Wednesday, December 30, 2009


I <3 graphic novels and I <3 Jonathan (and Josh) for getting me to read way more than I was before. (My average was maybe ten comic books/graphic novels every twelve years.) This book is another reason I love graphic novels.

It’s not too long, it’s easy to read. It’s the same story we’ve heard/read/seen over and over for hundreds of years… but it’s also the reason we keep telling it. The book is made up of twelve vignettes illustrating Gwen and Evan’s relationship. It’s not overly-complex, it’s not new, but that might be why it’s enjoyable, in a way. You can guess what’s going to happen as soon as you meet the characters, but it’s watching the story unfold that is appealing.

Not that I know a ton about art, but the art is as simple as the story, and refreshingly so. The book is black and white, and Joelle Jones denotes the requisite sentimental flashbacks with rougher sketch-like panels which, again, is simple but effective.

The book isn’t pushing any envelopes, tearing down any walls, breaking any barriers, but sometimes that’s okay. Reading as much Preacher and Watchmen and Lone Wolf and Cub as I have been, simple can be nice, too.


Not going crazy!

So I’m not going crazy.  I got the results of the ANA test that the Doctor elected to have me do at my last appointment on a whim and it came back positive, which means that I may have and probably do have an autoimmune disease, like lupus or Rheumatoid arthritis.  I’m being referred to a rheumatologist for further testing. Interestingly enough, there is an autoimmune disorder that is directly related to hypothyroidism (and I’ve had hypothyroidism for nearly a decade).  I was beginning to wonder what the hell was up with my achiness and fatigue – for a while I thought that I had chronic fatigue syndrome, but my husband thought that I was just being a hypochondriac.

I’m feeling a tad bit overwhelmed by everything. So, as of right now, I pretty much go to the following doctors/specialists:

  • My primary care doctor;
  • An Ear/Nose/Throat specialist;
  • OB/GYN
  • Endocrinologist
  • Allergist
  • and now, a rheumatologist

It’s crazy that I have enough “special” chronic health conditions that I have assembled such a formidable group of people to manage my health care, but quite frankly, the sheer number of appointments and medications and tests that each requires is absolutely daunting. And I don’t even have health conditions that are very difficult to manage (hypothyroidism, while a P.I.T.A. is hardly lifethreatening and neither is have seasonal allergies, having chronic sinus infections or being a woman of childbearing age, whatever you might say about a woman that is either pregnant or menstruating). For a while there, I really did think that I was going crazy – I was sick all the time and just thought it was because I was tired but apparently, the run down thing may have a medical explanation and perhaps can be controlled.

On another note, my vacation is otherwise very relaxing and I am enjoying just hanging out with my kid. He has just recently started saying things like “There you go” when handing over items that we’ve requested and “Bless you” when someone sneezes.  Totally cute.  It has also allowed me the opportunity to read this book:

and to review it here. Enjoy!


Book Review: Critical Mass by Kathleen Henry (9780595524129)

This book has stories told by Catholics in three different eras. It was hard to follow, but at the end Henry has a list of how all the narrators were connected. It was interesting enough and short enough that I read the whole thing, but it didn’t affect me personally like it would others who are closer to this subject.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Monday Children’s Book Reviews for December 28

Dog Wants to Play by Christine McDonnell

“Dog wants to play. When? Today!

But no one will play with Dog. Not the chick or the lamb, the calf or the pig. Poor Dog! Isn’t there one playmate who will play with Dog all day long?”

It’s Fall, Dear Dragon by Margaret Hillert

“A boy meets his pet dragon after school to rake and jump in leaves, carve a pumpkin, and enjoy a pretty fall day.” One of the Dear Dragon series, a Beginning-to-Read book.     [JE HILLERT]

In Too Deep by Jude Watson

In Book 6 of The 39 Clues, Amy and Dan track the next clue to a remote corner of the world,  and they make discoveries about Cahills’ power and their parents’ deaths. They must decide whether they can avenge their parents of if they’re following a fatal path.”              [J WATSON]

The Monsterologist: A Memoir in Rhyme by Bobbi Katz

“Open this memoir…if you dare! For inside this rare collection of letters, notes, and interviews lie the choicest fruits of the monsterologist’s bone-chilling research. In engaging rhyme, the monster master tells all about Count Dracula (“When you visit Transylvania, be sure to stay with me”); issues a werewolf warning; and dishes on trolls, ghosts, witches, ogres, and myriad mythological and literary creatures!

Designed to look like a treasured scrapbook, every page features an eye-catching mix of drawings, photos, and handwritten text. Plus, kids will love the die-cut, gatefolds, and other cool surprises throughout!

 Visit for more fun and information!”              [J811.54 KATZ]


Reviews: THE JEWISH HUSBAND by Lia Levi

A couple of our participants read The Jewish Husband by Lia Levi for the WWII reading challenge.  Here are excerpts from their reviews; click the links to read their complete thoughts.

