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

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

View all my reviews

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

View all my reviews

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

View all my reviews

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

View all my reviews

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

View all my reviews

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 

View all my reviews

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

View all my reviews

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

View all my reviews

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.