Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Review: Black Moon



In Black Moon, we have a road trip book of sorts. Jordan and Chase are young guys who’ve stolen sleeping pills and are travelling. Lila is a teenager whose folks have sent her on the road to protect her from their insomniac rage. Biggs is searching for his insomniac wife. So basically, all these folks have found themselves in a symbolic dark wood and angry raging sleepless folks are blocking them from the path direct.

I really didn't feel the sleeplessness vibe. I just didn't. The author seemed to be exploring the frustrated, malicious, existential resentment of he “have-nots” towards the "haves." Those who cannot sleep are pretty vicious towards those who can.

As is to be expected when everyone in the nation goes sleepless, the entire infrastructure falls apart. Universal insomnia being the cause of anarchy, I can believe. But I'm not sure the sleepless would have energy to be so nasty. As for the cause of the sleeplessness, the author riffs on the probable spiritual, emotional, or societal cause of this ongoing catastrophe. But in the end, I'm not sure what “sleeplessness” is a metaphor for. Are the ones who are able to sleep the true victims? Or are they the strong ones because they can shut off life and fall into peacefulness when they want to?

The story feels like a series of poetic meditations thematically held together by the male characters’ goals, especially their goals toward their wives. If you intend to read this book, put away all thoughts about “beginning, middle, and end.” There is no real “ending” here. We are in literary territory  and riding the modern male’s stream of consciousness. This is a book which feels like a literary summer read and which folks will either love or hate.

Review: The Hope of Heaven: God's Eight Messages of Assurance to a Grieving Father

The Hope of Heaven: God's Eight Messages of Assurance to a Grieving Father Hardcover – March 10, 2015






  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Thomas Nelson (March 10, 2015)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 071802205X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0718022051

  • I found this book somewhat problematic. It's called Hope of Heaven by Allan M Hallene Jr. and it's a father's account of his son's suicide. So, yes it's important that the father has hope that his son will go to heaven. After all, Christians believe most suicides end up in hell because it is murder. I tend not to be cut and dried about where the souls of suicides go. We simply don't know the state of their souls or their minds.

    In this memoir, the dad finds his son's body after the son has hung himself. At that moment, God gives him a clear image that assures him that his son is at peace in heaven. We all know that need for spiritual assurance when someone dies. I imagine it would be even worse if the person has died unexpectedly or by suicide. There is also the whole question of parental guilt and responsibility.

    But the father gets these assurances. That could be a problem with me because I'm very wary of spiritual assurances. I'm generally wary of spiritual incidents, visions, dreams impressions etc as well. But something about assurances often makes me stop and ponder if the human mind wants to interpret things a certain way.

    Some books are hard to review because you know the writer has poured his soul out for the reader and because you know the writer is stil experiencing emotional pain you have no idea about.

    Another thing I'm wary about. The father is very calvinist/God's sovereignity. So he says stuff like God knew his son would kill himself because God knew his son was depressive and used those 23 years to help his son live and come as close to him so he could get to heaven. It's very subtle and I kinda get what the author is saying and maybe I kind believe him...but...wow. The father writes several times about his son's keeping his emotional pain to himself. And there are sections about the son being prone to these issues. I totally believe that there are pre-natal causes why some people are prone to depression. Perhaps there are genetic issues. And let's face it, God does not create bad genetics. It's a fallen world. There are also nutritional and even allergy-related depressions. And there are family dynamics. It's the family dynamics part of the equation that makes me uneasy. Even if the family isn't responsible for the depression, one wonders why this suicidal boy could not talk to his father. NOTE: I'm not saying the family could have helped him. I am not even saying the child feared his family so much that he couldn't tell them his heart. What I am saying is the father's repeated comments about how he tried to help his son just makes me wonder. Something about hearing something repeated a lot can do that. I'm just very cynical when it comes to Christians writing about themselves; I've seen too many self-deceptions. So wariness is not the author's fault, it's all mine.

    In fact the author is really good at telling his heart, discussing theology (particularly the fatherhood of God), and rightly dividing the thorny theological issues.  It's an interesting combination of theological paper, grief counseling, memoir, and PhD treatise with references.

