Monday, May 31, 2010

First Wildcard: Texas Roads

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:

WordVessel Press (March 1, 2010)
***Special thanks to Cathy Bryant for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:



Cathy Bryant is a proud member of FIRST and a country girl at heart. Her debut novel, Texas Roads, was a 2009 finalist in the American Christian Fiction Writers' Genesis competition. A Texas gal by birth, Cathy lives with her husband in a century-old Texas farmhouse, complete with picket fence, flowers, butterflies, and late summer mosquitoes the size of your fist.


Visit the author's book website.
Visit the author's website.
Visit the author's blog.



Product Details:

List Price: $12.99
Paperback: 304 pages
Publisher: WordVessel Press (March 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0984431101
ISBN-13: 978-0984431106

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:



Chapter One ~ Longing For Home




Dani’s blue Honda Civic lurched and sputtered, drawing her attention to the neon-orange needle on the gas gauge. Empty. A frustrated growl rushed from her throat as she maneuvered onto the tufts of new spring grass at the side of the country road, turned off the ignition, and leaned her head back against the seat, berating herself for her forgetfulness. She’d love to blame this on the fight with her mother, but it wouldn’t explain the hundreds of times she’d made similar mistakes. One more to add to her collection.

She rubbed the dull ache building between her eyes, and stared at her surroundings on this Texas back road. Why did she choose today, of all days, to visit her aunt, a woman she knew only from chatty letters and a brief phone call?

Escape.

She longed to escape. To disappear, to travel so far away that painful memories became yesterday’s ashes.

A stray tear wandered down her cheek and she banished it with a swipe. Today marked the one-year anniversary of Richard’s death. Death had robbed her—not only of her husband, but of her dream—and stamped her heart’s one desire with angry red letters: REQUEST DENIED. Thanks to the life insurance and the inheritance of her father’s company, a ridiculous sum of money now graced her bank account, but not enough to buy what couldn’t be purchased. A house, yes—but not a home.

Stop wallowing, Dani. She grabbed her cell phone and flipped it opened. No signal. Of course. She climbed from the car to scan the horizon. Nothing but tree-dotted pastures and a few cows. Breathing deep to quell the rush of panic, she closed her eyes and envisioned a sweet grandmother-type driving up to offer a ride. Her eyes fluttered open. Yeah, right. She wasn’t Cinderella. Godmothers didn’t exist. And Prince Charming? The biggest fairy tale of all.

Her marriage was proof.

Waiting to be rescued just squandered precious hours of daylight. She snatched her purse from the passenger seat, slammed the car door, and stamped toward Miller’s Creek. Like a scratched CD, Mother’s hurtful words from the earlier phone conversation replayed in her mind, and none of it made sense. Why did her mother oppose this visit to see Aunt Beth? And what had caused a rift the size of Texas between the two sisters?

A cramp commenced in her toes and inched into her feet. With a frown, she eyed her shoes. Heels weren’t exactly the footwear of choice for hiking country roads. Balancing her discount-store purse in the crook of her arm, she rifled through its contents, searching for the keys as she marched back to the car. A sudden realization forced her into a stilted run, and a strangled sound ripped from her throat. “Please, no!”

The keys dangled from the ignition, teasing her like chocolate candy behind a counter of glass. With a guttural groan, Dani tilted her face toward the cloud-darkened sky. “What do You have against me?”

The isolated countryside responded with silence.

On the continued trek toward Miller’s Creek, the hush enveloped her, the only sound an occasional bird’s song and the rhythmic thud of her heels against the pavement. So peaceful. So unlike the city’s unending drone. The bluebonnets and Indian Blankets of early spring painted the countryside, stretching beyond the barbed-wire fence into open fields, and the breeze tangled her hair. As she breathed in the fresh air, her shoulder muscles unknotted. Then a low rumble pulled her gaze to the clouded sky.

Heavy raindrops pelted Dani’s face and dotted her consignment shop designer jacket. Within minutes she was drenched, the metallic taste of make-up dribbling into her mouth. She kicked at a rock, self-pity seeping through her like the rain through her dry-clean-only suit.

With a shiver she hunched over and pulled the soggy jacket closer in an effort to get warm. Burning pain in her left little toe hinted at the formation of a blister, but she hobbled on, her thoughts on her aunt. Could Aunt Beth provide the sense of family she so desperately needed? She attempted to toss the question from her mind. One thing was for certain. Her drowned-rat-appearance would make a memorable first impression. Just not in a good way.

The faint roar of an engine sounded behind her and intensified. Finally. She turned to see an older model pickup top the hill, and waved her arms in an effort to make herself seen in the rain and approaching nightfall. The beat-up truck slowed to a stop and the window lowered.

Dani tried to swallow, but her throat clamped shut. This was no grandmother. With one finger, a dusty cowboy pushed up his sweat-stained hat, his other arm draped over the steering wheel. “Can I give you a ride, ma’am?”

Dani brushed the drippy hair from her eyes, resisting the urge to correct his grammar. The word was may, not can. “I…uh…r-ran out of gas.”

The cowboy smiled, his teeth white against his dirt-smudged face. “That’s not what I asked.”

With a glance in the direction of her car, Dani’s brain accelerated into high gear. “Actually, if you’d be so kind as to get me some gas—”

A soft chuckle resonated from him, and his eyes twinkled.

She hoisted her chin. How dare he laugh at her.

“Look, ma’am.” His picture-perfect smile disappeared behind the long line of his lips, his voice laced with impatience. “I know you’re concerned about accepting a ride with someone you don’t know. Can’t say I blame you. But by the time I get to town, get gas and get back out here, it’s going to be dark. Then you’ll have plenty of reason to be afraid.”

She raised a hand to her lips. What he said made sense, but could she trust him?

His mouth curled at the corners. “Coyotes are pretty bad in these parts. Sure wouldn’t want to be out here after dark. Especially alone.”

Coyotes? Dani yanked on the door handle and hoisted herself onto the grimy seat. After one breath in, she wrinkled her nose and sniffed. What was that smell? Eau de Sweat? She swiveled her head toward him and found his gaze trained on her, his face lined with suppressed laughter.

He needn’t be so amused. Dani fidgeted with the seat belt, and held it with one hand to keep it from riding across her nose. “I think someone up there must not like me.”

“What makes you say that?” He stared at her like she was mentally unbalanced and put the truck in gear.

“It’s just been a rough day. Like God has it in for me or something.”

He raised one brow. “I think God must love you a lot, or I wouldn’t have come home this way. Not many people use this road anymore.”

Dani drew in a sharp breath. Did God love her? She gave her wet head a shake, sending droplets of water to the worn seat. Yeah, right. No one could love her. Not even God.

Conversation lapsed as the rain continued its steady stream, thundering against the roof, yet unable to drown out the hum of the truck’s engine. What would’ve happened to her if he hadn’t driven by? The only coyote she’d seen were the ones in science videos at school. A surprising shudder scuttled down her spine, followed by a shiver that rattled her teeth.

The cowboy shifted her direction, his dark eyes focused on her ruined jacket. “You must be cold.”

Brilliant deduction, Sherlock. Were all small-town people as intelligent as him? “What clued you in? My dripping clothes or blue lips?”

He laughed out loud, a hearty sound that made her somehow feel better. “Feeling a little testy, huh?” His eyes sparkled with amusement.

