New Read: Life of the Beloved

life-of-the-beloved

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and now I am a member of my church’s book club. After an interesting discussion about our second book, Surprised by Hope by Tom Wright, I was looking forward to reading our third book, Life of the Beloved: Spiritual Living in a Secular World by Henri J. M. Nouwen.

When writing Life of the Beloved, Nouwen hoped it would be a book that could communicate to his dear, Jewish friend the powerful and loving invitation of Jesus Christ. Of how accepting that invitation can bring love, happiness and that acceptance we all seem to be chasing in the modern world. Sadly, Nouwen failed to communicate to his friend as he had wished. However, instead this has gone on to be a highly successful guide to living a truly uplifting life in many of today’s secular society; for Christians all over the world.

With Nouwen’s initial hope to communicate and reach out to his friend and other young people from the then growing secular population, he has written this sincere testimony – sharing his own experience of Jesus’ powerful work in his life and those around him – in a clear and down-to-earth manner. Which was easy to read, follow and reflect upon on, but this is clearly still the original edit because Nouwen often opens chapters directly speaking to his friend and referring to his friend’s life. While I give Nouwen kudos for being honest about his initial hope and so not editing the text – I did find it a little annoying as I am not his friend and his life stories are not expanded upon for those who don’t have their shared history.

Henri Jozef Machiel Nouwen was a Dutch Catholic priest, professor, writer and theologian, who in his life worked and taught at the University of Notre Dame, Yale Divinity School and Harvard Divinity School. As well as working with individuals with mental and physical needs at the L’Arche Daybreak community in Ontario, USA. Having lived such a colourful, spiritual and productive life, Nouwen has a wealth of inspiring and touching experiences which he freely and candidly shares with us in this book; particularly from his time at L’Arche. Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to share my thoughts on this at the book club meeting, as it landed in a crazily busy week for me which meant I couldn’t attend. I have since received positive feedback from the vicar along with further resources to check out.

In conclusion, I found Life of the Beloved to be a well-written and inspiring guide, that was a good boost for me; living in a majoritively secular society myself. Next up for the club, we will be reading and discussing The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis which will be a re-read for me. Good read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Henri J. M. Nouwen?

New Read: Blood on the Bayou

blood-on-the-bayou

Sadly, Blood on the Bayou by D. J. Donaldson was sat gathering dust on my Kindle for far too long! Until the R.I.P reading event finally gave me the push I needed to pick it up and aren’t I pleased it did.

As Donaldson immediately drew me in and completely immersed me into the colourful and superstitious Deep South of America. For a gritty mystery in the famous French Quarter of New Orleans which, during a hot and humid Summer, has been shook by a string of brutal murders. Where the victims seem to have been viciously clawed and then bitten – these frenzied, bloody attacks eerily resemble a werewolf! However the chief medical examiner, Andy Broussard, is not to be fooled or scared by these supernatural tales and, together with criminal psychologist Kit Franklyn, sets out to discover the culprit…the real, human culprit.

This is a detailed, meticulous and graphic, although I felt it was never gratuitous, depiction of a murder investigation. Due to the fact that half the narration is told from medical examiner, Andy Broussard’s point-of-view. Skillfully, though I was never left feeling cold or isolated by his clinical technique as Broussard is a very likeable and multifaceted character, with his quirky love of lemon sweets and an enviable collections of classic T-birds. Plus he takes on an encouraging and supportive role for Kit, who is a young, educated woman in a male dominated world. The other half of the narration is told from Kit’s point-of-view, which made for an interesting but complimentary juxtaposition to Broussard’s.

What I really loved though was the setting, as I have always had a fascination with the deep south especially after watching the first series of HBO’s True Detective. And, I thought Donaldson really made me feel like I was there: feeling it’s hot, humid weather; meeting the colourful, eclectic people with their old traditions and superstitions; and travelling to the small town communities out in the crocodile infested wetlands. The only thing I was left to imagine was that they all spoke like Matthew McConaughey😉 . While there was less of a supernatural element than I expected, it was these just in a more subtle way – with the eerie resemblance of these brutal attacks with werewolves; the small town people’s folk tales of old and the links to Clinical Lycanthropy.

