Friday, September 30, 2011

Book #65

Born Fundamentalist, Born Again Catholic, by David B. Currie. Paperback.

I have read a number of similar books, relating the author's journey (or return) to Catholicism. As a hesitant Protestant, I find these books interesting. I confess that conversion stories have always intrigued me.

This book is less personal than similar memoirs, and is instead more theological in its approach. I prefer this approach. Currie covers the "big" issues he had to deal with as he felt drawn to the Roman Church, such as the Eucharist, salvation, and Mary. He also covers the canon of Scripture, authority, and moral theology. He covers all of these in a consistent, systematic way.

One of my quibbles with the book is the loose use of the word "Fundamentalist" in the title. The word is rarely used in the text of the book, where the more accurate "Evangelical" is regularly used. The book's is targeted at Catholics, for whom the differences between Fundamentalist and Evangelical are minor.

There are also numerous "straw man" arguments against Evangelicalism, where Currie puts words into the mouth of an unidentified "leading Protestant" or "Evangelical professor." Perhaps there were reasons for doing this, to keep the manuscript brief or perhaps even for legal reasons. Nevetheless, I found this annoying, and for an otherwise well-argued book, this does stand out as a weakness.

Those small issues aside, I was impressed with Currie's facility with complex and touchy theological questions. Generally speaking, he presents the standard Evangelical view of issues fairly, and shows that Protestants and Catholics do not disagree on many issues. His point is that they disagree on a few issues, and it is the logical implications of these few disagreements that create divisions on major issues.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Book #64

Take One, by Karen Kingsbury. Unabridged audio.

I mentioned a few posts ago that I read a fair amount of Christian fiction, and this is another from that category.

This novel has the advantage (for me) of dealing with a subject of interest to me (film-making) and not being a romance. Along with authors like Dee Henderson and Terri Blackstock, Kingsbury is able to write christian fiction that does not automatically scare off men. For this category of fiction, that is not common.

The story itself revolves around a pair of Christians making a low-budget movie in and around Indiana University, a movie that they believe can change the world. The men, formerly foreign missionaries, see the movie business as their new mission field. How they overcome the multiple issues in the filming of the movie are central plot points, as are the dramas involving a pair of IU undergrads, who land small parts in the film.

All genres have their particular conventions, or expectations. As a matter of fact, it is these conventions that put a work into a particular genre. Genre readers have expectations, and the role of authors is to meet those expectations. Christian fiction is no different, and this novel certainly fits the mold. Miracles happen when needed, Christians behave better than non-Christians, and standard American evangelical theology and politics are presented.

That being said, there were some pleasant surprises here. I liked that artistic vocations were portrayed as not being "second-class" compared to traditional mission work. I also liked how struggles and doubts were portrayed among some of the younger characters. There is a bit more subtlety and nuance here than christian novels usually have, with the exception of the Hollywood stars, who act exactly as you think they will. And the little I know of the film business seemed to track with how Kingsbury portrayed it.

There are more books in this series, and I expect to pick up the next one soon. I am curious about a few of the characters, and want to see what is next for them.

I appreciated the fact that the audio version of the book included two male voice actors, and two female. This made it possible for the multiple POV characters to have distinct voices, a nice bit of production.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

From chapter 23 of Take One, by Karen Kingsbury

MY TEASERS:

"Cody had walked her home, right? Which meant her car was still parked across fron the frat house ... Then she remembered thr breaskfast date she'd had with her mother."

Friday, September 23, 2011

Book #63

Highland Blessings, by Jennifer Hudson Taylor. Paperback.

I am not the target audience for christian fiction -- I am a dude, and the vast majority of christian fiction is either inspirational or romance, sometimes both at once. Do these genres dominate because the overwhelming proportion of purchasers of christian fiction are women, or are the overwhelming proportion of purchasers of christian fiction women because these genres dominate? Hard to say which came first.

But this does raise a question -- why do I read so much of it?

Well, I am a Christian, mostly an evangelical, and I choose to participate in some aspects of modern christian culture -- and that means including christian fiction in my reading mix. And I do read some mainstram "chick lit," so some books in this genre, although not targeted at me, are within the bounds of what I read.

But on to this book in particular, a historical fiction set in 15th Century Scotland. I found the book overall to be better than average among christian novels. The research and prose style were both particularly strong, especially for a debut work.

