Friday, October 30, 2015

Vampire Stories by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, The Deluxe Transitive Vampire by Karen Elizabeth Gordon, Great Tales of Horror by H.P. Lovecraft

Happy Halloween!  I am currently attending a Writer's Conference being held at the University where I work.  I attended a good workshop tonight about creating effective dialogue.  Tomorrow I give up most of my Saturday to attend a full day of workshops.  I hate to let Halloween pass me by, so here are three brief reviews of books that I am currently reading.,204,203,200_.jpg

The first book is by a master of the detective novel.  Before Arthur Conan Doyle wrote about Sherlock Holmes he wrote a number of vampire short stories for magazines.  These vampires do not much resemble Dracula but what they do have in common is animals, people and even plants that devour people.  Not always physically, often times it is spiritually.   From giant Venus Flytraps, evil, hypnotic women who destroy desperate men, to ancient Egyptian mummies who cannot die, the stories are different in plot and character but carry an equal amount of suspense that keep you turning the pages to see how it all works out.,204,203,200_.jpg 

The Deluxe Transitive Vampire  is not very scary but is an  amusing attempt to make grammar more interesting.  The book is filled with gothic Victorian images while explaining punctuation, participles and parts of speech (and alliteration).  The examples are in keeping with the book's spooky theme.  For example, sentences demonstrating "complements":

A vampire has supple limbs
Cronopios have many quirks.

Gargoyles spout.  Spout what?
Gargoyles spout nonsense. or rain. or syllogisms.

And last but not least, one of this century's master of horror, H.P. Lovecraft.  

Lovecraft's writing style resembles Edgar Allan Poe's in that the narrator is usually writing from an insane asylum, or going insane, or still tormented by his experience or about to give in to his experience.  It takes them the entire story describing harrowing scene after harrowing scene, never quite revealing what is happening or about to happen until the end.  The story quickly culminates on the last page, usually the last paragraph, with a huge, horrifying whollop.  Then the reader often has to reread the rest of the story to make sense of what was going on all along. 

 Little Bear (next to the pumpkin) and Marcus Hambone (sitting on Lovecraft) were delighted with my selection of Halloween reviews but Percival Piggybottom was disappointed I didn't include his favorites: Poe and a collection of Penny Dreadfuls.  I had to promise him that a review was coming in the future.  He was satisfied with that (and a carrot).

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The Surprising Imagination of C.S. Lewis, The Arabian Nights, Steampunk

Book-buying fast update:  I have so far read thirty-one books and have sixty-nine to go before I can buy another book. As I have said before, I read several books concurrently.  The following reviews are on three books I finished this week.,204,203,200_.jpg 
I received a complimentary copy of this book from Handlebar Publishing in exchange for my honest opinion.  

Authors Jerry Root and Mark Neal wrote a book that provides an analysis of C.S. Lewis' works and how the imagination is a crucial element in his writing, particularly his fantasy novels.

On the one hand, stating that the imagination is a crucial element of fantasy is unnecessary, but Root and Neal break down how the imagination functions, how fantasy captures that imagination and, in Lewis' work, how the imagination is ultimately a yearning and journey toward God.

I felt at times that the authors devoted too much time retelling Lewis' stories and then explaining to us what Lewis was saying in those stories.  But they also delved into different categories of imagination and how these different types of imagination are sparked in his various works.  Root and Neals' analysis of the human imagination is the most valuable aspect of their book.

Overall the book is a good introduction to Lewis' writings and would be an enjoyable addition to the library of any fan of Lewis.

This edition of Scherezade's thousand and one tales (it only includes twenty-one of the more well-known stories) is Sir Richard Burton's famous translation which is quite flowery and formal in its language, which I found at times burdensome to trudge through. 

While many of us (myself included) consider The Arabian Nights as fun adventure tales for the children, the content of this edition is quite adult. It omits none of the sex, racism-especially against African races- or pejorative cultural attitudes towards women that are lacking in kid-friendly adaptations.   

They still contain adventure, Middle Eastern folklore with jinn, magic carpets, rings, wily men and women who meet Allah's judgement, as well as heroes and heroines who, after much hardship and trial win in the end.

