Book Review: Blaggard’s Moon by Polivka (3.5 Stars)

925372_1_ftc_dpBlaggard’s Moon by George Bryan Polivka

Read in April, 2009

3.5 out of 5 Stars

Warning: Spoilers

We return to the world of Nearing Vast and Smith Delaney, squatting on his last leg, or rather his last post. Instead of his life flashing quickly before his eyes, it’s a slow, pondering trek down memory lane, from beginning to end to beginning, all the dark, days in between as a pirate.

It was a strange way to tell a tale, but not overly confusing to the reader. Delaney recalls a story told to him by Ham Drumbone, a storyteller pirate, about Damrick Fellows, the founder of the Hell’s Gatemen, and Jenta (who has several last names which I won’t get into here).

Delaney is hanging over his doom, a pond full of piranhas and mermonkeys, remember this tale told by Ham. Most of the book is the tale of Damrick, Jenta and Conch Imbry, a notorious, successful, ruthless pirate. This tale, a strange love triangle (or quadrangle) is the meat of the story. The other two time-lines, Ham’s time telling the tale and Delaney’s doom, pop up appropriately, and converge satisfactorily towards the end.

I enjoyed reading it, but I’m not sure it’s as interesting as the Trophy Chase trilogy it prequels. Delaney was a supporting actor in the trilogy, but always seems to kill the wrong person for the wrong reasons. At least he struggles with his conscious, an unusual problem for a pirate.

Book Review: The Battle for Vast Dominion by Polivka (4 Stars)

2800736919588The Battle for Vast Dominion by George Bryan Polivka

4 out of 5 stars

Read in October, 2008

This the third installment in the Trophy Chase Trilogy and continues to a satisfying conclusion. We meet one surprise character who plays a vital role in the climax. The biggest disappointment for me was the seemingly unnecessary death of one of the main characters, although it’s predictable and not unforeseen.

This series was a great swashbuckling tale, sort of an alternate history to our own world, with Christian overtones. I’m looking forward to Polivka’s next novel, Blaggard’s Moon, which is due out in a couple of months.

Book Review: The Hand That Bears the Sword by Polivka (4 Stars)

2800736919571The Hand That Bears the Sword by George Bryan Polivka

4 out of 5 stars

Read in September, 2008

Warning: Spoilers

This book picks up a few weeks after the previous book (The Legend of the Firefish) back in the village of Hangman’s Cliffs. Panna and Packer are married and halfway through their “honey month” (similar to our more familiar honeymoon). A herald arrives directly from the King, specifically requesting Packer’s presence for the reading of a proclamation – a call to arms of all able-bodied men to defend Nearing Vast from the invading warriors of Drammune.

Packer is swept away again on another adventure, one not of his choosing and often broiled in political intrigue and manipulation. His conscience is at odds with his superiors’ (and peers’) perception of him as a hero. Panna is also subjected to manipulation and danger from the most unlikely of sources – her own sovereign prince. She stands her ground with conviction and faith.

The welcome surprise (or twist) for me was the return of Talon, whom we were lead to believe had perished in the first novel. Polivka has an uncanny ability to write strong women characters, something few male authors can convince me of. While Talon was the embodiment of evil in the first novel, she is a changed woman now. She discovers true love in humility and experiences the hidden power in weakness from another’s sacrifice.

The entire nation of Nearing Vast, the supposed faithful, seem to represent all the is reprehensible to their faith. And on the other hand, the Drammune Empire is strong, conquering and apparently invincible, washing over the Vast fleet and later it’s army in the capital city of Mann. It’s a vast stage (pun intended) upon which we ponder “Is God testing Nearing Vast?

For Christian fiction, this is a great story, without being preachy, putting real people in believable dire situations and watching them struggle, in all too human ways, with their faith and the consequences of their actions, both temporally and spiritually.

Book Review: Ben-Hur by Wallace (5 Stars)

Ben-Hur: a tale of Christ by Lew Wallace

5 out of 5 stars

Read in May 2009

Warning: Spoilers

This was the first book of historical fiction I ever read. It was also the first Christian fiction I read. I can attribute my fascination to ancient history, particularly Roman, to this great story. I also can’t remember if I read the book or saw the movie first – although I’ve read and watched both multiple times over the years.

Judah Ben-Hur is the son of a wealthy merchant who is also friends with Messala, a Roman soldier/politician in occupied Jerusalem. Messala returns to Jerusalem as it’s new tribune and there is a bittersweet reunion between the two. During the parade, a loose roof tile falls from the Hur household, striking the tribune and injuring him. The house of Hur is arrested, the women thrust into a dungeon cell and forgotten, and Judah sold into slavery, chained to an oar on a Roman Naval galley.

Dark dreams of revenge keep Judah alive in what most often is a short brutal existence on a Roman galley. During a naval battle, which the Romans lose, Judah saves the galley’s Roman commanding officer, prevents the Roman from committing suicide, and eventually returns him safely to the Roman Navy. In return, this Roman officer frees Judah and adopts him as his son.

Now that Judah has the means to pursue his vengeance, he finds Messala and decides to compete against him in the great chariot race. Judah befriends a sheik, the loving owner of four swift and beautiful Arabian horses. Judah trains them for the race. The chariot race culminates in Judah surviving Messala’s deadly tricks and eventually running over Messala with his chariot. But his revenge turns frigid as Messala’s dying words tell Judah that his mother and sister are still alive but lepers from their long confinement in the dungeons.

