SOUL TREKKING
WITH 

PASTOR STEVE

 


 

NOVEL NOTATIONS

Looking for a good read?  You may want to check these out (I've rated the books as though they were movies).


 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
  
 
 
 

Page last updated 08-28-2008.  See What's New for details.


 
 

General Directory of Authors From A-Z:

 

Captain Nemo
by Kevin J. Anderson

The Book Of Three
by Lloyd Alexander

Black Jack Point 
by Jeff Abbott

 

Caves of Steel 
by Isaac Asimov

The Gods Themselves 

by Issac Asimov

Doctor Who: Eater of Wasps
by Trevor Baxendale

Never Dream Of Dying
by Raymond Benson 
(A James Bond story)

From The Dust Returned
by Ray Bradbury

 

K-PAX
by Gene Brewer

Elvis In The Morning
by William F. Buckley, Jr.

Iron Man: The Armor Trap
by Greg Cox

Atlantis Found
by Clive Cussler

Books by Jeffery Deaver

 

The Hanna Swensen Mysteries
by Joanne Fluke

Fantastic Four: Redemption Of The Silver Surfer 

by Michael Jan Friedman 

Christmas In Harmony
by Philip Gulley

Thoughts on William Harringtons's Columbo novels

From A Buick 8
by Stephen King

James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007
by John Pearson

 

Books by J.K. Rowling

Right Behind
by Mr. Sock 
and Nathan D. Wilson

Magic Time
by Marc Scott Zicree 
and Barbara Humbly

Mother Night 
by Kurt Vonnegut

 

Star Trek Books

 

Books for Young People

 


 
 
 
 

Books by Jeffery Deaver:

 


 

The Coffin Dancer by Jeffery Deaver

In this fast-moving thriller/mystery with plenty of plot twists and turns, brilliant quadriplegic forensics expert and criminologist, Lincoln Rhyme, and his beautiful assistant, Amelia Sachs, have two days to find, stop, and capture a notorious hitman - who is an expert at deception and who prides himself on meticulous planning, never getting caught, and never leaving evidence - from taking out three Federal witnesses.  Lincoln and Amelia will also have to save themselves.  I'll reveal no more.  Fasten your seatbelt before you open this book!

Rated: R


 

The Stone Monkey by Jeffery Deaver

This is the only Lincoln Rhyme novel that took me two tries to get through.  Part of the problem is that the clock is ticking REALLY SLOWLY this time around.  The villain doesn't know where his victims are or when he will be able to strike them.  In some ways, he's as much in the dark as Rhyme and Sachs are and it just doesn't work.  Another difficulty is that too many characters are followed throughout the book and while this leads to some emotional, tear-inducing, satisfying moments at the end of the story, it diffuses the suspense somewhat.  There are the typical Deaver surprises, but Rhyme's deductions don't seem quite so brilliant this time around. 

Rated: R


 

Praying For Sleep by Jeffery Deaver

I had to force myself to get through this book because I was waiting to discover, in true Deaver fashion, who weren't the persons they seemed to be, and what situations weren't really what we had been led to believe they were.  But the novel shares a weakness with "The Stone Monkey" in that too many characters are followed and their back stories are all revealed.  Also, this time the madness, mystery, and guilt have more to do with sex - pleasant and very unpleasant kinds - than Deaver's books usually do.  Some of is just wasn't very enjoyable to read.

Rated: A very hard R


 

The Empty Chair by Jeffery Deaver

New York City criminologists Lincoln Rhime and Amelia Sachs feel like fish out of water when they are asked to help with a kidnapping/murder investigation in a rural, small town area of North Carolina bordered by forests, rivers, canals, and swampland.  During the course of the story, they must face off against dangerous townspeople, sheriff's department colleagues, and even each other.  They empty chair of the title refers both to a psychological technique used on a suspect and to the struggles both Rhime and Sachs are dealing with about an experimental medical operation and Rhime's reasons for undergoing it.  Another hard-to-put-down mystery/thriller with intriguing characters that made me feel a little smarter this time around because I actually figured out one of the clues in the case.  One of Deaver's best.

Rated: R


 

The Blue Nowhere by Jeffery Deaver

One of Deaver's best books as here he does what he does best, depicting a cat-and-mouse game between the police and a brilliant, though insane, killer with the clock ticking away toward disaster.  All of Deaver's books contain surprises and twists and turns and cliffhangers.  He outdoes himself in this one.  Strap yourself in and get ready for a Monster Roller Coaster ride.  The cops are up against cyber-wizard Phate and his partner, the mysterious, unseen Shawn, and need to enlist the help of an incarcerated computer whiz who is hiding secrets of his own.  And Deaver makes us care about everyone.  He also successfully takes us into three worlds, the world of cyber-hackers, the world of convicts, and the world of cops.  The title refers to cyber-space, and the uncertain, vulnerable realm of relationships, and the "zone" cops have to put themselves in to enter potentially dangerous situations blind.  Highly Recommended.

Rated: R


 

The Devil's Teardrop by Jeffery Deaver

This time it's not Lincoln Rhyme (though he does have a telephone cameo), but divorced, single dad, forensic document examiner, Parker Kincaid, and gorgeous (of course) FBI agent, Margaret Lukas, who must outwit a psychotic mass murderer as the clock ticks down to his next kills.  Top-notch suspense, good detective work, and twists and turns make this another superior Deaver thriller.

Rated: R


 

The Bone Collector by Jeffery Deaver

The very first Lincoln Rhyme novel is bloodier, grosser, and more macabre than those that followed.  It also has a darker, more weighted tone to it, as Rhyme and Sachs meet and have to decide whether or not they'll let life, with all of its pains, totally cripple them.  Rhyme's desire to commit suicide, and his ultimate decision, factor heavily in the plot.  This is not to say that the book isn't the usual suspenseful page-turner by Deaver.  It most certainly is and the climatic revelation of, and showdown with, the kidnapper/killer is stunningly riveting.  And the last four chapters, from both a human standpoint and a mystery/thriller perspective, are among the best Deaver has ever written.

