Andrew S · History · Non-Fiction · Religion

The Sacramental Church | by John F. Nash

The Sacramental Church

The Sacramental Church: The Story of Anglo-Catholicism
by John F. Nash
(Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2011, 306 pages)

The Anglican tradition is known for being a via media, a “middle way” between certain extremes of Protestantism and Catholicism. This has made for an increasingly diverse communion of churches and theological identities. One of the most important streams of Anglican identity is that of Anglo-Catholicism. Anglo-Catholics understand the Church of England and the other churches in the Anglican Communion as being manifestations of the Catholic Church in and extending from the British Isles. Anglo-Catholicism is distinguished by its recovery of a rich liturgical and aesthetic tradition. Modern day Anglicanism, even Anglicans who do not identify as Anglo-Catholic, are heavily indebted to this nineteenth-century movement that emphasized apostolic Christianity and ritual worship.

Nash’s account focuses on the development of Anglo-Catholicism in England, Scotland, and North America, though its reach extends across the globe. Not only does he give a detailed account of Anglo-Catholicism from its origins in the Oxford movement, which began the 1830’s, but he offers a substantial account of the English Church extending back to its pre-Reformation roots. This five chapter “pre-history,” as it were, of Anglo-Catholicism helps to contextualize the various Anglican traditions that developed after the Reformation. Nash spends two chapters on the Catholic Revival of the 1800’s, which saw some in the Church of England attempting to recover its apostolic roots in doctrine and worship. The final chapter looks at contemporary Anglo-Catholicism.

This is far from a critical history of the Anglo-Catholicism, and Nash is upfront about his commitment to the tradition. However, Nash has done a very thorough job of detailing its history and providing context to better understand the current trends within Anglicanism. Though he is an able historian, Nash is definitely not a theologian, and this weakness shows up when he attempts to contrast Anglo-Catholicism with other Christian traditions. Despite this weakness, this is a fascinating book. It should be particularly interesting for those interested in the history of Christianity in England.

Andrew S · Literature · Non-Fiction · Religion

The Ideal of Kingship in the Writings of Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien | by Christopher Scarf

The Ideal of Kingship

The Ideal of Kingship in the Writings of Charles Williams, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien: Divine Kingship is Revealed in Middle-Earth
by Christopher Scarf
(James Clarke & Co., 2013, 202 pages)

This book on the three primary “Inklings” is an interesting look at how fiction can embody particular political theories. Both Lewis and Tolkien created kings to rule their created worlds, and Williams wrote novels and poems that envisioned worlds governed by sovereigns and hierarchies. All three authors wrote works that incorporated the legends of King Arthur. Christopher Scarf examines these aspects of the Inklings’ legacy through detailed exposition of their fiction and the social/political context in which their stories were written. He also looks at the theological implications that lie behind their notions of kingship.

Scarf demonstrates a command of the substantial output of the three authors he deals with, and he does so in order to draw connections within their work on an important and little investigated theme. Anyone familiar with these authors will know that they are inspired by medieval sources. However, their works do much more than simply romanticize a by-gone world of kings and queens. Scarf shows that through their depictions of kings, ideal and otherwise, these authors reflect on the ideal society, the nature of God, and the place of myth in human culture. This is an important and creative addition to Inklings scholarship.

Andrew S · History · Non-Fiction · Religion

On Being Presbyterian | by Sean Michael Lucas

On Being Presbyterian

On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories
by Sean Michael Lucas
(P&R Publishing, 2006, 271 pages)

This book gives an overview of the doctrine (beliefs), piety and ecclesiology (practices), and history (stories) of Presbyterianism. Sean Lucas is a church historian and Presbyterian pastor writing to educate those new to the Presbyterian tradition and those training for various offices in Presbyterian churches. By breaking the book down into the three sections of beliefs, practices, and stories, Lucas attempts to give a holistic orientation to Presbyterian identity.

