Sunday, January 31, 2010

February Titles Ready for Release

It’s hard to believe we are already talking February, however, this month’s titles slated for release hold quite the variety. Below is an abbreviated list of books hitting your bookstore shelves this month (for more see links below).

February 1:  Worst Case by James Patterson

February 1:  Kitchen Chinese:  A Novel About Food, Family, and Finding Yourself by Ann Mah

February 1: Pulitzer:  A Life in Politics, Print, and Power by James Mcgrath Morris

February 1:  Devotion:  A Memoir by Dani Shapiro

February 1:  The Hungry Season by T. Greenwood

February 1:  Conspirata by Robert Harris

February 2:  Point Omega by Don DeLillo

February 2:  Secrets of Eden by Chris Bohjalian

February 2:  Shadow Tag by Louise Erdich

February 2:  Spirited:  Connect to the Guides All Around You by Rebecca Rosen

February 2:  Mornings in Jenin: A Novel by Susan Abulhawa

February 4:  Yalta:  The Price of Peace by Serhil Plokhy

February 4:  The Last Song by Nicholas Sparks

February 9:  Black Hearts:  One Platoon’s Descent into Madness in Iraq’s Triangle of Death by Jim Frederick

February 9:  Brava, Valentine by Adriana Trigiani

February 9:  The Bread of Angels:  A Journey to Love and Faith by Stephanie Saldana

February 9:  The Midnight House by Alex Berenson

February 9:  The Postmistress by Sara Blake

February 9:  A Dark Matter by Peter Straub

February 9:  Union Atlantic by Adam Haslett

February 9:  Willie Mays:  The Life, The Legend by James S. Hirsch

February 10: The Wife’s Tale by Lori Lansens

February 16: Horns by Joe Hill

February 16:  Ruby’s Spoon: A Novel by Anna Lawrence Pietroni

February 16:  The Man From Beijing by Henning Mankell

February 23:  A Big Girl by Danielle Steel

February 23:  The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

February 23:  The Infinities by John Banville

Movie Adaptations Appearing on the Big Screen

Shutter Island: Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Emily Mortimer, and Mark Ruffalo, and directed by Martin Scorcese. This movie is based on the novel by Dennis Lehane.

Percy Jackson & The Olympians:  The Lightning Thief:  Starring Logan Lerman, Kevin McKidd, and Steve Coogan, and directed by Chris Columbus. This movie is based on the the book (young adult) by Rick Riordan.

*Support your local bookstores and universities. It matters!

-Post by Megan Shaffer

Full February release lists

BookBrowse (for members)

Barnes and Noble Coming Soon New Releases


At Long Last, to the Lighthouse

“To the Lighthouse” by Virginia Woolf

I approached “To the Lighthouse” and Virginia Woolf with much trepidation, having put off reading this book for many years.  “Mrs. Dalloway” I read a long time ago and did not get into it much at the time.  Then I read some critic complaining of the difficulty of following Woolf’s stream of consciousness technique.  I needed no further excuses to avoid reading this book.  But, now, spurred on by high praise for “To the Lighthouse” by Hungry Like the Woolf and others, I decided it was high time I read this book.

I am happy to report that I was able to completely get into the spirit and rhythm of “To the Lighthouse”, and enjoyed it immensely.   I had to re-read the first thirty pages, but this re-reading allowed me to read the entire novel with enjoyment.

The novel is about Mr. and Mrs. Ramsay, their eight children, and their several houseguests staying at the Ramsay summer place in the Isle of Skye which is in the Hebrides Islands which are located north and west of Scotland.  The first section of the novel, ‘The Window’, is about one idyllic summer day before World War I.  Cars were still a rarity, and there were no radios or TVs.    The entertainments are going for walks or strolls, fishing or swimming in the plentiful waters, painting, or reading.   Mr. Ramsay is an esteemed academic who somewhat enjoys throwing cold water on his family’s plans to visit the lighthouse the next day by accurately pointing out the impending storm.  But the real center of the family is Mrs. Ramsay, mother incarnate.  A good mother, she is continually thinking about all eight of her children, most especially the youngest, James and Cam.  She is always encouraging others to marry and have families so they can be as happy as she is with her family. Mrs. Ramsay can encourage a young man, just by looking at him a certain way, to propose to the young woman he’s been talking to and walking with.  .  Everyone is enchanted with Mrs. Ramsay’s beauty, and the young woman houseguest, Lily Briscoe, is trying to capture Mrs. Ramsay’s essence in a painting.  The painting is not a realistic representation; it consists of blocks of color, of light, of darkness.

The summer idyll of the first section culminates in a spectacular family dinner, where we the readers are gracefully transported into the minds of each family member and all of the houseguests by Woolf’s stream of consciousness technique.  It is a technique she uses to help the readers to get deeper into all of the characters’ mindsets at the same time.  Here is a quote from “To the Lighthouse” which sums up the stream of consciousness technique.

    “At any rate they (the dinner guests) were off again.  Now she need not listen.  It could not last, she knew, but at the moment her thoughts were so clear that they seemed to go around the table unveiling each of these people, and their thoughts and their feelings, without effort like a light stealing under water so that it ripples and the reeds in it and the minnows balancing themselves, and the sudden silent trout are all lit up hanging, trembling.”

But all idylls end, and in section two ‘Time Passes’ the Ramsays can no longer visit their summer place, because World War I intrudes.  For several years, the summer house is empty except for the old housekeeper who tries to maintain the large house as best she can.  Some of the Ramsay family members don’t make it to the third section of the novel, because they pass away due to various causes.

Finally in the last section, ‘The Lighthouse’, which takes place nearly ten years after that first day, some of the remnants of the family finally make it to the lighthouse.   Lily Briscoe has returned to the Ramsay summer place to finish the painting she started ten years ago.   But all has changed; the idyll is over.

Somewhere I recently read that “To the Lighthouse” is not really a novel; it is more of a prose poem.  That may be true, but what a transcendent prose poem it is.  I’m quite sure ‘Novel’ is happy to have “To the Lighthouse” in its fold.


Saturday, January 30, 2010

The Romantic Generation of Modern Chinese Writers

Leo Ou-fan Lee. The Romantic Generation of Modern Chinese Writers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard, 1973.

Lee’s study recounts the lives and works of a generation of writers that spans mainly the decades before and after the May Fourth Movement. In many ways it is a pleasant and satisfying read, ranging in its content from the broadest of literary and historical trends to the minutia of the writers’ personal lives. Lee emphasizes the roles of the cosmopolitan treaty-port culture and Western literature in shaping the work of this generation of writers, in a movement towards romanticism. According to Lee, this generation was deeply infused with an often-muddled interpretation of Western romantic sentimentality that came out of both foreign influences and a reaction against the stringent rituals of traditional Chinese culture. Lee bluntly explains his perception of this cultural transaction: “It may not be too far-fetched to remark that the Western craze in China represented a zestful effort to squeeze the entire nineteenth century [of Western literature] into one decade” (279).

Lee runs a bit roughshod over the biographies of a handful of representative cases in the development of Chinese romanticism, but he narrates some memorable tales, from the time of the early unabashed acknowledgement of sentimentality by Lin Shu in his selection of works to translate, finally to Mao�s repression of romantic individualism. In Lee’s model, a group of naïve young men in between these moments attempts to graft literary romanticism onto Chinese traditional culture, finding in the latter “sentimental strains” (292). But even before Mao’s crackdown the experiment had shown signs of withering in Lee’s view as a result of “prejudiced and often erroneous interpretations” of the great Western traditions (239). Lee’s work is a rich source, which serves as an intimate introduction to some of the individuals who took part in the early literary institutions and movements of this period. He uses the publications, diaries, and correspondences to explain the anxieties of these writers who lived and worked in a what they perceived to be a barbaric world, bringing to bear his own excellent understanding of the historical moment.

