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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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Movie Review: Mrs. McGinty’s Dead

eb573d1180cc7b5cbff9aae960b7398fBased on the book by Agatha Christie.

Version: 2008; starring David Suchet.

Genre: mystery

Plot Summary: [from IMDb:] “A pair of photographs are the only clues that Poirot has to solve the murder of a village charwoman, and to prove the innocence of the victim’s lodger.”

My Review: To be honest, it’s been a long time since I read this particular Poirot mystery.  I remember it had a lot of female characters, and it was the first time I had read anything where the character Ariadne Oliver made an appearance.  I also remember I enjoyed the mystery a lot, because it featured a common storytelling technique of Christie’s, which is to involve a mystery with roots beginning far back decades ago and the detective must piece together how the current generation of characters are affiliated with the past.  I couldn’t recall the details, however, such as who was killed, who had done it or why.

This is one of the more recent Poirot productions starring David Suchet, compared with when they first started filming them in the 1980’s. The quality of it is very good, and I loved the creepy atmosphere of the film!  The period set contributed heavily to this, along with a swirl of yellowed dead leaves, and the signature Poirot music.  Love, love, love it!

Another thing I appreciated was that this murder mystery wasn’t gorey and it didn’t make me feel too uncomfortable. On the flip side, it could also be considered predictable.  I cannot verify if it stayed true to the book, but to the best of my memory I believe it was for the most part.  Poirot was his lovable old self, and the new role of Ms. Oliver (played by Zoe Wanamaker) was totally convincing as the Agatha Christie-herself-inspired character.

This movie makes for great autumn entertainment, so grab a comfy blanket, slippers, and hot cocoa, and have fun some evening!  🙂

 

 
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Posted by on February 14, 2017 in Movie 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: “Wildwood Creek,” by Lisa Wingate

18059811Genre: mystery; suspense; 1800’s; romance; contemporary fiction

Plot Summary: Allie Kirkland is an aspiring film student working on the set of a reality tv show.  The series, documenting the historical mining town of Wildwood Creek, stars contemporary people living as the pioneers would have in 1800’s Texas.  But there’s a mystery surrounding the place:  All of the people of the town disappeared over a hundred years ago, and historians have never been able to solve the eerie puzzle since.  What happened so long ago?  Will the same thing happen again?  And what is the mystery concerning the historical character of Bonnie Rose?

My Book Review:  Wildwood Creek is the fourth in the “Moses Lake” Series by Lisa Wingate, but the first I’ve read by this author.  I am under the impression that these books do stand alone, but some of the characters reappear in some of the same books.

I thoroughly enjoyed this read.  It was one good piece of storytelling!  The story skips back and forth between the present day (from Allie’s POV) to 1800’s Texas (Bonnie Rose’s viewpoint).  This kept the suspense throughout the book and consequently kept my interest.  I love books that slowly divulge secrets throughout, while somehow still spinning more mysteries.  The suspense also gave me some anxiety, and having my emotions invested in a story is a good thing!

The writing felt solid, the chapters weren’t too long, and I enjoyed the character of Allie.  Although there is some romance included, the novel really wasn’t about that aspect of it and I’m not really sure I would qualify it under the romance genre.  I could identify with her in that she has lived her life for a long time expecting things to always be hard, difficult, and miserable.  But something changes her perspective throughout the course of the book and she begins to realize that she can embrace all of life, both good and bad.  She opens herself up to life as a whole as a result.

bb0116d38b9c0cfbee13ed3966a14d64There were a few nitpicky things I felt didn’t benefit the story.  In some ways I felt that things dragged on too long in the present day setting.  The character of Bonnie Rose, though I sympathized with her, started to become redundant with her narrative.  Some extra characters didn’t really feel like they had anything to do with the plot and probably weren’t necessary.  I still had unanswered questions after finishing the book, such as SPOILER ALERT: Why did Allie look like Bonnie Rose?  Why did the mysterious director want her to play the schoolteacher?  Did he have inside information that no one else did, and if so, what?  END OF SPOILER.

A couple of surprising plot twists keep things even more interesting near the end so I never got bored.  I really liked how the author didn’t end things exactly how one would expect in a typical romance, SPOILER with Bonnie marrying another man for a number of years, instead of the handsome captain.  But that she was happy and learned to love him despite him never being her first love.  END OF SPOILER.  Another aspect I really enjoyed was the epilogue, in which Allie listens to an early historical recording of one of the characters who survived Wildwood Creek.  It somehow added a feeling of history to an entirely pure work of fiction.

