Tuesday, September 29, 2009


Without Seeing the Dawn (also known as The Lost Ones) is a novel that revolves  around people who lived simple lives in the province – until the most unexpected and cruel events came to their small village. Their once peaceful village began to tear apart when disaster after another happened during the Japanese occupation of the Philippines.

What used to be a prosperous place with jolly people became inflicted with death and desperation as the characters struggle to regain what they used to have and to find hope in each other’s company.

The novel also shows the change that happen in people when they transfer from a rural area to the hustle and bustle of city life. It narrates the temptations one faces, the struggles, and the negative side effects on the person and others as well.

Although the story is very depressing (yes, I felt really sad for weeks after finishing the book), I think it is something you should find the time to read. The book has two parts: Day and Dawn. I especially enjoyed the Day part since it portrays life in the province and the young love of the main characters. The courtship part was particularly enjoyable. But, that does not mean I liked the Dawn part less. It was just a bit too heavy for me to take, but I believe it is beautifully written, nonetheless.

If you are looking for a page turner, start looking for a copy of this book. I really commend Stevan Javellana for writing a book that really shows Filipino culture and traditions, and for adding a very dramatic effect on the plot. *Two thumbs up!*


Geoffrey here, the Fragile Earth Orphanage Librarian, highlighting one of the newest books to hit our library shelves. Our book of the week is Bats at the Beach by Brian Lies. And we’re proud to have one of the young bats from the story staying with us at the orphanage, so I’ll let him tell you all about the book.

Do you ever wonder what happens at the beach, after the sun goes down? When people have left for the day?

Sun slips down and all is still,

and soon we can’t tell sky from hill.

Now from barn and cave and rafter,

bats pour out with shrieks of laughter.

The rising moon can grow no fatter

as sky lights up with gleeful chatter;

Quick, call out! Tell all you can reach -

the moon is just perfect for bats at the beach!

And that’s when other species hit the waves!

Some are braver than others – some don’t make it in past their ankles!

We have bonfires …

and roast bugmallows ….

What do you do at the beach?

Just a quick note – some other great bat themed books are Stellaluna by Jannell Cannon, Bats on Parade  and others by Kathi Appelt, and the ever entertaining Magic School Bus series by Joanna Cole .

Monday, September 28, 2009

Book Review Insights

Here’s a link to a blog posting by author, Shannon Hale, about book evaluation vs. self evaluation.  She discusses many of the issues we talked about in our book reviewing class a couple of weeks ago.

Author, John Green, also comments on her posting in his blog posting A Book Reviewer’s Apologies (Aug 27/09). In particular, he discusses the pitfall (that he also has fallen into) of placing too much emphasis on liking/disliking a book, rather than on assessing whether it “accomplished what it wanted to accomplish, and whether that thing was worth accomplishing.”

Much food for thought in both the postings and comments!

<i>Interworld</i>, by Neil Gaiman & Michael Reaves

It’s not as complicated as it sounds, I swear.

Every time someone has asked me about this book, that’s how I’ve ended the description.  I’ve tried six or seven different iterations of a synopsis, but I’ve not found a way to keep people’s eyes from crossing as I talked about alternate realities, multiple dimensions and an army made of different versions of the same person.  It’s a bloody shame, too, since Gaiman & Reaves have put together a fine story filled with action and abstract thought, science and sorcery.  Despite the apparent contradictions, the narrative has an eminently readable balance which is not as complicated as it sounds, I swear.

Joey Harker is a sophomore in high school who, aside from a miserable sense of direction, has typical teenage problems.  His biggest issue however, goes beyond madcap teachers and unrequited love.  Turns out he lives in something called the Altiverse, a universe made of a nearly infinite number of realities.  Some lie close to Joey’s, with only slight differences (like McDonalds sporting green tartan rather yellow and red), while others are worlds filled with magic or over the top science.  In each dimension, there’s a Joey Harker, sort of, and each one of them can Walk between worlds.  To complicate matters, there are two groups–the magical HEX and the cybernetic Binary–who hunt Walkers and use them as a necrotic power source in their perpetual war for multi-dimensional domination.  Caught between the two, the Harkers created Interworld, not to save the universe, but to maintain the balance.  When Joey, the narrator, discovers his ability, the game’s afoot and his life changes, more than once.

This book could have easily become a convoluted beast of a novel, a piece of hard sci-fi which took itself way too seriously.  With deft hands, though, Gaiman & Reaves keep the pace elevated and the techno-jargon down, making their complex universe easily understood, even familiar.  Much of this is attributable to the narrator’s character.  Joey’s a pretty solid middle of the road kid.  He doesn’t get too high or too low, even in his most stressful moments.  It’s not that he’s lacking emotions, it’s that they’re carefully calibrated to allow him to be the level center of a swirling mass of characters and ideas.  This might be best embodied every time Joey actually “Walks.”

Picture a fractal.  Now spin it into an orb that you can walk through and then chuck in every color and smell you’ve ever experienced.  As near as I can figure, you’re half-way to understanding the In-Between.  This place, for lack of a better term, is where Walkers go as they pass from one dimension to another.  It’s “…a 3-D collaboration between Salvador Dali, Picasso and Jackson Pollock.  With a liberal does of Heironymus Bosch and the really cool old Warner Bros. cartoons thrown in for good measure.”  The madness isn’t just visual; Joey says he can hear colors and see tastes.  For the reader, it’s a license to paint the scenery with the delirium of imagination.  As a Walker, though, Joey knows instinctively that his path is the magenta one and his way out lies behind the spinning rhomboid which tastes like C sharp.  He’s the eye of the storm, the guide through a place which is always threatening to spill over into madness.  It’s not only his team of commandos he leads, it’s the reader as well.  Without this guidance, the complexities of the story (in the In-Between, they’re called mudluffs, basically whacked-out monsters of the highest order) would be totally overwhelming for everyone.

A few days ago, I was talking to one of my classes about Interworld and a student said it reminded him of a made-for-TV sci-fi movie.  I could see his point.  What carries the novel through, however, is the writing.  In most co-authored books, the line between one writer and another seems fairly obvious to me (or so I delude myself).  Gaiman & Reaves, though, are seamless.  There was only one point, the use of a Gaiman graphic element, where I saw one rise above the other.  Even that, though, was so perfectly timed it was breathtaking.  Ultimately, the book is crafted of honest, intelligent storytelling which is simply fun to read.  Plus, it has a totally delightful ending which was so like the last scene of the Incredibles, I heard the soundtrack.  And like the movie, it seems primed for a sequel which hope never to see.

This book makes me like Shannon Hale even more!

“You think I’ll stand by while you threaten the princess?” said Enna. “You know I won’t.”

“Hush, I said.” Leifer crossed to the fire and threw pinecones into its heart. They hissed and popped.

“I can’t believe I’ve put up with you this week. Poor Finn has sat patiently through your crazy talk, but when you start mouthing off Isi, well, you’d be half a horse not to think either one of us would knock you down flat before we’d allow you to say another word.”

“I said shut up!” Leifer turned. Enna could see his face caught in the fire’s shivering orange glow. His shoulders and arms trembled, and his expression was so foreign, she could scarcely believe he was her brother. [...]

Leifer grimaced as though fighting pain, then cried out. Enna felt a rush of heat and a sudden sting. She looked down to see her skirt on fire.

(From page 15 of Enna Burning by Shannon Hale)

Enna Burning by Shannon Hale

Copyright 2004, Bloomsbury

317 pages, YA fantasy

Enna lives in the forest of Bayern alone with her brother Leifer. One day Leifer brings home an old, mysterious piece of vellum that holds the secrets of fire: How to speak its language, and how to pull it out of the air. Enna wonders whether this power is a good or bad thing~ perhaps both? But when Bayern goes to war, she accepts the gift of fire. This new intimacy with flame is more curse than blessing, and Enna must try to save Bayern and herself before the urge to burn consumes her entirety.

Enna Burning is the second book in the Books of Bayern series, the Goose Girl being the first, and one of my new favorites. I absolutely adored the Goose Girl; it really struck a chord with me. Enna Burning is just as powerful, with the internal struggle of right and wrong that seems to carry through all of the best books out there in various incarnations. It touches on every element of a good fantasy should have: Suspense, plenty of plot complications, a healthy dose of magic, friendship, battles and conflicts, and some romance. I’m really very glad that I finally decided to read it after that Weekly Geeks post I made…how long was it? A month ago?

Now for the negatives. Huh. You certainly know a book’s good when you really have to reach to come up with something bad about it! Anyway, in the first bit of the book, there was an awful lot of death and destruction, doom and gloom going on which probably would discourage a reader who wasn’t familiar with Shannon Hale. Sometimes I got frustrated at how clueless Enna was at times, but when you look at the big picture, it only adds to the suspense and excitement of the story as a whole.

Rating: 4.5 stars, perhaps closer to 4.75 stars, actually!

Visit Shannon Hale’s website at http://www.shannonhale.com .

Sunday, September 27, 2009

BOOK REVIEW :: Stop Dating the Church

Joshua Harris gives our generation a clear challenge to reject our typical isolationist and many times selfish spirituality and replace it with a more mature community spirituality.  Stop Dating the Church is a call to love the Bride even though she is far from perfect.

Young men of my generation tend to still be boys, dodging commitment in order to have some juvenile fun.  Many of us take this same attitude toward the Church, Jesus’ Bride.  Harris says that God “wants you in a relationship defined by both passion and commitment” (pg12).  He notes that church daters can be identified by their me-centeredness, their independence, and their critical spirit.  These church daters need to match their passion for God with a love for His Bride.  Harris says, “The church is the vehicle the Jesus chose to take the message of the gospel to every generation and people” (gp20).  This means that the Church is the center of the missio dei.  He also says, “The church community is where we learn to love God and others” (pg21).  This means that the Church is to be the center of your entire spirituality, not just a tradition that you do because you parents want you to attend.

Chapter 2 makes a case for us to love what Jesus loves by viewing the Church from God’s perspective.  When we read Ephesians 5 it is helpful to ask ourselves if we love the Bride like Jesus does, sacrificially.  Harris makes an interesting observation by the question, “Is it possible that God didn’t get His inspiration for loving the Church from marriage, but that one reason God created marriage was to illustrate His love for the Church?” (pg30).  Harris also unpacks the pictures of body and temple in this chapter.

