Friday, December 19, 2014

Art and Scholasticism

Art and Scholasticism with Other Essays by Jacques Maritain, 114 pages

In his short but influential essay "Art and Scholasticism", Maritain applies the tools of scholastic philosophy to the problems of art and aesthetics.  The result is a careful examination of the relationships between art and truth, art and goodness, and art and man.  In Maritain's analysis, the artist mimics the Creator in the work of incarnating the spiritual in the physical, a work which can be undertaken with saintly humility or Luciferian pride.

This collection also includes "The Frontiers of Poetry", which considers the metaphysical nature of poetry, and "Some Reflections Upon Religious Art", which addresses problems which arise when art is self-consciously religious.

Selected Poetry

Selected Poetry by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 153 pages

Throughout his poetic career, Coleridge was compared to and overshadowed by Wordsworth, and it's not difficult to understand why.  Especially in his earlier poems, Coleridge's use of deliberately antique (even for its time) language detracts rather than adds, and he seems to have often left promising projects unfinished, perhaps as a result of his personal struggles.  Unfortunately, as he matured his productivity correspondingly slackened.  Still, he gave us "The Rime of the Ancient Mariner", "Christabel", "Kubla Khan", and "The Nightingale", as well as other works of enduring beauty and power.  Like his most famous poem, however, his poetry as a whole is ultimately haunted by what might have been.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Soldier Dog

Soldier Dog by Sam Angus, 246 pages

A very sweet but also terrible story about a boy named Stanley, who, after losing his dog, feels like he has nothing left.  He leaves home and joins the army at 14, during World War I.  He ends up in the division handling Messenger Dogs, a new idea for the British army.  They are responsible for training the dogs to carry messages between battle lines.  The dogs must be able to complete their task, despite cannons and bullets and all of the other chaos erupting around them.  Their handlers stay with them through training into the field.  Stanley, although only 14, is actually a good soldier and an even better dog handler.  His superiors can see that he is young and try to avoid sending him to the lines in France, but Stanley and his dog are needed, so off they go.  Although this particular story is fictionalized, some of the action is based on a real Messenger Dog, Jack, who saved his battalion and earned a Victoria Cross, although he died in the course of his duties.  This is a good story for kids who like animal or war stories or historical fiction.

On A Clear Day

On A Clear Day by Walter Dean Myers, 244 pages

I honestly didn’t enjoy this book a lot.  Maybe the knowledge that this would be Myers’s last book spoiled it for me.  This is a story told in a not too distant future, of a world that has basically been taken over by technology and a conglomerate of corporations called the C-8.  They control the food production, energy resources, media, money, etc.  Most people live in gated communities, some better than others, but the people who are worst off are simply living on the streets.  Some people are part of gangs, trying to get by.  Dahlia is a girl who has been approached by a small group of older teens and young adults who want to help put a stop to C-8’s activities.  The group is idealistic and has good ideas but is that enough when dealing with something as large as the C-8?  The idea behind this story was really good but the execution fell a little flat for me.  The characters seemed kind of one dimensional, especially the more peripheral characters.  I didn’t feel like it was Myers’s best work, but fans of his other books and fans of dystopian stories may want to check out this book.


Splintered by A.G. Howard, 371 pages

Alyssa is descended from Alice Liddell, otherwise known as Alice in Wonderland.  The women in her family, starting with the original Alice, have all eventually gone mad.  The year that Alyssa hit puberty, she started hearing bugs and flowers talking to her.  Afraid of what her father might think, especially since her mother has been in an asylum since Alyssa was five, she tells no one.  Now, Alyssa is about to be a senior in high school and is coming to find out that Wonderland is all too real and she has to fix the trouble that Alice caused during her visit to break the curse that the women in her family have been under all of these years.  I thought this was a pretty good Wonderland spin-off, a lot darker than the original story with a little bit of a surprise twist at the end.  Recommend this to teens that like fairy tale retellings.

