Monday, November 30, 2009

Book Review: Barth for Armchair Theologians

Franke, John R.  Barth for Armchair Theologians.  Louisville: John Knox, 2006.  xi+183

Interest in the theology of Karl Barth remains at a near fever pitch.  For those preparing for a career in theology, staring at the tombs of the Church Dogmatics can be overwhelming.  As a former professor of mine once said, there is no substitute for reading the man himself.  While there is certainly wisdom in that remark, introductions to his thought can be a welcome aid to the daunting volume of Barth’s work.  In this short work, John Franke attempts to provide a helpful introduction to this great theologian.

To help the novice, Franke combines both historical and theological developments.  The bulk of the book centers on Barth’s life and theological pilgrimage, but at key points Franke detours to explain the significance of a time, place, or writing for Barth’s emerging thought.  This has the effect of helping the reader reach the chapter on the Church Dogmatics, the point all of Franke’s earlier writing is moving towards, with a decent sense of how Barth arrived at the convictions he did at the Church Dogmatics, and why they matter so much to him.

The centerpiece of this book is a chapter devoted to Barth’s crowning achievement, the Church Dogmatics.  Before summarizing the contents of each volume, he sets some broader contours of the work.  Franke briefly overviews Barth view of faith & reason, the shape & structure of the CD, and how to go about reading this enormous and complex work.  Regarding strategies for comprehension he summarizes the six “patterns” found in Barth’s work as understood by George Hunsinger.  This is a helpful inclusion as it gives the new reader of the CD a set of broader lens through which to begin to understand Barth.  For someone like myself who has been exposed to Barth numerous times but is not an expert, these six categories helped to clarify for me what I find compelling about Barth & what I don’t.  While the summaries of each volume are well done, I benefitted most from context-setting work Franke does.

The book concludes with an evaluation of Barth’s legacy.  It is at this stage that the debate surrounding McCormack’s project is discussed.  Up to this last chapter Franke’s opinion regarding how to best read Barth (turn to analogy vs. McCormack’s reading) had remained relatively well hidden from view, but at this juncture McCormack’s reading gets Franke’s stamp of approval.  Both traditional and postmodern interpreters of Barth will be dissappointed with Franke’s sympathies with McCormack’s views, although Franke is charitable in his evaluations.  Furthermore, this chapter is invaluable for the book regardless of this inner squabble since the real prize of the chapter is how Franke demonstrates the importance of Barth’s thought for the future of theology, something all parties can agree on.

 Franke has offered an accessible and entertaining introduction to both the life and thought of Barth.  Franke’s work creates a level of desire to engage Barth himself, which should be the goal of any primer of a major theologian.  He helps the reader see why Barth matters, for both yesterday and tomorrow, and provides tools to begin the exploration.  As someone who would consider myself somewhere between a beginner and an expert, I profitted from reading this work, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in Karl Barth.


Excerpt of <em>The Christmas Dog</em> by Melody Carlson

Product Description
Betty Kowalski isn’t looking forward to the holidays. She just can’t seem to find Christmas in her heart.

There’s church, of course. But who can she bake for these days? And who would care whether or not she pulled out the Christmas decorations?Her new neighbor just adds to the problem. He’s doing home improvements that don’t appear to be improving much of anything.

These days when Betty looks out the window, she sees a beat-up truck, a pile of junk, lots of blue tarps, and–horror of horrors–an old pink toilet. But when a mangy dog appears at her doorstep, the stage is set for Betty to learn a very important lesson about what Christmas is all about.

This contemporary Christmas story is a timely yet gentle reminder that God can work miracles through something as seemingly insignificant as a little brown dog.
From the Inside Flap
A little before seven on Monday morning, Betty woke to the sound of someone trying to break into her house. At least that was what it sounded like to her. . . . It was that scruffy dog again. Jack Jones’s mongrel. The dog crouched down, whimpering, and despite Betty’s bitter feelings toward her neighbor, she felt a tinge of pity for the poor, dirty animal. And Betty didn’t even like dogs.

“Go home, you foolish thing,” she said. “Go bother your owner.” The dog just whined. Betty knelt down with the screen still between her and the dog. “Go home,” she said again. “Shoo!” But the dog didn’t budge. And now Betty didn’t know what to do.

718810: The Christmas Dog The Christmas Dog

By Melody Carlson / Baker

Product Details
* Hardcover: 176 pages
* Publisher: Revell (September 1, 2009)
* Language: English
* ISBN-10: 080071881X
* ISBN-13: 978-0800718817

Additional Resources:
Read an Excerpt
Read the Amazon Reviews
Visit Melody Carlson’s Website
Become a Melody Carlson Fan on Facebook


Friday, November 27, 2009

<i>The Lost Symbol</i> by Dan Brown

Ahh, Dan Brown.  Is there anyone better at the contemporary, hyper-educated thriller?  While this wasn’t my favorite of his books, it was certainly an entertaining read.  Everything you’ve come to expect in a Robert Langdon book is there: mystery and misdirection, prominent places, secret societies.  What I felt was missing, however, was a strong sense of character development.  Especially given the precedent set in Angels & Demons and The Da Vinci Code, I expected much more from this novel.

In his third work featuring symbology professor Robert Langdon, Brown has included all the tropes readers have come to know and love in his stories.  Langdon finds himself unexpectedly summoned to Washington D.C. and ends up making a startling, slightly gory, discovery.  This sends him running, often literally, into an adventure filled with ancient clues and symbols.  One of things which has always drawn me to Brown’s books is his use of old stories in an extremely modern context.  In this case, the myths surrounding the Freemasons are brought into the D.C. night and thoroughly blended with a psychopathic killer.  His use of the archaic creates an immediate air of mystery, while the inclusion of icons like the Capitol, Library of Congress, and Washington Monument give the reader a contemporary point of access.  I also appreciated the role text messages played in this story.  They weren’t added as a sort of “well everyone’s doing it, so let’s get them somewhere” device; it wasn’t like they were using Twitter.  Instead, texting was deliberately used to advance the story and alter the reader’s perception.  In this respect, Brown has always struck me as a masterful modern novelist.

My biggest hang-up with this novel involved what I perceived as a disjuncture between the quality of charter development in The Lost Symbol and Brown’s other books, especially as regards Robert Langdon himself.  Let’s not kid our selves, this isn’t Dickens we’re reading.  That said, I always appreciated the time Brown took with his characters, even in the middle of all the clue solving and death defying.  In his first two stories, Langdon struck me as an interesting, sensitive Renaissance man who learned from his experiences.  In his most recent adventure, however, much of that seems to be lost.  Time and again, I was shocked at his incredulous reactions to the revealed Mason secrets.  Here we have a man who has, among other things, found THE holy grail, and yet he can’t wrap his mind around the possibility that a mythic pyramid might actually exist.  Moreover, even when pieces of evidence sit in his hands, he refuses to at least acknowledge the possibility of belief.  I found this problematic for two reasons.  On the one hand, he was never so persistently dubious in the other novels, and on the other, you would think he’d have learned to better see the truth behind the myth after his previous adventures.  Contrasting to (and perhaps providing a reason for) this thin treatment is the book’s frightening and totally unhinged villain.

Mal’akh is his name, but it’s clear from the beginning that’s a chosen name, a place holder for his true identity.  Covered in tattoos, he is obsessed with transformation; indeed, from a certain point of view, he represents the very idea of change.  He has altered his skin, his musculature, his name, and even his masculinity in the pursuit of his ultimate goal.  It becomes ironic, then, that he primarily acts in opposition to the societal change which would come about if Langdon and his allies succeed in decoding the mysteries before them.  That Mal’akh seems oblivious to this becomes more and more understandable as the reader is plunged into his past.

Greater detail is given about Mal’akh and his development than any other single character.  Brown does it through a forced perspective, however, as though we were reading the man’s memories simultaneous with his review of them.  This keeps the reader from discovering his given name until the last minute, and we are are instead given a glimpse into the development of a monster.  From his drug addicted origins in a Turkish prison to his murderous and lascivious escapades, up to his sociopathic focus on the Masons, Mal’akh is a truly chilling character.  There are tortures he enacts in the story which will make the skin of even the most stouthearted reader crawl.  He is certainly the most vivid of Brown’s antagonists.  I just wish the author had put the same care into the rest of the novel.

Ultimately, this book felt predictable, much more so than Brown’s other novels.  I didn’t see all the details, certainly, but I got many of them early on and found it impossible to miss the location of the lost symbol (even when the characters did).  Was I too familiar with D.C., having lived nearby for a few years?  Or was I too familiar with Dan Brown?  I’d be hard pressed to argue against the idea of the book as an Americanized Da Vinici Code, especially since the younger story lacks the sophistication of its elder.  Nevertheless, I was entertained and didn’t feel my time wasted in reading this novel, even if its execution undershot its potential.


