The Horse and His Boy by C.S. Lewis
(HarperTrophy, 2000, 240 pages)
Throughout the Chronicles of Narnia, Lewis gives his readers a view of Narnia from the perspective of the outsider. Whether it is the Pevensie siblings entering Narnia from the Wardrobe or Eustace and Jill crossing world’s through a garden gate, we, as readers, experience Narnia as a foreign world. Even in Prince Caspian, where we follow the fortunes of the young Telmarine prince, we see Narnia through the eyes of a latecomer who is unfamiliar with the glorious past and talking beasts of the Narnian golden age.
In The Horse and His Boy, our view from the outside comes from Shasta, an orphaned boy living with a cruel adopted father in Calmoren. Calmoren is a country which inhabits the same world as Narnia, but it is located far to the south and separated by a desert. Shasta meets Bree, a talking horse from Narnia, and together they run away, heading for the northern country ruled by the High Kings and Queens (Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy). On their way they run into another set of runaways; Aravis, the daughter of a cruel Calmorene aristocrat, and her talking horse Hwin. Together the four travel through the capital city of Tashbaan and discover a plot by the despotic Tisroc and his son, the prideful prince Rabadash, who plan to invade Narnia and the neighboring country of Archenland. With the help of those they meet along the way, and with assistance from the lion, Aslan, Shasta not only saves the Northern countries, but discovers the nature of his origins as well.
As far as the story is concerned, this is one of my least favorite of the Narnia books. That being said, the mysterious and awe-inspiring appearances by Aslan are some of the best of the series. One of the major themes that resonates through the book is the wisdom of humility and the foolishness of pride, and Lewis beautifully illustrates it through the toppling of those who are haughty and powerful and the triumph of those who are humble and gracious. Even the horse, Bree, has something to learn about the humility appropriate to the talking creatures of Narnia. What the story lacks in plot it makes up for with this type of moral eloquence.
I Didn’t Ask to Be Born: (But I’m Glad I Was) by Bill Cosby
(Center Street, 2011, 208 pages)
The title of the book caught my eye since one of my kids said the same thing recently. I enjoyed it thoroughly. It’s a collection of Cosby’s observations and personal stories. It’s so easy to relate to his humor no matter who you are. The stories about his grandkids are the funniest. The book title came from an argument between his wife and his eight-year-old daughter:
So when my wife told my daughter she wanted the room cleaned up now, my daughter said: I didn’t ask to be born. My wife responded: We didn’t ask for you either. But now I’m seventy-two and that daughter is forty-five years old and, at last, I have come up with the answer for myself.
Of course Cosby has a very clever answer. Sorry, you are not getting it from this review. Check out the book and find it on page 134. A must for Cosby fans and for anyone who can use a laugh.
Safe Haven by Nicholas Sparks
(Grand Central Publishing, 2010, 340 pages)
While I enjoyed watching “The Notebook” I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m a Nicholas Sparks fan. I picked this book up for a book club discussion and it was better than I’d anticipated.
Katie has recently moved to a small town in North Carolina. She’s secretive about her past, spending her days regularly working doubles waitressing at a local restaurant while trying to make her rented run-down shack into a home. It’s clear that she has run away from something, but she keeps her head down and works hard to avoid questions. Alex is a widower who runs the store Katie regularly frequents for groceries. He can’t help but take notice of her – she’s quiet, but beautiful. He hasn’t really felt compelled to talk to women since his wife died, leaving him with two young children to take care of. There’s just something about Katie that makes him want to reach out to her.
With the help of her surprising new neighbor, Jo, Katie opens herself up to Alex and the two begin to date. Gradually she reveals her horrifying past to him. She moved to North Carolina to start over after leaving an abusive marriage – her alcoholic husband regularly beat her and she was convinced that if he found her he would kill her. Alex is understanding and works to help her embrace the idea of a safe new life – hoping she sees a future with him. But it’s hard to hide from your past when it’s constantly searching for you. The question lies in whether her husband can live without her – and he doesn’t consider that an option…
It’s a Nicholas Sparks book so it ends on a positive note. While I wouldn’t necessarily pick up another Sparks title on my own, this was a more or less engaging read. Towards the end I felt the anticipation building and was curious to see how Sparks would wrap things up. A romantic thriller… if such a category exists. With a unique twist at the end.
