Sunday, May 31, 2009

Mailbox Monday

Thanks to Marcia at The Printed Page for hosting. What was in my mailbox this week?
The B&B Media Group sent me Talking to the Dead, which is about a young widow who thinks she hears her late husband's voice. They also sent me You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, which I have already reviewed. First Wildcard will tour it June 16. Bookmooch brought me Lisa Kleypas' Secrets of a Summer Night and Debbie Macomber's The Playboy and the Widow. Click on the titles to read my reviews. Via Bostick I got Old World Daughter, New World Mother, which I plan to read this week, and She's Out There, a book of essays by young women who want to be president.

My Review: The Middle Fork

The Middle Fork by Rick Glaze is subtitled "A Political Novel". It is the story of a kayaking trip down the Salmon River in Idaho. On the trip are:
  • Johnathan, the narrator. Middle-aged, widowed, the father of young adults.
  • Mike, Johnathan's college roommate. A financial advisor
  • Keith, one of Mike's clients. A college professor who has made a fortune because of a book on global warming
  • Simon. Native of Iran. Oncologist specializing in ovarian cancer.
  • Sonja. Friend of Simon's daughter. Journalist for a conservative political magazine.
Basically the book is the story of their trip down the river. There is a heavy rain while they are on the trip so the river is running much higher than normal. People get engaged in political discussions. There is danger on the river. We wonder if they are going to get out alive.

As I noted earlier, this is subtitled "A political novel" and while the characters discuss politics, I didn't find those discussions to be relevant to the story. The best presented political views were conservative and generally mirrored mine, so I wouldn't say that disagreeing with the characters was a problem, its just that I didn't understand why they were discussing politics (unless they are like my husband who talks politics constantly).

It is a short novel, only about 140 pages and I found it a satisfying read. You can read the first chapter by going to the author's website.

Thanks to Phenix and Phenix for sending me this book.

My Review: Parenting is a Contact Sport



As a parent I am always looking to add to my bag of tricks. Parenting is a Contact Sport, but psychotherapist Joanne Stern, PhD has some good ideas. Her overall idea is that building a relationship, a friendship with our kids is the foundation of parenting. As parents we have to realize that we have very ability to control our kids' behavior; but a good relationship allows us to influence it a lot. Good relationships are built on good communication.

I enjoyed the book. Dr. Stern is not only writing as a professional, but also as a mom who has walked the walk. She admits that her parenting wasn't perfect, but shares what did work. She has anecdotes about her life and her kids throughout the book. Chapters include:
  • Developing a Relationship with Your Kids
  • Learning How to Communicate
  • Approaching Discipline through Relationship
  • Dealing with Feelings in Your Family
  • Giving your Kids a Sense of Belonging
  • Fostering a Family Culture of Honesty
  • Teaching Your Kids about Sex, Drugs and Rock n Roll
  • Boosting Your Kids Self Esteem
This book doesn't really talk about what is appropriate at what age, or deal with developmental milestones, rather it is a handbook on how to use communication with your kids to foster a loving relationship.

You can get more information about the book, and read the first chapter on their website.

Book Review: Secrets of a Summer Night


Secrets of a Summer Night is the first in Lis Kleypas' Wallflower series. The Wallflowers are a group of four women who have spent the entire London social season as wallflowers, and who have determined to work together to marry each other off, one at a time. The heroine of this story is Annabelle. She comes from a titled family, but her father died yejavascript:void(0)ars ago and there is no money left. Her family is counting on her to marry well so her husband can support them. However, the men aren't interested in her as a wife--though since this is her fourth season, some are considering her as a mistress. The hero is the son of a butcher, but one who has grown rich on his own work. Yea, its a romance novel; guess what happens?

Like Kleypas' other books this one has vividly described sexual scenes. As a romance, the plot is pretty predictable but the characters are well developed. Kleypas is become a favorite of mine.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hi folks! Welcome. Sunday Snippets is a way for Catholic bloggers, whether they blogs exclusively about Catholicism, or just have periodic Catholic posts, to share their best with other Catholic bloggers. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets. In the post, describe and link to any posts you want to share with us. Put a link to this post in your post. Then come back here and add a link to your post to Mr. Linky. If you'd like a weekly reminder to participate, join our yahoogroup.

I didn't blog about any specifically Catholic topics this week. However, I read You Make Me Feel Like Dancing, which has a strong pro-life subplot. I also read Daisy Chain, which had a positive portrayal of Catholicism.

My Review; She's Out There


If you are a liberal feminist, you'll probably love this book. It is a collection of 35 essays by young women who want to grow up to be President of the US. They are an idealistic bunch and all want end war, poverty and discrimination. However, the causes they espouse are generally those of liberal Democrats (or worse). One of the young women wants to abolish marriage; another feels it her duty to point out when people are being "heteronormative". There was plenty of Bush knocking. While several of the young women had problems with the death penalty (which BTW I oppose), I didn't see any who had a problem with killing unborn babies.

The book itself is attractive, printed on glossy paper with a photo of each young woman. The writing complexity and style is about what you would expect given the age of the writers (from five to twenties). Each section also has a graphic titled "Did You Know" which lists some facts about our government. There are also short notes throughout the book from women lawmakers. At the end of the book are lists, including the 35 current female leaders the authors consider most likely to run for President, women who have already run for President, and women who have been nominated by their parties for President and VP. There is also a list of leadership groups and NGOs.

Thanks to the authors for the chance to review this book. You can read about some of the 35 young women on their website.

Four Wives: My Review



I figured this would be light chick-lit about four women whose lives were intertwined. While I was right about the intertwined lives, it was not light reading; it was a dark book in a lot of ways. Who are the four wives?
  • Marie used to work at a major law firm in New York. Now she has a part-time divorce practice in the suburbs and specializes in representing fathers in custody disputes. Her husband is an attorney also, but he hates his job and is spending more and more time on the golf course. Marie also has a new sexy young intern working in her office. She is working a case that troubles her.
  • Love is a former child prodigy who is married to a doctor. As people in their community go, they are poor. They have three children and she is a full time mom. She is carrying two of the kids when she falls and hurts her back. The pain remains for a long time and yet the doctors can find nothing wrong.
  • Gayle is an heiress who is married to an abusive man. She is also the mother of a son. Her cause is a charity women's clinic and the tie that binds the four women is a gala for that clinic.
  • Janie appears to be the perfect mom and homemaker. However, she is having an affair that is purely about sex.

Is there something about wealthy suburban life that causes misery among women? These women are all miserable in their own way, but by book's end three have taken steps to fix that misery.

As I said, the book was dark throughout most of it, and if this is what being rich is all about, I'm glad I'm not. I did enjoy the book and if you like books like The Red Hat Club, Potluck Group or other "group of women" type novels, you'll probably like this one. There are no vivid sex scenes where we learn who touched whom where, but there is extra-marital sex and most words you don't want your kids saying are used at least once in the book, though I wouldn't say it is full of bad language.

The author, Wendy Walker, is a former commercial litigator and investment banker who now works at home writing and raising her children. You can read her blog here. Another one of her books, Chicken Soup for the Soul--Power Moms is in my TBR stack. Stay tuned for a review.

Thanks to the folks at Phenix and Phenix for providing the book.

