Thursday, January 07, 2016

Last Year's Reading: A Top 20

Among the many books read last year (as is normal for me, many of them were re-reads), I've whittled down a Top 20 to pass along. All of them are highly recommended.

They are listed in the order I read them.

1) Snow by Calvin Miller. A heartwarming Christmas novel from a great preacher, writer, and friend.

2 & 3) Pride and Prejudice and Persuasion by Jane Austen. Classic novels from one of the genre's best.

4) The Forgotten 500 by Gregory A. Freeman. A fascinating (sometimes infuriating) history about the rescue of Allied air crews from behind enemy lines in WWII.

5) The Neverending Story by Michael Ende. One of my favorite fantasy novels, full of adventure, heroism, and inspiration.

6) Fire Over England by A.E.W. Mason. An exciting historical novel dealing with the Spanish Armada's plans against England.

7) Why Men Hate Going to Church by David Murrow. The title is self-explanatory. I found this book most instructive, challenging, and, because I agreed with many of his observations, rather comforting too.

8) The Gentleman from Indiana by Booth Tarkington. This was one of my favorite novels from this year's list of reading from the Notting Hill Napoleons, our longstanding literary club.

9 & 10) The Longest Day by Cornelius Ryan and D-Day: The Sixth of June by David Howarth. Two excellent histories of the Allied landings in France during WWII.

11) I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norm Geisler & Frank Turek. Apologetics of the finest (and most practical) quality.

12) Run Silent, Run Deep by Edward L. Beach. A fine WWII novel about submarine warfare in the Pacific written by a highly acclaimed Commander of the U.S. Navy.

13) The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers. A very moving WWII novel dealing with a German national fleeing from a Nazi concentration camp.

14) A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer. One of the most life-changing books for both Claire and I, we re-read this every few years.

15) Knight Without Armor by James Hilton. This is a wide-ranging novel about the Russian revolution. It is written by one of my favorite authors, yet it's quite different in subject than his other works.

16) The Christmas Room by Denny Hartford. A realistic yet uplifting novel about the lives of people involved in one way or another with Villa Vista Care Community, a nursing home.

17) Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. It's not my favorite Dickens novel but then he's never written anything but quality stuff.

18) Dawn’s Early Light by Walter Lord. A detailed history of the War of 1812 by one of my favorite historians.

19) Miss Bishop by Bess Streeter Aldrich. A lovely, inspiring novel about character, education, duty, small town life, the changing social scene of America at the turn of the century, and a life well lived.

20) Heaven by Randy Alcorn. Besides the Bible itself, I recommend this Bible study book on heaven more than anything else. An enlightening, exciting book that will change your life.

Tuesday, December 08, 2015

Kids Books for Christmas: A Few Suggestions

I recently read through a couple of lists representing recommended Christmas reading for kids. I'm afraid I didn’t care for either list.

So, I thought I’d drop a few hints myself.  Ready?

For little kids (of all ages), you can't go wrong with the Winnie the Pooh books by A.A. Milne; the Freddy the Pig series by Walter Brooks; The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; the collected fairy tales of the Brothers Grimm; or stories about such heroes as Robin Hood and the Knights of the Round Table.

As these kids grow older, toss in C. S. Lewis' Narnia series; Arthur Conan Doyle; Laura Ingalls Wilder; Robert Louis Stevenson; Robinson Crusoe; Peter Pan; Jules Verne; John Buchan; James Herriot; O. Henry; and biographies of missionaries, explorers and warriors.

By the time they are in their mid teens, let's hope they've become acquainted with J.R.R. Tolkien; Randy Alcorn's fiction; G.K. Chesterton's poetry and his Father Brown series; Louisa May Alcott; G.A. Henty; Charles Dickens; Alexandre Dumas; Thor Heyerdahl; Rafael Sabatini; and plenty of history books. In the latter category, please be sure and include Shelby Foote, Samuel Eliot Morrison and Walter Lord.

Happy Christmas shopping. And don't feel bad that you're going to go out and order the books for your kids that you really want to read too! Literature should promote sharing!

