Andrew S · Celebrities · Humor · Memoir · Non-Fiction

More Fool Me | by Stephen Fry

More Fool Me

More Fool Me by Stephen Fry
(The Overlook Press, 2014, 400 pages)

In his previous memoir, The Fry Chronicles, Stephen Fry capped off his account of his days at Cambridge University and his early television career by confessing that the next stage of his career was largely fueled by cocaine. In More Fool Me, he details that frenetic period (the late eighties through the early nineties) as a comedian, actor, writer, and public personality, including his dependency on “Bolivian marching powder” as he calls it.

Fry’s creative and eloquent use of language is, as always, hilarious. In this book, as well as his previous two memoirs, Fry’s humor is put in the service of some serious self-examination. I loved this description toward the end of the book about the purpose of memoir:

“Memoir, the act of literary remembering, for me seems to take the form of a kind of dialogue with my former self. What are you doing? Why are you behaving like that? Who do you think you are fooling? Stop it! Don’t do that that! Look out!” (376).

Though the book is highly entertaining, witty, and very funny, it doesn’t quite live up to the standard of the earlier installments. The final 150 pages or so are made up of Fry’s diary entries from August through November of 1993. There is certainly some interesting stuff there, including stories about friends and celebrities, and the entries are very cleverly annotated for clarification and correction. That said, the details of dinners attended, golf games, daily writing regimes, and other mundane activities can get a bit tedious. The diary does give an often interesting snapshot of the phase of life that Fry discusses earlier in the book, but a short selection of passages would have been much more engaging.

I was also a bit disappointed that Fry didn’t include more stories and reflections about the sketch show A Bit of Fry and Laurie, which he was writing and filming at the time. The diary includes some discussion of the show and his close relationship with the (also hilarious) actor Hugh Laurie, but it focuses mostly on writing schedules and production issues. On the whole, however, a very enjoyable book from a smart, funny, and compassionate man.

Fiction · Historical Fiction · Julia P · Page-Turner · Young Adult

Between Shades of Gray | by Ruta Sepetys

Between Shades of Gray

Between Shades of Gray by Ruta Sepetys
(Speak, 2012, 352 pages)

Ruta Sepetys does an incredible job captivating the reader with this story. Between Shades of Gray talks about an aspect of World War II that is often overlooked: when the people of Lithuania were captured and sent to work camps in Siberia. Our protagonist, Lina, is a 15 year old artist who is deported with her mother and younger brother, Jonas. She does what she can to keep her spirits up and to stay close to her family. She also tries to get messages to her father (who was taken elsewhere) through coded drawings and letters passed along to other prisoners.

I was so engrossed in this book! Even though it’s marketed as a YA title it definitely has wide appeal. I definitely recommend it – but not if you’re looking for something lighthearted…

Fiction · In the Library · Jean R

Rogue Lawyer | by John Grisham

Rogue Lawyer by John Grisham
(Doubleday, 2015, 344 pages)

Rogue Lawyer is the latest bestselling novel by John Grisham. Rogue Lawyer features tough-as-nails lawyer, Sebastian Rudd, who believes that even the guilty are entitled to a lawyer. Rudd’s office was destroyed so he and his assistant, Partner, work out of Rudd’s high tech van. Rudd lives on the 25th floor of his apartment building because he thinks it is safer than the lower floors. Rudd has reason to fear for his safety. He defends a crime boss, a murderer, and a drug addict among many other clients. Rudd also has to deal with a nasty ex-wife and some members of the police force who don’t like his clients.

In some ways, Rogue Lawyer seems like a collection of short stories. Rudd finishes one case and moves on to the next case. While all the cases are interesting, the only thing that ties them together is Rudd. I enjoyed Rogue Lawyer much more than Grisham’s previous novel, Gray Mountain, but not nearly as much as I enjoyed a slightly earlier novel, Sycamore Row.

Rogue Lawyer is worth reading. At some points, this novel is hard to put down. I still haven’t decided if I like Rudd or not. Maybe Grisham will bring this character back again and I’ll have another chance to decide.

