26 October 2013

Review: The Race Before Us

Bruce Matson is a Richmond lawyer who ran a marathon in college but is now 49, overweight, and out of shape. He's also a church regular who is questioning his faith — "Do I really believe what I recite in the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds on Sundays?" He skillfully weaves together his twin struggles to get in both physical and spiritual shape. He took the spiritual quest seriously, wrestling with major philosophical and historical approaches to Christianity and finally realizes that, ultimately, though the intellectual assent is important, the key is trust. One of the things I liked about the book is that I know the places he ran (though, even so, I thought a couple of his descriptions of runs were a bit too detailed). I have also asked myself some of the same questions about faith.

He alternates chapters devoted primarily to running with those devoted primarily to his search for meaning in his faith. Matson deals with some questions and issues of faith that require some deep thought — a lot of Christian apologetics in this book. It was challenging and an excellent refresher on some of my seminary courses from 30+ years ago.

Some good appendices:
  • Top Ten Arguments for the Existence of the God of the Bible — He touches on and explains most of these in the text of the book, but this is a good summary list. (Christian apologetics) Throughout the book, though, he emphasizes how much he was aware that Christian faith or trust was not solely dependent on the truth of these arguments.
  • Bibliography — If one wants to explore any of the topics, these are all good sources. Matson does not just include those that support his final conclusion on faith.

(Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book free from the author in exchange for a review. However, I was free to write the review I thought the book deserved. I expect no further personal gain.)

Review: A Man Called Blessed

There are credible clues about the secret location of the Ark of the Covenant — in the monastery that Caleb and parents have rebuilt in Ethiopia, the same monastery where Caleb lived until he escaped when he was ten (Blessed Child). Caleb is the key. Both Jews and Arabs are trying to get to Caleb first. If the Jews find the Ark, they will feel compelled to destroy the mosque on the Dome of the Rock and rebuild the temple. The Arabs want to prevent that. Better than Blessed Child, perhaps because Caleb is more mature. Characters were better developed and plot line flowed more smoothly. I still didn't care for the dancing but the miraculous events were a lot easier to take and were more in line with miraculous escapes in the Old Testament. Caleb struggles with his faith — not losing it, but taking it for granted. Rebecca has killed too much and wants to be loved as a "woman" and not just identified as an assassin — will she find that with Caleb, even though he is a Christian?

Though I like it better than the first book in the series, Blessed Child, this is still not a typical Dekker book. It does have the supernatural elements but it's not the somewhat bizarre psychological thriller like Thr3e or the Boneman's Daughters.

It was helpful to have read Blessed Child first. It gave me the background to follow the story better. However, it is not necessary and apart from a few references to Caleb's child-like faith 15 years earlier, I don't think you would be lost.

(Disclaimer: I received this book free from the publisher as a part of their blogger review program, BookSneeze. However, I was free to write the review I thought the book deserved. I receive no further compensation besides continued participation in the blogger review program.)

13 October 2013

Book Review: "Blessed Child", Ted Dekker and Bill Bright

This is now my least favourite of Ted Dekker's books, replacing House and the short story, The Keeper. Thr3e defined Ted Dekker for me — a psycho-thriller with lots of twists and turns, a bit eery, clean, good wins over evil. Boneman's Daughters and Shadowdown continued those elements. The Circle Trilogy were good fantasy, again with a battle between good and evil. In all of those books, I really felt like I was in the story, seeing the world through the eyes of the characters.

Blessed Child just didn't hook me into the story in the same way. I cared about Caleb and what happened to him; I wanted Jason and Leiah to quit bickering; I wanted Crandal and his henchmen to get their due; but Dekker and Bright didn't draw me into the story.

The story was clean with just enough arguing between them and just enough mutual attraction to make the relationship between Jason and Leiah to keep their interactions believable, without cluttering it up with gratuitous physical intimacy. (Slight spoiler here.) The development of their relationship was "normal" and satisfying. The problem for me was perhaps my expectations. Dekker had set me up, in others of his books that I've read, to expect characters that seemed normal but with a hint of some intangible oddness. Jason and Leiah seemed written more like super-heroes (somewhat like Clive Cussler's characters) and Dekker and Bright just didn't pull that off well.

Caleb is a young boy who Jason and Leiah rescue from an Ethiopian Orthodox monastery just as it's being attacked by a contingent of Eritrean People Liberation Front soldiers who destroy the monastery. The EPLF soldiers pursue Jason, Leiah, and Caleb into a box canyon (not sure how else to describe it) where the first of numerous odd events, somehow connected to Caleb, occurs — an EPLF soldier is supposedly killed but then stands up and flees.

As the story develops, I really liked the tensions between Jason and Leiah on the one hand and Father Nikolous on the other. Another odd bit to the story is that Father Nikolous' church is Greek Orthodox — maybe that's only odd because of my ignorance of the similarities or connections between the Greek and Ethiopian Orthodox Churches and it's really not pertinent to the story. Also, the developing tensions between Charles Crandal, Jason and Leiah, Caleb, and Father Nikolous was well done.

The two sub-plots in the books actually helped the story. I got angry at the self-promotion of Father Nikolous and the way that he used Caleb for his own benefit. Crandal's end-justifies-the-means and win-at-all-costs approach to being elected President helped bolster the story. However, I didn't think the resolution of either of these was very satisfactory.

I suspect that some of the problems I had with the book have to do with the fact that this was an early Dekker novel — his second, published in 2001 after Heaven's Wager. Blessed Child has apparently been newly released as a Kindle edition. In later books, Dekker finds his voice and his own character development. Perhaps the fact that it was co-authored — by Bill Bright, in this case — detracts from Dekker's genius. "House", I think, suffered from the same problem (co-authored by Peretti and Dekker). Nothing against either co-author, it's just that perhaps the real Dekker doesn't come through when he writes with someone else. 

Blessed Child was a good book and a decent read. It's must not great.

This doesn't affect my review, but I continue to wish that Thomas Nelson would include page numbers and Kindle's X-Ray function in their blogger review editions. "X-Ray" is one area where Kindle really shines and it's a glaring omission.

DISCLAIMER: I received a copy of "Blessed Child" free from the publisher as a part of their Booksneeze blogger review program. I have been free to write the review that I thought the book deserved. There has been no other compensation except continued participation in Booksneeze.