book review: Convicted by Jameel McGee, Andrew Collins, and Mark Tabb

Convicted is a spiritual story about how Jameel McGee and Andrew Collins found (or maybe rediscovered) God and learned to forgive.  The book’s chapters alternate between Jameel’s point of view and Andrew’s.  It’s obvious where the book leads since the cover and even the extended title basically tell you what the book is about.  I don’t think I’m really going to give anything away with my review, but just in case, don’t read anymore  if you don’t want any spoilers.









In the first part of the book, Jameel tends to blame his circumstances.  He reiterates that he was in the wrong place at the wrong time on several occasions.  For example, Jameel’s first brush with the law is when he goes for a ride with some friends.  It turns out that the friends had stolen the car so when they get busted, he gets busted along with them.  It’s not until he rediscovers God in prison and learns to let go of his hatred that Jameel starts to see that it’s not just all chance.  Yes, he was in the wrong place at the wrong time, but he put himself into that place.  His dad told him not to get into the car with his friends, but he wanted to go anyway.  When he got a ride with Will, which led to his second arrest, he admits that Will was taking a while to get going and he could have walked to the store and back in the time it took for Will to actually drive him to the store.  Jameel learns not to blame external factors for all of his circumstances, but at the end of the book, he is still somewhat of a victim.

As for Andrew, he only found religion after he was arrested.  There were times when Andrew felt guilty about the things he had done, but never guilty enough to confess or to stop.  If he hadn’t been caught, I doubt that he would have stopped.

The writing was okay – a bit stilted at times.  I’m glad that both Jameel and Andrew are friends now and that they have a nice ending but I didn’t particularly like the book.  Jameel seems too naive and trusting and Andrew was just a jerk for most of the book.  The book was short and an easy read, but it read more as a promotional story for a church.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from Blogging for Books.


Book review: The Templar Brotherhood by James Becker

It is obvious that the author has spent a lot of time researching the Knight Templars.  The book itself, though it contains a lot of action, at time acts as a textbook to teach the reader about the various Templar sites through the conversations of its characters, Robin Jessop and David Mallory.  While I found it interesting, it also slowed down the pace of the story.  Also, the characters are supposed to be experts in the field so I don’t think they would be explaining this stuff to each other.  Several of their long conversations were purely for the benefit of the reader.

The book mentioned previous run-ins that Jessop and Mallory had with the Dominicans so I’m pretty sure this book is part of a series (I haven’t looked it up to confirm this).  This may also explain why I didn’t quite bond with the characters.  The author may have developed the characters in the previous books and hadn’t felt it necessary to do so in this book.  I didn’t feel that there was anything special about these characters.

Some of the highlights of the book included the historical bits about the Templars and the puzzles that Jessop and Mallory have to solve.  My favorite part of the book was the author’s notes at the end about how the some of the settings in the book were real places related to the Templars.

This is a decent book and while the book was a fun read, I am not motivated to read the other books in the series.

This book will be published October 3, 2017.  I received an electronic ARC from First to Read in exchange for my honest review.

Book Review: A Case of Conscience by James Blish

A Case of Conscience is a science fiction book about four humans who go to the planet, Lithia, to evaluate it.  The Lithians have a utopian society.  In fact, their society is so great that it leads one of the humans, Father Ruiz-Sanchez, to believe that it was created by “the Adversary” (the Devil).  Upon the humans returning to Earth, one of the Lithians gives them his own child to raise.

Spoilers ahead (because I can’t discuss what I hated about this book without discussing what happened)…










The Lithian Earthling, Egtverchi, becomes a popular public figure with his own television show.  Unfortunately, he causes a lot of problems by inciting public disobedience and  violence.

I would have liked this book better if it were more science fiction and less religious theology.  Actually, sound religious theology would have been okay.  My biggest problem with this book is that actions of the characters didn’t match their personalities.  One of the characters, Cleaver, is a physicist.  He is smart, very scientific.  However, he thought it would be great to use Lithia as a bomb producing world.  He also goes on to destroy the Lithians main mode of communication upon his return to Lithia.  Father Ruiz-Sanchez is a Jesuit priest and a scientist/man of medicine who believes in creationism.  Ruiz-Sanchez argued that Lithia was too perfect and that Lithians were the evolved ideal form that humans aspired to be and therefore they must be the Devil’s creation seemed ridiculous to me (God=creationism, Devil=evolution).  Again, I have a lot of trouble believing that someone who is a scientist would believe in creationism dogma.