Rated: R (and a very hard "R" at that)


 

The Vanished Man by Jeffery Deaver

This time Lincoln Rhyme and Amelia Sachs are pitted against a serial killer who is a master illusionist, and Deaver gives us a quick history of magic and a look inside magicians' worlds along with his trademark suspense and plot twists and turns.  As I was reading, I found my suspension of belief challenged a few times as I asked myself how a killer could really plan everything so meticulously, but the story is undeniably entertaining and engrossing.  I also thought that the denouement was being dragged on a bit too long, but as I read the last two chapters I realized that I had come to care about the characters and really did want to know what happened to them after the case was closed.  Deaver may have pulled off a trick of his own - mis-directing us with all the elements of a mystery/thriller while all the while getting us emotionally involved in the lives of his players.

Rated: R


 

Hard News by Jeffery Deaver

Deaver's irrepressible young heroine, Rune, is a cameraperson for a network news division this time.  She becomes convinced that a convicted, incarcerated, and endangered murderer is actually innocent, and sets out full speed ahead on a quest to see justice done and a life saved.  Along the way, she charmingly bends or ignores rules and breaks laws, while infuriating her superior and using the word "like" incorrectly in sentences, as in, "You mean I'm, like, fired?"  There's no male-female love story this time around, but Rune does come to care deeply for a three year-old girl she's been saddled with.  And Deaver's trademark twists, turns, and surprises are all here while Rune remains a character you want to admire, marvel at, shake your head over, straighten out, lecture, protect, befriend, and avoid, often at the same time.  We even find out what her real name MIGHT be.  An entertaining read.

Rated: R


 

Manhattan is My Beat by Jeffery Deaver

For a change, Deaver's protagonist isn't a cop, a forensic expert, a lawyer, or anyone else that would normally have contact with the criminal element.  Instead, the heroine is a free-spirited, fast-talking, quick-on-her feet, twenty year-old who believes that life is like fairy tales and movies and who feels that bumming around New York is a romantic thing to do.  Calling herself Rune, she has had a succession of low-paying jobs and will continue to do so, by choice, for the foreseeable future.  Rune is drawn into a mystery when a man who frequented the video store where she clerks is murdered.  The pace of the novel is leisurely compared with Deaver's other stories and almost seems, minus the sex and drugs, like it could fit into the sub-genre of "cozies."  Deaver is as concerned with showing us what Rune's life and outlook is like as he is with advancing the plot.  This book is sort of a combination of MTV's "Real World," "Murder She Wrote," "The Rockford Files," and a new wave love story.  But it all works.  I cared about Rune, her past, present, and future, and kept turning the pages, though the mystery is sort of secondary.  Part of the fun is watching Rune bluff her way into getting access to institutions and information that will help her in her "quest."  Often, she has to amend her stories quickly in the middle of cons without missing a beat.  Somebody ought to make this book into a movie.  Downplaying certain elements and characters could easily turn this story into a PG-13, crowd-pleasing "date movie."

Rated: a "soft" R


 

A Maiden's Grave by Jeffrey Deaver

Not one of Deaver's strongest efforts as some of his usual elements - characters dealing with their pasts and deciding their futures, characters being psychologically tempted and changed, a love story, characters seeing and hearing things that aren't there - seems forced this time.  Also, I saw several of the surprises coming.  Still, I kept turning the pages.  The title, as usual, has multiple meanings, one of which is that it's the way a girl experiencing hearing loss understood the title to the song, "Amazing Grace."  And one of the undercurrents in the book is an examination of the presence, or lack thereof, of grace in the world.  Does God exist or not, and if he does, just how active is he?  For Deaver, the jury still seems to be out as he looks at the world unflinchingly like the author of Ecclesiastes, without considering special revelation, and sees that while some lives are spared and some people given second chances in life, other people have their lives senselessly altered as destroyed.  And Evil definitely exists.  In fact, I must issue a word of warning.  Dealing as it does with an FBI hostage negotiator trying to defuse a situation where three escaped cons, led by a murdering sociopath, have taken a van load of female deaf students and teachers hostage, the book contains graphic violence, cruelty, and crudeness.

Rated: A hard R, if not X


 

Speaking in Tongues by Jeffery Deaver

The title refers to the fact that one of the book's protagonists and its villain have the almost supernatural ability to talk people into anything, also to the fact that sometimes the characters in the story do things for no logical reasons - they just feel compelled by some force - and to the book's viewpoint that the ways of God are often incomprehensible to mortals.  In fact, a short theological discussion plays a part in the plot's climax. But this is first and foremost a suspense novel involving a kidnapping/revenge scheme and, as such, it starts out pretty slowly (I had to force myself to keep reading), but pays off with some major surprises and well-crafted scenes later on.

Rated: R


 

Death Of A Blue Movie Star by Jeffrey Deaver

Fast-talking, street smart, irrepressible, appealing Rune, who is a cross between Jim Rockford, Hawkeye Pierce, Winnie The Pooh, That Girl, and everybody's lovably eccentric, counter-cultural favorite cousin, is back.  This time she's involved in a mystery surrounding the bombings of buildings associated with the porn industry.  Rune is a would-be maker of documentaries and wants to make a film for PBS about the life of one porn actress and what the industry does to her.  People magazine once described Deaver as "...a master of ticking-bomb suspense."  Here, the words apply literally, as Rune eventually finds herself nailed into a room with, yes, a time bomb.  While on the surface being a superior mystery/suspense novel, "Death Of A Blue Movie Star" can also be seen as an anti-pornography book as it examines the de-humanizing and anti-societal effects porn has on individuals and on our world.  Porn is portrayed as decidedly unerotic as well, because it takes all emotion out of sex and reduces humans to robots, animals, or cyphers.  And, typical of Deaver, things aren't what they seem to be, even red herrings get fleshed out and several prove to be deadly, unexpected twists and turns abound, characters are well-developed, and there's a love story.  And, typical of me as I am reading a Deaver book, I was surprised, turned the pages quickly, and was left both satisfied yet sad it was over and wanting more stories from the author as quickly as possible.  The title, too, is vintage Deaver in that it has multiple meanings in light of the story.  And, typical of Rune novels, while the puzzles and the nail-biting moments are top-notch, the chance to hang out with the heroine, enter her world, and watch her operate is equally important to the book's success.

