Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Obsidian Mirror

by Catherine Fisher

Grade: 3 stars
Story summary: Time travel, fairies, secrets, wolves, replicated beings, desperate searches for long lost fathers/wives/friends.

Thoughts: Catherine Fisher is one of my favourite currently living YA/children's authors. For some reason, her style really appeals to me. This one wasn't my favourite of hers, though. Although there seemed enormous potential, it didn't really live up to it (I thought). I liked all the characters (which is rather unusual for me in most books, though not CF's books), but I didn't end up loving any of them. A slight criticism I had with Darkwater was that each character only had half the book devoted to them, and so it got spread a bit too thin. This one is even worse. I'm pretty sure there were at least five characters, maybe more, who got the point of view at one point or another. The plot was pretty cool--I mean, time travel and fairies and strange futuristic tech--but that was part of the issue too. There was a lot going on at once. Maybe the sequel will help cement everything together. (There will be a sequel, I'm sure, because this is decidedly an unfinished story.)

But I'm still giving it 3 stars instead of 2 1/2 because I love Catherine Fisher and I think the characters and plot have enough potential that I can see where they might go, even if Fisher doesn't actually get there.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Discernment of Spirits

by Timothy M. Gallagher

Grade: 4 stars

Thoughts: I liked this one even better than the first book I read by this author, Meditation and Contemplation. It was longer, for one thing, and had more discussion and slightly less examples. Although, actually, I'm not sure that I found the discussion or example quite so helpful as the actual set of Ignatian rules, which I'd never read before. And these rules, of course, you can find anywhere--you don't need a whole book. But still--here they were presented in a non-threatening manner, something that can be used by normal people trying to become close to God.

I don't want to discuss the rules in detail--there are far better discussions out there, including this book. But to point out one small thing: I was comforted by the assurance that spiritual consolation is a real thing one can encourage and enjoy without fear. I have a tendency to distrust my emotions, and often try to bring myself out of that kind of joy in case I'm deceiving myself somehow. (Yeah, it's rather silly.) And spiritual desolation isn't something one should just grin and bear, but actually actively resist. (Page 86 was the part that struck me here.) I'd never thought about it this way before, and it was refreshing.


by Laura Hillenbrand

Grade: 4 stars

Thoughts: I got this book from a co-worker, and had no idea what to expect. I assumed I would not like it because I don't tend to like the sort of book that would be given to me by a random person who doesn't read very much. And it was by a New York Times best selling author too, which unfortunately also doesn't endear something to me. And at first I thought I was justified in this assumption. It appeared to be a biography of a boy who was rather too much of a "bad boy" for my tastes. But a biography that was written in quite a novelistic style, with lots of "he thought"'s and "he felt"'s. But I kept reading, and all of sudden realized I was loving it. It got more interesting once the war started, and I actually found the descriptions of bomber training, etc. quite fascinating. But what really interested me was when his plane crashed at sea, and he had to survive for weeks at sea with two other men and no food. The descriptions of the quiet, meditative moments were rather beautiful, and included some Christian moments that surprised me by their presence  I didn't really expect that in a New York Times best selling book. Also, I discovered that Hillenbrand had extensively interviewed Louis Zamperini, and so all the feeling and thinking and not strictly factual parts were actually quite accurate.

In most descriptions of this book, it mentions the lost at sea, and then stops. But that's actually only the beginning. I thought the sea-survival story was testament enough to the "Survival, Resilience, and Redemption" of the cover, but it went from bad to worse. Torture, abuse, and loneliness was added to the starvation and despair of the lost-at-sea story, as Louis Zamperini landed on a Japanese-occupied island and went from one horrific prison camp to another.

All in all, a fascinating view of the war in the Pacific, of human nature, and of one very unusual man.

Monday, April 15, 2013

The Orphan of Awkward Falls

by Keith Graves

Grade: 1 1/2 stars
Story summary: Josephine's family moves to Manitoba, very near to what they don't realize is an insane asylum. Also next door is a large mansion in which lives a very strange genius boy, his talking cat, his robot manservant, and a myriad of strange experimental creatures. Then the most insane of all the inmates in in the asylum escapes, Josephine stumbles upon said genius boy, and adventures start.

Thoughts: Possibly this would be loved by an actual child. I often love children's books--as books, and not just nostalgically or out of a desire to study them or something. But children still do have different tastes sometimes, and this could be an example of this. It wasn't bad, per se. The grading doesn't reflect the quality necessarily (thought it certainly wasn't a brilliantly written book), but more my enjoyment of it. It reminded me of Roald Dahl a bit. Lots of slightly unpleasant people and rather gruesome things. A cannibal with a snake living in his back, weird experimental creatures that are mixes of existing creatures, clones and cats with strange accents. Theodore, the genius boy, was interesting, but also rather unpleasant. Which might have been ok, and even a benefit, if the book wasn't filled with hybrid creatures and cannibals. The adventure wasn't really exciting, and there wasn't really much else to recommend it particularly. Or at least for someone of my taste. Perhaps a pre-teen boy would greatly enjoy it? I'm not sure.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Meditation and Contemplation

by Timothy M. Gallagher, O.M.V.

Grade: 4 stars

Thoughts: A short, but very useful book about the Ignatian style of praying with Scripture. I appreciated the clear descriptions and practical suggestions. For someone like me, who is not yet at the point where I am following a steady schedule of deep prayer, it was a book I felt like I should buy and read over again more carefully. Perhaps the most helpful points were the analogies to a deep conversation with a close friend. I have been having quite a few of those recently, and I can see that many aspects of these could often apply to one's prayer as well.

The only part that was strange to me was the emphasis on imagination. NOT because I thought it was wrong in any way, but because that's something I'm not naturally good at or comfortable with. I feel suspicious of it. Which is one of the primary reasons why I am very glad I read this book--I really should learn to get over that.