She hung her head, half in shame and partly to conceal the smile that crept onto her face without permission. “Sorry.”

Dani started as he reached toward her, but relaxed when he pulled a brown suede leather jacket from behind the seat. “Here. This ought to warm you up.”

“Thanks.” She gripped the stained coat with two fingers, and examined it for signs of vermin. None she could see. “Looks…uh…nice and cozy.” She snuggled into its warmth and breathed in the light scent of men’s cologne.

Richard.

Dani closed her eyes, the unwelcome memories and emotions clawing their way through her insides. The feelings still took her by surprise, crawling into her consciousness at unexpected times. Had she not been a good enough wife? Is that why he’d betrayed her?

“By the way, I’m Steve Miller.” The stranger’s silky baritone interrupted her thoughts.

She opened her eyes to find his hand extended toward her. “Dani.” She clasped his hand. Not as rough as she expected for a cowboy.

“You really shouldn’t be on the back roads without enough fuel, you know.” The look he gave her was stern, but kind.

Dani swallowed the sarcastic reply that popped into her head, and instead sent him a pasted-on smile.

His gaze rested on her wedding band. “Your husband not able to come along?”

The irony of his question made her grimace. At least the ring had served its purpose. She shook her head and focused on the passing terrain, some fields completely covered in wildflowers. How many more miles?

He leaned forward and made eye contact. “Been to Miller’s Creek before?”

“Once when I was little, but I don’t remember much about it.”

“It’s a nice place.” His voice held a hint of pride. “Any family there?”

She slid a hand over her wet hair and cleared her throat. Time to change the subject. Let him enjoy the hot seat for a while. “An aunt. What about you? Have you lived in Miller’s Creek long?”

His eyebrow cocked into a furry question mark. “All my life.”

“No surprise there,” she muttered to herself. She glanced at his filthy blue jeans and tattered shirt. It had probably been that long since he’d taken a bath. Immediate guilt rained over her. Ease up, Dani. At least he offered you a ride.

“Excuse the way I look. We had a fence to mend today at the ranch.”

Heat built up steam under her cheeks, and she averted her eyes. Okay, he wasn’t supposed to hear that.

His expression held nothing but friendliness. “I might know your aunt. What’s her name?”

She rubbed fingers against her damp pants. Was it wise to divulge that information?

“Never mind.” Steve held up a hand, a thin layer of black showing beneath his nails. “I know you city folks have to be careful about stuff like that.”

What was it with his ability to read her mind? “City folks? You make it sound like a disease or something.” She hugged her arms to her chest. “Besides, how do you know I’m from the city?”

“’Cause people from around here don’t dress up in such fancy duds.” His dark eyes glinted and her nerves unraveled more.

“True. They wear cowboy hats and drive beat-up trucks.”

His throaty laughter reverberated in the cab. “Guess I had that coming.”

Once again her cheeks fired up. Resting her elbow on the door, Dani leaned her hot face against her fist and wished for a punching bag.

“Which city?”

She stared at the tattered pickup cab ceiling and drew in a breath. “Dallas.” If they didn’t get to Miller’s Creek soon she was going to blow.

“Should-a guessed that.” Steve’s face scrunched up. “How can you stand living in the city with all that noise and traffic?”

“I suppose the same way you live with stinky old cows and a lack of civilization.” Her voice rose in frustration.

Dani wished the blurted-out words back in her mouth. Too late.

She started to apologize, but Steve spoke before she could get a word out. “You in business for yourself, or you work for a corporation?”

Where’d he get that idea? “I’m an elementary school teacher.”

“Really?” His brows notched up and he snickered.

Irritation seeped through the cracks of her frazzled nerves like floodwater penetrating a leaky dam. She twisted her head to glare at him. “Is that so difficult to believe?”

A smirky smile snaked across the cowboy’s face. “Guess not. It’s just that Miller’s Creek teachers don’t dress up like you. They get down on the floor with their kids.”

The dam burst wide open. “Well now it’s my turn to be amazed. I didn’t know small towns like Miller’s Creek had schools.” Dani huffed out the words then yanked her head around to clamp a hand over her mouth. What was wrong with her today?

Broken only by the swish of the windshield wipers and the pit-pat of rain drops, the silence hung between them, thick and sultry. Suffocating. She let out a slow breath and ducked her head to study him from beneath her lashes. Steve faced forward, the dark hair at the nape of his neck curling upward, his stubbled jaw locked. Most of her friends would classify him as handsome, but she wasn’t looking for a man. Not ever again.

He began to whistle, a shrill sound that chafed against her raw nerve endings. She pressed a hand to her temple. How much farther could it be? “Is there a convenience store in Miller’s Creek by any chance?” She tried to infuse her tone with kindness.

His cinnamon eyes turned on her—dry hot winds that withered everything in their path. “Of course. Right next to the community outhouse.”

A nervous giggle escaped before she could stifle it, but Steve’s daggered glare brought it to a quick halt. After a few minutes she peeked at his face, now chiseled from granite. Way to go, Dani. She’d already offended one member of Miller’s Creek, and hadn’t even made it to the city limits.

The rain ceased as they pulled into town, and Dani sat up straighter at the sight of country cottages lining the street. Homey. A little tired, but nothing a fresh coat of paint couldn’t fix. Tree branches arched across the road to create a living canopy. The sun, sandwiched between cloud and earth, changed the leaf-clinging raindrops to diamonds.

And children. Everywhere she looked. They splashed in puddles and chased each other across spring green lawns, their shouts and laughter a symphony of careless joy. So Mayberry RFD.

The hunger for home haunted her, and a familiar ache settled over her heart like ancient dust. “Unbelievable.” Dani whispered the word and relaxed into the seat, then glanced at Steve, his face impassive. She tried to push aside the fear of never finding a home, but it clung to her with razor-sharp talons.

In one deft movement, Steve jerked the pickup into a parking lot and came to a whiplash stop. She avoided eye contact and allowed the sign above the door to capture her interest. B & B Hardware? Dani peered to her right where two lanes of gas pumps stood, and a smile wiggled onto her face. A hardware-store-slash-gas-station. Only in a small town.

She plucked a hundred-dollar bill from her purse and offered it to him. “I appreciate—”

“Keep it.” Steve spat out the words and leaned away, his mouth a taut slash.

Surely he needed the money. His ragged jeans and this rattletrap he drove suggested as much. Dani squeezed her eyebrows together. For whatever reason, he wasn’t about to take the money, so she stuffed the bill back in her wallet, shrugged off the coat and handed it to him.

“Thanks for the ride.” With a release of the door she lowered herself to the ground.

Without looking her direction the cowboy put the truck in reverse, barely allowing her time to shut the door. As he tore out of the parking lot, his rear wheels spewed gravel.

Dani sucked in air and blew it out in a gush. Thank goodness that was over. Now to call Aunt Beth and end this nightmare. She faced the store, her heart pounding like a child on the first day of school.


My Review

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival.  Can you believe we've been doing this for a year now?  Sunday Snippets is a chance for Catholic bloggers to share their posts with each other.  It doesn't matter if you blog exclusively about things Catholic or whether, like me, it pops up periodically, if you are Catholic you are welcome to join us.  If you'd like a weekly reminder to post, join our yahoo group.