Lorri from Jew Wishes says:

There isn’t much written about fascism in Italy, and Levi puts a distinct face on the subject. She gives the reader much to ponder regarding the oppression of the Jews, within the confines of the Italian ghettos and within Italian society as a whole. She writes with clarity and cognizance regarding the daily restrictions placed upon the Jews in Italy during the fascist regime.

Becky from Becky’s Book Reviews says:

This was his story of how the war interfered with his life, his marriage. A boy meets girl story with obstacles on a larger scale.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**


Review: I AM A STAR, CHILD OF THE HOLOCAUST by Inge Auerbacher

Natasha from Maw Books Blog read and reviewed I Am a Star, Child of the Holocaust by Inge Auerbacher for the WWII reading challenge.  Here’s an excerpt:

Interspered between the text is a collection of poems written by Auerbacher.  Or I assume that they were written by Auerbacher – there was never really an acknowledgment or explanation of the poems – which is partly why I found the format of I Am a Star a bit disconcerting.  They seemed randomly placed throughout the book.   They did relate to the text though, so I am assuming they were written by Auerbacher.  It’s almost as though the book wanted to be a non-fiction narrative written in verse and also written formally.  I liked both, but maybe they needed to be placed into the book a bit better.

Read the full review here.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**


Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Regrets? I Have a Few

I never thought Frank Sinatra lyrics were cool until a youth ministry friend of ours decided to open each session of a retreat weekend with “Regrets?  I have a few.”     I can’t remember how he related this to the topic, but as 2009 draws to a close, I know that I have regrets, and it would be nice to live regret-free in 2010.   How about you?   Anything from this year you’d like to be able to do over?   Rewind the tape and play out a particular scene differently?

I don’t spend a lot of time in the self-help section of bookstores.   (I can just hear my acquaintances saying, “Ah! That explains it…”)    I haven’t read Boundaries and my bookmark is still firmly set somewhere in the middle of Purpose Driven Life.   But I was drawn to the title of Stephen Arterburn’s Regret Free Living.

My only previous experience with Arterburn’s writing was a very cursory reading of Every Man’s Battle, which was — typical of books in the broader psychology genre — very much based on anecdotal accounts.  Regret Free uses stories as well, but I felt that these were used as a springboard for a larger discussion, and I can’t think of a better word than ‘discussion’ to describe the nature and tone of this book.

While we all struggle in different areas of relational dynamics — some of us more than others — the book’s forté has to do with the interpersonal dynamics of marriage and family life.   I’m not sure however that a single person would find as much benefit, or someone thinking the book might deal with the relational dynamics in the workplace, or even regrets caused by poor decision making.

The more I read, the more I realized how foreign this type of Christian prose is to my reading experience.    Still there were some things that really stood out.    Here’s a snapshot:

When you’re thinking about regrets, just remember:  You’re guilty and not guilty.  Guilty for making whatever bad decision you did, not guilty for the factors that influenced you to make that bad decision.

And never forget that, in the final analysis, you don’t have to feel guilty at all.   None of us ever does, once we’ve been completely forgiven — and Jesus Christ offers full forgiveness to any and all who come to him with a truly repentant heart.   (p. 175)

As this passage suggests, the book is solidly aimed at the Christian market or those who are investigating the Christian faith.    Each chapter contains relevant scripture citations that could make this easily the basis for a 13-week small group study.   Small group questions are not provided however, nor are there any footnotes or bibliographic notes; copyright info on any quotations are embedded right in the text.  I think that’s an attempt to make the book less intimidating.

Some of the ideas that stuck with me from the later chapters included the idea of having a “Life Check” which would work like “Spell Check” on your computer.    (Sounds good.  Where do I sign up for that?)   Or introducing  the different aspects to what we call “time;”  chronos and kairos.  (You know the first one every time you check the time in the corner of the computer you’re reading this on.   You want to get to know the second better; the experience of being in the moment.)

However, I’ve got to say that at times I felt like the book was a little slow in moving on to the next point.   Like maybe someone handed in a 40,000 word essay but the professor demanded 10,000 words more, so they filled it out.      I think part of that may be my fault, because I wasn’t reading the book out of direct need, but merely as a book to review.   For someone going through the pain of regret, some of the counsel of this book may be just what the doctor ordered.

Regrets?  I have a few.   I read books like this one and always remember that there will always be someone for whom this will be the first Christian book they have ever read. I then try to assess the book on that basis, and in this case, the joining of recognizable  stories,  logical analysis, solid advice and related scriptures passes that first book test with flying colors.

The full title is Regret Free Living:  Hope for Past Mistakes and Freedom from Unhealthy Patterns by Stephen Arterburn with John Shore.  (Bethany House Publishers, 2009; 231 pages, hardcover $17.99 US) Also available on Oasis Audio CDs read by the author ($25.99 US).


Lips Touch: Three Times by Laini Taylor

It took me far to long too pick this book up. Three separate stories tied together with a common theme: a kiss. Each fantastical, each better than then its predecessor. Each story opens with several pages of illustrations, beautifully done by Jim De Bartolo, giving us a glimpse of what will be unfolded in the ensuing pages, whether they be goblins, demons, or immortals. The writing is captivating. The stories are captivating. Definitely a book for ages 12 and up.

