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A New Year’s Resolution For All of Us

English: Two New Year's Resolutions postcards

English: Two New Year’s Resolutions postcards (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Happy New Year to all of you! I hope everyone had a wonderful evening and are now safe at home enjoying family and friends.

I wanted to share a New Year’s resolution and invite everyone to consider joining me in following it. I don’t think it will require any major feats of willpower, just an increase in awareness.

Let’s all try to tell ourselves better stories in 2014. Whether these are in the form of traditional novels, graphic novels, movies, television programs, it doesn’t matter. Let’s all try to take in the stories that tell of nobler things, things like honor, truth, bravery, hope, faith and, of course, love. By love I don’t mean the superficially romantic, physical love thrown at us by today’s culture, but the real love that we as humans give to our family, friends and fellow human beings. These are the virtues that reflect our Creator and set us apart from being mere animals.

Let’s try to avoid, as best we can, the cheap, the vulgar or obscene, the irreverent, the dysfunctional, the crude, and the pornography of blood and death. These things also separate us from the animals. These things make us lower than the beasts of the field, the swimmers of the depths, or the sailors of the sky.

Let’s all feed our spirits with stories that display the truth that being human is a wondrous joy and a divine responsibility.

 
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Posted by on January 1, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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Early Christmas

Christmas in the post-War United States

Christmas in the post-War United States (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I had a pleasant – and unexpected – surprise this week.

When my wife and I got home from work the other night, there was a small package sitting on our front steps. We figured it was something from Amazon we had ordered for Christmas and brought it in the house. Upon closer inspection, we saw that it wasn’t from Amazon but from Random House Publishing and it was the size and shape of a book. Surprise!

Well, actually it was, because when we opened it we found an “Advance Reader’s Edition” of Dean Koontz’ new novel, “Innocence” which was just released on the tenth of this month. It’s a beautiful, paperback copy with the same cover art found on the hardbound edition, except for the reader’s edition seal with “Not For Sale” in it. Yes, I had a big grin on my face.

I’ve been looking forward to this book for several months now. Not just because it’s a Dean Koontz book, although that’s certainly enough reason for me, but because this is supposedly something different for Mr. Koontz. Something other than a typical Dean Koontz book. I was planning on using some Christmas money to purchase it later in the month, but that won’t be necessary now.

As happy as this made me, I haven’t a clue as to why I received this in the first place. The package was addressed directly to me from Random House. There was no note attached to it, save the promotional message in the front of the book from the executive vice president of Ballantine Bantam Dell telling me of the virtues of this new novel. No help.

I only have two guesses. First, I may have won some sort of contest that I was unaware of. I’m always clicking “like” on Dean Koontz’s Facebook page and I may have entered myself without even knowing it. Second, Random House may have a marketing assistant in charge of monitoring book bloggers with tiny followings. Whatever the case, I’m extremely grateful.

My first impulse was to start reading “Innocence” that very night, however, I’m currently well into T.H. White’s “The Once and Future King,” so Dean will have to wait for a bit. But you can bet I’ll be cracking that cover very soon (depending on what other books I get for Christmas!) and passing along my review to all of you.

I hope all of my fellow book junkies out there get the books they want this Christmas. Whether they’re from someone they know or not!

Oh, and one final piece of info. I emailed said executive V.P. a brief thank you note for the book. You know what? She had the grace to reply. That’s what I call class, people. Random House gets a big thumbs up from this house.

Merry Christmas everyone, and blessings in the coming year!

 

 
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Posted by on December 22, 2013 in What I'm Reading

 

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True Confessions

Lucifer

Lucifer (Photo credit: vcuevas)

I have a confession to make. Well, two actually.

First, I actually enjoyed Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Sorry. I liked the characters, the plotting and, yes, even the speculation. I even enjoyed “Angels & Demons.” So when I saw “The Lucifer Code” by Charles Brokaw (Forge, 2010) with its jacket touting that “Brokaw can play this game a lot better than most of [Brown's] imitators,” I bought it. Hey, it was only a buck.

Second confession: I bought it at a dollar store. I know, that should have told me something. But a brand new $25.99 hardcover for a dollar? I’m just weak. As weak as this book.

Brokaw’s previous book, “The Atlantis Code,” (I know. Original,huh?) got pretty good reviews, judging from the back of the dust jacket. Publishers Weekly called it a “rollicking adventure,” and Deepak Chopra said . . . .  well, that should have told me something too. The main character of both books, Dr. Thomas Lourds, must have liked his Atlantis adventure as well because he and his supporting cast mention it at least once a chapter.

I’m going to save anyone interested in this book a lot of trouble right now. Spoiler alert: Ready? Lucifer is the vice president of the United States! Believe me, I didn’t spoil much. This book could have been titled “The Lucifer Morris Code” because Brokaw telegraphs the bad guy nearly from his first appearance.

OK, let’s make it three confessions. I actually read the whole book. There were a few decent action sequences, a couple of humorous situations and some interesting information passed along. But I really kept going because I was hoping for a decent payoff when Lourds finally confronted Lucifer. A big finale. Wham! Bam!

Phfffft!

