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.