Tag Archives: christianity

World Religions: Islam – Lecture 6: Paths to God – Islamic Law and Mysticism

The following bits represent my notes and thoughts as I watch The Great Courses, “Great World Religions: Islam” by John L. Esposito.  A few things are worth noting:

  1. I encourage those with an interest to seek out the original source material.  You can do that on The Great Courses website.  My notes are just a pale shadow of the whole course but they might whet your proverbial whistle.
  2. These are just my notes and not an attempt to encapsulate the whole course.  As such, it should be painfully obvious that I’m no expert and at times prone to oversimplification and outright error.
  3. There is no third thing.  I just can’t stand having only two things in a list.

Lecture 6: Paths to God – Islamic Law and Mysticism

Islamic law is derived from three sources:

  • Sharia – the teachings of the prophet as embodied in the Quran
  • Sunnah – the example of the prophet
  • Ijtihad – human interpretation of Sharia and Sunnah by the Ulama (scholars) and application of common sense and reasoning.  For the Shia community, this last takes a secondary role to collected writings not recognized by the Sunni community.

The law is designed to establish definitively what it means to be a good Muslim and create a just society that is equitable to all.  For the Muslim faith, action and obedience to the law is considered much more important than questions of theology.

The law covers two basic areas:

  • Duties to God – essentially, the Five Pillars previously discussed
  • Duties to Others – rules about public and family life

Family Law – Family law covers three basic topics which will be outlined below.  It should be noted that these laws vary greatly from region to region to conform to some degree with local customs and have over time evolved significantly.  Legal opinions are passed down by means of the issuance of a fatwa, a formal legal opinion given by a Mufti.

  • Marriage – previous to the Muslim faith, women were treated essentially as a possession to be handed out.  Under Sharia, women became a party to their own marriage contracts and could benefit from their own dowries.  Polygamy was regulated and men were limited to four wives but only if they could legitimately support them.  Men and women are viewed to have equal partnership within Muslim marriage but to have complimentary roles with the man working outside the home while the woman is master inside the home.
  • Divorce – while still permitted, divorce is termed “the most abominable” of things allowed by the Quran.  Previously, a man needed merely to utter “I divorce you” to remove his wife from her position.  Now the rules are significantly more complex and the wife is entitled to financial support.
  • Inheritance – woman can now inherit whereas previously it was only the eldest male child which could see money from the death of a parent.

Sufism represents the mystical aspects of Islam and the lecturer’s description made me think of them like hippies.  They are observant when it comes to Islamic law but they find that the law alone isn’t really sufficient.  They seek direct contact with Allah through prayer, fasting and meditation.  Despite being, at times, in conflict with the ulama, since about the 12th century they have worked to spread themselves through the establishment of monasteries that bring to mind monastic aspects of the Christian religion.


Series Guide

IslamView back-to-back on the YouTube Playlist
Lecture 1– Islam Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow
Lecture 2 – The Five Pillars of Islam
Lecture 3 – Muhammad-Prophet and Statesman
Lecture 4 – God’s Word-The Quranic Worldview
Lecture 5 – The Muslim Community-Faith and Politics
Lecture 6 – Paths to God-Islamic Law and Mysticism
Lecture 7 – Islamic Revivalism-Renewal and Reform
Lecture 8 – The Contemporary Resurgence of Islam
Lecture 9 – Islam at the Crossroads
Lecture 10 – Women and Change in Islam
Lecture 11 – Islam in the West
Lecture 12 – The Future of Islam

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The week in book reviews for 5/31

It is sometimes mind-boggling to look back on a week and realize how much bookage I’ve ploughed through in the past week. So without further ado, I give you the lucky 13


BodiesBodies by Si Spencer

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

This graphic novel is a multi-threaded time travel murder mystery of sorts. It has many mythological aspects and delves into the ideas of secret societies, ancient texts and even manages to rope in bog bodies. The narrative is exceptionally complex and at times, honestly, is beyond total comprehension. I was able to unravel the overarching concept of the book but many of the details simply escaped me completely.

To the positive, the book does touch on some interesting concepts and its use of language is a joy. I found myself heading to the dictionary quite a few times and there are dozens of wonderful period English colloquialisms. The artwork is solid, sometimes shocking and exceptionally adult. This is not a novel for the kiddos of any age. There is much sexual congress, drinking of blood (straight from the proverbial ‘tap’) and outright murder.