Andrew S · Fantasy · Fiction · Humor

The Book of Three | by Lloyd Alexander

The Book of Three (The Chronicles of Prydain #1)

The Book of Three by Lloyd Alexander
(Bantam, 1990, 224 pages)

The Prydain Chronicles was one of my favorite series as a kid. I’ve wanted to reread them for years, so now I’m reading them to my daughter. The stories are based on Welsh mythology and include lots of interesting and beautiful Welsh names. Prydain itself is the medieval Welsh term for Britain, and the novels have a medieval feel, complete with kings, sorcerers, dark lords.

The story centers on Taran, an Assistant Pig-Keeper who dreams of becoming a hero. He finds adventure when he is recruited by Gwydion, the High Prince of Prydain, to help raise an army to defeat the Horned King, the terrifying warlord of the Death-Lord Arawn. In the process, Taran is joined by companions who help him accomplish his task, including the hot-headed princess Eilonwy, the bard Fflewddur Fflam (whose harp strings break every time he exaggerates a story), and the lovable if slightly pathetic beast Gurgi (he’s something between a man and monkey).

These stories are excellent adaptations of mythic material, and Alexander clearly worked from substantial research. But the really unique thing about this series is the humor. A bard who is never allowed to embellish a tale makes for some very funny moments, as do the constant quarrels between Taran and Eilonwy. I remember thinking the books were very funny when I was younger, and my daughter finds Gurgi especially hilarious.

Fiction · Suspense · Theresa F · Thriller

Pretty Girls | by Karin Slaughter

Pretty Girls

Pretty Girls by Karin Slaughter
(William Morrow, 2015, 416 pages)

Karin Slaughter has a two popular series (Will Trent and Grant County) but this is one of her stand-alone novels.  If you enjoy thrillers, it really delivered with lots of suspense and a great plot.  My only criticism was the ending, it felt like it was tacked on and tied up a little too easily.

“More than twenty years ago, Claire and Lydia’s teenaged sister Julia vanished without a trace. The two women have not spoken since, and now their lives could not be more different. Claire is the glamorous trophy wife of an Atlanta millionaire. Lydia, a single mother, dates an ex-con and struggles to make ends meet. But neither has recovered from the horror and heartbreak of their shared loss—a devastating wound that’s cruelly ripped open when Claire’s husband is killed.”

Fiction · Theresa F

Fates and Furies | by Lauren Groff

Fates and Furies

Fates and Furies by Lauren Groff
(Riverhead Books, 2015, 400 pages)

Fates and Furies was so much better than I expected!  It has received such critical acclaim, I wanted to read it but was not thrilled about what I thought was the subject matter, the story of a marriage told from both points of view.  While this is technically correct the marriage is not a typical one (one reviewer calls it “fable-like”) and the people involved in that marriage have extraordinary stories to tell.  This was one of the best books I read last year.

Fates and Furies is a literary masterpiece that defies expectation. A dazzling examination of a marriage, it is also a portrait of creative partnership written by one of the best writers of her generation.

Every story has two sides. Every relationship has two perspectives. And sometimes, it turns out, the key to a great marriage is not its truths but its secrets. At the core of this rich, expansive, layered novel, Lauren Groff presents the story of one such marriage over the course of twenty-four years.” –

Audiobook · Fiction · Mystery · Theresa F

The Silkworm | by Robert Galbraith

The Silkworm

The Silkworm by Robert Galbraith
(Mulholland Books, 2014, 464 pages)

This is the second book in Robert Galbraith’s (J.K. Rowling) Cormoran Strike series. I listened to both as audio books and love the reader, Robert Glenister. He gives the voice of Cormoran such a rough edge that brings a lot to the character. I think I liked this one even more that Cuckoo’s Calling and I am looking forward to the third one that just came out, Career of Evil. There is something about the pacing of the books that makes them feel very familiar but new at the same time and the more you read about Cormoran the more you like him.

“When novelist Owen Quine goes missing, his wife calls in private detective Cormoran Strike. At first, Mrs. Quine just thinks her husband has gone off by himself for a few days–as he has done before–and she wants Strike to find him and bring him home.

