Movie Review: God’s Not Dead 2 (Three Stars)

theatrical release poster

theatrical release poster

Movie Review: God’s Not Dead 2 directed by Harold Cronk

Three Stars

I didn’t see this in the theaters partly because even Christians acknowledged that the first God’s Not Dead movie was shallow with poor production values. This time the production quality was good, the script was good, and the acting superb.

On the other hand, Rotten Tomatoes reviewed it as “Every bit the proselytizing lecture promised by its title, God’s Not Dead 2 preaches ham-fistedly to its paranoid conservative choir.” On the other hand, audiences loved it.

This was the final film role of Fred Thompson.

Non-Christians will not be inclined to watch this movie, but they’re missing a good experience on two counts. First, it’s a good story, well told. But send and most important, individual rights are under attack in our culture. Observe the condescending tone of the negative reviews.

Book Review: Ben-Hur by Lew Wallace (Five Stars)

Book Review: Ben-Hur; A Tale of the Christ by Lew Wallace

Five Stars

“A man is never so on trial as in the moment of excessive good fortune.”

Read the book. Many people argue about the relative merits of the 2015 movie version of Ben-Hur versus the classic 1959 version. I liked both, but realized I hadn’t read the underlying book, published in 1880. Now I have: forget the movies; read the book.

“When God walks the earth, his steps are often centuries apart.”

Moderns think, “That’s the story about the chariot race.” No. The chariot race occurs two-thirds of the way through, years before the ministry of Jesus. Both movies identify the source of a healing miracle as the blood of Jesus draining from the cross; the book ascribes a more obvious, but no less miraculous agent. Characters and subplots multiple, barely referred to in the movies.

“If thy faith is equal to thy knowledge, he will hear thee though all the heavens thunder.”

Like some modern novels, Ben-Hur weaves a new tale into the periphery of a well-known story, such as a Shakespeare play or Continue reading

Book Review: Uncle Abner by Melville Davisson Post (Three Stars)

Book Review: Uncle Abner: Master of Mysteries by Melville Davisson Post

Three Stars

“Sometimes, a man’s voice can be all that separates darkness from light.”

Despite breaking every current political correctness standard, these stories (first published in 1914) are well-written. Women’s roles, slavery, sympathetic Christians. Abner is the sleuth, solving apparently insolvable crimes and defending innocence.

“Oftimes, to win us to our harm, the instruments of darkness tell us truth.”

Each story is a short, stand-alone murder mystery. Abner solves them with liberal applications of deductive reasoning but from a heavily scriptural viewpoint. Not sure about Post’s denominational affiliation, but Abner comes on strong for truth, justice and the American way. Along the way he quotes and applies the Bible truthfully.

“No one of them believed in what the other taught, but they all believed in justice.”

Not “the finest mysteries ever written“, but they’re good.

“The heart of a woman is the deepest of God’s riddles.”

Book Review: Hand of Adonai by Aaron Gansky (Three Stars)

Book Review: Hand of Adonai: The Book of Things to Come by Aaron Gansky

Three Stars

“Trust us. We know what we’re doing.” “Speak for yourself.”

Think: Breakfast Club does a Christian Dungeons and Dragons via Tron. It works better than it should. One of the brightest angles is the creators wondering why they fashioned the game as they did: making living through their creation difficult.

The D&D-role-playing game created by two of the high-school-age characters is as cheesy and illogical as you’d expect. That worked for me. “Writing demonstrated control and subtlety” didn’t. The set-up is good, and the cast right. The emotions seem authentic and well-considered. Even the sudden appearance of heroic skills is adequately explained.

“Hope, that feathered pest, perched in her heart again.”

The target audience are tweens. The cast is a study in stereotypes both before and after (If I tell you what that refers to …), but Continue reading

Book Review: The Miracle Man by Buck Storm (Four Stars)

Book Review: The Miracle Man by Buck Storm

Four Stars

“Reality doesn’t always serve up what you want. But it always has a purpose.”

A well-conceived, well-developed tale of faith and perception set in the golden years shortly after World War Two. Storm creates a subtle sense of time and place throughout his story. A world without computers, cell phones, cable and internet suggests a slow pace which turns out to be as illusive for them as for us with all our labor-saving gadgets.

“Confusion put an arm around Luke’s shoulder.”

The characters are complex and real … mostly. We share the point of view of several characters will no doubt whose head we’re in and an adequate sense of certainty and confusion as appropriate. The varied cast avoids Continue reading

Book Review: Until Shiloh Comes by Karl A. Bacon (Five Stars)

Book Review: Until Shiloh Comes: A Civil War Novel (1) by Karl A. Bacon

Five Stars

“A mother should never see her son like this.”

A Christian, historical fiction novel would seem an easy to overlook niche book. That would be a mistake. Until Shiloh Comes is about more than a poor southern family’s reaction to the devastation of a major Civil War battle on their doorstep. It’s about reality forcing its way into what we think is right and normal. Yes, five stars is a stretch, but there are so few really good books of this genre.

“How you talk isn’t important … what’s much better is the meaning of your words.”

Until Shiloh Comes is what fiction should be: engaging at a level deeper than facts. It’s what Christian fiction should be: real. It’s what historical fiction should be: accurate, yet accessible. Bacon succeeds telling a story true to the history, religion and sensibilities of 150 years ago yet still engaging to modern readers.