To the negative, as I said, I just couldn’t quite tease out all the meaning in the various storylines. I know generally what happened and the storyline is reasonably satisfying but there are so many loose ends in my head that I think it would take a couple more readings to properly sort out. The text isn’t terribly dense it’s just that there are so many threads and there is little visual difference between some characters to properly tell them apart. Adding to that the rapid switches between timelines make it difficult to know not only who is acting but also when they are in time and where they are. It is certainly a bit of a puzzle.

In summary, for intense fans of the genre, this is probably a winner but for me as a more casual fan this blew my head apart. It’s graphic, innovative and complex but maybe a bit too complex for my addled mind.


When It Was Just a Game: Remembering the First Super BowlWhen It Was Just a Game: Remembering the First Super Bowl by by Harvey Frommer (Author), Frank Gifford (Foreword)

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book covers, in epic detail and from the view of the person’s involved, the first Super Bowl, though it wasn’t strictly speaking called that at the time. About 80% of the text is quotation from the people involved with the events described (or their children) including but not limited to Howard Cosell, Frank Gifford, Lamar Hunt Jr, Hank Stram, Susan Lombardi, Len Dawson and Bart Starr.

On the positive side, the book’s level of detail is dizzying. This single event in sports history is covered at a depth which is unprecedented. The story takes you from the childhoods of the two battling coaches and winds its way to the fallout after the game and a ‘where are they now’ of the players on both sides of the ball. The coverage of the game composes only about 20-25% of the book but you get keen psychological insight on both the winners and the losers.

To the negative side, the book is primarily quotation and most of those seem to be verbatim transcripts of video conversations about the game. As such they can tend to be a bit rambling and not as concise or on-point as they could be. Also, while the detail is wonderful it can at times be overwhelming with so many names and places whizzing by it’s hard to keep a firm grip on all of them at one time.

In summary, this book smells like someone’s doctoral dissertation on the game. It is extremely well researched and masterfully detailed and sometimes almost TOO detailed. This is a great reference tool and good for the expert in football history but as a casual fan I was at times overwhelmed by the enormity of it all. A great book but you’ve got to be committed to take it pretty seriously and give it your utmost attention.


Excellence in Forgiving & ToleranceExcellence in Forgiving & Tolerance by Tanveer Ahmed

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This is a very short book so I’m just going to make a few notes as I go through. Take them for what you will.

* Formatting in the web reader is VERY poor. Almost to the point of unreadability.
* The text is composed of 13 very short phrases or passages which illustrate the point of the book. In total the book is about 3 and a half pages in the cloud reader’s view of things.
* Text is littered with citations such as (Musnad Imam Ahmad, pp. 71, vol. 7, hadis 19264) and every mention of the prophet has a… benediction in curly braces like so: {peace be upon him}. This can get very distracting.
* The subject matter itself is very true and basically boils down to what Christians would term “love your enemy” and general forgiveness. These are extremely positive messages but most readers will have a hard time teasing them out of the text of this book.

In summary, I think it has a great message and one that many could appreciate but it needs a LOT of work to reach a wider audience if that is the intent.


Nesselorette: The BookNesselorette: The Book by Clem Maddox

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Thematically, this book is a mixed bag. You’ve got voodoo and witchcraft somehow bound up in an ancient hunt for treasure that can only be revealed by one person because of their mystical bloodline. Enough said probably to avoid spoilers.

On the positive side, the book does have some very, VERY brief interesting moments. With enough work you could craft this into a passable novella but it would be a fairly cliche one. There are some amusing tidbits about Louisiana swamp culture but I’m giving the book the benefit of the doubt in assuming that they have some vague basis in truth.

To the negative side…. where do I begin. Firstly, the story, by the time you get to the end, is just an impossible mess and is a Frankenstein monster of old tired premises all bundled together in a completely untenable manner. You start out right away with the foundling on the doorstep of the hospital and from there you wind your way into the mysterious family history motif. This sort of thing isn’t entertaining even when done properly. Connecting all these narrative bits together you have long strings of impossible situations most notably involving Child Protective Services. My fiancee and I laughed at length at how profoundly misrepresented those sections were.

