Westmark, by Lloyd Alexander


Westmark

Lloyd Alexander is called “the grand master of fantasy”; I would argue he is the grand master of engaging writing, but it is neither great nor grand, rather, amusing. As long as you don’t think, it’s a fun ride. “Westmark” feels like a long series of character sketches. I was highly engaged, and read all three books in the trilogy, but I’ll also be the first to admit its mental junkfood at its finest. Since the story seems to lack a plot, I’ll recap the main characters. Okay, so there is a plot… its just holier than Swiss cheese, and if I told you one part, you’d look through the nearest hole and know the end!

Theo: Orphan with a pedigree in gutter scum, he somehow managed to work his whole life in a shop where every customer had to have a permit from the government before he could do a job for them, and totally forget that the first time someone doesn’t have one. And then, after said someone’s job gets his boss killed, he goes to work for said someone and involved in all sorts of illegal activities (mainly fraud). The only character in the book whose cleverness isn’t praised every SINGLE chapter; also the only character who occasionally, briefly, wonders why he’s breaking the law so much.

Count Las Bombas: Con man and aforementioned said someone. Competes with Fabian (below) for the title of village idiot. He is constantly swindling people out of their money, and usually getting other people in trouble for the same. He gets punished for it, once, but his rescue is a climax of the book. (I’m torn between being sorry he escaped, or sorry he was arrested, since anyone falling for his banal brand of “cleverness” ought to be crowned as village idiot. There is a lot of competition for that title. )

Mickle: Girl with a mysterious past, she is the author’s Deus Ex Machina. Every single idea she has serves to forward the plot by being incongruously right. Oh, and she can do gymnastics, sign language, perfect mimicry, cook, steal.. you name it, she’s master of the art by the end of this book. And did we mention she is exactly the same age, hair tone, and eye color as the princess who went missing from the kingdom many years ago? Theo is in awe of her talent and intellect (which surpass his own, but that isn’t saying much), as is…

Florian: He’s supposed to be a good guy because Theo looks up to him. You know that evil man, in Oliver Twist, who gets kiddies to like him and then uses them for his own ends? The guy who sings the “got to pick a pocket or two” song; name’s Fabian. Imagine he lived in the 60s and had become a den father to a group of hapless college-age-hippies who were all converted to communism under his vague tutelage. And he’d been smoking something for long enough he’d become a blathering idiot that was looked up to because… he has a certain charm. The only illegal thing Florian and his minions apparently don’t do is grow marijuana. Or go a single SOLITARY chapter without praising his cleverness and applauding his “certain charm”.

Chief Minister Cabbarus: apparently there was no room in the plot for someone who actually did anything bad, since so far everyone who breaks the law is considered clever. So this Cabbarus is stuck as the bad guy, and I’m not quite sure what he does to deserve it. The king has given him a lot of power, but, um… the king has spent the last ten years ignoring all his advisors in favor of trying to commune with his dead daughter via the occult. Anyway, I rather like Cabbarus; he brings in everybody else on my main character list (except the crowned village idiot, Florian) to have one of their fake séance’s for the king, facilitating a really fun climax. There’s a queen and a doctor who don’t get their own character headings, by the way, even though they have speaking parts, because despite how much power everyone credits them with, all they do is whine. And eventually retreat, so the king never listens to them, just Cabbarus, who is apparently the only person in the castle who bothers hanging out with the king.

Overall: The writing style is very engaging, so if you have a reader that needs some inspiration (say, ‘finish one chapter of that Martin Luther biography and you can read one chapter of this’), this is the book for you. I also enjoyed it from the sarcastic side of me that just loves a good argument with someone else’s worldview (especially since, without a real person doing any talking, or a plot to distract from the opinions, I could search out all the holes without interrupting my train of thought). Mental junkfood, by the way, is my family’s category for books that entertain without teaching anything in the process; not bad, just unhelpful.

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On The Street Where You Live by Mary Higgins Clark


On the Street Where You Live

This being the second book by Clark that I’ve read, I would like recommend her books. There seems to be a pattern (and others attested to the same) that Clark uses few objectionable elements. There are few curse words and little else, excepting some violence.