Rated: R


 

Twisted by Jeffrey Deaver

This collection of short stories showcases Deaver's ability to surprise the reader.  Even knowing that there's a twist coming at the end of each story and that, in a Deaver story, things are rarely what they seem to be at first, I never saw the surprises coming.  As he says in his introduction, when people take the time to read a novel they emotionally invest themselves in the fates of the main characters, so if a main character dies or turns out to be a villain, the readers will feel cheated.  Not so in a short story.  There's not the same level of emotional involvement on the part of the reader, so the author can do anything he wants with the characters.  And Deaver certainly does.  If you like surprises, this is the collection for you.  And the courtroom story would make a good "Law And Order" episode.  

Rated: R


 


 
 
 
 
 

Books by J.K. Rowling:

 


 

Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling

A novel that follows the Harry Potter formula, but so what?  The formula works!  And within the formula, Rowling displays so much creativity that reading this book is like getting caught up in being on the INTERNET-time speeds right by as you become addicted to the character, their stories, and their world.  The mysteries that are unravelled are particularly satisfying this time and Rowling warmed this comic book fan's heart by showing that she cares about continuity and keeping her fantasy universe consistent.  The final resolution to the characters' dilemmas involves some science fiction as well as magic.  Highly recommeded and very satisfying.

Rated: PG/PG-13


 

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling

I used to scoff when others would say that Rowling's books would become timeless classics like "Lord of the Rings" or "The Chronicles of Narnia," but after reading this book, I'm scoffing no longer.  This novel is a masterpiece and one of the best books I've ever read.  Rowling's creativity, wit, whimsy, satirical bent, talent for creating and unfolding mysteries, and knack for giving us fully developed characters we care about are all on display here, but this novel ups the ante on human drama and suspense.  The scene in the graveyard is horrifying and packs an emotional wallop.  And while this is still a book that will keep kids on the edge of their seats (it certainly kept me on the edge of mine!), adult themes aren't slighted within.  The book explores politics, the press, the cult of fame and what it does to people, the onslaught of adolescence and the first stirrings of guy-girl feelings, grief, the way in which the world can change drastically and forever, the effects of war - especially on the youth, what it's to be in shock, the nature of family, and racial and class bigotry.  The storyline will resonate with readers of all ages, from all walks of life, and living in any decade.  And Dumbledore is more of a God-like figure than ever, abundantly merciful, but nobody's fool, gentle in his love and fearsome in his wrath.  Our young heroes remain totally human and "real," yet intrinsically moral. And they do some growing up, whether they really want to or not.  Part of the growth process is realizing that everyone has a back story and that knowing that story can lead one to view others with respect and compassion.  Simply an outstanding piece of literature!  I wanted it so end so that I could see how things would turn out, yet I also never wanted it to end.

Rated: PG-13


 

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix by J.K. Rowling

Though Rowling's ready and able wit is on display in the book, this novel is darker, deeper, and more serious than any of its predecessors.  And this is only natural when you consider three facts.  First, Harry and his friends are now adolescents.  Their reactions to everything that happens in their lives are therefore amplified.  And, as adolescents, they are starting to question those in authority around them and are facing the harsh reality that their parents are only human, too.  Throw in the first stirrings of love, jealousy, and the gap between the sexes that seems unfathomable and unbridgeable to teens and you have a recipe for angst.  Second, Hogwarts, and indeed the entire wizard community, are still reeling from, and coming to grips with, the tragic death at the end of Book Four.  Third, the novel takes place during what is essentially a time of war.  So there will be losses, government cover-ups, sabotage, even torture, and on "good days" there will still be tension in the air.  Some may criticize Rowling for putting warfare themes in a children's book, but let's remember that wars are fought on the front lines by young people, not by 49 year-olds like me.

The emotional involvement that Rowling conjures up in the reader is even more intense here than in her previous books.  I REALLY HATED the villains and shed a tear along with Dumbledore when he says, "I'm sorry, Harry."  I felt the pain of a parent who wishes he or she could shield a beloved child from the hurts and responsibilities of the world, but knows that it's impossible.  And one of the most devastating things I've ever read was Neville putting the empty wrapper in his pocket.  I start bawling like a baby just thinking about it.

Theologically, the book makes many good points.  Not everyone who is a creep or does wrong things is a totally sold-out servant of the Dark Lord.  Sometimes they can be on your side.  And sometimes they are the way they are because of hurts that go deep and that they are not strong enough to put behind them.  Parental figures, Dumbledore, and even God can sometimes appear to be ignoring you and seem indifferent to you when all the while they are actually acting for your good.  And family are those who love you, stand by you, sacrifice for you, and relate to you, not necessarily those who share your genetics, or necessarily those you would at first choose to be in your inner circle.

Rowling's genius level imagination and writing ability continues to take us, to quote C.S. Lewis, "further up and further in" Harry's world.  Waiting for book six will be hard.

Rated: PG/PG-13

 

 


 
 
 
 

Star Trek Books:

 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Sartatoga

by Michael Jan Friedman

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Dark Mirror

by Diane Duane

The Battle Of Betazed
by Charlotte Douglas 

and Susan Kearney

Star Trek: Shadows On The Sun 
by Michael Jan Friedman


 

Star Trek: Shadows On The Sun by Michael Jan Friedman

This novel of Classic Trek, while written before 9/11, still explores a culture where terrorism is a sanctioned, accepted part of religion and politics in a timely fashion.  The assassins of Ssan view those they kill as being shadows on the sun which must be removed in order that the sun can be fully glorified.  Sounds chillingly familiar, doesn't it?  Love, marriage, professional ethics, wartime ethics, and our favorite characters, whom Friedman knows well, are also explored.  But the exploration of themes never bogs down the action or the plot developments.  My only minor quibble with the book is the way references to the Star Trek films and TV episodes seem forced into the text.  I assume this was an editorial mandate, because Friedman is a better writer than that.