To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival.  In it, highlight one or more of your posts this week.  Also, include a link back here.  Then, come back here and sign Mr. Linky, giving a link to your Sunday Snippets post.

This week I posted the first chapter of a book about investing, written by the founder of the Ave Maria fund of Morally responsible mutual funds.



Thursday, May 27, 2010

First Wildcard: Good Returns

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:

Schwartz Investment Council (March 12, 2010)
***Special thanks to Audra Jennings - Senior Media Specialist - The B&B Media Group for sending me a review copy.***

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:


George P. Schwartz is a Chartered Financial Analyst and a Chartered Investment Counselor. For forty-three years he has been an investment counselor, analyst, and portfolio manager. Born and raised in Detroit, Michigan, he graduated from Catholic Central High School and University of Detroit, where he majored in Finance.

He is president, CEO and CIO (Chief Investment Officer) of Schwartz Investment Counsel, Inc., a registered investment adviser headquartered in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, which he founded in 1980. His organization manages stock and bond portfolios for endowment funds, foundations, pension funds, and mutual funds including the Schwartz Value Fund and the Ave Maria Mutual Funds (a family of six no-load Catholic mutual funds, including the 2009 Lipper Award Winning Ave Maria Growth Fund), America’s largest family of Catholic mutual funds.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $25.00
Hardcover: 200 pages
Publisher: Schwartz Investment Council (March 12, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0984404201
ISBN-13: 978-0984404209

AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:


MONEY & MORALITY


It would be downright silly to claim that only good, moral and religious people can succeed at investing. There are numerous examples of dirty rotten scoundrels who have made killings in the stock market. So many, in fact, that the idea of ruthlessness as a prerequisite to investment success is a common clichĂ© — the “Gordon Geckko”1 model, as it were. Yet, I am convinced that there is a certain relationship between conviction in spiritual matters and acumen in analyzing the market. I think that relationship lies primarily in two areas: (1) an ability to see beyond surface features into inner realities; and (2) a willingness to dedicate oneself to disciplined practices over time.


Both Judaism and Christianity have spoken profusely on economic matters, the “Parable of the Talents” being only one of the more prominent New Testament passages that address the subject.2 Indeed, the Bible is filled with commercial imagery and financial references that have provided the basis for centuries of reflection on economic and business matters. Some of them comment quite explicitly on the virtue of investing for the sake of future security — to wit:


“A good man leaves an inheritance to his children’s children.” (Proverbs 13:22)


“Whoever does not provide for relatives and especially family members has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever.” (1 Timothy 5:8)


In the Catholic tradition, there has been a remarkable degree of consistency among thinkers who have turned their attention to the concerns of economic life.3 Among the monumental Catholic pronouncements is Pope Leo XIII’s encyclical, Rerum Novarum. Issued in 1891, at a time when the ideas of Karl Marx and other revolutionary thinkers were causing socialist ferment in the industrialized nations, Rerum Novarum offered a comprehensive Christian vision of the proper relationship between capital and labor, the basic components of economic exchange.


One of the points the encyclical makes most forcefully is its defense of private property as an economic necessity related to our fundamental human nature. Because “man alone among the animal creation is endowed with reason,” wrote Leo, “it must be within his right to possess things not merely for temporary and momentary use, as other living things do, but to have and to hold them in stable and permanent possession....”4 While the Pope was focusing primarily on ownership of tangible property (i.e.: land), rather than corporate shares, he acknowledged the importance of making provision for the future (that is, of investing), noting that ownership gives man the power “to exercise his choice not only as to matters that regard his present welfare, but also about those which he deems may be for his advantage in time yet to come.”5


Leo was no laissez faire capitalist. He insisted that the interests of society in general, and of the poor in particular, must be adequately addressed for the economic order to be considered properly Christian. “However the earth may be apportioned among private owners,” he wrote, “it does not cease to serve the common interests of all.”6


Forty years later, Leo’s successor, Pius XI, strengthened the vital connection between economics and morality in the encyclical, Quadragesimo Anno (1931). “Even though economics and moral science employs each its own principles in its own sphere,” Pius wrote, “it is, nevertheless, an error to say that the economic and moral orders are so distinct from and alien to each other that the former depends in no way on the latter.” Citing the unique human capacity to reason, as did Leo, Pius insisted on moral discernment in temporal affairs, “the individual and social nature of things and of men,” as he put it, “the purpose which God ordained for all economic life.”7


Never one to mince words, Pius directed some barbed comments at the corporate culture that had taken hold of the modern world by the 1930s:


“The laws passed to promote corporate business, while dividing and limiting the risk of business, have given occasion to the most sordid license. For We observe that consciences are little affected by this reduced obligation of accountability; that furthermore, by hiding under the shelter of a joint name, the worst of injustices and frauds are penetrated; and that, too, directors of business companies, forgetful of their trust, betray the rights of those whose savings they have undertaken to administer.”8


The final clause in this quotation is an interesting instance of a Pope specifically expressing concern about the rights of shareholders. It suggests a certain shrewd understanding of corporate management on the part of His late Holiness. In the same document Pius castigates profiteering as well:


“The easy gains that a market unrestricted by any law opens to everybody attracts large numbers to buying and selling goods, and they, their one aim being to make quick profits with the least expenditure of work, raise or lower prices by their uncontrolled business dealings so rapidly according to their own caprice and greed that they nullify the wisest forecasts of producers.”9


One wonders if Pius dabbled in the markets himself, because he surely had a keen eye. His observation would as directly applicable to would-be stock manipulators as

to those given to wild speculations in commodities.10


One of the clearest statements that economics can’t be separated from religiously based moral discernment was made in our own time by the late Pope John Paul II. His encyclical, Centesimus Annas (1991), was a sweeping commentary on economics, human liberty and the conditions of life in a world that had just witnessed the crumbling of the Berlin Wall, an accomplishment in which John Paul himself had played a major part (as did Ronald Reagan, our greatest President in my view). While summing up the failure of Communism to deliver on its promise of a better life for the struggling masses, the Pope offered some serious words of caution to the Capitalist West, then basking in its triumph over the Marxists. John Paul the Great charged that when the market system “denies an autonomous existence and value to morality, law, culture and religion, it agrees with Marxism, in the sense that it totally reduces man to the sphere of economics and the satisfaction of material needs.”11


Some in the left-leaning media jumped on that line as proof that John Paul was, in his heart, a sort of soft socialist, which was a fanciful idea at best. Actually, the Pope’s words were a perfect example of the balance and perceptiveness which Catholic moral philosophy has brought to human experience throughout the centuries.


INVESTING AND FAITH


Scripture offers no record of Jesus advising his disciples to “buy low, and sell high,” but I believe that religiously based moral discernment enriches investing judgment. Companies that appreciate in value — and whose shares rise correspondingly in price — are generally companies that are well managed, whose decision makers follow sensible business practices, offer good products, and deal ethically and reliably with their suppliers, employees and customers.


If “like knows like” — and I believe this is arguably true — then moral people are better able to discern virtuous qualities that are not always casually apparent. Similarly, people of genuine and abiding faith tend to live out their beliefs daily, practice regular devotions, and conduct their lives with a degree of honorable self-discipline. This mode of living (which shows a certain parallel with the well run company) disposes someone to the patient attentiveness required for successful investment results over the long term. It also reflects an internalization of the idea of “stewardship,” a recurring theme in the teachings of Christ. Someone who strives to be a faithful steward of family resources (or the resources of others) will be attuned to practical prospects and responsible choices, and naturally averse to flashy get-rich-quick schemes.


