Monday, November 20, 2017

Transformation in Christ

Transformation in Christ: On the Christian Attitude by Dietrich von Hildebrand, 500 pages

Dietrich von Hildebrand's masterpiece has been called a "modern day Imitation of Christ", and this is only a slight exaggeration.  This long combination of theological treatise and spiritual meditation uniquely combines psychological acuity and philosophical rigor.  Most important, however, is the transformational love of God that radiates almost visibly from the text.  Startlingly, again and again von Hildebrand reveals the superficiality of conventional wisdom falsely-so-called and unveils the profound truths it conceals, all in the service of an ever deeper and more radical conversion.

It should be noted that although Transformation in Christ is von Hildebrand's most accessible work, it remains the work of a German philosopher, and although intended for a wider audience than his other works, it will present challenges for the average reader.  Indeed, its greatness consists precisely in the challenge it poses to modern cant - its revelation of Christianity not as a matter of intellectual propositions or ethical prescriptions, but of metaphysical vision and continuous conversion.

Behind Closed Doors

Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris 293 pages

Behind Closed Doors"Everyone knows a couple like Jack and Grace: he has looks and wealth, she has charm and elegance. You'd like to get to know Grace better. But it's difficult, because you realize Jack and Grace are never apart. Some might call this true love.

The perfect marriage? Or the perfect lie?" - Goodreads

I couldn't  put this book down and finished it in almost one day. I won't say it was an original plot line, but I enjoyed the journey nonetheless. I didn't have as much sympathy for the protagonist as the author might have wanted me to have, she got on my nerves more than once, but I did care what happened to her and her sister. I definitely hated the antagonist, he was everything that readers love to hate. I wish his ending had been even more excruciating just because the author made me hate him so much. The writing was good, a little repetitive in the middle, but good. I liked this book and would recommend it to anyone who likes suspense and psychological thrillers, however I would caution not to expect a new take on the genre.

Friday, November 17, 2017

Landscape with Invisible Hand

Landscape with Invisible Hand by M. T. Anderson     149 pages

When the vuvv first landed, it came as a surprise to aspiring artist Adam and the rest of planet Earth - but not necessarily an unwelcome one. Can it really be called an invasion when the vuvv generously offered free advanced technology and cures for every illness imaginable? As it turns out, yes. With his parents' jobs replaced by alien tech and no money for food, clean water, or the vuvv's miraculous medicine, Adam and his girlfriend, Chloe, have to get creative to survive. Soon enough, Adam must decide how far he's willing to go - and what he's willing to sacrifice - to give the vuvv what they want.

This is such a strange story - but it's quirky and that's why I liked it. One would think it would be hard to imagine such a short story capable of encompassing a futuristic Earth where alien creatures basically run things and everything from society to technology is different, but Anderson is able to deftly create this new, strange world without long passages of description or "telling," he just shows it to you through little windows throughout the story.

Adam Costello is a hilarious narrator and I think this would make a really good recommendation book to any teen who doesn't like to read - One, it's short. Two, it's funny. And three, it stands out because it's different - there's a little bit for everybody and the main character is just so relatable, you can't help but get behind him.

Honestly, I'd recommend it to everybody - even if you don't like sci-fi. It's very light on the sci-fi. It's mostly a story about a boy trying to help his family get through a crisis (with aliens and their new economy as the backdrop). It's worth the read, and hey - it's short. You can finish it in a day.

It

It by Stephen King.   1156 pages

I almost feel like I don't need to add a summary here, considering 1) the book's been read by so many people and 2) the movie was out recently.   Here's the synopsis from Goodreads: "To the children, the town was their whole world. To the adults, knowing better, Derry, Maine was just their home town: familiar, well-ordered, a good place to live. It was the children who saw – and felt – what made Derry so horribly different. In the storm drains, in the sewers, It lurked, taking on the shape of every nightmare, each person’s deepest dread. Sometimes It reached up, seizing, tearing, killing…

The adults, knowing better, knew nothing. Time passed and the children grew up, moved away. The horror of It was deep-buried, wrapped in forgetfulness. Until the grown-up children were called back, once more to confront It as It stirred and coiled in the sullen depths of their memories, reaching up again to make their past nightmares a terrible present reality."