The illustrations are what set this particular book apart from other editions.  My Barnes and Noble edition is laced with rich, colorful pictures painted by Czech artists Renata Fucikova and Jindra Capek.  These two artists took meticulous care to render authentic looking Persian paintings that are beautiful and make this book a prize for any personal library.

And speaking of Barnes and Noble, I was browsing through a local branch when I came across the above book.  "What's Steampunk?" I asked my then fiance, Josh.  He explained the whole movement to me from it's origins in the 19th century to the fantasy style costumery worn by some young (and old) people today.

For those of you wondering (that would be people my age or older) Steampunk is Victorian science fiction.  With the arrival of the steam engine, 19th century writers' imagination went off in a direction that had their stories soaring to the moon, into the future, and into all kinds of weird and wonderful possibilities in science labs.  But these stories are pre-World Wars.  The women wear petticoats and the men dress for dinner, wear top hats, are gallant and chivalrous. They also happen to be (sometimes mad) scientists.

Strictly speaking, H.G. Wells, Bram Stoker, Robert Louis Stevenson, of course Jules Verne, and even Arthur Conan Doyle could be said to be contributors of Steampunk.
This book is a collection of  now mostly obscure writers who wrote for late 19th and early 20th century science fiction, fantasy and penny dreadful magazines.  While the writing is not as brilliant as the better known contemporaries listed in the previous paragraph, they are still interesting and I'm sure provoked  their audience's interest with their animal cyborgs, inventions gone awry and other dystopian possibilities that came with the industrial age and the steam engine.

Next week is Halloween and I am reading some new scary stories by the likes of Arthur Conan Doyle (no-nothing to do with Sherlock) and even a Vampire grammar book.  I hope to have a couple of reviews ready in time for the Holiday.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Mainz, Germany

The following photos are scenes as we floated down the river to Mainz, Germany.  If there is a country with more castles on rivers than Germany's Rhine river, I'd like to know about it.

Rows and rows of cultivated vineyards.

  I like to take photos of historical buildings.  Josh likes birds.  The following photos were taken by him.

An eagle circling overheard.

For the life of me I can't place this building.   I think it is a government building, probably at one time a Lord or Duke's palace.

Outside the Mainz Museum, standing next to Mr. Gutenberg.  Inside is the Gutenberg press and some of the Bibles that were printed there.  Unfortunately it was Sunday and closed.  I did my best to look through the windows but didn't see much.

Mainz Cathedral

 Mainz Museum with the Gutenberg press.

St. Stephen's Church.  The stained glass images are by Marc Chagall.  It was a real treat to finally see these in person.
It was Sunday evening, therefore church was about to start.   Josh and I slipped in and sat down.  There was choir rehearsal with organ so in addition to enjoying Chagall's art we got to listen to lovely organ music for a half hour.  Then Mass began.  We thought it would not be respectful to continue snapping photos during the service so we slipped back out.

I am an organist and play on an Aeolian-Skinner pipe organ for my church.  I appreciated the beauty of this man's playing and the superb quality of the organ.

Old Town Mainz.

This interesting fellow was guarding the Mainz Cathedral

Thus endeth our first boat stop. From here, no more boat rides.  Josh and I biked from town to town.   Next stop: 20 miles to Nierstein.

Monday, October 12, 2015

The Centurians, A Practical View of Chistianity, and Lucky Jim

A gift from my baby sister for my birthday.

I am on another book fast.  Not from reading, of course.  That will happen when I'm dead.  But from buying books.  I must read one hundred books that I already own before I can buy another single book.  Josh said to me, "I guess this means your book reviews are going to be reduced to 'book good' or 'book bad'."

He's right. Which is why I decided I don't have to review all one hundred books, just read them.  Be that as it may, I am going to review three books in one pop on today's post.

The Centurions by Jean Larteguy,204,203,200_.jpg 

The Centurions by Jean Larteguy was first written in 1960 and it starts with the battle of Dien Bien Phu.  Larteguy describes in rich, colorful detail the agonizing experiences of the French prisoners of war.  He dives into the psychology of both the French and Vietnamese cultures and through his characters attempts to explain the motives of each side.  His expressive use of dialogue between the Vietnamese commander and his prisoners are especially poignant in view of the fact that this commander had been educated by the French.  It was this desire to belong to the French community but to be excluded because of his race that ultimately led him and other Vietnamese to seek dignity and equality through communism.