But Lee’s final analysis is too narrow in its assessment of this handful of writers for him to claim relevance beyond the individuals themselves; it is after all the entire generation of writers that he claims this group represents. To emphasize the two influences of a foreign education and a claustrophobic reaction to emotional restrictions of tradition is to ignore the contemporary sociopolitical environment away from which these writers so dramatically turned their attention. Canton, the site of much political action, only appears momentarily in Lee’s narrative, mainly for the purpose of explaining that it was not a fertile environment for these romantic poets, memoirists, and novelists. Surely in Lee’s masterful understanding of the historical moment out of which these artists emerged he understands the urgency of the social crisis of nationalism that swept through the intellectual world. He loses some credibility from this reader with lines like, “Hsü [Chih-mo] was too involved with his new wife to hear the guns of war” (154). What then explains the characterization of a “philistine” or “barbarous” environment against which Lee acknowledges that the bulk of the romantic writings of Hsü and others were produced?

The narrative he chooses for contextualization is clearly not that of warlordism, national unification, and political turmoil, and it is obviously not Lee’s goal to give a clearer explanation of political and military maneuvering in this period. But even on his terms, in his explanation of this “literary scene” he assumes that he can turn down the volume of war in favor of recounting the details of an education spent lounging on the “backs’ of Cambridge and the intricacies of Japanese brothels.” But why were these writers at foreign universities, and why were they in the arms of Japanese prostitutes? The turmoil out of which these writers emerged, the violence from which they attempted to escape or against which they wrote with irony and satire, are perhaps considered to be “givens” in Lee’s analysis. But this is not effectively articulated, and the result is the privileging of treaty-port culture and Western influences as determining factors in the lives of his characters. Feelings of malaise, hypochondria, anxiety, or superfluity experienced by Lee’s writers were character traits not simply brought on by the puritanical traditionalism of Chinese culture converging with the vital modernity of the West; but rather, by their own words in this volume, they were caused by the urgency that nationalist intellectuals perceived in the disintegration of a coherent governing structure and strong, unified national polity. But as Lee points out, they indeed sometimes chose to vent their anxieties in the tradition of some Western sentimentalists of the nineteenth century.

Jeremy Murray

© Copyright 2005. All rights reserved.

[Find it on Amazon]


Thursday, January 28, 2010

January CSFF Blog Tour Day 2: North! Or Be Eaten, by Andrew Peterson

As you read this, I’m probably driving (North!) along a rain-spattered highway from Seattle to Vancouver, B.C., where I’ll be participating in the launch event for The Best of Every Day Fiction Two anthology, which includes one of my short stories.

Enough about me…you’re here for North! Or Be Eaten.

Today, I’m going to focus on the websites for the Wingfeather Saga (of which North! Or Be Eaten is the second volume), and the author. So, read on…Or Be Eaten.

The Wingfeather Saga Online

This website provides a nice introduction and a point of contact between Peterson and his readers. The home page is a newsblog of events, trivia, and other items of interest related to the books. Sub-pages include:

  • Welcome – A brief introduction to the series.
  • Books – Cover images and links to purchase
  • Creaturepedia – A compendium of strange beasts featured in the books, with illustrations by Andrew Peterson and Justin Gerard. I must confess I found the Toothy Cow a little underwhelming–sort of a Jersey/St. Bernard crossbreed with all of the drooling and none of the charm. I expect they’re scarier in the stories.
  • Encyclopedia – A list of people, places, and things from the books.
  • Maps – Cartography of the world of Aerwiar, where the story is set.
  • Art by YOU – Very cool. Peterson posts drawings from young fans of the Wingfeather Saga.
  • Guestbook – A place to check in and leave comments.
  • A Note to Parents – Peterson provides a brief explanation of who he is and what he’s about with these books. Anybody wondering whether he’s a Christian author and/or if he intended to include Christian themes in his stories should find their questions answered here.

Andrew Peterson’s Author Website

Andrew Peterson has a lot going on, and this is where you can find out all about it. He’s an author. He’s an artist. He’s a singer/songwriter. He has a band–a real one, with a record contract and a tour schedule. He won a Dove Award for his song, “Family Man.” He even wrote a few songs for VeggieTales (I’ll say it again, I want to party with this guy). He’s also created a community of like-minded creative folk called “The Rabbit Room” (more on that later). Subpages include:

  • Home – Links to everything else, plus a sign-up form for his mailing list.
  • Shows – Tour schedule for readings and concerts.
  • Bio – Just what it says.
  • Music – List of his albums, with jacket art and links to purchase.
  • Books – List of his books, with cover art and links to purchase.
  • Forum – A place to chat with Andrew Peterson and his fans.
  • Promote – Advertising boodle, including webpage banners and a free song download.
  • Contact – Information on how to get in touch with Peterson or book a concert.
  • Store – A place to purchase stuff from Peterson and his associates. If you absolutely must have a real Toothy Cow tooth, you can get it here.

The Rabbit Room

Grownups who want more insight into Andrew Peterson and his circle of friends can catch a glimpse here. Peterson founded The Rabbit Room as a gathering place for artists in search of community, “artists who believe in the power of old tales, tales as old as the earth itself, who find hope in them and beauty in the shadows and in the light and in the source of the light.”

Here you’ll find “writings and reviews by artists and appreciators of art, conversations about creation, storytelling, songwriting, and the long journey of becoming who we’re meant to be.” As he explains in his lengthy introduction to The Rabbit Room, Peterson was deeply influenced by the work and example of C.S. Lewis and the Inklings, and is trying to achieve a similar dynamic of shared inspiration.  There’s a lot of stuff here, by eleven or so different writers, musicians, and artists, and it makes for an interesting meander.

That concludes my piece of this month’s CSFF Blog Tour. I usually bring in a selection of comments from other folks on the tour for Day 3, but I don’t think I’ll be able to manage that during my road trip. You’ll get a better picture by going directly to their blogs anyhow. Please do so…Or Be Eaten.

Next month, we’ll take a journey into the land of the fey folk with R.J. Anderson’s Faery Rebels: Spell Hunter. Cheery, whimsical sprites, these are not. See you then!

Series site -
Author site –

Brandon Barr
Justin Boyer
Amy Browning
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Rebecca LuElla Miller
New Authors Fellowship
Donita K. Paul
Crista Richey
Chawna Schroeder
Andrea Schultz
James Somers
Steve and Andrew
Rachel Starr Thomson
Robert Treskillard
Jason Waguespac
Phyllis Wheeler
Elizabeth Williams
KM Wilsher


Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Across a Hundred Mountains

I have strong opinions on most political issues, however Mexican immigration is one that I hadn’t (probably still haven’t) put my finger on quite yet. Across a Hundred Mountains puts faces to this controversial topic, pulling your heartstrings every step of the way. If you have done any traveling in Mexico, you have seen the devastating poverty people live in and it it certainly not a pretty sight. I have been to three different areas in the country, including Mexico City. The city is a beautiful one, and despite the fore warnings, I found it to be not any more dangerous than any other major city I have traveled in. In fact, that trip is one of my favorites. People in Mexico are authentic. They are hardworking. They are vibrant and full of life. They are deeply religious. And most of the population lives among conditions we in the United States would call pitiful.

Our country was established by immigrants and has a rich history of migration. This melting pot has brought us the culture we enjoy so much today: music, food, clothing, literature, art, politics. Am I saying we should open the border to everyone who wants to come here? Of course not. But I believe it’s important to remember where we came from while we seek out we’re we are going. To put faces to these people in impoverished nations; read their stories both, non-fiction and fiction. And to give people hope for a better life because after all, I think that is what we all are working towards-and always have been.


