Saturday, July 10, 2010

Rahab, the Grafted

As some of our readers know, I am generally not much on Christian Fiction.  In fact, I can count the number of Christian lit books I have read on one hand.   But there is one writer who has a knack for putting it all together and still making it read well.  Francine Rivers is the author of Redeeming Love, perhaps the best modern Christian lit book.  I read it last year and could not put it down and could barely stop crying as I read it.  Yes, there are drastic differences in her writing from that of the authors I normally read.  Yes, it is Christian Romance fiction and I have never read a romance novel (secular) in my life.  So it is outside the norm for me.  But, my mother-in-law loves all things Christian lit and was so excited that I read Redeeming Love that she gave me Francine Rivers Lineage of Grace last year for Christmas.  It is a collection of novellas about five of the women in the Messianic family tree:  Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary. 

A Lineage of Grace (Christian Softcover Originals)Rivers takes the Biblical accounts of these women and breathes life into the flesh and bones outlines of these women.  Where the Bible is silent on the emotions of most of these women, Rivers ponders the struggles with temperament these women in extraordinary circumstances might have had.  In Rahab's story, Unashamed, the result is a greater picture of the scope of salvation, the hope of the coming Lord, and unwavering faith in a God who is able. 

Rivers is a little more heavy handed in Rahab's story than I remember her being in Tamar's story.  It feels almost constrained by the Biblical account, where Tamar's story expanded it.  That is not to say that the Biblical account is something that should be brushed off in the pursuit of poetic licence.  Rather, Rivers seemed to use the paintbrush lightly on this one.  She just added touches around what was already a masterpiece.  Where Tamar's tale illuminated the cultural significance of certain Biblical events, Rahab's story did not.  Rivers, instead focused on broader Biblical themes of waiting on the Lord, trusting His power and His plan, and the grafting in of Gentiles. 

Another accomplishment of Unashamed is the hypothetical wrangling Rivers does with the facts.  She provides the answers to: How did that happen?  For those who question the veracity of the Biblical account of the walls of Jericho simply falling at the sound of trumpets and the marching of feet, Rivers offers an interesting explanation.  For those wondering how a Gentile harlot wound up in the lineage of the Christ, Rivers offers a most unlikely romance. 

I recommend the reading of these novellas after reading the Biblical accounts.  They breathe new life into the Hebrew stories of redemption for a modern world that barely understands the ancient culture and customs.

Rating: 4.6 of 7


Thursday, July 8, 2010

This Week in Our Year

Hello and welcome to This Week in Our Year. 

We had a busy week around here.  The following books were reviewed:
The Gathering Storm
The Kreutzer Sonata
Mrs. Dalloway
The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread - nominee for best book read this year

Also, we are participating in the Book Blogger Hop for this week.  Thanks to Crazy for Books for hosting this event.  If you are visiting via the Hop, a double welcome to you.  Feel free to follow us here or on twitter.  This week our host has asked us to list our favorite authors.  Since there are two of us here, you get a two for one deal.  Here are our lists:

1. Jeffrey Archer - great modern bestseller author.  I am not much for the latest books, but I always read his when they come out.
2. Virginia Woolf - only read one of her books, but it was a good one.
3. O. Henry - a favorite of mine from a very young age
4. Wilkie Collins - again only one book read, but it was a good one!
5. Emily Dickenson - gotta include a poet in there.

1. Robert Jordan / Brandon Sanderson - yes, they are grouped together b/c I haven't *found* Brandon outside of The Wheel of Time. It'll happen soon.
2. Glen Cook - great fantasy, great sci-fi
3. Joe Abercrombie - a new-ish author
4. Weis/Hickman/Salvatore - it's smut-fantasy, but you need some of that every now and then.
5. Tad Williams - Otherland followed by Memory,Sorrow, and Thorn

Notable: Stephen King, Robert Louis Stevenson

Picking the next book -

Hey Folks,

It isn't always easy to find the next book to read. I've been hung up on epics lately, and I think that it's slowed me down a bit. Leah's taken over the lead.... not that it's a contest or anything. =P I typically read about three books at a time until I figure out what's worth most of my time. It's been a tough grouping the last couple days. Here are my options, and I think the one I'm going to finish for my next review.

1. The Stand: Expanded Edition: For the First Time Complete and Uncut (Signet) - The book is good, but it's also long! I'm about 10% at this point and I just don't see it happening in a week. I can definitely tell Stephen King novels now.

2. The Dragon Factory - I am not sure I'm going to finish this one. I'm about 30 pages in and it's not my kind of book. I'll try to power through to 100 pages. If it gets better then great, but if it isn't maybe I can continue to push myself. It's a bit like 24 w/ Casablanca acting.