Sunday, November 22, 2015

The 2016 Notting Hill Napoleons Booklist

At our weekend retreat in Nebraska City, our book club of 23 years made their list of books to be read in the coming year. Here they are.

January -- The Smoke At Dawn (Jeff Shaara)

February -- That Hideous Strength (C. S. Lewis) A re-read.

March -- Drums Along the Mohawk (Walter D. Edmonds)

April -- The Children of The New Forest (Frederick Marryat)

May – The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexander Dumas) A re-read.

June -- Trustee from the Toolroom (Nevil Shute)

July -- Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)

August -- Vandemark's Folly (Herbert Quick)

September -- Ross Poldark (Winston Graham)

October – The Ox-Bow Incident (Walter Van Tilberg Clark)

November -- Martin Chuzzlewit (Charles Dickens) A re-read.

December -- The Snare (Rafael Sabatini)

Alternate 1 -- Catching Fire (Suzanne Collins)

Alternate 2 -- The Hobbit (J.R.R. Tolkien)

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Under Review: The Christmas Room

The Amazon reviews are beginning to come in on my new novel, The Christmas Room. Here’s a few.

“I loved The Christmas Room. The story is innovative and captivating, full of familial struggles and true to life stories that so many can relate to as they deal with aging parents. You'll learn and grow in your knowledge of care for the elderly and will be encouraged by the healing power of love, patience and kindness. Assisted living and nursing home employees/employers will especially enjoy how they can relate to so much in this book. Senior citizens have much to offer us!”

“Great read. Denny does a great job bringing out the good as well as the bad that families face dealing with family issues while also juggling the declining health of a loved one. Going to be sending this to friends and loved ones for Christmas 2015. Thank you!”

“Thank you so much.  The Christmas Room is written with so much appreciation and respect for our elders as well as capturing the daily blood, sweat, tears, and joy of a nursing home.”

“The Christmas Room is a book that holds your heart. Each page is full of love, compassion and joy. While the characters go through their trials and doubts - their faith grows, as forgiveness, mercy and understanding is waiting for them if they just trust and believe. A good read from a strong Christian writer.”

“The book is a bit of heaven in this cursed world. Oh if there really was a place like this for someone who needs care. This would be the place. Mr Hartford has such a wonderful way of weaving the personalities in harmony, problem solving, love, and respect for the dignity of all life. What a great book!”

Copies of The Christmas Room are available from Amazon and from Kindle download.  The novel can also be purchased at Bookworm and Divine Truth book shops in Omaha.

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Bringing the Reading List Up to Date

It is an early Friday morning and I’m sitting in a Panera’s restaurant in Branson, Missouri while a cool and gentle rain falls outside.  It has been doing so for hours. That's great for creating a pensive mood for Day Five of our annual working vacation here in the Ozarks.  More important, the rain has provided needed relief from the unusually dry climate the area has experienced in recent months. Sadly, that lack of rain has muted the brilliance of autumn a bit -- that beautiful, awe-inspiring burst of colors that we've come to expect just hasn't materialized. But we're not complaining. It's still very pretty, very peaceful, and we have had a very enjoyable time.

The blog post that is most overdue is this one for The Book Den.  This morning I grabbed my reading list and written one of my “catch up” posts in which I list the books I’ve recently read but with minimal comments.  The last such post appeared way back in July. Yipes. 

Here they are.

* Into the Volcano by Forrest DeVoe.  I don’t remember just where this book came to my attention but, in graciousness to that source, I hope I never do. I did finish this espionage story but just barely.  Please don’t bother with this one or anything else by this author.

* Run Silent, Run Deep and Dust on the Sea by Edward L. Beach.  Both of these WWII-era submarine novels are well worth the read but the first is of really special value.  They are full of adventure, tension, detailed information on submarines and naval warfare strategy, plenty of human interest, and featuring remarkable writing skills from a real-life submarine commander.  Recommended.

