Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Building of Christendom

The Building of Christendom by Warren Carroll, 547 pages
 
http://www.cellarofbooks.com/shop_image/product/0909EJIX8RP.jpgThe second volume of Carroll's History of Christendom opens with the Council of Nicaea and closes with the end of the First Crusade, along the way covering the decline and fall of the Roman Empire, the rise of Islam, the age of Charlemagne, the beginnings of the Reconquista, the predations of the Vikings, and the origins of the great heresies of Arianism, Nestorianism, Monophysitism, and Iconoclasm.
 
In a Christendom besieged by barbarians, riven by division and social strife, and struggling over theological definitions, Carroll makes it clear that this last was the most important.  The far ranging consequences of a Monophysite or Iconoclast victory would have been greater and deeper than if Carloman had ruled and Charlemagne retired to a monastery, or if the Goths had defeated Belisarius.
 
An excellent retelling of the story of how classical culture was interwoven with Christianity to create the fabric of Western society.

Reunion

Reunion by Hannah Pittard
271 Pages

This is a short novel about Kate Pulaski who has made a series of bad decisions in her life.  When her father dies she travels to Atlanta to meet with her two siblings to make the final arrangements.  Their father had been married 5 times and there are a number of half-siblings to deal with as well as the various ex-wives.  Kate has never really come to grips with her relationship with her father and the tough childhood she had and this is partially the cause of her current series of misfortunes.

A book of family dysfunction, Pittard weaves a story with a slight snarkiness and realistics relationships.  The only flaw I found with the novel is that it wasn't longer.

Hawley Book of the Dead

The Hawley Book of the Dead by Chrysler Szarlan
332 Pages

Revelation Maskelyn is part of a long line of women who possess special, magical skills.  Revelation's skill is the ability to disappear.  When she kills her husband, in a Las Vegas magic production she flees with her three daughters to the old family compound, an abandoned town where all the people disappeared in the 1930s. But Revelation is being tracked by an ancient foe and she will have to awaken all of her power and learn her family's background to defeat him and save her daughters from being killed as well.

I enjoyed this book and hope that there might be a sequel later also it also works as a stand-alone book. 



Bone House

The Bone House by Stephen R Lawhead
385 Pages

This is the second book in the Bright Empires series following The Skin Map. The two main characters struggle against the forces of evil and while Kit finds himself stranded with a pre-historic tribe.  Mina discovers how to move through the lines better, crossing not only the timeline but her movements (something that gets a little bit confusing).  The series continues strongly and it is planned that there will be 5 books total.

Spirit Well

The Spirit Well by Stephen Lawhead
377 Pages

This is the third installment in The Bright Empires series.  Kit Livingston and his friends are traveling through the ley lines  which allows not only travel between places but travel between times.  They continue to look for the skin map which supposedly has a map of all the ley lines and the places they connect.  It was tattooed on the skin of the original ley line traveler and split up after his death. 

There are basically three parties looking for this map, 2 bad, one good.  We find out more about the backgrounds of the parties in this book and minor characters become more integral to the story.

The Bright Empires series is a good series and should be enjoyable to fans of science fiction and fantasy.  Since I've read the fourth book as well, the two are starting to commingle in  my memory so I won't go into a lot of detail on the plot.  The books definitely need to be read in order.


Death Sentence

Cover image for Death Sentence by Montynero, 192 pages

Death Sentence is about brief super heroes and villains that are springing up after getting infected with the G+ virus. I guess to make it more relevant or more graphic the G+ virus is only transmittable through sex. Unlike most superhero graphic novels where the weak underdog gets all of these awesome powers they don't know what to do with, G+ just amplifies what you are good at. If you are good at convincing people to buy stuff you might get mind control. If you are a guitarist you might now be able to write perfect music that everyone loves. It is also very random how far these abilities will be magnified.

In this volume two marginally good guys are tasked with stopping a super villain who is using his telekinetic powers to take over England.

Death Sentence is obviously for mature audiences only. When I first picked it up I thought that it was relying on the skimpily dressed women and sex to sell copies but it actually had a decent back story and underlying plot as well. I think people that like the darker comics would also like this.



Ender's Game

Cover image for Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, 368 pages

After seeing the semi recent movie adaptation of this book I added this to my "to read" list. However unlike most books that end up on that list, where they will likely spend an eternity, this one actually got read!

Ender's Game is about a young boy named Ender who is selected to go through command school training. Along the way he meets new friends and faces some hardships. But none of that is really important except as buildup for the last couple chapters of the book. There might be some moral in there about pushing kids to hard into being what you want them to be but again only somewhat important.

What is important is the end. This book has an ending that leaves you thinking what? How did that? Wow. Everyone that has read this book knows exactly what point I am talking about. It is that point that makes this book a good book. It then goes on with some wrap up that also doesn't really matter except that this is the first in a series.

I would recommend this book to everyone, even if you have already seen the movie.

Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling

Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling by D. M. Cornish, 434 pages

I am not a reader who enjoys world-building. I read for characters and atmosphere and am generally unimpressed by the energy authors spend creating worlds filled with made-up species and languages and continents (I’m looking at you Mr. Tolkien). Monster Blood Tattoo is a series that involves A LOT of world building, but it’s done in a way that works for me. Cornish’s books are set in the Half Continent, a land filled with monsters and magic, but instead of using up valuable page real estate on world building, there is a 100+ page “Explicarium” (aka glossary) and numerous appendices at the end of the novel. I LOVED this approach – when I wanted more background information, it was there for me to read, but it didn’t slow down the plot.

