June 10, 2013

Mention it Monday, Mississippi Version

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Fantasy, Favorite Quotes, Fiction, Freebies, Just Life, Theology/Christian life, Travel at 10:10 am by catsinboxes

Greetings from Mississippi!

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Though to be more accurate, it looks a bit more like this today:

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I woke up this morning to thunder rumbling and pretty soon a torrential downpour was ensuring that 1) I didn’t take the dog out for a walk and 2) Bible time on the porch was out of the question!

I must admit that I had hoped to do more blogging on this vacation, but that is not how it worked out, and that’s okay. Still, no reason I can’t do some before I head home. So, here’s another Mention-it Monday!

Red to Black -by Alex Dryen

After reading World Magazine’s review of Dryden’s latest novel, I checked out all three of his books to date and started reading the first. I’m not usually one to read thrillers; Joel Rosenburg’s Last Jihad and Last Days are the extent of my reading in this genre! Still, having just travelled to Eastern Europe, I was intrigued by the Russian side of this novel. So, I started to read. And I really enjoyed it. It’s definitely a thriller, but it’s also a fascinating look at modern Russia that is written by an author who knows his facts. The book is told in a series of flashbacks which I normally find annoying, but this time it absolutely worked! The story was engaging and kept me interested and reading. The main storyteller, Anna, –a Russian KGB agent caught up in an intricate plot involving a British spy– is interesting and well-developed. What’s more, she is likable, and you definitely find yourself pulling for her! There is occasional language, but I appreciated the fact that it was used sparingly and wasn’t gratuitous. There are also some sexual references: the KGB is happy to use Anna’s sexuality in getting what they want, but nothing was explicit. All in all, it was quite a fun book, and I look forward to reading more by Alex Dryden.

Merlin’s Blade -by Robert Treskillard

I won’t say much here because this book deserves a whole review and post in itself. In fact, I probably will be reviewing it for Redeemed Reader this summer. I started this book on the plane, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Arthurian aficionados, you should read this! Right now it’s only $2.99, Kindle version, on Amazon. What’s it about? I love how the cover puts it:

Before the Round Table . . . Before Arthur was Crowned . . . There was Merlin.

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The Explicit Gospel -by Matt Chandler with Jared Wilson

This is my theological vacation read, and so far, I haven’t made much progress though I have enjoyed everything that I’ve read.  Having heard Matt Chandler speak, I appreciate that his unique voice is very clear in this book.  Chandler is passionate about the gospel; that is very evident.  From a mere evangelistic point, I love the title of this book.  It’s eye-catching: a good book to read at the airport!  (If you’re like me, you do your best, via casual glances, to figure out what your fellow passengers are reading . . . This title is provocative enough to get more than one glance.  They’re reading the explicit what???)  As it happens, The Explicit Gospel is Christian Audio’s free audiobook of the month, so I might be finishing it via audiobook.  If you’re looking for a theological read or audiobook this summer, I’d highly recommend this.  (And you can get the audiobook for free this month, remember!)  In closing, here is a quote from The Explicit Gospel that I quite enjoyed and is very applicable to this post:

How deep is the wisdom and the knowledge of God?  God knows every word in every language in every sentence in every paragraph in every chapter of every book ever written.

January 30, 2013

Books, Books, and More Books -Part 1

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, England, Fiction, Jane Austen, Theology/Christian life at 8:23 pm by catsinboxes

Divided into categories, here is an overview of different books I’ve encountered lately.

Read Aloud

Bill Bergson, Master Detective by Astrid Lindgren

Two weekends ago, I was on the prowl looking for a good read aloud.  I knew what kind of story I wanted, an exciting one with adventure and cliffhangers.  And if that weren’t enough, I really wanted one that would be a new read for me, too.  It was a tall order, and I realized it.  Still, I didn’t give up and went poking hopefully through our children’s books.  After looking at a few books, a paperback caught my eye.  Bill Bergson, Master Detective.  It was a promising title, and it was written by Astrid Lindgren.  I like Astrid Lindgren, so I picked it up.  I opened to the first page.  This was the critical part.  Would it catch my listeners’ interest?  They are wonderful listeners, but they’re well read and have high expectations.  Also, would it meet my criteria?  Yes, I was being picky, but I did feel like just one sort of book.