But as Strike investigates, it becomes clear that there is more to Quine’s disappearance than his wife realizes. The novelist has just completed a manuscript featuring poisonous pen-portraits of almost everyone he knows. If the novel were to be published, it would ruin lives–meaning that there are a lot of people who might want him silenced.” –

You can also read reviews of this book from Julia, Andrew, Jean, and Sadie.

Fiction · Julia P

Avenue of Mysteries | by John Irving

Avenue of Mysteries by John Irving
(Simon & Schuster, 2015, 460 pages)

It’s hard to offer a plot summary of a John Irving novel because there are always so many different elements to it that you really can’t do the book justice. This is certainly the case for Avenue of Mysteries. As a devoted Irving fan there’s no question that I will read anything he publishes, but I didn’t think the jacket copy for his new title did the best job describing the book. I don’t think I’ll do much better, so here’s what Goodreads has to say:

As we grow older—most of all, in what we remember and what we dream—we live in the past. Sometimes, we live more vividly in the past than in the present.

As an older man, Juan Diego will take a trip to the Philippines, but what travels with him are his dreams and memories; he is most alive in his childhood and early adolescence in Mexico. “An aura of fate had marked him,” John Irving writes, of Juan Diego. “The chain of events, the links in our lives—what leads us where we’re going, the courses we follow to our ends, what we don’t see coming, and what we do—all this can be mysterious, or simply unseen, or even obvious.”

Avenue of Mysteries is the story of what happens to Juan Diego in the Philippines, where what happened to him in the past—in Mexico—collides with his future.

This is a classic Irving novel and it makes me want to re-read some of his older work. If you’re new to John Irving, I’d recommend looking at his backlist and starting there (specifically with A Prayer for Owen Meany).

Andrew S · Biography · Literature · Non-Fiction

Charles Williams: The Third Inkling | by Grevel Lindop

Charles Williams: The Third Inkling

Charles Williams: The Third Inkling by Grevel Lindop
(Oxford University Press, 2015, 464 pages)

I’ve been waiting a long time for this book to come out, and it did not disappoint. Charles Williams is the least famous of the three major members of the Oxford literary group known as the Inklings – the other two being C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien. This is the first full biography that has been written about Williams. In many ways he was the strangest member of the Inklings, both in terms of his writing and his personal life. This book about an important twentieth century poet is definitely worth checking out. I’ll be writing more about it in a review that should appear in Literature and Theology.

Andrew S · Essays · Non-Fiction · Religion

He Came Down From Heaven, and The Forgiveness of Sins | by Charles Williams

He Came Down from Heaven and the Forgiveness of Sins

He Came Down From Heaven, and The Forgiveness of Sins
by Charles Williams
(Faber & Faber, 1956, 200 pages)

This volume combines two shorter works of theology written by Charles Williams, the first published in 1938 and the second in 1942. While he is best known as an author of novels that have been characterized as “supernatural thrillers” and his critical reputation has been built on his two volumes of Arthurian poetry, Williams was also a profound and imaginative theologian.

The two essays that make up this book present some very original ideas about the nature of the Fall, the nature and practical application of atonement, and the radical requirements of forgiveness. I read He Came Down From Heaven in a separate edition a few years ago. I was struck at the time by Williams’ articulation of the practice of “substituted love” – the idea that one person’s suffering or fear can be borne and experienced by another in their place. Williams sees this practice as a natural application of the Christian doctrine of atonement, though it could be argued that it has more to do with his involvement in magical and occult rituals.

This was the first time I had read The Forgiveness of Sins. The first chapter, dealing with the theme of forgiveness in Shakespeare, shows that even in dealing with theological issues, Williams is very much a literary critic. He highlights issues like the difficulty of receiving forgiveness as well as offering it. The final chapter, “The Present Time,” places the work firmly within its historical context. Writing in the early years of the Second World War, he discusses the possibility of forgiving the Germans. His response is surprising, elevating the notion of forgiveness from the personal to the corporate and national. Williams’ prose is not easy to read, but there are moments of clarity and precision that make the effort worthwhile.