Saturday, October 31, 2009

Love is the Higher Law by David Levithan

First there is a Before, and then there is an After. . .

The lives of three teens—Claire, Jasper, and Peter—are altered forever on September 11, 2001. Claire, a high school junior, has to get to her younger brother in his classroom. Jasper, a college sophomore from Brooklyn, wakes to his parents’ frantic calls from Korea, wondering if he’s okay. Peter, a classmate of Claire’s, has to make his way back to school as everything happens around him.

Here are three teens whose intertwining lives are reshaped by this catastrophic event. As each gets to know the other, their moments become wound around each other’s in a way that leads to new understandings, new friendships, and new levels of awareness for the world around them and the people close by.

David Levithan has written a novel of loss and grief, but also one of hope and redemption as his characters slowly learn to move forward in their lives, despite being changed forever.

I felt that some parts of Love is the Higher Law were really well written but other parts, not so much. Claire was a fantastic narrator, I wanted more scenes with her because scenes with her made me feel as if I was right there, in New York City on 9 September 2001. I do not remember 9/11/01 very clearly unfortunately. But reading this book as I said, while reading Claire’s scenes, it was as if I was experiencing everything.

Jasper. I liked him. His character was nice enough and quite understandable. My major complaint is Peter. His character was not developed and the plot for his side of the story was stagnant. Initially, the pacing for the book was just right but as I read more it started moving slowly. The aftermath of 9/11 was a little draggy for me but ultimately the message that David Levithan is trying to convey is that there is hope.

Thank you David Levithan for writing a book about September 11 as I have never read any book about it. Love is the Higher Law portrays the events of 9/11 very clearly making it a heart-breaking yet beautiful and moving novel. Before reading this book, make sure you have a box of tissues beside you.

Sorry but I think I’m giving this a Silver star. I may not have found this book spectacular but I’m sure others will love it.

Silver star

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Secrets of the Millionaire Mind - Being true to your mission

This is from the book -  Secrets of the Millionaire Mind.

Secrets of the Millionaire Mind

“Your life is not just about you. It’s also about contributing to others. It’s about living true to your mission and reason for being here on this earth at this time. It’s about adding your piece of the puzzle to the world. Most people are so stuck to their egos that everything revolves around me, me, and more me. But if you want to be rich in the truest sense of the word, it can’t only be about you. It has to include adding value to other people’s lives.”

This extract just really touched my heart. I connected to this and I feel like what I’m really doing right now in IMG is my piece of the puzzle to this world. In my company, it’s really about the mission and changing people’s lives for the better through financial education.

Our country lacks this, and there are so many lives wasting away because people are too caught up doing the things that don’t really matter, and yet they wonder why they are still in the rat race… working so hard but getting nowhere financially. They own the best toys thinking that their retirement plan would come easy when they’re older.

That’s way too wrong!  Wake up. It doesn’t . You may earn more when you’re older but it will only be harder to save since  your lifestyle also changes, you spend more. And before you know it, you haven’t really saved anything significant.

What will you do then? Keep working after 60? Depend on your kids for your needs? Guess when all the illnesses will come in? That’s right! When you’re old and if you lacked the foresight, you probably didn’t save enough either. Too bad.

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith

This book is absolutely enchanting.  It spoke to me on so many levels that I ripped through 500 pages in just 5 days of commuting.  It also feels apt to have been prompted to read it by seeing it on the subway.

Betty Wehner Smith was born in 1896 and her heroine,  Francie Nolan, is a few years younger than her author, making her only a half dozen years older than my own grandmother, who also grew up Irish and working class.  Like Francie, she and her siblings left school to work and she was a young woman in the war years.  Reading the novel made me feel connected to my grandmother, to the clothes she wore (with hats! and gloves!), to the shows and the dances she enjoyed, to the worries and hopes she had.

And then there are the ways Francie reminds me of myself – as a voracious reader, as a big sister to a little brother, as an internal monologist.  And now, living in Brooklyn, just like Francie, I can marvel at the multiple cultures I traipse through each day, perfect my technique for weaving through the Manhattan crowds and revel in the beauty of a rooftop view of the bridges.

The writing style of the novel is a charming blend of Francie’s voice and an omniscient narrator’s gentle and plainspoken statements.  In another author’s hands, it could easily be didactic or faux-naive, but somehow it rings true.  The only thing I don’t get is assigning this book to kids – I could never had appreciated the book’s emotional depth until I had some of my own.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Moral Monsters

Everyone likes to feel vindicated. From my childhood I have felt marginalized because of my interests in monsters, and now a book has just been released from Oxford University Press that vindicates my interest! Stephen Asma, a philosophy professor at Columbia College, Chicago, has written a monograph entitled On Monsters: An Unnatural History of Our Worst Fears. Further vindicating my idiosyncratic interest is the fact that the Chronicle of Higher Education even has an electronic front-page article on the book this week. I am overcome with credulity! I haven’t been able to lay my hands on the book yet, but I hungrily read the article and look forward to the whole product.

Readers of this blog know my assertion that monsters originate in a mental space shared by religion. Both are responses to the unknown. Asma writes in his Chronicle article, “The monster concept is still extremely useful, and it’s a permanent player in the moral imagination because human vulnerability is permanent.” Indeed, his article is entitled “Monsters and the Moral Imagination.” The thesis he promotes is that our morality (again tied to religion for many people) benefits from its struggle with monsters. We imagine our moral responses to being faced with the truly horrific, and the monsters themselves are less frightening than our imaginary responses. The top box-office winner this past weekend was Paranormal Activity, a movie noted for not showing the menace, but implying it. There is an evolutionary advantage here; we learn about coping with real danger by imagining danger.

So as I look out the window on yet another cold, gray, rainy October morning, and see the trees swaying in the wind, my imagination takes flight. Those Saturday afternoons and late nights filled with cinematographic visions of even worse things that could happen are cast in a new light. Instead of scaring myself, I was building moral character! As my friend K. Marvin Bruce likes to say, “monsters are only mirrors.” Sometimes the mirror reflects a truly untamed world, and Dr. Asma informs us “inhuman threats are great reminders of our own humanity.” I would simply add, “and of our religions.”

Monday Bookworms: The Known World

The Known World, Edward P. Jones

386 pages, @2003

Sorry that I was MIA last week guys!  I don’t know, I just felt like I needed a little break to veg, have no fear, I won’t make it a regular occurence. 

The Known World has been on my bookshelf (or my mom’s) since it came out in 2003.  I remember when this book came out it had a lot of buzz surrounding it and it won the Pulitzer Prize to boot.  A friend of mine also let me know that Edward P. Jones, the author, was a Holy Cross grad, which made me that much more excited to read it.

Henry Townsend, was freed from slavery by his parents when he was a teenager.  A favorite of his master, William Robbins, when he went into his own business he solicited Mr. Robbins assistance and became one of the best bootmakers in Virginia.  After building up some wealth he bought his own land, built a house and started a farm.  Then he purchased his first slave.  He continuously sought the help and tutelage of Mr. Robbins as he built his farm and continued to purchase more slaves.  His farm was very orderly and he never overstepped the boundaries of the law.  However, after his untimely death, his wife Caldonia, is unable to keep order.  Jones explores slavery in every light.

I wanted to love this book .  A unique story, a Holy Cross grad, a Pulitzer Prize winner, I kept telling myself I would feel rewarded when I finished, but unfortunately that just wasn’t the case.  The book had too many characters and it was hard to follow the windering story arc.  As soon as you got used to one story involving some of the characters, he would move on to another story line with other characters and I felt like I was starting all over again.  It all wove together in the end but I just didn’t find it riveting or really even that interesting.  I was incredibly disappointed that I didn’t love it.  I’m not sure if any of you have read Toni Morrison, but in away he reminded me of Morrison, but just not quite as lyrical.  Her books (I’ve only read 3 so this is a generalization) are very all over the place with cirular stories that you can’t understand until you finish the entire book. 

Overall I would not recommend this book at all.  It was long, tedious, and if I was someone who put books down and didn’t eventually finish them, I wouldn’t have finished it.  I would be curious though, if you read it and liked it, to hear what you liked about it.  So if that’s you – post a comment.

Rating:  2 stars


Post in Comments:

What book have you recently been disappointed by?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Review: The Sociopath Next Door

Timing is everything! As I was finishing up my post on good and evil my copy of Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door arrived. Both of these posts compliment each other and they almost make a thematic Halloween post, too!

So without further adieu here’s the review!

Dr. Martha Stout’s The Sociopath Next Door should be required reading for all martial artists. In her book, Dr. Stout delivers an honest look at the 4% of the U.S. population that falls into the category of sociopath. She is quite right too when she cautions that most people are under the mistaken impression that sociopaths are all violent criminals. Stout writes:

The ominous truth is that a shocking average of 1 out of every 25 U.S. citizens is one of “the remorseless”. While varied, as sociopaths they are each completely devoid of conscience and can do literally anything to achieve their personal goals, whatever they may be.

