The Supernaturalists by Eion Colfer


The Supernaturalists

Cosmo Hill, an boy abandoned and found on the hill he is named after. Quite the boy, in this futuristic world, Cosmo is subject whatever the boys home people do to him, simply because he is a no-sponsor. (a.k.a no friends/relatives to pay for his upkeep) To feed all these no-sponsor orphans, the orphanage allows various companies to perform chemical tests on the boys. Of course because of all this chemical stuff flowing through them, and the processed foods they get, the longest life anyone has is fifteen. Cosmo is fourteen and dreams of escape.

His chance comes when he is out with other orphans listening to music and their car crashes. Redwood, a very bad guy, tries to wrap Cosmo and his friend, Ziiplock, in the rib-breaking material for Ziplock’s smart comments. They escape, but in the process Ziplock dies and Cosmo gets very hurt.

A threesome group of Supernaturalists, teens hunting Parasites, invisible blue creatures who are believed to suck the life out of hurting people, find Cosmo. Cosmo learns that he too can see these Parasites, because of his near death experience, and so with his three new friends, embarks on a mission to kill the blue buggers before they kill them.

Negative: Not much, one of the bad guys is really mean, but he gets his just desserts. People get wrapped in stuff that breaks ribs and an orphanage mistreats all its occupants.

Overall: A good book, not quite the genius Artemis Fowl, (a series by Eion Colfer) but I enjoyed it. 🙂 Unfortunately my one of favorite character died, but be assured it wasn’t the main character. 🙂 If you’re looking for enjoyable mental junk food, with plenty of plot twists, this is it.

Double Shot, by Diane Mott Davidson


Double Shot

Unraveling the Mystery section, part 1

Ever been to one of those bookstores with shelves all the way to the ceiling? The used ones, with so many kinds of books and so many authors, it makes your head spin? Well, I was in one last week, and got overwhelmed. So I grabbed five books off a shelf at random, and decided to unravel the mystery section. Good books will get the author on the seek list, bad ones on the skip list, and any other reveiwer’s are welcome to add to the series.

In the good news section, this book is all about good food. Most of the jokes involve food, and all the recipes mentioned are given in the back (very fun idea). The main character/female detective is a caterer, so amid investigating her ex-husband’s murder, she’s baking up all these food things that inspire you to try your own hand in the kitchen. The plot involves a lot of fun twists and turns, but mostly the main detective goes from food event to food event with inspiring ideas and collecting clues with her cop husband and gossip-queen girlfriend.

In the bad news department, Davidson has a very appalling sense of place and timing. Several scenes take place in all-too-detailed backgrounds, like a gross-out kitchen or sleazy “men’s club,” all peopled by completely unacceptably described shlubs. While a lot of food comments and quips take some sting out of it, the fact is, a good five pages need to be ripped out of this copy before its acceptable reading. I skimmed a lot of the detecting parts because of these locational problems, about 100 pages worth.

Overall, Davidson goes on my skip-list. Anyone disagree? In the mystery world, are nasty locations fair play, and if so, are there limits on how they should be handled? Or should the author be able to describe what happened, without setting the book in places where offensive material is a given?

Thanksgiving

This site is about book reviews. And only book reviews. But, as I own this site, I get to make exceptions on the (very) rare circumstances that I want to do so. Deal with it…. :-p

So, I was thinking about all the things for which I am thankful. It is two days till Thanksgiving after all. Now, I could compile a list of things for which I am thankful and post it here online, but I won’t, because I am paranoid about security. Let’s just say, that God has done many wonderful things for me this year.

There is one thing that I will share with you. Romans 8:1 states, “There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.”

Let’s step back and take a big view of Romans:

    Chapter 1: Man rejects God and God’s standards; these standards are required to enter Heaven
    Chapters 2-3: Men attempt to achieve God’s standards in their own way
    Chapter 4-5: The only way to meet God’s standards is to repent of your sinful actions and trust in the work of Christ to save you. You can’t do it on your own. A Christian is one who chose God’s way.
    Chapter 6: The process by which a Christian attempts to reach and maintain God’s perfect standards (clearly not accomplished in this mortal body…). This is the goal for daily living.
    Chapter 7: The struggles by which Christians try and fail to maintain God’s high requirements. Paul, the author of this book, expresses great frustration at his inability to maintain this perfect standard. This is our failure to maintain that goal.
    Chapter 8: The assistance needed to reach that goal and overcome failure.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

Often as a Christian I fail to live up to God’s standard. OK, most of the day I actively fail to measure up. That becomes frustrating to say the least. God expects better and yet I, like Paul described in chapter 7, fail miserably. Failure breeds depression, frustration and a desire to give up.