Messenger Of Fear

Messenger Of Fear by Michael Grant, 260 pages

Mara wakes up confused, having lost almost all of her memory and in the company of someone who simply calls himself Messenger.  Messenger takes Mara to witness several different scenes; a girl who kills herself because of bullying at school, two teenagers who hit a dog and instead of helping actively kill it, and a bullying situation that ends with one boy dead, one going to prison and the instigator seemingly walking away with no repercussions.  Mara is being forced to judge someone in these situations and retributions are being laid out according to her judgments.  Little by little, Mara is being allowed to regain her memory and is coming to realize that she agreed to do this and possible deserves to be in this situation.  This is a good book for teens that like books that are a little scary and discuss the ideas of good and evil.

Cleopatra Confesses

Cleopatra Confesses by Carolyn Meyer, 289 pages

This fictionalized account of Cleopatra’s life follows her from the time she is ten up through her death at age 39.  As a child, Cleopatra was favored by her father over her two older sisters, both of whom were terribly jealous of Cleopatra.  Although neither was truly suited to rule Egypt, both wanted to be queen.  Cleopatra, who often snuck off to mingle with the common people felt like she understood the Egyptian people and, even at age 10, thought she would be a better ruler than any of her sisters.  Of course, Cleopatra does come to rule eventually, marrying first one, than the other of her brothers, but taking two Romans as lovers, Julius Caesar and Marcus Antony, having children with both of them.  The history of the book is as accurate as the author could make it with the limited resource material available, however, this story is told from Cleopatra’s point of view, so of course much of the story is fictionalized.  This is a good book for teens who like historical fiction.

Monument 14

Monument 14 by Emmy Laybourne, 294 pages

On the way to school the world seems to come to an end that morning.  Giant hail comes down and Dean’s bus driver loses control of the bus and crashes.  The bus carrying Dean’s younger brother is behind them but their driver manages to get under cover by driving the bus directly through the doors of the Greenway super store.  She then manages to help rescue the survivors of the bus crash.  So, six high school kids, two junior high kids and four elementary age kids are trapped in the store, with the Network down and no way to contact anyone.  Although it really isn’t safe, the bus driver, decides to leave the high school kids in charge and try to get to the hospital to get help, because some of the kids are injured.  Thus begins the kids’ ordeal.  They have food, but they must learn to work together in order to survive not only the storms and the release of chemicals from a nearby plant, but also the people who want to get in to the store for various reasons, mostly not good.  I really enjoyed this apocalyptic survival story and think that teens that enjoy this genre would too.

The Shibboleth

The Shibboleth by John Horner Jacobs, 393 pages

This is the second book in The Twelve-Fingered Boy trilogy.  Although you could probably pick up the action without having read the first book, I wouldn’t recommend it.  The story follows Shreve, who has the ability to take over people’s minds.  Shreve is basically in prison, although, since he is underage, it isn’t called that, while his friend, Jack, who discovered that he could fly, has been taken by Mr. Quincrux.  Shreve plans to get himself out of jail and also to free Jack but it won’t be easy.  Quincrux wants Shreve to join his organization and in the meantime something has been threatening many people in the entire world.  For some reason, a lot of people are unable to sleep.  Insomnia is rampant, and no one knows the cause.  Shreve suspects it’s cause is something that only someone like him, or other people in Quincrux’s organization can figure out, but isn’t sure that helping Quincrux is the right thing to do.  This is a good supernatural story that a lot of teens would like.


Burn by James Patters & Michael Ledwidge, 401 pages

The latest book in the Detective Michael Bennett series has Bennett returning to work after testifying in a mob trial.  He and his family are finally able to leave witness protection and get on with their lives.  Unfortunately, Bennett finds out upon his return that the Chief of Detectives has changed and consequently, so has his job.  The new man, Starkie, hates Bennett and is determined to make him miserable so transfers him from Major Crimes to a new division that is supposed to be a community liaison type of department but is really a bureaucratic nightmare, staffed by officers that departments wanted to get rid of, for one reason or another.  Bennett, determined not to let Starkie get the best of him, decides to make this new position work, and eventually finds himself actually handling big cases, not only for his new department, but also a major diamond thief operation for Major Crimes.  Of course, his personal life is no picnic, with issues stemming from one of his children, his nanny, and his father, Seamus.  A fast-paced thriller, fans of Patterson should be satisfied with this story.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

To Quell the Terror

The story of the Carmelite martyrs of Compiegne is one that has been adapted many times - most famously by Getrude von le Fort in her novel Song at the Scaffold and Francis Poulenc in his opera Dialogue of the Carmelites.  The true story, as told by Bush,  is more profound and dramatic than the fictive adaptations, even if it is somewhat less aesthetically pleasing.