There were other parts of this book that made no sense to me.  For example, there was a description of how Egtverchi attended a party thrown in his honor.  At the party, guests were given train rides, but the descriptions of the train rides were bizarre.  For the most part, guests were extremely disturbed by the train rides … but yeah, let’s have parties where we upset our guests … and partygoers who must have heard about the train rides previously who are still willing to go on them, even though they know that the train rides are going to be awful.

The character of Egtverchi represented the lost and displaced.  This is evidenced not only in his background (being a Lithian raised on Earth), but also in the people to whom he appealed on his television show.  At first, his character revealed the ugliness in society (he tore through rooms and exposed some of the shadiness of public figures), but then he became the ugliness by telling his viewers to reject being a part of society in a violent manner.  Interestingly, he became ugly after he became accepted (he had a loyal following).

I did not care for the writing style of this book because it read like a religious theology book.  I cannot recommend this book to anyone.

Disclaimer: I received a preview e-copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.  This book was published January 24, 2017.

book review: The Bear and the Nightingale by Katherine Arden

The Bear and the Nightingale was a book that I found hard to put down.  The characters were interesting, the plot was creative, and the writing was a mix of mythology and fantasy.  The book addressed Russian fairy tales, but it in itself was a fairy tale.  The writing style had a slight dream-like quality to it that is somewhat reminiscent of Neil Gaiman’s books, and yet it felt unique.  Katherine Arden did a magnificent job of spinning her world.  It was hard to tear myself away from her world.

The basic plot is that the main character, Vasilisa (Vasya), uses her special ability to see spirits to try to save her people.  Vasya’s mother dies giving birth to her and she gets a stepmother (Anna) who, while able to see the spirits, fears them.  The differences in their reactions to the same ability defines their personalities and their lives.  Vasilisa accepts her ability, talks to the spirits and befriends them while Anna shrieks and faints and tries to get rid of the spirits.  There is a bit of a clash between the old world versus the new.  The “new” is represented by Christianity and the “old” is represented by the old spirits.  The book doesn’t say that one is better than the other, but it does say that ignoring one for the sake of the other may have unintended consequences.  This is evident in the priest that comes to live in Vasya’s village and what happens to him towards the end of the book.  Maybe the author is trying to say that the old ways are part of our heritage, part of what makes us and therefore abandoning them is a bad idea?

Even if you don’t get any message from the book, the characters themselves, whether they were main characters or minor characters (other members of Vasya’s family), were interesting and well-developed.  The book itself was a pleasure to read just for the sake of reading.

The only people I would hesitate to recommend this book to would be ultra conservative Christians, just because they may be offended that the book deals with old spirits.  If you don’t mind that and can just appreciate a work of fiction, you should definitely read this book.

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary e-copy of this book to preview in exchange for my honest review from NetGalley.  This book will be published January 10, 2017.


Book review: The Alliance by Jolina Petersheim

When I was reading the acknowledgments in this book, I thought, “Oh, no” (the acknowledgments were in the beginning rather than at the end of the book).  I don’t mind religious books as long as they’re obviously religious and not preachy.  I hate it when I think I’m reading an adventure book and end up reading about the virtues of Christianity/Buddhism/Islam/etc.

The Alliance was religious, but it wasn’t too preachy.  It certainly brought in Christian themes, but dealt with them in the context that some of the main characters are part of a Mennonite community.  The “alliance” refers to an alliance made between said Mennonite community and the “Englischer”s (people outside of the community).  An electromagnetic pulse (EMP) causes all modern equipment to stop working, stranding some Englischers in the Mennonite community and causing a plane crash.  The pilot of the plane crash, Moses, survives and develops some romantic feelings for Leora, a Mennonite girl.

The EMP causes apocalyptic conditions so everyone in the community compromises and agrees that the Englischers will guard a border around the community and, in turn, the community will house and feed the Englischers.

Moses and Leora’s love story is fraught with conflict, externally and internally.  Externally, they have to confront threats of looting and starvation.  Internally, they struggle with their difference in beliefs.  Leora believes if pacifism while Moses believes that guarding the border with guns is the only practical chance that they have of surviving.

The story is told in first-person narrative, switching off between Leora’s and Moses’ point of view.

