Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Book Review: Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845 by Catherine A. Brekus

Catherine A. Brekus. Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845. (Gender and American Culture.) Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. 1998. Pp. x, 466. Cloth $49.95, paper $17.95.

Spinning an intricate thread with which to follow the path of rediscovering the stories of evangelical female preachers who influenced the first and second Great Awakening up until the pre-Civil War revivals, Catherine Brekus in Strangers and Pilgrims: Female Preaching in America, 1740-1845 considers women of varying class and race. Recovering the significant impacts of these women on their evangelical churches in a moving towards recognized denominations, Brekus relies upon primary sources including letters, journals and memoirs along with published reports of camp meetings, religious periodicals, pamphlets and books printed by the women themselves, in parish records or the writings of a male preachers, along with a vast collection of secondary sources. As if restoring a disintegrated work of art, Brekus paints a picture of female religious leadership, which neither conforms to the silent, submissive stereotypes of eighteenth and nineteenth century women, nor the radical social activist positions of early feminists, “platform speakers,” who advocated not only women’s suffrage and reproductive rights, but also the abolition of slavery.

Though a detailed historical work, Strangers and Pilgrims is a useful resource not only for scholars, but clergy and lay people interested in discovering not only the general themes of female evangelists but also the specific struggles women like Harriet Livermore faced. Viewing the King James Bible as the literal Word of God, female evangelists struggled to fulfill their unpaid call to preaching financially by selling handiwork, tracts and books, relying on charity, or relying on the salaries of their husbands. In spite of all the controversy surrounding these women who traversed social expectations of women’s silence in public and religious spheres, most of the female evangelists tended to endorse conservative political position. It is this middle position between traditionalism and radical thinking that Brekus notes is representative of “the same values as countless numbers of anonymous women who sat in church pews every Sunday.” (7)

Drawing out a more realistic picture of women’s lives than the commonly assumed repression of women, Brekus depicts ordinary women who fervent spiritual concerns did not even broach the realm of religious power politics: these female evangelists did not clamor for rights to baptism or ordination, claiming equality with men through scriptural revelation rather than biological nature. Embracing supportive roles, this group of women who “were the first to speak publicly in America” (6) prioritized their preaching calls beneath faith in scriptural revelation. Despite their willingness to accept secondary roles in leadership, female evangelists attracted droves of converts by their condemnations of sin, which thundered as powerfully as any male preacher in spite of a lack of education. In spite of their budding leadership, Brekus notes that within a decade of the genesis of female evangelists, evangelical churches began to more rigidly distinguish the boundaries of “masculine” and “feminine” as the desire to be recognized as denominations increased.

These degenerating egalitarian and populist ideals of evangelical churches led to an emphasis on the importance of a salvation experience over and above distinctions of race, class, and gender. “In many ways,” Brekus observes, “the presence of large numbers of white and black women in the pulpit seems to offer evidence of the democratization of American Christianity.” (11) Finding the evangelical scenario after the Great Awakening to be paradoxical, Brekus discussed the contradictions in celebrating freedom, and instituting governance for those freedoms. In spite of allowing women to preach, women remained “strangers and pilgrims, outsiders in an evangelical culture that reserved its greatest public honors for men alone.” (13) Rhetorical separation of public and private spheres may have influence women’s self-perceptions, but not their actual affect on the shaping of culture. Relating the struggles of the female evangelists in the past to current issues of women’s religious leadership, Berkus provides an example of past societal failures to recognize women, challenging congregations today with the ominous threat of repeating a history of forgetting female contributions.

Hannah M. Mecaskey

Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology

Monday, March 30, 2009

03.31.2009 New Release: Stakes & Stilettos (Immortality Bites 4) by Michelle Rowen

Stakes & Stilettos

Immortality Bites, Book 4

by Michelle Rowen

Release Date: March 31, 2009

Buy Now From Amazon  $6.99

SYNOPSIS

Newly vamped Sarah Dearly wants her normal life back, but fate is fighting against her. She tries to get a regular job and gets staked in the interview, only to be rescued by a masked vampire who calls himself the Red Devil. Then a wallflower-turned-witch curses her, making her a bloodthirsty, sun-allergic nightwalker–the worst vampire there is. As if all that weren’t enough, she can’t get married because her 600-year-old boyfriend, Thierry, is in a centuries-long marriage of convenience he can’t escape.

As Sarah’s nightwalker tendencies make her more dangerous, even to those she loves, she’ll have to counteract that curse, unmask the increasingly intriguing Red Devil, and get a commitment from her man. But if that’s what it takes to secure her happiness, Sarah is ready…even if it means embracing her inner vamp to do it.

GET THE REST OF THE SERIES!

book 3  |  book 2  |  book 1

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Saint Mike

Oster, Jerry. Saint Mike. New York: Harper & Row, 1987.

I love it when a book has me scratching my head and asking why in the first chapter. In Saint Mike it actually took the last paragraph at the end of the first chapter before the “huh?” kicked in, but just imagine this: two knights jousting in a field. At the end of the battle one of the knights unscrews his sword to reveal a vial of cocaine. After a good snort he gives it to his jousting mate and tells him they’ll get breakfast afterwards. The kicker is, the scene is neither here nor there in the overall description of the book as described by Nancy Peal in Book Lust, “When Susan Van Meter’s federal narcotics investigator husband is found murdered…she leaves her research position and takes on the task of tracking down and bringing to justice the murderer” (p 6).

I enjoyed every page of Saint Mike. With such a heavy plot (drugs, murder, avenging wife, federal agents) I didn’t expect such playful, witty, sexy language. Granted, there are some really weird scenes (yes, the armor comes back and someone dies by the sword in the most unusual way, but that’s all I’ll say about that). Overall it was an entertaining, fast read.

Favorite scene: I urge every parent of a child on the verge of becoming a teenager to read pages 12-14. Susan is trying to get her daughter up for breakfast, “The sound of drugs and drug paraphernalia and semiautomatic weapons being thrown out the window” (p 13). It’s hysterical.

Favorite line: “Rita tossed her head like a fandango dancer. “It is not just the penis that is flawed; it is the whole organism.”" (p 15).

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “Action Heroines” (p 5).

Saturday, March 28, 2009

"Is this the day, the day I die?"

This story opens with “Is this the day, the day I die?”

What would you do if your home was taken from you, your spouse swept off to an unknown place - a prison, and you are left to rely on the support of others to live? What if they were sent to jail simply because they were a Christian? And what if situations like this actually existed in the world?

They do.

Such a situation is portrayed in Randy Alcorn’s book, Safely Home. Persecution is the focus as we see Quan smuggling in Bibles, meeting secretly in the middle of the night for worship services, and risking their very lives to worship Yesu. Ben is at first skeptical to Quan’s ways of worship but when tragic events unfold in their lives, Ben is affected personally, and their lives will never be the same.

In a day when books in the Christian market are all trying to point consumers to the “secret of prayer” or “steps to true intimacy with God,” Safely Home actually shows a portrait of Christians who have already attained intimacy with God through their hope despite persecution.  I found myself almost envious.

All throughout this book are conversations between the two friends that reveal a developing dialogue that any christian could use when witnessing to friends or neighbors.  In addition, the story includes a witnessing of these events by three members of the ‘cloud of witnesses‘ in heaven.  A great insight into a truth that we often neglect in our daily lives.

Memorable Moment:

The most profound moment of this book was a scene where Ben Fielding has bribed the jailors for a quick moment with Li Chuan.  Ben sees the scars from the numerous beatings Li Chuan has endured while in jail. He is amazed as Li Chuan smiles, displays a peaceful countenance and reports that he has lead several men in the prison to salvation through Yesu.

