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Friday, November 30, 2012

Julian of Norwich - Grace Jantzen

Julian of Norwich by Grace Jantzen is a book containing a biography and commentary on the work of the anchoress Julian of Norwich, who lived between 1342-1416.

Julian lived as an anchoress, which meant she had a servant to take care of her daily needs and spent most of her time in prayer and meditation.  She would have lived outside of a village, but close enough that she could give counsel to residents.

Julian began her journey when she prayed for three things.  She prayed for a deep understanding of the passion of Jesus.  She prayed for physical illness that may bring her near death.  The third was a prayer for three things: "true contrition, loving compassion, and the longing of the will for God."

Julian did receive the sickness she desired and the near-death experience brought her visions.  She originally wrote them down and then returned to expand upon them twenty years later.  The original is often simple called 'the short text' and the latter called 'the long text'.  They have been translated and modernized for modern readers under various names, such as "Revelations of Divine Love" or "Showing of Love".

Her probing into the mysteries of God and the world will be fascinating to many.  She explores the divine love, the trinity, and much more.  I found her view on sin particularly interesting.  She suggests that when the body and soul are out of alignment, it causes the person to sin.  This misalignment, she says, is often due to a person being out of contact with God.  This same view is perceived by another female Christian mystic: Hildegard of/von Bingen.

The author writes in a first person narrative, often employing the use of "we", which may turn readers off who are not of the Christian persuasion.  Still, the author provides valuable insight into Julian's works by commentating and using quotes from both the short and long text.

This is an excellent book for those who want to become familiar with this amazing mystic and her work before embarking on reading her more complicated work.

Revelations of Divine Love:
Audio version available for free download from Librivox.org
Text version available for free download from Archive.org

Showing of Love:
Available for free viewing
Showing of Love by Julian Bolton Holloway

Other books about female Christian Mystics:
Passionate Spirituality Hildegard Of Bingen And Hadewijch Of Brabant by Elizabeth A. Dreyer
Hildegard of Bingen's Book of Divine Works: With Letters and Songs by Matthew Fox
The Letters of Hildegard of Bingen Volume I edited by Joseph L. and Radd K. Ehrman

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Brain Sense - Faith Hickman Bryne

Brain Sense: The Science of the Senses and How We Process the World Around Us by Faith Hickman Bryne is a fascinating and accessible read on how the brain and senses function.

For those who aren't so familiar with the brain, it is recommended to go to the Appendix, which contains a brief synopsis of how the brain and the nervous system work.  For those who are familiar, this can be skipped.  While the book does get technical from time to time, the overall tone is for an average reader.

The book is divided into several sections, each of which talks about a different sense: touch, smell, taste, vision, and hearing.  Each part includes a chapter on the absence of the sense, along with many other fascinating topics.  There's a final section that talks about abnormalities of senses, such as synesthesia, phantom feelings, and paranormal activity.

Does aromatherapy work?  Are pheromones bunk?  Does color have an effect on how people perceive things?  Why do some people taste bitterness while others enjoy the flavor of vegetables?  Many of these questions have been answered before, but new research presented in this book shed light on how and why.

Recommended Reads:
Musicophilia: Tales of Music and the Brain by Oliver Sacks
When a Gene Makes You Smell Like a Fish: And Other Amazing Tales about the Genes in Your Body by Lisa Seachrist Chiu
The Seven Sins of Memory: How the Mind Forgets and Remembers by Daniel L. Schacter

Monday, November 26, 2012

ArchEnemy - Frank Beddor

ArchEnemy by Frank Beddor is the heart-pounding conclusion to The Looking Glass Wars Trilogy, which is based on Lewis Carroll's popular Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass novels.

This amazing re-telling has Alyss getting lost on Earth, rather than in Wonderland. Many familiar characters from the original novel are delightfully recreated. The Mad Hatter as Hatter Madigan, a talented military man and personal guard of Queen Genevieve Heart. The White Rabbit is found in Alyss's tutor Bibwit Harte (an anagram of the original name). The Red Queen is now Alyss's Aunt Redd who is hellbent on getting back on the throne of Wonderland. The Cheshire cat is transformed into a highly trained assassin, only known as "The Cat". Even the caterpillar makes a reappearance as the oracle of Wonderland. Imaginative recreations of familiar objects, places, and characters appear throughout the series, along with many of the author's own unique additions.

