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Book Review: “Nightbringer,” by James Byron Huggins

untitledGenre: suspense; Christian fiction, fantasy

Plot Summary: A group of tourists are stranded at a reclusive monastery high up in the Italian Alps.  But that’s the least of their worries.  A hair-raising screech in the dead of night lets them know they and the monks are not the only ones at the ancient abbey.  What is out there and what is it looking for?  And who is the mysterious hero in their midst who seems to know more than he’s telling?

My Book Review: I became interested in reading another book by author James Byron Huggins after I finished his novel, “Rora” (see my review of it here).  I hunkered down with this adventure in the winter and prepared to be entertained.

This was an easier read than Rora.  The latter dealt with the hard historical account of the Calvinist martyrs in Italy, while Nightbringer was more in the fantasy/supernatural genre.  Although this isn’t the first or the last Christian novel to deal with the subject of the Nephilim, it was the first I’ve read, and I was entertained with the ‘what if’ of what would happen if the descendants of Anak were still on earth.  Of course, if this were truly the case it would very unsettling, but in fiction it makes for great adventure!

The first third of the story was the most interesting to me, as it was able to keep my interest with it’s mystery. But once that mystery was revealed (too early on), the suspense was dropped.  Unfortunately, I felt the author got himself into a rut in the middle of his story.  I was quickly bored reading about one battle after another with the Nephilim beasts and the descriptions that went on page after page.  In every episode, it seemed Cassius (our hero) was severely wounded worse than he ever had before, then quickly recovered and preparing for his next battle, where he was wounded worse than ever before that… and the cycle would go on chapter after chapter.

I can see guys liking this story perhaps more than I did. It has the action, the battles, the hero that may appeal to them.  But it is not a serious work of fiction, and definitely not literary.  If you are looking for something exciting and light, this is for you.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…:

 
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Posted by on July 19, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Audiobook Review: “A Curious Mind,” by Brian Grazer (Read by Norbert Leo Butz)

22669010Genre: non-fiction; self-help; motivational

Story Review: I picked this audiobook up on a whim while on a trip to my local library.  The very first thing that attracted me to it was the title: A Curious Mind.  I think the word curiosity describes me.  Even when I’m disgusted or repulsed by something, curiosity drives me in further to explore.  I love to learn!  I love anything interesting.

I tend to gravitate toward non fiction when it comes to audiobooks. I don’t have as much time to listen to fiction on audio, I get bored when I do, and I envy the reader because I want to vocally create the story myself.  Non fiction is different.  If it’s interesting it has my attention from the beginning, and I’m an avid note-taker.

I had never heard of the name Brian Grazer (Hollywood film producer and self-called ‘storyteller’) before, but I was surprised that I was familiar with some of his films. Some of them include A Beautiful Mind, 24, and In the Heart of the Sea. I wasn’t really sure what his book would be about, but it turned out to detail Grazer’s technique on how he approaches life.  In a word, with curiosity.  It wouldn’t hurt any of us to take a few tips on staying open to learn new things, taking opportunities as we come across them, and being humble and grateful in this world.  There are so many interesting things to learn and people to meet!  I liked Grazer’s reasoning that curiosity leads to success, and his list of benefits stemming from curiosity.

I probably would have appreciated a little more practical advice on how to apply curiosity to one’s everyday life. Not all of us have the leverage or opportunities to meet the kinds of people Grazer has (which have included Princess Diana, Isaac Asimov, and Fidel Castro).  But I took six pages of notes, so I think I enjoyed the book!

Thoughts on the Narrator: The preface is read by Brian Grazer himself, but the rest of the book is narrated by Norbert Leo Butz.  I’d never heard of him, either, but his reading never lost me or bored me.  His voice was clear-cut and stage-practiced.  Since this was non-fiction, I have no idea how he would do performing fiction with voices and dramatic emotions.  I am very picky when it comes to narrators (another reason why I listen to so few), but his was a presentation I could well tolerate.

I think it would be hard to listen to this without at least a pen and notebook. This is for anyone who desires to achieve goals in life!

