Thursday, June 8, 2017

Travel Reading: Madonna House Part 3

During the four months of reading the below books, I've been at a farming community in the middle of nowhere (if anything can be called "the middle of nowhere", rural Canada can), with no electronics. It is far too difficult to write up proper reviews in these circumstances, so I'm continuing the Travel Reading series, where I simply write a couple sentences about each book read, and leave it at that. Here goes the third set of three:

"Poustinia" by Catherine Doherty
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
I love the idea of Poustinia--it's epic. And some of Catherine's ideas are just so true and beautiful, and not something you see talked about anywhere else (at least in our culture). But I struggled a lot with her style, especially her seeming anti-intellectualism. This was a very up-and-down reading experience for me because of that. But I recommend this heartily! I think almost anyone could get something new and helpful out of it, at least.

"The Power and the Glory" by Graham Greene
Grade: 5 stars
SO Catholic, in the best possible sense of that phrase. Greene gets so many things--what real sanctity is, the silliness that is sin, and how people think deep down to themselves. He reminds me of a grittier version of C. S. Lewis in those ways. This is a book worth a good, long sit-down discussion over beer or hot chocolate. Yet all this might give the impression that it's a "difficult" book, or preachy, or only relate-able to Catholics or something, but that's totally false. It's easy to read, excellently written, brilliant characters, gets to the bottom of LIFE. Man, I don't even know how to describe my thoughts properly, but I am so glad I finally got around to reading this.

"In the Night Garden" by Catherynne M. Valente
Grade: 4 stars
The structure of this book! It totally thrilled me. A layered, interlocking series of tales and stories, with unexpected connections and call-backs and Inception-like depth. The unending nature of the structure was a little annoying for me personally, though. I wanted everything wrapped up in the end, in an incredibly complex bundle of imagination and creativity. Instead it emphasizes the fact that stories don't really have a beginning and end, which is probably actually the best route to take, despite my personal preferences.

"The Return of the Prodigal Son" by Henri Nouwen
Grade: 4 stars
A beautiful little book that gives you a new appreciation for Rembrandt's famous painting. I didn't find it quite as helpful as the last Nouwen I read, but excellent none the less.

"Shirt of Flame" by Heather King
Grade: 5 stars
Profound and difficult and consoling simultaneously. It came at an absolutely perfect time in my life, and gave me a relationship to St. Therese for which I'll be forever grateful. Also good coming so soon after The Power and the Glory, since King also get the grittiness and paradox and beauty of Catholicism.

"Paladin of Souls" by Lois McMaster Bujold
Grade: 3 stars
The gods in this series! With the religion in this series, and how Bujold presents the theist character of Cordelia in the Vorkosigan saga, I can't help but think she's had some experience of Faith. She just seems to get how it works (though the Bastard weirded me out a bit...). The rest of the aspects of this story were good enough, and entertaining, but I think the first book, The Curse of Chalion, remains my favourite by a large margin.

(There are some personal notes below this break. Feel free to skip them; they are pretty unintelligible anyway.)

Friday, January 20, 2017

Travel Reading: Madonna House Part 2

The last four months or so, I've been at a farming community in the middle of nowhere (if anything can be called "the middle of nowhere", rural Canada can), with no electronics. It is far too difficult to write up proper reviews in these circumstances, so I'm continuing the Travel Reading series, where I simply write a couple sentences about each book read, and leave it at that. Here goes the second set of three:

"Discovering the Feminine Genius" by Katrina J. Zeno
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
It was a little simplistic for where I'm at right now--or perhaps it's complex enough but just made for a different sort of person? Despite the fact that she and I have a fairly similar background in some ways (Catholic upbringing, down to the playing spoons till midnight). Most of the book didn't seem to relate to me or be that helpful. Yet... a few key points in it were the starting off points for some major growth these last few months, so I can't help but recommend it.

"Wild Seed" by Octavia Butler
Grade: 4 stars
A fairly different feel to this book than what I'm used to. Quite intensely personal for a speculative fiction book, without being overly emotional or having that "literary fiction" style that isn't my thing. Don't really know what else to say about this book, but it was good stuff. Hopefully I'll get to more Butler soon.

"Spiritual Formation" by Henri Nouwen
Grade: 4 1/2 stars
This book helped me a lot. Nouwen has such insight into the human journey. Also there are some cool new ideas to try for me, like "Visual Divinia". I just wish I'd gotten around to studying my notes (found below) properly when the book was still in my possession and fresh in my mind...

