Monday, August 31, 2009

Matrimony by Joshua Henkin - A Review and an Interview With the Author

Josh Henkin’s Julian Wainwright is the major character in what is a poignant depiction of Mia and Julian Wainwright’s marriage and all that entails. All of the emotional upheaval one might expect in a marriage filled with infidelity, suspicion, and loss, is found in Julian’s marriage to Mia. Julian’s plans for the perfect life change as he finds he must face reality. He learns what life gives each of us, and how it changes our plans, sometimes rather quickly, but more often than not, rather steadily, determines what really happens next in our well planned existence. These plans can produce positive as well as negative results.

At the age of 13, Julian meets author John Cheever and from that point on, all Julian wants to do is write. He attends Graymont College, known for its excellent writing program, where he becomes one of four freshmen who the story follows for the next few decades. One, of course is Mia Mendelsohn from Montreal. Theirs is a story book start with instant attraction and falling in love. Also in the group is Carter Heinz, a scholarship student all the way from California, who is probably THE most talented writer in the group, and also the poorest financially. Carter tries, but often just can’t control the jealousy he feels toward Julian, because of the wealth Julian is lucky to be born into. These feelings toward Julian cause Carter to almost miss an opportunity for a truly glorious friendship. Carter’s girlfriend, Pilar, completes the foursome. Pilar’s parents are lawyers and she wants to follow in their footsteps. The failures and successes of these two couples are chronicled so well by Henkin over the next few years.

While Julian struggles to be the writer he just knows he can be, they find out that Mia’s mother is ill. Things are set in motion as decisions seem to be made for them at this point. Mia’s mom has breast cancer and Mia decides she really wants to marry Julian before her mother dies. And so, having married right after graduation, Julian moves to follow Mia as she continues her education. Their travels take them from their New England college town to one in the Midwest as Mia’s postgraduate work is in the field of psychotherapy. While Mia is in school, Julian teaches some courses and continues to write. Eventually, they wind up in New York. With each move, and each year of marriage, Julian and Mia find old secrets coming out and their marriage is tested to the point of destruction.

Julian goes to Berkley to watch Carter graduate from Law School. Carter, who has founded a computer software start-up company, is now worth millions. Carter’s wife, and college sweetheart, have split up. So the two friends get together to talk about the good old days and Carter let’s a supposedly unintentional secret slip out. At this point, the path this story will take is up for grabs as to whether Julian and Mia will be able to get over this next hurdle. Along with that, Mia finds out she carries the same breast cancer gene that her mother did and the story goes once again in another direction as priorities change.

Henkin’s writing makes for a moving account set in just the right atmosphere that keeps readers involved with the story. The characters are real and the reader can relate to them, believe in them, and more importantly, care about them. What happens with the knowledge Julian learned and the battle Mia faces, is what brings this story to its stunning conclusion. MATRIMONY is an enjoyable read and beautifully written, relatable story.

The Man Behind MATRIMONY, Joshua Henkin, (JH) author
(Live interview via phone by KH )

Recently, I had the honor of interviewing the author of MATRIMONY, Joshua Henkin, via phone for my book blog. He was friendly and open and a pure joy to talk with. He is an inspiration and I am jealous of his creative writing students who get to learn from him. This interview was personally transcribed by me, and any changes, mistakes, or form that is incorrect is strictly my fault including all grammar and punctuation but how do you transcribe a casual discussion like we had? I tried to transcribe exactly what Joshua said so one would get the feeling of the conversation I was privileged to have with him.
KH: What is the next or current book you are working on?

JH: My next book is over due and it is tentatively called THE WORLD without you and its another novel….due to publisher a while ago and I’ve gotten my deadline extended. Matrimony took me 10 years to write, this one is hopefully going to take me less but I’ve got probably about 175 pages and I think its going to be another couple of years but hopefully it is going to be as good as it can be.

KH: I read where when your computer broke; you went to writing by hand which I thought that was extremely interesting.

JH (laughing): Yes

KH: What have you just finished reading or do you have time?
JH: Right now I am in the middle of a novel by Roxana Robinson called COST and I think it’s a terrific book and I really like her work in general. She’s a great short story writer also…and I just got a review copy in the mail…it looked very interesting to me. You know I teach Creative Writing also so I spend a lot of time reading my students’ work….
…Next on my list is a book called THE SPARE ROOM by Helen Garner. She’s an Australian writer…and actually a terrific book of stories that I’ve just read recently is called MOTHER AND SONS by Colm Tobin, an Irish writer…a really amazing book of stories.

KH: Where do you teach creative writing?

JH: I teach mostly at Sarah Lawrence College and a little bit in the graduate program at Brooklyn College. At Sarah Lawrence I teach MFA students and undergrads, and at Brooklyn College just MFA students.

KH: What gets you started on a new book? A character or story idea or….?

JH: Yeah, its very hard to know, I mean I certainly for me character is at the heart of fiction like when I read a novel what I want at the end of the book is not necessarily to like the characters, because there are plenty of great novels where the characters aren’t particularly likable like Richard Yates’ REVOLUTIONARY ROAD or Martin Amos’s work but I think in a good novel you feel at the end of a book that you know the characters as well as or better than the people in your own life and so if a book does that to me when I read than in fact the writer has done well by me, and that’s what I’m trying to do as a writer…and so the character is central to me but I think that the relation between plot and the character is symbiotic ….we both create our stories and are created by them.

So in thinking of terms of character, I’m usually trying to set my characters in a situation where something’s at stake, something big can happen…I started MATRIMONY—I basically start with no clue—-but I started MATRIMONY with the first three words “out, out, out” and with the idea the novel would be about a love relationship and it was taking place at a college reunion. And it is about a love relationship although it’s about other things and there is a college reunion but it doesn’t come until page 270 and lasts for only six pages. So pretty early on it was clear to me that I didn’t have a clue and I think that really important that it can really hamper him in knowing too much. So I start with character and I place them in situations and I see where I go from there but it’s basically the characters get developed incrementally … you don’t know them until you actually write them so to me its about being blind for the first draft and then about going back once you have this mess and trying to figure out how to make it more coherent.

KH: Yes, I read where just recently in that blog that you had said that writing that first draft that you have to, you kind of let go of control, and that especially new writers should write kind of like in a dream state and don’t keep reviewing just cause you may never get past the first chapter.

JH: And not just new writers, everyone and I think most strongly about that.

KH: What is something about you that you would want people to know about you that we probably don’t know?…or maybe there isn’t something?

JH: (he laughs) Something about me that I want you to know, ummm, you mean in terms of writing?

KH: In terms of anything…it could be your favorite ice cream…

JH: Actually I’m not a big fan of ice cream in general I prefer salty to sweet food, and I tend to prefer sorbet to ice cream…and I don’t like chocolate, to the great horror of my wife and two daughters.

KH: Oh my goodness….well, let’s see… were you born in Brooklyn?

JH: I wasn’t. I was born in Manhattan and I lived there for the first 18 years of my life and then I spent a year between high school and college in Israel and then I went to college. I was at Harvard for college. I moved out to the Bay area for 4 years. After that I lived at Berkley in San Francisco, and then I spent 8 years in Ann Arbor and moved back to New York and have been living in Brooklyn for the last 9 years. The only exception being last year when I was living in Philadelphia for the year because my wife is a professor and she had a fellowship at Penn so we moved down to Philly for a year and I was commuting up here for book stuff and for teaching.

KH: What is your best advice to anyone, including young people since I teach 6th grade, who want to be writers?

JH: I would say that I have two pieces of advice. The first, the most important thing to do is to read. To read, you know, deeply and widely. I think the best education for writers is other work. A lot of people think, sort of thanks to Hemingway, the way to become a writer is to run with the bulls in Pamplona or I guess the modern version would be to hike in Nepal. And they are perfectly good things to do but if I had advice to an undergraduate student of mine who was graduating and said to me, “I could take a year hiking in Nepal or I could spend a year reading the classics. Which should I do if I want to be a writer?” I would certainly choose the latter.

I think that Flannery O’Connor said that anyone who has lived to the age of ten has enough material to write about for a lifetime. So I think there is a mistaken sense that you have to sort of do crazy, unusual things in order to write. And I don’t think that is true. I think you have to live but you also have to read and part of living is reading. That would be first piece of advice. For the second piece of advice, is not to wait for inspiration that if you want to write you have to write and you have to treat it like a job and carve out time and, you know, write as frequently as you can. To me, it’s really, I mean there is such a thing as talent, but to me it’s really about effort and perseverance and rewriting and revision as much as anything else.

KH: I think that’s right, because I know any little bit of writing that I do now, I say that to myself…that I have to write at a specific time and nothing should come between that and my writing. Hopefully, I am getting to that point but I’m not at it yet.

Karen D. Haney, Reviewer and Interviewer
Author of Bookin’ With Bingo (
AKA “Kanellio65″ and “Bingo”


Frank Bruni's Born Round

When I first started taking food-writing classes, my instructors explained that in order to write well, we students had to read. We needed to consume as much food writing as possible, including a range of books from the likes of M.F.K. Fisher and Anthony Bourdain, as well as the weekly New York Times Dining Section. “Anything written by Frank Bruni,” the Times’s restaurant critic, was required reading. Lucky for me, I was already a fan, eagerly turning the pages of the paper each Wednesday to see what Bruni had to say about the city’s newest restaurants.

But after five years of witty and intelligent reviews, Bruni is stepping down from his post. With the end of his tenure in this position, he has written Born Round, a memoir of his secret and not-so-secret struggles with overeating and weight control. There has already been a ton of press covering the release of this book, so I’ll give you just a quick summary: Basically, after being born in a large Italian American family with what he describes as an oversized appetite, Bruni wrestled with his weight throughout his childhood and adulthood. A confusing relationship with food dominated much of his life, as he experimented with fad diets, binge eating, and vomiting, never finding a proper balance with food until a few pivotal events jolted him into realizing how self-destructive his situation had become.

