Mandrake's Cabinet of Readables & Curiosities

Mandrake's Cabinet of Readables & Curiosities

Welcome my Cabinet of Readables and Curiosities. Here you will find an ever-growing collection of tomes, nonfictionals, reviews and other such fascinations. Please enjoy your visit, but enter with caution. You will likely be awe-inspired by the experience and wander with delight through the corridors indefinitely. - SBD 

2 Stars
Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916
Close to Shore: The Terrifying Shark Attacks of 1916 - Michael Capuzzo
The detailed retelling of the shark attacks (and additional shark information) makes for compelling reading, but the other half of this book is a dull history lesson of the life and times of New Jersey in the early 1900s.
1 Stars
The Ruins
The Ruins - Scott B. Smith
Reading The Ruins by Scott Smith was definitely addictive, and I finished it in 2 sittings. Nevertheless it was very dissappointing for the following reasons...
1. The constant profanity.
2. The entire plot can be explained in one sentence.
3. The lack of any redemption and hope.
4. There were no ruins.
Meh. It could have been so much better, but alas was not. I'll be sticking with Ted Dekker as my favorite thriller author ;-)

4 Stars
The Knight
The Knight - Steven James
I began reading The Knight almost immediately after finishing The Rook. In this third installment of 'Patrick Bowers thrillers', Steven James has done it again, and even better than his previous tale.

As I mentioned in the Rook's review. Patrick Bowers stories read like a 24/CSI episode, the protagonist being a modern day Sherlock Holmes. As far as intelligent-fast-paced-crime-scene-murder-mystery-thrillers go, you can't get much better than this.

Steven James is edgier than most Christian authors I've read... no profanity, no steamy scenes and no wishy/washy morals, but definitely a big dollop of violence, and gruesome murder descriptions, which is not everyone's cup of tea, and quite frankly - after reading two of these books back to back... I'm over this genre, for quite some time (perhaps until mid 2010 when The Bishop is released), and I feel as though I've become too familiar with Steven James mystery formula. Time to read something completely different... like Bambi.

In conclusion, out of the three Patrick Bowers thrillers so far, I still rate The Pawn as the most superior story, then the Knight.
4 Stars
The Rook
The Rook - Steven James
Firstly, I must say that because of this series, Steven James has just become one of my favourite authors. There is currently no better crime fiction/mystery author in my opinion.

The Rook is the second installment in a series of crime fiction/thriller/mysteries where FBI Criminologist, Patric Bowers, tracks down serial murderers (or should I say they track him down?) It follows The Pawn, and precedes The Knight and the upcoming The Bishop.

This book is slowish (but not tedious) for the first half... but for good reason. The plot is complex (and the twists thick and fast towards the climax), and a good portion of the story needed to be used for laying the foundation. I totally forgive James for this, and actually appreciate the anticipation it conjured.

Whereas portions of Book 1: The Pawn were very disturbing (read review here), it seems as though the violence, and grizzly descriptions are intentionally toned down in this sequel. Non-squeamish readers beware though... I'm currently reading book 3: The Knight and I have to say that The Rook only serves to lull it's readers into false sense of security ;-)

Anyway, back to The Rook. James' timing at unfolding the story is masterly. I will not divulge any more of the plot than the above synopsis does (which is practically nothing), but if you do read this book, read carefully, because, being a mystery and all, the author gives just enough clues to point the intrepid reader in the right direction, but keeps the shocking finale totally illusive till the very end. One thing I will say... everything is not as it seems, and think outside the square.

Although the series is loosely linked to each other, reading it in order is not necessary, (but recommended).

One last comment... Readers, please don't jump into this series expecting the spiritual depth of The Shack. It's simply not that kind of book. I liken it to CSI meets Sherlock Holmes meets 24, written by a very talented author who is a Christian.
5 Stars
The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity
The Shack: Where Tragedy Confronts Eternity - Wm. Paul Young, Brad Cummings, Wayne Jacobsen
I first heard of The Shack by William P. Young in early 2008, and although some people were hailing it as an 'it-changed-my-life' masterpiece, I was aware that some very influential preachers were condemning it as pure heresy. Now, having read the book I will simply say that it is without a doubt the most impacting work of fiction I have ever read.

Let me deal briefly with the bullhorn guys...

