Friday, July 31, 2009

Overcoming the Fear of Creating Art

Art & Fear
By David Bayles and Ted Orland
(Image Continuum Press, $12.95, paperback)

The book Art & Fear is a compact work with just 122 pages.  Yet it lives up to its tagline, “An Artist’s Survival Guide,” and its subtitle: “Observations on the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking.”

The book’s co-authors, David Bayles and Ted Orland, describe their book as being “about making art. Ordinary art.” Their work is not aimed at the rare creative geniuses, the Mozarts of the world, who make big splashes. Instead, it is written for “the rest of us” who strive to create works of art in many different forms on a daily basis.

The co-authors note: “We’re all subject to a familiar and universal progression of human troubles — troubles we routinely survive, but which are (oddly enough) routinely fatal to the artmaking process.”

 The challenge for artists is to learn how to continue working and creating in the face of these unavoidable troubles.  In other words, we must learn “how to not quit,” the writers point out.

“Fear that your next work will fail,” they emphasize,  “is a normal, recurring and generally healthy part of the artmaking cycle.”

It may not be easy to remember that or to use it to your advantage while struggling to start and finish some type of artistic creation.

Art & Fear seeks to help artists understand the sources of their fears. And it offers ways to try to overcome those fears and keep working even when you have no clear idea what you are trying to create.

“Artists quit when they convince themselves that their next effort is already doomed to fail. And artists quit when they lose the destination for their work — for the place their work belongs.”

The $12.95 paperback is now published by Image Continuum Press, and it already has been reprinted at least 19 times since it first appeared in 1994.

Clearly, a lot of fearful, stressed-out artists have been reading it and recommending it to others.

– Si Dunn


Thursday, July 30, 2009

This n That

Remember the edit hurdle I wrote about a few days ago?  Well, I did it!  I pulled that memory to the surface and wrote the scene, making it the subject of the beginning of the book.  It wasn’t difficult.  I just needed to think it through.  Ninety percent of the time, when an editor suggests a change, points out a problem, or writes a comment about a scene or a chapter, they’re right.  Some editing is subjective, meaning that if you were to ask two editors, they might disagree.  However, a fresh set of eyes on your work is rarely a bad thing, which is why I try to always be a professional and accept that perhaps my work is not as perfect as I think it is.  ‘nuf said! Anyway, changed the beginning, and I gotta admit that it works better than I thought it would.  Plus it gives me a chance to introduce a character while he’s alive rather than after his demise, which is how it was.  That’s always a plus.  Easier to flesh out a living character than a dead one. My friend JT finished his exhaustive edit of his first novel, which I have very much enjoyed reading.  I’m dismayed, though because now I don’t have anything from him to read.  I read the final chapter on Tuesday.  *sigh*  JT’s story is a very good one set in a real time period disguised as a fake one in the future.  His hero is a young man barely out of high school who’s forced to grow up in a scant amount of time.  It’s an excellent coming-of-age story, war story, love story, and story of personal victory all rolled into one.  Well done, JT! I want to thank everyone who came to the blog and reviewed Cover Corner.  The traffic here over the past 2 days has been tremendous, and I sincerely hope it garners Mark some new fans and many sales.  So…thanks again! Okay, gotta run, the office beckons whether I want it to or not!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

what i'm (not planning to be) reading

On Five Minutes Peace (another blog to which I contribute), Keris is sharing her summer/holiday reading list and I’m going to share mine soon, too. 

But thing about reading is that you can never make a plan. There’s always the chance that you’ll be dragged off tangent and I almost always am. Here are some of the non-wishlist books I sneaked in almost behind my back…

A Little Bit Wicked quickly shot to the top of my “to be read” list after seeing an interview with Kristin Chenoweth (seriously, isn’t she adorable?) So I bought a new marketplace copy from Amazon, saving me a good £3 (woo!), and whizzed through it in just over 24 hours. (Then I sold it on and bought something else). Anyway, I really loved it. It’s light without being vapid, and Kristin keeps a lot to herself but is emotionally honest enough for the reader to feel they know her better. She’s especially honest about her relationship with Aaron Sorkin, which is fascinating, and her lovely bubbly personality shines through, while at the same time revealing her humanity. If you’re not a fan of Kristin, musical theatre, or celeb memoirs, it’s probably not for you, but I found it a real feel-good read.

Unsticky wasn’t on my summer reading list either, and although Keris had said she really liked it, I wasn’t sure I’d make time for it. But then Keris picked it for the FMP book club, which gave me a good reason to try it. And I’m glad I did. Packaged as a bonkbuster for the 21st century and at a hefty 500+ pages, I wasn’t sure if it was my cuppa tea, but it has a LOT of heart and even more brain. I’m still mulling over whether it ended the way I wanted it to but I’ve gone into much more detail about that in the book club discussion over on FMP. 

I spotted Of Cats and Kings when I was having lunch with my mum in a teeny-tiny bookshop/cafe. Drawn in by the title, the fact it related to cats and the fact that I’d read a previous book, Claudius and I, by the same author (Clare de Vries), I grabbed it. Oh, and it was also only £1.50. Kind of an odd memoir, the conceit (that de Vries was going to Burma and Thailand to look for a new cat) was a bit flimsy – as much as I like cats, I’m not quite sure why it couldn’t have been a straight travelogue. It’s so hard to travel round Burma as it is, why make things more complicated? Anyway, I learned so much about oppression in Burma and the awful conditions there, especially interesting to me because my Granddad was there in the war. An odd read, and oddly, considering the subject matter, not a depressing one. Interesting… and it made me really want a Tonkinese (or two).

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

From Jesus Christ to Christianity

I just finished reading a book called From Jesus Christ to Christianity: Early Christian Literature in Context.  One of the editors of this book is Gerhard Van Den Heever, my supervisor for my D.Th. dissertation at the University of South Africa.  This was a very good introduction to early Christian literature.  There are some aspects that some would disagree with.  They support the idea that Paul did not write 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians or the Pastorals.  They discount the Gospel of John as a good historical source but give value to the Gospel of Thomas.  Certainly the purpose of this book is not to defend the infallibility and inerrancy of the New Testament.  The purpose of this book, which is accomplished very well, is to provide the cultural and religious context of the New Testament.  The background in Graeco-Roman, Jewish and Gnostic thought is very helpful for understanding the world in which the New Testament appeared and Christianity developed.  For that purpose, this book is a very valuable resource.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Book Review Calendar: Do You Have One?

Here at Book, Line, and Sinker, I make a valiant attempt to review four or five books each month.  My review books come from a variety of sources and to help me keep on track, I started using a calendar. (So high-tech, right?  Are you disappointed!?!) 

Now don’t think for a red-hot minute that I’m using any of the electronic calendars available at my fingertips.  Nope, it’s a good old fashioned Sharpie marker and paper calendar for this technical savant.

Yes, it’s true.  This is an actual photograph of book review schedule for May and June 2009, complete with scribble-outs and various notes on a camera I wanted for my birthday. 

My last post had something to do with guilt over TBRs and one blogger, SuziQ Oregon, amused me to no end with her comment about her TBR Spreadsheet.  It sounds way more organized than my feeble attempt to keep things straight over here.  

So, how do you keep your book reviews organized, or do you bother?  If you commit to reviewing books for publishers, publicists, or authors, do you just jot it down on your hand or do you have a fancy spreadsheet?  Spill the beans!

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Hippo Eats Dwarf! by Alex Boese

Hippo Eats Dwarf! is your handy guide to distinguishing between real and false as you navigate the murky waters of the internet. Each chapter covers a different subject such as romance, food or technology and includes a number of true or false questions at the end to see if you’ve been paying attention. This makes it the ideal book to dip in and out of, and you’ll always be guaranteed to have learnt something new, or found that what you thought was true was actually just a clever invention.

So if you’ve ever wondered if researchers really have genetically engineered fruit trees to grow meat, or if the residents of the Ecuadorian town of Picoaza once chose a foot powder named Pulvapies as their mayor and if it’s really true that the frowny face emoticon has been trademarked thereby making it illegal to use it without permission, then this is the book for you.

Oh, and the people of Picoaza did elect the foot powder, but the other two facts are false. And Alex Boese has plenty more like that in this very entertaining book.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Portrait of England by Steve Vidler & David Watt

Portrait of England is the sort of hefty hardbook that coffee tables were designed for. Its 160 pages are illustrated with page after page of stunning photography from Steve Vidler, accompanied by occasional descriptive text by David Watt. Vidler takes us on a journey through England, from London, via the South and then through Central and Eastern England before finally ending up North.

In the main the images that he chooses are what you might expect from a book of this type. Castles, cathedrals and the sheer natural beauty of the English landscape are very much to the fore. It’s clear that a great deal of time and preparation has gone into these shots, as the sun and shadows are always in the ideal place to enhance the natural beauty of the compositions.

A wonderful reminder that there are many areas of great beauty close to hand. If the weather stays kind, then we may be lucky enough to view them as Steve Vidler has.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Book Review: Knit Two by Kate Jacobs

Knit Two is set 5 years after its prequel, The Friday Night Knitting Club. Dakota is now 18 years old and at college, and she’s struggling to balance her college life and her social life. This isn’t help by dad James who is trying to do his best by his daughter by getting her a good education even if it isn’t what she wants. Peri is running Georgia’s shop and trying to set up her own line of bags as well. Catherine, Georgia’s best friend, is newly singly and finding it rather liberating although she’s still searching for Mr Right! Darwin has had twin babies and is finding it hard to cope with such a change of lifestyle and finally Anita has found love with Marty and is setting up for a wedding, but she is hiding a dark secret she needs to reveal before she can proceed further. What does the future have in store of the ladies of the Friday Night Knitting Club?

Jacobs’ debut was such a massive hit that I think she had a job on her hands in trying to make its sequel live up to the expectations of her readers. The first novel is being made into a Hollywood film starring Julia Roberts, so I wonder if she wrote this thinking of it as a book or a potential film? After the incredibly sad and tearful ending of the first novel, I wondered whether this book would be more dowbeat, but I think in choosing to set it such a long period of time after the initial storyline, she bypasses the sadness and can develop her characters further and also insert a little backstory without having to delve into too much detail.

Being that the characters are the same (bar one of course), the book is very easy to pick up and get into for those of us who read and loved FNKC. If you haven’t read the first novel, you will probably enjoy this but I’d recommend starting with its prequel because of the story and you get to know more about the characters that way too. Things have changed for the characters but I like how the shop is still open, and Dakota has grown up into a mature young woman and seems to fit in with the older females in the book far better. This book chooses to concentrate quite heavily on Catherine, Dakota and Anita, with the other females popping up with their own storylines but they haven’t got as much gravitas as the 3 main lead characters.

Again, I found that the storylines were very realistic and the book moved along at a good pace. You can see plotlines that will be familiar to you such as James and Dakota’s father/daughter arguments and Catherine’s adjustment to being a single lady again and you can relate to these characters which is perhaps what made these books so successful for Jacobs. The book travels from America to Italy, and the author has done her research because I could sit and imagine all of the landmarks Dakota visits in my head, and it was nice to have a change of scenery, another thing which differentiates it from the first novel which was primarily set in New York and Scotland.

Knitting is far less prominent in this book than it was in the first. Yes, Dakota is carrying on her mothers hobby and this is mentioned a few times but for the most part, you can almost forget this book is based on a Knitting Shop and its customers. This is a shame as I felt this was such an interesting part of the first novel, but I suppose Jacobs’ couldn’t keep everything the same or it wouldn’t have been that different from the first book. It is a very sentimental book due to the ending of the first one, and while this is nice to read for the most part, it does get a little tedious and I felt this story was dragged out a little bit towards the end and could have been wrapped up or toned down a tad, but it didn#t spoil my enjoyment of the book too much.