What was most interesting to me—apart from his loving relationship with his family (especially his mother) and its influence on his eating habits—was how Bruni succeeded professionally while enduring such personal torment. A scholarship to the University of North Carolina led to internships at Newsweek and later, various positions at the Times, where he eventually shadowed George W. Bush during his first presidential campaign. All the while, Bruni was obsessed with food, eating huge portions during the middle of the night and through the day, tracking his waist size through his pants that grew ever more snug with time. He led an essentially celibate life for years, lacking the confidence in his appearance to reveal himself to other men. While achieving such professional success, Bruni was still emotionally miserable, as well as unhealthy and overweight.

When Bruni finally devoted himself to turning his body—and personal happiness—around, it reads as an inspiring transformation. Exercise becomes the key, as the success he once found through childhood swimming reasserts itself with his new physical trainer. A position at the Times’s Rome bureau further helps Bruni learn about portion control, and teaches him how to actually enjoy food. By the time Bruni accepts the job of the Times’s restaurant critic near the end of the book, he has all the tools he needs to maintain control over food and his life. 

Born Round is proof that you never know how hard a person is struggling, no matter how successful they seem on the outside. It’s a brave as well as funny book, full of personal revelations and insecurities, as Bruni shows that the possibility for growth and change is always present. Whether you’re a fan of Bruni’s column or not, I recommend this book for anyone who is interested in food and our relationship with it. And while I am happy that Bruni has conquered his personal demons, I will miss him every Wednesday; the Times Dining Section just won’t be the same without him. 


Sunday, August 30, 2009

Faces in the Fire

Mystery/suspense is my favorite genre of books, so it was with great anticipation that I set about reading T. L. Hine’s Faces in the Fire; Where Lives Collide. I was not disappointed. This story starts in the middle and jumps to different points throughout the lives of four hurting and broken people. These people are only vaguely connected through a series of numbers and a catfish.
Even though I do not particularly care for nonlinear story lines, I tremendously enjoyed this book because the storyline flowed well in a nonlinear format. I read this book straight through, the way it was intended to be read, but I was severely tempted to find chapter one and read it that way first. I am incredibly happy that I did not do that, but I will at some point, because this book is definitely a book worthy of reading more than once or twice.


Oxford and Children's Stories

Oxford University Press (OUP)

Oxford is a city rich in history, so it’s unsurprising to see something new with each visit. I was at OUP for a Write Away Reviewers’ Event, (read author Anita Loughrey’s account here) after which we were treated to a guided tour – Oxford and Children’s Stories.

The guide I was with normally takes kids around so our tour revolved around scenes from the Harry Potter movies, and spotting the fact we weren’t aged 10, she generously tailored the tour and slipped us snippets about about Oxford’s literary alumni, from Amis to Waugh. We stopped at sites which provided inspiration for some of the best known children’s literature, most famously, ‘Alice in Wonderland’ and ‘The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe‘. In her enthusiasm, our guide accidentally led smack into the centre of a location film set,  and we were politely asked to move off the cobblestoned street… I think it’s safe to say we will have been cut from ‘Lewis’ – an Inspector Morse TV spin-off!

It was clear that our knowlegeable guide was none too appreciative of the post ‘Potter’ entrance fee charged to enter Christ Church College. Instead, we wandered into the charming courtyard of Lincoln College and visited its medieval dining hall, which as our guide accurately pointed out, has bench seating, not the high-backed chairs you’ll find in the the Great Hall at Christ Church.

Lack of true Hogwart style seating notwithstanding, I personally think the entrance fee to Christ Church College entirely worth it – I went some time ago out of my teenage acquired interest in ‘Brideshead Revisited’, as the desperately self-destructive Sebastian Flyte and his teddy bear, Aloysius resided there, so mix in a little ‘Alice’ history and magical scenes from Hogwart’s and it’s an interesting place, if not for the grandeur of the architecture, stained glass, and grounds alone.

Check out loads of photos here on Flickr’s Christ College, Oxford search, and visit Write Away for informed reviews, book guides and more.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

book blurb: What Would Google Do?


via CrunchBase

Very much enjoyed Jeff Jarvis’ recent book “What Would Google Do?” on the new, next economy.  There, the old strategy of hoarding information for competitive gain, is supplanted by internet-based demand for openness, spontaneity and honesty among a long tail of interconnected, self-organizing individuals and small communities. Jarvis traverses all facets of the economic landscape and sees how this new ethos is on the rise.  Indeed, a new social-political-economic era seems to be emerging.

I was inspired to focus on the spontaneous, entrepreneurial act of opening up and sharing my personal thoughts and dig deeper into the issues I care about.  Thanks Professor Jarvis!



I’ve just finished reading Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts.

Shantaram is a true story about a former heroin-booting, armed-robbing, prison-breaking Australian expatriate who escapes to 1980’s Bombay to become a slum doctor, who falls in love and becomes a broker on the black currency market. He then goes back to prison, makes it out and finds revenge, works in Bollywood, fights with the mujaheddin in Afghanistan, and joins the Indian mob. Did I mention this is a true story?

Shantaram is Hindu for “Man of Peace.” I find this ironic seeing as how many people Roberts punches, gouges and stabs throughout the book. He’s certainly extraordinary: Roberts speaks Hindu, Marathi and Urdu, beats heroin (twice), and rewrote the book three times in prison because the guards destroyed it. Did I mention this is a true story?

Nevertheless, Shantaram, like India, is huge. At over 900 pages, there are around one hundred well-crafted, quirky characters who all have something to teach Roberts, and through him, us. While I disagreed with a lot of the character’s beliefs (especially the mobsters) I could relate to Robert’s as a westerner in India. Here are a few of his keen observations:

  • The famous “Indian head wiggle.” I dated a girl in high school who used to do this. Just move your head around making figure 8’s with your chin. Most people will tell you that it means yes and equate it with the American “up-and-down” head nod: “I’d also discerned the subtler senses of I agree with you, and Yes, I would like that. What I learned… was that a universal message attached to the gesture, when it was used as a greeting, which made it uniquely useful.” (107)
  • The doctrine of necessity. Yes, India is poor, but what is more difficult to see is how the people tolerate their conditions with dignity. The doctrine of necessity explains the prevalence of cows in traffic, beggars on the street, garbage in the river and the density of the slums. If all the Americans and all the Indians traded countries for a day, I think India would implode.
  • The paradox of waste. Roberts learns not to feel guilty littering or wasting water, because its someone’s job to refill the tank or pick up his garbage. I don’t know if I agree with this.

Anyway, incredible book, Johnny Depp wants to play him in the movie, so what else do you need to know?


Friday, August 28, 2009

Chris Jordan - In Katrina's Wake

Copyright Chris Jordan, 2006 courtesy Princeton Architectual Press

Artist’s have long realized that they could use their creative efforts in an attempt to influence public opinions and policies that are aligned with their environmental and social concerns. Jacob Riis photographically documented the New York slums in the 1880’s dates, Thomas Moran applied his paint in the late 19th century to inspire the United States National Park System, Picasso’s painting of Guerncia was created as a public outcry about the Spanish Civil War, the photographers of the FSA during the 1930’s documenting the effects of the depression and recently David Maisel’s landscape photographs of the environmental impact by industrial development. 

The methods used by the artists to communicate their concerns have been diverse, such as to frame the situation in a beautiful and appealing manner to engage the public support, which was the approach of Moran and Adams. The alternative was to expose the horrors as a call to action, such as Riis, Hines and Maisel. Each artist is attempting to engage a public dialog in the hopes of changing opinions. The call to action still may not create the needed change, but realizing that if no action is taken, the circumstances will not change. The other take away is that when a person has an agenda, that agenda will influence them as to how they will frame their resulting images, what they include and what they will exclude, not unlike advertising or political propaganda.


As a result, we are forwarded by Chris Jordan in his book In Katrina’s Wake, Portraits of Loss from an Unnatural Disaster, that something “unnatural” occurred in August 2005 with the arrival of the hurricane Katrina to the city and surrounding region of New Orleans. Jordan’s photographs capture the aftermath of this storm. The photographs concentrate on the artifacts of the damage, deftly framing the forlorn objects and creating poignant photographs that border on the beautiful. We do not see the people who are impacted, but indirectly we can sense their sorrowful presence. Many lives have been permanently altered as a result of this storm.


Homes, stores and entire communities were literally wiped away by this tremendous storm. The damaging effects of the wind and rain of the hurricane were compounded by the subsequent failure of the levees that had retained the surrounding water. The resulting floods contaminated entire sections of the city, making the houses that remain standing, uninhabitable.


There is a ghost ship sitting eerily in the mist amongst a housing tract and sailing on a sea of broken debris. Everything seems out of sorts, and we sadly note that the debris contains twisted bed frames, shredded clothing and a child’s lonely toy. A bath tube and toilet are now plainly in the open and a brick wall is tilting on its side.


There is a missing house, all that remains is a concrete pad in the mid-ground and a lone gate standing in the foreground. The remaining fencing is gone as is any trace of the house or most of its contents. It is a hauntingly still photograph, made even more so by the sounding mist and the wrecked and damage trees barely discernable in the background horizon. It testifies to the brute force that hit this region and to the total devastation that has occurred to the family that once lived here.


A red door that stands in its frame, which now leads to nowhere, and the adjacent windows are gone as the retail store’s inventory is now a pile of trash. In another photography, there a store front that has been dashed, allowing the hanging clothes to take the full brunt of the wind and rain. The soiled and colorful clothes a mocking reminder of the previous vitality of this store.


There are the photographs of abandoned and soiled toys, clothes, furniture, books, and other items we take for granted in the sanctity of our homes. These broken and lonely objects are metaphors for the dreams and memories that have been changed by this hurricane. These are images of abandoned items that were once owned and treasured but left to decay and eventually parish from sight.


Jordan’s photographs are unable to provide the smell of the rotting waste that appears like a sea of mud. Unable to provide the spooky quietness of a housing tract deserted and devoid of the sounds of normal life.


I recall similar scene on the island of Culabra after hurricane Hugo in 1990, with vacant concrete pads where homes once stood and sailboats now marooned high on the hillside overlooking the bay. Later in Southern California, the massive fires that destroyed over 2,000 homes, which were reduced to piles of smoldering ashes. Thus these photographs are symbolic of the impact that natural disasters, such as tornados, mud slides, forest fires, cyclones, earthquakes, tidal waves, and floods can havoc on peoples lives.


