Posts Tagged ‘religious’

Book Review: The Red Church by Scott Nicholson (Series, #1)

March 22, 2014 2 comments

A glowing red church next to a silhouette of a tree with a blueish lit sky.Summary:
The Red Church was the base of a new cult started by Wendell McFall in the 1860s.  But when he took things too far and sacrificed a child, his congregation hung him from a tree.  Nowadays, the children of the town view the Red Church as haunted…and so do some of the adults.  When Wendell’s descendant, Archer, returns to his hometown from California, he brings the cult back with him in a new form. Archer claims he is the second son of God, and that Jesus was the first son who failed to deliver God’s true message.  When he reclaims the Red Church and murders start occurring, half the town suspects Archer, while the other half falls under his spell.

This book was loaned to me by someone who really enjoyed the series.  For most of the book, I felt that it was well-written horror but of a religious bent that isn’t for me.  However, the ending doesn’t quite live up to the rest of the book.

At the beginning, the book feels like a horror story written by a Baptist person truly committed to their faith.  The main antithesis to Archer’s cult is the Baptist church in town.  At the core of the conflict are a married couple.  The wife falls firmly under Archer’s spell while the husband stays true to the Baptist church.  Their two small boys are caught in the middle.  The most interesting parts of the story are when the third person narrator focuses in on these two boys, showing their crises of faith and the siren call of the cult, as well as the confusion engendered when their mother and father fight over religion.  I could definitely see this reading as a richly crafted, frightening horror for someone who is Baptist, or at least Protestant, themselves.  For the non-Christian or non-religious reader, however, the frequent mentions of Jesus, capitalizing pronouns referring to God, and attempts at creating horror at the mere idea of not following Jesus fail to aid in establishing the horror.  They become something to skim past rather than part of the atmosphere of the book.

For most of the book, the basic plot of Archer versus the family and the sheriff and the crime scene detective flows nicely with just the right touch of horror.  Toward the end of the book, just who Archer is and what precisely is going on becomes muddled.  A lot of what happens with Archer and his church just doesn’t make a lick of sense.  In spite of the religious leanings of the book, I was still engaged and wanting to solve the mystery of Archer.  Instead, who he is and what the rules of the world are become increasingly muddled.  The ending generally should clear things up, not leave things more confusing than they were before.  That kind of confusing ending would be disappointing to anyone who read the book.

I also was disappointed by one particular aspect of the ending.  A person who was abusive gets forgiven because forgiveness is what the Baptist church teaches.  It bothers me when books brush off abuse as something just getting Jesus in your heart can fix.  It’s misleading and dangerous to encourage people to think that way.  Granted, this is a horror book, so it’s doubtful many children will be reading it, but that still doesn’t make it a good message.

The characters are interesting and widely varied.  The children, particularly, are well-written.  The scenes are well-envisioned and communicated.  I never had any issues imagining any of the scenes vividly.

Overall, this is a well-written horror book that flounders a bit at the end.  It is richly steeped in the Baptist faith.  As such, I recommend it most highly to Protestant horror fans who don’t mind a bit of a confusing ending that doesn’t answer all the questions.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Book Review: Oddkins: A Fable for All Ages by Dean Koontz

An assortment of stuffed animals standing on a road between two tall buildings.Summary:
Isaac Bodkins is a magical toymaker.  He makes toys that actually come alive and seek out children who need them the most, such as children who have lost a parent or who are facing abuse.  When he dies before he has a chance to tell his chosen heir about her purpose, evil has a chance to take over again.  His toys, the Oddkins, must set out to tell her before evil manages to land its own new evil toymaker that would create living toys to torture children.  Evil sends out his evil toys in an attempt to stop the Oddkins on their dangerous cross-town mission.

The person who loaned me this book told me it was marketed as a fable for all ages but really might be a bit too scary for the youngest among us.  Person also knew that I love me some fables, not to mention talking animals or toys, so I was excited to get into this book.  Alas, it wasn’t ultimately my style, but it is a well-written book I could see working for a lot of people.

The plot is a quest where each member of the questing group gets at least one chance to shine.  Although I was fairly certain that good would ultimately triumph over evil, I still was left worried for the main characters periodically, and I also was unable to predict the details of the triumph.  Since the toymaker lived in the countryside outside of the city, the quest consists of time in both the country and the city.  This kept situations varied and engaging.