Unfortunately this book just didn’t match up to the first book which was such a brilliantly original story that a sequel could never have matched up, no matter how hard Jacobs’ tried. I didn’t really care much for Catherine and her story which was a shame as she is probably the most prominent in the book, and Dakota was so different I hardly recognised her from before. Anita is the only one who remains the same, and the storyline with her hidden secret was interesting and perhaps covered a little too briefly for my liking. If you read TFNKC, you’ll want to read this to find out what happened to the characters, but don’t be expecting something as good as the first book because it isn’t – it is still a good enough read though!

The third book in the series, Knit The Season, is due out in November 2009 and is set a year after this novel so I expect I’ll be reading that one too!!

Rating: 4/5

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book Review: Brisingr

Recently, I just finished reading a long fantasy book called the Brisingr.

This book is the third sequel to the fantasy book Eragon.The book starts off with the main character Eragon, and his cousin Roran, going to invade a village to save Roran’s girlfriend and eliminate to the forces of evil keeping her captive. Then Eragon tries to get Roran’s girlfriends’s father to give them their blessing so they can get married, but he wouldn’t allow it…. I won’t spoil the ending but if you ever wondered what the title of this book means, it mean fire.(Eragon named his sword fire)

This is probably a good book but I thought it was confusing with all the weird names and villages. This is usually why I don’t read fantasy books. I would recommend this book to you if you have read the last 2 books, for some of the names of the people and villages will reappear in this book. I would also recommend you to reread this book to understand the details.

To conclude, this is a long and concluding book but if you read it carefully, it will be thrilling and exciting.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Book review No. 3 - "So Help Me God: The Ten Commandments, Judicial Tyranny and the Battle for Religious Freedom" by Roy Moore (with John Perry)

Former Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court provides this brilliant, scholarly and mellifluously authored story of his steadfast battle to preserve the intent and integrity of our United States Constitution.  Moore, who became known in Alabama (as well as the rest of the Country) as “The Ten Commandments Judge,” was the recipient of vitriolic attacks from all sides for his defense of his display of The Ten Commandments, as well as for his unwavering refusal to abide by his oath of office to uphold the Constitution of The United States.  The attacks upon Moore were fueled not only by groups who very likely hated this honorable man and had an agenda of their own (i.e., the continued secularization of our fine Country and their desire to blur – if not eliminate – the simple line between moral rights and wrongs), but also by outright ignorance of the Judeo-Christian history of our Nation and the intents and beliefs our learned founders.

I practiced law in Alabama for a number of years, and was there during the time Roy Moore’s battle begun and continued.  I witnessed first-hand what this fine man went through, as well as applauded from the sidelines his indefatigable efforts.  It was with great pleasure that I watched him become Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court.  It was with great sadness that I learned of his removal and vicious persecution by those who seek to thoroughly eliminate the foundations of our Nation, or those who operate with ignorance of it.  His exemplary service to Alabama, in the face of what would cause many to relent, is nothing short of admirable and serves as an example to us all, whether an officer of the court or not. The world would be a far better place with more individuals of Moore’s caliber.

I enjoyed this book immensely and was rather sad to see it end.  While Moore’s service as a Judicial Officer in the State of Alabama is a bitter-sweet tale, his efforts continue and his is a tale that is just beginning.  He is presently running for Governor of the great state of Alabama, so if you have any interest in learning more about his bid, you can do so here:  As for this book, definitely seek it out and read it.  It is highly recommended.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

The Hunger Games

I couldn’t stand it any longer after reading review after review (Lesley’s Book Nook, Bloggin’ ’bout Books & Booking Mama to just name a few) of how great this book is, so I quick got my name on my library’s waiting list and ended up with a copy of The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins.

The book takes place in the post-apocalyptic country of Panem, or what used to be North America, which is run by the people in The Capitol. Katniss Everdeen lives in District 12, one of thirteen district’s in Panem. She is a 16 year old girl who has had to take care of her mother and younger sister after her father’s accidental death while working in a mine. Her mother never quite recovers from the loss of her husband and is almost helpless to take care of her daughters. Which means Katniss, along with her friend Gale, illegaly sneak under the fence which separates District 12 from the rest of the country to hunt for food so her family doesn’t starve.

The book opens on the day of The Reaping, a yearly event that takes place in each District and is televised throughout the country. On this day, citizens are reminded of the Dark Days, when during an uprising of the districts, the Capitol defeated twelve and destroyed the thirteenth. As a punishment for their disobedience, the Hunger Games were created. Each of the twelve remaining districts must provide, via a lottery system, one boy and one girl to compete. They are then transported to an outdoor arena to fight to the death. Whoever is left standing can return home and their district will be treated with prizes and food all year long. It’s been a while since District 12 brought home a winner.

Against all odds, Katniss is horrified to see her younger, sweet sister get picked for the games and right away insists on taking her place. Along with Peeta Mellark, a boy who harbors a crush on Katniss which she knows nothing about, Katniss finds herself on her way to the Capitol and is trying to prepare herself for the fight of her life – the Hunger Games.

With a nod to one of my favorite short stories (The Lottery by Shirley Jackson) the fast-paced, edge of your seat action makes The Hunger Games a fun book to read.  The book has good bones - interesting characters, lightning speed plot and plenty of heart-pumping scenes. Add a few unexpected plot twists and you’ve got a book that’s perfect the next time you are relaxing on the beach or enjoying some time on your back deck. Just make sure you have plenty of time to read, as this is a hard one to put down.

The Hunger Games is a young adult novel (for kids 12 and up) but don’t let the YA distinction scare you away. This is one of those books that adults enjoy too! In fact, due to the grisly nature of the book, I would suggest that this book might not be good for some sensitive teenagers. But if the teenager in your life loves watching Survivor and enjoys books and movies with a little adventure, then The Hunger Games might be a perfect fit.

With an ending that leaves a few unanswered questions, readers are left wanting more. Luckily the wait won’t be all that long. Catching Fire, book two in the Hunger Games series will be hitting stores in September! If you can’t wait that long to get your hands on a copy, stop by Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’ for a chance to win her ARC of Catching Fire!

As for me, I snagged my own ARC of Catching Fire while at Book Expo Amercia this past May and have been saving it for the right moment to read. This Sunday I’ll be leaving on a cruise to Bermuda, so you can guess which book  I’ll be taking along with me!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Warrior Born

Hand-drawn cover? Nice.

Well, after taking a short hiatus from posting (from lack of views on my last posts ) I have decided to finally review another book.  Considering my last book review was all the way back on February 5, it has been a while.  Now, I have been a long-time fan of  In fact, behind and (reviews later!), this site is one of my favorites.  The propreiter of the site, Justin Stebbins has actually released two books exclusively on his site; G4M3 (pronounced “game”) and Warrior Born.  Now, I did not buy G4M3, because at the time I was skeptical of the price.  However, since I am a fan of his own sci-fi universe, Nova Refuge, I decided to buy the book based on it, titled Warrior Born.  (Or at least the shortened title anyways)  So, I payed $20 for the book and $3 for shipping and my newest edition to my book collection was on its way.  The book arrived shortly after I had finished reading Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, so it had some competition to make me enjoy this book as well as I had enjoyed Brave New World.  To tell the truth, I was skeptical.  I had read his fan fiction online, but didn’t know if he could turn those his short stories into a 400+ page book.  Luckily, I was happily surprised.  This book has now become one of my favorite books I have read.  Why?  Well, the characters are strong, the plot keeps your eyes glued to the page, descriptions of fights were well-written rather than a jumbled mess, the setting was cool, etc. etc. etc.  Really, I could go on about this book.  Even though the book started slow, once the action picked up I could not put this book down!  Carrying it to dinner, while working on my computer, even while waiting in the lobbies during online matches on Xbox Live!  Now, I am not a complete fanboy of Justin who just loves everything he makes, I really was skeptical at first.  But, once again, I was surprised at the way this book captured me and put me into the realm of Nova Refuge, making me wonder about the plot, care for the characters, and hope for the next installment of the series.  If you have $20 lying around and like books, I would reccomend buying it at or

Sciborg: 94

Disagree?  Tell me in a comment!

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Book Review: "Jesus Calling"

I must admit, I’m usually not one to like devotional books.  I’ve read many over the years and hate the “fluff” that is found in many devotionals.  I find that what is given to the reader is a few short paragraphs that amount to “Christianity Lite” and I find I’m always looking for more.  As a reviewer for Thomas Nelson Publishers, though, I decided to give this devotional a try.

This devotional book, with a reading for each day of the year, is the most unique devotional I’ve ever read.  The author, Sarah Young, decided to listen to God daily with pen in hand, writing down whatever she believed He was saying to her.  The result is this book…with 365 messages from Jesus to the author.  What I like about this devotional is that it becomes a very personal read.  Written in the first person…the voice of Jesus…the words speak directly to your soul.  It’s like sitting down with Jesus over a cup of coffee and hearing what His words are for you for that day.  And it isn’t fluff.  It is a daily reminder of how to live in relationship with Jesus and how to let the Spirit flow through you.

If you desire a devotional book but want something just a little bit different than the typical devotional, I highly recommend this book!

Friday, July 17, 2009

European Union Prize for Literature makes its debut

The first tranche of prize-winning authors was announced yesterday for the new EU Prize for Literature.  This year’s awards have been presented to 12 authors from Austria, Croatia, France, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Lithuania, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia and Sweden.

Another round will take place in 2010, with authors selected from Belgium, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Finland, Luxembourg, Macedonia, Romania, Slovenia and Spain.

And – finally – in 2011 the eleven remaining countries – Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Greece, Iceland, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Malta, Serbia, The Netherlands, Turkey and United Kingdom.

Politics are obviously at play here as well as culture with all the ‘official’ and ‘potential’ candidate countries being included – except for Iceland, which hasn’t quite got there yet although it has now voted to apply for EU membership.

But leaving politics out for the moment, I do hope that this prize will filter its way through to promoting translation between the various languages.

Apparently, money is available for translation since the Prize is funded by the Culture Programme of the European Union. The programme supports trans-national cultural cooperation projects involving operators from a minimum of three different countries participating in the programme. It also provides specific support for the translation of literary works.

Henning Mankell, the newly appointed Ambassador for the Prize, is himself a best-selling author and brings a global not only Eurocentri view to the prize that will certainly raise its profile.

I immediately looked to see which Italian author has won: it is Daniele Del Giudice for his book Orizzonte Mobile published by Giulio Einaudi in 2009.  No English translation yet exists – so watch this space!

Joseph Farrell translated one of Del Giudice’s earlier books, Take-Off (original title Staccando l’ombra da terra) for Harcourt and Brace in 2006.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Celtic Language Celtic Culture Edited by A.T.E. Matonis and Daniel F. Melia

“Celtic” applies to a group of related languages in the Indo-European language group and the cultures that developed in the communities that speak these languages. Many people in the scholastic communities consider that Celtic identity is not based on genetics or “blood” but on being part of this linguistic and cultural grouping.

In the preface of the book the editors tell us that the book was compiled in honor of the achievements of Eric P. Hamp, and that the book can be considered to be a labor of love.  The book is a collection of essays written by Eric P. Hamp’s students, and people who were affected by his achievements.  The book is divided into five parts; the first is concerned with the Continental Celts and the Indo-Europeans, the second with the Irish, the third with the Scottish Gaelic, the fourth with the Welsh and the fifth part with the Bretons.