The two mean exchange how they have been praying for the other. Ben Fielding says he prays that his friend suffer no more persecution. Li Chuan says that he prays that Ben Fielding encounters more persecution because it would bring him closer to Yesu, Jesus Christ.

I wonder to myself as I pray for the persecuted church, if they are not in turn, praying for the persecution of the western church for the same reason.

Consider asking yourself the question “Is this the day, the day I die?”. Embrace the changes in your perspective that follow.

Below is a quick video of Randy Alcorn’s description of his work, Safely Home.  Truly this is a project the world should read.  All royalties will be donated to the persecuted church around the world.

Randy Alcorn’s Blog

Eternal Perspective Ministries

Vessel Project Rating - *****

(a book recommended to all for the message it reveals)

Friday, March 27, 2009

Neural Engineering

Neural Engineering

Computation, Representation, and Dynamics in Neurobiological Systems

Chris Eliasmith and Charles H. Anderson

 

 

Table of Contents and Sample Chapters

For years, researchers have used the theoretical tools of engineering to understand neural systems, but much of this work has been conducted in relative isolation. In Neural Engineering, Chris Eliasmith and Charles Anderson provide a synthesis of the disparate approaches current in computational neuroscience, incorporating ideas from neural coding, neural computation, physiology, communications theory, control theory, dynamics, and probability theory. This synthesis, they argue, enables novel theoretical and practical insights into the functioning of neural systems. Such insights are pertinent to experimental and computational neuroscientists and to engineers, physicists, and computer scientists interested in how their quantitative tools relate to the brain.

The authors present three principles of neural engineering based on the representation of signals by neural ensembles, transformations of these  resentations through neuronal coupling weights, and the integration of control theory and neural dynamics. Through detailed examples and in-depth discussion, they make the case that these guiding principles constitute a useful theory for generating large-scale models of neurobiological function. A software package written in MatLab for use with their methodology, as well as examples, course notes, exercises, documentation, and other material, are available on the Web.

About the Authors

Chris Eliasmith is Assistant Professor in the Department of Philosophy and the Department of Systems Design Engineering at the University of Waterloo.

Charles H. Anderson is Research Professor in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology and the Department of Physics at Washington University, St. Louis.

Source>>:http://mitpress.mit.edu/catalog/item/default.asp?ttype=2&tid=9538

Thursday, March 26, 2009

When I Don't Desire God - A Book Review

Few titles are this self-explanatory. But as usual, Piper doesn’t mince words.

This book could almost be described as a follow up to  “Desiring God”, where Piper introduces the concept of Christian Hedonism: God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him.

But what if you don’t feel like pursuing joy in God? Because indifference to the pursuit of joy in God is indifference to the glory of God, that would be sin.

As Augustine put it: “I was astonished that although I now loved you . . .I did not persist in enjoyment of my God. Your beauty drew me to you, but soon I was dragged away from you by my own weight and in dismay I plunged again into the things of this world. . as though I had sensed the fragrance of the fare but was not yet able to eat it.”

For 230 pages, Piper explains our problem and the solution, extols God’s character, encourages our hearts with the truth, and expounds on the gospel and our hope.

When I Don’t Desire God is a great book to go through as a group or as a devotional. While packed with truth and grand concepts, it can be grasped and understood by teenagers. But these truths are universal and speak to us all.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe

Title: Doctor Faustus

Author: Christopher Marlowe

Paperback: 56 pages

Publisher: Dover Publications, Inc.

Publish Date: 1994

ISBN: 9780486282084

Miscellaneous: Dr. Faustus takes its protagonist from the German Faustbuch (1587), which was based on the life of an actual German astronomer and necromancer named Johann Georg Faustwho died about 1540. Rumored to have exchanged his soul for supernatural powers, he entered German folklore as the consummate naughty trickster, usually indulging in callow mischief. In Marlowe’s play, however he is transformed somewhat, and possesses a certain tragic distinction, though in no way is he exculpated from his crimes. Marlowe is also credited with transforming the English blank verse line, giving it a vigor and range of expression that was to prove a strong influence on his contemporaries, including William Shakespeare.

FAUSTUS: “The reward of sin is death?” That’s hard.

Si peccasse negamus, fallimur, et nulla est in nobis veritas.

“If we say that we have no sin,

We deceive ourselves, and there’s no truth in us.”

Why then belike we must sin

And so consequently die.

Ay, we must die an everlasting death.

What doctrine call you this, Che sera sera,

“What will be shall be?”  Divinity, adieu!

These metaphysics of magicians

And necromantic books are heavenly;

Lines, circles, scenes, letters, and characters,

Ay, these are those that Faustus most desires.

O what a world of profit and delight,

Of power, of honour, of omnipotence

Is promis’d to the studious artisan!



A sound magician is a mighty god…

-Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe, Scene 1, lines 40-53, 60

Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe is an age-old tale about a man who makes a deal with the devil, swapping his soul for knowledge and power. Initially, Faustus imagines all the things he will do with the powers he will be given, reroute the Rhine and maybe even give himself a kingdom for example, but in the end he is little more than a conjurer performing parlor tricks for people’s amusement.

Right from the start of the play we see Faustus, a man of incredible intelligence… too smart for his own good, debating the merits of various disciplines from medicine to philosophy and ultimately divinity. Having received his doctorate in divinity from a world-renown school, Faustus should have a better understanding of God’s mercy and the nature of Grace, but he seems to lack a grasp of the basic elementary concepts of Salvation, Redemption and God’s limitless, unconditional Love. Dr. Faustus’ arrogance and pride in regards to his own geniusness shines through and we get a picture of a man jaded by religion and desiring forbidden knowledge for his own personal gain.

For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?   -Matthew 16:26

For all Faustus’ plans, dreams and schemes of political influence and power, to be “a mighty god,” as the play progresses he becomes baser and more ridiculous until he is on the level of a clown and a jester, performing parlor tricks for the scholars and locals and using his unfathomable powers to play pranks on the unsuspecting.

Marlowe wrote Doctor Faustus toward the end of the Renaissance, a period of time that valued the pursuits of knowledge and self over relationship with God, and meant for the play to be both cautionary and commentary. Through Faustus’ questions put to Mephistophilis (his personal assistant from Hell… literally), Marlowe shows that all things have their origins in God. As the kingdom of Hell is set against Heaven, it because an exercise in futility and vanity for Faustus to pursue all the hidden knowledges because he can not follow them to their ultimate ends, God Himself.

Several times in the play (which covers a 24 year period as that is part of Faustus’ contract) Faustus shows signs that repentance is weighing heavy on his heart. Faustus is caught between the Good Angel’s council to repent and that God will forgive him, and the Evil Angel, who first tries to entice Faustus to follow Hell, and ultimately threatens him that if he repents devils will viciously tear him apart. All the way to the last few days, God continues to call to Faustus and tries to turn his heart to repent and return, but Faustus refuses every time. With the final call, Faustus shows how cruel and vulgar he has become by sending devils to torment and kill the old man who had tried to inspire him to turn back.

One of the fascinating things about Doctor Faustus is that it has historical origins. There really was a Dr. Faust who was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil for supernatural knowledge and abilities.

While Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe isn’t one of the best plays of the Elizabethan era, it is intellectually and morally fascinating. It is possible that Marlowe would have become Shakespeare’s equal had he not died at the age of 29. Also, as I read this play it occurred to me why this type of literature can be so difficult for readers. Unlike novels, which include every detail of the story and make it much easier for the reader to be a passenger in its telling, a play requires you to imagine the missing information and to set the timing. Plays are much more interactive than novels. For flexing my brain and using “shoulder angels,” I give Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe 4 out of 5 stars.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

The name of Faustus’ familiar spirit is Mephistophilis, which reminded me of John Lovitz’ SNL performance in the following clip. What is hilariously funny about it is, it’s actually fairly true to the play. Of course, it’s an 18-year-old hair dresser named Vonda Braithwaite instead of Faustus, but for the most part it’s all there. Lol… the ending is different, too, though you have to wonder would Mephistophilis have stood a chance had the doctor taken his case to Judge Wapner?

 

I love the line “Now you listen to me. I’m Mephistopheles, Prince of Darkness. When I start harassing you, YOU’LL KNOW IT!”

Monday, March 23, 2009

Current reading: Watchmen

I am reading The Watchmen, which was given to me by one of my players/DMs (we alternate) who, even though he works in IT, is so old-skool he doesn’t even have a blog. At least, not one he’s shown me. This isn’t the reason I can’t quite get into The Watchmen though. The reason is that it’s a bit… strange. It doesn’t quite hang together the way I would have expected from Alan Moore. It reads like an early work, where he was trying to fit his dark sensibilities into a classic genre. The whole thing is a bit ham-fisted, in my view.

I understand that this isn’t everyone’s view, and that everyone’s sense of what is ham-fisted and what isn’t (or  even which crude things are enjoyable) is a little different. This is why we have Grognards, and people who like theatre, and people who love 4e D&D. So it’s not as if my opinion is necessarily the only or the right opinion about the clumsiness of The Watchmen, but here goes…

It seems to me that it’s a clear attempt at a kind of meta-comic, where the comic as cultural icon has a self-conscious presence throughout the comment, and it tries in some sense to imagine a role for comics in society (shudder). Hence the inter-leaving of the Pirate comic books with the end-of-the-world motif, and the slightly outlandish heroes tracing their costume decisions back to ’50s comics. But I can’t see why, and it doesn’t seem to work. The interleaved Pirate story is just a clumsy attempt at the sort of inter-chapter stories of Steinbeck or Murakami, but it doesn’t mesh well and so it stands out on its own. The heroes in the story are just too ordinary, and their comic-inspired outfits just look stupid (as if they are trying to remind us that early comic books were bad). If you want to paint the role of comics in society you probably need to make them seem a little more… inspiring … than encouragement for a stream of b-grade heroes.

The thing that really jars though is Doc Manhattan. Here we have a completely normal bunch of guys who beat up criminals because they are tough from “working out” a lot, whose most special trait is maybe some armour in their costume; and then we have Mr. Space-and-time. It doesn’t work. I can’t see where it’s going because, for example, I just don’t see these guys as a threat. People rioted over these vigilantes in their costumes? Why did that kid scrawl “Who will watch the watchmen” on a wall when the watchmen consist of a bunch of guys in tight pants who “work out” a lot? They seem comical not sinister.

So I’m waiting to see where all this meta-comicery leads, but I think it will lead to a flop. I’ve been told  it takes a while to get into but I’m halfway through and still none of this stuff is coming together. Also the artwork is really ordinary, like any run-of-the-mill 50s comic with nothing special to recommend it. So I will try and finish it, but I’m unimpressed and I was kind of expecting something different, particularly from Alan Moore.

It will be interesting to see if my opinion changes by the end. If it does, I shall report back with an explanation…

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Touch of Evil

In “To Kill a Mocking Bird”, Atticus Finch tells his children that before you can judge someone you need to walk in that person’s shoes. The book explores this simple idea throughout and provides a great life lesson in the process.

However, when faced with the horrors perpetrated by Josef Fritzl, Atticus’s aphorism feels redundant. In a recent interview, Fritzl’s psychiatrist, Hedi Kastner, touches upon this issue. Kastner believes that although Fritzl is a desperately evil man he should not be de-humanised (after all evil is a uniquely human characteristic), labelling him a monster is dangerous and that a small part of her feels sorry for him - she thinks that he did not choose to have an abusive upbringing and to suffer such a massive disturbance. Despite all this, Kastner makes it clear that by choosing to react to his personal circumstances in the way that he did means that Fritzl must be judged guilty. Though, interestingly and perhaps controversially , she adds “…. but what he is inside, he didn’t choose.”

This last comment implicitly questions the very possibility of free will and the whole notion of criminal responsibility - are any of us able to exhibit any real control over our own psychology and the way we react to any situation? In reality, none of us can help what we are or the choices we make (for good or for bad). Perhaps Atticus Finch misunderstood the issue - that, in any event, the very idea of a moral judgement is non-sensical, however carefully it is constructed.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Christian women against The Shack

Incredible! Who are these people? They are writers, mostly women, and they are rising up against the false doctrine of The Shack, specifically the author’s rejection of substitutionary Atonement.

If these are Christian writers, maybe I can start reading Christian fiction again, after all.

Someone posted over there, tried to confuse the issue with different “Atonement” views–yeh, right, you’re busted, podnah–and his statements were immediatedly corrected.

Check out these folks. Go through their comments: http://christianwriters.com/showthread.php?t=23780&highlight=shack+atonement

Week Two: Update

I have been slow, yet again, but I achieved a lot in terms of applications this week.

My essays for Moore USC are done - they just need to be reviewed by two people. I am, however, confident about them both. This was a task I had been avoiding for over a month and when I got to it, I completed it in a matter of a few hours.

I still have to get the references signed and sealed as well as my transcripts; something I hope to get done first thing next week.

As for my GMAT prep, I am disappointed by my tutor, he can teach the basics but he cannot help me with real GMAT questions involving permutaion, probabaility etc.

I must criticize the KAPLAN Math WB for not containing a few important chapters, questions of which come very often on the GMAT; the book has no mention of the basics of Coordinate Geometry, Probability, Permutation and the likes. I had to resort to GMAT For Dummies and I have to say, I found the explanations very good - maybe not complex enough, but good to get the gist of the basics so than when I move on to the OG, I can ‘catch on’.

So I spent a day on essays and two days on GMAT For Dummies, catching up on Math chapters not included in Kap Math WB. I have yet to do Word Problems and Data Sufficiency from KAPLAN - so I’m a little behind.

And for Verbal, I am finding KAP Verbal WB very good - but then I just started it and I am not in a place to critique it yet. I ought to go over the Manhattan pdf which I’m sorry to say I’m being lay about. Also, a good idea is Notes on Verbal - it will be vey helpful to have concise notes on Verbal topics I tend to mess up. I will do this.

I hadn’t taken the Powerprep test last week because it does not run on any 64-bit Vista laptop and that’s all I can get my hands on. I’m dusting off an old desktop to run the software on and hope to take the test in a day or two.

I have, in light of the above developments, made a few minor changes to my study program - I have editted the post containing the Program.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Review: McSweeney's Quarterly Concern #30

McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #30.  Editor, Dave Eggers.  Short Fiction Collection.

For some reason it’s been a long time since I’ve gotten all the way through an issue of McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern.  I don’t know why that is and I’m inclined to blame myself, rather than McSweeneys.  But man am I glad I’m back.  Without even realizing it I read all eleven stories and 167 pages of McSweeney’s most recent issue (#30) and it was great to be back with my friends.

I started, strangely enough with Kevin Moffit’s Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events, which was story number three chronologically, and which I didn’t intend to read first - I was headed for story number four - Bad Karma by Etgar Keret - when I stumbled upon these words in Moffit’s story, “Full of bees.”  This piqued my interest and I went back a few sentences so I could see what the hell he was talking about, here’s the passage:

["It wasn't all the time." He pushed his glasses up on his nose and looked at me. "You should try writing about her, if you haven't already.  You find yourself unearthing all sorts of things.  Stories are just like dreams."

