Book Reviews

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Norse Mythology by Neil GaimanSummary: Fairly straight retelling of a number of Norse myths.

I am a big Neil Gaiman fan. And I love his voice as a narrator. So it was really inevitable that I would pick up this new book of Norse Mythology.

I had a few hesitations, reviews from people that are seeped in Norse mythology have been fairly mediocre. But this is an introduction to Norse Mythology, not a masters level literature course. So I drug my feet a bit until I had four different online friends finish it and give it decent reviews.

And it was pretty much like I expected. I still am not a fan of most short story collections, even those by Gaiman. Norse Mythology is a collection of short stories, they are all Norse Myths, but they are short stories.

I did enjoy seeing some of the ideas behind different elements of Gaiman’s American Gods book and a few other of his stories. He has known these stories for a long time and they are well into his head. Rick Riordan’s new series, Magnus Chase is also based on Norse myths and several of the stories here are in Magnus Chase.

April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr’s Death and How it Changed America by Michael Eric Dyson

April 4, 1968: Martin Luther King Jr's Death and How it Changed America by Michael Eric DysonSummary: A scattered look King and his legacy.

This is the third book by Michael Eric Dyson that I have read this year. Tears We Cannot Stop and The Black Presidency were excellent and I was looking forward to reading more. I stumbled across April 4, 1968 at the library. I expected it to be more biography, or at least more concretely tied to King. But April 4, 1968 was more a jumping off place to loosely connected essays about a variety of topics.

Most interesting to me were the mini-bios of Jessie Jackson, Al Sharpton and Barak Obama (this was published before his election). Placing them in context of King was a helpful way to see them in the broader civil rights leadership picture.

On the opposite end, was Dyson’s Afterword, an imagined interview with King on his 80th birthday. Obviously a speculative interview will say a lot about the imaginer. But even though much of the words seem roughly accurate, that type of speculation just seems odd to me.

Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America’s Whiskey by Reid Mitenbuler

Bourbon Empire: The Past and Future of America's Whiskey by Reid MitenbulerSummary: Clear eyed history of both pre and post-prohibition history of Bourbon.

I grew up in a non-drinking stream of Christianity. And then I went to Wheaton for college, which included a pledge not to drink. And from there to University of Chicago Divinity School, which was nearly the opposite (although I worked for a Drug and Alcohol rehab program through part of my grad school years so I mostly didn’t drink there either.) I was not particularly comfortable with alcohol personally, although I did not have any theological issues with it.

Slowly I become more comfortable with alcohol over time and tend toward the snobbish side of drinking, because it is more about the taste than the nostalgia. I have never acquired a taste for the non-craft beer. It seem natural that wine and bourbon, as well as some other spirits have been added to my repertoire.

Midtenbuler tells a fascinating story about Bourbon. And I use the ’story’ language intentionally. There is a line in the book where he says, ‘Even though reality is often less romantic…’. That is much of the story of the book. Bourbon likes to bill itself as an old drink and it’s naming and labeling is mostly trying to point to how old the recipes are or at least how old the name is.

But Bourbon is really a pre-prohibition and post-prohibition story. Prior to prohibition there were few brand names. Bourbon (and presumably most other alcohol) was a commodity. Brands were not particularly well known and in many cases there simply was no way of knowing what you were getting because individual bottling only started a bit before prohibition. Before that you brought your own containers to the store and filled them up with what the store had.

Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I by Peter Ackroyd

Tudors: The History of England from Henry VIII to Elizabeth I by Peter AckroydTakeaway: The history of the Tudors is in large part a history of the English Reformation.

When I was a student, history was always one of my favorite subjects. But European history, other than the very broadest of strokes, was something that I never formally studied. As an adult, my lack of European history keeps coming up as a lack of understanding of current European events.

My one advantage has been a decent Christian history background. I have read a number of books on the Reformation and some on other parts of early Christian history. This history of the Tudors is in large part a history of the English Reformation. From Henry VIII’s movement away from the Roman Catholic church to the backlash against the English Reformation under Mary to the re-assertion of the Anglican church under Elizabeth, the English Reformation is inseparable from the Tudors.

Beautiful Ruins: A Novel by Jess Walter

I am reposting this 2014 review because the kindle version is on sale for $1.99 today only as one of the kindle deals of the day. There are a number of books on sale today that are worth looking at.
Beautiful Ruins by Jess WalterSummary: A beautifully written love story(ies) that spans 50 years.  Refreshingly, it is more focused on adult commitment than personal fulfillment.

Beautiful Ruins has had a lot of hype. It was nominated for two Audie Awards in 2013, it was NPR’s Fresh Air’s books of the Year, and Esquire Book of the Year, and a New York Times #1 Best Seller.

I alternated between Kindle and Audiobook (with more time in the audiobook.) Edoardo Ballerini was a perfect narrator.  His Italian sounded perfect (although I have zero ability to really evaluate it.)

Beautiful Ruins weaves together a number of stories. It starts with a young Italian inn owner in 1962 and a mysterious American actress that comes to his out of the way inn as a guest. It moves to a modern story of a movie producer and his assistant. It mixes in a number of storylines from 1962, current time and in between.

Anniversary Day by Kristine Kathryn Rusch

Anniversary Day by Kristine Kathryn RuschSummary: On the anniversary of the worst disaster in the moon’s history, a terrorist plot may be even more devastating.

