Monday, March 22, 2010

fully booked

I mentioned in a previous post that I got a lot of book vouchers for my birthday. A LOT.

This allowed me to buy a lot of books. A LOT. Why am I blogging about this now, two months after the fact, you may be wondering? Well, it’s kind of in honour of the fact that I’m leaving books blog Five Minutes Peace at the end of the month in order to have more time to write about other things. (NON-BOOK things, if you can believe that.) And it’s kind of because I just didn’t get around to it sooner and am gormless. Mostly the latter.

Anyway. For my birthday, way back when, two friends bought me identical vouchers, with which I got:

- Important Artifacts and Personal Property from the Collection of Lenore Doolan and Harold Morris: Including Books, Street Fashion and Jewelry by Leanne Shapton
This is a graphic novel made to look (brilliantly) like an auction catalogue. Bittersweet and clever, it chronicles the breakdown of a relationship between two hipster-types, one a photographer, the other a New York Times cake columnist. One of those books that make writers sad and jealous that they didn’t think of it first. Not me though. [SHE LIED.]

- Queen of the Road: The True Tale of 47 States, 22,000 Miles, 200 Shoes, 2 Cats, 1 Poodle, a Husband, and a Bus with a Will of Its Own by Doreen Orion

I have loved the idea of travelling round the US in an RV for a really long time. (Remember that episode of Frasier when they travelled in one, albeit not entirely successfully? That kind of cemented things, but when I was little we knew a family who had a small camper van that I was fascinated with, too. And the Geek Brief (now thwarted) Big Trip idea really (vicariously) excited me. The trip in this book isn’t in an RV but a custom-made bus with its own dishwasher, internet and satellite TV (who knew?) but the concept is the same. I expected to absolutely love it but it’s taking me a while to wade through. I don’t find the narrator very endearing but I am enjoying the travel stories. (And by enjoying I mean feeling full of rage and envy that it’s not me, obviously.)

- Telling True Stories: A Nonfiction Writers’ Guide from the Nieman Foundation at Harvard University ed. by Mark Kramer and Wendy Call

I chose this mainly because in contains a previously unpublished piece by Nora Ephron (about why more journalists should become screenwriters and vice versa) but there’s loads of good advice that’s  relevant for any writer interested in narrative non-fiction/long-form journalism/American publications.

Then my Dad very kindly, or very Kindle-y (haaaa) gave me some money to buy some e-books. So I got:

- I’m Perfect, You’re Doomed by Kyria Abrahams

The story of a Jehovah’s Witness childhood. Very educational; lots I didn’t know despite having a JW childminder. But it doesn’t really wrap up the author’s story very well (we leave her in a bad place in her life and I wanted to know more – I felt some self-indulgent rambling towards the end  could have been cut in order to achieve this). Of course she may be saving it for a sequel, which I’d definitely read.

- Rockabye by Rebecca Woolf

I’m a big fan of Rebecca’s blog, Girl’s Gone Child and had been meaning to read her memoir for some time. Sweet, funny and raw, it’s the story of her unplanned pregnancy (at a time in her life when she was not at all prepared to have a baby). I loved her wriitng and as someone whose life hasn’t gone to plan (althought for different reasons) I really related.

- The Best Technology Writing 2009 ed. by Steven Johnson

I know, kinda geeky. But there’s some great writing in here. I’m dipping into this one and have already learned about the recent breach in internet security which almost threatened all of our data and the popularity of the cell phone novel in Japan.

- Don’t You Forget About Me by Jancee Dunn

I loved her memoir, But Enough About Me (highly recommended) and this is her first novel, about a woman caught up in ’80s nostalgia after the end of her marriage. This is so well-drawn that some bits were painful to read but I really enjoyed it, especially the main character’s ageing talk show host boss, Vi, who is from another era and so full of life. I really hope she’s based on a real person.

- The Joy Diet: 10 Daily Practices for a Happier Life by Martha Beck

I’ve been a Beck fan for a few years now, but this is the book of hers that really makes the most sense to me. I’m still on practice one but I’m going to keep trying.

- The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga

I chose this for February’s book club pick. Then I ended up regretting it. It’s REALLY hard work.

- If You Have to Cry, Go Outside by Kelly Cutrone

Anyone who has seen Kelly on The Hills, The City or her new show Kell on Earth (ha) will know how scary she can be. But she’s also pretty amazing. This is her story of moving from a small town to make it in New York and I was surprised to find how compassionate she feels towards other women trying to fight their way up the ladder: she doesn’t want to be friends with her employees, but she does want to help them out.

Then, as my Dad said he didn’t mind if I got a mix of e- and paper books, I decided to get secondhand print versions of books I’d been wanting for a while but which were too expensive to buy new. So I bought:

- Letterati by Paul McCarthy

Which is about the world of competitive Scrabble. I read a couple of chapters then moved on to some other stuff but I’ll go back. It’s interesting stuff.

- I’m Down by Mishna Wolff

I kept seeing reviews of this and it sounded really great and funny… and it WAS. It’s about Woolf’s father and how he wanted to raise her and her sister to be down, to be cool, to fit in, even as white people in an all-black neighbourhood and poor people in an all-white upper-class school. Mishna didn’t seem to belong in either place and her rendering of events is hilarious. But there is a tinge of sadness to the funny, too – she grew up hungry and cold, albeit stoical.

- Get Known Before The Book Deal by Christina Katz

I keep reading articles by Katz (mainly in Writer’s Digest) and was curious to see what I could learn about writers and self-promotion. So far: quite a bit.

I also got a new copy of:

- The Grammar Devotional: Daily Tips for Successful Writing from Grammar Girl by Mignon Fogarty

If you haven’t heard of Grammar Girl (where have you been?) it’s a massively successful podcast about yes, grammar, and this is the second spin-off book. I haven’t read much of it yet. But I WILL.

In non-birthday book related news, I’ve just finished Julie Klam’s very good Please Excuse My Daughter (she’s Jancee Dunn’s best friend, incidentally – I heard about her from Dunn’s first book) and now I need to race through Vampire Diaries for the March book club. Phew.

Let’s not even talk about all my overdue library books, most of which I haven’t read… Oh, and my mum got me some money to spend at Amazon for my birthday too (people know what I like), but I got DVDs with that. (More on which, later. Probably much later, let’s be realistic here.)


Spitfire Parade

I’ve been reading the book Portrait of a Legend: Spitfire by Leo McKinstry in the last few days. I found it by accident while I was browsing through McNally Robinson, the best book shop in Saskatoon. It is a good read, and has some interesting observations to make about the aircraft, the design and manufacturing process and the pilots who flew the plane. One of the interesting observations is that the RAF could have had many more Spitfires available for the Battle of Britain if the production lines had been better run. That would have been an interesting “what if scenario” – posit an RAF with a dramatically improved capability. How would the Luftwaffe have responded? One suspects that they would have suffered terrible casualties and that would have accelerated aviation research in Germany in an attempt to regain air superiority. It might also have delayed Operation Barbarossa, the attack on the Soviet Union. Another comment is that the command and control organisation of the RAF was perhaps a little too decentralised. If Air Marshal Dowding had retained overall control of operations, instead of devolving it down to the Group level, the RAF effort might well have been better coordinated and able to respond even more effectively. It is quite an interesting counterpoint to the usual view that the RAF was very hard pressed and only won because of German strategic errors in changing targets, from the airfields to London.

Spitfire Mk2a

Spitfire Mk 2a

The book is very well written, in a journalistic style rather than an academic one, which is hardly surprising, as the author is a journalist, albeit with a history degree. As usual with this type of popular history, there are many short comments from eye witnesses included to give the perspective of the “ordinary person”. I did find the content to be a little unbalanced.  There is a lot of detail oof the pre-war design phase , and on production and operation before and during the Battle of Britain, but much less on the rest of the war and postwar service. A highly recommended read, particularly if you are interested in World War Two, or the Spitfire or both.

Spitfire, showing the distinctive elliptical wing shape

Spitfire: the elliptical wings are the distinguishing feature in these early aircraft

I shamelessly borrowed the title of this post from Capt. W. E. Johns 1941 title in the “Biggles” series!


Highland Lady Lowland Marriage...




Read some excerpts and comments on “Here Burns My Candle” by Liz Curtis Higgs.