If you haven’t read Clark, start with this excellent book. Clark typically has a female lead that ends up embroiled in a criminal investigation of some sort, almost like a modern adult Nancy Drew. I appreciate that Clark does not focus to much on the lead’s emotions as this makes the book more accessible to us guys.

In this tale, Emily Graham migrates her residency to the New Jersey coastal town of Spring Lake where she purchases her ancestral home. Driven to Spring Lake to escape a slimy nasty ex-husband and to escape memories of a now institutionalized deranged stalker, Graham hopes for a peaceful weekend residence; her “real home” being an apartment in New York City. Mix in a historical serial killer that plagued Spring Lake 100 years earlier, add a recent set of murders and simmer…..

The first of the three historical victims (all young women) was a great aunt of Emily Graham. Now, two young women had vanished;yes Emily has been marked to be the third. The day after Emily takes possession of the new home, workers digging for a pool discover two corpses buried in the backyard: one has been buried for 3-4 years, the other for more than a century.

With a few weeks before her new job begins, Emily has time to kill. Considering that the two corpses (one being that of her great aunt) were side by side, Emily is convinced that there a connection exists between both sets of murders. Naturally, she begins to explore the past to solve the present.

Clark creates an engrossing story that brings the past to life and immerses the reader into the events. Drama and mystery with plenty of red herrings and sub plots fill every page. I did semi-confidently predict who the killer was, but I can’t honestly say that I was certain till the killer was revealed and all explained. Considering my reasoning, it was probably more of a lucky guess.

But most intriguingly, Clark explored an interesting concept: can a serial killer be reincarnated? She doesn’t say either way, but it is interesting. One character argues that only good people can be reincarnated, but Clark leaves the idea for pondering.

As a Christian, I reject the idea of reincarnation in any form, but it still creates an interesting idea to ponder.

Have you ever read any of Mary Higgins Clark? If so, which of her titles would you recommend?

The Holy Bible, inspired by God; Part 1


The Right Way to Do Wrong

I know, there are technically 66 books in the Bible, but it is also one complete book by itself. For almost a thousand years, only the rich or well-educated could read the Bible, because the only translations available were in Latin. You’d think every Christian would have read the whole Bible at least once. Take a poll at your next Bible Study or Youth Group meeting; I’d be obliged to hear the result in the commentary section.

It’s a family tradition for us to go through the whole Bible in a year; four chapters a day, six days a week, gets you done two weeks before New Year’s Eve. You can get done on New Year’s Eve with three chapters of the Old Testament a day and five on New Testament chapters on Sunday. There are many published “daily reading” plans that you can go by as well; most Bibles have at least one in the back somewhere. Doing this every year has been really influential in my spiritual growth; I’m much more familiar with scripture now than I was five years ago. While one should certainly take time to deeply study the individual books, a general familiarity with the Bible is within the grasp of every Christian. Everyone, eventually, comes across someone who is in error about Biblical teachings; being familiar with the Bible can help you recognize, if only subconsciously, that they are wrong. You may not know why, but you can know where to go for answers.
Some fun Bible facts:

* The first legally owned English Bible was in England, and belonged to Anne Boleyn. While legend has it that William Tyndale sent it to her, more likely one of his business associates named Robert Pyle gave the Bible to her as a thank-you for intervening on his behalf with the English merchants (who acted a lot like a union, and would have refused him entry into the markets had he not established a lack of royal disfavor).
* Many people I know carry one of those pocket New-Testament-and-Psalms editions of the Bible. While I have every respect for them, it is worth noting that at the time most of the New Testament was written, “the scriptures” meant the only extant written portion of God’s word, the Old Testament. The first compiled list of the books we now call the “New Testament” came out after 300 AD.
* Most Bibles are a particular “version” or translation; this is merely a designation to differentiate between various editions, and is usually in acronym form. NKJ, KJ, ESV, RG, etc.
* By 400 A.D., the Bible (or portions of it as we know today) had been translated into 500 languages. By 500 A.D., in Europe, it was available only in one language; Latin. A thousand years later, Erasmus couldn’t even buy a Greek translation; he had to borrow Greek texts from all his scholar friends.
* The first ‘legal’ translation of the Bible into the local language after 500 A.D. was by Martin Luther, who did so under the protection of his local prince, Duke Fredrick the Wise, and the intense disapproval of both his emperor Charles V and the Pope (who technically was over both Duke and Emperor).

