Book Review 40: Cold Fire by Dean Koontz

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A little over a decade ago, I went on a Dean Koontz reading binge.  I read at least ten or eleven of his novels and I couldn’t get enough of them at that time.  However, my reading tastes has changed quite a bit over the years and I really didn’t have a desire to go back re-read any of his books.

Well, I looked on my bookshelf  a couple of weeks ago and saw I had a copy of Cold Fire. I must admit that Cold Fire is the one Koontz novel I have kept on my bookshelf since that reading binge. I don’t have a reason why I’ve kept that novel. But it was still there and I decided to give it a second reading.

Cold Fire is the story of Jim Ironheart, a mysterious man who has a supernatural ability to save random strangers from perilous life-altering events.  As a result, Jim has become an unlikely superhero.

One of his missions to Portland, Oregon, he has a chance encounter with Holly Thorne.  She’s a local reporter that was interviewing a teacher who recently published a book of poetry. Upon leaving the school, Holly sees Jim rescues a student from being hit by a truck. Jim treats the episode like a policeman or firefighter doing their job and Holly is taken by his modesty and self-effacing persona.

Afterwards, she decides to use her journalistic skills and track down this modern-day superhero.  Holly’s investigation into his background leads her to travel to Southern California and ends up becoming a part one of his missions.  By the end of that mission, Holly is convinced there is a lot more to discover about Ironheart.

Eventually, Holly persuades Jim to explore his past in order to find out about his supernatural ability and that’s where the painful memories of childhood, family abandonment, and the ability of books to create your own world comes into view.  By the end of novel, Jim faces up to those issues and learns where his gift actually came from.

Koontz’s strengths as a page-turning storyteller were on full display in Cold Fire.  He is a master at creating suspenseful scenes that makes you want to keep reading.  Also, Koontz has the ability to combine science fiction, fantasy, suspense/thriller, horror, and even aspects of spirituality into a genre gumbo of best-selling commercial fiction.  In this aspect, Koontz is similar to the musician, Sting.  Both men in their respective fields have taken various genres like a master chef would for a meal and use the right ingredients from each genre to create popular art that is uniquely their own.

After reading it for the second time, Cold Fire holds up surprisingly well. It will be the one Koontz novel that remains on my bookshelf.

Book Review 39: Captives (Safe Lands #1) by Jill Williamson

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What is freedom?

That question is the one that kept coming to mind as I read The Captives (Safe Lands Book 1) by Jill Williamson. It is a YA Dystopian novel and not a genre usually read. (However, I did read and review the wonderful Book Thief by Marcus Zusak last year.) This novel was recommended to me by a blogger and reader I trust and I’m thankful for her recommendation.

The Captives is set in a futuristic Colorado and revolves around a family that lives off the land in a village named Glenrock.  The family believes in Christianity and follows its values. However, one of the sons decide he’s had enough of the old ways and beliefs of his family and is determined to make a name for himself in Denver City.  Denver City is a modern utopia and has everything one wants especially for a teenager.

The son devises a plan to get his family to leave Glenrock and join him in Denver City.  However, the plan doesn’t go as expected and there are some disastrous results because of his choice.

While in Denver City, the family learns how the people of the city lives and is in stark contrast to how they lived in Glenrock.  Pleasure and Entertainment is the main lifestyle for people of the city.  Women are used as baby factories for the state and being in a committed relationship or marriage is considered outdated by the citizens.  The city decides on where you will work or what career path you must take and there is a harsh punishment for those who try to buck the system.

However, the eldest son of the family was not around when the rest of his kinfolk were taken into Denver City.  He decides he must go into the city in order to rescue them.  But, he learns quickly that once you come to Denver City it’s not that easy to leave.

Since this is the first book of the series, the author finishes the novel with a few open-ended questions that needs to be answered in the subsequent books of the series. Williamson has written a solid, thought-provoking YA novel that put a smile on this middle-aged reader’s face.  This is the one of the best novels I’ve read so far in 2013 and would recommend it for readers 14 and up.