Or, you could see it as pulling together some themes in other stories by Stephen King:  misfits drawn together into close friendship, a town which may seem ok on the surface but is nasty, nasty, nasty underneath, and the triumph (usually unlikely) of some kind of good over a definite evil.

I remember reading this around when it was published in 1986 and have re-read it, although not recently.  It was great to pick it up again and rediscover parts of it.  I found I had remembered some things but not that much, so it was like reading it for the first time, which was a lot of fun.  I'd list this book in the category of King books that I like, which tend to be ones written after Cujo, Christine and Pet Semetery. 

The one drawback to this book is not that it's so long -- it's that especially in this nice edition, it's heavy.  I probably would have read it more quickly if I hadn't always been reading before bed (which, yes, meant that I wasn't managing as many pages because I was tired) and my wrists got achy.  Next time, this will be one I get for my tablet in an e-version.

Windfall

Windfall by Jennifer E. Smith                   Audio Book: 10 hours       Hardback Book: 432 pages                          Genre:  Y Fiction   Lottery  Ticket  Friendship  Romance  

This story was fraught with so many possibilities for things to go wrong.   And throughout many predictable things did just that but a lot of good happens, too.    A cautionary tale in being mindful when giving a lottery ticket as a present.   Either sincerely give it with all good wishes and no strings or spell out what you expect if there is a win involved before they call the numbers.   Money does have the power to lure people to think and do many things when they are hit with a windfall and it can stretch out to affect those around them to react in significantly differing ways.   It is best to remember who your friends are when you have nothing so when those fake people come around when you are riding high you know and remember the difference.    Well done.   It was a likeable story.   A close up of what greed can do and how it can change people but also a nice vision of those with good hearts trying to make a better world with their time and talents.   Cash can be a blessing or a curse it all depends on your heart.   

The Target

The Target by Catherine Coulter 387 pages

The TargetThis is book 3 in the FBI thriller series by Coulter. A federal judge named Ramsey was trying to get away from it all when he finds a little girl, named Emma, who has been abused. The story really takes off when her mother, Molly, shows up to save her. Now the three of them are on the run from a madman who is obsessed with Emma. Thrown in a couple of crime boss and the FBI's own Dillon Savich and Sherlock from the previous books and you've got a quite a story.

I enjoyed this book, I can definitely say the story pulled me in. The characters were fine, nothing extraordinary, just fine. The author is very to the point in this series and that is something that I as a reader appreciate. I'm ready to read the next one. I'd recommend what I've read in the series so far to anyone who likes thriller fiction.

Sons of St Patrick

Sons of Saint PatrickSons of St Patrick: A History of the Archbishops of New York from Dagger John to Timmytown by George J Marlin and Brad Miner, 421 pages

Sons of St Patrick chronicles the lives and careers of the ten archbishops of New York (Irishmen all), from the combative John Hughes, whose pugnacity earned him the nickname "Dagger John", through his alternately outspoken and reserved, engaged and aloof, feared and beloved successors, down to the legendarily gregarious current occupant of the chair inside New York's St Patrick's Cathedral, Timothy Cardinal Dolan.  In the process, it also provides a kind of core sample of American Catholic history, from the humble beginnings of the Church in the US, through the immigration boom of the 19th century, the rapid establishment of Catholic educational and charitable institutions, the emergence of Catholics into the mainstream of American life and culture, and the resurgence of anti-Catholic prejudice in the late 20th century, while also covering the internal struggles over trusteeism, Americanism, modernism, and human sexuality.

Marlin and Miner approach their subjects charitably but not uncritically.  Their initial brisk pace becomes increasingly slow as their story moves through the decades, mirroring the shift - however much some of their subjects resisted it - from the bishop as spiritual leader to bureaucratic manager.  Thankfully, the authors' wit and care sustain the reader through even the dullest subjects.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

The Awakening

The Awakening by Kate Chopin       157 pages

The Awakening, originally titled A Solitary Soul, is a novel by Kate Chopin, first published in 1899. Set in New Orleans and the Southern Louisiana coast at the end of the nineteenth century, the plot centers on Edna Pontellier and her struggle to reconcile her increasingly unorthodox views on femininity and motherhood with the prevailing social attitudes of the turn-of-the-century South. It is one of the earliest American novels that focuses on women's issues without condescension.

