Saturday, April 22, 2017

Book Review: National Sunday Law by A. Jan Marcussen

National Sunday LawNational Sunday Law by A. Jan Marcussen
My rating: 1 of 5 stars

When I read this book, I knew what my review would be just not how to begin it and finally decided honesty is the best policy.

I am a Seventh-day Adventist and the topic of this book focuses on what Seventh-day Adventists believe is a central part of last day events before Christ’s Second Coming. Unfortunately, the author has produced such a horribly written book as to induce cringe worthy level of embarrassment to any mainstream Adventist. And to learn that it was left at people’s doors or mailed to them anonymously makes its impact even worse because while I believe the author was sincere in wanting to do good; I will not vouch for the ideas presented because fairly early in the book I began skimming through and will never read it for a second time.

This book is not in any way affiliated with the Seventh-day Adventist church and the publication company is named as to be confused with a genuine evangelistic ministry.


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Sunday, April 16, 2017

Book Review: The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson

The Collected Poems of Emily DickinsonThe Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson by Emily Dickinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Collected Poems of Emily Dickinson contains a sizeable sample of the total works of the reclusive poet, who only came to prominence after her death. Containing 593 poems separated into five different themes, roughly a third of her overall productivity, this collection gives the reader a wonderful look into the talent of a woman who hid her art not only from the world but also her own family. Besides nearly 600 poems of Dickinson’s work, the reader is given a 25 page introduction to the poet and an analysis of her work by Dr. Rachel Wetzsteon who helps reveal the mysterious artist as best as she can and help the reader understand her work better. Although neither Wetzsteon’s introduction and analysis nor Dickinson’s work is wanting, the fact that this collection gives only a sample of the poet’s work is its main and only flaw.

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Saturday, April 15, 2017

Book Review: The Millennium Bug by Jon Paulien

The Millennium Bug: Is This the End of the World as We Know It?The Millennium Bug: Is This the End of the World as We Know It? by Jon Paulien
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The world approached the year 2000, the threat of disaster due to a glitch in programming to our technological world was all the rage in the media only to fizzle out. However Jon Paulien’s The Millennium Bug is not about Y2K, but about how Christians—more specifically Seventh-day Adventists—should approach the then upcoming calendar change to 2000 when thinking about the “end times”.

Almost 20 years ago, the world was getting both excited and anxious about the upcoming new millennium. Besides the magically alluring numeral 2000, there were questions about if the change would adversely affect computers causing chaos and to many Christians if this change in millennium would see Jesus’ Second Coming. Paulien examines all the theories surrounding the millennium with the Second Coming and why Adventists with their history of Great Disappointment were even getting infected with “the millennium bug”. Yet while Paulien was informative with all the reasons why the calendar change to 2000 was just artificial especially in light of what occurred leading up to the year 1000, when he turned to what Adventists should concentrate on when thinking about “the end times” a lot of his writing would suggest checking out his a previous book of his on that subject instead of giving complete answers in this particular book.

While this fact was a tad frustrating, Paulien went a long way in answer many question dealing and surrounding various ‘end time’ theories in which millenniums are involved whether dealing with the age of the Earth or when the millennium of Revelation occurs. The Millennium Bug isn’t perfect and in parts a bit dated, it is still a good quick read of information.

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Saturday, April 8, 2017

Book Review: Blood Brothers by Philip Samaan

Blood BrothersBlood Brothers by Philip G. Samaan
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The world’s three great monotheistic religions all come from the same physical location and the same heritage, yet they are each other’s throats with no hope in sight. Philip Samaan in Blood Brothers examines the relationships between Jews, Muslims, and Christians not only today but in the past through Biblical and secular history.

The sons, both physical and spiritual, of Abraham have much in common but today can’t seem to get along and shed blood without a thought. Yet, Samaan breaks new ground in helping everyone understand the issues over the course of millennia that drove them apart from one another enough to think of the “others” as enemies instead of brothers. Once the issues were covered and explained, Samaan then turns to show how these brothers can come together through the Seed of Abraham, Christ Jesus.

As a native-born Syrian, Samaan is familiar not only with all three religions but has first-hand experiences with many Biblical examples of the vine and the olive tree from his childhood on his family’s farm. But as a long-time missionary with experience around the world with Jews and Muslims, his personal experiences of showing his Christian faith to them and the conversations are a strong part of this book. But written in the early 1990s, Blood Brothers shows it’s age as Samaan focuses more on Christian evangelistic efforts towards Jews. This is because at the time Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth was presenting an end time scenario that is contradictory to that found in the Bible influencing many Christian denominations, except for Seventh-day Adventists. Almost 25 years later, the “battle” between Muslims and the West shows the age of Blood Brothers.

In around 140 pages, Blood Brothers present the issues that have divided the sons of Abraham over the centuries. But Samaan reveals how to bridge these divisions and how to the Seed of Abraham is the hope of all of his sons. Even though the shows it’s age in it comes to the world stage, it doesn’t take away from the importance of the answers Samaan gives.

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Saturday, April 1, 2017

Book Review: Prairie Boy by Harry Baerg

Prairie Boy: An Artist Tells of His Growing-Up Days on the Canadian PrairiesPrairie Boy: An Artist Tells of His Growing-Up Days on the Canadian Prairies by Harry Baerg
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The life on the Canadian prairie a hundred years ago was one of adventure and hard work for a boy growing up, even without school to worry about. In Prairie Boy by artist -author Harry Baerg writes about events over 9 years of his life on and around his family farm in central Saskatchewan in an engaging autobiography geared towards young adults.

