Book Review: The Lone Wolf by Louis Joseph Vance (three stars)

Book Review: The Lone Wolf by Louis Joseph Vance (three stars)

“I’d like to believe you. But when you ask me to sign articles with that damned assassin—!” “You can’t play our game with clean hands.”

Entertaining, but not as Vance intended. Published in 1914, the stilted prose mimics the previous century. It’s an adventure/mystery/romance novel with an anti-hero protagonist. Anticipates the private detective novels of several decades later.

From its terrific speed the cab came to a stop within twice its length.

Set in Paris before the Great War, but Germans are already heavies. Anticipates international crime organizations too. Much of Vance’s description of automobile and aeroplane performance defies current knowledge, but is assumed to be cutting edge then. A fun read, especially for those who know a bit about The Great War.

And a secret between two is—a prolific breeder of platitudes!

Book Review: Powers and Thrones by Dan Jones (four stars)

Book Review: Powers and Thrones: A New History of the Middle Ages by Dan Jones (four stars)

‘That all this can still be traced back to the machinations of powerful men in the seventh century a.d. may seem astonishing—but as so often proves the case, the Middle Ages remain with us today.’

Excellent overview of the trends and influences of that epoch of history roughly between the fifth and sixteenth centuries. Thematically developed with attention to inventions, economics, trade, religion, and exploration. Ties many streams together to promote understanding.

‘For generations, historians have been trying to fight the idea that the medieval Crusades were at root a “clash of civilizations” between the Christian and Islamic worlds. For one thing, such a stark and binary reading of medieval history plays uncomfortably into the narratives of extremist factions today.’

Readable and engaging prose. Like a novelist, Jones starts chapters in the middle of that topic and backtracks to develop his tale. Occasionally confusing. Ties historic and contemporary events, occasionally padding with personal opinion and bias.

‘My aim with all my books is to entertain as well as inform. If this one does a little bit of both, I shall consider it a blessing.’

Book Review: My Journey into Alzheimer’s Disease by Robert Davis (five stars)

Book Review: My Journey into Alzheimer’s Disease by Robert Davis (five stars)

“I wish I could tell you that you have cancer.”

With these words from his doctor, Robert Davis’s life turned upside down. This book reports the progression of Alzheimer’s disease by one who had it. Though published in 1989, in the intervening three decades little has changed about the diagnosis and treatment of this progressive thief of the victim’s mind and personality.

“My mind has become a sieve which can only catch and hold certain random thoughts.”

Davis’s perspective is unique because he recognized the symptoms early, communicates clearly, and offers insights from a Christian viewpoint. He honestly reports on the confusion, fear, and despair, but also moments of clarity and hope. Lastly, of course, Bob and Betty his wife offer words of encouragement for the victim, caregivers, family, and acquaintances of those affected.

“Christ is here comforting and giving life meaning, even when all I have to look forward to in this life is becoming a mindless vegetable.”

This book is written by Christians for Christians. Members of other faith communities may find resonance within their traditions. Or not. He reported one specialist declared, “Get real. Tell the truth of how you really feel. Stop denying it with this spiritual stuff. … How can you live in such denial?” He defended his faith and later added, “How can anyone face life—or death—without Christ?”

“God did not promise that when we became Christians we would be lifted above all of the natural trouble to which the rest of humanity is subjected.”

A few years ago I reviewed and recommended Atul Gawande’s Being Mortal; I still do but even more urgently recommend this book as, Paul Harvey would say, the rest of the story.

“O God, I cannot see you through the darkness that fills my mind and so terrorizes me, but please see me and take care of me in my absolute confusion.”

Book Review: Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds (three stars)

Book Review: Century Rain by Alastair Reynolds (three stars)

(There be SPOILERS here.)

“One thing I’ve never got straight. Are we musicians supplementing our income with a little detective work on the side, or is it the other way round?”

Engaging and entertaining science fiction-detective crossover tale. Male lead stereotypical not-too-bright, but good-hearted private detective, with the twist that he’s a frustrated jazz musician. Female lead is head-strong, smart, and opinionated archeologist. Most other characters are stereotypical.

“Do I count as sensitive business?” “No, [redacted]. You count as a pain in the ass. If there’s one thing I hate more than civilians, it’s having to be nice to them.” “You mean this is you being nice?”

Excellent character, plot, and world building. A bit of humor amid a lot of mystery, angst, and bloodshed. Parallel worlds. Sort of. Violence of action and language. Paris. “Casablanca” homages.

“But it was only designed to look convincing from the vantage point of the Earth’s surface, and close to they saw how its shape was distorted by the sphere’s concavity.”

Quibbles. Mistakes an astrophysicist shouldn’t make. (Edwin Hubble made many of his discoveries in the 1920s.) Observers on E2 would notice the sun, moon, and stars weren’t positioned right. Parallax. Optical interferometry would reveal the light angles wrong. Most of the smart guys of the twentieth century were alive and at the height of their powers and fame before 1940.  “… picking out the lethal gleam of the electrified rails.” Electrified rails don’t gleam. “… stuffing her own soiled and ripped garments back into the bag.” No blood? There should be lots of blood.

“Thinking we can fix one technological mess by throwing yet more technology at it, when every attempt to do that already has just made things even worse.”

