Sunday, September 24, 2006

Books read in September 2006 (15)

1. Crusade, Commerce and Culture by A. Atiya

Atiya reviews the relationship between Christendom and the world of Islam over the centuries. He seems to be a fair commentator though he seems to gloss over the sufferings of those who have to live as dhimmis. No place here for Armenian genocide.There have been good and bad Christian and Islamic governments and warriors. What is evident is that the great weakness of both sides is disunity. The shameful sacking of Constantinople by western "Christians" was one of the most disgusting acts in history.

2. Church After Christendom by Stuart Murray

Murray is an Anabaptist and it shows in his dislike of Christendom and what he calls its residual toxins in the church. He is looking for a prescription for church in the post-modern era. Some of his prescriptions are good. Church must be effective in mission and community and have discipline. Other parts are more questionable. He gives no primacy to preaching and seems totally pragmatic in terms of church government. If you are of a Reformed tradition and believe in Scripture regulating all of life you will not be happy with a book which is short on "Thus saith the Lord".

3. Bleachers by John Grisham

If it was not Grisham I would not have read a novel about American Football but I do not believe he deserves the negative reviews he has received. I put them down to dislike of the subject and the change of style. British reviewers are the more critical. One may not understand the football and yet still appreciate this book. It is about commitment, making choices, leadership, the transitory nature of fame, self-control and the difficulty males have in expressing love for one another. A short but interesting read. But I still think American Football is a cross between grevious bodily harm and chess.

4. The Firm by John Grisham

Recruited by the Mob and the FBI, such is the nature of Grisham's hero. Being a bright lad he trusts neither and outwits both. One again Grisham has written well. He keeps the reader gripped. I found the build up concerning the nature of the Firm to be really menacing. They are almost as diabolical as in Devil's Advocate.

5. The Testament by John Grisham

I first was recommended to Grisham as a Christian author of legal thrillers. This is the fifth book of his i have enjoyed and the first where I recognise his Christian faith as really explicitly expressed for it is the first I have read where, by the grace of God, someone's life is turned around. The man in question is a twice divorced alcoholic lawyer about to be disbarred. His life is changed when in the middle of the South American swamps he meets a missionary who does not care that she is about to become the richest woman in the world. Her grasping relatives, cut out of their father's will are the perfect illustration that the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil, as is the life of their billionaire father. There are some things money cannot buy. Grisham shows they include personal fulfillment, happiness and good relationships. Once agin Grisham grips you right to the end.

6. Cromwell and the Interregnum: The Essential Readings (Blackwell Essential Readings in History S.) by David L. Smith

Recent studies of Cromwell have vindicated him from the charges of being a self-seeking, hypocritical regicide and military dictator. The papers in this book confirm the Lord Protector as a deeply and sincerely religious man who in line with the Puritan theology of his time, sought to discern God's will by the unfolding of providences. His providentialism may account for some of the apparent lack of firm, clear political strategy in these years. Motivated by the desire for godly reformation, Cromwell was impatient with Parliamentarians who were in the way. A man of no denominational party, Cromwell was not averse to Presbyterianism being established for a while but he wanted liberty of conscience for the godly, he valued spirituality over formal church structures. He was no dictator, ruling with his council of state and not always insistent on his own way.

7. The Treatment of Armenians in the Ottoman Empire 1915-1916: Documents Presented to Viscount Grey of Falloden by Viscount Bryce: Uncensored Edition by Arnold J. Toynbee

Turkey wants to be part of the E.U. but remains in denial about the holocaust that is part of its history. Here are the contemporary accounts of the witnesses to genocide. They include most damningly of all, the testimonies of Germans who witnessed these horrors. Turkey was Germany's ally at the time. Many witnesses were American missionaries or Armenians who escaped. Toynbee who helped compile this report for the British Foreign Office wrote that his study of the genocide brought home to him the reality of Original Sin. That is another thing Muslims deny.

8. A Time to Kill by John Grisham

Grisham's first novel did not sell very well when first published but caught up with the success of his second. I did find it a bit slow when the accused sacked the hero lawyer but apart from this and pehaps a rather simple and improbable ending, it is gripping stuff as usual. Basically the book is about race. Can a poor black get away with killing two whites who raped his daughter in Mississippi where whites would get away with killing a black rapist?

9. The Runaway Jury by John Grisham

This thriller is a very well written piece against the evils of cigarettes and their manufacturers who will go to any lengths to avoid responsibility for the harm their products cause. It is classic Grisham courtroom drama. Right to the end you do not know why the jury is being manipulated nor can you be sure in which direction. One thing is certain. You cannot get yourself to try the trial you want in the U.K..

10 The Partner by John Grisham

The eighth Grisham I have enjoyed and I thnk the best so far. Plenty of ingenious twists as the hero tries to get off charges of murder and theft. Surprises abound but the best is kept to the end. The biter is bit. I think the Christian morality of Grisham shows through when the hero confesses to being always fearful of his persuers and when in the end the betrayer is betrayed.

11. The Brethren by John Grisham

I have now read nine Grishams in a month and this is the least satisfactory for it is not up to his usual standard. Normally the author can make you side with his criminal heroes even when they are murderers, but his three convicts, all ex-judges, are singularly unappealing when their scam is blackmailing homosexuals still in the closet. The involvement of the C.I.A. seems highly unlikely in the pushing of a presidential candidate, murder and injustice. I was expecting a twist at the end but there was none. In this book I think the author has left his own Christian moral framework. Has he concluded that we live in an amoral world?

12. A Painted House by John Grisham

Grisham has left the courtroom for 1952 rural Arkansas. A poor farming family with a teenage son in Korea hire hill folk and Mexicans to pick their cotton. The seven year old son of the farm tells his story with more ability than is possible for a boy of his age but that is I think the only flaw here. This is more novel than thriller but the young lad does witness two murders. Once again Grisham is describing a very Christian community. They are all Baptists or Methodists. I think the author's Christian standards are shown in his restraint in describing any sexual encounters. A delight to read.

13. The Summons by John Grisham

Grisham interests me for I like to see how his novels bear the stamp of his Christian faith. This one is a good exposition of Paul's observation to Timothy on the nature of loving money. In this case it leads to deception, fear, arson, burglary and family strife. It also gives us a tense thriller. Grisham, a lawyer, certainly portrays both the best and the worst of his old profession.

14. The King of Torts by John Grisham

I have decided that Grisham is at his best in the country, not the town, in the South not the North. So a novel based in Washington DC centred on the most venial of legal practices, mass tort law, is not his most attractive book. It is an improbable story of poor lawyer becoming very rich quickly after he meets a man who later turns out to also cause the nemesis of the riches. As in The Brethren we have a tale where most of the characters are really unattractive. Greed, the love of money and the fleeting nature of riches are the main themes.

15. The Broker by John Grisham

   I believe this is the author's first venture into a European setting and into espionage. The central character is taken from prison by the C.I.A. replete with presidential pardon, to lve in Bologna, Italy where he is eventually to serve as live bait with the C.I.A. waiting to see which countriy's assassins will search him out for the secrets he has. There is a thrilling chase when he realises he is being persued. Up until that point the story is not so gripping. Once agian Grisham keeps his hero surprisingly chaste . He does though love Italian food.

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