Jordan’s compositions are coolly balanced and beautiful, with the subject at hand usually centered within the frame with just a little open space of breathing room around it. Many of the objects are individual studies, floating in a sea of dried mud or within a devastated room. I am struck by the similarities in composition to a natural landscape study or an advertising still life. We are provided with images for contemplation, composed such that there are but few distractions, the static object almost entirely isolated.


The bright colors and compositions do not seem to correlate with the devastation and the effect that this storm is having on some many lives, which have probably been changed forever. Many of the personal and family heirlooms, and family photographs and furniture, are gone forever, left blowing in the wind.


One of the minor disappointing aspects of this photobook was the inability of the photographic content to provide direct evidence that this disaster was unnatural. The beautiful constructed images of the damage and sorrowful conditions are almost surreal, they don’t seem to fully resonate with the incredible destruction.


Perhaps we have seen too many gory images that deaden our senses and souls, while these photographs seem to allow us to become engaged. The compositions are so well balanced and the lighting so wonderful, we are so repulsed that we turn away. That may be the point of this beautifully illustrated and printed book, to provide less obtrusive content that could allow a more meaningful interaction. He weaves in a message without beating you over the head, such that you are enticed to read on and perhaps think deep about the events that occurred and what might be the cause. And hopeful wonder what is happening to the global environment.


Susan Sontag wrote in her book On Photography, that ..almost opposite rules hold true for the use of the photograph to awaken desire and to awaken conscience. The images that mobilize conscience are always linked to a given historical situation. The more general they are, the less likely they are to be effective. A photograph that brings news of some unsuspected zone of misery cannot make a dent in public opinion unless there is an appropriate context of feeling and attitude.


The essay by Bill McKibben does provide a rationale for why this hurricane, and probably the more to come, was unnatural. That what we have done as industrialized humans has changed the environment and subsequently the delicate ecologic balance. That a little environmental warming could have huge ramifications to the global weather systems of which we depend so much on.

An interesting and easy to read essay by Susan Zakin discusses the flip side of why this hurricane might be unnatural, subsequently creating much chaos when the damaged levees allowed the flooding. Her essay is not about the fact that city of New Orleans is located below sea level. It is about how changes to the landscape, such as how the engineers attempt to control the Mississippi River or removing the underground oil and gas deposits, can have a dramatic impact on the ecological systems, such as the natural order of the marsh land between New Orleans and the Gulf of Mexico.

by Douglas Stockdale


Sand Dollar Summer by Kimberly Jones

Here’s a great family story that takes place on the Maine coast. Lise is a 12-year-old with a young brother who is very bright but doesn’t speak. Her mother is raising the two children alone. When I started reading it I thought, “oh, this is going to be one of those stories about an overwhelmed, neglectful mother and Lise will have to take full responsibility for her little brother.” Not so. I was happy to see that the mother is strong and capable, BUT she has a bad accident and decides to recover on an island in Maine where she grew up. Lise is very afraid of the ocean and has no interest in leaving her friends and going to a boring island. The author skillfully shows how Lise changes from a self-centered, resentful, scared girl by means of a few interesting people she meets on the island and an intense encounter with a dangerous hurricane.


Thursday, August 27, 2009

Elephants and Donuts

Judy Renee Singer understands life and communications from many vantage points, all combining to give us the novel Still Life with Elephants. It’s a quirky title indicating something unique inside. It’s about teenage trauma that adults ignored, about adults being stuck in that trauma, and about animal assisted therapy that comes as an unexpected blessing. As a therapist and horse trainer, Judy Singer should know!

Elephants and donuts help begin to heal a woman of the teenage devastation she felt when two of her closest companions were killed in an unnecessary accident that ended her chances for the Olympics as well.  She was supposed to just get over it.  Well, she couldn’t.  Read more about the story and how elephants and horses can be used to assist in therapy and how they, too sometimes need human help –

Still Life with Elephant- A Journey Back to Sanity


The Pastor's Public Ministry - A Book Review

Reformed theology seems to be presently receiving renewed interest within the church. A reformed understanding of the Bible gives rise to more than a particular understanding of salvation. It applies a vigourous interpretation of the Scriptures to all aspects of the Christian’s life. This has included a particular emphasis on the church and its gatherings.
Reformed theology, as a particular understanding of the Bible, gave rise to a particular form of corporate worship. This worship nourishes and promotes a reformed understanding of the Word of God.
It is bemusing that just a many are discovering reformed and presbyterian theology that reformed and presbyterian churches are forsaking the form of worship associated with it.
The form associated with neo-pentecostalism, which is derived from the revivalist movement, is taking sway. This is being informed by an attitude which asserts that there is no obligation for God’s people to gather on a particular day of the week and that what they do when they do gather cannot be termed ‘worship’ in any particular sense.
Terry Johnson, pastor of the Independent Presbyterian Church, stands firm in his support of the historical presbyterian and reformed understanding of worship. The Pastor’s Public Ministry is a monograph that outlines the biblical principles by which the minister: Leads In Worship; Leads In Prayer; and Preaches.
Leading in Worship involves an deep understanding of the Scriptures. The whole progress of a presbyterian worship service brings the people to God, aids their expression in God’s presence, seeks to dispense the means of grace and then directs them in their response. To cariacature this time as a ‘hymn sandwich’ really leads me to question whether the cariacaturist has any concept of what reformed and presbyterian worship really is. It would certainly explain why they wouldn’t value it.
Leading in Prayer is not shouting at God. It is a biblical reflection of God’s Word and His promises back to Him in corporate unity. While it is free prayer, it is considered, thoughtful, and purposeful. The pastor’s biblical study undergirds this utterance just as much as it informs his preaching.
Johnson mentions the importance of preaching, but within the scope of the booklet does not deal with it in the detail that he directs toward the previous sections. In contrast to biblical preaching there has been a paucity of material on reformed worship and particularly pulpit prayer in recent times. But he does address the importance of expository preaching. While the Bible should be read in large portions sequentially it should also be the basis for the sermon.
A reformed conception of salvation is only part of reformed theology. Terry Johnson invites us to embrace our full heritage of biblical understanding and practice.
The Pastor’s Public Ministry can be purchased from Monergism or


Wednesday, August 26, 2009

The Language of Bees (Mary Russell Series, # 9) by Laurie King

In this Mary Russell/Sherlock Holmes mystery, Mary’s detective skills show themselves to be the equal of Sherlock and his brother Mycroft’s. In a case that could damage their marriage, Sherlock is stubbornly convinced of his son’s innocence in the death of his wife. Mary wants to make sure that no stone is unturned in searching for the truth–whatever it is. A delightful read, full of religious cults, ancient burial sites and henges, dangerous airplane rides, and false clues, all as Mary and Sherlock race against time to prevent another murder.


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

'Sex and Suffering' by Janet McCalman

1998, 368p

I’d already worked out what I was going to say in reviewing this book.

I am not keen on institutional histories.  I dislike their celebratory nature and the way that their authors obviously feel compelled to doff their hats and gush over the institutional big-wigs and stalwarts.  You can often sense the shadowy presence of the steering committee in the back-ground and that a publicist and risk-management expert are hovering in the wings.

However, I was drawn to read this history of the Royal Women’s Hospital after hearing a Radio National Hindsight program on it, available for download here.  Janet McCalman, from the University of Melbourne ( I see that she, at least still works there, given the University’s decimation of its Arts faculty) wrote Struggletown: Public and Private Life in Richmond 1900-1965 - a history of the working-class suburb of Richmond,  and Journeyings: The Biography of a Middle Class Generation 1920-1990, which followed the No 69 tram through the middle-class suburbs of Melbourne.  She’s obviously drawn to writing larger social histories by focussing her lens on a small patch of inquiry.

And so Sex and Suffering: Women’s Health and a Women’s Hospital carries on an approach that she obviously feels comfortable with.  As the title might suggest, this is not just a history of an institution: instead it deals with sex and the experience of being woman, health and institutions.

The experience of childbirth is intimately woven into the hidden parts of private lives and soon overlaid by the other experiences and achievements of a growing person.   It is common to us all, and for a short period of time is overwhelming in its effect on the mother at her exposed, most basic core and on the people closest to her.   So it was fascinating to consider the act childbirth- that most intimate and personal of events- as part of a social phenomenon that can be handled at the structural level in so many ways.

The book itself follows a chronological approach, with seven sections covering roughly 20-30 year periods.  The emphasis varies in the sections, from the clinical (particularly in the sections discussing sepsis and antisepsis) to the social and structural (where the judgments of upper-middleclass doctors and the Board of Management were trained onto the predomiantly working-class and migrant clientele).   Throughout most of the book, she draws on the case notes of individual women- helpfully supplemented with a glossary of medical terms in the margin- to make real her discussion of anaesthesia and surgery and its effect on horrendous labour situations, the horror of clostridium welchii which could kill a woman in hours, and the changes in attitudes towards labouring women and their partners.  Ye Gods- some women had enormous babies- particularly in the post-Gold Rush period when women who had suffered malformations of the pelvis through malnutrition themselves as children, especially in Ireland,  gave birth to large babies when their own diets had become carbohydrate-heavy in a new country.  There’s something stark in reading the case notes reproduced at the end of the book that chart the death over a number of days of a woman, knowing that there are mothers and fathers, husbands and other children who have been left bereft.

I know that when I was in labour with my children, I was very conscious that I was part of a chain of labouring women in my family and thought -even then!- about how absolutely dreadful it would be to die in childbirth. Hormonally, physically and from an evolutionary sense, every sinew of your being in focussed on giving birth to that child then and there, even if it is your twelfth or illegitimate.  I felt as if I was surrounded by generations of women who had given birth before, and that I was stripped down to my essential female-ness.  In reading this book I was made conscious of the effects of bad births- those fistulas you now only know of in Third World countries,  the lifelong invalidism that followed some births, and the amount of pain that lingered on year after year.  It made the knowledge of my maternal grandmother’s seven births and several miscarriages, and my paternal grandfather’s first wife’s death in childbirth, more meaningful.

