Free Audiobook – The Secret Garden

Most months Audible gives away a free classic audiobook.

This month, the free audiobook is The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett narrated by Josephine Bailey.

To get the free audiobook you have to purchase the also free kindle book and either choose to add on the narration from the Amazon checkout or after you have purchased the kindle book, go to Audible and purchase the audiobook for free there.

Free Kindle Book and the direct link for the audiobook (which isn’t free until you purchase the kindle book.)

 

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by JK Rowling

Takeaway: A perfect book for reading blahs.

I am a fan (as many are) of the Harry Potter series. I have all of the books in hardcover, two copies of the last four in hardcover because both my wife and I wanted to start on them as soon as they came out. I have since purchase all of the books on ebook editions and I am working on audiobook editions now that they are available on Audible.

I am not sure what you can say that is new about a series of books that has sold millions and been made into one of the most successful movie franchises in history.

But I have been a bit stressed and not quickly reading through anything. So I picked up Prisoner of Azkaban as the best of the three shorter Harry Potter books and listened to it in less than 3 days. It is a good book to just enjoy. Jim Dale is a good narrator and he does not make Prisoner of Azkaban nearly as childish as he makes the first two books.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara

A Little Life by Hanya YanagiharaThe opening chapters of A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara seem pretty straight forward. Characters graduate from college, work at entry level jobs for low pay, live in crappy apartments and stay friends as they navigate adulthood together. I thought I knew what I was getting into with this book but gradually, the author took me deeper and deeper into a beautiful and tragic story.

Four young men are graduates of the same university and starting building lives for themselves. Willem, Jude, Malcolm and JB are as different as they can be but they are tightly bound to each other for life. Willem is an up and coming actor. Malcolm is a budding architect. JB is a talented artist.

And then there’s Jude.

Jude is a brilliant attorney whose life before college is a complete and utter mystery to his friends. Bit by bit throughout the course of this 716 page novel, Yanagihara gradually reveals pieces of Jude’s past. The reader knows from Jude’s introduction that his life has been one of pain. I want to give you a synopsis of Jude and his backstory, but I truly feel to do so would rob you of the rich experience Yanagihara has created. The process of discovery is important to enjoying A Little Life.

A Little Life is not at all what you expect as you enter the beginning pages. Hanya Yanagihara patiently and subtly brings Jude to the forefront of the story and the reader will find themselves completely emotionally invested in his life. As a reader, your heart will genuinely ache for Jude. I haven’t had an experience like this with a novel in a very long time.

It’s dark.

It’s disturbing

It’s beautiful.

It’s a brilliant piece.

A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara Purchase Links: Hardcover, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook 

February 2016 Kindle First Books

Every month Amazon gives Amazon Prime members the choice of 1 of 6 kindle books for free (Kindle First Program). These books have not been released yet, but are pre-released for free (to try and build momentum, usually for new Amazon authors.) The February 2016 Kindle First Books:

February 2016 Kindle First

 

Free Audiobook – I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist

Christianaudio.com gives away one free audiobook each month.  This month the free book is
I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist by Norman Heisler and Frank Turek.

To some, the concept of having faith in a higher power or a set of religious beliefs is nonsensical. Indeed, many view religion in general, and Christianity in particular, as unfounded and unreasonable. 

Norman Geisler and Frank Turek argue, however, that Christianity is not only more reasonable than all other belief systems, but is indeed more rational than unbelief itself. With conviction and clear thinking, Geisler and Turek guide readers through some of the traditional, tested arguments for the existence of a creator God. They move into an examination of the source of morality and the reliability of the New Testament accounts concerning Jesus. The final section of the book deals with a detailed investigation of the claims of Christ. This volume will be an interesting read for those skeptical about Christianity, as well as a helpful resource for Christians seeking to articulate a more sophisticated defense of their faith. 

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The process of the free book has changed. You need to create a login. Once you have login, it saves the free book to your account and you can download the audiobook later. Or if you prefer, you can download the book from their very good iOS app.

Also, there are several books on sale for $4.98 that are similar (apologetics or worldview books)

God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution by Thomas Kidd

Summary: The relationship between Christianity and the founding of the United States is a complicated matter.

As I was finishing up In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life 1492-1783, I picked up God of Liberty. Thomas Kidd’s history is well known and spoken of well by Mark Noll and many others. God of Liberty was the historical overview that I needed after the very particular history of the use of scripture.

The role of Christian faith in the founding of the United States is fraught matter. All sides have reasons for why it matters (often more about current events than historical accuracy.) And because there are a large number of founding fathers, pretty much anyone can find support for their position by proof texting a few pamphlets or speeches or sermons.

