Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review: The Art of Making Money

The Art of Making Money: The Story of a Master Counterfeiter

By Jason Kersten

Published June 11, 2009

Gotham Books

304 pp.

ISBN 1-592-40446-4

Reviewed July 30, 2009

Over the last few years, there have been a variety of changes made to the style of U.S. currency, and few of them have been rated as aesthetically pleasing. Larger portrait heads, oversized numbers and multicolored inks have all led to criticism and unflattering comparisons to phony money – but the reality is entirely opposite. These new designs incorporate minuscule factors like fine-line printing, color-shifting ink and watermarks, all of which are designed to place the dollar beyond replication.

But the best counterfeiters, an egotistical group by nature, tend to see these developments as a challenge rather than an impasse and master new techniques to create the most accurate copy possible. In “The Art of Making Money,” Jason Kersten tracks the development of one of these schemes, getting into the mind and methods of the counterfeiter who was able to break the most secure bill in decades. Along the way, he manages to pull together a story with some of the most classic literary themes: rags to riches, best intentions laid low and a son desperately trying to live up to an absent father.

The subject of “Making Money” is Art Williams, a product of the slums of Chicago who grew up surrounded by gangs and a troubled family life. Rather than being a drug dealer or stick-up artist however, he had the good fortune to become a pupil of a talented Italian counterfeiter who taught him the science and good sense needed to survive in the field. After a few small-time scams, Williams set his sights on a true challenge – replicating the “New Note” hundred-dollar bill released in 1996 for the purpose of shutting down his profession.

Kersten tracks Williams’ exploits across the United States, from the bunkers in Chicago where he started his printing operation to the wilds of Texas and Alaska where he’d lay low after a bust. He presents his narrative in a very compelling way, showing how Art would sell his merchandise to a variety of Chicago gangsters or liquidate it himself in cross-country mall trips. On the other side, we also see how Art’s broken home life shaped his business decisions, and how more than once his attachment to a deadbeat father pulls him back into a life of crime.

The book originally began in 2005 as an article for Rolling Stone – much of the article is transferred over in fact – and it retains the feel of a magazine feature with heavy emphasis on quotes and narrative. Williams was the key source for the story and is quoted regularly, but Kersten also weaves in interviews with his wife and family and cohorts from his glory days. The reporting style makes the book a relatively quick read, and the narrative’s presentation regularly allows for other sides of the story and how the players were affected.

The glory days do seem to sway Kersten’s attention a bit too much though, and more than once he waxes romantic on Williams’ escapades. He points out a series of near-misses the police had, speculates on the ways things could have gone different for Art and even paints him in a heroic light at one point – giving a good portion of his gains to charity. Williams is a fascinating character, so this can be forgiven – though it’s less easy to forgive the occasional overwrought sentences like this one describing the feel of Williams’ bill: “It was the lovely, husky crack made by the flying whip that drives the world economy – the sound of the Almighty Dollar.”

Thankfully though, he manages to keep these lines to a minimum and balance Art’s stories with some more in-depth research on the counterfeiting details. He walks us through the technical aspects of how a counterfeiting shop worked, the records and routine of the anti-counterfeit agency – the Secret Service – and the details of how the 1996 bill was made more complicated. A lot of these details are very interesting (did you know the Secret Service was originally founded to crack down on counterfeiters, and guarding the President came later?) and he meshes the facts well with Williams’ tireless efforts to beat the security measures with phone book paper and auto paint.

As Kersten portrays it, counterfeiting is a complicated, time-consuming and overall dangerous prospect – and it’s also one that has the potential to give one almost everything they ask for. “Making Money” is an excellently constructed true crime story, assembling every step of Williams’ journey from success to sorrow. For a story about a man who made his living on fakes, it comes across as a very real tale – just be careful not to get so caught up in it you debate photocopying twenty-dollar bills.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Books I loved, hated or was unmoved by-episode 1

I’m just starting a new cathegory today-books. Obviously, divided into two: books I love and cherish and re-read every now and then (yes I do re-read books I love, to the great dismay of my boyfriend who is more than willing to throw away books as soon as he’s done with them. We both hate clutter and a lot of books we (please read “he”) buy turn out to be right fit for the recycling bin (no WAY to re-sell them in Sofia, which drives me crazy and makes me even more determined to keep them-I mean, don’t you just hate throwing money away like that?), but the books I love, they’re like children to me. No, strike that, they’re much much better than children. They keep me company, they make me think, and they don’t make a mess, they don’t cry, and need no food. Perfect. I wouldn’t dream of throwing them away!

And obviously, cathegory “recycling bin”. There are two sub-cathegories in this one. Books that are objectively well written by people who know how to write, and who had something in mind when they started writing said book-but they just didn’t strike my fancy. And books that were apparently churned out by someone who is paid by the page-as long as they provide the editor with 200 pages, 14 font double spaced, they get paid regardless of WHAT they wrote. A sorry end for some of the planet’s proud trees. And good TP material.

I’ll color-code them (because I’m not good enough at this blogging thing to make different sub-chapters and stuff)-blue is for the ones I loved, because that’s my favorite color (well, one of them, anyway); green is for the ones that are good, but not to my liking-because they’re still going to end up in recycling, and everyone knows-green is for recycling; and brown is for the ones that I wasted precious time on reading, because brown is the color of doo-doo and those books are Toilet Paper material.

The order will be just random (I’ll obviously start with the ones that i’m currently reading or just finished, because they’re fresh.

Most recently finished book:

The Death Maze-by Ariana Franklin. This one sadly gets the thumbs down. It’s the second book of a series. Now, I like series-but not everyone knows how to do them well. I also like misteries, especially those set in yesteryears. I’ll blog about some of my favorite ones later on. I bought this book because I really loved the first book-Mistress of the Art of Death. (Trust me to ruin a review by making it…two!). Now, THIS one, I mean the first book of the series (I know, confusing, no? Maybe I shouldn’t take up writing professionally, after all ha ha!) was wonderful. It had pace, it had verve, the characters were well worked-the nice ones had little flaws, the bad ones had good sides, the story was very well plotted. It had enough interesting historic details, about daily life in the time of Henry the II Plantagenet (plus it was a nice surprise to see a positive book written about this very interesting character in English/French history. He’s normally the bad character linked to the murder of Thomas Becket, or overshadowed by his wife, Alienor of Aquitaine (what a formidable woman!!!!) and his sons, them of much fame Richard and John-that would be the Lionheart and Lackland. Yet Henry was a very interesting person, the first king in English history to style himself King of England, and a right force of nature-he had to, to be able to put up with his willy wife and plotting children). It also added to the interest factor, that the plot is about a woman medical examiner (a “dead doctor”) who has to find a serial killer who was abducting, mutilating and killing children. And do so without all the tools of modern Forensics (fingerprints, DNA, databases of all sorts). It doesn’t get much better than this, and Ms. Franklin pulled it off quite wonderfully, really. I didn’t suspect who the killer was until the very last pages, which is quite new and honestly quite thrilling for me-I love being surprised (mainly because I’m so darn smart that it’s almost impossible to do so! I know, I know, I don’t have a big ego, either!). Short, loved the book. If you’re into historic novels, give it a try. If you’re into misteries, try it too. If you like a bit of a love story with a wicked twist, read this book. It’s a winner, I’m telling you.

