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

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Review: The Book of Lilith

The Book of Lilith The Book of Lilith by Robert G. Brown
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This story is a fantastical retelling of the mythic origins of man (and woman) told from a moderately feminist point of view with a fair amount of eastern philosophy mixed in. It begins with the presumption that Lilith was actually the first human soul and that through her love for others, God granted souls to all living things ... Including Adam, the first man. As the story unfolds, the author introduces from very interesting concepts about why we were created, what the soul does for us and how we have the [flawed] moral rules that guide us today. We also find a more rational explanation of man's ejection from the Garden of Eden and a new perspective of the story of Cain.

Unfortunately I thought that rational treatment took away from the mythic quality of the story in general and could not avoid the feeling that I was reading a fancy textbook in school. To be fair, I did learn quite a bit from the story and did enjoy it from that point of view; however, the story seemed to lack several of the critical elements of an entertaining page turner. Part of the problem for me might have been the graphic [sexual] nature of several parts of the story and the subsequent clinical treatment of the subject within. While such content is actually fairly common in ancient text, it is not part of the genre that I typically read for entertainment, making it difficult for me to truly enjoy the book.

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Tuesday, September 27, 2022

Review: Slaughterhouse-Five

Slaughterhouse-Five Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Okay ... I am not a big fan of the fractured narrative style (jumping back and forth through time). That said … Vonnegut pulls it off better than most. I can't really say that I enjoyed it that much; however, it has been awhile since I have encountered the supporting pseudo-stream of consciousness writing style and I found it mildly entertaining … Vonnegut’s sardonic humor helped immensely here.

Of the story itself … the book is characterized as an anti-war book; however, I felt it had more of an amoral tone then anything (with the possible exception being his discussion with his sons concerning massacres). That is, it was more of an eye witness report then a heart felt condemnation, leaving the reader free to impose whatever moral framework desired so long as the factual events were not dismissed. In that respect, I found myself draw into the story with a rubbernecker’s morbid sense of curiosity where it was safe to look because I was not actually involved. This was where the fractured narrative style really helped; it allowed the reader to explore events that were obviously tragic without overwhelming the reader with an extended emotional response … Vonnegut would just barely touch the ‘dark-side’ before zooming away toward lighter faire.

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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Review: 48 Laws of Spiritual Power: Uncommon Wisdom for Greater Ministry Impact

48 Laws of Spiritual Power: Uncommon Wisdom for Greater Ministry Impact 48 Laws of Spiritual Power: Uncommon Wisdom for Greater Ministry Impact by Frank Viola
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book was targeted primarily to "those who regularly preach or teach God’s Word" … which the author immediately expands to include all the faithful “because every true disciple of Jesus is called to be a servant - a minister - in some capacity.”

Thus all of these “Laws,” or Rules, are designed to super charge your ministry by ultimately strengthening your relationship with the God and allow Him to do the heavy lifting … basically it repeats what virtually every spiritual self help books says … you can do nothing on your own.

Each Law is introduced with a clear title that summarizes the concept, then specific examples of the issues along with practical steps to identify the issues in your own ministry and/or how to correct them when you find them. Most of these are fairly common and even intuitive … but many are still difficult to put into practice. That is where this book shines … and while I don’t necessarily agree with everything here; I have no doubt that these Laws can provide an effective foundation for my own ministry.

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

#48LawsofSpiritualPower #NetGalley

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Thursday, September 22, 2022

Review: Starship's Mage: Omnibus

Starship's Mage: Omnibus Starship's Mage: Omnibus by Glynn Stewart
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I picked this up through kindle unlimited and I freely admit to inflating my rating on this series because it was just so much fun to read (and is a step up from the typically stuff you get on kindle unlimited). I basically binged this series over about 1 weeks time.

I like Hard Sci-Fi
I like Fantasy

This series gives you both. All of the SciFi stuff that typically gets a tech hand wave as being so advanced it appears to be magic (I am looking at you FTL and Antigrav devices) actually IS magic ... and it is awesome. IMHO the author does an amazing job blending these two elements into his stories and I simply love the world building (plus 1 star for something I have only seen in more of a steam punk genre instead of SciFi).

The stories are more of the cookie cutter, classic hero's tale that simply makes you feel good when you finish it. The good guys are very good (and relatable and easy to like/identify with). The bad guys are actually reasonable intelligent and provide a decent foil for the protagonist with enough humor to make it a fun afternoon read (you get another star there). It is never going to be a classic ... but it will be one of the few stories that I plan to re-read.

I so wanna be a "Starship's Mage" now!!!

