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message 1: by Jill (last edited Jul 18, 2016 03:19PM) (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Matt, here is your new thread in 2016. Happy reading in the new year.

Our Required Format:


1. My Early Life, 1874-1904 by Winston S. Churchill by Winston S. Churchill Winston S. Churchill
Finish date: January 2016
Genre: (whatever genre the book happens to be)
Rating: A
Review: You can add text from a review you have written but no links to any review elsewhere even goodreads. And that is about it. Just make sure to number consecutively and just add the months.

message 2: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments JANUARY

1. Shadow of Night (All Souls Trilogy, #2) by Deborah Harkness by Deborah Harkness Deborah Harkness
Finish Date: January 2, 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Witches/Vampires, Historical Fiction
Rating: A-
Review: A much more dazzling world of time travel and engaging explorations of power. I felt like I fully engaged Harkness as the historian and master storyteller instead of just the creator of the shadow world she almost has to live half inside.

message 3: by Matthew (last edited Jul 19, 2016 07:38PM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 2. The Buried Giant by Kazuo Ishiguro by Kazuo Ishiguro Kazuo Ishiguro
Finish Date: January 10, 2016
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Aging and Memory
Rating: B-
Review: Given that I have never read an Ishiguro novel, I would probably rate this higher than others given my context is no context.

For some reason, I imagine the characters in this novel as cartoons, especially Axl and Beatrice. Perhaps this is because they are underdeveloped, but it may draw from the formal atmosphere of the novel that seems like a giant joke most of the time.

On the other hand, the explorations of memory in this book are very interesting, as well as the roles of the island and boatmen. Sir Gawain and Wistan seem distracting but their relationships with Querig and Edwin seem rich with a backstory that screams to be explained.

The journey of Axl and Beatrice seems oddly cut short and too speculative. Also,I feel like the reunion with the son is dangling like a carrot more than it needed to be.

All that said, the novel is fantastically mysterious, caught in a pre-medieval Britannia that seems exotic and brilliantly understated. Whole worlds of novels could be written about this place and time.

message 4: by Matthew (last edited Jul 19, 2016 01:35PM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments FEBRUARY

3. The Monkey Wrench Gang (Monkey Wrench Gang, #1) by Edward Abbey by Edward Abbey Edward Abbey
Finish Date: February 6, 2016
Genre: Fiction, Environment, Wilderness Advocation, American Literature, Literature of the SW United States, Desert
Rating: A
Review: I had spent so long categorizing this novel in my head as a hippie-generated, militant diatribe against all forms of development, and though it is at points these things, Monkey Wrench Gang is more of a story of human purpose inside of dying systems (most notably the SW Wilderness of the US). My most lasting impressions were not of the vandalism against construction equipment but of the chase of the fugitives through the "Maze" and other vast spaces of the Four Corners' region. The richness of the characters-Abbzug, Hayduke, Seldom Seen, and Doc Sarvis-lend the novel to generate tropes of an enduring quality, which makes this book a classic on its levels of human exploration as well as relationship to environment. Although I am more of a moderate in regards to halting industrial development (in that I don't advocate violence), this novel made me appreciate the role of the radical and what his or her actions eventually push the mind towards, namely a degeneration to the extreme.

message 5: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Good start, Matt. You only have to note the month in bold once and each time the month changes. Otherwise, you are right on the money!!!

message 6: by Matthew (last edited Jul 20, 2016 02:52PM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments MARCH

4. The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver by Barbara Kingsolver Barbara Kingsolver
Finish Date: March 6, 2016
Genre: Christianity, Novels, African Literature, Family Dynamics, Fiction
Rating: A+
Review: This novel is beyond my skill to review. There are so many facets of inquiry that remained largely unsolved inside of the dynamics of family and religion. I named my daughter partially after Adah in this book, and my best friend named his daughter Leah. Overall, between enjoyable palindromic ramblings and a harsh slap on the futility of worldwide missions, Poisonwood Bible sits as a masterpiece of its generation and work of skill by Kingsolver almost beyond reproach.

message 7: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 5. The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway by Ernest Hemingway Ernest Hemingway
Finish Date: March 7, 2016
Genre: American Literature, Classics, Fiction, Novels, Ocean/Sea Literature
Rating: B+
Review: Not every man will fight for what he was meant to do, but if he does, this is what it should look like: dragging the carcass of his labors in with the trade winds, falling exhausted into bed regardless of the outcome.

message 8: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments MAY

6. The Book of Life (All Souls Trilogy, #3) by Deborah Harkness by Deborah Harkness Deborah Harkness
Finish Date: May 1, 2016
Genre: Fantasy, Fiction, Witches/Vampires, Historical Fiction
Rating: B-
Review: Although I absolutely loved this series overall, the finale left me quite disappointed for several reasons. First, the exploration of the idea of blood rage to its completion was a fascinating plot point, however, if it is supposed to stand for some metaphor of mental illness (which seems obvious) it is a depressing turn of events when Benjamin is unable to heal but Matthew is. Second, Larger metaphors of race are present in the distinctions that the Covenant holds, but it seems too "pie-in-the-sky" to abolish an agreement dictating separation of creatures under the auspices of one person. Overall, Diana seems to meaningful for her own good, and although this is a facet perhaps of all fantasy, at times I felt like Harkness made her too powerful, creating an almost ivory tower situation that makes the de Clermont clan seem elitist.

