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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

The 5 Greatest Warriors

Matthew Reilly's The 5 Greatest Warriors (#579) is the final installment in this three part adventure series.  It picks up right where The Six Sacred Stones (See my previous post.) left off; with our hero, Jack West Jr., falling seemingly to his death in an abyss.

Of course Jack isn't dead (or there wouldn't be another book!) but in his race to save the world by solving clues from ancient times, planted by an ancient unknown civilization and famous warriors in history, you think each time "This is it - he's not going to make it!"  But he and his stalwart crew and adopted daughter Lily always squeak through, although not without severe consequences for some, if not all of them.  Reilly even manages to provide a happy ending to this tale told at breakneck pace.  For now, Jack's team is able to enjoy some peace and quiet, but author Matthew Reilly assures us in an interview at the end of the book that he will plan to write further adventures for this crew, counting all the way down to "1 Something Something".

If you like nonstop action mixed with a healthy dose of history and geography, Matthew Reilly is the writer for you.  This series may be a few years old, but it's just as much fun now as it was when it was hot off the presses!

Friday, June 24, 2016

The Six Sacred Stones

Despite what you might think from reading my last post, The Six Sacred Stones (#578) by Matthew Reilly is anything but a religious book.  In a cover blurb, Kirkus Reviews calls it a "video game in print".  That's an apt description for this non-stop action thriller.  In fact, the adventure featuring Jack West Jr. and his team assembled from around the world began with 7 Deadly Wonders (See my post of 4/10/15 ), and concludes with the third book, The 5 Greatest Warriors, which is a good thing since The Six Sacred Stones ends with the cliff hanger of all cliff hangers.  At stake here?  No less than the end of the world!  Jack West Jr. and his crew are trying their best to defeat those who are only interested in a) the destruction of earth and b) grabbing and controlling the gifts promised by the ancients to those who act to prevent this from happening.  Total world domination is a pretty tempting prize, you have to admit.

This is so much fun to read as the body count mounts ever higher, and you are sure that Jack, Zoe, Pooh Bear, Stretch, Sky Monster, the Wizard and the twin math geniuses along with Jack's adopted daughter Lily, age 12 and her friend Alby are never going to make it out alive from just about every encounter with their enemies.  You probably won't get that nap in the hammock you've been promising yourself once you start to read any of these books - I know I burned the midnight oil to find out what happens next! 

As an added bonus, Matthew Reilly includes quite a bit of factual information on the ancient world, astronomy and even religious texts while he's at it.  It's a really painless (for us!) way to absorb interesting information - learning without tears.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy

I was surprised to find John Shelby Spong's latest book Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy (#577) prominently displayed under Staff Picks at the main branch of our local library.  I knew the name from my Episcopal background, but I've never read any of his works before.  With time off from EfM this summer, it seemed like the perfect time to remedy that omission.

The premise of Spong's book is that the Bible as a whole, and in this work, the gospel of Matthew in particular, were not written as literal works of history, but rather as metaphors and allegories to teach greater truths.  The original Jewish audience for whom the gospels were written would have understood the underlying stories and allusions to Old Testament scripture.  In fact, Spong posits that Matthew was designed to be read in the synagogues as part of the liturgical year cycle, just as many traditional denominations of Christianity have set orders of readings from both Old and New Testament works throughout the year.  When the new Christian movement broke away from their synagogue-based roots beginning with the Roman persecutions following the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE, Spong contends that the now mostly Gentile congregations knew nothing about Jewish scriptures, and so lost the key to interpreting the gospels properly themselves.  They began to read them as literal history.

I found what Spong has to say most interesting.  His arguments are laid out logically and make sense to me.  Of course, I realize after three years of EfM that my mind and theological thinking have stretched considerably.  For many, many others judging from the letters to the editor in my local paper, their first reaction would be to take this book out to the library parking lot and burn it!  (Without reading it first, of course!)  If they could actually bring themselves to read it, the challenge to what they have always been taught to believe could cause their heads to explode.  If they can get past that, it might just open up a whole new way of thinking for them.  You'll just have to read Biblical Literalism: A Gentile Heresy for yourself.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Railwayman's Wife

Love and loss.  Those are the themes of Ashley Hay's novel The Railwayman's Wife (#576).  Set on the southeast coast of Australia after the end of World War II, it explores not just the loss of a loved one to unexpected death, but the loss of self in two survivors of World War II who are forever marked by their experiences.  Three lives intersect in this novel, and each deals with loss in his or her own way, but touched by that intersection outside themselves.

