I enjoyed this well-written novel of the war in Afghanistan, but had some mixed feelings in the end, trying to figure out both the author's message anI enjoyed this well-written novel of the war in Afghanistan, but had some mixed feelings in the end, trying to figure out both the author's message and the protagonist's mindset.
Aziz is a young man eking out a living with his brother when they are injured in a bombing attack in their home town, an assault that leaves his brother without one leg or his sexual organs. Using the Pashtun notion of badal, or revenge, Aziz joins a special militia group funded by the Americans to fight against a Taliban leader hiding out in the mountains, the man who presumably scarred his brother for life.
The novel does a terrific job of describing the soldiers' training, their personalities and life in a typical Afghan village. Eventually, though -- and I don't want to give away critical details -- Aziz discovers that the warring parties are not really driven by their ideals. Making the situation even more complicated is his relationship with a relatively wealthier villager named Atul, who has been taking money from the Americans for information and who is raising a beautiful young woman, Fareeda, who is disfigured by a skin disease.
After one fatal raid he participates in, Aziz is converted into an informant for his commander, but then has to figure out if any of the combatants are worth fighting for or against, and what role he should take in the future.
It ends with a violent conclusion and a change of fortune for young Aziz, and you'll have to judge whether this climax makes sense or satisfies....more
This highly enjoyable sequel to Plague Lands once again pits young Oswald de Lacey against the superstitions of his tenants in 14th century England asThis highly enjoyable sequel to Plague Lands once again pits young Oswald de Lacey against the superstitions of his tenants in 14th century England as he tries to solve the mystery of why two dead babies have been found impaled on thorn bushes near his manor in Kent.
The villagers, led by the father of one of the infants, believe that a distraught man in the village has somehow released a Butcher Bird that has swooped down and stolen the children. Oswald of course thinks this is nonsense, although he is disturbed by momentary sightings of a large bird in the village.
To complicate matters, he loses track of his two wild, rebellious nieces, who live in a neighboring castle and are at odds with his sister Clemence, who married their father, who has since died. Oswald eventually tracks the girls to London and the home of their father's sister, the ravishing Eloise, with whom he has a brief affair.
Oswald is making little progress in solving the murders when suddenly his sister's newborn and the heir to her castle is snatched, and events rush headlong toward a tense but satisfying conclusion.
I understand Sykes has already finished book three in this series, and I look forward to its publication, because she can not only tell a good tale, but provides fascinating details about medieval English life in the process....more
Oswald de Lacy is a callow, uncertain lord of Somerhill Manor in 14th century Kent when he discovers the first body, murdered and buried in the forestOswald de Lacy is a callow, uncertain lord of Somerhill Manor in 14th century Kent when he discovers the first body, murdered and buried in the forest.
Bodies are nothing new for him or anyone else, for this is the season of the Black Plague, and only because of it is the former monk-in-training now a lord, since the pestilence killed his older brothers and nearly killed him. From the beginning, Oswald wants to solve the murder of the young woman, Alison Starvecrow, and he is immediately thwarted by a greedy, unscrupulous priest, who claims a devilish beast with the head of a dog and body of a human is the culprit.
Soon, there is a second body -- Alison's mentally ill sister Matilda -- and eventually there will be more. Along the way, Oswald de Lacy will indeed solve the crimes, but at a great risk to his own sense of who he is and what his real history is.
As the struggles toward the truth, Oswald must contend with his peevish sister Clemence, his vain and crude mother, his alcoholic but astute mentor, Brother Peter, a neighboring lord intent on stealing his land, peasants who are depleted in ranks by the plague and none too sure they want to work for him, and a strange boy he meets in the forest.
It all coalesces into a strong first novel (even with some amateurish writing touches), and I'm already eager to seek out Sykes' new sequel, "The Butcher Bird."...more
This is a fascinating look at the roots and major influences shaping the so-called prosperity gospel. The best known current practitioners are Joel OsThis is a fascinating look at the roots and major influences shaping the so-called prosperity gospel. The best known current practitioners are Joel Osteen, T.D. Jakes and Joyce Meyer, and the oversimplified summary is that God wants you to be healthy, wealthy and victorious in this life over every problem and challenge.
I approached this book with a strong bias, believing that the central tenets of the prosperity gospel are a perversion of God's message in scripture and Jesus' salvation purpose. Kate Bowler does an excellent job of outlining the historical roots of the prosperity gospel, and showed me it is much older than I had thought, and that the economic blessings it promotes really took hold in the context of the economic boom following World War II. Before that, the same founding ministers (people like Oral Roberts and Rex Humbard) had been more focused on physical healing services.
Bowler approaches this topic as an ethnographer, which means she is much more interested in describing the movement than taking a position on it, but I certainly would have welcome some insights from her into how she feels this highly popular stream of Christianity fits with her own personal theological views.
My other challenge with this book -- and I'm still waiting to find a religion book I won't say this about -- is that it was overwritten by at least a third, and repeated many of the same points over and over. It also was a bit of a mess organizationally, providing a mishmash of some on-site observations, theological and historical commentary and graphs and charts. Not the best executed book, but one I nevertheless learned a great deal from....more
Anna Olson is an Episcopal priest in a struggling church in Los Angeles. Historically Japanese-American, the church is now in the middle of an immigraAnna Olson is an Episcopal priest in a struggling church in Los Angeles. Historically Japanese-American, the church is now in the middle of an immigrant Hispanic and Korean neighborhood, and it is slowly trying to see what new future God has in store for it.
While this tidy book does offer many examples from her own parish, Olson's lessons are universal. Anyone who has been in a declining small church or worked with one will be able to empathize with the struggles her congregation has faced and her ideas for how to respond to those challenges.
A key to Olson's theology is that God is in charge of whatever will happen in these situations, and that if a congregation truly believes in the resurrection, it must face the possible death of its church squarely and push on ahead, knowing that the work God has to do in its community may not mean that the church itself will be able to survive.
Only when churches can stop obsessing over how to save themselves and recapture past glory, Olson says, can they begin to embrace possible new futures.
The book is not all abstractions and philosophy, though. She offers several concrete steps for following the path of renewal, including the seemingly mundane tasks of clearing out the clutter in your building, truly investigating the neighborhood you live in, saying yes to the use of your building by outside groups, responding with love when there are inevitable misunderstandings and trespasses, and looking first to yourselves if there seem to be communication problems, not those bothersome outsiders.
One of my favorites quotes: "In every community there are people Jesus would be proud to claim as followers : people who choose love, who give sacrificially, who put the needs of their communities before their own needs, who look fear in the face and choose to walk the life-giving Way. They may or may not have anything to do with church. They may not identify as Christians. They may even be a little grossed out by the whole church thing. When did attendance at worship and involvement in the institutional church become the primary marks of Christians?"
One small complaint: As with so many other religion books, I sometimes felt this was a magazine article that had been puffed up to make it into a book. It wasn't overly repetitive -- but I still often feel that these really good writers and thinkers could stand stronger editing. ...more