Absolute Truths by Susan Howatch

Summary: Spiritual leaders are human, full of sin as all of us, but willing to have their sin redeemed by God for greater glory.

Over the last couple months I have re-read all of the Starbridge (or Church of England) series by Susan Howatch and the first of the off-shoot trilogy. This second reading of each of the main series has confirmed to me that this is one of the greatest series of ‘Christian Fiction’ written in the 20th century.

I use scare quotes because no US Evangelical Christian publishing house would actually publish this. It is full of sin. But also full of grace and redemption and more theologically rich than any other fiction series that I am aware of.

Absolute Truths is the last, and I think best, of the series. It returns to Charles Ashworth, the main character of the first book of the series (Glittering Images.) Instead of a young priest and professor, Ashworth is now a Bishop. And in the course of the book his third life crisis comes to pass.

What was so transformative for me with this series is that all of the conflict and story is based on clergy in the Church of England. All are real and devout Christians. All take their faith seriously (although in different streams of the Anglican way).

Paper Towns by John Green

I am reposting this review because the Kindle Edition sale for $0.99 and the movie released today.

Paper TownsSummary: A troubled girl goes missing.  And no one seems to care all that much except for Quentin, her long time friend and next door neighbor.

This is my third straight coming of age novel.  And it is still somewhat surprising how different a single sub-genre can be. An Abundance of Katherines was about finding purpose and meaning in life (and ended up finding that living life was its own purpose.)  Wizard of Earthsea was about humility and realizing your own weakness is part of your strength; and facing yourself can be the hardest battle.  Paper Towns is about what it means to be human amidst community.

Quentin (so glad I have another Quentin to associate with the name other than the one from the Magician and the Magician King), is about to graduate from High School.  He is a good student, loved by his two psychologist parents, has a good set of friends and is looking forward to college.  He may not be exciting, but he is reliable and normal.

His next door neighbor Margo is not.  She is popular, the center of attention, but prone to wild pranks and occasionally running away.  Margo and Quentin have been friends from early childhood.  When they were 10 they found a man that had committed suicide in the park.  That single event, while not really all that important, creates ripples that really drive the rest of the story.

Go Set a Watchman: A Novel by Harper Lee

As with millions of readers, I’ve long loved To Kill a Mockingbird and waited with great excitement for the release of Go Set a Watchman. As the release date of Watchman drew near, my anticipation became tainted with dread as social media posts panned the book and blog posts advised readers to avoid this new book.

Go Set a Watchman takes place several years after Mockingbird. A now 26-year-old Scout returns to Maycomb from New York for her annual visit home. Atticus is still practicing law despite his crippling pain from rheumatoid arthritis. Junior lawyer, Hank, is Atticus’s right hand man and longs to marry Scout. Calpurnia is present in this tale but Jem and Dill are not.

Over the course of two days, Scout learns an ugly truth about her beloved father, her intended beau and her dear Calpurnia, hence the firestorm of complaints and dissatisfaction expressed online. Many readers and reviewers are distressed the noble hero is revealed to be a racist. This is a hard pill for a reader to swallow given our previous experience with Atticus Finch in Mockingbird. It doesn’t seem to fit the character we loved; which is exactly how Scout feels upon this heartbreaking discovery. I believe Watchman, at its core, is about a young woman realizing (rather late) her loved ones, especially her father, are fallible human beings. A realization of this nature, no matter when it occurs in life, can be a devastating discovery.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal by Mary Roach

I am reposting this 2013 review because Audible.com is having a sale on all of Mary Roach’s books. Each of the books is on sale for $4.95.  Bookwi.se has also reviewed Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers and has read (but not reviewed here) Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Sex and Science.  Sale runs until July 23, 2015.

Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary CanalSummary: The cool, gross and the ugly of our digestive system.

Mary Roach is a unique writer.  I think her closest comparison is Sarah Vowell.  Where Sarah Vowell writes in a unique way about random historical matters, Mary Roach writes in a unique way about science issues.  This is my third book by Mary Roach.  The first book I read was the best, Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, because well, who isn’t interested in sex?