message 9: by Matthew (last edited Jul 20, 2016 05:46PM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments JUNE

7. Dead Wake The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson by Erik Larson Erik Larson
Finish Date: June 3, 2016
Genre: History, WWI, Nautical
Rating: B+
Review: This is my first book by Erik Larson, so I may be at a disadvantage in knowing his full capacity as a historian because I've skipped Devil in the White City. Still, I see Larson's primary talent in creating personal narratives, particularly eclectic personal narratives, that capture the truly human parts of otherwise stale history book stories. I found it interesting that Larson blames the sinking of the Lusitania on the British admiralty's lack of foresight in making sure the Lusitania reached harbor safely. In effect, he pins the blame on none other than Winston Churchill and the secret "Room 40's" ultimately damaging plan to retain total secrecy in terms of knowing U-Boat movements. Captain Turner is posthumously cleared of all charges, though I'm not so sure he is entirely not at fault.

message 10: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 8. Tinkers by Paul Harding by Paul Harding Paul Harding
Finish Date: June 8, 2016
Genre: American Literature, Clocks, Rural, Fiction, Novels
Rating: C-
Review: I usually love novels like Tinkers: heavy drippings of natural imagery, struggles with identity and purpose, fragmented narratives, etc. Unfortunately, the stream of thought from Harding was just too choppy for me to follow. Maybe I was too impatient, but I found myself consistently detached from the characters or their concerns. Perhaps the only counterexample was with Howard, whose departure from his family was truly heartbreaking. Overall, I can understand why others love this book and even why it won the Pulitzer...unfortunately, it just wasn't very engaging to me.

message 11: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 9. The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu And Their Race to Save the World’s Most Precious Manuscripts by Joshua Hammer by Joshua Hammer (No photo)
Finish Date: June 14, 2106
Genre: History, Jihadi, Saharan Literature, African Literature, Non-Fiction
Rating: B
Review: Hammer's contemporary look at one of the most interesting archival rescue missions is more of a case study in human perseverance than a true history monograph. At the same time, Bad Ass Historians holds a remarkably critical commentary on modern terrorist states and their innate hatred of intellectual life. Hammer parses out the differences in sects of Muslim theology by arguing that there are pockets of Islam where intellectual ambiguity is celebrated and promoted, not only now, but for centuries, including those times that Europe was asleep in its own nightmare of disease and bloodshed. Overall, this story is important in our postmodern age by augmenting the idea that religion and intellectual endeavor are not necessarily mutually exclusive, especially in the overly stereotyped world of middle eastern history.

message 12: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 10. Modern Romance by Aziz Ansari by Aziz Ansari Aziz Ansari
Finish Date: June 28, 2016
Genre: Romance, Memoirs, Non-Fiction, Comedy
Rating: C+
Review: Aziz Ansari's foray into the world of 21st century relationships is witty and well-researched but at the same time doesn't seem to truly capture his ethos and comedy. I've realized so much of Ansari's humor comes from actually hearing him talk, which may mean I didn't do this book enough justice by not listening to the audiobook version. Still, there was a piece of him missing, locked under the nuances of a well researched love survey. His conclusions are appropriately open-ended, optimistic but grainy. I loved the graphs, charts, pictures, etc as well as the anecdotes. His own personal love-life stories seemed to drag, although they needed to be included. Overall, fun book...just not overwhelmingly awesome.

message 13: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments JULY

11. Serafina and the Black Cloak (Serafina, #1) by Robert Beatty by Robert Beatty Robert Beatty
Finish Date: July 1, 2016
Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction, Fantasy, Asheville
Rating: C+
Review: Given that I live in Asheville, and the setting of this book is the Biltmore Estate, it was almost a necessity that I would read this book at some point since it's so highly lauded all over town. I found the narrative very engaging, suspenseful, and adventurous. The boy in me was enraptured with the mythology of the Biltmore estate in the early 20th century and of course by the forest that harbored dark spirits and ancient horror. At the same time, the plot had quite a few holes and unexplained motivations for some characters. Serafina is part warrior/part burgeoning woman, and therefore feeling new expressions of femininity, but the scene where she is enthralled receiving a red ballgown from Braeden seems inconsistent with her character as a "creature of the night." The Black Cloak in itself is an interesting piece of "magic," that seems to have a deeper well of explanation, although it's destroyed before we truly know its full history. Overall, a very entertaining book that doesn't stray far from traditional European forest mythology.

