Thursday, September 30, 2010

Digital Fortress - Dan Brown

Digital Fortress
By: Dan Brown
Published: 1998
Audiobook Read by: Paul Michael
My rating: Great

After listening to Angels and Demons and The Da Vinci Code, I decided to check out this first work by Dan. It wasn't quite as good as the other two but it was definitely a great book!

David Becker is an interesting person to send on a top secret mission, holding the fate of the free world in his hands, but he does very well. Dan does a good job developing him as an intelligent quick thinking person. It is interesting that his survival depends on blind luck as much as anything else. You can see that there are a lot of situations that a trained agent would have handled differently but David uses his untrained mind to find unorthodox ways to get out of tight spots!

Susan Fletcher on the other hand is very well trained for the situation she finds herself in but it does her no good. She finds herself lost in a swirling fog of facts and fiction that she has no way to sort out. All the time the fate of the country is in the balance and she doesn't know who to trust. In the end her clear mind and sharp eye prevail but at a terrible cost. The emotional roller coaster she unwillingly rides leaves her dizzy and disoriented several times but she keeps her cool.

My love of computers helped me appreciate this book even more but I had to chuckle at some of the late 90s era jargon and technology. The plot is wonderful, though a little bit predictable, and I was swept up in the story from the very start. There were several twists that I wasn't prepared for though, and I was very satisfied by the climax. David's mad search across Spain, Susan's struggle to figure out what is happening to Translator, and all of the little threads that were simultaneously working together to become one in the final moments, kept me on the edge of my mental seat.

I love how Dan likes to write on major controversial subjects. The privacy issues that he wrote about in 1998 are an even bigger issue to many people today. I myself do not care that much about my privacy. I figure that I'm not hiding anything so why should I care if the government watches me? I realize that many people feel that the government shouldn't know anything about our private lives, but if you really stop to think, and you are truly honest with yourself, you have to agree that the government has to watch everyone to some extent. If the government was totally blind, then how would they be able to protect us against conspiracies and plots. The big question is how much do they need to know? There is no reason for them to know when we go to the bathroom or what we eat for breakfast is there? Stop for a minute and think about something for me. If the government watches a million innocent people, who are doing nothing at all wrong, then what's the point? Everyone screams invasion of privacy and gets all bent out of shape and the government has wasted a lot of taxpayer money and there is no benefit. However, if just one of that same million people turns out to be a terrorist, and because Big Brother is watching, his plans are uncovered and stopped, is it worth it then? If the government is only allowed to watch known criminals, how can they protect us? To become a known criminal a person would have to commit a crime, right? Isn't it better to watch everyone and try to stop the crime before it is committed? Besides, do you really think they are paying the slightest attention to you as you poke around your home doing the day to day things that your life consists of? I'm can just picture millions agents sitting in front of a billion monitors watching what all of us are eating for dinner! I would venture to guess that the vast majority of us will never come under any kind of human scrutiny. As long as the Big Brother computers don't catch something that raises a flag, we just slip through as 1s and 0s and are never noticed. So, I for one am not worried, let 'em watch me all they want, listen to all of my phone calls, read all my emails, and even post an agent across the street! They'll get awful bored and it won't hurt me a bit!

I listened to the audiobook read by Paul Michael and as in other books he has done, he is simply wonderful! I very much enjoy listening to his performances and hope to hear many more!

Well, I know I kind of rambled on there but to sum it up, this is a great book and well worth the time. If you get the chance to read it, by all means do so. You won't be sorry!

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Decked - Carol Higgins Clark

By: Carol Higgins Clark
Published: 1992
My rating: Good

I read this book to my wife and we enjoyed it. However, it was a little bit rough which we chalked up to the fact that this was Carol's first novel.It didn't measure up to her mother's work, but we are hoping that she got better with time.

Regan Reilly is a fun character to read about. She has a wry sense of humor and her outlook on the situations life puts her in are fun and refreshing. She is supposed to be a private investigator but in this story, most of the detective work is done by others. She is a very independent sort and I had to sympathize with her frustration at being hired to babysit Veronica.

We really loved Veronica! For an old lady she sure was full of life! Her irrepressible excitement about the cruise and the people they were traveling with was hilarious. We very much enjoyed hearing about her escapades and wondered that Regan was able to keep a handle on her! Her never-ending stories about her dear departed husband, Sir Gilbert, belied the fact that they were only married for two weeks. It was obvious though that she had adored him despite the suspicions that she had been nothing more than a gold digger.

The plot was pretty predictable but engaging. The array of diverse characters on the cruise ship were quite entertaining. Each one had a distinct personality and Carol did a good job developing them. The mystery as it progressed from the discovery of the body to the last minute confession that saved Veronica and Regan's lives was well thought out and flowed pretty well. Inspector Livingston was the one whom I would credit with most of the detective work but overall Regan makes a good heroine.