Book Review 38: A Touch of Death by Charles Williams

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“He who loves money will not be satisfied with money.”  {Ecclesiastes 5:10}

This verse of scripture from King Solomon in the Book of Ecclesiastes summed up my feelings when I finished reading, A Touch of Death by Charles Williams.

The straightforward plot of the novel focuses on Lee Scarborough, ex-football player, drawn into a scenario where he could have $120,000 dollars that was stolen from a bank by the bank president who is now dead. However, the key to getting this money is having to deal with Madelon Butler, the bank president’s widow.

Madelon Butler is not your typical heroine and her relationship with Scarborough was the most fascinating part of A Touch of Death. She’s vicious, cunning, manipulative, loves to drink and listen to jazz music.  Scarborough in trying to deal with her reminded me of this:

There are four things I don’t understand,

The first is the way of an eagle in the sky,

The second is the way of a snake on a rock,

The third is the way of a ship on the ocean,

And the fourth is the way of a man with a young woman.

{Proverbs 30:18-19 New Int’l Readers Version}

While Madelon Butler is not a young woman, I think that Scarborough could still relate to this verse of scripture from the Book of Proverbs. If you are reader of mystery novels of the pulp fiction variety, then you can figure out what the rest of the story is about.  Williams creates some interesting twists and turns that rushes into a satisfying conclusion.

If you are looking for a solid and engaging story that will keep you up into the wee hours of the morning. Then, I will recommend A Touch of Death to you.

Book Review 37: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

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“For me writing has always felt like praying.”

“Adulthood is a wonderful thing, and brief. You must be sure to enjoy it while it lasts.”

Those touching, powerful quotes are from Minister John Ames, the protagonist of Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. Gilead tells his story in letter form to his young son about his life and struggles as a man of the cloth in the town of Gilead, Iowa.

Robinson creates a three-dimensional picture of Minister Ames through his belief in Jesus Christ, the struggles with his faith, and the relationships with his family and others in the town.

There were two relationships in the novel that I believe truly formed Minister Ames.  The first one was with the atheist, Edward Feuerbach and this comment said a lot to me about their relationship:

“Boughton takes a very dim view of him, because he unsettled the faith of many people, but I take issue as much with those people as with Feuerbach. It seems to me some people just go around looking to get their faith unsettled.”

Ames was willing to risk having a friendship with a man that could shake his faith. It exhibited the depth of his conviction and a genuine love for humanity not something learned from seminary or taught over the pulpit.

Even though, I thought the relationship seemed distant and remote at times, Ames clearly loved him and mentioned in the story his failed attempt to convert him to Christianity.

The second relationship was with his best friend, Jack Boughton’s son, John Ames Boughton.  The younger Boughton believed in Christ growing up but drifted away from the faith as he got older.  However, he always had a respect for Minister Ames and came to him often for spiritual questions. Even though, Minister Ames answered his questions, the younger Boughton could never get over the intellectual hurdles he had in order to become a believer.

This relationship with the younger Boughton was more dynamic than his relationship with Feuerbach.  As a result, it showed a man who truly believed the gospel was for everyone.  From those who believed blindly and uncritically to those once believed and rejected it to those who never believed in the gospel.  Minister Ames walked the walk as well as he talked the talk.

Gilead was the first novel I’ve read that grew on me.  It was okay at first, because the lack of action or suspense and even no chapters.  As I kept reading, I began to like the novel more and Robinson created such a full, rich character that it made me think of my own spiritual journey.

I would highly recommend Gilead and consider it to be the best novel I’ve read and reviewed in 2013 so far.

Book Review 36: Pirate Freedom by Gene Wolfe

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Gene Wolfe is considered one of science-fiction’s greatest living writers. His Sun Saga Books (Book of the New Sun, Book of the Long Sun, & Book of the Short Sun) are recognized as modern classics and one of the best series ever written in the genre.