Further, the writing is clumsy and unprofessional. The author uses bizarre turns of phrase and melodramatic lines that don’t fit with the total mood of the book. Some of my favorites include:

“she tried desperately to lift the heavy phone book”
“falling into a deep subconscious sleep”
“I have heard so much about Cajun food and the spiciness of its flavor”
“your brilliant hereditary genes”
“That idiot of a b-tch”

I wondered many times if the author’s first language might be something other than English. Add to this the fact that the dialog is wooden and implausible and I’m sad to say the book unravels into a complete mess. It’s rare that I am called upon to review a book that has so little to recommend it to readers.


Kalki Evian: The Ring of KhaoripheaKalki Evian: The Ring of Khaoriphea by Malay Upadhyay

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

Firstly, it must be stated that I could not bring myself to finish this book. After 100 pages I had to tap out and move on to something else. From what I did read the narrative is a two-threaded story of a man who wakes from a 23-year coma to find himself in a strange new futuristic world. The other thread of narrative seems to take place in the same timeframe but it’s not clear to me how they’re connected. In it a woman escapes an abusive husband to find a caring protector. Again, I’m not sure how these two threads are connected and clearly they will be later in the book but I just couldn’t make it.

To the positive side, the book does have an intriguing story. The setting the author has chosen is one of those impossibly bright futures but that has a not-yet-revealed dark side to it. I’m a big fan of not-yet-revealed dark sides. There’s goodness at the core of this book but…

To the negative side, the writing is abominably perplexing. I found myself understanding about half of what was trying to be conveyed (at least I THINK I did) but was constantly bamboozled by the use of language. It is filled with unintentional malapropisms, awkward phrasing and at times descends into utter nonsense. A random sampling that I noted:

“…Kanha lay submerged in thoughts and simple set of metals stocked in a separate room…”
“…her lips reduced to faint shiver instead of the lush they were born to revel in…”
“Quin lied down and shut his eyes. Sleep dawned abnormally quickly…”
“She was there to attend to a splurge of curiosities he bore in his heart…”
“So we were forced to transcend our mental fixations with vertical growth.”

In summary, there is a good story here but it’s hopelessly bogged down by exceptionally poor writing. Writing so poor that I can’t even be entirely sure what the book is trying to tell me. It needs to be thoroughly scrubbed up and redone I’m afraid but there is a solid start at an idea here.


Ray RyanRay Ryan by Aiden Riley

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

The two-second summary of this is that it is essentially a biographical sketch of the main character from childhood through early adulthood. Each chapter section is a year starting with 1994 and extending to 2022. During this time he deals with an abusive father, the standard childhood enemies and drug-dealing thugs. The story isn’t terribly original and one wonders if on some level it’s not an embellished autobiography but I have no basis for that proposition except that the author is from the same town as his protagonist.

To the positive, the author has laid out in great detail a life in Nottingham. It feels very much like a life that could have been lived by a real person… at least the first bit. The characters are vividly rendered and the reader can certainly sympathize with their situations.

To the negative, realism is all well and good unless the story becomes painfully bogged down by it. The text is full of what seems to be irrelevant detail that doesn’t really add to the story but instead distracts from it. The story does eventually pick up but by the time it did I was just tired of reading every intricate tidbit of the hero’s life. Further, the author’s writing style is passable but it seems to be comprised largely of “Yoda speak” in which verb and subject switched they are. This is tolerable but does eventually become rather a painful distraction.

In summary, I don’t really have a target audience that I would suggest this to except those who themselves have lived in this area and feel share they a parallel history. It feels to me as if the author didn’t quite know what it was he wanted to write and instead just kept writing and writing and writing until something that seemed completely cooked came out on the other side. As it turns out, he seems to have written himself two books: one an episode of “The Wonder Years” and another an Episode of “CSI London”


Pumice Seed (Tullman #1)Pumice Seed by Patrick Stoves

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The nutshell summary on this book is…. Well, honestly, I couldn’t tell you. I could not get past page 10. The book suffers so horribly from typographical problems and just downright poor writing that I can’t make heads nor tails of it. Since I received it as an ePub I was able to copy and paste some direct quotes from it.

“A facet drew chilled water.”

“As I closed off all trace on the automations a scythe swing in my mind caught me unaware forcing me to open those blood red eyes again.”

“Lucidity wanders over to the feather.”

“Clouds dance the sky and fall onto a far away landscape alike.”