Delivers the goods, story wise. Would like to rate it higher.

“We never deserved this second chance.” “But sometimes you get what you don’t deserve.”

Book Review: The Good Neighbor by Maxwell King (four stars)

Book Review: The Good Neighbor; The Life and Work of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King (four stars)

“You don’t set out to be rich and famous; you set out to be helpful.” Fred Rogers

Fred Rogers may have been one of the most significant Americans of the Twentieth century. A good biography is necessary to separate the fact from the fiction. This isn’t that biography.

“The real issue in life is not how many blessings we have, but what we do with our blessings. Some people have many blessings and hoard them. Some have few and give everything away.” FR

Non sequiturs and irrelevancies abound. Much redundancy. Compresses 200 pages into 300.

“There are many people in the world who want to make children into performing seals. And as long as children can perform well, those adults will applaud. But I would much rather help a child to be able to say who he or she is.” FR

Despite all that, this book is worth reading as it contains many details of Roger’s family, upbringing, and life which have gotten overshadowed by myth and rumor. Still, it should be better.

“The child is in me still and sometimes not so still.” FR

Book Review: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson (three stars)

Book Review: The Bird King by G. Willow Wilson (three stars)

She would change nothing about herself. It was lucky, she thought, lucky she had learned so early that there was no solid ground.

Wonderful historical fantasy. Female protagonist well drawn and developed. Enough angst to be relatable; enough chutzpah to be entertaining. Finding truth in a world of liars. Several redemption tales.

“When God really wants to test you, He gives you exactly what you desire,”

Good sense of time and place, marred by modern attitudes superimposed on medieval history. Fantasy version of tolerant Islamic Granada versus totalitarian Spanish Reconquista.

“No one offers me peace or safety except to keep me as a possession,” she said aloud. “No one reaches out to me except to take what little I have.”

Book Review: The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee (five stars)

Book Review: The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee (five stars)

“God has only one answer for every human need—His Son, Jesus Christ.”

Nee’s classic study of the book of Romans. Published after his death, these lessons were drawn from his lectures in Europe in the 1930s. Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome provides the outline of Nee’s study.

“I need forgiveness for what I have done, but I also need deliverance from who I am. The Blood disposes of our sins, while the Cross strikes at the root of our capacity for sin.”

These lessons are not easily read and absorbed. Readers are advised to proceed slowly. Worth the effort. Nee outlines the foundation and application of Christian living in a straightforward, understandable narrative. Recommend the print, rather than ebook format for referencing and highlighting. (The ebook edition I read was incomplete compared to the print text.)

“Our work for him springs out of our ministering to him. The first thing for us must be the Lord himself, not his work.”

Watchman Nee was a giant of the Christian faith in the twentieth century. His personal story is the stuff of dramas. He died in 1972 under mysterious circumstances while imprisoned by China’s Communist regime on counterrevolutionary charges.

“Living in the Spirit means that I trust the Holy Spirit to do in me what I cannot do myself.”

Lost and Found: A Minor Miracle

Last night our older son called with a prayer request. He was looking for a flash-drive containing his job history with the enterprise for whom he has worked over twenty years to update his resume for a possible promotion. It was on that flash drive, but he couldn’t find it. We agreed to pray. My wife specifically suggested praying for revelation in a dream. We prayed and shared the prayer request with a few friends.

This morning he sent the following text:

“I found it! I prayed and went to bed. I had a dream of searching and finding it in Kazad-Dum amongst fiery red stone. When I woke up, I searched again. But I couldn’t see how any of those drawers and so I sat down and asked again, for guidance. Where did I have anything of Kazad-Dum?? Well, I have The Lord of the Rings box set of movies (Kazad-Dum is one of the Dwarven kingdoms of LOTR) So, I went to the box housing the movies, and there was the flash-drive. PLT!”

Note that God answered this specific request in a way that was specific to our son. It reveals the depth of God’s love and knowledge. God knew where the flash-drive was. He knew that our son would recognize the reference to Khazad-Dûm as a specific location. When he didn’t immediately understand the reference this morning, our son prayed again. And it was revealed.

Happy dance!

Gods knows and loves you better than you know and love yourself. 

Movie Review: LifeMark, directed by Kevin Peeples (four stars)

Movie Review: LifeMark, directed by Kevin Peeples (four stars)

“Hope is at the heart of every journey”

An intensely personal coming-of-age story. Latest Kendrick Brothers Production Christian movie continues trend to increasing technical quality and textual realism. While some reviews (both pro and con) list this movie as anti-abortion, that word (and concept) is not mentioned for the first 90% of the story. It’s more pro-life, pro-adoption.

“Your baby has 10 fingers and 10 toes—please don’t kill it.”

This is a true story, which is a strength as well as a weakness. An intense movie psychologically, there’s not much overt conflict and danger. Lots of dialogue. The folded timeline may be difficult to follow. Flashbacks within flashbacks.

“I don’t think he’d want to talk to me. He probably hates me for what I did.”

Despite the limited distribution—one showing per night at 1,400 Regal theaters—the movie managed to open at nearly a million dollars in revenue. (The showing we attended was more than 50% full, which judging by the parking lot was that multiplex’s best attended show. The average age of the audience was over fifty.)

“God knew this was going to happen.”