Monday Book Review: them

Last year when we posted about the 60th anniversary of the National Book Awards, I was surprised at how few of the winners I had read. Since then, I read and reviewed the novella The Robber Bridegroom by Eudora Welty, and now I have finally finished and will review them, by Joyce Carol Oates, National Book Award winner in 1970.

them (note: the title is intentionally not capitalized) is a novel about 3 main characters, a mother and 2 of her children during the 3 decades following World War II and their pursuit of the American Dream. Loretta, the mother begins the novel a beautiful young teenager, full of hope for a life of fortune, leisure and happiness. Of course, if that’s was how her life went the story would barely be worth writing, and so it’s no spoiler to tell you that instead, she ends up pregnant, married to a dirty cop and living in her in-laws house until her husband gets in trouble and they all move out to the country. The cop-husband leaves them all to fight in the war, leaving Loretta with 2 young children and another on the way. After sometime of putting up with her in-laws, Loretta picks up all the kids and moves back to the city (Detroit) where her kids grow up as street urchins as she shuffles from one dirty apartment to another always trying to make a step up, but never quite making it. As the kids get older, their father returns, and both parents are unhappy drunks. The older 2 children, Jules and Maureen, take on more and more responsibility, while dreaming of how their futures will be so much better than their parents’. They will move out, make money, get married and have real lives. The novel continues as Jules and Maureen get older and follows their attempts to make it out of poverty, to escape their roots and to make something better of themselves. I can’t say whether or not they are successful, but when the novel ends, each of the characters is exactly where I would expect them to be.

I found this quote about Ms. Oates’ writing for this novel on the National Book Award Blog, and can’t say it better:

“Her style allows the reader to focus on story without the intrusion of unfamiliar language, so artfully done, an exercise in event, an adventure in domestic darkness.“


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Book Review: "The Voice" New Testament

“The Voice” is a New Testament translation coming from Thomas Nelson.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

This is a new translation that will eventually include the Old Testament. The translation work combines the work of scholars and artists. This translation has as its stated goal to be a work for ” a church in great transition.” What is different about this translation is they combine translation scholarship with the work of authors, musicians, and other artists to make a translation that is incredibly flowing and easy to read. They actually call it a “literary project.” The goal is to get people back into the Word of God.

The format is interesting. They will put in blocks of writing that help explain the text. It has a flow that makes it much more readable than a commentary, and it does a good job setting the context for the reader. They are also faithful to translation work, in that if they added phrases within the text that are not in the original languages, they italicized them so readers will know this is something just to help explain the text a little better.

It is also written like a movie script. Dialogue is set off by marking the person speaking at the beginning of the verse. It doesn’t really detract from the reading.

I am a translation junkie, but with our recent translation “wars” over the TNIV, ESV, etc., I was leery of looking at another translation. I was especially leery when I noticed some of the names (not translators) attached to the project. What theological damage they could have done to the text seems minimal at this point. I may discover it on another reading. The translators used are solid, in my opinion. For my own ministry, if I had this translation, it would be useful to give to people who had never read the Bible, or had a hard time getting into the story. This translation is helpful.


<em>The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible</em> by A. J. Jacobs

The Year of Living Biblically

There are Jewish Fundamentalists who believe every word in the Tanakh (the Hebrew Bible, known to Christians as the Old Testament) is the Word of G-d; and there are Christian Fundamentalists who believe that every word in the Bible (Old and New Testaments) is the Word of God; both groups hold that the Rules and Regulations that He set forth should all be followed, literally. In practice, though, the practices that the Orthodox Jews follow are from the Hebrew Bible, but modified by the rulings of thousands of rabbis for several hundred years, while the practices that Christian Fundamentalists follow from the Old and New Testaments are, in practice, modified by whatever religious body they belong to (some bodies put a lot more emphasis on Mark 16: 17-18 than others). Basically, the author of this book decided to read the Bible, to pull out of it a list of Rules to follow, and then to follow that set of Rules as literally as possible for a year. (It’s a wonderful read, no matter what your religious affiliation; the author has a wonderful sense of humor.)

The author is an editor at Esquire Magazine in New York City, married, with a toddler son at the time he began this experiment; raised in a secular family, he describes himself as ‘Jewish in the same way the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant. Which is to say: not very.’ He read the Bible cover to cover (Hebrew Bible, and New Testament) and pulled out some 700 rules and regulations set forth by God; then, after exhaustive research and assembling a consulting group of religious experts from all faiths, he began his experiment, with the less than enthusiastic support of his wife.

The most visible manifestation of his literalness was not shaving (Leviticus 19:27); the book is provided with a photo array showing how alarming his beard became in a fairly short time. He also followed Leviticus 15:19, which holds that a woman is impure and should not be touched seven days from the start of her menstrual cycle; and since you really can’t ask any given woman on the street where she is in her cycle, he refrained from touching all women unless he was 100% sure they were not ‘impure’. Since anything that such a woman sits on is also impure, he took to carrying a HandyCane with him (the cane that folds out into a little seat on a tripod) to sit on in public, as you can’t be sure about the purity of a given subway seat that might have been sat upon by a woman who was ‘impure’.

In the course of his year (during which he and his wife did in vitro fertilization, and in due time were presented with twin boys), he also took field trips to Lancaster, Pennsylvania (to meet Amish), to Cincinnati, Ohio (to see the Creation Museum and to talk to creationists), to Crown Heights, Brooklyn (stronghold of the Hasidim), to Lynchburg, Virginia (home of Thomas Road Baptist Church, the megachurch headed (at the time) by Jerry Falwell),  to Israel (where he met the Samaritan community, and felt out of place, as his particular observances were not in sync with anyone else’s), and Del Rio, Tennessee (home to the Church Of God With Signs Following, which handles snakes). During his year he also prayed; at first, with a great deal of self-consciousness (he characterized himself as agnostic, starting the project), and at the end, spontaneously (at which time he characterized himself as reverently agnostic).

This is a fascinating book; most of us belong to one religion or other, and follow various rules, or know that there are rules that we should be following, according to our particular Religious Authority; and even if we are 100% secular, we still have sets of Rules and Regulations that we follow, be they as humble as brushing and flossing each night. The author points out that any attempt to follow the Bible ‘literally’ inevitably becomes an exercise in interpretation, and so everyone whose religion is based on the Book practices cafeteria religion, picking and choosing what is important, and that there is nothing inherently wrong with cafeterias – the key is in picking the right choices.


Friday, January 22, 2010

Tod In Biker City

Tod in biker city is about a boy called Tod who lives with his mother in Texas.When one day Tod’s father is kidnapped by this mean gang of bikers.So Tod and his mother set out to find his father.A few miles down the road Tod runs into a biker.The biker tried to attack Tod but he did not know he was a black belt in karate.So Tod tries to ask the biker where his dad was.He said he was in a cave where they had being keeping him.So Tod asked the biker to lead him to where his dad was.So a couple of miles later Tod and the biker find his dad and 2mins later his mam arrives and then they go back home.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Book Review: Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr

Radiant Shadows by Melissa Marr
ISBN: 978-0-0616-5922-5
Publisher:  Harper Collins
Pages: 352 List Price: $16.99

I lucked out this Christmas and received an ARC of Radiant Shadows, the upcoming 4th installment in Melissa Marr’s series.

As you can probably guess from the cover, Radiant Shadows involves the Hounds and further explores the relationship between the Hounds and the Dark Court.  Ani, Gabriel’s daughter whom we met in Ink Exchange, is the main female protagonist of the story.  Seth, Devlin, Irial, and Nial are all back.

This is not a direct sequel to Fragile Eternity.  Radiant Shadows focuses on the dark and High Courts and a single major event that will affect all the courts, but the plot does not involve itself in the ongoing romantic struggles of Aislinn, Keenan, Donia, and Seth.

I really enjoyed Radiant Shadows and was overjoyed at receiving an advance copy.  The tiny town of Huntsdale has really become a realm unto itself, effortlessly absorbing old Celtic folklore into an urban setting.  The modernization of faerie myth and lore is what I love about this series.  Well…that…and Seth.  (Of couse!  <3) But I also enjoyed the fact that Radiant Shadows took the opportunity to explore outside present day Huntsdale and delve further into Faerie.

I can’t wait until the rest of you can read this book and hope that Radiant Shadows continues to grow Melissa Marr’s fanbase.  I think by the fifth book the fan culture around this book could really explode.


/End of Line


The Bell Jar - Sylvia Plath


I have just finished reading The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. It was her only novel published before her suicide in 1963. Published under under pseudonym originally (although it is now published under her name) it is a semi-autobiographical tale of protagonist Esther Greenwood’s journey into depression, and documents both the character’s and author’s year in ‘the bell jar’, a wonderful metaphor describing the atmosphere of her depression, where she is trapped beneath it ’stewing in her own sour air.’