I recommend this book to those who have enjoyed the Twilight series, the House of Night series, Mortal Instruments series, and the writing of Kristen Cashore and Cinda Williams Chima.


best books of 2009

in 2009 i read 168 books – one less than in 2008, my top year since i started keeping track — but there are NINE days left in 2009, so that number is bound to change.

picture book:

beginning readers:

juvenile books (for grades 3-5):

young adult books:

‘adult’ books:


Monday, December 21, 2009

Three-for-One Mini-Reviews (or How I Survived the Snowpocalypse)

Christmas is almost here, and though I’ve had an unexpected amount of reading time lately (thanks mostly to the foot of snow we got over the weekend), the time and energy for writing reviews just isn’t there. Plus, I figure most of you are in the midst of your own pre-holiday craziness and aren’t exactly sitting around reading blogs all day. I was contemplating saving these for after the holidays, but I’d rather write about them while they’re relatively fresh in my mind and then commence with unplugging for the rest of the holiday season.

Also, any one of these would be a great stocking stuffer if you’re still looking for quick gift ideas.

I’ll just go ahead and say it: my love for Barbara Ehrenreich knows no bounds. In Bright-Sided, Ehrenreich, in her typically no-nonsense voice of reason, attacks the “relentless promotion of positive thinking,” arguing that our refusal to acknowledge potential negative outcomes is a contributing cause of social and economic crises, as it devalues critical thinking skills in favor of positivity in the face of even the direst circumstances.

Ehrenreich criticizes the corporate mindset that insists on viewing every failure as an “opportunity” and expects workers to suppress their doubts and express optimism even when asking questions and considering negatives could benefit the company in the long run. She also calls out pastors like Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer for essentially confusing Jesus with Santa Claus and encouraging their congregations to believe that God will give them everything they want if they can just exhibit the right amount of faith, as if He doesn’t have anything better to do than help you get a good parking place at the mall (something Osteen once gave Him credit for).

And before you go assuming Ehrenreich is out to get the Christians (she’s not!), let me tell you that she also goes after motivational speakers, law of attraction enthusiasts, and those who profess that The Secret really did change their lives. If all you have to do to get what you want is want it badly enough, then it becomes YOUR FAULT when you don’t get it (and YOUR FAULT when bad things happen to you because, hello, you must have manifested them through your thoughts), and it ignores the fact that there are often many people wanting the same thing.

The bottom line here isn’t that optimism is bad; it’s that the insistence on positivity to the exclusion of critical thinking is dangerous on many levels.  As usual, Ehrenreich’s latest book is engaging, witty, well-argued, and an all-around great read. 4.75 out of 5.

In this follow-up to her debut In the Woods (which I loved), author Tana French changes up the narrative voice, writing this time from the perspective of Detective Cassie Maddox. The Likeness picks up several months after the event of In the Woods and it begins with a bang. Having transferred out of the murder division and into domestic violence, Cassie is confused when her boyfriend, murder detective Sam O’Neill, calls her to a scene. But she is blown away when she discovers that the victim not only looks just like her but is carrying IDs with the name Lexie Madison, an identity Cassie invented (and thought she destroyed) for undercover work several years back.

Cassie’s spitting-image resemblance to the victim offers the murder squad an opportunity they’ve never had before: to solve the murder from the inside out. Telling the victim’s housemates and the media that Lexie did not die but was instead in a coma, they buy some time and learn as much about the enigmatic girl as they can. Then Cassie, doing something she swore she would never do again, goes undercover as Lexie Madison and moves into the home she shared with four other graduate students.

From the original premise to the complicated relationships between the housemates to the gorgeous writing and incredible suspense, The Likeness is a riveting, can’t-put-it-down, unforgettable read that mystery lovers and lit fic cross-over readers alike will appreciate. Whether it’s the female perspective or simply the experience that comes with no longer being a first-time author, French seems more comfortable and agile in Cassie’s voice, and her grasp of the psychological complexities makes this much more than your typical mystery. 4.5 out of 5.

Why, oh why, did I let David Grann’s The Lost City of Z languish on my TBR pile for so long? Chronicling his growing obsession with early twentieth-century explorer Percy Fawcett, who was himself obsessed with mapping South America and finding the legendary lost city of El Dorado (which Fawcett simply refers to as “Z”), Grann deftly weaves information from dozens of primary sources into a gripping narrative that tracks Fawcett’s Amazon adventures, the hundreds of explorers who lost their lives trying to solve the mystery of what happened to him, and his own journey into the Amazon.

The Lost City of Z is, at its core, a story about adventure and adventurers. Grann investigates Fawcett’s drive to be the first man to uncover Z, his ongoing competition with other explorers, and his insistence on discovery at all costs. Incorporating information from official documents, Fawcett’s own private communications, interviews with experts and Fawcett’s descendants, and much, more more, Grann gives life to the most exciting story you’ve never heard and, like the best storytellers, he saves the best surprise for the big finish.