Ani Lachlan is the railwayman's wife, left to raise her young daughter when her husband is killed in a rail accident.  Roy McKinnon found his voice through powerful poetry during the war, but peacetime has left him unable to write anything more.  Frank Draper, the idealistic doctor, is permanently scarred by being one of the first through the gates of Auschwitz.  The tale of these intertwined lives is beautifully told by Ms. Hay as they take the first tentative steps towards a future none of them could have ever envisioned.

Highly recommended.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Lady Susan and Love and Freindship(sic)

I recently saw the movie Love & Friendship, an adaptation of one of Jane Austen's early novellas, Lady Susan (#575).  I quite enjoyed it, especially as the costumes and locations were beautiful.  I rushed home, eager to see how closely the film followed the original written work, since I had never read it.  Lady Susan is an epistolary novel which I think they did a reasonable job of turning into dialog format.  Of course, they had to take a number of liberties to pad out the story, so there are characters added and scenes inserted to move the plot along, but I think they did get the gist of the novella quite nicely.

Lady Susan, if you're not familiar with this Jane Austen work, tells the tale of an attractive widow who always seems to find a way to live in comfort on other people's hospitality while she hunts for a wealthy husband.  But first things first; she has a daughter to marry off to a rich but silly rattle.  The success of her matrimonial campaigns form the nucleus of the plot.  Kate Beckinsale plays Lady Susan with relish in the film version.

Lady Susan was included in a volume of other short Austen works, and I was surprised to find that the book included a novella named Love & Freindship (sic).  Of course I had to read that as well, expecting it to be the further adventures of Lady Susan and her coterie.  It was not.  Love & Freindship featured an entirely different cast of characters!  It was also an epistolary novella, purporting to be an instructive screed from a woman whose unfortunate past might provide a salutary lesson to the unmarried daughter of an old friend written at the mother's urging.  I frankly found it a hoot.  It was so over the top it verged on parody rather than the social satire one usually associates with Jane Austen.  All her original misspellings were left in which adds another layer to the refined voice the narrator assumes.  I would love to see a movie version of this story with all the fainting and running mad by our heroine!

What remains a mystery to me, though, is why the folks at Amazon who made this film based on Lady Susan decided to call it by a different title; they could have done that, but why choose a title of another existing Jane Austen work?  That's like going to see a film called Pride & Prejudice and seeing Northanger Abbey instead!  Very confusing.

I still benefited from seeing a entertaing movie and having a chance to enjoy not one, but two previously unread Jane Austen works.  Summer reading doesn't get much better than this!

Thursday, June 9, 2016

The Assistants - A Novel

Ah, the assistant.  Behind every successful man, there as an underpaid, over educated and under appreciated woman managing his life for him.  In Camille Perri's debut novel, The Assistants (#574) it's Tina Fontana, the trusted assistant to Robert Barlow, head of a worldwide media empire. 

Tina's been with Robert for six years and she's not about to let him miss an important meeting on the West Coast just because his private jet is grounded.  Robert will just have to fly (gasp!) commercial.  First class, of course, with all the surrounding seats empty as well, and oh, by the way, Robert thinks he should fly for free.  Tina finds herself charging the price of all those first class tickets on her own credit cards.  Not a problem because she'll file an expense report.  It's when the airline calls to apologize profusely for their agent's rudeness to Tina and report that her cards have been credited for the expense that the fun begins.  Tina is holding her Titan Corporation reimbursement check in her hand when the call comes in.  What should she do?  Normally, she'd return it immediately to Accounting, but the amount of this check almost exactly matches her student loan debt...  When Tina steps over the line, she doesn't have long to enjoy her debt-free life before someone else at Titan blackmails her over it.  One thing leads to another in this entertaining tale of money and morals.