Part one consists of six essays, two of which are in German (I believe).  In order to understand fully the first essay in the book you have to have a working knowledge of Irish, when it comes to sentence structure.  This first essay is trying to prove or disprove the relation of proleptic object pronouns to the development of the placement of verbs in Insular Irish.  How is this related to the Continental Celts?  The author uses two Gaulic inscriptions to show the relation (and advancement) of the sentence structure between the Hispano-Celtic (Subject/Object/Verb) to Gaulish (Subject/Verb/Object) then to Insular Celtic (Verb/Subject/Object).  In the end the author concluded that there may be some relation but not to the extent portrayed by other authors.  The next essay is a short note on the Celtibri.  Basically the note poses the question, what is in a name?  Are the Celtibrians, two different peoples living mixed together (the Celts and the Inberians) or are they inhabitants of Spain (Iberians) that are Celts?  The author of the note makes a good point in that the name comes to us from the Greeks and we really don’t know what they meant exactly by it.  The next two essays are in German and unfortunately I do not have the linguistic skills to read them.  The fifth essay is a look at whether the similarities in some phrases between Indo-European peoples are ultimately genetic in character.  The author offers two cases, the first is an oath “I swear by the gods that my people swear by” and he shows how you can find it in Old Irish, Greek and Russian in the same form.  So he postulates that it could be an Indo-European way of oath forming.  The second case is the phrase “pillar of x” as in pillar of the community or pillar of Troy.  Here the author gives us the examples of the same formation of the phrase one in Irish and one in Greek, and one in old English.  Again he postulates that its origin is from an Indo-European formation of “Hero”.  Seeing patterns even when they are not so obvious is interesting and can help relate the languages to each other and to the Indo-Europeans.  The final essay in this section is entitled “Some Celtic Otherworld Terms” and just by reading the title I was hooked.  This happens to be the longest essay of the section and the author begins it with a discussion of whether it is advisable to see the Celtic peoples as one culture with a singular tradition when the two “majorly” Celtic cultures (i.e. Wales and Ireland) do not exhibit similar traditions.  In fact the author tells us, when you look at the Irish history you can barely see much evidence of what was considered Celtic (i.e. the Hallstatt and the La Tene cultures) and the same can be said of Wales.  All of which is true.  What we can say is that these two nations can be called Celtic because they all come from the Pro-Celtic branch of the Indo-European family of languages.  The author tells us that his specialty is Irish vernacular records and their influence on Welsh vernacular records, and he tells us that the conclusion he reached through a philological comparison is that most of the names in the Irish and Welsh mythologies are similar enough to have been ascribed to a common origin.  He gives the Otherworld as an example.  The author notes an interesting theory, that the translation of the Otherworld is actually a Christianized idea of this world that we live in and the other world.  In Welsh mythology Annw(f)n seems to be one kingdom which has sub-kingdoms that are fighting with each other over the title of The King of Annw(f)n while the Sìd of the Irish was a conglomerate of mounds that have their different kings and seem to be living in peace together.  The author thinks that they seem to be reflecting the state of each nation at the time these mythologies were written.  He goes into the possible origins of each name and how it was viewed in mythology, as well as possible locations, citing such authors as Carey, Koch, O Rahilly and O Cathsaigh who have written on the subject. A must read essay for all interested in the Otherworld and derivations of it.

Nine essays make up the Irish part of this book.  The first four essays of this section deal mostly with notes on the uses of certain vowels, consonants and combinations of them as well as searching through the etymology of words in Modern Irish.  They are interesting in that you can see the progress of the words or suffixes through the language and where they had come from.  I love the Irish language and reading about why certain words are written this way was fascinating for me.  The fifth essay in the section is very interesting.  It talks about a word “audacht” and its impact on stories from the Cath Maige Tuired and the story of Socht’s sword.  The word itself was thought to be of Latin origin but was proven to be of Indo-European origin by Eric Hamp.  The author then takes us through the two stories that prove the real meaning of the word.  What is even more interesting is that this relatively small word cares with it a huge meaning.  The wide range of semantics and meanings incorporated in the word “Noínden” is explained in the sixth essay of the Irish section.  The author tries to explain how one word could mean the many things it does.  It is the sickness that over takes the Ulstermen in the Táin and it is also a huge gathering of a great host, as well as a heroic deed.  The author along the way explains the illness of the Ulstermen, which the word is used to describe most often.  Then he explains the meaning in which it is the ritual of fertility and group initiation, and then he describes how it could be a heroic adventure.  This essay is a good example of how one word can incorporate so much in the Irish language.  In the seventh essay of the section the author explores the semantic fields of terms for ravens, crows, blackbirds, and other species of black birds in early Irish to underscore the mythological and religious dimensions of the linguistic usage.  It’s very interesting for people who are into the mythical and religious meanings of birds.  The last two essays of this section deal with poets and poetry, harpers and women in early Irish literature.  There is a wealth of stories and poetry in these two essays as well as explanations of the parts they played in the Irish society of the time.

The third part is made up of only three essays.  The essays were very interesting in that rather then talking about poetry or mythology they covered the language itself.  The first essay was about the historiography of the Scottish Gaelic dialect studies and how the combine Celtic studies with descriptive linguistics.  The second essay is about a construction in Scottish Gaelic that is used in poetry and prose, that is the use of the word (a) bhith to give an action an impersonal meaning.  The author gives a lot of examples from poetry because it is there that it is very clear.  The third essay is about a person who writes Scottish Gaelic without actually reading it.  Its interesting how she was able to do that and the author explains how it was done.

The Welsh part of the book is made up of eight essays.  The first essay discusses the positive declarative sentence in the White book version of Kulhwch ac Olwen in great detail.  I must say that some of it went over my head but it was still an interesting read.  The second essay in this section is by a name well known in the Celtic Mythology world and that is Mac Cana.  In this essay he discusses the sentence word order in Old Irish and compares it to Middle Welsh giving examples from myths.  To me it was a fascinating read.  The third essay takes the reader on a journey to discover where the Waterfall of Derwennydd is.  The author is trying to perhaps date a cradlesong that can be found in the Book of Aneirin.  Essay four is an interesting investigation of two verbs in the Canu I Gadfan, a Welsh poem dating from the second or third quarter of the twelfth century and preserved in the fourteenth century Hendregadredd manuscript.  The following essay is an interesting examenation of the problems relating to the composition of the Welsh Bardic grammars.  This is a must read essay for anyone interested in the subject or indeed interested in Welsh literature and vernacular texts.  For anyone who has read the early Welsh tale of Culhwch ac Olwen essay six is important.  It talks about the hero of the tale and makes some interesting observations about him.  Essay seven is about a phrase in the story of Branwen that might actually be an Anglo-Saxon pun.  It’s amazing how this one word could cause so much trouble.  The final essay in the section is about Dylan Thomas’s “A Grief Ago” and how it ties into Irish Folklore.

The final part is made up of two essays.  These two essays are about linguistics in the first degree.  The first essay compares a Welsh adverb to a Breton one and the second gives us the simple tenses of a Breton verb.

The bibliography of Eric Hamp is added after the final section (Breton), it shows the extensive amount of wok that Eric Hamp has done in the field of Celtic culture.  It certainly is a fitting tribute!

As can be seen from the simple summaries provided above the two parts that had the most essays were the Irish and the Welsh.  This is probably because (and I could be wrong) of the fact that with these two the language is still spoken somewhat widely and there are much in the way of literary material to deal with.  Ireland and Wales have a tradition of vernacular material that is very impressive compared to any other Celtic nation.

The book is interesting in that it shows you that you can not really separate linguistics from mythology and poetry, which naturally leads to not being able to separate language from culture.  I would also venture out and say that to understand people you need to know their archeology, history, and culture.  Having said that I should also warn people that the book takes the language part of the title literally, if you are not interested in linguistics then many of the essays in this book if not all of them will be boring to you.  On the other hand you will also miss out on the mythological aspect of the essays, which the authors use the meaning of a word or name to explain.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Book Review - Why We’re Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be) by Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck

Why We're Not Emergent (By Two Guys Who Should Be)

The Emergent or Emerging Church has been the buzz of Christianity over the last several months. But is it the glorious answer to taking the Bride of Christ into the 21st century that it claims to be?

The Emergent Church has stepped up to the plate, claiming that it is the new Christianity, for a post-modern world. But, according to DeYoung and Kluck, the Emergent Church has struck out.

According to these two guys, the Emergent Church is little more than liberalism (not just liberal Christianity) redressed. And while social activism and conversations about our faith are good and needed, they do not replace our need to know the specific details concerning our faith: the doctrine presented faithfully for over two thousand years, from generation to generation.

Looking at the Emergent Church, I fear that they face making a dangerous error: “they love what Jesus loves but do not hate what Jesus hates.”

At the risk of quoting too long of a passage from Kevin DeYoung’s epilogue, here is a succinct summary:

Emergent Christians, to use the language of Revelation, have many good deeds. They want to be relevant. They want to reach out. They want to be authentic. They want to include the marginalized. They want to make kingdom disciples. They want community and life transformation. Jesus likes all this about them. But He would, I believe, also have some things against them, some criticisms to speak through other brothers and sisters. Criticisms that shouldn’t be sidestepped because their movement is only a “conversation,” or because they only speak for themselves, or because they admit, “We don’t have it all figured out.” Emergent Christians need to catch Jesus’ broader vision for the church – His vision for a church that is intolerant of error, maintains moral boundaries, promotes doctrinal integrity, stands strong in times of trial, remains vibrant in times of prosperity, believes in certain judgment and certain reward, even as it engages the culture, reaches out, loves, and serves. We need a church that reflects the Master’s vision – one that is deeply theological, deeply ethical, deeply compassionate, and deeply doxological.

Emergent Christianity is simply a fad. They claim to be doing something radical, but it’s just a fad. And it frightens me to see a fad pulling people from the church and not really leading them anywhere. “The loss of that fence between truth and falsehood is worrisome.”

Emergent Christian are sick and tired of boundaries. They have a hard time with truth claims. But I’m not sure endless uncertainties and doctrinal redressings are the answer either. We need to be taught (and to teach) with a firmness, rooted in authority. We are longing for the real Jesus, the Jesus we see in the Bible, the Jesus who started the church, the Jesus who is the cornerstone of our faith. Not a Jesus who is shapeless and formless, or simply a teacher of ethics.

If the Emergent Church is really nothing more than liberalism, then the future of the Emergent Church is in serious jeopardy. The further left you lean, the further away you move from absolute truth. And without absolute truth, there will be no church; only socially active groups of people, who really have no hope any longer.

Emergent Christians are throwing out the traditional beliefs about absolute truth in their quest to take this “journey.” Biblical ideas like authority, infallibility, inerrancy, revelation, absolute, literal, have been relegated to the sidelines as decidedly unbiblical. And the result is that the Word of God has lost its centrality within the minds of Emergent Christians. The Bible is no longer a direct communication from God in Heaven to us, his loved ones. Now it is simply the product of human invention, telling the stories of other people who have journeyed and questioned and sought after God in the past. The Bible has lost its authority.

But unless people are convinced that the Bible is authoritative, true, inspired, and the very words of God, over time they will read it less frequently, know it less fully, and trust it less surely.

I believe that DeYoung and Kluck have sounded the clarion. The Emergent Church may be the toughest test that true Christianity faces in this generation. The question is, do we know the Word enough to fight against it? Or will we be “tolerant” of this post-modern false-teaching, and be drawn further away from knowing God’s unequivocal truth? It’s up to us.

Why We’re Not Emergent is a must read for anyone dealing with culture. As a youth minister dealing with teens who grow up thinking post-modernly, this book was a wake-up call. It will be a book I keep handy on the shelf, and read again in a few months. Its message encourages me to stand fast, “to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints” (Jude 3).