In conclusion, I found Blood on the Bayou to be a deeply engrossing mystery which I struggled to put down. I would certainly be interested in reading more from this series and author. Great read.

Thank you to the publicist for providing a copy of this book in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any other mysteries from the Deep South?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI – #5

Re-Read: Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet

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After two dark fantasy reads, I decided to lighten up my reading for the R.I.P reading event with a cosy re-read of Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet by M C Beaton; the second book in the Agatha Raisin crime series.

Smart dressing, high-flying PR guru Agatha Raisin has taken early retirement and now lives in the quiet, picture-perfect Cotswold village of Carsely. Returning from a holiday, Agatha finds all the Carsely women in an uproar over the new, handsome vet Paul Bladen. So, Agatha is thrilled when Bladen asks her out for dinner, but behind the charm on their date there seems to be something cold and calculating. The next day, Bladen is found dead in Lord Pendlebury’s stables where it is believed he accidentally injected himself with a horse tranquilizer. However, after her unpleasant date, Agatha believes it very likely someone would have liked to bump him off!

Agatha isn’t an instantly likeable character, although she is very amusing! As  former boss of a highly successfully PR company, Agatha has become sharp, bossy, cajoling and completely work focused. Once in the quiet, picturesque village of Carsely Agatha has no idea what to do with herself! Hence, why she is so keen to launch herself into another amateur investigation – plus it gives her an excuse to spend time with her handsome neighbour James Lacey without scaring him off. I am not a huge fan of the retired general Lacy, but in this new investigation we also get to see the vicar’s lovely wife Mrs Bloxby and the funny Detective Constable Wong.

In this re-read, it was again a pleasure to return to the charming village of Carsely with it’s eclectic mix of inhabitants for another meddlesome, investigation with Agatha. I love a good murder mystery however I don’t always want all that gore and gritty realism, which is when a cosy crime like this (and other novels by M C Beaton) are perfect. As the weather cooled and nights drew in, it was lovely to curl up in a blanket, with a cup of tea and this book.

Overall, Agatha Raisin and the Vicious Vet was a quick, fun and comforting re-read, which lightened up my reading for the R.I.P reading event perfectly. I look forward to re-reading Agatha Raisin and the Potted Garden next.

Have you read this? Have you read any cosy crime recently?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI – 4/4

The Classics Club: The Sign of the Four

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After enjoying all the previous Sherlock Holmes mysteries by Arthur Conan Doyle in quite quick succession, I just had to hold out a little for this, The Sign of the Four, my last original Holmes tale to discover for the first time.

At the beginning of this tale, we find Holmes out of his mind on boredom and drugs, and Watson at the end of his tether with him. Both are overjoyed when the young, pretty Miss Mary Morstan arrives, with the case of her missing father and the exquisite pearls that have been mysteriously gifted to her each year since his disappearance. Now, she has received a letter requesting a secret meeting to discuss how she has been ‘wronged’ and she may bring two friends. So Mary asks if Holmes and Watson will be the two to accompany her – Holmes is roused by what he calls this simple, little mystery and jumps at the chance, only to find the plot thickens at every turn.

As with the previous mysteries, I was fascinated by the workings of Holmes’ mind and his eccentric behaviour, however it is his companion Dr Watson I am always most drawn to. With his down-to-earth narration which makes these stories more relatable for me and, I am sure, many other readers too. In this tale, I particularly liked Watson’s shy, tender behaviour towards their new, pretty client Miss Mary Morstan, and the budding romance that follows – while their courtship may seem a tad too fast for us modern readers, I did believe they had genuine feelings for each other.