“Over the horizon once again the gas guzzling miasma makes its debut. A caught up wind buffets the car as I compensate with an oversteer to the right around a mountain incline. The precipice blocks any oncoming drag from my path. Slight relief at the perceived change I relieve my grip from the wheel tired of fighting with it.”

These are direct quotes copied from the text of the book. I hope fervently that this is an erroneous copy of some sort. It seems to be missing about 80% of the apostrophes and most question marks and the text reads more like a haiku than it does a novel. Perhaps this is some sort of literary device that I’m just not quite smart enough to figure out?


The Book of StoneThe Book of Stone by Jonathan Papernick

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The nutshell view on this is that it’s a complex character development novel that traces the evolution of a son after the death of his emotionally estranged father. The book describes itself as incendiary but I would call it more of a slow, methodical burn. It brings to the fore some very controversial ideas.
To the positive, the author has brilliantly portrayed the psychology of a young man in mental crisis. The protagonist demonstrates so many traits that could be pulled straight from the DSM and it is delightful and head-nod inducing as he manages to project his own needs on the facts of a situation. As a reader you never QUITE are sure which ideas are real and which ones are just Stone’s warped imaginings. The author’s ending too, which is all of about 10 pages and hits you like a ton of matzah, leaves you nodding your head as all those long-held suspicions turn out to be justified. It’s a wonderful conclusion to an exceptionally complex novel.

To the positive, the story centers on a very contentious topic, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. At times the book goes on a length about the rightness of one side over the other and it does seem almost preachy. I realize this must be included to demonstrate the motivation of the protagonist but it can sometimes be rather wearisome. In that general vein, the narrative is a rather long one. It’s not a punch-filled action novel but rather a bit of a plod at times.

In summary, I enjoyed this book both much more and much less than I expected to. Its depths from a character development standpoint are profound. From an action/plot standpoint it’s fairly middle of the road. If you like epic battles that are waged between the ears then I think you’re well served with this book. Everything else is just backdrop to that conflict in one man’s mind.<


Robert Heinlein's Citizen of the GalaxyRobert Heinlein’s Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Lazaro

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

The nutshell on this book is essentially that a poor slave boy rises to become “not a slave” and in the end makes good. I won’t say exactly how good he makes it but suffice to say that it turns out to be good enough.

The positive side of this little novel is that it has a good moral thread which essentially boils down to “Slavery is bad, M’kay” as Mr. Mackey might say. Any reader will get the overarching point easily enough.

To the negative, the whole thing is vastly oversimplified. I realize that the novel on which it’s based is juvenile literature but this graphic novel is too low-brow from the artwork to the dialog and overall structure. Worse than that, the ultimate conclusion, which is essentially a boardroom proxy vote showdown, is completely over the head of anyone who might relate to the puerile style of the novel.

In summary, they’ve taken a good book and made it into a graphic novel that was too short, too simple and just will not resonate with any audience who can relate to it. I was thrilled to have been given the opportunity to review this novel but in the end… I’m just shaking my head.


Christianity. . .It's Like This: An Uncomplicated Look at What It Means to Be a Christ-FollowerChristianity. . .It’s Like This: An Uncomplicated Look at What It Means to Be a Christ-Follower by David R. Smith

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This book is an accessible introduction to the Christian faith. It covers all the standard topics from what is God? Who is Jesus and the Holy Spirit? And of course all the various points of what happens after you’re dead and what should you do while you’re still alive. In the interest of full disclosure, however, it must be noted that I am not a Christian and generally tend to view the mystical aspects of the Christian faith as pure hogwash. But in the interest of honest reviewing I will not let that obscure my vision as I look at this book as a purely academic endeavor.

To the positive, the book is, as it claims, very uncomplicated and easy to follow. It also adheres to the familiar and rigorous pattern of introducing a topic to you, telling you what it means to you and then backing up the point with citations from the Bible itself. It’s an accessible but also academic form that the author has done a good job of using to make the potentially complicated very easily digested.

The only negative I would point out is that the book isn’t really breaking any new ground. I’ve read lots of similar Christian “explainers” and they all seem to follow very similar lines. These are the same basic arguments that I’ve read a dozen times and as an atheist I’m no closer to believing them in this accessible form than I was when I read them in C.S. Lewis’ “Mere Christianity.”

In summary, this book is what it says it is. It’s very accessible and a great primer for those who might be confused. I’d suggest, however, that it is just that though, a primer. Those who want a more in depth take or have deeper doubts, I’d suggest you go straight to the Lewis and skip this one.