Their main arguments are: God, the Father is portrayed as an African-American woman, and the Trinity's relationship with Itself(?) is unscriptural. I say 'Meh' to both of them, and let me tell you why. William P. Young never intended The Shack to be critiqued by theologians. He simply wrote it for his adult kids to show them God's character. So what if I didn't agree totally with parts of Young's theology? To judge this book based on points of doctrine is to miss the point of story completely!

One last rant if I may... How come so many Christians are quick to use secular movies/books to share the gospel (The Matrix comes to mind), but because a 'Christian' book is controversial, they condemn it as heresy?

But I digress.

The Shack is a fictional story which taught me (more than any teaching book BTW), about the love of God, why He allows suffering, and how especially fond of me He is (and if it sounds arrogant, you need to read the book ;-).

This is one of those rare books which, from beginning to end, is totally unpredictable... and emotionally exhausting. A warning to fathers of daughters: This book will mess you up big time, and the first-third is incredibly hard to read. But be encouraged, I do really believe that fathers of daughters will be the most impacted by this book.

In conclusion, and if you possibly can... I wholeheartedly recommend that you take a couple of days off work, hike up to a shack somewhere, read this book and thank God for His goodness. Then come home, give your kids (and wife) a huge hug and kiss, and thank God for all His goodness.
3 Stars
Nightbringer - James Byron Huggins
I was ecstatic the day Nightbringer arrived at my doorstep. All the way from the US of A. My James Byron Huggins library is now complete.

Nightbringer is classic Huggins but somewhat stripped down to just 300 pages. I really, really wanted to love this book, but alas, it fell short of Huggins greatness.

I've read raving reviews of Nightbringer, many declaring Nightbringer Huggins' best work. To that statement I say a resounding "meh". In a nutshell...

The Negatives:
- Nightbringer is a short read at just 300 pages.
- The action doesn't really kick in until half way through the book.
- Character development could have been better.
- This is Huggins' most far-fetched book to date.
- The climax is anti-climactic.

The positives:
- Nightbringer is a short read at just 300 pages.
- The last half (although slow in coming) is almost continuous action.
- This is by far Huggin's most 'Christian' story, if I can put it that way.
- The crucifixion scene is described brilliantly, and originally.
- The book brings a new spin on the 'Nephilim' theory.

In conclusion, if you are a die-hard Huggins fan, you'll get your familiar kicks out of Nightbringer, but don't expect another Reckoning or Cain. If you are unfamiliar with Huggins I suggest you don't start with this one. Although still work the read, Nightbringer failed to give me my Huggins injection of action-packed-literary awesomeness.
5 Stars
The Hobbit
The Hobbit - J.R.R. Tolkien
I almost don't feel worthy enough to review a book which won the 'Millennium Children's Book Award' but here goes nothing...

I first read the Hobbit when I was 13. At the time, being far from the bookworm I am now... I struggled through it, and really didn't see what all the hoo-har about Tolkien was. Not surprisingly, I never got to the Rings Trilogy.

So, 22 years later I have revisited The Hobbit and what an adventure I had.

The Hobbit (written in 1937 by J. R. R. Tolkien) is the story of a Hobbit (surprise, surprise) called Bilbo Baggins, who is enjoying an uneventful life until it is interrupted by a visit from the wizard Gandalf. Gandalf invites himself to tea and arrives with a company of dwarves. They embark on a journey to recover the lost treasure of Lonely Mountain, guarded by the dragon Smaug. Their adventures include trolls, elves, goblin hordes, monstrous wolves, giant eagles, changelings, giant spiders, massive battles and so on. As you can see by my very brief synopsis (I don't want to spoil the story), it is the classic fantasy tale.

To say that The Hobbit is anything less than a masterpiece of children's literature would be to lie, so I'm not going to use this space convincing you to read it. Just do (before the movie comes out in 2011). Instead I wish to ask the question... are good wizards, using good magic appropriate in Christian fiction?

J.R.R. Tolkien was a devout catholic who also had a huge interest in pagan mythology, and Middle earth is a marriage of the two... a world full of mythological creatures and magic with vague Christian undertones.

Personally, I struggle with Tolkien's mixture... always have and probably always will. Although the Narnia Chronicles are similarly fantastical, the Christian message stands out clearly for all to see, unlike Middle earth where unless one is looking (very studiously I might add) the Christian themes are as hard to find as a Gollem in the Misty Mountains. But I digress.