My Review: You Make Me Feel Like Dancing


Do you remember the 1970's? Disco? Studio 54? If so, this book was written for you, a Baby Boommer. Susan owns a 1970's disco themed high-end beauty salon in Las Vegas. She wears '70s clothes, has '70s furnishings in her house and has two storage units filled in disco and '70s memorabilia. She has always dreamed of opening a disco museum. She is married to Michael, a steady, responsible man who has been head of maintenance at a major casino for over thirty years. She is 50, he is 60. When she is getting ready to tell him that she plans to expand the salon, he tells her that he plans to retire, and that his parents left him some land that is now worth a mint. He plans to sell some, and build a mansion on the rest. Basically, they are nice couple who have rarely seen each other because they work opposite shifts. They avoid conflict, and now they have a big one. It is resolved when a rich friend agrees to bankroll a new facility that will include a salon, spa, retail space and non-alcoholic dance club. We follow Susan and Michael as they try to make their dreams come true--and of course there are complications. The book does have a happy ending.

I enjoyed this book. It was a quick fun read. It had a strong pro-life subplot. Susan was part of an email loop of women who had never met but who supported each other via email. This group is referenced on the back cover of the book, making me think it would be a major part of this story. It was not; one of the women does make a real-life appearance briefly, but for the most part, the email group remains in email and it could have been left out completely IMO. I suspect it is there to provide a bridge to other stories in the series.

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing is Christian fiction. It mentions briefly when Susan accepted Christ, and when examining what keeps life in balance, spirituality is listed as an important component. The book is anti-alcohol. Only the bad folk drink alcohol. Susan wants to open a dance club in Las Vegas that plays '70s music and displays her memorabilia. A rich venture capitalist who happens to be a client and friend bankrolls the operation. Call me a cynic, but I don't see a dry nightclub as a money-maker. All in all thought I enjoyed the book and recommend it.

First Wildcard will be touring this book June 16. Check back then to read the first chapter and learn about the author, Allison Bottke.

My Review: The Playboy and the Widow


Sometimes I forget how old I am. This romance was written by Debbie Macomber in 1988, making her heroine right about my age. She is the widowed mother of two girls; he is her age, about 30, and never married. She meets him when she calls the neighbors to ask Mr. to help her with a plumbing problem. He is visiting and picks up the phone (no caller ID in those days). Mr. isn't home, but he comes over, fixes the pipe and claims dinner with her as a payment. The attaction is mutual, and strong, yet he isn't looking for serious and with two kids to think about, she is. He makes a comment about it being the eighties and folks go to bed whenever they want...It is a romance and maybe it is the author, maybe it is the times, but they stay out of bed until they get married.

I like Macomber's books. They are fluffy but fun. I think her writing style has matured since this book, but it was still a fun read.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Writing Book Reviews

A topic that makes the rounds on book blogs is negative reviews--what is a book blogger to do when she reads a book she doesn't like? Today, Avisannschild at She Reads and Reads went so far as to say that she WANTED to read some negative reviews.

If you've read this blog for any length of time, you note that I do criticise books and/or authors. My "niche" if you would, is reviewing Christian fiction, a genre generally written for and by Evangelical Protestants, from a Catholic perspective. As such, I'm quick to diss an otherwise good book for what I percieve to be unwarrented criticisms or poor images of Catholicism. Other than that, you'll note that my reviews tend toward the positive side. Why? Several reasons, of course. First of all, reading is a hobby, not a job. I don't solicit or accept review books that I don't think I'm going to like. Secondly, I realize the reason the authors and publicists send out review copies is to help sell book. If I don't like a book and I can just opt out of a review, there are times that is my choice. I'll publish some canned content and move on.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Dance Me Daddy: My Review



The nice folks at Phenix & Phenix sent me Dance Me Daddy, a charming book that would make a great gift for the father of a little girl. Based on the song "King of the World", Dance With Me Daddy is a picture book that follows a little girl and her dad from the time she is in pig-tails and dress-up clothes and he, with a full head of brown hair, is in blue jeans and a tee-shirt to the day when her daughter is dancing with her husband as she and her gray-haired dad, whose forehead has grown, watch.

For those who care about such things, Mom is a blonde and Dad and the daughter are dark-haired, with darker skin. The daughter's husband might be Asian, but is not definitely so. The people at the wedding are of different ethnic backgrounds.

The book, which includes a bonus CD, is classified as a children's book and is classified, as I think most, if not all books published by Zonderkidz are, as "religious/Christian", but there was no reference to Jesus in the book and the only reference to God was on a page when he was watching her sleep. It said "Sometimes when she's sleeping, he kneels by her bed to pray that her Father in heaven is watching over her every moment of every day."

You'll note that I began this review by recommending this book at a gift for Dad, even though it is classified as a children's book. I have a five year old assistant who helps me review children's books. I'm afraid it just didn't hold her interest. Maybe a child a couple of years older who had a better concept of growing up would enjoy the book more.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

First Wildcard: City of the Dead

Click here to read my review

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:




and the book:



City of the Dead (Seven Wonders Series)

B&H Books (March 1, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



From her earliest childhood, there was nothing Tracy loved better than stepping into another world between the pages of a book. From dragons and knights, to the wonders of Narnia, that passion has never abated, and to Tracy, opening any novel is like stepping again through the wardrobe, into the thrilling unknown. With every book she writes, she wants to open a door like that, and invite readers to be transported with her into a place that captivates. She has traveled through Greece, Turkey, Egypt, Israel and Jordan to research her novels, and looks forward to more travel as the Seven Wonders series continues. It’s her hope that in escaping to the past with her, readers will feel they’ve walked through desert sands, explored ancient ruins, and met with the Redeeming God who is sovereign over the entire drama of human history.


Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 400 pages
Publisher: B&H Books (March 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0805447318
ISBN-13: 978-0805447316



AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Prologue

In my dreams, it is often I who kills Amunet. Other nights it is Khufu, in one of his mad rages. And at other times it is a great mystery, destined to remain unknown long after the ka of each of us has crossed to the west.

Tonight, as I lay abed, my dreams reveal all the truth that I know.

Merit is there, like a beautiful lotus flower among the papyrus reeds.

“Hemi,” she whispers, using the shortened form of my name in the familiar way I long for. “We should join the others.”

The tufts of reeds that spring from the marsh’s edge wave around us, higher than our heads, our private thicket.

“They are occupied with the hunt,” I say.

A cloud of birds rises from the marsh in that moment, squawking their protest at being disturbed. Merit turns her head to the noise and I study the line of her jaw, the long curls that wave across her ear. I pull her close, my arms around her waist.

Her body is stiff at first, then melts against mine.

“Hemi, you must let me go.”

Some nights in my dreams I am a better man.

“Merit.” I bury my face in her hair, breathe in the spicy scent of her. “I cannot.”

I pull her into my kiss.

She resists. She pushes me away and her eyes flash accusation, but something else as well. Sorrow. Longing.

I reach for her again, wrapping my fingers around her wrist. She twists away from my grasp. I do not know what I might have done, but there is fear in her eyes. By the gods, I wish I could forget that fear.

She runs. What else could she do?

She runs along the old river bed, not yet swollen with the year’s Inundation, stagnant and marshy. She disappears among the papyrus. The sky is low and gray, an evil portent.

