Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Rule of St Benedict

The Rule of St Benedict: A Commentary by Paul Delatte, translated by Justin McCann, 496 pages

The Benedictine Rule, developed and codified by the saint over the course of decades of study and practical experience as an abbot, has formed the standard for Western monasticism for nearly fifteen hundred years.  

The author of this paragraph by paragraph commentary, Dom Paul Delatte, was the second successor of Dom Gueranger as Abbot of Solesmes, a monastery which was central in the revival of French monasticism after the terrible persecution of the French Revolution and is justly famed for its key role in the liturgical movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.  Delatte speaks, not as an antiquarian explicating some ancient curiosity, nor as an innovator seeking justification in a peculiar interpretation of the distant past, but as part of a living, breathing tradition.  

The commentary, although written for monks, is of interest to those outside the cloister - the book is dedicated "to all those, whether in monasteries or in the world, who belong to the great family of St Benedict."  In the midst of a consideration of the practicalities of St Benedict's regulations concerning monastic meals, Dom Delatte surprises by remarking on the error of conflating commutative and distributive justice.  A section on the manner in which the Divine Office is to be chanted becomes a lesson in the importance of self-denial.  The Rule is more than a set of arbitrary or practical laws for the functioning of a society - it is a means of personal formation and growth in holiness.

Monday, October 5, 2015

ApocalyptiGirl: an Aria for the End Times

ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End TimesApocalyptiGirl: an Aria for the End Times, by Andrew MacLean, 88 pages

Aria appears to be the last woman alive on a post apocalyptic Earth- scavenging for parts and food with her best friend, a cat named Jelly Beans.  But as we follow her on her daily ventures into the ruins of a former cityscape, we realize that there are others out there- and they are not exactly friendly.  It also becomes clear that Aria has a bigger mission that she's getting closer to completing every day- but the fate of Earth if she is successful is unclear until the very last page.


CinderallaCinderalla, by Junko Mizuno, 144 pages

Okay, this is a super-adult, super-weird, kind of grotesque, wait- really grotesque, loose re-telling of the Cinderella story.  Cinderalla runs a yakitori restaurant with her dad, who dies, but becomes a zombie, as the dead do.  He falls in love with a fellow zombie who also has two zombie daughters.  Cinderalla is soon constantly making pancakes for her new zombie stepmother, making bras for one of her step-sisters and keeping the other from performing lap-dances on customers (note: see the first sentence).  Also, everything is drawn in a very cute manner, but belies the fact that it's pretty darn gross most of the time.  And despite all of that... I found this utterly fascinating.  Also, kind of humorous if you can get past the gross and weird and unsettling.  A pretty fascinating read on a fairytale retold in a very unique manner.

Idea of a University

The Idea of a University by Bl John Henry Newman, 464 pages

The author adapted these essays from a series of lectures he delivered in Dublin between 1854 and 1858.  During this period, Newman was struggling to establish the Catholic University of Ireland, a labor which naturally prompted sustained reflection on the nature and purpose of the university.

For Newman, the university is grounded in the unity of truth.  All branches of learning - physical sciences, philosophy, the arts, theology, law, medicine - take their places in the university as complementary parts of the greater whole.  Without the influence of the other fields, any one discipline is sure to go astray, and too great a specialization by the student produces a stunted man.  More than arguing for a certain concept of a university, he argues for an integral humanism that is truly Catholic.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Politicizing the Bible

Cover image for Politicizing the Bible: The Roots of Historical Criticism and the Secularization of Scripture 1300-1700 by Scott W Hahn and Benjamin Wiker, 566 pages

The historical-critical approach to the Bible - examining Scripture as a historically conditioned collection of texts - is generally considered a dogmatically and politically neutral approach which is rooted in the Enlightenment.  Hahn and Wiker trace its origins back 400 years earlier, to disputes over nominalism and realism at the end of the Middle Ages.  In the process, they reveal how the development of historical criticism was involved in the process of secularization, and how both were entangled in the rise of nationalism.  In addition to the expected (Machiavelli, Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke), the authors manage to draw in figures that secularized history tends to undervalue and misunderstand (Marsilius of Padua, William of Ockham, Wycliffe, Luther).

