Monthly Archives: April 2009

Renegade’s Magic, by Robin Hobb (Book 3 of the Soldier Son trilogy)

renegadeI reviewed the first volume of this trilogy here, and the second here. So, quick recap: everyone loves Robin Hobb’s first three (linked trilogies), but many reviewers and readers have panned her latest series, complaining that it’s boring and her current hero, Nevare Burvelle, doesn’t do much and isn’t interesting or likable.  However, I liked the first two books in this series a lot and was looking forward to the third.

I wasn’t disappointed.  I re-read the first two volumes before reading this one, since a fair bit of time had passed while I was waiting for Renegade’s Magic to come out in paperback.  So I had the experience of reading all three through in a single sweep, which is, apparently, the way Hobb wrote them. 

I find these three books compelling and intricately detailed, and I like and sympathize with the hero very much.  Nevare is, quite literally, a man divided — a study in internal conflict.  As a result of a traumatic experience when he was fifteen, Nevare’s soul or personality or self — whatever you want to call it — was literally torn in two, with two different parts of him growing up in two different worlds and learning the values of two completely different cultures. The trilogy is the story of how Nevare deals with that sundering and attempts to find a place in one world or the other.  On a larger scale, it’s the story of the clash between a fast-expanding, technological, militaristic culture, and a race of indigenous forest-dwellers who at first appear to be simple “noble savages” but who are in fact far more complex than that.

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Filed under Fiction -- fantasy

Mary: Call Me Blessed, by Patty Froese Ntihemuka

maryblessedWhen it comes to Biblical fiction, some characters and subjects are easier to dive into than others. Given the aura of devotion and mystique surrounding Mary, the mother of Jesus, she’s a pretty daunting character to tackle.

Patty Froese Ntihemuka doesn’t hesitate, but dives in with a story that focuses on the shame and degradation Mary would have faced as an unwed mother.  One of the best things Ntihemuka does in her historical fiction is capture the attitudes and values of the era she’s writing about; she doesn’t fall into the trap of transposing twenty-first century attitudes to love and marriage into a first-century setting, but gives us an authentic-feeling sense of how people thought then.  The shame surrounding Mary’s out-of-wedlock pregnancy affects not only Mary herself, but her entire extended family.

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Filed under Fiction -- historical, Fiction -- inspirational

My Jesus Year, by Benyamin Cohen (LentBooks #15)

myjesusyearThis book is last on my Lenten reading list because I spent almost all of Lent convincing myself not to buy it.  Every time I went into Chapters I picked it up, leafed through it, and put it back. This was partly because I usually refuse to buy hardcovers, and it’s not out in paperback yet.  Also, the design and packaging of the book made it look like a blatant attempt to copycat the success of A.J. Jacobs’ The Year of Living Biblically. (There’s a blurb from Jacobs on the front of My Jesus Year and a thanks to him in the Acknowledgements, so I’m not going to say there’s no connection — but I think the blatancy is probably more due to Benyamin Cohen’s publisher saying, “Hey, we can ride A.J. Jacobs’ coattails to sell this book!” rather than to any devious plan of Cohen’s own).

Finally I sat down in Chapters and read two chapters (smirk) and decided I should buy it.  My resistance was probably weakened by the fact that I was mired in Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ at the time and I badly needed to end my Lenten reading with something light and faith-affirming (you’ll notice this pendulum swing from light to heavy reading throughout my Lenten journey, not just this year but every year since I’ve started doing it).  Benyamin Cohen made me smile in the first two chapters, which was more than enough to make it worth the hefty hardcover price.

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Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- memoir

Following Jesus, by N.T. Wright (LentBooks #14)

followingjesusReading N.T. Wright after reading writers like Harpur and Spong is always a breath of fresh air. In fact, following on my earlier point about being convinced by things we want to believe in, I discovered the good Bishop of Durham some years back when my spirit was being troubled by reading people of that ilk (I think it was Crossan and Borg at the time) and I reached out looking for a writer who was intelligent, sophisticated, and actually believed in things like the Incarnation and the Resurrection.

Well, I found my mentor, and he’s never let me down, and Following Jesus is no exception.  In fact, this collection of twelve reflections (originally sermons) about the picture of Jesus in the New Testament and what it means to follow him, is some of Wright’s best work.  While I’ve enjoyed everything I read of his, a couple of the books I read most recently (Simply Christian and The Last Word) didn’t touch  me as much as some of the others.  I’ve concluded Wright is at his best when he writes most directly about Jesus.  Or maybe that’s what I most need to hear.

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Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general

The Apocalyptic Vision and the Neutering of Adventism, by George Knight (LentBooks #13)

apocalypticI read this one at the suggestion of some other people, with whom I joined in a four-way conversation that will eventually be posted at the Spectrum site (I’ll add the link  once it’s up there so you can listen if you’re interested).

George Knight is a familiar name to Seventh-day Adventist readers as a church historian and theologian.  He’s a hero of mine because I think he’s done the church a great service by putting the stories of our founders, especially Ellen G. White, into a context which counters some of the excesses of the extremely conservative “historic Adventism” movement, and in his prolific writing and speaking career he’s always kept a clear focus on grace and the gospel as central to the Adventist message.

Now Knight has issued what he sees as a warning cry against the dangers of both conservative and liberal Adventism, and a reminder that we are first and foremost an “adventist” church, i.e. a church that teaches that Jesus is coming soon.  He argues passionately in this book that the return of Jesus must remain the central focus of our teaching, otherwise we have nothing unique to offer the world and no reason to continue to exist as a denomination.