Turns out I can’t say much at all about the Death Maze, the book that I started reviewing in the first place . The main character is still in England, had a child, lost a lover, and needs to investigate the murder of the royal mistress (because whoever killed her, made it look as if it was ordered by Alienor, the king’s wife, and that, my friends, could have sparked a civil war-which England couldn’t affford). But…it seems like Ms. Franklin lost the plot a bit. There’s a second murder that comes in, none of those two is in any way spectacular, the murderer/s are not especially evil and cunning, and the worst thing of them all, it looks like she got bored with her own book at one point so she rushed the end and made it all…quite uninteresting. Shame, really, because I was looking forward to buying the next book of the series, and now I won’t-once disappointed, will never be fooled again.

So here’s the conclusion of today’s review:

Mistress of the Art of Death-by Ariana Franklin, gets blue, my favorite color, because I hearted it. And it gets to stay with me for a while.

The Death Maze-by Ariana Franklin, gets brown, the color of doo-doo, and is now sitting on the pile of books by the bed on DB’s side, waiting to be read by him (I swear, that man would read anything, anything at all!) and then to move to the pile of books waiting for the recycling bin (or for me to find some way of selling them-I want at least some of my money back!!)

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Thank you for the Reviews...

Mini and Me: Learning Healthy Habits has received a couple of reviews so far.  This is very exciting for first time authors!  It’s just nice to know that someone other than your family loves what you have done.  (No offense Mom and Dad.) 

Emily from Mill City Press has been very helpful with our galleys, pitch letter and sending out ebooks.  She returns emails, answers your questions and is always polite…Thanks Emily!  Check out the reviews at:

We hope to be able to post more reviews soon!  Also, we would love to hear from anyone who has read the book…

Thanks,  S&S

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

J.A. Konrath's Jack Daniels series

I haven’t been on the computer much lately because my head has been stuck in books. I’ve been reading at every possibly moment. I took the boys to their bowling league a week ago and was reading some of my typical “chic lit” books when a guy from my old bowling team came over and started talking to me. He saw I was reading and told me about the Jack Daniels novels. I was interested, so I came home and pulled them up on the library data base and requested them. It took about 2 days to get the notice that 4 out of the 6 were ready. They are, in order:

Whiskey Sour

Bloody Mary (havent gotten this one yet)

Rusty Nail Dirty


Fuzzy Navel

and the new one just released this month

Cherry Bomb

These are not my typical chick lit. I almost didn’t get through Whiskey Sour.  But after a while, I was hooked. I had to know what happen next. This series is about Lt. Jacqueline “Jack” Daniels, a 20-plus year cop in the Violent Crimes division of the Chicago PD. The violent crimes, are very violent. I don’t think Konrath really pulls any punches when he writes. If you enjoy the show Dexter, you might like these books though. While Jack Daniels isnt a serial killer living a double life as a cop (like Dexter) it has that same feel to it. At least I thought so.

I finished Fuzzy Navel today and the cliff hanger at the end (not present in any of the other books) made me so angry, I rushed online to try to find spoilers on the next book. No one is giving out the details though. I’m the 10th in line on the reserves list at the library, but the suspense is killing me. I’m tempted to go to the book store and find the book and read the first page, but I think I’d end up standing there reading the whole book!

Monday, July 27, 2009

BOOK REVIEW: Kiss of the Wolf by Morgan Hawke

  • Title: Kiss of the Wolf
  • Author: Morgan Hawke
  • Type: Adventure Romance
  • Genre: Historical Paranormal
  • Sub-genre: Fangs and Fur Urban Fantasy
  • My Grade: B  (4*)
  • Rating: PG-17
  • Where Available: Any bookstore

This very unusual book is sold as a romance, and in many ways that’s what it is, but in all fairness to most romance readers Kiss of the Wolf reads more like action adventure with romance than true romance.  It also carries a ‘Sexually Explicit’ warning and yes, there is some, but not a lot and certainly no more explicit that you’d find in a steamy historical.  Probably less.  I think this is one of the reasons it gets such mixed reviews.  Expectations are not met.  I have to admit I was frankly puzzled by it myself, but it was engrossing enough that I read on.  In many ways it reminded me of the old TV series, Wild, Wild West – just without the humor, mixed with The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, a dash of Jules Verne, and a some Thea Devine steam.  It has elements of traditional fantasy adventure, historical urban fantasy, and romantic suspense.

Morgan Hawke creates a fascinating world for Thorn Ferrel, a courier for the US Secret Service in the year 1876.  Thorn was once a normal human child.  She was sold to a magi (wizard) who merged her with wolf to create a werewolf.  A magical creation, she is rare. (There are many paranormal creatures in the ‘world’, but apparently no natural shifters.) Kiss of the Wolf gets off to a sizzling start as Thorn heads out on her last mission and her term of service, more like unwilling indenture, is done.  Having sailed from the US, she shifts to wolf to cross the Carpathian Mountains.  She heads for a cave to spend the day in safety, aware something very large is following her.  She winds her way in and stays in wolf form to fight better if needed.  She is surprised when a man follows her in and bites him.  But he seems unafraid and calm about the bite.

Thorn has bitten a vampire, Yuroslav.  He not just a vampire, he is also a magic user.  It isn’t until he hears her thoughts that he realizes the wolf that just bit him is really a werewolf.  In most books what follows – the initial sexual encounter – would be far too percipitous, but Thorn has much of her basic animal nature about sex and somehow, it seems realistic.  Thorn is uncomplicated and straight forwrad.  Yuroslav is a cipher in many ways and he is revealed in layers.  Both seem highly sexual beings, but this is no sex-fest and come evening the next day, Thorn is off on her assignment.  She finds her way to Colonel Ives, the man she blames for her 4 years as a ‘contract agent’ for the Secret Service.  He makes her take a return package to the US, but all hell breaks loose.  The man who took her to the Colonel, Max Rykov, is both a badly transformed werewolf and the plague beast that has been speading a kind of zombie plague through various towns.  Max shoots Thorn, grazing her with a silver bullet and Yuroslav has ‘remake’ her to save her because her human half is too well intgrated with the wolf to survive alone.

This complex world created by Hawke gets a bit overwhelming at times for those unaccostomed to complex fantasy reads.  It’s made more so by the slow unraveling of who’s who and general atmosphere of secrecy that keeps Thorn on the outside of much of this.  She is a woman, an American and completely unfamilier with the “Penumbral Realm” ruled by Price Raphael.  The basic premise is humans cannot be trusted with magic, it goes awry too easily, so magic users and creatures that are of a magical nature, like Torn, are under the governance of the Penumbral Realm.   The plague is magical in origin, but not of the Penumbral Realm, so there is a human sorcerer out there creating magical things as weapons of war.  It is the responsibility of the those in the Penumbral Realm to find this person and stop them.  Thorn has seen him and known him a ‘Doctor’.  She is valuable and becomes a kind of bait, but she belongs to Yuroslav and he is determined to protect her. The denouement with the rogue magi is facinating, but the reader needs to be intutive to follow some of the events and how and why the unfold or the impact is lost.