My anger roots me to the ground for several moments, but then the potential danger propels me to follow.

“Merit,” I call. “Come back. I am sorry!”

I weave slowly among the reeds, searching for the white flash of her dress, the bronze of her skin.

“Merit, it is not safe!”

Anger dissolves into concern. I cannot find her.

In the way of dreams, my feet are unnaturally heavy, as though I fight through alluvial mud to reach her. The first weighted drops fall from an unearthly sky.

And then she is there, at the base of the reeds. White dress dirtied, head turned unnaturally. Face in the water. My heart clutches in my chest. I lurch forward. Drop to my knees in the marsh mud. Push away the reeds. Reach for her.

It is not Merit.

It is Amunet.

“Amunet!” I wipe the mud and water from her face and shake her. Her eyes are open yet unfocused.

I am less of a man because, in that moment, I feel relief.

Relief that it is not Merit.

But what has happened to Amunet? Khufu insisted that our royal hunting party split apart to raise the birds, but we all knew that he wanted to be with Amunet. Now she is alone, and she has crossed to the west.

As I hold her lifeless body in my arms, I feel the great weight of choice fall upon my shoulders. The rain pours through an evil gash in the clouds.

Khufu is my friend. He is my cousin. He will soon wear the Double Crown of the Two Lands of Upper and Lower Egypt. And when Khufu is Pharaoh, I will be his grand vizier.

But it would seem that I hold our future in my hands now, as surely as I hold this girl’s body.

I lower Amunet to the mud again and awake, panting and sweating, in my bed. I roll from the mat, scramble for a pot, and retch. It is not the first time.

The sunlight is already burning through the high window in my bedchamber.

The past is gone. There is only the future.

And I have a pyramid to build.




1

In the fifth year of Khufu, the Golden Horus, Great in Victories, Chosen of Ra, as the pyramid rose in the desert like a burning torch to the sun god himself, I realized my mistake and knew that I had brought disorder.

“Foolishness!” Khons slapped a stone-roughened hand on the papyri unrolled on the basalt-black slab before us, and turned his back on the well-ordered charts to study the workforce on the plateau.

I refused to follow his gaze. Behind me, I knew, eight thousand men toiled, dragging quarry stones up ramps that snaked around my half-finished pyramid, and levering them into beautiful precision. Below them, intersecting lines of men advanced with the rhythm of drumbeats. They worked quickly but never fast enough.

My voice took on a hard edge. “Perhaps, Khons, if you spent more time listening and less blustering—”

“You speak to me of time?” The Overseer of Quarries whirled to face me, and the muscles in his jaw twitched like a donkey’s flank when a fly irritates. “Do you have any idea what these changes mean?” He waved a hand over my plans. “You were a naked baboon at Neferma’at’s knee when he and I were building the pyramids at Saqqara!”

This insult was well-worn, and I was sick of it. I stepped up to him, close enough to map every vein in his forehead. The desert air between us stilled with the tension. “You forget yourself, Khons. I may not be your elder, but I am grand vizier.”

“My good men,” Ded’e interrupted, his voice dripping honey as he smoothed long fingers over the soft papyrus. “Let us not quarrel like harem women over a simple change of design.”

“Simple!” Khons snorted. “Perhaps for you. Your farmers and bakers care not where Pharaoh’s burial chamber is located. But I will need to rework all the numbers for the Giza quarry. The timeline for the Aswan granite will be in chaos.” Khons turned on me. “The plans for the queen’s pyramid are later than grain in a drought year. A project of this magnitude must run like marble over the rollers. A change like this—you’re hurling a chunk of limestone into the Nile, and there will be ripples. Other deadlines will be missed—”

I held up a hand and waited to respond. I preferred to handle Khons and his fits of metaphor by giving us both time to cool. The sun hammered down on upon the building site, and I looked away, past the sands of death, toward the life-giving harbor and the fertile plain beyond. This year’s Inundation had not yet crested, but already the Nile’s green waters had swelled to the border of last year’s floodplain. When the waters receded in three months, leaving behind their rich silt deposits, the land would be black and fertile and planting would commence.

“Three months,” I said. In three months, most of my workforce would return to their farms to plant and till, leaving my pyramid unfinished, dependent on me to make it whole.

Khons grunted. “Exactly. No time for changes.”

Ded’e scanned the plateau, his fingers skimming his forehead to block the glare, though he had applied a careful line of kohl beneath his eyes today. “Where is Mentu? Did you not send a message, Hemiunu?”

I looked toward the workmen’s village, too far to make out anyone approaching by the road. Mentu-hotep also served as one of my chief overseers. These three answered directly to me, and under them commanded fifty supervisors, who in turn organized the twelve-thousand-man force. Nothing of this scale had ever been undertaken in the history of the Two Lands. In the history of man. We were building the Great Pyramid, the Horizon of the Pharaoh Khufu. A thousand years, nay, ten thousand years from now, my pyramid would still stand. And though a tomb for Pharaoh, it would also bear my name. A legacy in stone.

“Perhaps he thinks he can do as he wishes,” Khons said.

I ignored his petty implication that I played favorites among my staff. “Perhaps he is slow in getting started today.” I jabbed a finger at the plans again. “Look, Khons, the burial chamber’s relocation will mean that the inner core will require less stone, not more. I’ve redesigned the plans to show the king’s chamber beginning on Course Fifty. Between the corbelled ascending corridor, the burial chamber, five courses high, and the five relieving chambers that will be necessary above it, we will save 8,242 blocks.”

“Exactly 8,242? Are you certain?” De’de snorted. “I think you must stay up all night solving equations, eh, Hemi?”

I inclined my head to the pyramid, now one-fourth its finished height. “Look at it, De’de. See the way the sides angle at a setback of exactly 11:14. Look at the platform, level to an error less than the span of your little finger.” I turned on him. “Do you think such beauty happens by chance? No, it requires constant attention from one who would rather lose sleep than see it falter.”

“It’s blasphemy.” Khons’s voice was low. It was unwise to speak thus of the Favored One.

I exhaled and we hung over the plans, heads together. Khons smelled of sweat and dust, and sand caked the outer rim of his ear.

“It is for the best, Khons. You will see.”

If blasphemy were involved it was my doing and not Khufu’s? I had engineered the raising of the burial chamber above ground and, along with it, Khufu’s role as the earthly incarnation of the god Ra. It was for the good of Egypt, and now it must be carried forward. Hesitation, indecision—these were for weak men.

“Let the priests argue about religious matters,” I said. “I am a builder.”

Ded’e laughed. “Yes, you are like the pyramid, Hemi. All sharp angles and unforgiving measurements.”

I blinked at the observation, then smiled as though it pleased me.

Khons opened his mouth, no doubt to argue, but a shout from the worksite stopped him. We three turned to the pyramid, and I ground my teeth to see the workgangs falter in their measured march up the ramps. Some disorder near the top drew the attention of all. I squinted against the bright blue sky but saw only the brown figures of the workforce covering the stone.

“Cursed Mentu. Where is he?” Khons asked the question this time.

As Overseer for Operations, Mentu took charge of problems on the line. In his absence, I now stalked toward the site.