My issues were in the story structure itself, where relationships take precedence over action and suspense. There were many opportunities where "stuff" happened, and I would have preferred more time spent on those scenes, but the "stuff" scenes moved on quickly to relationship scenes. The book inlcuded murders, investigations, kidnappings, and war -- but these were merely brief stops as the romance train rolled on.

Another issue I had with the book was that none of the characters seemed to actually be 15th century Scotsmen. I mentioned previously that the research was strong, and this shows up in language, clan structure, geography, and dress. But the characters seemed to all have the beliefs, practices, and worldviews of 21st century American evangelicals. They were thoroughly modern, and the men in particular seemed to be people out of time. One of the roles of fiction is escapism, and in this way I suppose christian romance serves the same function for many Christian women (although less erotically) that mainstream romance or urban fantasy serves for the mainstream female audience.

Both of the issues mentioned above are not at all particular to Highland Blessings, which again is an above-average work within the genre. They are common issues for me within christian fiction. As I said, I am just not the target audience.

Again, this book was strong in areas where christian fiction is not always strong, and despite a few misgivings, I expect that I will read the sequel.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Podcast Marathon

My wife was out of town all day last Saturday, so it was just me and my iPod Touch for the day. I listened to podcasts all day long, including these:

Guild of the Cowry Catchers, book 3 -- Full-cast novel, distributed via podcast. I listened to episodes 6, 7, & 8. It is turning darker as the story moves on.

Katia & KylieMac , episode 465 -- Two girls, an American and an Australian, who live in Paris. A great episode with frequent guest, Frog the Frenchman.

Tales of the JSA, episode 58 -- One of the best comic book podcasts out there. Terrific stuff.

A Podcast of Ice and Fire, episode 64 -- This was a listener call-in episode, all about the book series, crazy theories, favorite scenes. They even gave this blog a shout-out, when I mentioned the podcast in a previous entry.

Chaos Chronicles -- It has been great listening to Lian Dolan over the years, as her life has changed. This used to be mostly a mommy-cast, but the show has changed as Lian's life has changed. She published a novel last year, and is now pitching 3 separate TV shows. It's been fun following this unexpected journey.

Golden Age Superman, episode 26 -- I did not finish this episode on Saturday, because it was NEARLY FOUR HOURS LONG! Jon Wilson is one of my favorite podcasters, and he did a great here covering all the Superman activity from May, 1940. The comic books, newspaper strips, and radio, Jon covers them all in and entertaining and infomrative manner.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Book #62


Y: The Last Man, Deluxe hardcovers, vols 3 & 4, by Brian K Vaughn, Pia Guerra, et. al. Graphic novel.

Comic books are a medium, not a genre.

I like supeheroes, really I do. But some of the strongest stories being told in sequential art in the 21st century are not of the "caps and cowls" variety. And of these non-superhero books, Y: The Last Man may be the best.

A strange virus has struck earth, killing every male mammal on the planet. All except two, a man (Yorick) and his monkey (Ampersand). Desperately trying to reunite with his girlfriend halfway around the world, Yorick's journey has brought him under the protection of the mysterious agent 355. There seems to be hope for a cure to the plague in Asia, and he detours there. A pseudo-journalist has snapped a photo of Yorick in a pose that reveals his, ummmm, definite maleness. Will this photo be believed, which could hamper Yorick's efforts, or will it be dismissed as a hoax? Will a cure be found? Will Yorick find his girlfriend? These are the questions that are left to be anwered. These volumes take us through issue 48 of the series 60-issue run, so we are entering the last act. I look forward to finishing the series with volume 5.

Unfortunately, Guerra did not draw as many of the issues in this part of the run as I would have liked. Although the other artists tried to ape her style, her strong lines and ability to differentiate characters stand out among the other artists.

Comic books are a medium, not a genre.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

MY TEASERS:

"Bright spring dawn, with no traces of the night's gale, was scarce an hour old over Redwall when little Arven flung himsel fon Tansy's bed in the sick bay and began buffeting her with a pillow ... [w]ith a bound the young hedgehog maid was out of bed and attacking back with her pillow."

From page 58 of the YA novel Pearls of Lutra, by the late Brian Jacques. Talking animals having adventures!

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Book #61

The Omen Machine, by Terry Goodkind. Unabridged audio.