The teacher who ridicules his students,  the cheating boyfriend who left you in debt, the cranky neighbor who seems to just lay in wait for the chance to cause trouble and the boss who belittles you publicly might all have sociopathic personalities. Typically, sociopaths are social chameleons, charismatic, intelligent and attracted to positions of power. They will climb the social ladder as high as their own desire, abilities, and opportunity will allow. All sociopaths have a desire to win, but their definitions of winning  can be as vastly different as the symptoms of sociopathy itself. For many that lack of an innate moral compass leaves them trying to fill the void with risk-taking behaviors. For some that means treating people poorly, manipulating people, achieving power, etc., while for a very small percent it can also mean becoming a serial killer.

What stout does is to use and cite scientific studies in an effort to scratch away the sugar-coated notion that everyone has some good in them. Statistically, 4% of the population does not. Interestingly, Stout does not dwell on the problem this poses for a certain major monotheistic religion–though she does touch on it briefly. Stout rightly observes that Christianity once struggled with a very basic problem: If God created everything did he also create evil? The solution to this dilemma was created in the 13th century by St. Thomas Aquinas. He proposed the following:

  1. Morality is absolute (i.e. there are certain things that are clearly right or wrong)
  2. All people are born with this moral truth
  3. Bad behavior is the result of imperfect human thinking

This simple solution influences Christian thinking even today. It’s not God’s fault, rather, it’s an imperfect human with flawed logic that does not listen to his or her own conscience. In effect, they ignore this innate moral truth. The very simple and fairly conclusive fact is that psychological studies of the past 40 years turn Aquinas on his head. This poses a problem for many religions including Christianity: It would seem that some humans are born without the capacity for good.

So what causes sociopathy? Science is still studying the problem. According to Stout here’s what we do know: We do not have evidence that early abuse in childhood creates a sociopath. In fact, according to the research Stout cites, there is a direct link to criminal behavior at adulthood and childhood abuse.

“Those with a more stable past first appeared in court at an average age of twenty-four, and those with a troubled background came to court for the first time at about fifteen.”

In contrast, psychopathic criminals appear in court at the age of fourteen and research shows it matters not if their childhood was good or abusive. So, for now, science thinks there is a genetic predisposition that may be activated or enhanced by a yet unknown environmental factor.

Fear not! While the book may be a wake-up call for those who look at the world through rose-colored glasses, it’s not all negative. Stout identifies the symptoms of sociopathy and also provides 13 steps for dealing with this type of person. In fact, statistically speaking, 96% of the U.S. population is still wired with a conscience so that in and off itself is also good news.

Where Stouts advice falls short is on two fronts: First, she unwittingly poses a problem for those that may subscribe to a certain religious viewpoint of good and evil–yet she offers no solution for them. Second, her advice for dealing with the sociopath that may be in your life only goes so far.  It’s true that leaders can be voted out or dismissed from office. Bosses and co-workers can be endured or a new job found. Even those we believed to be close friends can be removed from our lives and eventually forgotten. But what do we do if the sociopath is our spouse, a family member, or worst of all… our own child?

My other observation is this: I skimmed several reviews of this book before writing my own and I noticed one criticism–that certain reviewers say Stout is appealing to our paranoia. Based on having worked with the criminal element I have to disagree. I can personally attest to the fact that it’s very hard for people of conscience to accept that some in society are criminal predators. Ask any law enforcement officer, corrections worker, or mental health employee and I bet they’ll agree with me. Moreover, why do you think I left that career path behind? What I suspect is happening with these reviewers is their conscience is having a hard time digesting the fact that 4% of the population lacks what they have.

Regardless, Stout offers positive advice to counter the gritty reality she presents. So I highly recommend this book for anyone interested in psychology, science, or self-defense. It’s well-written and the author does a very good job of presenting science in an accessible form!


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Book Review: "The Shadow of the Wind" by Carlos Ruiz Zafón

When I first saw Carlos Ruiz Zafon’s popular masterpiece, The Shadow of the Wind, at the local bookstore, I was immediately drawn by the book’s unique title and its plain but intriguing cover illustration.  However, it wasn’t until my fellow blogger at theninthdragonking recommended it that I decided to give it a go.

I just finished it today and all I can say is ‘wow’.  This guy, Carlos Ruiz Zafon, can really write, and the translator Lucia Graves (who converted the book from its original Spanish), can really translate.

The Shadow of the Wind is regarded as a tribute to 19th century gothic novels, something I admit I have never read before.  It tells the story of a young boy in post-Civil War Barcelona, whose life is changed forever when he comes across a rare book written by an obscure author who disappeared under mysterious circumstances.  It is a coming-of-age story about books, love, friendship and fate, with just a hint of the supernatural.  At times it is frightening, and other times it can be heartwarming, shocking, gut-wrenching – sometimes all at once.  It is the type of book that makes you want to read it again immediately after you finish it.  It is the kind of novel that gives you goosebumps.

I don’t think the The Shadow of the Wind falls within any specific genre.  I guess I would simply call it good, old fashioned story-telling.  The narrative just blew my mind.  The words spilled off the page and into my imagination.  The pacing was superb, the mysterious plot unfolding with atmospheric tension and suspense.  Zafon makes you believe in his characters, and each one of them has a story to tell.  The clear standout for me would have to be the charming, hilarious and loyal friend of the narrator, Fermin Romero de Torres, one of the most memorable characters I’ve ever come across on page.

If I have anything negative to say about the book, it’s that sometimes it gets just a little too melodramatic.  A bit too over the top.  If a lesser author attempted the same thing, it would probably be a disaster, but Zafon, for the most part, manages to pull it off.  Another minor complaint is that some of the subplots were a tad too long and unnecessarily complicated.  I guess you could say it’s a part of the book’s charm but because of that I felt the story dragged on a bit, especially in the first half of the book.  For me, the second half of the novel was utterly unputdownable, so by contrast the first half was slightly weaker.

Ultimately, a great read, and from a writer’s perspective, terrific to learn from, in particular for characterization and building suspense.  I am already looking forward to picking up the ‘prequel’ to The Shadow of the Wind, the recently released The Angel’s Game.

4.5 stars out of 5

Friday, October 23, 2009

Feminism Unfulfilled--Why Are So Many Women Unhappy?


This was originally posted to Albert

“The woman’s movement wasn’t about happiness.” That judgment, attributed to feminist Susan Faludi, seems to be the blunt assessment shared by many other women. As numerous recent studies now indicate, a remarkably large percentage of women describe themselves as increasingly unhappy.

This issue came to light last month in a fascinating essay by Maureen Dowd of The New York Times. Dowd, whose columns often reveal the nation’s Zeitgeist, cited the fact that a number of major studies indicate that “women are getting gloomier and men are getting happier.” She asked: “Did the feminist revolution end up benefiting men more than women?”

A very similar set of questions arises from TIME magazine’s current cover story and special report, “The State of the American Woman.” As the cover of the magazine explains, “A new poll shows why they are more powerful — but less happy.”

Reporter Nancy Gibbs traces the vast changes brought about by the feminist revolution. “It’s funny how things change slowly, until the day we realize they’ve changed completely,” she observes. As she documents, these changes are easily visible in contemporary America:

In 1972 only 7% of students playing high school sports were girls; now the number is six times as high. The female dropout rate has fallen in half. College campuses used to be almost 60-40 male; now the ratio has reversed, and close to half of law and medical degrees go to women, up from fewer than 10% in 1970. Half the Ivy League presidents are women, and two of the three network anchors soon will be; three of the four most recent Secretaries of State have been women.

Along the way, Gibbs also traces more fundamental changes. With remarkable understatement she simply notes “the detachment of marriage and motherhood” among other transformations. “Women no longer view matrimony as a necessary station on the road to financial security or parenthood,” she explains.

Nevertheless, “Among the most confounding changes of all is the evidence, tracked by numerous surveys, that as women have gained more freedom, more education and more economic power, they have become less happy.”

Gibbs cites a growing body of research that documents this trend toward unhappiness. In “The Paradox of Declining Female Happiness,” [pdf file] published in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, economists Betsey Stevenson and Justin Wolfers explain that women in the 1970s “reported higher subjective well-being than did men.” Now, the opposite is the case.

The big question raised by these studies is this: Has feminism produced unhappiness among women? That question is inescapable when seen in light of the historical context. The great transformation of society by feminism took shape only after the 1970s. As a political and social movement, feminism has been stunningly successful. In the span of a single generation, the society has been overwhelmingly transformed. But, over the same period, women report themselves less happy, especially as compared to men.

