Book Review: The Burning White by Brent Weeks

Book Review: The Burning White by Brent Weeks
Cover
Cover image taken from the book’s Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

Spolier Free Summary: (Note: Once more, it’s very hard to review a final book in a series. I’ll do my best.)  The Burning White is the final novel in the Lightbringer Saga by Brent Weeks. Gavin finally faces the truth about the existence Orholam, and the truth will set him free. Kip, accepting the role of Lightbringer, returns home for the final defense of his chosen home. Karris and Andross scheme. Tia walks down a dark path of death, hoping a light shines anywhere. Everything comes to a head, and all questions are answered in this final volume. I have to admit, I didn’t get the answer that frustrated me so much with The Blood Mirror. I think that’s just a whiff that Weeks will have to accept. Lucky for him the series as a whole is great.

 

Character:  Tisis stole the show in the last book, so I was mad she didn’t get that much attention in this book. That said, every one of these character arcs were amazing! I must give proper respect to Gavin, who’s growth was beautiful. I also must give a nod to Andross here. A lot of cool things happen that reveal motivations, and that amplifies the sympathy of all of these characters.

Exposition: We still have a few dumpy sections, but that’s going to happen in a series this deep. I’ll say that while there was some slow-down here and there, the general pace of the novel (and series) was just fine. The dumpy sections are portions I think most fans of epic fantasy have come to expect so long as the author doesn’t abuse the privilege. Weeks doesn’t.

Worldbuilding: The world only gets bigger, and we see a lot more of the religion in this world in this book. I don’t know if Weeks is Christian or not, but I can promise you he did his research. It was actually super fun for me to count off the sheer number of Bible Easter eggs as I saw it, particularly near the third act to the end. I don’t think people who haven’t read the Bible or aren’t that familiar with it would catch as much (or mind), but it’s hard to know given how much of the Bible I read. I found those ties to be satisfying, but I wonder how others might respond. I expect they wouldn’t notice.

three-book-covers
Other books in the Lightbringer saga.

Dialogue:  I’d still say the same that I’ve always said. I can’t argue the characters all have unique voices (though I do think so). Yeah, they’re all pretty much flippant, arrogant people with sly comments for every situation, but it’s fun to listen to. It’s witty and entertaining.

Description: Weeks is still a minimalist in this regard. There was more description in this book than others, but the necessity was there given the number of action scenes and new locations to account for.

Overall: This was a wonderful start to my 2020 year in reading. It’s going to take a strong book to take its spot at the top of my best-read stories of the year, and I can say that nothing so far has com anywhere close. I don’t know if I’ll finish the new Stormlight book before the new year, but that would be the competition I expect. Who knows though. I loved this book, and at the moment, it’s the best I’ve read so far in 2020. This book is a fantastic end to a satisfying conclusion. While I still enjoyed it, I’d have to say I liked Night Angel better, but I think that’s more of a compliment to Night Angel than a knock on Light Bringer. There’s a lot to love about this conclusion.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Musings on Christianity 25

Musings on Christianity 25

How Do We Respond To Suffering

As I type this, it’s been about three months since COVID-19 began. People are afraid. People are sick. People are dying. People are practicing social distancing (I hope) and limiting their activities (I hope).

This is an unprecedented time in our nation’s history.

How then should Christians respond to trials? How should a Christian react to pain, loss, sickness, and sadness.

The short answer is to glorify God.

God shows us so much about suffering through the book of Job. Perhaps someone more unfortunate than myself can dispute this, but no one was ever made to suffer more than Job.

Job was blameless and upright (Job 1:1). He had sons and daughters and lots of animals on his farm. He was the greatest of all the people of the east (Job 1:2-3).

One day came when the angels presented themselves before God. Satan was among them (Job 6). God held Job up as an example of the human race. Oh! what a wonderful thought it would be to have God say to his angels, “Have you considered by servant Matthew?” I don’t expect that. What a wonderful thing it would be though. Still, Satan wanted to break that faith, so he established a challenge.

The argument was that Job had no reason to fear God. He had no reason to be angry with God. Satan challenged God to take what Job had, and that would cause Job to turn away.  Satan meant it to take a servant from the Lord. God used that evil plan for his purpose.

Satan took all of Job’s property and, more importantly, his children. I don’t want to imagine any scenario in which I lose anyone I love, let alone my children. This happened to Job (Job 1:13-19).

Job mourned. He was devastated. But rather than curse God, he worshiped. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 1:21).”