Beginning with purchase of his family’s farm outside the town of Waldheim in 1917 when he was 8, Baerg writes about many features of life over the next 9 years until his family left for British Columbia. As an avid nature writer, Baerg’s descriptions of the wildlife around his farm and his family’s farm animals are very well done as well as chores surrounding the latter. His descriptive illustrations, in both words and images, of various activities brought to life how farmers a century ago dealt with daily life without the technological developments that would occur over the course of the rest of the century. Baerg spends time on both his schooling and how modern inventions slowly started coming into town and into their family’s life, making one realize that even the faintest resemblance to our world today was barely visible a century ago.

Coming in under 130 pages, Prairie Boy is a very quick read but very informative and entertaining. Although intended for a young adult audience, Harry Baerg’s autobiography of his time growing up is something adults looking for an relaxing read would find interesting.

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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Book Review: Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea by Thomas Cahill

Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks MatterSailing the Wine-Dark Sea: Why the Greeks Matter by Thomas Cahill
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The foundations of what we call Western culture today seemingly sprung from one place, Greece, yet that is not the entire truth. Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea, the fourth volume of Thomas Cahill’s Hinges of History, examines and explains the structure of Greek society and ideas as well as the reasons why it has permeated so much of what we know of Western culture. But Cahill’s answer to why the Greeks matter is two-fold.

Over the course of 264 pages of text, Cahill looks at all the features of Greek culture that made them so different from other ancient cultures. Through the study of Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey, Cahill examined the Greek’s view of war and honor in their grand war epic then how the same man expressed how the Greek’s expressed their feelings. The contradiction of the Homeric works is part of a larger theme that Cahill explores in Greek poetry beyond Homer, politicians and playwrights, philosophers, and artists. Throughout each chapter, Cahill examines what the Greeks did differently than anyone else as well as relate examples that many will know. Yet Cahill reveals that as time went on the Greeks own culture started to swallow itself until stabilized by the Romans who were without the Greek imagination and then merged with newly developing Christian religion that used Greek words to explain its beliefs to a wider world; this synthesis of the Greco-Roman world and Judeo-Christian tradition is what created Western thought and society that we know today.

Cahill’s analysis and themes are for the general reader very through-provoking, but even for someone not well versed in overall Greek scholarship there seems to be something missing in this book. Just in comparing previous and upcoming volumes of Cahill’s own series, this book seems really short for one covering one of the two big parts of Western Civilization. Aside from the two chapters focused around the Homeric epics, all the other chapters seemed to be less than they could be not only in examples but also in giving connections in relevance for the reader today.

For the Western society in general, the Greeks are remembered for their myths, magnificent ruins, and democracy. Thomas Cahill’s Sailing the Wine-Dark Sea does reveal that ancient Greece was more than that and why a culture millennia old matters to us today. While not perfect, this book is at least a good read for the general reader which may be what Cahill is aiming for but for those more well read it feels lacking once finished.

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Saturday, March 25, 2017

Book Review: Home to Our Valleys! by Walter Utt

Home to Our Valleys! (A Destiny Book, #161)Home to Our Valleys! by Walter Utt
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The Vaudois were a little Christian group that throughout the Middle Ages were not considered “orthodox” by The Church resulting in persecution and attempts to wipe them out, however after the Protestant Reformation they were considered important to many prominent Protestant leaders throughout Europe especially after Louis XIV influenced the Duke of Savoy to attack them. Home to Our Valleys! is the retelling of the Vaudois’ return from exile during the onset of the War of the Grand Alliance by author Walter Utt using the official account of Vaudois leader Henri Arnaud as well as numerous primary sources from around Europe.

The Vaudois home valleys were in the Piedmont region of Italy, then known as the Duchy of Savoy, right next to the border with Louis XIV’s France. Their exile as the result of French influence on the Duke of Savoy just after the revocation of the Edict of Nantes, made them refugees in Switzerland and German lands alongside the Huguenots. It was these combined refuges that came together in a 1000 man strong force that left Swiss territory into Savoy marching for home, a journey that included a sliver of France jutting into Savoy territory. Although this force avoided major battles, it continued to win minor skirmishes before reaching their home at which point their campaign turned into a guerrilla action against French forces operating in Savoy territory.

The overall subject of the book was very interesting, but was undermined by Utt’s decision of how to tell this story. At times the book read like nonfiction then as historical fiction, going back and forth throughout. This inconsistency is what really drove my rating of this book so low because while after thinking long and hard that for the most part this was a nonfictional account of the Vaudois with apparently reconstructed conversations between individuals as best guessed by Utt.

The fact that I had to debate what type of book this was while reading it and a while afterwards, took considerable attention away from content Utt was writing about. The subject matter in Home to Our Valleys! is very interesting, but was lost in the style of writing that Utt chose to write in making the overall book underwhelming.

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Friday, March 24, 2017

Book Review: The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett

The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (Discworld, #28)The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents by Terry Pratchett
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The piped piper comes to a town in Uberwald, but finds that he’s late to the show that features cats, rats, and stupid-looking kids talking to one another. The twenty-eighth and first young adult entry of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld series, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents finds the residents—new and old, human and nonhuman—town of Bad Blintz figuring out the fine line between real life and a story. The aim to bring the same Pratchett humor that adults love to a younger audience is on target.