"Fortress in the Eye of Time" by C. J. Cherryh
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
Entertaining and atmospheric with some great relationships of all sorts. The central friendship was my favourite (Tristen and Cefwyn), but there was a small element of romance that was really great too (Cefwyn and .... I forget her name). The Tristen & Mauryl and Cefwyn & Idrys (Master Crow!) relationships were also great. The main issue is that it wasn't quite gripping enough to make me seek out the sequels immediately, and I'm going to forget the myriad names and world-building details that are necessary to understand even a little bit of what's going on. Cherryh is not someone who explains things unnecessarily--one of my favourite things about her, but still, it's going to make this difficult...

"The Psalms Are Our Prayers" by Albert Gelin
Grade: 3 stars
If I hadn't read The Case for the Psalms by N. T. Wright earlier in the year and loved it, I might have been more impressed by this. As it was, it was good but not particularly new or striking. I also found the style a bit disconcerting--perhaps it was the translation? My spiritual director recommended this book and this author, though, so I'd like to try another book by him at some point.

(There are some personal notes below this break. Feel free to skip them; they are pretty unintelligible anyway.)

Sunday, January 8, 2017

Travel Reading: Madonna House Part 1

After my trip home to BC, I went to a farming community in the middle of nowhere (if anything can be called "the middle of nowhere", rural Canada can), with no electronics. It is far too difficult to write up proper reviews in these circumstances, so I'm continuing the Travel Reading series, where I simply write a couple sentences about each book read, and leave it at that. Here goes the first set of three:

"The Man in the Queue" by Josephine Tey
Grade: 3 stars
Entertaining Golden Age British mystery story, with some delightful but spoilery twists on the usual outcomes of such mysteries. I didn't enjoy this as much as some of Tey's other works, though. Her tendency towards atmospheric description I found a little more boring, rather than breathtaking and claustrophobic, as in The Singing Sands, or than entertaining and intriguing, as in Miss Pym Disposes. And although I loved to a surprising degree some of the secondary characters ([Raoul Legarde, Miss Dinmont, even Ray Marcable--Tey really has a strength with fascinating characters you want to know more about), they weren't as impactful as MPD, The Daughter of Time, or The Franchise Affair. In general, it seemed a little less well written. But it was her first book, after all.

"The Paladin" by C. J. Cherryh
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Retired general in east Asian inspired land reluctantly takes on a young and passionate-for-revenge girl as a student. The ending felt a bit rushed, and there was too much emphasis on how much the older guy wanted to sleep with his student. Cherryh is great at a properly limited third person view, but in this case I would have liked the romance better if it had more of the girl's perspective. Especially because it was so much more central than expected. It didn't throw me off Cherryh, though. I found her writing both excellent and entertaining, and I'm looking forward to reading her more well-known works.

"Lost in the Labyrinth" by Patrice Kindl
Grade: 2 stars
Retelling of the Minotaur story. I think it is too young for me at this point in my life, and I didn't find it as unique as some of her other books, so not my favourite read of the year. It would be good for teaching kids about myths though, I think.

"Speaker for the Dead" by Orson Scott Card
Grade: 3 stars
Had a bunch of notes on this, but I lost them. Will update this if I find them. It was too long ago to remember most of what I thought, but it wasn't as good as I was hoping. Still good, though.

"A Confusion of Princes" by Garth Nix
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
The first half was pretty cool because of Nix's worldbuilding (which he always does awesomely), of the scifi future-y sort, and his secondary characters, of the distinct and memorable sort. But the second half, with the romantic relationship and the sudden resolution seemed a bit simplistic. Also, why is Khenri so special? He didn't strike me as being particularly special... The characterization could have used a bit of work, think. Anyway, ultimately it was fun but too light.

Friday, August 26, 2016

Travel Reading: BC Summer

It is far too difficult to write up proper reviews when I've been away from regular internet access for extended periods of time. Thus I started this Travel Reading series, where I simply write a couple sentences about each book read, and leave it at that. So from a trip home to my family and friends in BC comes the following:

"Owl in Love" by Patrice Kindl
Grade: 3 stars
Strange little book, which seems to be Kindl's style. I like her best in fairy tale land, where strangeness doesn't seem unusual (Goose Chase made me very happy). But this one was surprisingly entertaining. The strangeness was less disconcerting than in The Woman in the Wall. Owl's voice is unique, even from Kindl's other heroines; her inhuman-ness was treated well. And I still want to read every one of the rest of her books, if only for curiosity's sake. 2 1/2 stars because I think it was a little young for me, but then an extra 1/2 star for the fact that I couldn't really stop reading it.

"A Coalition of Lions" by Elizabeth Wein
Grade: 3 stars
A sequel to the Arthurian retelling The Winter Prince, but not nearly as heart-wrenching and impactful. I still enjoyed it, especially in the enormous potential for a favourite new character that was young Telemakos (the future books follow him as a protagonist). The setting and politics were cool as well. But it felt too short, and like some of the relationships (especially Priamos and Goewin) and characters needed more background and build up.