There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

This simple statement grants great reassurance. God isn’t judging Believers over their failures. He has forgiven those failures already. (That’s not a license to sin. In Chapter 6, Paul soundly rebukes that concept.) Rather this is the ability to step past my failures and try again. Romans 8:4ff argues that those who follow Christ “Set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” In other words, they choose to think about Godly things. Further, we learn a few verse later that those who walk according to the Spirit “through the Spirit put to death the deeds of the body.”

So victory comes through knowing that I am forgiven, actively focusing on things that honor God, and relying on the power of Spirit to say no to sin. That’s a formula that I’m not doing so well at, but I am starting to understand and grasp the ramifications of that first piece.

What am I thankful for this year? There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus.

You?

Maori and the Settler by G. A. Henty


The Shining Sword

(Another G.A. Henty I know, but I like his books, what can I say.)
Unlike most other Henty books, Maori and the Settler does not contain lots of battles and hardships for our hero to go through. Instead, Wilfred’s story, our hero, begins at his home in England.

Wilfred’s father is not an ambitious man, and spends his time studying to write books, thus forcing the house and business management on Wilfred and his mother. Because of strikes and riots, Wilfred’s family goes bankrupt with only the mother’s dowry to their name, and are thus obliged to leave their home in search of less expensive living.

Hearing of the good settling opportunities in New Zealand, they convince their father to move there. Most of the book revolves around their voyage there, the friends they meet, and the change in character several people have. Including the father, who realizes that he does not really know his family, and stops studying to spend more time with them.

A few dangerous moments occur aboard the ship they travel on, but nothing our hero and his friends cannot handle.

They reach New Zealand in one piece, and find a comfortable place to call home. Which they dub “The Glade.” Things to go smoothly, except for some Indian massacres they hear of, and the rumor that war might come their way. There is much more to tell, but I cannot without spoiling the end.

My overall reaction to the book was positive. I was surprised our hero was not as involved in wars and skirmishes, though he had his fair share. This book differs much from what I general read in Henty books, yet I really did enjoy the way Henty described the way of life a settler might have lived were he forced from England to New Zealand. It was informative and interesting, well worth the read.

The Shining Sword by Charles G. Coleman


The Shining Sword

The Shining Sword is an analogy of the armor of G-d. The author uses fictional characters and a season in their lives to show how she believes the armor of G-d is portrayed in the Bible. (I consider it accurate)

Lanus is our main character and he is very lazy. His favorite activities include wrestling and sleeping in the grass. He works only when he absolutely has to, and looks to the villagers for free meals here and there. He does not sound like much of a hero does it. No, and that disturbed me at first, that the author chose such a character for her hero, but it soon became clear that Lanus’s character was soon to get a wake-up call.

As Lanus is leisurely lying in the grass on a hill, he sees a familiar figure approaching, who turns out to be a friend that disappeared a year ago. Robin, the friend, tells Lanus of his life as a solider of the King, and that he came to invite him to visit the King’s home beyond the little valley where Lanus lives, and to become a soldier of the King.

Lanus agrees to visit, and is impressed with the work and lifestyle Robin and his comrades live in, yet the work part is still a bit bothersome to him. So instead of staying he goes back to the village. Yet instead of staying, you guessed it, he decides to return and become a soldier of the King, and face the enemy (the devil). From there we watch Lanus grow, fall and get back up again and learn proper use of the armor of the King. (G-d)

I must admit I considered this book a bit of a bore for the first 10 or 15 pages, the way the author began things was a little tedious and not very catching. However, I persevered because a friend lent it to me and I told him I would read it. After those first few pages, it began to pick up speed. It never reached 90 miles per hour, but it did end up keeping my interest and finishing out as a book worth reading. (198 pages at most)

If you end up reading this book, let me know what you think about the way the author portrays the armor of G-d. I liked it and thought it a good reminder.

John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portrait, by William J. Bouwsma


John Calvin: A Sixteenth Century Portraitr

This book purports to be an overview of John Calvin’s life from a fresh perspective, taking into account Calvin’s historical and theological influence on the modern world. Unfortunately, the book lives up to neither expectation. I’m working on finding a good in-depth Calvin biography. This is the worst sample I’ve found.

The good: Good explanation of some of he errors that histroians of Calvin’s life have been prone to, that introduction. Accurate overview of the events in his life, part of the first chapter. And blatantly secular humanist worldview is (while claimed to be neutral), open and obvious. Otherwise, um, the writing style is nice?

The bad: Bouwsma spends the entire introduction talking about how many historians have ignored or abused John Calvin’s memory in favor of their own agendas. Then he spends the entire book making Calvin out to be a caricature worthy of modern political cartoons. To this author, Calvin might as well have been Erasmus’s long lost twin brother who went off his meds and spent his life depressed, craving a father figure he never found in the papacy. The level of scholarship is pretty sad: both of the author’s main contentions fall flat.

