Learning to Swim by Sara J. Henry
(Crown, 2011, 304 pages)
Troy Chance is looking out over the water as she travels on a Vermont ferry when she witnesses a child being thrown into the water from a passing ferry. Instinct forces her to take the plunge. She rescues the child from this near death experience only to find that he doesn’t speak English. He is so small and innocent looking, and all she wants to do is protect him from whomever his captors were.
Troy was on the ferry by chance, but now she is determined to unravel the mystery surrounding Paul, the child. She works as a freelance writer for sports magazines and some local newspapers in Vermont, but after this incident she has decided to put on her detective hat to solve a Canadian mystery. In time she is able to communicate with the boy in French and he reveals the name of his parents. Her attachment to Paul—and the danger she faces when she tries to unravel the mystery of his abandonment—causes Troy to reexamine herself to decide who she can trust and love. The author tells a riveting tale, full of twists and turns.
The Butterfly Mosque: A Young Woman’s Journey to Love and Islam
by G. Willow Wilson
(Atlantic Monthly Press, 2010, 304 pages)
Willow tells about her life as a young woman just out of college who travels to Egypt and falls in love with its culture and the religion of Islam. The book describes Willow’s development and travels. She was reared in Colorado by atheist parents, then attended Boston University where she enrolled in an Islamic Studies course that helped her explore her spirituality. Immediately after graduating, she travelled to Egypt with one of her friends to teach English and learn more about the culture. She vividly describes her experiences in Cairo, falling in love with her husband Omar, and her travels throughout Egypt and Iran. Willow, short for Gwendolyn, is a good writer and helps the reader learn about the differences and similarities between the American and Islamic cultures.
Calvin on the Christian Life: Glorifying and Enjoying God Forever
by Michael Horton
(Crossway, 2014, 272 pages)
Michael Horton has written some of the most interesting and intellectually sophisticated theology among contemporary Reformed thinkers. In Calvin on the Christian Life Horton turns to the major source of Reformed theology as a guide to spirituality or – in language that would be more familiar to Calvin – piety. One of the major strengths of Horton’s overview of Calvin is his contextualization of the Reformer’s theology. Horton surveys the most recent scholarship on Calvin and his historical context, offering a thoroughly informed perspective on the practical orientation of Calvin’s thought.
I was personally happy to see Horton draw on Marilynne Robinson’s assessment of Calvin. Robinson, in her novels and essays, offers perhaps the most insightful reading of Calvin available today. In this respect, Horton’s reading of Calvin is informed from a literary perspective as well as a historical and theological perspective (although Robinson offers valuable historical and theological as well as literary analysis of Calvin). I also appreciated Horton’s discussion of Calvin’s liturgical and eucharistic theology. While there are moments where Horton seems to drift into using Calvin for the purpose of promoting his own pet issues, for the most part, the book is thoroughly grounded in Calvin’s writings and his historical context.
The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood by Joseph Ratzinger
(Ignatius, 1993, 93 pages)
In The Meaning of Christian Brotherhood, originally published in 1960 by the current Pope Emeritus, Ratzinger traces the notion of “brotherhood” through the Old Testament, the Greco-Roman world, and into modernity. He then turns to examine the New Testament’s conception of brotherhood. After this historical analysis in part one, he articulates a fully fledged Christian understanding of brotherhood in dogmatic and moral terms. In the process, Ratzinger deals with the Church’s relationship to the broader world, and the relationship of Catholics to “separated brethren.”
This book is interesting for any number of reasons. Among them is the fact that it is an early work of an important theological figure. Historically, it also gives a sense of the theological climate leading up to Vatican II. As a participant in that council, Ratzinger’s engagement with modern biblical exegesis, positive interaction with Protestants like Karl Barth, and concern for ecumenical issues anticipate some of the council’s major themes. I found the comparison of early Christianity with Roman mystery religions particularly interesting. Through this comparison, Ratzinger draws out some of the ways that early Christianity promoted equality for women and facilitated reconciliation amongst the various racial and ethnic divisions of the ancient world.
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson
(Crown Publishers, 2015, 430 pages)
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson is a well-researched account of the final voyage and sinking of the passenger liner, the Lusitania. The Lusitania set out on the New York to Liverpool voyage on May 1, 1915. World War I was underway, but the United States was not yet at war. Although the ship counted Americans among its almost 2,000 passengers, the Germans issued a warning that the waters around Britain were a war zone and ships would be targeted. As the Lusitania was approaching its final destination on May 7, 1915, it was torpedoed by a submarine and sank in about 20 minutes.
Larson did a masterful job of intertwining the various parties involved in the voyage of the Lusitania. He introduces us to the Captain of the Lusitania, William Thomas Turner, along with several passengers and crew members. Larson also highlights Walther Schweiger, the commander of U-20 which was the submarine that sank the Lusitania. President Woodrow Wilson’s life and thoughts on the war are highlighted along with a behind-the-scenes look at what was going on in the British Admiralty’s Room 40.
Dead Wake was written to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Lusitania. While the deaths of over 1,000 people is sad, the story is interesting. If there had been a little more fog or the Lusitania’s sailing had not been delayed by a couple hours, the story of the Lusitania could have been much different.
American Gods by Neil Gaiman
(W. Morrow, 2001, 465 pages)
I enjoy this type of fantasy genre so I really liked this book by Neil Gaiman. It was a great road trip story mixed with a unique look at a melting pot American mythology.
“Shadow is a man with a past. But now he wants nothing more than to live a quiet life with his wife and stay out of trouble. Until he learns that she’s been killed in a terrible accident.
Flying home for the funeral, as a violent storm rocks the plane, a strange man in the seat next to him introduces himself. The man calls himself Mr. Wednesday, and he knows more about Shadow than is possible.
He warns Shadow that a far bigger storm is coming. And from that moment on, nothing will ever be the same...”
An Officer and a Spy by Robert Harris
(Knopf, 2014, 429 pages)
Based on the true story of the Dreyfus affair and told from the point of view of Georges Picquart, Harris gives a fictionalized account of the French scandal. I loved this book, I didn’t know anything about the Dreyfus affair and I purposely didn’t look it up before starting the book. Because of this, it was a real page turner for me and felt like a political thriller. The subject matter still seems relevant today. I highly recommend it.
“Alfred Dreyfus has been convicted of treason, sentenced to life imprisonment on a far-off island, and publicly stripped of his rank. Among the witnesses to his humiliation is Georges Picquart, an ambitious military officer who believes in Dreyfus’s guilt as staunchly as any member of the public. But when he is promoted to head of the French counter-espionage agency, Picquart finds evidence that a spy still remains at large in the military—indicating that Dreyfus is innocent. As evidence of the most malignant deceit mounts and spirals inexorably toward the uppermost levels of government, Picquart is compelled to question not only the case against Dreyfus but also his most deeply held beliefs about his country, and about himself.”