“It mightn’t seem right to us, but it’s what the good Lord’s given us, so that makes it right.”

The case in point is religion. Evangelical Christianity in 2016 has a different vocabulary and set of assumptions than Christians held in 1862. But to exactly reconstruct the particulars of the old-time faith would make it unintelligible to moderns. The author gently suggests differences in belief without raising contentious issues.

“But God had a different plan, and I don’t know what it is.”

Similarly, Bacon keeps the reader in the story historically with true-to-the-time details of race relations, farming, building and weapons technology. Experts may quibble, but for most readers its close enough.

“Famished food’s always better.”

Quibbles: Bacon overdoes the regional and racial dialects. Yes, rural Tennesseans would have spoken an argot unintelligible to modern ears, but having established his character’s types early Bacon could back off as the novel progresses. The neighbors’ reaction to a hated enemy might be less laissez-faire, but highlights the behavior of those whose reaction isn’t.

“A man ain’t what he is, but who he is.”

It ends with a cliffhanger, but unlike so many inept series the first volume is a cogent whole. The reader is drawn in to more, but not left feeling cheated by a three hundred page introduction.

“I’d rather not pass that way in the dark again.”

Book Review: Land of My Heart by Tracie Peterson (Four Stars)

Book Review: Land of My Heart (Heirs of Montana #1) by Tracie Peterson

Four Stars out of Five

A winning overlap of Christian, historical and women’s fiction. Peterson addresses, if not exactly capturing, the major attitudes and conflicts of the 1860s, projecting them onto the frontier as people leave a war-ravaged East taking their prejudices and shortcomings with them. Most historical references are true to the period, where many supposed western tales stumble into Hollywood cliches.

Because the main character is a young woman, the trials and tragedies recorded are not those usually chronicled in wagon train and frontier sagas, but those of a protected young woman dealing with lose and the unknown. Despite an opening catastrophe, starting west seems easy, but it’s not. Dianne Chadwick’s hopes turn to despairs but she presses on. She must.

Too many characters exhibit a thoroughly 21st century understanding of religion—both pro and con–but 19th century attitudes would not resonant with modern readers, in fact might seem incomprehensible.

Well done.

Book Review: City of Angels by Tracie Peterson and James Scott Bell (Four Stars)

Book Review: City of Angels by Tracie Peterson and James Scott Bell

Four Stars out of Five.

“It is hard to fail but worse to have never tried to succeed.” Theodore Roosevelt, quoted in the text.

Well-researched and well-told historical fiction. Written in two genres about which I have low expectations—women’s fiction and Christian fiction—this book stands on its own two feet and demands attention as simply a good story.

Before you deluge me with hate mail, I hasten to add that I don’t pretend to expertise on either of those genres. I have read a lot of both, but most offerings haven’t struck a responsive chord with me. In the case of the former perhaps because I’m a man. On the other hand I am a Christian, but my experience with modern Christian fiction is that it tends to be Continue reading

Book Review: In the Blackness of Space by Robert D. Kuntz (Five Stars)

Book Review: In the Blackness of Space by Robert D. Kuntz

Five Stars out of Five

“To be an adult means you give up seeing yourself as a victim.”

An amazing hard science fiction outing which I compare to The Martian, also published in 2014. While the two books share many parallels, Blackness attracts the reader with a protagonist so flawed that just riding a car is a trauma. How he ends up on NASA’s first interstellar mission, that’s the first (and most obvious) of many plot turns. (Unfortunately, it is spoiled in the plot summary)

Without making spoilers, I can’t discuss the last half of the book at all. The big climax is well foreshadowed but a total surprise. Seriously, how do you sneak someone into space? I know, the whole world knew Chapman was taken up drugged and why, but seriously.

Blackness is not only good science fiction, it’s a good exploration of a person’s inner struggles and his eventual coming to faith. Some readers will disagree with the form of that inner journey, but it’s integral to the plot. Well told. Before I read it, I thought the title obvious, even trite, but in fact it too is integral to the story.

As I read Blackness I toyed with ratings of three or four stars. The climax garnered its fifth star, but I can tell you no more without spoiling the fun.

Nice cover art. (Look closely.)

Book Review: Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering (Three Stars)

Book Review: Rules of Murder by Julianna Deering

Three Stars out of Five

A pleasant period piece of an English murder mystery set in the 1930s. Deering, a pen name for Deanna Julie Dodson, turns many classic mystery conventions on their head as her idle, rich protagonist is drawn into investigating the mysterious deaths of several people near and dear and a few almost strangers. In the process he finds romance and a spiritual anchor in the American niece of his step-father.

Mysteries are not my cup of tea, so I can’t be expected to understand all Deering did to craft this mystery, but I can appreciate her intricate plot and attempts at setting the scene eighty years ago.

That said, the tone was slightly off; it sounds like England as experienced by PBS mini-series. For example, the colloquialisms sound forced. English, especially English men, seldom refer to their car as a 1923 Rolls Royce. Model, presumably Sliver Ghost, rather than year of manufacture is the typical referent. Too many modified adverbs: perfectly, unselfconsciously, and unsuitably.

Nice cover art.

A worthy effort.