I devoured The Lost City of Z in just a few sittings and was very impressed with Grann’s ability to combine his story with Fawcett’s so seamlessly. I’d recommend this book for longtime lovers of nonfiction and newcomers who want to enjoy a true story that reads with all of the excitement and tension of a good mystery. 4.5 out of 5.


A CHRISTMAS CAROL: Charles Dickens.

This was kind of a surprise because I never get festive reading done even though I always want to. I never get Halloween reading done, for example, because of work. (I have five preps – bite me.) But after seeing the new film adaptation, I made Jonathan stop by Borders so I could pick up the book, mostly because I was so curious about how faithful the new adaptation was to the original story. As it turns out, it’s surprisingly close for a Jim Carrey movie.

Never having read the book before, but having grown up on a steady diet of Mickey’s Christmas Carol, A Muppet Christmas Carol, and various other animated cutesy Christmas Carols, I was surprised and pleased by how gruesome the original story really was. I always wondered why Jacob Marley’s head was wrapped as if he had a horrible toothache, and they certainly never showed us why in the cartoons, but Dickens shows the rag coming loose and Marley’s jaw disengaged, his chin hanging on his chest. The original story is fairly terrifying for the era… or, actually, it’s just fairly terrifying. The original (horribly depressing) story of Ebenezer Scrooge may not be ideal for people who enjoy the more light-hearted versions we see in movies.

That said, I enjoyed it immensely.


Daughter Am I Review

I made a new friend on Facebook yesterday — Patty Andersen.  Turns out she’s a fan, someone who bought Daughter Am I because it had been recommended to her. Wow! My fame is spreading! Okay, one recommendation isn’t fame, but it’s a beginning, especially considering the wonderful review Patty Andersen wrote:

This was an awesome book. At age 23 Mary Stuart finds out that she has inherited a farm from her grandparents. Her father had told her that her grandparents were dead, so the inheritance is a shock but when she finds out that her grandparents were murdered she determines that she needs to know more about them. Thus, Mary sets off on a quest in which she collects an amazing array of elderly people, all of whom knew her grandfather or knew someone who knew him.  –Patty Andersen

This is a tale of growing. Mary is growing up, the elderly are growing older, and love is growing between Mary and all of her group. There are some marvelous life stories here, the elders have all lead amazing lives most not on the “right” side of the law. The most important lesson is that it is so important to allow the elderly to live and die with dignity. Mary manages to learn this in time to help this group and she also learns that they will live longer if they feel useful.

All in all, an amazing story and I’m so glad that someone on DorothyL recommended this book. It blew me away from beginning to end.

When I askedPatty if I could post the review on my blog, she said: Sure, the more people who hear about this book, the happier I’ll be!

How cool is that! Even better, she’s a librarian, and librarians are not easy to impress.

DAIClick here to buy Daughter Am I from Second Wind Publishing, LLC. 

Click here to buy Daughter Am I from Amazon.

Click here to download 30% of Daughter Am I free from Smashwords.

Click here to read the first chapter of Daughter Am I.


Friday, December 18, 2009

The Shine Man: A Christmas Story

Name of Book: The Shine Man: A Christmas Story

Author: Mary Quattlebaum

Illustrators: Tim Ladwig

Publisher: Eerdmans Books for Young Readers

Audience: Ages 5 and up (The story may be too long for preschool-aged children, but older readers could retell it in their own words and have children look at the beautiful pictures).

Summary: It is 1932, during the Great Depression, and on three successive days, Larry, a homeless shoeshine man (Shine Man), gives his cap, his sock-gloves, and a spool-and-yarn angel (a “spoolie”) to a poor boy.  He is freezing and hungry and no one is stopping for a shoeshine.  With nothing left to give he shines the poor boy’s shoes-that are falling apart. Suddenly, a light begins to shine from within the boy and the Shine Man discovers he is “the One, the Heavenly Child.” Suddenly, Larry and the glowing boy are shining together, flying over the town, hand-in-hand.

Literary elements at work in the story: This beautiful story is told through the voice of a child who heard the tale from his own father.  It is set in the heart of the Great Depression in 1932, in a cold and dreary town, and reveals the kindness of a man who is willing to give his only positions to help a child in need. While young children may view the end of the story as a simple adventure, older children may pick up on the deeper meaning and understand that Larry has died.  Adult readers should be prepared should this question arise.  The spectacular watercolor illustrations do a beautiful job of telling the story all on their own and it would be wonderful to show children the pictures and have them create the story themselves.

Perspective on gender/race/culture/economic/ability: It is 1932 and people are struggling.  Very few can find work and many are homeless. Yet we see in the illustrations people hustling and bustling by the Shine Man as they buy food and gifts for Christmas.  But no one stops.  Instead, the Shine Man takes it upon himself to give his remaining possessions to a young boy who he believes needs them more.  He has no way of knowing who this boy is.  He simply sees someone in need and feels that he must help. 

