Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Books read in December 2014

1. A Delicate Truth by John le Carré 

I found this gripping but question those reviewers who seem to regard it as a critical commentary on Blair's New Labour and its foreign involvement in the War on Terror. Surely this is fiction. Plausible maybe bur no more than gripping fiction. I found it a real page turner keeping me gripped to the end. But the end lost a five star rating from me as it left the reader rather up in the air wondering what will happen to the main protagonist. Is this inconclusiveness to lead on to the next volume in the life of Toby Bell? I hope so.

2. The Radical Disciple: Some Neglected Aspects of Our Calling by John Stott 

This book was the octogenarian Stott finishing his written ministry two years before his death. His writing as ever carries the hallmarks of his ministry, Biblical, clear and profoundly wise. Apart from his seeming wholesale acceptance of man made global warming I have no critical comments, only admiration for the clarity and simplicity of his teaching. Best of all is the chapter on dependency. It is not easy to find good writing on the subject of ageing. I rarely read books more than once but I did with this quite by accident. I was part way through before I thought, this seems familiar. But finding my original review there is nothing to add except how gloriously an 88 year old Christian can face death in full assurance of life eternal.

3. The Future of the Global Church by Patrick Johnstone 

Six years work to produce this encyclopaedic book. It is more than its title. It has sections on demography, history, major religions, Christianity by megablocks, renewal growth, evangelical explosion, the unevangelized,  missions and the future before his conclusion: an evangelical world? A mine of information worth the price of the book just for the history section which century by century traces world empires and the growth of the church. It is more a reference work to dip into rather than a book to read through but I did read through, albeit with some skimming. We are given facts and figures but also challenges as to action to take. Of course futurology is no precise science and I will not be around in 2050 to see how his predictions turn out. Minor quibbles. It is unfair to criticise the Reformers for lack of foreign missions. Their work was home mission. They could not have sent overseas missionaries whiie Spain and Portugal ruled the waves. Secondly, Calvin was never a temporal ruler in Geneva. His authority was solely spiritual and until his latter years he was a French asylum seeker, not even a citizen of Geneva.

4. Gray Mountain Hardcover by John Grisham 
For a thriller this is a slow plot. It really crawls along until one major character dies suddenly then the pace does quicken but it is no pot boiler. Strip mining in the Appalachians devastates the land and the people. Mining companies play dirty to avoid compensating miners sick from inhaled coal dust. The heroine leaves big law in New York to do pro bono work for a legal aid clinic. Will she stay or respond to a lucrative job offer? Will she try and take on the corrupt coal mining firms? Not Grisham's best work. Not incendiary as it says on the dust jacket. A suffering rural community sympathetically portrayed .

5. The Churchill Factor: How One Man Made History by Boris Johnson 

Some years ago my wife and I visited Chartwell. I came away feeling proud to be British. This biography had the safe effect. A great book about a great unique man. Politician, journalist, author and painter. He was all of those, a larger than life character, a modern John Bull. Boris starts by reminding us of the terrible plight we were in when Churchill became PM in 1940. Many wanted a deal with Hitler. But here was a leader who said, 'Never give in, never give in, never, never, never, never- in nothing great or small, large or petty-never give in except to convictions of honour and good sense.' 1941--Harrow School. And, 'If you're going through hell, keep going' He did and to him we owe democracy in Europe. Boris takes us to the young Winston, flying within 10 years of the Wright brothers and twice narrowly escaping death in crashes. He was a great adventurer. No other future PM has been shot at on four continents. We are taken through all the ups and downs of a very long political career. Only because he had personal integrity did he survive so many disasters. How he mobilised the English language is fascinating. Some bon mots are discredited as merely apocryphal but we are given some delightful true quotes. Churchill was not a natural orator but he meticulously prepared his speeches and writings. We learn about his eating, drinking and cigars. We hear how he could be bad tempered but he was a Mr Great Heart, kind to little people. This is no hagiography. Political and personal failings are documented though I would have liked to have more on the carpet bombing of Germany and those who opposed it. His part in the Cold War and attitude to European union are described.  I finished the book with a renewed appreciation of Churchill and thanks to Boris who I now admire more for his writing than his pragmatic politics.

6. The Thing Around Your Neck Paperback by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

The author appears to have spent nearly half of her life in USA and it shows. Many of these stories are about expatriate Nigerians in USA, or aspiring to get there. I preferred her novels. There short stories often seem to lack satisfying endings. She is no Saki or Archer, masters of the genre.

7. The Boleyn Bride by Emily Purdy

The story of a tragic, virtuous, Protestant queen told through the eyes of her mother who was of very different character. Anne died for her failure to give Henry VIII a son, the failure that cost her predecessor her crown too. The book takes the view that Anne was innocent of all the charges that sent her to the scaffold where she died most bravely and with grace and forgiveness towards the king who cruelly wronged her. It gives a real flavour of court life. My one criticism is that several times jealousy is used where envy would be proper.

8. Trinity (Wars of the Roses 2) by Conn Iggulden 

This second volume in the Wars of the Roses concerns the reign of the feeble Lancastrian, Henry Vi and the trinity of nobles, York, Salisbury and Warwick who fight to rule England. But Henry's queen, Margaret is an able summoner of loyal Lancastrrian forces. Battles are fought, St Albans the first, Wakefield the last in the book. It is history as adventure story, thrilling and well recounted. It rings with the clash of steel and armour, death dealing arrows and cannon. First rate historical fiction.

9. Witches: James I and the English Witch Hunts by Tracy Borman

An horrific account of Jacobean witch hunting centering on three women accused of witchcraft against the heirs of the aristocratic Manners family, Earls of Rutland. Late in the book comparison is made with traditional African beliefs and this is indeed the parallel. In both cases there was ignorance of the causes of disease and death. Illness or misfortune was attributed, not to natural causes but to someone exerting a malevolent influence, witchcraft here, juju in Africa. Jacobean women faced a legal system loaded against them. No counsel for the defence. A woman's testimony needing two women witnesses to have the same weight as that of one man. I learned this was canon law. When did it cease? Shari'a law is the same today. We are informed that these horrors lessened as scientific understanding grew. I would also surmise that the teaching of Biblical Christianity with its emphasis on the ultimate defeat of evil would have a positive effect too. The book wonders if James I favourite, the Duke of Buckingham who married the Manners heiress may have been implicated in her brother's death.

10. The Killing Season by Mark Pearson

I found this was a good read, evocative Norfolk setting and a good cast of characters but I think the ending was a bit of a let down, rather far fetched and not really very credible. One odd thing was the word scalpelling. I looked it up but the author must have put a new or figurative meaning to it.

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