Thursday, April 27, 2017

More Required Reading

Left Behind (Left Behind, #1)Left Behind by Tim LaHaye & Jerry B. Jenkins

My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Buck Williams is a reporter in Israel to interview the developer of a fertilizer that makes the desert bloom. While he’s there the Russians launch a nuclear attack that is thwarted by hailstones, lightning bolts, and earthquakes. There are no casualties and the Israelis score a net gain by recycling rocket fuel. Buck senses divine intervention but falls short of accepting Christianity. Later he is on a flight to London piloted by Rayford Steele who is thinking lascivious thoughts about his first flight attendant, Hattie Durham. He credits this peccadillo to the fact that his wife has become obsessed with religion and has become somewhat withdrawn. In the dead of night, over the Atlantic, Hattie informs her captain that a large percentage of passengers have vanished right out of their clothes. Because of his wife’s harping, Rayford guesses the cause of this bizarre event. Naturally, Buck was not one of the chosen. Simultaneously, a charismatic politician from Romania mesmerizes the United Nations, the media, and pretty much the whole world. Who can this be, boys and girls?

Personally, I always thought it was a poor decision when God stopped giving signs. Burning bushes, floods, ladders, and wheels in the sky are highly compelling. When salvation began depending strictly on faith, things became complicated. On the other hand, the vanishing of a large number of Christians, including all the infants and young children, would be a very persuasive sign, but it didn’t convince all that many of those who were left behind. Fictionalizing the Second Coming is a premise with potential. At the same time, it is a story that has already been told, therefore, it is difficult to generate suspense. Left Behind is a book that had a hard time engaging this reader. There were long, preachy passages that did nothing to advance the story and violated the first rule of good writing—show, don’t tell. I suspect that the fact of there being two authors contributed to the duality of style. The sections concerning the Rayford Steele character left me flat and unable to identify with him. Buck Williams is a more fully developed character, and the parts devoted to him were easier to read. I have to say, it was a relief to reach the end.

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Sunday, April 9, 2017

The Improbable Journeys of Billy BattlesThe Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles by Ronald E. Yates

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

For the Rave Review Book Club

William Fitzroy Raglan Battles lost his wife at the end of Volume I. In despair, he voyages to the Orient to meet an old friend who lives in Saigon. En route, a shady German, who claims to be a Pinkerton’s detective, threatens a recently widowed German baroness. Katherina, who hails from Chicago, killed her husband in defense of her brother, Manfred, as the baron was in the process of beating him to death with a poker. Her well-connected father managed to divert the responsibility from his daughter; however, she felt it prudent to travel to Manila where Manfred operated a hardwood business. The baroness enlists the aid of Battles to protect her from the alleged detective who proves to be an agent for the German government. Through a series of convoluted machinations, Battles and Katherina manage to have their nemesis Shanghaied to Africa. End of phase one.

In phase two, Battles settles in Saigon with his old friend, Signore Difranco, a wealthy pepper planter. While in Viet Nam, known then as Nam Ký, he is determined to find another old friend from his days in the American West, Giang Ba. Unfortunately, Ba has joined the resistance fighting to oust the French occupiers. This leads Battles into a heated battle on the side of the rebels. When Manfred and Katherina visit Saigon, Battles finds that he is increasingly smitten with the lovely baroness. There is another change of scene. The three return to Manila, from where, eventually, Battles accompanies Katherina back to the States, and they part company. During this interlude, the German agent, Oskar Eichel, reemerges and puts Battle’s family in peril. Then there comes the outbreak of the Spanish American War when Katherina urges Battles to travel to Manila to check on her brother’s wellbeing. End of phase two.

Back in Manila, Battles watches as the Americans make short work of the Spanish, but he is dismayed when he realizes that the United States intends to occupy the archipelago. The Filipino resistance wants freedom from occupation and intends to fight. Reluctantly, Battles and Manfred accept brevet commissions as captains attached to the Kansas Volunteer Regiment. During his less than willing military career, Katherina arrives in the Philippines and voices strong objections to the two men in her life being involved with the army, and much more ensues.

Billy Battles is an old Kansas sand cutter who hobnobs with the likes of Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson. This is the second installment of the Finding Billy Battles trilogy that I have read, and I am still not quite sure what a sand cutter is. Mr. Yates is a master of western jargon. He infuses The Improbable Journeys of Billy Battles with a plethora of colorful sayings and expressions that give the characters verisimilitude. This is a 160,000-word story that takes place in numerous exotic settings with ceaseless action. The characters are extremely well developed. The prose is fluid and the dialogue convincing. This reader and reviewer strongly recommends the Finding Billy Battles series to everyone who enjoys historical fiction or just likes to read about sand cutters.

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