Andrew S · Literature · Non-Fiction

Steps Toward Salvation | by Dennis L. Weeks

Steps Toward Salvation

Steps Toward Salvation: An Examination of Coinherence and Substitution in the Seven Novels of Charles Williams
by Dennis L. Weeks
(Peter Lang Publishing, 1991, 117 pages)

Steps Toward Salvation is a monograph tracing the ideas of Coinherence and Substitution through the novels of Charles Williams, the twentieth century author of what his friend T. S. Eliot classified as “supernatural thrillers.” Dennis Weeks defines these two ideas as “mystical pathways by which one might approach unity with a Godhead” (1). Weeks shows how Williams explores human nature, interpersonal relationships, and eternal destinies through depictions of mystical practices that are supposed to illustrate and give meaning to the idea of sacrificial love. He also traces the influence of Kierkegaard and Jung on Williams’ existential and religious sensibilities.

Williams’ novels are very odd, and they certainly are not to everyone’s taste. However, Weeks does a good job of showing the spiritual and psychological depth that Williams displays. Weeks effectively depicts the overarching vision of Williams’ novels – a vision of a universe in which individuals are connected to each other, or “coinhere” in one another, often in unseen ways. This coinherence is revealed and intensified when loving acts of substitution are committed on the behalf of others. As I said, the novels are not for everyone, and their obscurity can make for difficult reading. For those who make the effort to decipher them, Steps Towards Salvation is a welcome guide.

Audiobook · Autobiography · Celebrities · Kelly M · Non-Fiction

Stories I Only Tell My Friends | by Rob Lowe

Stories I Only Tell My Friends

Stories I Only Tell My Friends by Rob Lowe
(Henry Holt & Co, 2011, 308 pages)

It’s true that Rob Lowe’s poster from St. Elmo’s Fire as sax-playing Billy hung on my dorm room wall. It’s true that I was obsessed with the film About Last Night in which Rob Lowe wore a Cubs hat and a goldenrod t-shirt that read “No Lights in Wrigley Field.” When I was looking for an audiobook award winner to listen to in my car, it wasn’t a hard decision to choose Rob Lowe’s autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, a 2012 Audie nominee for Narration by the Author.

This audiobook reveals that Rob Lowe is a master of voices. In sharing interesting stories of encounters with actors and of films in which he’s appeared, his impressions of stars such as Tom Cruise, Patrick Swayze, Francis Ford Coppola, Bill Paxton, Mike Myers, and Chris Farley, were spot-on. Lowe talks at length about the making of the film, The Outsiders, in which a number of young actors starred, including Cruise, Swayze, Matt Dillon, C. Thomas Howell, and Lowe’s childhood friend, Emilio Estevez. He tells the story of the photo shoot that produced The Outsiders movie poster (you’ll find out why he is looking to his right and laughing). Other interesting revelations in the book include:

  • after landing the male lead in  About Last Night, Lowe’s first choice for leading lady was not Demi Moore, but recent Oscar-winning actress Melissa Leo
  • how the derogatory term “The Brat Pack” was coined in New York Magazine after a night out with a journalist who was supposed to be writing an article to promote the work of Emilio Estevez
  • losing the audition for the male lead role in The Breakfast Club to Judd Nelson

Lowe has been active in politics since he was teenager and shares stories of friendships with activists Jane Fonda, Michael J. Fox, John F. Kennedy, Jr., and President Clinton (another great impression). He also talks at length about his experience on the political drama The West Wing, the role-of-a-lifetime for him.

In addition to his career, Lowe discusses his family life, growing up a theater nerd in Ohio and later moving to Malibu, California with his mom and stepfather; and his romantic relationships, including Princess Stephanie of Monaco and wife Sheryl Berkoff, a makeup artist he got to know during the filming of Bad Influence. He and Sheryl have two sons.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and couldn’t wait to get into my car every day. And now Youngblood and The Outsiders are on reserve for me at the public library.

(You can also read Julia’s review of this title.)