A mixed troupe of “rat piper” con-artists arrive just outside the town of Bad Blintz lead by a streetwise tomcat, who a clan of talking rats and a stupid-looking kid named Keith on the streets of Ankh-Morpork. But everyone is getting fed up with just going around and doing the same old thing, the rats want to find a home to build their society and the kid would like to play more music. Maurice is just interest in money and hiding the guilty for how he gained the ability to speak, but he found more than he’s bargaining for in Bad Blintz because something weird is going on even his talkative rat associate find disturbing. Soon the troupe find out that they have stumbled into a long running conspiratorial plan hatched from a surprising source.

As always, Pratchett connects his humor around a well-known fairy tale or story then completely turns it on its head when the same circumstances happen on Discworld even as the characters fight their own preconceptions when comparing “stories” to “real life”. The fact that he ably brought his unique style to a young adult market without losing any of the punch from the jokes makes this a very good book. Although some of the sections of the book were somewhat familiar to a long-time Pratchett reader does take a little away from the book, it doesn’t necessarily ruin the book for first time readers.

Terry Pratchett’s first Discworld foray into the young adult genre is classic Pratchett through targeted at a younger audience. I found it as funny as the rest of his series, but some of the plot points were simpler than his usual work for obvious reasons. However this minor fact doesn’t ruin a very good book.

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Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Book Review: Blood Stain (Volume Two) by Linda Sejic

Blood Stain, Volume 2Blood Stain, Volume 2 by Linda Sejic
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Picking straight up from where Volume One ended with a seemingly chilling end, Elly Torres is face-to-face with their new employer not knowing what’s going to happen next. Linda Sejic’s Blood Stain (Volume Two) continues Elly’s pursuit of a job though she not only has to contend with her employer but also herself in the process.

Elly’s first encounter with her new boss and her first day on the job is on in which both she and her new boss get their first impressions of one another. To say the least it is an adventure of awkward situations and verbal gaffs, for both Elly and her employer, Dr. Vlad Stein. Attempting to create a viable and productive working relationship between the two is Stein’s chef, Serge, who continually explains the good Doctor’s eccentricities to the very imaginative Elly while urging Stein not to send another assistant running away as fast as they can with his gruff behavior. Unfortunately for Serge, he doesn’t know what’s going on in Elly’s head.

Like my review for Volume One, this short description only gives a hint of what transpires in Blood Stain’s second chapter. The continued focus is on Elly, but now that the story is in its central location Sejic begins giving some light on both Serge and Stein. While Elly’s characterization is further along than her two male counterparts, the development on all three is both intriguing and raises questions about how all of them will interact with one another as time goes on and what situations they’ll get into because of their own quirks and misunderstandings.

As a longtime fan of Sejic’s webcomic, it was once again a pleasure to get on paper a story I’ve enjoyed online for years. Blood Stain (Volume Two) is a continuation of a fantastically drawn story with intriguing characters both familiar and that one is just getting to know. If you haven’t already picked up Volume One then I encourage you to get both it and this volume, you won’t regret it.

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Monday, March 20, 2017

Book Review: The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

The Night CircusThe Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

A monochromatic festival of wonder and intrigue suddenly appears in your town and you can’t wait until the sun goes down to explore it. The Night Circus is a wondrous, fantastic journey into magic, romance, and the consequences of both. Author Erin Morgenstern brought forth engaging characters and a twisting plot that keeps the reader engaged throughout the book.

The central plot focuses on Celia Bowen and Marco Alistair, who are selected and groomed to compete against one another in the book’s titular location by their instructors. Throughout Celia and Marco’s competition, they struggle not with their feelings for one another but with “the rules” of the game and how a winner will be determined but as it continues on how their competition is affecting the lives of the circus performers and those connected to the circus. As the game continues, the two youngest members of the circus—twins, Poppet and Widget Murray—and their circusgoer friend, Bailey, become more and more important as both Celia and Marco look for ways to end their competition in the safest way possible.

From the outset Morgenstern creates a wonderful, lively setting that instantly gets the reader into magical journey they are about to take. Through the use of three different temporal narrative arcs intertwined throughout the book, the whole history of the creation and running of “The Circus of Dreams” to the present-day. This creative decision produced an intricate story that while giving the whole picture of the story by the end, does unfortunately result in a reader missing some details that enhances the story making a rereading necessary. Yet, because of how good this book is, a reread in the future would be something to look forward to.

The magically wonderful tale that is The Night Circus is a festival to any reader. While the twisting, interwoven time period narratives create an amazing plot even while missing a few details in the first read; this book is solid in plot and characters making an engaging read.

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Saturday, March 18, 2017

Book Review: Herald of the Midnight Cry by Paul A. Gordon

Herald of the Midnight CryHerald of the Midnight Cry by Paul A. Gordon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The life and message of William Miller is one of the most important features in the history of Seventh-day Adventists. Paul A. Gordon’s Herald of the Midnight Cry focuses not only on the life of William Miller but also on the 1844 movement that his message inspired, and from its disappointment rose the future leaders what would become the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

The son of unbelieving Revolutionary War solider and a preacher’s daughter, William Miller’s childhood and early adult life was one of conflicting thoughts on God and religion. Although his family’s home was a place for religious meetings, Miller’s questioning father had a profound impression on him as much as his mother’s faith. Only after witnessing events on the battlefields of the War of 1812 did Miller turn to examining the Bible and then fully turning his life to Christ. Once he did, Miller turned all his attention to the Bible at every spare moment and as a result realized that Christ’s Second Coming was coming soon, in “about 1843 or 1844”. But Miller did not reveal his thoughts to anyone until he had reexamined his conclusions and thought of any objections that would be put forward, only then did he start sharing his finds with family and friends even though God pulled on his heart to spread the news. Miller demurred as long as he could until God opened a door he could not avoid going through and beginning 10 years of preaching about the soon return of Christ and the need to gain a relationship with him.