Plath does not give much insight into her character’s, and vicariously, her own background, which makes her depression difficult to understand, and less empathetic readers may end up alienated and end up hating her character for her actions. The novels starts with Esther Greenwood living for many, what would only be a dream. She is interning at a high-fashion magazine in New York, attending upmarket parties and galas on a scholarship. She is intelligent, a high achiever, and from the outset looks destined for great things. However, through subtle twists, and an exponentially growing dread and depressing tone, the novel ends with Greenwood in an asylum, after an unsuccessful suicide attempt.

Stylistically, it is a very easy novel to get into, but through the first page you get hit with Plath’s style of wry pessimism, lurking below the surface of her fast-lane, glamourous position. The novel derives much of its greatness from Plath’s lauded use of clever and original metaphors, that add personality and perspective to situations. Like other great portrayals of madness before it, the novel’s focus is not so much on what happens externally to the protagonist, but externally. Written in first-person, we follow Esther’s thoughts and feelings throughout her downfall, and her digressions and wry pessimism add to the plain-spoken wording and descriptions to leave the reader reveling in the cold, blunt world of her clinical depression. As a kind of autobiography, Plath writes with knowledge and authenticity, yet bares no self-consciousness nor self-loathing.

In the end, The Bell Jar is a gripping and fascinating read, and Esther Greenwood almost becomes like a female version of Holden Caulfield, as we listen to her digressions, her misanthropic views of society, her confusion and loneliness in a time where she should be having fun and coming-of-age, but she never does, and the cliffhanging ending leaves us wondering if she ever will.


Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Because of You

Occasionally, students will review the same book so you may come across multiple posts about the same title.  Use these different reviews to see how people can approach the same book with slightly different questions and ideas.  This book was previously reviewed on Oct. 24, 2009.

Name of Book:  Because of You

Author:  B.G Hennessy

Illustrator:  Hiroe Nakata

Publisher:  Candlewick Press

Audience:  Preschool – early elementary

Summary: This book explores how the world changes every time a child is born.  Because of this new birth there will be one more person to love and who can show love, one more person who can share and will need to be shared with, one person who needs to be cared for and can care for others, and there is one more person who needs to be listened to and who can listen to others. This book is a call for action and it is in doing these things, in the action, that peace is created. This book empowers children to know they can make a difference.

Literary elements at work in the story:  Repetition plays a key role in this book; each page begins with, “Because of You.” Through both the words and the pictures a child can see concrete ways that they can help, care, share and listen to one another. This could be used as a “read-aloud” in which all of the children could have a page to read (if they can read) or could simply say “Because of you” and the teacher completes the phrase. It would also be a wonderful lead into a study focusing on ways the children can care, share, listen, and help one another and adults. Not only could children study these ways, but also do them!

Perspective on gender/ race/ culture/ economic/ ability:  The book is multi-cultural, focusing on different races. It is a beautiful depiction of God’s community and how we are to act towards one another.

Scripture:  Aspects of the “Beatitudes” found in Mark 5:1-9.

Theology:   What does it mean to carry the imprint of God, to be God’s hands and Feet?

Faith Talk Questions:

1. Who takes care of you? Who listens, helps, and cares for you?

2. Who (or what) do you take care of?

3. How can you help and care for others?

Review prepared by Ashley Cheek, MDiv/MACE, Entering cohort Fall 2007


Monday Bookworms: Let the Great World Spin

Let the Great World Spin, by Colum McCann

349 pages, @2009

As you know, if you read the blog post last month, my friend Jen and I had the pleasure of going to one of Colum McCann’s book readings for Let the Great World Spin.  This was the first book that I finished in my 2010 quest to read one book a week! 

How to describe what this novel is about…  Essentially it centers around Philippe Petit’s tightrope walk in the 70’s in NYC.  For those of you that aren’t familiar with it, he walked a tightrope between the World Trade Center towers, without a net below him, nor was he attached to any kind of safety device.  Colum McCann said at the reading that he wanted to compare the feat of Philippe Petit with the feat of people walking their own tightrope down on the ground – the challenges that the everyday person faces in their life.  Their are a lot of characters in this book, but the main stories center around John Corrigan, an religious Irish man, who lives in the Bronx and tries to help out those around him, namely the hookers that live and work in his neighborhood.  Two of those hookers, who are also central to the story, are Tilly and her daughter Jazzlyn.  Then the other main storyline going on follows a group of women, mother’s of men lost during the Vietnam war.  Namely Claire, a wealthy woman who lives on the Upper East Side, and Gloria, a mother of three lost sons from the Bronx. 

McCann’s prose is poertry.  He is one of those writers that as you read his novels (or even when you hear him speak) you are just blown away by the way he phrases thoughts, ideas, descriptions, etc.  This novel was no exception.  It’s a powerful story of right vs. wrong, compassion, passion, empathy, friendship, love and family.  I will say however, the one thing that I could have done without was the sheer number of characters in this novel.  It almost in a way reminded me of a Toni Morrison novel, where as you’re reading it you’re introduced to all of these characters and they have a purpose but it’s hard to see until the end of the novel as they are all twined together.  Not that being compared to Toni Morrison is necessarily a bad thing. 

Before I leave off, I wanted to give you a sample of McCann’s beautiful prose.  The following paragraph in the novel is a description of love:

“Some people think love is the end of the road, and if you’re lucky enough to fine it, you stay there.  Other people say it just becomes a cliff you drive off, but most people who’ve been around awhile know it’s just a thing that changes day by day, and depending on how much you fight for it, you get it, or you hold on to it, or you lose it, but sometimes it’s never even there in the first place.”

The following paragraph is from the reading guide in the back of the novel:

“There is an act of creative reading, and writing is more about a reader’s imagination than anything else.  A book is completed only when it is finished by a reader.  This is the intimate privilege of art.  In fact, it’s the intimate privilege of being alive.  When telling stories we are engaged in a democracy like no other.”

Ah, if only I could think or write or express myself in such a beautiful way.  I’ll continue trudging along on my little blog and hopefully over the years I’ll get better:)

4 Stars


Post in Comments:

What author have you read that you feel just writes on a different level than other authors?


Sunday, January 17, 2010

STORY OF A GIRL by Sara Zarr

What a great book! STORY OF A GIRL chronicles the summer of rising junior Deanna Lambert who, in eighth grade was caught by her father having sex in the back of Tommy’s Buick. Tommy, 17, was a friend of her older brother’s. Deanna didn’t love him, she’s not even sure that she even liked him, but the story of their escapades got around town so that by the time she entered into highschool, she’d been branded as the school slut.

Thank you, Tommy.

In addition to having a bad reputation, Deanna hasn’t had a real conversation with her father since the incident happened two years ago. He won’t look her in the face and he jumps to conclusions about where she’s going and what she’s doing. Deanna’s main goal in life is to make enough money to be able to move out of her parent’s house, with her older brother, his baby mama and their new baby, April, Deanna’s neice. The trio live in Deanna’s parent’s basement and their own story of struggle and sacrifice explores the very real consequences (and joys) of a teenage pregnancy.

Deanna needs cash, so she takes on a summer job at the local pizza parlor and on her first day of work, discovers none other than Tommy, her Tommy, is her only other co-worker. He automatically takes to calling her Dee-Dee, his nickname for her and reminding her in degrading ways of their time together. Deanna is both repulsed and attracted to Tommy, if only because of their shared history and her low self-esteem.

Meanwhile her two best friends (boy and girl) are in love, which only further alienates her from the people who could be her allies. When a fight breaks out between her and her girlfriend, Deanna turns to Tommy, thinking he can make her feel good, if only for a little while. But she is sadly disappointed.

At the same time her brother and his girlfriend are on the outs and when they finally come back together, it’s obvious that their future plan doesn’t include Deanna as their live-in nanny, which only fuels her feelings of isolation and abandonment.

Story of a Girl explores the themes of forgiveness and compassion, of moving on and redefining one’s self by one’s own terms. It is a story told with so much honesty and compassion, with such true-to-life moments that I found myself both cringing and crying. I’ve been recommending it to all my teenage girl friends and young women alike. I keep saying, “this is how it is, this is how you move on.”