Rated: PG-13/R


 

The Battle Of Betazedby Charlotte Douglas and Susan Kearney

The improbable cover picture of Deanna Troi in a combat uniform carrying a phaser rifle and the fact that Lwaxana Troi is in the book would have normally stopped me from picking up this novel.  But for whatever reasons, pick it up I did and glad I am of it.  This is a pretty good story concerning the horrors, costs, and sacrifices of war that doesn't skimp on the science fiction nor the action/adventure.  While new characters are introduced, the regulars are given plenty to do.  But as a word of caution, let me say that some scenes are perhaps just a tad more gruesome than some Star Trek fans may be used to.  This is a grittier Federation at war against a cruel, ruthless foe, after all.  However, that doesn't prevent Picard from issuing the politically correct (and ridiculous) order, "Target their engines and weapons array."  Why not just, "Blow them to smithereens?"  And one has to wonder, at novel's end, how all those Jem'Hadar prisoners will be managed in the long term. Still, I recommend the book. 

Rated: PG-13/R


 

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine - Saratoga by Michael Jan Friedman

An intriguing book with interesting characters about Captain Sisko being re-united with his old shipmates from the Saratoga, the ship destroyed by the Borg at Wolf 359 and the vessel on which his wife, Jennifer, perished.  Adventure and mystery results when one of them seemingly has sabotaged the Defiant.  There's also some real emotion and observations on friendship, memory, family, and the passage of time inside the book's pages.  A subplot finds Odo impersonating Quark in order to help a region on Bajor.  The only weakness of the novel is that some aspects of the climactic space battle are a little hard to believe.  But other than that, this is a job well done by Michael Jan Friedman.

Rated: PG


 

Star Trek: The Next Generation - Dark Mirror by Diane Duane

A novel that's neither good or bad, it's just there.  Like a mediocre episode of the television series it's based on.  The book is just interesting enough to make you want to know what will happen next, but not exciting enough to keep you on the edge of your seat, or from stifling a yawn from time to time.  There's an abundance of techno-babble, pop psychology, anti-religion sentiment, and characters contemplating their navels - again just like the TV show - and so, a story about "the dark side," which Classic Trek explored in less than one hour, here takes 337 pages. 

Rated: PG-13


 
 
 
 
 

Young People's Books:

 

Wait Til Helen Comes

by Mary Downing Hahn

The Squire's Tale

by Gerald Morris

Many Waters

by Madelein L'Engle

 

 

Wait Til Helen Comes by Mary Downing Hahn

I'm an adult (at least some of the time!) and I still had chills running down my spine and goosebumps running up my arms as I read this extremely well-written Young Adults novel.  I couldn't put it down.  The book deals with remarriage, blended families, moving, tragedy, self-identity, and suicide in the context of a ghost story.  And though the author doesn't have a Christian view of death and the afterlife, the story's resolution hinges on repentance and forgiveness.  I was glad my daughter recommended this book to me!

Rated: PG/PG-13


 

The Squire's Tale by Gerald Morris

Some of the lesser-known Arthurian legends are re-told with respect, yet also with some humor.  The book moves along quickly and even touches on theology, as travelling to the kingdom of the Faeries can be equated with conversion.  One never looks at the world or other people quite the same after having been to Faerie and one can recognize others who have been there, too.  Faerie becomes the real home while the world is the place we're passing through.

Rated: PG


 

Many Waters by Madeleine L'Engle

An engrossing tale that combines mythology, the Bible, theistic evolution, fantasy, and Quantum Physics, Many Waters takes the Murry twins, Sandy and Denys, back in time to the pre-flood days of Noah and his family when "...the sons of God saw that the daughters of men were beautiful, and they married any of them they chose" (Genesis 6:1).  In fact, mating is what this book is all about.  Sex is the main theme - the pleasure and fulfillment of sex, the dangers of sex, the awakening of desire, and the difference between lust and love.  Even the title of the book refers, not so much to the impending deluge, but ot a quote from the Bible, "Many waters cannot quench love, neither can the floods drown it."  So, while the novel is another great story by L'Engle, it's hard for me to think of it as a "Dell Yearling Book," much less as a children's book at all.  Its frank talk, adult themes, and matter-of-fact description of bodily functions and sanitary necessities make me question whether it's appropriate for pre-adolescents and even early teens.  Though actually, it reminded me of the book of Proverbs in its warnings against liaisons with immoral people.

As if sex weren't enough to hold the reader's attention, there's also an environmental message (although some of the Cold War, anti-nuke sentiments seem dated.)  And, there's L'Engle's sanctified imagination describing for us what everyday life would have been like in a land not that far removed from The Garden Of Eden.  By the end of the book, one cares for the characters and tears come to the eyes as good-byes are said and leaves are taken.

Theology is another prominent theme as the mysterious El seems to love his people and has agents everywhere, yet doesn't always make his messages clear, nor his tasks easy.  El brings peace, purpose, belonging, and life, yet can also execute cataclysmic judgment, even against a few characters we've grown to pity and sympathize with.  El is powerful enough to have everything planned out so that even "mistakes" fit flawlessly into his will.

L'Engle recognizes that El is holy and asks a very human question of such a being, namely, what did The Flood actually accomplish?  Humans continued to sin and the world continued to bear the marks of those sins, even after the cleansing judgment.  L'Engle offers an answer which is consistent with the fictional world she has set up and with the fate she has in mind for her characters, but which doesn't really take into account such biblical and theological concerns as: the extent of the flood and whether it was meant to wipe out the spawn of the fallen angels and humans; the object lesson from the flood that what is needed is changed hearts not a change of systems, structures, or environments; what the New Testament says and hints about the judgment on the fallen angels.