The down-side of faith as a characteristic of investors is that religious people may tend to look for the best in others even when circumstances urge the opposite. The “Golden Rule” is not only about treating people justly, it also implies that we give others the benefit of the doubt. This can incline investors of faith to stick with failing companies even after alarm bells have begun sounding, or worse, subject them to the nefarious plottings of those who would exploit their good hearts. But of course, those dangers exist for non-believers as well. And when structures are in place to offer warning and provide proper guidance, the religious inclination to self-restraint gives faithful people an advantage.


In all these ways, then, religion conduces to prudent investing.


Is the obverse true? Could one claim that companies whose operations reflect a greater degree of moral concern are good investments? A corporation can be an extremely large, varied and complex creature, after all. Is the moral profile of its policies and practices relevant to its stock market performance? That isn’t an easy question to answer, but certain factors are suggestive.


Good business management may not necessarily be a direct product of religious commitment, but it does correlate with ethical awareness, a decisively moral concept that has its roots in religious truth (i.e.: the Ten Commandments). Moreover, the values at the core of a company’s operational approach — that particular set of objectives, priorities and working assumptions to which key decision makers must give assent — will ultimately find expression in the firm’s public image. How often have you heard that XYZ Corp. doesn’t care about its customers or that it treats its employees like dirt? Such are the building blocks of reputation, and reputation has a definite influence on investor attitudes toward any given stock. While it can’t be indisputably claimed that religious principles drive share price, neither can the possibility of a cause-and-effect relationship between values and value be easily dismissed. As they say, “The truth will out.”


In recent years, however, many investors have begun to look beyond the simple question of whether a corporation operates in an upright manner. There is a growing trend to apply ethical criteria to what companies are in the business of doing. When considering the purchase of a particular stock, they will ask more fundamental questions, such as: “Do I believe this company’s products or services are proper? Is the business acceptable to me, personally, as a legitimate endeavor? Are its practices and procedures right?”


This kind of inquiry lifts investment decision making to a different level of concern, because it involves the element of conscience. And that is entirely appropriate, because when you acquire the stock of a corporation, you become one of the company’s owners. This is true whether your shares are newly issued by the firm (perhaps in an initial public offering), or whether you have purchased existing shares through the secondary market of a stock exchange. It is equally true if you have inherited your shares or received them as a gift. Your ownership interest is real, it is significant, and it has the force of law behind it.


The reality of ownership is vividly illustrated when shareholders organize to complain that chronic poor performance by company management has caused the stock price to fall. The concept of the proxy contest is based on the fact that shareholders are owners with the right to express their views about company policies and procedures. (I wrote a book on the subject of proxy contests and how shareholders can exercise their influence.1)


The company you own acts in your name, not only in delivering value as an investment by maintaining and improving its profitability, but in what it does on a daily basis. The one and only fiduciary responsibility which a board of directors has is to the investors who own the firm. As an owner, you have the legal right (actually, a responsibility) to act if directors fail in their duty to represent your interest.2 At the same time, your status as an owner gives you certain ethical obligations as regards the policies and procedures by which the company operates.


There is, of course, a difference between legal and moral responsibility. The law of corporations protects individual shareholders from direct liability for the company’s actions. Owning stock is not the same as being a partner. And that is an indispensable advantage to corporations in raising capital. The number of stock buyers would shrink to a tiny fraction of the current investing population if acquiring shares brought personal liability for business failures, loan defaults, or unpaid company bills.


As an investor, your participation in the corporate process is real and cannot be ignored. The amount of money you invest influences a company’s current stock price, and impacts future price movements. It becomes part of the company’s cumulative worth, helping to determine its financial viability, the level at which it can function, and its ability to raise future capital. The stocks you hold are not just claim checks on some possible future reward (like lottery tickets). They are real parts of real companies that produce real products and provide jobs for real people. Your investment portfolio is thus part of the economic life of the nation. It has power — power which is in your hands — and power is a distinctly moral concept.


The truth of this assertion has become clear to thousands of stockholders. Today there is a heightened awareness about the role played by personal investing in the free enterprise system. It has grown over recent decades, encouraged by such factors as the increasingly apparent failures and ultimate collapse of Communism as an alternative economic system; by the proliferation of mutual funds and the growing dominance of retirement plans in the financial markets (which has given more people than ever a direct stake in the ups and downs of Wall Street); and even by the increased hands-on investor involvement made possible by online trading.


SOCIALLY RESPONSIBLE INVESTING


This stockholder awareness has coincided with the growth of numerous socially conscious movements, both domestic and international, which have sought to influence the business community in support of — or in opposition to — a variety of causes. The end of the apartheid regime in South Africa came about largely because stockholders of major corporations and investors in important mutual funds were able to bring pressure on companies to divest themselves of their South African business holdings or to cut ties with other firms doing business in South Africa.


Likewise, motivated investors have played a significant role in putting race- and gender-equity issues on boardroom agendas, not to mention the environmentalist stockholder agitation that has assisted in prodding virtually all major U.S. corporations to “go green” (if, in some cases, more in their public relations pronouncements than in their actual operations). Indeed, company directors have come to expect pressure over policies and procedures, often in regard to issues that are quite peripheral to a firm’s actual business. Annual meeting planners now take it pretty much as a given that some stockholder group will insist on floor time to promote one cause or another.


The rise of organized stockholder activism has been paralleled by the creation of financial products that enable individuals to express their social and political commitments through their stock purchases. A plentiful assortment of ideologically driven mutual funds has appeared on the scene under the label, “socially responsible investing”. Forbes Magazine reported that, as of September 2008, there were 173 such funds, representing $172 billion in assets.3


The investment holdings of most such funds generally reflect judgments colored by social and political perspectives that would be termed “liberal” or “progressive.” They tend to favor companies whose policies accord with the environmental, gender-sensitive, and social-justice concerns that find prominent expression in the foundation world, the mainstream media and entertainment industry, most college and university campuses, and the major not-for-profit organizations. Accordingly, corporate policies and procedures that allegedly “despoil the environment,” “exploit oppressed minorities,” “discriminate against women,” “impede sustainable ‘Third World’ development,” “contribute to international conflict,” or create other situations of injustice (real or perceived) tend to rank highest among factors determining investment choices.


But if the liberal funds were earliest to market, investors with more conservative predilections — or who feel the tug of religious scruple in their financial thinking — are by no means without options. A parade of tradition-minded funds has passed across the stage in recent years, shorter perhaps than the liberal/progressive column, but of interesting variety. Investors who want a biblical (read “Evangelical Protestant”) take on stock picking have been able to try the Timothy Plan, while those who mix national-defense concerns with their Christian values have been offered the Patriot Fund. The Amana Growth Fund, designed specifically for Muslim investors, factors Islamic principles into its stock-analysis matrix, while Catholics have sampled the eponymously named Catholic Funds, along with the Aquinas Funds, the Epiphany Funds, and the fund family I created, the Ave Maria Mutual Funds.