As Gail Collins notes in her new book, When Everything Changed: The Amazing Journey of American Women from 1960 to the Present, the pace of this transformation has been absolutely stunning. “The cherished convictions about women and what they could do were smashed in the lifetime of many of the women living today,” she observes. “It happened so fast that the revolution seemed to be over before either side could really find its way to the barricades.”

Nevertheless, Collins, also a columnist for The New York Times, concluded: ” The feminist movement of the late 20th century created a new United States in which women ran for president, fought for their country, argued before the Supreme Court, performed heart surgery, directed movies, and flew into space. But it did not resolve the tensions of trying to raise children and hold down a job at the same time.”

These tensions have erupted as flash points in our national conversation over recent years. Some feminists have accused women who decide to stay home with their children as “letting down the team.” Gail Collins cites Marlyn McGrath Lewis, director of undergraduate admissions at Harvard University as saying, “It really does raise this question for all of us and for the country: when we work so hard to open academics and other opportunities for women, what kind of return do we expect to get for that?”

The essays by Maureen Dowd and Nancy Gibbs both raise the fundamental question of feminism – Has it led to greater unhappiness among women? Dowd and Gibbs remain committed feminists. Nevertheless, as Dowd notes, feminism has served to increase the burdens upon women, even as it promised to open doors.

Sadly, most feminists seem incapable, given their ideological commitments, of asking the hardest questions. “Progress is seldom simple,” Gibbs explains, “it comes with costs and casualties, even challenges about whether a change represents an advance or a retreat.”

In reality, feminism was never only about opening doors for women. In order to make the case for the vast social transformation that feminism has produced, the feminist movement aspired to nothing short of a total social, moral, and cultural revolution. Along the way, feminism redefined womanhood, marriage, motherhood, and the roles for both men and women.

Nevertheless, it appears that most women are uncomfortable with this total package. Instead of producing a vast expansion of happiness among women, the feminist movement must now answer for the fact that women, by their own evaluation, appear to be less happy than before the revolution.

The reason for this is probably quite simple. Women are in the best position to evaluate, not only what feminism has gained, but what it has lost. Maybe Susan Faludi is right – The women’s movement wasn’t about happiness.


I am always glad to hear from readers. Write me at Follow regular updates on Twitter at

I discussed this topic on Thursday’s edition of The Albert Mohler Program with special guest Dr. Denny Burk, Dean of Boyce College.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Book Review - <em>Grace Notes: Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim</em> by Philip Yancey

Philip Yancey’s writings both encourage and challenge me. The insights and observations he offers in his work bear witness of his contemplative walk with God. It is for this reason that I anticipated reading his new devotional Grace Notes: Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim.

In this 366 day devotional, he includes key sections from previous works such as The Jesus I Never Knew, What’s So Amazing About Grace?, and Where Is God When It Hurts?, as well as many of his other writings.

The form of this devotional is quite different from most. The majority of devotionals I’ve read take the form first of a select scripture, then perhaps a related quote, a short grouping of text to illuminate the scripture and sometimes a prayer.

In Grace Notes: Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim, scripture is mentioned and referenced in the text but not listed separately at the beginning or ending of the devotion for that day. It is a different approach to devotional reading and brings a more conversational tone to the book.

So many areas of Christianity are covered in this devotional which makes it one to keep and return to year after year. If you are new to the writings of Philip Yancey, a descriptive bibliography is included referencing many of his books and articles.

If asked which one of Philip Yancey’s books was my favorite, I would be hard pressed to give only one. Yancey is thoughtful and provocative, engaging and inspiring, and always sincere and genuine. This makes this devotional rare indeed.

Consider the following concepts:

  • From June 1st, entitled ‘Atrocious Mathematics‘ – “I hear a loud whisper from the gospels that tells me that I did not get what I deserved. I deserved punishment but I got forgiveness.”
  • From August12th entitled ‘Downward Surrender’ -“Jesus suggest that we discover self not by staring inward but by gazing outward, not through introspection but through acts of love.”
  • From November 4th, entitled ‘Weapons of Mercy’ -“If my activism, however, well-motivated, drives out love, then I have misunderstood Jesus’ Gospel. I am stuck with the law, not the gospel of grace.”

This would be a wonderful gift for any occasion. I recommend it highly.  The review copy I received at no cost and was donated to my local church.

Grace Notes: Daily Readings with a Fellow Pilgrim

By Philip Yancey / Zondervan

# Hardcover: 432 pages
# Publisher: Zondervan (October 1, 2009)
# Language: English
# ISBN-10: 0310287723
# ISBN-13: 978-0310287728

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Gratitude Is a Lifestyle....

…. a hard fought, grace-infused, biblical lifestyle.”

Beginning in the introduction, Nancy Leigh Demoss brings conviction to my soul about true gratitude. She quotes theologian and author Dr. Wayne Grudem from an interview with C.J. Mahaney…. C.J. asks Dr. Grudem to address some areas of vulnerabilty and discouragement in ministry. Dr. Grudem responds with…”Honestly, I don’t often become discouraged. I continue to see evidence of God’s work in my life and the lives of those around me, and I am simply overwhelmed with thankfulness to Him.” What a statement! How many of us, if asked this question would respond with praise for the greatness of God? My guess would be less than one percent.

Nancy invites us all to come with her on a journey. “A journey to greater freedom and joy…a journey closer to the heart of God.”

Join us tomorrow as we accept an “Invitation at Transformation”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009


When doing a week about witches, we would be remiss not to include the Dorrie books by Patricia Coombs. There were 20 books in the Dorrie series, written in the early 1960’s through the early 1990’s. We’ve been reading these books for 40 many, many years and they hold up just as well today. I know this, because I just re-read one of them today and really enjoyed it.

As you can see, this is not a brand new book. My sister found it for me on ebay because almost all of the Dorrie books are out of print. This one used to be in a school library and why it’s still not there, I don’t know. But their loss is my gain:D

This is Dorrie. There’s just something about her that appeals to me. It might be the witches shoes (which I love!), the mismatched socks,

her messy room. My room has never been that messy! Honest. I think Gink the cat might have a lot to do with the appeal. Who doesn’t have a black (and white) cat sitting around helping you?

Also, Dorrie and her mother live in an amazing house with lots of rooms

Paneled hallway? Check! Rooms upon rooms? Check!

Awesome stairs leading up to the tower? Oh, yeah!

In this book, there’s a bad witch (you know she’s bad because she’s blue) who tries to kidnap Dorrie. Her name is Mildred (don’t all bad witches have names like Mildred) and her evil plans are thwarted by Dorrie’s resourcefulness.

I’ll let you read the book to see how Dorrie outsmarts Mildred, and she’s not the only youngster using her brains against older adversaries. Some other great witch books include  The Wednesday Witch by Ruth Chew, The Little Leftover Witch by Florence Laughlin (oh, I love this book!), not to mention The Witches by Roald Dahl and The Witch Next Door series by Norman Bridwell (of Clifford the Big Red Dog fame.)

Monday, October 19, 2009

Book Review (Mini Review): The Jesus Paradigm

Energion Publications has given us a very hard-hitting book in The Jesus Paradigm by David Alan Black.

Several decades ago Carl Henry wrote a book called The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism. The Jesus Paradigm follows in the footsteps of this great book by calling today’s Christians to recognize that they have strayed far from the truth of the gospel and the intent of God for His people.

Christians today are trusting in politics to change our nation.  Christians are equating certain political stances as equivalent to Christian faithfulness.  Christians today are justifying preemptive warfare.

Is this the right thing to do?

Are we called to be political and inaugurate the kingdom of God in that manner?

Are we called to fight those who have not attacked us?

Are we called to fight at all?

What about the church?  Are we actually following the New Testament pattern?  Black says not, and I’m inclined to agree.

One will probably not agree with all of his conclusions, but Black has written a very thought provoking and disturbing book.  Christians should read it and take heed.

(This book was a gift from Energion Publications who has not requested that I do anything with it other than read it.  I have reviewed it simply because I chose to do so.  Thanks Henry!)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Too Big to Fail

TOO BIG TO FAIL:The Inside Story of How Wall Street and Washington Fought to Save the Financial System–and Themselves

by Andrew Ross Sorkin (10/09)

From a review on

The first true behind-the-scenes, moment-by-moment account of how the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression developed into a global tsunami. Too Big to Fail is the definitive story of the most powerful men and women in finance and politics grappling with success and failure, ego and greed, and, ultimately, the fate of the world’s economy.

Andrew Ross Sorkin is the award-winning chief mergers and acquisitions reporter for The New York Times, a columnist, and assistant editor of business and finance news.

Here is an excerpt from an excerpt in the November Vanity Fair:

Wall Street’s Near-Death Experience (the full excerpt)

Day One
Wednesday, September 17, 2008: After Lehman and A.I.G.

When Tim Geithner, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York, began his run that morning along the southern tip of Manhattan and up the East River just after six, the sun had yet to come up. He was tired and stressed, having slept only several hours in one of the three tiny, grubby bedrooms in the New York Fed’s headquarters.