All that, and Job did not sin or charge God with wrong (Job 1:22).

The challenge became elevated. Job himself was stricken.

There came a point (and this is a large summary of some 40 chapters of Job) where he demanded a trial. During an argument with three friends, he spoke about what he didn’t understand. God challenged that understanding with his own voice from a whirlwind. The rebuke was a series of questions, asking Job how he expected to question God who created everything.

In those questions, Job understood and repented (Job 42:1-6).

There’s a lot to unpack there, certainly more than a single blog could do justice, but Job knew that to worship God in suffering is the best thing to do.

We look at these times, however, and we think inwardly. Job honestly hadn’t done anything wrong when this started. That suffering wasn’t to hurt Job. Yes, it did cause him pain. It absolutely brought tears. But after being exemplified in joy, God exemplified him in suffering for all time.

He was blessed again, more so than ever before. No, I don’t contend that he didn’t miss his sons and daughters he had lost, we all do. The point isn’t that suffering should be fun. The current point is that when we suffer, we tend to ask why.

When I started this book, I choose to start with why we suffer for this very reason. None of us is Job. I’ve sinned, and so have you. The things we have, every thing that we have, are a gift God has given us, and he has every right to take them away. We certainly didn’t receive it because we deserve it. I don’t deserve my wife and children. I don’t deserve my home. What did I really do to urn it in the eyes of God? When I see these things as a gift, I feel all the more wretched because I realize I could treat them better. I could certainly do a better job maintaining my home.

I think I sometimes pridefully covet my possessions because I truly think they were mine, earned by the sweat of my labor and the work of my hands. But who gave me that work ethic? Who blessed me with these hands? 

When I realize nothing is mine, I appreciate it more (if only slightly).

But does this mean we can’t be sad or pray?

No! In fact, offering our prayers and communing with God is always good and right. 

God even gave us a prayer to offer while suffering in Psalm 102.

Does this mean COVID-19 is a test? For some. Is it a punishment? For some. But I’ve said before, God lets the rain fall on both the wicked and the just (Matthew 5:45). Sometimes, rain is just rain. Job’s error was to question the wisdom and rule of God Himself. What I can promise is that it is for the good of those who love Him (even if they don’t yet or ever see it) and His glory.

Heaven is the ultimate reward. It is such a reward that no amount of earthly blessings in any extreme will will be worth anything against it. If we keep our faith in God and worship him, no matter the time, season, or circumstance, that reward is waiting for us. But even in this world, if we seek his kingdom and righteousness, our season of pain can be replaced with such wonderful abundance.

Joseph was second only to Pharaoh in Egypt. His people were prosperous and blessed until Joseph was forgotten. Then they fell to an age of slavery and pain. They cried out for God, who delivered them and then (in time) gave them the promised land and a king and kingdom that other nations looked to. This pattern holds today.

I’ve had days where I could go to restaurants and tip every employee $20 without so much as feeling the financial impact. I’ve had years where I lived in a small studio, afraid for my life and hungry for something other than a microwave stew and piece of bread. I’ve been alone and isolated. Now I’m almost always near someone who loves me and wants to be with me.

These seasons are seasons. They come, and they go. They bring sadness and joy. All of those things are temporary. God is forever. If He is the object of your focus in every season and at every time, it will be well. If he is the object of your worship, you will be blessed.

This isn’t to imply in any way that we can “earn” our blessings. This is hard for me to articulate. We are saved by grace and grace alone. If we say to ourselves, “Oh, well, I guess I ‘better pray’ so that this will all blow over and I’ll get my blessings when it’s done,” our hearts and minds were never on God. We worship the blessing rather than the one who blesses. It’s not, nor has it ever been, a trade system.

However if our love is for him and we find trouble, we can hold fast to that love. We can glorify Him knowing that He always keeps His promises and will deliver us from the troubled times in our life, either by ending that time and restoring us or by calling us to Heaven, where we can live in glory forever.

In my younger days I probably would have wanted some sort of meter or calendar. Suffer for  40 years for every hundred years of blessing. Suffer for one hour for 23 hours of joy. However, such a system would only guarantee things I don’t want any part of, even if it comes with a guarantee of other joys. Think about it. If I said, I’m going to punch you, but then I’ll give you a hug, does that make it worth it when you make it a trade?

But if love rules your heart, if you walk with someone you love, and you walk together, you do so because that love endures. In our earthly flesh we cling to that love through all our sorrows. I clung to my friends and family when my mother died. it helped.

