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A charming, if rather paint-by-numbers, lesbian romance story between a Palestinian Christian and a British Muslim. The plot was terribly predictable, so there was very little suspense to it, and the characters were rather puppet-like - one felt they'd been pushed into the appropriate positions and instructed, 'now, advance the plot'. The author is a screenwriter by trade, and it shows: in the formulaic plot, the cardboard characters, the frequent point-of-view changes - and the absolutely luscious scene-setting. Seriously, I would like to see the film of this, because it sounds gorgeous: Jordan, London, Oxford, all evoked with a masterly touch; and I shouldn't be surprised if the film works a lot better than the book in putting the three dimensions across. Frustrating in parts - I would have loved it to have gone a little deeper into the clash of culture - but a nice enough read on the whole.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10402240
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I disliked this book. It presented the way that I experience and think of the Divine in such an irritating manner that it half convinced me that my hard-won understanding of God is New Age woowoo. Some of this book was New Age woowoo. Some of it was potentially very useful, but I am not sure that I care to wade back in to sort out the wheat from the chaff. The author is addicted to exclamation marks and gender essentialism, and, while projecting a (probably genuine) aura of love and tolerance, conveys the idea that anyone who disagrees with him is unenlightened.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8017707/
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A rather transparent attempt at being the Great Anglican Novel of the Twenty-First Century (Trollope, Howatch, Arditti...?) What did I just say about the present tense? Breathy and irritating, that was it - and also there were too many characters, and the good ones were good, and the bad ones were bad, and it was painfully earnest in places - and I still devoured it.

It takes the form of a triptych, the centre being a modern Passion narrative, and either side being a running commentary on the services and other events of a London Holy Week. I rather think that Arditti is trying to be a bit too clever, and that he pushes his symbolism and his Message at the expense of his characters. I did find it interesting, in that it deals with one of my perennial hobby-horses, namely, being LGBT and Christian - but really, Rev. did it better.

I know that I will want to re-read this in time, but it's not one of the real greats.
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Young man with plague comes to abbey for medical assistance, gets bashed on head. A medieval murder mystery in the Cadfael tradition, though not nearly so convincing as Peters' work. I never quite felt that Clare had really got into the medieval mindset. There was nothing that I could put my finger on as being factually wrong (though I have serious doubts about monks and nuns living practically together under the rule of an Abbess, but I'm willing to be corrected on that), and it seems excessively nitpicky to criticise the modern use of modern words ('preview'; 'coma', etc) when nobody would be speaking English as we know it anyway, but it just didn't gel.

Another, more personal (by which I mean that other readers may not care at all), issue was the mixing of genres, or, rather, the way that the supernatural is unquestioningly accepted by the omniscient narrator. This was something I always thought Peters did rather well, finding room for faith and doubt to dwell together, without denigrating the one or demolishing the other. While the supernatural plot doesn't have much to do with the mystery, it sat ill with me.

The mystery itself was reasonably interesting, though the reader was never allowed to do any work.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/6860565
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I have heard a lot about this author; she seems to divide opinions. I came away from this book without much of one - I didn't hate this, but it wasn't exactly gripping. The basic concept - a big-city attorney defending an Amish girl accused of infanticide - could have been very interesting, but Picoult never seemed to develop any of the themes as much as they deserved. There was some sloppy writing in there - plot elements introduced a little too early and then presented as a big surprise - and I never quite saw the point in switching between first and third person narratives.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9730440
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A series of case studies of women facing various challenges, written from a Christian/healing perspective. Not the sort of thing I'd usually read, but I was pleasantly surprised by the general common sense and pro-woman thinking, and impressed by the courageous way that Littauer tackles the abuse faced by women within the Church.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7087445
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A resource book for an age that has, thank God, passed. This dates from when AIDS was the gay plague, and before antiretrovirals. I found myself thinking of it as a sort of appendix to The End of Innocence: Britain in the Time of AIDS. This is a book for a particular time and place, for (I assume) British churches and ministries that acknowledged gay men as part of their cure of souls. I found it therefore tremendously moving, encouraging (in that there were people who actually could come up with a truly Christian response) and largely irrelevant. Because I am not convinced that this would translate well to the way that AIDS is a problem now.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/7567228
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The autobiography of a missionary nun in Thailand. I was expecting this to be terrible in all sorts of ways, based on the cover art and the choice of 'Siam' over 'Thailand' in the title - not to mention the tagline 'She faced the cruelty and squalor of a backward land with courage and devotion torn between obedience to her vows and the convictions of her heart' - but actually found myself drawn in by an honest and sympathetic account of vocation and charity. This makes sense, I suppose: the author had actually been there, and the copywriter hadn't.