Heavenly Participation: The Weaving of a Sacramental Tapestry by Hans Boersma
(Eerdmans, 2011, 224 pages)
Heavenly Participation is a fascinating and wide-ranging attempt to reshape an evangelical approach to theology. Boersma is interested in recovering what he refers to as the Platonist-Christian synthesis. This is a theological outlook, characteristic of the church fathers and the early medieval church, which draws from the insights of Platonism and views the created order as participating in the being and life of God. Boersma gives a historical account of how this Platonist-Christian synthesis was weakened in the late middle-ages and effectively eradicated in the modern period. He is interested in re-appropriating this perspective in the hopes that it could both provide a fruitful basis for ecumenical endeavors between evangelicals and Catholics and that it could help to imbue modern theological thought with the element of mystery that it has so often lacked.
Boersma’s project is an ambitious one, and I think he makes his case well. He makes good use of original sources, building his arguments from careful examinations of patristic texts. In many ways the book is a recommendation and study of the nouvelle theologie, a twentieth-century French Catholic renewal movement which looked back to the patristic and medieval periods for inspiration. Through focusing his attentions on this group of modern Catholic theologians who have looked to ancient and medieval sources, Boersma shows that a similar approach to the one he is advocating has borne fruit in the recent past. Anyone interested in the relationship of philosophy to theology and questions of faith and reason would find much of interest in this book.
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America
by Erik Larson
(Crown Publishers, 2003, 447 pages)
The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair That Changed America by Erik Larson is both fascinating and appalling. The Devil in the White City is the true story of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago along with the parallel story of the serial killer, Herman Webster Mudgett, alias H. H. Holmes. The book progresses quickly through the awarding of the World’s Fair to Chicago, to the migration of a mass murderer into the Black City, to the closing of the Fair and Holmes’ criminal career.
The Devil in the White City is a book of contrasts. The White City was the name given to the 1893 World’s Fair because all the major buildings of the Fair were white. The Black City was the nickname for Chicago because of all the smoke, soot, and dirt in the City. The Devil mentioned in the book’s title is the serial killer, H. H. Holmes.
The Devil in the White City was a National Book Award finalist. It was also the winner of the Edgar Award for Best Fact Crime. The Devil in the White City held my attention while also making me want to cringe. The book is an enlightening portrait of life in Chicago in the 1890’s. The Devil in the White City is recommended for anyone who is interested in American history or who just wants an interesting read.
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
(Doubleday, 2011, 387 pages)
There’s so much magic in this novel – from the very premise of the story to the way it is able to fully engross you. I loved reading this book. Morgenstern did an amazing job weaving a story that you, as a reader, can’t help but immerse yourself in. Each time I put the book down I felt transported back into the real world. I know it’s cheesy to write that, but it’s true.
The primary color scheme of the book is black, white, and shades of grey. The color scheme really does wash over you, partly because of the story-telling and partly because of the way the scheme is physically incorporated into the pages of the book. It was just really well done.
The Night Circus is the stage upon which two individuals (Celia and Marco), who have been magically trained, must “fight” to prove who is the better magician. At first they are unaware of their competition and as the “battle” progresses they find they are more inclined to work together than to try and subdue the other. Eventually the two fall in love, not knowing that for a winner to be declared one of them must die.
The setting of the circus plays a central role in the story. The reader more or less waits to be transported back to this magical world. The circus only opens at night and it closes with the dawn. You never know when or where it will appear. Inside it is everything you could ever dream a circus to be, which is the goal in and of itself.
As the story progresses you can’t help but wonder what will happen to Celia and Marco – how can one of them win if it means they will lose the other? And since this is such a public platform, what will happen to all the innocents who are a part of the circus itself, unaware of the magical “battle” taking place underfoot?
Great read – I definitely recommend it.
Big Girls Don’t Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women
by Rebecca Traister
(Free Press, 2010, 352 pages)
A self-proclaimed feminist journalist, located in time between the second and third waves of the movement, Rebecca Traister has collected here a disparate but impressive bunch of observations and insights about how women’s history was changed forever during the 2008 presidential elections. Her subjects range from why Elizabeth Edwards or Michelle Obama would have been excellent candidates for president, to Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, Amy Poehler, and Katie Couric. Her interviews also range a wide gamut, with personal quotations from feminist icons like Gloria Steinem and Nora Ephron, to the other end of the spectrum, young college-aged women who felt they didn’t need to vote for a woman just because she was a woman.
In the beginning Traister is all in for John Edwards, and her insistence that she is not a Hillary person gets a little old throughout the book. Ultimately though, she finds herself crying in a hallway at the Democratic convention when Hillary finally concedes. It seems crying is something a lot of women did that day. This book could have been better organized, but overall, it is an excellent attempt to describe on paper all of the sexism, racism, and simultaneous breakthroughs, our country made during the 2008 election.