The book carries us through the soldiers' imprisonment, ultimate release, and continues into the battle in Algiers.  Larteguy provides the same explanation as to why the Muslims wanted liberation from French rule as the Vietnamese: a conviction that they would never be accepted as equals by the French.  Particularly sad are the Algerian soldiers who fought side by side with the French in Vietnam who now fight against those same men, even using brutal acts of terrorism to extricate their country from a people whose culture and values they consider incompatible with their own. 

While this book is worthwhile to read for its information rich storytelling, I must say I got tired of all the mindless sleeping around.  It leads me to wonder if the French only believe true love can be attained by first marrying one woman and then cheating on her with another woman.  

I can't help comparing this book on war to those written by Americans.  American war stories focus on how many lives of their compatriots they saved.  This book's thrust (no pun intended) is centered around how many women the soldiers have slept with.
Jean Larteguy (1920-2011) was a French journalist and soldier.  His stories are drawn from his personal knowledge and experience as a war correspondent for Indochina, Korea, Algeria and Vietnam.

A Practical View of Christianity by William Wilberforce

A Practical View of Christianity is William Wilberforce's treatise on what exactly makes a person a Christian and contrasting it with what many people claim to be Christianity.

His main attack is against Cultural Christianity and he spares no words describing the duplicity and hypocrisy of his day by church-going people who show no respect for the authority of God as revealed through His written Word.

His arguments are highly relevant for today since there exists a profound Biblical illiteracy among too many Christians who seem to be ignorant as to how to conduct their lives in a manner that honors God. 

While I determinedly plowed through this book with its original manuscript, I highly recommend reading a version with updated language.  Wilberforce is extremely wordy and he takes a long time expressing his ideas, as brilliant as they are.
 William Wilberforce (1759-1833)

Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis

Finally, a little fun.  Kingsley Amis has to be one of the funniest writers I've ever read.  he writes about nothing at all.  There's no plot to speak of, just parodies of characters who run England's highest educational institutions such as Oxford.

Poor Jim Dixon is a first year professor who is trying very hard to please his supervisor, Professor Welch who uses Jim as his personal servant, having him, in addition to writing his own lectures, doing the professor's work and research as well.  Jim is afraid not to because he has no guarantee he will be hired for the next year.  He does all sorts of things he'd rather not, like spend a weekend at Welch's house for a silly musical gathering.  

There he meets Welch's son, Bertrand, an extremely arrogant, unpleasant person who nevertheless has an extremely pleasing girlfriend who Jim attaches himself to.

And then there's Margaret, another professor who is kinda, sorta, Jim's girlfriend, except when she's not, who thrives on romantic tension and expertly blackmails Jim emotionally so that he never can keep off edge.

The storyline weaves in and out of several characters and their back-stories like a mouse running through a maze.  What makes this story so successful is Amis' genius at wordplay and sharp comedic thrusts.

Here's an example of Amis' masterful manipulation of words and concepts:

Dixon grinned to himself at 'Uncle Julius'.  How marvelous it was that there should be somebody called that and somebody else to call him that, and that he himself should be present to hear one call the other that. 

The effortless artistry with which Kingsly Amis allows his story to flow along an oily river of silly people saying absurd things in a delightfully witty way makes up for any lack of "profound plot".
 Kingsley Amis (1922-1995)

I have now completed thirteen books.  Only eighty-seven to go.


Saturday, October 10, 2015

A Survivor's Story


Heather Von St. James has shared her survivor story on her web site.  Please visit her blog to read her story.

My name is Heather Von St. James and I am approaching my 10 year cancer free anniversary (yay!) after being diagnosed with mesothelioma.

I never thought I'd see this day. The doctors gave me 15 months to live shortly after giving birth to my daughter Lily. I was determined not to let that stop me from watching my little girl grow up, so here I am today!!

