Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Project Cyclops

By: Thomas Hoover

“A high-tech launch site, a missing nuke, and Arab terrorists with nothing to lose . . .”
In the sun-dappled waters of the Aegean, ex-agent Michael Vance pilots the Odyssey II, a handmade replica of the sailcraft of the ancient hero Ulysses. Out of nowhere, a Russian Hind gunship with Arab terrorists at the helm fires upon the tiny ship below. The terrorist's destination is a tiny Aegean island where a U.S. aerospace corporation carefully guards the Cyclops 20-megawatt laser launch facility. But the company security force is no match for the firepower of the Arab invasion and the launch site is quickly overrun. With helpless horror, the executives can only watch as renegade technicians convert the launch vehicle into a ballistic missile that can deliver their stolen thermonuclear warhead to any city in the U.S.
Left for dead amid the smoking ruins of Odyssey II, Michael Vance washes up on the occupied island – and becomes America’s only hope.

Another of my Kindle free finds on Amazon.com (it's still free as of the last time I checked (today)), Project Cyclops is a suspense novel unlike any I have read before.  Though it was written in 1992 and is somewhat dated in technology as a result, Hoover weaves a very convincing tale. A terrorist has gained control of a nuclear device and a vehicle that is capable of placing it anywhere he chooses. One lone, barefoot man stands in his way. This lone sailor becomes the world's only hope.

The writing in Project Cyclops is solid. The story is believable and the characters are likable. The plot is hardly new, but Hoover's take on it is decidedly original - at least, it is to me.  As this is a mainstream novel, I was expecting the usual unnecessary sex scene, however I was delighted to see that Hoover didn't try and sneak one in. Instead, he left the integrity of the story and the characters intact. Aside from some over-zealous profanity (from the good guys as well as the bad guys), this was quite a well balanced story.

Project Cyclops continues to restore my hope that you can, indeed, find quality books for free from the Amazon Kindle store. This is one of those books that I intend to keep in the library and read from time to time. I highly recommend Project Cyclops to anyone who enjoys a good diversion.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Healing Your Church Hurt

By: Stephen Mansfield
BarnaBooks, an imprint of Tyndale House Publishing

"After everything that happened, I could never go back"
Is that how you feel?  Or have you heard it from others? The stories are all too familiar: The church we once loved broke up or our favorite pastor was fired, or people left when the worship style changed.  The former pastor had an affair or our kids didn't fit in at youth group or we had a major life crisis and no one from the church showed up to help. And so it goes.
Stephen Mansfield has been there.  Though he is now a New York Times bestselling author, a popular speaker, and a consultant who advises leaders around the world, Stephen was also a pastor for twenty years.  And he loved it for most of those two decades . . . until he learned how much a church can hurt.  But then he also learned how to dig out of that hurt, break through the bitterness and anger, stop making excuses, and get back to where he needed to be with God and His people.
If you're ready to take the tough path to healing, Mansfield will walk you through it with love and understanding, showing you that something good is waiting on the other side of even the deepest church hurts.

I needed this book!  This is an issue that I have had to deal with on more than one occasion and, in reading through this book, I realized that I still had hurt from two churches ago that I needed to deal with.  Mansfield says at the very beginning that he isn't here to be a counselor.  He plainly states that he isn't going to nurture, he is going to guide and teach skills to help overcome the hurt inside - and he does this job very effectively.

First off, I will warn you that this isn't a book that will hold your hand and empathize with you and tell you that everyone is out to get you, and that you are justified in being hurt and angry.  Neither does he tell you to simply "get over it".  Instead, he walks you through the process of healing, step-by-step.  There are things that we who are hurt need to realize and accept, and one of those things is our part in our own hurt.  Mansfield starts the book off by sharing about a boy whom he named Timmy (ostensibly to protect him) and Timmy's fondness for candy bars.  He uses this anecdote as a springboard to launch into one very crucial aspect of our church hurt that we MUST come to grips with and eradicate: holding on to the hurt itself.
We often feel justified in our pain by reliving the hurtful incident over and over again, deepening the wound and never allowing it to truly heal.  We must first let go of the pain that we hold on to.  That is step one.

Mansfield writes Healing Your Church Hurt from the perspective of experience.  His "been there, done that" style reinforces the truth that we are not alone in our pain and, reveals the reality that, if he can overcome it, so can we.  His refreshing and engaging style mesh perfectly with the content of this book and it adds up to a book that I highly recommend to any and everyone that is dealing with scarring from fellow believers.  There were many times that I saw myself in what he was describing and it caused me to rethink my 'right' to be hurt.

If you are dealing with pain that was caused by fellow believers, if you refuse to step foot in the door of a church because you have been burned by 'those hypocrites', or if you have shut yourself out of typical church settings for fear of enduring more pain at the hands of those who should be helping to heal, you need to read this book.

I firmly believe that every Christian should read this book.

I received this book for free as a part of the Tyndale blogging for books program.  I was not required to write a positive review as a condition of receiving the book.  I honestly loved it.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

The Hunger Games

By: Suzanne Collins
Scholastic Press

In the ruins of a place once known as North America lies the nation of Panem, a shining Capitol surrounded by twelve outlying districts.  The Capitol is harsh and cruel and keeps the districts in line by forcing them all to send one boy and one girl between the ages of twelve and eighteen to participate in the annual hunger Games, a fight to the death on live TV.
Sixteen year old Katniss Everdeen regards it as a death sentence when she steps forward to take her sister's place in the Games.  But Katniss has been close to dead before -- and survival, for her, is second nature. Without really meaning to, she becomes a contender. But if she is to win, she will have to start making choices that weigh survival against humanity and life against love.