The Green Sea Gang had halted on the east-face ramp, their draglines still braced over their bare shoulders. Even from thirty cubits below I could see the ropy muscles stand out on the backs of a hundred men as they strained to hold the thirty-thousand-deben-weight block attached to the line. Their white skirts of this morning had long since tanned with dust, and their skin shone with afternoon sweat.

“Sokkwi! Get your men moving forward!” I shouted to the Green Sea Gang supervisor who should have been at the top.

There was no reply, so I strode up the ramp myself, multiplying in my mind the minutes of delay by the stones not raised. The workday might need extending.

Halfway up the rubble ramp, a scream like that of an antelope skewered by a hunter’s arrow ripped the air. I paused only a moment, the men’s eyes on me, then took to the rope-lashed ladder that leaned against the pyramid’s side. I felt the acacia wood strain under the pounding of my feet, and slowed only enough for safety. The ladder stretched to the next circuit of the ramp, and I scrambled from it, chest heaving, and sprinted through the double-line of laborers that snaked around the final ramp. Here the pyramid came to its end. Still so much to build.

Sokkwi, the gang supervisor, had his back to me when I reached the top. Several others clustered around him, bent to something on the stone. Chisels and drills lay scattered about.

“What is it? What’s happened?” The dry heat had stolen my breath, and the words panted out.

They broke apart to reveal a laborer, no more than eighteen years, on the ground, one leg pinned by a block half set in place. The boy’s eyes locked onto mine, as if to beg for mercy. “Move the stone!” I shouted to Sokkwi.

He scratched his chin. “It’s no good. The stone’s been dropped. We have nothing to—”

I jumped into the space open for the next stone, gripped the rising joint of the block that pinned the boy and yelled to a worker, larger than most. “You there! Help me slide this stone!”

He bent to thrust a shoulder against the stone. We strained against it like locusts pushing against a mountain. Sokkwi laid a hand upon my shoulder.

I rested a moment, and he inclined his head to the boy’s leg. Flesh had been torn down to muscle and bone. I reached for something to steady myself, but there was nothing at this height. The sight of blood, a weakness I had known since my youth, threatened to overcome me. I felt a warmth in my face and neck. I breathed slowly through my nose. No good for the men to see you swoon.

I knelt and placed a hand on the boy’s head, then spoke to Sokkwi. “How did this happen?”

He shrugged. “First time on the line.” He worked at something in his teeth with his tongue. “Doesn’t know the angles, I suppose.” Another shrug.

“What was he doing at the top then?” I searched the work area and the ramp below me again for Mentu. Anger churned my stomach.

The supervisor sighed and picked at his teeth with a fingernail. “Don’t ask me. I make sure the blocks climb those ramps and settle into place. That is all I do.”

How had Mentu had allowed this disaster? Justice, truth, and divine order—the ma’at—made Egypt great and made a man great. I did not like to see ma’at disturbed.

On the ramp, a woman pushed past the workers, shoving them aside in her haste to reach the top. She gained the flat area where we stood and paused, her breath huffing out in dry gasps. In her hands she held two jars, brimming with enough barley beer to allow the boy to feel fierce anger rather than beg for his own death. The surgeon came behind, readying his saw. The boy had a chance at life if the leg ended in a stump. Allowed to fester, the injury would surely kill him.

I masked my faintness with my anger and spun away.

“Mentu!” My yell carried past the lines below me, down into the desert below, perhaps to the quarry beyond. He should never have allowed so inexperienced a boy to place stones. Where had he been this morning when the gangs formed teams?

The men nearby were silent, but the work down on the plateau continued, heedless of the boy’s pain. The rhythmic ring of chisel on quarry stone punctuated the collective grunts of the quarry men, their chorus drifting across the desert, but Mentu did not answer the call.

Was he still in his bed? Mentu and I had spent last evening pouring wine and reminiscing late into the night about the days of our youth. Some of them anyway. Always one story never retold.

Another scream behind me. That woman had best get to pouring the barley beer. I could do nothing more here. I moved through the line of men, noting their nods of approval for the effort I’d made on behalf of one of their own.

When I reached the base and turned back toward the flat-topped black basalt stone where I conferred with Khons and Ded’e, I saw that another had joined them. My brother.

I slowed my steps, to allow that part of my heart to harden like mudbricks in the sun, then pushed forward.

They laughed together as I approached, the easy laugh of men comfortable with one another. My older brother leaned against the stone, his arms crossed in front of him. He stood upright when he saw me.

“Ahmose,” I said with a slight nod. “What brings you to the site?”

His smile turned to a smirk. “Just wanted to see how the project proceeds.”

“Hmm.” I focused my attention once more on the plans. The wind grabbed at the edges of the papyrus, and I used a stone cubit rod, thicker than my thumb, to weight it. “The three of us must recalculate stone transfer rates—”

“Khons seems to believe your changes are going to sink the project,” Ahmose said. He smiled, his perfect teeth gleaming against his dark skin.

The gods had favored Ahmose with beauty, charm, and a pleasing manner that made him well loved among the court. But I had been blessed with a strong mind and a stronger will. And I was grand vizier.

I lifted my eyes once more to the pyramid rising in perfect symmetry against the blue sky, and the thousands of men at my command. “The Horizon of Khufu will look down upon your children’s grandchildren, Ahmose,” I said. I leaned over my charts and braced my fingertips on the stone. “When you have long since sailed to the west, still it will stand.”

He bent beside me, his breath in my ear. “You always did believe you could do anything. Get away with anything.”

The animosity in his voice stiffened my shoulders.

“Khons, Ded’e, if you will.” I gestured to the charts. Khons snorted and clomped to my side. And Ded’e draped his forearms across the papyrus.

“It must be gratifying,” Ahmose whispered, “to command men so much more experienced than yourself.”

I turned on him, my smile tight. “And it must be disheartening to see your younger brother excel while you languish in a job bestowed only out of pity—”

A boy appeared, sparing me the indignity of exchanging blows with my brother. His sidelock identified him as a young prince, and I recognized him as the youngest of Henutsen, one of Khufu’s lesser wives.

“His Majesty Khufu, the king, Horus,” the boy said, “the strong bull, beloved by the goddess of truth—”

“Yes, yes. Life, Health, Strength!” I barked. “What does Khufu want?” I was in no mood for the string of titles.

The boy’s eyes widened and he dragged a foot through the sand. “My father commands the immediate presence of Grand Vizier Hemiunu before the throne.”

“Did he give a reason?”

The prince pulled on his lower lip. “He is very angry today.”

“Very well.” I waved him off and turned to Khons and Ded’e, rubbing the tension from my forehead. “We will continue later.”

The two overseers made their escape before Ahmose and I had a chance to go at it again. I flicked a glance in his direction, then rolled up my charts, keeping my breathing even.

Behind me Ahmose said, “Perhaps Khufu has finally seen his error in appointing you vizier.” Like a sharp poke in the kidneys when our mother wasn’t watching.

“Excuse me, Ahmose.” I pushed past him, my hands full of charts. “I have an important meeting.”