The story is not always easy to follow, in part due to the complexity, but mostly due to the style in which it’s written, which gets difficult to follow at times.  Anyone who has read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time will be fine, but if your used to writers like Christine Warren, this book will make you struggle.  Certainly, neither the vampires nor the werewolves are anything like those usually found in paranormal stories, so there are no easy points of reference here.  All of these elements conspire to make Kiss of the Wolf both very original, perhaps too original for some, and hard to slip into easily.  For true romance junkies, the sex might be hot, but it’s not an ‘erotic’ romance, just steamy and the relationship between Thorn and Yuroslav, despite the torrid begining, does not dominate the storyline.  This is a very worthwhile read, but it cretainly isn’t for everyone.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Mike Dann and The Golden Age of Television: Next on TV CONFIDENTIAL

Legendary executive Mike Dann will be our special guest on the next edition of TV CONFIDENTIAL, premiering Monday, July 27 at 10pm ET, 7pm PT on Shokus Internet Radio, with a rebroadcast Tuesday, July 28, 10pm ET, 7pm PT on Share-a-Vision Radio,

Mike Dann may not have created prime time network television, but he knew how to make it work, first as an assistant at NBC in the early 1950s, then as head of programming for CBS from 1958 through 1970. Implementing strategies that he learned at NBC under the tutelage of the great Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, Mike Dann’s keen eye for programming and counterprogramming helped keep CBS at the top of the ratings for 14 consecutive years (a record that has never been broken). And while his job, first and foremost, was to pay attention to the numbers, he never lost sight of the desire to present quality programming that benefitted “the Tiffany Network.” That wasn’t always easy to do, especially when dealing with the likes of the “Smiling Cobra,” Jim Aubrey—Mike’s boss for five years, and a man whose penchant for backstabbing would have made J.R. Ewing proud.

Mike Dann’s memoirs, As I Saw It: The Inside Story of the Golden Age of Television, is a colorful look at the first 25 years of network television, from the birth of the first full network schedule through the creation of such staples as The Today Show and The Tonight Show, to the rise and fall of such prime time giants as Tom and Dick Smothers. It’s also chock full of great anecdotes about working with such legends as Mary Martin, Lucille Ball, Danny Kaye and Judy Garland, as well as broadcast pioneers David Sarnoff, William Paley and Pat Weaver. Mike Dann will be joining us beginning at 10:05pm ET, 7:05pm PT.

If you want to be part of our conversation, if you have questions for Mike Dann or grew up watching The Defenders, The Twilight Zone, The Beverly Hillbillies, The Jackie Gleason Hour, The Smothers Comedy Hour and other CBS shows from the 1960s, we invite you to join us for our live broadcast this Monday, July 27, at 10pm ET, 7pm PT on Shokus Internet Radio. Phone number is (888) 746-5875 (or 888 SHOKUS-5). If you have questions or comments you’d like to send in advance, our email address is

NOTE. If you should miss the live broadcast, you can catch an encore presentation Tuesday, July 28 at 10pm ET, 7pm PT on Share-a-Vision Radio,, as well every night at 10pm ET, 7pm ET on Shokus Internet Radio through August 9. The July 27 show will be then be archived at beginning August 10.

Ed Robertson
Mon-Sun 10pm ET, 7pm PT
Shokus Internet Radio
Every other Tuesday at 10pm ET, 7pm PT
Share-a-Vision Radio,
Also available as a podcast via iTunes and FeedBurner

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Book Review: The Supper Club by Sophie King

The Supper Club tells the story of a group of people coming together once a month supper parties together, with secret, lies and relationships being revealed amongst them. The instigator of the party is widow Lucy, who with her children Sam, Jon and Kate is trying to rebuild her life with new boyfriend Mike who her children don’t like. Lucy’s sister Jenny also joins in, but she’s a single Corporate Events organiser who doesn’t like to muck around.

The others include Chrissie and Martin, who are starting to venture out after the birth of their son George; Antony and new girlfriend Patsy, and his wife Maggie makes an appearance too. Things happen at the dinner parties none of them expect, but its life in between the dinners that manages to change everything for the individuals of the group.

Sophie King definitely likes to write books which contain a lot of characters, and usually I don’t like this type of scenario. I prefer a book with just 1 or 2 main characters so I can really concentrate on the unfolding story. However, King writes in such a way that it is easy to follow each of them with relative ease, and become intrigued with the lives of each of them. To be honest, I don’t know how she writes such a long book and keeps all of the characters in check, appearing regualrly in the book and interweaves all of the storylines together with ease. A very talented lady methinks! At nearly 500 pages, this is a lot longer than your average chick-lit book, but it needs to be this long to be a satisfactory read with a good enough ending that doesn’t feel rushed at all.

As with all of King’s previous books, I found myself getting into the story very quickly and loving it immediately. The book begins by introducing us to our ‘leading lady’ Lucy and I really liked her straight away. Although we’re told she is a widow, its not until almost the end we find out what happened to her husband. This was intriguing and all the way through I looked forward to finding out the truth. Lucy’s life is well written and I really enjoyed following her story most of all. I did think at times she was a bit weak with her boyfriend but King tries to defend her actions as the book progresses. When I first met another character called Patsy, I hated her and thought King was clever for making me hate a character so quickly. However, she turns this around for Patsy through the book and as her past is revealed, I found myself sympathising for her and liking her which was a good turn of hand by the author!

As you progress through the book, its plain to see that this author completely loses herself in the world of her characters when she is writing because of the brilliant and detailed narrative that she uses throughout. The book changes focus of narration in terms of characters every chapter, and perhaps even twice in a chapter if something big is happening. Despite the regular change, it’s still very easy to follow, and I didn’t find it a problem to get into the new bit of story at all so for that I do commend Sophie King. The book is told in the third person, which avoids confusing change in voice and this definitely was the way to go with a book that contains so many characters. Family life is the main theme of the book, as with all King’s previous works, therefore pretty much anyone will be able to identify with the book and its characters lives and troubles which I think just broadens the appeal of the book.

You can probably tell that I definitely recommend this book because its just an absorbing and brilliant read! The lovely purple cover peering through a window invites you in to the world of the characters, and Sophie King’s writing flows so well that you are quickly drawn in the world and lives of the characters inside the pages. Despite many stories being told, it is a fascinating book and I loved how all the many threads eventually started to come together towards the end to tie everything up nicely for the reader. Yes, this is definitely a chick-lit book but the upper end of the market I would say. If you enjoy the genre, please give this book and indeed the author a go, you’ll be glad you did!

Rating: 5/5

Thursday, July 23, 2009

These Books Can Help with RSI...

If you’re like me, you type on your computer at work most of the day, then use your PC at home to cruise the internet and/or blog in your free time; you’re also surfing the internet and blogging using a wireless machine either at the local coffee shop or in the lobby of a business hotel.   Eventually, you may wind up with forearm, wrist, hand, shoulder or back pains from using your hands and arms so long.   These days, this is almost normal but you still should seek to avoid the type of long-term damage that comes with Repetitive Strain Injury (RSI).

RSI has been called the “epidemic that begain in the ’90s,” and it can damage the muscles, nerves and tendons of the hands, wrists and arms.   Fortunately, there’s both free and low-cost advice available to avoid becoming a diagnosed RSI sufferer.

Three websites offer specific information and helpful recommendations on this condition: healthy computing, RSI-Relief, and rsi help.   RSI help is the website of Deborah Quilter who wrote “the book” on the subject, Repetitive Strain Injury:  A Computer User’s Guide, with Dr. Emil Pascarelli.   This is an excellent book that can help you determine whether you are at risk for RSI – and most of us in today’s workplace are at risk – and give you the steps and tips you need to avoid permanent injury.

Once you’ve fully learned and incorporated the lessons of Quilter’s first book, you might want to purchase her second book (pictured), The Repetitive Strain Injury Recovery Book, which provides a type of check-list approach to remind you to continue to use the positive techniques you learned earlier.

A final point on RSI…   Everyone is different and Quilter points out that what works for one person may not work for another.   Experimenting is key.   This is quite true…   A few years back I was suffering an initial bout of RSI-type symptoms and the I.T. guy in the office gave me a roller-ball mouse.   Like Quilter, I found this was not helpful; the roller-ball actually requires more movement and led to pain in my right hand.

