibly stupid as well). Finally … toward the end we see a mild christian evangelization as the MC contemplate God and the Bible and his life choices.

Simple Plot … bad guys abandon Mars to its fate as the artificial magnetic field is failing (to eventually become The Dead Planet … maybe). Good guys are SJW that don’t think that’s fair and seem to focus on making the elites pay for abandoning them … lead of course by a reformed bad guy. It is remarkable (and saddening) how corrosive the violent revenge motif here is. Once the action gets back to Earth … we see pretty much the same strongman polities simplistically boiled down to only two (relatively small) actual communities. The broad strokes here are completely predictable and it is the narration that helps keep it all interesting.

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

#TheCompleteDeadPlanetSeries #StoryOrigin

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Sunday, January 28, 2024

Review: Numbers: (An Exegetical & Theological Bible Commentary - BCOT)

Numbers: (An Exegetical & Theological Bible Commentary - BCOT) Numbers: (An Exegetical & Theological Bible Commentary - BCOT) by Mark A Awabdy
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Numbers can be a bit challenges to read on your own; at least for me the mind numbing census data makes it hard to focus on what is important. This commentary is part of the Baker series on the Old Testament and was a welcome addition to my study of the Pentateuch. After a lengthy Introduction where the author provided context on History, Translations, Genres, Structure and Composition, each chapter broke it down a section from Numbers (typically chapter by chapter) into an overview, translation, interpretation and implications. I got the most out of the interpretation section; however, the others still very helpful in providing context or better understanding. The fact that this was not verse by verse interpretation and was written in very accessible language (limited theological buzz words/phrases) makes this a welcome addition for any study of the text. Additionally, the author highlights where some of the material was referenced within the New Testament, making it particular helpful for understanding the how the Christian faith connect the two (and potentially where it may diverge from Jewish interpretation).

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:
The term “Nephilim” is transliterated in English translations since it reflects the name of a legendary people group (Gen. 6:4), but the Greek translator, presumably thinking that such a transliteration would not be understood by his readers, describes them as “giants” (tous gigantas, v. 34a), a synonym of the preceding genitive “very tall” (hypermēkeis for Hb. middôt “great stature,” v. 32c).
Finally, because literature and iconography always communicate some aspect of the worldview of its culture, temple, or royal institutions, we can often discern when Numbers is assuming, adapting, or rejecting the ethical values and theologies of Israel’s neighbors.
Against this backdrop, there are two ways to interpret Num. 2:17: (1) the sanctuary and not the king is to be the center of Israel’s society; or (2) in light of the glory of Yahweh that fills and appears from the meeting tent, Yahweh is the king who has taken up residence in the center of his people’s military encampment. Either way, if Yahweh not only possesses Israel as his people (Lev. 20:26) but also created the heavens and earth (Exod. 19:5; 20:11; 31:17), then wherever he pitches his tent becomes the axis mundi (axis of the world), a continuum that extends from heaven through earth and into the abyss below.
The Nazirite’s consecration to Yahweh could presumably be for any length of time that they choose up front (vv. 12–13). Their devotion to Yahweh becomes apparent to all by their new lifestyle of abstaining from consuming grapes in any form (vv. 3–4), not cutting any hair on their head (v. 5), and not touching a corpse (v. 6). The prohibition of these three in particular is intriguing since grape products were associated with fertility, hair with sympathetic magic, and corpse defilement with the cult of the dead.
In the ANE—Mesopotamia, for example—the cult image enshrined deep inside the deity’s temple structure was thought to be “a semipermanent theophany.” By contrast, the Israelites were never to represent Yahweh in any form (Exod. 20:4; Deut. 5:8–9), and they could not manipulate him by their ritual services. Yet, like the ANE deities, Yahweh holds the prerogative to take on any form he so chooses.
Surveying the Hebrew terminology in the OT, Kitz clarifies the process of lot casting: “Each lot ‘thrown into’ (hûṭal bě-) a container. Someone ‘shakes’ (qilqal) the lots in a receptacle until one of them ‘comes up’ (ʿālâ) and ‘goes out’ (yāṣāʾ). When the shaker has ‘cast out’ (hišlîk) a lot, it ‘falls’ (nāpal) to the ground. The meaning applied to that lot constitutes the mišpaṭ yhwh, ‘the decision of Yahweh.’”
Against the ANE and Israelite stigma and vulnerability of being a widow or divorced, v. 9 [10] elucidates that these classes of women are under no patriarch’s authority, such as an uncle or brother, and so their formal commitments are always binding, just as those of Israelite males (v. 2 [3]). Beyond this, what is shocking is that in contrast to Torah texts that limit divorced women, here the divorced woman is endowed with the privilege to make unchecked, binding vows to Yahweh or commitments to others. The conception is implicit: As with the widow and orphan in Deut. 10:18, so also the divorced woman is under the protective authority of Yahweh as her divine paterfamilias.
However, three special classes of daughters could become heiresses along with her brothers: “If, during a father’s lifetime, his daughter becomes an ugbabtu, a nadîtu, or a qadištu, they (her brothers) shall divide the estate considering her as an equal heir.” An ugbabtu was a “female devotee of a male deity”; a nadîtu was a “woman dedicated to a god, usually unmarried, not allowed to have children”; a qadištu was a “woman of special status.” Since a nadîtu would be without a biological heir, she had the prerogative of choosing someone else to inherit her estate.
I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#Numbers #BCOT #NetGalley