message 14: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 12. Jefferson's America The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation by Julie M. Fenster by Julie M. Fenster Julie M. Fenster
Finish Date: July 16, 2016
Genre: History, Non-Fiction, Early America, Exploration, Frontier Studies, Native American Studies
Rating: A
Review: This account of Jeffersonian exploration in the very beginning of the 19th century draws on several narratives already produced by historians, so the research isn't necessarily novel. Fenster's main accomplishment, however, is her ability to create an incredibly balanced and nuanced story of the ambiguity and tenuousness of the Louisiana Territory when Jefferson actually made the purchase (blindly it turns out). I was incredibly impressed to see how well she used dry wit and humor to augment these rich stories of frontier adventure. And though this book is primarily about white men doing white culture things on Native American soil, Fenster is quickly critical of the systems in place that drove exploitation of slaves, Native Americans, and even the environment. Her story is a true celebration of a triumphant American moment while at the same time decrying the institutional problems of 19th century American and European culture.

message 15: by Donna (new)

Donna (drspoon) Matthew wrote: "12.Jefferson's America The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation by Julie M. Fenster by Julie M. FensterJulie M. Fenster
Finish ..."

That sounds like my kind of book, Matthew. I'm putting it on my list.

message 16: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments Donna wrote: "Matthew wrote: "12.Jefferson's America The President, the Purchase, and the Explorers Who Transformed a Nation by Julie M. Fenster by Julie M. Fenster[author:Julie M. Fenster..."

Definitely do of the best I've read in awhile...

message 17: by Brina (new)

Brina Matt this Jefferson book sounds fascinating. I will have to add it.

message 18: by Matthew (last edited Nov 05, 2016 11:03AM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments AUGUST

13. The Beast in the Garden The True Story of a Predator's Deadly Return to Suburban America by David Baron by David Baron (No photo)
Finish Date: August 7, 2016
Genre: History, Environmental History, Science and Nature, Colorado Book Award Winner, Colorado, Boulder
Rating: A+
Review: I assigned this book for my advisees to read for summer reading at the school I work at (yes I know I ended this sentence on a preposition, get over it). Given that my school is all boys I figured a narrative about marauding cats would at least stand a chance against Pokemon GO for attention. I have yet to figure out how they have responded, but I have been overwhelmed at the quality of this book both from a research and craft standpoint. To be honest, I read some of this when I lived near Boulder in 2010-11 after seeing my first (and only) mountain lion jump across my car in the winter in Boulder Canyon while driving back to Nederland. The cat continued downriver on a snow and ice covered Boulder Creek padding softly away from me in the snow.

Baron's thoroughly researched monograph on the resurgence of cats in "suburban wilderness" is actually a small story with a broader comment on the field of environmental history (the subtopic of my Master's degree), specifically how wilderness relates to today's world of suburban sprawl. He cites William Cronon as an appropriate prophet foretelling the creation of wilderness in areas we least expect to find it, like the backyards of Boulder's modern monster mansions. He also criticizes (passively) the myth that untamed nature can live in seamless harmony with consumer driven human culture; both are forces at odds with each other butting heads in the foothills of the Front Range.

I've always quietly cheered when I heard somewhere in the news that an animal had attacked or eaten an otherwise unsuspecting or interfering homo sapiens. I suppose that I felt that these animals could be vindicated for a few human snacks after over a century of wholesale and mostly meaningless slaughter (66,665 puma deaths vs. 15 human ones in the last century (239)). I've even told others that I wouldn't mind "going that way" (being devoured by a wild animal, of course in the wild). That perspective has been tempered somewhat as I've gotten older, which is evident from the fact that I've come to agree with David Baron that nature needs to be managed in order to leave it alone (238). As a new father, I certainly don't want my daughter being devoured on a hike when she's five, but I also don't think the answer is to open up bounties on mountain lions anymore. Baron takes a middle road, and though I haven't done any recent research, his suggestions seem the wisest for harmony between the two species going forward.

message 19: by Donna (new)

Donna (drspoon) The book should generate some excellent discussions among your students, Matthew.

message 20: by Jill (last edited Aug 07, 2016 08:09PM) (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) A great review, Matt!!

message 21: by Matthew (last edited Aug 28, 2016 06:47AM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 14. The Heart Is a Little to the Left Essays on Public Morality by William Sloane Coffin by William Sloane Coffin(No photo)
Finish Date: August 27, 2016
Genre: Christianity, Social Justice, Essays
Rating: A+
Review: My progression of understanding the teachings of Jesus have filled a spectrum perhaps wider than most. Like many, I adhered to the structure and form of the Bible quite literally in my early years, mostly concerned with the affairs of the next life and the rigidity of a set of parameters I thought were essential to belief. What has happened over the succeeding years can only be described as a slow tearing of my foundations into the middle ground of love and doctrine that God has been drawing me into. My beliefs have softened, even perhaps liberalized, but I hope in the process I've become more human, more drawn to the realities of social injustice, and more open to discussion than preaching. Coffin's set of essays has confirmed for me the holiness of my progression towards openness. His words hit like hammers on an anvil, each one adding the weight of responsibility for defending human rights and decrying the injustices of our age. This book is a literal treasure trove of useable quotations, such as one of my favorites, "Virtue in mainline churches may be better focused, but moral outrage is feeble. Most Protestant churches are down to management and therapy." Coffin may be too quickly labeled as a waffling Christian leftist, but to anyone wishing to apply that label I would quickly counsel them to look at his own human condition, his neighbor next to him, and see as Coffin states that "We need to claim the kinship of all people, to recover the prophetic insight that we belong to one another, every one of us from the pope to the loneliest wino on the planet." Thanks to Brent Kaneft for opening my eyes to an author who writes my heart.

