Book review: The Ironic Christian’s Companion by Patrick Henry

 

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In the unlikely event of a gun being put to my head in order to discover my true and final opinion on Patrick Henry’s The Ironic Christian’s Companion, I still wouldn’t be able to offer an answer without some sort of qualifier. Did I like the book? I did; Henry is clever and I appreciated many of his insights; one or two of them made me sit back and go, “Huh” in an impressed way. Is it a good book? Sure, but I don’t think it will be to everyone’s tastes. Would I recommend this book? Maybe, depending on who was asking for the recommendation. Do I like Patrick Henry? Eh, I’m not sure; there’s more than a little self-importance there, tempered with (what I’m hoping is) genuine reform. You see? It’s complicated.

I picked up the book on sale; that and the title was the deciding factor for the purchase. I’m vain enough to think of myself as an “ironic” Christian (someone who is Christian but not as Christian as the obviously stupid people who are also Christian, in essence). The book is a series of ten essays, all loosely connected to the theme of being a Christian who has doubts and reservations about their religion, if not always their faith.

Henry’s writing is an interesting mix of memoir, theology and academia, with keen insights and the patience to let you discover them for yourself.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Ironic Christian’s Companion: Finding the marks of God’s grace in the world
Author: Patrick Henry
Publisher: Riverhead Books (1999)
Rating: 4/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.41/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s eminently quotable.
The worst feature of the book: It errs on navel gazing at times.
Trigger warnings: Mentions of suicide (Henry’s father killed himself).
You’ll like this if… You, like me, are stupid enough to think your faith is “ironic”.

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Book review: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert

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I’m happy to report that after years of living as a “late returns” fugitive, I’ve been granted amnesty (literally: South African libraries have a national, annual “book amnesty” week at the end of every March) and I’m now able to partake of the hushed, thoughtful aisles of my local library again. Gilbert’s Big Magic is one of the first books I picked up post-exile.

I’m pretty sure I couldn’t have picked a book I feel more ambivalent about if I’d tried, however.

Big Magic is one author’s attempt to quantify the creative process. Gilbert writes about the lessons she’s learned during her many years of writing and publishing. The book feels like chatting with a particularly warm, slightly ditzy and self-centred pal, coffee in hand and an afternoon to while away. It has that same strange paradox of painful self-awareness and painful self-ignorance that characterised the only other book I’ve ever read of hers, Eat Pray Love.

On one hand, Gilbert’s insight into the creative mind feels very genuine. She’s someone who has worked at her craft and has clearly spent a lot of time trying to understand why she (and creative people in general) do things the way they do. It’s from this place that she tries to give guidance. And she’s roguishly charming about it, of course.

On the other hand, I spent the majority of my time reading Big Magic thinking that she isn’t nearly as aware of her privilege as she believes she is. Her advice often veers from innocent into the downright naive. It’s condescending to hear someone who has achieved so much commercial success warn others against its improbability, for instance. She’s someone who’s encountered one or two locked doors and equates her experience with someone who faces a hallway of them.

Overall, one of those “take what resonates and leave the rest” books.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Big Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear
Author: Elizabeth Gilbert
Publisher: Bloomsbury (2015)
Rating: 2.5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 3.9/5)
The best feature of the book: It recounts some amusing anecdotes and has a few charming turns of phrase.
The worst feature of the book: Not everyone is going to be taken with Gilbert’s spiritualisation (even deification?) of creativity and inspiration.
Trigger warnings: None that I can think of other than white middle-classness.
You’ll like this if… If you’re a fan of her work I’m sure you’ll love this book; many ardent fans gush to that effect on Goodreads. If you dislike her you’ll inevitably dislike the book, as the acidic reviews on Goodreads can testify. There doesn’t really appear to be much of a middle ground.

Book review: The Woman in the Woods by John Connolly (Charlie Parker #16)

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I’m afraid that this is going to a rather dull book review. There are only so many variations on “It’s a really good book” before it all becomes trite and pedantic. So, suffice it to say that John Connolly’s sixteenth Charlie Parker mystery, The Woman in the Woods, is a great read, full of his customary good writing, interesting characters and nefarious goings-on.