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Thursday, January 25, 2024

Review: The Legendary Detectives

The Legendary Detectives The Legendary Detectives by Jean Marie Stine
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

Decent Shorts from the Age of Great Detective

I am a big fan of the great detectives/mystery narratives; however, I am also not much of a fan for short stories that don’e have enough time to develop a more interesting storyline. It seems the later tempered my enjoyment of these works. Still, it was a tremendous opportunity to encounter some of the characters that did not survive into the current age … and now I may understand the reason to some extent … some just didn’t age very well. The generally average narration was just not able to pull many of these up as the narrator obvious struggled to differentiate the character voices. Over all it was a nice escape if you don’t have unrealistic expectations based on reputation.

- The Fenchurch Street Mystery (49m) **
- The Long Barrow (60m) ***
- The Mystery Of The Scarlet Thread (77m) **
- The Magic of Fear (40m) **
- The Ghost at Massingham Mansions (71m) ***
- The Eye of Apollo (44m) ****
- The Ghouls (55m) ***
- The Ivory Statue (50m) ***
- The Adventure of the Lion's Mane (51m) ***


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

#TheLegendaryDetectives #AudibleGiveawaysGoodRdsGrp

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Sunday, January 21, 2024

Review: The Gospel of Barnabas

The Gospel of Barnabas The Gospel of Barnabas by Joseph B. Lumpkin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ***

An Anachronistic Islamic Riff on the Gospel

The Gospel of Barnabas is a late middle-age attempt by Islamic apologists to retell the Gospel Story of Jesus in a way that denies that he is the Son of God, and therefore is not divine (no God) ... with several anachronistic elements (such as references to Muhammad who doesn't make the scene for several centuries after) and attacks St Paul (who arguably defines much of what is the traditional Christian faith today). If you are familiar with the Christian Gospel stories, it can be interesting to explore the differences and what that might be trying to say ... however, you are on your own for that as there is no discussion on the work outside of the introduction ... and the translation seems to preserve some of what is awkward language that could use some explanation for better understanding. As it stands, this is a book for the curious (or independent student of which I am both) but would not likely appeal to anybody not interested in religious studies. The Narration was adequate with a few stumbles or odd pronunciations.

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

#TheGospelOfBarnabas #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Thursday, January 18, 2024

Review: The Master of Strategy Collection: The Art of War & The Book of Five Rings, AOG Edition

The Master of Strategy Collection: The Art of War & The Book of Five Rings, AOG Edition The Master of Strategy Collection: The Art of War & The Book of Five Rings, AOG Edition by Sun Tzu
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Performance: ***
Story: ***

The Art of War by Sun Tzu is a famous military/strategy treatise composed of 13 chapters devoted to various skills related to war. While the translation appears to be good, the advise provided is primarily general (and somewhat obvious) maxims, without any specific or practical information or examples on how to execute each stratagem … making this very small manual more of an outline/checklist that is of marginal use by itself (IMHO the reputation of this work far exceeds its utility; however, it works as an introduction and/or entertainment). After each chapter, the author adds a few discussion questions that are also interesting and points to some of the hidden concepts within each precept, but are difficult to fully take advantage of in the audible format. The narration is actually pretty good for such an academic and dry topic (so only one “voice” / character that you would expect within a story/novel).

The Book of Five Rings by Miyamoto Musashi is another famous martial treatise that attempts to extend sword tactics into battle strategies (bottom up vs top down from Art of War). As such, there are more specific or practice instructions, but very little help in how to apply this knowledge more generally on the battle field. Here Musashi’s primary focus appears to be individual/internal disciple and the superiority of the sword over all other weapons (except the gun). The treatise is divided into five (5) books: Earth (Training), Water (Style), Fire (Timing), Wind (Flaws), Void (Mind). Over all, the work was interesting and interesting; although, I puzzled a bit over some of the translation choices.