I would definitely recommend this to anyone, and I hope I’ve peaked your interest.  Those who loathe preachy novels will appreciate that this isn’t one of them.  I’m planning on reading other stuff from Lisa Wingate in the future!

 
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Posted by on October 27, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “The Agony Column,” by Earl Derr Biggers

3234828Genre: mystery; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: Geoffrey West is a young American staying in a rented flat in London when he meets another fellow American—the pretty daughter of a senator who is touring with her father. The year is 1914 and it is the hot month of July. Talk of war is in the air as the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand makes headlines. But there is another column in the newspaper that catches both Americans’ attention: the personal notices in the Agony Column. As Geoffrey communicates to Marian via this modern-day version of Facebook, he delivers an exciting narrative of mystery, murder and suspense that may threaten his life.

My Book Review: I found this vintage publication on Librivox and found it to be a short but cute read. Chapters are long, but the plot moves right along and it didn’t take long to finish. All of the fun melodramatic elements of a dime novel are present in the tale: murder, spies, ladies in black veils, strangers at a restaurant, espionage, cloak and dagger, shadow-filled alleys…

This wasn’t the classic of the century, but it made for some good entertainment. It certainly had a couple of huge plot twists towards the end that kept me on the edge of my seat! (Talk about a way to keep a lady’s attention!) If you’re in the mood for something light, fun, and adventure-filled, you may enjoy this WWI-era story.  I know that for myself, I plan on reading at least one other book by this author!

*This book was also published under a different title: The Second-Floor Mystery.  I believe it was turned into an early film by this name.

*To listen to the Librivox audiobook for free, click here.

 
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Posted by on October 25, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Book Review: “A Shred of Truth,” by Eric Wilson

1573358Genre: mystery; suspense; intrigue

Plot Summary: [from goodreads.com] In “The Best of Evil, “Aramis Black uncovered family secrets and historical conspiracies, hoping that his own dark past had come to certain resolution. But now, in the dark of night, he finds his brother unconscious and tied to a statue in Nashville’s Music Row …with the initials AX carved into his back. A shadow from his former life has reappeared, casting threats of violence and retribution. And soon the attacker is swinging his blade of self-righteous judgment directly at Aramis, calling upon him to “face his sins.” Can Aramis finally break free from the guilt of his old ways… or will he succumb to the vengeance of an arrogant sociopath?*

My Book Review:  If you’ve read my book review of the first in the Aramis Black mysteries, you’ll know I highly enjoyed The Best of EvilNow Aramis’ story continues, starting with an assault on his older brother.

The narrative stays consistently the same in this second installment with Aramis telling the story in first person, often ruminating over his pain and anguish– first at one end of the spectrum of emotions and then swinging the next moment to the other end.  One of the hallmarks of this series seems to be the Blacks’ family history wrapped up in various conspiracy theories of American history.  This time around, it’s the Pilgrim father William Brewster and his involvement in Freemasonry.  A mysterious ring wanted by an anonymous person who calls his himself “AX.”  What does this have to do with Aramis’ mother, Diane Lewis Black, who was killed when Aramis was yet a little boy?  …Or was she?

I have little knowledge about William Brewster and the Freemasons.  Is it true or is it hype?  All I know is that even though I don’t accept Freemason teachings, I’m not freaked out about American founding fathers being involved, mainly because I don’t believe they believed they were doing anything anti-biblical in the early days of it.  But again, this is just my own speculation and I don’t know enough about it.

491d413f37cb35f482c25b3f3f479a0bI enjoyed the read, but wished that the story had given more information about the theory itself, and didn’t continually dwell on the same old ruminations that go through Aramis’ mind as he works his way through the mystery concerning his family.  He seems to go round and round in circles a lot because he doesn’t know exactly what he wants.  But overall the book was suspenseful and intriguing.  I never saw the end coming!

I can very well imagine Aramis in my mind.  I’m convinced that one of the librarians at my local library is Aramis under a different name (has black hair, always wears black, and has tattoos down both arms).

I wish there were more in this series, but sadly it doesn’t seem as though there are any on the horizon.  I know I like this author enough to want to try several others by him, and am looking forward to it, too.  So if you like a good story loaded with mysterious historical secrets, family intrigue, and riddles, I’d say A Shred of Truth would definitely be a good fit for you!