Hahn and Wiker ably expose the manner in which a supposedly disinterested quest for truth is, in fact, a mission of disenchantment itself inspired by prior ideological commitments, enabled by the Averroistic doctrine of double truth and the Polybian conception of religion as a tool to control the unenlightened masses.  More than a simple study of one form of biblical scholarship, Politicizing the Bible, like A Secular Age and The Unintended Reformation, is an intriguing, enlightening exploration of the intellectual currents flowing into modernity.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Bloody Cross Manga

Bloody Cross Volumes 1-4, by Shiwo Komeyama (835 pages/4 books)

Cover image for In a world that has angels and demons feuding  with each other, the half breeds get the short end of the stick. Which is exactly where Tsukimiya finds herself. As a half demon/half angel she is imbrued with a curse, one that will kill her is she doesn't drink the blood of a pure demon. But with every other half breed killing off demons, they are in short supply. Luckily she meets an angel named Hinata knows where to find a demon. But what happens next was neither of them could have predicted.

I am not entirely sure what to make of this series. One of the main characters is so trusting that they fall into near deadly traps every book. Luckily they are backed up by some seriously powerful allies, otherwise they would be history. But I cannot help but think that if the bad guys were serious about defeating anyone, they really should have killed this klutz a long time ago. Honestly if this keeps up I will only be able to read another ten to fifteen books in this series before I write it off.

On the other hand Bloody Cross is quite interesting with its blend of demons, angels, vampires and a couple demi-gods. It consistently gives you action, and besides from the aforementioned klutz has some well written characters. I would recommend this series to anyone that likes a good action manga.

Note: I know I have harped on it before but I really must say it again, it is very difficult to review a series without giving anything away, especially with manga. Sooooo much happens in each book.

The Grisha Series

Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm, and Ruin and Rising by Leigh Bardugo, (1225 pages/ 3 books)

Cover image for When an ordinary soldier named Alina is discovered to have extraordinary magical powers that could reunite the kingdom her whole life changes. In a matter of days she goes from sleeping in a tent to living in a palace. But her new found life of fame and riches is short lived as not everyone wants to see the kingdom saved, but everyone wants her power.

What I liked most about the Grisha Series was how well it was able to blend magic and science together. And rather then pitting one against the other, they actually are able to exist in harmony and build off each other. I honestly wish that this would happen more in science fiction books.

In some ways I also found myself wishing that this had been written as an adult fiction rather than young adult. Not because it needed more adult content, but simply because adult fiction allows for more world development or borderline epicness.

Claymore Manga

Claymore Volumes 1-5, by Norihiro Yagi (939 pages/5 books)

Cover image for The Claymore manga series has been on my read list for the last several months, but I had never really gotten around to it. But with this year having bonus points for translated material, and finding myself down 20+ books in my yearly reading challenge, I needed some quick material. Manga certainly qualifies.

Claymore is about an organization of demon slayers, called Claymores. Namely because they carry around huge claymore swords. The organization is comprised of nearly all women, with at least one male organizer. Frankly I am not entirely sure what he does but I suspect that it will be revealed later. The reason the group only has women slayers is because of the entry procedure. To become a Claymore you must be bounded with demons blood. This is nearly always fatal for men, but essential. Without the added strength and speed that blood gives, the demons or youma, as they are called, would easily kill them. But while the blood allows them to kill the demons, it also bears a curse. Everyone who is infected with it will eventually lose control of themselves and turn into a demon.

This series is very action packed, but also pretty gory. As you can imagine, lots of things get hacked apart, and not all of them are demons. So far I am enjoying the series, and look forward to reading more of it.

The Mountaintop School For Dogs and other second chances

The Mountaintop School For Dogs and other second chances by Ellen Cooney
293 Pages

"The Sanctuary. High up on the mountain, the Sanctuary is a place of refuge. It is a place where humans save dogs, who, in turn, save the humans. It is a place where the past does not exist, where hopelessness is chased away, where the future hasn't been written, where orphans and strays can begin to imagine a new meaning for "family." Evie is making her way to the Sanctuary. She has lied to gain entry. She has pretended to know more than she does about dogs, but she is learning fast. Once the indomitable Mrs. Auberchon lets her pass, she will find her way. Like the racing greyhound who refuses to move, the golden retriever who returns to his job as the Sanctuary's butler every time he's adopted, and the Rottweiler who's a hopeless candidate for search-and-rescue, Evie comes from a troubled past. But as they all learn, no one should stay prisoner to a life she didn't choose. This is the story of two women and a whole pack of dogs who, having lost their way in the world, find a place at a training school-and radical rescue center-called the Sanctuary. It is a story of strays and rescues, kidnappings and homecomings, moving on and holding on and letting go. And it is, ultimately, a moving and hilarious chronicle of the ways in which humans and canines help each other find new lives, new selves, and new hope."