Carol's flaw in this book was in too much overwriting. She seems to be trying too hard, making the book sound like she had kept a thesaurus on her knee the whole time making sure she didn't use the same term more than once per chapter. A few times she reaches so far that a sentence sounds silly or even confusing. I hope that she will loosen up in subsequent books and allow the flow to become more natural.

Overall, this was a good book and I wouldn't hesitate to read it if you get the chance. We intend to try more of her work and see if they improved with experience.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland - Lewis Carroll

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
By: Lewis Carroll
Published: 1865
My rating: Wonderful

What fun this book is!! I just finished reading it to my kids and I loved it even more than I had as a kid! The Disney movie adaptation, that represents the only exposure most kids today have had to this delightful story, is wonderful but does not do it justice.

I can't help but love Alice's crazy imagination and the insane journey that it takes her on. I love all of the fun characters and the great nonsensical dialog that drips from every page of this book! Alice is such a wonderful little girl and the way her mind works through each new craziness she encounters is utterly delightful! Her child's mind grasps things in a way so different from our adult minds and the conclusions she arrives at could only come from the mind of a child! I love how Alice takes so much of this insanity as a matter of due course and just goes with it, seeing where it will take her! And all that growing and shrinking! I found myself wondering if I should be brave enough to eat anything in Wonderland, that is, if I ever decide to visit! I fear that Alice is a much braver soul than I!

I also am astounded by the imagination of Lewis Carroll in this work. I envy his ability to come up with such an array of impossible characters. He is truly a genius and nobody will ever be able to convince me otherwise! The plot of this book, if it actually is a plot, is just so much fun. There is never any doubt that you will be surprised by each page. I love every bit of the story from the moment the White Rabbit runs past to the grand finale in the court room of the Queen of Hearts. I love the way the Queen is always sentencing everyone to beheading and the King is pardoning them! I love the Mock Turtle and the Gryphon, the Cheshire Cat, and especially the Mad Hatter and The March Hare. And of course, who can help but love Bill the lizard, whom I most related to!

I think that the best part of this book is the way it brings back the crazy childish things we used to imagine! I often wish I could reload my brain with an old backup copy from my childhood, and go back to those days when anything was possible! As we grow up we lose so much of that invaluable way of thinking. Imagine for a moment a world where everyone retained at least some of their child's mind instead of growing up to be sour, grumpy, serious minded adults. I like to think that somewhere in our little gray cells, a little bit of that still remains. Reading this book again, reassures me that it's true.

I hope that all of you will take the time out of your busy schedules to get this wonderful book and read it, even if you don't have kids to read it to! When you get it, do as the King advises, "Begin at the beginning, go on 'til you come to the end, then stop."

Monday, September 27, 2010

Beat The Reaper - Josh Bazell

Beat The Reaper
By: Josh Bazell
Published: 2009
Audiobook Read by: Robert Petkoff
My rating: Poor

Well, this was a random selection off the shelf with no prior knowledge of what to expect. It wasn't a bad story but it was so full of foul language and vulgarity that it spoiled it for me.

Over all the character of Peter Brown is interesting but hard to like. He is conceited and vulgar and his attitude towards the world in general is pathetic. Granted, given the awful things he has done and experienced it isn't surprising that he's not very nice but I find it hard to enjoy a book which presents an undesirable person as the leading man! I was sympathetic to a point as the tale of his terrible life unfolded revealing the love found and lost so needlessly. His circumstances leave little room for him to become anything other than what he is, a bitter, ruthless man with a heart of steel.

 The plot of this story is fast paced and action packed. Peter faces disaster at every turn and only escapes each situation by the use of his wits and superior ability for violence. As I saw his life unfolding through a series of memories I could see his development and the reason for his current situation is made clear. As he tries to outwit the men who have come to kill him, he does some incredible things. Some of it is pretty far-fetched even for fiction but still makes for an amazing story. As the end of the book draws closer and his desperation to survive grows stronger he pushes himself past the threshold that a human should be able to bear, doing things that no man should even consider doing! I am surprised that he doesn't end up insane by the end of the book!

Although the story itself was interesting, I was really turned off by the constant use of profanity. Josh for some reason seems to think that almost every sentence was incomplete without some sort of expletive and he made matters worse by throwing in needless vulgarity whenever he could find the slightest excuse to do so. He also tries to show off the fact that he is a doctor in real life by including a lot of medical jargon that, while interesting at first, grows tiresome quite quickly. I wondered, as I listened, if this medical information was factual but at the end there is a disclaimer that the entire work including this so called medical knowledge is fictional. He needlessly states that one should never try any of the crazy acts of desperation depicted in the book, as if I might be that stupid!