The same I.T. guy then brought me a thumb-click mouse.   As if by magic, about 80% of my pain and discomfort went away within days!   But this remedy was not meant to be a permanent one, and I likely fell back into some bad habits.   So now I’m re-reading Quilter’s books to see how I can re-learn the lessons that will enable me to keep word processing and blogging.

Reprinted courtesy of the Troy Bear blog; originally posted on March 14, 2009.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book review No. 2 - "Mutiny On The Globe - The Fatal Voyage of Samuel Comstock" by Thomas Farel Heffernan

Thomas F. Heffernan offers his telling of the already thoroughly-told tale of mutineer and altogether delusional madman, Samuel Comstock.  Had I not already read what can only be called “superior” versions of this fantastically interesting piece of whaling and nautical history, I might have enjoyed Heffernan’s a bit more.  While Comstock is definitely no angel, Heffernan’s treatment of him is, sadly, abysmal.  Heffernan comes off as the snarky commentator rather than the learned historian (which he claims to be).

Perhaps the most chilling parts of this book are found among its numerous appendices which include the complete account of the whole ordeal as told by Samuel Comstock’s brother George, written upon his (i.e., George’s) return to Nantucket and, allegedly, never before published in full.  Nevertheless, despite numerous tangential meanderings Heffernan makes, he does succeed in capturing just how altogether eerie and disturbing Samuel Comstock was, beginning in his childhood.  The image of Samuel Comstock that Heffernan succeeds in painting stays with the reader throughout the entire tale.

All told, there are better tales of this astonishing piece of nautical and whaling history out there.  To begin, one might start with Gregory Gibson’s version in “Demon of the Waters.”  Also, this book, at least in my mind, conjures fantastic images of those early days, not necessarily of whaling, but of exploration of the South Pacific/South Seas.  To get a great account of that era of nautical history, look to Nathaniel Philbrick’s “Sea of Glory – America’s Voyage of Discovery, the U.S. Exploring Expedition 1838-1842,” my review of which shall be forthcoming in the future.  Likewise, the tales of the US Ex. Ex. are thoroughly enjoyed in conjunction with Peter C. Newman’s excellent book, “Empire Of The Bay – The Company of Adventurers That Seized A Continent” (my review of which I will also post, at some point) an absolutely amazing story of the Hudson Bay Company, for which John Rae (discussed below) did so much of his travels/explorations.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

A Perfect Mess by Lisa Harper

To be honest I am still working through this book.  There are so many times when I feel exactly like the title of this book.  I am taking my time and digesting the truths that Ms Harper is sharing.  I also happen to adore the Psalms and Ms. Harper takes you on a journey through some of Psalms showing us why we do not need to worry about our less than perfect moments because He loves us just as we are, a mess, but at the same time His beautiful Daughter.  If you struggle with feeling like you are a mess then this book will encourage you and let you know you are not alone!  I really like Ms Harper’s writing style and personal stories which makes this book a delight to read.

On those days when French fries litter the floor of your minivan, when you think bad words about other drivers, when your smile hides an anxious heart–in those moments when you fall short of all you’d hoped to be–what does God see when He looks at you? 
In your less-than-lovely moments, 
God sees a precious daughter in need of His perfect love.
In this liberating look at how God adores and transforms imperfect people, Bible teacher Lisa Harper weaves poignant stories of her own personal foibles with a fresh take on selected Psalms to reveal a loving Father who remains your greatest champion even when you don’t feel anywhere close to holy.
Join Lisa in discovering what happens when we stop trying to hide our inadequacies and doubts and instead trust God with our anger, frustrations, flaws, and regrets. As you accept God’s loving invitation to exchange your junk for His joy, you’ll find the imperfect pieces of your life shaped into a glorious pattern of divine grace.

****A GIVEAWAY!****

I have one copy of A Perfect Mess to giveaway so just leave a comment on this post and I will be using to draw a winner on Monday July 27.

Monday, July 20, 2009

The House on the Strand

After having read ‘Rebecca’ some 3 years ago I have always been very apprehensive of trying any other Daphne De Maurier (DDM)  book. I did not want to spoil the memory of that lovely haunting book. But I had been reading a lot of reviews on DDM’s work on blogs and so,off I went to the store to chose my second book. “Time travel” and “fourteenth century england” were the key deciding factors in picking up “The House on the Strand” -I love period books and this seemed like an interesting concotation of contemporary and old England.

Well here for my review – I really enjoyed reading it. It was not an ‘unputdownable’ like Rebecca but it was gripping enough. The main characters are Richard Young ( sitting idle , between jobs) and his best friend Magnus Lane  ( slightly eccentric biophysicist). The story is set in Cornwall and the geographic layout is quite essential to the central plot of the book. Magnus offers Richard and his family his country  house, Kilmerth for the summer. Richard arrives early to set things in order and that is where our story begins – Magnus has persuaded Richard to try out a new experimental drug before his family joins him at Kilmerth.

Well, Richard takes the prescribed dose and is transported back to 14th century England.  Gone is his house and in place stands a much humbler dwelling, half the village has also disappeared , to replaced by the river and expansive green fields. DDM drags Richard and in turn the reader, into the lives and stories of people who lived and breathed six hundred years ago.Roger Kylmerth, steward to Sir Henry Champeroune, is the connecting link – it is through his eyes that Richard observes the ups and downs of the lives of the lords of Cornwall – Sir Henry, Sir Oliver Carminowe, Lady Isodola Carminowe, Sir William Ferrers and others.

There were times when I felt a chill up the spine thinking what if this was really possible, what if I , where I was standing could go back to the same spot , six hundred years ago…what would I see.

The story is not just about Richard’s journey into the past – its also about how it starts effecting his present life. Richard is so infatuated by Lady Isodola that he must know what is her fate. He keeps on taking ‘trips’ in the past inspite of negative side-effects of the drug showing up. Things nearly come to pass when Magnus who has been self-administrating the drug walks into a moving train under its influence.But Richard must go back. Isodola is trapped by her husband and is plotting to escape under Roger’s protection – he must know what happens to her. Richard takes one more trip  and this time the past and present are so intertwined that he attacks his wife mistaking her for the ghost from the past.

There are sevaral themes in this book – friendship and  loyalty, marriage and betrayel, homosexuality, drug addiction.Two elements really made the book gripping – the parallel story line of  England of  the Middle Ages and Richard’s discovery of the truth behind the events that happened in the past.DDM’s vivid description of Cornwall terrain added to the whole mood of the story and really did make you feel as you were a part of that book.

Verdict : A must buy if you enjoy reading Daphne De Maurier

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Whatever Happened to Saturday Night: A Review of Nobody Move (A Novel)

A talented young writer wins the 2007 National Book Award for a serious novel about the Vietnam War.   Then he decides to sell a four-part retro breezy crime serial to Playboy magazine.   Okay, so it did not make sense to me either, and that serial here becomes an under-200-page tale that reads like a rejected script for Miami Vice.   The dialogue reads a lot like a middle-schooler’s first attempt at writing.   But then, some may find this sample fascinating:  “You know where he lives, right?”  “Yes.”  “Fine.   I said we had ten percent of a plan.   It’s more like two percent.   I gotta get some smokes.”

Sometimes less is more.   In this case, less is less.   And, oh yes, there are a number of characters who you just know from the first few pages are going to fight it out at the end of this not-at-all-disguised shaggy dog story.

