The Lord of the Rings (review)

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The Lord of the RingsThe Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I recently finished reading The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien—all six books, a Kindle edition purchased May 9th, finished reading around August 14th.

Here are some of the things that impressed me about book(s).

The contrast between good and evil. Good characters and settings were beautiful, wholesome, verdant, fragrant, admirable, while the evil characters and settings were creepy to grotesque, debauched, barren, in some cases smelled vile, and were frightening and repulsive.

That said, characters were still complex. Though the good characters were essentially white, they still had the capacity for foolishness, made mistakes etc. This made for my continued interest.

My favourite character was Frodo’s servant, the loyal Sam Gamgee. Through him Tolkien illustrates the values of love, faithfulness, perseverance, courage etc. in the face of insurmountable odds.

The hobbit characters retained their love of hearth, home and a good meal. Their reminiscences about these things and their appearances in the story even when situations were at their worst (a good meal cooked when making a fire was a dangerous act; the singing of a lullaby during captivity by evil orcs) kept me hopeful that the good would win.

As I looked for Christian allegorical themes, and knowing that Tolkien and C. S. Lewis were contemporaries and literary buddies (the Inklings), these jumped out at me.

1. The fight between good and evil—a biblical theme if there ever was one.

2. Saruman and Sauron as types of Satan.

The wizard Gandalf says of Sauron:

“… I found our fears were true; he was none other than Sauron, our Enemy of old, at length taking shape and power again” – p. 250.

Treebeard says of Saruman:

“He is plotting to become a Power. He has a mind of metal and wheels; and he does not care for growing things” p. 473.

3. King Aragorn as a type of Christ:
In a scene with the hobbit Pippin:

“’King! Did you hear that? What did I say? The hands of a healer, I said!’ And soon word had gone out from the House that the King was indeed come among them and after war he brought healing.” P. 286.

This wasn’t my favourite book in the world. The language is more descriptive and flowery than I’m used to, though I felt it suited the story genre well. I also found the use of words and phrases in Tolkien’s made-up language confusing in that they slowed me down, though again, they made the story feel like an authentic middle earth tale.

All in all, this was a very long but worthwhile read. If you haven’t read it maybe you should for aspects of this story (in book and film) are now woven into the imagination and fabric of our culture.

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Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe (review)

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Miracle at the Higher Grounds CafeMiracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe by Max Lucado

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

After Chelsea Chambers discovers that her NFL husband Sawyer has been cheating on her, inheriting the family café and coffee shop in San Antonia is the perfect out. She, with 12-year-old Hancock and six-year-old Emily move into the upper floor of the Victorian house above the Higher Grounds Café, determined to put new life into the family’s 40+-year-old establishment.

But just after she opens, a letter from the IRS arrives demanding back taxes. When she contacts Sawyer about releasing funds for this, she discovers he has spent all her nest egg on his own money problems. Is her dream of running her own business doomed before it ever gets underway?

Chelsea’s dilemma alerts heaven’s minions and soon Samuel, her clumsy but loveable guardian angel is up to his neck in her daily affairs.

Fantasy intersects reality in Max Lucado’s novel Miracle at the Higher Grounds Café—a book that addresses issues of family, prayer, forgiveness and second chances. It’s an easy read and Lucado’s signature deftness with words makes it a fun read as well:

“ ‘ Who’s that?’ said the young magician who had turned his smartphone into an IMAX screen. The image stretched as far as the east is from the west: Sawyer Chambers in the arms of another woman. A redheaded beauty. A triple threat—younger, thinner, and prettier” – Kindle Location 289.

Discussion questions at the end help us hone in on the timeless truths this story delivers with subtlety and grace. Readers of all ages will enjoy this inspirational, ends-well tale.

I received Miracle at the Higher Grounds Cafe as a gift from the publisher for the purpose of writing a review.

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Storm Siren (review)

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Storm Siren (Storm Siren, #1)Storm Siren by Mary Weber

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

“ ‘Fourteen circles for fourteen owners.’
I shade my eyes to block the sun’s reflection off the distant mountains currently doused in snow and smoke and flesh-eating birds” – Kindle Location 107.

In this first snippet of the story already we see its bloody DNA. I should have read the online sample and been warned.

Seventeen-year-old Nymia is a Uathuil, a citizen of the land of Faelen in Mary Weber’s paranormal fantasy Storm Siren. Of the Uathuil’s she is a female Elemental who shouldn’t even exist. But she does, having been sold and resold from one slave master to another. At the point the story begins, she’s bought again by the evilly attractive Adora.

