The Ultimate Deception-Ray Comfort

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The author makes some good points about Christianity and salvation in his book The Ultimate Deception.  I agree with the idea that people tend to become disillusioned when they realize that being a Christian doesn’t equal a problem free existence or mean things will always go well, and I can understand why that happens.

I think the author is sincere in his desire for people to understand God loves them.  He states he believes Jesus is the way to eternal life, and I am in agreement with him there.  However, there are flaws in his approach.  First of all, the author seems to think church attendance equals salvation or makes you a Christian.  It does not say anywhere in the Bible that church attendance is what saves us.  I think church is important.  You need to connect with other believers, but it is not what saves you.  Salvation is a free gift from God.  Jesus died in our place to fulfill the law of sin and death, and we are no longer under the curse of the law.  Salvation isn’t something that has to be earned or that we can earn.  If that was the case, there would have been no reason for Jesus to die and rise again.

Secondly, the author seems to think making mistakes equals condemnation.  While I agree that obedience is important, it should be God’s love that motivates us to be obedient, not fear and condemnation.  There is no condemnation for those in Christ; death is defeated by Jesus’ work at the Cross.  We have to learn to follow God’s path, and that is a process.  He doesn’t take away His gift because we mess up and have things we need to allow Him to change.  Being a Christian doesn’t equal perfection or mean we won’t make mistakes.  Christians are still imperfect humans.

Finally, the author appears to take it upon himself to decide whether someone’s salvation or conversion experience is real or not.  He has no business doing this, particularly with people he doesn’t know personally.  That is between the individual and God.  I sort of wonder where he got his statistics about church attendance and backsliding.  Yes, obedience is important, and there are consequences for disobedience, but the purpose is to get us back on the right path, not condemnation.

I don’t know the author and haven’t discussed his views with him, which is why I use the terms “seems to” and “appears to”.  It is possible that part of the problem is poor editing or poor organization of the material. There is nothing wrong with sharing your beliefs with others.  However, what happens after that is up to the person.  I don’t think a militant approach accomplishes anything or motivates people in a positive way.  You can’t force others to believe the way you do, and that applies to anyone.  It’s also probably wiser to talk about your beliefs with people you know and have established a relationship with rather than approaching strangers.

I did like The Ultimate Deception in spite of the issues I mentioned, but it’s not something I will go out of my way to read again.

The Silver Music Box

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In The Silver Music Box, Johann Blumenthal, a Jewish silversmith and jeweler, makes a silver music box for his son Paul before leaving to fight for Germany in World War I.  The box is passed to Paul’s daughter Margarethe, and then later to a young woman named Lilian Morrison, who goes on a quest to find out where the box comes from and uncovers unexpected information about her past.

This is a touching historical novel that starts during World War 1 and continues through World War II and into the 1960s. The Blumenthal family, after living in Germany for generations, loses their business because they are Jewish.  They lay low for a while and make plans to immigrate to Cape Town, South Africa but run into some obstacles.

The Silver Music Box is engaging and well-written.  The author captures the horror of the Holocaust very well, but there is underlying hope also.  The book moves through the different time settings smoothly, and that can be a challenge. The settings-Germany, Cape Town and London-are interesting, as is the historical setting.  I realized a lot of Jews immigrated to the Netherlands, U.S. and other countries to escape the Holocaust, but wasn’t aware there was a Jewish community in Cape Town.

The constant throughout the story is the music box.  The music box is the key to Lilian coming to terms with the unexpected information and meeting members of her biological family.  I like the parts of the book focusing on Johann and Paul better than the part focusing on Lilian.  I understand her pain and confusion at finding out things aren’t what they seem, but she isn’t very likable.  However, this doesn’t detract from the overall story. I would recommend The Silver Music Box.  It is worth reading for the historical content alone.