Alive Souls: InceptionAlive Souls: Inception by Elena Yulkina

My rating: 1 of 5 stars

This book is a weird mix of the Superman “alien sent to Earth to get away” theme and the Never-ending Story’s “the nothing is taking over our world” story. The story is complex and endlessly convoluted but at the same time extremely short which makes for an odd and transition-free reading experience.

To the positive side, the author has no shortage of ideas and seems to spout them onto the page with complete abandon. I’ve read many books that had only a fraction as much to say but took four times longer to say it. This book certainly doesn’t leave you guessing about anything for long.

To the negative, the book is almost painfully difficult to read at times. The narrative thrashes through so much so quickly and completely without transition that there is no time at all for proper plot or character development. You can pound through this book in less than an hour but it seems a lifetime has passed in the life of the protagonist. Add to this the often nonsensical things which happen to the character because of this lack of transition and you end up with a real head-scratcher. Textually, the book has some real problems as well. It reads like a child’s book most of the time but will suddenly launch into vocabulary that sent me to the dictionary and then right back to child lit. It’s almost as if the author consulted a thesaurus just to have something big to throw in about every 20 pages or was not a native speaker of English. Add to this the frequent misuse of words altogether and you’ve got a book that needs a lot of editing.

In summary, the author has a lot of good ideas but has absolutely no idea how to properly cobble them together into a novel. This book feels like the Cliff’s Notes version of a 3-4 volume epic masterpiece. It gives you the general flavor of what the author wanted to accomplish but fails to provide any of the meat. Just as you were getting to know what was going on the book is suddenly over.


A Time-Traveller's Best FriendA Time-Traveller’s Best Friend by W.R. Gingell

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The nutshell view of this book is difficult to constrain simply. A pair of time-travelers (a’la Doctor Who) skip about between a series of diverse worlds and engage in various rather disconnected adventures mostly involving criminal activities of a non-threatening sort.

To the positive, the author’s work has a tongue-in-cheek Douglas Adams feel about it though it must be admitted Gingell’s main theme of stealing a spacecraft (which can communicate verbally and has an annoying personality) and taking off in it does have somewhat of a derivative and familiar feel to it. The writing is solid in style and flows along quite nicely from a textual standpoint. The pace is fast, the action is reasonably gripping and the sense of world and character is intriguing and original.

To the negative, the work as a whole seems somewhat fragmented. I arrived at the end and wasn’t entirely sure how (or if) the beginning, middle and end related to each other. Certainly the characters are consistent throughout but there was no solid sense of A then B then C. In part this is a result of the non-linear construction and is a typical result of time-travel as a plot element but generally one expects things to finally come together in a more cohesive corpus when the end is finally reached.

In summary, this is a solid first effort in this series and has much potential but I think that in order to really take off the over-arching plot needs more solidity and consistency to give the reader a firmer sense of completion and narrative arc once the last page is reached.


Freddy Fumple and the MindmonstersFreddy Fumple and the Mindmonsters by Vegard Svingen

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The nutshell view on this book is that it lies closely along the lines of the movie “The Never-ending story” from a few decades back. It’s fairly standard youth escapism in which the protagonist has some exceptional ability that means only they can save some faraway world from the oncoming devastation caused by the unbelief of the rest of the world. That’s the general idea and telling you any more would constitute a spoiler so I’ll just leave it at that.

I believe this to be primarily YA literature so I judge it by my standard three rules for books intended for children. Firstly, I ask myself if there’s any reason I wouldn’t want my children to read this book. I have absolutely no tolerance for drug or sexual references and this book is clean in that regard. There is some mild violence but nothing that’s going to make the average child concerned. Language, however, could be a major problem. There is a LOT of profanity and some of it is used in somewhat abusive situations. There are several dam*s, a couple shi*s, one godda&m and dozens of a$$ because one of the villains name is, I kid you not, A$s so his name is used as a running joke in every puerile manner possible from dumba$s to half-a$s to every other thing you can imagine. So on these grounds if you don’t want your child exposed to profanity, there’s your warning.

The second question I ask myself is whether I would want my child to read this book for some positive reason. Usually this involves some good life lesson that children can benefit from. In this case, the lessons, if there are any, are pretty week. The crux of the whole thing revolves around belief in a mysterious Other world which… I’m not terribly concerned if my children believe in myths or not. There is a weak thread of sticking with your friends and building teamwork but it’s not a terribly central theme. So the book is rather weak in this regard.