If we multiply that by the infinite love of God, what trial could possibly overwhelm us?  What sadness could possibly cast us down? More amazingly, what joy could possibly cause us to set it aside? What gift could possibly cause you to forget the one who gave it? Let that love be the center of your thoughts.

For our panel: Do you have a Psalm or Lamentation that you consider in times of suffering? What are some ways to glorify God in the midst of suffering? How do we mourn without sinning? How do we balance the joy of a blessed Earthly life (wealth, health, prosperity) with a love for God? How can we pray when our sadness or remorse is greater than it’s ever been?

A new 4-Star Review for The Journals of Bob Drifter!

A new 4-Star Review for The Journals of Bob Drifter!

Greetings all,

Bob CoverI’m always happy to announce reviews for my work, and it’s even cooler when it’s a good one. I found this review for The Journals of Bob Drifter on Goodreads. Writers typically have to challenge themselves. Original ideas are a debated myth in these days, so finding ways to stand out or be unique are important. I appreciated the reader calling Bob ” … different than any other book … ”

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Book Review: Debt-Free Degree by Anthony Oneal

Book Review: Debt-Free Degree by Anthony Oneal
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Image taken from the book’s Goodreads page for Review Purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

I’m a firm believe in the Dave Ramsey program, so when Debt-Free Degree by Anthony Oneal came out, I snatched it up. First, I have sons. Two of them will be in college in just five years. While we’re working our way through the baby steps, we’re no where near where we need to be yet to save for college.

This book is best for people who have younger kids, but what I like about it is it gives you steps to take at each grade level in each financial position. It talks a lot about planning and helping the mindset of your child.

What I don’t like so much about it is that while it talks about how “many scholarships” there are and how “we need to apply” for them, I found very little actionable information. Where do I go to apply? Where do I go to find all those scholarships. I imagine the organization’s website will have more resources, but I wish the book was more of a step by step, how to than it was a “here’s how to get your kid’s mindset ready.”

Oneal
Image of Mr. Oneal taken from his website’s bio for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine. 

The book has value from a planning standpoint, especially in regard to preparing and working with a child to identify and move forward with a career path. I just wish it had more meat and potatoes in the scholarship department.

Thanks for reading,

Matt

Musings on Christianity 24

Musings on Christianity 24

Why Read The Bible?

In my time growing as a Christian, one of the things that took me longer than most to understand was the value of reading the Bible. I’m not even sure why when I consider my personality. In the Navy, I hated the idea of people telling me what they thought. I had several people say, “That’s not the way to do it,” or “That’s against policy!” I always wondered, “Where are they getting all these rules?”

I don’t know that every person who ever corrected me or yelled at me (not that it happened a metric ton in the Navy) or even talked to me about policy was ignorant about it or not, but one day someone sat me down to show me what I’d done wrong. Instead of yelling or barking about ephemeral concepts, he printed the actual Navy policy in question. He let me read it. There wasn’t a debate. There was no yelling. There was no overly-long lecture or self-elevating speech. It was policy, and allowing me to read it made it about what the regulation said. I loved it. It was simple and true with no bias toward emotion or personal preference.

From that day, I always wanted to look at the policy. At my current job, I periodically read my unit’s information guide because I really do want to do what is right. That’s always been a guiding principle of mine, and so I grew to love the law. Why then, did I never read the Bible?

Please don’t misunderstand. There were several times and periods of my life where I read the Bible. What I didn’t do was read and study it daily or read it all the way through even once.

One day, while talking to one of my protégées in the Navy, I told her how important it was for one to always read the policy. For some reason, that was the moment I realized I was avoiding the source. I was angry at “organized religion.” I was angry at “Bible thumpers.” Now I realize a great deal of those “Bible thumpers” hadn’t read the Bible (at least not all the way through). They’d shout at people whatever scripture they thought was relevant, but they did it from the mindset of convincing others to do what they want rather than focus on what God wants.

We see this all the time. We see it in people who falsely claim that people of color are cursed (they’re not). We see it in people who falsely claim that people of different nationalities are lesser (they’re not). Those people love picking one verse out of context and running with it.

But the Bible is one book with sixty-six parts. If you don’t study and see how they go together and interact, your doctrine will be wrong. That doesn’t mean a person can’t study for certain things. This very book is a Biblical research project, and that’s what led to this particular chapter. You see, those who would degrade the word of the Bible probably do so because they encountered several of the people who abused it (like those above).