As he stared at the Statue of Liberty and the first of the morning’s commuter ferries from Staten Island gliding across the harbor, he tried desperately to clear his mind. For five days his brain had been trapped in a maze of numbers—huge, inconceivable, abstract numbers, ranging in the span of 24 hours from zero for Lehman to $85 billion for A.I.G. Eighty-five billion dollars was more than the annual budgets of Singapore and Taiwan combined; who could even begin to understand a figure of that size? Geithner hoped that the sum would be sufficient to rescue the insurance giant from bankruptcy—and that the financial crisis would finally be over.

Those ferries, freighted with office workers, gave him pause. This is what it was all about, he thought, the people who rise at dawn to go to their jobs, all of whom rely to some extent on the financial industry to help power the economy. Never mind the staggering numbers. Never mind the ruthless complexity of structured finance and derivatives, or the million-dollar bonuses of those who had made bad bets. This is what saving the financial industry is really about: protecting ordinary people with ordinary jobs.

But as he passed the South Street Seaport and then went under the Brooklyn Bridge, he inadvertently began thinking about what fresh hell the day would bring.

Due to disastrous bets on Lehman paper, the giant Reserve Primary Fund had broken the buck a day earlier, causing an investor run on the money-market funds. Between that, Geithner thought, and billions of dollars of investors’ money locked up inside the now bankrupt Lehman Brothers, that meant only one thing: the two remaining broker-dealers—Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs—could actually be next.

Pirates! by Celia Rees

This brilliant book is a daring tale that tells of Nancy Kington and Minerva Sharpe, both female pirates.

When Nacy’s rich father dies, she is shipped off to her inheritance: her fathers sugar plantation in Jamaica. Disgusted by the fact she ‘owns’ human lives, she makes firm friends with her lady-in-waiting, Minerva Sharpe.

When Bartholeme, a greedy plantation owner, tries to force Nancy to marry him, her and Minerva escape the island the only way they can: by joining a band of visiting pirates.

Enthralled by their new life, Nancy and Minerva sail the sea, narrowly avoiding danger; Nancy constantly dreaming of her childhood love, William, who was tricked into become a crew member of a slave ship by his own father.


A hugely exciting story with a dramatic ending, Pirates! is the perfect book to start you Pirate season off with.

[REVIEW] Extras - Scott Westerfeld

Scott Westerfeld
Extras (Uglies, Book 4)
Simon & Schuster Pulse (AU: November 2007; UK: 4th February 2008; US & CA: 28th April 2009)
Buy (US) Buy (UK) Buy (CA) Buy (Worldwide)

Aya Fuse wants to be popular and famous, for creating a feed well worth kicking. Infiltrating the mysterious Sly Girls could be her big break, but whilst mag-lev surfing with the group Aya discovers a much bigger story – shape-shifting cylinders she’s sure are missiles. But why are they hidden in the mountain? Who’s responsible? Is only Japan at stake, or the world at large?

I should’ve loved this, and whilst I did enjoy it, Extras didn’t quite wow me. Perhaps this futuristic world is somewhat too high-tech for my eejit brain. There’s a lot to enjoy here, which is a great escapist piece. But as soon as Tally Youngblood enters the picture…It’s been years since I read the three earlier books in this series, and my memory is atrocious anyway, but Tally really pisses me off here. She’s kind of a bitch. But I rather like the Japanese characters and intriguing future.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Walk Two Moons

Walk Two Moons, by Sharon Creech, was a truly moving story, and my only regret is that I did not force myself to read this story when I was younger. I always loved Sharon Creech. Bloomability was my absolutely favorite novel when I was in Middle School. It made me want to go to Boarding School! I remember looking at this book and thinking that I did not want to read it, even if it had won an award. I was quiet bitter against Walk Two Moons because it got an award and Bloomability didn’t. Now I understand.

This is a moving story about a young girls journey to acceptance and discovery. What would you do if your mother left and never came back? How would you accept it? Sharon Creech answers these questions by weaving together the story of two girls who’s mothers left for the various reasons that parents abandon their children. You watch as Phoebe goes through all of the steps, the denial, the anger, the hurt… everything. And then Sal relates this to how she felt when her mother left for Idaho without out her. And then, in the end, when everything comes together and Sal faces the truth of the situation, your heart breaks.

I saw the signs coming… I knew how it was going to end before I got there, but that didn’t make the journey any less beautiful. And then you go and look at the cover and you realize that it was all there the whole time. This story doesn’t disguise anything. It is like the symbolism that was spoken about… “…I hate it when people say the woods symbolize death or beauty or sex or any old thing you want. I hate that. Maybe the woods are just woods.” I have always felt that. I have always hated symbolism. But then again, maybe sometimes we have to look past the exterior and discover what was intended, especially when it comes to helping people. How many more people could have helped Sal and Phoebe if they had looked past the front that they put on and discovered the true feelings they were feeling.

Anyway, over all, this was a great book! I will definitely be returning to this one day in the near future… and when I have children, I will be pushing this into their hands. I give this a 4.5/5 stars.

The Chicken or the Egg? 4. Egging Us On

2009 edition

A few days ago, I thumbed through the brand-new, hot-off-the-press version of Larousse Gastronomique. You know,  Julia Child’s bedtime reading.  At least according to the movie, “Julie & Julia.” After all, Julia once remarked that, “If I were allowed only one reference book in my library, Larousse Gastronomique would be it, without question.”

First written in French by Prosper Montagné in 1938, it wasn’t until 1961 that English speakers could savor Larousse, edited by Charlotte Turgeon and Nina Froud. Since then, two other editions, both edited by Jenifer Harvey Lang, have appeared. The latest edition, curated by a committee headed by French chef, Joël Robuchon, features 3800 recipes, and covers terms ranging from Abaisse to Zuppa Inglese.

At first glance, the new edition also looks extremely sterile, starting with the stark minimalism of the cover with just a small red saucepan providing a speck of eye candy.

It occurred to me that perhaps one way to assess the newest edition of Larousse would be to pick one entry, and examine the changes over the years, if any, made in the text for that entry.* Since the entry for eggs ran for a whopping 26 pages in the 1961 English edition, versus 7 pages and 8 pages in the 1988 and 2009 editions respectively, a look at entries for “Egg” or “Eggs” seemed a logical, if somewhat biased, choice.

Eggs en cocotte (Photo credit: Elke Sisco)

All three editions start out by presenting the basic methods for preparing eggs.

The 1961 edition states that “the basic methods of cooking them (eggs) are few.”  Printed in bold over the first page and a half of the entry, detail about each of these methods appears: Hard-boiled eggs; Soft-boiled eggs; Eggs en cocotte, cassolettes ou caisettes; Eggs à la coque; Fried eggs; Eggs in a mould; Omelettes; Poached eggs; Scrambled eggs; Eggs sur le plat or shirred eggs. At one point, the text admonishes the reader, when making an omelette, “Finally, have confidence in yourself.” The appropriate cooking method turns up in parentheses after each of the recipe titles — alphabetized — on the following pages. This arrangement places the reader in the uncomfortable position of not being able to easily visualize and group the various recipes according to cooking method. Black and while drawings and photographs liven up the text somewhat, as do a few color plates interspersed between various pages in no particular order, in the style of that time.

1961 edition

The 1988 edition lists the following as the basic methods, gathering the information more clearly for the reader:

Eggs en cocotte (baked in the oven in small dishes, usually in a bain marie or water bath)

Eggs à la coque (boiled)

Eggs sur le plat (or shirred)

Fried eggs

Hard-boiled eggs


Poached eggs

Scrambled eggs

Soft-boiled eggs

And the editor arranged the recipes following this list by cooking method. Although the 1988 edition reduced the total number of pages devoted to eggs per se, at the end of each cooking method section, a “See” reference directs the reader to other recipes using the same cooking techniques.

1988 edition

The newest edition, October 2009, reflects nearly the same format as the 1988 edition, but without the color illustrations. In fact, the book is very sparsely illustrated. Various entries, including eggs, merit some color plates. In the case of eggs, a portion of the first page portrays the different types of eggs that humans commonly consumed, from chicken to ostrich. Otherwise it resembles an Easter egg hunt in the snow — bright streaks of color provide occasional relief from the vast whiteness of the pages.

Parmentier Eggs II (Oeufs Parmentier) caught my eye as I thumbed my way through the 1961 edition.

Butter the egg dish and line with diced potatoes fried in butter. Break the eggs into the dish, surround with a ring of cream and cook in the oven.

In the 1988 edition, the recipe reads as follows:

Eggs sur le plat Parmentier (Oeufs sur le plat Parmentier):

Line some small buttered dishes with diced potatoes fried in butter. Break 2 eggs into each dish and cook in the usual way (see egg).