A Monster Calls

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In A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness, with the help of a tree-shaped monster, young Conor O’Malley deals with his mother’s terminal illness, an uptight, overbearing grandmother, a father who has remarried and moved far away, and being bullied at school.  This book is inspired by an idea by author Siobhan Dowd, who passed away from cancer at a young age.

A Monster Calls is sad, inspiring and redeeming.  Sad because of Conor’s circumstances, but inspiring because of the good messages concerning dealing with grief honestly and that action is more important than thoughts, and redeeming because Conor accepts the truth and begins to move past his grief.

The writing is imaginative and the author deals with the subject matter in a sensitive way.  Conor is a character with many challenges, and understandably a lot of anger about what is happening to him.  The author does a good job communicating his conflicting feelings, such as how he doesn’t want to lose his mom but wants it to be over too.  His grandmother is not likable, although I did understand her better by the end of the book.  The father is a jerk in a lot of ways. I wanted to smack the school bullies but there are consequences for their behavior.  Conor still has a lot to deal with at the end of the book, but he is on the right path.  A Monster Calls gives the reader something to think about, and there is underlying hope in spite of the sad circumstances.

Kora by Marina Epley

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Young servant Kora lives in a society with only upper and lower classes, where you are either a Master or servant.  Kora wants a better life than being a trash picker and requests to be sold to a Master in Central City.  A man named Gabriel buys her, and Kora’s plans to improve her circumstances are complicated by what she has to deal with in Central City.

Pros:  The writing itself is good, and the plot and setting are interesting.  This is a dystopian story along the lines of The Hunger Games, although The Hunger Games is superior.  In fairness, though, The Hunger Games is at the top of the dystopian fiction list.  It’s not likely other books in that genre will surpass The Hunger Games series, although there are probably some that are as good or nearly as good.  I like the concern Kora has for the other servants, particularly Tanya.

Cons:  Kora spends a lot of time complaining about her circumstances.  I understand that her situation is not good and get why she would respond that way, but I think in this case show and not tell applies.  There is nothing wrong with wanting a better life or wanting to get away from a bad environment, but I think it works better when the character makes a definite plan about what to do and then follows through with it.  It doesn’t make sense for Kora to run off to a place she has never been and isn’t familiar with, and there are consequences for that.  She ends up in a worse situation than before.  Also, Kora is too unsure of what she wants.  Stories are better when the characters learn something through what they experience and become better for it.  Wreck is really a strange character too; one minute he’s kind and helpful and the next he’s this psycho.  The relationship between Trent and Kora is one-sided and therefore frustrating.  She likes him so much and he turns out to be a jerk.  There is a lot of violence too.

Overall I like this book; there is a lot of potential.  However, it’s not something I’ll go out of my way to read again.

I received a free eBook copy of this book in exchange for an honest review and appreciate the opportunity to read and review Kora. I am interested in checking out some of the author’s other work.

Frankly Speaking

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In Frankly Speaking, the first book in the Frank Rozzani series, private detective and former police officer Frank Rozzani investigates the disappearance of 16-year-old Maggie Bullock.  He receives help in the investigation from his friends and associates Clifford “Jonesy” Jones and Anita Velasquez.  In the process, they discover a baby selling and human trafficking ring.

Frankly Speaking is engaging and well-written.  The writing style is a tribute to pulp fiction from the 30s, 40s and 50s.  The setting is great (Florida is beautiful) and the plot keeps the reader’s attention.  The author does a good job of conveying the garbage that has been known to occur in megachurches.  However, he balances this with the idea that people are imperfect and make bad choices when dealing with life challenges-especially when large amounts of money and power are an issue.  The author has a good understanding of how detectives operate; the storyline is realistic.