Adora puts her in the charge of handsome and mysterious trainer Eogan. Soon Nymia is learning to harness her powerful weather-creating abilities and combine them with Colin’s earth-moving talents. Together they are being prepared as Faelen’s weapons against neighboring Bron’s army and war planes.

As training proceeds, Nymia feels herself being increasingly drawn to Eogan, who can calm her explosive nature with his touch—and does with touches that progress from hand, to waist, to neck, to…

Nymia, for her part, fights any softness within herself or sensed in others with sarcasm, anger, and violence. She is honest, abrupt, vulnerable, and self-loathing but does display infrequent flashes of nobility as distaste for the killing machine she feels she is destined to remain.

The book is written in first person (Nymia’s point-of-view) present tense. The writing is vivid, action-filled, and poetic.

Despite Weber’s intriguing fantasy world, strong characterization, and strong writing, I didn’t like this book. Nymia’s inner life and thoughts seemed overly melodramatic—teenaged angst on caffeine-laced hormones. The fight scenes were complicated and felt almost cartoonish in the way the main characters were able to dodge death in split-second maneuvers. The romantic scenes hovered between lustful and creepy. Halfway through I seriously considered not finishing it. But Thomas Nelson published it, I told myself. Surely it will end up having some redeeming features.

I guess one might call Nymia’s visit to the Valley of Origin such a feature, and Colin’s sacrifice, and the inclusion of words like “redemption” and “atonement” near the end. But I found the meaning of these bits so abstruse, their message so vague and subtle–not to speak of  the little that felt positive being cancelled out by the whiplash ending–the total of the positive really didn’t justify the hours spent in dark negativity and bloody violence. As a result, I don’t recommend this book.

I received Storm Siren as a gift from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the purpose of writing a review.

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Spirit Bridge – review

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Spirit BridgeSpirit Bridge by James L. Rubart

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Spirit Bridge—the third and final book in the three-book Well Spring series by James Rubart—is a cat-and-mouse game of evil versus good. In it we follow members of the Warriors Riding Ministry—Reece, Doug, Brandon, Marcus, and Dana that readers have met in books one and two. We’re also introduced (or re-introduced) to a couple of less familiar characters, namely Miyo and Simon the Magician.

We’re just aware enough of what’s going on in the spiritual realms, ‘peopled’ by the likes of the demon Master and his minions Caustin and Zennon, and angels Tristan, Orson, and Jotham, to keep us on the edge of our seats. The caginess of the enemy and the fact that we’re not exactly sure on which side some of the characters are makes for some nervous scenes with surprising outcomes. Of course the fact our heroic warriors haven’t been able to successfully ward off calamity in the past adds to the tension as we question, Rubart wouldn’t actually let his heroes come to serious harm, would he?—uh, yes, he would. Add to all that several hand-to-hand battles and you have an often heart-pounding read.

The elements of Rubart’s fantasy setting are a combination of imagination, psychic phenomenon (like soul travel), and a sometimes literal interpretation of certain Bible passages. For example when the angels are fighting and “Each of them held the arrows up close to their mouth and spoke as if giving the arrows instruction…” Miyo recognizes the scriptural origin: “’This is Habakkuk chapter three come to life “…Your bow was made ready; oaths were sworn over your arrows”’” Kindle Location 6704.

This book was my introduction to the series. I’d recommend reading the other books first. Though I did eventually get into the swing of the story, the characters make lots of references to previous adventures to which I wasn’t privy so I felt a little out of it.

Though I enjoyed the suspense of the plot, the imaginative setting, and how Rubart envisioned the interplay of the natural world with the spiritual, my favorite parts of the story were where characters got insights into the spiritual implications of what was happening in them.

For example, when Brandon discovers he can sing again, but only some of the time, he tries to understand why. He says, “… I have a feeling when I sing his songs, I get the voice you heard. When I sing my own, I get the raspy voice you’re hearing right now” – K.L. 1672.

And when Dana is learning from Miyo about vulnerability to the enemy, Miyo tells her: “I know the only way warfare can get in is through an opening. A crack in our souls. Those cracks come from sin. Things we are holding onto. I don’t know what it is in you. Hardness of heart? Having to prove yourself? Needing to perform? …. You offered him a seam, and he was able to worm his way through and plant thoughts and images and promises and suggestions and warfare inside you” – K.L. 5316.

Spirit Bridge might be a fantasy. But in it I found a lot of truth.

I received Spirit Bridge as a gift from the publisher, Thomas Nelson, for the purpose of writing a review.

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