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Thoughts on our Last Poll & Book Review "Busted: Exposing Popular Myths about Christianity"

Thanks to all who posted on our last blog post. Your answers were very helpful. They’ve given us a lot to think over.

Three quick things on that score.

1. All of my books are now available on Kindle, excepting “From Eternity to Here.” But that one is supposed to be on Kindle soon.

2. For those of you who live outside the USA, you can order our books from any country at a big discount at – shipping is standard prices, but with the low costs of the books, it helps make up for it.

3. Someone asked me to list the top 7 most downloaded mp3s that we’ve made freely available on our webpage ( thus far. So if you’re an iPod/mp3 kind of person, here they are: (they are all on iTunes also)

#1. Steve Brown interview clip

#2. Message delivered at George Fox Seminary w/ questions from Len Sweet, Dan Kimball, et. al

#3. Chapter 1 of “From Eternity to Here”

#4. Message delivered at a conference following Paul Young (”The Shack”)

#5. Interview with George Barna

#6. A “straight talk” message to the House Church Movement

#7. The hot-boiling phone call I received from a caller the one and only time I played “Talk Radio Show” host (comedy)

[Gear Shift]

BOOK REVIEW – “BUSTED: Exposing Popular Myths about Christianity”


There are many Christian apologetic books in print today. Some are good. Others are fair to middle cloudy. But some simply “shred” the false claims against the reality of Jesus Christ and leave virtually nothing left except scraps of fragmented paper.

For example:

F.F. Bruce shredded the modern claims against the reliability of the New Testament in his classic book, The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?

C.S. Lewis in his well-known treatise Mere Christianity shredded the logical (so called) arguments of his day against the Lord Jesus Christ.

N.T. Wright in his Simply Christian shreds many postmodern arguments against the faith.

The new Zondervan book, BUSTED: Exposing Popular Myths about  Christianity, fits nicely into the above.

Popular myths like ….

You can’t trust the Bible; it’s been translated too many times.
Jesus never claimed to be the Messiah or God.

Jesus didn’t rise from the dead.

The Trinity was invented by religious people in the 4th century.

Science has proven that miracles don’t happen (so the Bible is a fairytale).

Christianity is anti-semitic

All religions basically teach the same thing (so all paths lead to God), and much more ….

are all addressed and taken to task.

Author Fred Von Kamecke puts these “myths” into the shredder and turns it on high.

What I like about the book is that it’s written at a very popular level. A high school student can read it with interest, “get” the arguments, and be compelled by them. For the more scholarly person, there are recommended books at the end of each chapter which are more academic. If you are familiar with Christian apologetics, you probably won’t find anything in the book that’s new or earth-shattering in the way of insight or information, but it does a nice job at handling all of these questions in a popular, thoughtful, compelling way.

If you know people who have bought into one of the many insipid, ignorant-based arguments against the Christian faith, hand them a copy of BUSTED.

It’s a great dialogue starter.

All the bloggers who are reviewing this book are …

Monday, July 13, 2009

Fast-Paced Action: By Sea, by Land and by Air

By Clive Cussler with Jack Du Brul
(Putnam, $27.95, hardback)
Some fans of Jack Du Brul’s writing think his name should be listed first on the cover of Corsair, a new installment in the popular Oregon Files series.

But, regardless of who actually wrote what within this 437-page action-thriller, the team of Cussler and Du Brul has cranked out an impressive and fast-paced tale. It has surprising twists and turns on almost every page once the story hits full stride (or full speed ahead).

The Oregon is a ship within a ship. On the outside, she appears to be a 560-foot freighter so battered and rusty that Davy Jones’ locker will be the next port of call. Very cleverly hidden inside, however, is a world of surprises. When the ship is commandeered and the crew is seized by Somali pirates off the coast of Africa, the cocky sea criminals have no idea they have climbed aboard an amazing death trap.

In secret compartments deep inside its cargo holds, behind and beneath tightly packed containers and goods, the Oregon has another crew. (The ones now being held at gunpoint by the pirates are actors who happen to be skilled at fighting and killing.) The real crew is manning computers, video monitors, the ship’s enormously powerful high-tech engines, and a staggering array of weapons. The pirates are unaware that their every move now is being watched and that the hidden part of the Oregon’s crew is in complete control of the ship, not them.

Indeed, the Oregon is a ship full of mercenaries of the toughest type. “They typically worked for the (U.S.) government, tackling operations deemed too risky for American soldiers or members of the intelligence community, on a strictly cash-only basis,” the co-authors have written.

When the Somalis take their battered and rusty “prize” upriver to their leader, they are unaware that they are helping the Oregon capture him for the CIA and the World Court.

That operation is just the beginning of the action for the Oregon’s crew of weapons and technology specialists. Led by Juan Rodriguez Cabrillo, chairman of the shadowy “Corporation,” and Max Hanley, its president, the ship soon has to go into harm’s way in a very big way. Their mission is to try to figure out what has happened to the American Secretary of State, whose plane has gone missing somewhere near the Tunisian-Libyan border on the eve of a vitally important peace conference.

What unfolds next is a sequence of unexpected events that tests virtually every weapon the Oregon can muster and almost every new idea her leaders and crew can create — in the heat of battle after battle after battle.

Corsair quickly accelerates to fighting speed for an afternoon or two of engrossing reading. It loses momentum only briefly amid some of the intricacies of Middle Eastern politics. All in all, it is a very satisfying action-thriller. 

 – Si Dunn is a screenwriter, script doctor, book author and book review columnist.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

Nothing Is Without Something Going On

If you are among the few happy readers who do not have one or more Bernd Heinrich titles notched on your belt, you are in for a “new best writer” experience. You can start with his new Summer World: A Season Of Bounty or go to one of his earlier great titles. Any title is a good starting point. This can be your BH summer.

The newest book is a gentle sorting through of observations, old and current notes on experiments, and life time knowledge about what goes on in nature all summer long. He looks, listens, and scratches around everywhere, his yard, garden, trees, driveway, roadside, creek, pond, you name it he has been in it observing more closely than you can imagine. He will soon have the most layback reader looking more closely and noticing more things happening around them in small to incredibly tiny ways.

BH’s ability to retain so vast amount of detail would in most situations be intimidating and just plain unpleasant, but not with him. He delights in sharing what he knows and seems to accept ignorance as a commonly shared human experience. He has some. You have some. There is enough for everyone, but unlike mosquito bits no one builds an immunity over the summer. The question remains however, when does he sit down to read for the pleasure of reading? If you were around him you might feel you need to find a hiding place for your afternoon nap.

An additional delight in Summer World are the line and colored drawings done by BH. They are a good sipping bourbon added to a pleasant meandering summer conversation. Feel free to join.

Our bullfrog friend from last year’s garden is Rana catesbeiana, but if that is not the correct identification, you know what you must do. Post a correction. Charles Marlin

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Upcoming Carnival Hosts

These blogs are hosting the Book Review Blog Carnival in the near future.

July 19th,

August 2nd,

August 16th, InkweaverReview

August 30th This Girl’s Bookshelf

September 13th Pizza’s Book Discussion

There are opportunities to host a carnival, starting with September 27th and extending indefinitely. If you would like to host a Book Review Blog Carnival, please drop me an email at the address in the sidebar.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Nature and the Human Soul by Bill Plotkin

Nature and the Human Soul discuss the stages of development of humans viewed from the perspective of eco-soulcentric society.  The author tries to present how someone can move from an egocentric standpoint to a soulcentric one, or how to bring up a child to become soulcentric.  He uses his studies of the subject, and experiences of people he knows, as well as incorporating from the different eastern aboriginal cultures.  The author presents his developmental wheel in the hopes of cultivating wholeness and community in a world that seems to be moving away from that.  In my opinion the author failed miserably.

The first chapter of the book was deceiving in that it gave the reader the idea that this book was down to earth.  The author started his chapter with the usual idea that the earth was in jeopardy and that what we do to it as humans is the root cause.  Unlike other writers in the field he does not think that it has to do with science or industrialism but rather that people are not mature and are stuck in an egocentric adolescence.  In this chapter the author lays out his ideas on how to get a more mature earth population and the process by which he developed his wheel of development.  And the premises he is building his theories on.

The author in the second chapter is giving us HIS definitions of the terms he will be using and how he is going to use them.  This was a good idea to stop people from interpreting things from their own definitions and stance and so not getting what he is talking about.

Chapter three is an overview of the developmental wheel.  The chapter includes a brief overview of the four stages of the wheel; it identifies the transition stages and the stages that a mature human should go through.   And this is where the good points of this book stops.

The chapters that follow describe each stage to maturation, and for each stage you are given the tasks that need to be completed, the quadrant that the stage falls in and what is associated with these quadrants, the hemisphere of the circle that the stage falls in, the archetype of the stage, and the quadrant archetype, the gift associated with the stage, the center of gravity for this stage and finally how to move from this stage to the next.

I’ve decided not to recount what each stage is all about instead I want to talk about the problems that I faced with these chapters, and my impressions.  I have five major problems with this book, and to me they are fundamental ones.  The first is that the author is presenting a belief system disguised as a developmental wheel.  The second is that he is drawing on Eastern cultures to form this belief system.  The third is that he seems quite removed from the real world and talking mostly about a Utopia. The fourth is that he is assuming that everyone has a soul gift or soul destiny that has to be reached for them to be mature and that the Universe would not exist if there were no humans to acknowledge the Universe’s existence.  The fifth is that contrary to how he started out the book he ended it by saying that the root cause of all the earth’s problems are the industrial world and the scientific method.

Starting with the first problem, the author keeps referring to the Mystery that will be responsible for deciding when we transition from one stage to another.  To me that sounds a lot like a God that decides when we can do what; being a polytheist that goes against everything that I believe in.  A Mystery does not decide when I have matured or completed a task that allows me to transfer to the next stage I DO.

The second problem that I have is that the author keeps referring to cultures that are not western/European to give us examples of how close these cultures were to nature and how every rite they did was correct.  Every culture has its good side and bad side yet the author seems to be saying that the eastern cultures are the ones that had everything right while the western/European cultures had nothing to offer.  Surely he could have found some ancient culture in Europe or the west that offered a soulcentric example?  He talks about how the African tribes have rites of passage to adulthood, and he conveniently forgets that these tribes also circumcise young girls to signify their passage into adulthood.  These women have to suffer for the rest of their lives because of that.  Are we supposed to think that this is an example of a soulcentric society?  Another example he gives is that the Tawariq tribe in Africa the women when they are nearing their delivery date go out into the wilderness to look for a place to give birth on their own, without the support of their husband or other people, and when they give birth the child is not given to the father but kept with the women until a certain age, is that supposed to signify a soulcentric society?  Where is the father’s right to bond with his child?  And this child, how is it going to be a balanced human if he/she is only allowed to interact with one parent as it is forming its personality??  I believe the author has tunnel vision where the grass on the other side of the fence is greener.  Does our Western/European culture currently have its flaws of course, does that mean at it always had its flaws no.  If the author had taken the time to research he might have found a few examples to base his “developmental” wheel on (I’m sure he would have found a few examples).

Through out most of the book I had to resist the urge to through the book out the window.  There are many ideas in the book that are not very feasible for people who live in the real world to do.  For example, not every one has the choice to go out and live in an rural setting, most people have to work 2 sometimes 3 jobs just to put a roof over their heads, does that mean they are any less capable of being soulcentric, or that they don’t want their children to be so?  Most people won’t even let their children out of the house for fear of them being abducted or killed; does that mean they don’t want their children to be mature and soulcentric? He never once gave an alternative for these people.  What are they supposed to do?  How can they achieve the same goals without having to move to a rural setting?

