Friday, May 25, 2018

Tolkien and the West: Recovering the Lost Tradition of Europe (The Modern Scholar) by Michael D.C. Drout

5 out of 5 stars  *****

This Audiobook is a pleasure because of its subject and enthusiasm of the author in his presentation. Drout's understanding of Tolkien from his personal perspective captivates an audience in this scholastic effort to explain the genius behind Western literature's most widely read author. This student's appreciation of the Hobbit, Lord of the Rings, and the Silmarillion is greater and fresher in my mind now that I finish this class by a real Tolkien fan, Michael D.C. Drout.

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Three Minutes to Doomsday: An Agent, a Traitor, and the Worst Espionage Breach in U.S. History by Joe Navarro

5 out of 5 stars  *****

This is a well written, true story about espionage and investigation by those who are elite in their field and how bureaucracy between agencies can bog down efficient efforts to resolve cases. The job takes its toll on families and personnel as intrigue and intellect carry this interesting plot without hot pursuits and buckets of blood. 

Joe Navarro is the protagonist and author. Opportunists, Clyde Conrad and Rod Ramsey, are genius antagonists. George Newbern narrates through the protagonist, who has an uncanny ability to read body language and retain details without taking notes. Minor characters are fleshed out enough to support major characters and contribute their personal qualities necessary for continuity and flow in this drama of perilous possibilities that can topple power in a precarious world. Thank God for the talent and integrity of the duty-bound men like Joe Navarro.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism by Timothy J. Keller

5 out of 5 *****

My faith is deeper and apologetics stronger after listening to The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism. Timothy Keller narrates his book that talks to our innate soul. He produces evidence and corroboration of what the Bible says today as legitimate to what is presupposed to be the Word of God. More than this, Keller appeals to that center in all of us that we call a conscience. It is in this realm that we sense wrong from right and question ethics and morality. The greater theme is our search for that which is greater than ourselves. 

Society is trending toward separation of God from the secular. Logic and reasoning dictates that if we accept a triune God then such a separation is impossible since the Creator is intimate with His creation. Non-believers and skeptics rely on their own assumptions that fall short of explaining the uniformity of the universe. For us believers practice of our faith becomes harder but not impossible in today's environment. 

Some say that God would never punish His creatures He loves. They have many questions about the nature of God and arrive at a conclusion that permits them to have it their way without fear of any consequences for their actions. This way of thinking comes from those who won't accept the Bible as His Word. Many assume their answers to their questions without even reading the Bible which is authoritative and distinct when it answers such concerns. 

A profound idea comes out of this book about judgment. On the Day of Judgment we may say to God, "Thy will be done," but Jesus will turn our very words on us, "Thy will be done." If I live my life for myself and exercise my will for my personal benefit, then my life does not depict what my words intend. God is not condemning anyone to Hell; rather, we condemn ourselves to Hell by the choices we make while here, on Earth.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Writing Creative Nonfiction by Tilar J J. Mazzeo

4 out of 5 stars  ****

Tilar J J. Mazzeo proclaims something I know, writing is hard. She repeats how difficult it is and then proceeds to instruct me and attendees of her lectures on the concepts of good writing. Some of these concepts are difficult to grasp and consistently apply.

Writing becomes the active process that gnaws at my inclination to passively watch TV or surf the internet, my habits. Writing is work. Mazzeo does not even own a television, even though she likes movies and TV shows. TV interferes with her job of writing. Well, that tells me something about my approach to any writing endeavors. Writing is more of an afterthought hobby to me and not my job. If I want to be taken seriously about anything I write, I must adjust my approach to it.

I want it to be enjoyable but many worthwhile efforts produce joy after sweat and tears. I wish to write something that people regard as a delight, even if the conclusion is sad or horrible.

Tedious research is necessary to write the nonfiction that has not already been written. I write two fictions and experience the time and dedication writing requires. Fiction allows me to be master of the story. This is not easy but it is easier to have such control over all elements compared to writing nonfiction which demands truth and accuracy. If I betray the rule of truth and accuracy, my future in nonfiction, along with my integrity, is doomed.

I read and listen to many books on writing from the Great Courses' Audiobooks and other lecture series as well as "How To" books by published authors and teachers. Writing Creative Nonfiction covers advanced tools for writing a proper book, pitch, or letter for those who desire to become writers worthy of publication. Mazzeo refers to a Travel Book written so well that it becomes a movie, Under the Tuscan Sun.

This course teaches about creating lively, interesting nonfiction from character description, relevancy, consistency of pace and direction so that the work flows to a thoughtful conclusion. Examples of techniques show, not tell, how to write versions of each chapter's subject.