Since this is a fable and most of the characters are in fact magical toys, they are not what one would describe as three-dimensional.  However, their two dimensions work for the story.  For instance, the teddy bear leader of the good toys is brave and strong and true but he also has to work at being brave.  He is not just naturally brave.  Similarly, although the two potential inheritors of toymaking are good and evil, they both get background information given to them.  The evil one was in prison and only takes pleasure from causing others pain.  The good one ran a toy store and was recently widowed and looking for something more in her life.

So why didn’t I love it?  Well, some things said were just too clearly religious for me.  There’s a lot of talk of afterlife, and the evil toys are driven by who is clearly Satan.  There are also times where the good toys stop and make statements to each other that are clearly the author preaching to the reader through them.  For instance

God’s world is full of magic, isn’t it? Not just the secret kind of magic of which we’re a part, but the simple magic of everyday life-magic. (location 1358)

Given that this happens rather frequently and given that the evil is clearly represented to be Satan, I just found the whole book to be a bit too heavy-handed in the religion department for me.  A reader who does follow Christianity might not be bothered, but even then, the preachiness within a book isn’t for everyone.

Overall this is a well-written fable that is engaging and unique.  It is a bit heavy-handed in its presentation of various religious beliefs for this reader, but other readers who enjoy that in their literature will probably enjoy this book.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Borrowed

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Book Review: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller

Yellow and black art on a book cover.Summary:
In this memoir Donald Miller recalls how turning his previous memoir into a movie impacted his life.  When working on the script, Donald learned what makes a good story and started applying it to his current life.  He went from sitting on the couch all day watching tv to biking across the country to raise money for clean water in Africa.

This book could have been brilliant.  It contains various clear information on what makes a good story that is quite useful to writers.  It also is inspirational in asking us to stop watching characters live stories and live our own.  Unfortuantely, Miller persists in plopping in his spiritual ideas, which tend toward the mainstream Christian variety.  I don’t mind skimming over a few praise God’s.  I do, however, get profoundly irritated when a writer goes from saying something meaningful like life is about what we learn and not about achieving something in particular to saying that the people with the worst lives have it the best because they’ll appreciate heaven more. Um, excuse me, what the hell?!  It’s such an odd mental position to take.  Can you imagine saying that to someone with AIDs or a starving child or someone who’s being abused?  Then, to take the mental oddness further, he goes on to seek to help people better their lives.  That’s great that he does that, but it seems that based on his theory that a rough life leads to a better after-life that he’s just stealing a good after-life from these people.  My brain hurts just thinking about that mind-fuck.

I guess what made the book such a frustrating read for me is that I can see Miller being so close to a humanist view but then ruining his current life by pining for the after-life.  He talks a lot about what makes a good story but I bet even he could see that a movie wouldn’t be any fun if a character spends the whole film pining for something that he isn’t sure is actually going to happen to the extent that he misses things happening right now.

That said, the book is well-written and does contain some memorable scenes and people.  Actually, I wish the book had been about some of the people featured in it in lieu of Miller, such as the family that went around interviewing world leaders with their children or the man who went from a childhood in the ghetto to running a law firm to running a mentoring program.  At least we get to hear a bit about them though.

On the other hand, Miller’s view of the world tends to rip you from the story and make you want to smack him upside the head.  Like when he tells the story of how a man stole his ex-girlfriend’s cat and then told her on the phone he was going to hurt it if she didn’t come back to him then proceeded to squeeze the cat until it cried.  Miller called this “depravingly charming” (219).  Um, no, it’s awful!  And Miller finds this story inspiring because the man “found Jesus” and “changed.”

It basically reads almost as if two different people wrote the memoir.  One who recognizes we have one life to live and it’s better to live it doing things than sitting on the couch.  The other spends his time with his head in the clouds hoping for the after-life and believing in the power of a dead man.  If you can handle the cognitive dissonance in those two stances, you’ll enjoy the book as it is written well.  If you find it as troubling as I do, though, you should skip it.

2.5. out of 5 stars

Source: Won from Minski of okay, peanut

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