But why quibble?  The book is thought-provoking, invites re-reading, and will grow along with the reader.

Rated: PG-13

 


 
 

THE REST OF THE REVIEWS:

 

Black Jack Point by Jeff Abbott

In this mystery/thriller we know who committed the murders and pretty much why, but the intrigue comes from watching the protagonist and his friends track down the perpetrators while we see that countdowns to other potential disasters are proceeding.  Treasure hunting, crime drama trappings, boating, local politics, Texas Beach communities, sex, friendships, betrayals, fast thinking, and violence and threats of violence all come into play.  I have no proof that Abott is consciously imitating Jeffrey Deaver or was influenced by him, but many of the scenes and incidents in the book certainly echo Deaver's style and sensibilities.  The book isn't quite up to Deaver's level, but it is entertaining and I'll look for more from Abbott.

Rated: R


 
 
 

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander

This page-turner of a sword and sorcery tale was written for young adolescents, but can be enjoyed by those of us who are much older, too.  The action and suspense is leavened with humor which comes from memorable and very likable characters.  And some of the novel's themes - that we spend far too much time moaning about what we are not instead of appreciating what we are, that we're all called on in life to do tasks for which we're not prepared and simply have to carry on the best we can, that when we're home we long for adventure and when we're in the middle of an adventure we long for home, that as we grow up our homes grow smaller, that even an Assistant Pig-Keeper can have honor, nobility, and a sense of duty, and that there are secret supernatural forces and beings working out plans which may include you in some way - can cause adults to think and to wipe a tear or two from their eyes.  The novel echoes the language of the biblical book of Revelation as it tells us that if one faithfully stands up to everything the enemy throws one's way, secrets will be revealed and final, ultimate victory achieved.  I can't wait to read the other volumes set in the land of Prydain.

Rated: PG


 
 
 
 

Captain Nemo by Kevin J. Anderson

An entertaining adventure/pseudo-sci fi tale that expands on its fanciful premise that the people, inventions, and events Jules Verne wrote about were real.  Though the fantastic happens, the characters remain true-to-life, the historical references are well-researched, and you'll soon be pinching yourself trying to remember that there never was a Nautilus or a trip around the world in eighty days.  Anderson makes it all seem so authentic.  Oh, it's a love story and a character study, too.

Rated: PG


 
 

Caves of Steel by Isaac Asimov

A robot who can pass for a human works with a cop to solve a murder.  But, while there is a mystery to be solved in this novel, Asimov is less concerned about it and about future police procedures than he is with exploring the world, the cultures, the philosophies, and the societies of the characters, with the clashing of ideas and ideals, and with speculating about where mankind is heading.  It's interesting to note that while religion is seemingly dissed as being irrelevant in the book, the Bible underpins many of the important character developments and a teaching from Jesus informs the robot's action at one point and helps him act more "human."  Recommended for fans of thoughtful, not suspenseful, science fiction. 

Rating: PG/PG-13


 

The Gods Themselves by Isaac Asimov

I admit that the science in this novel went way over my head and made my eyes glaze over, but, fortunately, Asimov makes enough of it sort of comprehensible so that the reader can know all that he or she really needs to in order to comprehend the gist of what's going on.  And the novel isn't really about science anyway.  It's about how all scientific breakthroughs are made by fallible creatures and are therefore tainted, limited, and perhaps even threatened, by politics, ego, greed, preconceived notions, and self interest.  The title of the novel echoes this theme.  It comes from a quote, "Against stupidity the gods themselves contend in vain."  The first third of the book is the hardest to get through, but when Asimov switches over in the bulk of the novel to examining the lives, cultures, outlooks, and sexual practices and mores of the beings on para-Earth and the human colonists on the moon, the book is hard to put down.  Totally fascinating stuff.  Asimov is literate and intelligent and all his characters are also, in their own ways.  Plus, Asimov has a couple ingenious twists and solutions up his sleeve.

Rated: PG-13


 
 

Doctor Who: Eater Of Wasps by Trevor Baxendale

Everyone's favorite Time Lord and his companions must deal with a mutating man-monster, swarms of killer wasps directed by an alien intelligence, a nuclear bomb, the police, a para-military squad from the future, and the inhabitants of a cozy 1930s English village right out of All Creatures Great And Small.  Because this is an original story and not a screen play adaptation, and because the Dr. Who series has veered over the years away from being children's entertainment, some scenes in the novel are more gross and brutal than viewers of the television program may be used to.  The Doctor even performs an autopsy!  Speaking of The Doctor, he is in his eighth incarnation here, and though I'm not familiar with it, I found him to be very Tom Baker-ish - part self-sacrificing hero, part selfish and absorbed genius, part child, part world-weary adult, part commander, part eccentric madman, part clown, and part man on a mission.  Thrown into the mix is "part action hero" as well.  This Doctor races across the top of a speeding train, engages in fisticuffs, and roughs people up to get answers.  And though the book raises some questions about how in control The Doctor really is of himself and how much he does or doesn't care about those around him, the philosophical and psychological doubts don't obscure the fact that, at his core, this is the character we love.  The author loves him too, and wisely doesn't let very many pages ever go by before we check back in with The Doctor.  He is definitely the star of this hard-to-put-down book.  Grown-up Dr. Who fans (like me) will love it.

As a Christian, I appreciated the fact that the vicar was at least a sympathetic, if not very useful, character.  And though the author never uses the word, the last chapter comes to the conclusion that The Doctor is "holy," in other words, different than we are.  He looks like a human and willingly interacts with humans, but he is not a human.  To expect him to think and act like one at all times is a mistake.

Christianity is seen by the squad from the future as being a dead, "primitive" religion.  They don't even recall what it was all about.  Sadly, if I lived in England and looked around at the state of the churches, I'd be tempted to believe in that future, too.