A charming novel with excellent development of dog characters.  If you are a dog lover you'll like this book.
Night Chill by Jeff Gunhus    438 pages

I haven’t slept in three days. Jeff Gunhus’ first novel for adults scared the beejeezus out of me. It takes off fast and never slows down until the final page.

The book’s premise is the Jack Tremont has moved his family (wife Lauren, daughters Becky and Sarah) from California to the mountains of Western Maryland. The family, especially Jack, needed to start over after a horrible accident.

The book opens with the abduction of an eighteen-year-old girl by one of the novel’s central characters, Nate Huckley. This isn’t the first young woman/girl who has been one of Huckley’s victims. The story shifts to Jack and his daughters as he picks them up from school. After dropping the girls off for a play date, he goes to a local bar to console a friend who has a dying child. An ensuing rainstorm causes the gruesome death of a local n’er-do-well. (It’s closing in on bedtime as I finish this chapter, but knowing sleep won’t come easy, I read some more.)

The next few chapters are the most terrifying I have ever read. Since everyone hates spoilers, let’s just say you should read this in the daytime.  

The Tremont’s have been living in Prescott City for a year now, but they had no idea of the evil secrets they were about to encounter. It seems like everyone in town is involved, from the sheriff to the bartender.

Before Night Chill, Gunhus has written a YA series in order to induce his son to read. That this is his first adult novel may be more terrifying than the book----he’ll get better as he writes, I’m sure.

I give Night Chill 5 out of 5 stars.

Fatal Judgment

Fatal Judgment by Irene Hannon, 330 pages
Jake Taylor is a U.S. Marshall assigned to Federal Court Judge Elizabeth Michaels after her sister was killed in what may have been an attempt on her life.  The FBI and the Marshalls are trying to figure out who was behind the shooting while Liz is kept in protective custody.  Liz is actually the widow of Jake's best friend from college.  Jake had been under the impression that Liz had not been a very good wife to his friend and may have even been indirectly responsible for his death.  After meeting her again though, Jake is being forced to revise his opinion and thinks he may even be falling in love with Liz and the feeling may be mutual.  If they can manage to keep Liz alive, perhaps their love could have a chance.  Hannon's books are formulaic but she's a pretty good writer so the story is still pretty compelling.  These are for people who like Christian suspense romance.

Francine Poulet Meets The Ghost Raccoon

Francine Poulet Meets The Ghost Raccoon by Kate DiCamillo, 91 pages

Francine Poulet is a no-nonsense, take charge kind of person.  She's not afraid of anything.  She faced down a bear and the bear blinked first.  She has won 47 awards in her job as animal control officer.  She's the greatest animal control officer in Grizzford County.  But it seems that now she may have met her match in the form of a screaming ghost raccoon.  The woman who complained about the raccoon originally said that the raccoon was screaming her name.  Francine is sure that it's all nonsense but when she meets the raccoon, for the first time she's afraid.  Is this the end of Francine's career or will she find a way to defeat the raccoon?  This was a fun adventure for younger elementary kids who are just beginning chapter books.

Nice Girls Don’t Bite Their Neighbors

Nice Girls Don’t Bite Their Neighbors by Molly Harper, 337 pages

This is the last book in this series.  Jane is forced to turn a young man she knows into a vampire when he is hit by a car.  She, of course, becomes responsible for Jamie, who is still a teenager and acts like it.  This is while she is trying to plan her wedding to Gabriel and also while someone is apparently trying to kill Gabriel.  In the meantime her Grandma Ruthie has died and has decided to take up residence in Jane’s house because she is still resentful that Aunt Jettie left the house to Jane.  I liked the way Harper wrapped this series up.  If she wanted to she could easily write more books but the story is all very neatly tied up with no loose ends.  Fans of the supernatural humorous romance will like this series a lot.


Unmade by Sarah Rees Brennan, 370 pages

"New York Times bestselling author Sarah Rees Brennan brings the Lynburn Legacy--her modern, magical twist on the Gothic romance and girl-detective genres--to a surprising and satisfying conclusion. Perfect for fans of the Beautiful Creatures and the Mortal Instruments series. "Who will be the sacrifice?" Kami is linked to two boys. One through a strong magical bond, and the other through unforgettable love. With Jared missing for months and presumed dead, Kami must rely on her link with Ash for the strength to face the evil spreading through her town. Working with her friends, Kami uncovers a secret that might be the key to saving the town. But with knowledge comes responsibility--and a painful choice. A choice that will risk not only Kami's life, but also the lives of those she loves most."  I really liked this ending.  Teens that like fantasy will want to read this series and should be pretty satisfied with this last book.