 
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Posted by on July 12, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Club of Queer Trades,” by G. K. Chesterton

18834844Genre: mystery; classic

Plot Summary: [from Wikipedia:] “The Club of Queer Trades is a collection of stories by G. K. Chesterton first published in 1905.  Each story in the collection is centered on a person who is making his living by some novel and extraordinary means…  To gain admittance one must have invented a unique means of earning a living and the subsequent trade being the main source of income.”

My Book Review: If you’ve come to this blog post thinking you were going to read something on sexual identities, sorry to disappoint.  Once upon a time the word ‘queer’ was used to mean ‘peculiar’.  (I suppose ‘peculiar’ means something else now, too.  We’re so creative as to assign a double meaning to every word that already exists.)

There are ordinary men who lead ordinary lives with their chosen ordinary careers. And then there are others who take a different route in life.  They are the eccentrics, the colorful, and the crazy.  …Or are we, as ordinary citizens, the crazies?

If someone asked you to invent a whole new career that had never been thought of before, do you think you could do it and make money from it? Not merely recycling an existing career, substituting one thing for another, but actually coming up with a line of trade that’s never been done before.  It’s harder than it at first seems.  Of course, there would have to be a market for it.  And in the case of many of the extraordinary tradesmen in this collection of short stories, their careers are kept secret either because of the nature of their work, or because they would be thought insane.

As one would guess, this leads to many bizarre circumstances of ordinaries encountering these oddbodies (or geniuses) in society. The facts are there in front of their noses, but they can’t make sense of them.  It takes a remarkable fellow straddling the best of both worlds to make sense of the mysterious cases brought before him.  It makes for a curious read.

4b4f62db81ff23d0d0a99f7b0870ecddAlthough I usually dislike short story collections, I was glad this was written as it was. I didn’t particularly feel in the mood for a novel-length Chesterton at the time.  Sometimes he’s best taken in ‘doses’ because he can be so thick in his nonsense.  🙂  Really, G.K. was such a Mad Hatter!  Chesterton is never for those wanting a nice little story.  And it definitely isn’t my favorite book of all time.  But I enjoyed reading it anyway, because he picks you out of the mundane and makes you view the world at a different angle.  It gives the brain a good exercise!

I would say my favorite chapter story was “The Adventures of Major Brown”, in which a man is caught in an awfully good escapade, but doesn’t realize how much fun it was until it was over! How often are we the same in life?  We read novels for “escape” or to pseudo-live other “experiences”, but when some adventure happens in real life we are too overwhelmed to enjoy it in the moment.  Then of course, there’s the debate over modern-day video games.  Guys are so eager to play at fantasy games because it feeds something deep in their souls- the need for adventure.  But what happened to living real life?  Life is full of exciting experiences if only we accept its opportunities.

You can listen to the audiobook on Librivox by clicking here.

If you liked this book, I also recommend…:

 
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Posted by on April 22, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Matorni’s Vineyard,” by E. Phillips Oppenheim

serveimageGenre: futuristic; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: Mervyn Amory is a British tennis player on his way to Monte Carlo for a holiday.  He takes a train trip that turns out to be anything but leisurely.  When an Italian spy passes on vital information to him just before he is assassinated, who will Mervyn trust?  Can we trust him?  And who is the beautiful Italian diva who has close ties to the Princess?

My Book Review: It’s been a few years since I’ve dipped into Oppenheim, but I have to say this was much more interesting to me than the last two I’ve read.  It had a flavor of The Great Impersonation, as far as the intrigue and atmosphere go.  It wasn’t hard to read, and provided some fun entertainment.

The best part was that it kept you guessing about who you could trust. I can’t say there were any huge plot twists that maybe the average reader wouldn’t see coming, but yet it keeps one suspecting everyone– even the main character.

I felt disappointed in how the Dictator was treated in the end. SPOILER ALERT: I felt the winners dealt him too soft a hand and they dared to trust someone to continue leading a large European country who had just threatened to pitch the continent into another world war.  Who’s to say he wouldn’t ever try something like that again?  On the other hand, I suppose this type of international dealing is realistic, considering how the world treated Hitler and Germany before WWII. END OF SPOILER. Oppenheim set his book in the 1940’s, which would have made the tale futuristic for readers at the time it was published in 1928.  Of course, the dictator-character Matorni represents Mussolini himself.  Oppenheim also had some of this type of foresight in my favorite of his (The Great Impersonation).

