The Patriarch by Martin Walker (Bruno Chief of Police #8)

The Patriarch by Martin Walker (Bruno Chief of Police #8)Summary: Bruno is invited to the birthday party of a national hero, but when there is an accidental death, Bruno isn’t so sure.

Somehow I missed the Patriarch by Martin Walker when it came out. I was looking around for something to read, and check to see when the next Bruno Chief of Police novel comes out. I discovered that it came out in June and not only did I miss the release, but I also missed one of the previous books in the series.

It is odd that you can read a series and not notice when you miss a book. And once I finished reading The Patriarch, I am can see why I did not realize that I missed anything. This novel did not really move the story along.

In one of the previous books Bruno saved ‘The Red Countess’, an elderly woman from a historic family that was being drugged to steal her land. The Red Countess invites him to a party for the Patriarch, a national hero of the cold war, a pilot and one of the Countess’s previous relationships.

At the party, which is local and adds in yet another wealthy member of the community, Bruno observes a quiet scuffle between a granddaughter of the Patriarch and her Godfather, the best friend of one of the sons of the Patriarch. Later that day, Bruno is called in to quietly certify the death of the Godfather, who it turns out was a former spy.

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

I am reposting this 2013 review because the Audible.com Audiobook is on sale today for $3.95.
All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthySummary: Beautifully written tragic story of desire for what cannot be.

Cormac McCarthy is a spare writer. Lots of detail and almost poetic language. But this is an introvert’s book.  The characters talk, but there is no extra meandering dialogue. Dialogue has purpose.

McCarthy seems ideally suited to write about the idealized lone western male. His characters are self-sufficient, hard, tragic, honest to a fault, do not expect anyone to help them, but want to help others if they can.

In All the Pretty Horses (I have not seen the movie, so I do not know how it compares), John Grady Cole leaves home at 16 with his best friend. After his parent’s divorce, his mother wants nothing to do with ranch life and his father is left without a ranch (or anything else). He can give John nothing that he wants or needs. John and Rawlins (17) head to Mexico to see if they can find the rancher’s life that they seek.

Along the way, Jimmy Blevins, a 13 or 14 year old run away and troublemaker, joins up with them. Cole as the leader of the group allows Blevins to join them because it is clear that Blevins can not care for himself. Cole knows he will regret the decision and the theme is set with the Cole’s wise word:

“Every dumb thing I ever done in my life there was a decision I made before that got me into it. It was never the dumb thing. It was always the choice I made before it.”

The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken Wytsma

The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege by Ken WytsmaSummary: Racism and injustice have to be important to Christians if our faith is relevant to relationships on this side of heaven.

Race, Injustice, Privilege and related ideas are common discussions in the political world. And that is part of the problem with discussing them inside the Christian church. Quite often our understanding of issues that have any relationship to politics are based more on our political bias and background than our Christianity. It is not that our Christianity is unimportant to our politics, but our politics matters to what we think is important within Christianity.

Ken Wytsma has a very clear purpose in writing. He is a White pastor writing primarily to White Christians about race and inequality. He is doing that because he thinks that at least some readers will listen to him in ways that they have not been listening to minority Christians talk about race and inequality.

Section one is mostly a summary of history and illustrations of why inequality exists. It is a very good summary of a numbers of issues, from government involvement in housing segregation and inequality to the role of the criminal justice system in creating and perpetuating inequality to migration patters since the civil war. Inequality is a vast and complex matter.

Wytsma is summarizing the work of others here. In a short section he can’t give the depth that books like Warmth of Other Suns or Slavery by Another Name or New Jim Crow or the host of other in books that have the space to look deeply at different aspects of history, race, inequality and injustice. As a summary, this section is one of the better looks at the variety of ways that inequality has come to be in place in just a few pages.

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

I am reposting this review from earlier this year because the Kindle Edition is on sale for $1.99.
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 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.

Sale Books Reviewed by Bookwi.se

Amazon has 45 books on sale for their Daily Deal (full sale link). Bookwi.se has reviewed several of them:

Single volume of the Lilith Brood Trilogy by Octavia Butler is $1.99 Bookwi.se Review of Dawn and Adulthood Rites.

Lock In by John Scalzi $2.99 Bookwi.se Review

The Rich Are Different by Susan Howatch $1.99 Bookwi.se Review

On sale and reviewed but not in the daily sale:

The Homelander by Andrew Klavan (single volume of a young adult thriller series) $3.99 Bookwi.se Review

Storm Front by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #1) $2.99 Bookwi.se Review

Crazy Dangerous by Andrew Klavan $2.99 Bookwi.se Review

Her Royal Spyness by Rhys Bowen $1.99 Bookwi.se Review

Some of the other books on sale (not reviewed by Bookwi.se):

The Last Kingdom (Saxon Tales #1) by Bernard Cornwell $1.99

Tuck Everlasting $1.99

Firefly Lane by Kristen Hannah $1.99

Genius: The Life and Science of Richard Feynman by James Gleick $1.99

The Relic Master by Christopher Buckley

The Relic Master by Christopher BuckleySummary: A relic hunter is forced into a quest for the ‘true shroud’.