God of Liberty does a good job at showing the complication of any particular position. Christian faith was important to many in the colonies, both as a reason for coming to the colonies and as a reason for breaking away from Britain. But separation of Church and state, at least in it early incarnations, was also important in how the country was organized during and immediately after the revolution.

England had a state church, so many of the more radical revolutionaries were against state churches as a concept. But many of the colonies already had a state church with their own constituencies and theological reasonings.

The Fifth Wave (Movie Review)

5th Wave movie poster

Given the popularity of such film adaptations as The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent series, it’s not surprising that authors and filmmakers alike continue to capitalize on the young adult dystopian/post-apocalyptic genre of storytelling. The latest addition to the craze is here in the form of The 5th Wave. Adapted from the first novel of an intended trilogy by author Rick Yancey, this tells the story of 16-year old Cassie, one of the few survivors of an alien invasion that is intent on wiping out all human life on planet Earth.

Right away, the idea of an apocalypse caused by an alien invasion sets The 5th Wave apart from other YA dystopian films of recent years, in which the post-apocalyptic world is almost universally found to be the work of our own human race. Instead, this latest addition finds almost everyone on Earth wiped out by the first four “waves” put into play by the Others, the name given to the invaders by those few of the human race that are left. With such a unique concept and the possibility of a trilogy of films to mirror the planned trilogy of novels, this new series could be a serious rival to the likes of The Hunger Games and Divergent (info here and here).

While Cassie’s (Chloe Grace Moretz) life appears normal enough – attending parties, doting over the high-school heart-throb Ben Parish (Nick Robinson), and hanging out with her little brother Sam (Zackary Arthur) – her cozy Ohio cocoon soon crumbles as the Others begin to make their presence known. The first wave came as a global electromagnetic pulse that took down the power grid on a global scale and wiped out all electronics, including all vehicles and modes of transportation. While this wouldn’t seem deadly in and of itself, the death count rose from traffic accidents, trains derailing, and airplanes, commercial and otherwise, suddenly falling out of the sky.

The Fifth Wave by Rick YanceyThe second wave involved gargantuan steel beams being dropped onto all of Earth’s major fault lines, causing major earthquakes and massive tsunamis that wiped out about a quarter of the planet’s population – the approximate number that live on or near the world’s coastlines. The third wave was by far the most devastating in both the novel and film, involving a deadly virus distributed among the remaining population by way of the world’s birds and infecting and killing more than 90 percent of the remaining population. As devastating as this would be, this scenario is also unfortunately the most realistic – increasing numbers of antibiotic-resistant bacteria and “superbugs” could conceivably outpace our ability to fight off such bacteria and the diseases they cause.

Finally, the fourth wave comes in the form of what the survivors call the Silencers, body-snatched humans under the control of the aliens and intent on killing any and all remaining humans. It’s this wave more than any other in the film that causes Cassie and the other survivors to adopt a stance of no trust. The majority of the film, which has thus far received mixed reviews from critics and general viewers, follows Cassie’s journey to rescue her brother and escape the Others herself, along with her newfound comrades. While the novel received generally positive reviews when it debuted in 2013, the film has been described in turns as being highly faithful to the source material, but also leaving out some of the main elements that made the novel so captivating.

While The 5th Wave has been compared to other YA dystopian adaptations, the only definitive parallel can be found in the form of a strong and independent female protagonist, with Cassie now joining the ranks of Katniss Everdeen and Tris Prior. And not only does the overall premise differ, this story also spans a larger scope – rather than the threats and action being confined to an enclosed Chicago or game arena, the threat is on a global scale with the plot and themes grounded in a reality that is terrifyingly similar to current realistic scenarios. But with two stories left in the trilogy, fans will have to wait and see where Cassie and crew will go from here.

The Fifth Wave by Rick Yancey Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition, Audible.com Audiobook 

In the Beginning Was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783 by Mark Noll

Summary: As with everything, it’s complicated.

Noll is one of my favorite historians. He is well respected but probably not well known outside of those that pay attention to 17th to 19th century American religious history. I had him both as an undergrad at Wheaton and when he was a visiting professor in grad school at the University of Chicago. He has been at Notre Dame for the last 10 years.

Noll has written widely, everything from multiple books on Christianity in the Global South to a history of Race and religion in US politics to modern analysis of Evangelical thought to his more traditional early American religious history. A theme that has continued through several of his recent books is that how Christians, particularly Protestants, use scripture.