Over the course of the next two-thirds of the little over 123 pages of Herald of the Midnight Cry, is focused on William Miller’s preaching and the general 1844 movement leading to the Great Disappointment and its aftermath. Although Miller is the central actor in the events, other influential participants are focused on as well in spirts turning this short biography into a history book as well. Yet this history is important for both Seventh-day Adventists and non-Adventists to understand the man central to the Millerite movement, who he was, and what he preached.

While the shortness of the overall book and the change from strict biography to a general history of the movement named after Miller counts against Herald of the Midnight Cry, I would be remiss by not at least endorsing this book for those wanting general information about the man and the movement. While Paul A. Gordon’s book is neither the best biography of William Miler nor history of the Millerite movement as a whole, there are those longer and more detailed in subjects, his book is a good introduction to both for those curious and those wanting to wet their knowledge.

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Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Book Review: Scars of Independence by Holger Hoock

Scars of Independence: America's Violent BirthScars of Independence: America's Violent Birth by Holger Hoock
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The quaint, romanticized version of the American Revolution that many have grown up with through popular history and school curriculum is not the real life story that those living during those years experienced. In Scars of Independence, Holger Hoock looks past the good versus bad and underdog narratives so prevalent today to reveal the multifaceted struggle and very violent history of the American Revolutionary War from all its participants.

Hoock frames the American Revolution as not just a colonial rebellion, but first and foremost a civil war in which the dividing line of loyalties split family. The Patriot-Loyalist violence, either physical or political, began long before and lasted long after the military conflict. Once the fighting actually began, both the Americans and the British debated amongst themselves on the appropriate use of the acceptable violence connected to 18th century warfare and on the treatment of prisoners. While both sides thought about their conduct to those in Europe, the Native Americans were another matter and the violence they were encouraged to inflict or was inflicted upon them was some of the most brutal of the war. But through all of these treads, Hoock emphasizes one point over and over, that the American Patriots continually won the “propaganda” war not only in the press on their side of the Atlantic but also in Europe and even Great Britain.

One of the first things a reader quickly realizes is that Hoock’s descriptions of some of the events of the American Revolution remind us of “modern-day” insurgencies and playbooks of modern terrorists, completely shattering the popular view of the nation’s birth. Hoock’s writing is gripping for those interested in popular history and his research is thought-provoking for scholars. Another point in Hoock’s favor is his birth outside the Anglo-American historical sphere in Germany, yet his background in British history and on-off research fellowships in the United States has given him a unique perspective to bring this piece of Anglo-American history out to be consumed, debated, and thought upon.

Scars of Independence: America’s Violent Birth is a fascinating, intriguing, thought-provoking book on the under-reported events of the American Revolutionary War in contrast to the view of the war from popular history. Holger Hoock gives his readers an easy, yet detailed filled book that will help change their perspective on the founding of the United States by stripping the varnish away to reveal the whole picture.

I received this book via LibraryThing’s Early Reviewers in exchange for an honest review.

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Saturday, March 11, 2017

Book Review: A Bold One For God by Charles G. Edwards

A Bold One For GodA Bold One For God by Charles G. Edwards
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Although he did not begin the Reformation in Scotland, John Knox has become its most identifiable proponent not only in the almost 450 years since his death but also during the last 25 years of his life. In A Bold One for God, Charles G. Edwards writes a brief 160 page biography of “a not-so-well-known reformer” that served not only God but his nation as well.

Edwards’ biography of Knox begins in his early 30s after his conversion to Protestantism and his interactions with martyr George Wishart and how the influential preacher told him to remain a tutor to his pupils until God needed him. In the reaction after Wishart’s execution, Knox was asked to preach by Wishart’s followers to lead their congregation after they had assassinated the Cardinal of St. Andrews. His accepts and his powerful preaching began his rise as a man of note in the Reformation movement in Scotland while also resulting in his imprisonment after the movement is crushed for a time. Over the course of the next 12 years, Knox serves as a galley slave before living in exile in England then Geneva and Frankfurt then back to Geneva with a brief visit to Scotland in-between. In 1559, Knox returned to Scotland permanently and became a not only the leading Protestant preacher in the nation but also one with significant political power as he contended with the queen regent Mary of Guise then her daughter Mary, Queen of Scots, and then under the regents of the young James VI.

In the synopsis above, I have hardly scratched the surface of John Knox’s life and career. Unfortunately Charles Edwards did the same in this short biography as well. Although his intended audience is easy identifiable for young adults through his writing style and larger font, Edwards doesn’t treat his audience with respect by crediting them with any intelligence and made his subject less than what he was. Through reconstructed conversations and paraphrasing of others, Edwards endeavored to give Knox’s life more depth but only made the man appear simple and artificial to the reader which seemed to indicate a condescending attitude towards his readers.

While Edwards does give an accurate picture of the chronology and historical background of John Knox’s life that does not make up for the lack of depth and unintended sterilization of his subject. The lack of discussion of Knox’s first 30 years of life and the, most likely unintentional, patronizing attitude towards his readers severely undercuts the worth of A Bold One for God.