Christopher Buckley has a history of writing smart comic novels, usually about political subjects. But his last couple novels have fallen a bit flat. However, I still picked up The Relic Master when I saw it on sale at a BOGO sale at Audible, especially since it was out of Buckley’s normal subject area.

The Relic Master is set 500 years ago as Martin Luther was writing his 95 Thesis and the reformation was beginning to dawn. This is historical fiction that is pretty historically accurate for the known characters. There were relic fairs and prominent people did buy and sell relics, which created markets for forgers.

The main character, Dismas has attempted to be an honest relic hunter, although he is real enough to know that many of the relics being sold are fakes and real enough to know that many of the miraculous proofs are frauds and cynical enough to want out of the business. After being robbed of his savings, he decides to attempt a grand fraud to give him enough to retire to the country and become a happy, stable farmer and family man.

The fraud is caught because of the pride of the artist (Durer). Dismas and Durer’s are then forced into a quest to steal the Shroud of Chambery.

Little Better Than a Beast by Tom King (Vision #2)

Little Better Than a Beast by Tom King (Vision #2)Summary: Vision continues to struggle to live a normal family life.

About a year ago I picked up then first volume of this series. Vision, has attempted to create a family. After himself being created by the evil Ultron, but eventually joining the Avengers, he creates a standard suburban family (his wife and two teen kids.)

The first volume is more about what it means to be human and a family and how hard they work to maintain that illusion of normality.

The second volume, Little Better Than a Beast, builds on the first. There is more back story here for people like me that don’t know Vision’s back story. The book opens with Vision’s relationship to the Scarlet Witch summarized. It is that failed relationship that spawned the idea for Vision to create his own family. One that hopefully would be acceptable both to the world and would work internally.

A Live Coal in the Sea by Madeleine L’Engle

A Live Coal in the Sea: A NovelSummary: Camilla, now in her 60s, recounts her story to a questioning granddaughter.

A Live Coal in the Sea is a sequel to Camilla, published 45 years later. That distance in time between the two books is nearly the distance in time within the books.

Camilla was about a 15 year old growing up in New York City and coming to be aware of the tragedies of life outside of herself. A Live Coal in the Sea is about Camilla sometime in her mid to late 60s. The story catches up on the intervening years through flashback and story. Camilla’s granddaughter, Raffi, is going to college at the small school where Camilla is an astronomy professor.

After some vague and confusing disclosures by her father, Raffi comes to her Grandmother to get the whole story. This begins a long recounting of both special tragedy and the normal process of people coming together as a family, working through issues in a marriage and with children, the aging and dying of people around them and the coming to terms with the meaning of life.

At root, this is a family drama. The sins of one generation impact later generations. And while some members of a family adapt, heal and move on, others cannot and the generational cycles continue.

For me this is a mid-level L’Engle book. It doesn’t rise to the level of her Crosswick Journal insights into humanity. It isn’t as compelling as A Swiftly Tilting Planet or A Ring of Endless Night. But it also isn’t as disturbing as A House Like a Lotus or as boring as Meet The Austins.

This is not a young adult book like Camilla. It is intended as an adult book and it has adult themes. Infidelity, sexual and physical abuse of children, homosexuality, death and loss, and emotional abandonment are all present. It isn’t a particularly happy book, but it also isn’t a book that feels like it was trumped up to be overly depressing. While there is unusual tragedy in the book, the framing of the tragedy is focused on how all of our lives can be, and are, tragic in some ways. But God meets us in that tragedy because God loves us.

L’Engle isn’t writing ‘Christian Fiction’. She is writing fiction that is informed by her Christianity. Most Christian publishers would not touch this. But while I don’t think it is among her greatest book, it is a solid book.

(spoiler discussion below)

Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace

I am reposting this 2012 review because the Kindle Edition  is on sale for $0.99. The lowest price it has ever been.
Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace

Summary: We should give not out of obligation, but out of appreciation for what God has given to us.  Forgiveness is a particular type of giving but is it even more important that we offer forgiveness to one other because we are in need of forgiveness and because God has forgiven us.

This is a hard book to review. It is only six real chapters (plus a forward, an interlude, an epilogue and a conclusion.) But in the 225 pages of content, I highlighted 43 passages (many of them are multi-paragraph highlights). I cannot think of any other book I have ever highlighted so much.