Review of "Bloom County: The Complete Collection"

I got hooked on Bloom County in college and not only read it our university newspaper, but I bought the softbound collections. Someone even got me a small, stuffed Opus the Penguin that I still have on my bookshelf in my office.

For those of you who don’t know, Bloom County was a Pulitzer-Prize-winning comic strip penned by Berkley Breathed. The initial star of the strip was Milo Bloom, a young newspaper reporter with a penchant toward the sensationalized story. However, Opus, the penguin with a big nose soon became the star.

There were many other interesting characters such as Binkley, the confused best friend of Milo; Steve Dallas, an unethical and ineffective lawyer; Lola Granola, the hippie; Cutter John, the wheelchair-bound vet; Rosebud the basselope and others whose names escape me at the moment.

Breathed’s storylines went after anyone and everyone on all sides of the political spectrum. He was actually better balanced than many of the newspapers his work appeared in. He was also funny. I found myself not only laughing at how he made fun of the positions I didn’t like but I could even laugh at his take on the positions I supported.

Now, the entire comic strip is being collected to be released in five volumes. Bloom County: The Complete Collection, Volume One has been released and I’m reliving my college days. This volume offers margin notes with information about the subject matter in the comics and also gives them some context. This is useful for younger readers because many of the storylines skewered current events of the 1980’s.

Read it and enjoy. That’s what I’m doing.


"Hound" by Vincent McCaffrey

If bibliophilia is an illness, then Henry Sullivan is terminal! Books are his work, his life and his love. A book Hound, Henry is a former bookstore employee who now buys and then resells books over the Internet from his home.

A single man in his mid-thirties, Henry’s days are marked by estate sales, library book sales and other quests for saleable books. He enjoys a regular pint and a game of chess with his friend and confidant Albert. He makes the trek across the city of Boston to visit his father whom he seems never to have actually connected with. He shares a passing word with his landlady whom he respects and admires.

His heretofore predictable, mundane life is upturned when his landlady dies. He learns he will soon be losing his rent controlled apartment when her house is sold. This development, though troubling, absolutely pales to insignificance when Morgan Johnson, an old flame, calls him to value her husband’s books. One wonders if he is thinking of rekindling the flame when he learns of Morgan’s death the day after his visit with her. She was an important part of his life in the past and he is profoundly disturbed by her passing. Her collection was very valuable but would someone kill her for it?

In attempting to discover how Morgan died Henry becomes enmeshed in her family’s secrets. She was the second wife of a prominent publisher and traveled extensively. Her family and extended family hid troubles, resentments and deceptions beneath a thin veneer of respectability that their wealth and renown afforded them. Was murder kept in the family as well?

Somewhat reminiscent of John Dunning’s Bookman novels, this is a mystery novel that is more novel than mystery. Literary in both style and subject, Hound is a novel for those who enjoy a more sedately paced story. If you are looking for action you won’t find it here. Filled with anecdotes and asides on bookselling and the love of reading, Vincent McCaffrey’s love for books absolutely drips from the pages. If you share that obsession, then you will be touched and moved by his words.

Vincent McCaffrey is obviously a man so well read that he seems to have gleaned a deep understanding of human nature from his studies. His characters are appealing and sympathetic and his story well plotted.
I look forward to his next novel after what was a most enjoyable debut.


Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Just After Sunset, Stephen King

Just After Sunset is a collection of short stories SK wrote a couple of years ago.  I got the book last year, either for Christmas, birthday or Mother’s Day.  It’s a sad statement on how busy I’ve allowed myself to get that it takes me this long to get around to reading a book.  I think it’s only about the fourth book I’ve read this year.  Maybe fifth.  I used to read voraciously, one or two books a month.  (That’s voraciously for me.)  Now, if I manage to get 1/2 an hour a night before I go to sleep I’m accomplishing something. 

Anyway . . . whining about my poor time management skills isn’t what I started this post about.  It’s supposed to be about Just After Sunset. 

In the preface SK says he wrote these stories after being asked to judge a short story contest.  He says doing that re-awakened in him a desire to write short stories as he once had — with passion and a sense of urgency for getting the story told.  In his younger days, when writing meant feeding the kids or putting gas in the car, short stories were his stock and trade.  They paid the rent while he was working on the big stuff. 

I can remember literally devouring his collections of stories when I got my hands on them.  They were like a special treat and I would read them like I would occasionally binge on chocolate.  These days I don’t have time for binge-reading, and maybe that’ s a good thing.  I’ve also got a few years of University lit classes under my belt, so I’ve got a somewhat more refined skill-set in use when I’m reading now. 

When I used to read, I read strictly for pleasure, now I read with a more critical eye — I’m looking for plot, construction, reference, tone — all the boring stuff they teach you about in school, or try to at least.  I’m just lucky enough, or geeky enough — have it your way — to find that stuff not boring at all, but fascinating.  And when I’ve applied my newly acquired critical eye to a few of Stephen’s latest books I’ve come away a tad disappointed.  They all seemed to be lacking something, seem to be forced in some way that when I finished I felt a little sad, a little disappointed, because the man seemed to have lost his way.  But I’m a devoted fan, so I’ve hung in there, waiting.   Hoping. Praying he’d get the ‘feel’ back. 

Well, I think he has.  Just After Sunset is a fun read.  The stories roar along like a freight train and when I’m reading them I’m gone.  That’s what SK used to do for me, he’d transport me right the hell out of where ever I was, and take me on crazy ride.  I’d be jammed into some small compartment with people I didn’t know, some of whom I really came to care about, others whom I wanted to hide from, others whom I’d weep over as they fell or were pushed from the open doors of the speeding cars.  And to come back from that ride was agony, all I wanted to do was stay there and see it through to the journey’s end.  And when the book was finished?  I felt the way you do when you just don’t want to leave the party even though you know it’s over, that the door is closing, you’re waving goodbye, but you wish, real hard that the host will say: “Aww, what the hell!  Let’s keep’er going!”  And I’d put the book away on my bookshelf with my growing collection of Stephen King’s books and I’d start waiting, right there, right then, for his next one to appear.

Of course, I’m reading this one a story at a time, a few pages at a time.  The cool thing is, I can’t wait to get back to it every evening before I turn in for the night.  The other cool thing, my critical eye hasn’t found anything to bitch about.  So far, it’s all good. 

This was taken in August this year. We were on our motorcycle trip out East and back and we swung into Maine, well, because we were THAT close and I just had to do the dopey fan thing and go see where Stephen King lives. I was too chicken to go and knock on the door, although the gate was open and there were cars in the driveway. I'm guessing it was just groundskeepers and housekeepers -- Mr. King was probably in Florida. Still, it was a great big thrill.


Monday, November 23, 2009

This week I'm trekking up Everest with Bear!

I am continually reading. I love reading. Most of my reading pertains to the Bible or theology or spiritual formation. However, I always try to have at least one book that I am reading through that has nothing to do with any of that (a book for pure enjoyment or pleasure). I recently finished Angels and Demons by Dan Brown and I was planning to read his latest book, The Lost Symbol, but after I read reviews on it, I changed my mind. So last week I picked up The Kid Who Climbed Everest by Bear Grylls (the guy from the TV show Man VS. Wild). I really like watching Man VS. Wild. Bear was twenty-three years old when he summited Everest. He is the youngest Briton to scale Everest. He did it just two years after breaking his back because of his parachute failing to work properly. Crazy.

So this week of Thanksgiving while my kids are out of school I’m taking some vacation time, and I’m looking forward to trekking up Everest with Bear!


Last week in book news... (and some book reviews)

I thought “New Moon” was great. I liked it much more than the first movie. It seems everyone thought it would do well opening weekend, but no one expected it to do this well. It broke all kinds of records.

The big story in publishing last week was Harlequin announcing it was launching a self-publishing side. Many authors and organizations (including RWA) are not too happy about it.

I have no problem with self-publishing provided that (1) the author has a platform—a sure way to sell the books, and (2) the author really, really, truly understands what he/she is getting into. The majority of the time, an author doesn’t meet both those criteria and things end up going a way they didn’t expect.

Times have been changing, especially with the economy and the Internet, so I think we need to know that these publishing companies are going to be changing as well. We can fight against it all we want (and we should to an extent), but it will still change. As for the companies, I feel they would be better off doing separate names, websites, etc… This would probably help the authors, editors, and the rest of the publishing community not get so upset. I think I did hear that Harlequin was considering changing the name of the new self-publishing imprint.