I listened to the audio book read by Robert Petkoff. His performance wasn't too bad but I found his voice a bit monotone and he wasn't very good at the accents he tried to do. However, I didn't mind his performance near as much as I did the profanity and vulgarity.

Overall, I feel that Josh took an otherwise interesting premise and almost totally ruined it. He could have made a very good book out of this idea but I guess that just isn't his style. I have to say that after listening to this book, I would be strongly opposed to letting him treat me as my doctor! If you are a big fan of Mob fiction, I guess you might like this but I would generally recommend that you skip it and try something else.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Children Of Dune - Frank Herbert

Children Of Dune
By: Frank Herbert
Published: 1976
Audiobook Read by: Simon Vance, Scott Brick and others
My rating: Great

I have already read the first two books of the Dune saga so I knew what to expect. This was a very interesting continuation of the story, but it was very long and not quite as exciting as I had hoped it would be.

Paul's twins, Leto and Ghanima are 9 years old at the beginning of this book, but already they are ancient thanks to the plethora of ancestors filling their brains. During the entire course of the book I never thought of them as children. The wisdom and authority that these two possessed went far beyond even the oldest of their elders. Often they are mistakenly thought of as children by others, giving them the upper hand in many situations. It is understandable that so many of the people of Dune fear them, I'd fear my own children if they acted 2000 years old!

Paul's sister Alia is a sad case by this time. She is haunted by her ancestors just as the twins are but she copes differently. She allows the evil Baron Harkonnen to control her and he feeds on the power that she wields as regent and high priestess. She looses herself to the dark forces at work inside her and in the end they destroy her.

The story line is wonderfully built with an amazing array of plots within plots within plots. Franks imagination is simply mind boggling as this fantastic story unfolds. Since the twins are wise far beyond their years, it stands to reason that they will foresee the conspiracies against them. Devising a plot of their own and putting it into play, they lead their would be destroyers on an amazing chase over the deserts of Dune. Despite seemingly hopeless scenarios they never once actually loose control of the situation. The Fremen are torn between the old ways and the new. The religion that Maud'dib preached has been perverted and turned into a disgrace to His name. When The Preacher comes to denounce this perversion he begins to raise major questions including who he really is. In the end Leto The Second becomes the supreme emperor with a long long reign ahead of him. He vows to lead his vast interstellar empire to long lasting peace.

I was struck by the way Maud'dib's teachings had been twisted into a hollow set of rules and traditions. I was reminded of the way Christianity is so often reduced the same way. We have allowed ourselves to drift away from so many of the precepts that Jesus taught. I wonder if Jesus is proud of what we have become and what we have done with the teachings he gave us. Are we accepting His gift of eternal life but turning our backs on what he asks us to do as Christians? Maybe we can learn a lesson from the people of Arrakis.

This book is chock full of very wise sayings and a lot of really deep thoughts and conversations. Frank is an amazing writer and his vision for this book and the entire series is absolutely amazing. Unfortunately, this is also kind of a fault. The depth of the book and the complexity that is evident in this religion and culture he created, causes the book to be very long and at times boring as all of the details are explained. The plot is amazing but there were several times that an extended dialog or detailed description of traditions or beliefs left me yawning uncontrollably.

I listened to the audiobook performed by Simon Vance, Scott Brick and a few others. Their performance was absolutely wonderful. I really didn't feel like I was listening to a book being read as much as I felt like I was actually a part of the story. I felt like I might have to dump sand out of my shoes when I was finished! The character's voices were perfect, fitting exactly what my imagination was seeing. I loved listening to all of the different voices but I think my favorite was Stilgar.

Overall this is a great book and I encourage anyone who likes this kind of Sci-fi work to give it a try. Make sure you take them in order though. This book can stand on it's own but will make a lot more sense if you've read the first two.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451
By: Ray Bradbury
Published: 1953
Audiobook Read by: Ray Bradbury
My rating: AMAZING

Wow! I had heard the title of this book from time to time but until I pulled it from the shelf I had no idea what it was about. This is one of the most powerful books I have found and it moved me deeply. The powerful imagery, that Ray so masterfully depicts,engulfed my mind and left me breathless! He reveals parts of myself and parts of the world in general that I never noticed before and the message that drives this story resonates today even more than 60 years ago when he was writing it.

Guy Montag is a character that I believe embodies parts of all of us. His confusion, passion, grief, hope, and determination are all parts of us, whether we know it or not. I was inspired by his revelation as he dug deep into his own soul and uncovered what was hidden there. I felt his pain as he realized what an empty life he had been living and felt tears well up in my eyes as he watched his world destroyed. There was no doubt in my mind that I too could fall prey to the complacency that had swallowed him up along with everyone else and I can only hope and pray that I have his determination and will power to wage war on the silent unseen attackers that try to take away my individuality and make me nothing more than a drone in a hive that does nothing. In the end, Guy loses everything but gains all.

