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Archive for the ‘Reviews’ Category

The Little Sister (Philip Marlowe, #5)The Little Sister by Raymond Chandler
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I’ve been a fan of Raymond Chandler since I first picked up one of his books. (The Big Sleep was my first.)

The Little Sister was a fun read. It was zany and confusing, like everything else from Chandler that I’ve read. The protagonist, Philip Marlowe, is still Marlowe, so there’s wise-crackin’, pipe-smokin’, and hooch-drinkin’ aplenty. The mystery unravels with excitement and amusement. All these elements taken as a whole are pretty much what I want from these stories.

That said, this book certainly was not among my favorites. In fact, I think it’s my least favorite of all Chandler’s books (of course, that I’ve read). Part of the problem may be in the splotchy, hit-and-miss way that I read it. So, maybe it’s better than it seemed to me. Three stars is probably a lower score than is deserved, but there it is.

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The Man Who Knew Too MuchThe Man Who Knew Too Much by G.K. Chesterton

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I think I like Chesterton’s non-fiction more than his fiction. This is (if I recall) the second book of fiction that I’ve read from the great GKC. I have read more of his non-fictional work, and I like it more.

This book, like many mysteries, was a confusing ride. GKC’s word crafting is gorgeous – at points, simply startling. He was a man who knew how to use language. He had a purdy mouth.

The story is full of murder, political intrigue, and interpersonal difficulties. The author worked in some scathing criticism of “Capitalism,” as he saw it in his day. You know, the book was fun, but not super fun. Truth be told, when it comes to someone like GKC, if it ain’t really, really good, it just don’t match up with my expectations. I guess I just expect a great deal from GKC, and this book was, therefore, a slight disappointment.

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The Brothers KThe Brothers K by David James Duncan

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I was given this book by a non-Christian neighbor. I traded him reads. I gave him Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep, and he gave me this.

I have to give Mr. Duncan a hand on an energetic, well-written book. From a literary standpoint, it was a pleasure to read. It had me laughing out loud enough to irritate my wife. The characters came across as, for the most part, honest and believable. Sometimes I thought that the brothers’ star qualities seemed a little over the top, but it still read well.

The title obviously alludes to Dostoevsky’s famous book, a book that I’ve read but once, but that I loved. This tale of divergent brothers takes places within a home where the mother is a committed Adventist and the father is a committed baseball player. These varied influences bear exceedingly varied fruit in the lives of the children (four sons and younger twin girls). They all go off in different directions and mostly reap the whirlwind (similar, in this respect, to Dostoevsky’s book). (more…)

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Young CarthaginianYoung Carthaginian by G.A. Henty
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

We borrowed this book (on CD) from some friends and listened to it in the van whilst traveling hither and yon. To my shame, it’s the first Henty I’ve read. I have heard good things about Henty’s work for a number of years, but this was my first experience.

I wish I could have given the book 3 1/2 stars, but I bumped it up to 4… I’m a nice guy.

It was a good story, packed with historical interests. The protagonist, Malchus, was quite lovable in a PG sort of way. He exemplifies many admirable character qualities. The downside, however, was that it made his character seem a bit flat: almost Ned Flanders-ish, but not quite. The story moved from one pond of action and adventure to another to another, to the point where young Machus’s life seemed reminiscent of an episode of 24. The action portions of the book, however, were fun and well-told. The streams between those ponds of action, though, were not as pleasing. It would appear that Henty had a penchant for supplying detail, much detail, tedious detail. I think the book would have been better without it, but it was still a good book with it. My seven-year-old liked the book, so I’m sure we’ll do more Henty. Maybe we’ll even borrow some more from our friends!

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The Great GatsbyThe Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I enjoyed this book. Fitzgerald’s style is pleasing. I like the setting (the Lost Generation) a great deal. Interestingly, the characters were semi-likable, but mostly I’m pleased I don’t know them personally. I’m glad not to be Jay Gatsby’s neighbor. Fitzgerald did a good job capturing the destructive selfishness of his generation and sad paradox that, as they strove to move forward, they were inescapably losing ground. The last chapter was my favorite. Fitzgerald painted a haunting picture of the slow-moving and expansive Mid-West and of its children trying to make their way in the urbane East.

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The Mote in God's EyeThe Mote in God’s Eye by Larry Niven
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

My friend, Bob, tossed this book at me a few years back. I finally read it and enjoyed it a good deal.

I have only read one other Sci-Fi type novel (Dune), which I have to admit that I liked more (actually, far more) than this book. (Oh, yeah, I also read Dune Messiah, but it simply did not rock as hard.) As to Mote, it took me about 200 pages really to get into it, which is far too long. However, once the alien action kicked in, I thought it was fascinating. I really enjoyed how it turned from meet-the-aliens Sci-Fi to a political plot in the last hundred pages. Now that we’ve met these aliens, what in the world are we supposed to do?!