*For whoever wrote this book summary: For the record, I think this word really ought to be changed to ‘psychopath’.  Do your research. 😉

?Did any one else take the hint at the end of the book and figure out what the last letter of each chapter spells out?  Very creative!

 
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Posted by on August 31, 2016 in Book Reviews

 

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Movie Review: My “BEN-HUR” Experience

b64a44c9e00fd891e11b829d49fa28fbBased on the book by Lew Wallace.

Version: 2016

Genre: drama, Christian, bible era

Plot Summary: Judah Ben-Hur is the son of a Jewish nobleman.  Mesala is a Roman who grew up orphaned.  The two share a bond as (adopted) brothers but a misunderstanding takes place turning their affection to hatred.  As Judah is sent to the prison galley slave ships and Messala rises in military rank, all looks as though there is no place for God, peace, or love in this world.  But Judah is given a second chance, to either choose faith in a Carpenter from Galilee, or seeking revenge in the Roman circus.

My Review: I have awaited this day for so long.  The day when Ben-Hur would be brought to it’s full glory and excitement on the big screen with a full-blown budget!  I remember staying up late into the night the summer I was fifteen years old when I was staying at my grandparents’.  The cause of my insomnia was the novel, “Ben-Hur,” by Gen. Lew Wallace.  The book has remained among my top favorites, though I’ve read hundreds over the years.

I’ve seen the old 1959 Charlton Heston version. And contrary to most people’s opinions, I’ve never cared for it.  I’m sure it was a huge deal when it came out back then, breaking records with being the  biggest budget film and using the most paid actors’ of its time.  But watching it after the era of The Lord of the Rings… it just failed to get my heart racing.  And Charlton Heston fails (IMO) to look the part of Judah Ben-Hur; too old and he’s just not how I imagined him.  So many things needed improved upon.  I didn’t even bother with the 2010 tv movie, having heard how certain themes I don’t agree with were inserted into it.  And I’ve seen a couple of scenes on TCM from the ancient 1907 one, but even though I’m sure it was a big deal 109 years ago… I mean, come on.

That was when I began to wish and pray for the epic remake. And I was thrilled earlier on this year to find out that was the case (see my post here).  It was a rainy day today and made perfect for having an adventure at the movie theatre!  And so I got my wish.

I went into this having read a review preparing me for the fact that this version leaves a lot of the Christian gospel out. I was disappointed to hear that, but I still wanted to go see it.  I’m sorry to report that despite my excitement over it, I came away rating it only 3 out of 5 stars.  I will write my pros and cons of it below.  Be aware there it is riddled with spoilers:

serveimagePROS: Oh, boy! Was it ever exciting! Movie-makers really outdid themselves when it came to recreating a gigantic Roman circus arena, a nail biting Roman sea battle, and a heart pounding chariot race.  If that is what attracts you about the book, then by all means you’re going to love this!  Drums, hoofbeats, fire, drama, peril, battles, horses, crashes, crowds, roars!  This movie is not lacking in adventure!

Costumes and props are so beautiful to look at. Loved the women’s hairstyles, and Tirzah’s pink evening toga.  Bright colors and gorgeous jewelry.  I’d watch it again just for that!

I felt the characters were well-cast. Although Mesala (Toby Kebbell) wasn’t quite how I pictured him in the book, I thought he was the best actor out of the whole movie.  I would be interested in seeing him in future movies.  Judah looked right for his role.  Esther was how I’d always pictured her, and Tirzah and Mrs. Ben-Hur also were gorgeous actors.  It was also enjoyable getting to see Morgan Freeman as the sheik  Ilderim and loved how they featured him as narrator in the opening scene.

I am happy to say that there are no sex scenes to worry about! The trailer is actually more suggestive than the film.  Anyone watching based on this hope will be mightily disappointed.

serveimageCons: This is where the 3 stars come in. It all boils down to how a story is told, and this film version got a lot of things wrong in this area.

Let’s start with how it holds up to the book. I am not one of those who believes movie versions should be exactly like the original book.  However.  A lot of liberties were taken with this story and it doesn’t do it any justice.  It just makes things confusing and unbelievable.  I ended up not caring too much for the characters like I’d wanted to.  I didn’t feel emotionally involved with them.  I was just there for the chariot race.