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Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Review: The Colour of Magic

The Colour of Magic The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy ... only for Fantasy. The two main, hapless characters lurch from scene to scene (or storyline to storyline) in what might be considered a classic epic ... If the scenes actually had anything in common other then the main characters. Along the way, Prachett humorously substitutes magic for science, frequently with the intent to play with our perceptions and fantasy stereotypes, while we explore the Disk World in his first novel of the series. It was high entertainment, despite the rough transitions between what could arguably be 4 smaller stories within the book ... And it boasts a cliff-hanger ending that was rather annoying for somebody who likes each book to stand on their own as much as possible (at least have some closure to the plot). About the only thing I took away from the book was a rather interesting treatment of dragons ... Otherwise it seemed to be primarily a spoof on existing fantasy conventions, albeit done very well with obvious talent ... Along the lines of the Myth Series by Robert Asprin, although he started better and lost his way where Prachett is rumored to have gotten much better with his later books.

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Sunday, September 18, 2022

Review: Preaching to a Divided Nation: A Seven-Step Model for Promoting Reconciliation and Unity

Preaching to a Divided Nation: A Seven-Step Model for Promoting Reconciliation and Unity Preaching to a Divided Nation: A Seven-Step Model for Promoting Reconciliation and Unity by Matthew D. Kim
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

It seems that everywhere I go these days, I see a sharply divided [American] society; which is why I was very curious about a book designed to address this division (or at least how to preach to both sides). Most of what I found was fairly intuitive and somewhat generic vs something with more practical application. It beings with a focus on the reconciling mission of God through the incarnation of His son as found in the Scriptures. I doubt anybody would take an exceptions with this as it is pretty much the foundation of Christianity proper. Then we move into how we as a society classify and categorize our relationships and why that is so dangerous for Christian community (aka the four ‘isms). Again … interesting by not terribly controversial (or useful) … especially without any specific advice on how to get folks to actually acknowledge that they are actually doing that in an atmosphere that takes offense at any such suggestion (there are some example sermons in the appendix that are somewhat more helpful though). 

What you do get is an expanded version of learning tact … aka multiple intelligences that helps the preacher understand the audience … in other words, avoid conflict and develop empathy/humility. To be fair … each chapter does offer specific Questions for Reflect and Practical Next Steps that should help you do just that, but not specific examples of how to harness this toward a specific goal (so it remains generic enough to avoid triggering your audience but not how to change them). I guess that is not a huge surprise, given that Chapter 4 is all about not being concerned with results … that is the job of the Holy Spirit … the preacher is just the messenger. While I generally agree with that sentiment, there are problems with this approach … namely that it makes it easy to avoid the introspection needed to understand what went wrong and how to adapt or grow the gifts of the Holy Spirit used. Instead the focus here is on self-development … which is important, but more is needed …

Over all … the book can be summarized by telling us to look up [to God] for inspiration, look inside [yourself] to align with God’s mission, look outside to connect with the community before delivering your message of change/love. Then stand by for heavy rolls and don’t get discouraged … which pretty much seems like common sense to me?

- Chapter 1. The Theological Steps:The Sons of Pride and Prejudice
- Chapter 2. The Contextual Step: America’s Past and Present
- Chapter 3. The Personal Step: Facing Our Sin and Acknowledging Our Prejudices
- Chapter 4. The Positional Step: We Are Heralds, Not Heart-Changers
- Chapter 5. The Methodological Step: A Homiletic for Reconciliation and Unity
- Chapter 6. The Practical Step: Pre-Sermon, Mid-Sermon, and Post-Sermon Practices
- Chapter 7. The Categorical Step: Biblical Themes and Texts
Appendix A: Reflections on Critical Race Theory
Appendix B: Sample Homiletical Integrity Convenant
Appendix C: Essential and Nonessential Doctrines, and Gospel Implications
Appendix D: Sample Muti-church Prayer and Unity Service
Appendix E: Ministries Pursuing Reconciliation and Unity
Appendix F: Further Reading
Appendix G: Sample Sermons (on)
-> Classism
-> Ethnocentrism
-> Political Division
-> Reconciliation
-> Sexism
-> Unity

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

#PreachingtoaDividedNation #NetGalley

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Thursday, September 15, 2022

Review: The Gunslinger

The Gunslinger The Gunslinger by Stephen King
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This review has been a LONG time coming. The book was really hard to peg correctly. On one hand, it reads like an American Western … on the other hand, it makes a REALLY bad Western. On one hand it reads like an epic fantasy … a really BAD epic fantasy. On one hand it is a post-apocalyptic story … one that remains mysterious and unexplained. There are also some minor elements from Mr. Kings side of the tracks (horror) … and of course, I have seen better from him on that score as well (and I am not exactly a King fan). You get the picture. What it does is set up the world in which the remaining novels are set … and it presents enough of an interesting story to draw you into the sequels, which are reportedly a little better.