In his third chapter he makes a case for “need.”  We need the Church because it gives the lost world a “visible, tangible, real-world expression of the body of Christ” (pg45) and this body gives us credibility in sharing the gospel.  As we share the gospel we can point to evidence of its power to create not only new life but also a new society (pg47).  He also gives a very helpful statement, “sanctification is a community project” (pg50).  Finally, he gives a great challenge to all of us to “Stop complaining about what’s wrong with the church, and become part of a solution” (pg61).

Harris’ fourth chapter provides some helpful tips on how to “join the club” (pg63) of the Church.  He calls us all to action by telling us to join a church, make that church a priority in your life, be a good team player, serve, give, connect with others, share your passion for your church to unbelievers and those who don’t attend your church.  Oh what a joy to see people live that wonderful life.

I found Chapter 5 very helpful as Harris gives practical things to consider when choosing your church. The most important thing on the list is a commitment to faithfully teaching God’s Word.  Does a church give lip service to the Bible or actually faithfully live by it and teach it.  Expository preaching is one of the best marks of a healthy church.  Personally, I have arrived at a place where I could never again be part of church that was not committed to expository preaching.  We all need the Word like food and water.  He next notes the importance of sound doctrine, embracing and proclaiming the gospel, reaching out to unbelievers, the humility and integrity of the leaders, obedience to God’s Word, authentic community, opportunities to serve, church discipline being practiced, and the ability to join this church in its current form with enthusiasm.

Chapter 6 is an interesting as well as practical chapter calling us to take advantage of the role Sunday should play in our spirituality.  Harris essentially challenges us to prepare our hearts for Sunday instead of just going through the motions of another event.

The final chapter begins by noting that Peter was the disciple who “just didn’t do commitment well” (pg122).  When Jesus rises and returns and speaks to Peter, He asks Peter if he loves him.  Peter says, “yes” and then Jesus challenges him three times to “feed my sheep.”   If you love Jesus, you will “care deeply about the flock of God” (pg123).

This little book (small and a short 129 pages) is an excellent call to love what Jesus loves, His Bride.  My little journey began as apathetic towards the Bride (even though I was raised going to church), then a period of discontent and bitterness toward the Bride for her failings, now I am trying to fall deeper in love with the Bride.  God please wake me up each day loving your Bride more and more.

We started a new YaP Small Group this week and Andy asked us all the simple question, “why are you here?”  We all went around sharing and it was amazing to hear all that God and done in our lives.  It was also awesome to hear how open and authentic everyone was.  One of our new young ladies told me how awesome it was that everyone was so open and real.  That night was a simple yet beautiful little moment in the life of Jesus Bride meeting as Bethel Church.  Bethel Church certainly is not perfect but with the aid of the Holy Spirit we are become more and more lovely each day.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

Review: The Climbing Boy by Mark Lichterman

The Climbing Boy

By Mark Lichterman

Metropolis Ink (c) 2003

Buy Link: http://www.amazon.com/Climbing-Boy-Mark-Lichterman/dp/0958054363


After reading the synopsis for Mark Lichterman’s THE CLIMBING BOY, I wasn’t really sure what to expect. I felt pretty certain the story would educate me on the dreadful working conditions of young orphan children sold into apprenticeship in the 1800s, but what I didn’t know was the depth of feelings this enchanting little story would evoke in me. At just 180 pages, THE CLIMBING BOY is a short novel that is anything but short on plot.

Orphaned at the age of four, Zachariah is sold into apprenticeship to a chimney sweep for the cost of back rent owed on his late mother’s flat: a sum of one pound. Thus begins his life as a climbing boy. The life of a climbing boy is grueling and perilous, not only in the immediate dangers of being suspended by a rope harness and lifted down into zigzagging, sometimes stories-high chimneys, but also in the long term ill effects of breathing in soot and chimney dust on a daily basis. Add to that Zachariah’s master’s cruelty and you will find a boy’s life that is much more an existence than a childhood. Even so, eight-going-on-nine-year-old Zachariah maintains a positive outlook on life and a sweet disposition that makes him a favorite with many of his customers.

Set in London, England in 1843, the bulk of the story takes place in the span of just one day — December 24, the day before Christmas. The tale begins with Zachariah awakening from a beautiful dream of his deceased mother’s love to enter into the reality of his now bleak and loveless existence. Throughout the day, the reader follows Zachariah and his master, Johnson, as they go about their work. Turning the pages, the reader feels a full spectrum of emotions (the terror of being suspended in a chimney that sways precariously in the wind, the heartbreak of a child being denied a gift he really wanted, and the joy of a stranger’s kindness to name but a few) as the story builds to a delightful, fairy tale ending.

I found myself drawn deeper and deeper into the life and heart of this wonderful character until he truly felt like someone I knew and loved. The cruel Johnson is equally well drawn, and though I hated him at times, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for him in the end. That’s how talented a storyteller Mark Lichterman is. His poignant fictional details blend with the hard truths of what, sadly, was reality for many children of that era, to create a beautiful story that, while being educational, is also sweeping and unforgettable. I highly recommend this heartwarming tale to anyone who enjoys seeing the good guy win. I know I certainly did.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

Clifford's Blues


A Unique Contribution to Holocaust Literature


       A blurb on the back of John A. Williams’ new novel, “Clifford’s Blues,” written by fellow novelist and recent winner of the coveted McArthur Genius award, Ishamel Reed, claims that this novel “proves again” that Williams is “the greatest American novelist of the twentieth century.”  To the untutored reader who is unfamiliar with the work of John A. Williams, this claim may sound like hyperbole.  However to those who have read other novels by Williams such as “The Man Who Cried I Am,”  “Captain Blackman,”  “Click Song,” or “The Angry Ones,” – Reed’s claim does not seem far out at all.

            Just when it seemed to many people that there was nothing new to say about the Third Reich and the genocidal policies that was its distinguishing feature, Williams’ original approach to the subject has given us a fresh perspective while deepening our understanding of the work of important holocaust scholars. 

           For instance, the German Jewish philosopher Hannah Arendt’s arguments about the banality of evil in her controversial  book “Eichman In Jerusalem,” and Harvard’s professor Goldhagen’s conclusion that the grisly work of the Nazi  fascist was widely supported by the German citizenry in his recent book, “Hitlers Helpers,” becomes crystal clear after reading “Clifford’s Blues.”      

             Williams employs a broad based understanding of the history of Nazi Germany and the psychology of fascism, complemented by a fertile and inventive imagination, to provide the reader with a sustained look into the daily lives of the victims and victimizers, i.e. the inmates and guards in Dachau, one of the most famous of the German concentration camps.  The author’s choice of Clifford Pepperidige – a black gay jazz musician imprisoned in the camp – as narrator, insures that the reader will get a unique perspective on the rise of fascism in Germany.

                       The novel is written in the form of Clifford’s diary during his incarceration in Dachau.  His first entry sums up the situation: “My name’s Clifford Pepperidge and I am in trouble.  I’m an American Negro and I play piano, sometimes, and I’m a vocalist, too. I shouldn’t be here, but they didn’t pay any attention to me when they brought me.  Didn’t listen when I was in Berlin, either.  I’m in Protective Custody, they call it.” 

           With entries that span the twelve years from May 28, 1933 to  April 28, 1945, the diary covers a period which corresponds to the rise and fall of Adolph Hitler.  We learn from the diary that a wide variety of people were interned in this camp and they are charged with an assortment of crimes, virtually all of which became crimes only after the Nazi’s took power. 

            Among the detainees are Jehovah’s Witnesses, socialists and communists, Gypsies, homosexuals, race defilers (people in interracial marriages)   people of mixed blood like the “Rhine land bastards,”   inferior races like Africans et. al.  And while Clifford also saw Jews in Dachau, he tells us that most of them were shipped to the “death factories” like Triblinka, Bergen Belson, Auschwitz etc. 

             When Clifford first entered Dachau it appeared to be more of a slave labor detention camp than a death camp, but as the murderous Nazi‘s  grow more powerful they greatly expand the camp and  build a crematorium.  As they start attacking neighboring countries and carrying out mass executions of captured prisoners, Clifford begins to see stacks of dead bodies everywhere and the stench of burning flesh befouls the air.  Eventually the classification of death factory or slave labor camp becomes a distinction without a difference because the dead and dying are everywhere.  Through the brilliantly crafted entries in Clifford’s diary Williams reconstructs this nightmare with a rare poignance and power that makes it feel real. 

           But while the novel treats one of the most horrible episodes in human history it is not grim reading.  And that is perhaps the greatest achievement of the author.  What prevents the novel from becoming a depressing experience is the irrepressible spirit of Clifford Pepperidge.  An apolitical artist and trickster who calls himself “The Cliff,” Pepperidge was having such a ball snorting coke, partying in gay orgies, and performing in the nightclubs that enlivened night life in the decadent milieu of Wiermar Berlin – the setting for Berthold Brect’s Three Penny Opera and the popular musical Cabaret – that he barely noticed the rise of the Nazi’s until he was arrested and carted off to Dachau with the rest of the “queers.”

           From the outset of his detention in “Protective Custody,” he strikes a Faustian bargain with a jazz loving SS captain who is also a closeted homosexual with a taste for cocaine and chocolate buns.  “The Cliff” had sort of known the captain when they were both out in the world, and he recounts his feelings upon seeing him on his first day in Dachau thusly :”It was Dieter Lange, and he had more reason to be here, in a gray suit, than me.  He’d been a Raffke in Berlin – a hustler, a pimp, profiteer, a regular MacHeath, but his lovers were all men.  He was a chicken plucker who’d always wanted to pluck a black chicken because they were so rare in Germany….But…I never went out with men like Dieter Lange.”

 However, after checking out the scene in Dachau,  going out with Dieter Lange didn’t seem like such a bad deal.  In fact, when Dieter hit on him Cliff found the offer irresistible :” If I was nice to him, he’d be nice to me.  He’d always liked jazz music and my singing and playing.  He would do his best to look after me.  But if I became troublesome, he’d have me back in the camp in a prisoner barracks in a flash.”  Considering the gruesome alternative it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. 