My experience of the classic children's book, read as a kidult that sees more in black and white than in grey-scale when it comes to sorcery, The Hobbit is a very near masterpiece... 9 out of 10 it is.
4 Stars
Kronos - Jeremy Robinson
Contrary to ancient wisdom, I do tend to judge a book by its cover at first. Just look at the cover of Kronos... Awesome.

I can't even remember how I stumbled upon Jeremy Robinson's website, but I did, and was intrigued to read the following in his FAQs:

I'm a Christian... but I do not write exclusively Christian books. In fact, I don't refer to myself as a "Christian author" or "an author who writes Christian fiction". I prefer to use the term Biblical speculation to describe what I write... but all of them are mainstream novels (not intended for a Christian audience). So, while some of my novels might have touches of positive Biblical Speculation they are not intended to be prosetylization.

What defines 'Christian Fiction' and the surrounding issue of what's acceptable for Christians to read, watch (and write) - is always going to be a grey area, and I do not intend to wade into its murky waters here... so I won't. Instead, I will say that Kronos was a very enjoyable read indeed and I will be reading more of Robinson's books in the future.

Kronos has the feel of a popcorn action flick. It has a very original plot, doesn't take itself too seriously, is a ton of fun to read, and has an extremely solid Christian theme weaved throughout.

I must caution readers though, that the language and some brief scenes are more raw than the typical Christian novel (although nowhere near that of the average secular story).

One more thing... The book's cover (although awesome) is somewhat deceiving. Kronos is no Jaws story. Don't expect to read about a sea monster eating a heap of people in various descriptive ways. It's definately more an action story than a creature feature.

If you enjoy an easy-to-read, action-packed adventure story, which is firmly rooted in a Christian worldview, definitely give Kronos a read!

Any story which stars a 28-foot Great White (called Laurel) as a super-yacht's guard-dog is a thumbs-up in my book ;-)
4 Stars
BoneMan's Daughters
BoneMan's Daughters - Ted Dekker
This would have to be the most anticipated book I have read. Thanks to fellow flannel friend Jon Dylan (who bought it while on hol in the US) I was able to read it before it's release here in NZ.

Did the book live up to the anticipation? Close but... no. I'll begin with the negatives.

The book starts off well enough with a heart-pounding scene reminiscent of the feelings conjured by Dekker's opening in Saint. Disappointingly the excitement stops abruptly and unfortunately remains in 'PARK' for approximately half the book. Not the Dekker writing I know and love.

Very fortunately, the last half of the book is worth the slow meander through the first-half but once again the story comes to an abrupt end. I was left with an "is that it?" feeling.

Dekker has begun to use some language which I question. I usually enjoy his pushing-the-envelope-of-Christian-fiction stance but I don't think God's name is a grey area.

Now to the story and redeeming qualities...

Dekker is a genius. I really don't know how he manages to conjure up such amazing stories with such amazing spiritual parallels at least twice a year. The only air-tight explanation in three words: gift from God. The story behind this story (the Father's love) and how the two entwine is really quite incredible.

BoneMan's Daughters makes you really (and I mean really) appreciate your children. The video clip below makes you understand why the protagonist's anguish seems so real.

The story's twists are very unpredictable (in the second half anyway), and at times I wondered just how far Dekker was going to take certain situations. I have never, and will never see any of the infamous 'Saw' movies, but scenes in this book reminded me of the trailers. Hmmmmmm.

Not one of my favourite Dekker novels but original, fresh, and well worth the read, although not recommended for anyone under 16, anyone who is sensitive or squeamish, or anyone who isn't too fond of Dekker's writing.
5 Stars
The Pawn
The Pawn - Steven James
The Pawn by Steven James has finally ended my 'When am I going to read a book that I can't put down?' drought. This review in 3 words: Exciting, compelling and disturbing (possibly the most disturbing book I have ever read). Okay... that's 13 words.

(From the back jacket:) Special Agent Patrick Bowers never met a killer he couldn't catch. Until now. Called to North Carolina to consult on the case of an area serial killer, Bowers finds himself caught in a deadly game of cat and mouse. Cunning and lethal, the killer is always one step ahead of the law, and he's about to strike again. It will take all of Bowers's instincts and training to stop the man who calls himself the Illusionist.

