Friday, July 3, 2015

Emergence of Christian Culture

The Emergence of Christian Culture in the West: The Classical Heritage of the Middle Ages by Henry Taylor, 358 pages

A lawyer by training, Taylor wrote The Emergence of Christian Culture in the West as a labor of love.  Although extending as early as the first century and as late as the twelfth, the focus is on the development of culture between the fourth and seventh centuries, the critical period when paganism waned and Christianity triumphed.  In the process, classical pagan models in art, philosophy, poetry, and prose were taken over and transformed - baptized - by Christian creators to serve Christian ends.

The book is somewhat marred by the author's commitment to a post-Protestant, rationalistic pure gospel.  Not only are the apostolic fathers counted as innovators if they do not conform to this, so are the other New Testament authors, particularly St Paul.  Worse, he is haphazard in his application of this principle, as when he cites the use of the brazen serpent as a prefigurement of Christ in the Epistle of Barnabus as an indication of a trend of increasingly allegorical interpretations of Scripture, only to mention in a later chapter that Christ Himself makes the identical claim in the Gospel according to St John.  There is also a certain amount of chronological snobbery, as when he excuses St Augustine for believing in demons, on the assumption that the saint is mistaken.  These shortcomings are mostly compensated for by Taylor's generally excellent aesthetic sense.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

June Totals!

Congrats to Krista R, who read the most books and pages and earned the most points in June!  Krista has graciously chosen to forgo his prize this month and asked that it be awarded to a blogger chosen at random.  On that note, Jason S, Julie E-C and Dennis M are the winners of our random drawings this month - we'll be contacting you about claiming your prizes shortly!

Check out the rest of June's results below:

June Stats:
Krista R207,05625
Ed W186,66818
Jason S144,82114
Jeff S104,53012
Dennis M133,14317
Molly P92,3739
Julie E-C71,9627

A Table by the Window

A Table by the Window by Hillary Manton Lodge   320 Pages

I got tired of waiting for this novel from the St. Louis Public Library, so I read Book 2 in the “Two Blue Doors” trilogy, Reservations for Two a while back. I had a love/hate relationship with that one.  I posted reviews for it, so you can go peek at my thought, if you so desire.

Still I was interested in reading Book 1 so I could get the backstory.  Basically it’s the story of Juliette and Neil’s long-distance romance. All the other plot points from Book 2 are here: The passing of Juliette’s beloved grandmother, her mother’s cancer diagnosis, the introduction of Juliette’s family members, and the restaurant world/food writing world that Juliette loves. 

It becomes clear the how and why of Juliette learning that the man she called Grandfather may not be her biological ancestor. Still, I think I’m going to have to wait for Book 3 (Coming May 2016, according to the end of Book 2) to have this issue resolved.

I’m glad I read Book 2 first. Maybe because A Table by the Window didn’t pull me in as much. However, I was familiar with the characters, the plot, and the writing style so that may have had something to do with it. 

I give A Table by the Window  3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Metaphysical Poets

The Metaphysical Poets: A Study in Religious Experience by Helen C White, 411 pages

They are a diverse group: the intellectually omnivorous John Donne, the saintly rural vicar George Herbert, the questing exile Richard Crashaw, the country doctor Henry Vaughan, and the very nearly forgotten Thomas Traherne.  Their lives stretched from 1572 to 1695.  At the same time, they were clearly linked - young Herbert knew old Donne, Crashaw was a disciple of Herbert's literary executor Nicholas Ferrar, and Vaughan credited his conversion to his reading of Herbert.  All were rooted in the Anglican Church of Andrewes, Hooker, and Laud, although pulled in various ways by Catholicism (Donne, Crashaw), Puritanism (Traherne), and Hermeticism (Vaughan).  All were suspicious of enthusiasm, all sought a way to express their religious experiences in poetic form, and all succeeded to some degree.

White conducts a reasoned, careful examination of these authors and their works, with each getting a biographical chapter followed by a critical chapter, along with introductory chapters on the historical period.  There aren't extensive selections from the poets, however, so readers not already somewhat familiar with at least some of their works are unlikely to profit much - this is a study, not an introduction.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Ender's Shadow and A War of Gifts

Ender's Shadow and A War of Gifts by Orson Scott Card (469 and 128)

Cover image for Ender's Shadow is actually part of a six book collection that is told from other peoples perspective. I have included it here with A War of Gifts since both of these books happen concurrently with Ender's Game.