The second book, Stiff: The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers was also interesting, but frankly cadavers are a bit disconcerting.  It veered wildly between gross and fascinating.

In a slightly less disgusting way, Gulp covers pretty much everything you wanted to know, and a number of things you may not wanted to know about the Alimentary Canal (or digestive system).

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

I am reposting this 2013 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $1.99.
The Graveyard Book by Neil GaimanTakeaway: All of life is about growing up.

I am a big fan of Neil Gaiman.  I think he is one of the most innovative writers around.  And I love that he concentrates mostly on fairy tale stories, whether for adults or kids.  Many of them are a bit creepy and a little twisted, but at heart they are fairy tales.

The Graveyard Book is the only one of Gaiman’s full length books that I have not previously read.  It is intended as a young adult book.  Not as young as Coraline, but still appropriate for middle grade and up, if the kids enjoy and can handle creepy and dark stories. (I say this as a person that in general hates creepy stories.)

The book opens with murder. A family is murdered, mother, father, sister.  But the baby, about 18 months old, crawls out of the crib and walks away before the killer finds him.  The family lives near a graveyard and the baby walks there.  The ghosts see he is in trouble, hide him from the killer and agree to raise him there in the graveyard.  He is given the freedom of the graveyard.  So he can talk to and learn from the ghosts.  He can move through the walls and into the crypts.  He is taught to Fade and produce fear.  And he learns about some of the darker and older things that are in the graveyard.

Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are by Shauna Niequist

This is a new review, but the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99.
Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are is the first devotional written by essayist, blogger and speaker, Shauna Niequist. Niequist has authored the wildly popular books “Cold Tangerines, “Bittersweet” and “Bread & Wine“. (Last two reviewed by Bookwi.se)

Savor is a daily devotional incorporating Niequist’s writings paired with a Scripture verse. Regular readers of Niequist’s blog will no doubt recognize some of that material as it was originally published online. This may be a disappointment to her long-time online audience. However, those unfamiliar with Niequist’s work may find Savor to be a good jumping on point.

Niequist is an insightful writer. Her daily devotional and follow-up questions for personal reflection are a good starting point for readers new to devotionals or even new to the Christian faith. As an added bonus, sprinkled throughout Savor are recipes that Niequist’s readers have grown to enjoy from her other works.

Savor: Living Abundantly Where You Are by Shauna Niequist Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook, Scribd Audio

The Adventures of the Brothers Brave and Noble by Cynthia Hampton

What if our childhood imaginary friends are real?

Noble Hewlett encounters this very situation when he finds himself magically transported from his home to a realm called The Existence. Here in this fantastical land, Noble learns his imaginary friend is real. The Existence is populated with creatures from the imaginations of children like Noble and his older brother, Brave; talking raccoons, a boy with lightning fast speed, a gigantic bear who won’t eat you as long as you don’t scream, and fairy-like girls with mother-hearts are just a small sampling of the residents of The Existence. “Friends”, as they are known in this land, are in trouble and need assistance to take down the villain, Quedro.

The Adventures of Brothers Brave and Noble is a wonderfully imaginative book set in a Narnia-esque environment. I do not read fantasy or science fiction novels very often so I must confess I had to work to let my inner child out and take over my imagination as I read. Once I was able to fully immerse myself, I found The Adventures of Brothers Brave and Noble to be an enjoyable and engaging story.

This is the first novel by independent author, Cynthia Hampton. The story was birthed from the bedtime stories she and her young sons would create each night. Hampton has created a terrific tale that has the potential to be a wonderful series for upper-grade school and young adult readers.

And now for the best part: thanks to the generosity of the author, we have one copy of The Adventures of the Brothers Brave and Noble to give away to one lucky recipient. To enter, please leave a comment and tell us what your favorite book was as a child and why. Winners will be announced on Thursday at 5 PM.

