My Favorite Books

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

Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Review: The Mask of Mirrors

The Mask of Mirrors The Mask of Mirrors by M.A. Carrick
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book has made it to my favorites list. The world-building was rich and detailed without any data-dumps that I could identify (pet peeve) ; instead, it was progressively revealed through character interaction (which can be a tad disorienting for some in the beginning until enough has been filled in to provide context for the rest of the story). The world location had a Venetian feel, with the intrigue of a noble court ruling over a conquered city that seems to be in decline. There is an undercurrent of rebellion from the original inhabitants, who seem to be modeled from Gypsy Roma and Traveller clan cultures. Stir in a seedy criminal element amongst the poor and oppressed majority and you have set the stage for all kinds of drama and intrigue. Proper names are a bit of a challenge with letter decorations not often seen in English; while it helps give the story an exotic flavor, it also slows down reading quite a bit and may put some readers off (I am actually not a fan of this technique, but it was close enough that I could skim over most of it and still figure out what it was referencing). I did actually enjoy the constant word play ... with the Vigil (police force), knots (gangs - slipknots are traitors) and pattern decks (tarot). Even the magic system was well thought out and fairly diverse with derivatives of oneiromancy (not my favorite), cartomancy, astromancy and numeromancy/geomancy (eg. Feng Shui) fairly prominent within the story (and not over the top powerful in most cases). Plus 1 star just for the fantastic world that I found here.

The central character (Ren) is a former pick pocket/gang banger just trying to survive along with her sister; and after betraying her capo, her best bet seems to to be a long con targeting the weakest of the noble houses. Now a creature of both worlds (noble and peasant), she proves to be ideally suited for the complex world building the authors do so well. With the gentry, you have the expected power politics. With common folk, you get tribal/social politics. Within each, Ren finds unexpected friends and allies, as she juggles identities like a secret agent. Throw in a mysterious Zorro-like figure and my mind was spinning after each new reveal trying to figure it all out (several time I though I had it ... but I was wrong). With all of the complex plots running through the story, it is amazing that most of them all pulled together in a satisfying finish ... bad guys foiled, good guys live to fight another day (and this is important ... there are a few things left unresolved, but there is not a cliff in sight ... and I still want to read the next book).

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

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Sunday, May 29, 2022

Review: Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization

Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization Evangelizing Catholics: A Mission Manual for the New Evangelization by Scott Hahn
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is the first book by Dr. Hahn that I have read. My first impression was that the book as a tad overly verbose with a dash of judgement in his preaching. In fact, most of the thirty-three (33) or so times he refers to Protestants, he does so in order to contrast what they do or believe with what Catholics should do or believe. The problem here is that there is really very little that is uniformly accepted within the hundreds of Protestant denominations, and his anecdotal experience was so different than mine that I frequently thought that if that is what you were doing as a Protestant, you were doing it wrong (which is of course why there are hundreds of Protestant denominations). Here is the thing … nearly all of these comparisons were not really needed to understand what he was trying to say, so they mostly just get in the way of the message. They also add tacit support to the “Triumphalism” problem he warns about on pg 32 (after all, if the author feels a need to highlight all of the Protestant errors to explain the why, the how and the what of Catholic Evangelization, you can’t be too surprised when others pick up and advance those same judgmental arguments).

This Book is divided into three (3) parts: The Call, The Response and the Message.

Part I – The Call: Understanding the New Evangelization … [The Why]  Dr. Hahn opens with three (3) vignettes that illustrate what “New” Evangelization is. Except they don’t … or at least they miss out on any need for continual evangelization. The stories are told from the perspective of the person being evangelized up to the point where they are converted or “reconverted” (aka returned to the faith) and then it ends. This is exactly what he states is the error with Protestant evangelization … “getting him to confess his faith in Christ, and then moving on to the next unbeliever.” The primary focus is on the “big” event and not on the ups and downs that we all encounter in our faith and how we as a Church community need to continually evangelize ourselves so that we don’t fall away to begin with. Dr. Hahn dances around this theme of “New Evangelization is the work of the whole Church,” comparing it to a maturing love affair, before he tacks back to targeting “those who’ve been inadequately catechized” as if that is the primary cause behind the exodus of the faithful from the Church (which he accurately describes as a crisis). Dr. Hahn then goes into a quick primer on the Church’s efforts to stem the tide, all of which ultimately fail (how else can you describe it when “the faith had all but collapsed in Europe” by 1983). Once again, Dr. Hahn tries to pin this failure upon inadequate teaching and preaching within the Church, noting that “the quality of homilies needs to be improved.” Once again the root cause analysis here is flawed. Apply just a little Organizational Behavior 101 here and you immediately see why the top down approach will always fail (because all we are doing is bringing the horse to water).