The book comes across more like a series of short stories (which count against it in my book as I don’t typically like short stories). Not surprisingly, I discovered after the fact that was actually what it was originally published as (so the feel bleeds through). Basically we follow the gunslinger who pursues the man in black through a wasted land. Along the way, we have several different encounters that fill-in a little more about what the world was like in the past and why the man in black is the bad guy (although I believe more needs to be said as even in the end, I couldn’t be sure who really was the bad guy … so harsh was the world from which the gunslinger comes). Finally at the end, we have what appears to be some resolution between the two antagonists, but the outcome doesn’t really make any sense and leaves the ending more undefined then anything else.

I will give the next story a try … but if they story doesn’t improve from here, I am done with the series.

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Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Review: The Flame Seer

The Flame Seer The Flame Seer by Austen Rodgers
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Narration: Was very good and enjoyable.

Story: An interesting take on the celestial war (angels vs demons) that weaves in a few parts of near east mythology. The basic plot starts with a powerful demonic spell going awry that sets up a traditional fugitive trope. The world building includes a multi-dimensional/world aspect that roughly seems to line up with heaven, earth and hell. Stir in a pinch of techno-magic and power stones (aka crystals) and it starts to resemble a familiar superhero story (with more personal drama that I care for). perhaps the biggest issue I have would be how it uses the soul; I can't figure out if it is really anything other that a plot device since it doesn't seem to do anything other than identify what world you are aligned to (it certainly doesn't seem to effect any concept of self). That said, in the end, nothing really stands out; it was a good story that was light enough to be fun with characters that appeared fairly simple and predictable. I think the narration from the audiobook does make it more entertaining and enjoyable, but if you have Kindle unlimited, you pick it up there too.

This book is currently available on Kindle Unlimited.
I was given this free audiobook review copy (ARC) at my request and have voluntarily left this review.

#AudiobookBoom #TheFlameSeer

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Sunday, September 11, 2022

Review: The Cross-Shaped Life: Taking on Christ's Humanity

The Cross-Shaped Life: Taking on Christ's Humanity The Cross-Shaped Life: Taking on Christ's Humanity by Jeff Kennon
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I was very curious about the author’s take on what is arguably the central concept of Christianity … to live like Christ.  There really is nothing terribly new here; however, the author does provide a highly accessible treatment of the subject that is useful for instruction and meditation on the Christian Life … why was the cross necessary and significant is covered in the first half; although we don’t get much in the way of how the cross actually calls us [Christians] to live Christ’s example [and how to do so] until the second half … with a fair amount of repetitive thought and discourse along the way.  Ultimately we get the idea that “Sacrifice” is “at the core of the cross” … meaning that we are called to walk a path of sacrifice in service to others … this probably won’t come of much of a surprise for most [devout] Christians; however, it does provide an opportunity to review how well we do it … and where we fall short and need correction.

Chapter 1: Our Roots
Chapter 2: Our Ruin
Chapter 3: Our Rescue
Chapter 4: Our Restoration
Chapter 5: Humility: A Life in Perspective
Chapter 6: Service: A Life Focused on Others
Chapter 7: Obedience: A Life of Depth
Chapter 8: Sacrifice: A Life under the Cross

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

#TheCrossShapedLife #NetGalley.

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Thursday, September 8, 2022

Review: Blackthorn

Blackthorn Blackthorn by Nate Johnson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Narration was pretty awesome ... 4*

The story was a short and fairly stock ... with the expected happy ending. 3*

The opening scene starts with a distress call in space and with a navy "beacon" tender coming to the rescue (a fairly obvious overlay of a USCG bouy tender crew). The details on how the naval vessel and crew operate are completely authentic ... in fact, that is part of the problem. There are some things that just don't translate well from a sea going organization to a space organization ... because they just don't make sense (and because of that just make the story awkward).

After that setup, we get the standard chase scenes ... the hero and the girl running through the streets trying to survive the guantlet of bad guys trying to prevent them from exposing evil. For the most part, this is a tried and true story arc ... and should have been better than it was if the author didn't keep tossing in comments like ladies going first so that guy can enjoy the view. I'll give you the first one free ... but I don't care to see it come up again ... and again. It gets in the way of a good girl meets boy story when the boy acts like an idiot.

The author dedicated his story "to the Twenty-Three men who lost their lives aboard the USCGC Blackthorn 1/23/81." --Semper Par

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

#feeaudiobookcodes #audiobookboom

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Tuesday, September 6, 2022

Review: Lord of the Fire Lands

Lord of the Fire Lands Lord of the Fire Lands by Dave Duncan
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Narration: Passable

This story was billed as a stand-alone part of a larger series and it seems like it lives up to that promise (which is good, because I have not read any of the other books). The Norse World Building was actually pretty decent; how it was done much less so ... To start with, there was a crap ton of talking and very little action in the beginning (Elevating the art of Info Dumping to a ridiculous level). Unfortunately, the narration actually made this worse. Then after introducing the main characters in part 1, the story then dives down a rat hole with some dude named Gerard (its was not clear to me that the next 11 freaking chapters were a flashback from a POV that was not really a character in the story ... Who does that?)... regardless, Gerard seems to be there just to give some overly detailed background that served no purpose that I could detect. Sometimes more is not better.