The first contention of “A Sixteenth Century Portrait” argues John Calvin was a humanist, and that he agreed with Erasmus on every point (“Erasmus this” and “Erasmus that” gets really old by chapter two. The title really should have been “Erasmus, a 16th Century Portrait”). The logic behind this accusation is Calvin’s practical applications in his sermons. Applying the gospel to everyday life does not a humanist make. John Calvin’s practical streak was entirely bent on bringing the light of G_d’s Word to the people where they were, not on some academic plane but at home or in the marketplace.

Second, the author tries to argue that Calvin’s theological bent was a result of severe depression. The evidence cited is Calvin’s letters to a close freind back home, which are full of sorrows and complaints about his life in Geneva. No doubt, Geneva was a trial for John Calvin, and his calling there brought him little worldly pleasure. Its entirely possible to complain and rant about trials in one’s life and still be a very happy personality. Many college students, for example, feel called to complete their degree and use it in a career for G_d’s glory: this doesn’t preclude them from arguing about the high cost of textbooks, or complaining when a professor is perpetually late. Calvin may have been a weak vessel, but theological works and venting to friends are not evidence for a depressed soul.

Finally, its worth noting that the author also tries to make passing psychological evaluations of Calvin, his need for a father figure in G_d driving his break with Rome, etc. These are superficially made and unfair to Calvin as a person, historical importance aside.

Overall: You know you’ve hit rock bottom as a writer when your entire set up for the character of your book is based on someone else. Calvin was a complex but important historical figure who deserves more than a broadly stroked comparison: I was sorely disappointed by this book.

For a short but accurate overview of John Calvin’s life from a theological perspective, see “Five Leading Reformers”, by Christopher Catherwood. It includes Calvin, Luther, Zwingli, Cranmer, and Knox.

The Great Anglo-Boer War by Byron Farwell


The Great Anglo-Boer War

This book was an excellent read. It was a detailed account of the second war between the Dutch settlers of South Africa, called Boers (meaning farmers), and the English from 1899-1902.

The war came about as a result of the British denying the sovereignty of two independent Boer Republics; the Transvaal & the Orange Free State, which had initially been formed to escape English rule. These became independent in August, 1881. Not that English rule was inherently bad, but the Boers disliked it for several reasons, in addition to the more important fact that they desired to be independent.

The actual grievance that caused the British to deny the Boers their independence was that the Boers denied the right to vote to uitlanders (foreigners) who had immigrated to the Transvaal as a result of gold being found there. When gold was discovered in late 1887, a flood of European immigrants, mostly English, poured into the Transvaal. The great number of people pouring in alarmed the Boer people who feared they would soon be outnumbered and, therefore, raised the number of years an uitlander must be a resident of the country to become a citizen and gain the right of franchise from one to five, and eventually to 14 years. This was quite understandable, as the uitlanders represented totally different ideals than the Boers, and were turbulent and not necessarily scrupulous people.

The Boers themselves, mainly of Dutch & some little French Huguenot descent, were a truly Dutch people; stubborn, kind, hardworking, with unshakable faith in the Holy Scriptures. These people were an inherently Christian people with an irrepressible desire for liberty & independence. They were predominantly farmers.

When the Boers raised the franchise requirement, the Englishmen in the Transvaal, who had immigrated during the gold rush, sent a formal complaint to the Queen.

There was an outcry in Britain and the Governor of Cape Colony, Alfred Milner, was delegated to negotiate with the Boer President of the Transvaal, Paul Kruger. The Boer President of the Orange Free State, M. T. Steyn, arbitrated. Milner demanded that the franchise requirement be lowered back to five years. Kruger offered lowering it to seven years. This was a gigantic concession. Steyn privately advised Milner to accept this and move on to less significant issues, as this was a huge concession, and Kruger would not budge. Milner refused, and left the conference. Kruger rode away with tears streaming from his face, realizing that this was war. The English subsequently denied the independence of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State and sought to add them to the English Crown. Despite this, the Boers carried out their concession, and lowered the franchise requirement back to seven years. The Boer commandos, local militia, were organized and war ensued.

The book then describes the set piece battles of the early part of the war, the British triumph, the Boer determination to carry on the war through guerilla methods, and the British operation to destroy the Boer farms and place all Boer women & children in a series of concentration camps.

Negative: There is some slight use of foul language, somewhat violent battle descriptions, and graphic accounts of the depravity of the British Concentration Camps.

Positive: Well-written and very informative, this book really filled in a blank spot in history for me. It presented an extremely balanced view, giving both sides of the issue without drawing conclusions for you.

Overall: The Great Anglo-Boer War was an excellent read, well-worth the time spent. It is about 450 pages long, and is worth every minute spent. It really gives perspective on the time period and the ensuing Great War.