Movie Review: Heaven is for Real (4 stars)

Heaven is for Real (movie)

(Four stars out of Five)

Occasionally Hollywood gets it right: “it” being a Christian movie. Not that Heaven is for Real is perfect, but it follows the book well and where it diverges it improves–by condensing and focusing. Not a big-budget blockbuster, but a solid, well-told story. Greg Kinnear, as Colton’s father Todd Burpo, is the only big name.
This “based on a true story” film about a child’s near-death experience, captures the emotion, the uncertainty, and the growing wonder of the book well. It doesn’t have easy answers and, in fact, when it dramatizes young Colton Burpo’s reports of heaven is where it goes farthest astray. A respectful, is necessarily compact, exploration of the other people’s reactions–both positive and negative–to Colton’s reported experience.

Connor Corum‘s portrayal of four-year-old Colton is nothing short of amazing, and worth the price of admission.
Quibbles: I doubt that many blacks lived in western Nebraska. Hispanics, yes. Sonja Burpo (played by Kelly Reilly) was just a bit too sexy. Why did they have to film it in Manitoba?

Imperial Legions by Andrew M. Seddon (4 of 5 stars)

legionsImperial Legions by Andrew M. Seddon
(Four of five stars)
Excellent historical fiction. Well-researched and imaginatively told.

By making one of the Roman officers and one of the Briton elite followers of “the Way” (as an early name for Christianity) Seddon introduces a new dynamic to this retelling of the Boudiccan Rebellion of AD 60. It works, mostly. As with most you-are-there historical fiction, principal characters pop up in illogical places and slip through the fingers of fate with amazing ease, but that’s mostly to keep the plot coherent. The combat is as gruesome as expected for that time without dwelling on the gore. Motives are fairly and honestly explored on all sides. Many historical figures have cameos. Good pace.
Quibble: Yes, many authors are willing to place the apostle Paul in Briton at about that time, but his life could just as well have ended with his first visit to Rome.

Neat opening: Luke starting the third volume of his works of early Christian history, of which only the first two are known (the Biblical books of The Gospel According to Luke and The Acts of the Apostles).

A very good read.

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron (5 stars)

The Red Knight by Miles Cameron

(Five stars out of five.)

“Do well. Act with courtesy and dignity … because it is the only way to live. And that is as true for my kind as for yours.”
The best fully realized high Medieval fantasy since Tolkien. Chivalry, courtly love, feudal politics, the art and logistics of Medieval warfare. So detailed it borders on fussy. But wait, there’s more. Complex, deeply realized adversarial culture, too. (the Wild) Ooo. All seen from the “inside.” Divisions, doubt, love, sacrifice—it’s got them all. (The only things missing were festering wounds and filth. Okay by me. Yes, healing magic is the best.)
The use of Arthurian names is unfortunate because Continue reading

2014 LAA Spring Bling Art Show

Both of my entries to the Lee Artists Association Spring show at Windemere Art Gallery in Mechanicsville, VA won ribbons. Kim Hall was our judge.

Crabapple Blossom“Crabapple Blossoms” won first among the watercolors.


fall barn




“Fall Barn” won Best of Show. (I only have this out-of-focus image from the show.) I’d better photograph it before it sells.


History, Economics and Fiction

Really effective literature takes you so deeply into the story that you don’t know or care that it’s fiction.

Max Gladstone‘s recent blog article, Jedi Econ, Sith History, makes that point in a thought-provoking way.

We, as readers, are partly forced to view the author’s world through the lens he used: sometimes as close as inside the protagonist’s head–knowing no more (and often quite a bit less than that protag). Older novels were written much like histories–James Michner‘s tomes spring to mind. His Hawaii and Alaska started with plate tectonics and Centennial with dinosaurs.

It helps, of course, if we understand and agree with the author’s world view, but sometimes the fun lies in an “unreliable narrator” who intentionally or not lies–perhaps to both himself and to the reader.

For avid readers of a genre, author or period, this immersion becomes problematic when the reader thinks she know more than the author, or feels that subsequent authors have betrayed the history, economics, religion, world force or what-have-you of the fictional world.

Which brings us back to Star Wars. In addition to the issues so ably discussed by Gladstone, the Star Wars galaxy is in danger of fracturing into several parallel universes. The “canon” laid down in the six (or three, depending on who you talk to) morphs into the “extended Star Wars universe” chronicled and dozens of books by a variety of authors. The Clone Wars TV series overwrites some of the extended universe with a different story. And the coming SW episodes VII, VIII and IX promise further muddy the water. (Not to mention Disney Inc.‘s demonstrated tendency to merchandise the daylights out of whatever they produce. Such as: we can count on there being a princess in the new series.)

My opinion? It’s all for the better. “Let a hundred flowers bloom; let a hundred schools of thought contend.”

“May the Force be with you.”


Fallen Angel by Jeff Struecker (4 of 5 stars)

Fallen Angel by Jeff Struecker and Alton Gansky

(4 stars out of 5)

More like 3.5 stars. A gripping tale of a fallen American satellite and the three-way competition to recover or destroy it. Well plotted and written. Credit given to co-author Alton Gansky.

I normally don’t read this type of book, but aside from a somewhat clunky beginning this one grabs the reader and Continue reading

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline (3 of 5 stars)

Orphan Train

Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline

(3 out of 5 stars)

“Loss is not only probable but inevitable.”

Between 1854 and 1929, 200,000 orphaned children from the American east were transported west to be adopted by people there. Orphan Train tries to put a face on the process. It’s a good book well-researched and told. The connection between the modern teen and the aged survivor is crafted to connect that far away time to today.

The development of the protagonists is good, if stereotypical. In fact, all the characters suffer from two-dimensional characters. The various men and people of faith especially suffer from formulaic characterization.

“It was all right. It was enough.”

Dr. Philip R. Schmidt

My senior year as a history major at Southwestern College, Winfield, KS, a new doctoral-candidate history instructor joined the faculty. Over the years Phil Schmidt earned his Ph.D. and eventually become chairman of the department.

Many visits to the campus I managed to see Phil, often in his office stacked floor to ceiling with leaning towers of books to be read. We’d chat about books and politics.

Phil died Friday at age 72, still a professor at the school he’d joined almost a half century earlier.

The college has a retrospective slideshow on their website: here.

He’ll be missed.

The Politics of Tyrannies

What do Vladimir Putin, American “progressives” and the Tea Party have in common?


All seek to dissuade opposition by bullying. Shouting, ad hominem attacks and dirty tricks replace discourse and tolerance. People with a poor sense of history don’t know that before the Holocaust, Hitler honed his bullying tactics on his political opposition before turning on the Jews, homosexuals, Gypsies and the church.

They’re even trying to change the definition of “tolerance” into “you must support my position or you’re intolerant.” This is how liberal democracies—old and new—are turned into tyrannies.

Whatever happened to “Think and let think”?