The author assumes that everyone has a soul gift or destiny.  My question is why? I can understand wanting peace of mind but why would I want to box myself in an image of what I think my soul destiny or gift is?  Isn’t the whole point of being soulcentric is to be free to interact with the universe around you, to shape and be shaped by it?  I see my self as water or sand, taking the shape of the container I am in and interacting with it, and when that container changes so will my shape and form of interaction.  This is what I see being soulcentric is all about.  Then of course there is the author’s idea that the Universe would not exist if the humans did not perceive it.  How arrogant is that?  The Universe was there long before we were, and it will probably be there after we are gone (if we don’t destroy it with our arrogance first.)

The book just had to end with the idea that science and the scientific method has taken away all our awe of the Universe and hence our connection to it.  I happen to strongly disagree with that.  Science and the scientific method is a way to see just how awe inspiring the Universe is.  When you see how something works it makes you understand just how complex this Universe and everything in it is.  It humbles and inspires you.  Of course I won’t deny that we have become removed from nature and are no longer really connected with it, and I will lay SOME of the blame on the industrialization going on, but the real responsibility lays within us.  A murderer, kills using a knife, does that mean we blame the knife, or the person holding it and using it to kill?

The author did have a lot of good ideas, unfortunately as soon as he gave one he negated its effect with all the drivel he said after it.  I was looking at this book for implementation with Celtic spirituality.  Unfortunately for me I found nothing there that would help.   As I read the book, I asked myself where on his developmental wheel did I fall, in the end I had to come to the conclusion that I was no where, I do not agree with the original theories that gave birth to this wheel, and so I can not see myself anywhere in it.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Another Beautiful Struggle

“We took comfort in the rebel music that was pumped into the city from up North. Hip-Hop was the rumble of our generation, unveiling all our wants, fears, and disaffections. But as the fabled year of ‘88 came upon us, we saw something more in the music, a deeper thing that interrogated our random lives and made us self-aware. We needed 1988, like the mariners of old needed the North Star. I needed a text for understanding my present crack-addled world; Bill needed some conception of a future.”

– from The Beautiful Stuggle, Ta-Nehisi Coates

Ta-Nehisi Coates’ autobiographical ode to black manhood (and the struggle to reach it and to cultivate it) is the premise for The Beautiful Struggle (Random House, 2008), a title hip-hop heads might recognize from a 2004 Talib Kweli album.  The album popularized a phrase from a Martin Luther King, Jr. speech, in which he stated:

“We must move past indecision to action. Now let us begin. Now let us rededicate ourselves to the long and bitter, but beautiful struggle for a new world. This is the calling of the sons of God, and our brothers wait eagerly for our response.”

In the Beautiful Struggle, Coates’ father is larger than life, both Black Panther & Vietnam vet, publisher and cultural historian, trying to raise up seven children in an era when crack created a desert tooled for the destuction of a whole generation.  A book that is both a love note to hip hop, a battle cry, and a tale of rising up, A Beautiful Struggle is beautiful to be sure.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Book Review: Gym & Slimline by Emma Burstall

A swanky new gym has opened in leafy south-west London. Four women bond over push ups and Pilates and become firm friends.

Percy likes sorting out other people’s problems, but her own life is a shambles, with a terrible secret addiction. Can she kick it and win back the love of her husband? Patrice, wealthy but damaged, wants another baby, but husband Jonty isn’t interested in sex. Is it her imagination, or is he getting too close to the husband of one of her new friends? Carmen is living dangerously, determined to get pregnant by her cold, treacherous boyfriend. She doesn’t see what is under her nose until it’s nearly too late. Suzanne adores her sexy second husband, but is she neglecting him for her job? And has she realised what is happening to her teenage daughter?

New best friends. Their friendship is about to be tested to the limit.

Gym and Slimline is Emma Burstall’s debut novel and tells the story of four women who met at a gym, Gym & Slimeline, and became firm friends. There’s Percy who loves helping other people with their problems but has a huge secret of her own, Suzanne who loves her second husband but is she neglecting him for her job?, Patrice who wants a second baby only her husband, Jonty, isn’t interested and then there’s Carmen who is desperate for a baby with or without her boyfriend Simon.

I loved Gym & Slimline and found it a very interesting debut. Not only is it well written but the characters, Percy, Patrice, Suzanne and Carmen, are all different from each other and so completely different to usual chick-lit characters.

I enjoyed reading about all four friends because they all had problems and worries and none of them had an easy ride. Generally female characters in the novels I read don’t have the same problems these friends faced. It’s usually an easy ride but not for Percy, Patrice, Suzanna and Carmen. Far from it.

Percy’s secret addicition was great to read about and very well written by Emma. You could really feel for Percy and I was willing her on through-out. Her addiction scenes were very fast paced and I found myself reading as quick as I could to see what happened!

Suzanne and Patrice with their husband worries: Is Suzanne neglecting Justin for her work. I liked how Suzanne was written, being a workaholic, and could undestand her difficulties with her children because of the fact she was a workaholic. I could also sympathise with Patrice who wanted a second baby so Seamus wouldn’t be an only child. Trouble is Jonty her husband wasn’t interested at all.

I liked how Carmen was so independent and how she coped with realising she wanted a baby. It was interesting to learn about her past and how past things had affected her. I found her boyfriend, Simon, unlikeable though.

Not only did they face the problems above but they also has relationship difficulties. Percy’s marriage seemed to be falling apart, Suzanne and Patrice’s husbands had shocking secrets and Simon, Carmen’s boyfriend, seemed unwilling to commit. We also learnt of the relations between their families.

Throughout the whole novel we had sessions at the gym, where the friends had first met, and I found that it worked to have those scenes in the book – after all it was where the friends met and so it was nice to read the scenes with them all working out in the gym or having coffee afterwards.

Gym and Slimline was a brilliant novel. A really great debut novel. It was so much darker than regular chick lit and dealt with a lot of different issues: secret addictions, infidelity, wanting a child… the list is endless.

Emma Burstall has put herself on my must-read authors list and I can’t wait for her second novel.

Rating: 5/5

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Review: Two Years, No Rain by Shawn Klomparens

Title: Two Years, No Rain

Author: Shawn Klomparens

Genre/Pages: Fiction/320

Publication: Delta Trade/Random House;  6/23/09



Weatherman-turned-children’s television host Andy Dunne has been living a literal and figurative 580-day drought, with no relief in sight.

Shawn Klomparens’s Two Years, No Rain, tells the story of Andy Dunne, a man in his early 30s who, to borrow one of his weather terms, is a ‘desiccated’ husk.  His personal life and job reporting weather for a satellite radio station parallel the parched weather and landscape of San Diego. 

Andy excels at repressing emotions and spends a good deal of the novel denying himself the right to the most basic and primal emotions.  He buries grief over personal loss, ignores the pain of his wife’s infidelities, stands idly by as their marriage disintegrates, and patently ignores his health.

Andy applies for and gets a job that propels him to television fame.  The job opens the door to a trip to Hong Kong and the unburdening of Andy’s guilt and regrets.  While on the island, a typhoon strikes and, ironically, the weatherman isn’t conscious to see a good part of it.

Relationships, loss, avoidance, regret, and infidelity are strong themes in this novel and each is weaved throughout.  Klomparens pens a realistic world for Andy with well-developed friends and family, though I thought the characterization of Andy’s love interest, Hillary, was a bit soft.  I learned more about his niece than I did about Hillary.  Their relationship was based mostly on hundreds of text messages and illicit late-night phone calls because of their respective marriages. 

After Andy’s marriage falls apart, Hillary’s marriage to Jason deteriorates.  It’s no coincidence that Hillary’s husband shares a name with Andy’s twin brother–Klomparens uses Hillary’s Jason as Andy’s foil–reflecting the unspoken competitive relationship that Andy and his twin shared. 

The novel is chock full of symbols and metaphors—stormy weather, withering plants that flourish with proper care and attention, the text messages between Andy and Hillary, dry weather, an empty house, ‘new’ and ‘old’; page has depth and more to offer than meets the eye.

Darkly humorous, I enjoyed several laughs during the novel.  Ultimately, Two Years, No Rainis really a quest on which Andy struggles to finds peace with his losses, regrets, career, and relationships–only then can the literal and figurative rain come.  This would be a great read for a book club and there’s a discussion guide on Klomparens’s website. 

Thanks to Lisa and Trish at TLC Book Tours for the opportunity to review this novel!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Trinitarian Theology for the Church: Social Trinitarianism

The next issue I want to highlight in IVP’s volume Trinitarian Theology for the Church is the view of social trinitarianism. We are given two specific essays towards this end, the first by John Franke, discussing the social Trinity and the mission of God, and the second by Mark Husbands whose focus is explicit in his title: “The Trinity Is Not Our Social Program.” Franke follows a stream of interpreters (such as Gunton) who pit Augustine against the likes of Richard of St. Victor, creating a dualism between what is seen as a relational model and a psychological model of the Trinity. This is certainly not my area of expertise, but as far as I understand it, this conception of history is universally deemed anachronistic, positivist and overly-simplistic. Franke fails to interact with the likes of Ayres (amongst others), for instance, and therefore fails to do justice to the scholarship available for this kind of account.

By advancing an anemic account of the history of trinitarian thought, Franke opens himself up to critique from a variety of angles (which Husbands will exploit). Likewise, Franke moves into God’s social and missional attributes as grounding and directing the action and values of the church, placing himself within the sphere of interpreters who do, in fact, see the Trinity as our social program.

Husbands essay follows Franke and levels, in my opinion, a devastating attack on Franke’s view (if nothing else, on his historical development). Husbands focuses his attention on Miroslav Volf’s social trinitarianism, and tries to argue that Barth is, in reality, closer to the Cappadocians (who the social trinitarians seek to make their own) then the social trinitarians are. Husbands, in other words, is concerned that social trinitarianism trades on grammar that diminishes the sui generis reality of God’s life. He asks some telling questions:

Does Scripture, in other words, indicate that we are to ‘image’ the Trinity or experience a perichoretic life of creaturely fellowship? Or does it point us in the direction of realizing that our fellowship is fraught with brokenness and sin while we look forward to our redemption in Christ? Surely, an overrealized eschatology runs the risk of offering an idealized picture of Christian fellowship, one that is ill equipped to handle the difficult work of repentance and reconciliation” (126).

Husbands continues by advancing an overview of Gregory of Nyssa’s trinitarian thought, seeking to undermine what has become an assumption of social trinitarians, namely, that they are the rightful heirs of the Cappadocian tradition. This assumption seems to function through asserting that social imagery equals social analogy. This occurs in Edwards studies as well and is as out of place there as it is here. Note the emphasis of Gregory’s account here:

We do not learn that the Father does something on his own, in which the Son does not co-operate. Or again, that the Son on his own without the Spirit. Rather does every operation which extends from God to creation and is designed according to our differing conceptions of it have its origin in the Father, proceed through the Son, and reach its completion by the Holy Spirit. It is for this reason that the word for the operation is not divided among the persons involved. For the action of each in any matter is not separate and individualized. But whatever occurs, whether in reference to God’s providence for us or to the government and constitution of the universe, occurs through the three persons, and is not three separate things” (132-133).

Husbands distills the main point: “While social trinitarians accord pride of place to what they falsely adduce as a Cappadocian understanding of the perichoretic fellowship of the divine persons – by insisting upon the importance of ‘relational properties’ – they often fail to acknowledge precisely what Gregory insisted upon: the radical ontological distinction that obtains between God and humanity” (133-134).