Fiction · Theresa F

Beautiful Ruins | by Jess Walter

Beautiful Ruins

Beautiful Ruins by Jess Walter
(Harper Perennial, 2013, 368 pages)

Set in Italy during the making of Liz Taylor’s Cleopatra and then in present day Los Angeles (and many other places in between), Beautiful Ruins looks at love and desire and how they change our lives in unexpected ways.  It was a great read and I was sorry when it was over.  My favorite quote from the book was, “…the smaller the space between your desire and what is right, the happier you will be.”

“From the moment it opens—on a rocky patch of Italian coastline, circa 1962, when a daydreaming young innkeeper looks out over the water and spies a mysterious woman approaching him on a boat—Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins is a dazzling, yet deeply human, roller coaster of a novel. From the lavish set of Cleopatra to the shabby revelry of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, to the back lots of contemporary Hollywood, Beautiful Ruins is gloriously inventive and constantly surprising—a story of flawed yet fascinating people navigating the rocky shores of their lives while clinging to their improbable dreams.” – book cover

Fiction · Graphic Novel · Humor · Kelly M · Quick Read!

Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey (A Parody) | by Camaren Subhiyah

Agent Gates

Agent Gates and the Secret Adventures of Devonton Abbey (A Parody)
by Camaren Subhiyah; illustrated by Kyle Hilton
(Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2013, 128 pages)

This graphic novel and parody of the popular PBS Masterpiece show, Downton Abbey, is hilarious. Some members of the Crawhill family and staff of Devonton Abbey are SIS (Secret Intelligence Service) agents who “keep an eye on the subversive activity transpiring in neighboring countries.” Other members of the Devonton Abbey household are oblivious to the secret identities of the people with whom they live and work. The mission of the SIS: to capture and question German foreign minister, Gottlieb Von Jagow, Enemy of the Crown, who is planning a visit to Devonton on his way to the German Embassy in London.

The artwork in the book really captures the actual characters of Downton Abbey. The outrageous story lines seem like they could even work on the show–if it were a Mel Brooks comedy. Behind his cane and limp, Mr. Gates (Bates) has a secret bionic leg that can smash anything to bits. Lord Granville (Lord Grantham) is obsessed with destroying the undignified blackbirds flying around Devonton and insists that his telegrams be ironed. Lady Ethel (Edith) is in love with a llama in the petting zoo on the property. Lady Cynthia (Sybil) organizes a “Tobacco for Children” benefit for children working in mills who can’t afford snuff and cigarettes. Sweetsy the dog becomes pregnant with the heir to the Devonton estate.

I would highly recommend this quick and entertaining read to fans of comedy and Downton Abbey.

Fiction · Gwen B · In the Library · Mystery · Suspense

12th of Never | by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro

12th of Never

12th of Never by James Patterson and Maxine Paetro
(Little, Brown, and Co., 2013, 397 pages)

Overview:

It’s finally time! Detective Lindsay Boxer is in labor–while two killers are on the loose.

Lindsay Boxer’s beautiful baby is born! But after only a week at home with her new daughter, Lindsay is forced to return to work to face two of the biggest cases of her career.

A rising star football player for the San Francisco 49ers is the prime suspect in a grisly murder. At the same time, Lindsay is confronted with the strangest story she’s ever heard: An eccentric English professor has been having vivid nightmares about a violent murder and he’s convinced it’s real. Lindsay doesn’t believe him, but then a shooting is called in-and it fits the professor’s description to the last detail.

Lindsay doesn’t have much time to stop a terrifying future from unfolding. But all the crimes in the world seem like nothing when Lindsay is suddenly faced with the possibility of the most devastating loss of her life.