Book Reviews

“Story of a Girl” by Sara Zarr
Little, Brown

I’m sorry to say that I have just now read my first Sara Zarr book. I have wanted to for awhile. “Story of a Girl” is a poignant tale of a girl who gets caught (by her dad!) having sex with an older guy when she was thirteen. Now, a few years later, she struggles through the pain and those who won’t forgive her (and the fact that she can’t forgive herself). A very fast read with a complex character. I look forward to reading more of Zarr’s books.

“When You Reach Me” by Rebecca Stead
Random House

I hardly ever read Middle Grade. Actually, come to think of it, I never read MG. But I had heard good things about this one, so I thought I’d check it out. The story takes place in the 70s, and shows a girl dealing with her game show obsessed mom and the loss of her best friend. Along the way strange things are happening, and she starts getting notes from someone. I really enjoyed the mystery in this. It kept the pages turning for me. Compelling book with some good character development and interactions. I can’t tell much about it without giving the plot away. It’s gotten great reviews, and I suspect it will do well.


Dani Noir by Nova Ren Suma

Publisher: Margaret K. McElderry
Publication Date: 6th Oct. 2009
Buy it from: Book Depository (free shipping worldwide!)
Silver star (3.5/5 stars)

Synopsis: Zoom in on thirteen-year-old Dani Callanzano. The summer before eighth grade, Dani is stuck in her nothing-ever-happens town with only her favorite noir mysteries at the Little Art movie theatre to keep her company. But one day a real-life mystery begins to unravel—at the Little Art! And it all has something to do with a girl in polka-dot tights… Armed with a vivid imagination, a flair for the dramatic, and a knowledge of all things Rita Hayworth, Dani sets out to solve the mystery and learns more about herself than she ever thought she would.

Review: Dani Noir was fun read. Dani was this feisty, charming, bluntly honest, thirteen year old protagonist who was definitely the type of people who liked to ‘take charge’ of things and not wait for things to happen. She does seem quite dramatic at times but I suspect it’s due to the fact that she loves watching movies and imagining herself in the movies. I quite liked her bubbly unique personality. Dani’s anger and frustrations were understandable and so were her struggles. Her best friend moved away and now she’s friendless. The secondary characters were very well developed. I liked Taylor, Elissa and basically all the good people. ;)

I was disappointed that the mystery was easily solved. I was expecting something more exciting? But I still love the wacky things Dani did to investigate the mystery. It kept me hooked to this book and I simply could not put it down! I read while eating my lunch, it wasn’t until I finished the book when I finally put it down.

One thing that took me by surprise was the mention of Facebook. From the beginning, I had the impression that the town was old-fashioned and the coolest thing there were cell phones. But with the mention of Facebook, I felt the story became inconsistent. Facebook is a modern website that everyone uses, so why doesn’t Little Arts theatre show other films besides those noir films? That was my only problem with Dani Noir. Other than that, I really enjoyed this book. Reading Dani’s witty dialogues and thoughts had me laughing aloud several times.

Dani Noir is an original and enjoyable novel which I recommend to middle graders and adults alike. You will be surprise about some of the topics covered in this novel. Dani Noir is not as ‘fluffy’ and ‘light’ as you probably expect it to be.

Favorite quote: “Rita Hayworth would have eaten Jessica Alba alive.”


Friday, November 20, 2009

Book vs. Movie

It’s a fight that has been waged since film became a viable storytelling medium.

The book or the movie the book spawned (sometimes the opposite!) has been a war that has been waging for years.

A few weeks ago, I read the Russian book Night Watch. I told someone about it and found the films Night Watch and Day Watch (both are based on stories in the Night Watch novel).

We watched the films and over the course of several hours the differences between book and movie were enormous. At the end, my friend asked “You liked that book??” the tone of his voice made it clear that he disliked the film, just as I had.

I then tried to counter by telling him exactly what was different, that you can’t judge a book just by watching the movie based on it. In all, the film contained about 30% of the story from the novel and changed around a lot. Some of it good, others bad, mostly bad.

I did like a few of the scenes of the Dark vampire family, trying to live like normal people despite being outcasts in the human world and in the Other world.

I don’t want to say it was an unmitigated mess, but it’s one of the things where the film is the film and the book is the book. There is no comparison.

That said, I loved the book. I plan on getting the rest of the books in the series. It’s almost a “What if Harry Potter became an IT administrator and part-time Auror in Russia.”

Moving Stories from Australia

“The Persimmon Tree and other Stories” by Marjorie Barnard

To appreciate a short story fully, one must get into the rhythm of the story. Frequently I will read a few pages of a story to get a sense of the characters and of the scene of a story and then will start over again so that I can feel the rhythm and understand what the author is trying to do. This is especially true of the stories in “The Persimmon Tree”. These stories are very short, and they are meant to be read slowly and savored.

One of the stories in this book, “The Wrong Hat”, is only three pages long. “The Wrong Hat” is a moving emotional story about a woman, who has recently lost her husband, shopping for a hat.

Marjorie Barnard’s method is the classic story method where a seemingly insignificant scene is described, but the scene resonates through the lives of the characters in the story, especially the main character. In the story “Beauty is Strength”, a trip to the beauty parlor causes a woman to reflect on the state of her marriage. In another story, “Sunday”, a man who is trying to become a writer goes to Sunday dinner at the house of his parents who want him to lead a more conventional life. I could describe each story in this book with a short sentence like the above, but I won’t. All these stories capture the ultimate importance of everyday events in each person’s life. If you like to read moving stories about daily life, you will probably enjoy this book.

A month ago, I had never heard of Marjorie Barnard. But I’m always on the lookout for new unfamiliar writers. So when Whispering Gums ( ) strongly recommended this book, I latched on to it immediately. Unlike novelists, some of the finest short story writers are scarcely known.

Marjorie Barnard was born in Sydney, Australia in 1897. She graduated from the University of Sydney, and she was offered a scholarship to Oxford but her father refused to give her permission to go to Oxford. After that, her relations with her father were strained; she became a librarian. Later she formed a literary partnership with Flora Eldershaw. Together they wrote five novels under the name M. Barnard Eldershaw. I have my doubts about creating fiction as a partnership, but their science fiction novel “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” is now quite well known. However “Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow” originally was severely censored by the Australian government for its pacifist views in 1947 when it was published, and the novel in hacked up form was poorly received. “It was just murdered,” Barnard said, “I was heartbroken.” After that, Barnard concentrated on writing history. This novel was not published in its original entirety until 1983 and it has become highly regarded. She died in 1987. Besides Wikipedia, another good source for information on Marjorie Barnard is

At the same time as the literary collaboration with Flora Eldershaw was going on, Marjorie Barnard was also writing short stories and getting them published in magazines. These stories were collected and published as “The Persimmon Tree and Other Stories” in 1943. This one little book of moving stories is a lasting legacy of Marjorie Barnard.

There is one story in this book, “Dry Spell”, which is an exception, because it is an apocalyptic story similar to “The Road”. For a detailed analysis of this story go to this location:

Wednesday, November 18, 2009


Camus, Albert. The Plague. New York: Vintage Books, 1948.

I have to start off by saying I was shocked to discovery my library does not have a copy of The Plague in its collection. I don’t know why that surprises me, but it does. Maybe I will donate my copy?

In relation to timeline The Plague is simple. It covers the duration of a bubonic plague. The story begins with the death of rats. First, a few rats are found here and there until they are everywhere; dying by the thousands all across the Algerian city of Oran. Then, the plague increases in intensity and starts killing hundreds of people until finally, colder temperatures arrive and the plague is mercifully over. But, The Plague on a philosophical level is much deeper than the spread of a disease. Dr. Bernard Rieux is a doctor trying to save the community of Oran from the ravages of a plague. Even though Dr. Rieux patiently tries to care for everyone in the makeshift infirmaries most of his patients die. It appears to be a losing battle. Soon it is obvious the bigger question on Dr. Bernard Rieux’s mind concerns humanity. For him, the struggle between good and evil is all apparent. He observes how people react to the disease, are influenced by the disease, and are changed by the disease. In the end, the whole point of the didactic lesson for Dr. Rieux is that we all need someone. Rieux’s biggest discovery is that he is content to continue the crusade against any disease, any suffering, any pain or death.

BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called, “100 Good Reads, Decade by Decade: 1940s” (p 177).

Confessional: Maybe this is my 21st century thinking, but I ridicule the idea of a man’s mother coming to keep house for him while his wife is ill. Can’t the man cook or clean for himself?

Meet ...Success

Back to square one for me!
When the audio of the training started and Micheal Clouse was
asking “Can you without hesitation list the 5 principles” or
“What are the 6 ways to make people like you” (from the book
How to Win Friends and Influence People)
I realized that even though I had read the books (multiple times for
the The Fifth Principle-
I need to HEAR the music ONE MORE time until the answers
are automatic without hesitation.