There is so much rich theology about who God is, how God works in us, how God wants us to work in the lives of others. And this is not simple ‘five steps to loving God and your neighbor’ self help writing.  This is rough going. I read this over a month and still feel like I read it too quickly.

The first (long) chapter dealt with who God is. This is central to Volf’s understanding of how we can understand both giving and forgiving. Volf says most people see God as either a negotiator or Santa Claus. In other words, they either see God as someone you can strike a deal with in order to get what you want, or they see him as someone who just gives stuff willy-nilly. Later Volf contrasts our perception of the giving God with our misperceptions of how we understand God’s forgiveness.  People tend to see God as either an implacable judge, or as a doting grandparent.

This is a good summary statement for the book:

“You can sum up where we’ve landed in four simple sentences. The world is sinful. That’s why God doesn’t affirm it indiscriminately [like santa claus or a doting grandparent]. God loves the world. That’s why God doesn’t punish it in justice [like a negotiator or implacable judge]. What does God do with this double bind? God forgives.”

But there is so much more. In some ways I wish this were two shorter books. Because while the nature of giving and forgiving are linked in Volf’s understanding, they could be separated and it would be easier to recommend. Because even though 250 pages is not that long, it is heavy content. (Not hard to read, because Volf really is writing fairly simply; but it is hard to process.)

It is especially difficult to work through the issues of forgiveness. Because Volf is not primarily thinking about needing forgiveness for small things, but the big things. During the interlude, Volf tells of his brother that was tragically killed when he was 5 because the aging nanny was not watching him, and then the soldier that was playing with him allowed a tragic (but preventable) accident to occur.  Volf’s parents from the beginning were intent on forgiveness. This in spite of the fact that Volf’s father had been tortured by the soldiers only a few years earlier (Volf grew up in communist Czechoslovakia.)

The forgiveness was so complete that Volf himself did not know that the nanny had been at all at fault until he was an adult. Volf’s father traveled for days to comfort the soldier and ensure that he would not be punished.

Volf is talking about the need for deep and real forgiveness for big things like war crimes, rape and murder because we also need forgiveness for the little things like lying and gossip. There were multiple examples of hard forgiveness because Volf’s theology of forgiveness was catalyzed during the war crimes and aftermath of the Bosnian and Croatian wars.

He is also clear that forgiveness is not pretending that something did not happen. The first step in forgiveness is bringing to full acknowledgement the actual sin committed. I stumbled across this long New York Times Article on how a family in Florida used this style of restorative justice in a case where their daughter’s boyfriend killed her. It is exactly the type of deep and difficult forgiveness that Volf is talking about because it is the way that the power of Christ can be shown.

Volf is very clear that forgiveness can only occur with the power of Christ and that it is really not us that is doing the forgiveness, but that God is inviting us to participate with him in giving and forgiving because it is a way that we can be changed and that giving, and especially forgiveness, demonstrates the love of Christ to others.

This is not an easy book to read.  It is one of the most important books I have read an a while. A lot of Christian books read more like self-help books. This is not a self-help book, this is a book that demonstrates the radical work of Christ and the radical nature of what it means to be a Christian.

I recommend a lot of books, but this is one that I would put at near the top of your reading list.

Free of Charge: Giving and Forgiving in a Culture Stripped of Grace Purchase Links: Paperback, Kindle Edition 

As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene Peterson

As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Eugene PetersonSummary: A collection of 49 sermons that illustrate how Peterson thinks we should be formed by God.

Scripture is always the central focus on Eugene Peterson’s writing. Practice Resurrection may be about the church and spiritual development, but it is about how the book of Ephesians talks about the church and spiritual development. Run with the Horses may be about excellence, but it is framed by looking at excellence through Jeremiah the prophet. The Contemplative Pastor may be about spiritual direction and the role of the pastor, but it is largely through the lens of the beatitudes and other scripture that he looks at the pastor’s role.

As Kingfishers Catch Fire is Peterson’s book on preaching. It isn’t that lay people won’t get something out of this, I certainly do not actively preach, but I think it was written for pastors. Non-pastors probably will read this more as a devotional book. But pastors should read this as a master class in how our preaching is to be about scripture first and most of all and how scripture points to God.

The seven sections, each with seven sermons, are all looking at how a particular biblical author communicates God to us through scripture. The sections are labeled, ‘Preaching in the company of Moses, or David, or Isaiah, or Solomon, or Peter, or Paul, or John of Patmos. If you have read some of his other books you can seem a few of the drafts of ideas that were worked out in his books that started in his sermons. And based on the illustrations and content of the sermons, these stretched widely throughout his preaching career, from early days with young children to the 50th anniversary of the church that he started.