The Woman in the Woods sees PI and avenging angel (metaphorically if not literally, but let’s see) Charlie Parker try to solve the mystery behind the body of a woman found in the Maine woods as a favour to his lawyer. In the process of discovering her identity, Parker discovers someone else – a man named Quayle, eager to put together a map that may or may not end the world…

For the first couple of novels, Connolly’s Parker series was more or less straightforward thriller fair with some mystery elements slithering around in the woodwork. But as the novels have progressed, the mystery has become more pronounced, and nowadays Parker’s sleuthing typically uncovers things that go bump in the night. I always thought The Black Angel was the first hinge – it was a decisive step away from genre fiction playing coy, to something spookier. The Woman in the Woods (and perhaps its predecessor, A Game of Ghosts) is another such hinge, and I’m really interested to see where Connolly will take (and end) the series.

Prior to its release, Connolly released a few paragraphs of the novel in response to the growing white nationalism in the United States (a white nationalist forms part of the subplot and I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of his character at some point), so the novel feels pretty contemporary. I also noticed that parts of the novel feel like Connolly apologising for his previous lackluster treatment of female characters, by way of Parker acknowledging just how shitty men can be towards women. Which is great, but I hope it will be followed up by some sort of female character who isn’t a romantic interest or a bit player.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: The Woman in the Woods
Author: John Connolly
Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton (2018)
Rating: 5/5 (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.59/5)
The best feature of the book: The main cast of characters, as usual. The Fulcis as comic relief.
The worst feature of the book: I’d like more spooky details, but that’s just me. Also, the whole “when a woman is a mother” thing. The problem with treating motherhood as such a virtue is that it easily becomes women’s only saving grace. No.
Trigger warnings: Murder, torture, belated Catholicism.
You’ll like this if… You’re a fan of mysteries, thrillers, detective novels, banter, or tall black assassins who set racists’ cars on fire.

Missing

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Douglas Adams wrote that the knack to flying is aiming for the ground and missing. The knack to finding a good book is aiming for the bad ones and missing.

Book review: The Six of Crows Duology (Six of Crows, Crooked Kingdom) by Leigh Bardugo

If this is your first time reading a Lee’s Notes book review, it’s customary for me to preface every YA novel review with something like, “Now I don’t really read YA novels, but…” or “Sometimes I enjoy YA novels more than I hate myself for reading them, so…” But not today, Satan. I read Leigh Bardugo’s Six of Crows duology at the start of the year and to be honest, it’s the most fun I’ve had in ages. Her duology is so well written and well paced and just all in all charming, it’s easy to forgive the occasional cliche and stretched plot element to root for the romances and boo the antagonists.

Six of Crows and its sequel, Crooked Kingdom, tell the story of rising Ketterdam gangster Kaz Brekker and his unlikely band of antiheroes as they try to break into one of the most secure military strongholds in the world, the Ice Court, to retrieve a scientist. The scientist holds the key to jurda parem, a drug that super powers already powerful people with abilities known as Grisha. In exchange for this feat, Kaz and his five accomplices can expect untold riches…

Six of Crows is a heist novel, set around the group’s attempt to infiltrate Fjerdan’s Ice Court. Crooked Kingdom chronicles the fallout. Both books are high paced, but not so much that you’d lose sleep worrying about what happens. Bardugo’s characters are interesting, each with enough backstory to fill their own novels. Romance and intrigue, “will they or won’t they?” and plenty of gore made these books a great read, and I’m sorely tempted to look up the other books in her Grisha verse.

So, what’s the verdict?

Title: Six of Crows; Crooked Kingdom
Author: Leigh Bardugo
Publisher: Indigo (2015); Henry Holt (2016)
Rating: 5/5 for both novels (Goodreads rating, for comparison: 4.79/5)
The best feature of the book: It’s fun, entertaining and generally more complex than your average YA novel.
The worst feature of the book: Bardugo’s written such a great story that it’s easy to forget her characters are all a bunch of teenagers.
Trigger warnings: There are a lot of adult themes: sexual violence, murder, torture, slavery.
You’ll like this if… You like YA novels, or if you’re looking for something that’s absorbing but won’t disrupt your sleeping schedule.