The 2009 edition changed one word from the 1988 edition:

Line some small buttered dishes with diced potatoes fried lightly in butter. Break 2 eggs into each dish and cook in the usual way (see egg).

In none of the three editions I examined does the text mention cholesterol or the avoidance of eggs in the same sentence.

In a nod to the shrinking of the culinary globe, the new Larousse does include new material, for instance the entry on Peru. But the entry on Africa perplexed me a bit: under “Africa,” the text reads “See Black Africa, North Africa, South Africa” …

In other words, Larousse still speaks a lot of French, but it’s becoming slightly, grudgingly more multilingual with each edition.

The conclusion? This little foray into the 2009 Larousse Gastronomique shows that, as far as eggs go, the 2009 edition might be said to be egging us on to pull out our wallets and fork out some green stuff.

*Note that I do not have a copy of the 2001 edition readily at hand.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Book Review: A Million Miles In A Thousand Years by Donald Miller (Author of Blue Like Jazz)

A Million Miles In A Thousand Years

by Donald Miller


Donald Miller wrote a chart topper when he wrote Blue Like Jazz. Life was going well for him. Someone even wanted to make a movie about him. Cool!

Oh wait, not too cool. That takes work. It takes looking at life, writing a story, making the story interesting, and then editing it to work for the big screen.

While Miller is working to do all of this he learns that life can be edited, too.

Miller begins to think through life, choices we make, and how we could make a difference in our lives, because we are not pushed through life by irresistible forces that are outside, or inside of us.

He then looks at his life and the lives of others and considers the stories that each one writes.

Miller’s style is casual, rambling, naval-gazing at times, but always interesting. This guy is refreshingly honest about his struggles in life- especially his struggles concerning meeting the father he had not seen in decades. At the same time Miller is astonishingly humorous and profound. How can he do both simultaneously?

I laughed, shed tears, and felt great pleasure while reading this book. Miller helps us to see that life is not hopeless, no matter what our circumstances are. We have the rest of our lives ahead of us. Let us write and edit our stories so that they will be happy for ourselves and those who read them.

When does his next book come out?

(Thanks to Kelly Hughes for this review copy.)

Monday, October 12, 2009

Rumors ~ Anna Godberson

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Harper Collins

422 pages


I haven’t reviewed many books contained in series on the blog and find it incredibly hard. It’s almost like reviewing the middle of a book, right where the juicy part is but still trying to maintain a veil of secrecy.

Nowhere is this more difficult to accomplish than in the second installment of Anna Godberson’s four part Luxe set, Rumors. Staged in turn of the century Manhattan and essentially the wilderness of California, the second book finds our party of revelers and mourners garter deep in more trouble than they can manage.

There is nothing like good scandal to keep readers guessing which is why it is incredibly difficult to lay it on the line for review dissection.

The stage set by The Luxe was a gaudy one but also one that hinted toward a lust for the other side of the tracks. When we meet them again, both Holland girls find themselves in over their heads in love and in life. Their  passions can’t be contained within the walls of the society in which they were born and raised and this, inevitably, leads to trouble.

The usual suspects return, starring debutante extraordinaire, Penny, reluctant millionaire heir, Henry; social climbing but clueless ex-maid, Lina, handsome and wholesome oil-hopeful Will and of course, that lovable entity, the gossip column.

I enjoyed the sequel as a welcome diversion from real life drama. I won’t get into the specifics of the small things that irked me because it involves listing unforgivable spoilers. Let’s just say several people show up dead, alive and, more dramatically, married. But, well, that’s just Manhattan in 1899.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday, Lovely Sunday

- A Weekly Post By Megan Shaffer


-I wrote a small post on the recent return of two German books taken by Robert E. Thomas, a young soldier serving in WWII.  I found more information and a short video clip at this Washington Post link.

-I received an email from Steve Luxenberg informing me that The American Booksellers Association has chosen Annie’s Ghosts for the Independent Booksellers Fall/Winter List of Recommendations for Reading Groups in the “A-List for Nonfiction” category. Please see my Annie’s Ghosts review for more on this wonderful Detroit-based story.

Of National Interest

-On Tuesday October 6th, Hilary Mantel was announced as the Man Booker Prize winner. The Washington Post reports that the author of Wolf Hall, a “tale of political intrigue set during the reign of King Henry VIII”, will take home the 50,000-pound ($80,000) prize.

-On Thursday, the Nobel Prize for Literature was awarded to Herta Muller. For a more detailed account, read my Life is Literature for Herta Muller posting under Whimsy.

-Return to the Hundred Acre Wood was released on Monday. The New York Times reports this as “the first authorized sequel to the A.A. Milne classic Winnie-the-Pooh books in more than 80 years.” An interview with David Benedictus, the writer who undertook this daunting task was heard on NPR’s Morning Edition.

-Remember the crazed sniper in D.C. back in 2002? His wife Mildred Muhammad says it was a ploy to commit and obscure her own murder.  She has written a book titled Scared Silent, in hopes of helping other victims of domestic violence.

-Letterman sidekick Paul Shaffer has released a memoir titled We’ll Be Here For the Rest of Our Lives:  A Swingin’ Showbiz Saga. Detailing his colorful career, Shaffer reveals in an NPR interview that he started his career “playing piano in a Canadian topless bar.”  You don’t hear that every day.

-Arianna Huffington has announced a new HuffPost Book Club for the Huffington Post site.  The Club will be working in tandem with the New York Review of Books. The HuffPost Club’s first pick is titled In Praise of Slowness by Carl Honore.

Local Voice

-The Detroit Free Press offers a fine article on Bich Minh Nguyen and her book Stealing Buddha’s Dinner in honor of her upcoming appearances for the Great Michigan Read. Nguyen will appear at the Penn Theatre on Saturday, October 17th at 1:00p.m., hosted by the Plymouth District Library. Stealing Buddha’s Dinner can also be found on my Feature Review page.

-Wayne State poet M.L. Liebler has won a Barnes & Noble Award for 2010. “The honor is given to writers who’ve helped other writers and given back to the writing community,” according to the full article in the Detroit Free Press.

-In addition to the update above, I found this Michigan Radio interview with Steve Luxenberg, author of Annie’s Ghosts, which I reviewed a couple of weeks ago. The segment provides personal insights by Mr. Luxenburg as he revisits the sights that provide the backbone of his book.

-Paul Vachon, author of “Forgotten Detroit” will discuss his book on Wednesday, October 14th at the Detroit Historical Museum. The Free Press reports that Mr. Vachon’s book “goes behind the headlines of history to explore some lesser-known stories about Detroit’s rise from fur-trading center to 20th-Century industiral powerhouse.”

-The new novel “In a Perfect World” by Chelsea resident Laura Kasischke made its appearance in bookstores last Tuesday. She will discuss her new novel at Borders in Birmingham on Wednesday, October 14th, at 6:00.  Ms. Kasischke, a teacher of creative writing at University of Michigan, is also the author of novels “Suspicious River” and “The Life Before her Eyes”.

-Wayne State University Press will celebrate the launch of Travelin Man: On the Road and Behind the Scenes with Bob Seger by Tom Weschler and Gary Graff at Memphis Smoke in Royal Oak.  Doors open at 7:00 for author signings and a Seger tribute band will perform.

-On Thursday, David Small will be presenting his adult graphic memoir “Stitches” at 7:00. All event information can be found at the Book Beat.

Bestseller Lists

New York Times

Publishers Weekly

Indie Bestsellers

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Book Review - The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini

*This review contains spoilers. Come to think of it, practically all of my reviews do.*

Even I–who usually tries to steer clear of the groupthink of bestseller lists and the like–was vaguely familiar with Hosseini and his book The Kite Runner. Its major selling point for me was that it was about Afghanistan, a country I know little about except that which is fed to us via news services. Apparently this book has sold over 10 million copies, and that doesn’t include me, as I bought The Kite Runner secondhand. Hosseini has written one subsequent novel, A Thousand Splendid Suns, which I am now fairly eager to read.

The Kite Runner opens in Kabul in the 1960s, and we are introduced to an all-male family setup consisting of the patriarch Baba, his young son Amir (the novel’s narrator), adult servant Ali, and his young son Hassan. Amir’s mother died in childbirth and Hassan’s ran away shortly after his birth, so there are no women present. The opening section details the fairly idyllic life of Amir in 1960s Kabul, which I was surprised to find was nothing like the Kabul of more recent times. It seems that for the wealthy at least, Afghanistan was a pleasant place to live as late as 50 years ago. This is one of the great joys of reading for me–to discover people, places and times I had not known existed, to read history brought to life in narrative form. This is where The Kite Runner excels, for Hosseini creates a vivid picture of that time and place.