Also, he has received the genre’s major awards (Nebula and Hugo) and acclaim from other authors and critics in the field as the science fiction writer who belongs on the same literary stage with heavyweights like Cormac McCarthy, Don DeLillo, &  Thomas Pynchon. With all that praise, I had to read a Gene Wolfe novel and find out if he deserves that kind of recognition.

Pirate Freedom is a story about Father Christopher, a Catholic priest, who has heard many confessions from his parishioners. However, he decides to reveal his past as a pirate and how his own confession made him become a man of the cloth.

His adventures as a pirate made this novel akin to Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson or the Aubrey-Maturin books by Patrick O’Brian than a traditional science fiction novel or the science fantasies that Wolfe is known for.

Moreover, Wolfe is known for having unreliable narrators as his protagonists and making his readers work in his novels. Pirate Freedom bucks that tendency and read pretty straightforward and I felt the main character was a reliable narrator.

I believe that Pirate Freedom will disappoint Wolfe readers and fans because he decided to take a left turn from his standard themes in his other novels. Literary fiction readers would find this novel engaging and readable (like I did) but unless you’re a fan of sea adventure stories, it will leave you wanting more like eating an appetizer at your favorite restaurant.

However, Pirate Freedom is a good introduction into this celebrated author’s oeuvre and has made me want to read his aforementioned Sun Saga series to get a better representation of  how great a writer Wolfe really is.

Book Review 35: The Unspeakable by Tessa Stockton

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My first review of the new year is from a new novelist I had not read before. I enjoy discovering new authors and trying out someone outside of the mainstream of contemporary fiction is one of the great pleasures of reading fiction.

The Unspeakable by Tessa Stockton is a first-person narrative about Sylvia Abbott’s ordeal in Colombia’s guerilla war. The story focuses mostly on her relationship with her torturer, Horacio Botello AKA Puma.

Sylvia travels from her home in Portland, Oregon to Colombia to visit her brother, Spencer, who has been living there as a language instructor.  However, when she arrives her reunion with Spencer doesn’t go as planned and Sylvia becomes suspicious about her brother’s behavior and whom he is involved with. Her curiosity leads to being captured and tortured as a political prisoner.

There are several twists and turns in this thriller and I found the relationship between Sylvia and Puma the most intriguing parts of the novel. I thought their relationship was the most developed parts of the story and if the author could have focused the entire plot around those two characters the novel would have been more vibrant.

Moreover, I thought the pacing and rhythm of the story to be somewhat uneven.  Some chapters ended rather quickly and other chapters continued longer than I expected.  As soon as got into the flow of the story, the plot jerked in a different direction.

In closing, I felt the author knew the various aspects about torture, the politics of Colombia and the belief that anyone can be redeemed from a faith based perspective.  Ultimately, I wanted more from the story and didn’t quite get it.  Overall, I thought The Unspeakable was a decent read  and will keep an eye on Tessa Stockton’s works in the future.

Wisdom of Kammbia 3.11: Marion’s Bakers Dozen of Reviews for 2013

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We have come to the end of an another year. I have read a lot of books and reviewed quite a few for the blog in 2012. However, I will post an end of the year review on those books in a few days.

Moreover, I’m lining up my books to read and review for the blog for 2013.  The goal is to read and review a book a month.  I know that’s not a lot and actually I could read several books in one month.  But, I want to give myself a challenge next year (I won’t call it a New Year’s Resolution…LOL!) and stick to a set goal for 2013.

Instead of twelve books for 2013, I want to read and review a Bakers Dozen.  For the thirteen book, I would like to get my readers involved and have them recommend a book for me to post on the blog.

Here are the books I have lined up for 2013:

1) January’s Book is In Sunlight and In Shadow by Mark Helprin: Mark Helprin is one of my favorite novelists.  His latest novel is a grand love story that’s reminiscent of his best-selling modern classic, Winter’s TaleI must admit there is a short list of novelists that I’m always eager to read when they publish new work and he is one of them.