I don’t doubt that there are a whole host of things that I missed in this book, unread as I am in this genre. Even so, overall, it was a good read. ‘Nuff said.

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Heart of Darkness Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did a good deal of driving in the past week or two, so I downloaded a recording of this book from librivox.org. So, thanks for LibriVox!

First, the reader was quite good, not exactly Jim Dale… but good. That’s a big deal when listening to a book. If the reader’s lame, it ruins the book.

The story itself was enigmatic for me. I have not read any reviews, so the ideas that follow are my own fairly basic reflections on the book. It occurred to me that, as Marlow penetrated deeper and deeper into the Congo, that the author was inviting me to think that he was pressing deeper and deeper into human nature. Leaving behind the modern, refined (European) world, he was driving back into unrefined, primitive humanity. The deeper he got, the darker and scarier it was. The anomaly in this heart of darkness was Mr. Kurtz. He was a white man who seemed to wield great influence deep in the jungle. It turns out that even this great white hope is a shame and a lie. It would seem, then, that no matter how deeply one looks into human nature, one finds nothing but darkness and horror. So far so good.

I enjoyed the frame narrative, but thought that, too often, the book felt like a travel log, which reduced my enjoyment of it. On the other hand, Conrad’s style is glorious, as is his vocabulary. I hope to read more of his work.

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The Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and LoveThe Enchiridion on Faith, Hope and Love by Augustine of Hippo
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This little work was a pleasure to read. It consists of Augustine’s thoughts on the Nicene Creed (faith) the Lord’s Prayer (hope) and a short discourse on Christian love. It will serve as a good introduction to Augustine’s theological thought.

For my part, I love Augustine’s emphasis on the primacy of grace. His defense of the sacramental system is irritating, as it seems very weak. Finally, his take on faith and works is quite disappointing. He does not clearly distinguish between justification and sanctification.

There are a lot of things in this short work that will make the Christian’s heart rejoice, and there a few things that are less than celebratory. By any account, this little “handbook” of theology is worth reading, for Augustine is always worth reading.

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The Baptized BodyThe Baptized Body by Peter J. Leithart

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

For me, this book, like Leithart’s writings generally, was both a hit and a miss. Let’s take it from the top.

Chapter one, “Starting before the Beginning,” was intended to clear “enough ground to move ahead” to discuss the biblical texts about baptism. This chapter seemed a bit choppy, as Leithart’s hitting on different philosophical, ontological, and theological topics. It was intended to be controversial with section headings such as, “Why Sacraments Are Not Signs,” “Why Sacraments Are Not Means of Grace,” and “Why Sacraments Are Not Symbols.” That said, I found the concept of Sacraments as rituals to be compelling and helpful. Sacraments can, however, be signs, means of grace, symbols, AND rituals. (more…)

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HereticsHeretics by G.K. Chesterton
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m just finishing this book for the third or fourth time. Chesterton blows my little mind. He has such wonderful insight into what it is to be human. I think of him as a humanist that was a Christian. One of my favorite lines in this book is that “what is valuable and lovable in our eyes is man–the old beer-drinking, creed-making, fighting, failing, sensual, respectable man.” For Chesterton, man is incurably an idealist, a romantic, a thinking, feeling, paradoxical being. However, what is most human about humanity, what makes man man is that he’s a dogmatist. Man is the only created being that is necessarily drawn to generate a philosophy of life.

In this book Chesterton attacks those who either deny that such a philosophy exists or can exist and/or offer a philosophy that is inadequate. One of the difficulties of this book (and the reason I give it four stars) is how intimately tied it is to late 19th- and early 20th-century people and ideas. Thus, if one is really interested in understanding Chesterton’s criticisms in this book, one will likely end up doing some remedial work on men like George Bernard Shaw, H.G Wells, George Moore, and others, and on such movements as Aestheticism, Neopaganism, and a host of other unsavory isms. However, with a little Google research or simply an open window to Wikipedia, most of these things can be adequately pieced together, and, thus, Chesterton’s judgments will be understood more fully. All of this work will pay off handsomely, as many of these ideas are still flying around today (especially on university campuses!).

One final word about Chesterton’s style: it’s like totally rad. It is just downright pleasing to read his words. It is not just that he has a powerful command of humor and paradox, it is that he knows how to turn a phrase. He knows how to make words dance and sing. He is worth reading simply for his style. This book is full of deep insight which is communicated in glorious prose.

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