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Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general

Jesus for the Non-Religious, by John Shelby Spong (Lentbooks #12)

nonreligiousI’ve been hearing the American Episcopal bishop Spong both praised as a visionary and condemned as a heretic for quite some time now, so I figured it was about time to read one of his books.

It’s interesting to read this right after reading Tom Harpur’s The Pagan Christ. Both Spong and Harpur are often reviled by conservatives and traditionalists, and both reference each other in their books.  On the surface, at least, it seems the two are doing something completely different.  Spong wants to de-mythologize the historical Jesus: to strip away the accretions of miracle stories and supernatural myths (including the Resurrection) that Jesus’ enthusiastic followers attached to his story, and get down to the Man underneath.  Harpur, on the other hand, argues that the historical Jesus is irrelevant and mostly likely nonexistant: he wants a remythologizing, where we recognize that the Jesus stories are just versions of the great pagan myths, and that it’s the myth rather than the man who matters.

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Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general

The Pagan Christ, by Tom Harpur (LentBooks #11)

paganchristTom Harpur’s starting point for this book is not terribly shocking: many of the elements of the story of Jesus, as told in the Gospels, share commonalities with the stories of pagan gods — gods who come to earth in human form, who suffer and die, who rise again.  Some Christians might say that these stories were “pagan prophecies” of Jesus; others might suggest that all these images are part of a collective unconscious, a store of archetypal stories we all draw on.

But Harpur takes his thesis much further, indeed to a point where the majority of Christians would strongly disagree with him.  Basing his theories largely on the work of three 19th and 20th century scholars, the most important to his theme being Alvin Boyd Kuhn, Harpur argues that every single element of the Jesus “myth” was already present in pagan myth, most fully realized in the Egyptian myths of Horus and Osiris.  He argues that the original gospels were not intended to be biographies about a literal man named Jesus of Nazareth (who, he suggests, probably never existed at all — leaning heavily here on Earl Doherty’s controversial work), but were versions of the ancient Christ myths written with a Jewish slant.  Then, in the third century, institutionalized Christianity, wanting to make the faith more appealing to the ignorant masses, dumbed down the spiritual (and gnostic) message of the Christ-myth into a real, literal story — thus losing everything of value in the original myths.

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Filed under Canadian author, LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general

The Wisdom of Yoga, by Stephen Cope (LentBooks #10)

wisdomofyogaI started doing yoga because I pulled a muscle in my back two years ago, and the pain was severe.  When I recovered, I wanted to do something that would strengthen my back muscles and help me generally to be more mobile in middle age.

That’s probably a typical North American story for getting involved with yoga — most yoga practitioners here generally get drawn in because of the physical benefits of yoga poses.  I’m aware that there is a spiritual basis to yoga, but I’ve never felt that I needed to know much about it in order to do exercises that helped strengthen my back. (And, by the way, my back is great these days and I give all the credit to yoga!!)

Anyway, I’m a little curious about the spiritual side of yoga, partly because I want to know whether there are aspects of it that I, as a Christian, can incorporate into my spiritual practice or whether it’s actually antithetical to what I believe.

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Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general

Buying In: The Secret Dialogue Between What We Buy and Who We Are, by Rob Walker (LentBooks #9)

buyinginThis book was a random pick-up off the library display table, but I really found it interesting.  It’s about the new direction advertising has taken in the 21st century (since we’re no longer all captive to the same 30-second commercials on the same TV shows, so advertisers have had to get more creative) and the extent to which branding and marketing have become part of our everyday lives (a process Walker refers to as “murketing” — murky marketing, I guess, when we’re being advertised to without always realizing it).

It was intriguing to read this and think about the extent to which we as consumers identify ourselves and our lifestyles with certain brands, and are willing to actually become advertisers ourselves — explicitly, as in the case of companies that recruit ordinary people to plug their products to family and friends, or implicitly without even realizing we’re doing it.

I think of myself as a very anti-consumerist person who isn’t affected by advertising and doesn’t care about brands.  But then, a lot of us think of ourselves that way. I type this while sitting here in my Riders jeans (the only jeans I own) and a Land’s End polo short (almost all the clothes I’ve bought for myself in the last year have been from Land’s End), about to lace up my LL Bean sneakers (all my shoes come from LL Bean).  So, yeah.  I get the point. 

We can’t avoid the fact that we live in a consumption-driven society; we can be more aware of it.  This book helped.  Plus, it was a very entertaining read.


Filed under LentBooks, Nonfiction -- general

Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress, by Susan Jane Gilman (LentBooks #8)

hypocriteI will admit that I picked Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress up off the bargain table at Chapters because I knew it would be light and funny and provide an antidote to the barrage of disturbing reading I’d been doing about the Holocaust. It’s much breezier than my usual Lenten fare, but it is nonfiction, so it counted.

I’ll also admit I was wary of this book because my cousin Julie had recommended it as being hilarious.  This is not to suggest that I don’t trust Julie’s taste in books, but rather than she had recommended Susan Jane Gilman to me in the same breath that she was enthusing about David Sedaris.  So I read David Sedaris, and that ended very badly for me.  I recognize why people find him funny, but the subject matter he writes about is just too dark and disturbing for me to laugh.  Since the back cover blurb for Hypocrite in a Pouffy White Dress referred to Gilman as the “female David Sedaris,” I wasn’t tempted to read it — at least, until I needed a breather after Schindler’s List and Night.

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Filed under Humour, LentBooks, Nonfiction -- memoir