I’m going to donate this book to the local library’s ongoing book sale. Who knows? Somebody out there may like it. But I’ll be wearing sunglasses and a hat when I drop it off.

 

 

 
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Posted by on December 12, 2013 in Book Review

 

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A Disappointing Book That Will Hang on My Wall

The other day while my wife and I were shopping in one of our favorite thrift stores, I found what looked to be a Knights in Combatnifty little book. Titled “The Little Book of the Holy Grail,” (Barnes & Noble/The Book Laboratory, 2004), it purported to give some historical background to the grail legends and even “retells two of the most famous Grail stories.” It was also loaded with marvelous Medieval art related to the grail. Oh, yes. I bought it.

Sucker.

Disappointing could be taken as an understatement here. Let’s start with the writing. The author, whose name will not be mentioned as a courtesy, is supposedly an attorney with a Master’s degree in Theology. They should have taken a composition class or two.

The first section of the book, about the history of the grail legends, is pedestrian at best. It gets the facts across and that’s it. The recounting of the grail stories is where the eyes glaze over. Honestly, I’ve read better fifth grade book reports. I’d quote it but I want you to finish this post.

For the big finish, the final section of the book is called “Reclaiming the Feminine Aspect of Christianity.” Here the author tries to make Dan Brown look like a scholar by going over the same “was Jesus really married to Mary Magdalene?” road that’s been traveled to death. There’s even a chapter here titled “The Conspiracy Continues?” Honest.

The only saving grace for this book are the beautiful reproductions of grail-themed art. Yet even here, the book falls short. None of the artwork is identified by artist or title. The only thing the reader is given is a list of acknowledgements as to the sources of the paintings and drawings. Frustrating.

I was going to donate this book to another thrift store, but then I had an idea. I have purchased several nice wooden frames at another thrift store we frequent and I plan to use a very sharp utility knife to extricate my favorite pictures and place them in the frames. I’m still trying to decide where I will hang them, but I know they’ll look great wherever they wind up.

Nice save, if I say so myself.

 
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Posted by on November 22, 2013 in Book Hunting, Book Review, History

 

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A Koontz Novella

Dean Koontz likes big houses.

In his novella, “The Moonlit Mind,” Crispin lives with his mom, brother and sister in a three-floor, forty-four thousand square foot mansion called Theron Hall which belongs to his stepfather, Giles. The novel to which this novella is attached, “77 Shadow Street,” takes place in a luxury, three-floor apartment building called The Pendleton which used to be the private residence of a very rich family. Other Koontz books have had very large homes and buildings featured prominently as well. Nothing good usually happens in any of them.

Fortunately, Koontz lets Crispin escape into the nearby city as he tries to evade his stepfather’s agents. Why? Well, I don’t want to give too much away, so let’s just say that Crispin is to be the guest of honor at a very special ceremony. A ceremony that Crispin wants no part of. So off into the city he goes, living by his wits and hiding in parks, stores, and abandoned warehouses. Of course, this being a Dean Koontz story, he hooks up with a very cool stray dog he names Harley. A boy and his dog, loose in a city with no one to tell them what to do? What kid hasn’t imagined what that would be like?

Using a clever story device, Koontz uses flashbacks and flash-forwards between the 9 year-old Crispin and the 12 year-old Crispin, effectively showing the reader how he came to be in this predicament and how he finally deals with the events put in motion by his mom’s marriage to Giles. Along the way there are the signature Koontz jabs at modern American culture (a nightclub named Narcissus; a televangelist program called The Wide Eye of the Needle), and quirky, deftly drawn characters (the children’s tutor, Mordred; Crispin’s friend and fellow runaway, Amity, who lives in a department store and is known as the Phantom of Broderick’s).

Koontz’s newer novels all deal with the nature of evil and this novella is no different, though, being essentially an extended short story, there’s not much subtlety in its depiction. And that’s alright. Koontz clearly meant this tale to be a quick, fun ride, and he succeeds in providing the reader with a good time along with some creepy twists (you’ve heard of voodoo dolls; how about a voodoo house-model of the aforementioned Theron Hall?).

And, yes, there’s a lesson here. With Koontz there always is and, honestly, that’s one of the things I like about his works. In his earlier series of Frankenstein books, two of his characters come to the conclusion that fighting bad ideas is a life’s work. Koontz’s novels engage bad ideas, and evil, head-on and grant no quarter. This is good because there is no shortage of bad ideas in our world today.

In the Moonlit Mind, we relearn the old lesson that things, and people, are seldom just what they appear to be. Face value could very well be a mask. There’s more here, but I’ll let you read this tale to get at the rest.

 
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Posted by on October 23, 2013 in Book Review

 

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The Myth of Progress

there is a “widespread assumption that ever since the rise of the modern Western world we are acting out a story of ‘progress.’ This is the so-called Whig view of history writ large: history is the story of movements of progressive freedom, and we must go forward and make the next one happen, and the next one after that. Despite all the tyrannies of the last century, people today still believe this myth of progress . . . “

 

N.T. Wright, from “Simply Jesus: A New Vision of Who He Was, What He Did, and Why He Matters,” (HarperCollins, 2011)

 
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Posted by on October 13, 2013 in Quotations

 

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Liebster Questions, My Answers

As I reported the other day, I was nominated for the Liebster Award by fellow blogger Jubilare. In order to receive this award I need to answer some simple questions. So here we go!