Lady Elisabeth Kerr is a keeper of secrets. A Highlander by birth and a Lowlander by marriage, she honors the auld ways, even as doubts and fears stir deep within her.
    Her husband, Lord Donald, has secrets of his own, well hidden from the household, yet whispered among the town gossips.
    His mother, the dowager Lady Marjory, hides gold beneath her floor and guilt inside her heart. Though her two abiding passions are maintaining her place in society and coddling her grown sons, Marjory’s many regrets, buried in Greyfriars Churchyard, continue to plague her.
    One by one the Kerr family secrets begin to surface, even as bonny Prince Charlie and his rebel army ride into Edinburgh in September 1745, intent on capturing the crown.
    A timeless story of love and betrayal, loss and redemption, flickering against the vivid backdrop of eighteenth-century Scotland, Here Burns My Candle illumines the dark side of human nature, even as hope, the brightest of tapers, lights the way home.


Praise for
Here Burns My Candle
“Liz Curtis Higgs has an unmatched ability to illuminate the depth of human emotions while taking her readers on a breathtaking journey through the darkness and light of another time and another place. With the deft hand only a master storyteller can apply, Higgs reaches back to the past and weaves a multi-threaded tapestry into a brilliant tale of betrayal and challenge, love and redemption. Her gift continues to shine.”
—BJ Hoff, author of The Emerald Ballad series

“A wonderful retelling of the story of Ruth by one of my favorite authors. Here Burns My Candle is rich with historic detail and living, breathing characters that engaged me from page one right through to the perfect ending.”
—Francine Rivers, author of Redeeming Love
“Prepare to burn your own candle well into the night as Higgs treats us to a verra wonderful Scottish tale of faith, forgiveness, love, loss, and secrets. I couldna put it doon!”
—Deeanne Gist, author of A Bride in the Bargain
“Settle in with Here Burns My Candle, Liz Curtis Higgs’s imaginative reworking of the tale of Naomi and Ruth, and venture back to a dangerous and fascinating time with characters who are as endearing as they are flawed. You can almost hear the drums of war and the swish of kilts and satin.”
—Angela Hunt, author of Let Darkness Come
“Higgs’s pen flows with gold when it turns to Scotland. Enticing from gripping first page to satisfying last, Here Burns My Candle will sweep you away!”
—Tamera Alexander, author of Beyond This Moment
“Once again Liz Curtis Higgs pens an exceptional story of intrigue, romance, and

spiritual faith. Her attention to historical detail gives this story a life all its own, and the characters were so real I found myself thinking about them throughout the day. I simply could not put this book down.” 
—Tracie Peterson, author of Dawn’s Prelude
“Liz Curtis Higgs writes with a cinematic eye—color, texture, emotional depth. Her words give breath to this fresh twist on a beloved Old Testament story. Here Burns My Candle radiates the author’s love of Scotland and its mesmeric history in this story of women bound by obligation yet tethered to devotion. It will keep you up all night until you’ve turned the last dramatic page!”
—Patricia Hickman, author of The Pirate Queen

“I love a story that engages the heart first, the mind second. While reading Higgs’s novel, I became her noble heroine and was convicted by similarities to her antagonist, learning through it all. Come away to an enchanting glimpse of ancient Scotland and beyond. Truly amazing.”
Lisa Tawn Bergren, author of The Begotten

This book was provided by Multnomah Press for review and can be purchased at:     and many other Christian Retailers.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Review of "The Pilgrim's Progress" by John Bunyan

If Wikipedia is good for anything, surely it is this.

I listened to this book. I haven’t much to say on the book other than to note that commuting to work on the DC metro while listening to The Pilgrim’s Progress really hammers home how different modern society is from the society of Bunyan’s day. We are always taught of society’s progress. Listen to Bunyan while riding the subway and see if "progress" is the first word that comes to mind – it certainly wasn’t the first word that came into my mind.


More on the "Age of Bronze"

I tried to make that more clever but nothing was really working for me today. Back at the library I returned the graphic novel adaptation of the Trojan War part 1 and picked up part 2. Which is nice because it means that I might actually be able to get the whole thing…or it did until today’s visit spawned a third trip to the comic section and I realized that part three was not on the shelf. Something tells me that it won’t be in the system either, I guess I’ll figure it out when I go back to return 2.

The second part of the series is called: Sacrifice. Sacrifice was obviously a huge part of the ancient Greek society, being that their polytheism demanded a sacrifice if a person wanted to do anything. The only pantheism that tops the Greeks were the Romans. The Romans had assimilated so many cultures during their expansion that the numbers of gods just kept growing and growing. It didn’t end until Christianity took over, and even then it continued only instead of using the gods they just assimilated holidays, concepts, symbolism, and canonized instead of deified.

The story of the Trojan war is fraught with sacrifice. High king Agamemnon sacrifices his daughter in order make the trip to Troy. The gods were quite demanding in those days, not like the softer gods that seem to populate the earth now. My main issue with the series remains: there are no gods.

The gods play such an important role in the story, given that it was them who got the whole ball of wax rolling in the first place, that taking them out of it completely neuters some of the characters. For instance, Achilles is un-killable in the story until a certain point. His mother is a goddess and he’s been granted immunity from physical harm by being dunked in the river Styx. In the first book his mother, Thetis, is clearly not just a normal person in her demeanor but given the world in which the story is being told she is either delusional or dishonest. The centaur Karon, Achilles’ tutor, is now just some hairy guy who lives in the forest that Thetis sent her only son to live with and be taught by. Sounds like some real bang up parenting there. Why not just drop him entirely?

The book is trying to toe the line between being faithful to the source materials but sticking on the modern interpretation that makes the Greek religions false. However it can’t have it both ways, and in order to be a consistent story it really needs to pick a side and run with it.

For as much as I have objections to the series I do find that it is very difficult for me to not read it. Perhaps it is because this is one of my favorite stories but I don’t think this series would be a gateway into getting people to read the original source material.


Book Review: Steering through Chaos by Scott Wilson

Steering through Chaos Mapping a clear direction for your church in the midst of transition and change.

Steering Through Chaos is not so much a practical manual, but a general book filled with basic leadership principles that can help not only pastors, but anyone heading an organization during transition. Scott hits key points like identifying turning points and transitions, leading with a clear vision, timing your change, being authentic, the importance of prayer, and celebrating as you go.

Scott outlines each principle and then gives examples from his own experience as well as from the experience of other seasoned pastors. The book is easy to read and very engaging. The only difficulty in reading it lies in the fact that even though the reader reads from Scott’s perspective, its easy to disagree with Scott’s decisions. At times the reader may wonder if, as a leader, Scott would sacrifice individuals for the whole of the organization. But maybe that is what Scott means in his introduction when he quotes “Your Church will only grow to the level of your pain threshold.” As a leader of an organization in transition, hard decisions have to be made and not everyone will agree.

Whether or not the reader ends up agreeing with Scott on ever example, the overall principles laid out can be beneficial to any leader. The book is not a step by step manual in leading through transition, but it does force the reader to think and it arms him with principles to use as a foundation of transitional leadership.

I can’t promise that the reader will love every word in this book, but I would recommend it to any leader going through transition if for no other reason than to challenge their thinking.


Wednesday, March 17, 2010

They say that for every problem there is a solution which is simple, elegant, and wrong - these titles in science prove the point.

IgNobel prizes : the annals of improbable research    London : Orion, 2002  Marc Abrahams Science , Awards , Miscellanea Hardcover. 319 p. : ill., ports. ; 23 cm. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

For 10 years the august scientists of Harvard University have scoured the world’s research establishments for the most bizarre and weird real-life scientific research.

The Ig Nobel Prize honours individuals whose achievements in science cannot or should not be reproduced. 10 prizes are given to people who have done remarkably bizarre things in science over the previous year. The Ig Nobel Prize Ceremony is held in October. Prizes are awarded by genuine Nobel laureates.

The ‘Igs’ are intended to celebrate the unusual, honour the imaginative and shine a grubby spotlight onto the weird corners of laboratories around the world.

PAST WINNERS: Peter Fong’s experiment in which he fed Prozac to clams (Ig Nobel Biology Prize, 1998) on the basis that if they chilled out more they’d taste better.

Harold Hillman’s report on ‘The Possible Pain Experienced during Execution by Different Methods’ (Ig Nobel Peace Prize, 1997)

Jerald Bain and Kerry Siminoski’s examination of The Relationship among Height, Penile Length, and Foot Size (Ig Nobel Statistics Prize, 1998).

Masumi Wakita (Ig Nobel Psychology Prize, 1995) and their achievement in training pigeons to discriminate between the paintings of Picasso and those of Monet

Richard Seed (Ig Nobel Economics Prize, 1997) and his plan to clone himself and other human beings.

