Publish & Perish

Publish & Perish (Ben Reese, #1)Publish & Perish by Sally Wright
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This was one of my random reads from drawing slips at the beginning of the year. I drew three slips from my “new series” pile. This was on my TBR because later titles in the series were take-offs on Jane Austen titles, an old “theme” that still gets my attention. And the main character has a Welsh last name – Ben Reese – so that got my attention too, and the next book in the series takes place in Scotland, and he is an archivist interested in rare books, coins, paintings, and ancient documents so that all appealed to me.

It’s an old series, published in 1997, but set in 1960. Reviews have compared the author to Dorothy Sayers. I think that’s a stretch but it does have something of that flavor revolving around academia. It started a bit slow, but it grew on me. I’ve already started the second book Pride & Predator. Although marketed as “Christian” fiction, I didn’t find anything off-putting here. He talks about God, and ponders some theological/existential questions but there is nothing pushing his views (or the author’s views) on anyone else. Nothing incompatible with my own decidedly liberal views.

The set up for a series is okay – we get to know the main character, but there is not much in the way of character development for anyone else. The plot moves quite slowly and is mostly introspective until the very end. More thoughtful than action, with some subtle humor. Still, I liked Ben Reese enough to want to read more and find out more about him and what makes him tick.

Book description: Publish And Perish, the first Ben Reese novel, begins in 1960 at an academic research institute near Oxford, England, though the story grows out of tangled relationships at the small Ohio university where Ben Reese is an archivist – an expert in antiquities, in coins and paintings and the dating of ancient texts. He’s also a thirty-seven year old veteran of WWII; a behind-the-lines reconnaissance expert who captured German command posts across France, Belgium, Luxembourg and Germany until he was stopped by a Tiger Tank.

His war experiences aren’t something he talks about easily. He’s a quiet man, who lives close to the country, and rides his horse, and enjoys the accomplishments of long dead craftsmen, while he tries to get over the death of his wife. It isn’t until his closest friend dies, minutes after phoning Ben in England, that Ben has to rely again on the characteristics that kept him alive from Omaha Beach to the Saarbrucken Forest. Ben looks under a lot of academic rocks at the politics, prejudice and ambition that had to be navigated even then by those with unpopular opinions. That leads the killer to come after Ben with a calculated brutality that takes Ben back to the war, and makes the question of his own survival more than a matter of academic interest.

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Come Rain or Come Shine

Come Rain or Come Shine (Mitford Years, #13)Come Rain or Come Shine by Jan Karon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Family – that says it all. The minute I heard John McDonough’s voice I was back in Mitford with all of these special people. But other than that, the preachiness was a little over the top, and the plot was pretty slim compared to the earlier books. Lots of reminiscing by the characters, so if you’ve read the other Mitford books, you’ll be nodding your head – “oh yeah – I remember that….” And that’s pretty much all it is – a wedding that brings all the familiar characters together and gives them a chance to reflect on how they got where they are – all thanks to God, of course.

Book description: Over the course of twelve Mitford novels, fans have kept a special place in their hearts for Dooley Kavanagh, first seen in At Home in Mitford as a barefoot, freckle-faced boy in filthy overalls. Now, Father Tim Kavanagh’s adopted son has graduated from vet school and opened his own animal clinic. Since money will be tight for a while, maybe he and Lace Harper, his once and future soul mate, should keep their wedding simple. So the plan is to eliminate the cost of catering and do potluck. Ought to be fun. An old friend offers to bring his well-known country band. Gratis. And once mucked out, the barn works as a perfect venue for seating family and friends. Piece of cake, right?

Somewhere Safe With Somebody Good

Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good: The New Mitford NovelSomewhere Safe with Somebody Good: The New Mitford Novel by Jan Karon

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I’m giving this 4 stars, but only because it’s an opportunity to revisit a beloved place, and old familiar characters. If you haven’t read the other Mitford novels, you may want to start at the beginning. This book is a bit rambling and doesn’t really go anywhere in particular. No crises to overcome, no dramatic conversions, no big miracles – just catching up with our characters as they get on with life in a small town, where people DO take care of each other, and where prayer is the solution to everything. This is Mayberry RFD for the 21st century. I especially enjoyed the thread of Father Tim working at the bookstore. Not all is resolved in the end, so I’m sure there will be more books to come.