I loved the exotic location set in Monaco. Although the story is not historical, the details feel accurate, as if they were.  There is a romance as a side plot included, but I can’t say it was very believable because of how fast it occurred in such a short amount of time.  But if you want a bit of ‘alternate history’ type genre, this might interest you.

 
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Posted by on January 18, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “Murder on the Lusitania,” by Conrad Allen

1246500Genre: mystery, historical fiction

Plot Summary: {from goodreads.com:} September 1907. George Porter Dillman sets sail from Liverpool on the Lusitania’s maiden voyage. Hired by the ship’s captain to pose as a passenger, George is in fact a private detective for the Cunard Line. In the first days of his voyage, George only has to deal with a few petty crimes. But then an expensive piece of jewelry is reported stolen and a body is found. Working quickly to solve both crimes, George makes an unusual friend, Genevieve Masefield, and the two uncover secrets aboard the ship that prove explosive.”

My Book Review: This is the first in the George Porter Dillman & Genevieve Masefield mystery series and the first I’ve tried by this author (whose name is not really Conrad Allen, and also goes by a whole slew of other pen names).  I settled in for an entertaining read of sea voyage, adventure, romance, and suspense all set in a historical setting.

Did it satisfy? In a word, no, I’m sad to say.  Although it was somewhat amusing, it really failed to grab me with it’s characters.  The two main characters (George and Genevieve) were hard for me to like.  The mystery plot felt too mechanically churned out.  I was a little dejected to find that although the story does revolve around the historic ship Lusitania, the mystery actually takes place on its maiden voyage instead of its famed sinking.

Content-wise, this mystery is pretty clean. There isn’t much gore, neither is there oodles of romance.  However, there are subtle innuendos made throughout the dialogue of the characters.  It is implied that Genevieve is sleeping her way through high society.  A fortune-hunter pressures a wealthy heiress to sleep with him, while at the same time is cheating with another woman.  None of these situations are implicitly described, but it gave a worldly feel to the novel.

At the end of the day, I’ve decided not to continue on with the series, but this book may be of interest to those who like cozy mysteries in a swanky setting. Would make a fun vacation read!

 
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Posted by on January 4, 2017 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Meanest Doll in the World,” by Ann M. Martin, Laura Godwin

40081Genre: adventure; children’s fiction

Plot Summary: In this sequel to The Doll People, Annabelle Doll and her BFF Tiffany go to Kate’s school!  An exploration with Auntie Sarah goes terribly wrong, and the two little living dolls are swept up in a backpack and get quite an education.  One adventure follows another, especially on their return trip back home… when they accidentally end up in the wrong house!  Are all living dolls everywhere threatened by the dangerous antics of Mean Mimi?

My Book Review:  I loved the first book in the Doll People Series by Ann M. Martin when I originally listened to it on audiobook some years ago (see review here).  I was delightfully surprised to learn that there were more in the series, so this is my continuation of Annabelle Doll’s adventures.

I would say that I enjoyed this one even more than the first!  It was fun to read such a creative story for children.  The book has many cute, detailed illustrations by Brian Selznik. This would also make for a fun read-aloud book for families.

The main reason I loved this book was that the plot themes provided much food for thought, just as it’s predecessor in the series did.  Much discussion can be derived from it, as many of the situations that Annabelle and Tiffany encounter are common ones found in real life.

SPOILERS: The main plot concerns a very nasty character—a doll—called Mean Mimi.  Annabelle and Tiffany encounter her in a strange house they accidentally end up in when they attempt to find their way back home.  Mean Mimi wreaks terror upon all the dolls that live under the same roof with her.  This is a scary thing when the living dolls face the fact that any one of them could enter Permanent Doll State should they be discovered by humans as being real.  Soon the dolls realize that not only a handful but all of dollkind are in danger of PDS, should Mean Mimi go too far.

serveimageAnnabelle and Tiffany decide to do a very brave thing in helping their new friends fight off their dictator before eventually leaving to go to their real home.  But they unknowingly bring the terror back to Kate’s house with them!  Now the Dolls and the Funcrafts must work together to solve this crisis.  They try talking to her, they try ignoring her, they try capturing her, all to no avail.  Mimi even successfully turns the two best friends against each other for a time.  If they don’t solve this problem soon, they may all be in PDS before they know it!

