Friday, January 21, 2011

Shattered Dreams

I received this book through LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program and I wasn't that excited. I find many Christian self-help books to be formulaic and oversimplified. Might I also point out that Christian self-help is a moronic classification since Christianity is all about Christ working in people unable to save themselves. So it was with great trepidation that I cracked open the cover and read the Author's Note and Introduction. "Not bad," I thought, "but I don't hold out much hope for the rest."

The rest blew me away. It was the antithesis of self-help, the flip side of the prosperity gospel, the inverse of American Christianity. There are no steps to follow. There is simply an attitude shift and a different view of problems. This is not a way to become happy but a way to find God.

It reminded me of Revelations 3:17,18 - "Because you say, 'I am rich and have become wealthy, and have need of nothing,' and you do not know that you are wretched and miserable and poor and blind and naked, I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire, that you may become rich, and white garments, that you may clothe yourself, and that the shame of your nakedness may not be revealed; and eye salve to anoint your eyes, that you may see."

Ten out of ten bookmarks.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Odd Girl Out

I brought this book home all excited to read a good ol' science fiction, opened it up and discovered it was third in a series. Third. I was tempted to drive the 14 miles back to the library in wintery conditions just to take it back and start with book #1 but I controlled myself. After reading it, I'm sure I could have used a bit of the background on characters from the first two books, but the plot and story of this book was separate enough that I thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Frank Compton is embroiled in a fight against the Modhri, a hive brain that can embed itself in others through thought control or physical things called polyps. Compton and his partner Bayta have been trying to root out the Modhri as they travel on the Quadrail, a train-like mode of transportation that goes between planets. He is just getting home from a mission when he is met at his front door by a girl who has been crashing at his apartment and is looking for help. She needs someone to get her younger sister off the planet Tigris where her life is in danger. And so it begins.

This was perfect mind candy. I flew through the book unhindered by my brain, just enjoying the mystery and excitement and imagination that Timothy Zahn set before me. I look at reading as something to be enjoyed and this delivered. This was no Dickens, nor was it meant to be. Odd Girl Out is merely a good old story told in new and interesting places which I find oddly comforting. It brings about a feeling of relaxation and enjoyment and makes it so I don't have to bring my brain out for much exercise. A good, fun read - seven bookmarks out of ten.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Think of the Earth

I picked up Bertram Brooker's 1936 Think of the Earth because it won the first Governor General's Award for Fiction in Canada, and I'm hoping to read through the GG's during the next couple of years. I was pleasantly surprised by the book - I think I was expecting a good helping of boring but instead was entertained and enlightened.

Think of the Earth is about a man, a wanderer, who feels a deep tie with Christ although they live continents and centuries apart. In fact, he becomes caught in a web of over-identifying with him and is convinced he is meant to become a sacrifice of the sort that relieves people of the guilt they carry around with them. It is this that gives his life fulfillment until he meets a preacher's daughter and feels the stirrings of love for another in his heart.

The reason I liked this novel so much was that it went overboard where religion was concerned and then pulled itself back. Nowadays a person doesn't read novels that deal with Christianity and heretical opinions unless they are in the religions aisle in a big book store or in a Christian media store looking at nonfiction. The book surprised me for where the philosophy went and where it ultimately ended up. It was a nice change. Eight out of ten bookmarks.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

The Skin Map

Stephen Lawhead has started a new fantasy series called Bright Empires, beginning with the book The Skin Map. I read this quite quickly and will probably take the next one out of the library when it is released, but it isn't that memorable. Compared to the last book I read, characterization is virtually non-existent and the story flies. Of course, this is not meant to be classic literature, so it is like comparing a big turkey dinner to a McDonald's cheeseburger. Both fulfill your hunger, but in widely diverse ways.

Ley lines are the keys to the plot in this book. Specific paths where the fabric between universes is rather thin and can be used to cross over into another time, place, and reality. Kit Livingstone is brought along one of these ley lines and is quickly moved into an adventure that has been waiting for him since before his birth. His great-grandfather has been travelling ley lines for most of his life and needs to pass on his knowledge and task to a successor who can continue in his footsteps. At the moment, he is looking for pieces of the skin map which is the only record of where and when all the paths lead to. Obviously it is much sought after and Kit's great-grandfather is not the only one on the hunt. Thus begins the adventure which moves quickly in a variety of places to a variety of people. There is Kit and his great-grandfather, Cosimo, Kit's girlfriend Wilhelmina, Arthur Flinders-Petrie whose body is the canvas for a very unique map, Sir Henry Fayth and his niece who collaborate with the Livingstones, and Lord Burleigh who is also after the map but will go to any lengths to get it.

I'll admit to being disappointed. Even though it is mainly plot-driven, the plot is very convoluted and seemingly random. Nothing really gets explained to satisfaction and as mentioned before, characterization is definitely lacking. There doesn't seem to be the grandeur or legend building that occurs in many other fantasy series. Only four bookmarks out of ten.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Felix Holt, the Radical

The first book I have finished in 2011 is a classic written by the estimable George Eliot, whose novel Middlemarch I fell completely in love with. I found Felix Holt to be an inferior work, but still entertaining and quite gripping toward the end of the book. The Transome estate is in neglect when we first enter the scene, and the stately lady of the house is eagerly awaiting the arrival of her second-born son who has recently become the inheritor of everything. Lady Transome has many high hopes for this, her favourite child, and is in a state of eager anticipation when he arrives. Thus the story starts briefly with hope, but delves quickly into a twisted labyrinth of secrets and politics, immorality and goodness, love and hatred. We meet Esther and her father Mr. Lyon, a Radical minister, Mr. Jermyn who is a lawyer and has managed Transome in lieu of a mentally incapacitated Lord and his gambling eldest son, and the man the book is named after, Felix Holt who is of high moral character and, even more impressive, practices what he preaches.

Felix Holt was slow to get into and slow to introduce characters, but once all that was out of the way it developed into a lovely little morality tale complete with romance and politics. I give it seven bookmarks out of ten.