The story itself, once you accept the hard-to-believe idea that an EMP could take out the entire world, is okay, but I had some issues with the characters.  The characters weren’t as well-developed as I would have liked.  Other than this good looks, it’s not too clear why Leora falls in love with Moses instead of Jabil, a young Mennonite man.  Jabil seems like the better man in pretty much all respects – they have similar beliefs, he cares for her (shielding her at one point with his body – something that Moses admits that he didn’t think of doing, etc.).  I get that sometimes people are shallow and go for good looks, but I had trouble seeing that someone who was so responsible like Leora, even though she was young, would toss caution to the wind to go for someone like Moses instead of Jabil.  Leora was responsible for taking care of a younger brother, a special needs sister, and a grandmother after her dad abandoned the family and her mom died.  Someone like that can’t afford to let herself fall for some unknown guy that she knows nothing about.  The book described some hesitations that Leora had, but she still chose Moses.  For me, the description of Leora’s past behavior and history were inconsistent with her current actions in the book so it was hard to get a good grasp of who she really was as a person.

I was also disappointed in Moses as a character.  He was also inconsistent.  At one point, he decides to protect Leora by keeping information from her because she already has had a lot to deal with but then he goes ahead and tells her about it anyway.  I guess the ending is where he is supposed to redeem himself, but it just wasn’t enough for me.  I didn’t particularly like him.

It’s not a bad book, but it seemed like it could have used more development.

Disclosure: I received an advanced reader’s copy of this book.

book review: Letter to a Christian Nation

Letter to a Christian Nation is written by unapologetic atheist, Sam Harris.  It is a short read that, while addressing Christians in particular, decries all religion as being equally unbelievable.  While I am not an atheist myself, I found that I couldn’t come up with good arguments against him.  Some of his arguments are: 1) many Christians believe that those who don’t believe in Christ will go to Hell.  Many other religions have similar beliefs. Those other religions also have sacred texts that support their beliefs and who is to say which religion is correct?  2) There is much evidence to support evolution.  Some argue in support of intelligent design by saying that something must have created the Big Bang to spark the creation of everything.  Doesn’t it stand to reason then that there was something else that created this thing that caused the spark?  3) There are many inconsistencies and contradictions in the Bible.  If the Bible isn’t taken literally, anyone can interpret whatever they want from the Bible.

There were other points brought up, but those were the ones that stuck with me the most.  Whether or not you are Christian, it is an interesting read.  It’s good to challenge your beliefs once in a while and to question why you believe what you believe.

Book Review: Fields of Blood by Karen Armstrong

I was excited to get the book Fields of Blood because the summary sounded interesting – is religion a rooted in violence?  It’s a topic that is has been and is still relevant for centuries.  Unfortunately, the author spends so much time presenting the different religions that her message gets lost.

At the end of the book, I was left wondering whether her argument was pro or con because she kept changing her stance.  It seemed like she was trying to say that religion has always been accompanied by violence (as evidenced by early hunters using rituals when they killed prey), but when the violence/oppression becomes too extreme, people rise up and speak out against it (many examples given in the book of how rulers who were the head of state and religion were criticized in song and literature … and sometimes deposed due to their excessive aggression.

It took me a long time to finish this book because, while the topic was interesting, the way it was presented was exhausting.  Basically, the author covered religious history going all the way back to the early hunter/gatherers and covered religion in different cultures – everything from the deities in Mesopotamia to Hinduism to Confucianism to modern day Christianity.  I kept asking myself, though, whether her presentation of these religions was opposing the idea of violence in religion.  The book itself, if it were presented more as a history book of religions in the world, is fine.

The book reminded me of a person I know (and we all know someone like this) who likes to talk and talk and talk and talk.  Often, they monopolize conversations.  When they start to speak, you involuntarily cringe because you know that you’re going to be listening to them for at least 10 minutes straight.  Then, at the end of their monologue, your eyes have glazed over and you’re just nodding to be polite and even THEY have forgotten their point.

Religion in and of itself is neither good or bad.  It’s an idea.  It’s a tool for humans to help them explain things that occurred in nature that they couldn’t explain, to cope with difficult situations in their lives, to build community.  However, it is also a tool for oppression (listen to what I say and do what I say or you’re all going to Hell), for hatred (anyone who does not believe what we believe is evil and must be punished), and for division (they aren’t cultured or smart enough to believe what we believe so they aren’t as good as we are).  Religious zealots and unscrupulous opportunists will use religion as an excuse to incite others to serve their purposes.  Should the zealots and opportunists be separated from the idea of religion itself?  I think that would be a better question for a book.  I would argue no because religion fosters the mentality that one should have faith and belief without evidence.  This kind of mentality makes it easier for zealots and opportunists to take over.

Read this book as more of a history book on the world’s religions when you have time … lots of time.

Disclosure: I received a free copy of this book from Blogging for Books in exchange for my honest review.