Daily Archives: April 11, 2011

Between Heaven and Hell by Michael DiMura

Between Heaven and HellReviewed by Chris Phillips

DiMura includes all the necessary elements for a thrilling young adult fantasy. Action, a good anti-hero, a beautiful heroine and conflict between good and evil on a major scale combine for action in great fight scenes and wonderfully articulated struggles of mind and heart for each of the thoroughly developed characters. Vampires play a key role in the book but none of the characters are developed enough to be more than cameos. Werewolves are mentioned, but never dealt with in the novel.

The initial premise of the book reveals the character of the anti-hero, Kaine. Through some extreme circumstances Kaine becomes a demi-god on the Earth, living between Heaven and Hell. The usual characters of Lucifer (he hates being called the Devil), Archangel Michael, and Death round out the “parents” Kaine has on the Earth to help him make the many life altering decisions he must make. For Kaine it all comes down to a choice between Heaven and Hell where he comes up with a creative alternative, he chooses neither and dedicates his life to removing supernatural influences from the Earth and humans in particular.

Other important characters include Allyson and Darius. Allyson is the heroine here; the person that restores Kaine from the loneliness and the despair he encounters because of his nature and his life’s work. With the havoc that comes to Allyson’s life when Kaine becomes involved with her, it is almost depressing that she continues to be devoted to Kaine and his cause. She is very optimistic and trusting but there are explanations for her outlook in the narrative. Darius is another matter.

Darius is one of the people Kaine encountered in the crusade of King Richard. During that encounter the two men developed quite a friendship, but also have many problems as is common with friendships forged in war. Darius shows up several hundred years later with a mission, misguided though it may be, to destroy Kaine. Darius, by the time of their second encounters, is a demi-god albeit not very good about using any powers that come to him.

Belial is the only true demon encountered that is developed and it is entirely in terms of his hatred for Kaine. As the son of Lucifer, he was the heir apparent until Kaine became an immortal. The character development of this denizen of Hell is very slight and single purposed. There is not enough about Belial to make him as believable as the others even Lucifer and Michael who are stereotypical of traditional interpretations of their character.

The plot is well constructed with twists and turns to keep the reader sitting on the edge of his chair. There are many cosmological and philosophical ideas espoused in the plot. Some may make many uncomfortable, but should challenge the most staid reader to think about their own beliefs and how those impact family and friends. The book deals with extreme loneliness, driven behavior that drives away friends and that sense of rightness that many young adults have about their beliefs.

The book is an excellent read for anyone from teens through adults. There are portions of the book that deal with some extreme violence and very little use of expletives. Those are the only cautions for minors reading this.

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Rehearsing for Heaven by Mark B. Reed

Rehearsing for HeavenReviewed by Douglas R. Cobb

Is your “heartprint,” aligned with heaven’s values? Has the way you’ve led your life on Earth, your “rehearsal for heaven,” gotten you ready for the Big Show? Heaven’s Executive Producer, God, would like you to be one of the actors or actresses he chooses for heaven, but whether you get there or not depends on both God’s grace and how well you do in rehearsals, that is, how well you led your life on Earth. Written in three acts, Rehearsing For Heaven by Mark B. Reed and published by CreateSpace is a thoughtful and scholarly extended metaphor (simile might be more accurate) about our lives on Earth being a rehearsal for heaven, the greatest “show” of them all. Using numerous sources, anecdotes, and an always interesting and thought-provoking writing style, author Mark B. Reed explores what it is to live a good life, how we can change and live richer lives that are pleasing to God, what the nature of heaven is like, and how to ultimately get there ourselves and join the “cast,” before it’s too late.

What are the three sections, or “acts,” and what are the topics they cover that today’s Christians should find interesting? Act 1 is “Setting the Scene,” Act 2 is “The Script,” and Act 3 is “Showtime.” Each act is broken down into three “scenes,” which cover sub-topics important to the acts and to Christians who would like to lead better lives. To give you an idea of what I’m referring to, Act 1’s three scenes are: “Heaven’s Producer,” “Heaven’s Set,” and “Heaven’s Stage.” Act 2’s are: “Heaven’s Storyline,” “Heaven’s POV,” and “Heaven’s Cast and Crew,” while Act 3’s scenes are “Heaven’s Hope,” “Heaven’s Justice,” and “Heaven’s Life.” The book is then wrapped up with its Epilogue, “The Beginning of the End,” which concisely sums up Rehearsing For Heaven’s main themes.

Just telling you the titles of the three Acts and their scenes probably doesn’t give you a very clear picture of what Rehearsing For Heaven is about. “Heaven’s Producer,” is self-explanatory, as God is the “Producer” of the title. It is about the nature of God, but, like each of the Acts and scenes, it covers a lot of related sub-topics, and uses pop and cultural references to illustrate the author’s points, like Alfred Hitchcock and his quote: “I enjoy playing the audience like a piano.” There are also “Cue Cards,” strewn in each scene, with talking points on them to ponder and perhaps discuss in worship groups. For example, one in Act 1, Scene 1 has written on it: “Empty handed and bare,/transparent to the core,/let’s hope there’s something left/when heaven begins to explore.”

Act 2, “The Script,” goes into many topics, also, like the End Times, what the “new heaven and earth,” the Bible mentions will be like, the transformation our earth will undergo, etc. As Mark B. Reed states, the “Bottom line,” is that “the world is headed somewhere by the Producer’s design. It’s not in the hands of randomness. It’s in the Creator’s hands.” In the intriguingly titled sub-topic, “Stairway to Heaven,” Reed discusses the different religious beliefs of the Hindus, who conceive of life and death as a “cycle,” instead of linearly, as we do in the West. He goes into ideas they have about reincarnation and its goal “to die finished, cycling until reaching the ultimate level of perfection.” Most religions, he states, “take an earn-your-own-way approach just like reincarnation, holding each person responsible for paying for his mistakes, cleaning them up, changing his ways, and making himself a better person.” The difference between those and Biblical Christianity in that respect is that the latter “allows an imperfect being to be made perfect by a power outside himself. It’s called grace.”

Act 3, “Showtime,” is probably my favorite Act of the book. That’s because right from the start of the Act, we learn more about the author, that his first job at the age of fourteen was “detasseling corn.” Also, we learn about the crucial importance of hope, like that “Hope is not a wish. It’s a confident expectation.” It’s different from “optimism” and “wishful thinking” in that hope is built upon a “solid foundation” of faith and trust. As one of the Cue Cards from this Act says (quoting George lles): “Hope is faith holding out its hand in the dark.” The third Act, in addition, gets into “Where Do I Go When I Die?” what Jesus’s resurrection means to Christians, the various places one can wind up in te Afterlife, and more.

Generally speaking, I’m not a fan of reading what some people term “inspirational” books, guidebooks that tell us what we’re doing right or wrong as Christians and how to change our lives for the better and live more Godly lives. After all, everyone has his/her opinions, and merely having them in between the covers of a book in black-and-white is not enough to make them the “Gospel Truth.” However, occasionally a thoughtfully written exception to this comes out that catches my eye, and provides food for both my intellect and soul, and Rehearsing For Heaven, like C.S. Lewis’ brilliant Mere Christianity, is an example of this. It’s a Must Read for Christians, and an interesting discourse on the nature of life and the Afterlife that everyone should find very worthwhile reading indeed.

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