There are several benefits to reading the entirety of God’s word “from in to amen” on a regular basis. If you haven’t made this a New Year’s Resolution yet, I encourage you to do so. Even if you do not believe it is the inspired word of God, read the Bible anyway; it’s not a collection of myths, but real history that actually happened.

The Thief, By Megan Whalen Turner


The Thief

One of my sisters introduced this book to me after she read it. She thoroughly enjoyed it, so I thought I would too. I was not mistaken, I was captivated by it. Although a work of fiction, it is well worth the time spent reading it, a page-turner. Which for me was but 3 days.

Plot: There are four countries mentioned in this book. Sounis, Attolia and Eddis. Another, called Mede, is further detailed in the sequel.

Our story begins in the country of Sounis, with our hero, Gen, in its dungeon for stealing the king’s signet ring. Upon further reading we discover that he did in fact steal the ring, and bragged about it in a wine shop the next day. For this he was arrested. A man named Magus comes to visit, after Gen has been in the dungeon for several months. He takes Gen to his office and makes him a deal, if he will steal a certain item for him, the Magus will ensure his release from prison. Gen agrees, but is warned that if he flees or fails, he will be hunted down.

A day or so later Gen again leaves his cell, but this time for good. He is led to courtyard where he meets his other traveling companions, Ambiades, Sophos, Pol and Magus. After everything is loaded on the horses, the five of them start their journey. Along the way we learn more about the character of each person Gen is traveling with, and more importantly, about Gen himself. We also discover that the item Gen is supposed to steal, is Hamiathes Gift, a stone dipped in the water of immortality. The person who possesses this stone, will never die as long as he has it. So they journey out of Sounis, through the Eddisian mountains and into Attolia, where the stone is located. A little more then half way through the book our hero arrives at the dystopia mountains. They go through these, leaving Ambiades behind with their horses, after traveling many miles they reach the place where the stone is located. We find out that every year this temple, filled with water, empties late in the night, for four days, and refills each morning. So Gen has little time to enter this temple and find Hamiathes Gift.

Positive: Throughout the book the authoress gives you hints as to what is really going on in each character’s innermost heart. I could not figure out what was really going on, very the end. Some authors do not reveal a single detail of the plot, but Mrs. Turner does, even if they aren’t obvious.

We learn to love all but one of our characters; Mrs. Turner does a wonderful job of keeping the reader’s nose in the book, and maintaining lovable characters despite their faults. There is humor in plenty, not cheesy, but truly funny. (In my humble opinion.)

Our hero, we come to find, risks all to help his friends, even though they don’t always deserve it. He seems like a rogue at first, but we later learn different, he is also very observant. Being observant is something you have to do in this book, and its sequel.

Negative: The main negative events in this book are lying, stealing and several swear words. Lying and stealing are not encouraged, but our hero is a thief. A few times while on their journey, Gen is forced to steal, but the rest of the time it is of his own accord. There are a few references to torture, but nothing is put in detail. Thankfully. There are gods in the book, (Of earth, sky, lakes, rivers, thieves, oceans etc.) but in the back the authoress states that they were all invented by her imagination.

Overall: I loved this book very much; I have read it and its sequels several times over. They are the type that you can read over and over without boring yourself.

Our hero is a genius, and even though he seems odd and roguish, he is not as he appears. I recommend this book to all, it does have two books that follow, and I shall have a review on those as soon as I have it finished re-reading them.

If you like a page turning work of fiction, you will love this.

Links:
Buy it here