Rated: PG-13 for violence, horror, some coarse talk by those around The Doctor, and for touching briefly on some adult themes (the lifestyle of a Tristan-like wastrel; the parentage of an illegitimate child; a broken home; and deaths in a family).


 
 
 

Never Dream Of Dying by Raymond Benson

The influence of the James Bond movies has made itself felt in the James Bond novels over the years.  For instance, in this entertaining entry, there's an action-filled "pre-credit sequence" which haunts Bond throughout the book; there are "set pieces" - Bond wreaks havoc at a televised dog show, during an elaborate stunt sequence for a film, and at a celebrity-filled screening at the Cannes Film Festival, and takes refuge in a tourist attraction; Bond incapcitates or kills scores of badguys; there are several vehicular chases; Bond is aided by cool, high tech gadgets; several villains' bases are infiltrated or stormed; lots of things get blown up real good.

Benson writes in an Ian Fleming-like style, though, and, as in the original novels, here the violence is sometimes more blunt and brutal than it is on screen.  Bond gets roughed up and injured, and there are torture scenes. Bond's nemesis is a freakish, possibly supernaturally powered killer, and there's more sex (though Bond is a "one woman man" here) than in the movies.  Speaking of which, most of the sex occurs "off camera."  However, there are a couple of disturbing paragraphs where Benson decides to get graphic, but rather than being erotic, they are rather boring (like reading a sex manual) and make one feel creepy, not romantic.  Some things are better left between the lovers only and to the audiences' imagination.

A major plot point deals with a previous case and the death of Bond's wife, Tracy.  As one who is interested in continuity, I appreciated that.  And, as in both the movies and the early books, there are exotic locals, interesting allies, and people we don't know whether to trust or not.

In our day and age, Bond has new life fighting terrorists and this novel proves it.

Rated: R
 


 
 
 
 

From The Dust Returned by Ray Bradbury

TV sit-coms have presented us with families made up of supernatural creatures who look at the world much differently than we do.  Bradbury gives us a family of vampires, ghosts, werewolves, mummies, witches, a cat, a spider, a mouse, a strange house, and myriads of different types of spirits, and one human, mortal boy.  But Bradbury isn't going for laughs.  For the most part he plays it straight.  And though stories of the family are told, Bradbury isn't primarily interested in telling stories.  He's interested in conveying atmosphere, mood, feeling, and in conjuring up forgotten memories in the reader.  So, many times the book seems more poetry than prose and is, therefore, more demanding of the reader than the average novel.  While the world's religions are seen as the enemies of the creatures who inhabit the book's pages, the religions and the creatures also share common enemies - wars, modernity, and the rationalistic, material, scientific view of the world that is so prevalent today.  Still, the book isn't about religion.  It's about history, love, changes, coming-of-age, regrets, alienation, loneliness, the death of eras, displaced persons, family, and the inner you.

Rated: PG-13


 
 
 

K-PAX by Gene Brewer

Though this novel seems to denigrate religion, the story demonstrates that when troubled, hurt people are held out the promise of a place where life will be different, given a purpose, and challenged to live a radically different way of life, these things enable the people to make postive changes in their own lives and the lives of others. Hmmm...sounds like religion to me!  The narrator of the story is a psychologist who is treating a man who calls himself "prot" and who may even be an alien from deep space.  But it is the unexplored depths of the human mind that are the main subjects of study here.  Resilient, yet fragile, able to accomplish the seemingly impossible, yet equally able to fixate on some little thing and to limit itself, the mind is a mystery worth exploring.  Another mystery the author probes is the nature of reality.  There were times as I was reading this novel that I felt my psyche and my past and my perceptions, not prot's were the one being probed.  I do have one complaint, though.  The author seems never to have met a liberal cause or a new age-y thought he didn't like.  That gets a little tiresome once in a while.  But if you can get past it and want to have your own mind blown, you might want to pick up this book.

Rated: a hard PG-13 or a soft R


 

Elvis In The Morning by William F. Buckley, Jr.

This story of a fictional friend of Elvis is a page-turner, that, from what I know of The King, pretty accurately captures Mr. Presley. But I was left wondering, "What's the point?"  There are certainly enough biographies of Elvis out there.  Given Mr. Buckley's political and philosophical views, perhaps he wanted to demonstrate that in order to survive in our world, everyone has to compromise and give up some of their dreams, especially the lead character who has to leave behind idealistic 60s socialism because only capitalism could lead to the medical technology necessary to save his wife and give him the means to support his family.  However, the novel demonstrates that Elvis' compromising and abandoning his first calling is partly what led to The King's destruction.  And though we're meant to shake our heads over the many inconsistencies and contradictions that were Elvis Presley, particularly in the area of "love," the book's protagonist has a quick, meaningless affair himself.  Maybe Mr. Buckley wants us to examine the contradictions in our own lives?  Or maybe the author is merely trying to give us a snapshot of what life was like in certain circles in the late '50s, the '60s, and early '70s.  Who knows?  The book has an uncertain tone - but it was hard to put down.

Rated: R


 

Iron Man: The Armor Trap by Greg Cox

A decent Iron Man and War Machine adventure (though there is more War Machine in the book than Iron Man) with plenty of battles.  And aren't battles what anyone who picks up a novel titled Iron Man: The Armor Trap is really looking for?  It's what I was looking for.  And the battles compensated for some of the plot holes.

Rated: PG-13


 

Atlantis Found by Clive Cussler

A novel that borrows heavily from Doc Savage, James Bond, '40s detective stories, and Indiana Jones and Lara Kroft-like adventures.  Dirk Pitt and his intrepid band of friends/associates go globe-trotting to find evidence of the Lost Continent and foil a neo-Nazi plot to dominate the world.  Adventure mixes with fact, science fiction, and fantasy.  The novel doesn't exactly dare you to put it down, but it does cajole you to keep going and promises you an enjoyable enough time if you do.

