Wednesday, January 27, 2010

More book reviews....

Here are another batch of reviews of potential church library books. Read any of these? I would love to hear your thoughts!

The Sign of the Scales by Marianne Brandis
I could find nothing wrong with this book, other than the fact that it should have never been published. I imagine Marianne Brandis a kindly Christian woman whose friends and family likely admired her stories with enthusiastic and uncritical praise; a sweet lady with her heart in the right place, but no especial talent. Her writing is sentimental, simple minded and amaturish... but the story is sweet, and if your literary standards are very low, reading this book could do you no harm. On the positive side, G. Brender a Brandis (a relative perhaps?) illustrates the book with intricate wood cuttings. The Legend of the Celtic Stone and An Ancient Strife by Michael Phillips
Michael Phillips clearly spent an enormous amount of time and attention to detail creating the back stories complete with maps, illustrations and minute historical detail. Sadly, he spends so much time on back stories that the reader easily looses track of the main story that takes place in modern times in London. The back stories cover centuries of history compared to the central story which takes place slowly over days and weeks - and this creates a kind of time-jet-lag that is quite disorienting.
I admire Phillips ambition in taking on a enormous project of this kind... this is a "epic saga" that he wants to tell, but he failed to keep my interest. It took me weeks to slog through the first book, and the second book I read only in bits and pieces. Although typically interested in Celtic tales, this one never caught on with me.
Although the religious bent is a combination of "choosing" God and some kind of mystical, unescapable "fate" but it's done subtly enough not to cause any major problems. My issue with the first book in particular is Phillips portrayal of prehistoric man... a savage creature incapable of complex reasoning, moralizing or feeling who is built like a cartoon of a cave man. The Bible clearly describes humans as being as intelligent, morally reponsible and emotionally mature right from the beginning. Where then do Phillips' "cave men" fit into Biblically revealed history? Admittedly, this is a backstory and not the main events, and these inconsistancy may not bother another reader who was able to enjoy the series more than I did.
Michael Phillips has pumped out a staggering number of historical Christian series and I have never read anything of his before? Anyone have a positive M.P. review to add to balance this out? Without a strong recommendation, I cannot imagine myself ever picking a book of his up again.

Seventh Day by Bodie and Brock Thoene
I was at a real disadvantage recieving only book #7 in a series of 8 (and counting). This book focusses on three main story lines: a widow, Eve, who is searching for a miraculous cure for her only son, Abel; a religious leader, Ra'nabel ben Dives who discovers startling information about the child who escaped Herod's killing spree; two sisters, Miryam and Marta, who await the arrival of Yeshua, the teacher, so he can heal their brother El'azer. B&B Thoene know the business of writing a story: they have plot, dialogue and characters all down pat. But I did not finish this book. I just couldn't. The Thoene's write Biblical details together with imaginary people and events so skillfully that one cannot tell where the Bible ends and where the fiction begins. Sounds like a compliment, eh?
I know this is a very personal thing - some people love these kinds of books for the very reason that they bring the Bible to life and fill in all those details that we might ever wonder about. How tall was Jesus? What did his voice sound like? What did he look like? What might he have said in a particular circumstance? Unfortunately, all these imagined details, conversation and events clutter up my mind and makes it difficult for me to remember what things are Biblical revelation and what things are figments of the Thoene's imaginations. The same way that Biblical drama and Story Bible illustrations are sometimes criticized for their reliance on extra-Biblical material, so this series depends upon details that are invented, skillfully woven into this Biblical revelation.
One of the reasons that this especially bothers me is that the Thoene's are up front about the fact that they intend to use this series to help readers to "discover the truth through fiction" and they even helpfully provide a study guide in the last 1/4 of the book. I think readers would be much better served by discovering the truth God's way: through HIS WORD and not the words of Brock and Bodie Thoene.

What do you think? Have you read any of this series? Or other books written about Biblical characters? Did you find that this type of fiction increases your understanding of Biblical history or confuses you?

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