Sara Zarr, Bravo!


Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dead as a Doornail by Charlaine Harris (Southern Vampires 5)

Dead as a Doornail (Southern Vampires 5)
Rating: 3/5 – Very good, well worth a read
You might like this if you like: Kelley Armstrong’s Women of the Otherworld series; vampires; paranormal/supernatural

Sookie’s got just a month, before the next full moon, to find out who wants her brother dead – and to stop the fiend! Sookie Stackhouse enjoys her life, mostly. She’s a great cocktail waitress in a fun bar; she has a love life, albeit a bit complicated, and most people have come to terms with her telepathy. The problem is, Sookie wants a quiet life – but things just seem to happen to her and her friends. Now her brother Jason’s eyes are starting to change: he’s about to turn into a were-panther for the first time. She can deal with that, but her normal sisterly concern turns to cold fear when a sniper sets his deadly sights on the local changeling population. She afraid not just because Jason’s at risk, but because his new were-brethren suspect Jason may be the shooter. Sookie has until the next full moon to find out who’s behind the attacks – unless the killer decides to find her first.
The fifth installment of the Southern Vampire series actually deals more with the Shifter community than the vampires, although the vamps are still involved.

It was always going to be difficult to follow the previous book as it was so good (well, how could it now be when it focussed on Eric so much?), but Dead as a Doornail does a pretty good job of living up to its predecessors. There’s plenty of action, with Shifters getting shot left, right and centre. I worked out who the culprit was pretty early on (I just didn’t know why they were doing it). Fortunately, there was more than enough there to keep me interested long after I’d figured out who the “bad guys” were.

I wished there had been a little more of how Jason fared with his first “change” and the differences this was going to make in his life. Comparatively little was made of that aspect and I felt Harris kind of missed a trick there.

And you have to feel for Sookie – the poor woman never seems to get a break. Even her New Year Resolution is to “not get beaten up this year” and with the company she tends to keep, that’s something of a tall order!

Reviewed by Kell Smurthwaite


Five Stories of Music and Nightfall and Humor and Heartbreak from Kazuo Ishiguro

“Nocturnes” by Kazuo Ishiguro

‘Nocturne’ is an unusual word.  Merriam-Webster defines it as “a work of art dealing with evening or night”.

The climactic point to each of these stories by Kazuo Ishiguro occurs during night time, so these stories are correctly called ‘Nocturnes”.  As well, each story concerns itself with music and/or musicians.  I think Ishiguro was playing on the musical idea of ‘variations’ when writing these stories, because although each of these stories has a unique setting and plot, there are many similarities between all five stories.  They are all written in the first person.  The main protagonist in each of these stories is a not-so-young-anymore guy, a journeyman musician who sort of makes a living playing music none too successfully, but music is his life.  He meets up with a not-so-young-anymore woman, and hilarity and/or heartbreak ensues.

Kazuo Ishiguro is a stylist.  There is a stillness at the center of each of these five stories that makes them compelling.   In this book, he is being playful and charming.  One quality I greatly enjoy in Ishiguro’s writing is what I call “the unreliable protagonist”.  Whenever you read any story or novel by Ishiguro, it will always be in the first person, and you always get the sense that the main protagonist is severely fooling himself.  That’s the sense I got from each of these stories.

Nocturnes are also supposed to be pensive and dreamy  Just as a good musician does not play his notes mushy to achieve a dream-like quality, Ishiguro does not get vague or unfocused like so much bad dream fiction does.  Instead every scene and detail is precise, note for note.

Here Ishiguro is playful and at ease, not like in some of his novels.  Ishiguro’s “Remains of the Day” published in 1989 was a major event in recent literary history.  That novel was also written in the first person. I still remember the impact this novel had on me, this story of a head servant who managed his mansion magnificently.   This was the first great example of the unreliable protagonist that I had encountered. As the novel progressed, you got the sense that this head servant was deliberately not seeing what was actually going on in the house where the Lord was trying to drum up support for the Nazis among the upper classes of England. This situation reminded me of all the people who work magnificently on their company jobs, but know enough about their company to know it is doing some very rotten things.  I also fondly remember the movie, where for once the movie with its leading actors Anthony Hopkins and Emma Thompson got it right.

Ishiguro won the Booker prize for “Remains of the Day” and has been nominated for the Booker three more times since, so when you are reading him you know you are in rarefied quality territory.

“Nocturnes” probably won’t be nominated for a Booker.  I don’t think they nominate books of stories, do they?  Anyhow this is not an ambitious book.  Instead this is a charming way to spend a few evenings with one of our great literary stylists.


Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Uninvited by Tim Wynne-Jones

After a bad break-up Mimi leaves her home in New York and heads north to Canada to her father’s old cabin to escape. The house is fairytale perfect, except for one thing, the strange young man named Jay currently living there. Jay thinks that Mimi is the one that has been leaving him strange trinkets and sneaking into his house, but Mimi has just arrived. With the two of them living there, the break-ins and strange incidents start to increase and Jay and Mimi will have to figure out who is behind it all before things get a lot more dangerous.

 The Uninvited is a very surprising read.  There is a lot of suspense and the plot moves quite fast. While the entire story is told in third person, the narration does split between Jay, Mimi and Cramer. Usually I am not a fan of that combo but I do believe that it worked well in this case.  The author did an excellent job of making all the characters compelling while at the same time keeping enough distance between the audience and the characters to build up mystery and suspense. The family storyline interwoven between the characters was very well done and compelling. Overall, I thought the story was very creative and original.

You might enjoy The Uninvited if you like books with: third person storytelling, split narratives, suspense, fast paced plots.

Other books by Tim Wynne-Jones:  The Boy in the Burning House, The Survival Game, A Thief in the House of Memory

If you liked The Uninvited you might also enjoy: If the Witness Lied by Caroline Cooney, The Last Thing I Remember by Andrew Klavan, Liar by Justine Larbalestier

Author Website found here.

Additional Info:  was short listed for the Governor General’s Award for Children’s Fiction

Rating:  W 4/4   C 4/4   P 4/4   O 4/4   PP 3/4   CR 2/4

Grade:  S


Crossing the Complexity Barrier

Darwinism Evolving: Systems Dynamics and the Genealogy of Natural Selection

Depew, D. J., and Weber, B. H. ,

Cambridge, Mass.: The MIT Press. (1996).

The study of complexity and self-organization in living organisms offers a powerful, new way to understand the natural world.  It provides a profound and serious alternative to the reductionist program which has dominated biology since the early part of the 20th century.  But what does it imply for Darwin’s theory of natural selection, the bulwark of modern biological thought?  Over the past two decades, a number of researchers have shown how natural selection and complexity theory, far from being rivals, are in fact “marriage partners.”[1]

Of these studies, the one that I’ve found most rewarding is Darwinism Evolving by Depew & Weber, which gives an in-depth narrative of the thought currents around Darwin’s theory, from before Darwin all the way to the present day, using the narrative to establish and support their own approach.

They begin with an interesting take on Darwinian theory, describing how it developed in the context of both the political and scientific framework of the mid-19th century.  Politically, Depew and Weber show how Adam Smith’s view of the “invisible hand” could be powerfully translated from economics to biology.  In both cases, individuals struggle to do what’s best for them, and by doing so, blindly become agents in the natural laws of capitalism and evolution.  Similarly, the “gradualist” approach that Darwin favored in describing the process of natural selection, fit well with the prevailing political ethos of Victorian England.  They describe a chemist named W.R. Grove addressing a scientific meeting in 1866, telling his compatriots how: “Happily in this country practical experience has taught us to improve rather than remodel; we follow the law of nature and avoid cataclysms.”

Depew & Weber are not the first to note this political context (in fact they tell us how Karl Marx picked up on it as early as 1862.)  But they probably break some new ground in their linkage of Darwin’s ideas to developing theories in physics, arguing that:

… the Darwinian research tradition, while successfully resisting reduction to or incorporation within physics, has from the beginning used explanatory models taken from physics to articulate its core idea of natural selection.