Ida Sabelis (Ig Nobel Biology 2000) for Magnetic resonance Imaging of Male and Female Genitals During Coitus and Female Sexual Arousal

The book will look behind the scenes of these landmark researchers and feature the weirdest research from a hundred years of science.

Reading the rocks : the autobiography of the earth    Cambridge, MA : Westview Press, a member of the Perseus Books Group, c 2005  Marcia Bjornerud Geology Hardcover. x, 237 p. ; 22 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 213-226) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

To many of us, the Earth’s crust is a relic of ancient, unknowable history. But to a geologist, stones are richly illustrated narratives, telling gothic tales of cataclysm and reincarnation. For more than four billion years, in beach sand, granite, and garnet schists, the planet has kept a rich and idiosyncratic journal of its past.

Fulbright Scholar Marcia Bjornerud takes the reader along on an eye-opening tour of Deep Time, explaining in elegant prose what we see and feel beneath our feet. Both scientist and storyteller, Bjornerud uses anecdotes and metaphors to remind us that our home is a living thing with lessons to teach.

She opines how our planet has long maintained a delicate balance, and how the global give-and-take has sustained life on Earth through numerous upheavals. But with the rapidly escalating effects of human beings on their home planet, that cosmic balance is being threatened—and the consequences may be catastrophic.

Containing a glossary and detailed timescale, as well as vivid descriptions and historic accounts, Reading the Rocks is literally a history of the world, for all friends of the Earth.

Symmetry : a journey into the patterns of nature    New York, NY : Harper, c 2008  Marcus du Sautoy Symmetry (Mathematics) Hardcover. “First published in Great Britain as Finding Moonshine in 2008 by Fourth Estate”, T.p. verso. 1st U.S. ed. and printing. 376 p. : ill. ; 24 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [355]-359) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Symmetry is all around us. Our eyes and minds are drawn to symmetrical objects, from the pyramid to the pentagon. Of fundamental significance to the way we interpret the world, this unique, pervasive phenomenon indicates a dynamic relationship between objects. In chemistry and physics, the concept of symmetry explains the structure of crystals or the theory of fundamental particles; in evolutionary biology, the natural world exploits symmetry in the fight for survival; and symmetry—and the breaking of it—is central to ideas in art, architecture, and music.

Combining a rich historical narrative with his own personal journey as a mathematician, Marcus du Sautoy takes a unique look into the mathematical mind as he explores deep conjectures about symmetry and brings us face-to-face with the oddball mathematicians, both past and present, who have battled to understand symmetry’s elusive qualities. He explores what is perhaps the most exciting discovery to date—the summit of mathematicians’ mastery in the field—the Monster, a huge snowflake that exists in 196,883-dimensional space with more symmetries than there are atoms in the sun.

What is it like to solve an ancient mathematical problem in a flash of inspiration? What is it like to be shown, ten minutes later, that you’ve made a mistake? What is it like to see the world in mathematical terms, and what can that tell us about life itself? In Symmetry, Marcus du Sautoy investigates these questions and shows mathematical novices what it feels like to grapple with some of the most complex ideas the human mind can comprehend.

Ice : the nature, the history, and the uses of an astonishing substance    New York : Knopf, 2005  Mariana Gosnell Ice Hardcover. 1st ed. x, 560 p. : ill. ; 25 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. 523-535) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Like the adventurer who circled an iceberg to see it on all sides, Mariana Gosnell, former Newsweek reporter and author of Zero Three Bravo, a book about flying a small plane around the United States, explores ice in all its complexity, grandeur, and significance.

More brittle than glass, at times stronger than steel, at other times flowing like molasses, ice covers 10 percent of the earth’s land and 7 percent of its oceans. In nature it is found in myriad forms, from the delicate needle ice that crunches underfoot in a winter meadow to the massive, centuries-old ice that forms the world’s glaciers. Scientists theorize that icy comets delivered to Earth the molecules needed to get life started, and ice ages have shaped much of the land as we know it.

Here is the whole world of ice, from the freezing of Pleasant Lake in New Hampshire to the breakup of a Vermont river at the onset of spring, from the frozen Antarctic landscape that emperor penguins inhabit to the cold, watery route bowhead whales take between Arctic ice floes. Mariana Gosnell writes about frostbite and about the recently discovered 5,000-year-old body of a man preserved in an Alpine glacier. She discusses the work of scientists who extract cylinders of Greenland ice to study the history of the earth’s climate and try to predict its future. She examines ice in plants, icebergs, icicles, and hail; sea ice and permafrost; ice on Mars and in the rings of Saturn; and several new forms of ice developed in labs. She writes of the many uses humans make of ice, including ice-skating, ice fishing, iceboating, and ice climbing; building ice roads and seeding clouds; making ice castles, ice cubes, and iced desserts.

Ice is a sparkling illumination of the natural phenomenon whose ebbs and flows over time have helped form the world we live in. It is a pleasure to read, and important to read—for its natural science and revelations about ice’s influence on our everyday lives, and for what it has to tell us about our environment today and in the future.

Measuring eternity : the search for the beginning of time    New York : Broadway Books, 2001  Martin Gorst Earth Age, Geological time Hardcover. 1st Broadway Books ed. and printing. 338 p. : ill. ; 20 cm. Includes bibliographical references (p. [311]-313) and index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining  or  marginalia in text. VG/VG

The untold story of the religious figures, philosophers, astronomers, geologists, physicists, and mathematicians who, for more than four hundred years, have pursued the answer to a fundamental question at the intersection of science and religion: When did the universe begin?

The moment of the universe’s conception is one of science’s Holy Grails, investigated by some of the most brilliant and inquisitive minds across the ages. Few were more committed than Bishop James Ussher, who lost his sight during the fifty years it took him to compose his Annals of all known history, now famous only for one date: 4004 b.c. Ussher’s date for the creation of the world was spectacularly inaccurate, but that didn’t stop it from being so widely accepted that it was printed in early twentieth-century Bibles. As writer and documentary filmmaker Martin Gorst vividly illustrates in this captivating, character-driven narrative, theology let Ussher down just as it had thwarted Theophilus of Antioch and many before him. Geology was next to fail the test of time. In the eighteenth century, naturalist Comte de Buffon, working out the rate at which the earth was supposed to have cooled, came up with an age of 74,832 years, even though he suspected this was far too low. Biology then had a go in the hands of fossil hunter Johann Scheuchzer, who alleged to have found a specimen of a man drowned at the time of Noah’s flood. Regrettably it was only the imprint of a large salamander.

And so science inched forward via Darwinism, thermodynamics, radioactivity, and, most recently, the astronomers at the controls of the Hubble space telescope, who put the beginning of time at 13.4 billion years ago (give or take a billion). Taking the reader into the laboratories and salons of scholars and scientists, visionaries and eccentrics, Measuring Eternity is an engagingly written account of an epic, often quixotic quest, of how individuals who dedicated their lives to solving an enduring mystery advanced our knowledge of the universe.

Civilization and the Limpet    Reading, Mass. : Perseus Books, c 1998  Martin Wells Marine animals Hardcover. First edition and printing. x, 209 p. ; 22 cm. Includes Index. Clean, tight and strong binding with clean dust jacket. No highlighting, underlining or marginalia in text. VG/VG

Written during a long sea voyage from England through the Mediterranean, Civilization and the Limpet unveils many fascinating phenomena of undersea life. Wells captures with exquisite detail how limpets, like bees, navigate by the stars; how the brainless sea urchin makes a myriad of critical survival decisions every day; how “deserted islands” teem with an incredible abundance of animal life; and why deep-diving whales never get the bends. Elegant and finely crafted, Civilization and the Limpet will enlighten, amuse, and awe anyone interested in the natural world.


True confessions of a cookbook addict

It’s true.  I am an addict.  While I love all books and read just about any type of book that catches my interest, cookbooks are at the top of the list.  I can’t walk by a table of new cookbooks in a bookstore or library, or that dusty cookbook in an antique store without stopping.  There seems to be no end in sight of new ways to use common ingredients or the techniques to make unusual ingredients worth trying.  Cookbooks are a reflection of how people lived and ate in the past.  It’s a history lesson that I never tire of!  The new cookbooks are recording our history for the future.  Here is a short list of some of my favorites, old and new. 

Martha Stewart’s Wedding Cakes

You can’t go wrong with Martha for beautiful photography and excellent recipes.

The Cake Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum

All of this baker’s books are full of lovely pictures and complete scientific information about baking.  She has many books about baking of all sorts

The Barefoot Contessa by Ina Garten

Ina is like a wonderful friend.  Her recipes are easy and very, very tasty!