In actual fact, Lightwood describes the challenges she faced with humanity and humour, be they poisonous frogs in the bathroom or learning the language. She rarely generalises about the people she works with, and I certainly came away with the impression that the overarching problem is not culture but poverty. She treats other religions with respect.

Teresa Lightwood gives a whistle-stop tour of her life, touching lightly on the parts that are less relevant to the story of her work in the Far East, but giving just enough background context. Particularly in the early chapters, where the realities of convent life were explored, I could not help remembering Karen Armstrong's 'Through The Narrow Gate' - though Lightwood seems to have found the experience less oppressive than Armstrong.

All in all, I'm glad I didn't pass this one on without reading it. It's good to be surprised sometimes.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10065535
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The Church in question is the Anglican communion. The war is the bloody mess it has got itself into over homosexuality. And this book is a useful overview of said bloody mess. I learned quite a lot that I didn't know before - I first became aware of the issue at the age of 13, when Lambeth 1998 blew up. O, days of blissful ignorance! This proved very helpful in filling in the gaps.

Bates reaches back into the origins of the debate, fitting it into the context of a changing society - or rather, several different societies, changing at different rates - summarising the opposing theological views, and nobly doing his best to take seriously what must seem to be a huge fuss about nothing to those who are not stuck in the middle of it.

Leavened as this is by a healthy dose of humour (if you didn't laugh, you'd cry, etc), I still found it incredibly painful reading at times, and - usually at about the same times - angering. If it fell down, it was in the relative lack of acknowledgement of the pain caused to the average gay Christian in the pews by all the muscle-flexing higher up. But I'm hardly an uninterested party in this, so...
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Memories of, and reflections on the early years of the Metropolitan Community Church, and some of the people involved in it. Sylvia Pennington was straight, but (eventually) a staunch ally of the queer Christian community. The first section of the book deals with her own personal experiences, getting to know gay people and separating homophobia from faith. Some of that made rather painful reading, though I get the feeling that she must have been as embarrassed writing it as anybody reading it. The second section was a number of case studies, if you like - gay men (and one lesbian) and their journeys to reconciling sexuality and faith. Often moving; sometimes utterly devastating.

I will be honest and admit that the style didn't do much for me. Some of this is probably just down to different Christian and cultural backgrounds - I am not the arm-wavy type, and Pennington, by her own admission, was, so there were some assumptions and turns-of-phrase that felt very alien. The other thing that set my teeth on edge was the way that after each case study she would present the subject as a worthy example of 'God's gays'. And... I can sort of see where she is coming from, assuming an intended audience of devout and homophobic Christians, but it did feel terribly patronising.

I didn't learn anything new from this book, but then I didn't really expect to. Its two main messages - that it is perfectly possible to be simultaneously a person of sincere faith and actively other-than-straight, and that the Church can do its best to make it bloody difficult to practise that sincere faith - are ones that I have been hearing, repeating, and to some extent experiencing for a long time.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10202188
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I picked this one up on a whim from a library discard stall some time ago, and have only just got round to reading it. While I'm not really the target audience (Linney often talks about 'we evangelicals') this resonated very much with how my faith has developed, both intuitively and through learning, over the past few years.

Linney stresses above all the importance of engagement with the world and with the people in it. He rejects the idea that the 'world' and non-believers are inherently corrupting, and also the notion that the Christian's first priority upon meeting a non-Christian should be to convert them to Christianity. Instead, he advocates meeting people where they are and trying to understand where they are coming from. (Not rocket science, you'd think, but there you go...)