If anyone has written a story that captures the stifling, objectified life of society women better, I don't know them. Chopin deftly captures the sense of suffocation at having so little choice in one's life in this novel. Her words capture Edna's mood so smoothly and perfectly, you feel stifled yourself as you read it. The hopelessness that Edna feels, even after her "awakening" just go to show that being "woke," even the tiniest bit, does not solve the problem. Her soul's repression is so strong, even doing little things for herself are not enough to tamp down on the pressure she feels from the eyes of society. She truly believes her life will never be hers unless she does the one thing that can release her from everything.

Horatian Satires and Epistles

Horatian Satires and Epistles by Alexander Pope, 109 pages

     Bear me, some God!  oh quickly bear me hence
     To wholesome solitude, the nurse of sense:
     Where Contemplation prunes her ruffled wings
     And the free soul looks down to pity Kings!

This short book collects a series of satirical pieces devised by Alexander Pope in open imitation of Horace and Donne.  Pope, inspired by his predecessors, and like them

     To Virtue only and her friends, a friend

hears in their works the voice of a Muse, or perhaps of Conscience

     ('Tis Reason's voice, which sometimes one can hear)

and finds in that inspiration the power to condemn the vices and follies of his age as they did theirs

     If there be force in Virtue, or in Song.

Though the targets of Pope's satire are now generally obscure, the wit remains, and many of his lessons are eternally potent.

     So when you plague a fool, 'tis still the curse,
     You only make the matter worse and worse.

Although his poetry was generally rejected by an age that disdained form and craft, perhaps Pope's care and precision will experience a rehabilitation in a coming age exhausted by formlessness, tired of calculated spontaneity and simulated sincerity.  Then his prophecy will be validated

     Truth guards the Poet, sanctifies the line,
     And makes immortal, Verse as mean as mine.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Scooby Apocalypse, Vol. 2

Scooby Apocalypse, Vol. 2 by Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis 160 pages

DC Comics reimagines Scooby-Doo as post-apocalyptic sci-fi. Daphne is a discredited investigative journalist, Fred is her dedicated cameraman, Scooby is a prototype “smart-dog” experiment, Shaggy is his handler, and Velma is a genius scientist whose nanobots turned most of the world’s population into bloodthirsty monsters.I thought the first volume was rough but had some potential; I’m not going to bother reading the third volume. Chapter after chapter is devoted to killing slightly different monsters in slightly different locations, while important plot developments happen offscreen.
Plot holes abound. Twenty pages are revealed as All Just A Fever Dream. Don’t waste my time with this, DC.


The Flintstones, Vol. 1

The Flintstones, Vol. 1, by Mark Russell and Steve Pugh 170 pages


Hanna-Barbera hands the Flintstones over to DC Comics, which transforms them from classic sitcom into bitter satire.The Flintstones is clever, thoughtful, and surreal. Fred and Barney are veterans of a genocidal war against the Tree People. A prehistoric version of Carl Sagan claims that loneliness is the fundamental force driving the universe. Fundamentalist cavemen argue
that marriage is an affront to the traditional polygamous "sex cave" arrangement. Heck, the phrase "sex cave" appears in a piece of official Flintstones media. The comic’s good, don’t get me wrong, but it’s just a touch unsettling.