In this final novel, Alyss must fight against Aunt Redd and the invading enemy King Arch of Borderland. The battle against her Aunt Redd was desperate enough before, but now without her imagination available to her, Alyss must think of other ways to defeat them both. Friends both new and old come out to help her along the way, all while the Caterpillars continue to interfere for reasons unknown to anybody.

Some may find this much darker than the original novels by Lewis Carroll due to fond childhood memories. Others may find that the dark tone of these novels will match with that of the original novels. There is a lot of violence and many deaths in this series, many of which are emotionally engaging. Readers who enjoy reimaginings may enjoy this series, while those who are more traditional would probably prefer to stay away.

Books from this series:
The Looking Glass Wars
Seeing Redd

Graphic Novels for The Looking Glass War:
Hatter M
Hatter M: Mad with Wonder
Hatter M: The Nature of Wonder

Source Material:
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
Through the Looking Glass by Lewis Carroll

Recommended Viewing:
Disney's Alice in Wonderland
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Alice Mini-Series

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Chocolate War - Robert Cormier

The Chocolate War by Robert Cormier is a book about corrupt school faculty, gangs, and peer pressure that is a frequently challenged due to offensive language, sexual language, and violence.

As a freshman at Trinity boarding school, Jerry finds himself in a world beyond his experience. The school gang, the Vigils, harass him, students, and faculty relentlessly. Despite the fact that the faculty know Archie is in charge of the gang, he dodges punishment.

Brother Leon, his teacher, is a corrupt man who insults and pressures the children in his class to go against their conscience. As he increasingly pressures the children to sell chocolate bars, Jerry suddenly stands up and refuses to sell the chocolate bars.

Jerry finds himself in the middle of controversy, not just with the faculty, but with the gang. This realistic read on corruption of both youth and adult will leave many readers devastated.

Recommended Reads:
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
Lord of the Flies by William Golding

Thursday, November 22, 2012

My Soul to Lose/Reaper/Never to Sleep - Rachel Vincent

While these novellas can be purchased separately in digital format from several places online, they are also available in the compilation volumes of the main series.

My Soul to Lose
Trying to unwind, Kaylee goes out to the mall with her best friend. After having a strange panic attack where Kaylee finds herself unable to stop screaming, she ends up in the insane asylum. She begins thinking maybe she is insane, but after meeting several residents, things start to become clear.

Reaper
This novella is told from the point of view of Tod, where he tells the story of how he became a Reaper. I enjoyed the fact that this novel gave a little more insight into the complicated relationship between Tod and his brother Nash; as well as giving the reader a little more background on the relationship between Nash and Sabine. This stand-alone novella relies upon the reader already knowing a bit about the already established world, so I would recommend reading at least the first novel in this series before reading this one.

Never to Sleep
Sophie is sick of her cousin Kaylee's cries for help. Kaylee's insanity is starting to make her peers question her own sanity. After Sophie finds herself in a horrifying world with creeping vines that feed off of blood, she starts to think that maybe Kaylee isn't just trying to get attention. In this novella, I found Sophie to be just as annoying as she was in the rest of the series, so I didn't enjoy the narrative much; however, the excursion into her point of view was interesting.

Books in this series:
Soul Screamers Volume 1: My Soul to Lose, My Soul to Take, My Soul to Save
Soul Screamers Volume 2: My Soul to Keep, My Soul to Steal, Reaper
If I Die

Recommended Reads:
Vampire Academy by Richelle Mead
Nightshade by Andrea Cremer
Shiver by Maggie Stiefvater

Recommended Reads concerning Baen Sidhe (Banshee):
The Banshee: The Irish Death Messenger by Patricia Lysaught

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Pagan Christmas - Christian Rätsch and Claudia Müller-Ebeling

Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide by Christian Rätsch and Claudia Müller-Ebeling is an informative read that reveals winter traditions from the past and how they are utilized today with a heavy emphasis on plants and flowers.