message 22: by Matthew (last edited Dec 30, 2016 07:49AM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments OCTOBER

15. The Magician's Nephew (Chronicles of Narnia, #1) by C.S. Lewis by C.S. Lewis C.S. Lewis
Finish Date: October 30, 2016
Genre: Christianity, Fantasy, Fiction
Rating: A-
Review: It's been about ten years since I last sat down to read this series, and the first time that I've engaged it in my post-romantic Christian youth. I'm not sure what drove me to take it up this time, but I'm determined as I move through the series to look past the leaden symbolism and into the stranger nooks and crannies of Lewis' work. Magician's Nephew was one of my two favorites when I first read the Chronicles, and I believe it will remain so. The image of Aslan singing a world into existence has lost some of its earlier magic, but the landscape of a new Narnia is more appealing than ever. I had completely forgot about the scene of Digory flying to the grove of apple trees and confronting Jadis. I have to admit that this scene captures the arrival of sin (or at least its new expression) in a manner slightly less doctrinal but more emotional than the actual Genesis account. The character of Jadis became even more fascinating to me, especially compared to how she is expressed is The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Aslan's descriptions can counter on caricature at times, but something rings true about his terrifying yet beautiful nature. It was also baffling to me that Digory and Polly actually buried the rings, which I feel is inconsistent with most Narnian characters constant refusal to fully obey Aslan's mandates. Perhaps, like God, Aslan never meant for all his orders to be obeyed; He(he) is way more open to surprises than we may have ever guessed.

message 23: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments NOVEMBER

16. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (Chronicles of Narnia, #2) by C.S. Lewis by C.S. Lewis C.S. Lewis
Finish Date: November 6, 2016
Genre: Christianity, Fantasy, Fiction
Rating: B
Review: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe has been ingrained in my consciousness ever since I watched the full BBC feature as a kid on the Disney Channel. I was always intrigued by the figures of Aslan and the White Witch, and though I had no awareness that Aslan was "supposed to" represent Jesus, I sensed that the strength behind the lion was otherworldly. Some 2.5 decades later, and about a decade after the modern film, my draw to Narnia and the battle between the Witch and Aslan has diminished significantly. I think this draining of awe has been more caused by the woeful hollywood production than the actual story, but there is something missing, a certain depth, that I can't seem to recapture. Some of this gap might be due to the fact that the storyline moves so incredibly quickly between when Edmund goes missing to the Witch and the actual death of Aslan and subsequent resurrection. As an adult I can't seem to sit in the loss of Aslan or the drastic-ness of him taking Edmund's place. The Witch seems a farce in light of the fact that she doesn't understand the "deeper magic," which seems counterintuitive given her role in the beginning of Narnia as described in The Magician's Nephew . Overall, this review may be more about my lack of understanding than the book's, but the magic of Narnia to some extent has been ruined, and this edition of the volume of Chronicles has become more of a cliche than archetype of redemption.

message 24: by Jill (last edited Nov 19, 2016 09:53AM) (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) A very good and thoughtful review, Matthew.

message 25: by Matthew (last edited Nov 23, 2016 06:04AM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 17. Sleeping Giants (Themis Files, #1) by Sylvain Neuvel by Sylvain Neuvel Sylvain Neuvel
Finish Date: November 18, 2016
Genre: Science Fiction, Robots, Government Conspiracy, Goodreads Choice Award Nominee
Rating: A-
Review: I picked this novel up at the local library assuming that because it was a 14-day book it was going to be at least halfway decent. I read the dust jacket's description of how the narrative was constructed via interview, diary entries, personal logs, etc., and my interest was fully piqued. What I didn't envision was being drawn so strongly to the main characters. Truly, the plot revolves around the characters instead of the usual Sci-Fi experience that revolves around the grandeur of the "Otherworld." I would compare the character development almost to that in Dune, though it falls from the latter in quality in myriad ways.

The most dynamic character in the novel, interestingly, seems to be the one that is most boring: the "man in bold." The other characters in the novel don't know what to do with him, and I certainly don't know what to make of him either. His sparse, objective take on the goings-on around him belies staleness, but the fact that there are certainly many hidden agendas and a seemingly rich backstory make this character easily the most interesting.

Honestly, the fact that a giant alien robot has been reconstructed, confirming the suspicions that we are not alone, is not even that exciting; it is truly side-show. This, once again, is odd given the fact that the "machine" or "alien" is usually the centerpiece of any Sci-Fi writer's agenda.