3. Metro 2033 - I'll probably settle on this Glukhovsky novel. I learned about it after I saw a review for the video game based on the novel. Game looks decent, but have to read the book first.

4. Shadows of Doom (Iron Tower Trilogy) - Small book.... Second book in the series that I would like to finish. Not too far yet. I really want to finish the stand, but 1000 pages can take a while.


The Greatest Thing...

I just finished The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread by Don Robertson.  Rarely have I loved a book this much!  I want everyone I know to read it and everyone I don't know to find out about it and share it with a friend.   It is heroic, beautiful, tragic, uplifting, etc.  AHHH! 

Side note to explain why I picked the book: I had a love affair with a magazine.  We broke it off a couple months ago because I found out it was a whore, as I was paying way too much for it a year.  I am currently trying to figure out how we can work things out (i.e. I can get the subscription for much cheaper).  In said magazine, Stephen King writes a semi-regular column.  I have never read a Stephen King book and find it unlikely I ever will; but I feel a kinship with him.  I trust him and his opinions on just about everything (culture related).  So, I was browsing the clearance rack at Borders a couple weeks ago when I found a book highly recommended by Mr. King.  Right there on the front cover, no less.  It was cheap and it looked interesting (the blurb, I mean.  I rarely read the summaries of novels, they are rife with spoilers); so I bought it.

The Greatest Thing Since Sliced Bread: A NovelThe story is a wheel story (like Seinfeld was) where there is a central character and all the other characters relate to the protaganist in some way (Even the lady in the above picture).  The central in this one is Morris Bird III, a Cleveland-born, smarter than the average 9 year-old boy (in the head, as well as the heart).  The book is part bildungsroman, part odessey, part adventure novel.  It is utterly unmissable.   All the other characters, named and unnammed, known and unknown to Morris Bird III have lives affected by this young boy. 

I am loathe to tell you any of the details of this book other than the 4 pieces of advice given to Morris Bird III in the book.  They are good:
1.  If you love a thing or person you should not hold back.
2.  There's nothing wrong with doing something you think is right even though nobody wants to help you, even though people actually try to stop you.
3. Don't put comfort ahead of duty.
4. Remember to look at the sky at least once a day, it helps to keep your perspective.

Supplied with these simple truths and a tender heart, Morris Bird III sets out to follow the advice of those he respects.  The resulting story is not so much a surprise of circumstances (I guessed most of it before the 50th page), as it is a marvel of humanity.  The fact that there is much foreshadowing here does not detract from the tale.  Instead it lends an air of mystery; a shock at the turn of events, even. 

The device Roberston employed best in this novel was repetition.  The kind that is subtle, but reinforces attributes of characters: like tenderness or movement or precision.  Rarely do authors get repetition right.  Often it is so heavy handed, it borders on annoying (see: Let the Great World Spin).  Robertson punctuates his story through repetition, giving the reader ways to mark time, take note of foreshadowing, and simply get to know the characters. 

I told -D I would like to create a list of Exposure Musts for our future (hopeful) children.  The things they must read, hear, see, etc. before they leave the nest.  As of yesterday, when I was halfway through this book, The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread made it to this list.  Someday we will write a post letting you know what else is on the list, but in the meantime: Go. Purchase. Read this book.

Rating: 6.8 out of 7


Wednesday, July 7, 2010


It seems our long hiatus of book purchasing is behind us and we are hitting the book shelves like a crack addict on a day-pass.  -D posted about his latest book purchases last week and I had a great book shop day, so I thought I would share with the class.  Show and tell!

Members of a former-book club-hopefully-reunited and I went to the Rancho Mirage Library to check out books after a lengthy discussion of what we should read next.  I was the virgin of the group...I had been meaning to get around to it, but just hadn't made it, yet.

Here's the finds:

The Blind Assassin: A NovelThe Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood (hardback).  This is on the list of 1001 Books to Read before you Die, but one of the members of the aforementioned book club read The Handmaid's Tale a couple years ago and I thought it was about time I got some more Atwood in me.

Gilead: A NovelGilead by Marilynne Robinson (hardback).  Winner of the Pulitzer Prize at some point.  I saw this mentioned somewhere and thought it sounded good. 

Giant (Perennial Classics)Giant by Edna Ferber.  Another winner of the Pulitzer.  Purchased for 2 reasons.  1.  It is set in Texas (enough said)  2.  One of my favorite songs mentions the movie adaptation of this book (...and a screen without a picture since Giant came to town...)