These were the first few sentences:

Blood!  No doubt about it!  He stared at the red stain through his magnifying glass.  Then he moved his pipe to the other side of his mouth and sighed.  Of course it was blood.  What else can you expect when you cut your thumb?

This book was exactly what I was looking for, and we all enjoyed reading it.  What is the story about?  Why, Bill Bergson of course.

Bill is a keen detective, complete with magnifying glass and (empty) pipe.  His only problem is that he is 13 years old, no one will take his profession seriously, and the small town he lives in is annoyingly free of crime.  Still, Bill manages to have a lot of fun with Eva-Lotta, his next door neighbor, and Anders, his bosom friend.  It looks like their fun might be interrupted when Eva-Lotta’s Uncle Einar comes for a visit.  Uncle Einar is exasperating for one thing, but he also seems mysterious.  And that is when things start happening, and it will take all of Bill Bergson, Master Detective’s wits to get to the bottom of these suspicious events.

Read-Aloud Quality: 5 (out of 5)

Ideal Listeners’ Ages: 7-13 

Emil’s Pranks by Astrid Lindgren  

After the success of Bill Bergson, I was ready to try something else by Astrid Lindgren.  Emil is written for a younger audience and, as the name predicts, the book is devoted to a chronicling of five-year-old Emil’s pranks with every other page including a whimsical and often humorous illustration.  It’s not that Emil is naughty, though he is; it’s just that he is a bit too clever for his own good and his parents don’t know what to do with him.  (Think Calvin and Hobbes Swedish version!)

I like Emil because his naughtiness in this book, and others in the Emil series, isn’t the kind that will rub off onto his listeners.  I think few of them will ever be tempted to paint their siblings blue or hoist them up a flagpole . . . but oh is it funny to listen to Emil’s escapades!

Today, as I was reading aloud with Joshua, the word “mischief” was used.  Jonathan, age 5, looked up from a puzzle he was working on and said with a grin,

“I know what mischief means: it’s what Emil does.”  And that is true, Emil is the definition of mischief!

Read-Aloud Quality: 5 (out of 5)

Ideal Listeners’ Ages: 5 – 12

Biography

Jane Austen by Peter Leithart 

This short biography is an easy read and belongs to a biography series called Christian Encounters.   In it, Peter Leithart does a good job of tracing Jane Austen’s life, work, and faith.  He tries to find her true character between the two extremes that she has been portrayed: sarcastic, cynical feminist or pious Victorian prude.  In doing so, he creates his own picture of Jane and, to differentiate from other portrayals, dubs her “Jenny.”  He doesn’t do it consistently, and I found it slightly annoying.  To my knowledge, Jane was never called Jenny, and it was a hard pill to swallow.  It’s like dubbing Charles Dickens, “Charlie.”  It simply shouldn’t be done!  That gripe aside, Jane Austen is a truly enjoyable read.  One more note for interested readers before I move on. Don’t be like me, and read the whole book wishing you had a family tree BEFORE discovering there is an appendix in the back for the complicated list of brothers, sisters-in-law, cousins, second wives, etc!

Biography Rating 4 (out of 5)

Readability 5 (out of 5)

Fun fact of the day: do you know that Pride and Prejudice turned 200 this week?

Christian Living

Radical Together by David Platt  

After reading Radical, two years ago, I was eager to read Radical Together.  I bought it this past fall, and it has been sitting on my shelf with a list of other to-reads.  Once I started, it was a fast read, only about 130 pages.  It is an interesting follow-up to Radical and in it, David Platt tries to show what it looks like when the church as a body is “radical” together.  He gives many examples, particularly from his own life and ministry.  For some, this might seem rather self-righteous, but Platt makes it very clear that he and his ministry are far from perfect.  Anyone who  knows David Platt, who has heard him speak and read his book, will know that this is a man who has a heart for the gospel.  Reading Radical Together, it is so neat and challenging to see in practical terms what living out “radical” has meant for both individuals and churches.

In this book, Platt is quick to recognize the importance of the local church.  He also is quick to point out that the problem is not that our church programs and agendas are inherently wrong; they can be very good.  The question is, are they the best in the end for displaying God’s glory to the nations?