           Thus began a strange and complex psycho/sexual relationship that would eventually include a menage a trois with Dieter Lange’s wife Anna – a big blond country Freulien who metamorphosed into the kind of house Frau that the SS considered ideal for breeding little Nazi’s – and sexual trysts with Anna and her girlfriend / lover Ursula, who was also the wife of an SS officer.  After a decade of this, “The Cliff” emerged as master of the situation and clearly the smartest and strongest of the lot.

           Among the many outstanding achievements of this novel – which include the humanization of Nazi functionaries and the creation of a masterful black gay male who keeps his head when all around him are losing theirs – perhaps the most remarkable is the celebration of Afro-American history and cultural styles that is woven throughout the text.  In fragments of memory during the twelve years that Cliff Pepperidge confided his most cherished reveries to his diary, we learn much about the history of black Americans of that period. 

           We are told about Paul Robeson’s visit to Germany; the world renowned biologist and Howard University professor Ernest Just’s researches at the famous Kaiser Wilhiem institute; the spells cast upon Europeans by dazzling black performers like Florence Mills; Bricktop’s  failed attempt to open a nightclub in Berlin in and attempt to duplicate her great success in Paris; the irresistible charm of  Jazz; Jessie Owen’s domination of the Berlin Olympics; Joe Louis’ defeat at the hands of Max Schmeling and his stunning victory in the return match; the spellbinding heroics of Afro-American fighter pilots who blasted German jets out of the skies flying their technologically disadvantaged prop planes etc. 

           Yet Even if the novel had omitted  this treasure trove of Afro-Americana, John Williams’ transparent love for, and superb knowledge of,  the Classical tradition of  black  American  complex instrumental music popularly known as jazz, and his gift for rendering it in finely crafted English prose, would have been well worth the price of the text.  There are many opportunities for Williams to display his gift for musical explication because Dieter Lange has a serious interest in Cliff’s musical abilities beyond being a fan.  

           As a seasoned hustler cum social climber Lange recognized that Cliff’s musical talents could help promote his career, since his superior officers in the SS were jazz lovers in spite of the official Nazi party position that it was the decadent wailing of an inferior people.  Cliff’s explanations of how he whipped a group of stiff German musicians – who were mostly trained in European classical music and  played instruments that properly belonged in a symphony orchestra, like the violin and French horn – into a swinging ensemble is a real education in the art of making music.       

             “The Cliff’s” constant comparisons of the racial practices of Nazi Germany to the racist etiquette of his native Louisiana in the early twentieth century – which is what drove him into European exile in the first place – is like a dagger which rips away the veil of ignorance and denial that white Americans have erected in order to cover up their shameful past.  This is a courageous act on the part of the author, especially in an era when intellectual cowardice and shameless genuflection before the imperatives of a Eurocentric literary marketplace is the order of the day.  And it explains why this splendid book was rejected by 57 publishers!   This is a sin and a shame because “Clifford’s Blues” is a tour de force, a masterpiece of modern American fiction.  It will make a splendid companion piece to the documentary film “Uncovering The Black German Holocaust,” by David Okuefuna and Moise Shewa.  




Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Book Review: "Zero To Sixty"

Bob Franquiz’s latest book “Zero to Sixty” is a primer for church leaders looking for ideas to help them in the minefield that is today’s ministry workplace. Franquiz leads a large church in Florida and is a prodigy of Bob Coy’s who also leads a large congregation in Florda. Coy’s church has been recognized as one of the fastest growing congregations in America by leading church publications and it’s obvious that Franquiz was a good study.

The thing I like about “Zero to Sixty” is that the book is applicable to any size ministry setting. Franquiz breaks the book down into four key strategic areas. These areas are: Leadership, Staffing, Ministry, and Personal Development. Under each heading, Franquiz lays out easy to digest, helpful ideas that you can use to avoid unnecessary pitfalls. In the early stages of my own church plant, I’ve hit several minefields that I could have avoided if I would have had this book. No book is going to keep you from having setbacks but I enjoy reading others’ comments from similar situations so I can at least minimize those times.

The book was an enjoyable read.  Some highlights were the chapter on “Frankenstein” churches.  These are churches that have no defined vision and a hybrid of just about any type of ministry to satisfy a few. Many church leaders I know fall into this trap and have to learn to say “no” to many things to keep the church focused. Tied in with that idea is the chapter on building a small group culture. This is something we are still working on at the church I lead but suffice it to say, you can’t have 150 things vying for people’s attention. Focus is the key. Another highlight for me were the chapters on personal growth. This is an area I’ve blogged about recently and a key area of concern for me as I try to develop new leaders.

In all, Franquiz delivers a helpful book with very usable ideas that you can adapt to your ministry setting. I highly recommend “Zero to Sixty”.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Why I Write Book Reviews

A Book Review Blog?
Didn’t you get enough of that in high school and college?

Some would say “I struggled through doing book reviews and papers enough in school and just can’t imagine why you would want to do that for fun.”

Others might say, “I know little and care less what your opinion of a book is, I need to read it myself.”

And finally, there would be those that read much and appreciate being able to find a person or a blog that reviews books they consider interesting and take the time to offer a synopsis of a particular book and perhaps a  warning as well.

It is for this last group that I write this post.  Let me begin with why I am a Book Review Blogger.

The Beauty of the Spoken or Written Word
I love to read. The written and/or spoken word a is both beautiful and captivating to me.  For instance, the King James Bible (aside from being the inspired Word of God Himself) contains such beautiful phrases.  This magnificence of the poetry in the King James Version of the Bible is simply beyond compare.

I am also quite the quote collector. I have another site called  “Journal in 140:  Wise Words in Short Form“. I post  the words and phrases I find appealing, thought provoking, and/or simply just plain sound. Check it out! You might find it interesting. Find it here: http://Journalin140.wordpress.com

Appreciating the art of writing is the first reason.

The Guidepost Along the Way
As a christian and being one who has chosen to withdraw from an unhealthy intake of words, thoughts or deeds I find it very helpful to read what others of like minds enjoy or disdain in novels and non-fiction.  Before selecting a book, I will read several reviews from people or sites I trust.

Somerset Maugam once said “…everything I read becomes a part of me”.  I take this quite seriously.  Just as eating a non-stop diet of unhealthy food destroys your body, reading a non-stop diet of blood, guts, gore, profanity, adultery, fornication, illicit sex, hatred, murder, indulgence, and the like cannot help but contribute to the shaping of my mind and thoughts.

Besides, there is more lasting remembrance and admiration for a work that does not include such things.  In editing the books and movies in our culture today, one would do well to remember that great work does not need such vile things  and including them only results in a fickle reader base at best.

Communicating the redeeming value of a work is the second reason.

Promoting the Great Work of Another
The Bible states plainly that “Let another man praise thee, and not thine own mouth; a stranger, and not thine own lips.” I am not normally a salesman, though, in promoting good books I am.  And this is true for all of us. If we find a product, a idea, or perhaps learn a lesson – we become the salesperson for that product, idea, or lesson.  We have a natural inclination to communicate to others what we ourselves have benefited from.

I take a very different view of creative talent, whether it be music, or writing, or singing, or any other talent.  These talents did not originate with the individual. We are not the author of creator of our physical bodies no matter what the Plastic Surgeon tells you.

Each of us is given a measure of faith and a gift. Some excel, some do not. Some have more instinct, creativity, or talent and some have less.The important thing is what you do with what you have.  Some can learn to excel by following patterns and systematic orders but this is truly a waste in my opinion.  Whatever you receive from all the hard work you put into making yourself something that you simply are not, is miniscule compared to just doing what you were created to do. And if we excel in that, well, beauty and creativity abound.

And finally, as a christian, there are things we can do and create that will outlive us.  These are the things I look for. When I read a book, I am searching for the redeeming value that was once a thought in a mind and through a surrendered heart, God (not the author, not the marketing guy, not the editor) produced a beautiful thing.

This I liken to the Gospels. In the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John the salvation story of the  immaculate birth, sinless life, horrible death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ, God in the flesh, to reconcile man back to his Creator  is told by four different men and to four different types of people. It is the same story, just seasoned and flavored by a surrendered heart.

So finally, the last reason is I love to promote these works (fiction or non-fiction) is because I thoroughly enjoy reading them. These books are educational, uplifting, and entertaining. If they bring insight to another or provide a great story that doesn’t defile the reader, I applaud this and do my part to promote it.

Coming Soon: Gospel-Driven Life

Michael Horton’s latest book is due to appear next month.  It looks good and it’s available from the Westminster Seminary California bookstore for $13.40 USD.    I hope to review this in the next month or so.  Gospel-Driven Life is the more positive sequel to Christless Christianity.  Here’s my review of that earlier book:


Christless Christianity: The Alternative Gospel of the American Church, Michael Horton, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2008.  Hardcover, 270 pages, $18.20.

In 1923 a stick of literary dynamite was tossed into American Christianity.  J. Gresham Machen published his response to the deformation of the church in his day, Christianity and Liberalism.  In this book, Machen decisively demonstrated that Christianity and theological liberalism are two entirely different religions.  The sad irony is that nearly 90 years later, Machen’s book remains relevant.  Only the names have changed.  Today’s greatest threat to Christianity is not called liberalism.

With this book, Michael Horton (professor at Westminster Seminary California and URC minister) has done for our generation what Machen did in his, surgically exposing the ultimate emptiness of much of what passes for Christianity in North America.  In fact, according to Horton, much of what calls itself Christian on our continent is simply missing the boat on who Jesus Christ is according to the Bible – that’s the essence of Christless Christianity.  Says Horton, “Christless Christianity does not mean religion or spirituality devoid of the words Jesus, Christ, Lord, or even Saviour.  What it means is that the way those names and titles are employed will be removed from their specific location in an unfolding historical plot of human rebellion and divine rescue…”  (p.144).  Christless Christianity means the trivialization of the Bible’s message of good news through Jesus Christ.