Rating: PG-13


 
 
 

The Hanna Swensen Mysteries by Joanne Fluke

Though clearly aimed at women, these pleasant-to-read novels can be enjoyed by men as well.  Each one continues the tale of the heroine, an independent-minded thiry-something who has returned to her small, resort hometown of Lake Eden, Minnesota, to run a bake shop, The Cookie Jar.  She is being wooed and pursued by two eligible men.  And she just happens to keep stumbling upon dead bodies.  Then the amateur detective is off and running.  The mysteries themselves are okay - sometimes I can solve them and spot the twists coming and sometimes I can't - but the real strengths of the books are their day-to-day portrayals of Hannah's life, and her interactions with her equally independent-minded cat, Moishe, and her family members (particularly her sister, Andrea), and the residents of Lake Eden.  While luck often plays a part in bringing Hannah to the right places at the right times, there is detection and fast-thinking involved in the books as well.  In fact, highlights of the books are the stories and excuses Hannah and Andrea come up with off-the-cuff in order to gain people's confidences, information, evidence, and even admission to locations where clues are located.  The sisters are appealing characters and, speaking of appealing, since Hannah is a baker, each book comes with recipes for the mouth-watering treats mentioned in its story (several of which I have enjoyed eating!).  I highly recommend both the novels and the recipes.

Rated: PG/PG-13


 
 
 

Fantastic Four: Redemption of the Silver Surfer 
by Michael Jan Friedman

Though I'm a fan of superheroes and comic books, novels about Marvel and DC heroes usually leave me cold because they have any or all of the following defects:

  • They concentrate too much on secondary or new characters.
  • There's too much description and interpretation.
  • The heroes don't use their powers and alibilities much.
  • The stories are too straight-forward and predictable.
  • The action scenes are poorly written.
  • The heroes and villains don't really seem totally themselves.
  • The characters' histories are explained too slowly and pedantically.

However, Friedman's novel has none of these problems.  Instead, it's a pretty good Fantastic Four and Silver Surfer tale that could have come right from the comic books, as the five travel to the Negative Zone to deal with a Galactus-like being who destroys worlds.  But things may or may not be as they seem to be and the Surfer may or may not have the opportunity to atone for his past.  Adventures and plot twists abound.  And the novel's morals - no matter what one has gone through in life one can always choose Good over Evil; there are shades of gray as well as blacks and whites; one shouldn't just accept what life hands out but one should wrestle with it - are certainly ones I can endorse.  And as a religion/philosophy major, I appreciated Prodigian's roots in ancient mythologies.  There are some minor plot holes, and though the novel tries to fit into Marvel continuity, it seems blissfully ignorant of the events of FF #123.  However, none of these things detract from the fact that the book is an entertaining read. 

Rated: PG-13/soft R - Blastaar can be pretty cruel and brutal at times.


 
 

Thoughts on William Harringtons's Columbo novels:

If you're expecting the mostly off-camera and usually bloodless murders of the Columbo TV movies, you'll be shocked by the violence and gore in these books.  Not to mention the graphic sex and the strong language.  Not that Columbo engages in any of these things.  His characterization in the novels is the same as it is on television, but the rich movers and shakers are portrayed as being real slimeballs and sickos.  There's another difference between the novels and the TV movies - the novels are basically "police procedurals" featuring Columbo.  And that's okay, because I like "police procedurals."  If you do, too, you'll probably enjoy these books (as long as you can tolerate the level of "gross out" scenes and occasionally stomach-turning forensic evidence that you'd find in, say, an Ed McBain novel).  Not that there aren't snatches of the Columbo we all know and love in every book.  In fact, the best book of the series (and also one of the most graphic), The Helter Skelter Murders, is much like an R-rated version of a Columbo TV movie would be, with the Lieutenant bugging a murderous couple who think they've pulled off the perfect crime, while finding circumstantial evidence and that "one little thing" which cracks the case and convicts them.  There's a great exchange between the couple in which the man expresses confidence that Columbo is buying their attempt to frame a former Charles Manson disciple and the woman wonders why, if that's truly the case, is Columbo spending all his time hanging around them.  The novels are fast-moving page turners and good "summer reading" any time of the year.


 
 

Right Behind by Mr. Sock and Nathan D. Wilson

This spoof of the bewilderingly popular Left Behind series is not for everyone, but it had me laughing out loud.  While some might feel that the book is blasphemous, it doesn't attack the Bible, just one overblown, hyper, poorly thought out interpretation of it and the implications for the Church and Christian life of that interpretation.  The typical Evangelical/Fundamentalist mindset is also given a ribbing, as is the shlocky writing style of the Left Behind books and their predecessors that I was reading back in the 1970s.  By the way, Mr. Sock is a sock puppet who, the book's back cover tells us, "for the last four decades has been carefully predicting the beginning of the apocalypse as always within the next four years." 

Rated:PG-13


 
 
 

Magic Time by Marc Scott Zicree and Barbara Humbly

The first book in a saga that mixes elements of sword-and-sorcery, sci fi, Stephen King-like horror, and modern action/adventure stories.  SOMEONE or SOMETHING from SOMEWHERE has entered our world and is transforming it into HIS/HER/ITS own image.  Now an unlikely band of heroes must save the day.  The novel moves right along, exploring a world where electrical power no longer works, bullets are useless, large numbers of people are slowly changing into who knows what, and magic holds sway.  The characters are also thoroughly explored, but in ways that don't slow down the plot.  There's some humor and pop culture references sprinkled in without slowing down the plot.  But I need to warn you that some of the descriptions of human suffering and the infrastructures breaking down may be a little hard to take.