There are wonderful photographs and diagrams in this book.  The photographs of Melbourne in the early chapters from both the La Trobe Picture collection and the Royal Women’s Hospital Archives are clear and showed perspectives of my city that I hadn’t seen before.  The internal photographs of the hospital, again from the hospital archives,  while deliberately posed, speak volumes about hospital discipline and nurses’ roles.

A second thread that runs through the book is a commentary on class and gender in Melbourne. The more feminist, women-centred  Queen Victoria hospital stands as a counter-point to the more traditional, male-dominated Royal Women’s Hospital, and the class perspectives of the charity-oriented upper-middle class female board members run through the attitudes towards sexually-transmitted disease, abortion and adoption that the hospital had to deal with.

Well, this is what I was going to say until I got to the last part of the book.  The last section, unfortunately, descended into that boosterism and oily fulsomeness of the standard institutional history.  Probably for privacy reasons, the case histories dropped out of the narrative.  Although they were replaced by oral history reminiscenes of experiences in the Women’s, they lacked the immediacy and contingency of those earlier case notes.   Judgments about individuals who are alive and likely to read this book need to be tempered, and as a still-operating (though re-located) hospital , there is the equivalent, I guess, of the doctor’s  “do no harm” in writing about the institutional culture.  The management-speak of the final pages reflects the funding and political milieu in which institutions now exist, but I also suspect that it has been carefully vetted by the current hospital administration as well.

So, if you read this book- and I exhort you so to do- you might want to stop after Section VI in 1970.  To that point, it’s fascinating.


Inherent Vice ~ Thomas Pynchon

Genre: Adult Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Press

384 pages


Listen: if I wanted to reread Gravity’s Rainbow, I would reread Gravity’s Rainbow. I may start pulling my hair out if I keep reading (maybe I should stop reading) reviews asking the ridiculous question: And maybe perhaps, T.P. could explain what possessed him to write a cheesy noire novel? As best I can remember, noire is a perfectly acceptable category of literature/film. Doyle, Hitchcock, Chandler, these are not pulp, folks. The other complaint is that Doc Sportello is a big old, Lebowski-like stoner, prone to hippie slang and psychedelic ramblings. For some reason this offends some Pynchon fans but the offense is lost on me.

Well, maybe I’ve figured it out. See, here’s the thing: these concepts are so completely and utterly Pynchon that perhaps, the irony is lost on his normal readers. They are too busy telling people that they are offended by pot (because no drug has ever so much as reared its fuzzy head in a Pynchon novel before?)  and cheesed out by the plot (also, something that has, regardless of contrary claims, appeared before) that they can’t see Inherent Vice for what it is: perfect. Pynchon has always created strange story lines with uncountable characters and writing that resembles a bad (or good depending on which half of the sentence you’re reading) trip.

If you haven’t picked up on it yet, I’ll tell you now: I enjoyed Inherent Vice. The writing is hilarious in the (gasp) usually Pynchon style. While, I can’t make you like the alleged Cheech and Chong dialogue “issue” if you aren’t in the mood (and then why, pray tell did you pick up the book having read the synopsis, regardless of writer), I think that actually reading the book, keeping in mind that it is not a beach read will change your mind on the pesky area of detective plot.

Now, since the man doesn’t actually believe in public interaction, we’ll never know but I think that the goal in following the noire mold was a simultaneous parody and tribute to the mystery genre. There is a great section where they shoot through Sherlock Holmes’s coke use and debatable existence during which I found myself wondering who on earth people thought wrote this book if not Pynchon.

Later in the evening, the two men settle in to a discussion where real cops and PI’s are deemed unneeded as there are already enough running around on the small screen. This is, from where I’m sitting, the “point” of using the noire device that so many people are looking for although, I still maintain that it is not something that needs to be explained if the writing is inherently funny and provocative.

As for the other themes, the small surf town is caught between the sleepy sixties and the corporate seventies. Here, watching the beach change seems to be a main focus, the surfers, the shop owners, the very survival, or rather demise, of the town in the changing climate.

My favorite part of Pynchon’s stories is the way he writes his characters as clich├ęs and point makers rather than straight people. We are introduced to very Pynchon-like fellows and females ranging (but not limited to, of course) from Shasta, the classic Femme Fatale (hello noire); Bigfoot, the hippie-hating cop; Spike, the hippie-friendly but also hippie-phobic, war-scared Nam vet and St. Flip, a religious surfer (and a religious surfer) “for whom Jesus Christ was not only a personal savior but surfing consultant as well.” (p.99) While I’d like to type up his five-page introduction, I’ll just leave you with this:

“Back in the beach pad there was a velvet painting of Jesus riding goofyfoot on a rough-hewn board with outriggers, meant to suggest a crucifix, through surf seldom observed on the Sea of Galilee, though the hardly presented a challenge to Flip’s faith. What was ‘walking on water,’ if it wasn’t Bible talk for surfing? In Australia once, a local surfer, holding the biggest can of beer Flip had ever seen, had even sold him a fragment of the True board.” (p.99)

I will make one concession. Doc, himself, was just the leaf in the wind and, here, I think was the main problem for many. Often, as in Gravity’s Rainbow, Against the Day and V. the story shifts point-of-view multiple times, the main protagonist never really being the complete focus, thus leaving him a little flat. Here, every person is painted through Doc’s personal record. While, in truth, all of the myriad players are there and covered much as they are in any other Pynchon novel, I suppose that this creates a problem if people are looking for someone to tell them that there are still other characters involved in the story even if the book is narrated through one voice.

As far as the prose is concerned, I am, quite frankly, lost. As mentioned above, what has, until now, seemed “totally Pynchon” has an explanation. Remember that bit about the squid kidnapping the girl on the beach in Gravity’s Rainbow? Now why wasn’t that described as a bad acid trip, a cheesy device while very similar scenes, clearly drug induced, in Inherent Vice are hung out to dry? Is it that without a motive these things seem cool and intellectual but in the fog of some burnout they are less enticing because they are altered, not academic? Similarly, the genre of mystery, noir or pulp, lends itself to myriad shady characters popping in for no reason at all. I say, hey, that sounds a lot like V. to me. It also sounds like Gravity’s Rainbow and also, a bit like Against the Day. Again, the same question, because it fits, is it inherently bad?

I really do think that this is right in line with the other works in Pynchon’s library. It may not pick up to regular incoherent speed until a little further in but it is Pynchon through and through. I don’t think this is going to go down as a beach read unless you don’t read it and instead write your opinion based on the cover art. Of course, you are perfectly welcome to do that, though, if you would like. Pynchon is, after all, into subjectivity.

buy this book from


Monday, August 24, 2009

Downtown by Pete Hamill

I had never heard of Pete Hamill before spotting this book on the N Train one night on my way home from work.  Apparently he’s written quite a few novels, but this memoir is the story of his love affair with the city of New York.  He calls his city Downtown, but uses an unorthodox definition of his own devising, stretching up to Central Park South at times.

I have only lived in New York since 2004, though I grew up visiting my father’s lab in the Bronx frequently, and making visits to museums and Broadway shows a few times a year.  I lived first at 26th Street, a block from Madison Square Park, then in the Financial District for three years before moving to Brooklyn last summer.  Hamill made the opposite move in his young adulthood, from the ethic enclaves of Brooklyn to the gritty streets of 60s Manhattan.

Woven among Hamill’s memories of starting out in the newspaper business on Park Row (my first Financial District address) and visiting the clubs of the Village is an excellent history of the city’s slow climb from its southernmost point up the island.  His narrative intersects my recent reads, House of Mirth and The Emperor’s Children, giving the history of times and places that inspired those works.

For someone without a strong grounding in the geography of the city, the stories can be hard to follow at times, but they’ll make even the casual visitor as nostalgic as a lifelong New Yorker for the old days, whether they were the 1600s or last week.


Book Review - Read and Share Toddler Bible

Being a dad of three and with all of my children under the age of six I was pleased to review The Read and Share Toddler Bible published by Tommy Nelson. The book presented well with engaging illustrations and short stories. Each story is about 4-5 pages, written in simple and clear language.

The Read and Share Toddler Bible is illustrated with bright, clear and engaging drawings. These will capture the attention of any toddler and provide some good points for discussion aside from the text. Another unique feature about this book are the ‘parent tips’ at the end of each story. These provide the adult with additional information or an activity for follow up; something that is missing from many other young Bibles.

The book covers 40 stories but also comes with an hour long DVD. The animated feature is a beautiful addition to the book. Divided into 14 mini-stories they cover some highlights of the stories in the book. Each episode is about 3 minutes long and is able to be accessed with ease through the DVD menu or by simply fast forwarding.

While aimed obviously at a toddler age group, my daughter (who is six) has been able to sit down, and even with her beginning reading skills, decipher the stories and read it on her own. The Read and Share Toddler Bible is a highly recommended book for parents and their young children and is available at Amazon  and local Christian bookstores.


Sunday, August 23, 2009

My Stroke of Insight - review

Jill Bolte Taylor’s, My Stroke of Insight is a perfect argument for metaphysics.  A renowned scientist who experiences and describes nirvana better than a lot of the books currently on the market. Dr. Taylor’s description of the brain and its “plasticity” is fascinating made more so by her vivid description of the experience of having a stroke and the journey back.

My Stroke of Insight begins with a description of the person Dr. Taylor was before the stroke.  A published neoroanatomist, Dr. Taylor first became interested in the study of the brain because of a family member who suffers from schizophrenia. She describes the work she was doing with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) and how that work led her to the championing the cause of brain donation and the Harvard Brain Bank.

The ’simple science’ chapters make the brain accessible and really help the ‘non-scientist’ understand what happens to the brain during and after a stroke. I think any reader who has questions about how the brain works would be helped by reading this book. Personally, as a person with multiple sclerosis I found the science chapters very helpful. In fact, Dr. Taylor answered questions I didn’t know I had about the brain it’s function. I have some renewed hope that I can build some new pathways in my own brain. If you or someone you know is suffering from an illness that involves the brain this book could change your life.