Foundling follows the adventures of Rossamund Bookchild, an orphan from Madam Opera's Estimable Marine Society for Foundling Boys and Girls, as he sets out to join the ranks of the Emperor’s Lamplighters. His journey is fraught with misfortunes including piratical riverboat captains, monsters of all shapes and sizes, famous monster hunters and more. What seems at the book’s start to be a black and white relationship between humans (good) and monsters (bad) has begun to become muddied by the book’s end and promises to become even greyer in the subsequent books.

I had a hard time getting past what I consider a truly awful title for this series (maybe “Monster Blood Tattoo” is a more appealing name to teenagers? I feel like it’s just trying too hard). Clearly, I had some hurtles when it comes to this book, but I’m really glad I gave it a shot. I’ll be reading the second book despite the fact that it’s a whopping 700+ pages – a length that would typically deter me.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Minding The Manor

Minding the Manor by Millie Moran
353 Pages

Millie Moran was a kitchen maid who eventually become a cook during the 1930's in England.  This memoir of her time in the service is especially fascinating  to people who enjoyed Downton Abbey or Upstairs/Downstairs

Les miserables, Graphic Novel

Les Miserables adapted by Crystal Silvermoon, 337 pages
Cover image for

This is the manga adaptation of Victor Hugo's Les Miserables. I initially picked up this version to read after I finished the original but I ended up finishing this first. Since I am only 400 or so pages in to Les Miserables by Hugo I cannot say that it follows to book or not but it did follow the movie rather well, though there was less singing. I admit it was kind of odd seeing the previously flesh and blood characters from the movie being portrayed in a manga fashion especially the young Cosette and her huge eyes. But I eventually got use to it and enjoyed the book.

While I shouldn't recommend that people take a short cut in reading Les Miserables, this might be an alternative to those that want to read the book but balk at the 1400 pages.

Dear Luke we need to talk, Darth

 
Cover image for
 This book was one of the bestsellers that I was putting up along with the previously blogged about Passive Aggressive Notes:... As you can see from the title it makes jokes though humorous pop culture references. Sadly this book while funny at times is not all that good. Sure it made me chuckle at times, the letter about Hotel California was very good, but a lot of the content seemed overly forced. I could see this being worth paging through during a long wait at a doctors office or bus stop but I cannot recommend reading this for fun.
 

Monday, November 24, 2014

Archbishop Laud

Archbishop Laud 1573-1645 by Hugh Trevor-Roper, 436 pages
 
http://ecx.images-amazon.com/images/I/41UWVYFs6ML._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_.jpgWilliam Laud, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1633 until his death, was the primary ecclesiastical adviser of King Charles I.  An admirer of Lancelot Andrewes but lacking some of his finer qualities, Laud attempted to heal the wounds of the Church of England after its disembowlment under the Tudors.  Although fully supported by Charles, this brought him into conflict with the Puritans, led by those who had profited most from the sack of the Church.   In the midst of the Civil War, Laud was imprisoned on trumped-up charges of treason and illegally executed, four years before his master.
 
Trevor-Roper writes with his customary smug superiority, although his sense of irony makes palatable references to "Popery" and its "arsenal of Antichrist" or "the redskins of Massachusetts".  Less forgivable is the author's acceptance of Henrician propaganda against the pre-Reformation English church, for although he did not have access to Duffy's work on the subject, he certainly was aware of Cobbett's.  Still, reading past the sneer, Trevor-Roper's learning is sufficient to produce an enlightening study of a tried man in a trying time.

A Paris Apartment

A Paris Apartment by Michelle Gable, 378 pages

Julie has already offered a great review of this book here, so I won't go into details too much. Suffice it to say that this book offers two sometimes-parallel stories of women in Paris: one a modern-day American furniture expert for Sotheby's, the other a 19th-century Parisian courtesan whose belongings (and journals) are the subject of the first's studies. While this book could be summed up as a mix between historical fiction and chick lit, it's also a fascinating read, particularly when you consider that the Parisian courtesan was a real person. This was a hard book to put down, and while I'm still waffling on how I feel about the ending, it was certainly enjoyable. I've never been much of a francophile, but this book made me want to hop on a jet to Paris so I could eat some cheese, drink some wine, and snuggle up with some 100-year-old scandalous journals. Basically, I wanted to become the furniture expert, just without the emotional baggage.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom

 
Cover image for In this book, the first volume of his Cultural Liturgies series, Smith argues that religion is not a matter of assenting to a certain set of intellectual propositions, of choosing the correct doctrines.  Nor is it the possession of a set of underlying pre-rational beliefs and presuppositions.  Rather, life, and especially the religious life, is a matter of what we value, that is, what we love.  Because we are embodied beings, this is not a matter of logic, but of practice, that is, of liturgy.  Lex orandi, lex credendi.  Worship is itself a form of education, of paideia.
 
There is nothing revolutionary in these statements, indeed, this view has a long history stretching back to Aristotle.  Long neglected as a result of Enlightenment abstraction, in the twentieth century it was rejuvenated by thinkers as diverse as Martin Heidegger, Alisdair MacIntyre, and Charles Taylor.  Smith compellingly synthesizes the thought of these and other figures, not only conveying their insights but also peppering his commentary with approachable exemplars and interesting discussions (such as when he ponders whether Moulin Rouge is more authentically Christian than "The 700 Club").
 
Smith approaches his subject from within the Reformed tradition with an eye to its application in the Christian college environment, but neither of these factors makes the book less useful to members of other Christian groups or those outside the academy.  Entertaining and enlightening in equal measure, this book is truly remarkable.