Frank, Jonesy and Anita are likable if somewhat flawed characters the way they interact is enjoyable.  The affection Frank has for his dog, Lucy, is sweet, and so is the relationship Frank has with Lucy’s vet, Nancy Rafferty.  The reader can relate to the pain Frank deals with as a result of the tragedy that led to his move from Syracuse, New York to Jacksonville, Florida.  There aren’t a lot of details revealed in this book, but this likely changes as the series continues.  Jonesy, who is a lawyer, is portrayed as a surfer dude, and his surf shop being used as a front for a law firm is clever.  I like how Anita, a detective with the Jacksonville Police Department, resists the powers-that-be and helps Frank and Jonesy with their investigation.

The other characters add to the story.  Pastor Rick Worthington isn’t likable, but he makes an effort to turn his life around after some pretty serious mistakes as a young person.  He sincerely cares about his congregation and wants to help a young man who shares his issues with him.  Stanton Cobb, who works with the Bullocks, is despicable, but he gets his just reward.  William Robert Drake, a Jacksonville police detective and Cobb’s great nephew, isn’t likable, but he tries to make things right when he finds out about the human trafficking ring.

I recommend this book, and want to read the rest of the series when I get a chance.

Beneath a Scarlet Sky

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In Beneath a Scarlet Sky, young Italian Pino Lella helps Italian Jews by leading them through the mountains to Switzerland during the Nazi occupation of Italy. Later, he enlists in the German army and becomes a spy for the Allies.

There isn’t a lot of information about what went on in Italy during World War II. Many of the books about World War II are set in Germany or Eastern Europe, so the fact the setting is different makes this book interesting.  This is historical fiction; the dialogue and scenes are constructed by the author.  However, the historical setting and characters are real.  The author decided to write the book after meeting Pino and talking to him about his life in Italy during World War II.

Pino is an engaging, likable character.  The author does a good job of taking the reader along for Pino’s journey from carefree teenager to crusader with a cause to a person deeply affected by the tragic event that is World War II, although he  becomes a successful ski instructor and car salesman later.  Part of the reason one doesn’t hear much about Italy during World War II is because a lot of documents were destroyed, but also because the people were so devastated by the war they didn’t want to talk about it.  Pino’s suffering the loss of someone he cares about deeply and working through this is particularly touching.

I highly recommend Beneath a Scarlet Sky and give this book a 5/5 rating.  This book is a very worthwhile read for those interested in historical events.

 

 

A Beautiful Poison by Lydia Kang

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In A Beautiful Poison, long-time friends Birdie, Allene and Jasper work together to solve the murder of Florence, a woman who is disliked by a number of people.  Things become complicated when several more people with close connections to the three friends die.

Pros:  The writing itself is very good and keeps the reader’s attention.  I like historical fiction, and the setting, New York (specifically Bellevue Hospital) in 1918 is interesting.  The author does a good job communicating the emphasis on social status that occurred during this time, and the scenes at Bellevue are well done.  The murderer doesn’t turn out to be who I thought it might be, and that is an interesting twist.

Cons:  The characters are not likable, and I had a hard time connecting with them.  I did understand Birdie better and how the abuse she suffered influenced her actions as the story progressed.  However, I believe stories work better if the reader can find something to like about the characters even if they are flawed.  Andrew, Birdie, Allene and Jasper are extremely self-centered and seem incapable of thinking about anything but their own agendas.  Allene redeems herself somewhat by taking care of Holly at the book’s conclusion, but I still didn’t care for her.  Ernie is probably the least selfish character, but I had a hard time understanding what he saw in Birdie, Allene and Jasper.

Overall, A Beautiful Poison is worth reading.  I would give the book a 4/5, and I would be interested in reading more books by this author.

Dean Koontz’s Frankenstein

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In Dean Koontz’ Frankenstein, detectives Carson O’Connor and Michael Maddison investigate a series of murders that involve victims who are missing body parts.   Their search for a serial killer leads them to a madman plotting to replace the human race with creatures that exist only to serve and obey him.

I like different takes or interpretations of old stories, and the plot is rather creepy but interesting.  The story is set in New Orleans in modern times.  However, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, written in the 1800s, is important to the story and is referred to quite often.  Dean Koontz is a good writer.  He works with the concept of someone being so arrogant as to want to replace human beings with their own creation well; I could picture this happening.  I like the interaction between O’Connor and Maddison, and Deucalion is an interesting character who is struggling to overcome his dark past.