The Hunger Games.  The first of a series of novels penned by Suzanne Collins.  By now, if you don't know about The Hunger Games, you have been stuck under a rock -- or you are just really out of touch with the culture of today.  My wife came home from work with a smile and told me that a co-worker had just read The Hunger Games as a part of a program called Read To Succeed.  The premise is that the book is passed to you to read, free of charge. The only catch is that after you have read the book, you pass it on to someone else who can continue the chain.  My wife read the book, and then she passed it on to me.  I have been wanting to read the series because it sounded like a decent premise and the story has taken the Nation by storm.
This review may irritate some people.
I just thought I would give fair warning.

The story follows Katniss Everdeen as she goes from being a single girl, on the outskirts of an impoverished district in the Nation of Panem, who is trying desperately to keep her family fed after her father died in a mining accident, to a player in a game.  A very brutal game where there can only be one winner, and everyone else ends up dead.  The Hunger Games are little more than a thinly veiled reminder that the Capitol controls everyone, and they can do anything they desire -  including watch you die, solely for their entertainment.  The Gladiatorial-esque Hunger Games pit one boy and one girl from each of the twelve districts against each other in the hopes of having a good show of death, destruction, and carnage.  Katniss uses skills that she has picked up, while hunting for food, as a defense and then eventually to attack those who would kill her.  She must survive.  After all, she promised her little sister that she would return.

As far as the plot itself goes, it's original, and the setting is believable enough, that I find the buy-in to be relatively easy.  There were times I found myself eagerly turning the pages to see what would happen to Katniss and the boy tribute, Peeta, from District 12 as they faced challenge after challenge. Collins was able to weave the plot through enough twists and turns that it was almost unpredictable. . . Almost.  Unfortunately, it seemed that there were a few times that she found herself written into a corner, so she pulled out a deus ex machina to get the story moving again.  Though the story was compelling, it felt like it was written for a specific age group, and that group was not mine.  Some of the character emotions and actions felt contrived to me, and that took away from the story.  There were a couple of times I actually rolled my eyes - not at the characters actions, but at the way they were written.

The character development was quite well done.  She gives you a full background on the major character, and just enough of a background on the minor characters - just enough to make you like them, then, well, the Games must go on, right?
That brings me to the inevitable deaths that occur within the Games themselves.  This is, after all, the entire point of the Hunger Games (within the story, not the novel itself).  They were not too graphic, but they were enough to get the vivid image of a death taking place.  My only complaint is that the final kill was anti-climactic.  There was plenty of build-up, but the payoff just wasn't there.  It was like blowing a huge bubble and it deflating instead of giving a satisfying "pop!"

I don't believe that The Hunger Games lives up to the hype surrounding it. It is a quality story, and it can teach a few lessons (not the least of which is that you never really know what you are capable of until you are put to the test), but it just doesn't live up to the billing.  I haven't read Catching Fire or MockingJay yet, so I obviously don't know how The Hunger Games will fit into the trilogy itself -- however, I am intrigued enough to seek out the other two books and see if Collins can bring the story to the levels that Hollywood will push it to.

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Muffin Man

By: Brad Whittington

   John Lawson, sheriff of the quiet Hill Country town of Bolero, Texas, attempts to quell a feud between the local megachurch and a construction contractor, but it escalates from picketing to vandalism to arson.
The case is derailed by the unwelcome return of John's free-wheeling bipolar father, who arrives in the same red Mustang he drove away twenty-four years ago when he abandoned the family.
But ultimately it is the muffin that his overzealous deputy bags as evidence that threatens John's ordered life, possibly beyond repair.

This is an AMAZING book! Perhaps it is just that I am coming off of two horrible books into this one, but I doubt it. Whittington has written a fine example of what books are supposed to be: witty, engaging, and a story that compels you to turn the page. Granted, Whittington is no DekKer, but this book makes me want to search out more of his work.

The story: Sheriff John Lawson finds himself in the midst of several crises - arson, familial issues, relationship issues, and a muffin that won't shut up. He must solve the crime while not damaging his chances of re-election, fix the relationship issues while dealing with a sudden resurgence of familial problems, and all the while, a muffin is giving him advice.
Yes, I said that correctly - a muffin. . . Giving advice. . . To a Sheriff. . .

Trust me when I say that this is a GREAT plot!

Muffin Man is incredibly well written. Whittington has obviously been at this for a while and his mastery of the written word is evident, as is his subtle wit. There were many times I laughed out loud during this read, so be warned: your friends and family might think you strange. You may want to read this one alone.
The characters are well thought out and developed. The plot is solid, and the resolve is believable. Again, this is a textbook example of what a quality novel should be.

I have to admit, throughout most of my reading of Muffin Man I was reminded of an old friend of mine. He used to tell a really lame (yet hilarious) joke about a muffin. Please allow me to re-tell it here:
So, two muffins are in an oven. One turns to the other and says "AAHH!! WE'RE IN AN OVEN!" The other muffin turn and says " AAHH!! A TALKING MUFFIN!" - the end. His nickname on a particular message board was 'iamanevilmuffin'. Yes, this book took me down memory lane. I don't expect it to do that for you, but now you have a joke to wow your friends with.

Back to Muffin Man.

If you are a fan of quality fiction, get Muffin Man. I managed to score it for free via Amazon Kindle, but it is WELL worth the price ($13 paperback, $5something Kindle)!