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Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Book Review: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire (Volumes III & IV) by Edward Gibbon

The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, Vol. 2 by Edward Gibbon
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The second volume of Modern Library’s three-volume reprint of Edward Gibbon’s The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire covers chapters 27 through 48 of the author’s vast magnum opus. Beginning with the reign of Gratian and ending with the reconquests of Heraclius in 628 A.D., Gibbons relates in detail the political, martial, social, and theological developments that saw the ultimate split of the Roman Empire, the fall of the West, and the continuance of Roman tradition in the East centered in Constantinople before glancing at the lives of the next 60 emperors of Byzantium over the next 600 years.

The deterioration of the Rome picks up with the reign of Gratian and his eventual overthrow leading to the unification of the Empire under Theodosius the Great before its finale split with the inheritance of his sons and then their successors over the next 50+ years. Throughout the era of House of Theodosius, the various barbarian tribes made inroads into the Western Empire which included two sacks of Rome itself by the Visigoths and Vandals, as the long ineffectual reign of Honorius and his successors allowed the Empire to slip out of their fingers. In the vacuum arose the genesis of future European states such as England, France, and Spain while Italy declined in population and political cohesion as the Pope began to fill not only a religious but political role.

The Eastern Emperors in Constantinople, unlike their family and colleagues in the West, were able to keep their domain intact through military force or bribes to turn away. The bureaucratic framework established by Constantine and reformed by Theodosius was used to keep the Eastern Empire thriving against barbarian incursion and Persian invasions while creating a link to the Roman past even as the eternal city fell from its greatness. Yet as the Eastern Emperors kept alive the Roman imperial tradition while continually orienting it more towards Greek cultural heritage, the internal conflicts of Christianity became a hindrance to social and imperial stability leading to rebellions of either a local or statewide nature or allowing foreign powers to invade.

This middle volume of Gibbon’s monumental work is divided in two, the first focusing on the fall of the Western Empire and the second on how the Eastern Empire survived through various struggles and for a brief time seemed on the verge of reestablishing the whole imperium. Yet throughout, Gibbon weaves not only the history of Rome but also the events of nomadic peoples as far away at China, the theological controversies within Christianity, and the numerous other treads to create a daunting, yet compete look of how Rome fell but yet continued.

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Saturday, March 4, 2017

Book Review: Lighter of Gospel Fires by Ella M. Robinson

Lighter of Gospel FiresLighter of Gospel Fires by Ella M. Robinson
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The long life of Seventh-day Adventist preacher John N. Loughborough saw many in the world and in the development of the Adventist movement from William Miller to the Seventh-day Adventist church. In Lighter of Gospel Fires: The Story of J.N. Loughborough, Ella M. Robinson recounts the service of one of the Seventh-day Adventist church’s first ordained ministers and pioneer into many fields of ministry not only through his owns words but her interactions with him when she was a young girl growing up.

Born in upstate New York, John N. Loughborough was the son of a carpenter and deacon of the local church and throughout his early life was always around hard work and Christian fellowship. Soon after losing his father at age seven Loughborough went to live with his grandfather and the family joined the Adventist movement started by William Miller soon afterwards. Even before the Great Disappointment Loughborough learned that some ministers would not tolerate Biblical beliefs contradicting human traditions. Soon after beginning his own life-long service of preaching at age seventeen, Loughborough encountered many of these worldly ministers as well as the challenges and triumphs that came preaching the word. Within several years of beginning his preaching career, Loughborough was convinced of the Seventh-day Sabbath and soon encountered other Sabbath-keepers within the Adventist movement, James and Ellen White. Along with the White, John Andrews, and many other church pioneers, Loughborough and his family would cross the United States to bring the ‘midnight cry’ to those that hadn’t heard it. But Loughborough wouldn’t find the fruits of his efforts only in the immediate locations where he preached, but across the country and then around the world.

The nearly 170 pages of text, albeit in large font, and the composition quickly denote this book for teen as well as relating the time when it was first published over 50 years ago. Although primarily a biography of J.N. Loughborough, Robinson related many side incidents surrounding him that added to the overall book. Robinson also illustrated the development of the Seventh-day Adventist church through Loughborough’s own career not only to show his importance but also how all the pioneers of that time sacrificed and contributed to building up of the church.

Lighter of Gospel Fires is an informative, yet short biography of church pioneer J.N. Loughborough that is an easy read for teens who are not interested in having to read a dry book. Ella M. Robinson not only relates the life of the longtime Adventist preacher, but also looks into how the Seventh-day Adventist church had developed by the time of Loughborough’s death. Although not perfect, this book is a nice Sabbath read that I would have loved reading when I was a teen.

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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Book Review: In Search of the Golden Rainbow by Charles Armistead

In Search of the Golden Rainbow: A Once In a Lifetime AdventureIn Search of the Golden Rainbow: A Once In a Lifetime Adventure by Charles Armistead
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The allure of lost treasure fascinates everyone, yet no many try to actually find it. Charles Armistead retells his time looking for such In Search of the Golden Rainbow with his father, great-uncle, and several business partners. Yet while searching for gold, Armistead learns lessons about life and death.

Covering a period of nine months, Armistead describes his time while searching for a lost Mexican mine in the Oregon Mountains of New Mexico. Over the course of 96 pages, Armistead relates many adventures and mishaps throughout in a smooth transition from one to another. Yet because of nearly 40 years between the events and the writing only the incidents that made the biggest impression and the details both Armistead and his father could agree on were included in the book. Although the book is clearly written for a teenage audience, its short length is a major downside and something I didn’t realize way back when my mother read me this book when I was a child. While the book does have a religious message as well, Armistead doesn’t “preach” throughout it instead only bring in a religious message into the book at an appropriate connection to the events he is retelling.