Torn Away

Torn Away by Jennifer Brown, 276 pages

I think I like every book I read by Brown more than the last one.  This is the story of Jersey, whose hometown of Elizabeth, MO was hit by a devastating tornado at the end of her junior year of high school.  She was home alone when the tornado hit and her entire neighborhood was basically leveled.  Jersey pretty much loses everything in the storm and has to learn to cope with her grief and loss with no help from anyone.  In fact, the people who should be helping her are actually making her situation worse.  This is based loosely on the situation with the tornado in Joplin and is a great, but sad, story about a girl who finds inner strength and help from an unexpected source.  Teens who like stories about real life will enjoy this book.


Lost by S.A. Bodeen, 137 pages

This is the second book in the Shipwreck Island trilogy.  Sarah and her family are still trapped on the strange island.  They are still hearing odd noises and Sarah's stepmother seems to be getting ill.  The find a girl unconscious on the beach who tells them a fantastic story when she wakes up.  Sarah's dad and stepmom clearly don't believe everything but the story doesn't seem much crazier than some of the things Sarah and her stepbrothers, Marco and Nacho, have seen.  The girl also warns them about a new threat, The Curator.  Sarah hopes that they can find a way off the island before everyone on her family is captured by The Curator, or worse, killed.  This is a good adventure story for older elementary or younger middle school kids.  There's just enough scary stuff going on to satisfy kids who like that type of story.  I liked the second book better than first and I liked the first book pretty well.

Dorothy Must Die: Stories

Dorothy Must Die: Stories by Danielle Paige, 377 pages

This is a collection of three novellas that tell the story of Dorothy's return to Oz and why she is so different from the Dorothy we know from the Wizard of Oz.  Two years after her return to Kansas Dorothy is bored with her life, misses Oz, and thinks that she may have made a mistake.  When she is given the opportunity to return to Oz, she jumps at the chance, taking Uncle Henry and Auntie Em with her.  Much more time has passed in Oz than in Kansas and she finds that the Scarecrow is no longer in charge, a young girl, Ozma, is the Princess of Oz.  Dorothy finds that she has some ability to use magic and, desperate to stay in Oz, she uses magic to achieve this end.  However, using the magic seems to twist her and change her personality, thus she becomes the girl that we see in the book Dorothy Must Die.  The first story is from Dorothy's perspective and the next two are from the perspective of Jellia Jamb and the Wizard.  I actually like these stories better than the first book, but I might like it better now that I have more explanation.  Teens who like the Oz stories or like fantasy will probably enjoy this.

A Handful Of Stars

A Handful Of Stars by Cynthia Lord, 184 pages

Lily is determined to save enough money top get her dog, Logan, cataract surgery.  Logan, partly because of his blindness, leads Lily to a meeting with Salma, a migrant worker who is helping her family pick blueberries.  Salma and Lily end up becoming friends.  Salma helps Lily paint mason bee houses, which Lily is selling to make money for Logan's operation.  Lily ends up helping Salma when Salma decides to enter the Downeast Blueberry Queen contest.  Between all of their activities, Lily and Salma help each other understand the meaning of true friendship and even manage to help Logan along the way.  I really enjoyed this book.  Kids who like realistic fiction should definitely pick this one up.


Infected by Sophie Littlefield, 242 pages

Carina's life has been pretty normal up to her senior year.  I mean sure her mom wasn't really around much because of her job, but otherwise everything was pretty good.  Then her life started spinning out of control.  Her mother died and then now her uncle, who took care of her after her mother's death, has also died.  Her new guardian is someone else who worked with both her mother and uncle.  Carina always thought that they were working on some sort of nutritional project but at her uncle's funeral she gets information that makes her suspect that they were working on something much more dangerous, and that she, and her boyfriend, Tanner, might both be affected by this research on a very personal level.  She and Tanner are on a quest to find the truth but there are people who seem determined to keep them from it and time is running out.  This was a fast paced adventure story that teens will probably enjoy.