Something about his advice irritated me.  It brought to mind his casually boastful author's note, This is his first published story.  "Stories aren't dreams," I said.

"They're not? What are they, then?"

"I didn't know.  All I knew was that if he thought they were dreams, then they had to be something else. "They're jars," I said, "Full of bees.  You unscrew the lid and out come the bees."]

HELLO - I’M IN LOVE.  That passage sent me back to the beginning of Moffit’s story, and then to the beginning of the quarterly to read it all the way through, front to back, as intended.  And it was wonderful.  All the stories were strong.  Some standouts for me were:  Kevin Moffit’s Further Interpretations of Real-Life Events; Etgar Keret’s Bad Karma; Carson Mell’s Diamond Aces; J. Malcolm Garcia’s Cuts; Catherine Bussinger’s Foothill Boulevard; and Wells Tower’s Retreat.  Matei Visniec’s Madness, went beyond being a standout…and well over into the brilliant category.  The only complaint I had with Madness is that I wanted more more more.

But now let’s get to the real meat of this post, the fact that one of the best stories in entire collection is a piece called Pinecone by Michael Cera.  Yes, I said Michael FUCKING Cera.  You know the one.  Why is the world so unfair…that someone gets to be Michael Cera and ALSO gets to be a great writer of short fiction.  The world my friends is a cruel cruel place.  I’d be pissed at Mr. Cera if I wasn’t so hopeful that he’ll write and publish more stories.

Overall I give McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern #30 4.0 Stars and anxiously await my next issue.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Ghost Brigades by John Scalzi

In one way at least, Ghost Brigades is an admirable sequel: it delivers a very similar experience to the first book without simply being a redo.  That’s a lot harder than it sounds.  It also doesn’t really result in a great book, because in my apparently somewhat minority opinion Old Man’s War was enjoyable but ultimately unsatisfying.

It would have been easy for Scalzi to simply write episode two of the military adventures of his protagonist in Old Man’s War.  Instead, he bravely leaves that character in the background, elevates a supporting character to a leading role, and meanwhile sets up a totally different opening scenario.  It’s actually pretty interesting: a top scientist betrays humanity and is working for the alien enemy.  No one knows why, so they clone him and implant the copy of his consciousness the scientist accidentally left behind when he left.  It doesn’t take, so they send the fast-grown clone off to special forces.

This is a pretty interesting premise.  Now, there’s some rough going at the beginning as the infodumps come fast and furious and there’s a lot of babbling about “consciousness” that sounds a lot like Star Trek transporter nonsense.  Then things settle down and we get Heinlein-light military adventures similar in tone to the first book.  The rest of the book doesn’t have anything wrong with it, per se, but like its predecessor it comes off feeling insubstantial.

Based on the setup I’ve described, you can probably guess what the central complication of the latter part of the book is.  It’s so obvious I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say maybe some of the traitor’s consciousness did make it in there after all.  Now I think there are some interesting places to take that idea, but Ghost Brigades is utterly predictable.  There are some other issues, too, beyond the basic plot.  Scalzi’s approach to showing this process means that the main character spends the first part of the book being a thoroughly passive and therefore thoroughly uncompelling character.  Later in the book the word “soul” is actually used instead of “consciousness” but there’s no real examination of the implications of that.

As with Old Man’s War, the politics and world-building are the most interesting part of the affair, but ultimately not too much attention is given to this.  The traitor, for example, believes certain startling things about the human government, but the main characters ignore them and the official response amounts to “haha he doesn’t know what’s really going on lol” and then the book ends.  After two books of offering tantalizing hints without ever dealing with it directly I can only assume Scalzi isn’t interested himself, or at the very least is sweeping it under the rug since his jaded main characters don’t care.  In the middle of Ghost Brigades the main characters have to do some things they consider morally repugnant, but ultimately they just complain a bit and then do their job.  Orders are orders, apparently.  Hopefully Scalzi will blow up this dubious philosophy in a later book, but at this rate I don’t know if I’ll read it.

The Man

The Man Who Hated Women

is on the shelves just out new release wow

last year it was The Man Who Loved Yngve

everyone raved about just had to read

after the film came out

and before that the revival of The Man Who

Mistook His Wife for a Hat onstage all the rage

Maybe it’s the same man

Maybe there is just one man

mistook his wife for a hat so now

he hates women and loves Yngve who

by the way is a man too

so no, there isn’t one man there’s two:

Yngve

and the guy everyone writes about

Sashiko books are now in!

I’ve just listed two new sashiko books direct from Japan, Sashiko no Hon and Sashiko no Hana Fukin. These are great little books to have on hand if you are just starting out with sashiko or want some colorful inspriation. They are full of color photos showing finished projects and how-to instructions.

Sashiko no Hana Fukin

These are both published by Ondori and use the same Olympus kits, thread and supplies I offer in my Etsy shop. I will be listing two other books tomorrow that are more complex and advanced, but if you’re looking for the basics, either of these first two books should prove helpful.

More thread colors and new kits will be listed tomorrow. I have also been sorting fabrics for vintage kimono fabric packs and will list those this week.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Monday Erotica Review

This morning’s erotica review is of Ghost Lover and Other Erotic Fantasies by Christopher Newman. Today I’ll leave the reviewing to an expert, A.J. Llewellyn of Dark Diva Reviews.

After that, my review for The Revenant by Janet Elizabeth Jones (also posted at Dark Diva Reviews).

Ghost Lover and Other Erotic Fantasies by Christopher Newman

This collection of horror/erotic short stories includes five pieces – the title story, The Jar, The Featured Entertainer, Made to Order and Love to Stay Up For a Spell. The first story, Ghost Lover is a Halloween tale centering around twenty-two year old Ryan waking up in the back of his friend Chad’s car following a horrific car accident on a desolate country road.

The crash, which leaves his three friends Chad, Ashley and Kathy dead, fills Ryan with a serious case of survivor guilt.

Believing their ghosts to be angry that he has survived the accident, Ryan goes off in search of help…finding unlikely and sympathetic aid in the arms of Sonia Fortunata, a woman twice his age.

In The Jar, attorney Ray Alderman has started a new relationship with sexy, vibrant Ruthie, but he is plagued with suicide threats by his loony former lover, Nadine. A mysterious jar appears in his home and when Ray opens it, he discovers Nadine has wreaked revenge on Ray in a very painful way.

The Featured Entertainer is the mysterious Serena…a hypnotic, bitchy stripper in a club who is getting all the patrons’ attention and more importantly, their money too. While the other strippers hate what she’s doing their careers, are also irresistibly drawn to her like moths to the proverbial flame.

In Made to Order, balding, stuttering love loser Frank Putman is tired of striking out with real women, so he buys a life-like sex doll. Loretta might have been made to his specifications but…is she more woman than Frank can handle?

Love to Stay Up For a Spell is the story of Lisa Richardson, a divorced middle-aged woman who has been using men to keep the wrinkles at bay. When a bible basher turns up at her door, she finds new and inventive uses for him…until she discovers you really can’t judge a book or its basher by its cover.

Review:

Christopher Newman knows how to mix horror and sex in a gripping, page-turning way. The hooks to each of these pieces are intriguing. Each tale has a well grounded, apparently normal setting with genuine moments of creepiness thrown in the mix.

Of all the stories, Made to Order is a well-paced, very riveting read. It’s disturbing and satisfying with a brilliant ending. It’s a toss-up between this and Ghost Lover for which is the best, but these two stories alone rate this collection highly.