Why do we decorate evergreen trees? What are the origins of Santa Claus? What is the connection between holly and mistletoe? Why are red and white the prominent colors during Christmas? How did poinsettias and other flowers become associated with Christmas? What is in the traditional incense associated with church and why were those ingredients chosen?

For the curious, the authors have included loose guideline recipes for 'baccy' to smoke, cookies to bake, incense to make, and beverages to drink.

Most of the traditions the authors talk about come from middle Europe and the Mediterranean, but there are also traditions from Asia and the Americas.

From the old start of winter in November, now called Saint Martin's Day, to Candlemas in February, readers are certain to learn many things in this treasury of knowledge.

Recommended Reads:
Pagan Christianity: Exploring the Roots of Our Church Practices by George Barna and Frank Viola
Shamanic Christianity: The Direct Experience of Mystical Communion by Bradford Keeney

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Fahrenheit 451 - Ray Bradbury

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury is a novel that expresses the evil of censorship, especially of books. Ironically, it has been challenged for questionable themes and foul language.

Guy Montag lives in a society where books are banned; in fact, he works as a fireman who burns any illegal books they find. The job even goes so far as burning those who will not let release their books.

Montag lives a decent life with his wife, who stays home and talks with her family via wire and watches videos all day. When he comes into contact with an unusual young woman, his perspective begins to change. The woman talks about how there used to be porches, rocking chairs, and conversation between people. At first he thinks her daft; however, as he begins to consider her words, he becomes troubled.

Montag sets out on a journey of self-discovery that eventually leads him into becoming an outcast.

Readers may find themselves challenged in their views by this novel, while others may find that they align with their own views.

Recommended Reads:
A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess
The Giver by Lois Lowry
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

Friday, November 16, 2012

Animal Farm - George Orwell

Animal Farm by George Orwell is a novel that carries strong social and political overtones that readers would do well in noticing.

Snowball the pig and his fellow animals are tired of suffering under farmer Jones, who unfairly takes advantage of their hard work and life. He doesn't treat them with respect they deserve. After much discussion, the animals decide to rebel and run the farm themselves.

The community begins with the best of intentions. All animals are equal and each will perform his duties to the best of his ability. Filled with optimism each animal is willing to do this.

The pigs, as the most intelligent of animals, put themselves in charge and create seven rules. Gradually, the pigs begin giving themselves special privileges with explanations that the others find reasonable. Soon the animals notice that rules seem to be changing, but since the painted words on the barn match what the pigs say, they determine that they must have misremembered.

The socialist society slowly becomes something much different than they intended. The lessons Orwell portrays are easy to find for those who pay them mind. I recommend this simple tale of political commentary.

This novel has been challenged on many occasions. Reasons ranging from conflicting ideology to offensive illustrations that show pigs drinking liquor.

Recommended reads:
Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell
Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Recommended viewing:
V for Vendetta

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Crossed - Ally Condie

Crossed by Ally Condie
I enjoyed the first novel in this dystopian trilogy, so I was looking forward to reading this one. Cassia lives in a society where everything is planned out. School, jobs, food, and even partners are chosen by the government. Cassia goes along with everything, until a mistake happens and a bug shows her the wrong partner during her matching ceremony. At the end of the first novel, Cassia determines that she will find a way to join her partner, despite the government's intervention to separate them.

Generally, I try to get about 1/3 of the way through a book before putting it down, but I couldn't get past the first few chapters of this one. The alternating point of view between Cassia and Ky didn't flow well for me. Another thing that immediately turned me off was that the first novel ended with Cassia's determination, while the second book opened with her whining. Being unhappy with the separation from her personally chosen partner is reasonable, it's just a stark contrast to the development of her character from the previous book.

Maybe the novel gets better after that, but I just couldn't stomach it.