Overall, this series should be enticing, and I imagine it will eventually be made into a movie of some sort but not for the usual reasons. Just like HBO's current show Westworld , Sleeping Giants does what all stories, Sci-Fi or otherwise, do best: rely on rich development of its characters to "humanize" an otherwise un-human arena.

message 26: by Matthew (last edited Nov 24, 2016 06:40AM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 18. The Risen by Ron Rash by Ron Rash Ron Rash
Finish Date: November 21, 2016
Genre: Appalachian Literature, Coming of Age, Asheville, Fiction
Rating: B+
Review: By this point, I've read so much of Ron Rash that it would seem rare that he could continue to surprise me, and with The Risen , Rash stays pretty much on course with the rest of his already stellar body of work. The plot follows the shenanigans of two adolescent boys as they navigate a world dominated by their grandfather's authoritarian parenting while struggling with the pressures to engage in sex, drugs, and the looseness of Sixties culture. One boy makes it out of this experimentation, and one does not. The girl they both are drawn too is the biggest loser.

Once again we see Rash's obsession with women in water, specifically young girls bathing in mountain streams. I think this must be one of Rash's most enduring mental scenes, and it is painted in poetry and prose all over his works. I went and saw him speak at Malaprop's in Asheville, and he told his guests that he always writes from a stark visual image. I'm curious what image he was writing from in this novel, but I imagine it may have been once again been a woman drowning in water.

What is innovative about this work is the story of family dynamics across generations and between brothers as well as a comment on the relativity of "telling the truth." The straightlaced, respected, wealthy doctor ends up no more morally justified than his drunk, failed writer younger brother. Overall, one gets the enduring sense that though life decisions, major or minor, affect the outcomes of our lives, their moral parameters constantly waver and are shaped by society's reaction, whether true or errant.

message 27: by Dimitri (new)

Dimitri | 600 comments Which of Ron Rash' books would you recommend for a first time European? the denomination "Appalachian Literature" sounds intruiging, to counteract all those Hollywood horror movie stereotypes about the region.

message 28: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments I would read One Foot in Eden or Serena. Both are incredible, although a little dark. Nowhere near Hollywood horror though.

message 29: by Samanta (new)

Samanta   (almacubana) Matthew, please use the correct citation format when mentioning books.

One Foot in Eden by Ron Rash by Ron Rash Ron Rash
Serena by Ron Rash by Ron Rash Ron Rash

Thanks for the recommendations. :)

message 30: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments Will do!

message 31: by Brina (new)

Brina Matt, glad to see a good review of The Risen. I have been seeing 3-4 range and have been on the fence about reading it because I loved Serena. Looking forward to reading The Risen.

message 32: by Samanta (new)

Samanta   (almacubana) Hello, Brina! Please, use the citation format when mentioning books. Thank you! :)

message 33: by Matthew (last edited Nov 26, 2016 05:33AM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 19. The Horse and His Boy (Chronicles of Narnia, #3) by C.S. Lewis by C.S. Lewis C.S. Lewis
Finish Date: November 25, 2016
Genre: Christian, Fantasy, Fiction
Rating: A-
Review: This Chronicle of Narnia has always been so intriguing to me, mostly because of its departure from the norm of any expected plot in Narnia. Very little, if any, of this story takes place in Narnia; and it really doesn't involve many Narnian characters (at least revealed from the beginning). Overall, Horse and His Boy stands as a stark anomaly where Lewis decides to make comments on class and gender (and implicitly race) while revolving his main storyline against a "rags-to-riches" Christian-esque redemption narrative.

Reading as a 30-something now, I'm struck with how bold Lewis is with comments on class and gender. The very fact that his protagonists include Shasta (later Cor), basically a peasant horse thief, and Aravis, a teenage girl on the run from forced marriage, overtly reveal that Lewis had a bigger moral agenda than just having Aslan die for our sins (i.e. like in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe .) Both escape the grasp of their lot; Shasta actually becomes a prince and Aravis is able to choose whom she marries, both trends that were not necessarily accepted when this book was written in 1954.

One of my large criticisms, however, is that Lewis is still writing from an Imperialist operative. Calormen is quite obviously a parallel location of the Middle East (probably Persia), and as such is filled with all sorts of biases and "Orientalist" stereotypes (as described by Edward Said in Orientalism ). Given that Britain was about to undergo sweeping decolonization, it is remarkable that Lewis gives Calormen self-rule, though little more. The Tarkaans and Tarkeenhas, besides Aravis, are caricatures and lack the ability to be redeemed. They are proud, boastful, and like Rabadash, destined for "ass-hood" and ridicule.