The heart-felt, clever twists in Ghost Lover could easily make for a longer, even more satisfying read in a novel.

Ghost Lover is very original and has many compelling elements, worthy of the likes of Stephen King. This book could easily be turned into a high concept movie.

The Jar was also an interesting concept and like the others, laced with lots of hot sex, but needed a better ending. The Featured Entertainer felt very well researched and the characters of the various strippers were very good. You could feel the strippers’ tension as the countdown for Serena’s dancing began, but once again, the ending was a bit flat.

Love to Stay Up For a Spell was the first story to use an amusing setup that tickled this reviewer’s funny bone. A bizarre, amusing tale.

A lot of typos and some grammar issues a good editor should have corrected slightly marred these otherwise complex, engaging tales. Despite these small problems, this gets FIVE DELIGHTFUL DIVAS.

 

The Revenant by Janet Elizabeth Jones

Summary: For twenty-five years, vampire Ellory Benedikt has resisted a psychic compulsion to return to the beach in Maine where his mortal life ended. Now he can no longer resist. He is appalled to find the source of the summons is a mere human unaware of her power over him.

Talisen Davies’ only goal is to discover the fate of her hero, eighteenth-century sea captain Ellory Benedikt, who disappeared after his marriage to her distant ancestor. His story is the missing chapter in her late grandmother’s labor of love, the family history.

With the New England vampires challenging his right to reclaim his territory, Ellory doesn’t need a human poking into his past. But Talisen’s broken heart depends on knowing what happened to her beloved captain. Ellory longs to be that man, but regrets the price she must pay to learn the truth–that her captain is alive, and a vampire.

My Review: With Revenant, Janet Elizabeth Jones has probably written the best vampire novel I’ve ever read. And even if you don’t personally like vampire stories, you’re bound to love this one. The characters are so well developed and human that you’ll find yourself forgetting they are monsters.

The love story between the two main characters, Talisen and Ellory, is mesmerizing and timeless. Each of them would do absolutely anything for the other and they prove it. There’s a lot of humor between them too and when they finally make love, deep into the novel, the humor remains as it does throughout the book. The sex scenes are still steamy and arousing, well written and never gratuitous.

I said this before but I really loved this story! It took a while (20 pages or so) to get off the ground and hook me, but I’m so glad I hung in there. If I have any complaints, it’s that it could have used another chapter. I want to know what happens to Meical, the Alchemist and Shelby, and our heroes. At the end of the book I was left wanting more.

Perhaps a sequel? Let me know when it’s released. I happily give Revenant 5 Delightful Divas and a recommended read.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Peepshow

Leigh Redhead, Unwin & Allen (2004)

For this review, I am going to look at a bit of local fiction. When I was younger (so much younger than today), I used to live in Richmond, which is a inner-city suburb of Melbourne. Richmond is also the home of the M.C.G. or Melbourne Cricket Ground, if you prefer. The M.C.G. is a massive sporting arena, which holds approximately ninety thousand people, and plays host to the cricket, AFL (our national game), Soccer, Rugby and the odd Rock Concert. Across the road from the M.C.G. is The Royal Hotel. ‘The Royal’ is a grubby little hotel that regularly has topless bar-maids and strippers. After all, is there anything more appealing to a drunken male sports fan after a game, than naked women dancing and serving drinks? Me thinks not. As I lived so close to The Royal, I may have accidentally dropped by there on a few occasions. On these very, very rare occasions I may have accidentally watched the odd strip show. Don’t hold it against me. I am only human.

That brings me to Peepshow by Leigh Rehead. Before becoming a novelist, Redhead worked on a prawn trawler, worked as a masseuse, a waitress and as a stripper. Drawing on her past, Redhead has invented a character called Simone Kirsch, who is a full time stripper and a part time Private Eye. Kirsch’s stomping ground happens to be Melbourne, and naturally she puts in a performance at The Royal. I must admit, I find it somewhat strange reading about places and environments I know, but as fiction. Particularly in such a seedy milieu, such as detective fiction. It makes me feel na├»ve about what was going on around me, because I didn’t see it. I know I am blurring the line between fact and fiction, but when your home town is displayed it is easier to get suckered in to the author’s universe. I wonder if in years gone by, if Hollywood based readers of Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe novels felt the same way? Also Redhead’s use of surroundings that are familiar to me, like the Duke Of Windsor Hotel in Prahran (another old haunt) make it hard for me to be truly objective when reviewing this book. Many of my reactions to certain scenes are based on my own personal experiences, rather than what’s on the printed page.

Having mentioned Chandler, it is worth continuing the comparison. The book is written in the Chandler style, but far from that high standard. Describing the plot in a labyrinthine story like this, is all but pointless, but all the usual suspects are here, from crooked cops, sleazy club owners and an assortment of underworld figures. But the book is pretty clunky at times, and does drag out the resolution a bit too much.

At the end of the day, I really enjoyed this book, but I guess, I am it’s audience. Those unfamiliar may not enjoy the chuckle (if I remember a venue fondly), or cringe (for not so pleasant memories) factor that I do. Outsiders may look at the story on it’s merits. And on that level, it may disappoint.

Peepshow was successful enough that a couple of follow up novels featuring Simone Kirsch was written. The first was called Rubdown. I haven’t gotten around to reading it yet, but as you’d expect, I have thumbed through it. At a quick glance, it would appear that the venues mentioned are no longer real venues, but fictitious pubs and clubs. If that’s the case it is a shame, but not surprising that the ‘owners’ of certain establishments should or would feel a bit edgy that their venue is being displayed in a unflattering light.

The new book is called Cherry Pie. I haven’t seen it in the shops yet, but there is some information on her website: Cherry Pie.

The Last Gorilla: The Environmental Branch (Short Story, Part 2)

The Last Gorilla: The Environmental Branch (Short Story, Part 2) (March 14, 2005)

Note:  This part concerns the environment. The two parts of this story is a gross brush for a novel. 

            It was a time when those well established “Green Peace”-like movements were integrated within the UN; the genuine “Green Peace” proletarian groups were consistently being tamed by many subterfuge, such as trickling of financial aid, embargo policies, threats, sabotage, lack of State funding, misleading eco-research results funded by multinationals, and hostile multinational mass media. 

The consequence was that equatorial forests were practically deforested to make room for the lucrative bio-agriculture, genetically modified to resist diseases, and that produced better and many crops around the year and were void of any health risk in nutrition or natural diseases.  An individual knew his nutritional type and could select the bio-food that suited his condition.

            For that aim, a centralized powerful organization with the UN called “Defense of the Environment” was created to encourage bio-diversity and promote vegetarian eco-systems.  The goal was poetic and laudable but the secret plan was malignant and executed by ruthless mercenaries for bounty.  Already, elephants and whales were exterminated because they polluted the seas and ravaged the vast cultivated lands in India and Africa; they were of no use for mankind, and were easy to locate and exterminate.  Many species were exterminated on the ground that the analyses of their genomes were completed, thoroughly known, and samples extracted for future reproduction on demands for private billionaires or lucrative zoos. 

The young generations had plenty of digital pictures, videos, documentaries, virtual animations, and cartoons of the animal world to keep them happy and busy.  Grown ups were too busy and militarized to care about this nonsense and redundant animal world as long as they could keep dogs and cats as pets.  Sheep, cows, chickens, and pigs were deemed essential for the time until artificial meat products with various taste were chemically feasibly produced for mass consumptions.