On the whole, this is pretty sensible stuff, and there's very little that I'd disagree with. Obviously I would prefer a little less namby-pambying around in the homosexuality chapter; and it does feel very odd to see masculine pronouns used of the Holy Spirit. Those are minor complaints, though; there was nothing that made me want to hurl the book out of a window, and that's very good going for an evangelical work.

Nothing new here, but a reassuring affirmation of where I've got to so far.
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
First Among Sequels - Jasper Fforde

Re-read. I had forgotten quite how much fun this series is. As ever, I found the BookWorld parts much more interesting than the AU!Swindon, but it's all very enjoyable.


The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe - C S Lewis

Re-read of an old friend. This isn't my favourite of the Narnia books (that accolade goes to Dawn Treader) but it has some wonderful moments and is a joy to revisit.


61 Hours - Lee Child

Trying this to see what all the fuss is about. It took me a while to get into, for all that the first thirty hours take up a lot less page space than the remainder. Once I did, it was harder to put down, but I still don't quite get all the Jack Reacher-mania.


Deadheads - Reginald Hill

As ever, I am hopping around all over the place within the series. I started off quite well with Dalziel and Pascoe (that is, with A Clubbable Woman) but I've skipped about ten years, I think. I liked this one - the use of rose varieties for the chapter headings was interesting, characterisation fantastic, lovely twist in the tail. Poor Sergeant Wield, though!


While the Light Lasts - Agatha Christie

A collection of not recently republished short stories. Something of a disappointment, as I found that I'd read most or all of these before, even if not necessarily in this particular form. A number of them are in The Hound of Death. Quite interesting as a curiosity, anyway, and it's good to have re-read them.


Vampirates: Demons of the Ocean - Justin Somper

Shipwrecked twins, each fearing the other dead (so far, so Twelfth Night) get picked up by pirates. The boy ends up with normal pirates (in so far as this is possible, it being the 26th century); the girl with the titular Vampirates. They spend the book trying to find each other. Blood and guts and gore, usual piratey stuff. Unimpressed that Grace spends most of the time stuck in a cabin while Connor gets to do sword-fighting and such; maybe the balance is redressed in later books?


The Mind-Readers - Margery Allingham

Couldn't get into this; gave up.


More William - Richmal Crompton

More William? Absolutely. Vastly improves a day in bed with the flu. My favourites in this one: A Busy Day, William's Burglar, The Ghost, The May King, and William and the Smuggler.


The Morning Gift - Eva Ibbotson

Another Ibbotson romance featuring refugees and desirable Englishmen. While still fairly formulaic, this is a departure from Ibbotson's usual form in that the protagonists get married in chapter 2 and then spend the rest of the book working out that actually they might want to stay married. Though of course it's considerably more complicated than it needs to be, and at times I was wishing to smack both of them round the head. I love the backgrounds, though, and in this case particularly intellectual Vienna.
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This novel managed to be both clever and amusing. It was rather like a cross between Small Gods and something written by one of the more competent chicklit authors. The Greek pantheon has come down in the world (literally) and is now crammed into a north London flat. The cheeky updates - Aphrodite doing phone sex, Artemis the professional dog-walker - and the occasional philosophising on the nature of faith combine with a predictable but rather sweet romance to make an extremely enjoyable read.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10056850
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It's been a long time since I read any Cadfael, and what I didn't remember about it was the gorgeous word-painting, scene setting. It was a joy to read this just before setting out for Wales; while we won't be going anywhere near Shrewsbury, the theme of travelling westwards runs very strongly through this book, and made me nostalgic for the Marches, where I grew up. The mystery itself is diverting enough, but it's really worth reading for the scenery.
stapsreads: 'The man who does not read good books has no advantage over the man who cannot read them' (Default)
This book is made of weapons-grade WTF. After I'd realised that it wasn't in fact a historical romance but a thriller with a side of historical romance I boggled slightly less, but trust me, I really didn't need a rape scene in olde Englisshe followed swiftly by a large chunk lifted from Julian of Norwich. This all makes sense later in the book, but doesn't stop me being mentally scarred in the mean time. So yes; the first half is nicked from Julian (who deserves far, far better); the second from The Collector. And I am pretty sure that Anya Seton does the same thing far, far better in Green Darkness.