    Anyway, all that said,  the comforting assurances, are very profound-- as assurances from God tend to be. And "if one is able to receive them", I think this book would be good for folks whose kids have committed suicide. Basically, this book would be considered a brave book in some Christian circles. And in other Christian circles, it would be considered a product of a wussy Christianity. It really all depends on one's denomination and how rigidly one thinks about things.

    I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review. 

    Saturday, February 28, 2015

    Review: Salad Love by David Bez

    Salad Love: 260 Crunchy, Savory and Filling Meals You can Make Every Day

    I have to say it: this book is a feast for the eyes. Heck, it's an invitation to a feast!

    Those of us who eat the same old things every day and wish to change our eating habits in the easiest most delightful way will love this book. This is a salad book that opens up one's mind. First, it reminds us of other foods that we've forgotten and ignored along the way. Secondly, it opens up one's mind to salads period.

    But first, the eye-feast: This food has the best food photography I've seen in ages. The photos are not flashy or anything. They are pretty basic: a wonderful, wildly colorful salad on a plain white dish.  Each page has a large photo and a tiny list of the required ingredients at the bottom. Often, the ingredient list isn't necessary because a picture is worth a thousand words and the photos are pretty self-explanatory. Along with the photo and the ingredient lists on each page, there are also two circular insets. The smaller inset (at the top of the photo) contains only one word which states if the salad is Raw, Pescatarian, Omnivore, Vegan, or Vegetarian. The slightly larger inset diagonally opposite the first one and at the bottom of the photo indicates how to transform the salad in some way. For instance, how to change that particular raw salad to an omnivore alternative, or how to change a pescatarian salad to a vegetarian alternative, or omnivore to vegetarian. For instance, the pescatarian Tuna, zucchini, broccoli and black olive salad can be turned into a vegan alternative by replacing tuna with canned beans. By doing this, each salad can be made in two different ways. So although there are 260 salads, the inset with alternatives pretty much doubles the total number of salads.

    The salads themselves are a perfect blend for taste and health...and satisfies the need for different mouth-feel.

    Before the photos, we have chapters which are no more than two pages long. Seriously, this is a cookbook for those who do not like to actually read cookbooks. One page shows pictures of the items discussed in the chapter, and the other page is a short description.

    The first chapter of the book is called The Base. The base of any salad -- as described here-- are greens, grains (couscous, rice, barley, etc), vegetables cut into small pieces, and vegetables shaved to look like ribbons or spaghetti. He doesn't list noodles here but since noodles appear in some of the salads, I'll include that as a base as well.

    The second chapter is called Vegetables and Fruits. The author states these should take up about 25% of one's salad. So non-veggie-lovers should love that. The veggies are generally raw and the pics of vegetables show an assortment of the veggies and fruits that the author typically uses.

    The third chapter entitled protein states that one cup or 25% of one's salad should be dedicated to protein and again there are pics of protein: meat, eggs, beans, cheeses, fish.

    The fourth chapter is entitled toppings; the fifth chapter is "Fresh Herbs." The sixth is Dressings & Spices. This is a fun chapter because it features tiny little recipes for dressings.

    Then there is a chapter on tools needed in the kitchen.

    The recipes are placed in four sub-sections:  Summer, Fall, Winter, Spring

    For the most part, the salads don't need a lot of preparation. One might need to boil some rice or noodles here and there But all in all, this is a cookbook that takes all the work out of preparing a meal. And if one already has ingredients on hand, making these salads shouldn't take more than 20 minutes or so.

    Highly recommended.
    I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review.








    Wednesday, February 18, 2015

    Review: NIV Proclamation Bible: Correctly Handling the Word of Truth



    The Proclamation Bible is not a study Bible per se. It merely contains articles about how to teach the Bible.
    Some of the articles are a bit problematic. Why? Because they are written from a Christian Teacher's perspective for Christian Teachers. And these folks are very very very educated theologians.  This means they know their stuff. But it also means that some of the articles are written in graduate theology-ese. Because while the writers know their stuff, they don't seem to know how to write about what they know to people who don't already know what they're talking about. These theologians are very aware that they are teachers and therefore knowledgeable.  They want to preach the word truly and rightly. And they are writing to other teachers.  So there is definitely a feel of a great US teachers versus all those other Christians (sheep) divide. It can be off-putting but I don't think it's meant to be.