If I could judge Steven James' authorship based on this book alone, he would easily make it into my top five favourite author's list. His writing is fast-paced, his plot-crafting is very intelligent and unpredictable, and his ability to create a vivid scene in the reader's mind is masterly. So much so, that before you rush out to find a copy of The Pawn to read, I must give a warning...

This book is definitely not for the squeamish. In some places it is extremely disturbing. The Pawn's plot revolves around a sadistic serial murderer, and quite frankly too much detail is given at times. I was going to say that nothing is left to the imagination... but in this case, my imagination was given plenty, resulting in some not-so-pleasant dreams about serial murders (not surprisingly). Needless to say, this book will play with your mind long after you've turned out the light.

The Pawn leaves me in a conundrum. I agree with Dekker's reasoning: that to really understand how great the light is, one must understand how great the evil is, but... When it comes to depictions of violence in Christian fiction, where is the line drawn? Especially with novels, that aren't overtly Christian such as this one?

Definitely something to think about while I track down book 2 in this series, entitled The Rook ;-)
4 Stars
Blink - Ted Dekker
Blink by Ted Dekker, is no ordinary good-guy-gets-chased-by-bad-guy suspense novel. Blink is a good-guy-sees-multiple-potential-futures-and-protects-the-Muslim-princess-while-being-chased-by-bad-guy suspense novel, and a very good one at that.

Here are some reasons why I recommend Blink...

- Blink educates the reader about the fundamental beliefs of Islam.
- Blink educates the reader about the fundamental beliefs of Christianity.
- Blink illustrates the power of prayer in a very unique way.
- Blink's plot is very original.
- Blink is written by Ted Dekker and is therefore at least above average.
- Blink as a suspense/thriller/romance story (I think that's a good thing?)

Although I really enjoyed Blink, it does not come close to my favourite Dekker novels. Perhaps Dekker thought so also, as interestingly enough, Blink Of An Eye was released in 2007. Apparently it is a re-written, updated, and expanded version of the original story of Blink. I'm interested to see if it improves on the original... Anyone read both versions?
1 Stars
The Dead Whisper on
The Dead Whisper on - T.L. Hines
Departed spirits, people bursting into flames, netherworldly spiders. Sounds like the type of story I would love... alas, I was disappointed.

When Candace MacHugh hears her dead father's voice whispering to her from the shadows, she joins a giant organization that shares the secrets of the dead with our world. But soon she's sucked into a shadowy conspiracy tying together murders, tragedies, living shadows...and spontaneous human combustion. Is her father really dead? Is she really communicating with departed spirits? And why? If she can't find the answers in time, thousands of people may go up in flames--with her life the first at stake.

I hate giving negative reviews, and judging by Amazon (and Hine's website) there are many readers who really enjoyed this book, so maybe I'm just abnormal. Please bear that in mind as you read on.

The story started well enough - check. Yes, it was a supernatural thriller - check. Yes, it did have many plot twists that kept it somewhat compelling - check. Yes, it had some great moments - check.

So why the bad review? Four reasons mainly.

1. The first half of the book was good, but when 'all was revealed' the story became too incredulous really fast.

2. I struggled to relate to, or have any empathy toward the main characters.

3. Hines tells a supernatural tale about good and evil, God and Satan, and seemed to skirt around the real issues. Instead of the 'good guys' crying out to God for help and surrendering to Him, the book explains how we can overcome the 'shadow' in us by not dwelling on fear and thinking of others. I just didn't get it.

4. The many unexplainable loose-ends were very nicely explained with the following words...

"We saved Butte?"
"You played your part. Much was done beyond you or even I. But you played your part and it was honoured."

Perhaps if you enjoy the books I don't (like Rachel Kate), you will love this book... I really hope so.

Fellow Flannelgraph reviewers... please can one of you read this and give another opinion? I feel like the bad guy right now.)
5 Stars
A Tale of three Kings: A Study in Brokenness
A Tale of three Kings: A Study in Brokenness - Gene Edwards
God has a university. It’s a small school. Few enrol; even fewer graduate. Very, very few indeed. God has this school because he does not have broken men and women. Instead, he has several other types of people. He has people who claim to have God’s authority... and don’t – people who claim to be broken... and aren’t. And people who do have God’s authority, but who are (mad and) unbroken.