Part II – The Response: Models and Methods for the New Evangelization … [The How] Dr. Hahn begins this section with five (5) lessons from the original Evangelists: Proclaiming Person, Word & Deed, Church, Covenant and Sacraments ... none of which is surprising or really new.  Then he meanders into some historical comparisons between pagan life and christian life that doesn't seem very well supported and generally comes across as propaganda.  He regains some of his stride when he starts talking about families being “faithful domestic churches” with at least seven (7) things necessary for success which can be summed up as follows: be faithful, witness, pray, participate, do good, obey, be hopeful ... nothing new or really that inspiring here. Now take the domestic [evangelical] family and expand that into a community. Dr. Hahn makes an observation here that what draws people to the Church in not something abstract, but seeing the way we live our faith (witness). IOW, we are called to be the example of a faith filled family and/or community that offers them something that they don’t currently have; to fill a need ... To be that person or group that people want to be around. Dr. Hahn then identifies four (4) specific areas that should be included in evangelization efforts: campuses, [social] media, retreats, and communities (aka lay movements).  Again ... all pretty obvious IMHO. 

Part III – The Message: The Content of the New Evangelization …  [The What]  Dr. Hahn starts off with the basic message (e.g. Christian elevator speech):
   1. God loves you
   2. We have sinned
   3. Christ died for our sins and was raised from the dead
   4. We respond to those gifts by faith

Meh … not sure I agree that is the base message (I would normally split #3 and drop #4), but I can work with it; the keystone to understanding the message is how we view sin.  Once again Dr. Hahn feels a need to compare Catholic understanding and Protestant understanding and I am pretty sure he gets it wrong. Regardless, he does make an interesting connection between disorder and concupiscence that is helpful in understanding some of the theology behind how the Catholic Church approaches moral laws. “Concupiscence refers to our human appetites or desires, which remain disordered due to the temporal consequences of original sin.” An exploration of Atonement follows with a theoretical discussion of four (4) models for how Christ on the Cross atones for our sins (and why they prove inadequate): Economic, Juridical, Battle, Sacrifice … At this point, Dr. Hahn brings back the concept of convent to explain the “representative” (from Christ’s perspective) and “participatory” (from our perspective) of a covenantal family. Dr. Hahn then takes a brief segue into model families: trustee (socialist), domestic (bonded) and atomistic (individualist) … while somewhat helpful in trying to explain the concept of God’s family, I am not sure I can agree with the foundational assumptions here … especially the presumption that the individualism of atomistic families leads to the collapse of civilizations. He then goes into various “more than” tropes trying to tie it all together with the Mass and the Sacraments. He then closes with what is arguably the “Real” message … an imitation of Christ through love and fidelity. 

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Thursday, May 26, 2022

Review: Genesis of War

Genesis of War Genesis of War by R.T. Cole
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This a a solid [plot driven] read with an interesting spread of characters and good world building. The story opens with treachery in the “West” as the [nearly immortal] son of a vanquished sorcerer makes his move to claim the throne. This sets into motion the King of the East and his three scion (Thasus, Andemar and Rudimere) as they maneuver to secure allies in the North and South, knowing that they are next on the hit parade. Although we do see some character drama, there really isn’t much development for any of the MCs. And while there are a few twists and turns along the way, the story pretty much unfolds predictably. In this first book, we really only see the West and some of the North (and its perpetual winter and feuding Lords). Presumable we will see the South in the next installment. Magic within the world is attributed to “Sages” and as a result of past abuse are not well looked upon. The appendix in the back gives a good summary, but it was not hard to figure it out in the story from the context … and so we have Illusionists, Foreseers, Evolutionaries and Sorcerers. I really liked the author’s take on this. And while the writing isn’t likely to knock you socks off, the author did manage to avoid most of the mistakes that drive me up a wall to the point where I start taking away stars … so I am rounded up to 4 here (and reading the sequel on kindle unlimited).