Is this Johnson’s idea of a $23 practical joke?   I don’t know, but let’s just hope that Playboy paid him a Ferrari’s trunk full of money, become recovering from this is going to be a long shot.   Bang!

Farrar, Straus & Giroux, $23.00, 196 pages

Reprinted courtesy of Sacramento Book Review.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

What is at Stake in the FFOZ / Tim Hegg Debate?

The people at First Fruits of Zion are friends of mine, so as I write this, I make no pretense to objectivity. I do think, however, that the arguments I will briefly lay out speak for themselves. I believe it is possible, if you know nothing of FFOZ or of Tim Hegg for a reader to see what is at stake and to fairly judge from this article. I invite Tim Hegg or any of his supporters to politely respond here.

There is a debate going on right now. It began when an individual, Tim Hegg at decided to publish a sharply critical letter warning the world of the dangers of FFOZ. What is at stake in the FFOZ/Tim Hegg debate? The answer is the legacy of pre-Messianic Jewish pioneers such as Paul Philip Levertoff is at stake.

In short, First Fruits of Zion, at great expense, and I know since I was consulted about the matter, at a great financial loss, has with integrity purchased rights to and begin to publish works from the great pioneers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries under the imprint Vine of David ( The first two volumes to be produced include an updated version of Paul Philip Levertoff’s Love and the Messianic Age and a commentary and study guide on the same work.

On June 26, Tim Hegg of Torah Resource issued a letter and an 11-page paper stating his reasons for distancing himself from FFOZ and inviting others to share his stance toward them. He listed as his reasons: (1) that FFOZ no longer teaches the One-Law doctrine, (2) that FFOZ values the tradition of normative Judaism, and (3) that FFOZ (allegedly) wishes to promote kabbalah, (4) and that FFOZ (allegedly) advocates a mystical hermeneutic for interpreting scripture.

As to the first two points I can say: hallelujah. As to the second two points, Mr. Hegg, solitary prophet that he presents himself to be, is guilty of two insidious and simplistic tricks of rhetoric:

(1) Using “guilt by association” to denounce his enemies.

(2) Using alarmism to promote himself.

The Guilt-by-Association Rhetorical Move
Levertoff was deeply moved by, though not without limits and caveats, the beauty of the Chasidic thought which was the background of his family. He sought to integrate some, mind you some, Chasidic concepts with the New Testament theology he taught and learned as an Anglican divine of Jewish descent.

He clearly did not bathe uncritically in the waters of kabbalah. He did not, for example, accept the ideas of Lurianic kabbalah about God requiring the help of Jews to restore the cracked vessels of creation by keeping mitzvot. He did not accept the idea that Gentiles have an animal-like soul and are incapable of true spiritual reflection. There is much evidence to the unbiased observer that Levertoff’s love for Chasidic thought had limits and balance.

From reading Tim Hegg’s letter, you would think that Levertoff and FFOZ are ready to join Madonna and Yehuda Berg in bringing New Age philosophy to the unsuspecting minds of the Messianic Jewish movement. Hegg writes eleven pages warning us about how dangerous Chasidic thought and kabbalah can be, especially in the way scripture is subject to esoteric means of interpretation.

Is FFOZ in fact guilty of mystical redefinition of terms and an undisciplined hermeneutic of scripture which rejects the plain meaning? Of course not. Note for example the caveat in the introduction by Daniel Lancaster to Love and the Messianic Age, a caveat which I believe FFOZ has followed heartily in their presentation of Levertoff’s thought:

During the course of those six chapters, the reader will be exposed to a variety of mystical constructs, some of which are inspiring and insightful and some of which may seem dubious. It is not necessary to agree with or endorse the mystical concepts Levertoff advances in these chapters. . . . Levertoff’s method invites the reader to withhold judgment until the epilogue, when he takes us into the book of John.

Guilt by association is a simple but detestable practice of rhetoric. It consists of insinuating that someone you wish to denounce is guilty of the worst errors of any tradition or person from whom they have some association. For example, someone might say, Joe Messianic drives a Ford, and we all know that Henry Ford was a damnable anti-Semite. Is Joe Messianic turning against his own people?

PARODY: The Dangers of Calvinism and Does Tim Hegg Wish to Burn Hebraists at the Stake?
Let me apply a bit of Hegg’s own technique on him as nothing more than a parody.

Tim Hegg is an admitted Calvinist, a form of theology which we all know is insidious and which undermines the very authority of the Bible (see my accompanying twelve page monograph, “Are Calvinists Responsible for Some of the Missing and Murdered Children in America?”).

Calvinism, as is well-known, foists onto the Bible certain unscriptural and harmful ideas. God does not love you in any sense in which you would use the word love, according to Calvinists. He chose you randomly to be saved and also randomly chose others to be damned. Calvinists say if God found anything lovable about you, this would be a “good work” and render you unfit for salvation.

Calvin, as is well-known, called for the death of Michael Servetus, who perhaps represents an early attempt to bring Jewish thought into Christian doctrine. In other words, Calvin was in favor of burning Hebraists and Messianic Jews.

Is Tim Hegg planning to burn Messianic Jews as his mentor John Calvin taught as the true path to Jesus Christ? We would not want to see Torah Resource grow in power or strength lest this hidden agenda become a reality. The only course for us in the Messianic movement is to avoid purchasing Torah Resource materials and warn all our friends about this coming persecution.

Let’s work together to protect Messianic Judaism and the world from the dangers of Calvinist biblical interpretation and pursue instead the plain meaning of the text. Let’s work against the persecution of Messianics by the Geneva Illuminati and Tim Hegg.

**Note: I say again, the preceding words are a parody only.

Alarmism versus Balance
Tim Hegg warns all his readers about FFOZ, explains that he no longer associates with FFOZ, and urges readers not to be fooled by the writings of Levertoff.

Alarmism serves the interests of solitary prophets in need of attention and an audience. It is a shameful technique for self-promotion.

There is no crisis of hermeneutics or theology in the publishing work of FFOZ through Vine of David ( No nefarious theologies are being promoted. There is nothing more extra-biblical about Levertoff’s synthesis of Chasidic and New Testament theology than there is about the works of John Calvin.

But I can say that the tragedy is if people who trust Tim Hegg and do not investigate for themselves miss out on the blessing of reading Love and the Messianic Age and other great works in the history of Messianic Judaism.

Far from being literature to be banned or shunned, which if you read the book Hegg’s alarmism will likely make you laugh, this material is part of the heritage of modern Messianic Judaism. There have been many missteps in developing Messianic Jewish thought. Pioneers like Alfred Edersheim made a real contribution while, unfortunately, feeling that devotion to Messiah required them to criticize Judaism. Early leaders in Messianic Judaism too closely followed patterns in Charismatic Christianity which led to embarrassment and avoidance of Messianic Judaism by Jewish believers for years.

Is Levertoff’s work the be-all, end-all of theology? No one claimed it to be that. Yet it is a perspective to learn from and to understand. What Tim Hegg does not seem to understand is that mystical reading of scripture, properly done, is not about interpretation at all. It is about application. The heart of Love and the Messianic Age is a practical theology of loving God. It is not about doctrine or historical research, but about how to love God. Everyone in the Messianic Jewish movement should remember and practice what Messiah taught: there is no greater commandment. And to disparage a beautiful work of meditation on love for God does not serve God or the movement.

Monday, July 13, 2009

The Difficult Doctrine of the Love of God (DA Carson), Reading Notes

Carson, D. A. 2000. The difficult doctrine of the love of God. Wheaton, Ill: Crossway Books (Available as a free pdf here)

I don’t normally just post book notes, but I just read this one and since I am not a trained theologian or scholar of hermeneutics, I fear anything but mere reflection on the text and careful application.  For those readers only interested in matters regarding Christian-Muslim relations, see the last paragraph in this post.