Click here to read my review

Monday, May 25, 2009

Singing to my Five Year Old


It was windy the day of her birthday party so we had to put the cake inside to sing Happy Birthday
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Mailbox Monday

Thanks to Marica at the Printed Page for hosting Mailbox Monday. Mine had plenty in it this week. The nice folks at Phenix and Phenix sent me three books:
  • The Middle Fork which is about a group that goes kayaking and ends us discussing politics, which of course leads to tension in the group. Then an accident happens and the group has to work together to make it off the river alive.
  • Four Wives is about four "perfect" wives who work together to plan a gala and who find out how imperfect they all are.
  • Dance Me Daddy is about a daddy and his daughter dancing, from the time she is a preschooler until her baby is dancing her husband. My five year old will help me review it.
Bookmooch brought me two books:
  • Temptation, a Christian novel that deals with infidelity in marriage
  • The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, which appears to deal with mental illness.
Via Bostick, I got Parenting is a Contact Sport. I also got Critical Care for a First Wildcard tour. I have already reviewed it. Finally, I got June's Magnificat from The Catholic Company. It is a monthly magazine containing both the daily mass readings as well the Morning and Evening Prayers from the Liturgy of the Hours.

Guess I need to get busy reading!








Sunday, May 24, 2009

A Review of Annie's Ghosts


I've heard it said that secrets are rarely as secret as we might imagine them to be. Annie's Ghosts is the story of one family's secret--a woman who was both mentally handicapped and mentally ill.

The author, Steve Luxenberg, is a Harvard-educated Jewish (ethnically) journalist from Detroit. In 1995 his mother told someone about a disabled sister. Since his mother had always held herself out to be an only child, this woman called the family. Steve and his siblings decided that since his mother hadn't told them about her sister, they would drop the subject. Luxenberg's mom died in 1999 and in 2000, an annual bill for flower planting not only on the graves of her parents but also for the grave of "Annie" arrived. He decided to try to learn more about Annie and why the family had never been told of her existence. In the process he not only writes a book about his mother and his aunt, but also about the mental health and welfare system as it existed in the 1930's to 1970's.

Luxenberg's search for his aunt, and in some ways, his mother, takes him to old family friends and relatives around the country. He even ends up with a trip to the Ukraine to the village from which his father came. He learns about his parents' early marriage by reading letters they exchanged during WWII. He tells stories of dealing with bored bureaucrats, and helpful civil servants. His quest not only teaches him about his aunt, but also about his parents, grandparents and other relatives.

This is a well-written interesting book and I highly recommend it.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Daisy Chain: My Review


One reason I like Christian fiction is that the books are usually light happy reads, and everything wraps up with a bow at the end. That may not be indicative of a sophisticated reader, but it is me. I read for entertainment and generally speaking, I choose happy books. Daisy Chain is not a happy book.
Daisy Chain is the story of Daisy, the daughter of a single mother, and her best friend Jed Pepper. They live in the town of Deliverance, Texas and in 1977 they are thirteen years old. He is afraid of his father's wrath if he is late for supper, so he doesn't walk her home one night. She never makes it home; she is missing and the rest of the book is a search for her. While she is found before the book ends, how and why she disappeared is suggested, but never completely determined. Since this is the first book in a trilogy, I have to wonder if the ultimate resolution will be different.

Domestic abuse is a major part of this book. Jed's father is a minister, a pillar of the community, and his entire family is physically abused. The book is Christian fiction and faith is a part of the story, from both a good and bad standpoint. The abusive minister preaches about the sins of his family and is in all ways nothing like what a Christian should be. Jed wonders whether prayer really helps. For people of faith, trying to figure out the power of prayer vs the Santa God is part of growing up, and in a lot of way this is a coming of age novel, so I'd say the faith elements are important to the story, but not preachy.

Since one thing I often do when reviewing Christian fiction is point out where books misrepresent or paint a poor picture of Catholicism, I have to point out how well Mary Demuth depicts it in this book. Jed's father is pastor of what seems to be your basic generic Protestant church. However, he hates Catholicism and has preached against it. He forbids his wife from being friends with Muriel, a Catholic woman who is dying of cancer. We learn that Muriel, who befriends Jed, was raised Catholic but had no faith until married a man who was the pastor of one of these small independent survivalist "we hate everyone but us" Christian churches. He was abusive, but did preach about Jesus and through him she learned about Jesus. She said when she really learned about Jesus, it made her want to return to the Catholic Church, but her husband stood in her way. When he died, she returned to the Church.

The book is well-written. While it wasn't a "fun" read it was enjoyable in its own way and I recommend it.

City of the Dead: My Review


City of the Dead is one of a series of books by T.L. Higley that tell a story related to one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. I already reviewed another of these books, In the Shadow of Colossus. City of the Dead is set in ancient Egypt and the main character is Hemiunu, the Grand Vizier and architect of the Great Pyramid. It combines a murder mystery, romance, history and religion. In a nutshell, some people who are close to Hemiuno start turning up dead, and covered with beautiful death masks. Hemiuno starts to investigate and at first believes their deaths have something to do with a strange religion they practice. Instead of worshipping Egypt's traditional gods, they are the People of the One, and they look forward to a savior.

The book contains a lot of historical detail about the clothing the people wore, the life of those building the pyramid, and the religion the Egyptians practiced. If I remember my history correctly, at least one pharaoh was monotheistic, but I don't remember if I ever knew much about his version of monotheism. I guess what I'm saying is I don't know whether The People of the One are a figment of Higley's imagination or a historical reality, but I suppose that they are why this book is classified as Christian fiction. The descriptions given of them and their hidden worship reminded me of the Christians in the catacombs.

I enjoyed the book and recommend it.

First Wildcard will tour this book next week; check back then to read the first chapter.

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hi folks! Hope everyone had a great week. My son was confirmed Monday night, the end of what has been a long process for us. You may have read my Catholic Carnival submission about it earlier this year, and I blogged about it this week as well. In real life, I'm a paralegal, and this week I've been in trial so I haven't gotten much reading or blogging done. However, last night I read Critical Care, fluffy Christian romance novel with a strong pro-life message.

If you are joining us for the first time, Sunday Snippets is a chance for Catholic bloggers, whether they blog exclusively about things Catholic, or whether their "Catholic" posts are few and far between, to share with posts and readers with other Catholic bloggers. To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. In it, highlight and link to one or more of your posts from the last week. Also, provide a link to this post. Next, come back here and add your name and URL to Mr. Linky. If you'd like a weekly reminder to post, subcribe to our yahoogroup

Faith n Fiction Saturday



This week, Amy asks:
A lot of us are reviewers which means we consume books at a rate that blows the minds of others. As a result, we might start seeing the same thing over. and over. and over.

What are some cliched phrases or plot devices in Christian fiction that you'd like to see go?

My Answer:

That's easy. I'm tired of seeing main characters who are not Christians being depicted as people who are unhappy or troubled in this world, and then, once they become Christians, they become happy pleasant people--and able to love and be loved by the other partner in the romance. Jesus didn't promise us happiness in this world--look what happened to him and to His apostles.

Critical Care: My Review


Some of my first "grown-up" books were those paperback nurse romances that my local library kept on a shelf right next to the children's section (that was in the days before teens had their own rooms at the library). I liked them so much that I decided I was going to be a nurse when I grew up, a goal that lasted until I took (and hated) high school chemistry. The self-knowledge I've gained since then confirms that giving up that goal was the right thing to do, even if the reason was wrong. In any case, this book, Critical Care by Candace Calvert, reminded me of those old books.