The series is available on KindleUnlimited. I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

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Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Review: The Fallen

The Fallen The Fallen by Ada Hoffmann
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I read the first book The Outside as part of the Goodreads Sci/Fi group selection for Oct 2019 and a general Lovecraftian horror connection. Fallen is the second of the series and picks up right where the first book ends with the same cast of characters ... and is really just a continuation of the original story. As much as I was completely fascinated by the world building in the first book, this book doesn't add anything new ... You have AI Gods that pretty much usurp the roles of traditional deities (complete with a brutal machiavellian oversight of humanity through cruel cyborg "Angels") that highlights standard tropes and criticisms of religion in general. Then you have the reluctant rebels just trying to survive after the chaos of the "Outside" collides with the planet on which they reside. I found all of this pretty interesting ... in the first book ... and we do get a little more information on some of this, but not much. The first half of this book doesn't appear to go anywhere and it took me several weeks to push through it ... it picks up for the second half though and I cranked through that in just a few days. Still ... I am not exactly sure what if anything was actually resolved plot wise and that is a serious shortcoming for this sequel (so it loses a star).

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

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Sunday, May 22, 2022

Review: A Godly Humanism: Clarifying the Hope That Lies Within

A Godly Humanism: Clarifying the Hope That Lies Within A Godly Humanism: Clarifying the Hope That Lies Within by Francis George
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The preface makes it clear that this is a series of essays (30-45 mins ea.) meant for reflection and not for apologetic discourse and theology/philosophy.  While they contain a unifying theme and is directly targets to a relatively small audience of Catholic Intellectuals, it is useful for reflection by the laity as well.  In general, these essays identify a tension between modern secular culture, grounded in rational/intellectual ideals and the traditional culture of the church grounded in faith/spirituality.  These essay attempt to argue for the necessity of a synthesis between the two … without surrendering the putative authority of the magisterium … by appealing to the belief that [American] culture sees religion as the basis for communicating a moral code that tells us how to what we should  do [as well as what we should think] that us a way to behave within society.  All of this appears to be used as a foundation for essay 7 and the rehabilitation of Vatican II as a means to renew the mission of the Church to change the world by renewing/reforming the Church to be able to “talk to everyone” aka ecumenism.  There is an interesting caveat here that highlight the danger of the Church losing its identify if it abandons its intellectual roots to become absorbed into service where there is no call for conversion (the primary mission of the Church).  The last essay continue the rehabilitation effort for recent Popes attempting to preserve their moral authority and leadership.

Over all these was an interesting series if lacking in much depth; however, in view of the stated goal in the preface, it accomplished what it sets out to do, so I am inclined to give due credit with respect to how it rates against other works in the genre even as the preferred audience remains fairly restrictive (I doubt it would hold much interest for those outside the Catholic Church).

Preface and Retrospective
Chapter 1 - Saints in Catholic Intellectual Life
Chapter 2 - An Integrate Life
Chapter 3 - How God Thinks
Chapter 4 - A Christian Intellectual in a Post Christian Society
Chapter 5 - A Christian Intellectual and the Moral Life
Chapter 6 - Education that Integrates Culture and Religion
Chapter 7 - Integrating the Second Vatican Council
Chapter 8 - Recent Popes and the Renewal of Catholic Intellectual Life