Clarisse McClellan is a wonderful character. Ray brought to life, through her eyes, all of the wonders of the world around us and used her to inspire Guy, as well as myself, to take time for what is really important. She shows us how unimportant all the things that we as a society seem to strive for really are. The real importance is in the little things that we overlook every day as we rush around trying to succeed. We spend our lives trying to accomplish big things only to pass on nothing to those who come after us. This message is mirrored by Granger in the end of the book as he relates how important his Grandfather had been even though he did nothing more than be kind and give of himself to those around him. I had to stop and wonder, am I going to be remembered when I'm gone? If so, how? Would I rather build up mighty empires or huge corporations just to fade into nothingness, or give of myself everyday to those around me with love and compassion and be remembered forever? In the end, what good is anything we do? We struggle and strive to get to the top just to fall into our graves and be forgotten. If my children and grandchildren and great-grand children can't look back at me and say "he loved us so much" what good have I done?

The plot of this book is not the worlds greatest adventure or an epic saga, it doesn't top the lists for the most fantastic science fiction or fantasy either. Instead I put it at the top as the most moving and powerful. The story itself isn't really that important. Guy's discoveries along the way are what is important. As he travels through these pages from Fireman, burning every book he can find with fiendish delight, to outlaw hoping to help save his dying world, he finds himself, and realizes who he really is. The futuristic setting is by today's standards a poor attempt at sci-fi since the ideas and advancements were thought up in the 40s. They seem somewhat less than futuristic since today's technology has surpassed a lot of it. But here once again it isn't the setting that is important, the state of society and the horrible ways that things had changed is what is important. I fear that Ray's futuristic world isn't so far fetched when you think of the millions of people who sit like zombies in their living rooms, cars, offices, and many other places, inundated by senseless garbage from the TV, radio, magazines, newspapers, and internet. The idea that anything that is slightly offensive to someone else should be destroyed and outlawed is not that far from what we are starting to see. It is fearful to me to think how true this story might be very soon! We might not be burning books in the streets of America yet but we are told to be careful of every word we say lest someone else find offense. We are no longer encouraged to be individuals and stand up for our beliefs and speak out against injustice and the decay of morality in our society. We are taught that everything is alright as long as you are having fun. We are spiraling down a path that may very well land us in the future that Ray describes.

In the end as Guy watches his world going up in flames, Ray vividly describes the anguish that he feels. I feel some of that anguish now when I realize where we are heading. In the final pages, the rag tag group of men, the rebels against society, become the last hope for the world. They are determined to do everything they can to help the very people who cast them out and persecuted them. We need to start thinking like them now, before it is too late. We need to open our arms to help those around us with love and compassion, giving of ourselves without reserve, without expecting anything in return. Our children's children need to be able to look back and see us as pillars of strength and love and hope that inspire them to live better lives!

I listened to the audiobook read by Ray himself. At the very beginning I found myself thinking that he was too old to be reading this and that I was in for a dreary time listening to him. However, mere minutes into his performance, his passion became evident and that coupled with the power of the words made for a moving performance. I found myself swept away into that fictional time and place and lived the story rather than just hearing it. The last disc in the set was an interview with Ray and I was moved again by his passion. His life is a fascinating story in itself and I was very glad that I didn't turn the interview off early as my first instinct had told me to do.

Overall this was a fantastic book! I know that this review has morphed into more than just a review and is as much a philosophical journey as anything else, but that is the essence of the book. Ray's goal is to get us to examine ourselves and try to be better than we think is possible. He has succeeded in his goal, at least in me!

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers - Lillian Jackson Braun

The Cat Who Had 60 Whiskers
By: Lillian Jackson Braun
Published: 2007
Audiobook Read by: George Guidall
My rating: Fair

I started this book with high expectations but in the end I really wasn't impressed. When I chose this particular title from the shelf I didn't realize that there were over two dozen titles that precede it in the series. I will have to try a couple from the beginning and hope that I figure out what's going on.

Jim Qwilleran is an interesting character and I quite enjoyed hearing about his relationship with his friends, both human and feline. He leads the kind of life that I envy; as a writer spending his time writing about life as he sees it. I love the way he casts around looking into this and that for a story, never knowing when something is going to pop up and spark inspiration. He is such a gentle person and I found that I was wishing he were my neighbor!

Koko and Yum-Yum are delightful to hear about. Their feline antics are both comical and totally true to cat form! I love Koko's flying squirrel act from the balcony onto the couch, surprising anyone who might be sitting there! Lillian has given these cats deep characters despite the fact that they neither talk nor play any significant roles in the plot. In my opinion they were the biggest redeeming quality in the book, I couldn't help but fall in love with them!