This may have been the last Holmes’ mystery for me to read, however it is only Doyle’s second novel to feature his famous, private sleuth. While I have read these mysteries out of order, it has not affected my enjoyment of them at all. While I think the gothic and atmospheric, The Hound of the Baskervilles is still my favourite novel, this was a still an excellently mystery and a thoroughly enjoyable read. With it’s ever twisting and multiplying threads, in fact more crimes and deaths occur, as Holmes’ is still investigating the first crime. I also enjoyed the historical links back to India and the bloody Indian Rebellion of 1857.

Overall, I thought The Sign of the Four was another excellently crafted mystery, which was a perfect read for Autumn and the R.I.P XI reading event. Now I have no new, original Holmes tales to look forward to, I better get going on more of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes books. Great read.

Have you read this? What is your favourite Sherlock Holmes story?

The Classics Club – 47/50
R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI – 3/4

New Read: Surprised by Hope

Surprised by Hope

As a practicing Christian, I like to read Christian literature to help with the growth of my faith and now I am a member of my church’s book club. After an inspiring discussion about our first book, The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson, I was looking forward to our second book: Surprised by Hope by Tom Wright.

In Surprised by Hope, Tom Wright delves into the complicated, difficult and varying beliefs on Heaven and the after life. First, he discusses the common beliefs held in the Western, Christian world surrounding Heaven, who will go and what will it be like. However, Wright believes we are focusing on Heaven too much, it is only a resting place and that it is not the end goal. The Bible tells us that Jesus died and rose again, and so will we! So in the second half of this book, Wright focuses on our resurrection, the judgement day and what our new bodies and world might be like.

Tom Wright, also known as N T Wright, is a retired Bishop and is now a Professor at the University of St Andrews. And, he has definitely brought all his theological and academic knowledge to bare in this detailed, and for some, controversial discussion. One club member found a newspaper article from the book’s publication in 2007, which accuses Wright of not believing in Heaven. I didn’t find it that controversial, actually I found it quite comforting to think that Heaven is a peaceful place of rest where we wait. I also felt it banished the idea that everything physical is bad and only the spiritual is good, which supports my own feelings that this body, life and world are a gift not something to be wished away to get to Heaven quicker.

While there were some real nuggets of inspiration in this book, I sadly did struggle with the dense text, the meandering writing style – Wright often went off on random tangents – and the academic language used. It turns out, I was the only one in the group, and that includes the vicar too, who managed to finish it! However, it did make for an interesting discussion piece and also during the group we watched a TV interview with Wright. In the interview, I thought he was eloquent and charismatic – such a shame that didn’t come across in this book!

In conclusion, I thought Surprised by Hope was a difficult but ultimately worthwhile read. Next up for the club, we will be reading and discussing Life of the Beloved by Henri J. M. Nouwen. Okay read.

Have you read this? Or anything else by Tom Wright/N T Wright?

New Read: Civil Blood

civil-blood

Earlier this year, I read and loved Best Left in the Shadows by Mark Gelineau and Joe King; the 1st book in the crime noir thread to their epic fantasy series. At the beginning of October, I picked up the next book, Civil Blood, hoping it would help to pick up my reading for the R.I.P reading event.

Now that Daxton Ellis is the Justiciar of Lowside, the poor and dangerous underworld of the city, he finds his position with the streetwise Lowsider and former flame Alys switched. As Alys needs his help to clear her name, after the henchman of a powerful Lowside kingpin have been found brutally murdered and strung up for all to see, and the only eyewitness’ description of the perpetrator eerily matches Alys! So Dax and Ellis team up again to solve these bloody murders by unravelling the twisting clues to find the true culprit, but all the while they have their own agendas and secrets to keep.

In this new mystery, I continued to enjoy the love/hate, tension filled but also playful chemistry between Dax and Alys; I think it helps to lighten these darker fantasy tales. Dax and Alys originally met and dated during their time training in the academy, when they were young, naïve and idealistic. However, their relationship was abruptly ended by a heart-breaking betrayal. Now all grown up, they’ve come to believe that a true blood guy and a Lowside gal can never be. Although secretly I think Dax is still pretty idealistic, but he is also acutely aware of his station and responsibilities. Alys on the other hand has become hardened as she has learnt to survive in this dangerous underworld – a world that is still alien to Dax. I found Alys less likeable in this book.