It was hard for me to believe the Bible was the word of God. (Wasn’t it written by men?) It was hard for me to believe the historicity of the Bible. (How could the things in the Bible be true?) What convinced me? Sure enough, I actually decided to sit down and read the whole thing. I had questions, but I didn’t declare those questions inconsistency and put it down. Rather than let my questions become reasons to stop reading and growing, I let my questions drive me to seek answers. Rather than check history, archeology, and science (real science driven by fact and not “commonly believed” bias), I checked those things against the Bible, and thus far, the Bible has won every time.

Even in the most easily recognized areas of dispute (you’re saying the world was created in six days? What about … ) the very things people use to dispute the word of God are not provable by the very science they claim debunk the Bible. The theories of the universe and evolution (and other long-held beliefs called “science”) are at-best theories that scientists are seeking to prove. The best of those scientists are objectively seeking truth based on that hypotheses, understanding that a hypotheses is just that. The worst of them have the same dogmatic rigidness they accuse a Christians of having, believing without real evidence or even the scientific desire to seek consistent evidence on the subject.

While I believe I have a scientific mind, I don’t have the scientific knowledge to prove anything, nor will I try. What I will say though is even a casual investigation into man’s biggest questions from the Bible are only (at-best) as challenging as the same “proofs” scientists have been striving to find.

If I were more scientific, the remainder of this chapter would be used to help secure one’s faith by using scientific evidence to prove the validity of the Biblical record. (Or even prove the truth of it. Truth and validity aren’t the same thing.)

That science is being conducted, and the information is out there. I’m studying it as we speak. I’m just not as versed as I’d like to be, and any effort I make in that vein will only cause more skepticism. 

Instead, I want to use my time in this chapter to tell you what reading the Bible has done for me.

Reading the Bible keeps me centered. I’m a passionate man. I’m a man of high emotion and drive. I’m also one who believes in doing what is right. I’m not without error by any means. I get distracted at work. I can be argumentative. But when I see someone doing something I know is wrong, I can be pretty unloving about how I point it out. I hope I’ve grown in this, and the people who know me have said this is true. But I was pretty thunderous in my rebuke of people who “weren’t doing it right.” I was also pretty hypocritical, pointing out the wrongs of others without any regard to my own transgressions. 

Reading the Bible puts my mind on God and his commands and how a person should live. It gives me balance between love and truth. It gives me humility when I want to be prideful. It gives me patience when I want to be hasty. It gives me discipline when I want to be wrong.

Reading the Bible gives me knowledge. A few years ago when I had so many questions, I could use those questions to excuse what I wanted to do or avoid things I knew I should be doing.  A good portion of the Bible (the epistles), are all about guiding young believers in their walk and helping them grow. The answers are there if you read and seek. Reading the Bible (go figure, in the same way you’d read any book) gives me scope. I see how things come together. I better understand doctrines that used to elude me.

Reading the Bible gives me confidence in my faith. That same period I had questions, I also used those questions to feed my doubt about Christianity. Reading the Bible removes that doubt. Do you worry that there are inconsistencies in the Bible? Don’t, while there are parts that don’t match exactly, the Bible is amazingly consistent from Old to New Testament.  Most of the reasons things don’t line up exactly have more to do with the intended audience of the work than errors in factual reporting.

This is something I teach my students. A journalist writing a story for Navy News Stand is going to format a story very differently than if he were writing it for the Yuma Daily Sun. The facts are in there. Some are left out because they matter less to one reader than another. Some are emphasized because they’re more important to one audience than another. But there is no one verse of the Bible that directly contradicts another. Only a passive scan of the Bible with the intent to find discrepancies (rather than a thorough reading with the intent to find truth, in this case to learn what it really says and why) would find evidence. However, that evidence of discrepancies never holds up against a careful reading of all the context and other accounts.

I’ve come to learn this by reading the Bible carefully. I had doubts. I may have even started my first full read through of the Bible expecting to find discrepancies and inconsistencies. They just aren’t there.

Reading the Bible fills my spirit. My human heart is prideful, arrogant, resentful, and unkind. Do I reflect those qualities more than say … a maniac? No, but just because I’m not as evil as one man doesn’t remove those characteristics from my flesh. My flesh is weak, but my spirit is so very willing to grow, and it is the overcoming of those fleshly desires that glorifies God. Reading the Bible strengthens my spirit. It arms me with the tools I need to be loving in my rebuke and humble in my mindset. I need this so much. The more I read, the easier it is to recognize when I’m thinking with a self-centered mind. (I think. I want. I believe.) The more I read, the more readily I think with a god-centered mind. (What does God say? What does God want me to do? How are my actions glorifying Him? How am I bearing Him fruit?)