    The basic Bible set up:
    A General Preface
    Editor's Preface
    Contributors

    What is the Bible by Mark D Thompson, Principal of Moore Theological College, Sydney

    A Bible Overview by Vaughan Roberts, Rector of St Ebbe's Church Oxford, and President of Proclamation Trust

    The Historical Reliability of the Bible by Dirk JongkindResearch Fellow in New Testament Text and Language, Tyndale House, Cambridge, and Deputy Senior Tutor, St Edmund's College, Cambridge

    Finding the "Melodic Line" of a Book by Tim Ward, Associate Director of the Proclamation Trust Cornhill Training Course, London

    From Text to Doctrine: The Bible and Theology by Peter Adam, Vicar Emeritus of St Jude's Carlton, and Canon of St Paul's Cathedral, Melbourne

    From Text to Life: Applying the Old Testament by David Jackman, Past President of the Proclamation Trust, London

    From Text To Life: Applying the New Testament by Charles Skrine, Curate at St Helen's, Bishopsgate, London

    From Text To Sermon: Preaching the Bible by Christopher Ash, Director of the Proclamation Trust Training Course London

    From Text to Study: Small Groups and One-to-Ones by Leonie Mason, Trainer of Ministry Apprentices and Bible Study Leaders at St Helen's, Bishopsgate, London

    Biblical Interpretaton: A Short History by Gerald Bray, Research Professor of Divinity at Beeson Divinity School, Birmingham, Alabama, and Director of Research at the Latimer Trust

    Then the Bible itself begins.

    Each book has an introduction which shows
    The Message
    Structure
    Points to Consider
    Commentaries
    The layout of the Bible books is easy on the eyes with a good typefont. The type is dark and incredibly readable, unlike the NIV Spiritual Renewal Study Bible which has very light printing. The Scripture is placed in two columns on each page with cross-references in the middle of each page. The bottom of the page has definitions or alternate translations. There are sub-headings within chapters which will help guide the reader. There are also cross-references listed under the sub-headings if a scene or event is duplicated elsewhere. There are two ribbons for placeholders. Poetry is written in poetic form. Scriptures that are quoted in other Bible books are also set off in poetic form. The words of Jesus are not in red.
    There is a Table of Weights and Measures
    Concordance
    Maps

    It's a solid hardcover Bible.

    For better or worse, the key word throughout most of this book is training; Theologians training others on how to read Scripture, how to understand Scripture, how to teach Scripture, and how to hear the Holy Spirit. There are many patterns to learn here, all of which will be helpful to some or all Bible teachers. But which could become almost legalistic and prohibitive if doggedly followed.

    The best thing about this Bible are the introduction to each of the Bible books. They are very insightful and the vocabulary is accessible to anyone. Those introductions alone are worth the price. The second-best thing are the articles in the front of the Bible about how to understand, read, and teach the Bible. But I say second-best because I suspect the folks who most need those articles might be the folks who can't get through them.

    I can understand a book written on a college graduate level. But I cannot imagine these articles being accessible to pastors who may not have had much college. Some of the article writers write as if they are writing a graduate thesis! At that time, one feels as if one is wading through a tome on linguistics written by a computer because the writer seems to have forgotten how to write conversationally. Other times the writer seems to be "speaking to the choir" because he is using jargon -- even though he thinks he is not-- and terms only church folks use. So this book will bless many people. It's a Bible after all. But it would be most useful for the super-educated types and for new pastors who might want to know and use certain patterns in their teaching and preaching.

    As a Charismatic Christian, I would probably dislike some of the patterns recommended by some of these teachers but a good workman knows how and when to use the rules and how and when to put them aside. Also, as someone who thought Calvin was a means-spirited and possible false prophet, I don't know if I can trust his pattern of exegesis as much as Gerald Bray does.