Cover image for Ender's Shadow follows the young and unbelievable character named Bean. He like all kids is exceptionally smart but there is something a little different about him. He also represents the next best chance for Earth if Ender should fail. For that reason he is pushed mercilessly toward the final conflict. I think this book was mainly written to answer the questions we are left with at the end of Ender's Game. Namely about the inner workings of battle and command school. In some ways I found this to be better but lacking that sucker punch that makes Ender's Game such a great novel.

A War of Gifts focuses on the removal of religion from the battle school trainees and their rebellion against such strict practices. I think this book is meant to be more philosophical and highlight the humanity that is being given up to make soldiers. This is also only a side novel that does not really add anything to the overall plot though both Bean and Ender are in it. It does however have a very nicely done cover.

I continue to enjoy reading Card's work in the Enderworld and look forward to reading the multitude of books still remaining.

Odd Interlude

Odd Interlude by Dean Koontz, 279 pages

Cover image for After saving the world from nuclear Armageddon Odd and company are beginning to make their way back to Pico Mundo when they decide to stop at Harmony Corners. Harmony Corners has everything weary travels need a cozy diner, service stations, and cottages for rent. Overseeing this homestead is the Harmony family. When Odd and company stop at there for the night they discover there is much more to this secluded place than meets the eye.

while being shorter than most of the books and being more of a side adventure to the main story this was actually a pretty good. It a bit more supernatural element than the previous book. Despite being an interlude in the series it has just as much mystery and action as any of the books, and stays just a good.

Island of Legends

Island of Legends by Lisa McMann, 478 pages

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Now that the magical land of Artime has been restored it is time for Alex to focus on other things, such as rescuing Sky's mother, and defending Artime borders once again. In the meantime he practices honing his skills and and using his magic to create life as mentor used to, and to send a rescue expedition to the underwater Pirate Island. In Quill High Priest Aaron works rebuild the divide between his people and and Artime by rebuilding the wall between the two and spreading rumors of an impending attack by the former unwanteds that live there. He also discovers a hidden jungle filled with dangerous secrets that he plans to use to increase his power and cement his control over the rest of the island.

The first three books of this series were fairly good, but I was a little disappointed in this fourth book. To me some of the decisions the characters make seem questionable. This book also jumped around a fair amount with lots of characters which can make it a little hard to read at times. While not as good as some of the previous books it wasn't actually bad, there was a lot of character development, and expansion of the world that the characters inhabit. 

Odd Hours

Odd Hours by Dean Koontz, 352 pages

Cover image for On his way back to his beloved town of Pico Mundo Odd is drawn to a small California coastal town by his unusual gift. Once their he begins to have a strange recurring dream of an all consuming red tide, that could signal a catastrophe that would change the world. With the help of his ghost dog Boo, a new companion who just might rival his old pal Elvis, and the mysterious Annamarie whom he trusts completely, Odd must figure out what his dream means and save the world from those who want to destroy it.

While it lacked some of the supernatural elements of some of the previous books there was enough suspense to keep me wanting to know what happens. It also seems like it is setting up events for the couple book by introducing the mysterious and very cryptic Annamarie. Overall this series is still capable of keeping readers glued to its pages. 

X'ed Out Trilogy

X'ed Out, The Hive, and Sugar Skull by Charles Burns (64, 56, 56 pages. 176 total)

Cover image for I started reading this trilogy after finding the third book sitting on a table where it did not belong. Thinking that it was a one off I gave the graphic novel a quick read. When I finished I was left thinking what did I just read. I could not make any logical sense of it. Utterly confused and seeking clarification I turned to the internet and quickly found out that there were more books. Hoping they would clarify everything I stopped my research and read them. While this helped a little with the overall plot it introduced even more weirdness. I am still not sure what this is truly about, though I have my suspicions (note: my suspicions cannot be included as they may be spoilers...).
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I cannot say that I would recommend these books to anyone, and I would advise not to let kids read them because of adult themes. If anyone has read them and can tell me exactly what the author is trying to say please feel free to let me know.

Bannon and Clare Series

The Iron Wyrm Affair, The Red Plague Affair, and The Ripper Affair by Lilith Saintcrow (323, 320, and 386 pages. 1029 total)

Cover image for Cover image for It might not be the most accurate description in the world, but I think I am going to call this a reimagined Sherlock Holmes. It follows the same basic principles; a mentath (beyond genius), Mr. Clare is led and guarded by a sorcerer Ms. Bannon and together they solve crimes for the Crown.  Mr. Clare follows the same tendencies as Sherlock. He regularly sits in a chair puffing on a pipe in thought, is prone to wild experiments when between missions, and exhibits the same observation to detail that reveals everything about a person. Ms. Bannon, while a sorcerer, is also quite clever, but serves more as a grounding rod for Clare much like Watson. She also frequently finds herself in a bit of trouble that relies on more than her efforts to escape. But on the other hand, there are also mythical creatures such as wyrms, and gryphons.