            Chimps, macaques, and their sorts were on the verge of extermination.  The problem resided in killing the gorillas.  It was easy killing gorillas but the UN had to account for the increasing number of suicide acts among the trackers. Testimonials and statistics proved that those who committed suicide looked directly in the eyes of gorillas. The imposing gorillas sat as statues, majestic, and intelligence piercing the eyes of the bounty hunters; the mute conversation said “You may kill me; I am ready but I pity you.  After you kill me you know that you will be next to go.  If you can kill intelligent and meek mammals then your own kinds will ruthlessly kill those of you who fail to obey orders”. 

The “Defense of the Environment” executive branch was ordered to desist momentarily in the plan to exterminate gorillas. This department was glad with the decision since it had more serious categories to exterminate and they required qualitative tactics for mass extermination.  For example, the department was sending plenty of grants to figure out how to subdue rodents, ants, and cockroaches.  The final selection of strategic methods zeroed on sterilizing the females.  One study suggested growing crops that would not hurt man but would sterilize those bloody females that plagued earth sensibilities.

Soon restaurants were ordered to leave specially grown crops in strategic locations.  Soon, every morning, people were traumatized with thousands of rodents and roaches dead belly up any which way they walked.  The people were very understanding and looked at this mess valiantly for a month; a few communities participated in the collect along side the “sanitary” personnel or garbage men, wearing all sorts of gloves, masks, robes, and spraying in all directions, particularly towards their own body .  Soon, people remembered stories of the plague and the dreadful and painful dying process when infected with cholera.

The worst story came from medical research; published papers broke the surprise news: rodents and roaches, in particular, were mutating and defeating the genetically altered crops.  Other kinds of crops were to be researched but this time the crops had to be slightly poisonous to mankind. In the meantime, lethal new generations of anti-biotic were to be researched and produced in abundance to cope with a plausible cholera epidemic.  Old patent medical archives have to be dusted off in search of antibiotics that did not pass Federal regulations (and immediately shipped to under-developed States for reconfirmation of the validation process), or were not commercialized for one reason or other, or were stopped at critical phases in the testing.

Things were getting out of hands and doom was greatly exaggerated by the scary, weak, and puny spirits who never had confidence in sciences in the first place. Predicators took to the streets wearing all sorts of sacerdotal outfits or plain expensive three-piece suits and shiny red or yellow shoes that emulated cardinals or bishops or pagan shamans.  The favorite theme of the predicators was the “Coming of Time” depending of which stage of the coming they forecasted and according to which religious sect they were proselytizing.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

That Lamott Woman

I have been reading the book Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life by Anne Lamott. I choose this out of my overflowing stack of “To be read” books in part because it is about learning to be a better (or at least a more efficient) writer, but mostly because it had the title “Bird by Bird” which is awesome as it references not 1 but 2 (2!) fine feathered friends in its title. We are a match made in heaven. So far the book has taught me that writing really isn’t much fun, but a necessary act for a certain kind of person. Also, it taught me that the only way to make progress in writing is to actually, you know, write. Which surprisingly enough I actually hadn’t figured out for myself yet. So, because I have decided that I am going to take this woman Lamott literally I have decided to write more. She says I should do it every day. So I’m going to start writing every day. Every single day. Probably about nothing much interesting, entertaining or educational. Don’t blame the blog and I, blame that Lamott woman.

Unrelated Note: Have you seen what may or may not actually be Christopher Walken’s twitter page? It is brilliant.

And here is my, rarely updated, far less brilliant contribution.

Touched by an angel #2

Did God do it Darwin fashion?

Second in a series responding to John Cornwell’s Darwin’s angel: an angelic riposte to The God Delusion.1

See also: Touched by an angel #1

Towards the end of Chapter 1: A Summary of Your Argument Cornwell declares that

most sensible theologians have no problem with the theory of evolution. Being a religious believer is not synonymous with being a creationist - in other words, believing that the world and everything in it was literally created 5,000 years ago in six days by a patriarchal God in the sky. Most sensible modern religious believers accept, rather, that if God wanted to make the world in the way that Darwin proposes, why should he not?

I agree. Being a religious believer is not synonymous with being a creationist as described. For a start not all religious believers subscribe to the Judaeo-Christian god. And the Judaeo-Christian stable itself is the broadest of churches - I have yet to come across two of its congregation holding exactly the same set of beliefs. We should also remember that religious belief is not 100% synonymous with belief in a god either. Confucianism and Buddhism are two major religions which seem quite happy to do without.

The clash between modern evolutionary theory and a god of the Judaeo-Christian type is not however just about literal versus metaphorical readings of Genesis. Cornwell’s question alludes to an important issue rather nicely, particularly with its provocative use of the present tense in ‘proposes’.

Evolutionary thinking has moved on over the last 150 years - not by questioning or even significantly modifying the elements of Darwin’s theory, but more by letting them sink in so their profounder implications can emerge. A Darwinist up to and even including the ‘modern synthesis’ of the mid-20th Century could see evolution as intrinsically progressive: ‘progress without a goal’ as Julian Huxley described it. From the late 20th Century onwards though evolution has been seen as a blinder, more callous affair. Any apparent progress is purely the result of competition between randomly-generated variants. And the ‘survival of the fittest’ entails the destruction of the overwhelming majority of individuals. The more sentient those individuals are, the more excruciating the destruction will be. Natural selection selects for killing machines (lions, tigers, wolves, leopards, hawks, sharks…) of greater and greater efficiency. Natural selection selects for greater and greater reproductive capacity: more and more grisly, often premature, deaths. If this is progress it is only that of an arms race.

Thomas Malthus

The dark side of evolution was not lost on Julian’s grandfather Thomas Henry Huxley; or indeed Darwin himself, who recollected his own reading of Thomas Malthus’s An essay on the principle of population2 in these words:

In October 1838… I happened to read for amusement [sic] ‘Malthus on Population,’ and being well prepared to appreciate the struggle for existence which everywhere goes on from long-continued observation of the habits of animals and plants, it at once struck me that under these circumstances favourable variations would tend to be preserved, and unfavourable ones to be destroyed. The result of this would be the formation of new species. Here, then, I had at last got a theory by which to work; …3

So, yes, why shouldn’t God have made a Darwinian world if that’s how he wanted it? The only snag is that his reputation for perfect goodness - or indeed any kind of goodness - would start to look a bit shabby. Remember this is not the kind of ‘problem of evil‘ which has a supposed resolution in human free will. Free will does not come into it - other than that of the creator god. A creator god who created life on Darwinian principles would have deliberately and knowingly created the conditions for wholesale destruction and suffering.

There are only really three ways out, and they have all been taken many times. One is to keep the single creator god but deny its goodness. Another is to allow at least two gods - one who is the callous or positively evil creator of the world, and one who can be as good as you please. This is the route taken by strands of Gnosticism, Manichaeism and Catharism - all of which the early Christian Church regarded as deeply heretical.

The third traditional exit is mystery:

God moves in a mysterious way

His wonders to perform…4

An omniscient and omnipotent god can be as ├╝bermysterious as he chooses. But default mystery leaves Cornwell’s rhetorical question about what ‘most sensible modern religious believers accept’ looking more disingenuous than angelic.

References

John Cornwell, Darwin’s angel: an angelic riposte to The God Delusion, Profile Books, London, 2007.

Thomas Malthus, An essay on the principle of population, 1798-1826.

Charles Darwin, The autobiography of Charles Darwin 1809-1882: edited, with original omissions restored, and with appendix and notes by his grand-daughter Nora Barlow, Collins, London, 1958.

William Cowper, The Olney hymns, LXVIII: Light shining out of darkness, 1779.

© Chris Lawrence 2009.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Book Review: Making a Literary Life

Every time I vow not read another writing advice book, I find one that really seems to tackle issues I’m having trouble with.