Book description: After five hectic years of retirement from Lord’s Chapel, Father Tim Kavanagh returns with his wife, Cynthia, from a so-called pleasure trip to the land of his Irish ancestors. While glad to be at home in Mitford, something is definitely missing: a pulpit. But when he’s offered one, he decides he doesn’t want it. Maybe he’s lost his passion. His adopted son, Dooley, wrestles with his own passion—for the beautiful and gifted Lace Turner, and his vision to become a successful country vet. Dooley’s brother, Sammy, still enraged by his mother’s abandonment, destroys one of Father Tim’s prized possessions. And Hope Murphy, owner of Happy Endings bookstore, struggles with the potential loss of her unborn child and her hard-won business. All this as Wanda’s Feel Good Café opens, a romance catches fire through an Internet word game, their former mayor hatches a reelection campaign to throw the bums out, and the weekly Muse poses a probing inquiry: Does Mitford still take care of its own?

In the Company of Others

In the Company of Others: A Father Tim NovelIn the Company of Others: A Father Tim Novel by Jan Karon

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I Have really enjoyed Jan Karon’s books for her interesting characters, uplifting message, and sense of fun and humor. I especially enjoyed the first Father Tim novel, which seemed to be a bit edgier than the previous Mitford series. This book was a bit disappointing to me. I expected much more from a book set in Ireland. Except for the attempt at local dialect (which I listened to as an audiobook) there was nothing much Irish about the setting, or representative of the culture. While the characters were interesting, and the humor was there, it was difficult to sort out who was who and how they were all related. I also found this book’s message bordering on proselytizing which got tiresome. And the last minute change of heart of deeply embittered and wounded characters was just not believable.

Audio version read by Erik Singer. Description from back of box: Father Time and Cynthia arrive in the west of Ireland, intent on researching his Kavanagh ancestry from the comfort of a charming fishing lodge. The charm, however, is broken entirely when Cynthia startles a burglar and sprains her already injured ankle. Then a cherished and valuable painting is stolen from the lodge owners, and Cynthia’s pain pales in comparison to the wound at the center of this bitterly estranged Irish family.

The Shack

The Shack The Shack by William P. Young

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
There has been a lot of buzz around this book. I probably wouldn’t have read it, except that I was intrigued after reading an excerpt on www.bookdaily.com. The first chapter was lyrical and full of wonderful imagery. So I decided to read it. Unfortunately, the author didn’t sustain that throughout the book. There were glimpses of it though. I hope this aspect of the author’s writing will grow with future efforts.

This is a book with a mission. Or a message. I’m not sure quite what that is. At times the author seems to beat you over the head with it. I almost expected devotional questions after each chapter. The mix of liberal ideas about the nature of God with conservative theology doesn’t quite work for me. Clearly the author wants to bring joy and hope to readers who are struggling with their own broken dreams and damaged hearts. And I do think this book has the ability to do that. While I don’t share the author’s theological stance, he creates room for each person to find their own relationship with God. Some have criticized that it anthropomorphizes God too much. Others, that the story is sappy and trite, and like a bad teenage fantasy novel. Yes, the story is silly at times. But it would make a great movie!

We all anthropomorphize God, creating Him in our own image, or at least in an image that is comfortable for us. Mr. Young’s depiction of the Trinity is an attempt to move people out of old religious stereotypes. It certainly isn’t meant to be taken literally. Even at the end of the book, there is a certain ambiguity about whether the encounter at the shack actually happened, or was it all the result of a blow to the head, or the aftermath of a car accident and coma? But most of the time I found myself thinking this is really silly. God doesn’t operate this way. The “miracle” of Mack’s healing was too superficial, and too “easy.”

Whatever your religious beliefs, the themes of wrestling with why God allows evil things to happen, the nature of free will, and the power of forgiveness are universal. Book clubs will find much to discuss here.