By its very nature and by the author’s admission, this is “not a cheerful missive.”  Horton incisively takes on the health and wealth pseudo-gospel of popular figures such as Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer as well as the postive thinking pseudo-gospel of Robert Schuller.  He rightly points out that while the Emergent movement has put its finger on various problems in American Christianity, the solutions it offers are no less problematic.  For instance, he critiques Brian McLaren, who “scolds Reformed Christians for ‘their love affair for the Latin word sola.’” (p.194).  More “Christless Christianity” is not the answer.

In the first chapter, Horton promises to follow this book up with a “more constructive sequel.”  Nevertheless, he does begin to offer constructive alternatives towards the end of Christless Christianity.  He calls for resistance to the trend identified in this book.  It all has to do with going back to the Word of God and what it says about us, about our ultimate problems, and about the solutions in Christ.  Horton writes:

A church that is deeply aware of its misery and nakedness before a holy God will cling tenaciously to an all-sufficient Savior, while one that is self-confident and relatively unaware of its inherent sinfulness will reach for religion and morality whenever it seems convenient. (p.243).

While this book addresses the “American Church,” I think many of us will recognize the same trends spilling over into Canadian Christianity, even in our own churches.  Horton’s cry from the heart is one that we all need to hear.

I have one slightly critical note regarding Horton’s perspective on worship.  He rightly notes that in much of contemporary American Christianity, people come to church to do something.  “Everybody seems to think that we come to church mostly to give rather than to receive.” (p.191).  Horton wants to correct this by drawing attention to the ways in which public worship is about God ministering to us.  While this is a helpful correction in many ways, some balance is called for and that balance can be achieved through emphasizing the covenant structure of Biblical worship.  Yes, God’s ministry of Word and Sacrament to us stands central in Biblical worship, but reflecting the structure of the covenant also means that there is a place for human response.  Horton has worked with that in A Better Way, but it would have been helpful to have it mentioned here also.

Obviously, my overall assessment is positive.  Five stars, ten out of ten, whatever you wish – this book receives my highest recommendation.  My prayer is that, unlike Machen’s Christianity and Liberalism, this book would be entirely irrelevant in 90 years.

Monday, September 21, 2009

CSFF Blog Tour Day 1: The Vanishing Sculptor, by Donita K. Paul

Tipper is at her wit’s end. She’s been struggling to manage her family’s estate since her father, the famous sculptor Verrin Schope, disappeared several years ago. To make ends meet, she’s had to discharge most of the workers and sell off her celebrated father’s most cherished works. Her dotty mother’s extravagant spending habits don’t help, and the wise old Grand Parrot Beccaroon, despite providing invaluable moral support, isn’t much of a manager, either.

And things are getting worse. Tipper begins having ghostly visions of her father. Is he dead, or has Tipper fallen into her mother’s bizarre fantasy that Verrin Shope makes nightly visits home?  She learns from a pair of strange visitors that her father is trapped in a hole between dimensions, and it’s slowly dissolving him. The problem extends to the fabric of reality itself, which is beginning to unravel and threatens the entire world. It seems a matched set of Verrin’s sculptures formed the anchor of one end of a dimensional portal, and when Tipper sold the three pieces to different buyers, the portal was disrupted, starting all the mischief.

To save her father and her world, Tipper must recover the missing sculptures, and there’s no time to lose. Is this sheltered country girl up to the challenge? She’s going to need a lot of help. Fortunately, there are friends closer at hand than Tipper realizes, and something wonderful is astir that will change Tipper’s world forever.

Donita K. Paul’s The Vanishing Sculptor is a charming fantasy tale of adventure and discovery that promises to appeal to all ages. It’s a prequel of sorts to her DragonKeeper Chronicles, but familiarity with those stories isn’t a prerequisite to enjoyment of this one.

I’ll have more by way of a review tomorrow, but in the meantime, please visit the other fine stops on this month’s tour:

Donita Paul’s Web site – http://www.donitakpaul.com/
Donita Paul’s blog – http://dragonbloggin.blogspot.com/

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Justin Boyer
Rachel Briard
Karri Compton
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Linda Gilmore
Todd Michael Greene
Katie Hart
Ryan Heart
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Eve Nielsen (posting later in the week)
John W. Otte
Lyn Perry
Crista Richey
Cheryl Russell
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Speculative Faith
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Steve Trower
Dona Watson
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams
KM Wilsher

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Splenderously Crumby World

This strange, hump-backed, looking fellow is Harvey Pekar and he’s actually one of my heroes.

Harvey Pekar really loved collecting stuff. At one point he collected comic books and then later on he began to collect rare Jazz records.

This somewhat obscure hobby led him to meet Robert Crumb. Crumb had a love of rare Jazz music also. Crumb was also beginning to become well known as an underground comic book artist. Crumb’s adult-themed art work impressed the normally cynical Pekar.

Through reading his friend’s material Pekar began to realize the immense untapped potential of the whole comic book medium. Sure the medium had it’s full range of masked superheroes but Pekar felt there was a huge range of stories still waiting to be told.

“Comics could do anything that film could do,” Pekar realized. “And I wanted in on it.” he said. However it took Pekar some time to decide just what he wanted to do. “I theorized for maybe ten years about doing comics,” he says.

Pekar laid out some stories with crude stick figures and showed them to Crumb. Crumb became the first artist to illustrate American Splendor.

American Splendor was a groundbreaking series of Comic Books. The comic documents daily life in the aging neighborhoods of Pekar’s native Cleveland, where Pekar worked throughout his life (even after gaining fame) as a file clerk in a large Veterans Administration hospital.

American Splendor basically chronicles all the everyday events of Harvey who is a kind of everyman character. Ordinary life is pretty complex stuff seems to be the basic theme.

It’s laced with a realism and subtle humor that reminds me of Woody Allen or Seinfeld at their best.

Pekar gets material from anything at all. For this reason I think bloggers (especially those that write about anything like my Blogfather Madbull) will really enjoy learning more about him and his work.

For example Pekar would write about things like “How do you pick the best line to join while waiting at the Supermarket ?” or he might ponder his own name and write about what happened when he looks up his own name in the directory (and who hasn’t done that ?).

He also wrote interesting pieces about movies, books, politicians or music
he liked.
For samples click here or visit


More poignantly though he wrote about his personal battles with Cancer. Later on as he got famous and appeared extensively on popular shows like Letterman’s Late Night Show he wrote about that new found fame also.

A recent movie about his life presents an easy way to learn about him. In the movie entitled “American Splendor”, Pekar finds love, family and a creative voice through the underground comic books he creates. Along the bumpy journey, he meets, marries and falls for Joyce, an admiring comic book seller.

The movie also shows the real life Harvey and his friends in some revealing snippets that enrich the heart-warming film. Be warned this film may even make you cry at a few points and will certainly make you laugh at many points.

It gets my highest recommendation, when you see the story of my hero Harvey you will be inspired too and you’ll realize it’s really a Splenderously Crumby World, full of Unexpected Possibilities.

Angels and Sweet, Sweet Pie

There are two books that I recently finished which are listed below with my brief review attached.  They are newer titles that currently sit on or very near the latest best seller lists. Friends will often ask me if I have read a particular title, or for the suggestion of a solid personal or book club read. Because it takes a lot of time and thought to do a detailed review of each book, I am posting these “quickies” for your reference and perusal.

The Angel’s Game by Carlos Ruiz Zafon

I did not read The Shadow of the Wind, Zafon’s first novel which was a biggie with the book clubs. However, if it is anything like The Angel’s Game, I think I’ll pass. This bizarre mystery reminds me more of a Harry Potter meets Dante’s Inferno, and seemed to me a poor attempt at chills and thrills.

Dating back to the early 1900’s, The Angel’s Game spins the tale of David Martin, a struggling author who takes on an eerie writing project which ultimately throws him into the depths of his own personal hell. An abundance of dark alleys, secret doors, and hidden rooms left me both confused and exhausted as it stretched out over the span of its 531 pages. The word plodding comes to mind and a finger must be pointed at Lucia Graves for what is, in my opinion, a weak translation. I find it hard to believe Ruiz-Zafon’s original version would have a hooker in the 1900’s ask someone to “invite me in for a snack.”

*Take a pass on this one

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie by Alan Bradley

Unless some sweetness at the bottom lie,

who cares for all the crinkling of the pie?

This book is so different, so engaging, and so much fun that I can’t stop suggesting it to people.  After a stretch of hum-drum fiction, I was pleasantly caught off guard by this Debut Dagger Award winner. I’m typically not a mystery reader, but this is not your average mystery as it holds one of the most plucky, winsome main characters I have ever met.

Flavia de Luci is only eleven but trust me when I tell you, she’ll keep you busy for 373 straight pages. An aspiring chemist, Flavia’s intellectual capabilities might be a bit of a stretch, but author Alan Bradley had me clearly convinced that this girl can do it all. As Flavia dukes it out with her two sisters, Bradley’s hot, literary knowledge tucks itself neatly into the family discord adding serious prose to the dialogue. The biggest treat… life through the eyes of an eleven-year-old.

*This witty, sharp, and charming novel is a must. A quick read, I would suggest it as a great personal choice and an entertainer for any book club.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Discovering Jesus in the New Testament

Discovering Jesus in the New Testament

  • Author: Keith Warrington
  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Hendrickson Publishers (January 30, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1598560115
  • ISBN-13: 978-1598560114
  • Amazon
  • CBD
  • Overstock
  • Barnes & Noble
  • .

    With thanks to Carrie at Hendrickson for this review copy!

    Keith Warrington is the Vice-Principal and Director of Doctoral Studies at Regents Theological College in West Malvern, England.  Discovering Jesus in the New Testament is his comprehensive survey of “each NT author’s presentation of Jesus’ person and mission with reference to its commonality with that of the other NT writers and its unique contribution to the larger portrait of Jesus depicted in the NT.” (p. 1)  The 27 books of the NT are covered over the course of 21 chapters with obvious groupings of books in some chapters, i.e., the Synoptic Gospels (chapter 1); 1-2 Thessalonians (chapter 12); 1-2 Timothy (chapter 13); 1-2 Peter (chapter 18); and 1-3 John (chapter 19).  Each chapter begins with a brief note about the authorship, audience, and reason for writing the book being covered but Warrington admits that such matters are peripheral to his interests so he doesn’t go into any detail concerning them.  Perhaps it’s worth noting at this point that he credits the Apostle Paul with writing all of the books that bear his name.