Thank goodness for sound training, such as I have experienced with
our Team, that guides us for what we need to make our
business grow. And training that will help us to

I think one of the most self defining moments in the past 5
months is when I was challenged to write down MY definition
to “Success”. So, I wrote down my definition.

I then visited my old Webster’s dictionary and gleaned some
Function: noun
Etymology: Latin successus, from succedere
Date: 1537
1 obsolete : outcome, result
2 a : degree or measure of succeeding b : favorable or desired outcome;
also : the attainment of wealth, favor, or eminence
3 : one that succeeds

Ah, see, MY definition was all captured in the monetary. I was so
fixated on my “have nots” (the attainment of wealth, favor or eminence)
that I had completely missed the “obsolete” version of the word.
You know what the obsolete version means in a dictionary? It means that
culture has changed so much that a word has changed it’s meaning from
the original use.
(another example would be “gay” – which used to mean happy and carefree)

Well, I’m sorry, but I am a bit stubborn, and get a bit “riled up” when I find out
that something has been taken from me. And once again, I felt like
society had taken something away from me – and that was a definition of a word.
You see, the obsolete version of the word – the outcome or result IS what
success is all about. GETTING the success is REACHING the outcome
or result you have been striving for. REACHING your GOALS.
Oh darn – there is that WORD again. GOALS.

So, to truly know if you have reached success is to HAVE goals.
Well, here was something else I had to do – list all my goals. But, to have
a little fun with my brain I decided to list not only business goals, but
personal goals. And I started first by listing goals that I had 5 years ago.

Why did I list goals from my past? Well, I think, at least for me, I get
so focused on my here and now, that I don’t reflect enough on my
“where I’ve been” and see my results. Then, I get into the
mode of beating myself up for not reaching my “now” goals or not reaching
them fast enough.

Looking at my past SUCCESSES (I obtained the result or outcome I wanted)
gives me the boost of self confidence I need to know that I CAN reach
my goals and have SUCCESS.

Nouvelle section: Book Reviews

Comme son nom l’indique, dans cette nouvelle section nous présenterons de courtes revues de littérature sur des ouvrages portant sur les affaires ou sur des sujets d’actualité qui changent l’environnement dans lequel nous évoluons. Nos courtes critiques sur des lectures récentes pourront peut-être vous intéresser pour vos propres lectures ou vous éviter des pertes de temps. Nous espérons que ces rubrique susciterons votre intérêt et nous vous invitons bien sur à commenter!

En cliquant sur le lien de la catégorie “Book Review” vous accéderez à toutes les critiques.

Bonne lecture

Monday, November 16, 2009

Book review: 'If I Stay' by Gayle Forman

Settle in for a heartbreaker.

Once you hear the premise of Gayle Forman’s If I Stay, it doesn’t take long to realize this isn’t exactly going to be a feel-good read . . . but you’d be surprised how ultimately uplifting this tale can be.

Seventeen-year-old Mia is out for a car ride with her parents and little brother Teddy when the horrific happens: on a slick, snowy street, they’re struck by a truck. Her mother and father are killed instantly, Mia comes to realize . . . as she stands outside the vehicle, looking at her own crushed body and those of her loved ones. Everything happens as if in a dream; Mia watches it all unfold, powerless and voiceless.

After she’s transported to a hospital and her grandparents arrive, desperately trying to talk to her as she remains in a coma, our narrator realizes she has a choice: stay in this terrifying new world without her parents, but with her loving boyfriend Adam and extended friends and family, or leave — rejoining her family in whatever exists in the hereafter.

Forman’s small, sharp novel delves deep into what it means to be a family, including those attributes that both divide and unite us. Told over the course of just one day, If I Stay flashes back to Mia’s life in Oregon and shows us clearly the type of brilliant, focused and loving people her parents were. I loved learning about her dad’s rock star past and could definitely feel the fierce protective quality her mom had for those whom she cared about the most. Knowing, as we do, that neither of them survived the crash adds an entirely different dimension to the story . . . and makes the anecdotes all the more powerful. These recollections have shaped Mia into the person she was — and is — today.

My absolute favorite aspect of the story was definitely Mia and Adam’s love — the sweetness that was the beginning of their romance, and the understanding and compassion they had for one another as it deepened. Joined through their love of music, Mia worries before the accident that Adam’s band’s rocketing success will eventually drive them apart – especially considering Mia’s devotion to the cello (not exactly the most punk-rock of instruments). Forman does a remarkable job of capturing the innocence and obsession of first love, my most favorite of topics!

As you’d expect, themes of death and grief are certainly prevalent — and a few graphic passages didn’t sit well with me. I was definitely rooting for Mia and hoping she’d make the right call, but I don’t know what in the world I would do in her situation — and pray I never have to even go there. I guess that’s why the novel left me with a crater-wide pit in my stomach . . . the realism of the story was scary. Because this trauma? It could happen to anyone. And like the dystopian fiction I’ve been so fond of lately, this story could be our story. Any of us.

But overall, a deeply moving but understated novel that does more with less — and chooses to focus on the humanity of the characters — and all of us.

4 out of 5!

ISBN: 0525421033 ♥ Purchase from Amazon ♥ Author Website
Copy purchased by Meg

Touched by A Vampire

The book “Touched by a Vampire”  by Beth Felker Jones is a “must have”  for any Christian Parent or Youth Leader and a “should have” for Christians. Within the book the author systematically and comprehensively unpacks the “hidden messages in the Twilight Saga.”

A phenomonal best seller with book one already made into a film and book two opening in theatres November 20th. Not since Harry Potter has there been such a whirlwind of activity surrounding the release of a series of books. The draw is amazing, the marketing phenomonal. The target audience……  tweens, teens and young adults.  Most specifically young girls.  As the book is written from the perspective of a young high school girl named Bella….. most young girls want to read the books or see the movies….. and why not? ….. listen to some short reviews of  Touched by a Vampire.

“Like many who care about young adults, I’ve puzzled over the recent vampire craze. I applaud Touched by a Vampire for shining its brilliant light into a somewhat dark and mysterious world. Utilizing the existing teen fascination of the Twilight books in order to spark an open discussion about love, life, and faith is both smart and savvy. This thoughtful book is a much needed tool for parents, youth leaders, and teens.”

—MELODY CARLSON, author of the Diary of a Teenage Girl series

“‘But Mom, you’d like this vampire book. It teaches that true love waits!’ They knew which pitch to give, and Felker Jones has their number. This book is itself a page-turner, diagnosing vampiric love as meager fare. It turns out true love is not so much about waiting for Mr. Bite, but being abundantly blessed at God’s banquet.”
—AMY LAURA HALL, associate professor of
Christian Ethics, Duke University, and author
of Conceiving Parenthood and Kierkegaard and
the Treachery of Love

Today I will be posting some reviews from others and as the week goes by I will be posting personal reviews….. Please come back and read each new entry.

People around the world are asking the same question, enraptured with Edward and Bella’s forbidden romance in the Twilight Saga, a four-book serial phenomenon written by Stephenie Meyer. The bestsellers tell the story of a regular girl’s relationship with a vampire who has chosen to follow his “good” side. But the Saga isn’t just another fantasy–it’s teaching girls about love, sex, and purpose. With 48 million copies in print and a succession of upcoming blockbuster films, now is the time to ask the important question: Can vampires teach us about God’s plan for love?

Touched by a Vampire is the first book to investigate the themes of the Twilight Saga from a Biblical perspective. Some Christian readers have praised moral principles illustrated in the story, such as premarital sexual abstinence, which align with Meyer’s Mormon beliefs. But ultimately, Beth Felker Jones examines whether the story’s redemptive qualities outshine its darkness.

Cautionary, thoughtful, and challenging, Touched by a Vampire is written for Twilight fans, parents, teachers, and pop culture enthusiasts. It includes an overview of the series for those unfamiliar with the storyline and a discussion guide for small groups.

  • > Download the leader’s guide
  • > Download the Twlight movie watching guide

This book has been provided for review by Multnomah Waterbrook Press.

You can purchase this book by going on line to:

The Author  Beth Felker Jones is Assistant Professor of Theology at Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.  She holds a Ph.D. from Duke University, Graduate Certificate in Women’ Studies, M.T.S from Duke Divinity School and her B.A from DePauw.

John Calvin wrote that “All right knowledge of God is born of obedience.” It is my privilege to serve at Wheaton College as a teacher of theology and to explore what may be known of God when the Spirit leads us to obey. The more I learn about the Christian faith, the more I am stunned by the beauty of what God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ. My goal as a teacher is to help students see that beauty in ways they may never have glimpsed before. That work of teaching is strengthened by researching and writing about the beauty of the gospel spread through time and space.