In Search of the Golden Rainbow is over 35 years old, yet it is still an enjoyable read. Armistead’s writing style provides a quick and easy read of his time looking for lost gold while also finding some spiritual truths. If I had decided when I was a teen to read this book for myself instead of relying on my faulty childhood memories, I would have enjoyed it not only for the adventure but also that Armistead relayed spiritual lessons in a conversational way and not highhandedly.

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Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Book Review: The Great Controversy by Ellen G. White

The Great Controversy by Ellen G. White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The death of the Apostles brought an end to the sacred history recorded in the Bible save for the prophecies of the future in the Books of Daniel and Revelation, however the message of the Gospel and the history of the Church continued. The Great Controversy, the final volume of Ellen G. White’s Conflict of the Ages series in which the history of the Christian Church is chronicled from the destruction of Jerusalem to the end of sin and the recreation of Earth. At almost 700 pages, the events of the last two millennia are touch with special emphasis on the Reformation, the message of 1844, and the climax of the Great Controversy between Christ and Satan at the end of time.

The Great Controversy focuses entirely on the Christian Age with White beginning the history with the how Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire yet at the same time was watered down with the influences of paganism and other errors. Yet White emphasizes that like Biblical Israel, even though the majority of Christians worshiped—unknowingly—in error, some still held to the truth of Scripture. Then over the course of the next 250 pages, White describes the Protestant Reformation from Wycliffe through the Pilgrim Fathers arrival on the shores of the New World. White then transitions to the events leading up to Great Disappointment of 1844 and the Biblical explanation for the significant event that occurred in Heaven. White explains how the Great Controversy is effecting those living not only when she first wrote the book but to the reader today and how it our decisions will effect where we stand during the events she describes at the end of the book with the second coming of Christ and the destruction of sin.

The Great Controversy is the last of the five-book Conflict of the Ages series and is a mixture of non-Biblical history as well as explanations of the prophetic events of Daniel and Revelation that have and yet to occur through to the end of sin. This book shows that God’s message of love through His law is still relevant today as it was from the beginning of Genesis and before, even with the attempts by Satan to undermine it or simply overthrow it for his own vision. As in even book in this series Ellen White wants the readers of The Great Controversy to know that the present world of sin will not last and there will be an end, yet it is up to the reader to decide where they will stand in relation to Christ and Satan.

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Monday, February 6, 2017

Book Review: Dangerous Women 1 edited by George R.R. Martin & Gardner Dozois

Dangerous Women 1Dangerous Women 1 by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The first subdivision of the Dangerous Women anthology edited by George R.R. Martin and Gardner Dozois is a mix bag of both story quality and the interpretation of the phrase ‘dangerous women’. In seven stories across genres around the central theme of women who are dangerous, a reader is treated to see women in various ways only but is also forced to figure out if the women presented or alluded to are actually dangerous.

Of the seven stories featured in Dangerous Women 1 the three best at presenting both a very good story and dangerous women were Carrie Vaugh’s “Raisa Stepanova”, Megan Abbott’s “My Heart Is Either Broken”, and George R.R. Martin’s “The Princess and the Queen”. Just outside these three was Cecelia Holland’s “Nora’s Song” which had a very good story but was seen from the perspective of a little girl finding out how dangerous her mother is. These four stories were at the very beginning and the last three stories of the collection giving the anthology a strong start and finish.

However, the three stories in the middle suffered from a failure of either not being very good or not having a dangerous woman. Both Megan Lindholm’s “Neighbors” and Joe R. Lansdale’s “Wrestling Jesus” were very good stories, but the danger posed by the women either featured or more mentioned then seen was hard to detect. But the weakest story of the entire collection was Lawrence Block’s “I Know How to Pick’em” which went from having potential to falling flat by the end.

Overall Dangerous Women 1 is a mixed bag of very good stories with strong female characters, just very good stories with no danger attached to any female character, and just plain bad all around. The best that could be said is in the end the reader is the ultimate judge.

Individual Story Ratings
Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn (4/5)
I Know How to Pick’em by Lawrence Block (1/5)
Neighbors by Megan Lindholm (2.5/5)
Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale (2/5)
My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott (4/5)
Nora’s Song by Cecelia Holland (3.5/5)
The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin (4/5)

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Review: The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin

The Princess and the Queen by George R.R. Martin
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

The Targaryen civil war known as ‘The Dance of the Dragons’ was mythologized in Westeros by bards for almost two hundred years before the events of George R.R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire. “The Princess and the Queen” offers the history of first great Targaryen civil war through the death of one of the titular characters, but unlike other Targaryen civil wars or rebellions that threatened the dynasty this one features dragons on both sides.

The titular characters were Rhaenyra Targaryen, eldest child of King Viserys I, and Viserys’ second wife Queen Alicent Hightower, mother of Viserys’ eldest son Aegon. These two dangerous women were rivals for one thing, the succession to the Iron Throne. Through oaths and proclamations Viserys had designated Rhaenyra as his heir but Alicent championed the right of her son Aegon to succeed as was Westerosi custom of sons over daughters. For years this feud was building up as Viserys grew older and everyone awaited his death with unease as it felt like a battle for the Iron Throne was sure to follow, a battle that would pit Targaryen dragons against one another.