Some of my favorite characters were left entirely out. There’s no Quintus Arrius.  There’s Amrah.  There’s no Iras.  QA is one of my favorites because he provides the story with heart.  He is the kind Roman captain of the slave ship Judah is sent to, who Judah ends up saving during the battle, and who adopts Judah and leaves his inheritance to when he dies.  Judah comes back to Jerusalem like a bible era Count of Monte Cristo. I can see why the movie scriptwriters decided QA was expendable, but I genuinely missed him.  Amrah is Judah’s old nurse, who also provides heart in the book.  The character that is NOT expendable is Iras, the wily daughter of Egypt who tempts Judah from his goals and what is good.  She is in cahoots with Messala and creates a rivalry against Esther for Judah’s affections.  Why does every film version leave this character out?  Not that I’m wishing for it, but if Hollywood wanted steam, they could find a way with this ‘Cleopatra.’

Which leads me to the romance between Judah and Esther. I must say it was a lot better than the old Heston version in which man sees woman, man kisses woman.  The end.  But whoever rewrote Ben-Hur this time around completely killed any suspense they could have made with plot element as well.  They marry them off too quickly… in the beginning!  Now, we loyal Ben-Hur fans know that Esther doesn’t come into the novel until somewheres in the middle.  I get why Hollywood would introduce her earlier in the movie, but where’s the tension?  There’s tension in a story where Esther waits and hopes for 5 long years and then finds Judah again when he comes back, but he’s not the same anymore being filled with hatred for Messala, and meanwhile Iras is fighting for his attention. What will happen next?  Will love conquer all?  But no, they completely ruined the tale by rewriting it.

Where they snipped the romantic tension in one area, they tried to add it in another. Tirzah and Messala are now lovers.  This wouldn’t have been a big deal to me, except that it makes for a completely unbelievable situation when Messala all of a sudden orders Judah’s sister crucified.  Why, when he had genuinely seemed to love her?  And at the end when everyone is hugging and cuddling and crying, and Messala hobbles up on his one existent leg, Tirzah doesn’t seem to mind a bit and it’s assumed the two get together in the end anyway.  Yeah, I’d totally if a hot man ordered me to death by crucifixion!

Other motives didn’t seem to make much sense. Like Druses’ saving Judah’s family’s lives after Judah threatens to kill him.  Huh?  And then there were certain other smaller parts of the film that came across as being hokey, like Judah’s sister and mother suddenly being healed of leprosy… by being rained upon.  No, no, no!  In the book it was Jesus who touched them and had compassion on them!

I went into this having read a review that prepared me to not expect to see a gospel presentation here. OK, I don’t have to have preaching.  But I do need a reason why Judah’s heart and life was changed.  I was glad to see parts of the story of Jesus portrayed, and Judah’s encounters with him, especially when he is a witness to Jesus’ death at the cross.  But without the resurrection, there is no meaning to it all and there is no purpose to us forgiving and loving one another.  And that is one of the biggest ways in which this movie fails big time: the lack of the Resurrection.  It’s not even hinted at.  There can be no inspiration for a changed life by seeing a man hanging on a cross, simply because there is no life at all.  But by faith in the living Jesus and with His life at work in us, we know that this life is not all there is and can therefore have peace and joy, and his victory and power enable us to forgive and love our enemies.  None of that came across in the film, and I’m afraid anyone who knows little about this spiritual aspect of things would fail to make the connection.

The worse, from a storyteller’s point of view, was the ending. This may come across as sounding pretty terrible, but I felt it was ruined because Messala lived and forgave Judah and all became one big happy family again.  That is cleaned-up Hollywood.  In the original book, Messala becomes paralyzed/crippled for life and ends up killing himself.  Judah does gain the ability to forgive him, but Messala’s life is not changed.  To see the ‘two brothers’ flip their attitudes toward each other on a dime, after they each tried to murder each other by various cruel and unusual punishments, is totally unbelievable.

Lew Wallace was a storyteller, you know? There’s a reason why his book has been well-loved for a hundred and fifty years.  Why must Hollywood think there’s a need to rewrite it?  And then they’re a surprised when it’s a ‘big box office flop.’  I’m sorry for that, but they asked for it!  You can’t just bank on a big budget to make an excellent film.  You have to tell a good story.  A believable one, where viewers identify with the characters and can empathize with them.  But this was not that story.

Would I recommend it? It depends on how much of a stickler you are for the original.  If you’ve never read the book and just want a clean, exciting flick, I think you could enjoy it.  (Be aware there are some gruesome battle images, and scenes that include crucifixion.)  But if you’re too much of a loyalist like I am, you might want to wait another 55+ years for them to do the tale justice.

 
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Posted by on August 28, 2016 in Movie Reviews

 

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