Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Putting Away Childish Things

by Marcus J. Borg

Thumbs Down

If you've ever had to sit in a college classroom and listen to a professor or lecturer speak patronizingly about your personal beliefs, and if you enjoyed it, you'll love this book.  Unless of course you are already not a Bible believing Christian, in the pre Enlightenment definition.  If that is the case, you will probably get a hoot out of the oh-so-witty conservative Christian stereotypes and smirk to yourself about how insightful Dr. Borg is.

Dr. Kate Riley is a professor of religious philosophy.  She lectures her students, she converses with her good friends (and an ex-lover), she writes in her journal, and she leads a Bible study at her Episcopal congregation.  We are privy to all of these lectures, conversations, thoughts and teachings. 

As Kate deals with a few life issues of her own and comes to a greater understanding of her connectedness to all things and of what it is to trust God, the reader is led through a survey course on post Enlightenment religious philosophy.  One almost feels proselytized toward these religious views.

Putting Away Childish Things is a fictional narrative intended, it would seem, to educate a less scholarly demographic in post Enlightenment religious philosophy.  The title refers to letting go of those "childish" notions like belief in an inerrant, inspired Scripture, creation, miracles and the resurrection story.  It shows those of us who are still clinging to these outdated ideas what true Christianity is and how Christianity can be reconciled with more enlightened views of Scripture.  It basically implies we need to just grow up.

Sorry, Dr. Borg, I'm not buying.

Please note, although it has a little Christian Fiction sticker from the library, I refuse to honor it with such label in my blog index.

Update 7/6/10 

Joe thought my sarcasm might have been confusing.  In the paragraph which starts, "Dr. Kate Riley is a professor of religious philosophy," I was trying to portray honestly the mindset of the character.  I was not espousing her personal views or acknowledging them as truth.

Just to be clear...

Saved by Her Enemy

by Don Teague and Rafraf Barrak

Thumbs up.

During one of Don Teague's visit to Iraq to report for NBC during the Iraq War, twenty-three year old Rafraf Barrak was a translator with whom he often worked.  Through this work as a translator, Ms Barrak was able to support her parents and nine siblings.  But because of this work for the enemy, her life was in danger.  The danger continued to grow as the insurgency gained strength.

Saved by Her Enemy tells the story of the friendship of Don Teague and Rafraf Barrak, a friendship which crossed age, gender, culture and religion. 

I found this a fascinating account.  Mr. Teague, although he does not engage in political discourse, served eleven years in the Army Reserve and the National Guard.  He is an evangelical Christian.  He is a correspondent for a main stream television news agency.  It is a mix that seems to suit him well and through which God obviously makes good use of him.

Ms Barrak is a brave young woman who engagingly shares the story of how she managed to come to peace with the choices she has had to make.

The Knight

By Steven James
Thumbs Up!

The Knight is the third installment in Steven James’ Patrick Bowers Files series.  The first two are The Pawn and The Rook.  (You’d definitely want to read them in order.) I’ve read a few of James’s more straight up Christian books, and I was curious how he would bring his writing style to a thriller book.

First of all, Steven James crafts an exciting, unpredictable tale.  His main character, Patrick Bowers, is an FBI expert on geospatial investigations.  Instead of thinking in terms of the killer’s motives or other common methods of profiling, he focuses on what the geography of the crime says about the criminal, where he lives and where he might strike next.

After a brief marriage, Bowers’ wife died of cancer, and he is left to raise her teenage daughter, Tessa.  Tessa is incredibly bright, but she is also self-centered and dour.  I appreciate the fact that she’s grieving over the loss of her mother, she has hang-ups regarding the father she never knew, and she has issues with Bowers, who is struggling to figure out the best way to raise her.  But, I find her character too grating to be sympathetic.  After having read the third book, she’s maybe starting to grow a little on me.

I like the fact that James doesn’t assume his reader is a fool.  By the time we start to think Character X might be a suspect, Bowers already suspects him.  He’s always ‘on’ and considering the possibilities of each situation.  He can recollect conversations verbatim, license plates, footprints and other details most people couldn’t remember.

I also appreciated the fact that I didn’t have to worry about inappropriate language or indecent sex scenes (although some of the crimes are sexually motivated).  While the books are definitely not preachy, we know that both Patrick and Tessa are struggling with faith-related issues.  They’re searching.

The Bowers Files books are not for everyone, however.  I’ve read quite a few mystery books in my time, but it’s hard for me to think of characters that I’ve encountered who can match Bowers’ villains for sheer evilness.  The torture some of the victims endure is mind-boggling.

There have been other authors I’ve stopped reading because I didn’t want to keep inflicting all of that gruesomeness on my psyche.  But, I think I’m going to stick with this series.  Having had a glimpse into James’s perspective on reaching out to non-Christians (especially in How to Smell Like God), I’m curious about where he’s leading his characters.

I can’t help thinking that James would wish libraries wouldn’t put the “Christian” label on the spine of books in this series.  (I have to admit, even as a 40-something, rather fuddy-duddy Christian, I tend to avoid ‘Christian’ fiction because I often find it boring.)  I’m guessing his target audience is more the young adult thriller reader rather than the usual Christian fiction reader. 

James keeps a few loose ends after each book, so his reader will be anticipating the next one.  There are also bigger questions which are keeping me interested: ‘Will good eventually triumph over evil?’, ‘Where will Patrick and Tessa be spiritually by the time we reach Checkmate?’ etc.

Just as his villains devise intricate plots against their victims, and just as a good chess player anticipates any number of his opponent’s future moves, so has Steven James crafted Patrick Bowers’ world and, I’m assuming, is planning a great culmination to the series.

If you think you can handle the graphic violence, you’d probably enjoy this series.  I would recommend that parents preview The Pawn before deciding whether or not to let your teenage children read these books.  The next installment, The Bishop, is due out this August.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Booked to Die

by John Dunning

Thumbs Up.

This is the first in the Cliff Janeway mystery series.  When the book opens, Mr. Janeway is a homicide detective with the Denver Police Department.  He also loves books.  He loves to read and discuss them; he collects first editions.

Janeway has a long running relationship with serial killer, Jackie Newton.   Janeway just can't seem to pin anything on Jackie.  Nothing sticks to the guy.  Janeway is getting a little burned out on the whole following the system thing.  He knows Jackie is guilty, but can never seem to get the evidence he needs in the legal ways.  He becomes increasingly more tempted to go outside the system and take care of the creep the old fashion way.

All this eventually leads to the opening of a new bookstore, several ladies, and several murders.   The murders are all intertwined with the world of book collecting.  It's fun to read about love for books and how that comes through in a variety of ways in different people's lives.

The mystery itself is good and keeps a reader guessing.  I found the characters somewhat remote.  I think it's because of the noir flavor of Dunning's writing.  The attitude is somewhat dark.    The characters have psychoses similar to those of characters in Raymond Chandler's Philip Marlowe books.  They are not light-hearted murder mysteries, but instead they are somewhat oppressive in their feel. 

I will probably read another at some point to see how Janeway's character evolves.   The subject matter is interesting enough and the plots suspenseful enough to overlook the heavy hearted mood they elicit.