Thursday, September 29, 2011

Good Advice for Readers and Non-readers

Reading is one of God's most valuable gifts. Unfortunately many people don't take advantage of it. In this book Tony Reinke tries to tell non-readers how to do it without making them feel guilty. The book has excellent ideas: make a plan for what you read, read while you're waiting for appointments, and most important read with your children.

One of my favorite sections dealt with the selection of books for children. Choose books that are appropriate for their age and that can help them understand the Christian world. However, and this advice I liked best, if the book is one that you don't think they're ready to handle on their own, read it with them. I know many parents weren't happy about the Harry Potter series. Trying to keep your kids from reading a book that has that much hype is like trying to keep them from eating candy. However, if you read it with them, you can answer their questions and discuss points that you don't agree with. Great advice.

I particularly liked the way the author added quotations from theological books and books on Christian living. I found his quotes on point and they made the text more interesting.

This was a fascinating read for someone like me who reads books all the time, but I wonder if it will be used by non-readers and readers who feel uncomfortable tackling hard books, like the classics. Here the author's advice comes in handy. Give books as gifts. Give this book as a gift. Read with others. Read this book in a group. Reading is so important, I hope lots of people take Reinke's advice to heart.

I reviewed the book as part of the Crossway review porgram.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Special Gift

Set in St. Alcuin's Monastery in the 1300's, The Hawk and The Dove Trilogy is a perceptive portrayal of human relationships. The abbot, Father Peregrine, and his aide, Brother Thomas, are the main characters, but the monastery is peopled with other unforgettable characters whose trials in living the prescribed life of a Benedictine monastery are beautifully portrayed.

The three volumes trace the history of Father Peregrine from his taking on the role of abbot until his death in the third book. The first book introduces us to him. Peregrine was the son of a nobleman who felt a call to God. A graceful, talented man, he is beaten severely and become a cripple. Instead of making him bitter, it opens him to the suffering of others, and as abbot his understanding of the trials of the brothers engenders a love the continues throughout his life.

I found the third book, The Long Fall, particularly poignant. Dealing with infirmity and impending death is never easy. Both Brother Tom and Father Peregrine face the ultimate dissolution of their earthly friendship. It both serves as a model for how to deal with impending bereavement and, since the brothers are not perfect, allows us to feel less guilty for the way we approach the end of life with our loved ones.

I highly recommend this book. It's not a book for just Catholics, or even Christians. The author has a sensitivity that allows her to portray the delights and sorrows of human love in a way that leaves one feeling better and with more understanding of people and relationships. It is a beautifully written, warm, and perceptive book, one you won't be able to read just once.  

A Very Dark Novel

The Thirteen Hallows are ancient artifacts. Apart they have power, but when brought together the power is heightened and can become deadly. The demons have been waiting for the chance to reassemble the hallows and gain the power. For many years, the hallows have been guarded by thirteen children of the blood of the original keepers. They received the hallows at the end of WWII. Now the keepers are being killed. One of the keepers convinces Sarah to take the the broken sword and keep it out of the grasp of the dark man and his mistress. The book becomes a chase scene through Wales, Britain and history.

I was fascinated by the book because I love history and fantasy. The authors do a good job of entwining the legends of the Thirteen Hallows of Britain with the story. I found that fascinating.

However, the book is filled with grisly murders and sex. Although the hallows are based in a culture of blood sacrifice, I found the murders in the opening of the novel unwarrentedly explicit. I felt the authors were looking for sensationalism instead of telling the story. The number of characters was also disturbing since their only contribution to the story was to die in a horrible fashion.

The police offices and the investigation was another area of disappointment. The officers didn't do any of the things you would expect from and investigation. They decided that Sarah was a serial killer and the chase began. I found this unbelievable.

I can't recommend this book. The material on the Hallows of Britain is interesting, but unless you like chase scenes filled with gruesome murders this is not a book for you.  

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Can You Survive Getting Everything You Want?