The plot was the problem. I really can't put my finger on what the plot was! I started out under the impression that these were mystery books, but although there were several mysteries in the making, there was never really one that was followed and solved! I found myself over halfway through the book wondering what in the world it was supposed to be about! I enjoyed the little conversations, the antics of the cats, the thoughts and ideas that ran through James' head, but never could find a plot to follow. The description of life around Moose County gave me a pleasant feeling as though I was watching Andy Griffith in Mayberry. I was left flabbergasted though, when in the final few minutes of the book, James' precious barn, his summer abode, was burned down and he didn't do anything! From what I could tell, James simply went home to his apartment and commented that he was glad the cats hadn't been there!

My hope is that had I followed the series from the beginning, I would have understood more of what was going on. I do intend to start at the beginning of the series and give it another try but I still feel that each book should at least be able to stand alone to some extent. The writing style is wonderful and the cats are a delight so I know that there is the makings of a really great story here, let's hope I find it! After giving the beginning a try, I might have to revisit this review. I certainly hope so!

 I listened to the audiobook read by George Guidall. He does a spectacular job and despite my disappointment in the book itself, I very much enjoyed his performance! His voice is so easy to listen to and the expression he gives each line is perfect. I very much hope I'll here more from him!

Overall, this wasn't the worst book I've come across, but I would suggest that you start with the first book of the series instead of making the same mistake I did. I will not pass judgment on the entire series based on this book taken out of order and I hope you won't either!

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Tell-Tale Horse - Rita Mae Brown

The Tell-Tale Horse
By: Rita Mae Brown
Published: 2007
Audiobook Read by: Cynthia Darlow
My rating: Good

This was a good mystery with an interesting plot. However it suffered from some confusion and too much description of various fox hunts that took place during the story.

Jane Arnold (Sister), was a fascinating character, filled with the wisdom of her years, having a tender heart and loving ways. I loved how she was so caring towards her animals, even the foxes that she enjoyed hunting so much. Her loving, softheartedness towards Felicity during her struggles and the way she went out of her way to help was a testament to her impeccable character. I very much enjoyed her dry sense of humor and the way she bantered good naturedly with her friends. You could tell that she had years of life's school of hard knocks under her belt and used all of that wisdom to help her through the tough situation that she found herself in.

The plot itself was an excellent premise and overall made for a great mystery. I was pretty well stumped until the secret was openly revealed. Unfortunately the story was weighed down by the frequent bouncing around between what felt like an overwhelming array of characters. I stayed with the plot fairly well but had trouble remembering who each character was and what their role was in the story. I also very much enjoyed the description of the first fox hunt since I am not familiar with they way they normally work. However, after the first hunt I felt that there was no need to continue giving all the blow by blow details for every subsequent hunt. I feel that an overview of each hunt would have been sufficient. I suppose if I were and avid fox hunter I would have appreciated it more. The ending was very dramatic and I must admit that I found myself surprised by it. It was an excellent final twist for the mystery to take, and I felt satisfied by the outcome. Rita did a good job of giving just enough clues that I was able to look back and piece it together, but not enough to give it away too soon.

I also enjoyed the animals in the story. I was surprised to find that Rita gave them dialog of their own. This was a fun part of the book and I very much enjoyed the humorous way they view us humans. The little side story of some of the foxes was a lot of fun to picture in my mind's eye. The cat, Golly, presented an unmistakeably feline character, acting just as I would expect a cat to behave. The way she torments the dogs and the way they treat her in return was very enjoyable.

 I listened to the audiobook read by Cynthia Darlow who did an excellent job. She gave the dialog between the characters a natural sound that made for a very smooth listening experience. She was very easy to listen to and her performance was very enjoyable. I think her only flaw was when she had to do one of the girls that was crying, she gave the voice more of a whine than she should have but fortunately this wasn't a common theme in the book. I would definitely listen to her again!

Overall, this was a very good book and I did enjoy it. The mystery was compelling enough to overcome the flaws. If you get the chance to read it (or listen to it) don't hesitate!

Friday, September 17, 2010

Spiderweb For Two - Elizabeth Enright

Spiderweb For Two
By: Elizabeth Enright
My rating: Wonderful

I read this book to my kids and we all enjoyed it immensely. Elizabeth's Melendy family are such a wonderful group, so full of fun and great morals that we love hearing about all of their adventures. I love imagining the way life was back then and I constantly find myself longingly wishing that I could travel back in time to those days and raise my children there!

Randy and Oliver are so much fun to watch as they follow the poetic scavenger hunt through the pages of this book. I love the boyish ways of thinking and acting that Oliver is constantly displaying. The way he rationalizes his actions, such as climbing out on the roof in his pajamas or climbing up the chimney, is hilarious but completely true to form for a 9 year old boy. Randy as his older sister is not much better being a bit of a tomboy herself, but does attempt to temper his rash decisions with a small amount of common sense.