The Food You Crave by Ellie Krieger

The author is a dietician.  Her books have simple, clear and healthy recipes that are worth craving!

Ad Hoc At Home by Thomas Keller

I love his books but have never tackled his recipes.

Cooking Light Cookbooks

These have gorgeous photographs and recipes that are quick and delicious.

Rachel Ray’s Cook Books

These books have fast recipes. I love her Vodka Cream Spaghetti sauce and many of her sandwich recipes are family favorites.

Cookwise  and Bakewise by Shirley Corriher

You will learn much from these books.  Shirley is a chemist and gives detailed explanations with each recipe.  Great resource books!

The Margaret Rudkin Pepperidge Farm Cookbook

The fist part of this book is a compelling narrative of how people cooked and ate in the early part of the last century.

The Betty Crocker Cookbook

I learned to cook from the 1975 edition and still use it today, it is held together with duct tape and rubber bands!

Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg

My Bread  by Jim Leahy

You must try both of these books and their methods! There are so many people who have never baked bread that are having great success with these methods. I am turning out breads that are just wonderful: deep flavors, superb crusts and no failures. The hard core “I can’t bake bread” people will never say that sentence again after making ONE batch.


The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Ninth Grade Slays by Heather Brewer

The Chronicles of Vladimir Tod: Ninth Grade Slays
by Heather Brewer
ISBN-13: 9-780142-413425
Rating: 4 ♥ / 5 ♥

If middle school stunk for Vladimir Tod, high school is a real drain. Besides being a punching bag for bullies, he’s still stalled with dream girl Meredith, and he’s being tailed by a photographer from the school newspaper. Needless to say, practicing his vampire skills hasn’t exactly been a priority for Vlad – until now. A monumental trip to Siberia with Uncle Otis is Vlad’s crash course in Vampire 101. Training alongside the most gifted vampires is exactly what Vlad needs to sharpen those mind-control skills he’s been avoiding. And he’d better get it right, because the battle brewing back home with the slayer who’s been stalking him could be Vlad’s last.


I definitely enjoyed Ninth Grade Slays more than Eighth Grade Bites. I felt the plot really picked up and the characters were more developed (as they should be in a sequel).

Heather Brewer’s writing is still just as intriguing in this second book as it is in the first, although I still don’t like the massive time jumps (maybe I’m just used to my books taking place in short periods of time). Heather manages to portray Vlad as a normal teenager – with some extra abilities and blood sucking thrown in. She lets us see a bit more into the secondary characters of the book, such as Henry and Otis, and the plot for this second novel was more suspenseful and introduces the overall plot of the series. Loose ends were wrapped up nicely, yet a sufficient amount of questions were left to address in the forthcoming books.

Some of the surprises in the book I saw coming a mile away, but that may just be because of my age. A younger reader might be completely shocked with some of the revelations in the end (regarding the slayer hunting Vlad). Even though I had guessed, I still got that smug satisfaction when I was proved right; I love guessing plot points before they happen!

Vlad is a great character, and these books are definitely entertaining – I’m hooked. I really like Heather’s vampire society and hope we get to see more of the Councils and how the vampire world works. There’s a great base set up for an epic plot and I hope she pulls out all the stops.




Monday, March 15, 2010

McLaren 8: The Future Question, can we find a better way of viewing the future?

*** This is part of an ongoing series on Brian McLaren’s A New Kind of Christianity


The Future Question: Can we find a better way of viewing the future?

Brian’s 7th question is eschatological, a question of how we view the future and end times.  I’ll just put it out here at the beginning that I’m not a dispensationalist, nor do I expect to be suddenly raptured into the heavens to escape a tribulation any time soon.  That all seems a bit ridiculous to me, to tell you the truth.  I assume Daniel and Ezekiel were writing about the antichrists of their time and the temple rebuilt then (rather than the temple-after-the-temple that Dispensationalists today expect), and John was writing about Rome.  The whole Rapture/Trib thing just isn’t in the text.  I’ve written about it some before. I grew up on a steady diet of the Left Behind series, and have in fact read every one.  I obsessed over Revelation.  Like any good Evangelical boy, I even praying when I was 10 years old to Jesus asking if he could hold off on coming back until after I had had sex one day.  I bought every word!

Lately, authors such a N.T. Wright have (who describes the rapture eschatology as “cartoonish” in Surprised by Hope) done incredible work bringing back into focus the ancient Christian doctrine of the end times.  Popular as it is, Wright highlights how this Rapture doctrine is largely a novelty of 20th century American theology.  In fact, you won’t find hardly any Biblical scholars who buy the whole rapture/tribulation gig.  There’s just nothing ancient about it.  Thank god.

So now that I’ve gotten my biases out there…

So with that, I was eager to check out McLaren’s view on this, as I know he gets asked about this a lot.  He begins outlining Dispensationalism’s beginnings in the 1830s and its popularization via the Scofield Reference Bible since 1909 on.  Since then, it has taken over to the point that so many Christians consider it orthodox, ancient theology.  And with it came speculation that every world leader we don’t like could be the antichrist (recall the 2008 election and how many church leaders were unapologetically speculating one of the candidates was it).

When I was first realizing that this wasn’t even in the Bible, I immediately realized how this whole tribulation/end-of-the-world narrative, especially when combined with a belief in a literal hell, caused us to abandon so much of God’s work in the world.  As  McLaren also notes (and I’ve actually heard Christians make these arguments):

If the world is about to end, why care for the environment?  Why worry about global climate change or peak oil?  Who gives a rip for endangered species or sustainable economies or global poverty if God is planning to incinerate the whole planet soon anyway?… If God has predetermined that the world will get worse and worse until it ends in a cosmic megaconflict between the forces of Light (epitomized most often in the United States) and the forces of Darkness (previously centered in communism, but now, that devil having been vanquished, in Islam), why waste energy on peacemaking, diplomacy or interreligious dialogue?  Aren’t those simply endeavors in rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic?

One thing McLaren talked about when a group of us met with him last year was that we should perhaps test our theologies (when trying to choose between different interpretations of a vague text) by considering how it would play out if we replicated the type of God we believe in (sort of like a theological spin on Kant’s Categorical Imperative).  In this case, if God is intent on destroying the world with fire and showing no mercy to most of its inhabitants, then what would it look like if we were to emulate our god?  Not too pretty.  Definitely not too peaceful, merciful, ethical, or loving.

What McLaren’s main point seems to be in this chapter is asking us to consider whether reality is static, set, a closed system that is predetermined, or instead a fluid, dynamic system of free-will and call and response.  A god who is soul-sorting into the damnation or salvation bins is good news for me if I am on the list, but a dynamic God working to heal and reconcile everything is pretty good news for everyone (except, perhaps, for the vilest of holdouts who stubbornly wish for losers to lose in the end).

When Jesus predicted the Antichrist would come to Jerusalem, destroy the temple, and wreak havoc on that generation, I assume this did in fact happen (in 70 A.D.).  But that was not the fixed end of days.  It was a chance for the people of God to again pick up and choose again.  McLaren points out that the phrase “the second coming of Christ” never appears in the Bible, but parousia does, a term meaning “presence” or “coming alongside of.”  It’s the idea that god is here in us, in the world, calling us to participate.  And we can make the world better or more divided.  I like where McLaren is going with this, but I would have liked for him to flush out a bit more on whether he expects a literal return of Christ or sees the parousia as the ultimate coming of the Spirit into the world.

McLaren finishes the chapter with a quote from renowned theologian Jurgen Moltmann:

The Message of the new righteousness which eschatological faith brings into the world says that in fact the executioners will not finally triumph over their victims.  It also says that in the end the victims will not triumph over their executioners.  The one [Jesus] will triumph who first did for the victims and then also for the executioners, and in sod oing revealed a new righteousness which breaks through the vicious circles of hate and vengeance and which, from the victims and executioners, creates… a new humanity.


"The Sage of Synchronicity" weirdness

A lot of weirdness, contradictions, and plain lack of clarity and focus…

“Sometimes these projections can come in the form of intense psychic
attacks. In my case, I was repeatedly sexually attacked as an
infant by an elderly female relative. She had experienced much sexual
abuse herself, and the idea of a male baby growing up to be an empowered man was abhorrent to her psyche. She also had unmet
sexual needs, which she projected onto me. But the universe wasn’t
content to see me psychically abused by just one puny human. Seven
generations ago on my father’s side of the family, an ancestor of mine
contracted a sexual disease.