The last question is whether the reader will enjoy it. In this case I’d say it’s a strong yes. For all the book lacks in moral fibre and age-appropriate language, it is surprisingly entertaining. Because of the way in which characters and monsters are named it comes across as very 7-9 year old though so it’s going to be hard to get kids who might appreciate it to look past the silliness of that.

In summary, the book is much better than its cover and its title. I had a fair amount of fun reading it though I did start to get the creeping feeling that this story wasn’t all that original. At its heart, it’s just The Never-ending Story in a different venue but it’s a fairly original venue and the characters are entertaining and fresh at least.


And there you have it. The week that was in book reviews here at the Tattered Thread. Do you have a book that you would like reviewed? Just drop me an email or a comment and I can add you to my queue.

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Movie Reviews: Noah (***)

The majority of the negative reviews on this movie seem to center around how un-biblical it is. As a ‘secularist’ (as my Christian friends call me) I couldn’t give less of a hoot about about Biblical accuracy but I still found the movie rather annoying.

To the positive,as is typical in most modern movies, the visuals were wonderful. A lot of the scenery was truly stunning and made me wish I did a lot more traveling. The CGI details of the ark in motion we well done enough and as a work of visual art the movie was pretty good. Also, as much as people complain about the “rock monsters” or “transformers” I found their origin story rather intriguing.

To the negative, I tend to complain endlessly about unnecessary action sequences and this movie had plenty of them. I fail to see how the death and destruction depicted really moved the story along or why anyone bothered to include them. As a story, I tend to think that, ironically, it depended too much on the viewers previous knowledge of the Biblical version of events. I’m at least vaguely familiar with the original story and even with that knowledge I’m not sure why some things happened. It just doesn’t hang together very well at all.

In summary, as everyone else has said, if you’re looking at this movie because you feel it to be somehow Biblical, don’t bother. If you just want a good storyline, probably also don’t bother. If you just like action for the sake of action, well go for it. It’s got that but be warned that your action will be interrupted by some rather feeble attempts at a story.

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Today in new Books – 2/4/2014

It’s another big week in book releases and it even includes a book written by the guy in the next cube at work. That doesn’t happen very often!


Click the image to view my review on Amazon. Please vote it helpful!

Friend Me: A Novel of Suspense (****)


Firstly, and as is usually the case, I must provide a disclaimer that I didn’t really buy this book. Instead, I received it directly from the author who just happens to sit a scant 10 feet from me at work each day. Despite this kind consideration, and the fact that anything I say might cause my cubicle to be set aflame before I arrive at work tomorrow, I will review this title with absolute candor. Anything less would be a violation of my personal integrity, which is worth more than a few flaming cubicles. It also bears revelation that this novel is fairly rife with Christian themes and while I am an upstanding and sometimes outspoken “secularist” I will in no way hold that fundamental disagreement against the book, even at the risk of a burning bush appearing to accompany the ashes of my office chair.

Also as usual, I begin with the positive. When the author described the premise of this novel to me months ago I was mightily impressed with the novelty of the overarching story-line. Faubion’s central idea in this novel, social networking run amok, is not only original but timely and at its kernel, very believable. John also has a way of describing tense scenes with great vividity that pulls the reader along quite against their will. It was an act of willpower to put the book down at times and only the threat of having the author beat me into the office the next morning was sufficient to get me to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Touching briefly on the religious aspects of the novel, Faubion’s characters are clearly Christian and they’re not afraid to show it. Despite that, their appearance in the novel is at no time preachy or obtrusive even to one who isn’t exactly in the book’s target demographic.

Moving to the negative side of the review, while the main theme was strong, much of the small-scale execution left me scratching my head. The characters seem to flit into and out of situations with little regard for reality. The whole narrative seems rather whitewashed and devoid of any real detail about what’s going on. In general, and as you will no doubt notice from my other reviews, I am a fairly punctilious reader and lack of detail is a serious bother to me in this book. At many points, particularly the last third, the novel seemed rushed and more like a hurried summary of events than a meticulously planned out work of literature.

In summary, this book revolves around a truly inspired premise but seems to fail in the details. What it lacks in literary merits it makes up for in concept. This reads like a screenplay or movie novelization and I fully expect to see this adapted to the screen, perhaps with Tom Cruise playing the role of the author.