* The Four Just Men, Council of Justice, The Just Men of Cordova, The Law of the Four Just Men, The Three Just Men, Again the Three Just Men, The Green Rust, and The Angel of Terror  by Edgar Wallace.  Thanks to Kindle, a reader who enjoys fine books from years gone way by now has a chance to enjoy them...and at a truly astounding bargain as well.  All of these Edgar Wallace books (none of which I could have afforded because of their rarity) came in a collection provided through Kindle for only 99¢.  Cool, huh? That’s the kind of opportunity that Kindle frequently provides.  Wallace’s books, by the way, were bestselling thrillers on both sides of the Atlantic in the early 20th Century.  Therefore, reading them provided not only the fun of well-written mystery novels with a political twist, but the added advantages which older literature can provide – delightfully different styles and perspectives, richer vocabulary, history provided by first hand commentary, and the absence of those things that so often make modern books morally objectionable.

* The Lancashire Witches by William Harrison Ainsworth.  This is another long out-of-print book (1849) that I probably couldn't afford even if I could have found a copy somewhere.  But through Kindle I purchased (again for 99¢) a whole gang of W.H. Ainsworth novels.  I enjoyed this one very much.  There was a lot of history, a lot of interesting perspective on the witch craze in Pendle Forest in the year 1612, and a lot of insightful comment and fine writing.  Now, after this Ainsworth novel, I tried a couple others in the collection but couldn’t make it very far in either one.  But The Lancashire Witches was an unusual and profitable read.  Recommended.

* The Seventh Cross by Anna Seghers is an exceptional novel written in 1942, a tense thriller about a Communist escapee from a Nazi concentration camp. It is a profound, moving novel that explores the nature of German politics, the soul’s yearning for spiritual as well as physical freedom, the loathsome and fearful force of violence, the sublimity of heroism exhibited by everyday people, and much more.  This was one of the Notting Hill Napoleon’s monthly selections and the discussion over the novel was exceptional.  Highly recommended.

* Prepare by J. Paul Nyquist.  This is brief but excellent theological work written by the current president of Moody Bible College in Chicago.  The general subject is the persecution of Christians – how and why it happens, how it has increased dramatically in recent decades (including the West), the critical necessity to grasp the biblical teaching on persecution, preparing for it, and praying for revival.  Highly recommended.

* The Lone Star Ranger, The Young Pitcher, and The Mysterious Rider by Zane Grey.  Here are three more historic novels that came in a giant collection of Zane Grey novels available through Kindle at a remarkably cheap price.  The first two were enjoyable but I don't think I would recommend them. And the third? Definitely not. It was tedious, predictable, and poorly written.

* A Christian Manifesto by Francis Schaeffer.  This is a genuine classic, the book which launched Claire and me into pro-life ministry almost 35 years ago.  Re-reading it is always a moving experience for us with fresh applications that are always relevant.  This time around a few friends read it with us (Matt, Allen and Quint) and the subsequent discussion was tremendously stimulating.  Highly recommended.

* Knight Without Armor by James Hilton.  This is one of the most dramatic and enjoyable reading surprises in recent years.  It’s not just the fine writing and the interesting plot twists – one rather expects that from the writer of Random Harvest, Lost Horizon, and Goodbye, Mr. Chips – but it was also the setting (just before and during the Russian Revolution), the amazing historical detail, and one of the most intriguing, unusual, and wining love stories I’ve ever read.  The discussion of the Notting Hill Napoleons over this one was really fun.  Highly recommended.

* Guadalcanal Diary by Richard Tregaskis.  This simple but compelling account of the first months of the U.S. Marines’ fight for the island of Guadalcanal in 1942 is a must read for those interested in military history.  Recommended.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Of Interest to My Bookish Friends

* “Tolkien, Lewis, and the Great War” (Linda Bridges, National Review)

* “Can Shakespeare Heal? One Director’s Quest to Help Treat PTSD” (Madaline Donnelly, Daily Signal)

* “More Answers to Twelve Tantalizing Questions” (John Malek, The Book Den)

* “Alice in Wonderland at 150: still a literary wonder” (Susan Reibel Moore, Mercator)

* “America’s Reading Crisis Is Much Worse Than You Think” (Sara Kay Mooney, Christianity Today)

More Answers to Twelve Tantalizing Questions

John Malek, insurance executive, Board member of Vital Signs Ministries, and charter member of the Notting Hill Napoleons book club, is the latest to answer the “Twelve Tantalizing Questions for our Bookish Friends” we posed awhile ago. They are very interesting answers too. Check 'em out.