1. If you could walk into a book and make a home there, where would that home be, what would it be like, and what sort of people/creatures would you try to befriend? Specifics would be fun and you can give more than one answer if you like.

Holy cow! I can’t remember all the places books have taken me over the years. Now I have to pick one to live in? Oy! Well, at least at this point in my life, I’d have to say The Lord of the Rings and within that book I’d select someplace in the Shire, perhaps Hobbiton, though Pincup in the Green Hill Country looks good. Willowbottom sounds a bit enticing as well.

I definitely want my own Hobbit hole, snug into the side of a nice green hill. Great insulation you know. A good size larder would be nice, as well as a fairly spacious study and library. I think it would be fine as far as size goes. I mean, if Gandalf can fit in Bilbo’s home, I’m sure I can be comfortable too. Oh yeah, and a sizeable dining hall with a large fireplace would be necessary for entertaining guests and for gaming night.

Whichever village I pick will need to have a local pub with an Olde Pub name like “The Board and Bone” or something similar. Oh, and it needs to be within crawling distance of my new abode. For convenience, you understand. I really like pubs.

As for who (or what) I’d try to befriend, probably just the locals from the pub. We’d more than likely have much in common. Good food, stout ale, some aromatic pipe weed, lots of books and interesting conversation; what more can a man ask for in the golden years? If I should see any tall, gray-bearded types with staffs wandering through, I’ll head to my cellar to check on the wines and brandies. If I can’t hear them knocking, oh well.

2. Name a food you have read about, but never eaten, that you have since wanted to try. It doesn’t have to actually exist. What, in the reading, piqued your interest?

Most of the books I read don’t have food in them, although George R.R. Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire series described plenty of meals. Of course I don’t remember a thing about them. I will say that I’ve always been curious about ancient cuisines. What did the Romans, Greeks, Babylonians or Huns eat?

But then, maybe I don’t really want to know.

3. Do you have a favorite plant? If so, what is it and why do you like it so much?

I never thought about this much. I guess if I had to pick a plant, I’d pick ivy. I love the shape of the leaves and seeing it growing and covering walls and fences reminds me of libraries and books and warm, cozy houses with fireplaces and reading chairs. So yeah. Ivy.

4. What fictional character is your favorite hero (male or female), and what villain really scares you and why?

My favorite hero in fiction would have to be John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee. MacDonald was one of the best pop fiction writers in America in the 1950s and 60s and he wrote a lot more than just the Travis McGee series, but the Florida beach bum was sort of his trademark. McGee lived on a house boat called The Busted Flush, so you can guess how he acquired it. He was in the “recovery” business, which meant that if someone screwed you out a great deal of money or other property, he would get it back for you for a percentage of the recovered item(s). You just didn’t ask him about his methods. He was also something of a keen observer and critic of  modern America. A public philosopher, if you will. Treat yourself to a Travis McGee novel sometime and you’ll see what I mean.

As for what villain really scares me, I’m going with the incomparable Preston Maddoc from Dean Koontz’ “One Door Away From Heaven.” Maddoc is a PhD in philosophy and claims to be a utilitarian bioethicist, but what he really likes to do is dispatch people he deems not worth living, like his nine-year-old crippled step daughter, Leilani Klonk (hey, it’s a Koontz novel). Koontz has distilled and concentrated the essence of the secular-humanist-utilitarian mindset into this one character and what makes him so frightening is that there really are people out there who see the world this way and are trying to spread their ideas. Ever hear of Peter Singer?

A close second would be Koontz’ new, improved Victor Frankenstein from his five novel series based on the Frankenstein story. I really do believe in mad scientists.

5. There is a crossroad at your feet. Behind you lies the path back to home and hearth (wherever that might be). The road directly ahead leads to a city, blue in the distance, settled among hills and on the edge of a bright inland sea. To your right lies a steep climb into old, low mountains clothed in forest and fern. To your left is rolling farmland that eventually flattens out into broad plains dappled by the clouds overhead. You can go as far as you like on any of the roads (even farther than you can see), including back home. There’s no wrong answer, only the where and why.

Ah, yes! The Happy Wanderer game. Let’s see. I’ve never been a big city-type of person, and farmland is useful but doesn’t have a lot of variety in the vistas department. Now, the mountains with the forest and ferns sounds really nice but at my age the steep-climb-thingy is a deal breaker. Heck, that may have been a deal breaker in my younger days, too! So that leaves the home and hearth option, which, if I were to have my very own Hobbit hole, would be just peachy by me.

There IS another direction I wouldn’t mind going: up. I’ve always thought that if a race of advanced aliens (friendly, of course) were to stop by and ask if I’d like to come for a ride I would probably answer yes. To see our planet and solar system retreating from the ship as we head out into deep space would be amazing! Maybe even see a new world or two.

I guess one could also include the option of going down. Think I’ll pass on that one, too.

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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