2) February’s Book is The Unspeakable by Tessa Stockton: This is a new novelist for me. I enjoy discovering new writers and last year I read Morgan Busse’s Daughter of Light and Louise Marley’s The Child Goddess.  Both were good discoveries and hopefully Tessa Stockton’s latest will make it three for three.

3) February’s second book (I’m reading two in this month) is Culture Making by Andy Crouch: I have to include at least one non-fiction book in my baker’s dozen reviews for 2013.  I read this book a couple of years ago and want to review it for the blog.  This ground-breaking book asks that Christians instead of being cultural critiquers and condemners become cultural makers.

4) March’s book is Gilead by Marilynne Robinson: I’ve been wanting for several years to read this powerful novel about a minister who is dying of a heart condition and is writing his autobiography for his young son. Highly lauded and praised, Gilead is not only a novel dealing with spirituality but ultimately about fathers and sons.

5) April’s book is Chess Garden by Brooks Hansen: This excellent debut novel about a doctor who leaves Ohio and travels to South Africa to serve in the British Concentration Camps during the Boer War.  The doctor sends back twelve chess pieces and letters to his wife and describes his experiences in the imaginary land of Antipodes.  This novel is a powerful work of imagination and should be read by lovers of fantastical literature.

6) May’s book is The Power and The Glory by Graham Greene:  I’ve been wanting to read this novel for years.  Looking forward to it.

7) June’s book is The Children of God by Mary Doria Russell: This is the sequel to the highly praised novel, The Sparrow.  I’m currently reading that novel for the blog and it will be my last review for 2012.  That should give you an indication of how I feel about reading this sequel.  Looking for to it.

8) July’s book is The Sleeper Awakes by H.G. Wells: This 1899 sci-fi classic about an insomniac whom finally falls asleep and does not awake for a couple hundred of years is considered one of Wells most underrated works.  Also, I believe all serious readers should read one book a year that is published in the 19th Century or earlier. And this is my choice for 2013.

9) August’s book is Arena by Karen Hancock: This groundbreaking novel is considered one of the best in the fledging Christian Speculative Fiction genre.  I want to read one of the early novels that has opened the door for the genre’s recent boom.

10) September’s book is Black Tower by P.D. James: I read my first P.D. James’ Adam Dalgliesh novel in 2012 and I’m ready to another one in that series. She is considered one of the best and most literate mystery novelists working today and after reading Cover Her Face, James’ status as the Queen of Crime is well-deserved. I’m hoping that The Black Tower will continue to enhance her reputation.


11) October’s book is The River Rising by Athol Dickson: Athol Dickson has become one of my favorite novelists. I believe he’s the heir apparent to Walker Percy and Graham Greene by intertwining religious themes, magical realism and excellent storytelling into thoughtful, moral works of fiction. I reviewed Lost Mission in 2011 and The Opposite of Art in 2012 and truly enjoyed reading them both. I expect more of the same when I read River Rising for 2013.

12) November’s book is Cold Fire by Dean Koontz: I have decided to read at least one pop-fiction novel a year as well. I know serious readers as quick to dismiss these huge best-selling novelists. However, I learned a valuable lesson in 2012 when I read my first Stephen King Novel, Bag of Bones and Sidney Sheldon’s Other Side of Midnight. Real talent exists in those pop fiction novelists as well as those highly-lauded literary novelists.  I consider Dean Koontz as one of the most prominent pop-fiction novelists and I have keep a copy of Cold Fire on my bookshelf since I read it about 15 years ago.  Now, I want to see if the book holds up after all that time and review it for the blog.


13) December’s book is Love In The Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez: I want to end of the year with one of the most popular novels written by one of the world’s best novelists.  Reading such a popular novel for the second time will have its own challenges, but I’m hoping it will be enjoyable and rewarding as when I first read it.

Well, that’s my baker’s dozen list.  I can’t wait for 2013 and hope that I can fulfill this list (not a resolution…LOL!) as I have written.  God Bless and hope everyone has a good year in 2013.