Scripture: Birth narratives found in Matthew 1:18-2:12 and Luke 1:26-1:38 and 2:1-21, James 4:10, Deuteronomy 16:27, Hebrews 13:2

Theology: This is a humbling story.  In Deuteronomy, we read, “Every man shall give as he is able,” but the only man who actually follows those words in this story is the man who is least able. His heart simply cannot allow the injustice he sees before him in this child and he is compelled to help.  Little does he know whom he is really helping.  But the truth is, it would not have mattered if he had.  His kindness and hospitality is not based on class or merit or importance- it is simply based on a need he sees before him. 

Faith Talk Questions:

  1. Let’s look at some of the pictures in this book again.  What were things like in 1932? What are some of the things you notice?
  2. Describe the Shine Man.  What kind of life does he have? Does he have a lot of money and things?
  3. Why don’t people stop for a shoeshine?
  4. Why does the Shine Man give the boy the only possessions he has?  What happens to the man as he gives away his warm clothes?
  5. Who is the boy? Why didn’t he tell the Shine Man who he was right away? Do you think it would have made a difference?
  6. What can you do this Christmas and all year-round to help those in need?

Review prepared by Erin Mills, MACE, Entering cohort Fall 2007


Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Malachy McCourt's History of Ireland

This book was a gift from a relative in ireland, I had said the last time I was there that I wish I could take him back to Kuwait with me so that I could listen to him tell me the history of Ireland.  So in 2005 he sent me this book with a little note saying that since he could not come, Malachy McCourt will do just fine.  And he was right.

This book will give you the history of Ireland in snapshots of the most important people, places and historical events.  The author starts with Ireland before St. Patrick and continued until Mary Robinson and Bertie Ahern.  The tone of the book is very beautiful.  I keep seeing myself sitting near a fireplace or in a pub listening to a very good storyteller.  This is a book that people of Irish decent would want to read, and perhaps read from to their children and they won’t be bored.  How do I know that? I had a bunch of kids at my apartment two months ago that I was supposed to keep an eye on, needless to say it was chaos.  So I asked them all to sit down and I started to read a few of the chapters on the more heroic characters in Ireland like Brian Boru and Turlough O’ Connor.  The children were entertained AND they learned some history.

Is this a scholarly book?  No, is it factual, absolutely.  McCourt himself says that this book is not meant to be scholarly nor is he qualified to write one.  It is a storyteller’s book who happens to be delivering the history of his country.  A very enjoyable read.


Reviews: MAN'S SEARCH FOR MEANING by Viktor E. Frankl

Viktor E. Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning was read by a couple of WWII reading challenge participants.  Here are their thoughts; click on the links to read the full reviews.

Sandy from You’ve GOTTA read this! says:

Can you imagine going through the day, with the highlight of being given the gift of time to pick the lice out of your head? That your destiny could possibly be to suffer, and that you should take the opportunity to do it right? I’m liking this guy more and more. There isn’t a human being alive that couldn’t learn a lesson here. It makes me ashamed for feeling depressed over the mountain of laundry waiting for me, or my complaining about my jet lag.

Lezlie from Books ‘N Border Collies says:

This is a book that can be read over and over again, because there is so much here between the personal stories and the detailed discussion of logotherapy that what the reader takes from it will vary widely depending on where he or she is at that moment in his or her life.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**


Review: D-DAY by Stephen E. Ambrose

Carol from Magistra Mater read Stephen E. Ambrose’s D-Day:  June 6, 1944:  The Climactic Battle of World War II for the challenge.  Here’s an excerpt from her review:

It seems overkill to write 600 pages to describe one twenty-four hour day unless that day is as momentous as D-Day.  Stephen E. Ambrose begins with the Nazis defenders, wheels his way around the beaches of Normandy, expands his viewpoint to the world watching, and ultimately offers an encyclopedic scope of one of the key battles of WWII.  It takes an historian and writer as skilled as Ambrose to seamlessly weave a narrative from hundreds of individual oral histories.

Read the entire review here.

**Attention participants:  Remember to email us a link to your reviews, and we’ll post them here so we can see what everyone is reading!**


Monday, December 14, 2009

"The Justice Project"

New book recommendation:  The Justice Project

Edited by Brian McLaren, Elisa Padilla, and Ashley Bunting Seeber, is a eye-opening follow-up to The Emergent Manifesto of Hope.  It continues the theme of approaching a topic, Justice, from an array of voices.  While there were notables such as Tony Jones, Doug Pagitt, Peggy Campolo, and Lynne Hybels, the book mostly consisted of names I’d never heard of, activists working to challenge the status quo from their niches

It was that broad range of experiences that drew me in.  A chapter by Peggy Campolo challenged me with a story of a gay-affirming church here in Arkansas, as well as challenging the typical notion of what “Biblical family values” really are.  Her son Bart explained why campaign finance reform might just be the most important political “Justice” issue out there.  One writer told of her experience in a barely post-Civil Rights black church, which looked up to MLK, Jr. they way we look up to Jesus, and this backed up nicely to stories from South Africa where white anti-Apartheid advocates feared the suspicious, “accidentally” fatal car incidents with cops.  Then a description of Just Conservatism and Just Liberalism.  Samir Selmanovic, author of the newly released It’s Really All About God: Reflections of a Muslim Atheist Jewish Christian has a provocative piece on decolonizing God’s name.