The Bannon and Clare series was well worth the read and I fully enjoyed them. If you have read  Shadows Over Baker Street and enjoyed it or other Sherlock adaptations I would recommend giving this a try. It also has some steampunk themes, for those that are interested.

One Year After

One Year After by William R Forstchen
304 Pages

"The story picks up a year after One Second After ends, two years since the detonation of nuclear weapons above the United States brought America to its knees. After suffering starvation, war, and countless deaths, the survivors of Black Mountain, North Carolina, are beginning to piece back together the technologies they had once taken for granted: electricity, radio communications, and medications. They cling to the hope that a new national government is finally emerging.

Then comes word that most of the young men and women of the community are to be drafted into an “Army of National Recovery” and sent to trouble spots hundreds of miles away.

When town administrator John Matherson protests the draft, he’s offered a deal: leave Black Mountain and enter national service, and the draft will be reduced. But the brutal suppression of a neighboring community under its new federal administrator and the troops accompanying him suggests that all is not as it should be with this burgeoning government."

 I am still enjoying this series although I was a little frustrated  with some of the extensive battle scenes in the book.  

Find Me

Find Me by Laura Van Den Berg
280 Pages

"Joy has no one. She spends her days working the graveyard shift at a grocery store outside Boston and nursing an addiction to cough syrup, an attempt to suppress her troubled past. But when a sickness that begins with memory loss and ends with death sweeps the country, Joy, for the first time in her life, seems to have an advantage: she is immune. When Joy’s immunity gains her admittance to a hospital in rural Kansas, she sees a chance to escape her bleak existence. There she submits to peculiar treatments and follows seemingly arbitrary rules, forming cautious bonds with other patients—including her roommate, whom she turns to in the night for comfort, and twin boys who are digging a secret tunnel.

As winter descends, the hospital’s fragile order breaks down and Joy breaks free, embarking on a journey from Kansas to Florida, where she believes she can find her birth mother, the woman who abandoned her as a child. On the road in a devastated America, she encounters mysterious companions, cities turned strange, and one very eerie house. As Joy closes in on Florida, she must confront her own damaged memory and the secrets she has been keeping from herself."

The description has very little resemblance to the novel itself.  While there is an epidemic, it quickly loses much importance to the plot as the novel wanders aimlesslyThe last half of the book is a mess of a road trip for Joy and makes very little sense overall. Not Recommended.

Moon Over Soho

Moon Over Soho by Ben Aaronovitch
289 Pages

"The song. That's what London constable and sorcerer's apprentice Peter Grant first notices when he examines the corpse of Cyrus Wilkins, part-time jazz drummer and full-time accountant, who dropped dead of a heart attack while playing a gig at Soho's 606 Club. The notes of the old jazz standard are rising from the body--a sure sign that something about the man's death was not at all natural but instead supernatural. Body and soul--they're also what Peter will risk as he investigates a pattern of similar deaths in and around Soho. With the help of his superior officer, Detective Chief Inspector Thomas Nightingale, the last registered wizard in England, and the assistance of beautiful jazz aficionado Simone Fitzwilliam, Peter will uncover a deadly magical menace--one that leads right to his own doorstep and to the squandered promise of a young jazz musician: a talented trumpet player named Richard "Lord" Grant--otherwise known as Peter's dear old dad."

The second book of the series continues in its development of characters and location.  There is a slight use of humor but not so much as to be annoying.  I would recommend this series to patrons who enjoyed the Harry Dresden series by Jim Butcher.

Infernal Devices Trilogy

Clockwork Angel, Clockwork Prince, and Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare. (479, 502, 570 pages. 1551 total)

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Having read and enjoyed Clare's Mortal Instrument series and with this having a stronger steampunk influence, I was quite looking forward to reading this trilogy.

Infernal Devices follows the life of Tessa Gray who is kidnapped as she arrives in London and thrust into the world of the Shadowhunters. Not sure whom to trust and unsure of everyone's motives for "helping" her, she quickly has to pick sides in a looming war or watch everything she loves be destroyed.

Cover image for While the Infernal Devices trilogy can stand on its own, I would highly recommend reading the Mortal Instruments first. A lot of information about the world of Shadowhunting is assumed to be common knowledge, and therefore explained in less detail. I feel this could detract from readers enjoyment of the series.

Note: In writing this post, and trying to link the catalog back to this page, I discovered that this series has been adapted into a Manga! Stay tuned for a review of that adaptation.