Delirium

Delirium by Lauren Oliver                           Audio Book:  11 hours, 45 minutes     Paperback Book:  480 pages                   

This book is part of the Delirium Trilogy (man how many trilogies are there out there?).     The premise is the United States is under a marshall law system, though, the marketing strategy is the patrols are for everyone’s protection.    And emotions are considered dangerous and must be cured.    Anyone found kissing, hugging, crying, or even speaking in poetic ways are treated severely and are often put to death to keep the Deliria out of the gene pool.   Teenagers all have curfews pre-cure and everyone has to carry identity papers at all times.    Once a teenager receives the cure, which boils down to a sort of lobotomy where you go all Stepford after,  they are off curfew but at that point they no longer care about hanging out and fun has no meaning to them any more.    However, as is always the case when there is a dictatorial society – there is an underground resistance not to mention the uncured teenagers are throwing secret RAVES.    Good story although there is so much reason to backhand the main character.   I am interested to find out where this story leads because there is so much more deviousness to this gal than first appears and her way of conniving the others in her life while appearing to be needy, yet, she manipulates each situation to her own purposes.     Good book, glad we aren’t living in that situation, I feel for those she puts in precarious often fatal positions.     Sweet as honey on the outside but she works for her own self-centered agenda on the inside.   If the reader likes futuristic societal stories they will likely enjoy this one.   The book was good, I’m just still angry at the main character.     She plays so innocent when she knows the outcomes.   What a manipulator!   Arghhhh! 

The Deal of a Lifetime

The Deal of a Lifetime: A Novella by Fredrik Backman      Audiobook:  47 minutes     Hardback Book:  96 pages                     

I really liked this story.   A little Ebeneezer Scrooge from a Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens, a little “Cat’s In the Cradle.” By Harry Chapin mix them together and you have a father who bailed on his wife and newborn son because he doesn’t want to be around anything getting more attention than he is.   The guy is a total narcissist putting his fame and business success ahead of his family.    His ego doesn’t leave any room for the little people even his wife and son in his life.    He is living the life he wants without a thought to the woman he said he loved and the child they made together.   His self-importance supersedes everything that is not him.   He thinks about only his own desires for more in life until he ends up in a car crash.    This woman he has seen throughout his life with a note pad is always jotting information down on the pad and entering rooms that she never seems to leave and whose other occupant does not emerge from again either, at least not alive.    There is a very well written peculiar relationship that is explained between them.   There is a mystery of someone the man alludes to that he has killed.    There is a dear little 5 year girl who has cancer that is so wise behind her years.   She knows without knowing and does her best to make the adults around her feel better as though she believes the fantasies of her getting better that they keep telling her.   There are so many aspects of this novella that are so charming you will be glad you read it as it is a wonderful story even given the sorrows involved.     The man visits his grown son,  and this story will give you a new twist on Scrooge’s spectres as they turn up in new allegorical ways.    Very good story.    Do read it if you get the chance.

Her Body and Other Parties

Her Body and Other Parties: Stories by Carmen Maria Machado     Audio Book:  8 hours, 30 mins.     Paperback Book:  248 pages        

This book is like walking through someone else’s dreams.   The stories blend so effortlessly into one another like the surreal state of unconsciousness of being the character in a number of varying scenarios all in one night.    Each dream as I will call them to best express the lightness of being that they are,  like a will o’ the wisp racing through the forest lighting here and there in different locals with different flora, some areas dark like bogs, some light from the moon and stars above, some scary, some romantic even erotic yet all blending into one another like watercolors on a canvas. But, these stories, musings, speak pain and pleasure,  love and hate,  they bounce around as though you are in the authors brain wandering through her thoughts.   Each only a moment then gone like cotton candy melts on  the tongue, so sweet and flavorful but gone as quick as you taste it.   The stories here are like a flower growing from the ground up then budding then blooming then just a memory but so many distinct memories.   Her work is hard to define, it is both a psychological study with underpinnings of the paranormal.   Is the boogey man real or is the narrator of all the stories the boogey man?     From fixations on a hair ribbon to lovers to plagues to self-esteem.   Is there an unspeakable crime happening in the prom dress section of a store?   Can the detectives of the t.v. show Law & Order: Special Victims Unit clear it up.   I think Timothy Leary would have really enjoyed this book.     It strikes me it is very much like some of his mental adventures.     Real yet vague, in your face then out the door.    It lulls you along then leaves the reader wandering what just happened and am I still where I was?    Very Alice in Wonderland through the looking glass and viewing the world from the Madhatter’s eyes looking back on this side of the mirror.   Often unsettling and uncomfortable like a dream you want to wake up from but it just keeps going.    Honestly, I was glad to be done with this book.   I can’t say I liked it, but, I also can’t deny it is very thought provoking and haunting, just a little too disjointed for me.