While this kind of argument is devastating in one sense (if correct), that by undermining the historical justification for a view one, in essence, undermines the claim to authority, this certainly does not eliminate the view entirely. What do you think about a social trinitarian perspective, particularly the inclination to use the Trinity as the model for our own social and ecclesial relations? Does Husbands undermine any reasonable attempt at that, or is the historical case irrelevant?

Sunday, July 5, 2009

The Claidi Journals(book 3)

Title: Wolf Queen

Author: Tanith Lee

The Plot

Claidi has set off in the Star-ship to find Argul and the Hulta. When Claidi finds the Hulta they aren’t exactly happy to see her. Claidi learns that Argul has left the Hulta and that she is no longer welcome there. Claidi sets off again to find Argul. But after the Star-ship crashes,  Claidi is left on her own to continue her journey.

In a town called Panther’s Halt, Claidi finally finds Argul. However Argul doesn’t seem so keen on Claidi. She follows him to a place called Ice Walk. There,  Claidi meets a girl named Winter Raven who claims she is from the Raven Tower which was destroyed in the Tower War.  Winter Raven takes Claidi first to a town called Chylomba. On the way to Chylomba Claidi learns that she had not been following Argul but in fact another life like doll.  After they reach Chylomba, Winter Raven takes Claidi to the Raven Tower where Claidi learns about her  parents and Argul finds her.  Claidi and Argul are set to be married by the Raven Tower but this was not how Claidi and Argul wanted to be married – Everything over done and everyone overdressed, surrounded by manipulative strangers! Will Claidi and Argul make another daring escape or will they be stuck at the Raven Tower forever?


Wolf Queen is a fantastic book!  I have read it 4 times. Tanith Lee did an excellent job writing this book.  She packed action, mystery, romance, and sci-fi together into an awesome book.  Tanith Lee could have added in some more suspense and maybe a bit more detail, but other than that it was(is)an awesome book!

Coming up next: The Twilight saga by Stephenie Meyer

Saturday, July 4, 2009

Blood and Mistletoe: The History of Druids in Britain by Ronald Hutton

Ronald Hutton is presenting the outcome of his research into the subject of Druidry, which took place between 2000 and 2007. Unlike his previous book The Druids, this book is in depth, and its format is chronological, which gives the reader time to fully integrate and compare each time period to the one preceding it. It talks about the druids from the time they were first mentioned until the modern day. In the last statement of the introduction to the book, Ronald Hutton tells us what this book is really about from his point of view.

“In the last analysis, however, this book is about neither archeology nor Druidry, but about the British, and the way they have seen themselves, their island, their species and their world.” (Hutton, p. XV)

The first chapter of the book is a very interesting one as it discusses the sources that Hutton uses to discuss the Iron Age Druids. What makes this chapter different is that it doesn’t just tell you what sources he uses, but also puts them into the context of the works they were taken from. This makes it easier to assess whether they are a good source to use or a bad one. Consider here that all sources related to the ancient druids have problems; the trick is how to strip away the untruths or exaggerations to get at the truths. The sources include the classical texts, archeology, vernacular records from the Welsh and the Irish, and Ogham. At the end of the chapter you wonder if there was ever a group called druids in the Iron Age.

The second chapter is a recounting of the druids and what the people thought of them in medieval times. It was interesting to read how it was the Germans who first adopted the druids followed by the French and then the Scots. Ireland and Britain were a bit tough on the druids and alternated between revering them to dismissing them until the eighteenth century when they finally gained some traction in Britain and Ireland. This could be because in the Irish texts the druids were opponents of the Catholic saints and in England of the authors who first wrote about them the first confused them with other pagan priests, the second was an Italian who dismissed them and the third went mad before he could publish his manuscript and it remained unpublished for two centuries. It was not until the Oxford philologists decided to write about them and make them the center of learning, and then John Aubery associated them with Stonehenge and other stone monuments, that they started to take off.

In the third chapter of the book the author tells us that by the early eighteenth century all the circumstances existed to turn the druids into major figures in the national imagination, but they needed someone strong enough to make it happen and that person was William Stukeley. Stukeley credited Britain’s megalithic monuments to the ancient druids and because of his obsession with them he was a laughing stock in his old age. Stukeley in his early academic life in the 1710s and 1720s was considered an early forerunner of the discipline of archeology, but in the 1720s he became ordained in the Church of England and tried to fit his evidence from his digs with the church doctrines. To Stukeley the druids were supreme masters of the skill of designing temples that represented the true nature of the “World Soul” of ancient Platonic traditions. Stukeley published two works one on Stonehenge and another on Abury. These two works influenced greatly two other people who left their marks on their fields of expertise. The first is John Wood, who was an architect, he was the one most responsible for turning Bath into one of the most celebrated Georgian cities and the other was William Borlase, who was the father of the study of Cornish prehistory and natural history. By 1746 druids began in poetic verses, as nature priests or bards; Welsh poets to instill an idea of pride in the Gaelic culture used this haziness. I’d like to quote Ronald Hutton here because it says it all.

“In 1740 druids had been marginal figures in the imagination of the English and the Welsh; within fifty years they and their presumed monuments were virtually everywhere. They loomed out of books, strutted in plays, and peered through shrubbery.”

In the pervious two chapters we learned of the roles of three central players that successfully and cumulatively created the conditions for the druids to reappear; they are Aubrey, Toland and Stukeley. Ross Nichols in his history of the beginning of his Druid Order tells us that Toland began it on the instructions of Aubery and yet when we look at their private correspondences we see no evidence of that. It seems that the story Ross Nichols gave of he beginning of the circle of the Universal Bond in 1717 is a splicing of two different events. The first was in 1717 when a number of local groups met in London to form a common organization with a chief and ruling council, these groups were Freemasons. The second event was in 1792 when the Gorsedd of the Bards of Britain met on Primrose Hill at an autumn equinox. The British loved their clubs though, so it was inevitable that some would spring up around the druids. As it happened only 3 appeared, the first on October 15, 1772, when 18 of the most important inhabitants of the island of Anglesey founded an association to improve it socially and economically. It was a generous order that helped the people of the island and ended the way it began, with generosity. In 1779 a Society of the Druids of Cardigan was formed. It was designed to encourage the writing of poetry, and it lasted for only a couple of years. On November 29, 1781 the Ancient Order of Druids came into being, its first leader was Hurle and it was set up the same way as the Freemasons. It spread quickly and it was dedicated to music. In 1831, it had grown considerably and it changed its purpose to increasing the present and future welfare of mankind and to gain and spread knowledge. In 1833 a splinter group came away from the AOD and was named United Ancient Order of Druids both of which continued to thrive and became poised to become major contributors to Victorian culture. It should be noted that all the “Druid” orders of the time were pretty vague on being “druid’. They were more Freemason then anything.

Chapter five is one of the very interesting chapters of this book as it talks about one of the most controversial personalities that influenced “Revival Druidry”, Iolo Morganwg. He forged a lot of the manuscripts that Revival Druids use as guidance and he was the first in Wales to make up a full order around the Druids. He described the divisions of “ancient druid orders” and the rites preformed in them. He openly held rites and initiated people as bards. Iolo’s views were taken up and altered by Edward Davies, and due to some friction between the two Davies went on to denounce Iolo as a fraud, supported by people like John Bryant. The chapter was very interesting in that it showed just how Iolo manipulated people who trusted him as an authority to get them to publish his ideas. In the end though Iolo’s work was also his trap since he could not retaliate against the people who called him a fraud.

The next chapter, chapter six, talks more about the images of the Druids in Georgian England and especially about two men who have influenced it the most, William Blake and William Wordsworth. It seems that in the eighteenth century writers who tended to naturally favor religious ritual and a powerful clergy were inclined to admire the druids and present them in a good light, while those who preferred a religion based more on scripture and on evangelical preaching or resented pretentions of established churchmen tended to be hostile to the druids. William Blake in his poems followed this formula very well. He was hostile to the druids in his writings, at the same time making up a “new” history for Christianity making it seem like it started in England. Wordsworth on the other hand never offered a real opinion on whether the druids were good or bad, he presented the two sides of the story, the philosopher-priests and the priesthood that sacrificed humans with equal enthusiasm.

During the period between 1800-1870, the druids were portrayed in two roles, the first as patriots and prophets of British glory and the second as nature priests. The formations of clubs and societies bearing the name Druids continued from the Georgian era to the Victorian era, with one society for women springing up as well. Since the druids seemed to have dominated the scene in that period, it is only natural that they were portrayed in a variety of attitudes in literary treatments, like poems and books. It is noticeable however, that the most common way that the druids were regarded with was hostility.

During the nineteenth century Druidry and Wales became two faces of the same coin. This was thanks to Iolo’s influence that came through in two different ways, the first was through the literature that was inspired by his take on Druidry and the second was the use of his famous eisteddfodau. The ideas presented in the literature of the times were either inspired by Iolo or shared by him. The five main strands were as follows; the ancient druids were wise and high-minded people who believed in the one true god and in salvation, the detestation of the Romans who misrepresented the druids, that Christianity had blended with Druidry to give us the early British Church, the hatred of Roman Catholicism, and finally that medieval Welsh literature had preserved druidic teachings. There were some voices of criticism of the ideas put forward by Iolo and his many followers but they were not many, and Iolo was even defended by the established Church. It was also during this time that Myfyr Morganwg developed his concept of Druidry based on Iolo’s work, which was more pagan and he was able to worship out in the open. Myfyr had a successor in Owen Morgan who was a journalist but after Morgan died there were no successors and the order died, but not before he influenced some one else who did not consider himself a successor to Morgan but to Myfyr. This was William Price. Of all the people from the nineteenth century the only one that is well known for his flamboyant ways and his impact on social issues was William Price. The rest were only known among scholars or became footnotes in books.

The chapter entitled “The Downfall of the Druids” talks about how after being a dominant presence in British history for a hundred years, the situation changed suddenly from the 1860s onwards. There were always some voices that did not think that the druids were a major part of British history most of them were from Scotland and that didn’t change after the 1860s. What caused the big downfall was something that was inevitable in my opinion. The Danes discovered the three ages of Stone Age, Bronze Age and Iron Age, Darwin wrote his book “The Origin of Species” and archeology was being developed. Writers of the 1850s onwards knew that the druids could not have built the megaliths and archeology took care of the rest. Of course there were still misconceptions, after all archeology was still developing and so were theories of what is history and pre-history. A new view of British pre-history was being written with the druids being marginalized.

The next chapter in the book discusses the individuals and groups that still worked with the images of the druids, as they were when they were still popular. These individuals and groups still impacted their contemporary societies. The image of the druids as nature-priests underwent some development between the middle of the nineteenth century and the twentieth century. The places attributed to them (both man-made and natural) were given a sense of real sanctity and their religion was recognized as both genuinely pagan and having enduring appeal. This prepared Druidry for being a fully formed modern pagan religion at the end of the twentieth century. This was an interesting chapter because in it you could see the elements of what makes the Druidry of today.
Chapter eleven is called the Universal Bond and it talks about a druid order of the same name. Hutton traces the spiritual journey of its colorful leader and the role this order played in the history of Stonehenge from 1912 to 1931. The founder of the order, Reid, was a very pompous and greedy man who wanted more and more privileges from the people who owned or took care of Stonehenge. In the end his outrageous claims to history for his order and his attitude sabotaged his own order. In 1932 he stopped identifying himself as a druid and even changed his order’s name to reflect that change. This chapter is a good example of how one larger than life character can make history; the Universal Bond may have been a small order in numbers but its leader made sure it made a lot of noise. Its association with Stonehenge certainly made sure it was on the “druid historical records” of Britain.