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

#AGodlyHumanism #AudibookFree 

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Thursday, May 19, 2022

Review: The Lost Samurai: Japanese Mercenaries in South East Asia, 1593-1688

The Lost Samurai: Japanese Mercenaries in South East Asia, 1593-1688 The Lost Samurai: Japanese Mercenaries in South East Asia, 1593-1688 by Stephen Turnbull
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have always been something of a history buff, so what I see a story about something I didn't know about before, you definitely have my interest. The Lost Samurai certainty fits that bill. The history covers Japanese mercenaries of the 16th and 17th centuries operating outside of Japan proper. In my mind, I was thinking more along the lines the a Varangian Guard scenario ... which it was not (except maybe in Siam). The author plays a little with the terms, so it was actually quite a stretch to label these "Wild Geese" as Samurai elites, but the author does explain why in the first Chapter ... "Its lead title - The Lost Samurai - an obvious play on the name of a well-known film, but together with the subtitle it introduces three expressions which need to be clarified at this stage. They are the use of 'samurai' to identify Japanese fighting men, 'mercenary' for conditions of service and 'south-east Asia' for their area of operation." In other words, not just elite warriors. What followed was some history detailing how the "Samurai" class came to ... and a lot more history about the [Spanish, Portuguese and Dutch] colonial power machinations and interests in the region and how Japanese expats were recruited and used to further those goals. I was particularly interested in how Christianity played a part (specifically the Christians of Nagasaki and the conflict between Catholics and Protestant powers and Japanese response to it all). While this was not a fun as I was hoping for, it was a good historical review of a time and region that doesn't get much attention in the West.

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

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Tuesday, May 17, 2022

Review: Colonyside

Colonyside Colonyside by Michael Mammay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This the third book of a series (Planetside and Spaceside). I got the first as an audiobook and the second as an ebook from my local library. I recommend reading these in order. I really enjoyed the performance of the audiobook, so go that route if you can.

The book is really more a mystery/noir-detective story, with most of the Sci-Fi taking a back seat (supporting role) to what is primarily a character driven plot. The world building is interesting and solid ... and so natural it is easy to miss; I think anyone with military experience would feel right at home with most of it (I was). There is a fair amount of grit in these stories, and any humor you can find trends dark (as would be expected); but the humor is there ... and it will grudgingly pull out a chuckle now and again for any who appreciates such.

It has been said that no plan survives first contact with the enemy ... and that really is the key to all of these stories. In this case, Col. Bulter (aka Detective Columbo in my head) is the agent of chaos that plays all kinds of Holy He!! on the careful plans of [politically] powerful bad guys. It takes real skill to create such unique POVs that are still relatable to the reader. Equally amazing is the fact that nearly everybody is reasonably competent and stays in their lane during the entire story. Everybody is hiding something and nobody is pure good/bad. What is even more interesting is that you get a glimpse at how the fall out negatively impacts the good guys (and to me was totally realistic). Bottomline ... this series made it to my favorites shelf.

"The last time you knew what I was going to tell you before I told you, we were in deep $#!+. Please tell me this is different." -- Ganos

I was given this free advance reader copy (ARC) ebook at my request and have voluntarily left this review.
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Sunday, May 15, 2022

Review: Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis

Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis Biblical Reasoning: Christological and Trinitarian Rules for Exegesis by R B Jamieson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Over the past several years I have read a lot of books that attempt to explain the Christian concept of the Trinity and without fail I always ended up more confused about the idea at the end of the book than when I started … except with this book. Although the authors target the book at biblical scholars and theologians (the respective specialties of the authors), the material is presented in a highly organized and pedagogical process that will keep even casual readers engaged with good comprehension of the concepts. Perhaps what makes this book so exception is that the primary goal is not to explain the Trinity, but to provide the reader with a series of principles and rules with which to approach biblical study in order to understand what scripture is actually telling us … and then by way of example, applies these principles and rules to one of the most difficult mysteries to understanding in christianity … the Trinity. Because of that, it takes great pains to ensure that you know exactly what the underlying terms means (such as Begetting, Spiration, Procession, Mode, et al) before using them. Definitions and examples are probably the elements most often missing in the previous books I have read and it makes a huge difference in comprehension.