When not at the College, I can usually be found with my husband Brian, who is a United Methodist pastor, and our three children, Gwen, Sam, and Tess.

White Picket Fences

I need to post about a book that I am enjoying but haven’t quite finished.  If you haven’t figured this out about me yet, I have a nasty habit of biting off more than I can chew:)  Yes I am admitting it friends.  Well, I am in the midst of another season of this.  So I loved the last Susan Meissner book that I read, The Shape of Mercy, and I am enjoying this one so far….however, I haven’t had much time to read.  So I will include below the summary for White Picket Fences as well as an author bio.  I have cut back on my book reviews because I want to be able to enjoy them and not feel like I am in 9th grade English Lit and I have to finish it this weekend so I can make a stupid shoebox diorama by Wed.  Did you ever make those?  I LOVED reading but HATED book reports.  Anyways check out the book:)  I won’t steer you wrong.  No I haven’t finished it but Meissner is a solid win.  Keeps it interesting, great character development and not predictable.  Also digs into the tough issues, not just happy feely.  I like that! You can pick up a copy from this online site:

TOUR INFORMATION Book: White Picket Fences Author: Susan Meissner Summary: Amanda Janvier’s idyllic home seems the perfect place for her niece Tally to stay while her vagabond brother is in Europe, but the white picket fence life Amanda wants to provide is a mere illusion. Amanda’s husband Neil refuses to admit their teenage son Chase, is haunted by the horrific fire he survived when he was four, and their marriage is crumbling while each looks the other way. Tally and Chase bond as they interview two Holocaust survivors for a sociology project, and become startlingly aware that the whole family is grappling with hidden secrets, with the echoes of the past, and with the realization that ignoring tragic situations won’t make them go away. Readers of emotional dramas that are willing to explore the lies that families tell each other for protection and comfort will love White Picket Fences. The novel is ideal for those who appreciate exploring questions like: what type of honesty do children need from their parents, or how can one move beyond a past that isn’t acknowledged or understood? Is there hope and forgiveness for the tragedies of our past and a way to abundant grace? Cover art: Author Bio: Susan Meissner cannot remember a time when she wasn’t driven to put her thoughts down on paper. Her novel The Shape of Mercy was a Publishers Weekly pick for best religious fiction of 2008 and a Christian Book Award finalist. Susan and her husband live in Southern California, where he is a pastor and a chaplain in the Air Force Reserves. They are the parents of four grown children. This book was provided for review by the WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group. Do you have any blogger friends who might like to participate in this or any other blog tours? Please direct them to the official WaterBrook Multnomah Blogging for Books site page at

Friday, November 13, 2009

Faulks Is Spot On

In his beautifully written novel, Birdsong, author Sebastian Faulks describes pre-World War I France, Wartime France and England and 1970s England very well. One paragraph was of particular importance in my opinion, the one in which the narrator describes the people around a well-known posh area of London:

“Outside he breathed deeply on the thick air of Piccadilly. Across the street he saw the arches of the Ritz hotel with its name lit up in bulbs. Women in trimmed fur coats and their escorts in sleek grey suits and black hats went through the doors. They had an air of private urgency, as though they were bent on matters of financial significance or international weight that would not even permit them to glance towards the ingratiating smile of the doorman in his top hat and gold frogging. They disappeared through the glass, their soft coats trailing behind them, oblivious to the street or to any life but theirs.*”

* – my emphasis.

I found it a very true depiction of the types of people you still see in that area (Green Park, St. James’s Park). Whenever I happen to go by those doormen, I smile to them and say Good Morning or the like, because I have seen the “elite” walk by these people as if they were non-existent. Such arrogance is not to be born, but that is why we must never look down on others who do such jobs, for they in many cases deserve more respect than the rich woman or rich man who happen to be able to afford to spend a night or two in the Ritz.

Book Giveaway! ~ 'Dancing with Mr. Darcy'

JASNA-Vermont will be giving away a copy of Dancing with Mr. Darcy, the short story anthology from Chawton House Library, published by Honno Press ~ please post a comment by Saturday November 14, 2009 to qualify.  Author Lane Ashfeldt will send the book to the winner directly ~  see the following posts to comment:

  • Book Review of Dancing with Mr. Darcy
  • Interview with Lane Ashfeldt, author of “Snowmelt”

[Posted by Deb]

Bridge of Sighs

One of my book groups recently read Bridge of Sighs, by Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize winning writer of Empire Falls (which I have not read…yet). When an authors win the Pulitzer, I tend to pay attention to their other books as well, and this, his most recent release, looked like just the book to take along with me to Italy. After all, it’s supposed to be about a trip to Italy…supposed to be.

I know I’m probably ruining a part of the book by saying this, but after all this ramping up to a trip to Italy, they never end up going. Russo takes his characters elsewhere. And boy was I pissed. Don’t dangle something like a tour de Italy in front of me, string me along for 500 chapters, and cop out in the end. Can you tell I’m a little peeved about this?

Anyway, the book has its upsides, too.

It’s about a small town and two generations of people within it. Each generation repeats the same failings as the other, and it’s a little depressing in that regard (everyone seems doomed to fail). Plus, the town, a fictitious one in upstate New York, is slowly killing all the people in it because of a toxic stream, polluted by an old tannery. Not the happiest place to live.

Lou Lynch (Lucy…a nickname that plagues him his entire life) idolizes his best friend, Bobby Marconi, to the point where the author hints he might even be homosexual. Bobby is everything that Lou is not, tough, smart, and good with women. The story follows their journey to adulthood, including an early, life altering event for Lucy. Crossing a bridge on his way home from school, some local bullies lock him in a trunk and abandon him there. Lucy experiences the first of his many “episodes” where he freezes into a semi-catatonic state temporarily. His childhood is filled with such experiences, which continue, sporadically, into his adult years.

Then comes Sarah, the love of Lucy’s life. She’s bold and no-nonsense, looking for love from Lou and his family. Sarah becomes a regular fixture in the Lynch corner store. But here’s the problem…Bobby likes her too.

The main intrigue for the book came from this love triangle. Sure, the relationships between the generations were interesting, but for the most part, I found them kind of repetitive and fatalistic. People die left and right in this small town. And not many people are truly happy.

Perhaps that’s what bothered me most about the book. Where is the joy? The only joy seemed to come from getting out of the town, getting laid, and hanging out at the Lynch store (which had its own unique family dynamic involved, with a very disturbing Uncle and some scary upstairs renters). At the end, at couple characters showed hope for change, but it wasn’t in the transforming way that you’d hope for, after going through so much dreariness. Basically, I wanted Jesus to show up and fix these screwed up lives.

But then, this isn’t Christian fiction. Interestingly, one of my favorite characters is a Christian who isn’t painted in a bad light. In fact, hers is one of the only positive stories. But you have to wade through 400 pages to get there, so I’m not sure its worth it.

Russo excels in character development, slowly divulging intriguing details about the characters’ former lives and making you want to follow their progression. He also masterfully alternates points of views, using different narrators skillfully, something that few authors can do (Next week, I’ll be sharing an example of how NOT to do this).

Because of these skills, I’m not giving up on Russo. I’m sure Empire Falls will be on my reading list, eventually. I need a few faster moving and less depressing novels before I try Russo’s writing again.

And I hope I’m not sounding too PollyAnnaish, that Jesus should swoop in and make all these people perfect. I know life is hard, even when you’re blessed to have Jesus helping you. But what people need is a good dose of the hope and joy that only Christ can give. And even one character with that joy wasn’t enough to bring up the spirits of the novel and make it a little less depressing.

“Sighs” is right.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

One of Heaven’s Jewels (2)

Chapter 2 of this book gives a biographical profile of John Love (1757-1815), at one time an important evangelical leader in London and Glasgow, as well as a promoter of foreign missions, but who is almost forgotten today. During his years in Glasgow University Cook attended Love’s church and inevitably was influenced by him. Love’s ministry in Glasgow was also attended by converted Highlanders who had moved to the city as well as those from southern Argyll who attended his communion seasons. Love also preached in Arran during its periods of spiritual revival in the early nineteenth century.

Love was influential in the formation of the London Missionary Society and the Glasgow Missionary Society, and his contribution to missionary activity was recognised by those who named a mission station in South Africa after him (Lovedale). In addition to promoting foreign missions, Love also reminded Christians (in a sermon preached in 1794) of the necessity of evangelising the Scottish Highlands, of which many districts were beginning to hear the gospel in power around that time.