A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering GeniusA Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius by Dave Eggers.  Pointed out to me by a member of aforementioned book club.  Upon picking it up, I discovered it is not only signed by the author, but illustrated as well.   Not bad for a buck.

All told, these cost $3.50.  I shall return Rancho Mirage Library.  Consider yourself warned, home book shelves. 

On a related note,  I have some books up for swap on GoodReads if you are interested in helping me get rid of some of my books to make more room for recent purchases.  I don't recommend any of the books on the swap listing, but hey, you would be doing me a favor by getting them off my hands. 

Any great finds lately?


Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Gathering Storm

"We can't go back, Mat. The Wheel has turned, for better or worse. And it will keep turning, as lights die and forests dim, storms call and skies break. Turn it will. The Wheel is not hope, and the Wheel does not care, the Wheel simply is. But so long as it turns, folk may hope, folk may care. For with light that fades, another will eventually grow, and each storm that rages must eventually die. As long as the Wheel turns. As long is it turns...."

I cheated this last book. I said in my New Authors post that I was going to read a few new books before picking up another Jordan or King novel. Well, that didn't go as planned. At church the week before I got to talking with a friend about finishing up Knife of Dreams and how enjoyable the book was. Let's just say that during that conversation he did an excellent job of talking up the next chapter in Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time epic. So excellent of a job that I had to pick up the book and cheat my way through while pretending to read a new novel. It was well worth it though.....

The Gathering Storm is the 12th book in The Wheel of Time series, and the first book after Jordan's passing away. Brandon Sanderson takes over the duty of bring a finale to the defining epic. He does this with the help of copious amounts of notes that Jordan took, and with the editing and knowledge of Jordan's wife and friends. With that said, he certainly doesn't disappoint. The book is terribly difficult to put down. You can feel the culmination of years of plot coming to their climax. We don't see that end in this novel, but we can finally tell that it's going to happen. For those that appreciate the way that RJ wrote WoT, you'll be happy to know that Brandon continues down the same road. You aren't left feeling that someone had to take over the story and ran with a different scope or feel. If you weren't a fan of RJ's tedium then you'll be happy to know that Brandon does a good job of not going overboard either. You have the depth of description that everyone has come to expect with WoT, but it's subtle to the point that you don't feel like you've been reading paragraphs on the pattern, color, texture, and material of an Aes Sedai's dress.

The feel and progress of The Gathering Storm was excellent. This novel covered all of the main characters, but focused primarily on Rand and Egwene. Rand is battling with the question of his sanity, the emotions that supposedly weaken him, and his need to fulfill the prophecy of the Dragon(him) by bringing the nations together. You see the turmoil that has been building from the first book. Rand has gone from a confused teenager, to a king..... perhaps a tyrant to some. Egwene is still a prisoner in the White Tower. The foundations that have withstood turmoil for so long are crumbling; being destroyed from the inside out. Can she reunite the Sisters, or will the White Tower fail? You also get a smattering of Mat and Perrin. All in all, it felt like the 750 or so pages went incredibly fast. It's a pace that we haven't seen in a long time, but it was well received by this fan.

Twenty years, 8464 pages, and two authors later, and I can finally see the light at the end of the epic tunnel that has spanned almost two-thirds of my life. It's a mixed bag of feelings though. I've looked forward to the continuing story at the end of every book. I've enjoyed complaining about the slow parts or the time it's taken for the next book to come out. I've worried about Jordan being able to complete the book. I've had great conversations about how this was going to happen, or who was going to do this. I'm ready for the end of the series, but can't help but feel sad at the same time. Great books will do that to you. So thank you Robert Jordan for eleven books and a plethora of notes to keep the epic going. Thank you Sanderson for staying true.

Rating: 9.2 CBs - I might revise this when the other two books have come out, but for the time being I need to give some room for the next two novels to grow. It was an excellent book by an excellent author. If you're interested in more of his work go check out his website here. He does have a free book for download.