In the Beginning Was the Word is Noll’s attempt to make sense of the high level of biblical rhetoric from the colonies. The colonies were a different world from the modern US in a number of ways that many current users of those early religious quotes do not adequately take into account.

First, and probably most important, the bible was universally understood and referenced in a way that is very difficult to understand today. Those that were literate and had any books almost always had a bible. But many did not have any other book or if they did have other books it was only a handful of books or pamphlets. So the bible was culturally well known and it was expected that people would understand references to scripture in the way that many people today reference current events or culture, but with a higher expectation of understanding.

Eifelheim by Michael Flynn

Eifelheim by Michael FlynnSummary: A joint story between a 14th century German town that has first contact with aliens and modern academics that discover the first contact.

I have recently become a subscriber to the online magazine Christ and Pop Culture. In addition to the very good articles, subscribers have access to a private Facebook group. At this point, as much as I like the magazine and want to support good content with my subscription, the Facebook group is more important to my continued subscription.

One of the topics a few weeks ago was the ever popular, “what are your favorite books you read this year”. Seth Hahne, the primary illustrator at Christ and Pop Culture (and author and illustrator of Monkness the Homunculus) recommended Eifelheim. I was looking for something different and picked it up.

Eifelheim is an odd book. It is a very detailed and well researched book about 14th century Germany. It is also a first contact story (aliens crash-land on Earth). And it takes very seriously the Christian faith of the 14th century Germans. This is not a Christian book, but it is one that uses the fictional setting to think seriously about what it means to be human, what love of neighbor looks like, the problem of evil, and a variety of other theological and moral issues.

Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World by Miroslav Volf

Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World by Miroslav VolfSummary: Globalization requires attention to religion.

Miroslov Volf has been in the news lately because of Dr Hawkins at Wheaton College referenced his book Allah when she donned a hijab and pledged solidarity with Muslims in the wake of proposals to ban Muslims from entering the United States.

I have appreciated Volf especially with his work around grace and reconciliation. His book Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace (review) is excellent. And while it is still on my to read list, his 1996 book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation is considered a modern theology classic by many (and named as one of the 100 most important books of the 20th century by Christianity Today.)

Volf was originally a Trinitarian specialist. But his biography has impacted much of his work over the past 20 years. Volf grew up in the former communist Yugoslavia. Communism, then the fall of communism and then the breaking apart of the country amid war and ethic tensions moved his focus to reconciliation, politics and interfaith religious issues.

Volf has a strange religious background. He grew up in officially godless communism, but his parents were Pentecostals. His country of origin was dominated by a mix of Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox Christians and Muslims. He earned two PhDs under the German Lutheran theologian Jurgen Moltmann. He came to the US and taught at the evangelical Fuller Seminary before moving to Yale, and now identifies as Anglican. But Flourishing largely comes out of several years of jointly teaching a class on globalization and faith with Tony Blair (who converted to Roman Catholicism after leaving office as the Prime Minister of the UK).

Flourishing is both fascinating and feels like I have read the book before. Madeleine Albright’s The Mighty and the Almighty makes a case for why international affairs needs to pay more attention to religion, as does several of Jimmy Carter’s books and John Danforth’s Faith and Politics. And while not focused on international politics, Stephen Prothero in Religious Literacy and God is not One stresses the importance of understanding religions to understanding the world around us.

Volf, while not directly drawing on the Economics of Good and Evil (review), does a good job teasing out the limits of our current economic and political system around morality and justice.  The concepts around the need for pluralism in a globalized world felt very well trod from everyone from Thomas Friedman’s World is Flat to James Davison Hunter’s To Change the World (review) and many others.

Despite previously covered ground, I do think Flourishing is a book worth reading. Miroslov Volf is calling on religious groups to step up and act right in a pluralistic world because the world needs the input of religious voices. Right now democracy and capitalism have won the day, but neither, without the influence of religious voices, can inherently move us to a more moral world. Democracy is limited to the morality of the voters and elected officials. Immoral officials and/or ignorant, cynical or prejudiced voters will trample the rights of the minority. As Volf rightly notes, the problem in the middle east is not just violent dictatorships, but constitutional democracies that are making choices that are not pluralistic.

Volf is particularly talking to other Christians in this book. He is trying to make the case that we should embrace political pluralism. But he distinguishes political pluralism from religious pluralism. This is one of the areas where I think Flourishing is unique. He has a grid of religious pluralism and religious exclusivism and political pluralism and political exclusivism. Volf thinks the healthiest place is where political pluralism and religious exclusivism intersect. The political pluralist embraces the rights of everyone, is outward looking to the rest of the world, but also is strengthened by moral stamina that comes from religious exclusivism.