Book #23: Seeing and Savouring Jesus Christ by John Piper

Seeing and Savoring Jesus ChristSeeing and Savoring Jesus Christ by John Piper

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This was my second read of this book; it is quite an easy one to get into because all of the thirteen devotions about Jesus are quite short, and it feels that John Piper has a good knowledge and understanding of the Bible.

Each chapter deals with a different aspect of Jesus, including His power over nature, and inevitably the reasons for the crucifixion.

Overall, very informative and a good book to start with if you are less familiar with the Christian message.

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Books 1 -10.

1. Reynolds - The Prefect (AKA Aurora Rising)
2. Reynolds - Elysium Fire
I'm reading the Revelation Space-'verse in chronological order, and it works well that way. Chasm City has been the weakest but even then pretty good. Reading this series in this order has given me 'nice to see you again' moments aplenty whenever a place or a character reappears. XD

3. Angela - A Day In The Life Of Ancient Rome (Finnish translation)
Like watching it as a well-done historical series; with some new-to-me information.

4. Reynolds - Chasm City
5. Reynolds - Diamond Dogs, Turquoise Days
6. Sundays At Moosewood Restaurant: Ethnic & Regional Recipes From The Cooks At The Legendary Restaurant
Reading my Moosewood cookbooks, too. This one has recipes from my cuisine (Finland).

7. Reynolds - Revelation Space
8. Bardugo - Shadow & Bones (Finnish translation)
Borrowed, but much nicer than I thought it would be, though I can also see its weaknesses.

9. Weller - Back Care Basics ('Healthy Back' in Finnish translation)
Useful for those with back issues, but also good for preventing pain. Short but informative, with useful exercise plans.

10. Reynolds - Redemption Ark
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Book 25

Widdershins (Whyborne & Griffin, #1)Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I've been hearing about this series forever but I'm slow as molasses in winter when it comes to ebooks. This book is everything I could want, historical paranormal? Thank you! Whyborne is from a prominent family in Widdershins, MA, but he bucked the family business studying philosophy and language, working for the Ladysmith museum. Into his staid controlled life (remembering that being gay in this time period would result in jail time and loss of job at the very least), comes an ex-Pinkerton detective, Griffin Flaherty who needs him to translate a diary of a murdered young man.

From there things all but explode. Whyborne finds himself draw into a strange brotherhood of town founders who were into dark rituals including resurrection and the mashing up of humans and animals into undead monsters. Naturally Griffin also blows up Whyborne's button down life as they fall for each other.

Without spoiling the story there is temptation to do wrong as both men are living with things on their consciences. such as the loss of a childhood friend (and someone WHyborne was secretly in love with ). THe action holds up well for the most part and the ending really worked for me. One thing that bugs me in stories like this is the action of the climax happens because the protagonists do something stupid to get in trouble. That is not the case here. It was believable and smart.

As for the characters I loved Griffin and Whybourne, not to mention a side character, Christine, an Egyptologist bucking Victorian society. She is a delight. I hope she remains in the series.

As to why not five stars? It was close and mostly it's just personal taste. Whyborne went on a few too many times about his fears about being gay (not that they weren't believable but it didn't feel like it was advancing anything once you got to the fourth or fifth time. And once they were a couple there was a bit too much sex for me. I was so wrapped up in the story that taking long side trips into the bedroom pulled me away from the tale. I'm sure that would work well for others (and they were done well at least) Can't wait to move on with the series.

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Book #22: The House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera

The House of HungerThe House of Hunger by Dambudzo Marechera

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book was a complete blind read, and I wished I'd been able to find a clearer plot synopsis beforehand, as it was quite a difficult book. The narrator jumped around in the timeline a lot as he told his story, so the book would go into a flashback suddenly at times. Also, the narrative was a continuous flow of text, with almost no breaks, and often very long paragraphs.

The story was primarily a coming-of-age tale about a character who ended up being raised by his brother after losing both his parents; it put me in mind of S.E. Hinton's "Rumble Fish" at times. What really struck me was the brutal and gritty portrayal of life in Zimbabwe. The book mentioned race and politics a lot, with references to "white-only hospitals", and also domestic violence, and men who seemed to think nothing of beating their wives. The book seemed to be full of violence too, with the main character said to have been abused by his father as a child, and also seemingly continually involved in fights with other characters.