After the death of Reid the Universal Bond was continuing to get the public’s attention more so than before. As Reid had abandoned the Druids of his group these druids split and formed a new group, which after the death of Reid re-took the name of the Universal Bond. The order caused a national controversy. It achieved an adversarial relationship with archeologists in a way, which reveals the nature of both. This relationship was not the same as before though because the druids, the archeologists and the parent society and culture had all changed in nature. This chapter was interesting as it explains the origin of one of the most famous of the “modern” druid orders the OBOD. It had an interesting look at the history of British archeology and the role they played in the fight for Stonehenge. It also gave us a small but illuminating look at Stuart Piggott and the reason he wrote his book “The Druids”.

The final chapter of the book was the conclusions that the author had come too, which were already incorporated within the previous chapters. I think anyone reading this book will come to the conclusion that not everything is as it seems. People from the modern druid orders might not like what they read in this book because it shows just how much REAL evidence we have for ancient druid orders and how the “modern” druid orders came about. The origins of some of the orders will certainly surprise the members who are in them now. This is an illuminating book that is a must read for anyone who is interested in Druidry and druids. As for the goal of the book which is a look at the British and how they saw themselves and their island I think that Hutton has done an amazing job of fulfilling that goal. I don’t think I will look at the British, the druids or the druid orders in quite the same way ever again.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Naming Infinity

A few months ago, I had a dream that led me to start thinking about the religious, spiritual, and philosophical significance regarding the mathematical concept of infinity. Combining this with my never-ending interest in Russian and Soviet history and culture, Naming Infinity would seem like a perfect book for me. Just released in March, Loren Graham and Jean-Michel Kantor’s book was supposed to tell a true story of religious mysticism and mathematical creativity.

The authors of this book wanted to convey the idea “that a religious heresy [Name Worshipping] was instrumental in helping the birth of a new field of modern mathematics [set theory]” (5). What the book actually contained was a thorough history of early twentieth-century Russian mathematics through three people—Dimitri Egorov, Pavel Florensky, & Nikolai Luzin—who happened to be religious and were involved in the Name Worshiping religious ideology. Readers of J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey were given a glimpse of what Name Worshipping is about through Franny’s involvement with the Jesus Prayer and the Russian mystical classic The Way of a Pilgrim (13). There was very little examination of Name Worshipping and analysis of the religious beliefs and mystical experiences of these three mathematicians or of any mathematicians in general in this book. Religion, spirituality, and mysticism were treated as a secondary trait of these scholars, reduced to a role of classification and identification, and not fully investigated by the authors.

Naming Infinity is really a history book that touches briefly on the math philosophies of these three Russians and the differences between Russian, French, and German philosophies of that time. These philosophies are interesting and helped me think and learn about some of the history behind the concept of infinity. However, I was looking specifically for the mystical connection that was not there. The history drowned this out and only left us with this short attempt at a connection between the math and mysticism.

It is not necessary to resolve the ultimate problems in the philosophy of mathematics in order to see that Name Worshipping—a religious viewpoint regarded as heresy by the Russian Orthodox Church and condemned by the Communist Party as a reactionary cult—influenced the emergence of a new movement in modern mathematics. In contrast to the French leaders in set theory, the Russians were much bolder in embracing such concepts and non-denumerable transfinite numbers. While the French were constrained by their rationalism, the Russians were energized by their mystical faith. Just as the Russian Name Worshippers could “name God,” they could also “name infinities,” and they saw a strong analogy in the ways in which both operations were accomplished. A comparison of the predominant French and Russian attitudes toward set theory illustrates an interesting aspect of science: if science becomes too cut-and-dried, too rationalistic, this can slow down its adherents, impeding imaginative leaps. (189-190)

Thursday, July 2, 2009

On the Banks of Plum Creek - Laura Ingalls Wilder

In this book Laura and her family move to Plum Creek. They spend some time living under the river bank before Pa Ingalls builds a proper house. The girls have many adventures including being trusted to be left alone for a day, unfortunately the blizzard hit earlier than expected. The girls took it upon themselves to bring in some wood from the woodpile completely forgetting to stop and end up bringing in the entire pile, enough for two weeks.

I enjoyed this series as a child and am enjoying them again as an adult and a parent. It’s truly amazing to look back at this documented history and see how much freedom children had in those days and to see how much responsibility they were given as opposed to now. If I had left my kids alone for a day when they were 8 or 9 I would have been in serious trouble but back then they were just expected to cope and grow up. Almost everything was made by hand and there was much excitement when Pa Ingalls was able to buy a broom, they were astonished to find how even the bristles were. It is in this book that they first start school. I love getting an idea of how school was run back then, it was so different. They used to have to memorise everything and then repeat it back to the teacher. So much different to the way we learn now with assignments and research.

I’ve always enjoyed the writing, I find it simple without being patronising. I’d say it’d be good for pre-teens or early teens.

I hope this review makes sense. I’ve managed to pick up a virus and I’m being grateful it’s none of the ‘flus that are going around.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Simply Irresistible Sneak Peek

Those of you who follow The Elite series by Jennifer Banash know that the third (and possibly final) book releases in just a few days. To get everyone excited, and to give those new to the series a reason to start reading, Jennifer has put together this sneak peek for everyone to read.

Cram Session


“I totally hate calculus.”  Sophie St. John threw her book to the floor of the Bramford’s Entertainment Lounge and twisted her golden hair, the color of buttered honey into a messy bun, sticking a pencil through it to secure her hair firmly in place. It was ridiculous—even when Sophie was a mess, she was still one of the most glamorous, fashionable girls Casey McCloy had ever seen in all of her soon-to-be seventeen years.  “I can’t wait to get out into the real world so I never have to do math ever again.”

Casey laughed, pulling her own newly straightened yellow-ish blond hair into a ponytail. “I hate to break it to you Sophs, but math isn’t exactly useless in everyday life.”

“Well, that’s what I like to tell myself, anyway,” Sophie said with a giggle, pushing her black Gucci glasses that she didn’t need—they were strictly an accessory as Sophie’s vision was perfect—higher onto the bridge of her perfectly upturned nose, and sipped greedily at her soy latte, foam covering her lips before she licked it off, quick as a cat. With her hair pulled back, glasses on, and dressed in a tiny Ralph Lauren green and black plaid skirt, Wolford tights, and a Kelly green Hermes wool sweater, Sophie looked more like a psychotically cheerful catholic schoolgirl than a much-envied Upper East Side A-Lister.  But frequent costume changes were part of Sophie’s charm—and one of the things Casey liked best about the diminutive honey-haired Bramford resident.  The best, or maybe worst thing about Sophie St. John was that she rarely took herself seriously—and, unfortunately as a result, nobody else really did either . . . In reality, Sophie was titanically smart—so much so that she’d skipped the sixth grade entirely when her English teacher discovered her plowing through Jane Austen’s entire oeuvre one fateful semester, hiding battered paperbacks under her desk so she could read through her classes undisturbed.

Casey looked around the lounge, taking in the enormous movie screen hanging at the front of the room, which was currently blasting VH1’s exercise in nostalgia, I Love the Eighties, at maximum volume, the screen filled with the image of George Michael jumping around on a runway, his hands covered in day-glo green gloves that were beyond horrific. A stainless steel, state-of-the-art popcorn machine that, as far as Casey could tell so far, nobody ever used stood in the corner, and an adjacent sculptured outdoor garden was clearly visible through a long row of windows.

Just a short month ago, merely stepping into a room like this would’ve caused her mouth to fall open in stunned silence.  Now it was just kind of . . . normal. Casey sighed, closing her AP History book and tossing it on the couch beside her, crossing her legs beneath her, a pair of cabled, J. Crew grey cashmere ballet flats swaddling her toes in luxurious warmth.  Ever since this whole reality show thing had begun, her footwear wasn’t the only thing that had changed drastically. Almost overnight she’d gone from new girl and perennial social misfit, to almost . . . popular. 

“How could anyone have ever doubted for, like, a millisecond that George Michael was gay?” Sophie said, shaking her head disbelievingly at the screen, taking in the singer’s perfectly feathered golden hair, tight red athletic shorts, and signature gold hoop earring. “I mean” Sophie went on, pointing at the screen, “the ball-hugging shorts alone leave no doubt.”

Casey burst out laughing, her shoulders shaking hard beneath her grey Fair Isle cable knit cashmere sweater, the soft wool mirroring the exact shade of her wide-set eyes.

“Apparently no on realized that Boy George was a drag queen right away either, if you can believe that,” Casey pointed out after she’d composed herself, pushing her hair back from her face with one hand. “So go figure. But, you know,” she added, frowning as the Wham! video flashed off, and the girls from Bananarama started belting out “Venus,” “it’s weird how much better all these eighties pop stars look now—it was like the eighties were a veritable black hole of spandex, bike shorts, leg warmers, and other assorted fashion nightmares.”

With her new designer wardrobe courtesy of the producers of De-Luxe—and the occasional forays into both Sophie and Phoebe’s overstuffed closets—her newly straightened hair, freckles that were now magically airbrushed away with Giorgio Armani foundation, along with her newfound celebrity status, Casey had succeeded in making quite the transformation herself. When she peered into the mirror these days, she barely recognized the girl staring back at her. The weird, frizzy-haired, socially inept Casey seemed to have been banished for good with a click of a remote and the whir of the camera. The only problem was that she still wasn’t sure how she actually felt about any of it. 

But whether she really wanted to come to terms with it or not, Casey couldn’t help noticing that not being treated like a social outcast was definitely preferable to being terminally typecast as a gauche, Midwestern loser. But every time she caught sight of her own reflection in one of the glossy shop windows lining Fifth Avenue, she was filled with a sudden shock, a sense of complete dislocation, and an out of body, Twilight Zone-esque sensation when she realized that the smiling, sophisticated blond staring back at her was none other than, umm . . . herself.  Who was that girl, she sometimes wondered as Meadowlark’s best and brightest routinely waved at her in the hallways and IM-ed her late into the night.

As soon as the student population had gotten word that Madison and Casey had been chosen for their own reality show, the invitations to the Upper East Side’s most exclusive parties and events had begun flooding in with a force and regularity that made Casey feel slightly dizzy as she stood in the kitchen each night while opening the piles of thick envelopes that were now routinely strewn across Nanna’s granite kitchen counters.  But did it really mean anything when the only reason people were interested in you was because you were on some stupid TV show?  Casey shifted uncomfortably on the soft couch, the thought making her squirm.

“So,” Casey asked, trying to change the subject and distract herself from the thoughts about her shifting identity that she really didn’t want to think about, “have you talked to your . . . mom lately?”  Sophie’s smile faded away as the words left Casey’s lips, and she looked down at her skirt and began picking at a loose yellow thread, her normally open, happy face set with concentration. Six weeks ago Sophie had met her biological mother, Melissa Von Norten, an infamous Hollywood actress who’d given Sophie up for adoption when she was just an infant, at Sophie’s lavish, Studio 54-themed sweet sixteen.  Needless to say they didn’t exactly leave the party making plans to have sleepovers and wash each other’s hair on a regular basis. The night ended with Sophie running out of her own party, leaving Melissa—not to mention the rest of the Upper East Side—standing on the street, mouths agape.  Ever since that night, Sophie had refused to talk about it with anyone . . . until now.