The first three chapters of the book lay the foundation of the methods that will be used to form what the authors refer to as a biblical reasoning tool-kit that ultimately should be used in all biblical exegesis. These rules are further refined in the next five (5) chapters following a four (4) part structure: “biblical pressure, theological grammar, [identifying/defining common] rules, and exegetical application of the rule(s).” The last chapter (10) applies everything we have just been taught to a single passage from the Gospel of John (5:17-30) and how that passage reveals the trinitarian mystery. In the end … the Trinity and the Incarnation are probably too enigmatic to understanding completely, but with this book, at least I feel that I am making progress and that I now have the tools necessary to continue my search for even greater understanding.

Chapter 1 - Seek His Face Always
Chapter 2 - The School of Christ
Chapter 3 - The Curriculum of Christ
Chapter 4 - Worthy Are You
Chapter 5 - The Lord Is One
Chapter 6 - Varieties of Activities but the Same God
Chapter 7 - One and the Same The Unity of Christ and the Communications of Idioms
Chapter 8 - Greater Than Himself and Less Than Himself
Chapter 9 - God from God
Chapter 10 - Putting the Rule-Kit to Work

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

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Thursday, May 12, 2022

Review: The Story of China: The Epic History of a World Power from the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream

The Story of China: The Epic History of a World Power from the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream The Story of China: The Epic History of a World Power from the Middle Kingdom to Mao and the China Dream by Michael Wood
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Chinese history in not something that is studied with any depth here in the west. As a casual student of history, I have frequently attempted to do this on my own with mixed results. Most of the books that I have read are structured a lot like the history text books from which we learn our own history ... basically a list of dates, events and people on a timeline to memorize. Rarely do we see any attempt to explain the impact of these events on the social consciousness of the society in which they happen. This book not only provides an accessible survey of Chinese history, it compares and contrasts the social difference as well as presenting a reasonable hypothesis for why East and West have such divergent approaches to governance. Key to this examination are the references to contemporary western (greek/roman) philosophers and historians. From this I believe that I have a better understanding of the importance of conformity within eastern cultures, and how such could fall under the influence of such "Machiavellian" thought found within "The Book of Lord Shang." (Loc 1088/12%).

As expected given the time periods covered, this is a huge book packed with a great deal of information; some more interesting to me and some less so. I found myself skimming over a lot of the literary references in part because I had a hard time understanding how they reinforced or supported some of the authors points on Chinese culture. That still left a lot of material to slog through. The book is organized by dynasties (Xia, Shang, Zhou, Qin, Han, Tang, Song, Yuan, Ming, Qing) and interregnums (Warring States, Three Kingdoms, Five Dynasties, Taiping & Boxer Rebellions, etc.), highlighting the cultural contributions (and continuity) of each as well as the reasons for decline and inevitable fall (loss of the Mandate of Heaven). What I found most interesting was the intersection of the Confucian ideal of the sage-ruler and the evolution of rather autocratic rulers (almost as if they knew they didn't have what was needed and through increasing paranoia harshly suppressed any criticism). Criticism and/or failure of any kind seems detrimental to life (not just your own, but your entire family to the 9th degree). This all has something of a discordant feel to people raised within a modern western culture (aka me). For pivotal events ... such as Mao's revolution ... the author tries to show multiple viewpoints (from traditional history to how it played in the rural areas with the common man).

Over all I found this book to be significantly helpful in understanding the differences between the east and west world views and I highly recommend it.

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

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Tuesday, May 10, 2022

Review: Resistor

Resistor Resistor by C.E. Clayton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Type of Ending ... "To Be Continued and Bittersweet Ending"

Okay ... so I started with the ending because I really don't like this type of ending and frequently will dock a book up to a full star on the ratings depending on how unfinished the story feels at that point. In this case, there was some resolution on the main character's redemption arc, but most of the major plot conflicts were left hanging. This is the ONLY reason this story doesn't get five (5) stars.