It wasn't exactly easy to discern what this book was about at times (my understanding was that the "House of Hunger" was his childhood home, but it wasn't explicitly stated) but the dialogue, and vivid imagery throughout, made me want to keep reading. It was luckily only a short book, so I was able to read it in just three days.

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Book #21: Being the Bad Guys by Stephen McAlpine

I realise this could be a controversial one, so please feel free to delete if you feel it necessary.

Being the Bad Guys: How to Live for Jesus in a World That Says You Shouldn'tBeing the Bad Guys: How to Live for Jesus in a World That Says You Shouldn't by Stephen McAlpine

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I wasn't sure about this book at first, which is all about living as a Christian, in a world that has a negative view towards Christianity. I could tell that Stephen McAlpine is very conservative in his views, and the book contains a lot of criticism of gay and transgender rights, specifically the idea of having to accept or even promote LGBTQ+ causes, which could be seen as controversial, even inflammatory, as McAlpine constantly hammers home his point about how he doesn't agree with this, based on the Biblical text. McAlpine stressed at one point that the only reason he was mentioning sexuality and gender reassignment constantly was because they seem to be such big things in modern times.

I noticed at one point that he commented on how no one seems to mention the difficulty involved in transitioning between genders; I was reminded of a TV sketch I saw in the 1990s where Griff Rhys Jones said he was going to have a sex change, only for his comedy partner, the late Mel Smith, to explain in detail the entire process, and ulimately talking him out of it.

I realised that the big problem with this is that Mel Smith never had a sex change; to my knowledge, nor has Stephen McAlpine, so the only people who can really comment on what the process is like are those who have undergone the operation themselves.

When I got further into the book, I started to see this as less anti-gay or anti-trans, and the book even set out that it was okay to go out for a coffee with a gay friend. The best analogy that I found in the book was in the final chapter, where he compared living as a Christian in the world to China Mieville's "The City and the City" where two cities occur in the same space in time, but aren't allowed to acknowledge each other's presence, referring to Christians living quietly alongside the rest of the world, but not allowing the world's behaviour to influence them.

The book also made some good points about the modern phenomenon of "cancel culture" whereby celebrities get cold-shouldered after making a single divisive comment; not surprisingly, the book mentioned the fallout to J.K. Rowling's comments about trans people, and it also mentioned a story that I had not heard about the response to tennis play Margaret Court stating that she was against same-sex marriage. The book also was a good reminder that rejection of Christians is not a modern phenomenon; it has been going on in some form for many centuries; as Jesus said in the Gospels, Christians should expect to suffer for their faith.

It's probably not a book that I'd lend to someone who was just thinking about looking into Christianity, but it felt like a good book for more mature Christians.

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Book 33 - 2019

Book 33: The Farm by Joanne Ramos - 324 pages

Description from
Life is a lucrative business, as long as you play by the rules...

Ambitious businesswoman Mae Yu runs Golden Oaks - a luxury retreat transforming the fertility industry. There, women get the very best of everything: organic meals, fitness trainers, daily massages and big money. Provided they dedicate themselves to producing the perfect baby. For someone else.

Jane is a young immigrant in search of a better future. Stuck living in a cramped dorm with her baby daughter and her shrewd aunt Ate, she sees an unmissable chance to change her life. But at what cost?

Welcome to The Farm.

I came across The Farm in Goodreads post, adding it to my to-read list, and promptly forgetting about it. Then my boss at work got me VIP tickets to Brisbane Writer's Festival, and I was pleasantly surprised to find that Joanne Ramos would be speaking about her debut novel at the festival. So I come at my reading of this book with the wonderful additional context Joanne gave at several sessions at the festival. I've also long held an interest in reproductive politics. The Farm is one of those frightfully plausible stories, that one imagines is only just around the corner: women paid ridiculous amounts of money and holed up on an estate for nine months carrying other people's babies. It's also an analysis of immigrant women, trying to support families at home and in their adoptive countries, by any means necessary. In The Farm, these women are predominately Filipino, and having grown up in Australia, with a significant Asian population and significantly more income equality, this aspect both baffled but also spoke to me: the culture of these woman, in their commitment to family was more familiar to me than the American idea of leaving everyone to fend for themselves ever will be.
The Farm's story is told through alternating perspectives: Jane, a Filipino immigrant who signs up to be a surrogate at the farm to support her infant daughter; Ate, Jane's cousin who looks after Jane's daughter while she's away; Reagan, a middle class, white woman at the Farm, who is struggling with her purpose; and Mae, the director of Golden Oaks, who is Asian herself. The perspectives of each of these women are totally justified, and yet, each of them is a frustrating in their own way. They have flaws and strengths, motivations and setbacks. They feel very real, much like the Farm itself. This is a thought provoking book, that I am pleased to say I was not able to predict the ending for (a rare thing these days). Ramos' debut novel deserves much of the praise it has received, and I'll be interested to see what she does next (she also just seems like a really lovely person having sat three feet away from her!).