Overall, I love this book for its weirdness and ability to escape expectations regarding Narnian "purity." This story would never be made into a movie, but it should. In fact, I feel like it has some of the least cliche descriptions of Aslan's character in the series; most of the other Chronicles show him as a potentially terrible beast that has become soft and glowy. In Horse and His Boy we seem him actually tearing flesh and turning people into donkeys (so bizarre!).

message 34: by Matthew (last edited Dec 11, 2016 07:28AM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments DECEMBER

20. White Trash The 400-Year Untold History of Class in America by Nancy Isenberg by Nancy Isenberg Nancy Isenberg
Finish Date: December 10, 2016
Genre: American Class History, Cultural History, Goodreads Choice Award Nominee, Nonfiction
Rating: B+
Review: This incredibly dense cultural history of class in the United States seems to be the final product of decades of passionate following of class in America as well as research of the intricacies of class over the last 500 years. What makes this monograph incredibly engaging, however, is the consistent intrusions of film, books, and movies that show the cultural change over time of popular views on American lower class whites.

I picked up this book from Barnes and Noble this past summer since it seemed a timely comment on a history of a group of people that had somehow been given a voice by a self-proclaimed "one of their own" in Donald Trump. I was incredibly curious to see how poor whites, "redneck trash," and educated riff-raff (not necessarily my own labels) could elect a man who was actually sourced from the New England elite. Since I'm a history teacher, I knew that Trump's message wasn't necessarily novel but more-so was well timed and incredibly well branded. Anyone who read Isenberg before the election would have been 100% convinced that Trump would win in the end.

At times Isenberg seems to overly focus on our Presidents as caricatures of themselves, especially in the chapters leading up to the end of the book. I found it somewhat startling there is no mention of Jeff Foxworthy since it seems like he would be the pre-eminent focal point in discussing how "rednecks" were pulled into mainstream American culture and even celebrated. There is a bit of ivory tower condescension with Isenberg, but her valuations are not necessarily unjustified. The Epilogue seems to be filled with more editorializing than I would expect from a tenured professor, but if I'm honest I have to say I loved it. One particularly poignant-even prophetic-point (and there are many) is Isenberg's proclamation that:

"A corp of pundits exist whose fear of the lower classes has led them to assert that the unbred perverse--white as well as black--are crippling and corrupting American society. They deny that the nation's economic structure has a causal relationship with the social phenomena they highlight. They deny history (emphasis mine). If they did not, they would recognize that the most powerful engines of the U.S. economy--slaveowning planters and land speculators in the past, banks, tax policy, corporate giants, and compassionless politicians and angry votes today--bear considerable responsibility for the lasting effects on white trash....and on the working poor generally" (309).

I have been amazed to see (maybe I shouldn't have been) that the students I teach, mostly upper class male whites, have no sense that class and race is an inherited imbalance, almost as much genetic as cultural. They have already constructed the "other" in the base white class whether they realize it or not and condemn them as "shiftless" or "lazy" to the extent that other eugenicists may have done a century ago.

Overall, Isenberg's work has made me grapple with my own class leanings, specifically the fact that I'm running from my own background. I would value myself as staunchly middle-middle class but have relatives that relish a constructed Redneck characterization. I have distanced myself from that branch of my family, and if I'm honest look down on them. I view my own education (I'm the only Masters degree in the family) as an elitist accessory instead of a burden of responsibility. Just as our early Founding Fathers would have been uncomfortable with sharing power with the "mudsiller," I'm just as loath to share a dinner table with a group out of which I am molded.

message 35: by Jill (new)

Jill Hutchinson (bucs1960) Interesting review, Matt.

message 36: by Ann D (new)

Ann D Thanks, Matt. I saw this book at Barnes and Noble over the weekend and wondered about it. After reading your review, I put it on my reading list.

message 37: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments Definitely worth your time Ann...should have won the Goodreads Choice Award in my opinion...

message 38: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 21. Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson by Robert Louis Stevenson Robert Louis Stevenson
Finish Date: December 2, 2016
Genre: British Literature, Classics, Fiction, Nautical, Scottish Authors
Rating: B
Review:I have to admit that the first few days I was reading this I had it completely confused with the movie Shipwrecked that I watched as a kid on the Disney Channel, and I was waiting the whole time for David Balfour to land on the coast of North Carolina to find a bunch of treasure. I was sorely mistaken, probably to my benefit.

Balfour and Alan Breck are a timeless pair, and like other seafaring adventure stories (i.e. Master and Commander (film)) serves as an experience in exploring masculinity almost as much as an adventure narrative. The whole novel reads like some sort of upper class Odyssey, and more than a few times I was reminded of Frodo and Sam's adventures through Middle Earth to Mordor. I can see explicitly in this story line how Tolkien borrowed from Stevenson's tone in galavanting over moor and mountain to reach some restful landing place.

Overall, this book seems more of an exercise in disseminating gentlemanly manners than actually reveling in adventure. It seems class conscious at times, particularly in that it looks down on the un-mannered commoner, but it treats the Scottish Highlander with more respect than I would except at the time it was published. Given my ancestors actually fought for Bonnie Prince Charlie in the mid-18th century uprising, Stevenson manages to hit a nerve at the value of a righteous outlaw on the run.

message 39: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 22. Prince Caspian (Chronicles of Narnia, #4) by C.S. Lewis by C.S. Lewis C.S. Lewis
Finish Date: December 17, 2016
Genre: Christian, Fantasy, Fiction
Rating: B+
Review: As I've already mentioned, the Chronicles in my second reading have opened up new realizations and complexities to a "children's series" that has been overly typecast as evangelical. Prince Caspian follows quite predictably in my revisionist reading of the series, except there are some interesting detours between the first three books and this one. For instance, "magic" is much more emphasized and the cast of characters, such as Bacchus (which would be considered pagan in strict Christian readings), have opened up Narnia into a world that is much more polytheistic and anthropomorphic than I ever realized.