This is a science-fantasy story that blends technology with magic and seems to be part of a growing trend that I really enjoy. To be fair, it mostly comes down on the magic side for this book with what appears to be more tech coming up in the sequel. With this in mind, I really enjoyed the world building here (and I was completely impressed with the pronunciation guide in the FRONT of the book). Not quite dystopian, the story does take place within the seedy underbelly of society (aka organized crime) and was told from the POV of an anti-hero (which again seems to be all the rage these days).

What truly sets this book apart though is the character driven story where I had no trouble identifying with most of the characters AND all of the characters had a unique voice. The cast of characters are all dealing with loyalty, love, vengeance and forgiveness and the author gives you a front row seat to watch the struggle without any over the top drama. Ultimately I think that is why the "hero's journey" of the main character worked so well for me ... and I am absolutely invested in what comes next for her.

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

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Sunday, May 8, 2022

Review: Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard

Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard Seeking God: Finding Another Kind of Life with St. Ignatius and Dallas Willard by Trevor Hudson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A practical guide to finding and living the [zoe] life that God wants for us. What we find within are the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius of Loyola (founder of the Jesuits) as they are applied by Trevor Hudson (a protestant minister) who learned them from Fr Andrew Norton (an Anglican Monk) and mapped them to every day living with the help of American philosopher Dallas Willard. Truly a fascinating mix.

The book opens with an introduction to the two “Seekers” (Ignatius and Willard) that will illustrate what we should seek and how to seek it. Each chapter ends with an example prayer and notations. For chapters with practical applications details for the reader, there is also specific “Seeking Exercises” to put the concept into practice and to develop the appropriate habits. In my opinion, it was these exercises that made this work exceptional.

For the most part, I doubt any believer who has answered the call to discipleship will find much that is new in the basic admonition to repent (although there is a brief examination of the term linking the concept to a change in direction in chapter 3), how to properly align/order our deepest desires (Chapters 4 and 6) and how to be “God’s compassionate image bearer” within a fallen world (chapters 7 and 8); however, the author’s analysis and use of personal experience resonated with me more than many of the many inspirational and devotional works that I have encountered in the recent past. In addition, chapter 5 presented a new way (for me) of looking at “The Gospel Way of Discipleship” divided into three elements: “The Way of Information”, “The Way of Inspiration” and “The Way of Interaction.”

Chapter 1:  Becoming a Seeker
Chapter 2:  Seeking the Life God Gives
Chapter 3:  Changing Direction
Chapter 4:  Discerning Our Deepest Desires
Chapter 5:  Exploring Life’s Greatest Opportunity
Chapter 6:  Dying to Live
Chapter 7:  Experiencing Resurrection Joy
Chapter 8:  Finding God in All Things

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

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Thursday, May 5, 2022

Review: The Salvage Crew

The Salvage Crew The Salvage Crew by Yudhanjaya Wijeratne
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Narration was very good.

This story is told from the POV of the post-human AI Overseer and was written in similar fashion to "We Are Legion (We Are Bob)" which is a series that I very much enjoyed because of the first person POV and the somewhat irreverent humor (although you do get a POC change toward the end of the story). The voice of Nathan Fillion was pretty good here to get the tone of that humor; however, it was a little difficult to catch some of the POV/voice changes. The basic concept here is that some the first wave of interstellar colonists failed, so eventually 'salvage crews' are sent into to recover the valuable tech (not sure why that is more economical than just building more ... be hey, I can forgive a few such things). So the scene is set ... a lost colony and a small, private salvage crew of 3 meat puppets and a ghost in a shell. Unfortunately for the hapless salvage crew, somebody got there first and they don't seem overly friendly (or sane) ... And then it all goes pear shaped.

There is a lot of Sci-Fi tech described in this story ... and from my perspective, it was pretty solid (at least more so than most ... I would put it up against Expanse here); and I really enjoyed that aspect. That is until it goes weird when we get the machines talking to each other and it is harder to pay attention. This is really a solid 3.5 star story; but it hit all of the things I like, so I am rounding up.

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

This story is also available on Kindle Unlimited.