    Warrington recognizes that the NT does not answer all of the complex Trinitarian questions that have arisen throughout church history, as well as the fact that no single writer presents a comprehensive Christology, yet he nonetheless reads the NT through Trinitarian/Christological lenses, feeling free to employ the language that was a product of those later debates in his discussion of the NT evidence.  His approach is quite simple and straightforward in that he goes through each book or group of books noting the significant Christological and soteriological data.  This includes anything dealing with the titles or works of Jesus (to include the working of Jesus through his disciples in the chapter on Acts) as well as the attitudes of others towards Jesus.  In his chapter on the Synoptics he first presents the unified picture that the Gospels paint (which seems heavily slanted towards recognizing Jesus’ deity) before moving on to discuss the distinct features of each Gospel (which coincidentally seems heavily slanted towards recognizing Jesus’ humanity).  Likewise, he devotes a chapter to the common Christological and soteriological themes (which are quite often connected) that run throughout the Pauline corpus before going on to examine the books individually in subsequent chapters.

    Warrington is an incredibly clear writer and has a way of summarizing vast amounts of data into concise units that are quite easy to work through (I finished the book in a day and a half).  It also helps that from the onset the reader knows that Warrington assumes the full deity and full humanity of Christ so that these features are merely presented rather than argued for throughout the course of the book.  This isn’t to say that one can’t see how or why he interprets the data the way he does—this much is evident from his presentation—but the pages of this books are not occupied with extended exegetical arguments in support of Warrington’s position, although there are regular references to Greek words or phrases with the occasional nod to grammatical matters thrown in for good measure (e.g., the tense of certain verbs are often highlighted to make a particular point about something that Jesus does or something we do in response to Jesus).

    The positive features of this book are legion but it’s not without fault.  In particular I took issue with the early parts of his chapter on John which could have benefited from a bit more precision in the language he used.  For example, he says things like: “Jesus was not born in time; he was alive before time was created” and “Jesus was not created; he is the one through whom everything was created.” (p. 45)  Technically, “Jesus” was in fact “born in time” since the Incarnation is an historical event that took place in space and time.  And technically “Jesus” is not “the one through whom everything was created” since creation occurred prior to the Word’s Incarnation.  In other words, “Jesus” wasn’t “Jesus” until the Word became flesh.

    Another deficiency, in my opinion, arises at various junctures in the book where Warrington makes reference to Jesus being separated from the Father on the cross (see e.g., pp. 30; 71; 103; 110).  While this is standard fare for advocates of the penal substitutionary theory of atonement, it undermines the very oneness and unity that he seeks to present throughout his work!  There’s also the issue of anachronism in certain instances, specifically Warrington’s handling of subordination texts in Paul.  When he comes to subordination passages he smooths them over with appeals to the passages referring solely to the Son’s salvific mission (see e.g., p. 92).  He’s adamant that Father/Son language doesn’t denote subordination but “[r]ather, the terminology speaks of relationship, rapport, bond, and affiliation between the Father and the Son—and not superiority and inferiority.” (p. 99-100)  But one wonders whether Warrington’s position on these passages reflects more modern concerns than those of Paul.

    The back matter contains a 3 page bibliography, a 2½ page subject index, and an 11½ page index of ancient texts which would have been exponentially longer had Warrington included the Scripture references listed in the footnotes which easily number in the thousands.  There is so many that even with powerful Bible software like BibleWorks and Logos I was not able to run them all down in a timely manner.  At a certain point I decided to give up on even trying.  But with all this in mind I have no problem saying that Discovering Jesus in the New Testament is a welcome addition to my library and I believe it would make a welcome addition to the library of any non-specialist interested in NT Christology, especially those who appreciate orthodox/traditional presentations of the subject.


    Friday, September 18, 2009

    Digging Ditches Until the Storm Passes

    From the pages of my book…..

    Despite any obstacles, keep your dreams alive. There will be setbacks that are a natural course of wealth building. You cannot reach wealth without setbacks. It is literally impossible to do. A natural part of the wealth building process is character testing. You will be confronted with countless things that will test your character from relationship breakups, court proceedings, bankruptcy bullshyt, family issues and so on. Regardless of all of these things that will happen, the wealth builder will keep fighting on and will not stop. You may hit pause temporarily due to some hiccup encountered, but do not ever stop doing your thing.

    Gerard Spinks encourages you to dig deeper

    You may decide that a certain project is not successful to pursue, but change up and be flexible. A lot of people loathe change and some people don’t like to see you change. If something doesn’t work that you’re doing, put something else in your arsenal. Don’t listen to anybody if they don’t like you’re change unless the change that you’re doing is negative and you are trying to now push bricks and sell rocks on the avenue. Change is the only real thing that you can count on in this world so if you don’t change, you might as well fold the cards and consider yourself done.

    Real cats will change up, grow their stacks, and make some dollars. I’ve known people that had to move across the country, uproot their families, and completely change industries in order to make it. Sometimes, we have to swallow our pride and even do a job for way less money that we’re used to. I read once where Bishop T.D. Jakes was once digging ditches in Dallas, Texas before he started preaching and started Potters House. The thing that he did was keep his dream alive even while digging ditches for the highway department.

    If you have to dig a ditch but you really have skills as a small business entrepreneur, just dig the ditch and keep your eyes on how to be successful. Let the storm pass. During times of intense storming, we have to be able to let the storm take its course as long as it doesn’t kill us and render us helpless and homeless. You can still build wealth and make your dream a reality. Perseverance will be your key to survival and overcoming this part of your character test. Just make sure the ditch that you’re digging is not your own grave!

    Gerard Spinks is the CEO of Spinks Industries, a black owned web content development, content aggregator, and marketing company based in Atlanta, GA.

    Book Review - be The Red Jacket in a sea of gray suits - sales advice/techniques

    Title: Be The Red Jacket in a sea of gray suits
    Author: Leanne Hoagland-Smith
    Publisher: Sales Gravy Press
    ISBN-13: 978-0-9818004-5-5
    ISBN-10: 0-9818004-5-9

    This slim book is jam packed with words of wisdom and advice for anyone trying to make it in the world of sales. Filled with personal anecdotes, action steps, and calls to action, this book will get you motivated to up your sales game.

    Each chapter covers an important sales topic like unlocking your values, confusion, marketing, selling, productivity, plans, goals and future. Deceptive in its length, each topic is explained with specific steps and calls to action. In keeping with the theme of locking and unlocking, the chapters end with Key Takeaways, Key Websites, and Key books allowing you to research any of the topics in more detail.

    As an example of the clear information provided, in the first chapter Hoagland-Smith gives an enlightening and convincing example of how our assumptions can often get in the way of our solving problems. She outlines the steps one should take when approaching a problem:

    1. Decide if you want to solve the problem
    2. Identify the problem
    3. Identify any assumptions that my interfere with solving the problem
    4. Gather all information
    5. Separate the facts
    6. Analyze the facts
    7. Offer a solution of solutions

    The book includes built in Progress Check Points which make sure that you understand the major points that had been covered. An example of one Progress Check point is:

    To increase future productivity, you should have taken action to put into your wallet or purse a card with these three reminders:
    • “Top 5 People” I Want to Meet
    • My Sales Goals
    • My Mission Statement

    Hoagland-Smith uses real life examples to explain her points. In the goals section she clearly demonstrates step-by-step using personal examples how you can move from a non-measurable amorphous goal to one that is concrete and has measurable and quantifiable steps. She constantly re-enforces the idea that you can’t shoot the target if the target is moving.

    A handy volume that will cause you to think and re-evaluate your sales approach, be The Red Jacket in a sea of gray suits is a welcome breath of fresh and clear insight to an often complicated process.

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith is Founder and Chief Results Officer of ADVANCED SYSTEMS, an international human capital performance firm that focuses on sustainable results using positive return on investment solutions. She partners with her clients to identify current and usually repetitive challenges.

    Hoagland-Smith is a weekly business columnist for the Post-Tribune of Northwest Indiana. She is also a regular contributor to NBiz magazine (www.nbizmag.com) as well as several Internet resource sites including; SalesGravy.com, EvanCarmichael.com, EzineArticles.com and Top 10 Sales Articles.

    Thursday, September 17, 2009

    Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins

    I just got done with Catching Fire, Suzanne Collins’ sequel to The Hunger Games, and I can’t believe I have to wait another year to find out what happens next! 

    Katniss could never have predicted the consequences of  her actions at the end of last year’s Hunger Games, when the threat of her and Peeta’s suicide in the arena led to the Capitol allowing them both to live.  Nor could she know how much her ‘undying love’ for Peeta would affect her relationships back home in District 12, especially with Gale, the friend-with-the-possibility-of more she had to leave behind. 

    There’s SO much going on in the book, and I would not want to deprive you of all the moments that left me gasping in shock.  Expect trouble in the Districts, an appearance from the odious President Snow, and a shocking twist to the rules of the Games.  So surprising that I believe I yelled out “WHAT?!”  Suzanne Collins, I love you yet I curse your name – now that’s what I call a good writer.

    The unrelenting grip of the Capitol and the misery that hangs over the daily lives of those in the Districts sometimes made me long for a good action scene in the arena just to get away from it.  But Katniss’ ability to appreciate the small pleasures in her expected-to-be-brief life helped turn it around.  I detested the Capitol’s treachery, envied Katniss’ bravery, and laughed at least one time at Peeta’s complete audacity.

    I hope you like Catching Fire as much as I did.  Put your name on hold for the book now at the library.

    Re-reading DUNE

    For as long as I can remember, Frank Herbert’s DUNE has stood in my mind as one of the great pillars of twentieth century science fiction. It has so much to offer: politics, religion, family, future technology, ecology, culture, alien worlds, and philosophy. It is rich with ideas and images, it boasts a huge cast of memorable characters, it is full of unique and memorable scenes. It has inspired two film adaptations, with a rumored third film on the way.

