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Archive for November, 2011

Snippets from 2011

In order to deal with a backlog of finished but unreviewed books, as well as some I didn’t finish (DNF), I’m going to do a first ever “snippet review” on Hardkover. Get ready, here they come!

The Betrayal: A Novel on John Calvin

by Douglas Bond. 383 p. Published by P&R Publishing in June 2009.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★☆☆☆

This is one of my DNFs – I got half way through and was uninterested and unimpressed.  This historical fiction about John Calvin is told through the eyes of his frenemy, Jean-Louis Mourin.  I don’t know if it was the forced feeling of the “old English” style of speaking (which doesn’t make much sense, given that the story is set in France), the slow plot, or the heavy-handed characterization of the narrator (I felt constantly bludgeoned with foreshadowing) – this book was not for me.  I liked the concept, as my favorite way to read about historical people is through historical fiction (I find them much more engaging than biographies).  I saw many good reviews for it on Amazon, so give it a try if you find it interesting.  Just wasn’t my cup of tea.

Debt: The First 5,000 Years

by David Graeber. 544 p. Published by Melville House Publishing in July 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★★

This is my other DNF.  I got about one-third through this monster – it was actually a very interesting and fascinating read.  It’s only downfall was that it felt like one of those books where you get the gist after the first couple chapters and the rest are just repeats with different examples (I could be wrong . . . but I guess I’ll never know!).  Graeber’s discussion on our concept of debt is definitely worth reading – and if you’re really into anthropology, sociology, or economics, you might make it to the end! (And if you want someone to blame for the “Occupy Wall Street” Movement, Graeber just might be your man.)

Long Trail Home (#3 in the Texas Trail Series)

by Vickie McDonough. 304 p. Published by Moody Publishers November 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★★

Picked this one off NetGalley because I liked the first two in the series, Lone Star Trail and Captive Trail.  It was as good as the first two and I’m looking forward to the remaining three.  This book featured the story of a young man who went off to fight in the Civil War and came home to find his parents dead and his fiancée married to someone else; the female protagonist is an abandoned child who managed to survive by pretending to be blind (so she could stay at an orphanage for the blind).  As was true with the first two books, the interesting historical setting was my favorite part about the story.  The romance was a little predictable, but its hard to escape that in this genre.

The Winters in Bloom

by Lisa Tucker. 288 p. Published by Atria Books September 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

Half mystery, half drama – this reminded me in ways of Diane Chamberlain’s The Midwife’s Confession in genre and style.  A couple’s only child goes missing and each one thinks that it is someone in his/her past that is to blame.  The story flashbacks to previous relationships and how the couple met to explain their fears and eventually introduce the kidnapper.  This book has decent character development (although I didn’t think the characters were quite as realistic as in The Midwife’s Confession) and a good plot – I found myself fairly hooked all the way through.  However, I thought it petered out at the end; the denouement was very anti-climatic and you don’t get the satisfaction of participating in the inevitable reunion.

The Promised One: Seeing Jesus in Genesis

by Nancy Guthrie. 288 p. Published by Crossway Books July 2011.  Received through NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.

Verdict: ★★★★★

This was a FANTASTIC bible study!  I love the format – each chapter begins with a list of questions and scriptures to read and contemplate before Guthrie “lectures” in the teaching section.  The chapter concludes with a pointed description of how that chapter’s topic points to Jesus and discussion questions for facilitating a group study.  The chapters highlighted primarily Creation, Fall of Man, Noah, Babel, Abraham, Jacob, and Joseph.  I used this book for my own personal devotion time and found it very enriching.  I liked it so much that I’ve talked my small group into using it for our next study!  Highly recommended.

Rules of Civility

by Amor Towles. 352 p. Published by Viking Adult Books July 2011.  Checked out from my local library using my Kindle!

Verdict: ★★★★

I vacillated on whether to give this book 3 or 4 stars – when I think about the writing, I want to give it 4 and when I think about the plot I give it 3.  Overall, the characters are pretty decent, so I think it deserves the higher rating.  I wasn’t blown away by the plot of this book; however, when Amor Towles puts together words, he doesn’t just make a sentence — he makes magic!  I found myself stopping to re-read parts aloud, just to see if they sounded as beautiful out loud as they did in my head.  He manages to find that perfect balance of writing vivid prose without it being flowery or ridiculously over-the-top.  The book itself is very Great Gatsby-ish – not only because it is set in Manhattan in the 1930s as people are struggling to recover from the Great Depression, but the writing has that older Fitzgerald style.  I liked the female protagonist and thought she had an interesting narrative voice for this time period.  If the plot had been more poignant, it would have ranked 5 stars.  Definitely recommended.

The Princess Curse

by Merrie Haskell. 336 p. Published by HarperCollins September 2011.  Checked out from my local library in old-fashioned hardback binding. Recommended by the BookSmugglers.

Verdict: ★★★☆☆

I loved the idea of this book – the tale of the Twelve Dancing Princess, with the heroine being an apothecary‘s apprentice who tries to lift the curse.  The book just never quite lived up to its potential, however.  The imaginary world Haskell created didn’t seem to materialize and charm me the way other fairy tale worlds have (I’m thinking of Ella Enchanted and The Princess Academy in particular).  Perhaps that is why the plot felt a little choppy and the characters just a little too far from reach to join my cast of literary friends – it was hard to truly fall under the magic of living in another world and allowing them to be real.  Although I don’t think this one will join Ella and The Princess Academy on my classics shelf, I would still give it to middle graders or young adults who like a good fairy tale.