Recommended Reads:
The Giver - Lois Lowry
A Wrinkle in Time - Madeleine L'Engle
Bridge to Terabithia - Katherine Paterson

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

A Violent Grace - Michael Card

A Violent Grace by Michael Card is a heartfelt and insightful look at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

The author starts by pointing out that many ministries have removed crosses and crucifixes from church buildings. Many are choosing to focus on the teachings of Jesus, while the crucifixion, perhaps the most important part of the story, is being ignored. The purpose of this book is to bring focus back to Jesus's sacrifice for His followers.

The author takes the reader from the temptation at the garden, the betrayal, the process of the crucifixion, to death, and then to His rising. Each chapter explains what happens accompanied by Bible verses. The beginning of each chapter has a sepia-toned illustration and the end of each chapter ends with a prayer, each of which pertains to the chapter.

Card provides historical information about Judaism and Rome during Jesus time. The content concerning the process of the crucifixion may be too detailed for some; however, I felt it was just enough to experience the event in my mind. The Bible verses referenced throughout this work, use the New International Version (NIV), so if the reader prefers a different translation it may be best to have it readily available.

Unfortunately, Card mistakes certain verses in Psalms and other Old Testament books as prophecy*. While fascinating parallels exist between the afflictions suffered by the many writers of Psalms with those of Jesus, they are not prophecies.

With that in mind, I still think that many will find the content of this book helpful in getting a fresh perspective on the crucifixion.

Recommended Reading:
The Bible
The Singer by Calvin Miller
The Beggar King by Dan Hamilton

Recommended Viewing:
The Passion of the Christ
The Last Temptation of Christ

*For more information about mistaken prophecies:
Debunking Skeptics
Farell Till
Jim Lipard
Thomas Paine

Monday, November 12, 2012

The Death Cure - James Dashner

The Death Cure is a disappointing finale to the Maze Runner trilogy.

Thomas and the other test subjects have had to put up with a lot throughout the trials. They've lost friends to sickness and violence. They had to work to get out of the maze, they had to make a mad dash through a city filled with infected people, and now WICKED wants to give them their memories back in order to secure their full cooperation.

Thomas and many of the others don't trust WICKED, but many others are willing to go through the operation. But just before, the WICKED representative announces that not all of them are immune to "The Flare"; in fact, some of them have it.

Will they go along with WICKED to find a cure or will they fight for their own solution?

While I was disappointed in the conclusion of this series, there's a lot to be praised about the series as a whole. The slang used by the Gladers and their counterparts feels natural, which is important to note simply because so many authors have a difficult time making believable slang for their novels. The characters are not archetypes, but actually relatable characters with multiple dimensions to their personalities. The action scenes, as well as the every day portions are engaging throughout the entire series.  Overall, the series is enjoyable.

Books in this series:
The Maze Runner
The Scorch Trials

Recommended Apocalypse and Post-Apocalypse Young Adult novels:
The City of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau
Life As We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer

Saturday, November 10, 2012

The Sun Witch - Linda Winstead Jones

The Sun Witch by Linda Winstead Jones is about the youngest of three sisters, all of whom are cursed to live without love.

This fantasy romance is a bingo: child out of wedlock, man wants to marry her after finding out about child, forbidden love, kidnapping, and a wanna-be jilted lover. The male love interest is, of course, a former soldier and the leading female is a voluptuous, golden-haired lady.  The relationship between the two characters seemed artificial to me.  Like many romance novels, this novel has sex scenes; however, they are quite mild.

A plot with the emperor and his desire for an heir ties in about midway through the novel. And some political intrigue end up mixing into the main plot.

The romance genre isn't something I particularly care for, so it's not a surprise that I felt luke warm toward the novel. I like to think it's worthwhile to visit genres I don't normally like because there are a few gems.

Books in the series:
Moon Witch
Star Witch

Similar reads:
Chronicles of Chesuli by Jennifer Roberson

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster - Bobby Henderson

The Gospel of the Flying Spaghetti Monster by Bobby Henderson is a satirical book on religion.

FSMism, or Pastafarians, are followers of the Flying Spaghetti Monster, whose Noodly Appendage touches us all. The gospel encourages sharing of the gospel, but opts for peace if the subject is causing the listener to feel uncomfortable. A delicious meal of noodles and tomato sauce is encouraged as a healthy meal.