MORALLY RESPONSIBLE INVESTING


Just because an investment plan has a religious flavor or touts a church connection, you shouldn’t assume that it is markedly different from the general run of “socially responsible” offerings. The Presbyterian-affiliated New Covenant Mutual Funds, for instance, reflect their denomination’s generally liberal affinities, and the criteria for selecting stocks are virtually indistinguishable from any number of secular funds without an ideological focus.


In this book I wish to acquaint you with a very specific approach to religiously based investing — one that is motivated by faith and is guided by a particular set of ethical precepts. I call it Morally Responsible Investing.


While “socially responsible investing” (SRI) addresses a broad spectrum of economic, political and environmental issues, Morally Responsible Investing (MRI) focuses specifically on making investment decisions that embrace key areas of human concern. Overshadowing every other consideration is the sanctity of life. Protecting life from the moment of conception is the sine qua non of all human concern. If children are not born, there can be no other human concern. Following close on the sanctity of life is the inviolability of marriage.


Any number of other issues are important and may make legitimate claims upon our compassion, charity, and personal commitment. But the sanctity of life and the inviolability of marriage constitute the basis of our being and our human uniqueness. They have profound implications for the health and wellbeing of the human community. They go to the essence of family — the very foundation of every civilization, every cultural movement, every religion in human history. That’s why this pair of concerns has always received special attention in the Judeo-Christian moral tradition (particularly in the moral theology of the Catholic Church). In addition, they have undeniable economic implications. Family security, provision for spouses, the future wellbeing of children are at the heart of most personal investment decisions. They even provide much of the impetus for building businesses.


Of course, to speak of such concepts as “the sanctity of life and the inviolability of marriage” is to court controversy these days. Truths about human nature and human relationships which were once accepted as self-evident have become fighting words. And to attach such ideas to investing is to risk responses that go well beyond raised eyebrows or the blank stare of perplexity.


Every election cycle, religious people (especially Catholics) are treated to a barrage of specious arguments attempting to justify the pro-abortion votes of politicians who claim to be earnest adherents of their various faiths. For instance, the last campaign season (2008) saw an attempt on the part of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to convince her fellow Catholics that the Church has been somehow ambivalent in opposing abortion over the centuries and so her own pro-abortion views fit well within the spectrum of legitimate Catholic opinion. The Speaker’s comments brought forth a storm of corrective teaching from the bishops,10 perhaps the most earnest and concerted blast of catechetics to be heard from U.S. Church leaders in quite some time. Pelosi backed off quickly.


Try as they might to kick up dust around the topic, abortion advocates cannot obscure the obvious fact that abortion is the taking of innocent human life. Whether or not there are situations that justify abortion is a question which has been debated since the beginning of time, and that debate will likely always be with us. But abortion kills babies. That is the gross and brutal truth which simply cannot be prettied up. Moreover, the legality of abortion pollutes the moral atmosphere of society in general. If it is permissible to slaughter the most helpless and innocent among us, then on what ethical basis can we prohibit any other harmful act? The acceptance of abortion thus throws law itself into question, weakening the moral foundation of our entire culture. So if you seek to invest in a way that is morally responsible, the starting point has to be avoiding companies that participate in or provide support for abortion, as well as any mutual funds that have the shares of complicit companies among their holdings.


Closely connected with abortion is the subject of artificial birth control. Catholic teaching prohibits the use of chemical or mechanical devices that interfere with conception. Also prohibited is in vitro fertilization.


Most non-Catholic religious communities diverge from the Catholic standard on this issue, as do most individual Catholics, for that matter. But life has surprising ways of vindicating the Catholic view (as articulated by Pope Paul VI in the 1968 encyclical, Humane Vitae11). This was made all too clear with the January 2009 birth of octuplets to a southern California woman through embryo implantation.


Unmarried and with six children already, 33-year-old Nadya Suleman had received treatment at a Beverly Hills fertility clinic apparently out of an insatiable craving for motherhood (though her own mother put it somewhat more colorfully, claiming that Nadya is “obsessed with children”).12


This is only one of the more extreme examples of a persistent desire to assert human dominance over the natural processes of life. Octo-mom aside, the real story on fertility is that it’s falling to levels that have economic implications sufficient to pose a genuine threat to human wellbeing. And it’s a global phenomenon; conservative commentator, Don Feder, who writes and speaks frequently on population issues, has noted:

Humanity is failing to reproduce itself in sufficient numbers to maintain our civilization.


In this regard, one number is crucial — 2.1. That’s the number of children the average woman must have in her lifetime just to maintain current population. This is known as a replacement-level birth rate.


In 30 years, worldwide, birth rates have fallen by more than 50 percent. In 1979, the average woman on this planet had 6 children. Today, the average is 2.9 children, and falling. According to the United Nations Population Division, by the middle of this century, worldwide fertility will be below replacement.13


The subject of lopsided demographics often comes up in discussions of how the Social Security system can survive when numbers of the elderly retired overwhelm those of the working young. But the dangers of population imbalance touch far more than that. The ever-shrinking numbers of babies undermines the fundamental expectation of economic growth, which undeniably bears on investing).14 Companies that advance technologies that interfere with natural life processes, risk the constriction of those very markets on which their own products and services depend. As Archbishop Charles Chaput of Denver has observed, “The future of a community, a people, a church, and a nation depends on the children who will inherit it. If we prevent our children from being born, we remove ourselves from the future. It’s really that simple. No children, no future.”15 & 16


Argue with Church teaching if you like. Say the bishops are out of step with the current sexual ethos. They will readily agree that they are, and of course, that’s the point. But to be fully consistent with the Catholic moral vision, a conscientious investor would avoid companies that support fertility manipulation in ways similar to those involved with abortion.


The other great leg upon which Morally Responsible Investing stands is the sanctity of marriage. When you think about the sanctity of marriage, the first word that comes to mind is “divorce.” It would be hard to identify companies that have a direct financial interest in the break-up of marriages (other than, perhaps, the publisher of Divorce Magazine, which is a real periodical17). Of course, there are plenty of law firms that specialize in divorce, but law firms tend to be partnerships, rather than corporations, and so don’t have stock which outside investors can buy.


I suppose one could argue that a lot of companies make demands on their employees which put stress on marriages. But work-related stress can have many other effects beside harming marriages (such as breakdown in health), and for all practical purposes, it would be impossible to use divorce statistics as an investment-screening criterion.


Other things assault the sanctity of marriage, however, and the one most directly connected with the subject of investing is pornography. American society is awash in salacious images and sex-drenched entertainment. What used to be confined to the back-street peepshows and dirty book stalls is now everyday fare. Here again, the words of Pius XI are relevant:


“We must not omit to mention those crafty men who, wholly unconcerned about any honest usefulness of their work, do not scruple to stimulate the baser human desires and, when they are aroused, use them for their own profit.”18


Most hardcore material comes out of privately held production firms, some associated with organized crime. Corporations like Playboy Enterprises account for their portion of smut as well, and the case for their exclusion is obvious. What might not be top-of-mind when thinking about porn is that the overwhelming portion of questionable matter is in the hands of America’s most prominent communications firms. I’m talking about cable and satellite television operators, Internet service providers, some of the largest periodical publishers and distributors, even phone companies. Add to that the video rental chains, hospitality firms offering on-demand “adult” fare in hotel rooms, and some of the leading big-box and shopping-mall retailers, and you begin to grasp the scope of the pornography market and the challenge involved in avoiding porn-related investments. These organizations are at the core of mainstreaming pornography and dulling society’s sense of propriety.


