Monday, September 30, 2013


One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich is Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s groundbreaking 1962 novel about life in a Soviet labor camp. I read the Ralph Parker translation.

Solzhenitsyn takes the reader through Shukhov’s everyday activities, including all things mundane, as well as into the prisoner’s mindset, illuminating a number of interesting and surprising attitudes. All this is done with the extensive detail of personal experience, which makes One Day immersive and compelling. The novel builds slowly and steadily before making a rather sizeable impact upon its conclusion.

One Day is a short novel, and yet Solzhenitsyn does an excellent job of depicting not only Shukhov’s personality, tenacity, and attitudes, but also, in sketches, those of many others in his squad as well as their interactions. Solzhenitsyn’s breath of life in these characters helps the reader invest in all their fates.  

In short, One Day is a stark look into an important part of twentieth-century history as well as a well-told account of humanity’s aptitude for both cruelty and survival.


Monday, September 23, 2013

THE HAND OF CHAOS by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

The Hand of Chaos is a 1993 fantasy novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the fifth in the seven-volume Death Gate Cycle. Here, Haplo is sent with Bane back to Arianus to activate the Kicksey-winsey in advance of a Patryn invasion.

Implausibilities abound as the writers spend the first seventy pages roughly forcing the story in the direction they want it to go. It’s mind-boggling that Haplo wouldn’t even try to grab Samah after the events of Serpent Mage – that would have solved all his problems. And Xar, the “wisest Patryn of all,” is swayed far too easily by both Bane and the dragon-snakes, above and beyond even what his vast hubris can account for.

When the story gets going, Haplo is shoved to the margins; The Hand of Chaos is not so much a sequel to Fire Sea and Serpent Mage as it is Dragon Wing 2, which isn’t exactly what we were looking for at this point. Nevertheless, this is a reasonably suspenseful page-turner, and it wraps up the Arianus storylines with a satisfactory – if shaky – conclusion. The authors also do a fine job of writing from a half-dozen different viewpoints.

There are some issues, though: Limbeck’s glossed-over personality shift at the end of Dragon Wing renders him largely unrecognizable here. We get way too much Iridal and not nearly enough conflicted Haplo. And there’s little lead-in to the next book beyond the developments in the first several chapters.   

Its problems are not insignificant, but The Hand of Chaos is, ultimately, an engaging and fairly satisfying novel, even if it often feels like a detour on the way to more pressing (and more interesting) storylines.  


Monday, September 16, 2013

FINALLY FREE by Heath Lambert

Finally Free: Fighting for Purity with the Power of Grace is a 2013 Christian book on escaping pornography by Heath Lambert.

This is an extremely short book (176 pages) – there’s no time spent on why pornography is bad (because people who think so usually have a pretty good idea why, Lambert says) – nearly the entire book is devoted to practical steps and solutions. And it includes some things you don’t typically find in books of this sort (Lambert’s eight tools for fighting pornography are godly sorrow, accountability, “radical measures,” confession, your spouse/singleness, humility, gratitude, and your dynamic relationship with Jesus). And Lambert is refreshingly specific on what to do and how to go about it.   

Yet while Finally Free is extremely practical, the foundation of Lambert’s arguments is, as it should be, the grace of Christ. Lambert ties every bit of his practical advice to the transformative power of grace – the power to be changed, to become different. In a book that goes on at length about what actions a man should take, this discussion of grace as a power is what instills hope for real, permanent change.

Finally Free is a concise, practical, and, most importantly, grace-centered treatment of pornography bondage, and probably the most immediately useful book I’ve read on the subject.


*  *  *  *  *

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher through the book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Monday, September 9, 2013

SERPENT MAGE by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman

Serpent Mage is a 1992 fantasy novel by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, the fourth in the seven-volume Death Gate Cycle. Here, Haplo and Alfred travel separately to the ocean world of Chelestra, where they discover the last bastion of the Sartan as well as a mysterious race of powerful creatures.

Weis and Hickman are thus far doing a very fine job of making their world(s) increasingly complex. Serpent Mage begins to explore the series’ theological theme in greater depth, for one thing, and in the course of their storytelling, the authors also paint a clearer picture of some of the lingering mysteries from prior volumes.

Serpent Mage is longer on lengthy conversations and shorter on action (although what action there is is quite good) than the previous books in this series, but the authors do an excellent job of building up compelling intrigue, which drives the story forward to a satisfying climax. If there are any criticisms of the story, they would include the fact that the overall plot structure bears more than a casual resemblance to that of Fire Sea, the case of Haplo being too quick and too eager to trust the dragon-snakes (particularly as they all but have “evil” written across their foreheads), and the fact that the geographical structure of this world is extremely alien, not all that clearly explained, and thus kind of confusing. But by and large these are minor quibbles.  

Character development gets a passing grade. Haplo spends a lot of the book kind of stuck between gears, and Alfred, while he’s making progress, can still be extremely frustrating. Samah is nicely done for the most part; he can be impressively complex, although he lapses into the one-note arrogant despot a bit too often.

In the end, Serpent Mage is an engaging, page-turning novel that continues this series’ strong march forward. It’s at least as good as Fire Sea, and maybe better.


Monday, September 2, 2013


The Sure Cure for Worry: Learning to Trust God no Matter What Happens is a 2013 book by Kent Crockett. Here, Crockett lays out Christian perspectives on trusting God and escaping worry and fear.

Worry, Crockett states, is the opposite of trust; thus, by learning to trust God and deciding to follow him, the Christian can be free from worry and fear. Crockett uses a great deal of scripture to support his thesis, which is biblically very solid, and includes many encouraging anecdotes.   

Crockett is charismatic in ways that will make non-charismatics raise an eyebrow here and there. For example, he states that a lack of peace about a decision indicates either that it is God’s will (with wrong timing or insufficient information) or that it is not God’s will (p. 145). Obviously, this tautology is not particularly helpful on the face of it. The problem is not that Crockett is wrong, necessarily, but that he likes to break down the workings of God and the Christian life into logical, step-by-step, A-or-B structures, which can feel forced and presumptuous. To offset this, a greater emphasis on individual prayer and discernment (which are in there, to be sure) would have been nice.

Crockett’s writing is a little over-the-top sometimes. His “indisputable proof” for God isn’t quite, although it is very good and well-presented. He also belabors some points that will likely seem rather obvious to all but the most entry-level of Christians (the sections on God’s IQ and counselors, for example). Some readers may thusly skim certain sections, but that’s all right.

While non-charismatics may find aspects of The Sure Cure for Worry off-putting, Crockett is right on in terms of the foundational biblical principles on worry and trust, and many people struggling with worry or fear should find this book encouraging and helpful.


*  *  *  *  *

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.