The first section on “beliefs” deals with distinctively Reformed or Presbyterian understandings of doctrines like the sovereignty of God, soteriology, ecclesiology, and the sacraments. The second section on “practices” elucidates a Presbyterian approach to prayer, worship, and church government. These sections are clearly written and helpfully contextualize Presbyterians within the broader Christian tradition. However, it is the third section on “stories” where the book’s real value lies. Here Lucas offers a short history of American Presbyterianism. He begins with a brief look at the origins of Presbyterianism with John Calvin in Geneva and John Knox in Scotland. The rest of the section traces Presbyterianism’s development in the United State, from its formation in the early colonies, to the “golden era” of Princeton Seminary in the nineteenth-century, to various separations and reunifications that characterized Presbyterian denominations from the nineteenth to the twenty first-century.

The historical section delves into its subject at a significantly greater depth than the preceding two sections. Lucas sends up a storm of names, dates, and denominational splinters in order to give a sense of the integral role that Presbyterianism has played in American history. The historical story lines that Lucas develops serve most directly to illuminate the formation of his own denomination, the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA). While the history is thorough, relative to its length, some will no doubt see Lucas’ focus on the roots of the PCA as something of a limitation. In addition, the disparity between the broader focus of the first two sections and the more specialized character of historical section means that the intended readership might not be as clear-cut as intended. Still, this book is very valuable, and it should be helpful to anyone with an interest in the history of religion in America.

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

Love Life | by Rob Lowe

Love Life

Love Life by Rob Lowe
(Simon & Schuster, 2014, 272 pages)

I listened to the new audiobook, Love Life, by actor Rob Lowe. Love Life follows Lowe’s first autobiography, Stories I Only Tell My Friends, published in 2011. In his new book, Lowe recounts stories of relationships with his grandfather, manager, fellow actors, and, most importantly, his wife and two sons. He tells a hilarious story of dressing up in a Bigfoot costume on a family camping trip to give his sons a real-life “Bigfoot sighting,” only to be attacked by his oldest son. Later he describes with great emotion the same son leaving for college for the first time.

He talks about interactions with celebrities including Madonna, Warren Beatty, Hugh Hefner, and President Bill Clinton (with a great impression of the former president). He often doesn’t disclose the identity of the celebrity about whom he is talking, but if you’ve followed his life and films very much, you may infer who it is.

He also describes work on current television shows and films, including Killing Kennedy and Behind the Candelabra, for which he received nominations for a Screen Actors Guild Award and Golden Globe, respectively. He worked tirelessly before filming Killing Kennedy to learn the president’s voice, walk, and mannerisms. He invented the idea for the skin-pulling, cat-like look of Liberace’s outrageous plastic surgeon Dr. Jack Startz in Behind the Candelabra. Lowe also talks about the “business” of show business, explaining the difference between an agent and a manager (i.e., an agent always gets 10 percent; a manager gets whatever you can give him—usually much more), and revealing behind-the-scenes movie-making and acting tricks.

Although the organization of the stories seemed random, I enjoyed not knowing what was coming next. Lowe’s wit, intelligence, and vulnerability was refreshing, and I enjoyed listening to him read his own stories.

Angie BK · Fiction · In the Library · Quick Read!

Secrets from the Past | by Barbara Taylor Bradford

Secrets from the past

Secrets from the Past by Barbara Taylor Bradford
(St. Martin’s Press, 2013, 368 pages)

Readers of Secrets from the Past get a glimpse of how war can change people, specifically those who are covering the frontlines for the news. Serena Stone is a “retired” and renowned photojournalist who followed in her father’s footsteps by going into war zones. Her decision to leave war behind is because of her father’s death—she missed being there when he passed because she was stuck in Afghanistan. She also ended things with her significant other, another war correspondent, Zachary, because she blames him as one of the reasons they didn’t get out of Afghanistan in time. However, they are reunited as she is informed that he is suffering from PTSD after all of the war coverage and she tries to help.

This book seems to have two different stories happening: 1) Zachary’s recovery and 2) a family secret that Serena stumbles on while going through her father’s belongings. I found this book to be a quick read and would recommend it for anyone who wants a story about family secrets and love loss and gain.