At that time, the inhabitants of the Highlands mainly spoke Gaelic. In addition to urging individuals to evangelise the Highlands, Love also realised the importance of suitable Christian literature being available in Gaelic. He endorsed the proposal that Thomas Boston’s Human Nature in its Fourfold State should be published in the Gaelic language (which is interesting given that it is unlikely that such a comprehensive book of theology would be the choice of today’s missionary strategists for use in work among new converts). Several men linked with Love’s ministry in Glasgow became ministers or Christian workers in areas of the Highlands, and it is inevitable therefore that Love played an important role in the evangelising of the Highlands, with features of his ministry style and his doctrinal emphases being passed on by these men.

Book Review: Born Standing Up by Steve Martin

When Navin Johnson, Steve Martin’s character in the movie The Jerk, announces he is leaving his wife and doesn’t need her or any of their extravagant possessions – then abruptly concedes he needs the ashtray, and well, the paddle game, and maybe the remote control – ardent Martin fans recognized the bit as one from his early standup comedy days. They still do. But the reference is foreign to people 25 years old and younger. Soon after “The Jerk’s” release, Martin began making more films and performing less standup, turning away from a medium in which he won two comedy Grammies and routinely sold out 10,000-plus seat arenas.

Fans who wanted their Martin standup fix had to settle for his couch appearances on Carson or Letterman – he still comes prepared with bits – or watch his movies (see the rope tricks in Three Amigos; the nose monologue in Roxanne). Offstage Martin spoke little about standup days and remained protective of his privacy, telling Time magazine in 1987, “ I don’t want the way I live to get out to the world. Once private things get into print, everybody knows who you are, and it make you dull.”

Fortunately, Martin has softened over time. In Born Standing Up: A Comic’s Life due out this month, Martin, 61, offers a semiautobiographical look at his stand up career from beginning to end. Most notable is the candor and humility found as early the book’s introduction with Martin admitting it took him 14 years to learn standup and refine his act, and that he initially sought “comic originality, and fame fell on (him) as a by-product.” Martin is also refreshingly forthcoming about his stage failures, the development of his act, and the origin of some of his bits including the catch phrases, “Well excuse me” and “I’m a wild and crazy guy.”

Humor takes a backseat at the outset with Martin recalling his Disneyland years, but it returns shortly thereafter and continues throughout the book, most commonly in asides involving other celebrities like Elvis Presley, Lindsey Buckingham, and blacklisted screenwriter Dalton Trumbo. Fans who thought they knew Martin will discover they didn’t. Today’s stand-ups will find solace.

Martin also writes about his father, a cold man who openly ridiculed his son’s work and distanced himself from it. Martin has touched upon their relationship in previous interviews, and wrote extensively about it an essay for The New Yorker a few years ago so one could forgive him if kid-gloved or even omitted it from the book. To his credit Martin doesn’t shy away, although it would have been interesting to hear him discuss the similarities between his personal life and the movie Parenthood in which his character’s father is much like his own.

Omitting such reflection is the lone, yet small disappointment in Born. Martin is so candid and personable that you wish he’d discuss his films, plays and novels, but to include that information in the book is to misunderstand the author’s purpose for penning it. Critics may suggest that after film flops like The Pink Panther and Bringing Down the House, Martin’s book is an attempt to regain comedy royalty. Nothing could be farther from the truth. Done right, stand-up is an art form.

Twenty-six years after he last performed standup, or to use his own words “abandoned it,” Martin is only now appreciating what he accomplished and understanding how it has benefited his career. And he’s comfortable discussing it for his is a comfort level artists only find when they’re ultimately proud of their work.

Can You Lose Weight With the Gabriel Method?

The Gabriel Method is known as the revolutionary ‘diet-free’ way to lose weight. Written by the once obese but now slim and toned Jon Gabriel, this book is unique in that it isn’t focused on a diet or exercise plan. Instead, its focus is on getting your body to ‘want’ to be thin.

This sounds strange, but it can actually happen. The body has what he calls ‘fat programs’; physiological and metabolic changes that cause the body to store fat and prevent it’s loss from the body, in an effort to protect it from a perceived threat of some kind. Just like these programs can be turned on, they can also be turned off, allowing the body to naturally lean towards a state of being slim.

The book goes into detail about how our beliefs and perceptions in daily life can actually result in weight gain, because of these fat programs being turned on. Jon’s background in biochemistry, along with his personal experience, adds credibility to this program.

Jon discusses how you can change your mindset to turn these fat programs off, and how to allow your body to crave healthy foods and exercise. The book also includes a visualisation CD which is an integral part of the program.

Women’s Lifestyle Rating: 4/5

For all the details on The Gabriel Method, click here.

For the Australian edition of the book, click here.


Monday, November 9, 2009

In Search of God & Guinness – A Review

Can a beer really change the world? Well, maybe a beer can’t but perhaps a brewer can – and did! Behind the best-selling Irish beer is an incredible 200-year long story of faith social conscience. Here’s what author Stephen Mansfield writes on p. 122:

In the minds of most of the people in the world, Guinness is beer and that is all there is to the story. But this is far from true. Guinness the beer is magnificent, yes, but it is the Guinness culture that for nearly two centuries changed the lives of Guinness workers, transformed poverty in Dublin, and inspiried other companies to understand that care for their employees was their most important work. It was the Guinness culture of faith and kindness and generosity that moved men to seek out ways to serve their fellow men, to mend what the hardness of life had torn.

Arthur Guinness was a man of deep abiding faith in Jesus. That faith was not kept in a ‘Sunday only’ box for use while attending church. Instead, Arthur Guinness’ faith permeated his entire life and guided his work and his relationships and was imbedded in the hearts of his children. According to Mansfield: “It is important to know that the second Arthur Guinness was a man of deep faith. His father’s unswerving piety took root in his soul, where it merged with an evangelical fire.” (p. 87).

Perhaps the most startling passage for American evangelicals who came to faith in the context of temperance unions and teetotalling abstinence comes in his treatment of the Reformation and the resulting protestant work ethic on page 158:

This Protestant ethos of work found its way into the lives of the Guinnesses through the deeply reformed faith of the first Arthur Guinness and certain of his descendants. Many of them understood that brewing could be done as a holy offering, as a craft yielded in service of God. They did not see themselves as secular, but rather as called. They did not see themselves as apart from Christian ministry, but rather as in the Christian ministry of industry and trade…..They understood that this transformed workbenches into altars and the labor of a man’s hands into liturgies pleasing to God.

Regardless of your personal viewpoint on the consumption of beer or whether or not you are a fan of Guinness, you will find inspiration in the story of the Guinness family. It is a story of a deep and lasting spiritual legacy that did more than make a family rich. The Guinness legacy is one of hundreds and thousands of families brought out of poverty, provided with training, health care, and decent housing that raised Dublin from a crime-filled, third-world existence to a center of commerce. I hope you will enjoy reading this book as much as I did!


Book Review:  Pinkalicious by Victoria Kann and Elizabeth Kann, Published by Harper Collins, 2006.

If pink is your child’s favorite color, then she will want to read this book. My daughter bought it at her school’s book fair. During a rainy day, Mom made cupcakes, and her daughter told her to make them pink, deep pink. She helped her mom frost them and ate a couple. Her brother stayed away from them. The girl ate some after dinner and wanted more cupcakes before bed, but her parents refused. When she woke up she was totally pink from her hair to her toes. Her parents tried to wash it off and even took her to the doctor. The doctor declared she had Pinkititis. The cure–eat only green food. But that night she ate another pink cupcake and turned red! Out of desperation, she finally ate all the green vegetables she could find in her fridge. Eventually, she returned her normal color.

This is a great book that can help the very young children learn their colors. I also love the part about having green vegetables save the girl! What a great way parents can brag on how eating vegetables is good for the body! For fun, you could even bake pink cupcakes by adding food coloring to the white batter and white frosting.


The philosopher Xenophanes questioned the Greek pantheon by noting that Ethiopians drew their gods as long necked and dark skinned while the red haired Thracians described their gods as being red-haired. Xenophanes wondered if horses could draw gods would they be horse gods as well? It’s a fair question as gods tend to fall into Emile Durkheim’s idea of cultural necessity, and it’s one of the various questions undertaken in Jennifer Hecht’s book Doubt: A History.

Doubt compiles a history of religious skepticism throughout the history of world civilization. Not one group is left out as Hecht jumps from the origins of the Jewish culture to Western Greek civilizations to the Eastern Chinese and Indian traditions which predate them both. The book is impressive in both it’s scale and execution but with that comes a sacrifice that the author makes and it leads to other mistakes that take away what is otherwise an excellent book for people interested in the history of religious thought and philosophy in general.