A Facebook friend of mine loves this series. On his recommendation I picked up the first book in the series, The Disappeared, about a year ago. The Disappeared was a well written police procedural with a scifi setting. But I haven’t picked up any more of the series until Anniversary Day went on sale.

I do not traditionally like reading books out of order, even if they do stand alone. Anniversary Day is the start of an 8 book sub-series within the larger 15 book series. I did feel like I was jumping into something that I did not fully understand. The main characters from the first book were still here, but a lot of additional characters had also been added.

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah

I am reposting this 2016 review of Prophetic Lament because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $3.99.
Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soong-Chan Rah book reviewSummary: A current events focused commentary on the book of Lamentations.

I veer wildly between an honest concern about too much focus on the bad in the world (there is far more good than what is often credited) and a frustration about the lack of concern about the harm that is being ignored by many. I think many more people need to read Bradley Wright’s book Upside about how much about the world has drastically improved recently.
But at the same time I am concerned that many have far too little concern about systemic issues of oppression. Black Lives Matters (whether the broader movement or the organization), systemic problems of the criminal justice system, a rise of nativism or xenophobia, continuing revelations about ongoing racism, sexism, and other bias that impacts real people on a regular and ongoing basis, matters.

And so I picked up Prophetic Lament when I was frustrated with the inability for the Evangelical church in particular (but the larger church as well) to actually embrace lament. Christian Music that is ‘safe for the whole family’ and Christian fiction that seems to only be able to tell happy tales with tidy endings is not particularly faithful example of historic Christian artistry. It is not that we cannot be happy or that we should not consume tidy books or safe music. It is that we should not only consume safe music and tidy books.

Have His Carcase by Dorothy Sayers (Lord Peter Wimsey #8)

Summary: Harriet Vane and Peter Wimsey back together again.

I have been slowly working my way through the Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers. Sayers is known both for her detective novels and her non-fiction works on faith and education, and her translation of Dante’s Divina Commedia. She was active writer from the 1920s to the 1950s.

Lord Peter Wimsey, the subject of the series, is a rich, seemingly carefree aristocrat with nothing better to do than solve difficult crimes. In Strong Poison (#6 and the best of the books to that point), Harriet Vane was introduced. She is single detective novelist that was on trial for murder. Wimsey proved her innocent and has been trying to convince her to marry him since then. (She was absent in the 7th book and it was weaker for it.)

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

I am reposting this review from January because News of the World is on sale for $1.95 today only on Audiobook.
News of the World Book ReviewSummary: An elderly man (former newspaper man, former military courier, current newspaper reader) gets roped into transporting an orphaned girl that was kidnapped 4 years previous by Indians to her extended family.

I picked News of the World up when it was on sale because it was on John Wilson’s list of best books of the year. It is short, just over 200 pages, but a complete story.

I do not read a lot of westerns because there are not that many being written these days. But my teen years were full of Louis L’Amour and other western authors. The rugged individualist that lives by their code of honor and saves those that are weak against the evil powerful is not necessarily a bad theme for a teen boy. That theme today does not really interest me.

This will have to be inevitably compared to True Grit, which I really liked. Both have the old man that doesn’t really want to help. Both have the young girl in need of help, but surprisingly capable for their age. Both have the reluctant affection that develops between them.

But News of the World is a different story. There is no revenge here. There is just a struggle to survive in a land that is fairly lawless and where ‘the law’ is as dangerous as the blatant thieves. The Civil War is over, but its ramifications are still widespread. The Mexican rule over Texas is over, but the integration into the US is far from complete.

Johanna, the girl, has spent the last four years living with the Kiowa Indians after they kidnapped her and killed her immediate family. She knows nothing else. She has forgotten her language (which was German, not English). And she has adopted the Kiowa culture. As the story makes clear, she was ripped from her family, not once, but twice. And the family she is being brought to is completely unknown.

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L’Engle (Crosswicks Journals #1)

A Circle of Quiet by Madeleine L'Engle (Crosswicks Journals #1)Summary: The wisdom comes with reflection by those that age.A month or so ago I was asking for a good biography or memoir from a pastor or theologian. I was thinking of something like Eugene Peterson’s The Pastor or one of Lyle Dorsett’s biographies. What I was looking for was wisdom.

Wisdom is something that is earned by time. It is not guaranteed with age, but it is only comes to those that are aged. Part of what is required to earn wisdom is reflection. And that is what Madeleine L’Engle has done here. She is writing her thoughts and musings about life and her writing and meaning based on the journals that she has kept for her own purposes.

L’Engle was in her mid 50s when A Circle of Quiet was written. (And the fourth Crosswick Journal book was published 23 year later.) So she is not so old that she has forgotten what it is like to be young, nor was she that far distant from the failures of her life as a writer. (A Circle of Quiet was published just 11 years after A Wrinkle in Time was published.)

A Circle of Quiet is a bit meandering. Much of it is overly reflections on what it means to be a writer or story teller or how she has taught writing and story telling to others. But mixed in are thoughts on parenting and child development, living in a small town (Crosswick is the name of their home in rural Connecticut, where they lived for 7 years full time early in her marriage and that they kept as a summer home when they moved back to New York City), living in a large city, love, church, and many other random thoughts.