In this crime noir thread to Gelineau’s & King’s Echo of the Ascended series, it has been interesting to see more of a different, darker and seedier side to the kingdom of Aedaron. With this and the previous book set in the dangerous, poverty-stricken underworld of the capital city rather than, in the previous books, out in the large, isolated march lands. I also love a murder mystery and this was a good one with a bloody trail; a deadly, secretive perpetrator and plenty of secrets, twists and turns. While the perpetrator is identified this almost opened up more questions and threads to follow, which I presume/hope will be picked up in the next book.

Overall, I thought Civil Blood was another quick read with an interesting mystery in a dark fantasy setting. I look forward to read more from Gelineau’s & King’s Echo of the Ascended series. Good read.

Thank you to the authors for providing a copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest opinion.

Have you read this? Or any other mystery for the R.I.P reading event?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI – 2/4

New Read: A Feast For Crows

a-feast-for-crows

After watching the sixth, and I think best, season of Game of Thrones to date, I was left feeling bereft! So I decided to throw myself back into George R.R. Martin’s epic A Song of Ice and Fire book series, that the TV show is based on. Next up for me to read was the fourth book: A Feast For Crows.

After some shocking deaths, Queen Cersei is desperately trying to keep her power and position through her second son, Tommen. However, his seat upon the Iron Throne is precarious, with him being only a child and the terrible rumours of his mother’s adultery and his subsequent illegitimacy. Even with a quick, advantageous marriage, to the beautiful and popular Margery Tyrell of Highgarden, they must still contend with two other strong claimants to the throne: Stannis Baratheon and Daenarys Targaryen. As well as a rebellion brewing in the South; bloody raids by the pirate Iron Lords; a deadly gang of outlaws; a militant faith movement and the coming Winter. Peace seems a distant dream for the Seven Kingdoms.

These books are peopled with a whole host of interesting characters, with each chapter focusing on a different character’s point-of-view. This book, unlike previous books in the series, focuses heavily on the characters in and surrounding the capital, Kings Landing. Which means we get to hear a lot from the point-of-view of Queen Cersei and her twin brother Jaime. Cersei is a cruel, manipulative character who will do anything for power but she also thinks she is protecting her family – I love to hate her! While Jaime started out just as bad he does at least seem to be changing and atoning for them now.

Meanwhile, a few chapters follow Brienne, the lady knight, who is on an important mission for Jaime; Sansa Stark who is hiding from the wrath of Cersei; Arya Stark who has travelled across the sea and Samwell Tarly who is making his way to the Citadel. Some very notable characters are marked by their absence though. We hear some rumours but sadly, see nothing of Jon Snow and Stannis Baratheon up on The Wall, or of Cersei’s hated brother Tyrion, or of Daenarys Targaryen across the sea in Slaver’s Bay. Jon, Tyrion and Daenarys (as well as Arya) are my favourite characters, so I really, really hope we will see more of them in the next book!

With so much action, drama and interesting characters I found it very hard to put this book down and considering the epic length, I reached the end before I knew it. Like the previous books, it is jam-packed with action, adventure, intrigue, love, war, lies, fighting, secrets, and shocks! I love Martin’s detailed and compelling writing and how he allows us to explore different cities, castles, and lands through the eyes of different characters. In particular, for the first time in this book we glimpsed the cold, brutal life on the Iron Islands and the tension growing in the hot, exotic land of Dorne. I warn you there are a lot of names, places, and events to remember in these books. However, I haven’t found it that hard to keep track, especially as there are fantastic maps and appendix to help.

A Feast For Crows is another excellent, epic fantasy adventure and drama. I can’t wait to read more and I should be able to fit another book in before the return of the TV show. Great read.

Have you read this or other books in the series? Are you watching the TV series?

R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril XI – 1/4