In 2007, Terry Goodkind released Confessor, the last part of a terrific three-book arc that wrapped up the epic 11-novel Sword of Truth series. At that point, he indicated that he wanted to move away from fantasy and into modern-day novels. This he did with the thriller The Law of Nines, released in 2009. And although it did take place in modern times, there are many “easter eggs” for fans of the Sword of Truth books, and the novel is indeed in some way connected to the previous saga.

For whatever reason, Goodkind has returned to his fantasy roots with his latest novel, The Omen Machine. It is referred to on the cover as a “Richard and Kahlan novel.” The fact that it is not branded as as a “Sword of Truth” novel specifically does speak to the differences that this book has from its predecessors.

First the similarities. Without spoiling prior novels, this does take place shortly after the events of Confessor, and involves many of the surviving cast of characters from that and prior novels. The writing style is classic Goodkind: lots of descriptions, some speechifying, and his objectivist philosophy woven into the narrative.

They story of the novel is this: the people of one of the lands under Richard & Kahlan’s rule believe that prophecy should be used to directly guide people’s lives, while Richard and Kahlan believe differently about the role of prophecy, based on their experiences and understanding of how the gift works. A series of tragic prophecies delivered to ungifted people quickly come to pass, and the discovery of a heretofore unknown machine, hidden cunningly inside the Palace, that delivers the same omens, brings nothing but confusion and distress upon our heroes. Is this a new manifestation of the gift? Are people somehow being manipulated via this machine to bring forth predictions? Are these even real prophecy at all, or are these dark predictions being used as covers for murder and treachery?

On to the difference between this work and prior Richard and Kahlan stories. As interesting as the questions raised by this plot are, the tale operates on a much less grand scale. It is also surprisingly short. The Sword of Truth series consisted of 600-700 page doorstops, while this one checks in at around 400 pages. This is average length, perhaps slightly above average for say a modern thriller, but is much shorter than most epic fantasies. Perhaps that is the most striking difference – it is a fantasy novel, certainly, but not an epic fantasy. The geography of the novel, the timeframe of the novel, the stakes for the character, the literal size of the novel – all much smaller than one expects from a fantasy work, certainly from a fantasy work penned by Terry Goodkind. But I imagine it was these types of changes that prompted the branding decision in referring to this simply as a “Richard and Kahlan” novel. To talk in terms that are used more often in movies and comic books, this novel can be considered a “soft reboot” of the series, a good “jumping on” point for readers who find the combined 7,000 pages of the Sword of Truth epic intimidating.

This is not to say that these changes make the book unenjoyable. As a matter of fact, I thought it quite good, certainly more appealing to me than Goodkind’s attempt to go mainstream, The Law of Nines. There is something to the shorter form that moves the plot along at a good pace, while not skimping on the character moments and interactions that are fan favorites. The villain of the work was interesting, and a type of magic was at work here that we haven’t seen before in this world. That was good to see. There are indications of a villain behind the villain, pulling the strings, which certainly does lay the groundwork for this to be the kickoff of another series of novels for Goodkind set in the worlds of D’hara and the Midlands.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Top-of-the-List podcasts

I subscribe to an embarrassingly large number of podcasts. Some of them I let stack up for future listening, some I get to within a few days. But some I listen to as soon as possible after they download – they move immediately to the top of the list. Some of these are:

Geeks On! This is one of the earliest podcasts I found, and am still a loyal listener. Their shows don’t come out quite as often as I’d like, but when they do, I listen as soon as I can. The conversation between these 4 guys (and the occasional guest) is always thought-provoking, and the topics are always interesting. It rarely disappoints.

No Agenda Tech journalist John C. Dvorak and media veteran (including MTV) Adam Curry discuss news and politics, and also dissect the media’s role in that reporting. This bi-weekly show is well worth the 2+ hours they put out twice per week. It is equal parts enlightening, entertaining, humorous, and head-scratching. In the morning!

Tales of the JSA One of the best of the long-form comic books shows, Scott & Mike are covering the modern tales of the Justice Society of America, including the terrific run of All-Star Squadron. They are definitely fans, but not “fanboys” – when the stories stink, they say they stink. If you are a comic book fan, start here with your podcast listening.

The Tony Kornheiser Show I listen to the live stream of this local radio show (local in Washington DC, that is), but when I can’t the podcast is an ASAP listen. Since the radio station releases 24 hours to release the official podcast episodes – which is a problem for a sports and news show – I usually listen to the unofficial version, This Podcast Stinks.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Book #60

Soul of the Fire, by Terry Goodkind. Unabridged audio.