Dr. Taylor’s stroke is described through the eyes of a scientist. She started that day like any other and it was a while before she understood what was happening. As I was reading I found myself mentally trying to help her and imagine what I would do if this brain emergency was happening to me? I mean, Dr. Taylor is a brain scientist and it took her  some time to realize what was going on. The numbers are sobering. According to one study there are about 500,000 strokes a year in the US and 150,000 people die. This makes Dr. Taylor’s journey even more remarkable.

Dr. Taylor writes,

“I realized that the blessing I had recieved from this experience was the knowledge that deep internal peace is accessible to anyone at any time. I believe the experience of Nirvana exists in the consciousness of our right hemisphere, and that at any moment we can choose to hook into that part of out brain.”

That one quote literally sums up what metaphysicians  believe.  We believe in the power of the mind to achieve grace and oneness of the spirit with the creator. I believe that oneness of the spirit is what our souls seek.

The beauty of Dr. Taylor’s Stroke of Insight is that she is a scientist. This gives her credibility and she is less likely to be dismissed by the scientific community. Further the book is a bestseller which means a lot of people will understand the power of peace and the right brain. I believe if people read this book they may give a second look to understanding the power that metaphysics can have in their lives.


<i>One Foot in Eden</i> by Ron Rash

It’s no secret that I love the writing of this author.  Rash’s language is so beautiful and simple, and, yet, so richly complex.  Reading a novel or story written by Ron Rash, you can hear the Southern drawl, as I’ve said before.  It’s black velvet.  No matter how dark the story, the words are coated with honey, wrapped in velvet.

One Foot in Eden is a wonderfully complex read, filled with layers.  I just love the way he changed points-of-view.  The characters are beautifully written, warm with life and personality.  Or cold with life and personality, depending.  The parallel between the High Sheriff and his wife, Janice, and Billy and Amy Holcombe was fascinating.

This is a book that kept me guessing, which is a rare find, indeed.  I did not figure out what Billy did with that body until he told me!  I thought he’d done what the sheriff thought he’d done with it, though I thought it before the sheriff.    

And, like the excellent storyteller he is, Mr. Rash made me wait to find out.

Rating:  5 out of 5 stars


Saturday, August 22, 2009

Book Review - Document Z by Andrew Croome

I find it hard to decide what to try to read these days. Ought I try to fill the many gaps in my literary education by reading names like Doris Lessing or Jeffry Eugenedies? Should I try to get into something older? Find a SF author I’ve hitherto ignored, like China Mieville? I like reading award winners, not so much because I expect them to be better than other books, but because I get a brief illusion that I am pursuing a task that might one day be completed. A finite goal, like my earlier goal to read all the TAG Hungerford award winners. I think there are about ten, and I might have read six of them. So the new Vogel, then. Andrew Croome’s Document Z.

The first thing I should say is that I was acutely aware of the timeline of this particular award, the 2008 Vogel, as I had considering entering a novel of my own into this particular award. I’m now glad that I didn’t, not only because Document Z is clearly better, but because there were probably 50 other better books in that year’s pool too. The Vogel was and is a fairly lucrative award, worth something like $20,000 in an ordinary year, but as 2008 was the 50th anniversary of Vogel’s bread in Australia, the award was upped to $50,000 ($25,000 of which was an advance from Allen & Unwin). Nice work if you can get it.

Document Z tells the story of the ‘Petrov Affair’, which in later years would become par for the course in Year 12 TEE History. I studied this topic a decade ago, and yet I had managed to forget 95% of the details by now. The novel opens with Evdokia Petrov being hustled onto a plane before an angry crowd. The year is 1954. She makes it to the plane and then we backtrack to 1951. The main setting for the early part of the novel is the newly-minted Soviet embassy in the newly-minted national capital, Canberra. Document Z is told using multiple viewpoint characters, which is a technique I approve of. The prose is descriptive but prosaic. It gets the job done and doesn’t draw attention to itself. Like the book itself, the words are a means to an end.

Evdokia’s husband is Vladimir Petrov, employee of the Soviet embassy and also of the MVD, or Ministry of Internal Affairs. He’s a spy, in other words. Australia’s own intelligence agency is of course ASIO, and is often referred to as ‘the competitors’ in this novel. As the novel unfolds, we see that Vladimir and Evdokia make for an interesting and ultimately ideologically opposed pair. While he is gregarious, she is circumspect. Where she is zealous, he is ambivalent. Where he is sloppy and corrupt, she is meticulous and living in fear of her Soviet masters. The dimensions of this relationship make for one of the strongest aspects of the novel, not only because it impacts on the plot itself, but also because, well, it’s interesting. That’s about the highest compliment that I can give a book–that it interested me. And Document Z did.

As the narrative unfolds, we learn that Vladimir Petrov, ‘Volodya’ to his friends, is a very corrupt man. He is fond of gambling, racketeering, and visiting prostitutes. Oh, and of course drinking. And yet he remains a likeable figure. Croome achieves this by showing us much of this from Petrov’s perspective. Meanwhile, various petty intrigues are going on at the embassy, one of which leads to the ambassador being replaced. These intrigues demonstrate how the Russians live in a climate of fear, never knowing when they might be recalled to the motherland and maybe the gulag. Petrov manages to upset the applecart by allowing his dog to wander around the embassy. He alone seems unperturbed by the events around him.

Hovering around is Michael Howley, the ASIO man, who gets a few chapters to explain how he is tasked with spying on the embassy and its various goings on. He seems to be an honest sort. And then there is Michael Bialoguski, a shady doctor who proves to be anything but. Bialoguski seems to be working on both sides at best, and purely on his own side at worst. He is manipulative, greedy, and lacking courage. If I have a criticism of how he is characterised by the author, then it is that it is all to obvious that we are to dislike him, and to see through his stragetems instantly.

If I haven’t spent much time describing the plot in the first half of the novel, it’s because there isn’t much of one. I felt that the first 150 pages of so lacked narrative drive, that there was a certain ’so what?’ factor to the proceedings. Had the second half continued in this fashion, then I might have struggled to finish the book. About the ’so what?’ factor, I got the sense that Document Z was a novel about politics, but not a political book. Soviet Russia is twenty years dead. Why the need for this book, retelling what is now a minor footnote in Australian history, now? Was it simply that the ASIO documents had been declassified, thus providing a wealth of useful material for a novel? You couldn’t say that Croome tries to endorse a particular ideology here. And so Document Z is a very safe novel. It has nothing to say about the decade it was written in, except in that it vaguely disapproves of the Stalinist machine (and why shouldn’t it?).

Stalin’s death in 1953 alters the political landscape irrevocably and propels this novel into action. In the power vacuum left in his wake,  Lavrentiy Beria, the supposed successor, is deposed. Suddenly, everyone at the Australian embassy is seeing shadows. Meanwhile, Bialoguski is threatening to quit working for the Australian goverment if he isn’t paid more money. Everyone is on their toes–except Petrov, who manages to wreck an embassy-owned car while drunk. Somewhere in here he manages to say that ‘The Russian people are ruled at bayonet point’ (p 173), which might help to explain his erratic behaviour. Something in Petrov is broken and can’t be repaired.

I won’t try to explain what happens in the second half of the novel, except to say that it concerns a famous defection. Here Croome really comes into his own. The real conflict, as it happens, is not so much between the MVD and ASIO, still less between Communism and Democracy, but between Evdokia and Vladimir Petrov. And here is where Croome has ultimately succeeded with Document Z–he has managed to infuse the personal and the political, and to explicate how one informs the other. Here the author achieves something that all authors must strive for and not all achieve–he makes the reader care.

Document Z ends fairly weakly, but then this too is true to life. Here, at novel’s end, I began to envisage the difficulty that must have confronted Croome when trying to shape these events into a narrative. After all, novels do not depict life, or reality, but instead exist on their own little plane of existence where loose ends must be tied and the motivations of characters laid bare. In summary, this is a very solid read, technically very well written, but a little obscure, at least at first. This is a book about political history and yet one that has no politics of its own. Croome has succeeded in bringing history to life in a way that my Year 12 History textbook never could. Had this book existed at the time that I wrote my TEE History paper, my reading it would have aided me immensely (as an aside, reading John Pilger’s The Secret Country did exactly that, and my History score skyrocketed accordingly). This is the way to learn history–not as a series of facts, but as narrative, even if an imagined one. And yet I still don’t know what the purpose of this novel is. Some might argue that it was a story begging to be told, or that Croome has given this history to a new generation of readers, but I don’t really believe that. And so I remain slightly perplexed.


Friday, August 21, 2009

Christina Dodd - Storm of Visions

First book in the new Chosen series.

Welcome to the fight between The Chosen and The Others.  Each are people who were abandoned as babies, each have paranormal ability, each have to decide are they on the side of good or evil, the Chosen or Other.

This is a classic tale of good versus evil but with a unique twist and a fascinating legend of twins, The Abandoned Ones,  rejected and left to die due to vanity.  From this one act is spawned the  current battle between good and evil, The Chosen and The Others.

Every seven years, seven new Chosen join the battle against  The Others and this year they are an eclectic and mixed bunch that compliment and spark off of each other, they are also going to be faced with a harder task than any other group of Chosen so far. 

The first one of the seven to get her story is Jacqueline Vargha, a woman who has been running from her gift, her destiny and her lover.  But Caleb D’Angelo whilst a patient man isn’t going to let her run any longer, its time for Jacqueline to accept who she is; one of the Chosen and his soul mate. 

This book is a wonderful mix of romance and paranormal suspense, the characters are well written, diverse and intriguing.  The plot has enough twists and turns to keep you guessing but without making you feel sick.  The romance has enough sizzle mixed with a wonderful dose of tenderness and vulnerability.  Ms Dodd also did a fantastic job looking at the relationship between Jacqueline and her mother as well as the mix of Jacqueline, Caleb and her mother  (and lets not forget Caleb and his mother, cos you have to love an alpha male who loves him mum!)  All of these elements combine to give a romantic paranormal suspense story that is well worth a read.

Ms Dodd is an author who knows how to write romance, if your looking for lots of blood and gore you wont find it here, but if you want a a fast paced romance then pick up this book up and get caught up in the legend of  The Abandoned Ones.