The intense shame of this got transferred onto his children, right
down the line to my generation of the family. Though the gonorrhea
has long gone, the shaming energy persists. To this day I have to
maintain vigilant work on this energy, as my father’s spirit still projects
the shame of it at me and other family members.

This is an unconscious way to control the energy of the family consciousness field. I have repeatedly passed on the message to
the old bastard that he is dead, and that he should start acting that
way. Unfortunately, listening was never his strong point. It is not only
consciousness that transcends the death of the body. Unconsciousness goes with you as well.”


"The Sage of Synchronicity" top points

“The fact is that it’s very difficult to rise above the dominant beliefs
and attitudes of your culture. You really need to see things from a distance. You need to see the big picture. You are part of the evolution of the consciousness of the human race, and of the universe. You must
appreciate that this is a unique moment in history, and the present is
just one of many possible futures that could have unfolded from the

“The growing child’s mind, including its sense of self, is plastic: it will tend to take on whatever messages are given to it by the outside world. It doesn’t know any better. For the child, acceptance and approval are ultimately a life and death issue, because it is helpless and completely dependent upon its parents for support. Rejection by the parents may mean abandonment, and death.

This is how we become conditioned into seeking approval from others.
Ironically, it is those who fail to get approval as children who tend
to have the greatest need in adulthood to give their power away to
others by seeking their approval. It is the fear of rejection and abandonment which lies at the heart of this disempowering process.”


Friday, March 12, 2010

What Is On Your Reading List???

What are you reading? What did you know about the book before reading? Many years ago I asked a friend if he had read a recent best seller. His answer was that with all the classics out there he had no time for “fiction.”  He was an attorney and I was tempted to ask about the “fiction” in his legal briefs.  Though I disagree with his comment it got me to thinking about what books we read and why.

Below is an article by Carolyn Mahaney originally posted on her blog “Girl Talk” entitled My Eight-Year Reading List

After dinner on a recent date night, my husband and I wandered into a Barnes and Noble—not an uncommon leisure activity for the two of us. I flipped through a book on the new release table and came across a ten-year reading plan at the back of the book. Hmmm…that’s a good idea, I thought. I’m always reading–commentaries, books on women’s issues, doctrine and the Christian life, and even the occasional history or classic novel–but I want to have a long-term plan to make sure I’m reading the most valuable spiritual classics.

So on our way out, I asked CJ (whose appetite for devouring books ever inspires me!) to give me a reading plan for what he considered the most important spiritual books to read in my lifetime.

Several days ago he handed me this list:

Knowing God by JI Packer
The Holiness of God by RC Sproul
The Cross of Christ by John Stott
When I Don’t Desire God by John Piper
The Discipline of Grace by Jerry Bridges
The Gospel for Real Life by Jerry Bridges
Holiness by JC Ryle
Instruments in the Redeemer’s Hands by Paul Tripp

Though I’ve read parts of almost all of these books, I’ve not benefited as I know I will if I read them from cover to cover. So, I’m going to line these books up on my shelf and start reading. Let’s see…..eight books, at one per year; I should be finished by 2016. God willing, I’ll finish these books and ask CJ for another reading list. 

 The beginning of this article could have been written by me as my husband and I often find ourselves in book stores. The first month we were married Greg was late coming home one night. As time went on I became concerned and called the library at Austin Peay State University as he had gone there to check out a book for a Masters class he was taking. The librarian answered and let me know he had left at closing time…… for almost 20 years now we have learned when we are late it usually has something to do with books.

I trust you will become more volitional in your choice of books old and new!


The picture above is of The C.J. Mahaney Family. Picturing Carolyn her husband and children and gradchildren.



Cathy Maxwell - The Marriage Ring is a touching story...

‘The Marriage Ring’ is a touching story about love and trust between two people very much alone in the world. This books takes an overworked, stoic man and pits him against and independent, experienced woman – let me tell you… the sparks are going to fly!

The woman who will one day wear Richard Lynsted’s ring will be genteel, dainty, and well-bred.

This eliminates Grace MacEachin on all three counts. A hellion of the first order, the alluring, infuriating woman would be nothing more than a passing temptation to an upstanding gentleman like Richard – if it weren’t for the fact that she’s trying to blackmail his father!

Or, as Grace sees it, trying to get justice – and maybe just the slightest hint of revenge on the family that tore her life asunder when she was just a girl. And as for Lynsted, well, the stuffy, humorless man wouldn’t suffer for time spent in company more exciting than that of his company ledgers. Only when Richard gets Grace alone, she discovers he may know a thing or two about excitement after all . . .

This book is an interesting tale of discovery, matching two very unlikely characters in a battle of stubborn wills. But this battle turns to a love that neither one expects  and a story that leaves the reader with a pleasant smile on their face. It is an odd romantic story, no less sweet, but a strange progression to love and perhaps a little rushed. You do feel the characters getting to know each other better – something I liked about this book.  I often read books where you don’t get a sense of growth between the leading characters and their love then seems too forced. Cathy does not let us down with her loving tale.

Richard, our hero, is a rare breed; a celibate man with a hidden sensual side, a mix of naivety and daring. He is intelligent and hardworking but also carries an air of innocence that I have never seen before in a romance novel. I had a hard time warming up to him… just my personal taste as I like the strong, dominant male types in my stories.

He is a good match for our bold, independent heroine Grace. She is full of fire and spunk and takes it from no one. But a troubled past and a lot of heartache has left her unable to trust, just the ticket when she is traveling in a carriage with a straight-laced man who keeps telling himself he wants nothing to do with her… but we all know what he is really thinking…

The love scenes in this book are tame but loving, great for those who don’t like the graphic descriptions found in some other books. I would give this book a 5 out of 10 on my Sexy Scale. (10 being very graphic in sexy content – 1 being so tame there isn’t even a real kiss… ok, well maybe a chaste one)

Overall, this story was a mild tale that missed the mark on my excitement scale. If a book is “light on the love” it needs to be strong in plot to hold a readers interest. That being said, I would still recommend Cathy Maxwell as an author.  I give this book a 7 out of 10 overall. I have read at least half of her books and thoroughly enjoyed them all. Check out Cathy’s website for a list of all her books.


Description, description, description

So a short post, just because I’ve already written 6 pages today on my novel.  This may not seem like a lot, but when you are a stay-at-home mom of a 2 1/2 year old, time and energy are significantly reduced.  I was thinking about my last post and the balance between dialogue and description.  Specifically, what makes for good description.

Description helps the reader to understand and imagine the writer’s world.  It creates a sense of character and place.  For me, as a reader, I sometimes find descriptive passages too tedious–both in classics and in current literature/writing.  Sometimes I just want to “get to the good part” and it seems as though description impedes this.  This can be the downfall of being overly descriptive–it serves no purpose for the plot or characters and actually detracts from them.

When I think about writers who utilize description well, Sandra Cisneros and William Carlos Williams come to mind.  Cisneros’ The House on Mango Street is striking for its vivid, indeed poetic, descriptions.  Through a series of linked vignettes, Cisneros paints characters with precise, vivid language.  The bittersweetness of their stories leaves a tangible ache in your bones.  Williams does the some in his poems.  Again, it is the precision of language, sparse yet sharp and vivid, that leaves the reader with indelible images.

Here’s to concise, vivid descriptions.

If you haven’t already read either of these writers, go to your nearest library.  You’re in for a treat.


Wednesday, March 10, 2010

SUFFERING AND THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD - John Piper & Justin Taylor, Ed (2006)

The only one who has taught me more about the sovereignty of God than John Piper is Jonathan Edwards.  Dr. Piper does not disappoint in this edited work.  The chapters are compiled in a series of transcripts from the 2005 Desiring God Conference, Suffering and the Sovereignty of God.  This review serves as a summary of some noteworthy chapters.

Piper’s opening chapter unfolds ten aspects of God’s sovereignty over suffering and Satan’s role in it.  He points the reader to the eternal and infinite God; a God who stands in sharp contrast to the finite and contingent creature.  The insight that Piper offers in this chapter are simply breathtaking.

Dr. Mark Talbot pens one of the most helpful and beneficial chapters on compatibalism to date.  The doctrine affirms that God ordains everything that comes to pass and also affirms that agents make free, responsible choices.  God never does evil, but he does in fact ordain or decree evil.  Talbot’s explanations are philosophically and theologically satisfying and are expressed with warm pastoral concern.  Pretty good work for a philosophy professor!  Dr. Talbot’s chapter is worth the price of the book.

