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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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.