Written as a history by an archmaester of the Citadel, Martin gives an account of ‘the Dance’ noting first the political intrigue by Queen Alicent and her father to crown her son as Aegon II, then the war of letters and ravens to gather support by the two claimants from all the great lords of the realm before inevitably blood was shed then gushed from almost every corner of the realm. Yet, while some of the narrative reads like a dry history some others describe the action of battles in such a way as to make your imagination view two or more dragons battling one another over sea and land, fighting to the death.

Although the military actions in “The Princess and the Queen” are dominated for the most part by men, it’s the decisions by Rhaenyra and to a lesser extent by Alicent throughout the conflict that make this civil war unlike any other in Westerosi history. Yet, the biggest result of this civil war wasn’t which line of succession won out but that at the end the Targaryen’s greatest claim to the Iron Throne was lost, the dragons. This factor alone has repercussions down to the time of the events of A Song of Ice and Fire in which dragons return to the world.

“The Princess and the Queen” is not like other ASOIAF related short stories, like Dunk & Egg, this is a vivid retelling of history of events that surprisingly do connect with George R.R. Martin’s main series as well as the novellas of Dunk & Egg. As a fan not only of ASOIAF material, but also an avid reader of history I really enjoyed this piece by Martin, even though it is actually much less than he originally wrote of the events of this time. But because of the heavy lean towards male characters in a collection focused on dangerous women, there is some downside.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Review: Nora's Song by Cecelia Holland

Nora's Song by Cecelia Holland
My rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Young Eleanor, or Nora to her large family, is enjoying being a little noble born girl exploring little creeks and grass with her little sister Joanna when her big brother Richard founds her so they can greet their mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. But this day starts the process of how Nora views her family, from how her parents treat one another and how they scheme behind each other's backs and how they treat her siblings then her. For those how know history, the dangerous woman in this story is well known yet seeing from the pov of a child it's well down.

Review: My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott

My Heart Is Either Broken by Megan Abbott
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A husband and father slowly begins looking at his wife's behavior differently than he had previously in their relationship after their daughter goes missing. As newspaper reporters and the police officers begin questioning his wife's story, only ever so slightly does he begin to think she's responsible. Then suddenly one night she remembers details that had slipped her mind and soon they are reunited with their baby daughter. But one night he walks into his daughter's room to find his wife looking at her with an expression that makes him very worried. This is a great story with several twists at the end as to whom is the dangerous woman in this story.

Friday, February 3, 2017

Review: Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale

Wrestling Jesus by Joe R. Lansdale
My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

Marvin gets beatin' up by some neighborhood bullies and is saved by an old man, after doing some working out during the summer he confronts them again only to get beatin' up again. Once again the old man saves him and decides to have Marvin for someone to work out again. Over the course of time the old man becomes like a father to Marvin and it's to the old man that he turns when Marvin's mother choices her boyfriend over her son. Throughout the story the old man gives information to Marvin about an upcoming wrestling match he has with an old rival, Jesus, and the reason two old men are fighting. A woman, a seductress, and possibly one with mystical powers. The story is great, but the 'dangerous woman' only appears at the end and sits to watch the match with only one line.

Review: Neighbors by Megan Lindholm

Neighbors by Megan Lindholm
My rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

Sarah Wilkins sees her now crazy neighbor Linda Mason walking out in the middle of the night in her slippers talking about going away and asking Sarah to go with her. After refusing Sarah never sees Linda again and begins thinking about how much their neighborhood had changed while battling her son about her living situation. Soon Sarah starts noticing how different the neighborhood is in the fog and who appears out on the street in the night. Sarah begins battling her children about her own future and decides to head out into the fog to find her own path and surprising Linda. A good story, yet the 'dangerous' of Sarah is questionable.

Thursday, February 2, 2017

Review: I Know How to Pick'em by Lawrence Block

I Know How to Pick'em by Lawrence Block
My rating: 1 out of 5 stars

This story was a tease from beginning to end and frankly, it does not have a dangerous woman. Although Lawrence Block could argue semantics, I would respectfully disagree. The narrator is a man, the "dangerous woman" turns out to be nothing of the sort.

Review: Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn

Raisa Stepanova by Carrie Vaughn
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars

A female fighter pilot for the Soviet military fights for her country, her family, and herself against the Fascists and the Party. This dangerous woman at first only finds herself fighting against the Nazis and in a quasi-rivalry with another pilot, who beats her to becoming an ace. But Raisa's military career is suddenly in jeopardy when her brother goes missing in action, which to Comrade Stalin means he's a traitor. Suddenly Raisa is desperate to either earn esteem to spare her family or die in combat so her family will be taken care of because of their heroic daughter. Not only is this a "woman in a man's world" situation that is very believable, the action from Raisa's point-of-view in the cockpit gives the reader a glimpse into the action.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Book Review: Centuries of Change by Ian Mortimer

Centuries of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to UsCenturies of Change: Which Century Saw the Most Change and Why it Matters to Us by Ian Mortimer
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Throughout the later part of 1999, many programs were dedicated to showing the impressive change in the 20th Century over any other time in the previous 1000 years. Author Ian Mortimer thought this was presumptuous and decided to research to find which century of Western civilization in the previous millennium saw the most change. In Centuries of Change Mortimer presents the fruits of over decade worth of research to general audience.