Critical Care is primarily a romance novel. Her name is Claire and she is a nurse-educator who used to be an ER nurse. Her nurse-educator credentials are newly-minted, compliments of an inheritance from her brother, a firefighter who died in the ER where she was working. Needless to say, she wants no part of ER work and charts a career course as far away from it as possible. His name is Logan and he is the doctor in charge of the ER. They meet when she is called to the ER to do crisis intervention with the staff after a daycare explosion. He doesn't believe in counselling and all that touchy-feely stuff. They are attracted to each other nevertheless. Like many of those old nurse novels I used to read, he is demanding and hard to work for--but it is because of his deep care for his patients.

Critical Care is Christian fiction. I'd say it follows the typical Christian fiction romance model of at least one of the characters having to find God before they can live happily ever after. I'm also pleased to say the book has a definite pro-life message.

While Critical Care is a romance, and is primarily about the two lead characters, two of the other nurses get a lot of lines, and since this is the first book in a series, I'd guess that the next two will be about them.

I enjoyed Critical Care. There was nothing terribly original about it, but it was a light, fun read; the perfect way to veg out after having spent the week in trial.

Check out the author's website.

First Wildcard will tour this book July 1. Check back then the read the first chapter.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

First Wildcard: Mohamed's Moon

Click here to read my review

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It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!



Today's Wild Card author is:




and the book:



Mohamed's Moon

Realms (May 5, 2009)



ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


Keith Clemens is a native of Southern California and graduate of English Literature at California State University, Fullerton. His passion for communication has resulted in the publication of more than a hundred articles. Today, in addition to writing, he appears on radio and television where he uses his communications skills to explain coming trends that will affect both the church and society at large. Clemens lives with his wife and daughter in Caledon, Ontario, Canada and has written five novels including Angel in the Alley and the award winning If I Should Die, These Little Ones, and Above The Stars.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback
Publisher: Realms (May 5, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1599795256
ISBN-13: 978-1599795256

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Sun sparkles on the Nile in flecks of gold, shimmering like the mask of Tutankhamen. The decaying wood boat—a felucca—is as ancient as the flow that passes beneath its hull, its sail a quilt-work of patches struggling to catch the wind. The craft creaks with the prodding of the rudder, bringing it about to tack across the current, cutting toward land with wind and water breaking against its bow. All along the shore a pattern emerges: villages sandwiched between checkerboard squares of cornfields, sugarcane, and cotton bolls. In the distance a barefoot girl herds sheep, goading them with a stick. At the sound of their bleating, a water buffalo foraging in the marsh lifts its head, causing the birds on its back to take flight. A dark-robed woman stoops to wash her dishes in the canal. Purple lilies clog the water in which a small boy also swims.

The cluster of yellow mud-brick homes erupts out of the ground like an accident of nature, a blemish marring the earth's smooth surface. There are fewer than a hundred, each composed of mud and straw—the same kind of brick the children of Israel made for their Egyptian taskmasters. Four thousand years later, little has changed.

Those living here are the poorest of the poor, indigent souls gathered from Egypt's overpopulated metropolitan centers and relocated to work small parcels of land as part of a government-sponsored program to stem the growth of poverty. It's the dearth that catches your eye, an abject sense of hopelessness that has sent most of the young men back into the cities to find work and thrust those who stayed behind into deeper and more odious schools of fundamentalist Islam.

 ... ... 

Zainab crouched at the stove, holding back the black tarha that covered her hair. She reached down and shoveled a handful of dung into the arched opening, stoking the fire. The stove, like a giant clay egg cut in half, was set against the outside wall of the dwelling. She blew the smoldering tinder until it erupted into flame, fanning the fumes away from her watering eyes while lifting the hem of her black galabia as she stepped back, hoping to keep the smoke from saturating her freshly washed garment.

She had bathed and, in the custom of Saidi women, darkened her eyes and hennaed her hair just as Nefertiti once did, though it was hard to look beautiful draped in a shroud of black. She fingered her earrings and necklace, pleased at the way the glossy dark stones shone in the light. Mere baubles perhaps, but Khalaf had given them to her, so their value was intrinsic.

He had been away more than a month, attending school. She hadn't been able to talk to him, but at least his brother, Sayyid—she cringed, then checked herself—had been kind enough to send word that today would be a day of celebration. It had to mean Khalaf was coming home. She brought a hand up, feeling the scarf at the back of her head. She wanted him to see her with her hair down, her raven-dark tresses lustrous and full, but that would have to wait.

She went inside to prepare a meal of lettuce and tomatoes with chicken and a dish called molohaya made of greens served with rice. It was an extravagance. Most days they drank milk for breakfast and in the evening ate eggs or beans. She'd saved every extra piaster while her husband was away, walking fifteen miles in the hot Egyptian sun to sell half of the beans she'd grown just so they'd be able to dine on chicken tonight. Khalaf would be pleased.

She turned toward the door. A beam of yellow light streamed into the room, revealing specks of cosmic dust floating through the air. She brought her hands to her hips, nodding. Everything was ready. She'd swept the straw mat and the hard dirt floor. The few unfinished boards that composed the low table where they would recline were set with ceramic dishware and cups. Even the cushion of their only other piece of furniture, the long low bench that rested against the wall, had been taken outside and the dust beaten from its seams.

Not counting the latrine, which was just a stall surrounding a hole in the ground that fed into a communal septic system, the house boasted only three rooms. One room served as the kitchen, living room, and dining room. The other two were small bedrooms. The one she shared with her husband, Khalaf, was barely wide enough for the dingy mattress that lay on the dirt floor leaking tufts of cotton. The other was for their son, who slept on a straw mat with only a frayed wool blanket to keep him warm.

She wiped her hands on her robe, satisfied that everything was in order. If Sayyid was right and Khalaf had news to celebrate, he would be in good spirits, and with a special dinner to complete the mood, perhaps she would have a chance to tell him.

She thought of the letter hidden safely under her mattress. Maybe she'd get to visit her friend in America and . . . best not to think about that. Please, Isa, make it so.

She reached for the clay pitcher on the table and poured water into a metal pot. Returning to the stove outside, she slipped the pot into the arched opening where it could boil. Khalaf liked his shai dark and sweet, and for that, the water had to be hot.

... ...

The boy danced around the palm with his arms flailing, balancing the ball on his toe. He flipped it into the air and spun around to catch it on his heel and then kicked it back over his shoulder and caught it on his elbow, keeping it in artful motion without letting it touch the ground. He could continue with the ball suspended in air for hours by bouncing it off various limbs of his body. Soccer was his game. If only they would take him seriously, but that wouldn't happen until he turned thirteen and became a man, and that was still two years away. It didn't matter. One day he would be a champion, with a real ball, running down the field with the crowds chanting his name.

He let the ball drop to the ground, feigning left and right, and scooping the ball under his toes, kicked it against the palm's trunk. Score! His hands flew into the air as he did a victory dance and leaned over to snatch his ball from the ground—not a ball really, just an old sock filled with rags and enough sand to give it weight—but someday he would have a real ball and then . . . 

A cloud of blackbirds burst from the field of cane. There was a rustling, then movement. He crept to the edge of the growth, curious, but whatever, or whoever, it was remained veiled behind the curtain of green.