“She’s called . . . and emailed a few times,” Sophie said with a sulky sigh, eyes still fixated on her skirt.  “But I haven’t exactly been dying to talk to her.”  Sophie tossed the loose thread to the floor, her sweater falling back from her wrists to reveal a series of angry looking red cuts that marred her pale skin.  Casey couldn’t help staring at the jagged, diagonal markings, her grey eyes widening with questions she knew that she couldn’t—shouldn’t—ask as Sophie quickly pulled her sleeves down and picked up her history book, making a show out of busily rifling the thick, smooth paper.  Maybe it was her cat, Casey thought as she tried to think of something to say. Yeah, right, her inner skeptic snarled, clearly not buying her half-hearted explanation for a second. Her cat just happened to scratch both of her wrists?  In exactly the same place? Not likely.

“But she’s your mom,” Casey went on, unsure of where exactly she was going with any of this—only that she knew she had to keep talking or she’d be likely to blurt out something stupid and insensitive like “What happened to your arm?” And that, Casey knew instinctively, would be a complete disaster. “Don’t you want to try to have some kind of relationship with her?” 

Sophie snorted, closing her history book again in exasperation. “Oh, right,” She said, her voice dripping with sarcasm. “Like your relationship with your mom is so great?  Where is she again anyway?”

Casey blushed hard, pulling her silky straight hair into a ponytail. She still couldn’t believe that after years of wrestling with her impossibly curly locks that went every which way with a mind of their own, that freedom could’ve been as simple as a trip to Elizabeth Arden—courtesy of the beauty guru that was Madison Macallister, of course.

“She’s in London, working on her book.  She got some big, fancy-pants grant to go to Oxford, so she’ll be there all year,” Casey said, running her hands over the smoothness of her ponytail. Casey looked down at her cashmere-swaddle body and wondered what her mother, Barbara, a professor of Women’s Studies at Illinois State University and card-carrying feminist, would have to say about her new look—not to mention the news that her daughter was a soon-to-be reality television star. Nothing good, that was for sure. 

“You’re playing right into the hands of the patriarchy—not to mention supporting the most abominable aspects of American consumerism!” Barbara would probably yell, slapping her hand down onto the battered wooden kitchen table for added emphasis.  Barbara was big on punctuating her declarative sentences with furniture-slaps or meaningful grunts—which was kind of strange considering that her mother had a PhD . . . For someone with an advanced degree that took years to achieve, her communication skills definitely left something to be desired.

“Well, it’s definitely weird,” Sophie said giggling. “Every time she calls you hold the phone practically a mile away from your ear and roll your eyes until you hang up.  She must be a nightmare.”

“Yes,” Casey said with a giggle, “But she means well . . .” 

“Speaking of nightmares,” Sophie said, pushing her glasses up onto the bridge of her nose for the millionth time and getting down to business. “What’s up with you and Drew lately?  It’s been practically forever since I’ve seen you two licking each other’s faces in the hallway, or force-feeding one another stupid amounts of baked goods at lunch.” 

            Now it was Casey’s turn to sigh and look at the floor, the smile fading from her  rosy face, her pulse quickening at the mere mention of her almost-kind of-not really-ever- her-boyfriend’s name. The truth was that things between her and Drew were worse than ever. Since he’d inexplicably left her on the dance floor and run out of Sophie’s sweet sixteen six weeks ago, they’d barely exchanged more than two words. Not only that, but complicating things even further was the fact that Casey had been hanging out with Darin Hollingsworth, the skinny Emo guy with the shock of black hair who rescued her from total wallflower-itis once Drew cut out of the party without so much as a backwards glance, and left her standing there looking decidedly pathetic.

Every night Casey stared at her Swvoroski-covered Verizon Venus—another gift from Pulse—for what seemed like hours, simultaneously willing it to ring while thinking hard about calling Drew—but chickening out every time.  It seemed like the minute her fingertips pressed Send, she immediately began fumbling for the End button, her heart flailing toward her mouth. Wasn’t calling him kind of desperate? After all, he’d walked out on her—shouldn’t he be the one to call?  Casey crossed her arms across her chest stubbornly, her cheeks aflame again just thinking about the way he’d left her standing by herself on the dance floor, scanning the crowd for his lanky frame, so happy and relieved that things seemed to be OK again after the weird, tumultuous weeks that led up to Sophie’s party. Ever since Drew had begun a documentary film project about wealthy kinds on the Upper East Side for his advance film studies class at Meadowlark, he’d been paying less attention to Casey, and more and more attention to Madison—and interviewing her for the film certainly hadn’t helped matters.  It was so annoying—no matter how straight her hair, how cool her clothes, when it came to Drew, Casey felt like she was perennially at odds, and always, always making the wrong move.

            “I have no idea,” Casey finally managed to spit out woodenly, her voice strained.  “I really haven’t talked to him much. Unfortunately,” she muttered, looking down at her hands and concentrating on her bitten fingernails. 

            “How come?” Sophie asked, pulling her legs swathed in black tights underneath her.  “Did you guys have fight or something?  I ran into him in the hall yesterday and he looked like ass.” 

            “Tell me about it,” Casey deadpanned, sighing loudly and hoping Sophie couldn’t tell that she was lying through her teeth. With his artfully tousled dark hair and piercing green eyes, no matter what Drew was going through, Casey had never seen him look less than utterly, stupidly, ridiculously gorgeous—even when he resembled a walking poster boy for Prozac. “It wasn’t a fight . . . exactly,” Casey mused, her words both jumbled and stuttering, sounding as confused as she currently felt.  “We’ve just . . . stopped talking, I guess.”

            “Is it because of the terminally angsty Mr. Hollingsworth, by any chance?” Sophie asked with a smile, slurping the last of her latte and placing the empty cup down onto the stainless steel coffee table that separated the two couches from one another.  “What’s up with you and Fallout Boy anyway?  I didn’t think you guys were really a thing yet.” 

            Casey furrowed her brow, pulling her knees up to her chest and hugging them tightly, not knowing whether or not to tell Sophie the truth.  For the last few weeks, she and Darin had been hanging out more and more—checking out revival film festivals of Passolini and  Goddard, and meeting for coffee before school most mornings, sitting side by side at Uncommon Grounds, scribbling in their respective notebooks. Casey loved how comfortable she felt around the tall, lanky dark haired boy—she rarely erupted into an uncontrollable pool of sweat, or began blushing and stammering in his presence.  Being with Darin was like hanging out with your brother—or some other male entity you’d known for years. That being said, she, umm, wasn’t exactly filled with the burning desire to rip his clothes off . . .

Just last week they’d said goodbye in front of The Bram after a late afternoon study session. The sky was beginning to darken rapidly, as it always did in winter, the streetlights twinkling magically as they came on one by one, illuminating the white clouds that hung between them—a by-product of their warm mouths mixed with the shock of cold air. Darin looked at her, shaking his shock of shaggy dark hair from his eyes and shifted his weight awkwardly. Casey knew that Darin wanted to kiss her, she knew that way that you know it’s going to snow right before the first flakes come tumbling out of the sky, blanketing the world in a soft white haze.

He leaned slightly forward, his lips turning up in a half-smile, and as much as Casey knew that this was her cue to lean in and touch her lips to his, as much as she knew that she was supposed to want to (hell, she should’ve been on cloud nine), she couldn’t escape the overwhelming fact that it just didn’t feel right. That maybe she just didn’t want to. Casey exhaled loudly, flopping down on the couch and staring over at the huge widescreen plasma TV attached to the far wall.  Maybe there was something wrong with her. Almost-seventeen year old girls should want to be kissed, right?  Just maybe not by Darin Hollingsworth, her inner bitch added smugly.

“No, Sophie, we are most definitely not a thing yet. And I don’t really know if we’ll ever be. I like hanging out with him, but it’s more like hanging out with a male version of you that grew up at CBGBs instead of Barney’s,” Casey said, imagining Sophie dressed up like a Ramone or, better yet, Debbie Harry. That would be a hot look for her . . . “He invited me to go and see some band in Park Slope on Friday night.”

Sophie’s mouth fell open. “You’re going to Brooklyn? Of your own free will?  For the love of God, why? There’s nothing there but lesbian stroller mom’s and grimy coffee houses where unwashed hipsters hang out and talk about their “art.”” Sophie shuddered and began thumbing the pages of her dreaded calculus book shaking her head in mock disbelief while watching the page numbers she was supposed to be studying breeze by in rapid, cartoon-like succession. “Listen, Casey, if things are really over between you and Drew then, I mean, you need to have some new man candy on your arm. But Darin? He’s not exactly the kind of guy you can make your ex jealous with.”

            Casey felt a strange jolt in her gut as she found herself silently agreeing with Sophie—overwhelmingly so. She didn’t like that jolt. It seemed wrong and totally alien. Since when have I cared about what other people think? Drew might be an oil painting with a cardiovascular system and a perfect ass, but Casey hadn’t been attracted to him for those reasons alone—although they certainly didn’t hurt. Why should she be worried about what Darin looked like or whether or not Drew was jealous?

“I’m not just trying to make Drew jealous,” Casey said, not sure if it was just a teeny-tiny white lie or a completely gigantic one. “I really like hanging out with Darin. I just don’t know if I, umm, you know, like him.”

            “You’re dating life is starting to sound more complicated than this damn calculus,” Sophie said jokingly while throwing the math textbook into her bulging Louis Vuitton, cherry-studded satchel. “You know I love you, but if this whole like-versus-like thing gets to be any more like a quadratic equation, I’m going to have to drop you like I wish I could drop Calc.” Sophie grinned as she got up and headed for the door, her bag slung over her shoulder. “Call me if you manage to figure all this “like” stuff out. Or better yet, drop it all together—I’ll be more than happy to talk shop about boys that will undoubtedly make Mr. Van Allen fall to his knees and start bleating your name uncontrollably like a crazed sheep.”

Watching her friend walk out of the door, Casey imagined the opening credits to De-Luxe—how they’d introduce all the characters with short, pithy montages, summing up their fabulous lives in a few short seconds. Casey imagined how her section might be edited—quick cuts of her laughing over brioche and coffee at Uncommon Grounds, montages of her walking in the park with Sophie, her newly straightened hair blowing gaily in the wind, and shopping with Madison in some glorious Fifth Avenue boutique. And, of course the final shot would have to be Casey standing in front of The Bram, her body leaning toward Darin’s in slow motion, his lips gently touching hers, the years’ first snow gently falling from the sky, coating their hair and clothes with traces of delicate white powder . . .

Wait.  Rewind.

Casey closed her eyes, shaking her head vigorously in order to wipe the scene from her mind, and replay it. As the newly-edited montage rolled along, she was suddenly kissing Drew in front of The Bram, her arms wrapped around his neck, the snow blanketing their bodies as she pulled his deliciously warm body closer still, wishing she could climb inside of him and never come up for air—or anything else—ever again. 

Casey opened her eyes and frowned, more confused than ever.  The choice that would be made by the producers in the editing room was obvious. It wasn’t like Darin was ugly or anything—he was just . . . different. Kind of like you used to be her inner bitch whispered knowingly as Casey gathered up her books from the sleek leather sofa, hugging them tightly to her chest. But am I really going to live my life for this show? Casey thought, walking toward the door and switching off the overhead lights with a snap that was more decisive than she felt. And why was that thought suddenly so tempting, she wondered as the she swung the door shut behind her with a click.  But did she really want to give up her newfound social status to go back to being the old Casey McCloy—the girl everyone either laughed at—or ignored?  It was undeniable. She really, really hated to admit it to herself—or anyone else for that matter—but finally being on the inside was really starting to feel kind of . . . addictive. 

Casey walked across the gleaming marble lobby that had begun to feel as familiar to her lately as her house she’d left back in Normal, Illinois, a white Victorian with the slightly sagging porch she’d loved to sit out on during hot summer nights, and stepped into the elevator, holding her breath as the lurching movement made her suddenly dizzy and as the elevator climbed higher and higher still, her head fuzzy and light.