Some people will tell you that porn is so profitable and pervasive that it’s neigh well impossible to screen out of your investments, so you might as well cash in on the earnings opportunity it represents.19 I know of at least two investment books touting vice- related stocks (pornography, gambling, alcohol and others) as sure-fire winners in just about any market.20 There are undoubtedly more.


Actually, pornography isn’t all that secure as an industry. In recent years, the biggest operators have found themselves under competitive pressure. Their lock on the video market, in particular, has been weakened by low-cost digital recorders that allow amateur “artistes” all over the world to produce and flood the Internet with their own “skin flicks” — of lesser quality than professional fare, perhaps, but available for download free. Thus, digital technology is doing to porn what it did to the record companies and mainstream movie producers. Old-line suppliers are scrambling to come up with a new business model, the ultimate shape of which remains to be seen.


The pornography business has also suffered under recession, just like other industries. In January 2009, Larry Flynt, founder of the notorious, Hustler magazine, issued a press statement putting forth a rationale for government bailout. “With all this economic misery and people losing all that money, sex is the farthest thing from their mind,” he wrote. “It’s time for congress to rejuvenate the sexual appetite of America. The only way they can do this is by supporting the adult industry and doing it quickly.”


One feels for poor Larry Flynt, that indefatigable self-promoter. But then it brings to mind the old Depression-era saying: “Things are tough all over.”


Still, the pervasiveness of porn and the new-found success of the amateurs only emphasizes the strong appeal of erotic entertainment. Preoccupation with vicarious sexual thrills can become a genuine addiction that intrudes on the relationship of husband and wife, diverts attention from essential human ties, and ultimately risks the destruction of marriage and family life. It’s not only men who are susceptible. Mental health professionals and family counselors are reporting dramatic increases in porn involvement among women (those bodice-ripping romance novels are only the tip of the iceberg).


Porn has even become a prominent part of teenage life. High school girls have pioneered a whole new genre of prurient self-expression — “sexting” — the practice of photographing themselves in provocative poses and various states of undress, then sharing their works with friends via cell phones and online social networking. This has led to teenagers around the country being charged with distribution of child pornography. Several face the prospect of being listed on sex-offender registries.


Thus, the danger to impressionable youngsters of our society’s pervasive atmosphere of hyper-eroticism is self-evident. “Better the millstone,” as the Lord said.


With such cultural conditions — fostered by a profound misreading and distorted enforcement of the First Amendment —individuals feel there’s little they can do to reverse our society’s slide into the muck. But for investors, one bit of positive action is available: avoiding the stock, not only of companies that produce porn, but those that provide the means by which it permeates modern life. Therefore, screening for pornography involvement must be considered a key component of any investment plan which can be judged morally responsible.


We have the power and therefore the obligation to take a stand against Pius XI’s “crafty men.”




1 Referring to Gordon Geckko, a fictional character known for his insistence that “Greed is good!” in the 1987 motion picture, “Wall Street,” as portrayed by actor, Michael Douglas. The Gordon Geckko image has proven so durable that a “Wall Street” sequel is in the works.

2 This tale suggests much about financial life in First-Century Palestine, since what would have been gained if the fearful servant had deposited his “talent” with the bankers is offered as the minimum option available (of course, Jesus doesn’t tell us anything about the master’s concern with preserving principal).

3 Just about the only major economic question on which the mind of the Church has undergone a major change is the definition of usury. Deemed immoral since Old Testament times, the practice of lending money at interest was theologically acceptable by the Seventeenth Century.

4 Rerum Novarum, Paragraph 6.

5 Rerum Novarum, Paragraph 7

6 Rerum Novarum, Paragraph 8.

7 Quadragesimo Anno, Paragraph 42.

8 Quadragesimo Anno, Paragraph 132.

9 Quadragesimo Anno, Paragraph 132.

10 It would also apply to some modern-day hedge fund operators who use massive amounts of debt leverage to magnify returns at huge risk. The 1998 collapse of Long Term Capital Management subjected the entire U.S. economy to such systematic risk, mitigated only by the intervention of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. LTCM’s founder, John Meriwether (a former trader of mortgage-backed securities at Solomon Brothers) became notorious for using debt leveraged as much as 300-to-1, when the leverage rate of other hedge funds considered aggressive was a mere 4-to-1.

11 Centesimus Annas, Section 19.

1 Shareholder Rebellion: How Investors are Changing the Way America’s Companies are Run, Irwin Professional Publishing, 1995.

2 Contrary to a very common misconception, corporate boards of directors have absolutely no fiduciary obligations to anybody other than their shareholders — not to a company’s employees or its customers, or to the communities in which it operates, or to environmental activists, or to any other “stakeholder” (I hate that word). By law, a board’s fiduciary responsibility is only to the company’s owners.

3 A quite thorough overview of socially responsible investing and funds created to reflect this concept can be found in the book, Investing with your Values: Making Money and Making a Difference, by Hal Brill, Jack A. Brill, and Cliff Feigenbaum, Bloomberg Press, 1999.

10 The victory of abortion advocate Barack Obama —made possible in part by strong electoral support among Catholics — touched a nerve in the American hierarchy. A post-election statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops included an ominous warning to the president-elect about the national divisiveness he would be courting in a single-minded pursuit of expanded “abortion rights.” Issued on November 13, 2008, less than two weeks after the election, the statement noted that, “Abortion kills not only unborn children; it destroys constitutional order and the common good, which is assured only when the life of every human being is legally protected.”

11 Humanae Vitae states in Section 17 that “we must accept that there are certain limits, beyond which it is wrong to go, to the power of man over his own body and its natural functions — limits, let it be said, which no one, whether as a private individual or as a public authority, can lawfully exceed.”

12 This incident drew surprisingly wide criticism in a society as ethically challenged as ours has become. Reaction was negative even in open-minded southern California. On February 11, 2009, Los Angeles Times writer Tim Rutten published a blistering commentary, observing what he termed the “manifest irresponsibility of this eccentric woman toward her children” as well as “the irresponsibility of the physician who took money to impregnate a jobless, husbandless woman with 14 children.”

Rutten asserted that the case illustrates “the complexities that arise when people assume that because something can be done, it should be done.” He offered this cogent (if sarcastic) insight: “The impulse that has made fertility medicine such a large and lucrative specialty in American medicine is about something other than children; it’s about the narcissistic assumption that one is ‘entitled’ to ‘the experience’ of childbearing and, more to the point, the notion that, somehow, if your particular strands of DNA don’t live on into another generation, the species will be poorer for it.”

Even syndicated columnist Ellen Goodman, of the Boston Globe, a writer who rarely encounters an example of human (especially feminist) self-absorption with which she can’t sympathize, grasped the ethical implications. “Does anyone have a right to tell anyone else how many kids to have?” her column of February 6 asked. “Can only people who can afford them bear children? Do you need a husband to have a baby? These are questions that make us feel queasy when we are talking about old-fashioned families. But they take on a new flavor in the unregulated wild west of fertility technology.”