Live the Let- Go Life

Live the Let- Go Life: Breaking Free from Stress, Worry, and Anxiety by Joseph Prince                           Audio Book: 9 hours     Hardback Book:  320 pages           

Great book,  I really enjoyed it.    This author has a brilliant way of communicating and delivering life lessons to deal with stress from the teachings of Jesus.   He does an amazing job of breaking down in simple terms lessons taught by Jesus throughout the New Testament of the Bible that deal with worry, anxiety, stress, ad infintum.     I’m paraphrasing but basically, Jesus was saying, what good does it do you to worry about things?     Why worry about having enough food or clothes to wear?   God provides food for the birds and have you ever looked at the flowers in a field?   King Solomon in all his finest raiments was not clothed so well.    Isn’t life more than food and the body more than clothing?   If God takes care of the needs of His animals and plants won’t He do even more for His kids?      And why be anxious about stuff?    Can you add a single hour to your life by being anxious?    Worry can’t put a crust of bread on your table.   Worry won’t bring you a cent to pay your bills.    But the good news is the author tells you how you can have a relaxed life, no stress, no worry, no anxiety, no depression,  no discouragement and no fear of the future.   Mr. Prince tells readers how to tune in to the wavelength of peace, he discusses how getting the proper rest is so important to being your best self,  how a relaxed attitude can heal you from the constant turmoil of all the stuff coming at you each day causing  us to be so sensory overloaded we no longer want to communicate with others in person but more often via text.      With all the demands and uncertainties in any given 24 hour period in all of our lives this book is a radiant light,  a cool drink of water and gentle lessons from long ago that ring true today.     Let go.        Standing ovation, well done.

We Need To Talk:

We Need To Talk: How to Have Conversations That Matter by Celeste Headlee             Audio Book: 5 hours, 10 mins    Hardback Book:  272 pages          

Celeste Headlee makes her living by speaking on Public Radio.   She has learned to be an excellent communicator and listener in order to get the best out of conversations whether they be interviews on her radio show or in day to day life with family, friends and strangers she meets.   The author feels conversation is becoming a lost art in this age of instant messaging via technology instead of face to face encounters and should be encouraged and learned as part of everyone’s skillset.   She discusses how often when engaged in conversation each participant is simply waiting for their turn to talk and sometimes begin to talk over one another to express their opinion.    Celeste admits to  the light going out of her eyes many times in the early part of her career when someone she was interviewing started droning on until she finally phased out all together, that is until the day she stopped someone she was interviewing to ask them another question only to be told, “As I just said…” that is when she knew she had been zoning out because the conversation was boring her and she missed some key points her interviewee had just brought up.    After a couple of mishaps like that she decided she needed to check her communication skills and work on getting them honed.    She researched the ways people communicate, consulted with several experts on the ways our brain works in staying focused while conversing and waiting our turn to speak.   She decided that while we tend to communicate most often these days from behind an electronic device it is time people returned to verbal talk not texting.     She says we need to mindfully work toward returning to a society that looks each other in the eye when we communicate not at each other’s social media preference.    She feels that humans aren’t really able to multitask successfully as we may be doing more at once but we are not putting our full attention to either of the tasks we think we are handling and this leads to potential errors either in social faux pas or what could hold serious even fatal consequences – she cites texting while driving.   She has observed how people with cellphones on their persons tend to constantly be checking them.   A study she mentioned said that people tend to check their cellphones 114 times a day.   And that may be a low estimate.    She suggests not just putting your phone down but putting it away so you don’t get distracted by it.    We are all on sensory overload and she is calling for a moratorium on communication devices and going back to our original one, our mouths and the conversations that come out of it.   She mentions how satisfying one on one conversations can be and how humans are alienating themselves from one another – people even text one another in the same house rather than walk over and ask each other what they want to know.   Celeste calls for a return to eye to eye contact, reading each other’s cues and learning to converse with our voices again not just our thumbs.   Good book.   She had a lot of good things to say here and given her career she does come as an expert.