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The Deepest Secret: A Novel (*****)


As usual I received this book because it showed up in the mail without the need to purchase it. Unusually, I don’t seem to be able to track down exactly why it showed up. I am forced to assume it was a direct publisher giveaway of some sort. Nevertheless, my candid thoughts follow.

You’ve doubtless read the blurb so I won’t make even the smallest attempt to resummarize the summary. The narrative is written in round-robin narrative from the viewpoint of our protagonist, Tyler, who can’t be exposed to even the faintest shadow of sunlight, lest he die, his mother, his father and a few random viewpoints thrown in for fun.

On the positive side the whole thing is pretty attention-grabbing. At 450 pages or so I sat through most of it in one prolonged 4-hour stretch. It has a well-executed narrative flair that pulls you along at just the right pace. The writing and editing are all very tight and exceptionally dramatic. This is one of the best executed books I’ve read in a long time. Highly recommended to anyone except the deepest recluse without friend or family. The book draws much of its power from the “What if this were my family?” spirit.

The book’s central theme, as anyone reading the title will no doubt guess, is that we all have our inner little bits that we don’t show anyone. Some of those bits are dark and some of those are light and some of them are a bit of both. Buckley’s true triumph is the realism with which she paints this narrative. Everyone has a secret something and some stay secret, some come to light and devour the secret-holder and some you just get away with. There’s no big happy bow at the end of this one; sometimes a secret is just too big.

In summary, I hesitate to use the cliche terms that usually go here but this book really does keep the pages turning. The page count is somewhat deceptive as you can pound through this light reading pretty quickly. Glad it arrived at my doorstep, even if I don’t really know why it did so.


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The Book of Jonah: A Novel (***)
As usual I received this book for free for the purposes of review. Unfortunately I can’t seem to determine exactly from whom. Whover the source of this unknown beneficence, I give my candid thoughts below.

Having read this, would I pay money for it? Probably not, but I’m on the fence.

This is a bifurcated narrative told from the perspective of two people with rather tragic lives. The story flips back and forth between the two the whole way until… well, in the interest of avoiding spoilers I’ll just say “until”.

On the positive side, this book is wonderfully and elegantly crafted. The author is obviously erudite and can really cobble together some wonderful sentences and has a flair for imagery. The style is very fluid and readable and despite being a VERY long 350+ pages, once you get into the rhythm of the text it speeds along quite nicely. I was able to choke it down in 8-10 hours. It’s also very neatly segmented into sections of 20 pages or so if the verbal finery gets to be too much for you then you can put it down and come back later. It has a very literary feel to it; it’s not at all a fluffy novel.

To the negative side of the novel, the narrative seems to hint at many grand story lines but never seems to decide to finish any of them. On one hand it’s an allegory about right and wrong… but only weakly. On another hand it’s a vast story arc bringing characters together in quirky and unexpected ways… but only sorta. I feel about this book the way I feel about this review I’m writing. I want to say something more powerful. I have plenty of words and I keep typing and typing and typing but it just never happens. The threads never come together. That’s exactly how I feel about the book… Just left a bit dangling.

To summarize, no, I wouldn’t pay money for this but boy can the author pump out some words. He’s vastly prolix and quite skilled but the proverbial participles were just left a bit dangling.


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Glitter and Glue: A Memoir (****)


As usual I received this book through the kind courtesy of some giveaway or other. In this case I suspect it was a ShelfAwareness drawing. Regardless of the origin and despite the kind consideration I give my candid opinions below.

This book left me in an exceptional state of ambivalence. On the surface of things, pretty much nothing at all happened for the span of 215 pages. As memoirs go this one is rather vacuous and non-eventful. Those looking for a storyline will be sadly disappointed because there really isn’t one. There’s just nothing going on here… except… except that there IS… but it’s all rather mysterious and internal.

Those who are familiar with my usual review format will note a departure from the “good stuff”/”bad stuff” motif. That just doesn’t apply here. If you were looking for car chases and explosions then this isn’t really the book for you. Instead, the old adage plays out in detail. Let me back up a bit.

I’ve been a married man long enough to know that a fair number of women live in fear of the day that they “become their mother”. For whatever reason mothers and daughters just don’t get along. Until… well, until one day they do. This book is the detailed narrative, told from the inside of the author’s head, of how that transition happens. How one day you think your mother is insane and the next day she suddenly makes sense. It’s a book about transitions and maturing, a woman’s bildungsroman.