If you’re starting to feel a little too complacent (after all, Radical was two years ago), this book will be the perfect book to get you back on your toes.  I love the passion that David Platt shows toward reaching the unreached.  I also love the way he is so challenging, and yet so clear that God does not need our help.

“God does not involve us in his grand, global purpose because he needs us.  He involves us in his grand, global plan because he loves us.”  (Radical Together, 129.)

Christian Living Rating 5 (out of 5)

Readability 5 (out of 5)

March 18, 2012

Thoughts on The Hunger Games

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Faith, Fiction tagged , , at 7:09 pm by catsinboxes

I must admit that I have a hard time liking Katniss Everdeen.  That’s not to say that I didn’t enjoy reading the Hunger Games trilogy.  Suzanne Collins has created a series that is hard to put down.  But she has also created a series, a setting, and a cast of characters that presents many questions: questions that Katniss Everdeen never seems to answer.

When I read the series, I was struck by the feeling that is created.  Imagine a future America that is divided into 13 districts.  Imagine a future where young people, 2 tributes from each district, are sent to participate in the Hunger Games, a televised slaughter in an artificially created “arena” that will leave only one victor.  That is the world that Katniss Everdeen introduces readers to in the opening pages of the Hunger Games.

Katniss’ world feels dark, old, depressing, and by contrast the Capitol is gaudy to the extreme.  It is such a different world that it is almost surprising to find references to things we know, like the fact that Katniss’ family has a television.  And when in the midst of the second book we find out that District 13 specialized in “nuclear development” it seems just plain out of place!  Does this world feel real?  Not to me, at least, but it is a story.

I do have a couple bones to pick when it comes to the genre.  I cannot believe it possible that a world sometime in the future would have no recollection of God.  There is no religion in the Hunger Games, no mention of any greater being or any remnant of religion preserved from the past.  Realizing this, it is not surprising that there is no common sense of morality in the series.  In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points to the fact that we all have an inward moral law: a moral law that will point us toward the right thing to do, a moral law that will sometimes cause us to do the right thing even when it’s the last thing we actually want to do.  In the Hunger Games, Katniss often battles with herself, wondering why she does things, but she never seems to conclude that it is simply because it is the right thing to do at that time and place.  In the Hunger Games each character is operating for a different reason and there is not a unifying theme.  Instead of black and white, there are many shades of gray.  Indicative of this is the fact that the rebels, instead of being the good guys, are a weird kind of totalitarian force who wear gray uniforms.

In the Hunger Games there is not a sense of true beauty or joy, instead there is only darkness and confusion.  I believe it is good to read the Hunger Games to get a sense of our times.  I find it intriguing that this has become such a best seller.  Honestly though, I don’t believe that this will become a lasting classic.

I know that a lot of Christian parents are wondering if their children should read the Hunger Games.  I think that is a personal decision to make, but I will tell you two things I observed which I personally found disturbing.  These reasons are why I would be hesitant to recommend the Hunger Games trilogy to anyone younger than a mature and analytically inclined high schooler.

Reason 1.  Throughout the trilogy there is intense violence almost to the point of desensitization.  Granted, given the premise, of course this is going to happen, but it almost seems to be gratuitous at times.  One example of this that stuck out to me came from Katniss’ description of one of the tributes in Catching Fire:  “Enobaria looks to be about thirty and all I can remember about her is that, in hand-to-hand combat, she killed one tribute by ripping open his throat with her teeth.”  It’s one thing to read about violence, about the Holocaust or about genocide or a battlefield, when it really happened.  It is quite another thing to invent such violence, and it doesn’t seem right to me, not in this much detail.  By the end of the Hunger Games trilogy, I found myself desensitized to all of the death.  Character after character had been killed off, often in gruesome detail.  It’s not like in Harry Potter when death takes you by surprise . . . when you have time to miss a character . . . no, this was just a LOT of dying and a whole lot of violence.