He pushed the cane aside. "What are you doing?" he said, staring at Layla. The shadow of the leafy stalks made her face a puzzle of light.

"Come here," she whispered, drawing him toward her with a motion of her hand.

"No. Why are you hiding?"

"Come here and I'll tell you." Her voice was subdued but also tense, like the strings of a lute stretched to the point of breaking.

"I don't want to play games. You come out. Father's not here to see you."

"We're leaving."

"What?"

"Come here. We have to talk."

"Talk? Why? What's there to talk about?" The boy let his ball drop to the ground. He stepped forward and, sweeping the cane aside and pushing it behind him, held it back with his thigh.

"We have to move. They're packing right now. We have to leave within the hour." Layla's eyes glistened and filled with moisture.

The boy blinked, once, slowly, but didn't respond. He knew. His mother had overheard friends talking. He shook his head. "Then I guess you'd better go."

"My father came here because he wanted to help, but now he says we can't stay. He says we're going to Minya where there are many Christians."

"Then I won't see you again?"

"I don't know. Maybe you will. Father says he can't abandon his patients. He may come to visit, but Mother's afraid. Why do they hate us?"

The boy shook his head, his lower lip curling in a pout.

"Do you think we will marry someday?"

His eyes narrowed. Where had that come from? "Marry? We could never be married. You . . . you're a Christian."

"I know. But that doesn't mean . . . "

"Yes, it does mean! My father says you're an infidel, a blasphemer. If your father wasn't a doctor, they would've driven him out long ago. Father would never let us marry. He hates it when he sees us together."

"That's why I've been thinking . . . " She paused, adding emphasis to her words. "You and your whole family must become Christians. Then we can be married."

"You're talking like a fool, Layla. My family is Saidi. We will never be Christian."

"But your mother's a Christian."

"No, she's not!"

"Is too. I heard—"

"Liar!" The boy clenched his fists. "My dad says all Christians are liars. My mother would never become a Christian. They would kill her."

Layla reached out, took the boy by the collar, and pulled him in, kissing him on the lips. Then she pushed him back, her eyes big as saucers against her olive skin, her eyebrows raised. She shrank back into the foliage. "Sorry, I . . . I didn't . . . I just . . . excuse me. I have to go. I'll pray for you," she said and, turning away, disappeared into the dry stalks of cane.

Click here to read my review

Monday, May 18, 2009

Confirmation

My son finally decided to be confirmed. I guess the Holy Spirit got to him when Mom couldn't. To recap the saga, our archdiocese confirmed eighth graders until the year before he was to be confirmed. The year he was a freshman, he was "invited" to the first confirmation meeting. It was scheduled for a Monday in September, about a year after Hurricane Katrina. At that time, when he knew nothing about the requirements, except that they included that meeting, he decided he didn't want to be confirmed. I told him that was his decision, but that he had to go through all the preparation classes anyway. That meeting didn't help--and the DRE running the meeting was in a bad mood because no one wanted to be there, since it was the date of the Saints first home football game since Katrina. He got snippy with at least one kid whose parents weren't there (probably because they had tickets before his meeting was called).

After that auspicious start, we had no place to go but up. Unfortunately one of the requirements for Catholic school students (which he was at the time) was to attend one Lifeteen mass and meeting per month. He despises everything about Lifeteen. As a former youth minister told me, the program is built on sensory overload and autistic kids don't do sensory overload (or put another way, ordinary life overloads his senses; he doesn't need loud music and hugging added to the mix). He tolerated that, barely, for two years. Then this year he switched to public school and public school kids were supposed to go weekly, since they didn't take religion in school. Fortunately the DRE knew he went to mass weekly and said he didn't have to go to the Lifeteen mass. Then he started really acting up at Life Nights and so I pulled him out--I saw no reason to ruin it for the other kids. Still he steadfastly said he didn't want to be confirmed. I told the DRE about his choice, and she said that any time he changed his mind, I should just let her know; that he had done enough prep and he could be confirmed. Then one day he said that if he never had to go to Lifeteen again, he'd be confirmed.

His sponser was an old friend of my husbands who had been a teacher at the Catholic elementary he attended for a few years. Funny thing is that even though his sponser has taught middle school in a Catholic school all these years, and the kids are crazy about him, he has never been asked to be a sponser before. He always looked out for my son and said how happy he was to be asked.

Right now, it's hard being his mom. I see the other kids his age reaching milestones he either isn't reaching yet, and in some cases, will probably never reach; yet, he isn't like some handicapped kids whose parents have known for years that they will never progress beyond a certain point. We don't know what he can do and we keep trying to push him forward. I know God made him the way he is, and that there are a lot of kids out there with a lot worse problems. Yet, when your seventeen year olds life goals are to play videogames, it is hard. It is hard when you see what his handicap prevents him from doing, when you see people reacting negatively towards him (and yet can realize that you pretty much feel the same way about other people's kids who act that way), when you know how much is inside him that the packaging doesn't let out. Well, thamks to our understanding DRE, confirmation is one milestone he did reach, at the same time as his peers. Next up, high school graduation (but that will be a year late).

Mailbox Monday

I think my outgo this week exceeded by income, but looking at my TBR stack, that's a good thing. I got A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church from The B&B Media Group. I've written several posts about it. I've been wanting to read the Shopaholic books and this week Bookmooch brought me Confessions of a Shopaholic. I started it, but dumped it. I guess I just can't relate to someone who knows she is in money trouble but just keeps on spending on foolishness. Finally, I got Annie's Ghosts from FSB Associates. It is the story of one family's experience with mental illness. Now, is my next read going to be serious or funny?


Thanks to Marcia at the Printed Page for hosting!

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival. This is a chance for Catholic bloggers to share your best posts and promote your blog. To participate, create a post on your blog titled Sunday Snippets. In it, describe and link to any post or posts you wish to highlight. Tell us something that will make us want to click through and read your post(s) and maybe become regular readers of your blog. Also, link your post to this one. Finally, once your post is up, and you have the URL, come back here and sign Mr. Linky so we can find your post.

I have been asked whether people who post infrequently can just link a post directly to Mr. Linky, rather than creating a Sunday Snippets post. Of course you can, but since one purpose of Sunday Snippets is for us to direct our readers to other blogs, I ask that you mention and link to Sunday Snippets in your post.

If you want a weekly reminder of Sunday Snippets, subscribe to our yahoogroup.

This week I've been reading about Evangelical Protestantism via a book called A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church. I posted first about what I saw as the strengths of evangelical churches as I saw them. Next, I reviewed the book and pointed out what the author saw as their weaknesses. I also read a Christian romance novel about a Catholic family, and reviewed it. My final read this week was It Happened In Italy, about how the Italians treated the Jews during WWII, and how that helped so many survive.

1. Colleen
2. Luuk Dominiek OP
3. Karin@Daughter of the King
4. Sarah Reinhard
5. womanatwell
6. SAHMinIL
7. Christi at mybakersdoz formerly mum2twelve
8. Elena@My Domestic Church
9. heartfeltheartlook
10. the3theresas
11. Renee at SAGA
12. Jude Manickam
13. Evann @ Homeschool Goodies
14. Nod

Powered by... Mister Linky's Magical Widgets.