Over all the complete package was short and entertaining, but not really something I would use to learn strategy beyond a basic introduction. For that I was turn to more contemporary sources for modern warfare such as Von Clausewitz.

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

#ArtOfWar #BookOfFiveRings #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Sunday, January 14, 2024

Review: Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels

Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels Republican Jesus: How the Right Has Rewritten the Gospels by Tony Keddie
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ****
Performance: ***

About Like You’d Expect

There is an obvious “conservative vs progressive” divide within American Society that is playing out in the American Christian Church … and while I though that I generally identified as part of the conservative side, I find it difficult to understand how I ended up outside of both camps these days as they sling “proof text” at each other to illustrate why they are right and their opponents are wrong. Perhaps the greatest surprise is my perception of just how far the “right” has moved so far away from what I generally see as Christ’s message. I had hopes that this book would provides some answers to that puzzle … and it does a reasonably good job, although there are definitely some Biblical interpretations that seem to be stretched a bit too far, I didn’t see anything that is not actually supported in some form within academia; although it does lean toward a more secular viewpoint and that is probably the only weakness I found (making the author something of an outsider who sometimes gets some viewpoints and nuances wrong).

The book probably has the greatest appeal to nonpartisans who are open to the information presented and willing to evaluate for themselves whether on not the arguments presented make sense. Unfortunately, the author’s personal voice or judgement sometimes undermines some of the material presented, so it is not likely to convince many readers … either that are already on his side and diametrically opposed. Personally I found myself in agreement or neutral that opposed for most of what he had to say.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction (41:00)
Part One: Who Is Republican Jesus (54:48)
Part Two: Where Does Republican Jesus Come From? (48:29)
Chapter 3: A Corporate Assault not he New Deal (51:42)
Chapter 4: Tea and Prosperity in the Age of Trump (1:00:42)
Part Three: What Does Republican Jesus Stand For? (1:05:18)
Chapter 6: Charity (1:00:01)
Chapter 7: Church and State (51:10)
Chapter 8: Protection from Invaders (48:44)
Chapter 9: The End of the World (1:02:42)
Afterword (08:50)

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:

’The Bible tells me so,' isn't a compelling argument for anything. The Bible can't speak for itself. It must be interpreted, and it is in this process of interpretation that modern prejudices are too often granted divine authority.
It is crucial that ancient [scriptures] … be interpreted as products of specific historical circumstances. If they aren’t, they can too easily be used to sanctify hatred toward whoever happens to be the interpreter’s most reviled opponents – toward liberals or conservatives, toward Christians, Jews, or Muslims, or even toward [Harry] Potterheads.

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

#RepublicanJesus #FreeAudiobookCodes

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Thursday, January 11, 2024

Review: Amber

Amber Amber by David Wood
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Performance: ***
Story: ***

A Simple Treasure Hunt Story

An origination series for the Dane Maddock Adventures, which are fun escape adventures good for an airport read.  Here we get a look into the adventures of Dane and Bones as Good Ole Boys/Navy SEALS (and is so totally not believable … so take that for what it’s worth).  This series pretty much follows the same formula found in the original series, so it you likes the first series, you will not be disappointed here either.  It is certainly an entertaining way to explore some of the historical trivia (which was definitely an appeal for me).  The narration was decent, but wasn’t really a break out performance even as it matches the tone of the story as a whole.

In this case … Amber has the team chasing down rumors of the Amber Room with basic information on what it was and what happened to it (and when it disappeared).  The details are pretty basic and the story doesn’t really offer much beyond what a google search might turn up, but that is really just a backdrop for a character driven treasure hunt that is a silly as a National Treasure movie … just sit back and enjoy it.

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

#Amber #DaneMaddockOrigins #FreeAudiobookCodes 

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Sunday, January 7, 2024

Review: Children’s Ministry and the Spiritual Child: Practical, Formation-Focused Ministry

Children’s Ministry and the Spiritual Child: Practical, Formation-Focused Ministry Children’s Ministry and the Spiritual Child: Practical, Formation-Focused Ministry by Robin Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book as a collection of thirteen (13) essays on different aspects of Children’s ministry within the Christian Church. Each chapter has a different author, making the quality of the whole inconsistent while maintaining a very broad over all theme. These essays are organized into four (4) sections that cover a specific sub theme, starting with an introduction of what spirituality looks like for a child and ending with three (3) essays dealing with childhood trauma (ACE), including the impacts and underlying aggravating factions of the abuse of children by clergy and other trusted adults in positions of authority within the Church. Between these are essays on how children are (or can be) interpreted within the faithful community, modeled by the family, along with one essay that deals with race issues that can impact efforts to talk openly with children about the real struggles they encounter within their own life. Most of the essays reinforce what seems like common sense (although I recognize that it is helpful to actually call them out for attention so that they aren’t ignored), with a couple of break out topics that held a few gems and a couple of essays that I felt were much too short to treat the topic well. In addition, for a practical guide, many of the essays where short on practical steps or advise that could actually be implemented.