Carolyn See’s Making a Literary Life (Random House, 2002) is the most recent advice book that I’ve checked out. Along with chapters on craft, See adds a new dimension: How to make a life as a writer, which delves into relationships, publication, networking and promotion.

To the chapters on craft — plot, characters, revision and scene — See includes an interesting section on geography, time and space, which expands upon more than just setting.

In this section, she emphasizes specifics over generalizations.  She says, for instance, if a writer generalizes too much when trying to be “‘universal” the writer runs “the risk of boring . . .  readers to death. Because the ‘man’ and ‘woman’ in ‘the city’ may be easy enough to write about, but who can stand to read about them?”

The specifics matter. A character’s geography matters, how that character gets around matters, how time influences characters matters. Such things matter so much See suggests using such tools as drawing maps of the town a character lives in, of the place where a character lives. It’s a reminder we should know our characters inside-out as we work out their lives and stories on the page.

Also, as with other writing books, See stresses the importance of commitment to the craft. She has her version of Richard Rhodes’ Knickerbocker Rule — you write by applying your ass to your chair. See’s version of the rule is “a thousand words a day — or two hours of revision — five days a week for the rest of your life.”

There’s no other way around it, kids: to write, you have to commit to writing, you have to take time out and write and write and write, and then write some more.

My favorite sections in this book are about the writer’s life itself, the people around you, and the best people to be around (those who genuinely support your work); your life and outlook (how do you see yourself as a writer? how do you want others to see you?); how do you build a network of writers, editors, etc. (See suggests one charming note a day to a writer, editor, agent, etc.); and how do you manage publishing and promoting your work?

See’s advice on relationships with those around you particularly caught my attenti0n as I read. My relationships have been needling my mind lately, especially how those relationships affect my writing.

The book devotes a whole chapter on hanging out with people who support your work. See writes about people who can be toxic to your writing, and the poison can drip from unexpected places. Sometimes it dribbles from other writers, or literary wannabes, she says, who can hex you all of your writing life if you let them.

I’ve had friends like that. In graduate school I had a writer friend, who on the surface appeared to be interested in my writing as much as I was hers: we critiqued manuscripts, we talked books. A good time was had by all.

Until she took literary critiques and turned them into personal attacks. Nastiness ensued. Barbs were traded. The friendship dissolved, but I carry the scars of her personal attacks with me to this day. (The villains in our life, however, can be useful: this particular villain, or many of her traits tend to pop up as antagonist’s traits in my fiction.)

Of course, writers also find great support. My best has been a former work colleague who served as something of a guru as I learned the ropes of being a newspaper feature writer and editor. I’m ever grateful for such friendships.

But the relationships writers establish matter, as See emphasizes throughout the book. And it’s those sections in the book, as much as the craft sections, that solidify my recommending it.

March Interlude 1

Although Interlude denotes a pause/break, I prefer using this to post my thoughts on multiple things which I don’t want to dedicate an entire post to.

So the 1st interlude of the month-

I watched ‘Vantage Point’ finally after repeated recommendation at the retail outlet where I purchase DVDs. The sales folks were disappointed when I didn’t buy the DVD, but I rented it out at the online rental store.

Basically, the story is an assassination plot against none other than the American president (we have so many of those) with his royal secret force risking their lives to protect him. The only twist here is it’s a rather elaborate and very deviant plot that diverts your attention in multiple directions. The story is retold from the perspective of 6 witnesses and with each version you piece together the truth.

The last perspective (the one from Dennis Quaid) makes all the sense. I don’t know what the scriptwriter was thinking of but it was movie that could’ve done away with in less than an hour. Dennis Quaid does nothing much expect running after the terrorists. Ok so I wasn’t paying attention to it most of the time but what the heck! I watched it anyways.

2nd in list is the short stories book - ‘The Puffugees Club’ by Jasper Utley. I found this book at the library ofcourse and found it rather entertaining. Its about a club in Chennai (for those of you who don’t know… it’s a metro in South India) and it specifically focuses on a General who narrates rather amusing incidents to his motley group of fellow smokers and club members.

I also browsed the ‘1001 Foods You Must Try Before You Die’ one of the many ‘try before you die’ books that are being published these days. The plus point is it provides good information on various herbs, vegetables and fruits as well as exotic & unappealing carnivorous stuff. Notable among them are Bird’s Nest Soup, Blowfish delicacy (the poisonous ones), Geoduck, Durian (supposedly the ‘king of fruits’ simply because it has too many thorns, smells and doesn’t taste like butter so much so that its considered a delicacy in Asia) to mention a few. I wish they had a book on the 1001 delicacies to try. I could recommend a couple of them myself.

The other book that I’m currently reading or perusing through is a lovely coffee table book ‘Hidden Britain’ (not sure about the author). Like I said, cover pages do influence my buying decision and the nicer the better. I picked this book at the library and the reason - sheer architectural beauty depicting eras bygone. I’m a sucker for architecture specially the gothic and the Victorian ones. And this had a mix of everything! I would be posting my thoughts section wise though as each section covers a couple of counties.

Although I’ve been only to London and its suburbs, UK rather grew on me owing to its pastoral beauty and greenery (I haven’t seen so much greenery anywhere) as well as its quaint markets, fairs and bookstores. Of course, the Tube system is one of the best in the world and you see fashion at its best!! One of my fav destinations!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Smothered Dolls

By A.R. Morlan

Overlook Connection Press

2007; 288 pages

As a relative newcomer to the horror genre, I had never heard of A.R. Morlan, who’d been mainly writing short stories since 1985, until I read an advance proof of her first collection, Smothered Dolls. Now I’m an ardent fan. Of the fifteen stories in this collection, three were reprinted in The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror, three are new, and nine appeared previously in various magazines and anthologies published from the late eighties to the early twenty-first century. The three honored stories are “The Second Most Beautiful Woman in the World” about a man’s admiration of a woman who entered a contest at a local diner, “Yet Another Poisoned Apple for the Fairy Princess” about a henpecked husband’s agony, and “Tattoo” about the different effects of a tattoo for a man and woman who met in a bar, not for the first time. The new stories include “Smothered Dolls or the Girl Who Could Never Be Good” about a girl raised by her abusive mother and grandmother, “The German Lady” about the relationship between an old German woman and her young female American personal caregiver, and “Milan, March 1972” about an artist’s obsession with a popular Zdenek print. The other stories are “No Heaven Will Not Ever Heaven Be” about a photographer’s meeting with a retired painter of barn advertisements, “Civic Duties” about a woman performing a strange civic duty, “Powder” about a young woman suffering from carbon monoxide poisoning, “In a Fine and Verdant Place” about a man moving into a new home that isn’t what it seems, “Dora’s Trunk” about a woman’s dissatisfaction of her husband’s and her move to the Dust Bowl during the Depression, “The Gemutlichkeit Escape” about an American POW and his relationship with his German captor, “The On’ner” about a Kentucky farmer’s unusual invention, “Need” about a man logging onto internet chat room by accident to fulfill a unrealized need, and “- And the Horses Hiss at Midnight (Non-Vampire Version)” about a special characteristic of wooden carousel horses at a carnival. The writing for each story is crisp and concise and most go for the ‘aha’ ending which works for Morlan. The characters are fleshed out and relatable within quick moving plots, which shows Morlan’s mastery of this written form. Smothered Dolls has enough types of horror to suit any connoisseur, from dark fantasy to gut-kicking reality. In addition, each story is supplemented by an afterward that delves into Morlan’s reasoning behind each tale, some of which are altered from their original publications. However, most of the afterwards are insightful anecdotes. Unfortunately her bitterness and resentment over her abusive childhood she mentioned in a couple of afterwards should have been edited out by the publisher. I feel it slightly overshadowed her immense talent. This is the only flaw I found in the collection.