In the end Mazzeo explains what to do about writing, "Write." I am guilty of procrastination on writing and many other difficult tasks in my life. Writers are, too, the author shares. She makes this task less daunting by telling me to just write and the techniques I learn come sooner or later but they never transpire if I do not write.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Leap (Breakthrough, #2) by Michael C. Grumley (Goodreads Author)

5 out of 5 stars  *****

Scientists are involved with primate communication instead of dolphins in this second book of the Breakthrough series. Countries, like China and Russia, along with their scientists and military forces are active as antagonists in the story. The pivotal points of the plot are rich with thrilling adventure and death that leads to despair for the protagonists. From the middle of the narrative to the approach of the end, excitement and intrigue simmer until characters from the first book turn the tide in favor of the heroes, but not without a cost. The climax crescendos and ends with open questions and disturbing thoughts in the midst of apparent victory.

Michael C. Grumley elaborates on the romantic aspect between two of the main characters in this book. With clarity in the relationship comes concern for each other's safety. Life appears more fragile when one dances with death. Closure is only temporary in the Breakthrough world. What ends with a sigh of relief is not happily ever after; instead, gratitude for the moment suffices until the loose ends of this escapade are secure.

The science fiction contribution to Grumley's adventures are smart and thought provoking. The Leap explanation is understandably logical but the ambitious push of mankind for resources strains wisdom with an urgency that, often times, is reckless to obtain the discoveries that create power, control, and wealth. Grumley's scientific breakthroughs initiate crises which require the best of mankind to overcome the worst. 

Thursday, April 5, 2018

The Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan

5 out of 5 stars  *****

This story flows with characters having names that are actual human qualities. For example, Christian and Hope encounter many obstacles and characters on their pilgrimage to the Celestial City. Some of the people Christian encounters have names like Faithful and Pliable, who is scorned by townspeople for not being able to stay on track when necessary. Bunyan uses this opportunity to refer to scripture, Jeremiah: 29:18, 19, when he writes, "...because he hath forsaken the way." 

Like life, trials and tribulations pave the path to righteousness. Therefore, many pilgrims go astray and enter into suspect places that also bear names of qualities; city of Destruction or the Slough of Despond. Faithful encounters a hill called Difficulty where he meets an old man named Adam the First from the town of Deceit. Adam offers Faithful a place to stay where he can enjoy delicious food, live his desires, and use his slaves that he has, "of his own begetting." Then he tempts Faithful with his three daughters, the Lust of the Flesh, the Lust of the Eyes, and the Pride of Life. Bunyan refers to 1 John: 2:16, at this time. 

Faithful, later, explains to Christian that he refuses Adam's tantalizing offer due to his suspicion of becoming another one of Adam's slaves. Adam is so angry at Faithful's decision that he sends someone after him as Faithful climbs Difficulty. That someone catches Faithful and shows no mercy knocking him back down the hill and nearly killing him. The pilgrim is spared when one with holes in his hands and in his side passes by and bids the merciless one to restrain himself. 

Christian, talking to Faithful about his recount, tells him that the man who overtakes him is Moses, who does not show mercy to those who transgress the law. Obviously, the one who forbears Moses from his merciless duty is Jesus Christ, who forgives all who accept him of their transgressions with His crucifixion. The author, Paul Bunyan, does not spell out this meaning in the story; rather, the story moves along with another tale when Faithful meets Discontent in the Valley of Humility.

Their adventures require that Christian and Faithful depend on each other to keep themselves vigilant; to focus on their goal when one falters. Shepherds give them advice along the way but the pilgrims forget their wisdom and suffer admonishment to learn the lesson that puts them back on the right path. Bunyan's brilliance shines in this delightful book which creates a world of fiction about the pertinent life messages in the Bible. The imagery transcends all age groups making this one of my favorite classics.

Monday, April 2, 2018

Breakthrough (Breakthrough #1) by Michael C. Grumley (Goodreads Author), Meghan Wolf (Narrator)

5 out of 5 stars  *****

Breakthrough is just what I needed after reading and listening to non-fiction of various styles and eras. Michael C. Grumley pens a yarn of military and scientific adventure that thrills the reader with its pace and tone. The protagonists are humanly flawed and the antagonist is a hot-headed, power hungry military brass who reacts impulsively in a crisis. Outcomes are somewhat fairy-tale-ending but they do not detract from the entertainment of this novel.

Breakthrough is the first of a series. A sample of book #2 follows the last chapter of this narrative. Book #1 stands on its own as a complete story but there is plenty of room to elaborate on the protagonists with their livelihoods. The sample does its job with Leap, the next volume in the Breakthrough saga. I plan to follow up with it next.