Mary Lynn and Jackson are living the life they always dreamed of: an historic home in Charleston, social acceptance, money, talented children. For Mary Lynn, something is missing. She is increasingly drawn to the religion of her childhood. On Christmas she attends church and wishes the whole family could share in her awakening. Then an amazing thing happens. Jackson finds Christianity and it takes over his life. It's not the polite church on Sunday religion Mary Lynn has found. When Jackson experiences a conversion, he wants to live the Bible literally. This creates an enormous distance between them putting the survival of their marriage in doubt.

Charleston SC is on of my favorite places. Beth Webb did an excellent job drawing her readers into the setting. Unfortunately, that was the best part of the book. The book starts very slowly with lots of back story. The characters are introduced in their affluent life style, but realistic tension is missing. In fact, the story doesn't take off until after Jackson's conversion and Mary Ann's horror at the change in their social status.

Although I think the premise is an interesting one, how fully must a Christian live their faith, I found the treatment in this book lackluster. The characters weren't particularly interesting, the narrative was fully of flashbacks and internal monologue as well as back story, and the ending while satisfying from the standpoint of resolving the main character's issues felt rushed and unrealistic.

I can't really recommend this book unless you love reading about Charleston, SC.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.  

Monday, September 19, 2011

Justice or Mercy?

Audrey, the pastor's wife, has an unusual empathetic skill. She feels the pain of others physically. Audrey copes with this unusual gift by bringing bread baked by herself and her husband to those in need of comfort. Times turn difficult for Audrey and her family. Geoff, her husband, loses his pastorate, and their son, Ed, loses his scholarship to University. The family copes by opening a special bakery that makes wonderful bread. You can almost smell it baking when you read the book. One of their former parishioners believes the family guilty of vengeful actions against his family. Is he right in seeking justice, or does God rather look for mercy?

I highly recommend this book. It is a powerfully written and inspirational. The story holds your attention from the first pages to the very satisfying conclusion. The characters are well drawn; we can sympathize with people who make mistakes, but ask for and receive forgiveness. The book explores the issue of whether justice or mercy is most important in God's eyes. I thought the story made the case very well. It's a book you will never forget.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Chilling Thriller with Satanic Overtones

Something evil has infiltrated East Salem. The ritualistic murder of a teenage girl sets the stage for a frightening series of events that plunge Dani Harris, a forensic psychiatrist, and Tommy Gunderson, a retired football player and wannabe PI, into an investigation of a high school party gone seriously wrong.

I found this book hard to put down. Dani and Tommy make a great team. They're savvy and funny. Dani brings insights about human behavior. Tommy's love of gadgetry brings the use of advanced technology to the investigation. The underlying romantic tension is a bonus that leads to some snappy exchanges. I particularly enjoyed the intertwining of Christianity with the aura of evil. It makes the story more satisfying than a simple murder mystery.

The only criticism I have is that some of the important investigation takes place off stage, and we see only the results. Although annoying to the serious mystery reader, it's not a major concern. The fast pace moves the reader quickly past the point of questioning what happened behind the scenes.

I highly recommend this book if you love a chilling murder that may be only the first manifestation of the evil that has invaded the town. I was sorry to finish the book and am looking forward to the sequels.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Good Sequel, but Requires Reading The Skin Map First

The Bone House caries the adventures of Kit Livingstone and his girl friend Mina into new dimensions. Kit's grandfather is dead. Kit barely escaped with his life thanks to the sudden arrival of Mina, who is now an adept time traveler and begins to direct the action. Kit and Mina are on a quest to find the missing pieces of the Skin Map, but the Burley Men are too, and they don't care who they injure. Will Kit and Mina be able to outwit the Burley Men and complete their quest to find the fragments of the skin map? It makes fast paced reading.

I find the setting and mystery of The Skin Map and The Bone House fascinating. Lawhead has done an excellent job drawing the reader into his settings. However, because of the complexity of his plot, he has too many characters. Jumping between the characters and often between times is disconcerting. It's not a book you want to put down for a few days. You'll completely lose track of who is where.