At least that’s my take on the book… the other thing about this book is that it’s one of those that has a thousand meanings to a thousand people. If you choose to read the book it’s VERY likely that you’ll look back on my review and say, categorically, that I’m full of crap. That’s really OK because at its heart the book is one of inspiring ideas. The specific idea that’s delivered is up to the person receiving it. Look at it as being about mothers or renewal or recovery or family or whatever… it doesn’t matter. The book is a brief and candid snapshot of someone’s rather privileged life. The real point is that this book is one for thinkers but thinkers in an emotional sense, those who want to feel what someone else feels and extrapolate that to their own lives. There’s little of plot but much of mind.

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Book Reviews: The Brotherhood

An interesting bit of apocalypse fiction; check out my review and vote it helpful if you find it so.  Or amusing.  Either way, I could use the votes.

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October 10, 2013 · 9:11 pm

Friend Me by John Faubion

Friend MeFriend Me by John Faubion

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Firstly, and as is usually the case, I must provide a disclaimer that I didn’t really buy this book. Instead, I received it directly from the author who just happens to sit a scant 10 feet from me at work each day. Despite this kind consideration, and the fact that anything I say might cause my cubicle to be set aflame before I arrive at work tomorrow, I will review this title with absolute candor. Anything less would be a violation of my personal integrity, which is worth more than a few flaming cubicles. It also bears revelation that this novel is fairly rife with Christian themes and while I am an upstanding and sometimes outspoken “secularist” I will in no way hold that fundamental disagreement against the book, even at the risk of a burning bush appearing to accompany the ashes my office chair.

Also as usual, I begin with the positive. When the author described the premise of this novel to me months ago I was mightily impressed with the novelty of the overarching story-line. Faubion’s central idea in this novel, social networking run amok, is not only original but timely and at its kernel, very believable. John also has a way of describing tense scenes with great vividity that pulls the reader along quite against their will. It was an act of willpower to put the book down at times and only the threat of having the author beat me into the office the next morning was sufficient to get me to go to bed at a reasonable hour. Touching briefly on the religious aspects of the novel, Faubion’s characters are clearly Christian and they’re not afraid to show it. Despite that, their appearance in the novel is at no time preachy or obtrusive even to one who isn’t exactly in the book’s target demographic.

Moving to the negative side of the review, while the main theme was strong, much of the small-scale execution left me scratching my head. The characters seem to flit into and out of situations with little regard for reality. The whole narrative seems rather whitewashed and devoid of any real detail about what’s going on. In general, and as you will no doubt notice from my other reviews, I am a fairly punctilious reader and lack of detail is a serious bother to me in this book. At many points, particularly the last third, the novel seemed rushed and more like a hurried summary of events than a meticulously planned out work of literature.

In summary, this book revolves around a truly inspired premise but seems to fail in the details. What it lacks in literary merits it makes up for in concept. This reads like a screenplay or movie novelization and I fully expect to see this adapted to the screen, perhaps with Tom Cruise playing the role of the author.

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The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football by John J. Miller

The Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved FootballThe Big Scrum: How Teddy Roosevelt Saved Football by John J. Miller

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

For once I actually bothered to acquire this book on purpose rather than receiving it for free. Because of that, I’m doubly motivated to be honest about it.

On the positive side, the book does cover a rather little-known period of history. We don’t often give much thought to the early-early history of football and in traditional history classes the wars get all the coverage. The life of collegiate athletes during the early 1900s is vastly under appreciated. Our author also does a great job of pulling forth some interesting tidbits from the period and stitching them together. In a vast deviation from my usual habit, I’m keeping this book on the shelf to read again in a year or so. It’s just that informative.

On the negative side, the whole Roosevelt connection is a bit of a sham. Yes, he agreed with the idea of keeping football around but his role was tiny when compared with others of the time. His portrait is on this book just to sell copies of it. Admittedly, that’s what got me to buy it but I did feel rather duped at the end. Further, the author does have some wonderfully history encapsulated in this book but it can get rather tedious. Events are not described in chronological order, are often repeated and sometimes just plain muddled. Organizationally this could use some work.

In summary, a lot of really nice factoids here for the patient. A bit of a misrepresentation as titles go, but still well worth the read.

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