Reason 2.  While there is no sex in the Hunger Games, I would argue that there is a lot of sensuality.  Some of it comes from statements . . . like the fact that Katniss stands unclothed while her male stylist Cinna is studying her.  Call me a prude, but that made me squirm.  There is a good bit of kissing and little details thrown in that stick with you: Gale smells like oranges the first time he kisses Katniss.  Peeta and Katniss sleep together in the same place during the Hunger Games and then later on multiple occasions.  Nothing goes on, but Katniss emphasizes how nice and secure it is to have Peeta there.  Lastly, I just kept picking up on little details about Katniss: she wishes she were alone so she could strip off her clothes and dive naked into a lake . . . 11 times during the series Katniss refers to her naked body.  Several of these times happen at night when she strips off her clothes and sleeps _____ you can fill in the word!  I really don’t feel like this is appropriate, especially not for any juvenile male readers.  There is so much sexuality in our culture, you might say this isn’t that bad.  But it’s there . . . and I’d rather know about it in advance if I’m trying to determine the appropriateness of any book.

For me, the most telling part in the entire series was the conversation Katniss overhears between Peeta and Gale.  They wonder who will wind up with Katniss if they all come out alive and Gale says: “Katniss will pick whoever she thinks she can’t survive without.”  As the reader, I was inclined to agree.  Over the past two books, Katniss had shown herself as intensely selfish in how she relates to others.  But as the reader, you also want Katniss to prove that she’s not that bad, that she does care for others, that she doesn’t operate solely on that plane.  But it never happens.  Do you understand why I have such a hard time liking Katniss Everdeen?

Obviously this is my opinion of the Hunger Games trilogy.  Do you agree?  Do you disagree?  What were things you noticed or things that bothered you?  I know there’s a lot more that could be discussed, and I would love to hear your opinion!  


September 17, 2011

Emily of Deep Valley ~ a review

Posted in Book Reviews, Books, Fiction at 3:58 pm by catsinboxes

After about a week and a half of unusual busyness, I was very ready to put my nose in a book. Besides, it’s that time of year. The leaves are just starting to change, the nights are perfect for sleeping with the window open, all-in-all it’s perfect book weather.

At a recent trip to Half-Price Books, a book in the clearance section caught my eye. (As an aside, I’ve had good luck finding fun reads in the clearance section!) It was -bet you can guess!- Emily of Deep Valley by Maud Hart Lovelace.

For those of you who are Betsy-Tacy enthusiasts, you don’t need any explanation. But I have a confession; I never read any books by Maud Hart Lovelace growing up. Not a single one. The reason was simple; my sister loved them. So, out of pure contrariness, I didn’t read them.

But, at 19-going-on-20, I’ve reached an almost-reasonable age. So, I pulled the book off the shelf and examined it.

For those of you familiar with the Deep Valley books, this cover will be normal. If this is new for you, don’t let the cover put you off! I personally am not a fan of the cover; I don’t think it does Emily credit. But now for the book review . . .

For Emily Webster, graduating from Deep Valley High School is bittersweet. She loves the excitement and the whirlwind of activity leading up to graduation, but she dreads what will follow. All of her friends, “the crowd”, will be heading off to college. For Emily, life will continue in Deep Valley as she lives and cares for her grandfather. This book covers a year in Emily’s life, a year in which many things happen.

In a way this is a comfort book; it’s relatively slow-paced. I realized that and made a point of reading it slowly, not skimming over the details. I love the character development because by the end of the book, just like Emily, the reader is looking at Deep Valley and the people in Emily’s life differently.

Personally I loved the book because I can really relate to many of Emily’s feelings. This is a coming-of-age book in the most proper sense of the word. It captures the awkwardness -often inward- of a girl’s feelings as she slowly is coming into her own. I know what that’s like!

One word about the “Deep Valley” part of the title. This book takes place in the same location as the rest of Maud Hart Lovelace’s books, only about two years later. Characters that I had heard of by name had brief cameos, but it’s not necessary to read all the other books before this one. At least, I didn’t let that stop me!

Summing it up, if you are a girl (sorry guys, this probably wouldn’t be for you!), and you’re in need of something to read, I highly recommend Emily of Deep Valley. It’s a quick enough read to polish off in one weekend, and it doesn’t need the mental concentration that -say Dickens- would demand.

With all that said, I must be going. Have a great Saturday and enjoy your weekend!