Book: The Christmas Candle

Why am I talking about a Christmas book when it’s nearly June? Well, my wife got it from the library and recommended it to me, and I have never really cared when I read seasonal literature, so bear with me for a few moments on this.

I generally don’t like cute little inspirational books. Their sweet stories are just too blatant and obvious, and they don’t do that much for me. In this case there are some exceptions to that rule. Yes, this book is sweet. It’s in a cute binding. It’s not terribly complex.

But there are some profound points. This story invites us to think not only about whether miracles are possible, but how they work as well. It invites us to think about how God can work through the simplest and most subtle of things rather than the most obvious and exciting.

In a village, every 25 years there is a special candle that seems to work miracles for whatever person receives it. In the year of our story there’s a new young pastor who doesn’t want to be there, and believes that all the talk about miracles just raises hopes that are sure to be dashed.

You’ll be surprised by the ending. It was great fun for me.

Book: A Ruinous Wind

I looked back at previous notes and found a brief note in this general post in which I am not too excited about Pilkington after reading a previous work, The Maiden Bell. I did indicate that I would probably read something else by the same author, but wasn’t in a hurry. Now I have, and I enjoyed it a great deal. I would call it a four, rather than the three I gave the previous book, and I can’t actually see the difference. I just must have been in a different mood when I read this one.

Thomas the Falconer is an interesting character, a very intelligent person stuck in a hierarchical society as a commoner. He manages to do well under those circumstances and he has a good, honest employer/lord who provides him with the freedom to do what he needs. He would prefer just taking care of the hawks, but he ends up spending a good deal of time solving mysteries.

In this story, he is thrust into a situation in which both he and his lord are in great danger. A very violent murderer is on the loose, and it is almost impossible to discover his motives or where he will strike next. I was surprised by the finish, which is one criteria I have for enjoying a novel. I don’t mind figuring out who the guilty party is early provided I feel clever when I do it. If it’s obvious and just falls into my lap it tends to annoy me.

In any case, the solution doesn’t come till the end and there are plenty of moments of action and suspense between. Reading A Ruinous Wind makes me more anxious to find more John Pilkington mysteries.

Book: Eragon

Well, eventually the day comes when I get around to reading even really popular literature and so it arrived for this book. A friend loaned it to me and it took some time for it to rise to the top of my reading list. I’m a bit slow to grab things that have a immediate, huge public following–just one of my personality quirks.

Having gotten the covers open, I found an interesting, but not riveting story. That is to say, I didn’t read it all at one session or have difficulty putting it down. I do like light reading, and it fit that category quite nicely. There are no really odd monsters or characters. The politics is pretty simple, and the scenes of individual combat and the battles are described in a very general fashion. Many readers will like that, though I tend to prefer the more blow by blow descriptions (David Weber comes to mind).

Eragon, the lead character, stumbles into his heroic mission, then takes it up reluctantly but quite effectively. There are several story lines left for later books, and reviews indicate the second volume is better than the first. It’s pretty difficult to write something that good for young readers and at the same time keeps the attention of adult readers, so this is not a bad job at all, and the author was 17 when it was published in 2003.

I haven’t seen the movie; who knows when I’ll get to that.

Rating: 3.7 (1 – 5)

On Harry Potter

I’m not a reader of the Harry Potter series, but I really like this note from Laura of Pursuing Holiness. (I worked together with Laura in forming the Philophronos Blogroll which can be seen on my threads blog. This is my “fun” blog.)

To a large extent I think the difference in people’s reactions to books like these is one of perspective. There’s an old saying: Two men looked out from prison bars, one saw mud, the other saw stars. Similarly with literature you can either see the wonderful themes of the Lord of the Rings, or you can get hung up on the fact that wizards and magic are involved in the story.

There are types of literature and entertainment that we should avoid as Christians. Often, however, we avoid things out of hysteria and ignorance rather than because of considered judgment.

Book: A Hunger in the Soul

Since this is a blog entry rather than a formal review, I can just give you my reactions. This is my second Mike Resnick book, and let me start by saying that I didn’t really like it. That is not to say that it was a bad book. There are many books that I think have merit, but that I don’t really like.

I think the problem with this one is that while the story itself had many points of interest, I didn’t like any of the characters all that much, and found the general theme not terribly compelling. This is an “African explorer” tale written on the backdrop of a galaxy dominated by humans. Much like Europeans descending on Africa or the Americas, the humans find themselves superior, at least in firepower, and they treat the alien species encountered, intelligent or otherwise, like natives at the height of colonization.

The characters could likewise be taken from a stereotypical story of that era. There’s the adventuresome journalist (Markham), the guide with a sympathy for the natives (though not necessarily the backbone to make it stick), the hunter who has lived there all his life and knows how things work, and of course the many natives who are often slaughtered just because they are at the wrong place at the wrong time.

Nonetheless, Resnick spins a pretty good tale, and one that gives one something to think about. I’d think one could do some serious moral thinking about the choices made by the surviving characters in the last few chapters. While the natives are not developed in that much depth, they are developed to a sufficient extent that you can wonder what things could be like for them if their culture had a chance to grow rather than be run over by the human “Democracy” as the apparent federation of all the human worlds is called.

The story telling is in the same interesting, bold style that my previous reading of Resnick has led me to expect, and I would read this under about the same circumstances. I think the problem here is that I generally want to sympathize with one of the major characters in a story, and I don’t find any opportunity here. The natives seem the most interesting to me, but we don’t really get to know them all that much. So combining that with a background that doesn’t interest me I was probably put off an otherwise interesting story. Thus this becomes an example of a story I don’t like, even though it’s not a bad one!