In God’s sacred school of submission and brokenness, why are there so few students? Because all students in this school must suffer much pain. (Excerpt from book)

A Tale Of Three Kings by Gene Edwards is considered a modern classic of Christian literature. It was published in 1980 yet still often appears on the list of the top 100 sellers of Christian books. It has become assigned reading in Bible schools and seminaries worldwide, and has been translated into thirty languages. Funny thing is that I never knew this book existed until a wise mentor friend of mine encouraged me to read it recently. I'm so glad he did.

A Tale Of Three Kings does not fall easily into any genre. It is a study in brokenness, but is written as a first person narrative delving into King David's struggle with Saul and Absalom (and the reader's comparison to each of the three kings). It contains many fictional conversations by David so I guess the closest genres would be historical fiction/classic.

Perhaps it was just a very timely read, or where I currently am in my Spiritual walk, but I can say that this book ministered to me on a level no other fictional book has thus far. I cannot recommend this book more highly to any person in ministry leadership, especially those who have at times struggled with the authority God has placed them under. To the casual Christian however, this book may not have the same impact, nor the relevance, nor the revelation... then again, it just might.
3 Stars
Bringer of Storms
Bringer of Storms - L.B. Graham
Bringer Of Storms is book two in a massive 5 book epic entitled The Binding Of The Blade by L. B. Graham. If you enjoy huge fantasy epics with definite Christian values, monsters, battles, tragedy and some romance, look no further than this series.

"A staggering accomplishment. The vibrancy and scope of L.B. Graham’s world-building deserves highest praise. Add in well-rounded and memorable characters, thematic richness, and high adventure, and you have an unbeatable formula for success. Ranks right up there with Tolkien and Lawhead as among the best Christian novels of the fantastic ever written.” (Jan P. Dennis, discoverer of Frank Peretti, Stephen R. Lawhead, and Ted Dekker)

Bringer Of Storms continues seventeen years after the conclusion of the first book. It is basically the story of the lead-up to 'the mother of all battles' when the puny army of righteous men stand their ground against an overwhelming ocean of all manner of evil.

I don't quite know how to review this book. It's like separating out the second quarter of a story from the whole and reviewing it on it's own... It can't really be done. I did enjoyed the first installment more as Bringer of Storms was lacking in the action department, but in the grand epical scope of the story, it is absolutely necessary as it develops the characters more, explores in detail the mind of a betrayer, revenge, honor, and hope against all odds.

In conclusion, if I was to judge this book own it's own, I would give it a 3, but understanding that it is a necessary portion in the overall story. It earns a 3.5. (The average review rating for this book on Amazon is a whopping 5!) A word of warning... This series must be read in order!
4 Stars
Patrick: Son of Ireland - Stephen R. Lawhead
I absolutely loved Patrick. Lawhead's 'first person' narrative takes a bit of getting used to, but his style developes the characters like no other author I know. Be warned, there is some brief 'adult content' in the story which I believe was un-necessary, especially from a Christian author.
4 Stars
Sinner - Ted Dekker
For those of you who didn't know, 'Sinner' is the third book in the 'Paradise' trilogy written by Ted Dekker. The trilogy involves the 'Books of History' which the Circle trilogy was all about ('Green' is coming out this year... will that mean it will be the Circle quadrilogy?). I love the way Dekker's books all seem to be linked to each other... even 'House' is linked to Paradise. But I digress.

Sinner is written as two books (Book 1 and Book 2 interestingly enough) and tells the story of three aldult orphans, each gifted with superpowers, living in the near future where religious tolerance rules. I won't say anymore about the plot, except to say that it is by far Dekker's most 'Christian' book to date, and that Jon Dylan was absolutely right when he commented: "The way Dekker tells the story seems to blow conventional plot unraveling clear out of the water."

Dekker himself says that the reader can read the Circle and Paradise books in any order, but I strongly suggest that you read Showdown, Saint, and Sinner in that order and relatively close to each other. I read Showdown 3 years ago, and while reading Sinner, I wish I had the Showdown story fresh in my memory.

The book has got me thinking about hate-speech and tolerance more than ever before. Dekker makes some very intelligent and frightening statements in this book about what the very near furute could hold, and quite frankly, it scares me.

Is the story great? I think so. Showdown is a masterpiece, the first half of Saint is brilliant, Sinner is great. Read them in order, and please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

One last comment, Marsuvees Black returns in Sinner... "Wanna trip, baby?"