I’m not sure that anything that D.A. Carson writes is easy to read, nor is any of it irrelevant. This book was originally developed and presented as lectures, hence is colloquial structure.

He begins by listing 5 reasons why the doctrine of the love of God is “difficult”:

  1. Since most deists of any sort in Western civilization assume that God must be a loving being, it is difficult to distinguish in present culture what the Bible means when it says that “God is love”.
  2. Western culture also has devalued God of most anything that it deems uncomfortable. This has led to belief in an overly emotional God devoid of any awkward or unpleasant characteristic (i.e., his lordship, his justice, etc.)
  3. Postmodern reinforces “the most sentimental, syncretistic, and often pluralistic views of God, with no other authority base than the postmodern epistemology itself.” (p. 14)
  4. The love of God is itself very difficult even for confessing Christians to grasp without precarious imbalance and disproportion to the Bible’s teaching.
  5. Often, the doctrine of the love of God is portrayed over simplistically.

He then lists 5 ways the Bible speaks about the love of God. These 5 ways are the conceptual and theological underpinning for the rest of Carson’s book.

  1. The peculiar love of the Father for the son, and of the Son for the Father
  2. God’s providential love over all that he has made
  3. God’s salvific stance toward the fallen world
  4. God’s particular, effective, selecting love toward his elect.
  5. God’s love is sometimes conditional upon the obedience of His people.

He admonishes the church not to absolutize or make exclusive any one of the different ways that the Bible talks about the love of God. This only leads to theological imbalance and pastoral carelessness.

In chapter 2, Carson rearticulates his argument that the “agapeo” word studies are a methodologically flawed manner of grasping God’s love. This argument first appeared in his book Exegetical Fallacies (Baker Academic, 1996). “What is now quite clear to almost everyone who works in the fields of linguistics and semantics is that such an understanding of love cannot be tied in any univocal way to the agapeo word group” (26).

He then exegetes John 5:16-30 in order to explain nuances of the intra-Trinitarian love of God. His main point, in the end, is that the intra-Trinitarian love of God is the theological under girding for understanding God’s love for us and how we relate back to God and to Jesus.  I.e., Jn 3:16 and Romans 8:32 make sense and are good news because we know how much the Father loves the Son.

As a quick critique: I find it fascinating that in the chapter on intra-Trinitarian love the Holy Spirit is hardly mentioned, even in passing. Why?

In chapter 3 Carson establishes 3 points:

  1. God may be impassible, but only in the sense that he is without unconstrained and self compromising emotions, but he is certainly not emotionless – in fact, the whole corpus of Scripture illustrates emotion from his perfection. The doctrine of God’s impassibility is “trying to avoid a picture of God who is changeable, given over to mood swings, dependent upon his creatures” (49).
  2. God is sovereign and transcendent as well as personal. These two parts are givens. Elevate over the other and you have yourself a nice destructive heap of heresy.
  3. God has emotions, but they are perfectly constrained as a function of his own perfection and holiness. He is impassible “in the sense that he sustains no “passion”, no emotion, that makes him vulnerable from the outside, over which he has no control, or which he has not foreseen” (60). Passages like Eph. 3:14-21 are not using anthropopathism. God’s love, to go back to the argument over the agapeo word grouping, is not just willed altruism. In fact, his passions are perfectly unified with his other perfections. Specifically, God’s love is presented in the biblical text as tied to the other perfections of God. God’s love is one of His own perfections of being. In other words, his love is not dependent on the loveliness of the loved.

Chapter 4 is a meditation on God’s love and wrath. While God’s love is part of His perfect being, His wrath is not one of the intrinsic perfections of God (though He is perfect and holy when filled and when displaying his wrath). His wrath is a function of the rebellion of His people. He then delves into a strong discussion on the intent of the atonement. Is it limited or for all? He argues for a distinction between general and definite.

Carson is strongest in this book in the last few pages. Therein he takes the 5 ways that God’s love is described in Scripture and reflects on those ways elicits our love for God and for fellow mankind.

Finally, I find it fascinating that Carson feels drawn to make a comparison with the God of Islam (p. 39). He states that Allah is not eternally other oriented in the same sense of the Triune God in whom each Person exists in perfect submission, appraisal, and affection with the others.  Since Allah is not plurality-in-unity, only when in time he created all things did he have the capacity to love something other than himself. The theology aside. Isn’t it amazing that this renown Christian theologian finds it appropriate to make a pedegogical comparison between the Biblical and Qur’anic God while doing the same with no other deity of another world religion?!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Buried Alive

What Happened to Cass McBride?

By Gail Giles

New York, Little Brown, 2006, 209p.

Who is Cass McBride and why has a boy named Kyle Kirby buried her alive? What Happened to Cass McBride is a nonstop, chilling tale told from three different perspectives. First is Kyle Kirby who is giving his confession to the police for the crimes he committed against Cass McBride. Next is Cass herself, the popular, attractive junior who always seems to get what she wants. She’s an RP, a “Resume Packer,” who wants to be not only Homecoming Queen but also the Prom Queen and Student Council President because she believes it will help her get into college and meet her father’s lofty expectations. Most of Cass’s side of the story is told from underground, the coffin in which Kyle Kirby has buried her alive with a walkie talkie and an air tube so that he can “torture” her before she dies. The third narrator is Ben, the local police officer in charge of Cass’s case who is desperately trying to find her in the first 48 hours after her kidnapping. The story goes back and forth between these three narrators, leading to an exciting conclusion.  Cass uses the business skills she’s cultivated from her callous father to try and manipulate Kyle into letting her out of the box. Listening to his story, Cass discovers that Kyle blames her for his younger brother David’s suicide. She wrote a note to her friend about him shortly after David asked her out. She never intended for David to see her cruel note but he found it.

A day later, he was found dead, hanging from a tree outside his house with a different note pinned to the flesh on his chest. Cass regrets her words but the more she listens to Kyle’s story, the more she realizes she is not the person that belongs in the box. It is Kyle and David’s mother, aka “monster mom,” who destroyed David. She poisoned him with her harsh, cruel words and never showed him the love he deserved. Cass may be a “bitch” but she knows she’s not the one responsible for David’s death.

As he’s telling Cass the story, Kyle also realizes he’s entombed the wrong woman but instead of digging up Cass, Kyle goes straight home to his mother providing an intense climax to the novel. He holds a knife to his mother’s throat and tells her she murdered David with her words and deserves to die. Just as he’s dragging her outside to kill her, the police (having just put the crime together) storm the house and arrest Kyle. He tells them where Cass is buried and a mad dash to save Cass’s life begins.

It may not surprise you that I read this book in about three hours, which is really quite a record for me. It’s a ‘page turner’ to be sure but mostly I just finished it because I didn’t want to have to keep thinking about it. I cared about Cass and I wanted nothing more than for her to be let out of the box so I could go to sleep! There are two critical themes is this book: the power of words and connectivity. These are the same themes addressed by Asher in Thirteen Reasons Why but this book takes ‘connectivity’ to a whole new level. We are all part of a chain and as much as we hate to admit it, what we do and say can drastically affect others in the chain, turning some to take their own life, and some to take the lives of others. It’s hard to imagine why someone would drug, kidnap, and inter one of their peers. It’s hard to imagine what would drive anyone to that level of mental instability. However, Giles does a magnificient job of helping us imagine why that might happen and what we can do to prevent it.