There are other books that speak about the historicity, validity, and truth of the Bible, and the panel is more than welcome to contribute to those subjects. But a communication teacher who has only read the Bible all the way through one time probably isn’t going to convince anyone of those things. But a guy who reads twenty-thirty five books a year talking about what reading this book does for him? That’s probably a bit more effective. If you haven’t tried it, try it. Even if you just read it for the sake of reading anything, you’ll see how the whole story comes together in a beautiful and comforting way.

For our panel: What are some other reasons to read the Bible? Did you have any doubts in your walk in the faith? How did reading the Bible remove those doubts? Was there a particular portion of the Bible that was harder for you to believe or help others believe? How did you use the Bible to learn the truth, or how did you find certainty?

Soundtracks for My Books!

Soundtracks for My Books!

Greetings all,

I’m still plugging away on Discovered’s outline while I’m saving up money to get Betrayed edited. Since I’m such a fan of music, I thought I’d do a little exercise where I picked out title soundtracks all of my books.

The Journals of Bob Drifter: “Off He Goes” by Pearl Jam.

 

So one thing that I don’t do very much is pay attention to lyrics, at least not where soundtracks are concerned. I think it could be a bit boring to narrate a novel to music anyway. What I listen for is for a song to match the feel and tone of one of my projects.  I love this song, and I think the tone is perfect. I like the sound. I like the tempo. I’d be thrilled if Bob were to be made a series (not a movie!), and this song were selected as a title soundtrack.

Caught: “This is Our War” by Halocene

 

So this is a band I’ve been meaning to endorse for a while. Honestly, in my dream scenario, Halocene does an original song for Oneiros, but this song is pretty close to what I’d want. I honestly think the lyrics match up okay too (but don’t hold me to that). This song has the change-up in tone and emotion that any soundtrack song for Caught would have to have.

Repressed: “Eighteen” by First to Eleven

 

 

So yeah, I’m double-tapping this, but the song works, and I really do like it. The tone shift from Caught to Repressed is something I went into with open eyes, and I wouldn’t change it. This song has that coming of age feel, and Repressed is more or less a coming of age story. Kaitlyn has some ways to grow, but the woman she becomes at the end of this saga is one I’ll love for as long as I’m alive. So this little Y-A, female-lead story has a song that’s more or less an anthem for such a mindset. It’s not where Kaitlyn ends, but it is where she was at that time in her life.

Sojourn in Captivity: John Williams, please compose the soundtrack!

 

Perception of War is my Space Opera, and I can’t imagine a space saga ever happening without John Williams composing the soundtrack. Perception of War isn’t as romantic as Star Wars, but I’d trust Mr. Williams to apply the proper mood to each scene and nail a great opening credits song.

 

Stealing Freedom: The Pretender by Foo Fighters

 

So this is probably the one I’ve thought the least about. I’m not even sure why. But when I thought about what I would want if Stealing Freedom were made into a movie, I thought, “What band do I like no matter what mood I’m in?” Answer: “The Foo Fighters.” They always rock out, and this song fits wonderfully.

What are your thoughts? Are there any songs that you think would go well with one of my books?

Thanks for reading (and listening),

Matt

Book Review: The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo

Book Review: The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo
Cover
Cover for the book taken from its Amazon buy page for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

The Heart of Anger by Lou Priolo is a Biblical perspective on raising children who are troubled by anger.

The thing that stuck with me the most about this book was the distinction between righteous and unholy anger. It also provided a means to put God front-and-center in any interaction with another person (not just a child).

The book also gives tools and procedures for corrective action. Oddly, it doesn’t have any information on punishment. It speaks a lot about discipline, but only in the context of its original meaning (to place one’s self under control). I would have liked some perspective on the topic of punishment.

One reason may be that this book focus most on discipline in terms of teaching, which should always be the priority in any interaction between a parent and his (in my case) children.

I found this book taught me far more about my anger and my perspective than it did about my son (who I read this book hoping to help). Don’t get me wrong; this book helped me find alternative ways to reach my son. However, I found this book helped me personally (if in a convicting way).

Lou
Image of Mr. Priolo taken from his website for review purposes under Fair Use doctrine.

I don’t just recommend this for believing parents; I recommend this book for any believers who feel they might struggle with frustration and anger.

Thanks for reading,

Matt