The problem is that the book reads at parts like an encyclopedia, with entries on various people that are often too short in one aspect and too long in others. For instance William of Okham, the formulator of “Okham’s Razor” gets a mention and that’s it. Which is unfortunate because his idea, “that one should not multiply pluralities beyond necessity” or more succinctly put “between two options the simpler explanation is the one that should be adopted,” is so important in not only religious skepticism but also skepticism in general. Yet this gets only a slight mention to which we then move on.

The book does this repeatedly, the more it happens the less invested I am in reading the narrative instead wishing it to just be an encyclopedia or reference book. The French Enlightenment gets a greater deal of attention than I would have liked which comes at the expense of the American Revolutionaries whom founded the novus seclorum. The ideas of Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Paine are mentioned as being important but most of the content in Paine’s Age of Reason is glossed over. The same occurs in the ideas of the Italian Renaissance. Why skip over the contributions of these philosophers where it instead concentrates on the Galilean and Copernican discoveries? At almost 500 pages the book has room for both, and while the Astronomers’ discoveries do prove that scientific inquiry trumped cultural inherited knowledge the writings at the time would better illustrate whether the new science had popular support or not.

Detractors of the book will view it as anti-religious depending on the scale of their respective religious beliefs. I won’t pretend the book is completely unbiased as it deals with religious figures as being regular people. Hecht takes the remarkable stance that Jesus himself was a religious skeptic overthrowing the religious orthodoxy of the Jewish society at the time. An interesting take that I have never considered before. Coming to this book from Hitchens this is a much more toned down writing that is more pro-agnosticism than it is anti-religion.

There are questions of choice as well. Why concentrate on Freud’s ridiculous theory of religion when it is almost completely rejected by everyone?

What is nice is that it tends to go through the “martyrs” of religious skepticism without passing the overly snide judgment that is usually reserved for the “don’t-say-god-bless-you-to-me” crowd. It lists them in every period never failing to accompany the tragedy with the lesson that it would have been better for the powers that be to have just ignored them.

Some might say that the book tends to omit the skepticism that permeated Islam from the between the late medieval period to the modern age. There seems to be almost a millenia that goes by in the book without the word “Islam” or “Muslim” directly referred to, and this becomes the point of the book’s final chapter. That Islam, hasn’t had the skepticism that Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc. has thus allowing the fundamentalists to become more and more fundamentalist and dangerous. Ibn Ali-L-Awja was executed in 772 AD for doubting the truth of the Koran and then aside from mentioning the great Aristotelian commentator Averroes, Muslim recedes until the modern age.

If the book has a final message it is that skepticism and questions are healthy and normal for a society’s development. I would say that this applies not only to religious issues but to any issue. The inherited beliefs that any culture bestows upon its younger generations can all become dogmatic orthodoxy whether it has to do with god or not. Suffrage and Abolition are two of the more recent examples. Doubt can’t be a bad thing unless a person is so afraid of the answers that they cannot abide even the questions. Doubt is a very interesting book, and while the writing and editing choices can be odd at times it still makes for an education.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Book Review: Disciplines of a Godly Man

Title:  Disciplines of a Godly Man

Author:  R. Kent Hughes

Publisher:  Crossway Books, 2009; 304 pp. $15.99

Recommendation (4-star scale): 

There are a variety of reasons that people fail to live disciplined lives — laziness and apathy, fleeting awareness of the cost of feeble discipline, weakness and immaturity, lack of a role model, and sometimes, we’re simply uneducated and untaught.

It is this last issue that Kent Hughes addresses in his wonderfully helpful book, Disciplines of a Godly Man.

Why write a book like this?  Because, Hughes says, “disciplined Christian lives are the exception, not the rule…[and because] men are so much less spiritually inclined and spiritually disciplined than women.”

To help men become more disciplined, Hughes fingers four primary areas of a man’s life — his relationships, his soul, his character, and his ministry — and writes several chapters in each area to address specific areas of need.  For instance, under “character,” he addresses the needs of integrity, tongue, and work.

Each chapter is relatively brief — 10-15 pages — and includes a simple discussion guide that can be used either individually or in a group setting.  Hughes’ writing is also engaging with multiple illustrations and examples, along with concise explanations of Bible passages.  Even for the man who is disinclined to read, this book is invitingly readable.

A sample statement from his chapter on devotion:

The reason many men do not have an effective devotional life is, they never plan for it.  They do not know what it is because they have never taken the time to find out.  They do not pray because they do not set aside the time.…The question for prayerless men is a very masculine one:  Are we man enough to meditate?  To confess?  To adore?  To submit?  To sweat and endure?

Now the real challenge in writing a book like this is not just in the writing, but in persuading men to read it.  Face it, more books for men are purchased by women for their men than by the men themselves.  Let’s be culturally different at GBC — men, don’t just buy this book.  Buy it, read it, and implement it in your life.

This book is available in the church library, and in the bookstore ($11).

John Dies at the End Review

This book is a dark comedy/horror by David Wong. David Wong is the pseudonym for the head editor of It is another book, among a growing number, that was originally published online and is now gracing the shelves of our favorite bookstores. The set up is this, David and his best friend are reluctant paranormal investigators.

John, the aforementioned best friend and the title’s namesake, takes a drug called “soy sauce”. When David comes to rescue John from what he believes is a very bad trip, he accidentally takes some of the drug. There are no quotes around accidentally, as it is completely sincere and meant in no way to be sarcastic. The after effects of the drug cause all sorts of problems for both David and John, though not in the ways you might expect.

The style of “John Dies at the End” is very conversational, it feels like a buddy telling you of his drunken adventures. The descriptions are incredibly vivid, without being grotesque. There were sentences in this books that made me laugh and say “oohh, gross” at the exact same time. The descriptions are not intended to get a gross out reaction, but simply provide a clear mental picture. Wong supplies us with several unexpected twists in the tale.

I recommend this for people that like horror, comedy, or are just looking for something a little out of the ordinary. If you are a fan of then you will definitely enjoy this book, but then again if you are a fan of you probably already know about the book.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Brenda Miller: On Form and Distance

You can imagine our excitement last week when Brenda Miller, author of so many beautiful Brevity essays and craft pieces (see here and here and here and here) dropped by the Brevity corporate offices last week as part of her visit to Ohio University’s BA, MA, and PhD in Creative Writing Program.  Brenda gave a wonderful reading from her newest collection, Blessing of the Animals.

Just today, we ran across a fine interview with Brenda in the Seattle Post-Intelligencer.

Q: How much distance do you need from a topic to write elegantly and clearly about it?

A: It depends. For certain things, I still don’t have enough distance, even though the events may have happened thirty years ago. For others, I write about them as they’re happening. In either case, I don’t think it’s the literal time, but the mind’s perspective on the topic or event that creates enough breathing room for something literary to happen on the page. Also: form. If you find the right form, or voice, for a piece, it can provide just the “container” you need for whatever the topic might be. And some of my essays span quite a bit of time; so I might start off by writing about an image from my childhood, which leads me to something quite close in the present day; once I’m on that train I’m not going to jump off.

You can read the full interview here.

Tuesdays with Morrie

…an old man, a young man, and life’s greatest lesson…

In recent times I came across this book called Tuesdays with Morrie written by Mitch Albom. 

It tells the story of Mitch, and his adulation for his college professor, who mentored him with diligence and care during his student days.  Unbeknown to them, a day would come, when Mitch would sit next to his mentor’s bedside during his last days, learning life’s final lessons.

These lessons are applicable to everyone and in light of our upcoming journey, I was curious to see what sage advice I could garner before we left for our trip.

If we all lived with hindsight, let’s face it, we might make a whole lot fewer mistakes.  Someone who can offer this advice is a person who has lived longer than we have, made more mistakes than we have, seen more than we have and lost more than we have. 

Mitch writes a nostalgic account of the last weeks of Morrie’s life, where amongst other conversations, death is frequently discussed, much to Mitch’s discomfort.

A couple of topics explored each Tuesday during those last weeks were:

  • fear of ageing
  • money
  • marriage
  • regrets
  • the perfect day

 The one point that stood out the most for me was the day they discussed Culture. 

 Below is an extract from the book:

 “Dying,” Morrie suddenly says, “is only one thing to be sad over, Mitch.  Living unhappily is something else.  So many of the people who come to visit me are unhappy.”

“Why?” asks Mitch.

“Well, for one thing, the culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves.  We’re teaching the wrong things.  And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn’t work, don’t buy it.  Create your own.  Most people can’t do it.”

Mmm…create your own culture.  But how does one do that?  We hope that the extended time we will be spending outside of our own familiar environment, immersed in the cultural milieu of other countries will be the first step in providing an answer or two.