The only major weakness I see in this book is the ending. What happens to Cass at the end? She survives the box but I don’t fully understand the ending. She’s in the psych ward and seems to have lost the concept of time but she writes as if she is completely cognizant. So which is it? (I guess I’ll never know) Also, as a minor weakness, the cover art of this book is not really appealing to me. It’s too strange but perhaps that would appeal to a teen who reads thrillers on a regular basis. I also think this book is appropriate for just about any age of teen, depending on how claustrophobic they are and how many crime dramas they’ve watched on TV.  I give this book a 4Q and 3P VOYA rating.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Conceptually rich but unnecessarily complicated

Complex and Adaptive Dynamical Systems: A Primer
by John H. Miller and Scott E. Page (2007)

Complexity is a hot subject. Unfortunately, the language of dynamical systems theory is advanced mathematics, which means that most of the available literature is not readily accessible to lay readers. Educated nonspecialists are left with few options aside from the occasional overview which, typically, does not delve too deeply into the subject matter. Given this state of affairs, Miller and Page’s book would seem to be a godsend.

A stated aim of the book is that of providing a “clear, comprehensive, and accessible account of complex adaptive social systems” for “both academics and the sophisticated lay reader.” Insofar as comprehensiveness, the authors deliver. Readers are first offered preliminary discussions on complexity in social worlds, modeling, and emergence, followed by a more detailed treatment of computational modeling as a tool for theory development and agent-based objects as the recommended means to explore complex adaptive social systems. Then a basic framework of agent-based systems is presented, followed by discussions of unidimensional complexity models and the edge of chaos, social dynamics, evolving automata, and organizational decision making. These topics are largely illustrated with the authors’ previously published models. Finally, conclusions are derived regarding the book’s central theme: the “interest in between” as it pertains to complex social systems (which tend to fall in between the usual scientific boundaries). Two appendices bring up the rear: an agenda for future research in complex systems and an outline of best practices for computational modeling. The thematic coverage is ample and varied, excellent for a general introductory work on social complexity.

Insofar as clarity and accessibility are concerned, however, I find myself in disagreement with the book’s blurbs. Much of the mathematical formalism has been expunged from the discussions, yes, but that by itself does not guarantee enhanced communicability. The logic of the arguments, which in this field is considerable, must now be conveyed by other means, either verbal or visual. The authors do make an effort to explain in words the basic concepts when they begin a new topic. But when they proceed to discuss an actual model, they shift gears. Instead of explaining or illustrating in detail the model’s functional intricacies, they switch to summarizing their findings and present a table or figure that encapsulates the model’s results. Repeated readings of the text are almost always necessary in these cases, but understanding does not always automatically ensue. This approach does not appear to contribute to the goal of making the models “as simple and accessible as possible.”

This situation is not due to writer’s oversight but to a deliberate choice. Prior to discussing their first example model (a computational version of Tiebout’s model), the authors state: “Rather than fully pursuing the detailed version of the model we just outlined … here we provide just an overview.” Fateful words which amount to an announcement of their modus operandi, as the subsequent instances demonstrate. Caveat lector. The reader is also assumed to possess a working knowledge of such things as game theory, elementary combinatorics, and statistics, among others. So brush up on the basics and stay close to a search engine.

Reading this book takes time and some effort; it is not a breezy read. One never gets to see an actual piece of code or even pseudocode, which one would normally expect in an introductory book on computational modeling. The reader is left in a vacuum as to the mechanics of implementation. Still, it is a good book in terms of its conceptual content. However, the inconsistency between the stated aim of providing clarity of exposition at an introductory level and the actual product the reader interacts with detracts from the book’s overall quality. It seems like we are still waiting for the canonical text on complex adaptive social systems.

Note: If you are looking for a general overview of complexity theory intended for a lay audiece, I would suggest Melanie Mitchell’s Complexity: A Guided Tour. It is excellent. At the other end of the spectrum, if you’re heavily into power math, consider Complex and Adaptive Dynamical Systems: A Primer (Springer Complexity) by Claudius Gros. It is rigorous.


Friday, July 10, 2009

The Reviews are in!

Her Last was reviewed by SeriouslyReviewed! and it scored excellently!  9 of 10 for presentation and 8 of 10 for story.  Check out the review and leave a comment!

Her Last Review

In other news, I’m a new aunt today!  Brendan Charles was born at 11:12 PM 7/8/09.  He was 7 lbs 12.8 ounces, and 21 1/2 inches long.  All reports are that he’s absolutely gorgeous!  Since I live 130 miles away, I have not had the joy and pleasure of seeing his beautiful little face yet!  Mommy and baby are great and sure to come home soon!

In still other news, a fellow author disclosed her newly diagnosed cancer.  She has such a strong, positive attitude.  I admire that.  My thoughts and prayers are with her as she mounts a battle against the cancer in her body.

Lives are short.  Our time here is never guaranteed.  I hope you all live it accordingly!

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Ancient Mystery Cults

It is quite common for people to claim that the story of Jesus is based on the ancient mystery religions such as that devoted to Mithras, Osiris-Isis etc.  The best way to respond to such claims is to look at what the mystery religions actually say.  The best resource I have found is Walter Burkert’s Ancient Mystery Cults.  This is not an apologetic book and I do not even know if Burkert is a Christian.  What I do know is that Burkert is able to present the basics of mystery religions in an understandable way.  He dispels myths such as the idea that Mithraism almost surpassed Christianity or that communion had its origins in the mysteries.  Burkert’s only agenda seems to be to let the mystery religions speak for themselves and yet in doing that, he demolishes many of the claims of authors such as Tom Harpur, Peter Gandy, Timothy Freke etc.  If you want to understand mystery religions and how Christianity is related, this is the book to read.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Undress me in the temple of heaven Susan Gilman

I recently finished reading a book by Susan Gilman called Undress Me in the Temple of Heaven. It was a memoir that took place in China circa 1986. The author and her friend decided rather spontanteously while eating pancakes drunkly at Ihop that they would travel the world together starting first with China. I thought that sounds promising. I do afterward yearn to travel, but I never set my heart on China. All I thought of it was smog, smog and more smog. Oh and coughing up black phelgm, yummy! This book changed my mind about it, even though Susan’s adventure through China with someone who she didn’t know that well was a hell of a rollercoaster ride, the experiences with China and the Chinese was very special. I’m sure that China circa 2009 is going to be a lot different than China circa 1986. I guess one could say that what I’m feeling for this book is just I want to travel.

It’s the style that Susan writes that I love too. It’s so humorus and honest. I know that this review isn’t really a review. It’s more of what I feel about this book, but I still greatly recommend this book to anyone who has a niche for travelling and experiences.

- Cheyenne La Vallee

'One Day in July: Experiencing 7/7' by John Tulloch

2006, 223 p.

Today is the fourth anniversary of the London bombings.   A memorial has been unveiled in Hyde Park this year, and I have no doubt that every passenger on the Underground today will think of the bombings, even if just to push the whole idea away as too terrifying to contemplate (or maybe I’m projecting my own claustrophobia here.)

John Tulloch, an Australian academic, became one of the ‘iconic’ images of the bombing as he was led from Edgware Road, a bandage wrapped around his head, with eyes darting sideways. His studies specialized in the media and risk, and he brings this perspective to his experience of the bombings.  This is more than a survivor story- although he writes graphically and minutely of the bombing and its aftermath- but the real strength of his telling is the intelligence and insight he brings to the experience and its portrayal in the media, theatre and literature.  Here he is able to step away and analyse the intent and techniques in the narrative as it is portrayed through different media.  He puts his politics upfront: he is vehemently anti-Blair, anti-Bush (and anti-Howard); he is convinced of the relationship between our involvement in Iraq and the bombings and clear eyed about our own complicity in allowing the war to continue.  Ironically, he found himself used as a political image to further Britain’s involvement, rather than to question it.

