Tuesday, June 06, 2006

Lots of reviews, little chit-chat

I know most people are bemoaning the rainy weather today, but for me it lifts my spirits. The house is quiet, dark and cool. Everyone in it is content to be just a little bit stiller, talk a little bit less. I don't have to feel guilty about watering my outdoor plants, and if I want to bake cookies with Mia, the kitchen won't heat the house up beyond bearing. I like rainy summer days; they are the perfect excuse to curl up with a book and ignore the outside world. True that's what I do a lot of days, but at least when it's raining I have an excuse.

The Scarlet Cord by Deborah Raney is a stand out Christian novel. Melanie is recovering from the death of her husband Richard slowly by caring for her daughter Jerica when a new man shows up at her church. Joel seems to be everything she's looking for in a husband and father for her child, but as they grow closer, secrets about his past threaten to pull them apart. At first I was disappointed that Raney disclosed Joel's secret so early in the book, but as I continued to read, I could see that the disclosure was about Joel's character. He was such an open, honest person that keeping the secret was tearing him apart. Raney does a good job at pacing the story, and the story moves in unexpected ways. What a reader would normally expect to happen in this type of story (specifically one plot element) never happens, and it's a blessing, because it keeps you reading, wondering when and if it will. I cried through the last twenty-five pages of the book at the depth of Jerica's love for Joel, and when I closed the book, I had a smile on my face and realized there was hope in my heart. In all Christian fiction there is a pivotal point within the story when the main character feels the peace of God descend upon them. The whole story turns on that point: if it's not believable to the reader, the story and the message won't carry any weight. In The Scarlet Cord, that point is not only believable, but it passes on to the reader as well. Amazing book.

Walking Zero by Chet Raymo was a surprisingly enjoyable read. Raymo, Professor emeritus of physics and astronomy at Stonehill College, is a wonderful tour guide through the hills of England as he walks the Prime Meridian and talks about important scientific people and events that took place near it. Reading this book is like attending a science class led by a enthusiastic teacher who wants to share his love of science to his students. From the Library of Alexandria to the Hubble telescope, Raymo covers a terrific amount of knowledge, including some fun bits of trivia, like the origin of the meter. He speaks in layman's terms when he can and uses lots of illustrations to explain astronomy and how our knowledge of the universe has grown and is still growing. One of the things that fascinated me most was reading about men like Newton, Galileo, and Aristarchus. These men looked at the world and wanted to know how and why it worked. Most of us spend our lives just trying to get from one day to the next. These men changed the size of our world through their wisdom. Raymo spends a lot of time trying to encourage the reader to leave their comfort zone of being the center of the universe, and this book will make you want to. He's a little to reverent of Darwin for me, but that's a small problem. Another plus, Raymo keeps it short, only 181 pages!

Bloodline by Fiona Mountain is the second book in the Natasha Blake genealogist mystery series. After an elderly man hires Natasha to investigate the family background of his granddaughter's fiance, he is mysteriously murdered. The man's son hires Natasha to find out why. Mountain does a much better job this time of connecting with the reader. Natasha's connections to her friends and family deepen and develop as well. There are loads of subplots, including Natasha's insomnia which occasionally makes her take actions that had me shaking my head in disbelief. The story takes an unexpected dark turn as Natasha finds out that sometimes finding the answers to questions only creates more questions with answers no one wants to hear. This was a fun read that made me think a bit too. I look forward to the next in the series.

Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis has got to be one of the best Christian books ever written. I read it one chapter a night in devotional style. I don't think I could have read more than that at a time and truly digested the awesome message Lewis packs into each chapter. This book not only defends Christianity, it also explains, as best it can, some of the mysteries of the faith that may put people off. Questions about the trinity, the beginning of the universe, begot, and so many other things, Lewis handles carefully and humbly. He admits that he may not always have it exactly right, but his straightforward manner of speaking is delightful to read and easy to understand. I can't begin to state all of what I learned while reading this book. Read it, buy it for your friends, leave it on the subway or bus for others to find: this is one of those few books that could truly change the world.

It was hard while reading this book not to compare it to Brian McLaren's Secret Message of Jesus because I was reading them at the same time. The biggest difference I found was in the delivery. McLaren comes across a bit smug as though he has determined what Jesus' secret message is and is imparting it to you, you lucky person you. Lewis no-nonsense style is full of humility and much more congenial. McLaren is condescending to you. Lewis is sharing with you.

Little Quack's Hide and Seek by Lauren Thompson and Derek Anderson is another sweet tale in the Little Quack series. I do love children's books, but I don't go out of my way to read them, but the sweet, lilting language of Thompson mixed with the bright, charming illustrations by Anderson have made this book a favorite in our house. It's perfect for reading quietly before bed. It's Anderson's pictures that truly make these books outstanding. They are old-fashioned and fresh all at the same time.

I'm currently reading Still Life with Murder by P.B. Bryan and Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario. Enjoy the rainy day and curl up with a good book! Me, I'm going to be doing laundry!