The plot of this book is fun and touching at the same time. The family is so close that they all know that Oliver and Randy will have a tough time with the older kids gone off to school. The Four Story Mistake isn't meant to be so empty and the loneliness that they would feel would have been virtually unbearable. Lovingly the rest of the family decide to make it better for them, and do a wonderful job at it! The main story line that follows the hunt for clues is entertaining by itself, but Elizabeth has written in a myriad of little side stories that are just wonderful. Ranging from trips into the past to adventures that come along unexpectedly, there is no shortage fun for Oliver and Randy. I especially loved reading about the Christmas holidays and hearing of the wonderful ways that people used to celebrate this wonderful time.

I also love the characters of Willy and Cuffy, who despite the unexplained escapades the kids engage in, continued to be patient and loving every step of the way. They both lend such a warmhearted appeal to the story that I can't imagine them not being included!

As I said at the beginning, I found myself longing to be able to raise my kids back in those times. The freedom to run and play, exploring far and wide, meeting strangers without fear, having fun no matter what. I wish that our world hadn't turned into the paranoid society full of people who can't be trusted. I wish that people still would watch out for each other instead of being afraid to get involved. This book serves as a reminder of what we have lost as a society and the price we have paid for the progress we sometimes so foolishly crave!

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Da Vinci Code - Dan Brown

The Da Vinci Code
By: Dan Brown
Published: 2003
Audiobook Read by: Paul Michael

I'm sure that some of my Christian friends will be surprised at my rating of this book, but I have no hesitation about giving it my SPECTACULAR rating. However, it must be taken as a work of fiction because that is exactly what it is. Dan has taken many actual pieces of historical evidence and used them to weave a complex tale that raises religious questions of epic proportions. However, the facts cited in this book should only be viewed as pieces of information and not the entire picture. What I think Dan has done, is to raise questions that, whether it was his intentions or not, cause us to re-evaluate our faith and decide for ourselves, whether we believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God or not. I came away from listening to this book with a stronger desire to know Jesus than ever. Dan even says in this book that neither version of Christianity has any physical proof and that believing either side must be an act of faith. This is most definitely true. We have the Bible, and we hold it up as God's holy word, but can anyone prove that that claim is legitimate? In the same way, some historians use documents that they have uncovered to say that Jesus was mortal and that he and Mary Magdalene were married, but can they prove their claim any better? No. Documents can be falsified, people can lie, there are a plethora of ways evidence can be manipulated. We seem to think that if an ancient document, dating back hundreds of years or more, is uncovered, that it is proof, but is it? Who can say what the motivations of the author could have been. Dan himself shows many times, in this and his other books, that people can and will do deceitful and underhanded things for their own gain. Any evidence is nothing more than an idea of what might have happened. We believe the Bible on faith and that is exactly how God wants it. Any Christian who is swayed by a book like this has to examine their own relationship with God, and decide for themselves what they believe. Having said all that, I still maintain that I love this book for the intricate fictional mystery that it contains.

Robert Langdon in this book is again a wonderful character just as in Angels & Demons. However, he is not as open minded here. He has a cut and dried opinion and does not give any other possibilities a second thought. He is still the same quick thinking fast acting person he was before and is a fascinating individual to follow through this story. I love the Mickey Mouse watch that he always wears to remind him to stay young at heart.

Sophia is another of Dan's beautiful damsels in distress, ripe for Robert to sweep in and save. We learn a lot about her past and are given a window into her heart, allowing us to see the inconceivable pain that she experiences finding out that she has lost her grandfather and with him the only family she ever knew. Dan does a better job in this book building up her character and giving her some depth. She is still the pretty face for Robert to fall for, but she has much more depth, with a haunting past that is slowly revealed as the story unfolds.

I was disappointed that Dan didn't bring Vittoria back, I was hoping to find that she and Robert had fallen madly in love since the end of Angels & Demons but I guess it was not meant to be. At least he does mention her at the beginning to explain a little of why she is absent. I still missed her.

The plot of this book was every bit as exciting as Angels & Demons. It is brilliantly crafted with just enough confusion to keep you guessing. I loved the multiple surprises that met me at each turn. There were several times that I was feeling sure of something only to find that I was way off base. Despite the religious undercurrent to the plot it is still an incredible tale of mystery and intrigue. The religious aspect is central to the story though, and Dan uses very persuasive arguments to debate the accepted Christian principals. It was very interesting to hear this opposing opinion to my beliefs, even if I was not swayed by it. The character of Sir Leigh Teabing is a fun and enjoyable Englishmen who is full of surprises. He was a welcome part of the story and I very much enjoyed him, despite his surprising turn of character. As the the trail of clues carrys us closer to the ultimate prize, the suspense mounts exponentially. Reaching the end of this story brought a lot of surprises and was very satisfying. Dan once again does an awesome job of tying up all the loose ends so that there are no questions left when the curtain falls on the last chapter.

