Friday, October 9, 2015


Uprooted by Naomi Novik

This fantasy novel is reminiscent of a cross between a dark version of Beauty and the Beast  and the Harry Potter series.  Agnieszka, our heroine, is plucked from obscurity and thrown into confusion, loneliness and chaos before discovering how to use her magic.

Our Dragon doesn’t eat the girls he takes, no matter what stories they tell outside our valley.”  As the story starts, the reader learns they are waiting for a reaping. Every ten years, the Dragon takes a seventeen-year-old girl off to his tower for a decade of servitude.  The girls are released after their time in the Tower but they are always subtly changed from the simple girls they once were. The Dragon is what they call the local wizard who protects their valley. The valley is a lovely and green place, but all there are endangered by the rapidly encroaching Woods, a malevolent forest which literally eats people to sustain itself. The people of the valley have become resigned to the reaping as the only way to protect their homes and families.

The whole village of Dvernik has always known that when their turn comes, the Dragon will choose the beautiful and fearless Kasia. Instead, he chooses her best friend, Agnieszka, which confuses and dismays everyone. Agnieszka is clumsy and plain. She can’t cook, can’t stay clean for even five minutes, and is notoriously casual about following directions. What possible use can she be to the Dragon?  What will happen to her now? What will happen to the people of the valley?

Educating herself by reading the books she finds in the Dragon’s library, Agnieszka realizes that she has a strong and intuitive magic of her own.  The plot unwinds slowly but steadily as she learns more of magic, and the Dragon, and the world beyond her small valley.

This book has an original setting and characters that are charming, flawed, and thoroughly likeable. Agnieszka has an inherent kindness and a resilient spirit.  Her loyalty to her friends, her family and her home make her an admirable character.  The Dragon is, like the Beast, both more and less than what the village gossips say.  The plot builds slowly but steadily and there is real momentum and horror in the last third of the story. The resolution is satisfying and just open-ended enough to leave the reader wanting more.

For teens and adults who are secretly hoping for an acceptance letter to Hogwarts.

Review by Amy

Monday, September 21, 2015

The Museum Vaults: Excerpts from the Journal of an Expert by Marc-Antoine Mathieu

This graphic novel takes us gently down a “rabbit hole” into the museum’s endless subbasements. Which museum?  The answer is a taste of things to come.  Although called by many names, “they say that these names are nothing but anagrams of the museum’s real name, which has been forgotten.” 
Archivist Edeus Volmer and his assistant Leonard arrive on a stormy night to begin an inventory of the sub-basements.  The novel’s panels proceed with beautiful pools and avenues of pale light set within umber shadows that often recede with a cinematic sense of distance in space.  Months, and longer, pass as the archivists travel the basements. In some, a curator entertains us with wit on art and memory. Others provoke us with insights on originality, and creativity.  In the “restoration workshop” experts view their work with small headlamps because, “for restorers light is the enemy of color”, and “darkness preserves colors”.  In the “department of copies” the curator regrets that the practice of copying the masters isn’t fashionable.  “Copying isn’t original any longer.”   In the “department of archives” we watch Volmer and Leonard fly on a rolling book ladder, their coats flapping like superheroes’ capes through the upper stories of a city of archives. 

Finally, Leonard comes to tell Volmer that this “limitless universe” suggests that an inaccessible “essential” exists.  Being inaccessible, limitless paths to travel are all the more important.  I was entertained and captivated by every path.

Review by Ken 

Thursday, September 17, 2015

The Theology of Space

The Book of Strange New Things
By Michel Faber

The idea of sending a missionary into space is not new. Mary Doria Russell explored the idea of a Jesuit mission to another planet thoughtfully in The Sparrow, which is a book that everyone should read. But while that book includes the thrill of discovery and the subsequent race to be the first to visit the planet, Michel Faber starts his book with a colony firmly established. Our missionary, Peter, simply applies for the job to be the pastor to an alien population.

The decision to leave his wife, Bea, is not easy. First, she is the one who brought him to religion. Second, they've founded a church on Earth that needs minding. But they decide that this opportunity is too good to pass up. How often does a person get chosen to spread his faith to people who have genuinely never heard of Christianity? And so Peter boards a ship and flies off to a community created by USIC, a gigantic corporation who is trying to make a profit off the new planet.

When Peter arrives he discovers that his job is much easier than he'd imagined. The alien race have not only heard of Jesus, but are hungry for a pastor to tell them more. Peter is thrilled at this, but also discomforted at the strange reception of the rest of the staff at the USIC base. They are largely nonreligious, but also uninterested in anything having to do with home. As Peter gets updates from Bea about constant tragedies happening back on Earth, Peter can't get anyone at USIC to care. He's torn between a hugely successful ministry and a feeling that the distance between his wife and himself is growing too great to cross.