    DUNE was also followed by five excellent sequels, as well as video games. After the author’s death, his son and a certain party-not-to-be-named-here began writing numerous additional sequels and prequels. This is a rich universe spanning thousands of years and hundreds of characters, and complex ideas about every aspect of human life and civilization.

    I was excited to return to the world of DUNE, and I found the novel the fastest 500 pages I’ve read in a long time. And I was a little disappointed.

    The story is still good. The ideas are still excellent. But the storytelling left something to be desired.

    Some simple complaints:

    1. The point of view shifts constantly and rapidly, sometimes from paragraph to paragraph, leaping in and out of the thoughts of every character in the scene. The net effect is that, while you have a rich sense of everything happening simultaneously, you feel set apart in your God-like perspective. You aren’t on the journey with Paul Atreides, or the Lady Jessica, limited to their view of the world, revelling in their experiences. You’re walking around the scene, peeking over everyone’s shoulder with a certain detachment.
    2. Too much of that “rich universe” I mentioned earlier is left unexplored or undefined. It is one thing to tantalize and tease, but it is something else to surround your reader with the ghosts of fictional people, places, and things and then leave them to fill in the details as best their imaginations can.
    3. Some of the science fiction dives too deeply into fantasy. Fantasy (space opera) is great in its own time and place, but most of DUNE is hard political science fiction. So when Paul and Jessica start manipulating molecules with their minds or experiencing genetic memories just because “they have the power,” it actually detracts from the reality (suspension of disbelief) of the rest of the story.

    That’s not a terrible list of complaints. And they won’t stop me from reading the next two volumes, DUNE MESSIAH and CHILDREN OF DUNE, which are my favorites. But this return to a literary classic has tempered my opinion for the work overall, although it has not blunted my enthusiasm for Herbert’s achievement.

    Tuesday, September 15, 2009

    Total Recall

    Just a heads up, this book has nothing to do with the 1990 Arnold Schwarzenegger film, or the Philip K. Dick story “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale,” though, that title could definitely fit this book like a glove.

    In this book, Microsoft researchers Gordon Bell and Jim Gemmell talk about a suite of programs (both created by them and new uses for old ones) designed to record everything about you.

    Every email you write and receive, every phone call, every phone bill, every discussion, every conference, every image, every everything. The goal is to have what Bell calls “e-memories.”

    The majority of the book is about his multi-year project in bringing this idea to life and how his life has changed because of it.

    At first, I didn’t see the need to have everything you have ever said, done, or saw at your fingertips, then I realized that I already do use a version of his program.

    I’ve been known to use my Gmail account as a virtual “what was I doing on x date?” thing. Back on September 20, 2004, I had recently started a new college and had just finished playing Tokimeki Memorial (in Japanese) due to a friend recommending it to me. – That’s something I just learned from looking at my early Gmail emails.

    Of course, Gmail is faulty when it comes to what I did prior to August 24, 2006, as that was the day I opened my Gmail account. I still have all of my old email accounts and am able to use them in much the same way.

    While reading Mr. Bell’s book, I realized just how important it is to remember things. If I saved every IM chat I ever had, every document I’ve written, every email, song, book title, movie title (the actual text/video would take up lots of room), every picture I have that isn’t already digitized, I would be able to create a “digital me” that could possibly be left behind so future generations can read my words, see what was important to me, etc. I also figured out a few things that would definitely go good in the digital me archive. All that’s left of my great-grandmother is a few pictures in an album and three paintings she made circa 1915. Odds are these won’t last forever, and even if they do, the history behind them may be lost.

    By having images of them along with text describing why they are important to the family, then they would still be relevant to the family in two hundred years.

    I have a pile of photos I took while in high school and on a trip I made to Detroit a few years ago that need to be digitized. I believe I will start keeping my “digital me” very soon.

    I cannot recommend this book enough, even if you do not decide to go as intensive as Mr. Bell did, I am sure you will find something to cherry pick about his methods.

    The book’s website.

    David Powlison on Marital Intimacy

    I’ve learned a lot from David Powlison.  These two videos (a third one is still on its way) provide some helpful insights into marital intimacy.

    Here’s my book review of Powlison’s Seeing With New Eyes:

    Seeing With New Eyes:  Counseling and the Human Condition Through the Lens of Scripture, David Powlison, Phillipsburg: P & R, 2003.  Paperback, 274 pages, $10.19 USD (at amazon.com).

    Whether we like it or not, we live in a psychologized world.  By that I mean that psychology and psychiatry have donated various concepts to our general societal outlook.  As believers, we are not immune to these trends – in fact, there are a good many authors who would try and have us accept various psychological theories and perspectives as consistent with the Christian worldview.

    We can thank God for an author like David Powlison who thinks critically about these developments.  Powlison teaches Practical Theology at Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia and is also on staff at the Christian Counseling and Educational Foundation in that same city.  He has years of practical experience in the field of counseling and anyone who has heard him speak will remember his deep insights and strong commitment to the gospel of the Scriptures.

    That commitment comes through consistently in this book, a collection of (revised) articles that have appeared over the last few years in the Journal of Biblical Counseling (now out of print).  This is the first of a three-volume set on Christian counseling.  This first volume deals with conceptual questions; the second (Speaking Truth in Love) deals with methodological and institutional questions.  A third volume will deal with apologetical issues.

    Some of the highlights from this book include Powlison’s expositions of passages from Ephesians and the Psalms in the first part, “Scripture Opens Blind Eyes.”  I deeply appreciate Powlison’s pointed applications of God’s Word and his powerful use of illustrations and word pictures.  In the second part, “Reinterpreting Life,” Powlison deals with a number of topics.  For instance, the question, “What If Your Father Didn’t Love You?” is tackled in chapter 10.  Can you have a proper understanding of God as Father if your earthly father was absent or abusive?  In another chapter, Powlison deals with the nature of God’s love.  He shows us how it is “better than unconditional.”  I came away from that chapter much more impressed with God.  As one last example, he works through Gary Chapman’s idea of love languages in chapter 14.  Is that a concept that we can work with?  Powlison gives a balanced, Biblical analysis that you won’t find elsewhere.

    Who can I recommend this book to?  Definitely to pastors and elders.  But this book is also for teachers and others who are involved in helping people develop and change (parents too!).  It isn’t a technical counseling manual that requires specialized knowledge.  Rather, it’s written at a popular level and above all, Seeing With New Eyes endeavours to work consistently with the Scriptures and point people to the Saviour.  I think Powlison succeeds.

    Monday, September 14, 2009

    Simply in Season: A Cookbook Review

    Simply in Season Cookbook

    As I mentioned awhile back, I had to replace my torn and tattered copy of the More-with-Less Cookbook. As I was on Amazon looking for that cookbook, I discovered this one that is also A World Community Cookbook commissioned by Mennonite Central Committee. Simply in Season is just what it’s name suggests. It is a collection of relatively simple recipes that are organized by season and that use seasonal ingredients. The cookbook has sections for spring, summer, autumn, winter, and “all” seasons. Within each seasonal section are the usual subsections of bread and breakfast, soups, salads, sides, main dishes, desserts, and extras. The summer category even has a section on canning.

    In addition to recipes, like other World Community Cookbooks, this one contains a lot of useful information especially for inexperienced cooks who are interested in using more fresh fruits and vegetables but are not sure about such things as how to keep them fresh and the nutritional information for each. There is also a section that details for a whole list of various fruits and vegetables the season in which they are available and then provides a description of it, how to select it, storage and handling, preparation, serving suggestions, nutrients, and how many cups one pound yields both raw and cooked.

    Each seasonal section of the cookbook ends with several suggested menus that utilize recipes from that section. Along side the menus are always “Invitations to Action.” These “invitations” offer suggestions for making changes in your cooking and eating that will have a positive impact on the environment.

    I must say that every recipe I’ve tried, I’ve enjoyed. I’m looking forward to trying recipes from the fall section now that it’s that time of year. First up may be the Butternut Bisque or maybe the Upside-Down Pear Gingerbread or wait a minute . . . maybe the Gingered Kale and Tofu . . . whatever I decide on, I’ll let you know how it turns out!!

    Ships and Sharks

    You learn a valuable lesson growing up playing Ships and Sharks in Glipwood.

    Glipwood is a small, relatively quiet (although enemy occupied) township in Aerwiar, a world created by singer/songwriter/author Andrew Peterson. Recently I spent about a week devouring the first two books in Peterson’s Wingfeather Saga: On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness and North! Or Be Eaten.  This post is intended (more or less) to be a review of book two of the still unfinished trilogy.

    Aerwiar is home to an interesting cast of creatures—horned hounds, quill diggles, toothy cows, and rockroaches, for starters; and an even more interesting cast of characters—the three Igiby children, Janner, Tink, and Leeli, who spend their days playing and working on T.H.A.G.S. (when they’re not fleeing for their lives, that is); Podo Helmer, their brave but aging and somewhat mysterious ex-pirate grandfather; Oskar N. Reteep, a bookworm and true believer in the old legends; Peet the Sock Man, a very strange (some say crazy) loner; Fangs of Dang; trolls, and more.

    I seldom read fiction any more.  Maybe I was overdue for some good fiction, maybe this was just exceptionally well-written fiction, maybe both, but I had a hard time putting either one of these books down.

    At one point, about 50 pages from the end of North! Or Be Eaten, I was so gripped by suspense that I had an almost irresistible urge to skim through the rest of the book, lest the suspense kill me.  Thankfully, though, I resisted the urge.  As I continued to read I found myself at times deeply moved, and had to wipe a tear from my eye more than once.

    Courage, danger, adventure, loyalty, laughter, tragedy, sorrow, failure, and redemption—you’ll find them all in the Wingfeather Saga.  And that’s all I’m going to say about the books, except for this:  Do yourself a huge favor, and get them right away.

    I am faced with a dilemma now, though.  I’m not sure whether I should read the books out loud to my 9-year old—something he and I both enjoy—or simply allow him the pleasure of reading them for himself.  What do you think?