Caspian is more banal than I remember and Edmund much more kingly. Of course, the best character in the entire series (according to me) is introduced in Reepicheep. The whole episode where he is brought on a stretcher to Aslan, tail missing, as the other talking mice play a dirge, is one of the most touching moments in the entire series. Lewis's use of the trees, including the Dryads and other forest spirits, is also new and reminds me of Tolkien's use of the Ents in his stories. The trees of course don't have much agency in and of themselves, but it's not like they were put to battle in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe , which make their presence sort of random.

Finally, and this was a very interesting insertion by Lewis, involves a set of dialogue between Lucy and Susan just after they are attacked by a "non-talking" bear. Lucy asks Susan, "Wouldn't it be dreadful if some day in our own world, at home, men started gong wild inside, like the animals here, and still looked like men, so that you'd never know which were which?" (122). It would have been easy to skip over this passage as some insignificant musing by Lucy if it wasn't so damn prescient. Lewis seems to be making an offhand comment on the terror and unpredictability of mental illness, where humans are turned into "beasts" seemingly overnight. Of course, this sort of diagnosis is much too simplistic, but it seems like Lewis is aware that creation has its course of entropy, even in Narnia.

message 40: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Good reviews Matthew

message 41: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 23. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (Chronicles of Narnia, #5) by C.S. Lewis by C.S. Lewis C.S. Lewis
Finish Date: December 21, 2016
Genre: Christian, Fantasy, Fiction
Rating: B-
Review: This chapter of Lewis's Chronicles is probably his worst. It makes sense that the next geographical arena that the story would enter would be the sea, but it would have been better if perhaps he had stayed on land. Indeed, all the best parts of the story occur off the boat (except for Reepicheep's solitary canoe trip over the wall wave). It seems like Lewis is trying to recreate a children's version of Ulysseses' trek home on his Homeric galley, but he falls short since the plot seems way more coincidental than intentional.

Still, Lewis cannot avoid his own genius. There are many novel and intensely emotional scenes that make this a quality work. Leading the way is Reepicheep's abandonment of his sojourners to Aslan's country. It's amazing how quick this event takes place yet how much power there is in his farewell. There is so much in Reepicheep that I yearn to see in my best self: fear subsiding into adventure...reason second to bravery.

Eustace Scrubb is a interesting addition to the series and serves as the model around which Lewis criticizes modernity. He is both the most annoying and dynamic character in this story, but what is interesting is that Lewis shows that Scrubb's worst quality is perhaps his lack of self awareness; for instance, it takes him some time to notice that he's been turned into a dragon. Lewis uses Scrubb in effect to show that posturing and accumulation of information for elitist purposes is what makes our modern world spineless and hollow. Eustace finds in his quiet moments with Aslan an awareness of his self, and it is only through those times (and suffering) that the depression of his ego is made possible.

message 42: by Matthew (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments Bentley wrote: "Good reviews Matthew"

Thanks Bentley...looking forward to adding to our discussion of Tocqueville

message 43: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
Look forward to reading your posts.

message 44: by Matthew (last edited Dec 29, 2016 08:54AM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 24. The Silver Chair (Chronicles of Narnia, #6) by C.S. Lewis by C.S. Lewis C.S. Lewis
Finish Date: December 24, 2016
Genre: Christian, Fantasy, Fiction
Rating: A-
Review: The Silver Chair stands as one of those chapters in the Narnian series that is easily dismissed as too tangential for main stream analysis or production. This is such a shame because this is most definitely the best book in the entire series of tales. Conspicuously absent are Peter, Edmund, Susan, and Lucy, and in their place is the return of Eustace from The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and his classmate Jill, a "modern" girl unsure of her ability.

The reasons why this tale is so unique is that it expands the geographic scope of Narnia as well as its history. By pulling Jill and Eustace north into Ettinsmoor and Harfang, and therefore into giant territory, the reader gets a larger sense of the vastness and diversity of the world in which Narnia occupies. The Lady of the Green Kirtle is a bizarre add to the cast of characters and shows that maybe Jadis wasn't the most powerful witch that entered Narnia. The whole concept of the underworld in general is fascinating and would be visually stunning in any film adapation.

The most important character in this book, however, is Puddleglum the Marsh-Wiggle. Equal parts self-deprecating and heroic, he stands as the figure of consistency and steadfastness though Lewis wraps these qualities up in a doom-and-gloom expression. He is just as enjoyable as Reepicheep although for very different reasons, and I can't believe that I forgot completely about him from my first reading.