1) List ten of your favorite books in five minutes.

Children of Men (P.D. James)
Les Miserables (Victor Hugo)
Our Mutual Friend (Charles Dickens)
A Tale of Two Cities (Charles Dickens)
Tragedy of the Korosko (Arthur Conan Doyle)
Toilers of the Sea  (Victor Hugo)
Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien)
The Space Trilogy (C.S.Lewis)

2) What’s the last really good book you read?

Riders of the Purple Sage (Zane Grey)

3) Do you finish every book you start?


4) Do you re-read books? Do you re-read any books more than once or twice? Like what?

Yes, classics

5) Are there any authors whose work you have read completely? Or almost completely? Who?

Doyle, Dickens, Lewis, Tolkien

6) Do you prefer fiction or nonfiction? Why?


7) Do you recommend books? If you do, give an example or two.

Yes, Nevil Shute and John Buchan

8) Do you read books that are more than one hundred years old?

Books that were written over 100 years ago, but not made 100 years ago, they would fall apart in my hands! -:)

9) What’s more important to you: the way a book is written or what the book is about?

Good subject but bad writing is painful, but a bad subject, regardless of the writing style is pointless, so to me they are of equal importance.

10) Have you ever written a fan letter to an author?


11) Do you keep track of the books you read?


12) Okay, take a look at the list you made at the beginning.  Any changes you’d like to make?

Probably, but I like the list well enough. Of course this is a list based on fiction books and the Bible is not fiction but that book is a given and that is not on my list. There are also a list of very impactful non-fiction theological type books that have had huge impacts on my life, but those are for another day and another survey!

The other entries in this series are here and here.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

Fidel Castro Is Not What You've Been Led to Believe

Ronald Radosh has written for The Weekly Standard a intriguing book review of Juan Reinaldo Sánchez’s The Double Life of Fidel Castro: My 17 Years as Personal Bodyguard to El Líder Máximo.

Here’s a couple of passages to draw your interest.

Fidel Castro has often told Cubans and the world press that he is an exemplary revolutionary leader who works day and night for the revolution and lives as simply as the poorest Cuban, taking only a meager official salary of $38 per month (in American dollars). Sánchez finds this myth “highly comic,” since, in reality, Castro was the CEO of what might be called Cuba Holdings, an entity with sums in the millions, all of it available for Castro’s personal use at a moment’s whim.

Sánchez details how Castro uses this wealth for his personal comfort, a state secret carefully hidden from the people he led until his recent official retirement. For the first time, Sánchez exposes the secret properties Castro owns, giving exact locations, using maps and Google satellite imagery. The leader who preaches the need to sacrifice for the revolution has, in addition to 20 homes throughout the island, a private island called Cayo Piedra, where he and his entourage would go each weekend in June and for the entire month of August. It was, writes Sánchez, a “millionaire’s paradise” where Castro kept his private yacht, Aquarama II, and had his own ecological underwater sanctuary…

The revelations here are important for Americans to read, just as President Obama has restored full diplomatic relations with Cuba, with the opening of an embassy in each country. Many believe that this step, along with the restoration of American tourism, will lead to a relaxation of the dictatorship in Cuba as Western values (and dollars) begin to transform the country…  

Two years away from retirement age, and growing more disillusioned by the day, Juan Reinaldo Sánchez made a formal request to retire early. Immediately, he was arrested by Castro and spent two years in harsh prison conditions. He was released in 1996, 40 pounds lighter than he had weighed upon entry. After a dozen attempts to escape Cuba, he succeeded in 2008. Hoping to devote the last chapter of his life to working for freedom in Cuba, he died just as this American edition of his book was published.