It was quite interesting to read this as a Surrey resident, half knowing my way around Shere. I think, though, that this suffered from the same problem that afflicts many amateur authors who set their books in places they know well: throwing place names here, there and everywhere, without considering that the reader may not have such an extensive mental map.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/8595045
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A much easier read than I was expecting, though at the same time much harder to categorise than I'd first thought. Autobiography, certainly, but along with the personal narrative comes a courteous exposition of the historical background and religious and cultural traditions, for context, and a fair bit of politics, the whole being suffused with the awareness of faith. But the whole makes for a balanced, respectful and deeply personal story. It conveys a lot of baggage gracefully and efficiently. A tale well-told - the story of the Dalai Lama's escape with his family and entourage was like something out of John Buchan. The whole book is a moving appeal for Tibet; it is as much a portrait of the background as it is a self-portrait.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/10065724
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Still choosing books by cover, I'm afraid - this is to go in the Colours of the Rainbow exchange. No prizes for guessing which colour. Anyway, I picked it up in a bargain bookshop on the Euston Road and found it well worth the read. It's the story of three people who meet in India - Tibetan, Australian and Scottish, and the threads that bind them. I thought it dealt respectfully with the Bhopal gas disaster (a major theme) and with the intersections of cultures and faiths. Also women's work, and motherhood. A satisfyingly bittersweet ending - no easy answers. Characters consistent throughout.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9968432
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A book with a beautiful sense of place. Not a novel, Cather said, a narrative, and certainly it seems to meander along at its own pace, with no plot to speak of, but not troubled by that. It's more a fictionalisation of history. The meticulous research is evident, and manifests itself not so much as a history lesson as a work of art. My mental picture of New Mexico as it was is now considerably more detailed.

I did find myself getting twitchy at the missionary-heroes, because this is a part of post-colonial guilt that gets to me more than most, but as missionaries go Bishop Latour and Fr Vaillant are inoffensive, Latour particularly so. (His thoughts on the two great evils vanquished in his lifetime, for example...) Cather succeeds in making good people interesting, and that's not an easy task.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9968361
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Theo is fourteen and dying of some unknown disease; his aunt takes him on a journey around the world to learn about its religions. Her friends in various countries and of various faiths explain to Theo what they believe and why. (And nobody has read Elisabeth Kübler-Ross on denial; Theo's understandable preoccupation with what dying might be like is continually brushed aside by the adults, with no recognition of the idea that this might not be a positive approach.)

An ambitious project: to give in five hundred pages a representative sample of the world's religions. It does its best, but for me failed to reach its mark. One can't really do even one religion satisfactorily in five hundred pages, and this fictional journey was a repetitive and irritating format.

Let's start with the positive: the facts, so far as I can tell, are there; common misunderstandings are cleared up and, where there are controversies, they are presented in a balanced matter. I'm not sure, however, how much is going to have stuck in my mind a month from now, because it all felt very same-y. The representative characters were not well distinguished from one another, and it's therefore difficult to keep track of who said what.

What I will remember is how utterly obnoxious both Theo and his Aunt Martha are - both to each other and to their long-suffering hosts. I was unable to believe that any of Martha's friends actually liked her, given how rude she was about deeply-held beliefs and history. And Theo was a brat of the first order. One has to remember the rules of hospitality in many world religions, of course, but these two would try my charity sorely.

http://www.bookcrossing.com/journal/9897011
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Part autobiography, part introduction to Buddhism, and actually a very useful little book, I found. I began reading it a while back, found the deconstruction of the 'faith=belief' assumption very convincing (not that it was new to me, you understand, but it's nice to see other people thinking the same way in print), put it down for several months, and finished it off the other night. Salzberg is very honest about her own failings, open about what has brought her to where she is, and actually very helpful in illustrating what she means. A lot of this book is anecdotal, but I found it worked very nicely. I still don't know much detail about Buddhism, but I feel that I've now got a better grasp of the fundamental ideas. It also describes a model of spirituality that is relevant to my own experience, and she's not at all One True Way-ist about it. Maybe a little bit American and touchy-feely, but I don't know - it seems to work here.

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