The story mainly concerns the exploits of Amir and Hassan, who are so close as to be virtually brothers, with one important difference: Amir is a Pashtun and Hassan a Hazara. I had heard the word Pashtun before but couldn’t have told you what it referred to, so herein lies the other great power of narrative fiction: it can be educational. Basically, the Pashtuns are Sunni Muslims and the Hazaras Shi’a, but in Afghanistan it appears that the Pashtuns are very much in command, and the Hazaras a despised underclass. That’s the limit of my current understanding on the matter. As a short aside, I question the value of organised religion (be it Islam, Christianity or whatever) if it can create such divides between people (Sunnis and Shias, Catholics and Protestants) that it becomes possible to butcher the other group in the name of God.  But I digress. Amir and Hassan have a great love for each other, but as we discover, it is more sacrifice on the part of the Hazara boy, and more demand on the part of the Pashtun. Here the author creates a useful microcosm of the wider issue.

This is a book with an epic sweep that is actually quite old-fashioned. It reminded me of the novels of John Irving and writers of his ilk (and era). There are no postmodern conundrums here. The book covers nearly thirty years in time, and charts the demise of the more modern Afghanistan at the hands of various aggressors: first reformists, then the Soviets, then the Northern Alliance, and finally the Taliban. Some of this is brought to life quite spectacularly. In a memorable scene where Baba and his son flee Kabul, they are forced to hide inside a petrol tanker along with many others. One boy dies as a result of the fumes, and his father shoots himself in the head in despair. I’ve missed out one of the most important scenes in the book, where Amir and Hassan win a kite-flying contest that gives the book its name, but you can read that for yourself.

The middle section of the book is possibly the weakest, as it is set in America and covers about twenty years in little more than 100 pages. The main focus here is the slow demise of Baba, Amir’s father. While it is true that Baba comes to life in this section, there is little else of interest here and the fleamarkets of San Fernando’s Afghan community aren’t quite as interesting as the events occurring in the mother country at the same time. Baba dies, Amir grows up and marries an Afghan woman called Soraya, and they try to have children. And fail. Amir becomes a mediocre writer, and now I know why I am reminded of John Irving here! The situation is a little like that in The World According to Garp. Quite similar, in fact. There it is: Hosseini has replicated a mode of writing that flourished in the US in the 60s and 70s, with spectacular (for him) success.

I found the final section quite riveting but somewhat predictable. Amir grows comfortable in his life in the US, forgetting all about his friend Hassan whom he left more than 20 years before. But when an old family friend summons him to Pakistan in June 2001, it all comes flooding back. One of the interesting things about this book is that the narrator, Amir, is something of a coward, and his self-loathing is in itself loathsome. At least, I found it so. What we get here is a heartfelt but cliched quest for redemption, in which Amir must right the wrongs of his childhood, where he allowed Hassan to be brutally raped by a local bully by the name of Assef. Hassan has died at the hands of the Taliban, but his eight year old son Sohrab still lives, albeit barely, in Kabul.

I won’t go through all the details of this, but suffice to say that it became blatantly obvious to me that Sohrab would be adopted by the childless Amir and Soraya at least 100 pages before it played out. The ins and outs of how this comes to pass are, admittedly, quite interesting, but in another cruel twist, Amir must confront the very same Assef that raped his friend Hassan to win the boy’s freedom. And the son himself commits an act in Amir’s defence that mirrors something his father almost did decades before. It’s warm, it’s heartfelt, but it’s all awfully convenient for the plot’s arc. To be sure, the novel’s conclusion does not play out in stereotypical fashion, and there is no glossing over the ongoing problems for all concerned, but at the heart of this novel there is an antiquated structure: a quest for redemption in which fate (or God?) appears to be pulling at the actors’ strings (but of course it’s just Hosseini).

I can see why this novel has sold 10 million copies. It’s essentially a feel good novel, despite some very graphic content. And its also very safe politically in its pro-America, anti-Taliban rhetoric. This is not to say that I have anything nice to say about the Taliban, but simply that this book appeared at a time when the tension between Americans and Afghans would have been at its zenith, and that this novel placates and soothes the reader. Everything, it seems to be saying, will work out in the end. Somehow, sometime, it will work out.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Book Review - <em>Unseen Academicals</em>

Ignore the 'look inside' thing.

To say Terry Pratchett is a literary genius is, if I may quote from Neil Gaiman, like saying Jupiter is larger than a duck. It’s true, but it’s so much more than that. Unseen Academicals is further proof of this.

Football (soccer to us heathen Americans), has been banned in Ankh-Morpork and now, for several reasons, the Patrician is lifting the ban, but insisting that the game should be played within rules. That alone has potential for a good book, but when you add in an insecure goblin with issues, two Archchancellors, a refined vampire, and a pack of football hooligans, you get something unique and fascinating.

The book has all the fast humor and intelligence that you’ve come to expect with Discworld novels. There’s quite a bit more musing on religion than one usually sees, but that’s prefectly fine with me.

I have the feeling this is one of those books that’s going to become a favorite of mine. It’s certainly one I’m going to have to read through more than once to make sure I get all the nuance. But you know what? I’ll take reading any Pratchett book more than once over reading most fantasy even one time!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

October Newsletter

Hi Everyone

Hope you all had a great September, ours was lovely, Amelia and I spent a lot of time on the common collecting conkers, acorns and leaves. Our flat is littered with them which is just as well as it doesn’t look like we’ll be bringing any back this week – what a lot of rain!

This month from Barefoot Books London:

New Releases (apologies no pictures I can’t make them work this month!)

The most recent release from Barefoot Books celebrates Autumn and the Harvest Season.
Driving my Tractor has been reviewed on the Barefoot Books Website:

“This is a must-have early years picture book. It travels through the seasons with illustrations that show the farming year. It includes a section on farm machinery. You’ll learn about the land and where food comes from. From one who grows her own food, sells avocados at our local farmer’s market, and sells Barefoot Books, I highly recommend this one to you!” ~ review by LadyD

It’s in Hardback and come with a Sing-along CD, song by Mark Collins (who also song the Port Side Pirates song). It combines farmyard animals with simple counting skills and is guaranteed to keep any early reader entertained.

Also in Hardback are Starlight Sailor and Winter Shadow.

Starlight Sailor tells the story of a young boy and his dog who set sail to distant lands in the enchanting dream landscape, where singing mermaids, majestic whales and flying dragons are brought to life. (suitable for ages 2-6).

Winter Shadow is only the second chapter book published by Barefoot Books and describes a young girl’s friendship with a wolf cub. It explores the delicate balance between humans and nature, and between the individual and community. (suitable for ages 8 and upwards).
October Sale
We have several books in the sale this month. Click here to see them all.

Other Special Offers This Month

We’re pleased to be able to offer FREE POSTAGE AND PACKING again this month from 9th October until 31st October (if you spend at least £20). ALSO, between 9th October and 12th October, if you make an order through you will also receive 20% discount as well as free postage and packing – the perfect opportunity to start your Christmas shopping!

Events This Month

Saturday 17th October – Autumn Fair at St Dionisis Hall, Parsons Green, London 1-4pm
Would you be interested in having a Barefoot Books party in the run up to Christmas? It’s a nice way to get friends together and get some free books for your trouble. Drop me a line if you’re interested.

Opportunities to Become a Barefoot Ambassador

If anyone is interested in doing what I do and becoming a Barefoot Ambassador, please do not hesitate to email me and ask for details. It’s really easy – no stress, no pressure and lots of fun!

Enjoy the rest of the month.

Take care

Angeline and Amelia

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


As you’ve seen in previous posts, my current project is PAYA: Bringing (More) YA to PA. I’d like to provide an incentive for ALL of my blog readers to go over and check the site out so I’m offering up THREE swag packs to readers using the following point system. Everyone who’s received my swag packs before know that they’re getting a great deal. So here’s how to enter:

+1 Check out the PAYA site.

+1 Tweet about the site

+2 Put the button (at the bottom of the site) in your sidebar

+1 for every person you send an email to about PAYA. (CC me – you can send one bulk email and you’ll get an entry per addy)

+5 for bidding on any of the auctions.