Not unexpectedly, Goodman took her sharpest jab at the medical establishment. As she wrote, “a reproductive business that generates so much controversy has produced a remarkable consensus. Infertility treatment for an unemployed, single mother of six? Eight embryos in one womb? There must be a proper word in the medical literature to describe this achievement. I think the word is ‘nuts.’”

13 Feder’s dispiriting picture of population decline is laid out in a presentation he gives at pro-life events, such as the 36th annual March for Life Rose Dinner held January 22, 2009 in Washington. His text is archived on line at: http://www.lifesitenews.com/ldn/2009_docs/DonFederRoseDinnerspeech.pdf.

14 The urgency of the situation received special emphasis in January 2009, when Austrian chemist Carl Djerassi, one of three scientists whose research led to formulation of the synthetic progestagen, Norethisterone, a critical step in development of the first oral contraceptive, published a commentary in the Austrian newspaper, Der Standard, in which he described the “horror scenario” of population decline brought on by birth control. The 85-year-old retired researcher called the fall in birth rates an “epidemic” that is more of a threat to civic health than obesity. He wrote that couples trying to avoid reproducing themselves were merely “wanting to enjoy their schnitzels while leaving the rest of the world to get on with it.” A report by the Catholic News Agency noting Djerassi’s commentary is archived online at: http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=14730.

15 This truth was illustrated with chilling astuteness by British writer, P.D. James, whose novel, The Children of Men, was set in a bleak world where all of humanity had suddenly ceased to be fertile.

16 It must be acknowledged that there is disagreement, not only about the danger posed by population decline, but over whether it is actually happening at all. Since the English political economist Thomas Robert Malthus (1766-1834) first put forth his theory that population growth would eventually outpace food production (what’s termed the “Malthusian Catastrophe”), overpopulation has been a persistent fear. The idea was given dramatic expression in the 1968 book, The Population Bomb, by Paul Ehrlich, currently of Stanford University. It persists today primarily as an argument for that Holy Grail of the environmental movement, “sustainability.”

Paul Ehrlich was one of the founders of the group, Zero Population Growth (now called Population Connection), which has been a principal advocate of so-called “reproductive rights.” Its British counterpart, the Optimum Population Trust, recently launched an initiative aimed at convincing people to have fewer children, known as “Stop at Two.” It is now widely acknowledged that, except in certain confined geographic localities, overpopulation is a myth. Though his academic specialty is entomology, the study of insects, Ehrlich is the “go-to guy” for media folks writing on population issues. He may be an expert on bug life, but as a demographic prophet he has proven to be a quack (as was Malthus before him).

17 Divorce Magazine is published by the Toronto-based Segue Esprit Inc., which also operates Divorce Marketing Group, a firm offering services to attorneys and other professionals involved in divorce throughout the United States and Canada.

18 Quadragesimo Anno, Paragraph 132.

19 The February 2008 issue of the conservative Catholic journal, New Oxford Review, illustrates the ubiquitousness of pornography-related investments, noting that Christian Brothers Investment Services, which manages funds for more than 1,000 U.S. Catholic dioceses and Church-related institutions, was holding shares in Lodgenet, “one of the largest providers of in-room porn to the hotel industry.”

20 Stocking Up on Sin: How to Crush the Market with Vice-Based Investing, by Caroline Wexler, John Wiley & Sons, Inc. (2004); and Investing in Vice: The Recession-Proof Portfolio of Booze, Bets, Bombs, and Butts, by Dan Ahrens, St. Martin’s Press (2004).

My Review.

Blog Tour: Almost Forever by Deborah Raney

Almost Forever: A Hanover Falls Novel Grief and Guilt--two of the most powerful of our emotions--are the drivers in Almost Forever: A Hanover Falls Novel by Deborah Raney.  Bryn is a volunteer at a homeless shelter, and is there one night when her husband was working late as a firefighter, despite the fact that he didn't want her there.  A fire starts and by the time the night is over, the homeless shelter is destroyed and Bryn's husband and four other firefighters are dead.  For reasons that become clear in the book, Bryn feels guilty about the fire, and has to deal with the guilt along with the grief any normal young widow would feel.  She becomes close friends with Garrett, whose wife was one of the firefighters who died with her husband, but I definitely wouldn't call this a romance novel.

Almost Forever: A Hanover Falls Novel is Christian fiction.  The top of the story arc is a religious experience had by Bryn and the resolution involves an innocent man offering himself for the guilty and a realization that we are all guilty.  I guess I'd classify the book as well-written Christian fiction with an obvious message.  I enjoyed the book and believe most readers of Christian fiction will like it too.

You can learn more about the author, Deborah Raney at her website.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

My Review: The Mailbox

The Mailbox: A NovelThe Mailbox: A Novel is a heartwarming beach read set, of course, at the beach.  When she is in high school, Lindsey visits Sunset Beach with her aunt and uncle.  While there, she meets Campbell, who she thinks is the love of her life.  He introduces her to The Mailbox (which the author says really exists).  The Mailbox holds paper and pens for those who wish to write to The Kindred Spirit.  No one knows who he or she is.  Lindsey begins a yearly ritual of going to the mailbox and telling the Kindred Spirit about her hopes, dreams and life.

The book takes place mainly in two time periods--the current day when Lindsey is freshly divorced, and during her high school years when she fell in love with Campbell.  Of course the Campbell makes another appearance in her life as she tries to figure out where life should go from now.

The Mailbox: A Novel is a sweet easy read that brings back memories of summer romances.  It is a Christian novel and we learn a bit about the character's faith lives and the Christian themes are apparent but not preachy.  It is one of those books that I think a non-Christian could enjoy if she/he likes sweet happy endings wrapped up in a bow.

Grade:  B.

I'd like to thank B & B Media for providing a review copy of this book.  First Wildcard will tour it June 29.  Check back then to read the first chapter.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival

Hello, and welcome to Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival.  Can you believe we've been doing this for a year now?  Sunday Snippets is a chance for Catholic bloggers to share their posts with each other.  It doesn't matter if you blog exclusively about things Catholic or whether, like me, it pops up periodically, if you are Catholic you are welcome to join us.  If you'd like a weekly reminder to post, join our yahoo group.

To participate, go to your blog and create a post titled Sunday Snippets--A Catholic Carnival.  In it, highlight one or more of your posts this week.  Also, include a link back here.  Then, come back here and sign Mr. Linky, giving a link to your Sunday Snippets post.

This week I reviewed a book about some 20th Century Catholic heroes:  Unlikely Spiritual Heroes.  I also read Good Returns:  Morally Responsible Investing which is by the founder of the Ave Maria family of mutual funds.  Definitely worth a read.

While you are here, I'd like to invite you to enter my giveaway of a $20 gift from CSN Stores.  They have a wide variety of merchandise, and I have few enough entrants so far that you have a decent chance of winning. You can read about my experience with CSN here.

Seeds of Summer: My Review

Seeds of Summer: Book Two (Seasons of the Tallgrass)What do you get when you mix a rodeo queen and a preacher?  Throw in some orphaned siblings and missing money and you have Seeds of Summer: Book Two (Seasons of the Tallgrass).  This second book in the Seasons of the Tallgrass series by Deborah Vogts (I reviewed the first one, Snow Melts in Spring (Seasons of the Tallgrass, Book 1) last year so I was happy to be offered a complimentary review copy of this one.