I have read all of the Women’s Murder Club books and I look forward to each one. I couldn’t wait to get my hands on this book.  Out of all of James Patterson’s thriller series books, this is my favorite.  If I’m being honest though, it didn’t have as much action and suspense as the previous ones had.  It’s not the best of the series that I have read.  But then the action did pick up some. The biggest letdown was the ending, the story just stops and ends ABRUPTLY! It leaves you hanging and thinking, WHAT!? The ending leads you to believe there will be a 13th book in the series, which I will read with the hope that J. P. once again, writes an awesome thriller that cannot be put down! If you enjoy the Women’s Murder Club books you will enjoy this one, it just wasn’t as exciting and suspenseful as the previous books in the series.  I still enjoyed it though, and I will always be a diehard J.P. fan.

Fiction · Sadie J

Grounded | by Neta Jackson and Dave Jackson

Grounded

Grounded by Neta Jackson and Dave Jackson
(Worthy Publishing, 2013, 320 pages)

Grace Meredith believes that she is doing what her life was intended for. Grace is a touring Christian singer spreading her message to teens to wait for marriage while she is happily engaged. But the night before her last leg of her New Year, New You tour, her fiancé calls to end their engagement as he isn’t comfortable with Grace’s touring life or how she openly speaks of their relationship. Grace is heartbroken and feels like a fraud so she heads back to Chicago and to her cat Oreo to rethink where her life is headed. As she hides from her music and her message, she realizes how lonely she really is but gets help from some unexpected sources, her neighbors.

I picked up this read on a whim when I found it on the New Book shelf at the public library. I was interested in the idea that each book of the series focused on a different neighbor on a Chicago street. Grace seemed like the perfect starting point for the series as she’s a touring artist who doesn’t know her neighbors very well and starts to get to know them over the course of the read. I liked how easy this was to read and the inspirational theme wasn’t too overpowering. I have to say that Grace was a little too needy as a character for me. She would turn the littlest things into big deals and was constantly turning down invitations from people because she didn’t know them well enough but then complained that she was lonely. Grace did improve tremendously by the end and the Jacksons were very tricky by leaving certain aspects of the plot open at the end to peak reader’s interest for the next installment.

Andrew S · Biography · Literature · Non-Fiction

Persona and Paradox: Issues of Identity for C. S. Lewis, His Friends and Associates | edited by Suzanne Bray and William Gray

Persona and Paradox

Persona and Paradox: Issues of Identity for C. S. Lewis, His Friends and Associates
edited by Suzanne Bray and William Gray
(Cambridge Scholars Press, 2012, 285 pages)

Persona and Paradox consists of papers presented at a conference on “issues of identity” for C. S. Lewis. It includes reflections on his Anglican heritage, his role as a lay theologian, his thoughts on friendship, and his relationship to people like J. R. R. Tolkien, Dorothy Sayers, T. S. Eliot, George MacDonald, and Charles Williams.

There is so much literature out there on C. S. Lewis that one more book about him can seem pointless. Certainly not every essay in this collection is worth careful reading, but Lewis is such a multi-faceted figure that there is plenty that is worthwhile in these focused examinations of different parts of his heritage, be it literary, theological, philosophical, or psychological. I found the essays “A Grief Obscured: C. S. Lewis on Sorrow and Hope,” and “Was C. S. Lewis ‘Everyman’s Theologian’ (J. R. R. Tolkien)?” particularly interesting. These dealt respectively with Lewis’ memoir on the grief he experienced following the death of his wife and his qualifications as a theologian.

I picked up the book specifically because I was interested in the essays on Charles Williams. There were two of these, and while thought-provoking, they were not the best part of the book.

Andrew S · Non-Fiction · Religion

Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible | by John J. O’Keefe and R. R. Reno

Sanctified Vision

Sanctified Vision: An Introduction to Early Christian Interpretation of the Bible
by John J. O’Keefe and R. R. Reno
(John Hopkins University Press, 2005, 156 pages)

The interpretive methods used to make sense of the Bible in the first centuries of the Christian church are remarkably foreign to most modern readers. In the same way that reading Homeric epics can be confusing, and often boring, for readers accustomed to the modern novel, reading patristic exegesis can seem like an arduous task with little reward. It is the goal of John J. Okeefe and R. R. Reno to explain (and, at least to some extent, to commend) the interpretive methods and motivations of church fathers such as Origin, Iranaeus, Athanasius, and Augustine to modern readers.