Steve Saint poignantly describes the murder of his father, Nate Saint and shares his personal pain as a child and the events that God used to soften his heart and make him usable vessel in God’s kingdom.

There are so many rich nuggets in this volume.  Read it and be prepared for the difficult days ahead. Suffering and the Sovereignty of God is a welcome addition to students taking the Veritas course, Mending the Achilles Heel: A Biblical Response to the Problem of Evil.

4.5 stars


"John Ploughman's Talk" by C.H. Spurgeon

“John Ploughman’s Talk” by C.H. Spurgeon is a down to earth, witty, and swarthy collection of lessons for common people. With selections entitled Idleness, Gossip, Try, and Ignorant People, C.H. Spurgeon’s “Talk” is a fountain of good advice offered in an agreeable and understandable language. “Dont’ count your chickens before they’re hatched,” and “Try, try again,” are just some of the oldstyle anthems used throughout the book. Appropriate for old and young alike, it can be especially poignant for children just entering the working age.

Gist: very highly recommended.


Book Review: <em>The Case For God</em> by Karen Armstrong

Author: Karen Armstrong
Title: The Case for God
Publication Info: Random House Audio (2009), Edition: Unabridged, Audio CD
ISBN: 0307702375


From the title this book appears to be an apologetic approach to theism.  Close but not quite.  Karen Armstrong in fact writes an history of religious belief and practice (and the parallel growth of atheism) from prehistoric cave paintings to postmodern philosophers.  While mostly focused on Western thought – and Christianity within that – Armstrong manages to incorporate a lot of world religion which makes a massive topic for a short book.  And yet it’s chock full of fascinating tidbits and connections I’ve never made.

Armstrong’s main points in this book are that literalism – both that which is insisted upon by religious conservatives and railed against by their anti-theist opponents – is a relatively modern phenomenon.    Historically practice trumped belief and our fore-bearers would not comprehend the all-or-nothing approach of today’s religious adherents.

I’m not going to admit that I understood it all, but I did enjoy Armstrong’s writing and ideas and would like to read more of her work.

Favorite Passages:

A good creation myth did not describe an event in the distant past but told people something essential about the present. It reminded them that things often had to get worse before they got better, that creativity demanded self-sacrifice and heroic struggle, and that everybody had to work hard to preserve the energies of the cosmos and establish society on a sound foundation. A creation story was primarily therapeutic. – p. 16

Fundamentalism — be it Jewish, Christian, or Muslim — nearly always begins as a defensive movement; it is usually a response to a campaign of coreligionists or fellow countrymen that is experienced as inimical and invasive. – p. 271

Thus the cosmologist Paul Davies speaks of his delight in science with its unanswered, and, perhaps, unanswerable questions …. Davies has confessed “It may seem bizarre, but in my opinion, science offers a surer path to God than religion.”  He is still asking the primordial question: Why is there something rather than nothing? – p. 310

The ideal society should be based on charity rather than truth.  In the past, [Gianni] Vattimo recalls, religious truth generally emerged from people interacting with others rather than by papal edict.  Vattimo recalls Christ’s saying, “When two or three are gathered in my name, I will be in the midst of them,” and the classic hymn, “Where there is love, there is also God.” – p. 314

Recommended books:
Rating: ***


Monday, March 8, 2010

Atlantis Found

Cussler, Clive.  Atlantis Found.  New York:  Berkley, 2001.  Print.

When a small town mine owner finds evidence of an ancient civilization buried in an old mine shaft, regional experts are called in.  Soon though, they find their lives in jeopardy; someone wants the secrets of the ancients to stay hidden.

Clive Cussler is always a good standby for adventure, and Atlantis Found is no exception.  Fast-paced and catchy, Dirk Pitt and his sidekick Al have come to the rescue again!


Living Dead Girl by Elizabeth Scott

 “Once upon a time, I did not live in Shady Pines. Once upon a time, my name was not Alice. Once upon a time, I didn’t know how lucky I was.”

When Alice was 10, Ray stole her away from her parents. She’s now 15, and thinks he is growing tired of her. Constantly living in a state of fear, she doesn’t doubt her death lays ahead of her.  She welcomes it. However, what Ray actually has in mind for her is much worse; he wants her to find him a new Alice, a much younger girl for his exploits. A new girl will likely mean death for Alice, which will end her pain, but can she force her life on someone else?

Living Dead Girl is an emotionally difficult read, made more so by the intentionally stylized writing. Elizabeth Scott writes in short, quick sentences, spoken only from Alice’s point of view. It is highly effective at expressing Alice’s thoughts and connecting the reader to the story. Alice is such a compelling character and Scott does an amazing job at connecting readers to a story that is not only difficult to tell, but goes beyond the capacity of our imaginations. It is a quick read, but very haunting. This book does have a significant amount of violence and sex, and the topics (pedophilia, rape, abuse, abduction) might be very uncomfortable for some readers. Nonetheless, it is an incredibly significant story.

You might like Living Dead Girl if you enjoy books with: stylized writing, quick to read, fast paced plots, emotionally provocative storylines

Other books by Elizabeth Scott: Bloom, Perfect You, The Unwritten Rule, Stealing Heaven, Something, Maybe, Love You Hate You Miss You

If you enjoyed Living Dead Girl you might also like: Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson, Touching Snow by Sindy M. Felin, Boy Toy by Barry Lyga, Leftovers by Laura Wiess, Wintergirls by Laurie Halse Anderson and Such a Pretty Girl by Laura Wiess

Additional Info: Awards include YALSA Best Book for YA (2009), BCCB Blue Ribbon Award (2008), ABC Best Books for Children (2008) – for more see author website

Author Website found here.

Rating: W4/4   C4/4   P4/4   O4/4   PP2.5/4   CR2/4

Grade: S




Why am I hiding behind my camera?

When I signed up for Facebook, I was immediately “faced” with a huge problem: I had no photos of my face. None. That was because I was always behind the camera instead of in front of it. I took pictures of my friends, my kids, my kids with my husband, my kids with my parents or parents-in-law or other relatives or classmates.

(Occasionally, my feet or arms wound up in the picture, too, but there wasn’t a single photo of my face. That’s a big problem on Facebook because people want to see, well, your face. After all, it’s not called “Armbook” or “Footbook.”)

I thought about this recently when I read the novel The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw. One of the main characters, Midas Crook, hides behind his camera. He is a socially inept man who prefers to view the world through his camera lens.

It’s safer there.

His one romantic relationship ended when he realized that he was only attracted to the version of the woman he had caught on film, not the living and breathing woman that she was when his camera was put away. Instead of social interaction, he has film and black-and-white photos and people reduced to what slow light and silver nitrate make them.

People are easier to deal with when they are flat and two-dimensional.

3-D people can be disturbing: knowing all three dimensions of them forces me to share all three dimensions of myself. Scary.

Recently, a friend remarked that she enjoyed my blog posts because I’m so “transparent.” I’d love to think that I really am transparent, that my blog readers know the real me, that my life is an open book.

Sure, my life is an open book . . . in a foreign language.

All too often, I’ve hidden myself from other people. I hide . . .

  • behind a camera because being in front of it means I might be captured in an unflattering pose;
  • behind a book (either someone else’s or my own) because characters in a book are easier to deal with than real life people;
  • behind a computer screen, “connected” on the Internet, because it’s easier to connect with other people when I can disconnect with them just as easily by shutting down the computer.

An actual person won’t go away if I click a mouse or turn a page or delete a photo on my digital camera. Like Midas Crook, I often prefer two-dimensional people to three-dimensional, and for the same reason: intimately knowing others can be terrifying.

About halfway through the book, Midas has an epiphany:

He imagined dying and being cut open and there were all his bones and muscles and his bared arteries and capillaries leading to a cavity in his chest where, instead of a heart, he had his camera.

For too long, he has defined himself and others by photography; now he must decide if he is willing to take the risk of setting aside his camera and learning to love other people.

What would an autopsy show within me: a camera … a book … a computer… or a heart?

What would it show within you?

More to the point, what are you going to do about it?

Even more to the point, why are you still on the Internet? Shut down that computer and go talk to a real person.


Friday, March 5, 2010

Book Review - Voices: Memoirs from Herstory, Vol. 2

Vol. 2, Fall 2009.  Voices: Memoirs from Herstory Inside Suffolk County Correctional Facilities. Various Authors, Herstory Writers Workshop, Inc., paperback, 107 pages, $14.95.

