Friday, September 18, 2015

What I've Been (and am) Reading

Victory of Eagles (Temeraire, #5)Victory of Eagles by Naomi Novik

As I mentioned before, I was reading Naomi Novik's series at a wild, gleeful pace.

This is the fifth book of the series and was my favorite. Unfortunately, it marked the high point though I did read all the remaining books.

This one shows us Temeraire and Laurence separated. How each fares without the other shows both their dependence on each other and what how they've changed and grown since they became companions. Here, too, we get down to brass tacks as Bonaparte invades England. Unlike many of the battle oriented parts of the previous books I really was engaged by this entire story, battles and all.

The Art of Praying: The Principles and Methods of Christian PrayerThe Art of Praying: The Principles and Methods of Christian Prayer by Romano Guardini

I have no memory of reading this before, yet I gave it a 4-star rating in 2010. I eventually dug up a vague memory of reading this, thinking it was just the basics, and giving it to our parish's library. So why was it captivating me this time around?

This book makes me think of Gregory the Great's famous quote.
Scripture is like a river . . . broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.
My first time through this book I was the lamb and this time around I was the elephant. Clearly the difference is in my understanding and not in the book itself, which is deceptively simple.

I'm not sure how Guardini pulled it off but this little book has loads of practical common sense for prayer as well as deep insights that sank in and have influenced me greatly.

Highly recommended.

Gilbert Keith Chesterton by Maisie Ward

I don't even know what sort of search I was doing when I stumbled across this on my Kindle. Maisie Ward was a personal friend of the Chestertons and, so, superbly placed to write this biography only six years after G.K. died. Chock-a-block full of fascinating interviews, excerpts from obscure sources (like early school essays), and family history, this book is written so accessibly that I just dove in.

I don't know why anyone would bother to read another biography of Chesterton (except for Chesterton's autobiography — Ward quotes it and points out that her book is a companion volume at best). I know there are others that are newer but this is so enjoyable and informative that I really am getting a good feel for G.K.

Chapters like that on Bernard Shaw (which was read by Bernard Shaw before the book went to print) are simply priceless for insights into both G.B.S. and G.K.C. I especially loved the fact that Chesterton wrote a book on Shaw, which Shaw reviewed (not too favorably) and then wrote Chesterton a letter chiding him for wasting his time on writing a book about him ... when what Shaw wanted from him was a play! I was completely unprepared for the amount of understanding and affection in the exchange of letters shared in that chapter. There are similar insight insights into Chesterton's other friendships, including that with H.G. Wells.

To be honest (and I feel I should after reading this book), I have to admit I skimmed the long prophety parts from that middle onward. However, there was a lot besides that in the book and it did speak a lot to the modern times we're living in. Everyone wants to be told that what they're doing is right and people who point out the truth are shouted down. Yep.

I know I've read this before but was struck forcibly by the fact that it is told in 4 concise chapters. "Don't bore us, get to the chorus." I didn't recall thinking before that it was so funny either. Who says the scripture writers didn't have a sense of humor? Now, if I can laugh at my own obvious faults as much as I did at Jonah's.


Through a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the MoviesThrough a Screen Darkly: Looking Closer at Beauty, Truth and Evil in the Movies by Jeffrey Overstreet

I'm rereading this book and finding it just as good the second time around, 8 years later. My original review is here.

The Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's WindlassThe Cinder Spires: The Aeronaut's Windlass by Jim Butcher

I got an audiobook review copy from SFFaudio.

This is the beginning of a new Jim Butcher series. People live in city/nation-state spires well above a hostile world, using crystals for energy.  We see it with a likable group of heroes who come together when their spire is attacked by a rival. It's got a steampunk feel and a bit of naval emphasis that is intriguing since I'm about halfway through Master and Commander. Oh, and talking cats. Actually with some people who can "speak" cat. It's a different thing altogether and, at this point, pulled off fairly well.

Although there are goggles and airships and everyone is very polite, this is really space opera rather than steampunk. Butcher is using standard space opera-esque characterizations and motivations but the tale that is unfolding is anything but predictable. This is helped along by a superb narrator who would entice me to listen to a much lesser tale.

I'm about halfway through and am thoroughly enjoying this book, to the point where I'm not listening to anything else. I especially like the subtle flashes of humor, such as Brigid (sp?) always calling Gwen's attention to the fact that her actions weren't so much heroic as rashly putting them all in danger. And thus Butcher undoes the standard space opera trope at that point by making us realize we were all going along with Gwen because it was just what we expected.

The Complete Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: Volumes 1-7The Complete Collected Short Stories of Louis L'Amour: Volumes 1-7 by Louis L'Amour

Louis L'Amour has a talent for making you speed to the end of the story even when you're fairly sure you know what will happen ... because you're only fairly sure and often he flips the story just a bit on you. Sure the good guys win and the bad guys lose but it's how he goes about it that raises him above other Westerns I've sampled. There's a bit of the O'Henry feel in his work and they capture the essence of what it means to be an American.

I've got this on my Kindle because it's perfect bedtime reading. One L'Amour story and you're ready for pleasant dreams.

I know that everyone always says this is a really "modern" book but, woah Nelly, they weren't kidding. Never having read it before I am astounded in each chapter at how modern attitudes echo this ancient writing. And here we thought we were so new-fangled. Truly, there is nothing new under the sun ... at least when it comes to human behavior.

Jonathan Strange & Mr NorrellJonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

I've read this before but had been thinking about rereading it. Then I saw that Mythgard Academy's next session (free) is on this book. Listening to Corey Olsen talk about the book is pulling me back into Susanna Clarke's world. Especially since I've read all of Jane Austen since I first read this book. I see the echoes very strongly ... pulling me back ...

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