33 / 50 books. 66% done!

9383 / 15000 pages. 63% done!

Currently reading:
Journey to the West
by Cheng-En Wu - 673 pages
by Neil Gaiman - 370 pages
The Umbrella Academy: Volume 2 - Dallas
by Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba - 192 pages

And coming up:
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder
by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
The Odyssey
by Homer – 324 pages
Look Alive Twenty-Five
by Janet Evanovich - 306 pages
book collector

Book 24

The Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and HeroesThe Poetic Edda: Stories of the Norse Gods and Heroes by Unknown

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I've heard/read bits of this over the years, especially when I was working on the Norse myths but I had never sat down to read them. (this was not the edition I read, just the first that came up. I downloaded mine from Gutenberg). My translation was rough to read because it still has very archaic English (lots of thees and thous) and to be honest this was bordering on dull.

It was interesting in context however. These were the stories of a people and I'm sure in an oral tradition they would have been more rousing. (in fact I know they are. I have listened to them in the original language which no, I don't speak but was fascinated by the cadence) Much of it was one territorial battle after the other. The one that did stick with me was of a king and his children. He was defeated in battle and his son was left for dead in the wilderness. His sister nursed him back to health and then slept with him because she wanted a son that was related to her king father on BOTH sides so he'd be a super warrior for their line and it worked. Thanks for that Poetic Edda. Shudders.

If you're interested in Norse heritage, it would be a good read for you (especially for authors trying to capture the flavor of these people) but they can be slow if you're not into battle scenes.

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Book 32 - 2019

Book 32: The Mammoth Book of SF Wars edited by Ian Watson and Ian Whates - 497 pages

Description from
War is becoming increasingly 'SF-ized' with remotely controlled attack drones and robot warriors already in development and being tested. Over the past 100 years the technology of war has advanced enormously in destructive power, yet also in sophistication so that we no longer seem to live under the constant threat of all-out global thermonuclear cataclysm. So what will future wars be like? And what will start them: religion, politics, resources, refugees, or advanced weaponry itself?

Watson and Whates present a gripping anthology of SF stories which explores the gamut of possible future conflicts, including such themes as nuclear war, psychological and cyberwars, enhanced soldiery, mercenaries, terrorism, intelligent robotic war machines, and war with aliens.

All the stories in this collection of remarkable quality and diversity reveals humankind pressed to the limits in every conceivable way.

I bought this book and another anthology of Science Fiction romance stories at the University book shop a few years ago. I intended to read this while on holiday recently, but never got to it, so I’ve been reading it on and off for the last six or so weeks. It was a slog. Most of these stories really did little for me - they were either two militaristic, totally confusing, or just genuinely bad stories. I probably won’t seek out more anthologies such as this. My reviews of the 24 stories are as follows:
1. Okay
2. Okay
3. Weird
4. Good
5. Pretty Good
6. Lost me at the end; I couldn’t work out what was going on
7. One of the best in the anthology
8. A very clever satire - another of the best
9. Quite clever
10. Pretty good
11. Quite clever
12. Really fascinating but I wouldn’t have considered it SF
13. Confused me. One minute she’s kissing the guy in the spirit world, the next minute the Captain. I feel like I missed something.
14. Had a lot of detail that confused me. The story, whilst okay, didn't really do a lot for me because I was missing so much context.
15. Deeply depressing
16. Really confusing at the start, and I’m not sure the ending made a lot of sense to me
17. Confused me to start but ended up being really good. The ending was really sad.
18. Is basically about a man in love with a cat…I so want to love steampunk but it really doesn’t work in short story format.
19. Really didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I couldn’t follow what was going on, was confused by which character was which, and found the ending trite.
20. Creepy!
21. Started out okay but didn’t make a lot of sense to me in the end.
22. Written by the guy who wrote The Forever War (which I’ve read). I can see the similarities!
23. Is basically a zombie story in space. Not a bad read.
24. Strong SF romance tones to it, but though it started off a bit meh, it ended well!