A Thousand Pieces Of You

A Thousand Pieces Of You by Claudia Gray, 360 pages

Marguerite's father has just been killed by Paul, a boy who she thought was completely trustworthy.  He was one of two grad students who had been studying with her parents and was practically family.  Now he has left, using the Firebird, a device her parents invented that can be used to travel to other dimensions.  Unfortunately, he has also destroyed all of her parents' research so that the device can't be duplicated anytime soon.  However, the other student, Theo, has managed to salvage to earlier prototypes that he has upgraded to be usable.  He and Marguerite follow Paul  in an attempt to exact revenge or at least bring him to justice.  Along the way, though, Marguerite may learn some things that don't agree with the story she believes to be true.  There may be more to the situation than she knows and Paul may not be the villain that she thinks.  This was a great science fiction story.  Although a little bit predictable, it was still well written and I thought it was pretty compelling.   I'm fairly certain there will be a sequel because this book left a lot of loose ends in the overall story and I will be excited to read it when it comes out.

Mary Poppins In The Kitchen

Mary Poppins In The Kitchen by P.L. Travers, 79 pages

This is a combination cookbook and story.  Mr. and Mrs. Banks have planned a trip.  Ellen is already away because she is ill and Mrs. Brill has received a telegram that she must go help her niece whose children are sick with the measles.  Mary Poppins, of course, is more than capable in the kitchen and off the Banks go leaving Mary Poppins and he children to manage.   They cook something different every day, usually with the help of someone we've met in a previous book, like Mrs. Corry and her daughters and Admiral Boom.  At the end of the book are all of the recipes of everything they made and a few things they didn't.  It's cute but probably only something that fans of Mary Poppins would enjoy.

The Marvels

The Marvels by Brian Selznick, 665 pages

This is the story of the Marvel family, a genealogy from Billy Marvel through his descendants, down to his great-great grandson, Leo.  The book tells the story of the family in pictures, especially Billy's story, which is a very exciting story of surviving a shipwreck with only his dog, Tar.  All of the family led exciting lives afterwards, being famous actors at the Royal Theatre.  The second half of the book is about a boy named Joseph, who runs away from his boarding school to his Uncle Albert's house in London.  He has never met his uncle, and it is there that he discovers the story of the Marvel family.  Joseph is determined to uncover the secret his uncle is hiding and to figure out what the connection is between his family and the Marvels.  This was an excellent story.  Despite it's length, it will be an easy sell to reluctant readers since half of the book is illustrations.  I think this might be favorite of Selznick's books so far.


Deceptions by Kelley Armstrong
453 Pages

"Olivia Taylor Jones's life has exploded. She's discovered she is not only adopted, but her real parents are convicted serial killers. Fleeing the media frenzy, she took refuge in the oddly secluded town of Cainsville. She has since solved the town's mysteries and finds herself not only the target of its secretive elders but also her stalker ex-fiancé. Visions continue to haunt her: particularly a little blond girl in a green sundress who insists she has an important message for Olivia, one that may help her balance the light and darkness within herself. Death stalks both Olivia and the two men most important to her, as she desperately searches to understand whether ancient scripts are dictating the triangle that connects them. Will darkness prevail, or does Olivia have the power to prevent a tragic fate?"

So I find the overall plot development and progression to be good enough for me to continue to read the series.  However there are a few annoying flaws with the writing.  One of the main characters is written to what the author must believe portrays a brooding and sensitive soul.  However he really comes across as a pouty, childish twit.  The other thing that is annoying is there a few parts of romance/sex plopped down in the book that really don't do much to advance the plot.  If someone is stalking you and threatening your life, perhaps you shouldn't keep taking time out to have sex in dark alleys/forests/abandoned buildings! 

The Far Reaches

Cover image for The Far Reaches: Phenomenology, Ethics, and Social Renewal in Central Europe by Michael Gubser, 229 pages

If phenomenology is little known and little respected outside academic philosophical circles, much of its obscurity is no doubt due to its epistemological preoccupations, which are hardly applicable to everyday life.  Yet, as Michael Gubser chronicles in The Far Reaches, phenomenology always included ethical and social elements, planted by early figures such as Husserl and Scheler and bearing fruit most spectacularly in Central Europe in the late twentieth century, in thinkers including Vaclav Havel and St John Paul II.  In the process, Gubser also calls into question claims that the revolutions of 1989 had little intellectual originality.  The dissidents may have had an apolitical shyness born of a long experience of totalitarian rule, but their writings describe a global crisis of values that afflicted the materialist, individualist West just as deeply as the materialist, collectivist East.

In places, The Far Reaches makes for rather difficult reading - a contributing factor in the obscurity of phenomenology is its specialized vocabulary, and while Gubser does his best to ameliorate this difficulty, the reader is still left with pages of abstract language.  The rewards, both philosophical and historical, are well worth the struggle.