Set in the present day Seeds of Summer: Book Two (Seasons of the Tallgrass) is the story of Natalie, who was first runner up in a national rodeo queen pageant.  Shortly thereafter, her father is killed in a ranch accident, leaving her in charge of the ranch and her two siblings, since their mom had been dead for years, or so they thought.  Shortly thereafter, the new preacher in town meets her brother and then later, her sister.   He realizes the pain with which the family is dealing, and also is attracted to Natalie. One complication is Natalie's stepmother (and her siblings mom) who shows up one day and wants to become part of their lives.  Another is this young woman in her early 20's having to deal with teenaged rebellion on the part of her siblings.  Finally, it is  a Christian romance and the big thing keeping Natalie and Jared apart is his faith and her lack thereof.

While it gets a bit heavy on the religion at the end of the book, most of Seeds of Summer: Book Two (Seasons of the Tallgrass) is a romance about someone who is Christian as opposed to a book that promotes Christianity in every scene.  Jared is portrayed as the perfect romantic hero--kind, generous, strong, caring, protective and religious but Deborah Vogts manages to do that without making him too good to be true, or sickeningly sweet.  Natalie, as the one who has to find Jesus before they can live happily ever after definitely seems real.

Grade B

First Wildcard will tour this book June 14.  Check back then to read the first chapter.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review: Two Brides Too Many

Two Brides Too Many: A NovelIf you like sweet, religious historical Christian romantic fiction, you'll love Two Brides Too Many: A Novel.  Kat and Nell Sinclair, born and raised in Portland Maine are sent to Colorado in search of husbands when their father is unexpectedly transferred to Paris.  After placings ads in a newspaper, both receive proposals and trainfare west.  Plans change and they arrive earlier than expected, and though they had sent telegrams about their change in plans, no one is at the station to meet them.  Kat finds out shortly that her fiancĂ© is not what she expected; and Nell's is missing in action.  A fire strikes the town; they meet the new town doctor, and eventually Nell's intended shows up.  Guess how it ends?

Generally speaking this book was exactly what I expected when I picked it up--a quick, easy feel-good read. The story was interesting, but I kept having to check to see which sister was which, and never really felt I "knew" any of the characters.  While definitely a book aimed at a certain audience, it should please that audience.

Mama Buzz: Grill Daddy

Grill DaddyNow that the weather is warm, using the grill is a common occurrence. Here is a new product of which I received a complimentary review sample.


The Grill Daddy (www.grilldaddy.net) is a steam powered grill-cleaning tool that sanitizes grills and eliminates the burnt on food, grease and dirt. Cleaning grills can be a difficult and time-consuming task but the alternative is far worse. Unwashed racks can house bacteria that could contaminate food and leave an unsanitary and bad taste.
Utilizing specially designed stainless-steel brushes, the Grill Daddy releases water as users brush, hitting the grill and turning to steam while rinsing away unsanitary debris.
Other features:
·         Steam-powered
·         No rancid greasy residue builds up on the brush (liquefies and melts it away)
·         Safe for porcelain, steel and iron grills (hot or cold)
·         Ergonomic handle keeps hands away from heat and provides maximum leverage

So, what are my thoughts?  Well, first of all, my TV watching six year old had never heard of it.  I'm not sure what that means, but I thought I'd throw that in.


                                      

This is my grill "before".  We've always espoused the "burn it off" school of grill cleaning.  Grill Daddy starts with that technique as it advises pre-heating the grill for 10 minutes before using the product.  

After my grill pre-heated for 10 minutes I filled the Grill Daddy and headed outside.  The valve was switched to "on" and it dribbled water on the floor--user error, not a product problem.

I then visually divided the grill in half and proceed to clean half of it with the water valve "on" and half with it "off".  Honestly, I saw no difference.  The water sputtered and steamed a little on contact, but I can't say that it made any difference in the final appearance of the grill or in the ease of cleaning.  Ergonomically, the Grill Daddy was comfortable to hold and it did get the grill clean.

                                    

Can you tell on which side I used the water?
Grill Daddy

  The brushes are removable for cleaning (but you need to use a screwdriver) and after I used mine, it still looked clean.  


The Grill Daddy is available on their website for $19.95 plus shipping.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Good Returns: Morally Responsible Investing

Good Returns: Making Money by Morally Responsible InvestingGood Returns: Making Money by Morally Responsible Investing is written by the founder of the Ave Maria family of mutual funds.  The Ave Maria funds practice what they call morally responsible investing--they do not invest in companies that promote abortion or donate to its supporters, sell or promote pornography or which have policies supportive of homosexual or other non-marital sexual unions.  He contrasts "morally responsible investing" with "socially responsible investing" which generally supports left-leaning causes.

While this is a book about investing and the economy; not about religion, the author, George Schwartz, does quote papal writings on the economy and a little scripture.  He sees free-market capitalism as a moral good and socialism as a moral evil.  The book is definitely pro-Regan, anti-Obama.

Good Returns: Making Money by Morally Responsible Investing has its good points, and its weaknesses.  The first chapter, on money and morality is excellent.  The next two chapters were about Schwartz himself, and frankly, I wasn't that interested.  He then spends a couple of chapters talking about his investment principals, and about how investors think.  Those chapters were good.  Chapters 6 and 7 are highly political; my husband will love them.  They do serve the purpose of reminding the investor how politics affects the economy, for good and for bad--and how even good intentions, like  providing home ownership for those kept out by traditional lending practices, can have bad effects--like the housing bubble and its subsequent pop.  Chapters 8-11 are, in many ways, commercials for the Ave Maria funds. If you know nothing about investing or financial planning, there is good information there--and even those who read investment books may learn something about investing that they can use, even if they never buy Ave Maria mutual funds.

I will say that after reading this book, I am going to take a serious look at these funds.  I'm pro-life and I'd love to put my money where my mouth is--and I have some under-performing assets right now.

I'd like to thank B&B Media Group for providing a complimentary review copy of this book.  First Wildcard will tour it May 27, so you can stop by then to read the first chapter.

CymLowell

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A Summer Secret: My Review

A Summer Secret (The Mysteries of Middlefield Series)A Summer Secret (The Mysteries of Middlefield Series) is a YA Amish novel.  Thirteen-year-old Mary Beth is the sister to three brothers and has started to seek privacy and refuge in a nearby abandoned barn--even though she has been told not to go in there.  One day her twin brother follows her, and they discover that someone else is living there.  These two kids have to decided between doing what their parents tell them and doing what they believe to be right/good.  They explain some of the differences between Amish and "Yankee" society to an outsider and come to realize how lucky they are.

As a  YA book it was a quick easy read.  While the ending was somewhat predictable in the context of the story, in real life I think it would be unlikely.  Of course everything wraps up neatly and everyone lives happily ever after.  It's not a bad book; it just isn't exceptionally good.  If you are looking for Amish fiction about teens, you'll like this one; if you are looking for YA fiction that will make you think or that will bring you outside your comfort zone, or expand your horizons, this isn't it, unless you are completely new to Amish fiction.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson Publishers for providing a complimentary review copy of the book as part of their BookSneeze program.  I was under no obligation to provide a positive review.  You can learn more about the book at Thomas Nelson's product page.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Covermate Winner!

Congratulations to Julia one of the Sunday Snippets participants who won the CoverMate giveaway.

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