Angie BK · Audiobook · Fantasy · Fiction · Mystery · Romance

The Eyre Affair | by Jasper Fforde

The Eyre Affair

The Eyre Affair by Jasper Fforde
(Penguin, 2003, 374 pages)

Thursday Next is a literary detective in London who seems to have a penchant for trouble. Her basic job is to find missing/stolen manuscripts. While this is all fun for a day’s work, she finds herself working back in Swindon, her hometown, after a close encounter with Acheron Hades, a wanted criminal. While back in Swindon things keep happening such as running into her ex-fiancé, Landen Parke-Laine, and, you know, killing a vampire. It seems that Thursday has her hands full from day-to-day until her aunt and uncle go missing, and then characters from books go missing such as Jane Eyre. Thursday is convinced that Acheron Hades is involved, and she is determined to stop him even if that means jumping into the novel Jane Eyre and becoming good friends with Mr. Edward Rochester.

This novel is fun to listen to because it is a mix of fantasy, classic literature, and mystery. Fforde sets up an excellent first novel for the Thursday Next series in that the backstories and the fantasy England he has created are extremely intricate. I would recommend this book to anyone who likes a good mystery with some fantasy and a bit of romance in between.

Audiobook · Fantasy · Fiction · Julia P

The Bone Season | by Samantha Shannon

The Bone Season

The Bone Season by Samantha Shannon
(Bloomsbury, 2013, 466 pages)

This book received good book buzz which is what compelled me to pick up the audiobook when I saw it on the shelf. Set primarily in London in 2059 the world has undergone a number of changes. Accordingly a security force known as Scion has been put into place, controlling a number of the world’s major cities. Apparently what society needs protection from are people who are clairvoyant. These people are deemed unnaturals and cities are doing what they can to flush them out.

19-year-old Paige Mahoney is one of these unnaturals. Specifically she’s a dreamwalker – a rare type of clairvoyant. She survives by working in a small group of other clairvoyants known as the Seven Seals. They are doing what they can to stay alive while also battling other groups like them spread around the city. Paige is caught when she makes the mistake of killing someone with her powers. She is captured and shipped to Oxford, a city that has been turned into a sort of prison for clairvoyants. They are brought here and expected to serve a supernatural group of beings known as the Rephaim.

The Rephaim feed off the power of clairvoyants and each “prisoner” is assigned a keeper. Paige is chosen by Warden as his only human. She knows she needs to find a way to escape, but his intentions with her seem muddled. He treats her differently than the other Rephaim treat their humans. We stick with Paige as she tries to figure out her knew world and her place in it. All she wants is to get back to London where, even though she is an outcast, she is home with those she loves.

This fantasy/science fiction/dystopian read was interesting but I didn’t find myself particularly invested in the story. If you are looking for a science fiction/fantasy read that isn’t super “out there” or overly graphic you could give this book a try. It has already been optioned for a movie and the series is meant to be a total of 7 books. The book was also picked as a selection for the Today Show Book Club. While I won’t be continuing with the series I’m glad I gave the series a try.

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

Punk Rock and Trailer Parks | by Derf

Punk Rock and Trailer Parks

Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by Derf
(SLG Publishing, 2008, 144 pages)

Punk Rock and Trailer Parks by Derf is a graphic novel set in Akron, Ohio in 1980. It’s the story of a group of high school boys led by Otto, the one guy with a car with a backseat floor that flies up upon acceleration. Despite being bullied in his early years, Otto has gained a healthy sense of self-esteem and refers to himself as The Baron. The story follows the boys’ obsessions with girls and music, with much of the story set in a club called The Bank, exploring the beginning of the punk rock scene. Otto ends up getting a job at The Bank and chauffeuring around soon-to-be-famous punk rock artists, including The Ramones, and eventually singing lead in a band, as his popularity soars. This quick read kept my interest, but it’s probably not for everyone, unless you don’t mind teenage boys’ obsession with sex mixed with some punk rock history.

Biography · Fiction · History · Julia P · Quick Read!