I eagerly await the next book and the next Chosen ones story, that of the enigmatic and reluctant Aaron Eagle. 

One final point, if you have read Ms Dodd’s Darkness Chosen series, you will be pleased to know that that series gets a mention in this one, with hopefully a future quick visit to some old favourites? (well I can hope can’t I?)


  1. Storm of Visions
  2. Storm of Shadows (1st September 2009)


Book Review: Aztec Autumn

Gary Jennings’ novel Aztec Autumn is a fine example of how to make history more interesting through storytelling, but the history frequently overshadows the story and makes the novel a bit…what’s the word?…awkward.

The book follows the life of Tenamaxtli, an Aztec nobleman living during the early years of the Spanish colonization of the New World who leads a rebellion against the conquistadors several years after Cortez captured Tenochtitlan (Mexico City). To make things even more interesting, the hero was a real person and his rebellion really did take place during the Mixton War.

To showcase an impressive amount of historical research, Jennings has his hero wandering the countryside in preparation for his rebellion, giving him ample opportunity to discover and explore various settings, cultures, and historical figures of the day. To the history-minded reader, this is fascinating material and it is usually rather easy to tell when something historical (rather than narrative) is being explored.

Which brings us to the problem.

Jennings sends his hero on a long, meandering quest around western and northern Mexico (”the One World”) in search of allies, but this is really a sort of picaresque in which Tenamaxtli serves as an unwitting tour guide to show us:

  • the rebuilding of Mexico City
  • the cruelty of the Church
  • the kindness of the Church
  • the land of bald women
  • the land of primitive savages
  • the island of pearl-diving women
  • Spanish explorers
  • the treatment of Africans
  • cross-cultural politics
  • religion

All of which is fine and interesting, and while it is far more engaging than any history textbook, it makes for a clunky work of fiction. Tenamaxtli’s grand rebellion against the Spanish Empire becomes more of an excuse to travel (and sleep with a lot of women) than a story of war or survival.

The last issue I have with the book is the hero himself. While I believe that Jennings has created the most authentic Aztecatl character Americanly possible, it is hard to like him. Again, Tenamaxtli himself is a historical and cultural exploration of attitudes toward men and women, children and the elderly, sex, food, marriage, religion, racism, etc. The end result is someone a bit mechanical, as well as someone a bit hard to empathize with.

So while Aztec Autumn succeeds mightily in delivering history in a highly engaging manner, it never quite reaches the moment in which you forget you’re reading a book and just fall into the story.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

More-with-Less: A Cookbook Review

The More-with-Less Cookbook

This is my first review of a series of three cookbooks. This one is a classic that was originally published in 1976. I think I purchased my original copy in 1978. It became so tattered that I finally replaced it with the 25th anniversary edition that is pictured. This cookbook is the one that inspired the other two that I will review in a future blog. The full title of this cookbook is More-with-Less Cookbook: Recipes and suggestions by Mennonites on how to eat better and consume less of the world’s limited food resources. The author, now deceased, is Doris Janzen Longacre. It is part of A World Community Cookbook series commissioned by Mennonite Central Committee in response to world food needs.

The cookbook begins with chapters that outline the state of the world’s food resources and the spirituality that is reflected in what we eat. The premise of the cookbook is that we are what we eat both physically and spiritually and that change that aligns our eating and food production with the Divine will for the nurture of all creation is an act of faith. This cookbook provides information and real resources in the form of recipes and other helps to assist those of us who want to consume less of the world’s food resources, may not be sure where to begin, and are not sure how to maintain our motivation in the midst of affluence.

There are all kinds of useful resources besides the recipes. For example, there is a table of substitutions – you can substitute 2 tablespoons of flour for 1 tablespoon of corn starch. There is a guide to commercial container sizes, a guide to complementary proteins that create full proteins for those wanting to cut down on meat consumption, a comparative cost of protein sources chart, and there is a section on simple meal themes for entertaining and what might be included in each theme.

This cookbook contains all your usual classifications of recipes but one of my favorite things about it is that recipes from various parts of the world are included in each section. One of our family favorites is Vietnam Fried Rice which is garlicky and peppery. Another favorite is the West African Groundnut Stew which I have served to friends from that part of the world with plenty of hot sauce. Last of all, in the Snacks and Miscellaneous section are instructions for roasting pumpkin seeds which has become part of our family tradition at Halloween.

I do not buy many cookbooks anymore because of access to recipes on the internet, but this is one that I highly recommend and will probably have to replace again from over use in 25 years!


Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Humility, Patience, Determination

I need to talk to you a minute, if I can.

My name is James Daniel Ross, and I need your help.

I am here, producing work, but it’s not enough. I need an army willing to help. I’ve said it before and the fans are the true heart and soul, the driving force, behind The Radiation Angels.

Please sign up for my fan page at Facebook

Heck, befriend me on Twitter.

Follow on Twitter

I need people willing to go out to every review site on the internet and post their opinions on my work. I need,, absolutely everywhere.

I need people to carpet the internet. If the review site takes reviews, please write one. If they do reviews, please request that they review my novels. They can contact me (RadiationAngels(at) and I can get them copies or PDFs for their use. If you have a favorite bookstores within 150 miles of Cincinnati, or inside the city limits, suggest I come and do a signing, or a lead a discussion, or tapdance, or lead a sing along.

The bottom line is I need more exposure, and all of you are the only ones that can help me get it.

Example list of review sites:

Usenet group: rec.arts.sf.written

And trust me, I’m doing my part here. I’m writing, I’m making contacts, and I’m doing public appearances wherever I can. For example, weekend after next I will be spending the weekend in Columbus, Ohio at Context 22!

Please. I need your help.


Marx's Das Kapital: A Biography by Francis Wheen

Marx’s Das Capital: A Biography by Francis Wheen (2008, Manjul Publications, India, Rs. 195)
Francis Wheen’s biography of Karl Marx, published in 2001, was probably the first one to be published after the collapse of the Soviet Union and ‘existing socialism’ in Eastern Europe. He has now written a ‘biography’ of Marx’s magnum opus Das Kapital. Wheen’s central point is that Capital needs to be seen, above all, as a work of art.

Although Das Kapital is usually categorized as a work of economics, Karl Marx turned to the study of political economy only after many years of spadework in philosophy and literature. It is these intellectual foundations of underpin the project, and it is his personal experience of alienation that gives such intensity to the analysis of an economic system which estranges people from one another and from the world that they inhabit- a world in which humans are  enslaved by the monstrous power of inanimate capital and commodities. (page 7)

Later in the book he re- asserts the same:

 …only a handful of critics have given serious attention to Marx’s own declared ambition- in several letters to Engels- to produce a work of art. (page 74)

Divided into three chapters: Birth, Gestation and Afterlife, it examines the literary influences on Capital in the first, gives an exposition of the ideas contained in the work in the second chapter and finally examines the legacy and contemporary influence. The most interesting section, however, is the introduction that has earlier appeared in Guardian.

Wheen’s treatment of Marx is enthusiastic but also bathetic. There is a quote attributed to Marx that casts aspersions on Marx’s use of dialectics:

As Marx knew, however, these dialectical dalliances had an extra use value.  After  writing an article on Indian mutiny in 1857, suggesting that the British would begin their retreat as soon as the rainy season started, he had confessed to Engels: ‘It’s possible that I shall make an ass of myself. But in that case one can always get out of it with a little dialectic. I have, of course, so worded my proposition as to be right either way.’ When applied like this, dialectics means never having to admit that one was wrong. (page 64)

Wheen’s over enthusiasm for looking at Das Capital as a ‘work of art’ also results in his trashing of the work as a ‘difficult work’. Particularly in the last chapter ‘Afterlife’, he prefers to quote other writers on this aspect rather than layout anything himself. Besides making the short book read like a collection of quotations, it leaves the reader un- enthused about the ideas on political economy contained in Das Capital. Lenin comes in for direct attack as being dismissive of the central tenets of Capital.

Overall, I found the book is disappointing. It gives a a few interesting glimpses to the literary underpinnings to the work- Frankenstein, Tristram Shandy,  Faust, but meanders through the economic ideas contained in the work. The large number of unreferenced quotes are jarring. Despite some  interesting insights into the literary aspects of Das Capital, I find it hard to recommend this slim volume as an appropriate introduction to Marx’s magnum opus.

A detailed critique of Wheen’s exposition of the ideas in Das Capital has been provided by Gerry Gold.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

<i>God in a Cup</i>, by Michaele Weissman

Sometimes a book’s title just rings true.  For a huge section of the American populace, myself included, it’s not much of an intellectual leap to believe you can meet God in a hot cup of coffee.  After all, my first sip in the morning might as well be the words “let there be light,” since my response is invariably “it’s good.”  In this book, though, Weissman introduces readers to a coffee-fueled world far beyond the simple brew most people love.

God in a Cup is not about the great wide world of coffee production, nor is it the history of the blessed bean; the story told is much more, well, specialized.  Weissman immerses herself in the culture of high-end specialty coffee, focusing on a handful of industry players.  This isn’t Starbucks she’s talking about, but a group of young, entrepreneurial companies and men who are, as the subtitle suggests, obsessive in the “quest for the perfect coffee.”

As Weissman explains it, there have been three waves of coffee companies in this country.  The first, beginning in and around World War II, was the freeze-dried, vacuum packed crowd who brought us (shudder) instant coffee.  Their bottom line was money, and so they comodified the market, mixing in vast quantities of low-quality beans to deaden the American pallet and increase their profit margin.  The second wave began in the late 60s and was made up of a mixture of Americans and northern European immigrants.  These guys focused on resurrecting old world styles of roasting and sought to put flavor back into coffee.  To many, this wave reached its peak in the mid-90s, most notably through the ascendancy of Starbucks.  The third wave, Weissman’s main focus, is trying to take coffee somewhere even better.