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Tuesday, May 3, 2022

Review: The Jasmine Throne

The Jasmine Throne The Jasmine Throne by Tasha Suri
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The story is set in the cultural milieu of the Indian subcontinent and the author Suri does a very good job finding the balance between elements that would be familiar to western readers and the foreign/exotic details that make the world unique and compelling. One advantage of reading on a Kindle app is that I can quickly look up existing terms if needed. The principal conflict comes from a typical conqueror/conquered dynamic, where the cruelty and oppression of the ruling emperor and his sycophants feeds an undercurrent of sedition and rebellion. There are also elements of social strata conflict and gender [role] bias that play an important role in the story. The magic system is a hybrid religious and [nature] spiritual/supernatural format with a nominal Hindu feel, where certain rituals [bathing in sacred waters] and physical matrices [sacred wood] can generate, hold and distribute “gifts” (aka magic). There is a hint of desperation in the mix from a mysterious pandemic (aka ‘the rot’) that helps develop very sympathetic main characters. The two protagonists begin in different social strata with a shared antagonist (the Emperor) that helps to push the two together until they can develop a much deeper/emotional/somewhat romantic relationship … and here I think the author does a fantastic job with the slow burn that doesn’t overwhelm the story. Realistic and complicated family dynamics add even more to the over all drama. While the ending does set the stage for the sequel (which I am looking forward to reading), it is was a solid enough conclusion that the book can stand alone.

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

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Sunday, May 1, 2022

Review: Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament: The Evidence for Early Composition

Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament: The Evidence for Early Composition Rethinking the Dates of the New Testament: The Evidence for Early Composition by Jonathan Bernier
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This an accessible academic book that builds on the previous work of John Robinson in “Redating the New Testament” as a quasi spiritual successor. As such it pretty much treads the same ideas, with slightly different analysis and opinion on the arguments presented for both an earlier and a later compositional date assignment (as well as a providing a benchmark of a nominal middle ground for comparison). For the most part, it doesn’t move the earlier dates much, but it does answer some of the criticisms advanced against the low chronology, as well as addressing some of the arguments for the later dating. The basic premises is that many of the arguments against are in fact inconclusive (aka non-probative) at best; however, the arguments for the earlier dates typically rest on a more likely than not (for best fit) analysis, so clearly there is room for disagreement. What I found most edifying though was the interconnectedness of all the scriptures that pretty much required everything to move as a block (as everyone more or less agreed on the sequence). I also found his analysis to be clear and persuasive, with a common organization to each group of text that was examined and would be very interested in any counter arguments that are likely on the horizon.

The method of analysis detailed is the Introduction and it is well worth the read so that you understand the approach undertaken. In each chapter, there is a section on synchronization or how the text under consideration is related to other text. The next section is typically contextualization where the author attempts to place the text within the appropriate time periods that make the most sense, while still recognizing that other time periods may not be completely foreclosed by the challenges identified. The next step is to examine what is known of the presumed author, with particular attention to when and where they were active at the proposed time. In the interest of identifying fallacious argumentation (both in previous arguments and in the current analysis), several other data points (or evidentiary scope) are examined; the most common fallacy identified appeared to be an argument from Silence (or the absence of evidence presuming the negation of it). In all, this was a strong book to read if you wish to understand what was happening within the early church, even if you do not agree with the earlier dates proposed; it is for that reason I highly recommend this book.

Part 1 - The Synoptic Gospels and Acts
- Chapter 1: Synchronization
- Chapter 2 - Contextualization and Authorial Biography
Part 2 - The Johannine Tradition
- Chapter 3 - The Gospel of John
- Chapter 4 - The Epistles of John and Revelation
Part 3 - The Pauline Corpus
- Chapter 5 - Critical Matters in Dating the Pauline Corpus
- Chapter 6 - The Compositional Dates of the Pauline Corpus
Part 4 - Hebrews and the Letters of James, Peter and Jude
- Chapter 7 - Hebrews and James
- Chapter 8 - 1 and 2 Peter and Jude
Part 5 - Early Extracanonical Writings
- Chapter 9 - 1 Clement and the Didache
- Chapter 10 - The Epistle of Barnabas and the Shepard of Hermas

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

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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.