In the midst of the bloody persecutions of the French Revolution, the fifteen nuns and one unprofessed novice of the Carmelite community at Compiegne were expelled from their convent with little more than the habits they were now forbidden by law to wear and a vague promise of future government pensions.  The sixteen women reformed their community in the streets of Paris, and began daily offering themselves to God as living sacrifices for the soul of France.  Arrested, tried, and convicted for the counterrevolutionary act of maintaining their religious vows, the sixteen were executed by guillotine, the novice taking her final vows in the very shadow of the scaffold.  A mere decadi (the decadi was the ten day Revolutionary replacement for the seven day Christian week) later, Robespierre was arrested, and his execution symbolically ended the Terror.

Bush is excellent at contrasting the idolatrous madness of the Revolution with the quiet piety of the Carmelites.  There are some elements that are less than successful - Bush lacks the literary gifts to smoothly handle shifting back and forth in time between the events of the Revolution and the biographies of the martyrs, although a similar technique was thrilling in Hansen's Exiles - but his sensitivity to spiritual realities and his understanding of the Carmelites' theological background make this a remarkable modern hagiography. 

Monday, December 15, 2014

Way of the Sword

Way of the Sword by Chris Bradford, 422 pages

Cover image for After being orphaned and stranded in Japan, Jack has finished his first year of training to become a samurai, however even with his new skills his troubles are far from over. While the ninja that killed his father is still out there Jack's biggest trouble comes from his fellow classmates. Jack's only hope of lies in the Circle of Three: an ancient ritual that tests a samurai's courage, skill, and spirit.
Bradford continues to demonstrate his extensive knowledge of his subject, however his cast of characters in this second one is probably larger than it needs to be with few characters being fully developed. Despite this I'd say the series is probably still worth reading if you just want a quick action adventure story. 

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks

The Disreputable History of Frankie Landau-Banks by E. Lockhart, 345 pages

I absolutely ADORED this book. It'd been on my radar for a while (mostly because it was a Printz honor book in 2009), but I’d never gotten around to reading it until last month. Our protagonist, Frankie, is a sophomore at the ultra-prestigious east-coast boarding school, Alabaster. She deals with all the typical high school drama – new boyfriends, ex-boyfriends, clique politics, etc. But unlike an average high schooler, Frankie is a bit of a genius. Her classes aren’t particularly challenging and she decides to spend her time and energies infiltrating her school’s all-male secret society. Frankie’s infiltration efforts are spurred largely by her Cities, Art and Protest class (a class I wish had been offered by my own high school!) As happens in most YA novels, Frankie develops significantly over the course of the book and by its end she is somebody that I’m pretty sure I’d like to be friends with.

I’d recommend Frankie Landau-Banks to anybody and everybody, but particularly to those who enjoy the quick paced dialog and antics of Gilmore Girls. I'm really looking forward to reading E Lockhart's most recent book (We Were Liars) which just won the Goodreads Choice Award for best young adult fiction of 2014!

Romance of Religion

The Romance of Religion: Fighting for Goodness, Truth, and Beauty by Dwight Longenecker, 214 pages

In this book, Fr Longenecker describes the life of faith as a romantic adventure, a quest for truth motivated by love.  Like a knight errant seeking the recognition of his lady by acts of courage and self-sacrifice, the true religious believer, far from resting secure in self-righteous complacency, is drawn by the beauty of the Beloved to brave every danger - inner demons being even more formidable than external monsters.  The hero of faith, like the hero of chivalry, is fully aware of his own unworthiness of his Beloved.

In Fr Longenecker's account, this is not only a coincidental correspondence, rather, the truths of faith are the source of the romantic ideal.  The love affair between Bridegroom and bride, between God and man, is the original love affair of which all others are analogies, the Song of Songs is the love song of which all others are echoes.

There is not much truly original here, but it is a modern and readable portrait of a faith which is enlivening instead of stultifying, in the tradition of Lewis and Chesterton.