From the outset of the book Mortimer gives the reader the scope and challenge about defining and measuring change, especially when focusing in specific 100 year periods. Avoiding the cliché answers of bright, shiny objects and larger-than-life historical figures from the get go, Mortimer looked for innovations of cultural, political, societal, and technological significance that fundamentally changed the way people lived at the end of a given century than when it began. Throughout the process Mortimer would highlight those inventions or well-known historical individuals that defined those innovations of change which resulted positively or negatively on Western civilization. At the end of each chapter, Mortimer would summarize how the ‘changes’ he highlighted interacted with one another and which was the most profound in a given century and then identify an individual he believe was ‘the principle agent of change’.

The in-depth analysis, yet easily readable language that Mortimer wrote on each topic of change he highlighted was the chief strength of this book. The end of chapter conclusions and identification of an agent of change is built up throughout the entire chapter and shows Mortimer’s dedication to providing evidence for his conclusion. Whether the reader agrees or not with Mortimer, the reader at least knows why he came to those decisions. When coming to a decision about which century of the past millennium saw the most change at the end of the book, Mortimer’s explanation of the process in how he compared different periods of time and then the results of that process were well written and easily understandable to both general readers and those from a more scholarly background, giving the book a perfect flow of knowledge and thought.

Centuries of Change was geared for the general reading audience instead of a more academic one. While I do not think this is a negative for the book, it did allow for those editing the book as well as Mortimer in reexamining his text to miss several incorrect statements on events and personages that while minor do to missing a word or two, just added up over the course of the book.

While looking at the progression and development of Western civilization is always a challenging process, Ian Mortimer’s Centuries of Change gives readers glimpse of how different types of innovations impacted just a 100 year period of time. Very readable for general readers and a nice overall glimpse for more academic readers, this book is a thought-provoking glimpse in how human’s bring about change and responds to change.

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Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Book Review: The Acts of the Apostles by Ellen G. White

The Acts of the Apostles in the Proclamation of the Gospel of Jesus Christ by Ellen G. White
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Upon the ascension of Jesus Christ, the focus of sacred history turned to the men he entrusted with spreading the message of the Kingdom of God to Jew and Gentile across the world. The Acts of the Apostles the penultimate volume of Ellen G. White’s Conflict of the Ages series in which the rest of the New Testament through the lives of the Apostles in how they were transformed into preachers and leaders of the new church and how they spread the World, upheld faith, and corrected error. In a little over 600 pages, the events in the book of Acts and the circumstances surrounding the writing of the Epistles and the book of Revelation are revealed in the context of sacred history.

The Acts of the Apostles presents the events of the book of Acts in an in-depth in how the Disciples of Christ became Apostles for truth and how Saul the persecutor became Paul the Apostle. As in in the Bible, the focus for much of the book is on the conversion of Paul and his ministry to both Jews and Gentiles on various missionary trips. At the beginning, the Church focused on presenting the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to the Jewish community as the fulfillment of Messianic prophecy until the stoning of Stephen and shift to the Gentiles through the Holy Spirit and total rejection of the Jewish leadership. Throughout the discussion on Paul’s ministry to Jew and Gentile alike, the events surrounding and leading to his writing the Epistles that are contained in the New Testament are examined and the principles and lesson within them expounded upon. After Paul’s death, the lives of Peter and John are examined to enlighten the reasons surrounding and the lessons taught in their own Epistles to the church. And John’s time on Patmos in which God revealed to him through prophecy the culmination of sacred history.

The Acts of the Apostles is the fourth volume of the five-book Conflict of the Ages series and the last to fulfill cover Biblical events. This book shows the change in the character of the disciples to become champions of Christ and how a persecutor was transformed into proselyte, both show to believers raised in the Christian faith and those from without that Christ works to change everyone willing. In the last chapter, Ellen White transitions the scope of the Christianity from the Biblical record of sacred history to the events after the life of the Apostles done to her own day and then the climax of The Great Controversy between Christ and Satan.

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Book Review: Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes

Don QuixoteDon Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The first true novel, Don Quixote, has impacted not only the literary world but culture and society the globe over for over 500 years. The masterpiece of Miguel de Cervantes blends fantasy, romance, sarcasm, and parody in such an amazing way that it has captured the imagination of generations over and over again no matter where they lived. The adventures, or misadventures, of Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza have made them icons for beyond anything Cervantes might have thought possible.

The narrative of the events of the knight-errant Don Quixote’s three sallies is widely known, though more so those in Part I than those of Part II. However, while the adventures of the windmills and the battle of the wineskins and Sancho’s blanketing are the best known it the events in Part II that truly show the modern narrative arc that Cervantes was only beginning to display in Part I. While Quixote and Sancho’s hilarious misadventures are just as funny in Part II as in Part I, through the challenges for Bachelor Carrasco to snap Quixote out of his madness and the machinations of the Duke and Duchess for their entertainment at their expense a narrative arc is plainly seen and can be compared to novels of today very easily.

Although the central narrative of Don Quixote is without question a wonderful read, the overall book—mainly Part I—does have some issues that way enjoyment. Large sections of Part I contain stories within the story that do no concern either central character but secondary or tertiary characters that only briefly interact with Quixote and Sancho. Throughout Part II, Cervantes’ rage at another author who published a fake sequel is brought up again and again throughout the narrative arc that just lessened the reading experience.

The cultural footprint of Don Quixote today is so wide spread that everyone knows particular scenes that occur in the book, mainly the charge towards the windmills. Yet Cervantes’ masterpiece is so much more than one scene as it parodies the literary culture of Spain at the time in various entertaining ways that still hold up half a millennium later. Although reading this novel does take time, it is time well spent follow the famous knight-errant Don Quixote and his squire Sancho Panza.

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