The book contains proofs from many scientists, including physicists, naturalist, and mathematicians.

It may also be worthwhile to note that the FSM heaven has a stripper factory and a beer volcano.

Recommended religious satirical and humorous reads:
Principia Discordia, Or, How I Found Goddess and What I Did to Her When I Found Her: The Magnum Opiate of Malaclypse the Younger
God, No!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales - Penn Jilette

Recommended atheist reads:
The God Delusion - Richard Dawkins
The Magic of Reality: How We Know What's Really True - Richard Dawkins, Dave McKean

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Punisher Max: Kitchen Irish - Garth Ennis

Punisher MAX: Kitchen Irish is written by Garth Ennis and illustrated by Leandro Fernandez. It contains comic 7-12 in one volume.

Four Irish gangs are in a war that spans multiple generations. After his death, the boss sends out unique clues to each gang, instructed them on hidden riches; however, it can only be found if all the clues are brought together.

In an attempt to acquire the treasure without having to share it with the other gangs, each gang attacks the other, resulting in shoot-outs, torture, blackmail, and bombings.

After getting caught in the middle of one of these attacks, the notorious anti-hero Punisher decides to step in and put an end to the carnage.

Fernandez's illustrations for this graphic novel are detailed and sometimes gory, which is typical for this particular series. Those who are squeamish will probably want to steer clear of the series.

Recommended books in this series:
Punisher MAX: Mother Russia
Punisher MAX: The Slavers
Punisher MAX: Barracuda

Recommended Movies:
The Punisher 2006
The Punisher: Warzone

Sunday, November 4, 2012

The Joy of Geocaching - Paul & Dana Gillin

The Joy of Geocaching is a wonderful introduction to the sport of geocaching, a modern day treasure hunt that uses GPS positioning.

Players use GPS Navigation systems, such as Garmin or Magellan, to find the general location and then hunt around for a cache that can consist of anything from a large rubbermaid bin, an ammo box, or even as small as a pencil eraser. Upon locating the cache, players sign the log. In some cases, caches contain prizes where players can trade swaps, like personal coins.

There are challenging locations that require rock climbing, hiking, or a number of other activities. Some geocaches require solving puzzles and some contain multiple legs to get to the final destination. Many caches are handicapped accessible, as well! They are located in places like malls, parks, or other public areas that are easily accessible.

People participate in geocaching for a number of reasons. In the book, interviews with players give the reader an idea of what drives many of these people. For some it is the excitement of exploring new areas. For other it's the physical and mental challenge of reaching a cache. Some people do it for recreation with family and friends. Those who are up for a challenge may participate in "powercaching", which is finding as many caches in a set amount of time. There is also "geodashing", which is a challenge to see who can locate the most random caches on a mailing list the quickest.

With the variety of geocaches available and the variety or ways to play, geocaching is sure to be a good fit for many people.

Authors' website:
joyofgeocaching.com

Websites to find geocaches in your area:
geocaching.com
earthcache.org
terracaching.com

Friday, November 2, 2012

Reflex - Stephen Gould

Reflex is a sequel of taking place ten years after the original novel Jumper.

Davy has been doing contracting work for the NSA that takes advantage of his special unique to "jump", teleport. Millie, his longtime girlfriend, is working as a psychologist.

When Davy doesn't return to pick Millie up from one of their many hide-outs in the middle of nowhere, she's forced to strike out on her own. After a traumatic incident, she realizes she has gained the same ability Davy has. She becomes even more determined to find out what happened to Davy on her own, all while being chased by a mysterious organization.

Meanwhile, Davy is captured by an unknown enemy, where he is tortured and conditioned so that he will do the bidding of his captors.

The narration swaps between Davy and Millie on the chapter change. Their stories twine together very well. Millie proves to be just as innovative as her boyfriend in getting what she wants. And Davy proves to be both tactical and strong, as he bides his time.

Other books by the author:
Jumper

Movie based on the book:
Jumper 2008