Particular sections where particularly biting.  The entire book was absolutely replete with Scripture.  An early chapter asks if capitalism can be just.  Has there ever been an economic system that paradoxically produced more good while at the same time producing such imbalance of wealth?  A definition of justice is in order, given that we have to decide whether Justice is distributive or redistributive; is Justice starting where we all are and going from there, or is it inherently redistributing and hence imbalanced against those who start off with more.  The West has traditionally ran with the former while the Tanak inarguably aims at the latter.  The question is whether or not a capitalistic system which, while creating a great deal of good, inevitably creates inequality is a redemptive system.  That takes it pretty far, maybe beyond what I am comfortable with, but it does strike me as true that there will be no room for any inequality in God’s economy.

Then cut to a discussion on immigration reform in which a Latino writer recounts a discussion with a friend.  One asks the other if he also carries his ID with him in his sock whenever he leaves the house so much as just to jog.  It’s a world I cannot imagine, where naturalized citizens of the US live in fear of illegal deportation because of the stories they heard about the unlucky neighbor who forgot his drivers license when jogging.  That neighbor is picked up, presumed illegal, detained and/or deported away from his family.  The author barely has to imply the Scriptures that call for lavish welcoming of the squatter immigrants among us.  It challenged me because I know we need serious immigration reform and laws to guide us.  But I also know that Scripture holds up this ideal for sheltering the alien that many of us consider simply too idealistic.  Maybe it is, but it is Just.

Just ecology.  Just land.  Just business.  Justice in the slums.  Justice in the suburbs.  Just parenting.  Just Trade.  Just church-planting.  Justice in religion.  Justice in racial issues. Just elections.  Just family values.  Prophetic Justice.

This is one of those books that has perspectives that anyone but the most hardened ideologue will have their heart melted by.  I’m really encouraged to see the awakening of much of the church to the Biblical primacy of Justice as integral to the Gospel.  The church’s Justice awakening has gained such a tide that there is even now a resistance to it by Christians who feel we should drop such emphasis on Justice and “get back to Jesus.” The Justice Project is one of those books that reminds me why that perspective isn’t much good news at all.  It’s got a perspective to unsettle, teach, encourage, anger, and give hope to anyone.


Right Time, Right Place, by Richard Brookhiser

The author knows how to write but not when to stop. This isn’t quite fair–rather, his best writing is done in his one-page essays that run monthly in National Review (“City Desk” and “Country Life”). Brookhiser can fit in a single magazine page all the dirty beauty of New York City, which he clearly loves. There are pages in Right Time, Right Place that recall those brilliant short essays, but they are set amid muddy stretches of exposition.

The title is not just a pun. Brookhiser submitted a piece to National Review while a high-school student. Buckley accepted it and made it the cover story. Brookhiser kept the connection as a college intern (he attended Yale, as Buckley had done) and soon got an offer to write for the magazine full-time. He chose to accept rather than to attend Yale Law School. Buckley told him after a few short years that he wanted him to step into his shoes at the magazine.

Buckley became a new father to him, though Brookhiser never explains why his own father faded out after the son joined Buckley at the magazine. After ten years, Buckley left him a short letter to avoid a personal encounter. The letter informed him abruptly that Buckley had changed his mind. There is here a brief tribute to the original, less, exciting man, when Brookhiser describes what happened after receiving the firing lines from Buckley:

“I told my brother and my parents. My father came through. He had retired from Eastman Kodak only a few years earlier. He had never talked to me or, as far as I knew, anyone about his job. He went in the morning and came home at night. I had been to his office a couple times; it was decorated with a picture of an elk in a pond that he had taken on our road trip west. Now he told me that he had once missed a promotion he felt he deserved, which went instead to the son of a director of the company. He told the man who made the pick, and the man who benefited from it, that he believed he was the better man, but that he would do his best in the new order of things regardless. He also said that if I wanted to go to law school, ten years late, he would pay for it. Economists, even those whose systems are mindful of human motivation, can write as if jobs come out of a pot labeled “Economy.” They do, but they get done because people–in my father ’s generation, men–go to work five days a week and do them. Some of us love our jobs, but many more of us only like them well enough. My father had gone to his job for almost forty years to support himself and his wife and his sons. Now he was offering another share of those earnings (carefully, even penuriously, saved) to me. I was impressed; he was a better man than the idol I had put in his place.” (140)

Buckley’s abrupt dismissal of him came as a blow and a betrayal. Still, Brookhiser admits his executive defects.

Brookhiser somewhat resented the general Catholic atmosphere at the magazine. The prevailing winds at least were Roman. Again, he fails to make a possible connection from his own biography. His father, raised Catholic, married a Protestant over objections from family and Church. In turn, Brookhiser disappointed his own parents by marrying a Jewish woman. For a book about fathers and sons, the author does not discuss the fact that he and his wife have no children. He does describe being stricken with testicular cancer, but the aptness of this affliction passes unremarked.