The Adventures of the Brothers Brave and Noble by Cynthia Hampton Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition (currently $2.99)

Lost History of Christianity by Philip Jenkins

Reposting this review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $1.99.

Summary: At one point the church of the East was as strong, or stronger than the Church of the West, but then it started a slow decline under persecution.

Once again, with the recent comments by President Obama and the violence of ISIS, the crusades are back in the news. And it is again popular for the average person to pontificate about the history of something that they have not actually spent any time studying. Philip Jenkins is trying to solve that, or at least the problem of a lack of information.

The main focus of the book is of the 1000 year history of the church of Asia and Africa from approximately the 4th to the 14th century.

The image on the cover is a stylized map of Jerusalem in the middle with the three continents of Europe, Asia and Africa proceeding from it. At one point, there was far more balance in Christianity between the three continents than what is commonly understood today.

Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet by Nathan Foster

I am reposting this 2014 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99 until July 6th.
Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet by Nathan FosterSummary: A son seeks and finds more than just his father while climbing Colorado’s 14,000 ft peaks.

I am a pastor’s kid.  I never had the bad experiences, or rebellious backlash that some have.  But I understand some of the impulses and I have observed the fall out.

Nathan Foster isn’t a traditional pastor’s kid, but as the son of the well known and influential writer and speaker/teacher Richard Foster, he seems to fall into the PK category of feeling like he was sacrificed to the ministry.

Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet is a memoir.  Nathan Foster in his early 20s is married, still having a difficult life, living in Colorado and as a way to connect with his father, asks Richard to climb one of Colorado’s 14,000 ft mountains.

Having spent a decent amount of time backpacking in Colorado, and doing two 14,000 ft peaks (which nearly killed me). I was attracted to the stories of the hikes and conversations that happened on those hikes.

I have also read four of Richard Foster’s book, three more than once and think of him as one of those spiritual authors that everyone needs to read.

What I appreciated about the book is that Nathan is clear that he didn’t feel close to his Dad growing up, but he is not blaming him or writing a ‘tell-all’.  Instead he is focusing on what he learned from his father and their reconciliation.

The story plays out over 10+ years. Nathan does well, relapses, spends time with his father while getting clean, finds his own vocation and all the while continues to hike with his Dad. The focus is clearly on the positive relationship that they now have and this is exemplified by the fact that Richard writes an epilogue that give some of his thoughts on those hikes, but more importantly shows a father that is proud of his son and the man he has become.

This is not a long book. I read it in about 24 hours. It is an easy read but with real depth behind it. I am not sure it is a book for everyone, but I think it is worth reading if you have a distant relationship with a parent, or if you are trying to find a place in the world (especially if you are your 20s), or if you tend to experience God best through nature.

Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet by Nathan Foster Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition 

The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling by John Stott

I am reposting this 2010 review because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $2.99 until July 6th.

The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling  by John StottTakeaway: Discipleship is about following Christ in non-conformity.  Hearing from an elder who has lived the life is a great encouragement to continue on.

This is John Stott‘s last book.  He decided to retire several years ago and now has said he will no longer write (update: he passed away in 2011 at the age of 90).  So I think it is interesting that he is intentionally writing a book about discipleship and concentrating on areas that he thinks are often left unaddressed.

The book ends with a poignant chapter on death, similar to the last album by Johnny Cash.  Both Cash and Stott knew they were not long for this world.  The afterward says goodbye to the reader and discusses his will and legacy. In many ways, I wish he opened with this.  Because it gives more weight to the rest of the book.

However, if he started with death it might overwhelm the general theme of the book, Non-Conformity.  The title of the first chapter, he is calling us to be different as Christians.  Not just different from the world, but different because we were created to be like Christ. There is a good quote about the fact that we cannot live like Christ, unless we have Christ live in us. And I think that the living with Christ in us as the only way to achieve Christlikeness may be more counter cultural to the church than anything else in the book. We all know that we have transformed, but to really be transformed we not only have to strive after living like Christ, we have to submit to the Spirit that guides us.