The Herstory Writers Workshop’s goal is to provide incarcerated women “opportunities through guided memoir writing that empower women from all walks of life . . . to turn their intimate stories into works of art crafted so that others can hear.”  In this, their second published collection, there are approximately thirty short true stories (many in letter format, addressed to their former abusers, family members, etc.) addressing such topics as addiction, violence against women, and the bond between incarcerated parents and their children.

The founder of Herstory, Erika Duncan, writes a four page introduction in which she implores the reader not to immediately ask “What did that person (the author) do” that lead to her imprisonment.  Instead, we are implored to ask what has happened to these women in their pasts, and what can they teach us.  Perhaps the authors were also told not to write about or focus on such things as their guilt, the crimes they committed, or what lead to their imprisonment, because none of the stories make any mention of victims of the criminal acts of the authors (however, the authors are quick to point out how they are victims) or what crimes the authors committed, with the exception of a few who vaguely talk about being in jail for drug related offenses.   Instead, the reader is treated to some truly horrific stories of past abuse, addiction, and familial betrayals, many of which contain revolting imagery.

The stories in this publication average between two to three pages.  They are prefaced by a short introduction from the editor, and provide a little background on the author of each piece.  Sticking to Herstory’s number one rule of non-judgment, these intros typically list the positive attributes of each writer, and never discuss the crimes committed by the writer.  The stories can be incredibly graphic in the recounting of physical/sexual abuse (particularly unsettling was a story from a former prostitute who graphically described the aftermath of waking up after a night of performing sexual favors in the quest for crack money).  They are not for the squeamish.

There is one particular portion of this publication that stuck out to me when I read it.  In the editor’s short introduction of the author of each piece, she sometimes mentions boyfriends or family members that have physically or sexually abused the author in the past.  None of these introductions give any background of the accused abuser, until the introduction of author Angelita Peete on page eighty-seven.  Ms. Peete, we are told, was “horribly and repeatedly sexually and physically abused by her mother’s career military husband” starting at the time she was eight years old.  I can see no reason why the editor chose to mention the occupation of this one alleged abuser.  Perhaps she feels the military trains soldiers to be better at abuse than other members of the general public.  Whatever her reasoning, I found the inclusion of this man’s occupation to be unnecessary and insulting to the armed forces, and I suspect if a survey of all the alleged abusers in this publication was taken, “social programs recipient” would rank much higher on the list of occupations than “military.”

I can see value in this publication for law libraries and law schools that have strong women’s studies programs, or for the criminal justice field.  At only $14.95, it’s not a huge investment.  Just be prepared for graphic imagery and understand the purpose of the book.

Lance Burke, Reference/Access Services Librarian, Elon School of Law


**The Lace Reader by Brunonia Barry (2006 paperback)

Oooh.  This is one of those books that requires a second read.  You get to the end and viola! you realize you missed a lot of clues along the way.  I had to read some discussions online to get all my questions answered, and now I’m in the process of rereading.  This is a mystery and a family story that takes place in Salem, Mass.  Towner Whitney, the main character and the narrator for much of the book, comes back to Salem when her great-aunt disappears.  In seeking the truth about Eva (the great-aunt), Towner also discovers much about her own past and her immediate family.  Since this is a mystery, I can’t include any spoilers, thus I can’t say too much about the story.  Trust me, it’s good.  Maybe a bit slow taking off, but once into it, I had a hard time putting it down.  Now that I know what happens, I’m sure the beginning would be more compelling the second time through.  (fiction)


Pride/Prejudice: a novel of Mr. Darcy, Elizabeth Bennet, and Their Forbidden Lovers by Ann Herendeen

In the acknowledgments, Herendeen calls her work the “spawn of its author’s imagination,” and though I enjoyed reading it, I’m inclined to agree with her word choice. The book’s premise is that Darcy, Bingley, Elizabeth, and Charlotte are bi-sexual, and while that idea alone takes it out of Austen’s world, many of the circumstances and descriptions take it out of any world of refinement and civility.

“Fitz,” for instance, plans to marry Caroline, and Bingley to marry Georgiana, which is not so different from their initial stances in Austen’s original, except that Darcy and Bingley are already in a loving, sexual relationship with each other, which makes any marriage to sisters seem incestuous. The incest continues with Darcy’s idea that, when he marries Caroline, Mrs. Hurst will be available to him as well, as part of a package deal of sorts. The history of Darcy and Wickham’s relationship is altered by the bi element here, which means that Darcy, his little sister, his future wife, and her little sister were all drawn, at one time or another, to the same man. Without ruining too much, I’ll just say that multiple members of that list are “involved” with Wickham within hours of each other.

Phrasing, too, seems to put this text at odds with Austen’s. In the opening scene, Fitz quotes the first line of Pride and Prejudice as his own words and proceeds to perform fellatio on Bingley. Probably not how Austen envisioned the line, but who knows for sure? On the third night of Jane’s visit to Netherfield, Bingley is back to business, and the narrator describes him as “lying in Fitz’s arms, sweaty and dirty and so adorable Fitz could have licked him clean for the sheer joy of soiling him all over again.” I’m no prude, but does anyone else feel dirty even reading this line? Worse, however, are the lines that characters say in this book that we know they would never have said in Austen’s. Darcy, for instance, tells his little sister that she will “do very well, so long as [she] repress[es her] childish desire to show off” (since when is she a show-off?) because, after all, “young gentlemen don’t like a clever female.” By comparison, even vulgar puns (“Charles rejecting balls, of all absurd things—what had been, only a couple of weeks ago, his favorite pastime”) are of little import.

Yet vulgar expressions disturb nonetheless when they feel completely gratuitous. When Elizabeth visits Hunsford, for instance, and reaches out to her former lover, Charlotte is described as pushing Elizabeth’s “hand violently away . . . like a girl of twelve pawed by her drunken uncle.” Ew. That image was hardly necessary. You judge if the description of Darcy’s masturbation—“he let loose again, another long white string”—helps you understand the characters any better than you would without it. Henry Tilney gets dragged into the den of iniquity to which Darcy belongs (to leave it, he has to submit to the administrations of all the “Brothers”  “during the course of a long afternoon”), and Elizabeth just happens to walk by a bedchamber with a door that conveniently “had swung free from the jamb a few inches” just as Darcy prepares to enter Bingley.

Elizabeth’s witnessing of this event does not disturb her, and, as you know must happen, when Darcy and she fall in love, their passion is equally fervent.  I will leave you to discover how Darcy interacts with Wickham when Darcy goes to save Lydia, how Darcy interacts with Bingley after their marriages to the Bennet sisters, and how much—and when—innocent Jane really knows about the man she loves.


Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Stealing Henry: A Chick Lit Wednesday Review

The night Savannah brains her stepfather Jack with the frying pan is the night she decides to leave home for good. It doesn’t matter that she has no money and her eight-year-old brother Henry to take care of. It doesn’t even matter that her stepfather will probably follow them. Savannah can stand a few obstacles as well as she can a slap or two. What she can’t stand is the idea of becoming like her mother Alice.

Alice used to be someone Savannah admired, someone she could look up to. But that was  another life when Alice was still looking for her own future and finding nothing she expected.

Savannah’s life wasn’t always about listening before entering a room and not making eye contact or talking back. Her childhood homes could fill a road atlas. Savannah and Alice traveled all across the country before the fateful day their car broke down and the party stopped for good.

Savannah and Henry are journeying to a house they’ve never seen. Eighteen years ago certain events conspired to drive Alice to leave that same house for good; events that would eventually determine the course of both Alice and Savannah’s lives in Stealing Henry (2005) by Carolyn MacCullough.

Stealing Henry draws readers in right from the beginning with a shocking opening line and a truly evocative cover (designed by Rodrigo Corral–the mastermind behind the US covers for the Uglies series). Nothing about Savannah’s life is easy and it’s simple to assume reading about her won’t be either. But the opposite is true. MacCullough’s lyrical prose pulls readers in, quickly making Savannah and her unreal life completely believable.

Even passing scenes of the local emergency room, Alice’s current place of employ, are skillfully written with a high degree of authenticity. Everything about this story is evocative and compelling.

I read Stealing Henry shortly after the van incident and a generally not peaceful time in my own life. Reading about Savannah and her own journey was somehow entirely appropriate for that situation and often comforting. Much like MacCullough’s later novels, this story is always optimistic. Even at her lowest, Savannah remains hopeful; the writing itself becoming both peaceful and reassuring.