Before we leave on our travels, I’m going to be passing this book on.  After completing the book, we’d like the reader to share with us what one quote, sentence or life lesson – that was shared between Mitch and Morrie – made an impact or inspired them; and to post their comment on this blog entry.  

Looking forward to reading your comments…

Monday, November 2, 2009

October's reading

Books I read in October:

72. Lost Paradise: From Mutiny on the Bounty to a Modern-Day Legacy of Sexual Mayhem, the Dark Secrets of Pitcairn Island Revealed by Kathy Marks 73. One Continuous Mistake: Four Noble Truths for Writers by Gail Sher74. The Silver Chair by C.S. Lewis (R) 75. The Day of a Buddhist Practitioner by Bokar Rinpoche (R) 76. The Squire’s Tale by Gerald Morris (R)77. The Squire, His Knight, and His Lady by Gerald Morris (R) 78. The Savage Damsel and the Dwarf by Gerald Morris (R?) 79. Parsifal’s Page by Gerald Morris (R?) 80. The Ballad of Sir Dinadan by Gerald Morris (R) 81. The Princess, the Crone, and the Dung-Cart Knight by Gerald Morris 82. The Lioness and Her Knight by Gerald Morris 83. The Quest of the Fair Unknown by Gerald Morris (R) 84. The Hallowed Isle Books III & IV by Diana L. Paxson (R)

It was a good month for reading chez Mommybird. (And I said the exact same thing about September.)  After re-reading The Silver Chair I felt I had satisfied my appetite for Narnia.  I think I like Jill Pole better than Susan or Lucy (although I like Aravis of The Horse and His Boy still better).  Lost Paradise was a new book display find; I might never have read it if it hadn’t been prominently displayed in the central atrium.  Kathy Marks covered the trials of several men from Pitcairn, where the H.M.S. Bounty’s mutineers settled, on decades-old charges of sexual assault and molestation, and investigated a closed, secretive culture built on men’s sexual access to young women with or without their consent.  It was exactly the sort of detailed and slightly horrifying coverage of history that grabs my attention, and I enjoyed it very much.  I also finished Diana Paxson’s Hallowed Isle quartet, which has whetted my appetite for her forthcoming Avalon novel, Sword of Avalon, due the first of December.  I may actually re-read The Mists of Avalon sometime soon.

What has put me ahead of my average number of books for the year was re-reading Gerald Morris’s wonderful Squire’s Tales.  Morris is a Methodist minister retelling the stories of Arthur and his knights, based primarily on Malory but weaving in material from Chretien de Troyes, the Welsh romances, Gottfried and Wolfram and all.  His twist is that his protagonists are all secondary characters in the originals, often people of his own invention.  The Squire’s Tale recounts the early adventures of Gawain from the perspective of his squire, Terence, an orphan boy who has been raised by a gentle hermit who has the gift or curse of remembering the future but not the past.  Terence’s unusual parentage makes him a recurring character in the series, along with Gawain, whose reputation as Arthur’s greatest knight Morris does much to restore.  Lancelot, Kay, Guinevere, and Gawain’s brothers also make regular appearances, along with a number of important Otherworldly characters.  Morris combines the chivalric Christian values of Malory–truthfulness, loyalty, courage, courtesy to all–with the faery mysticism of the older tales and leavens it all with humor and good writing.  These are young adult books that can be enjoyed by sophisticated child readers and open-hearted adults.

My first book for November is likely to be Rosemary Sutcliff’s lyrical and haunting Song for a Dark Queen, a retelling of the story of Boudicca which I first read at the age of twelve or thirteen and have never forgotten.  I’m also re-reading The Forge of Tubal Cain, on the Roebuck/1724 tradition of witchcraft in the United States.

Crystal Rain: Airships and Aliens

Crystal Rain by Tobias Buckell
Mass Market Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: Tor Science Fiction (May 29, 2007)
ISBN-13: 978-0765350909

John DeBrun is literally a man with no past. Washed up on the seashore 27 years ago with no memory and only the chain around his neck to tell him his name, John has managed to build a life for himself, despite his terrible handicap. With his wife, Shanta, and son, Jerome, he lives the life of a coastal fisherman on the island world of Nanagada, suffering through nightmares and a feeling of deep loss as he tries to make new memories to fill the hole left by his amnesia.

That all changes, though, when the Azteca on the other side of the Wicked High Mountains invade, looking for slaves and sacrifices for their strange, alien gods, the Teotl. Forced to flee before the invading army, John heads for Capitol City without his family, determined to join up with the mongoose-men, the best fighting force the Nanagadans have to offer. He’s hunted by both the terrifying Teotl and a brutal man named Pepper, for reasons he can neither remember nor understand. It’s up to John to find some way to stop the Azteca, regain his lost memories, and save his family, all while trying to stay alive.

Nanagada is a colony planet of Earth, but the reasons why this branch of humanity has ended up there, or what they were meant to do, have been lost hundreds of years ago. With the flavor of the Caribbean woven throughout the story, Buckell paints a vivid world full of diverse people, with strange enemies, and even stranger friends. John is a strong man bent under by the force of his unknown past, and the fate of his family. A rare figure in speculative fiction, he’s a black man trying to make his way in a world he doesn’t remember. He shows emotion freely, genuinely loves his wife and son, and is doing his damnedest to either save them or make someone pay, hard.

Pepper is someone from John’s past, a walking, talking killing machine with dreads, who has a secret soft spot for lost causes and hopeless people. Haidan is a man of honor, the General of the mongoose-men charged with protecting Nanagada, and weighed down by responsibility and a creeping sickness. Oaxyctl is an Azteca who befriends John, madly driven by his bloodthirsty gods to get the secrets from John’s memory any way he can. And Prime Minister Dihana is a shrewd, tough young woman determined to keep her people alive while at the same time bringing them back out of the dark ages. All these characters and more make for a riveting tale.

There are several recognizable influences in the book. The Azteca are modeled after the Aztecs of South America, the alien Loa that many in Capitol City worship are references to the practice of voodoo in Haiti and other areas, and even the Rastafarians briefly mentioned come from Jamaica. This mix of religions, peoples, and historical references makes for a rich and varied background against which the main story takes place. It is rare to find an author with a deft touch for so many unusual cultures, but Buckell pulls it off beautifully, probably with plenty of help from his own Caribbean upbringing.

The tech in Crystal Rain remains relatively low key up until the very end, turning the focus on the main players instead of the shiny machines as some authors do. What tech does appear has an almost steampunk quality at times, with soaring airships, armored locomotives, and a steamer ship that can pop out treads and crawl over land. There is also a hair-raising tech scene towards the end that brings to mind something that happened in the Matrix, but I don’t want to spoil it by giving away details. Just read the last few chapters with care.

Crystal Rain is a fascinating and memorable experience, and a great opening for the start of Buckell’s first series. The only problem I had at times was the cant with which some of the characters spoke, but it’s an adjustment that comes quickly once the story picks up. If you’re into adventure, betrayal, grotesque aliens, strange technologies and a life or death struggle, go pick up Crystal Rain immediately. And while you’re at it, pick up the next two books, Ragamuffin and Sly Mongoose. This is a series worth reading.
Check out Tobias Buckell’s website where you can read the first 1/3 of Crystal Rain for FREE! or follow him on Twitter @tobiasbuckell

Other Reviews of Crystal Rain:

Fantasy/Sci-Fi Lovin’
Enduring Romance

Manhood For Amaterus by Michael Chabon - A Book Review

I feel like this book was written for me.  Seriously.  Just me.

As you’ve probably guessed, I loved Manhood For Amateurs.  Chabon is really just a far more successful, talented version of me.  He’s a stay-at-home dad; he does the cooking; he’s a writer; he digs pop culture and comic books; he’s not especially talented at home improvement; he’s not ever totally sure on how to be a perfect father.

That’s me.

Chabon writes a brutally honest book of essays in Manhood For Amateurs that delves into all the business I mentioned earlier, as well as his takes on religious holidays, the theft of our nation’s children, the importance of creativity, star gazing, comic book characters and how they influenced his life, David Foster Wallace, and myriad other topics.  Though the subjects are wide-ranging, his pleasant writing voice ties them all together and creates a thoroughly insightful and enjoyable experience.

I love Michael Chabon’s fiction, but I’m beginning to think I enjoy his nonfiction even more so.  At one minute, he’s discussing political trends with words even I don’t recognize, and then the next moment he’s talking about the chaos of taking his children grocery shopping.  Not only do I feel like I can relate to him, I feel as though I can learn from him.

If any of the above sounds interesting to you, then I implore you to buy Manhood for Amateurs.  I’m not exaggerating when I say it was a delight.