By discussing primary sources from the church fathers, the authors give a picture of what they refer to as the patristic method of “intensive reading.” They summarize “intensive reading,” in this way: “Exploring countless scriptural details with an eye toward assembling a full and complete picture marks the most basic ‘method’ of patristic exegesis” (45). This method includes the use of typology and allegory to make connections between the diverse books that make up the Old and New Testaments. O’Keefe and Reno also bring out the importance that patristic literature places on spiritual disciplines and communal readings for proper interpretation.

I found this book extremely helpful. The authors do an excellent job of showing how these ancient interpretive methods function by drawing modern parallels. Illustrations of modern typology and allegory are drawn from such diverse sources as The Brady Bunch, the speeches of Martin Luther King, and contemporary feminist scholarship. These effectively show how some of the same intuitions that motivated the church fathers to read the whole of the Bible in light of Christological typology and allegory still motivate modern readers, however different the results might look. This book is an important contribution to the broader movement of the “theological interpretation of Scripture,” which seeks to correct an over-emphasis on purely historical and critical approaches to the Bible. Instead, this movement focuses on developing the literary associations that show the unity of the biblical texts. O’Keefe and Reno provide an excellent resource to help clarify the patristic roots of this new movement.

Fiction · Jean R · Thriller

The Last Secret of the Temple | by Paul Sussman

The Last Secret of the Temple

The Last Secret of the Temple by Paul Sussman
(Grove Press, 2008, 555 pages)

Several months ago, Barnes and Noble offered The Last Secret of the Temple by Paul Sussman as their Free Friday Nook Book. I downloaded it thinking that I would read it sooner or later, but it was not at the top of my list. It should have been at the top of my list. The Last Secret of the Temple is a Dan Brown-esque fast-paced thriller that keeps the reader’s attention. It is the story of a secret that has been hidden for seventy generations. When a murder occurs, the path to finding the solution to the secret is opened.

The Last Secret of the Temple moves from Egypt to Jerusalem to Germany. The main characters are an Egyptian inspector (Yusef Khalifa), a Palestinian journalist (Layla al-Madani), and an Israeli police detective (Arieh Ben-Roi). In the beginning of the novel, Sussman introduces us to each of the main characters and gives us some insight into their lives and points of view. As the novel proceeds, the lives of the three characters are intertwined to the exciting conclusion.

The Last Secret of the Temple is the first novel that I’ve read by Paul Sussman. It won’t be my last. I’m planning to read his first novel, The Lost Army of Cambyses. It also has good reviews. If you are looking for a thriller or are interested in the Arab-Israeli conflict or are just looking for a well written novel give The Last Secret of the Temple a try.

Fiction · Julia P · Quick Read! · Romance

Blue-Eyed Devil | by Lisa Kleypas

Blue Eyed Devil

Blue-Eyed Devil by Lisa Kleypas
(St. Martin’s Press, 2008, 352 pages)

Haven Travis was born and raised in an upper-class family in Texas. She makes the decision to marry her first “love” and that ends up having disastrous consequences. After leaving her marriage she finds herself suddenly in the presence of Hardy Cates, a man known for his ambition and desire to rise up in the ranks of Texas society. Haven’s first run-in with Hardy was a few years earlier when she accidentally followed him into a wine cellar and had a steamy moment before realizing the man in her arms wasn’t her fiance. Now there’s an obvious attraction between the two of them, but Haven has a number of reasons for why she doesn’t want to get close to him, one being that she doesn’t want him to use her to get at her family. Hardy has a history of dealing with the Travis men and there’s definitely a bit of bad blood between them.

This was a quick read and I enjoyed Klepas’s storytelling style. The characters were fleshed out and the time line worked well… the only thing that bothered me a little was the effort put into explaining certain things in detail (like oil drilling, wine tasting…) that I don’t think deserved that much space in the book. I’d be curious to see some of Kleypas’s other work, Blue-Eyed Devil is book 2 in her Travis Family series.