They show how Newton’s laws formed a “generalized model for describing and explaining phenomena in fields beyond physics, even social systems” in the nineteenth century, and they offer a fascinating analysis of how the laws of statistical mechanics developed by Maxwell and Boltzmann had a profound effect on later, post-Darwinian evolutionary thinking.

This thesis really hits its stride when Depew & Weber follow the interactions between evolutionary thought and the second law of thermodynamics, which states that processes in a system will tend towards entropy.  They give an account of the strange life of Ronald Fisher, the first person to formally link evolution with the second law, with his view that “just as the world moves downhill by the exploitation of energetic gradients, so it moves uphill by the exploitation of fitness gradients.”  With a clear distaste for how evolutionary theories can be manipulated to support ethical idiosyncrasies, they note how “as his classmates went off to the slaughter of World War I, Fisher was writing in the Eugenical Review that although morality and aesthetics are both grounded in sexual selection, those who rightly rule in a society know that beauty is a higher value than morality.”

The linkage of evolution with the second law of thermodynamics becomes more rigorous and powerful as the story continues.  We’re introduced to Alfred Lotka’s thermodynamic theory of evolution which can be summarized as:

Evolution proceeds in such direction as to make the total energy flux through the system a maximum compatible with the constraints… In accord with this observation is the principle that, in the struggle for existence, the advantage must go to those organisms whose energy-capturing devices are most efficient in directing available energy into channels favorable to the preservation of the species.

Depew & Weber tell us how “with his vision of the unity of physics, chemistry, and biology, Lotka proposed this as a fourth law of thermodynamics.”

Perhaps the most important milestone in this narrative is the “seminal little book that appeared in 1944”, by quantum physicist Erwin Schrödinger called What is Life?, which threw “considerable sweetness, as well as light” on the subject.  Schrödinger’s breakthrough was to contrast an organic or open system with the universe as a whole, arguing that “the second law requires only that the universe as a whole must show an increase in entropy.  Eddies of order, or what Schrödinger called ‘negentropy’, could be sustained in the great flow of ever-increasing entropy.”

So life can be seen as a continual struggle against entropy, whereby cells, organisms or ecosystems take energy from the broader universe, organize it in ways that assist them (i.e. metabolism), and dissipate the waste back out.  This is why Ilya Prigogine, the next great thinker on this subject, refers to organisms as “dissipative structures.”

This narrative enables one to see current theories of complexity and self-organization within a full historical context.  Those who are “marrying” self-organization to evolution are, in fact, working on the fourth or fifth generation of a dynasty.  The difference now, as Weber and Depew point out, is that the new science of complexity has developed theoretical tools and data-driven applications that fundamentally change the project.  As they put it:

The first lesson to be learned from the new dynamics is that the world contains more novelty, diversity, and complexity than we had assumed…  Crossing the complexity barrier, accordingly, calls for … radical revisions in how scientific theories are to be analyzed and in how they explain when they are applied to problems… [I]t is not just physics and biology that must change to accommodate this fact but philosophies of science, too.

The implications of “crossing the complexity barrier” are far-reaching, and Depew & Weber explore some of these directions.  For example, a thermodynamically-based view of evolution leads to an understanding of evolution as occurring on multiple levels rather than solely on the individual organism (or as espoused in recent decades, the individual gene.)  It also supersedes the “competition” metaphor in traditional evolutionary narrative, as Depew and Weber explain:

Organisms will, on this account, be construed as informed patterns of thermodynamic flow.  Those populations will be fittest that best enhance the autocatalytic behavior of the reward loops in which they participate.  One advantage of this notion is that it makes it possible to contextualize natural selection to the wider array of processes in which it occurs, and to project a vision of ecological communities in which cooperation becomes as characteristic as competition, or indeed inseparably linked to it…

Not surprisingly, Depew & Weber come out strongly against reductionist thinking in general, and even more fiercely against Richard Dawkins’ particular style of that thinking, describing how he “invests his metaphors with disturbing semantic reverberations that harken back to Enlightenment themes”, giving the choice between being pawns of our genes” or “of a tyrannical Calvinist God.”  As I’ve described elsewhere, I’m in strong agreement with their view of Dawkins’ “false choice,” and the inherent limitations of thought offered by reductionism, which they describe as follows:

The problem has been that when everything is antecedently considered to be ‘nothing but’ atoms in the void, many real, important, and interesting phenomena tend to get explained away, brushed aside, eliminated, or, worse, crammed into the wrong explanatory box… Indeed… the reducing impulse undermines fairly huge tracts of experience.

The dynamical systems perspective is far from universally accepted, even by those who challenge conventional gene-centered evolutionary approaches.  Here is a critique from David Sloan Wilson, known for championing multi-level selection theory:

Embedded in the thermodynamics talk is the naive assumption that adaptation at level x … automatically leads to adaptation at level x + 1… It is… discouraging that ‘‘the emerging sciences of complexity’’ are so isolated from evolutionary biology that the mistakes of the 1940s and 1950s are being repeated.[2]

I disagree with Wilson about the “automatic” assumption.  I think the “complexity” part of modern systems thought leads to the understanding that there’s nothing “automatic” about the dynamics leading to evolution, or for that matter, leading to the life of any given organism.  But this type of dismissal, even from advanced thinkers such as Wilson, shows how far the scientific community still has to go in crossing the complexity barrier, and participating in that “marriage” of natural selection and complexity theory.

[1] See Kosse, K. (2001). “Some Regularities in Human Group Formation and the Evolution of Societal Complexity.” Complexity, 6(1 (2001)), 60-64, who calls for a “marriage between Darwinian theory and the emerging science of complexity.”

[2] Wilson, D. S. (1997). “Biological Communities as Functionally Organized Units.” Ecology, 78(7), 2018-2024.


Sunday, January 10, 2010

there might be demons and there are ALWAYS questions

By the time your finished with this post, you’ll have realized it’s less a book review, and more a reminder that I often feel lonely in a crowd of my Christian brothers.

Demons was written by Fyodor Dostoevsky. As an aside, he is much better known, in North America, anyway, for his frustrating and authentic The Brothers Karamazov, and the much lesser known The Idiot.

And, surely, you must read them all! And, on your Amazon Kindle, no less.

In any event, Demons is, essentially, and this is my interpretation, about how liberalism leads to socialism, then leads to nihilism, and how life, according to Dostoevsky, boils down to a choice between Christianity and… suicide.

Well… Mister, that’s a barn-burning, possibly teeth-gnashingly dogmatic, position (if this makes you think in some terms of anything related to doggy-style, it might be appropriate, but not in the immediate context).

Demons is a very engaging novel. And, more suspenseful than the others, as relayed above, of Dostoevsky – both because it’s more violent (being about socialist nihilist anarchists and all), and because it takes a long time to get a sense for what motivates the main character, Nikolai Stavrogin (and, that’s where I might draw a comparison to myself and my titanic and transparent struggles with Christianity as it related to the Jesus Christ element).

However, Dostoevsky clarifies his thinking, interestingly, through his mouthpiece Tikhon, in that absolute doubt immediately proceeds absolute faith; thus Stavrogin, as the quintessential doubter, is also the closest among the main cast of characters to true Christianity.

To wit…

This idea, that a person must not give in to his ideas; must strain against them to be a person, is a fascinating one…

But, see… There’s no word for it, this, effort. And, that my be the core of my own struggle. I can’t put my finger on what’s missing. Or, maybe why it’s missing.

Unfortunately, there’s probably a really good word for it.

It eludes me.

Not much does. And, this is a big one.

However, I think caring is important; as is the search for that word – possibly it’s meaning, all the more.

Stick with me. And, feel free to come and get me.

Along the way, I’ll likely read everything, and talk to everyone, I can to find that word. And, the light and truth I learn gives me scienter, and the necessity of my own requirement to be naught less than a beacon, for all. My Kobayashi Maru, perhaps not?

Peace be to my Brothers and Sisters.