The later chapters are dull–the mountain has been climbed. The stroll amid the broad sunny uplands is not so bracing.


Smart Women Finish Rich by David Bach - Book Review

Smart Women Finish Rich was the first financial planning book I ever purchased, read, and actually used.   I bought it in my early twenties, when I was finally ready to make some changes in my financial life – I had been so anxious about the state of my finances that I was finally committed to making some changes.

Now, years later I still go back to this powerful book, which I consider a staple in my financial management diet.  I re-read chapters and absorb the lessons, and try to put a little finesse into the details.

When I first read it I thought I was so clever – because the book really appeals to the emotional side of managing your money.  David Bach wrote the book with a very positive emotional angle that I think seriously appeals to women, and motivates them.  It did for me anyways.

About Smart Women Finish Rich

It’s surprisingly easy to read.  When you read it, it’s like you’re having a casual conversation with David himself.  He’s charming, and caring, and flattering.  He makes you feel like a genius – just for having picked up the book and reading it.  And while you’re being shmoozed so thoroughly, you actually learn a lot of things about money and personal finances.

He peppers his book with anecdotes about his grandmother that are very quaint and charming, and that actually sound sincere.  The most important reaction from all of this buttering up – is that you actually want to take action.  I felt like following his advice would obviously work, because he’s an expert, and his manner of writing is so sure and confident.

The Finish Rich Steps

He touts nine big steps in his book, which are absolutely fundamental to your financial prosperity, and you could even go as far as to say your life’s happiness.

Step #1 – Learn the Facts – and Myths – About Your Money

Step #2 – Put Your Money Where Your Heart Is

Step #3 – Figure Out Where You Stand Financially…And Where You Want To Go

Step #4 – Use The Power of the Latté Factor

Step #5 – Practice Grandma’s Three-Basket Approach

Step #6 – Learn the Ten Biggest Mistakes Investors Make and How to Avoid Them

Step #7 – Raising Smart Kids to Finish Rich

Step #8 – Follow the 12 Commandments of Attracting Greater Wealth

Step #9 – FinishRich Success Stories

My Call to Action

After reading the book – actually, while I was still in the middle of it – I went out and started to do exactly what he suggested.  I started to figure out where all of my money was, and where it was going.  I got all of my records straight – and in doing that I realized that I had been overpaying to an institution $450 a MONTH, and had been for 14 months.  So – I got my money back.  That was worth the price of the book hundreds of times over.

How did that happen, you are probably asking.  Well, years before I had those payments taken off of my pay directly.  And when my service ended, they didn’t stop the payments – and I didn’t notice, because I never looked at my paycheck!  I didn’t know where my money was going.

When I realized that David’s first step to being a Smart Woman was so fruitful, I took the second step.  I set up an RRSP account and made those payments automatic.  My goal was to save up enough to buy a house with the Home Buyers Plan.  (For more info – read my post on the Home Buyers Plan)

Then, three years later, thanks to David’s fantastic advice that really got me off my ass – I achieved my dream of home ownership.  Now I’m part of the mortgaged majority!

Use the Exercises and Worksheets

I filled out the exercises and worksheets when I first got the book, and when I re-read it a few months ago I noticed how some of my goals have changed, but most of them  have stayed the same (for example – I don’t necessarily want to do a Master’s in Political Studies anymore – but I do still want to go to graduate school, and take and MBA perhaps.)  That’s the advantage of planning your finances around your fundamental beliefs and values.   Those don’t really change, even if you short term goals do.

The worksheets that help you figure out where all your money is coming from, and going to, are so helpful.  But not only that – it helped me be a real grownup.  I bought myself a filing cabinet, and started to organize ALL of my important papers just like adults do - like university correspondence, insurance papers, medical info, vet bills, phone bills, Hydro – you can organize anything once you have the system in place.  Now I’m organized like a fox.  And on Saturday mornings when my husband sleeps in, I can do a little filing - totally undisturbed.

Why It’s So Important For Women

My husband saw Smart Women Finish Rich by my bedside, and took a look.  He said to me “why don’t you get Smart Couples Finish Rich?  It worries me a bit that you’re doing this without me”.  He was totally right, and I did get the book for couples.  But, I bought Smart Women Finish Rich before we met, and I will stand by the principles to the end!

I explained to him the lessons I learned through the book – that most women are sadly under prepared for their retirements, and end up living below the poverty line.  Historically, women have relied so much on men (fathers, husbands, sons) for their care in old age, they can be left disappointingly under-prepared when old age comes.

The reasons for this are many:

  • women statistically make less than a man, even for the same work
  • women are in the workforce for a shorter amount of time (leaving to have children, raise families, or take care of elderly parents)
  • women in lower-paying jobs don’t have the benefit of pension plans
  • women outlive men by an average of 6 years, and therefore have to stretch their smaller retirement incomes farther than men do

So, my justification to sticking to my worn out copy of Smart Women Finish Rich, with writing in the margins, tabs, and dog ears, is that I had to take care of myself first.  And then I could enter into our partnership as an equal, and equally prepared for our future.