The image of the Silver Chair is not that enticing to me. I know that Lewis is making a larger comment on how are true selves are often under enchantment by others around us or even ourselves, but the symbol stands more as cliche than a truly multi-textured image. Much more interesting were the moments where Jill meets Aslan and refuses to drink or when Bism opens up and Rilian is tempted to fall down and spend some time there instead of heading home.

Some have criticized Lewis's treatment of Jill as a stereotypical jab at feminine weakness. This is a completely ridiculous assertion for a variety of reasons. Surely, this book was written in the 50s at a time when women were treated as the "weaker sex" in many documented and myriad ways. Jill can at times act weak and others around her are careful to pay attention to her feelings, but it's not as if Lewis is adding to the stereotypes that women are weak. He has her trekking all over the wilds outside of Narnia through giant country and under the earth acting as brave as any other man in the series. In fact, Lewis shows Jill willingly playing a coy dramatization of the "dumb little schoolgirl" in Harfang when she tricks the giants into thinking that she is so precious and witless. Certainly, gender stereotypes should be criticized when present, but this is not the book for it. In fact, Lewis was well ahead of his time with his treatment of Jill.

message 45: by Matthew (last edited Dec 30, 2016 07:43AM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 25. The Last Battle (Chronicles of Narnia, #7) by C.S. Lewis by C.S. Lewis C.S. Lewis
Finish Date: December 28, 2016
Genre: Christian, Fantasy, Fiction
Rating: B+
Review: The Last Battle is the quiet and subtle ending to Lewis's sweeping fantasy series in Narnia. Most of the plot revolves around a small outpost on the border in Narnia with the King, Tirian, on vacation hunting when he storms into an egregious affront to the talking trees and beasts by the Calormenes. If this story were to be enacted on a stage, it could probably be done with one set until the very end of the story. Not that this geographic centering takes away from the story; if anything, it makes the end of Narnia much more intimate, which if you're ending a world is definitely a sense any author would want to communicate.

The most interesting characters in this chapter are Shift, the corrupt talking Ape, and Emeth, the pious Calormene soldier that is able to enter into the redeemed Narnia. Both stand on opposite ends of the religious spectrum, one seeking truth through boldness, and the other (Shift) using religion to gain material prosperity. In Shift, I am reminded of the many pastors, churches, and "Christian" authors and speakers who use the name of God to promote their own egos, purses, and agendas. Shift is easily one of the most disgusting characters in all of the Chronicles , and I imagine Lewis is pointing out that the worst evil is usually a perversion of the truest truths.

I don't remember the end of Narnia being as beautiful as I remember. The idea of moving "further up, further in" to a revelation of bigger worlds inside of small containers is curious and thrilling. At the same time, I think that Lewis is overly sparse with his descriptors, and this episode of the history of Narnia (and of all the worlds really) seems jammed into the narrative. To be fair, Lewis says that he can't/won't write down what happens at the end of Narnia, and that it is only the preface of a book that never ends, but for some reason that explanation rings somewhat hollow.

Overall, Lewis "end of times" narrative speaks volumes on his own personal theology regarding the idea of heaven. It is surprising to see who "gets in" vs. who is left out of the redeemed Narnia. Lewis takes a much more liberal stance than many hardline Christians (i.e. born again Christians) would probably take. The fact that the Calormene is "in" would be shocking to fundamentalist Christians who only think walking on the Romans Road would get anyone into the pearly gates.

message 46: by Matthew (last edited Jan 01, 2017 08:37AM) (new)

Matthew (mvcconcord) | 68 comments 26. The Forgotten 500 The Untold Story of the Men Who Risked All for the GreatestRescue Mission of World War II by Gregory A. Freeman by Gregory A. Freeman (No Photo)
Finish Date: December 31, 2016
Genre: Balkans, WWII, Espionage
Rating: B
Review: Gregory Freeman's narrative of the daring rescue of some 512 servicemen and diplomats from Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia is more of a sensational journalistic exploration than true historical monograph. This distinction is not necessarily bad since it creates a quick-flowing and exciting story that pulls the reader into the complexities of the rescue mission. Still, it would be nice to have some footnotes to see where some of this research is coming from.

What makes this book commendable are the tangential explorations of the battle between Mihailovic and Tito during their civil war in WWII. Balkan history isn't necessary mainstream, so much credit goes to Freeman bringing notice to a region that is often passed over in western histories as a "tinderbox." A kudos also should go out for Freeman's criticism of intelligence agencies in both the US and Britain who were overly influenced by communist employees and fear of stepping on the toes of Italian and Yugoslavian leaders during the Cold War.

My main criticism of this book is that it is melodramatic much of the time and seems to have an overt bias in celebrating Serbians under Mihailovic while harshly criticizing communists of all colors. This seems like a cheap shot instead of an actual merited criticism since he does absolutely nothing to show the horrors of communist rule under Tito; instead, it seems like a convenient bandwagon punch to satisfy his reading public's inherent bias.

message 47: by Bentley, Group Founder, Leader, Chief (new)

Bentley | 44207 comments Mod
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