Brian Patrick Cork


The Sun in the Church: Cathedrals as Solar Observatories, by J.L. Heilbron

Astronomers who wanted to lay down a marker to watch the movement of the sun through the year needed a large, open, but secure space to do it. Cathedrals and other large churches answered the need. The author never explains how this got started, but from the sixteenth to the eighteenth centuries, meridian lines were carefully laid down in churches. This required painstaking placement of a hole high in the wall to let in the sunlight, as well as exact placement of the meridian line. The traditional orientation of churches along an east-west line, with a north-south transept, had something to do with the choice of churches to house this work, though the churches were not built with astronomy in mind, at least not with making observations. Building a church to face the rising sun as an aspiration in worship would not quite meet the astronomer’s need for precision. The meridian line might have to run up a pillar. Meridians were placed in Rome and Venice, Padua and Milan, Paris and Marseilles. They can be seen today if you pay a visit.

For church purposes, the meridian lines helped in measuring the year to define movable feasts; identifying dawn, noon, and midnight, to fix the times of divine office and of feasting and fasting; and specifiying the occurrence of twilight. Civic purposes included regulation of clocks. For astronomers, the meridian lines could be used to measure the lengths of the day and the year; to measure the declination and apparent diameter of thee sun, the motion of the North Star; the obliquity of the ecliptic; the latitude; and the right ascension of stars and planets.

All this began around the time that Galileo was tried. The book is useful to show the Church’s sponsorship of real practical astronomy. Until the nineteenth century, Italians set their watches by the sound of the church bell. The book ranges all over the place–from the change in the calendar, fixing the date of Easter, developments in telescopes, and the standardization of clocks and time zones. There is a great deal of math in the text that belongs in appendices. There are some color photos as well as old drawings and diagrams to illustrate the meridian lines.


Saturday, January 9, 2010

Book Review: Willow (Wayland Davis)

Title: Willow
Author: Wayland Davis (based on the screenplay by Bob Dolman who inturn based it on a story by George Lucas.)
Genre: Fantasy/Movie Novelization
Summery:  Willow Ufgood, A Nelwyn farmer (and aspiring magican), is sent on a journey to return a baby Daikini to its people.  As always, this journey goes differently then planned.  He ends up teaming up with swordsmen Madmartigan, two brownies named Franjean and Rool and a transformed Sorceress named Fin Raziel to protect the baby from the evil Queen Bavmorda of Nockmaar who wants to kill her.

Apparently for the month of January, my theme for book reading is Movie Novelizations.  These are books derived from movies (as opposed as books on which movies are derived.) 

I borrowed this book from a friend because I loved the movie.  And I love this book too.  It follows the course of the film nicely, and as with all novelizations, has scenes that were cut out of the movie.  Many I wish had been included.  Like Madmartigan’s back story.  Or the back story of Bavmorda and Fin Raziel’s animosity towards each other (Not only is Bav evil, but she also stole Fin’s boyfriend!).

Anyway, The Pros/Cons


- Madmartigan’s Back story (he apparently was a weapons prodigy)
- Bavmorda Backstory
- The Nelwyns have more screen time


- The flashback style is kinda awkward
- It feels like it needs to be longer.

Rating: 4/5

Bookit # (1/50 of 1/52)

(I promise these will become better as I go.  Its been along time since I did a book review that was more “Eh, it was good”, so I need time to learn how to do it again.)


Thursday, January 7, 2010

The Identification of Lace


While not my favorite book on this subject, The Identification of  Lace does have some good features. Originally published in 1980, Pat Earnshaw’s book was updated in 1994 and republished in 2000. One of the things I do like about this book is that Earnshaw has written an excellent history of lace; pinpointing its’ place in society and how  lace has changed with the times. She also organizes the book by dividing it into four sections based on the four ways lace is made (e.g. embroidered, needlepoint, bobbin and machine/craft). I found the information on machine made lace very interesting as Earnshaw goes into great detail about the specifics of this method of production.

This book can be found in specialty shops and through the usual on-line retailers.    


Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The List of 7

Author Mark Frost

I’ve been trying to think of how to go about writing this post. I discovered this book many years ago and read it several times, then put it down for a few years and picked it up again last month.

The List of 7 is a fictional account of how Sir Arthur Conan Doyle met the man about whom he based the Sherlock Holmes stories. According to the short biography of Doyle in the front of The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Volume I, Doyle based Holmes on a professor he had in college. But author Mark Frost tells us a different story in The List of 7.

Late in his life, Doyle began speaking of his belief in spiritualism — the idea that the spirit lives on after it leaves the body. 7 focuses heavily on this aspect of Doyle’s beliefs.

The book begins with young Dr. Doyle receiving an urgent request to attend a seance one evening in order to ascertain whether the medium is the real thing. What he doesn’t know is that the invite is in response to a book he wrote and shopped to publishers. The book was a work of fiction, but touched on a subject close to home for a group of seven people with very bad intentions: bringing “the devil” (or “the dweller on the threshold”) across the spiritual divide and into an earthly body.

A man named Jack Sparks rescues Doyle that night and the two embark on an adventure to both elude the Seven and also to stop them from achieving their objective.

The writing is amazing. Unfortunately, The List of 7 was not a runaway hit and is out of print, along with its sequal, The 6 Messiahs. Frost was co-creator of the infamous Twin Peaks series. For good measure, Frost throws in an appearance by Bram Stoker as a member of an acting troupe, which was a really neat reference.

Reichenbach Falls, Switzerland

The entire novel is a supernatural mystery, Sherlock Holmes style. I loved it the last time I read it as much as the first. In contrast to the Sherlock Holmes movie in theaters now, which I reviewed yesterday, it’s refreshing. It’s a shame no filmmaker picked up 7 instead.

I won’t tell you the twist at the end. I happen to love spoilers myself, but many others don’t. I will give you all a hint, though: The novel ends with Doyle and his family visiting  Reichenbach Falls in Switzerland in 1889, where they meet a very “special” baby.


My BFF: A Friendly Romance by Ruth Phillips Oakland

I already miss reading this book.  I’m a little embarrassed to say so, given the somewhat salacious content of it, but I must be forthright with you, my faithful readers.

The flaws first. There are spelling and grammar mistakes. I’m not sure how, in our digital world, this keeps happening, but this book contains several errors that the writer should not have written and that the editor(s) should have caught before publication. Among them, a run-on sentence with “however” used in lieu of “but” (p. 32), a singular possessive instead of a plural (“Gardiner’s,” p. 66), the wrong “affect” (versus “effect,” p. 25), and a contracted “it’s” instead of possessive (“for it’s safekeeping,” p. 256). I found myself distracted from this juicy tale by errors. (By the way, the two sentence fragments in this paragraph are there by design, for purposes of style. It was not my sense that the errors that halted my enjoyment of scenes in this book were there for similar reasons.) In addition to errors in language, I found some of the situations awkward, uncomfortable, and creepy. Darcy’s playful teasing of Georgiana about her losing her virginity is among those situations, as is Mrs. Reynolds appearing in the dark to usher lovers into their bedroom. Problem #3 is the overuse of footnotes. While some were compelling and others just mildly interesting, they, like the grammar errors, distract from the story and became annoying. Do we really need a precise definition of “flatware” in the middle of the story? The most egregious flaw with this text involves over-the-top, hyperbolic, or clichéd expressions, including “This man was a studmuffin if ever there was one” (169), “dressed for battle” (p. 23), “could not help but fall to the floor with laughter” (p. 31), and “his eyes seemed to devour her soul” (30). Yuck.

Despite all its troubles, this book was hard to put down. It opens with young Darcy having been tricked by a scheming, clever woman and then being shamed by, and in front of, his family and his community. Though his father protects him as much as possible from Lady Catherine (who is trying to control them both), Darcy vows never to let that happen again. To prevent himself from falling in love and getting hurt, he turns to high-end prostitution in lieu of real relationships, and until he meets Elizabeth Bennet, thinks this arrangement is perfectly fulfilling.

By the time we meet him again in chapter 2, he has become rather a jerk, redeemed only by his love for his sister and his cousins. This is also when Elizabeth first meets him. She is an award-winning musician and professor with a body about which Darcy can’t stop fantasizing. She, too, has some pain and secrecy in her past, alluded to early on as a scandal with a “Billy Ray Collins,” who is now in jail.