Although pricy at $44.95 from the publisher, Smothered Dolls is well worth it for the serious horror connoisseur. I highly recommend it.

- Reviewed by Karen Newman

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

The Art of Racing in the Rain - Garth Stein

SYNOPSIS: This story is told from the point of view of Enzo, a very observant dog with a near human soul. Having learning nearly everything he knows from watching television and through careful observation of his master, Denny, Enzo is looking forward to his next life as human. The story follows Enzo’s life with Denny, an auto repair technician and budding race car driver with a knack for outperforming other drivers when the track is slick. Through all of Denny’s life changing moments — the courtship Eve, marriage, birth of first child, etc — the ever adjusting and deeply loyal Enzo sticks by Denny. Enzo’s disdain for crows and the playful nature of his character shine through.

REVIEW: I absolutely loved this book. In fact, this may be my favorite book of all time. I have sent a few copies of this book to family and friends who also enjoyed the read and passed it along. I laughed, I cried I couldn’t put the book down. Not since Wilson Rawls’ Where the Red Fern Grows (which I read in grade six) have I been so touched by a book. The story moves along at a nice pace with some unexpected twists and turns along the way. This book is a must read for anyone who is or has ever been a dog owner.

Ironically this is a book I passed over several times at the book store, largely because of the title. Although appropriate and aligning with the theme, it leads one to believe that auto racing is the major component of the book. It is in fact very secondary. I think this book would have been more widely read and popular with a different title and cover presentation. If you see this book, don’t make the mistake of passing it over, the laughs and journey with Enzo are worth your time. Certainly know that you won’t be reading sci-fiction, mystery or fantasy but if you are looking for a solid fiction read, look no further.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Latest Read: Drop Dead Gorgeous by Linda Howard

This novel is a sequel to To Die For and Wyatt is still Wyatt. Sexy and completely compelling. Blair, whose character is addictive, returns and is planning a wedding with the sexy cop. Of course, mayhem ensues.

 

She has a hit and run as well as a fire that was nicely written. The sexual tension and bits of humor between Wyatt and Blair keep the book at a good pace. This wedding thing is getting boring however. There are pages of wedding stuff and the author seemed to give Blair a very girly and weak persona in those areas. I liked how she was portrayed in the first novel better. In addition, I’ve never heard of SDS. SDS is the Sperm Delivery System, in other words, his dick. Very creative.  

 

The ending was good; no one could have guessed the attempted killer because she wasn’t mentioned until the last few pages. The realization from the photo of who her stalker was was a nice touch.

 

I skipped the wedding scene, those bore me to death. There is a scene afterward that is a smile and a half. Although she didn’t include her usually great sex scenes, this novel was good, not her best but certainly worth the read.

 

 

5/10

 

 

 

 

http://authors.simonandschuster.com/linda-howard

<i>The Dark Volume</i> by G.W. Dahlquist

This sequel to The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, which I so loved, picks up immediately after the close of Glass Books and follows the same alternating chapter structure. Miss Temple wakes from a fever to find herself seemingly deserted by Chang and Doctor Svenson and the villagers sheltering her rather urgently wanting her gone. Mysterious deaths abound as she makes her way back to London, struggling with the changes that reading a glass book have wrought on her.

We switch to Chang and then to Svenson, moving back in time to see why each of them in turn felt obliged to leave and developing the new plot which involves a second tier of conspirators who are moving into the power vacuum left by the destruction of the original cabal.

There a couple of problems with this sequel which make it somewhat less enjoyable than Glass Books. Firstly, the ending of that first book left our three heroes stranded far away from the centre of the action. Therefore the first part of the book has to be devoted to getting them back to where the conspiracy is taking place. Dahlquist does his best to raise mysteries to keep the reader involved, and to a certain extent that works - except the back cover blurb gives it all away (tip: do not read the back cover blurb for this book). Also, it never does become entirely clear what exactly has happened in the smaller details. I can guess, but unlike the first book, guesses are never properly confirmed.

Because of the time spent moving the characters into position, there is less time to introduce the new swathe of villains. One of the pleasures of Glass Books is that it never moves slowly but because all three heroes encounter the villains individually, they are introduced three times over: the reader has the space to see where alliances and motivations lie. However, with The Dark Volume, villains are switching sides and plans before you’ve even had time to work out whose side they’re currently on or what they were intending to do. It’s much, much harder to keep the intricate backstabbings straight.

And lastly, the Process and its related elements have moved from being enticingly mysterious to annoyingly vague. Turns out indigo clay, which is used to make the blue glass, can do just about anything, from brainwashing and mind control to powering airships, and lord knows what the Process actually does…I’m coming at the book from a fantasy perspective, so it doesn’t bother me too much. Someone reading with a SF perspective would probably be put off by the imprecision.

All this is not to say I didn’t very much enjoy seeing these characters in action again, and watching their relationships evolve. In fact, the main disappointment to me was that they spend even less time together in this one than they did in Glass Books. Once again I’m hoping for a sequel, because if it’s left where The Dark Volume ended, our heroes are in a bad, bad place indeed.

Monday, March 9, 2009

make yourself a button necklace (or two, or three)

I made a few versions of a button link necklace for CraftStylish this week… row of reds (using a few vintage buttons I especially liked), black and white handmade (using the shrink art buttons I made in last week’s tutorial) and the blue circles and blossoms version from Button It Up. This is a personal favorite of mine: easy to make, easy to wear (if you don’t have an eager baby reaching for it every five seconds), and super-customizable. And I love making spin-off projects, too; I think it’s really fun to see how using different materials or colors changes an idea up so quickly.

The complete tutorial is here and you can check out an archive of all the button-themed projects so far for March — there are some gorgeous ones up for grabs over there! It has been really inspiring to see all these fantastic button crafts.

And in book-related news, I wanted to mention that the two signed copies of Button It Up I posted to benefit the Roy family in Texas sold the first day (thank you!!) and I’ve added a few more to my Etsy shop, in case you want one. (These new copies aren’t part of the fundraiser, but the kits in my shop are, and I’m hoping to do more for it soon, too.) I’ve also been ordering supplies and sorting buttons for my upcoming book events (the first one is Friday, March 20 at Powell’s, and the second one is Saturday, March 28 at Bolt Fabric Boutique), and I’m getting excited for those. Hope some Portland folks can make it out to them!

And Heather of Dollar Store Crafts wrote a nice review and is hosting a giveaway on her lovely blog, starting today! You can enter via comments or on twitter. Thank you, Heather!

I’m going to post about some favorite button shops and sources this week, so please stay tuned if you’re looking for some new treasures…

[REVIEW] The Forest of Hands and Teeth - Carrie Ryan

Carrie Ryan

The Forest of Hands and Teeth

Random House Delacorte (US & CA: 10th March 2009); Hachette Gollancz (AU: June 2009; UK: 16th July 2009)

Buy (US) Buy (UK) Buy (CA)

A creepy setting, difficult choices and an eerie scenario make Carrie Ryan’s The Forest of Hands and Teeth unforgettable.

It’s a rare gem: a zombie novel in which the Z-word is never mentioned, and doesn’t resort to shlock. Indeed, this is one of the most elegantly-written novels I’ve read; with characters to care about, a unique and disturbing setting, life or death decisions, and plenty of opportunity for social commentary. If you were hoping this was an escapist read, you may be surprised by how much you can relate to or at least sympathise with.