Friday, December 11, 2009

Review: The Amanda Project: Book 1: invisible I by Stella Lennon and Melissa Kantor

HarperTeen, 2009

Amanda Valentino changed everything.

Callie Leary has exactly one thing, and one thing only, in common with Nia Rivera and Hal Bennett: They were each chosen by Amanda to be her guide. When Amanda arrived at Endeavor High, she told Callie she moves around a lot and always picks one person to help her navigate the choppy waters of a new school. Why did Amanda lie?

Following a course that they suspect Amanda deliberately plotted, Callie, Nia, and Hal piece together some cryptic clues. But they find more questions than answers and quickly realize that before they can figure out what happened to Amanda—the girl who changed their lives—they’ll need to solve the most important mystery of all: Who is Amanda Valentino?

From HarperCollins website

This was a book that didn’t necessarily wow be from the get-go, but once I got into it, I was pleasantly surprised by how much I enjoyed it. After the first two chapters or so, I was riveted and drawn into the mystery of Amanda and her disappearance. There was also a side mystery surrounding an aspect of Callie’s life and I am dying to know more about that, along with who Amanda really was.

Once I did get into it, it was a quick read that left me wanting to immediately read the second book to find out what happens next.

The Amanda Project is an interactive series with it’s very own website where you can go and find out more clues about Amanda, where she disappeared to and who she really is.

Browse inside The Amanda Project.

Thanks to HarperCollins Canada for providing a review copy of The Amanda Project: invisible I.


Book Review: <i>The Risk of Darkness</i> by Susan Hill

The Risk of Darkness is the chilling third book in Susan Hill’s Detective Simon Serrailler crime series. Beginning with The Various Haunts of Men and continuing with The Pure in Heart, Hill’s series introduced readers to the charming English town of Lafferton and its citizens. The Risk of Darkness continues the story line of The Pure in Heart, with Detective Serrailler finally hunting down an elusive serial child abductor.

Continuing the successful execution of the first two books, Hill interweaves many different plotlines and masterfully commands them all in The Risk of Darkness. In addition to dealing with the frustratingly reticent child abductor, Detective Serrailler’s case load increases when a grieving widower seeks solace by holding hostage the young female priest trying to help him. Detective Serrailler must also once again balance his work life with his private life. In The Risk of Darkness, he faces the prospect of both his on-again, off-again girlfriend and his sister, who is a beloved local doctor and his main support system, leaving his life.

As with The Various Haunts of Men and The Pure in Heart, the well-written characters and the town of Lafferton itself help the story come alive. In The Risk of Darkness, Susan Hill has crafted another well-paced, multilayered psychological thriller that shouldn’t be missed by fans of the series.


Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Trust Agent Learnings

Trust Agents

Last week, I finished reading Chris Brogan and Julien Smith’s highly touted book, Trust Agents.

We’ve all witnessed the continued adoption of the Web as a crucial communications tool. What continues to lag behind in the PR/Marketing world is thorough understanding of how human communications patterns and relationships translate to the Web.

Anyone who majored in communications in college was likely required to take either an interpersonal communications or public speaking course. Professors in either of these courses likely harped the importance of nonverbal communication. Most studies show that humans typically base 70-80% of communication with one another on nonverbal cues. This obviously becomes an issue with the Web being a primarily text-driven medium.

Becoming an effective online communicator seems pretty simple – just be human. Unfortunately, this is much easier said than done when you throw brands into the mix. Too often, companies assume the Web is broadcast-only medium and issue template language to protect their brand. In other cases, tempers flare and messages are misconstrued through emails – the list goes on and on. Without the luxury of nonverbal cues and direct human contact, one needs to adapt and be smart to come across as desired online. What’s the key to making this happen?

Building Trust.

Chris and Julien do a superb job of outlining how the Web can be a crucial leverage tool along with the host of key traits that make people stand out as effective online communications pros. To summarize a few of Chris and Julien’s overarching tips:

  • Create Your Space – It’s crowded online and to stand out, you need to bring your ideas and personality to life and be willing to experiment and try something new.
  • Belong - You need to be involved and connecting with your audience. It’s unlikely that people will haphazardly find you. Instead, you need to be willing to devote the time and effort to become a trusted member of your desired community.
  • The Web is Powerful – The Web is your access point to creating leverage and actionable results. Take advantage and build your base.
  • Be a Resource – In order to make the Web work to your advantage, you need to put in the time and energy to helping others first. We’re human – we like to have help and to reciprocate when helped.
  • Know People – We’re dynamic, complicated beings. As such, earn other people’s trust by knowing when to assist with other people’s weaknesses and bolster their strengths.
  • You Need Help – Success is driven through collaboration and the social Web is your tool to put that network in place.

I’ll end by saying that this book is well, well  worth they hype. An easy, relatively short read that is broken down with logical tips and action reminders, it’s a shoe-in for the perfect gift for your co-workers or clients. OR a perfect distraction from that inevitable holiday flight delay.


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