Lest this review do anything but whet your appetite to read this book, suffice it to say that there are twists and turns in the plot that will surprise and delight and horrify any hot-blooded reader. As Oakland surprises us with parallel struggles in our hero and heroine, she gives us a lot of fun watching them become “BFF”s (best friends forever). She names characters after many Jane Austen characters (Thorpe is an errand boy, Harville and Benwick are bodyguards, Mr. Knightley is a doctor, Lucy Steele is a porn star, etc) and also some Bronte ones (Edward Rochester, Thornton), and she incorporates into this modern tale several Pride and Prejudice lines, often spoken by a different character and in a different context. Reading becomes a treasure hunt: what names or lines will appear next? What new significance will they assume? (ex: Mrs. Bennet’s exaggerated prediction in P&P that, if Elizabeth rejects Mr. Collins, Mrs. Bennet will never speak to her again, takes on new meaning here.) Oakland also gives us some memorable lines, including this one that occurs when Elizabeth is annoyed with the giddy Darcy and Mrs. Reynolds: “It looked like a Bingley convention.”

If you’re looking for gripping reading that will keep you turning pages (even when you wish to be doing other things), My BFF will be a good choice for you.


Sunday, January 3, 2010

So many choices...

No one has to read this… it’s just an incredibly long list of books that I want to try to read… need to put them somewhere and I’ll lose it if it’s not saved somewhere electronically :)

  • Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God – Francis Chan
  • The Secret – Beverly Lewis
  • Left to Tell – Immaculee Ilibagiza
  • The Pilot’s Wife – Anita Shreve
  • Just Beyond the Clouds – Karen Kingsbury
  • Infidel – Ayaan Hirsi Ali
  • Velvet Elvis – Rob Bell
  • sTori Telling – Tori Spelling
  • Through the Storm – Lynne Spears
  • American Wife – Curtis Sittenfield
  • A Million Little Pieces – James Frey
  • Night – Ellie Wiesel
  • Girl Meets God – Lauren Winner
  • 90 Minutes in Heaven – Don Piper
  • Love Walked In – Marisa de los Santos
  • The Irresistible Revolution – Shane Claiborne
  • Angels of a Lower Flight – Susie Scott Krabacher
  • Atonement – Ian McEwan
  • Same Kind of Different As Me – Ron Hall
  • Sex God – Rob Bell
  • Pleasures of God – John Piper
  • What’s So Amazing About Grace – Philip Yancey
  • The Jesus I Never Knew – Philip Yancey
  • Future Grace – John Piper
  • Barbarian Way – Erwin McManus
  • Knowing God – JI Packer
  • Can Man Live Without God – Ravi Zacharias
  • The Sweetness of a Bitter Cup: Journey of a Pastor’s Wife – Stephanie Elzy
  • Ocean’s Apart – Karen Kingsbury
  • Redeeming Love – Francine Rivers
  • The Farming of Bones – Danticat Edwidge
  • The Last Sin Eater – Francine Rivers
  • Audition – Barbara Walters
  • Escape – Carolyn Jessop
  • Death by Fire: Sati, Dowry Death, and Female Infanticide in Modern India – Mala Sen
  • Still Alive – Lisa Genova
  • Sarah’s Key – Tatiana de Rosnay
  • Fresh Wind, Fresh Fire – Jim Cymbala
  • Evidence Not Seen: A Woman’s Miraculous Faith in the Jungles of WW2 – Darlene Deibler Rose


Saturday, January 2, 2010

God Meant it for Good (RT Kendall)

R T Kendall is a wonderful writer.  His books are simple, clear and practical and his book on Joseph, God Meant it for Good, is no exception.

A friend of mine lent me their copy when they heard about my series on Joseph and I have been working my way through it by reading a chapter or two at a time.  Because it’s an older edition the language is a little dated (the translation of the bible used and hymns quoted a little difficult to read) but it’s a hurdle well worth overcoming for the really good truths that he presents.

Kendall is clear on doctrine and presents some really helpful insights in a very readable way.  Some of them have been difficult to think about and apply simply because they are so challenging, but that’s a good thing.  It helped me evaluate decisions and plans I have had with a new perspective.  Sometimes it feels as though he writes about things beyond the text but it doesn’t detract from the value of his thinking.

If the story of Joseph has blessed or challenged you, this book would be a really good read.


Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve


Here Lies Arthur by Philip Reeve- This novel is a different story pertaining to the King Arthur legend.

The story follows a young girl named Gwyna, who is running away from her home, which is in flames. During her escape she meets a man named Myrddin (who is Merlin) who takes pity on her and allows her a place to stay for a while. However, Myrddin has another use for little Gwyna, she becomes the Lady of the Lake and is the one who gives Arthur his sword Caliburn (Excalibur). After Gwyna gives the sword to Arthur, Myrddin makes her into a boy so she would be able to come with them. During the war-bands travels, Gwyna, now Gwyn, met a girl her age named Peri (who is really a boy named Peredur, or better known as Perceval). The duo play a trick on a “holy man” that causes the holy man to become more holy. Later the war-band takes over the city of Aquae Sulis, making it Arthur’s capital. There Arthur meets Gwenhwyfar, whom he is forced to marry. By this time, Gwyna is starting to look more and more like a young woman than a man. Myrddin seeing this decides to change Gwyn back into Gwyna and she goes into to serve Gwenhwyfar. Things slowly goes from bad to worse, almost shadowing the legend. This story is a different viewpoint and a whole different take on the legend of King Arthur.

1) Myrddin. He goes from likable, to vile, to just delusional. The problem I have is that he has all these various mood swings and it throws the reader off. But it’s more than that. For the longest time, I thought that Myrddin seemed to be really likable and enjoyable. Then he just changes and becomes a bitter, vile man. Then later on, you learn that the reason he becomes this way seems like a hurried explanation. Because of this, you realize that the whole time he seems to be lost within his own false stories he made up about Arthur. He’s still an interesting character, however.
2) Children Story? I saw that this was short-listed for some children story award. Is this really meant to be a children story? Really? With all the nudity, sex, graphic bloodshed, and the curse words, this really doesn’t seem to be child friendly. Unless the children stories have changed from when I was young to today.

1) Pacing. The story was a really fast read. It really kept me entertained and excited when I was reading. In fact, I really didn’t want to put the story down to long. The chapters were short and quick, only lasting a few pages. The story wasn’t bogged down in fancy wording or unimportant details. Gwyna’s narration was simple, yet riveting. It was like I was listening to own of Myrddin’s tall tales.
2) Villainous Arthur. Arthur was a villain! Seeing him as someone that I really hated was a shock but a shock I really enjoyed. Everyone thinks that Arthur is some sort of immortal hero, always just and true. Yet here, he is a vile, hateful, stupid, cruel man. I have to say I enjoy him like this than as a good man.
3) Dark. The whole story had a darker feel to it. From the beginning, seeing Gwyna’s home burn is dark. Then you have the tragic parts of Gwenhwyfar, Bedwyr, and Cei. On top of that Arthur isn’t noble and kind. It just felt dark. But it felt so right.

Side Notes:
1) Movies. It really seems that Philip Reeve took a lot, a lot of inspiration from movies like 1981’s Excalibur. There are some scenes from Excalibur that are taken word for word in this story, the best example the endings are very similar.
2) Legends to Characters. It was fun to try and figure out who was who from the legend to the story. Some were vary obvious; Cei was Kay, Myrddin was Merlin, and Peredur was Perceval. Some where harder to figure out, but it still was interesting seeing who was who.
3) Cover Art. Simple, yet interesting. It seems clean. Seeing Caliburn being held by the Lady of the Lake reminiscent of the movie Excalibur really works well.

Overall: 5/5
Final Thoughts:
This was a fun take on King Arthur’s legend. The reason why I thought it was fun is because of how unlike the legend it is. Seeing Arthur as a vile character was different and I thought it works really well. Gwyna is an interesting character, going from girl to boy to girl again and how she deals with everything was fun to read about. It just was a fast paced story and exciting like nothing else.