Rated: R


 
 
 

Christmas In Harmony by Philip Gulley

This is a pleasant way to spend an hour as the author spins the tale of Christmas in a small church in an equally small town.  Philip Gulley understands the strange dynamics of committees and congregational meetings. He also understands bulldozer personalities who try to get their own way.  In this case, a "church boss" has the bright (?) idea to do a "Progressive Nativity Scene," and, of course, complications ensue.  Gulley is familiar with the tensions found in a tradition-bound group that finds its identity and comfort in routine and memories of the past, when trying out new things.  These tensions lead to the congregation in the story being upset that there were so many visitors at a Christmas Eve service that the regulars couldn't sit in their usual pews.  Believe me, stranger things have happened in small churches in our real world!  The book, as enjoyable as it is, has three weaknesses.  First, it's unsure of what sort of universe it takes place in.  Incidents of total parody and outrageous satire take place alongside of things designed to seem real and to tug at our heartstrings.  Second, neither the pastor nor most of the congregation seem to believe much of anything.  Only the wackos in the story do.  Third, in our day and age when clergy sex scandals fill the newspapers and airwaves, do we really need to read about a supposedly happily married pastor obsessing on a former high school beauty queen?

Rated: PG


 
 

From A Buick 8 by Stephen King

King uses a tale of The Alien Thing That Lives In The Shed as a means of exploring a more horrific concept - what if life has no purpose and everything that happens is just a series of random events, the only predictable thing being that everyone will one day die.  Some of King's books are about Good vs. Evil, even on Cosmic Levels, but this one is very much like the Book Of Ecclesiastes.  Its viewpoint being that there isn't anyone upstairs in charge who cares about you and your life and there's no way to ever figure out life's mysteries, if they even have any solutions.  Since everything is meaningless, the best we can do is to enjoy whatever little pleasures we can find and throw ourselves wholeheartedly into jobs so that we won't be thinking frustrating thoughts that are too big and troubling for us. 

The characters in the book are Pennsylvania State Troopers who not only have to find some way to cope with the horrors connected with The Thing, but with the gruesome aftermaths of traffic accidents, suicides, domestic disputes, etc.  The story is one that anyone in a "helping" profession, who routinely sees exactly what living in a fallen world among fallen humans means, can relate to.  It's about trying to copy and move on while facing an endless stream of tragedies.  It also explores the questions of why what gets bent can never be straightened, and why do people continue destructive behaviors when they know they should quit?  And why do good people die young and senselessly while worthless, or even evil, people just keep pointlessly living on and on?

Read this novel and then read the book of Ecclesiastes.  (Then maybe Psalm 73 and the Gospel Of John before you're tempted to cash in your chips.)  Ecclesiastes ends with "...the dust returns to the ground it came from and the spirit returns to God who gave it.  'Meaningless!  Meaningless!' says the Teacher.  'Everything is meaningless!'...of making many books there is no end, and much study wearies the body.  Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man..."  Near the end of King's novel, Sandy says, "You don't know where you came from or where you're going, do you?  But you live with it just the same.  Don't rail against it too much.  Don't spend more than an hour a day shaking your fists at the sky and cursing God...There are Buicks everywhere."  Buicks stand for cosmic irrationality, injustice or maybe no ultimate justice at all, the many causes of death, and possibly supernatural beings or forces that delight in messing with you.  The book is a page-turner, though reading it, because of its themes, is not always a pleasant experience.  Nor, like the book of Ecclesiastes, is it meant to be.

The State Trooper stuff is fascinating and has an authentic ring to it.  And, as one who has a family tree deeply rooted in the Keystone State, I can tell you that King gets the Pennsylvania part right, too.  The characters, setting, atmosphere, and day-to-day bits feel so Pennsylvanian they made me homesick.

The last couple of chapters pack an emotional wallop as familial love may just be what can save one from despair - or worse.  Or maybe not.  And maybe we can get a handle on our questions and even triumph, in a sense, over them by living our lives.  And maybe we can't.  Maybe Life is greater that Chaos.  And maybe that's just an illusion.  Maybe Death has the last word.

Recommended for those who like to wrestle with theology, psychology, and personal demons as they read sci-fi/fantasy/horror novels.  That's me!

Rated: R for language, sexual innuendoes, adult themes (in the best sense of the term), and graphic descriptions of violence and its aftermath.


 
 

James Bond: The Authorized Biography of 007 by John Pearson

This novel starts with the premise that Bond was a real person that Ian Fleming wrote about.  It sets out to fill in the backstory and personal histroy that Fleming left out of his books.  We learn about Bond's early years and where his attitudes toward "the good life" and women came from.  We see Bond being trained and learn of missions and exploits that Fleming didn't mention such as Bond's adventures in World War II and his encounter with a death cult and its "goddess."  The book reads as though Fleming himself wrote it and fascinates the reader throughout.  It's one weakness is its explanation of why the Secret Service let Fleming write his novels.  But, other than that, I recommend it to old school Bond fans.  You'll even find out which Bond girl James still has a relationship, of worts, with when he's middle-aged.

Rating: R


 

Mother Night by Kurt Vonnegut

A superbly written examination of the irrationality of hatred and the belief systems and political structures that support it, as well as a meditation on the fact that even the most devilish of men can have very human sides to them.  The novel purports to be the memoirs of Howard W. Campbell, Jr., a man awaiting trial in Israel for war crimes.  Ironically, though, while he was a Nazi propagandist in World War II, he was actually an agent for the Americans.  Irony could almost be considered as a character in the book because it is prevalent throughout Campbell's life story.  While the book doesn't blame God for Man's hatreds and thinks it's unfair to try to associate Him with humanity's ills, it does ask the question, "Why doesn't God intervene more often?"  And how does one carry on after one has gone through life's wars and seemingly received little help and no answers from the Divine?  Campbell throws himself into creative, committed, erotic, monogamous love, and gets a little help from his friends.  However, he knows that people, and he himself, are changeable.  Ironically enough again, the things he has to trust in - himself and others - are the creatures he knows to be untrustworthy.

Rated: R

 

 

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This page was created using Corel Word Perfect Suite 8 and Netscape Navigator Composer. All characters and images are legal properties of their respective companies and are used here without permission for entertainment, review, and informational purposes only. All other material is copyright 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2006, 2007, and 2008 by Steve R. Bierly.