The central characters of this next generation are energetic, passionate and interested in both creating great businesses and raising the quality of coffee farming around the world.  There’s Geoff Watts of Intelligentsia, the so-called ‘rock star’ of the group who everyone loves; Peter Giuliano of Counter Culture, Geoff’s close friend who seems a little more grounded; and Duane Sorenson of Stumptown Coffee, the individualist, standing by himself out in left field.  It’s almost immediately clear that Weissman has a great affection for these guys, and a clear tenderness comes through her writing, especially for Geoff and Peter.  From a certain point of view, it’s understandable.  She spent a  lot of time with them, traveling all over the coffee growing world, while researching the book.  And there’s nothing like the road to bring you closer to someone.  On the other hand, this attitude gave me some hiccups as a reader since it created something of a mixed narrative.

Michaele Weissman is an accomplished author and journalist, and the detached tone I would expect from those credentials is dominant in parts of the book.  She presents facts and history, and allows the interview subjects to tell the story for her.  In other places, though, she becomes part of the story.  There are sections, especially the ones focusing on her “trips to origin” (coffee growing countries), where the narrative suddenly becomes a travelogue.  Now, I don’t object to a mixing of styles, but there does need to be a certain consistency in the blending.  As a reader, I didn’t pick up on that sort of directed intention, which left me feeling a little confused as to what exactly I should expect from the book.

Execution issues aside, the specialty coffee industry is an interesting and conflicted world.  Most of the people Weissman talks to are torn between a desire to serve the best coffee in the world and what seems like a genuine drive to help coffee farmers.  Coffee is the second most traded commodity after oil, and yet its farmers are among the poorest people in the world.  There is a vast array of reasons for this dichotomy, but the third wave guys are trying to help by placing the focus on quality.  Their general philosophy is that if farmers learn how to produce better beans, buyers will pay more for it, putting more money in the farmers’ pocket.  Of course, it’s not that simple.  There are cooperatives, exporters and even whole governments standing between coffee growers and consumers.  It’s a complicated issue which, even if the specialty model works, will not be easily untangled.  If nothing else, I think the book does an excellent job of helping the reader become aware of the network through which coffee flows.

More often than not, when I read about food, I want to run out and try the new or the special right away.  I didn’t find that after finishing God in a Cup.  Maybe it’s that I’m too ensconced in my own morning rituals, or it could be that I wasn’t meant to.  The coffee industry, especially as described in this book, is a people industry.  There are significant relationships made between farmers and roasters, and sometimes that even extends to the drinkers as well.  All along the way, there are real people involved in the production and, since people are God’s business, perhaps there’s more to the title than a suggestion of great taste.  It was discussed in the book that if people pay more for their coffee, more can get back to the farmers through the right channels.  That idea stuck with me and I think opens up an interesting new philosophy in my own consumerism.  Weissman’s book encouraged me to think differently about my life, and that’s something I always appreciate in good writing.


Monday, August 17, 2009

Love in the 21st Century

Love Is a Four Letter Word: True Stories of Breakups, Bad Relationships and Broken Hearts

Let me be perfectly clear about this.   I’m generally not a fan of collections of stories, either true or non-fiction.   Why?   Because the quality level of the writing tends to vary so much in most anthologies to the point where it feels like volunteering to take a ride down a long and bumpy road.   But my instincts told me that this collection of 23 “true stories of seduction, heartbreak and regret” would be the exception.   For me, it was.

Credit must go to editor Michael Taeckens for finding some very talented American writers, of which he is one.   Perhaps I should say equally talented, because it’s almost as if editor Taeckens has applied the writing equivalent of a sound limiter…   Everything here comes off in an ear-and-mind-pleasing mid-range tone.

As for the stories themselves, they separate into two general categories:  the extremely humorous ones in which the writers have accepted the follies and embarrassments of their youth, and the sad and regretful ones in which the writers are still not quite sure who was at fault in their doomed love affairs and relationships.   (The latter, when looking back, are not even sure why they fought so hard with their ex-partners.)

Such is, in the words of Glenn Frey, love in the 21st Century.   As it is, this reader raced so quickly through the 290 pages in Love… that just one question remains.   When is Michael Taeckens editing his next compilation of stories and when, exactly, can I pre-order it?

Thanks to Alexandra at Plume for the review copy!

Note:   There is some adult content in this collection, but nothing that one hasn’t either seen or heard about before.


Book review: 'The Hunger Games' by Suzanne Collins

I really had little interest in reading this book — I just want to get that admission out there from the beginning! I’m really not a reader of science fiction or fantasy, and I pay little attention to novels set in “alternate universes” or the future. I’m very much a here-and-now kind of gal — and I spend most of my time traipsing through big cities with 20-somethings figuring out their path in life. In that vein, Suzanne Collins’s The Hunger Games had little appeal for me.

So why did I pick it up, then?

This book is everywhere. Click over to any book blog and you’ll see folks typing away about it, debating the novel’s various points. To be frank, I caved under literary peer pressure.

And I’m so glad I did.

Sixteen-year-old Katniss is our narrator, a young woman from District 12 of what was once the United States. North America is now Panem, ruled by a group called the Capitol, the all-knowing and ruthless government that presides over each of the districts. Starving and exhausted, Katniss hunts with Gale, her closest friend and ally, to provide the meager offerings she can to her mother and 12-year-old sister Prim, but there’s never enough to fill the empty void in her aching stomach.

In retaliation for an uprising against the Capitol many years earlier, an annual Hunger Games takes place — a fight-to-the-death battle televised live on every battered TV in Panem. Each district “randomly” selects one boy and one girl to represent them in the Games, and this year’s contestants are Peeta, a strong baker’s son, and Prim — Katniss’s sister. Without hesitation, Katniss jumps up to take Prim’s place . . . and then the Games are underway.

The suspense in this novel was fantastic, though not unbearable — and I frequently found myself chewing on a thumbnail saying, “Now how are they going to get of this?” That element of mystery and fear kept me deeply engrossed in the plot — as did the developing love story. Could I see it coming ten miles away? Sure. But that didn’t make it any less enjoyable to experience.

I was a little nervous about the story’s violence and potential gore factor; I’m a squeamish reader. But I wasn’t really disturbed by the book’s imagery or descriptions, though there were a few whoppers in there. Everything was written tastefully, and the plot didn’t dissolve into merely a bloodbath. For that, I was deeply grateful!

As I described the novel’s plot to my sister, she gave me a wry look and said, “Oh, I’m sure everyone is having a field day examining that book as a commentary on our government and civilization.” And I’m sure many people can look at it that way, but I’ll say this — I enjoyed the book for what it was: a riveting, fast-paced story of family, devotion, love and survival, and I absolutely can’t wait to get my nail-bitten hands on Catching Fire, due out Sept. 1.

4.5 out of 5!

ISBN: 0439023483 ♥ Purchase from Amazon ♥ Author Website


Sunday, August 16, 2009

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman

What could possibly bring a sweet, young boy to live in a graveyard among the deceased? The violent and mysterious murder of Bod’s whole family by a man only know as Jack forced his hand. As a toddler, Bod barely escaped being murdered as well when he meandered out of his family’s home and into the graveyard. There the ghosts helped shield him from harm.

Over the years Bod (short for Nobody) grows up, is educated, and enjoys his life surrounded by the protection of his graveyard family, but he can never leave. While in the graveyard Bod is kept safe from any harm, but the protection does not extend beyond the graveyard gates.

Jack hasn’t given up on finding Bod. His reputation rides on his ability to complete the job he started. Can Bod thwart Jack’s attempts on his life or will he make a fatal error?

This story is definitely different from your typical story filled with ghosts. The ghosts are just like any other character in a story, they’re just dead. Bod manages to make a human friend, even though he can’t leave the sanctity of the graveyard. The mystery surrounding Bod’s real family’s deaths is a unique plot line, the likes of which I haven’t ever encountered before in a story. A truly magnificent read.


Remarkable Creatures by Tracy Chevalier

Set in the early 19th century, this novel tells the true story of two women, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot.  Anning was a young woman who searched the beach at Lyme Regis for fossils that she could sell to tourists, thereby supplementing her families meagre income.  It is believed that Mary Anning’s finds are source of the tongue twister  “She sells sea shells by the sea shore.”

Philpot, along with her two sisters, had fallen on hard times and therefore had moved to Lyme Regis from London.  Soon, Mary Anning and Elizabeth Philpot are united by their interest in the strange creatures imprinted in the rocks.

Whilst fragments of dinosaur bones had been discovered before, even if nobody knew what they were, Mary Anning was the first to find a complete skeleton.   At this time, it was commonly accepted that the Earth was six thousand years old and that all the creatures that now walked upon it had also been there at its birth.  These finds resembled no animal in existence, so slowly the whole study of natural science was turned on its head.

Chevalier deftly blends historical fact with her own invention, switching perspectives from Anning to Philpot and then back again.  This is a light, easy read, highlighting the remarkable story of Mary Anning and her discoveries.


Friday, August 14, 2009


Percy, Walker. The Moviegoer. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001.

I felt like I was doing this book a disservice by reading it. I was bored half the time and I really couldn’t tell you why. I guess I didn’t fall in love with the main character as quickly or as easily as I wanted to. What is there to say? Binx “Jack” Bolling is a 29 year old stock broker who dates his secretaries. He’s good at what he does so he earns everyone (including himself) a lot of money. He appears to be a shallow man who spends most of his free time going to the movies. The majority of the story takes place in New Orleans which was fun. I have always been fascinating by that area of the south.
For the most part The Moviegoer was a social commentary on a man who prefers to watch life from the sidelines. He doesn’t spend a great deal of effort actually getting out there and making things happen. He has no clue who he is. Probably the most telling moment of the story is when Binx is being questioned: “‘What do you love? What do you live by?’ [he is asked.] I am silent’” is his reply (p 226). He can’t even answer the question of what he holds sacred, of what makes him live.

Best funny lines, “Oh the crap that lies lurking in the English soul” (p 26). Anytime someone uses the word “lurking” in a sentence I’m a fan. “Whenever I feel bad, I go to the library and read controversial periodicals” (p 100). The librarian in me loves the fact he goes to the library and he used the word periodical!

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust and mentioned three times: first, in the chapter called “Companion Reads” (p 65). I was supposed to read The Moviegoer with The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (which I already read), The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro, and A Gesture Life by Chang-rae Lee. All four books represent being more of a spectator to life than a participant. The second time The Moviegoer is mentioned in Book Lust is in the chapter “New Orleans” (p 168), the reason why I read the book in August. The last place The Moviegoer is mentioned is in the chapter “Southern Fiction” (p 223).