32 / 50 books. 64% done!

9059 / 15000 pages. 60% done!

Currently reading:
Journey to the West
by Cheng-En Wu - 673 pages
by Neil Gaiman - 370 pages
The Farm
by Joanne Ramos - 324 pages

And coming up:
The Second Chronicles of Thomas Covenant: Volume 3: White Gold Wielder
by Stephen Donaldson – 500 pages
The Odyssey
by Homer – 324 pages
The Umbrella Academy: Volume 2 - Dallas
by Gerard Way & Gabriel Ba - 192 pages
book collector

Book 23

The Tinderbox: Soldier of IndiraThe Tinderbox: Soldier of Indira by Lou Diamond Phillips

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I'll be honest, I picked this up because I'm a huge Lou Diamond Phillips fan and attended several Zoom activities where he was talking about it. I actually haven't read the fairytale this was based on (I'll have to rectify that).

Truthfully I stumbled over the first couple of chapters which felt a bit rougher than the rest of the book. Once we know Everson's (as it's mostly his story) full history, the storytelling smooths out and comes into its own. The planets Indira and Mano were once a singular planet split in a massive schism and have been at war ever since. We do not see Indira but it fared much better than Mano which is water and resource poor.

We're dropped right into a battle and its aftermath seeing Everson in the terrible position of being left for dead on an enemy planet. There is some oddness here with tech as there was an attempt to marry SF with fantasy. They are capable of interplanetary travel with ship to ground weaponry that's impressive but hand to hand is swords and guns and the Mano soldiers ride a big winged animal called a birdrun. Ah well if I can have light sabers and Tauntauns in Star Wars, I can handle it here.

Everson finds himself stranded on a hostile planet in a uniform that guarantee he'll be attacked on sight with no way home. On the other side of the story is Allegra, daughter of King Xander who believes entirely that when a certain stellar event happens, his rule will end because his daughter will fall in love with a soldier and it will be the end of him. To that end, Xander has gone a little obsessive about this prophecy to the point, Allegra has never in her life been outside the castle and has been allowed almost no friends (making her highly naive) and he's sent all the soldiers to other areas of the planet, leaving the capitol undefended but this way Allegra can't fall for and marry and soldier.

So there is going to be an obvious ending to this but that's where the titular Tinderbox comes in. Getting it could be fatal (especially since Everson has no idea what the Tinderbox is). Also mixed into this is some racial and social commentary. Everson is an endearing character and I did like him very much. There's a bit less of Allegra and she was a little less well developed (mainly because of the confines of her upbringing).

Overall after a bit of a rough beginning, it was a very satisfying SF retelling of a fairy tale and I'm happy to have it on my shelves.

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Book #20: Spring by Ali Smith

Spring (Seasonal, #3)Spring by Ali Smith

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

The third novel in the Seasonal Quartet feels just as experimental as the first two in its style, and once again forms a completely separate novel to the previous two installments, with characters that first of all seem unconnected, but whose paths will inevitably cross.

Richard is a film director; his screenwriter, and lover, Patricia (Paddy) has recently died, but her twin sons won't let him speak at the funeral, plus he's received a script for an uncoming project that is dreadful.

Brit is a warden at, what appears to be a detention centre, and she ends up striking up a friendship with Florence, a twelve-year-old girl who apparently wandered into the facility where Brit works unchallenged.

Like the previous books in the series, the plot isn't exactly linear, and when reading it I noticed that it seemed to jump around in the timeline more than the first two instalments, with flashbacks and even flashforwards that came along unexpectedly, and some scenes were even told from two different points of view.

I noticed all of the usual social commentary; this book seemed to have a lot about race, and in particular the treatment of refugees, and idea that certain people are treated as though they are invisible; the Windrush scandal was mentioned. The book also mentioned the Grenfell tower tragedy, Brexit (a common theme in this series), homelessness, the metoo movement, and even closure of public libraries. It also appeared that mental health issues were addressed too, with one of the characters (as I understood it) attempting suicide at one point.

I wasn't expecting this to be an easy to digest book, but I found myself more engaged with the characters than in the previous two books in this series, and I definitely want to read the final book, to see if Ali Smith used it to return to any of her previous storylines.

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