It's a quick read, and it seems that it's already been optioned as a motion picture.  Can't wait to see it on screen - it will be the perfect summer movie!

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine

What is it that makes Alexander McCall Smith's No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency novels so appealing?  I was thinking about this as I was enjoying the latest addition to this series, The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine (#573).

First of all, I think it's because McCall Smith tells a good story.  You want to find out what will happen next to Mma Ramotswe,  her husband Mr. J.L.B. Matekoni, and her now partner, Mma Makutsi in far-off Gabarone, Botswana.  The exotic locale can often pose problems for the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency, but the human problems they are called upon to investigate are the same the world over.  That by itself makes for interesting reading.

But what I think really sets this series apart is the warmth generated by the central characters whose quirky behavior and humorous traits are leavened with a kindness and moral rectitude which are so often missing from the novels published today.  Love of God, of family, of country are paramount to these people, and it's refreshing to imagine that somewhere in the world people like this really do exist.

In The Woman Who Walked in Sunshine, Mma Ramotswe finds herself on holiday, not quite sure that it actually was her idea.  Not that she is idle; far from it!  She encounters a street urchin named Samuel, becomes embroiled in a famous late person's scandal, and misreads a situation with nearly disastrous consequences.  Things have a way of working themselves out for the best, with a little help from the No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency!

If you haven't read any of this series yet, I can't imagine a more pleasurable way of spending your summer than binge reading these books.  Enjoy!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Tricky Twenty-Two

I lost track of how many cars bail bondsman Stephanie Plum managed to destroy in Janet Evanovich's latest outing, Tricky Twenty-Two  (#572).  Since most of them belonged to her some-time employer, Ranger, all I can say is that his insurance company most love to see him calling!

This time around, Stephanie is sure that Joe Morelli is about to pop the question.  Instead, she finds herself on the wrong end of a "It's not you, it's me..." speech.  Good thing there are some easy Failed To Show cases she can take to get her mind off her problems - a missing frat boy from the local college, someone who's walked off with a lawn mower, and oh, yes, the serial rapist/murderer that the police have never been able to prosecute due to lack of evidence.  Naturally, nothing ever goes as planned, especially when murders become part of the pursuit!

Stephanie gives new meaning to the term "goosed" in one hilarious encounter.  Her grandmother and Lula play prominent roles here, but it turns out that Stephanie's mother is the one who ultimately saves the day.  Always a great time between these covers!

Thursday, June 2, 2016


I think that if C. W. Gortner's latest historical fiction novel, Marlene - A Novel of Marlene Dietrich (#571) had been half the length, it would have been twice as good.  In his Acknowledgements, he does say that he wanted to concentrate on Marlene's early years and struggles, not so much her "seemingly meteoric rise to fame". 

So the first half of this novel is a salacious account of Marlene's many, many, many sexual encounters.  I would hesitate to call them love affairs, because the way she is portrayed here, it doesn't seem that she was capable of actually loving anyone except in a physical sense.  Between the tedium of bisexual trysts, her fondness for cross-dressing, and her mother issues, I would have given up on this book, except for the fact that I owed GoodReads a review after winning a copy.

Frankly, I found the most interesting part of this book Gortner's recounting of her loathing of Hitler and her refusal to return to Germany to become part of his propaganda machine.  After she became an American citizen, and a target for Nazi reprisals, she spent her time entertaining the troops in war-torn Europe with the USO.  Sharing the same hardships as the soldiers near the front lines, these tours eventually earned Marlene Dietrich the French Legion d'honneur, and Medals of Freedom from the Belgian, Israeli and US governments.  That's a Marlene I could admire.  I wish we had seen a lot more of that woman here.

I can't recommend this book.  I wish I had read a straight (!) biography of Marlene Dietrich instead.  I would have learned more about her that way and skipped the boring bits Gortner finds so titilating. 

P.S.  I should have known from the cover photograph; of all the glamour photos that exist of Marlene Dietrich, those in charge of this publication choose one that emphasizes her left hand, making it look like a huge claw wearing an enormous ring.  Rather sinister, I think!