I listened to the audiobook read by Paul Michael. He did a superb job in this performance. He did a number of flawless accents for the different characters. I was very impressed with him and would love to hear more of his work!
Overall, there is no doubt that this is a superbly crafted story, despite the disturbing religious theories that are put forward. As I said at the beginning, we as Christians have to continue to have faith and believe that God has not allowed us to follow false information. We must remember that every theory that opposes our beliefs is also a leap of faith for those who choose to follow it. Nobody is ever going to be able to provide physical proof showing that any theory is true. This is the cornerstone of our beliefs, the need to have faith. So have faith in God to guide you the right way and you won't go wrong!

The Fran With Four Brains - Jim Benton

The Fran With Four Brains
By: Jim Benton
Published: 2006
Audiobook Read by: Michele O. Medlin
My rating: Delightful

This children's book was a lot of fun to listen to with my kids! Jim's imagination is wonderful and we loved the crazy off the wall story as it unfolded!

Fran is a fun little girl who gets a little carried away. Jim has created a great character here and the lessons she learns in this book are lessons that most of us should learn! When Fran tries to make her life easier by cheating at her studies, the entire world almost has to pay the price. Her mother also learns the valuable lesson that striving too hard for excellence can end up robbing us of the part of our lives that truly is the most excellent!

We also loved Egor, Fran's "lab" assistant. He shows us what loyalty should be, willingly offering himself up to save Fran. Fortunately, he doesn't have to stay as a tuna fish sandwich too long!

Jim's imagination in this plot is nothing short of wonderful. He told us a story that made us laugh while at the same time driving home some important lessons. Fran, being the mad scientist that she is, thinks that all of her woes can be solved if there were just more of herself to go around. When she puts her plan into action, she never thinks that she is putting her family at risk! In the end, she and Egor are able to contain the problem and she learns her lessons well! The final chapter is a touching end to this fun book that left us knowing that Fran and her mother are going to be happier than ever!

We listened to the audiobook read by Michele O. Medlin. Her performance was as wonderful and full of fun as the book itself. Her voice and manner were perfectly suited to the tone of the story. She did a great job conveying the workings going on in the mad scientist brain of Fran. I would gladly listen to another of her performances!

Overall, this was a great book and the kids loved it! The next time I wish there was more of me to go around, I'll think of Fran and be content with the way I am!

Monday, September 13, 2010

Monster - Frank Peretti

By: Frank Peretti
Published: 2005
Audiobook Read by: Frank Peretti
My rating: Good

I am a big fan of Frank's earlier books such as Piercing the Darkness and The Oath but this one just didn't quite live up to my hopes. I felt that it lacked the spine tingling thrills that I found in his other books.

Beck Shelton as the main character was an interesting woman, although Frank somewhat over-wrote her. Her struggle against bitterness and anger with God over her terrible situation was inspiring though, and I found myself wondering how often I let disappointment in my own trials cause me to be less than thankful towards God. Frank portrays her as a woman who prefers the background and would choose being left alone over joining a crowd. However, she is forced to join into her new family and take a stand. In the end she finally realizes that her self pity isn't helping her any and she begins to trust God, who protects her and brings her out of her trouble a changed woman.

Reed Shelton starts out as that overbearing kind of husband that lords it over his wife unmindful of her feelings and desires. He demands that she participate in an activity that she is definitely not interested in and tells her it is for her own good. He quickly becomes a very different character as he tries to rescue her from the situation he unintentionally brought upon her. Frank started him out as somewhat arrogant and then drops that entirely for a completely different personality. However, he does a pretty good job describing the fear, panic, and despair that would follow a man's loss, or feared loss, of his wife. Reed ends up being a loving husband that would gladly sacrifice himself to save his wife.

The plot itself is an emotional roller coaster for the characters, and the reader, as at every turn, new hope is found just to be dashed again in the next moment. There are so many twists and turns to the plot that it is sometimes difficult to keep track of the storyline. There are actually two distinct stories here, one following the dilemma that the Shelton's find themselves in and the other an attack on evolution. Both are interesting but for the most part unconnected. It is obvious that Frank is using this book as a platform to debate the validity of the evolution theory. I fully agree with his attack on evolutionism but the story fell short of being good enough to drive it home. The evolution angle wasn't integrated well enough with the main story line to give it the attention that it deserved and in the end it actually detracted from the quality of the story.