I recommend The Bone House if you enjoy fantasy. The plot is fun, but it's easy to lose track of the characters, and you must read The Skin Map first. I'm looking forward finding out how Kit and Mina succeed with their quest.

I reviewed this book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program. 

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Inspiring Glimpse of a Medieval Monastery During Lent

The privations of Lent coupled with cold rainy weather sets the scene for Penelope Wilcock's sequel to The Hawk and the Dove. The monks long for spring and the return of Father John, the newly elected abbot. Rejoicing follows John's return, but is quickly replaced by dissension and bitterness when an old enemy seeks refuge at St. Alcuin's. The brothers are stressed during this time, each faced by “the hardest thing to do.”

Wilcock has an excellent understanding of the strains of group living particularly when times are difficult. Although the brothers are sworn to the service of Jesus, several find it hard to act as the Lord would act. The way the community struggles with it's problems and finally comes to an inspirational conclusion on Easter is a heartwarming story.

I highly recommend this book. Although the novel is set in a medieval monastery, it has lessons for all of us living in groups whether they are religious groups, social groups, or families. The book has an obviously Christian background, but I believe it is a book for everyone. It's a book I will keep on my shelves. I had not read The Hawk and the Dove, but I'm now inspired to do so.

I reviewed this book at the invitation of Crossway. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Fascinating Tales of the Owners and Thieves of Shakespeare's First Folio

Tales of eccentric owners and flamboyant thieves combined with fascinating tidbits about the production and provenance of Shakespeare's First Folio make Eric Rasmussen's book hard to put down. Rasmussen and his team are First Folio hunters. Their mission is to track down and catalog all existing First Folios. From the description of the catalog entry contained in the book, this is extremely painstaking work, but there are rewards. Many of the First Folios have mysterious histories. Valuable books that have been around for hundreds of years have not only been stolen, but the owners have added marginal notes which illuminate how the plays were received as well as what the owners thought of them.

I enjoyed the book. It's a quick read with enough tantalizing information to keep you going. I enjoyed the portraits of some of the more eccentric owners, and the chapter on Raymond Scott, a flamboyant thief, who captured the attention of the London media after stealing the Durham University First Folio is fascinating.

However, the book promises more than it delivers. Many of the thieves are unknown, so we're left with condition of the book and Rasmussen's speculation to tell what might have happened. The book is repetitious and the author often digresses from information on tracking the First Folios to his own emotional attachment to the project, He even goes into great detail about a painting he bought thinking it might be Shakespeare. While his musing are interesting, they detract from the main discussion and made it seem that he didn't have quite enough material to fill the book. Still, if you're a Shakespeare fan, it's an amusing read.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

The Story of a Strong Woman

Brenda Warner, has given us a gift in her memoir, One Call Away. She traces her life history from adolescent, the pretty sister, through her years as a Marine, her first marriage which gave her Zach, a special needs child, and ends with her marriage to Kurt Warner and how they raise seven children while dealing with the public demands of his job as a starting quarterback.

This is a book women should read. Too often we feel alone in our problems. We try to take responsibility for everyone, especially our spouses and children, we feel less than perfect in our body images, and we feel insecure and inferior when life isn't going our way. I loved this book. I think it was very courageous of Brenda to take us into her life this way. Probably the most telling part was her belief in God. God really is a major factor in the Warner's life and Brenda makes it clear how he was able to help her through some very devastating experiences.

I particularly felt close to her experience of her parent's death. It was a horrible experience, but faith and a loving family helped her get through. The other part I particularly enjoyed was the problems the family experienced when Kurt became a star, and they had huge amount of money. When we're poor, we think money will solve our problems. I wish that were true, but in reality it brings it's own set of problems and requires even more of us.

I highly recommend this book. It's a very personal experience and one I'm sure will bring you closer to your own family and to God.

I reviewed the book as part of the Thomas Nelson Booksneeze Program.