Contest ends October 17th.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Prayer to Our Father: Hebrew Origins of the Lord's Prayer

By Nehemia Gordon & Keith Johnson

I, like other reviewers of this book have noted, found the concept behind this journey to be one of the more intriguing component of this study of the Lord’s Prayer. Far too few attempts have been made to journey with a Jewish brother through our shared testament and, especially, the New. Most Christian studies, I would presume, that involve some form of reflection and etiology would be executed with preconceived notions derived from the perspective of a person coming from that faith tradition. Now, there’s nothing wrong with this approach. It is understandable to undertake, as a Christian, a study of the Jewish heritage and words with the intent to arrive at a new-found conclusion by studying the context of the literature; however, the basic premise of this book, that two individuals from different faith traditions who cherish a similar sacred text could enthusiastically and collaboratively study the components of one tradition derived from the other and the contexts that inform that tradition, is refreshing. Their journey together through the Hebrew texts surrounding the Lord’s Prayer was informative, especially for a Jewish history and Israeli geography novice, such as me.
What was simultaneously interesting by way of random archeological facts and somewhat boring by way of the flow of the book was the first half of this book. While it does lay a sort of frame work for the second half of the book, so much more time could and should have been dedicated to a discussion around some of the findings and their implications, socially, historically and religiously. The story does carry a sort of adventure feel to it which could have made for great fiction but detracted from the theological robustness of this book.
Knowing that the “implications” of the findings would be different for each author, I can understand why the majority of these findings were discussed in somewhat vague, Abrahamic-faith tradition language. And, don’t get me wrong, this is not a bad thing. More conversations need to take place regarding the shared tradition and similarities between the traditions in order to promote interfaith peace and cooperation as we achieve God’s calling. But, as a Christian looking for more insight about the Lord’s Prayer and what that means for my life, I found myself not entirely motivated by the amount of time dedicated to research, discovery and shared experience and implications.
That being said, the last 90 pages of this book offered almost tidbits of theology which both piqued my curiosity and whet my appetite. The breakdown of every line in the Lord’s Prayer and spending an adequate amount of time discussing both the Hebrew text and the contexts in which they were written provided new insight to this reader. And, while each section revealed something new to me, the part and analysis of that prayer that most grabbed me and, I think, has the most devastating effect on many contemporary theologies while also being inspirational and excited is “Your Will Shall Be Done on Heaven and on Earth.”
Although disappointing that only a few pages were dedicated to this section, the addition of the word “shall” (an appropriate addition that was not included in the Greek version) is extremely significant. Nehemia discusses the implications:
“While the Greek version of the Avinu Prayer contains a call to action to do God’s will, the Hebrew contains a statement of fact: ‘Your will shall be done in heaven and on earth.’ (128-129)
While I am not sure that what follows this statement throughout the rest of the chapter about what this change means is entirely new nor incredibly insightful (e.g. “These Hebrew words…express the idea that our heavenly father is all-powerful” (129)), to me this change is of monumental importance.
When a Christian reads this change and hears the words of Jesus time and time again throughout the New Testament that “the Kingdom of God is upon you” and that it is now, not set in some ephemeral plane sometime after we die, it should inspire. As people suffer under in the Kingdom of Man, to know that God wants us to enact the Kingdom of God here and now on this earth should provide fresh motivation. It should spur the believer to decisive action and announce the Gospel as the good news to the poor, the sick, the homeless, the hungry, the orphan and the oppressed. For, as the Hebrew rendition of this prayer suggests, God’s will shall be done on earth. As Christians, it is our responsibility to make that happen.
At the end, while the book’s conclusion makes sense structurally (with a resounding “Amen” chapter), I found myself left hanging, confused that this brief journey was over. I was hoping for more substance. And, again, while the journey of two men from two different faith traditions was unique and interesting, personally, I would be interested in Mr. Johnson expanding on his findings, shedding more light to the implications this Hebrew prayer may offer to a Christian in a supplemental sequel. All in all, as a light, well-written book, it’s worth reading.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Genes, Categories and Species, by Jody Hey

Spea bombifrons, Spadefoot toad

How do scientists know if an organism is one species or another, and how do they know whether a critter is a sub-species? In short, what defines a species? I started asking scientists at the Florida Museum of Natural History about this when I worked there as a staff science writer. Many researchers would come back from survey trips with what they said were species new to science, or paleontologists would come back from digs with bits of fossil bone that they said also represented new species. In the beginning, I passively accepted their assertions, making careful notes of what features distinguished this newly discovered organism from its close relatives. Then I began to wonder about the boundaries that separate species.

My questions lingered for a time, and were piqued again by two events: writing an article about research showing that two species of spadefoot toads will hybridize under specific environmental and nutritional conditions (pg. 12 in this linked magazine); and researching evidence of hybridization events between eastern Canadian wolves and coyotes.  When I peppered him with questions about what defines a species, a scientist friend suggested that I read “Genes, Categories and Species: the evolutionary and cognitive causes of the species problem,” by Jody Hey, an evolutionary geneticist at Rutgers University. {1}  My friend said it was the clearest and most thorough treatment of the species problem he’d ever read. It took me about 18 months to follow up on his advice, but I recently finished Hey’s book. Before I go further, I should remind readers that I myself am not a scientist. I am simply a writer who chooses to focus on science topics (though I do have some scientific background), and I have a particular affinity for learning about the diversity of life — past and present.

Hey’s discussion is an elaborate one. He aims the book to both knowledgeable lay readers and academics, so it spans a wide audience. The purpose is not, as he states on pg. 103, to define what species are so much as to explore why we have such “difficulty with the word.”  He introduces the species problem by stating,”The species problem is the long-standing failure of biologists to agree on how we should identify species and how we should define the word ’species.’ ” In practice, most species definitions do not work when applied across all the taxonomic kingdoms. What describes accurately species in one group can fail to describe species of another group. Oddly, for a book on species, the text lacks many concrete examples. It is, for the most part, a book about theory, abstraction and cognition. As someone who loves learning about the natural world, I was often left straining to apply Hey’s concepts to a real example. How does this work in frogs, or ants, or bacteria, or leopards, or fossils, I wanted to know.

But nevertheless, I learned a lot from this text. In fact, I’m still going back and reading sections to fully digest them. It is human nature to want to draw tight little boundaries around organisms to delineate where one species ends and another begins, but this often does not work in practice. SPECIES are the most basal grouping of organisms in a taxonomic ranking. (Hey capitalizes SPECIES when discussing the concept of what species are, to differentiate from times where he is discussing an actual organismal category or a specific species.) As much clarity as SPECIES bring for classifying organisms on their evolutionary journey, SPECIES also bring many points of consternation. The “species problem” rears its head when evidence is found that what was thought to be one species are really two closely-related but different species, when a new organism is found that scientists believe to be a new species (why exactly is it new? what exactly separates it from its relatives?) or when two species that were thought to be separate are found to be able to interbreed and have viable offspring. The act of breeding itself turns out to be a quite fallible idea for categorizing species — what to do with organisms that don’t breed, but swap bits of genetic code instead, as some bacteria do, often times crossing that elusive barrier that we thought separated different “species”? Or what to do with wide-ranging species, such as wolves, that have extreme regional variations at opposing ends of their ranges? Is the Arctic wolf in Canada truly a separate species than the Mexican wolf that once ranged through the Sonora desert in Mexico — we call them separate species, but technically they could interbreed. Reproductive capability forms the core of the Biological Species Concept, which is one of the most widely accepted species concepts; and yet despite its failure to explain all species, and particularly when to identify new species and how to address hybridizations that occur in wild nature, it may be the closest thing we have to an all-encompassing definition. Still, it is full of holes and is not entirely operational.

One of the more intriguing aspects of Hey’s book is his idea that our language, and the way we think of “categories,” has contributed to the problem of SPECIES.  He explore this idea in Part II of the book, “Species Within Nature and Within the Mind.”  At the beginning of  this section he writes:

Now we turn to focus more explicitly on language and the way that language corresponds to reality. People use language to further a seemingly endless variety of goals, but is it an inherently reliable tool for building a model of the larger world?

It is an intriguing question, and he probes it by looking at the history of how people have devised and applied categories to describe reality. This leads to a rather philosophical examination of nominalist and realist views. But Hey drives home the relevance by stating that it is necessary for biologists to consider categories of organisms as philosophical categories, and species as the quintessential category. He asserts that categories exist primarily in people’s minds as an organizational tool, and that our minds “draw upon idealized representatives” to form and hold categories. As such, categories are necessary for our own conception of how to organize and classify organisms, but even though they are necessary we have to also recognize that they limit our understanding of what species are in nature, and how they change across time as they are exposed to evolutionary pressures. As taxing as this chapter was to read, it had the effect of freeing up my thinking about how scientists think about species. If that’s not Meta, I don’t know what is.

Hey does a good job of sorting through different species concepts and presenting the logic that underpins each, or where the theory described in one concept falls short of observed reality. For example, there are all sorts of “fuzzy species,” as Hey terms them, that defy one given definition or another. Even more frustrating for those who would have a single definition, simple classification takes on a whole new twist when the dimension of geologic time is added. Now, it’s not just a matter of trying to delineate lines between the species we can collect and observe today, it’s also a matter of drawing lines in the past as to when one species became another or branched off into a different lineage. In short, getting at the evolutionary processes that create  and maintain species adds a complicating layer to trying to fit species into tightly bounded categories, or within single definitions. The act of conceiving of SPECIES as organisms that can be described by their physical characteristics, their diet, behavior and range — even their genetic code — is quite a different concept than conceiving of species as  the basic unit of an evolving population. In the first concept, SPECIES are somewhat static and discrete; in the second,  SPECIES are continuous and dynamic. If species are viewed as continuous, it becomes much more difficult to draw a line in the sand between “fuzzy species” to delineate a parent species from a newer, different species.This really gets at the crux of the species problem, as Hey sees it: the dual conflict between biologists to describe and identify species versus the role of systematists to get at the evolutionary relationship of categorized species. In the first, there is implied stasis; but the second demands a dynamic perspective.