    But all in all this is a good book.  Those who like the NIV translation will like it.
    I received this book free in exchange for a fair and honest review

    Saturday, February 14, 2015

    Movie Review: August Eighth


    August Eighth 2012 Russian action fantasy drama Screenplay by Michael Lerner. Directed by Dzhanik Fayziev. Kseniya (Svetlana Ivanova) ,  Artyom (Artyom Fadeev) 2 hours 12 minutes

    Okay, to begin with, this film is pure propaganda. But what wonderful propaganda it is! I debated whether this review should be included because the fantastical part of the film is understood to be fantasy. In that way, this film reminded me of Pan’s Labyrinth because the fantasy is a child’s reaction to the warring world all around. So if Pan’s Labyrinth is fantasy, then this is as well.

    The story begins with Artyom in his fantastical alter-ego of Cosmoboy. His noble, self-sacrificing sidekick Kind Robot is helping him battle Robot Darklord. The scene shifts to a theater where Artyom is watching an amateur theatrical production about dragons. After this, Mom and Artyom are on their way home discussing family dynamics. Just at that moment, Darklord pops up in Transformers mode. Artyom warns his mom but gets rebuked with “Why do you always talk about robots when I want to talk about something important?” Not that mom should talk, she also has moments when the fantastical emerges out of the blue.

    The something important that Kseniya wanted to talk about is Egor, her new boyfriend. Truth to tell, Egor’s full of himself. But to be fair, he’s got a good job and so he’s a big find for the artistic single mom Kseniya. Besides, she’s only in her early twenties and her son is seven.  She hasn’t had a chance to grow up yet. So I cut her a lot of slack.

    When Zaur, Artyom’s dad, an Ossetian “peacekeeper” asks Kseniya to send their son to Zaur’s parents, Kseniya doesn’t want to. There’s a conflict going on in that region. But heck the conflict has been going on for 150 years, says ex-beau. Nothing’s gonna happen. Kseniya’s still not sure but hey, Artyom’s dad misses him, the grandfolks are getting old, AND boyfriend with the good job did after all invite her to go on a vacation with him.  So she sends Artyom off, trusting in Zaur’s promise that he’ll send their son back should trouble arise.  

    There’s this wonderful bucolic scene with cows, happy peasants, loving grandfolks, and women in babushkas. And then, wouldn’t you know it? The Five Day War threatens to break out. And annoying Ex refuses to send the child back.  Seriously, the men in this movie are useless. And so Kseniya’s quest to go to war-torn territory to get back her son begins.

    Folks, this is one fun movie! Mother's Love and War battles! IF you like war movies, don't miss this one on netflix.

    Friday, February 13, 2015

    Review: The Secrets of Life and Death by Rebecca Alexander



    The Secrets of Life and Death
    Rebecca Alexander
    ISBN: 978-0-8041-4068-3
    Broadway Books
    US $15.00


    The Secrets of Life and Death is a good summer read for anyone who likes mysteries and women in jeopardy books. It's also paranormal, urban fantasy. This is a safe book for anyone who wants to do some good bloody escapist reading. It is historical urban fantasy and based on the life of the murderous Elizabeth Bathory, the life and travels of Edward Kelley and Dr. John Dee. 

    This is a quick, easy read for folks who might like supernatural mysteries of the undead variety. And it does make one ponder certain deep questions like: “Can a religious person be deceived by a demon?” and “Why is living so important?” 

    Those who like historical fiction will love discovering more about the times and mores of Elizabeth Bathory and the royalty of Poland. Those who like urban fantasy will find it a page-turner. There's even a good romance. It's dark fiction but light reading.

    It left me a little cold because there were moments that felt very high concept generic blockbuster-ish. But if you want a good semi-predictable read, this is a good book. I did get a bit offended at the depiction of the religious character Edward Kelley who is the counterpart of “good witch” Maggie and who is the typical deluded superstitious religious Christian who  is somewhat deceived about angels, herbalism, and (of course) women. But hey, it's par for the course. 

    This book was sent to me free in return for a fair and honest review. 