This is a re-read for me -- I read the series a few years ago, and then strarted listening to them a year ago or so with my daughter. We didn't quite finish this up during the Summer before she went back to college, so when she came home for an evening recently we knocked it out.

As is typical of this series, the actions of previous novels drive the plot in this one. Goodkind is a strong believer in cause-and-effect, and this aspect of his philosophy is on display here. This novel deals with "The Chimes," which were released at the end of the previous novel. The Chimes drain magic from the world, so all of the main characters (Richard, Kahlan, Zedd, Cara) are growing progressively weaker in the powers as the novel progresses, so the drama is whether they can banish The Chimes as much with their natural abilities and their magical abilities.

The characters are the people we have come to know, but their personalities and relationships are becoming more complex and layered.

In addition to being a (mostly) self-contained adventure, the spectre of the Imperial Order continues to grow as a backdrop. As readers, we are anticipating an eventual confrontation between Richard and Emperor Jagang. Goodkind does a good job of telling specific stories in a world that is definitely moving in a particular direction.

I love this series, and I thoroughly enjoyed this novel, even though it was my second time through. Some of the foreshadowing I am sure I missed on the first read.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesdays is a weekly bookish meme, hosted by MizB of Should Be Reading. Anyone can play along! Just do the following:

Grab your current read
Open to a random page
Share two (2) “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page
BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)

MY TEASERS:

1. "Out of the corner of her eye, Kahlan saw the dark thing charge toward them, as Richard dove off her and across the bed."

2. "He stared at her for a moment, then sat on a bench at the foot of the bed and stuffed a leg into his pants."

From Chapter 25 of The Omen Machine, by Terry Goodkind.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Book #59

The Offical Encyclopedia of Comic Book Heroes, vol 2: Wonder Woman, by Michael L. Fleisher. Paperback.

Similar to, although shorter than, the Batman version I read earlier in the year. Arranged as an encyclopedia, in alphabetical order, with mostly brief (and a few long) articles about people and events that occurred in Wonder Woman adventures from her introduction in late 1941 through about 1968. The book took years to compile, being released in 1976. The library version I read is a reprint from the mid-2000's.

I didn't know much about Wonder Woman reading this, being familiar only with a 100-issue (or so) run that I had from the late seventies, so a lot of this was new to me. I didn't realize there were so many puns, especially in the Holliday College locale -- Deans named Strikt and Picklepuss, Professors named Astronimo, Calculus, Chemico, and Toxino -- but other characters have punny names, as well. It was a reminder that these books wree definitely aimed at 8- to 12- year olds, as opposed to comics today with an older readership.

William Moulton Marston, the creator of Wonder Woman, was an interesting man with interesting ideas, especially about men, women, and relationships. I appreciate that the encyclopedia talked about odd part of the story, which manifested in common story themes of slavery and bondage, romance, marriage and submission.

I love the conceit of these encyclopedias, the notion that the compilers are academic researchers, and that the comic stories are texts to be investigated and interpreted. In light of the DC relaunch, it is a testimony to the continuity and consistency of the first 30+ years of comics that such an attempt to synthesize and organize the material is even possible.

Thursday, September 1, 2011

yestercasts (2)

In a previous post, I wrote about a few of my favorite pod-faded podcasts, shows that are no longer producing new episodes. Unfortunately, I have a few more to add to the list. They all still have episodes in iTunes, so go check them out.

Jesus Geeks: One of the first podcasts I started listening to, Cliff and Chris took on pop culture from a Christian perspective. I had started to fall away from the show towards the end, as the sound quality had not improved in 100 episodes, and some of the talk was becoming repetitive. Nonetheless, I was sad to see it sail off into the twilight, as the host's health issues and scheduling conflicts brought the show to the end.

Pete + Janet: This is one I mentioned back in the entry on CoupleCasts, having not released a new episode since I posted that early in the year. Coincidence?

Praxis Podcast: Both of the hosts, DG & Aaron, became very busy with jobs and education and family, as the show ended in late 2009. One of my favorite religious podcasts,

Mad Money Machine: Only two episodes this year, the last one in March, and the pace in 2010 had slowed considerably. This was the first business and investing podcast I listened to, and when it was coming out reuglarly, it was one of the best and most informative podcasts.