I was looking forward to more of a supernatural thriller but this is an earthly story with supernatural influence. There are several surprises here but overall it's somewhat predictable. The plot is kind of a rehash of some other plots I've seen over the years but fresh enough to have kept my interest. There seemed to be an awful lot of killing that wasn't at the claws of the monster and I felt that Frank went a little overboard in that respect. Even thought this was a thriller, it seemed like a lot of people died, most of them without adding to the plot.

The Christian content of the book is not overwhelming but could have been integrated with the story a little better. I like the way God brings the Sheltons to their knees, at the end of all hope, to get them to realize that they need to put all their trust in Him. After He gets them to that point, you can see the way the tide turns in their favor. God uses horrendous situations to show them His power and His ability to keep them safe no matter how grim the outlook might be. The most obvious Christian angle is the Creationism vs. Evolution discussion.

I listened the audiobook version which was read by Frank Peretti himself. I was not impressed with his reading abilities on this one. His style was a little over the top with his extreme expressiveness. He over emphasizes Beck's stutter and his portrayal of her emotions are just a little too much. I'm not sure if it is his reading or the way the audiobook was produced, but quite often I was confused when the story jumped from one character to the next because there was no pause to indicate a change. The performance wasn't unbearable though, and I don't think it influenced my opinion of the book itself.

Overall, I did enjoy the book and would not discourage anyone from reading it. Frank is a great author but this just isn't one of his best works. I will most assuredly keep him on my list of favorite authors!

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Angels & Demons - Dan Brown

Angels & Demons
By: Dan Brown
Published: 2000
Audiobook Read by: Richard Poe

This book is one of the best novels I have ever had the privilege to come across!

Dan Brown does a masterful job of depicting the war that has raged for hundreds of years between religion and science. He makes no attempt to answer the questions or solve the riddles that fuel this war but beautifully immerses us in the middle, allowing us to see both sides equally. By the end of the book I still had no sense that he was siding one way or the other.

Robert Langdon as the hero of the story is an amazing character, logical but spiritual at the same time. Willing to open his mind to possibilities that fly in the face of what he believes to be reality. He systematically assesses each situation carefully drawing his conclusions from a lifetime of knowledge tempered with an open mind. His amazing journey through the pages of this book kept me riveted and wondering what would be next.

Vittoria Vetra's character leaves a lot to the imagination. Although she plays a major role in the book I am surprised to realize that looking back I know very little about her. She is a bewitching character who captures Roberts heart almost immediately and helps to fuel his strength for the terrible ordeal that plays out before us. Without Vittoria's character, the book would be severely lacking. Dan's artful betrayal of her without revealing much about her makes the book that much more interesting. We see her as Robert sees her finding out very little from her own perspective.

The plot is intricately woven with so many twists and turns that I truly had no idea of the truth until the very end. Several times I suspected different characters just to find that I was wrong. Dan provides a tale that mirrors the confusion and chaos of life all around us, showing that the most obvious solution is many times the most incorrect. He does not stoop to deceptive clues and misleading plot twists to confuse us, but simply tells the story as it unfolds through the eyes of his characters. After coming to the end, I am able to look back and see the pieces all fit into place showing the whole picture. As in real life, misinterpreting the clues and misreading the actions of others can many times mislead us to unfortunate actions. I listened to each chapter with bated breath, totally immersed in the story, feeling transported into the thick of it by this master storyteller!

One of the most surprising parts of this book for me, was the religion versus science battle that rages through and is the focal point of the story. As a science buff I found myself fascinated by the technical parts of the tale, few as they are, and as a Christian I found myself surprised by the depth of the gulf between religion and science that is so accurately portrayed here. I found myself realizing how real this war is and wondering how the two could ever be reconciled with one another. Dan offers up compelling arguments for both sides through the various characters in the book, raising fascinating questions that I had never thought of. As I said at the beginning, Dan doesn't take a side in this conflict but there is no doubt that he has given the matter a lot of thought and researched the topic extensively. In the end, I come to the conclusion that religion and science definitely need each other and that neither one by itself can stand. This book starkly illustrates what happens when we try to take either God or Science out of the equation.

Finally, I was struck by the truth of what happens when we allow ourselves to fall victim to our personal beliefs and decide that we are the ones who must persuade everyone else that we are right. When one man decides that he is the only one who can change the world and must do so by whatever means necessary, horrible consequences are bound to ensue! No one human being is able to wield the power properly to achieve complete change in the entire world. No matter what kind of change we might be striving for, we have to allow people to make their own decisions based on the merits of what we are trying to offer, whether that be Gods love for them, science's breakthroughs, or a better kind of mousetrap. We have to show people the virtues and allow them to make their own decision.

I listened to the audiobook version read by Richard Poe and was very pleased with his performance. He brought each scene to life for me with a masterful reading of this wonderful book! This was a marvelous experience!