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).
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.
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.
Tricky Twenty-Two by Janet Evanovich
(Bantam Books, 2015, 292 pages)
Tricky Twenty-Two is the newest Stephanie Plum novel by Janet Evanovich. In this novel, Stephanie Plum, bounty hunter, is trying to track down Ken “Gobbles” Globovic, a member of the worst fraternity on the fictional Kiltman College campus. Gobbles is accused of attacking a faculty member. Stephanie is also involved in finding the murderer of Doug Linken who was gunned down in his own yard.
While I continue to read the Stephanie Plum novels, some are better than others. In Tricky Twenty-Two, some of the facts don’t agree with information that we were given in Evanovich’s earlier Plum novels. The love triangle with Morelli, Ranger, and Stephanie is getting a little bit old. But Lulu, Stephanie’s sidekick, is still very funny. And in this novel, Stephanie’s mother shows us a new, more interesting side of herself.
I will continue to read the Stephanie Plum novels for a while longer because I do still find myself chuckling at some of the antics. Plus, the plot of Tricky Twenty-Two revolved around bioterrorism which was interesting. I just hope in the next novel, Stephanie is a little easier on her cars.
Checked Out by Elaine Viets
(NAL, 2015, 288 pages)
Checked Out is the 14th book in the Dead-End Job series by Elaine Viets. In this book, private investigators, Helen Hawthorne and her husband, Phil Sagemont, have two cases to solve. Helen is volunteering in a library to try to find a missing million dollar small watercolor by John Singer Sargent. It was placed in one of the thousands of books that were donated to the library. Phil is looking for a valuable necklace and family golf cart which went missing after a birthday party. For good measure, there is also a murder to solve.
Elaine Viets always does her research on the dead-end jobs in her books. She did volunteer in a library to learn how libraries work and some of the library terms. According to her Amazon page, Viets will be starting a new, dark series featuring Angela Richman, death investigator. The first novel in the new series, Brain Storm, will be out late Summer 2016.
I enjoy the Dead-End Job series. Since I’m a librarian, Checked Out, was a fun read for me. If you’re looking for a fun, quick read, you might want to give Checked Out a try.
We Live in Water: Stories by Jess Walter
(Harper Perennial, 2013, 177 pages)
With a little one at home it’s harder than it used to be for me to squeeze in some quality reading time. Walter’s We Live in Water had been a book I’d wanted to read since we added it to the collection a few years ago. When I passed it on the shelf recently I decided to grab it. Short stories are easy to fit in when you don’t have a lot of time and because these stories aren’t part of a connected narrative (at least not in this case) I didn’t feel like I needed to refresh where I was in the book after putting it down for a bit.
We Live in Water was an entertaining collection and while a lot of the stories were pretty melancholic, there was also some humor interspersed throughout the book. A few of my favorite stories were “Virgo,” “Don’t Eat Cat” (zombies!), “The New Frontier” and “Statistical Abstract for My Hometown, Spokane, Washington.”
This is Walter’s first short story collection and it actually makes me want to revisit Beautiful Ruins, a popular book of his that I listened to as an audiobook and wasn’t really wowed by. Now I’m curious if that was just because of the narrator… Anyway, I also like Walter as a person based on listening to his podcast with Sherman Alexie, “A Tiny Sense of Accomplishment.”
I’d definitely recommend this if you’re looking for some short stories or just want to squeeze in another book for your yearly count (a lot of New Year’s Resolutions seem to revolve around reading more 😉 ). The stories read quickly, so enjoy!
Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith
(Mulholland Books, 2015, 489 pages)
Career of Evil is the third book in the Cormoran Strike series by Robert Galbraith (aka J.K. Rowling). I’ve really enjoyed the series so far, and this is certainly the darkest and most thrilling of the three. Strike and his assistant, Robin, are trying to find the culprit who sent Robin a woman’s leg at the office. Strike has an idea of who it could be, but it’s slightly disconcerting that there could be more than one person he can think of that might want to have a leg sent to his office.
As Strike and Robin work to solve the mystery behind the limb’s arrival we also get more information about Robin’s backstory.
This was definitely an engaging read that kept me guessing. I actually gasped out loud a couple times as I neared the end of the book. I’m looking forward to book 4!
If you haven’t had a chance to pick up this series, I’d certainly recommend it.