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb | by Melanie Benjamin

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb

The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb by Melanie Benjamin
(Delacorte Press, 2011, 424 pages)

I enjoyed this fictionalized account of Mrs. Tom Thumb, otherwise known as Lavinia (“Vinnie”) Warren Stratton. Born in the mid-19th century, Vinnie was most definitely viewed as “special.” She reached her full height of 32 inches around the age of 2 and would be understood today as having proportional dwarfism. At a little over two feet tall Vinnie’s view of the world was obviously different from the rest of her family – excluding her younger sister, Minnie, who was born with the same condition (though she was smaller than Vinnie). Vinnie didn’t want her size to limit her, however, and so when she was offered the chance to tour the United States as a unique act she jumped at the chance. As she traveled with a man known as Colonel Wood and his steamboat of other acts Vinnie was portrayed as a curiosity. She quickly made the decision to humanize herself by refusing to simply stand and be gawked at; she was a performer and she awed her audiences. Colonel Wood was not the best man to be working for and it was “fortunate” for Vinnie that the beginnings of the Civil War brought an end to her time with him.

Vinnie’s return home made it clear to her that she would never be content living out the rest of her days with her parents and sister. She reached out to P. T. Barnum and became one of his top performers. The two formed a fast bond and were able to talk to one another in a way no one else could. It was under his tutelage that Vinnie was introduced to General Tom Thumb (one of Barnum’s first attractions) and the two soon wed. The rest of the novel recounts Vinnie’s life as she and her husband were admired and traveled the globe. We also get a look at the struggles Vinnie and her husband faced as they tried to navigate a world that wasn’t built with them in mind and as the changing nation found General and Mrs. Tom Thumb to be less exciting than they once were.

The amount of research Benjamin did for this book is evident as you read. I was impressed with the detail and the cultural references sprinkled throughout the text. I also really appreciated the detailed Afterword that explains how the author decided to write this fictionalized account of Vinnie’s life and where she gathered much of her information. I was able to read the book quickly and I was definitely engaged in the story. It had me eager to learn more about Vinnie and P. T. Barnum. The time in which they thrived was a unique time in American history when the nation was coming into its own while in the midst of tragic events like the Trail of Tears and the Civil War. If you like historical fiction, fictionalized biographies, have an interest in 19th/20th century performers, and/or just appreciate a good story, I think you’ll enjoy The Autobiography of Mrs. Tom Thumb.

Audiobook · Fiction · Horror · Kelly M · Short Stories

Dolan’s Cadillac: And Other Stories | by Stephen King

Dolan's Cadillac

Dolan’s Cadillac: And Other Stories by Stephen King
read by Whoopi Goldberg, Tim Curry, Yeardley Smith, & Rob Lowe
( Simon & Schuster, 2009, 141 pages)

I listened to the audiobook, Dolan’s Cadillac: And Other Stories, by Stephen King. The four stories were read by Whoopi Goldberg, Tim Curry, Yeardley Smith, and Rob Lowe, respectively. I had never read or listened to any Stephen King books, so the twist I was expecting at the end of each story never came. These are no Twilight Zone episodes; they’re just pure horror. Horror doesn’t typically scare me, so I found myself laughing at the absurdity of some things, like a storm of toads falling from the sky. Of course these were scary toads, which could break through glass, latch onto you, and, upon getting squished, would bleed black blood. I enjoyed 3 of the 4 stories, including the storming toads (Rainy Season), a teacher whose students drive her to insanity (Suffer the Little Children), and the final story, Dolan’s Cadillac, in which a husband seeks revenge for his wife’s untimely death. The story I had difficulty following, Crouch End, was set in London, and involved a wife seeking help from the police to find her missing husband.

I enjoyed the actors who read the stories, particularly Yeardley Smith, otherwise known as the voice of Lisa Simpson on The Simpsons television show. There was something eerie about hearing Lisa Simpson read a horror story, particularly one about killer toads. I picked up the book in the first place to hear Rob Lowe read Dolan’s Cadillac, and he didn’t disappoint. So… skip the second story, but, for a good scare (or laugh, depending on your personality), get this one for the other three.