This book is about distance, both physical and mental, and what sort of people are best suited to leave everything behind. It's also about the way our environment can shape our faith. What would the belief system on another planet look like? How would the residents react to a new one? For armchair theologians and science fiction enthusiasts, this is an excellent read.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Originally written as a novel and transformed by the author into a play, Ayn Rand's Ideal  tells a story that underscores the need for "ideals" in life and how we turn our back on these if offered the opportunity to live from them. It tells of the events in the life of Kay Gonda, a larger than life movie screen goddess who is wanted for murder. She visits six different fans seeking shelter from police. A  respectable family man, a cynical artist, an evangelist, a playboy, a far-left activist and a lost soul each  have written her heart felt letters about the value she brings to their very existence and who provide Kay with a glimpse of their life. She asks to stay for one night in order to allude the police. All but one of the fans she visits can not or will not help her because she asks more of them than they can deliver. The end has a twist that while expected was not envisioned to be what occurred! It was very interesting to read the novel first and then the play because both literary forms evoke different responses from the reader. As the preface states, "a novel uses concepts and only concepts to present its events, characters, and universe. A play (or movie) uses concepts and percepts; the latter are the audience's observations of the physical actions, their movements, speeches et al.". Leonard Peikoff. The reader can experience each version differently with more activity and involvement in the play than in the novel. As only Ayn Rand can, she speaks for the artist in riveting prose that exites, devastates and challenges....the Idealist.     

Reviewed by Karen 

Friday, August 14, 2015

:Modern Scholar: Literature of C.S. Lewis

Literature of C.S. Lewis by Professor Timothy B. Shutt 

Professor Timothy B. Shutt brings to life the works of C.S Lewis in this 14 lecture series. Beginning with the early years in life of C.S Lewis he discusses his life and events that carved his inner philosophy which was the evocation of "joy". Though C.S Lewis is known and loved for his Chronicles of Narnia series, he also wrote a riveting science fiction trilogy which consisted of the titles "Out of the Silent Planet", "Perelandra" and "That Hideous Strength" in which he seeks to present an unfallen world, a world of Peace and a world of complexities.  Also presented are analyses of his apologetic works such as Mere Christianity, which was written for the entire Christian family including Roman Catholic and all Protestant branches of the faith; Miracles and the Problem of Pain. Other scholarly works include the Screwtape Letters, the Discarded Image, the Allegory of Love and the Four Loves.  Woven through all of his fiction and nonfiction is a singular theological theme which is the complexity of the world which includes dark and light and all shades in between. Prior to experiencing C.S Lewis's works I was familiar only with the Chronicles of Narnia and Mere Christianity. After listening to these wonderful lectures I am moved to read his other works which include food for thought and contemplation.       

Reviewed by Karen 

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Philosophy in Action

The Just City
By Jo Walton

In Plato's Republic you'll find a template for a city intended to maximize justice among its inhabitants. If you're already falling asleep, don't worry. You don't have to be a philosophy major to enjoy this book. But author Jo Walton takes Plato's thought experiment and uses it to tell a story. What if the gods of Olympus were real and two of them decided to create a city and fill it with people who desire to follow Plato's guidelines? Would such a city succeed?

After setting the gears into action the goddess Athena and the god Apollo both take the form of children in the city so that they can see the experiment unfold. Their friends and teachers are taken from throughout history, some of them famous and some of them unknown, but all of them striving to do their best. Of course, the definition of what's best is different for mathematicians from the Renaissance and philosophers from the Information Age, so there are some bumps in the road. Then Athena brings Socrates into the city to to see what has been created from Plato's ideas and his own words. He begins asking questions and some cracks begin to appear in the idea-driven foundations of the city. How far are the gods willing to go with their human experiment? And how long will the humans agree to stay within the rules Plato gave?

As I said, this book doesn't require a philosophy degree, but it will definitely get you thinking. Check it out if you've pondered anything recently. Or if you think time-travelling gods might be fun to hang out with.

Review by Danny Hanbery

Monday, July 27, 2015

Book Review:  Her by Harriet Lane

One day Nina instantly recognizes Her, Emma, a woman who unknowingly has a profound influence on her life.  On a street on an ordinary day Nina fastens her attention and intention on finding a way into Emma’s world entering her life as unobtrusively as Emma did her decades ago.  On the surface this story unfolds as two very different women find connection despite the differences in the arcs of their lives. Beneath the surface of the bright promise of a budding friendship the psychopathic menace of Nina’s obsession with Emma grows slowly as poisonous memories of unspoken loss and withering contempt become laced with a desire for revenge.  The chapters alternate with Nina and Emma sharing their life experiences and record of their encounters most of which are descriptions of the same events.  Slowly the tension builds as barely remembered nuances are remembered by Emma and Nina’s inner fury builds to a shocking and unresolved conclusion. All I could murmur after reading this was….Oh my God…Oh my God…what a story.  This one is slow in spots, but subtle tension kept me reading,   wondering and hoping for a happy ending that I knew would not happen.  Harriet Lane’s prose is luminous and involving; delicious as it builds characters neither of which is truly likeable but who one longs to know more about.  Well worth your time if you enjoy slow and easy suspense.

Review by Karen