The chapters and sections in this work are:

Introduction: The Story Continues

Section 1: The Inner Spiritual Life of the Child
1. Begin with Listening
2. From Faith Transmission to Faith Recognition
3. Cultivating Curiosity
4. Kids Today Just Can’t

Section 2: Spiritual Nurture as Family Life
5. Abbotts and Ammas
6. Listening to Children
7. Neighborly Advice

Section 3: Communal Spirituality in Church Life
8. Discerning Congregational Change through a Nonanxious Intergenerational Model
9. Why Spiritual Nature of Young Children Matters
10. (Un)Divided Worship

Section 4: Coming Alongside Children in Challenging Contexts
11. The God of the Child
12. Theology and Abuse
13. Accompanying Children and Teens through loss

Conclusion: Practical Guidelines for Implementing Best Practices in Real-Life Ministry

Some of the other points that really got my attention are:
Children are bombarded with voices that tell them what to think, how to feel, and what to do. So much so that their own inner voices can become dim and unheard.
When you are fully present to the child in front of you, you will change. Their experiences of God will touch your own; you will be invited to stretch the boundaries of what you thought about God, yourself, and others.
In those studies, a child who attends Sunday school four times a month because their parents require them will have the same “religiosity” as a child who attends Sunday school four times a month because they find it meaningful
In Oliver O’Donovan’s book Common Objects of Love,5 he writes that the basic sense of what it means to love something is to give it your attention, which then reinforces the love. He is drawing on the work of Saint Augustine. If I say I love my wife, it means I give her the focus of my attention (the thoughts, affections, and resources of my being). And as I give her the focus of my attention, I am also participating in the act of learning how to love: loving reinforces the act of loving.
Scazzero ponders the neglect of emotional health within Christian thinking on discipleship. It’s not uncommon for churches to have pious, committed Christians with significant Bible knowledge who, sadly, act emotionally immature most of their lives.
Young children are naturally contemplative and simply enjoy God. This sense of wonder and delight manifests in prayers of thanksgiving and praise. Specifically, “the prayer of children up to the age of seven or eight is almost exclusively prayer of thanksgiving and praise.
A George Barna poll showed that “attendance at worship services is, by their admission, generally the only time they think about worshiping God, eight out of ten church goers do not feel they have entered into the presence of God, or experienced a connection with Him, during a worship service—in the past year—only one out of every four churched believers says that when they worship God, they expect Him to be the primary beneficiary of their worship.
Sharing the whole story enables children to see themselves and their stories within God’s story. The Bible has much to say about injustice, abuse, deprivation, and violence. It explores the full range of human emotions: love, joy, peace, and kindness as well as anger, depression, bitterness, and hurt.
However, when considering the spiritual lives and development of children, we cannot ignore the horrific juxtaposition of two truths: the church, which has a deep and continued commitment to the care and well-being of children, has also been an environment that puts children in harm’s way.
Clericalism also motivates religious institutions to prioritize the protection of the status and reputation of the church and religious leaders over the welfare of the child.
The idea of total depravity, which relates closely to the idea of “original sin,” has also influenced the way children think about themselves in relation to God.
When stories of loss are being told, it is the adult’s job to be present and listen but not interfere. We certainly are praying internally and listening to the guidance of the Holy Spirit. In our listening, we will feel the tug to make things better for this little one who is suffering, as if we could. It’s important for us to know that our platitudes and “fix it” phrases—like “God just needed your mama in heaven” or “Aren’t you happy that . . .”—do not help.

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

#ChildrensMinistryandtheSpiritualChild #ChildrensSpiritualitySummit #NetGalley

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Thursday, January 4, 2024

Review: The Undying Kingdom

The Undying Kingdom The Undying Kingdom by Matthew James
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Book: ***
Performance: ****

This story was a solid adventure; one cut above the average for the genre typically found in the airport newsstands to pass the time while traveling. The audible narration was also better than average and made the whole story a lot of fun. The fourth of the series, I started here and I want to go back get the rest … although that is by no means required since it appears that each adventure stand on its own …

Jack, the titular character, teams up with two others in a race to the legendary Shangri-La ahead of a powerful Chinese cabal … and comes face to face with a few other myths along the way. Despite the predictable {feel good) action … it was well done and fun as they followed the clues and dodged the bad guys in a roller coaster ride to paradise.

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

#TheUndyingKingdom #JackReillyAdventures #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.