John Tulloch is obviously a sharp and rather irascible ‘older’ academic, and he puts his wisdom, experience and deep knowledge to its best use by adding shades of complexity, contingency and nuance to events that are too easily depicted in only black and white language- something that I’m pleased to see our Federal Government is moving towards consciously expunging from the political lexicon.

Monday, July 6, 2009

The Best of Roald Dahl

‘The Umbrella Man’ was my introduction to the delightful world of Roald Dahl.  After that I never skipped a chance to read Roald Dahl book – and honestly, I did not like all of them equally. But I do believe that Roald Dahl is the master of short stories especially the creepy and macabre ones. ‘The Best of Roald Dahl’ is a collection of story that are outright creepy. You browse along happily page after page and then suddenly the tale twists and gets your skin crawling. While all of them are good , my favorites would be  ‘ Parson’s Pleasure’ the story of a rare antique collector  who cheats dull minded farm people of their rare furniture pieces and how he meets his match, ‘Taste’ the story of an arrogant wine taster and ‘Lamb to a slaughter’ – the story of a harmless wife turned murderer .

The others are good but some of them like ‘Pig’ , ‘Ratcatcher’ , ‘William and Mary’ are too graphic and icky for my liking. None of the stories are truly scaring – atleast not in the ghost-story kind of way which is good coz you can sleep at night.

Verdict : Highly recommended


Saturday, July 4, 2009

Book review: The Story of my Typewriter by Paul Auster

This is a great book. I love Paul Auster’s writing and the fact that he wanted to write the history of his typewriter, the one he used to create all of his fantastic writing, makes me love it even more. 

If you want to “read” this book it’ll take you 20 minutes from cover to cover, it really is that short. But what makes it such an interesting journey are the incredible works of art by Sam Messer interspersed amongst the words. These differ widely in application but some of them are so visceral that you are tempted to believe that you can touch Auster’s typewriter through the page. Read it first, then spend an hour or two browsing the gallery and then read it again – it’s worth it. 

A lovely book, an original idea (once again from Auster) and one that leaves you uplifted. Highly recommended.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

June Reading List

I slowed down a little in June. Really, 4 books read the first week and 4 the last week. Two weeks of no reading. Weird for me, but so busy with homeschool and summer and just enjoying time being, rather than being somewhere else.

Weekend Sewing by Heather Ross – Lots of projects here. Not much that interested me. She seemed to have plenty of clothing projects and good ones, too. But in general, not my taste or my preferred sewing.
Water for Elephants by Sarah Gruen – This was kind of a weird book. As the circus gets ready to come to town, a 90 y.o. man remembers his time under the big top. It’s quite a tale of mystery and intrigue and sadness in many ways. A boy, a girl and an elephant, a formula for something.
Dog On It: A Chet and Bernie Mystery by Spencer Quinn – Cute little mystery told from the dog’s perspective. Lot’s of rabbit trails based on the dog’s interest. Not a super imaginative ending, but a fun read if you like dogs.
Looking for Salvation at the Dairy Queen by Susan Gregg Gilmore – A young gal dreams her whole life of leaving her small town for the big city, and finally gets her chance. But there’s untold stories yet to be told and a powerful force calling her back to that small town.
The Eat-Clean Diet by Tosca Reno – Lots of good ideas in this book. The idea is that you eat 6 smaller meals with protein and complex carbs as the emphasis. If you’ve ever tried to eat healthy, you will know lots of these tips, but Reno gathers it all together in one book and throws in a few recipes to boot.
Called out of Darkness, A Spiritual Confession by Anne Rice – Despite it’s short length, this book seemed to be the longest one ever. This is author Anne Rice’s spiritual journey from pre-Vatican 2 Catholicism to atheism back to Catholicism. I’m not sure that Protestants will truly understand the complexity of the Catholic matrix in early America, but this will help to show you. I find it interesting that she returned, especially as she shares the details of her life.
The Art of Racing in the Rain by Garth Stein – Another book told by the dog. As Enzo’s life seems to be slipping away, he looks back on where he came from to where he is. A sad and yet heartwarming story. I liked it.
The Glass Castle by Jeanette Walls – This is a memoir, and as I read it, I thought, can it be possible that people actually lived like this? Walls shares the story of her disfunctional family and their journey to survive in America in spite of her parents’ inability to consistently provide a stable living environment. Too interesting to toss aside.

My favorite books this month? The Art of Racing in the Rain and The Glass Castle. Different, but good.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

'Beverly Hills Adjacent': Where to begin?

I’ll say this for Jennifer Steinhauer: She definitely writes about what she knows in “Beverly Hills Adjacent.” The L.A. Bureau Chief for the NYT drowns her first novel, co-written by actress-author Jessica Hendra, with knowing details and familiar showbiz figures. Some are so thinly-disguised, in fact, you wonder why they bothered. (Jenna Mills for Jenna Elfman? Couldn’t they do better?)

What I can’t understand is why Steinhauer decided to write such a frothy piece of chick lit. It seems strange for a journo charged with directing local hard news coverage to go in such a direction. Sure, other newspaper reporters write: Mary McNamara contributed a similarly frothy tome titled “Oscar Season” a year ago, but she’s an entertainment reporter, now TV critic, for LAT, and does not oversee hard news. Male reporters have written their fair share of genre fiction over the years, but those have tended toward mystery novels with some death to add a harder edge. I can’t think of anything this fluffy from a newspaper journo of her stature. Maybe I’m just forgetting.

Steinhauer further muddied the waters by letting Jamie Lynton, wife of Sony Pictures honcho Michael, host a book party at their house. When Gawker called her out on it, the scribe brushed aside any suggestion of conflict of interest, parrying, “Do I cover the movie beat?” She pointed out that she has nothing to do with cultural coverage, and reports to the national desk. Her husband Ed Wyatt, however, is a TV reporter for the paper.

To make matters worse, the book isn’t that good. There are funny moments, and compelling enough characters to carry readers through, but overall the material’s very thin. Like many beginning novelists, the writers mistake brand names and established regional haunts for character development. Of course the exercise moms prefer Sprinkles cupcakes to June’s hand-crafted ginger cookies! And they wear stretchy yoga pants everywhere! Maybe this will seem fresh to outsiders, but it’s very obvious to anyone who’s spent time in, or around, showbiz. Would that the writers spent a little more time on creating characters rather than types and oppressive scene setting.

As McNamara noted in her LAT review, the book “is so front-loaded with details it almost collapses: It’s not just a cupcake from Sprinkles, it’s a red velvet cupcake from Sprinkles; a character didn’t just wait tables when she came to L.A., she waitressed at Kate Mantilini.” A little local accuracy adds flavor, McNamara writes, but the volume here threatens to consume the story line.

The two main characters, UCLA prof June and her character actor husband Mitch are the most fully realized. The book follows their tandem career crises — his comic battle to get cast during pilot season and her struggle to remain faithful as she vies for tenure. Naturally, there’s plenty of second guessing about their move to L.A. from New York, where Mitch pursued theater, not big bucks.

The writing improves toward the end, becoming more fluid and less epigrammatic. Perhaps Steinhauer’s next novel will take up where she left off, and not head down the same tired road again.