It was not until half way through the book that the flashbacks end and we finally get to the actual story. Fortunately, although I was tempted, I had not abandoned the book. This is where the story finally gets interesting (feel free to skip Parts 2 thru 5 ... you won't miss much). The story then picks up with Raider and Wasp on the run trying to piece together exactly who the bad guys are and why (this was the story that I was expecting). It's a fair story that includes individual conflict and some simplistic political intrigue, but using 'magic' to solve most of the mystery with a ghostly soliloquy seems a bit lazy to me. Add to that a ridiculous ability to get the bad guys to admit their wrong doing at sword when they pretty much know that they won't survive the encounter (like a bloody TV show where we get a confession as soon as the bad guy is arrested). Still, it would have secured 3 stars if not for having to suffer through the first half of the book.

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

#feeaudiobookcodes #audiobookboom

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Sunday, September 4, 2022

Review: The Monastic Heart: 50 Simple Practices for a Contemplative and Fulfilling Life

The Monastic Heart: 50 Simple Practices for a Contemplative and Fulfilling Life The Monastic Heart: 50 Simple Practices for a Contemplative and Fulfilling Life by Joan D. Chittister
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book has 50 chapters; one for each monastic practice. The chapter title and subtitle provide a brief hint on the topic … such as Bells (Remembering), Hospitality, Silence, Cloister, Community, Solitude (you can see how some of these are related if not repetitive). A short summary (aka thesis statement) follows the title, then there is a reflection on the topic within the Benedictine monastic life/history and that is followed by a section called "Integrating the Practice" (how you and I can incorporation this practice in our more secular life. The chapter ends with a quick quote that is designed to restate the core concept of the practice.

For such as ambitious work, it is fairly well put together and it is an easy read … perhaps not in one sitting though. At times it seems to be covering the same ground, just from a different view point. At other times, it seems the author tries too hard to connect the monastic practice to the secular life and I had trouble connecting to that. Regardless, each chapter dose provide the reader with things to contemplate on and maybe come up with their own way of getting to the underlying concept of each practice … the summary of which would be to create your own community and sacred spaces where you can find and nurture a relationship with a loving God, and with a broken world.

Although it was very interesting, it ultimately was not quite what I was looking for

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

#TheMonasticHeart #NetGalley.

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Thursday, September 1, 2022

Review: The Burning God

The Burning God The Burning God by R.F. Kuang
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This the third book of a series (The Poppy War and The Dragon Republic). I got the first as an e-book and the second as an audio-book from my local library. I recommend reading these in order (although you can just read the last one which is the better of the three).

This story is a fantastic re-imaging of Chinese history from around the time of the Sino-Japanese War (Book 1) onward. It was pretty fun trying to match up parts of the book with what little I know of the real history. That alone made this a good read ... and the unique system of magic made it even better.

Rin, the avatar of the Burning Phoenix god, is back in the south to take care of business if only the flaming warlords/bureaucrats would let her. With the Republic fighting to consolidate in the North with the help of the foreign Hesperians (Euros), now seems like the best time for the Southern Coalition to wrest control from the remnants of the failed Muganese invasion and secure their own position. The problem is ... the warlords are right. Rin is a stubborn, privileged (I am Sinegard trained you moron) idiot unwilling to actually use her own experts until they beat her about the head and shoulders with her mistakes (and she has made enough of them that she should realize some of the people in the room are actually smarter than she is). Yeah ... as much as I want to like the MC ... I don't. At least that is how I felt for the first half of the book and we get back to the action (bring back some old 'friends'). It seems like Rin is just not enough to carry the story; and when it primarily focuses on her I quickly lose interest. Frankly I am almost more sympathetic to the anti-hero 'Trifecta' (well 2 of the 3 at any rate) than Rin and her side kick.

There is a good story here, but it is almost exclusively in the second half of the book when things really start happening quickly. Rin is in control and actually seems competent now (fewer strategic mistakes). Her army, once on the brink of extinction, now stands on its own and starts to gain momentum. The end is so close you can feel it rushing toward you ... then you need to brace yourself; because the story drones on after that ... and the self-flagellation continues for awhile longer. From the very beginning, it was clear how this would end ... it just take longer than it should to get there.

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

#TheBurningGod #NetGalley

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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.