Frankenstein is a worthwhile read for people who enjoy the horror, crime or suspense genres.  This is the first of a five-part series, and I want to read the rest of the series when I can.

The Moonlit Garden

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The Moonlit Garden tells the stories of two women who live in different centuries and countries-yet they have a connection, a violin.

Lilly Kaiser is an antique shop owner from Germany who is dealing with the loss of her husband.  She is approached by a stranger who gives her an old violin he says belongs to her.  Lilly isn’t musical, and as far as she knows neither is anyone in her immediate family.  She is intrigued about the violin’s original owner and sets out to solve the mystery with the help of her friend Ellen Morris and the head of a music school, Gabriel Thornton.

They discover the violin belonged to Rose Gallway, a musician of mixed English-Sumatran heritage who lived in the early 1900s and was a well-regarded performer until she suddenly disappears.  Lilly, Ellen and Gabriel discover Rose’s connection to the violin and the connection between Rose, English aristocrat Paul Havenden, and another young musician, Helen Carter.

Pros:  I like stories that move between the past and present.  The historical setting (the Dutch and English colonial period in the 1800s and early 1900s) and locations (Germany, London, Italy and Indonesia) are interesting.  I like the interaction between Lilly and Ellen, and the musical mystery adds to the story.  People dealing with loss and moving on are good themes to work with.  The transitions between present-day and the early 20th century are fairly smooth.

Cons:    I initially did not like Rose at all. She is a very self-centered character in my opinion.  I understood later that the abuse she suffered from her music teacher was a large contributing factor, but she still isn’t very likable.  I didn’t like Paul either. Paul telling Rose he is engaged when he is married is reprehensible, and it is stupid of Rose to get involved with him.  Of course, she didn’t know he was actually married, but she did believe he was engaged, and it’s wrong in that case too.   This sort of content doesn’t make a story better.  Helen comes off as being a spoiled brat too.  I understand people behave selfishly and do stupid things when they are searching for happiness and fulfillment or are dealing with stressful situations, but this is not well-executed here.  It’s okay for characters to be flawed, but they should have some likable qualities.  The ending is kind of confusing and leaves a lot of unanswered questions.   I really couldn’t figure out exactly who the original owner of the violin is supposed to be.

I should point out that The Moonlit Garden is originally in German.  It can be tricky to convey meaning or concept accurately when translating from one language to another, so that may be a factor.  The actual writing is good, and the descriptions of the various locations are well-done. I did like The Moonlit Garden in spite of the issues I mentioned, but it’s not a book I’d go out of my way to read again.

The Devil’s Dance

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Romi Lachlan is a young woman with her share of challenges.  Her fiancé, Phil Gerald, has disappeared, taking the money from Verify, the tech company where they are employed, with him. Romi is broke, blackballed and unable to find a job.  As a result, she is forced to move back to her childhood home, a trailer park in Bisby, Texas. Her dysfunctional family further complicates matters.

But things have changed in Bisby; the once poor area is now prosperous.  With the help of an FBI agent, Ben Sawyer, who initially appears to be investigating her involvement with Phil’s fleecing Verify, Romi sets out to uncover a number of secrets.

This book is engaging and enjoyable; Ms. Lamb is an excellent writer.  Romi is a likeable, strong character, and I love the interaction between her and Sawyer and her crazy-as-loons family.  The book is fast-paced.  There are several story arcs but this is executed in a logical manner and holds the reader’s interest.  I did wonder somewhat about Romi’s snarky comments throughout the story, but came to realize this is a defense mechanism to deal with stress.  The snarky attitude is covering vulnerability.   There is an element of reconciliation and putting the past to rest that I like a lot also.

The Devil’s Dance is a worthwhile read.