The Kreutzer Sonata

Dipping a toe into the Russian literature waters this week led to the discovery of The Kreutzer Sonata by Leo Tolstoy.  This novella is unique, interesting, and maddening.  I loved it!
The Kreutzer SonataWhat is intriguing about the story of a man driven mad by jealousy is how modern it feels.  Whilst reading it, I was reminded of two very different things.  One: the confessional nature of cross country trips; and two: the importance of pre-marital counseling. 
On the first:  The protagonist of the story, Pozdnischeff, meets the narrator and without hesitation launches into his life story of hatred, anger, and violence toward his wife.  All this while riding on a train through the night, half hidden by the darkness.  It would play like a ghost story if it were not grounded by semi-frequent interjections by the narrator, jostling the reader back to reality.  It reminded me of the numerous times I have been riding on a plane only to have a complete stranger tell me their life story in the time it takes for the beverage cart to be wheeled out.  It seems when certain people meet their fellow passenger on a plane or train, they feel they have met their confessor.  One will hear of illnesses, childhood traumas, sins, and the short-comings of one's spouse.  Thankfully, it is still rare to hear a confession of murder given out willy-nilly by a complete stranger.
This leads to the second:  It seems Pozdnischeff and Mrs. Pozdnischeff would have benefited greatly from a little modern-day pre-marital counseling.  I mean there is more to marriage than sex, or at least I have heard tell of it.  Maybe their honeymoon would not have been so harrowing.  The post-connubial experience of this couple is described by the husband, in a chapter entitled Punishment, as "a period of shame, tediousness,and it soon became an unbearable torture."   It seems that no one told the unhappy couple that marriage comes with compromise and the understanding that you don't always have to be right.  Also missing from the preparation course was instruction on dealing with jealousy.  The token fiery lovers of this story let their passions inflame them a little too much. 

This story is truly captivating.  The way Pozdnischeff expounds upon his theories of infidelity, the cessation of procreation, and justifiable homicide is thought-provoking (not in the "oh,-so-now-I-can-kill-my-husband" way, but in a "how-would-you-respond?" way).   Equally captivating and a must when reading this novella is the sonata on which it is based.   Violin Sonata No. 9 by the incomparable Beethoven must be played just as it is mentioned in the story.  If you push play at the exact moment it is mentioned, it should take you through the rest of the book very nicely. 

Rating: 5.7 out of 7


Monday, July 5, 2010

A Moving Spotlight

Mrs. DallowayI tend to forget plot lines and endings of most books I read.  What usually sticks with me is the style of writing: the use of adjectival phrases, the tone, the sentence structure.  Thus, I remember one of my favorite books, Mrs. Dalloway, not for the story, but for the literary devices employed by Virginia Woolf.  What makes Mrs. Dalloway so intriguing to me is the shift of narrative focus in stream of consciousness.  I will always remember this device employed by Woolf as something magical, something real.  Reading it again this week, brought back all the memories of this perfect device.  It is as though the reader is walking through London with the narrator, shining a spotlight on the various characters as he sees them, learning their inmost thoughts and journeying with them on one particular day.   As one character walks by, suddenly, the narrator spots them and the reader follows them in the same way.

But reading Mrs. Dalloway again, led to greater observations than my 17 year old self could have made.  These insights brought further depth to a novel I already loved.  Most notable among these was the presage of the future.  Woolf wrote of the prevailing philosophies of the day.  These, naturally, were indicators of the future.  Her character Sir William (a doctor), a progressive thinker obsessed with the twin goddesses of proportion and conversion, is a somber warning of the horrors of eugenics and power-hungry rulers:
Sir William not only prospered himself but made England prosper, secluded her lunatics, forbade childbirth, penalised despair, made it impossible for the unfit to propagate their views until they, too, shared his sense of proportion.

Conversion is her name and she feasts on the wills of the weakly, loving to impress, to impose, adoring her own features stamped on the face of the populace.  At Hyde Park Corner on a tub she stand preaching; shrouds herself in white and walks penitentially disguised as brotherly love through factories and parliaments; offers help, but desires power, smite out of her way roughly the dissentient, or dissatisfied; bestows her blessings on those, who looking upward, catch submissively from her eyes, the light of their own.  This lady too had her dwelling in Sir William's heart, though concealed, as she mostly is, under some plausible disguise; some venerable name; love, duty, self sacrifice.  But conversion, fastidious Goddess, loves blood better than brick, and feasts most subtly on the human will. 

All the characters of this novel can be sorted out by their adherence to these goddesses.  Their willingness to bow their hearts to proportion and conversion is the test of the will of each character.  Some have chosen to submit for ease, some refuse and suffer the consequences.  It seems the whole of Mrs. Dalloway could not stand without this small portion of writing centered on a minor character.  This is the key to unlocking the secrets of Mrs. Dalloway

Thus this is a novel about choices.  Choices made.  Choices regretted.  But always choices.  Many will say this is one of the first feminist novels, but I say it is a novel about self-determination.  It is about how you choose to live your life, suffering consequences or bearing them up.  The things of the past for some characters are events to get beyond; for others, they are something to live inside.  Some would say that women before the turn of the century did not have choices, but this novel would point out just the opposite.   Each character (especially Clarissa) had the right to choose.  One must remember there is a difference between not having a choice and regretting making the decision. 

Rating: 6 out of 7