    Sunday, January 25, 2015

    Review: Miracle on Voodoo Mountain by Megan Boudreaux

    Miracle on Voodoo Mountain
    A Young Woman's Remarkable Story of Pushing Back the Darkness for the Children of Haiti
    By Megan Boudreaux
    Thomas Nelson Publishing
    ISBN: 978-0-5291-1094-7
    $22.99

    Whenever I read Christian non-fiction, especially testimonies and memoirs, I always approach them with extreme cynicism. This is because as a Christian I've been burned by Christian platitudes and self-righteousness, and as a writer I've honed an ability to sense the ring of truth. Thus, my spiritual "BS" meter is pretty highly-developed. Therefore, if I read a book and say it's good and believable, I am to be trusted. This is a really really good book and it does what good Christian testimonies should do. It highlights the power of Jesus Christ in the world as He works through His people. And it shows us how needy, evil, and lost the world is.

    It's the first-person memoir written by Megan Boudreaux about how she began working with and for poor, abused, orphaned, and/or enslaved children in Haiti. Throughout her narrative, Boudreaux is real, strong and good without being pretentiously pious, and also very informative about how dangerous uninformed American Christian charity can be.

    After having repeated dreams of a tamarind tree in a suburb in Haiti, Megan decides to give up her perfect job and to follow what she feels is a call from God. In Haiti, she's a bit at a loss where to begin or what exactly she has been called to do. But one small encounter with a restovak -- an enslaved child-- starts her journey. One thing leads to another and soon she is feeding starving children, building schoolrooms, and being threatened by voodoo priests. She encounters corruption in various forms and discovers how poor children and well-intentioned Christian churches are used by false orphanages and child traffickers.

    All the while, Boudreaux writes honestly, humbly, and in a conversational engaging style.

    I'll admit, though, that the title turned me off initially. I avoid anything that seems hyperbolic. But the book really is about a great work done by a young Christian woman. I highly recommend this.

    This wbok was sent to me free by Booklookbloggers in exchange for a fair and honest review.

    Saturday, January 03, 2015

    Review: Chewed Confessions by Cheryl Kirwan

    • Chewed Confessions 
    • by Cheryl Kirwan

    • File Size: 337 KB
    • Print Length: 178 pages
    • Publisher: CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform; 1 edition (April 22, 2013)
    • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
    • Language: English
    • ASIN: B00CHCQO68

    I love omnibus novels, a collection of short stories composed of characters who are connected with each other by chance, location, or situation. In omnibus novels, a secondary character in one story will become a main character in another. Sometimes the omnibus is complicated as in Revenge: Eleven Dark Tales by Yoko Ogawa, where characters are unnamed, inter-connected to the extreme (yet often strangers to each other), and who affect each other's lives for the worst.

    In Chewed Confession, characters are connected in a straight-forward linear manner. In this case, the characters in these stories are often friends, family, colleagues, or acquaintances. Thus the main character of one story might casually call a friend or family member and this friend becomes the main character in the following story. This is generally the pattern throughout.

    The narrators in each character study are different flavors of gum. So the reader encounters two new characters with each story: a character and a gum with a flavor name. Hence we have narratives from Cherry ubilee, Minty Chocolate, Peppermint, Clove, Cinnamon, Mega Mint Delight, Summer Mint, Triple Bubble, and Fruity Explosion. They relate the lives of Jason, Peter, Abby, Piper, Rita, Matthew, Artie, Rudy, and Lester -- people of different ages, and sexes.

    Despite the difference in flavors, the wads of gum generally have the same speaking voice and personality. They also have the same destinies: they are removed from a wrapper, chewed in distinctive styles depending on the personality and stress of the chewer, then discarded...either on the ground or in a bin. The human characters are either stressed -- because of divorce proceedings, civil lawsuits, dating and love and relationship issues-- or are going through life causing stress to others. The wads of gum describe the lives of the human chewers as they describe their own lives as they are chewed, tongue-throttled, etc.

    This is a good collection of short stories. They work together as an omnibus novel although the overall feel is of a series of scattered events in the lives of disparate characters. In this way, they are like character studies and the wad of gum's summation at the end of each story gives a moral of the life event the reader has witnessed.  This can be a bit much but I suppose that gums chew on what they have witnessed or seen in the lives of their human chewers and moralizing become part of their personality as they share with other gum acquaintances what they have digested in their short lives.

    It's a fun book. 

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