    Oh, I almost forgot… What about the lesson you learn growing up in Glipwood playing Ships and Sharks?  And perhaps, of even greater importance to the Igiby children, is it true?  Well… maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  You’ll just have to read the books to find out.

    Sunday, September 13, 2009

    FUBU and COOGI owner Daymond John on ABC's Shark Tank

    Daymond John knows branding. I used to wear FUBU clothing all the time back in the day. At Lenox Square Mall in Atlanta and Stonecrest Mall in Lithonia, GA, I see COOGI all over the place on all young black kids. He is definitely visible and out there in the market. The thing I like about Daymond John is that he’s a great business man with the heart and passion to be an entrepreneur and give his knowledge back via his book “Display of Power”.

    Daymond John's Display of Power Book

    In Display of Power: How FUBU Changed a World of Fashion, Branding and Lifestyle, Daymond John (Founder and CEO) gets to the heart of his unlikely run to the top of the fashion world, and shines compelling light on what it takes to succeed-from the dizzying street corners of his old neighborhood to the dazzling corner offices of corporate America-and what it takes to harness and display the power that resides in us all.

    Not only did I get his book but I also subscribe to his Power Journal where he provides a journal and tips on success. I mean, let’s get this straight: a young black brotha whose companies make over $300 million annually world wide with an office on the top floors of the Empire State Building! What? I can’t wait to interview this cat for my Beyond the Bling Radio show which I have personally booked him on. We are also developing some software for him as well.

    Shark Tank is the truth. Everyone should watch it in America. It comes on at 9 PM EST on ABC and 9PM out on the West Coast as well on Sunday. It will be moving to Tuesdays in a couple of weeks. The other sharks are good too and I learn a lot from watching the show. These are some high powered cats that you can really learn from. I love the elevator pitch style as that’s how I basically learned to pitch my company in the Silicon Valley in front of venture capitalists on Sand Hill Road in Palo Alto. It’s not easy and definitely nerve racking but it’s worth it if you have a solid business idea, make money, and can show an investor a potential large market or the fact that you serve a niche market very well.

    Gerard Spinks is the CEO of Spinks Industries, a web content developer, internet marketing, and advertising firm in Atlanta, GA.

    Book review: Saul and Patsy

    The main themes of this book are married love, small towns, and alienation and belonging. Saul and Patsy are a young couple who find themselves living in Five Oaks, Michigan. Saul, the main character, feels like a fish out of water in this rural community. He is an east coast Jewish intellectual, and the book is full of the details of his alienation, ranging from the barber who can’t figure out how to cut his kinky hair to outright anti-Semitism. Saul teaches high school remedial English, and the main focus of the plot is his relationship with one of his students, a troubled outcast loner. The loner becomes obsessed with Saul, tragedy ensues, and they deal with it.

    There wasn’t a single character in this book that I didn’t want to slap at some point. Particularly Saul, with his fussy, whining ways. Nevertheless, I really enjoyed reading it. I think my favorite part was the portrayal of their marriage, especially at the beginning of the book, before they had kids. These two are madly in love, so much so that it almost seems indecent. Here’s a quote to give you the flavor:

    “You are in a state.”

    “I guess I might be.”

    “What is it this time? Our recent brush with death? The McPhees? My incredible impatience about getting another job?”

    “What about the McPhees?” he asked. She had probably guessed.

    “Well, they were so cute, the two of them. So sweet. And so young, too. Plus their baby. And I know you, Saul, and I know what you thought. You thought: What have these two got that I don’t have?”

    She had guessed. She usually did. It was unfair. He stepped backward. “Yes,” he said, “you’re right. What do they have? And why don’t I have it? I’m happy with you, but I—”

    “Jesus. You can’t be like them because you can’t, Saul. You fret. That’s your hobby. It’s how you stay occupied. You’ve heard about spots? About how a person can’t change them? Well, I like your spots. I like how you’re a professional worrier. And you always know about things like the Cayuse Indians. I’m not like that. And I don’t want to be married to somebody like me. I’d put myself to sleep. But you’re perfect. You’re an early warning system. You bark and growl at life. You’re my dog. You do see that don’t you?”

    See? Icky and charming at the same time.

    Saul and Patsy is more about internal states and personal growth than it is about exciting plot twists, though it does have a good dose of suspense and sly humor. I read it in about two days, and thoroughly enjoyed it. Charles Baxter has been on my TBR list for years and now I’m wondering why I waited so long.

    [Via http://dailydaxie.wordpress.com]

    Saturday, September 12, 2009

    My first time [with Judy Blume's FOREVER]

    How did I manage to survive my teenage years without ever reading this book? Seriously, people.  It’s not like I didn’t know about the wonders of Judy Blume.

    I first read Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret when I was in fourth grade (I’m pretty sure my parents had no idea what it was about and probably felt safe because it had the word God in the title), and then I re-read it countless times throughout the next few years, which I spent wishing that I, too, would someday have breasts the size of tennis balls.

    I even tried Margaret’s “I must, I must, I must increase my bust” exercises, pumping my arms back and forth like an adolescent aerobics show host in front of my bedroom mirror, just waiting for it to work.

    Ah, puberty.

    If Are You There God? It’s Me Margaret is the literary guide to getting your period, then Forever is the guide to losing your virginity.

    You see, Katherine is a high school senior who has kissed a few boys but hasn’t gone anywhere close to ALL THE WAY…then she meets Michael. And they fall in love. That fervently urgent kind of teenage love where every minute that you’re apart feels like a year, and the other person is all you ever think about, and the concept of staying together forever—even though you’re not even out of high school yet—seems completely realistic, and the biggest decision you have to make is when to have sex.

    Remember back when sex was such a big, mysterious, unknowable thing?

    Judy Blume does, and she presents Katherine’s worries, insecurities, and experiences with her trademark matter-of-factness. Many authors are able to recreate adolescent angst and the heart-fluttering, cheek-flushing, tingly-all-over feelings of young love, but none of them—at least none that I’ve read so far—handle sex and the “first time” with such honesty and skill. Katherine and Michael love each other and want it to be special, but Michael—the typical teenage boy—is ready way before Katherine is and occasionally expresses his frustration that she’s so slow to give it up. As they gradually round the bases, Katherine describes the coinciding elation and confusion she works her way through as she struggles to reconcile her desire to have self-control with her growing desire for Michael, and when they finally do it, it’s not perfect, but that’s okay.

    Thank God for Judy Blume and the fact that she isn’t afraid to tell teenagers the truth about the first time. It’s not perfect. It can’t be.  But if you know what to expect, and you’re with someone you care about, it’s an important first step. And then, of course, you get all the fun of practicing. wink wink, nudge nudge.

    I read Forever in one sitting, and HOO BOY did it take me back.  It made me remember what it was like to be Katherine’s age, fumbling toward adulthood and looking for guidance but not really knowing how to talk about it. I was lucky to have a mom who told me about the birds and the bees, and later about the Pill, and who wanted me to talk to her. For those who aren’t so lucky, have no fear. Judy Blume is here to tell you the truth about teenage sexuality.

    Forever is about young love and first sexual experiences, and it presents a wonderfully positive message about how meaningful those experiences can be under the right circumstances. It acknowledges teenagers’ feelings and accepts them as real and valid, and it gives a healthy depiction of responsible sexual expression, complete with a visit to Planned Parenthood and a brand new prescription for the Pill. Sex is fun, kids, but you have to be safe, too, and Judy Blume wants you to know it. This book is readable and easy to relate to, and it manages to address important issues without being preachy. So I’ll say it again, you’ve gotta love Judy Blume. There’s a reason her books are still widely read and loved more than thirty years after their original publication.

    (Unless, of course, you prefer to live under that rock where you can believe that teenagers don’t think about sex and aren’t having sex and really shouldn’t have any information about it. And if you can manage to convince yourself of that, man have I got a bridge I’d like to sell ya.)

    If I could travel back 10 or 15 years and give my younger self a copy of Forever, I would. Especially if I could give it to the younger me who really did think that first boyfriend was forever.

    [Via http://thebookladysblog.com]

    Thursday, September 10, 2009

    TheStar.com | entertainment | Pity a world without bees

    TheStar.com | entertainment | Pity a world without bees.

    Dan Smith at The Star prints my review of the new Coupland. Dan is one of the best editors I’ve ever worked with, and fearless. He’s one of the few, scattered, real guys of Canadian literature, and in his years as book editor at the Star, as big an infuence on the literary discourse and practice  in our country as anyone. I only say that for the cheques. Keep ‘em coming, Dan, please.

    [Via http://michelbasilieres.wordpress.com]

    [REVIEW] The Rapture - Liz Jensen

    Liz Jensen
    The Rapture
    Bloomsbury (UK: 1st June 2009); Allen & Unwin Bloomsbury (AU: July 2009) Random House Doubleday (US & CA: 11th August 2009)
    Buy (US) Buy (UK) Buy (CA) Buy (Worldwide)

    Art therapist Gabrielle Fox is facing her toughest client yet. Sixteen-year-old Bethany Krall may have murdered her mother, but there’s something stranger in her brain – the seeming ability to predict natural disasters.

    Literary more than any other genre, this was at first a difficult read. The style is different to what I’m used to, and the pacing is way too slow. I struggled so much that I started flick-reading, skipping over the bits that didn’t capture me. But once the event in Rio occurred, I no longer skipped anything.

    The science is amazing, and plays a major part in The Rapture’s brilliance. Downplaying the paranormal makes the more realistic stuff more engrossing. The characters are all shades of grey, the impending rapture is terrifying mostly because it’s so believable, and the religious aspects…Well, I’m not sure if religion is the problem, but rather those who choose to interpret and believe it in deadly ways. It’s no mystery that those people made Bethany the person she is.

    The psychological complexities of both Bethany and Gabrielle leave quite an impression. Don’t be surprised if the word volts makes you uneasy after reading…

    [Via http://tezmilleroz.wordpress.com]

    Book Review - Poisoned Pens Literary Invective from Amis to Zola

    Title: Poisoned Pens Literary Invective from Amis to Zola
    Author: Edited by – Gary Dexter
    Publisher: Frances Lincoln Limited
    ISBN: 978-0-7112-2929-7

    As a reviewer for bookpleasures.com I am constantly sent books to read and review. Here is one of my reviews.