Thursday, August 13, 2009


Spoiler Alert: STRANGE ANGELS is not about Angels.

Oh man. Dru Anderson has got problems. Lots of them. And from the opening line, we are smack-dab in the middle of them. STRANGE ANGELS is the kind of book that you can’t put down. You don’t even want to. You want to finish it, need to and when it’s over, you want more. Dru travels from town to town with her dad (whom we never meet by the way, well we do and by that time, he’s a rather stinky, flesh dragging fellow), hunting the things that most of us are afraid to even mention. But something goes wrong-dead wrong and a zombie busts into her new house. Sucks to be Dru Anderson. Lucky for Dru, she was trained by the best, her dad. And, she’s not alone. A new friend, who just happens to be part werwulf and a partly strange blue-eyed boy who seems to know more about her than she knows about herself show up completing her posse. Page after page the story unfolds with twists and turns that are fun, exciting and believable. Dru is kick ass and strong–maybe even too strong for some as she swigs alcohol to ease her woes. But even in strength she is personable, likeable and at times even vulnerable. Humor, action, monsters and lots of teenage angst–STRANGE ANGELS does not disappoint. St. Crow leaves the ending open for the next book and though I would have liked to have seen a little more closure to this book; I’m really looking forward to BETRAYALS, the next book in the series.

Parental warning: teenage drinking, cursing and cigarette smoking.


Dru Anderson has been “strange” for as long as she can remember. She travels from town to town with her father, hunting the things that go bump in the night and eat the unwary. It’s a weird life, but a good one–until it all explodes and a zombie busts into her new house.

Alone, terrified, and trapped in an icy town, Dru’s going to need every inch of her wit and training to stay alive. Can she trust the boy who is just a little too adult–and just happens to get bit by a werwulf? Or the strange blue-eyed boy who tells her she’s heir to a long-forgotten power? Can she even trust her own instincts?

Because Dru is not the first in her family to be killed by the darkness of the Real World. The monsters have decided to hunt back–and now Dru has to figure out who to trust, who to fight, and when to run. And not incidentally, she has to figure out how she’s going to get out of this alive.

And she has to do it by sundown, or it’s all over…

Available from Razorbill May 14, 2009


Lili St. Crow is the author of Strange Angels. She lives in Vancouver, Washington with her husband, three children, and a houseful of cats.



Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Book Review: Four Dukes and a Devil by Cathy Maxwell, Elaine Fox, Tracy Anne Warren, etc.

  • Title: Four Dukes and a Devil
  • Author: Cathy Maxwell, Elaine Fox, Jeanene Frost, Sophia Nash, Tracey Anne Warren
  • Type: Romance Anthology
  • Genre: Regency, Contemporary, Paranormal
  • Sub-genre: Long short stories
  • My Grade: C
  • Rating: PG-13
  • Where Available: Everywhere books are sold

I’ve been reading a lot of collections and anthologies lately, something I usually avoid as there is no room for character or plot development.  But thanks to Paperback Swap, I’m well supplied with both multi-author and single author anthologies aplenty this summer.  When a short story or novella is extremely well done, it can be a gem.  Look at O. Henry’s work or Guy de Maupassant.  Can you even get out of grade school without reading The Ransom of Red Chief and The Gift of the Magi? Alas, romance and short stories are very tough to do, and this anthology is no exception to my basic Rule of ‘Meh’ on the genre – with one glaring mispositioned piece.

Accomplished author Cathy Maxwell gives us a traditional rags to riches Regency tale with The Irish Duke.  Yes, it’s fluff, but it’s very readable and fun.  I like both the ‘plucky heroine’ and the ‘handsome Duke’, even though many issues, such as the usual religious differences between the English and Irish, are not even touched on.  Miss Susan Rogers is the impoverished sister that was left at the alter when the parents of the three Rogers girls died in a carriage accident and the cousin who inherited refused to pay the dowry.  Selling all she owned, she managed to contract advantageous marriages for both younger sisters and is repaid with by their condescension and scorn for her budding match-making business for eligible young ladies.  The ‘hook’ she has settled on this year is using the Order of Precedence in Royal and State occasions where the last are the Irish Dukes.  She neglects to mention they are still ahead of all the other nobility, including earls and marquesses.  But with only 2 Irish dukes about, and neither in the marriage market, she feels quite safe.

Roan Gillray was solider until he inherited his uncle’s title and fortune.  Life as a professional solider makes him long for his one place and his one woman to fill it, so he’s on the London Marriage Mart and finds himself cut out by social elite because he is The Irish Duke, the one a certain matchmaker has warned everyone about.  Furious, he gets a friend to take him to a ball where she will be with her charges and finds not the old spinster he was expecting, but a lovely young woman.  He demands a dance from her to show the Ton he is, in fact, highly eligible.  She refuses because it would destroy her business.  He decides the Ton likes nothing better than a good bet, so he goes to White’s and places a huge wager that he will dance with Miss Susan Rogers within 2 weeks.  She’s caught between a rock and the a hard place, Irish Duke.  The expected happens.  Well paced and well written, but predictable.  On its own, a C+

Next up was a contemporary romance by Elaine Fox set on Cape Cod and done with a paranormal twinge and a conniving dog.  The Duke Who Came to Dinner might be the best of the lot here.  The characters have some depth, though Gray Gilliam is better developed than Sam Gregory, but overall, this was well done.

Cynthia Gray Gillian is a staid, shy, introverted, grade school techer who has a comfort zone as small as her classroom.  Determined and just a little desperate to try and live a more adventurous life, she’s house sitting for her friend Rachel on Cape Cod.  The old beach house is for sale, but ghost stories and weird noises have scared potential buyers off.  By having Gray there, they hope to prove the place isn’t as spooky as everyone thinks it is.  Her first experience with daring – skinny dipping in the ocean, ends in humiliation when a white dog runs off with her sundress and she has to bike home naked but for pair of tiny panties.  Thank heavens it’s too early for the town to be up, because there’s no way around it to reach the house.  Sam Gregory is enjoying his morning coffee when he chokes at the sight of Lady Godiva on a bike.  That evening he finds her in a local bar trying to order Pinot Grigio for a bartender that barely knws red from white.  He strikes up a conversation and she’s not at all what he expected.  Both are guilty of judging each other by appearance and neither is exactly what they seem, but attraction is undeniable.  There is the problem of his having her dress, that’s to the stray dog, Duke, he adopted – or who adopted him – and left him with the prize.  Despite the attraction, there’s just n polite way to say, “Hey, nice skin!”

This story has a ghost, classical music, two ordinary people, one de riguer Cape Cod local eccentric and, of course, Duke.  On its own, a B-

Next up was the longest entry in the anthology ,by Jeanene Frost, Devil to Pay.  To be honest, the opening pages were just such dowers I lost all interest and skipped the whole thing.  I did read the last few pages and was left wondering what possessed the editors to include a dark paranormal story about someone with the devil in his body in an anthology of light romance stories.  I might like vampire stories, but this rather grim tale was hopelessly out of place here.  The jarring change of pace was not welcome by me.  Put it where it won’t give the reader whiplash with the complete change of genre and tone.  Under other circumstances, this would have been a good story, but surrounded by gentle Regencies and an equally gentle contemporary, it stood out like a Goth-chick warrior complete with weapons at a church ice cream social.

Next up was another Regency by Sophia Nash, Catch of the Century.  Here we have a teacher in a London foundling home taking 3 boys to apprentice with a man hired to build Wallace Addy, an extension the foundling home where Victoria works and where she was raised after her mother’s death from consumption.  Victoria is a fish out of water in the countryside.  London born and bred, she’s no clue what’s she’s doing walking the stage road to Wallace Abby, but neither she now her 3 charges have a choice.  There bags were on the post coach and that left while she was arguing with the innkeeper over his charges which ended in a brawl when he made a lewd suggestion that patrons took exception to.  Now they have no money, no clothes and some badly driven coach nearly mowed them all down.  Angry and upset, she gives the man who steps from the coach the sharp edge of her tongue and eventually has him agreeing to take them to their destination.  It isn’t until she sees the coat of arms on the coach that she realizes that she has just browbeaten the new Duke of Beaufort into hauling her and the boys some 60 miles to their destination.

John Varick had taken a small inheritance from his mother and built himself a massive fortune before he inherited the estate, title and money of his uncle, the prior duke.  His wealth, title and good looks – and his repeated escapes from the clutches on matchmaking mamas and marriage minded young ladies – have caused the papers to dub him The Catch of the Century.  The duke has more weighty things on his mind, like building a new mill and convincing his difficult neighbor,  to sell a tiny piece of land so the road to the canal can be short and easy.  The managing Miss Givens is a distraction and he feels responsible for her and her 3 young charges.  He is absolutely fascinated by those expensive and delightful half boots she’s wearing.

We have rain, collapsed roofs, flooded floors and uninhabitable buildings.  A snake bite leads to an impromptu lovemaking session and a proposal from the duke, which Victoria turns down.  She’s completely unsuitable.  She isn’t completely self-sacrificing but she is very determined to do what accounts to be the right hing and she even takes time to go to his neighbor and make a proposal on the mill that finally got the two together.  John is not the usual type either.  Fashion conscious, a businessman, not a solider or spy or sportsman.  The Catch of the Century was one of the best crafted stories in the book.  The story had depth, character and a certain charm.  The boys were little more than props, and the series of unfortunate events stretched the credulity a bit, but that’s typical of this genre.  On its own a C+

The last story in the anthology was written by another well established historal romance writer, Tracey Anne Warren.  Another Regency, this story is more the classic ‘virginal schoolroom miss’ attracts the notorious, and mature ‘Devil Duke’ and he runs from her and himself.  Charmed By Her Smile is a bit of fluff that is exactly what this book needed to finish it off.  Yes, the trope is old and well used, and yes, we’ve seen these characters before, but the writing is smooth and highly readable and it was rather like a comfortable visit with an old friend you haven’t seen in awhile.