Mine is the Night (sequel to Here Burns My Candle)

by Liz Curtis Higgs. 464 p. Published by WaterBrook Press March 2011.  Checked out from my local library on my Kindle!

Verdict: ★★★★

This was the first book I’ve picked up in months that I simply could NOT put down!  I’ve long owned and loved Higgs first Scottish trilogy beginning with A Thorn in My Heart, which is based on the biblical story of Jacob, Rachel, and Leah.  Mine is the Night is the sequel to her second Scottish series, this time adapting the story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz in the setting of the Scottish Jacobite rebellion.  Each one is well written, engrossing, and always pointing to underlying story of faith and redemption from the original biblical version.  Not only is this a great time period to read about (Scotland! Rebels! Bonnie Prince Charlie!), but Higgs’ amazing depth and breadth of research combines with her clever writing to bring the heather hills and thick Scottish brogue alive.  Highly recommended!


Has God Spoken?

Reviewed by Brittney

Just the Facts: by Hank Hanegraaff. 380 p. (Actually, 290 without the appendix, endnotes, and index). Published 2011 by Thomas Nelson.  Advanced review copy provided by Thomas Nelson’s “Booksneeze” program in return for my honest opinion.

Verdict: ★★★★

Who Cares? Adult Christian Non-Fiction / Religious Apologetics

Short Bio: Once of the most frequently voiced criticisms of Christians is that they believe a book written some 3500-2000 years ago is not only divine revelation given to man at that time, but that it has remained virtually unchanged since then.

The “Bible Answer Man” responds to these criticisms with four main categories of evidence:  the reliability of the manuscripts we have, archeological finds that corroborate biblical accounts, the fulfillment of prophecy, and finally the “art and science of scriptural interpretation”.  He presents his evidence in the form of pneumonic devices that help the reader remember the main points of each (i.e., for “Manuscript C-O-P-I-E-S”, one has a device to remember that Copyist practices, Oral tradition, Papyrus & parchment, Internal evidence, External evidence, and the Science of textual criticism are the supporting facts for how we know we can rely on the biblical manuscripts we have today).

Eyewitness Account:

Overall, I thought this was an extremely interesting book and a good read.  This is the second book I’ve read this year that appears to be written mainly as a response to some vociferous opponents of the authors and both are about the Bible (See “The Book That Made Your World”, responding to criticism that Christianity was an imperialistic and oppressive force in India, for the other).  Hanegraaff’s book contains numerous rejoinders to several Biblical critics (most often to Bart Ehrman, who is a religious studies professor at UNC Chapel Hill).  It contains a wealth of information about the science of manuscripts, archeology, history, and whether the skeptical arguments against the veracity and authenticity of the Bible hold any weight.  It’s organized fairly well, and the pneumonic devices he gives are actually very useful (I found myself trying to recall them at the end of each section to cement the points in my memory).

A few weaknesses are that the book could have used some better editing (I repeatedly had a feeling of “deja vu” as I read sentences that had been used almost word for word in an earlier section – you really can’t use phrases like “the story is interesting as well as instructive” or “the land vomited out the children of the promise just as it had the Canaanites before them” more than once without someone catching it) and that Hanegraaff gave too much text to his opponents.  Its one thing to briefly mention an opposing viewpoint that you want to counter, but to give whole paragraphs or pages to their writing makes it seem like the author is obsessively aggravated.  Overall, you get the feeling that Hanegraaff was writing more of a reference resource than a book designed to be read straight through, as there were not only exact phrasings that were repeated, but also examples and evidence used in multiple sections that are introduced as if for the first time. 

However, I found that I could dismiss my irritation at those points for the meat of the book.  The manuscripts and archeology sections were really fascinating (and gave me a HUGE appreciation for how God has preserved the Bible over time).  The prophecy section dragged a bit for me, but did have some gems; my favorite part of the book was Hanegraaff’s discussion of types in the bible, particularly “typological prophecy” in which the event that you are connecting to the prophecy is not the “predictive fulfillment” but the successive and more complete antitype to the first fulfillment (as in the case of Isaiah’s virgin birth prediction). Having heard of types and antitypes before, it was new information to me that this idea applied to prophecy as well as people and events.

Well worth reading.

Notable Quotes: 

Amazing but true, today in the city of David you can step into the very Pool of Siloam in which the blind man “washed, and came back seeing.” (John 9:7 NKJV). You can traverse the Siloam tunnel that almost three thousand years ago provided the precious commodity of water to the inhabitants of Jerusalem during the siege of Sennacherib.  You can see the Siloam inscription in the Istanbul Archaelogical Museum commemorating one of the greatest engineering feats of ancient history.  You can rest your arms on the guard rail overlooking the excavated ruins of the Pool of Bethesda, where Jesus cared for the physical and spiritual needs of a man who had suffered the ravages of sin for thirty-eight years.  And you can be amazed at the grace that what was once secreted in soil accurately reflects what which is sealed in Scripture.

Other Books Read by This Author: none

What are other people saying? Shades of Intrigue, Finding Jesus, God-lovin’ Mama


★★★☆☆ Writing Style

★★★★★ Organization

★★★★ Original Idea

★★★★ Page Turner

Overall ★★★★