Judah finds his mother and sister, who lead him to a great teacher. Jesus was in the background of this story throughout Judah’s travails. Jesus even slaked Judah’s thirst during his trek across the desert with the rest of the galley slaves. Where Judah searched with revenge in his heart, others would speak of the Rabbi who taught of love, forgiveness and peace.

As Judah moved his family away from the leper colony, they were caught in the storms and earthquakes which occurred during the crucifixion of Jesus. His mother and sister were miraculously healed of their leprosy by the blood of Jesus washed from Golgotha by the rain. Finally, Judah comes to terms with the hollowness and futility of his vengeful hate. He forgives his enemies and receives forgiveness and peace himself.

It’s no wonder, to me at least, that this story inspired many attempts to theatrically recreate it on stage, as a silent film and finally as one of the greatest motion pictures ever filmed.

I highly recommend this novel and suggest you follow this link right now to start reading the ebook edition of Ben-Hur courtesy of Project Gutenberg.

Book Review: Left Behind by LaHaye and Jenkins (3 Stars)

Left Behind by Tim LaHaye and Jerry B. Jenkins

3 out of 5 stars

Read in August 2009

I reminded myself quite frequently while reading Left Behind that is was fiction. Christian fiction. Fear-driven apocalyptic (aka end times) Christian fiction. But definitely fiction.

I avoided reading Left Behind for nearly fifteen years, mostly because I avoid anything hyped or overhyped.

Just so you know a bit of history about my faith, I am a believer, a disciple of Christ, or more colloquially a “Christ-follower.” While I still use the term Christian, a pastor recently mentioned in a sermon that the term “Christ-follower” delivers a more accurate message of who and what we should be and the example we should all strive towards.

The point of view filtered through the two central characters in Left Behind – Rayford Steele and Cameron ‘Buck’ Williams – provided an up close and personal view as they experienced being left behind after the Rapture (Jesus returning to Earth and resurrecting all his followers, living, dead and innocent (i.e. the children), bodily to Heaven). Two very different perspectives strive to discover the why and how of the disappearances, to the benefit of the reader.

Rayford loses his wife and son, but not his daughter. Bruce loses his sister-in-law and her children and several co-workers.

Rayford, the self-centered, assured and confident jetliner pilot, grieves bitterly but humbly seeks answers from one of his wife’s former pastors, also humbled and shocked at having been left behind.

Buck, an ace reporter for a large news magazine, finds himself more than neck deep in world-changing people and events, as he investigates the disappearances and gathers theories for a comprehensive cover story. His cynicism protects him from realizing the consequences of denial until nearly the point of no return.

Most of the other characters play supporting roles, often only there to spur on the discourse of prophetic teachings almost literally ripped from the King James Version of the Bible, dripping with red letters.

The only other character of note, of course, is Nicolae Carpathia, the up and coming political powerhouse that promises world peace and ultimately delivers it, on his own terms. As impressive and heart pounding as the culminating conflict in the U.N. conference room was, I would have been more impressed had Nicolae convinced Stonagal to murder Todd-Cothran and kill himself. Nicolae pulling the trigger himself seemed cliche, but then brainwashing everyone present by sheer force of will, except Buck, helped seal his power as the Antichrist.

Comparing the two conversion experiences, I preferred Buck’s last-minute-must-forge-ahead one to Rayford’s poleaxed one. Neither conversion appealed to me, since both were fear driven due to the apocalyptic change wrought on the world. Such a heavy emphasis on prophecy is appropriate for this setting, but hard to stomach as an evangelizing tool towards the reader. At least Rayford read the four Gospels in one sitting before moving on to the “Shock and Awe” of Daniel and Revelation.

As a fictionalized attempt to codify popular prophetic teachings (I don’t pretend to be an expert on Amillennialism, Post-Millennialism, Pre-Millennialism, Pretribulationism and Posttribulationism), the authors did a good job of weaving the characters credibly among the events related in Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel and other prophetic books of the Bible, putting a human face and experience to the horror of being left behind.

For a less fear-based study of the Book of Revelation, I highly recommend The Throne, the Lamb & the Dragon A Reader’s Guide to the Book of Revelation. My status updates also included comments with links to helpful web blogs and articles.

I am glad I finally read Left Behind but I won’t be joining the Tribulation Force any time soon.

Book Review: Day of War by Graham

Day of WarDay of War by Cliff Graham

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I snagged this novel from one of the Barnes & Nobel free Friday offerings for Nook owners. A Christian fiction, with heavy emphasis on Bronze Age/Early Iron age military tactics, retelling or ‘filling in the blanks’ of David and his warriors (and Jonathan and his army).

In his Note to the Reader, Cliff Graham references 2 Samuel 23 and 1 Chronicles 11 as inspiration for his retelling of David and his ‘Dirty Dozen.’ He warns the reader about the battle violence and after-battle pillaging and plundering, although compared to some of the dark fantasy I’ve read, Graham did an admirable job restraining himself from too much gratuitous violence or sex.

He modernized the language (both internal and external) to such a degree that I found it distracting. And he repeatedly lapsed back into passive voice, despite his riveting active voice fight scenes. A compelling read, but I’m not the intended audience (which probably requires a lot more testosterone than I have flowing through my estrogenized veins).

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