"Port Eternity" by C. J. Cherryh
Grade: 2 1/2 stars
Not as good as the other Cherryh I read (Cuckoo's Egg) but that was expected. I'd read reviews beforehand that indicated this. I only read it as my next Cherryh because it was an Arthurian retelling of sorts, and I've been on a bit of an Arthurian kick recently (see A Coalition of Lions above and the Top Ten (Or So): Arthurian Retellings list). I think I would have preferred even more character development, though maybe that wouldn't be possible with the kind of characters these "people" were. Or maybe what I wanted was more action... It happened at the end, but there seemed to be a big, slow build up to some large character explosion, and that never happened as much as I expected. The mythic, idyllic ending seemd to suit more conflict and events than actually happened.

"The Curse of Chalion" by Lois McMaster Bujold
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
It was a little slow to start out with, but once I got far enough through, the Bujold-ness showed up, especially with the main character, Cazaril. The interaction between gods and men was great. There are certain elements of theism that Bujold seems to understand much better than most people (this also showed up in the Vorkosigan saga with Cordelia's beliefs).
Note: everything about this edition (the back cover text, the inside cover picture) indicates there's a cliched main romance, which there isn't. Just putting that out there because it turned me off for a while.

"Tomorrow When the War Began" by John Marsden
Grade: 3 1/2 stars
I appreciated the realism of this YA post-apocalyptic Australian survival story. The teens seemed to me to act and think much like real teens. There was even a religious (not just "spiritual") girl who wasn't stupid or puritanical! That was hugely refreshing. The Australian element also gave it a bit of exciting exoticism for me as a Canadian. I think I'd like to read the sequels, once I come back from my travels and adventures and start a normal life again. It won't be that high on my list, since I didn't become passionate about any particular element. But it was a great and exciting and highly readable start to a series, and I'd recommend it to people who were mature enough for the small amount of sexual content.

Romeo and/or Juliet

by Ryan North

Story summary: Two households, both alike in dignity... an ancient grudge and parent's strife... a pair of star-cross'd lovers... a battle with giant robots...

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • It's so funny.
  • The clever Shakespeare references!
  • The clever geek references!
  • It's Romeo and Juliet as a choose-your-own-adventure. How much more awesome can you get?*

And Why You Might Not:
  • Some Christians could be bothered by some of the dislike of marriage that appears. It's not all like this, but there's enough that it's not just a passing remark one can ignore easily.
  • If your sense of humour isn't the sort of self-referential nerdiness often seen on the Internet and such places, you're likely not going to get much out of this. (On the other hand, if it's not your thing, maybe this would the perfect introduction to just how funny it can be!)

Friday, August 5, 2016

Cuckoo's Egg

by C. J. Cherryh

Story summary: Summary from Goodreads:
"They named him Thorn. They told him he was of their people, although he was so different. He was ugly in their eyes, strange, sleek-skinned instead of furred, clawless, different. Yet he was of their power class: judge-warriors, the elite, the fighters, the defenders.
Thorn knew that his difference was somehow very important - but not important enough to prevent murderous conspiracies against him, against his protector, against his castle, and perhaps against the peace of the world. But when the crunch came, when Thorn finally learned what his true role in life was to be, that on him might hang the future of two worlds, then he had to stand alone to justify his very existence."

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • Humanity from an alien viewpoint.
  • The characters, the politics, the writing, ahhhhhh, so good.
  • Father-son relationship.
  • It's a fairly short book and a stand-alone, so it seems like a pretty good introduction to this author's work. (I haven't read anything else by her, though, so this is pure conjecture.)

And Why You Might Not:
  • Not everything is explained simply, not every explanation is given to you straightly.
  • The ending is a little open, in some ways. I think it's perfect and suits the tone of the rest of the story and it doesn't feel unresolved, but I think it could be found bothersome by some people.

Friday, July 29, 2016

These Beautiful Bones

by Emily Stimpson

Why You Will Like This Book:
  • It's a discussion of the profound Theology of the Body, but focusing on the neglected parts (i.e. the non sex parts).
  • She gets the beauty of simplicity, the earth, daily life, and all those Hobbit-ish things.
  • It's inspiring. It makes me want to pray well, eat well, exercise well, dress well, live well.

And Why You Might Not:
  • I think it could turn off non-Christians and people who were less "Conservative" (see important note below*). It sometimes has that "the modern age is the most horrible age" point of view, which bothers me somewhat, though it's too complicated to get into why I think it's inaccurate.
  • I also didn't like it all that much when she did talk about sex and gender. I thought it lacked complexity of thought, and didn't go beyond stereotypes enough. Though again, it probably won't bother most Conservative Christians who are relatively normal (unlike me, apparently).