One of the more difficult chapters for me to read came in Part II and dealt with species as evolutionary groups. Whereas most  discussions about evolutionary groups are cast in terms of species and species diversity, Hey frames his discussion in term of molecular replicators (DNA specifically). When I read, my mind works cinematically — words on the page are converted to pictures on a movie screen — and so it was difficult to get a good mental picture of how molecular replicators related to an evolutionary group. One way of thinking about this is that you can look at evolutionary groups at a molecular level (an organism’s DNA), or at the phenotypic level (the species). I found myself struggling a bit to keep up with the abstraction of “DNA replicators” in lieu of “species” but after a chapter or so it came more naturally. Hey wrote that the potential for species to change occurs at the molecular tips of phylogenetic trees based upon selections for and against DNA replicators under limited conditions. I’m familiar enough with evolutionary trees, but I’ve never before conceived of them at the fine-resolution scale of the DNA at their very tips.  One inference you can make from this is that phylogenetic trees are not static, in the sense of speciation, and that if change is going to happen, the mechanism of natural selection occurs at an organism’s molecular level. In this way, species may be the smallest unit within an evolving population, but natural selection works at the molecular level within individuals of that group. He discusses the roles of genetic drift, geographic isolation, recombination and the  emergence of barriers between species to get at how different mechanisms can lead to phylogenetic branching.

One of the more interesting abstract ideas in Hey’s book dealt with the role of nested hierarchies within taxon, and the idea that patterns in biodiversity may be fractal. He wrote:

One common view is that the SPECIES category should hold only basal taxa. Another common and closely related view is that species are terminal taxa, meaning that they lie at the tips of evolutionary trees that are used to connect species. But if the hierarchical patterns of biodiversity are actually fractal in nature, then there may not exist patterns that could be used to devise a truly basal taxon, or a truly terminal tree tip. If biodiversity is fractal, then we would expect that one could always find a finer pattern within a pattern, a smaller group within a group, except in the not very useful limit wherein basal taxa include just one organism.

This statement perplexed me to the point that I read it and re-read it. I couldn’t help but think about regional variations in species, haplotypes, hybrids, virus strains, and other sorts of classifying characteristics that parse species groups (evolutionary groups) into smaller and smaller sub-categories. What if biodiversity is fractal? How do you ever come to a point where you can quantify what species are? This is really important, because quantitative science is about counting and measuring: recording how many of something exists, how frequently something occurs, and how much something eats or excretes. And so it is with species, biologists like to be able to count them too. But herein lies another perplexing characteristic of species in that they can be really hard to count. Not because they are hard to find, but because they are hard to classify with crisp edges. And one of the things that makes those edges less crisp, according to Hey, is recombination. He explores the idea of recombination acting together with isolation by distance, competition and genetic drift to reinforce hierarchically nested evolutionary groups that often have fuzzy boundaries.

In Part III, Hey explores how sub-divisions within biology deal with the species problem in their profession, whether it be people who study phylogenetics, sytematics or evolutionary biology.  He concludes on a hopeful note, remarking that while there is still much confusion over what SPECIES are, there has also been a lot of improvement in how biologists think of SPECIES. Hey writes:

I think the reason for our monism* is that the bulk of our usage of SPECIES is not motivated by an understanding of the processes that cause species. Rather, it is caused by the way we construct categories or organisms, and thus it is ultimately motivated by recurrence among organism. [*Monism being the idea that there is, or should be, just one kind of species.]

This is a nicely crafted way of getting at the idea of species as organisms that we recognize with similar attributes (something that fits nicely with how we conceive of categories) versus understanding the evolutionary processes that create and maintain species across time and space. And this also gets to the problem of why systematists have problems matching species up with categories of evolutionary groups.

Scientists like Hey have expended a tremendous amount of energy trying to understand what species are. Hey concludes that one definition is not be tenable, in part because our minds are somewhat limited in how we conceive of species, versus what they are in reality, and also because we not only want species to describe similar groups or organisms, we want species to explain evolutionary groups and how they change through time. he asserts that they can not do both. It’s not a conclusion that he came to easily. In fact, it took him 193 pages to argue why a single definition is impractical, and why a definition can not serve both ends. I learned a lot from this book, and while I would not recommend it for the faint of heart, I would recommend it for those with a scientific background or a serious commitment to learning about how species are defined and why it is so difficult to draw firm lines around their fuzzy edges.

If any biologists or systematists read this post and have additional thoughts on the species problem, or species concepts, please share them. Your comments are welcome here, especially if they increase my knowledge on this subject.

{1}Hey, Jody. 2001. Genes, Categories and Species: the evolutionary and cognitive causes of the species problem. Oxford University Press, Inc. New York, N.Y.

{2} Visit Dr. Hey’s online resource: The Species Problem which includes links to relevant peer-reviewed publications, some more recent than his book.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

PAYA October Book Drive

I know I *just* posted about PAYA yesterday but today we posted our first book drive.  But, to me, this is a super-special book drive because it’s for my very own library. I can honestly vouch and say that this library needs every book and dollar it can get its hands on. So if you happen to have one of the books on the list or have a few extra dollars to spare (remember, everyone who donates $10+, gets a swag pack), it’d be going to a really good cause!

Daniel (WBC) - John Goldingay

I recently finished reading this commentary for my PhD seminar on the prophetic literature. The commentary is technical in the sense that the reader should know biblical Hebrew (and maybe Aramaic) while reading it, but he/she can still engage the work without it as well. The Word Biblical Commentary series breaks up each section (or, chapter) into four parts: Form, Setting, Comments, Explanation. One strength of Goldingay’s commentary lies in the “explanation” section, even though it is somewhat redundant in following the “comments.” There, he thinks through the text theologically and expounds on the material in light of God’s unfolding revelation. The problem is that this is Goldingay’s only strength. Sure, one might gain insights from Goldingay on Daniel’s language, how other non-canonical writers were influenced by Daniel, or even Daniel’s use of the OT, but observations like these are few and far between. Goldingay, rather, thinks that chapters 1-6 are allegorical “historiography” (and thus not actual history), that Daniel was not an historical person, and that the book should be dated during the Maccabean era (c. 168 BC) instead of during the time of the Israelite exile (605-538 BC, as the book itself attests). This dating leads Goldingay to interpret Daniel through the lens of secondary Jewish literature rather than in the context of the Bible, which I believe to be a serious flaw. Furthermore, the meaning of the text is lost in oodles of material on the book’s form, some of which is helpful, to be sure, but liberal to say the least.

In the end, I wouldn’t recommend this commentary for pastors since it lacks that sort of quality. Perhaps students of the OT or of intertestamental literature may benefit, but the commentary is lacking theologically, and Goldingay particularly avoids interaction with conservative approaches. It’s also dated (1989). I haven’t read Steinmann or Lucas yet, but at this point I’m still partial to Baldwin, which is also dated and very short.

Friday, October 2, 2009

An Old Fashioned Girl (Louisa May Alcott)

(I couldn’t find a cover) This slim volume is about Polly, a girl from the country who goes to visit her cousins in the city. Having grown up with a poor but happy family, she is shocked by the ennui that characterizes her cousins’ lives, and in her own honest way, she is able to bring some happy changes to their family, even if it’s for a brief time. The book then stops and resumes six years later, with an older and more mature Polly, who comes to the city this time to make her own living as a piano teacher. At times she looks longingly on the easy and glamorous life, but comes to take heart in satisfaction of a simple life.

As a young college girl who doesn’t know her vocation yet (in the most Milton-y sense of the word, of course), I often read Louisa May Alcott and sigh a sigh of relief along with Polly. Alcott’s books are little bits of encouragement to those trying, day by day, to struggle with their character in the midst of growing up. Though we’re a century removed from them, their struggles to make their own honest way in the world really resonates. Who hasn’t sighed wistfully when things got hard or when we had to take the shoes off of our wear feet at the end of the day, wondering when it will get easier or when we can be more carefree?

Polly is really about this, then: surrendering a heart that desires an easy and comfortable life for the duress of hard work and discipline required to make a strong woman. It’s interesting to see how the standards of womanhood have changed. If somebody wrote this book now it probably wouldn’t be published. It would be criticized as antiquated, antifeminist, moralizing, restrictive, overly didactic… yet there’s something in it that speaks. In the title, there’s a nostalgia not just for childhood, but for a simpler time and a clearer purpose.