The Master Musician- Meditations on Jesus by John Michael Talbot

The Master Musician Meditations on Jesus by John Michael Talbot Book ReviewSummary: A short devotional using music to to think about Jesus and our role as Christians.

John Michael Talbot was a popular musician in his teens in the 1970s. He became a Christian through the Jesus People movement and then through his reading about the early church fathers found his way into the Catholic church, eventually founding a monastic community (with both Protestants and Catholics, married and celebrate, clergy and lay people.)

While John Michael Talbot continued to be musician, he has also written a number of books: devotionals, memoir, prayer and a number about different aspects of monasticism. I have appreciated that he has intentionally continued to write as a Catholic, but in an inclusive way. Intervarsity Press has published a number of his books.

The Master Musician (from Intervarsity) is short, easily read in less than two hours. As someone that was a musician at a Christian college (I was briefly a music major and then played in the Wind Ensemble for two years), I have heard a number of devotionals about music. So many of the ideas of this book were not particularly new.

Talbot talks about the crafting of an instrument and compares that to our spiritual growth as a Christian. He talks about the different styles of music or different ways people gather together as musicians to play are related to the body of Christ. He talks about Jesus as conductor and musician.

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by JK Rowling

Goblet of Fire Book Review Summary: If you really need a summary, you probably aren’t going to read the review.

I have been craving some comfort reading lately. So I picked up the Stephen Fry narrated version of The Goblet of Fire that a friend loaned me. (It is the narrator for the British edition; Jim Dale is the narrator for the US edition). I don’t think there is any way for someone in the US to get the UK edition without importing the CDs or off of the internet.

The new narrator did help give a fresh gloss to a story that I have read at least five times and listened to at least once. Stephen Fry is best known to me as the narrator of Pocayo, a kids TV show. I think I prefer him to Jim Dale. I need to listen to another one or two books to be sure.

News of the World by Paulette Jiles

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.

Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard by Rick Riordan

There are five Rick Riordan books on sale for $1.99 each (today only). They are all the first books of the series, this one, Hidden Oracle (Apollo), Percy Jackson and the Lightening Thief, The Lost Hero and the first in the The Red Pyramid from the Kane Chronicles.
Summary: New series, new characters, a new set of gods, all of what made Percy Jackson good. 

I have had a hard time finding time to read lately. With two young children, never enough time to do the work that actually pays bills and other responsibilities, reading (and writing reviews) keeps getting pushed aside. Part of the problem is that when I get less time to read, I tend to want to read ‘important’ books. But ‘important’ books are often slow, time consuming and require lots of brain power. Sometimes you just need young adult fiction.

I am a big fan of Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson series. I am not a fan of his Kane Chronicles (I just read the first of the trilogy and really did not like it.) The follow up series to Percy Jackson (Heroes of Olympus) I am more mixed on. They just felt too long and full of filler. And I still haven’t started the last book of that series in spite of the fact that I bought it almost a year ago.

But when Magnus Chase was on sale for Black Friday I picked it up. Once I started reading it, I sped through it and finished it in just a couple days. This series is not wildly different from Percy Jackson. Magnus Chase is a homeless 16 year old. He has never known his father. Two years ago his mother died protecting him and Magnus has been living on the streets (and on the run) ever since.

Darker Shade of Magic by V.E. Schwab

Summary: A fantasy multi-verse where four worlds are connected via the city of London, and a dark magic wants to destroy them all.

I have not enjoy a good fantasy book in a while. I picked up the audiobook of A Darker Shade of Magic up when it initially came out in early 2015. (It was free as a promotion.) And six months ago or so I picked up the kindle edition when it was on sale. And I finally got around to reading it last week.

The premise of A Darker Shade of Magic is that there are four Londons. All called London and with several places that are the same regardless of their world. The worlds are nicknamed Black London, White London, Red London and Grey London. Black London was destroyed by dark magic, White London uses magic as a powerful weapon against one another and is a cruel world. Red London uses magic as a tool and is a prosperous place (but is shielded from Black London by White London). And Gray London is a 19th century non-magical London that we would recognize historically.

It used to be that it was easy to move between Londons through doors. But the doors were closed to protect the three remaining worlds from the dark magic of Black London. Now only two magicians have the power to moved between world through their blood magic. One is from White London and one is the main character, Kell, from Red London.

The Rich Are Different by Susan Howatch

The Rich Are Different by Susan Howatch Book ReviewSummary: Historical fiction with the rough story of Julius Caesar, Cleopatra, Mark Antony and Augustus Caesar set in 1920-40 financial world of New York and London.

Any one that has read long has read of my love of Susan Howatch. Her crowning achievement, at least as far as I have read, is her Starbridge series. That series of six books about Church of England clergy from 1930s to the 1960s was a masterpiece discussing spiritual growth, the long hand of sin and the role of the church and faith in society.

But many of her books were written before Howatch returned to a deeper faith and wrote the Starbridge series. The Rich Are Different is the first of two long historical fiction books. Howatch likes alternating between multiple narrators. And in this case she alternates between the characters that are roughly Caesar, Cleopatra, Mark Antony and Augustus.

Set in the pre Wall Street crash of the late 1920s though the early days of World War II, the rich really are different in some ways. But in many ways they are not. They still have concerns, loves, loss and heartbreak. Their money does insulate them somewhat from the conventions of the day. But wealth cannot buy happiness, good marriages, healthy children, or an end to tragedy.

Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation by Parker Palmer

I am reposting this 2013 review. Let Your Life Speak, as well as A Hidden Wholeness: The Journey Toward an Undivided Life and The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life are all on sale for $3.99 on Kindle. I think this is a one day sale today.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation

Over the past several months I have started meeting with a spiritual director.  This is a result of reading the Church of England series and several books on spiritual direction.  Since I clearly process through reading and writing about what I read, my spiritual director suggested I read something by Parker Palmer in part because I have such problem integrating the formalized Benedictine spirituality that I keep trying to move toward.  (If you can’t do it, try the opposite Quaker spiritual thought.)

So I started by listening to the audiobook of Palmer’s classic Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation.

Palmer’s idea that we do not always consciously know what we unconsciously speak of or our body unconsciously does follows the findings of behavior economics quite well.

Best Books I Read in 2016

This is my annual best of 2016 list. (Way late I know.) This is my list of the books that at the end of the year I still think about. They are not all from 2016 (most are not) and they may not be the ‘best’ books that I have read. Some years my best list has been more heavily fiction oriented. And some years I have split it up into a fiction list and a non-fiction list. But this year I am going to keep it all together (fiction is at the bottom). This is my list, roughly in order. I am not sure how you really compare books of widely different genres. So think of it as an approximation.

Silence and Beauty: Hidden Faith Born of Suffering by Makoto Fujimura The new Martin Scorsesee movie Silence, based on the novel by Shusaku Endo goes into wide release next weekend. You theoretically have time to read the original Endo novel and then this book, which is Fujimura’s reflection on the novel and his reflections his and Endo’s Christian faith and the culture of Japan. Silence is not for the faint of heart. It is a novel about Christians that renounce their faith in the face of persecution. I think it is an important book and I think Fujimura’s book is the best book I have read this year. I am in the middle of re-reading it right now.

Born a Crime: Stories From a South African Childhood by Trevor Noah is the most unexpected book on the list. I have liked Noah when I watched The Daily Show, but I don’t watch it often. And I tend to not pick up many celebrity memoirs, so if this has not been offered for free on audiobook I would not have picked it up. But it is very well written and a fascinating look at a culture and country that I do not know much about. Growing up in post-apartheid South Africa is not a particularly funny subject. But Noah handle it with humility, appropriate weight for the subjects and with lots of humor. I will pre-order anything else that he writes.

The March Trilogy by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin with illustrator Nate Powell deserves it accolades (National Book Award and Goodreads Graphic Novel of the Year among others.) I have read a number of comic book/graphic novels this year. I have become acquainted with Seth Hahne who is behind the Goodokbad blog. He has shown me that there is so much more than traditional superhero or Manga. A lot of history is particularly well suited to graphic novel format. And the story of the Civil Rights movement through the biography of John Lewis, hits all the right notes.

Another very good graphic novel is Vision by Tom King. Vision is a member of the Avengers, but this is more a comic book about his family and what it means to love in difficult situations than about superheroes.

As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes was my light pick of the year. I tend toward heavy fiction and lots of non-fiction. But I can’t only read those. I need funny books and lighters books as well. I am a huge fan of the Princess Bride movie and book. But I had not picked it up until it was on sale several years after I heard about it. This is a book that should be listened to. Elwes is not only an excellent narrator, who does great impressions of the other stars in the movie, but many of the others involved in the movie participated in reading their sections of the book as well.

Prophetic Lament: A Call for Justice in Troubled Times by Soon-Chan Rah is the best biblical book I read this year. It is both a commentary on the book of Lamentations and a call to bring the concept of lamentations back to Evangelical worship and a commentary on how Christians should think about social issues. Soon-Chan Rah is a former pastor/church planter and now a professor at Northpark Seminary. He is a prime example of why we need more diversity not only in our seminaries, but in our reading and thinking about scripture as well. Diversity is not simply about making minority Christians feel represented but about becoming the whole body of Christ. Also related and worth reading is The End of White Christian America by Robert Jones. It is a book about demographics and polling more than theology, but it just serves to reenforce the need for a more diverse understanding of the church.

January 2017 Deals

LIVING FORWARD by Michael Hyatt and Daniel HarkavyChristianAudio’s free audiobook of the month is Living Forward: A Proven Plan to Stop Drifting and Get the Life You Want by Michael Hyatt and Daniel Harkavy. It is 4 hours and 20 minutes long and has 4.4 stars (out of 5) based on 314 reviews at Audible. And 94% of review 435 on Amazon are 4 or 5 star.

Amazon/Audible free audiobook – White Fang by Jack London is the free book of the month. You must purchase this kindle edition and then you will be offered the free audiobook. The Audible edition that is free is narrated by John Lee.

January Kindle Sale – there are 791 kindle books on sale for the new January sale.  There are 16 Religious books, 36 Children’s Books, 38 Young Adult books, 26 Biographies and Memoirs, 214 Mysteries, 263 Romance, 79 Scifi and Fantasy and more. has Reviewed Several James Bond books, but not much beyond that.

EreaderIQ has a number of Christian Books that are free from Amazon. The quality of the books is very mixed, but some look good. Link to the free books of the day.

Free Kindle First Book – every month Amazon gives away one of six pre-release books to Amazon Prime members. These are books that are published by one of Amazon’s many publishing imprints.

Bel Canto by Ann Patchett

Summary: Beautiful, tragic story of a temporary utopia that can never last.

Just over a year ago I listened to a short audiobook by Ann Patchett about marriage.  Since then I have wanted to read one of her longer fiction books.

But the descriptions of the books kept putting me off.  Her first book, the Patron Saint of Liars is about a home for unwed mothers.  Run is about a father trying to keep his children safe, The Magician’s Assistant is about widow who finds her former husband had a secret life.  All of her books seem to be about tragic subjects.