Possible Pairings: How to (un)Cage a Girl by Francesca Lia Block, The Secret Life of Prince Charming by Deb Caletti, The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald, North of Beautiful by Justina Chen Headley, The Bride’s Farewell by Meg Rosoff, Little Voice by Sara Bareilles (music album)


review: hear no evil

DISCLAIMER: I received this book in the mail for free to review. I wrote in the margins and dog-eared the pages. I will not be sending it back.

I’ve got a special shrine/shelf set aside as my homage to the Collected Works of Matthew Paul Turner. I now need  new slot for his latest, HEAR NO EVIL (copyright 2010, Waterbrook Press), where Thew is able to capture a part of his eye-opening faith-stretching encounter with contemporary Christian music and culture.

All kidding aside (well, most kidding aside), I’ve enjoyed Matt’s writing over the years and this book continues the appreciation for me. This time we’ve been invited to join him on the journey from fundamentalist no-rock-and-roll-or-syncopated-beats-in-this-house-young-man to wow-there’s-more-out-there-than-hymnals-and-polyester. I’m a few years ahead in my own CCM learning curve, but the artists and music Matt draws from are near and dear to my heart as well. More than that, though, it was interesting to see that this book wasn’t so much about the music as it was about the cultural changes Matt lived out in discovering himself and discovering music along the way. Someone tweeted that he needed to have a HNO Mix on iTunes – a good idea I agree, but for the most part, there weren’t lots of songs pulled or named after the first few chapters. It was more of a vibe, more of an awakening going on in Young Matt, with music being both a seed and the soil for the growth he’s trying to transcribe.

I’ve always liked Matt’s turn of phrase, and have found that he’s one of the best contemporary authors for pulling completely random contextless quotes that are chock-full of meaning and snark:

  • “You don’t get to have crabs very often” – p30 [tweet]
  • “For a lot of Christians, their imaginations are liabilities, like the five senses and genitals” – p51 [tweet]
  • “But there was one consistent thread of grace in our lives, a trail we could follow all the way back to when our memories began: music. Music reminded us that we could trust God even when ‘his people’ failed us.” – p201

The sentiment of that last quote runs deep throughout the book, but I’m most grateful that it appears in a chapter on Amy Grant that so closely parallels my own walk through those waters (wow, this post is four years old)… it gave me yet another touchpoint to Matthew and his life growing up and discovering grace. The book as a whole works, but that chapter for me took it to another plane, and really makes it stick out in the Matthew Paul Turner catalog for me.

Most joking aside (again), if you’ve spent time reading CCM magazine or rushing to your local Christian Book & Music store each week for the latest releases or you’ve worked as a DJ at a low-powered AM radio station in mid-market Columbia, SC – then this book will feel like someone’s telling your story. Different characters, different scene locations, but the same soundtrack.


Monday, March 1, 2010

Book Review - Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

For some reason, I never thought a great deal of Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? until now, more than ten years after I first read it. There was always something perplexing, even troubling, about the book as a whole. I didn’t like or understand the stuff about Mercerism, and I felt the action scenes in the book to be inferior to those in the film Blade Runner, which was famously based on this strange little book. But now, on perhaps my fourth overall reading in ten years,  I’ve changed my mind.

The first thing that struck me about Androids this time was its simplicity of structure. At a little over two hundred pages, and with all the events taking place on the same day, PKD employs two main viewpoint characters and two only: Rick Deckard and J.R. Isidore. This austerity seems especially stark when compared to the book of PKD’s I mostly recently read before this: the unruly Doctor Bloodmoney. The second notable thing about Androids is the high-brow, even scholarly tone adopted herein, which sets it apart from most of this authors other books. SF critic and writer Stanislaw Lem once labelled this novel ‘a counterfeit coin,’ feeling that it paled in comparison with Ubik. I used to think I knew what Lem meant by this, but now I’m not so sure. What I see here is an enjoyable, fast-moving police thriller that economically (even effortlessly) meditates on the nature of the real in a more immediate way than in, say, the slower paced The Man in the High Castle.

In the aftermath of World War Terminus, Earth is a shambles. Most of the survivors have emigrated to the Martian colonies, and most of those who survive are ’specials’ or ‘chickenheads’ whose genetic code has been scrambled by the radiation. J.R. Isidore is one of these. I should point out here that PKD has basically exported Isidore from the earlier (but then unpublished) Confessions of a Crap Artist. There and here, he is an idiot savant with a good heart. Here he works for a Vet Clinic that specialises in repairing false animals. Strangely, and only barely logically, almost all of the Earth’s animals are extinct. Those that remain are highly sought after, status symbols in themselves. Sidney’s catalogue lists the prices and availability of all creatures great and small, many of whom are thought to be no more.

It is for this reason that Rick Deckard and his wife Iran have an electric sheep on their balcony. The electric sheep is far cheaper than a real one, but Rick Deckard longs for the real thing. In the first chapter, we learn that that won’t be possible unless two things happen. One, he will need to retire a vast number of ‘andys’ (Blade Runner’s replicants), and Two, another bounty hunter, Dave Holden, will need to be out of the way. Both of these things come to pass in chapter two, which helps to cast a little light onto the economical (but very effective) plotting at work in this novel.

What follows for the bulk of the narrative is Rick Deckard’s work day, a day in which he must try to do the unthinkable and ‘retire’ all six remaining Nexus 6 andys. A few of the scenes, such as the one where Deckard interviews Rachel Rosen and identifies her as an andy, are familiar from Blade Runner, but others, including perhaps the best in the whole novel, were omitted from the film. The scene I refer to is one where Deckard is arrested and taken to a fake police station, complete with a fake police chief but, crucially, a human officer who isn’t in on the plot. That officer, Phil Resch, comes to question his own humanity when pressured. Nowhere in PKD’s novels does he express the ‘What is Human?’ question as succintly as he does here.

It’s not all quite as good as this, however. It’s difficult not to read Androids alongside Blade Runner, as much as I try. The showdown between Deckard and Roy Baty is extremely anticlimatic and short-lived here. More interesting is the scene prior to this when the androids trap the spider J.R. has found and begin to snip its legs off. J.R. gets upset and flushes the spider down the sink, before Mercer appears and gives him a new spider (or is it the same one?) I say ‘appears’ because that’s exactly what Mercer, an old man climbing up a hill in some hazily-defined simulation, does. Is Mercer God? If so, why is he trying to help Deckard (as he does when Pris is about to set upon him) and why is he being denounced as a fraud by Buster Friendly and his Friendly Friends? PKD has no answer here. Ultimately, he’s less concerned with the thriller aspect than the philosophical implications, and that becomes all too apparent here at the plot’s crescendo.

And then it ends. By the final pages, Deckard seems to have sunk into some existensial gloom from which he might never recover. His brand new goat has been thrown off of the balcony (by Rachel Rosen, for reasons unknown), he’s indebted to the goat dealer and he’s not far off being a murderer, in his own mind at least. Forlorn, he flies in his hovercar up to the Oregon border where he finds a toad. Thinking it’s his lucky day, he takes it home to Iran only to discover that the toad is a fake. And that’s the real end of the novel. But what does it all mean? Maybe I do know what Lem was on about after all in terms of Androids being a counterfeit coin. There’s a sense of PKD, for want of a better term, ‘faking it’ here (although what ‘it’ is isn’t clear). Where Ubik seems genuinely mystical, Androids, in the end, is just a tired dead-end. There would be more along these lines from PKD in the years between this novel and his next book of real worth, A Scanner Darkly.


A World Full of Gods by John Greer

I took my time reading this book because I really didn’t want to miss out on anything written in it.  First of all, a monotheist or an atheist does not write this book, it is written by a polytheist so we share a worldview.  And someone who always presents an interesting point of view no matter what subject he is writing about as is evident from his blog “The Archdruid Report” writes it.  Also I’m reading it at a time when I am trying to pinpoint what exactly are my beliefs about deity.  Needless to say it was a big help.


This book is not something that you should read only once.  I think that the more you learn about your belief on deity the more you will go back to it.  This is a book that is challenging the pagan community to start thinking of themselves as a RELIGIOUS movement rather than just a movement.  It is a really intelligent argument for polytheism.


From the very beginning Greer tells us that his is using Traditional Polytheist as the comparison point to classical monotheism, which I believe is a good thing considering all the diverse types of polytheism that we do have.  He reviews all the different arguments for and against theism and then he uses the principles of theology to explain the polytheistic worldview.  He talks about pagan worship (yes he uses this word which a lot of pagans think of as dirty), pagan spirituality, pagan ethics, and much, much more.


John Greer’s knowledge of ceremonial magic, Wicca, and Druidry really helps him in writing this book.  It is a must have in every pagan library in my opinion.