Book: In the Presence of the Enemy

A couple of days ago I blogged about discovering Elizabeth George’s collection of short stories, I, Richard, and how much I appreciated those stories.

At the same time I checked out her book In the Presence of the Enemy. Now those of you who pay attention to the reading I choose here will note that I tend a bit toward active material and often shorter works, despite the fact that I do like good characterization, which is often what is lost in such books. In this case, the book is longer (535 pp.) and not nearly as light. There is good action, but there are also long sections devoted to developing the character, even the character of the murder victim. This book is in a different category from many mysteries that I read. It has more characteristics of a serious novel. At the same time I enjoyed it, though it won’t replace the kind of light reading I like to rest my mind after a hard day’s work writing or editing.

The mystery element is also excellent. I must confess that I wondered briefly about the character who is actually guilty, but had dismissed that person for various reasons and thus was surprised by the ending. I had reasons to believe that each one of the possibilities were not the right one. I do like to be surprised. There are clues to the right character for those who read more attentively than I did. Thinking back I was able to see where I should have become suspicious.

I particularly liked the development of the moral character. Two key people, Dennis Luxford, a journalist of an amoral, circulation building variety, and Eve Bowen, an MP of the ambitious variety have to face who they are and what they have done in their lives. I felt that the process in each case was quite believable and human, and provided plenty to think about.

This is definitely a 4 star book for me!

Book: I, Richard

At the library I noticed books by Elizabeth George for the first time. It’s not entirely surprising that I haven’t seen her material before, since I tend to work rather unadventuresomely from material I’m familiar with. I picked up a novel, which I am currently reading, and a collection of short stories, I, Richard. The title of the book comes from the title of the final story, which is a fine piece of writing.

I like the short story form, and this material is exquisite. I enjoyed every one. The settings vary somewhat, from England, to New England, to California. We join a study group in England learning about architecture (Exposure), a very eccentric neighbor (Good Fences Aren’t Always Enough), a very nearly (not so) perfect murder (The Surprise of his Life), a very shocking reason to tell someone you love them (Remember, I’ll Always Love You), and finally there is the fine tale of a man who just wants to finally exonerate Richard III of the crime of killing the princes (I, Richard). The lengths he’ll go to accomplish that may surprise you.

This is an excellent collection, and I’m glad it was my start in reading Elizabeth George.

Two Books from Familiar Authors

It’s been my goal to post on this blog 2-3 times per week, with either something original or a translation included weekly. Obviously, I have failed to meet that target by quite a margin. I don’t want to post an entry for every book by authors about whom I’ve blogged before, however, so here I will just mention two that I’ve read recently.

The first is yet another J. D. Robb book, Portrait in Death, which didn’t change my option of J. D. Robb as a fiction writer. I still enjoy her work for light reading, and after long days in front of the typewriter, I’m looking for something that’s fun, flows well, and yet interesting enough. Robb’s Eve Dallas books fill that niche just fine for me. In this case, the story is about a person who combines art and murder in a somewhat unusual way. It’s good reading.

The second is an older book by J. A. Jance, Name Withheld, a J. P. Beaumont mystery. Jance is one of my favorites in the mystery area, though I generally read her books in the same mental state as I pick up Robb’s. In other words, I don’t want to be seriously intellectually challenged, but I want a fun mystery with good characters, and a solution that isn’t too obvious. They both work out well on that count.

I’m continuing my reading with an author who is new to me, Elizabeth George. I will write about one of her books in a separate entry, and I’m also reading a novel that I’ll write about later.

Note also that the little Amazon link to the right now cycles through about ten books that are either on my immediate future list (it’s on my shelf ready) and my most recent reading.

Book: Sherlock Holmes and the Kings’ Governess

Well, I’m a bit behind the times on this series, but I must admit that I have very little liking for continuations of various series by new authors. In this case, however, Barrie Roberts does a very good job of catching Arthur Conan Doyle’s style, and thus, of course, Dr. Watson’s.

We’re taken to London during Queen Victoria’s jubilee, and presented with a character who is almost instantly identifiable as the main character in The King and I. Sherlock Holmes finds himself more in the role of preventing a crime than in solving one, but he has plenty of mysteries on which to demonstrate his skills. I felt that a little less time was spent on the investigating a bit more on the action than I would expect if Doyle were the author, but overall the feel is pretty authentic.

The story itself is fun, but not “I can’t put this down” fascinating. I’ll rate this as a three, but you should regard it as a four if you really like the Holmes style mysteries. It’s just that I’m locked into my ratings, and a three shows where books in this series and by this author will be in my list.

Book: Retief’s Peace

I’m a big fan of Keith Laumer. In different moods I like Retief and the Bolo series. William H. Keith, Jr. has now been extending that series, and this little book is great fun.

Especially with humor, I’m really leery of a new author taking something over. Will the charm and fun still be there? Keith has managed to accomplish the near impossible–a new Retief book that is just as much fun as the old ones. We find Retief again avoiding promotion by being excessively competent and willing to point out the errors of others.

There’s a new species intent on conquest, the mysterious Krll, who are apparently intent on conquering peaceful planets and generally creating havoc throughout the cluster. The question is, what do peace protests, drug lords, and disguised five-eyed, sticky fingered Groaci diplomats have to do with it all?

Enjoy!