    What a tremendous pool of entertaining curmudgeonly critiques amongst some of our greatest known authors is this collection of quotes and letters.

    Poisoned Pens Literary Invective from Amis to Zola edited by Gary Dexter is nothing short of a delightful front row seat at some of the most vicious literally cat fights ever held. Through chapters organized from “Contempt for the Classics” to “Venom for the Victorians” and “Malice for the Moderns” we are made privy to such author’s barbs as that of William Makepeace Thackery on Jonathan Swift:

    Some of this audience mayn’t have read the last part of Gulliver, and to such I would recall the advice of the venerable Mr. Punch to persons about to marry, and day. “Don’t”.

    Or the scathing opinion of Oscar Wilde on Meredith:

    As a writer he has mastered everything except language: as a novelist he can do everything except tell a story: as an artist he is everything except articulate.

    Women’s sharp literary barbs are also included in this volume, such as Zelda Fitzgerald’s comments on her husband, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s work:

    For this book tells exactly, and with compelling lucidity, just what to do hewn cast off by a grandfather or when sitting around a station platform at 4 a.m., or when spilling champagne in a fashionable restaurant, or when told that one is too for the movies. Any of these might come into any one’s life at any moment.

    It seems no one writer is immune to harsh criticism of his work especially if he has body odor, walks with a stoop, or serves cold fish and potatoes for dinner. Whether in person or on the page, if one offends, he offends.

    Virginia Wolf on W. Somerset Maugham
    Then there was Somerset Maugham, a grim figure: rat-eyed: dead man cheeked, unshaven: a criminal I should have said had I met him in a bus.

    This book is a lovely and insightful collection of some of the most vindictive peer comments against those who you once thought were some of our finest literary resources throughout the ages.

    While it is amusing to read of personal spats with each other, it is equally as educational to read of the exact reasons why prominent authors dislike the writings, insights and styles of contemporaries. Poisoned Pens Literary Invective from Amis to Zola is a terrific, entertaining, and enjoyable romp through the razor sharp world of literary criticism.

    Gary Dexter is the editor of Chambers’ Concise Biographical Dictionary, a frequent contributor to the books pages of the Guardian, the Sunday Telegraph and the Spectator, and he as written columns for The Times and the Erotic Review. His latest books are Why not Catch-21 (Frances Lincoln) and his novel The Oxford Spoiler.

    [Via http://simplethrift.wordpress.com]

    Wednesday, September 9, 2009

    Lost and Found

    As a young lad I was fascinated by the supernatural. This may explain, but in no wise excuses, my choice of a career in religion. As I grew in years and skepticism, this interest began to feel like a security blanket in a college dormitory — an embarrassment to be jettisoned as quickly as possible. Along the way, of course, I’d given away what I thought to be the detritus of childish fantasy, including my collection of cheap, pulp fiction, tending toward the Gothic.

    As I grow more ancient, and more observant, I see that sometimes the impetuousness of youth cradles a profound wisdom. Sometimes we do get it right the first time. I still haven’t figured out if that’s the case with me, but it seems to be a hypothesis worth the exploration. Part of my current search for reality is the reassessment of my childhood learning in the school of classical Gothic fiction. The books are no longer as cheap as they used to be, and when I take them out in public I hide them inside a larger, more academic book so that no one really knows what I’m reading. As a friend once observed, people think that those of us who hang out in the religion sections of Borders are immediately suspect. More so the adult toting a beaten-up paperback written for a teen readership a number of decades ago.

    One of my lost memories was a juvenilized version of Rod Serling’s Stories from the Twilight Zone. I had shoveled my copy off to Goodwill along with many other shards of my childhood when I “grew up.” The memories of the angst that the very cover generated in me led to a frantic online used book hunt a few years back. Inside the stories seemed flatter than I’d recalled, but the larger ideas they generated were still worth paying attention to. Perhaps the real lesson is that childhood should not be dismissed as wasted time playing and indulging in carefree amusements. Our childhood proclivities, it now seems, preset the trajectories for our lives. So I still have a quasi-career in a religion department, and I have a copy of a book that started me asking the bigger questions.

    Anybody else remember this?

    [Via http://sawiggins.wordpress.com]

    Tuesday, September 8, 2009

    A tale set in modern-day India

    Shiva’s Fire by Suzanne Fisher Staples

    Copyright 2000, Farrar Straus Giroux

    270 pages, YA fantasy

    Parvati is born in Nandipurum, a remote village in the south of India. At the exact moment of her birth, monsoon rains create a devastating flood, and as the floodwaters recede, a cyclone takes all that is left. Parvati, her mother, and relatives join other refugees. While other survivors starve and take ill, Parvati and her mother stay healthy, and Parvati grows up strong. As a toddler, many miracles surrounding her occur, and Parvati is believed to have supernatural powers and a gift in dance.

    One day a great master of Indian dance, Guru Pazhayanur Muthu Kumara Pillai, comes to Nandipurum to see Parvati for himself. Impressed by her natural skill, he invites her to come studyat his gurukulam and commit herslef completely to dance. Parvati accepts, and what follows is a magical journey of discovery and destiny.

    The slow-moving action is irksome at times, but it leaves plenty of room for internal reflection and description. Interesting characters and a good message add to the richness of Staples’ novel. Referances to modern-day technology can spoil the mystical atmosphere of the story.

    Rating: 3 stars

    For more information visit http://suzannefisherstaples.com.

    [Via http://herestous.wordpress.com]

    Alan Bennett's The Uncommon Reader: Charming, Witty, Wise

    I am so grateful to Simon (Savidge Reads) for giving me a copy of The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett. What a little gem! Almost a short story at only 128 small pages, this was the perfect book to help me catch my breath after reading Celine Curiol’s intense Voice Over and Peter Carey’s 2001 Booker prize-winning True History of the Kelly Gang.

    An unexpected but quite believable premisem  The Uncommon Reader tells how one day Queen Elizabeth is out walking her corgis and stumbles upon a mobile library. Not wanting to seem rude, she borrows a book and although she gets off to a bit of a drab start with Ivy Compton Burnett, is soon hooked on books. She becomes an avid reader discovering author after author, with one book leading her to another, so much so that her passion takes over somewhat and she finds growing opposition to her new ‘hobby’ in the Palace.

    As well as writing a beautiful little snapshot of imagined royal life, Bennett covers a surprisingly wide range of quite serious themes in The Uncommon Reader. Firstly there is discussion around whether reading is a solitary and selfish exercise. Certainly, the Queen’s private secretary – the horrible Sir Kevin – expresses concern about her new pursuit arguing that it is somehow elitist because not everyone reads. The Queen simply replies that she is setting a good example then, and later she considers that;

    “The appeal of reading, she thought, lay in its indifference. Books did not care who was reading them or rather one read them or not. All readers were equal, herself included.”

    Certainly reading is a solitary pursuit but, perhaps that is why so many book-lovers enjoy meeting up to discuss them, however the very fact of it being a ’selfish’ thing to do doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have great benefits in making a person less selfish. In fact as the book progresses, we see a transformation in the Queen. For one who has travelled to nearly every country for duty, reading allows her to discover new worlds and find out about people in a way she has previously been unable. It has almost a humanising effect on her as she starts to notice others and their feelings:

    “A few years ago she would never have noticed what Norman was doing or anybody else either, and if she took note of it now it was because she knew more of people’s feelings than she used to and could put herself in someone else’s place.”

    Another key theme of the book is that of the reader always trying to catch up. The Queen comes to realise that she is an “Opsimath: one who learns only late in life”. She becomes increasingly regretful, becoming aware that she has had countless missed opportunities to meet famous authors.

    “Years ago she had sat next to Lord David Cecil at a dinner in Oxford and had been at a loss for conversation. He, she found had written books on Jane Austen and these days she would have relished the encounter. But Lord David was dead and so it was too late. Too late. It was all too late. But she went on, determined as ever and always trying to catch up.”

    However, when Norman encourages her to meet a group of authors she finds the situation awkward and concludes that authors are perhaps best met “within the pages of their novels”. Although I’m a young(ish) reader, I think that I and many other people often do feel that sense of not being able to catch up. There are always new books that I want to read and classic books I want to discover.

    Perhaps the most poignant point in the novel is that which Bennett makes about how the Queen is viewed by others as a result of her reading. The people that surround her either find it an annoyance, or are outwardly hostile to her desire to read. It as if reading has made her more of a person, and more thoughtful so that she no longer fits into the simple definition of what Her Majesty should stand for.

    “The footman said: ‘Yes, ma’am.’

    It was as if he was talking to his grandmother, and not for the first time the Queen was made unpleasntly aware of the hostility her reading seemed to arouse.”

    Even more outrageous is the ‘ageist’ attitude of the people around her, as they assume that her new passion is a symptom of battiness!

    “Though the Queen was always discreet about writing in her notebooks her equerry was not reassured. He had once or twice caught her at it and thought that this, too, pointed to potential derangement. What had Her Majesty to note down? She never used to do it and like any change of behaviour in the elderly it was readily put down to decay.

    ‘Probably Alzheimer’s’, said another of the young men.”

    Personally I think this is such a keen observation on the way that older people can be compartmentalised in just a few words. And an interesting thought perhaps that reading is so liberating and something that in most cases, except where poor sight is concerned (and then we have audio books) that can be enjoyed with equal passion by people of any age.

    I absolutely loved this book and I’ve used lots of quotations to illustrate that, but I hope that give a sense of the beauty of Bennett’s writing. Insightful and witty, The Uncommon Reader makes many serious points but above that is just a brilliant little story. It made me happy, and it made me think all with just a few pages of brilliant prose.

    Finally, can’t we all identify with this?

    “‘Can there be any greater pleasure’, she confided in her neighbour, the Canadian minister for overseas trade, ‘than to come across an author one enjoys and then to find they have written not just one book or two, but at least a dozen?’

    And all, though she did not say this, in paperback and so handbag size.”

    I thoroughly recommend The Uncommon Reader and at 121 pages, personally I believe you’d be foolish not to read it!

    [Via http://novelinsights.wordpress.com]