The Meanest Doll in the World was published in 2003, the year the US went to war with Iraq.  Are you seeing any sort of parallel going on here?  [*I will put in a disclaimer here and say that the authors in no way spell out what my interpretation is.  This is just my own personal takeaway here.]  In the real world, we are facing a scary threat to this nation and to all free people everywhere.  We’ve fought our battles, but returned before the job was done.  Now we are dealing with threats on our homefront, and no amount of talking or placating or ignoring will make the problem go away.  The Dolls have a little bit of a different situation going on in that they don’t have a lot of options in dealing with Mimi.  But we can be proactive in facing our enemies while there’s still time.

I was quite surprised to find that the author does not write Mean Mimi as a lot of children’s authors would these days.  I was expecting at any moment to find that Mimi wasn’t really that bad of a doll after all, that she was just unloved and misunderstood, and that after talking with her she would mend her ways and all would be fine.  Kum-ba-ya.  But instead, Mimi was nasty through and through.  She was a doll looking for absolute power, not love.  She could look innocent at times and cry crocodile tears, but in the end there was no holding hands with her.  To save them all, she had to be taken out of the picture.  She ends up doing that to herself without any help.  END OF SPOILERS.

There were so many elements of this book for me to love.  Some parents, however, might want to be aware that there is a theme of ‘positive thinking’ that may resemble New Age ideas.  It didn’t trouble me too much as it wasn’t a major aspect to the story, and was more of Annabelle’s way to put more effort into calming herself down than working herself into a panic.  Overall, I found the amount of good things about the book to far outnumber the smaller reservations I might have had.  I will also say that although I found the pictures entertaining, had I been a little girl I would have been totally creeped out by the drawings of Mimi.  I would have had nightmares for weeks.

This is definitely a fun read to curl up with your daughters (provided they aren’t too sensitive) and enjoy reading & talking about.  I’ve even read of some boys liking the series as well.  I can’t wait to read #3 The Runaway Dolls!

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Non-Fiction Books I’m Liking (Fall 2016)

Let’s get down to the heart of the matter with these two educational non-fiction reads this fall!:

16278109Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice, by Christine Valters Paintner~ Years ago I loved taking photographs of both nature and family events. I lost interest somewhere along the line, but I this past year I have picked the hobby back up again.  I started off the year by reading this interesting book that uses the art of photography as a tool in the spiritual life.  I’ve enjoyed taking walks in tune with the Holy Spirit and with my camera in hand to ‘receive’ images God was showing me.  I’ve still got a lot to learn, but I took lots of notes and am slowly taking each chapter at a time.  The book doesn’t cover a lot of ground as far as the technical aspect of picture-taking is concerned, but it is surprisingly deep spiritually and intellectually.  To be honest, sometimes it was a struggle to try to understand what the author was saying, but that just caused me to reread until I ‘got’ it.  It’s made me look a little differently at life, and for that I highly recommend it.

23398059Finding Truth: 5 Principles for Unmasking Atheism, Secularism, and Other God Substitutes, by Nancy Pearcey~ Everyone has a philosophy- the way in which they see the world. The question is, what is yours?  Can you put your finger on it or explain it?  I first heard of Nancy Pearcey, a professor of worldview studies, on the radio where I heard her interviewed for her book, “Saving Leonardo.” I have yet to read it; I also found “Total Truth” at a thrift store for a dollar and plan on reading that.  But for some reason I decided to start with this book by Pearcey.  This was also a stretch for my brain, but good exercise and I learned so much from it!  Immediately after finishing it, I was better able to understand an intellectual sermon I was listening to, as well as identify different worldviews behind some of my favorite tv shows and movies.  This is a must-read for any serious Christian, or for anyone who is curious how Christians see the world compared to other philosophies.  However, I would recommend that one start with her foundational book, “Total Truth” as it states the basis of what she teaches and it is referred to several times in “FT.”

 

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