Anyway, I am using my story to raise awareness in hopes that I can prevent this from happening to another family. I'm asking a select few bloggers to share some eye-opening facts to help bring a voice to those who were silenced by this disease. 

Many people, including my mother, have cancer.  It's good to become involved with others who have also experienced this sickness.  I hope that visiting Heather's blog will encourage others to network and reach out and receive encouragement from each others' stories.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

My God and My All: The Life of Saint Francis of Assisi by Elizabeth Goudge,204,203,200_.jpg

 I enjoy biographies and even though I have already read a couple of biographies about St. Francis I accepted the offer by Handlebar Publishers to review this book as well. (Full disclosure:  I received this book free in exchange for my honest review.)

That Elizabeth Goudge is an eloquent writer I cannot deny.  That she adores her subject I cannot deny either. 

While not an extensive bibliography, she has definitely read a number of books about St. Francis' life and, based on other sources I've read, gives an accurate account of where he was born, who his parents were, how and when he gave up a life of wealth and prestige to become a pauper and founded his order of Franciscan brothers.

 Her writing style is rather flowery and fawning which is not appealing to me, however, based on other Amazon reviews, other people enjoy it.  

My biggest reason for not enjoying the book is I simply disagree with the doctrine of sainthood.  Saint simply means "sanctified" which is what happens to all believers at the point of salvation.  Christ's grace covers our sins and we are made clean.

I know this is not compatible with Catholic doctrine that states that Jesus' sacrifice on the cross only saved us from original sin.  According to Rome, each person must complete their salvation through good works, the confessing of sins and continually  re-crucifying Christ by partaking of the Eucharist over and over again until last rites are given.  In other words people are in partnership with Christ in saving their souls.

Some people perform more good works than others by sacrificing their lives to help the poor and giving up their own wealth.  Francis did this.  He and his brotherhood gave everything they had to the impoverished.  They ate side by side with lepers.  Francis so focused on God and performing good works that, according to this book (and the Catholic church)  he was able to perform miracles, which is a qualification for Sainthood. Through his own efforts at continual worship, prayer, and good works, Francis made himself holy enough to be venerated.

Because of this he joined a hierarchy of "Holy people" created by the Catholic church that allows people to pray to Canonized humans that have already died to mediate on their behalf as a means of increasing their own atonement. A Catholic friend of mine explained that "God is too big for us and we are too unworthy so it helps to pray to saints as a mediator."

I read an article where the writer argued that Jim Elliot and the other missionaries who went to share the Gospel to the Auca Indians in South America and were killed could not be considered martyrs because they did not meet the criteria the Roman Church required to qualify.

These Indians became Christian and said that Jim Elliot and the others saved them because it put a stop to their blood feuds.  These same Indians later baptized Elliot's children in the river where they murdered him.  According to Rome, this accounts for nothing.  Not that Protestant missionaries care where they stand with the Pope but I simply point out the perversity of a system that discounts sharing the gospel and saving others because it didn't go through the proper channels of the Church.

In this biography so much adulation and glory is given to St. Francis that God seems pushed to the side.  The focus is very much on Francis and all his wonderful works and this is what makes him worthy of worship and not God's great mercy and forgiveness of sins, which is what makes God worthy of worship.

When I read the Bible I see people who were not so good.  They were adulterers, murderers, liars and cheats.  Yes I'm talking about Abraham, Samson, David and even Peter and the disciples.  They did not make themselves good they were sanctified by Jesus Christ's crucifixion and were saved from death by His resurrection.  Focusing on humans, no matter how great their brotherhood and legacy may be is a distraction and strikes me as a form of idolatry. And, sorry to be offensive, praying to dead people strikes me as a form of necromancy.

Goudge's book seems to be an attempt to perform a good work as if writing such a fawning biography about a saint will get her a few years out of purgatory.  She died in 1984 so she should know by now.

Having made what I'm sure will  be viewed as an anti-Catholic rant I will say that one of my favorite authors, the very Catholic G.K. Chesterton has also written a biography of St. Francis.  I have actually broken my book buying fast and ordered a copy because I wish to get another perspective by a writer I greatly respect.  Stay tuned.

Marsha Randolph's review of My God and My All