A Lover's Quarrel with the Evangelical Church


On Tuesday I wrote that I was reading this book, and why. I also told you about my background, because my reactions to this book are largely colored by the fact that I am not a member of an evangelical Protestant church. Today I'm going to tell you about the book. As I noted in my last post, it is a book written by an evangelical Protestant about what is wrong with American Evangelical Protestantism. Some of his complaints deal with doctrine--or more precisely the lack thereof in some churches. The author, Warren Cole Smith, looks at "the Christian-Industrial Complex", "The Evangelical Myth", "The Triumph of Sentimentality", and "Body Count Evangelism. He compares the megachurch phenomenon to the Great Awakening and the Second Great Awakening. He looks at the effect the media has had on evangelicals, and the effect they have had on the media. He examines what happens when religion becomes involved in politics and gives numbers and dollar amounts from some of the large parachurch ministries such as Focus on the Family or Billy Graham's crusades.

In my last post I was hesitant to name what I didn't like about Evangelical Protestantism because I know from reading Protestants write about Catholicism that outsiders to not necessarily see us as we see ourselves and that when we see our way as normative, then other ways often look bad, even if they aren't, or they appear to us to be something they aren't. My favorite example of that is when Protestants see us kneeling in front of a statue of a saint and praying, they say we are worshipping the saint,when nothing could be further from the truth--but it truly appears that way to them. What I found in this book however, is that the author had the same impression about many things that I did. He decries the celebrity status of people like Joel Olsteen, Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker. He sees real problems with the short-term mission trips that have become all the rage in some circles. He sees megachurches and parachurch ministries drawing in large numbers of unchurched people, but having little to no long-term effect on these people's lives. He even questions the use of video presentation equipment during church services. He sees churches with no history, both in terms of theology and doctrine as well as in people, because both their pastors and their members are young.

So, what does this mean to me, a Catholic who has no intention of leaving the Church? Well, for one thing, it means I'm not the only one to get the creeps when I hear Joel Olsteen. It means the grass isn't necessarily greener on the other side of the fence, and that maybe those who used to sit next to me at mass may find their way back. It means, as many Catholics have discovered, that the Church has to stand for something. If it doesn't then it is just another form of entertainment (and not a very good one) or social club (definitely second rate). While there has to be outreach to where people are, the goal isn't to stay there with them, but lead them to the truth.

It Happened In Italy by Elizabeth Bettina: My Review



It Happened in Italy is a wonderful story but a very mediocre book. The author, Elizabeth Bettina, an American of Italian descent learns that Italian Jews were interned in her ancestral town during WWII. What's more, she learned that, other than the lack of freedom, life in that camp, and other Italian concentration camps, wasn't that bad. In short, while the Jews were confined, they were not mistreated until Mussolini fell and the Nazi's started deporting the Italian Jews. Even then, they were not as successful as they might have been because the Italians did not cooperate.

I'm glad this story is being told; however as a book, It Happened in Italy has its faults. Bettina spends a lot of time talking about the logistics of a trip to Italy and bragging that she managed to get appointments with people it is usually difficult to see. She tells the stories of the survivors, but after the first few they start to sound the same. In short, she used 300 pages to tell a story that could have been told well in 200.

I'd like to thank the Thomas Nelson Publishers for this book. You can read more about it on their product page.

A Passion Denied: My Review



It is an interesting feeling, sitting down to write a less than positive review of a book about which many people will gush positively. However, that's what I'm about to to. A Passion Denied is the third book in Julie Lessman's Daughters of Boston series. They are about a devout Catholic Boston Irish family, and this one takes place in the 1920s, during Prohibition. You can read my review of A Passion Most Pure and A Passion Redeemed by clicking on their titles.

Maybe I'm wrong about the number of people who will love this book. In some ways it has something to annoy a lot of Christian fiction readers. First of all, sex is very prominent in the book. No, we don't get vivid descriptions of who did what to whom, beyond a few neck nibbles, and dropping nightgowns, but sex seems to be the topic of half the conversations in the book. One husband is afraid to do it because his wife is pregnant and his mother lost a baby after having sex. Another husband wants to do it all the time, not only for the usual reason but also because he wants a baby, and they aren't conceiving easily. Another husband refuses to do it because he is deeply hurt by his wife. The unmarried daughter who is the focus of the story is learning about her sexuality and about limits. The male lead is afraid of sex because of something in his past.

The book is also likely to annoy those who read Christian fiction in spite of the religious message rather than because of it. There is a lot of religion in this book; lots of scripture quoting, lots of discussing religion and God's will for us, particularly as it relates to marriage and sex. It seems that if the characters weren't talking about sex, they were talking about God.

What is the story? The third daughter in the family, Elizabeth, has been in love with John Brady, the man who has studied the Bible with members of her family, since she was 13. Now she is 18 and wants him to recognize her as a woman, and marry her. He says he loves her like a sister, and that she can never be more to him than that. Will she convince him he is wrong, or will she end up with one of the other men in the story? I'll let you read and discover the answer.

As noted earlier, the family in this series is Catholic. The author, Julie Lessman, was raised Catholic but in now an evangelical Protestant. I found her representation of Catholicism in these books to be flawed, but not necessarily disrespectful. As I noted in my other reviews, though described as Catholic, the family's spirituality was more like today's evangelical Protestants than like that of Catholics from the 1920's. There were also errors relating to Catholicism. Some examples:
  • At the end of the previous book, it appeared that one sister and her fiance' were about to elope at City Hall. That was (and is) a serious sin and would have been seen as the same as living together without being married. In this book it appears they did indeed elope.
  • At one point in this book a priest is summoned to help someone dealing with sin in a destructive manner. It was mentioned that Fr. had time to come over before saying mass that day. When Fr. enters the house, he is offered, and accepts, coffee. At that time, in order to go to communion, you had to fast from midnite. As a priest, Fr. had to receive communion at mass; so he couldn't eat until he was done saying masses for the day.
  • Lizzie wanted to talk to someone after mass, only the book referred to it as the service, not mass.
  • The Catholic characters quote scripture extensively throughout the book, yet it isn't the Catholic Douay-Rheims they quote, but the Protestant King James (which they were discouraged if not forbidden from reading).
  • The Wedding March is mentioned as being played at a wedding; it wasn't allowed.
  • Lizzie prays in the church and remembers her childhood habit of "seeing" Jesus on the bench in the balcony; she senses Him there on the bench at her wedding, but no mention is made of her experiencing His presence in the tabernacle.
  • One of the characters has a serious sin in his past which is having a serious effect on his current life; despite his outwardly devout behavior. He is having a hard time accepting God's forgiveness and moving on with his life. When confronted with this sin, he commits another. At that point a friend fetches the priest who is the sinner's spiritual director/counsellor and the sinner goes to confession, though all we are privy to is "Bless me Father, for I have sinned..." Later, the priest tells other people some things he might have learned in that confession--or might have learned while counselling the man. It at least made me wonder if the seal of confession had been violated.

Most of these seem like mistakes made by someone who doesn't "get" Catholic spirituality, rather than things done to make Catholicism look bad. Except for that one man, none of the characters deal with sin through confession. Bible study either on their own, or with other lay people is their preferred spiritual practice.

As I said in my reviews of the other books, a story like this written by a Catholic who "gets" Catholicism would make my day because despite its flaws, this was an enjoyable read.

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